Chapter 25 Midday
Xander stirred when he felt Spike’s hands on him again and he groaned, but not out of lust or pleasure. It was – he blearily checked the clock – a little after nine in the morning, and Spike hadn’t let him sleep for a single uninterrupted hour during the night. No holding, no cuddling, not a murmur of affection, simply…sex. The act, devoid of emotion and with the minimum of care, the vampire almost clinical in his detachment; Xander had had enough.
“No,” he said firmly, barely patiently, “not again.”
“C’mon, Love,” Spike whispered, commencing the manipulative physical wind around Xander which, so far, had inevitably led to the man’s compliance.
Xander pushed Spike away and swung himself up and out of bed, a fast move that kept him just ahead of Spike’s hands and able to lock himself in the bathroom before he could be intercepted. Slosh when he walked was right, and spent semen was running down his thighs before he could get to the toilet to expel it. Not quite so sexy in the cold light of day.
Cleaned up and bracing himself, he re-entered the bedroom, snatching up fresh clothes from the spare bed and rapidly beginning to dress; Spike was there in seconds, trying to persuade him to do the opposite, but once again, the vampire was pushed away.
“Come back to bed, Xander. Please. I need you.”
Xander jerked around and grabbed Spike’s upper arm, giving him a brisk shake to ensure his attention.
“Stop this. Now.”
“You promised me once that you’d stop if I asked.”
“That was different.”
“So…what? Despite the things you said yesterday, the respect is all used up?”
Spike tried, once again, to press closer.
“I want you. Need you.”
“This isn’t need,” Xander immediately contradicted, fighting to keep his temper under control. “This isn’t about wanting me, Spike, it’s about distraction, and it’s about using me as a masturbatory aid.” That did stop Spike; he stepped back and regarded Xander curiously. “I lost count of the times you fucked me in the night, and it wasn’t actually anything to do with me in a sexual sense, was it?”
“You didn’t say no.”
“Because I’m feeling guilty about what you’re going through: it’s my fault, I know that and I feel…I feel terrible about it. And while you won’t talk about what happened, I…”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Yes, I know.”
“This mean you’re coming back to bed?”
“I ache. Inside. You were really going for it and I ache inside, and I’m sore outside.”
“I can stop the soreness. Let me…”
Xander backed away from Spike's advance.
“That is so not going to happen. The moment you get that close you’ll be fucking me again.”
“You could fuck me instead.”
“You’re missing the point.”
“I promise, if you say no…”
“I’m saying no. Now, just…let me get some clothes on. I’m going out. I’ll check for a duffel, I’ll have breakfast, pick up a newspaper…”
The moment Xander took his eye off Spike to continue dressing, the vampire had him in a clinch. Xander struggled furiously, and eventually Spike had to let him go.
“Am I getting this wrong? Is it simply that killing someone has made you so horny that…”
“It’s not about— Please, Love, don’t turn me down, it’s the only thing that stops me thinking.”
“But you need to think. You need to confront this to get through it.” Spike gave a brief shake of the head and finally wandered away; Xander hurriedly finished dressing while he had the chance. When he was ready to leave he pulled on his coat - thankfully too preoccupied to worry about where it had been – then grabbed the car keys and a handful of cash from the heap on the table. “Can I get you anything?”
“D’know. Masturbatory aid?”
“Funny guy,” came through clenched teeth as Xander crossed to the door.
“You want me to keep away from you now?” Spike enquired, anxiety ringing out loud and clear.
One foot over the threshold, Xander paused.
“No, not keep away, I don’t want that. But what you – we – need is for you to think about how to deal with what happened. If you’d talk to me maybe I could help you but you won’t talk. So you need to think it through and deal with it, hopefully before you fuck me to death.”
“I never mean to hurt you.”
Xander made himself look back and give Spike the best, albeit hopelessly inadequate reassuring smile that he could muster.
And he left.
Spike went to the window and risked peering through a chink in the drapes to watch Xander walk away; he saw him hesitate and glance over his shoulder, saw the worry on his face, and although Spike dearly wished that Xander would turn around and come back this minute, he could appreciate why that was impossible.
Spike didn’t want to talk, he didn’t want to think, he simply wanted the diverting comfort of Xander’s presence, and the closer the better, but it was painfully obvious that pursuing that presence was simply driving Xander away.
There had to be way through this without… No. Xander was right. A barrage of expletives came and went as Spike miserably accepted that he had to think. And then he’d have to talk. He’d have to be…honest.
And then – only then – he’d have Xander back.
Just as difficult to walk back in as it had been to walk away, but Xander paused at the door, took a deep breath and fixed a somewhat positive expression on his face before entering their room. Spike was lounging on the bed, a studied pose that was supposed to convey his peace of mind to Xander but failed miserably because he was working way too hard at being relaxed.
“Hey,” Xander greeted him, bringing in the duffel he’d found in the trunk of the car. “You want to plunder the loot or shall I?”
With a hard done by sigh Spike gathered himself up.
“Let me. If we miss anything I don’t want anyone blaming you.”
Spike rifled through the duffel’s contents as Xander dropped the car keys and his newspaper on the table, shucked off his coat and turned to the kitchenette to make coffee.
“Anything I can wear in there? Jesus, I can’t believe I’m letting Angel dress me, but I have this really intense craving for a single item of clothing that doesn’t smell of motel laundry room.”
“Hang on.” Spike dove deeper and came up with a lambswool sweater in a deep auburny brown. “Here.”
He tossed it over to Xander, who caught it and screwed his fingers into the softness.
“You ever waste the kind of money he does on clothes?”
With a spontaneous chuckle, Spike simply held his hands out in a ‘look at me’ gesture, and Xander returned the smile. Simplicity was certainly Spike’s style, and it was still all about the tight black t and worn black jeans that perfectly complimented his lithe body, the scruffy DM boots and iconic duster that were presently flung under or over the armchair.
“This is where you tell me I look great,” Spike nonchalantly told Xander.
“You look great,” Xander obliged with a tad less flippancy.
Xander set the sweater aside and brought Spike a cup of coffee before settling at the table to read his paper as Spike went through the sheaf of documents Angel had sent.
“‘Tania is presently in Lestor’s Mission Hospital receiving treatment, but her condition is stable and a full recovery is expected’,” Xander read aloud. “That’s good to see in black and white.”
“Wouldn’t want to be in her head though,” Spike murmured, half-listening, half-not.
“That’s exactly what I thought yesterday, when John— ‘Sheriff Meyer has asked witnesses to come forward, with the assurance of complete discretion.’ Complete discretion…” Xander repeated thoughtfully. “John must’ve gone with your idea about the shouldn’t be coupling couple.” Xander read on. “Hey. ‘Police have issued a statement linking a Bradfield man, Derek Arthur Koga, with their enquiry’.” Spike looked over, interested now. “It says he was identified by forensics…you must have been right about the blanket.”
“She stank of him, they probably found…”
“Don’t want to know!” Xander glared a Too Much Information at Spike and went back to the paper. “Apparently…he has a record of violence, particularly against women, and if we see him we’re not to approach him, but we should give the cops a call,” Xander finished with amused irony heavy in his tone. “Thanks but no thanks, seen the cops in action, sticking with the vamp.”
“Are you?” Spike asked quietly, unable to even look at Xander now.
Xander quickly put aside the paper and crossed to Spike, drawing him to sit on the end of the bed, firmly holding both his hands and assuring…
“You are troubled, not un-stick-withable.”
Spike accepted that with a nod but didn’t believe it for a moment, not for the first time trying to figure how his pathetically humble soul could overwhelm the demon’s arrogant self-confidence. He sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at Xander’s unmoving hands in his. When he looked up again it was with a weak smile.
“This man goes to hell, right, and when he gets there he finds it’s not fire and brimstone, but it’s a massive lake of diarrhoea and he’s standing in it, with the shit up to his chin. He turns to the bloke next to him and says, ‘Well, after what I expected, this isn’t too bad.’ The bloke replies, ‘Wait till midday.’ ‘Why, what happens at midday?’ ‘That’s when Satan brings out his speedboat.’” Xander cringed at the mental picture but couldn’t help laughing. “Xander… It feels like I’m about to hit midday.”
The laughter was gone in an instant, and Xander gently persuaded Spike closer, hugging him and cupping the back of his head, fingers soothingly stroking through the loose curls.
“’Cause you’re thinking?” Xander asked in a hushed voice. “Or ‘cause you’re scared to think?”
“Take your pick,” Spike answered wryly, turning to press his face into Xander’s neck.
“Do you want… What do you want? Right now?”
Xander was expecting the answer to the obvious one: more sex. He was taken aback when it turned out to be a politely, almost demurely delivered request.
“Talk to me. Please. Not about this.”
“Uh…okay.” Xander shuffled further onto the bed and coaxed Spike along with him, finally pushing and prodding Spike into the desired position: facing away so Xander could cuddle up to his back and hold him tightly. “Okaaay. I’m assuming we talk rather than me talk. Anywhere I can’t go? Other than Koga?” Spike shook his head. “Then tell me why you gave the brooch to Angel. I feel bad about that: something else that’s my fault.”
“Because of you, but there’s no fault involved. I just knew that, after what you experienced during that reading, I’d never see it the same way. My memories are preferable to the associations that brooch now has; I don’t want to think of Dru with Angelus, I want to think of her with me, loving me. No reminders of her with him and I can do that.”
“She did love you, very much.”
“You felt it?”
“I did, strongly, and she knew you were…better than him. Your love was true. Pure. Not about what you were getting out of it, unlike Angelus.”
“He always was a selfish bugger,” Spike agreed.
“What do you miss most? About Dru? If you don’t mind me asking,” Xander quickly added.
“I don’t mind.” Spike took his time thinking and Xander hoped they were happy thoughts. “It’s… I say this and you have to produce too. Something you wouldn’t tell me if you hadn’t been forced into it.”
“I didn’t force…”
“Quid pro quo?” Xander smiled, remembering another conversation a few short weeks ago. “Okay.”
“Right. What I miss most…”
Spike paused again and Xander blew a raspberry on his neck, earning a soft snicker and a protracted squirm.
“C’mon, it’s going to be about eviscerating priests or something; I’m ready for it.” Xander leant up on one elbow in a bid to see anything of Spike’s expression, just in case. Spike looked at him over his shoulder with a smile that was accompanied by a loose shake of the head. Xander comically scowled. “If it’s the sex you change your story, like, now.”
Spike turned his face completely away, depriving Xander of any clues as to his feelings.
“Just…being able to kiss someone and know it’s wanted. It’s welcome. Not having to wait for permission, or worry about being thought offensive, or…”
Xander grabbed Spike and dragged him around, pulling him into a sloppy, unsophisticated, hugely appreciated kiss.
“You know… Spike… You know you have that now, don’t you? You know that.”
“I suppose…I’ve been trying to know that.”
“Know it,” Xander insisted, nodding, “know it.”
“Until you say no again.”
“That’s the way it goes. I have the right to say no but it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to try. Works both ways and it’s not the biggest deal.”
“There’s a lot that you don’t mind until you do mind.”
“Whatever,” Xander dismissed, and he kissed Spike again, leaving him smiling as he settled by his side.
“So…” Spike clarified, “my kisses are welcome even when you don’t want them?”
“Yeah,” Xander beamed, and Spike shook his head, laughing softly.
“Can I tell you one more thing and then we swiftly move on to your confession?”
Spike wriggled onto his side, facing Xander and making the most of his newly acknowledged right. On this occasion his attention was, undoubtedly, welcome.
“You’re lovely to kiss.”
“You really are.”
“What makes me…”
“Ah, c’mon, just…”
Xander hmmphed and reverted to the scowl until Spike pushed him onto his back and snuggled up.
“It has to be something I miss?” Xander asked, trying to recall his original question.
“Not necessarily. Something you wouldn’t tell me at any other time. Something you’ve never told anyone else would be nice.”
“Does it have to be something I don’t want to tell you? Can it be something it would be a relief to say that I’ve never been able to tell anyone else? Something that you swear you’d never repeat?” A frown creased Spike’s brow, and he started to lean up to face Xander. Xander cupped the vampire’s head, tucking it under his chin and holding Spike there. “No, don’t, if you look at me I won’t be able to say it. And now it sounds all overly dramatic and…and…”
“Say it, Love,” Spike softly encouraged. “You have my word it goes no further.”
“Good, yeah, umm… I’ve…umm…” Xander took a deep breath. “There have been times when I’ve been so worn out and lonely I haven’t wanted to carry on with this stage of my life.”
“Before you found your home?”
“Before. Since,” Xander admitted reluctantly. “And there was one time when I… I had this accident, stepped out in front of a car I kinda…didn’t but…did notice.”
“To get out of this life?”
“I thought the next level of existence would be so much better than this one. Easier.”
“You still feel that way?”
“Yes. I mean, yes, I know it will be better. But there have been no more accidents, I promise you. There won’t be. And I’m done talking about it.” Spike’s arm crept around Xander’s waist, the grip tightening until it was almost painful. Xander didn’t object for a second. “God, I’ve wanted to say that out loud for so long. But I’m still shocked at how much better I feel for telling you that.”
“Confession being good for the soul? What is this, not-so-subliminal advertising?”
“No. This is me being as selfish as Angelus.”
Quiet comfort all round and it wasn’t long until the disturbed night began to catch up with Xander; while he dozed, Spike tried a little tentative thinking, and when that proved to be too disturbing the vampire crept away and read the newspaper, cover to cover, forcing himself to concentrate on every single, tedious word.
When he was finished reading, Spike stared at Xander’s sleeping form for five minutes, willing him to wake up; when that didn’t work he gave the other chair at the table a hearty kick, and the resulting crash as it flipped onto its back was loud enough to have Xander shooting up in bed, staring about himself in alarm.
“Sorry, Love, just me being clumsy.” Xander took in the whereabouts of the chair, then Spike’s unrepentant face; with a dismissive wave, he yawned and flopped back down. “Did you read all of this?” Spike asked, determined to keep Xander conscious. He flicked to the second double-page spread on the Tania story and scanned the columns for what he wanted. “‘Speculation that a spiritualist medium was consulted regarding the case has been dismissed by Sheriff Meyer, although it was revealed that Undersheriff John Randall recently visited Lestor Spiritualist Chapel on a personal, not professional matter.’ How d’you reckon they’d’ve found out about that?” No reply and Spike glanced across the room, expecting to find Xander napping, but Xander was frozen in place and staring, horrified, at the wall to the side of the bed, where a large, unclassifiable bug was wandering down the paintwork.
“Is – is that…” Xander’s tremulous voice failed him.
Spike was there in a second, slamming his fist against the bug and expecting to feel its body break as it smashed against the wall. But…nothing.
“Get me a cloth, I’ll clean this up,” Spike told Xander lightly, keeping his fist against the wall until Xander’s back was turned, then taking a quick peek to confirm the lack of mushed insect.
“Not there, is it?” Xander said shakily, wringing a cloth in his hands but not venturing back to that area of the room.
Spike dropped his fist, acted out a search of the immediate area.
“I think I missed it.”
“How can anyone as fast as you…” Once again Xander’s voice failed him as a faint hissing sound swirled around the exterior of the room. “Not again. Dear God, not again.” Spike ran the few steps to a justifiably dismayed Xander and pulled him protectively near, letting the man cling to him as, rigidly still, they concentrated on the noise: over ten minutes that felt like two hours the hissing swelled and ebbed, swelled…and dissipated.
A further ten minutes of keen, motionless listening, then together they went to the window and exposed an inch of glass to look through, only to find the world outside winter-drab and unexceptional, certainly unpopulated by swarms of non-corporeal bugs.
“I want to leave,” Xander announced as he pointlessly massaged his temple with a trembling hand, unable to alleviate the sudden pulsating ache inside his skull. “Maybe I’m fooling myself that we can keep one step ahead of this – this…thing, but… I want to leave.”
“Want to risk going to LA? You could talk to the boffins, they could make a start on figuring out what it is.”
Xander was already shaking his head; he waved his hand to vaguely take in their surroundings.
“Nothing like as bad as before, agreed?”
“Your head’s hurting.”
“But it’s not like before. None of this is. Still possibly fooling myself, but the entity seems to be getting weaker, and maybe…if we keep moving it will have a hard time finding me again, we’ll get Dead Guy dealt with, then we’ll go to LA. If necessary.”
“You don’t want to.”
“I really don’t, not if I can avoid it.”
As Spike inwardly fumed about Xander being frightened and tormented, the man in question warily left the zone in search of painkillers for his headache, easing open the bathroom door an inch at a time and suspiciously peering inside for several minutes, taking his time accepting that the space wasn’t crawling with bugs before venturing in and toward the stash of Advil in his washbag.
Drugs taken, Xander sat on the closed toilet seat and dropped his head into his hands, soon moving his left hand to press over the once-again tender eye socket; no mentioning it to Spike though: he couldn’t face another of the vampire’s ‘treatments’ when it came to that particular area of his body.
He could hear Spike in the next room, banging about, probably packing, but there was always the possibility that his friend could just be taking some frustration out on the fixtures and fittings. Friend. Spike. That made Xander smile, despite the perpetual knot in his gut over what he’d done to Spike, made Spike do for him. Made? Yes. No choice for Spike, not when it came to protecting his potentially world-saving charge, and Xander felt his own selfishness and inconsideration keenly. Encouraging Spike to talk about what had happened wasn’t simply about easing the vampire’s conscience.
“All right, Love?” Xander looked up and studied the concerned face. “What?”
Spike looked a little startled, but came further into the room, kneeling between Xander’s feet and laying his hands inertly on Xander’s thighs.
“I’m very happy about that.”
“Me too,” Spike admitted charily, obviously wondering where this was going, but Xander added nothing more, simply rested his hands over Spike’s and leaned forward to press a kiss to his cheek. “Are you all right, Xander?”
“Have you been packing?”
“Xander…” Spike…let it go. “I started to. Then I realised if I carried on you’d never find anything so I left the rest for you.”
“We’ve got a few hours to kill, so…” Spike shrugged. “Nap? See if that helps your head?” Xander chuckled to himself. “What?”
“Since you turned up on my doorstep I seem to have spent most of my time in bed, or in trouble.”
Spike agreed with a nod.
“And the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Xander’s chuckle broke into a laugh and Spike’s tense face relaxed a tad.
“I’m going to write this up for Willow, and I’m going to include it all. The fights, the peace, the mindlessly humping the vampire, the…the…”
“Ill-considered interference in matters that don’t concern you…”
“The additional fighting ‘cause of that…”
“The making up, you have to include that.”
“I will. I’m gonna write… ‘Sex with Spike has been…’”
“The best of my pathetic human life?”
“‘…extraordinary. But…my poor, poor ass’,” Xander concluded with a giggle.
“Make it better, shall I?” Spike offered, caught between Xander’s humour and his own niggling regrets. “I really didn’t mean to make you sore, I…”
“I think we covered this earlier and the answer is still no. We both know what will happen and, presently, my ass and I have to politely decline.”
“Even if it’s not a substitute for thinking and talking? Even if it’s a bog-standard bout to relieve a few hormonal demands? Even if it’s my arse taking the pounding?”
“Stop with the reasonable, it’s not happening. I’m going to take a shower, and I’ll feel much…”
“Am I invited? Purely for your protection against the entity?”
“Purely that, huh?” Spike nodded and nipped in for a kiss that Xander avoided. “Any sentence from you that contains the word ‘purely’ is immediately classified as BS. Just so’s you know.” Xander shivered as Spike sucked on his neck, well away from the scar, but still making him feel zingy and horny. It took several half-hearted attempts to push Spike off.
“C’mon, Love, play nicely.”
“Me play nicely?”
“Vampire here: oral fixation. Surely you must have something I can su—”
Spike was bundled out of the bathroom before he could start phase two of his offensive. Back to alone and quiet, and there had to be a way to divert his thoughts. He scanned their untidy domain, finally spotting the solution: Xander’s puzzle book. With a resentful kind thought directed at Douglas, Spike took the book and settled on the bed, turning to a new page and appraising the brain-numbing poser.
When Xander emerged from his shower he dried off and dressed, dithering over wearing the lambswool sweater, but finally pulling it on and taking a moment to wallow in the sheer luxury of it. He completed the outfit with his baggiest, least alluring, sweatpants – hoping to discourage Spike’s lusty thoughts – and climbed onto the bed, very deliberately not looking at the hopefully bug-free wall.
“New puzzle?” he asked. Spike nodded and Xander peered at the page. “Oh, yeah, we’ll be dead before that one’s finished.”
“That’s the kind I always give up on, they make no sense, absolutely no sense.”
Spike casually ripped the page out of the book, screwed it into a ball, and flicked it away.
“Try another one, shall we?”
“Why didn’t I think of that? The hours I’ve wasted…”
“Want to do this?”
“I want a little diversion, but these are so bloody tedious it’s a fine line between diversion and brain death.” Xander took the book from Spike and tossed it onto the storage bed. “Does that mean… What does that mean? You’re forcing me to talk? ‘Cause, I’m warning you, I…”
“Want me to paint your nails?” Xander offered, running a fingertip over the chipped polish on Spike’s thumbnail. “Thanks to my girls you’re looking at a professional standard manicurist.”
“Bit out of practise, aren’t you?”
“Excuse me. Did you see Simone’s nails?”
“And you think you’re going to have to tell them you’re gay.” Glare. “Do mine, I’ll do yours. Actually that offer applies to any body part.”
Xander pointedly ignored the latter portion of Spike’s dubious generosity and studied his own hand and nails.
“I don’t think it would suit me.”
“That’s not what it’s about.”
“No? Oh. Okay.”
So Xander painted Spike’s fingernails, and Spike painted Xander’s. Then Spike painted Xander’s toenails, and all the while they chatted about nothing much, exchanging trinkets of memories from the past, Spike delighting Xander by dredging up every amusing mishap that had befallen Angel over recent years, and then fabricating a few more for the sake of entertainment.
“Y’know… I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with right now,” Xander announced, completely out of the blue, and Spike, touched, appreciative, wanting to show that but also begrudgingly behaving himself, picked up the closest foot and kissed the instep. “Jesus, every touch…” Xander grumbled. “Stop being so damn sexy, will you?”
“I wasn’t…! Is there anywhere you don’t have an erogenous zone?”
“Apparently not. At least where you’re concerned.”
Spike adopted his best martyred expression.
“It’s a hard life, being a veritable sex god.”
“Balls. If you were sexually deprived as long as I was…”
“All the more reason to make up for that now.”
“Nyah! Down boy!”
“Who’s talking to you?”
Xander scrambled from the bed, muttering as he went, pausing to admire his nails before switching on the laptop and staring determinedly at it as he waited for it to boot up.
“Love it when you smell like this,” Spike told him from where he’d sprawled on the bed.
“Like wha— No, I retract that, I don’t want to…”
“Horny. Hot and horny.”
“I’m not. Or rather…yes, I am. But not acting on it. This is Xander Harris avoiding the evil demon of luuurve.”
Spike grinned and studied his companion, knowing his attention was causing difficulties in Xander’s sweatpant department and relishing that effect.
“When you smell like this. And look…like that.”
“Like…? No. Don’t…”
“You think I can’t see from this angle? That you’re hard. Smell it, see it…”
“I’m ignoring you, okay? Writing my life story for Willow and…and… Stop staring at me!”
“Any chance you can write your life story in the nude?”
“’Cause…fucking hell, I love the look of you.”
“I—” Xander stopped. Hesitated before asking, quietly: “You do? Really?”
“I do,” Spike replied in kind. “You thought I was taking the piss before, but no, Xander, absolutely not. Bloody gorgeous, you are. In fact… Can I take some photos? Not pornographic, just…y’know…photos.”
Xander self-consciously ran a hand over his hair.
“Somehow the porn would be easier.”
“You’ll need a portrait to go with the life story.”
“Willow has better pictures. Of when we were together. Younger, better looking…” His fingers brushed the left side of his face. “Whole.”
“I’m not fussed if you’re going to mope, but can you do it naked?”
“I’m not moping. I’m…” Xander waved his hands over the keyboard. “autobiographying myself.”
“Can I help? ‘Once upon a time, there was a man called Xander, who was kind and special and hot and horny and he shagged Spike royally. The end.’ Now, if you’re done, can we…”
“‘Once upon a time there was a vampire called Spike who was kind and special and hot and horny and very, very troubled but wouldn’t let his friend help him so he shagged his friend into one big ouch and then never got sex again. Ever.’” Xander looked across to Spike and found him turned away. “‘Hopefully not…the end’,” Xander concluded.
“Yeah, well, if I start thinking and talking it might be, ever consider that?”
“How about if I start talking about what I’m thinking?”
Spike’s head swivelled back as his curiosity got the better of him.
“You ever going to ask me how I feel about what happened?”
“Do you want me to?”
“But…you seem to be okay.”
“I seem to be, yeah. Don’t you want to know about that, know for sure?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. But I don’t want to go where you talking will lead me.”
“Why, Spike? Let it out, and let us deal. ‘Cause, together, we will.” Spike shrugged and looked away again. “If nothing else, I have to say how sorry I am for putting you in this situation. It hurts me so much to see you like this, and…”
“Like I said: troubled. Very troubled. Frightened to think.”
“I’ll get over it,” Spike ineffectually protested.
Xander swiftly rose, moving to Spike’s side, forcefully taking his wrist and sitting him up, bringing him close.
“Let me help you.”
“What if you can’t? I mean…how can you? How can you make me what I’m supposed to be when even this wretched soul can’t?”
“Tell me what you think that is: what you’re supposed to be.”
“I’m trying to be a good man.”
“You are a good man.”
“I’m not, I’m damned.”
“We still talking about Koga? Not the past?”
“Koga. I have a great excuse for the past, don’t I? Undiluted demon. Now…I’m supposed to be better than this.”
“I’ve heard you say that before and you use it way too often.”
“The ‘I’m supposed to be better’. What does it mean, what is better?”
Spike looked at Xander as if he were barmy.
“I shouldn’t be killing people.”
Xander nodded thoughtfully.
“Okay, that’s black and white and wholly unrealistic.”
“Why is it?”
“Tell me what happened. Did you mean to kill him? Or was it an accident?”
“Want me to pretend it was an accident?”
“This isn’t about what I want.”
Spike paused, thinking back, thinking hard.
“It wasn’t intentional…but it wasn’t an accident. It just happened.”
“See, I understand that: shade of grey. Sometimes things do just happen, we’re not always in rigid control of ourselves, are we? There’s no time to think…”
“Don’t make excuses for me.”
Spike was beginning to sound as angry as Xander felt he should be. That was reassuring, if slightly intimidating, but Xander had no intention of backing off, wherever this led.
“This is good. Be mad, let yourself be mad.”
“No. I’m supposed to be—” Spike heard that phrase emerging from his mouth and snapped his jaw shut.
“Ready to be madder?”
“You want to risk it? I wouldn’t trust me.”
Xander squeezed Spike’s hand, leaning in to whisper a quick…
“I trust you.”
“No. I may sometimes act like a fool, but I’m really pretty smart.”
“Yeah,” Spike conceded.
“I’ll remember you said that.” Xander took a deep breath, and leapt in. “Based on what I’ve observed… There’s your anger to deal with…”
“Course I’m angry, shouldn’t I be?”
“Shouldn’t you be?” Xander repeated slowly. “Well…yes. And, maybe, no.”
“Make sense, will you?”
“A lot of your present upset seems centred on what you think you’re supposed to be, how you believe you’re supposed to behave, supposed to react to situations.”
“Isn’t that how it is?”
“I don’t know because there’s nothing in my past to guide me: William never got himself into trouble.”
“Then let me guide you. The majority of us – the majority of humans – just…get on with it. We don’t – we don’t…throw a plate at the wall ‘cause we’re mad and then try to convince ourselves we should feel anything in particular. It’s a gut reaction. We throw a plate at the wall and then get annoyed because we’re a plate short at dinnertime.”
“What if someone asks why you smashed the plate.”
“I smashed the plate because I was angry.”
“Why were you angry?”
“’Cause some idiot broke my tail light.”
“That’s not comparable. You’d have to break your own tail light.”
“I did, I backed into a hydrant, and I’m angry with myself.”
“And I’m angry with myself.”
“But if I wasn’t a plate short at dinnertime I wouldn’t give a damn about the one I broke.”
Spike opened his mouth to speak but, even as he drew breath, knew he didn’t have anything to say. He held up a hand to keep Xander quiet, and allowed himself to think a little. Impossible to reach any kind of resolution when there was so much he refused to go near.
“I am angry, Xander,” was all he could ultimately offer.
“I know. But I’m pretty sure you’re telling yourself to be angry about the wrong things. I don’t think you’re necessarily angry about Koga’s death – I think there’s a whole heap of emotions surrounding that and eventually we’ll deal – but this anger, the one that’s presently eating you up, is misdirected. You’re not angry about Koga’s death, but you’re focusing your anger there because it’s easier than where it should really be focused.”
“There’s plenty here that you could be justifiably angry about, but you’ll stay frustrated and hurt if you don’t get the direction right.”
“Whatever you reckon, I can’t let you dismiss Koga, I think I should…”
“You think you should. Y’know, I wouldn’t stay sane if I had to continually concentrate on what I thought I should be feeling, as opposed to being honest and true to myself, and just letting myself feel. ‘Cause if I – if you are not being true to yourself…”
“That’s…a justifiable source of anger?” Spike tentatively suggested.
“And the focus…?”
“Getting there.” Xander paused, steeling himself for where he wanted to go next. “Forgive me for bringing this up, but… When Edmund died, how did you feel?”
Spike, already suitably bewildered, performed an unintentionally comical double-take at this turn.
“This is about my father? Who are you, Freud?”
“No and no, but work with me. How did you feel?”
Spike hesitated for a second time before attempting a twitchy, guilty move away but being rapidly pulled back to Xander’s side.
“I was… Oh, fucking hell. Glad. My own father was dead and I was glad. I should’ve…”
“Nuh-uh! You’re doing it again.”
“The what you’re supposed to feel. You should’ve felt something other than what you did.”
“No. You’re allowed to be honest about your feelings. You say ‘I’m glad he died because when he was alive he treated me badly, and this meant the bad treatment stopped’. That’s okay.”
“You make it sound so simple. Too simple.”
“It is and it isn’t. It’s a starting point.”
“Right. Starting point.”
“And it’s exactly the same with Koga, exactly the same with me.”
“You?” Spike asked, looking at Xander in surprise.
“Me. Your anger. I think you’re very angry with me right now. Not the surface anger I sometimes provoke in you, but real, deep-seated anger. Keep suppressing it and it will turn to rage, then I really won’t be safe.”
“You can’t deny something just because you don’t want it to be true, and you need to let yourself be mad at me.”
“Okay. Don’t be honest with me, that’s not so important. But, Spike, you must be honest with yourself.”
Now Spike did manage to break away, off the bed and pacing. Xander stood, but chose not to approach the vampire.
“There’s something else you need to think about, because I feel it will help you understand your actions – actions that you seem to despise yourself for and…I don’t think you should. You used the scar…”
“Don’t go there.”
“You used the scar, not because you thought I’d turn you down – that’s more of an excuse than a reason – but because you felt like you’d lost control, the situation was out of your control. I was out of your control and I put myself in danger. You instinctively needed to take control back, to control me, and you did it in a totally instinctive way.”
The pacing abruptly came to a halt. Spike appreciated that Xander was right, in fact he was simply reminding Spike of truths he knew but had decided it was safer to repress. Better to accept the truth and deal, unquestionably, but understanding the wisdom of acceptance didn’t make him feel any less comfortable with it. But his anger – directed at both Xander and, exponentially, at himself for being angry at Xander – was making him careless and dangerous. He needed, if didn’t want, help, and he needed a place to start. No surprise then to find himself inching his way back to Xander, moving close and then closer until they were a mere hair’s breadth apart, intimate enough for him to acknowledge his reasons for using the scar, uttering, in a pained whisper, a simple…
“And your anger at me let you do it.”
“You must be furious with me.”
“Let yourself be.”
“I don’t want to.”
“It’s okay, it doesn’t mean…” Xander slipped his arms around Spike and hugged, speaking softly. “In this instance being furious with me doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you do.” Spike’s hands slid up Xander’s back, and eventually the hug was mutual. “I knew, Spike. When I was going after Tania, I knew how angry you’d be with me for not waiting for you, for putting myself in danger. I knew, but I still did what I felt I had to do, and I was always prepared to face the consequences.”
“You could have died.”
“But I didn’t and that’s great for both of us: I get to live and you get to be as justifiably mad as the maddest mad thing in the whole of the mad lands of madlandia. It’s understandable, and it’s permissible.”
Spike pulled back to look into Xander’s face, and he examined every living inch before very gently kissing his mouth. When his eyes opened they were brimming with tears. Relief.
“How did you do that? You telling me I could be angry has… It’s gone. I’m not.”
“That’s good, but it’ll probably be back at the next annoying thing I say or do.”
“I don’t want that.”
“Me either. Just because I’m prepared to face the consequences doesn’t mean I actually want to. We’ll see. You get mad and I’ll cope, and that’s okay. Providing you don’t hurt me.”
“Never,” Spike swore, before reluctantly – realistically - correcting himself. “Never…intentionally.”
“I appreciate that.”
“And…are you going to tell me how you feel about what happened?”
“Do you want me to?” Xander repeated his earlier question.
“That’s okay too.”
Spike embraced Xander once again before reluctantly letting him go and taking a step back.
“Hard place to start,” he said bleakly. “Edmund.”
“I know, but it was the only example I could think of to show how…questionable undiluted human emotions can be.”
“No. But I knew you would. Not questionable, simply honest. You think this man…” Xander touched Spike’s chest. “…is a bad man, whenever his feelings don’t live up to expectations that a saint would have a hard time living up to.”
“You’re still making excuses for me.”
Xander shook his head.
“I want you to stop condemning yourself, human or demon. William was a good man, by your own admission. Spike isn’t so different.”
Spike was distracted, obviously unconvinced; he glanced away and took a deep breath before looking to Xander with once-again watery eyes.
“How… How did you know I’d’ve felt more than sorrow when my… When Edm— When…my father died?”
“Because he was a bastard. And you were…only human.”
A timely return to the simplicity of comfort: Xander drew Spike back into his arms and held him for a long, long time.
On a countdown to the moment when Spike’s keen senses would alert them to the setting of the sun, Xander paused in his packing, staring at the book in his hand and wondering if there’d be a chance to complete one more puzzle before the Dead Guy event. Wondering if there’d be the chance to complete any after it.
Thoughts of ‘after’ led to thoughts of ‘over when it’s over’, and Xander chose not to pursue that bitter little consideration; however realistic he was able to be about real lives that would not sustain their relationship in the way that this extraordinary adventure could, dwelling on the prospect of separation made him edgy and the teeniest bit needy, especially when he faced losing both Spike and the peace he brought.
“You’ve made a start on your reports,” Spike observed as he sat at the table, making his nosy way through the documents on the computer.
“A few days ago. I think. Time has lost all meaning.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling.”
“Is it Christmas already? Can we— Can I go home?”
“Not yet. Sorry.” Spike caught Xander’s look and grinned. “Yes, sorry. Really. I’d put up with Medusa for the sake of a few home comforts. Didn’t notice when I was there, but I bet you’ve got a nice, big bed, eh? Comfy and warm and just begging for its inaugural shag.”
“Yeah, it is nice. Old-fashioned but nice.”
“You were nice like that too.”
“Comfy and warm and begging for your inaugural shag.”
Xander chuckled, Spike’s humour making the dismissal of over when it’s over easy. Easier.
“Here and now,” Xander announced.
Spike waited for more but that was that; he went back to the laptop.
“What’s this? Your private journal?”
“I don’t have a…”
“I say, Love, I am impressed.”
“All this stuff about…succumbing to delicious surrender as Spike’s bloated member penetrates your wanton body.”
“Your – my – what!”
Xander dashed to Spike’s side, glaring at, firstly, the screen that bore a fresh page with a heavy red ‘Gotcha!’ emblazoned across it and, secondly, the vampire’s guiltless face; he thwacked Spike across the back of the head and set about closing the computer down, letting himself be pulled onto Spike’s lap without a struggle. No misbehaving: Spike simply held Xander, nuzzling his cotton-clad back. Computer dealt with, Xander spent less than a second considering whether or not to move before relaxing into the evolving cuddle.
After a few minutes, Xander rebooted the laptop and scanned the list of songs in the media player. Another couple of clicks, and he was being reluctantly released so he could stand. He turned back and put out a hand for Spike. Vampire secured and on his feet, Xander hit a final key and waited for the first few notes of the song he’d chosen before looking expectantly at Spike.
‘Have yourself a merry
“He’s about to lie through his teeth,” Spike said as he pulled Xander close.
‘From now on our troubles will be out of sight.’
“Told you so.”
“Naughty Luther,” Xander scolded the absent singer, contentedly wrapping himself around Spike and swaying them with the unhurried rhythm.
‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
“Homo-flexual,” Xander pointedly corrected.
“More lies. Listen.”
‘From now on our troubles will be miles away.’
“Sensing major negativity here, Spike. Dabble with the Christmas spirit now and I promise we’ll stop off for the real thing when we’re out.”
“Not tonight.” No alcohol to loosen the emotions; Xander accepted both that and Spike’s ensuing swerve to avoid the subject. “If you’ve finished rescuing damsels in distress we’ll have time to go shopping. Get your presents.”
“Book for H, and that’s only because it’s obvious. He opens a parcel and it’s not a book, he looks ready to cry.”
“Simone. Never seems particularly bothered by presents, she’s always more happy about the fact I turn up.”
“Hmm…maybe I misjudged her,” Spike said as a neon sign blazing the legend ‘I am lying’ appeared over his head, or at least it did in Xander’s mind. “What about your jailbait?”
“Kirsty, was it?”
“Kirsty. She’s such a sweetheart, that has to be something nice.”
“How about you?” Spike asked, almost inaudibly. “What do you want?”
“What do I want?” Xander mused, prior to spinning Spike around and up against the wall, holding him there for a protracted smooch. “Can I think about that?”
“You’ll have something?”
“Yes. Yes! You’re the guy with the money and Christmas is a time of legitimate greed.”
“You want me to check out where we can buy those kids you wanted?”
“Strangely…no. How about you?”
“Bloody hell, you’re joking, I don’t want…”
“What would you like for Christmas?”
“I don’t do Christmas.”
“You do if you’re humouring me.”
Spike didn’t need time to think.
“All right. You, a six-pack of slick, and twenty-four undisturbed hours in that big bed of yours’d do nicely.”
“Dead Guy plays along, you’ve got it.” Xander felt Spike’s body twitching beneath his hands and, however sexy, it wasn’t about sex and Xander, smugly, knew. “Sun’s down, isn’t it? You do this kinda…” Xander tried to replicate the unique tremor and failed miserably. “You know what I mean.”
“I never knew it was obvious.”
“I pay attention. You have all these cool quirks, and it’s very appealing.”
Irresistible if Xander was currently being appealed to: Spike’s hands made a wandering journey from Xander’s waist to his face, and when his fingertips were twisted in the man’s untidy hair, he gazed into Xander’s eye and seduced him with a solitary, smouldering look.
“Want me, Love?”
“Why do you bother asking?”
“I want to stop you being sore – that first, and I promise I won’t try to get inside you with anything more than my tongue. Then you have me. You fuck me.”
“This isn’t avoidance, this is me wanting you. You know I do, constantly.”
Xander gave an unfocused nod, staring hungrily at Spike’s mouth as he tried to remember why he wasn’t leaping at Spike’s offer. Something to do with… Oh. Right.
“And we’ll talk…”
“We made a start. We need to talk.”
“When we get where we’re going. You have my word. In fact, you’ll have thousands of the bleedin’ things. Now…” The tone of the vampire’s voice became raw silk. “Fuck me, Xander.”
Xander relinquished what had to be one of the least committed defensive stands in his life; within seconds he was on the bed, sweatpants stripped away, and Spike was naked and indelicately burrowing between his legs to put right the damage he’d caused.
Grinning like a well-serviced fool, shaking his head in semi-disbelief at his own lack of resolve, Xander welcomed the soothing attention and temporarily set aside his worries about Spike’s state of mind: regardless of whether it could be attributed to words or actions, Midday had been averted, and Satan’s speedboat was apparently, and thankfully, still moored in its hellish berth.
Chapter 26 Talk
“Are we there yet?”
“I was only asking…”
“Spike, I’m bored.”
“Find something to amuse yourself.”
“I did. You almost crashed the car.”
“Go back to sleep.”
“No. I didn’t like the dream.”
“This was the one where I discover you and Buffy in my bed at home.”
Spike glanced curiously at Xander.
“You don’t think there’s anything there, do you? Her and me?”
“Not since she blew your car up, no.”
With a thoughtful nod, Spike patted Xander’s thigh.
“But I don’t like it. Forgive me for sounding a little too like my favourite vampire, but you’re mine, the bed’s mine…”
“Ever consider joining in?”
“I—” Xander stopped to think about that, and shifted uncomfortably. “You’d want me to?”
“I’m amazed you have to ask.”
“Buffy wouldn’t want me to. Even if it’s only a dream, Buffy…”
“You get in and we kick her bony arse out, all right?” Spike threw Xander a wicked grin. “Let her do some of the watching.”
“I’m better than her. For you.”
“Yes. You did believe me?”
“I just like to hear you say it.”
“Say…I’m best. Ever.”
“Don’t push your luck.”
“But it’s fun, and you’re sincerely great at fake sincerity. Say…”
“Your life is flashing before my eyes.”
“Say…pin me on the bonnet and root me till I yodel.” Spike couldn’t resist laughing, and he wouldn’t have resisted the suggestion if this journey wasn’t about Xander being safe. “And I guess this is where you change the subject,” Xander accurately predicted.
“You guess right.”
“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with…F.”
“F. Get on with it.”
“There’s nothing to see. The road is black, the countryside is black, the inside of the car is black except for…” He peered at the dashboard. “Fuel gauge?” he offered.
Xander pointlessly gazed around.
“F. F…F…F. F. How about…fuck knows, that’s an F.”
“You’re not even trying.”
“It’s obvious. The futility of existence.”
“That’s – no – wait – no – I mean… No.”
“You can’t see the futility of existence!”
“Wanna bet?” Spike struggled to keep a straight face. “Still my go, then?”
“Not your go, you damn cheat.” Spike waved Xander on. “’Kay,” Xander grumped before resentfully taking yet another look about himself. “I spy, with my remaining eye, something…something… Something beginning with…V.”
“Is that really the best you can do?”
Spike sighed, offering flatly…
“Couldn’t be…vampire by any chance?”
“No, it couldn’t be,” Xander said smugly, and Spike perked up and took notice, determinedly assessing his surroundings. Assessing and reassessing. “Wow, Spike, have you finally noticed that there’s nothing to see?” Xander asked with cheerful sarcasm.
“I can see in the dark.”
“And you don’t see how my not being able to see what you can see might have made what you can see not what my little eye is seeing?”
“You’re not about to whip a vol-au-vent out of your pocket?”
“No, I am just pleased to see you.”
“Then it has to be…” he glanced outside the car and upwards, “…Vulpecula. My go.”
“The Vulpecula constellation. Good spot, now…”
“It’s not the Vulpaculpawhateveryousaid!” Xander snapped. “It’s in here.”
“Vodka. I wish.”
Spike’s gaze flicked over Xander.
“We both wish. Give up?”
“That’d need to be vollocks.”
“As in…the vunderful vizard of Oz?”
Spike gestured at the eyepatch that sat on the dashboard.
“You’re making this up.”
“I was a scholar, y’know. Try to imagine a time before school consisted of chasing skirt and inhaling the Mexican spliff-mountain.”
“You at school,” Xander mused. “Did you have to wear short trousers? Really short? Did you keep ‘em? And can you still get into them? How about if we coat you in oil?”
“In the car, Spike.”
“It is in the car. There. Right between your ears.”
“Nah. If it’s me, then you’re thinking veeeeeeeee…vacious.”
Vivacious: pretty close to the mark for this minute’s Xander, and Spike, having seen so many of the man’s desperate moments, revelled in it.
“Vivifier,” he told Xander, enough affection in his voice to prevent the potential objection.
“A vivifier causes something to come to life. Something…or someone.”
“This isn’t fair. You shouldn’t inspire such intense smushiness when there’s no possibility of a smooch. Can you hear my heart pounding?”
“Thought it was thunder.”
“Fucking hell, I love that you can do this to me. Mutual vivi…vivi…”
“Vivification. I’ll never remember that.”
“Viking!” Spike suddenly exclaimed as the thought popped into his head, giving himself a drum-roll on the steering wheel.
“No,” Xander dismissed scornfully.
Spike flipped down the passenger sun visor, tapping his nail on the mirror. Xander smacked the hand away and slapped the visor back up.
Best suggestion squashed flat, Spike didn’t so much concede defeat as couldn’t be arsed to continue.
“C’mon then. V.”
“With bells on.”
“But…! You cheating git!”
“Not cheating. It’s a…a gesture. A symbol.”
Xander paused for a self-satisfied sigh.
“The existence of futility.”
A nudge brought Xander out of his doze, and he stretched and yawned, left hand dropping onto Spike’s head when he finally slumped. He stroked the vampire’s crunchy hair as he peered out of the side window.
“I can find a house if…”
“No, this is fine. Where are we?”
“Not telling you.”
“Is there a chapel near here?”
“Is there anything near here?”
“Nothing that should lead you astray.”
“Oh, good,” Xander said meaningfully. “That will give us hours of uninterrupted talk time. Hours and hours.”
“Threats won’t work. We’re staying put. No more dead kids or kidnapped girls, no more…”
“Yes, being you, you bloody trouble-maker.”
“At least you won’t need this shit on your hair if there’s no-one around to see you.”
Spike threw Xander a caustic look and shook the petting hand away, leaving the car and heading to the office to book them a room.
Xander stood in the parking lot and studied his surroundings, relaxing his meagre mental defences and, for once, smiling at the soaring level of voices. It all felt positive if a little sad – so many voices with no loved ones to listen – but there was none of the recent undercurrent of trauma and that was a vast relief.
As he had at every opportunity for the last two weeks, Xander listened carefully in case Spike’s mother was attempting to make a connection, at the same time staying alert to the possibility of Edmund returning. One welcome, one not, and only the first would be automatically offered to Spike. Not at all ethical to censor communications, but Xander felt protectively justified in this case.
“What now?” Spike asked apprehensively as he approached.
“Now?” Xander thought. “Bed, sleep, wake, breakfast, talk, talk, talk.”
“Is the chairman accepting any additions to the agenda?”
“Sex,” came the adamant conclusion from Spike.
“Bet no-one ever accused you of being single-minded, huh?”
“And God forbid anyone should suggest that I’m saying what you’re thinking.”
“No, that’s not true: my ass would forbid it.”
“You can top. Exclusively. Now till…Sunday.”
“My ass wouldn’t necessarily approve of that either.”
“Your arse never shuts up, does it?”
“Want to rephrase that?” Xander sniggered, and Spike rolled his eyes before collecting their luggage from the Cadillac’s trunk and herding Xander to their room.
Once inside and unpacked, Spike went to Xander, gently caressed his face with chilly hands, and kissed him. This wasn’t anything to do with the first semi-scheduled bout of sex and Xander immediately sensed that. He wrapped his arms around the slim body and held determinedly on.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Feeling…itchy. I need to get out and let off some steam.”
“How did it go?” Xander said unhappily. “A bottle of Jack, a fight for your life, and a…”
“Just the fight,” Spike assured. “Not about to get drunk, or fuck around and make you feel bad.”
Xander nodded glumly, having no reason to doubt Spike’s word but not feeling much better for it.
“Where will you go?”
“Just…” Spike shrugged, “…out.”
“There are bears around, big cats…”
“You’ll chance getting ripped to shreds for the sake of feeling itchy?”
“Won’t come to that.”
“How do you know?”
“’Cause I can out-fight or outrun any one of them, any species, any breed you care to name.”
Good answer. New tack:
“You’re happy to leave me alone here?”
“If you’re happy to be left.”
“What if we were followed?”
“What about the entity?”
“I did say if you…”
“Is this about the talking?”
“More about…I think…the anger.”
“You can stay here and be angry with me.”
“Maybe I don’t want to.”
“Listen.” Xander fell silent; Spike hugged him hard. “There’s violence inside me, Petal, and I need to let it out, away from here, away from you. Can’t talk until I do.”
Xander didn’t want to understand but did, although he had to force himself to admit it, even internally. He also respected Spike’s decision, and was resentfully grateful that the vampire was taking the potential havoc to a location other than this. However, understanding and appreciation couldn’t make him like or want this, feeling pretty itchy himself at the thought of Spike versus Grizzly, and even more so if he considered the entity paying a visit during the vampire’s absence.
“Can I call you if I get worried?” he asked quietly.
“Course you can. I’ll set the phone to vibrate and tuck it somewhere sensitive.”
“Yes. Seriously. Any sign of that nasty and I’ll be back before you know it.”
“If…y’know… If it’s like before… Don’t hurt me too much.”
“Not going to happen. No nasty, no need. Stop thinking about it; try to get some sleep.”
“Alone? You have that short a memory?”
“Try.” Xander shrugged, and Spike chuckled as he kissed the man’s non-cooperative mouth. “Kiss me, you git, or I won’t think it’s worth coming back.”
“You’ll be back,” Xander growled against Spike’s lips. “Not over, is it?”
“No, but… If there’s still no definite date for the Dead Guy event after Christmas we’ll have to take a good hard look at this situation. You can’t live like this indefinitely, can you?”
Xander’s tight hold loosened, and Spike immediately wondered if he’d said the wrong thing, if practicality was enough to have Xander, symbolically, letting him – them – go.
“Guess not,” Xander said quietly, looking anywhere but at Spike’s face.
“But it’s…been fun. One way or another.”
“And, maybe…if it’s still fun…?”
“Like you say, after Christmas…”
“Wait till then.”
“Sure. Though…I have my work, and you must have commitments to get back to that are more urgent than…”
“No,” Spike said firmly. “You’re…”
Their eyes met and the words – the growing sentiments – were too hard to express.
“Going to save the world?” Xander eventually volunteered.
Spike hugged Xander hard, kissed him harder, and left without looking back.
As the outer-silence settled around him, Xander made a slow three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn, taking in the room, unconsciously studying the walls for bugs. And when that study became conscious, he allowed himself a single shudder before making a determined effort to turn the sterile surroundings into something a little more homely, pulling across the partition that divided the main area into two cosier rooms, unpacking and distributing their possessions as he sang Christmas songs to keep himself from thinking too much.
Walking in a winter wonderland wasn’t cutting it; he placed the laptop on the kitchenette counter and booted it up, going straight to the media player and choosing something loud and cheery to fill the room. Better. A little. Always content to dance alone, he filled half-an-hour with some energetic boogying, and the subsequent thirty minutes with mawkish sentimentality, fuelled by a selection of music that he’d filed under ‘Bronze’.
Inspired by this environment’s Spike-sized void, Xander pulled a stool across and sat at the counter, his attention on the laptop, on a folder that Spike was expressly forbidden entry to unless Xander was the one over when this was over. Spike had agreed to that, and willingly, so Xander suspected that the vampire had already read the entire contents, but he carried on with his letters to his friends and pretended this was all completely private. More pertinently, he began his difficult, painful, virtually impossible to compose, goodbye letter to Spike.
Xander stirred when Spike returned a little before dawn, dozily alert if such a thing is possible, sensing the presence and feeling safe, smelling foliage and soil, and wet fur and metal, and thinking he should wake up, really, yes, wake up, and check Spike out in a ‘concerned for well-being’ rather than sexual way.
He was waiting, casually propped in the bathroom doorway, when Spike left the shower; the harshness of the fluorescent light emphasised the damage that Spike’s body had sustained, and Xander fought to suppress the inclination to panic or fuss, choosing instead the option he knew Spike would prefer. Without a word Xander examined the extensive array of cuts and bruises, still at a distance, still casually propped, remaining silent as Spike held out his arms and rotated on the spot, allowing the man to catalogue every healing wound.
This was Spike, Xander accepted. His lover, deserving of his respect. This was Spike, and Spike didn’t care that Spike was black and blue, torn and bloodied. This was Spike, and the peace on Spike’s face said that Spike’s condition was a positive resolution to a negative situation.
Xander made himself look past the damage, just see Spike, his facial expression, his body language, his overall attitude, and the longest gaze passed between them, carrying understanding, consideration, reassurance.
“I think,” Spike eventually said, “that you’re going to tell me how you feel about what happened.”
“I hadn’t planned on doing that now, but… Are you asking me not to?”
“You want to know?”
“I need to know.”
“Because you said you’d be my guide and I’m feeling a little…lost.”
With some difficulty Xander ignored the urge to smother Spike with hugs, affection, apologies, and hours of diverting sex, and instead he returned to what he now thought of as the living room, sitting on the edge of the ‘day’ bed, composing his thoughts as he waited for Spike to join him.
Spike stopped off in the designated bedroom, choosing to dress for comfort in a pair of Xander’s sweatpants, eventually joining Xander and pulling the armchair around to face him before sitting and staring expectantly. No pressure there then.
“Guiding you doesn’t mean telling you what to think,” Xander began, “I don’t want you to listen to how I feel and think you should feel the same. Although…” Xander shrugged. “I know what I want for me, and I know what I want for you.”
“There should be, yes. Unless I screw this up. Or unless you’re a much better person than me.”
Spike frowned at that, and Xander leaned forward to smooth the creased brow with his fingertips.
“You shouldn’t touch me. Exorcising the violence has left an almighty void that wants filling with one truly titanic shag.”
“Perhaps we should get that out of the way before we talk.”
Spike backed out of Xander’s touch.
“No. I’m better off believing that I have to listen to you before I can have that.”
“And horny men make such great listeners.” With a smile that appeared to be one of insincere sympathy, Spike sat back and waited for Xander’s words of debatable wisdom. “Okay,” Xander braced himself. “Okay.” A further pause. “Remember I was talking to you about the principles of spiritualism? About tolerance and acceptance? I believe in those principles so strongly, I know how wrong it is to judge, and that I’m in no position to do that. But…I can’t help it, not where this guy is concerned. See, I’m in the same position as you, I know how things are supposed to work, I know what I should and shouldn’t do or feel.”
“You’re not like you were,” Spike interrupted, giving in to the unquestioned need to defend Xander, even from himself and the truth. “You’re not the man you were back in Sunnydale.”
“Yes, that’s true, I was unreasonably judgemental back then, and I’ve had to fight to get over that. The first time I wondered aloud about whether every spirit deserved a voice I got slapped into line so fast and reminded that I’m a – a vessel, not a judge. I’ve had to deal with that part of myself and I’ve learned it was about false security and emotional defensiveness, and getting this far has been very hard. I’ve tried to move on as a person.”
“Yes, I have,” Xander agreed. “But it doesn’t stop me looking at this situation and thinking that you were justified in snapping Koga’s neck. I’m judging him, and condemning him; it goes against everything that I’m trying to be, and frankly…I can live with that.”
Spike gaped wordlessly at Xander’s face, taking in the resolve but unable to credit what he’d just heard.
“No,” he finally managed to exhale.
“Yes. Look at what he did to Tania, and she’s the last of too many. Too many, Spike. It had to end.”
“You’re… You’re going to try to justify this? You?”
“You’re not the only one who’s spent hours thinking about what happened. If I was nothing to do with this case, and had seen a news broadcast about this guy and they said he’d been killed by a vigilante, I’d’ve thought – known – he’d got what he deserved. Maybe even got off lightly, because you know how someone like that gets treated in prison.”
“Yes,” Spike softly acquiesced.
“Right, and I’m glad to see you’re jumping into my corner now. Think of the amount of lives that have been saved by me interfering and you doing what you did. No us, and… Tania wouldn’t have been the last, Koga wasn’t going to stop until he got caught, and the cops didn’t have the first clue about him, about where he was taking the girls; they weren’t going to find him without a bizarrely lucky break.”
“You’re telling me…I’m allowed this one?”
“Hey, I’m the one with the long-term soul and this is a simple case of… Vengeance. Vengeance, and maybe that isn’t right but in this case it’s just. Try to find someone in this state who isn’t happy that piece of shit is off this plain. You or a lethal injection, and I’m voting for you. He was an evil man and he died too many years and too many bodies too late.”
“I killed a human, something I had promised myself…”
“You didn’t kill him,” came a protest of complete conviction. “You forced him out of this stage of existence, into the next stage where he’ll be a danger to nobody. One day, when he’s fixed he’ll be grateful to you too.”
Spike studied Xander speculatively. The man’s standpoint and vehemence were shocking, but also very touching, with his unwavering support and… It reminded Spike of how he’d be in similar circumstances, defending Xander to the last. But that was because of certain…feelings. And, as far as he knew, Xander didn’t have those certain…feelings. Did he? With that question buzzing around his head, he could barely hang onto the topic in hand.
“I get that this might be easier for me because I know mortal death is not the end, but… Shit, Spike, I have felt terrible over Koga’s death, but not for him. I’m so scared about your state of mind, your future, the repercussions of what I’ve done to you.”
“Don’t think of that.”
“How can I not?”
“Because I’m telling you.”
“I’m torn. Between…hating that I put you in a position where this could happen and…and…” Xander hesitated and Spike encouraged him with a look. “And…wishing you’d met Koga when you had no soul and no chip.”
“Fuck,” Spike whispered breathlessly, gazing at Xander with scary adoration.
“I know that’s wrong, but… Despite being a judgemental bastard, I’ve always had very…selective morality. Or is that because rather than despite?”
“Y’know, way back, even when I was horrified at what Willow did to Warren, even when I was making the appropriate noises in company, in private I would think of Tara and…way to go, Willow!”
“Yes. Yes, I agree, I understand, but when I fought for this soul…”
“C’mon, Spike! The soul wasn’t about making you a saint. It gave you a conscience that is as flawed and flexible as a soul needs to be to progress through life without being such a burden that it’s impossible to carry on. It allows you to make the choice. You made the choice, Spike, and if you’re damned for it then I deserve to be too, because I know you made the right one.”
“You can live with that?”
“Why? I mean…how? Why is this so much easier for you?”
“Probably because I can be realistic. I have no expectations of myself that I can’t live up to; I’ve had a lifetime to learn about me and come to terms with what you, relatively freshly souled, would consider my failings.”
“Relatively freshly souled but…I still enjoy the violence,” Spike confessed. “You think…”
“That you’re a demon, yes. Being realistic here. Join in.”
“Angel’s a demon, but I see his conscience, what he does out of necessity not personal satisfaction. He wouldn’t…”
“I can’t believe you want to emulate him.”
“He’s the only comparison I have, isn’t he?”
“Comparison, yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to be like him when the two of you are so completely different, and got to where you are through totally different circumstances.”
“I won’t listen to you hold Angel up as some kind of shining example.”
Xander fumed and Spike appreciated his anger, glad of the baggy pants because his excitement at Xander’s defence of him would possibly have poked a hole in his old jeans.
“Angel and I are so different because…?”
“Let me think. Two minutes.”
“Two minutes,” Spike agreed, gaze following Xander admiringly as he paced, deep in thought. “Are you up to me fucking you, Love?”
“’Cause I need to.”
“But not now. Gimme two minutes. Two uninterrupted minutes.”
Spike sighed and waited, resisting the urge to touch either himself or Xander and trying to concentrate on where they were headed. He glanced at the clock in the kitchenette.
“That’s more than…”
“Okay.” Xander came back and sat facing Spike once again. “You and Angel? It’s obvious, but it’s been taken for granted, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, so feel free to stop me and we’ll move onto dealing with that.”
Xander gestured toward the vampire’s highly apparent show of desire, tugging his t down over his boxers in a vain attempt to disguise his own lustful response.
“Talk. Talk fast.”
“You are never going to be Angel, with Angel’s conscience, because his soul is a curse and yours is simply a soul.”
“Right,” Spike accepted, rising and grabbing Xander in one smooth move, throwing him further up the bed and pouncing, grinding their bodies together as his head disappeared under Xander’s baggy t-shirt and his mouth found a nipple to torment.
“Yeah, right,” Xander gasped, “and your soul is…fuck, Spike, just… Normal. Your soul is normal, and as prone to…to…to…bad as…good as any…one’s. Oh, that’s…that’s…”
“Glorious,” Spike announced as he stripped away Xander’s boxers. “Bloody glorious.”
“And…Ang…Ang…oh, God, I love what you do with your mouth…”
“Yeah. Uh… Angel, cursed, he’s going to feel everything acu…acu…tely because surely that’s the…fuck!…nature of a…a…curse.”
“Normal versus abnormal, and you…have to…have to… Stop. You have to stop.” Spike reluctantly slid his mouth off Xander’s cock and nuzzled his balls instead, catching hair between his lips and gently tugging. “Am I wasting my time?” Xander panted, tugging Spike’s head up by the ears.
“No, I was listening. My soul’s pukka and the old gits is a curse in the truest sense.”
“It makes sense and, like I said, it’s obvious. Soul-wise…you’re Joe Average.”
“Sod off, I don’t want to be Joe Average.”
“Yes, you do.”
“If the alternative is Angel’s way, you do. Would you want to be Angel? I wouldn’t want to be Angel.” Spike fell still and thought. “Getting there?” Xander prompted. “You with the practical, all-purpose, twenty-first-century-friendly flexi-soul, no more using Angel as an example, ‘cause…”
“Actually, I was wondering if there was any chance of you going down on me.”
“Yeah. Sorry. No, not sorry, who am I trying to fool?”
“I thought this stuff mattered.”
“It does. We’ve reached a point where I know what you think, and I know what you think I should think. I’m…guided. The rest is up to me, isn’t it?”
“Hmm. Put like that…”
Spike was already on his feet and stripping off the sweatpants.
“Can I have you, Love? One way or another?”
Xander tearing off his t and throwing it aside as he repositioned himself on the bed was answer enough. He gestured Spike to where he wanted him, confirming Spike’s hopes that the chance of a blow job was fairly excellent, a further unsubtle hint being the whole ‘grabbing Spike and manipulating him into a mutually beneficial position before wrapping his lips around the vampire’s knob’ manoeuvre.
“Tell me,” Xander mumbled around Spike’s cock, “tell me what you want.”
“Bit hard if I’ve got my mouth full.”
Spike slid his lips over Xander glans, and relaxed his jaw as, instinctively, Xander thrust.
Unable to concentrate on what was in his own mouth while Spike was being so expertly distracting, Xander was more about enthusiasm than skill, and that suited Spike just fine; he rejected the unwanted notion that there might not be time to hone that enthusiasm into something more refined, and for now this was so much more than he’d ever expected.
Xander, however, had other ideas. He forced himself to slow down, pay attention, refusing to let himself get off on the knowledge of what was happening here, although that would have been easy enough. Aside from the irresistible forays into foreskin manipulation that Spike obviously couldn’t match, Xander assumed that Spike was taking his own advice and doing what he personally liked, so Xander diligently copied the vampire’s pattern of licking, sucking, near-biting, the nifty little wriggle of his tongue that sent a vibration all the way to Xander’s spine, and the moment Spike figured out what was happening the eroticism of the whole experience turned up a notch.
Erotic, yes, to be dictating his own pleasure in such a way, but Spike couldn’t help teasing Xander with impossible to replicate moves, and when Xander eventually did a little figuring out of his own and growled warningly around Spike’s cock, Spike gave in and chuckled around Xander’s. Xander released Spike and leaned up to glare.
“I was wrong. You’re a very bad man.”
Xander swore in horny alarm as Spike wickedly flashed golden eyes at him, knowing the effect that would have, and especially when the vampire’s efforts to bring Xander to climax redoubled. The man had seemingly no resistance, and as he gasped and shuddered and delivered his orgasm to order, he was able to accept this particular frailty with the stoicism of the well-blown.
“Don’t you bloody dare pass out, Xander!”
“Huh? Oh. No. No… Damn, you’re good.”
“Good and horny. Will you just…”
“Hmm?” Xander politely enquired as his mouth enveloped the vampire’s impatiently waiting erection. Spike groaned a protracted groan. “Hmm?” again from Xander.
“The heat. Extraordinary. And when you— Fuck. That. Do that. And…”
Spike wriggled with pleasure, spreading his legs wider in encouragement as Xander fingers tickled their way over his perineum and between his cheeks, caressing his opening with teasing brushes.
“Oh, yeah. You have me. You should be in me, fucking me.” Xander nodded, paused, shook his head, all with Spike’s cock at his mercy. “Much more of that…” Xander’s naughty snigger had Spike tugging at his hair, and there was a whole second when Xander thought about pulling away and bringing Spike off with his hand. A whole second before he shook his head again, dismissing both Spike’s grip and his concerns, a combination of action and knowledge that ensured a swift conclusion. “Xan, gonna…” emerged the last, strangled warning before Spike was vigorously encouraged to a little less thought and a little more action; an automatic shift to prevent Xander gagging, and he yelled as he filled Xander’s persuasive mouth with spurt after spurt of semen.
Xander was pretty pleased with himself. Not just for leaving Spike in a boneless heap, but for coping with the whole situation, bearing in mind his recent apprehension. And now he’d discovered that he could cope, he was looking forward to fulfilling a little request of Spike’s. He grabbed the floppy vampire and hauled him up the bed, cuddling into him and kissing him deeply, sharing their flavours. Spike sprang from semi-conscious to enthusiastically alert, returning the kiss with breath-taking passion.
“Wow,” Xander managed on a post-smooch, whooped intake of oxygen. “That’s… That’s…hot.”
“Told you so.”
“I would so fuck you now if I were in any way capable.”
“Poor feeble human willy,” Spike faux-sympathised as he fondled the limp body part in question.
“Now you’re going to be a kind, considerate sex fiend and put the poor feeble human willy down. Sleep. We have to sleep.”
One of Spike’s swift moves found them repositioned – human back to vampire chest and heads sharing a single pillow – in seconds. Xander’s fingers linked with Spike’s and squeezed.
“You okay? With what I said?”
“I’m…thinking about it.”
Xander pulled at Spike’s arm to bring him impossibly closer.
“Okay. I guess. Thinking. That’s…okay.”
“I brought you something back.” Xander glanced over to where Spike was turning an indiscernible object over and over in his hands. “Can’t make up my mind whether you’ll accept it as it’s meant, or simply…” Spike shrugged.
“Can I see?”
Spike shrugged again and, filled with curiosity, Xander went to him, finding immovable fists closed around the mystery item. He vainly scrabbled at the clenched fingers for a few minutes before grudgingly accepting the futility of it.
“I thought we’d go out later,” Spike said, abruptly cheerful, “get your pressies.”
“I want this one.”
“I’ll put the money in your pocket, you can forget it’s anything other than your own.”
“No, I can’t. But I appreciate that. And give me this.”
Scrabble, scrabble. So much for grudging acceptance.
“There’s a mall in the town, stays open late, I checked it out before…”
“Gimme this! Spike. Spiiiiike…” At the prospect of a full-blown whinge, Spike’s fingers gradually unfurled to reveal a large claw, stump and tip streaked with blood. Xander stared at the claw, and Spike stared at Xander. “Is this what I think it is?” the stunned man asked in due course.
“Depends. What do you think it is?”
“Is this…a bear claw?”
“A bear claw. From a bear. A big bear. Big as in…big.”
“Fair size, yes.”
Xander shuddered as he had a mental flash of this vicious-looking item tearing through the flesh of Spike’s bicep, leaving the wound that was taking twice as long as the others to mend. He reached out and gently stroked the damaged flesh.
“I hate the thought of…”
“I’m fine, Love. Better for it.”
Xander made himself accept Spike’s assurance, and got back to…
“How is it meant?” Spike cocked an eyebrow in question. “You said about me accepting it as it’s meant. How is it meant?”
“It certainly wasn’t meant to turn you white as a sheet. Shall I chuck it out?”
“No, you shall answer the question.”
“Of my esteem.”
“Of…of… That’s…” Xander gave up trying and, flushed with pleasure, went for the simplest, if woefully inadequate, acknowledgement. “Thank you.”
“If I clean it…”
“Yes, I’d— You mind doing that?”
“I don’t mind.”
“Great. Thank you. Again. Thank you. And again there.”
Xander flung his arms around Spike and hugged.
“Thought you’d give me a hard time.”
“I’m pretending that once you ripped that out of its paw the bear hobbled away and is presently recovering from the encounter in a cosy woodland grotto.”
“Very astute, that’s exactly how it happened.”
“And you’re better for it.”
“For the fight. For the way you behaved when I got back: not the sex, the lack of fuss. And, on consideration, the sex.”
“And for what I told you?”
“And for what you told me.”
“Does my reaction to Koga shock you?”
“It did. At first. Then…” Spike drew back and grinned approvingly at Xander. “You made me so bloody horny; natural justice and an appetite for revenge, so…admirably primal.”
“Just your average guy,” Xander grinned back. “Scrape the surface of civilisation and…”
“You don’t have to tell me. I live it, don’t I? Los Angeles,” he grimaced. “Almost makes me miss the Hellmouth.”
Another hug and a kiss, and then Xander withdrew a little, an uneasy expression usurping the smile.
“That’s average guy covered. How about…un-average vampire?”
“Not giving yourself a hard time, I hope.”
“Okay.” Xander nodded and backed away in the direction of the door. “I’ll check for a duffel, you wash that claw for me, and then we’ll…”
“Eat, shop, talk. We’re bloody girls.”
Xander laughed and left; Spike went to the bathroom to scrub the claw clean, marvelling over the fact that Xander hadn’t freaked at its general gruesomeness and liberal coating of both ursine and vampire DNA. The human still had plenty of surprises for him, that was nice to mull over. Mulling: somehow, much nicer than thinking.
They returned from their shopping trip with piles of presents – piles of piles, in fact; the words ‘Spike’ and ‘self-restraint’ had no right being in the same sentence. Xander was delighted and humbled by the vampire’s generosity, dealing nonchalantly with Spike’s cheeky asides about him being a kept man, and abandoning his parcels and bags to dance with Spike in the motel’s parking lot, car radio supplying the music.
“‘Oh it’s such a perfect day’,” Xander sang along with Lou Reed, unquestionably sharing the sentiments. “‘I’m glad I spent it with you.’” He rubbed his icy nose over Spike’s. “I am. You know that?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Hey, how do you think we would have been if the sex hadn’t happened?”
“I think…we would have been how we are now, but without the sex.”
“You really think so?”
“Not quite as close, naturally.”
A kiss from Xander.
“And, early glitches aside, we were ready to be friends.”
“Glitches, huh? There were times I thought you were going to kill me.”
“You’re not the only one.”
“So, yeah,” Xander laughed. “I guess the fact we’re both still alive – in any sense – proves that we were ready to be friends. That’s…that’s nice.”
“‘Just a perfect day,
“I think they’re my lines, Love.”
“Something else I want to know: tell me…” Xander stopped to giggle. “Tell me exactly how much were you not looking forward to this mission when Giles mentioned my name.”
“Oh…marginally,” Spike lied, straight face cracking as Xander’s infectious giggles turned to doubly infectious full-blown laughter.
A circuit of the car to the end of the song, and they collected their parcels and took them inside, heaping them onto the day bed before falling instantly into one another’s arms, clumsily negotiating the partition, and kissing and groping their way across to the bed that potentially held far greater delights.
“This time I really am getting the camera,” Xander insisted, starting to move away but instantly tugged back.
“Every time we try that something happens.”
“Not this time.” Kisses. “And I want pictures of us. Many, many, happy, horny pictures of us.”
“Me too, but…”
“You just concentrate on looking hot and available.”
Xander finally managed to extricate himself and went straight to the table where the computer and its peripheries were piled up. Peering around the partition wall, Spike watched with full-on suspicion, and justifiably so. Xander’s hand was two inches from the camera when it fell still and as Xander’s body froze, Spike sat heavily on the bed amid a flurry of choice expletives.
“Always know bloody best, don’t you? Won’t ever listen…”
“Edmund,” Xander said quietly, and Spike’s whingeing came to an abrupt halt as he automatically sprang to his feet, practically standing to attention in the presence of his father.
“My— Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Xander returned to the bedroom, listening intently as Spike anxiously waited, and within seconds the medium’s head was shaking. “I was wrong and you were so, so right, Spike. You don’t need this.”
“What? What’s he saying?” Xander continued to shake his head. “What can he say about the nothing I was that’s so bad? What can’t you repeat?”
“C’mon, Xander, I’m ready for the old bastard. William was a harmless fellow, Edmund can’t…”
“He recognises what you are, what you became after William. He’s talking about Spike. You.”
“How does he know about Spike? No-one else…”
“Chose to know?” Xander suggested.
Xander shook his head again, taking a few jerky steps away as if attempting to avoid the contact.
“Tell me what he’s saying,” Spike demanded.
“He always did, and usually way out of proportion to the subject at hand. Scared me as a boy. Boy and older,” Spike sheepishly admitted. “That was without most of it being directed specifically at me. Now…tell me.”
“Yes, I do. I want to hear it, I need to. Tell me, Xander.”
Pain flickered across Xander’s face as his fierce desire to protect Spike was overwhelmed by a combination of the vampire’s insistence, and his own need to honestly convey the spirit’s message. One last pleading look and Spike – looking far less certain than he sounded – waved Xander on.
“Xander!” Spike snapped, “Just say it. I can imagine…”
“Abomination,” burst out of Xander’s mouth. “Vile, godless, abomination. Whore. In… … Abhorrent…whore in body and spirit. No redemption, no salvation, you will face the pits of hell and…and…” Xander paused, breathless and nauseated as he listened and steeled himself to repeat Edmund’s vitriolic words. “All heaven will rejoice at the fearsome destruction of this abomination, this…repugnant creature, this…” Another pause, another gulp of air that had turned thick and sour. “Foul and murderous whore, grizzled remnants of… … I can barely follow this, Spike, I’m sorry. Fucking hell, I’m sorry, you shouldn’t be listening to this.”
“What else?” was shakily enquired.
“Let Saul…” Spike waved aside Xander’s beseeching look, and Xander shuddered as he concentrated. “When… … When all that is holy is made corrupt, when His image is besmirched, no foul torment can be sufficient, no dire… … Repulsion is all… … Monstrosity, you tarnish all that is… … Evisceration and conflagration will…” Xander jerked away again. “No. No! That’s it, no more. Saul, please, get rid of him. Saul…? … Thank you. Thank you. Bless you.”
A welcome return to the familiar, harmless murmuring that he constantly lived with, and Xander turned to comfort Spike, only to find himself alone in the room.
“Spike?” he called softly, hoping the vampire would choose to come to him rather than force any kind of decision his way. “Spike?” again, but no answer, just a barely audible sniffle from the direction of the bathroom, leaving Xander with the choice of giving Spike some space to recover, or taking a chance on his presence being welcome and offering a little, admittedly inadequate, comfort.
A few more agonising seconds of hating Spike dealing with this alone, too aware of the emotional collapse that Edmund always seemed to instigate, and Xander was easing the bathroom door open, trying his very best to be unaffected.
“Hey, Baby,” he whispered in affectionate greeting when he found Spike scrunched on the floor against the far wall. Spike flicked a miserable, embarrassed look in his direction before burying his face in his hands. “Want me to leave?” Spike gave a firm shake of the head. “Want me to…” Another shake before Xander could finish his sentence. “What do you want?” Xander asked, and Spike’s head rose once more before a twitch disturbed the too-solemn, tear-streaked features.
“Don’t reject me, don’t think I’m— Please, Xander.”
“What do you want?”
“That was the general area I was considering, yes.”
“There’s no but? You’d love to, but…?” Xander gave a shrug, a gentle smile, and shook his head. “How… How can you want me?” Spike implored. “I’m pathetic. A Master vampire and I’m cowering in the bathroom, hiding from a bloody ghost. Pathetic. I’m pathetic.”
“Says my guy who faces up to hell gods and dragons.”
Spike barely managed to choke down the emotion that simple address stirred.
“And you shopped with me. It’s impossible not to acknowledge that kind of heroism.”
Another nervous twitch, full-body this time, and Xander dared to move closer, sitting by Spike, shuffling to his side, sliding his arm around the vampire and hugging hard.
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I…I kinda think the world of you too.”
“I—” Whatever protest Spike was about to make was quickly set aside in favour of a simple, “Thank you.”
Xander pressed a kiss into the hair at Spike’s temple.
“There’s nothing that Edmund can say to change that. The opposite in fact. The crueller he is, the more I admire you for surviving him.”
“Do something for me? Please? Believe me when I say that you’re a good person, even if it’s going to take Edmund an eternity to see it. Right now, your past only matters in respect of what you’ve overcome, whether that’s Edmund, or your history. You’re a fine man, and I need you to believe that, Spi— William. Believe me, William. Believe me.”
Spike twisted within Xander’s grasp and urgently kissed him; this was more than his right, it was presently his only comfort. His strength.
“I am going to believe you,” Spike promised as the close contact allowed him to calm down a little. “Sooner or later.”
“I guess I’ll settle for that.” More kisses, gentler now, less frenzied. “Want to come to bed with me?” Xander coaxed.
Spike peered suspiciously at the door.
“I feel like he’s still in there.”
“He isn’t, he’s gone, I swear he’s gone. Saul won’t let him back now.”
“If that’s what you want.”
“That’s…that’s what I want. He has no right.”
“He is gone, Spike. You want to…?”
“Stay here for a bit, eh?” Xander agreed with a kind smile, and a visibly relieved Spike huddled against him. “Just for a bit,” Spike whispered as he nuzzled Xander’s neck.
“Sure,” Xander whispered back. “I’m not going anywhere.” A stifled sob against his skin sent a tremor through Xander and he held Spike tighter still, murmuring further reassurances as he briefly, sadly, contemplated just how many of Spike’s friends had been lost and the scars that remained. “I promise you I’m not going anywhere,” Xander firmly reiterated before, with professional care and deepening personal concern, he delicately set about consoling his disturbed friend.