Manifestation by Lazuli Kat



Chapter 29 Handle With Care

Three in the morning and Xander had just listened to the Traveling Wilburys for the twenty-sixth time…

‘Been beat up and battered around.
Been sent up, and I've been shot down.
You're the best thing that I've ever found.
Handle me with care.’

…and was feeling progressively grumpy and sorry for himself as the volume of JD in the bottle decreased, yet wondering if somehow he’d missed a vital weapon in his armoury against the voices seeing as they had quietened to a more than acceptable level by the third generous swig.

He wasn’t to know that Spike had remained outside, figuring out exactly how he could get close enough to Xander to give him some peace; having extrapolated where the bed would be, the vampire moved as near to it as he could get, pressing himself flat against the skin of the building.

He wasn’t to know, but even in his present condition Xander figured it out fairly quickly when he finally got up and stomped across the room to switch the laptop’s media player off, finding himself battered by a sudden deluge of voices.

“Spike!” he shouted at the wall.  “Fuck off!”  Followed by a groan as, shortly afterwards, he heard tinkering with the lock on his front door.  “I’m sleeping now, fuck off!”

Xander quickly stripped off to t and boxers and scrambled into bed, tugging the covers up over his ears and clenching his eye shut.  He growled when he felt weight on the, until now, unoccupied side of the mattress.

“I was only trying to help,” Spike cheerfully offered.

“I wouldn’t need help in the first place if it wasn’t for your bastard self.”

“Mean drunk are you, this time?  Better than maudlin, I s’pose.”

“Fuck off, I’m sleeping.”

“‘Reputation’s changeable’,” Spike sang.
Situation’s tolerable.
Baby, you're
Handle me with—’”
  A sharp kick through the covers broke the singing into laughter.  “Situation not tolerable then?”

Throwing back the covers, Xander sat up, taking an unwieldy swipe at Spike, who easily ducked out of reach.

“You think this is funny?” Xander demanded.  “I have a life that you delighted in telling me was empty and lonely and you were so fucking right and you made me feel – you…  Of course this is funny to you.  You orchestrated it all, took me for the pathetic, trusting loser I am.  Everything was a huge fucking lie and of course it’s funny.”

“Xander, while I think of it: if this mission goes badly, if you’re hurt…  Do you want me to turn you?”

“Oh, gee, that’s a tough one, ‘cause you, Spike, you’re all I aspire to be.”

“It would save your empty, lonely life.”

“You have to be kidding.  I’d rather be dead, because what kind of hellish existence would that be?  Being owned by you.”

“I wouldn’t own you.”

“Sire, you.  Minion, me.  Possession, me.  I don’t think so.”

“Actually, company policy insists we don’t turn the work force, but had to check.”  Another taunting grin and Xander kicked out, harder this time, yanking the covers at the same time and sending Spike tumbling off the side of the bed.  “Gi’s a hand up, mate,” came the giggled response, and Xander would have sworn it was Spike who had a third of a bottle of booze inside him.

“Go away, Spike.  Go.  Away.”

“I don’t want to.”

Spike crawled onto the bed and Xander did the opposite, up and fumbling his way into his jeans, prevented from zipping his fly by hands that caught his wrists and trapped them at his waist, becoming a part of the hug that Spike gave him.  Xander shivered at the cold Spike was still radiating thanks to his prolonged spell outside, but the vampire felt good against his back despite that; Xander relaxed into the hold, taking comfort, whether or not that’s what Spike was offering, and Spike moaned in painful contentment.

“You have to go away,” Xander whispered miserably.  “I’m not drunk enough to let you stay.”

“Then drink more,” Spike responded in an equally miserable whisper.  “Get rat-arsed and take it out on me.  I deserve it.”

“I won’t do that.”

“Don’t believe I could’ve been so stupid.”

Xander swallowed hard, reminded Spike hoarsely…

“You were having fun.”

“I don’t mean—  How could I have been so stupid as to let you think, make you think I don’t care?”

Xander was already shaking his head.

“I’m the stupid one.  It’s been so good, you and me, so good that it makes no sense.  Not unless…”

No, Love, it’s not whatever it takes, I haven’t faked anything.”

“I walked into it, I let myself be used.  I should have listened to you, you said it was just sex and I saw it as something more.  ‘Cause I’m desperate for more.  It’s not your fault that I was upset, and…”

“I didn’t expect you to hear what I said to Angel, you’re right to be upset.  Other way around and I’d’ve been devastated.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t tell me that when I’ve spent hours trying to convince myself of what a dumbass I am.”

“If it wasn’t about keeping you safe I’d never deny you, I know how horrible it is to be on the receiving end of that.  I’ll tell anyone and everyone what you mean to me.”

“But I don’t.  Can’t.  Mean to you.  Just sex.”

Not just sex.”

“The things you said about me, the way you said them…”

“I told you, I was angry.  Talking to Angel I could let some of that out and then, later, I’d’ve calmed down, told you what I’d said to him.  I’d’ve warned you to play it cool around me and not give anything away so he wouldn’t take advantage.  We’d’ve made a joke of it, wouldn’t we, getting one over on him?”

“It feels like you’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Manipulating me.  You can talk anything around.”

Spike felt himself physically responding to the edge in Xander’s voice, knowing that Xander noticing was a disaster waiting to happen but finding the prospect so irresistible that he couldn’t help nudging the situation along.  He kissed Xander’s neck.

“Going to let me try?  Let me get away with it just so you can have me again?”

The lean against predictably became a lean away from Spike’s body.

“Don’t make it worse,” Xander warned.

“Bet you’re already getting hard for me.”

Spike’s hand slid into Xander’s open fly and groped, finding no show of interest and swiftly being fought off.  Xander jerked away and spun to face him, wobbling as he did so and leaning, at arm’s length, against the nearest wall.

“No,” came through clenched teeth.  “I’m not.”

“Soon change that,” Spike smiled, recognising that Xander was mere moments from lashing out; a step forward, hands reaching for…

Xander grabbed at Spike’s coat collar, using it to heave Spike against the wall, bashing him into it, once, twice, before pinning him in place.

“Stop it.  Stop playing me.  I’ve had enough.”

“I know it sounds like a corny old line, Petal, but you’re incredibly sexy when you’re this mad.”

Xander turned his face away to avoid Spike’s infuriating smirk, but the smirk was finally defeated when Xander looked back, expression full of pain, eye full of tears.

“Why are you doing this?” Xander forced past the lump in his throat.  “Please, Spike.  Please stop.  If you have as much as a shred of friendship for me, please stop.”

Swiping Xander’s hands aside Spike pulled him into a tight, meant embrace.

“Obnoxious,” Spike murmured, “you wanted obnoxious.  So I’d mean nothing to you.”

“It’s not working.  It just…hurts.”

“I’m so bad for you,” Spike admitted, his own voice a little shaky by now.  “But I’m too selfish to consider letting you go, even when I know I can’t have you.”

“You have me.  You’ve had me.  What more is there?”

“Things…  Things that aren’t right for you.  Things I should explain but I don’t see the point, because…  Forget it.  I’m coming to my senses, I’ll be back to normal, and I’ll be kind.”  Spike released Xander just far enough to enable him to place a tender kiss on his mouth.  “I’ll be kind now.”  Another firmer kiss.  “Kind.  I promise.”  Xander brushed the kisses aside and went back to hugging, needing the consolation and mindless about taking it.  “Let me stay with you, eh?” Spike coaxed.  “I’ll behave myself.  ‘Less you don’t want me to.”

Xander reluctantly let Spike go, taking half a step away and catching Spike’s hands to stop them roving.

“I want you to go.”

Spike waited for more but there was nothing, simply Xander looking upset and emotionally wrung out, perhaps a little wary of what next.

“Right,” Spike agreed and witnessed Xander’s relief.  “What about the voices?”

“I’ll manage.”

“Well…  You know where I am if you need me.”


Spike nodded, waited for Xander to release his hands, and headed for the door, only to turn back at the last minute.

“My life is full of regrets, Xander.  I might not repent but I do regret.  So many screw-ups have dogged my existence, often miniscule moments in a very big scheme, but they haunt me.  My fault and they haunt me.  Hurting you will haunt me.  But the rest…  Not one regret.  You, me, us – ‘cause there is an us – not one regret.”

Unable to meet Spike’s eyes, Xander looked wretched, ready to fall apart, and Spike couldn’t help himself, he was back with Xander in a split second, tugging him into another embrace.  Once again Xander held him back and took comfort.  And, once again, the scent of Xander, the proximity, left Spike wanting more, growing hard, and not prepared to hide that.  He pressed close, let Xander feel his need, turning his face into Xander’s neck and kissing.  With a shiver, Xander eased him away.

“No.  I said no and I meant no.  It’s not going to happen so don’t make things worse by trying, okay?  And reminding me of how horny you get when I’m unhappy is not the best way forward.”  Xander avoided an attempted kiss.  “Stop it, okay?  We have to concentrate on why we’re here, why we’re doing any of this.  You stop harassing me, I get some sleep, and I’m in the right mental place, I’m ready for Dead Guy.”

“Because you feel like you have nothing to lose?”

“No, letting things happen with you was when I had nothing to lose,” Xander explained bluntly.  “Now I’m focused, in a way I couldn’t be if I was still preoccupied with you.”


“Must you call me that?  You objected to me calling you baby, but…that…suggests so much more.”

You are so much more.  I was cruel about you because I want you so much and I can’t…”

“I don’t want to hear this.  For all I know it’s just another line for the simpleton to fall for.”

“It isn’t.”

“Then…then…  Nothing.  It’s time to let go.”

“Can you?”

“I always knew this was too good to be true but I’d hoped the pretence could be maintained until…over when it’s over.  Because of what’s happened we have to be honest with ourselves.  If you really were lying to Angel, and you…we…”  Xander took a deep breath.  “This was…mutual infatuation, brought about by past loneliness and the present inability to spend more than two seconds apart.  Infatuation passes.  It’s passed.”

“Has it?”

“Passed, and we’re back to business.  We’re okay, yeah?”

Spike, feeling anything but okay, took his time answering that.  If it hadn’t been for the desperation in Xander’s eye he would have fought the ludicrous concept of ‘back to business’ tooth and nail.

“I’m going to keep you safe.”

“I know you’ll do your job.”

“It’s not about my—  I’ll keep you safe, and then afterwards…”

“It’s over.  I don’t need you to remind me any more.  When this is over, it’s over.”

Xander attempted a brave smile as he urged Spike away, but he wasn’t fooling either of them.  In a belated effort to make this a little easier for him, Spike promptly left.

Alone again, Xander stared around the empty room and felt consumed by his isolation.  Drunk and confused but feeling unfortunately sober and rational, his heart ached to trust Spike but his head and his gut were having none of it.

Needing more company than disembodied voices could offer, he crossed to the laptop and clicked a key…

‘Been beat up and battered around.
Been sent up, and I've been shot down.
You're the best thing that I've ever found.
Handle me with care.’

…standing in the middle of the room to listen, arms wrapped around himself to inadequately replace what he’d lost.  The song played through three times before he began to not only listen but hear.

‘I'm so tired of being lonely,
I still have some love to give.
Won't you show me that you really care?’

Feeling the simpleton he’d been called, he let the sorrow wash over him and, defences broken down by anguish and liquor, he succumbed to a luxury he’d denied himself so often in his life.  He wept.

Spike heard.  Spike…felt.  Toying with the idea that he’d lost Xander was exponentially painful, but it seemed to quell the desire to possess the man – to be possessed – that had been raging inside him.  He’d created this situation, dealt with it, stepped back from the brink without inflicting any more damage on Xander than what was unfortunately necessary.

But Spike heard.  He felt.  And for now, all he could do was…nothing.

Mid-morning, and Xander finally shook off the last of his highly disturbed sleep and dragged himself out of bed.  His dreams, already grimly bizarre, had been further warped by the alcohol that made it so difficult to wake – escape – from them.  Appalling scenarios, riddled with the returned voices of the dead, and Xander was just about convinced that he was better off staying awake for the remainder of his life.

He cradled his aching head and grumbled at Spike for removing the zone, and for making the JD so necessary, but he was relieved to find he felt a little better today, not so wounded.  Obviously all the self-pitying bawling was highly beneficial: it was a shame he’d discovered that ten years too late.

Coffee first, then a long shower.  Even after such a troubled night his body sprang to attention at the merest touch, almost surprising Xander with the messages it was sending, and reminding him he missed Spike for more than the zone.

“That has to be bad news.  I miss having a vampire’s dick up my ass,” he giggled to himself, inhaling water and coughing it up as he mentally went through the scenario of being home and Simone discovering Spike’s replacement, complete with hot lube and depleted batteries.

The humour quickly passed as reality once again raised its ugly head, but this time, rather than submitting to a fresh fit of maudlin, Xander tried to analyse exactly what had happened.  He slowly washed as he thought, pausing to deal with his trained penis, completing the shower with a blast of nearly cold water to thoroughly wake himself up.

More coffee, and the train of events was falling into place.

“We had sex, and I asked him to say…stuff.  Stuff he cou—  Stuff he wouldn’t say.  I got,” Xander admitted with a sigh of self-disappointment, “pointlessly upset.  Just ‘cause I was fooling, doesn’t mean to say he could.  He said he had something to explain and never did.”  Xander turned in the direction of Spike’s accommodation.  “Spike,” he shouted, “you owe me an explanation.”  Before muttering to himself, “At least one.  Possibly many.  Many many.”

More coffee.  More thought.  Good sex; bad repercussions.  Bad repercussions, feeling he wasn’t so much as liked by the man he was sharing a bed with.

“Overreaction.  Spike isn’t obliged to always like me; I haven’t always liked him these past few weeks.  Overreaction.  Like Buffy.  Why am I feeling intimidated by the memory of Buffy?  Okay, apart from the obvious, why am I feeling intimidated by Buffy?  Spike’s moved on, I know that.  And Buffy exploded his damn car, that’s as good as ripping a guy’s balls off.  Spike has so moved on.  And he says I’m better for him.”  The pleasure that usually accompanied that statement was a feeble shadow of its former self, and Xander indulged a fresh pang of self-pity for all of five seconds.  “I am,” he stated firmly, “better for him.”  Histrionics aside, Xander did believe that.  More than believe: he knew it.

Okay: good sex; bad repercussions; worse dreams.

“Forget the dreams, forget the dreams.”

Which meant arriving at…

‘…freak show…moody bastard…bloody idiot…simpleton…’

“Oh, fuck.”

‘…I’m already doing whatever it takes and more…’

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

‘…not much to out-smart…’

…and in that tone of voice.

Spike had been laughing at him, and that hurt.  That hurt?  It all hurt, it hurt like crazy because he’d trusted Spike.  And what was he left with?  No explanation other than the lame ‘can’t tell Angel the truth’ that he himself had originally handed Spike, and the non-explaining of whatever it was that Spike wasn’t explaining.  No apology either, just…  Just a Spike who, beneath the obnoxious act, appeared to be no less miserable than him.

“It makes no sense!” burst from Xander as he became angry for a whole new reason.  Unfortunately, despite feeling positive about the wrongness here, he still didn’t quite have the courage it would take to go and confront Spike right now and sort it all out.  Positive…but not entirely positive.

“What if this is an act too?  More of whatever it takes.”

And, as Xander obviously hadn’t been meant to overhear that particular conversation, how many others had he slept through of the same tone and spitefulness?

Despite asking himself that question, Xander didn’t want to know the answer.  Confused again and weary and fed up with the drama and the trauma and the whole road non-lifestyle, all he wanted was home and…and…

As he gazed, hopelessly, around this miserable space, his eye fell on the car keys that he’d failed to return to Spike.

His heart began to pound.

All he wanted was home.

And he had the means to get there.

So acutely tuned in to Xander’s voice nowadays, Spike was woken by Xander shouting at him for an explanation; not the loudest shout, and several rooms away, but Spike reacted and was halfway to a rescue mission before he assessed what he’d heard and figured out that Xander was doing some figuring out of his own.

That was good.  And…not so good.  And occasionally bordering on bad.

Falling back into bed, Spike buried his face in the pillow that bore that last, faint traces of Xander’s scent.  He’d been patiently trying to wean Xander from his habit of nightly ablutions, feeling deprived of the wholesome flavours and odours that were too often smothered by chlorine and shower-gel.  Now the little he could smell stirred horny memories and left him listlessly humping the mattress in lieu of the hot body he longed for and couldn’t have and even if…

Spike groaned and buried his head under the pillow, wondering if Xander was doing this, going round and round in infuriating circles, mentally flogging this irresolvable subject to death.  Ah.  Xander.  Thinking about Xander helped.  Thinking about Xander in certain scenarios and positions did more than help, and the listless humping became a little less listless.

He shoved the pillow aside and rolled onto his back as his imagination swerved in the direction of one of Xander’s own barely touched upon, but highly appealing fantasies: the two of them, trapped in an elevator.  Now…how would it play out?

Xander would be the innocent, Spike decided, both intimidated and hopelessly aroused by this enigmatic stranger.  An innocent who sends shy, engaging glances to Spike, unknowingly arousing a demonic passion and blushing at the lust he has inspired when, the shortest time later, Spike’s hand guides his to the first cock other than his own that he’s ever touched and he fumblingly caresses it through taut denim.

“All for you,” Spike whispered as his own hand supplied the naive touches, and fantasy Xander offered up a coy kiss, just before he gave a naughty smirk that had Spike giggling.  “Yeah, I know, I’ve turned you into the kind of bint that would’ve had William spilling in his drawers.”

‘Turn this around, shall we?’ fantasy Xander supplied as he groped Spike a little more purposefully.  ‘Let me fuck it out of you.  You’re mine and I don’t give a damn what you think of that, you’re fucking mine.’

As fantasy Spike morphed into game face, the better to give himself honestly, real time Spike jumped up in bed with a frustrated growl.

“Fucking hell!  I can’t even summon up a decent shag without—”

The impending rant stalled as Spike froze, instantly recognising the sound of the Cadillac’s engine as it purred into life.  He was out of bed in less than a second and, yanking the drapes aside, barely avoided being burned by the watery sunlight that infiltrated his gloomy quarters.  Standing out of the direct light and twisting awkwardly to see across to the parking lot, he watched in silent despair as Xander guided the car onto the road and drove away without so much as a backward glance.

The onset of a huge hissy fit should have been a sure-fire bet but, in a single, draining moment, the anger was gone.  Even the frenzied panic when he felt Xander was out of his control and therefore in danger: gone.  Like Xander.  Gone.

“Ah, get yourself sodding killed,” Spike muttered as he let go of the drapes and returned to the bed, slumping onto the edge and sitting forward, head in hands.  “As if I care.”

But Spike did.

It wasn’t long before he was reaching for the phone and calling LA, hoping to speak to one of his huminions but unfortunately reaching his business partner.

“I’ve got a problem.    Yeah, something like that.  I need a trace on the Caddy, and I need a motor delivered fast.    Don’t give me that bollocks, he was…    Don’t fucking-well criticize him when I blew it!    It was.  I had to mouth off to you about him, and he overheard.    That’s just it: it wasn’t justified, he’s been trying his bloody best to get along and the problem is me.    I know.    I know.    Yes, I fucking know, you tosser!  Now, set up the trace and get me a car.  Have Dylan phone me when it’s sorted, all right?”

Spike stabbed at various buttons on the cell to make Angel go away, and flung the phone across the room to land in the armchair.  Another day of worrying and pacing, and knowing he deserved to be this stressed didn’t help.

“Sorry.  Would’ve been a start, wouldn’t it?  Sorry, Xander.”  He closed his eyes and pictured Xander’s face.  “Sorry, Xander.  Sorry, Love.”

A little fortifying self-pity, then he was up, retrieving the phone and trying Xander’s cell number.  Switched off, exactly as his charge had been instructed, and now an inconvenient pain in the rear.

Despite being sure that Xander had packed and left, not just taken the Cadillac out for a spin, Spike dressed and, duster over his head for protection against the light, he nipped along to Xander’s room and checked.  Empty, as expected.  But the pillows would smell more of Xander than those in his own room, so Spike gathered them up to take with him.  A last look around and Spike spotted a splash of red.  Warming on the windowsill above the heater were Xander’s gloves, almost entirely concealed by the drapes, and Spike may have felt silly to be enraged by Xander having cold fingers rather than this gift, but enraged he was.  Crossing and snatching them up, he knew he’d track the man down just to return these.  As he stared, Frosty the Snowman grinned cheerfully up at him.

“Bastard.”  And “bastard,” again, before he peevishly returned to his room to await the Cadillac’s location and his own transport.

That evening, Spike stood outside a red-brick building that mentally transported him to the beginning of this insane escapade.  But, however similar, this wasn’t the New Forest chapel, it was the group’s affiliate in a town called Little Dene, a mere thirty miles from the motel and one of the venues Spike had earmarked for Xander if he’d insisted on carrying on with his spiritualist crawl.

He’d found the Cadillac first and moved Xander’s belongings into the latest car, a charcoal-grey Lincoln Navigator: not quite what Spike had in mind but – as he was brusquely informed when he whinged about it – the most easily available.  He’d disabled the Cadillac on the off-chance that Xander would make some kind of run for it.

Now, entering the chapel and hearing Xander’s happy, contented voice coming from the direction of the platform, Spike was pretty sure that Xander wasn’t about to run anywhere.

“…there have been…disappointments, but…    Okay, that’s nice.  This one will make you happy.  This girl is the one.”

A dapper little man hurried to greet Spike, apologetically whispering that he’d missed most of the session; Spike assured him that it wasn’t a problem, that he was just here to collect Xander.  As he said it he hoped that the Front of House staff hadn’t been warned about a stalker Xander happened to have, with instructions to see him off, but the man smiled and guided him to an empty seat at the rear of the meeting hall.

“I’m looking for someone…”  Xander gestured into the audience.  “I have a young woman connecting with me, she’s talking about an accident, something to do with…metal, twisted metal, could be a car…    Okay, thank you.”  Xander narrowed down the area he was indicating to six or seven people.  “Beryl?”

One of the women glanced at her companions before shakily standing.  A microphone was rushed to her.

“Beryl Clough,” she told Xander self-consciously.

“Hi Beryl,” Xander smiled.  “This feels like family, like…a sister.”


“It’s Per—  It’s…Pearl.”


“A car and a pylon.”  Beryl gave a quick nod and lowered her head.  Xander, anxious that he couldn’t see her reaction, stopped reading.  “Would you rather I didn’t…”

“Carry on.  Please.”


The head came up and Beryl gave Xander a thin smile.

“I’m sure.”

“Okay…  She didn’t pass immediately, she was taken to hospital and…    You were there, speaking to her.”

“She could hear me?”

“Yes.  But she couldn’t do as you asked.  She couldn’t stay.”

“I’m glad she heard me.”

“You’d quarrelled.”  Another nod from Beryl.  “About…moving.  Pearl…  Oh, that’s hard, you’d quarrelled about her moving away from the district.”

“I thought…”  Here came the tears.  “That she’d left me because…because…”

“No.  After the accident…”  Xander listened and touched his temple.  “Oxygen starvation.    Okay.  In the accident she suffered brain damage.  Because of her injuries she suffered from oxygen starvation and…    She was glad to go.  She knows that if she’d stayed the quality of her life would have been appalling.  She…    I’m sorry, she chose to go.    But not to leave you.  She’s still with you.”  Xander quietly asked Saul for some evidentiary material, waiting patiently until he heard, and announced with a smile, “You planted pink roses for her, but they came up yellow, so you moved them and planted more, and they came up yellow too.”

Beryl gave a tearful laugh.

“They’re all yellow.”

“Because…  She mixed up the labels.  The cuttings were all in black pots and she mixed up which was which.”

“Does she know now?” Beryl asked and her friends laughed with her.

Xander listened.

“Nope,” he grinned, before he heard more and the grin softened.  “There’s another sibling.  There’s…James?  No, that’s wrong; again, tell me again.    Jason…Ja…Jasper.  Jasper.  He wouldn’t come here with you.”


“And he won’t believe this.”


“Pearl wants you to tell him.  Tell him that she’s carried on.    He won’t believe you but she wants him to be told.”

“I can do that.”

“Ar…Arnold took the blame.”  Xander frowned and shrugged.  “That’ll mean something to him.  Arnold took the blame.”  Beryl looked as confused, but sniffled and did some more nodding.  “And…that’s it, she’s gone.  I could feel her love for you, Beryl, hold onto that.”

“I will.  Thank you.”

The dapper little man joined Xander on stage and wound up the evening’s session, thanking Xander for guesting, the audience for attending, and taking a moment to give a brief, non-religious blessing to all present.

Spike saw Xander spot him from the platform, peaceful expression becoming grim before he turned and headed backstage.

Pursuit was necessary, Spike – both of them – understood that, and he caught up with Xander in a tiny room not unlike the bolthole at New Forest where they’d spoken for the first time since Sunnydale.  No preparations had been made for Xander here, no doubt due to the unplanned nature of his visit, and he was sitting shivering as he stared at the wall and waited with an air of gloomy inevitability for Spike.

Spike took one look at the post-meeting chill and searched around for Xander’s coat, finding it on a hook on the back of the door, bringing it and draping it over the trembling shoulders.

“Will that be enough?”  Xander shrugged, and Spike slipped off the duster and added a further layer of insulation.  Without waiting for permission, and receiving no objection, he rubbed Xander’s back and arms and gradually the tremors ceased.  “Shall I find you a cuppa?”

“I’ll be okay, you know that.”

“Nothing wrong with a bit of a spoil though.”

Xander began to pull away, but an entreaty, a whispered ‘Love’ from Spike brought about a barely audible groan, and Xander sank against the vampire’s reassuring form, letting the fussing progress to a half-hold and gentle strokes through his hair.

Ten more minutes and Xander forced himself upright and to his feet, returning the duster with a sad smile.

“How did you find me?”

“Superior detective skills.”

“There’s a tracker on the car, huh?”

“Yep,” Spike confirmed with a cheeky grin, and Xander chuckled.  Knowing the good humour would be short-lived, Spike jumped in.  “You have to come with me, Xander.  Leave the Cadillac here, it’ll be collected, and…”

“I was coming back,” Xander interrupted.  “I did think about going home, but in the end…  My leaving was about teaching you a lesson, I guess.”

“Not to take you for granted?  Lived it and learnt it, Petal.”

“But I was coming back.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“I was on my way when I recognised the name of this place and realised there was a chapel here.  Doug’s talked about Terry Sandwell a lot and I wanted to meet him, and…  This was good for me, I needed this.  It’s what I do, I help people, real people.  It’s what I do.”

“Home soon for Christmas.  Those people real enough for you?”

This time the smile on Xander’s face was open and joyful at the thought of home, and it remained as he led Spike back into the hall to introduce him to Terry.  It softened when Spike returned the misplaced gloves, it didn’t even go too far away when they left and Xander was introduced to the new car.  The smile only dissolved into tension when they drove away from the chapel.

“Another house.  Can you cope with that?” Spike asked.

“Do I have any choice?”

“I’m sick of motels, aren’t you?”  No answer from Xander.  “It’s not too far away, the house.  If you get an itch to come back to the chapel…”

“I will.  I don’t need your permission.”

Spike let that abrupt statement go, allowing Xander to flex his questionable independence.

“Am I still invited?” he asked instead, and Xander turned to him curiously.  “Christmas.  Is the invitation still extended?”

“You don’t like my friends, and you apparently don’t like me much outside of bed,” Xander reminded him coolly.  “I won’t embarrass either of us by leaving the invitation open.”

“Shame.  I’ve missed you.”

“You’ve missed the convenient body.”

“And that, yes, if I’m honest.  Have you missed me?”

“Sure,” Xander retorted sharply, “can’t go from all that sex to none at all without a few withdrawal symptoms.”

“Have you missed me?

“What’s to miss beyond your mouth and your ass?  You think I’m going to credit you with being more than a cheap sexual thrill?”

“I was hoping…”

“Let’s not move on to hope,” Xander said with a humourless laugh.

Spike didn’t; the awkwardness of early days descended upon them, and they were silent for the remainder of the short journey.

The Lincoln passed through hefty wooden gates, controlled by a small device that Spike retrieved from the door pocket, and very deliberately kept away from Xander when he tried to take it.

“I just wanted to see how it worked.”

“Don’t want to chance it getting mislaid.”

“You don’t want me to have the means to break out of this prison,” Xander argued, and Spike didn’t bother to contradict him.

They travelled up a topiary-lined gravel drive to what turned out to be a large but very disappointing house: plain, red-brick, boxy, and without any of the character or charm of their previous non-motel dwellings.

“It’s secure,” Spike reminded Xander when he saw the expression on his face.  “Splendour isn’t essential.”

“It really is a prison, isn’t it?  Known locally as Fugly Penitentiary, serving as a maximum security unit for kidnapped mediums and their deranged captors.”

Spike parked and jumped out of the car, quickly collecting their belongings from the trunk.  Xander took longer to emerge, taking his time feeling the surroundings now that Spike had moved away and taken the zone with him.  Initially the area felt as colourless as the house looked.

“Harmless, eh?”

“I guess.”

“It’s been cleaned,” Spike explained.  “Or cleansed.  Blessed, whatever it’s called.”

“Really?  Why?”

“Don’t have the details.”

Spike led them to the front door and juggled luggage as he tried to find the keys.  Knowing exactly how much he shouldn’t, Xander chose to help him, taking his time patting down the vampire’s pockets, pretending not to locate the keys the first time around so he could revisit the skin-tight jeans.


His fingers eventually dipped into one of the duster pockets and drew out his prize, dangling the bunch in front of Spike’s nose.  Spike stared past them into Xander’s eye.

“Enjoy that, did you?”

Xander looked the picture of innocence.

“We had to find the keys.”

“And you really thought I might have had them clenched between my buttocks?”

“I was simply being thorough.”

“You’ll be more than thorough before the night’s out if you keep that up.”

“You think?”  Xander took half a step back to ensure Spike a good view before he tilted his head, exposing the scar on his neck.  “Going to use it?” he taunted.  “Feeling unwanted enough yet?  Pathetic enough?”

Spike took his own step back and looked toward the house’s front door.

“Let’s get inside before we freeze to death.”

“Yeah.  God knows you’re already cold enough.”

The spite in Xander’s voice turned Spike’s stomach, knowing he’d put it there, blown apart the affection Xander had for him with his own weakness.

Xander may have sensed this minor triumph but he wasn’t particularly enjoying it, so much so that he fumbled over the keys in his anxiety.

“Stop stalling,” Spike finally snapped.

“I’m not.  There are…three locks, and…”

Dread shot through Xander at the sound of hissing, and he swung round, collapsing against the door in terror and expecting swarms of biting, choking insects to envelop him.  But just Spike, with his game face and his meanest scowl, as he hissed between his teeth.

Seeing the unanticipated extent of Xander’s fear, the new shock of betrayal on his features, Spike let the demon visage slip away.  He dropped the luggage and made a grab for Xander, amazed when the man let him hug him.  More: Xander clung to him.

“Bastards, ain’t we?” he whispered.

“I can’t do this, Spike.”

“Stopping, we’re stopping, say we’re stopping.”

“I wish—  I want this to be over.  Now.  Can I go home?  It’s almost Christmas.”

“Couple more days.”


“I’ll speak to Angel tomorrow, all right?  No news and…and we’ll call it quits.”

With a brisk nod Xander tugged himself out of the embrace, checking the surroundings for insects before heaving a deep breath to calm himself down and methodically trying keys in locks until the door was open and they were inside.

Spike took the luggage upstairs; Xander followed, pretending he wanted to know the house’s layout and where his bedroom was, but in fact desperate to stay within easy reach of the zone.  Spike automatically took their bags into the master bedroom and deposited them on the lush carpet, studying the luxurious suite approvingly.

“And where am I sleeping?” came from the doorway.

Spike stared at Xander for a long moment.

“Here,” he said defiantly.  “With me.”

“I can’t.”

“For your safety and wellbeing you can.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Why the hell are you asking?  You’re not as dumb as you look, you know why.”

“I told you…”

“Nothing.  Nothing.”  With a petulant shrug, Spike turned his back.  “See?  This is what I get,” Xander continued.  “You owe me an explanation and all I get is attitude.”

“No point explaining.  You’ve made up your mind.”

“Then un-make it.  If anyone can it’s you.”

“And have you accuse me of manipulating you.”






Spike spun back to stare at Xander, moved by his vehemence.

“It matters so much?”

“Because of this, I’ve lost you.  Yeah, it matters.”

Moved by his honesty.

“You’ve lost me, and I’ve…I’ve lost…so much.  Too much, Love, uncountable people that I’ve cared for.  One way or another…it’s going to happen with you, isn’t it?”

Xander drew breath to speak, but the knee-jerk denial refused to be spoken.

“Can’t help being mortal,” he offered instead.

“I surround myself with mortals.  I see their existences snuffed out.  I have eternity to mourn.”

“But I’m here, now.  And what we have—  What we had…”

“I want you.  Still.  More.  And that frightens me.  What I could have.  What I could lose.”

“I won’t deny knowing how that feels, but it still doesn’t explain…”  Xander paused for thought.  “Actually, it might start to explain whatever it takes.”

“There is no whatever it takes, you know that.”

“Stop telling me what I know!  I know nothing.  Nearly nothing.  I know – thought – we were okay until I teased you about belonging to me.  But it was teasing, that’s all.  Forget what I know, you know I was teasing.”

“I do.”

“Then something happened after that.  It wasn’t…the fuss about Buffy?” Xander suggested cagily.

“I haven’t made a move on Buffy since before I got the soul, can we get that clear right now?”

“Yes.  We can.  You have.”

Spike waited for the usual reaction but found himself having to prompt.

“Remind me you’re better for me.”

“At the moment all I can say is that I’m possibly no worse than her for you.”

“Bloody.  Marvellous.”

“It was after that, so…  There was nothing after that.  We slept, I woke up from a shitty dream and found myself listening to you talking about some asswipe you have total contempt for, and that asswipe turned out to be me.  And we’re back to whatever it takes.”


“Say you’re sorry before I beat it out of you!” Xander shouted across the room.  “Say for once and for all you’re fucking sorry!”  Spike swallowed hard and glared at Xander.  “Say it and mean it or I’m walking away now.  I don’t care if the uber-nasty eats me alive, I’m walking away from you and this and…and…”


“Don’t tell me I know anything!”

“Xander…”  Softer now.  Dangerously sincere.  “I’m sorry.”

Xander took a few seconds to assimilate that, fuming as he was, but it did gradually sink in.

“You are?”


“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.  Sorry, and I’m sure I’m sorry.  Sorry.”

“You mean it?”


Xander closed his eye, placed his hand on his chest, and sighed wearily.

“Please, stupid, intractable inner self, please let that be enough.”  Spike smiled at that, and Xander, opening his eye to see the smile, almost did too.  “But what difference does sorry make if—” Xander shook his head, looked completely bewildered, and continued in a despondent mutter, “I haven’t a clue.  I’m so far beyond having a clue.”

Spike strolled to Xander and took his hands.

“Remember hating my possessive streak?”

“Yeah, but we’re…  You’re talking about the memo to Angel?  What was in the memo.”

“See, you were warned…”

“We were past that crap,” Xander protested, “you said so yourself.  Me giving myself willingly was better than…”

“It is.”

“Then – then…  Fuck, I don’t understand you!”

“You don’t,” Spike agreed.  “And that will always be a problem.”

“Okay.  We’ll deal.  Possessive streak.  That’s what this is about?”

“Sort of.  And some.  From your point of view, it’s worse.”

“Worse?”  Xander surprised Spike with a bark of laughter.  “No wonder you didn’t want to tell me.”

“Xander, it’s about…  It’s not…  If I…”  Spike sighed and shook his head.  “Whatever I tell you, it’ll only make things…”

“Worser than the aforementioned worse?  How worse does this get?  What’s your worsest?”

Spike hesitated before groping his way forward.

“We’ve made…a connection.”

“What, you mean…  More than the connection you mentioned in the memo?”


“Would this be…in the non-groinal sense?”


“And that’s bad?”

“It was until I dealt with it.”

“And how did you—  Oh.  That’s where the obnoxious fits in?”  Spike nodded.  “Great.  Glad it was good for you.”

“I didn’t do it for me.  Well, I did, but…  For you, for us.”

“The non-us.”

“If you like.”

Xander ruminated and his shoulders slumped in self-imposed defeat.

“Okay.  Okay.  Was it something I did, something I got wrong?”

“Nothing consciously.  In fact you must have done something right.  Too right.  Stirred up instincts that shouldn’t have been stirred.”

“What kind of instincts?” Xander asked, already flinching at the implications.

Spike held Xander’s hands to his mouth and kissed the fingertips before reluctantly releasing them and turning away.  He crossed and prodded at his duffel with the toe of his boot.

“You staying with me, Love?  Tonight?”

“What kind of instincts?”

Spike glanced back with a weary smile.

“It was a joke to you, and I appreciate that, but if I’d said what you wanted, even as a joke…  I wouldn’t have been able to let go afterwards.”

“Oh.  So, it was…  Me and my stupid mouth.”

“Perfect mouth.”


“I want you to be safe.”  Spike returned to prodding his duffel.  “That includes safe from me.”

The vampire was so caught up in his mood that he wasn’t aware of Xander moving until he was beside him and speaking quietly.

Not whatever it takes.”

“Wishful thinking: whatever it takes.  Whatever it takes and you’d’ve been safe.  Hating me and humiliated, but safe.”

“I’m not safe now?”

“You are.  Supposedly.  Obnoxious switched us both off, didn’t it?”

“Did it?”

“Infatuation passes, you said it yourself.”

“Yeah, I remember lying about that.”  Spike groaned and kicked the duffel to the far side of the room.  “Spike…  Nothing more is going to happen between us, I haven’t lied about that.  It’ll be easier if I have my own room.”  Nothing.  “I’ll go find my own room, okay?”  Still nothing from Spike.  Okay?

“What do you think?”

“I’ve given up thinking.  This is me, without thought of any description, collecting my things and leaving you.”


“Purely for my safety and wellbeing?” Xander prompted, and Spike shrugged.  “Help me here.”

“To go?  Help you to go?”

“Or to stay.  I don’t know.”

Spike turned to Xander, easing him close and leaning their brows together.

“Never forget I’m a demon, Xander.  You must understand that when a demon wants…”

“No thinking and…I refuse to understand anything.  It worked when I was a kid.  It worked all through school.  It worked on the Hellmouth – okay, a little more selectively, but…”  Xander’s babble was silenced by Spike’s mouth covering his, a tentative kiss that grew more passionate when rejection took some time coming.  “No, Spike, we can’t, I can’t,” Xander murmured as he attempted to break the kiss.

“You want me.”

“I know, but I can’t.”  A great effort, but Xander finally found the strength to edge Spike away.  “The last scraps of my pride and I have a problem with it.”

“That’s a bastard.”

“It is.”  Xander stared longingly at Spike, wanted to at least hug him, but the aforementioned bastard pride stopped him making the move.  “I’ll find another room.”

“Stay here, I’ll move.”

“No, I…”

“Stay here.  This room has the best security.”


“And…nice rugs,” Spike weakly joked.

Too troubled to argue and needing some time alone, Xander acquiesced, pretending to ignore Spike’s departure until the door clicked shut behind him.

Seeking a little peace of mind, Xander wasted no time in preparing himself for meditation, his knees grateful for the comfort of one of the rugs Spike had mentioned.  As he settled he could vaguely hear Spike in the adjoining room, close enough for reassurance, and that was good.  And apparently vampire hearing was quite a curse, as Spike had apparently been brainwashed by Xander’s recent misery-fest play list.

It was both touching and amusing, hearing Spike’s muted curse at himself for singing a song he couldn’t get out of his head, then immediately returning to singing it.  Xander appreciated the feeling of being unwillingly fixated; appreciated the sentiments of the song.  Sorely missing Spike’s intimate presence, he wistfully sighed over the necessity of this separation and refocused his mind.  Not listening.

Not listening.

‘Been beat up and battered around.
Been sent up, and I've been shot down.
You're the best thing that I've ever found.
Handle me with care.’





Chapter 30 What If


“Go back to bed.”

“What are you doing up?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”



“Dreams then,” Spike gloomily concluded.

“No, I…  Yes.  But it’s no big deal, go back to bed.”

“What now?” Spike asked as he sauntered to Xander’s side, hoping he could pry Xander’s fingernails out of the back of the sofa without causing too much damage to human or soft furnishings.

“I don’t want to discuss it.”

Spike gently stroked Xander’s knuckles.

“Because it’s not like you’re feeling overly stressed, eh?”

“I’m – I’m…  I will be fine.  I will be.”

“I preferred it when it was me you’d cling to when you felt this bad.”

“That’s gone, I can’t even think of that.”

“I’m still here.”

“And so’s that pesky pride of mine.”

Moving behind Xander, Spike stroked his hands over the man’s rigid biceps as he leant against his back.  Inhaling deeply, he rubbed his face in the dark hair.

“Buffy again, was it?  Or Angel this time?  Extraordinary the damage those two can do, even at this distance.”

“It wasn’t them.  Not this time.”

“When Buffy showed up last time, why didn’t you do what I said?  Join in?”

“Because when I suggested it you were furious.  You vamped out and called me a fucking idiot.  You didn’t want me.  You had Buffy, and then you had Angel, and…”

“What?  Both of them?”

“First Buffy, then Angel appeared.”


“You were in him, and he was in her.”

“Sounds like he lost another bet,” Spike chuckled, and for once it was the right thing to say.  Xander began to relax, pushing back against him.  “Then what?”

“I…  Spike…”

“Go on, it’s only a dream, after all.”

“I…I…  Lit a matchbook and threw it on the bed.”


“But you didn’t die, not then.”


“You ripped out your own heart.  You said you wouldn’t be needing it with me.”

Spike’s arms slipped around Xander and he squeezed tight, understanding better the state of mind Xander had been in when he’d overheard the call to Angel, and once again feeling thoroughly ashamed over the whole business.  He knew by now that Xander’s dreams felt real, and that experience, followed by his own petty cruelty…  He couldn’t bear to think of it.

“Did sorry help?  Before?  ‘Cause…sorry.  Sorry, Love.”

“What for?”

“Being an insensitive wanker.”

“No.  That doesn’t help.”

“What will?”  Xander finally gave up his death grip on the sofa and wriggled around in Spike’s grasp, hugging him, unable to prevent a huge involuntary shudder as he did so.  Spike held him, soothed and shushed his fears into a manageable state.  “Tell me?”

“The usual,” Xander told him quietly, starting to feel idiotic now the dream-induced panic was fading.  “If it didn’t seem so damn real…”

“Bugs?”  Another shudder gave Spike the answer.  “Gone now, though,” he promised.  “You can go back to bed.”

“I don’t want to.  That room was full of them.  I was drowning.  I could feel them scratching about in my lungs.”

“They weren’t in my room, so we’ll go there.  You need to sleep.”

“I can’t.  I close my eye and I can’t get away from the damn things.”

“It was a dream, Xander.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that.”

“It wasn’t real.  Real is me being with you, keeping the dead quiet, the creepy-crawlies away, looking after you.”

Studying Xander’s face, Spike witnessed a fascinating blend of the just-fucked zone effect, anxiety, and, to his continued amazement, trust.  He resisted the urge to kiss Xander, even though he thought he could without too much opposition.  Suspecting he could take advantage of Xander’s present vulnerability was the best reason he had not to.

Taking Xander’s hand he began to lead him back to the second bedroom, feeling the drag caused by Xander’s lack of enthusiasm, but nevertheless persisting until they were in Spike’s bed.  The lamps were left on and Xander lay stiffly, staring at the ceiling.  Spike, on his own side of the bed and fighting the urge to be closer, was resigned to holding an inanimate hand and inflicting Xander with some honesty.

“I keep saying you know how I feel because…well, you do, don’t you?  You do know it’s not been just sex.”

Xander gave no indication that he’d heard the statement, but after five minutes he uttered a simple, barely there,

“I know.”


“I’m…  I was…scared.”


“Exactly what happened.  Even when I was trying to convince myself it was just sex for you, I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t let myself believe it because I needed – wanted – more.  I know it sounds crazy, but without admitting anything to myself, and even with you repeatedly reminding me that I didn’t know you at all, I thought I was right about you.  So when…when…”

“Whatever it takes,” Spike supplied flatly.

“Yeah,” Xander confirmed, still pained by the concept, turning on his side to face away from Spike.  “God, that hurt.  What made it so much worse was that I’d set myself up for that big a fall.  I tried not to blame you.  I couldn’t even stay angry with you for more than minutes at a time.”

Anticipating immediate rejection, Spike nevertheless snuggled up to Xander’s back and wrapped an arm around his chest.


“Shut up, you’re not getting rid of me.”


“Shut up.”

“I told you, when we were on the brink of…whatever this has been, that having someone and losing them might be what breaks me.”  Xander felt Spike tense; placing a hand on the arm that was tight across his chest, Xander squeezed reassuringly.  “I should be thanking you for making me face that fear, for proving to me that I could lose the kind of attachment that we had and survive.  See?  I’m not broken, Spike.  I could tell you the precise moments when I thought I was going to shatter into pieces, but…no.”

“What saved you?”

“Over when it’s over.  I know you’ve resented the concept, and hated that I’ve kept making you say it, but that was the easiest thing of all to believe.  I always trusted this being over more than I trust either of us.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Maybe.  But I’d rather be telling myself ‘I told you so’ than ‘I can’t go on’.  It’s the one thing that stopped me seriously what iffing.  I think if I’d started to see a future for us then found out you were doing whatever it takes…  It would have been the end of me.”

“I wasn’t.  I’m not.”

“You can stop saying that now.”

“I won’t until I’m sure you believe me.”

“What I believe…  I don’t know.  What I’m expected to believe is…  We had sex, I cracked a joke, you took it seriously—  No, you didn’t take it seriously, but it roused some kind of…of…”


“Instinctive reaction of the demonic variety, that meant you couldn’t reciprocate without us having to stay attached for…ever?” Xander tentatively suggested.

“For ever,” Spike confirmed.

“You didn’t want that for either of us, but for some apparently inexplicable reason it still pissed you off enough to need to vent a little – a lot – to Angel.  Naturally, you being a selfish asshole, we couldn’t have talked it through before…”

“I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“You could have given me the chance not to.  We could have talked…”

“You were asleep.”

“You’ll wake me up for sex but not for something this important?”

“I was still angry with you, that didn’t help.”

“Angry at me for losing you the heaven you profess not to give a damn about?”

“Angry at you for almost getting yourself killed.  Repeatedly.”

“Have you considered that the anger might be about you being sick and tired of me and you’re searching for an acceptable excuse?”

“You get killed and the world gets sucked into inter-dimensional war, my professional standing is well and truly blown, and my heart is broken.  Ever considered that?”

“Hey…  I’m not actually the last line of defence, am I?  Feel free to reassure me that if my attempt to contact Dead Guy fails there are several thousand contingency plans.”

“Stick to the point.”

“The point being…?”

“Do you believe me?”

“Do I believe what I’m expected to believe?”

“That’s a no.”

“That’s an ‘I want to believe you but I’m still feeling…’”  Xander mentally groped for the right words; when they came to him he gave a dry chuckle.  “Beat up, battered around, sent up and shot down.  You can call me Mr Wilbury.”

“Which implies I’m the best thing that you’ve ever found.”

“It also suggests that you should handle me with care so I guess we’re both screwed.”

In a sudden move that made Xander gasp in surprise, Spike had him on his back and staring up at a vampire in full game face.

“Look at me.”

“I’m – I’m looking.”

“I saved you from a lifetime of this.”

“But Xander’s all growed up, Baby, and he gets to make his own decision about whether he needs saving from this.”

The face morphed back to human, a deeply frowning human.

“What are you saying?”

“Don’t make assumptions.”

“You…you want this?”

Xander gave a sad smile as a rapid procession of emotions flitted over Spike’s face.

“What I want…  What I wanted was for us to be good until over when it’s over.  Now…  It isn’t as good, but we can be friends.  I hope.”

Spike groaned and dropped onto Xander, one hand snatching a handful of hair to keep Xander’s head still while he was kissed.  Xander didn’t put up any kind of fight or try to free himself, instead he casually tormented Spike’s naked sides with tickling fingers until the vampire squirmed away to scratch.

“You’re a bugger.”

“You should know.”

“Fancy proving it?”

With a fuck-off look, Xander once again turned onto his side, choosing to ignore Spike’s suggestion.  It was only seconds before the snuggling recommenced.

“Want to get the lights, Spike?” Xander asked pointedly.  “So we can sleep.”

“No.”  Kisses were pressed to the nape of Xander’s neck.  “Hell, I’ve missed you.”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“Missed me too, didn’t you.  Like you said, can’t go from that much shagging to none.  I imagined it, y’know: you dealing with it.  Drove me wild, thinking of you getting off without me.”

“You keep this up and I’ll go.”

“No going anywhere,” Spike growled as he rubbed himself against Xander’s hot, cotton-clad body, losing himself in the presence he’d yearned for.  “Did you think of me?  When you were pulling on that lovely cock of yours?  Imagine my mouth around it?  Push your fingers inside that gorgeous arse and pretend it was me fu—”

As good as his word, Xander yanked himself out of Spike’s grasp and scrambled from the bed, at the door when Spike caught him up and pinned him against the solid oak frame.

“It isn’t going to happen, so back off.”


“How bad do you want this to get?  Huh?  Want to fuck me over so badly I can’t do my job when we get to it?”  With a huge effort, Xander managed to force Spike to arm’s length.  “I meant what I told you.  Mentally, I’m back to where I should be, where we should both be.  You’re keeping me safe, I’m talking to Dead Guy.  If I live through it your people are  helping me with the uber-nasty.  That’s it.  That’s all, and I’m fine with it.  It’s all back in perspective and I’m fine.”

“Very nicely lied.”

“Okay, I’m not fine.  Yet.  But I’ll get there if you’ll just give me a break.”

“I don’t want to.”

“It doesn’t matter what you want!” Xander shouted, shoving Spike further away and feeling good for the outburst.  “You blew it!  Understand?”

“I explained…”

“It doesn’t matter that you explained, or that I accept the explanation, I can’t – I won’t – go back to how we were before.  I refuse to cope with this propensity you have for lying about fucking huge issues as if they’re nothing, and I refuse to the power of n to be at the mercy of your moods, or your demonic instincts.”

“You know…”

“I also refuse to listen to you telling me what I know.  When all I really know is that I’m lucky to be stable enough to recover from your games and your so-called affection and…and…going by your past actions, I know that, having turned you down, I’ll be pretty careful about locking the bathroom door from now on.”

Spike winced at that, and Xander experienced a split-second of pleasurable vindictiveness at being able to hurt Spike back before regret kicked in.

“I probably deserve that,” Spike admitted.

“Ah, fuck, no you don’t,” Xander immediately contradicted, snatching back his hands the moment he noticed them automatically reaching to console Spike.  “I shouldn’t be saying this stuff, I’m better than this, we’re both better than this.”

“I understand you wanting revenge.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“Bearing in mind I’ll take you back to bed and try again?”

Xander shook his head and gave a soft, sad laugh before meeting Spike’s eyes.

“Don’t do that,” he asked, reasonably.  “Please don’t do that, and let’s stay friends.  Don’t take away the one person I can’t do without right now.”

A moment’s typical inscrutability, then Spike darted forward to kiss Xander’s mouth before withdrawing.  Xander studied the stiff shoulders and clenched muscles of the elegant back that was turned on him, cursed his principles, and redirected his thoughts.

“Spike…  I’ll sleep in the other room, and tomorrow…”

“What about your bugs?”

“I’ll deal.”

“Stay in here.”

“You know it’s impossible, the two of us together.”

Spike spun back, waving him away from the door.

“I don’t have a problem with the other room, do I?  Makes sense us switching.”

“Oh,” Xander sighed in relief, glad not to have to face another stand off with Spike yet.  “Good solution.”

“Until the bugs catch up with you in here.”

“Great.  Thanks for that.”

“Your choice,” Spike shrugged.  Another dismissive wave and Xander cleared the doorway.  “Night, Pet,” coolly from Spike as he went, more convincingly turned off than Xander claimed to be.

Closing the door, Xander leaned back against it and stared at an empty bed that could have been the latest venue for great and extraordinary delights.

“I hate my life,” he groaned.

“Yeah,” came a muffled response from next door.  “I hate your bloody life too!”

One moment Xander was worrying about what would invade him during his sleep, the next he was waking up feeling relaxed and well rested; the reason was swiftly apparent.  Spike’s chest against his back and the arm slung round his waist felt so blissfully comforting and familiar it brought tears to Xander’s eye.  For the briefest period he let himself mourn the fact that every positive emotion regarding Spike now seemed tarnished.

He carefully slid out of Spike’s embrace, waiting motionless alongside the bed until he was convinced the vampire was still asleep and not playing with him by pretending to be.  Having successfully sneaked away, he returned to the master bedroom, risking the memory of the bugs in order to make use of its sumptuous bathroom.  Washed, shaved and dressed, he cheerfully made his way to the kitchen for a quick snack, then took his time wandering around the house – which proved far more interesting that at first impression - reading the residual energy and connecting with the benign spirits that had escaped the purging of the house’s negative community.

The walled garden fascinated him, having once been the site of another dwelling far more ancient than this, and he could see the past so clearly it was thrilling and unnerving.  He longed to share this with Douglas, which he sadly accepted was impossible, and even considered asking Terry Sandwell to come along and help him exploit this aspect of his gift to the full.  But he knew Spike would be against it, and this trip wasn’t about Xander’s education and growth as a medium, so he sighed and let the longing pass.

Returning to the house, sharing the stroll with Saul and Jesse and an unknown multitude, Xander looked up to see Spike watching him from the bedroom window, untroubled by the winter sunshine as the rear of the house was still in shade.  Xander gave him an enthusiastic wave and received a warm smile before the vampire ducked away, no doubt on his way to greet his charge, and hopefully, Xander grimaced, not to lecture him about having wandered off.

“You look good,” Spike told him amiably as they met in the kitchen.  “Sleep well?”

“Yes, thanks.”  Xander shrugged off his coat and threw it over a stool.  “The building’s terrific, and there’s this area outside—  No, I won’t say anything now, I’ll read it for you later when it’s dark, you’ll enjoy that.”  With a gleeful rub of the hands, Xander threw open the doors of the massive fridge.  “I’m ready to eat for ten.  Hungry?”

“No.  But I’ll join you anyway.”

“Pig out yesterday, huh?” Xander grinned.

“Had bugger all else to do all day but stuff my face, did I?  There was a fresh delivery and…”

“Don’t need the literally bloody details, thanks all the same.”  Xander stopped plundering the fridge and took a good look at Spike.  “I can see.  You’re all…pink and…full.”  Spike cocked an eyebrow.  “You know what I mean.  Fresh blood kinda pumps you up.  I can see it.”

“Want to feel it?”

Xander paused, significantly.  Paused and…moved on.

“I want to eat.  Haven’t had much of an appetite for a couple of days and I’m planning on making up for it.”

“This an act?” Spike faux-casually enquired.

“No.  No, it’s not, I’m okay today.”


Spike sat at the breakfast bar and watched in silence as Xander cooked, listened to him singing Christmas carols and pretending to be too much of a demon, but in truth being too heavy–hearted, to join in.

As they ate Xander chattered away, about the previous night’s readings, the house and gardens, the excitement he felt at going home, trying his very best not to notice Spike’s morosity.  Lunch finished, dishwasher stacked, and Xander made an extra effort as he turned to Spike.

“What do you want to do now?  There’s a games room, we can play pool, cards, there’s a dartboard, jukebox, bar, there are pinball machines…”

“I miss you,” Spike frowned, speaking more to himself than his companion.  “That’s what the problem is.  I miss you.”

“I’m here.”

“You’re here, but…  You’re not with me.  For me.”

“Which is what you wanted.”

The frown deepened.


“Look, Spike…”

“I was the one spouting off about being true to myself, and then…this.”  Xander started looking around for a suitable surface to bang his head on.  “Being true to myself isn’t pushing you away, it’s…”

“A game of pool, a few beers, music that’s almost too loud to shout over.  Come on, Spike.  C’mon.”  Nothing from Spike, and Xander groaned.  “I’ll be in the basement, that’s where the games room is.  If you want to join me, great; if you’d rather stay here and sulk…”

“Can I go back to being obnoxious?”

“No, you damn-well can’t!”

“It helped.”

“Not me, and I don’t deserve to put up with you behaving like that.”

“You did say I should be…”

“That was a long time ago, and your present day timing is crap.  I don’t deserve any more of that shit when all I did wrong was want a little fake smush with my sex.”

“You should have told me to say I love you.”

“I don’t want you to lie about loving me, and even if you did lie about it, I wouldn’t want to have to tell you to lie about it.  You lie to me about that and it’s gotta be on your own volition, and don’t do that because I don’t want to hear it anyway.  Got it?  Don’t.  And I will never ask.  I don’t want anyone to lie to me about that.”

“Here, say it to me.  Right now.  Look me in the eye and tell me to say it.”

Xander stared at Spike, aghast.


Spike tapped his own chest.

“I want to find out what happens.”

“And I don’t!  We already have your insane inner demon thinking about attachment in ways you’re afraid to spell out, the last thing we need is it being scarily and misguidedly love-struck as well as scarily and misguidedly possessive.”  Spike drew breath to speak and Xander held up both hands, gesturing for him to stop.  Spike stopped.  “I’m going to play pool.  Come along, or don’t come along.”

“I’ll give it a miss, I think.”

“Fine.”  Xander started to leave then u-turned.  “While you’re giving it a miss…” he reached for Spike’s shoulder, tapping on the skin that covered the communications implant, “…find out about Christmas.”

Xander hadn’t got as far as the door before the cell phone in Spike’s jeans began to trill for attention; he swivelled, grinned at Spike, and waved as he made his exit.

“Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.”

Xander was happily potting balls and dancing his way around the pool table to a crashingly loud Rob Thomas track when Spike sidled in and found himself an inconspicuous spot by the bar.  He helped himself to the beer Xander had poured, and admired the man’s body as it moved to the rhythm; it almost killed him when Xander bent over the table and presented him with a prime view of one truly covetable backside.

The final ball plopped into a corner pocket and Xander ran a victory lap around the table, cue held triumphantly above his head.

“You’re very cheerful today,” Spike observed.

Xander turned down the juke box.


“You, today, cheerful.”

“Me, tomorrow, home.”  Spike said nothing.  “Ah, you’re not going to tell me…”

“I am going to tell you.”

Spike watched Xander’s spirits start to sink, and then be forcibly buoyed.

“Okay, couple of days later than I thought.  Still going to get there, aren’t we?  Answer yes or expect to get intimate with this cue.”

“He was distracted.  He’ll call back.”

“It’ll give me time to wrap the gifts, write cards.  Can I mail cards?”


“There isn’t time to send them via LA.  Or maybe…  What day is it?  I only know it’s almost Christmas.”

Spike checked on his phone.

“The twentieth.  And it’s Tuesday apparently.”

“So that means…”  Some rapid calculations took place.  “We’ve been on the road for…a month.  Just a month.  It feels like…”  Xander simply shrugged, but Spike nodded in agreement.  “The twentieth.  That’s good, that means home soon.”

“Alone?” Spike asked pointedly.

“I know it would be safer with you there,” Xander tried to be glib, turning away to rack up the balls for a new game, “but you’ll only be bored.”

“I won’t be bored.”

“You don’t like my friends.”

“I’m not there for your friends.”

“I’m a package deal, remember?”

“You’re not going to keep your word then?  I was promised you, a six-pack of slick, and twenty-four undisturbed hours in your bed.”

Xander chose to ignore the question, sending the balls flying around the table with an overly forceful break.  He paused to turn up the jukebox then returned, clenched-jawed, to his game.  He stood up from potting his first ball to find Spike at his back.  He didn’t have time to react before Spike pulled him close and wrapped his arms around his waist, swaying them to the painful strains of a steel guitar.

“‘The world was on fire, no-one could save me but you’,” Spike sang along with the song, the touch of his lips on Xander’s neck bringing shivers.  “‘Strange what desire will make foolish people do.’”

Xander dropped the cue and took Spike’s wrists, prying them away.  Too easily, he didn’t realise, until Spike spun him and held him, gazing deeply into his eye until Xander felt quite mesmerised.  The swaying resumed, their bodies moving together with an effortlessness borne of familiarity.

When the expected pass failed to materialise, Xander loosened up, wrapped his arms around Spike and rested his chin on his shoulder, hanging on every word as Spike half-sang, half-whispered the song, not for the slightly disturbing sentiments, but in appreciation of a voice he’d sorely missed while they were apart.

The songs moved on, and they gradually missed a beat here and a beat there until they were still, dancing having morphed into unashamed cuddling.  Comfort.

“I guess you could,” Xander eventually murmured.


“Christmas.  Not me and the bed, but…company.  Nice.”



“I’ll learn to like your friends.”

“No, you won’t.”

“You’re right, I won’t.  I’ll pretend to like your friends.”

“Okay,” Xander smiled.  “Okay.”

“You know I’ll get you drunk and then it’s you and the bed.”

Xander chuckled.

“Okay.  But make sure I’m well and truly drunk, otherwise I have no excuse.”

“I’ll make sure.  Meantime…”

“Don’t push your luck.”

Spike laughed and squeezed Xander tighter, falling in with the rhythm of the latest song.  Comfort.  Yes, comfort.

Rudely interrupted by the ringing of the phone.  Grumbling, Spike released Xander, crossing to turn down the jukebox before answering the call.  Xander resumed his game of pool, half-listening but unable to glean much from the ‘uh-huh’s and the ‘right’s.  It didn’t seem too positive though, and he was wondering if they could at least remain in this house for Christmas when Spike put away the phone and turned to him.

“I’m going to call them at Christmas,” Xander insisted.  “If I can’t be with them, I have to call them.”

Xander threw an inquisitive look over his shoulder at Spike, and knew before the vampire had a chance to say it.

“Tonight, Love.”

“Tonight,” Xander repeated, feeling a chill ripple through his body.  “Dead Guy.  Tonight.”

Spike nodded and, deep in thought, strolled away to the bar.  Ten minutes on, when he offered Xander a drink, he finally noticed he was alone.

Xander spent some time finishing and editing the letters to his friends, unable to find the right words and hoping that the circumstances would be taken into consideration when these inadequate documents were read.  If they were read.

“I may live thorough this,” he said doubtfully.

“You will if I have anything to do with it,” came Spike’s voice from the doorway.

“Hey,” Xander greeted.

“Hey,” Spike replied.

They gave one another a weak smile.

“I’m done here,” Xander announced, closing down the computer.

“Anything you want to go through before tonight?”

“Anything new to tell me?”


“Then…no.  I’ll go in blindly and hope for the best.”

“It’s worked before.”

“It has.  Anything you think I should do before tonight?”


“I’m too wired.”  Spike appreciated that, and it was relayed in the look he gave Xander.  “We could watch a movie,” Xander suggested with a complete dearth of enthusiasm.  “Or play cards.  Finish that game of pool or…or…  Damn,” Xander finished quietly.  “I thought I was ready.”

“You are.”

“I should meditate.”

“Want company?”

“Yes,” Xander answered emphatically.  “Don’t leave me alone, okay?”

“I promise.”

Xander stood and walked several circuits of the plush living room, looking for the best place to meditate but dissatisfied with everywhere due to nothing more than the circumstances.  He stopped and took a deep breath.

“Who’ll be there?”

“Angel, obviously.  Zooza.  Some of the huminions, security, representatives of the Escolet family.”

“Any of my friends?” Xander asked cautiously.


“They aware of what’s happening?”

“By now, yes.”

Xander swallowed hard: no Buffy to the rescue then.

“Okay.  That’s…okay.”

“This was discussed a while back.  I said they couldn’t be there, that you’d find them a distraction.”

“Yeah, that’s…umm…  They wanted to be there?”

“Bloody hell, yes.  You should have heard the fuss.”

“You talked to them all?”

“Conference call.  Like a pack of yapping hounds they were, but I wouldn’t have it.”

“I’ll see them when we’re done?”

“If you want to.”

“I want to.”

“Then you will.”

Lifted by that news, Xander found himself a cosy spot and sank to his knees; Spike joined him, sitting cross-legged, close enough to quiet the voices.

“Don’t leave me alone, Spike.”

“No, Love.  I won’t leave you.”

An hour later, and unable to attain the level of meditation he needed to ease his worries, Xander gave up and opened his eye, swivelling his shoulders to loosen some of the tension.  Spike appeared to have found a peaceful place, going by his relaxed features, and, as ever nowadays, Xander itched to touch.

But he didn’t.  He spent time in thought, studying every inch of Spike’s face, hair, neck, shoulders, arms, hands.  He couldn’t seem to get past the hands.  When Spike felt the feathery touch over the back of his fingers his eyes sprang open.

“What?” he asked automatically.  Xander shook his head, bit his bottom lip to prevent it from trembling.  Spike saw the sorrow and snatched up Xander’s hands.  “What?” he asked again.

“Oh, y’know…  Thinking.”

“I thought the plan was to stop thinking.”

“I tried.”

“So…  Thinking.”  Xander nodded; Spike grimaced.  “How bad?”  Xander hesitated, clenching his eye shut as he turned his head away.  “Xander, let me put a stop to this.  I’ll tell Angel I pushed you into something you weren’t equipped to deal with and…”

“It isn’t Dead Guy.”

“If it’s not…  Are we back to my wankerish behaviour?” Spike suggested in a gloom-laden voice.  Another shake of the head from Xander.  “Tell me and I’ll – I’ll…God knows what, but let me try to help.  Tell me.”

The question was so considerately asked that Xander was drawn to look at the vampire’s concerned face, and the compassion there shattered any resolve to keep his feelings private.  He tried to speak but his throat was constricted with emotion; he cleared it and tried again.

“What if,” he whispered morosely.  “What if.”

“What if?” Spike repeated, unconsciously adopting Xander’s whisper.

“What if,” Xander confirmed.

“And that would be you what iffing about…  Not…not…you and…  Me?”

If Spike’s ‘compassion’ face was good, then his ‘stunned’ was spectacular.  And real.

“I know I shouldn’t and I didn’t mean to, it’s just…”


“I thought about having you with me at Christmas, and that made me feel good, really good,” Xander admitted, a flush creeping over his cheeks.  “Then, all it took was…  What if you liked it enough to stay on for New Year?  One little what if and suddenly the scenario took on a life of its own.  I’m the biggest jerk, I know, but…”


“Yes, you!  Jesus, I am such a loser.”

Xander rose and hurriedly left the room, leaving Spike in a state of complete shock.

“Me.”  It was slowly sinking in.  “Me.”  Okay, this was something Xander professed not to want but…  Spike collapsed back onto the floor in a fit of giggles.  Me.”


“In here,” came a miserable voice from the master bedroom.

Spike strolled into the room, so elated by Xander’s confession that he was going to blow this by appearing too arrogant.  But he felt arrogant.  It wasn’t every day that screwing everything up had such a wonderful result.  Xander was sitting on the end of the bed, head in hands, looking terribly sorry for himself.

“Hey, c’mon, Love.  Not the end of the world.”  Xander gave him the idiot stare.  “Could have chosen my words more carefully, fine.”

Spike crossed and sat alongside Xander, putting an arm around him and pulling him close.

“I’m sorry, Spike.”

“Don’t be.”

“Don’t be?  When I’m feeling so depressed I’m going to fuck up this contact and…”

“Shh-shh-shh,” Spike murmured, even now curious as to why that simple sound should work so easily.  Xander may have quietened but the tension was vibrating through his body.  “We can do this.”

“You think?”

“I know.  And you know.”

“And you’ll be there with me, all the way?”

“You have my word.”  With one thought, all of Spike’s arrogance evaporated.  “If that means anything to you anymore.”  Spike raised a hand and held his finger and thumb two inches apart, waiting for Xander to adjust the distance between digits to reflect the measure of his trust.  “Show me, Xander.”

Xander stared at Spike’s hand for a long moment before taking it and stretching it out to as far as the fingers could reach.  Impossible to measure the trust.  The point was successfully made, Xander saw in Spike’s face, in eyes that were soft and moved; unable to resist, he brought the vampire’s palm to his mouth and kissed, wallowing in what had been sorely missed familiarity.

“I told you way back that I’d need to lean on you and I do, I will.”

“You can.”

“I know I can.  But I need more, I can’t go into this feeling alone.”

“You’re not alone, never alone,” Spike assured, and the ferocity of the promise would have been scary once, but now it was exactly what Xander wanted to hear.

“Back in Sunnydale it was always us, never me.  If I don’t get the Scoobies I need you more than ever.”

“Bad call, was it, on my part?  You want them there?”

“No, you were absolutely right, they would be a distraction.  I just need you to…to…  Oh, fuck, I just need you.”

Pushing Spike further onto the bed, Xander clambered over him, finding his mouth and kissing him with fervour as they shifted and wriggled into a comfortable position.

“Don’t stop,” Spike freed his mouth to insist.  “Don’t change your mind and…”  More kisses, and Xander’s zeal suggested there would no mind-changing, no stopping until this encounter was well and truly done.  He dragged Spike’s t-shirt up to bunch around his neck, lips transferring to the sculptured chest, feathering across to play with a nipple.  Spike groaned as the light touches became firmer, Xander’s tongue flicking and tickling and persuading the nipple to peak so it could be carefully nibbled.  As he moved on to the next nipple, the heel of Xander’s hand rubbed over the vampire’s confined erection until Spike was mindlessly humping back.  Xander licked a meandering route to Spike’s navel.

“Your body,” he said earnestly, “is way more appealing than my pride.”

Tugging open Spike’s jeans and jerking them down a little, he nipped a prominent hip bone and Spike gasped and squirmed.  Loving the reaction, Xander did it again, a little harder.

“That’s it, Love, no need to be gentle,” Spike encouraged.  “You get it out of your system.  All that unhappiness.  Wanted to hate me, didn’t you, for a while there?  Show me now.  Show me.”

Xander’s actions came to an abrupt halt and he looked up to meet Spike’s eyes.

“That’s not what this is about, I don’t want to hurt you.  Especially not like this.”

“Might make you feel better.”

With every fragment of affection he could muster, Xander kissed the faint indentations he’d left on Spike’s hip.

“That makes me feel better.  This.”  And the touches were now equally as considerate as he slid Spike’s jeans away and brushed his lips over the shaft of Spike’s cock.  “Oh, yeah.  So much better.”

“I hurt you, and in repayment you get me off?  You’re an exceptional man, Xander.”


“Exceptional or…insane.”

“Also true.”

Spike’s chuckle turned into a sexy, fuck-me noise as the tip of his cock disappeared into Xander’s mouth, a moist tongue drawing circles on the taut, satiny skin.  Spike propped his head up on one arm so he could watch more easily, fingers of his free hand combing through Xander’s hair, riding the bobbing head as Xander’s mouth leisurely slid down, up, down.

“Ah, Love, Xander, Love…” Spike was back to moaning, ten minutes in.

Xander released Spike’s cock with a wet pop.

“You have to stop calling me that.  Love, I mean, not Xander.”


“’Cause you’ll do it without thinking in front of other people.  In front of Angel.”  Concern flashed over Xander’s features.  “If we do this now, he’ll be able to smell it.”

“We’ll have to take our time in the shower, eh?” Spike grinned.  “Together, unfortunately, or we’ll run out of hot water.”


“Seriously?”  Spike pretended to consider that.  “Long shower to get rid of the external scent and, providing it’s you fucking me, my body will have absorbed any trace of your spunk by the time we’re in sniffing distance of Angel.”

“You think?”

Spike nodded vigorously to confirm the lie.  More than not caring if they were discovered, he actively wanted Angel to know, immeasurably proud that a man as fine as Xander could want him.  Earlier worries were conveniently shunted aside: Xander could be kept safe, one inappropriate ‘do it for Spike’ and Angel would be wearing his anus around his neck.

“How do you fancy me?  On my back, over the sofa, hanging from the light fitting?”

“Will you ride me?  I want to look at you.”  Quickly stripping Xander and rearranging him sitting against the headboard, Spike crawled off the bed and stared at the door.  “What?  Did you hear something?” Xander asked urgently.

“Nah.  Was wondering about the camera.”

They exchanged an amused look.

“Go.  Go fast.  Very fast.”  Xander wrapped his hand around his own cock and stroked.  “Very, very fast.”

Just as Spike twisted the door handle he heard whispering behind him and swore vociferously before turning back; Xander was frowning, concentrating hard.

“Bugger it.  Love…?”

Fighting to keep a straight face, Xander touched his fingertips to his temples.

“What?  What’s that?  There’s a child trapped down a well?  And you need me to contact…Lassie?”

“Cheeky sod,” Spike laughed, and he leapt back onto the bed, straddling Xander’s hips and tugging his chin up, kissing him hard.  “Someone ought to teach you a lesson about taking the piss out of demons.”

“And someone else ought to be especially nice to me ‘cause…”  Spike waited, inquisitively cocking his eyebrow.  Xander slapped a drum roll on Spike’s thighs.  “Hey, c’mon, about to die horribly saving the world.  How much more of a reason do I need?”

“That better be blackmail and not prophecy.”

“Blackmail.  Is it working?” Xander grinned, and Spike kissed him again, now burying both hands in Xander’s hair and clenching his fists almost to the point of discomfort.  Xander tensed against expected pain that never materialised.  “Spike…  You tell me to hurt you, but is it you that wants to hurt me?”

“Nothing so obvious.  I want…”  Spike thought as he relaxed his grip.  “I want…to have you so close you’re under my skin.  Hold you so tight you can’t breathe.  But it’d be a shame to kill you out of affection.”


“Tell you what, while we ponder the complexities of Spike, why don’t you get me nice and slippy for your grand entrance.”

“Or how about, for safety’s sake…”  Xander tugged Spike close and squeezed him as hard as he could.  “I do the holding?”

Spike creaked in contentment and let his head roll back as Xander mischievously gnawed at his bared throat.

“Can I turn you one day?” Spike eventually asked, voice hoarse with lust.  “Just to see what kind of vampire you’d make?”

“Ask me again when I’m thirty-five.  If I haven’t had a better offer…”

“If you have, I’ll only kill the presumptuous tosser who made it.”

Xander treated Spike to his best comedy vampire laugh and bit down on his throat, knowing he could exert a little pressure without damaging Spike in any way, but not expecting the shuddering breath or splatter of cool semen against his chest when he accidentally nicked the surface of the skin with an eye tooth.  The horniest reaction that Xander could imagine, threatening to be overlooked as he realised what the vaguely metallic flavour was and frantically checked Spike’s neck.

“Ah, shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“No,” Spike whispered as his head tilted forward to lean heavily against Xander’s.

“No?  Not sorry?  But…”


“Okay.  Okay.  Maybe.”  Holding Spike’s head aside, Xander manoeuvred to kiss the tiny wound better, and it was so tiny as to be almost healed already.


“I don’t know,” Xander said warily, but Spike was already scooping up his semen and smearing it on Xander’s indefatigable erection.  “Spike, you want me to…”

“Do nothing.”

“Oh.  I guess I can do that.”

Spike raised his hips and coaxed Xander’s cock into his unprepared body.  It was so tight it made Xander wince in a pleasurable pain way, causing great concern about Spike’s comfort, or lack of, but the vampire’s half-masted cock was twitching back to life in a rather convincing statement of enjoyment.

“It’s good,” Spike reassured him several times in gasps, circling his hips, working down Xander’s cock as if it had a bolt’s thread.  “More than good.”

They shared a mutual moan of satisfaction when Spike was finally settled in Xander’s lap, pausing in concentrative stillness as they relished this unanticipated joining.

“This wasn’t going to happen,” Xander murmured.

“Want me to apologize for being irresistible?” Spike enquired with implausible nonchalance, “’cause my response would have to be…”

“…bollocks,” they finished, giggling together like kids.

Spike kissed the smiling face before gazing into Xander’s eye and asking, wistfully…

“Why were you so willing to accept that I was only following orders, doing this to keep you sweet?”


“The question was rhetorical.”

“And you already know the answer.”

“Do I?”

Spike traced his fingers over Xander’s face, brow to chin, returning time and again to delicately draw the shape of the empty socket.

“Yeah, you do,” Xander said edgily when he’d borne about as much close attention as he could take.  He tried to twist his head away but Spike caught it, cupped his jaw, turned him back and kissed every inch of his face.

“Bloody gorgeous, remember?” Spike murmured against Xander’s lips, leaving that perfect mouth until last.

“I hate it when you say that.”


“It feels like you’re taunting me.”

“You know I’m…”

“Don’t start that again: I don’t know anything.”

“You know you like this.”  One of Xander’s hands was led to Spike’s cock.  “This,” the other to a firm buttock.  “You like this.”  Spike began a languid rise and fall.

“What does that prove?  I know I like to fuck, sure.  I also know I don’t like to be taunted.  I also also know…”

“Bloody.  Gorgeous,” Spike stated.  Truth.  Me caring about your bloody gorgeous infuriating self…”

“Why are you trying to ruin this?”

Bigger truth.”

I don’t want to hear this.  How about if I start asking you to tell me you’re mine again?”  Despite the cock in Xander’s hand giving an enthusiastic twitch, the remainder of Spike abruptly fell still, eyes flashing gold.  “Not so damn cute, huh?”

“Wouldn’t be if you got what you wanted,” Spike snarled a warning.

“I don’t want.”

“Shut up about it then.”

“You too.”

Requisite glaring ensued.

“You, Xander, Love…” emerged through gritted teeth.  “Drive.  Me.  Fucking.  Crazy.”

“Good.  At least I’m not suffering alone.”

Arms looping around Xander’s neck, Spike kissed Xander with predictable vehemence as he resumed his movements, hips twisting and jerking as he fucked himself on Xander’s cock, an absolute delight that lasted as long as he kept quiet.

“Think I’d be so bloody wound up if I didn’t mean it?”

“Shut up,” Xander groaned, trying to be deaf, focusing his concentration on several zillion nerve endings elsewhere on his body.

“Would I give a damn if I didn’t give a damn?”

“Shut up, Spike.”

“Course I’m saying horrible things about you.”


“Somewhere inside me I always seem to be angry at you.”


“It’s been building up, layer upon layer, every time you’ve put yourself in danger, every time you’ve cut me out.  ‘Cause I care, you daft wanker.”

Xander’s hand left Spike’s backside to slap over his mouth.

“Shut up.  Shut up.  Am I making myself clear?  This is not the time or place for complaints, explanations, admiration, or affection.  Shut.  Up.”

Spike shook his mouth free.

“Mindless fuck then?” he crossly demanded.

“Sounds good.”

A long moment as Xander waited expectantly for a renewed bout of whingeing, then Spike slumped, tension draining away as his brow fell to rest on his own arm.


“Yes,” Xander agreed, smiling now, pressing kisses onto Spike’s neck.  “How about we move…over…here…”  Xander shifted the now compliant Spike onto his back and, after a hasty squeeze of lube, entered his body again with a creak of pleasure and some relief.  He rested until Spike’s eyes slowly opened to meet his.  “How about you think of nothing but how good this feels?”  Slowly, slowly the vampire’s eyes closed, his head tilted back, arms stretched and relaxed above his head.

Xander pulled back, teetering on the verge of total withdrawal, and he witnessed the flicker of an anticipatory smile at the corner of Spike’s mouth.  Filled with inner laughter that he dare not release at the sight of his fickle partner, Xander rocked teasingly for a few seconds before plunging in, luxuriating in the responsive undulation of the body beneath him.  At arm’s length he avidly watched every reaction, fucking short and long, passionately, tenderly, seeing that beautiful body ripple with pleasure and wanting the staying power to keep playing with Spike, but accepting that he was clinging to his self-control by a meagre thread.

Once again Spike hands moved to bury themselves in Xander’s hair, clenching, still not to the point of pain, but Xander recognised the possessiveness and empathised, the what iffing having supplied some desirable scenarios that were as unattainable as Spike’s longing for…whatever it was that Spike refused to put into sufficient words.

Lowering himself onto Spike, Xander let the vampire’s supple limbs wind around him, as he knew they would, and he held on equally as tightly, to the point that he was barely able to wriggle his fingers between them to administer the single stroke that brought Spike to completion.

Xander wasn’t sure which of them supplied the mournful keening as they ground against one another, each fiercely clutching the other as they drew out their orgasms, but it reminded Xander of loss, it was a sound of loss.  And maybe that was perfectly correct.

“Thank you,” he murmured to Spike, giving him a tender, lingering kiss before rolling off his body and slumping into the pillow.  “I had to have you one last time.”

Spike took a breath.  Took another.

“I’ve told you, Petal, you can’t go into this with a death wish.”

“I’m not.”

“Then what’s the one last time about?”

“You know.  It’s over when it’s over.”

Immediately up on one arm and leaning over Xander, Spike stared at him in shock.

“But…what if.  Me.  You said…”

“I know what I said, and it’s made me completely determined to act my damn age and not cling to anyone who shows me a moment’s kindness.  We’ve been good, Spike, at times we have been great.  But it’s been a here and now thing, and we’ve both known that all along.  Realistic is fine, isn’t it?  It has to be.”

There was a substantial pause, filled with Spike’s unspoken deliberations.  No clue to the result of those deliberations, just a return to inscrutable.  He laid back down, pulled Xander to him and kissed his temple.

“We’re looking at a long night; have a nap now.”

“Are you…  I don’t know what.  Are you…disappointed that your possession…isn’t?”

“Yes.  But not in the way you think.”

“I am actually sorry, y’know.  That I can’t be what you want.  The security would be nice.”  Xander sighed and snuggled closer.  “I’ll miss this.  Over when it’s over, and I’ll miss this.”

More deliberations as Spike struggled with personal desire versus the big picture, and it wasn’t long before he came to appreciate Xander’s approach, resentfully seeing the sense in the emotional withdrawal, or at least the curtailment of the over-emotional emotions.  That wasn’t all: he gave a weary sigh as he forced himself to admit that winning the soul hadn’t been for nothing.  Saving the world had to be the priority.

“It’s good to know where we stand.  You know I’ll be there for you, keeping you safe, no ulterior motives.”  That was the truth; Spike had not experienced a serious resurgence of the need to offer himself, bond them, and that was a healthy, if not necessarily happy, step in the right direction.  Impossible for his besotted self to give up everything though.  “We can still go to England.  I promised you the trip.”

“Yeah,” Xander nodded against Spike’s chest, the relief in his voice unmissable.  “That’s something to look forward to.”

“You’d come?”

“Constantly, if the past few weeks are any indication.”

Spike chuckled and cuddled, feeling a muted contentment, letting it relax him.

“Sleep, Love.  Get Dead Guy over with and tomorrow we’ll make plans.”

An hour passed.  A wakeful hour.

“Turn your mind off, Xander, you need your rest.”

“No good, I can’t.”

Spike appreciated that; he stroked his hands soothingly over Xander’s skin, deliberately keeping his touches non-sexual.

“Will you forgive me if I screw this up?” Xander asked quietly.

“I’d forgive you anything.”

“Not anything: anything doesn’t work for me.  This one specific thing.”


“Yes.  Because you’ll have tried your best.”

“What if it’s not good enough?”

“If this goes wrong it’ll be because the situation gets away from us due to some unknown factor, not because of any failing on your part, or on my part, or…  Sadly, we can’t even blame Angel if it goes haywire.”

“Well…  We could.”

Spike considered.

“Fair point.  Let’s do that.”

“Hello, John?    It’s Xander, Xander Harris.    I’m good, thanks.  You?    And…    Is she?  That’s great news.    Yes, that’s why I’m calling.  Koga is in spirit, John, it’s over.    I’m sorry I can’t tell you more, I know how frustrating this is for you.  If I knew more I’d tell you.    Well, he’s not likely to.    Yeah, sure, if that ever happens I’ll let you know what he says, but I’m not expecting it.    Okay.    Did your niece ever…?    Wow, really?  That’s terrific.    And did she—  Is that you they’re shouting for?    No, don’t let me stop you, you go arrest people.    Yeah, it’s good to talk to you, too.  Bye.”

“Tania okay?” Spike asked from his position lounging in the doorway, having unscrupulously eavesdropped Xander’s conversation with the undersheriff despite initially leaving the room to offer some privacy.

“She’s doing really well.  Sounds like one of these resilient girls who…  God, I miss Willow.  Willow and Buffy and Dawn and…”

“You’ll see them soon.”

“Yeah.”  Xander gave Spike an unconvinced smile and stared at his belongings.  “Pack.  Pack, pack, pack.  I’m am so sick of living like this.”

“His niece turn up?”

“She did, yes.  I hope he gave her a hard time.  And…not.”

“Too soft for your own good, aren’t you?”

Spike sauntered over and attempted a smooch.  Xander shrugged out of his grip.

“No, behave, stuff to do.  And you’re not stuff, no doing the vampire.”

“Can I help?  Might leave us time to…”

“No more.  You just think pure thoughts and…and…absorb.”

With one of his hard-done-by sighs that left Xander grinning, Spike sank onto the bed, sprawling comfortably to watch Xander pack, pack, pack.  More than pack, pack, pack, Xander paused on various belongings, appreciating them for the memories they held.

“I didn’t notice when you stopped wearing that,” Spike observed when the locket containing the photos of the original Scooby foursome was retrieved from a pair of rolled-up socks and studied.

“When we started sleeping together.  In a non-sleeping sense.  It felt wrong.  Them being in bed with us.”

The chain was carefully fastened around Xander’s neck and the locket tucked inside his shirt.  He patted it through the material; Spike recognised the gesture from their early days and felt a rush of affection.

Next were the photographs that Xander had brought from New Forest.  They were spread out on the bed, each one carefully scrutinised.  Xander held one particular photo of the Colbergs between his hands and concentrated, smiling at what he felt.

“This came from Simone.  She’d slept with it under her pillow so it would have a strong signature of her and H.”

“Very considerate.”

“She’s shown me what it would be like to have the kind of mom you had.  I’m a lucky guy.”

“I shouldn’t have said what I did about them.  About your life at home.”

“You could only judge what you saw and, on the surface, you were right.  I was lonely and insular, and for the most part it was a dull life.  But it was my choice, it was what I needed.”

“How about now?  This time tomorrow.”

Xander shrugged.  Avoiding the subject, he picked up a picture of Douglas and his family, touching a fingertip to the arm he’d seen broken by the mystery entity.

“Hope he’s okay.”

“Someone at one of the chapels would have mentioned if he was in trouble.”

“I guess.”

“C’mon, Love, you’ve heard them say the opposite.”

“You have to stop calling me that,” Xander reminded Spike, who simply tutted disparagingly.  Xander’s attention returned to Douglas.  “Why didn’t you like him?”

“On principle.”

Shaking his head at the pointlessness of that, Xander took one last look at all the photographs before tidying them into a neat pile and carefully tucking them away.

The box containing the crucifix that Walter Battin had given him was held, unopened, for several minutes before being packed without comment.

“Are you finally going to tell me where the stereo is?” Spike asked.

“Maybe I shouldn’t,” Xander grinned.  “Maybe I should let that haunt you for eternity.”

“It would, y’know, it’s been driving me nuts trying to figure that out.  I’m willing to offer any amount of sexual favours for the knowledge.  I’m even willing, however resentfully, to raise the stakes to…  Please?”

With a laugh, Xander patted Spike's thigh before reversing toward the door, crooking a finger and beckoning for Spike to follow, which he did at speed.

Into the bedroom where Spike had left his own belongings, and Xander picked up the vampire’s duffel and placed it on the dresser, burrowing to the bottom of the bag.

No,” Spike insisted, “I’ve been using everything in there, I’d know, I’d’ve noticed.”

Xander retrieved several neatly folded pairs of pristine underwear.

“You’ve been using everything?  I think not, Baby.”

In a deft move, the stereo was extracted and waved under Spike's nose.

“Bloody hell.  You’d think I’d’ve noticed a thing like that in my knickers.”  Xander began to giggle, and Spike took the stereo from him, tucking it into the pocket of his own jeans before hauling the man into a long hug.  A little careful manoeuvring eventually found his mouth within an inch of Xander’s; he felt obliged to quietly ask, “Do I still have the right?”

Xander didn’t need to stop and think about it…

“You do.”

…closing the gap himself and sharing several heartfelt kisses.

Spike gazed into Xander’s eye, appreciating this new chance he’d been given and – sod the emotional withdrawal – bracing himself for a little more honesty that Xander might or might not appreciate.


“Don’t say anything nice,” Xander pre-empted.

“No?” Spike frowned.

“Not now.  This isn’t the time for smushy, or anything that can be misconstrued as a goodbye, or you taking a last chance to say…whatever.”

“Maybe…whatever needs to be said.”

“No.  Right now we think about Dead Guy, and…shoe shopping with my girls.”

“Shoe shopping?”

“Trust me.  Nothing says ‘life goes on’ like shoe shopping.”

Spike hugged Xander again, burying his face in his neck to cover the fact that he was so extraordinarily moved by that ridiculous statement.

Not long to go.

Xander wandered outside to watch what was potentially his last sunset, feeling rather cheated by the fact it wasn’t spectacular, simply…ordinary.  Just like life was supposed to be.  Ordinary.

But it gave him time to consider how extraordinary his life had been up to this point, and the extraordinary people he knew and had known.  He smiled softly at the thought of the extraordinary man he’d spent the last month with.  The man he was about to lose, one way or another.  That was okay, Xander realised.  He’d been wrong about keeping a distance: this brief, passionate affair with Spike hadn’t made him weaker, it had bolstered his morale inordinately and reassured him of his inner fortitude.  The emotional turbulence had proved that he was unbreakable and, right now, unbreakable sounded pretty good.

He could die, certainly, but he wouldn’t break.  Xander understood what, at present, mattered more.

Besides, physical death was immaterial.  Life – existence – in whatever form, progressed.  Belief may have been more potent than knowledge for Xander, but this he both believed and knew.

As the sun finally set Spike joined him, chest pressing to his back, arms around Xander’s waist.  Familiar.  Xander sighed and settled into the embrace, leaning against Spike and appreciating another variety of belief.

“Here we go again,” Spike whispered into his ear, “saving the sodding world.”

“It’s what we do.”

“Isn’t it just.”

Not a question, but Xander nodded his agreement.

What we do.

They’d proved themselves to be survivors, he and Spike.  Apart they were strong; together they were stronger.  A well-spent afternoon, and it had ensured their togetherness, their combined strength.  Their combined strength erased any singular doubts.

“I’m ready for this,” Xander confidently announced to the dusk.

“Yeah?” Spike smiled.

“Oh, yeah.”

With a pat to Spike’s arms Xander peeled himself away from the vampire, striding out of the zone and opening his senses to the spirits, to the rush of voices that made him what he was.

Time to save the sodding world indeed.