Chapter 35 Weakness
In the wake of the message from their late employee, Angel had rapidly left to find out for himself if Xander’s revelations were true. It wasn’t so much that he believed Xander might be mistaken, rather that he wanted him to be.
Xander couldn’t find the words for Spike while he looked so shocked, and rather than try and risk saying the wrong thing, it was simpler to wait quietly for further developments.
Spike began to pace, body language tight and dangerous.
“This is typical of her,” he abruptly snarled. “She’s one of these arrogant, interfering types who always thinks she knows better than anyone else. She should have been a Watcher – I can’t be any more damning than that!”
“I’m surprised this didn’t happen before. Any number of befores.”
“Yeah, well… Won’t happen again,” Xander muttered.
Spike gave a brief, humourless laugh.
“Right. That’s right.”
“Y’know… Insulting her won’t make this any easier.”
“Stating facts, Mate.”
“Okay, maybe she was…headstrong, but you can’t help caring…”
“I didn’t! Why should I care about her? She irritated the fuck out of me.”
“Everyone irritates the fuck out of you. You might want to look at that.”
“What then? Now I’m supposed to feel bad about not feeling bad?”
“You feel bad.”
“Only in principle. I screwed this up, and it might have been someone I genuinely care about instead of that bitch. Angel won’t have it, but I’m telling you, Uund’d’tar’s done me a favour.” Spike looked over at Xander just as he turned his head away. “What’s that expression for? Xander?”
“I don’t like you like this.”
“Ah, really?” Spike sighed with mocking regret before switching back to one-hundred-percent snark. “Tough.”
“They took her as a sacrifice, Spike, a human sacrifice.”
“I said I felt bad in principle, isn’t that enough for you, you sentimental bastard? You didn’t even know her.”
“Not wanting to experience someone being murdered as a sacrifice doesn’t make me a sentimental bastard.”
“What does then? You making excuses to get me out of here because Angel’s convinced you I’m a hopeless case?”
“You think I’m stupid?”
“We so don’t want to go there right now.”
“He offer you something? Cut a deal? Or is dragging me off to that forsaken hole you live in more to do with the imagined goodness of your twisted human heart?”
“I’m not even going to answer that.”
“Really? I can go ahead and draw my own conclusions then?”
“You do that, Spike. It’s not as if you don’t know how I feel.”
Even in this aggressive a mood Spike stalled at asking for those feelings to be spelt out. He didn’t mind squabbling with and even insulting Xander, but he didn’t want to hear what this attitude might be costing him. A glance at Xander’s unhappy face convinced him that a strategic withdrawal was in order; he darted forward, attempting to kiss Xander goodbye, but the move was anticipated and shunned. Deliberately avoiding meeting Xander’s eyes he attempted his getaway, only to find himself firmly caught by the wrist.
“I have to go, Love. Sort out this mess.”
“You’re going to meet with the Vree’vathets?”
“Why couldn’t you have done that a day ago?”
A perfectly good question. Perfectly good and…unanswerable here and now. Spike shook off Xander’s hold and left in a predictably foul mood.
Xander waved Angel into his room, telling him…
…before he could ask and hoping that would be the end of their conversation.
“Did he say where?”
“To deal with the Vree’vathets.”
Angel nodded thoughtfully at that.
“I guessed this would happen. How did he seem?”
“He was angry when he left. There’s a whole lot of angry.”
“But… He’s…he’s… One minute he’s fine, and the next…the expression on his face is breaking my heart because I think, inside, he’s falling to pieces.”
“That may work in his favour. If he’s feeling weak, he’ll overcompensate with Uund’d’tar. Vree’vathets admire strength.”
“Is he in any danger from them?” Xander asked, bracing himself in readiness for the answer he feared.
“Are you sure?”
“He should be safe now the Vree’vathets have had their sacrifice and, to Uund’d’tar, it appears to have worked.”
“Is that the reason he didn’t want to deal with them, the fact they sacrifice humans? I mean…it never made sense, the guy I know Spike to be doesn’t put the people around him in danger.” Not an act of conscious thought, but Xander’s hand crept to his stomach. “If he can help it.”
“It happened the first time we made contact with them.”
“They sacrificed another of his co-workers?”
“An acquaintance rather than co-worker, but someone he was fond of.”
“And he thought if he didn’t go back it wouldn’t happen again?”
“The first sacrifice was specifically for him, the Honoured, as they refer to him in his capacity as negotiator. We didn’t know it back then but, in their culture, they use sacrifice constantly to affect every kind of venture, whether it’s business or social. The relationship of the sacrificed to the Honoured is crucial. To make a friend, the Vree’vathets sacrifice a friend of the Honoured, thereby leaving a gap in their life for the Superior - Uund’d’tar – to fill.”
“So, by acting now and killing Stephanie…”
“They want to work with him, so they’ve created a gap in Spike’s work life that will need filling.”
“That’s pretty warped logic.”
“He must have been hoping he could put Uund’d’tar off long enough to figure out a way to carry on the negotiations without losing anyone else.”
“What are they negotiating?”
“The Vree’vathets want to return to the dimension their ancestors left a millennia ago. The portal they want to use is twenty miles under the city.”
“Where does Spike fit in?”
“If the portal is activated it will wipe out every human life for miles. Spike’s trying to convince them that half the population of LA is not acceptable collateral damage.”
“I wish I’d known all of this. Why didn’t he tell me?”
Angel shrugged again.
“Spike,” he said impassively, an ambiguous yet sufficient answer to just about any question Xander cared to ask on this subject.
“Could you see this happening? Is it a part of the reason you want Spike out?”
“It could have happened to any one of us.”
“Then why accuse him the way you did? Why say he may as well have killed Stephanie himself?”
“Because a week ago her death may have been preventable.”
“But maybe not.”
“Xander… Hearing about Stevie that way was a shock. Spike isn’t the only one with feelings and I actually liked her.”
“Yeah, and I’m truly sorry, but— What are you still doing here? Shouldn’t you be going after him?”
“You think it’s okay that he should be dealing with the Vree’vathets without backup?”
“He has to go in alone. It’s safer that way.”
“Who for?” Xander accused.
“Be me for five minutes,” Angel replied frostily as he made for the door. “Think about the big picture.”
Xander made a typically Spikeish gesture at Angel’s back as the vampire departed, cross at himself over the way he’d let Spike leave, guilty that he hadn’t even tried to understand the motives behind apparently questionable actions, and thoroughly pissed off at Angel for making him think. He didn’t want to think, and if he had to think, he didn’t want it to be about the big picture. If he had to think he wanted it to be exclusively about Spike because that appeared to be what he was best at nowadays.
“Big picture,” he grumbled as he turned down the light and wriggled into a comfortable although painfully Spike-free position. “You know where you can stick the big—”
It was obvious. Big picture. For every additional person that accompanied Spike, at least one sacrifice would be necessary to allow Uund’d’tar to step into the void the person had left. Obvious, and sick, and a blatant reminder of why it had been such a relief for Xander to turn his back on this life and embrace an existence where his greatest worry was correctly interpreting evidentiary material from spirits. So…Spike’s safety and state of mind versus a number of potential sacrifices. Xander groaned and pounded his pillow with a tight fist, but there was no comfort of any kind to be found.
No. He wouldn’t want to be Angel. Not even for five minutes.
Speeding through the city’s back alleys, Spike was on his way to Jack’s Tavern, a quaint, Anglicised watering hole and thoroughly disreputable dive, accommodating some of the nastiest thugs and demons LA had to offer. Chosen specifically for the quality of the beer, but also, coincidentally, for the clientele’s famed wise monkey mentality, and the private, hireable by the hour, killing ground-come-leisure garden at the rear of the premises. Spike had called Uund’d’tar and demanded to meet, giving directions to the Tavern and issuing the order, ‘in two hours’.
It felt like a joke that Spike had originally been handed this brief because the Vree’vathet’s admired strength and aggression rather than polite negotiation. Right now he felt anything but strong, and it was about far more than the needless loss of another colleague.
One of their own, yes, and Stevie had died because Spike was afraid. How bitter a pill was that to swallow? Spike was afraid, not for himself, but for Xander. The successful annihilation of the Escolets had roused a high level of interest amongst local clans and factions, and gossip was rife about all participants in the event. Spike was in no doubt that the Vree’vathet’s highly efficient spies would have discovered and passed to their Superior all relevant information regarding the involvement of the Honoured, and the identity of the psychic who had been used to such devastating effect. Spike wasn’t about to leave Xander’s vicinity for any length of time if there was even the slightest chance that Uund’d’tar had judged Xander’s worth and targeted him as the ideal sacrifice to gain the vampire’s attention.
Logic may have dictated that Xander could have been left quite safely with the likes of Angel, Buffy and Willow to protect him, but Spike’s imagination ran riot every time he was away from his partner, and the extended time spent with Paolo’s bereaved mother had left him a nervous wreck. So he’d kept close to Xander, made the man his absolute focus. Once again Spike’s heart had overruled his head, once again it made him weak and an innocent had paid for that weakness. And to what end? Xander judging him without knowing the facts, rebuffing him, and that after making a fool of him with his promises of a future. Spike’s steps slowed as that elusive future momentarily danced before his eyes. He wanted it. He wanted Xander so badly it made him ache, inside-out. Didn’t matter that Xander had been prepared to take him on out of pity. Pity! Spike cared, desired, needed, he wanted. And he’d settle for pity? That was disgusting, he was disgusting. No wonder Angel despaired of him: this weakness had to stop.
Spotting the dim lights of Jack’s Tavern Spike picked up speed, deliberately stoking his own anger and keen to get this night on track, ready and willing to forsake a future based on pity for a little of the old Spike: some decent booze, a bloodthirsty brawl, and, if his luck was in, a nice uncomplicated shag. Time to wake up and smell the viscera. William the Bloody, come on down!
The multiple beers and half-bottle of JD inside Spike did little to mellow his mood, and when Uund’d’tar swaggered in as if he owned the place, negotiation was the last thing on the vampire’s mind. When Spike didn’t so much as acknowledge him, the Vree’vathet strolled over and, after pulling a dissatisfied face at the rustic nature of the furniture, sat gingerly on the edge of the chair to Spike’s left.
“Spike. Honoured,” came the familiar greeting in a thin, wheedling voice that belied the power of its equally thin and twice as unpleasant owner.
“Uund’d’tar.” Spike turned an icy look on the demon. “Don’t get comfortable.”
Spike stood and gestured with his head, making his way to the Tavern’s garden and arrogantly assuming rather than checking that Uund’d’tar was following. The arrogance paid off: Uund’d’tar followed without pause.
“What is this place?” the Vree’vathet enquired as he took in their new surroundings, admiring the exotic, seemingly alien plants that consumed and thrived on the regular feedings of blood and flesh.
Uund’d’tar took in the lack of facilities.
“Are refreshments provided?”
“Only for the vegetation.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because I’m sick to the teeth of being screwed around with, and you’re the last of a long list.”
“But, Honoured, I’ve always been completely honest with you,” Uund’d’tar stated calmly.
“That doesn’t make you any less of a pain in the arse though, does it?”
“I refuse to take offence. Due to your recent loss…”
“Ah, yes. Stevie. Want me to spell out what a monumental cock-up that was?”
“No need. She was rash enough to present herself to me in a foolish bid to…”
“You’re missing the point.”
“There’s a point?”
“Yes. I couldn’t stand the woman. To me she was expendable. You’ve taken her place so what does that make you?”
Spike watched the demon’s shifting expression as he took that in, puzzled it through, and finally figured out the implications.
“I am not,” Uund’d’tar growled, “not expendable.”
“So you choose to ignore your customs when it suits you.”
“You are twisting…”
“No, I’m not! You take a life, you fill the shoes of the dead. To me that life was worthless, and yours is equally so.” With a snarl that sent shivers down the Vree’vathet’s spine, Spike cast aside his human disguise and turned on his expendable client. Uund’d’tar began a slow retreat to the door to the Tavern. “There’s no escape,” Spike informed him. “I paid for this time and only I can get us out.”
“Honoured,” Uund’d’tar beseeched, a last plea before he accepted the inevitable. “I shall have to defend myself. To your death, I’m afraid. My kith and kin…”
“Will replace you with me, as is your custom.”
“Impossible! I am Superior, I am…”
“About to die.”
Spike sprang forward, effortlessly covering twelve feet of ground to bring him face to startled face with Uund’d’tar. The demon’s defensive thorns swept over his skin like a rash, glowing slickly in the moonlight. Unimpressed, and with a dismissive shake of the head, Spike instantly had the knife from his boot in his hand, skimming it across the left of Uund’d’tar’s face like a razor, scattering thorns and leaving wounds like ulcers.
With a cry of pain and rage, Uund’d’tar lunged, merely scratching the skin of Spike’s neck as he tried to grab the sidestepping vampire.
“Have to be faster than that,” Spike taunted as he once again slipped out of Uund’d’tar’s grasp. “That’s the trouble with being more reputation than substance. You’ve got complacent. Too easy to kill.” Using his own claws, Spike took a swipe and added four ventilation slits to the Vree’vathet’s bespoke suit.
“Two thousand dollars,” Uund’d’tar gasped. “This suit… Oh, shit, shit. My wife’s gonna slaughter me.”
“Nah. I’ll save her the trouble.”
It was frustratingly easy for Spike to take a hold of the distracted demon and make his head pop off like a cork from a bottle of champagne: in seconds the encounter was over and Spike was rifling the corpse for the symbols of leadership that he’d need if he was to replace Uund’d’tar as his people’s Superior.
This pathetic encounter was not enough to quell the need for battle and Spike considered who he’d seen inside the Tavern, eventually crossing to the door and poking his head inside.
On the far side of the bar a misshapen head leisurely turned in his direction, and golden eyes that radiated centuries of evil scrutinised Spike’s lowly self.
“What’s French for ‘your arse is so massive it’s blocking out the moonlight’?”
Desiree drew her buxom self to her feet, stalking toward Spike on six-inch heels that had score marks nicked into their patent leather. Spike backed into the garden, grin breaking out on his face as he accepted he was in the requisite fight for his life with the nastiest vampire the premises could offer. Desiree stepped outside to confront him; taller, wider, older, maybe even stronger, and when her features shifted to reveal her true face it was something even a mother couldn’t love.
“Spike,” she hissed. “Hurt you now.”
With a laugh, Spike beckoned her to try, and his smile didn’t so much as falter as he thudded head-first into the garden’s blood-stained wall.
Two hours later, a somewhat worse for wear Spike weaved into the bar and threw a roll of notes onto the bar. A shot of JD was placed before him and Spike toasted the barman.
“Keep the change, Jack.” He drained the glass in one gulp. “Right, the Vree’vathet in the garden…?”
“We’ve never had Vree’vathet. I’ll put him on the menu as a specialty.”
Spike gave a sharp nod of approval, not supposing for a moment that the suggestion was a bad joke.
“Only for those with the toughest guts.”
A second drink and Spike felt ready to dust himself off and head for home. It soon became clear that he was being followed and he ducked into an alley, ready to confront whoever was idiotic enough to take their chances with him in this mood. Ready to dispatch his next victim of the night, he was pleasantly surprised when his pursuer turned out to be an old acquaintance rather than a Vree’vathet assassin.
“Damn, that was hot,” was whispered in sweet, lustful tones as a chilly tongue lapped at the blood that had congealed over a cut on Spike’s chin.
“Coral,” Spike acknowledged, groaning lasciviously as practised hands ran over distended denim and toyed with the erection that he’d been sporting ever since Uund’d’tar died. “You were watching?”
“Every. Moment. I loved it when you killed Desiree. Almost as much as when you dismembered Hishtek,” Coral purred.
Spike leaned back against the alley wall and chuckled as he remembered that gory evening, when Coral had first introduced herself in much the same way as this. He closed his eyes as he felt her progress down his body, and a mutual murmur of anticipation emerged as she pressed her mouth to his groin.
Booze, brawl, fuck.
It didn’t get much better than this.
Xander was struggling to get to sleep but without much success: his affection for Spike might not have been based on the effects of the zone, but it was a superb bonus. Still, if he was really honest with himself, tonight’s problems were more to do with an uneasy conscience than the voices in his head, and all he wanted was for Spike to come back so he could put things right.
The parts of him that could freely toss and turn tossed and turned, and even his hampered parts did a good deal of shifting. It wasn’t until he heard a distant hint of elevator that he finally laid still so he could listen for Spike. He peered into the mirror and waited anxiously, taking a deep, calming breath when his battered partner came into view.
Spike barely had a foot inside the door before Xander was apologising.
“I’m so sorry, Spike, I shouldn’t have acted like I did, it was obvious there was more to you not meeting with Uund’d’tar and I would have figured that out if I hadn’t had Stephanie in my head showing me how she died and I feel so bad about it and please, please can you forgive me for being the biggest jerk?”
Spike considered as Xander twitchily waited in suspense.
“Yes,” Spike eventually said, quite simply, before locking the door and shedding his clothes.
Xander moaned and slumped.
“Can you never walk out on me again when I’m being that dense? Can you wait until I figure stuff out and then…”
“You weren’t being dense.”
Spike flicked back the sheet and slid onto the bed alongside Xander, leaning in and kissing him hard as his hand explored the man’s wonderfully familiar body.
“You were right, I was wrong,” Spike whispered against Xander’s neck, knowing he was too close to the scar but pretending to be oblivious, enjoying the sensation of goosebumps stippling the skin beneath his fingertips.
“I don’t— Will you stop for a moment. Stop.” Xander eased Spike away. “Two minutes.”
“How did it go tonight? You’re scratched and bruised and…tell me there’s nothing worse than that.”
“There’s nothing worse than that.”
“So…?” Spike sighed and laid his head on Xander’s chest, instantly enraptured by the racing heartbeat. “Spike?”
“You can guess, can’t you?” Spike said as he examined the pretty picture that was his hand curled around Xander’s cock. “Few drinks, met with Uund’d’tar, told him he was a bad boy and tore his head off. Literally and with great pleasure.”
Xander played with the soft, ungelled hair at the nape of Spike’s neck.
“Well then, let’s see… Booze: check. Fight: check. Guess even the biggest, stupidest jerk can figure out what you want now.”
The teasing tone of Xander’s voice was all the further encouragement that Spike needed, and he was on top of Xander before Xander saw him move. As the kisses resumed, Spike eased Xander’s right leg aside, settling himself between the man’s thighs.
“I need to fuck you,” he announced. “Don’t be difficult.”
A spluttering laugh accompanied Xander’s expected protest.
“I told you, not here.”
“We weren’t here when you told me not here. We were in the other room and that wasn’t as private as this.”
Spike leaned up on his elbows and stared hard into Xander’s eyes.
“Yes. It does. This does, needing you and fucking you right now, it matters. You expect me to believe a word of what you said about us being together, you have to understand. If you don’t understand you have to pretend you do and let me have you.”
“No, no arguments.”
“You mean if we’re together I stop having the right to say no?”
“I mean…if we’re together, you have to accept what I am, and what I need.”
Xander caught his breath as Spike abandoned his human disguise and let his maybe partner come face to face with a little honesty.
“What I am.”
“Yeah, I…I know, I don’t ever forget. Not entirely.”
Spike gave Xander a few minutes to look, really look at him. Xander looked, and then Xander touched.
“Not exactly pretty, is it?” Spike smiled. “To the human eye.”
“Hey, if you can look me straight in the socket and call me gorgeous…”
Hand cupping the back of Spike’s skull, Xander eased the vampire’s head down and placed a tentative kiss on his lips. The first was rapidly followed by any number of others, and when Xander bent his knee to give Spike further access to his body, it was refreshingly clear that acceptance and toleration extended well beyond the medium’s work.
“Tell me,” Spike urged.
“Huh?” Xander asked as he tried to get Spike’s mouth back to his.
“What you want.”
“Uh… That I want what you want?”
“If you like.”
As Xander took a moment to think with the brain in his head, Spike hid the demon’s face away.
“You don’t have to.”
“If it makes it easier…”
“Any hesitation isn’t about how you look, it’s about me trying to be sure. If I’m not sure, I’m gonna let you down one day and I don’t want that.”
“Xander, it’s just…” Spike chuckled and shook his head. “It’s just sex.”
“No. That’s the problem with us. It’s never been just sex.”
The sincerity on Xander’s face, in his voice, was all it took for Spike’s human features to be overwhelmed by the demonic. A rush of primal emotions forced him to concede that the instinctive urge to bond had never been more than temporarily assuaged.
“You have no idea how much I want you, Xander.”
Xander broke away from Spike’s intense gaze, slightly trembling with nerves because his own instincts were screaming at him that this wasn’t simply another fuck. Spotting what he needed on the bedside cabinet, he reached over and grabbed the tube of gel that had been used earlier that day when his knee had received yet another ultrasound examination.
“Here. Fuck me. But be careful, huh? And quiet, be quiet.”
“You’re sure then?”
“No, I’m really not, but I want you and you want this and…”
“You want me?”
“All that earlier, it wasn’t about doing Angel a favour by taking me away from here?”
“I wouldn’t do that for him.”
“Not even as a thank you for the eye?”
“I’d rather lose it again than owe him anything.”
“In which case, you taking me home…”
“Would be for us. Or… Okay, for me, very selfishly for me.”
“You could learn to love this face?”
“God, Spike,” Xander said weakly, “don’t you trust me at all?”
Not entirely sure of what kind of answer that was, Spike chose to accept it meant exactly what he wanted to hear. Snatching the gel, he spread it over his fingers and his erection, preparing Xander rapidly and rather clumsily in his lust, but there were no words of complaint in the man’s groans and murmurs. With Xander insisting that he was readyreadyready, Spike tried to make him both comfortable and accessible, but it soon became plain that that wasn’t going to happen. Now the grumbling started, but before Xander could get into full flow, Spike jumped, flipped and adjusted, and Xander was lying on his side, good leg bent, and scrambling to reach back and get any kind of a hold on Spike. Spike at last touched his aching cock to Xander’s opening, nudging the very tip of his glans into the tight ring of muscle and fighting the craving to ram himself home.
Xander did his best to twist around and meet Spike’s eyes.
“I wish I could see you better, I love to watch your face.”
“Forget all that, just say yes, tell me yes.”
Spike kissed Xander’s neck and shoulders, persistently nudge, nudge, nudging until Xander collapsed into the pillow with a groaned,
“Yes,” before biting his lip to stifle the noise he wanted to make; Spike pressed forward, refusing to pander to the natural resistance, sinking himself deep into the body he longed to possess. Eyes closed, head tilted back, he remained quite still as he experienced.
“You’re mine,” he told Xander unequivocally.
“I guess,” Xander panted as he wriggled and tugged, trying to make Spike move. “Fuck me, Baby. Spike. Spike.”
With a deep, throaty laugh, Spike moulded himself to Xander’s back, hips effortlessly snapping back and forth as he worked his cock in the hot, grasping channel. His hand slid to Xander’s front, roving and circling, tweaking peaked nipples, gently pulling tufts of hair, rolling Xander’s balls before fingertip-toeing along the shaft of his erection and massaging the dripping head. A slight change in his angle of entry and Spike’s cock rasped over Xander’s prostate; Xander shuddered and stilled Spike’s hand.
“I’d forgotten how good…”
Xander’s hoarse words dissolved into a half-swallowed whimper as Spike redoubled his efforts, flicking Xander’s restraining hand away and timing his strokes to his thrusts.
“You’re mine,” Spike growled into his ear, persuading or announcing or brainwashing or whatever worked. “You’re mine.”
“Want to feel…feel you come in me,” Xander urged; with those simple words, and an equally simple instinctive response, Spike felt the control of this situation hurtle over to Xander. “Spike…Spike…you’re too fucking good.”
It was like being newly made: taken and taught, instructed and praised. Spike grew weak with the longing to offer himself, to create a bond, the bond. He tried to shift his attention from the emotional to the physical, the glorious heat and tightness surrounding his cock. Just sex, just sex, just sex, just… NEVER just sex.
Bond. Xander would hate him, how was that for a deterrent? No more easy fucks and daft jokes and quiet, comforting moments and… At the imagined challenge the urge to pursue the union spiralled. It was exquisite, and it was devastating. Xander Harris. My Xander. A human. Wrong. Wrong. A human, and that alone made Spike weak. Weaker. A further weakness exposed. Stop. Stop. Thinking. Doing. Endangering.
“Come with me, Baby. Fuck…Spike…please…”
No control at all, and Spike roared exultantly as he jerked himself deep inside Xander and came in wrenching spurts, aware of Xander’s semen spattering them both and coming harder still with the knowledge of his partner’s pleasure. Unable to stop but slowing, becoming gentle, fucking, still fucking, just sex, never just sex. Making love. Making love, and Spike could have cried.
“What part of ‘be quiet’ didn’t you understand?” Xander asked with a sated grin when he finally persuaded Spike to withdraw.
Repositioned and huddled, they exchanged languid kisses, Spike’s post-coital repose little more than an excuse to keep his eyes shut, not look at Xander.
“You feel me?” Spike asked ambiguously.
“Yeah,” Xander chuckled, opting for the obvious. “I think you reached my pancreas.”
“Say something sweet,” Spike instructed, prepared to taunt himself in a bid to discover more about his weakness.
Xander gave him a final, tender kiss.
And settled down to sleep.
Perfect. No wonder Spike adored him. Relaxing at last, and with a smile on his face, Spike slept too.
Not prepared to go Spikeless again so soon, the moment the vampire stirred the next day, Xander was wrestling him closer and belligerently holding on.
“Unless it’s a caffeine run you’re going nowhere, mister.”
“Liar. Stay with me. Sleep some more.”
“I have to go, Love. I still have work to do with the Vree’vathets.”
Xander yawned and woke fully, studying Spike’s sleep-softened features, beautiful in twenty-twenty.
“Okay.” He yawned again. “What happens now?”
Spike stroked Xander’s stomach, feeling comfortable touching him that way for the first time since the scars.
“I have to pay Uund’d’tar’s family and the Superior’s higher officials a visit and remind them that since I sacrificed their boss, I’ve taken his place in their lives and am now in charge. My first act of leadership will be to insist that they immediately use the dimensional portal beneath the Gobi Desert rather than the one under LA. Bit of magical jiggery-pokery should sort out any coordinational glitches and all I have to do then is wave the irritating buggers ta-ta.”
“That’s pretty neat. You think they’ll go for it?”
“Persuading any demon with his eye on the leadership shouldn’t be hard. Once they know I won’t be travelling to their ancestral home with them, they’ll want to get away from here so they can have a crack at the Superior’s position, they won’t be fussed about the location of the departure lounge. Uund’d’tar’s wife might need a little more convincing: Vree’vathet females are meant to be a stroppy lot. If I’m stuck with fulfilling Uund’d’tar’s husbandly duties before she’ll do what I want, I hope she keeps her thorns to herself.”
“You don’t mean…”
“Course I mean. But we need to be rid of them and if that’s what it takes…”
“Wait, wait. You’re not doing that.”
Spike leant up on one elbow and stared into Xander’s eyes, unhappily defying the jealousy and possessiveness he saw there.
“Is that a question or a statement?”
“It can be whatever you want it to be, but you’re not doing that.”
“Sorry, Petal,” Spike sighed as he swung himself out of bed and began gathering his clothes. “Time for you to grow up and…”
“Spike, you don’t have to…”
“I do, all right? I do have to.”
“You— Do you want to? Is that it?” Xander challenged, shuffling to the side of the bed and, with a little exertion and some ticktickticking, sitting on the edge.
“No. But I’m realistic about what some demons expect.”
“And it doesn’t matter what I say?”
“It can’t. Half the population of LA, Xander. You want to be responsible for their deaths?”
“There’s no other way?”
“I’m all out of ideas. You think of something.”
A pointless suggestion and they both knew it; Xander sat and seethed.
Spike pulled his clothes on, nose wrinkling at the smell of stale blood and vampire ash. He was brushing off the last remnants when Xander gestured to him, waving him close and reaching a hand toward his groin. Well, okay, despite Xander’s increasingly sour mood, maybe there was time for another round; Spike strolled to the bed, smirk on his face as he juggled the logistics of riding Xander, reasoning fun and a touch of appeasement in one horny package.
Xander frowned at the area on Spike’s jeans that had caught his eye, a thick and greasy streak of something that wetly reflected the light. As soon as Spike was close enough Xander rubbed his thumb over it, feeling the vampire getting hard beneath the denim and, on this occasion, being pretty unimpressed with that.
“What?” Spike asked, disappointed when the touch was gone too soon.
Xander brought his thumb up, studying, sniffing. Then the penny dropped and Xander looked up in time to catch the sudden alarm on Spike’s face.
“It isn’t what you think.”
“It isn’t? You mean that during last night’s fight Uund’d’tar didn’t apply a thick layer of lip gloss and accidentally fall, face first, into your groin? That isn’t what happened?”
Bloody. Fucking. Bollocks.
It was no good. Spike couldn’t suppress it. A laugh burst out of him and, at the sight of his poor darling’s pissed off face, it grew into a huge, insuppressible beast that had to be left to thrash around until it wore itself out. By the time Spike was chuckling his way back to normality and wiping what Xander would assume to be tears of laughter from his eyes, the vampire was certain that he’d put the final nail into this particular coffin.
He eventually, reluctantly, looked back to Xander; injury and outrage and a dozen kinds of pain were etched on the man’s tense face.
“This is,” Spike giggled, “so bloody futile. If I tell you the truth you won’t believe me, will you?”
“What’s so funny?” Xander asked tightly.
“I don’t know. Unless it’s like you at Chrissie’s. Pressure lifting.”
“It was only a matter of time until this was – we were – fucked up. I was dreading it, that’s the honest truth. Dreading it. And now…” Spike wiped away more tears. A further burst of laughter came and went. “Sorry, Love. Sorry.”
“You were with someone else and then you… Fuck, Spike, you didn’t even stop to wash. And…and…what kind of someone? Will I need to get tested?”
The distress in Xander’s trembling voice finally shocked the misplaced humour out of Spike.
“No. No, it isn’t like that.”
“You came in here and I apologised to you. You’re out fucking around and I’m apologising to you.”
“And now you’re about to go do it again and I’m supposed to be okay with that?”
“Let me explain.”
“I don’t want— Shouldn’t you be leaving?”
“Not with you sounding like this, no.”
“Like…like you hate me.”
Xander stiffly shrugged and tipped himself back into bed, awkwardly adjusting the covers and ignoring Spike’s automatic attempts to help.
“Go away, Spike. I’m sure Mrs Uund’d’tar is already on her back and really looking forward to meeting you.”
A tap at the locked door interrupted them. The day staff had arrived and were making early morning checks on their few patients.
“Fuck off!” Spike shouted at the door, and his words were followed by the sound of rapidly retreating footsteps.
“Yeah. Good advice. You too,” Xander told him. Quietly. Gruffly. As if that was all he could manage to squeeze out.
Better to leave than to fight, Spike reckoned, knowing he’d say things he’d be bound to regret, and not of the hostile variety. Leave. Yes. Leave. No more dithering: he snatched up his coat and stormed out. For all of ten yards. Then he turned on his heel and stormed back into the room, crossing to the far side of the bed so he could meet Xander eye-to-eye.
“I’m going to tell you what happened.”
“I don’t need details.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Look, I’m trying not to get mad. Mad would mean needing to be mobile enough to look for a fucking axe. Get outta my sight.”
“Okay. Yes. Out of your sight.”
Spike moved around the bed to where he was, effectively, out of Xander’s sight.
“Go,” Xander snapped.
“After you’ve heard me out.” Xander drew breath to protest. “And shut up, just shut up and listen. Then you tell me to fuck off and I fuck off.” A pause. Silent pause. Spike frantically dragged his thoughts together. “Last night. Like I told you, I killed Uund’d’tar, but it was nothing, no fight at all. I was wound up, I needed more.” He started to pace. “So I started something with this powerful, old vampire who I knew could kill me just as easily as I could kill her. Big fight, bad fight, exactly what I needed, almost lost a few times but winning was so bloody sweet. I have to be honest: I was magnificent. You’d have been impressed, I’m telling you.” Xander shifted irritably. “Not what you want to hear. Right. Umm… Yes, I fight, I leave. Now, you can’t blame the audience for getting a little excited and following me out. This was Coral. This was…lip gloss. Because I’m being frank, I will admit I’ve had her in the past, similar circumstances, and why should she know that anything had changed? She made a move and just when I was thinking how gloriously bloody simple it was, being the old Spike, strong Spike, being all about the booze and the fight and the fuck, she called me baby. She called me baby. You call me that, only you. I had her heart in my hand before I could stop to think, and that’s all I’m guilty of, all I feel bad about. I killed her and I shouldn’t have because she didn’t know, and she’d have been there for me when you are long gone.”
Spike realised he was shouting and pulled himself up with a jolt.
“So there it is. Beginning, middle, end of story. And you know what? I don’t care if you believe me. You say you trust me but you don’t want to listen and… You can be as hot-headed as me, I get that, but there’s nothing for us if you only trust me when you can see me.
“All a huge sodding fairy tale, wasn’t it? Us and together and England and New Forest. You’re a dreamer and I’m a fool, and together is further away than the moon.” Unaware of how upset he was until he needed to swipe away tears with his trembling hands, Spike started for the door again, came back. “I’m taking Angel’s advice. Getting out. Now. Right now. I’ve had enough of this…this weakness. I walk away, I recover, I rebuild myself. Sounds good, eh? Better still is needing nobody. Nobody!”
Xander was already struggling to turn as Spike left.
“Too late,” Spike called back as he opened the stairwell door along the corridor. “I’m done. It’s over. We’re over.”
“Spike!” The door rattled shut behind the departing vampire. “Spike?”
Nothing beyond the normal sounds of the hospital, and Xander frantically stared into the hexed mirror. No Spike. Nurse Alice, with her little container of medication, coming in his direction, but no Spike.
“Hey, Xander. Did you sleep okay?” Alice asked, being as tactful as possible.
“Uh…yes, I heard. I think we all heard.”
“Take these for me. You want some fresh water?”
“Alice…” Xander stared up at the young woman, seeing her compassion and blinking back his own tears. “He didn’t give me a chance.”
“What kind of chance?”
“To tell him I believe him. I believe him.”
As the day wore on Xander sank into denial. Yes, Spike had problems. Yes, they had problems. But Spike wouldn’t leave like that, nuh-uh, no way. He may leave, but he wouldn’t leave.
The spirits were noisy, pointing to the lack of Spike. The day had no laughter, pointing to the lack of Spike. Xander showered alone, pointing to the lack of Spike. Still he clung to denial.
Zooza arrived to share supper with him, and Xander gaped open-mouthed as the mage explained that the damage to his gorgeous features was a result of running into Spike before the vampire left and trying to persuade him to stay.
“He hit you? Zooz… I can’t believe he hit you.”
“He thinks I have a nefarious scheme to seduce you away from him.”
“No. Not possible.”
“I told him! I’ve been telling him for days.”
“I mean, I really like you as a friend, but…”
Zooza waved Xander’s embarrassed apology away.
“There is nothing you need to explain, dear boy. I told him. Aside from my devotion to my precious Bunny, the two of you are inseparable. There is a thread, woven into time and matter, that binds the two of you. It can’t be broken.”
Xander hesitated to ask what kind of thread, not wanting to sound ignorant, but he got the picture.
“You think he’s coming back tonight?”
“Ah. Not likely.”
Xander nodded in forlorn agreement.
“Yeah, he was pretty upset. But…soon? You think?”
“No way of knowing.”
“But if the thread won’t break…”
“It will stretch. These threads have a lot of stretch.”
Dropping his fork into his plate, Xander pushed it away, the last of his dwindling appetite gone in a single thought.
“He said I was a dreamer and he’s right. Now I’m waking up and…it’s over, we’ve blown it.” Zooza tsked and mimed ‘thread’. “Nothing’s that simple,” Xander insisted.
“I’m done with fate. Fate can be screwed with.” Xander gestured to his left eye. “Better vision and I still can’t see what’s staring me in the face.”
“You’re depressing me.”
“I’m depressing me too. Denial is underrated.”
“As is Jell-o. Are you going to eat that?”
Xander waved a ‘have it’ and Zooza claimed his prize, sighing as he pressed his bruised cheek into the cool gelatine.
“Why didn’t you stop him? With magic?”
“Because he’s my friend.”
“Sure.” Stomach churning, Xander turned away from the mage’s wounded face. “It looks like it.”
Time, as is its wont, moved inexorably on.
No Spike became an undeniable fact of life.
Xander spent his time exercising and building up the muscle tone and strength in his elbow, knee and eye. His physiotherapist was pleased enough with his progress to have the last trappings of the metal braces removed from his limbs, replacing them with neoprene supports that Xander could wear or remove when appropriate.
His sight improved, and he gradually stopped the alternate viewing left, right, left, right, left.
Every day he started a new puzzle from the MENSA book, which he never finished. Continuity didn’t seem to matter so much anymore and he wished he could find it in himself to be disappointed with his attitude.
He never found enough peace of mind to meditate.
There were still visits from his old friends, although Xander frequently pretended to be asleep so he didn’t have to deal with unspoken curiosity – sympathy even – about Spike. He never read for any of his girls, but on one occasion a contact came through so strongly for Giles it was impossible to ignore. Giles was impressed and delighted. Xander tried to care.
It was easier to be with the people he knew less well; he was more comfortable with their lack of personal knowledge. He was happiest reading for the people he knew least.
Despite the fact that they brought no news of Spike, Xander enjoyed the visits of Zooza and Dylan and, strangely enough, Angel. Naturally, due to his disturbed nights, whenever the vampire was around and close enough for his demon to drive away the spirits, Xander would start to doze in the quiet. It was never mentioned. Even the night that Angel stayed in the visitor’s chair so Xander could manage a whole eight hours was deemed beyond remark.
Xander was glad to have the laptop. He continued to write accounts of his experiences, and Giles confirmed that the Watcher’s Council would be happy to pay for them. Apparently, Spike had been a highly persuasive, if somewhat hot-headed, advocate.
Starting his account of
the happenings that led to the Dead Guy Event, Xander missed Spike dreadfully,
wanting his advice and support as bad memories were inevitably raked over. He stared at a blank screen for hours before
settling on a title, remembering how Spike had described it and nodding to
himself as he wrote…
He wondered about how honest he should be. The thought of being entirely open about the uber-nasty’s attack during Spike’s absence appalled him, and he wouldn’t betray Spike by telling the truth about the brand of comfort used to rescue Xander from that terrible nightmare. The revolting thoughts that Escolet had left in his head remained; Xander had no desire to share. He couldn’t manage this without Spike. He gave up trying.
He wrote bland, uncontroversial reports about bland, uncontroversial spirits making bland, uncontroversial contacts. He printed them off and showed them to Zooza, who showed them to Angel, who did who knows what with them. They came back with scribbled notes in several different hands: ‘clarify this’, ‘cross-reference this with…’, ‘wish I’d heard this’. Xander made changes and presented the finished documents to Willow, who put them aside without a second glance, more interested in fussing and cuddling and gossiping. The reports were an excuse for Willow to be close to him again, Spike had thought, and Xander was delighted to discover that Spike had been right.
In between his long, rambling phone calls to New Forest he wrote long, rambling letters. Xander found he liked writing letters. It was far easier to adopt a cheery façade in print. His friends all missed him and were looking forward to his return, Simone told him and Henry told him and Doug told him. Xander replied that they had to give him space when he got home.
“But you’ll let me come and take care of you,” Simone had cajoled.
“If I’m not left alone until I’m ready to meet up, I’ll walk away and I won’t be back.”
The threat had shocked Xander. That he made it. That he meant it.
Dylan came by, full of excitement, with news that the city’s entire population of Vree’vathets had left LA for Mongolia.
“Spike did it,” Xander smiled sadly.
“I knew he would.”
“Any idea how?”
“You know the boss, it was either charm or violence.”
“Maybe he simply outsmarted them.”
“Outsmarted them with his fists, sure.”
“Any word from him? Sign of him?”
The unmistakeable tinge of loss in Xander’s voice made Dylan curb his enthusiasm.
“Sorry, man, nothing. But that doesn’t mean…”
“He’s not coming back.”
“He always comes back.”
Xander let that go until Dylan had left, then he huddled under the sheets, curled into a miserable ball, ignoring everyone who passed by and trying to face up to the fact that if Spike did come back, it wouldn’t be to him.
‘Time for you to grow up,’ Spike had told him. Well, guess what? The advice had been taken on board and Xander knew that if Spike walked in right now, he wouldn’t meet an axe-wielding Xander who was still sulking about the possibility of an unfaithful partner, he would meet a man who had taken a final step toward acceptance and toleration and who had figured out there were worse things than having your boyfriend participating in an unwanted, yet population-saving shag.
Like…not having your boyfriend at all.
Feeling oddly vulnerable without Spike present, Xander was more anxious than ever to leave the medical unit, and in due course one of his requests to be discharged received a yes from his physiotherapist (with the expected provisos), and a yes from Bunny, (on condition, etc, etc). He was almost as sad as he was happy, but his relief was vast. As he hobbled around his room packing his belongings, he couldn’t avoid the memories of Spike, and he eventually hid himself away in the bathroom to cry over what he’d lost. Crying helped. But not much.
Zooza offered to drive Xander home, and although he would have enjoyed the mage’s company, Xander declined.
“Are you sure, my dear chap? It would be no trouble at all.”
“I have to do this, to…”
Xander’s voice cracked; Zooza was allowed to hug him, but there was no comfort. It would be a long time before comfort was back on the agenda.
When Angel came to tell him the car was waiting for him, Xander resisted the temptation to ask after Spike. He did, however, ask after the Mustang.
“I had every intention of sending it home with you tonight, but we’re short a driver,” the vampire apologised.
“That’s okay. Not like I can drive it at the moment.”
“By the end of the week,” Angel promised. He watched Xander for a few minutes, with growing concern. “Xander… Are you well enough to go? You’re shaking.”
“Yeah, I… Get a little of that. It’s disorientation. Still getting used to having two eyes again.”
The shaking had very little to do with Xander’s physical state and they both knew it. Angel was kind enough not to call him on it.
“Is there anything…”
“No,” Xander snapped. “Uh…sorry. No,” he repeated more calmly. “Other than… You mind lying to the girls for me? Pretend I’m going tomorrow so I can get away tonight without any big goodbyes?” Xander gave a shrug and cleared his throat. “Can’t cope,” he feebly confessed.
Angel nodded before gesturing to Zooza.
“We’ll make sure they’re not already on their way here.”
Alone again, Xander felt completely lost, as if his entire future was slipping away from him. He looked around the room, already an unfamiliar place without his photos and scattered belongings; he stared at his clothes, his shoes, at the Frosty the Snowman gloves sitting on the bed. His duffel was waiting to be zipped up, his puzzle book and notepad visible through the opening. Going home. His life, his real, adventure-less life, was waiting for him and he had to get on with it. Alone. Again. The vast emptiness inside him swelled and caught in his throat, disrupting the smooth pattern of his breathing and bringing hard-fought tears to his eyes.
Wasn’t this what he’d been afraid of from the moment he’d experienced the initial, scarily reciprocated attraction to Spike? Having, and losing, and not being able to cope with the loss? He’d foolishly supposed that his own suffering was somewhat irrelevant compared to how his work might suffer, but there was suffering…and then there was this. This was far more than the distress he might have expected, he felt absolutely raw. He’d known he was behaving like a lonely, lust-struck idiot, but he’d apparently lost his mind somewhere around Woodbury. He had a life to get on with, so was this brief romance – yes, romance, he wasn’t fooling himself – with Spike worth the upheaval, the mourning?
“You betcha,” he vehemently insisted.
Oh, yeah. He wouldn’t have missed out on Spike for anything.
Alice came and insisted he use the crutches his physiotherapist had given him, and she finished his packing just as Zooza came to collect man and luggage. Friendly farewells to the medical staff, a stiff, disinterested nod from Bunny, and Xander was on his way, barely listening to Zooza’s cheerful monologue as they made their way to the basement garage.
Xander was offered the comfortable rear seat of a very familiar Lincoln Navigator but chose to sit up front with the driver so he could see more of their journey. A hugged parting from Zooza, a warm handshake from Angel and, just like that, LA was over.
There were ten minutes of outward silence before Xander turned to Reg the driver and asked:
“Has your pop passed over?”
Reg gave him a curious look, having heard about Spike’s psychic but remaining a true sceptic.
“Was he a very tall man, broad across the shoulders, looked a little like…uh…Jack Palance?”
“Maybe.” Xander waited; Reg gave an inch. “A little like Jack Palance.”
“He says hi,” Xander relayed, listening to the spirit sharing the seat with him. “Hi, and… You’ll never play the double bass unless you get that finger seen to.”
A moment of silent shock, and then Reg was howling with laughter.
Xander managed a smile too. Miserable as hell, but facing up to real life, trying to be strong. Reg’s father swamped his mind with detailed images that would take the entire trip to pass on, and…that was okay. More than okay.
Real life, and this was how Xander lived it.
Chapter 36 For Good
It was good to be home, Xander didn’t question that. Good and…lonely. Yes, he could have had company if he’d picked up the phone, but it wouldn’t be the company he wanted. He felt a little guilty, knowing how eager his friends from the chapel were to see him, but not guilty enough to make that particular call.
He’d arrived home on the Friday, and had lasted until Sunday before trying Spike’s cell, not caring by then how much he was likely to irritate the vampire. No answer, no facility to leave a message. Xander wasn’t only missing Spike, he was also worried about him. For him. No word, and Xander knew that eventually he’d give in and call Zooza or Dylan or, at a push, Angel. It had been folly to insist they shouldn’t keep in touch once he’d arrived home: they might have let a few clues slip as to Spike’s whereabouts or wellbeing.
He’d received reproachful calls from the Scoobies chiding him about his quick getaway from LA, but he didn’t feel able to ask them for news. He still wasn’t entirely sure if they knew about him and Spike; if they did, he chose to pretend that their reaction was ‘lucky Xander’ for what he’d experienced, rather than ‘poor Xander’, for having Spike shoot through. He knew things had moved on and it was less likely now, but he hoped that Buffy wouldn’t give Spike a hard time over this. Hmm, Spike and Buffy in the same thought, but no pang of jealousy. Maybe Xander really had grown up. Or maybe all that talk of trust hadn’t simply been talk.
He carried on with his exercises, and felt the benefits as his body grew stronger, his sight virtually perfect, but he wasn’t able to sleep and soon fell back into his old habit of rejecting his bed and simply letting himself doze in his armchair whenever he was exhausted enough to ignore the voices. His lack of appetite might have been about weariness, but since he’d lost the desire to eat when Spike walked away it was hard to tell.
Too cold really, but he enjoyed the garden. He’d missed this tranquil, overgrown little oasis and the birds that gathered there to feast on the substantial leftovers from barely touched or aborted meals. It surprised him that he recognised so many, and he had to repeatedly remind himself that he’d only been away for a couple of months or so, not the extended period his mental clock seemed to insist upon.
He could no longer concentrate on the puzzles in his book, but he did enjoy the little notes and doodles that Spike had left for him in the margins. It reminded him of the great affection that had existed between them. It also reminded him to look for another book, however much that saddened him now because he couldn’t share it with Spike. He rifled through the volumes on his shelves, searching for one in particular that Henry had left there. It was about England, very out-of-date because Henry had bought it when he was at university, but full of information and pictures of the sights that Xander was unlikely to ever see for himself. He stared at the maps at the back of the book and wondered about ‘William’s Patch’.
He persisted with his reports, revisiting the file entitled Manifestation daily but writing nothing. On the rare occasions he slept deeply enough to reach dream state his head was full of too-real nightmares featuring Ezequiel Escolet and his gruesome family. It made the prospect of documenting the uber-nasty’s machinations all the more difficult. It also made his Spike-based fantasies as much about comfort as sex.
Thoughts of comfort led to moments of analysis. It wasn’t, Xander decided, any of the obvious reasons that had allowed Spike to get under his skin. Sure, the vampire was gorgeous and charming and fun to be with and smart and so sexy it ought to be illegal, but it was the quiet moments, the softer times when Spike would be melancholic or vulnerable or lost, when he needed Xander the way Xander longed to be needed.
Xander would relive those times over and over, mentally recreating the instances when he could hold Spike and bring him comfort. Find comfort.
A glimpse of yellow through the window and Xander knew the Mustang had arrived. He was relieved, not only because of the past associations, but because he needed to know he could escape for a while, drive away from this place and find a little freedom, far away from any kind of a population in the hope of cutting the voices down to a minimum. Yes, okay, he stroppily admitted to himself, he wasn’t physically up to such an escape, but it was still a relief to know he had the means.
For a brief, mad moment he hoped it would be Spike making the delivery, but it was daylight, and there was a dark head of hair atop the man walking up the drive. Xander ambled into the hallway to collect the keys. He could chat to the driver, ask how things were in LA, casually drop Spike into the conversation; he’d play it as general interest, no big deal, no, not at all. Maybe end with a, ‘Say hi to Spike for me when you see him’ and, if the guy saw Spike, and if the ‘hi’ was passed on, Spike might feel the need to reciprocate.
But just before Xander reached the door he heard the keys drop onto the windowsill and, after a single rap, the footsteps walked away.
He felt his depression quite keenly at that moment, and for a while he couldn’t deny it, allowing himself to be as miserable as the situation warranted. A part of him had been torn away and left a gaping wound. The fact that he didn’t regret a second of being with Spike ensured that the wound would heal cleanly rather than fester and eat away at him until there was nothing left, but at present, that was no consolation.
Valentine’s Day brought a card from Simone, a handmade card and a photo from Kirsty.
It made Xander think about his belated Christmas, and the bagful of unopened presents sitting on the spare bed. He’d enjoyed making his plans for a February Christmas but it was impossible to instigate them. He pretended it was about a lack of genuine seasonal cheer.
Three weeks at home and Xander was obliged to speak to Simone. He was feeling ill, fluey, and he suspected it was about neglecting himself. More than that, his loneliness had reached a point where it felt as if it were crushing him. Although he insisted he still didn’t want to meet anyone face-to-face, it was nice to talk, to be verbally fussed over and brought up to date on the chapel gossip. He spoke to Simone, and then he spoke to Henry. After suffering the usual palpitations recalling what Escolet had done to Douglas, he called his mentor and spent several hours discussing the intricacies of his psychic experiences on the road.
He felt better for the contact, but Xander knew that now he’d mentioned feeling poorly to Simone, it wouldn’t be long before she turned up on his doorstep. It was with quiet resolve and a brief flurry of inner panic over explaining his brand spanking new eye that Xander answered the tap on the front door that evening.
To find Spike on the step.
They stared at one another for a long minute while Xander tried to figure out if his flueyness was making him hallucinate.
“Spike,” he said unsurely, making no move to allow the vampire inside.
“Can I…?” Spike gestured.
Instantly flustered by this need to act, Xander stumbled back, waving Spike to enter.
“Sorry, yes, yes, come in.”
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
Xander shut the door and leant against it. Spike studied him and frowned.
“Actually, you look like a ghost, what have you been doing to yourself?”
“And does nothing include sleeping and eating?”
Embarrassed at having so rapidly resumed the lifestyle that Spike had denigrated, Xander brushed Spike aside, heading for the living room.
“I’m okay, tired, that’s all, you know how it is.”
Spike was with him instantly, refreshingly cold hand pressed to his clammy brow.
“It’s more than that. Should I do something, get someone, what do you…”
“Stop, stop, stop.” The fussing ceased and Spike took a reluctant step back. With this assumed rejection the expression on his face stated, quite eloquently, crushed. “Uh-uh,” Xander murmured, not wanting that, not wanting to see a reflection of himself, of the sadness or the loss or any of the other negative emotions he’d been learning to live with.
Xander couldn’t help the tears that filled his eyes; lost for words, he shook his head, reaching for Spike and taking for granted that he would be held in return. He wasn’t wrong: Spike responded promptly, but gently.
“Xander,” Spike whispered, a single word filled with yearning.
“Are you okay?” Xander asked hoarsely. “I’ve been so worried.”
“Shh, shh, shh. Don’t have to worry about me.” Oh, sure. With a shudder, Xander tightened his grip. “Still not properly well, are you, Petal? How about we put you to bed and I look after you?”
“Until you’re better.”
“How long? Oh! How long. As in, am I here?” Xander nodded. “Well, we need to talk about that.” Spike leaned away to examine Xander’s pallid face, brushing the hair out of his eyes, off of his forehead. “But… Later.”
Expecting objections that never materialised, Spike carefully picked up Xander and headed upstairs, waiting for an indication of which bedroom and carrying him inside. He sat Xander on the edge of the bed and, confidence once again slithering away, seemed unsure of himself as his gaze flicked about the room.
“If you stay I can sleep,” Xander told him, seizing this unforeseen opportunity before Spike evaporated into thin air. “Then I’ll be fine. When I’m fine we can talk. Y’know… Later.”
Xander stared at Spike and Spike stared at Xander. They…stared.
“Can I help?” Spike eventually asked.
Spike helped Xander out of his thick plaid shirt, pausing to examine the recently damaged elbow.
No reply from Xander and Spike grinned as he recognised why. From the fucked look on Xander’s face it was all about the demon’s proximity and the peace. Trainers and socks soon went, jeans following a little more slowly, Spike being ridiculously careful over Xander’s knee. Moving away, he waited for the voices to bring Xander to attention. Xander blinked and blearily focused on Spike.
“I didn’t dream you then?”
“’Cause…it wouldn’t be the first time.”
“I’m putting you to bed, and I’m staying with you. Anything you want before we settle?”
Xander chuckled to himself. Who else but Spike could walk in and take over as if he’d stepped out for five minutes rather than five weeks?
“Tell me you missed me,” Xander said quietly as the humour faded.
Spike glanced away, but too late to hide his pained expression from Xander.
“Might have.” He cleared his throat in a bid to clear the tremor from his voice. “Used to you, ain’t I?”
“I’ve missed you like crazy.”
With a shake of the head that Xander found impossible to interpret, Spike hurried over and eased Xander under the covers before moving to the far side of the bed and stripping off, climbing in beside Xander and cuddling up as if it was still the most natural thing in the world to do. Xander groaned and pressed himself closer.
“Quiet?” Spike smiled.
“How priceless am I?” Spike joked, and Xander warmed to the tone, raising his own dozy smile as the zone and the comfort kicked in.
Xander wanted to know if Spike would still be here when he woke, but he was too weary, or possibly scared, to ask. So…the moment. He existed for the moment. A brief and precious interlude of peace, of being stroked and cosseted, of having never reached over when it’s over.
Spike watched Xander fall asleep. From standing on the doorstep feeling terrified of outright rejection, to being wanted and toasty in Xander’s bed: less than thirty minutes. Bloody hell, he was good.
Real or imagined arrogance aside, he knew that if Xander had slammed the door in his face it would have shattered an already fragile heart. He’d needed the time away, to deal with both the Vree’vathets and his own distressing, infuriating issues, but…had he missed Xander?
“You ask the stupidest questions,” he told Xander as he nuzzled into the man’s scruffy hair.
Xander nodded and dreamily murmured,
“It’s a submarine.”
“Nah,” Spike sniggered, “just showing my affection.”
Xander sighed and snored; Spike hummed and snuggled. Eventually they both slept, and peacefully, for the first time in…five weeks?
Xander woke at dawn, snapping out of sleep in fear that the drapes were open. He peered over his shoulder, over Spike’s sleeping form, to the covered window. Safe. Spike was safe. Here and safe. Safe and here. On cue, the vampire stirred, closing the miniscule gap he’d allowed to open between them.
“I’ve missed this,” Xander whispered. “You. I’ve missed you.”
“Sleep, Love,” Spike mumbled. “Not well.”
“I’m fine.” With one of his strange little rumbles of contentment, Spike drifted back to sleep, leaving Xander with the soppiest smile on his face. “I’m fine. Now.”
Feeling hugely better for the good night’s sleep, Xander was fully alert by mid-morning and managed to ease his way out of Spike’s embrace without disturbing the vampire. He went through his exercises, invigorated by the fact that Spike was around to see the positive results, showered, and then peeked into the bedroom to find that Spike was still asleep.
It gave Xander a few private moments to study his…lover? Were they back to being lovers? It was barely possible to accept that Spike was here, here and in his bed, here and caring enough to mollycoddle Xander, to do nothing more than give. Spike’s arrival seemed a hazy memory now, but it hadn’t left the impression of someone who was simply passing through. Did that mean he was staying? Did that mean he was staying for now? ‘Until you’re better’, so did that mean Xander would have to fake illness to keep Spike around? He considered the extent of his acting skills. Appear ill, yes. But Spike would soon figure out it was a ruse, and then…
Xander shook away the thought of Spike leaving, so happy to have Spike here that he wanted to be positive. Yes, they had to talk, but was there any reason to expect the worst? Okay, there was a sensible answer to that question and it suited Xander to completely ignore it.
Refusing to listen to any inner voice that sounded remotely like his own, Xander went downstairs to check for mail and feed the birds. When he came in from the garden, he found Spike pacing, pissed off, waiting for him.
“You’re shivering,” came an immediate accusation.
“It’s cold out.”
“And you’ve been exercising. Before you try denying it, I heard you. That much heavy breathing and groaning should have involved me and a few creaking bed springs.”
“You shouldn’t be outside in the cold, and you shouldn’t be exercising if you’re not well!”
“Spike… I’m okay.”
“Uh…” Xander wandered through to the living room, Spike in scowling pursuit. “I do have a sore head – non-eye related – and a few aches and pains, but…”
“You’re not well.”
“Yeah, I guess I could be coming down with something…”
“I rest my case, you sodding nitwit!”
“…but it’s more likely the way I’ve been living. When I was with you I got used to the good things in life,” Xander joked in an attempt to lighten the mood. “The many hours of undisrupted sleep, the whole appetite and eating thing, the stimulating company, the vigorous sexercise regime…”
“I don’t want you ill.”
“Okay, okay, enough. You’re here for a few hours and you’re already mad at me for being me. If I’m sick, why don’t you just turn around and go back to LA until I’m well?”
“No,” Spike snapped.
“’Cause this stress is exactly what I need, huh?”
“What you need—” Spike finally stopped pacing and made himself loosen up. “Xander. You forget that I travelled half the world to make Dru better; a little chicken soup and TLC isn’t exactly beyond me.” More self-enforced calm. “Stress-free me. All right? Stress-free Spike and a happy Xander.”
“Happy, healthy Xander. Wait and see. Little more rest, some decent food, and… Jeez, I’m starving, how come I didn’t notice that? You hungry?”
Nice swerve there by Xander, exploiting a known weakness. Spike replied with an implausibly casual,
“Good. Okay. Good.” Xander left for the kitchen and immediately returned. “What?”
“What have you got?”
“Everything. Simone sneaks in, leaves fresh, sneaks out. So…everything.”
“Yeah, sure, sounds great.”
“Can I help?”
“Uh… That a general offer?”
Spike nodded, and all at once his expression was open, unguarded, sweetly attentive. Untroubled and un-anxious and un-all those depressing emotions Xander remembered too well from the hospital.
“Love?” Spike prompted.
“Yes,” Xander told him vaguely before crossing to him and staring hard and expectantly. “Do you… I mean…can I…”
“Umm… I don’t know…”
“How is it if I just say yes?”
“OhthankGodforthat.” Xander yanked Spike into his arms, kissing him with passionate abandon, before pulling back with a jerk. “You can’t catch anything from me, right?”
“Uh…” Spike dragged himself out of his smooched daze. “No.”
“OhthankGodforthattoo,” Xander announced before launching a further assault.
Spike had barely recovered from this barrage of kisses before Xander’s grumbling gut sent him hurrying determinedly fridge-ward. An instinctive grab caught the tail of Xander’s shirt and Spike dragged him back.
“We have to talk.”
“Food first, then I’ll have the strength for…whatever.”
“Come and sit down.”
“No,” Xander protested, tugging himself free of Spike’s grip. “’Cause it sounds like you’re going to tell me stuff I don’t want to hear, and if you only turned up to say goodbye then it can wait until after we’ve eaten.”
“I’ve already said I’m staying to look after you.”
“You think that’s enough?” No answer, but Spike managed to persuade Xander to sit. “Why’d you let me think… Why’d you let me kiss you?”
“You caught me by surprise, it was the last thing I expected. Then again…I like you kissing me.”
“If you’re here to re-dump me…”
“Yes, you did! You made up your mind about what you thought I thought and you dumped me for it. And I didn’t think what you thought, I listened, like you told me to, and… I believed you.” Xander took a deep breath to calm himself and looked Spike square in the eyes. “I believed you. I’m upset about the rest, but I’m angry that you didn’t give me the chance to say that I believed you. Because I trusted you, Spike.”
“How about now?”
“You mean… Trusting you?” Spike nodded. “Does it matter any more?”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“I do, I do trust you, of course I do, I’m just…a little…shaken.”
“It really does matter,” Spike said with great sincerity.
“There you go again, sounding like bad things…”
“No. All right? No.”
“Not bad but…serious?”
“This business with the Vree’vathets.”
Spike saw Xander’s whole body tighten.
“You mean Mrs Uund’d’tar, don’t you.”
“It’s more than…”
“I told you I listened in the hospital. You said I had to grow up and I understood what you meant and I’ve done the best I could. At times you have to do whatever the job requires and I’ve come to terms with that. What I don’t need at this very moment is a blow by blow account of your glorious bouts with Mrs Uund’d’tar, okay? I don’t want to know how magnificent you were, or about demon passions that a human can’t match and how you can be as wild and perverse as you like without worrying about damaging…”
“Oi!” Spike shouted. “Oi!” Xander looked away, vocally quiet now but body language screaming out his unhappiness loud and clear. “Xander… Even my stupidity and insensitivity knows some bounds, I’m not about to…”
“You— You did what you had to?”
“I did what I had to,” came the quiet agreement, and Xander’s eyes clenched shut, his hands curled into fists. But briefly. Because the listening and learning was real.
“Okay.” Knowing that he had to accept and move on if they were to have a chance at togetherness, Xander took another deep breath. “Okay. I knew that. It hurts. But I understand. Half of LA, what choice did you have?” Xander made himself look at Spike, almost managed a smile. “Thank you for being honest.” A little unsteadily, Xander got to his feet. “Food. Comfort food. Plates and plates of comfort food. You like big guys? I’m gonna be a big, big guy.”
“You really can handle this,” Spike said to Xander’s back, sounding quite awestruck. Xander nodded. “Am I worth the pain, Xander?”
“Yes,” Xander whispered, barely able to get the word out. Spike was instantly there; Xander slumped as strong arms crept around his waist and cool lips pressed against his neck. “You’re here, Spike. Whatever you’ve done you’re still mine and I want you here.”
Spike gently brought him about and held him, rocked him.
“Thank you, Love. You’ve given me everything I need.”
“To do what?”
Slowly and curiously, Xander leaned away and studied Spike’s face. He seemed sincere. And unexpectedly sane.
“If the offer’s still open. Well, even if it isn’t. You say no and I’ll only stalk you, you know what I’m like.”
“For good, Xander. If you’ll have me, I’m here for good. I’ll be nipping back to LA if there’s the right kind of job for me, the kind where it’s only me at risk, but…”
Xander clutched Spike to him, emotionally defenceless yet feeling entirely secure within the vampire’s embrace. Cocooned in the silence that was one of Spike’s greatest gifts to him, Xander began to process the incredible news, to stretch his belief a little further.
Kisses peppered Xander’s jaw and cheek until Spike found his mouth.
The kisses were tender and loving and ridiculously horny, but Xander’s grumbling stomach prevailed and Spike sent him off to the kitchen. Spike stood in the centre of the room and looked around, trying to see it with the eyes of a man who’d just come home. Old fashioned, a fraction shabby, but comfortable, warm and clean; Xander liked the place, so that counted for a lot, but it wasn’t exactly what Spike would have opted for, given the choice.
“I’ll have to check about making changes,” Xander told him from the doorway, having apparently read Spike’s mind.
“So the place feels more like you live here too. More like yours.”
“It all feels like mine, Love.” Xander questioningly raised his eyebrows. “Vampire, remember? It’s the mentality. Lord of all I survey.”
Xander tutted and returned to the kitchen.
“Read my reports,” he called as he went.
“Where’s…? No, got it.”
As Spike booted up the computer he listened to Xander cooking, setting the table in the adjoining room, singing as he worked and sounding genuinely happy. Reassuring sounds. Despite the time Spike had taken making up his mind about this move, it continued to feel alien and unlikely and…possibly the best thing he’d ever do in his souled life.
Spike scrolled through Xander’s files and his eyes were immediately drawn to the one marked Manifestation; it didn’t take any kind of a genius to figure out it was the tale of Ezequiel Escolet, and it didn’t surprise Spike to find the document was empty bar the heading. Still, recording their adventures would be good for the both of them, Spike decided, an opportunity to share the better memories, and to help and council one another through the terrible ones. Catharsis. Just what they needed as they embarked upon this new life.
He began to read another of Xander’s accounts, easily able to tell how distracted the man had been during its writing. He made change after change in the first paragraph.
“Your punctuation is appalling,” he called out.
“I said your punctuation is appalling.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. I always try to get places on time.” Once again Xander appeared in the doorway, there to find out what Spike was laughing at. “What?”
“Nothing much. I think you misheard. I hope you misheard.”
“Oh.” Xander gestured to the laptop. “Not making a fool of myself, am I? You would tell me?”
“The Council will be glad to have these, I promise you, and they’ll pay you well for it.”
“Giles said you bullied the price up,” Xander grinned.
“And Giles’d be right,” Spike grinned back.
Xander simply stared for a moment.
“This is so strange. You being here. Don’t you feel it?”
“Of course I feel it, I should. But didn’t you ‘what if’ me here?”
“I did,” Xander admitted, memories of the more domestic fantasies flitting through his mind. “You here, yes.”
Spike set the computer aside and stood.
A long, intense look reminded Xander of just how gorgeous Spike was, and stirred many of his saucier, undeniably non-domestic fantasies. But hunger won out. Besides, food was strength, and Xander thought he might need to build his up a little if Spike kept returning his gaze so lustfully.
“We eat.” Spike’s focus skittered down to Xander’s groin. “Food, Spike, food.”
Spike gave Xander the cheekiest smile, and paused to kiss him on the way to the dining room.
“Think you can die of sex?” Xander asked hoarsely.
“Only one way to find out.”
Oh, yeah. Xander followed Spike to the table. I am so gonna find out.
“There’s more to tell,” Spike announced as they approached the end of their meal.
“I don’t want to know.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No. Unless you caught something from her and…”
“She wanted a chance to rule in her own right, and that couldn’t happen if she submitted to me.”
Xander paused in thought, trying to figure out if Spike was saying what Spike appeared to be saying.
“We fought, and she was a hell of a scrapper, I can tell you. She certainly put Uund’d’tar to shame.”
“You fought and…?”
“We reached the point where a fuck would’ve sealed the deal, given me the status I needed to send the lot of ‘em to the Gobi, and… I let it go. Once I’d’ve taken her and made my claim without a second thought, but this time I just… I couldn’t face it. I didn’t want her to lose the respect of her people when she was so much better than her old man. I didn’t want her, full stop. It was impossible to get you out of my head and I had to find a way around the problem that wouldn’t hurt you. Us. Hurt whatever was left of us.”
“But…the Vree’vathets left.”
“Because the missus appreciated me not carrying on with the claim, she was happy to support me. Her acknowledgement of my right to be their Superior turned out to be sufficient to make them go and, like I said, she retained the chance to take Uund’d’tar’s place once they got home.”
“Then why did you say that you had?”
“I didn’t. I said I’d done what I had to.”
“You let me believe…”
“I needed to know you understood, Xander. That in my line of business certain requirements aren’t agreeable but they’re sometimes necessary. For both our sakes I had to know that we can survive whatever I might have to do. Be it killing or fucking or…”
“That’s not so likely now, is it? With you being choosier over your work.”
“Not so likely.” Spike gave Xander a few quiet minutes to take the latest revelations in and witnessed the moment when it all fell into place. There were none of the expected fireworks over being duped. There was deep-in-thought, despondent prodding of the last pieces of food on his plate, then Xander was evidently and astonishingly quietly concluding that fidelity was of greater import than being misled, shrugging and wolfing the remains of his breakfast down. Apparent acceptance, and that was a relief, in each and every way. “Want to hear about our booty?” Spike asked, eager to move on.
“Treasure, rather than the shaking of.”
Xander’s eyes widened.
“Uund’d’tar’s non-marital possessions.”
“Is it cool treasure? Or is it Vree’vathet type treasure?”
“What would be Vree’vathet type treasure?”
“I have no idea: we’ve known some weird demons over time. Could be expensive luggage labels, could be rubber lingerie, a collage of bat wings, a collector’s edition print of the world’s largest ball of string, jar of dog’s noses…”
“How about… A knackered Rolls-Royce; six-and-a-half grand which, before you ask, yes, the Stokes’ can have; an apartment in LA that I’m thinking of hanging on to because it’ll be handy if you want to come along when I’m working there; a collection of antique chess sets that are probably headed for Christie’s.”
“A Rolls-Royce? Like in Thunderbirds?”
“Equally as pink and many times as thrashed.”
“You want it?”
“I already have a Screaming Yellow Mustang; my reputation can’t survive a Thunderbird-pink Rolls-Royce. Give it to Dawnie, it’ll go with her hair.”
“If not her alleged social conscience.”
They chuckled, nodded, and that was decided.
“Can we keep one of the chess sets?” Xander requested.
“Whatever you like.”
“And what do you like?”
Spike finished up his food and pondered.
“Vamp-friendly glass.” He gestured to the closed drapes. “Better for you than living in the shadows.”
“You can get that done?”
“Not a problem.”
“Okay, I’ll need to ask if we can make changes to the house, then…” Xander looked at Spike doubtfully. “Maybe I need to ask if we can stay on here.”
Under no illusions as to the basis for Xander’s doubts, Spike gave a derisive snort.
“Whatever happened to acceptance and toleration?”
“I have to check. Sometimes even the nicest people can be…odd.”
“Think this place is worth having to bow and scrape?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, and… You don’t think it’s worth it?” A glance at Spike’s expression and Xander was able to answer his own question. “You don’t.”
Xander cleared the table and Spike followed him to the kitchen.
“Make any plans for Christmas?” he asked.
“Good, I’d hoped I hadn’t missed it.”
“Are you sure about this? Us?”
“Yes,” Spike answered instantly. “You’re not, I take it.”
“You’ve had longer to get used to the idea.”
“Don’t you want me?”
“You know I do, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that.”
“I get jealous. I don’t know how easy it will be to cope if every time you leave here for work I’ll be imagining you fucking around and letting ‘what’s sometimes necessary’ take the blame.”
“It won’t be like that, I’m not like that. And you accepted Mrs Uund’d’tar.”
“Sure. She had thorns. But how many Corals are there? Beautiful vampires, falling to their knees and reminding you how easy and desirable an uncommitted fuck can be?”
“I turned her down. More than that, I killed her. Letting her blow me would have taken no effort, but killing her…”
“Yes, okay, you killed this one.”
“I shouldn’t have.”
“Yeah, you said. But I’m sure all of her potential victims are extremely grateful.” Xander finished cleaning up, dried his hands, and turned to face Spike. “How long before you get tired of the restrictions I make you put upon yourself?”
“You make me? Oh, no, Love, I make me. You’re as good as gold, just expecting what you have a right to expect. I’m the awkward bugger who’ll be giving myself a hard time if I even think of letting you down.”
“And I know… It must mean abandoning a lot of your principles to be with a non-super-powered human.”
“I imagine you’re abandoning a lot of your principles to be with a demon, regardless of the soul.”
“But I’m getting so much more out of this than you are. You can give me peace, that’s something no human can ever do for me.”
“I’m getting plenty from this.”
“Like…I haven’t had a decent chocolate biscuit for years.”
Xander’s serious expression finally cracked.
“Oh, my God! You’re in love with H!” Spike took Xander’s hands and began to lead him upstairs. “Spike, I don’t think…”
Minutes later they were standing in front of the wardrobe’s full-length mirror. Xander stared at himself, still amazed to see Xander Harris staring back. Spike stood close behind him, tangible but not visible.
“Here’s what I’m getting from this,” Spike explained, soft words that made Xander’s heart pound, “and, just for a moment, let me be completely superficial.” Xander heard the smile in Spike’s voice and smiled too. “You’re beautiful, Xander.”
“Not beautiful, that’s even harder to live up to than bloody gorgeous. But so much better than I was.”
“Beautiful. You are now, you were when I saw you at that first reading.”
“It’s in the eye of the beholder, you don’t get a say.”
“That’s the superficial. As for the rest… There’s the goodness inside you. Your character, your strength and fortitude. That’s what else I’m getting. And…selfish, I know, but I want the way you make me feel like I belong. You’re extraordinary.”
“I’m not. I’m just…normal guy.”
Spike affectionately nipped Xander’s earlobe.
“Twenty-twenty and you’re still blind.”
“Hey, if, umm… If this does work, if we… What about when I start to get old?”
“Isn’t that jumping the gun rather?”
“I sort of want to know, roughly, how long until you…”
“No, Love, it doesn’t work like that. Besides, first signs of grey and you’ll be begging me to turn you.”
“You can’t bear to look in the mirror after a bang on the nose, so I suspect vanity might prevail. Turn you, fight for your soul…”
“Would I want to fight for a soul? If I was just a demon?”
“No just, thanks very much. It’s a step up.”
“I’d fight for it, to keep this you.”
“But wouldn’t I hate that if I were a demon?”
“If the choice was a soul or me staking you?”
“I’d…stop to consider it.”
Spike’s hands slid around Xander’s waist, under his shirt, rediscovering his territory.
“Don’t fret about me leaving,” Spike whispered. “You insisted I had choices and I’m making a good one. The right one. You know you can trust me.”
“I also know this move. Get me horny and brainwash me. Always works.”
“Can but hope,” Spike purred as his hands slipped lower. “How about we rest that poor knee of yours on the bed?”
Xander chuckled and shook his head, but it wasn’t a no and Spike realised that, persuading Xander across the room and onto the edge of the mattress. But before he could attack Xander’s fly, Spike’s wrists were grabbed and held.
“Did you stop to consider if maybe the sex is all we have?” Xander asked.
“No. Didn’t need to.”
“But what if it turns out that way?”
“No, not bollocks. What if…”
“All right.” Spike took a sudden step back. “I’ll prove to you that we’re more.”
“I won’t touch you for a month.”
“Yep, you heard me. You started this but I’ll finish it. A month.”
“Impossible. You’d have to go back to LA for a month.”
“Actually, I do have to go back to LA.”
“For a whole month?” Xander asked despondently.
“Day or so. Clear my desk, pick up some of my stuff.”
“You have a desk? Spike has a desk?”
Xander stood and made a slow approach.
“You will come back? Even if this is only about the sex, I don’t want to miss out on that.”
Spike moved to cuddle Xander, to reassure him, but at Xander’s pointed look he came to a halt.
“Hang on, Love, I didn’t mean…”
“That’s touching. So…nuh-uh, Mr Never Think It Through.”
“But… A month,” Spike whined.
“My stupid idea. And why are you going along with it? Aren’t we in some way supposed to negate one another’s stupidity?”
“You mean…” Xander cupped Spike’s face, gently brushing his thumbs over the sculpted cheeks. “I should use the argument that you said you wouldn’t touch me, I never agreed not to touch you?” Spike groaned deep in his throat at Xander’s soft kiss. “Damn it, Spike, you are so, so gorgeous.”
“That’s right, I am. Feel free to take any kind of advantage.”
“Want to hear something…”
“Other than you panting in my ear as you shag me silly? Not really.”
“I feel kinda…shy.”
“Shy?” Spike repeated incredulously.
“Oh.” Spike reluctantly shuffled a whole three inches away. “Want me to back off? ‘Cause I will. Can’t promise how long, but…”
“Don’t. Don’t back off. I know it’s ridiculous.”
“Isn’t it? I really want you, but I don’t seem to be able to do more than…what we’re doing.”
“You were always scared of attachment.”
“We’re way past that.”
“Are we? Until now – at least as far as you were concerned – we were always going to be over when it was over. Me turning up ripped the safety net from under you, didn’t it.”
“But I wanted you to turn up. Whatever lies I spun myself about getting over you, I was desperate for you to turn up.”
“Yeah?” Spike smirked, conveniently forgetting his hands off vow as he moved in for a smooch.
Xander prodded him.
“Less of the gloating, more of the equally embarrassing declarations.”
“You want equally embarrassing? It was as bad as it could get,” Spike replied grimly.
“I was only joking, I didn’t want you to…”
“Xander, I… I wrote poetry.”
“Wow. Do I get to read it?”
“Over my dead body.”
Xander gestured to Spike’s dead body.
“Shall we get back to your problem?”
The interest turned to disappointment.
“You threw it out, didn’t you.”
“It was crap.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Yes, it is. It was an insult to us both.”
Xander let out a plaintive sigh and wriggled out of Spike’s hold, returning to sit on the bed.
“’Kay, my problem. It’s not really a problem. Like I said, I want you – big time want you – and…let’s be realistic: if I keep holding out, eventually you’ll find a way of taking what you want.”
Spike sat heavily beside him.
“That’s pretty damning.”
“I’m not complaining.”
“Maybe that’s what’s wrong. I kept pushing you into things you weren’t ready for and you kept letting me because you thought you were due to die.”
“I didn’t think…”
“But now you know you’re not going anywhere and you want more consideration.”
“I don’t think it’s that. I doubt that I ever put up what you’d call an honest fight.”
“It felt like the second we started to get along, something inside me was waiting for you to make a move. I was scared that you would, and equally scared that you wouldn’t. At first it was more about being close to anyone than it was about being close to you. And when it became about you… It took a lot for me to give in to you: that fear of attachment was absolutely genuine. But despite knowing I shouldn’t…” Xander chuckled to himself. “I have no defence. You’re so hot, and I’m only human. It was only a matter of time before the brain in my dick out-reasoned the one in my head.”
Spike shuffled closer until they were shoulder to shoulder.
“Is that what you want then? Me to take you?”
“No. I said it was only a matter of time. I hope we can sort this out before then.”
They sat in silent thought for a while.
“You want me to be more…” Spike shrugged. “Loving?”
“You already are. It’s not that.”
“Is it because the sex won’t be just sex anymore?”
“It hasn’t been…”
“You know what I mean. The label gets a little scarier. Making love.”
Xander twisted to face Spike.
“Tell me the difference. For you.” Spike looked at him and cocked an eyebrow. “The difference between sex and making love.”
“Sex is about the orgasm.”
“Isn’t it all about the orgasm?”
“Making love…” Spike began thoughtfully. “Making love is about…the contact, the route to orgasm. Closeness, sharing. Giving. When it becomes about the orgasm, your partner’s is more exciting than your own.”
Xander understood that simple definition, recognised it. Recognised them. He took Spike’s hand and squeezed.
“We make love,” he whispered.
Spike finally turned his head to meet Xander’s eyes.
“You only just figured that out?”
“The label isn’t too scary.” Xander leaned in and kissed Spike. “Not scary at all.”
“Good.” More fruitless thought. Spike stood and stretched, moving to the foot of the bed and studying it. “Do you have a side? I know last night I put you there, but…”
“I’ve never needed a side: no-one else to consider. But, if I bother with the bed, I generally sleep here.”
Spike nodded and sprang onto what was now officially his side of the bed, sprawling out and patting the mattress beside him.
“Come and have a cuddle. I promise I’ll behave.”
Xander was moving before the promise was uttered, kicking off his shoes and crawling alongside Spike, happy for the chance to snuggle. Predictably, this close to Spike and he got hard, and his reluctance to do more than kiss and cuddle became even more perplexing. He ran his hand beneath Spike’s t-shirt, appreciating the vampire’s perfect skin and wanting. His hand travelled to Spike’s groin, and he explored another equally predictable erection through taut denim, all the while wanting. Wanting and…not doing.
“This is crazy,” he groaned.
Spike stopped his hand.
“Know what? I think it’s this place.”
“I wanted you here.”
“Fantasy versus reality. Me in your bed was a lovely ‘what if’. But in reality, I think that to you this house is virtually a part of the chapel, and you don’t feel right desecrating it.”
“It can’t be that.”
“With all due respect, Petal, you’re usually a pushover. Unless you’re not happy with me showing up…”
“Which I am.”
“…or you’ve gone off sex entirely…”
“Which I haven’t.”
“…or you don’t fancy me anymore…”
“…the only real difference is where we are. It’s this house.”
“Maybe it’s just…me.”
“You want me?”
“So, what’s stopping you?”
“Like I said…”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s being here.”
“The way I see it, there are three choices. One: we find somewhere else to live. Two: you talk to whoever’s in charge at the chapel, get their blessing for me being here. Specifically…” Spike tapped the bed, “here.”
“Uh… What’s three?”
“I get you so bloody horny you won’t give a damn where you are providing I’m doing wonderful things to your prick.”
The aforementioned prick jumped at the thought; Xander relaxed and rubbed himself on Spike’s hip. This was fine, absolutely fine.
“Ah, yeah, that sounds good.”
“Open your eyes.”
Xander opened his eyes; at the reminder of his surroundings the frottage immediately stopped.
“Damn, I think you’re right. About it being this place. I don’t know if it’s desecration so much as feeling like there’s an audience. I’m used to being surrounded by spirits here.”
“You’re surrounded by spirits everywhere.”
Xander peered suspiciously around the room.
“Anonymous spirits, sure. Here it’s like performing in front of the family.”
“You ever—” Xander semi-viciously prodded. “Uh…let that one go, shall I?”
“I would if I were you.”
“Could you bear to move? There’s one of Lincoln’s houses not too far from here, just outside of town. He’d let us rent that.”
“How far is not too far?”
“About…twenty-five, thirty minutes.”
“Is it as cool as the others?”
“More modern, very snazzy. And it already has vampire-friendly glass amongst the mod cons.”
Spike knew exactly what zipped through Xander’s mind to put a halt to the growing interest on his face.
“If we don’t last…”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Xander, you can’t go into this looking for the end!”
“I’m being practical.”
“You’re being Sunnydale!”
Propping himself on an elbow, Xander stared at Spike as if he’d just breathed fire.
“I’m being… I’m… I am, aren’t I? A painful end is exactly what I’ve come to expect from everything.”
“I won’t let you think like that.”
Spike leaned up, mirroring Xander.
“If we’re stopping this before it really starts let me know now, otherwise I’ll be forced to bully that pessimistic nonsense right out of you.”
“I don’t want to stop, I want to give us a chance.”
“Are you certain? ‘Cause the thought of not having you…”
“I’m certain. I think. No, no, I am. I am. Certain.”
“Yes. Certain and sure.”
“Right.” They kissed, and kissed again. Smiled. “Want to take a look at this house? It’ll take minutes to make the arrangements and the keys can be delivered before dusk.”
Xander flopped onto his back and thought about it. He felt secure here, settled, but the idea of starting somewhere new with Spike, in a home that was theirs, vampire-safe and free from associations, thrilled him as much as it worried him. Plus, it was…snazzy.
“How’d it be for a Christmas party?”
Spike relaxed onto him, chin on Xander’s breastbone. Xander frowned at the suspiciously smug face.
“Did you have this planned all along? It’s obvious how you feel about this place.”
“Nah. If I’d had it planned I’d’ve had the keys in my pocket.”
“Okay. Should I check your pockets?”
With a laugh, Spike crawled up Xander’s body and planted a kiss firmly on his mouth.
“Best not to.”
“Or is this a spell?” Xander continued, twisting his head back and forth to avoid Spike’s lips. “You might have had me hexed to feel like this so you could get your own way.”
“A lucky coincidence,” Spike truthfully insisted. “Besides, it’s not like Zooza’s going to be doing me any favours in the near future.”
At the reminder, Xander seriously jerked his head away. Spike returned to his spot on Xander’s chest.
“Why did you hit him?” Spike’s shoulders flicked in a nonchalant shrug. “He’s your friend, and… He was black and blue. Why?”
“He understood, he forgave me. When I said about the favours, I meant after me getting him to cast that spell to keep your voices quiet.”
“You thought he was coming on to me, so…”
“That’s past, it’s over. Forget it.”
“You have equally as stupid ideas about me and Doug. But if you hurt Doug…”
“I mean it, Spike. I’ll take a lot of crap from you, but if you harm one of my friends…”
“I said I won’t.”
Going by the lingering scepticism in Xander’s expression it was clear he wasn’t convinced, but Spike accepted that: he didn’t trust himself much either, under the circumstances.
“Don’t,” Xander warned.
Xander grudgingly accepted that, simply because he wanted to snuggle. A little manoeuvring and Spike was cuddling Xander, still horny and hard and urgently wanting to stake his claim, but knowing he had to wait until Xander was comfortable if he wanted this to work out. Bloody poncy human sensibilities.
“Do you know you said that aloud?”
“I didn’t. You dreamt it.”
“We’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“We’ll take a look at that house, and…”
“You’ll give it a fair go?”
“I want us both to be happy,” Xander yawned as he settled down for a nice doze. “And if that means moving…”
“I’ll make it worth your while, Love.”
Xander’s hand rested possessively over Spike’s groin.
“I bet you will.”