RATING: NC-17, eventually
SPOILERS: Up to the very end of BtVS, mid-season 5 of Angel
DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations from the shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, et al. No profit is derived from this work.
AVAILABLE: Just ask me.
FB and CONCRIT: Very welcome
Across the Miles
Xander shouldered his backpack wearily and staggered down the narrow aisle of the plane, legs numb after the endless flight. He gave the chipper flight attendant a tight smile as she said her goodbyes and thanked him for flying, determinedly not noticing the hungry look in her eyes as she checked him out.
He moved automatically through the tedium of claiming his dusty, ragged, much worse-for-for-the-wear hold-all and trudged outside into the morning sunlight. Wow, big difference. Kenya had been hotter than hell. Los Angeles was hotter than hell AND smoggy.
Finding the first available taxi, he relinquished his bags and slumped into the backseat wearily, closing his good eye and slipping his fingers under the eye patch to rub irritably at his empty socket, which itched and burned when he was tired, or when there were irritants in the air, both of which applied at the moment.
“Where to?” The driver was a young man with shining blue-black skin and a thick African accent. Xander smiled at the irony and roused himself to withdraw a scrap of paper from his shirt pocket.
“I haven’t booked a room. Can you recommend a good hotel close to…” He squinted at his own chicken scratches and read off a street address.
A beat of silence made him look up to catch the eye of the driver, who was surveying him warily now. Xander grinned lopsidedly. “Know Wolfram and Hart, do you?”
The driver studied him a moment longer, then shrugged and pulled away from the curb. “Most everyone knows Wolfram and Hart.”
“Well, I hope to make my business there very short. Get in and get out.”
“That is good.” The young man drove in silence for a time, negotiating heavy traffic. “You said a good hotel…”
“Price is not a problem.” Xander murmured, his exhaustion catching up with him.
“Then I know the place.” Half an hour later, Xander shook himself out of a half-doze as he felt the taxi come to a halt. Looking up, he saw that they were parked under an impressive portico, and an uniformed doorman was approaching the taxi. Turning back toward him, one hand already on the door, the young African looked him over, then said, “Wolfram and Hart is no more than three blocks west of here, on this street. Good luck to you, my friend.”
“Thank you.” The doorman opened the door for Xander with a tip of his hat and a murmured welcome, allowing himself nothing more than a well-bred blink at Xander’s dusty, worn state.
Xander turned to look for the driver, finding him handing over his shabby bags to a slightly less well-bred bellhop, who turned up his nose slightly and received the items as gingerly as if they were dead cats.
“If you’d like to step inside, sir…” this was the doorman; “…I’ll take care of your driver.”
“No, I’d rather.” Pulling out his wallet, he turned to the young African and paid his fare with a hundred-dollar bill. “Keep the change.” The man beamed at him. “Thank you, my friend.” Xander caught the young man’s elbow as he turned away. “How long have you been in the States, pal?”
“Got a wife? Kids?”
“Yes, sir.” Aware of Xander’s destination, the driver looked a little uneasy.
“Bet your wife works too, huh?”
“Yes. She cleans houses. My mother watches the children.”
“Where you from?” Xander ignored the doorman and bellhop.
“Rwanda. My father and brothers were killed there.” The young man raised his chin.
Xander winced inwardly. In the last several months, he had traveled all over Africa, and had heard more than his share of heart-breaking stories, lying awake on more than one night wondering why the rest of the world didn’t do more to help. His wallet was still in his hand, and he pulled out two more crisp Ben Franklins and pressed them into the driver’s hand. “Here. Buy something for your family. You’re a good driver. Best of luck.”
He turned away, not wanting the man’s thanks, to find that the doorman had stopped fidgeting and was beaming at him genially, and the bellhop was now handling his bags like they were Vuitton.
It hadn’t been his intention, but he’d just insured himself damn good service, Xander thought cynically, then shrugged and allowed the now very solicitous doorman to lead him into the hotel’s impressive lobby.
A very few minutes later, Xander was stepping through a gilded door into one very fancy suite. The bellhop deposited his bags carefully in the largest of the two bedrooms then gave Xander the grand tour, carefully pointing out the very deluxe beds, the complimentary bar, the entertainment center in the living room, complete with wide-screen TV, and the spacious, decadently luxurious bath with a large state-of-the-art shower and big, deep Jacuzzi.
“Will this be satisfactory, sir? If not…”
“No, this is good.” Xander picked up the channel guide. They even had a European football channel. Excellent.
“Shall I send housekeeping up to unpack for you, sir?”
“No. This if fine.” Xander was deliberately making him wait.
“Is there anything else I can…”
“No, that’ll be all.” Relenting, Xander reached again for his wallet, noting the eager anticipation in the bellhop’s eyes. Greedy little shit, thought Xander, not much liking him. He fingered a twenty in his wallet, then thought ahead. Pulling out a fifty, he caught the bellhop’s eyes to see a slight flash of disappointment. Hoping for his own three-hundred dollar landfall. Bet it wouldn’t take much to get him talking about his dear old mother and wife and kids, whether he had them or not.
Still fingering the fifty thoughtfully, he caught the kid’s eye. “Listen, there is one thing you could do for me.”
“Sir?” Kid still had his hopes, Xander thought.
“I don’t know for sure, but I may be bringing a friend to stay here with me. He’s been through a really rough time of it, so if he does come back here with me, could you kind of pass the word around that I want him taken VERY good care of?”
“Yes, SIR!” The kid straightened his shoulders, and Xander thought for a second he was going to salute.
“Great. I appreciate it.” Xander looked at the fifty judiciously for a moment, then plucked out another hundred dollars of Watchers’ Council money and folded both bills in half before tucking them into the bellhop’s eager palm.
“Thank you, sir!” The bellboy turned on his heel, then came to a halt at the sound of Xander’s voice.
“One more thing. Attention’s good, but so’s privacy. See that I’m not disturbed, or we, as the case may be. We’ll call if we need anything, okay?”
“Very good, sir.” The bellhop beamed as another fifty traveled from Xander’s wallet to his own hand. “We’ll make very sure that you have your privacy, sir. And if you want me, I work eight to five. I’m Richard, Rick for short.”
“Thanks, Dick. I’ll remember.” Xander hid his grin at the kid’s slight wince. “That’ll be all.”
As soon as the door closed on the unctuous bellhop, Xander let out a breath, then turned to survey the luxury around him. Visible through the open door, the bed called to his weary body, but his head had other priorities.
So he went in and heaved his hold-all onto the mattress and rooted through it, finding his last clean clothes, then fished around for his shaving kit.
Taking them into the bathroom, he undressed slowly, body aching. Laying his wallet on the counter, he took a moment to wonder at the amount of money he had laid out in the last half-hour. Elevated by circumstances into the upper echelon of the much depleted Watchers’ Council, he was aware of the vast treasury that it boasted. And, since the First had managed to knock off every single member of the council but one, Giles held the purse strings.
Nevertheless, Xander, that child of penury, had spent council money as carefully as if it were his own, taking room and board among the poor in Africa, rewarding them with sums that were princely to them, but still spending so little that Giles had taken him task for it.
Well, he was making up for that now. He was overdue for some TLC, and, unless he missed his guess, so was someone else. So, he enjoyed his long, hot shower guiltlessly, then dried himself and dressed quickly, gradually feeling anticipation, and some nervousness, overtake the weariness in his body and soul.
Dressed semi-respectably in rumpled khakis and a more-or-less presentable polo shirt, Xander stopped near the door and looked anxiously around the immaculate and luxurious hotel suite. Frowning, he strode back into the largest of the two bedrooms and heaved his carry-all off the bed, then stood staring a moment at the turned back covers. Here’s hoping, he thought.
Turning off all of the lights except for the discreet little lamp beside the bed, he entered the second bedroom and did the same, then thought better of it and turned off the lamp as well, leaving the room in darkness.
Locking the door of the suite behind him and pocketing the keycard, he waited for the elevator, receiving a slightly disdainful up-and-down look from the extremely well-dressed couple already inside as he stepped in. Not used to mingling with the lower orders, he guessed, giving them an unconcerned smile.
Downstairs, he quickly located the ATM tucked discreetly behind a screen of live palms. As he waited for the machine to spit out a fresh supply of cash, he surveyed his surroundings casually, taking in the grandeur of the large lobby. Over by the registration desk, he spotted the bellhop chatting with the receptionist, a curvaceous redhead. Trying to make time, he supposed, tucking the wad of money into his wallet and starting toward the entry. Lots of luck, Dick, you’ll need it, you asshole, he thought with a smirk.
As he passed the pair at the desk, the redhead broke off her conversation to give him her best sultry smile. Good old Dick was apparently spreading the word. Returning her warm smile with a slightly cooler one of his own, he exited the hotel and turned right, squinting in the sunlight.
Negotiating his way through the stylishly clad crowds thronging the sidewalk, Xander took in the spotless elegance of the shops lining the broad street and felt a strange sense of unreality. Was it really only three days ago that he had been sitting on a narrow cot in a mud hut, making his bi-weekly phone calls? His job entailed a regular check-in with Watcher central. His calls to Buffy and Dawn in Rome stemmed from a slightly different sense of duty; although more than geographical distance separated the Scoobies now, he felt some strange inner reluctance to let the bond among them fall completely away.
So, before he called Giles…
Xander had smiled at the self-conscious sophistication in the eternally-youthful voice on the other end of the line.
“Xander! Hey, Xander, how’s it going?” Andrew’s puppy-like eagerness was a direct contrast to the Continental world-weariness of a moment ago.
“Situation normal, buddy. Is Buffy there?”
“Nope, sorry, Xan. She’s out with the boyfriend.”
“Oh, okay. How about Dawnie?”
“Shopping with friends.”
Xander felt a little pang. He made his calls on a pretty regular schedule, so he’d hoped…he scrubbed his dusty, unshaven face roughly with one hand, then continued. “No problem. Nothing going on, just wanted to check in. So, tell ‘em I called, okay?”
“I will. Um, Xander? Before you hang up, there’s something…”
“Yeah? What?” Already anxious to be back about his business, Xander listened to Andrew with half an ear.
“Well, there’s this thing…They said not to tell…”
Oh, great. Send Xander off to the ends of the earth, all the better to leave him out of the loop. Perfect. “Who said? Buffy? Giles?” He sounded tired, even to himself.
“No. They don’t know. I promised I wouldn’t tell, and I haven’t, not anyone.”
“Okay, Andrew. Who said, if not Buffy or Giles?”
“Angel and Wesley.”
Xander froze, his attention fully captured. ANGEL said? What. The. Fuck?!?
“Uh, Andrew, not that I’m complaining, but if you’ve got a secret that you’re not telling the others, why are you telling me?”
A silence from the other end of the line, then Andrew spoke with a weird certainty that was totally out of character. “Because you should know.”
There was a slight, but unmistakable emphasis on the word “you.”
“Okay. Lay it on me.”
Xander sat still as a statue as he listened to Andrew’s tale. When it was over, he blew out a shuddering breath, then said softly, “Hey, Andrew? I didn’t realize it until just this moment, but you are going to make one hell of a Watcher.”
Xander could almost hear Andrew squirming with pleasure. “You really think so, Xander? ‘Cause I can keep a secret?”
“Keeping secrets is important, but not as important as paying attention so that you know who to tell secrets to. You got what it takes, kid. You did good.”
“Am I going to get in trouble?”
Jesus, Xander thought. Just like he was still in high school, waiting for the Principal to come down on him. “No, I’ll cover for you. You did me a big favor, Andrew. I owe you. Tell the girls I said hello, okay?”
“Sure, Xander. I’ll tell ‘em.” Xander smiled at the innocent pleasure in Andrew’s voice.
“Great. Thanks again, Andrew. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Clicking off the phone, Xander sat staring down at the dirt floor at his feet. Outside, the hot wind kicked up, sending gritty sand swirling into the hut.
After five minutes of thought, he called Giles.
“Hey, Giles. It’s Xander.”
“Yes, hello Xander. I’ve been expecting your call.” The business-like tone softened a bit. “How are you, Xander?”
Xander softened at the genuine affection in the watcher’s voice, but kept his mind on business. “I’m okay, Giles. I’ve caught up with the Potential in Kenya, and here’s where we stand. She’s just twelve years old, from a small village. Her father—the mother is dead—her father knows what this all means, and is happy to cooperate with us. I’m putting her on a plane to you tonight…” One-handed, he flipped through his journal, finding flight details and giving Giles the landing time. “You’ll have to be sure to meet her at the airport. She hasn’t been more than ten miles from her village in her life, and she’s going to be scared to death. She’ll need special attention.”
“Yes of course. I’ll see that she’s handled carefully. As I mentioned in my last communication, the next one is in Lesotho. You’ll need to…”
“Uh, Giles? I’m afraid you’re going to have to find someone else to deal with the next one. I’m leaving Africa.”
A long silence followed, and Xander could practically hear Giles polishing his glasses. “You’re leaving Africa? Now? Xander, you must know that the work you’ve been doing there is vitally important to…”
“Yeah, Giles. I know. Vitally important. But I need to leave. Now.”
Another silence, then Giles spoke again. “Xander, what is this about?”
“What is this about?” Xander felt a rush of irritation. “This is about me needing to leave Africa. Why is that so hard to understand?”
“Xander, I’m TRYING to understand; if you could just explain…”
“JESUS, Giles! What’s to explain? I need to leave, that’s all.” Against his better judgment, Xander felt old resentments rising, coloring his speech. “Look, I know I’m not a slayer, or an uber-witch, but I was there, too, when the hellmouth collapsed. Yeah, I didn’t have as much to contribute, but I was there, fighting and risking my ass. I lost as much as anyone.” Or more. Was the only one maimed for life, for starters, he thought bitterly. “So how come Buffy and Willow get to take it easy for a while, and I get shipped out to Africa to do the dirty work?” Even as he spoke, he felt guilty for whining, and for sounding like he begrudged his friends their R & R.
A moment of quiet, followed by Giles’ even tones. “I had no idea that you resented being asked to go on this assignment.”
Xander sighed. “I didn’t.” Well, not much, any way. “Not until this moment. I just don’t understand why it’s so bad for me to want a little “me” time, when it’s okay for everyone else.”
Another silence, then Giles spoke again, his voice firm. “Xander, if you’ve got it in your head that you’re less important than the rest of the team, you must forget that notion right now. Quite the contrary, in fact. After the collapse of the hellmouth, I could spare Buffy because we were up to our necks in slayers. Willow’s magic is useful, but not urgently needed on a day-to-day basis. She’s here with me now, of course, and her contribution is valuable. But they took time off with my blessing because I could spare them. However, as you know, time is a factor in locating the rest of the slayers.”
“I sent you to Africa because I trusted you and you alone to do the very important work that needed to be done there. And you have done it exceedingly well. No one else could have, and I will not have you thinking otherwise.” The watcher’s voice gentled. “If you need some time on your own, I certainly understand, although you will be hard to replace. Go and do whatever it is that you need to do.”
Xander rubbed at the back of his neck, his hostility melting away. “Thanks, Giles. So, am I kicked off the council?”
“Of course not.” Giles answered promptly. “Go do whatever it is you need to do, use council funds, and check in when you can. And you will still want to work for the council when you’re ready to come back, I hope?”
“Absolutely.” Xander was relieved.
“Will you want to return to Africa, or would you prefer other work?”
Xander had to think about that one. If everything worked out the way he hoped, no, probably no going back to Africa. Otherwise…he listened to the wind howling outside, and shook his head. “Not sure, Giles, but probably not. Pretty burnt out, here. Time for something else, if you have other work I can do?”
“Xander, you’ll be valuable wherever you choose to work within the council. Take your time, and call me when you’re ready.”
“Thanks, G-man.” Xander smiled at the small sound of amused exasperation on the other end of the line, and was tempted, just for an instant, to tell his old friend the reason for his abrupt departure. But, no. Time enough for that later.
“When will you be going, Xander?”
“ASAP. Probably tomorrow or the next day.”
“So soon?” Giles sounded dismayed.
“Like I said, the business in Kenya is pretty much wrapped up. I’ll tie up loose ends, and send you a full report before I go.”
A soft sigh on the other end of the line, then the older man spoke again. “Very well. And, Xander? You do indeed deserve some personal time. I’m sorry if I seemed indifferent to your welfare. That’s not the case, I assure you. Take care of yourself, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
Xander came back to the present with a start at the sight of Wolfram and Hart’s impressive L.A. headquarters. Holy Cow. Whatever else you could say about it, evil definitely had the money.
Refusing to be intimidated, Xander strode through the front door and into the airy lobby. Three steps inside, and…
“Ohmigod! XANDERRRRR!” Xander winced at the high-pitched squeal; dogs must be howling for a ten-block radius.
Glad that Andrew had remembered to forewarn him about this particular bit of weirdness, Xander accepted a hug from the ditzy blonde vampiress as tolerantly as he could.
“Wow, Xander, look at you!”
“How’s it going?”
“Just great. But, I mean, LOOK at you! You look hot.”
Xander smiled ruefully at the unmistakable surprise in Harmony’s tone as the blonde returned to her place behind her desk.
“So, how is everyone? Tell me everything.” Harm folded her hands on her desk, shook back her hair, and beamed up at him expectantly.
“Not much to tell. Everyone is fine,” Xander answered, anxious to be done with the niceties. “So,” he took a deep breath. “where’s Spike?”
“Spike?” Harmony looked at him vacantly.
“Yes, Harmony. Spike.” Xander spoke slowly as if to a small child, or an idiot. Not far off there, he thought absently. “Where is Spike?”
“Oh, him.” The blonde’s voice held a world of scorn. “Who knows?”
“Harmony.” Xander fought for patience. “I heard that Spike is here, at Wolfram and Hart. Is he, or not?”
She was shuffling papers, and scowling. “Yes, he’s here, but I haven’t seen him yet today. He’s still as mean as ever.” She offered this with a pout.
Almost twitching with impatience, Xander persevered. “So, where does he hang out?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. Eighth floor. Or ninth. Or is it tenth?”
Xander surveyed the huge building dubiously. “So, he doesn’t have an apartment somewhere else? He actually lives here?”
She looked thoughtful, and Xander could almost smell the smoke as the wheels turned slowly. “Yeah, I guess. I don’t think he has a suite. Oh! But Wesley and Fred and Gunn do. And the boss. You should see his place, Xander. It’s a penthouse, and it’s SOOOO nice!”
“The boss, huh? That would be Angel, right?”
Harmony nodded eagerly, and Xander followed the slight shift in her gaze, his eyes falling on the heavy mahogany double doors forty feet away. “That his office? Angel’s, I mean?”
“Yes, but you can’t go in there.”
Xander, having already pivoted on his heel, looked back at her, eyebrows raised. “Why not? He have someone in there?”
“No.” She answered primly. “But you can’t see the boss without an appointment.”
Xander shot her a look that plainly said “You’ve got to be kidding” then strode purposefully toward Angel’s office, hearing the clickety-clack of Harmony’s high heels behind him as he threw open the heavy doors.
Once inside, he surveyed the large, luxurious office while the vampire behind the desk looked up, irritated, and Harmony barreled into Xander from behind.
“Sorry, boss. I tried to stop him, but…”
“It’s okay, Harmony. Go back to your desk. Close the door behind you.”
Xander stood silently as Harmony took herself off and Angel rose and came around the side of the desk, tugging down his perfectly cut suit jacket and smoothing a hand down his dark silk tie.
“Xander.” His greeting was typically short. “You’re looking well.”
Xander looked down at the proffered hand, and considered ignoring it, then thought better and clasped the vampire’s hand. Angel’s grip was very firm indeed, and Xander returned it just as firmly. A lot of water under the bridge, but some traditions Xander would never give up. One of which was, when Deadboy initiated a pissing contest, Xander whipped out his dick, even when he knew he was going to lose.
Okay, that was a bad analogy, ‘cause he had it on good authority that when it came to dicks, Angel didn’t outclass him, for once. Besides, vampires didn’t even…Oh, crap. Xander snapped himself back to the present and dropped Angel’s hand like a hot potato, glad that he’d at least learned to keep his babble fits to himself.
Angel was standing before him with a little half-smile playing about his lips. Xander wondered if the vampire was himself enjoying a little jaunt down memory lane. A sudden flash of recall, and Xander was a shit-scared teenager, facing down an insane vampire bearing white roses in a garishly lit hospital corridor.
Shaking off the memory with an impatient shrug, Xander stepped away from the vampire to make a circuit around the big office, taking in the luxurious décor, the obviously pricey knick-knacks. Having made a thorough inspection, he turned to the silent vampire and let out a low whistle. “Willow one said that evil tasted a little chalky, but looks like it tastes pretty sweet to you, Deadboy. Congratulations.”
“I’m NOT evil.” Angel gritted out the words as if he were tired of saying them.
Xander held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Hey, makes no difference to me.” He looked at Angel with wide, earnest eyes, and let the sarcasm flow freely. “You know nothing you do could ever change the way I feel about you, Angel.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.” The vampire replied shortly.
Familiar footing re-established between them, Angel returned to the fine leather executive chair behind his desk and shuffled through his papers as though hinting that he was ready for this encounter to be over. “So, now that we’ve done the small talk, to what do I owe the…pleasure…of your company?”
“Well, Deadboy, I was in the neighborhood, and thought I’d drop in.” Xander slouched into one of the visitor’s chairs and swung his feet up, crossing his ankles as he dropped his boots on Angel’s impressive mahogany desk. Keeping his face carefully neutral, he secretly relished the grimace on the vampire’s face as the boots make contact with a thump, dropping gritty bits of Kenya onto the gleaming surface.
“I see. How nice for us.” Xander watched closely as Angel hesitated, as though waging some inner war. Finally, he spoke almost reluctantly. “So, how is everyone?”
Gotcha. “Oh, everyone’s fine. Let’s see. I just got back from Africa. Robin Wood and Faith are shacked up in Cleveland, working the hellmouth there and carrying on a torrid affair. Willow and Kennedy traveled some, but they’re back in England now with Giles, helping to train the slayers. Let’s see…” Xander tapped his chin.
“Oh, yeah. Dawn. Dawnie’s furthering her education in Rome. Andrew’s there, too, learning to be a watcher. So, that’s everyone, right?”
Xander regarded the scowling vampire with wide innocent eyes as the silence stretched between them.
Finally, Angel spoke between clenched teeth. “You know what? You’re still a shitty little bastard. How’s Buffy?”
“Oh, Buffy!” Xander sighed, grinning beatifically. “Buff’s one happy little camper. She’s dating some guy called the Immortal. Having the time of her life, exploring the Eternal City with the Eternal Boyfriend. He must be one smooth operator, ‘cause every time I talk to her, it’s all hearts and flowers and love, love, love.”
Tou-fucking-che, thought Xander, watching the wave of emotion that washed over the vampire’s usually granite-like countenance.
He wondered briefly if he should be enjoying someone else’s pain, even Deadboy’s. World-weariness made some people hard and unfeeling. The effect on Xander was the opposite. Sensitive by nature, his travels in a land where suffering was rife had given him an aversion to cruelty in all its forms. Now he wondered if this was a bad sign, him getting off on Angel’s anguish.
Nah. He recalled Andrew’s news about poor Cordelia. Xander’s heart twisted, then hardened. Angel had a habit of turning everything he touched to shit, and Xander wasn’t wasting any pity on Deadboy, not when there were so many people that deserved it more.
“Thanks very much for the update.” Angel’s voice was icy. “Now get out.”
Xander lounged unmoving in the chair, his feet still propped on the desk. “Aw, I’m sorry, Deadboy. Did I touch a nerve? Not too happy about someone else getting all the cookies?”
In a flash, Angel was up and around the desk, knocking Xander’s feet aside and jerking him out of the chair, powerful hands twisting in the fabric of his shirt. Xander grunted softly as he felt his back slamming down across the unyielding surface of the desk.
“Are you trying to piss me off, boy?” The vampire’s gameface was just inches from his, fangs gleaming, his body pinning Xander’s from belly to knees.
Xander looked up at the demon calmly. “Looks like I did.” Wriggling one arm between them, he pressed lightly with his fingertips against Angel’s broad chest. “But you should probably back off now.”
“Is that a fact? Why should I?”
“Well, the way I see it, you’ve got one of two reasons for, uh, bending me over your desk.” Ignoring the vampire’s soft growl, Xander continued coolly. “Either you’re hoping to intimidate me, or,” He wiggled his eyebrows obnoxiously, “everything Spike said about you is true, and you’re looking to steal a little kiss.”
At that, Angel snarled and gave him a hard shake, and Xander blinked as the back of his head bounced painfully on the hard wooden surface of the desk. Ignoring the dull ache, Xander continued to bait the vampire. “Either way, you’re doomed to disappointment.”
“You always did have more balls than brains, you little fuck. What makes you so sure that you’re going to get out of this alive?”
“Hmmm. Let’s see. Uh, because you’re one of the good guys? No, scratch that. I don’t believe it, and you probably don’t either. Oh, plus, lots of people know I’m here.” An easy lie to tell, under the circumstances. “I’m now a very valuable member of the Watchers’ Council…” The vampire snorted at that. “…whereas you are on their shitlist as never before. No one is buying the ‘I’m still working for the good’ shtick, and if I disappear, they’re going to be on you like stink on shit, buddy. Besides,” Xander played his trump card gleefully, “Once Buffy found out you offed me, your very slight chance with her would be ashes, and so would you. Bet she’d chase you down and do the deed herself, then go on back to the boyfriend and celebrate with a nice, slow…”
Howling, the vampire jerked him to his feet and shoved him in the direction of the door. “Get out. Get out, damn you.”
Xander staggered to regain his footing, then threw a smirk over his shoulder at the enraged vampire. “Gladly.” Reaching the door, he laid a hand on the knob, then turned slowly. “Just one more thing.” He was Columbo, gimp eye and all, but without the raincoat. “Where’s Spike?”
Angel, his face and composure back in place, stared at him coldly for a time, then answered cautiously. “Spike’s burning in hell. You know that. You were there.”
Xander took a step back into the room. “What I know is that Spike made a hell of a comeback, and he’s here now. Where is he?”
“What makes you think that?”
“I’ve got my sources. Where is he?” Xander pressed.
“Andrew told you, I suppose?”
Xander, having learned the importance of protecting his sources, put on a convincing show of surprise. “Andrew? Andrew knows about this? I’ll definitely be kicking his ass when I get a chance.”
“Well, if he didn’t spill it, who did?” Xander noted that Angel was completely unconcerned about having ratted Andrew out. One more in the endless tally of black marks against Deadboy, Xander thought grimly.
“Like I said, I’ve got my sources. Now where is he?”
“Why should I tell you anything?”
Xander crossed his arms over his chest and heaved a sigh. “Look, are we sticking to the ‘I’m still good’ story, or not? We need him, he’s here, you’re supposedly on our side. Now, where IS he?”
Angel glared at Xander for a while, then breathed out, one gushing breath. “This time of day, he’s probably still asleep, lazy little shit.”
“Where?” Xander asked evenly.
“Upstairs.” Angel gestured vaguely toward the ceiling.
“Yeah, okay. Harmony mentioned that the VIP’s here had suites.” He sounded almost conciliatory. “Just tell me which one he’s in, and I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Well, he doesn’t actually have one of the suites.” The vampire looked almost uncomfortable.
“Why not?” Xander, pretending he was hearing it for the first time, looked suitably shocked. “After everything he did, you’d think he’d rate that. So, he’s got a room?”
The menacing demon of a few minutes ago now resembled a guilty schoolboy. Xander would have been amused, if he wasn’t so pissed off.
“Never asked for one.” The vampire muttered softly, then raised his head, looking Xander in the eye. “You know how he is. He’s made himself a lair upstairs somewhere, and he’s happy with it.”
“Is he?” Xander’s voice was equally soft. “And why should he have to ask for a decent place to stay?” He spoke more loudly. “If you’re as big a cheerleader for the good as you say, I’d think you’d have a little more respect for the guy who actually gave up his life for the good fight, as opposed to just talking about it.”
Stung, the vampire glared at him. “Since when are you such a big fan of Spike’s? You hate him, and he returns the sentiment.”
“Look, I don’t have to be a member of the Spike fan club to see the truth. Without your soul, you’re a heartless monster. Spike could care about people even before he got his soul. You had your soul, and your conscience, forced on you; Spike went looking for his, suffered an ordeal to get it. The amulet was given to you, and you let Buffy palm it off on Spike while you got your ass out of Dodge before things got too hot.” Xander had moved closer to the vampire while he spoke, and now, teeth clenched, he got in Angel’s face.
“I don’t have to like Spike to know he’s worth ten of you. Now, if you don’t want me haunting your doorstep for the foreseeable future, you tell me where he is.”
Angel snarled and caught Xander by the elbow, spinning him and propelling him roughly toward the office doors. “He’s holed up somewhere on the seventh or eighth floor. Find him, take him the fuck with you, and good riddance to both of you.”
Having been forcibly ejected from Angel’s office, Xander straightened his disarranged clothing as the door slammed behind him, then headed single-mindedly for the bank of elevators, ignoring Harmony’s chirping behind him.
Doors slid open before him, and Xander contemplated the double row of numbers before him. Harmony had said 8, 9, or 10. Angel had said 7 or 8. Right. Eighth floor it was. Moments later, Xander stepped out onto what was apparently a little-used floor in the vast building.
Walking slowly, Xander prowled the maze of corridors once, then twice. On his third pass, he was thinking about giving up when his ears caught a soft sound. Stopping still and closing his eyes, Xander concentrated his senses. A moment later, another low cry led him to one of the endless identical doorways.
Opening the door softly, Xander beheld a small, rather dusty office which apparently served as a makeshift storeroom. Abandoned office furniture was piled up against two walls. An old mattress occupied the third wall. Upon it, Spike, clad in the familiar black T-shirt and jeans, tossed in his sleep, obviously in the throes of an escalating nightmare. The black leather duster was draped carefully across a heap of furniture, and a meager collection of personal belongings was stacked neatly near the mattress.
Xander took just a moment to wish Angel into the fieriest part of hell, then dropped to his knees beside the vampire’s makeshift bed, at a loss as he stared down at the distressed vampire. Well, he’d definitely learned a lot about comforting scared girls in the last few years. Maybe scared vampires weren’t all that different.
Making a soft, crooning sound, Xander bent down and gathered the slight form into his arms, holding tight.
Spike surfaced slowly from the horrible, familiar dream, thinking for a while that he was still in it, because, well, Xander. But the Xander who was holding him was not the Xander of his dreams. This Xander was almost as wiry as Spike himself, and he smelled of long travels and far-away places. Rousing himself, Spike moved away cautiously and studied the bronzed face before his, wondering. No, not the Xander he remembered at all. This Xander looked seasoned and tough, all the childhood softness gone. Black hair grown long, caught back in a ponytail, the one brown eye looking like it had seen too much to ever be innocent again.
“Xander?” Spike breathed softly, still lost in disbelief.
“Yep. In the flesh. Sorry about the clinch.” Xander could apologize for the embrace, but he wasn’t quite ready to let go. “But you were having a nightmare when I came in, and, well, what with spending so much time around scared girls, it’s kind of automatic.”
Unconscious of the fact that he was rubbing the vampire’s back, he murmured softly. “Bet you have lots of nightmares, with all you’ve been through. Was it about…you know…the whole burning thing?”
“Yeah. That’s what I dream about.” Spike lied, his eyes automatically fixed on the eye patch, the memory of Xander’s agonized scream still echoing in his ears.
Carefully, reluctantly, Xander eased his arms away from the vampire, settling back on his heels beside the shabby mattress.
Spike, moving slowly, still trying to gather his wits, righted himself on the bed and leaned back against the wall. “So, what brings you to Sunny L.A.?”
Xander gazed into blue, blue eyes, then drawled softly. “I come to get you, Frank.”
Spike closed his eyes for a time, then gazed back solemnly for a moment before he let a small smile tilt his lips, and answered back softly, in a fairly creditable cowboy twang. “I knowed you would, Jesse.”
Sunnydale, Early 2000 – The Basement of Doom
“Actually, I DO like football. This, however, as I've pointed out SO many times before, is not football.
“O’ course it’s football. It’s bloody brilliant football, you berk. Manchester United.”
“It’s not football, and we’re NOT watching it.”
“Can’t believe we actually fought a war to hold onto you lot.” Spike grumbled.
“But you did. And, hey, you LOST. Therefore, you are on my territory, especially since I pay both rent and cable on this little slice of heaven. So, I have right of possession of the damn remote. GIMME!.”
“Hell, no.” Spike tucked the item more firmly under his far thigh, fending off Xander’s lunge carefully so as to avoid frying his own brain. "Possession is nine-tenths of the law. The other tenth is that I am NOT sittin’ through the sodding Trouble with Tribbles again.”
Xander subsided, scowling, arms folded. After a moment, with a sigh, Xander muttered reluctantly. "Western channel?"
"Yeah, okay." Spike conceded grudgingly. "I don't mind it."
After many a skirmish over the remote, the home of all things cowboy had become the accepted compromise. Now, as Spike clicked onto it, Xander resumed bitching, per tradition.
"Holy Cowpoke, this one's older than you, Fangless. Edison must have made it!"
"Shut it! It's a classic, you Philistine. Watch and learn."
Custom satisfied, Xander slouched into the cushions, settling the popcorn on the couch between them.
"So who's this guy?"
"Frank James. That's his brother, Jesse. You've heard of 'em, I hope?"
"Yeah. Train robbers, right?"
"Trains, banks, whatnot. Gentleman bandits, I call 'em. Turned to it after they rode with a Rebel Geurilla band called Quantrill's raiders. Civil war put 'em off cooperatin' with the government, I reckon. Rode with the Younger boys."
"Younger than who?"
"Brothers named Younger, Git. Most of them got killed in a bank heist in Minnesota, mid-1870's, I think. Frank and Jesse got away, though."
Xander was regarding him with a mix of alarm and amusement. "Just how many times of you seen this movie, anyway?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "More'n once, but it takes some liberties wit' th' facts."
"What, you read history in your spare time?"
Spike dropped his head to the back of the couch. "If you were this bloody persistent with yer own studies, you'd be matriculatin' at Harvard intead o' makin my unlife miserable." He heaved a put-upon sigh. "If you must know, m' mates and I used to read about 'em in the papers when I was a boy. Played at bein' American outlaws, an' all. We didn't have so many sports heroes and pop stars to follow, y' know. We got excited about cowboys 'n' bandits an' the like." Seeing he had Xander's undivided attention, he continued. "Read about Jesse getting shot in the back in his own house by a slimy little rat name o' Bob Ford, coupla years after I got turned. Damn near got teary-eyed 'bout it. Angelus laughed his ass off." Spike shrugged off the memory then took a long swallow of his beer. "History lesson over, now shut up and watch the bloody film, will y', Whelp?"
"Uh, Spike? It's a commercial now."
"Then make yerself useful and go make some more popcorn, yeah?"
"Oh, okay." Xander stood, then turned back toward the vampire. "Uh, Spike, thanks for telling me that. It was pretty cool, and I know you don't talk much about, y' know, before."
Spike, in the act of lighting a cigarette, waved Xander off. "Just keep it t' yourself, willya? Don't need my childhood reminiscences showin' up in the bloody Watcher's Diaries, do I?"
"My lips are sealed." Xander made a quick detour to the bathroom to make room for another beer, then grabbed the empty popcorn bowl on his way to the microwave.
"Oi! 'Ope you washed your 'ands, Whelp."
"Once a week, whether they need it or not." Xander punched in numbers, then stood waiting for the microwave to work its magic.
"Sad thing is, y' can't be sure he's kidding." Spike muttered.
By the time Xander plopped down onto the old couch with the now-brimming bowl, the movie had resumed. “What did I miss? What’s going on?”
“Shhh. Frank’s in jail, and Jesse just came to bust him out. One thing about those guys, they knew th’ value of family an’ loyalty an all.”
2000, 48 Hours later.
He was in trouble. Serious, serious trouble. He was out patrolling with Buffy, and activity was practically non-existent. So much so that they’d felt comfortable splitting up. The five vampires came out of nowhere, and Xander knew, even as he threw himself into the fray, that Buffy was probably too far away to come to the rescue.
At first, he’d had a glimmer of hope; he’d managed to dust two of them early on, but they got more careful after that, and, as the lopsided fight went on, Xander felt his strength flagging. Finally, one of them had flung him headfirst against a tombstone. Now, too dazed to get to his feet, Xander watched the three remaining vampires converging on him, and knew that his luck had finally run out.
He watched helplessly as the apparent leader of the pack fell to his knees beside him and reached for him, triumphant leer revealing murderously sharp fangs.
Swallowing back a sob of terror and grief, Xander squeezed his eyes shut and waited for death.
Death didn’t come. He heard a scuffle, then silence. Finally he opened one cautious eye to meet a sapphire-blue gaze, the vampire’s grin belied by the concern in his eyes.
“Spike.” Xander closed his eyes as he felt relief turning already exhausted muscles to water.
“I come t’ get you, Frank.”
Xander laughed weakly, almost a sob. “I knowed you would, Jesse.”
“Up you go, Brat. Let’s get you home and see to that gash on yer head. ’Ere, wait a minute.” He propped Xander against an obelisk nearby. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Xander focused with some difficulty then huffed a little laugh. “Two, Fangless. Like I keep telling you, an American could get the same message across with one.”
“Yeah, well, just checkin’. Come on then.”
“Wait. We gotta find Buffy.”
“Hell with Buffy. She can take care of herself.”
“But, nothing’. You need to be at home.”
Too tired to argue, Xander leaned heavily on the smaller, stronger figure and went where he was led.
Buffy met them at the cemetery gates. “Xander! What happened?”
“Your boy got int’ some trouble. Nearly bought it.” The vampire was almost growling. “So where the hell were you?”
“Oh, Xander!” Buffy was almost in tears. “I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
“No, he’s bloody well not okay, you stupid bint, so let’s cut this short, so I can get him home.”
“I’ll take him home.” Buffy drew herself up to her full height, which wasn’t much. “You can go away now, Spike.”
“I’LL take him home, and you can go to hell now, Slayer.”
Xander, feeling tired indeed, interceded before full-out war erupted. “Guys, I really appreciate the love, but not tonight, okay? Listen, Buff, don’t worry about it. You’ve got class tomorrow. Bleachy here’s got nothing else useful to do, so why don’t we let him live out the dream and escort me home, okay? I’ll give you a call tomorrow.”
Finally, Buffy gave in with obvious reluctance. Xander’s memory of the trip home was blurry, but he vaguely recalled that the vampire had half-carried him down the basement stairs, stripped him, helped him to the bathroom, patched him up, fed him some soup, then put him to bed, spouting a steady stream of verbal abuse the whole time.
When Xander woke up in the early hours of the morning, refreshed, head much clearer, it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world to turn over and press himself into the cool body that had been spooned against his back, accepting the strong embrace, the silent kisses in the dark, and all that followed.
"So, still the White Knight, eh, Whelp? Come to rescue me from the clutches of my evil Grand-Sire?"
Spike’s voice jerked Xander out of his memories, and he studied the vampire’s face carefully. Closed-off now, expressionless, but Spike’s hand shook as he flicked his lighter and tried to light a cigarette.
Automatically, Xander’s hand came up to steady Spike’s, stilling the tremors until the tobacco took fire. "Well, do you NEED rescuing?" He let his eye sweep around the abandoned office with its stacks of unneeded furniture. "Doesn’t look to me that Deadboy’s doing much for you."
Spike exhaled, studied the glowing tip of his cigarette closely and shrugged noncommittally. "I do alright." He shot a quick, almost covert glance in Xander’s direction. "So, you lot need me for something’, then?"
Xander studied him for a moment. "Well, we could definitely use you, if that’s what you’re asking. The council is short-handed, and you have a lot of valuable knowledge and expertise."
Spike let out a short bark of laughter. "Don’t tell me old Rupert is keen to take me on? Wasn’t too long ago he was looking’ to see me dead, y‘know."
Xander watched the expressions crossing the vampire’s face and felt a sudden ache of something like tenderness. "Spike, I’m pretty sure that Giles would welcome your contributions. But the fact of the matter is, he doesn’t know I’m here. Doesn’t know you’re back with us. None of them know. Andrew told me three days ago, and he swore that he hadn’t told anyone else."
He eased himself around so that he was seated beside Spike on the old mattress, separated by a safe twelve inches or so. "Did you know that Angel and Wesley asked Andrew not to tell anyone about you?"
Spike took a long last draw from his cigarette, stubbed it out in the cup that was acting as his makeshift ashtray, then propped his arms on his updrawn knees, eyes staring sightlessly at the far wall. "Yeah. I know. Was my idea."
Xander closed his eyes for a moment, trying to keep the plaintive note out of his voice as he spoke again. "Why? Why didn’t you want us to know?"
Spike shrugged, then sat still for a long time, now looking down at the floor between his feet. Finally he answered with manifest reluctance. “Was the first thing I thought about. But when I first came back, I was incorporeal. Little Percy tell y’ that?”
Xander digested this for a moment, his eye fixed on Spike’s face. “No. No, he didn’t say anything about that. Tell me about it.” His voice was gentle, and Spike shot him a strange look, then returned his eyes to the floor.
“Couldn’t touch anything, move anything. Like the First, y’know? An’ I was stuck here. Couldn’t leave. Didn’t know but what I was just gonna be trapped here, hauntin’ the place forever. No good reason to let you lot know anything, was there?” He rubbed his hands restlessly on his denim-clad thighs.
“Fred, bless her heart, was hell-bent on tryin’ to fix it fer me.” He glanced at Xander, his eyes soft. “Y’ know Fred?”
Xander shook his head, ignoring the slight tightening in his gut. “Haven’t met her, but Willow told me about her. Willow likes her, so she must be okay.”
Spike nodded. “She’s a bit o’ alright, is our Fred. So, she’s tryin’ to figure out what’s what, but things got worse. I started fadin’ in an’ out, and it got bad. Startin’ makin’ short visits t’ some hell dimension, an’ wasn’t that a load o’ fun.”
“God,” Xander breathed. “So, what happened?”
“Well, that’s a bloody long story, so I’ll make it short. Was somethin’ nasty hauntin’ the premises; it got took care of, and I got put right in the process.”
“And you immediately called to let us know that you were okay. No, wait, you didn’t.” Xander’s voice held an unmistakable tinge of bitterness.
Spike kept his eyes fixed between his feet, refusing to meet Xander’s reproachful gaze. “Look, Kid. By that time, it had been, what, six or seven months? Figured you lot had gotten on with yer lives, an’ I really din’t want to come in and start stirring up stuff. Was in the past, yeah? Thought it better to just leave well enough alone.”
Xander considered Spike’s profile for a moment, then enunciated clearly, “Bullshit.”
Spike did meet his eye then. “Look, I just thought it would be kind o’ nice if y’ remembered me as I was that day. Heroic, like.”
“Oh, Spike.” Xander sounded tired. “Didn’t it occur to you that just maybe we would have been happy to know you were alive, or undead again, or whatever?”
Spike hesitated, then muttered so softly that Xander had to strain to hear him. “She said she loved me.”
Xander frowned, confused by the apparent non-sequitur. “Uh, again?”
Spike dropped his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. “That day. Buffy got everyone else out of there, then stayed behind an’ tried to get me to leave with her.”
Xander held his breath. Buffy had never talked about this.
“I knew that I had to stay, or the whole thing wouldn’t work. So, once we both knew that I was a goner fer sure, she took m’ hand and she told me she loved me.”
Xander felt that tightening in his gut again, but kept his silence.
“Nothin’ like bein’ up against it t’ make y’ see things clear.” He sighed. “I knew then that she really did care fer me a little, but, all the same, even if we had all the time in th’ world, she would never, ever love me, not that way.” He shook his head as if to clear it, and lit another cigarette. “Told her she was lyin, an’ thanked her fer it all the same.”
Xander had to try a time or two before he could get words out. “Okay. Well, I guess that makes sense. Feeling the way you did, it would be pretty painful to talk to her, or be around her.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Not really,” he said, rather surprisingly. “After I’d come back and had a little time to think it over, I was alright with it. Still, bloody awkward fer her if I came back from the dead, yeah? Peaches already did it to her once, an’ I thought it would be the decent thing t’ just stay dead.”
“I get that.” Stifling his own feelings on the matter, Xander nodded sagely, then turned a stern eye on the vampire. “Still, you could have given a little thought to the rest of us.”
“What, was Rupert weepin’ into his tea?”
“No,” Xander replied coolly, “but Willow was sad. She really likes you, y’know.”
Spike almost smiled. “So, how is Red, anyway?”
“She’s in England helping Giles rebuild the council and train the slayers whenever she and Kennedy aren’t going at it like rabbits.”
“Yeah? They still on, then?” Spike paused. “Kennedy’s alright I reckon, but…”
Xander finished that without hesitation. “…but she’s not Tara.”
Spike drew deeply on his cigarette. “Yeah. If there was any justice in th’ world, woulda been Glinda that got a second chance.”
Xander shook his head. “Nah. Once Buffy got around to really talking to me and Willow about the place she was before we brought her back, we felt a little more okay about Tara being gone. We figure that Tara went to the same place, you know? Couldn’t happen to a nicer person.”
“’Spect yer right, Whelp.” Spike brooded over his memories of Tara for a time, then went on. “Speakin’ o’ angels, how’s my li’l Bit?”
“Funny you should ask. You might have gotten in touch for her sake.”
Spike picked up the cup and stubbed out his cigarette. “Figured I’d hear about it sooner or later if anything was amiss with her. An’ it’s not like she was sheddin’ any tears over me. She never did forgive me for…well, she never did.”
“She cried her eyes out. For days.”
Spike whipped his head around and met Xander’s gaze. “What, fer me?” He sounded awed.
Xander manfully resisted the urge to smack Spike on the head and call him an idiot. “Yeah, for you. Everybody else thought she was just reacting to the trauma. But I got her to talk to me, eventually. She feels so bad that she never made her peace with you.” He paused, then rubbed it in. “She loves you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Xander watched the vampire open his mouth to speak, close it while he swallowed hard, then try again.
“When are you goin’ t’ be seein’ her, then?”
“Listen, when y’ do…she can keep a secret, Dawnie can…when y’ see her, tell her I’m okay, will y’?”
“Fuck you, Bleach Boy. Do your own damn dirty work. You want Dawn to know you’re up and around, tell her yourself.”
“And while we’re on the subject, did it occur to you that I would have liked to have known that you were unalive and well?”
The silence stretched on for a while before Spike offered cautiously, “Well I figured that you were…” He stopped, then veered off. “I didn’t find out ‘til Andrew showed up what happened t’ your Anya.” His voice was low. “Was sorry t’ hear it. Yer demon girl was a good sort.”
“Thanks.” Xander looked at his own hands, studying the calluses and scars like he had never seen them before. The silence was so complete that Xander could hear his own heartbeat quicken. Spike could too, he realized.
Finally, he spoke again, very quietly. “Would it have made a difference? If you had known?”
This time the silence stretched out until it felt like forever. Finally, Spike shrugged. “D’know. Should it?”
“You’re an asshole, and I hate your guts.” Xander sulked, a little perturbed to find himself reverting to adolescence.
“Oh, don’t give me that. Not like we were engaged to be wed, was it? I mean, yeah, we had a few beers, played some pool. Watched the tellie together.”
Xander shot him a filthy look.
“Yeah, alright, we had seven or eight shags an’ near-shags, not like we were countin’, but we never said they meant anything, did we?”
Xander stared until Spike dropped his eyes, then spoke succinctly. “Six. It was six. Not that we were counting.”
“Oi!” Spike rounded on him. “It was seven!”
“Nope. It was six.”
“It was seven, dammit.” The vampire’s voice rose.
“Six.” Xander was smug. “It was six. First time doesn’t count.”
“Th’ hell it doesn’t. It was bloody brilliant, that first time. It soddin’ well does count!” Spike was indignant.
“Why the hell not?” The vampire was shouting.
“’Cause a few months after, you clocked me in the head with a fucking microscope and left me to die, Asshole!”
“Well, that’s no reason for you to forget it!”
Xander grinned, a slow lifting of his lips. “Didn’t say I forgot it. I just said it didn’t count.”
Spike glared, then threw back his head and laughed.
Fall 1997, Sunnydale
Picking up his pace until he was practically speed-walking, Xander glanced nervously at the spot on the western horizon where the sun had disappeared not long before. Why had he stopped for pie at Denny’s? So he could die with a full stomach? Idiot loser-guy. Wandering alone around Sunnydale after dark wasn’t smart at any time, but after Friday’s Parent/Teacher night, it was an especially bad idea. “Three more blocks,” he muttered to himself. “Three more blocks to go, and you’re out of the woods.”
Xander yelped and halted so abruptly that he almost tripped on his own feet as the new vampire in town bounded suddenly into his path.
“Lovely evenin’ for a stroll, in’t it?”
Frozen, Xander gawked at the platinum-haired demon for a good two seconds, then jerked himself out of his paralysis to reach for the stake in his pocket with a hand that trembled.
Taking a leisurely draw on his cigarette, Spike watched indulgently as the teenager fumbled the stake, almost dropping it twice before getting himself into position.
“So that WAS a stake in yer pocket. An’ here I was hopin’ you were just happy to see me.”
Stake at the ready, Xander contemplated two equally futile courses of action for a split second. Try to stake a master vampire, or…
RUN! Whirling, he took off as fast as his feet could carry him.
“An’ we’re off!” Chortling, the vampire took another deep puff then dropped his fag, grinding it out carefully with the toe of one boot before loping easily after the sprinting boy.
Two blocks later, Spike effortlessly closed the distance between him and his fleeing prey, coming up on Xander’s left, herding him easily between two houses and out of the glare of the streetlights before dropping back and letting the boy regain his lead.
Legs trembling, lungs burning, and the damn pie lying in his gut like a rock, Xander turned in the direction of his own back yard and covered another thirty yards before a flying tackle brought him down face first into the turf.
Spike flipped him like a pancake then pounced on him, chuckling. “That was fun.”
Not wasting his limited breath on speech, Xander glared up at the pale face inches from his, struggling weakly.
Thoroughly enjoying himself, Spike mock-battled the flailing limbs, playing as one would do with a particularly energetic kitten.
Finally, exhausted, Xander gave up the struggle and went limp under the vampire’s weight, closing his eyes. Don’t wanna die. Don’t wanna die.
“Yeah, well then y’ should probably calm down before y’ give yourself a coronary, whelp.
Crap. I said that out loud, he thought disgustedly. His eyes flew open as he felt the vampire nuzzling his neck. No teeth so far, which was good, but LICKING, for God’s sake. “EEEUWWW!” Xander jerked away from the cool tongue, glaring.
“What? Just havin’ a little taste, wasn’t I? I’m a vampire! We’re very oral, y’know.” Another lick, this one punctuated by a playful little nip at the teen’s earlobe. “Some find that trait very appealin’. I know I do.”
“Look, you’ve caught me fair and square, so can we just get on with it without all the…” Xander hesitated, looking for the right word.
“Foreplay?” Spike provided helpfully.
“And again with the EEUUW!”
“You modern youngsters have no sense o’ romance.”
“Actually, I do have a sense of romance. I have a very keen sense of romance. Just, my romantic dreams usually involve candlelight, a bubble bath, and a very friendly girl with a Victoria’s Secret charge card. But rolling around in old man Decker’s petunia patch with a fashion-challenged vampire who’s about to kill me? Maybe it’s because I’m young and naïve, but I somehow haven’t gotten around to fantasizing about that.”
“Fashion victim?” Looking affronted, the vampire plucked at Xander’s purple and red Hawaiian shirt. “Nice to meet you, pot. I’m kettle. What’re y’ hidin’ under there, anyway, pet?”
Ignoring Xander’s indignant yelp, the vampire sat upright, straddling the boy’s hips, then jerked the shirt open, buttons flying everywhere. “Oh, very nice, pet,” the vampire murmured appreciatively, cool hands running lightly up the exposed torso.
Xander, very secure in his extremely hetero masculinity, assured himself that the sudden exposure to the cool night air would make anyone’s nipples hard. “Look, can you just quit fooling around and kill me already?”
“’Ere, once you get an idea in yer ‘ead, y’ just can’t let it go, can y’?”
The vampire rested his hands on Xander’s chest, thumbs playing absently over his nipples, which hardened even further. A natural reaction in a hormonal teenager, no matter who was doing the rubbing, Xander told himself, stubbornly closing his mind to the knowledge that there was a certain amount of hardening going on elsewhere.
“Listen, pet, if it makes y’ feel any better, there are any number of clueless twits wanderin’ around the town after dark. Easy pickings, and fortunately the blood of the stupid tastes just as good.” One slender forefinger touched Xander’s mouth lightly, then trailed slowly in a straight line over his chin and down his throat, continuing down his body to dip playfully into his navel and toy thoughtfully with the fine, dark hair that trailed from there into the low waistline of his loose khakis.
“However, I’ve not had a prezzie from my sire since the original Victoria was rulin’ the Empire, with or without her secrets.” The vampire squirmed very deliberately on Xander’s pelvis, and Xander could almost hear his blood clamoring to board the express train down to his treacherous dick.
“Not gonna kill y’, luv.” Spike caught one of Xander’s hands in a loose grip and pressed it against the fly of his black jeans. “Got other plans for you.”
Frozen with horrified fascination, Xander registered the rock-hard erection pressing into his palm through the fabric, then jerked his hand away as if it had burned. “GAH! Straight, here! Is it too late to renegotiate, ‘cause, I don’t know, death? Maybe not so bad.”
“YOU are very cute.” Spike rubbed his ass teasingly against the swelling he could feel beneath him, then leaned his weight on hands braced on either side of Xander’s shoulders and repositioned himself, wedging a knee between the boy’s thighs and settling himself down full length on the wiggling body beneath his, mashing hard cocks together.
“Just want to get acquainted, don’t I? So, what’s your name, luv?”
Xander groaned as the vampire writhed lazily on him, and wondered if he could even remember his name at that particular moment. Finally, he stuttered, “X-Xander.”
“X-Xander, huh?” A particularly hard thrust almost blew the top of Xander’s head off, and he squeaked.
“Short for Alexander, yeah?”
Xander choked out a feeble “uh-huh” as Spike snaked a hand between their bodies, gripping the teen’s aching erection through the fabric of the pants.
“Mmmmm,” the vampire purred happily. “Alexander the Great, feels like.”
Xander, in a daze, watched as the vampire knelt up between his thighs and deftly undid the front of his khakis, extracting his drooling erection from the fly of his boxers.
“Oh, yeah, you are a prize, aren’t you, luv?” the vampire crooned, wrapping a cool hand around the substantial column of flesh.
Xander lay staring up at Spike, paralyzed by the conflict between his brain, which was still screaming ‘run away,’ and his cock, which was trying to convince him that he was onto a very good thing here.
The vampire stroked him lazily, brushing his thumb across the broad damp head on the upstroke. Keeping his eyes on Xander’s, Spike lifted his hand to his mouth, tasting Xander on his thumb. “Mmmm. Sweet, pet.”
His brain having given up and gone away somewhere, Xander moaned softly as Spike clasped him again, his other hand moving to his own fly, popping open the button fly of his jeans and extracting his cock. Hypnotized, Xander stared at the erect organ. The vampire was so hard that his erection lay flush against his stomach. Pale, nearly as thick as Xander’s own, but a little longer.
“Like what you see, pet? Touch me,” the vampire rasped, his voice rough with desire.
As though enthralled, Xander obeyed mindlessly, wrapping nervous fingers around another man’s cock for the first time. Uncircumcised, it felt very different from his own, and the vampire guided his hand, wordlessly teaching him to manipulate the foreskin as he stroked.
“Yeah, just like that. Such a good, talented boy,” Spike groaned softly.
For long, dream-like moments, they stroked each other, adding their own soft grunts and sighs to the symphony of night sounds. Finally, Spike batted his hand away gently and shifted, resuming his earlier position lying full length on the boy.
Xander gasped as their erections lined up, hot skin to cool.
“Good, yeah?” The vampire ran his hands up Xander’s sides, bought his forearms up under Xander’s shoulders, and thrust against him, lightly at first, then harder.
Way too turned on to remember all the reasons why this was a bad idea, Xander wrapped his arms around leather-clad shoulders, feeling the tensile strength coiled in the deceptively slight frame.
Muffling soft sounds of approval against Xander’s throat, Spike kneed the boy’s legs apart almost roughly, settling between spread thighs and increasing the friction between them.
Panting harshly, Xander automatically brought his legs up to wrap around slender hips, arching hungrily against the vampire.
Spike growled softly into Xander’s sweaty, salt-sweet neck and ground their cocks together, rutting mindlessly.
It was all over but the shouting, then. Xander muffled his cry against the vampire’s hard leather-clad shoulder and shot ropes of semen between their bodies, feeling Spike’s cooler emission splattering his bare skin seconds later.
Wide-eyed, Xander lay panting under the now very relaxed vampire. Eventually, Spike propped himself onto his elbows to look down at the dazed boy.
“Yeah, I like my prezzie just fine,” he chuckled. Almost tenderly, he stroked damp, shaggy hair away from Xander’s face, then bent and kissed him hard and long, tongue plundering possessively. Drawing back, he stared intently down at the teenager beneath him. “I’ll be seein’ y’ around, pet.”
Before Xander could gather his wits, the vampire was up and gone, vanishing into the darkness. Xander lay spread-eagled on the grass like an abandoned rag doll, staring up at the stars. As soon as he regained his breath, and his brains, he scrambled to his feet, doing up his pants and turning in a circle, peering into the night, but there was no sign of the demon.
He took a few stumbling steps backwards, then turned and ran, making for the dubious safety of home. From the shadows, Spike watched Xander cross a few more lawns, waiting, vigilant, until the boy was safe in his own house.
“It wasn’t just the business with the microscope and the subsequent abduction, which, by the way, was very rude, and ended up getting me into a lot of trouble…”
“Sorry about that, whelp,” Spike sounded fairly unrepentant.
“Yeah, I bet,” Xander remarked dryly. “But besides that, you got me all worked up, then did you call? Did you send flowers?”
“Oi, how was I to know that the Slayer and Angelus between them were going to bollocks things up the way they did? Between the two o’ them, they put a right damper on my love life. Still…” Spike prodded playfully at Xander’s booted feet with his bare toes. “Y’ gotta admit, I certainly expanded yer horizons.”
“Yeah, I’ll give you that, Bleachboy. You’ve definitely expanded my horizons. ‘Xander Harris, single white male. Turn-ons: Petunias, vintage Westerns…’”
“Cock…” Spike snickered.
Xander laughed, meeting the vampire’s smirk. “Yeah, that too.”
“So, whelp, what’ve y’ been up to? Last I heard, you were in Africa. When’d y’ get back to the States?”
Xander thought a second. “Three hours ago.”
“Really? You just flew in?”
“Yep. From Kenya.”
“So what brings you to L.A?”
Xander rolled his eyes in Spike’s direction with a look that seemed to suggest that the vampire was a tad dense. “First things first. Look, I’m taking a vacation, and I’ve got a suite in a hotel up the street. All the amenities, bar, Jacuzzi, cable.” Xander paused, dithered, then got right to it. Anyway, I’ve missed hanging out with you. So, wanna come and help me spend the Council’s money?”
Spike hesitated, looking, well, not exactly suspicious, but maybe slightly puzzled.
“There’s even a soccer channel.” Xander sweetened the deal.
“Football, wanker.” Spike sounded casual, but Xander could see the spark of interest in the blue eyes.
“Whatever. So, are you in?”
“I could use a change of scenery…yeah. I’m in.”
“Great.” Xander’s turn to look casual, although, inside, he was punching the air and yelling ‘YES!’ First stage of The Plan accomplished.
“Sun’s high in the sky, though,” Spike continued, “so unless the Council’s given you some kind of anti-vampire ignition mojo, I’m stuck here for a while. Y’ wanna give me the address and let me catch up with y’ later?”
Xander thought about that; he could go back to the hotel and clock some desperately-needed shut-eye while he waited for sunset. Immediately, he discarded that idea. Not gonna risk Spike getting cold feet about the whole thing and not showing up. Wither thou goest, fangless….
“Nah. Like I said, I missed hanging out with you. We should be able to kill a few hours; we used to be damn good at that.”
“Yeah, we were.” Spike lit another cigarette. “We could go downstairs and annoy Peaches.”
Xander, glad that Spike seemed tacitly agreeable to avoiding the subject of sex for the time being, shook his head reluctantly. “Probably not a good idea. When I stopped by his office before I came up here, I pissed him off to the point where he threatened to kill me. Should probably avoid him for a while.”
Spike, the cigarette burning forgotten between pale, slender fingers, was looking at him with open admiration. “Bloody hell, Xan! What did you say to him?”
Xander shrugged, feeling pleased with himself. “This and that. Told him what a flaming asshole he was. You do know that, right? That your sire’s a flaming asshole?”
“Alert the press!” Spike rolled his eyes. “Preachin’ t’ the choir, here, brat. One thing I always liked about y’ was yer rare ability to see through the pouf’s bullshit. So, was that what made him go off ‘is rocker?”
“Nah.” Xander chuckled at the happy memory. “He didn’t really lose it until I waxed lyrical about Buffy’s big fat crush on this Immortal guy.”
Spike guffawed. “Brilliant, pet. I bet that did him right enough.”
Xander watched the vampire closely, relieved to see no evidence of pain at the mention of Buffy’s love life.
Spike sobered. “He treatin’ her right, then, you reckon?”
And there was that tightening in his gut again. “Seems like it. She’s apparently having a good time with him.”
“Well, that’s good. Like her, don’t I? Don’t want to see her made unhappy.”
Xander had to ask. “Does it bother you, thinking about her with someone else?”
Spike thought about it, then answered honestly. “Always a bit of ‘might have been,’ in’t there? Still, I’m alright with it, as long as ‘e’s doin’ right by her.”
He grinned suddenly, making Xander feel suddenly much better. “An’ I’m a bit glad that it’s who it is. This bloke’s th’ only one that ever beat Angelus at a game o’ love, so I say, bloody good karma all the way around. One thing, though, brat. I’d appreciate it if you kept t’ yourself what I told y’ about me makin’ m’ peace with the whole thing, yeah? Good for Peaches’ soul to go on thinkin’ that he’s got plenty o’ competition.”
Xander grinned and raised his hands, palms forward. “Oh, hey, far be it from me to be the one to cultivate Deadboy’s peace of mind. Your secret is safe with me, Bleachy.”
Spike returned Xander’s devilish smirk. “Nothin’ like common goals, eh?” Sobering, he noted the weariness in Xander’s brown eye, and the exhaustion lining his features. “No offence, mate, but y’ look right knackered.” He patted the mattress between them. “I could use a bit more rest m’self. Since we got a few hours to pass, what say to a bit o’ kip time? It’s not the Ritz, but it’s not so bad.”
Xander was very, very tired, they did indeed have some time to kill, and he was in the habit of sleeping in places a lot less comfortable than a mattress in a temperature-controlled office building. Plus, the mattress was narrow, which meant Spike-snugglage. Xander was nodding gratefully and unlacing his boots before the vampire finished speaking.
Once said boots were off, a slight tussle naturally followed, as Xander automatically made to recline on his side behind the vampire.
“’Ere, now. I’m not the soddin’ girl.” He shoved at Xander’s shoulder, trying to urge him to the front.
“And what, I am?” He grappled gently with the smaller body, fully aware that the vampire had the physical strength to win this contest of wills. “Look we can take turns, but this time, I get to be the spooner, and you get to be the spoonee.”
Spike was adamantly resisting his attempts, scowling mulishly, and Xander continued. “You’re the one that didn’t bother to tell me that you were still around, and made me miss you, you complete bastard. You owe me, so just shut up and lie down.” Remarkably, the vampire did as he was told, grumbling as he stretched himself out on his side, facing out into the abandoned office.
Secretly amazed at having got his way so easily, Xander laid his tired body down behind Spike’s, wondering at the fact that Spike had made no argument at his suggestion that they could take turns. Which of course implied that there would be a next time.
Feeling very right with the world, Xander pressed against Spike’s cool, firm little body. At the touch, Spike breathed out a soft sigh and curled up into a ball, pressing his rump back into Xander’s lap.
Yes. Oh, yes. Peace stealing over him, Xander closed his eye and pressed his face against the back of Spike’s neck, arm snaking around Spike’s waist, his own body curving to follow the vampire’s contours, knees drawing up to cradle the vampire that he secretly thought of as his.
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