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Rating: NC-17 (for the naughty sex parts)

Pairing: X/S

Warnings: May be some graphic descriptions of child abuse, and in later chapters, possible (secondary, to the fic) character death.

Summary: Completely AU Fantasy. Everybody's human. Xander was given up for adoption when he was a baby. 25 years later a sister he never knew he had needs a donor. A friend comes to ask for Xander's help.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Joss owns it all damn him! Any lyrics used in this fic belong to Metallica and anyone else they want to share with, which unfortunately isn't me.

Feedback: Yes please! margaritagomez1@msn.com

Archive: If you want it just email me to tell me where it's going. It will eventually be on my own website when I get the chance to update (
www.angelfire.com/indie/margarks/index.html)

Authors Note: This is something new for me. Never done a Fantasy AU X/S fic before. It's actually a challenge/idea that I read somewhere but now can't remember where. I think it might have been for Spuffy, so I hope that person doesn't mind me twisting it up for Spander!

Thanks to my beta, Edi, for all her hard work! And Jen007 for checking over all my medicalese.






Salvation


by
Margie





Prologue

God, she looked so pale. He should be used to it by now, her frailty, watching the weakness steal over her once athletic body. It made him ache to remember her strength.

He watched as her eyelids fluttered in her sleep, indicating her dream state. He hoped that they weren't nightmares as was so often the case lately.

He took her hand gently so as not to wake her. Turning it, he exposed her palm and traced the lifeline he found there. So short, so short a time left. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, letting his lips linger for just a moment.

Slowly he brought her hand back down, laying it lightly on the bed. He stood, his duster swirling about him, and made his way out of the room. The beeping echo of the machines and her soft huffs of breath were all the noise that followed him.


***


"I'm going. I'll convince him. No worries, luv." Spike spoke softly, but with as much confidence as he could muster.

"I can't let my baby die, Spike." Joyce worried at her bottom lip, trying not to let the tears that pooled in her eyes fall.

"She won't," Spike reassured her, his hand stealing out to grace her shoulder, giving comfort. "I won't let that happen. Buffy and I have been mates since my da flew us over that bloody pond. I'm not about to let her leave me now."

"Thank you, Spike," Joyce whispered, losing the battle and wiping at the waterfall of tears.

"I'll make him understand. Don't worry."

Neither of them chose to bring up the fact that this was their last chance. That even if he agreed to donate; he wouldn't necessarily be a match. For now they clung to hope. It was all they had left.






Chapter One ~ Introductions

Xander was in the middle of tossing tonight's costume into his duffel when the doorbell chimed. He made his way out of the bedroom and through the living room wondering who it could be and what they might be selling. He wasn't expecting anyone. Not that there were many people in his life he'd want to expect. He hadn't made very many friends, none at all really, since moving here and he sure as fuck didn't want either of his parents to be on the other side of that door.

Just to be on the safe side he took a quick peek through the peephole. His breath caught at the sight of the man standing before the door. Even with his features slightly skewed due to the concavity of the peephole, it was still obvious that he was a looker. His hair was slicked back and bleached almost white. His eyes were an arresting blue that almost mesmerized Xander even before he could open the door.

"Yes?" Xander prompted, as the door swung open to give him his first clear view of the stranger. Worn black jeans hung low on the man's hips, a tight black t-shirt showed off the ridged muscles of his abdomen. Atop the t-shirt he wore an electric blue button up that almost matched the color of his eyes. Xander found himself staring, though he tried his best to appear nonchalant.

"'ello, mate. Are you Alexander Harris?" Oooh, sexy accent.

"Yes?" Xander repeated, both answering and asking a question.

"It's nice to meet you, Alex. I'm William, but my friends call me Spike." Spike held out his hand.

Xander reached out and took the offering, shaking hands politely, still wondering who this man was. "Xander."

"Excuse me?"

"Nobody calls me Alex. It's Xander."

"Oh, sorry, Xander."

The man looked chagrined and Xander wondered if his tone had been too curt. It had been a long time since he cared whether he offended anyone or not. The thought that he felt guilty for making the stranger even more nervous than he already appeared, made Xander stop and wonder.

"Is there something you needed? Have we met before?" Xander asked, still trying to figure out what the man was doing here.

"Actually, mate, was wonderin' if you had a minute to talk?"

"Talk?"

"Yeah, sort of, came to discuss some things with you." Spike shrugged. "If you're free, that is."

"What is it you want to discuss? Are you a lawyer or something?" He certainly didn't look like a lawyer.

"No, I just...we have a mutual acquaintance, sort of...it's complicated. Could we sit for a spell?" Spike asked.

Xander studied the man before him critically, trying to assess the potential hazards of letting him into his home. After a moment, he shrugged and stepped aside, gesturing with a free hand toward the living room sofa.

"So, who's this mutual acquaintance?" Xander asked after joining Spike on the couch.

"Her name is Buffy Summers," Spike began tentatively.

"I don't know any Buffy Summers," Xander responded, brow furrowed in thought.

"Yeah, well, the thing is, she's your sister." The words rushed out so fast Xander wasn't sure he heard them correctly.

"My sister? I don't have a sister, man. I think you might have the wrong guy."

"No. I've got the right bloke, believe me. We've been trying to track you down for months." Spike paused, waiting for his words to sink in.

"Track me down?"

"Yes. Your mum. Your biological mum, and I, we've been searching for you."

"What?" The word came out a whisper. His biological mother? What the hell did she want? "Why?"

"Your sister, Buffy, she's sick," Spike began, only to be interrupted.

"So, I do have a sister. Is that what you're telling me?" Xander demanded, the look on his face transforming from one of confusion to anger.

"Yeah, mate, and she's sick. She needs a donor. We've all tried, but none of us are a match."

"And my biological mother sent you to see if I'd be willing to donate, too," Xander clarified.

"That about sums it up, luv."

Suddenly Xander stood; the look on his face was a mask of pure anger. He strode toward the front door and opened it wide. Holding on to the knob with one hand, he gestured with the other. "Get out." The words were spat through gritted teeth.

"Xander, please, Buffy - "

"I said, get out!" Xander nearly screamed. "You think I care? You think I give a damn about the one she kept? The baby she actually wanted?" Tears had gathered in Xander's eyes, and he blinked them away rapidly. There was no way in hell he was going to cry in front of this guy. This stranger that had been sent to save the sibling he never knew he had. The sibling his mother had loved.

"Xander, you don't - "

"Get the fuck out!"

And because he could see that he was getting nowhere, Spike went. Xander didn't slam the door, only let it slide softly shut. The finality of the soft click echoed on both sides of the door.


***


Fuck! Xander swiped at the tears that now fell. He hadn't cried since he was a child. Since the first few months of his long, interminable stay with the Harrises. The first time that Xander could remember Anthony Harris hitting him, he was about four years old, just going on five.

They'd bought him all new clothes for kindergarten, and Jessica Harris had been so proud. She'd paraded him around the room in his new school wear; Xander had smiled proudly, loving the attention he was getting. Not paying attention, he'd tripped on the floor and torn a hole in the knee of his new trousers. Before he could even try to right himself, Mr. Harris had hauled him back onto his feet and backhanded him.

He remembered the awful sting, and worse, the shock of what had occurred. His eyes had teared instantly and he'd begun to cry, great big wracking sobs that made his chest hurt. He'd looked up at the man he'd been calling dad with fear and confusion. When all he saw was anger, he'd turned to his mom only to find an expression of what he now knew to be pity. He'd see that look on his mom's face many times again over the next several years.

When the tears wouldn't stop his father only got angrier. Anthony Harris' second punch knocked him back on to the ground. He curled himself into a tiny ball, but that didn't stop the pain from the swift kicks his father landed. It didn't take Xander long to learn that he shouldn't cry, at least not where anyone could see him. Soon he'd learned not to cry at all.

But now the tears came unbidden as he fought to catch his breath. All this time, he'd had this fantasy that his real parents had given him up for some noble reason. That they couldn't have kept him, no matter how much they'd wanted to. But now, that fantasy was shattered. They hadn't kept him because they hadn't wanted to. They'd obviously wanted to keep her.

Who the fuck cared if she died? Not him.






Chapter Two ~ Persistence is the Key



Spike was not giving up. He hadn't expected this to be easy, but he was surprised at the anger that he'd seen in Xander's face. He'd expected the man to be shocked, and yes, a bit angry, but nothing like the rage he'd seen simmering in those chocolate eyes.

What had incensed the man so? Spike could understand feelings of anger and jealousy, but Xander had acted as if he hadn't even cared whether Buffy lived or died. But Spike had seen compassion and caring in him before he'd dropped the news about his mother. Could he hate her so much that he was willing to let Buffy suffer? A woman he'd never even met before?

Spike was hoping that, once the shock had worn off, the answer would be no. That Xander would understand that whatever reasons his mother and father had had back then, they had nothing to do with Buffy. That Buffy shouldn't be punished for whatever slight Xander felt his parents had inflicted upon him.

Spike studied the scrap of paper he'd written Xander's work address on. The private investigator they'd hired had provided a lot of information; home address, work, phone numbers for both. Spike had debated calling him before his arrival, but had feared his response. He didn't want to be turned away before he could even meet the bloke he was supposed to convince.

Now that he'd been rebuffed, Spike's only plan of attack was to dog the man until he agreed to listen. And so he found himself here, wondering whether he'd written the address down incorrectly. The PI had mentioned that Xander worked in the adult industry, stripping. This was something that hadn't entirely shocked Spike; although he'd never actually known any strippers of the male persuasion, he had met one or two of the female variety.

Xander's profession didn't particularly shock him, but his place of employment did. He'd expected something along the lines of The Fabulous Ladies Night Club, not The Gentleman's Club for Men. Xander stripped at a gay club? Was Xander a pouf? Spike had never been in a gay club before, and he wasn't especially interested in changing that. But if this was the only way to make Xander realize he wasn't going away, at least not without another serious discussion, then he had no choice.

Spike steeled himself and entered the smoky club. The lights were down low and it was difficult to see more than a few feet in front of him. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. He waited, wondering where Xander was and if he would get a chance to talk to him before the show started. He was glancing around the club, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness when the stage lights came on and an announcer appeared.

"Good evening, everyone! As always, our sexy stallion Xander is first up! Enjoy!!" The crowd erupted in applause and then the man moved off the stage and the lights turned to focus on the break in the curtains.

Unconsciously Spike held his breath, and then nearly fainted when Xander appeared. Sexy stallion? The man hadn't been kidding. Xander's dark brown hair looked almost black shining in the lights on stage. His skin was slick and shiny from some type of oil, and his cheeks were flush. His costume tonight was some kind of cowboy, although there wasn't much to it. He appeared to be wearing a black leather vest with no shirt underneath, and black leather chaps with just a matching black thong. Every time he turned his back on the crowd they were treated to an excellent view of his ass clenching and unclenching as he moved sinuously across the stage.

Spike found himself squirming on his barstool. He was shocked to realize he'd already gotten half hard watching the man strutting on stage. What was wrong with him? He'd never once been attracted to a man before; he wasn't a pouf, thank you very much. He liked women just fine. Not that there was anything wrong with it, just that, it had never been something he was interested in. But as he watched Xander dancing above him, Spike couldn't help but lose himself in the man's performance.

But when Xander started taking his clothes off, Spike's jaw dropped open. Maybe he hadn't thought this whole thing out too clearly. He'd forgotten that, whether he was in a gay club or not, by the end of the night Spike would be seeing Xander naked. And though it obviously didn't bother Xander, since he did this sort of thing every night, Spike wasn't too sure how he felt about the idea. He'd never seen another man naked before, barring actors in movies. His nervousness was made worse by the fact that he was still half hard and getting harder every moment.

Then Xander was wearing nothing but his thong, hips gyrating to the music, muscles glistening from the oil. And Spike couldn't move. His eyes were glued to the man before him, and he was powerless to look away. If not for the loud beat of the music, Spike would have heard the raucous laughter and hooting catcalls. Or maybe not, absorbed as he was in the performance itself.

And then, between one blink and the next, Xander reached down and grabbed his thong and pulled. The flimsy thing ripped away revealing Xander in his entirety. Spike felt his cock twitch, and he stomped down hard on these new and off-putting feelings clawing through him.

Finally the lights went down and the club went back to its previous dim atmosphere until the next performer was ready. Spike took the time to breathe in large draughts of air, choking slightly on the smoke he inhaled. He was sipping his now warm beer absently when he felt a presence next to him.

"Enjoy the show?"

Spike spun to find Xander sitting beside him, a beer placed with a smile from the bartender in his hands. "Uhm...yeah, mate, it was...you're very talented."

Xander threw back his head and laughed at Spike's spluttering attempt at a compliment. "Never been to one of these clubs before, have you?"

"No, I - "

"Save the denials, I know you're not gay," Xander interrupted. "You don't set off my gaydar."

"Gaydar?" Spike asked, brow upraised.

"Yeah, you know. A gay man's ability to sense other gay men in the area? Like radar? Gaydar?" Xander tried to clue him in.

"So, you're..."

"Yeah."

They sat in silence for a minute, each sipping at their beers only as an afterthought. Finally, Xander broke the silence between them. "So, you're not going to go away, are you?"

"No, not until we talk."

"We've already talked."

"You were upset. Understandable, but you don't even know Buffy. Don't know anything about her, or why her life's worth saving."

"Buffy. That her name?"

"Yeah. Buffy, Buffy Summers. Real name's Elizabeth, but nobody calls her that, not even your mum."

"She's not my mom," Xander said through gritted teeth.

"I'm sorry. Didn't mean - "

"What? Didn't mean to bring up a painful subject? Didn't mean to rub my nose in the fact that she didn't want me?" Suddenly Xander spun off his stool and stood. He waved a perfunctory goodbye to the bartender, grabbed a small bag Spike hadn't seen lying on the stool beside him and headed for the door.

Hurriedly, Spike threw a few dollars on the bar and chased after him. "Xander, wait!"

Xander stopped but didn't turn around. When Spike caught up to him, he started walking again. The club was only about a mile from his apartment and he had apparently walked to work that evening.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, and Spike was glad that he'd thought to bring his duster. The Las Vegas night was crisp as the wind whipped up. When he'd found out that Alexander Harris lived in Las Vegas and worked as a stripper, Spike was wary of what kind of man he'd find. But after meeting Xander he knew, deep down, that he was a good man, and that he would eventually agree to do the right thing.

"Xander, I'm sorry."

"Yeah, you said that already." Xander shrugged.

"I'm trying really hard to say the right things. I don't want to make this any more difficult for you than it already is." Spike was earnest. "It's hard for me, too, you know."

Xander chuckled mirthlessly. "Yeah, I'm sure it was really hard growing up with a mom and dad who love you, parents that actually wanted you around."

"Don't have a mum. Died when I was just a babe," Spike muttered.

"I'm sorry," Xander murmured.

"I do have a da, though. He and Joyce are quite close, as are Buffy and I," Spike explained.

"She your girlfriend?" Xander asked, curious.

"No. Just friends. More like siblings. She's been a part of my life for a long time now," Spike answered.

They were quiet as they walked the last few blocks to Xander's apartment. When they got to the building's front door, Xander held it open for Spike, a silent invitation to enter. Heartened at Xander's gesture Spike stepped in, then followed Xander back up to his apartment.

"Okay, I'll listen. But I don't guarantee you'll like my answer," Xander stated as he fished his key out his jeans pocket and inserted it in the lock.

Just then the door across the hall opened and a bundle of pure energy came racing out. The tiny figure hurled himself at Xander, hugging his leg enthusiastically.

"Hey buddy." Xander ruffled the young boy's hair. Spike estimated his age at about seven. He was what Buffy would call adorably cute. Brown hair, just a shade lighter than Xander's, deep chocolate colored eyes, and an infectious smile that he turned on Spike almost immediately. Spike found himself grinning back.

Spike's jaw dropped open for the second time that night when the little boy turned to Xander and asked in a curious voice, "Daddy, who's that?"






Chapter Three ~ Bran



"Bran, this is...William. He's a friend," Xander explained. "He's going to come in and talk for a while, okay? You can play in your room until I call you for your bed time snack."

"Okay." Bran nodded happily. He loved playing in his room. He had a castle built out of legos and he played pretend with dragons and knights and kings and stuff. He liked it best when daddy played with him, though.

Before he ran off he remembered his manners just the way daddy had taught him. "Nice to meet you, Will'm," he called out before scampering off to his room.

After Bran ran off to play, Xander led Spike back into the apartment. "Coffee?" he asked, needing to fortify himself with some caffeine. When Spike nodded he gestured for him to make himself comfortable in the living room while he prepared it.

When it was ready, Xander brought the tray of coffee and a plate of some store bought cookies Bran had begged for, back into the living room with him. He set the whole thing down on the coffee table before taking a seat and turning towards Spike.

"Guess you're wondering about Bran, huh?" Xander asked, holding his mug in both hands and blowing softly over the top to cool it.

"None of my business, mate," Spike said softly, not wanting Xander to explain anything that made him uncomfortable. Though he was wondering, and immensely curious as to how a gay man came to have a son.

"Yeah, well you're right about that," Xander answered, looking away. "But you're practically family, right?" He gave another bitter laugh that made Spike wince.

"Xander, you don't have to say anything. You don't have to do anything but listen, and try to understand why I'd do just about anything to keep Buffy alive for as long as possible."

"No. I told you I'd listen. You don't have to worry about that. I never go back on my word." Xander's tone was serious. "But, I guess..." Xander paused to try to find the right words. "I guess I wanna talk about it. I haven't really talked, not about anything important, with anyone since...well, since Willow."

Spike found himself leaning forward, wanting to hear more about the man that sat before him, despite his protests to the contrary. Since the moment they'd met, only hours before, Spike found himself inexplicably drawn to Xander. There was something in his eyes, something that enthralled him, that made him want to learn more about the different parts that made this man up. "Willow?" he prompted.

"She was my best friend, my only friend," Xander began. "Growing up, I guess neither of us were really part of the 'in crowd'. We were from the wrong side of the tracks, you know?" Xander put his mug down, finding the taste of coffee bitter in his mouth. "People, they didn't understand us, either of us. They used to call her a slut, but she never slept around. Never! She dressed kind of...she just wanted to piss her parents off." Xander stood now, pacing the small room, his hand running through his hair in an absentminded gesture.

Spike watched, fascinated, as Xander traversed the room. Finally Xander stopped in front of the fireplace; a framed photograph of a cute redhead smiled back at him. "Her parents used to hit her. She never told anyone, not even me. But I could tell." Xander kept his eyes on the picture, never once turning back to Spike. "We had a lot in common." It took a moment for the full meaning of Xander's words to hit Spike. When they did it was a like a blow to the gut.

Xander was quiet for so long that Spike thought he might have forgotten the other man was there. "She fell in love." This time Xander turned around, catching Spike's eye. "He was a nice guy. He actually took care of her, you know? He proposed and everything. She was so happy." Xander had a sort of wistful smile on his face at the remembrance of his friend. "They had Bran. He was a beautiful baby."

"He's still beautiful." Spike interrupted.

"Thank you." He gave Spike an acknowledging nod. "He wasn't even two years old when they had the accident." Xander closed his eyes as if to block out the memory. "I got the call just past midnight. It was a drunk driver. Willow had me listed as next of kin. She gave custody of Bran to me." Xander's eyes were open once more. "When her parents found out they tried to take him away. But Wills was smart. She used to get straight A's, even though some of her teachers accused her of cheating; she never did." Xander shook his head. "She made sure that her parents couldn't break the will. She made sure that nobody could take Bran away from me."

"Anyway, I keep pictures of them around, her and Wesley. Bran knows that they were his parents, but he calls me dad. I don't think he remembers them much." Xander's voice trailed off.

Unwittingly Spike found his hand stealing out to cover Xander's. He gave it a comforting squeeze, not knowing exactly what to say. When Xander smiled up at him Spike felt something inside him twist, though he couldn't say what.

After a while Xander pulled his hand away. "Guess that was probably more than you wanted to know, huh?"

"No, I...I want to know whatever you want to tell me," Spike answered in earnest.

Xander looked at him, trying to discern the sincerity of Spike's words. The man was here to beg a favor, after all. But in the end he nodded, not having the desire or the energy to argue.

How do you...how do you do it, Xan?" Spike asks, amazed at Xander's ability to raise such an obviously happy child in such harsh circumstances and completely alone.

Xander raised his eyebrow at Spike's shortened nickname for him, but decided to let it pass. It had been a long time since he'd let anyone get close enough to give him a nickname other than the one Wills had given him so many years ago. "Do what?"

"How do you work around raising Bran? Don't you have to work most nights? Who watches him?" Spike asked, curious.

"Bran gets taken care of. I never leave him alone!" Xander's tone was defensive.

"Course not, luv. Didn't mean that. Just amazed at anyone raising a child by themselves, 's all." Spike was quick to reassure.

"Sorry," Xander muttered, still not quite sure what to make of the man that had so recently crashed into his life. "I don't work most nights. Usually only two nights a week and always the early shift, like tonight. The club's open 24 hours and I usually get the day shift while Bran's in school. When I work nights they always schedule me for the early show, so I'm home by 7. They like me enough to work around my schedule." Xander shrugged. "When I work nights Tara, next door, watches him. I'd make more if I worked more nights, but I'd rather be here for Bran."

Spike nodded, finding himself admiring this man he'd just met. "Do you still want to talk about Buffy tonight?" Spike checked his watch. "Could always come back tomorrow, mate."

Just then Bran came bouncing back into the room. "Daddy! I'm huuuungry." He emphasized his words by rubbing his stomach. "Can I have my snack now?" He gave his dad his patented puppy dog eyes.

Xander smiled, scooping the boy up in his arms and tickling his stomach. Bran giggled and tried to squirm away but Xander held him fast. "Snack, huh? You want a snack? How 'bout I snack on you?" Xander gave a tiny growl before burying his face in Bran's stomach and chomping playfully.

"Daddy!" Bran squealed. "Stop, no! Daaadddy! Stop!"

Spike couldn't help the smile that inched across his face at the display of father and child before him. Spike stood, grabbing his duster from the back of the sofa, figuring it was time to make his getaway. Before he could get very far Xander's voice rang out across the room.

"We're having hot cocoa and cookies, did you want some?" Xander asked, already on his way to the kitchen, a squirming child in his arms.

Spike thought about it for a minute, before following Xander into the kitchen. "Got any of those little marshmallows?"






Chapter Four ~ Family Dinner



Spike stood outside Xander's apartment, bag of potato chips and a bottle of soda in hand. After Bran's bedtime snack last night, Xander had invited him back over for dinner tonight. They were having hamburgers, and Spike's job had been to bring the chips. He thought Bran might appreciate a bottle of soda as well, so he'd picked one up while he was at the market.

He thought back to last night when he'd first begun to crack the puzzle that was Xander. When Spike had gotten on the plane to meet this man, he hadn't thought much about the man himself beyond whatever was necessary for him to agree to help. He'd hoped that Alexander Harris was a decent, caring person; that he'd want to help, knowing that he could be another human being's last hope for survival. Spike hadn't thought beyond those characteristics necessary for the successful completion of his own mission.

But watching him last night, Spike realized the complexity behind the man. The layers that made up Alexander Harris pushing him past the 2 dimensional image that Spike had been working with. He was a lot more like Buffy than Spike would have thought. The loving way he cared for Bran, especially in light of what Spike had learned last night about Xander's own childhood. The strength it must have taken to get past that childhood, to raise the baby of a friend now long dead leaving him completely alone.

Spike's own heart ached for the boy that Xander had been. He had no idea what it was like growing up in a house where no one loved, where parents were cruel and hurtful. His own da hadn't been especially demonstrative, but Spike had never doubted his love. Had never cowered in fear of punishment. He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the dark thoughts. No wonder Xander was bitter. No wonder he needed more than just a 'please' to drop everything for a sister he'd never met and a mother that had abandoned him to the life he'd been forced to live.

Spike poked at the doorbell and waited. When Bran opened the door he smiled. "'ello, bit."

"Hi, Will!" Bran chimed, throwing his arms around a jeans covered leg before racing back into the living room. "Come on! My knights are defending their castle from the evil dragons!"

Raising his eyes from Bran's retreating form, Spike found Xander watching him sheepishly. "He's excited to have you over again. We don't get many visitors."

"'S okay, Xan. He's a treasure, your Bran," Spike assured him, handing Xander the chips and soda he'd brought.

"Thank you." Spike was surprised to see a faint flush creeping up Xander's neck. "The burgers will be ready in just a minute."

"No worries. Need help?" Spike asked. When Xander shook his head, Spike headed toward the living room, smiling. "I'll just go help defend the castle then," he called back over his shoulder, making Xander chuckle.

Xander made his way back to the kitchen. As he flipped the burgers he tried to examine the feelings churning inside him. It had been a very long time since he'd let anyone into his life. He'd told Spike things last night that he hadn't spoken to anyone about in almost eight years. Nearly a decade, really. After Willow had gotten together with Wesley he hadn't wanted to intrude on their lives, so he'd kept his distance. It felt good to have someone there to listen again.

And the amazing thing was that Spike had listened. He'd listened, and cared, and even comforted. And that was definitely something Xander had missed over all these years. And something he hadn't been expecting. So he'd issued an invitation to dinner.

They still hadn't talked about Buffy or his 'mom'. But Xander found it harder and harder not to care whether she lived or died. Maybe because he knew how much Spike cared. What was he thinking? He'd known this man less than 48 hours and he was already trusting him? Already wanting to return the help and comfort he'd received the night before?

Giggles filtered in from the living room, and Bran's voice, directing Spike on the attack. Spike was answering with serious 'yes, sirs' and probably even saluting. The picture in Xander's mind made him smile. Bran seemed to really like the bleached blond.

Xander shook his head. He was getting into dangerous territory. Liking the man was one thing. Liking the man was another. Xander hadn't forgotten his first reaction to Spike. The jaw dropping sexiness that had assaulted him before he'd even opened the door. They'd already established that Spike wasn't gay. So no matter how nice, how attentive he was, or how well he got along with Bran, Xander couldn't hope for anything more than friendship. If even friendship were on the table.

He was still here trying to convince Xander to help Buffy, and Xander couldn't forget that. All this getting to know each other could be just another load of crap. Xander would have to be careful. He'd had enough disappointment in his life that one more wouldn't break him, but he didn't want Bran getting hurt in the process.

They ate dinner with Bran firing question after exuberant question at the pair. Xander only raised his eyebrows indicating with a look that tonight's culprit was the half empty bottle of soda that Spike had brought. Spike shrugged, smirking at Xander's accusation.

"You talk funny."

"Brandon Harris!" Xander's exasperated exclamation rang across the table.

"'S okay, mate. I'm from across the pond." Spike answered the unasked question. "We all talk funny over there." He smiled.

"What pond? Is it the one in the park?" Bran asked, oblivious to the chuckles the grownups let loose.

"No, luv. I meant the ocean. I'm from England. It's on the other side of the world, mostly," Spike answered.

"Oh." Bran wasn't sure what that meant, but it sounded far away. "Do you have to go back? Or can you stay with us?"

"Well, bit, I'd love to stay with you. But I was kind of hoping you'd both like to come with me." Spike answered hesitantly. "Not to England," he added hastily when Bran started bouncing up and down in his seat. "Just to another place where I live. It's by the ocean though. 'S called Sunnydale."

"Can we dad? Huh? Can we?"

"That's something William and I are going to talk about. After you put your plate in the sink you can go play in your room, while we discuss it. Okay?"

Bran nodded and then ran off to his room, humming happily.

Xander brewed some coffee and they both headed out to the living room with their mugs. They sat, Xander looking at Spike expectantly.

"Buffy is my best friend. We met years ago, when da first moved us here. She was the sweet girl next door, yeah? Showed me around the school, and all that bollocks. Three years ago she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It's a mouthful." Spike made a disgusted face. "Basically means she's got cancer."

"They tried chemotherapy. Worked a treat, for a while at least. It was almost as if she had never been sick at all. But about six months ago it came back, even worse. She's so weak now, she can't even..." Spike stopped, sucking in deep gulps of air, trying to keep the tears from falling. It worked. "They said her best bet is a stem cell transplant. That means we need a bone marrow donor. But none of us are a match. They said usually a brother or sister would be the best, so we hired an investigator to find you. We don't even know if...don't even know if you'll be a match." Spike couldn't stop the silent tears this time. "But I had to try."

Xander sat silent for several minutes, absorbing Spike's words. It was strange to see the man crying. He seemed so...strong, Xander guessed the word was, or maybe stalwart. He just didn't seem like the type of guy to burst into tears. Even without them, Xander could tell from the tremor in Spike's voice how much Buffy meant to him. And it made him think of Willow. Of what he would have done, would have gone through, if only he could have saved Willow's life that night.

Xander nodded to himself before answering the question in Spike's pleading eyes. "We'll go." He felt more than heard the quiet rush of breath that left Spike's body at his acquiescence. "Bran's winter break starts after Friday. We can leave then." Xander was already making plans in his head. He'd have to talk to his boss, the school, just in case they didn't make it back in time. Tara would probably water his plants, bring in the paper.

"Thank you." Spike whispered the words.

Xander looked up sharply at the heartfelt thanks. "Just remember, I'm doing this for you, for your best friend. Not my 'sister', or my 'mother'. Is that clear?"

Spike nodded, grateful for whatever reason Xander gave.






Chapter Five ~ Joyce



The flight hadn't been overly long, just enough for Bran to get excited about it. He'd been bouncy the entire trip, staring out the window, pointing at clouds and the tiny buildings that came into view as the plane came in for landing. He'd never been on a plane before, and Xander was glad that Bran had this chance at such a new and exciting experience, at least.

But even Bran's excitement couldn't overshadow the feeling of dread that washed over him at the thought of meeting his 'mother'. Spike had told him that he'd called ahead; that Joyce would be expecting them. But would Xander be prepared for her?

Bran was eager to meet her, Xander knew. He'd had a long talk with Brandon about where they were going, what they were doing, and who would be there to meet them. He was young still, but Xander thought he understood about as well as Xander did. It wasn't an easy thing to explain to a child, or an adult, he thought.

Xander rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans, wondering why he was nervous. He shouldn't be nervous. Who cared what kind of impression he made on a woman who hadn't even wanted to keep him? Who cared what she thought? Nevertheless, his palms were wet and clammy, his leg bouncing nervously up and down.

Unexpectedly, Xander felt the weight of Spike's hand atop his own. "Relax, luv. Everything will be fine." The smooth tones of his accent floated over Xander and calmed some of his nerves.

"Thanks, Spike." Xander smiled tentatively and was rewarded with a smile from Spike.

"Look, daddy! A park! Can we stop, daddy? Huh?" Bran pointed out the window of their cab, eagerly bouncing in his seat.

"Sorry, Bran. Not right now, buddy. Maybe after we meet everyone we can come back, okay?" Xander offered. "Maybe tomorrow?"

"Okay, daddy," Bran acquiesced.

Xander leaned down and kissed the crown of his head, ruffling Bran's hair as he straightened. He was such a good kid. Xander wondered at his ability to raise such a child. More often than not, he thought that it might just have been something innate, passed on from Willow. Maybe there was just no way for Xander to mess up. For that he was glad. Bran deserved a happy, innocent childhood. He hoped that when he was grown up and looking back, he would have a thousand happy memories to choose from.

Then the car was pulling in to a driveway, a house looming before them. Xander swallowed, wanting to resist Spike's pull on his hand as he exited the taxi, but unable to.

"Ready, luv?" Spike asked with an anxious look on his face.

"Do I have a choice?" Xander spat back. "Sorry."

"No worries, luv. And you do have a choice." Spike squeezed his hand once more. "You don't have to meet her. She'll understand if you don't. But she wants a chance to explain."

"What? Explain why she threw me out and kept her?" Xander asked venomously. "Don't want an explanation." His voice sounded petulant even to his own ears.

"Know you don't, Xan. But maybe you deserve one?" Spike observed.

Xander took a deep, cleansing breath, wanting to expel the anger that seemed to be festering in the pit of his stomach. He closed his eyes in his effort to calm down. He hadn't felt this close to losing control in a long time. He'd vowed to himself that he would never be like Anthony Harris and that meant keeping a tight lid on the anger and the hatred that was threatening to bubble up.

"Daddy?" The tremor in Bran's voice had Xander's eyes shooting open. "Are you okay, daddy?" Bran had never seen his father like this, so still, and straight. He looked angry, but Bran didn't think he'd done anything wrong.

"Yeah, Buddy, I'm fine." Xander blew out the breath he'd been holding.

"Your da's just tired, Bran, and nervous about meeting Joyce. Are you nervous, bit?" Spike asked trying to distract the boy.

"What's nervous mean?" Bran asked looking up at Spike. "Is it when my tummy feels funny? Cause I kinda feel funny in my tummy right now," he ventured, rubbing at said tummy.

"Yeah, luv," Spike laughed, scooping up the giggling boy. "That's exactly what it means." He blew a raspberry on Bran's stomach before looking back up into the child's smiling face. "But don't be nervous, bit. Joyce will treat you right proper. Probably have biscuits and milk waiting, too."

"Biscuits?" Bran scrunched up his face in disgust, making Spike laugh so hard he almost dropped him.

"Cookies, luv. Biscuits are cookies," Spike explained.

"Cookies!" Bran repeated, turning to look toward the front door longingly.

Xander chuckled, making Spike relax fractionally. "Okay, I can take a hint. Let's go."

Xander tossed a few dollars through the window of the cab, thanking the driver and then straightening up. In his hands were two duffel bags that held both his and Bran's clothes. Spike's suitcase was sitting on the drive next to him. Spike released Bran, who immediately ran toward the front door, bouncing on the step until Spike and Xander could join him.

Xander's foot tapped nervously on the porch while Spike rang the bell. The tapping increased as footsteps neared the entrance and the door swung slowly open. A woman stood on the other side of the threshold. Her blonde hair just beginning to show wisps of gray in it. She had worry lines etched into her forehead and around her eyes. He skin was pale and she looked like she hadn't had a good night's sleep in more than a month. But when her eyes lit on Spike, she smiled, and Xander saw a hint of the woman she used to be.

"Spike!" She greeted him with a hug.

"'ello Joyce. How are you? How's Buffy?" Spike asked, worry creeping into his voice.

"No change." Joyce shook her head, finally letting go of the bleached blond to look over at the newcomers. "Hello." She smiled shyly at first Bran and then Xander.

"Joyce, this is Xander Harris." Spike gestured toward him. "And his boy, Brandon."

"Bran! Daddy only calls me Brandon when he's mad," Brandon explained.

"Okay, Bran, whatever you say." Joyce was hard pressed to fight the chuckle that threatened. "Why don't you both come in? I've got cookies and milk in the kitchen."

"Cookies!" Bran looked toward his father for permission. Xander nodded and he darted into the house.

"Brandon!" Xander cried out, embarrassed that his son had raced straight toward what was presumably the kitchen. He felt red hot color infuse his cheeks and he willed it away. Not wanting to care what this woman thought of him or his son.

"It's okay, Xander." Joyce reassured him, reaching out to touch his arm and lead him into the house. She paled when Xander recoiled from her touch.

"Xan," Spike called softly, and Xander turned to him. The blond inclined his head toward the living room and then led the way. Xander followed, not looking up into Joyce's hurt expression. They both took seats on the couch, while Joyce reclined in the armchair.

"Dad!" Bran called, running back into the room to join them, a cookie in each hand. "They're choc'late chip!" he announced between bites. "Want one?" He offered one of his hands.

"No thanks, buddy." Xander ruffled his hair. "Why don't you go back into the kitchen and have some milk with those cookies, 'kay?"

Bran looked from his dad to Will, and then to Joyce. "Are you gonna talk." He made a face.

"Yeah, buddy, just for a little while, okay?" Xander answered, smiling.

"I knew it." Bran rolled his eyes, making Xander's smile turn into a chuckle.

"You're a smart 'un, aren't you?" Spike said, swiping at the laughing boy. He caught him around the middle and hauled him close. "Don't worry about it, 'kay, bit? Just gonna say a proper hello, get to know each other like," he reassured the boy.

"Okay." Bran squirmed out of Spike's hold and turned to face him. "Will?"

"Yeah, luv?"

"Are you gonna stay with dad?"

"'course, luv. If he wants me to." Spike's gaze slid sideways toward Xander.

"Good," Bran announced, then he leaned in to whisper in Spike's ear, "I don't think the funny feeling in his tummy's gone yet."

"Don't worry, luv. I'll stay as long as your da needs me, okay?" Spike whispered back. Then he leaned back and swatted Bran on the butt. "Now off with you, bit. And leave a biscuit for me, will ya?" Spike called after him.

"He's a beautiful boy," Joyce ventured.

Xander had been smiling at the small exchange he'd witnessed, but the grin dropped away at Joyce's words. "Yeah," he answered noncommittally, unconsciously leaning closer to Spike.

"Xander..." Joyce wasn't sure how to begin this conversation. "I know you probably don't believe this, but I'm so sorry. I thought...I thought I was doing the right thing."

"Yeah, right. That's why you kept her, right?" Xander asked sarcasm dripping from his lips.

Spike could feel the anger building, could feel Xander taking deep breaths and trying to remain calm. He inched closer, wanting to be there to support the man he now considered a friend. A man Spike found himself respecting and admiring more and more every minute.

"Things were different by the time I had Buffy, please, let me explain," Joyce pleaded.

Xander lowered his head and let loose a deep, heavy sigh. Spike could sense the tension rolling off him, and wished that there was some way that he could make this easier for Xander.

Xander looked up, a weary expression on his face. "Go on then. Explain."

"I...we were very young when I became pregnant with you. Hank proposed, said he would take care of me, that we would work everything out. But then, seven months in, he got scared. He left me, said he wasn't ready to be a father. I was so young, only eighteen, my parents... I tried to go back to them, but they said I had to 'lay in the bed I'd made'. They'd warned me that we were too young, that Hank wasn't the kind of man who would stick around. But I was in love." Joyce shrugged, a small, sad sigh escaping her lips.

"I didn't know what else to do. I didn't have a job, didn't have any money except for the few hundred that Hank had left in our savings account. It was barely enough to make the next month's rent. I tried to find a job, Xander, I swear. But no one would hire me, because I was seven months pregnant," Joyce explained. "Mom and dad said they'd take me back, let me live with them, if I agreed to give you up. They didn't want to raise another child. I told them I would raise you, that I'd take care of you, but they didn't believe me. Said I was too young for that kind of responsibility and that it would eventually fall on their shoulders." Joyce had begun to cry now. Silent tears that fell glistening down her red cheeks. "I didn't think Hank was ever coming back. I didn't think I had any other choice."

Xander's anger had dimmed somewhat, though not completely abated. Seeing Joyce cry and listening to her story, he tried to understand how she must have felt back then, lost and alone. "What about Buffy?"

"You have to understand, Xander, that I never thought Hank would come back. I thought he'd gone for good. About a year after I'd given you over to the adoption agency, Hank came back. He had the final divorce papers in his hands, but he told me he couldn't sign them. That he still loved me, that he should never have left. I told him it was too late, that I couldn't forgive him. But he kept at me." Joyce shook her head, the tears still falling. "Eventually I believed him. We stayed married, a year and a half later we had Buffy."

"So you got everything you ever wanted. The happy family: loving husband, doting daughter. And I was left..." Xander's voice trailed off, eyes suspiciously wet. Spike leaned in, their thighs barely brushing. Xander relaxed ever so slightly, but Spike felt it and pressed more firmly against the other man's leg.

"Not so happy after all," Joyce laughed bitterly. "Before Buffy was even five years old, Hank left me for a younger woman. Turns out I was a fool twice over."

Xander was silent for a long time, taking in Joyce's story. Finally a harsh chuckle escaped. "At least I wasn't a bastard, huh?" Xander voiced the one point of merit he could think to find in her story.

"Xander, please - "

He stood, cutting her off. "I think I've heard enough. We should go. Don't worry, I'll still help Buffy." Xander waved off her protests. "Bran!" Xander called, schooling his features before the little boy could come rushing in. "Ready to go, buddy?"

Bran looked from one adult to the other, noting the woman's wet cheeks. He was silent for a moment, before looking back up to Xander. "Sure, daddy," he answered solemnly. Then he turned to Joyce. "Thank you for the cookies."

She smiled, nodding. When she reached out to touch him, Xander scooped Bran up in his arms and carried him to the door. Spike followed them out, giving Joyce an understanding look. "I'll work on him, luv," Spike whispered before stepping into the foyer. Joyce only nodded once more.

"Xan!" Spike called out as soon as he stepped over the threshold. Xander was standing on the driveway holding their bags and looking like a lost little boy. Spike's chest ached at the sight. "My car's next door at da's house. We'll just grab it and go, okay?" Spike didn't wait for an answer, just strode over to his Desoto and popped the trunk.

"You don't have to, Spike. Just let me call another cab to take us to a motel," Xander said.

"No, luv." Spike shook his head. "You can stay with me. Don't want you using any of your own dosh when you're here to help us. 'sides, got three bedrooms at my place. No worries."

"Okay, Spike." Xander acquiesced easily, not really wanting to be alone. They were loading the bags in the trunk when Xander stopped to look up at the house. "Don't you want to go in and say hello to your dad?"

"Da's not home. He's in class now. 's professor at the university. I'll call later, let him know I'm back in town," Spike answered absently. "Maybe you'd like to meet him? We could have dinner or something together?"

"Sure, Spike. That'd be nice." Xander wondered what Spike's father was like. If he was anything like Spike, Xander thought they might get along okay.

It was only minutes to Spike's 'flat', as he called it. It was a nice apartment, three bedrooms, with a sunken living room. More like a townhouse really. It was plenty big enough for the three of them. And Bran was more than excited to find out that Spike had a Playstation 2 hooked up in one of the bedrooms. The one that Bran had tried to claim as his, but Xander had over-ruled him. He didn't want Bran staying up all night playing video games.

While Bran was busy playing something bloody, Xander wandered back out into the living room to collapse on the couch. Spike joined him a minute later, letting him know that Giles would be expecting them at the house by 7pm. Xander nodded, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. Fatigue had stolen over him like a thief, sapping all his energy. The encounter with Joyce had drained him completely, and at the moment he felt like a rag doll that had gone through the washer and then been wrung out.

"You okay, Xan?" Spike asked hesitantly. He wanted...he wanted to comfort him, but didn't know how. Ever since they'd met, Spike had had the strongest urge to protect Xander. To take all the hurt and the pain he could see hidden behind his eyes and make it vanish.

"I don't know, Spike." Xander's eyes were still closed, his head flopped raggedly on the sofa back. "I know Joyce means something to you. That you don't see her as a bad person, but...I just...it's not easy for me, you know?"

"I know, luv." Spike couldn't help placing a hand on Xander's shoulder in comfort. When Xander's eyes opened and he turned to gaze at Spike, the blond was stunned to stillness. The look in Xander's eyes was so full of pain that Spike wanted to weep. "Don't, Xan," he whispered as the first tears began to fall.

Xander laughed mirthlessly. "You know, I've cried more in the past three days than I have in the past 10 years." Xander swiped futilely at his tears, before giving up. "Anthony taught me a long time ago that crying was useless."

"Anthony?" Spike was afraid of the answer.

"My father." Xander spat the word out like a cruse.

"I'm sorry, Xan," Spike whispered, aching yet again. "Please, luv, don't." Spike accompanied his words with a hand brushing against Xander's cheek. He cupped the tanned skin, swiping at the tears with his thumb. And before he knew what he was doing, Spike leaned forward and pressed their lips together.

Xander was hesitant at first, but the feel of Spike's lips, the touch of a man that cared, had him responding almost feverishly. He leaned into the kiss, wanting to prolong contact. Wanting the feeling of comfort and care to go on for as long as possible. Xander's tongue snaked out to taste Spike's bottom lip and he thrilled at the tiny moan that his move produced. Xander took advantage of Spike's open mouth and plunged in. He tasted every crevice, taking special care to trace the outline of Spike's sensitive gums.

"Daddy!" Bran came racing back into the room, intent on telling his dad just how far he'd gotten in the game he'd just played.

The two men broke apart, breathing rapidly. Spike shot Xander an alarmed look, not knowing what had happened or what to say. "Xan, I'm sorry, I didn't - "

"No," Xander interrupted him. Smiling as Bran skidded to a halt in front of them. "Forget about it. Just the heat of the moment, right?" Xander wished Spike would contradict him, but the other man only nodded, silent. When Bran began to detail the vastness of his success, Xander watched from the corner of his eye as Spike stood and left the room.





Chapter Six ~ Dinner with Giles



The ride back over to Spike's father's had been silent. A part of Xander wanted to take back the kiss, if only to return them to their previous state of camaraderie, but the other part of him wanted nothing more than to savor that kiss. To remember what it felt like to have Spike moaning against him. To feel the same desires he felt reflected back at him. What would have happened if Bran hadn't interrupted? How long would the kiss have gone on?

Xander could tell that Spike was confused, and scared. Hopefully not disgusted. God, Xander didn't think he could stand that, if Spike were disgusted with him, the idea of kissing him. He knew that there was very little chance that it was going to happen again, or that they would share any deeper intimacies, but he couldn't seem to stomp out that small spark of hope.

They had already established that Spike wasn't gay. And Xander wasn't exactly the kind of prize that would gay a man up. But...he'd seen the caring look in Spike's eyes, had felt...something.

They arrived at Mr. Giles' promptly at seven. The man who answered the door was warm and friendly, and though Xander didn't have a very good track record with people other than Bran, he found himself liking Mr. Giles almost immediately.

"You talk funny, too," Bran said in between mouthfuls.

"Brandon Harris!" Xander admonished, flushing at his son's second faux pas in as many days. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Giles, he just hasn't met that many foreigners. Actually none at all except for Spike and yourself."

"Quite all right," Giles was more amused than offended. "And please, call me Giles, all my students do."

"Will says he's from across the pond, but not the one in the park," Bran continued, oblivious to the rest of the conversation going on around him. "Are you from across the pond, too?"

"That I am, little man," Giles answered, smiling. "I'm Will's da, so we actually came across the pond together."

"Will says it's not really a pond. It's an ocean. We learned about the oceans in school one day. The paficic and the atlantis. Do you know about the oceans?" Bran asked, wide eyed.

"Yes, a bit, what would you like - " Giles began but was quickly interrupted by an overly energetic Bran.

"You're Will's da? Does that mean you're his daddy? That's my daddy!" Bran grinned and pointed at Xander.

Xander laughed, letting some of the tension ease out of him. Then he took his napkin and reached over to wipe at his son's mashed potato covered face. "Sorry," Xander apologized to no one in particular as he wiped. "No more chocolate for you, buddy!" Xander teased, making Bran pout.

After dinner, Xander offered to take a taxi home to let the two men have some time together. Both men declined, so Xander insisted that they at least have a mini-reunion while he and Bran watched cartoons in the living room. At his suggestion, Xander thought Spike looked a little relieved, making Xander wonder if just his presence alone now made the other man nervous.

"So, Alexander Harris," Giles began when they were out of earshot. "Not what any of us expected, I believe."

"No, nothing like," Spike mumbled as they walked along the hall toward his father's study.

"Seems like a nice young man," Giles offered, taking a seat in his leather armchair. "And Bran is certainly a precocious child."

"Yes, it's amazing how well adjusted Bran is," Spike responded. "Given Xander's own childhood experiences, it's a bloody miracle he's turned out as well as he has. Able to love and care for a small child of his own."

"I'm afraid it's difficult for either of us to really know what Xander's had to deal with. And you're quite right that he is an amazing man to have been able to overcome such obstacles." Giles watched his son with a curious eye. "Is there something you're not telling me, Will?" Giles had made it a point to insure that his son knew he could tell him anything. Since Olivia died, leaving the two of them alone, he wanted Will to know that he always had someone he could talk to and count on, no matter what the issue.

"Ikissedhim," Spike mumbled incomprehensibly.

"What was that?" Giles leaned forward slightly in order to better hear.

"I kissed him." Spike's whole body seemed to be blushing.

"Oh."

"Is that all you have to say, da? I tell you I kissed a man and you say 'oh'?" Spike cried, throwing his hands in the air, frustrated for no good reason.

"Well, son - " Giles began, but was interrupted.

"I mean, I didn't mean to. He was upset. And I wanted...I don't know what I wanted. And then at the club...I, God, da! I've never been attracted to other blokes before!" Spike was confused and upset and embarrassed all at once.

"What does Xander say about all this?" Giles asked softly.

"Well, we haven't exactly discussed it over tea," Spike spat sarcastically, then gave his father an apologetic look. "I...I don't know. He kissed me back, I think. I mean, yes, he did. But then after...after he just brushed it off."

"Will, I don't believe I've ever seen you this...agitated...over anyone before." Giles observed.

"Well, these are extreme circumstances, da!" Spike nearly shouted.

"What is it you want, Will?" Giles prodded.

"I don't know," Spike answered forlornly. "It's confusing."

"Do you like him?"

"Yes," Spike ventured after a long while. "But I'm just not sure what that means."

"Maybe you should tell him that?"


***


The ride back to Spike's was silent as Spike contemplated the conversation he'd had with his father. When Xander checked over his shoulder he noticed that Bran had fallen asleep in the back. He leaned over and spoke as quietly as possible so as not to wake him.

"Spike, if you'd rather we go to a hotel, you know, if you're uncomfortable, it's no problem," Xander offered, having sensed the other man's discomfort all night.

"What? No." Spike was broken from his reverie by Xander's unexpected offer. "Xan, mate, I think we should talk." Spike had just pulled into the parking spot beneath his apartment building. "Let's get inside and put Bran to bed, yeah?"

Xander's heart felt heavy. He didn't want to talk with Spike. He had a feeling he already knew what the conversation would be about and how it would end. But he sighed, cradled Bran in his arms and carried him up to the apartment. Once he'd laid Bran down and tucked him in, kissing his forehead before tiptoeing out of the room, he rejoined Spike in the living room.

"Okay." Xander collapsed onto the couch. "What do you want to talk about?"

"About earlier, Xan, the kiss - "

"Look, I told you, don't worry about it. I was upset, you were comforting, things got out of hand." Xander shrugged, already wanting this conversation to end. "Just the heat of the moment."

"Stop saying that!" Spike snapped at him. He'd stood and was now pacing the floor. "It may not have been a big deal to you. But I've never kissed a man before, and it meant something to me. I'm just not sure what. I...things are confusing...I don't know what's going on, or how exactly I feel."

"Meant something to me, too," Xander practically whispered.

"What was that, Xan?"

"I said, it meant something to me, too," Xander repeated, louder. "You're the first person I've let into my life in almost 10 years. You think your kiss didn't make me feel things? You think I haven't called myself an idiot a thousand times over for even hoping that you might not..."

"That I might not what, luv?"

"That you might not regret it? That you might not have found it, me, disgusting?" Xander stared down at the floor, his mop of brown hair shielding his eyes from view. "That you might even want it again?"

"Oh, Xan. I'd never find you disgusting. And I don't regret it. I'm just confused. I do have feelings for you, luv. But you have to understand this has never happened to me before. I've never been attracted to another bloke, and I'm not sure what to do about it." Spike ran shaking fingers through his already rumpled hair. "We only just met, and you've stirred me all up inside. Can you give me time, Xan?"

"Sure," Xander shrugged, not raising his gaze from the carpeted floor. "I'm kinda tired, Spike. Do you mind if I go crash?"

"Sure, Xan." Spike watched, brow furrowed in worry, as Xander stood to leave the room. He looked like a man resigned to a hard life. Spike's protective instincts clamored and he had to fight the urge to follow Xander and offer what comfort he could.






Chapter Seven ~ Buffy



"Hey, sweet, how are you feeling?" Spike asked before leaning down to kiss Buffy on the cheek.

She smiled wanly at him. "Fine, Spike. How was your trip?"

"It was great, luv. I brought someone to meet you." Spike stepped aside so that Xander and Bran could move closer to the bed. "Two someones, actually. This is Xander, and this little bit is Bran."

Xander tried not to be jealous of the kiss Spike gave Buffy, or the way his hand lingered in hers even as he stepped aside for them, but it was hard. Xander nodded a greeting at the sick woman. She looked like she was only sixteen, but Spike had told her she was already twenty-two. She was pale and petite and Xander guessed she'd been on chemotherapy for awhile because she wore a cap on her head covering what little was left of her hair.

"Hello, Xander." Buffy gave him one of her wan smiles as well. "Thank you so much for coming."

Xander couldn't find anything to say, so he remained silent and nodded again. He was just beginning to think it might be a good idea to leave, rather than continue to stand there in awkward silence, when Bran spoke up. "Are you my aunt?"

Surprised, Buffy looked first to Spike, then to Xander, for guidance on how to answer. Xander shrugged before answering her unspoken question. "I told Bran about you and Joyce. I don't keep secrets from him."

Buffy turned toward the curious boy and smiled, nodding shyly. "Yes, I guess I am."

"I've never had an aunt before." Bran tilted his head sideways, studying her.

"I've never had a nephew."

"I've never had anyone but daddy." Bran's simple statement made Xander catch his breath, a sharp pain pinching his chest. "Now I have you, and Will, and that Joyce lady, and Giles." Bran's face lit up like a light bulb. "He's Will's daddy!" he exclaimed excitedly.

Buffy laughed, regretting it slightly as she segued into a coughing fit. "Sorry," she mumbled.

"Maybe we should let you rest, luv," Spike suggested. "Xan still has to go down to the lab and give blood for the test."

"Okay, guess we should get it over with, huh? Find out whether Xander's a match or not?" Buffy answered, her voice light, yet they all knew how much was riding on the outcome of these tests. "Nice to meet you, Bran." She turned her eyes toward Xander. "And I do really want to thank you, Xander. I know originally you didn't want to come, and that Spike probably pushed you into it. He can be a little stubborn."

"Oi!"

She smiled indulgently at him. "And thank you for bringing Bran down, letting me meet my nephew."

"Look," Xander began, wanting to make things clear. "I'm going to help you, but I'm not doing this for you, or Joyce. Bran's excited about meeting new people, and yeah, I told him that the three of us were, sort of, related...but that doesn't mean that I think of you as a sister or that woman as my mother. So don't pretend it does." Xander paused to run work-roughened fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be harsh. This is really hard for me. I'm here because Spike asked me to be. He says you're his best friend, which must mean that you can't be all that bad, but it's going to take more than one quick meeting for me to agree with that."

Xander reached out for Bran, bringing the boy up to his side and hugging him close. "Bran and I have been on our own for a long time now, and we've been fine." Xander pushed aside the small doubt that stabbed him at those words. "I'm not saying that I'm not going to try, I just need more time. Maybe after...everything...we'll all have more time to, I don't know, get to know each other, I guess. Okay?" Xander fiddled nervously with Bran's hair, making him squirm.

Xander had been avoiding Buffy's eye almost the entire time he spoke; nervous and feeling harsh, even if he hadn't meant to be. So he didn't notice Buffy's eyebrow raise and the inquiring look she threw at Spike when Xander mentioned his name. He also missed the telltale blush that rose in Spike's cheeks at Buffy's scrutiny.

"Xander, it's okay," Buffy said. "I'm sorry. Mom never told me about you, not until, well, they started looking."

"Never?" Buffy couldn't read the look on Xander's face. She didn't know whether he was hoping for a yes or a no.

"No, I'm afraid not. I don't know how you feel, I couldn't. But I am sorry," Buffy apologized again.

"Thank you." Xander let the words whisper from his lips.

"Xan, luv, could you give us a minute?" Spike asked after a moment of silence.

Xander looked up sharply at Spike's voice. He nodded, though his eyes darted back and forth from Buffy to Spike. "Yeah, sure. I'll take Bran to go get a candy bar or something."

"Yay! Chocolate!" Bran cried, racing out the door causing all three adults to chuckle and release some of the pent-up tension in the room.

"I'll see you out in the hall," Xander called over his shoulder, before going out the door after his son.

Spike was watching as Xander disappeared behind the swinging door. When Buffy spoke, he turned to meet her gaze.

"He's cute."

Spike could feel the flush creeping up his neck and onto his cheeks. "Yeah, I...uh, he's very - "

"I was talking about Bran," Buffy laughed. "But I have a feeling you weren't."


"Oh." This conversation was oddly reminiscent of the one he'd had with his father last night.

"Is that all you have to say?" Very oddly reminiscent.

"I, uh, he's been through a lot, Xan, has," Spike ventured.

"Yeah, I know. Mom sort of explained the whole thing to me after you called to let us know you were flying in."

"Oh." Bugger. "Look, luv, I think I'm...Xander, he's...I don't know, Buffy! It's like I'm drawn to him. Want to make things better, let him know he's not alone," Spike finished still blushing profusely.

"Then, what are you doing here?" Buffy asked.

"Huh?"

"Didn't you see the way he looked at you? At us? He probably thinks you stayed in here to profess your undying love or something!" Buffy exclaimed, exasperated with her friend.

"What? Why? I told him you were like a sister to me." Spike looked around, as if he could find the answer to his confusion somewhere in the room.

"It doesn't matter what you told him," Buffy explained. "You didn't see his face when you kissed me. And you didn't see his eyes watching our hands the entire time he was in the room."

"He was?"

"Yeah, now go find him." She shooed him out of the room with a gesture. When he nodded and kissed her goodbye she called after him before he could slip out of the room. "And let him know you want to take all his pain away!" He turned and threw her a two-fingered salute making her laugh softly.


***


After the lab tech had taken the blood he'd informed them that the results probably wouldn't be back until at least the next day, if not two. The queue in the lab was quite long, but Dr. Calendar had asked them to try rushing it through as fast as possible. Spike made a quick trip to Buffy's room to let her know and then they headed out.

The drive home was quiet, except for Bran's singing along with the radio. Spike was surprised that Bran even knew the words to some of the songs that blasted from his radio. He didn't think they were Xander's type of music, but when he glanced at Xander, he seemed to be absentmindedly humming along as well.

"Didn't think this was your kind of music, luv," Spike told Xander.

"I was big into Metallica, way back when. Still am." Xander shrugged. "Sort of had a theme song."

"Theme song?"

"Yeah," Xander turned to peer out the passenger side window. "The Unforgiven."

Spike wracked his memory but couldn't quite come up with the words to that song. "That on the Black Album, luv?"

"Yeah."

Spike gave up trying to get Xander to talk for the rest of the trip back to his flat. When they got back, Bran ran straight for the Playstation while Xander took a seat in the living room.

"What's wrong, Xan?" Spike asked, coming to sit beside him.

"Nothing." Xander shrugged again. Spike was getting frustrated, not knowing what was on Xander's mind. "You were probably right, you know. This thing," Xander gestured between the two of them. "It's crazy."

"I never said it was crazy, Xan. Just that I needed some time," Spike insisted.

"No, I mean, you're not even gay, Spike! And I live in Vegas; you live here. It's just...useless," Xander finished quietly. "I'm kinda tired, I'm gonna lie down for awhile, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, Xander stood and made his way to Bran's room where he could lie down in peace and quiet. The door clicked softly shut, leaving Spike outside feeling confused and upset.


***


Xander was lying in the dark, trying not to cry. What had he been thinking? He'd told himself before they left that he wasn't going to fall for Spike. That it was useless and would just end up getting both he and Bran hurt. And look what he'd done!? And look how right he'd been.


***


Spike made his way to his room, pulling off his duster and hanging it in the hall closet as he went. In his room he rummaged through his CD cases until he found the Metallica Black Album he'd bought ages ago. He hadn't listened to it in years, but he slipped it into the CD player now. He queued it to track 4, The Unforgiven, then sat down to listen.


New blood joins this earth
and quickly he's subdued
through constant pain disgrace
the young boy learns their rules
~~~

Oh, God, Xander's theme song.


with time the child draws in
this whipping boy done wrong
deprived of all his thoughts
the young man struggles on and on he's known
a vow unto his own
that never from this day
his will they'll take away


what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never be
never see
won't see what might have been

what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never free
never me
so I dub thee unforgiven
~~~

Spike wondered when Xander had first discovered this song. How young was he when his father first hit him? Never free, never me? No, he wouldn't let Xander believe that. Not anymore.


~~~
they dedicate their lives
to running all of his
he tries to please them all
this bitter man he is
throughout his life the same
he's battled constantly
this fight he cannot win
a tired man they see no longer cares
the old man then prepares
to die regretfully
that old man here is me

what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never be
never see
won't see what might have been

what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never free
never me
so I dub thee unforgiven

you labeled me
I'll label you
so I dub thee unforgiven
~~~


Spike let the CD spin on, not listening to the rest of the songs. He lay back on his bed, thinking of Xander, of the boy he might have been. Spike made a vow of his own. Xander wasn't going to die regretfully, he wasn't going to keep trying to fight a battle he's already won. And Spike was going to make sure he knew that.





Chapter Eight ~ Unforgiven,Too



"Come on, luv," Spike cajoled. "Give her a chance, yeah? Da will be there, too. I know you can't understand why she did it, or how she felt - "

"You're wrong, Spike. I know how it feels to be alone, to not have anyone to lean on. To face the prospect of raising a child by yourself when you have no idea what you're doing." Xander stood, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans and looking away. "That's why I can't understand why she did it."

"I'm sorry, Xan." Spike took a step forward but Xander backed out of his reach.

"Let's go then. Bran's excited to see them again. If nothing else he deserves to have some family, doesn't he?" Xander asked, voice brittle. "I've never let him near Willow's parents, and fuck all, if I'll let Anthony or Jessica near him."
"What about Willow's bloke? Haven't his parents asked to see Bran?" Spike wondered aloud.

"They're dead. When he was a kid, I guess. He told us he was raised in an orphanage for boys."

Spike nodded. "Then you're right, luv. Joyce made mistakes, Xan, but she's got love in her. She'll love Bran, if you'll let her."

Xander nodded, going down the hall to fetch Bran from his room.

"She could love you, too, if you'd let her," Spike whispered under his breath. "So could I."


***


They arrived at the house to find Giles and Joyce in the middle of having tea. Apparently they did this at least once a week, a reminder to Giles of his home, and time for the two of them to just get together.

"'ello, da, Joyce." He nodded at them both, leaning down to allow Joyce to kiss his cheek.

"Would you like some tea, Will? Xander?" Giles asked, reaching for he refreshments.

"No, thank you." Xander answered gruffly, but he caught Bran looking at him pleadingly. "Maybe Bran could have a cookie, though."

Bran threw his arms around Xander's leg. "Thanks, daddy! I love you!"

Xander laughed and ruffled Bran's hair. "You love me 'cause I give you cookies?"

"No, silly! I love you 'cause you're my daddy!" Bran was happily munching on his cookie. "Miss Burkle says that you're 'opposed to love your family." Bran nodded sagely at his dad.

Xander looked up at Joyce, who smiled tentatively at him. He shook his head before turning away. What did she want from him? Bran was right, you are supposed to love your family. So why hadn't she loved him?

"Is Miss Burkle your teacher, honey?" Joyce asked.

"Yeah, she's super smart. She knows everything about everything!" Bran threw his arms wide.

"I'm sure she does," Joyce smiled then patted the seat next to her on the couch. "Would you like to come sit with me, Bran?"

When Bran looked to him, Xander smiled and nodded. Bran threw one last hug around Xander's leg before bouncing over to Joyce and sitting beside her with a cookie-crumb grin on his face.

Xander remained standing awkwardly, not really feeling part of the scene before him. Joyce sat on the couch speaking softly with Bran, who was laughing and stuffing cookies in his mouth. Giles sat on the armchair watching the two, sipping a cup of tea and smiling softly. Behind Giles stood Spike, his hands resting on the back of the armchair as he leaned forward slightly to speak with his father.

The whole thing reminded Xander of some old Norman Rockwell painting of life, family, and love. Except he wasn't part of the painting. He was a spectator, watching from somewhere outside the warm circle of the fire. And he felt cold. Unconsciously he crossed his arms atop his chest in order to keep the rest of the world out. Or maybe to keep what little warmth he had left in.

For years Xander had focused entirely on Bran. He hadn't let himself think about what else was missing from his life. And he'd been extraordinarily lucky to have Bran. Bran, who loved him unconditionally, Xander chuckled softly to himself. Whether he gave him cookies or not. Having Bran with him was what had kept him going all these years without Willow.

Xander remembered thinking of Spike as the man who had 'crashed' into his life. And that was exactly what it felt like. From the moment Xander had opened that door his life had changed, irrevocably altered.

Xander slipped silently away, through the kitchen, and out the back door. He sat on the porch step, just staring out at the trees surrounding Joyce's backyard. He wasn't sure how long he sat there before he heard the back door creak open. He was expecting Spike and was surprised when he heard Joyce speak. "May I sit?" she asked, indicating the step he occupied.

He nodded reluctantly, wondering why she was out here with him, rather than inside. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude," he apologized.

"No, of course not," Joyce dismissed the apology. "It's peaceful out here, isn't it? I come out often to sit and think." She took the spot next to him, hugging her knees close to her chest. They were quiet for a long while, just sitting together, listening to the various sounds around them. Finally Joyce spoke, breaking the silent war between them.

"When Buffy first got sick, I thought a lot about you."

"I know. You needed a match. I'm here, aren't I?" Xander interrupted.

"No. I mean, yes, but that wasn't until later, until recently. I meant that I thought about you, worried about you, really. I didn't know much about leukemia back then, and no one seems to be definitive on the actual causes anyway. And I thought, God, does my baby boy have it, too?" Xander was surprised to hear a slight tremor in Joyce's voice.

"Are you trying to tell me that, when Buffy, the daughter you raised, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, you thought of me?" Xander couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

"Of course I worried and cried and prayed for Buffy every night. But, yes, Xander, I did think of you as well. I've thought about you since the moment I gave you up. I've prayed every day since that I'd done the right thing and that you would be happy, and healthy, and loved," Joyce insisted.

"Guess, God doesn't like you very much."

"Oh, Xander." Joyce's eyes misted over. "But don't you see? He does. He brought you back here to us. He put Bran in your life. And He got you away from those people - "

"I got myself away from them!" Xander stood abruptly, anger sweeping his features.

"Xander, I'm sorry," Joyce whispered through the tears that now fell. "I wish I could go back and change what I did 25 years ago, but I can't!"

"I know." As quickly as it had filled him the anger fled. In its place was nothing, just an aching emptiness in the pit of his stomach. "I...I think we better go." Xander turned and walked back toward the door, grasping the knob in his hand. Without turning back he addressed her one last time. "I'm trying, Joyce."


***


After his talk with Joyce Xander hadn't wanted to stay any longer. Xander refused to tell Spike what had occurred out on the back porch, and asked instead if Spike could drive them home. Spike agreed though he was reluctant to leave for his appointment once he'd dropped them off. Xander insisted that everything was fine, and that he would only feel guilty if Spike missed his meeting.

Just yesterday Xander had finally asked Spike what it was he did for a living, since he didn't seem to have any sort of set work schedule. He was shocked to find that Spike was actually one of the few science fiction authors that Xander himself enjoyed reading. He only had three books published so far, but all had been well received, if not bestseller material. And the royalties were enough to live comfortably on while he worked on his next one. Spike was currently out meeting with his publisher.

"Are you okay, daddy?" Bran asked, watching his father walk across the room to sit beside him. "You look sad. Why are you sad, daddy?"

"I'm okay, buddy." Xander leaned down to kiss Bran's cheek. "Just tired."

"I love you, daddy." Bran waited to see the smile that his daddy always had for whenever he said that. When he got it, he bounced up and hugged his daddy around the waist. "Did seeing Joyce make you sad? We don't have to go back if it makes you sad," Bran assured him.

"Thank you, Bran." Xander hugged him close. "Don't worry about me, okay? Everything's fine," he reassured his son.

Bran wasn't sure he believed his daddy, but he nodded his head in agreement anyway because he thought that was what his daddy wanted. "If you're okay then, daddy, is it okay for me to go play in your room?"

"Sure, Bran." He swatted the little boy on the butt as he scampered out of reach.

Spike said he would pick up something for dinner on the way back, so not to worry about making anything or ordering in. Xander checked his watch. He still had a few hours before Spike was due back, so he figured he'd get in a quick nap. The last few days had left him exhausted, and constantly feeling drained. He walked down the hall and poked his head in on Bran. The boy was oblivious. Sitting cross legged in front of the television, controller in hand, Bran's attention was on the race car zooming down the road. Xander smiled softly at the back of his son's head before continuing down the corridor toward Bran's room.

Before lying down he clicked on the radio, tuning it to the same station that Spike had had on during their ride home the other night. He put the volume on low and then slipped his shoes off. He lay on his back, thinking about the conversation he'd had with Joyce. Thinking about his feelings for Spike. About how pale and fragile Buffy looked in the hospital.

How had all this happened so fast? One minute his life was chugging along like clockwork. He had work, he had Bran; he had a routine. And now he had a 'sister', a 'mother', and, well...Spike. Xander thought about the Harrises; thought about his life growing up, meeting Willow, and then raising Bran. Sometimes it seemed to him as if his life had happened to someone else entirely; as if he knew the details because he'd seen the movie, or read the book. Xander fell asleep with thoughts of his life playing through his head like the rerun of a bad television show.


***


Spike came in, his arms laden down with bags. He'd stopped at the Thai restaurant down the street for dinner, hoping that Bran and Xander would enjoy the cuisine. So far he hadn't come across any food that either of them had refused to eat, but he assumed there had to be something they didn't like. Spike just hoped that it wasn't Thai. He'd just laid the bags down on the kitchen table when he heard Xander's strangled scream. Spike dropped everything else and ran.

Bran reached his father before Spike could; the boy was already in the room, his arms around his dad when Spike arrived. "It's okay, daddy," Bran soothed. "I'm here now, daddy. It's okay."

Xander was shaking, his hair mussed from sleep, sweat dripping from his forehead. He'd obviously had a nightmare, and from the looks of it Bran was used to dealing with the consequences. The idea of a seven year old boy comforting his father out of a nightmare was so poignant that Spike had to blink the moisture from his eyes.

"Thanks, buddy, I'm okay." Xander kissed Bran's forehead, holding him close for a moment before pushing him away. "Don't worry, Bran. Daddy's fine. Just a nightmare, okay? You can go back to your game, okay, buddy?"

"Are you sure, daddy?" Bran asked, a worried look gracing his face. "Do you want me to lie down with you while you sleep? I could keep the monsters away."

Spike watched as Xander's lip quivered but no tears fell. Xander reached out again, bringing Bran back for a tight hug. "I love you, Bran." He sighed out the words. "Thank you, buddy, but I don't think I'm going back to sleep right now. It's almost time for dinner anyway, so why don't you go play for a bit until I call, okay?"

"Okay, daddy, I love you, too." Bran tilted his head up and bussed Xander on the cheek before turning to leave.

Xander finally looked up to acknowledge Spike's presence. "So you got back in time to see the show, huh?" He stood, making his way across the room to the small bathroom adjacent. After throwing some cool water on his face he toweled off, checking his haggard features in the mirror. He could see Spike leaning on the door frame behind him, trying to look casual.

"Have nightmares often, luv?"

"Often enough."

"Does Bran - "

"Look, I don't really want to talk about it, okay?" Xander cut him off. He fussed with the towel for a moment, folding and straightening it on the rack before turning around. "Did you get anything for dinner?"

Spike recognized Xander's obvious need for a change of subject. "Yeah, Xan. Thai, I wasn't sure if it would be okay. If it isn't we could always order pizza."

"No, Bran loves Thai. I hope you got Phad Thai, it's his favorite." Xander eased past him and through the door. Spike followed him back to the kitchen and watched as Xander got out plates and silverware, setting the table. The busy work seemed to be calming Xander down, so Spike let him continue. Xander pulled down several small serving bowls and distributed the food among them. Before calling Bran, he put some Phad Thai noodles, barbecue, and a spring roll on his plate.

Bran came running at his name, his face beaming when he saw their dinner. "Thai! Yay!" Bran sat immediately, looking up at Xander. "Thank you for my noodles, daddy!"

Xander smiled. "You're welcome, buddy. Don't eat too fast, okay?"

"Mphky," Bran answered, his mouth full.

Spike and Xander sat as well, filling their own plates with different dishes. The meal was eaten mostly in silence, only Bran's occasional babble interrupting.

"Okay, Bran, go brush your teeth. You can stay up for another hour, then it's off to bed," Xander instructed.

After brushing his teeth and changing into his pajamas, Bran came back out to the living room where Xander and Spike were sitting on the sofa watching the news. "Daddy, will you play with me?"

"Sure, buddy, what do you want to play?"

"Is Will going to play, too?" Bran asked, his eyes darting towards Spike.

"Would you like me to play, bit?" Spike asked, leaning forward in his seat.

"Yes. Please?" Bran asked, puppy dog eyes to the fore.

"'course, luv. If you like. What's it to be then?"

"Pirates!" Bran was enthusiastic about his choice. He'd already procured the umbrella he'd found in the closet of his room as his sword.

Both men followed Bran back to his room with bemused looks. They were to be his first and second mates on the ship (his bed) as they sailed the atlantis ocean looking for lost treasure and ghost ships. When they reached Bran's room they all climbed aboard the 'ship' and Bran began issuing orders. Bran threw a towel at Spike ordering, "Swab the deck!"

Obediently Spike saluted and answered with an, "Aye, aye, captain!" Before taking the towel and swirling it around atop the bed spread. Xander watched, feeling just another bit of the protective wall he'd built around his heart crumble at the sight.

"Don't just stand there, daddy!" Bran pleaded. "Look for land." He emphasized the last word in a harsh whisper.

"Oh, sorry, buddy. I mean, captain! Aye, aye, captain!" Xander saluted and obediently began searching the area for land. Every few minutes he'd point and call out, "land ho!" Just to hear Bran giggle.

Finally Bran was yawning left and right, so Xander put a stop to the fun and ordered Bran under the blankets. Xander tucked him in snugly then kissed his forehead. "Goodnight, buddy."

"Thanks for playing, daddy," Bran said sincerely. "Is Will going to kiss me goodnight, too?"

Xander smiled and stepped aside, giving Spike a questioning look. The blond stepped up without hesitation and leaned down to give Bran a goodnight kiss on the cheek. "Sweet dreams, luv."

"Thanks, Will. You make a good second mate." Bran answered sleepily, eyes already drifting shut.

Spike and Xander tiptoed out of the room, shutting off the light as they went. They left the door cracked open so that the light from the hall filtered in, just in case Bran woke in the middle of the night.

"Thanks, Spike." Xander stopped in the hall outside his room. "I really appreciate you taking time out to play with Bran like that."

"No worries, luv. Bran's a good little bit," Spike assured him. Spike wanted to broach the subject of Xander's nightmare again, but just then the phone rang. He shrugged apologetically before hurrying down the hall to answer.

Xander sighed. Immediately upon entering his room he set to cleaning up Bran's latest exploits. Once the Playstation was properly stored and the games reshelved on the entertainment center, Xander turned down his bed. He turned the radio on the clock radio on, again searching for the station that he'd been listening to earlier in Bran's room.

He stripped down to his boxers and slid under the covers. It was early but he still hadn't fully recovered from his earlier nightmare and so, instead of reinvigorating him, his nap had only drained him further. The music played softly around him and he tried to focus on the sounds rather than the thoughts swirling through his head.

When the soft knock sounded he sat up in bed and called out, "Come in." He'd expected Bran, but Spike stood on the other side of the door instead. Xander was up and at his side before he knew what happened, wiping the tears off Spike's cheek. "What happened?"

Then Spike smiled, the grin lighting up his face, his blue eyes sparkling. "Joyce just called. You're a match, Xan." Spike threw his arms around Xander and hugged him close. "Thank God." Spike sobbed the words, his whole frame shaking with the force.

Xander patted Spike's back awkwardly. He was glad that he'd be able to help, really, he was. But he wasn't sure how he felt about Spike's display of emotion. "What...what happens now?"

Spike pulled away from him in order to look him in the eye while he spoke. "Well, luv, they'll give her the radiation treatment tomorrow afternoon. Joyce, da, and I are all going to see her beforehand. They have to keep her isolated afterwards for about 3 months. The treatment leaves her without much of an ability to fight off disease, so... If you and Bran would like to come, I'm sure she'd like that."

Xander nodded, knowing that it would be good for Bran to see her one more time if he wasn't going to be allowed near her for at least another 3 months. Who knew if they would even be able to come back to Sunnydale at that time?

"Great, luv." Spike beamed at him. "You're scheduled to donate the day after that, and then they'll actually do the procedure on Friday."

"That's Christmas."

Spike started, of course it was! He'd forgotten all about the holiday coming up. "Well, what a lovely pressie that'll be, don't you think?" And then Spike realized that all Xander was wearing was a pair of boxers, and he blushed, looking away.

Xander quirked an eyebrow at him, after all, Spike had already seen him completely naked at the club. "I was just going to bed. Thanks for letting me know." Xander turned back toward the bed. "Could you close the door on your way out?"

Spike watched Xander walk away from him, not so soft sounds coming from the radio playing in the background. "You sleep with the radio on, Xan?"

"Usually, is that a problem?"

"No, luv. Just wondering why?"

"I like the noise, it gives me something to focus on. Helps me sleep." Xander shrugged, deciding to slip under the covers in a subtle hint to Spike to leave.

"And if you don't have anything else to focus on, Xan? What do you think of? Why can't you sleep?" Spike asked, moving into the room and over to Xander's bed. When Xander looked toward the blank wall of his room instead of answering, Spike sat on the bed, forcing Xander to acknowledge his presence.

"It's not all the time. But, some memories just don't go away, you know?"

Spike reached out one hand, covering Xander's on the blanket, the other cupping Xander's chin to force their eyes to meet. "Tell me about your nightmare, Xan."

"It was just a dream, Spike. It doesn't matter." Xander tried to pull away from Spike but he held fast.

"It does matter, luv. You were dreaming about them, weren't you? About one of the memories that just won't go away?" Spike prompted. "Don't shut me out, luv, please." Spike pulled him closer, shifting on the bed until his back was to the blank wall and he could hold Xander to his side. "This thing isn't crazy. We aren't crazy, luv. Give us a chance, yeah?"

Xander desperately wanted to. He felt warm and safe in Spike's arms and he wanted to know that the feeling wasn't fleeting. He wanted the feeling to be real. The words to another Metallica song, Unforgiven II, flitted through his mind briefly.

~~~

Lay beside me, tell me what they've done
Speak the words I wanna hear, to make my demons run
The door is locked now, but it's opened if you're true
If you can understand the me, then I can understand the you
~~~


Could Spike make his demons run? And could he trust Spike with the knowledge it would take for that to happen? For Spike to truly know his demons?

"I...I was dreaming about the day I finally left the Harrises for good." Xander shuddered at the memory. Spike held him closer, wrapping his arms tight around Xander's middle and laying his palms gently on Xan's abdomen. Xander sighed and leaned into Spike; resting his head against Spike's shoulder, he continued his story.

"I had met a guy. I was about seventeen, he was the new kid in school. Had an accent and everything, he'd just moved from Ireland. I thought it was cool." Xander burrowed deeper into Spike's arms the further he got into his story. "I'd never been attracted to a guy before. I didn't know I was gay, or that the reason I wasn't really interested in sleeping with Anya, my girlfriend, was because of that. But I started spending a lot of time with him, Doyle. And then one day he kissed me."

This time Xander's sigh was wistful, remembering that first tentative kiss, and the way that Doyle had looked at him so shyly afterward. "I broke up with Anya. Probably a really shitty thing to do, but I couldn't help it. I started spending even more time with Doyle. We got closer, and he started asking why we never went to my house, why he never met my parents. I couldn't tell him. Didn't want him to know." Xander's voice hitched.

"Then one day he surprised me. The doorbell rang and I answered and he was there. He smiled, and leaned in to kiss me. I tried to pull back, but it was too late. Our lips brushed and when he pulled back he looked hurt and confused at my reaction. But before I could say anything Anthony was there. I tried to yell, to warn Doyle, but Anthony grabbed him, pulled him into the house." Xander wiped at the tears running down his cheeks.

"He punched Doyle hard, until he fell onto his knees. Then he kicked him in the stomach. Anthony kept yelling about fags and fairies and kicking. I tried to stop him, I tried to punch him back, but he was still bigger than me. He hit me and I went down. I could taste blood in my mouth, and all I could do was watch him beat Doyle." Xander was shivering in Spike's arms. Spike shifted again so that they were now both under the covers and their bodies were flush against one another. He rubbed his hands up and down Xander's arms and spoke soft words of comfort.

"Doyle was pretty bad, they ended up taking him to the hospital after Anthony dumped him in the park. The next day I packed a bag and left. I stopped to see Doyle, wanted him to come with me, wanted to apologize, I don't know. But Doyle didn't want to see me. When I got in his room, he refused to talk, except to say he wasn't going to report it. He didn't want the world to know he was gay and that he'd been beaten because of it."

"Oh, luv, I'm so sorry," Spike whispered, unable to resist kissing the crown of Xander's head.

"I haven't seen the Harrises since." Xander shrugged. "I don't ever want to again."

They were silent for a while, Spike just holding Xander, the radio playing in the background. Xander was surprised to find the song that had flitted through his head playing. Maybe that's why he'd thought of the lyrics, it had already been playing when he started his story. It felt like hours since he'd first begun to speak, but it was probably only minutes. The last of the song played through, filling the silence around them.

~~~
Lay beside me, tell me what I've done
The door is closed, so are your eyes
But now I see the sun, now I see the sun
Yes, now I see it

What I've felt, what I've known
Turn the pages, turn the stone
Behind the door, should I open it for you

What I've felt, what I've known
So sick and tired, I stand alone
Could you be there, cause I'm the one who waits
The one who waits for you

Oh, what I've felt, what I've known
Turn the pages, turn the stone
Behind the door, should I open it for you
So I dub thee unforgiven

Oh, what I've felt
Oh, what I've known

I take this key
And I bury it in you
Because you're unforgiven too
~~~


"Spike?"

"Yeah, Xan?"

"Could you stay? I mean, just like this? Until I fall asleep?"

Spike tightened his hold. "Yeah, luv. I'll stay."





Part Nine
A New Hope



Spike awoke with the feeling of being watched. When he tried to sit up, he realized that there was a weight pressing down on his legs. Spike's eyes shot open to find a set of dark chocolate eyes blinking owlishly down at him.

"Hi, Will," Bran greeted him.

"Hi, bit." Spike stole a quick glance at Xander, who seemed to still be sleeping soundly.

"Did you keep the monsters away for daddy?"

Spike's whole expression softened at the boy's earnest question. "I tried, bit."

"Thank you." Bran threw his arms around Spike and hugged tight. "Daddy gets scared sometimes and he needs someone to protect him from the monsters." Bran leaned in close to whisper in his ear. "I tried to tell daddy that monsters aren't real, but I don't think he believed me."

Then Bran screamed and tried to scramble off him. "Wha -" Spike was cut off by a pouncing Xander, who was now unmercifully tickling his son. The two wrestled around on the bed, forcing Spike to get caught in the middle.

"Aaaahhh!! Help me, Will! Help me!" Bran squealed as he squirmed away from Xander and tried to hide behind Spike. "Save me!"

All three of them were laughing and panting by the time they collapsed in a heap. Bran was on the far side of the bed, still trying to hide behind Spike, while Spike and Xander lay facing each other only inches apart.

"Thank you for staying all night," Xander whispered, his eyes downcast, staring at a point somewhere on Spike's t-shirt covered chest. "You didn't have to."

"Wanted to, luv." Spike answered, just as quietly.

Xander looked up at Spike's answer and their gazes locked. They stared at each other for a long moment before they moved together, their lips separated only by the thinnest sliver of air. Then they both leaned toward each other. The kiss was chaste and sweet. Their lips brushing softly, eyes closed, murmuring quietly.

When they pulled apart Bran was staring at them, head cocked to the side in thought. "Do I get a good mornin' kiss too, daddy?"

Spike blushed and looked toward Xander, his expression one of panic. As if to say, 'was it okay to do that in front of him?'

"Sure, buddy." Xander swept Bran close and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. "Good morning, Bran."

Bran made an 'eww' face and wiped off his cheek. "Daddy! You didn't have to be so sloppy!" Xander laughed, then schooled his expression. "Bran?"

"Yeah, daddy?"

"Are you wondering why Will was in here, sleeping with me?" he asked seriously.

"I already asked him, daddy. He said he was keeping the monsters away," Bran responded. "I'm glad you have someone else to do it for you, when I'm not here, daddy."

Xander's eyes slid sideways to land on Spike. He was still blushing, the faint wash of pink tingeing his pale cheeks. "So it doesn’t bother you, buddy, that Will and I give each other kisses sometimes?"

"No. Why should it, daddy? Kisses are good. They mean you love each other. Just like you love me, right, daddy?" Bran asked, confused.

"'course I love you, buddy." Xander kissed his forehead. "But sometimes, kisses just mean that you really *like* somebody. The way that Will and I really like each other. Understand?"

"So you don't love each other? You just like each other? Like friends?" Bran's nose was scrunched up as he thought.

"Sort of like that, buddy. Is that okay?"

"Does that mean I have to kiss all my friends? I don't wanna have to kiss Maria in school. She calls me cootie face and chases me around the playground! But Miss Burkle says we all have to be friends. Do I have to kiss *her*, daddy?" Bran made gagging noises.

"No, buddy." Xander was laughing so hard his side started to hurt. "You don't have to kiss anybody you don't want to kiss, okay?" Xander turned to Spike, a big goofy grin on his face. His heart did a little flip in his chest when Spike met him with a smile as well.

"Maybe we should make some breakfast?" Xander suggested, shifting until he could get his feet on the ground.

"Pancakes!" Bran whooped.

"How about pancakes, then?" Spike asked facetiously. Spike grabbed Bran when he started to clap in delight, and deposited him back on the floor. He swatted Bran lightly on the butt, urging him out the door. "Off with you, bit. Your da and I will be out in a minute."

"Can I watch cartoons?"

"Sure, luv, we'll call you when breakfast's ready." Spike watched the boy run off with another whoop before turning back to Xander. "How are you feeling, Xan?"

"I'm good, Spike, really," Xander answered shyly. "It's probably the best night's sleep I've had in a long time."

"I'm glad, luv."

Xander stood, then headed towards the bathroom to brush his teeth. Before exiting the room he turned back to Spike, needing to know whether this morning was a fluke, or if Spike would be regretting it before lunch time.

"Spike?"

"Yeah, Xan?"

"Last night? This morning? The kiss?" Xander questioned.

"I meant what I said, luv. Give us a chance, yeah?"

"But are *you* going to give us a chance, Spike? Are you really?" Xander couldn't keep the hope from creeping into his voice.

"I want to, Xan. I’m trying."

Xander wasn't sure if that was good enough for him. It had been so long since he'd trusted anyone, since he'd wanted anyone to share his life with. But he desperately wanted Spike. Maybe that left him with no choice. Maybe all he could do was take however much, or however little, Spike offered. He nodded before turning away from Spike and leaving the room.

***

Looking around the sterile hospital room, Xander felt distinctly uncomfortable. Everyone was crying except for Bran, who was looking at him very confusedly, and himself.

Bran tugged at Xander's sleeve until his daddy leaned down so he could whisper in his ear. "Why is everyone sad, daddy?" Bran asked.

"They aren't sad, buddy. They're happy. Happy because we can help Buffy," Xander tried to explain.

"Then why are they crying, daddy?" Bran's face was scrunched in puzzlement.

"Sometimes people cry when they're happy, Bran," Xander shrugged.

"Does that mean you're never happy, daddy? I've never seen you cry."

"No, buddy. Everyone's different. Some people cry when they're happy, some people laugh. It just depends," Xander clarified.

"Oh," Bran answered, but didn't seem too convinced at his daddy's explanation.

Xander turned when he heard Buffy call his name. "Thank you, Xander." She wiped at the tears on her cheeks. "I didn't want to hope...I didn't want to think..." Her words trailed off.

Spike beamed at Xander, though Xander couldn't help noticing the tight hold Spike had on Buffy's hand. Again.

Was there something wrong with him that he could be jealous of a girl that had just yesterday assumed that she would be dying within the next year? His sister, no less?

He smiled tentatively and shook his head in denial. "I haven't done anything. You shouldn't thank me just for being...alive."

"It's more than that, son," Giles caught his attention. "You didn't have to come to Sunnydale. You didn't have to agree to test and donate. You may not have had a hand in the makeup of your genetics, but everything else you've done yourself. And we thank you for it."

Xander blushed and turned away.

"He's right, luv." Spike released Buffy's hand and moved toward Xander. He leant forward and kissed Xander on the cheek then took his hand in both his own. "Thank you for giving us back our hope, Xan."

Xander swallowed against the lump in his throat. "You're welcome." Was it wrong to feel so elated that Spike had left Buffy's side to stand with him? That Spike had *kissed* him in front of everyone?

The door swung open revealing a slender woman wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard. She had short brown hair that curled in towards her face, and a sharp, angular nose. "Okay, everyone, we need to get Buffy prepped for the radiation treatment." She turned to Joyce and Giles with a reassuring smile. "It's excellent news that we've been able to find a match and can administer the transplant so quickly," Dr. Calendar informed them.

"Thank you so much for everything you've done for Buffy, Dr. Calendar," Joyce acknowledged.

"Of course, Joyce," Dr. Calendar assured. "And don't worry. We're going to do everything we can to insure that Buffy has the best chance of recovery during and after the procedure."

"I know you will, Doctor. Thank you." Joyce gave Buffy one last kiss before they all said their goodbyes and left the room.

Giles had his arm around Joyce and was murmuring words of comfort to her. "She'll be fine, luv. Buffy's a strong girl," he reassured her.

"God, I hope so, Rupert." Joyce leaned in to his warmth.

Xander watched with interest, wondering if there was more going on with the pair than he'd originally thought. Xander turned when Spike tugged on the hand he still held, leading them all down towards the elevators. When they were outside once more, Xander stopped and pulled Spike towards him, whispering conspiratorially in his ear.

"Spike!" Xander hissed. "Do you think you could watch Bran for a while?"

"Why, luv?" Spike whispered back.

"It's almost Christmas!" Xander look dismayed. "And the only thing I bought Bran is back in Vegas. I forgot to bring it with us! Besides, I need stocking stuffers and a bunch of other presents. I always try to have 3 or 4 big ones, and then a bunch of candy and toys in his stocking. I don't even have a stocking!"

"Xan? Do you think it'd be okay if da watched Bran?" Spike asked.

"You can't do it?" Xander looked worried.

"No, luv. If you want me to, I will. But I thought I might go with you. We could make a day of it. Buy all the pressies for Bran and whatnot and then maybe have dinner out?" Spike suggested bashfully.

Xander blushed. Was Spike asking him out on a date? "Do you think your dad would mind?"

"I'll ask, hold on a mo'."

Xander watched as Spike walked over to his dad. His blush deepened when he saw Giles pause and look toward him. Spike nodded returning with a grin on his face. "No worries, Xan. Da will take him for as long as we need."

A flash of images danced through Xander's head at that statement. For as long as they needed? What was wrong with him? This morning Spike had said he wanted to give them a chance, not hey, let's jump into bed together! Maybe Spike just had some shopping of his own to do, and thought they could kill two birds with one stone. Xander berated himself for reading more into whatever was going on than was probably wise.

"Okay. Let me talk to Bran first, though." Xander called out to Bran, waiting patiently while his son bounced around on the sidewalk before finally heading in his general direction.

"Hi, daddy!" Bran called, laughing and bouncing over the cracks on the walkway.

"Hey, buddy. Would you like to go over to Giles' house for awhile?" He asked.

"Oh, can I, daddy? Huh?" Bran asked, excited to be going back to Will's daddy's. "Will he tell me more about the oceans, and why they talk funny where he's from?"

"Bran! You shouldn't say things like that!" Xander admonished, exasperated once more. He had tried to explain to Bran what an 'accent' was and that they weren't really talking funny, but his son hadn't been able to comprehend why living somewhere else made you talk differently.

"I'll be happy to explain why I seem to talk funny, little man." Giles came up behind them, smiling, to let Xander know he wasn’t in the least offended. "Would you like to come home with me for a bit, then?"

Bran nodded his head vigorously, his eyes wide. Mr. Giles reminded him of Miss Burkle. He knew everything about everything!

"No worries then, lads." Giles waved them on. "Go on and have at it."

Xander couldn't help the blush that time. God, what was *wrong* with him? He followed Spike silently back towards the car, waving at a happy Bran as he climbed into Giles' old roadster.

"Don't worry, luv. Da'll take good care of him, and it'll give Bran a chance to get to know da and Joyce better," Spike reassured.

"Oh, I know. That wasn't exactly what I was thinking about," Xander answered tentatively. "Spike?"

"Yeah, luv?"

"What is this?"

"This, Xan?"

"Yeah. Shopping, dinner, your dad's watching Bran. What are we doing? Is this a date?" Xander chewed on his bottom lip nervously. "I mean, it's okay if it isn't. It's not that I expect it to be. I just want to know. I mean I wasn't sure," Xander babbled.

Spike's hand shot out to steady Xander's bouncing knee. "Xan, I don't know what this is. Just wanted to spend time with you and thought it would be fun to buy the bit some pressies. I suppose, well, you could call it a date, luv. Would that be okay?" Spike scrunched his brow in worry.

"Is that what you want, Spike? Do you want this to be a date? Yeah, we're spending time together, but it doesn't have to be anything more than two friends out buying Christmas presents, if you don't want it to be." Xander shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. "But if you want this to be a date with the whole hand holding, kiss goodnight thing, then yeah, I could do that, too." Xander blushed bright red and concentrated on looking out the window at the passing scenery.

Without saying a word Spike reached over, moving his hand from Xander's knee to take hold of Xander's hand. Catching sight of his reflection in the window, Xander watched the grin split his face as Spike laced their fingers together.





Part Ten
Shopping, Dinner, and a Kiss Goodnight



"Bugger all, this place is packed!" Spike exclaimed when they finally got inside the Toys 'R Us. It had taken them nearly an hour just to find a parking space, and now it looked like they'd have to brave the horde just to find a pressie or two for the bit! Spike tightened his hold on Xander's hand. "Don't let go, luv." Spike glanced at the feral faces around him. "These people look blood thirsty."

Xander threw back his head and laughed. He squeezed Spike's hand and smiled at him. "Don't worry, Spike. It's not all that bad." Xander tugged him towards the athletic equipment. "Okay, Bran wants to start playing soccer, so I thought we'd get him a ball, and those knee pad thingies, and one of those net things. You know, so he can practice kicking the ball?" Xander listed aloud.

"The bit wants to play football?" Spike perked up at the news.

"No, not football, soccer, Spike. Weren't you listening?" Xander frowned at him.

"Football is soccer to the rest of the world, Xan. It's only you bloody Americans that don't use its proper name," Spike teased.

"Oh." Xander shrugged, never having been a soccer fan to begin with. In fact he wasn't much of a sports fan. He hadn't been able to join any teams when he was in school and still living with the Harrises. And he'd never really had any male friends to hang out and watch games with after he'd struck out on his own.

Xander's look was a combination of bafflement and sadness, which in turn confused Spike slightly. He figured it had something to do with other young Xander memories he wasn't yet privy to. So Spike just tugged lightly on his arm, bringing their bodies close together, and leaned in to kiss Xander softly on the lips.

"No worries, Xan. I know exactly what Bran'll need. Da bought me my first set of footy equipment at about the same age," Spike assured him. "Might find better kit if we went to one of those big sports stores, though," Spike suggested.

"Oh. I hadn't thought about that. Okay. The map says there's a Big 5 on the other side of the mall." Xander studied the crumpled map he'd pulled from his pants pocket. "But we could get a bunch of other stuff here, before we go. Still need a bunch of stocking stuffers."

They worked their way through the different aisles, Xander picking up a few different things he thought Bran might like. He grabbed up a couple of matchbox cars, for Bran's stocking, then another set of Legos. Bran loved the Lego castle they'd built together and never wanted to take it apart. So he needed more Legos to replace those. Spike slipped away for a few minutes to check on the soccer equipment they had at the store, just in case any of it was worthwhile, but when he returned he gave Xander a shake of his head indicating that a trip to Big 5 was imminent.

It took them just over two hours to get out of Toys 'R Us and another hour and half to get through Big 5. But finally it looked like Bran's name would be liberally sprinkled over all the presents under the tree and over the mantle. By the time they'd put all their packages in Spike's trunk it was almost eight o'clock and Xander's stomach was growling. He grinned impishly at Spike when the other man overheard and raised an eyebrow in his direction.

"Hungry, luv?" Spike teased.

Xander blushed, nodding. "We could just grab something out of the food court," Xander offered.

"No way I'm going back in there, Xan! 'sides, I've got a better idea," said Spike as they got into the car.

Xander was silent as they drove down the coast road, though he wondered where exactly Spike was taking them. After about fifteen minutes Spike turned off the highway and into what looked like a tiny little forgotten village. He parked on what appeared to be the main street, and when Xander got out of the car to follow Spike once more took his hand.

"It's just down a ways, luv." Spike pulled him down the cobblestone sidewalk.

When they finally stopped, Xander found himself standing in front of a quaint Italian restaurant called Palazzio's. One of the hosts had brought out a couple of plates of garlic balls for the small crowd still waiting to be seated. The bread balls smelled delicious but the crowd intimidated Xander slightly.

"Spike, we'll never get in here!" Xander tugged the blond back in the direction of the car. "Look at how many people are waiting. We can find somewhere else to eat. Besides, I'm not really dressed for a *nice* restaurant." Xander looked down at his jeans and t-shirt forlornly.

"No worries, Xan. The UC Sunnydale college kids come down here all the time. There's no dress code, 'cept maybe shoes and shirt," Spike insisted, tugging right back until they were inside the foyer of the small restaurant. He signaled the Maitre d', waiting patiently until he could speak with them. "William Giles, reservation for two at 8:30?" Spike told the man as soon as he could step over.

"Oh, yes, sir. Your table will be ready in just a moment."

Xander's eyes were wide as he turned to Spike. "You made reservations? How? When?"

"While we were at the toy store, luv." Spike shrugged, though Xander could see the pink tingeing his cheeks once more.

Xander smiled, squeezing the hand that still held Spike's. When Spike smiled shyly back at him, he turned to take a look around the room while they waited. The atmosphere was cozy, but casual. The lighting was a bit dark, and the tables covered with red table cloths and white sheet paper. After seating them at their table, the waiter explained the white sheet paper. Apparently there were jugs of wine around the restaurant. Diners were on the honor system, and would make a mark on the sheet whenever they consumed another glass of wine. There was a small tin of black crayons on each table just for that purpose. Xander found this funny, yet charming, having never encountered anything like it in Vegas.

"You do like Italian, don't you, Xan?" Spike asked belatedly, worried that he'd made a bad choice.

"Yeah, I love it," Xander answered, still taking in his surroundings. "Thank you, Spike. This place is great. Look, they even have a wall of celebrities!" Xander pointed toward the autographed black and white photos hanging on the wall behind Spike.

"Yeah, luv. Plenty of mummers have vacation houses in the area, and they like to come here to eat; foods good and plentiful." Spike handed Xander a menu.

Xander took the menu, letting their hands touch lightly in the process. The host had seated them at a booth, so Xander was able to slide surreptitiously closer to Spike as they studied their menus. When Spike felt Xander's thigh brush against his own, he tried not to let Xander know how much it effected him. But his heart sped up, and he felt himself pushing back against Xander's leg without conscious thought.

Xander smiled to himself, feeling the light pressure from Spike's thigh. Xander had been having naughty thoughts all day which he'd tried to put aside, but to no avail. Xander couldn't deny that he'd wanted Spike from the first moment he saw him. The fact that Spike had turned into someone he cared for had complicated the matter, but hadn't caused any of his initial desire to ebb. He knew that Spike was attracted to him, and had certain feelings, but that he would be reticent about taking their relationship any further than it had already gone.

Xander was thrilled with the hand holding and the few stolen kisses they'd already shared. But he couldn't deny wanting more. He was a man after all. A small part of him still wanted to hold back, wanting to make sure that Spike wasn't going to break his heart in the end. But a larger part already knew it was too late for that.

They ordered, talking softly over the flickering candle as they waited for their food. Spike's hand lay on the tabletop as he nervously drummed his fingers against the red cloth. Xander's hand crept slowly across the table until he was able to twine his fingers with Spike's, smiling timidly at the other man. Spike smiled back, and they continued their conversation uninterrupted.

The food arrived and Xander agreed that the portions were more than healthy. In fact by the time they'd finished eating, tasting liberally from each other's plates, it hadn't looked like they'd eaten anything at all! The waiter boxed their food before bringing the check, which Spike insisted on paying. They walked out together, Spike leading the way in the opposite direction to his car.

"Spike, where are we going?" Xander asked, wondering what Spike had in mind now.

"Just a little ice cream shop I thought you might like, luv," Spike answered, pointing with his head across the street since his hands were full of boxes of leftover pasta.

The butterflies in Xander's stomach fluttered at all the thought Spike had put into making this night special. He followed the blond silently across the street, opening the door for him when they reached the small shop. It was just past ten o'clock, but the shop stayed open until eleven. Probably wanting to get the last of the dinner crowd from the popular restaurant down the street.

Xander ordered a marble fudge cone, and Spike got mint chocolate chip. They sat at a table by the window, lapping at their dripping cones. Xander looked up, watching Spike through his lashes. He bit back a groan as he watched Spike's pink tongue lick around the melting ice cream. He felt his cock twitch at the sight, imagining the feel of Spike's rough tongue against his own skin.

When Spike realized Xander's gaze was locked on his tongue, his mouth went dry. He could see heat burning in Xander's eyes, and felt his own pulse quicken. Spike suddenly lost all appetite for the cone he had so recently been devouring, wanting instead to taste Xander. The remembered feel of Xander against him, of their lips pressed hard against each other, made Spike moan aloud.

Xander's pupils dilated making his eyes appear almost completely black. Spike's moan had caused the slight twitch to become a full blown hard on. He desperately wanted to pull Spike towards him, to feel their bodies rubbing against each other once more. But he still had the presence of mind to take a quick look around the ice cream shop. Luckily they were the only customers in at the moment, and the boy behind the counter didn't seem to be paying attention to anything but cleaning up what he could in order to get home on time.

"Spike?" Xander's voice had gone hoarse with desire.

"Mmmm?" Spike murmured.

"Home?"

Spike nodded, seemingly unable to carry on a coherent conversation. They stood together, Xander smiling predatorily as he noticed the telltale bulge in Spike's trousers. Spike blushed when he saw that Xander had noticed his current state. He cursed his fair skin, having blushed more in the past week than he had in his entire lifetime!

They both tossed their cones in the trash as they quickly made their way to the door. It didn't take them long to get home. By silent, mutual agreement they left the packages in the trunk of the car. Neither man currently having the patience to take them out and hide them from Bran.

Now that they were home, Xander wasn't sure how to handle the situation. He knew what he wanted, but what was it that Spike wanted? They stood awkwardly staring at one another, until Spike finally stepped forward.

"So, is our date over, luv?" Spike asked quietly.

Xander tried to hide his disappointment. Spike obviously wasn't ready for more than the few kisses and caresses they'd already shared. "Sure, Spike. I had a really good time, thanks." Xander attempted to be gracious.

"Good." Spike reached out, pulling Xander to him. "That mean it's time for the goodnight kiss?" He smirked up at Xander, waiting for the other man's response.

For a moment Xander just blinked stupidly back at him, then a brilliant smile broke across his face. He nodded, ducking his head shyly. The relief that washed over him when he realized that Spike hadn't *really* wanted their night together to end yet was palpable.

Spike tilted his head, angling for the purported goodnight kiss. When their lips touched Spike closed his eyes, losing himself to the sensation of kissing Xander. Xander's lips fitted snuggly against his own, joining them seamlessly together. Spike moaned, thrusting his now throbbing groin against Xander and luxuriating in the groan the other man emitted in return.

Before either man knew what was happening they found themselves on the couch, Xander atop Spike, the blond's legs spread to allow Xander to rest in their cradle. They kissed tenderly, exploring each other with lips and tongue. Spike growled deep in his chest each time Xander thrust against him; he could already feel his cock leaking. He threw his head back in wild abandon when Xander left his lips to explore his sensitive neck. Spike was arching into every touch, wanting to feel as much of Xander as he could.

Spike was delirious with want. Xander murmured quiet words of assurance mixed with desire as he slowly disrobed Spike. They were both in nothing more than boxers when Spike finally realized what was happening. The feel of Xander's skin against his own was incredible, but at the same time frightening. He tensed up automatically, apology already on his lips when Xander paused and pulled away.

"Sorry, Xa - "

"Shhh." Xander pressed a finger to Spike's lips. "We aren't going to do anything you're uncomfortable with, okay?"

Spike nodded, eyes wide.

Xander kissed him again. He left his hands at Spike's hips, not moving, not thrusting, only kissing, until he felt Spike relax against him. Slowly, experimentally, Xander thrust, luxuriating in the feel of Spike arching back against him. Their erections rubbed against each other through the thin material of their underwear. And Xander could feel himself teetering on the edge.

He continued the slow, sensuous kisses, never letting Spike stop long enough to panic. Slowly he let his hand slide under the elastic of Spike's boxers, moaning into Spike's mouth when he was finally able to grasp the other man's slippery cockhead. When Spike bucked up uncontrollably, Xander nearly came. He smeared Spike's shaft with the sticky pre-ejaculate and began to pump up and down slowly. He kissed Spike's throat, loving the vibrations as each groan was wrenched from Spike's voice box. Xander humped gently against Spike's hip, never slowing his ministrations.

"Xan, please!" Spike begged, thrusting harder into the tight tunnel Xander had created with his fist.

"Yes, Spike. Come on, Will, come for me." For some reason the use of his given name pushed Spike over the edge. The intimate tone that Xander had used, his hand gripping tightly around Spike's cock, the thought that no other lover had ever called him anything other than Spike all combined to cause his whole body to shudder and shake in reaction.

Soon after Xander was calling out his name, and thrusting wildly against his hip. He felt the cool wetness as Xander shot into his boxers, his lips already descending for another tender kiss.

"Are you okay, Spike?" Xander asked after pulling away. "Did I push you too far?"

"No, luv," Spike answered sleepily, dreamily. "Was perfect."

"Good," Xander whispered, but Spike noticed he was still chewing his bottom lip nervously.

"Are you okay, Xan?" Spike asked, shaking himself awake once more.

"Yeah, it was great, Spike. The date, the...well, everything." Xander smiled sheepishly.

"Then what's the matter, Xan?" Spike asked, sitting up and pulling Xander to his side.

"Nothing, Spike." Xander tried to shake off the doubts plaguing him. "Do you think Bran's okay?"

"Sure, luv. Da'll take good care of him," Spike answered knowing his da would never do anything to harm Bran. "Is that what you're worried about?"

"Kind of. Stupid, huh?" Xander deflected.

"We can call and pick him up now, Xan, if it'll make you feel better. But da said he'd be happy to take him overnight. Thought we could go pick out a Christmas tree tomorrow morning before we bring Bran home, and then we could all decorate it together," Spike suggested.

"That sounds great, Spike." Xander smiled at him. It did sound great. Spike was thinking ahead about plans for them, all three of them. Spike wasn't regretting what they'd done. The date, or...anything. Xander shouldn't worry. Shouldn't automatically assume doom and gloom just because he was happy for once in his life. "I should call Bran tonight though, just to say goodnight. He's only ever stayed over with Tara. And that was only once when I had to stay for an extra shift at work one night."

"Sure, luv. Of course." Spike stood and went to get the cordless, which he handed to Xander. While Xan called Bran, Spike headed to the bathroom and wet a wash cloth with warm water. He cleaned himself off then rinsed the cloth and wet it again. He brought it out to Xander, letting the brunette clean himself up. By the time he put the wash cloth in the laundry basket and returned to the living room, Xander was off the phone. "How's the bit?"

"He's good. He probably talked Giles' ear off, though. It sounded like Giles might have given him some caffeine or a little too much sugar." Xander smiled, chuckling. "I should have warned him!"

Spike laughed, too, though a bit nervously. What were they supposed to do now? He wanted to repeat their sleeping arrangement from last night, but wasn't sure how to ask Xander if that was what he wanted as well. "I think da can take care of himself, Xan. He had to raise me after all." Spike smirked.

"Yeah." Xander once again glanced up to watch Spike through lowered lashes. "You were probably a little hellion, huh?"

"Xan?"

"Yeah?"

"Would you...I mean, are you...are you tired?" Spike asked, losing his nerve.

"A little." Xander rolled his neck. "I guess we should go to bed, huh?" Xander waited to see if Spike was going to say anything else, and sighed in disappointment when he didn’t. "Thank you for tonight, Spike," he said quietly before kissing Spike's cheek and turning to head down the hall to his room.

Spike watched as Xander slipped through the doorway of the guest bedroom before he gathered enough courage to speak. "Xan?" he called out, hoping he'd spoken loudly enough for Xander to hear because he didn't think he'd be able to repeat it. Spike felt his stomach flip over when Xander poked his head out the door, a questioning look on his face. "I, uh, have a pretty big bed." Spike cursed his awkwardness. "Big enough for two," he finally blurted.

The smile that graced Xander's lips was effulgent. "Is it?" he asked, stepping out of his room and back toward Spike. When Spike nodded, Xander took his hand and followed him silently down the hall towards the master bedroom.





Part Eleven
Donations and Decorations



Spike woke with a start. He yawned out the last vestiges of sleep while he rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands. Xander lay watching with a small smile on his lips.

He sighed quietly, thinking how cute Spike looked when he first woke up. Xander hadn't had a chance to see Spike yesterday as both Bran and Spike had woken before him. Today, Xander had woken a full half hour before Spike, but hadn't wanted to move enough to jostle Spike awake. He liked watching the other man sleep, and remembering the events of last night.

Their date had been practically perfect. It had been years since Xander had really gone on anything resembling a date. He'd met a few guys at the club, but with Bran at home and no one in his life he trusted to watch Bran for more than a few hours, dating had been difficult.

This morning, Xander had found himself watching Spike sleep as he contemplated the fact that he actually did trust Giles and even, to a certain extent, Joyce. What Joyce had told him of her choices, and what led to them, hadn't made him forgive. But he could, in some part, understand. And he knew that she would never do anything to hurt Bran. Maybe she had been young and selfish when she'd given him up all those years ago. And maybe he would never be able to completely forgive her. But he found himself beginning to trust her. Trust all of them, Joyce, Giles, and Spike.

And what would he do when it all went to pot? He'd have no one to blame but himself. But as he watched Spike sleep, lashes fluttering against his cheek as he dreamt, Xander couldn't fight against the feelings warming him.

Spike smiled shyly at Xander when he found the other man watching him. "Mornin', Xan." It was strange to wake up with another man in his bed. His mind flashed to the memory of last night, and he felt his face redden. Had he really done all that? With another man?

Xander saw the flush on Spike's cheeks and worried over it. "Good morning, Spike," Xander answered softly, deliberately not leaning forward to touch like he wanted to. The look Spike gave him was shy and vulnerable and sweet, and made Xander's chest ache.

It was Spike's turn to watch Xander through lowered lashes. "Did you sleep well, luv?" Spike asked. "Still worried over Bran?" He'd noticed Xander chewing on his bottom lip.

"No, actually, was just thinking about how strange it was that I've come to trust Giles. Trust you all, really," Xander mused aloud.

Spike's expression softened and he leaned forward. He brushed his lips delicately over Xander's before pulling away. "Thank you, Xan."

Xander's whole body relaxed at Spike's affectionate caress. "For what?"

"For trusting me," Spike answered, still watching him through lowered lashes.

"You made it difficult not to," Xander answered, shrugging. He wanted to reach out and touch Spike so badly his fingers twitched.

Spike caught the movement and raised a brow at him. "You can touch me, luv," Spike, worried that he'd misinterpreted, continued, "if you want."

Xander smiled shyly, letting his hand reach across the bed and rest gently on Spike's blanket covered thigh. Spike felt the heat from Xander's palm radiate out from his thigh through the rest of his body. He shivered in reaction.

Xander leaned forward for another kiss, this one more than a brief meeting of lips. They nibbled on each other, Xander unable to stop himself from bringing their bodies together. He groaned when he felt Spike undulate against him, their morning erections rubbing together almost painfully.

Xander broke away, panting heavily. "Spike, do you trust me?" Spike nodded, confused, and extremely aroused. He nearly jerked off the bed when he felt Xander's hand make its way down to cup his hardness. "Can I?" Xander gave him a questioning look. Spike nodded again, still speechless.

Xander began to caress and fondle Spike. Loving the feel of Spike's cock as it twitched in his hand beneath the blanket. The thought that they were only separated by the thin sheet and their flimsy boxers had Xander's own shorts wet with anticipation. Xander took Spike's lips once again, thrusting his tongue in Spike's mouth as he played with Spike's increasingly hard member.

What was he doing, Xander wondered? Last night, and this morning, Xander had been plagued with thoughts that Spike was going to regret every minute of their time together. But after Spike's sweet kiss, and his gentle entreaty for the brunet's touch, Xander couldn't help himself.

Impatient now with the barriers, Xander shifted until he could get his hand under the blanket, and into Spike's shorts. His own cock throbbed at the reaction this elicited from Spike. He left Spike's mouth to lavish kisses on his neck and then shoulders. Both men had fallen asleep last night in nothing but their boxers, the feel of Spike's smooth skin beneath his lips made Xander moan deep and low in his throat.

"Luv," Spike whispered harshly, "please."

"Please what, Spike? What do you want me to do?" Xander asked, not wanting to go too fast for the other man.

Spike gave Xander a pleading look, then thrust his hips forward. He didn't know exactly what he wanted. The feelings that Xander invoked in him confused and aroused him. Made him want...want...just want. He needed more. Needed Xander.

Xander trailed his kisses down Spike's chest and towards the waistband of his tented boxers. His brown eyes locked with Spike's the entire time. At the first hint of hesitation Xander would force himself to stop, to pull away. But God, he hoped it wouldn't come to that.

He pulled gently on Spike's boxers until they were down his legs and off. Xander shifted them once again until Spike was on his back, Xander between his legs. He spread them wider, until Spike was lying with his knees drawn up and his feet flat on the mattress. Xander looked down briefly, licking his lips at the sight of Spike's dribbling cockhead. At Spike's sharp inhalation Xander looked up, a question on his features.

"Is this okay, Spike?" Xander furrowed his brow. "Do you want me to stop?"

"God, no, Xan. Please, touch me," Spike begged. "You're making me ache, luv."

Xander licked his lips once more. "Is it okay if I taste you instead?" he whispered.

Spike groaned, shutting his eyes tight and throwing his head back into the pillow at the very thought of Xander's mouth on him. "Fuuuuuck." The word was ripped from Spike's throat.

Xander took that as a yes and swooped down to take Spike into his mouth. He licked at the dripping precum, savoring the salty bitter flavor as it burst on his tongue. Then he took just the head in his mouth, suckling gently. Slowly he took the rest of Spike's cock in, licking the underside as he went. He couldn't quite deep throat, but swallowed about three-quarters of Spike's penis before having to stop.

Spike was trying very hard to be still. He wanted to thrust so badly he had to tighten every muscle in his body to keep from moving. The feel of Xander's hot, wet mouth around him was almost too much to bear. Spike'd had blow jobs before, had women taking him down their throats, but this...Xander, was too much. The thought, the idea, the sight of Xander with Spike's cock in his mouth, looking up at him with those dark chocolate eyes, God! Then Spike cried out as Xander pulled back letting his teeth scrape gently against Spike's flesh the entire way.

"Oh, God! Xander! Oh, fuck!" Spike exclaimed.

Xander began to bob up and down Spike's cock, applying a tight suction the entire time. His right hand came up to jack the base of Spike's cock, his left cupping and massaging Spike's sac. Spike was groaning above him, unable now to keep himself from thrusting, and Xander loved it. Loved the thought that he'd driven Spike to these sensations, that he was Spike's first male lover.

Xander continued to rub at Spike's balls, while he sucked at his penis. He stopped every now and then to pull off and lick at Spike's slit, making the other man writhe below him. He took Spike's cock in his mouth once more, and this time took him as far as possible; letting the head of Spike's cock brush against the back of his throat. Xander still wasn't able to swallow Spike in his entirety, but he was close. And then as he swallowed around Spike's rod, letting his muscles relax and tighten around the hard flesh, Xander took one finger and stroked at the soft skin of Spike's perineum.

"Xander!" Spike screamed, cumming in spurts and jets down Xander's throat.

Xander grunted, swallowing Spike down, humping brazenly against the mattress, until he too came. He groaned at the feel of his wet boxers sticking to his skin. But had a satisfied, happy smile on his face when he finally pulled away to look up into Spike's eyes. He watched for any signs of regret, of having pushed Spike too far, but saw none. Xander shimmied up Spike's body, lying flush against his partner, his lover.

Spike had seen the way Xander had studied him. Knew what the other man had been doing. He pulled Xander close to him, kissing the crown of his head. "No regrets, luv," he whispered and reveled in the way Xander relaxed against him.

***

They called Giles to let him know what their morning plans were. Xander spoke to Bran, explaining when they would be by to pick him up, asking whether Bran was having a good time and chuckling at Bran's answers.

"First things first, yeah?" Spike had asked, driving them over to the hospital. They weren't allowed in to see Buffy, but could see her through a glass partition. She was asleep so Spike silently wished her sweet dreams. It didn't take long for Xander's donation.

They had both agreed that it would be easier for Xander to give his donation while Giles watched Bran. Xander didn't want Bran to be scared of what the procedure was, or what they were actually doing to Xander. He chose the local anesthetic and was out within the hour.

When he emerged from the room, Spike was there, waiting. He took Xander's hand in his. "You okay, Xan?" he asked, checking over the other man with his eyes.

"Yeah, no problem," Xander replied, still feeling a little weird at the odd sensation of the anesthetic. But forgot all about it when Spike kissed him.

"Thanks, luv."

"Yeah." Xander nodded, not knowing what else to say.

It was only a few minutes from the hospital to Giles' house, where Bran was bouncing up and down on the front porch. He waved wildly at them as the car pulled in then raced to Xander's side. Bran was in Xander's arms before Xander even had a chance to close the car door.

"Hey, buddy, miss me?" Xander hugged Bran close, squeezing him until Bran squealed and tried to squirm away.

"Daaaaaddy! You're squeezing all my insides out!" Bran complained.

Xander chuckled as he released Bran, glad to see that the night apart hadn't bothered the young boy overmuch. Xander's grin widened when Bran immediately ran to the other side of the car to throw his arms around Spike's leg.

Spike hugged Bran back and ruffled a hand through the boy's hair. "Have fun with my da, bit?" Spike asked, snickering when Bran tried to duck away, giving him a pouty look.

"Yeah!" Bran started talking a mile a minute. "We stayed up late watching funny movies, and had hot chocolate with little marshmallows, and once when I took a sip of my cocoa and started laughing cause of the movie I spit chocolate everywhere!" Bran threw his arms wide to let them know exactly how far the chocolate went. "And Giles told me about Inglad, and how everyone there talks like you and him. And he tried to teach me some words, and how to say them just like you! But I don't think I got them right." Bran frowned.

Xander narrowed his eyes at Giles, who was standing on the porch watching the whole scene. "Just how much sugar has he had since we last saw each other?"

"Yes, well, erm..." Giles cleared his throat and looked away.

"You know, you are allowed to say no to him." Xander laughed, then turned his gaze to Spike. "I suppose you were just as bad as a kid? Did he just let you run wild?"

"Da made me the man I am today, luv." Spike grinned cheekily.

Giles rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, I'm afraid I do have to take credit for that."

"Oi!" Spike glared at his father. "Somehow don't think that was a compliment."

Giles shrugged, then changed the subject. "Would you two like some tea, then? Or are you off?"

Xander looked at Spike who answered for them both. "Think we'll be heading out, da. Xan and I are going to decorate the tree tonight. So's it'll be ready for Santa Claus when he comes."

"Oh!" Bran ran around the car and tugged on Xander's sleeve. "Will Santa know where we are, daddy? What if he misses me?"

"Don't worry, buddy. Santa knows everything. He won't miss you." Xander assured him. "He always knows where you are and what you're doing. How else do you think he knows if you've been naughty or nice?"

"Have I been naughty, daddy?" Bran looked worried. "I haven't been naughty, have I?" Before Xander could answer, Bran was off and running again. He threw himself at Spike, not once doubting that Spike would catch him. "Can I help decorate the tree, Will? Can I? Huh?"

"'course, bit." Spike caught Bran deftly, lifting the boy into his arms.

"Thanks again for watching him, Giles." Xander blushed, realizing that Giles must know why he'd had to watch Bran all night.

"You're quite welcome, Xander." Giles just nodded at him, throwing a knowing smile at his own son. He watched as all three climbed into the car and waved as they drove away. When they were finally out of view, Giles let out a long suffering sigh, and rubbed the back of his neck in a world weary gesture before going back into the blissfully quiet house.

***

"Stop that!" Xander chided Bran, lightly slapping the wrist that had reached into the popcorn bowl. "Those are for stringing!"

Bran giggled, stealing a handful anyway. When his daddy scowled at him, he laughed out loud and flung a few kernels into his daddy's hair. "Got you, daddy!" Bran screamed, running as soon as he saw his daddy reach into the popcorn bowl.

Xander dropped the needle and string he'd been using on the popcorn to chase after his son. Soon they were in the middle of an all out popcorn war when suddenly they heard the front door click shut and the sound of someone clearing their throat. When they looked up they were greeted with a stern looking Spike, hands on hips. Both boys immediately dropped their heads, looking at Spike through lowered lashes. "Sorry," they both mumbled apologetically. Then they gave him their patented puppy dog eyes.

Spike melted. How the bloody hell was he supposed to resist that? He'd thought Bran's pouty look was bad enough, but both of them? Together? It was too much. Spike sighed, threw up his hands in surrender, then...reached for some popcorn. Both Xander and Bran were running before Spike could even grab his first fistful.

By the time they all collapsed, exhausted, onto the couch, the apartment floor was covered with smashed popcorn bits. Spike looked around, imagining all the work it was going to take cleaning the mess up, but then glanced over at Xander and Bran. They were cuddled together on the couch, both panting, with Bran still giggling softly. Something inside Spike shifted, and for the first time in years he wondered what he was doing living in this great big apartment all by himself.

There must have been a reason he'd gotten a three bedroom flat. At the time he'd been dating Dru, but he didn't think he'd ever honestly believed their relationship would go any further than the casual fun they'd been having. So why had he gotten such a large place? Had he unconsciously wanted to fill the space? To fill his home with someone to love? Someone who loved him?

And what the hell was he thinking of that now, for? Did he love Xander? They'd only just met, for Christ's sake! And what about Bran? Even if he admitted to loving Xander, was he ready to be a father figure? Was he ready to have a child in his life, permanently? And was Xander ready to love *him*? There were too many questions with no answers. The idea that one or all of them might get hurt, worried him. But as Spike watched the pair recuperating next to him, he couldn't help but note that his heart gave a little extra flutter at the image. Just then Xander looked up at him and smiled shyly. And Spike found himself smiling back.





Part Twelve



Okay, had a bit of writer's block with this one. Edi helped me through it, though. So you can all thank her for this chapter! :)

Xander looked up as Spike walked back into the room. He had been slowly sweeping the popcorn bits up, content to let Spike put Bran to bed. It was odd, having someone else there to take up that chore. Not that it was a chore. Xander loved putting Bran to bed. Tucking him in, reading him one of their favorite stories, kissing him goodnight, then wishing him sweet dreams.

Tonight he'd kissed Bran goodnight in the living room and watched another man cajole Bran into brushing his teeth and then heading to his room for pajamas. He'd heard faint whisperings of Spike's voice as he read one of Bran's favorites, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. He laughed softly to himself when he heard Spike replace "Czechoslovakia" with "England", more so because he heard Bran's faint giggling in the background.

He smiled at Spike as the blond grabbed up the dustpan full of popcorn and dumped it into the trash bag Xander had brought into the living room. "He fall asleep okay?" Xander asked, continuing at his task.

"Sure, mate. No problem, fell off before the story was even finished," Spike answered, head down.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome, luv." Spike finally looked up, giving Xander a brilliant smile. "'Sides, not like the bit would stay up and risk the wrath of Old Saint Nick."

"Yeah." Xander smiled fondly.

It took a while, cleaning up after the mess they'd made. They worked together in silence, neither feeling it necessary to fill the void. When they were done, Spike stepped into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee while Xander took the opportunity to check on Bran to make sure he was really asleep. When Xander was satisfied that his son was lost in dreamland, he rejoined Spike in the living room, stopping along the way to grab the pile of presents they'd hidden in the hall closet.

Spike was sitting on the couch, sipping some coffee, when Xander entered. He gestured to a second mug filled with steaming hot liquid and received a grateful smile from Xander.

After Xander placed the packages on the floor he made his way to the couch, taking a seat by Spike, who was holding up the second mug in offering. Xander took it, sipping at the hot liquid and loving the feel of it burning down his throat. He groaned as the warmth spread through him, reinvigorating him in time for the arduous task of wrapping the mass of presents they'd bought.

Spike's body twitched in reaction to the soft groan Xander emitted. Spike was still a bit confused at the way Xander made him feel, at the fact that he was not only attracted to, but involved with, another man. It's not something he'd ever considered himself capable of. But as he watched Xander close his eyes and lean his head back in a moment of quiet peace, Spike found himself leaning forward. Pressing his lips against those oh, so soft ones he was getting to know so well. Xander hummed against his mouth, the vibrations tickling Spike's senses, making him deepen the kiss.

Spike pulled away slowly, letting his lips linger against Xander's. "Ready, luv?" Spike eyed the mound of presents they had to wrap warily.

"Hmmm?" Xander was trying to follow Spike's retreating lips to no avail. "Huh?"

"To wrap, Xan. You know? Bloody Christmas?" Spike smirked.

"Oh." Xander smiled shyly. He glanced up at the clock; it was just past midnight. "Merry Christmas, Spike."

"Merry Christmas, Xan." They kissed again, softly.

This time Xander pulled away first, sighing reluctantly. "We better start on Bran's presents. It's gonna take forever to wrap them." Xander gave Spike a goofy smile, knowing how much Bran was going to love waking up to the mound of presents under the tree, and loving the fact that Spike had helped him pick them out. This was another new experience for him. Having someone to celebrate Christmas with. For all the years he'd had Bran, it had been just the two of them. Xander glanced over at Spike, wrapping one of the sets of Legos they'd gotten, and let himself just enjoy sharing the moment.

"Xan?"

"Yeah?"

"You okay?"

Xander let the slow smile spread across his features. He was surprised his cheek muscles weren't sore from all the activity they'd gotten over the past week. "Yeah."

***

It was past 3 A.M. before they went to bed. Both men were exhausted, but all the presents were wrapped and piled haphazardly under the tree. While Xander brushed his teeth, Spike took the trash bags full of popcorn down to the trash chute. They flopped into bed together, neither needing to ask what the night's sleeping arrangements were going to be. Both just doing what felt right.

They woke up with Bran bouncing on their bed, clapping his hands loudly until they woke. "It's Christmas!" he shouted before jumping off the bed and racing toward the living room.

They smiled at each other, kissing softly, before following Bran out to the tree. The boy was already shaking the first of many packages, listening for clues to its contents. "Look daddy!" Bran exclaimed, holding up the package in his hand. "Santa came!" He beamed at his father.

"I told you, buddy," Xander reminded him, mussing his hair and garnering a disgusted look from his son. "Sorry," he chuckled, seating himself on the couch.

Before he had time to really notice that Spike hadn't joined him, the other man was walking towards him with three mugs in his hands. Xander quirked an eyebrow at him, questioning the intelligence of giving Bran a cup of Spike's favored elixir, coffee. Spike smirked, placing all three mugs on the coffee table in front of Xander, who snickered when he saw the half-melted marshmallows floating at the top.

"It might not be such a good idea to give him any chocolate either," Xander suggested. "He's already pretty buzzed on the Christmas high."

Spike chuckled, turning to watch Bran as he ransacked the pile, tossing ripped paper hither and yon. The mess was growing, but Spike didn't mind. Seeing Bran so happy and Xander so relaxed made everything worthwhile.

"Sure you don't mind Joyce and da coming over later, Xan?" Spike asked again, not wanting to make Xander uncomfortable.

"No," Xan assured him. "Yeah, I mean, it's your house and they're your family. 'Course I don't mind."

"You're family too, luv." Spike gave him a gentle reminder.

"I know," Xander mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck with an open palm. "I'm trying, Spike."

"I know, luv." Spike grasped Xander's free hand and brought it up for a kiss. When Xander looked up, Spike smiled reassuringly.

Just then Bran opened one of the new Lego sets they had picked up and he squealed in delight. "Legos! Daddy! Look what Santa brought! Legos!" He shook the box at Xander. "Can we build another castle, here? Huh? Can we?" he asked eagerly, already opening the box and spilling its contents onto the floor.

"Another castle?" Xander laughed, dropping onto the floor beside Bran to help him pile the Legos up. "Don't you want to do something else with them, Bran? Santa brought you these cause we already made a castle at home and you never want to take it apart!" He shook his head as Bran started to pile the Legos into a square fort for the base of the castle.

"But that one's at *home*, daddy!" Bran explained. "I want one here, too. So that whenever we come over to Will's house we can play knights and dragons and castles!"

That stopped both Spike and Xander short, bringing up thoughts that neither man wanted to contemplate yet. What would happen when Xander and Bran had to go home?

"Well, luv," Spike joined them both on the floor. "Be happy to help you build another castle." Spike piled a few Legos on to the ever-increasing wall Bran had started. "Mind if I give your da his Christmas pressie first?"

"Santa brought daddy a present, too?" Bran's eyes grew wide.

"No, bit," Spike smiled, reaching past Bran for two small packages under the tree. "Not Santa, just a friend." He turned his smile toward Xander, blushing faintly. "Even daddies get presents for Christmas."

"What did ya get, daddy? What'dya get?" Bran asked eagerly, bouncing up and down.

"I don't know, buddy." Xander fingered the packages reverently. He hadn't expected anything from Spike. Hadn't gotten the other man anything in return. Was shocked at the depth of feelings Spike's gesture pulled from him. "Guess I should open them and see, huh?" He glanced up briefly, meeting Spike's eyes, then glancing down quickly. He wasn't sure what emotions his face revealed, but thought that if they were anywhere close to what he was actually feeling, he didn't want Spike to see them.

The first package was flat and square. He unwrapped it slowly, pushing at the tape with his thumbnail before carefully peeling it away. He recognized the CD almost immediately, had a copy of it at home. But he didn't think that was the point. In fact he knew it wasn't. There was small note card taped to the front. Spike's elegant script ran across it in slanted lines.

~
For all that I'm a writer, I'm no bloody good with words, Xan. So I'll borrow them, from a band I think you know.
~

Xander ran shaking fingers over Metallica's Reload CD before finishing the note.

~
I'll fight the demons with you, luv. We'll make them run, together, Xan. Open the door, yeah?

Yours,
Spike

~

Xander was trembling. What was Spike saying? He looked up to see the other man watching him intently. Xander just stared, paralyzed. Even Bran's bouncing and happy babbling didn't break his immobility.

"Open the other one, yeah?" Spike nudged him, shoving the second package into his hand.

It took Xander more than a minute to build up the courage to open the second box. He wasn't sure why he was scared; why he was afraid to see what else Spike had given him, but he was.

It was a jewelry box, another note card on top.

~
Got my own demons, too, luv. Take my key, Xan? Can I bury it in you?

Yours,
Spike

~

The lid flipped open, echoing loudly in Xander's ears. The light caught, glittering against the gold. A tiny skeleton key dangled from a chain. Xander reached out, tentative, fingers brushing against the charm.

Spike watched, waiting for a sign. Had he gone too far? He'd picked both presents up at the mall while Xander had still been in Toys 'R Us shopping for Bran. It hadn't taken long. He'd already known he wanted the CD. Had planned on only giving that, with a note, much like the one he'd attached. On the way back from the music store, though, he'd seen one of those jewelry carts in the middle of the walkway. The key had caught his eye, apropos of nothing. He'd bought the necklace immediately.

Now he was beginning to think he'd made a mistake. Maybe he'd let show too much of what he was feeling. Everything was so new to him, so different. Spike wasn't sure how he was supposed to act. What he was supposed to do. He'd gone with his instincts, but now doubted their sensibility.

He was about to apologize. To take the packages back, tell Xan that they were easily returned, when Xander finally looked up. "Thank you." The words were mouthed, but Spike understood. Could finally see that Xander had been silent, still, not because he was offended or thinking of a way to let Spike down easily. But because he hadn't been capable of more. Spike reached out, placing his hand atop Xander's trembling one.

Xander tried to speak, but choked. Cleared his throat, then tried again. "Will you," he swallowed back the lump in his throat, "will you help me put it on?"

Spike nodded, taking the box gingerly from Xander's open hand. He unclasped the chain then nudged Xander until the other man turned, facing away. Spike lifted the necklace, laying the key against Xander's sun burnished throat before clasping the chain around his neck. Before letting go completely he can't help but lean forward and press a soft kiss on Xander's nape. At the feel of Spike's lips, Xander closed his eyes and leaned back into the touch.

Bran broke into the moment with a loud exclamation and a pointing finger. "Will!" Bran poked at the air in front of Spike. "Are you daddy's friend?!" he accused.

"'course I am, luv. Yours, too," Spike answered, confused.

"No!" Bran giggled into his hand, shaking his head. "You said a *friend* gave daddy his presents. Was it you? It was you, huh, Will?" Bran bounced up and down, pleased at his own cleverness, still poking the air in front of Spike.

Instead of answering, Spike growled and snapped his teeth at the offending finger. Bran giggled and took off, Spike chasing after him. Xander watched the scene, Spike and Bran playing, running wild through the discarded wrapping paper, bits and pieces of tape sticking to their trousers.

Xander watched Bran laughing and racing across the room. His heart pounded hard against his chest. Bran loved spending time with Spike. Bran might even love Spike. The thought made Xander's chest hurt. Jealousy? A bit. After all, he and Bran had had only each other for the past seven plus years. Now there was Spike, and Giles, and Joyce, and soon Buffy would enter the picture as well.

Xander sighed. The safe little room he'd locked Bran and himself in as no longer empty. Spike was the first to push his way in, but Xander didn't think he'd be the last. He fingered the key resting against the hollow of his throat. Was it a good thing? Or a bad thing? If he let the others in, would it still be safe?

Xander only just heard a rapping at their door over the racket Spike and Bran were making. He stood, heaving himself off the comfy couch, and went to answer, schooling his expression. He wiped quickly at the moisture that hung in his eyes, before turning the knob and greeting Joyce and Giles.

"Happy Christmas, Xander," Giles greeted him.

"Merry Christmas, Giles. Joyce." He nodded at them both before stepping out of the way to let them enter.

"Merry Christmas, Xander," Joyce answered, smiling tentatively. When Xander smiled back, her grin grew wider and more genuine.

The squealing from the living room drew their attention as Xander closed the door. "Spike must have caught him." He shrugged, leading them into the fray.

When they entered the living room, Spike had Bran pinned on the couch, tickling him mercilessly. Bran was screaming and giggling and screaming in intermittent bursts. "Daaaaaaadddddddyyyyyy! HELP!" he beseeched his dad when he saw Xander reenter the room.

"I'm coming, buddy." Xander pounced on Spike, grabbing the man from behind and wrapping his arms around his waist. He pulled, throwing them both off balance and causing them to land hard on the floor. Laughing, Bran jumped atop them both and started tickling at random. All three were in a giggling mass on the floor when Giles cleared his throat.

They untangled quickly, slouching sheepishly, Spike with a red tint to his cheeks. "Oh yeah, your dad and Joyce are here," Xander announced belatedly.

Giles smiled, as did Joyce, at the picture the three boys made, heads bowed in silent apology; Spikes embarrassed flush, Bran's exuberant smile, and Xander's wary expression. "Quite all right. We've just brought over a few more presents."

"Presents!" Bran exclaimed, standing and racing toward the couple, throwing his arms around each leg in turn. "Merry Christmas!"

The next few minutes were spent watching Bran tear through the newly arrived presents. Giles' present was a new picture book, called SkippyJon Jones. Apparently it was the story of a Siamese cat who spent his days daydreaming about being a Chihuahua. Bran was half in love with the story already. Joyce got him a set of art supplies. The kit included drawing paper, pencils and a how to book. Xander had skimmed through it and figured it was something both of them could work on together.

By the end of the afternoon, Xander was embarrassed that he hadn't thought to get anyone besides Bran a Christmas present. He hadn't had to think about Christmas presents for anyone but Bran since Willow's death, and it just hadn't occurred to him. Both Joyce and Giles stated that they hadn't expected a thing. Yet they each had gotten him something. A pair of trousers and a nice dress shirt from Joyce, and a fountain pen engraved with his name from Giles.

After all the presents had been handed out, Bran had returned to playing on the floor with his new toys. The four of them sat around drinking coffee and talking for a few minutes. It was getting easier for Xander to spend time with Joyce, to not see her as the enemy, or a complete stranger. She talked about Buffy for a bit, giving him some more background.

All in all, Xander felt more relaxed and happier than he could remember ever being in the past 10 years of Christmases gone. They talked about visiting Buffy the next day. Though they wouldn't be allowed to see her, they wanted to visit the hospital, talk to Dr. Calendar and possibly stick some Christmas cards on the glass window where Buffy could see them from her bed.

Giles, Spike and Joyce began to clean up the mugs and cookie platters that were sitting on the coffee table, while Xander tried to get Bran to go to his room to change the cocoa stained shirt he was sporting. He left Bran in his room putting on his Captain America T-shirt.

Xander shook his head at the longevity of comics. He had been a Captain America fan when he was Bran's age as well. He heard voices in the kitchen and headed in that direction, wanting to rejoin the cozy comfort of having a shared Christmas, but stopped short at the first words that floated over.

"Xander's a wonderful man." Joyce's voice echoed.

They were talking about him. Xander felt odd stepping into the room after that statement. So he waited.

"Yeah, luv, I know." Spike sounded shy and unsure. Xander smiled. "You both know I have strong feelings for him. For them both." Xander's smile grew wider.

"So, what's the problem, Will?" Giles asked, concern in his voice.

Xander heard Spike sigh heavily. He leaned in closer. Xander hadn't known there was a problem. Spike had constantly reassured him about their budding relationship.

"It's Bran, da." Xander's heart stopped. "Don't know if I want to be a ready made father. To have a child in my life permanently."

Xander's heart beat heavily against his chest. There was a ringing in his ears that drowned out the sound of the rest of the voices in the kitchen. He felt numb as he turned back toward Bran's room.

"I'm afraid, da. Don't want to mess up. They've both had enough people bollix up their lives."

"Will, there's no guarantees when you become a father. Whether they are just birthed, or 7 years old," Giles explained. "Do you love him? Bran, I mean?"

"I think I love them both, da," Spike admitted, quietly.

"That's all that matters then," Giles assured his son, patting him comfortingly on the shoulder. "To be a good father you just have to love him, love them both, to the best of your abilities."

Spike nodded, still unsure.





Part Thirteen
Homeward Bound



Xander felt numb. He'd meant to go to Bran's room, to check on his son, some irrational fear making him think that Bran might feel just as devastated as he did. Though he realized before he reached the door that there was no way Bran could be aware of any of Spike's feelings. If Xander had been fooled, Bran wouldn't have been able to see the truth any clearer.

So he continued on until he reached his own room, guest room, shutting the door quietly behind him. He left the lights off and the curtains closed. Dim light filtered through drapes but left most of the room dark. Which suited Xander fine, as that was exactly how he was feeling: dark, disillusioned, devastated.

He berated himself as he sat wiping at the tears. What had he said? What had he warned himself against? And then to just blatantly ignore his own advice... Now who was going to be hurt? Not just Xander, but Bran as well. Xander flogged himself internally for having done the one thing he swore never to do; compromise Bran's happiness.

He hadn't been careful at all. The lure of his own happiness, of finding someone who cared, overshadowed his normally cautious nature. Selfish! He selfishly chose to put himself and Bran at risk, just for the chance, for the possibility, that Spike might've loved them. Anthony Harris had been right; he *was* a selfish fucking bastard, always screwing up.

Xander stood and began packing his bag. They had to leave. It would only get worse if they stayed. Bran would get even more attached. Xander rubbed at a sore spot on his chest. Jesus! This hurt worse than Doyle refusing to see him, or the first time Anthony called him a little dumb shit. At least then he'd had an expectation of rejection, an idea that pain was imminent.

Xander sat heavily on the end of his bed. They would be wondering where he was soon, coming to check on him. He'd have to explain, have to tell them they were leaving. What would he say? The truth? Spike hadn't meant to hurt him. Spike had said he cared for them both. Just. Not. Enough.

Was it really Spike's fault that he couldn't love them? Anthony had always told him that he was worthless, that no one could love him. Xander had thought he'd been wrong. Willow had loved him. Had trusted him enough to leave him Bran. And Xander knew that Bran loved him unquestionably as well. But now Willow was dead. And Bran was soon to be hurt, and would probably blame Xander. As well he should.

Xander stood at the loud knock on his door, still trying to figure out what to say as the door swung open. "Spike, I - "

"Xan, luv," Spike was agitated and upset. "Hospital called. Buffy's not doing well. Something about rejection. Not taking to your donation, I think." There were tears in Spike's eyes.

Xander reached for his hand automatically and squeezed in comfort. At Xander's touch Spike moved into his embrace, molding his body around the other man's. Xander wrapped his arms around Spike, hugging him and rubbing soothing circles on his back.

"What did the doctor say? What are her chances of recovering?" Xander asked, tentatively.

"They don't know, luv. Nobody knows why it happens. Dr. Calendar said it could go either way." Spike nuzzled closer to Xander. "Can't lose her, luv. Can't."

"I know, Spike." Xander kept rubbing a warm palm against Spike's back. "I know." It hurt to see Spike in so much pain. Whether Spike loved him or not, at that moment Xander had to admit to himself that he loved Spike.

They stayed close for a minute before Spike pulled away. "Joyce and Giles are going - "

"You go with them." Xander pushed at Spike, urging him back down the hallway. "Bran and I will stay here." He steeled himself against Spike's pleading look for company. "I think Bran might be scared if we all go down to the hospital together. It'll be hard to explain to him what's happening since none of us really know for sure. Don't want to give him nightmares or anything. Don't worry. I'll stay with him." Xander winces as he realizes he's given Spike another excuse not to want Bran around, but shrugs internally. Doesn't matter, they'll be gone soon enough.

Spike gives him one last look before asking, "You sure, luv?"

"More than." Xander nods, then he can't help himself, he pulls Spike close once more. They kiss, softly at first, but then Xander deepens it. Wanting one last taste, one last caress. Finally Xander let him go. "Go on, they're waiting." And he pushed Spike down the hall back toward Giles and Joyce. "I'll see you soon." He almost choked on the words, but got them out. He watched until Spike disappeared around a corner. Then he turned back toward Bran's room to explain why they had to leave and why Bran wouldn't get to say goodbye to his new friends before they did.

***

They arrived at the hospital quickly, rushing up to the fifth floor cancer ward. Dr. Calendar met them and explained that Buffy was showing signs of rejection, that it wasn't critical yet, but there was a chance that she could reject the transplant completely.

A rush of tears filled Spike's eyes and he ached to have Xander with him, to be able to turn to the other man for comfort, for warmth. He felt incredibly cold. The thought of not having Buffy in this world, of Buffy *dying* making him shiver and hug himself tightly around the waist.

He turned to find Joyce in Giles' arms, giving each other the comfort he had just been wishing for himself. She was crying softly against his da's shoulder. So Spike pushed against his own pain, standing straighter, schooling his face, wanting to be strong for Joyce, and for da.

"She's going to be fine, luv," Spike assured her, with a conviction he didn't entirely feel.

Joyce nodded, and burrowed deeper into Giles' embrace.

And they waited.

***

Xander smoothed Bran's unruly hair off his forehead, making sure not to awaken him. They'd been in the air for nearly an hour, Bran having fallen asleep almost immediately. It was late, and though Bran was excited he'd only gone to sleep after Xander had promised that he'd wake him before landing, so that he could see all the lights.

He looked past his sleeping son and out into the dark night, wondering what Spike was doing, how Buffy was, what everyone would think once they found them gone. He'd left a note, of course. He wasn't stealing away into the night, after all, they'd known he had to go home sometime, right?

He had to keep telling himself that he'd done the right thing. What else could he do? If Spike couldn’t accept Bran in his life on a permanent basis, then what more was there to say? Bran was Xander's life. And anyone Xander wanted to be with had to accept that.

When he'd told Bran they had to leave, the little boy had looked crestfallen. Bran had asked whether Spike would be coming with them, and Xander had to break the news that he wouldn't. It had nearly broken Xander's heart when Bran's face had scrunched up in confusion and hurt. And then in a small voice Bran had asked, "doesn't he like us anymore?" Xander had to grab him up and hug him close, just so that his son wouldn't see the moisture in his eyes.

"Of course he does, buddy," Xander had answered earnestly. "He just has some things he needs to take care of here. Remember Buffy? How sick she is? Well, Spike has to stay with her for awhile, okay?"

Bran had nodded into his shoulder. "Will he come to visit after?"

Sighing heavily, Xander lied. "Yeah, Bran. He will."

Then they had packed their bags and left.

***

The waiting was abominable. More than once Spike had picked up his cell phone and begun to dial home, wanting to hear Xander's voice. But each time, he'd stopped himself, not wanting to wake his lover. Or worse, make Xander feel like Spike was becoming too dependent. What would Xander say if he knew that Spike was in love with him? Spike shook his head.

It still felt weird to admit it. The fact that he loved Xander, another man. A man he'd only known for a little over a week. But at the same time, it felt right. The feelings that Xander evoked weren't anything like what Spike had felt in previous relationships. He wanted to protect Xander, to see Xander smile, to make Xander laugh. And wrapped around it all, was his physical attraction to the dark haired man, and Spike's need to have Xander want all those things for him in return.

And Bran, God, how could anyone not love Bran? The boy was sweetness and innocence personified. And that's what scared Spike the most. What if he messed up? What if he soured that sweetness? He wouldn't be able to live with himself. He didn't know anything about raising children. No matter what da said, there had to be more to it than just loving them.

Fuck! Where the hell was the doctor? Spike stood and began pacing the room, growling at his da when the other man tried to pacify him. He checked his watch again, nearly three in the morning. He spun at the sound of the double doors swishing open, Dr. Calendar striding through.

Joyce was already standing, his da at her side. Spike joined them, standing at Joyce's other side to lend support. Dr. Calendar regarded them all, neutral expression on her face.

"Buffy is stabilized. The early signs of rejection seem to have arrested. Cells are grafting with no visible signs of difficulty." Dr. Calendar gave them all a reassuring smile. "You should go home. Get some rest. We'll call you if there are any changes."

Joyce was crying quietly, white knuckled grip on Giles' forearm. "Shhh, luv. She's fine. You heard the doctor," Giles reassured her, petting her hair and drawing her close. He kissed her forehead gently before pressing her face to his chest.

"Why don’t you go on home, son." Giles spoke gently. "I'll take care of Joyce."

Spike nodded absently, torn between wanting to go home to Xander and wanting to stay to insure that Buffy truly was still alive. In the end he kissed Joyce, hugged his da, and headed home.

***

Xander tucked Bran in, his son too exhausted from the flight to even ask for his normal bedtime story. Xander leant forward to kiss his sleeping son's cheek before stepping away and turning down the lights. He made sure that Bran's Captain America night-light was glowing faintly before closing the door.

He made his way back to the living room, and flopped down heavily onto the couch. Xander looked around at his sofa, his coffee table, his television; all the things that he'd collected over the years. He dry washed his face with an open palm, rubbing tiredly at his eyes.

"Guess we're home," he whispered to himself.

***

Spike was exhausted. He tiptoed down the hall not wanting to wake Xander or Bran, but couldn't help stopping at Bran's door. He wanted to look in on the boy, make sure he was okay. The door creaked softly as he pushed it open, letting the light from the corridor fall dimly on the bed.

"What the - ?" Spike was shocked to find the bed empty, then realized that Bran must have gone to bed with Xander. Maybe Xander had been right and the call about Buffy had scared him.

He hurried toward his own room, hoping to find them both asleep in his bed. When he got there and found it empty he spun and made his way to the guest room Xander had been staying in. When that, too, turned out to be empty, he began to panic.

Where were they? He checked the closets only to find their suitcases gone. Spike felt as if he were going to collapse. His legs didn't seem to want to hold him up any longer. They were gone? They'd left? Without even saying goodbye?

He walked back out to the kitchen, hand running roughly through his mussed hair, and found a note. Xander had stuck it to the refrigerator with a magnet. One of the ones they'd bought at the mall that day, on their date. A kitsch one, it had a little bubble of glass filled with sand and seashells on it.

Spike pulled the note out from under the magnet, hands shaking.

~

Dear Spike,

I hope that everything with Buffy is okay, and that she'll be able to come home soon. I want you to know that I'm glad that I was able to help. Thank you for convincing me to come. You were right, I'm sure I would have regretted it if I hadn't.

And knowing Joyce, hearing her side of things, well...at least I know. I won't have to wonder anymore.

Thank you for letting us stay. And for giving us a really, really wonderful Christmas. I'm sure Bran will remember it for a long time.

I just want to say that I won't ever regret my time in Sunnydale. Getting to know...you all, was really good for Bran. And for me.

Thank you,
Xander

~

Spike couldn't breathe. The note dropped, fluttering to the floor, unnoticed. They were gone.





Part Fouteen
Separate and Apart



"Daddy, I'm hungry. Can I have a sammy?"

Xander smiled, reaching for the bread. "Peanut butter and jelly?"

Bran nodded enthusiastically, sitting down at the kitchen table to wait. "Daddy?"

"Hmmm." Xander was being careful not to break the bread as he spread the peanut butter on.

"How come Will hasn't come to visit? Is Aunt Buffy still sick?"

Xander sighed. Bran had asked the same question every day since they'd gotten back. Granted it'd only been three days so far, but still, with Xander's nerves so raw, it grated.

Xander peered at the telephone angrily. He'd been waiting for it to ring(,) with both fear and hope that it would be Spike. That Spike would ask why they had left, and would beg them to come back. Xander shook his head at his own stupidity.

"Daddy?"

"Hmmm? I'm sorry, buddy." Xander turned, handing the newly made sandwich to his son. "Here's your sammy." He took a seat across from Bran. "Bran, Buffy is still sick, but...you also have to understand that Will has his own life. He may not be able to come visit right away, okay?" At Bran's crestfallen expression, Xander rushed to reassure him. "It doesn't mean he doesn't like us anymore. Just that he has other things to take care of. Okay?"

Bran nodded. He ate his sandwich silently, doleful brown eyes blinking slowly.

Xander didn't know what to do. How to make things better. Fuck! He'd screwed up. And now Bran was hurting because of it.

***

"I don't know, da." Spike paced the study restlessly. "I thought...well I thought things were good. Thought Xan felt the same as I did. Guess I was wrong." He sat abruptly in one of his father's leather armchairs.

"Perhaps you should call and ask him? Maybe there's some other explanation for this," Giles suggested.

"What other explanation could there be? One minute we're having a jolly old time. The next he's gone. The only thing I could think of was that he'd realized how I felt. That it was too much." Spike dry-washed his face with an agitated hand. "Must've been the pressies. Knew I was being stupid."

"You don't know that, Will," Giles soothed. "You said yourself, Xander's a complicated man. He's had a lot happen to him that we can't understand."

"Know that, da." Spike stood, pacing the room once more. He'd felt like a heel the first few days Xander had left. Mostly because all he could think about was Xander, even while his best friend lay sick and possibly dying in the hospital. Of course he worried over Buffy, but...Xan was the first thing on his mind when he woke up in the mornings.

Now that the transplant seemed to have gone well, they just had to wait while they kept Buffy isolated and monitored her condition. Doctor Calendar said things were looking extremely good, and that she had every confidence that Buffy would be going into remission without any difficulties.

So, of course, Spike now had nothing else to occupy his mind except Xander and his failed relationship with the man.

***

Xander fiddled with the key hanging from the chain around his neck. He hadn't taken it off since the night Spike had put it on him. He'd thrown out his old Reload CD as well, and kept Spike's. If those were the only things he could keep to remind him of his time in Sunnydale, then there was no way he was throwing them away.

He was still playing with the charm when the shrill ring of the phone broke him out of his reverie. He checked on Bran on his way to the kitchen, smiling at his son's antics. Bran was playing knights again, with his Lego castle, and ordering all his troops around. At least the boy wasn't brooding about Spike twenty-four seven the way Xander seemed to be.

"Hello?"

"...Hello, luv."

"Spike." Xander breathed more than spoke his name.

"Just wanted to make sure you made it home okay. Everything all right?"

"Yes." Xander swallowed against the lump in his throat. "How's Buffy?"

"She's good, Xan. Doc says she's out of danger, mostly," Spike answered, feeling awkward.

There was silence on both ends of the phone.

"Xan - "

"Spike - "

"You go first, luv."

"Spike, I, uhm, I just want you to know that we had a really great Christmas."

"I'm glad, Xan. I did, too. I...oh, sod it!" Xander winced at Spike's tone. "Why did you leave, luv?" The words came out in an almost pleading whisper, making Spike cringe at his own neediness.

"You know why, Spike."

"No, Xan, I - "

"Spike," Xander cut him off. "Look, I don't blame you, okay? It's not your fault you couldn't love Bran. Couldn't love me." The words trailed off into silence.

"What?" Spike was shocked. "What makes you think - "

"You don't have to say anything. We've only known each other for a couple of weeks. I couldn't expect you to...to have those kinds of feelings for me, for us. And I couldn't expect you to want to have a ready-made family either. It's my own fault that I - " Xander stopped himself from saying the words.

"That you what, luv?" Spike was leaning forward in his seat, as if he could understand Xan better somehow.

"You need me to say it, Spike?" Xander asked, letting out a self-deprecating chuckle. "Fine. It's my own fault that I fell in love with you."

Spike's heart stopped beating for just a second. "Xan, you love me?" he whispered.

"Yeah, well, I told you, you didn't have to say anything, Spike. I know," Xander gulped back the tears. "I know I'm not easy to love."

"No, Xan, I - "

"Spike, stop!" Xander couldn't take anymore. "I heard you that night. I know you have feelings for me, for Bran. Strong feelings. But that you aren't ready to be a father. I get that. You don't have to explain. I got out of your way to make things easier."

Xander could hear Bran rustling around in the next room. Knew that his son would be looking for dinner soon. He had to end the conversation now.

"I gotta start dinner, Spike. Thank you, well, thank you for calling. I hope Buffy gets better soon." Xander slammed the phone down before he broke down and started begging for things he couldn't have.

***

Spike was in a daze. Xander loved him! He knew he had a stupid grin on his face, but he didn't care. Xander loved him!

Then Spike came back to reality. Xander was gone. He thought Spike didn't love him. That he didn't want Bran. Spike was berating himself for being stupid enough to have said those words aloud. To have let Xander overhear and think the worst.

Yes, he was worried about being a permanent part of Bran's life, but not because he didn't love either of them enough. More like he loved them too much.

Three days apart. They'd only been gone for three days, but Spike was already miserable. He knew now that, no matter how insecure he felt about raising Bran, it didn't matter. He would rather be insecure and afraid with them in his life, than miserable without.

He was packing his bags within minutes.

***

Xander made quick work of dinner, throwing some spaghetti into a pot to boil and heating up ready-made sauce. He added a few meatballs to the mix and made a small salad.

"Daddy?"

Xander had been trying to get his mind off the conversation with Spike, quite unsuccessfully. But at least he'd brought himself back from the brink of tears before Bran had come in.

"Yeah, buddy?"

Bran's bottom lip started to quiver, and a fat tear fell from one eye. Xander was at his side in seconds, hugging him and asking what was wrong.

"We *sniffle* never finished *sniffle* my castle." Bran wiped at his nose with his sleeve.

"What castle, buddy?" Xander was confused, having just seen Bran playing with his castle in the living room.

"My castle at Will's house," Bran explained. He pulled away from his daddy to stare him in the eye. "We won't ever get to finish it, will we, daddy?"

"Oh, Bran." Xander pulled him close, tears rushing to his own eyes. He scooped Bran into his arms and carried him back to the living room where they could both snuggle on the couch.

"No, buddy," he answered finally. "We aren't going to finish the castle."

"Are we ever going to see Will again, daddy?"

Xander sighed heavily. "No, buddy, I don't think we are."

"Why not? Did I do something wrong?" Bran asked, all wide brown eyes.

"No, God, Bran, no!" Xander practically shouted. "It's not your fault. It's nobody's fault."

"Then why, daddy?"

"I don't know why, Bran. Sometimes things just happen. I don't think Will was ready to be a part of our lives like that."

"I don't understand, daddy." Bran burrowed deeper into Xander's embrace.

"I don't either, buddy." Xander hugged him tight. "But we still have each other. I love you, Bran." He leant forward and kissed the crown of Bran's head.

"I love you, too, daddy."

***

In the middle of packing his bags, it suddenly occurred to Spike that now might not be the best time to leave. What would he say to Joyce? Yeah, sorry your daughter, my best friend, is possibly dying, but I have to go sort out my love life?

But how could he not go?

He sat down heavily on his bed, wondering what to do. Not wanting to waste any more time, he decided to go to the one person he could always trust. He packed the rest of his bags, threw them into the boot of his car and headed to his da's house.

***

After tucking Bran in, Xander placed a soft kiss on his son's forehead. He inched out of the room, closing the door behind him quietly.

He really had to go shopping. He would be starting back at work in a few days and he needed a few new sets of costumes and whatnot. He called over to Tara to ask if she could come by and watch Bran for a few hours tomorrow while he went out.

She was happy to agree, so Xander began to make a list of things he'd need. Not only costumes for work, but some new things for Bran as well. Maybe this would take both their minds off Spike. He sighed, knowing that wasn't going to be true for a long time, but at least he could keep himself occupied for a bit.

He went to bed, hoping that the ache in his chest would go away eventually.

***

Spike was frustrated. He'd spoken with his da, who'd reassured him that Joyce would not be the least bit upset at his going. That she understood, and in fact wanted Xander back as much as anybody.

And now that he'd finally gotten to the airport, there weren't any flights to Las Vegas until morning. Too keyed up to go back home, he bought his ticket and planted himself in one of the gate's uncomfortable plastic chairs to wait.





Part Fifteen
Trying to Forget



Xander left as soon as Tara arrived. Normally he sent Bran over to Tara’s while he worked, but since she was going to be watching him all day, plus during his shift tonight, he’d asked if she would mind being at his place. That way Bran could nap in his own bed and wouldn’t have to lug over enough toys to last a whole day.

Bran was cheerier, but still a bit subdued. Xander was cursing himself left and right for having gotten involved with Spike in the first place. Bran was hurt and confused because of it, though Xander couldn’t blame anyone but himself. He’d known how it was going to turn out from the beginning.

Still brooding, Xander entered one of his favorite adult shops. He headed straight for the thongs, needing to replenish his supply. This store was great because they had a running special that if you bought five you’d get the sixth for free. So Xander would stop in periodically to check out their new designs and pick up a few pairs.

A bright red thong caught his eye and he reached for it, only to have it snatched away before he could grab it. Brown eyes met brown when he looked up at the offending shopper.

“These would look great on you.” The other man swung the thong on one finger. He held out his free hand for a shake. “I’m Riley. What’s your name?”

“Xander. And thanks.” Xander offered as an afterthought, shrugging he continued to sift through the merchandise.

“Tell you what,” Riley stepped close, leaning down to whisper in Xander’s ear, “I’ll let you have the thong, if you let me have your phone number.”

“Not interested. Thanks.” Xander didn’t bother to look up from his shopping.

“Okay then.” Riley threw the thong back on the pile. “How ‘bout just a quick fuck, then?”

Xander rolled his eyes. Couldn’t this guy see he wanted to be alone? “Look.” Xander turned to face Riley. “It’s nothing against you. I’ve just come out of a relationship, sort of,” Xander corrected himself. “And I just don’t...I’m just not interested.”

Instead of retreating, Riley came closer. He trailed a forefinger along Xander’s cheek before responding. “Could help you forget,” he coaxed. “Don’t worry, I’m not interested in anything long term. Just looking for a good lay.” Riley whispered a kiss against Xander’s cheek. “What do you say?”

Xander studied him for a moment. Brown wavy hair, broad shoulders, kind of beefy build. He was nothing like Spike. Xander’d had his fair share of one night stands, but the last was over a year ago. Maybe this was what he needed to help him forget? To remind him who he was and the type of man he should expect in his life. The fleeting, good time guy. Just like the one standing in front of him. A guy Xander couldn’t, wouldn’t, expect anything more from.

He found himself nodding, but he felt more like a spectator watching himself make the silent agreement. Before Riley could pull him into any kind of embrace, Xander stepped away. “Okay, but you’ll have to meet me at the club tonight. I’ve got to be at work in about 20 minutes.”

“Club?”

“The Gentleman’s Club for Men. It’s over on 87th.” Xander continued when Riley nodded, “My shift’s from six to nine. Can you meet me?”

“So you’re a dancer, huh?” Riley leered. “This keeps getting better and better. Hell yes, I’ll meet you.” Riley grabbed Xander’s hip and pulled him close.

Xander let the other man kiss him, trying hard not to think about Spike. When they broke apart he gave Riley a tentative smile and then left, heading toward the club.

***

Tara was reading Bran’s new favorite book, SkippyJon Jones, to him when the doorbell rang. She smiled at Bran, moving the book to his lap so that he could look at the pictures while she answered the door. “Be right back, honey.”

“Hello,” Tara greeted the stranger at the door.

“I...I’m sorry, miss. I think I’ve got the wrong apartment.” The man’s eyes darted to the apartment number on the door.

“Oh, are you looking for Xander? I’m afraid he’s out right now.” The man’s shoulders slumped and he whooshed out a tired breath. “You must be Will.”

Spike’s hope flared. “Xan told you about me?”

Tara shook her head, hair falling softly across her cheeks. “No, I’m sorry. But Bran talks about you a lot. And it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.”

Shoulders slumped again, but then Tara watched as Will’s whole face brightened when Bran came barreling past her and into Will’s arms.

“Bit!”

“Will!”

They hugged each other tight for a moment. Tara could see how much Will cared for Bran, and it made her smile, though she wondered what had gone on between the three of them. Neither Bran nor Xander had been themselves since their return.

Still holding Bran, Spike straightened. “You can call me Spike. Xan just didn’t want the bit to call me that, so he gave him my real name.”

“Okay, would you like to come in?” Tara stepped out of the way.

“Uhm,” Spike put Bran back down, patting him lightly on the arse, “Bit, why don’t you go on back inside. I promise to spend some more time with you, but right now I have to find your da, okay?”

“Okay. But you’ll be back?” Bran’s eyes looked so hopeful, yet wary, that Spike had to take him back into his arms.

“I promise, Bran.” Spike kissed the boy’s forehead before releasing him and straightening back up. He sent a pleading expression Tara’s way. “Can you tell me where he is?”

"Daddy's at work!" Bran tugged on his sleeve. "Are you going to see daddy at work?"

"Yeah, luv, I guess I am," Spike answered when Tara nodded in agreement.

"Okay." Bran nodded solemnly. "Are you gonna come home with him?"

"I hope so, bit." Spike smiled encouragingly.

"Good!" Bran announced, making Spike and Tara chuckle.

"Do you know where the club is?" Tara asked.

"Yeah, been there before, thanks." He ruffled Bran's hair one more time before stepping back. "I'd better go. We've got a lot to talk about."

"Good luck," Tara called out, shutting the door behind him.

***

Xander was dancing his last set of the night when he saw Riley walk in the door. The other man sat at the bar, facing the stage and watched Xander intently. He could almost feel Riley's gaze as if it were a physical caress. He shuddered, goosebumps rising all over his skin as Riley continued his steady stare.

When the music ended, he went back to the dressing rooms to clean up. Xander ruthlessly suppressed the anxiety he was feeling. This wasn't the first one night stand he'd ever had, damn it! And there was no reason for him to feel guilty. He wasn't cheating on Spike. They weren't even together anymore. Hell, they'd never really been together to begin with.

It was all wishful thinking. Xander's fantasy almost come to life; the family, the love. Everything he'd ever dreamed about. Spike had tempted him with. Had made him believe he might actually have. Might actually deserve. But in the end it all came crashing down. Just like he knew it would.

So there was no reason to feel guilty. He wasn't about to betray anyone. There was no one to betray. No one who would care one way or another.

He stepped back out into the club letting his eyes readjust to the darkened room. Riley was still there, sitting on the same stool. Xander walked over, swaying his hips invitingly. Trying to show Riley that he was still interested.

"Thanks for coming." Xander said, taking the stool next to Riley's. The other man's hand stole out to caress his thigh.

"Of course. Wouldn't have missed seeing you for anything." Riley leaned forward and captured Xander's lips. "You were gorgeous."

Xander was still trying to shake the feeling that he was doing something wrong, something illicit. Grabbing hold of Riley's hand he tugged, pulling him on to the dance floor. "Come on. Want to dance with you. Feel you against me," Xander coaxed.

They swayed together, bodies rubbing, hands roaming. Xander tried to lose himself in the music. Tried to forget that he was with Riley and not with Spike. Unfortunately every time he closed his eyes, he saw Spike's bleach blond hair and icy blue eyes. His heart ached. He could feel Riley's hands grasping his hips, pulling him closer. Riley's erection brushed against him, making the other man let out a husky moan.

"Xan, let's go back to my place," Riley urged.

And just like that Xander's semi-hard cock deflated. Xan. No one had ever called him that before, not until Spike had pushed his way into Xander's life uninvited. And suddenly it was painfully clear that Xander couldn't go through with it. He couldn't sleep with Riley. He couldn't sleep with anyone, not now, and not for a long time.

He pulled away from Riley, expression apologetic. "I'm sorry. I can't go through with this. I'm really sorry." Pushing his way through the crowd he headed for the backstage door. Unbeknownst to him, Riley followed.

***

Spike scanned the stage, searching for Xander, but came up empty. On his way to the bar to ask if Xander would be coming on soon, he spotted him; or rather, he spotted them.

Spike felt himself stop breathing altogether. Watching Xander grind against another man. Seeing him being fondled, caressed, Spike wanted to scream.

He watched with jaw clenched and hands fisted at his sides while they danced. He saw Xander pull away, and head toward the back, the other man following. He supposed they were looking for more privacy. It certainly looked like they wanted to be alone.

Spike wanted to hit something. No. He wanted to hit that man. The brunet hitting on Xander, touching Xander. Fuck! Spike was torn between following them and breaking up their little party, and escaping before he could humiliate himself.

Had Xander been lying when he'd said he loved Spike? Why? What would make him lie? Spike shook his head. Nothing. There was no reason for Xander to say it if it hadn't been true. Spike found himself moving toward the backstage door before he even realized what he was doing.

***

"I said no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lead you on."

Spike heard Xander's voice, relief at the words flooding through him. Xander wasn't about to do anything with that guy. Was in fact trying to get away from him.

"What are you? Some kind of cock-tease? You think you can just get me all hot and horny them leave me high and dry? I don't think so!"

Spike sped down the hall, he burst in the room just as Xander hauled off and punched the other man in the nose, sending him tumbling to the floor.

"Spike!" Xander was shocked. Spike was the last person he expected to see here.

"Xan, luv, are you okay?" Spike's glance darted from Xander to Riley and back.

At the sound of his nickname Xander broke. His eyes began to fill with tears, but he blinked them back furiously, refusing to let them fall. "He... I... I'm sorry!"

Spike raced toward him, wrapping his arms around the trembling man and holding him close. "Shhh, luv. I know." Spike kissed Xander's forehead softly, letting his lips linger. "I know, luv."

"Spike, what are you doing here?" Xander whispered though he made no move to escape Spike's embrace.

"Xan, you never let me explain. You left before I could tell you. And then you wouldn't let me say anything when I phoned." Spike admonished softly. "I needed to see you. Wanted to tell you - "

"Spike!"

Both men went crashing to the ground. Xander scrambled up as Riley wrestled with Spike on the floor. He made a move toward them, wanting to help, when Spike let out a furious growl. His whole body undulated, throwing Riley off. In the next heartbeat Spike had Riley pinned beneath him, teeth bared, expression furious.

"Stay away from Xander, you hear me git? If I ever see you near him again, I'll rip your bollix off! Understand?"

Riley blinked, nodding stupidly. He didn't say a word when Spike let him up. Glancing once at Xander he beat a hasty retreat at the sound of Spike's threatening growl.

"Spike, I'm sorry." Xander's expression was crestfallen. He knew that Spike must have seen them together. Must have followed them both backstage.

Spike took Xander's hand in his, thumb caressing a warm palm. "No apologies, luv. I know why you did it. And I know you couldn't go through with it." He leaned forward to taste Xander's lips. "Thank you for that, Xan. For thinking of me in the end."

"Spike," Xander sighed. "I never stopped thinking about you."

"Xan," Spike murmured, capturing his lips once more. They kissed deeply, for several minutes. Spike nibbled at Xander's lips, caressing him with his tongue, before finally pulling away. He stared into Xander's eyes, blue meeting dazed brown, before declaring quietly, "I love you."





Part Sixteen
Love and Kisses



Xander pulled away, reflexively. "But you - "

"What? But I what, Xan?" Spike encircled Xander's wrist before he could completely get away.

Xander's mind was spinning. He'd already convinced himself that Spike didn't love him. The possibility that Anthony had been right and that he was truly unlovable had become, in Xander's mind at least, a known fact. So he must have misheard. His stupid mind playing tricks on him again.

"No." Spike knew what Xander was thinking. "Don't do that. You heard me. I love you. I'll say it as many times as I have to for you to believe it."

"But, I - "

"No." Spike put a finger against Xander's lips to stop any more protests. "You didn't hear the whole conversation, Xan." He maneuvered Xander over to the small couch, keeping a firm hold of his hand. "I. Love. You." He enunciated every word carefully, kissing Xander between each syllable. "And I love Bran, too. Don't you see, luv? That's why I was afraid. Why I wasn't sure I wanted things to be permanent. I love Bran, don’t want to bollix him up. I don't know the first thing about being someone's da." Spike paused before continuing in a hushed voice, "Don't want to bollix you up, either, luv."

Xander couldn't speak. He just stared at Spike in wonder, hope filling his wide, brown eyes.

Spike kissed the palm of Xander's hand, never breaking eye contact. "Fear, luv. That's all. Don't ever think that you aren't lovable, or worth loving." They kissed again, sweet and chaste. "Gods, I think I fell in love with you the very first time I looked into your eyes." Spike cupped Xander's cheek, rubbing his thumb gently along the skin just below Xander's eye.

They sat there for a long moment, neither wanting to move and break the spell. Finally Xander spoke. "We should probably get back. Bran might be worried."

"No worries, Xan. I told Bran and that Tara bint that we had a few things to discuss," Spike reassured him, though he stood, tugging on Xander's hand. "But you're right. Want to get you home. Want to talk in private. Want to make up with you proper."

The last statement made Xander look up sharply. He was intrigued to find Spike blushing.

***

Though Xander had taken a later shift than normal, Bran was still awake when they'd gotten home. From the sheepish look Tara gave them, Xander figured Bran refused to sleep until Spike kept his promise and came back to see him.

The moment they walked in the door, Bran was rushing toward Spike.

"Will!" Spike swung Bran up into his arms. "You came back!"

"I promised, didn't I?"

Bran didn't answer, but snuggled closer.

After thanking Tara and seeing her out, Xander returned to find Bran snuggling with Spike on the couch.

"I missed you."

The whispered words coming from his son's lips caused Xander's heart to lurch.

"Missed you, too, bit," Spike assured him, kissing the top of his head.

It took Xander a moment to swallow the lump in his throat. Regretfully, he informed Bran it was time for bed. "It's late, buddy."

"But daddy, Will just got here! Can't I stay up extra?" Bran turned his puppy dog eyes on, but Xander resisted. He had, after all, built up a small immunity over the years.

"Sorry, Bran." He bent to scoop his son out of Spike's arms.

"Wait, luv." Spike pulled Bran closer. "How 'bout I put the little blighter to bed? Can read him a story, as well, yeah?"

Xander nodded, giving silent assent, unsure of how steady his voice would be. He watched Spike carry Bran into his bedroom and listened to the soft voices as he made his way into the kitchen to brew some coffee.

God, he couldn't believe that Spike was really here. If he was dreaming he was going to be royally pissed off when he woke up. But everything was too vivid, too real. It couldn't be a dream. It had to be reality.

He must have been lost in thought for quite awhile, because before he knew it Spike's arms were wrapping around his waist and pulling him into a loose embrace. They fitted together, Spike pressed against his back, and just stood, silent.

Finally, Xander sighed, turning so that they could face one another. "Spike, what are we going to do?"

"What do you mean, luv?" Spike couldn't resist giving Xander a swift peck on the nose.

He smiled at the gesture, wrapping his own arms more tightly around Spike. "I mean, how are we supposed to make this work? We live thousands of miles apart."

Spike trailed a finger over Xander's cheek, willing away the sad expression he wore. "Xan, the last few days have been 'ell, thinkin'... well, thinkin' that you left because you overheard me that night." Spike shook his head and looked away.

Xander's expression changed to one of puzzlement. "But I did. I'm sorry, I didn't hear the whole thing, Spike. I'm sorry I left like that."

Chuckling, Spike turned back, face tinged a dusky pink. "It's the part you missed I was afraid you'd heard." He chuckled again at the irony. "I told my da and Joyce that I loved you. You and Bran. Was afraid you'd heard and cut out. Thought I'd buggered the whole thing up."

"Oh, Spike! No, I'm sorry. God, how could you think - ? I mean I can't even believe that you do - "

Spike put a finger to Xander's lips to silence him once more. "Shh, luv. You know now that I do, yeah?"

Xander nodded, Spike's warm finger still pressed gently against his lips.

"So let's just take a few to get used to the idea, hmm? You loving me. Me loving you." Spike kissed him between each sentence. "Before we go predicting doom, okay, luv?"

It was hard to argue with that kind of logic. Especially since Xander's brain had pretty much shut down now that the kissing had deepened into a kind of heavy petting. His hands moved of their own volition, taking in Spike's form, crushing their bodies closer.

Spike let out a strangled groan at the first brush of denim covered cocks. He thrust forward, instinctively seeking more of the delicious friction as he let Xander take over the kiss he'd initiated. God, he was so hard. And so ready. Did Xander know that?

Spike pulled away for a fraction of a second, long enough to whisper harshly, "Bed, luv?"

Xander paused halfway toward pulling Spike back against him. Was he saying what Xander thought he was saying? "Spike, are you sure? I mean, it's okay if you want to wait." When Spike didn't answer right away, Xander fidgeted, wondering if he'd assumed too much. "Or, did you mean you just wanted to go to sleep?"

Spike gave a strangled laugh. He caught hold of Xander's hand and brought it down against the bulge pushing against his zipper. "Does that feel like I just want to go to sleep, Xan?"

"No."

"Shall we then, luv?"

Xander fought back against the tide of arousal threatening to swamp him. He wanted to be able to think clearly, to be gentle, and to make sure that Spike enjoyed every second of his first time.

"Is something wrong, Xan? Are you worried about Bran?" Spike hadn't considered the fact that Bran would be sleeping only a few doors down. Maybe Xander didn't want to have sex while Bran was home?

Xander started at the question. God, he hadn't even thought about Bran! Lost in the moment, swamped by want, he hadn't thought beyond the shock of finally having what he'd dreamed of since the moment he'd seen that first shock of blond hair through his peephole.

"I... I don't know." Xander's shoulders slumped. "I've never brought anyone home before. I mean, he doesn't usually wake up in the middle of the night, but I’m not sure."

"We don't have to do anything tonight, Xan. I," Spike looked down at his shoes shyly. "Just wanted you to know I was ready, luv. If you want me."

"God, Spike! Of course I want you!" Xander bit at his bottom lip. "I...does it make me a bad dad if I say I want you enough to risk it?"

"No, luv." Spike leaned forward and kissed Xander sweetly. "Millions of parents are out there right now doing exactly what we want to do. Nothing wrong with that." Spike didn't voice the thought that if he had his way they'd have to figure something out sooner or later, because he was going to stick around for the rest of his life if Xander would have him. And they couldn't leave the house every time they wanted to shag.

Chuckling softly, Xander pulled away. "I think you're a little biased."

Spike smirked. "Might be at that, luv. But 's true, you know. Parents do it all the time. They don't all get baby-sitters whenever they want a shag."

"You're right, I know. I guess I'm just being silly. This is a first for me, too, you know." Xander smiled. "God, I've never even met anyone I wanted to introduce to Bran, let alone sleep with while he was in the apartment."

"I know, Xan. Thank you." Spike took both Xander's hands in his and just held them.

"Why don't we just go and get ready for bed, then see what happens, okay? I'm just gonna go check on Bran, make sure he's sleeping all right."

Spike released Xander's hands, grabbing the duffel he'd brought instead.

By the time Xander locked up the apartment for the night, Spike was already under the covers. Xander smiled as he walked in, loving the sight of Spike there in his bed. He undressed quickly, throwing on a pair of boxers before sliding in next to his love. A sappy thought, but it gave Xander a thrill to say it, even just in his own head.

"What are you smiling at, luv?" Spike asked, wanting to know what had put such a beautiful expression on Xander's face.

"Just thinking."

"Thinking what, Xan?"

Xander blushed, ducking his head. "Just thinking that I can call you love, now. You know, cause that's what you are. My love." He smiled sheepishly, daring to look up into Spike's eyes. "It's okay to say, cause you know. And you don't mind."

Spike didn't know what to say. The look on Xander's face, the fact that it was okay cause he 'didn't mind', said so much about Xander's past that it was almost a physical pain. Spike didn't have the words so he just pulled Xander close and kissed him.

Xander's mouth opened almost immediately upon contact. And Spike didn't hesitate to push his way through, exploring Xander thoroughly.

It wasn't long before hands were moving, and legs were entwined. Spike groaned at the feel of Xander's hard cock rubbing up against his leg. His thrusting rhythm made Spike buck and reach for Xander's boxers. Pushing them down until he was naked, and Spike could feel the wet tip of his erection poking at his trembling thigh.

"Luv," Spike's voice was hoarse. "Is this - I mean, are you okay? Can we - ?"

"Yes," Xander groaned, pulling Spike closer. Pushing and tugging until Spike was naked against him. Reaching down, he covered Spike's dick with a warm hand, cupping and squeezing until his lover whimpered.

"Are you sure you want to do this tonight, Spike?"

"More than, luv. More than," Spike assured him, wanting to feel more of Xander, wanting more than anything for Xan to make love to him. "Please."

Xander leant forward for another quick peck on the lips before moving downward. He kissed his way down Spike's jaw and neck, until he reached his chest. Xander spent some time licking and tasting Spike's skin before zeroing in on a nipple.

When Xander latched onto a nipple Spike closed his eyes to focus on the sensations. He'd never in a million years thought he'd ever be here, in another man's bed being pleasured and loved. But here he was. And all he wanted was more.

The feel of Xander above him, the rasp of his tongue on his skin had Spike throbbing almost painfully. He wanted more, wanted Xander inside him. "Please, Xan."

"What, Spike? What do you want?" Xander teased, his hand wandering further down Spike's body. "Want me to touch you here?" He grabbed Spike's cock and pulled. "Or here?" Fingers gently probed at Spike's opening.

"Yes! Oh, fuck! Yes, Xan. Please!" Spike spread his legs wide, begging Xander to touch him, to fill him.

Xander reached his free hand over to the bedside table, opening the tiny drawer there. He pulled out a small tube, and squeezed some lube onto a finger. "Tell me if I hurt you," he whispered, before gently pushing in one thick digit.

Oh, God! Spike didn't know what he was feeling. He pushed back against Xander's finger, forcing back the slight burn of pain. It didn't matter. Only having Xander there, inside him mattered, but he couldn't hold back the tiny whimper.

"Are you okay?" Xander stopped, letting Spike adjust to the intrusion. "Spike?"

Spike eyes blinked open. "Fine, luv. Keep going, yeah?" He closed his eyes again, willing his sphincter to relax and stretch.

Slowly Xander pushing in all the way, then began thrusting slowly in an out. After a minute or so, once he'd felt Spike's tunnel relax against him, he added a second finger and began to scissor them wide.

Fuck! Spike felt stuffed full, and these were just Xan's fingers! What was it going to feel like to have Xan inside him? His hard cock pressing in and out, filling him?

Spike was tight, and Xander worried that he wouldn't be able to take him without a lot of pain. But he kept going, adding some more lube and a third finger. He'd wait as long as it took for Spike to get used to the fullness, the stretching. He wanted this to be good for him, to show him that they could be good together.

While he prepared Spike, Xander set about tasting every bit of skin he could get his lips and tongue on. He loved the taste of Spike. The salty sweat mixed with the man's own unique flavor. He dipped down once or twice to take Spike's cock in his mouth, but moved off as soon as Spike showed any sign of cumming too soon.

Oh, God! Spike was going crazy. Xander was all over him, above him, inside him. And he wasn't sure he could take much more. He'd been on the edge for what felt like hours, and Xander still hadn't taken him completely. He didn't want to cum until Xander was buried to the hilt, balls deep inside of him.

"Xan, luv, now. Please. Now, luv," Spike begged.

Xander pulled his fingers out, grabbing the lube to slick up his cock. "Sure you're ready, Spike?" Xan asked, not wanting them to rush if Spike wasn't fully prepared.

"Fuck, yes! Please!"

"Maybe you should turn over onto your stomach? Make it easier?" Xander suggested.

Spike shook his head. "Want to see you, luv. Want to watch you make love to me."

Nodding, Xander positioned himself, the fat mushroom head of his cock pushing against Spike's opening. He pulled Spike's legs up so that they were over his shoulders, opening him wide. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pressed forward. "This is the hardest part, okay? Just try to relax, until I can get the head through, okay?"

Spike nodded, his face tensing with pain as Xander breached the tight ring. Xan leaned forward to kiss the pained expression away as he pushed even further in. Finally, he felt a tiny give as Spike accepted the tip of his cock.

They both groaned, Xander having the presence of mind to stop and wait for Spike to adjust. "Bear down on me, it'll make it easier for you," Xander instructed as he began to push forward once more.

The tightness increased for a moment, making Xander worry, but then suddenly his cock was sliding in, his balls slapping against Spike's ass.

"Fuuuck!" Xander groaned. "Spike, you feel so good. So tight. God!"

Spike couldn't speak. He felt so full, so incredibly stuffed that he wanted to cry out, but found that his voice had deserted him. He wanted Xander to move, to thrust in and out of him until they were both cumming hard. But he couldn't say the words. Couldn't say anything. So instead he tightened his muscles around Xander's cock and thrust his hips, hoping to give Xander a hint of what he wanted.

"Aaah!" Xander shouted at the feel of Spike's tunnel contracting around him. He began to move slowly at first. Then quickened his pace as he realized Spike wasn't in any pain. He changed his angle, wanting to hit Spike on his sweet spot, give him the maximum pleasure possible.

"Holy fuck, Xan!" Spike finally found his voice. Crying out just as Xander hit something inside him, something incredible, something that made his whole body light on fire.

"Feel good, Spike?" Xander's thrusts became increasingly frantic. "Like that? Like me inside you, touching you there?" Xander reached down to grasp Spike's leaking cock. Wanting to push the other man over the edge.

The moment Xander touched his dick he was erupting. He pulsed in Xander's hand, shooting cum all over the both of them, crying out as the orgasm was wrung out of him. "Xan!"

Seeing Spike cum, the wild way he abandoned himself to the sensations, made Xander's hips pump furiously. "Spike, God, that was beautiful. You're beautiful." Xander kissed him again, wanting to delve deep enough to taste Spike's soul. "Fuck, I love you." And within seconds he felt his cock throb and his own hot, sticky semen rushing to coat Spike's walls. He collapsed on top of Spike, exhausted.

"Lrudfou."

"Huh?" Xander moved off Spike, hoping to hear him better. Both men sighed as Xander slipped out.

Spike moved quickly to wrap Xander in a warm embrace, keeping him close. "Said, love you, too." He kissed Xander's forehead, then pulled back to smile at his lover. "Thank you, luv. That was... amazing."

"Thank you," Xander leaned forward for another kiss. "For not letting me run away."

"I'll always come after you, Xan," Spike answered earnestly.

"I know." Xander's heart ached with its fullness.

They kissed languidly for a few more minutes before Xander got up to get some washcloths. After cleaning up briefly, they fell back into each other's arms. Snuggling close, they drifted off into dreams.





Part Seventeen
Nightmares and Realities



Xander flinched as Anthony barreled towards him, closing his eyes and turning away in anticipation of the pain. When the blow landed he didn't cry out. The punch had flung him onto the floor, his jaw aching and his mouth tasting of blood.

He turned, not wanting to give Anthony the satisfaction of seeing any pain on his face. But all the breath whooshed out of him as he caught sight of the pair huddled in the corner.

Spike and Bran.

"NO!" His scream rent the air as he watched Anthony stalking toward them. He scrambled after the bigger man, but was too late. Anthony grabbed Spike by the throat, lifting him off the ground and shaking him hard. He threw the lighter man against the wall, knocking him unconscious.

"Spike! No! Bran!" Xander's heart was beating furiously as he tried to get to Bran before Anthony. But again he could only watch helplessly as his son was grabbed, shaken, and slapped across the face. Bran was crying out for him, his eyes wide and scared.

"Bran!!"


"Xander!" Spike shook Xander roughly, trying to wake him from his nightmare. "Xan, luv! Wake up!"

"Bran!"

Before Spike could wake Xander fully, Bran came barreling into the room, landing atop Xander's prone form and calling for him. "Daddy!"

Xander's eyes snapped open and he let out a strangled sob, grabbing Bran and holding the boy in a crushing embrace.

"It's okay, daddy. I'm okay. I'm okay, daddy." Bran kept repeating the words as he hugged his daddy back. Xander nodded, but wouldn't release his hold.

"Luv?" Spike wasn't sure what to do, but he knew he had to touch Xander. To let the other man know he was there, that he wanted to help. Slowly he placed a hand on Xander's shoulder, moving it slowly up and down Xander's arm. Soothing as best he could.

With a final shudder, Xander loosened his hold and kissed the crown of Bran's head. "Thank you, buddy." His voice was shaky but he gave them both a tremulous smile to make up for it. "Why don't you go play in your room while we make breakfast, okay?"

"Are you sure, daddy?" Bran still looked worried, his eyes wide with concern. The image brought another shudder to Xander's already trembling form as it reminded him so keenly of the scared expression of his dream-Bran.

"Yeah, buddy. Don't worry about me, okay? Just a dream."

"Okay, daddy." Bran didn't look convinced but he stopped only long enough to give Xander a quick kiss on the cheek before climbing down. He lingered for just a moment before looking towards Spike, as if to reassure himself that the other man would stay and protect his daddy.

"Go on, bit. I'll take care of your da."

Nodding, Bran turned to go. "Love you, daddy."

"Love you too, buddy."

And then they were alone.

"You wanna talk about it, Xan?"

Xander shook his head, still trying to get the image of Bran's frightened expression out of his mind. But against his wishes his bottom lip began to tremble and his eyes moistened with tears. Before he knew it, Xander was bundled in Spike's warm embrace. His lover's accented voice washing over him in waves of comfort.

"I - Anthony was there. He hit me." Xander felt Spike's arms tighten around him. "But I didn't care. That didn't matter - "

"'Course it matters, luv!" Spike answered angrily.

"No, I mean, yes. Thank you." He turned and kissed one of the arms pinning him to Spike's side. "I only meant that, that wasn't the worst part for me. You were there. And Bran. He went after you, and I was too slow. I couldn't stop him. He got you, and he hurt you. And then Bran - " Xander choked on the words, unable to describe the horror of the scene that had played out in his mind.

"Shhh, luv." Spike rocked Xander in his arms, wishing he could do more for his lover. "Just a dream, Xan. He can't hurt you anymore. Shhh. Can't hurt Bran. Can't hurt me. Can't hurt anyone, luv."

"It was horrible, Spike."

"I know, luv." Spike wanted to protect Xander even from his nightmares. "I'll never let him hurt you again, Xan, no matter what. You and Bran are safe, you know that, right, luv?"

Xander shook his head. "What happens when you go back to Sunnydale, Spike? When you leave us?"

Spike wished they could be having this conversation some other time, when Xander wasn't so raw from his dream. But he knew he had to address the issue now that Xander had brought it up. "Come with me, luv. I've got plenty of room. We don't ever have to be apart again, Xan."

"Spike, we just met and you're asking me to move in with you? Besides, what about my job? How am I supposed to support Bran if I don't have a job?"

"You can find another job in Sunnydale, Xan. 'Sides, wasn't keen on you stripping for other blokes, anyway. And I love you. Doesn't matter whether we've known each other two weeks or two years. I - I thought you loved me, too?" Spike's expression was a mixture of fear and vulnerability, tugging at Xander's heart.

"I do love you, Spike. God, of course I do." Xander rushed to reassure him. "I...I just don't know. Moving like that, to a whole other state, it's a big deal. And...I'm afraid. Anthony and Jessica, they live, or at least they used to live, in the San Fernando Valley. It's not that far from Sunnydale, and what if..."

"Won't let them hurt you, Xan, ever," Spike cut him off with a vehement promise.

"I know, Spike, but I can't hide behind you forever. And I'm tired of being afraid. I know it doesn't seem...well, I try to hide it from Bran, and you, and even myself. But I can't stop the dreams. Can't stop the moment of panic whenever there's a knock on the door I wasn't expecting." Xander turned away, embarrassed.

"Don't, luv." Spike cupped Xander's chin and turned him back. "Don't turn away from me. You don't have to be embarrassed, Xan."

"I think I need to," Xander gulped at what he was about to suggest, "I think I need to confront this, confront them. I need to know that they can't push me around anymore. That I'm not that little kid Anthony can beat up and scare into obedience." He turned dark brown pools of fear and apprehension on Spike. "Am I crazy? Should I just leave well enough alone?"

"Xan, I don't know what you should do. Wish I could tell you how to make everything right." Spike shook his head, wanting to give Xander more than he was able. "But whatever you decide, luv, I'll help you." He leaned forward to give Xander a chaste kiss. "Whatever you need, luv."

"Thank you."

***

Bran bounced into the kitchen just as Xander was pulling out the frying pan and Spike was rummaging about in the refrigerator.

"Can we have eggs, huh? Scrambled? Please?"

"Sure, buddy," Xander answered absently, holding his hand out for the butter to grease the pan.

Spike handed over the small tub, then pulled out the eggs and bowl. He broke five eggs and whisked them quickly, just in time to hand them over to Xander before the butter browned.

Spike pulled the salt and pepper off the small round kitchen table and stepped up to sprinkle the seasonings into the egg mixture, which Xander was carefully stirring in the pan.

As he handed the spatula over to Spike so that he could grab the orange juice and glasses, Xander marveled at the homey domesticity of their morning scene. It was as if they'd been waking up together for years, already anticipating each other's needs.

Xander loved it. He wanted it. Every morning. For the rest of his life.

He watched Bran carefully, weighing the consequences of speaking up in his mind before clearing his throat.

"Bran?"

"Yeah, daddy?"

Xander sneaked a glance at Spike, finding only silent encouragement. "How would you feel about going back to Sunnydale?"

"You mean to visit Mr. Giles? And Grandma?"

"No, buddy." Xander shook his head, wondering how to explain. He shifted his chair closer so that he was able to take hold of Bran's hand and pull his attention away from breakfast. "I mean to live, Bran. To live with Will."

Xander looked to Spike, who moved forward to take Bran's other hand. "Would you like that, bit? Living with me?"

To Xander's complete horror Bran turned large, round, tear-filled eyes back toward him. "Don't you want me anymore, daddy?" Bran sniffled his query.

"Oh, God!" Xander scooped Bran into his arms and held him close. "Of course I do, buddy! I love you. I'll always want you."

"Then why *sniffle* are you sending me away?"

"Oh, Bran. I'm not sending you away. I'm sorry, buddy, I didn't mean to confuse you. When I asked if you wanted to live with Will, I meant the both of us. You and me, Bran." Xander couldn't believe he'd screwed up this conversation so badly. His heart had nearly broken at the sight of Bran's tears and his whispered words.

"Oh." Bran sniffled once more before turning toward Spike. "Does that mean you want me too, Will?"

"Yeah, luv. I want you. You and your da. That okay, Bran?"

"Do you love my daddy?"

Spike looked at Xander, his expression softening. "Yeah, I do."

Bran studied him for a moment before finally answering with a quiet, "Okay."

Relief flooded through both adults as the tension in the room eased. "I'm glad, luv," Spike told Bran as Xander placed him back in his seat.

They finished breakfast in silence.

***

In the following week Spike called home to check on Buffy and let his own da know of their plans. To his relief Buffy was recovering nicely, relieving him of a large measure of guilt he'd been carrying since leaving Sunnydale to go after his own happiness.

Giles, of course, was excited that his son was finally settling down, and Joyce was more than happy to know that Xander would be returning; hopeful that her son would give her a second chance to be a part of his and Bran's life.

The only thing yet to be resolved was Xander's own decision on the issue of his parents. Xander had given notice at work, and though he didn't like it, he agreed that Spike's income along with his own savings would tide them over until he could find another job. He was still a bit concerned, however, about what type of career he'd take up now that Spike had all but forbidden his return to exotic dancing. Truth be told, Xander would be happy to make a change, but was unsure of where his skills actually lay. But that was the least of his worries at the moment.

It hadn't taken much to square away Bran's schooling. With Giles' help they'd already enrolled him in a new school in Sunnydale, and though he'd miss Ms. Burkle, Bran was more than excited to meet new friends.

They were set to move out at the end of the month, Xander having given notice to the landlord that they were leaving. Tara had been over the previous night for a small going away party, and had even helped them pack a few more items.

Xander stood staring out the living room window at the Las Vegas skyline. The sun was just setting, bathing everything in a fiery orange. He'd miss the desert colors, but he was sure they were gaining more than enough to make up for the loss.

Warm arms wrapped around his waist as Spike pulled him back to rest against his chest. "Okay, luv?"

"Yeah, just taking a last look, you know?"

He felt a soft peck at his temple. "Love you."

"I love you, too, Spike."

They stood for a long moment just watching the sun fade over the horizon. As the room grew dark, Xander turned in Spike's arms to rest his head on his lover's shoulder.

"Do you think your dad will watch Bran for a few days once we get back?"

"'Course, luv."

"Will you come with me?"

Spike's hold tightened, practically squeezing the air from Xander's lungs. "Told you I'd help, luv. Whatever you need."

"Thank you." Xander nipped at Spike's neck, leaving a warm trail of kisses along his collarbone.

"Won't let them hurt you, Xan."

"I know."

They drew apart then, Xander taking Spike's hand to lead him back to the bedroom. When they got there Xander felt suddenly shy, and more than just a bit vulnerable.

"Spike, I...will you make love to me tonight?"

Spike's own heart was beating frantically at the thought of taking Xander for the first time. "You sure that's what you want, luv? Am I understanding you right, Xan? You want me to make love to you...to be the one to...to take you?"

"Yes, Spike. Please?"

Spike pulled Xander to him, kissing him deeply. "You'll have to guide me, luv. You know I've never..."

"I know, Spike." Xander kissed him back. "Thank you."

Spike couldn't help the chuckle that burst out of him. "Jesus, Xan. You don't have to thank me for that."

Smiling, Xander reached up to begin unbuttoning Spike's shirt. They each took their time undressing the other, leaving small wet trails of kisses along arms, and across abdomens, before they were done.

Together they climbed onto the bed, Xander on his back, eyes wide, expression wanting. Wordlessly he reached over for the lube and handed it to Spike. He caressed Spike's hip as he watched the other man nervously spreading slick along two fingers.

Xander pulled his legs up, holding them open for Spike. He shivered at the feel of cool air against his now exposed hole. Spike's fingers played at his entrance, teasing but never fully breaching. When Spike looked up, Xander gave him an encouraging smile.

"Go ahead, Spike. Ease in slow. Once you've got both fingers in all the way, just sort of twist them and scissor them until you feel me loosen up, okay?"

Spike did as he was told, adding a third finger when Xander deemed it time. He was so hard and ready he didn't think this would last long, but he wanted to give Xander everything he could. Everything the other man wanted. He knew the fear of seeing his parents, and the major changes they were implementing in their lives, had Xander in need of reassurance.

Spike pulled his fingers out, using the remaining lube to grease his cock. He paused long enough to kiss Xander with as much passion and love as he could before positioning himself at Xander's entrance.

"Yes, Spike. Please. Inside me. Need you."

Spike pushed forward slowly. He felt as if the air was being squeezed out of his lungs just as his cock head breached Xander's opening. Heat bloomed around his penis as it was engulfed within Xander's body. The slick causing a tight suction as he pulled out slowly, only to push back in a moment later.

Each thrust drove him deeper into Xander making both men groan wildly. "Ah, luv. So good. So hot and tight. Never felt anything like it before, Xan. Love you. God, love you." Spike was dropping kisses on every bit of skin he could reach. Endearments poured out of him as the emotional storm inside of him crested.

"Love you, too, Spike. God, don't ever leave me, okay?" Xander's mind was thrown back to his painful youth. "Don't let Anthony scare you away. Don't let him make you hate me. Don't, please, Spike. Don't let him."

Spike interrupted Xander's anxious babbling with more kisses, slowing his thrusts down to an almost complete stop. He brushed aside the stray locks of hair on Xander's forehead, forcing the other man to open his eyes. "Never, luv. I'm not Doyle. I'm not some fifteen year old git he can scare away. Never gonna leave you, luv. Never gonna let him hurt you again."

Xander couldn't help the sob that escaped at Spike's heartfelt reassurances. At a loss for words, he tightened his hold on Spike and urged him into a faster rhythm. His lover began slowly at first, building speed until he was practically pounding Xander into the mattress.

"Spike!" Xander's orgasm came over him almost without warning. Spike's furious taking felt more like possession, and Xander reveled in it. His testicles drew up tight, and his cock shot strings of sticky cum over their joined bodies.

Soon after Spike followed him, the contractions around his cock too much for him to handle. He bucked almost uncontrollably into Xander's body. Spent and emotionally drained, they left arms and legs entangled as they lay together.

"Sorry, luv." Spike's cheeks colored with his chagrin. "Lost control, never meant to be so rough with you." He caressed Xander's nape with a thumb.

"No, Spike. I needed it. I loved it." Xander kissed his shoulder in reassurance. "Love you."

"Love you, too, Xan." Spike squeezed his lover to his side. "Know I'll give you whatever you need, luv. Will call da in the morning, let him know he'll be watching Bran for a few, yeah? No worries now, luv. Go to sleep. Need your rest."

Xander nodded gratefully, smiling as he felt a light kiss at his temple just before drifting off to sleep.





Part Eighteen
A New Life, an Old Demon



Xander stepped into their room, smiling as he took in all the changes. Pictures of Bran decorated their dresser drawer, and for some insane reason Spike had let him bring his ugly old barca lounger. It rested now in the corner of the room, making him laugh at the incredible clashing it did with the rest of the furniture.

But actually he knew why Spike had insisted he bring it. Spike had insisted because Spike knew what it meant to Xander. Yeah, it was ugly. Yeah, it was pretty uncomfortable, too. But it was the first piece of furniture Xander had ever been able to afford on his own. The first thing he'd bought after he'd left the Harrises for good. He'd even slept on it for weeks until he could afford a bed. Spike knew that, more than anything else, the lounger was a symbol, a reminder that Xander had been able to make it on his own.

Spike would be home soon; the thought made Xander smile. Home. Their home. He loved it. The fact that they were a family. That they had a home, though part of him still marveled at his ability to make such a commitment. After so many years of living apart, keeping his distance from the rest of world, he was amazed that Spike was able to touch his heart so swiftly.

Xander hadn't realized how lonely he'd been since he'd lost Willow. And he was nothing but grateful that Spike had been able to crack the shell he'd built to protect himself. He was startled out of his reverie by the sound of the front door clicking shut.

"Xan?" Spike called. Xander could hear him rustling around in the kitchen. "Brought dinner, luv."

And Xander could smell the enticing aroma of tangy Italian sauces. He stopped in Bran's room, knocking on the door before poking his head in. "Come on, Bran. Dinner's ready."

"Just one more minute!" Bran answered, eyes never leaving the screen as he maneuvered his racing car through several obstacles. "Please, daddy?"

He was such a sucker for his son's pleading voice. "Okay, buddy, but just *one* minute, okay?"

"Thanks, daddy!"

Xander joined Spike in the kitchen, stopping to grab some glasses and a kiss on his way to the table. "Mmm, hello."

"Hello, luv," Spike answered as he grabbed the plates and cutlery. "Have a good day?"

"Yeah, I might actually have found a job." Xander beamed a smile at Spike.

"I told you not to worry about that, Xan. There's plenty of time."

"I know." Xander shrugged. "But I hate not pulling my own weight, you know? Plus, I know it won't take long for me to get bored just staying at home."

"Well, whatever you want, luv. Just want you to know that whatever you decide is fine," Spike said, dishing out the pasta onto three different plates. "What's the job, anyway?"

"Oh, construction," Xander answered, dropping a piece of garlic bread on each plate. "I'm pretty good with my hands, and they said they'd give me some on the job training. And I figured physical labor is probably the way to go for me."

"So, they hired you right off?"

"No, not yet." Xander shook his head. "I still need to meet with the company boss, but the foreman on site said he thought I'd do fine. I also told them that I wouldn't be able to start for another week though." Xander quieted as he thought about why he couldn't start until next week.

They were dropping Bran off at Giles' tomorrow morning and then heading south towards the Valley. He was nervous as Hell, but he tried to hide it from Spike, knowing that the other man worried about him. He didn't know how long they'd be down there, what the confrontation would be like, or whether Anthony would just go ape shit and beat him to a pulp. So he'd told the foreman he wouldn't be able to start for a whole week. Just in case.

"Yay! Spaghetti!" Bran cried happily as he bounced into his seat. "Thanks, Will!"

"You're welcome, bit," Spike answered automatically, his mind still focused on Xander and the tense expression the other man wore. He reached across the table and took hold of Xander's hand, squeezing in an effort to comfort and soothe. "You okay, luv?"

Xander nodded, squeezing back. "Thanks, Spike."

With tomorrow's events looming ahead of them, dinner was a subdued event, except for Bran's animated description of his last great car race. Watching Bran made Xander's somber mood lift a bit. His son could almost always do that to him, lightening his heart with his innocent excitement and curiosity about everything around him.

"And then I hit this huge tree! The car blew up and everything!" Bran bounced in his seat.

"Doesn't that mean you lose, buddy?" Xander asked.

"No, daddy! You know why? 'Cause when you blow up your car a new one just shows up and you can start racing again! 'Cept by then you're almost always last, but still you get to finish the race!"

"Okay, bit, time for bed. Off with you. Your da and I will be in to read you a story in just a mo'."

"Okay." Bran jumped up, kissing first Xander then Spike before racing off to his room.

Spike turned to Xander when he heard his lover's sigh. "You sure you still want to do this, Xan?"

"No, but I have to." Xander was still staring down the hall that Bran had disappeared into. "If not for me, then for Bran. I love him too much to let my old fears and insecurities hurt him anymore."

"What do you mean, luv? You'd never hurt Bran."

"Not willingly, no," Xander answered finally, turning back to Spike. "But don't you see, Spike? Every time I wake up from a nightmare... Every time Bran has to comfort me... Every time he gets scared because he's not sure what's wrong - I hurt him. I... I don't want to do that anymore."

"Ah, luv." Spike wrapped his arms around Xander, holding him close. Their lips met briefly in a sweetly chaste kiss that left Xander feeling warm all over.

"Thank you, Spike."

They stayed in each other's embrace until they heard Bran calling to them. They separated only partially, walking down the hall with arms wrapped around each other's waists.

***

They'd dropped Bran off at Giles'. Joyce had been there as well, smiling and hugging Xander as if they'd been a family their whole lives.

Xander still mostly shied away from her, but he was trying. He knew how much it meant to both Spike and Bran. Spike had confessed that Joyce had been the mother he hadn't had ever since they'd moved to Sunnydale. And Bran was already calling her Grandma and telling her he loved her.

A part of Xander ached at the thought that Bran was coming to love other people, other people that were part of the 'family'. He'd had Bran to himself for so long that the idea hurt a bit. But he could see how happy Bran was, and so he kept his thoughts to himself.

Xander was broken out of his musings when Spike reached over to entwine their fingers as he drove. The touch made Xander smile. For once feeling as if he were a part of something, a part of someone. Though Xander was still wary of letting others into their lives, he hadn't been able to stop Spike. Hadn't been able to curb the feelings that had overwhelmed him as he got to know the other man.

"I love you."

Spike turned to smile at him, squeezing his hand. "Love you, too, Xan," he assured. "We don't have to see them today, luv. We can stop at the hotel, get a good rest then see them first thing. No need to rush, yeah?"

"I don't know, Spike. Maybe it's better to get it over with. I mean, I'm not sure I can wait another day. I'll just spend the whole night worrying, you know?"

"I'll distract you, luv." Spike leaned over quickly and kissed Xander's cheek.

"Hey, watch the road!" Xander teased, ineffectually batting at Spike. "I...I don't know. I guess we can stop at the hotel first and then see. Okay?"

Spike nodded, squeezing Xander's hand once more.

"What's the place called, anyway?" Xander asked, curious.

"The Hyperion."

***

Check-in was quick and easy, the desk clerk knowing Spike by sight.

"I stay in L.A. occasionally to meet with the higher-ups," Spike chuckled at Xander's puzzled look.

They were just turning towards the elevator with their luggage when a familiar voice rang out, "What the hell are you doing in my hotel?"

"Sod off, peaches," Spike shot back, making Xander wonder what was going on. Xander turned to find a broad-shouldered, dark-haired man smiling at them.

"I thought you were bringing your future wife this time." He grasped Spike's outstretched hand then clapped him on the back. "Where is she?"

"I never said that," Spike answered back, glancing furtively at Xander.

"You said you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her."

"Him. Angel, I said him." Spike tugged Xander forward. "This is Alexander. Xander, to most."

"Well, this is a surprise." Angel looked back at Spike. "When you emailed me you were in love with Alexander, I though you left off an "A" at the end or something."

Angel turned towards Xander, sizing him up. Then he smiled and held his hand out. "Lucky man. Every time I hit on him, he turned me down."

Xander shook hands with the man, still a bit confused over the conversation. But the fact that Spike had told someone that he wanted to spend his life with Xander had him melting inside. He'd actually told someone. A friend, it looked like.

He wasn't ashamed, or worried.

They said their good-byes to Angel, promising to meet for dinner before they headed back to Sunnydale, and then continued their way up to their room.

Xander beamed at Spike, leaning forward to kiss his cheek. "Thank you."

"For what, luv?"

"For giving us a chance." They kissed again, Spike quickly sliding the keycard in the lock. "And convincing me to give us a chance, too."

Spike dropped their bags just inside the door, as Xander flopped onto the bed. "Maybe we should wait until tomorrow. I'm already feeling kind of drained." He sighed.

The mattress dipped as Spike sat down next to him. "Sure, Xan. Let's rest up a bit. Then we can go to dinner, yeah?"

"That sounds good, Spike." Xander snuggled into Spike's embrace, letting himself drift lazily. He could tell that Spike was falling asleep, the rhythm of his breathing even and slow. Xander didn't think he could fall asleep anytime soon, but he was happy to spend a couple of hours just resting in Spike's arms.

They'd have to deal with the Harrises soon enough.





Part Nieteen
Conquering Old Fears



Xander woke to the feeling of soft lips pressed to his.

"Morning, lovely," Spike whispered.

"Mmmm," Xander murmured back, eyes still blinking sleepily. "What time is it?"

"Just after nine, luv, plenty of time to grab some brekkie before we go." Spike nibbled at Xander's bottom lip. Xander smiled, letting Spike have his way.

They'd had an extremely relaxing night. Spike had gone out and gotten some take away Indian food, then they'd eaten in bed. Xander was too keyed up to do much of anything, so Spike bought a pay-per-view movie, Bourne Identity, and they just snuggled for two hours while it played.

Xander had actually really enjoyed it. The story of a man confused about his own identity, unsure of his past. Xander felt like he could relate. Except without all the kung fu action moves and the explosions.

He sighed into Spike's kiss, thrusting up as Spike climbed atop him and aligned their groins.

Spike left Xander's lips to nibble down his chin and lick at his Adam's apple. "So, I'm breakfast, huh?" Xander arched a brow at his lover.

"Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Xan," Spike answered, moving down Xander's body to lave at his nipples. "Every day for the rest of my life."

"Ungh, Spike." Xander played with the curls at Spike's nape as the blond licked at his hardened nub. "E-every day?" Xander remembered the conversation they'd had with Angel the other night. "Did you really say that to Angel?"

Spike glanced up into Xander's questioning eyes. "Yeah," he answered tentatively. "That okay, luv?"

"Is that okay?" Xander asked in disbelief. "You're asking if that's okay?" Xander hauled Spike back up so that he could kiss him hard on the lips. "Jesus, Spike! It's more than okay, it's...it's like a...a fantasy or something." He stopped and took a moment to stare at Spike's face, as if memorizing his expression, or judging his sincerity. "You really want forever, Will?"

Spike's smile was almost shy as he ducked his head. Xander's use of his first name always made everything seem even more intimate than it already was. "Yes," he said simply, then rolled off the bed.

"Hey, where - " Spike was back before Xander could finish his question.

"I, uh, I got this for you - us, for us." Spike's hand shook as he reached into the pocket of the duster he'd just retrieved. "I know there's a lot of bollocks about gay rights, and marriage, and all sorts of other things I never really paid attention to before. But I don't think that has anything to do with us, yeah?" Spike pulled a rectangular box from his pocket and held it out.

"I don't need a judge, or priest, or any piece of paper telling me that I want forever with you, luv. I already know that." Spike opened the box to reveal a set of plain gold bands. "I just want other people to know, too. So even if it isn't necessarily legal...will you wear my ring, luv?"

Xander couldn't speak. And he could barely see through the tears.

"Oh, God, Xan. I know, it's really bad timing, I’m sorry, luv. You don't have to answer, I was a right git to even ask now." Spike shut the box with a snap and started to put it away.

Xander's hand landed on Spike's wrist before he could stuff the box back into his duster pocket. The fingers that closed around him were trembling, and Spike automatically placed his own atop them.

"I'm sorry."

"Stop saying that." Xander was finally able to get out the words, though they quavered slightly. "And don't put that away, please?"

Spike nodded, and turned back to his lover.

"I...I don't know what to say," Xander whispered, still in a bit of shock.

"Don't say anything, luv. We can just forget the whole thing, I didn't mean to - "

"Spike, shut up!" Xander cut him off. "I don't want to forget it. I want you to put that ring on my finger." He held out his hand and waited.

"Are you sure, Xan?" Spike's expression was hopeful and wary at the same time.

"Spike, I love you." Xander punctuated his words with a kiss. "I want everyone to know that I'm taken. And I especially want everyone to know that you're taken."

The grin that broke out across Spike's face was brilliant as he slid the gold band on Xander's finger. He placed the other band in the palm of Xander's hand, and his smile turned shy. "Would you, luv?"

Xander brought Spike's own palm up to his face and laid a gentle kiss in the center before sliding the matching band onto his love's finger to seal the deal.

They looked at each other for a long moment before Spike finally broke and took Xander's mouth hungrily. Xander's hands roamed his back; the cold metal of the gold band burned his skin. Spike broke away long enough to pull the lube from his other pocket and place it in Xander's hand. "Make love to me, Xan?"

Xander nodded, spreading the lube on his fingers and preparing Spike gently. He took his time, easing one finger in and out for several long minutes until Spike was squirming and begging for more. Xander continued to finger him, adding a second and nibbling at Spike's ass playfully.

Xander's cock was aching to be inside Spike, so he pulled out, turning Spike onto his back so they could face each other. He kissed his lover, rocking their groins together slowly, one hand rubbing and pinching at Spike's nipples before reaching for a condom. He ripped open the small foil package, but before he could move to put it on Spike grabbed it from him.

"Let me, luv." Spike whispered, and then did one of the most erotic things Xander had ever witnessed.

Spike placed the unrolled condom on the tip of Xander's cock, then shifted until Xander could feel warm breath caressing his prick. And then Spike's mouth was around him, teeth gently pushing the condom as his lover went down on him.

"Oh, God!"

Spike pulled off with a smug grin.

Without another word, Xander pushed Spike onto his back and lifted his legs over broad shoulders. He positioned himself at Spike's puckered opening, and pushed, eliciting a grunt from his lover.

"So good, Xan. Never get enough of you." Spike began a litany of praises and sweet endearments. "Forever, luv, you're mine. Not gonna let you go. Never gonna let you go, Xan. Love you."

Xander felt so full of emotion he didn't have the words. He was feeling so much at once, that the only way to express himself was through sweet touches and a gentle, soft rhythm as they made love. He rolled his hips, rubbing the tip of his cock against Spike's prostate while his hands roamed over Spike's thighs and chest, caressing the soft, warm skin.

He played with Spike's nipples, rubbing and pinching them between his fingers. Spike arched and moaned; his hands reached for Xander's shoulders and pulled him close for another kiss.

Xander brushed their lips together, teasingly. Waiting for Spike to groan his protest, and when he did Xander snaked his tongue into Spike's open mouth. They kissed languidly, tongues playing together as they consumed each other.

Xander's rhythm never faltered, slow and steady he thrust into his lover, the feel of Spike hot and slick around him both comforting and erotic. "Love you," he murmured against Spike's lips.

"Mmm, Xan."

Xander sped up, reaching down for Spike's cock and grasping it around the base. He pulled softly, rubbing the tip against his abdomen and painting his stomach with pre-come. He released Spike's shaft to massage the balls just below, pressing a finger to Spike's perineum and teasing a low moan from Spike's throat.

"Come for me, Will." He kept his voice soft to go with the mood their soft lovemaking had created.

He could feel Spike counter-thrusting, his hips swiveling off the bed forcing his cock in and out of the tight ring Xander had created with his fingers. And then Spike was moaning, his shaft jerking in Xander's hand, spurting warm fluid across their bodies.

Xander captured Spike's moans with his mouth, kissing him fiercely as his own orgasm overtook him. He thrust to the hilt, and held himself still as he shot himself into his lover.

"Xander." His name on Spike's lips only added to the sated warmth enveloping him.

He collapsed on the bed next to Spike and wrapped the man in his arms. "Thank you, Will." Xander kissed Spike's shoulder. He felt Spike entwine their fingers, their gold bands rubbing against each other.

Xander felt happy. Happy and confident and sure. No matter what happened today, Spike would be with him. And when all was said and done, they'd go home to Bran. A home and family Anthony Harris could never take away from him. Xander was sure of it now. Sure of Spike. Sure of himself.

He was ready.

***

Spike reached out for Xander's hand as his lover knocked on the door. He squeezed reassuringly, letting Xander know that he was there if needed, then released him.

A burly man answered the door. He smelled strongly of beer, but didn't look drunk. He wore an old Dodgers t-shirt, and shorts that had seen better days.

"Yeah?"

"Anthony." Xander was proud to note his voice didn't quaver. It was obvious his father didn't recognize him. Part of Xander was angry about that, but part of him was relieved.

Just then Jessica stepped into the hallway and peered around her husband.

"Alex?"

Spike watched the emotions flicker over Xander's face. His lover hadn't spoken about Jessica much, but he knew from what little Xander had said that he hadn't been afraid of her. Had possibly even loved her as the scared little boy he'd been.

Xander began to nod a greeting at her, but was cut-off with a growl and a hand around his throat.

"What the fuck are you doing here, faggot?"

For a moment, Xander stood frozen with fear. Anthony was there, in front of him, angry as ever. The hand around his throat squeezed, cutting off his air supply. Then, from the corner of his eye, he saw Spike move, knew that the other man was coming to his rescue.

And all of the sudden he realized that Anthony wasn't as big as he'd once been, that the hand around his throat wasn't as strong as he remembered.

He motioned to Spike, who stilled instantly, though Xander knew he'd be ready to move if necessary. Then he brought his hand up, palm out, and slammed it hard into the bridge of Anthony's nose. The older man released Xander's throat and stumbled back, holding his injured nose.

"You fucking broke my nose!" Anthony screamed, his face turning purple with rage. He barreled towards Xander, who stepped aside and watched as Anthony stumbled down the front steps, falling onto the grassy yard.

"I'm here," Xander announced, disgusted at the sight of the man that had haunted his nightmares for years. "To tell you that - I'm not afraid of you anymore. That I'm bigger and stronger and smarter than you'll ever be." He reached behind him and found Spike's hand tugging the other man forward.

"Oh, yeah," Xander continued lazily. "And I wanted you to meet my husband."

"Who could also kick your sorry arse!" Spike interjected.

Xander smiled, kissing Spike warmly, the sight of which caused Anthony to exclaim, "Get the fuck out of here, you freaks!"

Xander ignored him, and turned back to Jessica. "I loved you when I was a boy. I loved you until that first day you just stood there and watched. You never said a word. Never tried to stop him." Xander felt the gentle squeeze from Spike. "I get that you were scared. That you're still scared. But I don't care. I don't forgive you. But I do care enough about you as another human being to tell you to get the hell out of here. Get the hell away from him. Before he kills you."

Xander turned to Spike, who was looking at him with admiration, pride, and love. "I'm done. Let's go."

They walked away, still holding hands, ignoring the angry words Anthony spewed and the soft tears Jessica cried. Xander hoped that Jessica would listen for once and get out while she still could. He had loved her once upon a time. But as Spike climbed into the car beside him, Xander realized that he didn't have to worry about her anymore. Not her. Not Anthony.

He had a new life now. A new family. And now that he'd put his past behind him, he could enjoy it all.



The End










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