In A Winter
“Your paperwork is all in order, Mr. Harris, but, er, there’s one small problem….” Mr. Foster glanced up from his desk at Xander, then quickly back down at his pile of papers. His round face turned an interesting if alarming shade of purple.
Xander waited a few beats and then took pity on the guy. Mr. Foster seemed nice enough, probably even genuinely imbued with the holiday spirit. Xander gave him his most winning smile. “Yeah, the patch. Nothing I can do about that, I’m afraid.”
Mr. Foster nodded his head quickly without looking up. “Yes, of course, of course. I didn’t mean to imply there was something wrong…. It’s only, when the children arrive they have certain expectations of Santa’s elves. They expect elves who are silly and jolly and, um….”
“Two-eyed?” Xander said helpfully.
“It’s so important to us that we maintain the illusion, you see. Children today are exposed to many bad things, so many bad things, and we want to keep their holiday joy as pure as possible. We’re very particular. All our Santas have real white beards and real roly-poly stomachs. I’m sure you understand.”
If everything’s so pure and joyful, how come something’s been eating some of these kids’ parents? Xander asked, but only in his head. Outwardly, he remained smiling. “I do understand. But hey, I bet this is something we can work around. What if I’m, uh, Salty Sam, formerly scourge of the seven seas but now reformed and Santa’s little helper? Kids love pirates. And it’s wholesome, right? A classic story of redemption.”
The manager peered at him thoughtfully. “Salty Sam, huh?”
“We could put a stuffed parrot on my shoulder.”
Mr. Foster chewed on his lip for a moment, then smiled and nodded. “All right. But we’ll have to find a tiny red and white hat for the parrot to wear.”
“I’m in,” Xander announced, flopping down onto the couch.
Nobody answered. Of course, he would have been more than a little surprised if someone had, given that pretty much everyone he knew was another continent away. He thought about calling someone—Willow, maybe—but when he tried to figure out the time difference between LA and England his head hurt, and instead he clicked on the TV. He refused to feel sorry for himself. He’d asked for this gig. Not because he had an overwhelming desire to wear bells and striped tights, but because this job meant getting to come home, or at least the closest he’d come to it in a half dozen years. He didn’t yearn for Sunnydale per se, which was good, considering it was just a big crater now, but for Southern California. Palm trees. Smoggy sunshine. Ginormous SUVs. People with whitened teeth, lifted faces, and enhanced boobs. In-N-Outs, Krispy Kremes, and taco trucks.
Besides, this monster, whatever it was, was preying on children, stealing their families away from them at Christmastime. Xander had experienced plenty of shitty Yuletides himself; he hoped maybe he could help a few kids avoid holiday misery.
American television hadn’t improved in his absence, he noted. He flipped listlessly through the channels until his stomach grumbled, reminding him that he’d skipped lunch. He walked across the room to the kitchenette and opened the fridge, as if food would magically appear there. It probably would, if he were Willow. It must be nice to have magical talents, he thought, not for the first time. It’d come in handy during fights, sure, but it’d also be nice when, say, the laundry was piling up or his car was on the fritz.
He closed the fridge again and sighed. He’d chosen this motel because it was handy, only a few blocks from the Winter Wonderland, and because the rooms were large and had kitchen facilities. But it wasn’t very fancy and there was no room service. No gym, either, and it was too cold to use the pool.
He found his shoes where he’d tossed them earlier and he slipped them onto his feet. Out of habit, he looked around for his jacket, and then he remembered that it was almost 70 degrees outside and he couldn’t help but grin. Back in England, his friends were undoubtedly freezing their asses off. Buffy would be stomping around HQ, scowling and asking whether it ever stopped raining and complaining about her newest pair of ruined boots. Willow would be clutching endless mugs of steaming tea. Giles would just be frowning, not quite willing to admit that he missed California weather. And Dawn would be pointing out that due to the weather, university parties were a lot less interesting in England than they would be back home.
There was a shopping mall right next to the motel. Xander ambled through it, dodging crowds of tourists from Japan and Russia and Australia, trying to decide which American culinary delight would be his. The little Nestle store caught his eye first, so he began with a chocolate chip cookie appetizer. He had a turkey sub from Quiznos as his main course, followed by a venti Frappuccino at Starbucks and a Love It-sized Oreo concoction at Cold Stone Creamery. If he didn’t solve the local demon problem soon he was going to have to find a gym, or at least get in some running.
His stomach more than satisfied, he wandered around the mall for a little while, and then out onto Hollywood Boulevard. The sun had set already but the crowds were still there, people with cameras strung around their necks, their friends and family members kneeling in the middle of the sidewalk to get their pictures taken with Olivia Newton-John’s star. There were the pathetic sods in costume, the Jimi Hendrix imitator, the Spidermen (red and black) and the female Michael Jackson and the Captain Jack and the Spongebob and the Marilyn Monroe. Xander was fairly certain some of the people behind the masks weren’t quite human, but since they didn’t seem to be harming anyone, he didn’t care. He’d long since learned to let sleeping demons lie.
Just a block up was a congregation of street people. A girl with a huge backpack and a yellow dog, a young white guy in dreadlocks with a hand-lettered cardboard sign, a grizzled man with a bunch of beaded bracelets for sale. They smelled like weed. He smiled at them. He always took the presence of homeless people as a good sign—it meant the local nasties weren’t too hungry. The guy with the dreads asked him for some change. “It’s my birthday, dude. Come on.”
Xander pulled out his wallet and took out a couple of ones. The Council had him on an expense account and he was supposed to hand over whatever he earned as an elf, but he figured he could spare a few bucks at least. Besides, people like this made good sources of information—they saw a lot of what happened in the neighborhood. Getting on their good side was wise. “Here ya go,” he said, handing the bills to the kid. “Knock yourself out.”
“Thanks man,” the kid said, giving him a mock salute.
Xander was going to continue walking, maybe find a liquor store, but suddenly the time difference caught up with him. He’d only arrived the afternoon before. So he plodded wearily back to his room, where he fell asleep with the TV on.
The job interview with Mr. Foster had been in a nondescript little office in a squat stucco building a half dozen blocks from Xander’s motel. Mr. Foster had given Xander the address of the Winter Wonderland, but Xander didn’t actually see the place until he showed up for work the first evening. When he did see it, he came to a sudden halt right in the middle of the sidewalk.
The Winter Wonderland occupied a lot between two buildings. It consisted of a festively painted backdrop; ten or twelve trees of various sizes, each covered in decorations and fake snow; a small cottage that was undoubtedly meant to be Santa’s house; and a stage. A long line was snaking out of the cottage, across the white-painted ground, and out onto the pavement. And over it all was a sign: “L. Ron Hubbard’s Winter Wonderland.”
He’d been hired as a Scientology elf.
Xander hovered near the entrance of the Wonderland for a few moments, until he caught the eye of a bulky guy in a red and green pixie outfit and a manic grin. “End of the line’s over there, sir,” he said, pointing.
“I’m an elf. Where are we supposed to change?”
“Oh. Inside that building. Just knock on the door. Security should have your name.”
The building turned out to be Scientology headquarters. Sure enough, the skinny septuagenarian at the door had a clipboard and Xander’s name was on it. “M. Timmons” read the guard’s name tag. He unlocked the door and ushered Xander in, then directed Xander down the hall to an unmarked beige door.
The dressing room was crowded as the outgoing shift stripped off their costumes and the incoming shift put theirs on. Xander squeezed his way in and found a locker with “Harris” scrawled on the sticker affixed to it. He checked the paper Mr. Foster had given him the previous day and found the combination; the lock snicked open and inside, in all its glory, was his outfit.
Xander must have groaned aloud, because the guy next to him gave him a little shove on the shoulder. “Hey, it’s not so bad, man.”
“It’s sparkly. It’s sparkly and fluffy and…and glittery.”
“Of course it is. We’re elves.”
“Yeah, okay. But couldn’t we be dignified elves? I mean, who says elves are all with the twinkle? Maybe they wear Levis and t-shirts.”
“You don’t have a problem with the twinkle, do you?” The man lifted an eyebrow. “’Cause an elf changing room in Hollywood’s not really the best place for homophobia.”
Xander snorted. “I am not homophobic. I’m just not really a twinkly kind of guy.”
His new friend shrugged. “Then you’re just gonna have to deal I guess. It’s only for a few weeks anyway.”
“Yeah,” Xander said with a sigh. He stripped off his clothing then. It took him a long time to figure out how to get the tights on, and then the poufy pants kept falling down until he found the drawstring, and it wasn’t at all clear what side of the tunic was supposed to be the front. Finally he slipped the stupid gold slippers on—they curled at the toes but they were actually pretty comfy—and stood in front of the mirror that hung next to his locker, adjusting the pointy hat. There was no parrot in the locker. Maybe Mr. Foster hadn’t found one yet.
When Xander turned around again, there was only one other man left in the room, a latecomer who had his back to Xander and was only now slipping his tight jeans off. He didn’t wear underwear but he had a pretty spectacular ass, and Xander couldn’t help but pause to ogle a little.
Unfortunately, the man must have sensed the ogling. He turned slowly.
The first thing Xander noticed was the smirk on the man’s face.
The second thing he noticed was that he recognized that face.
At the same moment, Spike recognized him. The smirk disappeared, replaced with open-mouthed shock. “Harris!” Spike said.
They gaped at each other—Spike naked, Xander dressed in festive gold and red and green. With bells.
Spike recovered first. “You’re meant to be in England!”
“And you’re supposed to be dead!”
They stood there, glaring at one another for being completely unexpected, until the bulky elf Xander had spoken to earlier barged into the room. He barely glanced at them. “You guys better get out there. You’re late.”
It wouldn’t do to get fired already, so Xander gave Spike a narrow-eyed look. “You are so gonna owe me explanations later, Bleachboy.”
They both nodded curtly and Xander left the room.
Somehow he’d managed not to feel completely ridiculous when he was in that room with a bunch of other elves, but venturing out in public like this seemed wrong, even though he only had a short way to go. He had to pass the line of people and some of them waved and greeted him. The kid with the dreadlocks sauntered by with a smile and gave him a mock salute. A small boy gave him a high five but a trio of twentyish blondes in tight jeans giggled uproariously.
When he made it to the entrance to the Wonderland, a short elf with black hair and caramel skin gave him the once over. “New guy?”
Xander sighed. “Salty Sam.”
The short guy raised his eyebrows. “Oookay. I’m Floppy.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Ha ha. That’s my name—Floppy. I’m in charge of the night shift.” He grinned evilly. “And you get to be on swabbing duty.”
“You get to clean up the spills.”
“Um…what spills?” Xander hadn’t been aware that Santa visitations were spillful events.
“Pee, mostly. Some of the kids get a little too excited. Or scared. But there’s also the occasional barfer—drunk adults mostly. The other night we had a guy who tried to hide behind Santa’s house and whack off. Cops came and took him away, but not before he got got, um…” Floppy glanced at some nearby kids, “…personal body fluids on the wall and ground.”
“Well, yeah. That’s why we need a swabber.”
Xander rubbed his face. “Fine. So what am I supposed to do?”
“Stand right outside the door to Santa’s place and look merry. The cleaning stuff is tucked behind that sleigh.” He pointed.
Xander tromped dutifully past Floppy, then past a downright pixieish female elf with hair redder than Willow’s and a cute upturned nose. Her pointy prosthetic ears were very lifelike. “Hi!” she chirped. “I’m Candy.”
Of course you are, he thought. Out loud he said, “Salty Sam, reporting for swabbing duty.”
That pert little nose wrinkled up. “Oh.”
Apparently swabbers were at the bottom of the elf ladder.
Santa’s house had a front porch where people could get their pictures taken before entering the holy presence. Another elf was stationed there with a tripod—this elf a chubby brunette with rosy cheeks—and she motioned him impatiently to a spot just out of camera range. He peeked into the house as he went by, but saw nothing unusual. Just a standard-issue Santa ho-ho-hoing merrily at a pair of toddlers on his lap and another pair of the ubiquitous elves.
Just after Xander got himself into place, a man in a suit appeared on the stage and introduced a musician Xander had never heard of. Then the musician himself arrived, a young guy who proceeded to croon in Spanish into a microphone. Xander didn’t know if he was singing Christmas carols. Did Scientologists even do Christmas carols? Totally against his will, a tune began winding through his head: Deck the halls with Dianetics, fa la la la la la la la la….
“Argh!” he said, loud enough for the round camera elf to glare at him. So he pasted a smile on his face instead, waved at a scowling thirteen-year-old in goth gear, and looked around for Spike.
His mind was still trying to wrap itself around the fact that Spike was still alive—or what passed for alive with vampires, anyway. He couldn’t possibly fathom why William the Bloody was in LA and dressing up as Santa’s little helper. Was Spike responsible for killing the kids’ parents? Maybe he’d lost his soul along the way. That was possible—Christ knew Spike’s grandsire shed his pretty easily. But even so, this kind of weird scheme didn’t seem much like Spike’s style. Spike was never really one for the nefarious plotting, not even in his Big Bad days. He was more of a striking fangs-first type. Maybe it wasn’t Spike’s plan, though—maybe he was working with other demons. But that didn’t seem very likely. Spike wasn’t much of a follower, really, and the only demons Xander remembered him getting along with for any length of time were nutcase Drusilla and Clem; and Clem liked everyone.
As Xander was lost in these futile thoughts, one of the elves stuck his head out of Santa’s house. “Hey! New guy! Get a mop.”
Xander checked behind the sleigh, which had a giant teddy bear as passenger, and found a small closet camouflaged behind fake snow. Inside of it was a mop and bucket. The bucket was painted festively with images of wrapped presents, and the mop handle bore red and white stripes.
Mercifully, this puddle ended up being only a spilled hot chocolate from the Starbucks across the street. Xander cleaned it up quickly while Santa comforted a sobbing four-year-old, assuring her that spilled cocoa was not a coalworthy offense. Xander knelt beside the kid when he was done cleaning. “Hey, don’t worry,” he said. “I spill stuff all the time. Us elves are very clumsy. Just last week I accidentally tipped over a pitcher of eggnog, and the week before I dropped Rudolph’s bucket of reindeer chow.”
The little girl sniffled. “Really?”
“Really. I bet your Mom and Dad might even get you another cup of chocolate.”
“With whipped cream?”
“I’m a marshmallow guy myself. You’ll have to talk to Mom and Dad about that one.”
She turned to her parents, who were smiling at him. “Can I?” she asked.
“Sure,” her father said. “You just have to promise to be more careful this time.”
The little girl nodded and, to Xander’s surprise, flung her arms around him. Usually parents would not be pleased about their young child getting physical with the one-eyed man in the weirdo outfit, but this kids’ parents beamed at him and one of the elves snapped a picture. A moment later he managed to extricate himself and fetch his mop and bucket.
That was nice, he thought as he put the cleaning supplies away. That little girl might even have some good Christmas memories of the kind elf. L. Ron Hubbard’s Winter Wonderland might be hokey and strange, but that was genuine happiness he’d seen in that family, and how valuable was that?
He just hoped her parents didn’t get eaten.
As he emerged from behind the sleigh he caught sight of Spike. The vampire was standing near the Wonderland’s exit, ushering people out with a surprisingly chipper smile. Spike saw Xander looking in his direction and shook his head in wonderment. Apparently he hadn’t yet worked out why Xander was there either.
The rest of the evening went pretty quickly. Xander was kept fairly busy with his swabbing duties, and when he wasn’t cleaning up he was keeping his eye open for any sign of bad guys or watching Spike. Spike watched him back, seemingly as quizzical about the whole situation as Xander. In between the mopping and the spying and the wondering, Xander saw the visitors come and go—families, couples, and groups of all descriptions, speaking a variety of languages. Some folks were festive and laughing, some grouchy and irritable and tired. Humanity. He spent remarkably little time around normal people, and it was almost like visiting a strange world.
By 9:30 p.m. the line had dwindled, and a little after 10:00 Xander helped the other elves roll a long green fence in between the Wonderland and the sidewalk. They all trooped tiredly back to the building, where M. Timmons again let them in. The male elves went in one direction and the females in another; Santa seemed to have his own private dressing room somewhere.
Xander changed clothes quickly and efficiently in the crowded little room. He saw Spike doing the same. One of the elves from Santa’s house congratulated Xander on a good first day, and then everyone left. Everyone except Xander and Spike, who was now wearing his old uniform: black and black and black, duster and all. His hair was still bleached and slicked.
They regarded each other silently.
“I expect this will go better over a few drinks,” Spike finally said.
Spike led the way out of the building and down the sidewalk. All the Wonderland’s lights had been turned off and now it was just a dark lot. Spike was walking quickly and Xander had to hurry to catch up. They wound their way several blocks to a small, seedy-looking strip mall. Spike waved at a security guard—Xander wasn’t sure in the dim light, but he kind of thought the guard had little horns on his forehead—and then Spike unlocked a battered old Mustang that was painted primer black. He motioned at the passenger side and slid behind the wheel.
Xander thought for a moment. Maybe getting in a car with Spike—the potentially soul-free and homicidal Spike—wasn’t such a smart idea. On the other hand, since when was Xander prone to smart ideas? He got in the car.
They didn’t speak as they drove, but Xander saw that Spike kept sneaking looks at him out of the corner of his eye. They didn’t drive very far—probably only a couple of miles—before Spike parked the car and got out. Xander followed. They were in front of a big building with gently rounded corners—an apartment or hotel, Xander couldn’t tell. There was no sign.
“Where’s this?” Xander asked a little nervously.
“Poof’s hotel,” Spike said, marching ahead.
Xander had no clue what he was talking about, but he followed Spike into the building, where he found himself in a nice, if slightly past-its-prime, art deco lobby. There was nobody else there, although there was a pile in one corner that looked suspiciously like a bunch of broadswords and spears.
“Interesting choice in décor,” Xander said. “A nice change from the usual ferns and fountains.”
Spike shrugged. “Nicked them from some Byoxanthi last week. Can’t be arsed to find a place for them. Peaches can if he wants.”
And again with the not understanding what the hell Spike was talking about, but Xander walked along behind him, following up a flight of stairs and another and another, until Xander had concluded that the workout he’d been contemplating wasn’t necessary after all. But finally Spike opened a door and they entered what turned out to be a small suite.
“Sit,” Spike ordered, pointing at the room’s sole couch. Xander sat. Spike walked over to a big, antique-looking armoire and rummaged through it, making glass clinking sounds. Xander looked around but saw no signs of mayhem. Just a television—an old one, not a flat-screen—a small table with a lamp and an overflowing ashtray and, up against one wall, another long table, that one piled with books and various small debris he couldn’t quite make out. Through an open door he could glimpse an unmade bed with white sheets and a red bedspread. The place smelled of cigarette smoke.
Spike plopped down on the couch beside him and handed him a glass tumbler. Xander took a cautious sip. Bourbon. He had a bigger swallow and turned to Spike. “Is this your place?”
“Sorry. Haven’t had the decorator in lately.” Spike sounded more defensive than sarcastic.
“Hey, it’s pretty nice digs for a dead guy.”
Spike drank half his glass in one go. “Why are you here, Harris?”
“Which here? Your room? LA? Or is this a more existential here, as in what is my purpose on earth. Or—”
“Harris! I see the years haven’t tamed your tongue any.”
Xander smiled. The truth was, it had been a while since he’d had an actual conversation with anyone. And even if that someone was Spike, he didn’t mind drawing it out a little. “I’m guessing you want to know why I’m in town. And I’ll tell you, but then you have to reciprocate.”
Spike got an odd look in his eyes and took another swig of his drink. “Lay on, Macduff.”
“There’s not that much to tell, really. We got this call—well, Giles got the call, but he shared—that said there was something eating people in LA. And not in the fun way. And that the one link seemed to be that they’d all visited this particular Santa. So I got sent to investigate.”
“You mean, why not someone more with the superpowers?”
Spike shrugged elegantly. Then he refilled his glass and Xander’s, which had somehow emptied itself.
“The Slayer Army’s spread a little thin right now. We have apocalypses brewing in Oslo and in one of those -istan countries—I forget which—and some sort of important wizard conference in Taipei.”
“So you’re still a Scooby.”
“I guess. I’m mostly errand boy, rounding up stray slayers, collecting mystical do-dads—”
“Sometimes. Fixing stuff. I make myself useful.”
Spike tilted his head. “And this time you’re useful in the city of angels.”
“Presumably.” Xander drank more. It was good. “So now you wanna explain why you’re undusty? And an elf?”
Spike grimaced. “’T’s a long story and not terribly interesting. I got resurrected—”
“Dunno, really. Magic lawyers.”
“Deadboy’s magic lawyers? I heard about them.”
A bigger grimace. “Yeah. And we fought them and won—at a bloody great price—and now we’re here. Fighting the good fight and all that rot.”
“Angel’s here?” Xander looked around as if the big vampire might materialize any second.
“This is his place, yeah. Right now he’s up north, chasing after this bitch he fancies. I mean a real bitch—she’s a werewolf. Half the time they’re googly-eyed over each other and then one of them has a snit and takes a runner. Was her turn, I reckon. And that left me to sort things when I heard about the poor sods getting eaten.”
“So you figured you’d go undercover as an elf. The world’s first vampire elf. Well, you make a better elf than Angel, I bet.” Xander had a vivid mental image of Angel in tights and bells, and couldn’t help laughing.
Spike must have had a similar image, because he chuckled too. “Old bastard would scare all the children with that forehead of his, and make even jolly St. Nick brood.”
“I bet he would.” Xander waited as Spike filled his glass the third time. He was beginning to feel a little…well, not drunk. Not yet. Just…relaxed. A little fuzzy around the edges. “If you’ve been alivish all this time, how come you haven’t contacted Buffy?”
Spike winced. “I’ve…. She’s better off without me. I’m better without her. She could…could never really love me. I know that.” He looked down at the dark liquid in his glass.
Unexpectedly, Xander discovered himself empathizing. Empathizing with Spike! “Buffy’s pretty complicated. I don’t think she knows what she wants, most of the time.”
Spike looked up at him. “Is she happy?”
“Um…sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. Which isn’t bad, considering the life she leads. Do you want…do you want me to have her call you?”
“No!” Spike said immediately, forcefully. “I want a clean break.”
They were both quiet for a while, other than the sounds of their throats working as they swallowed. Somewhere outside a siren wailed.
Then Spike’s head snapped up. His eyes were narrowed. “You were ogling my arse!” he accused.
Xander’s face went scarlet and he considered whether he had plausible deniability, then decided he didn’t. “I didn’t know at the time it was your ass.”
“But you knew it was a bloke’s.”
“Well, yeah. We were in the men’s dressing room, plus it’s a very masculine sort of ass.” Impossibly, his blush deepened.
“Did the witch finally do it?”
“Gay you up.”
“Oh.” Xander chugged his drink. “No. Let’s just say over the past years I’ve come to a greater appreciation of the male form.”
Spike regarded him for a moment. “It’s a spectacular arse,” he said at last.
“Umm…yeah,” Xander admitted. Because it really was.
Spike smiled and poured him another drink.
Xander woke up naked.
That wasn’t unusual—he often slept in the buff. What was unusual, though, was that he was in a strange bed. And lying beside him in that bed was a vampire, as naked as he was, at least from the waist up. The rest of Spike was covered by the blankets.
“Uh…,” Xander said.
“Uh,” Xander repeated.
“You’re quite a witty conversationalist when you awake.”
“But I’m…we’re…how…did we….”
Spike waited while Xander sputtered. His scarred eyebrow was raised and the corner of his mouth was quirked.
Xander took a few calming breaths and tried to remaster the English language. “I’m in your bed,” he finally managed.
“’S the only bed I have, innit?” Spike was enjoying this situation far too much.
Xander swallowed and his throat clicked. “Did we…um….”
Spike waited, blank-faced as if he had no idea what Xander was talking about.
“Fuck,” Xander said. “Did we fuck?”
Spike put his palm against his chest. And said in mock anger, “I gift you with a lovely evening and this hot body and you can’t even remember?”
“Oh God,” Xander moaned and buried his face in his hands. His eye patch was off. That was a little weird. He didn’t usually take it off when he was around other people.
“I thought you didn’t mind demon-shagging. Not like you haven’t shagged a demon before, or nearly so.” Now Spike sounded genuinely offended.
“No, it’s just that I haven’t…I’ve never….”
“What? Out with it, Harris.”
“I’ve never had sex with a guy before, okay?”
Spike was silent. Xander let his hands drop so he could look at him. Spike looked confused. “You said last night you’d begun appreciating the male form.”
“Well, yeah. But I’ve been appreciating from a distance.”
“Why? You don’t reckon there’s something immoral about it, do you?”
“And you’re the second person in two days to accuse me of being homophobic. No, no moral qualms. I figure as long as sex is happening between two consenting adults it’s all good, gender or species notwithstanding.”
“Then why the celibacy?”
Xander sighed and sat up, tucking the blankets more securely around his lap. “I mostly hang out with girls. Or, you know, womyn. The kind who like to make sure that y is in there. Slayers and witches. I hardly ever meet other guys, and the ones I do meet…well, they’re mostly evil.”
“You could go to clubs.”
Xander was getting dating advice from the undead. “I could go to clubs, sure, but for some funny reason most people don’t really consider a one-eyed, demon-fighting, ex-pat gofer much of a catch.”
“Most people are idiots. So you’re not upset that we shagged?”
“No. I mean…weird. I didn’t even know you swung that way and you’re…you’re Spike. But no.” Xander sighed. “I just wish I remembered.”
Spike’s smile was radiant. “Really?”
And now Spike looked a little sheepish, which was a strange look on him. “We didn’t really shag.”
“I was taking the piss. You passed out cold halfway through the second episode of Myth Busters. Didn’t want you bitching about sore muscles after sleeping on my sofa, so I carried you to my bed.”
Xander gave him an incredulous look. He wasn’t certain whether to believe Spike or not. “And you undressed me?”
“You’d spilled some whiskey on your trousers and I didn’t want my bedding smelling like a brewery. They’re posh sheets, you know. Peaches buys them at this poncy shop in Beverly Hills.”
Spike seemed to be sincere. Besides, Xander couldn’t feel any signs on his body of recent sexual activity and his dick seemed as perpetually disgruntled as ever. “Oh,” he said, surprised to find himself slightly disappointed. “Well, ha ha.”
Spike bit at his lip and scratched nervously at the back of his head. “But you’re not opposed in principle to shagging blokes. Vampire blokes. Or, erm, me.”
“No. Not opposed in principle.” But Xander would’ve been a lot more comfortable having this conversation with his clothes on.
“Then let’s give it a go,” Spike said, leaning towards Xander.
Xander squawked slightly and scooted to the far edge of the mattress. “Like I said, ha ha. Enough with the piss-taking.”
“I’m completely serious.”
“Look, how do you know if you really fancy blokes unless you try one?”
“My mother used to say the same thing about Brussels sprouts. I didn’t like Brussels sprouts, Spike.”
Spike grinned. “Do Brussels sprouts look like this?” He scrambled out of bed and stood looking at Xander, his arms spread slightly. He was indeed completely naked and absolutely spectacular and not even faintly green.
“Guh,” Xander said and Spike preened a little. But then Xander shook his head to clear it. “Okay, we’ve settled that maybe I need to do a little…taste-testing. But why are you interested in me?” His voice squeaked a little on the last word.
“Why not? Got a good look at you last night before I tucked you in. Never realized what was hiding under those horrible baggy clothes. Although I should have known there was some reason your demon girl was so taken with you.”
“But…I’m a guy.”
“Yeah. Saw that as well. No question about your sex, really.” He leered and Xander blushed.
“But you were in love with Drusilla and Buffy. You’re—”
“Enterprising. Resourceful. Willing to take advantage of a good thing when it drops in my lap.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Or perhaps when I drop in his.”
It’s Spike, Xander reminded himself. But he wasn’t listening. It was really hard to listen to anything when a beautiful vampire was standing there, nude. Offering.
Spike apparently took Xander’s silence as assent, because he launched himself back onto the bed, knocking Xander flat against the pillows, half-covering Xander’s body with his. Xander wasn’t sure if his shortness of breath was due to the impact or the contact.
“I’ll make it good for you, yeah?” Spike said. He licked at Xander’s neck—and oh Christ, who knew Xander had a neck kink?—and wiggled a little. The wiggling was interesting. It probably would have been more so without the blankets between them.
As Spike dotted tiny kisses along Xander’s jawline, Xander lifted his hands and then hesitantly settled them on Spike’s lower back. “You’re warm!” he exclaimed with surprise.
“Naturally. Been nicking your body heat all night.”
“Oh,” Xander said, and then he said it again, only in an entirely different tone, as Spike ducked his head and suckled on Xander’s left nipple.
Xander allowed his hands to wander a little farther south. Spike’s skin was very smooth and the muscles beneath it felt strong and taut. Building up a little more courage, Xander cupped and gently squeezed Spike’s buttocks. Spike seemed to like that—he flexed his hips, pressing back into Xander’s grip and then forward, so that even through several layers of cotton Xander could feel Spike’s hard-on pressing against his.
And then Spike kissed him. Even if Xander had been thinking clearly, he would have been hard-pressed to remember the last time he’d had any kind of kiss except a sisterly peck on the cheek. This was neither sisterly nor a peck. It was an invasion of his mouth—a demon tongue invasion!—and that sounded kind of gross but in reality was anything but. Spike’s lips were soft and he didn’t have morning breath, nor did he seem to care that Xander did. His tongue was strong and agile and the way he danced it around Xander’s tongue and teeth made Xander wonder what other gymnastic feats that body part was capable of.
With a slight sucking sound, Spike broke apart from him and then flipped onto his back.
“What?” Xander asked with confusion.
“Reckoned you might want to…explore a bit.”
“Oh,” replied Xander for maybe the hundredth time in the last fifteen minutes. “Okay.” He rolled over onto his stomach lifted himself on his elbows, and spent a minute or two simply looking at what was spread out before him. It was like Christmas morning, when he’d had all those presents in front of him, each one so enticing he didn’t know where to start. Spike, however, was probably going to be less disappointing than packages of socks and underwear.
Slowly, Xander reached one hand over and touched one of Spike’s pink nipples. It contracted. Xander rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, which made Spike hum approvingly. Then Xander spent several minutes running his hands over Spike’s chest, feeling the hard pectorals beneath his palms, the nearly hairless skin, the bones and angles of the vampire, which were so clearly not those of a woman.
“Do you still do construction?” Spike asked
Xander was startled by the non sequitur. “Huh?”
“Your hands. They’re calloused.”
“Sorry,” Xander said, moving his hand away. But Spike caught him by the wrist and positioned Xander’s palm firmly on his own slightly concave belly.
“Wasn’t a complaint. ‘T’s nice.”
Slightly emboldened, Xander slid that calloused palm down, until his fingertips were buried in Spike’s crisp golden curls. “I swing a hammer now and then,” he said. “Or, you know, screw something.”
Spike chuckled slightly, but then moaned when Xander ran the pad of a single finger up the length of Spike’s cock. Xander hadn’t spent a lot of close-up time with penises, unless you counted his own. Spike’s was pretty, he thought. More slender than his own and slightly less long, with a funny little bend near the end and a foreskin, which Xander moved gently back and forth. Spike seemed to like that: he threw his head back on the pillow and arched his hips slightly into Xander’s grip.
But Xander let go, and instead he cupped Spike’s balls in his hand. They were red and they felt heavy and ripe. Spike spread his legs wide. “That bit just behind my bollocks—feels lovely if you stroke it, pet.”
So Xander did, and Spike practically purred. As Xander watched, a shiny bead of liquid appeared at the tip of Spike’s cock. It stayed there a moment and then dripped, forming a glistening trail between the crown and Spike’s abdomen. For some reason that sight was so goddamn sexy that Xander nearly forgot how to breathe. But Xander petted again, right on that very tender spot, and when the finger went a little farther and actually brushed against Spike’s hole, Spike’s cock twitched enthusiastically.
Impulsively, Xander bent down and licked the length of Spike’s cock. It tasted…like skin. Clean and slightly salty, with a little hint of soap. Xander licked it again, more slowly, as if he were enjoying a popsicle on a hot day. Spike made a tiny whimpering noise and patted at Xander’s messy hair. “Lovely,” he said.
Xander didn’t answer him. Instead, he held Spike’s cock in one hand and, very slowly, tongued at the very tip, right against the moist little slit. Spike approved, apparently: he mumbled something affirmative-sounding and clutched at Xander’s hair with both hands. Feeling a little more confident—and really curious—Xander slid his lips over the crown and slightly down over the shaft.
“Christ!” Spike swore, and then he said something else that sounded breathy and Latin.
Xander continued lowering himself over Spike’s erection until his gag reflex started up, then he withdrew just a fraction of an inch. Spike’s cock felt thick and solid in his mouth, slippery and smooth. He liked it there, he decided. Knowing he had someone else’s dick in his mouth, that his beginner’s attempts at suction were causing Spike to make those incredibly sexy gasping noises—that was a major turn-on. His own cock throbbed insistently, though, upset at missing out on the fun.
Xander was considering solving that problem by taking himself in hand when Spike pushed him gently but firmly away. “Not gonna last long like that. So bloody warm.”
Xander smiled proudly, although he really hadn’t done all that much except maintaining a normal human body temperature. He reached for Spike again, but Spike stopped him with a raised hand.
“Hang on while I get some slick,” Spike said a little hoarsely.
“Uh-huh,” Xander said. He was even less coherent than Buffy was the time she drank the caveman beer. Oh God. Buffy. She and Spike had…. And he’d tried to….
Spike had rolled onto his side to reach into the bedside table, where he’d retrieved a small plastic bottle from the drawer. Now he looked at Xander with slight alarm. “Everything all right, pet?”
Xander looked into his own heart. Spike had tried to rape Buffy once. But then so had Xander, even though nobody ever talked about that and Xander liked to pretend they’d all forgotten about it. And Spike hadn’t raped Buffy, not quite, and then he’d gone on to get a soul and do a lot of heroic things he didn’t have to. Christ, if sacrificing yourself to save the world wasn’t enough to earn forgiveness, what was? Xander smiled. “Everything’s A-OK. All systems go.”
Spike relaxed a little and handed him the bottle. “Do you know what to do with it?”
“Yep. Anya and I…well, she liked variety. Plus I may have chanced upon a little gay porn now and then.”
“’T’s why the internet was invented, innit?”
Xander had never imagined himself having sex with Spike. But if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have predicted that it would be this…fun. Passion, kinks, maybe some biting. But not light banter, and not Spike stroking Xander’s thigh tenderly. Not Spike’s eyes gone all soft, with happy little crinkles at the corners.
And then Spike bent his knees and pulled them up, opening himself up, exposing himself completely for Xander, and Xander’s lungs hitched again. “You’ve…you’ve done this before,” he said.
“Not in ages.”
Xander petted the soft skin inside Spike’s leg. “And you don’t mind….”
“Getting fucked? Does it look as if I mind?” It didn’t. Spike’s cock was as hard as ever, the entire crown and part of his belly now glistening with pre-come. “When I’m with a bloke I usually prefer bottoming. And right now I’d really fancy having that big cock of yours inside me. Heating me good and proper. But if you’d rather I top….”
Xander shook his head. “No, this is good. Just wasn’t what I would have guessed of you.”
Spike grinned. “Oh, I’m a pushy enough bottom, love. Like right now, if you don’t hurry things along a bit I’m likely to roll you over and just impale myself on you.”
Xander snorted out a soft laugh. But then he dutifully poured a little of the lube onto his fingers, set the bottle aside, and reached for Spike. As soon as his first finger breached the tight little ring of muscle, Spike’s jaw went tight and his eyes squeezed tightly closed.
Alarmed, Xander froze. “Did I hurt you?”
“No!” Spike said in a choked voice. “Just bloody get on with it.”
Xander got on with it. He moved the one finger in and out a little and then added a second. Spike was very still, but his muscles were visibly tense, as if he were struggling not to writhe. And when Xander moved his fingers just right and pressed against Spike’s prostate, Spike did move, lifting his hips a little and letting out a noisy puff of air.
“Ready?” asked Xander.
“Was ready ages ago.”
Xander repositioned himself over Spike. He nearly lost it when he touched his own cock—he was just a tiny bit excited right then, thanks—and he had to stop for a moment and think about Fyarl slime. That gave him just enough control to touch the tip of his cock to Spike and then, ever so slowly, push his way in.
“Bloody hell,” Spike breathed.
Xander made an interrogative sound that was the closest he could come to speech. Spike felt good. Tight and smooth and a little cool, his muscles gripping Xander so nicely that it could just about drive him crazy.
“Well?” Spike asked.
“You are so not Brussels sprouts.”
It was strange to feel someone laugh while you were inside him. Strange but not at all unpleasant, and Xander began a slow, steady in and out movement. Spike reached down and grabbed Xander’s hips, urging him to move a little faster, a little deeper, and when Xander did, Spike groaned and lowered his legs so he could wrap them around Xander’s torso. Xander bent his head down and it was his turn to kiss Spike.
When he’d first started dating Anya, she’d announced that he was good at sex but bad at kissing. So she’d given him lessons. He’d enjoyed those lessons, and eventually she’d declared him an A-plus student. Hey, he never made the honor roll in high school, but this was just as good. Better. Because who needed to know the principal exports of Nicaragua or the year the Treaty of Ghent was signed, whereas good kissing skills came in handy sometimes. Like now, when he and Spike were joined together at stem and stern, rocking in tandem, moaning into one another’s mouths, Xander’s sweat dripping onto Spike’s body and his fingers tangling in the curls on Spike’s scalp.
They weren’t destined to last long this afternoon, but that was okay. More than okay.
Spike came first, breaking away from the kiss so he could throw back his head and howl, his cock spurting liquid onto both of them, his inner muscles tightening even more. More than anything it was the knowledge that he, Xander Harris, had made a 150-year-old demon fall apart like that which sent Xander over the edge too. He pounded a little faster and without rhythm, grunted into the soft crook of Spike’s neck, and felt his head just about explode.
It took him a long time to catch his breath. He remained inside Spike, slumped over his body, and Spike smoothed at Xander’s back and nibbled lightly on his ear.
“Didn’t kill you, did I?” Spike asked after a while.
“Not quite. Man, it sure beats a microscope over the head.”
Spike swatted Xander’s butt lightly—no point telling the vampire right then that it was another of Xander’s favorite kinks—and Xander sighed and pulled away, collapsing heavily on his back beside Spike. “I am an official admirer of the male form. Do you think I’ll get a membership card?”
Spike rolled onto his side and scooted up against Xander. He pulled the covers over them both and settled his head on Xander’s shoulder. Spike was a cuddler. Another surprise but again, not unpleasant.
Xander worked his arm under Spike. He felt sticky and he suddenly had to piss. But he was so comfortable there between Angel’s expensive sheets, with a warm and sort of melty-feeling vampire half on top of him. He’d just rest for a few more minutes, he decided, and promptly fell fast asleep.
Spike snagged one of Xander’s French fries and popped it into his mouth.
“Hey, Fangface. If you’d told me you wanted human chow I’d have gotten some for you, too.”
Spike smirked. “Not as much fun that way, is it?”
It had been mid-afternoon when Xander finally woke up from his post-coital nap. He’d found last night’s clothing folded neatly on a chair and, as Spike had said, smelling strongly like spilled whiskey. Xander had gotten dressed and looked at Spike, who was still lounging in bed, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. “So, uh, I guess I better head back to my motel,” Xander had said. “Think I can catch a cab from here?”
Spike had rolled his eyes. “Don’t be stupid. Stay here instead of whatever fleabag you’ve rented. If you get tired of my presence there are a hundred other rooms to choose from.”
Xander had liked that idea very much, and he’d been even more pleased when Spike let him borrow the Mustang. So Xander had driven back to his motel, showered and shaved and changed clothing, then packed up his few belongings and checked out. Then he’d swung by Ralph’s for a few groceries—he didn’t figure Spike and Angel would have much in the way of real food at the hotel—and gone through drive-thru. Now he was back on Spike’s couch with a Big Mac in one hand and an enormous cup of Coke in the other. Which left his fries on the end table, unguarded and vulnerable.
Spike stole some more. He’d cleaned up while Xander was gone, and now he was dressed in his usual, his hair again slicked back. But today Xander knew what it felt like to run his fingers through those bleached locks and that…was an interesting thing to know.
Xander swallowed a bite of hamburger. He thought Spike’s eyes glazed a little when Xander licked a little special sauce from the corner of his mouth. “So,” Xander said, then slurped noisily at his straw, “do you know who the bad guy is?”
Spike shook his head. “No idea. We’ve some informants scattered about the city. Princess Sunshine pays them when they have good info—doesn’t pay them much, I’ll wager. Bastard always has been tight with his dosh, unless he’s buying shite for himself. One of them came to us a fortnight past and told us something nasty was going on at the Wonderland. Then the poof scampered after his girl and I was left to sort things.”
“And you haven’t seen any signs of foul play?”
“Been watching police dramas again, have you? No, nothing other than that faux Santa—who’s nothing like the real one, I can tell you that—and his elves.”
“Well, yeah. Seem like a fairly harmless lot of nutters, though. Going on about bridges and triangles and bloody space operas.”
Spike shrugged. “I’ve no idea, mate. But they don’t seem the type to eat people.”
“So on the face of it we have everyday, normal religious wackos and men in tights.”
“Yeah. I’ve tried tracking some of the employees home, but that sort of detective work is difficult for the sunlight-challenged. Sodding mess of a city hasn’t nearly enough tunnels. Too spread out, I expect.”
Xander had another hit of sugary, caffeinated goodness. “I could do that part, you know. The day-work. I mean…if you’re willing to work together on this.”
Spike regarded him thoughtfully. “Could get dangerous.”
“Duh. Been doing dangerous since I was 15, Spike. I’ve been kidnapped, mauled, maimed, slimed, conked on the head. I’ve been attacked with claws, fangs, horns, knives, swords, and once with toxic vomit, thanks very much. I may not have superpowers or anything, but I’m not a wimp. I came here to save those people and that’s what I’m gonna do. Only, I’d rather do it with you. As a team.”
Spike had listened carefully to Xander’s little speech and now he nodded. “Right then. But don’t get yourself offed or the Slayer and the witch will have my balls.”
Xander smiled slyly. “I thought I had your balls.”
His meal was finished soon after that and their plans, sketchy at best, were made. And then—purely in the interest of science, of course—Xander and Spike decided to confirm that Xander did, indeed, like topping Spike. In case the first time was a fluke.
It wasn’t a fluke.
More showers followed. One at a time, sadly, because Spike’s shower cubicle was claustrophobic. “We’ll use the poof’s next time,” Spike declared. “Could house an orgy in there.”
And then Xander was hungry again. He and Spike had had quite a workout. So he made himself a PB&J on spongy Wonder Bread, and he ate it with an apple and some chips. Spike made faces over Xander’s approximation of a meal, but then Xander made faces over Spike’s, which was hospital reject O-Positive with crackers crumbled on top.
As soon as the sun set they hopped in Spike’s car and he drove them to the strip mall near Hollywood and Highland. The security guard was there again and he definitely had horns. Small ones, really more like bumps, but horns. “Don’t people notice that the guard’s a demon?” Xander asked.
Spike waved at the demon in question. “Nah. ‘T’s Hollywood, love.”
He had a point.
The line at the Wonderland was even longer tonight than the night before. Timmons let them in to the building, where most of their shift was already fully bedecked in elf gear. Spike went to his locker and Xander went across the room to his own. Floppy lifted his eyebrows when he saw them enter together, then stalked across the room planted himself next to Xander. “You make friends fast,” he stage-whispered.
“Spike and I go way back, actually.”
“Spike? That’s not an elf name. It’s more of a bad porno name, really.”
Xander hadn’t thought to ask Spike what his undercover handle was. “So what am I supposed to call him then?”
“Snowdrop?” Xander exclaimed loudly enough for Spike to turn in mid-undressing and throw him a murderous glare.
“Shut it, pirate boy,” Spike growled.
Xander tried with limited success to contain his snickering. Meanwhile, Floppy was watching with his hands on his hips. He was cute, Xander thought. Not drop-deader sexy like Spike, but definitely good-looking, with somewhat delicate features and a wiry, graceful frame. “We’re not supposed to fraternize,” Floppy announced.
“No offense, but I hardly think a three-week-long elf gig gives anybody the right to dictate who I hang out with.”
Floppy sniffed. “Hang out with whoever you want on your own time. But while you’re here you’re on company time, and that means no fraternizing.”
“No good place for fraternizing here anyway,” Spike said. “Except maybe that bit next to Santa’s place, the bit with the fluffy fabric that’s meant to be snow.”
Floppy huffed at them both and stomped away.
Out in the Wonderland, Xander was placed on swabbing duty again, while Spike again ushered people out the exit. That meant they didn’t get a chance to speak to one another. Xander just kept his eye open, hoping he’d see something unusual. He didn’t. Well, not unless you counted a pair of four-hundred-pound identical twins in their fifties, dressed in matching red and green sweaters with reindeer on them, and who had to be gently persuaded not to sit on poor Santa’s lap.
Floppy looked over in Xander’s direction every now and then and scowled, but Candy smiled and waved at him periodically and so did the chubby elf who took pictures on the porch. Her name was Nog.
When their shift was over and Xander’s feet ached and he was good and sick of crying children and their obnoxious parents, Xander and Spike hurried to be the first back in street clothes. Spike rushed the couple of blocks to his car at vampire speed and zoomed back to Scientology HQ. Xander hopped inside. “Floppy?” Spike asked.
The elf in question came outside a few minutes later. He was wearing a pair of jeans even tighter than Spike’s, an equally skin-hugging white tank top, and a black jacket. He sauntered up the sidewalk, paying more attention to his phone texting than he was to where he was going. Spike kept the Mustang hovering back more or less unobtrusively.
As it turned out, Floppy had a Hyundai. A green one with a nasty-looking scrape on the front left fender. They stayed a few cars behind him as he turned onto the 101 and puttered along at an irritatingly law-abiding 60 mph before exiting near Canoga Park. He stopped in front of a '60s-era apartment building with a pair of stunted palm trees growing alongside it. They watched as he got out, climbed a set of stairs, and unlocked a door.
Xander squinted. “Apartment Eight.”
Spike nodded then sped away. As he merged onto the 405, he chuckled softly. “You look nice in tights, you know. Nice legs.”
“It’s all the running away from demons. Better than Pilates or spinning. So you think Floppy’s our guy?”
“I think Floppy’s a wanker, but no. Now that we know his address I can look him up when we get back to the Hyperion. We’ve a database I can access.”
“Really? Deadboy’s entered the 21st century?”
Spike snorted. “Not really. Nina set it up for us during one of the bits when they were speaking to one another.”
Floppy’s real name—or at least his legal name—was Derique Starr. Really. The name on his birth certificate was Enrique Estrada, which sent Xander into a fit of laughter that he then had to explain to Spike. Apparently Spike had been in Europe when CHiPs was airing in the States. Derique was 25, he was born in the San Fernando Valley, and he had a squeaky-clean criminal record. He’d attended two years of junior college and a semester at Cal State Northridge, but he hadn’t completed his degree. When he wasn’t an elf he worked as a barrista, although it looked as if he’d once been cast as an extra in an episode of 24 and had also been in a TV commercial for chewing gum.
“That doesn’t sound very demonic,” Xander said, bending down and looking over Spike’s shoulder at the computer screen. They were in an office off the hotel lobby, a fairly messy space filled with books and papers and mysterious objects Xander was careful not to touch and empty, red-stained glasses.
“Could be bollocks. He could have made it all up.”
“Yeah, I guess so. But if I was gonna make up a false identity, I’d come up with something more interesting than this. And do murderous monsters really live in Canoga Park?”
“Have to live somewhere. Do you feel up to a little burglary tomorrow afternoon? Floppy will be at his day job then, I expect.”
“I have experience with B&E. Giles taught me a couple of nifty lock-picking tricks and everything.”
Spike reached behind himself, wrapping an arm awkwardly around Xander’s legs. “You’ve several more talents than I realized. Since when is larceny one of them?”
“I told you—one of the things I’ve spent the last few years doing is fetching magical knickknacks. Sometimes the people who own those things aren’t exactly eager to give them up. The first time I tried to steal something, Willow gave me this spell to use. It was supposed to make me invisible or something. But I guess I screwed it up—I’m not really the magic man—and it totally didn’t work. I almost got caught by this really bad news demon…um…Romeo? It was about eight feet tall and it smelled like sweaty feet.”
“Yeah. That. So after that I’ve stuck to good old-fashioned thievery. I’m not bad at it.”
Spike tilted his head to look up at him. “’T’s good to have a skill to fall back on.”
Spike shut down the computer and they made their way towards Spike’s room. Halfway up, Xander paused. “What’s the deal with all the stairs? Vampires have something against elevators?”
“Lifts in this wreck haven’t worked in decades.”
“Unlike the Slayers, we don’t have a live-in handyman.”
Xander wasn’t sure what to make of that statement. He huffed and puffed his way through the final flight and when he got into Spike’s suite he collapsed melodramatically onto the couch. Spike rolled his eyes, unimpressed.
They watched TV again together that night. No alcohol this time, not even a beer. Spike sipped at blood and Xander at orange juice, and they watched an old episode of Law & Order and then some stupid movie about a bachelor party. By the time the movie was over, Xander was yawning hugely. He hadn’t fully adjusted to Pacific Time yet, let alone vampire hours.
He thought he was going to be too tired to have sex. Besides, they’d already had sex twice that day, which was more of that particular activity than he’d had in the past year. But then Spike slithered between the sheets and scooted up next to him, and it seemed a shame to waste a perfectly good naked vampire, especially since this little fling wasn’t going to last more than a couple weeks at most.
Xander began by stroking Spike’s smooth back. He liked the way the muscles felt, the way the broad shoulders narrowed to the trim hips, the way those hips jutted slightly from Spike’s concave belly. Spike’s skin was cooler than a human’s but not cold, not icy. There was certainly no mistaking him for a corpse.
Besides, corpses didn’t lick at the shell of your ear or tweak at your nipples. They didn’t throw a strong leg over yours so that their hardening cock was nestled in the hollow of your hip, their soft pubic hair tickling a little at your skin. And probably if you rubbed the tip of your forefinger slightly into the top of the cleft between their cheeks, they didn’t hiss appreciatively and mumble encouragements at you.
Spike cupped Xander’s face in his hands and pressed their lips together, and for a very long time Xander let himself get lost in that kiss, focusing on just that few square inches of his body until he almost felt like he was floating. He groaned with disappointment when Spike pulled away. “Fancy riding me, love? You can steer.”
Xander had been initiated into gay sex less than twenty-four hours earlier. He was still reeling a little from that, and from the fact that he’d had sex with Spike, of all people. He still wasn’t absolutely sure that the entire day wasn’t a hallucination of some kind, maybe a weird but pleasant dream concocted by his desperate id—oh yes, he had been listening to Willow back when she took psych classes. But dream or reality, he was really happy. A little dizzy with it all, maybe, but happy. And he figured he might as well go for broke.
“Giddy-up,” he said.
Spike rolled off him. “On your stomach, love.”
Xander complied, spreading his legs invitingly. He was a little nervous about this. He and Anya had played with a strap-on a few times, but there was a big difference between a little silicone dildo and a real-life cock. Maybe Spike realized how he felt, because the vampire rubbed soothingly at Xander’s butt, massaging his cheeks with strong fingers. Xander was just wondering whether he could persuade Spike to massage his entire body—not right then, but another time—when Spike parted Xander’s cheeks and touched his sharp, moist tongue to Xander’s hole.
“Ohhhh,” Xander said. It felt very strange when Spike laughed in response. Spike’s tongue eased inside, loosening the way, and within moments Xander was up on all fours, rocking backwards, trying to resist the urge to grab his own dick and pump it. He wanted more, he realized. Not that the tongue wasn’t amazing, because Christ, it really was. But it wasn’t quite long enough or thick enough, and it wasn’t quite scratching Xander’s itch.
Spike evidently knew this. “What do you want, Xan?”
Spike had never called him that before. The nickname almost made Xander lose it completely. With effort, he managed to speak. “Fuck me, Spike. Please.”
A second or two later, Spike slid two fingers inside Xander. The tongue had loosened him quite a bit and the fingers didn’t hurt. In fact, they felt pretty goddamn amazing, especially when they made their acquaintance with Xander’s prostate. “Oh, God,” Xander moaned.
Spike kept caressing the skin in front of him with one hand while the fingers of the other worked in and out, and Xander was truly rocking into the contact now, trying to get just a little more.
He nearly sobbed when Spike pulled away. Then Spike scrambled up on the bed beside him and settled onto his back. Xander glanced over at him. Spike was propped up slightly on his pillows, his arms spread and his cock moist and nearly purple with need. As much as Xander was greedy for more, it was still a little scary to look at that large portion of Spike’s anatomy and know that it would soon be inserted into a tiny portion of his own anatomy.
“Ready, cowboy?” Spike asked.
Xander snorted softly. He lifted up onto his knees and scooted over, then carefully straddled Spike’s lap. He placed one of his hands on Spike’s shoulder, partly for balance, partly for the reassuring contact, and he reached underneath himself for Spike’s cock. Spike must have liked that—his hips jerked forward at the touch—and he smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I’ll control myself.”
“It’s okay. I kinda like knowing I can make you lose it a little.”
Xander put the tip of Spike’s cock against himself and lowered his body a fraction of an inch. Spike’s cock felt impossibly huge. But when Xander let it enter him just a little bit, there was no pain, just a mild stretching sensation. He took a few calming breaths and was going to take a few more, but Spike reached forward and grasped Xander’s cock and, with a wicked grin, began to stroke it. Xander lowered himself abruptly, wincing a little at a sharp bit of pain that immediately was replaced with a sensation of fullness.
“All right?” Spike asked.
Slowly, Xander began to move up and down. It felt…well, it felt really fucking good, actually. Having Spike in him was every bit as nice as being in Spike. And Spike was wanking him with one hand and clutching at the sheets with another, his entire body taut with the effort to keep still. “Bloody hell, love. That’s nice. And you look a right treat on me like this.”
“Eye doesn’t squick you?” Xander had removed the patch before getting into bed.
Spike released his grip on the bedding to stroke Xander’s left cheekbone. “No. You’re gorgeous, Xan.”
Well, that was pretty good for Xander’s ego. But even better was the way Spike rolled his head back a little and bit at his lower lip, all the time making little rumbly sounds deep in his throat.
And then Xander had a thought. A dangerous one. He froze and Spike looked at him in alarm. “Something wrong?”
“No. Just wondering…um…. I may have read one or two of Giles’s sexier demon books.”
Spike cocked his scarred eyebrow. “And?”
“And, uh, the biting…it’s kind of a thing, isn’t it?”
As soon as he said the word “biting,” Spike’s eyes went wide. Xander heard him swallow, which was very satisfying. “Biting can be lovely,” Spike answered carefully. “But it’s not necessary. I can enjoy shagging without, as you’ve seen for yourself.”
“Yeah, but with?”
“It can blow your bloody mind.”
Xander leaned forward and bent his neck to the side. “Bite me, Spike.”
Spike whooshed out an enormous breath. And then, with a crunching sound that Xander had never heard quite so up close, Spike’s face reshaped, and his teeth sharpened and elongated, and his eyes faded from blue to yellow.
“Guh,” Xander said. He should have been terrified. But as it happened, having a beautiful demon vamp out right in front of you while that demon was buried deep inside you was an enormous turn-on. Man, and he’d honestly thought Anya had dug up all his kinks.
“You’re certain?” asked Spike.
How much self-control did it take, Xander wondered, for Spike to remain still just now, for him to pause with his fangs inches from Xander’s neck and ask permission?
“Do it,” Xander said.
Spike did it.
He didn’t plunge his teeth in—he wasn’t trying to drain Xander, after all. Instead he grabbed Xander’s shoulders and nipped lightly right over Xander’s right nipple. That wasn’t what Xander expected, and for a moment the surprise coupled with the sharp sensation made him startle and gasp. But only for a moment, because then Spike’s lips closed on his skin, suckling at the small wound, and holy Zeus! That felt incredible!
Xander began moving up and down more enthusiastically than before. His cock was trapped between their bodies and it got a little friction that way, but more important than that was the tingling sensation where Spike was drawing blood from him and the good burn where he was riding Spike. His hands didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves and his thighs were beginning to feel a little strained, but he didn’t care, didn’t want to stop, because his body was on fire, every nerve cell singing with delight and his missing eye was seeing fireworks.
Xander howled and came so hard he lost all sense of himself, all idea of where he was and what he was doing.
It took him a few minutes to return to planet Earth. When he did, Spike was still inside him, but leaning back on the pillow with slightly bloody lips, looking as sated and satisfied as ever a vampire did.
“Fuck! Why didn’t anyone tell me about that?” Xander demanded. “Somebody could have said something.”
“You knew what’s-his-face—soldier boy—you knew he was addicted to the bite. Didn’t you wonder why?”
“I guess. I figured it was just some kind of weird post-Initiative shit. But Jesus!”
“’S mutual, love. You taste even better than you feel. I haven’t fed from a human in…in ages.”
“But you didn’t take much. I’m thinking the buzz I’m feeling now is from the orgasm, not blood loss.”
“Don’t want to hurt you,” Spike said very seriously.
The weird thing was that Xander believed him.
Xander made some small preparations before committing his felony for the day. First he went to a building supply store and bought a pair of khaki work pants, a denim shirt, and heavy black boots, as well as a clipboard and a packet of generic work orders in triplicate. He also purchased a toolbox, which would be a handy part of the costume and a good way to smuggle out any evidence he found. He bought a few tools, too, both to give the box weight and in case he needed them for breaking in. The disguise wouldn’t fool anyone who looked too carefully—he had no name or logo on the shirt and no ID card—and of course anyone from the Wonderland would recognize him at once, but at least neighbors or casual passersby would probably not give him a second glance.
He drove to a Jack In the Box and changed into his disguise in the bathroom there, then had a quick burger and curly fries and eggnog shake. Before he got back in the car he banged his toolbox around a little on the pavement and scratched at it with a tire iron he’d found in the trunk. It wouldn’t do for it to look too brand spanking new.
Finally, he drove by the Starbucks where Floppy had his day job. Sure enough, the green Hyundai was parked there. Xander did a U-turn in the parking lot and headed for Floppy’s place.
He tried to look nonchalant as he approached the apartment, toolbox in hand and clipboard tucked under his arm. He didn’t see anyone other than a couple kids playing in the front yard of a house across the street. They didn’t pay any attention to him.
Spike’s research hadn’t turned up any sign of a roommate. That didn’t necessarily mean one didn’t exist, though, or that someone else—boyfriend, out of town visitor, Great Aunt Matilda—wasn’t home. So Xander began by knocking firmly. If someone answered he’d make up some excuse and then leave and try again later. But nobody answered. So he stood in such a way that his body blocked anyone’s view of what he was doing and he pulled a lock-picking tool from his sleeve. It was Angel’s, which confused Xander a little. If Angel picked someone’s lock, wouldn’t the whole vampire invite thing still keep him out? And anyway, couldn’t he just use his super-strength and bust down the door? Xander worked on Floppy’s locks as he mused on these matters; the locks gave easily, although Xander still had no answer to the tool ownership mystery.
The apartment was small and neat, furnished mainly with Ikea stuff. Xander did a quick recon of the place and discovered it consisted of simply one bedroom, a bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen and dining area. The walls of the living room were hung with pictures of Floppy: headshots, mainly, probably taken to secure acting gigs, but also a few of Floppy acting in various plays, and one with him and a pudgy woman and two other young men. His brothers, Xander guessed.
There was an empty Starbucks cup on the little table next to the couch and a couple of dishes in the sink. A laptop was on the floor in front of the couch. There was a flat-screen TV and a Wii and a cabinet full of games. The bed was made; not quite hospital corners, but not bad. There was a small stack of books by the bedside: Dianetics and the Handbook for Preclears and Self Analysis and The Way to Happiness. Either Floppy was one of the few Wonderland employees who really was into Scientology, or else proximity had sparked his interest.
Xander poked in the closets and dresser, but found nothing interesting: the type of clothing he’d expect of a not-particularly well-heeled twenty-something actor wannabe, plus some towels and spare sheets and a worn set of luggage; a few beat-up old board games like Monopoly and Clue; a skateboard with a busted wheel. He also found a small stack of dirty magazines tucked in a drawer under socks and underwear, as if the guy still expected his mother to come snooping around. For all Xander knew, maybe she did.
There was no sign at all of murder or demonic activity. That didn’t necessarily put Floppy in the clear—he could be luring his victims elsewhere and maintaining a pretty deep cover. But Xander didn’t know why a demon would bother. Frothing Frappuccinos was going pretty far to appear like a normal human.
Xander took a last look around to make sure everything was as he’d found it. He sighed as he left the apartment. It looked like he and Spike had more detective work to do.
There were musicians again that night at the Wonderland. They were a band called “Rock-a-Doozy” and they played '50s and '60s rock’n’roll. Loudly and badly. Less than an hour into his shift Xander’s head began to hurt, and within two hours it was aching so badly he felt a little dizzy and his eye socket was throbbing. Spike must have noticed—he kept casting concerned glances Xander’s way—but they couldn’t possibly speak to one another. Even if they’d shouted they wouldn’t have been able to hear over the unmelodious din. Several times Spike raised his eyebrows and gestured in the general direction of his car, clearly asking whether Xander wanted to leave. But Xander shook his head and soldiered on.
His mood wasn’t improved any when a group of four drunk teenagers arrived and acted as obnoxiously as drunk teenagers always did. They stood in the Santa line, squawking along with the music and making fun of the other visitors, and when it was their turn in the little house they tugged at Santa’s beard and made obscene gestures at the photographer. Then they staggered over to stand near the stage, hooting at the musicians and shouting obscenities. Floppy marched over to them and told them to leave, but they only taunted him. So he pulled out his phone and punched furiously at it. Within minutes, sirens approached. The teens knocked over a couple of fake presents and a plastic deer, and then one of them stopped to barf onto the fake snow before they took off running. Naturally, Xander had to clean up the mess.
As he was putting away the mop and bucket, there was a temporary lull in the line and Candy made her way over to him. Xander had always hated the phrase “cute as a button”: what was so cute about buttons, anyway? But she really was adorable—maybe 5’2’’, tops, with those fiery curls and green eyes set at a slight slant. She even had a little sprinkling of freckles scattered across her pert little nose.
“Those boys were awful, Salty Sam,” she said quietly, winking and waving at a little girl who was just exiting Santa’s place.
“Yep. Beer bad.”
She tilted her head at him a little, then shrugged as if it wasn’t worth trying to understand him. “I wish people would behave more appropriately.”
“Well, most of the visitors seem okay.”
“Most of them, yeah,” she agreed. “But we always get a few troublemakers.”
“Have you worked here long?”
She nodded. “Since the very first day. I love this job!”
Ookay, he thought. A little weird, maybe, but it takes all kinds. Then another thought hit him. Instead of stalking employees, maybe he could gather a little inside info.
“Hey, Candy,” he said, “I was wondering…have you seen anything…strange around here?”
And there was that cute little frown again. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Anything…out of the ordinary. It’s just, um, sometimes I get a strange vibe here.”
She stared at him for a moment. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh. Okay. I guess maybe my elf hat’s a little too tight—cutting off circulation to my brain, maybe.” He grinned at her, feeling like an idiot.
She paused and then smiled back, instantly upping her adorability factor even more. “You’re cute, Salty Sam. How about we get together tomorrow?”
He blushed. “Um…thanks. But the thing is, I’m gay.” He’d never actually said that out loud before, but it felt right and true, and not just because he’d boned Spike again before they left for work. And then he added, “And I’m seeing someone.” He gestured vaguely in Spike’s direction.
Candy’s smile didn’t falter, though. In fact, she giggled. “Not on a date, silly. Just to talk. There’s some stuff I want to tell you about.”
Oh, Xander thought. She was one of the true believers and this was when he got the Scientology sales talk. It was pretty dastardly of them to use such charmers as recruiters. He smiled back wanly. “Um, thanks. But I’m pretty busy tomorrow actually.” Which wasn’t a lie—he had more people to investigate.
She looked disappointed. “Okay. Another time, maybe?”
She dimpled at him and went to extricate a wayward toddler from a giant plywood gingerbread man.
They had driven in near-silence, tracking Santa to his bungalow in West Hollywood, then backtracking in enough time to follow Nog home, too. She had a Prius with one of those “COEXIST” stickers on it. Something was clearly bothering Spike, but Xander had no idea what and didn’t want to broach the topic. It was only when they’d returned to Spike’s suite in the Hyperion and cracked open a couple of bottles of Guinness that the vampire finally gave some indication of what was on his mind.
“That was quite a chat you had with the ginger bird.”
Xander frowned at Spike. “Yeah, so?”
“So nothing. The two of you looked right friendly, that’s all.”
Xander was considerably surprised to realize that Spike was jealous. Jesus. Spike jealous over him.
“It’s no big deal,” Xander said, setting one hand on Spike’s shoulder. “I thought maybe she’d have some useful information, that’s all. Like maybe she’d seen something.”
Spike’s jaw worked and he lifted his chin. “Has she?”
“Nope. And I felt like a grade A idiot for asking. But then she asked me out, and—”
“Hey! Hold the vampire snit fit, please. I said no. I told her I’m gay. And that you and I are an item. Hope you don’t mind being outed.”
But Spike didn’t look upset anymore, only slightly overwhelmed. “You told her that?” he said softly.
“Yeah. Of course. And it turns out she only wanted to talk Dianetics with me anyway.”
“You don’t mind her knowing?”
“What? That I’m flying the rainbow flag or that I…that we’re kinda together?”
That was weird, Xander thought. Hearing the word “us” and knowing it meant him and Spike. That just wasn’t an us he would have imagined. It was a pretty nice one, though.
“No, I don’t mind,” he said, and he pulled Spike closer, sloshing a little beer from their bottles in the process. He nuzzled Spike’s neck. “I’ll sing it from the rooftops, if you want. Except my singing voice kinda sucks and I haven’t been able to rhyme decently since Sweet went back to the underworld.”
As it turned out, jealousy followed by declarations of…well, some kind of devotion, Xander guessed…were major vampire turn-ons. Spike practically ripped Xander’s clothes off and they didn’t even make it to the bed. Spike’s carpet was a little scratchy. Xander didn’t care.
Later, just before dawn snuck a few stray tendrils of light around Spike’s heavy curtains, they crawled between the sheets. Xander was sweaty and they were both sticky from lube and various body fluids, but neither had the energy left for a shower. They lay on their sides and Xander spooned behind Spike, kissing softly at the vulnerable nape of his neck and stroking his bare flank.
“’Night, Xan,” Spike said sleepily. They were two of the nicest words Xander had heard in a long time.
Xander’s phone had woken him with a jaunty little tune and he’d stumbled out of bed, retrieved the phone from his jacket pocket, and clicked it open, all without fully engaging his brain.
“Up and at ‘em, sleepyhead. Isn’t it past noon there?”
Xander rubbed his face and tried to will himself into alertness. “Willow?” was all he managed.
“What? You’re gone a week and you’ve forgotten your BFF already?” she teased.
“Never! Just, um, had a late night.”
“Oh?” she said, drawing the syllable out. He could just about see her eyebrows raising with interest. “And what have you been up to, Alexander Harris?”
Xander glanced over at the bed. Spike was awake, but only barely, his eyes heavy lidded and his hair curling everywhere. But he grinned at Xander and stretched luxuriantly.
“Oh! Sorry, Will. I, um, got a little distracted for a sec.”
“Are you okay?” Now she really sounded concerned.
“Right as rain. Safe as houses. What does that mean, anyway? Why is rain right—I mean, okay, moisture is good for the crops and all, but storms do a lot of damage, and they cause floods in, um, Pakistan and places like that. Which means houses aren’t all that safe either, at least not if they’re on a floodplain. What people really should say—”
“Xander! What’s going on? You’re not possessed again, are you? Or, or being held hostage? Was your babble some kind of code?”
“I am not possessed and I’m not being held hostage. I’m just still a little sleepy, that’s all.”
“Uh-uhn. I’ve known you since you were five and had an accident in kindergarten class because you didn’t ask to go to the potty soon enough. Something’s up. Spill, mister, before I teleport there.”
He looked down at his naked and visibly debauched self in panic. “No! No teleporting!” Then he sighed. “And thanks ever so for raising that wonderful memory, Will. Really, nothing is wrong here. I’m still playing elf and investigating the murders. And, um, I ran into an old…acquaintance.” He glanced at Spike again, but Spike simply looked interested in seeing how this was going to play out.
“An old acquaintance?” Willow asked. “Who? Goddess, is it Angel? Is he still in LA?”
“Angel’s still living here—um, unliving—but he’s out of town right now. And it’s not him. Try ‘souled vampire who isn’t Angel’ for a thousand points, Will.”
In a very small voice, she said, “Spike.” It wasn’t in the form of a question—which meant, he supposed, that she forfeited her thousand points. But more immediately interesting was the fact that she didn’t sound especially surprised.
“You knew!” he accused. “You knew he wasn’t dust and you didn’t say anything. How? Why?”
“Um…Andrew sorta told me a couple years ago.”
“Andrew? Andrew knew?”
“Yeah. Remember when he went to retrieve that, um, mentally disordered Slayer? Dana.”
“Hard to forget.” He shuddered a little. Dana had escaped the cell at HQ where she was being kept and had almost killed several people before a few of the other Slayers had taken her down. She wasn’t the first Slayer they’d lost nor the last, but the situation had been heartbreaking. “Andrew saw Spike when he got Dana?”
“Yeah. Andrew said that she cut off Spike’s hands.”
“His hands?” Xander squawked, remembering how the hands in question had felt as they wandered over his body. Spike made a face and rubbed absently at one wrist. “He seems pretty two-handed now, anyway,” Xander said to Willow. “And Andrew felt it appropriate to share Spike’s existence with you and only you?”
“He wasn’t supposed to say anything at all. Spike told him not to—I guess Spike didn’t want Buffy to know. But remember a couple years ago when Andrew didn’t realize the eggnog was spiked?”
“Oh, yeah.” Also hard to forget. Andrew had hit on three Slayers and on Giles for Chrissake, then stood on a table and stripped to his tighty-whities and claimed he was going to have a new career as a go-go dancer. Willow had to escort him back to his room.
“He kinda spilled the beans then. But he swore me to secrecy, and I’ve been really really good about it, too! It was so hard not to let Buff know. But not so much with you, actually. I didn’t think it would matter.”
Xander had to think about that a moment. Would it have mattered to him, prior to this week? If he’d learned that Spike was still kicking would he have done more than make a crack about the really stubbornly undead? He would have liked to think so. After all, Spike had been an ally, had saved his other eye. But Xander wasn’t sure. Now, he sighed again. “So anyway, we ran into each other. He was working on the same case, as a matter of fact. Now we’re…teamed up.”
Spike lifted an eyebrow at that.
“Teamed up?” Willow said. “Well, I suppose that’s good, with the two heads being better than one and many hands making light work and all. But you guys are getting along?”
“Are we getting along?” Xander repeated.
“Rooftops,” said Spike, as if he were daring Xander.
It took Xander a moment to gather Spike’s meaning. Oh. Xander had said that last night, hadn’t he? “Yeah, we’re getting along dandy,” he said into the phone. “In fact, um…more than.”
Spike looked surprised—and pleased. His mouth stretched into a slow, sweet smile.
There was a very long pause on the other end of the phone—a pregnant pause, if he was not mistaken. It was followed by an “eep.” And then another pause. Finally, Willow said, “Xan? Are you and Spike, um….”
“Skipping the light fandango? You betcha.”
Xander managed to choke back a comment about butts being most definitely involved. “I told you I thought I liked guys, Will.” In fact, he’d employed her gay consulting services, during which she had been encouraging, and after which she’d tried to fix him up with the cute guy at the local pub, who turned out to be a Yigranto demon. Yigranto demons had spiked penises. Xander had asked her to foreswear matchmaking after that.
“Yeah, you said you liked men. But Spike? Not that he’s not with the hotness or anything, but Spike?”
“Spike,” Xander said firmly.
“I think…I think I need to go sit down. You go on with the sleuthing and let me know if you need anything. We can talk later.”
Oh, he looked forward to that. “Okay,” he said. “But maybe you’d better not say anything to Buff or the rest about—”
“My lips are sealed. You can be all with the explanations when you get home.”
As Xander hung up and put the phone down, Spike got out of bed and walked over. He drew Xander into his arms, which was diverting, seeing as they were both still naked. All that smooth skin against his felt wonderful to Xander. Spike didn’t grope him, though; he only pressed their foreheads together gently. “You told her,” Spike whispered.
“I said I would.”
“You’re not ashamed.”
“Gods no! I said I wasn’t.”
Spike nodded a little, moving Xander’s head too. There was a little clicking noise from the back of Spike’s throat, and it sounded suspiciously like the noise Xander made when he was trying not to cry. “The Slayer and the poof, they wouldn’t admit….” Spike stopped. “Cheers,” he rasped.
Xander may have sniffled a little too, but only because of allergies. The Hyperion was a dusty place.
Santa Claus lived in an adorable 1920s bungalow in West Hollywood. It was well-kept too, with colored leaded-glass windows and a carefully landscaped front lawn. Xander figured Santa must have been independently wealthy, because he sure wasn’t affording this place on his Wonderland salary, and Spike hadn’t dug up any indication of a day job, either.
The lack of a day job was a problem, actually. Xander skulked down the block and across the street, trying unsuccessfully to come up with some ruse to get inside. But after about half an hour the front door opened and Santa came out, accompanied by an equally large and hirsute man—apparently Mrs. Claus was a bear—and a leashed Rottweiler.
Xander waited for the trio to wander down the street before he left Spike’s Mustang, with toolbox and clipboard in hand. He knocked on the bungalow’s front door, just to be sure, and when nobody answered he jimmied the locks. Santa had crappy locks. But then, who’d steal from Santa? You’d end up with coal-filled stocking for the rest of your life.
The inside of the place was as charming as the outside, with an art-deco-tiled fireplace and arched doorways and nicely polished wood floors. Most of the furniture were antiques too, or at least good reproductions, all in period style to match the house. There was a library lined with stuffed bookshelves, a medicine cabinet crammed full of bottles of Lipitor and Vasotec, and some rather personal photos of the Clauses that Xander really, really wished he hadn’t seen.
There were no body parts or blood splatters (which would have ruined the nice Persian rugs anyway), no demonic cookbooks. No signs of foul play. As far as Xander could tell, Santa Claus was a well-read middle-aged guy who liked to collect ceramic vases and whose dog slept in a bed that probably cost more than Xander’s first car.
Nothing sinister at all. In fact, Xander was feeling pretty envious of Santa, and when he realized he was glancing out into the backyard to see if he could fit a pool back there, he decided he’d better go. Besides, there was no knowing when Santa and company would return.
From Santa’s house, Xander got onto Santa Monica Boulevard and headed west. Nog lived in the right-hand half of a tired-looking duplex. She had three kids, but they should all be in school this time of day, and she was probably at one of her other jobs. She was a single parent who apparently had no need for sleep, because in addition to the Wonderland, she also worked at a feminist bookstore and a quilting supply shop and she did payroll for an optometrist. Xander didn’t think she’d have any time to commit mayhem even if she had the inclination, but he still felt obligated to check her out.
Nog’s place was a mess. Everywhere he looked were shoes and toys and stuffed animals. A pillow fort had been half erected—or maybe half destroyed—in the living room and about three days’ worth of dirty dishes were scattered around the kitchen. It looked like the Nog family had been eating SpaghettiOs. Xander’s stomach growled. He hadn’t visited with Chef Boyardee in years. The refrigerator was so covered with kids’ artwork and reminder notices from dentists that it was hard to see what color the appliance was.
There were two bedrooms: one with a queen-sized futon, and one with bunk beds plus a single bed. None of the beds were made and he nearly tripped over the piles of dirty laundry, but the dresser in Nog’s bedroom was lovingly decorated with macaroni necklaces and popsicle stick picture frames. The kids were cute—three girls, all of them a little chubby like their mother, and the younger two were missing half their teeth.
Xander was envious of Santa’s house, but it was Nog’s disheveled place that really gave him a pang. The duplex was a mess. The carpet was worn and the paint was scuffed and the stained couch dated from the '80s. But it was a home. He could almost hear the kids laughing and squabbling, and Nog scolding them and comforting them when they cried. There would be cartoons blaring from the old TV, he bet, and maybe someone practicing a band instrument while someone else bellowed because her sister had stolen her favorite hairband.
He had a couple of rooms at HQ and they were comfortable enough. He even had his own little bathroom, which was a true blessing in a building full of females, and a TV he didn’t have to share with anyone. But his rooms weren’t home.
“…dressed in holiday cheer, in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas….”
Xander was leaning in the doorway to the office, watching and listening.
“…ding-a-ling, hear them ring….”
Xander lost it—he erupted in helpless snorts of laughter.
Spike looked up from his computer, startled, angry, and sheepish all at once. “Oi! What’s with the sneaking about?”
“I wasn’t sneaking, and your vamp hearing would have noticed me if you weren’t belting out Bing Crosby’s greatest hits. I’m sorry I missed ‘White Christmas.’”
Spike scowled at him and then sighed. “Can’t help it, can I? Every minute a band isn’t murdering music at the Wonderland, they’re blaring that shite over the loudspeakers. ‘T’s burned into my brain. ‘T’s worse than any of ‘Gelus’s old tortures.”
Xander entered the room. He stood behind Spike, looking over his shoulder. “I dunno. I think it’s kind of festive.”
Spike snorted. “Vampire, mate. I don’t do festive.”
Xander pictured Spike in his elf costume and had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud.
“Did you find anything, Xan?”
“No. Santa and Nog are on the up and up.”
“Was afraid of that,” Spike said. “Look.”
Xander squinted at the screen. Spike had the browser open to the L.A. Times, and the headline read: Local Teens Massacred. There were photos, too, crappy school photos, and they made Xander’s stomach lurch because he recognized them. “Those were those drunk kids.”
“Yeah. Cops found ‘em a couple hours ago—well, bits of them, anyway—scattered about the light rail station in Koreatown.”
“Shit. Spike, they were obnoxious but they were just kids. They didn’t deserve this.”
“Who does? Love, I’ve eaten kiddies much more innocent than that lot.”
“I know.” But oddly, the knowledge didn’t bother Xander. He knew what Spike was, what he’d done. “But not lately.”
“No. Lately I’m a sodding white hat.”
Xander bent to kiss the top of his head, then dropped to his knees to kneel beside Spike’s chair. “We’ve gotta figure this out, Spike. I can only stalk one or two Wonderland employees a night, and that’s just not enough. It might not even be one of the elves. Could be someone who works at the Starbucks across the street, or someone at Scientology HQ, or…hell, I don’t know.”
Spike nodded glumly and played with Xander’s hair. Xander liked that. He couldn’t remember anyone doing that before. It was comforting, but more than that, it made him feel…well, cherished, he guessed. And yes, even in his head he was aware how stupid that was. He was having a quickie gay fling with Spike; he was not immersed in a great romance.
Still, the fingers in his hair felt nice.
“Perhaps you should take that bird up on her offer,” Spike said after a while.
Xander looked up at him in surprise. “Really?”
Spike looked like someone who’d taken a big bite of a lemon, but he nodded. “Yeah. She might know something. At the least, she could probably give you more details on the others.”
Spike had stilled his fingers, so Xander leaned into his palm, butting him a little like a cat. Spike got the hint and resumed petting. Xander wished he could purr. Instead, he said, “Okay. I’ll talk to her tonight.”
“What if she wants to shag?”
“I told her I’m gay, Spike.”
“Perhaps she wants to cure you. Some bints fancy that. They reckon you just haven’t found the right girl yet.”
“There shall be no cure by screwing. Besides, I’ve met plenty of girls. And they’re cool—women, I mean. I still like ‘em. Probably still like having sex with ‘em: if the occasion arose, so would I. But, um, not with Candy. And not now.”
“Because you’re on a mission.”
“Because I’m with—I’m having a good time with you. Which isn’t a sentence I ever thought I’d utter to you, but now I have and it’s true.”
Spike’s fingers massaged his scalp. “Good.”
“How goes the swabbing?” Candy had to shout to be heard over tonight’s band, which was slaughtering “Blue Suede Shoes.” If Elvis wasn’t dead already, this would do it.
“It’s a barrel of laughs,” Xander yelled back. “Dealt with a leaky diaper a while back. It’s a thrill a minute.”
She gave him a playful little shove. “You should be happy about this job. Think of all the joy we bring to children!”
“Um…sure. Hey, Candy? You know how you said yesterday you’d like to hang out sometime? I was thinking—sounds like fun.”
“Yeah. I’m kinda new in town. Don’t know a lot of people.”
“How about tomorrow afternoon?”
Just then, Floppy marched over and scowled at them both. “No fraternizing!” he yelled. Then he marched away again.
Candy rolled her eyes. “Two o’clock?”
She pulled a little pad of paper out of her pocket and a teeny tiny pencil, like the kind used in libraries and by golfers, and she wrote down her address. “Meet me at my place. We can go to a coffee shop nearby.”
His costume didn’t have a pocket, so he had to shove the paper in his curly-toed shoe.
At the end of their shift, as Xander tried to hurry to the building to change, Floppy grabbed his arm. “You’re not supposed to fraternize,” he said.
“Yeah. You’ve established that.”
“But first there was the business with Snowdrop and today you were chatting with Candy when you were on duty. What’s the deal, Salty Sam?”
Xander sighed. “Look, I’m off the clock now, so I’m Xander, okay? And we were just talking, that’s all. You don’t have to be such a prick about it.”
To Xander’s surprise, Floppy looked devastated. His lip wobbled a little, almost as if he were going to cry. “It’s my job,” Floppy said. “I’m supposed to keep the elves in line. And I know it’s a really stupid job, okay? I tell myself that one evening a big star or producer is gonna come here with his kids and he’s gonna see me and I’m gonna be discovered, right? I know that’s bullshit and it just ain’t gonna happen, but that’s what I tell myself. And I try to be a professional, even in a crappy gig like this.”
Now it was Xander who felt like a prick. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean to cause you trouble. I’ll walk the straight and narrow from now on, all right?”
Floppy nodded. “What are you doing here anyway, Salt—Xander? Are you that hard up? ‘Cause you don’t seem to me like the Wonderland type. You or Snowdrop, actually. Some of us want to act and some got kids and want some extra cash this time of year. And a couple, like Santa and Candy? They’re just really in the holiday spirit. But you and Snowdrop, I can’t figure you guys out.”
Great. Now Xander was going to have to lie to the guy. “There’s no big mystery. I’ve been out of California for a while and just got back. Usually I make a living doing…um, retrieval work.”
Floppy’s eyes got big. “A bounty hunter?”
“Um, something like that. And I’ve put in some time in construction. But with the housing crash, there aren’t many jobs in that right now, and I need a break from the retrieving.” And now that Xander thought about it, every word he’d just said was true.
“So this is a short-term gig,” he went on, “and I figured I could make a buck or two, get my feet underneath me, take a little time to find something else.”
Floppy nodded again as if this made sense. “But what about Snowdrop?”
Xander glanced toward the Scientology building, where Spike was probably already back in his jeans. “I don’t know. He thought it’d be funny, maybe. He has a weird sense of humor.”
“He’s a pretty weird guy. No offense or anything, but there’s something strange about him. Can’t put my finger on it.”
Xander tried not to break into hysterical laughter. The fact that he and Floppy were having this particular conversation clad in elf costumes didn’t help. “I’ve known Spi—uh, Snowdrop since I was a kid. And he’s different. But he’s a good guy. The kind of guy you want to have at your back.”
“Yeah, okay.” Floppy squeezed his eyes shut and scratched underneath the edge of his cap. “Maybe it’s his hair. I’m probably just imagining things. Things are kind of…different here this year.”
That got Xander’s interest. “Oh? What do you mean?”
“I dunno. This is my third year here. Usually it’s pretty fun, actually. I mean, yeah, sometimes you get jerks coming through, but mostly it’s just families who want to have a nice time. That’s cool. This year, though…it’s like when you get a raspberry seed caught in your teeth and you can’t get it out, so you try and ignore it, right? But it’s there, bugging you. It’s like that.” He laughed a little. “I know. I sound like I’m ready for the loony bin.”
“Naw, man.” Xander clapped him on the shoulder. “What do you think is wrong?”
“I dunno,” Floppy repeated. “I’m probably just getting tired of this shit, that’s all.” He started walking to the building.
Xander followed, waving at the homeless kid with the dreads as they passed each other on the sidewalk. He wanted to press Floppy for more information, but he wasn’t sure how to do so without being too obvious. He wondered whether he should bring up the murdered teenagers. But then they were being let inside by Timmons the guard, and Spike was standing there impatiently in his street clothes.
Xander changed into his jeans and tee as quickly as possible, but by the time he met up with Spike, everyone else was gone except Timmons and Floppy. “Sorry,” Xander said as they walked to the Mustang. “I guess we don’t get to stalk anyone tonight.”
“What where you nattering over with the boy?”
“Several things, actually. Angst. But he says something around here feels hinky to him. He can’t say quite what, though, and I couldn’t get anything specific out of him.”
“Right then. Perhaps tomorrow you can try again.”
“Okay. But first I have a date with Candy at two.”
Spike made a face. “Fine. Do you reckon you could look up one suspect before then?”
By then they’d reached the car. They waved at the demon security guy as usual and got inside. Spike started up the engine and turned out of the parking lot.
“Who’d you have in mind?” Xander asked.
“The guard. Timmons. We know his real name, yeah? So I should be able to find an address for him in the database.”
“Okay. I think I can squeeze him in.”
Spike looked over in Xander’s direction and leered. “Reckon you can squeeze me in first?”
“God, Spike. I didn’t have this much sex when I was eighteen and dating Anya.”
Spike looked crestfallen. “Oh. Done with the experimenting, then?”
“No!” Xander reached over and squeezed Spike’s thigh. “And you’re not an experiment. I mean, maybe the first time you were, but I think we’ve gone beyond that now. And I wasn’t complaining anyway. Just…exclaiming.”
“In joy?” Spike had perked up a little.
“Well, I’m a bloody amazing bloke.”
Xander squeezed again, this time a little farther north. In an English accent that hadn’t improved one bit after several years in London, he said, “Bloody right, mate.”
Back in Spike’s suite, Xander puttered around the kitchen for a little while, nuking some blood for Spike and making a turkey sandwich for himself. He and Spike sat on the couch to eat, neither of them even bothering to turn on the TV. Xander had been eating most of his meals by himself for a long time—it was nice to have company, even if that company was dunking biscotti in his A-Neg.
“’T’s odd, innit?” Spike said.
There were so very many odd things in Xander’s life that he had no idea what Spike was referring to. “What?” he asked.
“You in Old Blighty and me in California.” Spike was gazing into the dregs in his mug as if they held the answer to all the universe’s puzzles.
“Do you miss London?” Xander asked.
“Dunno. I expect I do, now and then. It’s been ages since I’ve been there. Don’t reckon it would feel like home anymore. You miss Sunnyhell?”
“Well, not so much the death and destruction parts, but yeah, I guess so. Like that apartment Anya and I had—it was a really nice place. And the beach—God, I do miss warm ocean! The way we used to hang out at The Bronze and the Magic Box, stuff like that. London’s cool, though. There’s a park across the street from HQ and sometimes I hang out there when the weather’s nice.”
Spike snorted. “Three days of the year then.”
“Maybe. But I appreciate those three days. It’s a good walking city, too. I ramble. I’m a ramblin’ man.”
“I used to walk quite a bit, too, back when I was human.” Spike’s eyes were wistful and far away. “’T’s how I’d sort things in my head, like when I was working on a vexing rhyme, or when I was angry at someone and needed to cool off.”
Xander smiled at him. “I mostly do it to escape the estrogen overload. Maybe I go some of the same places you used to.” And he’d certainly never stroll those streets again without imagining Spike there in one incarnation or another. He didn’t tell Spike that, though. No point making more out of this than it was.
They finished eating and Xander undressed and washed up and brushed his teeth. When he got out of the bathroom he was surprised to see that the bedroom was empty; he’d expected Spike to be waiting for him in bed. Xander wandered into the suite’s other room, but it was empty, too. Xander shrugged and went to the fridge. But as he stood in front of the open door, chugging some milk straight from the carton, he got that prickly feeling on the back of his neck—the same feeling gazelles probably get when the local lion is out for dinner.
Xander spun around but there was nobody there. “Okay,” he said out loud. “Whoever or whatever you are, I’ve probably met something scarier.”
Xander took another swallow and put the carton back on the shelf before closing the fridge. He turned to walk back to the bedroom but he had only taken a single step when something pounced on him from behind, knocking him face-down onto the rug. Xander’s immediate instinct was to fight and he did, kicking and squirming and trying to turn his head to bite whichever of his attacker’s extremities came closest to his snapping teeth. But his assailant was strong, pinning Xander in place.
And then Xander realized that whoever was on top of him wasn’t trying to hurt him. Was, in fact, apparently taking some care to avoid harming him, even as Xander was immobilized. “Spike?” Xander asked.
The grip on him eased a bit and Xander managed to roll over. It was Spike who was straddling his hips now. Spike was still wearing his jeans but his shirt was off, and his fangs were bared ferociously.
“Spike? Is something wrong?”
Spike leaned down close, sniffing at Xander’s neck like a dog might sniff at prime rib. His very, very sharp teeth were maybe an inch from Xander’s carotid, while his hands still pressed Xander’s shoulders to the floor. Then he lifted his head up a little so that Xander had an extreme close-up view of his bumps and brow ridges. Those yellow eyes looked so alien…and yet not. When Xander looked into them—really looked—he could see Spike. See his soul, maybe, or…his humanity, Xander guessed.
“Jeez, Bleachboy. If you wanted a snack you only had to ask.”
Spike sat up again. He lifted his hands from Xander’s shoulders and his face smoothed out. It was interesting to watch the blue bloom at the center of his irises until the amber was gone. Spike cocked his head and frowned. “You weren’t afraid.”
“Was I supposed to be?”
“Of course! A vampire was attacking you, git.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t just any old vamp. It was you.”
“Could still rip your throat out.”
Xander felt like he was about two steps behind in this conversation, kind of like when Mrs. Tarasawa had tried to explain trigonometry to him, back in eleventh grade. “You could rip my throat out but I’m pretty sure you won’t. Sorry—was I supposed to be scared? Did I ruin your demonic confidence or something? You’re still the Big Bad and all.”
But Spike was still looking down at him, his gaze searching. “You trust me,” he finally said.
“Yeah, of course. We’re sleeping together, Spike. You think I’d be doing that if—” He was stopped by the look on Spike’s face, the way Spike’s jaw tightened. In a softer voice, Xander said, “Your thing with Buff really did a number on you, didn’t it?”
“Wasn’t just the Slayer,” Spike replied tightly.
Xander was puzzled by that for a moment until, with a sudden flash of insight, he realized who else might have had a…a relationship with Spike that was more than a little rocky. “I’m not Buffy or Angel,” he said, and saw the flash in Spike’s eyes that told him he’d guessed right. “I dunno, maybe I’m more gullible than them. But I do trust you.”
Spike nodded in either acknowledgement or thanks, Xander wasn’t sure which. In either case, Xander was getting kind of uncomfortable flat on his back with Spike perched heavily on his pelvis. Xander grabbed Spike’s biceps and tugged him down and Spike was lying atop him like a blanket, and they kissed, long and slow and sweet.
After a while, Spike unbuttoned his jeans and slid them down his thighs, and they rubbed and humped against one another there on the rug, carpet fibers digging into Xander’s skin and probably giving him rugburn on his ass. The orgasms that resulted from their contact were very nice, but then so was what came afterward, when Spike clutched him tightly and sighed against Xander’s chest the way a man might exhale with relief against the person who’d just saved him.
Timmons lived in a tiny little house in Azusa, just down the street from the Costco. It was a couple of decades newer than Santa’s place but considerably less charming and in slight disrepair, with peeling paint on the trim and a cracked sidewalk. The lawn was scraggly and uncared-for, too.
Unfortunately, Timmons didn’t have a day job. He worked the night shift at Scientology HQ and had done so for fifteen years, ever since he’d retired from his job as a police dispatcher. It looked like he was home now: his battered old Malibu was parked in the driveway.
According to Spike’s research, Timmons lived alone. He was married but his wife had been at Bide-A-Wee Haven in El Monte for nearly three years. She had Alzheimer's. Their only son had died in a car wreck decades ago, so it was pretty much just Timmons. Which didn’t make him sound like a monster to Xander—just really sad. No wonder the guard always looked unhappy.
But Xander still had to check the guy out, and that was a problem. He skulked around the house into the fenced backyard, where the neighbors couldn’t see him, and tried peeking in the windows, but they were all covered in heavy draperies. Like a vampire, Xander thought. Or like a guy who worked the night shift and wanted to sleep during the day.
And that was a good thought, because Xander himself had worked nights for a good chunk of his adult life—dealing with demonic bad guys, not guarding a pseudo-religion’s building—and he’d learned some things about that. He’d learned that you really do want good, heavy curtains to keep out the sun. And he’d also learned that either you turned into a heavy sleeper or you used earplugs, because daytimes were noisy.
He hoped Timmons had learned the same thing. Xander really, really didn’t want to go to jail.
As quietly as possible, he picked the locks on Timmons’s back door. There was a chain lock, too, and that was a little problematic. Xander could cut it with the bolt cutter he’d stashed in his toolbox, but then Timmons would know that his house had been broken into. But Xander had no other way to get in the door, and he didn’t feel like trying to jimmy open a window and scramble through. After a moment’s more of thought, Xander shrugged, muttered, “What the hell,” to himself, and cut the chain.
He found himself inside a kitchen that smelled like coffee and microwaved burritos. The kitchen had probably last been remodeled circa 1970—the floor was green, the countertop was cracked Formica, and the appliances (also green) belonged in a museum. It was neat though, everything tucked away except a stained white mug and the morning newspaper, both of which were on the small table.
Tiptoeing like a cartoon villain, Xander went into the next room, which was the dining room. There were a couple of pieces of large, cheap furniture there—a china cabinet, a table and chairs. A bouquet of silk flowers was in the center of the table. Everything was dusty.
The living room was next. It was cramped, with a fussy-looking sofa and a pair of overly squishy La-Z-Boys. Everything had doilies on the arms. The one nod to modernity was a plasma TV on a plywood stand. Bland landscapes hung on the walls. Xander thought one of them might be a genuine Thomas Kinkaid.
The bathroom was ordinary. More '70s reno work, with horrible gold-striped wallpaper and a poorly installed safety bar on the wall above the tub.
Timmons was in the next room. He was sprawled on his back, sound asleep, his mouth gaping wide. Xander wasn’t brave enough to go snooping around his bedroom, but a quick glance revealed nothing unusual. Finally, he looked in the last bedroom. Mrs. Timmons probably once used it as a sewing room: a plastic-covered sewing machine was on a table under the window, with dusty spools of thread beside it. There were a bunch of cardboard boxes in this room, too, but they proved to contain nothing more exciting than clothing and old knickknacks.
Still creeping quietly, Xander left the house. He locked the back door behind him.
There was a small shed in the yard and he checked it out, too. There were no severed heads inside, although there was a somewhat mummified-looking dead mouse and about a million dead flies. An ancient lawnmower was there, too, and some pots and garden tools and a hose.
Xander sighed and trudged back to the Mustang. The on-ramp to the 210 was only a few blocks away. He drove glumly, not just because he was still getting nowhere on solving the murders, but also because his little visit chez Timmons had thoroughly depressed him. He could see himself ending up like that: old, alone, grouchy. Unloved. He wondered whether the guard spent much time brooding over past decisions that had landed him with a shitty job and a tacky little house in Azusa. Would Timmons have done things differently if he’d known he’d end up like that?
Traffic was heavy, giving Xander plenty of time to think as he returned to Hollywood for his appointment with Candy. What would I do differently, he asked himself, if I could go back in time? Well, he’d break things off with Anya a hell of a lot earlier, or at least share his feelings with her at some point before their wedding day. He wouldn’t invoke Sweet. He’d find a way to get himself out of his parents’ basement a hell of a lot sooner. There were about a million times he’d have ducked a little quicker or swung a little sooner. But the big things…. He’d still throw in his lot with Buffy and Willow, even though it meant the loss of an eye. He’d still rush in where angels—and, occasionally, Angel—feared to tread.
And he’d still have his first Big Gay Adventure with Spike.
Candy’s place was only about a quarter mile from the Wonderland. Xander had to triple-check the address she gave him because it looked like a defunct office product store. But the building had three stories and so, he guessed, there must be apartments above. He parked the Mustang in the empty lot next door and looked around for an entrance. There was nothing obvious. But then Candy yelled down to him from above: “There’s a door in the back! Come on up the stairs.”
He couldn’t see her, but he shouted back, “Thanks!”
Sure enough, there was a metal door painted beige. It was pretty scuffed and dented and it sure didn’t look like an apartment entrance. Maybe she had a loft or something. The knob turned, anyway. Inside was nothing but a dimly-lit vestibule with a set of padlocked double doors and a metal stairway. Xander’s boots echoed loudly as he climbed.
The door on the second floor was locked as securely as the one on the first, a heavy, rusty-looking chain holding it shut. So Xander continued on up to the third floor. The door was open there, just a crack. He hovered on the landing for a moment before clearing his throat. “Uh, Candy?” he called out.
The door swung open and there she was.
“Hey,” Xander said. “I thought we weren’t allowed to bring the costumes home.”
She looked down at her sparkly red and green tunic. “This is mine.”
“Oh. Okay.” She was wearing the pointy ears, too, and the perky cap with the bells on it, and the gold lame slippers. Maybe she worked as an elf by day, too. She was pretty gung-ho about the whole thing.
“Come on in, Salty Sam,” she chirped.
He wasn’t all that enthusiastic about that, really. But it would give him a chance to give her place a quick check so he could cross her off his slowly dwindling list of potential baddies. “Actually, my name’s Xan—” he began as he entered her apartment.
And then he stopped cold.
It wasn’t an apartment at all, but rather a big, dusty space that was probably once used as storage for the office supply store, and was now filled with collapsing piles of boxes and broken furniture and wads of plastic sheeting.
He swung around just as she slammed the door shut behind him. He could hear the emphatic click of a lock.
“Um,” he said.
She smiled at him. And it was funny, but he’d never before noticed how pointy her white teeth were. In fact, they looked awfully sharp. Not fangy like Spike’s—hers were little needles, like a piranha’s dental work.
“I’m really sorry to do this,” she said, taking a step toward him. How could he not have noticed before how claw-like her fingernails were? Like talons.
He took two steps back, deeper into the room. “Do? There doesn’t need to be any doing. Nope, no doing at all.”
Candy took another step forward. “You seem like a nice guy, you really do. You’ve been doing a good job keeping the Wonderland clean, and you’ve been great with the kids—like that little girl with the spilled cocoa? I wasn’t too sure when they hired a pirate elf, but I have to say, you really pulled it off.”
He tried to scramble back but bumped into a massive wooden credenza. “Gee, thanks for the performance review, Candy, but I really gotta go.”
She came even closer, so that only a couple feet separated them. She smelled like peppermint. “It’s a shame, Salty Sam, it really is.” She sighed. “Oh well, no way around it.”
She lunged at him.
Xander was nearly a foot taller than her and probably eighty pounds heavier. He’d spent almost half his life fighting and, although he was no Slayer, he’d picked up a few things over the years. He could generally hold his own in hand-to-hand if his opponent wasn’t magically enhanced.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, Candy was magically enhanced.
He ducked and swung at her, but she moved lightning-quick and grabbed his fist. He shrieked as she broke his wrist, seemingly without even trying. He tried to kick at her instead, but she simply darted forward and bit him, right in the center of his chest.
It wasn’t a nice bite like Spike’s. Candy latched right onto him, teeth ripping through t-shirt, skin, and all, and it hurt like hell. What was worse, though, was that she hung onto him like a pitbull, and when he bashed at her with his uninjured hand she ignored the blows completely.
“What the fuck is your problem?” he screamed.
She didn’t answer—she couldn’t with a mouthful of Xander. But she dug her claws into his biceps and held him tight and she was frigging strong.
He struggled, still trying to kick at her or shake her off. The pain of the bite faded and that would have been a good thing, except that he was getting weaker and kind of dizzy, and it felt like his knees would buckle any minute.
“Poison,” he slurred, his tongue feeling thick and clumsy. “You have venom….”
She finally let him go and took a half-step back. As soon as she did, he collapsed to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut. He landed right on his broken wrist but, fortunately, he was feeling as numb as if someone had given his entire body an enormous shot of Novocaine.
She kicked him onto his back and looked down at him. She might have been trying to look sad, but his blood smeared all over her chin and cheeks kind of ruined the effect. Hey, he thought to himself, look on the bright side. It appeared as if he’d found their quarry, although he didn’t feel particularly cheered up about that.
“Why?” he managed to say.
She planted her hands on her slender hips. “It’s the spirit of the season, silly. It’s so important and it’s only once a year. But nasty people still have to ruin it. Some of them are mean to their own children! They don’t deserve to celebrate.”
“Tho wee tem?” Xander said.
She must have understood him. “I have to eat something don’t I? At home it’s usually seals, fish, things like that. We used to eat a bear now and then but they’re pretty rare now.” She frowned prettily at him. Well, it would have been pretty without the gore. “It’s not like I can just go to the Burger King. I need live food.”
“Dugnh,” he replied. It was getting difficult to move even his lips. A string of drool ran out of his mouth and down his cheek. Of all the ways he’d imagined dying, this was not one of the more dignified choices.
She licked some of the blood from her lips. “I’m not even hungry now, you know. Those awful drunken young people—well, they tasted good, anyhow. But you taste better. I’m not sure what it is about you…you’re just sort of…scrumptious. But I would have left you alone if you hadn’t started nosing around. What led you to do that, Salty Sam?”
The only answer he could give her was a moan.
She shrugged. “Well, whatever. I guess I can save you for later.”
He felt a dim hope at that—at least it looked as if she didn’t intend on Xander Tartare right away, so he’d get to live a little longer. Assuming the venom wasn’t fatal.
She grabbed his ankles and used them to drag him a little deeper into the room. He could see the blood then—great pools of it dried on the wooden floor and splatters of it all over the surrounding debris. She propped him up against a heavy metal support post—righting him when he toppled to one side—and secured him to the post by wrapping a long chain around his arms and torso. He thought the chain was tight, although it was hard to be sure with his body feeling kind of disconnected. He was still drooling.
She tugged at his bonds a little and, seeming satisfied, walked away and returned a moment later with some gray fabric. She shoved a wad of the fabric in his mouth and tied a strip of it around his head, gagging him pretty effectively. With a little tugging, she managed to get the car keys out of his pocket. She also fished out his cell phone, which she dropped on the floor and crushed with her heel. Then she left. Xander couldn’t see the door but he could hear it close and lock.
The poison made him feel a little woozy but it didn’t knock him out. So he had the opportunity to think about many things. Like how he really should have checked Candy out right at the beginning, or at least suspected something beyond Scientology recruitment when she asked him out. And how it would have been nice, that time when Anya was telling them about Santa Claus’s real identity, if she’d mentioned that elves were real, too. Carnivorous, venomous, demented elves. About how his chest and wrist were really going to hurt when the poison wore off.
He wondered how long it would take before his friends found out what had happened to him. Spike would know he was missing, of course, but Xander had been too insanely stupid to give him Candy’s address, so Spike wouldn’t know where to find him. Presumably, Candy would ditch the Mustang somewhere far away.
Xander hoped that all the Wonderland visitors from now on made Candy’s “nice” list and that she’d be content with only him to munch on. In two more weeks, Christmas would be over and, he guessed, she would go back to wherever she came from. Maybe Buffy or Willow or someone would track her down eventually. Too bad Xander wouldn’t be alive to see Buffy kick Candy’s perky little ass.
Inevitably, Xander thought about Spike as well. He wished they’d had a little more time together. It wasn’t that Xander had fooled himself into expecting anything serious to develop between them—come on. Spike said it himself. He was an enterprising vampire. Xander was handy and lonely and horny and they’d screwed each other’s brains out. But their time together had given Xander the chance to see the softer side of Spike, and Xander knew that Spike longed for someone to love him, to appreciate his true strengths. Neither Buffy nor Angel was ever going to be that someone; even Spike knew that. Xander hoped Spike found someone who would be.
He must have fallen asleep.
He woke up, as he had predicted, with his bitten chest throbbing and his right wrist feeling like it was full of broken glass. His head was pounding, his muscles were sore, his jaw ached, and, to cap it all off, his bladder was full. He was really regretting that Starbucks stop he’d made after leaving Azusa.
In a lifetime of sucky Yuletides, this one took the cake. The stale, disgusting fruitcake.
Now that he could move again he tried to struggle free of the chain, but all that accomplished was jostling his wrist so badly he almost passed out. So he stilled and closed his eye and tried not to vomit. With the gag in, he’d probably choke to death on it. He thought only rock musicians died like that.
When his stomach had settled a little, he opened his eye again and looked around. But it was past dark by then and the only illumination was a little moonlight coming in through the windows. There was nothing much to see, anyway, or at least nothing useful. Yeah, there were some things that would make serviceable defensive weapons, like a long metal piece from a busted chair and a broken-off table leg. But he couldn’t reach any off them with his hands pinned to his sides and even if he could, he’d have to wield them one-handed, and with his off hand at that.
He banged his head against the post. That didn’t do any good at all and it made his headache worse, but he couldn’t just sit there.
He was just about to piss his pants when he realized that the thunk, thunk, thunk of his head wasn’t the only noise he was hearing. He froze, wishing he had vampire hearing. The noise came closer and he realized they were footsteps, running footsteps. And it didn’t sound like the runner was wearing elf slippers, either.
The footsteps halted and someone pounded on the door.
Xander was suddenly almost delirious with relief. It was Spike!
Xander tried to reply, but could only manage some muffled grunts: “Uhn-uhn-uhn!”
But maybe Spike heard him anyway, because he shouted again. “Xan? Is that you?”
Spike pounded at the door and the knob clicked as he tried to turn it. He was wondering if Spike knew how to pick locks when the entire door burst inward with a tremendous bang. There was so much force behind it that, by the sound of it, it flew all the way open and bounced against the wall. Spike immediately rushed inside. “Xan?”
Spike came skidding around the corner. He looked frantic. “Bloody hell, whelp! Are you all right?”
It wasn’t a question Xander would have bothered to answer even if he could have. Instead, he rolled his eye and rattled the chain a little.
Spike frowned at the bite mark on Xander’s chest and knelt to tug at the chain. “Should have known you’d end up like this. Demons can’t keep their claws off you, can they?” He stopped fussing with the chains long enough to untie the gag and pull the fabric out of Xander’s mouth.
Xander spat out a mouthful of lint. “Spike! How’d you find me? It’s Candy! She’s a real elf, a real elf with piranha teeth and venom and talons and—”
“I know, Xan. Sussed that out tonight. Damned thick of me not to notice earlier, but she smells human, dammit.”
“That’s probably because she’s been eating people. Get me out— Ow!”
Spike squinted at Xander’s hand. “What’s wrong?”
“She broke my wrist.”
Spike swore and continued trying to get the chains loose.
“How’d you find me, Spike?”
“Started when you didn’t come home. I rang but you didn’t answer.”
Xander gestured with one finger. “That’s because those pieces of plastic dust are what’s left of my phone.”
“I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t go out until the sodding sun set. Then I had to nick a car, and I didn’t know if you’d disappeared at the guard’s or at Candy’s or somewhere in between. Fuck! These chains are bloody strong, Xan.”
“So you went randomly driving around Los Angeles?”
“No. I went to the Wonderland. Reckoned I’d begin there, beat an answer out of someone if I had to. Candy and Timmons were both there but I didn’t let them see me. I was skulking down the street, amongst the crowds at the Metro stop. I hadn’t any idea where to turn next, and then that boy wandered by, the one with the ridiculous hair.”
Xander chuckled. “You’re one to talk, Bleachboy.”
“Oi! Any more mouth and I’ll stop the rescue.” Spike grunted as he tugged at the chain again, and Xander gritted his teeth against the pain. “The boy asked after you and that gave me an idea. He hangs about that block nearly every night. I asked whether he knew where the cute red-headed elf went after work.” He grinned. “Turns out he did.”
“Well, bully for him. But Spike, I really gotta pee, and—”
Xander was interrupted by a wild shriek. Neither of them had noticed the elf entering the room, and now she threw herself onto Spike, screaming like a banshee. Spike fell down and they rolled across the floor.
“Spike!” Xander yelled. “She has venom!”
Spike roared something in reply, but it was muffled by a mouthful of homicidal elf. Ha, Xander thought. This one bites back, bitch! But Xander was still attached to the goddamn pillar and all he could do was watch—and cheer Spike on—as the two of them rolled around on the dirty floor, growling and snarling and roaring with anger. It was like watching a pitbull fight a panther.
They knocked over the precarious piles of boxes, causing bulldog clips and pencils and those plastic nametags conventioneers wear to come tumbling down on top of them, but they kept on fighting. Spike managed to get to his feet and grab a big, heavy three-hole punch. He swung it, connecting with Candy’s head with a sickening thwap. She went flying several feet but immediately scrambled upright and flung herself at Spike again. He yelped when she latched her teeth onto his neck, and the sudden weight of her made him stagger and fall down again.
The fight continued. Xander wondered how long it would take before Candy’s venom paralyzed Spike. He also wondered how long it would take before he gave in to the pressure and wet himself.
Spike pulled himself upright again. He got his hands around Candy’s throat and Xander heard her neck break with a very satisfying crack. Then her hat fell off, which was a relief—no more jingling bells—but her head lolled at an unsettling angle and she still kept at it. Her talons dug into Spike’s unprotected midsection and he howled as she tried to disembowel him.
“Spike!!” Xander screamed, seeing the vampire stagger and clutch at his belly. Spike fell to one knee and tried to hold his stomach together with one arm and fend Candy off with the other.
Maybe Spike had weakened the chains that held Xander. Maybe the chains weren’t so strong to begin with; they were old and a little rusty. Maybe he was still channeling a little of that hyena demon. Maybe Xander’s strength grew three sizes that day. But when Xander gave another desperate, convulsive heave, the chains broke.
Ignoring the screaming pain in his hand, Xander cast around for a weapon—anything that might stop the elf. His eye fell on a big metal paper slicer. With another burst of strength—and a bolt of blinding agony in his broken bones—he was able to wrench the blade free from the base.
His legs weren’t very steady, due to the lingering effects of the venom maybe, or perhaps just from being chained up for hours. But he staggered toward the struggling demons and, as Candy grabbed Spike’s hair and bent his head back—no doubt so she could rip out his throat—Xander screamed like a banshee and hacked at her neck with the blade.
The blade didn’t go all the way through—it caught on her vertebrae. She screeched and turned away from Spike. Xander barely had time to see Spike collapse onto the floor, and then Xander was yanking the blade free with another brain-frying jolt to his injured arm.
Now Candy’s head was at a truly alarming angle and she was spurting blood everywhere. She didn’t look remotely human anymore as she came towards him like something from a bad horror movie. But he swung the cutter again, once more connecting with her ravaged neck. It was enough to knock her down, and as soon as she hit the floor he held her in place with one booted foot between the shoulders, and struck at her again. He put everything he had behind it.
This time her head was severed completely.
Her body twitched spasmodically and he kicked the head like a soccer ball—what if it could reattach or something? The head bounced against a broken metal bookshelf. He lurched over to investigate it. He was no expert on elves, but it looked pretty dead.
When Xander turned back to the rest of the room, he saw that Spike had managed to crawl the few feet to Candy’s decapitated body. Xander watched as Spike guzzled at the blood that still gushed from the neck.
After a few moments, Spike dropped the corpse, rolled onto his back, and looked up at Xander.
“Eww,” Xander said.
“It’ll help me mend,” Spike replied weakly. “Tastes horrible, though. Sweet, like one of those frozen coffee abominations you lot fancy drinking.”
“Wasn’t the drinking that squicked me. It was the way some of your insides are now outside. Plus we both look like the end of a Tarantino movie.”
But Spike’s mention of frozen coffee drinks had reminded Xander that he and his bladder had very urgent business to conduct. He took a few steps away, awkwardly fumbled his pants open, and pulled out his dick. It was a little weird to hold himself with his left hand while he pissed—he aimed for a pile of ancient green and white striped printer paper—but good Christ it felt good to empty himself.
He tucked himself away again and turned back towards Spike.
“Marking your territory, pet?” Spike asked.
“Just emptying the tank. Fuck, Spike, you need a lot more blood.”
“And you need a hospital. The car I nicked is down in the alley. Keys are in my pocket. Reckon you can drive yourself to the ER?”
“And leave you here?” Xander said incredulously. “No way.”
Spike shook his head. “Can’t walk.”
“Then I guess I’m gonna have to carry you.”
It was Spike’s turn to look unbelieving. But Xander knelt and scooped his good arm just under Spike’s ass. “C’mon, Fangface. Hang on.”
Spike put his arm around Xander’s neck and Xander carefully stood, lifting Spike. Spike’s shoulder was digging into the bite on his chest and it hurt like hell, but there was no way a fireman’s carry was going to work with Spike half-eviscerated.
Spike’s head lolled back against Xander as Xander made his way out of the room and to the stairs. “You’re strong,” Spike observed.
“I’ve been working out. We have a great gym at HQ. The exercise passes the time when I’m off duty and helps keep me alive when I’m on.” Then Xander stopped talking, because it was taking all his remaining strength and most of his breath to get himself and Spike down the stairs. He wasn’t positive he was going to make it, so it was with enormous relief that he reached the external door and staggered out into the alley.
As it turned out, Spike had stolen someone’s Mercedes. Spike did a keyless unlock and Xander gingerly set him down in the back seat. “Nice S400,” Xander said, trying to help Spike get as comfortable as possible.
“If you’re going to nick a car, might as well make it a good one. And did you notice? It’s a hybrid.”
“Great. You’re a very green vampire. But we’re gonna get blood all over the upholstery.”
“’T’s leather. Can be cleaned.”
That conversation seemed to take the last bit of energy from Spike. Xander shut the door and got into the driver's seat.
He didn’t actually remember the drive back to the Hyperion—he was too lost in a haze of pain and exhaustion. But somehow he got them there, and he carried Spike inside. There was no way they were going to make it up to Spike’s suite—Xander really wished the elevators worked—so he settled Spike on the floor of the office, figuring the rug there was at least a little softer than the tile lobby. “I don’t know if I can manage to get to your kitchen,” Xander told him.
“Poof’s suite’s on the second floor. 216. He’ll have blood there.” Spike’s voice was thin and faint.
With the help of the handrail, Xander made it up to Angel’s rooms. He grabbed a soft blanket off the enormous bed and, using it as a sort of bag, filled it with all the plastic packets in the freezer. He nuked a few of them first, though, figuring they would be enough to get Spike started, at least.
“Ta,” Spike said when Xander propped his shoulders up and held a bag to his mouth.
“How come you’re not completely paralyzed? She bit you a lot more than she bit me.”
Spike took a healthy slurp. “Poisons don’t work well on vamps. The benefits of no circulation, I expect.”
“Xan, you need to get those wounds looked after. Your hand’s a mess and that bite’s likely to get infected.”
“I’ll take care of it. Just get a few more pints in you first.”
Spike drank nearly a gallon before insisting that he was full and Xander needed to see a doctor. Spike did look a little better, Xander supposed. Xander tucked the blanket around him and went to call a cab.
“You look a lot better,” Xander said.
Spike was in his room, lying on the couch in clean clothing, his face and hair and hands scrubbed free of blood. The bite marks on his face and neck and arms were fading. He still held a hand to his belly as if it were sore, though. “Couple gallons of blood does the trick,” Spike said. “Hospital went all right?”
Xander sat down near Spike’s feet. “Well, they kind of freaked out when I walked in looking like I’d chopped someone’s head off, and I had a hell of a time coming up with a credible story.”
Spike cocked an eyebrow. “What’d you tell them?”
“Attacked by a pack of wild dogs.”
“Hey,” Xander said, “I wasn’t in the most creative mood. It’s better than that old barbecue fork/pack of teens on PCP tale from Sunnydale, anyway. And the doctor bought it, or at least she stopped interrogating me.”
“You’ll live, I take it.”
“Yeah. They had to give me a couple of stitches on my chest and I’m gonna scar, but no big deal.”
“And the wrist?”
Xander lifted his right arm a little; the hand and forearm were encased in a plastic brace. “The wrist is gonna be a pain in the ass for a while. Doc said I’m gonna need surgery, pins, all that fun stuff. I’ll get it done when I’m back in England. I don’t have insurance coverage here.”
Spike sniffed loudly and looked away, at the blank TV screen. “So you’ll be returning to London then?” Xander couldn’t read his expression at all.
“Well, the mission’s complete, so yeah, I guess so.”
After a prolonged silence, Xander hauled himself off the couch again. He wandered into the bathroom and took a really long shower. He wasn’t hurting too badly at the moment—the doctor had given him some good drugs—but he was dead-tired. Spike was still on the couch when Xander emerged from the bathroom, wearing only a towel tied around his hips.
“Can you walk to bed or do you want me to carry you?’ Xander asked.
Spike’s eyes shifted oddly. “Can walk,” he mumbled. And he did manage to get to his feet and into the bedroom. He let a groan escape when he tried to undress, though, so Xander ended up helping him. Spike had wrapped about a mile of bandages around his stomach but, as far as Xander could tell, Spike’s internal organs were back where they belonged.
Xander dropped the towel on the floor and they climbed into bed together. They didn’t have sex—neither of them was in any condition for that. But they lay spooned together, Spike’s back to Xander’s front and Xander’s splinted hand resting on Spike’s flank. Spike hadn’t bothered gelling his hair after he cleaned up, and the soft curls tickled against Xander’s nose.
“Thanks for the rescue,” Xander said quietly.
Spike hummed a reply, then scooted slightly backwards, increasing the amount of skin contact between them. “Ta for not leaving me there.”
Several minutes of silence passed and Xander wasn’t even certain Spike was still awake. But Xander said, “I’ve liked working with you, this last week.”
“You make a much more agreeable partner than Peaches.”
“We could do it again. Maybe not so much with the elf costumes, but sometime. When something nasty turns up.”
“Something surely will,” Spike said. And then he chuckled softly. “Besides, I rather fancied you in those tights.”
Xander smiled into the nape of Spike’s neck. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
For nearly the hundredth time, Spike reread the email he'd composed. His cursor hovered between the Delete and Send buttons. “Bloody coward,” he scolded himself. “Just get it over with.”
“Now you’re talking to yourself?”
Spike’s head snapped up. He’d been so engrossed in his indecision that he hadn’t heard Angel come home. “Liam,” he said. And then punched Delete and snapped the laptop shut. “You and dog-girl make up?”
Angel entered the office and sat down on the edge of the desk. “Yeah.”
“Where is she?”
“It’s Christmas Day, Spike. She’s with her family. She’ll be back in a couple of days.”
“Then why so glum? Or has your face actually frozen like that?”
Angel didn’t even bother scowling at him. “She made me promise I’ll go dancing with her on New Year’s Eve.”
Spike snorted with laughter as Angel reached over and picked up the bottle of Glenmorangie. Angel filled Spike’s empty glass with the liquid and then took a long swallow.
“Oi!” Spike protested, but his heart wasn’t really in it.
“Did you do anything while I was gone? Aside from surfing for porn and drinking my whisky.”
Spike worked his jaw. “Nothing important.”
Angel drained the glass and then refilled it. “So you wanna get your ass out of my chair? I got work to do.”
Spike stood and stomped up the stairs to his suite.
His phone was there, sitting atop his chest of drawers. He picked it up and put it down again, picked it up, started to punch the numbers, and then threw it against the wall, where it hit with a completely unsatisfying crunch. He growled at it—or maybe at himself—but that didn’t help either.
This was stupid. He knew that. Here he was brooding worse than his grandsire ever had, and over Xander Harris, of all people. Droopy Boy, with the perpetually babbling mouth and the ridiculous obsessions with science fiction programs and the appalling taste in clothing. Xander Harris, who was just a human, just an ordinary man.
No. He wasn’t ordinary at all; Spike couldn’t fool himself into believing that.
He was brave and loyal and funny…and that made him sound more like a bloody sheepdog than a lover. But he was those things and more, and it had been so lovely to share a bed with him. Share a…an existence with him, even if for only a few days. He’d accepted Spike for what he was and he’d trusted him. He hadn’t made him feel like an idiot or a monster.
But Spike was an idiot, because once again he’d fallen for someone impossible. Xander had been surprisingly kind to him and the shagging had been brilliant, but it had been a fling for him, an introduction to the joys of gay sex—which the boy had taken to like a pro. Even now, less than two weeks later, he was probably sleeping his way through London’s clubs.
With another inarticulate sound, Spike stalked over to the CD player that was tucked under one of his kitchen cupboards. He hit Play and turned the sound all the way up, so that “Holidays in the Sun,” blasted out at ear-splitting levels. He sang along so loudly it hurt his throat.
Halfway through “God Save the Queen” he barely heard a pounding at the door. “Sod off!” he shouted. “‘M not turning it down.” He’d have thought two floors would have been enough separation between them, but Angel was never happy unless he had his knickers in a twist over something.
The pounding resumed.
Spike clomped over to the CD player, turned it off with a savage jab, and then clomped to the door. He jerked the door open and gave Angel a murderous glare.
Except it wasn’t Angel who stood there.
“Hey, Spike.” When Xander moved his head, the bells on his hat jingled merrily.
Spike gaped at him.
“Can I come in?” Xander asked mildly. “I mean, not that I need an invitation—still unvamped here—but it’s polite to ask.”
Spike stepped aside and Xander entered the suite. Spike closed the door.
They stood and looked at each other.
“What…what…,” Spike finally managed.
Xander grinned and rubbed his neck. “I’m not sure whether there’s a special hell for people who burglarize Scientology headquarters on Christmas. But I’ve had all that practice lately with the B&E and I figured they could spare one elf costume.”
Spike pointed wordlessly at Xander’s shoulder.
“Yeah, that part I had to supply myself. Mr. Foster said he was gonna get me a toy parrot but I guess he forgot. This one’s English, actually. I found him at Harrods when Dawn dragged me there to finish her holiday shopping—well, mostly because she wanted someone to schlep her bags. But then she got waylaid in the lingerie department which totally squicked me so I went to the toy department to wait for her, and I found this little guy. Willow knitted his little Santa cap which I think was way support girl for her, and I—”
Xander’s mouth shut with an audible pop.
“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Spike was aware that he sounded more than a little plaintive.
Xander looked down at his stripe-adorned legs. “You said you liked me in the tights, and I figured today was the day for this get-up.” He looked up at Spike with a frown. “Too many bad associations? I promise I won’t rip your guts out.”
In a tiny voice, Spike said, “You already did.”
There was another long silence, punctuated by Xander’s soft, “Oh.”
Spike took a few steps away and turned his back to Xander. “Why are you here?”
“Because I really wanted to make the Gold Tier in British Airways’ frequent flyer club.” Xander walked around until he was in front of Spike and, when Spike tried to turn away, Xander put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
“Your wrist’s mended.”
“Yeah. Willow. Hurt like fuck but it was over in a couple hours, so I figured it beat weeks of surgery and stuff. Plus it’s easier to get through airport security without pins in my bones.” Xander’s lips were lifted in a small smile and his eye was soft and warm.
“Do you celebrate Christmas, Spike?”
Spike blinked at him. “Demon.”
“Well, yeah. But recent experience has taught me that some demons are imbued with the spirit of the season—in a twisted, misguided sort of way. And besides, you’re a pretty human sort of demon. If you don’t mind me saying so.”
Spike’s head was whirling with confusion, as if he were under some strange spell. “Haven’t celebrated for ages.”
“Oh. Well, maybe it’s time you did. ‘Cause not everyone’s Christmas needs to suck, does it? Hey, I brought you a present and everything!” Xander bent and pulled something out of the cuff of one of his gold slippers. He held it out to Spike. It was oblong and wrapped in shiny silver paper and it had a miniscule red bow, the bow slightly crushed from its time in Xander’s shoe.
“What is it?’ Spike asked.
“See, it’s been so long you’ve forgotten how this works. You’re supposed to unwrap it so you can see what it is for yourself.”
Spike rolled his eyes, but he reached out and took the little parcel. With ridiculous care, he used a fingernail to slit the tape and then he pulled the paper off the box. He let the paper fall to the floor and opened the top.
Inside the box, a pen was nestled in white cotton wool. Not a cheap modern plastic thing, but a beautiful antique dip pen made of mother of pearl and gold. Spike lifted the pen from the box and held it in his palm. It felt heavy and solid, like he remembered pens feeling when he was alive. He’d always loved the feel of them in his fingers, smooth and sensuous and somehow inspiring.
He had to blink rapidly before he could look at Xander again.
“There’s no ink. Sorry. The guy tried to sell me some but it would have been a bitch to get through security. There must be some place here where you can find the right kind of ink, right?” Xander looked nervous, his cheeks tinged with a slight blush.
Spike nodded. “Yeah. Reckon I can find some. It’s lovely, Xander. But why?”
Xander shrugged. “Another shopping trip, that time with Giles, ‘cause he wanted my advice on what to get the girls. ‘I haven’t any idea what to purchase for young people that won’t appall me.’” Xander’s imitation of Giles’s accent was terrible. “So we were in this shop and I saw this and it made me think of you. No, that’s not right. Spike, everything has made me think of you. For the last two weeks I haven’t been able to think of anything but.”
“And right before Candy caught me I was thinking about decisions and regrets, and how I’d do things differently if I could, so…. Spike, the…the thing with…with us. Was it just you being enterprising and resourceful? ‘Cause that would be okay, I guess— No. No, it wouldn’t be okay.” He took a deep breath. “Was it just that, or was it something else?”
Fuck. Spike was bloody well not going to cry. “It was something else,” he said in a near-whisper.
Xander let the deep breath out in a long, noisy sigh, and his tense shoulders loosened. He smiled. “Good.”
Spike walked to the kitchenette and set the pen down as carefully as if it were the most precious thing he owned. Which it was. He took a moment to collect himself and then walked back to where Xander was waiting in that ludicrous elf kit.
“How long do you mean to stay?” Spike asked carefully.
“Dunno. I have an open-ended return ticket. I guess…I guess I’ll stay as long as you’ll have me, Spike. I might even get those elevators going. Or you could come back with me to London if you wanted. We could always use your help there, too.”
Spike thought a moment. “Perhaps we could alternate, a few months here, a few months there. Depending on whether the poof or the Slayers are being more annoying. We’d have to organize a way to get me there without frying.”
“Will you show me around London? Show me the places you used to go?”
Spike smiled. “I’d like that.”
They moved into one another’s arms then and it felt natural and good. It felt like coming home.
“I haven’t a pressie for you,” Spike murmured into his human’s ear.
Xander gently bonked his head against Spike’s and pulled back a little to begin unbuttoning Spike’s shirt. “Then maybe you’ll let me unwrap you instead.”
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