No breath.  No heartbeat.  No warmth soaking into his skin.  Just pressure on his side and the stiff-sticky feel of gel under his fingers.

Sleeping with Spike was weird.

Xander resisted the urge to giggle, mostly so his head wouldn’t explode.  He’d drunk much too much last night—which is such a change from all the other nights.  Bad Xander.  No cookie for you.  He’d been lying there, attempting to remember the previous night, when he’d suddenly realized he wasn’t alone.

After a moment of blind panic, he’d glanced down to see that no, he hadn’t brought home some random girl or even—gulp—a hooker.  Instead I have a short, bleach-blond snuggle-toy.  Which was possibly the same thing and no, he wasn’t thinking about that now.  Coffee, then deep thoughts.  Maybe an Irish breakfast?  It’d help get rid of this headache. . .

Spike moaned lightly, curling even closer around the human.  Xander managed to yank his other arm free just in time; vampiric strength was still working, thank you.  His bladder wasn’t exactly happy with this new position, but Xander told it to be quiet.  It was nice, being held like this.  If you ignored the desperation behind it, anyway.

Hey, no thinking before coffee, remember?  Xander sighed, amused the way Spike’s head rose and fell with the strength of his breath.  He continued playing with the short, gelled-locks, a habit he’d picked up years ago from Willow.  It was nice, having someone who wasn’t going to yell at him for touching perfectly placed locks that his greasy fingers were certainly not allowed to muss and ruin—

Because thinking about Anya is so much more restful.  Or Cordy, for that matter.  Neither had appreciated his small touches, but it was hard to curb them.  Especially since Spike was curling into his touch like an over-grown kitty cat.

Buffy says he purrs.

The speculation that random thought produced made him want to scrub his mind out with soap.  Possibly bleach.  Grumbling at himself, he looked down at his sleeping vampire.  Tried not to notice how easy it was to see the pain in classic features.

There should be pain.  He was an evil monster for a century.  He murdered, raped, and pillaged his way through Europe and probably the US too.  He tried to kill me and Willow over Dru, and he would have fed us all to Adam.  He was a horrible creature who deserves everything he’s getting.

But all Xander could see was someone who was hurting.

“Hey, sleepy-head.”  There was no way he was going to be able to quietly slip out—or even loudly slip out—unless Spike let him.  Beside, it was only polite.  Petting the tacky locks, he twitched a little to bump his belly into Spike’s chin.  “Come on, I gotta go.  Spike, wake up a little?”

“Hung-over,” was muttered peevishly and the cool weight against him tightened another notch.

Okay, suffocating me is definitely a no-no.  “Spike,” he wheezed, “I gotta breathe.”

The head lifted up, big, anime-style eyes blinking at him in shocked surprise.  Xander whooshed as the arms around his middle relaxed and he could grab a lung-full of sweet air.  “Huh?” was the oh, so intelligent response.

“It’s morning, Spike,” Xander said patiently.  “I need to get up.”

An expression of intense concentration flitted over still too-large eyes.  “No,” Spike said rationally.  “It’s Saturday.”

The giggles that had threatened since Spike’s waking spilled over, burbling through the room.  “My bladder doesn’t turn off for the weekends,” Xander said through his laughter.  “Get off me, leech-boy.  Must pee.”

Spike rolled away obligingly, still blinking as he forced himself to wake up and understand what was happening.    “How did—how did I get here?” he asked through the partially open bathroom door.  He didn’t sound upset at being there, which Xander’s ego appreciated, just confused as to how he got there.  Huh.  Wonder if he even remembers.  Given how much we drank last night. . . 

Finishing his business, Xander wandered back into his bedroom.

“You’re naked!”  The eyes were back to anime size, staring at Xander in embarrassed shock before dropping to the blankets.  And staying there.

Ooookay, what the hell?  Since when is Spike concerned about nudity?  Xander grabbed up his bathrobe, shrugging it on while Spike discovered he was naked too, and pulled the covers tightly against his body.  Mm, nice body.  No, bad Xander!  Sitting on the far corner of the bed, Xander watched with growing amusement as Spike buried his face in his palms.

“We were drinking, yeah?” he asked.  “I remember that.  I remember we were splitting bottles and you were telling me all about. . .shit.”  The quiet pain in the expletive told Xander’s shriveling ego that he wasn’t talking about Xander’s lack of experience with a real, live male.  Or a real, undead male.  Spike was remembering Tara.

I didn’t realize he liked her so much, Xander mused, propping his head on his fist, elbow digging into his thigh.  Not that he disliked her but. . . actually, I thought he only cared about her in a make-smarmy-cracks-about- lesbians-way.  Which, admittedly, I did too.

It still hurt to think about the shy girl.  “Hey,” he said quietly.  “I’m gonna go shower.  Go back to sleep if you want, I know this is early for vampire hours.  There’s a tv in the living room and no windows so you should be okay if you wanna do that.  If you want something from the kitchen, wait till I’m out, okay?”

Spike angled his head about five degrees, enough to peek over now-steepled fingers.  “You’re not throwing me out?”

“I invited you in; why would I throw you out?  You can have the shower after me.”

Xander went back to the bathroom, trying to ignore the way he was reacting to the dumbfounded and wondrous expression the vampire was sporting.  A robe was not a good cover—and why the hell is this Spike getting my motor running?  Not that old Spike didn’t too.  The man is gorgeous and I’m comfortable enough with my own sexuality to admit it.  Eh, maybe it’s just because I haven’t been laid in a while.

Once the water was hot, he tilted his head back to let the spray cascade over his entire body.  Mm, water.  Clean is good.   He commenced with the ritual scrubbing, feeling obscurely disappointed that he was rubbing Spike’s smell off of him.  What he’d done with the vampire last night. . .


It had taken a while, but sometime over too many awkward discussions with Anya and Buffy, he’d figured out the why’s and the wherefore’s of his relationships.  Well, at least one aspect of them.  The basic element he’d come across, the one that had floored him and let him trust Spike even before he really processed the information about the soul—Spike was a rival.

He wasn’t older like Giles.  He wasn’t exclusive like Riley, or Oz.  Those two had made their intentions very clear early on, and while Xander may have pursued both of their chosen girls at one time or another, he hadn’t considered himself to be a rival to them.

Or at least, he amended, remembering his reaction to Riley, not for very long.

He was the one viable male, surrounded by a sea of gorgeous women.  The knowledge that both Buffy and Anya had turned to Spike instead of him. . . that even ‘gay now’ Willow had admitted to having the hots for the bleached vampire. . . it was a huge blow to his ego and his self esteem.  He was Xander the pure, the good hearted, the good boyfriend.  And the evil undead bloodsucker scored with his girls more than he had.

It wasn’t logical.  It was base and petty and cruel to the later incarnation of Spike, especially given the summer of tentative camaraderie.  But it was the way Xander felt.

The realization had blindsided him after a long session with Buffy.  He’d been anticipating it for days, preparing himself like it was a date—but when he left, he’d felt disappointed and frustrated and angry.  He’d pummeled an innocent punching bag until out of the sweat and mindless ranting, it had finally clicked.  He’d been waiting for Buffy.  It was his turn, now; he’d been good and he’d waited.  He was human and nice and everything girls said they wanted in a boyfriend and it was his turn to get the girl he’d always loved and lusted after.  Even though he’d convinced himself that his love was a brotherly one—and it was—the adolescent male in him had stood up to attention and said ‘me, now’.

He still didn’t have her.

That night he went out and got really drunk.

He didn’t like what this knowledge said about him.  He didn’t like how it had effected every relationship with another male, up to and including Giles.  Which is just plain eww, and I’m not thinking about that.  Not.  Can’t make me.

So now he was beginning again.  He was erasing the Spike-as-Rival part of his brain, and just looking at Spike-as-Vampire.  It wasn’t full-proof, there was too much history between the two of them, but right now he was going to give him the benefit of the doubt until Spike gave him a reason not to.

Which doesn’t explain why you slept with him last night.  Oh, it’s nice rationalization, but it’s not why you did it.  It’s cause every female in your life has wanted Spike, two of the most important have had him, and you’re jealous.

As he scrubbed his hair like he could scrub out his mind, he decided that wasn’t exactly true, either.  Solace.  Anya had stressed it, again and again, hoping that Xander would understand.  Eventually, he did.  Saying no to marriage meant the same as saying no to Anya, even if he hadn’t realized it at the time.  She’d been broken in the most dramatic way possible, ripped away from the foundations she’d built her humanity on.

And we said Spike was the monster.

She hadn’t turned to Spike to get back at Xander.  He had known that as soon as he saw Spike that the vampire wasn’t even going to try and fight.  Anya probably hadn’t even cared that it was Spike, not by the time she was that drunk.  He was nice to her, sympathetic the way the rest of the Scoobies couldn’t bring themselves to be.  Kind.  Gentle.  And he hurt just like she did.

Anya’s voice floated up from an aching memory.  “Solace, Xander.  It’s what two people in pain do together to try and ease that pain.”

Spike had looked so fragile, tucked up against the wall like Xander was going to hurt him.  So lonely.  So hungry.  The pain had shone through so clearly that Xander had ached for him, and wanted to try and help.

“. . . what two people in pain do together. . .”

He didn’t look it, he knew.  The girls thought he was fine whenever he did see them.  But he wasn’t.  He wasn’t even close to fine.  Maybe a lot of it—okay, most of it—was his fault but he still hurt.  It was only natural to want to stop hurting, at least for a little.  Not even Deadboy brooded all the time.  Can’t I get a little slack?  Just a little bit of—oh, shit.

Finishing his shower, he hurriedly dried and dressed himself.  Stumbling out of the shower, he heard the tv playing quietly in the living room.  Wincing at the chalky face that he could see in the mirror, Xander dug up his bedroom cross and stake—a good Slayerette learned to be like the boy scouts: always be prepared.

Spike was stretched out on the sofa, watching a cooking show—a cooking show?—with the air of someone who wasn’t actually seeing anything outside of his own skull.  “Spike?”

“Yeah, mate, I—ah.”  Spike finished sitting up much slower, pulling his unbuttoned shirt around himself reflexively.  He was wearing just the shirt and his jeans, no shoes or socks.  It looked adorable.  Bad, bad Xander.  Ogle later.  “Right then,” Spike said quietly.  “Truce over, is it?  Well, then, thanks for the memories.  How d’you want me?”

“Thanks for the—sex, Spike.  We had sex.”  Spike blinked at him and for a minute Xander could see the beginnings of the smirking ‘yeah, and?’ face the vampire had perfected.  “Sex, like perfect happiness?” Xander clarified impatiently.  “The plan?  Get idiot-boy to screw the soul out of you, so you can revel in all your unchipped glory?”

It was scary to listen to laughter that sounded like sobs.

Xander realized he was still holding the cross up in front of him.  He let it drop but he didn’t let go of the stake.  He had no ideals—illusions?—about his ability to fight, but he was damned well going to try.  “Okay, right, you’re going to kill me after the hysterical laughing jag?”

“Not gonna kill you, boy,” Spike said eventually.  He was making little hiccup-y gasps, sounding exactly like a child that’s cried too much.  “Not gonna stop you, either.”  Blue eyes shot up to meet his, holding them steadily.

Damn.  He really means it.  Spike lied like a rug, but he wasn’t actually a sociopath.  If you knew what to look for, you could determine veracity—and Spike was letting him judge for himself.  And suddenly feeling a rather large wiggins attacking me.  Sitting might be a good idea.

“You really have a soul?  Still?”

“Yeah.”  The creaky voice didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing, yet, but it was a had thing.  That made no sense.  I need a drink.

“Well, of course,” he babbled as he moved towards the kitchen.  “Not like one night with Xander the Slut is going to give you perfect happiness.  Do you need a woman for that?  Or am I just so—”

“No, you don’t.” 

Xander turned, not understanding which comment the words were directed to—until the bottle was ripped roughly from his hands.  “You get coffee.  You want sommat in it, add milk and sodding sugar.”

“Spike.”  Keep very, very calm.  There is no reason to bite the vampire’s head off.  Wait a minute.  There are hundreds of reasons to bite the vampire’s head off!  “Give that back, now.”

“Or what?  You gonna hurt me?  Do whatever the hell you like, but you don’t touch one drop o’this.”

“And who the fuck are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” Xander demanded, knowing even as his face turned red that he was acting irrationally.  “This is my home, Spike.  You don’t like how I do things, there’s the door, don’t let your ash drift back inside!”

“You want me to go, I’ll go.”  How was Spike staying so calm?  Xander made a few lumbering grabs, the lithe, liquid body in front of him dodging easily.  “But I’m taking this with me.”

Xander relaxed, instinctively glancing towards the right—and realized his mistake.  “What the fuck?!” he screeched when Spike skirted a puddle of sunshine to open the correct cabinet.  Faster than Xander could even see, the bottles were in a snatched-up plastic bag and tossed out the window.

The clink, crash, sploosh sound almost covered up the hiss and sizzle.

Deep, deep breaths.  Soul, not chip.  Soul, not chip.  He can hurt you Xander.  Think!  Why isn’t he?  He wasn’t a moron.  He wasn’t and he wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t recognize what was happening.  But why was it happening?  “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

“No one.  I’m not your friend, and I’m not someone you respect.”  The pain in that sentence floored Xander.  “But I’ve been where you are.  I’ve been the boy who wanted his prick of a father to just leave off, and I’ve been the man who wondered how he became what he hated. . . so quickly.”  Smoke floated gently in the air between them.  “That was before I was turned, Xander.  You may hate William the Bloody, but William the Git was a good man.”

There were tears in the utter conviction and heart wrenching sincerity when Xander finally lifted his head.  “A good man?”

Spike nodded, gently herding them both back into the living room.  “He was a ponce.  Genteel and refined and all the things men weren’t supposed to be.  He thought himself weak and ineffectual.  Bit of a nerd.  Total sap.  But he knew right from wrong and he always tried to do right.”

“Tried?”  Spike’s accent was changing.  Not a lot, and the guttersnipe speech-patterns remained, but now he was hearing Giles’ accent.  Wiggy!

“Wasn’t perfect, was he?  Tried his best, though.  Even succeeded sometimes.  He was weak, specially when it came to love.  That was his Achilles heel.  Spent so much time daydreaming that he was never really in the world around him.  He—well, he was a ponce.”

Spike was coming back to himself; it was visible the change from the rather sweet human he’d been describing to the hard-edged vampire Xander was used to.  One more time, for those who missed the first two: major, major wiggins!  “So if William was so great, how come he got bit?”

“Cause he wanted.”  Spike held his eyes for another second before rising and heading back to the kitchen.  Rummaging around in the refrigerator, he pulled out various ingredients.  “Now, if I’m not about to be shoved out the door, mind closing the blinds?  Ash in coffee is never tasty.”

Spike’s hand was burned.  Xander could see it from the sofa, red on the edges, blackened in the center.  It smelled horrible, all sickly sweet mixed in with choking char.  Spike ignored his injured hand and continued doing what he could without approaching the sun-spots.  It wasn’t much.

“Yeah, sure.”  Blinds closed, there were still stray patches that Spike had to be wary of, but he could actually do what he needed to.  Which was make a pot of coffee and start making eggs.

“Sunnyside up or scrambled?” he asked quietly.  “And mind telling me what the whole ‘stake the vamp’ bit was about?”

“Huh?  Oh.  Scrambled, please.  With ketchup.”  Spike made a face above the stove, but didn’t comment otherwise.  The ticking of a clock was the only sound, until, “I thought maybe the curse was broken.  After—last night.”

Spike gave a short bark of laughter, pulling out a plate to dump the eggs onto.  Another face as he handed over the ketchup bottle and began fixing two cups of coffee.  “Not hardly.”

Thanks, Spike.  Because every guy loves to be told that he sucks in bed.  Um. . . in the opposite of good way, not the slurpy double entendre and I really don’t want to think about this anymore.  “So that’s good, right?  Soul still all there and keeping you not-homicidal?”  The eggs were really good.

“Y’know, that looks a lot like blood all over the eggs,” Spike pointed to the ketchup.  “Nope, still disgusting.  And I’m not cursed.”

“Not—um, I’m confused.  Okay, Spike, story time.”

“Didn’t I just tell you all about William the Moronic?”  The twisted bitterness made Xander look up.

“You took away my alcohol, Spike.”

“Made you brekkie, too.”

“Story, Spike.  Now.  When last we saw you, you were—” Xander couldn’t continue, struck dumb at the visual before him.

Spike knew what he’d done.  The mix of emotions was easy to read: sorrow, despair, pain, hatred, and the visible knowledge that he wasn’t ever going to be forgiven.  Even if certain parties tried. . . he’d never forgive himself.

The same shattered look on Willow’s face when he’d cupped it to kiss her forehead.

“What happened?”

“Wasn’t a demon.  Wasn’t a man.”  Deep, ragged breath and Xander saw his hand twitching, probably in need of a cigarette.  If I had one, I’d give it to you, Xander thought.  “Went and made it worse.”


“Africa.  Grabbed the monkey’s paw.  Told some demon I wanted to ‘be like I was before’.”

“To be like you—Spike, you idiot!”  With a disgusted snort, Xander gulped down most of his coffee.  It was good, with the right amount of milk in it.  Could do with some sugar, though.  Reaching over to the small crockery, he demanded, “How many years old are you, vampire?  You haven’t ever heard of ‘be careful what you wish for’?”

“Have.  Did.”

“Well, obviously you—oh.”  He really wasn’t stupid.  Most of the time.  “You wanted it?  But. . . why?”

Spike toyed with the salt shaker, apparently finding the ceramic high-heeled shoe with a matching pink bow —he had to get rid of those—fascinating.  “Chip wasn’t enough.  Wouldn’t ever be enough, cause. . . the monster was too strong.  No one could see past it—even me.”

“But—Spike, asking for a soul?  That’s insane!  Where were you going to go?”

“That’s the point!”  The explosion of volume rocked Xander back into his seat.  Cursing, Spike began pacing in agitation.  “This is my home, Xander.  It has been for five years.  How the hell was I going to stay here, after that?”  The word was spat out with such loathing that Xander physically recoiled.  “Didn’t want to leave.  Where was I gonna go, chipped though I was?  Angel?  Not hardly.  He’s got his own bloody life, and he’s welcome to it.  I was chipped and helpless the rest of the world over, but I—I couldn’t—”

“You couldn’t stay.”  Not because Buffy might stake him—that was an empty threat and everyone knew it.  Buffy wouldn’t stake him, not even after that.  But he’d be ostracized.  What limited contact he did have with them, it’d be cut off, completely.  No more late-night patrols, no more research snooze-fests at the Magic Box, no more playing house with Dawn.  Just nothing.

What’s the worst thing you can do to a creature who has nothing but time?  Take away everything else.

Xander didn’t even try to offer the platitudes of ‘you’ll find somebody else’.  How could he?  Humans weren’t exactly queuing up to spend time with a chipped-vampire—at least not ones I’d want outside a jail—and the demon community had made it quite clear that they’d as soon as stake Spike as look at him.

“I—I’m glad you didn’t try and stake yourself again.”  Why he said that he’d never know. . . except that it was true.

Spike gasped out something about showering, practically running from the kitchen.

He finished his breakfast leisurely, opening the blinds to look down to the street as he washed up.  Eight nearly full bottles of various types of alcohol lay splashed out and broken on the ground like—okay, ew, not finishing that analogy.  Can’t come up with anything that’s not really disgusting.

So what had he learned that morning?  That I never should have woken up.  That a chipped, desperately lonely vampire was just as foolish as the heartbroken, desperately lonely human equivalent.  That even as a demon he’d been so torn up about what he’d almost done that he’d gone and done the one thing he’d sworn multiple times was worse than the Initiative and their chip.  That he’d known even as he did it that it wasn’t going to solve anything and might make things a lot worse.

That chipless-but-souled-Spike wasn’t going to let Xander become his father, or even William’s father, it seemed.  That he’d brave sunlight and potential staking to make sure that Xander. . .that Xander wasn’t going to make a mistake no one else could stop him from.  That his mouth was warm and soft and he sucked like a Hoover.  That he tasted like cream, felt like silk, and had cried himself to sleep on Xander’s chest.

It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet.







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