by Tabaqui


                Spike doesn’t have any idea what it is they're fighting.  It's the 'oogeddy-boogedy' of the week, as Red says, and it's just another fuckin' night of sacrifice on the altar of his pride.   But Watcher's got a cooler-full of human blood - he's found somebody that works at a medical waste disposal facility - and he's holding it over Spike's head.   So he's there, stomping along in the back of the crowd, watching the witch and Harris nudge each other and whisper, watching  the Watcher stumble along in his slick indoor shoes, obsessively trying to read his notes by torch-light.  The Slayer is up ahead, roving around and dusting a fledge or two.  Spike has no interest in fledges - they're so easy it's not even remotely interesting - and he lights a cigarette and wishes he were anywhere else, doing anything else.


                Then they find the demon and it's huge and mean and fast, and they're forced to chase it through a park and then a school-yard and finally into a slightly less suburban part of Sunnydale.  There's a substation or something there, with pylons and thick lengths of cable going everywhere and the buzz and the just-above-human-hearing whine of electricity makes Spike's teeth ache and he wants out of there.  So he gets the axe that Harris has managed to drop and shoves the boy out of the way - yells at the Watcher to get the fuck back and just dives in, hacking and chopping for all he's worth.  The demon is roaring and bleeding, whipping these huge, curving horns around.  It manages to knock Spike sprawling and then turns on the Slayer - catches her shoulder with the hook of a horn and she's opened up and bleeding.  Spike just snarls and bounces back to his feet, 'cause he's so fucking tired of this now, and his head is fuckin' buzzing from the damn pylons or whatever and he's had enough.  He knocks the demon back with a flurry of blows and suddenly it's up against part of the sub-station, crowded in between these huge conduits and a little trapped and Spike takes aim and hits it, right through the neck.  And right into the conduit.  In the nanoseconds before everything goes blindingly white and then black, Spike thinks that maybe that was a bad fuckin' idea.


                He doesn't know until later, but he's two days down in the Slayer's basement on a cot, comatose.  The Watcher gets a tube from a vet supply place and pours every last drop of human blood in the cooler down his throat over those two days and that, he supposes, is what eventually brings him around.  When he finally wakes up it's to Joyce's face, hovering over him.  She's got an ironing board set up in the corner and a stack of freshly ironed clothes and a laundry basket that's nearly empty and it obvious she's been down here, just watching over him.  He tries to smile - to sit up and say hello - but he can't.  His body just kind of shivers when he wants to move and nothing really happens.  And he panics then.  He really does, because he still has nightmares about that fucking wheelchair and if he's paralyzed from the neck down he's not sure if he can take it.  It might take months - hell, a year, to heal that kind of damage and he'll be totally, bug-fucking insane if he has to lie on a cot in the Slayer's fuckin' basement for a year. 


                Joyce sees him trembling - sees the fear in his eyes, and she reaches out and tentatively touches his shoulder.


                *I can feel that, thank fucking Christ, I can feel that.*


                "Spike?  Hey - it's okay.  Mr. Giles said you'd be pretty weak - he said you probably wouldn't be able to move right away.  Does - does anything hurt?"  Spike has to think about that for a minute and he realizes something does.  His hands hurt, and his head, and he tries to tell her.  But there's something wrong with his voice, or maybe his brain, because he can't talk - can't say a word.  It's like - the words are right there, but he can't make his tongue form them - can't get his throat to work right and the panic hits him again.


                And Joyce talks to him, low.  Tells him what happened.  Tells him his hands got burned pretty badly, tells him he hit a powerline or a something and gods' knows how many volts or amps or whatever the fuck burned through him.  Tells him that Giles and Xander carried him back to the Magic Box, but when it was obvious that he wasn't waking up Willow insisted they bring him here.


                Joyce says she's glad that they listened to Willow because she knows he's been helping her daughter, knows he's been going on patrol and keeping the kids from getting hurt and she's grateful, and this is the least she can do.


                Spike wishes he could talk.  He wants to tell her that that's utter bollocks - a load of rubbish - because he's evil; he's utterly evil and doesn't give a shite about the Slayer and her groupies.  But he can't say a thing - can only lie there and fucking stare at her.

                Later, he thinks that's probably a good thing.


                After a another minute or so, Joyce goes away upstairs and Spike can hear her doing something in the kitchen - can hear the microwave - and then she's coming back down and the smell of hot human blood is wafting along with her.  She's holding the most enormous coffee cup he's ever seen and there's this bright pink bendy straw sticking out of the top, and Joyce comes over and sets the mug on a box next to the cot.  It says 'Buffy's Baby Clothes' and there's little teddy bear stickers stuck on it.   She carefully pulls him up by his shoulders and stuffs a couple of pillows behind him.  Upright now and he can feel his whole body tingling - can feel the blanket that's tucked around him and for the first time realizes he's nude.


                *But I can FEEL, thank fucking god...*   And that's all he really cares about.    Joyce picks up the mug and holds it for him so he can drink.


                "Sorry about the pink straw, that's all we had," she says, and Spike tries to tell her with his eyes that it doesn't matter - the only thing that matters is the fucking incredible, hot blood that's sliding down his throat.  He can feel it spreading warmth through him - giving him strength and healing him - and when it's all gone he just closes his eyes and revels in it - revels in the aftertaste and in the warm glow that steals over him.  Before he knows it, he's asleep.


                A day or so later and he's ready to get up - wants to get up, but he still has no clothes and even though that's not a problem for him he's thinking it might be for Joyce and Dawn.  So the next time Joyce comes down he pulls the blanket around his waist and sits up, so slow.  Notices that except for some peeling skin his hands are just fine, and he wiggles his fingers happily.  Gestures to Joyce and mimes putting on pants because he still can't make his voice work.  Joyce just looks at him for a second and then it clicks and he smells the hot rush of blood that leaps up to the surface of her skin.  Like she didn't really realize he was naked before, and now she does and... 


                "Oh, oh right, you need to - okay...  Hang on."  And she goes away upstairs and Spike sighs, lying back on the pillows again.  He can hear her on the phone, talking to someone and then she's coming back downstairs, the phone in her hand.


                "Okay, I'm talking to Xander and he's going to go over to - to where you live and get some clothes for you.  He wants to know - where?"  Spike just stares at her - opens his mouth and tries but nothing fucking happens.  It's like the words are slippery little fish that he's trying to catch but they just keep squirting through his fingertips and darting away.  He makes a sort of inarticulate, breathy sort of sound and that's it, that's all.  He wants to scream, he wants to hit something, he wants to sink his teeth into someone and rip their throat out but he can't.  He makes a fist and pounds on the cot and Joyce sees this and she puts her hand out - puts it on his shoulder and just leaves it there for a minute.  Her eyes are full of sympathy - full of understanding and he remembers that she was sick not too long ago, and had to have surgery and maybe she knows this horrible helpless feeling from the inside.


                  So after a moment he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.  Joyce is telling Xander to hang on a minute and she's watching him.  He mimes writing and she smiles - looks around and comes up with an old spiral notebook that Buffy, apparently, used in school.  It's got doodles of flowers and crosses and hearts on the front cover, and paging through to find a blank piece of paper he sees the word 'Angel' written, with curlicues and more hearts and little jagged things that might be stars or might be lighting.    Joyce hands him a pen and he writes rapidly, and then hands it to her.  She looks at it for a long moment, her fingertips touching his words.


                "Oh..." she says, and then she shoots a small smile at him and reads what he's written over the phone.


                "Go down the ladder to the lower level.  Go to the trunk on the left side of the bed.  Not the trunk on the right side 'cause it's got a booby trap on it and I'll never hear the end of it if you get yourself punctured.  The trunk on the left has a carryall in it.  Bring that, it's got my gear in it.  Don't touch anything else, you tosser, 'cause I'll know and I'll make you sorry."


                Joyce smiles at him again, like it's cute that he's threatening the boy and Spike just huffs out a breath in annoyance.  Then she's hanging up and looking back at the note and Spike makes a sort of inquiring noise and she looks up.


                "You have - the most amazing handwriting.   Is it okay if I keep this?" she says, and Spike can only stare at her - nod, finally, in utter bewilderment.  Then she goes and starts another load of laundry and goes away upstairs and Spike lies there, thinking about that, and about Harris going over to his crypt and getting his things.  The things he'd packed a month ago.  The things he most wants to take with him when he leaves this place.  Glory had been a bitch and a threat but now she was gone.  Giles had found the original spell that had contained her in the body of Ben and had done it again - had added the considerable power of a group of witches in England to his binding and Glory was now powerless, locked up tight.  And when mortal Ben died, she would die with him.  So that was over and done and the dreams about Buffy had morphed into dreams about every one of the Scoobies and Spike was starting to think he was going mad. 


                That or just going soft, what with that damn piece of military hardware in his head.  He liked the Red witch and her blonde lover.  He liked the Watcher - respected his skills and his tenacious drive.  He more than liked Joyce and he loved the Bit with every lonely, needy fiber in him.  Hell, he was starting to like Harris.  Mostly 'cause he'd seen some things during the whole nightmare that had been Glory that had made the boy.  


                He didn't like the Slayer, but that was a given.  Now that those vastly disturbing dreams about her were gone, he could look at her with a clear head and know that vampires and Slayers should never, ever mix. 


                But that was no comfort when he found himself in the boy's basement, watching low-budget sci-fi movies and laughing his head off at the ridiculous comments and voices Harris would do.  No comfort at all when he was sitting at the Magic Box, discussing a particularly difficult translation with Giles, dredging up all his old schoolboy tricks learned in Latin and Greek classes to puzzle out strange grammar and linguistic brain-teasers.


                He was a demon.  He didn't want to be a lap-dog or a damn buddy or a servant.  He had to get out of here before he started thinking of these people as family, 'cause family was his Dru and the bloody Angelus and that bitch Darla, not two giggly witches and a hormone-bomb on legs and a sodding father figure and Hell, mother figure too...  And most especially family was not a confusingly attractive boy who infuriated him as often as he amused him.


                When Xander comes down the steps Spike has worked himself into a mood, and Harris takes one look at him and rolls his eyes - tosses the carryall down.


                "Here you go, Spike, and I didn't touch anything in your creepy old crypt, okay?  Okay."  Spike sits up on the cot and tries to get up, ignoring the boy.  He clutches an exposed bit of beam with both hands and starts to pull himself upright and he can barely do it - he is so damn weak and his legs are shaking and he wants to curse at the top of his lungs.  Xander stops halfway across the basement floor and watches him for a minute.  Heaves a sigh of long-suffering and comes back.  He picks up the carryall and brings it over - puts it on the cot.


                "You sure you're up to this, Spike?  You look kinda -"   Spike bares his teeth at him, silent snarl, and Harris grins, the little bastard.  "Yeah, that's what I thought."  He reaches over and very lightly pushes Spike's shoulder and Spike is back down on the cot, almost flat on his back, shaking in every limb and furious beyond reason.


                "Giles said this would take awhile.  C'mon, I'll help you."    And Spike can't do a thing, not a bloody thing to stop him.  Xander roots around in his carry-all and comes up with jeans and a t-shirt and one of his red silk button-ups, but then keeps rooting until Spike reaches over and whaps him lightly on the arm.  When the boy looks up Spike raises his eyebrow, making that interrogatory noise that's about all he can manage and Xander looks blank for a second.


                "Uh - oh!  I'm trying to find underwear.  Don't you have any underwear?"  The boy blushes as he says this - wave of delicious blood-smell and hint of arousal *another hormone-bomb on legs!* and Spike grins for the first time in days - his smirky, snarky, very best 'what do you think' grin and Xander blushes even redder.


                "Jesus, I knew it.  Oookay...  Here we go."  Xander puts the carry-all on the floor and holds out the black t-shirt and Spike slowly gets it on - gets the red shirt on as well but doesn't even touch the buttons.  The cuffs flapping around are kind of annoying and he fumbles at them for a minute but his hands, for all they look healed, are still stiff and clumsy so he sighs in exasperation and gives up.   Xander hands him his jeans and then stands up and takes a couple of steps away - turns his back.


                "Just - uh - make a noise when you're done, okay?" he says, and Spike laughs silently.  He pushes the blanket away and leans over, his jeans in his hands, and very nearly topples right off the cot.  Growling - and he can remember how to do that - he straightens back up.  After a few minutes struggle, trying to lift his legs or bend down, he gives up and throws the jeans violently away.  His hands are shaking and his chest is heaving in unneeded breaths.  His eyes are burning - prickling - and he knows that in another minute he's gonna lose it completely and fuckin' Harris is just standing there, the jeans in his hands and his eyes darting here, there, and everywhere as he tries not to see naked vampire parts.  There's another long moment in which Spike digs his fingernails hard enough into his knees to make them bleed and the blood-smell of Xander's blush doubles in strength.  Then Xander is crossing back over to him, straightening the jeans out in his hands and going down on one knee next to the cot.


                "Okay.  I guess a little naked guy action won't kill me.   Jesus, what am I saying?"  Xander puts his face down into his hand for a second and then looks back up.  "Member of the swim team here!  Seen it all!"  Xander's giggle is strained and high-pitched but his hands are gentle as they maneuver Spike's feet into the jeans and gently thread them through the legs until his feet are through the bottom. Then he pulls the jeans up Spike's legs as high as he can.  He stands up then - gets Spike's arm over his shoulder.


                "Hang on to those," he says, and lifts Spike to his feet.  Spike holds the jeans tight in his hand, and when he's got his balance he lets go of Xander and pulls them up - does up the buttons laboriously.  And then he's standing for the first time in a week or more, dressed and ready to go.  Except that he's barefoot.  He stares at his bare feet and then looks up at Xander. 


                "What?" Xander says, jumping just a little, and the expression that had been on his face - an odd sort of gentle expression - is wiped away by a guilty look.  "What is it?"  Spike points down at this feet and Xander looks, then shakes his head.


                "Oh, right.  Your boots.  Um...  There was metal on them and they kinda -"   Xander looks up at Spike and his eyes are kinda sad but mostly wary.  "They kinda melted."  Spike just stares at him.  Curses at himself in silence for getting that hurty feeling over boots for fuck sake.


                *Boots I saw Iggy and Siouxsee in, boots I kicked fuckin' ass in.  Boots I killed Nicky in, damnit...*  A sudden, horrible thought occurs to him and he looks frantically at the boy - reaches out and shakes him as hard as he can, which isn't hard at all and that makes him even more freaked out.  Xander just stares at him and he mimes putting on his duster - does it twice before the boy gets it.


                "Oh!  You're coat. Yeah, it's okay. Got a little scorched but basically its fine.  Joyce - I mean, Mrs. Summers wanted to have it dry-cleaned but I told her not to.  I - uh -"   Xander stops and looks away across the basement and he flushes again, and Spike knows that what he says next is a lie.


                "I told her that you probably had demon parts and stuff in the pockets and there was no way I was gonna go through 'em.  She said she'll pay for it when - when you decide you're well enough to fool with it."   Xander looks down at his feet and then up at Spike and somehow Spike just knows that what Xander really means is that the duster is special - is important - and that dry-cleaning it would...take something away from it.  Spike's cleaned it himself, with saddle-soap and warm water when it's gotten demon gunk or too much blood on it.  But it still smells a little like Dru and a little like Nicky, to him, and a lot like his life before the fucking chip.  So he's grateful.  He stops himself in time from making a fool of himself and hugging the boy - instead points upwards and starts a slow, painful shuffle towards the basements steps.  After a minute Xander joins him - gets an arm around his waist and lets Spike lean on him.  And even though Spike doesn't want to he does lean, because his legs are shaking already. 


                The climb up the steps is harder than he thought and by the time they reach the top he's shaking all over, like when he was ten and had influenza and almost died.  Xander pushes the basement door open and they stagger out and into the kitchen, where Joyce is standing over the stove.  She stares at them both for a moment and then she's rushing over, pulling out a stool and helping Xander to ease him down onto it and Spike just hunches there, shaking all over and not realizing until Xander is prying at his hands that he's got a death-grip on the boy's work shirt.  He forces himself to let go and puts his forearms on the kitchen island.  Xander's hand stays on his back while Joyce bustles around, and then she bring him that huge coffee mug, full of blood and he can't even lift the damn thing. 


                Joyce makes a small, distressed kind of noise and grabs the straw and finally Spike's drinking, drinking hard, swallowing the blood as fast as he can because this weakness is intolerable - is terrifying - and he hates it.  When the blood is gone the shakes have abated and Xander's hand slowly slides off his back, and the boy takes a seat on the next stool over.   He reaches over and does up the cuffs on Spike's shirt and Spike tries not to feel the warm fingers that move gently over his wrists.  Then they sit in companionable silence while Joyce takes the mug and puts it in the sink - goes back to what she was doing, which was making dinner.  She talks about her day at the gallery and how there's going to be a show of Tramp Art next month and she might have to travel to get some pieces and how she's going to persuade Buffy to come along, to take a little break from the Hellmouth and go on a road-trip; just her and her daughters and all the fast food they can eat. 


                Xander starts to talk as well, about his day and the site he's on - about the fact that the boss is giving him more and more responsibility and that he likes it - likes being the guy that the others rely on to answer questions and straighten out problems and deal with emergencies.   Joyce just smiles - pats him on the back as she goes past.


                "I knew you could do it, Xander," Joyce says, and Xander smiles back.  Spike just listens to them, comfortably full and a little drowsy.  Warm.  It's nice, to sit here, with the good smells of cooking chicken and potatoes and asparagus, fresh bread and honey and golden peaches in a bowl.  It's the best he's felt in a while and the longing for family stirs in him strongly - so very, very strongly. 


                He tries to squash it - tries to think about Dru and Darla and Angelus - even thinks about Penn.  Tries to remember that family, but they're all so far away - dust and gone, some of them - and he can't bring back the good times, anymore, just the bad.


                Then Dawn is home from her after-school homework session with Janice and she's bouncing into the kitchen and squealing in delight when she sees Spike.  She darts over and gives him a hard, hard hug - kisses his cheek and then hugs Xander.  She starts talking about her day - telling little stories about school and laughing when Xander compares them to his own school-days and this is a family, this is...what he misses.


                Spike finds himself sitting in front of a plate of food in the dining room with another, smaller mug of blood and a glass of wine and Joyce is smiling over at him and so is Dawn and Xander is making some joke or another about cooking with vampires and then Buffy comes in and it all...changes.  She's not happy to see him and abruptly Xander is unhappy, as well.  Buffy gets a plate and joins them, and Joyce and Dawn are still up, still excited.  But Xander is silent now - as silent as Spike - and Spike wishes desperately that he could talk.  Tries, all through the dinner, but nothing comes out, nothing at all. 


                He pointedly drinks his blood, making sure his lips are scarlet with it - dips his bread into it and eats it.  Dawn makes an 'ewww' face but she's still smiling and he hears a huff of stifled laughter next to him from Xander.  Buffy is un-amused and her eyes snap sparks at him.


                She starts to talk about Spike going back to his crypt and he just glares at her.  Joyce argues with Buffy, but it's clear she doesn't want to fight - that college and Slaying are taking her daughter away from her and she doesn't want to make it worse by fighting over Spike.  Her eyes are sad and apologetic when Buffy stands up to clear the plates, declaring it a done deal and that she'll escort Spike back to the crypt tonight.  He shakes his head minutely at her, smiling just a little.  Doing his best to tell her it's okay, and that he doesn't mind.  In his experience, you take what you can get and don't begrudge a minute of it, and he can't blame Joyce for choosing blood over the evil undead. 


                Dawn is more vocal and less accommodating and ends up giving Spike a hard hug and stomping away upstairs, to slam her door and put on her music, loud.  Buffy winces and Spike can't hide his grin and she's on him, yanking him up by his collar and shaking him.


                "Buffy -" Xander says, and she just stares at him - lets Spike go and walks away and Spike sags back down onto the chair.  Buffy and Joyce are in the kitchen and Spike tunes them out - tunes out Dawn upstairs and her music, making himself cold again.  Xander touches his arm as he slips past him.


                "Be right back, Spike," he says softly, and he's gone, going downstairs.  He comes back a minute later with Spike's carry-all, all zipped up and ready to go.  He puts it down by the door and then opens the hall closet - pulls something out and Spike sees his duster.  He struggles to his feet, marginally stronger for the blood and the rest and he's smiling.  He fights it but he can't help it and he grins in delight when Xander walks around behind him and holds it for him - helps him slip it on.  The familiar weight and scent enfold him and he closes his eyes for a minute, just hugging the duster to himself.  When he opens them again Xander is standing there, and Buffy and Joyce are, and Joyce is carrying a little cooler.  His blood, he guesses.  Xander takes it and gives Joyce a quick kiss on the cheek.


                "Dinner was great, Mrs. Summers," he says, and Joyce kisses him back.


                "Xander - please - call me Joyce.  You don't need to be so formal after all we've been through."  Xander just smiles at her, taking the cooler and going back over to Spike.


                "Ready to go, blondie?" he says, and Spike nods - shuffles over to Joyce who steps towards him, her hand going out to him.  Buffy is frowning, but he ignores her.  He takes Joyce's hand and bows over it - presses the back of it chastely to his lips.  It's the only 'thank you' he can give, right now, and Joyce squeezes his hand in hers and smiles at him - lets him go.  He turns and starts the long walk toward the door, weak and shaky as a new-born but determined to stay upright so long as the Slayer is there.  Xander is right beside him - Xander opens the front door and then puts out his elbow and Spike takes it after a moment's hesitation and slowly negotiates the front porch steps. 


                "He can hardly walk!  How can you be so mean to him?"  Dawn is shouting down the stairs and Buffy is standing there, biting her lip and looking at Spike - looking at her mother who's in the doorway, a frown on her face.  Spike doesn't blame the Slayer, either - she doesn't want a vampire in her house, with her mother and baby sis.  It's only smart, and he can't imagine her giving in, and she doesn't.


                "He can't be here, Dawn, it's just - he'll be fine, he -"


                "He's gonna be at my place," Xander says, and Buffy turns to stare at him.  Spike wants to stare too - wants to ask about a hundred questions but he can't and he grinds his teeth in frustration - growls a little.  Xander's arm tightens, pulling Spike's close into his ribs, and he looks up at Buffy, his face calm.


                "He can't go to his crypt, Buffy - the first thing through there could take him out or hurt him.  He can come to my place.  Now that Anya's gone..."  Xander stops for a minute and then sighs.   Demon girl scarpered early on in the whole Glory mess - right after the little demon-monks got hold of her and dragged her to Glory.   Anya had taken about one minute of torture and then called on D'Hoffryn to save her - give her back her powers - and he had.  She'd come and explained, looking sorry but relieved.  She hadn't wanted to die for the Slayer or her little sister - they weren't the best of friends.  And she hadn't wanted to die for Xander, either, and that had, obscurely, hurt the boy.


                "Anyway, I've got room to spare, and he can stay with me until he's healed.  Giles said the blood supply is pretty much permanent so - "   Xander shrugs and Spike's elbow slides up his rib a little, pressing against the solid pad of muscle there.  "So it's fine.  Okay?  Goodnight, M - Joyce.  'Night, Buffy."  Xander turns them and he and Spike go slowly down the walk to the new-ish truck that Xander drives now, and Spike is utterly without words.  He can't imagine why Xander wants him in his home - can't imagine what the boy's thinking and once they're in the truck and Xander has the engine going he reaches out and touches the boy's arm - makes that noise.  Xander looks at him - looks away, worrying his lip between his teeth, blushing a little.


                "I - dunno, Spike.  I don't want you to get hurt by some stupid fledge or some random demon 'cause Buffy's having issues.  You - you deserve better than that, after what you did.   You saved us all you know, taking on that demon.  Buffy wasn't making a dent in it and Willow and Tara'd run out of spells..."  Xander sighs and looks back at him and Spike can see he's telling the truth - can tell he means it.


                "Thanks for that.  And - besides - I need another guy in my life.  I'm surrounded by woman when I'm not at work and it's not in that good, 'everybody wants to get with Xander' way, it's that 'hey come braid my hair way'...   I kinda miss the basement and how we used to watch movies and stuff, you know?" 


                Xander's voice is a little strained, like he's afraid Spike will refuse him or maybe laugh at him, but Spike kind of misses those days as well.  Misses when things were a little simpler and he and the boy would go out and patrol and play some pool and just...get along.  Even the barbs and the banter became friendly, and that easy camaraderie with a human is one of the things that Spike had seen as a weakness - as one more reason to get the fuck out of Sunnydale before he lost his mind completely and asked the Slayer to marry him again.


                Now, though, it just seems...seems like a haven; the boy's apartment and cable and comfy couch, and he sighs and nods his head - reaches over and does a quick, awkward pat of his hand on Xander's shoulder.  Trying to tell him it's okay, and he gets it.  Xander just stares at him - nods, finally, and smiles a little, and drives off into the night.


                Three weeks at Xander's place and Spike is pretty much back to normal.  He still gets the shakes, especially if he gets cold at all, or tries to take on one too many demons in one night.  But mostly he's back to full strength.  Better than before, even, because now he's getting human blood every single day and it's so fuckin' wonderful.  He vows he'll never drink pig's blood again.  The only problem is he still can't talk.  Days spent at the Magic Box with heaps of books and Giles on the phone to various contacts - even to L.A. and Angel - have proved fruitless.  Giles is pretty sure that it's simply damage from the electricity; that when it went through him it set off the chip and that that had caused some brain trauma.    Apparently he'd had a seizure out there, when it all happened.  And had another in the car going back to the shop, scaring Xander and Willow half to death.  Spike thinks that maybe that's so, because he can make more noise now.  Nothing like words but sounds that convey something, at least to Xander.  The boy's gotten good at picking up on what Spike's trying to say, and Spike's about as  content as he can be without being able to actually say an intelligible word. 


                In the face of his silence Xander at first babbled - talked almost non-stop in an orgy of nerves and something...  Something Spike can't quite place, just yet, but that intrigues him.  Eventually he'd calmed down, and now they're easy together.  Comfortable.    And since he can't talk, Spike notices.  And he notices quite a lot.  Notices that Xander really is the big guy at work - that he brings home blueprints and proposals and paperwork and labors over them.  That he gets calls on the weekend, and that he works later than he used to.  He's actually had to go out and buy a suit, because he's been in several meetings with the people that own the site and the building.  Spike helped him pick the suit out, the first week he was there.  He wrote a note to Xander, told him he needed to get something for Joyce, to say thanks.  So after work the next day Xander had come home and showered and had dinner, and then when the sun was down they'd gone to the mall.  Spike had cringed a little from all the humans - humans that could hurt him if they really wanted to - and Xander had seemed to understand that and he'd stuck close, shepherding  Spike through the crowded aisles, making sure nobody slammed into him or tripped him up in his new, too-stiff boots.


                They'd gone to a stationary store and Spike had carefully picked out some lovely, heavy, hand-made paper; a dark cream color with a tasteful gilt edge.  Then he'd chosen a modern fountain pen and blithely ignored Xander's little smirk as the boy had paid for it.  Because vampire or no, Spike still knew how to write a proper thank-you and Joyce deserved the old-fashioned courtesy for being kind, and for letting him stay as long as she had.


                Xander had sighed and told Spike about the suit, and Spike had just nodded and made a 'let's go' gesture.  He was happy to be out and about, even somewhere as obnoxious as the mall, and he didn't mind watching Xander try on dress shirts and tailored pants.  Truth be told, he didn't mind watching Xander at all, because his physical labor hadn't slacked off with his rise in responsibility, and his skin was tanned a dark, honey-gold and flowed smoothly over muscles that were elegant and compact - not the blown-out display of a weight-lifter or actor, but the a true working-man's physique, which Spike had always found appealing.


                He does not, of course, make any mention of this to Xander - doesn't let the boy catch him watching.  But he'd taken full advantage of being the one in the know and had followed Xander into the dressing room to tweak shirt collars and ties, to adjust cuffs and shoulders and fuss with the break of the linen pants over Xander's first pair of real 'grown-up' shoes.


                Xander had suffered it all with bewilderment and a growing amusement and when he'd made his final decision and the woman at the counter had gushed how his 'boyfriend' had wonderful taste, Xander had only blushed and smiled at her.


                That is something else Spike's noticed.  Xander seems more...comfortable in his skin.  Seems to be less on edge, and less worried about what other people are saying.  Spike even notices him standing up for himself - arguing with the Slayer when her 'stake first, question later' attitude is sending them all into a dangerous situation.


                And Spike can only watch in awe, wishing desperately that he could join in, when Xander sides with Tara and tells Willow that she should lay off the magic.  Willow is flabbergasted and then outraged and then hurt, and finally goes home, her eyes wet with tears and:


                "I can't believe you think I'd hurt anybody, Xander!  I thought you trusted me!"  Xander just lets her go - gives Tara a little one-armed hug.


                "I'm sorry I got her so mad, Tara.  But she just - she doesn't see.  I understand what you're saying.  I mean - I've figured some stuff out, you know?"  Tara smiles at him, and shrugs a little, and gathers up her things.


                "She still thinks you're th-that boy with a crush on her, Xander.  That you'll just go a-along with whatever she says 'cause you l-love her too much to argue with her."


                "It's 'cause I love her that I do argue with her!"


                "I know, Xander.  She'll f-figure it out.  Trust me."  Tara smiles and Xander shakes his head but smiles back and is uncharacteristically silent on the walk home.  When they get into the apartment Spike reaches out and takes his shoulder - makes him stop and turn around, and then makes the question-noise, lifting an eyebrow.


                "I'm okay, Spike.  I just - you don't think I'm...  I mean, I'm not reading this wrong, am I?  Willow kinda...scares me.  I know she wouldn't set out to hurt anybody but..."  Spike stops him - impulsively puts his finger on Xander's lips and shakes his head.  Xander looks surprised and puzzled, and the blush-blood smell rolls off him.  And arousal again, stronger than before, and Spike hesitates for one moment, wanting to lean in and bury his face in Xander's neck - sniff up the heady scents coming from the boy - taste the sun-browned flesh that smells delightfully and achingly of sun and clean wood and the pennyroyal soap Glinda-witch makes.


                But instead he's digging into his pocket for the hand-sized spiral notebook Xander has bought him - one of half a dozen.  He unclips the biro from the wire rings and flips to a fresh page - writes rapidly.  Xander goes over to the lamp and flicks it on and then stands waiting - takes the notebook and reads what Spike has written.


                "Red shouldn't expect you to shuffle your feet and say 'Yes M'am' and 'No M'am'.  You're smart enough to be worried about what she's doing.  I expect she doesn't like being questioned, but that doesn't make you wrong."   Xander read the note twice and then looked up at Spike, smiling a huge and goofy smile.


                "You think I'm smart, Spike?  Really?  What next - you'll get on my side in the Janeway/Seven-of-Nine debate?"


                Spike laughs silently, making the low growling that means no and Xander laughs aloud.  Janeway is, in Spike's opinion, easily more sexy than Seven-of-Nine.  Intelligence, confidence, and all that beautiful hair beat out big tits any day, in Spike's books.  Xander holds the notebook out and then hesitates, looking at Spike.


                "Can I..?  I think I'm gonna keep this.  Spike admitting I'm right - gotta be good for something."  Xander carefully tears the page out and then goes into the kitchen to get sodas and Spike flops on the couch.  He turns on the TV and watches surreptitiously as Xander gets out his wallet - folds the paper and tucks it carefully into the pocket where he keeps his picture of Cordelia. 


                *You never forget your first love,* Spike had thought, the first time he'd seen the picture and Xander had haltingly explained.  Spike himself still has a glove, dropped and forgotten by Cicely all those years ago tucked into the right-hand trunk, back at his crypt.  The one he'd told Xander was booby-trapped.


                It makes him feel warm - makes him feel happy, to know that Xander is keeping his note and he wriggles out of his duster and pushes off the boots - snuggles into the couch and happily accepts the soda Xander holds out - flips channels until he finds an episode of 'The Avengers'.  Spike is trying to educate Xander about good television as opposed to the crap that the American companies seem happy to endlessly spew out.  Xander, of course, has fallen hard for Mrs. Peel in her leather cat-suit and they both watch, utterly content.


                Five weeks since he's gone to live with Xander and Spike is his old self.  He walks jauntily down the sidewalk, heading for the Bronze.  Xander is meeting him there to play some pool after he helps Joyce hang a particularly large piece of art in her gallery. 


                The club is crowded and Spike eases his way through the crowd - gets a drink from the bartender by pointing.  Because he still doesn't have his voice back.  It's gone beyond frustration to a quiet despair now, but he tries not to dwell on it too much - looks at the endless pages of research that Willow and Tara print out, and answers all the questions that the Watcher puts to him.  But they're all running out of hope, and Spike wonders what it'll be like to be silent for a hundred years.


                He gets his drink and slams it back - gets another and goes to find an open table.  Pretty soon he has one and he sets the balls up and plays a game or two by himself, pacing easily around the table and sinking ball after ball, ignoring the looks he's getting from a clutch of co-ed's over near the corner.  Their boyfriends are playing as well, and getting pissed that their girls are watching the punk in the leather coat.  Spike ignores them, firmly squishing down the niggling fear that they'll start something.  He feels too good to back down from anyone or anything tonight, but hates to think of himself brought to his knees on the sticky floor, felled by silicon and wire.


                He makes a particularly nice bank shot and grins to himself - starts to rack the balls up again and finds one of the boyfriends right there.  He stinks of cologne and beer and righteous anger and Spike just stares at him, still grinning, willing him to fuck off.


                "You lookin' at my girl?" the boy growls, and Spike lifts an eyebrow - slowly shakes his head and goes around the boy to the end of the pool table.  Starts getting the balls out and putting them on the felt.  The boy is momentarily confused but then he wheels around and advances - gets right up in Spike's face and knocks the balls out of his hands.  They bounce and roll across the floor and suddenly they are in a little pocket of absolute silence and Spike is just pissed.


                "I think you are," the boy says, and he lunges.  Spike neatly side-steps him - trips him up.  The boy scrambles and doesn't quite fall down - turns and dives for him again.  Again Spike dodges but this time one of the boy's friends is right there and grabs him under the arms - tries to get him in some sort of hold and the first boy is rushing at him, fists balled up and face twisted in drunken rage.  Spike grits his teeth and just does it - lifts his feet and kicks both boots solidly into the boy's chest, sending him flying and crashing into another table, rolling floppy and unconscious across the floor.  And...something.   There's something happening, in his head - a strange sort of buzzing.  It doesn't hurt, though - it's like standing near a hive of bees and it doesn't hurt at all.  Wonder, delight, hope all rise up in him and Spike twists and bends sharply forward, flipping the boy that's holding him onto the floor on his back.  He brings his elbow down in a hard strike, right into the boy's ribs and hears the bones pop.  And nothing.  Not even the buzzing, now.


                *What in fuck, what's HAPPENED?  It's gone, it's gone, it's fucking - GONE!*  Spike leaps upright, teeth bared, ready to take on the whole Bronze but it's Xander that's standing right there, staring at him.  Xander who looks at the two boys and at Spike and shakes his head - who turns and walks out.  Spike looks around him - sees with satisfaction that the rest of the club is pointedly not looking at him and he steps over the writhing boy and follows Xander out.


                They walk up the street, fast because Xander is walking fast, and Spike wishes futilely that he could fucking talk.  Xander doesn't say a word and ten minutes later they're going up to his apartment, and going inside.  Xander leans there against the door, watching him, and Spike watches back - finally takes out a cigarette and lights it and begins to pace, smoking and growling and getting more pissed off the longer Xander is silent.


                Suddenly the boy is right there, in his face, grabbing his lapels and making him stop - staring at him with wide, wild eyes.  His hands are shaking and Spike stares at them - looks at Xander and feels as if an icicle has been driven straight through him.


                *Won't put up with this, he won't.  This'll be the end, this'll be...  Fuck, so stupid, should have GUESSED, should have...  Xan, please - please don't hate me, please don't...* 


                "How long have you known?" Xander whispers and Spike shakes his head, his eyes wide, hoping Xander will understand.


                 "You didn't know?  You - just found out tonight?"  Spike nods - pinches out the smoke and shoves the butt into his pocket - puts his hand on Xander's and makes that noise - the one that gets him extra butter on his popcorn or the last piece of pizza, if he really wants it.  Xander's shuts his eyes for a moment and then he's looking at Spike again, and his looks - frantic.  Anguished.

                "What am I gonna do?  Spike, what am I -   You tell me.  Tell me what to do because..."  Xander stops and he's breathing hard like he's been running - or crying.  "Are you - will you leave Sunnydale?  Will you leave Willow and - and Dawn and Buffy alone?  And - everybody, oh god -"   Xander bows his head, right down onto Spike's chest and he is crying now, crying in harsh, ragged sobs that wrench his body and make him cough - make him gasp.  Spike just lets him - lets him cry until he's done and then lets him go when he turns sharply away and goes into the dim kitchen - bends over the sink and rinses and rinses his face - takes a long drink.  He dries off on some paper towels and then comes slowly back into the living room.  Spike's just standing there.  He has so much to tell Xander - so many things that he's noticed and so many things that Xander does that he wants to praise him for - thank him for.  But he can't, he can't and the noise that comes out of him is so frustrated and wretched that Xander immediately crosses to him - puts his hand on Spike's shoulder.


                "What - what's the matter?  Are you okay?"  Spike stares at him - tips his head back and growls to the ceiling.   "Spike.  Spike?  You have to tell me - what you're going to do.  You have to tell me.  I - fuck.  I don't want..."  Xander stops talking and Spike looks back at him and he sees that the boy is shivering a little - that he's close to tears again and that's just it, that's the last straw.


                Spike reaches out and grabs Xander's hips - pulls him close and gets one hand up behind his neck - one hand in the small of his back.  Xander is just staring at him, his hand clenched tight on Spike's shoulder still, the other on Spike's arm, clutching at the slick leather of his duster.


                "Spike?  What -"   And Spike kisses him.  Sinks into the heat and taste - into cool water and gas-station coffee and cookies.  Can smell wood and smoke, paint and Joyce's perfume, a little sweat and traces of the pennyroyal soap.  It's incredible - intoxicating - and Spike tries to get deeper, tries to get inside and Xander is letting him.   Xander is whimpering into his mouth and pulling him closer and their tongues are bumping and sliding off each other - their teeth click together and Spike's lip is caught for a moment - pinched hard enough to bleed.  He grumbles in pleasure, deep in his chest and Xander's hips buck forward into his, heat and rigidity and the thick, sweet-salt smell of arousal and Spike never wants to let go.


                Xander is breathing hard through his nose - is sliding his hand up Spike's arm and getting it into his hair - raking it out of order and tangling his fingers in it, tugging at it as he moves Spike's head - tips his skull, just a little, so he can get a better angle for the kiss.


                *Fuckin' amazing kiss, fuckin' wonderful, Jesus, I want -*   Spike starts moving backwards towards where he thinks the bedroom door is, stumbling a little, tripping over his own feet and Xander's.  Xander moves with him, bump of knee and thigh, bump and bump and bump of hip and then Spike crashes into the wall and is pinned there.  Xander leans on him, groaning softly, his other hand worming under duster and shirt and t-shirt, finding skin and rubbing all over it, scratching over it.  Spike gets his own hands down and gets two hands-full of muscled buttock - pulls Xander up so tight against him the boy squeaks and suddenly he's pulling away, pulling back.


                *No, oh please no, Xander - please!*


                "Spike, wait, - Jesus -"  Xander is gasping, shaking -  he's got both his hands in Spike's hair and he holds him at bay like that, staring at Spike and panting, his lips so red and a little swollen, his heart beating the devil's own tattoo in his chest, echoing in Spike's head.


                "Spike, I - fuck, you have to - Spike, tell me what -"   Spike makes that frustrated, growling noise because he can't tell, he can only show and please, for fuck's sake will Xander just let him show!  Xander stares at him and then laughs - looks up at the ceiling for a second.


                "Fuck, yeah, okay, I forgot.  Can't tell.  Just - answer me.  Are you - are you gonna - kill us."  Xander's eyes are so dark - so brim full of hope and lust and terror and need, and Spike very slowly, very deliberately shakes his head, never once letting his gaze waver.  Xander's breath explodes out of him, and he gasps air in again - moves his lips for a moment before any sound comes out.


                "I - I fucking believe you.  You want this.  Me?  Want me?"  Spike snarls in sheer frustration and lunges forward, getting that mouth back under him and kissing like he's drowning and Xander is oxygen. And Xander lets him - Xander sobs into his mouth and starts pushing at him, sliding him along the wall until they bump over the doorsill and are in the bedroom.  The scent of cinnamon from the candle Xander likes to burn faintly perfumes the air and the smell of sawdust and tar are there as well in the cool darkness.  Spike trips over something - a discarded pair of jeans - and they jolt apart


                "Wait, can you - where's your lighter, I don't wanna break my neck," Xander whispers and Spike fumbles his lighter out of his pocket - drags Xander to the dresser and lights the fat, reddish-brown candle.  The flame flares high for a moment and then settles and Spike looks at Xander - looks at the candle-glow sparking in his eyes and dancing in red-gold highlights in his hair.  And he's so beautiful, the boy's so fucking beautiful and so warm, so ready.


                 Spike twists his shoulders and gets his duster to slide down and Xander lets his hands go long enough to let it fall to the floor.  Then he's pulling Spike in close again, kissing and kissing and this time he's kissing Spike's jaw and cheek and eyebrow - kissing his temple and his chin and his nose, nibbling along the edge of his ear and Spike grumbles in pleasure, shivering under the heated, frantic presses of lips and tongue.  He drops his head and kisses back, nuzzling into the curve of Xander's throat, trying to burrow under the collar of the work shirt and t-shirt he wears, wanting the flesh that he's caressed with his gaze to be laid bare. 


                His hands have been mindlessly clutching Xander's hips and now they reach up and push at the hem of his shirt - lift it and Spike leans further, pressing his tongue to the upright, dusky skin of Xander's nipple, licking like a cat and letting the edges of his teeth just barely graze there.  Xander arches into him and hisses, his hands scrabbling over Spike's silk shirt and yanking it up.  His hands sweep over and over Spike's spine and shoulder blades - skim his ribs and belly and then Xander's thumbs are in the hollows of Spike's hips and his fingertips are pushing past the waist of his jeans, kneading the upper curve of Spike's buttocks.


                Spike yanks Xander's shirts up and off, tossing them somewhere and getting his own hands on Xander's back - getting handsful of heat and hard muscle and he turns the boy and pushes, heading for the bed.  The mattress hits Xander in the back of his thighs and he topples, and Spike goes down with him, doing his best not to squash him.


                They land and bounce and their hips grind together and Spike wants this, fuck yeah, wants it more than anything for a long, long time.  He's panting as hard as Xander is - he's writhing and groaning and clutching whatever his hands can reach and Xander's chest and shoulder and collarbone are under his mouth and he's licking him, tasting him.


                Xander is doing the same, kisses and nibbling bites all over his throat, all over his jaw and shoulder, whatever he can reach and Spike presses down, getting his thigh between Xander's and rocking, grinding.  Xander arches up into him - twists and pushes and gets his hands down between them, clumsy and urgent on the buttons of Spike's jeans.


                "Fuckin' back off a sec, let me - wanna touch you -" Xander mumbles, his tongue wet and rough on Spike's sternum and Spike lifts his hips a little, shivering as Xander's fingers slip the buttons out of worn holes and slip inside.  Heat and pressure as his strong, callused grip frees Spike from the denim and Xander's hands are wrapped around him - tugging and stroking and Xander pushes at his jeans and gets them halfway down his hips.  Spike gets up on his elbows and Xander gets them down to his thighs and Spike can't wait, he squirms his way down Xander's body, his fingers on the button and the zip, pulling at denim that's too tight and too much.


                *Fuck it,* he thinks, and he just rips them, splitting the seam all the way back and finally, finally the source of that lovely scent, the most intense heat, is right there under his chest and then under his lips and he can't help but worship there.  Long, long licks and sucking kisses and Xander is trembling under him, undulating like a snake, his fingers in Spike's hair and skimming over his cheeks and jaw - tracing the edge of Spike's mouth as it stretches around the tip of Xander's cock and Xander bucks up, breathing in rabbity little pants.


                "Spike, god that feels so - sssoooo...Spike!"  He's moaning, his words are becoming mere noise and Spike's pleased at that - now neither one of them can talk - and he lets his mouth slip further down, taking the smooth length in as far as he can, rubbing and fluttering and prodding with his tongue and coaxing a spill of savory-sweet fluid from the tip.


                *Oh, that's good, that's so good...  Xander, Xan...*  Spike growls, wanting more, and Xander shudders at the vibration - comes half up off the bed, his legs spread wide and wanton on the rumpled sheets.


                "Spike - wait - I want - want to - oh fuck, Spike - god -"


                *No words, no words!* Spike thinks, and sucks hard, reducing the boy to noises again, and twisting little thrusts that Spike wants to feel even deeper.  He's kicking at his boots - getting them off and pushing madly at his jeans.   He flails his legs for a moment and then they're gone, hitting the floor, and he slides up Xander's body, getting the muscular thigh between his, rocking his hips into Xander's and loving the slick catch-glide of their cocks, skimming over their bellies.


                "You - I love how you look, I love how you feel, you taste - want to taste you, Spike, want -"  Xander's hands are on his back and then on his hips, pulling him closer, pressing him down and his mouth is on Spike's again, kiss and kiss again, breathless and sharp and wet.  Spike breaks away and peppers tiny kisses all over Xander's face - nuzzles into the silken hair - lets it get into his mouth and tickle his eyelids.  He stretches and reaches and finally gets the drawer of the bedside table open - yanks it out hard enough to spill it and dives for the greasy tube that goes spinning.  Xander is up on his elbows, watching him, and his eyes get wide when he sees what Spike is holding.


                "Spike, I - I'm not - I don't know what to do, Spike, I -"  Spike shakes his head - puts his fingers gently over Xander's mouth and makes the purring grumble that Xander knows from nights of patrols and days of lazy TV watching means pleasure.  Spike opens the tube and squeezes out a line of lube onto Xander's cock - gestures with his hands and then attacks Xander's boots and the rags of his jeans, stripping him in seconds.


                *Have to just look, just for a minute - so fuckin' lovely...*   He rubs his hands slowly up Xander's shins - up his thighs.  He feasts his eyes on the skin that is the color of dark amber in the candle-glow, flushed with blood and dewed with sweat.  He scents, deeply, the salt and herb and sunshine scent that he can't get enough of. 


                Xander is watching him, his hand slowly spreading the lube over himself, his eyes as dark and deep as midnight pools, his hair tangled over his forehead and across his neck.  Spike inches upward on the bed - straddles Xander's hips.  He puts his hand in the center of Xander's chest and feels the heartbeat there - strong and steady and rapid.  He can feel it vibrate up his arm.  He puts Xander's lube-slick hand between his legs and Xander is frozen for a moment and then he moves, and Spike arches his back in uncontrollable delight as slick, rough fingers find and breach him - press in and twist and rub. 


                He doesn't need much - he can't wait for much - he only wants Xander inside, wants that heat and that sweet scent deep in his body.  Thinks maybe it can permeate him and make him whole.  He guides Xander's hand to his hip and holds the rigid column of Xander's flesh in his own hand - pumps once and then goes up on his knees and sinks down, slow as he can.


                Xander is immobile under him - is barely breathing, his eyes locked on Spike's and his other hand covering Spike's, holding it to his chest.  As Spike slides slowly down, taking him in, Xander's eyes go impossibly wide and he squeezes Spikes hand and hip, hard.


                "Spike - that's....oh, that's - Spike...Spike...I want - wanted - oh god, that's -"   Incoherent again and he arches his throat, his head thrown back on the sheets and his hair a nest of black snakes, tangling and spreading.  His heart is pounding, faster and faster, and Spike rocks and twists and pushes and Xander is in him, his hips pressing into Spike's thighs, his hand tight enough to leave bruises.  Spike just sits for a moment, breathing, feeling.


                Then he starts to move, to ride, and Xander cries out softly, reaching blindly to rake his nails over Spike's chest and belly; to grasp his cock and pull and pet and caress.


                "Spike - Spike - too good, it's -"  Xander's heart is pounding so fast, his body trembling and writhing and arching up into Spike's and Spike moves faster, his eyes fixed on Xander's face, his hand on Xander's hand, gliding over his cock and then on Xander's belly, scratching.  He tightens his inner muscles and Xander makes an inarticulate noise, squeezing Spike hard.


                "God, god, Spike, I - please, please -"  Spike knows he's close - so close, and he speeds up - tightens down - and Xander is arching up hard, his back rigid, his belly rippling with the force of his pleasure and Spike can feel his orgasm, hot and pulsing inside him.  It's enough - it's too much and Spike arches back, crying out, Xander's hand tight on him and slicking with his come.


                As the last of the spasms ease in both of them Spike slumps forward until he and Xander are chest to heaving chest.  They're sticky, and Xander is sweaty, and his breathing is harsh and hard.  Spike rides the motion of his chest, listening to the heartbeat, sucking in the heat.  After a moment he realizes that Xander is talking and tries to listen.


                "...ever since then, I just wanted to - touch you, wanted to be around you all the time, wanted...god, Spike just wanted you.  All this time you've been here and I -   I was so scared, Spike, I thought you'd get better and go.  I know you - you were planning on it.  I mean, the carry-all and - Clem told me you said -   And I didn't think I'd ever -" 


                *Xanderbabble.  Love, love, I wish I could tell you -*   Spike hushes Xander with his mouth - with his lips and tongue, and Xander sinks into the kiss, pulling Spike close, wrapping his arms around Spike's back and trying to make them one, it seems.


                "Wish you could tell me...what you think.  Fuck, I wish you could." Xander murmurs and Spike leans his forehead on Xander's shoulder.  Trying, one more time, because he wants to tell Xander, also - wants him to know, wants him to really know.  He breathes - he hugs Xander close.  He opens his mouth and shapes the words and that buzzing is back in his head, for just a second and Spike lifts his head.


                "Z...zz...sssaan.  Zsan," he says, finally - triumphantly - and Xander stiffens under him.  Xander's hands are on either side of his face and Xander is staring at him with the biggest, goofiest smile Spike has ever seen.  Staring and waiting, just waiting, his thumbs caressing lightly along Spike's cheekbones.


                "Zsann..." Spike says again, grinning, blinking, and Xander pulls him close and kisses him hard - wraps his arms around him and whispers to him.


                "Yeah, me.  That's me and that's the best fucking thing I've ever heard you say, Spike."  Spike nuzzles close to warmth and delicious scent and sighs happily.  He agrees - it's the best thing ever.





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