“Xander...” Willow’s voice has even more pain in it, and Xander really didn’t think that possible. “He didn't leave a card.”

He sighs. Way to go, Harris, he thinks, spread the agony – there’s just not enough to go around on a day like today. He looks down at the bunch of wildflowers that Spike had flung angrily at his feet. I am a dick, he thinks, gathering them up to carry them inside.


The next afternoon, in bed, with Anya’s limp, lightly sweating body draped over him he feels the twinge again. What is the opposite of pride, he thinks? Shame; that’s it. It feels so wrong to have to be ashamed of his behavior in an interaction that included Spike. That particular emotion doesn’t filter through in those situations much. Her hot cheek on his chest is distracting.

“Mm. That was different,” she says, still catching her breath.

“Yeah,” he agrees, his mind still spiraling through his earlier thoughts. “It was more ... intense.”

“It's because of Joyce.” The sentence comes out on a sigh that he can feel whispering across his skin.

“Right. Huh?”

“Well, she got me thinking ... about ... how people die all the time, and ... how they get born too, and how you kind of need one so you can have the other. When I think about it that way, it ... makes death a little less sad, and ... sex a little more exciting.” She’s got that tone, the one that says she’s figured it all out. Bully for her.

“Again I say, huh?”

“Well, I just think I understand sex more now. It's not just about two bodies smooshing together. It's about life. It's about *making* life.”

He feels a stab of ice in his chest. Cold dread winnowed down to the sharpest point imaginable, then slammed into him at Mach one. “Right,” he says, trying for casual, achieving panicked, “when ... two people are much older, and ... way richer, and far less stupid.”

“Breathe.” She laughs at him in that way that only she can. It makes him feel comforted and ridiculed at the same time. “You're turning colors. I'm not ready to make life with you, but I could. *We* could. Life could come out of our love and our smooshing, and that's beautiful. It all makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger. Like I'm more awake somehow. You know?”

“Yeah, I do.” But he doesn’t. He can’t find a place where he’s anything more than a boy trying to be a man in a scary world where the closest thing he’ll ever have to a real Mom is lying in the ground, dead.




From up in the attic, he hears the knock on the door. He moves closer to the vent so he can eavesdrop. Also for the air, because the heat in the attic is oppressive at best and the evening air outside is at least half a degree cooler.


“Hey,” Spike says, and his voice is a low rumble. Xander can’t see him, but the vampire sounds like he has his hands in his pockets and is doing that thing where he looks down, then peers up through his lashes, the darkness of those lashes offsetting the startling, clear blue of his eyes. Buffy’s reply is too soft to hear, but Spike enters the house, so it must have been at least marginally friendly.


Xander moves back to the center of the attic, under the pitch of the roof, where he can stand upright with only the top of his head brushing the underside of the ceiling. He pulls the hem of his tee shirt out of the waist of his cutoffs and mops at the sweat running freely from his hairline. He freezes when he hears footsteps on the rickety wooden stairs. He drops his shirt, not noticing that it falls a little crooked, so a slice of tanned abdomen stays exposed above the frayed denim waistband of his shorts.


A bleached blond head appears through the rectangular hole in the floor, blue eyes wary. Spike stops halfway up and leans back to look up. “Buffy says you could use some help up here.” His tone is smooth and bland, but Xander can hear so many things hiding under that layer of cool vanilla. Pain, but they’ve all got that in spades. Anxiety, maybe? A little hope? Resignation, boredom, anger, all iced with a thin layer of the pain they’re all feeling, the rawness of the loss of Joyce.


Xander feels all of those things, but swirled along the middle, the shame is back. He drops down to sit cross-legged on the floor so they are at eye level. “Yeah, there’s some stuff that needs to go back to the gallery to be sold. A hand would be good.”


Neither makes a move, though, and the silence stretches out between them for a long moment.


“I owe you an apology,” Xander finally says, and he can’t help the short, barking laugh he lets out. “Never thought I’d apologize to you.” He shakes his head at the absurdity of it all, in this place where the absurd is commonplace. The vampire waits, not speaking. He’s tilted his head slightly to the side, eyes on the floor.


“I’m sorry about what I said when you brought the flowers. I know that you had – something – with Joyce, and it wasn’t any of my business.” He can’t bring himself to say any of the platitudes that are drying in his mouth, not   “I know you cared”, or “she was a wonderful woman” or anything else, so he just studies the ground for a while before glancing up again.


When he does, the look is there – surprise and relief and something else, something shadowy and vague. “I saw that Red brought them in.”


Xander can’t help himself. “I did it. Seemed right – I was the one who was such a dick.” For his efforts, he gets a wan smile and a duck of the head, with the upward glance as a special bonus.


“Thank you, then.” Another long pause, while Spike’s eyes look for something and presumably find it. He hauls himself up the remaining stairs, and Xander sees that he’s shed the bulk of the omnipresent duster and red overshirt, leaving him thin and lean-hipped in his black jeans and tee shirt. The Doc Martens are loud against the plywood flooring as the vampire folds to sit facing Xander, mimicking his posture.


“She was… she treated me like a man. That was…” Spike’s voice trails off, and one long, pale hand waves in the air, the gesture as insubstantial as the words. Xander looks up, and it’s sitting there, in the vampire’s eyes – that emotion that Xander can’t wrap his head around. It’s hovering, waiting; like a hummingbird, all strength and fragility and power and weakness and – damn it – how can dead eyes be so alive?


“She was… whenever I thought of the word ‘home’, I thought of Joyce. My mother,” Xander’s voice breaks on the word, and he has to stop for a second. “My mother,” he says again, and he says the word carefully, as if getting it wrong has a price, “was never ‘home’ to me. Willow’s was, for a while, but it didn’t last.” He raises a hand to rub his sweaty hair off his forehead. “When Buffy moved here, we came here, to this house, that first day. Me and Willow and Buffy, and she introduced us to Joyce, and Joyce was so nice and normal. She gave us milk and cookies – the fucking American dream.” His voice is rough, the sound seems as though it would hurt the soft tissues of his throat and mouth as it forces its way to the surface to fall into the still, hot air. “And, when Willow and I left, she hugged us both. And that day – the first day I ever met her – I loved her more than I loved my own mother.”


He leans back then, bracing his weight on his palms and tipping his head so that the tears can’t fall, so that they stay, pooled in his eyes, blurring the beams of the rafters. It doesn’t work, so he levers himself to his feet, turning his back on Spike and bowing his head to dash the moisture away from his face. He doesn’t hear a thing, but, suddenly, there’s a cool hand on his shoulder, squeezing softly.


Xander turns his head slightly, and the blue eyes are there, and he thinks of the word he was looking for before - it’s ‘compassion’ - just before cool lips ghost over the back of his neck and the word in his mind morphs and changes and becomes ‘passion’. Without knowing why, he allows himself to be turned, and they are facing each other in the gloom of the attic. All of the light is coming up from below. It throws strange shadows, and Xander would swear he sees tears on Spike’s sharp cheeks in the second before they kiss.


Spike’s lips are soft and cool, and fuller than they look, and Xander wonders desperately just what the hell he’s doing until the vampire’s tongue rasps slickly against his lower lip, begging entrance. Rational though leaves him, because there’s no room for it in his head, not with passion and lust and need and wanting and the pain that’s still there, pushing against all the other things, pushing them into the vampire’s mouth and body.


It’s Spike who started it, but Xander only lags behind a moment, reaching out to clasp slim, hard hips and draw their bodies together. Someone gasps, it might be both, as their chests and abdomens and groins meet, hardness on hardness. They fit perfectly, bodies sliding together like the black and white of a yin-yang symbol. Xander’s arms go automatically around Spike’s waist, pulling the shorter man up slightly as one hand goes north to cradle shockingly soft blond hair and the other goes south to trace the hard curve of a buttock. Spike’s own hands find their way – one resting against Xander side, fingers tracing the flat pads of muscle over bone, the other cupping the slightly rough skin of the other man’s cheek, hollowed by the relentless motion of their mouths.


Xander knows enough to breathe through his nose, so the kiss doesn’t have to end and they don’t have to look at one another or think about what they’re doing or why. Spike’s fingers trace downward and come to rest on the waistband of Xander’s shorts, fingers stroking the bit of skin exposed by the slightly rucked-up shirt for a moment before slipping under and upward. When the questing fingers find an already-hard nipple and scratch lightly across it, Xander does break the kiss, so he can whisper Spike’s name in a shocked voice.


“Shhhh,” the vampire soothes, “’s’alright.” He scratches again, and retakes Xander’s mouth to stifle the hiss his action caused. Xander drops both hands to Spike’s hips then, using them to lever their bodies together, sliding his erection against the answering one behind the black denim. He stops in utter awe when he feels the vampire shudder against him. Spike thrusts against him, and the pleasure is too much. It breaks the paralysis holding him and Xander sighs into his mouth before answering that thrust with one of his own.


This time, Spike breaks the kiss, so he can tilt Xander’s head back and kiss a line down the human’s hot, sweaty throat, to the hollow of his collarbone, while his hands push the tee shirt up to bunch beneath his arms. Xander complies with the unspoken request and pulls it off, quickly stripping Spike’s off as well before crushing their chests back together.


Spike’s skin is cool, and Xander can’t get enough of it, rocking them together to feel the cool hardness on his fevered skin. Suddenly, there’s space between them as they each reach for the other’s belt and fumble the leather through the buckles, buttons open, zippers down, tearing at the unresponsive cloth in haste until both cocks are free. Spike sweeps one hand down to press them together, hot and cool flesh surrounded by long fingers.


Xander fists his hands in Spike’s hair as the vampire sets a punishing pace, stripping their shafts desperately. Xander can feel the fluid dripping from one of them, both of them, hot and cool being mixed together and rubbed back into velvet skin with glorious friction. He turns Spike’s head and recaptures his mouth in a bruising kiss, mapping contours with his tongue, licking and biting, met with equal fervor. Xander is lost in the sensations of lips and teeth and tongues and cocks and hands when he feels the slow burn starting at the base of his spine.


He tries to pull away, to tell Spike he’s going to come, but the vampire won’t release his mouth. But he knows anyway, because he speeds up his strokes, and wrings the orgasm out of Xander. It’s so intense that Xander can feel his balls draw up, can feel his cock fill and then shoot over Spike’s friction-warmed hand. A second later he feels a gush of cool fluid running over him, and knows that Spike has found his release as well.


Xander can’t help himself, he has to break the kiss and look down, has to see. What he sees is Spike’s hand, still moving languidly over their flesh, spreading their combined climax over shiveringly sensitive skin. He sees the dark red of his own cock cradled against Spike’s paler length, and the shimmering whiteness of their come. While he watches, the vampire raises the hand to his mouth and tastes their essence.


Blue eyes meet brown with a challenging light, and the hand is extended to Xander. He tilts his head and licks a long stripe from the base of the thumb diagonally across the palm, eagerly sampling the offering. In Spike’s eyes, the clouds of passion are clearing, replaced by lazy satisfaction. Xander licks the proffered hand one more time, and then kisses the vampire, languidly sweeping his tongue around to share the taste of their fluid.


The kiss dissolves slowly, and Xander turns away, finding a packing blanket and cleaning them up. He hands Spike his shirt, and they are both busy for a moment, setting their clothes to rights and smoothing rumpled hair. Once they are restored, they share a look and a chaste kiss. They turn to the work that needs to be done, and sort and pack and carry and move the belongings of a woman they both loved. And Xander realizes that he feels like maybe he is a part of something bigger. Like he’s more awake somehow.





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