Hearth

 

 

Soft and wet, sometimes with gentle little kitten-licks, sometimes hard and rough.  Both were good.  Xander stretched, pushing his shoulders up against the pillow and stretching his arms out as far as he could.  Relaxing, he snagged the papers someone had placed up in the corner of the bed, sighing as he scanned down half the page.  There it was, part three, f.  That’s where he’d fallen asleep.

The wet suction was removed and he heard squishy noises as he turned on the light and tried to get his head back into it the complex language before him.  Writing and proofing contracts was not his forte.

He gasped as something slippery and so very tight encased him, sliding down his length to nestle soft skin against his own crinkly curls.  A pause and then it slid back up, and down, and up. . .   The rhythm was moderately fast, and Xander felt his blood boiling.

“This isn’t help me concentrate, you know.”

There was no sound, but the rhythm changed to something much slower and gentler.  He felt legs near his hips and thighs shift, settling down and allowing more leverage and a deeper angle.  Strong muscles clamped down, making the already torturous ride even worse.

Or was that better?

Xander began to gasp, clutching the papers hard enough that he was sure they were going to be a crinkled mess whenever he was finally done.  Good thing this was a copy.  “That. . . isn’t helping. . . either, oh gods!”  His hips bucked up into that yielding flesh, grabbing at the sheets to give himself leverage.  “Faster!” he gasped out, trying to show with is own body the pace he needed.

Immediately, the bed began quake as its occupants jerked and bounced to a punishing speed.  “Better,” he managed just before he arched his back so that his weight rested on his heels and his head, a scream choking in his throat as he released.

Moaning, he sank back into the bed, unable to fight the post-coital lassitude.  Snuggling down deeper, he tried to figure out what the black beetle-like letters meant on the wrinkled papers.  It wasn’t working, but it was fun trying.  Like finding shapes in clouds.

Once his breathing calmed, that snug tightness was slowly removed.  The wetness returned, soft licks cleaning up any evidence of the past few minutes.  Once shiny and clean, a hand pulled up his silk black boxers, tucking him back in.  Then there were the sounds of skin on cotton and the bed dipped and shook.

Xander let the papers drop when his door was firmly shut.  He could hear the sounds of someone puttering around in the kitchen, and he knew within the forty five minutes it would take him to get up and get dressed, he’d find coffee and breakfast waiting.

It was nice.  He’d never had someone so focused on whatever he wanted.  His pleasure always came first, whether that was establishing a morning blow-job, or learning how to cook the meals he liked best, or doing the dishes and the laundry, things Xander absolutely hated to do.  It was occasionally smothering, but once Xander had explained that—meaning he screamed and ranted for an hour—changes had been made.  Now it really was only occasionally smothering, and usually only when one of them needed it.

Shaking off his sleepiness, Xander finished reading the page and even got a second one in, scowling at the stupidity before him.  Contracts were nightmares, no matter how many times he had to go over the damned things.  Written by fyarl demons on acid—a particularly stupid fyarl, which was saying a lot given that particular species.

Showered and dressed, he wandered over to the kitchen.  Eggs, today, with his toast lightly buttered and his coffee creamed and sugared the way he liked.  He reached over absently to kiss the cook—that’s what it said to do on the apron—and began eating.  “This is delicious,” he complimented, enjoying the spicy edge the basil and cilantro made.  Eating was always a delight in his apartment; he never knew what he’d be getting next.

“I’ve got only half a day today—we’re still waiting for the rest of that shipment, so meet you over by the magic box?”  He waited for the expected nod, washing the dishes himself that morning.  He ignored the small exclamation, as well as the tug on his sleeve.  “Leave it, okay?  I don’t mind doing it.  I want to spoil you, for a change.”

It wouldn’t be that simple, he could tell by the carefully neutral expression on his lover’s face.  He knew, by now, that it was hiding shocked hurt, and the deep-seated belief that Xander had to be upset about something.

Which was true.

Not for the reasons he knew his lover would immediately begin cataloguing, but Xander was upset.  He gave his lover another kiss, feeling one of the reasons as he pressed his body against the familiar one before him.  It wasn’t bad, not really. . . but it was indicative of the problem.

And Xander had no idea what to do about it.

***********

It dwelled on his mind the whole day at work, even when he met with the clients and their lawyers to go over the contract.  Xander’s bosses were decent people, who ran a professional operation.  If they promised completion on a certain date, then it would be completed on a certain date.  The flip side was, they had to be very careful about what their promises were, so not to get into trouble.

“Hey, Alex!”  Xander paused and allowed Enrique, one of his few work friends, to catch up with him. “Dig the suit.  Meeting with the Hoffman’s again?”

He grimaced ostentatiously.  Enrique loved a good show.  “I will never understand people sometimes!  They want their building up by April.  Okay, fine, but it’s not possible!  Even if we haul ass and work a lot of overtime—which will cost them—it’s almost winter.  Yes, we’re in California so we don’t exactly have lots of snow and wind, but it’s always slower in winter!  And then they say that they have two other companies who are promising to get it done by April, except I know they won’t be able to—and it won’t be as good as ours will be.”

Enrique laughed, clapping Xander on the back—after surreptitiously wiping his hands to make sure they were clean.  “Alex, man, don’t worry about.  We’ll either get the job, or they’ll get screwed.  No big deal.”

True, but only because they had jobs lined up for the next few years, so they didn’t need to hunt them down like some companies did.  “Yeah, but I like the Hoffman’s.  I want to cut them a break.”

“Too soft-hearted, man.  So how’s home?  You’ve got time off soon, right?”

“Yeah, next week.”  Xander studiously did not mention how home was going.  He wasn’t sure he could explain it, anyway.  It wasn’t that it was bad—far from it.  It just wasn’t. . .  right.  “Four long weeks with my honey and no interruptions.”  He gave Enrique a glare as they headed towards Xander’s trailer-office.  “So do not have emergencies here, okay?  I don’t care if the whole thing comes crashing down.  Call Richard!”

Enrique laughed again, leaning against the doorframe while Xander gathered up his belongings.  “You take care, okay?  You’re a good boss.  Must be cause you’re so young!”

Xander laughed along with his friend.  Enrique was forty five, and had been in the construction business longer than Xander had been alive.  He had been the one to suggest to Xander’s bosses that they might try the boy out in foreman position, and had helped keep the peace when several older, more experienced employees objected to having a twenty year old tell them what to do.

Saws whined, cutting off any attempts at conversation and Enrique nodded before heading off.  Xander waved, throwing on his coat and turning off the lights.  Heading towards the main office, he found Cindy in the coffee room.

“Hey, Kid,” she greeted cheerfully.  “Everything all squared away?”  At his nod, she headed over to her desk, picking up a slip of paper.  “Your bonus, and don’t spend it all in one place.  Get a piece of candy with that soda pop.”

He grinned at her, bowing over the slip.  “And forget about your bonbons?  Never!”

The executive secretary—aka, the boss of everyone in the entire company—grinned a little wider.  “I don’t need bonbons,” she said sternly, gesturing to her plump physique.  “That sweety of yours, however, definitely needs fattening up.  Get some good chocolate!  And you will definitely go to the beach!”

Xander grinned. “Riiiight, so I can deal with the moaning, and the whining, and the scratching, and the glares when we both burn.  Thanks, Cindy, but I like being able to sleep at night.”  Cindy laughed and gave him a peck on the cheek. He hugged her back, calling over to Richard that he was leaving.  A muffled goodbye was his only response, but that was expected.  Richard was doing the quarterly taxes, which meant he saw the coffee and the food Cindy dropped in front of him, nothing else.

Whistling cheerfully, he made his way off the site and over to the parking lot.  His beautiful baby—sleek, black, and so new it still had that new car smell—the convertible chirped at him when he thumbed the unlock button on his key-chain.  It was totally inappropriate and probably more expensive than he could really afford, but he’d fallen in love at first sight, and no one had been able to talk him out of buying it.

The engine purred to life, making Xander grin.  There had been quite a bit of purring when Xander had first brought his baby home for christening.  And squealing and moaning and laughing hysterically—although the last had been when he showed up at the Magic Box the first time, and Buffy had accused him straight-faced of stealing it.

Humming along with the music, he tried hard not to let go of his good mood.  Because he wasn’t unhappy at home, he wasn’t.  He was worried and concerned, but definitely not angry or upset.  At least, not for himself.

“Hello, ladies!” he called cheerfully as the bell rang above his head.  Anya gave him peck on the cheek before helping a customer that followed on Xander’s heels.  Tara and Willow waved from the table where they were studying.  Homework, it looked like, and not magic, for once.  Which was good.

“Hey, Xander.  How was work today?”

“Good, good.”  He hopped up onto the counter, grinning down on his women.  Well, not all of them, but he could hear the thump coming from the back room and knew the other two would be in soon.

“Well?”  Willow folded her arms and glared up at him, doing a decent job of suppressing the grin that was lurking behind her eyes.

Tara laughed, the deep, mellow sound melting the stern expression instantly.  “You aren’t his mother, Willow.  He’ll tell us when he wants to.”  Then she gave him that sideways grin that he’d fallen in love with, making him melt as quickly as Willow had.  They’d worked so hard to get her comfortable among them.  “Won’t you, Xander?”

“Won’t Xander what?”  Buffy threw herself onto the love seat in the corner, grinning and sweaty.  A very sore looking Dawn and a puffing Giles trailed her, immediately looking for ice and ace-bandages.  Xander jumped up to help, laughing at Dawn’s pathetic ‘whimpers’.  “Oh, quit complaining, you big baby.  You asked for training to help me, and I was holding back!”

Giles mopped his face, raising an eyebrow over the towel.  “That, my dear Buffy, was not holding back.  Even Spike had trouble!”

Moving back to the counter, Xander found a can of soda and a candy bar waiting for him, yet no evidence of the one who had left it.  Stifling his grumbles, he forced himself to look blithesome.

“He’s the biggest baby of the three of you.  Who knew a vampire could be so sensitive?  I really didn’t hit him that hard!”  There was a note of concern in the Slayer’s flippant voice, her eyes darting around the room sheepishly.  Despite the easy relationship vampire and vampire slayer now shared, there were still occasional problems—although Buffy was really trying to curb her temper.

“Where is Spike?” Willow added when the vampire didn’t immediately appear.  He usually was right there beside Buffy, verbally sparring with her to the other’s amusement.  “Buffy, you didn’t hurt him did you?”

Buffy looked even more sheepish, and just a touch guilty.  “I may have kinda, um. . . kneed him.”

“Buffy!”  The censure in Tara’s voice made the entire room start in surprise.  She was talking more, but she was still hesitant about showing strong emotions.  “You know better than to hurt him like that.  He probably won’t come out the rest of the day, now.”

“No, I see him.”  Dawn leaned up against the wall, holding an ice pack to her upper thigh.  “He’s cleaning up the training room.  I don’t even think he’s listening to us.  Usually he’s grinning when we talk about him.”

“Especially if Buffy gets in trouble,” Tara added.

“Hey!  I didn’t mean to, he just. . . we were just. . . oh, fiddlesticks.  I should probably go apologize.  It was just the perfect move, and when he dropped like I’d almost staked him. . .”

Dawn waved her off, grabbing her books from the table.  “Later.  I need help on this essay first, okay?”

“Essay?  On what?”  Willow and Buffy both perked up, although the former only wanted to help.

“Victorian England,” Dawn replied with a cheeky grin.  Waving goodbye, she disappeared into the training room—shutting the door behind her.

“So, is anyone else worried about Spike?”  Willow slumped down in her seat, absently chewing on her pen, watching the door for some sign that she was being listened to.  “It was okay for a while, but it’s almost like he’s been. . . disappearing.”

Anya nodded.  “I found him doing inventory downstairs, yesterday.  This was good and helpful, but I hadn’t asked him to do it.  And when I went to talk to him about, he just handed me the paper and left.”

“Not. . . exactly what I meant, but yeah.  Like he’s so focused on doing what he can for us, that he’s stopped. . .”

“Being a person?”  Buffy folded her arms across her chest, delicate brows wrinkled in concern.  Which was a very good sign from the Slayer—the last of the scoobies to fully accept Spike into the group.  “Yeah, I’ve noticed it.  When I hit him—and I didn’t mean to—he went down hard, but he didn’t say anything when he got up.  It’s why Dawn and you, Giles, didn’t really see it.  He just took it.  When was the last time Spike took pain without bitching about it?”

“Or at least becoming more focused on ending it, yes, I see your point.”  Giles moved behind the counter, leaning forward.  “I’ve been speaking Wesley lately.  Yes, Wesley your former Watcher.  He apparently has improved greatly, such that Angel Investigations is now run by him, and not Angel.”

“I bet Angel took that so well,” was Buffy’s wry comment, but she silenced herself when Giles glared.

“Yes, well, there were several extraordinary circumstances.  Not, I realize, that unusual with our line of work, but still.  My point is that I’ve mentioned Spike’s recent behavior to Wesley, who has mentioned it to Angel.  Angel, it seems, has expressed an interest in Spike and would like to see him.”

“See him?  Don’t they hate each other?”

Giles gave Willow a funny look.  “I don’t think they started out hating each other.  And I believe Angel feels a kind of kinship to Spike, now.  He doesn’t have a soul, but if Spike wanted, this chip could be his conscience—and Angel knows first hand the kind of problems that can arise with that.  He’s offered to come up here, several times.”

“You want him to go there, instead.”

“Yes, Xander, I do.  I think we—all of us here—are part of his problem.  He doesn’t know how to deal with himself, so he’s concentrating on dealing with things he does know—how to take care of us.  Spar with Buffy, help out at the store, help with the research and take care of Dawn.  These are things he can do, and he’s using them as an excuse to ignore the rest of his life.”

“And Spike would use that routine as a way to fob Deadboy off, if he came here.  Got it.  So.  Good thing I’ve got plenty of vacation time coming up.”

“Xander!  You were going to have a real break!”

He grinned at Willow’s outraged expression.  “Come on, Wills!  What’s more exciting then going to L.A.?  I can go shopping with Cordy, check out all the museums, the movie tours, all the cool stuff.  When that gets boring, I’ll check up on the sister-branch of the Scoobies, make sure everything’s running up to spec.  And Deadboy can try and commune with Deadboy Jr.”

“Then you agree there’s a problem?”

Xander nodded, amusement dying.  “Yeah.  There’s a problem.”

Giles nodded, promising to make the arrangements.  Nothing more was said, since Spike soon came in with a bitterly complaining Dawn.  “But I don’t need more research!  The stuff you gave me is perfect!

For one instant, it looked like Spike was going to argue with her.  Then he deflated, shrugging and muttered, “It’s your grade, bit.”  That’s it.  No snarky comments about little girls learning on their own two feet, nothing about how he was not something that could be cited with any kind of credibility, nothing even about how the information was probably wrong because he was probably lying to her.  Nothing.

In light of the recent conversation, the lack of a response was glaring.  Xander saw thoughtful expressions and knew they, like he, were trying to place the last time Spike had really acted like Spike.  He himself couldn’t come up with anything except ‘after Adam’.  Maybe the others were more successful.  Hopefully.  It would probably help Angel either way.

They had their usual meeting, quietly discussing the latest problems, and then Spike and Buffy went out patrolling again.  It had been fairly quiet recently, but that could mean nothing or everything; Giles had counseled diligence and surprisingly not even Buffy had argued.  Xander privately thought she was still too preoccupied with Spike to care.

Once they were gone, Giles closeted himself in the office while Xander waited.  He wanted this done now.  If the folks in LA were agreeable, he’d leave tomorrow.  Spike would probably argue and whine—although maybe he wouldn’t.  Xander thought back over the last few weeks and came to the unhappy conclusion that he wouldn’t do all the ‘Spike’ things Xander expected him to.  He’d just. . . look sad, and hurt, and probably not talk for a long time.

“Anya?  Do you have any idea what’s wrong with Spike?”  Willow and Tara had left not long after Buffy, going to sit with Dawn until patrol was finished, so Xander didn’t mind asking the question.  It would have been. . . iffy, in front of his friends.

Anya continued checking money from the register, although her Dance of Capitalist Superiority was must less enthusiastic and ended far quicker than normal.  “No.  Not really.”

“But you have a guess.”  They hadn’t dated for all that time with Xander learning how to read the former demon.  “Can I hear it?”

She gave him a long look, which told him more completely just how serious this was.  Anya was the only person Spike really couldn’t get along with, because Anya was the only person who would always say the one thing Spike didn’t want said.  So if Anya was worried and hesitant, that meant Spike wouldn’t like it—and it was probably very important.

“I don’t think I can talk about this. . .”

“Ahn, please.  Whatever is going on with Spike, it’s hurting him.  He’s not happy and. . .”

She sighed, closing the drawer and leaning on it.  Her face was sad, and her eyes full of too many years.  “That’s the problem.  He is happy, in a way.  Remember how happy I was when Giles first hired me?  How I had a place in the world?  Caring for all of us is Spike’s place in the world.”

He nodded, but then he’d known that all along.  “I get that, Ahn, I do.  But he isn’t happy.  He’s not unhappy, but I think that’s because he’s ignoring the problem, not because he’s content with his life.  Something’s wrong.”

“Yes, but I can’t tell you what it is, Xander.  I wouldn’t know how to explain it.”  Looking far too solemn, she finished her clean up and went to check on Giles.

Xander let her, knowing he wouldn’t get anything more out of her.  Anya had finally learned the art of keeping secrets, and he couldn’t really be upset with her for learning something that had been so important to both of them.  He just wished he knew what was wrong.

“Good news, Xander!” Giles exclaimed with obvious relief as he entered the shop proper again.  “Angel and Wesley both think it’s a very good idea for you two to come down, and they’ll have everything set up.”

Xander nodded, glancing out to the darkened streets.  “I better pack,” he said absently.  “I want to leave as soon as Spike’s done patrolling.”

“What, tonight?”

“It has to be.”  Standing, Xander gathered his things and moved to the door.  “He can’t have time to think about this.”

“Yes, but surely you can just tell him you’re planning a surprise for your vacation.”

“Oh, I will be—but it still has to be tonight.”

“Well. . . I suppose you know best in this.  Do keep in touch.  And try to enjoy yourself at least some of the time.  You do deserve this break.”

Xander smiled and waved goodbye before hurrying home.  He frantically packed everything he could think of, ransacking the apartment in his haste.  Three bags were packed, the apartment was burglar-proofed, and Xander settled down on the sofa.

He woke to strong hands kneading his shoulders and neck, easing him from his cramped position to a more relaxed one on the sofa.  “Wha—no, stop it!”

Instantly, the hands were removed and he could feel the body behind him take a few steps back.  His stomach twisted.  Turning, he tried to apologize for his abrupt behavior.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—you aren’t going to accept any kind of explanation, are you?”

The comment was met with downcast silence.

Sighing, he got up and began shouldering the bags.  “Come on.  Got a couple of stops to make, and then we’re leaving.”  The knot in his stomach grew tighter when there wasn’t even a casual question about their destination, or abrupt departure.  Just instant obedience, taking the last bag Xander was struggling with and following him down to the car.

He fumed at the reaction, but he had no choice but to use it.

Three stops, and they were on the road.  There were still no questions as to where they were going, why, or if anyone knew.  Xander didn’t bother to offer explanations, instead issuing a curt order to relax and get some sleep.  Obedience was instant once again—he could tell by the breathing patterns.

Pillowing his lover’s head in his lap, Xander stroked the surprisingly soft hair absently as he drove.  “What am I going to do with you, Spike?” he whispered into the wind.  “How am I going to  fix you?”

The wind whistled it’s response, but Xander couldn’t understand it.

Part 2

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