Chapter 14

 

 

Vampires were supposed to be cold.

That’s what Buffy said, in one never-to-be-mentioned conversation.  That’s what Angel said, one of the rare times Xander gathered up enough courage to question the elder vampire, hoping against hope that Angel would never realize why he was asking.  That’s what the Watcher’s books said, when he read them under the cover of his blankets with only a flashlight and his fear for company.

They were all wrong.

Spike was always warm to him.  True, he didn’t have the same self-generating heat of a human, but he was never cold.  Not in his actions and not when Xander tried to burrow his larger frame into the vampire’s body.  It was always warm when he was with Spike.  Always.

Of course, the mountain of blankets wrapped around them probably didn’t hurt.

Xander lay completely surrounded in Spike.  Arms snug around his torso, one hand on his hip, the other on his neck, legs entwined with his, holding him flush against hard muscles and soft skin.  It wasn’t restrictive being held like that, although he had thought so the first time he’d woken mummified by his lover.  If Xander made a single move to escape, strong arms would relax and let him go. . . most of the time.  Sometimes Spike just rolled into the new position with him and held on tighter.

Big Bad Cuddler.

One day he’d actually have the guts to say that to Spike’s face.  Only after he regained the ability to run all out, though, because otherwise Spike would kill him. At least a chase might wear him down to some severe mutila—

“Hey,” a rough voice mumbled in his ear, the hand on his hip rubbing in absent comfort.  “S’all right now, puppy.  Safe here.”

How does he do that? Xander wondered as Spike nuzzled in to kiss and lick his neck, strong fingers carding through his hair. I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t do anything.  But he still knew that was thinking—about things I really need to repress.  Now.

Pushing closer to the hands and mouth that traveled over him, Xander tried to ignore the memories that always surfaced with frightening clarity in favor of actually remembering yesterday.  Bits and pieces were easy to access—the sex, most importantly, and what Spike had done the prior morning.  Everything else felt wrapped in fuzzy bubble-wrap, hazy on the edges and definitely missing entire chunks out of certain sequences.

“Go back to sleep, luv.  S’too early.”

He remembered decorating the room upstairs and that there were things he wanted down in the main floor.  He remembered the weight room downstairs and—

“Buffy!”

A gust of air against wet skin made him shiver.  “Bloody hell, pet,” he grumbled, snuggling down closer, “she’s not comin’ for hours.  Can we wait to panic ’til then?”

Panic?  Why would we panic?  Just a simple little get together with me, my vampire lover, my stake-happy Slayer-friend, her stake-happy commando boyfriend, a stake-happy watcher, and Wills.  Who could probably be very stake-happy if she thought Spike was hurting me.  And Tara, who could be stake-happy, too, if Willow thought she should be—

“Xander.”  The long-suffering patience made Xander freeze guiltily, scrunching so that he could look into Spike’s direct gaze.  It shocked him how old Spike looked.  How tired.  Spike wasn’t supposed to look like that—he was supposed to look like a bored, smirking teenager.  Forever.  “Your gonna worry yourself sick.  Relax.  They don’t know what’s goin’ on an’ we ain’t tellin’ them.”

“But—” was all he got out before a highly annoyed vampire pushed him onto his stomach and settled on his thighs.

“The things I do for you, puppy,” Spike groused, but his hands were gentle as he kneaded at tense muscles below him.  “You know damned well that that lot’ll see only what they want to.  So, we’re gonna show ’em a nice new place and feed ’em up right.”  The not-cold hands on his back soaked up the warmth from his skin until they felt almost normal as they rubbed and squeezed and pushed.  “They’ll babble on ’bout how lovely this all is an’ how happy they are for you an’ then they’ll be on their merry way.”

It was true.  He knew it was, since he’d used that particular blind-spot often enough.  But—But Spike isn’t supposed to know how to do this.  He isn’t supposed to sound like he’s choking on the words when he says it, either.

Instead of the eternally selfish demon being grateful that their secret could be kept just a little bit longer, Spike sounded angry.  Angry and disgusted and bitter—for him.

Panic tried to skitter through his nerve, but oh-so-talented hands soothed the tremors before they could really take hold.  Spike wasn’t supposed to do this.  Pack-leader wasn’t supposed to be angry on behalf of the pack.  Protect it, yes, but only as much as it required for its own needs to be met.  Spike wasn’t losing in this current situation; if anything, he was gaining.

So why does he sound like he wants to beat their heads in?  Besides the normal reasons, anyway.

“You calm now?” Spike asked, the strident demand in his voice muted and changed by something Xander couldn’t recognize.  The firm pressure on his back lessened, fingers tracing over sensitized skin.  “Yeah?  You better now, puppy?”

“Yeah.  Sor—”

A low growl cut him off.  “Don’t apologize.  Got nothin’ t’be sorry for, pet.  Bein’ scared is normal.  Just don’t get lost in the panic, that’s all; makes you tense up fierce.”

Spike’s being nice to me.  It still came as a shock, even after over a month of living with it every day.  Spike wasn’t supposed to be nice to him.  Spike was supposed to use him, just like everyone else—

No.  He wasn’t thinking about that.  Hopefully never, but at least until after he’d gotten through the next few days.  Then he could have a nice nervous break down over what had happened and another one over why Spike was being so solicitous to him.  But later.

Squirming out from under Spike’s weight, he got to his feet and stumbled towards the bathroom.  It bothered him in a sleepy, confused sort of way, that he knew exactly how many steps to take to reach the toilet, despite his eyes being mostly closed and his thoughts definitely not on the potential hazards in front of him.  But he didn’t trip on anything as he washed up and brushed his teeth—something he’d always done in the basement.

Memories from the day before grew sharper as he headed towards the living room, losing the bubble-wrap feel to them.  He knew what that ‘bubble-wrap’ feel meant, after a few times he’d been forced to spend days carefully covering up or explaining the missing day’s actions.  Usually it meant a few pointed questions on successes on patrolling the night before, sometimes for the terse manner in which he’d spoken. . . in which they hyena had spoken.

Crap.

The hyena being in control—or even the soldier, occasionally—wasn’t always a bad thing.  There were more times than he really wanted to contemplate when it was only the presence of the hyena or the soldier that got him out of certain situations alive.

But he shouldn’t have needed that, yesterday.  He should’ve been okay yesterday, cosseted in a warm, safe place with someone who—

Someone who what?  Cares for me?  Kinda lame for the Big Bad.  Who wants me?  Yeah, for sex, but I haven’t really been able to give that to him lately.  He didn’t ask or even hint this morning, the way he usually does, even when I’m tired.

Except that wasn’t quite true.  There had been times when he’d been thoroughly exhausted and Spike had ignored the usual morning’s erotic wake-up.  In fact, there had been times before yesterday when Spike had stopped Xander and either sent him back to bed or off to whatever he needed to do.

Which only made it worse.

So he cares for me.  Okay.  I’m his, he’s supposed to want to take care of me but—

Arms that should have been cold but weren’t slid around his naked waist, turning him around and holding him close as lips that were warm from the hot tap pressed against his own.

He’s not supposed to kiss me.

Lips rubbing his own, tongue sneaking out to tangle with his.  The taste of toothpaste and a hint of cigarettes and booze that would probably never go away.  Blunt teeth grabbing at his lower lip, pulling it out so that it could be sucked on, tongue rubbing up and down.  Then he was free and he was biting, harder than Spike had, tickling his tongue over a rough palette before Spike used his own tongue to push him back out again.

“Mm,” came the eventual groan, “suppose I should be thankin’ the cheerleader, hm?  Cause I’m bettin’ Anya didn’t kiss like that.”

“Uh?”  Well that was true, but—“Shouldn’t insult Anya,” he managed to get out before they were kissing again.

“Heh.”  Fingers in his hair but pulling him away instead of to and he wanted to go back, dammit!  “Demons don’t kiss, precious. ’Least not much, anyway.  S’too personal.”

Xander’s stomach dropped.

Another kiss, this one much quicker with Spike barely aware of Xander’s half-hearted response, and Xander was suddenly watching a very nice backside wander towards the kitchen.  “So, brekkie?  Want eggs again?  Can add some cheese, mebbe, today.  Li said we could try some, if you felt up to it.”

“You’re naked.”

Spike paused, half turning to give him a highly amused glance.  The same kind of look that Giles would often give them when they’d done something they didn’t consider to be funny but he obviously did.  “So’re you, precious.  Got a problem with it?”

“Er?”  He was supposed to talk with naked Spike in front of him?  Despite the vampire’s complete lack of anything resembling modesty or the standard American inferiority complex, it actually wasn’t that often that Spike just walked around naked.  Xander had pulled the ‘people upstairs’ card and, when that had gotten old, added that his friends would often come over unannounced.

Nobody upstairs, no friends know where I am.  At least, not yet.  Do they know where I am?  How do they know how to get here?  I’m babbling, aren’t I.  Yes, yes I am.  Is it bad when you talk to yourself?  No, only when you answer back.  Right.  Glad I got that cleared away.

Spike was getting that look in his eyes, the one he sometimes saw in Buffy’s mom but mostly from Giles. Again with comparing Spike and Giles!  Spike and Giles?!  Oh, no.  Not going there.  That is deeply, deeply wrong.  And okay, now he’s just starting to look plain old concerned.  I should probably talk.  And possibly breathe.

“Not near a stove,” he managed to choke out when Spike swung all the way around.  The crawly feeling in the pit of his stomach noticed that Spike was barely half-hard and completely disinterested in the bits that had previously been the center of the vampire’s world.  “The whole flame, grease thing.  Probably not good.”

“Yeah, cause cotton’s so very flame retardant?”  The amused look was back despite the snark, so Xander breathed a little easier.  Also, Spike had turned back to the stove, hiding the things that made him think things he really didn’t want to think about and all he was left with was—

Clothes.  For me.  Now.  Before I start hemorrhaging.

Spike had a pretty ass.

I am so gay.  A not so very stunning revelation as he’d been giving it up ever since Spike moved in, but still.  Gay.  Him.  With the lusting after boys and not having many guy friends because all his friends seemed to be girlsand this is going to come as a surprise to no one, I’m sure.  Hell sometimes I wondered if Angel thought that I was asking ’cause—

“Oh, gross!” he said out loud.

The morning was wasted away leisurely.  Breakfast and then more kissing.  They spent almost an hour applying Xander’s medicines, but since that meant an hour of Spike pampering him, he wasn’t complaining.  Even if one of those lotions stung like hell. 

They cleaned up the minor damage they’d done in rearranging things yesterday, rearranged a little bit more to make room for some of the things Xander wanted downstairs.  A moment of pure terror when three bell-tones sounded, turning out to be the doorbell and the express-ordered futon that went upstairs.  Xander set it up with Spike in the other room, tossing over tools and suggestions randomly and usually detrimentally.  A trip down to the gym where Spike put him through his paces, trying to gauge just how much strength he’d lost—a lot—and what they needed to do to fix it.

The whole time, Spike was cheerful, open, relaxed and nice.

Xander was starting to feel sick.

He didn’t feel me up, okay, there was that one time.  But only that one time.  He’s been kissing me a lot and smiling at me.  Spike’s been smiling at me!  Every time I stumble, he’s there.  If I’m the slightest bit out of breath, he calls for a break.  It’s like. . . it’s almost like he. . .

Loves me?

Wasn’t possible.  Xander knew that, had known it since he’d accepted what the hyena-pack was all about.  It wasn’t love, not human-boyfriend love, despite Spike’s imitation of one.  Pack-leaders used their pack for sex, food, and comfort, protecting them and keeping them relatively content and fed, so that they didn’t mind providing said sex, food, and comfort.  A nicely selfish little cycle—and Xander was okay with that.

Can’t love me.  Bad.  Ugly.  Stupid.  Wrong.  Broken.  Bad bad bad.

“Hey, puppy, easy!”  The words were caustic, shouted across a room as Spike hurtled himself over mats and dumped equipment to grab the weighted bar Xander had been trying to bench.  “Damn.  I leave you alone for five bloody minutes, an’ you’re stranglin’ yourself with,” he briefly checked the limit, “soddin’ hell, two fifty!  Luv, you could barely do two hundred an’ fifty pounds before.  You still need to rest up more.  An’ start with somethin’ a bit smaller!”

“But I feel okay,” he whined as he squirmed into a sitting position.  Stupid, he was so stupid.  Stupid and bad and ugly and—

Snorting, Spike hauled him to his feet, flashing a brief almost-smile when Xander slumped against his shoulder.  “Yeah, cause you got some heavy-duty mojo in you,” Spike explained softly.  “Go slow, pet.  Got all the time we need.”

“’K.  Sorry.”  Wrong and bad and stupid and why was Spike being so nice to him?

“Don’t apologize.”  Spike waited, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his still naked chest as Xander went through his cool-down stretches, before striding towards the opposite end of the room.  “Come on, then.  Time to relax a bit before the fun really starts.”

Through the doors, down a short flight of stairs and Xander didn’t even attempt to look up from the floor.  He’d been bad, made Spike yell at him because he was so stupid and bad boys didn’t deserve to be treated like they were loved.  Bad boys deserved to be—

“Xander!  Take off your clothes.”  The patient voice made his insides flip, because he knew that tone.  Not with Spike, never with Spike the Impatient who got angry or just did whatever he’d been asking, but from her. . . that was a bad voice.

Stripping off his workout clothes, Xander tried not to huddle in on himself as he finished.  Ugly, so ugly.  Just like she said I was.

Except. . . she hadn’t always said that.

There was something in his throat, something that wanted to get out more than anything, but he was suddenly assaulted with the smell of chlorine.  Bubbling, gurgling sounds pulled his attention away from himself, his skin twitching as expectant eyes watched his reaction closely.

“That’s a—that’s a—”

“Mm, yeah, isn’t it?  C’mon.”

It wasn’t a big room.  The high ceiling helped, but it still wasn’t a very big room.  Wood floors, yellow walls.  A small wooden structure on the far wall, barely big enough for one or two people, if that.  Towels stacked up near his feet, a small refrigerator humming quietly in the background with a microwave squat and black on top of it.

“Spike?”  All thoughts of wrongness or punishment fled under pure shock.  “What is this?”

“Here, now.  You aren’t feelin’ wonky again, are you?”  But Spike didn’t move from the ledge he was relaxing on, everything but his neck and head covered in foamy froth.  “Stop buggin’ your eyes out an’ get in.  Gotta be feelin’ a bit chilly up there, by now.”

He was, but—“Come on, Spike, just once.  Pleeease?”

“Don’t make those bloody big eyes at me.  Hear that?  No bloody eyes!”

“Didn’t think my eyes were that blo—hey!  No throwing of pillows I’m resting on, Fangless.  Now come on, please?  Anywhere but here.”

“I’m playin’ sodding children’s games.  Bad ones.  All right, all right.  Sucker for them eyes, I am.  Anywhere but here, yeah?  Hot tub.”

“With who?”

“Oh, sensin’ some interest?  An’ don’t matter with who.  Just in a hot tub.”

“Ew?”

“Oh, you innocent little puppy.  Never had sex in a tub before, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be lookin’ at me like I was—”

“Don’t finish that, please, I never like those comparisons.  Okay, a hot tub.  They’re warm, I guess.  And wet.  Wet’s good, right?  I mean it’s good in the shower. . .”

“Mm, love it when you blush, puppy.  All that lovely color down your belly.  You’n’me’re gonna have to take a trip to one of them posh hotels next t’ the coast, one day.  Gonna show you just why a hot tub’s so good.”

Xander blinked out of the memory, grateful that Spike was still looking at him but not yet concerned enough to move.  “Sorry,” he muttered, climbing down the first step to settle himself carefully in the water.

It stung.  Worse than the bright red salve that Spike hated using on him, worse than the things he was trying desperately not to remember, it—

Felt really, really good.

Powerful jets and intense heat slammed into tense and aching muscles, forcing them to relax with a suddenness that left him gasping.  Sinking down deeper, he let the water bubble up past his shoulders, wondering if it’d be okay to just submerge totally into the blessed warmth and let go.  To forget about everything and just feel the soothing burn. . .

Only Spike was allowed to hurt him.

The realization pushed him out of whatever daze he was in enough to make him grin guiltily as he crossed through the water to sit beside Spike on a handy ledge.  Leaning against Spike without being prompted earned him a rumble of contentment, arms holding him while Spike, well, snuggled.</i?

“Told you, precious,” a warm voice in his ear whispered.  “Hot tubs are divine.”

Spluttering into laughter at the incongruous word, Xander gave into the demanding heat and an equally demanding lover and just relaxed.  It didn’t matter why Spike was being nice to him, not really.  If Spike had wanted to hurt him, there had been plenty of opportunities in the past.  Hundreds of them, probably.  But Spike was here, offering all the things he’d ever needed or wanted.

Why am I arguing with what’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me?  Xander wondered as hands as hot as the water that surrounded them curled around the soft place between his legs.  Spike was nuzzling him gently, kissing, licking, occasionally even biting at his neck while he stroked him slowly, letting—

“Oh, god,” he moaned, arching slightly as he realized why Spike liked hot tubs so much.  He’d angled one of the jets to pump hot, bubbling water directly where it would have the most—effect.

“You taste so good,” Spike whispered.  “So good, puppy.  My puppy.  My good boy.”

Kisses, growing harder, up his neck and along his jaw line while fingers intertwined with the heated pressure to wrap around his cock.  It felt like nothing he’d ever experienced and he was instantly hard as a rock.

“You gonna come for me, precious?  Gonna be my good boy?”

“Yours.  Always—ahh!  Ssss—”

Spike chuckled from his new position seated on Xander’s thighs, their cocks pressed and rubbing together as Spike slowly writhed above him.  “See?  Hot tub.  Nice little pressie for me.”

“You—you bought it, Spike.  Not a present, then.”  Hot, so hot all around him and Spike pressed up close and rubbing him with hand and cock and chlorine-softened skin and hot words whispered against him.

“Mm, still a pressie.  Got me the tub I’ve always wanted,” he said, fiddling with something under the water which turned out to be another jet stream, so that their cocks were buffered with high-powered water.  “Got me a place that suits me,” Spike continued.  Xander bucked up a little, causing Spike to frown.  “You, puppy, are not supposed to move, hear?  Let me do all the work.”

When Xander obediently froze, Spike gave him a truly wicked grin—and started moving again.

Xander was going insane.  Spike had been on top of him plenty of times before, but Xander had always been the one to open up.  The one who twisted and turned and bent until everything fell where it was supposed to, because he was pack.  That’s what he was supposed to do.  But now Spike was on top of him, truly on top, and open.  Open, around, rubbing with abandon that made him want to sweat in the boiling heat of the water, insistent feet inching him away from the wall so slim legs could wrap around him.

“That’s my boy,” Spike was saying as he took them both together in his hand, “my precious luv.  Gonna come for me, pet?  Gonna be good for me?  Know you are.  Know you’re good, such a good boy.  My boy.”

Tilting his head back, Xander stared at the ceiling and tried to remember how to breathe.  Breathing was always important.

“Yeah, that’s it, precious.  So hard for me.  So good for me.  Mine. . .”

Lips pressed against his and they were kissing, writhing, moaning as Spike consumed him.  Above him, around him, and in him there was Spike.  Not pain or fear or bad or wrong, just Spike.  Because he was Spike’s.  Because Spike had saved him and he was Spike’s.

He knew when Spike came, saw it in the tensing muscles of a thrown-back neck and the jaw that worked frantically.  Leaning forward instantly, Xander pressed his face into the valley between Spike’s pecs and hummed. Pack-leader was pleased with pack and that was all Xander wanted, now, to be here and safe and wanted.

But Spike didn’t stop moving.

“What—you—”

“Shh, pet, no talking.”  And Spike was kissing him again, still jacking him against a cock gone soft and that only made it hotter.  Because Spike was done but still here, still with him, around him, still wanting him.  Still needing him, because he was pack.  He was—

“Come for me, Xander.”

His body arched up, silent and frozen as orgasm tore through him.  Arms, freed from their previously appointed tasks, gathered him in close, stroking hypersensitive skin as he slowly came back to reality.

“That’s it, love.  That’s my good boy.”


Xander tried not to bounce as he led Buffy and Riley up the stairs.  They were following at a more sedate pace, wide eyes taking in the dark wood paneling and well-lit stairwell.

“How did you say you found this place?” Riley asked again, running his hand along the banister.  “We’re not worried about, uh, what’d you call it again?”

“Hellmouthy things,” Buffy supplied promptly.  She offered a narrow-eyed look.  “The things that seem nice and normal until suddenly they’re trying to kill you with their very lack of normalness.”

“Come on, Buffy,” Xander said disarmingly.  At least, he hoped it was disarmingly.  Can I do disarming?  I used to be good at this, dammit.  And now. . . now I just want Spike to make it better.  Opening the door, he tried to grin.  “What’s hellmouthy about a new apartment?”

Rolling her eyes, Buffy shut the door behind her.  “Where, oh where, would you like me to begin?  Don’t get me wrong, Xander.  I’m all for you getting of out that basement.  But into a warehouse?  Not really screaming urban chic.”

“Uh, Buffy?”

Whirling around at her boyfriend’s stunned question, Buffy’s eyes tracked along the far wall where the entertainment center sat.  The double-take became a triple-take before she could get her mouth up off the floor and by then she was eying the rest of the main room.

“Buffy, do stop staring.  It’s quite rude.”  Not that Giles was totally comfortable, either, but Buffy’s dumbfounded look was too blatant an invitation for mocking. 

Xander very carefully didn’t mention that every single person who had walked through that door—a list that now included all of his friends—had had the same reaction.

Pure, unadulterated, shock.

It wasn’t a happy reaction, either, not with Xander still feeling floaty inside his own skull.  Or maybe it was and he was just too messed up to see it.  Either way, all he wanted to do was run into the kitchen and beg Spike to make it better.  Dumb Zeppo isn’t allowed to have a nice apartment, oh no, he has to stay in his parent’s basement where he—

The shaking always started slow, a trembling in his hands, a slight ache in his neck.  Song Li was adamant that it would go away—but until he was healed, emotions would translate into physical reactions.  Like crying?  I really want to cry.  I mean, I don’t want to cry.  But I hate when Willow looks at me with those huge eyes like I did something wrong—except, I did.  I had to have.  Cause I’m always wrong and bad and—

“Oi!  And you lot say I’m the rude one?”  Spike sauntered into the room looking supremely comfortable.  Like there wasn’t a group of potentially very hostile and very dangerous people in their living room, looking around like they were waiting for demons to appear.  Xander backed up against the wall, wishing he could shake his thoughts from his head.  These were his friends; he wasn’t supposed to feel like this around them.

Riley was immediately up on his feet when Spike appeared, aggressively positioning himself in front of Buffy.  “What are you doing here, Spike?” he growled, a six-foot tall, extremely muscular child playing dress-up.

The rest of the occupants stared at Spike with varying degrees of shock.

“Uh, Riley?” Willow sounded cautious and a little confused.  “Spike lives here.  We told you that.”

“Repeatedly,” Buffy chimed in, glaring at her boyfriend.  “And why are you standing there, looking like that?  Is there anyone here in this room who’s a threat?”

“Oh, ta, pet, very much.  You do know how to make a bloke comfortable in his own home,” Spike snarked, casually backing up.  The dark blue of his shirt filled Xander’s vision, blocking out the room and his friends until it was the only thing he could see.  The only thing he wanted to see as strains of familiar arguments rose up in his mind and he couldn’t make them go away again.  No.  That’s Buffy and that’s Riley and Riley may be a prick but he’d never hurt me.  Neither would Buffy.  And she and Spike would rip the throat out of anything that tried.  I’m safe here.  I’m safe. 

But the voices in his head wouldn’t go away.

“Shut up, Spike.”  Buffy’s dismissal was automatic, the familiar flip of her hair helping Xander get control of himself.  Okay, mostly it was that weird thing in the back of his mind, that he still wasn’t used to.  The thing that felt cool, pulsing slowly and calming his frantic heart beat.  And Spike was so close.  Touchable.  Right there.  He was safe.

“Pet, wanna go get some of the munchies?  On the counter, there.”

Nodding, Xander gratefully took Spike’s excuse and fled to the kitchen.  Nice, safe kitchen in his nice, safe apartment with his nice, safe friends.  Okay, Xan-man, this is getting on the pathetic side.  It’s just Buffy and Wills.  And, okay, Giles and Riley and Tara, but it’s just Buffy and Wills.  They’ll never, ever hurt me.  Not like that.  So take a deep breath and just grow up.

Picking up the first plate of cut vegetables and low-fat dip—chosen so the girls wouldn’t complain—Xander looked up at the end of the counter to see Willow.

The girl who had been his best friend for longer than he could remember.  Sweet and innocent, even after all they’d seen and done together.  The one person in the world Xander thought he’d always be able to trust. . . who was taking the tray out of his hands and putting it back down.  And throwing her arms around him, sighing contentedly into his neck.

His first reaction was to squeak and try to back away—body-heat meant not-Spike and not-Spike meant—

“Oh, Xander, I was so worried about you.  Spike wouldn’t let us come visit.  Are you okay?”

—Willow.

Roses and the cloying smell of the shampoo she’d used since they were kids.  Silky-soft feel of red hair on his neck.  Small, petite body that fit against his like a jigsaw puzzle piece.  Not because it was natural, the way it was with Spike, with every bump finding a corresponding dip.  Because it was familiar.  Their bodies knew how to move and twist until they were perfectly comfortable.

“I’m okay,” he said quietly.  One arm slid around her waist, the other tugging on a lock of her hair.  “I’m fine, Wills, really.”

Pack, the hyena whispered.  Sister, the human whispered back.

“Are you sure?  Spike sounded scared.  Of course, we figured that was ’cause he didn’t want to go live with Giles again, but that meant you were really sick if he was worried about that and—”

Willow-babble.  As familiar as his own breathing.  “I wasn’t dying, Willow, just sick.  That’s all.”

“Did you get the chicken soup?  And the poultice?  Tara and I made it.”  The blush was extra warm on his skin and he smiled his first genuine smile.  Go you, Wills, I like her.  “Spike said he’d give it to you.  He did, right?”

“Yup,” Xander lied effortlessly.  “Probably what healed me up.”

“I’m glad.  I don’t think you’ve ever been that sick, before.”

No.  Only once before.  And I don’t think you even remember it, it happened so long ago.

“Eh, you know me,” he joked aloud.  “Demon-magnet.  Little germ-thingies are a kind of demon, too, right?”

“Xander!”  Her impish, half-scandalized grin felt like the salves Song Li made for him, working deep into the muscle to ease the pain that felt ground into his bones.  “You are not a demon-magnet!  But you are okay?”

“All healed.”  Thumping his chest Tarzan-style was stupid, of course, but the dull ache was worth it to see Willow so relieved.  “C’mon, I hear a hungry Slayer out there.”

“I was promised food,” Buffy called from the living room.  “It’s not my fault if my hosts are lacking in manners.”  Her tone was jocular, clearly ribbing him in the light, easy-going manner she had when she was happy.  Normally, that meant a lot of fast-paced dialogue usually intended to make Giles’ get flustered and start cleaning his glasses. . .

But there was no anticipation, now.  Just a flinch he barely covered.  I’m sorry! the wail started up immediately.  I didn’t mean—I wasn’t trying to—  Thoughts too disjointed to form a cohesive apology, Xander forced his smile a little broader and set the tray down in front of Buffy with as much of a flourish as he could get away with.  I didn’t mean to, he silently repeated as he slowly backed away.  I wish I could be better, but I don’t know how.  Just bad and wrong.

“Cause you’re the well trained one, are you?”  Spike’s drawl had a hint too much bite, his eyes a bit too hard as they glared at everything but Xander.  Shit!  Swallowing nervously, he tried to ignore the sudden thread of bright yellow, hard and cold, uncurling in the back of his mind.  And the part of him that was grateful for Spike’s anger.  “I’ve met your mum, you know.  A proper lady, she is.  Can’t imagine what she did when raisin’ you.”

Xander slowly backed up towards Spike, who was sprawled lazily in the easy chair.  He had to stop this.  Because attacking my friends when they’re teasing me is so helpful for the don’t-stake-Spike plan.  Great going, doofus!  Way to get them pissed off at you!

The surge of fear and anger for Spike blanked out his own nervousness, calming him in a way he doubted anything else could have.  Which Spike had to have done on purpose.  The way he abruptly relaxed and started smirking said it all.

Manipulative bastard, Xander thought fondly.

“Got y’the non-fat stuff, like Willow asked for,” Spike continued, tone a complete one eighty from the silkily menacing one from before.  “Got the regular stuff, too, if you wanna quit the diet.  Don’t know what a Slayer needs with a diet, anyway.  Not like you can get fat, amount of runnin’ and stakin’ you do.”

Buffy, tense and expression considering, watched as Spike leaned forward to snag a piece of celery.  “Okay, so, Xander.  Wanna explain why the bipolar vampire is in residence here?”

“Uh.”  They’d gone over this.  He could remember Spike repeating over and over that they were. . . they had. . . it was. . . Dammit, why can’t I remember this!

“Oh, that’s nice.”  Once again, Spike was there with the save.  Something cool and solid pressed into the back of his leg—which he identified as Spike’s knee before he jumped out of his skin in fright.  Go me!  Slowly mastering the blind-panic thing.  Can we make them go home now, Spike?  Please?  I just want you to fuck me, please, so I don’t have to think anymore and I know that it’s okay and—

And he was babbling in his head so loudly that he missed what Spike was saying.  Shit.

“—bloody White Hats.  Gonna throw me out on my ear, are you?  I live with him now, ’member?  Got nowhere else to go, what with this—”

“Yes, Spike, we’re aware of your limitations,” Giles interrupted.  “However, we didn’t ask you to regale us with your tales of impotence and inadequacy.  We asked Xander.”

Spike made a show of seething, but Xander could feel the knee pressing into him even harder.  Inside his mind, the hard thread of yellow anger had eased back into the black sparkles it usually was: Spike’s concern.  Spike’s. . . something that was more than concern.

He didn’t ever dare put a name to that.

“Well, what did you want me to do?” Xander asked, trying to sound exacerbated and not terrified.  Friends didn’t hurt each other.  They didn’t.  Okay, the repeating thing?  Not working so well.  “I suppose I could’ve left him in the basement, but I wouldn’t even do that to Angel.”

A nice, safe, simple joke.  The kind he always made about his home.

The blackness in his mind melted into a blaze of silver, warming him from the top down.  For an instant, he could almost feel Spike’s arms around him, petting him until the tremors stopped and he was okay again.

“Besides,” he continued, effecting an easy tone of voice, “he’s getting pretty good at keeping the place neat and tidy.  How could I pass up such expert cleaning care for the low cost of a few blood packets?  Oh, and the whining.  Don’t forget the whining.”

The girls laughed only slightly nervously and Xander felt another bit of tension drain away.  He could do this.  Yeah.  I can continue lying to my friends about, oh, everything that’s important in my life from the really bad stuff to the really incredible stuff.  Like the way I have been for years.  And while I’m doing that, I can mock the only person I don’t lie to.  You know, the one that’s been taking care of me for a while?  Yeah.  I’m such a great guy.

He had to figure out how to turn his brain off.  Just for a little.

“He cleans?”  Apparently the ‘joke’ part of the quip flew past Giles, who was staring at Spike like the latter had grown horns.  Possibly had his skin turn bright green at the same time.  “Good lord.  What have you been doing to keep him in line?  He was remarkably, well, solicitous while you were ill.  At least, we assume so.”

Translation: Spike wouldn’t let us near you and you don’t seem to be exhibiting the symptoms of someone turned, tortured, or mistreated in any way.  Therefore, we assume Spike took care of you.

And he had.  “Xander!  Let me in!”

“Yeah, Spike’s a good nursie.”  Making an irritatingly gushy face at the vampire earned him a growl and a twinkle in suddenly deep blue eyes.  Deciding to ham it up totally, he affected a baby-talk voice.  “Got me my medicine and made me take every drop.  Just to get me alllll better.”

“Sod off,” Spike swore at him.  Turning towards Giles, he added, “D’you know what he did?  He dripped.  Bloody everywhere.  An’ guess who got to clean up after it, huh?  Not his precious prince up there, oh, no.  It was ‘Spike, I’m cold’ an’ ‘Spike, I need chicken ruddy soup’ an’ ‘Spike, I need more tissues’.  It was disgustin’.  He snotted all over everythin’, includin’ me!  I ought to get hazard pay for puttin’ up with that!”

The girls were giggling—Buffy the loudest—and even Giles cracked a smile.  Riley. . . Riley looked vindictive.  And smug.  And I want to wipe that look of his face, preferably with my fist.  Applied repeatedly.  But that would be bad, Xander, to attack your friend’s boyfriend.  And huh, why am I so Riley-hating today?

“Do be sensible, Spike.  You’re the only one who wouldn’t catch whatever he had—a point I believe you mentioned over the phone?”

“Yeah, well.  Still want compensation.  Bloody wretched.”  Grumbling irritably, Spike pushed himself to his feet.  “Since droopy-boy really doesn’t have a clue how t’be a host, looks like it’s up to me.  Who wants what to drink?  You name it, we got it.”

“So if I said I wanted a brandy—”

“I’d ask you what brand you wanted.  Hells, Rupert, I live here, now.  You think I’d be able to tolerate it without a daily drink or twenty?  We’ve got a bar.”

“Ah yes, no doubt stocked with plenty of Bud Light and perhaps, what was it you preferred, Spike, JB?  A liquor of depth and refined quality, of course.”  There was nothing to show why that particular bit of snark made Giles lose the tension around his eyes, but Xander was grateful for it.  Of all of his friends, it was Giles he’d worried about the most, when he actually allowed himself to think of it at all.  Because Giles wouldn’t stake first.  “Very well, what beers do you have?”

“GB and Carlsbad,” Spike said blandly, like he hadn’t spent several very frustrating hours on the internet, trying to find some kind of beer that wasn’t ‘piss water’.  “Preference?”

Giles looked startled.  “Carlsbad?  I didn’t think you could get real lager over here.  I daresay you’ve put it in the refrigerator—”

“And desecrate good beer?  Be still your soddin’ heart!  It’s right here. . .”

Sinking in the vacated easy-chair wasn’t what Xander wanted, but it was a reasonably good substitute.  Spike’s unique scent, musky and spicy at the same time, filled his head until he didn’t think he was lying when he told himself that he wasn’t alone.  That Spike was there, right there. . . obviously playing up his reluctance to act as host, to everyone’s amusement.

And in the back of his mind, it was warm.  Very warm.

Falling into a light daze, Xander was only slowly aware of Tara sitting on the near edge of the sofa, watching him.  She flickered a smile when he glanced at her.  “Th-this place is n-nice.”

He’d never talked with Tara much.  Not because he didn’t like her or anything, it just. . . never seemed to happen.  The few times he tried, the painful shyness always made it easier to talk to her through Willow—which he knew Wills would be horrified to find out.  But while he knew he liked her and thought she and Willow were sweet together—yes, indeed, I saw that before Spike blurted about how I wasn’t the only gay one, a fun conversation I’d rather we hadn’t had—he didn’t think she’d ever spoken directly to him.

She was smiling earnestly, the blonde, wispy ends of her hair framing her face like a halo.  He could see how nervous she was, how determined to at least try and interact on her own—and he couldn’t help but smile back.  “Yeah,” he said quietly.  “I like it.”

“I d-didn’t know warehouses c-could be converted l-like this.”  Glancing around the room with an interest Xander was pretty sure wasn’t faked, her eyes landed on the tv.  “Great movies, too.”

“Yeah, aren’t they?  Spike made me get rid of all my old vhs copies.  Okay, not all of them, since you can’t find some of this stuff on DVD, but most of them.  It’s great.  The sound is so much better and the sound system h—I bought gives them this whole new dimension.  Wanna look?  You can always come crash here, watch something, if you wanted.”

Bobbing her head, Tara followed as he led her over to the media stands and began going over his favorites, expanding to the CD’s when she saw them.  He heard Giles and Spike still babbling about various types of ales and how easy it wasn’t to get them in America.  Buffy and Willow were hovering over the food, occasionally making trips into the kitchen to poke around there, Riley an awkward guard behind them.

Doesn’t Buffy get it? he couldn’t help but wonder as Tara pulled a CD out.  Doesn’t she see how wrong it is?  He doesn’t fit here.  Okay, Angel didn’t either, but he trusted us and he knew not to underestimate us.  Doesn’t she see how patronizing he is?

Which was a much more complex version of the pack/not-pack terms the hyena was throwing at him.

“X-Xander?”

“Wh—I’m sorry, I’m still not totally—did you want to play that?  I can put it on.”  He glanced at the title: Metallica.  Black album.  “Um, I can put that on low.”

He knew the instant he started scrambling to cover his lapse that it was the wrong way to go about it.  Wills and Buffy would smile indulgently at his babbling, not ignoring it, but familiar enough to know they could.  Tara, on the other hand, was shrinking back into her self, obviously terrified that she’d done something wrong.  She responded with a negative shake of her head, blond tendrils whipping back and forth into a gossamer shield as she put the CD back in its slot. 

I didn’t mean to do that!  Her fear was contagious, his own nervousness returning as he tried to think of a way to put her at ease, again.  I didn’t—I’m sorry, I’m bad, I—

A flash of black clouded his vision and for a second, Spike was right there, next to him.  S’alright, puppy, he heard in his mind, multiple memories crowding to say the same thing.  Deep breath now, that’s it.  Let it out.  Better now, pet?  Good.  Go on, now.  Right on top of the ever present: Xander!  Let me in!

He was safe here.  Spike wouldn’t let anything happen to him.

The whole thing hadn’t taken more than a second or two, Tara still looking at the CD’s in nervous uncertainty.  Xander forced himself to smile—if he didn’t, she’d scuttle away again and he didn’t want that.  When she glanced up at him, his smile melted into something a little more real.  “How about this instead?” he offered, picking a CD at random.

“Isn’t that kinda, um, girlie?”

“Hey!  I happen to like Sister Hazel.  But, you’re right.  Can’t have any more attacks on me today—” I wouldn’t be able to take it “—especially not over my manly inability to appreciate folk rock.”

She laughed quietly, pouring over CD titles once again.  The tension was leaving her shoulders and Xander didn’t know whether to thank Spike or the memories of Spike.  Yeah, uh huh, that’s not confusing.  “I think it’s n-nice,” she said after a moment.  “Y-you two.”  She gave him a sidelong look through her hair.

Hearts were supposed to beat.  Unless you were a vampire and then they didn’t have to, but otherwise they were supposed to beat.

Something on his face must have given it away, because Tara abruptly leaned forward, hand hovering above his arm.  “Are you—I-I didn’t tell, or—Xander?”

If she touched him, Spike would be over there in a flash.  Without turning, Xander could feel blue eyes boring in his back, the silent message clear, that if he didn’t say everything was okay, Spike was going to go over there and make it okay.  Or, in pack-terms:  Mine!  Go away!

Pack-terms lacked that certain subtle elegance, Xander decided as he tried not to hyperventilate.  He had to calm down.  If he didn’t, Spike was going to blow their cover wide open and beside, Tara hadn’t meant to hurt him.  At least, that’s what he thought those huge, wide eyes meant or the trembling in her body.  The one that said she knew the Wrath of Spike—tm—was an issue, except she was looking at Xander not Spike, like it was Xander she was worried about more.

That finally penetrated the loop of ‘Oh, my god she can’t know!  Spike’s gonna be dust!  Wills and Buffy are going to hate me!  They’re going to find out!  Oh, my god!’ 

“Hoo.”  Exhaling forcefully, he gave Spike a rueful grin.  The vampire’s expression was still tense, but he turned back to his conversation with Giles.  “Bit of advice, Tara—telling the recently recovered that his secret’s blown?  Not good for recently recovered’s constitution.”

But not all my secrets.  Not even the most dangerous of them, really.

“S-sorry.”  But she was smiling again and his heart rate was approaching normal.  “I haven’t, um, told Willow or anything.  I-I wasn’t even sure if I was g-going to tell you, but—”

“But?”

“I read auras?  And when I walked in here, it was—well, it was—” Surprisingly delicate brows lowered in concentration, searching for the final adjective.

But Xander already knew what it was.  “Home,” he told her.  “It feels like home.”  Like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies smelled as someone else’s mother put them on the rack to cook.  The comforting taste of a meal served with gentle white hands, not callused or cracked, voices raised in stories and questions and comments.  It was safe here.  No secrets or lies.  Nothing to hide.  A place to be himself.

For the first time, Xander realized that this wasn’t just another place to live in.  This was the place his hat and heart could finally be put down.

“Exactly,” Tara said quietly.   “I think you’re, um, good for him.  B-being together?  H-he’s got a—a purpose now.  And you n-need him, too.  He’s. . .”

“Safe.”

She nodded, the right side of her mouth twisting up into what was probably the most genuine smile he’d ever seen from her.  “Yeah.  A-and I won’t tell.  N-not even Willow.  It’s not. . . she doesn’t n-need to know.  Not until y-you’re ready to t-tell her.”

Impulsively, Xander gave her a quick hug.  “Thank you,” he whispered before pulling away.  “I kinda needed that.”

It was incredible, the feeling of relief that someone else knew.  Someone who, if she wasn’t a full-fledged Scooby, knew his life and his friends and understood how insane this was.  And still said it was a good thing to do.  Song Li’s brusque reassurance that being with Spike was the right thing to do was good, and he did trust her.  A surprising amount.  But this came from someone who’d heard about the bad side of Spike long before she saw the good.

He wasn’t surprised when Spike called them over for dinner, then.  Refused to comment when Spike made sure he was sitting right next to Xander, their knees touching underneath the table.  Had I always been waiting for. . . permission?  Cause that’s kinda what this was.  Or approval?  Did I need that?  But it was like a weight was gone from his shoulders.  There was someone he could talk to, who thought this was a good thing, someone who shared Song Li’s calm and stillness. . .

And maybe he could actually tell someone, instead of them finding out the most humiliatingly way possible.

It was late when everyone finally left, Buffy and Riley begging off first to patrol.  Giles had escorted the girls home, Willow teasing him about being too drunk to drive.  Crashed out on the couch, Xander lying half in Spike’s lap while Spike absently petted his over-stuffed belly, Xander could finally relax.

“Not dusty.”

“Nope.  Not dusty.”  Not that Spike had told him about that concern. . . not that he’d really needed to.  Xander had worried enough without Spike vocalizing the possibility that someone would get overly concerned about his safety and react.  Violently, as was the Scooby way.

“Liked the place, too.  Should tell the Slayer that I’m th’one who did most of the decoratin’.”

Xander thought of the obvious response and smirked.

“Hey, can feel that.  Am not a nancy.  Just like my comforts, s’all.  You like ’em, too, huh?”  There was a leer in his voice, but half-hearted.  The hand rubbing Xander’s belly didn’t dip lower, either, just traced soft circled on the shirt.

“They didn’t ask me how we could afford this.”  There had been a single mention of his supposed new job—did Xander like it—which Spike had deftly blocked with a rant about the hours Xander forced him to keep.  There had been a lot of Spike rants, that evening, and both of them had enjoyed every one.  He was pretty sure the rest of them had, too.

“No, they didn’t.  Think Rupert had a word or five ’bout that.  Probably more—Slayer’s head is thick.”

They hadn’t been dancing on eggshells, either, after the initial awkwardness had worn off.  It had been nice.  The way it used to be, with the four of them and their various significant others.  When was the last time we did something like this, anyway?  I know we did once, right after graduation, but afterwards. . .?

“Like Red’s bird, Tara?”

“Yeah.  She—she told me—”

The hand on his belly stilled and then slid down to his hip in an awkward one-armed hug.  “Easy, puppy.  Told me, too.  She’s bright, that one.  Old eyes.”

“Yeah.”  Xander cuddled closer, enjoying the hard muscles against his back and side.  “It’s not. . . bad, right?  That she knows?”

Spike chuckled, the sound vibrating between them, and tugged Xander up and around.  Face to face, Spike offered a wicked smile.  “Nope.  Don’t mind a bit.”

His lips tasted of the alcohol he’d laced the fruit salad with, grand-something or other.  Xander lost himself in the feel of Spike against him, not questioning Spike’s sudden desire to kiss.  He wasn’t a big kisser, actually, despite how often he and Cordy used to steal smoochies.  He’d never felt he was very good at it.  With Spike, though, his skill never mattered.  Spike was kissing him, with all the intensity and passion he went about everything else.  All focused on Xander.

When Spike finally pulled his head back, Xander was flushed and panting.  “C’mon, puppy.  Time for bed.”

“But it’s barely ten o’clock.”  And why was he arguing this, exactly?

Spike’s eyes went dark and glittery, a true leer appearing.  “Now, pet.”  Okay, dark, commanding tone.  Good reason to argue, if it meant he got that tone.  And no, he wasn’t a sick puppy, dammit.  He was Spike’s puppy.

“It was good, right?” he asked in the bedroom, undressing first Spike and then himself.  “Tonight?”

Spike kissed him again, hard.  “Was just fine, luv.  Your friends behaved real nice for me.”

“I think they’ll say that you were behaving,” Xander said, right before his lips were nibbled on.

“I never behave, puppy.”  Pushing him onto the bed, Spike clambered on to hover above him.  “Might not want to forget that.”  Lips, cool and full from kissing, trailed down his skin from neck to navel.  Lightly biting around the indentation, Spike’s tongue flickered out to make Xander cry out sharply, squirming.

“You looked so strong, precious,” Spike whispered between kisses and licks.  “They way you were, tonight?  Not hurtin’, not scared. . . looked gorgeous.”  Tickling touch at the base of his now very hard erection, Spike’s hands caressing his thighs absently.  “Hold onto the head board. . . yeah, like that.  Good boy.”

Xander gasped aloud, hips thrusting up.

“Were good for me tonight, weren’t you?  Made sure the big bad Slayer was nice an’ happy. . .protectin’ me, not that I needed it.  So strong for me.”  The bedroom was dark with the heavy curtains down around the bed, blocking out all but a thin strip of light cutting across Spike’s face.  Blue eyes glowed in that light, bright and clear as Spike waited until Xander was looking at him again.

Then he licked from base to tip, his tongue flat and wide.  “My boy tastes good,” he purred.  “Gonna be good for me, puppy?  Gonna be my good boy?”

Don’t stop talking, please don’t stop talking.  “Yes—promise, please—I will—”

“Stay, puppy.”  Spike waited for the half-second it took for Xander to lock his body down—and then sucked Xander’s cock deep into his throat.

Oh, holy god!

They didn’t do this often.  Not never, but most of the time it was Xander who nibbled on the vein running up Spike’s cock, tonguing that place just below the head.  And it was Xander’s hands that tugged and fondled a sac that trembled under his touch.  Not Spike, taking him in until he could rub his nose against Xander’s pubic-bone, the brief flare of sensation making him pant even harder.  Not Spike swallowing repeatedly, lacking both gag-reflex and the pesky need to inhale.

But it was Xander who was too afraid to give in to the begging building in his throat, his body trembling so hard his muscles started to ache from the strain.  And it was definitely Xander who wanted nothing more than to stay like this forever, Spike’s cool mouth surrounding him with inhuman tightness, a wet, raspy tongue driving him insane.  The silken feeling in his gut because Spike was actively pleasing him—him—and telling him things he couldn’t help but believe.

“Good, puppy.  You’re so good for me, precious.”  It was almost a relief when Spike finally traded his mouth for his hand.  “My good boy, huh?  Always mine.  Not even your bloody friends are takin’ you from me, yeah?  You’re mine.”

“Yours.  Always.”  Promise. Promisepromisepromise.

Spike pushed himself to his knees, still roughly pulling on Xander’s cock, his own hips working in time.  “Now, precious.  Come now.”

Whispering Spike’s name, Xander threw his head back and shot all over himself.  Spike was. . . it was good now.  He was good, now.  He was safe and good and everything was okay.  To be here, with Spike.  It was right.  Because Tara knew about it and wasn’t telling anyone and thought it was a good thing.

Pushing himself on his elbows, Xander dazedly fought to stay awake.  He still had Spike to take care of, after all. . .   Except Spike was sitting on his heels, one hand moving in a blur as he jerked himself off.  The other was held to his mouth, carefully licking it clean, with his eyes half-closed.  

When he noticed Xander watching him, he tensed and came with a groan.

Later, curled up together the way they usually slept, Xander felt himself relax.  Completely.

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