A Place Called Home

Part 2



Xander really hated patrolling in the rain. Spike was complaining, Xander was complaining, even the newly-risen vamps were complaining as they dug themselves out of their fresh, muddy graves.

"Should have brought a bloody umbrella," Spike grumbled, his boots making squish-squish sounds in the soaked grass.

"Hey, maybe we can find one with a stake on the handle. You know, for next time?"

"Your first commission," Spike agreed.  "And I'll pay you a hundred bucks."

Xander snickered and punched Spike lightly on the arm. "Good one. Like I can make a fucking umbrella."

His laughter was cut off in the middle, though, because standing right in front of them was the biggest, meanest, slimiest demon Xander'd seen this side of ... well, okay, it was the biggest and meanest he'd seen that week, at least.

"What the fuck is that?" Xander said quietly.

"Zirox demon," Spike said back, just as quietly.

"I thought Xerox demons lived in offices?"

"Not the time for jokes, pet."

"Um, okay, so how do we kill it?"  Xander asked. Spike wasn't looking amused anymore, he was looking worried.  And a worried Spike usually meant an owie Xander.  "Spike?  Brilliant ideas really good right about now."

"Stone kills it.  In the arse."

"The what?"

His too-loud squawk alerted the demon.  It growled and lowed and basically said 'I didn't want to be disturbed and now I must kill you'.  Xander eeped and hid behind Spike.

The demon picked Spike up and threw him. Not too far, so Xander wasn't worried about him, but he was worried about himself, because the demon was advancing and looking hella pissed.

"Stone.  Okay, lots of stone, since, hey, headstones.  Unless it's a certain kind of stone?  And I don't even know where your, um, bottom is let alone how to unearth a gravestone and shove it there and please don't hurt me?"

Backing up as fast he could wasn't a good plan.  He tripped over an aforementioned headstone, going down hard.  The demon chuckled wetly and advanced.

"Oi!  Reject from Office Space!  Over here!"  Spike's holler distracted the demon long enough for Xander to scramble to his feet and see Spike swinging an unearthed headstone menacingly.

The demon swiped at Spike again and missed, and then decided it would pin the vampire down. Spike was struggling beneath the massive grip, and Xander (acting solely on dumb instinct and Spike-preservation) stuck a stake in the demon's back.

It roared—hey, the thing had nerves—flailing.  Spike and Xander both went flying.  Xander oofed when he hit the ground, mud squishing and something flaring hot and painful in his side.  Dispassionately, his mind determined the injury not that bad, and getting to his feet now was more important.

The demon roared again, turning back and forth trying to determine which irritant it was going to go after first.

Spike started shouting.  "Oi!  That's enough!  It's wet, I'm cold, I've got mud in my bloody ears and you are going to die Right. Fucking. Now!"  And shoved a broken piece of headstone into the demon's backside.

It exploded.

Xander laughed and winced at the same time, limping slightly as he rejoined Spike. "Do you really have mud in your ears?"

Spike shook his head like a dog.  Mud coated the entire left side of his face.  "Yeah.  And I'm telling you now, you take that bloody hot water heater back with you, I'm gonna steal the bloody thing.  Want this shit off."

Still grumbling, he stomped back towards the crypt.

Xander grinned and trailed behind him.

Halfway back, Spike turned around.  "You're limping," he accused.  "Christ, can't you for once not get hurt?"  Waiting until Xander caught up, he slid a muddy arm around his back and persuaded Xander to lean on him to spare his aching right leg.  "Hurt bad?"

"Don't think so."  Xander was proud that his voice didn't tremble or give his happiness away.  "It's just a scrape, Spike."

"Yeah, yeah.  With you 'just a scrape' is gonna turn into bloody gangrene.  Come on, lean on me."

Xander was quite happy to lean on Spike. More than happy, actually. Joyful, ecstatic, really excited—he even considered letting demons get the better of him more often, just for a little extra Spike closeness. But then again, he got enough boo-boos; he didn't need more, no matter how much Spikage it got him.

Back at home—the crypt—Spike chivvied them both downstairs to the shower.  "Turn it on," he ordered, busy holding Xander upright.

Xander did what he was told without question, although he certainly was wondering just what the heck was going on.

Hot water immediately sluiced down over both of them.  "Ahh!  What the hell!"

"At least it isn't cold water."  Pushing Xander to lean against the crypt wall, he stuck his head under the water, shaking mud off like a dog.  "Now, then, let's see what you did to yourself."

"Spike!  I'm standing under water fully clothed!"

"Better then the rain, innit?"

Xander started laughing. Then winced. His side hurt a little more than he was prepared for. He twisted and pulled his shirt up a little, trying to see the damage.

Cool hands probed the skin gently, and Xander protested.  "Hey, lemme see!"

"Hush up."  Spike pushed and prodded him, blonde head turning dark gold underneath the spray.  "Bruised a rib, I think.  And cut yourself.  Not bad, but it must hurt like a bitch."

Xander shrugged. "I've had a lot worse. What about you, did you crack anything open? I've been itching for a chance to test my newly acquired suturing skills. What do you think?" Xander said, giving Spike a practiced, comically interested look. "Need sewing?"

Spike smiled briefly.  "Think you need the stitches, pet."

Xander had a brief moment of 'oh, shit'. Then a 'he's joking' moment of relief. But Spike wasn't laughing, or smirking, and Xander closed his eyes and let his head bang against the shower wall. "Fuck. You got anything for pain? You can't do it unless I'm good and numb; don't want your chip going off."

"Got something.  Here, get this off.  Can you stand on your own?  Good, lemme go get you some clothes.  Wash as much of the muck off as you can."

Spike closed the curtain behind him.  In the relative darkness behind the black curtain, Xander mouthed curses.  He'd thought he'd just scratched it a little!

Xander undressed and turned this way and that, trying to get as clean as he could. He thought most of the mud was on his clothes, anyway, so that was a good.

"Done!" he said, poking his head outside the curtain.

Sweat pants were thrust past the curtain.  "Put these on, then lemme in."

"What, I can't even dry off, first?" Xander whined. But then he pulled the pants on over his wet legs and opened the curtain. "Why are you coming in here? Wouldn't this be more comfortable over on the bed or something?"

"Because I want the mud off of me numbskull."  Spike rubbed a hand through muddy hair, then grimaced at it.  "Just go sit on the bed, keep the towel pressed against, and I'll be quick, all right?  I fucking hate being covered in muck like this."

Xander went and sat on the bed like a good little boy and waited for the sexy vampire to finish soaping himself off. Guh.

Spike really was quick, muttering as he washed that toned, lean, unusually soft body that Xander couldn't see, but had to stop thinking about.  Soon.

"All right."  Dressed in a clean pair of jeans, Spike headed towards a small cubby by his bed.  "Take these, pet.  Send you to la-la land, they will."

Xander downed them happily without water, a trick you picked up quick when you were Xander Harris. His side was really starting to hurt, and hopefully whatever Spike was giving him would work quickly.

Brows drawn and close, Spike looked angry.  He wasn't, though.  Xander wasn't sure what he was, but when Spike was angry he shouted and broke things and snarled at everyone.  He didn't gently roll people on their sides, blotting the still-bleeding cut, fiddling with thread and suture-string.

"Nicked the dissolvable stuff a while back," he said quietly.  "So it'll pop on its own in a few days.  Only need one or two, pet, so it won't be so bad."

"You know," Xander said after a few minutes of waiting for the meds to kick in, "if I get really numb and stuff, you could probably bite me and I wouldn't feel it. You're not gonna bite me, are you, Spike?"

"What?"  There was a pure note of shock in his voice.  "Bloody hell, didn't think the drugs would work that fast!"

"Well, I'm human, and you probably got them from a vampire doctor," Xander said, nodding. It made complete sense.

"Uh huuh.  Little pink elephants telling you that?"

Spike's hands felt almost warm, pushing him more onto his belly.  The first prick of the needle made him stiffen, but Spike stayed soundless and the pain soon faded into the general 'owiness' of his side.

"You're really good at this Spike," Xander murmured. It only tickled, really. "You're so good to me."

"You're loopy, pet, just relax and let me get this.  Just a bit more now."  Spike's breath was cool against the bare skin of his back.  His hands were large and slightly callused at certain finger tips.  He couldn't figure out which ones, but he liked the feel of them.  "Just a bit more, now," he almost sang.  "Almost done."

"Your fingers feel good, Spike. You've got special Spike fingers."

"You keep thinking that."  A few more pokes and then, "All right, that's it.  Roll over; lemme look at those ribs more."

Xander did as he was told and smiled happily up at Spike.

Spike smiled back, laughing a little.  "Think I like you this loopy, pet.  Here, does this hurt?"  He pressed down a little, then winced.  "Answered my own question, didn't I?  Just bruised like I thought.  Come on, now, into bed.  Gonna get you something to eat, okay?"

"Not hungry," Xander said, pulling Spike down with him. "Come lay down and talk to me. We don't ever get to talk, Spike." He said it gravely so Spike would understand how important it was.

Spike chuckled.  "Too busy being nervous around me, pet.  But all right."  Arranging himself comfortably beside Xander seemed to be pulling Xander against his chest, and Xander wasn't complaining.  "So what do you want to talk about, hm?"

"Is there such a thing as platonic nude bed-sharing?"

Spike blinked.  "Say what now?"

"Last night," Xander explained impatiently. "Me, you, naked in the same bed."

Spike's shoulders moved under his head.  "You turned into a leech, and I sleep naked.  Didn't feel like rubbing up against jeans."

"Oh," Xander said. It made perfect sense when Spike said it like that, and made him feel stupid for ever hoping it was more than that. "Okay. Guess it's no big deal then."

Spike's fingers found their way back into his hair.  "Did you want it to be a big deal, pet?"

Xander frowned. "I ... don't want you to stop being my friend," he said. He was trying to explain, wanted Spike to know he wouldn't jeopardize what they had.

Spike's fingers stopped moving.  "Is that what I am?  Your friend?"

Xander moved his head against Spike's fingers, wanting the touch back. "I'm your friend, Spike," he said slowly, blinking groggily. "And you're my ... everything."

Spike went very, very still.  Xander blinked, twisting around because Spike being still was bad, except ow, that hurt his side.

"Hey, easy."  Spike got him straightened out, again petting his hair and back.  It felt so nice.  "Think we should tell Buffy about the Zirox?  Pretty nasty bugger.  If it's around, could be bad news."

"But you killed it?" Xander asked.

"Killed the male.  Female's probably out there now, wondering who the hell made her hubby go splat."

"Yeah. Should tell her," Xander said, yawning. "You tell her. I'm gonna take a nap."

"Yeah, all right."

The last thing Xander remembered was Spike stripping them both out of their pants.

There was a sock in his mouth.  Something fuzzy was wrapped around his brain, and his side ached badly.  And, he realized with a sense of impeding doom, he was late.

"Shit!"  Struggling out of Spike's hold and the grasping softness of the blankets, Xander stumbled over to the shower and sluiced himself off cold.  "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he muttered.

"S'matter, pet?" was the muffled question from the bed.

Oh crap, he'd woken Spike up.  Jamming himself into clothes, Xander went over to Spike and—greatly daring—stroked his neck lightly.  "Nothing, Spike.  I'm just late for work.  I'll, um, see you later."

Not later, though, because his apartment was done being 'fumigated'.  Had he realized how much he hated the place?  Not until he and Spike had talked about it and ...

Halfway to work, Xander almost got into an accident.  He'd asked Spike about the naked-platonic thing.

He didn't remember all the details, but he did remember that. And ... Spike must have answered him, because Spike would of course answer a direct question. But what the hell had he said?

Xander worried about it all day. He remembered to call the realtor, though, the way he'd told Spike he would. Well, that would give him an excuse to go back to Spike's crypt, at least.

He did pretty much nothing until it was time to leave.  His boss found about his injury—"Another one, Harris?"—and had him on desk duty.  Xander hated desk duty but he did what he had to and tried not to worry about tonight too much.  When he caught himself writing 'Spike' instead of Bill Spector on an invoice, he got himself a cup of coffee and managed to finish off all what little work he needed to do.

By quitting time he was bursting to get the hell out of there.  His car practically flew as he went home, changed, and then went over to the crypt.

He entered a little cautiously, though, not knowing exactly what to expect from Spike.

"Spike? You here?" he called out.

All the homey touches Xander had brought—the blankets, the pillows, the rugs—those were all gone.  Xander spied a neatly-tied bundle next to the sofa and knew they were all there.

Wait.  That bundle was way too small.  Good.  Grinning happily now that Spike was 'stealing' things from him, he wandered down to the opening to the lower level.  "Spike?  Um, do you still want to do this?"

"Said I did, didn't I?  Calling me a liar?"  Spike almost ran up the ladder, a grin simmering under the affected sneer.  "Right, let's get this bloody over with."

Xander didn't bother to hide his own grin as he blocked the door. "Sun won't be down for another twenty minutes. I'm sure you're not eager to be a torch."

"Oh.  Er, right."  Still affecting a sneer and now a swagger, Spike stalked over to the TV.  "Suppose you'll be wanting all this back, now."

"I don't really have the room right now. Uh, maybe you can keep it for me for a while?"

"Not your bloody storage facility.  You talk to Buffy today?"

"I was supposed to?" Xander asked, a little confused.

"Oh, for Christ—the Zirox demon?  You remember?"  Spike searched his pockets for his cigarettes, impatiently lighting one.

"I remember the demon, but you killed it, remember?" Xander said. He had a nice little case of deja vu, too.

Spike puffed.  "It has a mate.  And you know what?  Fuck it.  If Slayer gets her arse wiped, it's her own fault.  Sun's down, c'mon."

Xander nodded and followed Spike out to the car. The drive was quiet, but not uncomfortably so. Xander allowed himself a few moments of a 'Xander and Spike go house shopping' fantasy. It really didn't even seem like that much of a fantasy, when he thought about it.

"There it is," Xander said proudly as they pulled up into the drive. The lights from the inside of the small house seemed to glow warmly, and Xander was happy that Spike could see it like this. It had been a good idea to call the realtor and not to just come over and peek in the windows in the dark.

The realtor was waiting on the walk up to the house.  Even the walk showed just how badly in need of repair the house was, with cracks and uneven patches.  Xander skirted them, smiling a hello.  The realtor—Susan—didn't even blink at the smoking, sneering, scowling shadow behind Xander's shoulder.

"I'm so glad you decided to look again," Susan was saying warmly.  "I think you really suit this house.  It's got an ... old-time charm."

Xander didn't have any idea what that meant, but he followed along happily as Susan went over the salient features.

"Well, I've already gone over this with you before, I'm sure you know it all. I think I'll just leave you two alone to look by yourselves now," Susan said with a smile.

"So, what do you think?" Xander asked Spike. He was nervous. He didn't know why Spike liking the house was so important to him, but he really, really wanted him to.

"It's nice.  Cottage-like." 

Xander nodded excitedly.  It was cottage-like—small and cosy and yeah, it needed work, but it was the kind of work Xander really wanted to do.  It was the perfect size for two people and maybe a dog, with enough room for a workroom out back.

Spike wandered through every room, commenting here and there.  Back at the kitchen, which had granite counter-tops but dilapidated cabinets above and below, he paused and looked at Xander thoughtfully.  "You really like this place, huh?"

"Are you kidding? I love it. I've wanted it from the first time I saw it, and I've come back here over and over, just to walk around the yard and ..." He trailed off and blushed. Spike didn't ask him all that.

"You're such a wuss, you know that?  Mind hanging out here a bit?  Think I need a smoke."  Without waiting for Xander's response, Spike disappeared from the room.

Okay, that was weird.  And ... who was Susan talking to?

Xander shrugged and ran his hands over the counter again. He'd read a book on cabinetry, and he was pretty sure he could make some nice cabinets. Maybe a little carving up towards the ceiling, a nice light wood, thin sheen of polyurethane.

Lost in his musing, he didn't hear Spike return.  "This place is beautiful, pet.  Or it could be with a little work."

Xander turned and grinned. "Or a lot of work. Which is even better. Making it my own—that would be the best."

It really would be, and the way Spike was grinning at him, he knew the vampire agreed.  Strange, that.  Only Dawn understood wanting to take a place and totally refurbish and restore it—Buffy and Willow had just seen the problems and how much money it would drain from him, not the joys he would get from it.

"It's not, uh, that expensive," Spike said slowly.

Xander snickered. "Uh, yeah, it is."

Shaking his head, Spike fiddled with an unlit cigarette.  "Nah, rates are down, and under a hundred grand for this kind of property's pretty cheap.  You've got a nice little view, neighborhood's quiet.  Not a lot of vamps come through here, either, which is a point in this bloody town.  Close to the sea, too; know how much you like that."

Xander ducked his head and smiled. It felt nice that Spike seemed to see all the good things about the house, unlike the others who just saw a run-down, tiny place that no one in their right mind should look twice at. "Yeah, it's nearly perfect. But ... I still can't afford it, Spike. It's nice to dream though."

"Yeah," Spike answered distractedly.  "Dreams are good.  So, uh, you wanna go get some grub?  I feel like a beer."

There was a strangely hopeful air about Spike.  Almost shy.  It didn't make any sense—Spike, shy?—but Xander couldn't shake the feeling that Spike was, well, a little nervous around him.   But not nervous in a bad way.  He shook his head trying to make his thoughts settle down.

"Yeah. I'm feeling a little hungry, actually. I'll go tell Susan we're leaving."

Susan seemed unusually warm and cheerful as he made his goodbyes.  She did reaffirm that this little house was perfect for him—and that there weren't a lot of other buyers out there.  She seemed less interested in making a sale and more interested in making sure he made the sale.  It was refreshing.

"So, Bronze?" he asked as they headed back to the car.

"Nah, how 'bout real dinner?  Could do with something more than grease tonight."

"Got anything in mind?" Xander asked. Real dinner? With Spike? At like, a restaurant?

"You like Italian, right?"  Spike rolled down his window and lit up.  The sight of his profile against the warm sky and the glowing cherry of his cigarette made Xander swallow abruptly.  "Could go to that new place down on Russell?"

Xander gave Spike a crooked grin. "Oooh, fancy. I don't get to go to places too often that have, like, tablecloths. You think they'll have napkins? Silverware that doesn't look like it got stuck in the garbage disposal? Cute little waiters running around to do our bidding?"

"Always fun to see 'em make garlic-less garlic bread," Spike agreed.

Xander snickered and turned the car down Russell. "Isn't that a big tipoff around here? They might douse you in holy water if you order that."

"You'll just have to protect me, then, won't you?" Spike said with a sidelong look.  "Speaking of, how's your side feel?"

Xander parked the car and gave a little experimental stretch. "Okay. Not too bad. I've had a lot worse. At least this one didn't require any trips to the emergency room, for which I am one grateful little Scooby."

"Stitches aren't pulling too bad, are they?  I know it's just two."  Spike brushed up against his side, hands seeking the injury without going underneath the shirt.  Xander eeped a little—cold!—but held still while Spike check him over.

Spike was checking him over.  Cool.

"They're fine," Xander said. "You did a good job." No, no, don't let that stupid 'ooh, Spike, my hero!' tone into your voice, Xan!

Spike smiled—shyly.  Spike was actually smiling shyly!  "Just two stitches," he demurred.  "C'mon, should be early enough there's no line.  Bloody hate waiting in line."

Amused, Xander watched the way Spike stalked into the restaurant.  All brass and black leather and cool, disdainful sneer.  Hot as hell, really, and Xander was glad it was on his side.  He hurried forward when he heard a polite, "Of course, right this way, sir."

Well, that was quick. If he didn't know better, he might suspect Spike had called ahead.

Inside, they were seated at a cozy little corner table. They could see most of the restaurant, but it was set apart from the other tables, enough to be semi-private and—dare he even think it?—romantic.

Xander tried not to grin like a loon.

A cute, brunette waitress appeared and lit the small oil-lamp on their table.  "Good evening, gentleman.  My name is Mary and I'll be your server tonight.  Can I get you something to drink?"

"Bottle of Chablis," Spike said immediately.  "Xan, you want an appetizer?"

"Um, I don't know?" Xander answered.

Spike chuckled.  "Know I said I didn't want grease tonight, but how about a plate of the fried zucchini?"  Catching Xander's expression, he grinned.  "Trust me, you'll like it."

The waitress murmured agreement and left.

They made small talk for a while until Xander remembered what had been ordered.

"Zucchini is gross," he stated firmly.

"Yeah, but you're still trying this.  And you'll like it."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Yes, Daddy."

Spike grinned.  "Cheeky lad.  Somebody needs his bottom tanned, if he continues mouthin' off."

Spike was teasing, Xander knew he was, but the raised eyebrows on the waitress returning with the wine was humiliating.  Xander flushed and stared at the table while Spike tested the wine and nodded his approval.  Yes, they needed a few more moments, thanks.

"Oh, relax, pet," he said when Mary disappeared.  "She doesn't think anything untoward.  Try the wine; s'nice vintage."

Tried some of the zucchini first, and was actually surprised that he liked it. At Spike's prodding, Xander sipped the wine and made a face. Then he sipped again. It was better the second time.

Watching him closely, Spike caught the first reaction.  "Not a big wine-drinker, are you?  Shouldn't be surprised.  Try their lasagna, pet, I've heard it's good."

Spike the wine-and-food-connoisseur was decidedly creepy, but Xander was enjoying it.  Forays into 'respectable' dining with Anya had usually forced him into the role of knowing all the answers—when he really didn't.  It was nice to just sit back and let Spike take care of that kind of thing.  Xander just hoped he wasn't looking that dopey.

Food was ordered. Spike coaxed Xander into talking about the house again, and Xander warmed to the conversation quickly. When he started talking about different types of stone for the patio he had to stop, though, convinced he was boring Spike to death. Luckily the food arrived then and Xander had another focus.

Lasagna, as thick and meaty and cheesy as he loved, and hot enough that he had to gulp his wine to cool his mouth.  It was delicious.  Smiling happily through his mouthful, Xander thought about thanking Spike for suggesting the place—food was usually either crap he made, or fast food, and it'd been a while since he had a nice dinner like this.

"How garlicky is that, pet?" Spike asked after a few moments of concerted eating.  "Wanna try some of my ravioli?"

"Not too much garlic," Xander answered after he swallowed. "Just right, actually. Ravioli? Yeah, give." He was acting like he'd never eaten before, but the food was really good.

Spike cut one of the ravioli in half, as prim and proper as Giles.  Then he plopped the bit of dough, cheese, spinach and red-sauce onto Xander's plate and took a huge forkful of Xander's lasagna.


"You got twice as much food as me, wanker, don't complain!"

"You don't need to eat to survive!"

He watched, stunned, as Spike shoved the entire piece into his mouth.  A strand of cheese hung from Spike lips, sauce surrounding his mouth like poorly done makeup.  Spike grinned broadly and chewed—mouth slightly open.

"That's disgusting, Spike," Xander accused, but he was laughing as he said it.

Spike just continued chewing, looking smug.  He did clean his mouth, though.

Xander picked up the teensy bit of ravioli on his fork and took a bite. "Mm, pretty good," he said, then quickly speared a whole one from Spike's place and ate it. "Mm, even better."

"Wanker," Spike teased him, but didn't try and steal any more of his food.  "Want dessert here?  Or are you gonna eat that entire plate and start moaning to me about being too full to move?"  He refilled Xander's wine glass while he spoke.

"Dessert's good. You can order," Xander said with a grin. He figured Spike was enjoying this whole experience, and Xander might as well let him be in control. Not that he'd say that out loud.

They finished their meals, Spike accepting the menu for dessert.  After a moment's perusal, he ordered a glass of port for them both, tiramisu and piece of the Chocolate Sin cake.

Xander was pretty sure he was going to have to be rolled out of the restaurant.  "Uh, isn't this getting kinda pricey?"

Spike dismissed that with a wave.  "Don't worry about it.  Have an ... arrangement."  He flashed a toothy grin that in no way reassured Xander.

Dessert was yummy but the port, which Xander's never had before, was even yummier.  He grinned at Spike as he sipped and bit and sipped again.  "This?  Is really nice.  But you're sure I can't help pay for it?"

Spike diverted the question—easily, since Xander was getting increasingly tipsy.  "C'mon, pet, out we go.  Say bye to the nice waitress now."

Xander waved to a grinning Mary and let Spike help him outside.  "That was really nice," he said too loudly.  "Really."

Spike got him into the car and then slid in next to Xander in the driver's seat. "This driving you around is becoming a habit, pet," Spike said with a smile.

"This was really nice," Xander repeated.

"You said that already."  Spike's chuckle was low and warm.  "Should I stop back at my place, maybe grab your stuff before I take you home?"

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "Home."

The car thrummed, echoing inside his skull.  Xander snuggled into the passenger seat, watching Spike more then he watched the road.  "Nice," he repeated for the who-knew-how-many-eth time.

"Think you need a bigger vocabulary, love.  And I'm thinking I'll return your stuff tomorrow."  The fond glance told Xander that was acting or looking drunker then he felt, but that was okay.  He was warm and full and comfy and Spike had called him 'love'.

"Thank you for coming with me, Spike," Xander murmured. "To the house. And for taking me out. It's nice to go out and not, like, end up needing stitches."

"It is, pet.  A proper date."

Blinking under that startling statement, Xander was sure—sure—it was the wine talking.  But Spike was parking the car and helping up the stairs, fumbling into Xander's pockets for the key to his apartment. 

"In you go, pet, come on."

The barrier had been down for Spike for months now, so Spike was able to lead Xander directly to the bedroom.  Gently pushing him onto the mattress, Spike knelt and started undoing Xander's shoes.

Xander blinked. "I thought I said I wanted to go back to the crypt?" he asked, totally confused.

"You did," Spike said patiently, "and I said that we could get your stuff tomorrow.  It's not like you need most of it when you're about ten seconds from passing out, love."

"Didn't want to come back here," Xander grumbled. "Hate it hate it. Stupid ... place."

Spike had removed the right shoe, but he paused while unlacing the second.  "You hate it that much, pet?" he asked softly.  "Enough to want to spend another night with me?"

Xander giggled and nudged Spike with his toe. "Is that a come on?"

Capturing the socked foot, Spike rubbed it absently.  "Nah.  Just don't feel like giving up the electric blanket."

The answer was breezy and false, but Xander was too dizzy and giggly to follow up on it.  And soon he was too busy trying to stand up without falling over, leaning heavily on Spike and laughing.  "So we're going home?" he asked excitedly.

Spike stilled for a moment, then seemed to remember he needed to be helping Xander stand up. "Yeah, pet."

The ride in the car must have taken place, but Xander didn't remember that part. He opened his eyes in time to see Spike lowering him onto the bed.

"Hey."  He clumsily grabbed at Spike's arms.  "Don't go."

"Not going far, pet," Spike said reassuringly. 

Forcing himself to sit up, Xander watched as Spike rummaged around doing various things before grabbing a paperback and sliding into bed beside Xander.  They were both clothed, but in sweat-pants now, and Xander knew those would go pretty soon.

"Whatcha reading?"  Xander tried to make the letters on the cover stop crawling and order themselves appropriately.

"Something with big words, love.  Come here."  Spike tugged and Xander went, curling up around Spike's legs with a sigh, head resting on Spike's thigh.  The expected hand found its way into Xander's hair, combing lightly.  "Go to sleep now, love."

"Read to me?" Xander asked, closing his eyes and rubbing his cheek lightly against Spike's thigh. "Like your voice."

"Don't think you'd like this one.  Tolstoy's prob'ly a bit too much for you.  But hang on."

Xander whimpered when Spike slid out of his grasp, but almost as soon as the sound died away, Spike was back, rearranging them so they were in their former positions.  "The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.  Not to mention rumors which agitated the maritime population and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited ... "

Xander couldn't really follow the actual words, but the flow was nice, and Spike's voice was even nicer. He fell asleep before he could ask what exactly the book was.

Damn it.  Damn it!

 Xander had worked out a routine over the last two weeks.  Go to work.  Drive by the house on the way home from work.  If he needed something specific, he'd stop by his apartment and pick it up.  Then, he'd go home to Spike's crypt where they'd amuse themselves before going to sleep, or go and help the girls do normal Scooby things.  No one had noticed that Xander wasn't living in his apartment anymore; Xander thought that was a good thing.  It meant that his and Spike's friendship was acceptable and unworthy of shock, surprise, or intervention.

But that wasn't what was pissing him off.

"Damn it!" he said aloud, stomping into the crypt.  He wasn't brushing the tight, burning from his eyes, because he refused to acknowledge it.

"What?"  Spike was lounging in front of the TV—normal—and toying with a sheaf of papers—not normal.  "What the bloody hell is wrong with you?"

"My house! Someone stole my house from me!" Xander said. "I mean, someone bought it, but it's mine, and it's stealing. I mean, not mine, but ..."

"The house's been sold?" Spike deduced.  "Sorry, pet. Here, come sit by me, relax a bit."

Xander almost fell onto the sofa, anger giving way to shock and dismay.  "That's my house," he repeated.

"I know, pet, don't worry."  Spike tucked his legs underneath him so he was kneeling on the sofa, pushing Xander forward a bit so he could work on tense neck and shoulder muscles.  "Calm down, now.  Take a look at those papers?"

"Spike, this is really—"  He stopped mid complaint when Spike hit a particularly sore spot.  Momentarily distracted from his rant, he picked up the abandoned papers and glanced at them.

The papers were a deed.  And a mortgage.

"Thought I should live some place a little nicer then a crypt," Spike told him quietly, still massaging.  "Some place quiet and out of the way, but not far from the action, you know?  Someplace warm."

"You bought my house?" Xander asked, a little confused. Okay, a lot confused. And a little bit hurt.


"You know, when I was telling you how great it was, I didn't think you were gonna go out and buy it right out from under me!" He wasn't about to start crying over this. He was a little too confused for that, anyway. "You bought my house!" he said, a little more accusing this time.

Spike low chuckle just made him angrier.  "Yeah, I did.  But it does need a lot of work and I'm not working with wood.  So what do you say—room and board for fixing the place up?"

"Room and board!" Xander sputtered. "And what happens when I get my house just right? What happens when it's perfect and it doesn't need anything else? What do I do then, just let you live in my house while I go off and get another little shitty chrome and glass apartment?"

Spike's hands stilled.  "Then I sell you the deed for a buck and I get out of your life."  Spike rose, keeping his back turned when Xander twisted around to see.

"What?!" Xander practically screamed. "No one said anything about anyone getting out of anyone else's life!"

He could hear the click as Spike swallowed.  "Then I don't know what the bloody hell you want!"  It would've been easier if Spike had shouted that, instead of that low, sad voice.  "You want the deed, it's yours.  Gimme a buck.  I put down a lot, so the mortgage isn't too bad.  I figured by the time you'd fixed everything up, you'd be able to afford the mortgage by yourself, wouldn't need me around anymore."

And with that, Spike swirled the duster onto his shoulders and stalked out of his own crypt.

Xander was left standing in the middle of the crypt with his mouth moving, but there wasn't any sound coming out, and he didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do. Run after Spike? Er, yeah. Maybe that.

He caught up to Spike just as he met Buffy near the entrance of the adjacent cemetery.  "Hey, Buffy, me and the mosquito here need to have a small chat, do you mind?  We'll catch up."  His smile forced and frozen, Xander grabbed Spike's arm and forced him back around a small crypt.

"Okay, Spike, let's go slow here.  What?  Is going on?"

Spike's lips were turned down in a sullen sneer.  "You shouldn't live in a sodding crypt.  Or in that place Anya made you get.  You love that house.  Should have it."

Xander's breath got a little short, and he felt the slightest bit lightheaded when he thought about what he was about to say. "Spike. I'm living in the crypt because that's where I want to be. If you lived on the fucking moon, that's where I'd want to be. That's no reason for you to buy a house. Now, are you telling me you bought the house because you want me out of the crypt and away from you, or because you love the house and you want it for yourself, or because you ... want me to have the house?"

For a second, Spike looked like he was going to go the sneering, bluffing, badass route.  Then he shrugged and looked at his feet.  "Wanted you to have the house.  Didn't think you'd let me buy it for you outright."

Xander took that in and stepped a little closer. "You're right, I wouldn't have. And the only way I'll take it now is ..." He swallowed and looked into Spike's eyes, wanting him to know he was utterly serious. "I don't want to live there alone."

Spike's shy smiles were becoming precious to Xander.  "Think I got that when you said you'd live on the moon if I was there."  Lifting his head a little, Spike met Xander's eyes.  "It's a two-bedroom, isn't it?  And you'll need a boarder, with all the repairs you'll be paying for."

Xander blushed. He couldn't believe he'd said that, about the moon. Spike was right; he really was a silly little sod. "Okay, then. When do we move?" he asked, grinning.

"That the last of it?" Spike said, looking around the empty apartment.

"Yep. This is the last box. Do you think it's okay for me to be about two seconds away from a very Dawn-like squeal?"

"So long as you don't squeal near me," Spike told him, rubbing his ear ruefully.  Dawn had been extremely excited when she found out that Xander was moving to his beloved house, and that Spike was going along with him.

"Someone's gotta watch Spike," he'd told Buffy and Giles.  "It might as well be me.  Plus, he can do all that heavy lifting for me."

"No need for squealing anyway with all of that bouncing you're doing.  C'mon, in the car, then we can start unpacking."

Xander bounded after him, feeling a little like a happy puppy.

The drive seemed short as Xander babbled happily to Spike about the home improvement show he'd seen on his lunch break. Spike just nodded and didn't look at all bored, which Xander was grateful for.

At the house, Spike helped Xander with the last boxes.

Spike's ratty sofa—which was better then Xander's posh, leather, totally uncomfortable, Anya-picked out sofa—was already in the area they deemed the living room.  Xander collapsed onto it.  His knee immediately started jiggling with misplaced energy.

"Our house," he said reverently.  "It's our house."

Spike joined him on the sofa, though the supernatural creature could not be exhausted since, well, supernatural.  "It is."  There was intense satisfaction in Spike's voice.

Xander rolled his head to the side to look at Spike, feeling the tired, happy smile on his face. "Did I tell you thank you, yet?"

Shy smile number five of the day.  "You did, love.  Where do you want to start unpacking first?  Or do you want to live out of boxes for a bit while you work?"

"Um, the ... kitchen. After we hook up the television and all related appliances. And the bathroom, got to have towels and soap and stuff. And the bedroom, need our sheets and everything."

"Just one bedroom, then?"  Turning immediately away after asking, Spike headed for the television.  "I can hook this up, pet, if you start on the kitchen.  Don't know where you want things to be, yeah?  And the drawers are crap right now."

So saying, he crouched behind the TV already placed reverently on the open-air stand, VCR, cable-box, and DVD player stacked on top of it.

The kitchen cabinets were crap. Really, really horrible. New cabinets were high on Xander's list, but he'd need a big enough workshop to make them in. Right, so setting the workshop up came first. Whistling, Xander put down shelf paper—actually, folded leftover wallpaper of Buffy's, but it made damn good shelf paper—and put the plates and glasses away. He lined the drawers (the ones that would open, anyway) and sorted the silverware.

He had a very happy, cozy nesting feeling when everything was put away, with the coffee maker on the counter right next to a brand spanking new knife set Xander had gotten the other day.

Returning to the living room, he found a functional entertainment center, as well as a sofa and several chairs dusted off and arranged neatly.  "Which bedroom do w--you want?" Spike asked as he worked to sort through boxes.  "I'll start running that stuff up."

"The bigger bedroom faces west, I think that's a good idea?" Xander asked, a little nervously. "No, uh, early morning sizzle surprises." He didn't look at Spike when he said it.

"Sure."  Spike cleared his throat a little, then added, "We'll have to doss on the floor for a few nights.  Bed'll take a few days to arrive."

Blink.  "Bed?"  He hadn't wanted to take the bed he shared with Anya here, and Spike's was actually moldy on the inside and a little smelly.  So ... what bed?

"Uh.  I may've, um, ordered some stuff.  It'll be here soon."

"What about the air mattress? It's a queen, we can sleep on that until ..." He didn't finish the sentence. His heart was pounding a little too fast for complete sentences right then.

"Sounds good."  Spike disappeared up the stairs.

Xander immediately started pumping the air and, yes, jumping up and down like an excited kid. Which worked well, since it was a foot operated pump. He had to remember not to jump too much so he wouldn't break it, but ... yeah. Happiness was an air mattress with your best friend in your brand new house!

Air mattress pumped, he headed up the stairs to deliver it to Spike.  The bedrooms were just empty rooms, clean since the previous tenant had been scrupulous about that, if too poor to make repairs, and Spike was staring out the western window.  "We're gonna need thick blinds, pet.  Something heavy enough to block it out.  Still, west's better than the eastern one.  Don't think frying tomorrow morning's gonna be the best way to wake you up.  Speaking of ... "  Spike turned a fierce look on him.  "Don't forget to set your bloody alarm!  You've been late to work the past three days in a row."

Xander grinned. "Can't help it if you've worn me out so much every night," he said. Spike had been a real task master with the moving, and they'd spent the past few nights packing and moving everything in the crypt and apartment.

Spike snorted and lightly punched his shoulder.  "You have a dirty mind, love.  Come on, help me get this thing made, yeah?  You need to set up that workroom, and you'll be bloody exhausted, since you'll start making drawers or sanding wood for the stairs and you'll blame me when the bed's not ready to be slept in."

"Not getting started on any of that yet, Spike," Xander said. "Tomorrow's Friday so I can stay up late and do it then, then work Saturday after I have a nice, long morning of sleeping in." Sleeping in your arms, he wanted to say, but ... didn't.

"All right.  Wanna reward ourselves with successfully moving in, then, with beer and watching TV downstairs?"

Spike grinned as he intentionally mocked Willow.  She didn't understand that it wasn't just friendship—at least on Xander's side—and constantly queried what else they did other then get drunk and watch bad movies.

Xander grinned back and nodded. "Yeah. Maybe something with machine guns? And helicopters. A nice war movie would make me happy."

"Sounds bloody good to me!"

Xander sent Spike downstairs while he put some heavy towels over the bedroom windows, then went downstairs.

Checking out the movie selection, Xander bypassed the classics and put in something with Chuck Norris. It was full of cheesy dialogue and even worse acting, but that just made Spike's comments even funnier.

Xander contented himself with only one beer.  They seemed to have a system without really talking or discussing it—if Xander was drunk, then Spike wasn't, and vice versa.  So Xander sipped his two beers while Spike hit four, five, and six while mocking the mullet and Clint-esque voice mercilessly.

"Oh, shit, I forgot he says he trained with Tibetan monks in this one," Xander said, giggling and leaning his head on Spike's shoulder.

Drunk Spike?  Was a really snugly, cuddly Spike.  An arm always ended up around his shoulders, or there was hair-playing, or massaging.  Not that Xander didn't get these things normally, but they were less nervous when Spike was drunk.

Tonight, Spike pulled Xander into the circle of his arms, linked hands rubbing distractedly over Xander's hip.  His mouth and nose were pressed into Xander's hair.  It was comfy and cosy and pretty much perfect.

"This is perfect," Xander said softly. He found himself saying silly, sappy things like that more and more now.

It took him a moment to place the soft, smacking sound and the pressure against the back of his head.  "Soppy sod."

Okay, that? Even perfect-er. Xander smiled happily, closed his eyes, and didn't wake up until morning.

He wasn't sure what woke him.  Possibly the uncomfortable crick in his neck.  Or some sixth-sense he was blessing and promising imminent sacrificage, just as soon as he got Spike away from the un-blinded windows.

"Spike, Spike!  Sunlight!"

Spike popped up with a slightly-hungover curse.  "Is the upstairs done?" he asked, watching the way the sunlight crept over the wood floors.

"Yes, go!"

Spike managed to get upstairs with only a slightly singed foot, which Xander quickly fetched ice for.

"I'm sorry," Xander said. "I shouldn't have fallen asleep. You're always taking care of me, and I can't even return the favor? I suck. I'm sorry, shit. You could have been really hurt!"

Spike basked in the attention for all of thirty seconds.  "Enough, love, enough!"  Snatching the ice bag, he applied it to his own foot.  "You fell asleep, no harm in that.  You woke up in time, s'all I care about."

"Yeah, well ... okay. You're okay," Xander said, feeling stupid and still berating himself inwardly. He glanced over at the alarm clock. "And look, I've got an hour before I have to leave! Think I'll just lay down and rest a few minutes." He smiled and stretched out on the air mattress.

"Good. I'm goin' back to sleep," Spike said, tugging his pants off and slipping beneath the sheets.

Five, four, three, two ...

Before he reached 'one', Spike was wrapping himself around Xander like he was the sole source of heat in the room.  Which, actually he was.  "Have to remember the electric blanket," he said drowsily.

"You can always just turn me on, instead," Xander whispered.

"Mmmm."  Spike snuggled even closer, tugging Xander so he was lying almost on top of Spike's body.  "Nice'n warm.  Does turning it on make it hotter?"

Xander wasn't going to be sleeping any time soon. He closed his eyes, his heart pounding in his ears. His breath was threatening to just quit on him altogether. "Dunno. You'd have to find out," he said bravely.

Spike moved below him.  It could have just been sleepy stretches, but ... not after saying that.  "Challenging me, huh?" Spike murmured.  "Careful you don't push too hard, love."  But the arms linked behind his back showed no sign of releasing and Spike was smiling.

Xander raised himself up just a little to look into Spike's eyes. He was feeling a little dizzy as he nervously wet his lips. Lips. Spike lips, right there. He stared at them for just a minute and then his eyes darted back to Spike's. "Why's that?"

Spike voice gained a more serious tone.  "Don't wanna mess this up," he said, barely audible.

"Me neither," Xander said, just as quietly.

"But I want ... " Right after the cool wave of Spike's breath there were Spike's lips.  Pressing against his and moving as delicately as a butterfly's wings.  Kissing him.

It wasn't the fiery, possessive kiss of each and every one of Xander's fantasies. This, somehow, was even better. He could feel every movement, every tiny touch of Spike's lips. It was so surprisingly gentle, but over way too soon. Xander pulled back a little and looked at Spike worriedly. "Is that okay? Not the ... lips, but the ... me and you and lips?"

"Yeah.  More than."

But Spike didn't seem interested in kissing again.  When Xander leaned down, Spike brought his hand up, cupping Xander's mouth.

"Can it wait, love?"  There was a new emphasis on 'love'.  "Can we?"

Xander felt an instinctive flash of hurt, but it was gone as soon as it came. He understood. More than understood. "I've been waiting for six months for that one kiss, Spike; I don't think I'll have a problem with being patient."

If vampires could flush ... Spike dropped his eyes, the only measure of privacy he could have when Xander was lying on top of him.  "I've not had friends before," he whispered.  "Don't want to lose that."

"I know," Xander said, moving off the naked vampire to rest beside him. "But I'm not going anywhere."

Spike immediately returned to his cuddly position, head on Xander's chest.  "Know you're not, pet.  But I've a habit of botching things like that.  I don't want to."  Kissing his chest, Spike sighed and held a little tighter, a clear sign that Spike was going back to sleep—and this discussion was over.

Xander wrapped his arms around his ... Spike, and smiled happily. Then looked at the clock and realized he had a whole ten minutes to get up, showered, dressed, caffeine fortified, and off to work. He snickered to himself. He'd just have to be a little late again, he thought, bending to kiss the top of Spike's head.