“You need to talk to your boy.”  Gunn’s voice carried easily through the hotel lobby, stopping Angel in his tracks.  “I’m serious, man.  You have got to talk to him.”

Xander didn’t bother looking up.  He knew the expression he’d see on Angel’s face and he didn’t want to see it again.  Well, the puppy dog, hang-browed, ‘oh god, please don’t be talking to me’ expression was still priceless.  It would always be priceless.  But the pity Xander knew he’d find was a different story entirely.

“Why, exactly, should I be talking to him?” Angel asked.  The desperate quality of his voice made Xander want to snort.  Poor Angel.  Even after so many years in the private detective gig,  he still sucked when it came to human interaction.  Hunting down low-lifes and making them pay?  That, he was good at.  Actually having a conversation that didn’t involve threats and/or humiliation to reach Angel’s desired goal?  No way.  “I mean, it’s not like I have any control over him.”


Slowly, carefully, cognizant of his aching head, Xander lifted it and blearily tried to focus.  He could practically see the red shot through his squinting eyes and knew he looked like some kind of deranged, drugged-up black bear.  Cordelia had told him that often enough, when he’d reached the groaning stage of his hangover and was safely past the ‘blunder about smacking into things like long, delicate, recently pedicured toes’ stage.  Another one of Cordelia’s whimsies, and he, like all the other males at Angel Investigations, had learned to shut up and take it.  It was so much easier in the long run.

Angel looked back at him, nervously.  It was always amusing to see the cool, collected Angel act like a nervous school boy, something that hadn’t lost its charm even in the two years that Xander had worked for him and the three others they’d just been acquaintances.  Well, okay, ‘rivals’ was a better word, but that led to thinking about things that Xander refused to think about anymore.  So he shut his eyes and put his head back down on his folded arms with a groan of utter defeat.

“That,” Gunn said acidly, “is what you need to talk about.  And soon.  I’m getting sick of this shit, and I know Cordelia is, too.”

Xander winced and knew that Angel was currently scanning the lobby.  It was reflexive habit, even though they all knew Cordelia was currently vacationing in the Bahamas.  With their last client—the incredibly wealthy, incredibly handsome, incredibly stupid daddy’s boy that’d had a stalker problem.  Xander knew it wouldn’t work.  Cordelia liked to play up her desires for rich, handsome, and stupid, but it was the third qualification she could never really stand for.  She’d be back.  She’d milk this guy for all he was worth first, but she’d be back.

Which meant when she came back that she’d yell at him, too.  Cordelia yelling was scary.  Except ... it wasn’t Xander who needed to be yelled at, dammit!

Indignation that was only slightly of the righteous kind made Xander lift his head again.  “Hey!  And why am I getting yelled at, huh?  It’s not my fault that Spike’s such a ... such a ... ” Vocabulary off in non-hangover land where he couldn’t access it, Xander groped for something suitably scathing to say—and came up blank.  “It’s not my fault he’s such a slut,” he finished, sounding almost mournful instead of insulting.  “He’s the slut king of Slutdonia.  And I ... ”

He groaned and settled his head back on his arms.  He knew what he was.  He’d been calling himself all those names since last night.

“You,” Gunn finished for him, the increase in his voice telling Xander that he was approaching, “are letting him string you along like some kind of mama’s boy loser vassal to said king of Slutdonia.  Which is why Angel needs to talk some sense into his boy before I smack some.”

Oh.  Gunn didn’t want Angel to talk to him, but to Spike? Well, it was an honest mistake.  Gunn called Xander Angel’s boy pretty frequently, too.  Gunn claimed that it was because Xander and Angel had come to L.A. at pretty much the same time for pretty much the same reasons—must escape girl!—but sometimes Xander wondered.  There was this thing with Gunn and boys and Gunn calling people boys, and if Xander wasn’t positive Gunn was straighter than Ahnold, well, he’d have to do some deep thinking.

As it was, he flushed, paled, and flushed again, trying to curl up into a fetal position while sitting on a barstool.

A warm hand rested on his shoulder blade.  “I don’t like what he’s doing to Xander.”

Angel made a nervous noise, shuffling his feet to indicate he’d rather be anywhere than having this conversation.  Probably even getting his monthly manicures with Cordelia, who had embraced the concept of metrosexual and made it a requirement for everyone who dealt with outside clients.  Since Xander’s job was to handle their snitches and help with research and make sure the hotel didn’t fall down around their ears, he was spared the spa visits.  For now.

He was aware that by concentrating on Cordelia and the perils—and praises—she offered, Xander didn’t have to actually think.  Because really thinking led to the things he was trying desperately not to think about.

“It’s, uh.  Well, it’s not intentional,” Angel said slowly.  As if it not being intentional made it somehow better.  “At least, I don’t think it is.  Er.”

Silence grew.  A living, breathing, totally incredulous silence grew.

Xander raised his head again so he could exchange looks with Gunn.  Thankfully, Gunn was equally incredulous.  And said, saving Xander from saying the same thing only with a much more manly squeak in his voice, “You mean you don’t know?”

Angel shrugged, a six-foot-mumble linebacker as helpless as a kitten caught in a tree.  “Know what?  Was I supposed to?”

Xander started counting.  First he counted all the times he’d stared at Spike as the two of them worked—well, while he tried to work and Spike lounged around like the piece of art he knew he was.  Then he counted all the times he’d been caught staring.  By just about everyone in the office, including several temps and at least three clients that Xander knew about.  Next came all the parties Xander went to, trying to shove said artistically arranged body out of his mind.  And the men he’d taken home.  Okay, so hopefully Angel didn’t know about how many guys he’d taken home with him, because Angel could occasionally be a tight-assed prude combined with the most smotheringly mothering friend a person could have.  Xander had no interest in being nagged about protection and that maybe sleeping around like a ho ‘wasn’t really good for Xander’ all the time.  Gunn and Cordelia had done that quite enough, thank you ever so much.

But that was all the prelim stuff.  The stuff that’d happened before he and Spike started talking and hanging out and ganging up on Angel to tease him out of his blacker moods.  And oh yeah, going on dates!

“Man, you are the dumbest, most unobservant bastard I have ever come across,” Gunn said, again sparing Xander from spluttering like a girly man to try and say the same thing.  “Spike’s been going to you for advice on how to handle Xander for months now.  He practically locked you in his damned apartment to help him pick out clothes for their first date!  You tellin’ me you don’t remember that?”

“I remember that.”  Angel’s expression indicated that this was not, perhaps, the most pleasant of memories.  Then the shock kicked back in.  “But that was for a date with Xander?”

Xander felt like crying.  Angel was the closest thing Spike had to a best friend.  If you could count a former lover that you still had a tempestuous almost-relationship with a best friend, anyway.  It was what passed for one with Spike.  It had to, because for the almost fifteen years that Angel and Spike had known each other, Angel had pretty much been the only constant in his life—information Xander had from both Spike and Angel.  Through emigrating, through two relationships—one that had almost resulted in a very till-death-do-you-part marriage that had damned near killed Spike when it ended—and probably a lot of other things that would explain the shifty expressions the two UK men often exchanged.  So if Angel didn’t know, then Spike ...

Well, then, obviously Xander was right.

He sat there, numb, listening as Gunn cussed a spluttering, repentant, increasingly desperate Angel out.  The language was creative—after years of living on the street, then law school, then exposure to both English and the occasional Irish swear word—but Xander couldn’t listen.  He was right.  When he’d sensed that Spike was reluctant about something—a pink elephant with a tutu, dancing its way out of the corner and into Spike’s face—he’d been right to suspect the cause.  Right to wonder and doubt and probably make even more of a fool of himself.  Right, to go to that bar and see for himself.  Right to go home and find that really expensive bottle of scotch he’d been saving and drink all of it like it was the orange juice he chugged every morning. 

Spike didn’t want him.

“ ... Xander.  Hey, Xan, come on, you’re starting to flip Angel out.  Come back to us, come on.  That’s right.  If you go catatonic because Angel’s a damned moron then Cordy’s gonna kill him for saying it, me for letting him, and then you, for believing him.”

“Cordy’ll do that, anyway,” he said.  Could men cry in public?  Wasn’t there some kind of unwritten rule that men never cried in public?  Or was it at all?  And did it get discounted if you were a gay man, even if you weren’t a particularly obvious gay man?  Xander blinked eyes that felt achingly dry and tried to sort out his thoughts.  Home.  He needed home.  Home, and more alcohol, and a shower and—what?

“Xander, that’s a good thing,” Angel repeated, just as slowly and firmly as the first however many times he’d said it.  Sincerely.  Why did Angel sound sincere about something that was obviously a lie?  “You know it is, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself for a minute.”

Xander went blank again, coming back to see Gunn smack Angel across the back of his head.  “Not helping,” he said firmly.  “Stick to helping.”

It’d be dangerous of him to say that right then, Gunn looked like an irritated Southern black woman whose idiot son had done some idiot thing that she had to correct.  But that’s exactly what he looked like, imaginary flower-print dress and flour-covered apron overlaying the jeans and hoodie he wore when he wasn’t in court.  He even had non-head-smacking hand on his hip!

“I am helping, and he is feeling sorry for himself,” Angel snapped back.  Turning to Xander, he tried on his most ingratiating and reassuring smile.  It made him look constipated.  “Xander, you know that he’s been different since Dru.  Okay, you don’t know, because you didn’t see him before, but he’s talked to you about it and I know that he’s different and I’m telling you.  He’s always been a heart on his sleeve kinda guy.”

Xander blanched.  So Spike was open about his feelings.  Xander knew that.  It only meant that Spike didn’t have feelings for him, since hey, he’d never shown any but friendliness.  And lately even that ...

“And we’re getting to the helping when?” Gunn interrupted, smacking Angel again.

Angel almost smacked back.  Almost.  He didn’t, because big and powerful as Angel was, he knew better than to raise a hand to his friends.  Ever.  Because Gunn could smack Angel around without ever actually hurting him.  Angel wasn’t so good at gauging a playful smack from a painful one.

“I mean,” Angel said through gritted teeth, “that Spike doesn’t talk to me anymore.  Not about that kind of stuff.  Hell, I don’t think he talks to anybody about who he really cares about anymore.”

Xander blinked.  “That’s your reassurance?  That Spike isn’t fifty-feet-high-letters-in-neon obvious anymore, so that must mean there’s something there?  Gunn, hit him again.”

“Don’t.”  Angel blocked the swing with a deadly look.  His humor had been worked on and expanded under the merciless teasing of Gunn, Xander, and Cordelia but when he reached his limits, he’d reached them.  “Xander, why don’t you tell us why you’re in the office, hung-over, and looking like Spike dumped you?”

“I thought you said you didn’t realize we were dating,” Xander bit out.

“I didn’t.  Not officially.  But even I notice footsie games when they’re being played under my nose and Spike was pumping me for information for a while.”  He shrugged.  “I’m slow, but not stupid.  Now it’s your turn.”

Oh, great.  Cordelia had successfully girlified them so that they were actually going to talk about his feelings.  Frankly, he’d rather cry.  At least he could wait and do that in the privacy of his own home.  But Gunn was staring at him curiously, since he’d put two and two together just by looking at Xander, and Angel had the ‘I am a huge linebacker and no, I’m not moving until you tell me what I want to know’ look that was so effective when dealing with reluctant people.  Witnesses, clients, it didn’t matter, so long as they were reluctant.

Xander sighed.  “Things’ve been weird for the last, oh, month.  Or maybe more, I don’t know.  We go out, we have fun, we go home.”  To their separate homes, but there was no power on this earth that would make Xander spill that particular secret.  “I noticed the weirdness and waited for a while.  It didn’t go away.  So last night ... last night ... ”

“Last night,” Angel prompted helpfully.

If Gunn hadn’t ruined the possibility of anyone else smacking Angel across the back of his head, Xander would have tried it then.  “Last night, I followed him.  To a bar.  A club, really.  And there were—I mean, I saw—”

Where he saw things he was not going to talk about, except possibly to Cordelia when she inevitably found out, dragged him to her place and threatened him with make-over possibilities until he gave in.

“Excuse me.”

He could always feel him like a presence.  If Spike was in the room, Xander knew.  He could sense it, like a warmth that was two parts cigarette smoke, one part the cologne Spike’d used for so long it was a part of him, and one part something indescribable that just resonated right into Xander’s gut and told him Spike was there.

Standing right in front of him, one hand holding a Gunn that was back to his Southern black angry mama pose away from him and not even bothering to look at the glare Angel was giving him.  He was too busy glaring at Xander.

“You got drunk,” Spike said, his voice harsh and clipped like each word had to fight to free itself from his teeth.  “You saw what you bloody well wanted to see, you took it as proof, and you fucking got drunk.”

“Oh, swearing,” Xander said, the same despair-tinged anger flooding through him at the disappointment in Spike’s voice.  Like he had anything to be disappointed about.  And the vibrating with self-righteousness was just a laugh.  Xander tried, but it came out more like a croak.  “Yeah, that’s classy, Spike.  I’ve got the English and American version, too.  Aren’t I lucky?”

“You’re a fool, is what you are.  And you aren’t gonna listen to a damned thing, are you?  Fine, then.  Let’s go.”

“Whoa, now.”  Wasn’t it nice of Gunn to put himself between Xander and Spike like that?  Good Gunn.  “You think I’m gonna let him anywhere with you?  Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what you’ve been doing, and if you think I’m letting a cheating bastard like you anywhere near Xander, then you got a black eye coming.”

“Xander.”  Spike looked around Gunn like he didn’t exist, eyes focused on Xander.  Made up eyes, with the eyeliner smearing down his cheek.  There was glitter there, too, and the faint remains of what used to be sparkly red lipstick and, okay, those were the same clothes he’d worn last night peeking out from underneath the duster, with the silky white shirt full of artfully created holes and tight leather pants.  Of course, that wasn’t really surprising since Spike probably hadn’t gone to his own home that night.  Why his eye looked like it was slightly blackened Xander didn’t want to know.  “Xander, pet, just come with me, okay?  Lemme get you sobered up and I’ll get me cleaned up, and then we’ll talk, yeah?”

“I am sober.  I was sober last night, too.”  He forced himself to actually look in Spike’s eyes, ignoring Gunn’s repeated threat and Angel’s intense quiet.  Spike could never really lie, not if you knew him well enough.  Except all Xander saw was a crystal vulnerability and desperate worry that made him doubt.  And doubt made his stomach twist into painful discomfort so he banished it as best as he could.  “And we don’t have anything to talk about.”

Angel cleared his throat.  “Xander, maybe—”

“No!  You don’t say shit, you tosser.  This is your fault anyway, you overgrown moron with rocks for sodding feelings.  If I hadn’t listened—”

Angel completely ignored Spike’s tirade.  “Maybe you should go home,” he said firmly.  “And Spike, you should go with him.  You both need to clean up, and Xander you really do need to fully sober up, and then I think the two of you should talk.”

Thank God, there was Gunn, bristling with outrage and looking like he was about to do a lot more than smack Angel across the back of his head.  “You want him to what?  With him?  No way, man.  I don’t know what the hell you’re playing at, but that ain’t happening.”

Angel walked forward with his hand out to Xander.  He was trying to say something with his eyes.  The intense look was kind of a give away, and his eyes didn’t normally protrude that much, either.  So there was a message to be read there.  Probably an important one, if Angel was trying to shove them together when the last thing Xander wanted was to be anywhere near Spike.  Angel could be clueless, but he wasn’t usually insensitive.  So, message. 

Not that Xander had any idea of what the hell it was.

“Xander,” Angel repeated.  “Go home.  Take Spike with you.  Clean up, calm down, and then talk.”


“Xander.  Go home.  With.  Spike.”

Only then did Xander realize that, after his bout of yelling, Spike had gone unnaturally quiet.  Spike wasn’t ever quiet—except if he was really depressed, really surprised, or thinking really hard.  None of those options filled Xander with much happiness.  So add that to Angel’s ‘I am trying to be subtle with this huge ton of bricks I am lobbing at your head’ and Xander gave up.  It wasn’t worth it.  What was a little more humiliation?

And anyway, when Cordelia came back, she’d make Angel pay through the nose for hurting him more.  If Gunn, who was still bristling and practically growling, left anything for her.

“Fine,” Xander sighed, pushing onto his feet.  He wobbled slightly and three hands reached out to steady him.  The palest of the bunch got there first.  Xander stared at it.  Why did Spike’s touch have to feel so good?  It wasn’t like Xander hadn’t been through breakups before.  Even painful, messy ones.  And actually, this didn’t even count as a break up because there was nothing to break up.  Only the things Xander had built in his head and dreams never shattered when they were destroyed.  They just faded.  “I’ll meet you at my place,” he said distantly.

“My car’s back at my place.  I’ll go with you.  Unless you want to drive me.”  The last was a clear challenge to Angel.  Who looked back at Spike with a less than amused expression.  Where oh where did the fumbling, nervous, bumbling Angel go?  And why did that make Xander feel just the slightest bit better inside?

“No.  Go home.  Both of you.  Now.”

Xander shuffled towards the door, stopping dead when he felt a warm hand cup his elbow.  “You’ll fall over if I don’t,” Spike said, adopting the superior tone that made Xander think of blackboards and long wooden pointers.  “Now move, or Angelus’ll rip us both new ones.”

“My name is Angel,” Angel repeated for the five hundredth time as they walked away.

“Your name is Liam,” Spike tossed back.  “You got Angelus the same way I got Spike.  Now piss off and let me take my boy home.”

“I’m not your boy.”  Xander did stumble on an invisible stone as they trampled down the stairs to the garage.  Stupid Spike being all supportive.  And right.

“Shut up and give me the keys.”  Spike sounded more worn, now that the presence of others wasn’t so strong.  Of course, that didn’t mean Gunn and Angel weren’t watching, just that it was harder to, now that they were actually in the garage proper.

“Excuse me?  My car, my apartment, and I am so very driving.”

“If you drive, you’ll crash the damned car into the garage door.  Your vision gets shot to hell when you’re hung over, and you know it.”

Okay, so Xander did know that.  He still clutched the keys, the grooves biting into his palm.  “Like you’re any less hung over than I am.  How many drinks did you let them buy you?”

A muscle in Spike’s jaw twitched.  “They bought me plenty.  Better question is how many did I actually drink, but then, you wouldn’t ask that.  Already made up your mind.”  He made a disgusted noise, shaking his head hard enough that some of the spikes in his hair swayed.  “I’m stone cold sober, more’s the fucking pity, so give me the sodding keys.  Now.”

Sober?  Yeah right.  He wasn’t acting drunk, but Spike could be a fairly decent actor when he put his mind to it, so that didn’t mean anything.  And okay, so his eyes weren’t doing the circling thing that meant Spike’d had more than two drinks, but again, no proof.  Xander had seen Spike put away at least three alcoholic beverages while he stood on the balcony, watching.  At least.  And probably more beside.

“Hey, what the—Spike!”  Xander made a grab at the lithe, thin body that twisted out of his grasp.  There should’ve been laughter after swiping his keys from his hand without Xander even being aware of it, but instead there was only intense quiet.  “Gimme them back!”

“Gimme?  Hell, maybe you are still drunk.  Get in the car, Xander.  Now.”

“So you can regale me with tales of your sluttiness?  Thanks, but oddly, no.  I can live without the humiliation.”

He expected a growl.  Maybe one of those twisted snarls Spike could make when he was enraged.  Maybe even the wounded stillness of an insult hitting the target.  Instead, Xander got a mirthless laugh and his arm grabbed as Spike manhandled him into the car.

Xander didn’t fight, anymore.  He’d never been very good at it, really, and the burst of rage he’d felt the night before when he’d finally confirmed that no, Spike didn’t want him as anything more than a friend, had faded into a low-level ache.  Because Xander would just be a friend to Spike, if that was all Spike wanted.  He’d thought that he’d been up front about that.  Sure, he wanted Spike.  Badly.  He’d been having wet dreams about him from the moment he’d met the vibrant, beautiful man.  But just because he wanted didn’t mean he could have, and he understood that.  What hurt wasn’t that Spike didn’t want him.  It was that Spike had acted like he did.

They didn’t talk as Spike drove like he was on the Daytona track, houses whizzing past them with dizzying speed.  It was easier to close his eyes and pretend he wasn’t brooding—or about to be sick, a common reaction when Spike drove—so he did.  His head still ached and resting his forehead against the cool window pane meant twisting his neck at a funny angle and having his head bounce with every pot hole, acceleration, deceleration, or swerve Spike made.  It didn’t really stop his head from hurting.  Or anything else.

The tires squealed when Spike pulled into his assigned parking spot.  “Come on.  You need some painkillers and a shower and I sure as hell wouldn’t say no to the same.”

Xander opened his eyes, staring at the fake-leather grain surrounding the locking mechanism.  “You don’t have to pretend anymore.  I get it.”

“You get shit.  And I won’t have you turning into Angelus right before my sodding eyes, so get up, let me take care of you, and then we’ll talk.  I hate when you get all sullen and depressed. Move, Xan!”

Xander moved.  He didn’t move fast, but that was mostly because he hated when Spike compared him to Angel.  Normally, he didn’t like it for simple reasons—Angel did brood, a lot, and often felt unreasonably guilty for things he had no control over.  Xander knew he was never quite as bad as Angel, but he could get mopey and sullen, as Spike called it, and he didn’t like the reminder.

Now, though, he had a whole new country full of problems with the comparison.  He knew that Angel and Spike had been lovers.  Both the torrid I-love-you filled romance aspect of it and then the calmer, friends with benefits aspect.  They hadn’t done anything since before Angel came to the States, but that didn’t stop the whispers from starting up.  Did Spike really like anything about him, Xander, or was it the smaller, snarkier copy of Angel that made him attractive?  Was he a substitute because Spike couldn’t have Angel anymore?  Or was Spike playing some kind of sick game with Angel?

Okay, that one really stretched the imagination.  Angel wasn’t subtle enough to play those kinds of mind games, first of all, and Spike could never maintain something for longer than a few days, anyway.  But Xander didn’t care about that.  All he cared about was that there was a shiny new reason to feel miserable and he was grabbing onto it with both hands.

Spike muttered under his breath in English too low for Xander to decipher, arm around Xander’s waist as he hustled them up to the apartment and then into the bathroom.  “You stink,” Spike said when Xander turned disbelieving eyes on him.  “Don’t look at me like that, you stink of sweat and booze.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got the memo, thanks.  I stink.  And the reason you’re stripping clothes off both of us happens to be?”

“Because I want this off me.”

Xander looked up, surprised at the tone of Spike’s voice.  Desperate.  Oddly desperate, and quiet and inward, with an intensity that pulled Xander out of his self pity long enough to see Spike.  Not just the ruined glam from the night before, but the definite black eye forming.  There were scrapes and dark bruises all over Spike’s torso, particularly around the ribs. 

“What, your new boyfriend prefers the rough trade look?”

Spike sneered at him, though his eyes registered hurt.  “You suck at bitter, love.  Go, get in the shower.  Wash up, so I can.”

Xander searched desperately for some kind of excuse for why he didn’t want to do that, but came up blank.  A shower really sounded good.  And then Spike turned on the water, letting the steam pour into the room and Xander knew he was excuse-less.

Asshole.  Xander shoved his pants down, purposefully bending to shove his ass practically in Spike’s face.  He didn’t look at Spike when he stood back up, just stepped into the shower and tried to disappear under the water for a while.

He took too long in the shower.  It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to use up the hot water, just a realization that he was, in fact, hung over.  And when hung over he liked to take really long, really hot showers until the ache behind his eyes faded and he was marginally human again.  He almost forgot why he’d gotten drunk in the first place, so blessed was a hot shower.

He continued to almost forget when he came out, dressed in boxers and a t-shirt, to find the smells he thought he’d been smelling were correct.  Eggs were on the table, toast lightly buttered with the jam Spike knew better than to touch waiting beside it.  A glass full of orange juice sat next to a mug full of coffee, already the milky color that meant three creams had been added.  He knew without tasting that his half-pack of sweetener was in it, too.

Xander ate.  He was hungry, and he could pretend that the sound of the shower was only the sound of himself, eating.  And that when he put his dishes in the dishwasher, there weren’t already two more, indicating that Spike had eaten as well.

And he definitely didn’t think this was a good thing, because that would make him remember Spike, and the new boyfriend who liked rough sex.  Or trade.  Or something that meant bruises and Xander’s stomach twisting around all that lovely food.

So he didn’t.  Instead he cleaned up while the shower continued to run and composed a speech of things he wasn’t thinking about and wouldn’t ever say to Spike.  Ever.

If ‘ever’ happened to be ‘the moment Spike came out of the bedroom, dressed in a pair of Xander’s sweats and nothing else’.

“I think it’s that you didn’t tell me,” he said slowly.  He was facing away from the kitchen, head turned to not look at the body he wasn’t ever going to have again.  He knew Spike had frozen, though.  He could hear the click when Spike swallowed.  “I mean, I figured it out.  You touched me, sure.  Hand holding, the arm thing you do, sometimes you’d even cuddle.  A good night peck.  But nothing else.  So a guy starts to wonder and I wondered.  Two gay men, supposedly all about the getting of rocks off.  Two gay men that include you, who fucked his way from the east coast to the west.  So it pretty much had to be me.”

“Xan, you don’t—”

“Shut up, Spike.”  His voice cracked, but he ignored it.  He had to get this out.  He shut his eyes tightly, knowing that if he opened them and saw Spike’s face, he’d never be able to continue.  “You didn’t want me.  And you know?  That would’ve been okay.  It would’ve.  But you made me think you did Spike.  And then to find out you were so bored with me you had to find the sleaziest bastards a sleazy club like the Matrix could offer?  You couldn’t have just stopped going on dates with me, maybe?  Somehow communicated that nothing sparked?”

He had to stop there.  Anymore and there’d be screaming and potential unmanning, so instead, Xander stopped.  He calmed down.  Then he started counting his breathing, because there was nothing else to do.  In and out, one.  In and out, two.  By the fifteenth in and out he was getting impatient.  So he counted Spike’s.  And made it another fifteen.

“Gonna answer me?” he snapped, still without turning around.

“I told him.  Told him I should tell you what was going on.  That you’re a sodding jealous tosser and this was too new for the kind of shenanigans he wanted.  But oh, no.  No, his high and mighty highness said just do it, it’d be all right.  It’d been months, hadn’t it?  Any problems, and he’d take care of everything.  And me, when I knew better, I fucking went along with it.”

If Xander had actually been thinking of possible responses—and he wasn’t, because that could only lead to more pain and betrayal—that was pretty much nowhere near his top five.  Or ten.  Or the list entirely.

“Huh?”  His body turned without his mind’s consent, glaring at Spike—who was, incidentally, glaring right back at him.  “That’s what you say to all of that?”

Spike snorted, slumping against the wall so that he looked like pure sex.  Well, pure sex and a slightly defeated expression.  “I was on assignment, Xander.  For Angel.  Him that signs our paychecks, yeah?  Those sleazy bastards you saw me cozying up to are bodyguards for our latest client.  He thinks one of ’em’s dirty, selling his boss out to the media and such.  Angel asked me to see if I could pick up any information on who.  Or if.  Which meant I got to play the pretty gay boy all fucking night, sober as a judge because one of them had wandering hands, to make Angel look suave, and then didn’t take bloody no for an answer.”

Spike straightened, gesturing to his bruised torso and eye.  “I got these trying to shove the fucker off me.  By then it’s almost seven in the morning because bodyguards know where the best afters are and wanted to take their new fucktoy to all the sights so he’ll swoon gratefully in their arms.  Except I didn’t, so they kept showing me places, because the one who wanted me—which, by the way, is dirty, and I’ve got enough proof that Angel better be giving me a sodding massive bonus for this—just wouldn’t give up.  Fancied me for more than just a shag, he kept saying.  When I finally do get out, I can’t call anyone cause some arsewipe dumped a cosmo all over my cell.  I’ve got proof I need to sock away quick, before the bodyguard realizes that his easy lay knocked him out and he comes looking for a little payback.”

Did Spike know he was shouting?  Xander was pretty sure he didn’t.  Xander was also trying not to shrink into his dining room table.

“So I come home, dump the stuff, meanwhile all I can think about is the fact that I saw you at the damned club and you looked like I’d ripped your cock off and done a little jig with it.  Made it fucking hard to continue playing the whore when I knew you were home, thinking all kinds of things that weren’t true, and I couldn’t do a damned thing about it, because I was on the triple damned job.”

Xander waited until Spike stopped panting so heavily to speak.  That gave him time to try and gather his scattered, confused thoughts to try and create some kind of cohesive whole.  So ... Spike had been out at the bar that night for a job?  That made more sense than Xander wanted it to.  Because Angel did use Spike when he needed someone to be charmed, regardless of the charmee’s sex.  Spike was sex, and it was a talent he could turn on or off when he needed to.  So Angel used it.  And Xander knew about the rock star case, because he’d been tracking the financials of the body guards involved and—

Okay.  So he’d possibly misunderstood what he’d seen at the club.

Now he was feeling guilty.  Except—hang on.  “Fine,” he said as calmly and neutrally as he could.  “You were on the job.  Angel didn’t tell me because he’s Angel. You didn’t tell me because, oh, there wasn’t enough time for you to, what, go home and get changed before heading to the club?  Okay.  I get that.  I was at the courthouse with Gunn until almost seven, anyway, and when we got back Angel said—” Angel said something about the club Spike had gone to.  Just in passing.  Totally casual, like it was the furthest thing from his mind, totally inconsequential to him.

Because it probably was.  Because Angel did things like that, all the time, and all of them—even Cordelia—got so swept up in the misunderstanding that they forgot to double check the source.

As a detective agency, they should really all know better.

Also, that wasn’t Xander’s point.

“What Angel said isn’t important,” he said hurriedly, hoping to cover his lapse and forge ahead.  The raised eyebrow Spike gave him said no, but whatever.  He was forging.  “Even if I believe that you were out on a case, that still doesn’t explain why you never seem to—to want me.  To be more than just the guy you go drinking with and to movies with and to dinner with and all the other things.  Because if that was all you wanted?  Then you should’ve stopped calling it a date, Spike.  You should’ve—”

“Told you, a long time ago.  Hoping I wouldn’t have to.”

That was ominous.  Cut out of the beginning of his descent into depression-land, Xander jerked his head up, angry all over again.  “That what, you’ve got some communicable disease?  You’re really a girl?”

“Well, at least I got you spitting, again.”  Sauntering over—and there was really nothing else to call that hip-swaying, chest-highlighting walk but a saunter—Spike stopped well inside Xander’s personal space.  Practically nose to nose.  He could even feel Spike’s body heat.  “Do you really think I don’t want you?”

“Would I be standing here, reenacting scenes from Cordelia’s romance novels if I didn’t?”

“Then you’re a moron.  S’okay.  I like morons.”

Hands on his shoulders.  No, wait, one hand on his shoulder, the other was cupping the back of his head.  And then there were lips.  Soft lips, smooth, and pressed against his.  Moving.  And then there was a tongue, stroking his lips, so gently it was like Spike was afraid he might shatter, which was a pretty good assessment because Xander’s arms were around Spike’s waist—naked waist, with warm, touchable skin—and now there was a tongue that tasted like toothpaste inside his mouth and that was when Xander’s brain shut off.

He’d always known kissing Spike would be amazing.  Practice really did make perfect and Xander knew there’d been a hell of a lot of practice in Spike’s twenty-seven years of life.  The reality of it, though—that was different.  That was mind blowing.  Spike was every bit as talented and creative as Xander had daydreamed about, but it wasn’t the mechanics that made Xander weak in the knees.  It was the emotion.

Love.  Want.  Affection.  Exasperation.  Worry.  Fear.  Love.  Want.  Love.

When they eventually broke apart, Spike rested his forehead against Xander’s, holding onto Xander just as tightly as Xander held onto him.  “Thought you knew,” he said.  “Thought you understood.  Wrong of me, that was.  Made you go through hell, I bet, with me wondering what the hell’d drove you craze without once thinking it could’ve been something that simple.”

“Huh?”  He wasn’t eloquent when kissed like that.  Or ever, but at least now he had an excuse.

Spike kissed him again, full of the same love and want and hungry, craving need that Xander felt.  “Most of my life, sex came long before the relationship.  Can’t actually think of a time it didn’t.  Never been on dates when getting my end away wasn’t a sure thing.  Or letting whomever get theirs.  Never spent time with anyone just to spend time with ’em.  All I thought about was the sex—and I didn’t want that with you.”

Xander pulled back enough that he could see two blue eyes instead of one.  “You mean you don’t want to have sex with me?”

Spike sighed, shook his head, and then bestowed the most mind-numbing kiss Xander had ever experienced.  Through the course of which, Spike pressed his body completely against Xander’s, leaving Xander with either the possibility that he was being expertly played—or that he’d totally read the situation wrong.  Really wrong. 

Because Spike was really hard.

“Of course I want you,” Spike said forcefully.  “Christ, it’s been all I think of, the last few weeks.  But I wasn’t—I wanted—”

This time, Xander kissed Spike, cradling the back of his head while he memorized the taste of his mouth and the feel of his teeth and tongue.  “You know, usually the talking thing Cordy’s always nagging us about?  Is annoying.  But I think we probably should’ve maybe mentioned this.”

Spike flushed a little, but moved even closer.  “So you—”

More kissing.  This was getting kind of addictive.  Especially when Spike made that groan in the back of his throat and rocked his hips into Xander’s.  Oh, god, the hot.  The hot Xander had always wanted, and now that he knew it was there, was going to push it away.  In a minute.  Or three.  Or—

Gently disentangling himself from Spike, Xander forced him a step away.  “So I get it.  And it’s okay.”  He wasn’t going to say ‘he could wait’.  He could and, more importantly, would wait.  He just wasn’t going to say it.  “It’s really okay.  Just next time you’ve got this personal goal that somehow involves me, maybe let me know?  So I stop torturing myself and jumping to binge-drinking conclusions?”

Spike laughed, so full of relief and joy that Xander knew he wasn’t being played.  He was being loved.  Albeit confusingly—but that was what it was.  Spike wanted him.  Not (just) sex with the body he wore, but all the things a man who jumped into bed with anything that wiggled never wanted to know about it.  All the things that made Xander into who he was, instead of the genetics that made him look the way he did.

Yeah.  Xander could wait for that.

When they showed up for work the next morning, holding hands and unable to be more than a foot or two apart, Gunn heaved a huge sigh before smirking at them and even Angel looked relieved.  Xander ignored it.  He was too busy watching Spike search for his favorite pen—which Xander had hidden in his desk; a petty trick he’d played on Spike the day before and felt absolutely no compunction to tell Spike about.

Gunn saying, “You two finally did it,” wasn’t very ignorable.

Spike turned one of those thoroughly British, amazingly smug looks on Gunn.  Abandoning his search for his pen—and it really was a nice pen, a graduation gift from his grandmother—Spike smirked right back at Gunn, proving how inferior Gunn’s smirk really was.  “Izzat what you think, mate?”

“Well, since the two of you were about to kill each other when you left yesterday and now you’re acting like members of the Brady Bunch.  If they weren’t all related and were gay.”

“Gunn?  You really need to work on your analogies,” Xander laughed.

“Find me something suitably whitebread enough and gay and I’ll use it,” Gunn shot right back.  “So come on.  Spill.  What happened?”

Spike looked at Xander for a long moment, silent questions and answers passing between them.  “What happened,” Xander said slowly, “is that Angel is a moron.”

“Hey, I—”  Angel flinched and started looking for exits; Spike’s glare promised intensely painful retribution.  “Um.  Okay, I may, in fact, be a moron.  This time.  But it all worked out okay, didn’t it?  You’re back to being sickeningly sweet, and gooey enough to glaze cinnamon rolls, and I got the proof I needed.  Everybody’s a winner, right?”

“Wait a minute, proof?  What proof are we talking about here?”  While Gunn cornered Angel, Xander looked back over to Spike.  Who was looking surprised, instead of satisfied at having riled Angel, or pissed at not having riled Angel enough.

Xander scooted his chair closer.  “What’s up?”

Long fingers slipped into his own, threading comfortably.  “I think we need to kill a certain brunet when she gets back from her vacation in the sun.”

Xander frowned.  Killing—or trying to kill—Cordelia usually backfired.  Spectacularly.  And painfully, for everyone involved except Cordelia.  “Why?”

Spike winked at him, raising his voice to be heard over Gunn’s pestering.  “Oi!  Angelus!  How much do you owe the cheerleader out of this little deal?”

Gunn stopped talking.  Angel sighed the sigh of the woebegone and poor.  “We were up to double or nothing.  I owe her an entire month’s paycheck.”

Entire paycheck.  Xander turned that phrase over in his mind, contemplating the scariness of it.  Cordelia was the office manager, so her pay was actual good-money salary instead of the tiny salary plus commission that the guys all got.  So if she was willing to forgo all of it, ignoring the starlets she wanted to hang out with and all the things she wanted to buy, that meant talking.  Lots of it.

Not only had Xander talked to her about his love-life, but Spike had, too.  And she’d put it together the way she always did—except instead of telling both of them they were morons and why, she’d gone to Angel. 

Angel of the no acting skills.  Angel of the no people skills.  Angel of the always-losing-a-bet skills.

Thank God Cordelia hadn’t left the planning to Angel.  The whole break up to make up had a Chase flare to it.  Thank God she was never wrong about relationship advice, either.  It was really weird, manipulative, money-making relationship advice, but if she’d been wrong ...

“Oh yeah,” Xander growled.  “Dead Cordy.”

And after they killed her, though, he was going to have to take her to lunch somewhere.  One of the best somewhere’s.  With chocolate, maybe flowers, and his most heartfelt gratitude.  Because Spike was worth it.  Spike was pretty much worth anything.