Rain in Pittsburgh was different than in Sunnydale.  It never really got grey in California, even during the rainy season, hints of sunshine always peeking through.  Pittsburgh was grey.  From the sky that looked like a chalk-board, thick and unmoving with random swirls from an uncleaned eraser adding texture but not relief, to the grey roads underfoot.  The buildings were all grey, even the big one that looked like a castle, its shining mirrored plates dull and nonreflective, and forget about the ones that had started out white or red.  Even the cars were grey, the rain hissing and pattered like a demented shower, streaking over everything it touched until it, too, was grey.  Grey concrete, grey walls, grey people in their trench-coats and hats, grey puddles people stopped avoiding because there wasn’t any way not to.

The rivers were grey, too, but there was enough yellow mixed in its muddy waves that he didn’t look at it that often.  Water, water, everywhere and no way in hell was he going to swim there.

The cold was a shock, but where others bitched that in another week or two this was going to be snow, Xander looked forward to it.  He’d only seen snow a few times in his life, outside of television shows, and he had plans to find one of the parks people mentioned so he could make a snowman, when it finally did turn to snow.  Just for the hell of it.  His co-workers thought he was nuts, since they already knew that real snow was grey, too, covered in crap from cars and people and the few bums and animals that were desperate enough to leave whatever shelter they’d found.  Xander knew all that, too.  But he also knew how important illusions were

He was here on a job, of course.  Overseeing a development where steel mills used to be, breaking up the last piece of history the city could claim, and then supplying it with the only means of making money it had left: tourism.  They’d become a nation of tourists and Pittsburgh wasn’t exactly high in the historical significance area.  So he built arcades for twenty-somethings and restaurants for people to waste their middle-management dollars buying drinks, ignoring the teeming mass of college kids that came down to populate the restaurants that were already up.  Who knew that Pittsburgh had so many damned colleges, or that it would hurt Xander so much each time he saw those spoiled, innocent faces, demanding whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it?

His coworkers accused him of hiding, saying if he wasn’t at the site, then he was hiding in his downtown loft, and he was still a young’un, wasn’t he?  Actually what they said was very nearly unintelligible, sometimes, since there really was a Pittsburgh accent and it was scary.  Full of words like ‘yuns’, whatever that meant, and this disconcerting habit of placing ‘’n’at’ after everything.  And who knew there were multiple ways to say ‘hot’?  But they constantly ribbed him about being an old man at twenty two, although rarely went farther.  The story of where he’d come from—fiancé lost in that weird earthquake that swallowed an entire town—had circulated through the firm and people didn’t press that hard.  Even the two secretaries that had decided he needed a Momma, one of them with an eye to something more, later, didn’t press when he said ‘no’.

Although that could’ve been because he was developing a reputation for having a temper.  Just because he’d chewed out the one kid who Xander had caught stealing. . .

It wasn’t a bad life, over all.  Chatted nights and weekends on his cellphone, sometimes spent a few extra bucks to say hi to Buffy and Giles over in England.  He’d spot a newly-created Slayer every so often, which didn’t surprise him so much as make him sad.

“How many this time?” Willow would ask whenever he called.

“What, I can’t call to just to say hi to my best friend?”

“You could, of course, but you never do.  So how many this time?”

“Two.  Took ’em out last night.  Briana’s gonna be trouble; she’s got ‘religion’.”

That was a problem Willow and her new private school were running into.  Everything else was fairly easy—a ready-made principle and a boat-load of cash, since Giles had access to the Council’s former funds, were damned useful—so they all accepted it as their karmic retribution.

“Actually, Faith thinks she’s got a way around that.  I’m letting her handle it, for now.  She’s had success with Heather, and by the way, next time you might want to let us know that she was Jewish!”

“What, a name like Heather Shapiro wasn’t a dead give-away?  C’mon, Wills, you’re giving up your Hebrew cred!”  But his mind wasn’t on the jab.  “How’s Kennedy?”

“Still recovering,” Willow said dismissively.  “Faith beat her up pretty badly, but no broken bones or anything, so she’ll be fine in a few more weeks.”

Xander tried not to smirk, wondering how Faith was going to handle a fiery redhead.  He was pretty sure she was up to the task, though.

He did go out to bars, occasionally.  Pittsburgh was a good bar-town, full of lots of places that advertised solely through the blinking neon sign proclaiming whatever the cheapest beer was.  People didn’t talk too much.  And if they did, it was more like: “Man, you see that pass Maddox threw yesterday?  What a fuckin’ wuss.  Cowher’s gone next year, betcha ten bucks.”

“Yeah, right, the Rooney’s are never getting rid of him.  Kept for Knoll for twenty years, didn’t they?  Now, Lemiuex, he needs to just get the hell out.”

A town with a sport for every month of the year was an interesting place to listen to.

“Xander, why don’t you move to San Francisco?” Dawn asked every time he called.  “I’m sure we can find you a boyfriend there.”

He didn’t regret telling Dawn.  She knew how to keep a secret and wouldn’t mutter about losing-his-ex-fiancé-trauma and maybe he just needed to get laid, the way he knew Buffy would.  She did try to find boyfriends for him, long distance, but that was amusing enough to be tolerated.

“Because then I can torment the future yenta by denying her training,” he’d quip, then steer the conversation onto her classes or the latest boy she was chasing.  Dawn was always happy to talk about herself.

Xander avoided most of the gay bars in Pittsburgh—three transvestites a fun time does not make—but there was a diner he liked on Liberty Ave.  Not close enough to Babylon to scream ‘fag’, but the proximity was oddly comforting, so Xander ate a lot of meals down there.  Even started patrolling down there, since he liked the owner and it was close to Babylon.

Wandering up and down the blocks in the rain wasn’t fun, and he’d been propositioned three times already that night.  Kind of insulting, since he didn’t look strung-out or pregnant, the usual patrons of this particular stretch of road, nor was he wearing bad eighties clothes.  Not too much vamp activity, since he’d cleaned out the nest a few nights ago, but that wasn’t why Xander stayed down here.


That was.

Three guys, all drunk and bigger than he was.  “Hey, guys.  Can I join in?”

“Fuck off!”  Such polite people, these Pittsburghers.  Gay-basher number one kicked the curled up form at his feet, producing a pained groan.  “’Less y’wanna be next.”


That startled the drunks, who turned to peer blearily at him.  “Huh?”

“I want to go next.  Or maybe I can cut in?  You don’t mind, do you?” he asked the prone form.  He couldn't see much, just a black coat and little blood, but it didn’t look too serious.  The rain was washing it away.  “C’mon, be a pal.  Share and share alike, right?”

“Bastard didn’t wanna play,” gay-basher number two—distinguished by an appalling mullet, flat and scraggy from the rain—muttered.  “We fuckin’ paid.”

Screw it.  Banter had long ago lost its fun, so Xander didn’t speak as he punched and kicked like he actually knew what the hell he was doing.  Which he kind of did—apparently vamp-training was useful when you were up against humans, particularly the drunk, bullying kind.  They scattered after Xander broke gay-basher-number-one’s nose, trailing insults and booze-breath in their wake.

Xander ignored them, crouching next to the bashee.  “Hey, you okay?  Anything broken?”  He didn’t touch, just used a soothing voice to try and convince the guy to uncurl a little.  “There’s a clinic not too far from here; they don’t ask questions and I’ve got a couple of bucks, if you need.  It’s not much, and it’s not payment for anything, just a chance to get you some—”

The form slowly uncurled, revealing dyed hair and a bruised and battered face that Xander had no trouble recognizing.

“Still the fucking white-hat,” Spike ground out, ignoring Xander’s belated attempt to help him sit up.  He touched his face gingerly, patting his nose and grimaced when he encountered flesh already beginning to swell.  He looked like a drowned rat in the rain, his lips tinged blue.  “Least the bastards didn’t break it.  An’ I fucking gave them what they wanted.”

Spike.  Alive.  Well, he knew Spike was alive, because Buffy had said that he’d left voluntarily, because— “The trigger!  You’re still—!”

“The First’s still around?”  Spike butt-slid backward, looking around wildly like the First was going to loom up somewhere, humming whatever the trigger had been to turn Spike into a psycho.

The utter panic cleared Xander’s head and he put a calming hand on Spike’s arm.  “No, no, the First’s gone.  Buried under what used to be Sunnydale.”

Spike calmed slowly, eyes blinking rapidly to clear away drops of rain, scanning the area like he couldn’t be sure.  That, more than anything, told Xander that Buffy hadn’t been lying or putting on a brave face on anything.  Spike had left to protect them, no more and no less.

“Heard about that.  Knew she could do it.  She—she’s okay, then?”

Now was not the time to talk about Angel, an amulet, and Angel’s attempts to become corporeal again, not when Spike was sounding like his hope of the future rested on the answer.  Like he could handle living in Pittsburgh, turning tricks for a living, so long as Buffy had saved the day.  No—so long as she was happy.

“Come on,” he said, holding out his hand.  Spike didn’t even look at it, eyebrows lifted so he looked absurdly young and desperate, needing the answer.  “Yes, she’s fine.  She’s over in England with Giles, at the moment.  Look, I’ll tell you all about it, later.  When we’re dry.”

Hearing only the important parts, Spike’s eyes closed for a moment.  Let his lips part in what Xander knew had to be a prayer of thanks, tension draining from his body to leave him limp and joyous on the ground, a fallen angel given reprieve.

It looked—final.  Scarily so.  “You aren’t going to take a walk in the sun, are you?  Not that we have sun, anymore.”

“Still haven’t lost your touch for the inappropriate, have you, Harris.”  Spike opened his eyes slowly, zeroing in on the patch Xander had really hoped he’d missed.  Not sure how Spike could’ve, though, big and black over his left eye, even with the rain obscuring everything.  “That from the fight?”

“Sort of.  Will you get up?  I’m cold and my apartment’s warm.”  He offered his hand again, not particularly happy that his mouth had chosen to sound annoyed, but watching Spike just let go like that was disturbing.  “Spike?”

This time Spike’s eyebrows quirked in confused amusement that always came out sardonic.  Eyebrow-language was an inexact science, but Xander was pretty sure he was reading Spike correctly.  “Not going with you, Harris.  Got a place, not far from here.”

“Uh huh.  And would this be a card-board box, or are you in an actual dumpster?”  He could guess where Spike was ‘living’ and no way in hell was he going to let him go back to the lovely spot where the hookers too poor to get a place always ended up.  Didn’t take a genius to figure out what Spike was doing, although how he’d ended up in Pittsburgh was a story Xander wanted to hear.

“Thanks for letting me know,” Spike said, which was no answer at all, but then he was getting up and heading back down the alley.  The other direction.

“What—Spike, what are you doing?  I’m offering you a place to stay!”

Spike kept walking, although not fast enough that Xander couldn’t catch up.  “S’okay, Harris.  I’ve got a place.  I’m good.”  Which far more polite than his usual ‘sod off’, but Xander heard the dismissal all the same.

Nu uh, his mind said.  There was a great big two-bedroom apartment that rattled emptily whenever he was in it, no matter how warm and cheery the decor, and this was Spike.  And why that said ‘friend’ in his head, Xander had no idea, but it did.  “I’ll hire you.”

Spike stopped.  “Please.  Like Anya’d appreciate you havin’ a cabana boy.”

“Anya’s dead.  One—one of the Bringers.”  Mac-truck running over his lungs every time he had to say those words, glass shards tearing through the lining of his throat.  “It’s just me.”

“Sorry.”  Spike really did sound sorry, too, quiet in the way he should never be.  It was just as disturbing as the pose from before, which possibly explained why Xander said what he said next.

“Two weeks,” Xander offered.  When in doubt, go with what you know, and he really doubted this part of Spike had changed.  “Room, board, two hundred bucks a day, cash.”

Spike glimmered in the street lights, his leather coat reflective from wet, halo-like.  Ethereal.  Xander didn’t move, too soaked to whine about a little more, holding his breath.  No idea why this was so important, but it was, and he was going to get Spike to come back home with him, even if he had to be a john.  Wouldn’t be the first time.

Somehow, that communicated to Spike, because he nodded and turned around.

The rain washed down over everything, muting it and evening it out until there was nothing but the rain.  Noah would be called upon soon, but that was okay.  His apartment was on the tenth floor, and by the time the waters got that high, Xander was pretty certain he could’ve build a boat.

“Nice place,” Spike commented after he was invited in.  It was nice.  Spacious and open, wooden floors everywhere and a modern-looking faux-stone for the walls.  Paintings picked for their bright colors made it a friendly place, plushy furniture inviting.  Xander didn’t have an ounce of decorating sense in him, but Anya had and he’d remembered the things she liked.

“Bathroom’s down the hall, towels right outside the door.  You can borrow my clothes for a while.  Where do you get your blood?  I’ll set up an order.”  The words were quiet, like he’d offered Spike a shot at being a roommate and nothing more, which, come to think of it, didn’t sound that bad either.  People in Pittsburgh had been perfectly willing to make friends with him, but this was the first time Xander had felt the urge to do the same since he’d left Sunnydale.

“Butcher on Murray.  S’closed now, though, don’t worry about it.”

“Name?”  He could hear Spike wandering around, saw him pick things up then carefully place them back in their original positions.


Xander dug up the number and wrote a note reminding him to call tomorrow.  “Hey, go shower.  You’ve got to be freezing.”

Spike stood in the center of the living room, dripping all over Xander’s hardwood floors.  His hair had started drying and curled around his head, making him look like a black stem full of dandelion seeds.  He was chewing on his lower lip, a movement that looked habitual, though Xander couldn’t ever remember Spike doing that before.  He looked nervous—or like he was trying hard not to look nervous.  “So what’m I doing to earn my two hundred bucks a day, plus room an’ board?”

Xander shrugged, hoping he got the nonchalant air right.  Peeling off his jacket, he laid it over the heater rather than hang it up wet in the closet.  “Well, what do you normally do to earn two hundred a night?”

Startling Spike was something Xander used to take great pleasure in, and he felt just a little tingle of that old superiority now.  Not a lot, since he had actually grown up some, since they’d last seen each other, but enough that he wasn’t feeling awkward anymore.  He knew Spike couldn’t hurt him, couldn’t even mug him and grab his cash, not that the soul would probably let him.  Any way Spike wanted to play this was okay, even if it meant he’d waste 1400 dollars, plus whatever blood and clothes were going to cost him.  The job was profitable and it wasn’t like he spent lots of money on partying; he could afford two weeks of Spike mooching.

“Bring a lot of hookers up here, do you?”  Spike hadn’t moved, wasn’t even looking at him.  “Looks like you can afford ’em.”

“I can.  And just one.”

“Girl or boy?”


“Ah.  Well, then.”

Boggling, how Spike could just switch like that, from soaked and bedraggled and more than a little pathetic, to something that was all things sexy and desirable at once.  He moved like he was floating, slithering sinuously over the floor to take Xander’s hand and lead him back to the bathroom, not once asking for directions.  Turned on the taps before stripping himself, quick almost rough, economical movements, before undressing Xander far more slowly and gently.  Not enough that Xander felt like he was some fragile figurine, but definitely with more care.

The water was hot, almost too hot against his chilled body, but Spike had grabbed the soap and it was easy to just stand there and let Spike wash the grey from his body, leaving him warm and pink and relaxed.  Leaned up against the wall when Spike pressed his shoulders, spreading his legs without thinking about it.  He’d done this often enough with Anya that the patterns were ingrained, but this time he kept his eyes open.  Wanted to see Spike opening his mouth, dragging his tongue over Xander’s cock, licking it like a cat until it was hard and ready.

Spike sucked him slow and sweet, bobbing up and down to a rhythm that was thick as molasses, and warm like tea.  Hands on his balls massaged more than teased, making Xander wonder just what Spike would be like as a masseuse and if that was covered under the two hundred.  Spike’s hair was soft and silky under his fingers, constantly beaten down by the shower and keeping them both warm.  His mouth was big, bigger than Anya’s or Jimmy’s, the guy he’d hired when he was drunk and alone and not sure if he was just screwed up or really gay, and god, could Spike suck.  Slow, steady pulling along Xander’s cock, without a single pause for unneeded breath or even more unneeded speech.  Just tongue and teeth and lips rubbing up and down.

They stayed there until the water grew cool, Spike taking him into the back of his throat and swallowing as a finale.  Vampires apparently never spit.  Quickly washing himself, Spike dried them both and moved them into the bedroom, again directing as if he’d always lived with Xander.  The lack of walls probably helped, but Xander was feeling too mellow to worry about anything.  Fell into bed when Spike pushed him into it, rolling onto his back and staring down the length of his own body.

Spike settled between his legs, head cocked and considering.  He wasn’t asking anything that Xander could understand, and Xander wasn’t sure he could answer whatever it was, anyway.  He was feeling calm and mellow, body play-doh pliable and warm for the first time in weeks.  Spike abruptly nodded, seeing something in Xander’s eyes, who knew how it got there, and climbed up onto his hands and knees.  A feather-light kiss, lips to lips, and then Spike was moving over him, tonguelipshandsfingers touching all the right places, finding them effortlessly, and soon Xander was groaning on the bed, writhing as Spike worked a finger inside him.

“Done this before, have you?  Figured I’d get a shock by now.  Would you like that, Harris?  Watch me screw my face up even while I pressed inside of you, both of us screaming as I fuck you good and sweet?  But it’s not gonna hurt, is it?  Know the way you played, getting yourself open and ready just for me.  All those years, Harris, you’ve been wanting this, hard and thick inside you, split open and hot inside.  Gonna give it to you, pet.  Gonna make you scream for it.”

There wasn’t even a twinge when Spike finally slid inside, the stretching burn as desired as the sparks that flew when Spike found the right angle.  Spike twisted him up, kneeling so Xander’s weight was on his shoulders, hips not even touching the bed as Spike fucked him the way he’d blown him, achingly slow.  Xander gave up the ability to speak coherently, just let his body be pushed and pulled and fucked until he was a babbling mass of need, his orgasm riding low in his gut.  Spike whispered things to him, words dripping with lust the way Xander dripped ketchup all over his fries, thick and sweet, filling his mind the way Spike’s cock filled his body.

“Wound so tight, weren’t lying when you said the once, were you?” Spike crooned, lowering his belly so Xander had something to thrust against.  “Come for me, Xander.  Come all over me.  Wanna be covered in you, hot and salty, rubbing it into me, marking me’s yours.  Yours, Xan, mark me as yours, come all over me.”

He stopped breathing when his body finally released, the pulsing between his legs pulling energy from wherever it could find.  He painted stripes down Spike’s chest and belly, white stripes that matched the white stars that still filled in his vision.  Spike stayed hard inside him, pulling out only when Xander finally caught his breath.  Then he slid, easing out and taking Xander’s hand in compensation, rubbing it over the damp of Spike’s chest until Xander caught on and worked every last bit of the viscous fluid into Spike’s skin.

Spike’s eyes were closed, lips parted for soft breaths when Xander stopped.  Exhaustion plucked with insistent fingers, but Spike was still hard, obviously not expecting to get himself off, content now that Xander was.  And Xander had a flash of things Buffy had told him, suddenly seeing all the cracks and badly-done patches that held Spike together.  It made him sad and gave him the energy to wrap a hand around Spike’s cock, jacking it hard and slow.

“Wanna see you come,” he murmured when Spike looked at him, ignoring the surprise and the tiny flash of hope, quickly replaced with lust.  “All over you.” 

Spike’s cock twitched seconds later, ropes of come mixing with the sheen Xander’s had left behind.  The control was breathtaking, but the picture was even prettier.  Spike looked good covered in come, pink mouth wide and eyes pressed close.  Without prompting, Xander rubbed that in, too, massaging it deep until Spike was making a low, rumbling noise in utter contentment.

Xander fell asleep to that noise, too sated to wonder just what the hell he was doing.