The transition to ‘friend’ surprises him.  Oh, not with the witches.  They’re sweet things, and once they’re certain that he’s not going to go running to the first patch-work demon—amazing what a geas does for trust—to ‘save’ him, they’re perfectly content including him in their circle.  They bake him cookies and if they don’t come visit him that often, they’re always genuinely glad to see him. 


Giles is resigned to it, and cautiously interested in sharing memories of home.  He tests the geas constantly, searching for weak spots and monkey-paw clauses that could backfire.  Spike tries to tell him that it’s not a curse, the way Angel’s is, and he doesn’t have a soul.  Just a compulsion to help, and a mandate that he’s not to betray the ones he helps to evil.  That’s all.  But Giles has to test and retest and Spike figures there’s no harm in letting him. 


It’s always amusing to watch the Mr. and Mrs. Rupert Giles routine, anyway; Anya’s taken the wifely bit to heart and since she’s the demon, she feels she should have more say then a former wizard who’s let his skill get so shockingly bad.  They’re a hoot and a half together, and it’s better for Spike to be over at the store, anyway.  If he’s not, sometimes, they forget about him, or forget to tell him something.  It’s not intentional, he’s just not ... that important.


The fresh scones’n’blood and the London Times that often await him while Giles does his magical whatsit aren’t bad, either.


Buffy’s harder to pin down, of course.  He’s not her friend, and probably never will be, for all her little sis adores him and begs him to be her babysitter.  He’s a partner, though, and Buffy trusts him implicitly after the two of them stop Glory.  He’d thought, way back in that hazy time before he sought out the mage, that this would let her love him.  That she’d take the physical partnership they’d always had, the wits they always matched, and let it change into the emotion he’d longed for.  But once he’d visited the mage the need for Buffy just vanishes.  He still cares for her, still wants to match her in so many ways, but he’s not desperate for her anymore.  The hunger to take is gone, leaving in its place the kind of warm affection she desperately needs.  She blooms as she comes to trust his platonic intentions, and it’s his support she clings to when things go wrong.


Spike’s fascinated to realize that he’s Father Confessor to a Slayer, a role Giles no longer fills and her friends can’t fathom.


Even more so to realize that, for whatever reason, it’s something he loves to do.


The geas isn’t a soul, Giles is certain of that, but it feels like one.  He doesn’t brood and regret the things he’s done, for he’s not Angel, but the need to stop himself from doing that is stronger than the stated inability to betray the Slayer and her friends.  It’s not atonement, or a need for expiation and forgiveness, either, and Spike’s increasingly poetic vocabulary always runs out around this time and he’s left feeling uncomfortably waiting for something he can’t identify.  Whatever it is, it leaves Spike a little quieter sometimes, a little calmer a lot of times, and aware of things a little more deeply.


So it is a surprise, when it happens.  A good one.

The meeting is running long and Xander’s making faces at him, black eyes bright as he keeps them from falling face-first into their respective tomes.  Tara’s talking softly with Anya—there’s an unlikely friendship, with Willow still not sure what to make of it, but happy that Tara is—discussing the palm reading they want to set up, while Giles hunts for the passage he needs Buffy to read.  They’re scattered through the Magic Box, curled up like kittens where ever it pleases them, and Xander happens to be perched above Dawn enough that her presence is added fun to their game.  How long can Xander play (without Spike cracking up) before Dawn notices?


Not long, apparently, as Xander executes a particularly gruesome face and Spike’s giggles spill out, frothy and light, Dawn’s eye-rolling amusement breaking Xander of his concentration as he too starts laughing.


And then comes to sit on the floor by Spike’s feet, leaning against the sofa cushions while he explains to an amused Buffy what he’s been doing.


It’s an effort to let the laughter die away naturally.  Even more not to move his legs, although he’s not certain which way he wants to move them.  Closer, to the waves of heat that Spike craves?  Their friendship is one of two men who have no other males around, spent on everything the girls can’t or won’t share.  As they grow closer, the little touches Xander bestows upon his friends are now his to receive as well.  They’re insouciant, unconscious, an arm around his shoulders when solidarity is needed, a hand to the small of his back when it’s support, and all the little things he knows Xander doesn’t understand mean so much to him.  The warmth of absentminded affection, truer for being so casual, has Spike trembling and scared as William ever was.


So.  Not closer.  But should he move away?  Would that give his discomfort away?  Let Xander understand how much Spike wants, but cannot ever ask?  He doesn’t think Xander would grow offended, as he used to, but he would worry.


It’s now, when his mind whirls, that he’s certain the geas is more than just a compulsion.  There’s too much inside him of what used to be—the selfish pleasure of being worried over, even as he despairs that he causes Xander any worry at all; the confusion of wanting more, but knowing that if that never comes he is content to be only Xander’s friend.  Stilted thoughts, formal and difficult to put into words, paralyze him, as they always do, until Xander gives him a confused look and pops up onto the couch beside Spike.


“Hey.  Wanna get out of here?  Giles is giving you fish eyes.”


Startled, Spike looks to see that Giles is not, in fact, giving him anything like fish eyes.  Those sea-grey eyes are knowing and sympathetic.  Spike is grateful he can’t flush, especially when Anya makes a pleased noise and leans forward to whisper something to Giles.  About Spike, of course.  Their flickering eyes give that up easily, though Xander is—always and ever—clueless.


He’s not sure, precisely, when he realized how much he wants Xander.  He only knows that Xander will never want him that way, and that he must never let Xander know.  To destroy what he has, for the sake of unrequited affections. . . no.  He’s done that before, ta, and he’s already changed enough in the last two years to need another catalyst.


He manages a sneer at Giles, trying to express how much he resents the intrusion, before turning to Xander.  “Sure.  Could do with some more dosh.”


Xander’s amused expression turns into a glare.  “Hey!  I didn’t say anything about pool!”  When Spike only raises an eyebrow at him the glare turns into a scowl.  “Just because you’ve got a hundred years of experience on me.”


The girls laugh, as sure as Spike is that Xander’s not the least bit concerned about his unbroken losing streak against Spike.  The two of them are getting a name as hustlers in the pool halls they go to, since Xander is perfectly happy to set them up so Spike can take them down, any profits split evenly.  Soon they won’t be able to play against any but the truly ignorant ones, but they’re all right with that too.  So long as they hold to Spike’s decree to never play for more than fifty dollars, anyway.


“Oh, go on,” Anya says when Xander’s scowl hasn’t abated.  “You’re not doing anything useful.  Although that monkey face you made was particularly hideous.  You should come back, later.  It might work to scare out our mice-infestation.”


That prompts a chorus of ews and Dawn looking up interestedly from her homework.  Before they can hear what plans those sparkling blue eyes are hiding, Spike is up and stalking out of the store with an outraged Xander trailing behind.


“So?  Where do you want to go?”  He’s got his tough-guy on, purposefully swinging his hips so the coat flares with every steps, sneer locked and in place, hands already groping for his cigarettes.  He’s always very Spike after Xander startles him into realizing, again, how much he wants and cannot have.  “You really want to play pool?”


“Nope.  Home, James.”


Home?  As in Xander’s home?  It’s not unusual for the two of them to end up there, of course, but movie nights are always started somewhere else, meeting on neutral ground so that Spike is never left knocking at the door like the callow, insecure git he knows he is.  But Xander isn’t suggesting a stop at the mart, or the liquor store, just back to his place as if there’s nothing at all strange about inviting your one and only guy friend home, where things Spike won’t let himself imagine might occur.


He’s glad vampires don’t sweat.  Sweaty palms and the two bright pink spots he used to get on his face wouldn’t do much for his image of cool.


The walk is quiet, companionable in its occasional comment.  It gives Spike a chance to calm down and remind himself that he does this sort of thing almost every night, or at least a good percentage of the each week, and that it’s good.  Surprisingly, enjoyably good spending time with Xander.  Concentrating on that, the whispered mantra of friend, he’s my friend, and the resulting flush of pride and pleasure works its usual magic and he’s able to smile at Xander’s crack about his neighbor without any strain, waiting to follow Xander inside.


“Sit,” Xander tosses as he heads to the kitchen.  “I’ll get you a beer.  Find something on tv?”


This is normal, comfortable, and so long as Spike ignores the thrill of being so accepted, easy enough to do.  He sits, well, sprawls, over Xander’s overstuffed blue sofa, snagging the remote and flicking through the millions of channels cable offered with a bored sneer of disinterest firmly in place.  When Xander comes back he reaches up for the beer automatically, only realizing after a few seconds that the cold, smooth curve of the bottle isn’t pressing into his hand.


“You okay?”  The bottles click onto the glass table, neither of them concerned about the condensation that immediately puddles around them.  Xander keeps his apartment warm, almost too warm, something Spike never expresses his gratitude for.  “You’re kinda tense.”


“What?  ’M fine!  Just still in research-mode, I guess.  Hey, look, Baywatch.”


“Mm, boobies,” Xander agrees, but there’s too much distraction in his voice to convince Spike that his misdirection is successful.  “Hey, um. . . don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but do you mind turning a little?  So you face the wall?”  Xander points to the wall to the left of the sofa.


Spike blinks at him.  He’s not upset, just thoroughly confused.  “I can’t see the tv that way.”


“Please?”  Xander makes the dreaded puppy-dog eyes, as big and wet and miserably pleading as the little furball Dawn keeps begging for, down at the local pet shop.  She knows he’ll buy it for her, on her birthday, though he doubts she knows he’s already told the owner to make sure it doesn’t get sold.  Not the way she’s always harping on him to buy it early, before someone else snatches it away.


“Er.  Alright.”  When Xander sits, happily facing the direction he wants Spike to, making little ‘go on’ gestures with his hands, Spike gives him the bonkers look—and then, of course, obligingly turns so he’s facing a wall, his bent knee resting on the sofa, the other foot dangling towards the floor.  “If this is a game, Xan, it’s a pretty stupid o-aahhh.”


Hands.  Big and warm and rough, though he can’t feel that through the cotton of his tee, closing around the muscles of his shoulders.  Just resting there for a moment while Spike goes statue-rigid.  “What—”


“See?  This is what I mean.  You’re too tense.”


Xander’s words echo inside his skull, leaving a trail of downy confusion he can’t figure out how to think through.  He can’t breathe, can’t do anything at all but sit there, frozen, while Xander starts to move those big hands, working them over Spike’s neck and shoulders with a skill he, for some reason, doesn’t expect.


Xander’s rubbing his back.  The realization grows ever larger in his mind, demanding total mental attention.  It’s actually a good thing, in a way, because Spike is so shocked and surprised that he stops resisting Xander’s attentions, his body melting into the relaxation skillfully wrought.  He moans, eventually, head dropping as Xander works him into languid satiation.  It’s so good it’s nearly sex. Xander is touching me.


He doesn’t notice when Xander starts moving him around.  He’s rag-doll limp and totally trusting as he’s pushed and pulled until he’s leaning against Xander’s chest, cradled between his legs, head tucked underneath Xander’s chin while his belly is stroked and rubbed.  The television is still playing, a muted wave of sound that fades under the thud thud thud of Xander’s heart beating through his body.  It’s not rubbing so much anymore, just touching, really, trailing fingers and palm over the contours of Spike’s form.  Almost, Spike thinks that Xander is really looking at him, the way a blind person has to, seeing him for the first time.


“Anya thought I should just club you over the head.”


It takes Spike a moment to separate the burr of Xander’s voice into individual words.  “Huh?”


“Giles thought you’d appreciate subtly more, though.  You should’ve seen him blush when he overheard what Anya and I were talking about.”


Giles?  Anya?  He’s no idea what Xander means, but the touching hasn’t stopped and this is the most comfortable Spike has been since . . . since ever.  “Wha?”


“Anya and Giles.  They’re not sure why it’s taken me over six months to make a move.”


Move.  Spike knows there’s something deeply significant about that word, but he’s too busy letting Xander tilt and twist his head so they can look at each other despite the awkward position.  “I—what?”


Xander’s smiles make Spike feel like he’s flying through fluffy clouds, free and loose from any tether.  “You’re adorable when you’re clueless.”


There’s more there, but the words vanish as Xander leans forward, his lips pressing to Spike’s in the kind of kiss he’s never had before.  It’s not demanding, or taking, either by his partner or by Spike.  It’s like another language entirely, the brush of Xander’s lips against his the barest introduction to a world he’s never known, but desperately wanted.  Gentle pressure asks questions he instinctively knows how to answer, mouth parting for a kiss.  A real kiss.


When Xander finally pulls free, they’re both flushed and breathless.  “Hi.”


Spike has to clear his throat before he can speak.  “Hi?”


Xander kisses him again, this one wetter, stronger, and Spike is certain he can happily drown in the cinnamon sweetness of Xander’s mouth.  “So, you know how you always go home right before dawn?”


What?  “Yes.”


“Don’t do that anymore, okay?  It’s giving me gray hairs, worrying that you won’t make it back in time.”


He clears and clears his throat, but still it’s rough when he finally creaks out a few words.  “So what should I do instead?”