Xander woke to the bed trembling.  It was a nice bed, extremely expensive and meant for those with lower-lumbar problems, covered in two-hundred count soft sheets of a nice deep blue, and it didn’t usually shake that often.  He forced his eyes open, glancing first at the clock before determining what the shaking was, because if it was already there, than there wasn’t much he could do to stop it from eating him, if whatever it was wanted to.  Knowing the time, however, was more important, just in case he had to call into work.

Five thirty.  Ack.  No wonder his thoughts weren’t making any sense.

Twisting around, Xander remembered everything the second before his eyes landed on Spike, curled up in a foetal ball and shivering.  Nightmares.  Bad ones, given the twisted up expression on Spike’s face.  The kind you woke up screaming from, except if your lips were sown together and you couldn’t scream, just pursed them down until they were white and wrinkly, the noises gathering behind the enamel barrier like wild animals trying to figure out what those metal bar-things were, and why they hurt instead of giving way when pressed.

Oh yeah.  He’d had those nightmares before.

He didn’t want to startle Spike, but watching him quaver and make noises in the back of his throat like he wanted to scream was almost painful.  So he placed his hand in Spike’s hair and began very carefully petting him.  Let his fingers create waves in the sea of short white hairs, noting the shadow of darkness at the base.  He’d never seen Spike bleach, but he had found a bleach kit in his bathroom, when he was still living at his parents, that Anya swore wasn’t hers.  He needed to do it again, Xander decided, brushing up the hair so he could see the roots.  Smoothing them back down, he made seams through curls that bounced under his fingers, waiting until Spike stopped making the whimpering sound and fell back into true sleep.

It felt odd going to work that morning, briefcase stuffed full of papers that said things like ‘Kosher Mart - get blood’, leaving someone sleeping in his bed.  He hadn’t had that in well over a year and a half, and it surprised him how easy it was to keep his movements long and slow and quiet, and remember to leave a note.  Not a long one, just reminding Spike that he was bought and paid for, so he might as well enjoy the digital cable and Xander would be back around six.

The rain still came down.  People at work were actively desiring snow, today, because at least that was white and not as drenching as rain.  Plus, snow-days did occasionally occur even for the working-stiff, especially if the city had to shut down like it did last year.  Xander had no idea it was so expensive to keep a few dozen plows up and running.

He did remember to call the butcher, arranging for a steady supply of blood to be delivered to his apartment every few days.  He was about to call Willow, to ask the best places to buy a supply of human blood, because Spike was thin and not as strong as he should have been, and he was hopefully in the days when he could order pig’s blood by phone from a butcher, he wouldn’t have to go into any really creepy stores without her.  But the phone started ringing and he got distracted, the invisible specter of those dark, incense laden stores with women dressed in gypsy clothing of purple and blue, lounging behind the counter keeping Xander from calling her when he did have the time.  Plus, he wasn’t really sure he wanted Willow to know—yet, anyway.

Then several beams fell down at one of the sites and almost crushed someone, and there wasn’t time to think about things like blood or checking up on Spike, just making sure the worker were okay and then assessing the damage.  The worker, singular, was okay, thanks to good reflexes.  The wall, however, was not.

“You try working when the rain’s coming down so hard you can’t see in front of your face,” he snarled into his cell-phone, punching his number in the elevator with a sharp stab, hard enough to want to feel the plastic crack.  “As foreman, it’s your job to be out there, making sure work conditions are—let’s guess—workable!  Wanna explain to me how that nice bar we found you at was ‘being out there’?  Cause I’m really interested in hearing you stumble around and look for a reason why I shouldn’t fire you!”  The former-foreman spluttered and stammered and eventually Xander just hung up.  “Idiot.”

“Hard day?”

Hell, he hadn’t even realized there was someone in the elevator with him.  Managing an apologetic smile, Xander glanced over to see a lean, sculptured body covered in a tailored suit that fit like second skin, and an expression that was as Spike-like as Xander had ever seen.  Kinney, Brian, who lived two floors down from him.  The one who brought home a different boy every night, when he wasn’t with the baby-faced blond, and really was as annoyingly arrogant as Spike.  Also the reason Xander had finally called the number burning through the back of his wallet, though he’d never tell anyone that.  “Yeah, sorry.  Accident on the site.”

“Strip or Southside?”

Xander blinked at the rapid-fire question, a sinking suspicion telling him that this was just the perfect cap to a perfect day.  “SouthSide.  Let me guess, Vangaurd won the advertising rights to the complex.”

“And I’m heading the project.”

Fuck.  Ing.  Perfect.  “Well, we’re going to be just the best of buds, aren’t we?” Xander schmoozed, fake smile firmly in place.  He and Kinney got on about as well as pair of feral cats, after Xander finally figured out what Kinney was doing with the eyes and the direct stare.  Brian had been almost flabbergasted when his famed sexual magnetism didn’t ensnare Xander, and Xander had almost clocked him one, when Kinney started getting agitated—got so close he could feel the heat of the other man’s body against his knuckles.  The encounter left both of them flustered and suspicious of the other, so of course he was going to be the head of the project Xander was liaison to.  Fuck.  “Oh, and here’s your floor.  Have a nice night!”

Repeatedly pressing the ‘close’ button, Xander pointedly turned his head away so if Brian wanted to continue the conversation, he’d be facing the patch over Xander’s left eye.  Made talking really rude, hopefully enough that even Brian fucking Kinney would take a hint.

Whether he did decide to obey some codes of conduct or he hadn’t even bothered thinking up a rejoinder, Xander didn’t know since the elevator doors smoothly slid close and quietly whooshed up the remaining two floors.  Tense and aching and resentful of life being, well, life, Xander yanked open the door and slammed it behind him.

Which, of course, startled Spike into jumping straight up into the air, like a cat, back arched and fur bristling.

They stared at each other, frozen in surprise since Xander had forgotten—again—that he didn’t live alone anymore, and Spike had obviously fallen asleep on the sofa, waiting for him.  Spike recovered first, snorting at himself and then getting to his feet.  “Thought you might be late,” he offered in a bored tone.  “Janice called around seven, said she’d get you tomorrow at work, don’t call her back.  Ordered Chinese.  Still like that mooshoo stuff, right?”

His briefcase was set by his desk, umbrella placed in the stand to drip dry, his jacket hung up on the peg outside the closet, all without Xander moving anything but his arms.  When Xander continued not to move, though, Spike shrugged and pulled out two beers from the fridge and popped them.  Held it out, waving it enticingly.

“You ordered me food?”  The offer of beer unstuck his feet and got him over to the kitchen, where Spike pushed him down into a chair, beer in hand.  “You remembered I like mooshoo?”

“Watched you eat the stuff for nearly three weeks straight, Harris.  Not a sight a man forgets, that.”

Spike-snark, right on schedule.  Except Spike’s hands were working into Xander’s shoulders, finding that one achy spot instantly and pressing down until Xander gasped and twitched and felt something twinge in his back, but in the good way.  Spike-snark just wasn’t the same when Spike was busy rubbing knots out of your neck and shoulders.  He wasn’t sure what it was, but it was a hell of a lot better than an empty apartment and maybe a bowl of cereal, and he could afford the cash.  Mm, nice Spike.  Keeping Spike.

“Wait a minute—Janice called?”  Janice, his secretary?  The one who knew better than to call him at home, unless there was a real emergency?

“Relax, I’m your new roommate.”  Spike’s voice mixed with the constant hiss of rain, somehow making it sound soothing and welcoming.

“I don’t care if you told her I want to fuck you into next week, Spike, what’d she call about!”

“Told you,” Spike answered, digging his fingers in so Xander couldn’t move without hurting both of them.  “She said she’d get you tomorrow, it could wait till then.  Didn’t tell me the details.”  Certain that Xander wasn’t going anywhere, Spike began rubbing again.  “Nice girl, Janice.  Seems glad you’re living with someone.”

If Janice knew he had a roommate, the entire company would know by tomorrow, ten am, including the college kids that temped as runners that no one liked or talked to because they were fresh-faced and stupid.  She was a great secretary, but she gossiped more than Cordelia ever had, babbling freely to one and all.  She was kind-hearted, though, and was never purposefully malicious so people simply learned to itemize which things were not for public consumption.  “She would be.  She wanted to be that someone.”

“Thought she was sweet on you.”  Spike was as good at massage as Xander had guessed, fingers warming from Xander’s body heat and easily finding the worst of the aches.  “Head down,” Spike directed once, working down past shoulder blades to tickle along his kidneys.  “Can do more later.  Get some massage oil, maybe, stretch you out flat and really get you unkinked.”

“You don’t have to do this.”  His voice was slurred and deep, eyes drooping as he fought to stay awake.  He wasn’t really that tired, actually, but with Spike drawing out the pain it was harder to keep reminding himself of that.  “S’not what I’m paying you for.”

“Hush, now.  Lemme go check on the food.”  That wasn’t an answer at all, but Xander was too relaxed to argue, slumping against the table while Spike made a quick call and then opened the door.  “Wallets on the table,” he called, since he didn’t think Spike had money, unless he ordered from Xander’s usual restaurant, where he already had a tab.

Egg rolls, hot and sour soup, and mooshoo pork were a great way to end a stressful day.  For some reason, Chinese food had become his comfort food and it made him feel warm and fuzzy like an old pair of slippers might have, if he happened to own slippers at all.  He ate everything Spike put in front of him, noting that Spike ate as well, and drank from a ruby-red liquid that stained the glass almost brown every time Spike sipped.

“Blood came.”

“Yeah.  Thanks.” 

Spike was thanking him?  That got his eyes to open fully and he studied Spike as they finished.  Spike wouldn’t let him clean up, either, not that ‘cleaning’ was hard when the half-empty containers went into the fridge and the plates and silverware went into the dishwasher, but he wouldn’t let Xander do it, and that was probably significant.  Xander’s fumbling fingers, however, were grateful.  Crate and Barrel already got enough of his money.

Dinner over, they watched tv for a while, Spike still acting like a pod-creature and almost cuddling.  At first, though, he just stared out the window, watching the rain bead and slide to form rivers and oceans on the pane, hands flat on the glass until they were really, really cold.  Which made them really, really nice when the stroked and skidding over Xander’s shoulders.  It felt comfortable sitting like that, twisted up and touching, they way the apartment hadn’t yet, not even after the six months he’d lived there.

“I’m not paying you for anything except sex,” Xander said eventually.  Some local newscaster was clinically listing the days fatalities and injuries, but he was paying more attention to the head leaning into his neck, hair tickling him.  “Wait, that didn’t come out right.  I mean, you don’t have to do this, ordering food and taking my messages.  You don’t have to be. . .nice, I guess.  That’s not why I did it.”

“Did it cause you’re too soft-hearted for your own good,” Spike replied.  “S’what being a white-hat means.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Yeah, it is.  C’mon, time for bed.”

Xander didn’t question where the lube came from, since they’d finished the lone tube he had the night before, but wasn’t complaining when Spike begged to be fucked into next week, like Xander promised.  It was hard to pass up an offer like that, and, well, it was exactly what Xander needed, the chance to pound into something and reduce the weight of his brain for a few seconds.  Spike arched and murmured underneath him, legs over Xander’s shoulders, cock hard without either of them ever touching it, like Spike wanted to prove that just Xander inside him was enough.  Like what he’d done last night was because that’s what Xander needed then, and now Xander needed to screw something until they both really did scream, bodies tight and tense, sweat coating over skin, and the damnable rain still in the background, acting like a metronome.

Spike came when he did, kept Xander inside his body and got him hard again with a few well-timed movements and a whole lot of words.  They fucked again, rougher, harder, and this time Xander pulled out and painted over Spike again, demanding the vampire rub three loads of cum into his skin.  It wasn’t a kink he’d ever had before, but after last night it felt appropriate and only after Spike was shiny and warm did Xander collapse onto his side and let his eyes drift shut, body completely free of stress and tension because Spike had drawn every bit of it out of him, hands and ass.

It went like that for almost three weeks, and the rain really had turned to snow, albeit briefly.  A coating of white hung frozen on the trees and building ledges, but not to the ground.  The ice-skating rink was set up in the plaza, and Xander went down on his lunch break to stare at what used to be a fountain, now a circle of frozen stuff, kept that way without ice-machines or anything but what nature used.  Mothers laughed at their children, then herded them back to school or wherever they were due, promising pop and hat chocolate.  Which turned out to be soda and hot chocolate, to those with a So-Cal upbringing. 

The snow on the actual sidewalks and roads had melted almost instantly, turning back into the same unrelieved grey, before the sun broke out for almost an entire week.  It was weak sunlight, though, thin and cold and not very bright.  Xander was tempted to call it ‘grey’, except when it reflected off of what he now knew was the PPG Place, a towering, castle-like complex that was made of mirrors and recognizable from even the smallest glimpse.  When it hit that, the light was blinding, shattering into slivers even from the corner of his eye.  The lowering quality of the clouds had changed, losing their pregnant fullness and fading back into a kind of background reminder.  Like it could start raining or snowing any minute, but you couldn’t predict when because that would make the weather man’s job too easy, and taking an umbrella was as prosaically habitual as taking his briefcase, regardless of what that worthy had said.  The whole city felt a whiter shade of grey, poised on the edge of something deep and nasty, the air biting in a way Xander had never felt before.  The natives told him it was what ‘winter’ smelled like, and Xander just identified it ‘sharp and very, very cold’.  Spike said it smelled like mulled cider whenever he went outside, which they did every once in a while.  Xander took care of the random gay-basher, and they both did for any random vamps or demons.

It was some time in the middle of the forth week that Xander realized that it was Thanksgiving, or almost, and he didn’t have any plans, having refused Willow’s repeated entreaties to bring him and his ‘roommate’ Spike down for a weekend at Slayer Central.  Then he realized that Spike had been there for two extra weeks without comment, and that Xander hadn’t paid a single cent directly to Spike.  Oh, he’d paid—their meals, the occasional movie out, all the rentals Spike wanted and some Xander did, new clothes when Spike needed them, plus a lot of sex-toys for the two of them, since Spike was creative and Xander liked sex any and every way he could get it.  But those were things he’d figured he’d pay anyway, on top of the nearly six thousand dollars he now owed.

But Spike never brought up, and Xander felt tacky just handing him a wad of cash.  Spike was different, now, anyway.  The brash edge that had been such a defining part of Spike’s personality was muted, brushed over with sandpaper until all the rough parts had been smoothed.  He still sounded like Spike, especially when they were watching movies and they both got their heckle on, but he didn’t always act like Spike.  Xander wasn’t sure what Spike was acting like, and he definitely wasn’t sure if he was supposed to like it as much as he did.

"Janice called," Spike said the minute Xander walked through the door.  "Brian called he again.  You're gonna have to meet with him sometime, pet."

Brian Kinney had remained the thorn deeply embedded in Xander's side.  If he wasn't so good, Xander would be tempted to tell his bosses to find someone else, but he was so Xander dealt.  The three of them had bumped into each other one night, and calculations had been summed in Brian’s eyes.  Xander had no idea what the totals were, but Spike disliked him as much as Xander did, and Brian knew that—so he'd started going out of his way to make the professional relationship between them strained.  Odd, since one of the few things he knew about the guy was that he was extra careful to keep his work‑relationships totally professional.  Jeez, just because one guy didn't sleep with him—okay, two, since Spike had warned him that he was bought and paid for, straying only when he was told to—didn't mean that he was losing  his ‘touch’ or whatever.

“I’ll meet with him, I will!  Just. . . later.  Okay?”

“Fine by me.  The shouting match with the wall scares the plants, but then I get fucked so hard I can’t move right for hours.”  Spike was dressed in jeans and a black sweater—since Xander hadn’t been picky about what Spike bought, so long as it was warm and presentable in case someone stopped by—lounging on the sofa.  Warm was always a key as winter loomed closer and closer and Xander understood what cold really meant.  “Don’t mind that part of it at all, now, do I.”

“Slut,” Xander tossed without rancor.  “It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow.”

“S’why Janice called.  She wants us to come over.  Says since neither of us cook, we’ll be bloody lost without a woman to help us.”

Spike had integrated into his life so seamlessly that Xander sometimes blinked, and had to think about a time when Spike wasn’t waiting for him at home, full of gossip or some new sex-trick he wanted Xander to try, or maybe just a meal and a massage that left Xander’s body sodden and his balls very, very empty.  Everyone knew he was living with Xander, too, from his coworkers to his friends, although only Dawn knew they were screwing.  Spike couldn’t keep a secret from her, but Xander knew she’d think it was perfect, and hadn’t cared when Spike gave him guilty-face.  He often came home to find her lecturing him over phone or the beeping computer on how to treat Xander.

“Does she know that you cook?  Probably better than she does?”

Spike followed him into the kitchen, fixing Xander a drink without being told that he wanted whiskey, today, instead of beer, because he didn’t have work the next day and felt like splurging.  Spike was good at knowing things like that, frighteningly good, and it had been on Xander’s mind more and more lately.  “You wanna tell her that, be my guest.  Don’t blame me when she castrates you.”

“But I thought you liked my balls,” Xander pouted, make a moue when Spike’s glare when from annoyed to sardonic.  Living with Spike wasn’t always easy; they fought, of course, but it was like all the big things had been ironed out of the years, and most of what they did was tease each other.  “Anyway, you wanna go?  Should be good food, good fun.  We could tell everyone that you’re my paid live-in lover.”

There was no excuse for saying that, of course, but it was out there now, and Spike was tilting his head like he wasn’t sure which way Xander wanted him to jump.  “Live-in lover, yeah?  Better than whore.”

“You’re not a whore.”  The words popped out without thinking, because Xander’s mouth had a mind of it’s own, getting him in and out of trouble with a speed that left Xander breathless and sweaty.  “If you wanted to leave, I wouldn’t make you stay.”

Spike bit his lip, still studying Xander, so still that every twitch of his eyes was like a round-house swing.  The lip-biting was a new habit that Xander hated, but wasn’t sure how to tell Spike to stop doing it.  Or if that would pass the so far never-passed line that would send Spike packing.  “Don’t try to be clever, Harris.  Doesn’t suite you.”

He only called Xander ‘Harris’ when Spike was trying to remember that a few years ago, he’d been the Big Bad and had clobbered Xander over the head with a microscope rather than let one measly human get in his way.  Xander traced over the cracks in the table, remembering like he did every time that he wanted to sand them down and revarnish, trying to find some way of not doing this.  Because he could go on without knowing.  He’d done it before, and okay, it had resulted in leaving someone at the alter, but this wasn’t as significant.  Wasn’t it?

“Fine,” he said with a sigh.  The whiskey burned into his gut, and for a second, he could pretend that it was courage.  “I won’t be clever.  Why are you still here, Spike?  I haven’t paid you, you haven’t asked for it, and I’m not really sure what’s going on.  I don’t want you to go.  I like this, I like having you here.  But. . .”

He never really noticed how quiet the apartment was, after Spike came.  TV, radio, idle chit-cat, it had filled the spaces the way Xander’s breathing never could.  And he didn’t want to go back to that rattling emptiness, and he didn’t want to lose Spike, who was just staring at him, eyes turning the darkest blue Xander had ever seen.

Spike eased off the counter, doing the slinky-hip walk for two steps until he could straddle Xander’s legs and sit in his lap.  Big, white-haired kitty kissing his mouth and promising things with his tongue that Xander hadn’t quite believed possible, even when he was lying in bed, Spike a heavy weight on his chest and random thoughts like ‘forever’ sneaking through his mind.  He was built for monogamy, no matter how often his balls professed their love of casual-sex. 

They kissed for a long time, not talking, just letting lips and teeth and taste fix all the things between them.  Eventually, Spike got to his feet, mouths still fused, stripping them both from the waist down so Spike could climb right back in, taking Xander deeply inside him.  They fucked gently, hardly moving, with the sounds of wet smacking and soft sucking the only accompaniment they needed.

“You take care of me,” Spike said eventually, foreheads pressed together, breath winding over their faces to cool the sweat.  “Like that.”

“And the taking care of me?”

“Need that.”

There was more, of course, and Spike told him.  All the details of the sordid love affair with Buffy, the rape, the return, and the final understanding of who, exactly, Spike was.  “Stuck the snow up in Montana, turnin’ into a vampcicle, not three weeks after Buffy said go, and I finally got it, love.  Over a hundred years and I finally got what I was.  I need it, Xan, need someone who wants me there, wants me to take care of them.  Need that.  S’not the soul, or the chip talkin’, either.  Just me, William the Poncy and Bloody.”

“I want you,” Xander said fiercely, bucking his hips up into the tightness that hadn’t stopped moving, no matter what Spike spoke about.  “I want you.”  And maybe if the words weren’t quite what either of them wanted to say, that was okay too.  Because Spike was arching his back, gasping with eyes wide and brilliant, thrusting down so hard that Xander was sure he was going to have bruises and craved every one.  Because this wasn’t about money, and it wasn’t even about need, despite what Spike had been babbling.  If Spike needed to act like someone’s slave, Xander read enough alternative mags to know that there were plenty of people who wanted that.  But Xander didn’t want that.  He wanted Spike.

And that’s what Spike wanted, too.  Third time really was a charm.

They fell onto the floor, the chair sliding right out from under his ass, Spike instinctively twisting so that he landed first.  They kept fucking the entire time, murmuring ‘want’ and ‘need’, neither of them brave enough to say the word that was stuck between their bodies, throbbing in time with Xander’s heart.  Spike’s voice was as white and cold as the wintery air outside the apartment, sharp against Xander’s face and promising things the words he said never came close to.  Xander bit his lips to shut him up, hard enough that he drew blood.  He wanted them to come at the same time, wanted to feel Spike clench so damned tightly around him that he was afraid his cock was going to get ripped right off.  Wanted Spike to know that this wasn’t about sex, or money, or need.  Wanting Spike to know that it was about want.

It snowed that night, as heavy as it did on It’s a Wonderful Life, flakes cotton-ball thick and thumb-nail big.  They woke to a world that was pristine and clear, all the grey imperfections muffled for the few short hours before the rest of the world woke up and the plows got going.  The weatherman said a warm front was moving in and it wasn’t going to last, but while Spike lay warm under the covers, Xander ran outside and made the snowman he’d been dying to make.  It was beautiful everywhere he looked.  Clean.  New.

When they went to Thanksgiving dinner the next night, Xander introduced Spike as his boyfriend.  Janice beamed at them, and when they went back to work the next week she didn’t tell a soul.