“So you really like being in Pittsburgh?”  Wistful little catch, there, like a kitten staring longingly at a tangle of yarn just out of reach.

“Yes, Willow, I really like being in Pittsburgh.  It’s a nice town.”

“I can hear you lying, you know,” Willow responded, wistfulness disappearing into a voice warm with that naughty, spicy-apple teasing only she could get away with.  Well, sometimes Spike, though his teasing unusually involved muscles tensed to aching and a need Xander never wanted to reach the end of.

“Are you sure I can’t persuade you to come to L.A. to visit?  Giles is making blood pudding, so Spike would be right at home, and Buffy’s bringing her boyfriend, and she really wants to see Spike—no dustage imminent, you know she wants to talk to him in person—and Dawn keeps telling us you have this really big secret.”

The last was most important, of course, though tossed out as if it were an afterthought she cared nothing about.  Xander glanced to his left, where Spike lounged in seeming unconcern on the hardwood floor, sunlight puddled inches from the chenille wrapped around him, sleek and sated and idly flipping through a magazine.

“It’s warm,” Willow lured, tone so wicked Xander could picture her, sixteen and radiant, crinkling her nose under wide, wide eyes, the way she always did when it was him she was luring.  “I know how much you miss being in the sun, Xander. . .”

“Actually, it’s sunny,” weak, thin, and colder than the ice on the ground, but still sun, “here right now.”

The sun had broken through almost suddenly.  Well, not actually suddenly, as Pittsburgh shook the magic eightball of meteorology and waited to see what floated up to the top first. Reply hazy, try again.  First there were storms that weren’t quite blizzards—to everyone but Xander, who shook and shivered and tried hard not to cry uncle—blustery winds turning trees into cat’o’nines, random pedestrians willing victims to the lash.  The wind howled at all hours, screaming around corners and creating nightmares for both of them that prompted trips to the Sharper Edge for a white noise machine.  Water came down from the sky, cold and wet, too frozen to be called ‘rain’, but not the picturesque flakes of ‘snow’, either.  There was slush everywhere, staining boots and pants, splattering up lapels.  The Thanksgiving snowfall had lasted all of two days before the damnable grey came back with a gummier quality that nothing, not even scrubbing in the tub with hot water and scented oils, could really get rid of.

After those first small storms broke and the winds died down, clouds fled leaving sun in their wake.  Xander knew what winter sun was, had seen it twenty two times already, but he’d never seen sun like this.  The rays were brilliant, blinding, and Xander spent a fortune on covers for the windows, no matter how many times Spike insisted he was perfectly safe inside the apartment.  The air was sharp and cold, the smell of frost biting his nose from the inside out, staining his cheeks bright pink.  The sky was a clear baby blue, the same shade as Spike’s eyes when Xander came home early, just to spend time with his vampire. . . and if Spike ever knew Xander had even thought that, he’d be in trouble.

“But you’re doing okay?  Really okay?”  The temptress vanished as if she’d never been, a hint of true worry layered underneath affection as warm and thick as the blankets Xander had bought to wrap his chilled lover up like a mummy, leaving only his mouth free for kisses.

“I’m okay, Willow.  Really really okay.”

“Are you guys still patrolling?  You and Spike.”

Pointed, pointed little stubborn girl.  Xander smiled as Spike’s head rose, tiny smile playing on pale cheeks Xander wished he could rouge. Come here Spike mouthed, hot chocolate on icy cold vanilla ice cream and Xander was helpless to resist.  They curled up together on top of the blankets, basking in reflected light, contented as only two men with nothing to do could be.  “Sometimes,” he answered Willow.  “If there’s something big going down, or Spike needs to exercise.”

It wasn’t worth trying to patrol while slipping through the wet that was slicker than ice, especially when staying home meant warmth and arguing in front of a sporting event.  Football, college and pro, hockey, the first signs of basketball, only college, plus whatever international soccer game Spike wanted to watch.  They wore jerseys that cost too much and said things like ‘One For The Thumb’ or ‘Stay Out Of The Ward’.  Xander discovered that he really did like football, American and British versions, and they spent entire evenings debating the pros and cons of each, usually ending with the winner licking the loser all over until he begged for mercy.

“Xander,” amused, “he’s not a pet you can take on walks.”

Spike never said anything.  His position was assured and that was all that mattered to him—at least, that was what he claimed whenever Xander pressed him, begging and cajoling and often fucking him into a moments of truthfulness.  Spike was at his most malleable after sex, a fact Xander exploited ruthlessly when Christmas lists had to be written or certain pertinent questions answered.  Xander still wondered, though, what it’d be like to tell his friends.  Their reactions, and his, and where the little roulette wheel of trust would stop.

He changed the subject after that, to life in L.A. and the new school.  “Do they call you Head Mistress?” he joked, the conversation turning into the rapid-fire exchange they could have when they weren’t being cat-wary of each other.  They didn’t talk as much as he wished, though that was more his fault than that of her busy schedule.  Dawn was easier to talk to, lately, when it came to idle gossip.

It bothered him, sometimes.  When he let himself think about it, free of Spike-distractions.

“All right, all right,” she laughed eventually, allowing him to go.  “Say hi to Spike for me.”  Behind him, Spike responded by licking Xander’s ear, creating shivery-good feelings he wasn’t meant to have while talking on the phone with Willow.  “Love you, Xander.”

“Love you, too.”

It was just one conversation.  There were others, with lots of people, some of whom Xander actually wanted to talk to.  Some Spike wanted to talk to, or had to, which always filled Xander with wonder because his vampire could switch from cultured to crude in a syllable, if he needed to.  Schizophrenia was acceptable after a hundred years of watching the world and a demon to skew your vision.

They played in the snow as long as it lasted, attracting wide-eyed children and wary parents, confused by the two grown men who threw snow balls without the intent to hurt and were always willing to help a child sled down the hill.  The little hump right by the sidewalk  in the small park they visited the most often was the perfect place to horse around under cloudless night skies, little girls giggling with them, as little boys anxiously waited their turn to slide down in the wickedly fast sled Xander built one indoor-only weekend.  Parents never truly trusted the one with hair almost as white as the snow, but when the inevitable squalls of bumps or bruises went up, it was Spike who was there first, helping the child back up to toddle over to its caretaker, tears already dried to sniffles.  While the child was cosseted by a, usually, amusedly worried parent, Xander made sure to promise Spike elaborate, definitely non-PG-13 rewards.

The snow only really lasted a few weeks, despite the occasional storm that never was a storm, dumping a dusting of white on top of the city, nothing more.  By mid-December, before Willow’s first actual phone call begging them to visit for New Years instead of just her daily emails, there wasn’t even a hint of it lingering on the ground, and his coworkers warned him that this was the reprieve before Old Man Winter shook his fist for true—but that always prompted arguments, so Xander was never sure who to believe.

“Don’t you listen to them,” Janice would tell him, scanning a sheaf of documents that Xander would sign unread because Janice had already read them.  “Haven’t had a decent storm here in nearly fifteen years.”

“Fifteen years ago you were just a baby,” Harry would always respond, head poking out from behind his partition, coke-bottle thick glasses hiding twinkling, gentle eyes.  “Just outta elementary school, you were.”

“I was in Allderdice, and you know it.  That’s when the ice-storm took out the generator and we went home for a week.”

“And I bet you were thrilled to have the ground so slippy, the four blocks you had to walk to school and back.”

It was an old argument since the two of them had lived in the same neighborhood for most of their lives, and regularly battled over the best routes and haunts.  Xander always enjoyed listening, but it didn’t do much to clarify what to expect from winter in Pittsburgh, so he stocked up on salt and kitty litter, spare heaters just in case, and a few tons of non-perishable foods.  Spike never laughed in his face, but sometimes Xander saw him contemplating the emergency winter stash stacked near the bedroom and snickering.

They started going out more.  Not patrolling, although Spike was starting to be as good as Xander at spotting girls who were no longer just potentials.  No, they went to more normal places.  Spike took him to bars, easing them away from the working man bars to slightly hipper ones where there were people under forty and the women weren’t almost indistinguishable from the men.  They went to clubs, too, quiet ones at first, with music that didn’t deafen them, and gradually Xander realized that he was being slowly worked up to going to Babylon.

“Spike, if you wanted to go there, why didn’t you just say so?”  They were going somewhere else tonight, down in the Strip to a club that wasn’t precisely gay-friendly but wasn’t anti-fag.  That was the only reason he’d let Spike pick out his clothes: tight back pants and a button down blue shirt that he could almost wear to work, if you ignored the slightly see-through fabric and the threads of something shimmery sewn in.  “You know I don’t care where we go.”

“Say that enough and you might even convince yourself, yeah?”  Spike didn’t mock as well as he used to, especially when he was sidling up to Xander with a smile that was two parts shy and three parts crafty.  His body molded to Xander’s so easily now, like he’d always known where to dip and bend.  “Don’t worry, pet.  Not gonna overwhelm you all at once.”

“I mean it,” Xander said, head already tilting because Spike was there, within kissing distance, lips pink and pouting.  “If you want to go to Babylon, we can.”

“Not yet,” Spike answered, letting himself be kissed.  He never tasted like smoke, because Xander hated that, only Spike and maybe a hint of dark, sticky-sweet whiskey because Xander always needed a little to get him going.  “Not yet.”

They had fun that night, drinking and dancing into the wee hours.  Girls hit on them both; Spike charming in his rejection, Xander fumbling and bumbling until Spike had to do his rejecting for him, somehow managing not to light both of them up in pink and purple neon for all to see their gayness.  It was a skill Xander envied, particularly when Spike got the girls to laugh as they left, confidence intact as they swished away, asses bouncing under short skirts.  Almost humiliating how easy Spike did it, snake-charmer quick and hot enough that it made Xander want to suck him down right then and there.  And then Spike turned a look on him, sultry and knowing, and Xander got that it wasn’t about those girls, not even a bit.  It was about him, Xander, always and completely.  

The sky was just starting to turn hazy and pink ’round the edges when they arrived home, Xander barely getting the door shut before ripping off Spike’s pants.  “Only got the pair,” Spike pouted, stripping off the shirt unasked.

“Buy you more,” Xander promised, shock of knees hitting hard wood echoing up his legs, hands grasping at Spike’s thighs to position him the way Xander wanted.

“You—oh, hell, yeah.  Buy me everything,” Spike babbled.

Xander laughed around the cock in his mouth and Spike cried out sharply before slipping into the stunned silence of a creature who was having the head of his cock scraped with slick-wet teeth, right on the spot that made him shiver and moan like a girl who happened to be a baritone.

They sixty-nined three feet from the door, neither of them caring that there was both couch and bed not that far away.

When they finally uncurled, naked and glistening and panting, because Spike always panted when he was with Xander, they stared at the ceiling for a while.  Cold from the floor seeped into their bones, but neither of them moved.

“Out with it.”

“Nothing to be out with.”

Spike curled around him in what was becoming a habitual position for them, head on Xander’s heart, and blew air over the other nipple.  “Can hear the cog-wheels turning, love.  Not still on about me taking you to Babylon right away, are you?”

“No,” he lied, even though he was.  Going to Babylon was the ultimate removal of a crusted-on band-aid, the one place he’d always wanted to go but never had, held back by a complicated mix of shyness and shame, fear and a holier-than-thou attitude Spike regularly fucked out of him.  “Although we can, you know.  I’m not fond of slow torture.  Pretty much taking a stance on slow torture.  I’d rather you just ripped it off.”

Spike’s head came up, white’s glowing around iris’ still nearly black.  “What the hell’re you talking about?”

“Are you missing something?”

The question sucked whatever warmth there had been from the room, skin chilled to goosebumps in an instant.  Or maybe that was Spike rolling onto his haunches to look down at Xander, head tilted, eyes dark with a blankness Xander didn’t like.  It screamed alien, vampire next to him, still chipped but deadlier because the chip only stopped fingers hooked to claws and sharpened teeth from hurting his heart, and Spike didn’t need those.  “What should I be missing?” Spike asked carefully.

“Something.  I don’t know.”  Sitting up, Xander raised his legs to balance arms on curved, knobby knees, uncomfortable in his nakedness for the first time since Spike came into his life.  “Something you want that I’m not giving you.  Something you need for me to do, or need for you to do.”

This wasn’t the conversation you wanted to have at pushing two am with the world held frozen and aching outside, the air thick with anticipation.  Or maybe it was the perfect time, when everything hung on the final moment, pressure building behind you, clouds of things you couldn’t identify, waiting to push you in ways you couldn’t anticipate.  Xander wished he’d never opened his mouth.

“Think I need something, do you?”

Spike wasn’t touching him.  The realization hit him sledge-hammer hard.  Spike was always touching him, unless Xander specifically didn’t want it, which wasn’t as often as he would have thought, looking back on weeks that bled into months.  Hands and thighs, bits of skin both cool and warm that always seemed to find each other no matter what the circumstances.  And now Spike was holding himself back and away, arms crossed in a barrier Xander didn’t know how to penetrate.  Didn’t know if he should even try.

“I don’t know,” Xander said softly, shivering.  “But you have to want things, Spike.  And you never tell me.”  He just hinted, little mentions that were more glaring for their lack of follow-through, and it’d hit Xander like a jet.  The clubs, the changes, Spike wasn’t doing this just because it’d be fun.  He wanted something.  Didn’t he?

He squeaked when Spike surged forward, mouth latching onto his with a fervor Xander couldn’t understand but welcomed nonetheless.  “Don’t need to tell you,” Spike said, then kissed him again, and again, until Xander was in the bedroom, on his back with his legs over Spike’s shoulders as a cock was eased in and out of him, slow enough to be lava, eating at Xander’s thoughts until there was nothing but molten flame inside him and Spike.  Spike Spike Spike.

“Love you,” Spike breathed when he finally came, falling onto a single hand while his other was busy working Xander into a stuttering orgasm that made him see sparks.  “I love you, Xander.”

“Love you, Spike,” Xander sighed before sleep tied him with dark ribbons.  And again in the morning, and every time they spoke, even when Xander was at work, creating yet another office pool as to who Xander’s new love was and when they would get to meet him or her.  He glared dark accusations at Janice when he heard that there was a second pool as to the gender of said love, but she simply reminded him that not every place was behind the times.

And placed her bet on a blonde with blue eyes.

Xander didn’t stop saying ‘I love you’.

It wasn’t the end of it, though.  There was something Spike wanted, though he didn’t know how to say it any more than Xander knew how to ask for it.  The direct approach had failed, created a tiny stream of uncertainty they constantly hopped back and forth for the next few days, when things could go from strained to comfortable and back again in a half an hour—but it faded to a trickle by Christmas.  The holiday was as commercialized in Pittsburgh as anywhere Xander had ever been, but for the first time in Xander’s life, the pressures he had on him were normal.  There were no monsters around, except the demon they’d killed the night before, a hairy, dog-like thing that seemed to crave kids laden with gingerbread, and no apocalypse on the horizon.  The only issues Xander had was how to let Willow down gently, a slight headache at work, and a lover that seemed angrier at himself than at Xander.

It was a good Christmas.  They went to Janice’s again, this time Spike helping her to prepare most of the meal.  People from work and Janice’s friends wandered in and out of her cozy apartment, her parents immediately latching on to Xander as the perfect guy to teach Janice how to finally land a husband.  She flushed and stammered, Spike smirked, while Xander smiled in fond amusement since never once did her parents imply that he should be that husband.

He found out later Janice had told them he was taken.  Right around the time she made certain he and Spike were alone in a room together, mistletoe handed to Spike since, “Xander can’t be trusted to make these decisions on his own.”

The kisses were sweet, Spike’s mouth sticky and sharp from the candy cane he’d been sucking.  “Love you,” Xander murmured, fingers crushing berries as they entwined with Spike’s.  “I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for, love.”

Xander shook his head, single eye implacable as he looked down to meet Spike’s gaze.  “There’s something.  And whatever it is, I’m sorry.”

Blue eyes softened and whatever was between them vanished into mist as Spike kissed his mouth, then his good eye before nipping slightly at his nose.  “Git.”

It was well past midnight by the time they went home to the huge tree Xander had purchased, green branches dotted with splashes of color and the translucent glass figurines that Spike had bought somehow escaped true Christmas tackiness.  Multi-hued presents spilled out of the cradle to scatter along the floor.  He hadn’t bothered counting, but the pile for him and Spike from friends and co-workers was an amazing haul.  His inner five year old was bouncing with unrestrained glee, mentally demanding that he open them now now now.  The adult just looked on in wonder, surreptitiously taking a few digital photos as the physical proof that despite everything he’d been through, despite all the troubles and worries and fears and heartaches—he was loved.  He’d survived, grown up, and he had a family.  Something he’d always dreamed of having, never believing he would.

And he had a pile of silver-wrapped packages for the lover he’d never even imagined would be in his life.

Accepting his mug of alcohol-laced hot chocolate, Xander enveloped Spike and just held him, listening to the sound of tinny music coming from revelers still outside despite the late hour and the odd calm in the air that promised a storm to come.  He breathed in the scent of pine and musk and a hint of copper from Spike’s supper and waited.  He could stay like this all night, if Spike wanted, because as much as he couldn’t wait to open his presents, he’d already received the most important one.  Saying that was impossible, but staying like this, bodies pressed together like a matched set, softened by warmth and wreathed in golden light, Xander could imagine Spike knew.

“You asked me something, a while back,” Spike said eventually.  His voice was low and breathy, floating through the air to mix with the faint strains of Christmas carols.  “Got an answer for you.”

He didn’t tense, though his mind immediately fell into panic.  His mind forgot that he wasn’t sixteen anymore, while his body and heart remembered that nothing was ever the final end, not death nor taxes nor insane man with a knife.  Better he should know, and be able to do something about it, maybe.  Tilting Spike’s chin up, Xander waited.

“There’s a party, few nights from now.  A pre-New Years thing.  At Babylon.”

Xander sipped and nodded, fingers busy petting the dip at the bottom of Spike’s back without knowing if he was soothing Spike or himself.

“Want us to go,” Spike asked.  “And, maybe, pick up a third for the night.”

He continued to breathe evenly, so many different possible reactions that he was left with nothing but calm.  A third.  They’d talked about it, of course.  Two guys who loved to fuck as much as they did, and it would’ve been more surprising if they hadn’t thought about it.  Xander’s cock had drooled its pleasure at the possibility, but it’d taken his head a few weeks longer to agree, details worked to the smallest contingency and Spike repeatedly promising in ways that made mere words pale by comparison that this wasn’t a backhanded way of saying he was unhappy or wanted to return to his old trade.

“You already have someone in mind,” Xander guessed, the only real explanation for why Spike was so nervous, statue still in Xander’s arms, as if expected blows or being shoved out into the cold, pregnant night.  “Someone you’re not sure I’ll agree to.  Someone you want.”

The word echoed like a bell-chime, lingering in the air long after Xander spoke it.  “Yes,” Spike said.

It wasn’t the spirit of gift-giving that prompted Spike to ask this now, he knew, Spike’s lack of everything making it clear that Spike hadn’t planned this, hadn’t even know he was going to ask before the words formed in his mouth.  Xander’s hand stilled, thinking for a long moment.  Babylon.  Someone, or something, that had to do with Babylon, and the mess of neuroses Xander had about being out and gay and sparkly the way he’d never considered himself to be.


They didn’t have sex that night, not even after the presents were opened to reveal a plethora of toys they’d given each other, along with everything else.  Instead they went to bed, wrapped up and around each other in a way that made Xander grateful only one of them had to breathe.  Because he wasn’t going to let go, not for any reason at all, and Spike clutched him just as tightly.