Beauty Effulgent

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Sunday Morning Coming Down


Xander sat in the brown, squishy chair in the Summers’ living room, a soft half-smile on his face as he watched Dawn and Spike laughing on the couch. Dawn’s head was tilted toward Spike, their foreheads almost touching, her long, dark hair falling over the paleness of Spike’s arm. Xander wasn’t even sure what the joke was, but from the slow rise of pink in Tara’s cheeks, it was probably something he would be horrified that Dawn had heard – or worse yet, had said – had he been paying attention.

He closed his eyes briefly, just listening; the long unheard, almost forgotten sound of Dawn’s laughter causing something in him to melt away, a tension so constant it was almost unnoticed, fading. Xander opened his eyes, his gaze moving from Dawn to Spike, seeing the play of muscles under the black t-shirt as Spike’s hand reached up to brush Dawn’s hair back. Xander watched Spike pause as he realized Dawn’s eyes were on him, and close, watching this unconscious, almost tender gesture, and then his hand was moving again, brushing her hair back over her shoulder as Dawn leaned into the touch, grinning, causing Spike to chuckle again.

Xander’s hands clenched on his knees as he suddenly realized something, saw it, maybe for the first time, and wondered if he was the last one in this room to draw the picture from the lines. That somehow during this summer that had no end, Spike had stopped being the first best line of defense, or maybe the lines had blurred, and he had just blended in.

The smile on Tara’s face when she’d opened door to them, stepping back to allow them both to enter with an almost apologetic explanation that Willow was in the kitchen getting things ready but would join them in a minute.

Tara's words had been directed at Xander, but her smile hadn’t faltered as she looked between him and Spike. And Dawn…the hugs she had silently demanded of both of them had more than a little desperation to them, as if reassuring herself once again that they were both real, both still there. But then again, the bounce and the little spin she made as she took them by the hands and lead them into the living room had been pure Dawnster delight.

She’d been so excited to see them both on a night that just promised pizza and laughter and maybe some glimmer of the old, that she didn’t seem to find it worth mentioning that they had arrived together. She hadn’t seemed to notice how they’d paused in the center of the room, still standing shoulder to shoulder, the backs of their hands almost brushing, as if they’d been joined just minutes before.

Dawn had skirted the edges of the coffee table, almost dancing her way over to curl up in the center of the couch. She had seemed unaware of the way Spike and Xander had both eyed the large empty space next to her, looked at each other, and then quickly away, separating with abrupt motions. Xander had flopped down in the chair and Spike had gone to sit carefully on the edge of the sofa, close enough to protect, but with enough of a shrug to seem unconcerned about where he sat, or with whom.

Xander felt eyes on him then, and glanced up, expecting Spike, but finding him still laughing with – or at – Dawn, and then looked over to find Tara watching him, her head cocked slightly in question.

Dawn, he mouthed silently, nodding back toward the uninterrupted giggling on the sofa. Tara nodded, settling into the cushions behind Dawn, and smiling at Xander as they just listened and…it was good.

“Okay,” he heard exclaimed brightly – too brightly – behind him, “I’ve got the ‘Bot set up, cookie doughin’ in the kitchen, so Dawnie, if you wanna go get with…Spike.”

Willow’s ‘get the party started’ cheer had cut off somewhere over Xander’s right shoulder, and he tensed slightly as he watched Spike pull away from Dawn, slouching back into Big Bad with a head tilt as he said, “I’m not too much for baking, Red, but I wouldn’t say no to some lovin’ from the oven.”

“I didn’t mean you were…” Willow cleared her throat. “I was just surprised to see you here, Spike, that’s all.”

Spike frowned. “Harris said we were going to work a new patrol schedule. Sort of figured I’d factor into that one.”

Xander didn’t have to glance behind him to know that Willow was fidgeting and attempting an expression of big-eyed innocence.

“Patrol, right. Duh, of course I didn’t mean not here for patrol. Can’t patrol without our Super Vamp, right? Need you out there all fangy and ‘grrr,’ as you vampires do.”

Now Tara and Dawn had joined Spike in a trio of puzzled frowns staring at a point just behind Xander’s shoulder. Before Xander could see that babble and raise her some inappropriately timed humor –

“Xander, can I see you in the kitchen for a second?”

- and there we go.

Xander got slowly to his feet, turning to face Willow, and finding himself staring at her back as she headed determinedly into the kitchen, expecting him to follow. He sighed and turned back, shrugging lightly at the confused looks on the sofa before he headed into the kitchen to face the music.

Willow stood facing him, her fingers already drumming on the counter. The ‘Bot was behind her, one hand stirring furiously in a mixing bowl and the other methodically removing lemons from a large basket.

The ‘Bot looked up as he walked in, smiling. “Hi, Xander!”

Xander nodded to it, smiling weakly, and then Willow’s hand was tugging at his jacket, pulling him closer as she lowered her head and whispered, “What is he doing here?”’

“What?” Xander asked, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You said we were going to work out a new patrol schedule. Spike will be the point man, ergo, necessary at schedule meeting. What’s the problem?”

Willow leaned closer, her eyes never leaving Xander’s as she lowered her voice further. “You know the schedule wasn’t the main point of this meeting.”

“Okay,” Xander said slowly. “But we do need to work out a new schedule, Will. We can’t keep doing these half-assed sweeps; we’re not even making a dent. We need Spike.”

Willow sighed in frustration, blowing her hair off of her forehead. “I didn’t think we’d ever completely decided that.”

Xander flung his hand back toward the living room. “Hello – closest thing we’ve got to a Slayer?”

Willow stared at him and then pointed a finger back toward the ‘Bot. “Hello – really not!”

Xander dropped his head forward, his fingers clenching on the edge of the counter before looking up, meeting her eyes again. “Scenario, Willow. Vampire flying toward Tara, fangs opening on her neck – who would you rather have racing toward her, Buffybot or Spike?”

Willow ducked her head, not looking at him, her silence answer enough.

“Willow,” Xander said quietly, stepping forward to put his hands on her shoulders. “He’s fought alongside us all summer. Question his motives all you want, but don’t let pride make you do something stupid.”

Willow pulled away from him slightly. “Pride? You think this is about pride?”

Xander shook his head, raising his hands in placation. “Whoa, whoa! That’s not what I meant, Will. I just meant,” he chewed his lip for a minute. “I just meant that sometimes stuff gets a little out of control, okay? I know you’re…” he saw that her hurt glare hadn’t lessened and he sighed.

“Look,” he started again, calmly, “I miss Buffy, too. We don’t talk about it, and really, not my thing there, but at least we’re all agreed on what we’re not talking about. We miss her and we feel helpless and sometimes it can make us try too much or do things that we think will fix everything…” He groaned. “I’m not saying this right.”

“What I’m hearing, Xander, is that you don’t trust me. You don’t believe me when I say I can fix this.”

Xander rubbed his hand harshly over his face. He’d brought Spike along to avoid this very conversation, but he should have known that plan would blow up in his face. He just needed more time. Time to stall Willow and keep this in the planning stages until he could figure out why the thought of resurrecting Buffy wasn’t bringing on ‘happy, happy-joy, joy’ feelings.

“That’s not what I meant, Willow. You know I trust you. But you’re just dropping this huge thing on me and expecting me to rush in behind you, without knowing where we’re going or what’s going on.”

Willow crossed her arms, looking at him. “Well, isn’t that what you do?” she asked in a low voice.

Xander winced and Willow’s expression immediately became contrite. “Xander…I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” She pushed her hands through her hair, her eyes meeting his in honest confusion. “Okay, try to understand the ‘huh?’ moment, Xan. Why would I think that telling you I could bring Buffy back would make you feel anything but, “Go, Scoobies!”?

Xander looked quickly behind them and then took her by the arm and steered her back toward the basement door. “Way to acknowledge bionic vamp hearing and Dawn of a thousand eavesdrops, Will,” he hissed.

Willow grimaced at her own stupidity. “Right. Look, Xander…”

A loud thwack! accompanied by an enthusiastic cry of, “Hi-yah!” made them both jump.

They turned, seeing the ‘Bot with a giant cleaver in her hand, a dismembered lemon on the counter before her. She replaced it with a whole one, the cleaver flashing again to the tune of another gleeful, “Hi-yah!”

Xander started slightly again and then rolled his eyes. “You know, Buffy-bot, the sound effects really aren’t necessary to make the knife work.”

The ‘Bot nodded in understanding, quietly halving the next lemon. “Thank you, Xander. I appreciate the value of your experience with weapons and other sharp, shiny objects.” Her bright eyes ran over his tight t-shirt. “Your expertise is evident in both your unique fighting strategies and your large and well-defined upper torso.” She grinned at him, turning back to the lemons.

Xander turned a shocked, slightly horrified gaze on Willow.

Willow fidgeted, shrugging lightly. “Spike asked me to make her stop hitting on him, so I fiddled around a little, and well, I think all I’ve managed to achieve is crush transference.”

“Well, really working the ‘trust me’ angle, Willow.”

“Why don’t you, Xander?” Willow asked quietly. “Okay, wonky robotics aside, what have I ever done that would make you think I don’t believe I can do this? We’re not talking silly love spells or…or trying to take on a god when I wasn’t running on anything but hurt and anger. I’m not rushing into anything this time, Xander. I’ve covered everything. I know what I’m doing, what I can do. All I need is for you to believe in me. You used to do that without thinking.”

Xander stared back at her, his face expressionless but everything in him wanting to reach out to her, to trust her, to find something to believe in again.

“I’m only asking you to trust me, Xander,” she whispered, turning her head and blinking back tears. “Trust, faith, that’s all I’m asking in return for offering you hope – believe that I can bring her back.”

Xander shook his head. “It just feels wrong,” he said hoarsely.

“How can it possibly feel wrong, Xander? The only wrong here is Buffy being gone in the first place. And isn’t that what we do? Try to fix things that went wrong?”

“No,” Xander said carefully. “That’s Quantum Leap. We run around dark cemeteries going, ‘Oh, shit! Oh, shit!’”

“Xander,” Willow said, plowing ahead and ignoring the attempted quip distraction, “I have to do this. I really need you to be with me on it, but with or without you, I’m going to bring her back. I can’t leave her there.”

Tears started down her pale face and he felt that separating sensation again – part anger, part sorrow and a whole lot of confusion – that led to detached fiancée jilting and freaky cemetery kiss-and-run situations.

“All right, Will, here it is. You want to hear it – fine.” Xander leaned in, his face inches from hers. “You let me grieve all summer. You let Dawn cry herself to sleep – yeah, I heard it those first few nights we were all here – you let Giles leave believing that he had failed and…”

“We all failed, Xander,” Willow interrupted fiercely. “We had a moment there when we, one of us, any of us, could have changed it, but we didn’t. I didn’t trust my power enough, you weren’t strong enough, Spike wasn’t fast enough, Giles wasn’t knowledgeable enough – whatever the variable was – we failed her. Something happened in that moment and we weren’t enough. Something wrong, Xander. We failed – and she fell.”

“She didn’t fall, Willow,” Xander said sadly, wondering why now, when she was wanting to fix everything with a wave of her hand, they were finally letting this out, like it didn’t matter anymore, like it wasn’t real and they hadn’t lived it, just because Willow willed it so.

“It wasn’t failure, Willow,” he said gently. “It was a gift. Her gift.”

“Yeah?” Willow said, brushing back tears. “Well, it was a pretty crappy gift – and the price is way too high. She’s not going to pay that price, Xander. I’m not leaving my best friend in some hell dimension while we stand around and debate whether or not we’re morally entitled to alter something we – I’ve – been given the power to change.”

Willow stared at him, her gazed fixed, determined and filled with something so much more than resolve it made Xander tremble, forcing him to remind himself that this was Willow, just Willow. “It was wrong, we failed her, she failed us and they don’t reward failure, do they, Xander? I’m not going to let her be punished for something we could have prevented, that should never have happened.”

The harshness left Willow’s face then and wide, tear-filled eyes fastened on his, and she really was just Willow again. “Please don’t leave me on this, Xander. All I’m offering is a second chance. Buffy’s death was mystical, unnatural. I’m not breaking any rules by just…bending it back to the natural order. I’m tired of feeling punished for this, Xander. And I’m tired of seeing shadows in your eyes, in Dawn’s…god, in Spike’s. I can do this – don’t let us fail her again.”

Xander reached out to Willow, ready to agree to anything to ease this sense of failure, and yeah, that’s what it was, what he’d felt all summer, he’d just needed it named, he supposed – and then pulled back when he heard a noise behind him.

“Did you already call for pizza? Did you get Hawaiian, ‘cause you know I…” Dawn’s voice trailed off. “Willow? Are you crying?”

Willow shook her head quickly, hearing the tremble start in Dawn’s voice. “Huh-uh. The ‘Bot was slicing lemons and I must have gotten a little juice in my…”

“Oh! Willow!” the ‘Bot cried out, grabbing a dishtowel and rushing to Willow’s side, scrubbing at Willow’s damp eyes with the same hand that held the cleaver, causing both Willow and Xander to shriek and jump back.

Dawn smiled slightly as she watched Xander disarm the Buffybot, but her eyes were worried as she dipped a finger into the cookie batter and licked it off. Her face contorted in horror. “Ewww…lemon chocolate chip?”

The ‘Bot turned, nodding. “Willow taught me lemonade and cookies. I thought lemonade in cookies was much more time efficient.”

Dawn looked at Xander and Willow and pushed the mixing bowl away. “I’ll just wait for the pizza,” she said, snickering.

“What’s with all the girly screaming, Harris?” Spike asked from the doorway.

“Me?” Xander asked, easing away from Willow and slinging an arm around Dawn’s shoulders, aiming for a grin and just making it. “We’re just lucky that kitchen injuries are something I have a long, sorry past with. I’m the hero here, buddy. Show some respect.”

Spike rolled his eyes at him and Xander nodded, sighing, “Okay, come on, that patrol schedule’s not going to write itself.”

“You’re right, mate – oh, wait it has,” Spike said, waving a sheet of paper. “Got bored. Okay, me and Harris on vamp heavy nights – Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday…”

“Wednesday’s vamp heavy?” Dawn asked, frowning. “How come?”

“After church crowd,” Spike and Xander answered together, and then glared at each other. Xander waved for him to continue.

“Yeah. Uh – Willow and Tara can take Monday and Tuesday, with the ‘Bot of course, and we’ll all go on Fridays, soddin’ Bronze with their coin beer ‘make me drunk and stupid’ night, and I’ll take Will on Thursdays,” he said, smirking, “since I’ve been informed that Harris has a standing date with the telly.”

ER?” Tara asked, nodding in understanding.

Charmed,” Dawn giggled, earning her a headlock from Xander, who shrugged, “Sorry. I can’t be shamed with that.”

“So when you say on Fridays we’ll all go…?” Dawn began.

“You’ll go to Janice’s,” Willow said, smiling.

“God,” Dawn sighed in frustration, pushing away from Xander. “When is it ever going to be my turn?” She waited a beat and then looked around at them, finding Willow busy affixing the schedule to the refrigerator door, Xander sniffing the cookie batter and Spike tossing the abandoned meat cleaver from hand to hand.

Tara went to pour some lemonade and looked up to find Dawn still watching them expectantly. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie. We’re not even bothering to answer that anymore.”

Much pizza, a last minute cemetery sweep, and some ill advised, reasons-why-you-shouldn’t-bend-a-vamp-over-a-cross-shaped-headstone snogging later, Spike and Xander were headed home; stopping off at the Bronze first to pick up Xander’s car. Xander neatly evaded Spike’s questions as to why he had abandoned it there in the first place. Well, not so much evaded as distracted with hands and lips.

Xander shut the door behind them, kicking his shoes off and unfastening his jeans. He looked up into Spike’s brow-lifted stare and grinned. “Vamp dust. Shower. More later.”

Spike watched Xander continue his slow strip, the trail of clothes following him to bathroom. Awful…perky tonight, he thought, frowning. They all were. Well, Dawn had been pleasantly so, hadn’t seen that many smiles from her since…but Willow and Xander? Not since before Rupert and Anya had left had they been that demonically cheerful. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought they spent that time in the kitchen getting stoned. He shook his head. Nah, nothing that poetic. Must just be for Dawn’s benefit. Though God knows they could all use a break from requiems and lamentations.

Spike looked around the living room, blinking a little from the overhead light and the glare from the lamps Xander had snapped on as he’d gone past. Spike went into the kitchen, digging through a few drawers and taking his findings into the bedroom where he dug around some more.

When Xander walked out of a steam filled bathroom a few minutes later, a towel wrapped around his waist, he found a darkened living room, lit by more candles than he’d even known he owned, and a naked vampire standing in the center of them.

Xander swallowed. “Spike…are you trying to tell me something?”

Spike smiled slightly. “Hmm…I have faith you’ll figure it out, Xander.”

Xander looked around at the candles, fighting a grin. “You know, every time I’d have to go to your crypt, I’d always look at all those candles, trying to imagine the big bad vampire going around lighting them. It was kind of sweet; sorry I missed it this time.”

“Why were you thinking about my candles, Xander?” Spike asked softly, walking toward him.

“Okay,” Xander said, his hands coming up as Spike pressed against him, his lips on Xander’s shoulder, “now here’s the part where I’m given too many choices. I mean, I can go with the obvious blowing joke, or maybe something more subtle, like burning at both ends, or there’s the dribbling hot wax, always a favorite…”

“Or you can shut up and come over here,” Spike said, taking him by the hand. Spike tugged him to the sofa, turning him around and gently easing him back against the cushions. Xander watched as Spike crawled slowly up to him, his lips brushing ankle, knee, hip and chest until they opened just beneath Xander’s jaw, sucking lightly.

“Spike,” Xander groaned, “if, ah, you’re trying to seduce me, let me put you out of your misery: I’m pretty much a sure thing.”

“Not seducing you, pet,” Spike said, his lips moving along Xander’s jaw to his mouth. “Leading you into temptation, whole different set of events.”

Spike covered Xander’s mouth with his own and Xander felt that familiar heat flare between them, but it was slower now, quieter. Spike’s hands weren’t reaching for him in that, hurry, let’s get to the good stuff, way. They were still, gentle, one cupping the side of Xander’s face, drawing his mouth closer, and the other was cool against his side, motionless except for the thumb that brushed softly against his ribs.

Xander met Spike kiss for kiss and they allowed themselves to surrender to the heat, the wet, the thrust of tongues. Drowning in each other and then giving life back with whispers and murmurs. Yes. Want you. Touch me. Words more felt than heard, lost between gasps and groans.

Xander looked up at Spike, seeing the body above him hidden in shadow, but the face bathed in light, looking back at him with eyes that made dark promises even as lips lowered to keep them.

As Spike’s tongue made a lazy path across his chest and stomach, Xander reached for him, needing to touch, to take, just as Spike was giving. His fingers curled through Spike’s hair, brushed at his shoulders and then were left empty as Spike moved lower, his mouth opening around the drape of towel and tugging it away. Xander moaned and brought his knees up, his feet rubbing against Spike’s calves, his hands reaching again to pull Spike back up to him.

“Xander,” Spike laughed against the straining flesh beneath him, “I’m kind of the middle of something, here. Stop poking at me.” He gave another slow lick to the head of Xander’s cock. “With your pokey fingers, anyway.”

“Need to touch you,” Xander groaned. “Need to feel you.” He shuddered beneath Spike as that wet mouth, impossible cool heat, surrounded him again.

“Feeling me, love,” Spike said, turning his cheek against Xander’s thigh and biting lightly. “Need more? That it?”

Xander nodded, arching against Spike as those blunt teeth scraped across the tender skin at his hipbone. Spike crawled back up him, his hand reaching behind Xander’s head to retrieve the other prize taken on his candle search. He leaned over Xander, his hands working as his lips lowered to Xander’s again, tugging at Xander’s bottom lip with his teeth and then reaching back, a slick hand sliding over Xander’s length.

Xander looked up at Spike’s body braced over him, one hand gripping the couch behind him, the other grasping his cock, squeezing firmly, working the slickness over his skin.

“Want to take me, Xander?” Spike asked, leaning back, drawing his hand between his own legs, letting Xander watch as he eased fingers into himself, eyes fluttering shut, head thrown back. “Want to feel me around you? Feel all of me?”

Xander’s hands reached out, wrapping around Spike’s hips, the fingers digging in. “Yes,” he said simply, ready to take anything Spike offered, as long as it meant he could touch, could feel, could have more.

Spike eased back, watching Xander’s face in the flickering light as he slowly lowered himself down, felt Xander hitch against him, hard cock nudging him, urging him on. He drew his legs up, planting his feet on either side of Xander and then reached back and took Xander in his hand, giving a few quick strokes before he sank down on him, his eyes never leaving Xander’s as he allowed himself to take, and be taken.

“Oh, God,” Xander groaned, feeling satin smooth skin gripping at him, fluttering muscles giving as they closed around him, coolness heating with friction. “Tight,” he sighed, his hands clenching harder on Spike’s hips, fingers finding the grooves in the muscles and tracing them. “So fucking tight.”

“Mmm,” Spike sighed, settling back against Xander’s raised thighs and wrapping his hands around them, using them as leverage as he began to raise and lower himself on Xander’s cock. “Every time like the first time.”

“Always the first time,” Xander said roughly, looking into his eyes.

“Yeah,” Spike said, smiling softly down at him. “You always get to be first,” he said, throwing back his head with a sigh as Xander began to move against him, slick heat moving in and out of him. He opened his mouth, drawing a deep breath and panting unconsciously as Xander slammed up into him again.

“Spike,” Xander said with a gasping laugh, “you’re panting. I’m making you pant. You, who have no breath.”

Spike raised himself almost all the way off of Xander, falling forward until his mouth crushed Xander’s. “Give me yours, then,” he gritted out, his arms wrapping around Xander and pulling him up against his chest, sliding back again, fast and hard, swallowing Xander’s moan in the kiss.

They moved together, bodies joined at mouth and hip, their thrusts lazy at times, frantic at others. Their lips covered every bit of skin they could reach, meeting again to share soft, silky kisses and then parting to suck and bite at tender skin.

“God, this is good,” Xander whispered, his hand easing around Spike’s cock and stroking in time with their thrusts.

“This is bloody fantastic,” Spike agreed, dragging his lips across Xander’s cheek. “This what you wanted, pet? This enough? Feeling it yet?”

Xander tipped his head back, looking into Spike’s eyes, his fingers closing around Spike’s cock as he wrapped another hand low on Spike’s hip, moving them together faster, tighter. “Yeah. This is it. Feel me?” he asked, thrusting up again just as Spike slid back down on him.

“Fuck, yeah,” Spike muttered. “Love your cock, Xander.” He tapped a finger against the hot cheek next to his as Xander’s eyes slid closed. “No, love. Look at me.” He waited until Xander’s eyes opened, dark and wet. “Look at me. Wanna see the look in your eyes when you come. Want you to see yourself reflected in mine.” He groaned again, grinding himself against Xander. “Wish I could see myself in yours.” He chuckled breathlessly. “Bet we look pretty hot.”

Xander slid a hand up Spike’s back, gripping the back of his neck and holding Spike’s face close to his. “We do,” he said softly. “The light against your skin, in your eyes, I can’t see myself, but I can see how you look at me. Can see the way your jaw tightens when you take me inside,” he kept his eyes on Spike’s, watching the candlelit blue deepen to black. “See how dark my hand looks, moving on your cock,” he dropped his eyes for a minute, looking down at their writhing bodies and then back at Spike. “Can see your body taking me in, watching you move against me, around me. See it…feel it…”

“Oh, god, Xander,” Spike gasped, moving faster, harsher, losing the rhythm and not caring. Xander’s hand gripped the back of his neck harder, pulling Spike in for a kiss just as Spike tightened around him, his tongue thrusting roughly into Xander’s mouth as his body shook violently, his come coating Xander’s hand and stomach as he cried out his release against Xander’s lips.

Xander dropped his head against Spike shoulder, both hands moving to Spike’s hips and holding him still as Xander thrust up desperately, moaning Spike’s name as he came hard, shuddering harshly and hearing Spike hiss as he felt Xander’s heat fill him.

Xander raised his head slowly, looking up at Spike and seeing the bruises, the bites that covered pale skin, and opening his mouth to apologize. Spike hesitantly ducked his head, his eyes unsure, and he kissed Xander softly, their bodies stilled and damp, wrapped tightly around each other as their mouths moved together easily, unhurried and sweet.

Xander pulled away reluctantly, looking up at Spike. “That was…pretty damn close to romantic,” he said, watching the candle-shadowed face above him, the jaw still clenched in pleasure, the eyes still tightly closed. Xander fell back against the couch cushions, taking a deep breath. “I guess we should probably talk about that, huh?”

Spike groaned, his head dropping to Xander’s shoulder. “Why not,” he sighed. “Been at least twenty four hours since our last bit of over-thinking. Probably due.” He pulled away from Xander, walking across the room to fumble around in his duster for cigarettes.

Xander sat up, reaching for the t-shirt on the floor and using it to wipe himself off. “Spike…”

Spike lit up, turning around. He looked at Xander for a moment, his body still warm from Xander’s, yet feeling the chill of coming rejection, and then nodded. “Okay, then. Suppose you would rather talk about how it’s possible for us to be together that isn’t just trying to fuck the world away, than to tell me what went down between you and Willow tonight.”

Xander balled up the t-shirt, twisting it in his hands. “That was just…Willow and her need for…”

“Control,” Spike said, blowing a stream of smoke at him.

“No,” Xander said automatically, and then stopped. “Maybe. She was just surprised to see you, so I had to explain why we were together.”

Spike squinted at him over the cigarette, and then laughed shortly. “Love to hear that explanation.”

Xander looked down at the shirt in his hands, smoothing the fabric over his thighs. “You know what I meant.”

Spike nodded. “Right. So, all clear between you and the chief. Back to the subject at hand, then. Where did you want to go with this? Are we still on the timeline thing – only been a week since this experiment in insanity began, only been a fortnight since life as we know it shattered at Slayer central, only been a…”

“…year since you fell desperately, unrequitedly in love with Buffy,” Xander finished, looking up at him.

Spike cocked his head. “That what you want to talk about, Xander?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

Xander exhaled, nodding, and then shook his head, saying, “You know, I’m still trying to get used to you calling me ‘Xander.’”

Spike took a deep drag and then stubbed out the cigarette. “Xander,” he said quietly, looking up and meeting the troubled gaze across the room.

“Spike,” Xander acknowledged back.

“Spike and Xander,” Spike said slowly. “Now there’s something I’d have never put together.” He looked at Xander, considering, watching candlelight dance on dark skin, glow in darker eyes. “Not that it didn’t turn out to be one hell of a good idea.”

Xander ducked his head, chuckling. “You’re dancing around the subject, Spike.”

“Been dancing for a while, haven’t we? Sorted you out first off – you trying on the armor of dark knight, ‘stead of white, taking what you want ‘cause there’s no one left to tell you can’t, or shouldn’t. No one you’re listening to, in any case.”

Xander shifted irritably on the couch, and then tossed the t-shirt aside as he got to his feet and headed into the kitchen. “No,” he answered, even though Spike had once again been telling, not asking. “That’s not why. You’re making a lot of assumptions here, buddy. Who’s to say this wouldn’t have happened, anyway? Even if Giles was still here, or if things had happened differently with Anya, or if…” he paused, jerking open the refrigerator and grabbing a beer. “No, wait, if Buffy hadn’t died, you wouldn’t have wanted this, would you?”

He walked back into the living room, finding Spike still standing in the middle of it, his bare body tensed, defensive. Xander twisted the top off of the bottle and took a long swallow. “That’s what they call a ‘moot point,’ right?”

Spike gestured to the bottle in Xander’s hand. “I see you’ve armed yourself, Sir Knight. But wait,” he said, taking the bottle out of Xander’s hand and slamming it down on the table. “Don’t let’s make this a skirmish, when we can have a bloody war,” he shot a dark look at Xander and pushed past him into the kitchen, where he tore open cabinet doors, at last finding a half-empty bottle of Scotch and smirking.

“Let’s bring out the big guns, do this right,” he said, digging for glasses and filling them. “Get royally pissed and really rip into each other.” He toasted Xander’s shocked face and then tossed back a shot, grinning around a mouthful of whiskey. “Get to the heart of things, the meat. So, come on then,” he said, pushing the glass toward Xander, “Let’s have a go – fucking and fighting’s what we do best. Give it to me, Xander.”

Xander stood still, staring at him, ignoring the glass, so Spike picked it up, walking over to him and pressing their naked bodies close. “C’mon,” he growled, wrapping Xander’s hand around the drink, rubbing harshly against him, “let me see that darkness.”

“I don’t want to fight with you, Spike,” Xander said as he shoved the drink back into the vampire’s hand and turned away.

“No,” Spike agreed, pressing against Xander’s back and wrapping an arm around the other man’s waist, holding him there. “You want to take little jabs at me, pot shots, little bit of dirty fighting and then look at me with those big soulful eyes and wait for me to be the one to piss off, leave you blameless.” He rested his chin against Xander’s rigid shoulder thoughtfully. “Well, we’re not gonna do it that way, love. Gonna teach you a new game, show you a new way to play.”

Xander pulled away from him and walked into the living room, grabbing his jeans up from the floor and moving to put them on.

“Here, none of that,” Spike said, tugging the jeans out of Xander’s hand.

“Just let me put my pants on, Spike,” Xander said with an irritated sigh, holding his hand out, “then we can talk all you want, any way you want.”

“Feeling a little, er, vulnerable, are we, Xander?” Spike asked. He kept his eyes on Xander as he tossed the jeans out of reach. “Here,” he said, holding out the drink again. “I offered you something to hide behind. Take it.” He watched as Xander unclenched his fists and then reached for the glass. “Don’t need to cover anything up anymore, right? Nothing I haven’t seen, touched,” he licked his lips as Xander swallowed the whiskey. “Tasted.”

Spike reached back into the kitchen for the bottle and tipped his head toward the living room. “So, come on then. Gonna do this right. Have a few drinks, share a few confidences, nothing we haven’t done before, eh?” He nodded Xander toward the couch and them moved to stand in front of the coffee table and refill their glasses. “And remember, Xander, while you’re glaring those death rays at me, this was your idea.” He shoved the glass toward Xander again and looked down into his own drink.

“You know,” he began conversationally, “never gave it much thought before, ‘cause you weren’t much more than an annoying blip on the radar, but you don’t really seem the talking type. You’re more of a doer who regrets after the fact, right? So what’s with this sudden need to chat me up? Could take it as a compliment, I suppose.” He raised a languid hand to his chest, his voice becoming caressing. “Oh, Spike, you’re the only one I can talk to, the only one who understands me,” Spike tossed the shot back, grinning. “But we both know that’s pure shite, right, mate?”

“Spike,” Xander bit out, starting to rise from the couch.

“Now, now,” Spike said, waving him back. “You’ll have your turn, your chance to speak your piece.” He waved the empty glass at Xander. “Or you can tell me to get the hell out. Go on, Xander. Scrape me off – let me have it – give me a good old fashioned, ‘Fuck off, Fangless.’”

Xander just glared back at him silently, and then reached for the bottle, filling his own glass.

Spike smiled. “Right then. So…we were discussing my affection for the Slayer…oh, why be so formal? We’re intimate friends now. My wanting to fuck Buffy.” His smile widened as he watched Xander’s fingers tighten around the glass. “Bet that’s been a thought that’s buggered the hell out of you, even before you let me…how was it, again? Put my ‘undead parts’ against you? What I fantasized about…the ways, the places, the positions?” He lowered his voice. “Wanna compare wank stories, Xander? I’m learning you’re a creative sort; love to hear the things you came up with, especially back when your blood ran so hot for her.”

Xander’s face was flushed from more than whiskey and Spike shrugged, backing off a bit. “But we’ve already been down this merry road, haven’t we? Told you that first night. She drew me in, just as she must have you. Wanted to be a hero’s champion, didn’t we? Drawn to the light…” Spike poured another drink, and then set it on the table, untouched. “My one shot at redemption, wasn’t it? The vampire who sacrifices himself for a Slayer. Epic, really. Should have been enough for whatever powers guide our course, but it wasn’t. In the end, not fast enough, not good enough.”

Xander’s breath hitched, hearing Spike echo Willow’s words.

“But, then, we always canonize the dead, don’t we?” Spike continued. “She can’t live up to the fantasy, anymore, so we’ll leave her to heaven. So now you’re wondering how we got from there to here, how I could claim to love her and yet turn to you so easily. Was I won over by that awkward charm you give off in waves? That young, hot body, that gleam of purity, of honor, that clings to you no matter to what depths you sink? What do you think it was, Xander?”

“I think you wanted to get laid,” Xander said thickly, pouring himself another shot.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Spike said, nodding with exaggeration. “Oh, hold on, no, it wasn’t. If that’s all this was…” he paused, hearing Xander’s agitated heartbeat begin to slow, watching his eyes become heavy-lidded as the drink began to get to him. “You need to hear the why, don’t you, pet?” he asked quietly.

Xander looked up at him, his eyes tired and lost. “Just tell me what this is, Spike.”

“And what if I tell you that I don’t know, Xander?” Spike said, walking over and dropping to his knees in front of him. “Could call it grief, call it insanity, lust, therapy? Fuck,” Spike said softly, “I don’t know the why. Why her, why you? Couldn’t save her, so now I’m going to rescue you from yourself?”

Spike laughed low, leaning in to press his lips against Xander’s throat. “I think we both know I’m not that noble.” He let his head fall against Xander’s, their faces a breath apart, heavy lidded eyes trying to lose themselves in each other. “But you have to know how much I want you, Xander. If I was just looking to ‘get in and get out,’ there’s been a whole lot of sundown between now and the first time. But I’m still here and you haven’t told me leave, so I’m thinking you must want me, too? You do, don’t you, pet? Want me, like I want you?”

Spike ran his fingers through Xander’s hair, feeling the slight movement as Xander slowly nodded. “How much?” Spike whispered.

Xander closed his eyes, groaning. “I want to make you into a pair of man-pants and go commando.”

“That right?” Spike chuckled. They had drifted closer, curling together, their foreheads touching, Xander’s breath warming Spike’s cheek. Spike closed his eyes, “So we’ll just stay here, then. The undiscovered country – from whose bourn no traveler returns, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others we know not of?” He swallowed hard, using borrowed words and leaving the rest unspoken. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,” he murmured.

Xander peeked open one eye. “What’s with all the poetry?”

Spike laughed, rubbing their foreheads together. “’S not bloody poetry, you nit. Shakespeare. Hamlet. They do still teach the classics? Or at least make you watch the sodding films?”

Xander nodded sleepily. “Yeah. Mel Gibson. ‘To thine own self be true,’ right?”

“Something like that,” Spike breathed as he met Xander’s lips with his own, tasting whiskey and want and deciding that Xander being more of a doer than a talker wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Part Thirteen

"The undiscovered country..." is from Hamlet, Act III, Scene i

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