Letters

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He came back to himself in pain.† It felt as if he were being burned alive.† *Again?† Oh please, not again, not again, I can't -*†† He threw back his head and screamed as the burning tore through him, and finally, finally, the pain ebbed - died - and he stood gasping.† *Where - where?*† Everything was...fuzzy.† Then it wasn't, and Spike could only stare in utter shock - utter horror.† *Hell.† This is Hell.† Or - it didn't work.† I failed and the First won and...*

"Spike."† That voice, that tone, and Spike staggered back a step, shaking his head.† Looked down and realized he was standing in something.† *A desk?† I'm - what the bloody hell is going on?*†† He looked up in utter confusion, and stared at Angel - at his circle of pet humans.

"Oh, fucking hell," he moaned.

 

The weeks that followed were...† †Painful just seemed too small a word to express what he was feeling.† Fading in and out like a bad radio transmission; feeling himself being drawn somewhere, and it was a frightening place.† Frightening and somehow familiar and it wanted, wanted him.† Unable to touch...† That was the worst.† He'd spent years, in Sunnydale, touching and being touched in violence.† Never with affection, or camaraderie, or with simple care.† Except for that short time with the 'bot, and the first few times with Buffy.† But at least there had been contact, of a sort.†† Now - now he ached for any touch at all, and wandered the Wolfram and Hart building at all hours, hungrily watching the various humans and demons go about their work-a-day routines and wishing, desperately, for any tiny thing.† A fight, even an argument.† Something that said he was there, he was real, not just a remnant from the final battle, fading out even as he struggled for cohesion.†

And then that day - light - and he was solid again, real again, and he took up the first willing body and had it - had her, closing his eyes and just feeling...everything.† But that ended nastily, and the next thing he knew, he was locked in battle with Angel - fighting again, and his heart was aching in his chest.† It all ended on a rather anticlimactic note, and he curled himself into the small space he'd found in a deserted office; back and sides and feet and arms pressed into the corner between posh leather sofa and faux-textured wall.† Wanting the solidity of something around him - wanting to fall into exhausted sleep feeling, even if it was only plaster and carpet and the skin of a dead cow.† At least it was touch, and that was better than nothing.

More days, of nothing at all - of struggling to find something - somewhere - to be or do.† But Angel only wanted to ignore him and the others are afraid of him, or mistrustful, and he has no place here.† He contemplates any number of things - contemplates even going to find the Scoobies.† And, as if thinking of them makes it so, suddenly there they are.† Come for a visit, or for advice - for something.† Spike isn't sure, because he's in the corner quietly breaking into pieces.† Because it's true.† That thing, that he so cheerfully acknowledged down in the pit of the First's final stand.†

"I love you."

"No you don't.† But thanks for saying it."

It had been all right, then.† Didn't matter that she didn't love him, because he was dead; finally and again and for all time, and she wasn't and she was going to go on.† She was going to live the life she'd dreamed of for so long.† Not the only girl in all the world, anymore.† Never alone again.† And he...he would be someplace else.† Someplace...nice, or at least quiet, because he'd done the right thing.† After all these years, and all the blood and terror, he'd done it just right.

But now, yanked back into the world like a bloody yo-yo, and it's hitting him harder than Angel ever did.† She doesn't love him.† Never has.† Never will.† And he doesn't think he can take this pain on top of all the other pain.† On top of just - everything.† The curious but ultimately dismissive glances of the three or four slayers that are milling around the office.† The shocked, agitated - afraid looks he's getting from the witch and the Watcher and that little blond boy with the camera.† Buffy's look...the one that quite clearly says "What in hell do we do with him now", as if he is an unexpected dog or a demanding old uncle.† Harris, over by the windows, not looking at him.† He's not wanted, in any way, and even the first amazed questions of how and when don't cover that they're all thinking the same thing.

Only that girl, that Fred, is quietly saying that he saved them all - sacrificed himself for them all - but she's being talked around - talked over - and she shoots him a frustrated, furious glance as he makes his way out the door.† As he closes it behind him, he hears Angel: "We don't know if we can trust him.† Without the chip -"† †and his heart, that is already crazed and fissured with the hammer-blows of the day, cracks into dust.† ††††††††††††

*Out of here, oh god, out of here...just go...*†† He flees downward, to the little courtyard off one side of the building.† A tree-shaded, sunken area for the employees to have a smoke or their lunch.† It's on the eastern face of the building - shadowed by the bulk of the skyscraper and further darkened by the tall sycamore and maple planted there.† He's safe here, until true dark.† He feels over the pockets of his duster and swears quietly - no cigarettes yet, and his lighter long gone.† He crosses the courtyard to the place of deepest shadow and climbs up on a picnic table.† Hugs his arms around himself and huddles there.†

*Never be enough.† Never give enough.† Never, ever, be the one...What you deserve, what you get, murderer and monster and rapist -*

"Please stop," he whispers, tucking down, trying to hide.† When that comes over him it's like being down in the basement again - down by the Hellmouth again; those little flickers of himself, of his past...† It's something he hasn't told anyone about, not even Fred, because he's afraid that whatever the First did to him is forever, now.†† He'll never get better and he'll always be crazy and he can see himself, talking to things that aren't there and seeing things that are dust and gone, for all the long years of his achingly empty life.† It terrifies him, because there isn't anyone to tell this to, and no one to care, and no one to watch out for him and he doesn't know, doesn't know at all, if he can do this alone.† He rocks himself ever so slightly, hunching lower and lower over his knees, not noticing the person moving across the courtyard to him - not noticing anything at all until a creak and shift and someone is settling on the table next to him.† He flinches and twists away - doesn't want to be seen like this - and the hand that was reaching for his shoulder hesitates - withdraws.

"So - you practicing your brooding, or what?"† Harris, it's Harris.†† Xander, in those last desperate weeks.† An almost-friend, there at the end of the world.† Although what he is now is something Spike just doesn't know, and he sits rigidly, wondering what happens next - what the boy - the man - will say.

"Spike -" on a sigh, and Xander shifts a little on the table - elbows on knees, contemplating his work-boots or maybe the leaf-littered slate of the yard.† "You ok?"† And Spike has to laugh at that - a ragged and painful sort of laugh, that forces its way out past the terror and longing that seem to be choking him.

"Oh, right as rain, me,"† he rasps out, and the laughter is suspiciously close to tears so he cuts it off - chokes it off and forces himself to sit up.† To assume the pose, the air, the studied look that's kept it all at bay for so long.† But Xander just looks at him, his single eye dark and darkly glittering with knowing, and Spike slumps again - looks away.† Remembers the day he and Xander had come to an understanding.†

 

Down in the basement at Buffy's house, alone.††† All the Potentials and the Witch and the Watcher - all the myriad occupants of the house out and about, doing their thing, and Xander suddenly at the foot of the stairs, his maimed face tense with anger and accusation.† There'd been yelling, and there'd been hitting, and finally there'd been talking.† Spike telling Xander exactly what had happened - every last miserable and scorching detail, from the very first dream to...† And telling him, too, what he'd felt - what'd he'd done next.† Telling him the story of the trip to Africa and the trials and the pain, the endless pain and confusion.† And how lost he had been - still was.† Not fitting in anywhere.† Still not a man, and still not a proper demon.† Nothing, again.† As usual.† He hadn't realized, until the warm human hands had taken his and pulled them away that he'd been clawing at his chest again.† Trying to get out that burning coal of intangible guilt that would never leave off.† He'd looked dazedly at his bloodied hands - at the mess he'd made of his chest - and felt shame.† But Xander had simply led him over to the utility sink and put his hands under the water - gently washed the blood and bits of skin away, and pressed a damp towel to his chest.†† Stripping away the ruined shirt, cleaning the wound and leading him back to the cot.† Xander had found Spike's other shirt - laid it next to him and then crouched down, looking at him.† Forcing Spike to look back.†

And - "I think I understand, Spike.† Buffy said - she forgave you.† You didn't do anything to me...not directly.† But I...forgive you too.† I don't know if we can ever be friends, but I donít want to be enemies, anymore."† ††Truth, in those quiet words, and the man had walked away upstairs and Spike had felt the slow trickle of cold tears on his cheeks - had felt a curious lightness.† Something almost like happiness.†

After that - they'd gotten along, better than they ever really had.† Worked together to defeat the First, and went into the final battle with a grin and a smirk and a nod - acknowledging the insanity of it all.† Saying† 'see you on the other side, maybe' and than plunging in.

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Now he and Xander sit here in the gloom of the courtyard, and Spike wonders what happens next.† "What're you doing out here?† Aren't you needed up there with the others?"† Spike asks finally, and Xander laughs, low chuckle.

"They're up there debating what to do with you.† Wondering if you're just gonna start being William the Bloody all over again.† Trying to figure out...your life.† I don't need to sit through that again."†

Spike flinches at the words, but then cocks his head, thinking.† "What do you mean, again?† What -"

†"Oh, that 'we're really glad you gave up your eye and your girlfriend and most of your life for the cause but now we don't have any idea what to do with you' talk.† I got that a couple weeks ago.† They've all got plans - got things all figured out - but I don't fit in with any of their plans."† Xander stops talking - sighs and pushes his hand back through hair that has grown out a bit.† He's thinner than he was - sadder - and Spike replays what Xander just said back in his mind.

"Demon-girl...didn't make it?"† he asks softly, and Xander sighs again.

"No.† She...didn't.† Andrew says - she died saving him."† A soft snort of derision and Spike can feel a smile tugging at his own lips.

"Hard to believe," he says, and Xander outright laughs.

"Yeah.† Maybe that's what it looked like from his end, but...† She was just fighting for herself, ultimately.† Like we all were."† Xander shrugs - pushes his hands hard into the pockets of his jacket and looks up at the softly rustling leaves of the trees.† Spike wants to say that that's not right, but was he really fighting for anybody but himself?†† Fighting for a last scrap of honor - for the vestiges of the man he'd once been.† He doesn't know, and shakes his head and tunes back in to what Xander is saying.

"I miss her.† We weren't even - together there, at the end, but I still miss her.† I..."† Spike glances at him - sees the troubled frown and nods.

†"Yeah.† I know,"† he says, and Xander subsides.

"Anyway - they don't know what to do with me, either.† But I've got plans."

"Yeah?"†

"Yeah."† Xander pulls something out of his pocket and hands it to Spike, and Spike unfolds it; a flyer, printed on heavy, glossy paper.† A riotous mish-mash of skulls and flames and grinning devil-faces.†

'Joker's Wild' in jagged script.†

"What in bloody hell is it?"† Spike asks, and Xander grins at him.

"It's like - it's kind of like a circus and kind of like...a traveling side-show.† They do all kinds of stuff.† Fire-twirling and fire-eating and these crazy little skits and acrobatics and stuff...† Sort of 'Cirque du Soleil' meets 'Village of the Damned' or something."† Spike looks at the flyer - back up to Xander, and sees the pain that's there.

"You're not a freak, mate.† You donít belong in a sideshow."† Xander looks at him - shakes his head minutely.

"No.† I mean - it's not the sideshow thing, it's just...† They travel all over, you know?† They set up at concerts and festivals and stuff - travel with different bands sometimes, do fairs and things...† I just want to - go, you know?†† I want - I need - to just get out of here.† Just be someplace else for a while.† I can't work construction around here - I'm too much of an insurance risk, with this -" Gesture of one hand towards the eye patch, and Spike nods, watching him.† "And they don't care about that.† I mean - they need somebody who can fix stuff and build stuff and who isn't all - freaked out by JoJo the Amazing Dog-boy or whatever, you know?† I met some of the acrobats at a bar, couple weeks ago.† We just - we talked, and I really liked them and they - invited me."† Spike hears what's not being said; 'They wanted me, when no one else did...' and he understands that.†† He nods again - offers the flyer back to Xander, who shakes his head.

"Keep it.† They've got a website.† Maybe you can - track me down sometime.† I'd really like it if you...kept in touch."† Xander is looking at him, steady and serious, and Spike feels a welling of warmth in his chest.† Gratitude, and a little bit of amazement.

"Sure, whelp."† Xander blinks, and Spike grins - shakes his head.† "I guess you're not that, anymore.† All grown up now, aren't you?"† Xander grins back - gestures to the patch.

"Just call me Ahab," he says, and Spike laughs.

"That's supposed to be 'Ishmael'."†† Spike says, and gives Xander a long and considering look.† "Off to see the various parts of the world, then."

"Yeah."† Xander looks up at the green lacery overhead, a small smile on his face, and Spike feels a sort of longing.† *See the world*††

"I just can't stand to be...† I'm just done here, you know?† Done everything I could, and...† Time to move on."† Sadness is in that last bit, and Spike nods slowly.

"You're right, you know," he says, and Xander looks at him, eyebrows going up in silent question.† "About them, up there.† Trying to decide what to do with the barmy old uncle who just won't go away.† Time for me to move on as well, I'd say."† With those words floating on the air between them, Spike feels a sudden and incredible - rightness.† A wave of relief.† He's leaving - moving on - getting on with things.† Leaving the pain behind, maybe.†

Beside him, Xander reaches out and gently squeezes his shoulder.† "Feels good, doesn't it,"† he says softly, and Spike nods.

"Yeah.† First thing that's felt good...in a long time."†† They sit silently after that, just...being, in the rapidly gathering gloom.†

Finally, Xander stands and stretches - grins over at Spike.† "You gonna come back up?"†

Spike looks at the building looming over them - jumps up off the table and pushes his hands into the pockets of his duster, pushing the flyer down into the bottom of the deepest one.† "Nah.† Think I'll just be on my merry way, Ishmael."†

Xander laughs.† "I'll tell 'em you ran away to sea."† Spike gives him his patented smirk - feels it slip a bit, and Xander is suddenly serious.†† "Be careful, Spike.† Just...be careful, ok?"† That dark eye, searching his face, and Spike reaches out and gently pushes back a lock of hair, smoothing it into the rest.

"You too, mate.† Thanks, Xander."

"Yeah.† 'Bye, Spike."† Xander ducks his head - smiles at him.† Turns and he's gone, back into the office tower and Spike stands for a moment in the darkness.† Then his head comes up, his shoulders go back, and he struts out of there - out of the courtyard and out of L.A., and out of California altogether.† Start of something new, and it feels good.

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"You don't want to do that, luv," Spike says, and the girl blinks at him - turns her carmined mouth down in a pout.†

"But -"

"You're just not built right.† Not quite enough flesh at the top, there.† But -"† Spike raises an eyebrow - quirks his lips just a little.† "You more than make up for that here."† He let's his hand just ghost over her chest - not quite touching the mountainous breasts that she's jammed into a stretchy sweater.† The girl blinks again - glances down at herself and then smiles.

"You think?† I heard that really hurts."

"No pain no gain, ducks.† So, you think both or just the one?"† The girl contemplates herself again - looks up at Spike who is, this week, sporting a crescent-shaped claw of matte-black metal through his septum.† Whose other piercings are easily seen, outlined against the black, ribbed material of the wife-beater he wears.† She lifts her head, gathering courage and straightening her spine.

"Both,"† she says, and Spike grins at her and pats her shoulder - hands her the clipboard with the release form to fill out and moves to the back of his room, setting up.† Truth be told, the girl is just too fat to get her navel pierced; the folds of flesh above and below would simply chafe the piercing into rawness and force it out in weeks.† Nipples are a better choice, plus they're twice what a navel costs.†† Spike moves easily through his routine, setting out a sterile needle in its autoclave bag, setting out the 'claved jewelry and the Betadine and all the other things he uses.† Latex gloves, which he really doesn't like but it's how this is done, so he uses them.†† The girl smiles up at him when he comes back to her, proffering the clipboard with her driver's license stuck under the clip, and the folded cash.† He takes both - makes a copy of the license and hands it back, staples the form and copy together and quickly scrawls jewelry size and price and quantity at the bottom - signs underneath.† Then they're ready, and the girl - Chloe - sits nervously in his chair.†

"Those are kinda big, aren't they?" she asks, spying the jewelry, and Spike grins.

"You gotta go with what you got - big for big, Chloe.† Trust me, it'd look weird otherwise.† And this'll heal better."† She looks at him - at the jewelry - then firms her mouth and tugs at the bottom of her sweater, pulling it off.† The bra underneath is a push-up style, and Spike has her take it off.†† He has her stand, hands at her side, so he can make the marks for entrance and exit even, and then they're ready.† It's over faster then she thinks it will be, and she sits there watching him put the needle in the Sharps container, watching him dispose of most everything on his worktop and spray the stainless steel down with a hospital-grade de-germer.† Her eyes are watering a bit, and her hands are shaking, but she did well, and after he washes the Latex powder off his hands, Spike digs into the oversize plastic Halloween demon-skull on his counter and pulls out a bright red Tootsie-Pop.† He hands it to her with a flourish.

"You did just grand, luv," he says, and she giggles and takes the candy.† He pulls a folded paper from the full box at the other end of the counter and unfolds it, showing it to her.† After-care instructions or, as the paper says; 'Five Easy Steps to Not Fucking Up Your New Piercing'.† Tock's idea, and it always makes the client laugh.† He goes over the instructions with her, the rich scent of her blood heady in his nostrils.† She listens, her mouth pursed around the candy, eyes riveted on his.† Then he hands her the paper and stands - picks up the mirror that is silver-side to the wall and turns, holding it where she can see.† Her eyes widen and she stands up - arches her back a little and examines the new piercings.†

"Oh my god.† I can't believe I did it!† Moira's gonna be so jealous!"† Chloe turns from side to side, then suddenly seems to remember she's naked from the waist up and flushes a little.† Spike puts the mirror away - gestures to the door.†

"You can have your friend in, before you get your shirt back on."†

"Ooh - yeah!"† Chloe cracks the door - peeks out.† "Moira!† Moira, oh my god, come see!"† She backs up hastily as the slightly thinner Moira slips through, and then there is about three minutes of squealing and bouncing and giggling, and Spike shakes his head and waits, watching them.† Chloe dabs at a tiny bead of blood on the side of her left nipple and bites her lip a little, and Spike feels the demon stir.† Wanting.

*Soon* he tells it - soothing it unconsciously - and it slips back into the twilight it inhabits when it's not needed.† William doesn't even stir - he deliberately turns himself off when Spike is at work; his Victorian soul shrinking from the flesh and the language and the actual job, horrified and aroused and ashamed.† Spike lets him do that - lets him hide, even though it's Williams' hunger for touch that will drive them all out when he's done here.† William who will urge Spike to go to clubs or bars or concerts to find the blood he needs and to obtain it with seduction and sweet smiles and as much physical contact as possible.†† Which is fine, because Spike craves the touch as much as William does, and doesn't mind at all, not at all.††† Only the demon is unhappy with this arrangement, but it gets what it craves, as well, on other nights when Spike is just as happy to rip to shreds as he is to kiss.†

Chloe gently eases her sweater down over her breasts - looks down at the rings of steel that make obvious circles and giggles.† Then she reaches into her purse and pulls out something - puts it in the jar that sits on Spike's counter.† A twenty.† *Nice tip for a working girl*†† Spike thinks.† Chloe is a telemarketer.

"Wow, this was really so cool.† You are just the best, Spike," she says, and comes up to him - hugs him carefully.† They do this a lot, his clients, and Spike doesn't mind.† She grabs a handful of his business cards from the holder and waves them in the air.†

†"I will definitely be telling people where I got this done."

"Thanks luv,"† Spike says, ushering her out, and she and her friend are through the door, going down the L-shaped staircase that leads to his room.† The rest of the shop - three tattoo stations and a large waiting area - are down and to the right, and you have to climb five steps, cross a tiny landing, and climb four more steps to get to his room.† He's neatly tucked away in this corner, out of direct line of every mirror in the place and the big plate-glass windows in the front, as well.† The door that leads back to the employee's only area - store room, 'clave room, break area, bathroom and fire exit - is right at the foot of his stairs.† He feels safe in his lair.†

The shop is crowded - the air thick with the pulsing dance-mix that Tock favors -and the noise level is deafening.† Spike stands on the landing and looks around - sees the floor manager and nods.† She nods back - makes her way through the crowd to a lean, dread-locked boy in baggy cargo pants and Limp Bizkit t-shirt.† His next client.† Spike flexes his hands and grins, and goes back into his room.

 

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Five in the morning, and sunrise still over two hours off.† It doesn't really matter, though, because Seattle is a dark city - a city of rain and clouds and heavy overcast that lasts for a week, sometimes.† It's a lot like the London Spike remembers, and it makes him feel...safe, this darkness.† Nothing like the unrelenting sun of the Hellmouth.† Spike leans against a damp brick wall, letting the larger, auburn-haired man that he's kissing pin him down.† Letting the heat of a living body soak into him.† He's lost his shirt somewhere, in the club, and the man's hands rub over his chest - tug at the matte-black rings the vampire has through his nipples; moaning into Spike's mouth as Spike deftly undoes button and zipper and slides his hands inside the tight jeans.† The man is erect - eager - and Spike lets him take charge - lets himself be pushed down, until he's crouching on his heels, the brick cold against his back.† He wastes no time in putting his mouth around the mans' cock - in sucking and pulling and kneading the furnace-hot flesh until the man is groaning and arching and coming, hands in Spike's hair and his face turned up to the sky, breath just visible in the chill.† The mist, that is trying hard to become rain, slicks the man's face and draggles his hair.† But he's still handsome, even like this - jeans around muscled thighs and a dumpster ten paces away.† Spike slides up the man's body - catches the still-open mouth in a hard kiss and the man melts into him.

"Oh man -" he breathes, and then Spike is turning him, pushing him into the wall, his turn now, and the man shudders, head low between his shoulders.†† Spike gets his own jeans open - gets a condom out of the back pocket and rolls it on.† Most won't do it, unless he uses protection, but he doesn't mind.†† With his free hand he caresses the tense muscles of the man's belly and chest - pushes between pale buttocks.† The man moans again - arches back - and Spike pushes inside, grateful for lubricated condoms that make this less messy and much, much easier.† He thrusts in, gasping at the heat, and his hands are on the man's shoulders, pulling him back tight, his mouth on the fragrant skin of the man's throat.† Sweat and smoke and some musky cologne, and Spike trails his tongue over the delicious skin - over the thudding pulse that's just there.† He bites down lightly with his human teeth, and the man makes an eager noise - pushes back.† Spike has found that place, inside him, and now the man is fucking back as hard as Spike is fucking him, half-hard and jacking himself to another orgasm.†† Spike licks at the taut flesh of the man's throat, feeling the blood pulsing underneath - changes and sinks his fangs in deeply.† Third time tonight and he's feeling good.† The man cries out hoarsely, head down and legs straining, coming against the brick, fingers clawing at the rough surface.†† Spike drinks and drinks - just enough, not too much, and he's coming as well, deep as he can get, his chest plastered to the man's back, reveling in the warmth.††† They both groan - their bodies slow and finally stop - and Spike gently slips his fangs out.† He reverts to his human face to nuzzle into the auburn hair and strong neck - the soft edge of a worn chambray work-shirt.† He moves just enough, slipping out, and in a minute the condom is in the dumpster and Spike's jeans are closed.† The other is still leaning on the wall, breathing hard, and Spike turns him gently and fixes the other's pants - smoothes the dark blue shirt.

"Did you bite me?"† The man asks, a little dazed, and Spike licks his lips.

"Just a little...sorry?"

"S'okay.† Felt good."† The man is a little drunk - a lot post-coital hazed - and Spike doesn't think he'd object to anything much, right now.

"Let's get you a cab, eh mate?" he says, and the man grins at him - slings his arm around Spike's naked shoulders and they weave up the alley to the front of the club.† Spike gets the man inside - gets the bouncer on the phone for a cab and then slips away.† He gets his coat from the coat-check girl and shrugs it on.† Same old duster, a little the worse for wear.† The motorcycle boots are new, though - he'd traded his Docs to some punk in Saigon; traded them for a half-hour in a back room and blood sweet and rich as cream.† The punk had watched him, sprawled naked on a mattress, his black eyes sultry and knowing, and Spike had taken the boys ratty sandals and gone out, shedding another bit of his past and all the lighter for it.† The duster is the only thing he can't seem to shed - even in the steaming heat of Vietnam he'd wanted it, and had finally boxed it up and sent it to a demon he knew in San Francisco - someone who could hold it for him, no questions asked.† When he'd got back to the states, it had been like coming home; slipping that cool, heavy weight over his shoulders, and he'd been so glad he'd kept it.† Old/new hair, too.†† He's gone back to his punk days.† Bleached moon-white and got up in soft, tangled spikes all over.† The girl at the store, handing him some hair product or another, called it the 'just got fucked in the back seat of Daddy's car' look, and Spike likes that.

Now he goes outside again, walking the long blocks home.† He's in the free-ride zone, but he doesn't mind walking - sometimes he runs into something that needs killed, or someone else he can tap for a pint or two.† And the air here smells good - sea smell and wood and damp brick, fish and spices and the fresh breeze off the Sound.† He's got an apartment in the International District - something like Chinatown and Little Saigon and Hong Kong all rolled into one.† After the time he spent in the East, he's comfortable there.† He likes to listen to his neighbors talk - the strangely bird-like dialects from all over Asia.†† They seem to know he is - something different - and they don't bother him.†

He crosses Jackson Street and grins happily up at the fire-red dragon that winds around the light-pole there.† Almost home, and he's ready to be there.† His building is red brick with ornate metal balconies and a pagoda-style roof that's been renovated in the last decade.† He fishes in his pocket for his keys and nods to the old man who is emerging, turtle-like, from the house next door, armed with a broom and a folding chair.†† Always the first one out, that old man, to sweep the sidewalk in front of his building and watch the neighborhood come to life.† The man nods back and Spike puts the key in the lock - opens the vestibule door and goes to the row of metal mailboxes.† A letter, and Spike grins and bounds lightly up three stories to his place.† It's tiny, his apartment.† Sitting room with the kitchen off to the right, bedroom in the back with the bathroom accessible only through the bedroom.† Basically a big square that's been portioned into rooms, with windows down the left-hand walls.† Three big ones in the living room and one in the bedroom.† None in the kitchen or bath - those walls connect to other apartments.† He'd found the company that made that special glass, that the Wolfram and Hart building had, and so he doesn't need to muffle his windows up in heavy drapes.† He has drapes, because sometimes he likes to be private, but it's nice, too, to stand in the warmth that manages to come through the tinting and the glass and watch the daily life of his neighborhood spool out below him like a PBS documentary.†

Spike puts the mail on his table by the door - drops his keys in the bowl and shrugs out of the duster, laying it over a chair. †Boots by the door and he's walking back to the bathroom, shedding jeans and socks into a laundry basket that's half out of the open closet door.† Into the shower - blissfully hot water and lemon verbena soap, expensive shampoo with lavender and peppermint, conditioner with chamomile.† He's rediscovered his hedonistic side, after the dark, dull days of Sunnydale.† After living in the crypt and living in the basement, he wants more, now, and doesn't care if 'demons' do this, or not.† He does, and that's all that matters.† He wants good smells and soft sheets and warmth, and has indulged his inner Victorian horribly in the way of rich colors, many books, and a very proper tea set.† Which he still winces over, from time to time, but uses nonetheless.† Clean, warm, dry, he snuggles into a fleece dressing gown and goes into the kitchen for a tumbler-full of whiskey.† He gets his mail and sprawls on the couch.† The mundane things - a bill, a circular for a shoe sale, another bill - go on the coffee table.† It's the letter Spike wants, and he holds it for one delightful anticipatory moment before carefully slitting it open.

†††††††††††††††

 

October 7th

Hey Mr. the Bloody -

Writing from a place called Potosi, Missouri.† Writing as we get the hell out of here.† You know those signs on the side of the road, 'Highway for the next 1 mile Adopted by:'?† Usually it says the Kiwanis Club or something, but here it says the KKK.† The guy at the gas station says they keep getting torn down and the city keeps putting them back up.† Not a place we like to be.

On our way south - wintering over down in the Keys.† I'm looking forward to it.† It's been a long, strange

year...

 

 

Spike stops reading - lets the letter fall to his lap as he remembers the year, himself...

†††††††††††††††

 

 

Way back in January he'd said goodbye to L.A. - to the States.† Said goodbye to Xander.† Got on a container ship and headed west.† Found himself in Saigon three weeks later and simply started walking.†† And in the highlands of Vietnam, he let the demon out.†† After a month in the wet and heat his clothing had rotted off his body and he had become a ghost in the night, moving through jungle and swamp, holing up in caves during the day, or simply digging himself down into the ground and hiding from the sun.† It had felt so...good, to simply let go.† To do whatever the demon prompted.† Spike still had control - he was the glue that held it all together and made it possible for the demon to exist even minimally in the human world, and he kept it from the most outrageous acts of mayhem.† But the first night, in Saigon, when he'd sunk his fangs into a half-drunk bar girl and drunk her living, scalding blood - had been unforgettable.† After that, he never hesitated to take what he needed from whatever human was around.† He mostly didn't kill - there wasn't any need, in the teeming cites of Laos and Vietnam and Cambodia.† But sometimes he did kill - the pimps and the addicts and the murderers, caught in the act.† Their blood was like wine, and he took it gleefully and without thought†† He was in the jungle, both vegetative and concrete, for months.††

He stowed away aboard other ships and went down to Malaysia and Indonesia - over to the Philippines.†† Hiding down in the bilges and fasting for a day or two between ports.† There were Muslim guerillas in the south Philippine islands; firefights and deadly ambushes and men in tattered uniforms, and he moved among them like a vengeful spirit.† His hair was long and matted, dreadlocked and almost black with dirt and blood.† He rarely spoke - rarely stayed in one place for more than a night.† He happily joined in the fights he found, diving into the ranks of men with automatic weapons and grenades and rocket-launchers, shredding flesh from bone and grinning a mad-dog grin that sent terror into their hearts.† Didn't matter which side they were on, he just wanted the concussion of flesh on flesh and the fragrant haze of blood and terror.† Months of this, and finally he was...done.† Sated on violence and blood as he hadn't been in years.† Feeling every inch of his immortal, supernatural body - feeling it thrum with health and power and the magic that kept him as he was.††

He made his way north and found a clutch of journalists - drained the one from the BBC and took his clothes and gear.†† Walking down the streets in Manila, he checked into a posh hotel and spent a week shedding the demon.† It took days of long soaks in the tub to get the dirt and blood out of his skin.† He worked at the tangle of his hair and finally had to have it cut off - buzzed down to a quarter-inch of light brown stubble.† He bought a pair of cheap boots, three changes of clothes and a leather knapsack to carry them in and hop-scotched his way back to the States, sleeping in airports when he couldn't get connecting flights at night.† Using the money and uncut gems and bits of stolen gold that he'd acquired during his sabbatical to finance his way.† And it had been a sabbatical.† Seven years, a little less, spent in Sunnydale and in L.A., fighting everything he was - clinging to an idea and an ideal that he'd simply lost faith in.† And lost interest in, as well.

Back in L.A. he'd stolen a car and gone north, as fast as he could.† Up to the rain and the dark of Puget Sound.† It just seemed right, and he liked it here - liked it a lot.† Hell, half the city was underground.† Eight months, give or take, of roaming the Far East.† Eight months of being empty of most every thought and following only desire; going back to the 'want-take-have' that is the demon in purest form.†† Now he's ready to be social again - ready to slip back into the world of the living and enjoy himself.† He still has a bag of gems - rough sapphires and rubies - that he got in Vietnam.† They're not worth a lot, but about half of them financed the black monster of a motorcycle that he rides, and the furniture and TV and stereo.† The job at the tattoo shop pays well - better than expected - and he's living high, here.† Has everything, just about.† Almost.†

But he's still lonely - still aches for someone to hold onto in the long hours alone.† Wishes for another voice in the silence of his rooms.† Sometimes, when he's very tired or feeling very alone, he'll get that little stutter, in his head.† Reality will come untethered, just a bit, and he'll find himself in a corner - in the dark.† His soul grieving for times past and blood shed, and then he has to give it a talking-to.† A long lecture.† Telling it that it's not to blame - that it, that he, Mother's dear William, didn't do those things.† Telling his soul that his hands are clean.†† Telling him he doesnít commit wholesale slaughter of the innocents anymore.† Telling him that he - they - will find someone, sometime soon, to keep the past and the loneliness at bay.† Sometimes this involves pacing and mumbling to himself.† Sometimes this involves shouting and crying and clawing himself bloody.† Sometimes.†† The soul will leave off, then - subside and let go and let him be normal again.† Until next time.

But he has Xander's letters, that have been coming every few days for two months - ever since he got his apartment.† He'd found the Jokers Wild flyer down in the pocket of his duster and went online at the library to see what the site said.† It showed a touring schedule, and showcased their headline acts, and had a contact address.† He'd written - told someone somewhere out there that his name was Spike and could his address please be passed along to a one Mr. Harris.† A week later he'd stared in surprise at the fat letter poking out of his mailbox.† Three days later there'd been another one.† Now they were the best part of his day.† He couldn't write back, not until Xander got to the wintering-over place they used.† Some compound down in Islamorada, where the Jokers Wild crew had little bungalows and trailers, and spent the unprofitable winter months working up new acts, visiting family and spending the paychecks they'd pretty much stockpiled all summer.††

Xander's letters were full of fun and jokes and wry observations on the people around him.† Full of dark little comments on life in general.† Spike could tell he was lonely too - could tell he longed for something, but just couldn't find it.†† Spike felt as if he knew Xander better than anyone in his life.† The cathartic effect of writing to a distant and nonjudgmental friend had opened floodgates of emotion and memory and desire in the human, and Spike longed for the day he could send his own letters.† He had, in fact, been writing back ever since that first letter.† Writing a reply to everything Xander had said, day by day and week by week in a cloth-bound journal.† It was half full, now, and in a bit he'd get up and add to it.† And when Xander finally got a real address, he'd send it off.† Spike smiled to himself at the thought - hoped Xander would like it.† Then he looked back to the letter in his hand, and read on.

 

 

It's funny how some places are so great.† You go in and set up and before you're halfway through there's local kids swarming around, and the Sheriff comes by to say 'hello' and actually mean it, not warn you about drugs and drinking and 'causing trouble'.† And when the shows are going on and the Living Dead Girl and the contortionist and all the acts are running, and the Midway is crowded,† some old geezer with bib overalls and a missing tooth will come by and offer you a beer and tell you all about what he did in the war, or the time he and his brothers went down to Mexico.† Then you'll come to a place - maybe a days drive from the first - and everybody'll just be mean.† They'll look at you like you're the devil himself and won't touch you when they hand back your change.† That used to really bug me, when I first started this job, but now...I just laugh at those people.† How I was perceived - what everyone else thought of me - used to be so important, and now it's the last thing on my mind.

Thought about you today, when we were setting up the main tent.† Somebody was playing Sinatra and that song 'My Way' came on, and all I could think about was you singing it that one time on patrol, and telling me all about the Sex Pistols and Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten.† I almost gave them the 'Spike' version of the song, but common sense won out and I kept my mouth shut.† Everyone's ears were grateful, I'm sure.

It's almost three in the morning and I'll be surprised if you can even read this - my eyes are practically crossing.† So I'm going to end this, and take up the tale tomorrow.† Or maybe the next day, cause I'm supposed to help run the 'Jolly Roger' tomorrow and they're gonna want me to do the pirate thing and I'm gonna be pissed all night.† So maybe the next day.

Take care of yourself....

'Ishmael'

 

Spike folded the letter over and held it to his chest - laid his head back on the couch and stared at the ceiling.† "Thought about you today."† †That line, in every single letter he's gotten from Xander.† He could remember that night on patrol as clearly as if it had been yesterday.† Himself belting out the song, doing the sneer and the stagger, and Xander watching with wide eyes, halfway between laughter and horror.†† A good night.† A night to remember, when most of the nights and days then had been full of fear and pain and hopelessness.† A good memory.† And he thinks about Xander, too - every day since the first letter.† Thoughts that have long since changed from friendly interest to...something much, much more.†† Spike got up and went over to his desk - got out the journal and sat down, and began his reply.

 

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ********************

 

 

Spike slumped languidly in one of the tattoo stations, spinning his chair right and than left.† In the next station over, Tock was putting the finishing touches on a drawing.† Their floor-manager, Elli, was getting the final piece of a whole-arm design, a sleeve.† She was all flowers and leaves and bugs and shimmering drops of water from shoulder to wrist.†† Today she was getting the final bit; a Froud-inspired fairy on a toadstool that would fill in the gap on her inner forearm.†† Tock bobbed his head unconsciously to the music - Jethro Tull, Elli's pick - and looked down at the drawing.

"Done.† I think it's done.† Elli!† C'mere."† Spike watched as Tock took the sketch and quickly cut away the blank paper around it, then held it up to the empty place on Elli's arm.† "Right - see?† Perfect.† Just lay the edge of the 'shroom over here..."† Tock smoothed the paper, tweaked it, studied it while Elli stood and grinned over at Spike.† Spike grinned back, watching.† A distraction, this.† He'd come wandering down here on the day the shop was closed, hoping someone would be around.† He'd let slip, his past letter, something about the soul - about those times - and now Xander wanted to understand; was concerned and a little freaked and Spike was finding the whole thing impossible to describe.† So he'd packed up his stationary and quasi-fountain pen (another indulgence for William, and that made him shake his head in self-mockery) and gone out.† Now here he was at eight in the evening, watching Tock set up, watching Elli settle herself in the chair, getting comfortable.† She'd be under the needle for three hours, at least, and she squirmed around while Tock washed his hands and got out gloves.

"Jesus, Tock, this chair sucks.† You need to get something more comfortable."

"Nothing wrong with that chair,"† Tock said, hooking the power cord to one of his machines and toeing the foot-pedal.† The machine buzzed to life, sounding like a dentist's drill by Harley-Davidson, and Tock made minute adjustments - revved it a couple times.

"This chair is hard.† And the back is too short.† You should get those kind of salon chairs -"

"If they're too comfy they just slouch and get all out of position.† This kind of chair keeps them sitting up and paying attention."† Tock switched machines and Elli rolled her eyes.† A familiar argument, and Spike spun his chair again - contemplated the empty mirror across from him.

"What's up, Spike?† You look - a little down."† Tock was carefully adjusting the tube that held the needle-bar, but he glanced up, eyes bright with concern.

"Nah.† Not down, just...† Gotta tell Xander some things and...I'm not sure how."† Spike waved at the barely-begun letter he'd laid out on the counter - on Jen's station, actually - and Tock glanced at it - tightened down the screw that held the tube in place and revved the machine one more time.

"Oh.†† Things like..."† Tock made an expressive sort of face, rather like the Munch painting 'The Scream', and Spike frowned and nodded.

"Yeah."† Tock looked thoughtfully at him for a moment, then went back to setting up for Elli's tattoo, and Spike slouched in his chair, thinking...remembering.

 

 

He'd been in Seattle for a week, and was out exploring.† The tattoo shop had its doors open, lights and music blaring, and he'd been as attracted as a moth to a flame.† The name - Faintly Macabre - made him laugh, and he'd walked in, looking around with interest.†† About a dozen people milled around the floor, looking at pages of designs on the walls, notebooks full of photos and stacks of art books.† Paintings, photos, and drawings jostled for space with shelves full of books and action figures from movies like 'Hellraiser'.†† Three areas, separated by low walls, held tattoo stations.† Two were in use, a man and a woman, both tattooing men.† One had a woman sitting in it, a half-done tattoo gently seeping blood down her arm.† The demon had sniffed approvingly and Spike had grinned - tattoo shops smelled so good.† Then a huge man had come striding out of the back and straight up to Spike.

"Tell me you're here to get tattooed!† Please!"† The man was six inches taller than Spike and easily a foot wider.† He had a mane of red-gold hair and a lush but well-trimmed mustache.† He was like a Viking, all tan skin and bulging muscle and that hair, and when he grinned at Spike - who in deference to the August warmth had left his duster at home - Spike saw two rather long incisors capped in gold.† And - something else...some frission of otherness that made Spike a little wary.† He found out later that this man - Tock - was part ogre, and his shop was open to humans and demons alike.† But at that moment, Tock was lusting over Spike's perfectly pale and perfectly untouched skin, and Spike had shaken his head.

"Just lookin', mate.† Nice place."

"The best!† I'm Tock."† Tock had shown him a few things - encouraged him to look at the portfolios full of pictures of the three artists' work - and gone back to his customer.†† The blood-scent thickened and Spike turned from the portfolios to see a heavy-set boy walk past with a pierced eyebrow.† It was bleeding just a bit, and the boy was dabbing at it with a square of stained gauze.† Intrigued, Spike looked around for where the boy had come from and saw a blond woman standing at the top of a short flight of steps.† She was dressed in floaty 'hippie' style clothes, and she was scowling.

"Elli!† Any more?† I gotta go!"

"Nah - nobody else.†† Aren't you on 'til midnight?"† A tall, raw-boned woman, her arms heavily tattooed and her hair shaved into a wide mohawk, came up to the foot of the steps.

"Yeah, but I already told Tock I had to leave early."† Elli didn't seem happy and the blond woman looked a bit - out of it.† Spike sniffed, mouth a little open, and scented sweat and blood and a particular sweetish-petrol-sour scent that he identified as meth.

"You know we always get people late, after the movies and stuff."

"Yeah.† But I gotta do some stuff."† The blond turned and went up, going into a room and shutting the door.† Elli shook her head and walked away.† Spike stayed, watching the tattooists work - watching Tock.† The artist was full of laughter - full of bouncy energy.† *Like Xander*†† He had black line drawings tattooed all over his arms and chest; peeking out from under a frayed denim vest.† The drawings were odd; attenuated men in top-hats, a squatty little man in a uniform of some sort, a strange sort of cloudy monster.† In the very middle of his chest, bigger than the others, was a dog with a very large watch for a body, and the third time Tock caught Spike staring at it, he laughed and beckoned him over.

"That's Tock.† He's a watchdog."† Tock said, watching Spike's face, and the vampire frowned.†

"That you?"†

"Kind of.† Here."† Tock toed open a drawer in his desk and gestured with an elbow.† His gloved hands were full of tattoo machine and ink-and-blood smeared paper towel.† "Grab that book."† Spike looked and saw a paperback book - took it out.† 'The Phantom Tollbooth' on the front, and there was the watchdog.† Spike raised an eyebrow - looked at Tock.

"It's the best book in the world, man.† You borrow that, read it.† I mean it."† Spike had weighed the book in his hands - nodded finally.

"Right.† Back tomorrow then," he'd said, and gone out to find something to eat.† The demon was a little antsy, having smelled blood it couldn't touch for two hours.† When he got home, Spike curled up in bed and read the book, laughing over the adventures of Milo, Tock and the Humbug as they went to the rescue of the Princesses Rhyme and Reason.† He grinned at the 'which', Faintly Macabre, and when he was finished he closed the book and snuggled down into the covers and dreamed about tattoos.

 

The next night he returned the book, discussed it with Tock, and then watched as the laughing man suddenly turned into a pissed-off ogre.† The blond woman - the piercer - hadn't come in.

"She's sick," Elli said, her voice thick with sarcasm, and Tock had brought a fist down with a thump on the counter.

"She's a fuckin' junkie and I told her this was her last chance.† She's fired, Elli."† Tock fumed, pacing around his shop, swearing and stomping.††† Then he turned to Spike.

"Ever done a piercing?"† he asked.†

A week later (Tock told him it was an 'accelerated' course, and as a vampire he'd know more about anatomy then most, anyway), Tock had shown Spike everything he knew, and Spike had done his first night's worth of piercings.†† That night, flushed with success and feeling as if he had perhaps made some friends, he'd gone with Tock, Jen, and Shane - the other tattoo artists - for a drink.† He'd found out that Tock and Elli were in an on-again, off-again relationship that was currently 'off', and he'd ended up going home with Tock and getting fucked for three hours straight.† Demon endurance was damn fun.†††

 

He'd settled into the shop, into the routine, and the second time he'd gone home with Tock he'd ended up having a bit of a...† Well, William had decided to come out for a bit, and when Spike had finally come back to himself he was in the corner in Tock's kitchen, blood all down his chest and Tock sitting cross-legged across from him, eyes serious and a little sad.

†"Vampire with a soul, huh?"† he'd said, and Spike had nodded and covered his face with shaking, sticky hands.† Ashamed, angry - desperate to leave but unable to force himself up out of the corner.† Tock hadn't pushed - hadn't said another thing for an hour while Spike tried to gather his wits and his courage enough to get up.† When he did, Tock had simply pulled him close and hugged him, then sent him to the shower.†† When Spike came out, dressed and edgy and wondering what happened next, Tock had pointed out that it was dark enough for him to leave, and had taken him across town to a bar that catered to their kind.† Spike had drunk a couple of pints of blood and a bottle of whiskey and Tock had gulped hard cider like it was water and they'd ended up down at Pier 67 and the Edgewater, trying to get the hotel to rent them some fishing poles so they could go fishing like Led Zepplin and catch a mudshark.†† The staff had put on sad, resigned faces and called the police and he and Tock had run, laughing, into the night.† After that they were okay; Spike didn't feel so bad about the whole thing and Tock didnít mention it, but Spike knew the half-ogre was watching out for him.

And now - he had to try and explain something to Xander he really wasn't all that sure he got, himself.† Beside him, Tock got into the rhythm of things, working silently and quickly, and Elli was engrossed in some movie she had playing on her laptop.† Spike sighed and sat up - reached for his pen and bent to the paper.

†††††††††††††††

 

December 27th

Xander...

 

First, don't be...freaked out.† It sounds...† Well, it sounds awful, I guess, or scary, but it's not so bad.† Doesnít happen all that often.† It's just sometimes.† When I'm really tired, or...when it's really quiet...when I've been alone too long.†

†††††††††††††††

 

Spike looked at that line and almost crossed it out - but didn't.† He'd sworn privately to be as truthful as Xander had been, and he wasn't going to start editing himself, no matter how pathetic he came across.

†††††††††††††††

 

That sounds so...pathetic.† But it's the truth, no denying it.† See, when Dru turned me - the soul was gone.† I don't know where it went - heaven maybe, or purgatory, or hell - maybe just to some limbo where it has to wait for its body to die.† Maybe - it was reborn. Maybe it didn't go anywhere at all.†† I don't know, and it - he - really doesn't, either.† He can't remember anything of the time he was gone.† *I* was gone.† No, he.† Because he's not me - nothing like me...and he is me...† Damnit, this is bloody hard.† Harder than I thought it would be.† Bear with me, mate; I don't know how long this is going to take or how much sense it'll make.

Dru turned me, and I woke up...two days later, I think.† Two nights.† And I clawed my way up out of the ground, and she was there, waiting for me.† The most beautiful creature I'd ever seen...† And she took me to make my first kill...† And - I wasn't afraid anymore.† And I wasn't weak anymore, or self-conscious or...† She caught some half-starved street urchin 'round the neck and tore his throat out and the blood was...† It was alive, it sang to me, and I could happily have bathed in it.† I did bathe in it, sometimes...† I wasn't thinking that what I was doing was wrong, or bad, or...anything.† It was right, and it was good.† The only thing that tied me to my old life was my mother.† She was ill - most of my life, she was ill.† TB, and the death of my father, all conspired to make her a ghost of herself.† My first thought, after I'd fed, was to go to her - to show her this new world and bring her into it.† I wanted to restore her health and her happiness and her life and then we'd go all over the world, see all the things she had longed to see.† The things she'd told me about, all my life, that *I* longed to see, as well - Rome and Vienna and Berlin, Moscow and Paris, Cairo - the Far East - even the New World.†

But that dream...died.† And after that - I didn't want anything more than to remove every last trace of my old life - my old self.† I put away the speech and manners and clothes and sensibilities of my childhood and become something else - someone else. Became Spike.† Became the demon.† And the demon was like a...like a devil on my shoulder.† Urging me on to things of greater and greater savagery and decadence.† And there was nothing left in me to stop it.† There was nothing in me that wanted to stop it.† I was a new thing - a greater thing - I was William the Bloody and I was Spike and I was Dru's sweet boy, and that was all I wanted to be.† It was as if I had a chance to do everything I'd ever dreamed, but the only dreams that I could remember were the nightmares.

And then...Sunnydale.† Things were so strange, there.† That damn chip in my head...† The demon wore me out, fighting it.† It never let up - it never once let up, the whole time it was in me.† It fought it and it pushed it and it tried, again and again, to overcome it.† Like a dog too stupid to figure out that the chain around its neck goes only so far and no further.† I can't tell you how many times I went back to my crypt with my head splitting and my nose bleeding and my body on fire from pain, because the demon just couldn't...let it go.† After a while it wasn't so...desperate.† And then I had time to - think, I guess.† Time to look around me.† Time to realize how desperately lonely I had become.† I hated you - all of you - so much.† Hated having to crawl to you and beg you for blood, for money...for attention.† I'd have done it all, everything you lot ever asked of me, if you'd have let me in...let me be one of you.† Because it's always been that - it's always come down to that.† I need - family.† I need to have love, and I need to have someone need me.† When my mother didn't need me any more - when the demon I'd let into her turned on me...† I killed her, Ishmael.† Killed my mother.† When Dru abandoned me...I tried to kill her.† That's the only response the demon knows to 'can't have'.††† I'd have done anything at all if it meant that Buffy would have loved me - that Red and Glinda would have smiled at me...† That Dawn would have come back to me and been a bratty little sister again.† That even you or the Watcher would have...included me.† Invited me.† I would have been yours.† Your slave.† How's that line go?† 'Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I'll be your slave'...† Christ, I must have watched that movie with Dawn a hundred times that summer...† But that's me, Xan, in a nutshell.† Love me, and I'm your slave.† Dru knew it - how she kept me, all those years.† Angelus knew it, too - knew it well enough to temper his rages and his mockery with love, sometimes.†† Just enough, so I'd stay just one more night - one more week...

I'm not - don't think I'm trying to make you feel sorry for me.† I'm not telling you this so you'll feel - guilt, or anything.† I know - I know what I did to all of you, back then.† The things I said and the things I did, trying to make you hate me enough, trying to make you love me enough...† Trying to make you do something besides pity me, and dismiss me...† It's how I am - my heart on my sleeve - I told Buffy I was love's bitch, but she forgot that.† And then...when it all came apart...† That night, I was just so - tired.† So tired and so lonely and so - full of hate.† For myself, for the lot of you.† For Buffy, for pushing me away and pulling me back like I was some sort of monkey on a string.† A toy to dandle and then toss away.† I think I was a little crazy, that night.† I'm not - trying to absolve myself.† There are no words...

But that night...†† If she had just, just once, in all those months...given me her open hand instead of her fist...† I thought I could make her happy - I was going to make her be happy...†

But you know how that turned out.† There was a time, way back when I still hunted with Angelus, that what I did that night would have been only the beginning.† And I would have gloried in every moment of it.† But that night...I was almost William again, and I was begging her, to just please love me...† And the demon...was ready to die.

You know - about Africa.† You know all that...† It's not worth repeating.† But suddenly there was something else in me. Someone else.† Someone who, it seemed, had just awoke from a long sleep to find everything and everyone that he had ever known and loved...gone.† A hundred years gone, and dust.† William was so frightened.† He was terrified of cars and planes and the telly - of the music and the lights and the colors - the noise.†† Of the woman in scanty clothes and the men all hard and laughing...† Everything about this world was so new to him, and so horrible.† And...you see?† Even now, it's he - he - he.† Not it, not the soul.† Because I think the soul was always there, in me, but what made it my soul - William's soul - was the thing that got taken away.† And that's what was returned to me in that cave, as well.† My sense of self.† My self.† Everything that I'd learned - books and history and how to translate Greek, all that - that stayed, when Dru turned me.† But what made me William the Poet...that's what the demon chased out.† And what was left had to scramble for identity - had to construct something out of the leftovers.† And that's me - that's Spike.† What's left.†

Half of the problem, when I came back, was how scared William was.† God - it took him days to get up the courage to go upstairs there.† Sneak into the school showers and get clean and then...go see Buffy.† He had all my memories and he was so appalled - so ashamed.† Even when I told him, it wasn't him, it was me...he didn't understand that.† It felt like, to him, that he'd never left.† He couldn't conceive of one hundred-twenty- odd years later.† He couldn't conceive of any of it.† And of course, he loved Buffy from the moment he saw her.† Just like Cicely, he fell for someone so far above him that she'd never love him back.† But William - is stubborn.† He was so happy, to be there.† At her house.† In her presence.† With her, even if she still loathed him - or me - or this shell. Even put away down in the bloody basement...†† William was strong enough to fight the demon and force it into the background for a while, but then the First came along, and all that...† When I - when we died...† It was with a sense of relief.† We'd finally done the right thing - the truly good thing - we'd finally played the hero and won.† And you know - the demon still wanted to die.† All that time, it was just waiting for an opportunity.†† It had been subverted - thwarted - starved, for so long.† It was...ill, and broken, and as crazy as I was - as William was.† That's one thing that damn mad scientist never counted on - how fucking hungry the demon is, when it can't feed like it should - live like it should.†† When it's denied, and denied, and denied.† More than just a hunger for blood.†† That hunger twisted in my belly for four long years, and it made me as crazy as the First ever did.

Now - we're better.† The demon is satisfied.† It gets its violence, it gets its blood.† And when I play my cards right, I get my love, even if it's temporary and...impersonal.† William - gets books and music, gets friendship and he's mostly happy.† But sometimes things will just...slip...and suddenly I'm back there - back in the basement and back in that - frame of mind.† Lost, and lonely, and so very, very sorry.† But there's no one here to beg forgiveness from, and no one here to care if I live or die or...go totally barmy.

†††††††††††††††

 

Spike sat up - rubbed his hand over his face and back through his hair.† He glanced over at Tock and Elli, not really registering that Elli was opening a soda, and Tock was stripping off his gloves.† He looked back down at the letter - read the last sentence and bit his lip for a moment, then bent back to the task.

 

 

This sounds like such cock-and-bull.† Like something I'd say to get your sympathy so I could get you close enough to rip out your throat.† I'm not - I don't want sympathy.†† I mean - I'm not hoping you'll be sad for me or anything.†† And I do have friends here, just...† You wrote to me, for two long months, expecting nothing in return.† You opened your heart to me.† Told me your secrets and told me...so many things.† Told me you were my friend, and god help me I believed you - every word that comes from you I believe.† And now - I am obliged to tell you the truth.† William sees the debt, and will repay it no matter the cost, even if it means telling you things I'd rather die than admit.†††† And I want you to know.† I want you to understand what I am now...† What's in me now.† I know that what I did in Asia - that upset you.† I know that, but I had to.† I had to give in to that hunger or die then, Xander, I really did.† I donít need to be that way now.† Random muggers and drunken assholes and junkies who're trying to gut some poor slob for five bucks are enough for me now...† William is proud of that - of me.† Proud of Spike the Vampire who doesn't kill the innocent anymore.† But even he sometimes - forgets.† That's all that is, when it happens.† It's just William forgetting that he's...not me.†

Does this even make any sense?† I donít know if *I* understand it, and putting it all down on paper doesn't seem to have made it any clearer.† I'm not 'Sybil', by a long shot, but I'm sure not...normal.† And ha bloody ha, I can hear you laughing from here, Ishmael.††

Florida...sounds nice, the way you talk about it.† The plants and the water and the colors.† We never went there - Dru didn't like the idea of it.† She heard about quicksand somewhere and got it into her head that all of Florida was one big swamp.† Plus, she was scared of Mickey Mouse and once somebody told her that that's where he lived, you couldn't have gotten her there with a heard of elephants.† All for the best, I suppose - can you see Dru at Disneyland?†

It's the New Year in four days, and I'm not sure about this resolution stuff you were talking about...† What makes you think you need to fix things?† I understand that you're...not the same man you were, in Sunnydale.† But you sound fine to me.†† You sound...content.† Why bollocks that up by trying to be more 'outgoing' or whatever the hell?† It's not a crime to be quiet, 'tho the telly sure would have you believe different.† You're NOT that kid anymore, Xander - you're not that little puppy-boy bouncing around the Slayer and the witch and trying to make them SEE you...† You don't have to be that, if you don't want to.† It's alright to...keep your own council.† Time enough in the world for being a social butterfly, don't you think?

God.† My hand is cramping, if you can believe it, and I think Tock is wondering what the hell I'm up to - I think he wants to go.† I haven't been paying attention but now that I think about it, I haven't heard the tattoo machine for a while.

 

 

Spike looked up from his letter to see Tock, engrossed in his battered copy of 'The Phantom Tollbooth'.† Elli was nowhere to be seen.† Spike grimaced and straightened up - put his pen down and shook out his hand.† He'd been gripping the damn thing like a lifeline, and there were dents in his fingers from it.

He looked down at the cramped lines of ink on the paper and hoped that Xander would be able to read what it said.

"Hey Spike," Tock said, and put the book down.

"Hey - sorry, mate.† Didn't mean ta keep ya.† Should've kicked me out when you were done."

"Don't worry 'bout it.† You looked...engrossed.† I didn't want to interrupt.† So - did you do it?† Did you...figure out how to tell him?"† Spike stood up and stretched hard - leaned his elbows on the low wall that separated the tattoo stations.†

"I dunno.† I guess.† I donít really understand it all that well, but I think - I think maybe he'll get it.† Smart, my boy is."† Tock grinned at that, raising one tufted eyebrow.

"Is he, then?† Your boy?"† Spike thought about that - looked at Tocks broad, regal face - at the glint of pirate gold in his mouth and the Viking in his eyes.

"I think...†† I want him to be.† But - I dunno if he...Christ!"† Spike stood up abruptly, pacing away from Tock, hands through his hair and squeezing his skull a little, snarling.† "Ever since Dru turned me my life's been one damn crazy...story.† Like Alice down the bloody rabbit hole.† I don't know anything, anymore.† Yeah, I want him.† Want him for my own.† I just..."† Spike stopped his pacing - turned fluidly on his heel to look at Tock, who was looking back at him with a rather wild glint in his eye.† "I'm just damn scared."†† They just looked at each other for a minute, and Tock finally stood up - was next to Spike in three long strides, and laid his warm, callused hand on Spike's shoulder.

"Alice got out, you know.† Figured it all out and went home."† Spike looked up at him - looked away, feeling as if he needed to breathe, or scream, or maybe cry.

"Haven't got a home though, have I Tock?" he whispered, and Tocks hand slid to the back of Spike's neck - gripped lightly, his thumb rubbing soothingly up and back, up and back.† Spike shuddered, and leaned his forehead into Tock's chest.† Into the solid, living heat.

"You've got your boy, Spike.† Home enough, don't you think?"† Spike just leaned there, eyes shut, thinking about that.

"But..." he finally said, and Tock's hand rubbed up the back of his neck, through his hair.†

"But what?"†

"Still scared, Tock.† It's just - letters.† Doesn't mean anything."

"I think it means everything.† You just need some courage, Lion."† Spike laughed - a rather choked laugh, and lifted his head.† Tock was grinning at him, the wild look back in his eyes.

"That means something bad, I can tell,"† Spike said, and Tock pulled him close and hugged him, hard.

"Not bad.† You need some courage.† You need...you need to put it all down and then forget about it.† Put it out there and then just let it be.† You, my friend, need a tattoo."† Spike just stared at him - started laughing in earnest and Tock bared his teeth, flashing gold, and strode over to a shelf - pulled a book off.

"You look at these and tell me if they're not exactly what you need,"† Tock said, thrusting the large paperback book at Spike.† Spike took it - looked at the cover.†† Alice, and Wonderland, and a dark woodcut of a man - a hatter.† Wild eyes behind round glasses, towering hat.†† He shook his head but opened the book anyway - looked at annotated text in black and red ink, and at the woodcuts.† Graceful vines and lush-looking fruit.† A montage of cat faces that could be bats.† A raddled King of Hearts and the mournful Griffon and Mock Turtle, bookending each other.†† The White Rabbit, perpetually startled, perpetually late.† The pompous Caterpillar and his hookah.† And Alice.† A dark-haired Alice looking like some fey wraith - shadowed eyes and unsmiling mouth.† Lost in Wonderland, wishing with all her heart to go home.† Spike touched the shadowed cheek - the wind-blown hair and lost eyes.

"Hey, Tock..." he said, and Tock just laughed.

 

 

It was interesting, being tattooed.† Spike lay on his side, head propped on his hand, watching Tock.† His left side was smeared with ink and blood and Vaseline from rib-cage to knee.† Nearly done.†† Alice looked out from his side, her hair along his last rib and blowing back towards his spine.† Cascading below her were the others - the Caterpillar and a wand-thin Card Guard.† The fangs and eyes of the Cheshire Cat, the sleeping Doormouse, the Hatter and the White Rabbit.† There were small things, too.† The stoppered glass vial with its card that said 'Drink Me' and several smaller members of the Jury; the March Hare's pocket watch, one of the hedgehogs from the croquette game, the White Rabbit's fan and gloves and a scattering of loose cards, ornate keys, and roses.† Tock was putting in a last few lines - putting in a few more strokes of the background crosshatching that drew all the various pictures together into one long rope of black and white.†† Putting it out there, so Spike could forget about it.

*Climbed up out of the rabbit hole.† Going home, maybe.† If I can...find the courage.*† He touched lightly at his sternum, where the very first tattoo was.†† A heart, done in the style of a military medal, with a radiating halo around it.† Black and white as well, the size of a playing card.†† Tock held his tattoo machine in the air, studying Spike's leg.† He wiped it once - twice - with a stained paper towel, then sat back.

"It's done, Spike."†† He laid his machine down and grabbed a spray-bottle - sprayed Spike's leg down and carefully wiped with a fresh towel, getting rid of the beads of blood and the excess ink.† He slowly sprayed and cleaned all the way up Spike's thigh and hip to his ribs, then set the bottle aside and stripped the gloves off.† Spike looked down at himself - looked up, startled, at a flash.† Tock stood with a digital camera in his hand.

"Since you can't use the mirror..."† he said, and took another picture.† "Stand up, let's get it like it's supposed to look,"† Tock said, and Spike eased off the table - stretched just a little and stepped out into a clearer space.† Tock took another picture - moved around and took another, then asked Spike to please 'act modest' so he could have a picture for his portfolio.† Spike just stared at him for a minute until he realized Tock wanted him to cover himself, and then he grinned.

"You sure you want me covered up?"† he said, and Tock growled.

"You know Elli won't let there be any 'gratuitous nudity' in the portfolios.† Just grab 'em and tuck 'em away for a minute."††† Spike laughed, but did as he was told, and then Tock was done.† He gestured for Spike to follow and went to the break room where they had a computer.† Tock smoothly downloaded the pictures from the camera and then put them on the computer screen, as big as he could.† Spike studied the tattoos with a critical eye and was taken aback when the last picture Tock put up was just his face, looking distracted, eyes down.†† Spike touched the computer screen for a moment.† It had been...years, since he'd seen himself.†

"Wanna send that to your boy? I can print it."

"Oh, I...† I donít think -"

"Come on, Lion, where's your courage?"† Tock asked softly, and Spike touched the heart tattoo again, fleetingly.

"Yeah.† Yeah, ok, print it.† You bastard."† Tock sniggered and clicked around with his mouse - leapt up and rooted out some heavy, glossy printer paper and got it into the printer just in time.†† As the picture spooled out, Spike studied himself on the monitor.†

"It doesn't show, you know?"† he said, and Tock looked up at him, frowning.

"What doesn't show?"

"Wil - the soul.† You can't - see it."† Tock looked at the monitor - looked back up at Spike, and he was smiling, just a little.

†"Yeah it does, Spike.† You just gotta - know how to look."† Spike looked at himself again - shook his head.† He couldn't see it, but...maybe you couldn't see your own soul.† He'd have to ask Xander.

He wandered back out to the front of the shop - saw his not quite finished letter lying there.† He looked around and found his jeans and pulled them on carefully, easing them past the still-tender area of the tattoo.† Then he sat down and pulled the letter over - read the last few sentences.†† What to say next?

 

 

I hope that this made it all clear.† Or, clearer.† Something.† I don't know if I've explained it or just confused you.† I haven't had anyone to talk to about this kind of stuff before.† It really - helps.† Takes the edge off, you know?†† Don't worry about me, up here in the rain - William and I are alright.† We've got you - your letters - and that's...† That's more than we've had in a long time.† Than *I* have had.†

It's late now, and Tock wants to close the shop, so I'm going to end this, and mail it, and hope it makes some sort of sense.† I told Tock - my life's been down the rabbit hole for years.† Maybe I'm climbing back out now.

†I wonder - can you...?† Xander, when you look in the mirror, can you see your soul?†† I think - know - yours shines out of you - White Knight, after all.† But what - does mine look like?†

†Ishmael says:

"...I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship..."†

And I to pen and paper.

Happy New Year, Ishmael

Alice (aka Spike)

 

 

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ************************

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

 

Spike was not in a good mood.† He was, in fact, in such a bad mood that Tock had sent him home three hours early.† Instead of going home, Spike had got drunk, and now he was sitting in the top-most chair of the Ferris wheel at the Forest.† The chair rocked a bit, and Spike leaned back and stared up at the sky - at stars that came and went behind thick, fast-moving clouds.† Two weeks since he'd mailed that letter.† Two and a half, actually.† Eighteen days.† And no reply.††† It was...almost the worst thing that had happened.† Although at the moment, Spike couldn't actually think of a worse thing.†

*When you pour your heart out, what do you expect?† You don't have a heart - it's as dead as you are*

"Do so have a heart," Spike muttered.† He scrabbled at his t-shirt - dug his nails in and ripped, baring his chest to the sky.† "See?† Tock gave me a heart.† Good as anybody's heart."†

*Just ink.† He might as well have tattooed a gaping hole - a pile of dust.† That's all that's beneath it.† Beneath...above...† You're not anything more than -*

"Shut up!"† Spike stood up in the chair, clutching the back as it rocked wildly.† His bottle slithered from seat to foot-rest, clinking, and he looked down at it for a moment.† "My heart - our heart.† You sayin' - it's not good enough?† I bled for them - for him.† And I - I won my soul - won you back - and I saved the world..."†

*And here you are, and what's changed?† Still the monster, still the thing, and donít you think he knows that now?† You told him, and what could possibly make him want more of that?† Never get the blood off, you know - never get it off; we could soak in lye and holy water and it would never come off and those pretty pictures don't make a bit of difference when we -*

"Not we, me.† I.† I, I, I, you bloody ponce!† I'm sick of your damn talk!† If this is so fuckin' horrible for you then go!† Just fuckin' go and leave me alone!"† Spike shouted loud enough to make it echo across the park and collapsed back into the chair.† He reached for the bottle and fumbled it - watched dispassionately as it fell, tumbling slowly to smash far below.† A halo of glass and whisky on the concrete.† William was silent - was somewhere inside running madly down corridors and opening doors best left shut and showing him things, and he curled down in the chair - curled around his knees and put his arms around his head, trying to stop him.†

"Please stop, please stop, please stop!† Will - William, don't, don't, don't..."† Spike's voice had dropped to a whisper now, rough-edged.† Trying to soothe - to calm.

*She's gone, oh she's gone and I did that, *I* did that, oh why...just wanted her to be well, and I...† All of them bleeding, all of them hurting, all of them so lost and it was because I, *I* - couldn't stop it in time and couldn't -*

"No, no, no, we saved her, saved the Bit, that's what she asked us to do and we did it.† We did it, we died - don't you dare - don't you dare try to - we promised and we did it, and -"

*Hurt her!† Hurt them all, ruined them all...made them hate us...† Left me, left me, left me...left us...don't let him leave us.† Shouldn't have said...*† William tried to claw at the sickening pain that wrenched through his chest - tried to claw out the coal of hurt and desolation that was called a soul, and Spike stopped him - gripped the safety bar so hard he dented it.

"No - no!† Stop now.† You stop, you just...† I won't - we won't lose this.† We won't lose him,

we'll -.† Look, Tock gave us a heart, and we can - we're brave."

*Not brave.† I'm frightened, I'm so frightened...*

"We are brave.† I am.†† Let go now - just let go.† I won't let you be hurt, I promise.† Let go."† He rocked, his fingers tight in his hair, his eyes squeezed shut.† William sobbed, and Spike whispered to him until he quieted.† Fear - always made him worse, and William was so afraid to be alone.

*Aren't we alone now?† Did we...?*

"No.† It'll be alright.† You'll see."

†††††††††††††††

Dawn made the sky faintly pink and gilded the mackerel clouds, and Spike ducked from shadow to shadow, nearly home.† He stood at the vestibule door for a nerve-wracking moment, trying to get his key in, and then it slid home and turned and he pushed in with a sigh of relief.† And stood there, looking at the mailboxes.†† He wasn't sure how long he stood there, but finally he crossed to them and slowly opened his mailbox.† Three pieces of mail.† Bill.† Bill.† Letter.† Spike felt a wave of sick vertigo pass over him and he almost threw up the whisky he's spent all night drinking.† He clutched the edge of the mailbox, then pushed it shut and climbed slowly up the stairs.† Inside, and he went dazedly through his routine.† Keys and shoes, clothes in the laundry, shower.† He left his dressing gown trailing open around him and went to the table - picked up the letter.† It was - thin.† So very thin.† One page.†† Spike looked at the envelope, examining the postmark - looking at his name scrawled over the front.† Touching the return address gently with his fingertips.† Then he opened the envelope and drew out the single sheet of paper.† It took another minute before he could unfold it.

 

 

Alice, called Spike -

_____________________________________________________________________________________

See that line?† That very badly represents a week or more of me staring at those words.† Your name, and your...what, alter ego?† Your past.† I've tried to write this letter about fifteen times.† I've decided that simple is best.

Spike, William, Alice...sweet boy - whoever you are - I need you.†† I love you.

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

There was no signature, just a crude sketch of a sailing ship and a whale, and Spike watched in puzzlement as the sketch began to bleed - to blur - to run down the page.† *Oh*† He lifted his hand to his eyes and wiped, but the tears didn't stop for a long time.

 

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† **********************

 

 

Spike felt - elated.† And nervous.† And a little scared, and a lot happy.† He stood in the middle of his living room, scanning it.†† Making sure there was nothing he needed.† The 'fridge was empty.† Tock had his extra key.†† He was going - again.†† Doing something, and it felt as good as it had a year ago in L.A.††† One week since Xander's letter, and he'd sent a reply - told Tock what he was doing - made his plans before he utterly lost his nerve.†

*I was never this uncertain before - never this scared...† I always had someone with me, before.† Always had someone to...perform for.† To show I wasn't afraid, to show I knew what I was doing.† This time...I'm in it alone.† No wonder William...*† Spike shook that thought away - glanced at the window.† Almost five-thirty.† The sun would be down in ten minutes - a rare sunny day and Spike was anxious to get gone.†† He thought about the postcard he'd sent - he had agonized over it, and finally just shoved it into the mailbox - resisted the urge to punch a hole through the metal and pull the postcard back out.†† It had a photograph of Sylvester the Mummy from the Olde Curiosity Shoppe.† And one word on the back.† Yes.† Now - he was going south.

*And please...be happy to see me, Xander.† Please don't...regret...*††† Spike closed his eyes and leaned against the door, trying not to think.† Waiting.† That feeling - that subtle, white-noise static that was the sun - was suddenly gone, and Spike drew a huge breath.† The sun was down.† Spike flew, his duster like wings around him and was in the basement and unlocking his bike in moments.† Had it on the street in two more minutes and was straddling it, ready to go.† His leather knapsack from Vietnam across his shoulders, minimal changes of clothes and...the letters.† The thought of leaving them behind - of something happening to the apartment while he was gone and the letters being destroyed had been too much to bear.† So he'd packed them all into an old biscuit tin he'd found and brought them along.† The weight of them felt good.†† He pulled his goggles on - a present from Tock, vintage Aviator goggles that he'd bought in some flea market - and lit a cigarette.† Grinned up at the violet and magenta sky, and kicked the bike to life.† And gone.

 

Barreling down I-5, about fifteen miles from Shafter and the exit he'd take to hop over to Bakersfield and start going east.† The sun was still over an hour from rising, and he'd be in Barstow before it did.† He was stiff - a little wind-burned - but he didn't want to stop.†† He'd had to take the septum jewelry out hours ago - the whipping wind had set up a vibration that had made him sneeze.† He had an MP3 player in an inner pocket - tiny plugs in his ears - and he hadn't heard the same song twice.† Another gift, this one from Elli, who'd spent three days scouring the internet for all his favorite stuff.† He grinned, the night air cold against his teeth, a wall into which he leaned; the solid thunder of the motorcycle lost behind him and the headlight cutting the night like the prow of a ship through a wine-dark sea.†† That much closer to Xander, that much closer to...†† Spike swerved the bike violently, back and forth, and refused to follow that thought to its conclusion.† He'd know when he got there.

Following I-40 east, stopping only to buy gas and to hunt and to sleep, exhausted.† Watching the concrete and asphalt unspool before him and feeling, once again, like Alice going down that dusty, worn track - slipping between the blooms of harebell and marshmallow into shade and then darkness.† Falling.† Spike felt like he was falling, and the city signs went past in bewildering flashes of green and white, much like the contents of the rabbit-hole.† Flagstaff and Gallup, Tucumcari and Amarillo, Shawnee and Russellville and Memphis.†† Turn south at Nashville, snow falling across the highway and the cold like champagne, tingling in his nose.†† Atlanta, Valdosta, Lake City.† Really in the south, now - warmth coming up from the asphalt, people in light clothes, drawling questions at him that he didn't want to answer† And then Jacksonville and the coast, and the beaches - Cocoa, Riviera, Pompano, Dania.† The long, absurd highway that stretched out over the ocean and the motorcycle flew; a gull, a hawk, and Spike felt as if his soul were on a tether, flying somewhere up above him like a great, shining kite.† He wished the highway would never end and that he could just drive forever in the sweet-salt air, the sea flashing below him; white, curling spume and phosphor, the sky blazing with stars.† Forever going towards something, forever hopeful.†

But too soon, he was turning onto Madeira Road and pulling up to his hotel.† Elli had gotten him a room online - a suite - she said, grinning, and he checked in and went wearily upstairs.† Fancy black-iron bedstead, wicker and mahogany, the ocean air blowing straight in and the surf like a heartbeat.† The sun was rising, making the sky green and gold and faintly, faintly salmon and Spike drew blinds and curtains and hung out the 'Do Not Disturb' sign and crawled into bed.† That feeling of flying - of falling - was still with him, and he sank into sleep watching a little, mink-brown rabbit scurry away from him down aisles of bramble and thistle.

 

 

He woke with a start, and listened for a moment, but he heard only the sea, and traffic - the ever-present wind blowing by and by.† There were voices, music - touristy sounds; sounds of people having dinner and laughing and getting ready for a night out.††† Spike lay on his back in the soft grey-rose of the shuttered room, listening.†† The dream teased the edges of his mind, fading fast, and he smiled to himself and got up, heading for the phone.† Tock had hooked him up with some numbers here, and he called the first one on the list, arranging for a delivery - cash at the door.† He wouldn't hunt here - he didn't want to kill anyone Xander knew, and the non-kill method was...† Well, he wouldn't do that while he was here.† It would make him feel...odd.† Xander didn't need to see that.† Spike took a shower - dressed - and when the doe-eyed Ik'ssa knocked softly on his door, he was ready and ushered the other demon in.† The slim, androgynous creature smiled up at him and turned its chin to the side, offering, and Spike leaned in and bit and drank.†† The Ik'ssa rested pliantly against him, smelling of grass and lemon and clean earth, smelling of arousal.†† Its narrow hands curled around Spike's hips and it shuddered delicately.† When Spike was done, it pressed its cheek softly to his and then fell limp in his arms.† After a moment there was another knock, and a second Ik'ssa took it's swooning companion into it's arms - sealed it's mouth over the other's and made a strange, snake-like movement of it's head and neck, throat undulating.† Feeding its companion, Spike knew; some sort of nectar.† After a moment the first Ik'ssa roused and blinked sleepily - smiled again, and shut its eyes, and the two of them left, the one leaning on the other and the both of them looking like fey little children, drifting away down the stairs and into the night.† Spike breathed deeply, feeling the magic of non-human blood going through him like slow fire.†††

He walked outside as well, onto the balcony, scenting the soft, humid air and lighting a cigarette.††† He would walk, he decided.† It wasn't far enough away to ride the bike, and walking...would give him time.† A little distance before he had to actually come face to face with Xander.† He debated for a moment and then decided to leave the duster behind - as much as he wanted to armor himself in its familiar weight, it would just seem odd.† So he shoved his key into his pocket with the Zippo and his cigarettes and took a deep breath, and started walking.

†Four blocks along, under palmettos and streetlights, and he could see the compound ahead - chainlink fence grown over with honeysuckle, the white and yellow blooms perfuming the air.† There was a large silver Airstream trailer parked just inside the gate, and an old man in a ratty bathrobe sat in a lawn chair in front of it, watching TV on a little portable set, smoking filterless Luckys and drinking beer.† He looked up, squinting, as Spike approached and held up a hand.

"Private property, son," he rasped, and Spike bit back one of half a dozen scathing replies.

"Came to visit somebody," he said instead, and the man raised his tufted salt-and-pepper eyebrows.

"Yeah?† Who?† Do they know you're comin'?† Gotta have permission."

"He knows.† Xander Harris."† The man only stared at him and Spike sighed - took out a cigarette and lit it, blowing smoke towards the pink plastic flamingos that flanked the Airstream's front walk.

"Al-ex-an-der.† Got a patch?"† Gesture of hand to eye.†† "Does the fix-it 'round here?"† The man made a sort of 'oh' face.

"You mean Lex?"†

"Yeah - Lex.† I'm a friend of his, from Seattle."† The man sucked on his Lucky - dropped the butt into a rusty coffee can that was half-filled with water.† He fished in the pocket of his robe and pulled out a walkie-talkie.

"Donny.† Come up here to the gate, would ya?" he said.† The walkie-talkie sputtered and crackled.

"Sure.† On my way," a disembodied voice replied, overlaid with static.†† The old man returned the walkie-talkie to his pocket and laboriously lit another cigarette, using kitchen matches and a piece of sandpaper tacked to the arm of his chair.† Spike just watched him - sent casual glances down the aisles of the compound.† After a few silent minutes there was the crunch of feet on gravel and crushed seashells, and a tall, balding man ambled out of the shadows.† He shot a curious glance at Spike, then stood over the old man, hands in pockets.

"What's up, Cully?"

"Says he's here for Lex.† Friend from Seattle."† Cully reached into the mini-cooler under his chair and pulled out another beer - opened it, his cigarette clenched in his teeth.

"Yeah?† That guy, huh."† Donny eyed him for a moment - shrugged.† "Come on, then.† He's doing something to Annie's truck.† I'm Don."† Don didn't offer his hand, and Spike didn't care.† He walked along beside Don, further into the compound, passing more Airstreams and single-wide trailers, each with a tiny little yard.† Some had toys - lawn chairs - bar-b-ques.† Others were crowded with flowering plants and tiny fountains - little statues of fairies and gnomes.† A couple were bare.†

"That's Lex's place," Don said, pointing to an older Airstream.† The little lawn was mostly empty - a few low shrubs up close to the house, some sort of vine - morning glory? - along the fence.† A single mimosa, drooping over the entry.† Spike nodded and they walked on.† The ocean was to their left, hiss and boom and the ice-white of the waves' crests.† To their right the dwellings petered out and there was an expanse of gravel and cracked concrete pads where semi-trailers were parked.† Lurid signs painted on the trailers proclaimed the dozen or so entertainments the Joker's Wild offered, and the rest of the space was taken up with vehicles: trucks, cars, a couple motorcycles.††† Don walked up to a battered old pick-up; red paint fading to a salmon color along the side panels and rust eating into the driver's door.††† There were a pair of legs sticking out from under the front of the truck.† Long, tanned legs, and a pair of cut off jeans that fit like a second skin.†† Rubber sandals with Velcro straps.†

"Hey Lex, you got a visitor,"† Don said, and the legs twitched - the ribcage and abdomen that Spike could see twisted and flexed as the arms, presumably, tried to tighten or loosen something.

"Tell 'em wait, ok?† I'm almost done."

"Sure thing, Lex," Don said, and grinned at Spike and wandered off.

"Sure thing, Lex.† Wanker."† Xander's voice, tinged with irritation, and Spike almost laughed.† Instead, he leaned against the burnished flank of a Cadillac in the next space over and regarded the flexing, brown-skinned torso sprawled on the tarp under the truck.

"You're never gonna have a normal name are you, Ishmael?" Spike asked, just loud enough, and Xander froze.† After a moment there was the audible thunk of some tool hitting concrete, and then Xander was sliding out from under the truck, shoulders and elbows and hips and heels eeling him along.† Spike watched bare chest and shoulders and throat emerge - almost looked away - but he didn't, and so he was staring straight down when Xander's face cleared the bumper.†

Hair caught back in a messy ponytail.† Patch.† A day's worth of stubble and a smear of grease across his jaw.† Something in that single, dark eye...† Spike felt as if his lungs were being crushed flat, and even though he didn't need to, he took in a sudden, sharp-edged breath.† Xander just lay there, staring at him for a minute, then he was up and on his feet and taking three long strides - standing right in front of Spike, close enough to touch.

"Alice?† That you?"† he asked, whisper soft and with a ghost of a smile on his face, and Spike laughed - couldn't help it.

"In the flesh."† Xander was grinning now - white teeth and little crow's feet around his eye, and Spike wanted to touch them - make sure Xander was real.†

*Fuck it.*†† He did touch - just lightly feathering his fingertips over the crinkled flesh.† Xander's eyelid fluttered ever so slightly - aversion or pleasure, Spike couldn't tell - and the human reached up himself but hesitated when his hand came into view, grimed with oil and dirt.

"Fuck.† Need to wash up.† You're - here?"

"Here," Spike said, and Xander's gaze tracked over him, as if making sure.††

"Right."† He hesitated a long moment - turned and pulled the tarp out from under the truck.† There were a few tools scattered on it and he swept them up and dumped them into a tool-box - bundled the tarp and carried the whole mess over to a nearby shed.† There was a sink inside and a jar of some sort of goop and Spike leaned in the doorway and smoked, watching as Xander hooked the patch off with a pinky-finger and hung it up on a nail - bent to the sink and scrubbed his hands and then his face, slicking his hair back with a handful of water.†† He got some paper towels from a roll on a bar and dried off - put the patch back on and turned to Spike, smiling.

"Better?"†† Spike leaned closer and pulled the elastic out of Xander's hair, letting his fingers trail through it just a little.

"Do for now, Ishmael."† Another long silence while they looked at each other, and Xander finally reached out slowly and touched Spike's temple - ran his fingers back once through his hair.

"That's new."

"Not really.† Used to do it like this in New York."† A raised eyebrow and a momentary blank look while Xander processed what history he knew.

"Before I was born.† I like it.† C'mon."† They walked in silence back up the rows of vehicles - back through the trailers and Airstreams to Xander's particular one.† Up the three steps and pushing in, and Xander turned around in the doorway.

"I don't own this place - think you need the invite?"† Spike shrugged - reached up and pushed, and found the barrier in place.

"Guess I do."† He stood on the bottom step, looking up, and Xander looked down at him - smiled, suddenly, and faded back into the gloomy interior.†

"Come in then, Spike," whispered from the darkness and Spike grinned and went in.

 

It was...sparse, inside.† Everything that could be tucked away was away, and Spike wasn't really sure where Xander ate or even slept, at first glance.† A shelf along one wall held what looked like keepsakes: interesting rocks and shells, a few pictures of places.† No people.† Chinese paper lantern over the kitchen light, cranes and thin reeds.† Not much else.† Xander stood by the kitchen counter, arms crossed, watching Spike look the place over.

"It's pretty boring, I'll admit that," Xander said, and Spike shrugged - went to lean opposite him.

"You've only been here, what, three months?† Not much time to make it...homey."

"More like four-going-on-five and I get offers to help me decorate every week.† It's just...temporary, you know?† I don't - "†† Xander shook his head, looking around at the worn fixtures and furnishings.† "It's just not...home."

"Yeah."† Spike thought of his place - color and comfort and soft edges - a nest that he could curl himself into.† He tried to picture Xander there, and almost could.† Wondered what Xander would think of it.

"When - did you get here?"† Xander asked, looking down at his hands, and the nails that were black with grease.

"Dawn. †Slept all day and then came out."† Spike thought of the heart on his chest, under the black wife-beater.† *Courage.*†† "I wasn't...sure."† Xander looked up sharply, his eye dark and frowning, and Spike almost looked away.

"Wasn't sure about what?† Me?"† Spike shrugged, and William nudged him inside, displeased.

"About - me.† Being here.†† Coming into your space."† Xander looked at him for a moment and laughed then, looking around him.

"My space is about as impersonal as I could make it and still stand to be in it.† I think it needs something in it.† Something big and bad."† Xander was laughing at him, Spike could tell, and he grinned.† He felt light, so light.

"So - what do you do for fun around here?"

"I usually have a couple beers and go to bed -" Xander seemed to lose his train of thought just then, and his look was considering and slow, tracking Spike from head to toe and back.† "But maybe that'd be too boring for you.† Maybe we should go have something to eat."† There was gentle grumbling noise from Xander's stomach, right on cue, and Spike dragged his gaze away from Xander's mouth to look him in the eye.

"Beer and bed sounds good, pet, but things like that are always better when they're...savored."† A slow smile came over Xander's face and he nodded.

"Yeah.† Anticipation.† I gotta shower."† He turned and went into the back of the Airstream, muttering under his breath.† Spike heard 'isn't a freakin' year anticipation enough?' quite clearly, although he was sure Xander hadn't intended for him to.† He felt his own mouth stretching in a grin, and felt a flutter of nervous excitement in his belly.

*A yeah?† That means...† fuck, don't know what that means.† Gotta...calm down...*

*We didn't...lose him, then?* William whispered, and Spike shook his head.

"No," he murmured, listening to Xander in the shower, banging the wall with his elbow, apparently, and dropping something with a curse.† He walked towards the back of the Airstream, looking around.† At the very back was a bed, tightly made up.† On the shelf above it were a few candles, half burned, and a plain blue cardboard box, the lid off and...† His letters racked neatly inside, the journal on the bottom.† Spike flipped through them, reading a line here and there, and then he sat down on the bed, looking around.† Looking straight into his own face.† Tock's picture, pinned neatly to the wall above the bed.† Not in plain view, but more as if...

"I put it there so I could see it from the bed.† It's not for your average Joe to gawk at."† Spike whipped around, startled, and Xander was standing there in a towel, slowly combing his hair.†† Spike wanted to get up and run his hands down the silken, caramel-brown skin - wanted to bury his fingers in the long, wet strands of hair and turn Xander's face just so, and kiss him.† He clenched his fingers into the thin blanket under him and Xander stood there, looking at him with that considering look again, the comb forgotten in his hand.†† Spike wasn't sure he could move - could talk - and finally Xander broke the silence with a soft laugh.

"Think we'll make it through dinner?"

"I think...maybe..."† Spike moved - was standing inches from Xander and breathing in great, deep breaths - pulling Xander's scent into his mouth and lungs, wanting to absorb it - absorb him.† Rich musk of a clean male - herbal soap and shampoo.† Scent of something like vanilla and something like cloves, that seemed to be just Xander, and Spike licked his lips, wanting to taste that.††

"Xander -" he whispered, and it was almost a question - almost a plea - and Xander's hands came up slowly and cupped his face, comb thudding softly to the floor.† Xander's hands were hot from the shower and pleasantly rough with calluses.† Faint smell of grease and metal.† His thumbs skated lightly over Spike's cheekbones, and his fingers curled themselves into the short hair behind Spike's ears, gently stroking down and then back.

"Spike, I really want to...kiss you."† Xander's mouth, inches from his own - warm mint breath on his lips.

"Yeah?"

"Mmmm..." Xander swayed forward ever so slightly, and Spike felt the feather-light touch of lips on his.† A touch that grew stronger and more insistent by increments until it was almost painful.†† And oh, Xander tasted like vanilla, like cool water and like spice, and Spike didn't want to let go.† His own hands slid up Xander's sides.† Shower-warm skin and heave of rib-cage, silky hair under his arms, the dripping wet ends of his hair.† Spike tangled one hand in it, at the base of Xander's skull, feeling where bone socketed bone, feeling the flex of tendon as Xander tilted his head a little.† His other hand stroked slowly down Xander's back - came to rest just touching the edge of the towel.† He pulled Xander close, hip to hip, and Xander drew in a hard breath, breaking the kiss and leaning his forehead on Spike's cheek.

"You taste sweet.† You taste like...cherries, like..."† Xander's hands drifted lower, settling on Spike's shoulders, his thumbs resting on Spike's collarbones.† "Did you...† You sent me that postcard.† It said..."

"Yes," Spike whispered, and Xander shivered all over, gooseflesh roughening his skin.†† Spike smoothed the small of his back, over and over, and Xander's fingers copied the movement, feathering over bone.

"What did it mean, Spike?† What does it...?"

"It means..."† Spike stopped - closed his eyes and rested his cheek on Xander's bowed head.† Inhaled slowly, so slowly.†† "Means I - I feel... I want you, Xander.†† Want...all of you.† Want you to be..."† Xander lifted his head fractionally, and Spike felt Xander's lips touching softly at the hinge of his jaw, just in front of his ear.

"Spike...William...Alice...all of you.† Are you listening?† I love you."† Tiny whisper of a voice, cracking with strain, and Spike felt something like fire flash through him.† Felt his stomach knot and unknot, felt his lungs hesitate and catch.

"Xan...† You.† Yes, yes, love you, love you, Ishmael, want you for mine, for my own, Xander..."† His own voice was no better - he couldn't quite feel his lips - but he felt Xander's hands curl down and around, pulling him so, so close - enfolding him in warmth and heady scent.

"Your own.† Love that - love you...love you..."† Spike hugged back, tight as he dared, and

*Oh, that was brave,* from William, surprise and satisfaction and delight.† After a long moment Xander pulled away and smiled at him - smug sort of smile, and Spike noticed for the first time he hadn't put the patch back on.† Spike looked for a moment at the dark lashes lying curved against Xander's cheek - felt the lingering guilt for not being fast enough...clever enough...just not being enough.†† Xander noticed the direction he was looking and pulled away a little.

"Oh, I - forgot.† Sorry."† Spike met his gaze - reached and gently touched Xander's cheek - stroked his eyebrow, avoiding the lid for fear of hurting him.

"I didn't even notice, love.† You are so..."† Spike leaned in the scant inches and kissed Xander again - slow and soft.† Kissed his chin and jaw, cheeks and nose and brow.† Kissed his remaining eye, the lid fluttering under his ghost touch.†† "...so fuckin' gorgeous."††† A shudder, under his lips and hands, and Xander pulled away again, his gaze serious and searching.

"I can see it, you know.† Your soul.† You asked and...† Its right there, Spike - right there in your eyes.† Like a beacon."† Spike felt his eyes widen, and then he had to look down, shivering.

"Really?"

"Yeah.† Really."† Tiny kiss to his forehead, and Spike could feel the grin on Xander's lips, and he had to look back up.† "This is starting to sound like an episode of Passions."†

"Oh, not quite.† We should have cried just then, and I should be violently protesting my undying...attraction."† Spike pulled him close again, groin to groin, and Xander made a small, moaning sort of noise.

"Christ.† Works for me.† Wanna go get lobster?"†

Spike laughed helplessly into Xander's shoulder - bit him there lightly.†† "Yeah.†† Let's go bond over dead crustaceans."††

Xander's turn to laugh, and he hugged Spike for a moment, his hands stroking from shoulder to waist and back.† "You're so romantic."† He stepped back and cocked his head, looking Spike up and down.† "Casual dining, which is good 'cause I don't actually own a tie.†† How'd you get here?"

"Hmmm?"† Spike was mesmerized by Xander's hands, which were casually toying with the tucked-in corner of the towel.† It slipped a little, and the arch of Xander's hipbone was suddenly visible, a couple of shades paler than the rest of his body.† Spike wondered if the paler skin tasted any different.† He blinked when Xander waved a hand in front of his eyes.

"'Lo-ooh.† You in there?"

"Mostly."† Spike sat down on the bed *closer to the...towel!* and Xander opened a cabinet, pulling out slightly faded jeans and a white wife-beater.

"How'd you get here?† You fly?† Take a bus?"

"Rode my bike."† Spike leaned forward, elbows on knees as Xander loosened the towel and let if fall - casually turned about half way around and pulled the jeans on.† He was half hard, and tucked himself in with a small, shivery sigh.† Then the shirt, pushing it down into the jeans.† If anything, he looked sexier in the snug-fitting denim and cotton.† Spike stretched his legs a little, the pressure in his own groin a pleasurable ache.

"Motorcycle...† Yeah.† I know a place up the coast a bit - Coral Gables.† Take us an hour to get there...sound all right?"† Spike thought about that; Xander, draped over his back and arms loosely around his waist, riding up the moonlit highway for an hour.†† He tipped his head back and looked Xander up and down.

"It sounds...perfect, Ishmael."† Xander leaned back against the cabinet behind him, his hands slowly smoothing down his belly and then thighs.† His hair, drying with a slight wave, was across his face and he regarded Spike from behind it, his eye half-lidded, dark and glittering.

"Wanna fuck you, Spike."

"Yeah."† Spike leaned his hands back on the bed - spread his legs and canted his hips up, letting his head fall back.†† A small, breathy noise from Xander and Spike leaned on one elbow - slowly dragged his other hand down his chest and belly - let his fingers cup over the bulge in his own jeans.†† "How do you wanna do it, Xander?† How do you want me?"† His let his voice drop down, low and soft, and Xander's heartbeat was so loud - so fast.†† His fingers dug into his thighs just a bit, and he leaned forward slightly.

"Want you...over me.† Want to see your thighs and your stomach...want to see your muscles quiver when you take me in you.† Spike..."

"What else, Xan..."† Spike was rubbing slowly over his fly, feeling the edge of metal from the buttons pressing into his flesh.† Xander suddenly pushed off the wall - put one hand on the bed by Spike's waist, his wrist hot, pressing in.† His other hand brushed lightly over Spike's chest, where erect nipples and the circles of jewelry were visible.† The heat of him was like a brand through the thin black cloth.

"That's new..."† Xander breathed, stroking softly.† "I'd like to touch these...† I wanna watch you, Spike - wanna watch your back arch and your face...want to see you bite your lip, when I pull your hips down..."† Xander's knee was against the bed, close enough that it pressed lightly into Spike's crotch.† Heat and pressure, scent of musk and vanilla, and Spike closed his eyes - let his head fall back, let his hips hitch forward on the bed, just a little.

"Xan, fuck..."

"Yeah..."† Abruptly all heat vanished, and Spike heard another cabinet door come open.† He looked, and watched as Xander shrugged on a vivid red short-sleeved shirt.† He left the buttons undone, and the color made his hair seem nearly black.† He shoved his feet into well-worn work boots, jerking the laces tight.† He walked towards the bathroom, letting his knee bump Spike's.

"Let's go eat, Spike.† I wanna ride your motorcycle."† He ducked into the bathroom and Spike heard the mutter - 'anticipation's a bitch'.† He sat up slowly - contemplated his state for a moment and then laughed.

"You're gonna make me wreck."† He stood up - adjusted slightly and shivered at the delicious feel of pressure and want.† Rubbed his hand slowly over his belly, trying to calm the bunched, jumping muscles.

"Promise to keep my hands above the waist."† Xander came back out, patch on, and made a sort of 'after you' gesture, and Spike pushed past him in the narrow aisle.† Stole a fast, sharp-edged kiss and drew back with the tingle of Xander's blood on the tip of his tongue.† Xander's mouth was open in a breathy sigh, and Spike smiled slowly, eyes half-lidded.

"Taste good, pet..."† He turned and walked out, and Xander followed a moment later, shoving a small ring of keys into his pocket.††† The night air was cool, after being inside, and Spike breathed deeply of the scents of sea and sand and honeysuckle.† They walked up the street, close enough to touch, and Spike finally reached out and caught Xander's hand in his, lacing their fingers together.† Xander glanced over at him, smiling, and they waked that way up to the hotel.† Xander contemplated the place- white and pillared, lit softly by glowing lights, cupped and half-hidden by palmetto and palm and lush, flowering bushes and vines.

"Damn, Spike.† Guess it pays to poke holes in people, huh?"

"Yeah.† That and a couple Vietnamese rubies.† Here -."† Spike's motorcycle gleamed faintly in the glow from the hotel and Xander made a low whistling sound.

"Did I ever tell you that the whole 'kept man' concept is really okay with me?"† Spike pulled him close by their entwined hands, bending elbows so that their arms were trapped between their bodies.† Spike's hand on jean-clad hip and Xander's other hand resting lightly on Spike's shoulder.† He put his mouth on their knuckles for a moment, looking at Xander, utterly serious.†

"I'd keep you, pet."† Xander's eye widened, and Spike could hear his heart speed up a bit - could feel the tremble that went through him.

"I might be expensive.† Might be...demanding."

"Can't be worse than Dru.† I don't mind being at your beck and call, Ishmael."† Xander put his own lips on their joined hands - leaned there with his forehead just touching Spike's and his heartbeat slowing back down to normal.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."† The stood there a moment, and then Xander's stomach made a noise again, just loud enough.

"Right now, I want dead crustaceans, Spike."

"As you wish," Spike whispered, and felt the ripple of silent laughter go through Xander.† Another moment, and then they both pulled back, and Xander was smiling, and Spike was.

 

Highway 1 wasn't crowded - it was the middle of the week, after all - and Spike kept the bike at a steady one hundred.† The sea on either side reflected the gibbous moon, running lights on private boats, buoy and dock lights - so many that it almost seemed a second star field, that rippled and changed as they flew over it.†† Xander was heat and weight - solidity that kept him on the saddle and not flying up in the ether with his soul, or his heart, or whatever part of him it was up there, soaring.†† Xander kept his hands above the waist but he kept them in motion: caressing ribs and belly, chest and shoulders.† His lips rested from time to time on the back of Spike's neck, and Spike found himself trying to lean back into the touch.

Coral Grove was alive with tourists and locals, bright and loud, and the Red Fish Grill was much the same.†† They got a table outside with a view of the sea, the trunks of the palmettos on the terrace wrapped in twinkle-lights, salsa and reggae music competing from clubs down the street.† Spike leaned back casually in his chair, smoking, watching Xander play with fork and water glass and finally lean forward, elbows on the table and his hands cupped together under his chin.

*So serious.† Why's he so serious now?*†† William, nervous and ready to bolt, and Spike dug his fingernails into his thigh, making himself be still, so still.

"Spike?† If we both get the same dead crustaceans...does that mean we're married?"† Spike just stared at him for a long moment and then doubled over laughing, snorting smoke out his nose and feeling tears in his eyes.† Over-reaction, maybe, but the tension was about to kill him all over again.

"Only if we sh-share the lobster fork, pet," he wheezed, and Xander grinned at him.

"You are so fucking beautiful," Xander said, and their waiter made a small coughing sound.† Spike ignored him - reached out and cupped Xander's face in his hand for a moment.†

"Wine, pet?"† Spike asked, and Xander blinked.

"Dunno.† Don't know much about it."† He tipped his head a little to one side.† "You order something."† Spike nodded, but when it came to it he couldn't get his head together enough to decide and told the waiter they were having lobster - bring something good.† The waiter nodded and smiled and gathered the menus - scurried away - and Spike felt Xander's booted feet pushing at his - ankles knocking together.† He raised an eyebrow, smirking.

"Footsie?"

"Just wanna touch you," Xander said, and Spike got up and changed seats.† Pressed his knee and thigh into Xander's, took one callused hand in both of his.†

"Better?"† He asked, and Xander smiled a slow and impossibly sweet smile at him.† The lobster, when it came, was almost too much of a distraction and Spike thought momentarily about just shattering the shell with his fangs, getting it over with.† But Xander ate with the sort of appetite a hard-working man has, and Spike resigned himself to an actual meal.

Halfway through Xander stopped and reached out and took the fussy little lobster fork from Spike's hand.† Staring straight at him he stabbed up a chunk of lobster and slowly ate it, and Spike felt that flying feeling again - flying and falling at the same time, dizzy and elated and struck dumb.† Xander stabbed up more lobster - held it up and then tapped it gently on Spike's mouth until he opened up.

"Sharing lobster forks.† Who'da though,"† Xander whispered, and Spike leaned in and kissed him - butter and sweet lobster, pale rosy wine, vanilla and spice.

"Oh, god, I want you," Spike whispered, and Xander's fingers were on his forearm, warm and rough.† Dimly, Spike heard the fork clattering to the table - heard the susurrus of whispered comment ripple out from them.† Heard the rustle of cloth and caught the wisp of sweat-bleach-cooking smell that meant their waiter was hovering.†† But Xander's mouth was too warm and lush, his shoulders under Spike's fingers too sleek and powerful, and Spike didn't even think about breaking the kiss.†

Eventually Xander did; pulling away fractionally and gasping in a long breath, and Spike rested forehead to forehead and waited, counting heartbeats, just taking Xander in through every sense he could.

"Alice - we need to go," Xander finally said, and Spike straightened back and grinned at him.

"Ishmael, you're right.† Oh, good."† Their waiter still stood there, a rather wistful expression on his face, and Spike worked the thick fold of cash out of his pocket - peeled off a few bills and laid them down.

"Everything all right?"† the waiter asked, and Spike stood up, pulling Xander with him, twining their fingers together.

"Everything's just fuckin' lovely."††

"I'll get your change -?"

"Nah.† Don't need it."† Xander opened his mouth as if he'd say something, but then just grinned - swung their interlaced hands a little.

"My boyfriend's rich," he said brightly, and Spike snorted laughter and pulled him away - led him out of the restaurant and onto the street.†† The reggae had stopped for the moment and only salsa music crowded the air.†† Spike turned and pulled Xander in close - moved his feet in the basic step-forward-step-back pattern of the dance, hip to hip and chest to chest.† Xander followed easily, grinning, one hand locked between them with Spike's, and one curving possessively around the small of his back.† Heat and faint prickle of fingernails and Spike shivered a little.

"Boyfriend?"† Spike asked finally, and Xander huffed out a breath.

"I know - it sounds stupid.† How about - Significant Other?"† Xander darted in for a quick kiss, and Spike nipped at his lower lip, hips just so, heat and friction.

"Too Oprah, or - Jerry Springer trying for respectability.† How about -"

"Fucking deviants, get off the fucking street!"† Man's voice from behind him and Spike didn't even thing about it.† He let Xander go and turned in one smooth motion.† Saw the three men who sneered back at him, beer-bottles in hand.† Spike grinned in sheer delight - moved, as fast and hard as a stooping hawk - as deadly.† Crack of fist into flesh and bone, slick heat of blood, explosive shatter of glass.† A minute, maybe less, and Spike was straightening up, looking at the three who were sprawled on the sidewalk now - two unconscious and one of those possibly very badly hurt - possibly dying. †One conscious but wheezing desperately, shaking hands cradling snapped ribs.† Spike lifted his hand to his mouth - licked at the spatter of blood across his knuckles.

"Shouldn't be so fucking disrespectful," Spike said, and the blood was rich and salt in his mouth.† He twitched ever so slightly as a warm hand curled around his neck - pulled him around.† Xander stared at him for one long second - long enough to make William start to cringe, to doubt, and then he yanked Spike close and kissed him, bruisingly hard.

"That's not supposed to turn me on, but oh fuck..."† Xander drew in a shaky breath - rubbed his palm along Spike's knuckles, rubbing away the last of the blood.† "Let's go, Spike - let's get back."† His voice was low - rough - and Spike kissed him back, and took his hand and strode away from the men and over to his bike.† He was grinning fiercely as he got on the bike - started it with a hard kick and looked over his shoulder as Xander settled behind him.† The same grin, and strong arms around his waist, and Spike toed the bike into gear and they were gone, threading through traffic and then back onto the highway.†† Speed and vibration and the roar of the engine all nothing, all fading to the background because all Spike could hear was Xander's heart beating, beating, beating.†

 

As they turned down Madeira Road, Xander's arms tightened around him, and Spike could feel him leaning up - getting his mouth up to Spike's ear.

"Go to your hotel," Xander murmured, and he nodded.† Spike was aching with wanting - a pleasurable throb at every jounce and jolt of the bike's tires over uneven pavement.† He could feel Xander was the same, pressed in tight to him.†† Spike parked the bike and waited for Xander to climb off.†† Which he didn't do, for a long moment - just leaned on Spike with his arms locked around Spike's ribs - his cheek against the nape of Spike's neck.

"You feel good," Xander said, and Spike softly stroked the hands - leaned back, just a little, and shivered as Xander's mouth pressed wetly to the first vertebra of his spine.†† Then Xander was swinging his leg over, climbing off, and Spike did the same, shoving the keys into his pocket and reaching out - again - to take Xander's hand.

"That too girly, you think?" Spike asked, lifting their hands, and Xander regarded them as if he'd never seen them before, turning them a little.

"It's pretty girly.† But - I like girly.† I like - "†† Xander stopped, his face in and out of shadow as the palms moved with the wind; dry rustle of the fronds and the distant, rushing sea.

"What do you like, pet?" Spike murmured, and Xander looked down at their hands for a moment - looked back up from under dark, curling lashes, a wicked little smile at the corners of his mouth.

"I'd like to be on my back, under you, with my legs around you...† That's kinda girly."† Spike felt Xander's words like a hook, twisting in his groin and pulling him forward, and he crushed Xander to him in a hard, desperate embrace, lips and teeth and tongue fastening on Xander's and working to touch every inch - taste every inch.††† When Spike pulled back, Xander was breathing hard, eye closed.†

"C'mon, Ishmael - let's go up," Spike whispered, and Xander smiled - opened his eye, finally, and looked at Spike with something like wonder on his face.

"You don't care.† I called you my boyfriend and you didn't - care."

"I did care - oh."† Spike realized what Xander was saying and smiled back.† "Can't call me that in front of the other demons," he said, and Xander laughed softly - turned and began to climb the stairs up to Spike's room, tugging him along.

"What do I call you in front of the other demons, then?"† Xander asked.† They reached the landing, and Xander turned and walked backwards, letting Spike guide him - pulling Spike in close so that their legs almost tangled with every step.

"I think - Master?"

"Ooh - you'd like that, wouldn't you..."† Xander gasped softly as Spike pinned him to his door - did a slow roll of his hips.† His wrists were under Spike's hands and the faint, faint vibration of Xander's pulse through the thin skin was the rhythm Spike moved to.

"Oh yeah - I'd like that..."† Spike murmured, taking the soft skin just under the hinge of Xander's jaw between his teeth and biting gently.

"Fuck - "† Xander arched against him and Spike thrust back roughly, knocking him back against the door, and Xander made a small moaning sound.† "Spike - fuck's sake, get the d-door open -"†† Xander managed to get one hand free and pull Spike to him by his hip.† Spike thought about just kicking the door in but the desire for privacy won out - he wanted to be able to shut the door - and he dug down into his jeans-pocket, fighting tight denim and Xander's unrelenting hold to get the key out and jam it blindly into the lock.† The lock clicked open and he pushed the handle down - shoved the door open and finally they were inside, stumbling a little.† Spike kicked backwards and slammed the door shut and dropped the key.†† The room was dark - still shuttered - the faintest silvery illumination creeping in around the edges.†† Spike walked Xander across the room, fingers in that long hair, mouth wet and open on Xander's neck, on his collarbones.†† The bed bumped the back of Xander's knees, and Xander made a small sort of moaning sound.

"Spike - Spike, wait - "†† Xander pulled back - put his hand in the middle of Spike's chest.

"What, Xan - what do you -"

"Want to see you.† Light a candle - turn on a lamp - something.† Please?"† Xander's voice was breathless - pleading - and Spike reached out and ran his hand gently over Xander's cheek.†

"Sure, love.† I forgot -"

"Yeah.† Not all of us have the super-powers," Xander said softly, and Spike shook his head.

"That's so, pet.† But seeing in the dark never won the day."†† Spike walked over to a corner lamp and turned it on - frowned when the light seemed too bright.

"C'mere, Spike."† Spike turned around, and felt a flush of arousal wash over him.† Xander had shed over shirt and wife-beater, and was sitting on the bed, leaning back on his hands.† He held up a booted foot.† "Wanna help me with these?"†

Spike crossed to the bed and crouched down - made short work of the boots.† He ran his hands slowly up Xander's legs - lifted his gaze when he got to Xander's knees.† Xander was just looking at him - heat and want and anticipation, and Spike smiled - pushed Xander's knees apart and knelt up between them.† He put his hands flat on Xander's thighs and felt the deep tremor of the muscle.† Could smell musk and spice, thick in the air, and squeezed, just a little.

"What do you want, Xan?† What do you want me to do?"

"Everything..."† Xander's belly was taut, quivering just slightly with every breath.† Spike leaned forward slowly and let his lips just lightly touch the warm skin.† He brushed them back and forth, back and forth, feeling the ripple of muscle under his mouth.† Let his tongue graze the rim of his navel - pushed in, for a moment, and felt the jerk as Xander took a hard breath.

"You feel so good..."† Spike murmured, and he slid his hands up Xander's thighs to the button and zip of the jeans.† He worked the button open slowly, and as slowly lowered the zip, and Xander was breathing in jerky little pants, his hips just twitching and moving under Spike's hands and lips.††† Spike leaned forward and let his mouth rest gently on the sliver of skin exposed between the teeth of the zip.† Xander was so very, very hot, and silken-smooth, and Spike could feel his pulse here, as well - could feel it trembling all through Xander's body.† He wanted to taste, and he inched the jeans open, covering the smooth, hard curve of flesh with his mouth - pushing the flat of his tongue against the pulse that was just there, and licking rough and hard.† Xander breathed, rapid and ragged, and his hands were in Spike's hair, tugging a little, pushing.† The jeans were just in the way, and Spike pulled back abruptly and grabbed the waistband - lifted and tugged at the same time and got them down and off.

"You too.† Spike - want to see you."† Xander was on his elbows again, looking down at him, one leg drawn up and his foot propped on the edge of the bed.†† Spike leaned in and kissed his inner thigh, hard cock just brushing his cheek.† Then he stood up and stepped back - did a fast unbuckle on the boots and kicked them away.† Yanked his shirt off, no finesse, just wanting skin on skin, and did a push and shimmy with jeans and hips and then he was naked, and Xander was squirming backwards up the bed, spreading himself out, staring.

"Those are new.† What are those?† Come show me."† Spike got on his knees on the edge of the bed and crawled up between Xander's legs - knelt there, and pulled Xander's thighs up over his own, so that they were groin to groin.† Xander pushed himself up on one hand and the other reached out and touched the heart in the center of Spike's chest.

"For courage," Spike whispered, and Xander leaned forward and kissed it.†† Then he reached a little lower and touched the other tattoos - tracing delicately, making Spike shiver.

"Alice?†† You got Alice and - all of them.† All of Wonderland."

"Most of them.† Tock said - get it out there, look at it - forget it."†

"Have you?"† Xander asked, tracing lower, brushing over the spines of the curled hedgehog and the spades on the Card Guard - petting the nose of the slumbering Dormouse.

"Some of it.† Can't ever forget some things, but..."† Spike let his hands slide up Xanders ribs to his shoulders - pulled him a little closer so they were belly to belly and he could press his mouth into Xander's throat - rub his cheek against the coarse-silk hair.† "I just let it go.† Gathered my courage...came to you..."† Spike inhaled deeply, lost in the rich scents of hair and skin and lust, and Xander's arms were wound tight around him, and for a moment they simply rested there against each other, breathing, feeling.† Then Xander shifted, and Spike let him lean back.

"Not lost down there now, are you?" Xander asked, and Spike smiled at him - shook his head.

"Not lost.† Followed a trail of letters back out."† Xander grinned, and Spike rolled his eyes.† "See what you do?† Make me all stupid."† Spike darted forward for a kiss that brought Xander flat to his back, his legs going up around Spike's hips and his hands fisted tight in Spike's hair.

"Fuck.† Spike?† Wanna do that - wanna watch you -"†† Spike sat up and Xander reached out and touched his chest - lifted the rings in his nipples and pulled, very slightly.† "Can I?"†

"Fuck yeah...." Spike breathed, and he leaned over the side of the bed to his pack, rooting down to the bottom and the tube there, slightly greasy.† He held it up and Xander reached for it - read the side.

"Licorice?"

"Didn't even notice, just grabbed.† It's black.† The tube, I mean."† Xander opened it and sniffed.

"Mmmm.† Nice."† Xander tossed the cap aside and squeezed out a little gel.†† "Kneel over me," he murmured, and Spike got their legs untangled - knelt over Xander's hips, pushing their cocks together for a moment.†† Xander's hand slipped down the length of him - fondled his balls for a moment and then went lower.† And stopped.

"That is really new.† Or - am I making assumptions?"† Spike was grinning, and Xander grinned too, his fingers delicately feeling over the curve of metal he'd found, halfway down the perineum.

"Got bored one night, had Tock do it."

"What is it?"

"Called a guiche."† Spike shifted a little, and Xander's hand pressed up, and he sighed and shivered.

"Good, huh?"† Xander's voice was low and rough and Spike leaned down for a quick kiss.

"Fuckin' lovely.† Get you inside, pushing from the inside - that pushes from the outside..."† Xander pushed again - tugged experimentally and laughed softly when Spike just closed his eyes and made a rumbling sound of pleasure down in his chest.

"Oh, can't wait..."† Xander let the jewelry go, and let his slick hand worm down further between them.† He rubbed light, teasing circles over the sensitive flesh - pushed in, one finger and two, making it a little rough, a little fast.† Watching Spike who watched him back, eyes half shut, his mouth coming open to pant a little, his hands tight in the heavy cotton of the duvet.† Xander reached with his other hand and began to pluck and tug at the jewelry in Spike's nipples, and Spike trembled, tossing his head back and grinding down on Xander's hand, rise and fall of hips bringing his cock into glancing touches with Xander's.

"Xan...c'mon..." he murmured, and Xander brought his hand down from Spike's chest to his cock - wiped at the pearl of glistening fluid at the tip and brought his fingers to his mouth.

"Good..."† Xander whispered, and did it again, only it was his own body he touched, and Spike's mouth his fingers slipped into.†† Spike sucked the fluid off of Xander's fingers, rolling the taste over his tongue.†† Xander spread the last bit of the lube over himself - held himself upright and Spike sank down onto him, slow as he could.† He locked his gaze with Xander's and took the length of him inside inch by inch, and Xander watched, eye wide.† The heat and the burn and the slow stretch and grasp of his body accommodating Xander's send shudder after shudder through Spike, and he couldn't stop the low, grumbling noise of pleasure that rattled through his chest.†† Xander reached for Spike's nipples again, pulling and twisting, rubbing over the pierced flesh, and Spike sank down further - took the last inch inside himself and ground down, feeling the jewelry between his legs push up.† He moaned, and Xander's hand went to his hips.

"You look...† God, more fuckin' sexy than I imagined....† You look -"†† Spike clenched inner muscles down tight and began a slow arch up, pulling off, and Xander hissed and gripped tight - let Spike set the pace.† Spike moved his hips, twisting a little, and Xander's cock nudged inside him, wash of shivery heat, and he moaned.

"Xann-derrr...†† Just there, yeah...ohh..."† Xander's hand between them, pushing on the jewelry, moving it, and Spike shuddered all over, his muscles clenching tight as wave after wave of exquisite prickling heat washed over him.† Xander's eye never left his - never left his body - and his other hand wandered over Spike's chest - scratched over his belly and reached back to grasp a buttock and pull him open further.

"Spike - fuckin' beautiful - c'mon, let me - wanna fuck you, Spike, let me -"†† Xander was panting, trembling - arching his hips up hard and Spike clamped his knees into Xander's ribs - leaned down and got his hands under the sweat-slick shoulders and twisted, rolling them over.† They settled with a jolt and Xander's mouth was on Spike's, his tongue pushing in and filling Spike's mouth, his teeth sharp against Spike's lips.† Spike pulled him closer - wrapped his legs around Xander's ribs and arched up and Xander got his knees under him and started to move, to thrust.† He broke away from Spike's mouth and gasped into his neck - into his shoulder, and Spike licked at whatever flesh he could reach, rolling the sweet-salt taste over his tongue.† He nipped with human teeth and sucked up red bruises, his fingers digging into the solid, flexing slab of muscle that was Xander's back.†† Xander bit at his throat, making him mewl in pleasure, and then pushed up and got Spike's calves over his shoulders - bent down low over him and pounded in, and Spike reached down to press and tug at his guiche himself, gasping for useless breaths, his other hand fisted in Xander's hair and pulling him down again.† Kissing, kissing him, sharp-edged and dangerous as the demon finally rose, a thready growl punctuating each thrust.

"Xan - Xander, let me, please fuckin' let me - taste you - Xan -"† Spike knew he was begging - knew his voice was cracked and helplessly moaning, and Xander took a shuddering breath and kissed him - dug his fingers into Spike's shoulders.

"Yeah - do it - Spike, you f-feel - Spike -"†† Spike tightened every muscle he could around Xander's cock - arched his back and drove his hips up and drove his fangs in and Xander's voice broke, harsh sob of pleasure, his nails digging in and making marks, his hips stuttering helplessly into a frenetically brutal rhythm.†

*Oh...like sweet wine, like cider...good, it's good...*† Xander's blood on his tongue - trickle down his throat - and Spike swallowed his mouthful and let his head fall back, a long wail of pure delight escaping him.† He got both hands in Xander's hair and willed the demon away - pulled Xander to him and fucked his mouth with his tongue, feeling the hot wash of semen in his body, feeling his own release jetting over his belly and chest, the bone-deep spasm of orgasm like molten silver in his marrow.† Xander's thrusts were slowing, and he pressed in deeper, harder - pushing the steel ring up tight into Spike's body.† Spike shuddered violently, a last clench and spasm of muscle rocking through him.† Xander's ribs worked furiously and he finally pulled away from the kiss, gasping.† He slumped down onto Spike, slick with sweat, shaking, and Spike let his legs slide down until he could wrap them around Xander's hips and keep him close - wrap his arms around his shoulders and put his face into Xander's hair - into his neck, licking the last traces of blood away, licking sweat, groaning softly at the incredible taste.†

"Oh god, oh - god - Spike...fuck..."

"Was good...was...perfect, was..."† Spike couldn't finish his sentence - could barely marshal enough wit to form words, and Xander let his head fall down onto his shoulder and just panted.

After a few moments his breathing was evening out, and he lifted his head again, looking at Spike.† The patch was gone, slipped off at some point, and Spike let his gaze travel over and over Xander's face.† The empty, veiled socket wasn't awful - was almost nothing, to Spike's way of thinking, and he pressed soft kisses all over Xander's face, letting his fingers stroke through Xander's hair again and again.

"Am I crushing you?† Should I move?" Xander whispered, and Spike hugged him closer with his legs.

"No, love - can't hurt me.† I'd keep you here all night if I could."† Xander ducked his head a little, smiling, and bent to nibble gently over Spike's lips - to taste jaw and throat himself, rough rasp of tongue and Spike sighed in delight.

"Been thinkin' about that...for so long..." Xander said, pressing his hips down, rubbing his thumb over Spike's collarbone.

"Good as you hoped, then?"† Xander looked at Spike, eyebrow raised.

"Christ, any better and I'd be dead.† You make me wanna just...taste...and touch..."† Xander did that, mouth and fingers, and Spike did it back, and they gradually slipped sideways until they were lying belly to belly, arms around each other, legs tangled together.

"This is girly too.† Cuddling.† But I like it." Xander said, nuzzling in close to Spike, his right hand stroking lazily over Spike's hip.

"Oh, girly...you still wanna be girly tonight, we can do that."† Spike shifted a little, drew Xander's right thigh up over his own, pressing groin to groin.

"Mmmm...in a bit..."† Xander lifted his head enough to kiss, slow and soft, and Spike just let himself drown in that - in the taste that was spice and sweet and rich, still, with traces of butter from dinner.† Butter and sweet lobster and...

"Lobster forks."† Spike said, and Xander drew back a little, looking at him.

"Huh?"

"Sharing crustaceans doesn't mean a thing until you share the lobster fork and we did, so does this mean I have to - to buy you a ring or something?"† Xander's mouth had been slowly stretching into a grin, and now he laughed softly, pleasant vibration of his chest against Spike's.

"You wanna buy me jewelry?"† Spike pulled back a little himself - raked Xander with a leering, calculating glance.

"Do I get to choose what kind and...where?"

"What?† Spike!† I - dunno.† Maybe.† Probably.† Jesus - that didn't take long, did it?"† Spike laughed too, hugging him.

"You're easy, pet.† I like that."

"Yeah.† I...† Spike?† I want - I need to ask you...something."† William quailed at that so-serious look, and Spike absently soothed him, watching Xander trace a mindless pattern over Spike's chest with a fingertip.

"Ask me anything, love.† I don't have any more secrets from you."† Xander looked up at that, and his look was wary but determined.

"I wasn't kidding, before.† About the lobster forks.† I mean - about...† That.† Us."† Xander's voice was low and so hesitant, and Spike stopped breathing - stopped moving.

"Weren't you?† Xander..."†

"Hush.† Hush a minute..."† Xander touched his fingers to Spike's mouth and Spike was obediently silent, waiting.† "When you - died?† In Sunnydale?† I thought - that's that.† I didn't have the courage to say...anything to you, and you were gone, and...† You'd never know how I felt, and I'd never know...† And then - god - seeing you at - with Angel and them...† I was so...† I wanted to tell you then, but you needed to - to get out of there, so badly.† I could see it.† You needed to be your own man for a while.† I just - I hoped like hell you'd get in touch with me."†† Xander's hand had slipped from Spike's mouth and was tracing over his face - up into his hair to pet and tug, down the back of his neck, over his shoulder.† Kneading and stroking, absent motion that seemed to make it possible for him to say what he was saying.† Spikes own hands were curled tight into Xander's back, and he clutched them together to stop their shaking.

"And when you did...† I wrote to you and just - I wanted to tell you everything.† I thought - by the time you'd be able to write back to me you'd be so...sick of me."† Xander smiled to himself and Spike leaned in and rubbed his cheek gently over Xander's hair - let his mouth ghost over forehead and nose, cheekbones and chin.† Settled finally on Xander's mouth and kissed him slowly and thoroughly, taking his time.

"Those letters," Spike murmured, when he finally drew away.† "Those letters were the best part of my day.† Made me want to get up.† Made me...want to see you - talk to you.† I hated not being able to write back.† Drove Tock and them nuts, talking about you."

"Yeah?"

"Mmmm..."† Another kiss, as slow as the first, and Xander pulled Spike closer yet, hooking his calf around the back of Spike's thigh, pressing as close as he could.

"I loved that you wrote to me anyway.† Getting that journal was like - was like Christmas only...really, a lot better.† It was -"†† Xander stopped talking, taking in a shaky breath, and Spike could feel him trembling - could feel the barest trace of moisture on his arm where Xander had pillowed his head.

"Love -"

"Another example of my girly nature."† Xander laughed softly - made a swift motion of his hand over his face, wiping, and Spike tucked Xander's head up under his chin and held him tight.

"Nothing I haven't done before.† You let me in, Xander.† You told me things - I never expected to hear.† You trusted me.† You - it...made me feel like I had somebody in the world that cared.† But - do you really want to be -"

"With you?† Yours?† Yeah, I do.† I've been out here, just drifting around -"†† Xander laughed into Spike's chest - kissed the heart tattoo.† "I wanted to drift.† It was good to not have to care about the people in the towns.† We'd come, and we'd go, and that would be that.† Never see them again.† But there was you.† Every day I'd walk around thinking 'I have to tell Spike about that', or 'I bet Spike would have laughed at that'...† Thought about you every day and...now you're here, I really can't - can't let you go again.† I can't, Spike."† Xander raised his head suddenly, and his eye was glittering wet - wide and dark with a maelstrom of emotion.† And always that clutch of guilt, when Spike looked into his face.† Always that sotto voce lament that he just hadn't been enough...

"Spike, don't make me let you go.† Please?† Don't."† Spike cupped Xander's cheek in his hand, not looking away, not letting Xander look away.

"I'm not - anything special, love.† I let you down, before -"†† He let his gaze linger on the scarred socket and Xander's look was blank for a moment, and then he was scowling, and he poked Spike in the chest - right in his tattoo.

"That's as dead and gone as Sunnydale.† Don't tell me you let me down - you got him off me, and you got me out.† And don't - don't tell me that the person I love isn't special.† What, you think I'm some loser, can only get other losers?†† Fuck that.† I got the best - got what I deserve.† After all this fuckin' time, I got what I deserve."† Xander was still scowling at him - his finger was poking hard into Spike's chest and Spike just looked at him, feeling his own eyes going wide in surprise - feeling the grin curling up the corners of his mouth, utterly incapable of stopping it.† Incapable of stopping the rusty laughter that rattled up out of his chest.

"Oh god.† I'm what you deserve?† Love - Xan...you deserve -"

"What I want, Spike.† You're what I want.† Somebody that knows everything about me and just - doesn't care.† Just wants...what they see.† You said yes, Spike.† Didn't you - mean it?"† Spike stopped the laughter - it was closer to something else, anyway - and rested forehead to forehead.† *Climbed up out of the rabbit hole.†† Not gonna go back down.*

"I meant it, love.† Fuck yeah.† Just - didnít think you'd take me up on it.† You're taking me up on it."

"Yeah.† You gonna be okay with that?"† Xander's hands were in his hair again, same as his in Xander's, and Spike kissed him hard - again and again, until the laughter was back and this time it really was laughter.

"Yes.† Yes.† Fuck yes.†† More okay than you can imagine.†† Love you, Ishmael."† Xander curled into him at that - hugged him hard and stroked his back and kissed whatever he could reach and the slow beating of his heart and the softly murmured endearments were a spell, a net, and they wove around Spike - around William.† They made a cocoon of silken steel and Spike knew he was trapped forever, safe forever, not alone, forever.††

*Forever, 'cause he's not getting away.† Not leaving again.† Do what I have to, and he'll come around to it...† Make it so he never, ever wants to leave...*

 

 

The night seemed go on far longer than any night in Spike's long life, and when the sun began to climb above the horizon they were both exhausted, sated, deliciously sore.†† Spike didn't think Xander looked remotely girly when he hooked his legs together behind Spike's back and urged him on, his body glistening with sweat and his gaze never once leaving Spike's face.† Spike's sleep was dreamless, and he woke slowly, feeling a deep contentment.† He stretched hard and rolled over in the bed, and Xander was sprawled there on his belly, a cluster of grapes in his hand and a magazine open on the pillow.

"Did you know there's a ship wreck near here?† You can dive down and see it."

"Mmmm?† Never did that before - diving."† Spike wriggled closer until he had one leg over Xanders, one hand stroking his back.† Xander fed him a grape.

"I never did either.† Don't like the idea of being under all that water."† Xander gave a little shudder and pushed the magazine away, and ate a grape himself.

"Where'd these come from?"

"You had a fruit basket!† All kinds of stuff."† Spike ate another grape and then pushed in close for a kiss.† They kissed lazily and ate grapes, and Spike couldn't help the hand that twined in Xander's hair and roved over his back and dipped down between his thighs.† By the time the grapes were gone Spike was hard and Xander was and Spike slithered on top of him and pushed his legs apart - slid ever so slowly inside.† Xander was still slick, still ready from the night before and he pushed back and breathed in deeply, groaning softly when Spike started a slow rhythm.

"Never wanted anybody as much as this," Spike murmured, his hands curled around Xander's shoulders and his face in Xander's hair.† "Never wanted anything as much as this..."

"Love this..." Xander whispered, turning his head and kissing what he could reach - fingers and cheek and Spike's mouth, a little awkward.† "Love you..."† Their climax, when it came, was bone-deep and nearly silent; a shuddering and tightening of muscle, a ragged, shivery sigh.† They lay breathless and limp for long minutes, and when Xander finally stirred under him, Spike slipped out and off and rolled to the edge of the bed.

"Shower, I'm thinking."†

Xander squirmed over next to him and kissed the tattooed Alice on the forehead.† "Oh yeah.† Shower.† And - when's the sun go down?† You need to feed me."†

"Sun's down in - an hour, I think.† Little less."

"Good."† They staggered up and into the bathroom and bathed, slow and slippery.†† Spike didn't think he could ever get tired of touching Xander's skin - of tasting it.† They wandered around afterwards with towels and combs, dressing slowly.† Xander borrowed one of Spike's t-shirts and Spike loved that it fit like a second skin, showing off the sleek muscles of Xander's belly and back.

"Good enough to eat, love," Spike said, coming up behind him and hugging him, and Xander leaned back against him with a sigh of utter contentment.† A soft knock startled them both and Spike opened the door to another Ik'ssa and let it in, a little twist of worry in his belly.††

Xander watched silently as Spike fed - as the second Ik'ssa revived its companion and led it away.† Spike turned to him, anxious, and Xander leaned on the edge of the dresser.

"What - was that?"

"Ik'ssa demon.† They - do that.† Hire themselves out."

"To vampires?"†

Spike nodded - took a step towards Xander and stopped.†† "Mostly.† They're hard to kill for all they look like little children."†

"Huh."† Xander looked around and saw his eye patch on the floor - went over to it and picked it up.† He held it in his hand, turning it idly.† "Why didn't you do that in Sunnydale?† Better than cold pig, I'd guess."

"Well, they're expensive.† Too much for me then.† And - I can't live off them."† Spike realized he was twisting his hands together and he stopped - crossed to the dresser and got a cigarette and lit it, puffing nervously.† William was fretting as well, and Spike tried to shush him.

"Why can't you?† Live off them."† Xander slipped the patch on finally and adjusted it, settling the band under some of his hair.† He came over and leaned next to Spike.

"It'd be like - like you having nothing but chocolate cake for every meal.† Nice for a day or so but not - enough."

"You'd be surprised how long I can live on chocolate cake."† Xander grinned, and Spike let out a long breath of relief.† And then stopped short when Xander spoke again.

"And all that business, clubs and...strangers in alleys.† That's over, Spike."† Xander was frowning at him and the demon hissed inside, resenting any order.† And William drew away in shame.

"Xan -."

"Mean it.†† It's us now, not you and me, and we - don't do that.† Have to find some other way to get your meals."† Spike just stared at him, at a total loss, and Xander suddenly pulled him close - leaned forehead to forehead, his hands on Spike's shoulders.† "Don't you get it, Alice?† You're worth more than that.† Worth so much more than a desperate fuck in some alley."† Xander lifted his head and shook Spike ever so slightly.

"Gonna argue with me?"†

Spike blinked, and then smiled - slow, delighted grin.† "Only ever did it because we...we were lonely, Ishmael."†

"Not anymore."

"Not anymore."†

 

 

When the sun was down they went out - walking, this time, going slowly and pausing often.† Spike had to keep turning for a kiss, a look, a touch.† Reassurance for William, and for himself.†† And every time, Xander was there - responding eagerly to the kiss, watching him with a small and secret smile, bumping his hip or shoulder into Spike.† Not letting Spike's hand loose from his once.† They found a restaurant that was a caravan on wheels with four sets of plastic tables and chairs on the sand-gritted sidewalk beside it.†† They ate conch chowder and fresh tarpon and Xander wondered how he was going to get his things to Seattle.† Spike almost choked on a hush puppy at that, and Xander whacked him between the shoulder blades and then grinned at him, sipping his tea.

"You're coming back?† I mean, with me?"

"Course I am.† I'm done with being Ishmael, Spike.† Done for now, I guess.† I mean - we won't want to live in Seattle forever, will we?† But I want to meet Tock and everybody - I want to see your...home."† A sudden look of pure panic washed over his face and he looked sharply at Spike.

"I'm - I can come, can't I?"

"Fuck yes, pet!†† I was wondering if I'd have to talk you into it.† You seemed like - you liked your wandering."†

Xander shrugged, scrubbing his hands on a napkin.† "I did.† But it's enough now.† I - ran away to sea mostly because I couldn't..."† Xander stopped and looked at Spike, and then grinned a little.† "'Cause I couldn't have you.† Talk about girly.† But I couldn't stay in L.A. or go off to England and...frankly - I'd had about enough of Buffy and Slayers at that point.† I still miss Dawn...† But things got so crazy, after Sunnydale went to - heh - to Hell."† They pushed their chairs back and crossed the street - climbed over the low rail that separated them from the beach.

"So you ran away to sea and pined away in your trailer for me," Spike said, and even though he tried he couldn't suppress the triumphant smirk that tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"Pale and thin and 'woe is me', you bet," Xander said, sly sidelong glance at Spike and a flex of his well-muscled, sun-browned arms.

"Prat."† Spike yanked him close and hooked a leg around Xander's calf - controlled the fall enough that they thumped harmlessly to the sand, Spike on top.† "No more woe for you, Lex.† Just...rain and fog and clouds...† Are you gonna hate that?"

"No."† Xander lifted his head for a kiss and 'hmmmed' in appreciation.† "Sunlight's overrated."† Spike laughed, and rolled them in the sand, the green scent of dune grass and the salt-sticky air all around.

 

†In the end it was four biggish boxes waiting on the floor of Xander's Airstream for the UPS truck to come pick up.† Tools, books, clothes, and assorted bits and pieces, and Xander stood looking down at it with an air of puzzlement.

"Seemed like more, before.† How is it everything I own fits into four boxes that wouldn't make a decent squat for a homeless guy?"

"Ishmael only had his sea-bag," Spike said, lying on his back on the stripped bed.† The ceiling had cobwebs and a water-stain, and the trailer smelled of orange-oil cleanser and dust.†

"Oh, well, that's all right then," Xander said, wandering back to the bedroom.† A canvas bag - thrift-store bought, some sort of Army thing - waited as well, with a few changes of clothes and the blue cardboard box of letters.† Thinking of that, Spike grinned, and Xander sat down next to him, his hands on either side of Spike's head, leaning on the mattress.

"That's pretty," Xander murmured, and dipped down to kiss him, slow and sweet.†

"So're you.† Do that again," Spike murmured back, and they kissed for a minute or two, until a knock on door made Xander groan and get up.† Spike lay there, eyes closed, tasting the spice and sweet that was Xander, half-listening to Xander and some girl talk.† Then the door closed and he was back, taking Spike's hands in his and tugging him up.

"C'mon Alice.† Time to go."

"Who was that?"† Spike let Xander pull him up and then slung his arms around Xander's waist, hugging him.

"The Living Dead Girl.† Annie.† She's got the key and she'll let the UPS guy in."

"Good."† Spike squeezed gently and stood up, and Xander was smiling at him, bag over his shoulder.† Spikes own pack was waiting slung across the saddle of the motorcycle.† The sun had gone down an hour earlier, and they were heading west tonight.

*Have to move out some of your clutter, William.†† Xander's things won't fit.*

*Just need another shelf,* stubbornly.† William hated to part with anything.

"Ready then, Ishmael?"

"I thought I was done with going to sea?"† They walked outside and Xander carefully shut the door.† Spike arranged his pack so it was at his side - settled on the bike, his duster trailing down so that Xander could have it over his legs if he wanted.

"Well, but you are going, and it's always been more about the going then where you end up.† For Ishmael, at least."† Spike looked up at Xander, waiting for him to climb on, and Xander settled his own jacket around him - 'Gotta be leather, pet.† Only makes sense.† And you look like a fuckin' porn star in that.† Gotta have it.'† and climbed on.

"No - I think it's all about where I'm ending up, this time."† Lips and tongue and a tiny prickle of teeth to the back of his neck and Spike shivered.

"Oh," he said softly, and Xander's arms were around his waist.†

"Love you, Alice.† Let's go see Wonderland."

"Love you too, Ishmael.†† Never letting you go," he added, so softly he didn't think Xander heard.† But he did.

"Please don't," whispered into his ear and Spike knew that his soul was soaring, soaring up and away.† A clumsy thing, with wings tattered as an old crows, but it wouldn't be held down. ††††††††††††† ††

*Flying or falling, it's all the same,* Spike thought, as Xander's arms tightened around him and held him like the most precious of things.† Like the best thing ever.† *Flying or falling, I'm not alone.*

The bike started on the first kick and they drove sedately out of the compound and then away up Highway 1, chasing the silver-sickle moon into the west.† Going home.

 

 

 

 

________________________

 

"Fear me, love me..."† †is from the movie Labyrinth

"I account it high time to get to sea..." ††is from Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

The Phantom Tollbooth is by Norton Juster

The Jackson Street Dragon and other Dragons of Seattle can be found here:

http://www.sustainableseattle.org/Programs/SUNI/NeighborhoodPartners/ChinatownID

The Edgewater Inn/Led Zeppelin story can be found here:http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/mudshark.asp

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by

Barry Moser, can be found here: (for Spike's tattoo)

http://www.moser-pennyroyal.com/alice/aliceindex.html

Spike's hotel in Florida is here:

http://www.casamorada.com