Chapter One: Hunted

"C'mon, Spike, you gotta help me out here."  Xander heaved at the mostly-unconscious vampire he was struggling to lift out of his truck.  Spike mumbled something and made vague swimming motions with his arms.  His legs didn't even twitch, and Xander took a breath and bent his knees a little and just hauled, getting the shorter man up over his shoulder and *thank you god*  for construction that had put some muscle on him.  He staggered up his walk and then bent down, propping Spike against the wall as he fumbled his key into the lock and got the door open.  Good thing Spike had been over a couple times since Xander'd moved to his new house; getting blood and stealing food.   Xander wasn't sure if the invite thing worked on a vampire that was mostly out of it. 

Spike managed to keep his knees from bending and Xander half-dragged him into the front room and let him go with a sigh of relief onto the couch.  Spike sprawled there, one leg and one arm dangling over the edge, the other arm caught at a funny angle against the cushions.  Xander stretched his back a little and then went back to the door and locked it.  He shut the curtains over both windows and debated the likelihood of getting the duster off Spike without actually getting him up again.  In the end he just knelt down and removed Spike's boots and then straightened him out on the couch, laying his arms comfortably across his stomach, getting a pillow under his head.  He pulled his Made-in-Mexico Navajo blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over the vampire.

*Do vampires get sick in their sleep when they're this drunk?*  Xander eyed the motionless form for a moment then gently turned Spike's head just a little on the pillow, just in case.  *Wouldn't do to have him choke...guess he wouldn't, though...doesn't breathe, duh*   Xander just stood there, watching Spike for a long moment.  Looking at his face, which for once had no expression of malice or anger or hate on it - it was just...peaceful.  Beautiful.

*Stop that.  Need to - oh yeah, need to go wash up, vampire blood on the hands, not of the good*  Xander shook his head and went to his kitchen - looked down at himself and decided that a shower would be better.  He detoured around the kitchen table to the bedroom, stripping as he went, kicking his shoes off towards the bed.  He tossed his clothes at the laundry basket *Two points!  Well, almost* and flicked on the bathroom light.  One of the best things about this house was that the rooms were all the same size, so that meant the bathroom was as big as the bedroom.  Xander liked that; cramped bathrooms sucked and here he had a shower as well as the original cast-iron claw foot tub.  Plus, a washer and dryer, which he'd gotten second-hand just this week.  And thank god for that.  The laundromat was kinda - creepy. 

He opted for a shower, too tired to mess around with a bath.  As he stood under the spray, lazily soaping his belly images from the night flashed through his mind.  Spike - bleeding and desperate - giving Giles his money back, his face so full of anger and hatred that Xander had actually been afraid of him.  The long sweep of Spike's naked back, smeared with blood, the muscles jumping and twitching every time Giles dug a little deeper for the tracer that had been shot into him.  His eyes, fathomless and dark as lapis, staring at Xander - no anger, for a moment, just pain and... 

*He looked so tired, tonight.  Frayed around the edges.  He must have been...terrified.  Those soldiers… * Xander cursed a little under his breath at the thought of the Initiative soldiers.  Bad enough they were running around Sunnyhell, putting everyone in danger; stirring up the demons and the vampires and making every patrol a game of Russian Roulette - would they interfere?  Would they hurt one of the Scoobies?  Tonight, though - they'd gone too far.  Tried to murder Buffy.  And even though he was feeling less and less of a Scooby, Xander still felt like punching someone *punch Riley* for that.  For casually wanting to take a life because it interfered in their ultra-secret plots to do... who knows what.  And Spike - tagging him like he was a damn animal - hunting him down.  Who knows what they would have done to him if they'd caught him again?  And what would they have done to Giles, the girls - himself - finding them 'consorting' with Hostile 17?  Xander shook his head, taking deep breaths - trying to get the anger out.  No point in being so pissed that all he wanted to do was smash things.  He had to think. 

*So...thinkThink about...  Spike.  No.  Well, ok.  Why not?  I've been thinking about him.  Been thinking about him since...since forever.  Since Angel almost got me bitten.   Since I watched him being so tender with Drusilla.   Since he tried to kill himself and I...kissed him.  And he kissed me back.*   That memory was the strongest - the best - and Xander leaned against the shower wall and closed his eyes, remembering...




There's been an earthquake - not Xander's first, but the first that did real damage.  He comes downstairs to find busted pipes and water everywhere, and Spike as pissed off as a wet cat, ranting.  He tells him to try and fix the pipes - to earn his blood, for god's sake, and goes out to work.  Comes back home, and his dad yells at him from the living room.   Xander goes in to see what's up.  His dad looks up at him from the couch, bleary-eyed and pissed off, and growls out something about what the fuck was he thinking, loaning money to a foreign faggot? and he'd better get the damn pipes fixed fast.  Xander feels a little sick, staring back at his dad, wondering what the hell prompted him to go downstairs, and what has Spike said to him, and damnit, has his Dad done something to Spike?

 Xander goes down the stairs slowly, bending to look under the rail - bracing for the worst.  The basement is wetter than before *guess Spike didn't have a go at those pipes, after all* and the vampire is standing over against the far wall.  Xander thinks everything is okay for a minute until he realizes there's blood on the wall and that Spike has battered the paneling and the concrete behind it with his fists until he's gouged chunks out.  Spike stands with his fists and forehead against the wall, blood streaking down the backs of his hands and wrists, shaking.    Wearing...

*Why in hell is he wearing my clothes?*   Xander comes down another stair, licking his lips, wondering what he's going to say.  Then Spike starts talking.  Xander doesn't know if Spike knows he's there or not.  He sounds furious and terrified at the same time, his voice shaking.   He's talking too fast, but there's the groaning rumble of a growl in there, too.

"Bloody fuckin' miserable old piss-pot of a fuckin' drunken bastard.   Didn't even try to hurt him, just pushed him back, just got him out of my fuckin' face, the bastard, fuck...  Can't stand this, can't do this, miserable human mongrel telling me...touching me...break his soddin' head open, skin him alive, I will...get this thing out of my head, out of me, fuckin' soldier bastards won't see me comin' next time, end of them, end of all of them..." 

Spike  rears back and bashes the wall again, bits of paneling and concrete flying off, the blood on his wrists trailing up his arms.  Xander bites his lip and wonders if he should leave or go on down; thinking back to the night he did vampire-sitting duty.   Xander had let him have his dignity - pretended he hadn't heard the broken voice, whispering and desperate.  But then Spike turns around and sees him.  Instantly his face changes, and he roars and leaps across the room so fast Xander barely sees him coming.  He's on Xander in an instant, baleful yellow eyes boring into Xander's startled brown ones; fists coming to snatch his shirt and shake him, slam him back into the stairs.

Then Spike is gone, crouching in a ball at the foot of the stairs; holding his head and moaning in agony, blood smearing back through his hair.   His eyes tight shut and the demon gone.

"Damnit Spike."  Xander walks down to him, shaking off his fear; angry with his father for coming down here and messing with Spike, angry at Spike for hurting himself.  He doesn't notice, until he's standing over the hunched form that one of his stakes from patrol is fastened to the coffee table.  Then anger explodes in him, and he reaches down and drags Spike to his feet.

"What the hell is that?  What are you - what were you going to do?  Huh?"

"Leave me alone, Harris.  Fuck off."  Spike twists out of his grip and staggers back a step, one hand still pressing tight to his head, eyes narrow in pain and rage. 

"No, I won't!    What the hell were you thinking?  Seriously, were you going to - to kill -? "

"Fuck off, Harris!  You gonna tell me now that you care?  Eh?  You don't give a tinker's damn what I fuckin' do, you don't care if I live or die so Sod. Off."   Spike throws himself down onto the couch, head in hands, and Xander just stands there, staring at him for a minute.

"Ok - first: you're wrong, I do care if you live or die.  You can believe that or not, whatever you like.  Second - what the fuck did you say to my dad?  He thinks that you're gay and that you owe me money, and I know he didn't think that stuff up on his own.  And third - why the fuck are you wearing my clothes?  You look like some kind of demented cabana boy."

Spike glares up at him, blood streaked over his cheek now and Xander can't help it; he starts laughing.  Spike does look funny.  The knee-length khakis and the Hawaiian-style shirt - both of which are a couple of sizes too big - are ridiculous, and made Spike look about 16.  Spike looks down at himself - rubs a hand over his face and snorts in exasperation.

"Not my damn fault.  Your soddin' drying machine ruined my clothes.  Didn't think you'd want me loungin' around down here starkers - that'd give your Dad a real shock, eh?" 

"Jesus, Spike, how'd the dryer ruin your clothes?  It's not rocket science."

"No, maybe it ain't, but it's not like I did my own laundry ever, is it?  Back when, that's what servants were for, and then there was always minions and the like or just get new if the old is too bloody...bloody to wear.  Fuckin' thing..."  Spike sighs and looks at his hands - starts licking the blood off, looking more like a cat than ever.  Xander starts to say something and then stops himself.  After all, when he impaled his finger on a bent industrial-size staple the other day, the first thing he did was put his bloody finger in his mouth. 

"As for your soddin' wanker of a soddin' father, I dunno why he came down here but he was yellin' at me and wantin' to know who I was.  Didn't think you'd be too happy if I told him I was the fuckin' vampire you were keepin', so I told him I owed you some money and was gonna wait for you to come home."  Spike glances up at Xander and away, and Xander wonders if his dad hit him.  It wouldn't exactly be a surprise. 

Xander sighs.  "Well...come on.   You can't wear that out, you've got blood on that shirt now.  Let's get a different one and you've got to rinse your hair out, it's got blood in it, too.  And Spike?"  Spike looks at him, his mouth open, his tongue going out to lap at an oozing knuckle.  "Next time you decide to hit something, hit the couch or something, because that wall is a load-bearing wall and I really don't want to have to dig you out of the rubble, ok?" 

Spike just looks at him.  Gets to his feet suddenly and advances on Xander, his hand still to his mouth, his tongue-tip just touching his top lip, poking at a smear of blood there. 

"You said you care if I live or die.  Why do you care, Harris?"  He is so close - inches away, really - and Xander suddenly feels all the blood rush to his face and his groin.  He doesn't think that's possible but there it is; painfully blushing and painfully aroused in 3.2 seconds.  

*And the crowd goes wild!*   "Umm.  I..."

"You...what?"  Spike's eyes really are an amazing shade of blue, and Xander chases several color-names around and around his head, wondering which is the most accurate.

*Sky?  Azure?  Baby?  No, not baby...*  Spike was saying something.   "What?"

"I said, what's goin' on in that soddin' lump of fluff you call a brain?"  Xander snaps his mouth shut and glares at the vampire.  The tantalizingly close vampire.  The vampire who smells subtly of smoke and leather and...

*What is that?  Not aftershave...just him...*   "Why I care is none of your business.  I - it's a long story and - it doesn't matter anyway, just - oh, fuck it."  Xander reaches out, grabs Spike's head, and kisses him.  As his tongue strokes inside the vampire's cool mouth, the soldier screams at him. 

*What the fuck!  This is Spike!  This is a vampire!  Are you insane?*   But the other voice in his brain - the Xander voice -  says:  *Mmmm... tastes good.  Spicy.  Like cloves and cream  and ... oh ... blood, too, mmmm*  

Neither voice is particularly helpful, but they both shut up when Spike starts kissing him back.  The kiss seems to last forever and Xander gasps when Spike pulls away, the some-color-blue eyes wide and shocked. 

"Right.  Ok.  Listen, Spike, I don't want to hear a word out of you .  Not one word.  I'll explain all this later, I really, really will, but I stopped by Giles' house on the way over here and there is, apparently and ' Oh dear', some sort of apocalypse happening and we need to go."  *Fuck, I just kissed him, I just kissed him, oh my god...*

Spike blinks at him - looks down at his mostly-clean hands - looks back up.  "Apocalypse?  Again?"


"You're just sayin' that to make me feel better."




Xander gasped in a breath of steam and shampoo-smell, his hand slick and tight around his erection.   *Oh, yeah, why the fuck not...he tasted like...cream and cloves and...ooh...*   Xander arched against the wall, his orgasm nearly silent - ferocious.  He panted there in the spray for a moment then finished his shower and got out.  He dried off and slipped into the robe that he kept on the hook on the back of the bathroom door.  Combing his hair, looking at himself in the mirror, he raised a sardonic eyebrow at his reflection. 

*Buffy'd tear you a new one, after all your crap over Angel.  Wait.  Are you planning on telling Buffy?*   The soldier's voice, sharp and stern.  Xander blinked at himself, and finally shook his head. 

*No.  About the whole guy-thing, maybe.  I'll have to talk about Oxnard eventually and I'm not ashamed of that.  But about  It was just one kiss.  And even if he did kiss me doesn't mean anything. And thank god the whole 'I can hit demons' thing distracted him so he didn't ask me about why I kissed him.  He still talks about Drusilla... still loves her, probably.  No point in...losing...   Well, fuck.*   

Xander shook his head, reaching for his toothbrush.  *Too damn late.  Already lost my heart.  Already gave it right to him.  Fuck, I've only been thinking about him - dreaming about him - for two years.  Even when I had no clue why I was.  Even when I kept my heart as cold and hard as I could, he was still in there.  That night...*

Xander brushed his teeth, lost to memory again, unaware that Spike was standing in the doorway to the bathroom.  Xander saw only himself in the mirror, and the movie that played out in his inner eye; a night at Giles' house, and the first crack in the armor that had gotten him to this - to love.




Giles has decided Spike 'can't be trusted on his own'; something that makes Xander shake his head in exasperated amusement, as if Spike is five and not allowed to be in the kitchen by himself.  Xander still can't get his head around the why - why has Spike come to them?  To the people he's tried to kill, who've tried to kill him?  To the Slayer, for god's sake!  Did he have the biggest fuckin' balls on the planet, or was he just insane?  Had the military chip made him crazy as well as biteless?  Xander is still creeped out over the whole 'mad-scientist' thing and he likes it even less when Riley starts hanging around.  Something about the soldier makes Xander's hackles - the hyena's hackles - rise.   The soldier - who comes out more now that there's another soldier to stir him up - makes Xander want to snap at Riley.  Tell him to straighten up, fix his collar, shine his shoes.  It's hysterically funny and totally horrible all at the same time, and Xander finds himself taking his nerves out on Spike as the most defenseless member of their weird little group.   *Only not that defenseless, is he.  He's gotten some damn nasty digs in at you - at all of us.*

So  over at Giles' house that night, on 'vamp-sitting' duty; listening to Spike yell and curse from the bathroom, shouting that he's hungry, that he's bored.  Xander has been irritated at once again being told, basically, to 'run along', and is one more time taking it out on Spike.  He delays getting Spike's blood to him - delays, and gets involved with a show on the TV - and when he finally realizes how late it is, he gets up and hastily gets the blood, feeling a little guilty for forgetting Spike.  He walks quietly along the hallway to the bathroom, mug in hand and hearing something strange from down the hall.  As he reaches the door, he realizes Spike is crying - not just crying, but gasping in great, wrenching sobs, muttering to himself between hitching, painful, unneeded breaths.

"Bloody bastards...don't care if I starve...can't do this, can't do this...oh fuck let me out, let me out, letmeout...gotta be...gotta s-stay calm...can't let - can't let'm see... " 

There is a rattle of metal on porcelain, and Xander imagines Spike is wrenching on the chains.  He bites his lip, hesitating - imagines how awful it must be to be imprisoned in there.   Like being back at the Initiative, alone and  hungry...  He puts his hand out to open the door and then realizes it would be even more awful to be seen like that.  That Spike would hate him even more if he walked in and saw him crying - saw the desperation.  Xander knows how much he would hate that. 

And a memory comes to him, unbidden; of Spike gently touching Drusilla's hair, smiling softly down at her, settling her into the front seat of the DeSoto and driving away from Angelus, from his third Slayer - from everything.  For love.  For his girl

And now he's chained up like a dog and Xander is not - is not - going to take away his last scrap of dignity.  At that moment he realizes he just might not be part of the 'Scooby gang' for very much longer, and he stands there stunned, thinking about it as Spike continues to mumble to himself, voice thick with tears.  Xander feels - physically feels, like a needle-stick - the ice around his heart crack.  He imagines it; silvery-white and hard, crazing out from the little dart that is Spike's low, exhausted voice babbling words like a child trying to psych himself up.

"Just don't think about it, right?   Just don't...they didn't - didn't forget, aren't...aren't gonna leave me here...  Fuck, I gotta get out of here...what'm I gonna do, what to do, can't fight, can't kill...just stop that, you fucking wanker, you're William the Bloody, you can do this...been through worse...been through worse..."  His voice trails off into a strange keening sound, and Xander slips away, back to the kitchen; still musing over his sudden revelation.  He really doesn't think he can do this anymore - blindly kill what's out there, when what's out there loves and laughs and cries and is afraid, damnit.   Buffy is the Slayer and he understands that means killing things - saving the world.  But lately it's her automatic response to everything, and he's getting so tired of it.  He's tired of pushing Anya off him with excuses and lame jokes; tired of not measuring up to expectations, and of being left behind.  Tired of it all.  He doesn't want Sunnydale overrun with monsters but he doesn't want to be the one deciding which ones live or die anymore, either.  Especially since they mostly die.  And he's tired of hiding himself - of hiding what's different - hiding what makes him not-quite-human, anymore. 

He gets out a second mug and pours more blood into it from the waxed carton that comes from the butchers.  He heats the second mug up and slams the microwave door - shouts down the hall.

"Hey, Spike, soup's on!  You still hungry in there or not? "   He slams around in the cabinets, getting a straw; making noise and taking his time, hoping Spike can pull himself together enough by the time he gets there so he can pretend nothing's wrong. 

He walks down the hall and bumps the bathroom door open.  It's dark in there, and Xander pokes around for the light switch with his elbow. 

"Close your eyes, I'm gonna turn on the light," Xander says, finding the switch.  The lights flickers on and Xander looks at Spike, who is lying with his head back on the edge of the tub, eyes shut.  His wrists look raw and red under the chains, and his face is raw-looking too, as if he's scrubbed at it.  Xander notices crescent-shaped cuts along Spike's forearms where he's dug his nails in.

"Come on and eat, now, b'fore it gets cold," Xander says, sitting on the edge of the tub and holding the first mug out, straw bent.  He notices his hand is shaking a little and decides to ignore it.  Maybe it will go away.

Spike lifts his head and opens his eyes, looking at his hands - the straw - anything but Xander.  He leans forward and drinks fast, as if afraid Xander will snatch the mug away.  When the blood is gone Xander puts the empty mug on the floor and transfers the straw to the second one.

"Sorry it's so late - I got kinda - distracted."

"Oh, sure, no problem, I'm only locked up here starvin', no worries, you tosser."  Spike glares at him, drinking, and Xander glares back, glad that Spike is more himself.  A Little Bad, if not the Big Bad.  

"Oh shut up.  It's not like this is some big funfest for me - I actually have a life, you know.  Don't exactly enjoy sitting in Giles' house watching over you."

"Can't have much of a life if you can be spared to sit here, eh?   What, they didn't want you taggin' along, gettin' in the way?  Got sent off with a pat on the head and a lolly?"  Malice sparks in Spike's eyes, and Xander feels his own anger rising, but he pushes it back.  They stare at each other for a long moment until Xander hears the door opening and Giles and Buffy coming in.  He rises and picks up the first mug and backs out of the bathroom, leaving the light on.  It's only a week later that Giles tells him Spike is going to come stay at Xander's house.  




Xander spat into the sink, rinsing his brush and using his hand to scoop water and rinse his mouth.  Spike moving in with him and then the earthquake and that kiss, dear god, and now, tonight...  Spike on his couch, Spike looking like Lucifer himself - light-bringer, tempter - so beautiful and so vulnerable... 

*Maybe it's just 'cause he's...hurt.  Maybe that's all it is.  He'll get better, he'll be back to himself and I won't...*  Xander wiped his face on his towel and turned around and let out a small shriek as he caught sight of  Spike, leaning there in the doorway.   Spike's eyes were dark, squinted a little against the light, staring at him. 

"What'm I doin' on yer bloody...couch?" he mumbled, and Xander shook his head, catching his breath.

"Christ, you scared me.  You're on my couch 'cause you were mostly passed out and after tonight, we didn't think it would be safe for you to go back to your crypt.  The Initiative might find you there and you wouldn't - you could get caught again." 

Spike just stared at him, swaying a little, his duster half-off the wounded shoulder, his hands clenched tight into fists.  Xander met that furious, unblinking gaze and watched in amazement as the anger faded and something else came up in them - puzzlement, and maybe...maybe gladness.

*Oh, right.  You'll be able to shake this off no problem.  Keep tellin' yourself that, Harris.*   Xander snorted at that particular inner voice.  If even the soldier could see how lost he was, it was hopeless.  He was...hooked.  Xander walked towards the door, wondering if Spike would let him pass or not.  "C'mon Spike.   I've got blood here.  Come and have a pint or two and lay back down, you'll feel better.  Gonna have a hell of a headache when you wake up.  Unless - do vampire's get headaches?  I mean, does -"

"Shut up, Harris," Spike whispered, and Xander froze, barely a foot between them and the smell of smoke and whiskey and Spike around him like a fog; comforting somehow, and arousing.  He wanted to put his face into the space between Spike's shoulder and neck and just breathe.  The hyena approved of that, a subdued grumble of pleasure somewhere in the back of his mind.   Spike reached out and pushed a lock of hair off Xander's face - tucked it behind his ear - and Xander thought of Drusilla, and how careful Spike's fingers were being; that they were trembling, and that Xander was.

"You - you - thought it wasn't safe for me at the crypt."  

"We - we all d-did, I mean... "

"Lie.  You're lying, Harris.  It was just you.  The bloody Watcher and the Slayer don't give a toss about me, we both know that.  And the witch'll do whatever she's told, she don't have any backbone.  It was just you."  Spike's gaze was tracking over Xander's face - caressing him with insubstantial  smoldering blue touches.  His fingers were still in Xander's hair, trembling there, unmoving, his other hand still fisted at his side.  He tipped his head a little and Xander shivered, wondering what Spike was going to do; wondering if he dared take another kiss.

Spike took a deep breath in, scenting the air, and Xander knew his arousal was evident.  Spike had told him, a couple weeks ago, how much he could tell from scent alone and Xander had considered bathing in cologne after that.

"Sweet as honey from the rock," Spike murmured, and Xander swayed a little towards him, wanting...

*Oh yeah, want...*   Then Spike was turning; a swirl of black and white walking erratically into the kitchen.  Xander heard him flop down into a chair and he leaned in the doorway for a minute, shaking all over.   *Oh god.  Oh fuck!  Pull yourself together, c'mon - deep breaths...oh, his voice ... *   Xander scrubbed his hands back through his hair and followed the vampire into the kitchen.  Spike was sprawled in a chair, face down on the table, his arms folded over his head.  Xander hesitated for a minute, then crossed to the counter and turned his boom box on, fiddling with the tuner until he got an 'alternative' station, keeping the volume low.  He got a bag of blood from the 'fridge and put it in the microwave to heat. 

*A negative.  Isn't that rare?  I wonder if it tastes... *   The DJ chatter stopped and music started to play, and when the first line of the song came growling out, Xander felt himself smile.


"Here comes Johnny Yen again... With the liquor and the drugs...
And the flesh machine... He's gonna do another striptease... "


"Hey, I remember this - from that movie we watched.  You remember, Spike?"  Xander carefully cut the corner off the warm bag and poured the blood into an extra-big coffee cup.  Remembering the Basement of Doom and movie night.  He'd rented Trainspotting and had actually seen Spike laugh; a full-on laugh of pure fun.  At him of course, because Xander had had to pause the movie again and again and have Spike translate for him.  The thick Scottish accents and unfamiliar slang had been confusing as hell.  But Spike had translated and expounded and taught him a few slang words, and they'd both liked the movie a lot.

Xander put the mug on the table in Spike's reach and leaned against the edge, humming with the radio.  Spike propped himself up on his elbows, eyes half-shut, and reached for the mug.

"Yeah, I 'memeber.  This's Iggy Pop.  Saw him at CBGB's ages ago...when I killed my second Slayer.  Bloody good show, him an' the Ramones."  Spike gulped the blood, the mug chattering a little against his teeth.

"Want some more?"  Flicker of blue eyes, tongue going out to lap a drop of scarlet from the corner of scarlet-stained lips.

"Yeah, gimmie 'nother one, my shoulder still hurts.  Bloody soldiers.  Bloody Watcher - what'd he use, a damn soup spoon on me?"

"It was pretty deep," Xander said, getting the second mug-full ready, looking over at Spike where he was twisting in the chair, taking his duster off and going through the pockets.


"Your skin starts itching once you buy the gimmick... About something called love...
Oh love love love..."


Xander slammed the microwave door, glancing in irritation at the radio, as if Iggy was betraying a confidence.  Then he heard the familiar snick of Spike's Zippo and he crouched down, poking at the clutter of cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink.  *Know it's in here...ah ha!*  He found the ashtray he was looking for and slid it onto the table in front of Spike, then turned to get the blood.  This time he sat down opposite the vampire and watched him as he sipped the blood and smoked, looking better already.  He'd actually been too pale there, for a little while, and the pain and exhaustion in his face were fading now.  Spike watched him back, silent, and they both listened to Iggy sing.

"I got a lust for life...  A lust for life...lust for life...lust for life... " 

The song ended and something came on that Xander didn't recognize and he found himself yawning hugely.  It was well past midnight, and he had to work in... *Fuck, four hours? Four and a half.*    "I gotta go to bed, Spike - gotta work tomorrow.  Listen - why don't you get a shower and go to sleep?  I'll find a new shirt for you to wear and you can just camp out here for a few days.  Tomorrow's payday so I can stock up, and... "  Xander's too-fast words petered out under Spike's wide-eyed stare, and he tapped nervously at the tabletop.  "What?  Why are you staring at me?"

"What're you up to, Harris?  Bein' - awfully friendly, lately.  You thinkin''re gonna get more'n a kiss outta me?  That what you're fishin' around for?"  Spike was back to looking pissed off, and Xander stood abruptly, snapping off the radio. 

*Now he remembers.  Great.*   "NO, Spike, I'm not - 'fishing around' for anything.  I'm offering - I'm offering hospitality, like I did back in the damn basement, you remember that?  I told you then what I thought, and I haven't changed my mind, I still think the same.  You're not a child, you're not an animal, and after far as I'm concerned, after tonight the fucking Initiative had better stay the hell away from you and from me, because I have had it with those bastards.  And that includes Riley.  Fuck, Spike... " Xander leaned across the table, looking the vampire straight in the eye, knowing his heart was pounding; knowing he couldn't really lie to Spike but doing his best to convince him.  "Can't you just - take what I'm offering?  Just take it and be -"

"Grateful?  Want me to be soddin' grateful, Harris?"  Spike sneered at him, the cigarette punctuating his words.   Xander hung his head for a minute, then he stood up straight and pushed his hands back through his hair.

"No.  I don't want you to be grateful - I don't expect you to be.  You're...  I can't imagine what you're feeling and I have no idea what this is like for you.  But I want to help you, Spike.  I'm not - expecting anything.  Just take it, ok?   I'm going to bed.   There's extra towels in the bathroom, right there on the shelf."  Xander walked away, to the bedroom, and Spike's quiet voice stopped him. 

"You said - back in the basement...   You said you cared, if I lived or died.  And you said - you'd explain it - explain that bloody kiss  n'all."  Xander stood in the doorway for a minute, then he sighed and turned around.

"I will.  I promise.  But not tonight.  I'm just - I'm too tired tonight.  I'll tell you tomorrow, ok?  I promise."

Spike looked at him, then he ducked his head and stabbed out the cigarette - sat staring at the ashtray.  "Night then."

"Goodnight, Spike."  Xander turned and walked across the room, tossing his robe onto the foot of the bed and sliding between the cool, worn sheets - settling the weight of the quilt over him.  He willed himself to relax, taking several deep, long breaths.  But even as his body drifted, leaden from exertion, his mind raced.  *What was that all about? Did it mean... Does he want me as much as I want him?  Fuck, he could probably smell what I did in the shower, no wonder he... No, come on...young single guy, here, we do that all the time, doesn't have to mean anything at all - even if it did...  Oh fuck, shut up, go to sleep, just go to sleep...*   Xander tried to make his mind go blank but he couldn't, and the same useless drivel kept running around and around his head.  The soldier was silent but the hyena wanted resolution  *Pack or not-pack!*  and Xander didn't know what to tell it.

He listened to Spike in the kitchen; smoking another cigarette, pushing his mug or the ashtray around on the table, a gritty slithering sound.  Then the scrape of the chair moving and the kitchen light snapping off.  Spike moved through the bedroom into the bathroom and Xander watched his shadow under the door; listened to the shower and then the sink running.  He jumped up out of bed and pulled the heavy curtains across his windows and then got back under the covers, doing the deep breathing thing again; wishing he could fall asleep before Spike was finished in there.  But he couldn't, and when the light went out in the bathroom Xander couldn't help but strain his eyes to see the vampire.  He could vaguely make Spike's shape out - a paler blur against the darkness of the bathroom.  Hesitating in the doorway.

"Come on, Spike.  Come to bed.  Just like the basement, huh?  I won't kick you and you won't hog the covers."

A disembodied snort of laughter and Xander's bed creaked and dipped under Spike's weight.  After a moment's shifting around, Spike was still.  They lay silently for what seemed like hours.  Xander was finally starting to doze off when he heard a sigh from his left, and a slight shifting.

"Thanks, mate," Spike whispered.  Xander grinned into his pillow, and was asleep.





Iggy Pop - Lust for Life