Chapter 4: Keepsakes

Chapter 4: Keepsakes

*Thank god it's Saturday* Xander thought, burrowing a little closer into the bed - into Spike. He didn't think he could get up if he wanted to, even though it was afternoon already. Spike smelled like salt and sand and spice, and Xander lay and breathed it in, resisting the urge to kiss the soft-skinned bit of neck that was just under his lips. Resisting, as well, the urge to stroke every inch of the cool, silken body that lay against him. It wouldn't be - fair.

*Don't want him to wake up and tell you to piss off, more like*

*Oh, go polish something, for fuck's sake* It was a little true. Despite everything that had happened over the past two days and nights - and that kiss in the basement - Xander still had no real idea of what Spike thought of him. And he wasn't in any real hurry to find out, if he could just continue to do this for a while. This...was really, really good. Better even then the four weeks Spike had stayed in his basement. They'd talked, and watched movies, and generally gotten along, but Xander's stress over moving and his feelings about being a Scooby had distracted him. He'd found that even while they were having a nice evening heckling 'Ah'nold', the little nagging voice in the back of his mind had kept him from really enjoying himself. He was going to enjoy this - naked vampire, in his arms - to the hilt.

Eventually, being human caught up with him, and Xander groaned and slipped out of bed. After he finished in the bathroom he pulled on an old pair of sweats and a flannel shirt and made his way into the kitchen. He made coffee on autopilot and stood there waiting for the pot to fill enough to get a cup full. The whole time, in the back of his mind, ran a litany - Spike's name. Xander wondered if this was normal or if he'd lost his mind as well as his heart. He took his coffee and the boom box outside and sat on the back porch, drinking and listening to chatter and music. It was just perfect outside - cool and sunny, and the ever-present breeze from the ocean smelling tangy and fresh. He heard the gull's shrill cries - watched them circle and dive over the edge of the bluff, endless and endlessly compelling with their sharp white wings and lazy, elegant swoops and spirals. *Spike, Spike, Spike* running through his head. He daydreamed a little about flying, mind wandering from gulls to jets to gliders to gulls again until he realized his cup was empty and that the sun was starting to sink a little. He figured it must be nearly four o'clock, and wondered if Spike was up yet. He also noticed that he was rubbing his fingers over and over the cut from last night, and that every time he touched it, it gave him a little shiver of sense-memory.

*What am I gonna say to him, when he DOES get up? I think protestations of undying love are not gonna go over all that well, and am I really ready to go there? Maybe...maybe I am. It FEELS like I am, but feelings are so...well, they're feelings, they're SUPPOSED to be so...but... I don't want to get in over my head. I don't think I could stand being laughed at, right now. He came back. He didn't try to kill me. He - accepted what I told him. It could all be ok* Xander stood up and stretched hard, then turned and went back into the house. As he shut the door he heard the shower running and smiled to himself.

He had settled down with a second cup of coffee and his mail by the time Spike came out of the shower. The vampire was dressed only in Xander's robe, and Xander caught his breath as Spike came into the kitchen. The robe - a heavy cotton jersey in dark blue - was too big, and one shoulder slipped down and a little off as Spike flung himself into a chair, looking groggy. He hitched at it ineffectually and then looked around at the table. His hair, free of the gel, was tufted in loose waves all over his head, and he looked *so young*

"You looking for something?" Xander asked, checking over his phone bill.

"Smokes," Spike rasped. His voice was rough and hoarse - obviously it hadn't recovered from the howling he'd done last night. Xander shivered. *Oh, SO not fair. His voice is already like sex on toast, now it's like...CHOCOLATE sex on toast. Gahhh. Act normal, for fuck's sake Don't notice that his skin looks like mother of pearl next to that robe, that that place right above his collarbone is where I'd like to nibble, just a little...*

"You left 'em in the living room. On the coffee table." Xander glanced up from the bill and straight into Spike's gaze. The half-shut eyes were full of speculation. Xander tried not to let anything show on his own face - tried to be casual - but his heart was going like a trip-hammer and he knew that a blush was coming on.

*He's gonna think all you think about is sex! Rein it in, Harris!* Xander looked back to his mail, rifling through the papers, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Spike stand up and shuffle into the living room. He came back with a cigarette already in his mouth. He set the ashtray on the table and went to the 'fridge, pulling out two bags of blood and fumbling his coffee cup, assembling breakfast and managing to get ashes and blood on the counter. Spike leaned against the edge of the worktop until the microwave dinged and then shuffled back to the kitchen table.

Xander forced his gaze back to his mail, but his heart wasn't in it.

"I'm starving. I've got frozen waffles - want some? They've got partially reconstituted one-hundred percent naturally unnatural blueberries in them." Xander smiled brightly at the vampire and Spike squinted through cigarette smoke at him, cup halfway to his mouth.

"What?"

"Waffles. Want some?"

"Yeah. Sure. Why bloody not." Spike shut his eyes and drank and Xander got up and started making the waffles. He put them in a pan and shoved it under the oven broiler - the only way to make six at a time. Then he got the butter, syrup, plates and forks out. Spike just drank, little sips as if the blood were something much stronger, and after a minute Xander stopped bustling and frowned at him.

"You ok?"

"What?"

"I said, are you ok? You seem kind of...I dunno. Are you pissed off at me?" *Oh damn, didn't mean to say THAT, just slipped out, DAMNIT, now he'll think...what'll he think? That I'm a freakin' girly dork, that's what he'll think.*

Spike stared at him, then flicked ash off his cigarette and regarded it closely, as if the filter were suddenly very interesting.

"No. 'M not mad at you, pet. I - just a bit tired still, you know." He made a vague gesture with his cigarette, towards the bluff and the sea, and Xander nodded. *More voice* the hyena grumbled, and Xander mentally shushed it.

"Yeah... I can see how that could - wear you out." He opened the oven and turned the waffles over, singeing himself a little on the edge of the oven door. He sucked on the burn as Spike got up and fixed his second cup full of blood.

"What d'ya wanna do today?" Xander poked through a drawer, looking for a potholder, but came up empty. He grabbed the towel off the dish rack and folded it, and took the waffles out of the oven.

"Spike?"

"Huh?"

"There anything you want to do today?" The vampire watched him assemble waffles, three to a plate, butter between each one, butter on top. Xander put the plates on the table and got a glass from the cabinet - poured himself some milk.

"I - can we go by my place? I need some stuff." Spike made a gesture with his hand, indicating himself, and Xander realized that Spike didn't have any clothes here.

"Oh. Right. I kinda forgot. Sure, we can do that. I need to get some groceries and stuff anyway, so we can go by the store and your place both, no problem." Xander poured syrup over his waffles and started to eat. He watched in a sort of horrified fascination as Spike poured syrup and then blood over his own and wolfed them down. He glanced up once at Xander and grinned, his bad mood seemingly gone. Spike's tongue snaked out to lick a drop of blood-tinged syrup off his fork. Xander stopped feeling horrified and started feeling...

*Snap out of it, Harris*

*Sir, yes sir! Soon as this image of Spike and syrup and tongue gets out of my head, sir!*

*There was BLOOD, Harris!*

*Adds to the flavor, sir!* Xander mentally shook himself and drank his milk down, then took his plate and glass over to the sink and ran some water over them.

"Right. I need a shower, Spike. Be out in a few."

"Sure, pet. Take your time." Spike was still grinning, and Xander wondered if the robe had been open quite that far a few minutes ago. He decided to think about it in the shower and bolted for the other room. *Damn vampires and their uncanny senses! Wonder if I have any Old Spice in here or something? That could drown out a dead cat*

Spike watched Xander make his escape into the shower and laughed to himself. He'd thought the boy's heart might explode, it'd been beating so hard. And he'd smelled so...

* Smelled gooood. Warm and salt and rich, like...blood...oh... His blood, last night. Tasted so good. Could taste him - every bit of him, his fear and his want and his...*

*Love. You think he loves us*

Spike ate the last forkful of waffle and looked at the sticky swirl of blood and syrup on his plate. He drew his fork through it idly, thinking about it. *Maybe love. But. He's. Human, for one. And. A white hat. He can't - he'd never be able to really...*

* He can see us. He knows us. Better than anyone else in our life - better than Dru maybe. He sees us and that's why he - offered his blood. And he wasn't afraid. Not in the 'I'm gonna die' way. He wasn't. And he...* Spike thought about that, too. It was almost frightening, to imagine that someone loved him. Someone who wasn't Dru. She'd been his only - his girl - for so long. How could he let someone else in? He had to know...he had to see. He had a box - keepsakes. Dru's things. He needed to look through them, to know how he felt about her once and for all. She'd sent him off, alone and angry and desperate to prove he was what she wanted - needed. He'd ended up with the damn soldiers, with this bloody thing in his head that might as well be a shock collar and a lead, and just be a good doggie for the Slayer... Spike snarled, his demon surfacing at the thought of her.

*Never. Die first. Take the Slayer with me. Get it out, get it out, getitout - * Spike shot to his feet, growling, and almost hurled his cup across the room. With an effort he set it on the table, and then leaned there, head down, struggling with the demon. Trying to cope with the all-consuming rage the demon was pouring through him. It was still light outside - nowhere to run this time - and he couldn't tear Xander's house apart. Wouldn't. Finally, the demon calmed, and he reverted to his human face just as Xander came out of the bedroom.

"Spike? You ok?" The soft voice was like warm velvet stroking over him, full of concern and care, and Spike shivered under its insubstantial caress.

"I...I'm fine. Tired." He slowly sat down, pulling the mug back to him, but the blood was cold now and he grimaced in distaste.

"Here, I'll..." Xander took the mug out of his hands and took it to the microwave. Spike watched him, studying him. He could remember, through a filter of rage (at Angelus) and worry (for Dru) and whiskey (because of Dru) the few times he'd met Xander before. When Angelus had used the boy as bait, he'd only thought *good choice* because he'd smelled so delicious. Terror and anger and sweat and sweet and...something. A dark, rich undertone that Spike could smell right now, savory and warm. Angelus had always had a knack for finding really tasty...boys. Spike firmly put older, bloodier memories away behind a mental door and locked it.

*Gave him to us. Ours...oh, the blood...* The demon wanted, and Spike mentally soothed it, quieting it. But the want remained, and Spike felt it like an ache through his bones. *What am I, some stray cat? Take me in, feed me, I'm yours?*

The second time - well, Xander'd been a soldier then, and the fear had had a darker undercurrent of... Something like bloodlust. He hadn't paid much attention then, but he'd sensed it again, the night they'd worked the spell and Dru had got her power back. The boy had been around there somewhere that night, fighting the Order of Taraka - he'd smelled Xander's blood like dark smoke in the air, but all his attention had been on Dru and Angel and the two Slayers. Then the pain of his back being shattered... That memory, too, went under lock and key.

*Going to run out of room for all the stuff you're locking away. Ever going to face any of it? Ever going to - *

*No. I'm not. At least...not right now. Kind of trying to get my head right, figure the boy out! He says you're my soul...William's soul. Not - inherited madness. So. Don't need to think about...all that, just now. Got enough to think about.*

* 'All that' has teeth. Better be careful how you lock those doors* Spike shook his head a little, silencing the voice, and Xander gave him a quizzical look as he handed Spike the re-heated blood. Spike took it with a nod of thanks and drank, reaching for his cigarettes. He frowned in irritation when he realized the pack was empty.

"Oh bloody buggering hell," he snarled, and Xander laughed.

"It'll be dark in half an hour - we'll get you some more then. Listen - " He sat down opposite Spike, looking serious, and Spike felt his stomach clench tight. What was he going to say? 'Thanks but no thanks, don't need a crazed killer in my home'? He shouldn't have taken the blood last night, no matter that the scent of it and the boy had practically driven him over the edge. He shouldn't have gone off raging - probably scared him, shrieking and carrying on like that. But all that - that business with the soul, and what he'd tasted, thought he'd tasted, in the boy's blood... *We tasted love. Some kind of love. Running doesn't change it.* Spike gulped the rest of his blood, suddenly desperate for some comfort, some warmth. He realized Xander was still talking and he forced his attention back to the boy.

"What?"

"Spike! Geez. Ok, to review - I need supplies, so I have to go to the grocery, so you need to write down any stuff you need here on my list." Xander pushed a pad of paper and pen over to Spike, and Spike stared down at it Really, Xander had horrible handwriting. Spike squinted at the list, trying to read it.

"What the hell does this say - 'title point'? What in bloody hell is that?"

"Toilet paper, Spike, and you're supposed to be adding to the list, not critiquing my penmanship."

"You don't have penmanship, you have...chicken scratches." Spike looked at the lidless and rather grubby ball point pen in his hand with disdain.

"This isn't even a proper biro, the ends all - fuzzy - or somethin' - " Xander snatched the pen out of Spike's hand and wiped it on his jean-clad thigh.

"It's just a little lint or something, for god's sake. It's been in the junk drawer." Spike snatched the pen back and glared down at the paper. What did he want? *The Slayer served cold. Those soldiers crucified... The boy...naked...under me...* Spike blinked and tried to think about groceries. Wondered if he dared add lube to the list and decided against it. He had a feeling he wasn't going to get anywhere with Xander by being flippant or crude. Although, maybe later...

*Ah. So you DO want to...get somewhere? With him?*

*Sod. Off.* Finally, he wrote 'smokes' and 'Weetabix' and 'shirt' on the list, and pushed it back to Xander.

"S'all I can think of," he mumbled, and Xander glanced down at the paper - did a small double-take and stared.

"Now what?" Spike snarled. His head was starting to hurt.

"Uh. Oh, nothing. You just - you have really nice handwriting. Like a - birthday card or something." Xander glanced up at him, smiling, and Spike shrugged. It was just handwriting - the same style everyone his age had written in. You learned it or you got caned.

"Comes with the territory, mate. How we learned to do it."

"Yeah. It's just...really nice." Xander ran his fingers over the word 'shirt', and then tore the sheet off the pad and folded it and put it in his pocket.

"Uh - I'm gonna go see if I can find some clothes for you to wear. Those jeans you had on are pretty damp, still. I've got some stuff from last year, doesn't fit anymore, it'll probably be ok." Xander stood up and started to go back to the bedroom and Spike was right behind him.

"Oi! If you think I'm gonna wear that same kit like last time you're out of your bloody mind." Xander sniggered, opening drawers.

"Don't worry, I'm sure I can find something more appropriate for the evil undead than parrots and palm leaves."

"Too bloody right."

 

In the end it was last year's jeans and another wife-beater. The jeans were a little big and rode low on Spike's narrow hips, and Xander had to force himself to look away from the enticing line of dark-blond hair that tracked from the vampire's navel to...under the waistband. Spike grumbled about the jeans being faded blue, the shirt being white. Xander offered an over shirt - faded chambray workshirts in blue or green, or flannel shirts. He was suprised when Spike took a flannel shirt; dark red and green and black. The vampire's fingers stroked the soft, worn fabric and Xander wondered if he were cold or if he just liked the softness of it. Xander had already put on jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt when he'd gotten out of the shower, so they both only needed to put on their respective boots. Spike's shoulder seemed completely healed - he wasn't favoring it anymore, and he looked much better. Xander made a mental note to check the prices of the kind of beer Spike liked - if he could afford it, he'd get him a six-pack. He sighed, looking down at his checkbook. While Spike had finished dressing he'd written out checks for the phone, the electric, and the insurance on his truck - Uncle Rory's car had never recovered from Oxnard - and he didn't have too much left, after buying blood the night before.

*So much for payday. Keeping vampires is expensive. Keeping...hrmmm. No, don't go there* He mentally stopped any train of thought that led to Spike naked or in the bed or...

*How about anywhere? Doing anything? He looks as sexy in those old jeans of mine as he did in the robe and naked in the bed. He can't NOT look good, and damnit, I can smell him...want to taste him* Xander rubbed his finger over the healing cut and shivered, then stuffed his checkbook into the junk drawer and picked up his bills. *Gotta remember to get stamps.*

"Hey, b - Xander." Spike stood in the doorway to the living room, unconsciously clenching and unclenching his fists. "I - got some dosh at my place. I took it off some wingeing little fledge I dusted. I can - I can pay you back for the blood." Spike seemed nervous, saying that, and Xander wondered why, but he felt himself smiling hugely at him.

"Hey! That's great. You don't have to pay me back, you can just kind of ch- contribute, you know? Guess we'll go to your place first, so we don't come up short at the store. Ok?"

"Yeah. Ok." Spike ducked his head, looking like he might be going to say something else, and then he just turned, rustle of worn leather, and went outside. Xander grabbed his keys and wallet and followed, trying not to grin like a loon.

 

They approached Spike's crypt as silently and stealthily as possible - Spike vamping out and scenting the air, stopping to turn his head and listen every few feet. Xander just concentrated on being as noiseless as he could be, and watched where his feet were going. They crouched in the shadow of the Robinson memorial for a few minutes, watching Spike's crypt, but finally deciding they just had to go for it.

Spike stood at the door for a minute, listening, scenting...trying to feel, maybe, if anyone was in there. He pushed the doors open cautiously and they both went inside, Xander's finger ready on the switch of his flashlight.

Almost as soon as they were through the door Spike started cursing. Xander felt icy fear wash over him for a moment, and then he sorted out what Spike was saying and turned on his light. The crypt was destroyed. The things Spike had salvaged - TV, chair, a low dresser and assorted candleholders, cups, ashtrays - were smashed and scattered all over. What little clothes he'd had were shredded and - wet?- and even the old 'fridge in the corner was knocked over, the door-hinge sprung.

"Bloody bastards, fuckin' soldiers..." Spike kicked at a broken CD box. He was staring around furiously when he suddenly noticed that the cover to the sewer access was askew.

"Oh no, no no, damnit, they did not find that..." He wrenched the cover aside and leapt down into the darkness beneath.

"Wait!" Xander tried stop him but the vampire was gone. He hurried down the ladder, trying not to slip on the rungs. Beneath the crypt was not, as Xander had rather imagined, a dark and dank tunnel but what looked like a natural cave. He flicked his flashlight beam around, nervous. Spike was nowhere in sight and he was afraid. What if the Initiative had left a trap or a...watcher down here? Spike could be caught - could be dusted... "Spike!"

"M'over here, mate!" Spike called, and Xander gasped in a breath and followed the voice - the noises Spike was making as he apparently dug something up. Xander found him in a far corner. A tangle of rotting boards, rocks and dirt lay there, looking as if a support of some kind had collapsed years ago. Spike was shifting the mess, digging under it, and after a few minutes he uncovered a trunk. It wasn't huge; it was small enough for one person to carry, but still bulky. The wood was dark with age, and the iron bands that encircled it were rusted and pitted. Spike dragged it clear of the pile and gently lifted the lid. Xander tried not to stare, and saw only what looked like folded cloth before Spike shut it again.

"Bloody bastards didn't find it," he murmured, and Xander watched him slump there for a minute, his hands caressing the trunk softly, as if it were alive. The he straightened and lifted it easily, balancing it on his shoulder.

"C'mon, mate. Got the dosh over here - unless they found that." Xander followed Spike as they crossed the cave floor to a niche in the wall. More rubble was piled here, and Spike thrust his hand through a gap between some boards and pulled out a crumpled paper sack. He shoved it at Xander's chest and strode away, heading for the ladder. Xander clutched the sack to him and followed, stumbling a little over more rubble and broken furniture. He climbed up the ladder and found Spike waiting impatiently by the door. Spike took a long, lingering look around the crypt, and his face finally relaxed out of the demon's vaguely feline planes into his own.

"I'm gonna make them hurt for this." He looked straight at Xander when he said it, and Xander looked straight back. He knew he should feel fear - should be worrying about Spike somehow getting his revenge. But he didn't - he wasn't. All he felt was rage, for Spike, at seeing his things destroyed, his home desecrated. He could smell what was on the clothes - knew what the soldiers had done. He'd take a little revenge himself, if he could, for this and other things. Riley at least was in his grasp. He returned Spike's hard stare and nodded once, acknowledging what had been done, and what would be done. Spike grinned suddenly, and the overwhelming tension of the last few minutes seemed to drain away.

"Got what I came for, any road, and they didn't bloody touch it, so that's all right. Guess we'd better get outta here though, eh mate?"

"Yeah. I'm not feeling too good about being here. Let's go and get our supplies and get home." They made their way quickly back to Xander's truck, the very silence of the cemetery making them both a little jumpy. Spike settled the trunk carefully into the middle of the seat and climbed in, but when Xander tried to shift into reverse, he bumped into it with the stick.

"Uh - gonna have to move that or hold it on your lap or something, Spike, I can't back up here."

"Bloody hell. Hang on... " Spike lifted the trunk, shifting it, and then had it half in his lap and half on the seat, scooting himself over towards the middle. "That do you, mate?"

"Uh...yeah. That's g-great." Xander shifted into reverse, his hand rubbing along Spike's thigh as he did. *Oh yeah, this'll do me fine. Fuck. Breathe*

As they drove Spike started wiggling around, trying to get something out of his pocket without upsetting the trunk. It seemed to be balanced on his legs precariously, as if one end were heavier then the other, and he needed both hands to keep it braced.

"Need any help?" Xander asked, and Spike shot him a frustrated look.

"Yeah. Can't seem to get my smokes. Just reach in here..." Spike held his arm up, gripping the trunk, and Xander slid his hand into the duster pocket. They'd stopped for smokes first thing at a gas station, as soon as they'd left the house. Xander felt around for a minute, his fingers identifying the Zippo, a slim, closed knife, some change, a - handkerchief? Maybe a bandanna. Spike's leg... *Damnit, he did that on purpose. Are they even in here? Calm down* Finally he found the pack and pulled it out, then the lighter, and lay them both on the seat.

"There you go." Xander congratulated himself on how even his voice sounded.

"Can't exactly get one out and light it, pet. Takes two hands to work the Zippo, you know." There was glee in Spike's voice, and Xander was pretty sure he could have gotten that damn pack of cigarettes out of his pocket all by himself. *Fine. I can do this. Red light coming up, no problem. Try not to choke when you light the cigarette...in your mouth...and then put it in his...* Xander held the steering wheel in a death-grip and down-shifted with unnecessary force. They came to a stop and Xander fumbled a cigarette out of the pack and held it awkwardly in his mouth. It took two tries with the Zippo but he finally got it lit, then applied the flame to the tip of the cigarette. Merest breath in, to make sure it was lit, then he shut the Zippo and took the cigarette out of his mouth - held it out to Spike. The vampire leaned forward and took the cigarette delicately between his lips, and Xander felt his knuckle just touch the cool chin. Then Spike was sitting back, squinting through the smoke, grinning at him and puffing out a cloud of smoke.

"Cheers, mate."

"Yeah. Right. Cheers," Xander mumbled. The light was green, and he put the truck in gear with a jerk and drove on to the store. The faint taste of cigarette smoke lingered on his lips like a kiss.

 

 

Shopping had been... Well, if any other member of the gang had been there, it would have been a nightmare, but Xander had actually had fun, in a heart-pounding kind of way. The mingled expressions of horror and disgust on Spike's face as they'd pulled into the discount chain's parking lot had been hilarious, and Spike almost hadn't come in. In the end, though, he'd grudgingly admitted that he didn't want Xander picking out the clothes he needed, so he'd settled the trunk tenderly on the truck seat and followed, asking Xander at least four times if he was sure he'd locked both doors.

Inside they'd gotten a cart, dodged the greeter, and gone straight to men's wear.

"This place is a zoo," Spike hissed, glaring at an octogenarian who'd grazed him with her electric Shop'n'Ride cart.

"Yeah, it is. But it's cheap. Oh look, these shirts are on sale." Xander picked up a four-pack of

t-shirts: two grey, one maroon, one black. "This look like your size?" Spike peered at the shirts.

"There's only one black one."

"Oh, come on. Live a little."

"Fuck that." Spike turned the package over, reading the sizing chart. "I need - M - I think."

"You think? Let me see." Xander took the package back and studied the chart. "Yeah, you're right - what the hell are you doing?" Spike looked up at him, shreds of plastic in his fangs.

"I'm gonna make an all-black package. Set of four, right?" He proceeded to shred more packages, pulling out black t-shirts and stuffing them into the least-shredded bag. Xander looked around in panic, sure a store employee would see them and make them buy all the shirts. Spike kicked the opened packages under the display and held up the lumpy all-black one for Xander's inspection.

"See? Just what I wanted." He walked around the end of the display and suddenly the black

t-shirts came flying over the rack, bonking Xander in the head.

"What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing." Xander grated out, and Spike came back around the corner, a sealed package of black t-shirts in his hand.

"These are all black. And look - five. S'better."

"What about these?" Xander waved the made-by-Spike four-pack of black shirts. Spike rolled his eyes.

"Those are open. I don't want an open package." He tossed the sealed pack into the cart and wandered away. Xander waited until he was around a corner before laughing. Then he followed, fast.

Spike was standing in front of a wall of jeans, eyeing them with apparent loathing.

"Don't they have any soddin' black?"

"What is it with you and black?"

"It's a thing."

"Yeah, an annoying thing. Nothing wrong with color." Spike plucked at the pale jeans he was wearing.

"These show the dirt. And the blood. Black's better. And you've got no business makin' fashion statements, mate." This time Xander rolled his eyes.

"Fine. Black is over here." The selection was smaller, but after about five minutes they found a couple of pair that would probably work.

"Go try 'em on," Xander said, pushing the jeans into Spike's arms and looking around for the changing room.

"What for?" Xander glared at the vampire, but he seemed genuinely puzzled.

"Because...because if you don't..." Inspiration struck. "If you don't, and they don't fit, we'll have to come back here and exchange them." Spike looked at Xander - looked at the jeans - looked over at an obese man who was struggling to maneuver his cart between too-narrow aisles and knocking day-glo skater-style shorts to the floor in the process.

"Right. Try 'em on." Spike crouched down and started unlacing his boot and Xander hauled him upright and propelled him down an aisle.

"Not. Here. There's changing rooms...right over there. Come on." They entered the changing area, which was empty of people and employees, and Xander whipped open a curtain and gestured to Spike. "There you go."

"It takes forever to do these boots up right, you know," Spike grumbled, but he sat on the little bench and unlaced, yanking his boots off and tossing them to the side. Xander noticed he wasn't wearing socks and mentally added them to his list. Spike stood up and undid the waist of the borrowed jeans and started pushing them down.

*Oops, no underwear either. Guess past a certain...age... you really don't have any modesty.* Xander spun around, checking for anyone, feeling an embarrassing rush of heat to his groin. * Damnit, it is totally unfair that he can do that to me. AND that he KNOWS he does that to me. Probably reeling from the fuckin' pheromone hit. Ok, breaths, deep breaths.* Xander heard rustling, and then Spike tapped him on the shoulder. He twitched away and turned to face the vampire, a rather forced smile on his face.

"Right, so, they fit?" Xander looked down at the jeans - the black, painted on, utterly sexy jeans. *Well fuck, here we go again* "Yeah, they fit just fine. Great. Let's go."

"Xan-derrr" Spike purred, and Xander's heart thumped painfully. He looked up at Spike's face. Straight into eyes half-lidded, lips curved in a small, knowing smile. Spike cocked his head a little to the side, his gaze raking Xander from head to toe and Xander shuddered. He could practically feel Spike's gaze on him - the smoldering weight of that regard, so focused and intent.

"Wh-what?"

"Shouldn't I try the other pair on?"

"Huh? Other p- oh. Oh, no. No. They're exactly the same. No need of that. Why don't you just slip out of those and I'll - I'll go get you some socks, ok? Right." Xander turned and got four steps when something smacked into him from behind. He turned and fumbled the black jeans that were trying to strangle him.

"Just put those with the t-shirts, right, pet?" Spike said, standing there with Xander's blue jeans dangling from one hand. Xander looked - stopped looking - turned, nodded and ran * No, we're walking briskly* back towards the cart. He could hear delighted laughter coming from the changing rooms. He tossed the jeans into the cart, looked around and found a pack of socks *serve him right if I bought him orange socks or - hehe - argyle* then pushed the cart back towards the changing rooms. Spike emerged a moment later and tossed the other pair of jeans on top of the first and then looked quizzically at the mortal.

"What's next, pet?"

"Food. Beer. Sundries. Let's go." They managed to get the rest of their supplies without anything too awful happening. Spike vamped out and made a cart-full of clamoring children scream bloody murder, and he insisted on sniffing every single different scent of shampoo before letting Xander put one in the cart. 'Freesia Fantasy'. At that point, Xander didn't care if it was 'Rotten Apple' scented, he just wanted out. He was pretty sure he'd seen Spike slipping things into his pockets and was starting to get paranoid.

"Ok. We got what we need. Let's get out of here." Xander pushed their cart up to a check-out station, resigned to a long wait. Why was it always so crowded in here? It had to be dinner time or something - why weren't all these people at home, eating? Spike had pulled out a cigarette and was lighting it.

"Spike. You can't smoke in here."

"I'm gonna eviscerate somebody if I don't get a fuckin' smoke, mate," Spike growled, taking a huge pull on the cigarette.

"Look - there's the doors where we came in. Just go out there and smoke, I'll be out in ten minutes, ok?" Spike craned to look over at the doors; eyed the cashier, who seemed to be a trainee, and the two loaded carts in front of Xander.

"Cheers, mate. That I will." He started to push past Xander and Xander grabbed his arm.

"Wait - give me some of that money, ok? I don't want to be short."

"Oh, right. Here." Spike reached into the inner pocket where he'd stashed the bag of money and pulled a crumpled handful out. He shoved it into Xander's hand and slipped away, dodging people and carts. He got stuck behind an over-loaded cart being pushed by an older couple in sweat-suits. Just as they reached the door, he dodged around them and was gone. The door alarm went off, and the sweat-suit couple stopped in confusion, looking around helplessly as a manager and a boy with 'Cart Crew' across his t-shirt hurried up to them. Xander closed his eyes briefly in sheer panic. But he knew that Spike had done it just right - gotten out and left the huge cart-full to be the main suspect. Xander just hoped he'd go sit in the truck or something and not hang around near the doors. He started unfolding and smoothing out the money Spike had shoved into his hand, and his mouth went a little dry as he realized that the ten or more bills were all fifties. *Please don't let them be counterfeit. Please*

Closer to twenty minutes later and a quick stop at the stamp-vending machine Xander was finally done and walked outside, almost a dozen bags swinging from his hands. He walked quickly across the parking lot and found Spike sitting on the lowered tailgate of his truck, smoking, swinging his legs and drinking from a - stolen bottle of whiskey. He hopped down when he saw Xander.

"That took for fuckin' ever. What the bloody hell were you doin' in there?"

"Just waiting my turn." Xander loaded the bags into the truck bed, up near the back window, and slammed the tailgate shut. "Come on, let's go." He opened his door, got in, and leaned over to open Spike's. The vampire lifted his trunk up in his arms and settled carefully with it, shutting his door awkwardly. Xander started the truck, shifted into reverse, tried not to think about Spike's thigh, backed up, shifted into first gear, thought about Spike's thigh, and drove away.

At home, they unloaded and put things away. Or, rather, Xander unloaded and put things away. Spike carried the trunk in to the living room and then sat moodily staring at it, drinking the whiskey and petting the trunks' rusting, splintery sides. When Xander had decided to move in to this house, he and Manny had agreed that the kitchen needed a pass-through in the living room wall, to open the space up a bit. Now Xander watched Spike through it while he put milk and frozen dinners and bread and other groceries away, and stacked Spike's new clothes on the table. He put the imported beer *Can't believe they had that* on the counter beside the microwave and shoved the store bags into an empty drawer. Then he just stood there, for a long while, watching Spike who seemed to be lost in time - in memories - in whatever was in that trunk.

*Drusilla's things. Keepsakes of her. This is where he looks at their life together and decides it really IS what he wants - decides to go back to being Spike-and-Dru and fuck the rest of the world. And... god...if he does that I don't know if...I don't know if I'll be able to stand it. Manny wants me to go work for his other son, up in Seattle, and maybe I will, if Spike decides... If he's still in love with her. I think I will because I won't be able to stand being here alone. Please, Spike. Please, please...* The soldier was silent, for once, but the hyena was making a low and mournful sound, somewhere in the back of Xander's brain. The hyena had decided on pack, and pack did not leave. *FUCK when did this get so...how did I get in so deep? So fast?* Xander took a long, long breath, trying to calm himself, and jerked in startlement when Spike stood abruptly and came into the kitchen. The vampire started unloading the pockets of his duster, piling his stolen goods on the table. Zippo fluid, flints, a bag of lemon drops, a thermal coffee mug, a couple of candles, a high-end ballpoint pen, a tube of hair gel, and -

"How'd you get those?" Xander asked, staring at the carton of cigarettes.

"Nicked 'em outta somebody's cart in the parking lot. Git should'a been payin' better attention to what he'd bought." Spike took off his duster and then the borrowed flannel and the wife-beater. Xander just stared at him.

"Gonna wear one'a my new shirts." Spike explained, grinning at him. He stood there, shirtless, and squeezed a little hair-gel into his hand, and then rubbed both hands together and smoothed them back through his hair. After a couple of passes he fished a comb out of his duster and combed his hair through once, then looked up at Xander.

"Look all right then?"

"Looks - fine. Much better then what Angel does with hair-gel."

"Oi! Tosser." Spike picked up the t-shirts and ripped open the package and then pulled one on. He fished cigarettes and lighter from his pocket and lit up, then sighed and looked at the pile of things on the table.

"I'm gonna...go look through the trunk. Would you...would it be alright if..."

"You want some privacy?" Xander asked softly, and Spike looked up at him, his eyes wide and already anxious.

"Yeah. I mean, your house an' all, but ..."

"It's ok. I understand. I'm just gonna do...stuff, you know? Start some laundry, get a little

dinner... You hungry? "

"Maybe in a while. Thanks...Xander."

"Sure, Spike. We're...we're friends, right?" The vampire looked at him, and something sparked in the depths of his lapis gaze. Then he smiled softly.

"Yeah. We're mates." He took the ashtray off the table and went back into the living room, and Xander went into the bathroom and spent far too long staring at himself in the mirror, willing himself not to care. As if that ever worked.