Xander doesn't know - isn't ever quite sure - how it all started. Maybe with the shared hatred of Riley; his Iowa-good-boy face and All-American morals thinly veneered over the soldier goose-stepping away inside of him. Or maybe it was Giles, casually dismissive and irritated - finding little tasks that got them out and away. Away from him, and the girls, and all things Slayer. Useless tasks for useless creatures.
Or probably it was that night, at Xander's house - the night he'd moved out. Walking in, Spike stalking behind like some kind of negative shadow; light for his dark and dark for his light but both black as tar where it counted - down in their hearts.
And there's his dad, walking stiff-legged out of the kitchen. Seeing them and squinting and looking confused - pissed off. Shirt unbuttoned and Sans-a-Belt slacks undone at the top, beer in his hand. Shoving Xander roughly by the shoulder into the wall, bottle cold against his arm and:
"Fuckin' roommate, now? Didn't say anything about a fuckin' roommate. Gotta pay extra, using more water, more fuckin' 'lectricity -"
"He's not moving in," Xander mumbles, and Tony just slaps a meaty palm into his jaw, sting and crack of Xander's head into the wall while Xander's muscles bunch tight, fists clench, but - *No, daddy, won't sink to that, not in front of him, fuckin' asshole, hands off me!*
"Don't sass me," Tony snaps - looks at Spike and his lip curls and he shoulders roughly past, knocking Spike into the wall a bit and Xander's gratified to see the swift shiver of flesh that reveals the demon for a heartbeat - there and gone, ivory fangs snarling. And then just Spike's sullen face, Spike's hand bringing the bottle he's taken from the living room cabinet up to his lips.
"Tosser," Spike says, downing Wild Turkey like water with a grimace and a flash of whiskey-gold eyes. Xander shoves off the wall and heads downstairs to the stripped basement. Spike stares in bewilderment as Xander hauls his last things out of the storage space under the stairs; books and comics and other, more private things, shoved into an Army duffle that smells *like home* like dust and chlorine and boot polish.
Spike's idly fingering through a box of junk, taking nothing - nothing there good enough to attract even his jackdaw's eye. Xander closes up the duffle and looks around one last time - sees...nothing.
"Not livin' here anymore, than?" Spike asks, and Xander shrugs.
"Found a place," he says, and walks out, leaving the basement door open. He doesn't know why, but he doesn't tell Spike to fuck off - just lets him follow along, drinking and smoking and making the occasional comment about unseen lurkers. Lurkers too lazy or spooked to challenge them, or too scared of Buffy, maybe, to mess with her tribe. *But she doesn't know I've moved, either.* And he hasn't told them. And he doesn't know why he hasn't done that, but - fuck it. He hasn't felt inclined to talk to any of them, lately - hasn't had the energy or the desire. So sick of their bright shiny faces and sweet little smiles and *Xander, got a good job this week? Xander, maybe you should let Riley do that. Xander, keep an eye on Spike, why don't you, in fact just take him and -* Run along, run along, run along, dinning in his head with every word they utter. He's sick of it - sick of it down to his soul - his hole-riddled, not-quite-human soul, and maybe that's why, but he doesn't know, doesn't know.
When he gets to the rattle-trap old warehouse he's found - a place Devon and Oz and them used to practice in, but have since abandoned - he doesn't even hesitate to say 'come in', and Spike hides his surprise well. The first floor is concrete and old oil stains and drifts of blackened sawdust that didn't quite do the job. It's cold down there, and stinks of rust and rancid grease. Upstairs, though, in the gallery is a thick-planked floor scarred by old machinery, and rough grey-brick walls. Walled-in space that used to be an office; bottom half old oak, top half warping glass, and that's Xander's bedroom, mostly because there's a bathroom just off the back. No shower but plenty of pipes and Xander's already rigged a tankless water heater he got off his last job-site and a shower-head. Clumsily-set grate that lets the water run away to the ground floor and he's set.
Camp-stove on a low crate, tank of propane. A couch that he hauled from the curb on campus and is actually better than the one he left behind. Same for the mattress in the 'bedroom', 'cause the students at UCSunnydale can afford to throw away expensive stuff, apparently. All the windows are down stairs - up here there are none and Spike just stands there, looking around; watches Xander stow his gear - watches him turn his back and stow the shirt he doesn't like anybody to see but of course Spike does and damnit, here he comes, little cat-grin curling his lips.
"What'cha got, Harris?" he says, obviously anticipating porn or maybe a teddy bear, and maybe it's both, who knows? And Xander doesn't know why, but he tells him. The shirt was Jesse's. He left it at Xander's house one day and it got tossed over a chair and never returned and then Jesse was dead, and Xander wore it, sometimes. Wrapping it around himself like a blanket or a good memory because it still has an echo of Jesse's cologne that he bought and wore to impress Cordelia. And then he was the hyena and he and his pack spent those few days together - nights together. Roaming and learning and feeling and tasting and knowing, in that shirt. And now there is the mixed blood-earth smells of his pack and sometimes he just.... Just curls himself around it when the loneliness has eaten another hole in his heart - when the ache is too bad to ignore, anymore.
But Spike seems to get that - nods, anyway, and wanders off saying he knows a demon who can nick them some cable and a place he can get into to get a TV and Xander tucks the shirt under his pillow *nobody to see it, now - nobody to touch it or...profane it, or belittle it* and joins the vampire on the couch.
Xander doesn't know why, but after a week Spike is living with him - bringing in two old steamer trunks with heavy iron locks and bags of filched candles and suddenly the gallery is a crypt only above ground. But the candle-light hides the rawness of the walls and makes it seem warm, and Xander wonders if that's why Spike always kept so many burning.
And he's noticed that Spike doesn't go over to Giles' place anymore - doesn't even talk about it, really, and he seems to have some money for the blood he drinks so Xander just dismisses it. He's not twenty-one but he can pass, and the Fish Box is just this side of legal, anyway. So he works behind the bar washing things and stacking things and putting beer into pitchers - slopping whiskey and rum and gin into glasses because the Fish Box doesn't do 'girly' drinks and he doesn't need to learn anything but the difference between a shot and a double. He's known the difference between Bacardi White Rum and Vodka by his nose since he was six.
Spike comes in sometimes - gets a free drink and flirts with the skanky chicks that hang out there - gets into poker games or pool games with the guys that wear leather all the time, just like he does. Wins and loses and gets to be a 'regular', and everybody knows they go home together, and nobody says a fucking thing. And that doesn't bother Xander, either, and it's one more thing on his 'don't know' list, which is as long as his fucking arm, anymore.
He sees Willow and Tara at the grocery store one day, and Willow is vague and a little wired - a little Not-Willow in a way that makes Xander uneasy. Tara looks tired and keeps a little space between herself and the red-haired witch, and Xander's pretty sure they're not doing so well. But he doesn't ask, and they don't, and he goes on his way with a new propane tank and steak and potatoes and eggs and bread from the deli that's like home-made, with cheese and tomato and herbs in it. Spike's introduced him to the joys of toasted cheese on really good bread, and Xander can pan-fry a steak that melts in your mouth. They both like it bloody and they sit and have steak almost every night. Watch the stolen cable on the stolen TV - watch the dawn-light make the downstairs windows milky-blue behind their films of dust and soap. Then they curl down together on the mattress, in layers of army blankets and sleeping bags and those funny, velour-like blankets that hotels always have, making a den they can hide in and sleep the day away. It's early November and with the sun always comes a curling, ocean-wet fog, and this neighborhood is out near the docks - near enough to hear the ship's horns, sometimes - and it feels good to layer and snuggle down. Spike doesn't generate any heat but his naked back is good and solid to push against and with the faint scents of Jesse's shirt just there, under his pillow, Xander feels the safest he's ever felt. Sometimes it's raining, and they both like that, and then Spike'll lay there for an hour or more, lazily smoking and talking about the places he's been with Dru - about places that are really cold - like Prague and Moscow and one ill-fated trip to Mongolia - and Xander drifts off with that low, purring voice in his head. With Spike's hand on his hip, or his wrist, just touching.
They wake up around three and shower and eat cereal or make eggs or French toast - a strange, backwards sort of life but it's normal, now and Xander's doesn't know when that happened, but it doesn't bother him. He hasn't thought of the 'gang' in months, and they haven't sought him out - haven't found him. Spike knows something is brewing but doesn't seem to care, and then one day he does, and that's the day Xander finds out the Initiative is dead and gone, and all their little toys with it. Last petty trick that Dr. Walsh played on them, he guesses, because one night Spike doesn't show up at the Fish Box and when Xander gets home Spike's sitting on the couch and there's blood all over him. After the first panicked reaction *blood, blood, too much blood* he tries to see what happened and Spike pushes Xander back hard out of his face. Xander hits the edge of their end-table crate hard enough to put a gash in his bicep, but there's no sudden headache for Spike - nothing at all - and Xander knows the chip is history.
But Spike just goes and takes a shower and asks Xander if he remembered to get more butter and that's that. Why Spike doesn't do anything else - why Xander doesn't get the fuck out of there - is another entry on the list and *don't know, don't know, don't know* is the mantra Xander lives by, these days. Doesn't know why he stays, doesn't know why he lost his friends, doesn't know why his unconscious body seeks Spike's in the bed; winding around him like a vine and snuffling into his neck - into his hair. Pinning him down and waking himself and Spike with a slow, grinding hump of mid-afternoon erection against a cool satin flank.
Spike doesn't seem to mind that, and after awhile Xander doesn't either and waking up becomes much more interesting than it ever did.
Christmas there's a party for the employees at the Fish Box - the owner seems to get pretty clearly that 'home' and 'family' are kind of foreign concepts - and a bunch of the regulars are there, too. Everybody expects Xander to bring Spike and that's the first time they ever kiss - right there at the bar with 'Sweet Home Alabama' on the jukebox and plastic mistletoe and Mardi Gras beads overhead. Spike tastes like JD and smoke and lemon and, obscurely, cinnamon-and-sugar, like the toast Xander used to have at Willow's when he was sick. Spike's fingers clench tight in his hair and his eyes are the same clear blue as a bottle of Skyy vodka. The fog that night is like cotton-wool and Spike holds his hand until they're safely inside.
They don't even bother with asking or talking or wondering - Spike just sheds duster and boots and clothes with equal grace, black nails like little moths fluttering, and his hair all mussed and hedgehog-y from Xander kissing him halfway up the stairs.
Xander does the same; kicking his boots across the floor, shrugging out of tee and worn-out army sweater and pushing his jeans away down his thighs fast enough to burn. Spike's skin tastes like the bar: salty-smoky-whiskey-sharp, lemon and sugar and the metal tang of the silver chains he's recently acquired. They slither over his collarbones and Xander's tongue does, chasing the different tastes of Spike's skin.
Spike's mouth is cool and wicked - sly and teasing and fucking shameless and Xander had no idea it felt like that. He doesn't know why he turns onto his belly and spreads his legs - he really doesn't. He just wants to, with a desire that makes his fingers grip the blankets, white-knuckled, and makes his breath hitch and stutter and skip. Spike's mouth there is fucking amazing and Xander can't help the words that tumble out - the words that egg him on. And Spike's a talker too; telling Xander how he tastes, how he feels, how he smells - telling him what it's like from his end, so to speak. Every word is a caress and a shock and a twisty little shiver right down his spine and by the time Spike is pushing inside, Xander is sobbing with want and need and please oh please. Spike rides above him, growling into his ear, telling him dirty-sweet things until Xander's so dizzy he can't think straight. Doesn't want to. That's the first 'doesn't' that's a not a mystery, so he just goes with it and fucks back into Spike as hard as he can - feels every inch of his own body, that's leaner and tighter than it was - that's strung like a damn bow, vibrating to Spike's rhythm.
Spike takes his time and then can't take his time and the frenzied hitch and glide, the heaving belly against Xander's ass is like a spur - a goad - and Xander feels like those girls in the porn movies, that put their legs behind their ears and beg for it because he suddenly gets that now. Because in between the words that are utter filth are words that are not, and Xander's body locks tight and he comes with his back arched in a new-moon curve.
'Want you - beautiful - need you - sweet - brilliant - Xander Xander Xander' like honey dripping from his tongue and when Spike is half on him and half off - half inside - Xander just squirms back and catches hold of wrist and hand and keeps him there, and they sleep hard and fast and deep as the sunless sea.
Years later when Xander looks back, he wonders why it took them so long - why they stayed for so long after. He doesn't know the answer to that question, either, but his list is shorter now than it ever was. Spike is laughing at him - telling him to hurry up - and Xander walks away from the news stand. From strange headlines about craters and a town being swallowed whole, and hurries to catch up because out of all the things he doesn't know, there's one thing that he does. And that is that he has no regrets.