The night was chill and damp, and Xander and Spike were stalking back to the apartment, tense and unspeaking. Spike’s hands were balled into fists, and shoved deep into the pockets of his duster. He was moving so quickly that Xander was forced into an awkward half-walk, half-trot just to keep up. It did nothing to improve his mood, and he glared darkly at Spike whenever his less-than-sober feet fell out of rhythm.
What exactly was Spike’s problem, anyway? Xander was the one being ignored, being forgotten, when it was supposed to be his night of congratulations. Oh, it had started out that way; Buffy and Willow had both been impressed and excited about the idea of Xander being on television, and he had quite happily supplied them with all the details he had. Then, Willow and Tara had drifted off together, still immersed in their obnoxiously sweet ‘reunited’ phase, and Buffy had introduced Aaron, someone she had recently started dating.
Aaron was tall, slim, with wavy light brown hair, hazel-green eyes, and an easy smile. He was also one eighth Esaurite demon, which showed not at all unless it was dark, and you were a slayer on patrol having a particularly slow night. This of course meant a cute story about how the two had met each other, which Xander had to suffer his way through. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but they kept interrupting the story for little kisses and mini not-arguments about the exact sequence of events. By the end of it, Buffy was curled in Aaron’s lap, smiling adoringly up at him, and Xander was on his third beer. And where was Spike through all of this? Was he sending commiserating looks to Xander? Was he carefully arranging his chair next to Xander’s so that their legs could brush together under the table? Was he doing anything at all that would indicate he was with his live-in boyfriend, and not just some random acquaintance? No, he most certainly was not. In fact, while all the revolting displays of ‘coupleness’ were going on, Spike remained on the other side of the table staring avidly at the dance floor. Worse still, when a slight lull appeared at the end of Buffy’s story, Spike started asking questions about Esaurite demons, which soon led to some ancestor of Aaron’s that Spike had supposedly met. So with Spike, Buffy, and Aaron engrossed in conversation, Xander was left to get steadily drunk.
And don’t ever let it be said that Xander couldn’t apply himself when motivated.
Unfortunately, the more Xander drank, the more irrational Xander became. It was expected that Spike be a complete and utter asshole to Buffy’s new boyfriend, so that Xander could intervene and restore peace to the group. How was he supposed to provide the voice of reason, if everyone insisted on being reasonable?
The whole night was just unfair, in Xander’s opinion. He was to be the centre of attention for a change. He was supposed to be feeling near giddy and flushed with success. He was absolutely not supposed to be feeling left out and inadequate. And yet, while watching Buffy, Aaron, and Spike interact, Xander flashed back to being in high school, watching all the beautiful and popular kids congregate from across the room, and just knowing he didn’t have what it took to even breathe in their vicinity.
Xander took a deep breath in order to sigh disconsolately one more time, when Spike whirled around and jabbed a finger into his chest.
“ Don’t even think about it,” Spike said through gritted teeth. “ I mean it. One more woe-is-me sigh and I will do something drastic.”
“ Sorry,” muttered Xander, entirely insincerely. He added an eye-roll when he thought Spike wasn’t looking.
“ Right, that is it! We are having this out now, before we get back and the Bit gets an earful of gossip to spread around.”
“ Whatever,” Xander replied with a shrug, crossing his arms over his chest. “ Kind of didn’t think you would want to bring it up at all.”
“ Damn it, Xander,” Spike exploded, the words he had bit back all night spilling out in a rush. “ I’m a vampire; we’re possessive sons of bitches. Add to that my entire history of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and can you really claim to be surprised? Fuck, Xander, you were flirting right in front of me!”
Xander’s mouth gaped open for a moment.
“ Flirting? Me? What?”
“ Well admittedly it was a rather pathetic display, but that waitress was eating it up just the same. One more beer order, and she’d have been in your lap, what with all your coy looks and pouty lips.”
“ You’re freaking loony! The waitress? I don’t even remember what she looked like.”
Spike snorted in disbelief.
“ All of this,” Xander said, gesturing wildly as he tried to indicate he was talking about the fight, “ is your fault.”
“ My fault?” Spike spluttered. “ I didn’t do anything.”
“ Exactly. You totally forgot about me! God, it was like we’d leapt back in time with you barely tolerating my existence while you hung on every word Buffy said.”
“ That’s bloody ridiculous! If you’ll remember, I wanted to stay in and suck out your tonsils. It was your idea to meet with your mates. And you started the whole ignoring thing; within ten minutes of arrival the Holy Triad was going strong, to the exclusion of all others.”
“ We don’t do that,” Xander said dismissively, though doubt bled into his tone.
Spike scoffed. “ Right, you lot aren’t at all close-knit. I’m sure Tara and the slayer’s toys never feel like they’re being excluded.”
“ Stop trying to make this about me. Okay, maybe, and only maybe mind you, you have a point about me and my friends being a little too… involved, but that only happens occasionally, and I think we’ve earned that closeness with all those pesky near-death experiences. Besides, you obviously got over it pretty fast.”
“ What’s that supposed to mean?”
“ ‘Oh Aaron, you’re part Esaurite demon? Brilliant, that is. Tell me all about it while I remain oblivious to absolutely everything else going on around me’,” Xander said, mocking Spike’s accent as best he was able.
“ A minute ago you said I was all over Buffy! So which is it?”
“ Both, knowing you,” Xander muttered, arms hugged to his chest.
Spike could actually feel his teeth shudder as his jaw tensed that little bit more that meant he was seconds from losing it. “ Ignoring for the time being that you obviously think I’m a complete and utter git, hitting on the slayer’s latest conquest while she’s attached to his hip, and I’ll tell you he was as dull as dishwater, and you’re lucky there was enough alcohol to keep me from doing something permanent to shut him up.”
“ Oh, I see. He was dull, so you talked to him all night. And I guess by your logic that means you ignored me because you care so much?”
“ Self-pity? Is that the portion of the evening we’ve gotten to? Poor little Xander,” Spike sniped with false sympathy. “ This is where I’m supposed to tell you all the reasons why I like you, is it? Well, I’m still a little drunk, Harris, and I’m more than a little ticked with you, so you can just forget it. Not that I have anything worth saying anyway.”
Xander clenched his jaw, unwilling to betray how much Spike’s comment had hurt. He had a feeling Spike knew, regardless, as there was a trace of remorse in his eyes, despite the stubborn tilt of Spike’s head. It was stupid to expect reassurances in the middle of an argument, but Spike was right in assuming Xander had been looking to have his confidence bolstered. Obviously, that idea was all shot to Hell now.
“ You’re right; there’s nothing left to say. We’re drunk, we’re tired, and this is getting us nowhere. Dawn probably wants to get home, anyway,” Xander said coolly. He began the short walk back to the apartment, and if he was relieved to hear Spike’s footsteps following him, he tried not to let it show.
Dawn, perceiving the obvious tension for once, didn’t ask a million questions when they arrived at the apartment. She gave a brief recounting of her evening with Jesse, and then she left with Spike, who was walking her home.
Xander knew Spike would go out patrolling after he had delivered Dawn safely, so after checking on Jesse, he quietly donned some flannel pyjamas and climbed into the empty bed. Thoughts kept circling in his head, making it near impossible to sleep. He didn’t really think Spike had been flirting; that line of questioning had been mostly reactionary. No, it was his usual insecurities that were plaguing him. Unworthy, unwanted, abandoned, hopeless… Gee, he had so many to choose from, where to start?
He and Spike weren’t even having sex. Maybe Spike couldn’t actually stomach the idea of the two of them together? Sure they kissed and cuddled with the best of them, but while Xander was ready for more in that area (good God was he ready), Spike seemed reluctant. A horrible thought crept into Xander’s mind: what if Spike thought he owed it to Xander to sleep with him? What if he thought that staying in the apartment and being a part of Jesse’s life was tied directly to being in a relationship with Xander? It would explain Spike’s reticence. It took quite a bit of nerve to sleep with someone you weren’t attracted to; Spike was probably still working up to it.
Wait, this was crazy, wasn’t it? Spike had been furious with him for allegedly flirting with some waitress. It wasn’t exactly a declaration of undying devotion, but jealousy had to count for something, right? Plus, drinking always made Xander more depressed, so more than likely he was just making up things to worry about.
“ And this is why you do not drink, Alexander,” Xander muttered to himself. Xander forcibly closed his eyes, and willed his mind to go blank. It still took hours for sleep to come to him.
It was very nearly dawn by the time Spike stealthily let himself back into the apartment. It had been a relatively busy night: a few newly risen minions to dispatch, one Helidre demon (which weren’t exactly dangerous, but they liked a ‘captive’ audience while they orated their very long and very pointless stories) and a stink demon that he had graciously decided Buffy could have. Unfortunately, while running from the stink demon, he’d collided into some crazy old man out walking his dog. The chip had fired, and while he’d been cringing on the sidewalk, the old man had knocked him about the ears with his cane and the dog had bitten his ankle. Maybe it was because it had been such a long time between chip episodes, but whatever the reason, Spike had found the whole situation unnerving, and as soon as possible, he’d headed home. What he was really craving now was some comforting; to be folded up in warm arms that would never try to hurt him, even though they could. Or course, there was still the stupid argument hanging over him and Xander, and he couldn’t be sure he would be welcome.
Spike didn’t bother to turn on any lights as he carefully divested himself of boots and duster. He set the boots down, not dropping them as he usually would. If he could somehow make it into the bed without Xander waking up, then he could take his comfort, without having to ask for it, or explain why he needed it. Before reaching for the covers however, he sat on the edge of the mattress, just watching the motionless figure, buried beneath the blankets. The only part of Xander that was visible was his hair, sticking out and lying dark against the pillow. It made Spike ache to touch it, to assure himself that he still had the right.
Such a stupid fight really. The jealousy had eaten him alive however, seeing Xander so relaxed and happy amongst his peers. It had made Spike want to do ridiculous things like claw out that waitress’ shining eyes and break her grabby fingers. He had watched Red and Tara on the dance floor and wished he could similarly claim ownership to one Xander Harris. He might even have tried, if he hadn’t known that he’d only get a perplexed look for his troubles. Surrounded by people, and so few of them knew that Xander was taken. With vampires it was easier, there were little clues that could be followed, a smell or a feel that somehow stated ownership, but with humans… There was the added complication that he had yet to sleep with Xander. Sex wouldn’t fix everything, but it would go a long way to calming some of his baser instincts. Plus, Spike didn’t have much else to offer; something else life had taught him.
Xander was right; it was his fault. He had let himself get all worked up, and then he had made matters worse by refusing to even finish the argument once it had begun. And if Xander decided things were too difficult, and wanted to end it all, Spike didn’t know how he would convince him to stay.
This time Spike couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and touching the physical reality of Xander’s presence. The soft tips of his hair first, then the solidity of his shoulder. Spike was surprised when Xander rolled onto his back and peered up at him, fully awake.
“ It’s almost sunrise,” Xander said, reproach and hurt in equal measure.
“ Still had some time left,” Spike returned. “ Didn’t figure you’d be awake.”
“ Disappointed?” Xander asked snidely.
Spike didn’t reply immediately, but he took a deep and unnecessary breath to keep himself from saying something uncomplimentary. Who knew Xander could be this sulky?
“ I had a bad dream,” Xander eventually admitted, somewhat begrudgingly.
“ It’s been awhile since you had one of those,” Spike said solicitously and Xander shrugged. They both knew it had been the stress from last night that had triggered the nightmare and it made Spike feel responsible.
“ Alright, enough of this. Said we’d sort this out in the morning, and since we’re both awake, we might as well get started. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
This actually did manage to pull Xander out of his pouting. Spike was actually going to take the blame? Weirdness.
“ I don’t know what made you think I was flirting in the first place.”
“ I just imagined the eyes and the pout then, did I?”
“ If I was doing any of that, it was because I was trying to get free snacks and that’s something that happens without me even noticing – free food is just a basic instinct of mine,” Xander said in all seriousness.
“ Well, I don’t have to like it. Anyway, that wasn’t what I was apologizing for. I shouldn’t have blown you off when you asked what I saw in you. I shouldn’t have made you think you weren’t worth the effort.”
Xander couldn’t help thinking that it was too early in the morning for such momentous statements. He didn’t have anything remotely cool to say in response, just a breathy and uneven: “ Really?”
“ Yes, really. Got loads of good stuff, just didn’t want you to think I was a complete ponce. And I really was angry with you.”
“ Yeah, I’m beginning to get that,” Xander returned. He didn’t have it in him to stay upset, not when Spike was looking all sad and repentant, like some prized pet that had peed on the carpet. For reparation, Xander offered: “ I think that waitress was actually looking to hit on you or Aaron, and had to settle on me when you didn’t give her a second glance.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “ You don’t give yourself enough credit, luv. Which I suppose works well for me, so I’ll just be quiet now, shall I?”
Xander grinned at the subtle compliment, feeling better for the first time all night when Spike reached out to gently smooth back his sleep rumpled hair. Cold fingers traced Xander’s lips, his jaw, and down his neck to his collarbone. It tickled a little. Spike held Xander’s gaze as he leaned down and carefully brushed a kiss across Xander’s mouth, and then placed another soft kiss on his neck.
“ Spike, I’m glad you came back,” Xander said. He shifted around, preparing for Spike’s cool body to press up against him. Despite expecting it, the temperature change still caused a shiver. “ Anything out of the ordinary happen while you were out in suburbia beating up demons from Hell?”
Spike was busy burrowing into the warmth and smell of Xander, so he took a moment before answering. The right response was to laugh deprecatingly, and admit to his embarrassing encounter with the crotchety old man. That was the right response, but Spike could still feel the nausea in his stomach left from that moment of terror, that moment of complete and utter helplessness.
Mumbling in the hopes his words would go unheard, Spike admitted: “ Got hit by an elderly bloke with a cane.”
If there was ever any doubt in Spike’s mind that Xander was a special type, it disappeared when Xander didn’t laugh or snort in disbelief. Instead Xander gripped Spike tighter, stroking the tense muscles in Spike’s back until they relaxed.
“ Want me to go beat up some senior citizens for you tomorrow?”
Spike heard both the humour and the underlying protectiveness in Xander’s voice. It made him smile and he felt safe again. “ Just any random old person, or would you try and pinpoint my attacker?”
“ Well, I have a grandfather somewhere I think, and I never liked him much. So I could start there, and then work my way through until you felt better, how about that? Can’t have marauding octogenarians with walkers roaming the streets.”
“ Aw, you’d contemplate genocide for my honour?”
“ You know it.”
“ He had a wee dog too. Bit my ankle.”
“ I’ll get his little dog too,” Xander promised.
Despite clearing the air shortly after their argument, things were tense in the weeks that followed. Spike and Xander were feeling vulnerable, both having realized just how tenuous a hold they had on their new relationship. Spike didn’t like the fact that he had no claim on either Xander or Jesse. Xander was Jesse’s father, and always they would have that connection. What was Spike except some odd sideshow? Spike was the expendable one; the one who would leave with nothing if things went south. Still, he wasn’t going to leave until Xander told him to, and if in the meantime he clung like glue to every single aspect of Xander’s life, well, obsession was at least something Spike had experience with.
Xander’s insecurities had doubled since the fight, and he was very confused as to where he and Spike stood. Relationships meant sex, and if they weren’t having that, then what was going on? He wanted to talk to his friends, but Willow would tell him he was being ridiculous and that sex didn’t mean anything, and Buffy… well, he didn’t want to share this with someone who’d already had sex with Spike. Besides, from what Xander understood, Buffy hadn’t had to seduce Spike, the sex had just happened in a moment of overwhelming lust. While Xander could appreciate that he wasn’t quite so irresistible, he did have to wonder if things were ever going to progress between him and Spike. If Spike did really want him, what was holding him back?
Part of it could be the close quarters and the fact that Jesse was never more than a few feet away from either of them. Or it could be the fact that Spike was experiencing a sudden attack of gentlemanliness, and was content to let the less experienced Xander make the first move. Xander had actually tried to subtly show he was ready by stocking the bedside drawer with enough lube to last them a few decades, and by making with the ‘come-hither’ eyes every time they kissed. Spike had made him an appointment at the optician’s in response to the latter.
The solution eventually came to him when he received a message from the people in charge of organizing the television show. The two days in LA for his audition were scheduled, and Xander would be given a night’s stay at a hotel near the filming location. He was allowed to bring a guest.
Xander brought it up as nonchalantly as he could at breakfast.
“ They set the date for that screen test thing. Two Saturdays from now.”
“ It’s spread over two days, yeah?” Spike queried.
“ Uh huh. They got me a hotel for the night, so I don’t have to make the trip twice.”
Spike nodded, his focus more on Jesse who was fussily eating his blood and carrots. They had quickly learned that Jesse preferred to be devious while eating, rather than doing any outright spitting. He’d wait whole minutes sometimes, until his caregivers turned away, and then the food took an express trip to the floor.
Taking a deep breath, Xander continued, “ And I was thinking of asking Willow if maybe she would mind taking Jesse for the night.”
“ There, all finished. Wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Spike said, taking Jesse out of his highchair and wiping the baby’s face. “ Sorry, Xan, you were saying something?”
“ Just that if Willow took Jesse, then you could come with me to LA. I mean, if you want to. Have a night off and all,” Xander said, trying desperately to sound casual.
“ Yeah, that sounds alright. Make a change, won’t it?” Spike said, walking around with Jesse on his shoulder, gently patting the small back.
“ Okay, good. This is good,” Xander said, swallowing nervously.
Nearly two weeks later, when they were alone together in the car, on their way to LA, Xander couldn’t help thinking that this was bad. This was a very bad idea.
They had decided to travel down in the very early morning before sunrise. Spike was going to spend the day pestering contacts he had in the city, while Xander went to the audition. They would meet up later at the hotel. Xander knew that it was the audition that he should be worried about. Though it was unlikely that he would lose the job at this point, it still wouldn’t do to go in cocky and unprepared, and he really wanted the position and the extra money that the job would bring in. However, the only thing occupying Xander’s thoughts was what would happen after the audition. He’d been sweaty, nervous, and inclined to high-pitched giggling at inopportune moments all week, and now that they were finally on their way, he was practically vibrating off the seat. There was lube in his overnight bag, and Xander kept glancing back at it as though it would burn a hole through to the outside. Spike was shooting concerned looks his way, but Xander had no hope of ceasing his twitching. Tonight, all his questions would be answered. Xander would know once and for all if Spike and he were meant to be, or if they were better off friends. Xander could only hope he was strong to accept the truth if it was revealed that he was not enough for Spike.
A cool hand fell onto his thigh and squeezed lightly.
“ It’ll be fine, Xan. They’d be mad not to want you,” Spike said.
Xander smiled sickly in response and they continued the trip in tense silence.
Spike wished he knew what he could do to calm Xander down. He hated seeing him so despondent and miserable, and he had been that way all week. There was nothing endearing about seeing Xander so convinced of imminent failure. Spike hadn’t realized this job was so important to Xander, and he worried about what would happen if it didn’t work out as they hoped. Xander was fragile in many ways, and Spike was only just beginning to learn how to act around him.
Spike pulled off the road once they’d arrived, and found a place to park.
“ I can make my way from here, you know where you’re going right?”
“ Got the directions and the map right here,” Xander said with a nod.
“ Right then, I’ll see you tonight,” Spike said. He cursed inwardly when Xander visibly tensed. “ Either it happens or it doesn’t, Xan. Try not to worry so much, yeah?”
Spike’s conciliatory words had the opposite effect than intended, and Xander fought to keep his last meal down. Managing a nod, he got into the driver’s seat and drove away. With a sigh, Spike watched the car leave, and then slipped into the darkness of the sewers. He should do something nice for Xander tonight; this was the first ‘vacation’ Xander had had in a very long time, and Spike was determined that tonight Xander was going to rest and recuperate as much as possible.
Despite the inauspicious start to Xander’s day, the audition went well. He liked the people he worked with, and they liked him as well. The work was enjoyable and not too physically demanding, and he liked the challenge of having to be a bit creative. Once he ignored the cameras, it was a lot like being in a regular woodworking shop, and he soon felt comfortable enough to laugh and talk with his coworkers. It was only when the crew called it quits for the day that Xander felt any apprehensions.
Letting himself into the empty hotel room, Xander forced himself to get a grip. Yes, tonight was important, but he was hardly going to convince Spike he was ready for sex if he was reeking of nervous sweat and on the verge of a heart attack. He wanted this night, so badly, and he was going to give everything he had to get it.
Xander decided he should eat something, though the thought of food turned his already twisting stomach, and grabbed a sandwich and some pineapple juice from the hotel lobby. Having eaten, he proceeded to brush his teeth meticulously, and then got into the shower. He washed carefully, feeling self-conscious around his more private areas, unaccustomed as he was to cleaning them with a purpose in mind. After his shower he debated the underwear decision, before deciding that if things went as planned, then boxers would only slow them down. After taking a comb to his hair, he noticed that a shave would probably be a good idea. Spike knocked on the hotel door before Xander had finished.
“ Hey, I was just in the middle of shaving. Obviously,” Xander winced, already feeling stupid.
“ So, how’d it go?” Spike asked eagerly, following after Xander to the sink area. Spike liked watching Xander shave – he himself only needed to do it every few years or so – and he hopped onto the counter as usual to observe.
“ Oh, good. Really good, actually. Not to jinx anything, but I think it’s in the bag.”
“ Told you there was no reason getting your knickers in a twist.”
Xander almost said ‘no chance of that’ but he chickened out. “ Um, so how was your day?”
“ Oh, nothing special,” Spike said casually. Spike had spent most of the day chasing down leads and contacts, trying to find anyone who knew something useful about the chip in his head. Or more importantly, trying to find anyone who knew how to get it out without turning him brain-dead as opposed to undead. He and Xander had never really talked about the chip though, so he wasn’t going to bring it up until he had something definite, and despite all his legwork today, he was still no closer to being free of his electric leash. Besides, tonight was for rest, not for difficult conversations. Come to think of it, why was Xander getting all scrubbed up? It didn’t bode well for Spike’s plans that they use tonight to relax. Not that Xander didn’t clean up nicely; he was looking good enough to eat (metaphorically speaking of course). “ We going somewhere, luv? I’ve had a bit of a long day myself.”
“ Oh, I didn’t have anything definite planned,” Xander said, hearing the word ‘liar’ reverberating inside his brain. “ We can stay in if you want.”
“ Sounds good. There’s supposed to be a decent movie on tonight too. Can we get HBO at home now that you’re a big television star?” Spike asked teasingly. Spike pitched his duster to the side, removed his boots, and moved to sit on one of the double beds. Leaning back on his elbows, he held the remote and started flipping through the channels.
Xander finished shaving, and wiped off any foam residue with a towel. The trembling had returned, and he was beginning to feel unnaturally warm again. Swallowing, he put on his resolve face (which was really quite a pathetic one, having grown up witnessing Willow’s) and moved towards the bed Spike occupied. He sat down gingerly, and clenched his hands tightly in the bedspread.
“ So you want explosions or car chases? Or car chases with explosions, maybe?” Spike turned to address Xander, and had a split second to look surprised at the desperate look on Xander’s face, before warm lips were on his own and a demanding tongue was expecting entrance.
“ Xan? What…?” Spike managed, before Xander redoubled his efforts, pushing Spike flat to the bed.
“ Shh, just let me…” Xander muttered, incapable of slowing down now that he was committed to going through with it. Spike was kissing Xander back, though his enthusiasm was held back a little due to confusion. Xander wasn’t usually this forceful; something didn’t feel quite right. But then Xander pressed against him, sharing his body’s heat and sending tingles up Spike’s spine. It wouldn’t hurt to let this play out a bit more, would it?
Spikes pushed his fingers into damp hair, feeling the strands part easily and cling to his hands. He adjusted the angle of their heads, letting their tongues delve deeper, and he heard a small gasp from Xander. Spike could spend forever just tasting Xander’s mouth, touching his skin. Xander obviously felt the same, for suddenly there were hands on Spike’s chest, under his shirt. This time the gasp was all Spikes’.
Xander rolled a little more, now resting most of his weight on Spike’s prone body. His hands were restlessly roaming Spike’s body, never settling in one area, always just testing and groping then moving on. Spike remained pliant; caught off guard, he could do little more than react to the stimulus, barely having the mental capabilities to try and touch Xander in return. It felt so good; Spike could feel every part where their bodies collided, could feel Xander’s hardness pushing rhythmically into his thigh. So good, it was almost overwhelming.
Their lips reluctantly came apart as Xander struggled for air, and for a second their eyes met and held. And in that instant, Spike’s movements faltered, then stilled. Xander’s eyes were filled with want and lust, true enough, but there was so much frightened tension there as well. Spike cursed inwardly; he’d moved too quickly, let himself get swept away in the moment. How could he have forgotten so quickly that Xander was an innocent, and not ready yet for the next step? All the signs were there: the trembling, the racing pulse and heartbeat, the tremulous and uncertain touches. What kind of a monster was Spike, if he could ignore all the signs of terror in favour of his own pleasure?
Hands that had formerly been set to stimulating, now turned soothing. Spike stroked Xander’s back slowly, trying to ease them back down to normal. Xander could feel the difference immediately, and panicked even more than before. It couldn’t be over already, it just couldn’t. He kissed Spike’s neck, licked the shell of his ear, nibbled along Spike’s collarbone, but it was like all the fire had suddenly gone out and there was nothing that Xander could do to bring it back.
Desperation such as Xander had never felt hit him squarely in the chest, and his heart started to ache. His was a losing cause, and it hurt so badly.
“ Please, please;” Xander begged, ashamed of his own neediness, but there was nothing left to lose at this point. He touched Spike, knowing that he was shaking enough for them both to feel it. Spike’s rejection had caused his mind to shy away from the reality of the situation, and he had to struggle against his own body to get it to continue. If he could just get Spike’s interest again, maybe they could still salvage things.
“ It’s okay, Xander. It’s okay,” Spike said softly. It was torture to feel Xander against him, and know that he couldn’t have him, but he was not about to take advantage of Xander’s emotional state. His demon raged inside him at being denied its prize, and Spike sympathized. They were so close, but in the end, it was the fear in Xander’s eyes that kept Spike in line. He never wanted to have Xander that way.
“ No, please, don’t,” Xander half-sobbed, feeling Spike draw back still farther.
“ I won’t, I promise,” Spike said, misunderstanding.
“ Touch me,” Xander pleaded, and he grabbed one of Spike’s hands, bringing it between their bodies, holding it to his hardness. For a moment, Spike’s resolve weakened. The feeling of Xander’s cock in his hand, heavy and hot even through denim, was far better than he had imagined. He stroked once, twice, and Xander’s hand lifted away, praying Spike would continue on his own. Xander could only despair when almost immediately Spike released his grip, and went back to the gentle disengaging of their bodies. Xander let himself be shifted, feeling numb now that the worst of his fears had been realized. He had failed; he wasn’t wanted.
Eventually, Xander pushed himself back, sitting on his heels and staring at the bedspread, unable to look at Spike. Shame was foremost in Xander’s mind now. He had practically molested Spike: pushing Spike down on the bed, and making Spike touch his cock. God, he was no better than Faith. Xander’s arms crept around himself, willing his tears back, striving for control while feeling utterly disgusted with himself.
“ Xan?” Spike queried, not understanding at all this sudden withdrawal. They’d stopped; there was no reason for Xander to be scared anymore.
Xander took a few steadying breaths. So, they were going to be friends instead of lovers, that had always been a possible outcome, and he told himself to be fine with it. He just needed a few minutes to collect himself.
“ Think I’ll abuse the hotel’s water heater some and take a shower,” Xander said, voice sounding odd even to his own ears. Not giving Spike time to respond, Xander fled to the privacy of the bathroom.
Spike remembered the damp feeling of Xander’s hair and the clean scent of his body, and knew he had missed something important. Xander had already taken a shower.
Xander didn’t cry even though the pounding water would eliminate any betraying sounds. He was worried his eyes would look red and puffy if he did, and the last thing he wanted was to freak out Spike with his clinginess. Best they just forget this whole thing had ever happened, and Xander put all his effort into suppressing every caress and kiss they had ever shared.
Thirty minutes later, a clean and redressed Xander came out of the bathroom smiling brightly and falsely.
“ You said something about explosions?”
The TV had been going the whole time, and Xander turned his attention to the show, pretending to be engrossed while he took a seat on the opposite bed.
“ Xander, I think we should…”
“ I think I’ve seen this one,” Xander interrupted quickly. “ It’s about a drug bust, but in the beginning they show you that it’s all really a con, and that there are no drugs at all. It’s not a bad movie, but we should have watched from the beginning because it’s not going to make much sense now. Maybe we should get HBO. Renting movies sure isn’t cheap anymore, and you’re home all day with Jesse, how much ‘Passions’ can a man watch anyway? Sounds like a song, kind-of: ‘how many soap-operas must a man try and watch, before he thinks in clichés’? And, whoa, guess we know why I never took that job as travelling folk-singer, huh? Are you hungry? I could get us something to eat, but I don’t know where we can find some blood. Well, I do, but I mean the legal kind, not the kind where I bash the room service person over the head with the ice bucket.”
Spike blinked. “ Not hungry, I ate earlier.”
“ Oh. Good,” Xander replied carefully, well aware that the babbling could attack again at any moment. Xander wished that they didn’t have to stay the night. He was tempted to say ‘screw it’ to the job, and insist that they return home right away. It felt claustrophobic in the hotel room with just the two of them. He wished Jesse were there.
“ I’m going to call Willow, check on things,” Xander announced. Spike was still observing him with an expression approaching bafflement. Xander turned away from the gaze and faced the wall.
“ Hey Wills, it’s me.”
“ Xander! How did it go? You’re not worrying about Jesse are you? Aw, that’s so cute! Your first night apart. Are you having trouble sleeping?”
The sound of Willow’s familiar voice and the images it invoked of Jesse and the rest of his friends made a lump form in Xander’s throat. Suddenly, he realized what a mistake it was to have called home. His already shaky emotions just couldn’t handle the gentle understanding in Willow’s voice. Xander wanted to lay it all out to her, all his suffering, all his disappointment, so that she could make it better, but he wasn’t free to speak, and he couldn’t burden her with this when he wasn’t even there to be comforted.
“ I’m fine, Wills. Just being a paranoid parent. How was he today?”
“ Wonderful as always. Giles was showing him flashcards all afternoon,” Willow said. Xander nodded as he mumbled a few words to show he was listening. He didn’t particularly trust his voice, and he was well aware that Spike was still watching him. He turned even farther away from the heavy gaze.
“ Xander, are you okay? You don’t sound like yourself,” Willow asked.
“ I’m fine.” In those two simple syllables, Xander felt himself unravelling. He was not fine, because he was a stupid man who fell for people who didn’t love him back.
“ Xander? Seriously, has something happened?”
“ I’m fine,” Xander repeated, hearing the words shake. He swallowed hard against the lump, and clenched his eyes shut.
“ You are not fine, what’s the matter?”
“ It’s nothing, really. I’m fine,” Xander said, knowing he sounded on the verge of tears, but unable to help it. He couldn’t even think of anything to say other than the insipid ‘I’m fine’ because he was concentrating so hard on not breaking down. He had to get Willow off the phone because her sympathy was too much to take.
“ I’m fine, Willow. Thanks for taking Jesse for me.”
“ Don’t give me the brush off! What’s the matter?”
“ Wills,” and here, Xander’s voice broke and a tear escaped. “ Please, I can’t… I’ll be fine, okay?”
“ Who are you trying to convince?” Xander didn’t reply, just took another few pained deep breaths. Willow sighed, giving up on getting a response. In a softer voice, she said: “ Alright, I’ll leave it for now. I love you, Xander, okay?”
“ Okay,” Xander choked out. He hung up the phone, and brushed his face against his shoulder, trying to scrape away the few errant tears, when a sob escaped him. It was followed by other sobs, erratic and harsh sounding.
Spike had held himself back during Xander’s conversation, hoping Xander would reveal to Willow what was bothering him. He’d turned off the TV at the first hitch in Xander’s words, and he’d been on his feet at the first panicked breath. When Xander started crying, Spike was there on his knees and drawing Xander’s unresisting body into his arms. He still didn’t know what was going on, but he knew it hadn’t been the phone conversation. Somehow Spike had screwed things up and now Xander was hurt. He’d never witnessed Xander crying before, so he knew whatever it was, it was bad.
Eventually the quiet sobs began tapering off, and he felt Xander become aware of their surroundings once more. He would have been fine with holding Xander all night, but Xander pulled away.
“ Sorry,” Xander croaked. A faint smile graced his features. “ Didn’t mean to make you all soggy.”
“ I’ve survived worse. Feeling any better?”
“ I guess,” Xander shrugged. “ Feel like a loser, but what else is new?”
“ Xander,” Spike said warningly.
“ Right, sorry. I’ll be okay now, I promise. At least we lasted longer than anyone thought we would.”
“ What do you mean by that?” Spike asked sharply.
“ Just that, you know, nobody thought we’d last five minutes in an empty room without killing each other, let alone being in a relationship. Bet they didn’t think we’d even get this far.”
Worried now, and growing frantic, Spike sat down on the end of the bed. Why was Xander acting as if things were over between them? In a strained voice, Spike said, “ Obviously I’ve upset you, so I’m sorry. Just tell me what I did and I’ll fix it.”
“ It’s nothing you did,” Xander replied strangely. He stood up and crossed over to Spike, crouching down. “ Contrary to what my meltdown told you, I’ll be okay with this eventually. We gave it a shot and it didn’t work out; you can’t force these things.”
Xander glanced away briefly, taking a ragged breath before looking into Spike’s eyes one final time. “ It’s not your fault you don’t want me.”
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