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Part Four

“ Explain to me again why you’re coming with me to the Scooby meeting?” Xander asked Spike. It was Friday night, and they were walking towards the Magic Shop to catch up on news. During the past few weeks, Spike had indeed made himself at home in Xander’s apartment, even managed to get himself his own key, but unlike past times when they had been forced to share a space, Spike’s presence was neither unwelcome nor annoying. Spike was actually cleaning up after himself, he occasionally let Xander pick the channel when they were watching TV together, and Xander swore (though he had no concrete proof) that Spike was reading his pregnancy books. He had asked Spike about it, but all he had gotten in return was a raised eyebrow, so he hadn’t bothered asking again. Of course, the very idea that Spike would be reading such material was absurd, wasn’t it? So why was Xander so convinced that it had happened?

“ What, I need a reason now? Maybe I just can’t stand to be parted from those big brown eyes of yours,” Spike replied glibly, batting his own eyelashes dramatically. Xander shoved at Spike good naturedly, and they continued to walk.

“ Or maybe you just want to tease Tara and Willow, dote on Dawn, annoy Giles, and brood over Buffy.”

“ Who told you about my plans?” Spike asked, mock angrily. “ And I don’t brood.”

“ Of course not,” Xander said patronizingly.

“ Oh, look who’s talking? ‘Oh woe is me, I’m all alone. Nobody loves me’,” Spike said with a truly atrocious, feigned American accent.

“ I’d be more insulted by that if you didn’t sound so ridiculous trying to mimic me,” said Xander, snickering.

“ I was spot on then; you always sound ridiculous,” Spike retorted. Xander just barely restrained himself from sticking his tongue out at the vampire.

Continuing to trade barbs and insults, they slowly progressed towards their destination. It was easy and relaxing, and Spike was trying hard to keep it that way. Even so, he couldn’t help occasionally glancing at Xander with concern. He had made a promise to look after Xander, and as an extension of that, the unborn baby, but he was less prepared to do so than he had anticipated. The demons that lurked in the shadows were the least of the dangers Xander was facing; unfortunately, those were the kind of problems Spike could handle best. How was he supposed to convince Xander to take it easy at work? To slow down and listen to what his own body was telling him? How could Spike protect Xander from himself?

The books had helped a little. At least he had a better fix on the things Xander was experiencing, both physically and mentally. When he had read about the dangers of second-hand smoke to an unborn child, he had reluctantly decided he would have to give up the habit. He still felt a little lost without a smoke, however, and he was on the lookout for another way to satisfy his oral fixation. Spike glanced at Xander again, a leer stealing across his features as he thought of a particularly interesting solution.

Xander deliberately misinterpreted the hungry gaze, and smacked Spike on the shoulder, “ I thought you ate already? Quit looking at me the way I look at a Twinkie.”

Spike’s smile broadened; of course, making an innuendo about the phallic shaped confection was just too easy. Xander hurried his steps, trying to put a little distance between the grinning vampire and himself.

“ Eh, what’s the rush, Harris? Worried all the jelly-filled ones will be gone?”

“ No hurry,” Xander replied, but he did slow down and let Spike catch up again. Normally they would have arrived by now, but Spike was deliberately keeping the pace to a slow amble. Xander had been working late every night that week, and Spike knew he had to be hurting. If Spike could manage it, Xander was going to be sitting on the couch with his feet up before anyone asked him to run any errands.

The bells jingled as they entered the shop, and several heads bobbed up to observe the latecomers.

“ So, the dead still walks? Pity,” Buffy said.

Spike muttered a bitter ‘no thanks to you’ that only Xander could hear, before he smiled falsely at Buffy, and said loudly: “ Well, what can I say, except that I aim to disappoint you?”

“ Hmm, that actually explains a lot,” Buffy said, blinking innocently as she gave Spike a once over before lifting her nose dismissively.

“ Children, if you please,” Giles said, slightly exasperated. He nodded a greeting at Xander, before turning back to the book he held in his hand. Willow smiled at them both by way of greeting; she had her laptop open on the table, and was busy clicking away with Tara looking over her shoulder. Dawn was on the couch, ostensibly doing homework, but really just doodling on her notepad. Xander found himself sitting next to her with no real understanding of how he had got there. Not that it mattered; he gratefully lifted his feet onto the low table in front of him and sighed tiredly.

“ So what’s new with the Dawnster? Setting records, breaking hearts, raising an intelligent army of sea monkeys, what?”

“ None of the above. Though I am concocting a devious plot to get Tara to move back in with Willow and the rest of us.”

“ Really? Do tell,” Xander said. Dawn and Xander continued to chat, and were distracted only momentarily when Giles handed them some books and told them to look up any references to Dent D’Or. To be polite, they opened the books, but it was obvious by the whispers and Dawn’s giggles that little work was being done. Giles didn’t mind; there really hadn’t been any reason for the meeting tonight, except to get them all together so Giles could make sure they were all being looked after properly. He himself was reading a mystery novel, but as usual, nobody thought to ask what he was doing.

Buffy soon got up, and with a final glare at Spike, who was applying himself diligently to the repainting of his nails, went into the back room to take out some of her frustration on the punching bag. With Spike and Buffy out of each other’s faces, the tension in the room faded, and everyone let go of the breaths they had unconsciously been holding. Willow and Tara began speaking louder, and Dawn and Xander came over to the table to see what they had found out.

“ There’s a website on this guy?” Xander asked incredulously.

“ Yeah, he’s pretty popular apparently. Well, in on-line vampire circles anyway,” Willow said, moving the laptop slightly so that they could all see the screen. “ Of course, with all the money he’s lavishing on the website, it’s not so surprising that it has got a lot of hits.”

“ Where did he get all the money?” Dawn asked.

“ As far as I can tell, a lot of it was legitimately earned. I mean, he’s nearly a hundred years old, and even with only safe investments, the interest will have grown nicely. Plus, he’s quite the savvy businessman, holds a lot of valuable real estate.”

“ But Spike is older than this guy. Does that mean you have a lot of money too?” Dawn asked, eyes widening at the thought.

Spike snorted, “ Yeah, I’d really be hanging out with you lot and sleeping at Xander’s ‘house of odours’ if I had a lot of dosh.”

“ Hey!” Xander exclaimed. Then he thought of his apartment, and decided the nickname wasn’t exactly an exaggeration.

“ So why don’t you?” Dawn asked bluntly.

Spike was on the verge of answering, but ended up being puzzled. Why didn’t he have any money? He sat down in a chair, and started thinking about all the money that had come and gone during his un-life; the amount spent on boots alone was depressingly high.

“ Hold on a moment,” Giles said, finally becoming interested in the conversation. “ Are you saying that this vampire has a website, and the function of said website is basically to inform other demons that he is willing and able to hire them for nefarious purposes? And that it’s well visited by the evil demon populace?”

“ Pretty much, yeah,” Willow said.

“ Why that’s unheard of! It’s absurd, it’s…” Giles trailed off, searching for the appropriate word.

Spike suggested, with only a slight twitch of his lips, “ Inconceivable?”

“ Yes! It’s inconceivable. Absolutely inconceivable,” Giles said clearly. Xander started cracking up, and Spike was trying hard to keep from sniggering.

Willow was the first to catch on, and she grinningly supplied: “ Uh, Giles? You keep using that word.”

“ I do not think it means what you think it means,” Tara finished softly, with impeccable timing.

“ Oh my God! ‘The Princess Bride’? I love that movie,” Dawn said, bursting into giggles. Giles was looking decidedly nonplussed at the latest turn of events, and his expression was mirrored on Buffy’s face when she came out of the back room to investigate all the sudden noise.

“ What’s going on?”

“ I would explain if I could. I merely said that it was inconceivable that…” Giles’s words were drowned out by the fresh peal of laughter that arose when he said the fated words again.

“ Well isn’t this cozy? My sister, my friends, and an evil vampire, all sitting around and swapping pop culture references. Since when are we all buddy-buddy with one another? Did I miss the memo?” Buffy asked testily, arms crossed defensively. She didn’t really understand it, but seeing Spike laughing and being part of her group, made her feel very uncomfortable. It was easier when everyone hated him; then she could hate him as well without all the guilt.

“ What are you talking about? Spike and I go way back, remember?” Xander said, clapping Spike on the shoulder.

“ Yeah, we’re old pals. Bosom buddies,” Spike insisted. Buffy’s expression was vacillating between disbelief and horror. It was priceless, in Spike’s opinion.

“ Sure. We watch TV together, trade recipes, do each other’s hair… Speaking of which, what do think I’d look like as a blonde?”

“ Well we could always give it a try, but I think a few highlights might be better.”

At this point, Buffy seemed to clue into the fact that they were putting her on, and exaggerating to get a reaction out of her. If it had just been Xander teasing her, she probably would have rolled her eyes and laughed, but somehow with the teasing coming from both Spike and Xander, she felt hurt. Xander was her friend, not Spike’s. They weren’t allowed to be getting along; they certainly weren’t supposed to be making fun of her.

“ You have no right to joke around like that,” Buffy insisted.

“ Sorry Buff,” Xander said contritely. “ But you have to admit, you were going a little nutsoid there for a minute. I couldn’t let the opportunity to mock go by; they’d take away my class-clown privileges.” Xander’s light tone failed to smooth things over. Buffy still looked pissed.

“ What’s your problem anyway? We were getting along fine, and then you had to come in and ruin it. They were just trying to make you realize you had a stick up your butt; it was a joke, get over it,” Dawn snapped out angrily.

Buffy ignored her sister, focusing instead on the real source of her distress.

“ So what is this Spike? You don’t feel you’re annoying enough on your own, so you’ve started to recruit my friends?” Spike stood up from the table, and faced her. The tension in the room redoubled, and everyone else became deathly silent, worried about the outcome. Inspiration seemed to strike Buffy, and she jabbed her finger at Spike, as she said: “ Wait! Is that what’s really going on? You think getting all chummy with my friends is going to make me think you’re one of the good guys? Do you think that will make me want you again?”

Xander, as well as everyone else who knew what had happened between Spike and Buffy, had been anticipating some big altercation between the two, where all of those harsh and passionate feelings would come to a head. Xander doubted he was the only one wishing that he didn’t have to be there to witness it.

“ Amazing though it may seem, Slayer, not everything is about you,” Spike sneered, remembering how often he had put himself out there for her, and how often she had left him to bleed, both figuratively and literally.

“ I can’t believe I let you touch me. I can’t believe I haven’t turned you to dust,” Buffy said coldly.

“ Can’t believe I touched you either – must have had that temporary insanity that’s been going around. Otherwise, I would have stayed well clear of such an uppity bitch as you.”

“ You’re disgusting. Just a cold, cruel, putrid vampire.”

“ Careful, luv,” Spike said sarcastically, “ You’ll hurt Angel’s feelings. Or maybe that’s why you get off on us vampires? Makes you feel all superior.”

“ Angel is nothing like you. Angel has a soul,” Buffy spat out, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

“ Oh, here it comes. The soul. Makes everything all right, does it? It’s why you can love Angel, and just use me to get your kicks. Tell me, do you need to believe that soul rubbish to be able to sleep at night?”

“ Shut-up!” Buffy said, composure breaking. “ You’re a monster, Spike. That’s all you’ll ever be. You can pretend to be one of us, but the truth is, we pity you too much to just put an end to your miserable existence. I hate that I’ve been close to you, because you ruin everything you touch. You’re a soulless demon, and you sicken me.”

Spike was momentarily too stunned to speak, feeling every comment slicing into him. It didn’t matter that it was all stuff he had heard before; Buffy wielded it like a pro.

“ Know what I think?” Spike said, wishing desperately for a cigarette, if only to have time to regroup. “ I think what’s really driving you around the bend, is that I’m getting on with my life, and it’s going a hell of a lot better than yours. You don’t want me, fair enough, but you still can’t stand the fact that I’m not trailing at your heels anymore, begging for scraps.”

Buffy responded, her voice icy, her tone scathing: “ Getting on with things? Ha! All you’ve done is gone and got a puppy of your own, someone even more pathetic than you are.”

“ Buffy!” Giles shouted lividly. The argument came to a complete halt. Buffy was instantly remorseful, realising her comments were hurting those other than her intended target. All eyes had fixed on Xander, who had no doubts about who the ‘puppy’ alluded to.

“ I think I’m going to leave,” Xander said tightly. He couldn’t look at anyone he was so humiliated. He couldn’t even guess what his expression looked like. Maybe like he’d been hit by a truck and flattened by a steamroller. Xander knew it was bad when even a cartoon reference failed to perk him up.

As he shuffled towards the door, he was vaguely aware of Buffy calling out apologies, and of everyone else trying to reassure him and get him to stay, but none of the words made sense. It was like his head was in this great, thick, fog, through which nothing could penetrate. Xander kept walking, and the concerned voices fell away.

“ I didn’t mean it,” Buffy said tearfully. Willow nodded sagely, putting an arm around Buffy’s shoulders. “ I was just so mad at Spike…”

“ I know, and deep down, Xander does to. He just needs some space and some time,” Willow said, praying that she spoke the truth.

“ I’m following him,” Spike said suddenly, and strode towards the door.

“ Do you think that wise?” Giles asked calmly.

“ Letting him walk the streets, at night, in the state he’s in… Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Spike replied.

“ Tell him I’m sorry,” Buffy said quietly.

Spike nodded once tersely to show that he had heard her, and then he was gone. He hit the streets running, only stopping when Xander’s slumped shoulders came into sight. Figuring that Xander was not up for talking, Spike kept a few steps back, watchful for any sign of unwanted demon activity. It was a sincere disappointment when there was nothing for Spike to tear apart on the walk home. Xander arrived safely and let himself into the apartment, holding the door open for Spike wordlessly.

“ You going to be all right?” Spike eventually ventured.

In a monotone, Xander replied: “ I’m tired. Want to sleep now.”

Xander stripped down to his sleeping clothes, and brushed his teeth without turning on the lights. He climbed into bed, and hoped fervently that he wouldn’t start sobbing like a baby. So what if he was a pathetic, useless, waste of space - hadn’t he already known that? It shouldn’t hurt that someone had said it out loud.

What was really freaking him out, however, was that Buffy had spoken the truth. Xander was becoming stupidly attached to Spike; even now he wanted Spike to come to bed so he could pretend he wasn’t so alone. Depending on someone who only slept near him because of the warmth and needing someone who shared his living space because it was cheap and convenient to do so; leave it to Xander to find a whole new way of destroying himself. And yet when Spike did come to bed, Xander didn’t protest the hands that rubbed his back comfortingly, or the arms that wrapped around him tightly. He had just enough pride left, however, to wait until Spike was completely asleep before he let himself cry.

The smell of dried, salty tears greeted Spike when he awoke the following morning, and it caused his face to shift and a loud growl to be heard. How much more abuse was he supposed to watch Xander take without being able to stop it? Last night, he could have at least taken his argument with Buffy out of earshot, but had he even given it a thought? Of course not. He’d been too wrapped up in his own little melodrama to think, and as usual, Xander had been hurt in the crossfire.

“ Um, not to be all paranoid or anything, but that chip, it’s still working right?” Xander asked.

Spike’s recriminating thoughts came to a halt, and he muttered a garbled, “ What?” through his fangs. Oh right, he had on his demon face. He let it fade away, and grinned at Xander. “ Bloody thing is in perfect working order. Was just thinking. Why, did I scare you?”

“ Terrified,” Xander replied blandly.

Spike sighed, “ Thanks for trying, anyway.”

It was an odd sort of moment; Spike still had one arm across Xander’s chest, their faces were only a few inches apart, and they were both cosily wrapped up in the blankets. Xander was beginning to notice that while Spike always felt cool when he got into bed at night, he was usually quite pleasantly warm in the morning. Xander was also not nearly as perturbed by the feeling of another man’s morning erection against his thigh, as maybe he should have been.

Spike licked his lips, his gaze dropping automatically to Xander’s full mouth. Now was probably the worst time to kiss Xander, considering the boy was still upset about being ridiculed last night. Still, it was awfully tempting, and Xander seemed very relaxed, he would probably be at his most receptive… With Xander feeling rejected by his friends, this could be Spike’s chance to show Xander that there was at least one person who understood him. Spike had, at some point, given up denying that he was developing warm and fuzzy feelings for Xander. Sure, it wasn’t the mad rush of passion and want that he had felt (and to some degree could still feel) for Buffy, but something was there nonetheless. He felt safe with Xander, and needed. Spike liked feeling needed.

Spike raised himself up slightly, sliding the hand on Xander’s chest upwards until he could tilt Xander’s head towards him. Xander’s eyes were deep and liquid, and Spike felt like they could peer right down inside of him; Spike wondered what Xander could see there. Xander’s breathing slowed so much as to be nonexistent and as Spike closed the gap between them, Spike swore he could hear the flutter of Xander’s eyelashes when his eyes drifted closed. Skin, heat, and the pounding of a heartbeat beneath Spike’s hand – it was enough to make Spike want to moan. Closer, and he could feel the ghost of Xander’s breath against his own lips. Closer still and then… the phone rang.

The shrill noise scared the pair of them so much they very nearly ended up on the floor. Xander could hear his pulse thundering in his ears, even as he reached for the offending instrument.

“ What?” Xander said tersely into the receiver. It was not a very polite way to answer, but Xander felt justified. “ No, sorry Terry, I was up. I was just, um, uh never mind, what’s up?”

Xander swung his legs to the side of the bed, and stood up, the phone cradled between his shoulder and his neck. After giving the telephone cradle a glare, Spike flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. So close, so bloody close.

“ I can be there in… Um, a ride would be great, yeah. Okay, see you soon,” Xander said and hung up. He stretched his arms above his head and yawned loudly, before whining plaintively, “ I don’t want to go to work.”

“ What? You’re going in? But it’s Saturday!” Spike said.

“ I know, but there’s a minor emergency at one of the sites, and I do need the money,” Xander said, trying to convince himself as well as Spike that getting up early on a Saturday to go to work was a good idea. He looked longingly at the bed, before stumbling off to the shower.

Spike felt an overwhelming urge to smash the phone into pieces. First it had interrupted, and now it was making Xander go away for the whole day. Mean, nasty, phone - clearly a device from Hell. With a final groan at the injustice of it all, Spike got out of bed, and switched the coffee pot on. He filled a mug with blood, beef this time, and put it in the microwave. Next he got out bowls and spoons, and rifled in the cupboards for the cereal. A still half-asleep Xander wandered into the kitchen, and poured himself a cup of coffee, nodding at Spike to show his gratitude.

They settled at the table, with Spike proceeding to pour his warm blood over his Cheerios. Xander’s hand reached for the milk, but he paused to stare when he caught sight of Spike happily crunching away at his breakfast.

Spike felt the weight of Xander’s gaze and looked up; Xander was watching Spike’s every move, yearning written all over his features. ‘ I’ve still got it,’ Spike thought gleefully. So Xander hadn’t been so unaffected by the near-kiss as Spike had thought. That was very encouraging. He deliberately slowed down his actions, sliding the spoon out of mouth with an audible pop. Xander groaned. Spike took another bite of cereal, and Xander’s gaze turned hungry, ravenous even.

“ See something you like?” Spike asked. He tried to sound cool and unaffected but the question came out huskier than intended.

“ I can’t believe I’m saying this but, yeah, I do,” Xander said, licking his lips.

Spike leaned forward, a slight tilt to his head, “ And just what might that be?”

“ The blood on your cereal. And can I throw in a freaked out eww to that statement?”

“ My… cereal? You want my cereal?” Spike clarified incredulously.

“ I know, it’s disgusting, but I suddenly have this really bad craving. So, can I have some?” Xander asked. Spike started laughing as he slid the bowl over to Xander. Thank God he hadn’t said anything more incriminating, but still, Xander Harris was lusting after his cereal instead of him – what an ego deflator.

“ This is just gross,” Xander said grimacing. Still, he gamely lifted the spoon and swallowed a small amount of the blood and cereal. “ I hope you’re happy baby, this is all your fault.”

“ So, what’s it taste like to you?” Spike said. He got up and made himself another vampire breakfast special while Xander slurped down the original.

“ Like… It’s like… blagh,” Xander said, giving a shudder of revulsion. “ But unfortunately, oddly satisfying.”

“ I’d agree to that. Animal blood? Got no flavour to it, but at least it fills you up. Though if you’re going to be drinking my stash, you’re going to have to pick up some more.”

“ You’re loving this, aren’t you? Now that I’m eating for two, so to speak,” Xander grumbled.

“ How can you say that when here we are, bonding over beef blood?”

“ Why is it beef blood, not cow blood? We don’t call pig’s blood pork blood, or bacon blood.”

Spike started chuckling again, and he got up to refill Xander’s coffee cup. “ Drink some of this; you’re starting to sound right loony.”

The buzzer sounded before Xander had finished drinking, and he gulped down the rest of his drink before gathering up his tools and leaving the apartment. Spike gathered the remains from their breakfast and began cleaning up. The image of Xander drinking blood and cringing at the same time was still keeping him amused. It was also a little bit arousing to remember when Xander had removed blood from the corner of his lips with his tongue. Despite the aborted kiss (and why hadn’t Xander reacted to that, one way or another?), it had been a pretty good morning.

Spike flopped on the couch, dozing as he watched some abysmal morning television, before looking for the big, heavy book he had been reading the day before. He was finding all this pregnancy stuff quite fascinating, especially the biology bits. There was so much stuff he just hadn’t known before, and occasionally he found himself wanting to discuss things with someone. Maybe Dawn needed help with her science homework? He was quite engrossed in what he was doing when there was a knock on the door.

Opening the door, he came face-to-face with the last person he wanted to see.

“ Um, is Xander around?” Buffy asked, trying to look around Spike. She wanted to apologize to Xander, not get into another argument with Spike.

“ Had to work,” Spike said brusquely. “ How’d you get up here?”

“ Some tenant let me in on their way out. I, uh, didn’t think he worked Saturdays,” she said, nervously plucking at her sleeves.

“ Doesn’t usually. He got called in this morning. Should be home in an hour or so,” Spike said, stepping back in order to close the door. Buffy took it to mean she was being invited inside, and she stepped over the threshold.

“ Guess I’ll wait then,” Buffy said. This was her first time inside Xander’s new apartment, and she was a little shocked by its small size, and dismal appearance. His old place had been so much nicer, was he having financial problems? She hadn’t been spending much time with her friends, she supposed. She hadn’t even known Xander’s new address and had had to get it from Giles.

“ You want something? Harris has coffee and there’s some other stuff,” Spike asked, feeling the manners instilled in him from childhood kicking in.

“ No I’m fine,” Buffy said, gingerly taking a seat on the couch. The silence continued until Buffy wished she had accepted the offer of a beverage, just so she would have something to do. Striving for civility, she asked: “ I don’t remember this couch, is it new?”

Spike actually smiled. “ New to us. Got it cheap a few weeks back at some event Harris was helping out with. It’s nice, yeah? Tell Xander you think so; he’s still grumbling about it taking up too much space.”

“ So you’re what, living here now? How did that happen?”

“ Don’t know really. Just sort-of grew out of convenience. I look after him in the evenings if he has to go somewhere, and in exchange I get to kick around here. And with him working so much, and me going out for awhile most nights, it’s not like we’re in each other’s hair that often,” Spike explained. He omitted saying they shared a bed at night, thinking that would probably be the kind of thing that would get him staked.

“ He’s working a lot? Why, does he need the cash?” Buffy asked.

“ He isn’t paying off any debts if that’s what you’re getting at,” Spike said defensively.

Buffy felt her face warm. How strange to have to ask Spike about Xander. This was stuff she should have known. “ I wasn’t thinking that.”

“ Oh, well. He needs it for the kid, yeah? Pinching his pennies, he is. He’s worried he won’t be able to work too much longer. Should have already stopped if you ask me.”

Buffy detected the tremor of worry and concern in Spike’s voice, and it was startling enough to quiet the rest of her questions. Right, the baby. Xander is pregnant. Somehow, she had managed to put that knowledge to the back of her mind, and Xander made it easy: he never complained, or came to talk to them about it. Then again, after their less-than-supportive initial reactions, it wasn’t that surprising he wasn’t more forthcoming. She tried to picture herself in his situation and couldn’t do it. It must be so frightening for him, and yet he was still putting other people’s problems before his own. Buffy could practically feel the guilt eating away at her. She decided right then and there that she would get Xander some help, whether he wanted it or not.

A little over an hour passed, with Buffy sitting on the couch, staring into nothing, and Spike trying to keep himself busy with stuff around the apartment. Xander finally arrived, and both Spike and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief – they had been in the same room together without one of them becoming bloody and bruised. It was an improvement.

Xander was so worn out when he walked in that he didn’t notice Buffy. He went directly to the refrigerator, drank half a carton of orange juice without wasting time with a glass, before opening the freezer and retrieving two full ice-cube trays.
“ Tough day?” Spike asked, anxiously watching as Xander dumped more and more ice into a plastic bag.

Xander shrugged then winced. “ Got to remember not to do that anymore,” he muttered before addressing Spike’s question. “ It was okay. Not too many of us showed up, so it was really busy. Lost control of a load of lumber and it swung into my shoulder, so that’s a little tender, hence the glacier I’m building.”

“ Go sit down,” Spike said quickly. “ I’ll get this for you. You want some painkillers or something?”

“ Nah, I’m good,” Xander said. It was at that moment he saw Buffy.

“ Hey Xander,” Buffy said quietly, giving a little wave.

“ Hi. Uh, sorry, didn’t see you there. What brings you to my humble little abode?” Xander said with forced cheerfulness.

Spike came over with the ice bag wrapped in a tea towel. Xander gratefully took it and applied it to his aching shoulder. Buffy was looking at her hands, obviously trying to think of the right words to say.

“ Right, I’m off,” Spike announced. He grabbed his duster and left Buffy and Xander to talk it out.

“ Xander, about yesterday, I am really, really, sorry. It had nothing to do with you, I swear,” Buffy said.

“ You don’t have to apologize, I kind-of get why it happened.”

“ Yeah, it happened because Spike is an irritating jerk and I have a big mouth,” Buffy said. Xander smiled slightly, but the humour didn’t reach his eyes. Buffy sighed, “ Okay, so that’s not totally fair. It’s me I’m the angriest at. I used Spike, and now I feel guilty whenever I see him, only somehow that guilt comes out as anger. Like he’s to blame for what I’m feeling. And does that sound selfish or what? I come over to say I’m sorry, and I here I am whining about my problems. Well, enough I say, let’s talk about you. What’s to be my punishment for being a horrible friend? And you should know my remorse is at an all time high, so I’d ask for something big.”

“ Right now I’d settle for a shoulder that wasn’t hurting, and ankles that weren’t so swollen that I could actually tie my shoes.”

“ Oh, poor Xander,” Buffy said. “ I can give you a back massage?”

“ Really?” Xander asked. Buffy nodded, and began using her slayer muscles to turn Xander’s sore back into mush
“ You know, I keep waiting for you to make some kind of x-rated comment about what I’m doing. Don’t tell me I’ve lost my touch?” Buffy teased.

“ Sorry, too tired. Can I call you something dirty later?”

Buffy laughed lightly; “ Sure you can.” She finished her massage and Xander smiled gratefully at her. “ So am I forgiven?”

“ I guess. But I have to apologize to you too,” Xander said. “ I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I realized I was always the first one to give you a hard time when it came to ‘befriending the enemy’. And that night, after Spike and Anya had… and I found out about you and Spike, I really treated you badly. Like, Godzilla-badly. So what do I do? I make my peace with Spike, and get all shirty at you for not accepting it right away. I acted like a real hypocrite and you had every right to be mad at me.”

“ I admit it, I was a little thrown. I do forgive you though,” Buffy said. “ So what happened to Xander Harris, demon-hater extraordinaire?”

“ After a long time spent in a black and white world, I received a crash course in Grey Areas, 101,” Xander replied. “ I just can’t accept the idea anymore that someone is good or evil just because of what they are.”

“ Do you mean to tell me that years after it’s too late, you actually understand my feelings for Angel?”

“ Angel’s still a dick,” Xander said glibly. Buffy frowned, but there was mirth in her eyes. “ But now he’s a dick because of his personality, not because he’s a vampire. You get it?”

“ I think I do, though I’m still wondering where this new outlook has come from. I figured if anyone was going to be on board with the whole ‘hate Spike’ plan, it would be you.”

“ Sorry, though if he does anything new to piss me off, I promise to hate him again. Spike has many traits not associated with vampirism that are incredibly irritating, so there’s always hope. And you go ahead and hate him, you’re doing it for all the right reasons.”

Buffy smiled, “ It’s nice to have your blessing. Though I am sorry for leaving him after that fight with Dent D’Or. Xander? When did everything get so messed up?”

“ It’s not so very messed up. We’re still friends right? And we’re still friends with Willow and Giles. I figure things can’t be so bad if we have that much going for us.”

“ Alright, then when did you get so wise?” Buffy said, snuggling up against Xander, who threw his arm around her companionably.

“ I had fish for dinner yesterday,” Xander said.

“ Ah. Brain food,” said Buffy.

“ No, it was just a very smart fish,” Xander said solemnly. Buffy smacked him lightly upside the head.

They continued to talk, sharing everything they had both been through in the last few months. Some of the topics were serious, and some less so. Buffy talked a lot about her past relationships and Xander described what it had felt like losing Anya. They also discussed the merits of flannel pyjamas while watching Saturday morning cartoons. Strangely enough it was the latter discussion that took the most time.

At two in the morning, Spike entered the apartment quietly, expecting Xander to be asleep. Instead, he found both Buffy and Xander sitting on the couch watching late-night television, an empty pizza box on the floor next to them.
Xander muttered a welcome, and Buffy managed part of a greeting before being interrupted by a huge yawn.

“ I go away for one night, and look what happens! Care to explain why you’re up so late with a girl, Alexander Harris?” Spike asked sternly.

“ Sorry mom,” Xander returned.

“ Yeah, sorry Mrs. Bloody,” Buffy said.

“ Sorry just isn’t going to cut it. You are grounded young man. And I want to see you in bed this minute, or there’ll be no telly for a week.”

“ Gee, Xander your mom’s a real hard-ass,” Buffy whispered loudly. “ Better do what he says.”

“ You want to stay, Buffy? It’s pretty late – you can have the bed, and I’ll take the couch.”

Buffy was quite tired, and she really didn’t feel like walking back to her home. “ Yeah, that sounds good. But I’ll take the couch. You look like you need your rest more than I do, and considering I’m someone who works nights, that’s saying something.”

They got ready for bed, Buffy borrowing some clothes from Xander. The t-shirt she ended up wearing easily reached to her knees.

“ Wait, what about Spike?” Buffy asked, as she was settling herself onto the surprisingly comfortable couch with a borrowed blanket and pillow.

Xander was climbing into his bed when he heard her question. He couldn’t very well tell her that Spike usually slept next to him. Come to think of it, where would Spike sleep? Maybe he’d want to be close to Buffy?

“ I usually don’t sleep until the morning, when Xander’s gone,” Spike said, lying easily. He had sat himself down at the kitchen table with a book and a mug of blood. Apparently there was enough light for him to still be able to read.

“ Oh, that makes sense,” Buffy said, yawning again. “ ‘Night, Xander and acquaintance of Xander.”

“ Whatever,” Spike mumbled. Xander snored lightly, already asleep.

Spike did read for about an hour, before he put his mug in the sink to soak, and decided he would get some sleep as well. He stood over Buffy for a few moments, drinking in her appearance. She looked so peaceful asleep, and there was a soft smile on her face that he hadn’t seen for months. Spike tucked a tendril of blonde hair back behind her ear, before moving soundlessly to the bed.

He got under the covers, making sure Xander was properly tucked in, before pressing up against the warm back, his nose at the nape of Xander’s neck, and his arm safely guarding the round bump in Xander’s middle. It honestly hadn’t occurred to Spike to sleep anywhere else; this was where he belonged and where he wanted to be.

In his sleep, Xander sighed contently and curled a little closer to his protector. Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, it registered that something important had just occurred. Xander wasn’t sure what, he just knew that whatever it was, he liked it.

Author's Note:
Okay, just a brief note. I tried really hard not to make Buffy into this mean person that everyone hates. She’s supposed to be confused and suffering, just like the rest of them, but still someone you’d want as a friend. Don’t know if I pulled it off, so I just thought you might like to know, in case you thought I was the rabid anti-Buffy type.


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