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Part Nine

“ ‘ Still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon, Tossed upon the cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding, riding, riding,
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.’”

A creak from the floorboards alerted Spike to the fact that he was no longer alone. Outwardly calm, he checked to see that Jesse was settled in, before turning to glare at the intrusion.

“ It’s impolite to not announce yourself when entering a room, Harris. Eavesdropping is even less appropriate,” Spike said tightly.

Xander might have laughed at Spike’s suddenly Giles-like diction, if Spike hadn’t sounded so genuinely upset. He entered the room cautiously, closing the door behind him softly.

“ Sorry,” Xander said carefully, wondering how he had managed to get into trouble after having been home a grand total of three seconds. “ Didn’t want to interrupt, and besides, thought you had that wacky vampire hearing that hears heartbeats at fifty-paces?”

“ Yeah, well, I was distracted, wasn’t I? Wasn’t expecting you back from Red’s this early; you should have said something,” Spike huffed. Imagine, him, William the Bloody, Master vampire, getting caught singing a lullaby. It rankled something fierce, even if the only witness was Xander.

“ What’s the big deal? Not like I’ve never heard you sing before.”

“ What?” Spike asked outraged. He checked to see that his small outburst hadn’t woken Jesse before continuing in a lowered (though still menacing) tone. “ What do you mean you’ve heard me before? You and your mates sit around and have a good laugh at Spike the all-dancing, all-singing vampire, is that it?”

“ Dancing? There was dancing and I missed it?” Xander replied jokingly.

“ That’s right, laugh at me. All you bloody lot do anymore,” Spike grumbled. He went and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, and took out some aggression on the unfortunate bottle-cap.

As Xander watched the bottle-top sail across the room and ping against the wall, any slight merriment that might have been on his face fled.

“ I didn’t realize our teasing was getting out of hand; it always seemed like you couldn’t care less what we thought. But I’ll tell everyone to cool it,” Xander said apologetically.

“ No! That will just make it worse. Do you have any idea how demeaning it would be if I got you to ask the slayer and her cronies to stop picking on me? Just forget I said anything; you don’t get it.”

Xander moved closer to Spike, noticing that with every step he took, Spike got a little bit tenser.

“ I don’t want to forget it,” Xander said gently. “ Who knows better than me what it feels like to have your friends laugh at you, even when you don’t mean to be funny?”

Spike met Xander’s gaze for the first time that night, hearing the truth and the empathy that laced Xander’s words. Seeing that he had Spike’s attention, Xander approached him slowly, daring to put his arms around the slim waist and pull them together. He could feel how tightly wound Spike was, and he ran his hands across the strong back reassuringly.

Going for coy, he looked softly at Spike through his lashes, admitting warmly: “ Besides, I would never share with anyone the fact that you sing. I get that it’s private, not to mention that I like being one of the few who gets to listen.”

“ Yeah?” Spike asked. Feeling some of his tension ease, Spike allowed himself to be tucked more securely into Xander’s embrace.

“ Uh huh. Your voice: it’s all deep and smoky and rich. Sexy as hell watching you sing sometimes.”

“ Is that so?” Spike asked, deepening his voice deliberately, and waggling his eyebrows. “ Got you all hot and bothered tonight, did it?”

Xander’s laughter was full and sweet sounding, and Spike pressed a little closer to feel the rumble spread through his chest. “ Yes, you’ve caught me. I get turned-on by lullabies. It’s one of my kinks; you should see me after a round of ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’.”

It was Spike’s turn to chuckle, and when he was finished he kissed Xander softly in silent apology. Xander reciprocated, tilting his head slightly for better access. He was getting addicted to these languid kisses of theirs; nothing in his history had prepared him for the enjoyment to be had while being kissed slowly and deliberately. With other encounters in his past, there had always been a deep sense of urgency; the idea that if he didn’t move fast enough, the other participant might have time to change their minds. Xander had never felt that way with Spike. Oh, he certainly felt like Spike wanted to go further, but the kissing was an action in itself, not a means to an end. It never failed to make Xander feel appreciated.

They drew apart eventually, Spike’s hand moving to tuck Xander’s unruly hair back behind his ears.

“ Sorry I got all pissy there, luv. Been all bent out of shape today; don’t really know why,” Spike admitted. It wasn’t the complete truth, but Xander was prepared to let it go if Spike was.

“ Feeling all better now that I kissed your boo-boos?”

“ Might have a few more owies, come to think of it,” Spike said, matching Xander’s unrepentant grin.

“ Well, Jesse’s asleep, I ate at Willow’s, and all the chores are done. There’s nothing to interrupt us,” Xander enticed.

Spike rolled his eyes. “ I think you might be getting addicted, Xan. It is okay to go a night without, you know?”

“ What? How can you say that?” Xander asked, clutching his chest in mock horror.

“ Oh, don’t get yourself all riled up. I was only saying. You know I like it too, probably more since I’m not the one who usually falls asleep during.”

“ Hey! I can’t help it that I find it very relaxing. Can we move to the bed though? Last time when we were on the couch I got a crick in my neck.”

“ Deal,” Spike said. “ I’ll set things up out here; you get undressed.”

Xander nodded, heading into the bathroom to prepare. Spike was on his back, his arms crossed behind his head, and a pillow propping him up, when Xander emerged. The radio was set to a low volume, and Xander grinned as he crossed the room. Spike lifted the blankets, and Xander slid in alongside him. He waited for Spike’s cool body to cuddle up against him. And waited. And waited.

Finally, Xander turned to see that Spike was on the other side of the bed, staring at the ceiling and scowling. Xander frowned in confusion. Was it him? Xander surreptitiously sniffed the t-shirt he had put on to go to bed. Nope, that wasn’t the problem – still Downy fresh. Of course, there was no law saying that Spike had to touch him. They usually did, but clearly Spike wasn’t interested tonight, and there was nothing wrong with that. Xander didn’t need a cuddle. Admittedly, it would be nice, but he could certainly go without. And if the radio show wasn’t nearly as interesting without Spike pressing against him and whispering commentary in his ear, well that was Xander’s problem, right? He would not ask why Spike wasn’t holding him. He wouldn’t. With a regretful sigh, Xander turned onto his side, away from Spike.

Spike felt the movement on the mattress, and watched as Xander turned from him. No comment and no complaint; clearly, Xander’s opinion on cuddling was take it or leave it. In fact, Xander likely hadn’t even noticed that tonight was different from any other night. Xander was a manly-man after all, and probably felt like all that touchy-feely stuff was unnecessary. And so if Spike wanted to appear as something other than a complete ponce, he would have to keep his hands to himself. For tonight, at least.

‘ But look at him over there. All soft and warm and wrapped in cotton. And what are you doing? You’re staring at the ceiling feeling sorry for yourself.’

‘ Shut-up, Brain. What would you have me do? Vampires do not cuddle. I do not cuddle.’

‘ And what? All those other times were accidental? Your arms just fell around him?’

‘ That was… different. I mean, I was cold.’

‘ Oh. I see. You were cold. Do you really expect me to believe that? I’m your own brain, idiot. Tell you what, why don’t I come up with some rationalizations so you can get us both back to snuggling?’

‘ I don’t know. The old ego took quite a beating with that whole lullaby fiasco. I mean, you saw that right? How humiliating. Put me in a skirt and call me Wilhelmina, why don’t you?’

‘ You’d think after something that bad though, that cuddling would practically be a step up.’

Spike considered this for a moment, casting a sidelong glance at Xander’s back.

He does look pretty warm, and I am kind-of cold.’

‘ That’s the idea. Remember too, that being a Master Vampire means you can do whatever you want.’

‘ Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that. Anything else useful?’

His brain was silent for a moment, and Spike began to worry. Which was a strange experience – to be worried when he wasn’t hearing voices.

‘ Xander’s ego is even more fragile than yours. Who’s to say, he’s not feeling abandoned right now?’

A worried frown marred Spike’s face as he considered this. In dealing with his insecurities, had he hurt Xander as well? That was not acceptable.

“ Xan?” Spike asked, lifting a hand to rub it along Xander’s upper arm. Xander rolled onto his back, peering into the darkness with a wounded expression.

“ Yeah, Spike?” Xander asked cautiously, not knowing which mood Spike would shift into next.

“ Nothing. Err, a bit cold, I suppose,” Spike dissembled.

“ Oh. Well, that’s easily fixed,” replied Xander, reaching out. Hiding a grin, Spike wiggled into position, letting his head come to rest on Xander’s shoulder. Xander’s arms closed around him, and they shifted expertly until there was virtually no space between them. Spike basked in the warmth, and breathed deeply of Xander’s familiar scent. He couldn’t stop the deep, contented, sigh that escaped him.

Neither could Xander, apparently, and the simultaneous sounds of satisfaction caused Xander to chuckle slightly. Spike snorted in equal parts exasperation and amusement, which only made Xander giggle further.

“ It might be obvious as all Hell what we’re doing, but it’s damn well going to go unsaid, hear me?”

Xander tried to get his little fit under control. “ I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“ It’s all right for you. You don’t have a reputation that’s being torn to shreds.”

“ Way I see it: you like it, I like it, and nobody else is going to see.”

“ Still, bloody awful way for a vampire to behave. I blame you entirely,” said Spike. “ Do you have to be so damn snuggly?”

“ It is both a gift and a curse,” Xander said solemnly, before his face split into a wide smile.

“ Only so many times I can blame the cold weather, too. How long ‘til Red fixes that, by the way?”

Xander shrugged, as well as he was able to with Spike wrapped around his chest. “ She says she’s closing-in. But maybe I should be hoping she gets it wrong? Think I’d rather put up with the unseasonably cold weather, than give this up.”

Spike felt warmth that had nothing to do with body heat flow through him. “ I think we’ll be able to work something out.”

“ Yeah, we can move to Canada. Lots of cuddle-worthy weather there.”

Spike made a sharp noise of protest. “ I am not moving to Canada.”

“ Aw, come on. It’d be fun. Think of the snowy nights spent bundled up by the fire.”

“ Think of freezing to death.”

“ Lots of night hours during winter,” Xander enticed.

“ No, not moving to sodding Canada.”

“ But, uh, your Queen’s on the back of the money.”

Spike snorted, not even dignifying that one with a response.

“ They spell things with a ‘u’?”

“ ‘Bout the only thing they did right.”

“ Loreena McKennitt comes from there.”

“ Don’t know who you’re talking about,” Spike replied quickly.

“ You were singing her version of ‘The Highwayman’ to Jesse just tonight, Spike,” Xander reminded him.

“ Wasn’t. Was saying Alfred Noyes’ poem, and maybe you heard her tune, but it was just a coincidence. I wouldn’t suffer my ears to listen to that dribble.”

“ Hmm, my mistake. Guess I must keep misplacing my CD then.”

“ Uh, yeah. How absentminded of you to misplace your namby-pamby, ‘can’t-believe-you-admit-to-owning’ CD, ” Spike said.

Xander rolled his eyes, but chose not to call Spike on his obvious fabrication. He tried to get back to teasing Spike about moving to Canada. “ Did you know their beer has a higher alcohol content?”

Spike lifted his head to make sure Xander wasn’t lying. He wasn’t. “ How soon can we pack?”

Xander laughed. “ You’d move for beer?”

“ Why not? I’ve moved for worse reasons, ” Spike replied.

The only answer Xander had to that was to shake his head at Spike fondly.

The radio was soothing, the soft bed more so, and Xander’s eyes began to droop. Sleep remained elusive however, since Spike continued to fidget, causing the bed to creak ominously, or to prod at Xander’s body as if it were a lumpy pillow that Spike could rearrange. After the ninth or so poke, Xander could take it no longer.

“ Okay, get out,” Xander said.

“ Excuse me?” Spike asked, lifting his head in surprise.

“ You heard me, get out,” Xander said. At Spike’s continued look of bafflement, Xander explained kindly. “ Look, you’re still acting all twitchy, and it’s obvious you need to go out and be all ‘grr, I’m a mighty vampire, run away in fear peasants’, so why don’t you? Not the peasants part, maybe, because Sunnydale not exactly crawling with them, but you go out there and be the best darn demon you can be, okay? We talked, we did that thing that I have to leave unsaid, and so we’re good. Now, get out and let me sleep, yeah?”
Spike slapped Xander’s thigh, and hopped out of bed.

“ You sure, Pet?” Spike asked, already tugging on his boots.

Xander had rolled onto his stomach, and buried his face into his pillow. Sleep was already stealing over him as he mumbled: “ Yes. Go. Eviscerate.”

How Xander managed to say a word like ‘eviscerate’ and still sound sleepy and adorable was a mystery. It caused the corners of Spike’s mouth to turn up in a sappy grin.

“ I’ll be back before dawn,” Spike promised, before creeping out of the apartment quietly, and stepping out into the night.

A few hours and a few gratuitous slayings later, and Spike’s outlook was much better. So, yeah, he was a little more sensitive these days; it happened when you were around humans day in and day out. He would just have to make sure he balanced the two sides appropriately. For every lullaby he sang to Jesse, he would beat up some patron at Willy’s, for example. Nobody ever said a Master Vampire couldn’t have a comfortable home life, right?

Not able to convince himself entirely, he still managed to shove most of his thoughts to the back of his brain. Tonight was not about introspection. Tonight was about demons, and demons didn’t feel, they just reacted. With a howl, Spike started running, heading towards the cemetery, from where was emanating faint sounds of a scuffle. Blood would run until Spike’s thoughts were wiped clear.

At home, Xander stirred in his sleep. He’d thought he’d heard something, but likely it was only a dream. Checking the clock with sleep fogged eyes; Xander saw that it was still the middle of the night. Rolling over, Xander drifted back into sleep, idly thinking that he wouldn’t want to meet whatever had made that howling sound.

“ Slayer,” Spike hissed.

“ Vampire,” returned Buffy, mockingly.

Spike had thrown himself headlong into the tussle, only to discover he was coming to the aide of Buffy, who was outnumbered six to one. In the heat of the moment, once the other players had been removed, they had turned on each other. Recognition was instantaneous, but they both ignored it as they took out their aggressions on each other. Holding nothing back, they were both soon bleeding and bruising; angry words had given way to harsh breathing long ago. Eventually, Spike was forced to admit with chagrin that his was a losing battle. Buffy just seemed that much more eager to destroy him, than he was her.

In a last bid attempt to diffuse the situation before it resulted in permanent damage, Spike feigned a dangerous attack, when actually he merely kicked Buffy’s feet out from under her. In her surprise, she went down, but still managed to grab onto Spike’s duster, and pull him down with her. They landed, jarringly, in an intimate position that was far too familiar to both of them to be comfortable.

“ Hmm, now where have I seen this before? Thought you said it was over; seems to me like somebody’s a little desperate for some contact, after all,” Spike smirked.

Buffy slugged him.

Dazed, Spike sat up slowly from his position two feet away, and gingerly felt along his jaw. Blood trickled slowly but persistently from his nose and from a cut in his lip. When would he learn to keep his fool mouth shut?

“ God, it never stops with you. Every time I start to think that maybe, just maybe, you might possibly have some minute degree of tolerability, you go and say or do something that just…”

“ Didn’t mean anything by it,” Spike said mulishly. “ Just habit to try and get under your skin. It’s how we relate, yeah?”

Buffy sighed deeply, and sank down into the deep, cool grass next to Spike. For a long moment, she said nothing, and the two sat in (if not companionable than at least resigned) silence. For the first time since their passionate encounters had ended, Spike found he didn’t have anything nasty to say to her. He didn’t want to comfort her either, which was somewhat surprising. He did wish, however, that things could be easier between them though. Like it or not, because of Xander, he was part of her circle of acquaintances. Plus, he was just tired of the accusations and the pain they handed back and forth.

“ How we relate, right,” Buffy eventually said dolefully. “ I don’t suppose we could get past that?”

Spike stopped cataloguing his injuries, shock making him give her his full attention. Carefully, he replied: “ Didn’t think you’d want to. After what I did.”

“ Doesn’t really matter what I want anymore, does it? I mean considering the… the thing.”

“ The ‘thing’?” Spike asked perplexed.

A little huff of exasperation came from Buffy. “ You know what I mean. You and Xander.”

“ Me and Xander what?” Spike asked, swallowing loud enough that they could both hear it.

“ Don’t lie to me, Spike. I’m talking about your romantic relationship with one of my best friends. I’m not as dumb as you think I am, and I’m not so self-involved that I wouldn’t notice this, you know.” Spike stared at her dubiously until Buffy cracked. “ Fine! Willow told me, are you happy now? But how was I supposed to guess? You guys hated each other. Not to mention Xander, the last time I checked, still very much into girls while you…”

“ I was still pining away for you,” Spike finished for her.

“ Well, yeah, that’s what I thought,” Buffy admitted. “ But Willow sat me down and told me. She thought I should know in advance. Something about wanting me to have time to process. And why is it everyone thinks I’ve got a short fuse? I am as understanding, and nurturing as the next woman, God damn it.”

Buffy slapped her hand to the ground, causing a large cloud of ash and dust to fly up. Spike took care to sidle away from her a bit, just in case. He watched as Buffy took a few deep breaths, and got herself under control again.

“ So Willow knows too then, does she?”

“ Way I hear it, Willow knew before Xander did.”

“ Thought she might have had something to do with Harris’ change in attitude. Owe her, I do,” Spike said. Buffy and Spike shared a small smile, both imagining Willow having that particular chat with Xander. “ So tell me something, did it bruise the ego a bit, knowing you weren’t my one and only any more? Thinking just maybe that you’d lost your chance? Going to miss me, I bet,” Spike said, deliberately cocky.

“ Miss you like I would a rash,” Buffy said haughtily, before softening it with a grin.“ Truth? I think I will kind-of miss it. It was nice to be wanted, and have to give nothing in return. Does that sound really terrible?”

“ Sounds honest.”

“ Well, I don’t like what it says about me. You really bring out the worst in me, you know that?”

“ Guess it’s a good thing you put a stop to us then, after all,” Spike replied quietly.

It was as close to an apology either of them would ever say to each other.

Silence again, but this time it wasn’t tense. Sitting in the middle of a cemetery at the darkest time of night with a slayer that he wasn’t trying to kill. What a strange turn of events his life had taken, Spike thought.

“ So, just so we’re clear. You’re okay with Xander and myself becoming entangled?” Spike asked eventually.

“ I’m okay. At least, I’m going to be okay so long as you don’t ever make me think of you ‘entangled’ with Xander,” Buffy said, shivering in disgust. “ Even I can see that you’re good together. I didn’t realize how unhappy Xander was, until you started to make him better. Plus, I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is nothing you wouldn’t do for Jesse, and that makes it all the easier to accept.”

“ Still felt you had to get out and pulverize something tonight though?” Spike asked.

“ Of course,” Buffy said, sharing a conspiratorial laugh.

“ Least we still have that in common. Doesn’t matter how good you’ve got things, sometimes you just need to wreak a little havoc.”

“ Sure, but I have to go home to a moody teenage sister, whereas you get the company of a hot construction worker.”

“ Hands off my boy, Slayer,” Spike returned. “ You had your chance.”

“ Suppose I did at that, with both of you,” Buffy said, a trifle melancholy. She stood up and dusted herself free of any grass. She stuck her hand out and helped Spike to his feet.

“ I think this is where I’m supposed to say ‘you hurt my friend, I kill you deader’. Either that, or I say something politically correct about how I respect that you are two mature adults – er, more or less. I’m not sure exactly how far along I’m supposed to be in all this emotional development.”

“ Damned if I know. I’m still stuck on the fact that you and Willow know about Xander and I, and yet I’m not dust.”

They parted ways then, having given each other much to think about. When Spike got back to the apartment he shared with Xander, he firmly put aside the reasons he’d had for going out in the first place. Whatever apprehensions he might be feeling, the fact was that he had chosen this life with Xander and Jesse; he would simply have to hope he was strong enough to see it through.

Slipping into a pair of pyjama bottoms (Xander’s naturally), Spike crept carefully across the floor. Despite his precautions, Xander still managed to stir enough to mumble: “ What time?”

“ It’s early yet, luv,” Spike said.

Xander turned towards Spike, sleepily pulling the blankets back. He was glad that Spike was home, but even happier it wasn’t time for him to get up yet. Was there any better feeling than waking up and realising you still had hours left to sleep? Spike pressed his cold body next to Xander’s, and was almost smothered when Xander rolled partially overtop him, sharing his warmth in the most efficient way possible. Spike’s arms lifted around Xander steadying him, sending Xander back into slumber.

‘ Well, if I ever do have to give up my dark side, at least there are compensations,’ Spike thought, as his hands drifted down Xander’s back, under the blankets and sheets. His hands settled comfortably over the curve of Xander’s bottom and the cotton of Xander’s old fraying boxers was thin enough that it felt almost like skin. ‘ Oh yes, definitely some bonuses.’

The first person to awake the following morning was Jesse. Jesse stared up at his brightly coloured mobile, which was moving ever so slightly thanks to errant air currents. Both of his caregivers were sleeping contentedly, and he didn’t need them just yet. He was happy enough to surround himself with their loving thoughts. Today must be one of the days his daddy didn’t need to leave. That meant more time to sleep, a long breakfast, and maybe later he would get to have a bath in the really big tub. Jesse giggled to himself, and flailed an arm making the mobile jiggle. He loved days like these.

“ And what’s got you all chipper this morning?” Xander asked gently, leaning over the edge of the crib. Jesse’s smile widened and he reached out towards Xander. No sooner had Xander lifted Jesse up against his shoulder than his hair was pulled in a vicelike grip. Xander merely grinned. Spike made an inarticulate noise, and was soon spread-eagle across the newly vacated bed. Xander only grinned at that too.

With experience born of practice, Xander prepared both his breakfast and Jesse’s almost completely one-handed, and then walked them over to the couch. After feeding Jesse, he set the wiggling baby on the floor, where Jesse promptly tried to move around. He still hadn’t grasped the finer points of crawling, so it was mostly a lot of wriggling on his belly, but if Jesse noticed his lack of true mobility, it didn’t seemed to perturb him. Nothing really tended to disturb Jesse, Xander mused.

“ How did I get such a perfect baby, huh?” Xander asked rhetorically, swooping down on Jesse and lifting him up into the air. He then pounced unmercifully on Jesse, blowing warm air across his belly, which made Jesse squeal and gurgle. Jesse was plucked from his hands a moment later, and placed out of harms way, before Xander himself was attacked by slim, talented fingers.

“ Pick on someone your own size, Harris,” Spike said, finding his way to all the familiar ticklish spots. Xander howled with laughter, trying desperately to evade those infuriating hands.

“ Save me Jesse!” Xander cried out, picking Jesse up again and putting him between him and those devious hands. Of course, Spike saw this as an opportunity: two victims for the price of one.

“ Using your own son as a shield, Harris? Have you no shame?”

“ None,” Xander replied unrepentantly.

“ Well, Jesse’s on my side anyway, aren’t you Little Munchie?” Spike asked, switching targets haphazardly so that they never knew where an attack would come from.

The three of them eventually collapsed in a warm heap, with blankets and couch cushions seemingly everywhere. Xander was flushed, his eyes bright with moisture, and his hair mussed about his face. Spike couldn’t resist dropping a kiss on those smiling lips. A dexterous tongue teased the corners of his mouth, and he returned the favour, just as delicately.

“ I want to tell them,” Xander said, a tad breathlessly. “ My friends. I want to tell them about us.”

Xander wanted to acknowledge that they had something; he wasn’t ashamed of the relationship. Spike took a moment to bask in the appreciation. Of course, he knew something that Xander didn’t. The question was what to do with that information. He could be nice and tell Xander that Buffy and Willow already knew, or he could let Xander get all worked up over telling them his secret and let him embarrass himself needlessly.

“ I think it’s a great idea, pet,” Spike said, smiling supportively. “ No time like the present, eh? You could meet up after your swim class.”

“ Uh, today? As in, today?” Xander asked, suddenly dry-mouthed. “ Don’t you want to um, protest this a bit first? You know, talk it out for a while? Like for a few months maybe?”

“ Bollocks. You really expected me to say ‘But what if Buffy wants to make me a bit dusty?’ and the like? Complete rot that. Can’t wait until you tell the Witch and her Buffiness what we’ve been up to,” Spike said with a leer and a waggle of eyebrows.

The tone made Xander want to blush. Great, now when he was having his heart to heart with his friends, he’d be thinking about all the things he’d done with Spike. Which wasn’t much admittedly, but who would believe him if he kept turning red while picturing the possibility?

“ Alright, I’ll meet them. After class,” Xander said shakily.

“ Wonderful! Love to come with, but you know how it is with the sunlight and all,” Spike said perkily, giving Xander one last smacking kiss before standing up.

Xander was left to stare at the ceiling in puzzlement. He had the vague idea that he had been tricked somehow, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out how.

Several hours later, Xander was pacing in front of a small café with Jesse in his arms. He could do this. These were his friends, and besides, Willow already had her suspicions. She would likely be ecstatic at his news, and smug that she had thought of it first. Smug Willow he could stand, however; he was more worried about disappointed and stake-happy Buffy. Running away had never sounded so good.

“ So Jesse, how would you feel about changing your name and moving to Canada?” Xander asked his son. Jesse burped. “ I so can’t wait until you can talk,” Xander muttered, before summoning one last fortifying breath and letting himself into the café.

Buffy and Willow had secured themselves a table near the back, and appeared to be in high spirits. They smiled in greeting to Xander, and argued briefly over who got to hold Jesse.

“ So Xander? What’s with the gathering of the forces for good? Need something ripped to pieces?” Buffy asked eagerly.

“ Um, no. Kind-of the opposite actually,” Xander stated nervously. Wonderful. Buffy was in a peppy ‘I’m bored, let me stake something’ mood. Inching his chair out of striking range, Xander explained. “ See, it’s like this. You know that Spike’s been looking after Jesse and uh, living with me for the past while?”

“ Well, duh,” Buffy replied, with a roll of her eyes. “ Not to mention the kissing and groping and all the other stuff he’s been doing that my brain refuses to process.”

“ Oh!” Willow exclaimed. She turned shining eyes on Xander. “ You’ve done it? Made with the smoochies? And? Is he a good kisser?”

To say that Xander was speechless was an understatement. Not only did he not have words, but also he could feel words he previously understood and used regularly being sucked out of his brain before they could even get as far as his mouth.

“ Snah?” he managed intelligently.

“ Wait a minute, Buffy you know for a fact that there’s been kissing? Because Tara and I, we’ve been waiting for it and so far it’s just been the same pitiful glances across the room. Damn it, if there’s been lip action, then I owe Tara twenty bucks,” Willow huffed.

“ You made a bet? And I didn’t know Tara knew all this too, ” Buffy questioned. Xander was glad she had asked, because he would have wanted to. Had he not been having trouble speaking actual words.

“ Well, she had her suspicions, maybe even before me. My girl is real intuitive when it comes to these types of things. After I talked with Xander, I knew it would only be a matter of time. Oh, I’m just so happy for you Xander!”

It was only then that the two women realized that Xander was practically choking on his own air.

“ Xander honey? Are you alright?”

“ YOU KNEW?” Finally bursting out of his shocked silence, Xander wished he could have been a little bit quieter. Once the other patrons had stopped staring at him, he continued. “ I had a whole speech prepared. About how it was my life, and that it was my choice, and that Spike’s been actually really good to me, and how I was sorry for the hard time I was always giving Buffy, and it even had some good bits about respect and growing as a person and… I can’t believe you guys knew already! And not only that, you bet money on it,” Xander finished with a pout. Buffy protested knowing anything about the bet; she failed to add that had she known, she likely would have joined the pool.

“ Sorry Xander. But how could you not know that I at least knew? I talked with Spike just last night and he told me how things stood,” said Buffy.

“ Spike told you?” Xander asked, eyes narrowing. He thought about his morning, and about how receptive Spike had been to the idea of letting everyone in on their relationship. “ Oh he’s going to be in so much trouble when I get home.”

Willow and Buffy exchanged amused sideways glances. With a sinking heart, Xander felt he had to ask. “ Um, what?”

“ Nothing,” Buffy replied then giggled.

“ It’s just… sort-of cute, the way you’re threatening him,” Willow explained.

“ Cute?” Xander sputtered.

“ Sexy even,” Buffy agreed with a nod, only to blanch a second later. “ I really just said that didn’t I?”

“ Everyone already knows,” Xander muttered disconsolately. “ My one piece of really shocking news and I get screwed over.”

“ I don’t know. The ‘I’m pregnant’ speech was quite a doozy,” Willow said dryly.

Xander brightened a little. “ I’d forgotten about that.”

“ And if it helps, I don’t think Giles knows,” Buffy offered. “ Wait, can I tell him? Oh, please? I’ll give you a month’s worth of free baby-sitting. Can’t you just see the expression on his face?”

“ No way! I should at least get to do that much,” Xander retorted.

Willow started doing her impression of ‘flummoxed librarian’ complete with sound affects and spoon-as-glasses polishing, and soon they were all laughing so hard that it was several minutes before they could get control of themselves.

Buffy wiped at the corner of her eyes with a napkin, and took a long sip of her now cold latte. “ Oh, I haven’t had this much fun in ages. We should really do this more often. And hey, now Xander and I can talk guys! Not that I don’t appreciate your input, Wills, but sometimes when we check out a cute butt, I don’t feel your heart is really in it.”

“ Hey, I’m an equal-opportunist ogler! I mean, Spike has a perfectly fine butt,” Willow said, a teasing glint in her eye that only grew larger when Xander blushed.

“ Oh, agreed. A very nice arse,” Buffy concurred. “ Your opinion, Xander?”

Xander pretended to glare at them, saying pompously: “ I haven’t noticed.” He carefully placed his hands over Jesse’s ears, before adding: “ But if I had, I’d say it’s got quite a nice shape to it.”

This admission of course got them laughing again, after which Buffy told them about various butts and the people attached to them that she was eyeing at the moment. Seeing Buffy cheerful, and at least willing to start looking again for a healthy relationship, made Xander’s contentedness complete. Usually this meant something catastrophic was about to happen, but Xander was not naturally a pessimistic person, so he didn’t let the possibility of impending doom get him down.

After discussing Buffy’s possible love-interests, and her desire to return to college the following year; and after discussing Willow’s happy news that Tara was moving back in with her at Revello drive; and after consuming five non-fat lattes (Willow and Buffy), three large glasses of pineapple juice (Xander), and two bottles of blood/formula (Jesse), the group decided it was time they were going. Just as they were leaving, Buffy put a hand on Xander’s sleeve.

“ Seriously, Xander? Willow and I and everyone, we’re here for you and for Jesse. If you need anything…”

“ Like advice or anything, even if it’s like five in the morning, you can count on us okay?” Willow interjected.

“ Yeah, I know. Same thing here,” Xander said. “ Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a vampire to punish.”

Willow and Buffy waved goodbye, before looking at each other.

“ You got shivers just then too, didn’t you?” Buffy asked.

“ Oh yeah,” Willow agreed.

“ Good, glad it wasn’t just me.”

Xander didn’t head directly home after coffee with the girls, but made a detour to the public library first. Libraries had once been mysterious and anxiety-causing places for Xander, but years of researching with his friends had given him an appreciation for them. Also, it was practically engrained in him now that whenever there was something frightening going on that he didn’t understand, research was the only (if imperfect) course of action. He had been a frequent visitor during his pregnancy, and even now the librarians occasionally set aside parenting books that they thought might interest him.

It wasn’t Jesse, however, that had prompted his trip today, however, but Spike. Just thinking about his research topic made Xander squirm, and he was immensely grateful that he had mastered the art of card catalogues and computer databases long ago. He really didn’t want assistance from the helpful staff while he looked for information on gay sex.

Xander’s search led him deep into the library, away from the front desk, which was just fine by him. Jesse was asleep in the snuggly, so Xander retrieved a few of the more tastefully covered books, and took them to a nearby desk. The desk was recessed into the wall, and discouraged prying eyes, but Xander couldn’t help looking about him just in case. He felt a little like he had the first time he had snuck a dirty magazine into his room; he just hoped his mother wasn’t planning on surprising him like she had then.

The books covered the basics, which Xander already knew. He was a child of his generation, and even if he hadn’t entertained the thought of being intimate with a man (which, he admitted to himself, he had) he would still have known about condoms, and lube, and the great and glorious prostate thanks to television and the internet. Despite this rudimentary knowledge, however, Xander was still a little wigged about sex with another male, particularly the thought of penetration, and that’s what the books were for. The more he knew, the less apprehensive he would be.

Logically, he understood that sex with Spike was not going to be similar to his assault by the Broshunk, and yet, as he knew well, logic rarely had anything to do with fear. The pain of that night… Surely, it still had to hurt a little? Even if he could put aside those disquieting thoughts, he still had to deal with the fact that Spike had had other lovers in the not so distant past. Lovers that Xander knew. Lovers that Xander believed he would have trouble measuring up to. Especially since he was inexperienced in the area of male sex, and Spike undoubtedly (if even half his claims were true) wasn’t. To say that Xander was experiencing performance anxiety was a bit of an understatement. And yet… here he was, actively pursuing what he wanted. Didn’t that count for something?

After Xander had opened and discarded the third book to tell him the evils of homosexuality (another advantage to his research-heavy education, was the ability to distinguish between useful information and biased, out-of-date information), he left the library. His next stop was an adult bookshop that he had visited a time or two with Anya. Once again he had the thought that she would have been the perfect person to discuss his current problems with. He hoped she was doing okay wherever she was.

The bookshop had much more explicit magazines and books than the library, and Xander fought (and lost) the blush that wanted to spread across his features. Also unlike the library, the store was brightly lit, and all sections clearly defined with helpful signs. There was no hiding what subject Xander was interested in, and that fact alone made him want to run. Still, he doggedly turned his steps in the right direction. With nervous hands, he sifted through glossy pages, flipping onwards whenever he got too uncomfortable (which was every few seconds it seemed). He had started reading an article titled ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Manipulation of the Prostate’, when he was tapped on the shoulder.

The clerk ignored his girly scream, and blandly asked if he needed help finding something. The fact that the clerk was a perfectly ordinary looking woman of perhaps sixty years or more with soft white hair and spectacles, did nothing to assuage Xander’s embarrassment; if anything, he felt like even more of a pervert.

“ Uh, no, I’m good thanks. Doing just great, uh huh, no siree, no problem here whatsoever,” Xander burbled, certain he had never blushed so much in his life.

The woman ignored both the babble and the blushing; it was a common enough occurrence in the store. She quietly assessed him, taking in the baby he was holding and the magazine that had fallen from Xander’s trembling hands to the floor.

“ Considering a threesome? There’s more information of that sort down…”

“ What?” Xander squeaked, mortified. “ Uh, no. No… threesomes. Just a twosome, really. Maybe. If I don’t have a heart-attack in the next five minutes that is.”

“ Oh, sorry. Just thought that you, and the wife,” the woman gave a pointed look at Jesse, and Xander supposed it would seem logical that he have a wife or at least a girlfriend if he had a child, “ Might have been considering adding a boyfriend to the mix.”

“ There’s no girl. Just me and the, uh, boyfriend,” Xander said, his tongue tripping over the unfamiliar term. Was Spike his boyfriend? Sounded like a rather adolescent term to him, but he couldn’t think of a simpler description for what he and Spike shared.

The clerk nodded slowly, as she began to grasp the situation. New to the game, was he? That would explain the nervousness and the slightly baffled expression the young man wore.

“ Here,” the woman said, plucking a few magazines from the shelves, including the one he’d been perusing earlier, and holding the stack out to him. “ They’re a good place for beginners, with advice and tips and such. You make your way through them, and then come back here and tell me I don’t know my product.”

Feeling very much out of his depth, Xander nodded and accepted the pile, paying for them at the counter and collecting the brown paper bag she handed him. It took him the entire walk home and then some before the flush started to fade. Canada was looking better and better.

Once at home, Xander realized that he had nowhere safe to hide the magazines from snooping vampires. Not that Spike wouldn’t get a kick out of them; he no doubt had many detailed and disturbing anecdotes to contribute, but Xander wasn’t ready for that just yet. Finally deciding to stash them behind the toilet (for which Spike had an almost comical aversion), Xander tried to put them out of his mind as he fed Jesse some dinner. Or attempted to at any rate. Almost all of the mushy peas and carrot combination had ended up on Xander’s shirt, while the remaining portion seemed to be smeared around Jesse’s unrepentantly grinning mouth.

“ I suppose you did have quite a few bottles earlier,” Xander muttered, as he gently wiped up Jesse’s face with a cloth. Jesse was complacent as he was removed from the high chair, but resisted any further coddling. Putting the baby in his crib, Jesse immediately became enraptured with his new game of picking up toys and throwing them.

Xander grimaced, as he looked first at the clean baby, and then at his own carrot-covered self. Deciding a shower was in order, Xander headed towards the bathroom, leaving the door open so that he could keep an ear out for Jesse. Getting undressed, Xander spied one of the magazines falling from its place and he reached back to push it out of sight, but ended up pulling it out again for inspection instead. He stuck his head through the doorway to check on Jesse, who was still happily playing, before returning to the article he had been reading in the store.

Prostate manipulation? Little Xander and his hand were old acquaintances, of course, but he’d never touched himself *there* before. The idea seemed kind-of wrong somehow. Why would someone want to do that to themselves? And, still more perplexing, why would someone else want to do that to you? Would Spike want to touch him, well, inside? Contrary to what his brain was telling him, little Xander seemed to find this concept intriguing. Still paranoid that he was being watched or that someone could be reading his dirty thoughts, Xander again looked out into the apartment. Seeing nobody but Jesse, Xander took a deep breath.

Okay, it was reasonable to assume that Spike would want to touch him there, if only to prepare him for… gulp, other activities, so it would probably be a good idea if Xander at least got comfortable with touching himself. Xander's dick gave an enthusiastic nod. Xander turned on the water, and stepped into the shower, after tucking the magazine away securely. With Jesse left alone, he couldn’t afford to take too long, but Xander still hesitated before commencing.

“ Right, best to start with what I know,” Xander said ruefully, grasping himself firmly. He moaned. With a baby in the house, and altogether too little privacy, not to mention nine months or so of pregnancy-induced celibacy, Xander hadn’t had much contact lately. Knowing he wouldn’t last long, he slicked his fingers with no-more-tears baby wash (feeling guilty even as he did so, but he figured it was bound to be mild, right?) and pressed them against his opening.

Xander’s mind instantly began to spin and divulge endless internal babble. This did not feel hot. On the contrary, it felt awkward and embarrassing and it looked like this experiment was doomed before it ever even started because how could he ever get to like this and why, oh why, would someone think this was sexy, because he felt ridiculous, and nobody could possibly want to do this with him, not even Spike. Spike with his strong and clever fingers, trailing over his warm, sensitive skin, testing and probing, before sliding inside him. Xander took in a shuddering breath. Okay, starting to see the hot-ness factor. Something about Spike pressing him down and possessing him. Not rough, but gentle, because of the chip and because Xander thought it was part of Spike’s nature to be considerate to those in his protection. Picturing Spike there, warm with borrowed shower heat, and running knowing fingers around all of Xander’s most private places, soon had him gasping.

His own fingers had taken the image and run with it, and it was with some surprise that Xander realized he had two fingers embedded, with not even a flicker of discomfort. He stroked carefully, producing another near gasp, and he began to touch himself in earnest, finding the dual points of sensation more than enough to quell his earlier reservations. This was good, this was going to make him a very happy Xander, this was…

“ Hello baby boy, and where might your daddy be? Xan? You in the shower, pet?”

…. The most embarrassing position he had ever been caught in.

“ Uh, yeah,” Xander squeaked, seeing Spike’s shadow hovering in the bathroom’s doorway. Just how much could Spike see through the shower curtain anyway? “ Be out in a minute,” Xander struggled to say, praying that Spike would take the hint and go away. Of course, Spike never did what he wanted.

“ Went by the butcher’s on my way back, so you don’t need to go anymore. Not until later this week, at any rate. We headed out anywhere particular tonight?”

Xander found, to his irritation, that the prospect of getting caught was not doing anything to dull his enthusiasm. If anything, the sound of Spike’s voice had made him harder, and he had to let out a small pitiable whimper.

“ You alright there, luv? You sore or something?” Xander gritted his teeth, and stroked. He was too far in to go back, best he got this over and done with. “ I’ll make you up something to eat, yeah?”

And with that, Spike’s form disappeared, and Xander heaved a sigh of relief as he hurried himself to completion. A few minutes to get over the trembling caused by his orgasm, and Xander shakily stepped out of the shower. He wrapped a towel around his waist, and grabbed a second for his hair. Spike was in the kitchen, assembling a couple of sandwiches.

“ There you are, one for me and one for you,” Spike said solicitously. As he handed the plate to Xander, who mumbled a thank you but failed to meet his eyes, Spike took the opportunity to check the man over. Skin warm and damp from the shower, a bright glow about him, and a flushed face. Frowning, Spike reached out to check Xander’s forehead for a temperature, and was surprised when Xander yelped and pulled back.

“ What is with you?” Spike asked. “ You’re acting all loopy.”

“ Nothing,” Xander replied, his eyes darting about.

“ Did the little talk with your pals not go well? Because Buffy swore she wasn’t going to make trouble for us.”

“ Oh yeah! I was supposed to be mad at you. Why didn’t you tell me you and Buffy had a heart-to-heart? You know how worked up I was about going to tell them!”

“ First, I liked that you were willing to admit to us, even if it might have meant pissing off your friends. Second, the Slayer and I have never, and will never, have a sodding ‘heart-to-heart’ as you termed it. And finally, because I’m evil,” Spike said, smug expression on his face and tongue pressing at the back of his teeth.

“ You are a very, very bad man,” Xander scolded, wagging his finger at Spike.

“ Oh, you do say the sweetest things,” Spike returned. “ Gives a bloke ideas, it does.”

Maybe it was the reading he had done earlier, or possibly the orgasm high he was still coming down from, but Xander was feeling somewhat brave, so he asked:
“ What sort of ideas?”

Spike took the plates from their hands, and put them on the floor, sandwiches forgotten.
“ Ideas like the one I’m having about licking that drop of water that’s slowing wending its way down your chest.”

Xander audibly gulped. Spike got them up off the couch, edging Xander backwards across the floor to the bed. Xander laid on his back, towel still the only thing covering him, and Spike thought he could get very used to seeing Xander spread out like this. Especially with the way Xander was looking at him: nervous, yet determined.

Spike did indeed trail his tongue over Xander’s chest, provoking a shudder, before he tongued at the sensitive underside to Xander’s throat. He felt strong hands grip at his shoulders, and stroke down his back. Then his T-shirt was being pulled up roughly, and there was bare skin contact that made them both gasp.

They were both making small noises of approval, and Spike’s hand was reaching for the towel when a soft object bounced off his head. Confused, he lifted his head, only to be hit with another soft object. Jesse grinned, obviously pleased with himself, as he readied another projectile.

Spike dropped his head forlornly onto Xander’s chest. Xander commiserated, though a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“ Xan, we have *got* to get a bigger place. I cannot be expected to put the moves on you when your son is inches away and staring at me.”

“ ‘Put the moves on’ me?”, Xander repeated, chuckling. “ Is that what you were doing?”

As Spike grumbled, a soft pink rabbit sailed through the air and landed on the bed. Jesse had run out of toys to throw, and started to sniffle.

“ Duty calls,” Xander said, sliding out from under Spike reluctantly, and somehow managing to keep the towel on.

Spike rolled onto his back, and tugged his shirt back down. Xander placed Jesse in his arms, so that he could go and put some clothes on.

“ Didn’t want me foolin’ with your dad, huh?” Spike asked the baby, once Xander had returned to the bathroom to change. “ Or maybe you thought it was a little too soon?”

Spike himself was wondering if he hadn’t let himself get a little carried away. Early on he had made himself promise that Xander would be the one to set the pace. Not only was Xander new to their type of relationship, but also his attack by the Broshunk was not something that could be completely discarded. Last thing he wanted to do was to have Xander flash back to that particularly memory. He would not screw this thing they had going by thinking with his dick. Spike was just going to have to work harder at keeping things under control until Xander was truly ready, even when Xander started doing that thing with his tongue…

A fully dressed Xander returned and dropped down next to his family on the bed.

“ Did I tell you I have a second interview for that television thing on Monday? Heh, if I get the job we might be able to move out of here sooner than we thought. Somewhere with two bedrooms,” Xander said.

“ Two bedrooms?” Spike asked, feigning nonchalance.

“ One for us, and one for Jesse, you dope,” Xander said, rolling his eyes. Still, he was pleased that Spike obviously wanted to keep their sleeping arrangements the same, much as he did.

“ Oh. Right, that’s what I figured,” Spike said, face brightening. A room with Xander all to himself; whatever would they do to pass the time? “ Well, if those interviewer types know anything, they’ll be begging you to come work for them.”

“ Awe, thanks Spikey,” Xander simpered.

“ Git,” Spike replied, fondly. He kissed Xander chastely. Jesse threw the recovered bunny at them gleefully.

Monday morning found Xander to be terribly anxious, but trying hard not to appear so. Spike saw through it in a second but let it slide. He knew how badly Xander wanted the job, and while he really thought Xander had a shot at it, he didn’t want Xander to get his hopes up. The job, as Spike understood it, was for a television series that was part ‘Changing Rooms’ and part ‘This Old House’; basically, a low-budget rip-off of both. Xander was to be one of several assistant carpenters on the show, with limited on-screen time, but with lots of behind-the-scene carpentry work, for which he would be paid quite handsomely. Even better was that he could keep his current job, with Terry willing to work around Xander’s schedule. It had been at Terry’s suggestion that Xander had applied in the first place.

“ Well, I’m off. Do I look okay?”

Spike gave him a thorough going over with his eyes that left Xander feeling almost violated. Spike reached over and unbuttoned the over-shirt Xander was wearing, cinched his belt a few notches tighter, and rumpled Xander’s hair slightly.

“ There, now you look right sexy,” Spike said, satisfied with his efforts.

“ Yeah, right,” Xander said with a snort. “ Plus, aren’t I supposed to be trying to look responsible and trust-worthy?”

“ Not for a spot on telly, you don’t. They like your look, they’ll like you.”

“ So when I don’t get hired, it’ll be because they think I’m ugly?” Xander asked, only partially kidding.

Spike actually growled. “ No, if you come home without a job, means they’re all a bunch of troglodytes that I will have to go out and tear limb from limb. But you will get the job because you’re sweet and charming and damn good at what you do, all of which they’ll eat up with a spoon. It just doesn’t hurt that you’re easy on the eyes as well.”

A slap on the arse finally sent Xander on his way, and Spike began his usual weekday routine. He made some breakfast for himself and some for Jesse. Jesse also seemed to prefer it when his veggies were dipped in blood, a fact Spike couldn’t wait to share with Xander. Then they washed up the dishes, and Jesse afterwards got a bath in the kitchen sink as well. While Jesse napped, Spike showered.

This was usually the time when Spike lazed about the house, taking as many naps as Jesse did, but Spike was worried about Xander. The interview/audition wouldn’t occur until late in the afternoon, so there was little to do but sit and be patient. Two things that Spike didn’t do particularly well. Deciding he needed something to take his mind off things, he got Jesse into the snuggly, and packed up a day bag for him, before slipping down to the sewers, and over to the Magic Box. Giles was always good for a decent cup of tea, and if one of the birds were around, they’d be able to take Jesse for some fresh air and sunlight.

The distraction proved successful, and soon it was past six, and Spike was heading for home to hear about Xander’s day. Xander still wasn’t home, so after putting an exhausted Jesse down for a nap (both Tara and Willow had been around, and they’d spent nearly all afternoon keeping Jesse occupied outdoors), Spike began to pace. He was completing turn number four hundred or so when he heard booted feet coming quickly up the stairs.

“ Spike! I got it!” Xander all but shouted. He rushed across the room, grabbed Spike tightly and lifted him clear off the floor.

“ Harris!” Spike said from his lofty position. “ I appreciate the enthusiasm, pet, but a Master Vampire does not get picked up and swung about like some bint, get me?”

“ Sorry Spike,” Xander said, his happiness only slightly dimmed. As soon as Spike’s feet hit the floor, Xander was grabbed and lifted into the air. Xander had no choice but to wrap his legs around Spike’s waist if he wanted to have any balance at all. Spike kept him aloft with apparently no effort, and slid his hands under Xander’s bottom …#8220; for stability purposes only, of course.

“ You were right. It does feel weird to be the one picked up and held,” Xander commented.

“ Told you. I’ll put you down then, shall I?”

“ No!” Xander said, then flushed at the sharpness of the demand. He looped his arms around Spike’s shoulders, bringing their faces closer. “ I mean, I kind-of like this. I’m not… I’m not too heavy, am I?”

Xander could never be sure, but he was reasonably certain that most men didn’t worry about their weight as much as he seemed to. He blamed his friends for his sensitivity to the issue; not only had he listened to Buffy, Willow, and his other female acquaintances, bemoan the gaining of every ounce, but being around them during his own growth spurt and puberty woes, had merely emphasized that he was bigger and bulkier than they were. While he knew logically that as a male he was expected to be larger, some part of him still felt clumsy and awkward in their presence. Even Spike was small and compact, and he had that damn vampire agility that made him seem to move effortlessly at all times.

Spike’s thoughts were running along decidedly different paths than Xander’s. Xander smelled of woodchips, and dust, and faintly of sweat. He felt so solid in Spike’s grip. While Spike knew for a fact that Buffy, or Harmony, or even Druscilla had greater actual strength than Xander, there was no denying that Xander felt a lot less fragile in his arms than any of them had. Druscilla was his first true love, but even he could admit that her elbows were sometimes sharp enough to be dangerous. Spike liked the naturalness of Xander; the honesty in the muscles he could feel shifting under his arms, the realness of the tan lines and scrapes, the roughness of his calloused hands, and the sounds of breath and heartbeat. In response to Xander’s question, Spike hefted Xander experimentally, and considered his reply.

“ Like how you feel wrapped around me. Solid, like you’re really all here with me. Think your weight’s about perfect.”

Xander wanted to melt, but he kissed Spike instead, tongue exploring Spike’s mouth, and expressing everything he couldn’t.

“ Enough of that,” Spike said huskily, breaking the kiss. “ Tell me your news.”

Xander’s face lit-up, and Spike’s breath would have caught if he’d been breathing. “ There was like five of us, and I was so nervous, but they said to just sit down, while they asked me a few questions. They’d already decided that they liked my work, so they just wanted to make sure I had the right personality. Anyway, I made one of them laugh, and then it was easy. Then they said they really liked me, and that they thought I would work out perfectly! It’s still not quite definite; I have to go to L.A. for a few days where we’ll do a screen test? Something like that, or maybe it was to film part of it? Anyway, so long as nothing catastrophic happens then, I’m in. And even if worse comes to worst, I still get paid for those few days, not to mention a couple of free nights in L.A. I still can’t believe it!”

Spike understood Xander’s earlier need to whoop, for he did so himself, swinging Xander in a circle, which made balancing near to impossible. Spike sat them on the couch after that, to forestall any injuries.

“ You deserve it, luv, you really do. So, what shall we do to celebrate?” Spike asked, rubbing his hands along Xander’s flanks.

“ Well I was thinking…” Xander said softly, looking coyly at Spike through heavy-lidded eyes.

“ Yeah, pet?”

“ Bronzing it with the girls?”

“ What? Oh, come on. Do I have to?”

“ Pretty please?” Xander asked, pushing out his bottom lip.

Spike bit the lip softly, darting his tongue inside the warm mouth for a fleeting taste.
“ You,” Spike said, poking at Xander’s chest, “ Are getting far too good at manipulating me. But if you’re sure it’s the Bronze you want…” Spike said, deliberately showing off all that Xander could have if they stayed in. Xander suddenly found himself a lot less sure as he took in the tilt of Spike’s head. What about the Bronze? Willow who? Xander shook his head to get it out of the gutter.

Xander licked dry lips as he replied. “ Yes, I’m sure. Besides, everyone knows I had the interview today, and they’ll expect some sort-of celebration now that I got it.”

Spike sighed, but smiled as Xander cuddled closer.

“ Fine, we’ll go to the Bronze and I’ll play nice with your friends for a bit. At least I can get some alcohol.”

“ As much as I can afford,” Xander agreed. Quietly, he added. “ Thanks Spike. This, all of this, it means a lot to me.”

Spike shifted around, a little embarrassed by the sincerely expressed compliment.
“ Yeah, well, I kind-of like you, Xan.”

“ I sort-of like you to, Spike,” Xander replied. They shared a smile, both knowing it was a lot more than ‘like’ that they were feeling. “ Now about my party…”


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