When Giles suggested Xander come to Bath and visit Willow before he went back to Sunnydale, there was no real chance Xander would say no. If Giles thought Willow was ready to see Xander, then Xander was ready to see Willow.
Almost ready. As ready as he'd ever be.
For an hour and a half on the train, he worried about what he'd say when he saw her. They had sixteen years of history between them, years of sharing crayons and sandwiches and illicit notes passed in boring classes and geekiness and heartache and adventure—and all he could think about was that last night. Warren's skin flying off. The Mac truck bearing down on the fragile little car, with Willow a dark figurehead on its roof. Morning on Kingman's Bluff, when Xander saved the world by talking.
He loved her. He'd never stopped, not even when she was about to destroy the world. But he was afraid, too. Dear God was he ever afraid.
There was a long, awkward moment in which they both hesitated, standing there on the train station platform. Willow was wearing a long green skirt and an unbleached wool sweater. Her hair—red like always, not black like that night—was pulled into two long, loose pigtails. She had the same wide-eyed, scared yet hopeful look she'd had on their first day at Sunnydale High.
"Will," he whispered, and he hugged her. She hugged him back, and they both held on tight as the platform cleared.
"I missed you," she said.
"Me too. I mean, I missed you. 'Cause I was with me, so I didn't miss me—"
Willow giggled, and let go. "So, wanna see the baths?"
It was good. It was easy, it was normal. They didn't have to talk about that last night, not yet. "There's baths in Bath?" Xander asked, putting a loose arm over Willow's shoulder and walking with her out towards the parking lot. "I thought it was just a name. Like Los Angeles isn't really full of angels."
Willow smiled. "Just the one."
"Well, yeah. Angel. But the city was named before he moved there."
"No, I mean there's just one bath. Well, there's several pools...It's an old Roman bath, it's really cool. It smells a bit weird, because of the hot spring. Parts of it were built two thousand years ago! And the Roman plumbing still works!"
"Wow, Uncle Dave the plumber would love to hear about that."
They walked along towards the baths, and the talk was easy and light, and the sun was warm and the town was exotic and quaint in a stone cottage, fairy tale way, and it was good.
Later, sitting on a hill at the edge of town, huddling together under a blanket and watching the sun set, they did talk about some of the difficult things.
Not about that night. Maybe they'd never talk about that. But Willow talked about how she was doing now. How Giles and the local coven had been teaching her to control her power, and tap into the earth and feel the connections between all things. How she wasn't sure of her power yet, how afraid she was to do any but the tiniest magicks. How the women of the coven seemed to be afraid of her. How she missed Tara.
Xander talked about the summer in Sunnydale, and about missing Anya—even though she was still in Sunnydale—and about missing Willow, too. About watching Dawn and Buffy's relationship mature. And, naturally, about the weirdness of helping to rebuild Sunnydale High.
"So when are you going back?" Willow asked finally.
"My plane ticket's for the day after tomorrow."
"Huh. Why do I get a feeling there's a silent 'but' at the end of that sentence?"
"I really have to go back. I only arranged two weeks' vacation, and it was hard to get that. My boss'll be so pissed if I come back late, I probably won't have a job to come back to."
Willow pulled the blanket tighter around them. The sun was just a reflected red glow on clouds near the horizon. "Still with the silent 'but,' Xander."
Xander hesitated. "I didn't come here to talk about my problems, Will. You've got enough of your own."
"Aha, so there is a problem," she said lightly, squeezing his hand under the blanket. "It's okay. I've had way too much time to think about my problems. Distract me."
"Well..." Xander sighed. "There's more to the Spike stuff than I told you."
"More than Spike having a soul now, and you and him hunting down a Dur'athan demon together?" She waited for his nod. "Well, I have to say I'm intrigued."
So Xander told her about the poems he found, and about finding out that Spike was taking the not-killing thing so far he wouldn't even drink blood from butchered animals.
"I can understand that," Willow said quietly. "I've stopped eating meat, too."
"But he's a vampire. He can't survive without blood."
She nodded. "True. Like—like cats. You can't feed them a vegetarian diet, they'll get sick. Even if you don't eat any meat ever, you still have to feed dead animals to your cat. And it's okay. It's their nature."
"Okay, so Spike's like a cat." Xander smiled a little, despite himself. "But when I found him in London, he was starving himself. He hadn't drunk any blood for weeks, and when I tried to make him drink pig's blood he just gagged on it. And then he got really badly hurt in the fight with the first Dur'athan. He couldn't heal—he didn't have enough blood. He was dying."
"That bandage on your wrist—" Willow said. "You fed him."
She was a smart girl, Willow was.
"I figured if he could feed without killing, it'd be okay. He'd be able to do that."
"Like milking a cow instead of killing it for hamburgers," Willow said.
"Right, um, except I don't like that in that analogy I'm the cow. Can you come up with another one?"
"Eating fruit off a tree without hurting the tree?"
"Okay, I'm a tree. A Xander tree." Xander laughed a little, and tightened his arm around her shoulders momentarily. Then he got serious again. "It worked. He got strong again. Giles and Spike both chewed me out for it, though."
"Giles would've worried about you," Willow said. "And Spike—"
When she trailed off in a question, Xander finished her sentence. "Also worried about me."
Willow gave herself a little shake. "It's hard to imagine Spike with a soul."
"He's not that different, really."
They were quiet for a moment, then Willow said "Buffy did it for Angel once. Fed him her blood."
"She loved him a lot."
There was an unspoken question. Xander didn't answer it. "The thing is," he said instead, "I don't know if I can leave now. I mean, he's still starving. I bought him a little time, is all."
"Maybe he'll come around to drinking pig's blood again."
"Maybe," Xander said, without much conviction.
"Well, what could you do? Stay here and keep feeding him your blood? I don't think you have enough to keep both of you alive."
Xander didn't admit that he'd thought about it, that he'd even gone into an internet café yesterday and searched until he found out that it takes three to four weeks to replace your red blood cells after donating a pint of blood. And eight weeks to replace the iron, but he figured he could take iron pills or eat a lot of liver or something.
Willow was right. It wouldn't be enough.
"I don't know what to do," he said.
"Don't worry," she said, squeezing his hand. "I do."
"Oi! Who's there!?"
"It's me," Xander said, yanking the store's front door shut behind him. Spike's voice had come from the back corner, where the futon was. It was just a few minutes past sunset; he'd probably still been asleep.
"Didn't expect to see you again." There was the flick of a lighter and Spike came into view, lighting candles on the back shelves. "I know you're leaving England in the morning. Figured you'd stay out with the witches and warlocks till then."
"I needed to see you again. I've got something for you." Xander dropped his duffle by the door and went over to Spike, zipping open the small thermos bag he'd carried from Bath. Under the ice pack inside there was a blood bag. "Here," he held out the bag to Spike, "Blood from a certified, one hundred percent unkilled human."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Where'd you come by this?"
"They keep a stock of blood in the infirmary out at the estate in Bath."
Spike hesitated a moment longer, then took the blood bag. "Cheers." His forehead went bumpy. He ripped the bottom open with his teeth and started gulping the blood.
Xander watched Spike drink, feeling a proud glow of satisfaction at being a provider even though it hadn't come out of his own veins this time. Spike's black t-shirt and jeans didn't hide that he was still too thin.
Spike drained the bag quickly, and then his face smoothed out and he dropped the empty bag on the floor. "That hit the spot. Thanks, pet."
"There's more," Xander said, feeling oddly nervous about the good news he was about to give Spike. He wasn't sure how Spike would take it, and it was really important. "Giles has a contact in a blood bank somewhere in the city. She can get you blood as often as you need it. Here." He took the slip of paper with the contact info out of his pocket and handed it to Spike.
Spike unfolded the paper and looked at it, frowning slightly. "So I just walk in off the street and this lady hands me a couple pints of the red stuff? No strings attached? I'm not so convinced, pet...the old librarian doesn't like me that much."
"He didn't exactly offer straight out—it took Willow and me a while to convince him. He didn't crack till Will threatened to hold her breath until her faced turned blue." Xander smiled at the memory.
"Is she a Watcher, this blood bank lady?"
"I don't know. I don't think so, but there's probably some connection with the Council." Xander shrugged. "I'd rather not have the Council keeping tabs on you, but what's the alternative?"
"You didn't have to do this," Spike said, tucking the paper into his jeans pocket.
Xander crossed his arms. "Yeah, actually, I kinda did. Also, I want you to promise me you'll go get blood regularly after I leave."
Spike gave Xander a startled look. "What?"
"I'm serious, Spike. I swear to God I won't even leave London if you don't promise it." Xander could feel his heart speeding up, though he didn't exactly know what he was afraid of. That Spike would call his bluff? That it wasn't a bluff at all? "I'll stay here and make you eat, and you'll get sick of me walking around waking you up in the middle of the day and leaving my socks on the floor of your lair."
Spike shook his head, still looking puzzled. "You can't do that. You have to go back to Sunnydale. There's your job, your flat. And Buffy needs you. Dawn needs you."
"So promise it."
"All right," Spike scowled, "I bloody well promise to sponge off the blood bank lady till she can't stand the sight of me."
"Okay, good." Xander briefly fought off the urge to hug the vampire. Then he thought about the fact that Spike had basically just promised not to starve himself to death—and hey, if that wasn't worth a hug, what was?
"Hey," Spike yelped as Xander hugged him. "Get off me." The protest wasn't as vehement as it could have been, but Xander stepped back anyway.
Spike unnecessarily tugged his shirt straight. "So, you're here anyway—I've got a full bottle of scotch. Want some?"
"Sure," Xander said. He followed Spike to the back of the store, and sat beside him at the edge of the futon.
Technically he'd only come to give Spike the blood and the note, but there was nothing else to do between now and nine o'clock tomorrow morning, when Xander had to be at Heathrow.
Okay, stop with the kidding of the self. Xander had come for a lot more than that. He'd come to say good-bye...and to figure out what else he needed to say.
Spike produced a corkscrew, popped the cork out with ease, and then took the first drink himself.
"Still no glasses?" Xander asked rhetorically.
"This ain't bloody Windsor Castle." Spike rolled his eyes and handed Xander the bottle.
Xander took a careful swallow. It was better quality than the whiskey Spike had had last time. "So, how've things been? Since, um, two days ago?"
Spike shrugged, taking the bottle back. "Never changes much. I found another clutch of pterey eggs last night. Wanna see the bite marks?"
"Maybe later," Xander joked, and then blushed a bit when he realized how suggestive that sounded, and how suggestiveness in this context maybe wasn't quite the same safe, heterosexual male humor thing that it was around, say, Riley.
And he remembered kissing Spike. And he remembered liking it. And that was one of the reasons he'd come back here, wasn't it? He needed to find out about that.
"How was Red?" Spike asked.
"Doing better. It was good to see her." Xander took the bottle, had a drink, handed it back. By now he'd probably had about two shots' worth. Better watch that; it would suck big-time if he got drunk and passed out and missed his flight back to California. "Hey, by the way—now that Giles and Willow know you have a soul, Buffy's going to have to find out too. Do you want to tell her yourself?"
Spike grimaced, and took a long drink. "Don't think I'm up to it. Talking to her. Would you do it?"
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I'll do it." Spike tried to hand the bottle of scotch back to him, but Xander refused it. "I'm warm and glowy enough, thanks."
Spike shrugged and took another swig. "Your loss."
They sat silently for a minute, staring at the candles. Spike drank again.
"So, uh. It's been an intense couple of weeks, huh?" Xander felt his voice getting higher-pitched, which meant he was nervous because he was thinking about it again. The kiss. "Lots of near-death experiences for the both of us...."
Spike gave Xander a half-smile. "That's run-of-the-mill for you, innit?"
"Well, the demon-fighting parts were pretty standard. But—actually, can I have another drink?"
Spike handed it over. "Your heart's racing," he noted, sounding vaguely amused. "What's got your knickers in knots?"
"You can, uh, hear it from there?" Spike's attitude was making Xander think twice about bringing up the kiss. If it had meant anything at all—if the weird tenderness they'd shared in the day after Spike fed off Xander had been more than some kind of magical afterglow from the feeding process—then wouldn't Spike be acting less casual and distant?
"Like a sodding jackhammer."
"I'm, um, nervous about flying home tomorrow. I'm scared of flying. Did you see Fight Club?"
"Yeah, loved that flick. Bloody brilliant. And no you're not." Spike set the bottle down on the floor, and shifted closer to Xander. "You're afraid of this." And Spike kissed him.
It happened so quickly that Xander didn't really participate. Spike was beside him, and then his cool lips were pressed against Xander's, and then Spike was standing up five feet away taking a gulp from the scotch bottle.
It took a moment for Xander's brain to catch up. Did he imagine the kiss? No, he could still feel the ghost of it on his lips. "Now that's where you're wrong," he said lightly, spinning words over his confusion. "I wasn't afraid of that. Nervous, maybe, about bringing up the topic. There were definitely butterflies for a minute there. But hey, it's on the table now, so no more fear. And—why did you do that?"
"To make a point," Spike muttered, and drank again.
"Hey, uh, listen, Spike." Xander stood up and walked over to the vampire, and put a hand on the liquor bottle. "I was really hoping to have a good talk with you before I left, and if you drink much more of that there won't be any talking, just incoherent swearing and maybe some passing out. And possibly some puking, only I'm not sure if vampires do that."
Spike glared at Xander, but didn't resist when he took the bottle away. "What's there to talk about, pet?" He spat out the last word, making it more an insult than a nickname.
Xander took an instinctive step back, startled by Spike's sudden swing into hostility. "Well, that," he said. "You kissed me. I kissed you. I don't know about you, but in my life that kind of thing's rare enough to warrant some talking."
"Not in my life, pet," Spike said. "I've snogged too many folks in the past hundred twenty-odd years to get worked up about one more." He paused. "And yes, some of them were blokes, if you were wondering."
If Spike hadn't been standing there all inexplicably defensive and angry, Xander might've accepted the brush-off and suggested they go out and play pool or something to kill the next few hours. But he was, so Xander asked quietly "What's wrong, Spike?"
The vampire crossed his arms and glared at Xander, and didn't answer.
Xander decided the only way to move this forward was to take a risk himself. He took a deep breath. "Okay, look, I want to talk to you because I'm kind of confused about how I feel about some things that happened between us." Pause. No reaction. "I'm kind of confused about how I feel about you."
"Confused, are you?" Spike arched an eyebrow, still looking angry. "Going through a life change, pet? Not very original—there's already a gay Scooby."
If Spike was trying to piss Xander off, it was working. "I'm not gay, idiot. I nearly got married, for fuck's sake."
Spike smirked. "Yeah, that proves your manliness for bloody sure. You left the beautiful bride standing at the altar, isn't that right?"
And oh, fuck, that was a sore spot. Before he knew what he was doing, Xander had given Spike a rough shove backwards. Spike took it, laughing.
"You don't know anything about that," Xander half shouted.
Spike's lips twisted into a wild grin. "I know how she came and fucked me for comfort afterwards."
That was it. That was the breaking point. Xander didn't even decide to punch Spike in the face—he just did it.
Spike spun around and fell to his knees, and hunched over laughing. Xander unclenched his fists, breathing hard, and took a walk to the front door. He slung the duffle bag's strap over his shoulder and kicked the door to open it.
It wasn't a great kick. The door didn't open.
And Spike wasn't laughing back there, was he? He was sobbing.
"Fuck," Xander whispered.
He didn't move right away. He stood there in front of the door and breathed slowly, deliberately, letting the anger ebb away. Because yeah, Spike had been trying to piss him off, hadn't he? And Xander was just so damn easy to manipulate. But he didn't want to leave this way.
Once the tight, hot feelings had faded enough, Xander put the duffle bag down and went back and kneeled down next to Spike. "I'm not leaving," he said quietly.
Spike lifted his head, and Xander saw his cheeks were wet with tears and his upper lip was bleeding a little. "Yes you bloody well are," he hissed.
Oh. Oh hell. "Yeah, I guess I am. On a jet plane. Sorry. I wasn't thinking..." Xander trailed off. He was stunned by Spike's intensity. He hadn't expected this. He reached over and took one of Spike's hands. "But not yet, okay?"
Spike shook his head and looked away. "It's bloody pathetic, I know," he said to the opposite wall. "First I fall in love with Buffy, then you. Maybe when you fly out I should go to Bath, spend some time with Red, see if I can make it a hat trick."
"Oh. God." Love? "I'm sorry," Xander said, even though it was almost certainly exactly the wrong thing to say. Spike winced, and his eyes glittered in the candlelight. Xander couldn't quite bear to look at his face any longer, so while he talked he looked down at their linked hands instead. "I didn't know you felt that way." Spike's fingers were almost as long as Xander's, but slimmer, and very pale. "I don't even know how I feel. I thought I hated you two weeks ago." Spike's knuckles were bruised and a bit scraped, and it looked like a days-old injury but it was probably from the pterey-egg hunt he had said he had yesterday. "I care about you. A lot. It scares me how much." He had black nail polish on, but it was badly chipped. "And I think I find you...attractive."
"Well, that's something, innit?" Spike said softly. "Still not enough, though."
"Yeah, I guess not."
Spike pulled his hand away and shook himself out. "Right, what now?" he asked, in something close to his normal voice. "You've still got, what, ten hours before you've got to leave for the airport?"
"I could paint your nails," Xander suggested out of nowhere.
Spike's eyes went wide momentarily, and Xander stifled a laugh at his expression. Then Spike tilted his head and said "All your friends are girls, aren't they." Not a question.
"Yeah, well, I had a guy friend once but vampires killed him—" Xander stopped himself. It wasn't something to joke about. "Never mind."
"No, it's cool. You can do my nails. That'd be nice," Spike said, perfectly deadpan.
"Oh." Xander's turn to be surprised. "Okay."
Spike got the bottle of black nail polish from his shelf, and they sat on the futon together and Xander brought a candle closer, for better light.
Spike sat sprawled with his back against the wall. Xander sat cross-legged beside him, knees just barely brushing Spike's right thigh. Xander held Spike's right hand with his left to steady it while he slid the little polish brush carefully over the nails. Spike didn't have any nail polish remover, so Xander just painted the new right over the old. It gleamed wetly in the candlelight.
The sharp, unnatural smell of the nail polish evoked memories of times Xander did this for Willow and for Buffy at those emasculatingly innocent sleepovers they used to have. Oh, and one time in eighth grade when Xander let Willow do it to him.
They didn't talk for a while. There was no sound but their breathing.
"Why do you breathe?" Xander asked after he'd done all five nails on Spike's right hand. He stood up and stepped over Spike's legs to sit at his other side. "Is it just habit?"
Spike shrugged. "Well, yeah, that's a lot of it. Helps to pass as human, too. And I need to breathe to talk, and to smell." He gave a short laugh. "And to smoke."
Xander smiled, starting on Spike's left hand. "How do you stop a vampire from smelling? Hold his nose."
"It's a joke. How do you stop a skunk from smelling?"
"Oh. I get it."
"You smell better than a human, don't you?"
Spike smiled, leaned in and gave Xander's shoulder an exaggerated sniff. "Nah, you smell all right."
Xander laughed. "Same bad joke. Come up with a new one. You know what I meant."
"Yeah. And yeah, we do. Not smelling much but the nail polish right now, but I can tell you used Willow's shampoo while you were in Bath."
"Not bad," Xander admitted. "And your hearing's that good, too?"
"I really can hear your heartbeat, pet," Spike said, smiling gently now. "It sped up just there, when I said that."
"Wow." Xander screwed the top back onto the nail polish bottle.
"See, that's why it's so hard to lie to a vampire. We can pick up on the same cues your lie detectors use—a jump in the pulse, a little extra tang of sweat..." He met Xander's eyes. "We can tell other things that way, too."
Xander didn't have to ask what he meant. He knew he was flush with arousal. Even a human would notice it.
Sitting that close, touching hands, talking softly...Spike smelling him....
"Bloody hell," Spike whispered, "I'm going to kiss you again." And then he did.
Unlike the last kiss, this one lingered. Spike sat up straighter and Xander unfolded his legs so that he could edge closer to Spike, and the kiss went on.
"Careful," Xander murmured against Spike's lips when he felt Spike's hand sliding around his back, "Don't mess up the nail polish."
Spike snorted a quick laugh. "Sod that."
So on his last night in London, Xander spent an hour or two making out with a vampire on a grubby futon in an abandoned, boarded up convenience store. And it was the happiest he'd been in a long, long time.
Spike smelled like smoke and whiskey and blood. His skin was cool, which was strange at first but nice, too, in a weird way. His hair was prickly, gelled hard to his head and then messed up from sleeping and from the way Xander kept trying to run his fingers through it.
Xander felt the ridges of Spike's ribs under his t-shirt, and as he sometimes had with Anya, Xander had a fleeting worry that if he held Spike too hard he'd break. But of course that was silly, Spike was supernaturally strong; he was the one who could break Xander in two.
They kissed for a long time before they did anything else. It was all soft and gentle. Not what Xander had expected from Spike.
Eventually Spike's hand found its way to Xander's crotch, and rested over the bulge there. Xander felt himself breathing deeper at the feel of Spike's hand, and he knew that Spike would hear the change. "I'm not sure if I can..." Xander whispered. His body wanted sex. His mind was much less sure.
Spike ducked down and kissed Xander's pants right at that place. Then he laid his head on Xander's lap and rolled over so he was facing up, all squinting blue eyes and teasing smile, with the swollen cut on his lip that Xander felt really bad about giving him, now. "Let me suck you off, pet," Spike cajoled him. "A going-away present."
Xander tried to speak, but he couldn't, quite. He gave a slight nod instead.
Spike undid Xander's fly and eased his dick out, and went down on him right away. Xander gasped and buried one hand in Spike's hair; clutched at Spike's t-shirt with the other hand.
One time Anya had gone down on Xander right after drinking a glass of cold water. That's what Spike's mouth felt like—cool where Xander had expected hot. For just a second Xander thought he didn't like it, and then Spike started using his tongue.
Xander moaned, and let his head thump back against the wall.
Spike obviously wasn't kidding about having done it with guys before. He had tricks with his tongue and his lips that Xander couldn't even have imagined. He swallowed Xander down to the base of his shaft, and Xander's toes curled and his fingers clawed at Spike's back, not meaning to hurt just not able to help it.
Spike kept it going for longer than should have been possible, and when Xander finally came it was with a feeling of bright lights and roaring ocean waves.
Xander slumped on the futon, boneless and happy. Spike did up Xander's pants, then crawled up to lie nose-to-nose with Xander.
"Would you like to sleep now, pet?" Spike asked softly. "I'll wake you up in time in the morning, I promise."
"There's no alarm clock," Xander murmured.
"I won't sleep. I'll just sit here."
"Okay," Xander agreed sleepily. "I trust you."
He closed his eyes, and felt Spike moving, sitting up, picking up Xander's shoulders and shifting him a bit so his head lay in Spike's lap. Then he felt Spike's hand stroking his hair...and that was the last thing he remembered before drifting into a deep and peaceful sleep.
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