This story is a direct sequel to two of my other stories, first Divided and then Two's Company. If you haven't yet, I would recommend that you read them first.






Male Bonding


by
Jackson



  2   3




Part One

The morning after the utter insanity that had been the night before, Xander awoke and metaphorically speaking, hit the ground running. There was no vague memory of bad news lurking just beyond his recall, no blissful moment of ignorance before a slow realisation. The moment his eyes opened he snapped straight into panic-mode. In fact he had never really left it, he had kept waking at intervals in the night, the horrified screech of 'I kissed Spike!' resounding in his head. At least he was treating this catastrophe with the respect it deserved. Panic was an important business, there was no sense being half-hearted about it, he was having a crisis and was utterly at a loss as to how he could improve it. The only idea that had suggested itself so far was to run away as far as possible and hide in a cave for the rest of his life. Although this idea did have its appeal, obviously it was insane on closer reflection. What was he supposed to eat?

The sound of his alarm clock going off snapped him out of his half-hysterical consideration of licking moss off rocks as a means of survival, making him jump in shock. He irritably snapped it off and groaned. He had to go to work and function like a guy who hadn't accidentally kissed another guy last night but he was a wreck. A sleep-deprived, nervy, panicking shell of a human being who had KISSED SPIKE! His heart began to thump sickly fast and he squeezed his eyes shut to blot out the memory of the kiss. He couldn't bear to actually remember any details of it, dealing with the fact he'd done it was bad enough, he didn't want to even think about any of the tongue movements. His stomach lurched in horror. Oh God. There was tongue! He squeezed his eyes shut even tighter. Yeah, right, because that'll make this all better! As far as he was concerned the only thing that would make this better was a trip in a time machine and thwacking Spike upside the head before things got so completely fucked up.

Oh shit. Spike. What the hell was going on in his head today? The absolute best Xander could hope for was that Spike wanted to forget about this as much as he did, yet somehow he doubted that. You didn't kiss someone the way Spike had kissed him unless it was something you badly wanted to do. He remembered with another lurch to his stomach just who had been responding with enthusiasm on the other side of that lip-lock, but the theory didn't apply to him. He'd just been ... taken by surprise! Yes.

He whimpered in dismay, he was so out of his depth on this! What the hell was he doing to do? Surprisingly his brain, maybe stimulated by acknowledging how messed up he was, provided an answer. He needed help and luckily for him, he had the best available on speed-dial. Whenever he was in panic-mode there was always someone he could turn to.

He needed Willow, because if ever there was a cause to panic, it was this.

***

Spike woke up in the afternoon with a warm, excited feeling in his chest and a stupidly sappy grin on his face. He had kept waking all through the day to hug his happy feelings to himself and re-play that kiss over and over. He only wished he'd thought to open his eyes and take a peep at Xander while they kissed, then he would have a visual as well as the physical memory, but he hadn't been capable of such intelligent thought. He'd been so lost in the moment, in the kiss as his long awaited, most secret desire came to life under his hands. Never mind, he had the memory of Xander's spiky eyelashes fluttering on his cheek, the way his mouth had opened up to him willingly, Xander's tongue delving into him, returning fire with fire, just as entranced as he was, lost in the moment, the kiss. His kiss.

Spike gave a little squeak of delight, drumming his feet on the bed in pleasure. It was a good thing he didn't have a reflection, Spike didn't think he'd be able to look himself in the eye. So much for the Big Bad, he was a dreamy-eyed, grinning, lovesick idiot, but he couldn't stop himself and didn't want to. If he wasn't quite over the moon then he was certainly in orbit around it. Last night he had kissed Xander and today he was going to see him! One tiny part of him was wisely trying to remind him of Xander's freak out and warning him not to get his hopes up too high, but for the most part Spike was completely disregarding that side to himself. Hope had him flying higher than any drug and he wasn't going to come down. Xander would be fine now he'd had a little time to get used to the idea. Still it was probably a good idea not to rush him too much, let him set the pace. He'd let Xander come to him, he would probably call later to talk about the happy new turn their relationship had taken and then they could kiss some more. Today things were going to start going Spike's way at long last - they just had to!

Spike popped open a bag of blood, the expensive otter that he'd been saving and raised the mug in a silent toast to Xander, because if ever there was a cause to celebrate it was this.

***

Sometime later Spike wasn't feeling quite so assured of himself. He knew Xander was working today, and since Xander sadly hadn't called him before he went to work, Spike hadn't really hoped for any word from him until four-ish, when he usually finished. At ten to four he placed his mobile in easy reach, put his feet in the starter blocks and waited.

By five Spike was telling himself that even if Xander finished work on time he obviously wasn't going to call straight from work, after all he'd never done that before, he'd need to get home, maybe have a shower and grab something to eat, then he'd call. Spike ignored the tiny core of fear telling him that if Xander was quite as keen as he was he would have called by now.

By six Spike was staring at the display on his phone as though holding it would somehow make it ring, but no - it just sat there smugly Not Ringing. Maybe this 'waiting for Xander to come to him' thing wasn't the best idea. After all Xander wasn't a mind reader, maybe he was at home staring at his phone, wondering if Spike was going to call. He would but he'd wait till sunset which was in another hour or so, he didn't want to appear terrifyingly keen.

Five seconds later Spike cracked and dialled Xander's number with trembling fingers.

He listened to the phone peal out then Xander's voice made his hands slip clumsily on the phone, it was the machine.

Spike braced himself. Waited for the beep. Drew a deep breath. Froze. Hung up.

Shit!

He stood up and paced about the crypt, his hands shaking unpleasantly. So Xander was obviously out or not answering his phone right now, maybe he was taking that shower. Which explained why he hadn't called Spike.

Or did it? Maybe Xander didn't want to talk to him. Maybe he hadn't got used to the idea. Maybe this was the big freeze out.

Spike stared at the phone in distress. Even if Xander didn't want to take last night any further - the thought gave him a dull miserable wrench in his stomach - but even if one kiss was the start and end of it surely Xander would still be friends with him? After all he hadn't done anything that Xander hadn't wanted - or responded to.

Spike picked up his mobile again and dialled Xander. This time he was definitely going to leave a message. He waited for the beep. Drew in a deep breath. Hung up.

Double shit!

What the hell was he meant to say in a message? He couldn't exactly get into a deep meaningful conversation without Xander on the other side, saying stuff too. Should he not mention the kiss at all and just act like his usual self? Or should he turn it into a joke? 'Hi this is Spike, but you can call me hunny-bun if you like?' Or how about - 'hey remember me, the guy you were playing tonsil hockey with last night? Fancy another round?'

Oh fuck this, he wasn't going to start planning a stupid message, he'd just say whatever came into his head.

He dialled again, waited for the beep. His head remained blank. Hung up. Okay maybe a little planning wouldn't hurt.

By the time he'd worked out what he wanted to say, and taken a break to yell obscenities at his stupid non-ringing phone, which took the abuse in stoic - what else? - silence, it was nearly seven. Spike still wasn't happy with his draft but he'd been practising saying it out loud and was charged up and ready to speak. He dialled, waited, jumped a little at the beep and spoke, his voice squeaking noticeably on the first word. "Hi! Um hi, Xander, it's me ..." Oh, shit, his mind had gone completely blank! What the hell was the message? There was something about grabbing a drink tonight in there, he was sure of it. Shit the tape was spinning, he'd better say something! "Um, look call me when you get this, ok? Bye." He hung up, cringing.

"What. The hell. Was That?" he addressed the silent crypt in disbelief. Oh God, why was he so bad at this? He used to be smooth, cool, the guy in bloody demand! But sadly Xander Harris didn't seem to be demanding his presence and it hurt. It was humiliating and worrying and hurtful.

He glared accusingly at the mockingly silent phone, only narrowly restraining himself from smacking it with a hammer because if it was broken he'd be even more of a wreck, wondering if Xander was trying to call. Bloody Xander! He'd been going on at him to get a phone for ages and now he had one, Xander didn't even ring it! Well bugger him, he wasn't going to call Xander anymore, he'd left a message and Xander would have to come to him now... Spike sat up straight as a horrified thought occurred to him. Maybe the number he'd written on Xander's arm was now too blurred to read! Maybe he'd taken a shower and washed it off, without remembering to take a note of it first! Xander could be dying to ring him and couldn't!

Spike dialled Xander again. "Hey, me again, um, in case you don't have my number anymore..."

***

After work that day Xander made a quick call to Willow's place where Tara told him what he needed to know. He headed for the Magic Box without even going home first. Not only did he badly need to talk to her but avoiding Spike was the name of the game and Xander was determined he was going to win. He only wished Willow were someplace a little less obvious. The moon would have been good. If Spike came looking he'd find him here in about five minutes.

As he opened the door the shop bell jangled at his already frazzled nerves. He glanced over at the table and his heart sank. It was weird how in some circumstances the sight of one of your best friends could be as unwelcome as a million fang-sharpened vampires all eyeing your neck. Buffy was chatting animatedly with Willow and the thought of what she'd say if she knew about what had happened with Spike was not a pleasant one. She'd probably be about as happy about it as he had been about Angel. He should have known that would come back to bite him on the ass. He almost wanted to turn tail and run, but they had both seen him and were obligingly shifting stuff to make room for him at the table.

"Hey guys," he greeted them as he sat down feeling as nervous as though he had a huge arrow pointing over his head and big sparkly letters over it proclaiming 'I kissed Spike'.

"Hey, Xander!" Buffy said cheerily. "Nice to see you here. How come you're not out with your partner in crime?"

"What? Spike is not my partner!" Xander spluttered sharply, his heart beating uncomfortably fast.

Buffy looked taken aback. "Jeez, relax Xander! I only meant that you guys are practically joined at the -"

-mouths fused together, kissing deeply, opening-

"-hip lately," Buffy finished.

Xander could feel his face flushing brilliant red. "We are not joined," he snapped, his hands shaking uncontrollably. "With any body part at all and I don't like what you're implying!"

"I'm not implying anyth-" Buffy protested.

"I'll have you know I live a full, happy life that barely includes Spike at all - see? See me, here? No Spike anywhere around." He snatched the magazine Willow was reading out of her hands and began feverishly leafing through it. He could sense Buffy and Willow exchanging looks, but ignored them. Landing on a page he gazed intently at it, pretending to read it before focussing on the large pink caption; 'So you think you might be gay?'

Xander flung the magazine away from him as though he'd suddenly discovered he was cuddling a sewer rat and shot to his feet.

"And, and anyway," he said wildly. "I like breasts!"

He stormed into the bathroom at the back of the shop. As he slammed the door he heard Buffy's voice break the bemused silence.

"Well I was not expecting him to say that."

***

When he emerged slightly sheepishly from the bathroom a few moments later, after some deep breathing and a serious talk to his reflection, telling himself to 'get a grip or else' it was to see Willow reading her magazine alone.

"Hey," he said sitting next to her. "Where did Buffy go?"

"She's training in the back with Giles," Willow replied.

"Oh," Xander looked nervously at the shop door. He really hoped Spike wasn't going to come and find him. He'd better stick close to Buffy, there was nothing more likely to keep Spike at bay. He blankly picked up another magazine and pretended to fill in the crossword. Now that he was alone with Willow he couldn't bring himself to broach the topic and began to wonder hopefully if he was overreacting a little. Maybe he didn't need any advice from Willow. Maybe it really had been a freaky one-off. God, he hoped so. He didn't want to lose Spike in a mire of awkward feelings, he was a great friend. Like the night Spike had come round to cheer him up after a bad day - he'd taken him for a motorbike ride, they'd gone to the beach ... then got naked and frisked around in the ocean together ... Xander snapped the pencil he was toying with.

"Can you really do that crossword upside-down?" Willow asked with interest.

Xander glanced down with a start. "Um, well I like to make it a little more challenging."

Willow nodded, looking at him thoughtfully. She put down her magazine and fixed him with a firm yet sympathetic look. "So how are you?"

"Straight," he blurted out.

Willow raised her eyebrows. "What?"

"I mean great, I'm great. It's great to be straight - though no offence to you there buddy!" Xander gave a loud unconvincing laugh, and decided to quit while he wasn't ahead. "So how are you?" He flashed her a strained smile.

"Xander is everything okay?"

"Fine, absolutely, noooo problems with me."

"Really?"

"Oh, okay, okay I'll talk! Jeez Will why don't you just break out the thumb-screws and shine a light in my eye!"

"I wasn't-"

"It's - it's Spike," Xander managed to get out. "Something weird is happening."

"What?"

Xander licked his dry lips and wished his stomach wasn't churning quite so much. He knew he could tell Willow anything but trying to tell her this felt like trying to pull Jaws out of the sea with a toy-fishing rod. "Last night - last night ... on the way home from the party we were attacked by vampires and it was a pretty close call, and then we had a fight and made up and we went back to my apartment, and he was helping patch me up and then we - he - well, he, um..." Xander took a deep breath. "Spikekindakissedme."

Willow's eyes widened until she looked like one of those girls in a Japanese cartoon. "He did? He kissed you? Just like that?"

"Alright, keep it down!" Xander hissed. "Jeez, Willow you wanna tell everyone?"

Willow looked around at the deserted shop, but apparently decided to cut him some much needed slack and let it slide. "So what did you do?" she asked excitedly. "Did you kiss him back?"

"No!" Xander lied, his cheeks flushing. Willow gave him a look. Xander crumpled, his face felt like it was on fire. "Well - maybe, a little, by ACCIDENT!"

"You kissed him back by accident?" Willow asked sceptically.

"It happens!" Xander nearly yelled. "It's happened to us, remember the 'prom clothes' incident?"

Willow flushed a lovely pink colour. "Okay, so after you finished kissing by accident, what did you do?"

"I handled it. I ran, left at top speed."

"I thought you said you were at your apartment?" Willow frowned, confused.

"I didn't say I handled it well," Xander said impatiently. "Look, I freaked okay? I mean what else was I meant to do? One minute everything's as normal as it ever gets around here and the next I'm playing tonsil-hockey with Spike who's a vampire and a guy!"

At this succinct explanation of the mess he'd somehow found himself in, Xander covered his face in his hands and groaned. He didn't take his hands away, it actually wasn't that bad in here, like a little cave of his own. It was a little claustrophobic and hard to breathe maybe, but still better than having to deal with all this. Willow patted his shoulder comfortingly.

"Poor Xander," she crooned soothingly.

"Maybe I'm overreacting," he said, his voice emerging muffled. He lowered his hands from his face and blinked at her. "Maybe it was just a spur of the moment sort of thing. What do you think, do you think I'm overreacting? I mean Spike wouldn't ...y'know ...want me like that, right?"

Willow looked unconvinced. "Well-"

Xander quickly rose to his feet and began pacing the shop. For some reason he didn't think she was about to agree with him and he didn't want to hear what was making her look all doubtful.

"Before you say anything just look at the facts," he interrupted quickly. "Emotions were running high, we'd been drinking, I haven't had sex in a while, Spike can look sort of girl-like in dim light if you squint." He turned and began pacing in the other direction, Willow turned in her seat to watch him as his panic began to rise again. "And Spike! What the hell is going on with him! I thought he wanted to be my friend, and now it seems like all this time he's just been playing me, to get some naughty touch!" His voice was rising and he turned in the other direction, forcing himself to calm down. Willow swivelled again to watch him. "Okay I'm being nuts," Xander admitted. "Spike is a friend and one kiss is not a big deal. I'd been knocked out, prone to hallucinations and Spike had nearly been dusted, that's probably why it happened." He turned back in the other direction, Willow turned again. "Oh God, everything's ruined, I can never see him again. I can't believe we kissed, next thing I know I'll have a pet Chihuahua with a pink bow called Fifi. I can't cope with this!"

He paused mid-step suddenly, struck by a thunderbolt of an idea. "Can you do a spell or something to make us both forget it ever happened?"

Willow shook her head. "Technically I could, but I wouldn't unless Spike wanted to forget it too."

"Why not?" Xander yelled in frustration.

"Because it's wrong!" Willow protested.

Xander deflated. "Yeah, okay I suppose. But what if he does want to forget it?"

"Then you wouldn't have a problem and I wouldn't need to do a spell."

Xander shot her a filthy look. "Do you have to be so logical?"

"Someone's got to be."

Xander groaned. "Okay, Logic-Girl, what do you think I should do?"

"I think you should stand over there - your most positive thoughts seem to come when you're on that side of the shop."

"Willow!" Xander expostulated as he sat back down beside her. "Just tell me what you think!" The moment the words were out of him mouth he wished they weren't. He didn't want to know what Willow thought, he wanted her to tell him what he wanted to hear but somehow he didn't think that happy situation was going to come about.

Willow paused. "Well I don't know if you want to hear this," she said, uncannily reading his mind. "But last night at the party I was watching you two and you may not have noticed because it's happened gradually, and you don't notice things really when they're happening gradually, like maybe when someone starts losing weight, and you don't really see it if you're with them all the time-"

Will Xander addressed her silently. I'm having a major crisis here. Get to the point.

"-but I saw it for the first time last night, and I really noticed it, because I haven't really seen you guys together, before -"

Your point Will, lets get there!

"-except for that one time when me and Tara bumped into you at the video store-"

The point Willow, you can do it!

"-but last night you two looked so comfortable and happy together, and well, pretty... coupley."

There it is, good for you! Hey, wait a minute ...

"We are not a couple!" Xander squeaked. "We are not in any way 'coupley'!" Why wasn't she laughing hysterically at the idea of him and Spike? She actually seemed to consider it was a possibility - which it wasn't. Maybe Buffy would have been the right one to speak to about this.

"Xander, you do his laundry!"

"Oh, and that makes us holding hands and picking out curtains together? I'd do your laundry too if you wanted!"

"Yeah, but he went to the party because you wanted him to - and you kept glaring at that girl that was talking to him -"

"I wasn't jealous!" Xander interjected, his heart beating too fast.

"-and he's always doing nice things for you and you're always paying for him."

"That's because we're friends!" Xander slumped down in the chair. "Or at least we were."

"And what now?"

Xander sighed. "Now, I don't know anything anymore, if we're friends how come he didn't tell me he was ...?" He trailed off. "I don't know," he repeated helplessly.

Willow paused as though weighing up what to say. "Look, last night, I've never seen you like that with anyone before. So...relaxed and affectionate with them. Even Cordelia and Anya, you always kept them at arms length a little bit."

"Can you blame me?" he snapped defensively. "You know my ex's Will, to relax with those chicks you'd need to be wearing a bullet-proof vest."

"Oh, yeah," Willow nodded. "Because Spike, he's warm and fuzzy."

"It's - he's - I - I'm not gay!" Xander spluttered, clinging this fact like it was a precarious rope bridge over a bottomless pit. "I don't know much but I know that and neither is Spike! So how the hell did this happen?"

"Xander no-one says you have to figure this out right away. Take some time to think about it but maybe sometimes it's not about being gay or not. Look at me, I like girls. It feels right for me and I think I'll always look at girls rather than guys like that - I was doing it before I even realised I was gay, but I fell in love with Oz and the sex -"

"Not too much detail there please, Will."

"-was great, even though I'm not really attracted to guys. Because it was Oz, and I loved him, and it didn't matter if he was a man or a woman. When you love someone that much, you'll want to make love to them and it doesn't really matter if they have a penis or not, because its them y'know?"

There was a pause as Xander thought about that. There was only one thing he could think to say, and he duly said it; "God. I really wish I hadn't just heard you say 'penis.'"

"I know," Willow agreed thoughtfully.

They exchanged rueful smiles.

"Look, I hear what you're saying Will, but that doesn't apply to me. I'm not in- " Xander choked. God why was it so hard to say this? "-I don't ...love Spike," he managed to finish, feeling weirdly guilty.

"Okay," Willow agreed easily. "Everyone's different, I just wanted you to be sure. But if there's no way - that is what you've decided right?"

"Of course!" Xander said hurriedly, feeling his cheeks flame, remembering that heart-stopping moment when Spike had leaned forward with fire in his eyes. "There's no way at all."

"Then you have to talk to him, let him know where you're at."

Xander nodded with a defeated sigh. "Yeah. I will." But even as he gave her a weak smile, he knew that talking to Spike - along with clear thinking about Spike and his churning, confused feelings - was totally beyond him at the moment.

***

A little while later Xander left the shop to go on a coffee and donut run. By unspoken consent Willow and he hadn't discussed Spike anymore, but had decided to hang until Buffy had finished her training. Usually he'd have taken advantage of Spike's new phone and called to see if he wanted to go for a drink or catch a movie, but right now that obviously wasn't an option. Right now the last person in the world he wanted to see was-

Xander's thoughts were abruptly cut off as he walked smack into someone.

"Oh sorr-Spike!" Xander leapt back quickly, his face flushing and his voice squeaking inelegantly on Spike's name.

There was an awful, searingly embarrassing pause as for a moment they both took in each other's shocked face, then Xander looked away.

"Um, hi," Spike said with a poor attempt at nonchalance.

"H-hi," Xander replied, sounding as awkward as a teenage girl on her first date. He was finding it utterly impossible to meet Spike's eye again and looked fixedly at the ground as though if he took his eyes from it, it would vanish.

"How are you?" Spike asked stiffly.

"Good!" Xander said to the ground brightly. "I'm good, how are you?"

"Great, I'm great," Spike said, sounding a little tense. "I left you a couple, well, three or four, um actually maybe five, messages."

"Oh, I haven't got them yet. I haven't been home. I've been out. All day. At work. Then hanging with the guys." He was babbling. He couldn't stop and he still couldn't look up.

"Oh. Well you didn't ring, and I rang you to say I was in - and then at sunset I thought I'd go out for a bit so I left another message saying I was going out, in case you, you know were looking for me at my crypt, while I was out," Spike explained needlessly.

There was a tiny, deadly pause.

"So, what are you doing tonight?" Spike asked in a rush.

"Um," Xander managed to lift his head a little and address the hem of Spike's duster. "Bit busy. Scooby stuff."

"Oh," Spike sounded a little upset. "I just thought we could catch a movie or something?"

"Sorry, I can't - bit busy," Xander repeated desperately, staring Spike's boot in the eye. "Actually the guys are waiting for me to get the coffee, so I'd better-" Xander was already backing away, almost gasping with relief.

"Xander, wait!" Spike called quickly and Xander reluctantly paused. Big mistake. He actually looked Spike in the face. An even bigger mistake. Spike looked a little frantic, his eyes too-bright with hope and Xander's stomach lurched wildly. He felt an almost simultaneous pull to move closer to Spike, combined with a deep urge to run away as far as he could. In compromise he stayed where he was shifting nervously from foot to foot. Spike's voice dropped so it sounded a little husky and he took a step closer to Xander, making him feel like a rat caught in a trap. "I've been thinking about you all day and -"

"Spike, stop!" Xander interrupted frantically. "I've really gotta go!"

The flicker of hope on Spike's face died out and Xander felt terrible, but not terrible enough to want to do anything to put it back - he just wanted normal Spike back, but at the moment he seemed to be stuck with rejected, determined Spike.

He turned to leave and Spike put a hand on his arm. "Wait, we need to talk-"

"Nope, no we don't, nothing to talk about-" Xander shook off his hand, tried to back away but Spike simply followed him. He turned his back on Spike, the urge to run away was overpowering, he had to get out of here!

"We kissed, Xander," Spike said loudly. Xander cringed, and quickly turned back to him, waving his hands as though they would brush the words away from hanging in the air, being true.

"Gah! No we didn't! You kissed - I was just there!"

"Yeah, kissing me back! Don't try to pretend that you didn't."

"Okay," Xander hissed, glancing round swiftly to check no-one was in hearing distance and stepping back into the entrance of an alley to give them a little more privacy. "We...kissed, but it was just high emotion, it didn't mean anything!" Suddenly there was note of pleading in his voice. "Spike, let's just forget about it! We'd both had a lot to drink, and then the near-death experience, it was bound to make us crazy! So we don't need to talk about it, we can just write it off as a weird one-off. I mean it was the same for you, right?"

Spike paused, dropping his eyes from Xander's.

"Spike?" Xander pressed, almost begging Spike to give him the answer he wanted.

"No. It wasn't," Spike said awkwardly, shooting Xander a beseeching look. Xander's heart sank like a stone. "I mean, yeah all the drama sort of helped make it happen, but it wasn't a one-off, spur of the moment thing," Spike looked at him desperately. "I've been wanting to do it for ages."

Xander felt sick, but deep down he'd known. Ever since he'd realised it had been human-Spike looking after him in the Bronze he'd known. "How long is 'ages'?" he asked edgily.

"Ever since Toth's mojo," Spike confessed, shoving his hands deep into his pockets and hunching his shoulders miserably. "I - the human side of me noticed you then - and when I was put back together, well I - I couldn't stop noticing you." He gave Xander a tiny, fleeting smile, as Xander curled inside with embarrassment, wishing with all his heart that this wasn't happening. "Even though at first I didn't want to. I wanted to tell you before-"

"I'm actually wishing you hadn't told me at all."

Spike flinched. "Great, thanks a lot."

"Spike you're a vampire! A vampire who's a guy!"

"Is that why you're so scared?"

"I'm not scared! I'm freaked out to the billionth power! You - you're - I thought you liked women," Xander finished angry confusion colouring his voice. His heart was thumping angrily and for some reason he felt furiously betrayed.

"I do like women. I like you more," Spike admitted, "I mean yeah, if you were a girl-"

"Woah!" Xander interjected furiously. "Why do I have to be the girl?"

"Xander! Yeah, if one of us was a girl it'd make life a hell of a lot easier. But we're not, and I don't care." Spike glanced at him, a spark of humour flaring in his eyes. "You think you're shocked? Imagine how I felt when I realised." Unfortunately Xander wasn't in the mood for humour.

"So all this time, when we were friends you've wanted to...to ... do that?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"So making friends with me was all about trying to get me into bed?" Xander hissed, wrapping his arms around himself defensively and briefly wondering when he'd turned into an outraged Victorian maiden. If he didn't watch himself he'd start saying things like 'taking advantage of my trusting nature' and he 'wasn't that type of boy', adding the final melodramatic touch to an already insane situation.

"N-" Spike began, but suddenly Xander was too pissed to listen to anymore.

"I should have known you were up to something! Everyone told me you were and I stuck up for you! 'Oh no' I said, 'I trust Spike, we're friends now' and all the time I've just been a complete idiot!"

"Xan-"

"They were right all along, you were using me-"

Again Spike tried to say something. It seemed to be some sort of denial, but Xander didn't want to hear it, there was comfort in anger, nice, non-confusing anger.

"-and the only reason no one worked it out is because no one would have believed that you just wanted to - to -". He managed to stop himself before he said 'defile me', but he was fastening the top few buttons of his shirt in an outraged, hurt fluster and frankly it was all going to go downhill from here. In his pause Spike, who was shaking his head violently, managed to get a word in.

"No! It wasn't like that! Okay, maybe at first, a little, but then I got to know you and I just wanted to be around you - look if I'd only been chumming round with you to try and get you in the sack I'd have done something by now, wouldn't I? But it wasn't like that, we were mates and I didn't want to bugger that up. If you'd wanted to take it further... well I wouldn't have hated it, but you didn't seem to want to until last night-"

"Naaagh!" Xander cut him off quickly. "I don't want to!" Spike flinched, hurt flashing over his face but Xander steamed on, "Spike, I'm sorry if you've got the wrong idea, but last night was a huge -" Xander waved his arms in a large circle to demonstrate the hugeness "-huge mistake, and I never, ever, want it to happen again!"

"So why did you kiss me back? What was that about?" Spike yelled.

Xander tore at his hair in frustration. "It wasn't about anything! It was just some meaningless madness!"

"So why are you getting so upset about it?"

"I'm not upset!" Xander yelled. Spike merely raised his eyebrows at the volume of his voice and Xander drew in a deep, shaky breath. "Okay, so maybe I am a little upset but don't try to twist it around, I'm upset because I'm straight, okay? I like kissing women."

"More than you liked kissing me?" Spike's voice was low and pleading.

"Spike!" Xander snapped desperately. "Quit it! *Please* just let this go."

But Spike was already shaking his head, his voice beginning to rise again. "No, I was on the other side of that kiss and you felt something, I know you did, you can't deny it!"

"Oh yes I can!" Xander shouted. "How can you know what I was feeling?"

"Because I 'felt' what you were 'feeling' grinding into my leg!" Spike yelled. "I know you wanted it!"

Like throwing a lighted match into a can of petrol. Xander exploded. "You don't know anything!" he roared. "It was a HORRIBLE mistake, I don't want to talk about it and I don't want to see you - the only thing I 'want' from you is for you to leave me the hell ALONE!"

Spike's jaw tightened as though he'd been punched but his eyes blazed with fury. "You know what that's fine with me, I don't want to see you either until you're through acting like an UPTIGHT PRICK!"

"Yeah well you'll be waiting a long time for that!" Xander bellowed, too enraged to know what the hell he was saying.

"Fine!" Spike roared, storming off.

"Fine!" Xander yelled over his shoulder as he thundered away in the opposite direction.

***

Xander stormed off down the road, walking furiously for nearly five minutes before he realised he had passed the coffee shop.

"Dammit!" He stormed back and bought the coffee and donuts, all the while seething inside with an uncomfortable mixture of rage, disbelief, shame and betrayal. His heart was still racing uncomfortably, and the more he replayed the last twenty-four hours, the angrier he felt. Slapping the money down on the counter making the nervous counter assistant jump he grabbed the stuff and slammed back into the Magic Box, banging the boxes and cups down on the table, startling Willow.

"Xander, what - ?"

Ignoring her he burst into the training room flinging the door open with a bang. "Buffy!"

Buffy whirled round, crossbow in hand, and an arrow she had intended for the dummy whistled into the wall by his ear, only narrowly missing being embedded in his head, but he barely noticed it.

"What?" Buffy yelped as she and Giles looked around frantically for the threat. "What is it?"

"You said you could set me up with a chick from Sunnydale U. Do it."

There was a stunned pause then Giles let out a deep sigh as he lowered the sword he was holding and pinched his nose wearily, shaking his head. Buffy, still a little wild-eyed stared at him. "That's why you burst in here like Van Damme on speed? A date? Haven't you ever heard the saying; 'Never Surprise a Slayer Holding a Deadly Weapon?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can you fix me up or not?"

Buffy exchanged a glance with Giles and carefully placed her crossbow on the floor, watching him warily and adopting the same over-indulgent, soothing tone of voice used on people who may turn loony at any moment. "Yeah, sure I can do it. Um, let's see, there's Sara - she's really nice - or Andrea, she's a lot of fun-"

"Yeah, great, either! Both! I don't care who, just make it soon, okay?"

He slammed the door shut and sat back down at the table, drumming his fingers restlessly. Willow gave him a look, but wisely said nothing. He ignored her. He'd show Spike. He'd show everyone!

***

Spike shoved his hands deep in his pockets, physically shaking with a mixture of rage, frustration and despair as he stormed to the graveyard. Too furious to cry part of him wanted to go back and grab Xander, pin him against the wall and fuck him till he screamed, while the other part just wanted to tear his head off with his bare hands.

He hated Xander-bloody-Harris! Fucking uptight, repressed, deep-in-denial, tosser! Who the hell did he think he was kissing him like that then denying it meant anything? That hadn't been a stake in his pocket last night! Why the hell was he suddenly singing the; 'Horrible mistake, meaningless madness' song?

Despite himself Spike's steps slowed as a lump rose in his throat as Xander's harsh voice echoed in his head again, his anger draining to make room for misery.

"Fuck," he muttered wretchedly, kicking unhappily at a can on the ground.

He'd been so happy all day, so certain that things were going to turn around for him. Yeah, who had he been kidding? He felt so stupid. Dreaming and cooing all day while Xander was obviously bitterly regretting ever having even met him. Spike writhed in a frenzy of mortification and hurt.

"Stupid, Spike," he tormented himself. "Stupid, stupid, STUPID!"

Xander had been so furious with him - unable to even look at him. Spike almost wished the kiss hadn't happened, to have what he wanted almost within his grasp, and then for it to be snatched away was worse than anything he'd felt before. A dreadful, dragging weight of leaden disappointment and desolation knotted in his stomach. It was like having the best, most incredible dream of his whole life, then waking up and realising that none of it was actually real, he was still stuck in his own crap life, and Xander didn't like him. Didn't want him. Didn't want to be friends with him anymore.

Spike walked home slowly. The evening was sweet smelling and warm, made for lovers.

He felt like shit.





Part Two



The shop bell tinkled and Xander's head jerked up reflexively. The open door let the late afternoon sunshine spill in as Riley and Buffy came into the shop, arms entangled, planting little kisses on each other. The light faded from Xander's eyes and he listlessly shuffled the pack of tarot cards he was toying with.

"Hey, Xander!" Riley said cheerfully when he had dis-engaged his lips from Buffy's, resting his arm across her slender shoulders. "How come you're behind the counter?"

"Just covering for Giles while he does a stock-take," Xander replied, pasting a smile on his face. "Willow and Tara should be here soon to take over."

Buffy glanced at him. "Good. You should take a break, you've been looking kinda pale and down the past few days."

"It's just work," Xander explained. "It's been pretty tough this week." Which was true, but it was no more than he was used to and he usually took it in his stride. However this week for some reason he had felt as though he was working with lead weights strapped to him. Which of course had nothing to do with the fact that he'd had a huge row with Spike and hadn't seen him since. "I'm fine."

"Well you should relax," Buffy advised. "Let off some steam. Try to get out today."

"Tonight's party will sort you out!" Riley said cheerfully. "You're still coming right?"

"You betcha!" Xander agreed with fake enthusiasm. "Can't wait!"

Riley was having a reunion with some of his old military buddies and he had offered to wangle Xander an invite. Usually a bunch of guys standing around beating their chests was the kind of thing Xander avoided like the plague but in the first flush of anger after his fight with Spike he had eagerly accepted. Considering the mess he'd gotten himself into with his latest choice of friendship who was he to mock a little simple chest-beating? If he'd stuck to that in the first place he wouldn't have gotten into this mess at all.

Buffy smiled indulgently at them. "You gonna keep a close eye on my boyfriend tonight, Xander? I don't want him smooching with any 'ho's while I'm not around to fight them off."

"Don't worry," Riley assured her. "It's strictly a guy-only party. No chicks allowed, any smooching would involve a major lifestyle choice, I - Xander are you okay?"

"Fine," Xander croaked.

"You sure? That's a nasty nervous twitch."

"No, really. I'm good." Yup, indeedy. He was totally fine - not thinking about weird guy smooching, not one bit. Not one tiny, little…

The bell tinkled and out of the corner of his eye Xander caught a glimpse of blond hair. He whipped around swiftly, his breath catching in his throat, then deflated as he saw Tara, whose hair was gleaming brilliantly in the sun, holding hands with Willow. He didn't know why he felt so disappointed, he was usually happy to see them. The girls were all smiles, holding hands and looking distinctly…relaxed. Xander doubted it was the sunshine that was giving them that glow. No prizes for guessing what they had been up too.

"Hey guys!" Willow chirped as they joined Buffy and Riley who greeted them cheerfully.

"Hi, Xander," Tara smiled. "You ready to let us take over now?" In an unspoken movement both couples turned to look at Xander, alone on the other side of the counter. Pinned down by four sets of eyes Xander suddenly felt like some kind of unusual zoo animal. Gather round one and all! Observe; 'The Lesser Spotted, Single, Lonely Man'.

The others must have realized it too, because Riley and Buffy uncoupled hastily and Riley wandered away to take a closer look at a shrunken head in a bottle.

"I might just go and say hi to Mr. Giles," Tara suggested, giving Willow's hand a squeeze and slipping away tactfully.

"Subtle," Xander remarked to Buffy.

"We do our best," Buffy replied with a grin. "But it does remind me, I have good news! I spoke to Andrea yesterday. She's up for the date, how does tomorrow sound?"

"Tomorrow?" Xander gulped, feeling his stomach lurch unpleasantly. "That soon?"

"Yeah, I thought you'd be pleased," Buffy said, looking a little disappointed.

"Oh, yeah I am! That's great Buff, thanks." He glanced briefly at Willow who was watching him with raised eyebrows, then he quickly glanced away. A few days ago getting this date had seemed like the most important thing in the world, but now… He still really wanted to go - he just wished he was actually looking forward to it.

"You're welcome," Buffy smiled. "Pick her up at eight, she's in Robinson House on the campus. She's not from round here so maybe you should bring her into town, show her around."

"Uh-huh, that's the first ten minutes taken care of," Xander nodded, barely aware of what he was saying.

"Yeah, and try not to scare her off straight away, better avoid all of the graveyards - and vampires. Oh, speaking of vampires I saw Spike last night," she remarked offhandedly. The tarot cards Xander was absently flicking in his hands shot into the air and scattered on the floor, his heart lurching painfully at the mention of Spike's name. Still at least it made a change from feeling like his heart was residing in his boots, where it had made its home for the past six days.

"Oh, crap!" he exclaimed flustered as the cards seemed to multiply, spreading themselves joyfully over the floor. "Um - did you?" he asked, his heart thumping quickly as the girls knelt and helped him pick the cards up.

"Yeah, he was busy pounding on a couple of vamps so I didn't stop to threaten him, but I kinda surprised to see him about. I thought you guys had a regular thing on a Friday night where you go to the Bronze?"

"Oh, well," Xander avoided Buffy's eye on the pretext of checking under the counter for any stray cards as a sharp pang of loss welled and ebbed in him as memories flashed through his head of nights spent shooting pool and bantering casually back and forth. Of course that was before… Well. Just before. "We haven't been hanging out so much lately. You know vampires. They like their nightly fix of blood and gore."

"Oh, right." Buffy accepted this explanation easily. "Well he was really giving it to these guys." They stood and she handed him the cards she'd gathered.

"Thanks," Xander said, taking the cards and shuffling them nervously. Studiously refusing to look at Willow he couldn't stop himself from asking. "Um, Spike, did he…? How did he look?"

Buffy shrugged. "Annoying? I wasn't really paying attention."

"Right," Xander nodded, fighting off the disappointment at the lack of information. It wasn't like he desperately needed to know or anything. It wasn't like he thought about Spike a lot. Only when he was watching T.V alone. Or when he was at the Bronze. Or heard a thrash metal song. Or passed a 'cycle or saw the sea, or heard someone mention blue eyes, or dunked Doritos in chocolate sauce, or when he… breathed. Buffy glanced down at the pack he held.

"Oooh, the 'Lovers' huh?" She smiled, tapping the card with the picture of the couple embracing which was uppermost in the deck. "Looks like a good omen for your date with Andrea."

Xander slapped the cards down on the counter hurriedly. "Yeah, right. Nobody believes these things."

"Actually they - um, good point," Willow backed down hastily at the look Xander gave her, but Buffy wasn't listening, she had already wandered over to join Riley, giving him strict instructions not to get too hammered tonight.

"So. You 'haven't been hanging out so much lately?'" Willow repeated to him in a low voice so Buffy and Riley wouldn't hear as she stepped closer to him.

"No," Xander shrugged. "Not as much, or -" his head drooped. "Or at all actually. I haven't seen him since I told him I didn't want to see him. Do you think it could be connected?" He attempted a light tone but failed dismally.

"Well what you said was pretty harsh," Willow said quietly.

Yeah, Xander already knew that but he had reasons for it, good reasons dammit! "Hey, I want to be friends okay? I would love to be friends, but he… We… Things happened and blew the lid of it all. The lid is blown Will, and I don't think we can get it back on. He made it weird and wouldn't drop it when I told him to!" Willow looked unimpressed and Xander couldn't blame her. Why was it when he said them out loud his good reasons turned into crappy reasons?

"So you've just avoided him for a week?"

"Five days," Xander countered, finishing in a slightly smaller voice; "Twenty hours."

Willow looked at him with a kind of exasperated worry on her face. "Well don't you think that's long enough? You should talk to him."

"I am going to talk to him - I want to talk to him, do you know how much I mi-" Xander cut himself off. "I will ring him - just not yet. I don't know what to say, it's difficult. He wants to get groiny and I don't. Not at all. No."

"Xander," Willow approached the subject tentatively, searching for the right words. "I know this is freakworthy - but it's not this freakworthy. Remember you used to like Buffy, and I used to like you. Um, you know - that way. This stuff happens, he took a chance - like you did when you asked Buffy out, but you guys got past that - it's not even an issue. Why can't you and Spike do the same?"

"Because… Because…" Xander spluttered. …because of the way he kissed me. And the way I kissed him back. The answer flashed through his mind before he could stop it. His stomach gave a lurch like he'd missed a step on his way downstairs and his thoughts began to dash madly from side to side in his head, the way that made him panic and say stupid things to Spike and just want to run away from the whole mess. "Just because!"

"Because we're girls?"

Xander groaned as he ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Yeah. No. I guess. Partly. I don't know! It's - I just wish he didn't feel like this!"

"I don't think he got a choice in it. And the way you're reacting I'm sure he wishes the same thing."

Her words flicked him on the raw part of himself that he was trying not to acknowledge, the part that was heartily ashamed of how he'd treated Spike and he snapped back defensively. "Look I don't get why you want me to talk to him so much anyway, you're meant to be on my side!"

"I am on your side!" Willow protested, feathers ruffled. "And that's why I think you should make up with him. All I want is for you to be happy, and these past…five days, twenty hours you haven't been. Do you think that's connected? You shouldn't be frightened to see him just because of the kiss-"

"I'm not frightened," Xander protested too quickly. "Why would I be frightened? The…incident didn't mean anything!" Xander grabbed a rag from a shelf - that was actually a very rare and delicate Sacred Cloth, usually used in complex location spells - and began rubbing the counter down vigorously with it. Willow winced. "He just seized the moment when I was concussed, and emotions were running high, and I was…surprised and didn't fight him off straight away, that's all. It's. No. Big. Deal," he finished defiantly.

"Yeah, so you keep saying." Willow gave up, drifting away to join Tara and Giles who were coming back from the basement, throwing her parting shot over her shoulder. "It's funny though. Considering you keep saying it wasn't a big deal - you sure seem to be acting like it was."

And to his dismay Xander couldn't think of any response to that.

***

As the sun set, before Spike was even completely awake he was groping for his phone. Through bleary eyes the display smugly informed him that no-one - like oh, say Xander Harris for example - had called while he slept. Of course he hadn't, Spike would have heard it. He was in such a pathetic state of tense, miserable longing that the peal of the phone would have brought him out of a coma, never mind a light sleep, but the confirmation still sent a wave of desolation through him, his shoulders slumping.

After a moment he slowly got out of bed, pulling on his jeans and lighting up a smoke, the tiny sounds of his movements oddly loud in utter stillness of the crypt. Even the dust seemed to be hanging noiselessly in the air. He flicked on the T.V as he dressed. Some stupid game show was on and he turned up the sound until it was blaring, but even with the noise of it, Spike could swear he could hear the silence of No Xander Anywhere About behind it as he rattled around in the empty crypt under Petunia's watchful gaze. He remembered when Xander had bought her back a couple of weeks ago with a quip about shared custody. Spike swallowed as his throat tightened ominously. Stupid. Stupid to feel so sad because a human lad didn't want him and was so homophobic he got his knickers into such a knot over one kiss he didn't even want to hang out with him anymore. Spike took a savage inhale of his cigarette. He might feel like shit but he wasn't going to cry about it. At least not unless he was in bed where the pillow stifled any tears and he could pretend it hadn't happened the next day.

Look, just sod him! Spike told himself sternly as the ball of misery in his stomach knotted. So I made an arse of myself- it's not the first time, probably won't be the last. I'll get over it, find someone else to drool over. Maybe this time someone with a little more class and a hell of a lot more appreciation of a drop-dead-sexy vamp like me. Yeah. Right.

The guy on the game show had won a car and was going into a paroxysm of delight. Spike pulled on his duster and irritably flicked the T.V off. The silence immediately came roaring back to swallow him up. Whatever, silence or noise - it didn't make any difference. It didn't matter how loud the T.V was, how many demons he beat the crap out of, how much booze he sank, all he did was notice Xander's absence. Notice it, and ache all over, inside and out because of it. Occasionally when he had been seeing Xander every day, falling more in love with him with every moment he had wondered if not seeing him would help him get over him. Yeah. Research seemed to indicate that theory - like his life - had a huge, gaping hole in it.

Spike picked up a viciously sharp stake. He was heartsick and lonely and he needed to take it out on something. He was going to go to the butchers and pick up some blood, then head to the graveyard, pick a fight and try to cheer himself up. Some unfortunate demon out there was about to have a very bad night.

***

Spike was wandering aimlessly down the street on his way back from the butchers when a yell came from behind him. "Spike! Hey, Spike, wait up!"

Spike's heart gave a painful, hopeful lurch at the call, even as he kicked himself for being a complete idiot.

It's Dawn, okay? he told himself wearily. Not Xander. It hasn't been Xander for six bloody days. But despite himself he couldn't stop a little flare of hope, maybe Xander was with her. He had just passed by the Magic Shop - just on his way through town of course, he wasn't mooning about like some love-sick idiot, hoping for a glimpse of his beloved - but still Xander might be there... He turned around and sure enough Dawn was jogging down the road towards him. Alone. No Xander in sight.

"Hey!" Dawn beamed at him as she reached him and Spike tilted his chin slightly in response. "Are you waiting for someone? I saw you from inside the shop, you've been hanging round out here for ages."

"No! I was just ... um...passing," Spike said weakly.

"Cool! Where you going now?"

Spike shrugged listlessly. "Nowhere."

"Me either, I'm waiting for Willow and Tara." Dawn gestured to the Magic Shop. "When they finish shutting up we're going to go for pizza. You wanna get a coffee with me while I wait?"

"A coffee?" Spike repeated, raising an eyebrow skeptically.

Dawn flushed a little. "Or a milkshake. Whatever looks good."

Spike hesitated, but he'd been moping alone for the past few days. Some company might be a nice change. "Oh, alright," he said ungraciously.

***

They settled into their seats in the coffee shop and Dawn slurped happily at her chocolate shake, Spike would normally have stolen a swig, but he didn't have any appetite for it tonight.

"So where's all the Scooby Team tonight?" Spike asked, fiddling with the teaspoon that came with his coffee, hating himself for fishing for scraps of information but not quite able to stop himself.

Dawn licked her lips free of foamy chocolate. "Willow, Tara and Giles are in the magic shop, Buffy's patrolling. Xander-" Spike's fingers tightened compulsively on the spoon at the mention of his name. "-and Riley are at some party Riley's old military pals are throwing."

"Oh," Spike sneered, mockery hiding the bitter stab of pain. It hurt worse than not knowing anything at all to hear proof that Xander had just ditched him, and was living his life and seeing his pals quite happily without him. "So Xander's hanging out with a whole bunch of Captain Cardboard Clones is he? Isn't that lovely for him."

Dawn narrowed her eyes at him. "Riley's okay."

"Yeah, if you like 'em mediocre with a side of bland," Spike retorted bitchily, as sharp hooks of jealousy dug into him.

"Spike-" Dawn said warningly.

"What? Wet lettuce is more interesting than him."

Dawn made a face, whether at the thought of lettuce or at him insulting Soldier-Boy, Spike didn't know. A wave of bitterness was washing over him. After all the time they'd spent together, the friendship they had built, the confidences they had shared, one kiss and Xander was heading for the hills. Hell, Xander was over the fucking hills and still going.

Fine, Harris obviously wants to pal round with the 'Real Men', good for him, I don't care. I hope he and the big hall-monitor are very bloody happy. Can't wait to hear more about his fascinating new best friend...

Spike's stream of internal jealous invective came to a halt when he realized he had a teaspoon clenched in his fist and had reduced it to a crumpled twist of metal. Dawn glanced at the mangled spoon and fixed him with a stern look that made Spike shift uncomfortably. Sometimes the resemblance between the Slayer and her little sis hit him right between the eyes.

"What's up, Spike?"

"What do you mean? Nothing."

Dawn raised her eyebrows in an 'are you kidding me?' expression. "Oh, come off it, Spike! I'm a teenager. I know moping when I see it."

"Well you're wrong," Spike scowled.

"No I'm not. What's wrong? The last time I looked as depressed as you do now the mall had sold out of the shoes I wanted before I had chance to buy them. Oh," her face fell suddenly. "Or when Bradley asked out another girl."

Spike sighed. "Okay, you win. The mall sold out of the shoes I like."

"You like someone!" Dawn yelped excitedly. Spike winced. Never give her an opening, this was all he bloody needed, Xander hearing that Dawn had seen him moping. God forbid he got to hold onto his last tatter of pride. "Who is it? Do I know them?"

"No you don't because there's nobody to know."

"Yes there is. So what's wrong? Doesn't she like you back? I can't imagine that! Does she have a boyfriend? I bet you could get rid of him!"

"Dawn!" Spike barked. "There isn't anyone!"

"Spike," Dawn said, dropping the hyper act and looking at him seriously. "I'm fifteen. I'm not stupid."

Spike opened his mouth, another sharp denial hovering on his lips, then he looked at her and thought about his silent crypt and his non-ringing phone and how shit it was falling for your best friend because there was no one you could talk to about this stuff. He suddenly shrugged wearily, what the hell did it matter anymore? "Alright. You're right, well done. I like someone." He paused then admitted painfully; "They don't like me."

"Are you sure?" Dawn asked archly.

"It's not you," Spike said hurriedly.

"I know," Dawn muttered, flushing.

Oh, good one, Spike. he thought sardonically. Sneer at the one person left in this town who doesn't actively hate your guts.

"No offence Sweet-bit, you're cuter than a kitten in a bow, it's just this person is - " Spike trailed off as an unexpected lump rose in his throat and he dropped his eyes, fiddling unhappily with his silver thumb-ring. Dawn's excited expression dissolved, melting into one of concern. After a moment she tentatively pushed her shake over to him.

"Would you like some?"

Spike rolled his eyes and gave her a weak grin, trying to get a grip, vaguely disgusted with himself for being such a nancy. He couldn't help it though - when it came to love his bad-ass attitude was paper thin. Someone actually looking at him with compassion after these past few lonely days was lethal to his defenses.

"No, thanks duck."

Dawn's eyes were soft and concerned. "Wow," she said quietly. "You really like her, huh?"

Spike shrugged. "Yeah, well. Y'know."

"Is it anyone I know?" Dawn asked curiously.

"No," Spike lied firmly. "And don't say anything alright? Or I'll hack all your bloody shoes to bits."

"I won't, I promise!" Dawn vowed with wide-eyed sincerity, looking incredibly flattered he had taken her into his confidence. "Is there anything I can do?"

Spike sighed and swallowed the last of any pretence at pride. Since he was reduced to acting like a smitten teenage bint he might as well go all the way with it. "Not unless you know how to make someone like you. Any ideas?"

"I guess there are spells," Dawn said doubtfully.

Spike would be lying if he said he hadn't thought of it. Hadn't imagined having all the power for once, having Xander coming to him, his face alight with love - induced love that was. Hadn't imagined undressing him, sliding his hands all over his skin, hadn't pictured Xander lying naked under him, open and beautiful and begging for him… Then he pushed the images aside.

"No - I -no. I couldn't do that," he said, flustered. Apart from the fact that of course the Slayer and pals would figure out what was going on and turn him into road-grit, the thought of effectively wiping Xander out and making him little more than his puppet made Spike feel slightly sick. "I mean anything to make them really like you?"

Dawn creased her brow in thought. "I don't know," she admitted regretfully. "My big gun is flicking my hair. Have you tried that?"

Spike fixed her with a weary eye. "Try to remember who you're talking to. I'm over a hundred and twenty years old. I'm an experienced bloke who's been around. A man of the world."

Dawn nodded in embarrassment.

"Of course I've tried flicking my hair," Spike scoffed.

Dawn burst into giggles and Spike felt a small reluctant smile pulling at his mouth. Of course he was joking. Kind of.

"Hi Dawnie!" Red's cheerful voice interrupted them as she popped up beside them. She gave Spike a polite smile. "Hey Spike."

"Red," Spike acknowledged her with a casual arch of his eyebrow.

"Tara's waiting outside, you ready to go Dawn?" Willow asked, touching Dawn's shoulder lightly.

"Nearly," Dawn replied, waving her half-full glass at Willow in explanation.

"How are you Spike?" Willow asked politely while Dawn dove into her shake.

"Peachy," Spike said flatly.

"Yeah." Something in Willow's voice made him glance up sharply, wondering suddenly if Xander had told Willow about what had happened. Willow looked back at him calmly, but there was a hint of sympathy lurking in her eyes. Spike didn't mind Willow, but he hated people looking at him like they were sorry for him, especially if she was looking at him like that because of bloody Xander mouthing off about Spike's private feelings. His skin felt hot and prickly and he scowled at her.

"Spike, we're going for pizza if you'd like to come," Willow invited unexpectedly, ignoring his angry expression.

"Oooh, yes, come on Spike!" Dawn said eagerly.

For a second Dawn's enthusiasm was almost enough to tempt him. The thought of his Amazingly Silent Crypt was enough to make him put off going home for as long as he could, but the pity in Red's eyes set his teeth on edge. And how would it look if it got back to Xander? He'd think Spike was so desperate for him that he'd hang around with his mates to glean some info on him. Of course he was that desperate, but there was no need to advertise it. There was such a thing as subtlety. Besides, sweet as they were - and Spike didn't have much time for sweet as a general rule, which showed what a ponce he'd become - they just weren't Xander. It was like craving a hit of hot, human blood and being palmed off with candy-floss.

"Thanks," he said off-handedly, "but I fancy a spot of violence before bedtime. Some other time."

Dawn pouted but Willow nodded in easy - too easy - understanding. She knew alright. Perfect. Could this get more humiliating? Why didn't Xander just print up flyers and have done with it? If the Slayer knew he would have to find a way to kill her. It was just that simple. "Well, if you change your mind you're welcome to come. C'mon Dawn."

Dawn stood and obediently followed Willow.

Spike scowled after Willow, but as Dawn crossed his eye line he impulsively called out to her. "Hey, Nibblet!"

"Yeah?" Dawn asked, turning back.

Spike's eyes flicked over her and the corners of his mouth quirked. "Bradley's a wanker."

Dawn's face lit up with a brilliant smile. "Thank you," she said sincerely. Spike winked then sighed, his smile fading as he was left alone.

***

Xander gave a pained smile as a roaring guy - who was roaring for no good reason that Xander could see - pressed another drink into his hand.

"Fun, huh?" Riley slurred loudly in his ear over the blasting music as he wrapped an arm around Xander, less for affection than support as he rocked unsteadily on his feet. He was disobeying Buffy's orders with impunity. Xander would not like to be him in the morning, the hangover would be nothing compared to the headache he'd get off Buffy. "The guys really know how to party!"

Xander, rigidly upright and depressingly sober, nodded as he looked around. "Oh, yeah."

He now knew why he had always avoided this sort of party. It was every bit as dreadful as he'd always imagined and actually quite a bit worse. Without the sobering influence of their girlfriends these guys were tearing through the house like Genghis Kahn and some of his less restrained pals. Drinks were spilled, furniture was trashed, guys were play wrestling and someone was peeing - and missing - into a pot plant. Meanwhile in the kitchen, amid the sounds of loud voices and smashing plates they seemed to be trying to re-create a famous football play using a goldfish bowl as the ball. (Fortunately the goldfish was swimming in a pint glass of water.) They might have managed to pull off recreating the play, but for the fact that they all seemed to be trying to re-enact a different one. He had drunk about forty million of the crappy beers they were providing and was still stone cold sober. He could just imagine the bitingly sarcastic stream Spike would no doubt be spouting about Americans and their so-called 'good clean fun' if he was here - but of course if Spike was around he wouldn't be at this awful party in the first place.

Spike.

Any pretence Xander was managing to make at keeping a smile on his face dissolved and he fiddled with the tab on his beer can unhappily, glancing listlessly around. He should be able to relax, knowing that if there was one place in the world where there was no chance of bumping into Spike it was here, but he didn't feel relieved. He felt flat.

A loud smash and roar came from the kitchen, and the guy peeing in the pot plant seemed to be having a mini-fight with it.

"Hey!" he yelled bewildered. "This plant won't flush!"

"Did I tell you how much I love Buffy?" Riley slurred into Xander's ear. "I do, I love her so much-"

"You did tell me, yeah."

"I'm so happy I found her, so happy-" Riley paused to take another swig of his drink. "-that I found someone so special to share things with, because that's rare, Xander, it's so, so rare-"

"Yeah, so you said." Oh, dear. Riley seemed to be heading full steam ahead into the maudlin stage. That made two of them. And Xander wasn't even drunk.

"And you should find someone Xander, you should 'cos you're great. I hope you meet someone and fall in love and stay together for ever and ever-"

"Right - come on Ri, I think you need to sit down." He guided Riley to the nearest intact chair, it was covered in popcorn but beggars couldn't be choosers. He sat him down.

"Ri, I need some fresh air, I'll be outside okay?"

"So, so happy and rare-" Riley told the nearby picture on the wall, that someone had scrawled a moustache on, his eyes filling with tears.

Xander left the house and stepped out on the porch, the fresh air hitting him in a blessed cool, quiet wave. He drew in a deep breath trying to tune out the roaring from the house. He doubted they'd hear him knocking to get back in, and the thought didn't bother him in the slightest.

He leant on the railing, staring out at the silent street unseeingly, and rubbed his head. What the hell was he doing here? In fact what the hell was he doing period? He was so miserable. Not that - this party notwithstanding - hanging out with the gang wasn't great. It was. It was fine. They just weren't quite - weren't exactly…

Oh, come on! he thought irritably. Just say it - they're not Spike.

No one Xander knew, or could ever imagine knowing was like Spike. Spike was... well he wasn't nice but he was sharp, smart, sarcastic, streetwise and good company and Xander groaned as his stomach twisted unhappily. Fine. I miss him. I don't want to miss him - it's stupid and upsetting and ironic, considering I was the one yelling at him to leave me alone and it would make my life a hell of a lot easier if I didn't miss him, but I can't help it. I do.

He'd hoped that a few days space would clear his head, but it wasn't working. If anything it was making him worse. He missed Spike about a million times more than he was comfortable with. It hurt not to have Spike about. He reflexively touched his arm where Spike had scrawled his number about a million years ago, when things had been easy between them. Even though the number was long gone Xander could still reel it off by heart. He winced as he remembered scrubbing furiously at it in the shower, at how badly things had been left between them, but he'd been so freaked out and messed up he'd barely known what he was doing. After their fight he'd deleted the messages Spike had left for him without even listening to them and spent most of the night pacing up and down in a fever of self-righteous anger. Craziness over - Spike was out of his life! Except he wasn't because Xander couldn't stop thinking about him, but Xander didn't even know what he was thinking anymore. Everything was so mixed up in his head and he just couldn't get it straight. Ha. See how even now he punned. Why was this getting to him so much? Willow was right. Stuff like crushes and even ill-advised-never-to-be-thought-of-again-kisses did sometimes happen between friends, was he really so freaked just because Spike was a guy? Well, he must be - there was no other reason. Now that he'd calmed down he believed Spike when he'd said he hadn't had any agenda in being friends with him, that the reason he hadn't said anything was because he had feared Xander would react - well, react exactly the way he had. But Xander wasn't homophobic, as long as Spike never, ever mentioned the fight or the kiss again, and they all lived in blissful denial from now on then he should have no problem with staying friends with Spike. And yet whenever he thought about seeing the sardonic vampire, or let the kiss slip into his mind then his heart lurched and his breath got short, and he couldn't bring himself to make that call. Because he shouldn't be missing Spike as much as this. Not nearly as much as much as this.

From the house behind him a panicked voice rose above the roaring, breaking into his convoluted thoughts; "That wasn't a pint - quick, quick, help! Riley's swallowed the goldfish!"

Xander groaned. It was going to be a long night.

***

Xander moaned. God, this felt good. He was in bed - or rather on the bed. He was naked on his hands and knees and although he couldn't see him, he knew it was Spike who was pressed behind him, his naked skin sliding against Xander's and his hands sliding around him to finger Xander's nipples. Xander gasped, diffuse warmth was creeping through him, his blood tingling insistently in his veins. Spike's hand slipped down to rest casually on his hip and Xander's cock was growing hard, as though it was trying to reach up to Spike's hand, as though it was begging to be touched. Spike's hand began to slide deliciously over his inner thigh, letting his hand almost…almost… Xander moaned, parting his legs a little and knowing that if he shifted slightly Spike would be touching it. Yet he was unable to do it. Something was holding him back, even though he was hard now, hard and wet with pre-cum begin to leak from the tip, a tiny bead of it trickling a scorching trail down his jerking erection, where the blood thumped in an insistent regular rhythm. So hard and so ready, but Spike's hand kept slipping away just shy of his goal.

Then Spike hands were on his hips and Xander was leaning forward, opening himself wide to let Spike push into him, to fill that nameless ache inside him, and he hadn't even known he'd wanted it so much until now.

"Oh, fuck, yes Spike." He didn't know if he said it or thought it. "Open me up, open me up and -"

Before he could finish that thought something made him stop. Something made him stop pushing back against Spike before he could slide inside. His mind was split in two, one part not giving a damn about anything except the need to rub, and slide and feel friction and cum until he cried, and the other screaming to stop this - to stop it now, he didn't want to Spike to make him feel like this... Spike's hand crept around to take his leaking, jerking cock in his hand, and just that one touch would do it, oh, he was gonna...

And with a panicked rush Xander pulled himself out of the dream, waking up to late morning sunshine, a bed with only him in it, a raging erection and his hips jerking fitfully into the mattress trying to get a little more friction.

"Oh - shit!" he yelled, rolling onto his back to try and stop himself from humping into the mattress like a horny teenager. His heart was racing, he was so hard, his skin was hot and tingling and it was so, so wrong...

It was just a dream he told himself frantically, trying to close his mind against the memory of how hot it had made him, how much he'd wanted it, while his erection continued to throb. Dreams are always full of crazy stuff. I didn't want that. That's why I made myself wake up, because I didn't want to have a fucking wet dream with Spike featuring in it, and me begging him to take me like a...like a…

Xander buried his face in his hands. Oh, shit, even his mind was a traitor now. He wasn't some butt monkey for Spike - he would never do that, the thought made him physically close up and tighten.

The dream's a load of crap he thought furiously. He hadn't even seen Spike in it, or even heard his voice. He'd been a faceless, voiceless presence which suited him just fine. It wasn't even realistic. Spike never shut up, so in sex he'd probably be a dirty talker - Xander cut that thought off at the knees. The point was he could get on with forgetting this dream. Which was all it was, a stupid dream that he hadn't even let finish.

But he was still so turned on, so hard. Normally he'd take care of himself but he couldn't, not with the disturbing memory of Spike still flooding his brain in vivid Technicolor. He threw the covers back and stumbled into the shower, turning on the cold water full blast. He yelled at the shock of freezing water but forced himself to stay under it until his erection gave up the battle. It took longer than Xander would have liked. Even then the heat inside him didn't go away, it just went underground, leaving him feeling high-strung and tense.

He adjusted the temperature so it was merely luke-warm, grabbed the soap and began to scrub himself roughly, trying to wash the memories away and feel normal again, but even when he was spotless he couldn't stop. What he really wanted to do was scrub his mind out. Oh, God. Why was everything going so wrong? Why had he let Spike kiss him? What the hell was wrong with him?

Stop it! he told himself firmly as he toweled himself down so viciously his skin turned red in protest. I'm going to go on this date tonight and it is going to be perfect. All I have to do is get it together, forget about the dream and concentrate on this girl I'm going out with. Xander tried to convince himself that the sinking sensation in his stomach was happy nerves, but he couldn't quite manage it. It felt suspiciously like dread.

***

Sunnydale U was quite a way out of town, so Xander was driving to pick Andrea up. It meant that he wouldn't be able to have a drink, but after all the beers he'd had last night he was happy to stick to the sugar and fizz type of drink. It was probably a good thing, Xander had the feeling if he started to drink to try and enjoy this date he wouldn't be able to stop. When he got into the car he had to take a moment to psyche himself up. The sinking feeling had been getting worse all day but being the determined fool he was, he started the car and drove off. This would be good, he just had to get a grip and stop moping and brooding on stupid dreams and stupid vampires.

I should have told Spike about this. The thought had been popping into his head with increasing insistence ever since Buffy had told him the date was tonight. He didn't like the thought of going out on a date without telling him, not when things between them were still so… Xander couldn't actually think of a word for the way things were between them, he just knew that there was an uncomfortable feeling of guilt gnawing at him. I don't have to tell him he justified uneasily. I'm not doing anything wrong! He knew that he was right, but also in some, not-easy-to-define-way, he was totally wrong, but what was he meant to do? Ring Spike and tell him now? Yeah, that wouldn't be an awkward conversation. Besides telling Spike would…unsettle him. Make him doubt if he wanted to go on this date, when he did. He just couldn't remember why anymore. Anyway it's nothing to do with him! he thought angrily. I wouldn't care if he went on a date. The thought made him feel like his heart was being clenched in a cold fist. I wouldn't care, he insisted fiercely. I wouldn't, I wouldn't, I-

The radio, which was cranked to try and distract him from his thoughts, began to play a new song with the singer wailing about someone they had stupidly broken up with and how being without them was hard to get used to. Xander gave a short, unamused laugh. "Great. Perfect. What else do ya wanna throw at me?" he yelled at the fates. "You'll have to do better than that!" He flicked off the radio and drove the rest of the way in dead silence.

However his momentary distraction with the song and the circular argument he was having with himself meant that he didn't notice the gas gauge that had been hovering on 'Empty' for the last two days, and if he did notice it, he didn't register it. So he drove straight past the gas station.

***

Xander parked outside the student dorms that, according to Buffy's directions, Andrea was going to meet him outside and got out of the car. He leant against it, his thoughts still stuck in a relentless loop. He hoped Spike wouldn't be at the Bronze tonight. Xander hadn't been for the last few days, but no one had reported seeing him there, but it would be just his luck if tonight-

"-Xander?"

"Huh? What?" Xander came back to himself with a jolt. A girl was standing in front of him waving her hand in front of his face, which made him think this wasn't the first time she'd tried to attract his attention. "Hi! Hey, um sorry, I was miles away then."

"I'll say!" The girl smiled. "You're Xander right? Buffy showed me your picture."

"Right," Xander managed to smile back. "So are you Andrea or has Buffy just been handing out my picture to everyone to try and set me up?"

"Uh-huh. I mean the first one," Andrea grinned, and Xander smiled weakly back. She had a sleek blonde bob, bright greenish eyes and a round cheerful face with rosy cheeks. She was cute. Not eye-catchingly gorgeous like Cordy or Sp-. Uh, not especially eye-catching, but nice looking and most importantly - a girl. She had nice legs, displayed to an advantage in her knee length floaty printed skirt, a white top that dipped enticingly at her cleavage and she looked excited. Yeah, this was ok. He could have a date with this girl. It would be good.

They stood there for an awkward moment before Xander snapped to attention.

"Right, so shall we go?" he gestured to the car. "Buffy says you haven't seen much of the town yet, so I thought we'd go the Bronze."

"Great!" Andrea said cheerfully as she slid into the car. "Buffy's always talking about it, I've been looking forward to going."

"Yeah."

They pulled away. Xander considered various small talk questions but for the first time in his life he didn't have the desire to talk. The silence stretched on.

"So Buffy says you work in construction," Andrea said brightly after a moment.

"Yeah," Xander said again. He roused himself with an effort. "So what do you study?"

Luckily Andrea was pretty chatty once she got going, and all she required was some indication that Xander was listening.

"-so I decided to come to Sunnydale, because they had a good psychology curriculum, though apparently its gone downhill a bit since the head Professor died last year, but it's still pretty good and its not too far from home so I could bolt if I got too homesick, but I'm having a great time-"

"Uh-huh," Xander nodded.

"-they're a great group of people that go there, from all over. Though it's nice to meet some locals." She flashed him a bright, flirty smile.

"Yeah, that's great," Xander agreed absently, when suddenly his attention was snapped back due to a strange series of noises, not coming from Andrea, but from his car. With a series of clicks and shudders, then a high-pitched whine, it lurched to a stop.

"What is it?" Andrea asked.

"I don't know," Xander fired the engine again, then as the engine spluttered and died, he remembered with horror how he'd meant to stop for gas tonight and been so lost in thought about a certain bleached vampire that he'd forgotten. Oh, thank you, Spike! he thought sourly and unfairly. Even when he didn't know about this date Spike managed to sabotage it.

"Oh, crap! It's out of gas!"

He looked at Andrea, as if expecting her to whip a full can out of her purse with a cheery smile but she looked alarmed. "Is there a gas station nearby?"

"Not for a couple of miles," Xander said worriedly. "I guess we could walk…"

"I can't walk a couple of miles in these!" Andrea protested in horror pointing at her high-heeled sandals.

"Or you could wait here and I could walk…"

"Oh, no!" She said even more decisively. "This town has some weird people wandering round after night. I'm not staying here alone, you'll be gone for hours."

Xander nodded, she had a good point.

"What about ringing auto rescue?" she suggested.

"Not in one," Xander said shamefaced. "I meant to - I had the forms and everything, but-"

"Well, can you ring someone - a friend - to come with some gas or give us a ride at least?"

"Yes," Xander said fervently. "Okay, there's a phone box just back there - I'll be right back."

***

Calls to Buffy's place, The Magic Box, Giles' place and Riley's place all went unanswered so when Willow finally picked up the phone Xander nearly cried with relief. The fact that she couldn't drive was a mere minor inconvenience, Willow would know what to do!

"Willow! Thank God, best friend, friend 'o' mine, help me!"

"Xander? What's wrong? Are you hurt? Why aren't you on your date?"

"I am on my date - I ran out of gas, we're stranded!"

"Oh no" Willow gasped.

"Yeah, can you do something?"

"Well I would, but you know Tara and I don't have a car."

"Do you know where Buffy is?" Xander asked desperately. "Where anyone is?"

"Buffy and Riley are out on patrol, Dawn's here and Giles is at the theatre."

"What about Joyce?" Xander asked, feeling he was achieving a divine understanding of the phrase 'clutching at straws'.

"No go - she's on a date."

"Now she decides to start going on dates?" Xander screeched with an edge of panic.

"Uh-huh, it's so great for her! Though, um, bad news for you right now. I get it."

"Oh, crap." Xander began to bang his head lightly on the glass on the phone box. It was oddly soothing. "What am I gonna do, Will?"

She paused for a moment.

"Did you say that Spike has a mobile now?"

"Oh, no." Xander whispered, stilling his head-thumping as he went cold all over. "Oh, no, no, no. Can't you like…magic some gas into my tank? I could pretend it was engine trouble - Andrea would never know!"

"Xander-"

"C'mon Will, just give it a try!"

"Sorry, Xander there isn't actually a spell for that."

"Willow," Xander said swapping the phone into his other hand - not that it made any difference, they had both begun to sweat clammily. "I cannot - cannot call Spike and ask for a favor. Not after what I said. Not after a week without talking to him, not when I'm on a date!"

"Will he help?"

Xander closed his eyes for a moment. This was what he got for tempting the fates, he got squished like a bug. His stomach churned but he knew the answer. "Yes. Yes he will. Shit." He was talking to a dead line, his money had run out.

He looked over at his car on the road and Andrea in the passenger seat. Thought about how far they were from either Andrea's or town. Briefly toyed with the idea of carrying her all the way back and dismissed it. He took a deep breath, wiped his hands nervously, inserted his last dollar and, his stomach roiling nauseously, he dialed.

***

Spike was in the graveyard, battling to the death - and winning easily - with a vampire when his phone began buzzing in his pocket. The unexpected, long-awaited sound shot through him like a bolt of electricity. He froze in his vicious punching as his stomach swooped alarmingly - the only person who had his number was…

He groped frantically in his pocket for his phone and the vampire seized the moment to catch him with a sharp right hook to the jaw.

"Not now!" Spike screeched, grabbing him, hoisting him up as though he was a rag doll and carelessly hooking him by his collar over the high, sturdy branch of a nearby tree. He located his pealing phone with trembling hands but before he could hit the 'accept call' button, the vampire kicked out catching his hand and sending the phone arching into the air.

"Wanker!" Spike roared. "You'll pay for that!" He dove towards the flying phone, slid along the ground on his front and caught it as it landed in his outstretched hand, hitting the 'accept' button.

"Xander?" he burst out hopefully. So much for playing it cool, but hey, sometimes wishes did come true, because…

"Yeah," Xander said.

The sound of his voice, a little embarrassed, gauche and just as warm as Spike remembered sent a shock of joy through him momentarily making his legs go weak. It was lucky he was already lying down because otherwise he would have fallen down. He was speechless.

"Okay, so you're not speaking to me, but you haven't hung up yet. That's a good sign," Xander said awkwardly, sounding unnerved by Spike's silence.

Spike shook his head slightly trying to jump start his speech abilities as he clung to the phone. "Yeah," he managed. "I mean no, I mean I'm surprised. But glad!" he added hurriedly, winced and tried to start again. "Hi - um - h-how are you?"

"Well actually," Xander took a deep breath and began to talk really fast, so even Spike, who was hanging on every word, had difficulty keeping up. "I'm kinda stuck and I know this is bad timing and I got no right to be asking for favors, and I wouldn't ask if there was anyone else, not that you're a last resort, but because I didn't want to ring after what I said and pitch into a favor, I'd have liked us to make up first - because I really did want us to make up - and I know you won't want to help, but-"

"What do you need?" Spike cut him off.

"Some gas. And someone to bring it."

"Where are you?" Spike asked, easily ignoring the outraged voice in his head that was angrily asking where the hell his pride was if he just dropped everything to run to Xander's side the second he beckoned in Spike's direction. Xander needed him - he was there.

"Route 41 - the top end."

"I'm on my way."

"Thanks, Spike." Xander said, his voice sounded very quiet. "Oh, and Spike?"

"Yeah?"

There was a pause and Spike couldn't even blink, his fingers tightened hopefully on the phone.

"I-I have a friend of Buffy's with me," Xander said at last. "I was just um, giving her a ride into town."

"Oh, right," Spike fingers loosened their death grip slightly as his heart dropped back into his stomach from where it had leapt into his mouth. "Always the white-hat, eh?" he said fondly.

There was a pause. "Oh, yeah." Xander said eventually, his voice thick with an emotion Spike couldn't read. "That's me. Um, Spike-" Then the phone went dead, Xander's money must have run out. Spike frowned in disappointment, then shrugged it off, bursting into a grin.

"Woo-hoo!" he rolled onto his back, roly-polyed in delight, bounced up to his feet, gave his mobile a smacker of a kiss and bounded out of the graveyard, punching the air.

"Yeah that's right!" The vampire hanging from the tree called after him, "Run for your life!" He waved his legs and arms helplessly, looking down at the ground. "Crap."

***

Xander slowly walked back to the car, feeling extremely sick. Spike had sounded so happy to hear from him. So quick to forget the past week of silence and willing to help out, as Xander had known he would. Spike was a great friend, and he - he was scum. I should have told him the truth! he thought in despair, but the timing had been so wrong. What was he meant to say? 'Hey Spike, come bail me out, and by the way you know how you're crushing on me? Well I'm out with someone else!' Spike would have been so hurt. Look it's just a little white lie, he rationalized frantically. Spike will come, give me the gas and leave none the wiser, nobody will get hurt. Or at least so he hoped, because he now knew why he didn't want Spike to know about this date. It was because anything that hurt Spike couldn't fail to hurt him too.

Xander got into the car and gave Andrea a strained smile. She winced as she looked at him.

"No luck?"

"Oh, yeah." Xander said dully. "Spike's coming with some gas."

"Oh, well that's good," Andrea said, relieved.

"Yeah," Xander drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he looked nervously out at the road. "Great." He glanced at her, she was looking at him in concern. "I'm sorry your night isn't going so well," he apologized.

"Oh, don't worry Xander," Andrea said nicely. "This stuff happens, it's no big."

Xander gave her a weak smile. "Thanks." He glanced out at the road again. He felt awful. Awful because she was a nice girl and didn't deserve to have gotten caught up in this. Awful because he'd wanted to like her, and didn't - not in that way. And awful because despite his sick, worried feeling, little glitters of excitement were swirling around him. Spike was on his way.

It couldn't have been more than twenty minutes before they heard the roar of a 'cycle. Xander tensed even more as he stared out at the road, which was something of an achievement since he was already so tense he was practically clinging to the roof. He didn't need to look too hard, Spike's blond head - no helmet of course - and slim leather-clad body racing towards them atop a black, sleek 'cycle was extremely noticeable, not to mention electrifying and the sight seemed to hit Xander right in his gut.

"He's here," he said, inwardly cursing himself for the nerves and excitement he could hear in his own voice, but he couldn't help it. His hands were shaking and his blood was racing wildly around his body at such a speed his head felt light. Spike spotted his car and pulled over. He swung himself easily off the motorcycle and fished a can of gas out of the cubby under the seat, his familiar confident movements making Xander's skin feel a little too tight and tingly, as though sparks were dancing over him. His dream flashed through his mind, and his cheeks burned. He didn't know if he wanted to scrub his mind out or just go over there and…and…

Spike turned to the car and hesitated, waiting for Xander to make the next move. The situation should have been hugely dramatic but Xander wasn't much good at drama so he just got out of the car and walked over on trembling legs.

"Hey," he said.

"Hi," Spike said.

An understated greeting after a row and a week of silence but Xander couldn't quite catch his breath and his mouth was dry, and he just couldn't stop looking at Spike, the smooth hair, the leather, the cheekbones. It was all so familiar it made his chest ache, and despite the circumstances, he couldn't bring himself to regret seeing him again for a second.

***

An onslaught of emotion surged through Spike as all words abruptly deserted him, and he looked speechlessly at Xander. Happiness, embarrassment, hurt. An awkwardness that made him feel like all at once he had too many arms and legs and he didn't know what the hell to do with them. He wanted to be smooth and cool but couldn't. Dammit, why did he have to be so happy to see him? It was almost hard to look at him, he was almost blinding to Spike's eyes, yet he couldn't stop staring, drinking him in as though he'd been dying of thirst. He was tongue-tied, nervous and hyper-aware, taking in the bright red shirt, the blue jeans, the dark eyes, inhaling the exact scent of Xander that he'd missed so much and was so familiar it sent an almost painful pang through him.

"So, um, you bought the gas," Xander said at last, gesturing to the can in Spike's hand.

"Oh. Yes. Here, it's for you," Spike dumbly held out the can of gas balanced on his open hands, as though it was the gift of the Holy Grail - well no, wrong analogy. If it was the Holy Grail he would doubtless have flung it at Xander as though it was a snake, but certainly as though it was something precious. In his defense, Xander accepted it in the spirit it was offered, cradling it to him like it was his first born child.

"Thanks, Spike," Xander said his voice a little unsteady as he clung onto the can, rubbing his thumb over it gently. "I wasn't expecting you to… you know. I mean it's so good of you to …give me this."

"Hey, friends always… have gas." Spike managed to say. The poet in him groaned in despair. That was the best he could come up with? There was so much he wanted to say but right now, with his heart full and Xander in front of him, his too-long hair flopping into his brilliant dark eyes Spike couldn't remember a damn word of any of the fancy speeches he'd practiced on his way up here. Even if he could he doubted he'd have managed to say them. For some reason his throat seemed to have a lump in it.

They smiled a little shakily at each other, and something inside Spike that had been tight and sore this past week loosened as warm, good feelings began to rise up inside him.

"Hi!" The blonde girl Spike hadn't even noticed who was sitting in the passenger seat stuck her head out of the window. Buffy's friend he belatedly remembered, who Xander was giving a lift too. "You must be Spike! I'm Andrea. Thanks for bailing us out."

"Oh, yeah." He nodded at her politely. "No problem."

Xander however jerked violently at the sound of her voice. "Right then!" he said loudly, breaking the moment between them and moving around to open the gas cap. "Let's get this show on the road." He began to decant the gas into his car concentrating a little too intently on the simple task, but that was okay, because Spike was concentrating a little too intently on him, noticing the strangest little things, the length of his fingers, the way the light caught his hair. What was it about this guy that made him want to run his hands through his dark silky hair, and nuzzle into his neck and inhale his fresh, warm scent, touch his hot, soft skin...

Spike cleared his throat and mentally slapped himself, he'd told himself on the way here to be on his very best behavior, and so far it seemed to be going okay. No declarations of long-standing crushes, or screaming accusations.

"So what happened?" he asked awkwardly.

"Oh, I went to pick up Andrea. She's Buffy's friend," Xander added unnecessarily. "I ran out of gas - there wasn't really a story." He finished draining the can, and re-screwed the lid. "Well, that's done," he said quietly, his eyes flicking hesitantly over Spike.

"Yeah," Spike said. For a moment they just looked at each other. "Oh," Xander belatedly remembered the can, holding it out to him. "Here."

"You can keep it," Spike said softly.

Xander flushed slightly and Spike's stomach gave a slow, swooping roll. For the first time in a long, long while he found himself wishing he was different. Younger. Human, hell maybe even a girl, just someone that would maybe be allowed to feel like this about Xander Harris. Someone that Xander might like the same way back… Spike cleared his throat. "Well, I'd better let you get on with it," he said, trying to sound casual.

"No," Xander shook his head, still gazing at him, "Wait-" he shot a quick, oddly furtive look towards Andrea and began to back away to the rear of the car.

"Um, I mean I wanna show you this erm… thing I have on the back of the car." Spike followed and Xander beckoned him a little further away from the car. "You um, have to stand a little way away to get the full effect… Look Spike - no not at the car, there's nothing on the car -" Xander was speaking in a low voice the words almost tumbling over each other in his haste to get them out. "I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for coming - I know I shouldn't have called you and I know I owe you big for this, and-"

"Xander, it's okay. I'm glad you called me. It's...good to see you again," Spike said, then felt stupidly formal, but he wasn't sure how to act with this constraint between them.

"I just didn't want you to feel - to think-" Xander began to scuff his toe on the ground. "Don't think I just called you because I needed a bail. I did want to make up. Really." He looked up at Spike through his hair, his eyes hopeful, biting his lip slightly like he was scared, looking just like a pup that didn't know if he was going to get a kick or a treat and it just about broke Spike's heart.

"Well, maybe you should have called before now," Spike said, also beginning to scuff his toe on the ground.

"I know," Xander stumbled over the words. "I should have. I've felt really crappy the last few days. I'm sorry about yelling at you. It was just - everything got really freaky, and I wasn't expecting it -"

"Hey," Spike interrupted. "You needed a bit of space, I get that, I wasn't exactly stepping back, was I? And you don't have to worry," he forced himself to say. "Things don't have to be weird. I mean, I get now that what happened was a …mistake for you." He looked away from Xander. Xander who was incredible, who he loved and oh, hell he wanted to kiss Xander, touch Xander - fuck Xander so badly he had to shove his hands deep in his pockets to hide the trembling. His stomach felt hollow and slightly sick but for the first time in a long time he wanted to put someone else's feelings first. If Xander wanted to forget the kiss then Spike would go along with it. Not that he could forget it himself, but he could let Xander forget it, Spike brainwashed himself fiercely. Although it would be easier if Xander didn't keep looking at him like that. "I won't bring it up again, I just want us to be mates, anything else you can forget-"

"Yeah. Sure." Xander interrupted, giving him a strained smile. "Forgotten."

"Great," Spike said painfully.

"Good," Xander agreed weakly.

So that was it. Weirdness over, they were friends again. Spike tried to feel happy. There was a momentary pause where they both looked at each other, the tension palpable, the small gap between them feeling much wider than it was. Xander's face was pale and uncomfortable, his eyes distressed.

"Hey Xander, how's it going?" Andrea called, sticking her head out of the car window and making them both jump.

"Oh, fine!" Xander called back, doing a good impression of a startled fawn.

"Good - is this your usual tactic on a first date? 'Cos I've heard guys do it on the third but never the first!" Andrea's joke dropped like a bomb in the silence between them. Before Spike's brain had even fully registered what it had heard he felt it in his body first. All the air was knocked out of him in a painful whoosh, as though she'd just got out of the car and kicked him in the stomach. He stared at Xander in stunned disbelief and Xander stared back at him with horror-struck eyes.

"What-?" Spike stammered. "Are you -?" He couldn't quite seem to form a sentence, he cast a swift look of dawning realization at 'Buffy's friend' who actually appeared to be Xander's friend, and managed to ask; "Who is she?"

Xander swallowed. Even in these few days apart Spike had forgotten how open he was - how everything in his head was on his expressive face. Whether it was hope or fear or like now, with guilt written all over it.

"Well, she's - that is, um - that's Andrea," Xander stuttered.

"Are -are you on a date?" Spike questioned, his voice coming out sharp and harsh.

"Th-that's Andrea," Xander repeated with an edge of desperation, but he didn't have to confirm it, Spike could see the truth on his face.

Spike's chest hurt, his throat was tight and all his good intentions shattered like paper-thin glass. "I can't believe-" Spike stumbled over the words, "that you called me up, and asked me to help you, and you're on a bloody date."

"I'm not doing anything wrong!" Xander defended shakily.

"Yeah, okay - so why didn't you tell me you were dating someone!"

"We're not dating," Xander protested desperately, placing emphasis on the 'ing'. "Its a date - our first."

"Which you didn't tell me about! What, were you worried if you dropped it into the conversation when you rang begging for help that I'd tell you to stick it?" Spike spat angrily, but his voice was trembling. He shouldn't be reacting like this, he had no right, but he couldn't help it and he couldn't cover it up, it was too strong, too sudden.

"No! It just wasn't the right time-"

"Or maybe you just wanted to see me make a complete tosser out of myself!"

"Of course not!" Xander looked both offended and miserable and Spike was making a mess of this, he knew he was. So much for the 'just good friends' song he'd just been singing, but the jealousy was like a spiky ball in his stomach making his words come out spite-filled and harsh, and he felt so stupid. Xander called and he ran, and all this time he was on a bloody date...

"Spike, everything I said is true, I've really missed-" Xander stopped as he saw - oh yeah, who is it again, Xander? Your date right? - getting out of the car. "-Petunia," he finished.

Spike snorted bitterly. "Well maybe if you hadn't dumped her-"

"I didn't dump her-"

"Well it sure looked like it!"

"I needed some time, okay? I'm sorry if I didn't handle it well, but y-Petunia's had months to get used to this - I've had less than a week! I needed some time to process, and I'm sorry -"

"Yes, sorry Spike," Andrea's voice chimed in suddenly, appearing behind Xander who leapt to face her with a guilty start, obviously wondering how much she'd heard or understood. A shot of hot, jealous pain speared Spike, he could barely look at either of them. "I hope dragging you out tonight didn't spoil any plans you had."

Spike scoffed and Xander winced, like the sound was painful to his ears. "One or two, luv," he acknowledged bitterly. "But don't worry. They were stupid plans anyway," he glanced at Xander and it was a tiny, sour victory that Xander dropped his eyes from Spike's first.

"Well how about you come to the Bronze with us and let us buy you a drink to say thank you?" Andrea invited, magnificently unaware of all the undercurrents. Which pretty much made her the stupidest bint in the world as far as Spike was concerned. As well as having boring hair, bad clothes and a face that needed a smack.

He shook his head. Invited on Xander's date. It would almost be funny if humiliation wasn't burning in his throat and it didn't feel like he'd been kicked in the teeth and stabbed in the back. "I don't think so," he ground out bitterly. "I wouldn't want to interrupt Harris's big date."

"It's not-" Xander began, then stopped, flicking an uncomfortable glance at Andrea.

"No please!" Andrea insisted, taking up the slack. "If we've spoilt your plans for tonight it's the least we can do. Don't you think Xander?"

"Yes!" Xander agreed fervently.

Oh, 'if we've spoilt your plans' how very fucking cozy. Spike shook his head and stalked back over to his 'cycle. His eyes were scratchy and hot and Xander, damn him, was following him. Couldn't he see Spike needed to be left the hell alone right now?

"Please Spike," Xander pleaded earnestly, hurrying to catch up to him. "I want you to stay, you're not interrupting anything. Don't go off like this. Come for a drink, we can talk -"

Spike swung himself onto the bike and started it up with a violent roar.

"Harris, you know what you can do with your fucking drink," he snarled. He just had time to see Xander's devastated expression before he shot away, leaving him standing by the road.

Spike tore up the highway, riding the bike too hard and fast as though making it pay for what had just happened but although Xander was long since behind him he couldn't shake the pain. It was lodged in his breast, his knuckles were bone-white on the handles and he threw his head back, roaring out into the night with furious hurt.

***

Spike took a step towards the Bronze. He took a step back to his 'cycle.

"Oh, fuck it!" He gave it a vicious kick and stormed back towards the Bronze wrenching the door open. He looked angrily around the smoky club, his mouth clamped in a tight, furious line. What the hell was he doing here? Of all the stupid, stupid things to do…

He just had to see that was all. He had to see how Xander acted with this bint, had to see how this date was going. He knew if Xander caught him spying on them acting all Stalker Guy he'd either be furious or embarrassed on his behalf but it was like picking a scab. It stung, but he had to do it - he had to know…

He stalked through the club, not particularly trying to stay inconspicuous - hey, Xander had invited him here hadn't he? Talk about bloody asking for it… Then he spotted Xander's glossy dark head next to Andrea's blonde one in a dark corner.

Spike swallowed, freezing mid-step. Although he'd known they were here actually seeing them sitting, talking, together hit him like a truck, knocking all the fury out of him. He'd come here almost wanting to confront Xander all over again, but now he felt as weak as a kitten, he couldn't have a confrontation with a jelly-baby. He slipped behind a nearby pillar, trembling from head to toe.

After a moment he peeked out from the pillar again, they were still talking or rather the bitch was talking, Xander was nodding and toying listlessly with his drink. As Spike watched she pressed her hand to his arm to emphasize a point she was making. Sour, furious jealousy flared up inside him, he could taste it in his mouth, and he reflexively clenched his fists. He looked away drawing in a shaky breath, then back again.

Right into Xander's eyes.

***

Xander's heart gave a huge leap and Andrea's voice faded into background noise as his eyes locked on Spike's. Spike was almost hidden by a pillar, and Xander wouldn't even have spotted him, but somehow he'd felt - known - Or maybe it was just something he seemed to do lately. Wherever he was he looked for Spike, no matter how futile it seemed. Spike's distraught eyes met his and Xander knew Spike hadn't wanted to be seen. Spike quickly looked away and he roughly pushed himself off the pillar he was leaning on, heading towards the door.

Andrea was still chatting away. Xander had to give the girl points for effort, but she was on edge and he couldn't blame her. Since Spike had roared off, leaving them on the road the atmosphere had been so toxic he was beginning to wonder if they needed a canary in a cage. Typical of his luck of course that he'd managed to turn a blind date into an awkward triangle complete with heartache and a truckload of unbearable tension, but she was still trying to make the best of a bad night. Xander only wished he could respond to it. His stomach had been in miserable knots ever since Spike had ridden off and he could barely look at her. Spike had looked so hurt and betrayed, and he'd called him 'Harris'. Spike called everyone by a nickname. Nibblet. Slayer. Red. Watcher. Xander guessed it was Spike's way of keeping his distance, he'd done it with everyone except him. Until tonight. And now Spike was here, he was here and he was leaving, and Xander should let him - he should try to enjoy his date...

Xander watched Spike stalk out and felt something tight and painful swell and swell in his chest and as the door swung shut behind Spike he just couldn't bear it -

"Sorry, Andrea," he muttered, standing and bumping clumsily into the table. "I just gotta - I'll be right back."

"Oh, okay," she said with a tight smile.

Xander pushed his way through the bodies in the club, moving faster as he got closer to the door until as he reached it he was almost running, he flung the door open, bursting through it glancing left, then right.

"SPIKE!" he shouted as he saw Spike's form walking away through the shadowy, empty street. At his call Spike stopped abruptly and turned to him, Xander jogged over to him, anxiety crackling through him. What the hell was he doing? He could have let Spike go and enjoyed his date with a bright, pretty girl with shiny hair who was all dressed up in floaty finery and had a cute dimple when she smiled. Instead he'd followed Spike out here. Spike whose hair looked rough and who was dressed in his usual battered jeans, t-shirt, duster. He looked disheveled and a little weary. His jaw was tight, his eyes shadowed and angry and yet Xander was aware of him. Aware in a way that sent sparks skimming over his skin and a tiny dart of fearful excitement to his chest every time he looked at Spike or heard his rough-edged voice.

Insane. Ridiculous. But true.

"Spike, wait. Are you okay?"

Stupid question. People who were okay didn't hide behind pillars and spy on friends who were having a date.

"Spike, Andrea's not-"

"How did you meet her?" Spike demanded furiously, lashing out without preamble, as though he just had to know. "Do you - have you-"

"Nothing's happened! We've never even met before tonight. Buffy set us up."

Spike rolled his eyes, trying to grab for some composure but Xander could see how brittle it was. It came out in his too-harsh voice and his tight, closed body language that just radiated tension. "Figures that bitch would be involved. She isn't by any chance getting a percentage of this 'date' is she? What's the going rate on 'Andrea' anyway? She looks cheap."

"Hey!" Xander warned him angrily. "I know you're pissed but it's not her fault and you're out of line."

"She's out of line," Spike snarled. "Does she have to touch you so much? Or did you pay extra for that?"

"Look, say what you want about me but stop talking about her like that!"

"Oh, always the white bloody knight," Spike sneered. "Hoping she'll throw you a freebie for defending her honor?"

"That's enough! You're just jealous!" Xander snapped.

"Yeah." Spike admitted tightly, a muscle in his jaw working. "I am."

Xander's annoyance melted away. "Spike," he said softly. "I know this is rough - I swear this isn't how I wanted to meet up with you again."

"No?" Spike jeered disbelievingly. "Maybe you just wanted to make sure that I'd got the message-"

"No! I didn't even want you to know about this, not because I wanted to lie, but because it wasn't important!"

"Oh, please, you wanted me to know! Why else did you call me? C'mon Xander you're not that stupid!"

"Oh, you know I am entirely that stupid!"

"So why then?" Spike lashed out and Xander flinched at the edge of hurt shading the anger in his voice. "Why the hell did you have to ring me? You could have figured something else out."

"I know - I'm sorry, I just -" Xander stumbled for words. "I know things are weird between us right now, but I also knew that if I was really stuck - you'd help."

Spike closed his eyes briefly, exhaling with sudden weariness. "Yeah." He shook his head slightly as though in recrimination at himself. "Yeah of course I would. I'd even leave you alone if you wanted."

Xander's stomach knotted painfully. "But I don't want! Look, don't go like this," Xander burst out, the words suddenly spilling from his mouth and his voice shaky. "I hate this. I hate that things are so weird between us. I hate not seeing you. I miss you, Spike. Can't we… can't you-?"

"Can't I what?" Spike cut him off harshly, his voice was all over the place and Xander didn't like it. In fact he fucking hated it. "Forget how I feel? What happened? Go back to being 'just good mates'? You know before tonight I'd have said yeah, whatever you want, but now - seeing you with someone else - I don't think I can."

The wave of pain that shot through Xander almost winded him. "But Spike-"

"Xander, I love you," Spike's voice had an edge of tears and desperation, his face for once easily readable, open and distraught. Xander's heart paused for an endless moment in his chest - then began beating triple time to make up for it. He almost forgot how to breath. There was a long silence as they looked at each other, neither quite able to believe what Spike had just said. At last Spike shrugged. "I wanted to wait till the right moment to tell you. Do it all romantic-like. But there's never gonna be a right moment is there?"

"Spike," Xander whispered. "I'm sorry. I hate hurting you, it's just, I'm not gay." The words sounded pathetic. A stupid, pitiful reason for not returning someone's love, but right now it was all he had.

"Neither am I. It's just… Its just you," Spike's voice was softer now as though his confession had lanced all the fury in him and only left the sadness and Xander noticed for the first time how close Spike was to him. He was so close and his eyes were so blue and he could feel it. That pull tugging strongly at him. That pull that made his breath short and skin tingle and had made him not want to run away when Spike had kissed him.

"I want the person who's brave," Spike said in a low voice. "The one who can banter with the best of them, an' hates anchovies, and likes skinny dipping in the sea at night. I lie awake just thinkin' about you. I feel like I'm drownin' in you and I don't care about the dying. I want you so much I can hardly stand to look at you like this without touching you."

Xander swallowed, his breath swift and shallow as Spike moved a little closer, and he let him. There were a scant few inches between them and Xander's heart knocked repeatedly at his breastbone as though begging to come out, his blood joining in with it, synchronizing together in an insistent throb as his body screamed to be touched and they were so close he could feel the vibrations as Spike spoke. "You're so hot...an' sweet," Spike's voice was uneven, his eyes moving over Xander as though Spike was using them to caress him instead of his hands and hell, Xander had never so clearly felt someone looking at him, imagining him naked. "An' I just want to take it, taste it, pull it into me, roll and drown in it." Spike swallowed as though he still couldn't find the words for what he wanted. "In you" He lifted his hands, as though he was skimming them up Xander's body though without ever touching him before dropping them in a telling, frustrated gesture. "I don't care what bits you have. I don't care if you're a man, or a woman or a brain in a jar. I want you no matter what, and I'm sorry if that disgusts you but - "

"Spike, it doesn't disgust me," Xander whispered, trembling and Spike's eyes were so dark and hot. Everything felt hot and Spike just kept looking at him, looking at him like he was going to...like he wanted to kiss him, and Spike had just told him he loved him, and for the first time, with a heavy, needful thump of desire and terror Xander really understood the phrase, 'playing with fire'. "I just don't know what to do."

"No?" Spike asked, looking at him his eyes brilliant with unshed tears and suddenly Xander wanted to stay out here all night, and just look at Spike, and talk to Spike and see where the hell this point he had pushed them to was going to lead, yet Andrea was waiting and he should be in there, not out here and this so wasn't the time...

Spike gave him a sad smile. "Looks to me like you've already decided." And he stepped back widening the gap between them, leaving Xander cold.

"No," Xander said instinctively, half hard and petrified of what it meant. "Spike, don't go like this-" Or maybe he meant 'don't leave me like this' but even though Spike wasn't moving any further away, with every moment Xander could feel him receding, drawing back into himself.

"No, forget it," Spike said wearily, dragging his hand through his hair in a defeated gesture. "I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't have said any of it. This isn't your problem, it's mine."

"No, it's ours. I know it's-" Xander tailed off, what was he meant to say? Spike - damn, he'd forgotten how to breathe again - Spike loved him and Xander was straight and out on a date with someone else, and what was good about that? What could he possibly do to make this right? All he knew was he didn't want it to end like this. Hated with all his heart to see Spike look so defeated and so sad. He'd always thought Spike's swagger and cocky attitude had irritated him, but now it was gone he'd give anything to have it back. "It's hard, yeah, but we'll figure stuff out, right?" Xander pleaded. "You didn't mean that did you - about us not being friends anymore?"

Spike went to say something but Xander quickly talked over him. "I mean I know things are confusing, but we're good friends and that's hard to come by, so we have to have been doing something right, and you did say you'd do anything I wanted, and-"

"Xander-"

"-and, see the thing is Spike, I need you," he finished in a rush, feeling his cheeks flame. "Need you to be my friend, I mean."

Spike gave a shuddering sigh and looked away for a moment, then he nodded. "Give it some time, yeah Xander? I need a bit."

"Yeah, okay, but we will figure things out," Xander insisted. "We will."

"Yeah, sure," Spike said quietly. "Go in there, have your date - just... Next time, just make sure you've got a full tank, yeah?"

Xander gave him a flicker of a smile. "Yeah. Sure."

There was a pause. "Well I'd better get back, Andrea's waiting."

"Yeah, of course."

Yet he still hovered. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"

Spike gave him a casual shrug, and even managed a small smile. "Yeah - you know me. 'M always okay."

"Um, well okay," Xander said shakily. "Well, I'd better..." he made a motion with his hand towards the Bronze.

"Yeah," Spike said, trying to sound casual.

"So I'll see you soon?" Xander asked, with a note of pleading in his voice, craving reassurance.

Spike nodded, shoving his hands deep in his pockets and hunching his thin shoulders, the hollows in his cheeks looking oddly vulnerable. Xander felt torn, yearning to stay, yet physically unable to do it. He had to get back inside, before he did something stupid. He backed away, keeping his eyes on Spike, feeling gutted to the core with every step he took, only turning away at the last moment. Even then his hand faltered at the door, but then he opened it and went into the crowd and noise. The door slammed shut behind him.

***

Spike watched the door shut behind Xander and his paper-thin nonchalant demeanor crumpled. A hitched wail caught in his throat and he tried to choke it down, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes, trying to beat back the tears. And people thought being in love was happy? He was sick with misery, nearly incoherent with the pain of it.

"God, you're pathetic!" he told himself harshly. He took his hands away from his face, groping for his cigarettes, but he couldn't see properly and his hands were shaking and they scattered on the ground. He gave up, leaning back heavily against the wall and let a secret, shameful sob escape.

***

Xander made his way back over to Andrea, his face pale, pushing through the cheerfully noisy crowd feeling like he'd just died but no one had noticed yet. He numbly sat down next to her.

"Hi! Everything okay?" she greeted him brightly.

"Yeah," Xander croaked, trying to remember how to form words. "Fine. Sorry I was so long, I was just - I saw someone I -" Xander ran out of steam.

"But you're staying now, right?" Andrea checked.

"Sure!" Xander gave a tiny smile that vanished almost instantly.

"Xander? Is something wrong?" She sounded hurt and he felt a wave of shame, God he was going to put this girl off blind dates for the rest of her life.

"No. Sorry. Nothing's wrong," he gave her a fleeting smile, and cast another desperate look towards the door before turning back to her. "Nothing at all."

***

A couple of hours later Xander was staring blankly out of the window in his apartment. The date with Andrea, not notably a roaring success to begin with had gone downhill with quite impressive rapidity after he'd left Spike in the alley. He could barely speak, never mind dance or try to be entertaining for her. Tonight's events had rubbed him raw, all his careful defenses were dismantled and all he'd wanted was to be alone to think. After her drink she'd claimed she had an early class and could he please drive her home, which he'd done with relief in near silence. They hadn't arranged to meet again. He guessed he could have made an effort, maybe tried to kiss her in an attempt to reassure himself of his heterosexuality but all he could see was Spike's face in front of him, bitter and hurting, and Spike's voice raw and painful resounding in his head, telling Xander that he loved him. Xander's heart flipped over. Spike loved him. Funny but he'd never considered that. He knew Spike liked him, was crushing on him - but to love him…

When Anya had told him she loved him, Xander had felt sick. Sick and guilty and had known without a shadow of a doubt he couldn't say it back. Because he didn't. And now Spike had said it, and Xander felt...

Shocked. Terrified. Out of control. But he didn't feel sick. Nor did he just know, the way he had with Anya, that it was something he could never say back. The way he'd felt outside the Bronze…

Was he really thinking what he thought he was thinking? He had walked away from Spike earlier because it was the sensible thing to do. Walking back to Spike wasn't sensible, it was lighting a fire and stepping into the flames. Yet he'd felt like he'd left the best thing in his life behind him back there - how could that be sensible? But still, Spike?

Yes, sure they were good friends, and yes he trusted Spike, and yes they argued and laughed and never ran out of things to say to each other, but jeez what kind of a footing was that to start a relationship on? Okay - wait a minute, that had come out wrong. But that all added up to being friends, what about attraction? He wasn't gay - he'd never even thought about guys like that. But maybe like Willow had said, it wasn't always that cut and dried. Spike was in love with him and maybe, just maybe, Xander could love him back and was he really going to blow that off because Spike was a guy?

Shaking slightly he closed his eyes and let himself remember Spike with searing clarity. The way he moved with a swift confidence that was absolutely compelling and how the way his cheekbones slashed over his face was just fascinating and Xander let down his last defense and let himself remember that amazing kiss - really remember it - not just let it slip into his mind and freak out the way he usually did. Let himself remember the way Spike's mouth had felt against his, soft yet strong, demanding yet giving, opening up to him, the fire zipping through his veins, the needful pressure of Spike's body against his... Xander moaned. That kiss had been so intense, so sinfully addictive that it had sent him into a flat-spin for days. Even now at the memory his body tingled, and yes. He wanted to do it again.

And yes, he admitted it. He had been jealous of Coat-Girl. And yes he had missed Spike desperately this last week and yes Spike sent all kinds of good shivers down his spine, and yes he had wanted Spike, then and tonight, but STILL Spike was a guy - all smooth lines and angles. Short gelled hair, and muscles while Xander liked soft curves and silky hair and warmth - and yet…And yet… If he stopped thinking about the guy thing and concentrated on the Spike thing...

Xander stared out of the window and thought. He thought for a long time.

When he finally moved it was to grab the phone and dial a number fast, as though if he paused for a second he would lose his nerve. It rang for a long time. "Come on," he entreated in a low voice, almost as though he was praying. "Come on, pick up…"

"Yeah?" Spike's voice sounded rough, slightly foggy.

"Hey Spike." Xander found himself suddenly choking up, he so badly wanted to say this right but he was almost incoherent with terror at what he was about to do - "How's it going?"

"Xander, what is it?" Spike asked wearily. "You need to get bailed out of jail for having sex in a public place or something?"

"No - I, I need to talk to you."

"Can't this wait?" Spike begged painfully.

"No, I need to say this now. I felt awful before, walking away after what you said-"

"Xander stop - you don't have to explain!" Spike cried out in distress.

"Yeah, I do!"

"No, look I know you don't feel-"

"You don't know what I feel because I didn't even know what I was feeling until just now! I don't just mean I felt guilty, I mean I felt really awful like I was walking away from the best thing in my life. And I got to thinking about you and the kiss and I think - I think the reason I freaked out so much wasn't because I hated it, because if I'd hated it I would've known how to deal with that, I wouldn't have run away from you. I freaked out because-" Xander inhaled shakily and finished. "Because I didn't hate it."

***

In his crypt, Spike who had been slumped miserably in his chair wiping his eyes, sat bolt upright.

"You didn't?" he asked barely able to get the words out, his fingers tightening on the phone.

"Oh come on Spike, you were there. You know when someone is hating a kiss - or is responding with enthusiasm. And tongue." Xander said awkwardly, his voice reassuringly full of emotion. "Of course I was freaked, everything I thought I knew about myself had just been blown apart. I'm still trying to put it together, but one thing I do know is tonight, seeing you - even though it was weird and palpably tense - it was still the best part of the night."

Spike jerked to his feet as though Xander had pulled on a string, his eyes widening.

"It was?" he stammered.

"It was," Xander confirmed. "And I got to thinking about how seeing you is always the best part of my day and how much I want to be around you. And-"

Xander paused and took a deep breath and Spike pressed the phone even tighter to his ear, arching towards the sound of his voice.

" -and I don't want to be friends with you Spike. Well, I do but if that was what I really wanted I wouldn't have run away from you for a week. I mean Willow had a crush on me for years and it didn't matter to us being friends - the reason I didn't call you - the thing that really scared me is - is-"

Spike was motionless, unable to do anything for fear it would ruin what Xander seemed to be saying.

" - I want to be more than friends," Xander finished in a rush.

Spike's heart flipped over and began to soar, a brilliant, awed smile breaking over his face, and all at once he had to move, happiness was flooding his veins so powerfully he had to move or explode, he began to pace.

"Really? I mean - really?"

"Really," Xander rushed on. "I think I've wanted it for a long time, but I didn't realize it, and then that kiss, it opened my eyes but maybe I just found out too suddenly - or maybe it had to be sudden to wake me up-"

Spike reached the door of his crypt but instead of turning back to pace the other way, he opened it and stepped outside into the fresh night air. He began to walk quickly though the graveyard, then jog, keeping his phone clamped to his ear, listening to Xander babbling on, trying to explain, to justify when it didn't matter, nothing mattered except that Xander wanted to be with him.

" - I got so confused and didn't know what I wanted anymore, and I just ran away from the whole thing-"

Spike vaulted over the fence of the graveyard and began to pelt hell for leather along the streets, speeding up faster and faster the closer he got to him, keeping Xander's voice in his ear, who was talking as though he had to get it all out now or die trying.

"-and when I asked Buff to get me that date I didn't even want to go really, but I thought I had to prove something-"

Scenery was passing by in a blur, and he wasn't even breaking a sweat, hell this was almost *flying*. Spike could feel laughter welling up inside him, laughter of pure joy and it spurred him on faster - he was running to Xander, and as Xander kept speaking, Spike could feel Xander running to him.

"- and I did prove something, but it wasn't what I thought I wanted to prove. Even before I saw you, you were all I could think about- am I talking too much?"

"Yeah, but I like it. Carry on."

"Well, it wasn't going to work anyway, the date I mean, and then…and then you were there and I knew who I really wanted to be out with-"

He was almost there and moving faster with every moment, he hared around the corner, just narrowly avoiding knocking a sweet little old lady down by swerving at the last moment without even slowing down.

"I know I choked in the alley, but even though I kind of knew you liked me, I didn't think you… you know- and … Spike? What's that noise?"

"T.V." Spike said as horns blared as he hared recklessly across the street opposite Xander's building. "Ignore it. Keep talking."

"Oh. Okay. Um, like I said I choked in the alley because I was so shocked, and I wasn't expecting you to say... that, but I think that's what finally made me get how I feel, but I still needed to think. I mean I get that it's okay for guys to want guys, I just don't know if it's okay for me to want a guy-"

Someone was just going into the building. Spike put a final spurt on and caught the door before it shut and pelted along the corridor to Xander's door.

"But then if I don't think about the guy thing, and just think about the you thing, it doesn't seem so scary. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, luv," Spike felt himself glow as he allowed himself an endearment after so long of holding them in. "Lots."

"I mean I can't promise anything. I'm not sure how I feel about the - um - love thing, and I can't promise if we kiss again I won't freak out afterwards. I don't know if this could even work but I want to try, I do - and if you think that's enough…Do you? Think it's worth a shot I mean? What do you want, Spike?"

Spike stopped outside Xander's door and just looked at it for a moment, beside himself with happiness, then he rapped on the door.

"Oh, no," Xander said, sounding fraught. "There's someone at the door. Don't worry, I'll leave it."

"You should probably get it," Spike said.

"No, this is more important. Spike you have to tell me, I mean have I just made a complete idiot of myself? Do you want to give this a shot?"

"I want you to open the door," Spike said.

"Forget the door, Spike!" Xander sounded like he was on the verge of pulling his hair out.

Spike rapped on the door again. "Nobody's home!" Xander yelled from inside the apartment. "Spike," he was talking into the phone again. "Just tell me."

Spike rolled his eyes, Tom Hanks never had to put up with this crap. He began hammering hard on the door.

"That sounds important," he said into the phone. His knuckles were getting sore. "Could be an emergency."

"Yeah, it had better be," Xander sounded upset and quiet, but Spike could hear him give in, his footsteps approaching from the other side. "Look Spike, if you don't want-"

The door opened. Xander's eyes widened, his jaw dropping as he saw him. "Whu-?"

"Ask me again," Spike said.

Xander gulped. For a moment he didn't move, just gazed at him with as much warmth and startled wonder as though he was better than chocolate cheesecake and the eighth wonder of the world, and the new Star Wars movie all rolled into one, and God, Spike would never have believed Xander Harris would ever look at him like that...Then he spoke.

"What do you want, Spike?" Xander asked in a low voice.

Spike took the mobile from his ear and switched it off, watching Xander all the time.

"I want you," he said.

***

Xander stared at Spike, then slowly clicked his phone off and put it down. His heart was racing, his breath coming fast. And Spike was here. He wanted… but he still wasn't sure it was okay to want this.

Spike took a step towards him. He was really close. Touching close. Oh God. Xander swallowed. He was so gone. He was terrified but in a good way, if there was such a thing. For a brief second Spike's eyes flicked over his face, just enough for Xander to see dilated pupils and that Spike didn't look so much more experienced than him right now. He looked desperate, like he wanted to take him before Xander snatched himself away again. Then - then they both moved, hurtling together like magnets unable to resist the pull of each other for a second longer, and then, oh Spike's mouth was on his, and oh, hell *yes*. They were kissing. Kissing like he'd wanted to earlier outside the Bronze, kissing like he'd been waiting his whole life to kiss Spike like this and his mind just dropped noiselessly away - bye, bye, catch you later - as all the reasons why this wasn't a good idea were blown away.

Their arms wrapped tightly around each other, he was lost in a maelstrom of slick, soft lips and thrusting tongue. The kiss dove into his blood through his lips and flooded through him, lighting him up from the inside out and his knees may have gone weak - he was certainly gripping onto Spike more tightly than seemed really necessary, but in his defense Spike was clinging on pretty tight himself. God, this was what he wanted - what he'd always wanted before he'd even known he wanted it. It was fast and frantic and hot and scary and oh it was so right. Xander didn't know how he could have run away from this because it was just as incredible as he hadn't dared to remember and the way his body was pressed against Spike's was way too good...

His mouth was buzzing, his hands were tight on Spike's back, his hard-on pressing against Spike's and it was making him feel a little crazy and way out of control. Like he wanted to make that dream actually happen, like he wanted to peel those clothes off Spike and see what he had that made chicks look after him like he was sex on legs, because right now Xander really wasn't going to disagree with them. Like he wanted to ride Spike until they came in a messy, heated rush and then ride him some more because right now his body was charged up and humming like a light saber and he thought he could go all night long...

They broke apart and the world came rushing back into the tiny space between them. But this time Xander didn't want to shove Spike away and retreat into the world. He'd figure out a way to balance both of them. Spike was panting, his mouth wet and swollen, his eyes wide and deep and he looked ready for another go. It was the sexiest thing Xander had ever seen in his life. And that included Buffy naked under a raincoat.

"So, it's 'after'," Xander said shakily. "I still don't know what to do."

"Well, you're not freaking. That's a good start," Spike said, also shakily.

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "So," he caught his breath nervously. "What should we do instead?" He had intended for that to come out a little flirtatious, but didn't manage it. He was genuinely too stunned and bewildered right now to manage anything as simple as flirting.

"Maybe we should carry this on someplace a bit more private," Spike said, with a quick, telling look around - and oh. Okay, they'd just been making out in the hallway of his building, where anyone could have passed by and Xander flushed in a shuddering all over body blush in a way he hadn't since he'd appeared in front of his class in his underwear courtesy of the Hellmouth. So, yeah he probably should let Spike in - but still he hesitated. The little distance between them had given him a much needed - although maybe not altogether wanted - breather, and his mind was stirring and although his body was still full of sparks...

God, I don't think I'm ready for this.

"We don't have to do anything but this. Whatever you want," Spike said quickly, reading his mind.

Xander nodded. Yeah, he knew that. It would be easier if he knew what he actually did want, but he took a breath and opened the door wider in invitation and this time actually did manage to sound a little flirty, all mixed up with the nerves. "I'm sure we'll figure it out."

Spike stepped over the threshold, keeping his eyes on Xander and then reached for him, pulling him to him so fast Xander jumped. As though despite his 'non-freaking' Spike thought the best way to keep him would be to keep him off-balance, and maybe he was right. Right now with Spike devouring his mouth, learning it from the inside out, laving his lips with his tongue Xander found all higher thought processes beyond him. They spun further into the room and Spike kicked the door so it swung closed, hiding them from the outside world. Still kissing.





TBC









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