Gotta Get It

Title: Gotta Get It
Author: Dea Brynhild Ensomhet
Pairing: Spike/Xander, Buffy/Faith
Rated: NC-17. Take the necessary precautions: practice responsible reading.
Email: BrynSpikess@hotmail.com
Archival: Just ask and ye shall recieve.
Disclaimer: Don't own Buffy or Angel cast/crew/characters/plotlines/etc. I do, however, own a copy of the book "Five Seasons of Angel: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Vampire", and I ordered the Buffy book too. I don't own Barnes and Noble, Google, or anything else I referenced within. The poems Spike writes were written by me, so any similarity to any other poem in existence is entirely coincidental. It was Shadow's awesome Spander fic "Twilight Time" wherein William is given 'Barstow' as a last name. *cuddles the name 'Barstow'* So yeah. I didn't make it up, credit goes to Shadow for the awesome last name. Spike singing "Something Good" from Sound of Music is a shout-out to Saber Shadowkitten's Summer Series and Higher Learning, a looong Spike/Willow fic that was one of my favorites for a long time. S/W was my OTP before I discovered slash and S/X. Them watching Velvet Goldmine is a shout-out to Gunbunny's "Title-defying Series", a Spike/OC fic.^_^ Enjoy!
Author's Notes: I give in to the urge to angst, so you might want to have a few tissues ready. There will be a happy *cough*cliffhangery*cough* ending, but you gotta go through the angst to get to it.
Last updated: 1/4/06

~~~~~***~~~~~

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Xander goes to the bookstore.
Chapter 2: Images of you fill every thought, life meaningful only when your happiness sought.
Chapter 3: And look at those leather pants she's wearing.
Chapter 4: He didn't like the punk look.
Chapter 5: In which Xander and Faith talk about the poem.
Chapter 6: Your love's going through my head so fast, just like bubbles in a champagne glass.
Chapter 7: Xander drove home in a daze, his mind back in the memory of the kiss.
Chapter 8: You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the discovery channel.
Chapter 9: Vidalia, Vidalia, girl won't you tell me why, Sweet Vidalia, you always gotta make me cry.
Chapter 10: And hootenanny, well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
Chapter 11: Well if you will be my lover, I will shiver and sing. But if you will be my master, then I will do anything.
Chapter 12: When it comes, it comes unannounced like a matador who’s taunting me with his reddest red cloak and I am the bull.
Chapter 13: I want to see you hazy, weak in the knees. I want to see you come, come, completely pleased.
Chapter 14: The less I need the more I get. Make me chaste but not just yet.
Chapter 15: I think it's time we try to open up our eyes, look away from the very thing that's made us cry.
Chapter 16: I thought I'd forget you but I guess I forgot to, and lately I've been too confused to think.
Chapter 17: Hope dangles on a string like slow spinning redemption, winding in and winding out.
Chapter 18: I'm starting to fashion an idea in my head, where I would impress you with every single word I said.
Chapter 19: And I really really really care, and I really really really want to, and I think I'm kinda scared, 'cause I don't wanna lose you.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 1: Xander goes to the bookstore

Xander sipped his milkshake, one hand on the wheel, alternative music blaring as he barely kept to the speed limit on the highway. His cell phone vibrated in the pocket against his chest, and he put the drink in the cupholder. Glancing at the caller ID, he smiled, flipping open the phone and holding it to his ear.

"Hiya, slut." he said, turning the music down enough to hear the voice at the other end.

"Hey tramp. What are you doing?" a woman's voice replied.

"Nothing much. Driving home after someone made me come over to squish an invisible spider and then roped me into cleaning out their storage closet. I just left ten minutes ago, did you miss me already?"

Faith chuckled. "Nah, I couldn't wait to get your ugly face out of my sight. I just thought you might be interested that I just got online, and that book you wanted is out."

Xander's hand reached out and flipped the radio off, just to make sure he was hearing her correctly. "It's out? You're sure?"

"You think I'd tease you? You've been so hyped up about getting it, I just thought you'd like to know. It was released last week, B&N should have it in stock by now."

Xander grinned. "Thanks for telling me, Faith. You're a peach, I don't care what everybody else says."

Faith laughed. "Yeah, well, if you've been spreading rumors about me around again, I know where you live. Call me back later, okay?"

"Will do." Xander said. He flipped the phone closed and then open again, before speed-dialing the bookstore. It was the sorry state his life was in that he had more stores and carry-out food numbers programmed into his phone than friends.

"Barnes and Noble, this is Buffy, how can I help you?" a perky female voice answered after the third ring.

"Yeah, I'm wondering if you have a book in stock." He told her the title and author, and she put him on hold while she checked the shelves. Xander tapped his fingers against the wheel as he drove, hoping it was in. The world wouldn't end if he had to order it and wait a week, but he was an instant gratification kind of guy - when he found something he liked, he wanted it right away.

Buffy's voice came back on the phone. "Yes, it's in. Would you like us to hold a copy for you?"

"Yes." Xander replied quickly. "Last name is Harris." He spelled it out for her. "How late are you open?"

"'Til nine." she said. The glowing numbers on the dashboard read 8:49. Xander swore. "We open at nine in the morning." she continued, helpfully.

Even if Xander had been willing to wait, he would be at work at eight in the morning. "Okay, go ahead and hold it, but I'll try to make it before you close." He hung up, shoving the cell back in his pocket, right foot pressing a little harder on the accelerator. He prayed he wouldn't get a speeding ticket.

~*~

Four minutes and counting until the store closed, Buffy glanced out the window just in time to see an old beat-up Buick race into the parking lot and come to a screeching halt in the space closest to the door. A dark figure jumped out of the car, stumbling a bit as they shoved the car door closed and jogged to the store's entrance. The man pulled open the door so hard it smacked the wall and he winced at the sound, but didn't slow down. He was dressed in worn jeans and an old flannel shirt, and his hair was mussed up. There was a little bit of a crazed desperate gleam in his eyes as he spotted her uniform and headed toward her.

"I called like five minutes ago to put a book on hold." he trailed off as she nodded, turning around to pull a book off the shelf against the window.

"Hold on just a sec while I find someone who's still on register." she said. The guy nodded, starting to catch his breath as he pulled out his wallet. "Hey, Spike, wanna ring this guy up?"

Spike, who'd been arranging the calendars on display, set down a pile of merchandise and slipped behind the counter. "Okay." He frowned at the mischievous smile Buffy wore as she handed him the guy's book and made herself scarce. He glanced down at the title of the book, and blinked. His gaze swung up to meet the disheveled young man watching him, or more appropriately, the book he was holding, with undisguised interest. "This the book you want?"

"Yeah." Xander nodded. "The collected poems of William Barstow."

Spike shook his head to clear it, and swiped the barcode into the computer, setting the book on the counter. "This all for you tonight?" The boy nodded as he picked up the book, and Spike read off the total, accepting the cash and making change while the boy flipped through the pages. Spike took the moment to look at the boy, face flushed, mouthing the words to whichever poem he was looking at.

"Effulgent." the boy breathed, and Spike's eyes widened.

"Here's your change." Spike blurted out, before he could say anything else. The boy looked up, practically glowing with happiness as he accepted his change.

"Thanks so much. Have a nice night." he said, shoving receipt and change in his pocket, and then he was gone, nose buried in the book as he walked out at a much more sedate pace than he'd come in. Spike watched him go, not noticing Buffy come up behind him until she slapped him upside the head.

"Ow!" Spike exclaimed, hand coming up to cradle the back of his skull.

"You idiot, why didn't you say anything?" Buffy said, hands on hips. "It's not every day you finally get your poems published, and some cute guy is so frantic to get his hands on your book that he probably broke the speed limit trying to get here before we close."

Spike tried to look sheepish. "I was in shock, okay? You could've warned me before he got here, you know."

Buffy winked. "And miss the look on your face when you saw what book he wanted? Never. I just wish I had a camcorder handy."

"Probably never see him again." Spike's gaze had wandered back to the door. "I don't even know his name."

"Alexander Harris." Buffy said. Spike turned to stare at her. "He's in the computer. We've got his address and phone number. Plus I checked the list of books he's bought in the past - quite a few on the occult and vampires." She mock-punched him on the arm. "You might actually have a chance with this one."

"Maybe." Spike smiled, hope beginning to blossom in his chest.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 2: Images of you fill every thought, life meaningful only when your happiness sought.

Xander sprawled out on top of his bed, browsing through the poems while propping his cell phone between ear and shoulder. The phone barely rang once before it was answered.

"Grand Central Station, how may I direct your call?"

Xander's voice betrayed how excited he was. "Listen to this: 'Images of you fill every thought, life meaningful only when your happiness sought.' God, isn't that beautiful?"

"I see you got the book." Faith said, amused. "I won't even ask if it's any good."

"Good?" Xander mock-gasped. "Good? It's one of the best collections of poetry ever collected! It turns the English language into a work of art that surpasses Shakespeare himself!"

She laughed. "Okay, now I know you're being sarcastic. Nobody's better than Shakespeare to you."

"It's close." Xander grumbled. "I mean, you try to find a modern poet that can used the word 'effulgent' properly. Most of the stuff at open-mic has rhyming so forced it makes your ears bleed. Take this for example: 'My heart expands, 'tis grown a bulge in it, inspired by your beauty, effulgent.' There's nothing forced at all! You can't get better flow than that."

"Mary had a little sheep who often went with her to sleep. That sheep turned out to be a ram and Mary had a little lamb." Faith dead-panned.

Xander burst out laughing. "You are so twisted."

He could hear her smirk. "I know. That's why you love me."

"Yeah." Xander trailed off, becoming engrossed in the poetry.

There was a long pause, before Faith finally said, "Well, I'll let you get back to reading, then. Don't stay up too late, okay? You've got work in the morning."

"Yes, mom." he said, half-listening.

"Hey, I'm not the one who knocked over a full can of teal paint 'cause I was tired from reading all night."

She had a point, but Xander didn't like admitting it. "There's no painting yet - we're still building the stairs and the loft."

"Sleep, Xander. It's a good thing."

"Soon, Faith. Just one more poem."

There was a dramatic sigh on the other end. "Fine. One more poem, and I'll bring over some mocha to wake you up in the morning."

Xander grinned. "Thanks, Faith. You're a doll."

"Whatever." There was a click as she hung up, and Xander turned his own cell phone off, plugging it in to charge.

~*~

"This feels so wrong." Spike said, reading over the computer printouts.

Buffy shrugged, browsing through a few printouts as well, making notes and highlighting sections. "It's not wrong. All of this stuff is information Willow was able to find on the 'net." Spike quirked one eyebrow, and Buffy raised her right hand. "No hacking, I swear. Just experienced Googling."

Spike sighed. "I guess it's all right then." He read through the high-school transcripts that Wills had found. Apparently this guy had been one of the real introspective types. Head of the yearbook staff, wrote a bunch of articles for the school newspaper. Got suspended for a month for starting up a reading club for vampire books. Hobbies included reading, writing, volunteering at the local library, and donating blood. "You got any recent info on him?"

"Yeah. An 'Alexander Harris' was listed as the Stage Manager for several Shakespeare in the Park productions over the last few years." Buffy said. She glanced at Spike. "You two have such similar interests, it's scary."

"Lots of people enjoy the Bard." Spike said defensively, then took the papers from Buffy's hands. "Are there any performances this summer?"

She tried to scowl at him for stealing her papers, but he wasn't paying any attention to her death-glare. "They were playing "Much Ado About Nothing" earlier during the summer, but that's over now. There will be a few performances of Twelfth Night in a couple months, though."

"Then they're probably still rehearsing, and building the stage." Spike murmured to himself. He looked up. "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"On my one and only day off this week?" Buffy replied. "I thought I'd take a long bubble bath and watch soaps all morning, and maybe buy that black leather skirt I've been eyeing for the last month. And then I thought I might go clubbing and try to score tonight." Spike turned on the puppy-eyes and she threw up her hands in surrender. "We're going over to the park to try to catch a glimpse of your cute guy, doofus. What else would we be doing?"

"Thanks, luv." Spike kissed her on the cheek.

"Yeah, yeah. You owe me one." She grinned. "And if he turns out to be straight, I get first dibs."

"Of course." Spike was practically bouncing with anticipation. How the hell was he going to get any sleep tonight?

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 3: And look at those leather pants she's wearing.

Xander gazed at the back cover of the small paperback, memorizing the picture of the author. The face seemed almost familiar, although he'd never seen him before. There were no pictures of William himself on his web site, and this was the first picture he'd ever seen of the man whose words touched his heart and moved him deeply. He traced the curly brown hair and wire-rim glasses with a fingertip. William was smiling in the picture, and Xander wondered what had been running through his mind at that moment.

With a sigh, he stuck the book in his back pocket and pulled out his keys, opening the door to the small building under the outdoor stage. Turning on the lights, he emptied the de-humidifier and filled the cooler with ice, then grabbed a broom and his walkman and headed up to the stage to sweep off any debris.

He hummed to himself, sweeping off the leaves and dirt that had collected overnight, keeping an eye out for any graffiti that might've appeared as well. In the back under one of the half-built staircases was a used condom, and Xander was torn between revulsion and amusement. "Kinky." he murmured, pulling on gloves to dispose of it. Once the stage was swept off, he started hauling up lumber and began work on the rest of the stairs and loft.

Around ten o'clock Faith dropped by, armed with double mochas and brunch. They sat together on the front of the stage, watching people walk through the park. "Still on that health kick, eh?"

Faith munched on granola. "You are what you eat."

"Then I should be sweet and rich by now." Xander elbowed her, stealing one of her apples.

"In your dreams." she said, elbowing him back. "Lemme see the book." He handed it over and she studied the photograph. "Cute, in a dorky sort of way."

"Blasphemy!" Xander snatched the book back, mock-swooning at the picture. "He's beautiful."

Faith laughed, tugging the book out of his grasp. "You're right. He'd gorgeous. How could I be so blind?" she humored him.

"Heathen." he huffed, drama-queen style. "What, do you lesbians get special sunglasses when you come out, only letting you see the hotness of girls?"

Faith grinned as she spotted a curvy blonde with a peroxide punk next to her walking down the path that ran next to the stage. After a moment she realized Xander had asked a question. "Sorry, I got distracted. What were you saying?"

He shook his head, hiding the grin. "Nothing. I see you will never change your evil sinful wicked ways."

"Damn straight." she replied, nonchalantly checking out the blonde. After a moment it became obvious the blond couple were headed straight for the stage, and Faith turned to Xander. "What do you say - I'll take the girl and you can have the guy?"

He chuckled. "Can you try thinking about something other than sex for one minute? And what makes you think she'd even be interested? They're holding hands; she's probably straight."

"So is spaghetti until you heat it up." she winked. "And look at those leather pants she's wearing. Those aren't walk-through-the-park-with-my-boyfriend pants. Those are I'm-out-in-public-and-might-potentially-score pants. And my love life is besides the point. What I want to know is, hypothetically, if the opportunity came up, would you do him?"

Xander eyed the figure in question. Worn black motorcycle jacket hung on a lean frame, faded blue jeans clung and left very little to the imagination. The sun lit his tousled blonde locks and glinted off of the piercing in his left eyebrow. He liked small and compact bodies, but... "I've never been a fan of the punk look. You know that. Give me a dork in glasses any day."

"Mmmhmm." Faith said, only half-listening. "You've so got to expand your horizons, babe. A leather ride can be so nice."

~*~

"There he is." Buffy whispered as they approached the stage. Spike looked calm on the outside, but she could tell that he was panicking, so she squeezed his hand briefly before letting go. "Buck up, tiger. Go and get him."

"What if he doesn't like me?" he said quietly, out of earshot of the stage.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "He loves your poetry, that's obvious. We know you have similar interests, so what is there to be freaked out about? Just start a conversation with him. It's easy."

"If it's so easy, why don't you do it?" Spike grumbled, then groaned. It had come out sounding like a dare, and Buffy never backed down on dares.

"Fine." she said, then strode forward, waving a little to catch the man's attention. He looked up at her, and she smiled brightly. "Alexander Harris, right?"

"Um, yeah." he said, not recognizing her. "It's just 'Xander'."

Buffy reached out her hand and he shook it automatically. "I'm Buffy. From the bookstore last night?" she saw him remember, his smile suddenly wide and warm.

"Oh yeah." he replied, and gestured to the dark-haired woman beside him. "This is my friend, Faith. Faith, this is Buffy. She helped me get that book."

Faith held out her hand and shook with Buffy. "It's a pleasure to meet you." she said, letting her voice carry a sensuous edge.

Buffy blushed, ending the handshake a moment too soon. "Same here." she replied, a little shakily. She glanced back at Xander. "So, fancy meeting you here. Do you work with the theater?" Cheeky chit, Spike thought to himself. She knew darn well he did.

"Yeah, I'm the stage manager." Xander nodded. "Are you interested in Shakespeare?"

"It's okay, but my friend Spike here," She grabbed Spike's arm and tugged him forward into the conversation, "He loves Shakespeare." Spike stumbled for a moment before regaining his footing, offering a shy smile.

"So, how d'you like that book?" Spike tried his hand at conversation. Hey, if Buffy could do it...

Xander smiled back. "It's great. Have you read his poems before?"

"Actually, I have." Spike wasn't sure why he wasn't admitting that he was William, but something made him hold back. Probably that wall of insecurities that Buffy and Willow harped about every once in a while.

Xander shook his hand. "Wow, it's so cool to meet another Barstow fan off of the Internet." His smile quirked. "It's like fate or something, running into each other like this."

"Yeah." Spike knew he could easily get addicted to that smile. "Fate."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 4: He didn't like the punk look.

He didn't like the punk look. Wasn't turned on by black leather at all, and piercings made him squick. So why was he thinking about how pretty Spike's eyes were?

Xander had to get out of there, get some fresh air. He wracked his mind for an excuse "Hey, there's soda in the cooler downstairs. You girls thirsty?"

"Sounds good." Buffy said, and Faith nodded.

Spike noticed Faith's flirty looks and Buffy's blush, and followed Xander, "I'll help you with that." Serve her right, payback for not warning him last night, Spike thought to himself.

"Granola?" he heard her offer Buffy.

Spike stepped into the small building under the stage, mostly consisting of a large room with construction materials on the right half and dressing-table mirrors along the left wall. Down the center of the room was racks with empty wire hangers waiting for the costumes. There was a door that probably led to a bathroom. It was small and simple, but it had the basics. "Nice."

Xander shrugged as he opened the cooler. "It's not much, but we do all right." he tossed a can to Spike who caught it, and stacked three more in the crook of his arm.

"How'd you get started with the theater?" Spike asked, leaning against the doorframe as he popped open the tab and took a long swallow.

Xander froze, not expecting the rush of lust that washed over him as he watched Spike's throat work. He blinked, shaking his head. "I'd done some stage work in high school, and this seemed like a good summer gig. Been with 'em for the last few years."

"Cool." There was a little bit of cobweb that had gotten stuck in Xander's hair, and Spike reached for it without thinking. His brain caught up to his body just has his fingertips made contact, and he stilled. His gaze dropped to Xander's face, afraid that he might've gone too far, too fast. He was blown away by the naked vulnerability in Xander's dark eyes. With effort, he managed to pull away, showing Xander the wisp of white between his fingers. "Cobweb." he offered quietly.

Xander stopped moving, stopped breathing when Spike reached out towards him. "Thanks." he managed to choke out. The condensation on the cans was starting to soak through his sleeve. "I should probably get these to the girls."

"Yeah." Spike murmured, stepping back. Xander moved past him out the door, trying not to speed-walk back to Faith and Buffy.

~*~

"Oh my god." Faith exclaimed after Buffy and Spike left. "That was so surreal."

Xander had nailed in the boards and was now sanding down the edges and jumping on them to make sure they held. "Yeah."

"Did you know she reads LOTRips too?" She continued, a dreamy little smile on her face. Xander paused and stared at her. "What?"

"Only you could talk to a girl for a half hour and find out she gets off on reading gay male porn." Xander said, amused.

She smirked. "One of my many talents. And you and Spike took your time getting drinks. Were there sparks flying?"

Xander grinned before he could catch himself. "He's okay. Got a good taste in literature." He glared mildly at Faith's insinuating smile. "Stop trying to set me up."

But she wasn't put off that easily. "Okay, so no sparks yet, but there's definitely some interest there. I saw the way he was looking at you."

"You're crazy, he wasn't looking at me like that. And even if he was, when did you take your eyes off of Buffy to notice?" Xander replied, testing the surface he'd just sanded with a thumb.

Faith packed up the brunch. "Deny it all you want, but you can't ignore the truth for long." She checked her watch, swearing a bit under her breath. "I gotta get back to work, my lunch hour's up."

"Ah, yes, Heaven help us if you're not there to sell college students over-priced caffeine stimulants." Xander drawled.

"Hey, don't knock the coffee business. It pays the bills, and don't deny you like the free mochas in the morning."

"That I do." he mock-shooed her away. "Go then, get thee gone so that I may continue to be showered with nummy hot beverages each morning."

Faith laughed and hugged him. "All right, I'm out of here. Call me tonight, and don't work too hard, okay?"

"Sure thing." Xander said. The crook of his arm still felt chilly, and he tried to ignore the place where his scalp still tingled.

~*~

Darkness filled the apartment, the only light the glow from the computer screen. He'd been sitting there for hours, trying to focus the thoughts spinning around in his head. He read the poem over and over, testing it in his mouth like a fine wine, here and there changing the wording to make is sound better. Finally he couldn't change it any more, and after taking a deep breath, Spike uploaded the poem to his website.

Serendipitous Adonis

My darling, my love, I have found thee
Dreams turned reality, now I see
Passion's dark ocean, I'm pulled under

Cloud-filled softness I walk upon
Every moment filled with song
Lyrics proclaiming your wonder

Every flaw is utter perfection
Crooked smile to sun-kissed complexion
From your side do not me asunder

I am wrapped in shrouds and a thick wall
So scared to touch you, too wary to fall
I fear that I shall blunder

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 5: In which Xander and Faith talk about the poem.

"All of his poems are love poems. Love is what he always writes about." Faith said for the third time.

"I'm telling you, this one is different." Xander insisted, nailing in the planks for the loft. "There's a whole different tone to 'Serendipitous Adonis' then there is with any of his previous works."

"What do you mean, 'tone'?" she argued from where she sat in the middle of the stage. "It's a love poem."

"He's never been this specific about the object of his affection before. 'Crooked smile to sun-kissed complexion'? That's pretty specific."

"I don't know," she hedged, "It's not that specific. 'Sun-kissed' is just a tan, and a lot of people have tans. And crooked smile could be anyone. There's probably millions of people who match that description. Even you."

"Me? Yeah, right. I'm not that lucky." he sighed.

There was a pause before Faith spoke. "You sound upset."

"Yeah, well..." he searched for words to explain the confusion in his mind. "Do you remember when you found out that actress you had a crush on was twice your age, and had kids? It's like that. I know that we'll never look deep into each other's eyes and fall in love, but I still kinda had that fan-girl fantasy that it could happen someday, y'know."

"Yeah." Faith replied. "Dreams are hard to let go of. But hey, at least he sounds happy, right? And you've got Spike who you could potentially see as a love interest."

"Faith." Xander sighed again, running his hand through his hair. A headache was starting to form in the back of his skull. "Remember yesterday when I told you to stop trying to set me up?"

Faith took a bite out of the turkey sandwich she'd brought for brunch, and chewed thoughtfully. "I bet if you got to know him, you'd find that he's-"

"Got a tender, soft, and gooey center?" Xander interrupted, and then grimaced. "That sounded so wrong."

"You should give him a chance." Faith said, pointing at him with her sandwich. "You might be surprised."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 6: Your love's going through my head so fast, just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

And so it was three days later that Xander found himself standing outside the doors to Barnes and Noble, flyer clutched in his hand. One of the smaller bookstores he frequented sometimes had free tickets to advance showings of movies, and he'd managed to get his hands on one of the 'Admit Two Free' flyers. He'd only seen the flyer today and the movie was for tonight - he didn't usually like horror flicks, but it had one of his favorite actors in it, so he wanted to see it.

He just didn't want to see it alone. He'd never admit it, but he could get freaked out easily. He called Faith first, who, as it turns out, already had plans to go out dancing with Buffy tonight. His only other friends were out of state, and so he only had one option left.

Xander walked in the store, spotting Buffy right away. "Hey. How're you?"

"I'm doing good." she smiled, "Looking forward to tonight. How about you?"

"Still making plans." he replied. "Spike around here somewhere?"

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, he's back in the children's section, stocking inventory." She pointed him in the right direction, and he thanked her before threading his way through the aisles.

He found the children's section easily enough, the brightly painted sign hard to miss. What he saw there made him stop and almost go "Awww." Spike was seated cross-legged on the floor, a six-year-old girl with long brown hair in his lap, and he was reading a Dr. Seuss book to her.

Spike looked up as Xander approached, pleased surprise coloring his features. "Hey."

"Hey." Xander replied, crouching down so he was at eye-level with them. "Who's this?"

"This is Dawn, Buffy's little sis. Nibblet, say hi to Xander."

"Hi to Xander." the girl repeated, giggling to herself. She held her hand out and Xander shook it solemly.

"Hiya, Dawn. Nice to meet you."

The girl squirmed out of Spike's arms and ran over to the woman who had just entered the children's area. "Thank you so much for watching her, Spike." the woman said as Spike got to his feet.

"No problem, Joyce. Me and the bit get along just fine." Spike replied, and put the Seuss book back on the shelf before introducing them. "Xander, this is Buffy's mum. Joyce, this is a friend of mine, Xander."

Xander felt rather pleasantly surprised himself as he shook Joyce's hand. He hadn't realized he'd been elevated to 'friend' status already... it was nice. Distracted as he was by how Spike had referred to him, it took a minute before he realized that he'd seen Joyce's face before. "Hey, you're the woman who does those barbecue fork awareness commercials, aren't you?"

Joyce smiled, and he could tell where Buffy and Dawn had inherited their sunny smiles from. "Yes, I am. I started doing those commercials five years ago when I had an accident myself. You'd be surprised how many people faint and fall on barbecue forks each year." She turned back to Spike. "I hate to rush, but we've got several more errands to run. Thanks again, Spike. It was nice to meet you, Xander."

"Nice meeting you too." Xander replied, and Joyce left, Dawn waving goodbye while she held on to her mother's hand.

Spike looked at him, one eyebrow raised in a question. "So, what brings you 'round here this sunny Saturday morning?"

Xander had been planning a hundred different ways to broach the subject on his way over, but none of them had sounded good. "Do you like horror movies?"

Spike shrugged. "They're okay."

"'Cause I got these two free tickets and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me. I mean, I totally understand if you can't make it. The movie is tonight and it's kind of short notice so you probably already had plans but I just thought I'd ask anyway in case you were free and wanted to go-"

"Xander." Spike interrupted his nervous babble.

Xander looked sheepish. "Yeah?"

Spike smiled. "Sounds like fun. Count me in."

"Okay." Xander smiled back.

~*~

They made plans for Xander to pick Spike up after work, and they went straight to the theater. Xander showed the flyer to the ticket guy and he waved them though with directions to the correct screen. "Want some munchies?" Xander said, indicating the concession stand.

"Sure." Spike said, and they went over to stand in that line. When they got to the front of the line, Xander gestured for Spike to order first. "I'll take one of those cherry slurpie things and some pretzel bits." The girl behind the counter read off the total, and he pulled a credit card out of his wallet.

"I'm sorry sir, the credit card machines aren't working right now, we can only take cash."

Spike stared at her. "You've got to be kidding me." He rarely carried around cash, and he was too embarrassed to ask Xander for some money.

"I'll get it." Xander offered.

Spike looked at him. "Are you sure? 'Cause I can probably find an ATM around or something..."

"Don't worry about it, it's on me." He turned to the girl behind the counter. "Add one large Barq's rootbeer and a milk duds to that, please." He paid for it in cash and they took their individual snacks.

"Thanks." Spike said, his voice quiet and sincere with gratitude.

Xander smiled and shrugged. "No problem."

As they walked to the correct theater doors, Spike said, "Do you want to maybe get a bite to eat after the flick? My treat."

"Okay." Xander replied. "Sounds good."

~*~

The movie was good, a little predictable in some parts and creepy in others. They shared milk duds and pretzel bits while they guessed at the quizzes that ran on the screen before the lights went down. Near the beginning of the movie, the stereotypical horror-flick girl went to investigate the weird noises in the attic, and even though they were expecting it, both Xander and Spike shrieked when the scary face jumped out of the shadows and attacked the girl. Xander insisted that the main female character looked strikingly like Buffy, which Spike denied. They whispered to each other and laughed during parts of the movie, like when the character who knows exactly what's going on pauses in his mission to destroy the evil in order to slowly creep towards the weird noises in the other room. Halfway through the movie Xander realized that they were both leaning in their seats, with their arms and shoulders pressed against each other, exchanging silent comfort. He didn't move away.

It was near eleven at night when the movie got out, and they walked to Xander's car in a comfortable silence, listening to the other people who'd seen the movie either complain about how predictable it was, or freak about how scary it was.

"So, where to?" Xander said, settling behind the wheel and turning the engine on.

Spike buckled his seatbelt. "Doesn't matter. You pick."

They ended up going to Tee-Jays, a little country restaurant that Xander claimed had good food and cheap prices. There were Halloween decorations here and there, and the sign on the door said 'Howdy'. Spike winced, knowing that he would feel out of place with his leather and piercings, but didn't suggest another place. Buffy always said it was good to try new things, and he had let Xander pick the restaurant. Xander ordered hot chocolate and Spike had a coffee, black. Spike teased Xander about knowing all the lyrics to the country music that were playing in the background. The conversation ranged from their jobs to the weather, and back to the movie.

Xander sipped his cocoa. "I think what freaks me out most about horror flicks, is I get into 'em and I start believing that they could happen." At Spike's glance, he explained, "Not that I'm some crazy who expects it to really happen. But, y'know. If it did, I wouldn't really be surprised."

Spike considered that. "I guess that makes sense. It's said that there are things that only need belief to exist." Xander nodded in agreement.

The waitress came by to refill their drinks. "Would either of you like to try some pie tonight?"

Xander ordered a slice of the chocolate cream pie. Spike wondered how much chocolate the guy consumed on average per day. "I'll take a slice of your pumpkin pie. Seasonal and all that rot." Spike decided. The conversation continued until the pie was crumbs, and they left the restaurant an hour and a half after they'd arrived, still enjoying each other's company. They didn't talk much in the car, aside from the occasional directions from Spike.

"I live in that building. You can drop me off here if you want."

Xander parked the car and turned off the engine. "I'll walk you to your door." he replied to Spike's raised eyebrow. Spike didn't object.

They walked to Spike's door in silence, a million thoughts going through both of their minds. They stopped outside of Spike's apartment door.

"So. Thank you for the movie and the snacks." Spike said.

Xander smiled. "No problem. Thank you for the pie and hot chocolate."

They stood there for a moment, neither sure of what to do next. Finally with a sigh and a muttered, "Bloody hell," Spike's hand caught the back of Xander's neck and pulled him close. Xander's mouth opened in a startled gasp, and Spike used the opportunity to slip his tongue inside. Xander tasted chocolatey and delicious and Spike moaned, pressing Xander into the wall next to his door as he ravished his mouth.

Xander groaned, kissing Spike back just as fervently. His hands had a life of their own, one coming up to tangle in Spike's hair, the other wrapping around Spike's waist to pull him closer.

They both pulled away at the same time, panting for breath. Xander let go and Spike stepped back, watching each other with wide, stunned, aroused looks. Spike reached blindly for the doorknob, his eyes still on Xander.

"See you again sometime?" Spike managed to say, his heart thumping frantically in his chest.

"Yeah." Xander replied shakily. "Definitely."

Spike nodded once with a small smile, and slipped inside his apartment, door closing behind him. He sagged against the inside of the door, fingertips coming up to touch his tingling lips.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 7: Xander drove home in a daze, his mind back in the memory of the kiss.

Xander drove home in a daze, his mind back in the memory of the kiss. He answered his cell automatically when it rang, holding it to his ear before he'd even realized what was happening. "Yeah?"

"How'd the big date go?" Faith. He could tell she was practically chomping at the bit for him to spill on some juicy details.

Xander grinned. "Excellent. Even got smoochies. How about you?"

"'Bout the same, although I got a helluvalot more than smoochies." A high-pitched giggle followed that statement, which didn't sound like Faith.

"Is that Buffy?" Xander said. The high giggle continued, with deeper sultry laughter joining it. "Are you two drunk? Tell me where you are and I'll give you a ride home."

"Relax, Ma. We're already home." Faith assured him, "We came back to my place before getting trashed, so you can stop worrying. I can hear your brow wrinkle from here." Xander sighed in relief and listened as Buffy took the phone.

"Hey Xander? Spike's my best friend, and if you do anything at all to hurt him, I will get one of my friends to beat you to death with a shovel, okay?" It was said in such a perky happy-drunk voice that it took a moment for the threat to register.

"Uh, yeah. Okay." Xander replied warily, then smirked. "Same thing goes for you and Faith, y'hear?"

"Okey dokey." Buffy giggled, and gave the phone back to Faith.

"So, how come you're not getting it on with Spike as we speak? Is he not a good kisser?" There was an 'ow!' as Buffy smacked her.

"He's a great kisser." Xander replied, and heard a faint 'I told you so' from Buffy, and a muffled, 'Should I be jealous?' retort from Faith before the mouthpiece was uncovered.

"So, what's the problem?" Faith asked.

"No problem. Not everybody has sex on the first date like you, slut." Xander chuckled.

"Tramp." Faith retaliated. "You're missing out then." She moaned and Xander realized he couldn't hear Buffy giggling anymore. "Hey Xan, I gotta go. Talk to you later." she said quickly and hung up.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 8: You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the discovery channel.

Xander swiped black paint over the wood, working the brush up and down to smooth out the drips. He'd already painted the loft and the stairs, and now there was just the walls and the stage itself to paint. The park was quiet for a Sunday morning, most people at church or sleeping in. He'd tried to sleep in, but all of his dreams had revolved around Spike: Spike cutely embarrassed at the concession stand, Spike throwing a pretzel bit at a couple of necking teenagers near the front of the theater and acting innocent when they turned and glared, Spike's eyes darkening the moment before they kissed. His internal clock woke him up at seven as usual and he hadn't been able to get back to sleep, so he decided to get ahead of schedule on the stage.

Spreading paint on the wall in a steady rhythm, Xander recited to himself one of his favorite poems. "I seek that which cannot be seen, save by those whose blindfolds are removed. I search for that which cannot be touched, except in the caress of a lover's hand. I long for that which cannot be tasted, excluding within the sweetness of a kiss. Love is that which someday I shall find-"

"Burning like fire and moonlight." a voice behind him finished the poem. Xander jumped and whirled around, splattering a little paint on the floor. Spike stood a few feet away, hands in his pockets. "'Wondering Wanderer.' One of Barstow's first poems."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. Nice sneak-attack, by the way."

Spike tilted his head a little, considering. "Sneak, yes. Attack, no. You haven't seen me attack yet."

Both his words and the sparkling heat in Spike's eyes made Xander's mind skip to the previous night. With an effort, he managed to haul his attention back to the present. The tiny smirk at the corner of Spike's lips betrayed his knowledge of where Xander's mind had been. "So, what brings you out here?"

Spike's eyes raked up and down Xander's body, not even trying to hide the leer. "Obvious, innit?"

Xander swallowed hard, and set the paint brush down. "How about an explanation for the kids who rode the short bus to school today?"

"I'll do you one better." Spike said, his voice low and husky. He stepped forward slowly and Xander stepped back, coming to a halt an inch away from the wet paint. Spike kept walking until he stood toe to toe with Xander. "How about a hands-on demonstration?" With that he shoved Xander backwards, the thin plywood wall shuddering with impact. The collision also made Xander shudder, gasping for breath. Spike leaned forward, bodily pressing Xander against the trembling wall as he thrust his tongue into Xander's mouth. Xander groaned and kissed Spike back, his tongue learning the grooves inside Spike's mouth. His arms came up to wrap around Spike's shoulders and pull him closer, and Xander had a fleeting thought that he really didn't give a shit about the wet paint soaking into his shirt.

Meanwhile, Spike's hands were fumbling with the clasp of his jeans. Spike's tongue slid in and out of Xander's mouth, leisurely tongue-fucking him as he panted. "Condom?" Spike muttered around the kiss.

"Back pocket." Xander managed to say. He moaned as Spike's hand slid into his back pocket, groping his ass while fetching the bit of plastic. Spike unzipped him and his jeans fell to the ground, boxers quickly following to puddle at his ankles. Spike's hand wrapped around Xander's blood-heavy and throbbing cock, stroking it.

"God. Been wanting this." Spike murmured, nuzzling Xander's neck. He quickly opened the condom and rolled it on Xander, dropping to his knees in the process. Xander's hands threaded through his hair, caressing his skull as he licked Xander through the latex.

"God, yes. Please. More." Xander whimpered, hips rocking of their own accord. It felt like forever before he felt Spike's hot, talented mouth envelop the head of his cock. His eyes fell closed, blocking out the birds swooping and the squirrels frolicking and the proof that they were indeed outside where anyone could see them. He didn't want to see any of that, only wanted to taste Spike in his mouth, feel Spike's touch on his skin, hear the sounds they both were making.

"Spike!" the raw scream tore from Xander's throat as his body writhed in orgasm. Spike's hands clenched at his hips, holding him steady as he came. He opened his eyes as Spike stood up, their tongues dueling before Xander had finished catching his breath.

"Hey, Xander. You all right?"

Xander's eyes snapped open. He was sitting cross-legged in the grass, relaxing after painting the entire stage black. Relaxing and fantasizing about the man in front of him. "Hmm? Yeah, I'm fine. How are you, Spike?"

Spike squatted a few feet away, watching Xander. "Fine. Was worried you might've gotten sunstroke when you didn't answer the first time I said your name."

Xander levered himself to his feet, stretching his hands over his head to work out the kinks in his back. "Nope, I'm fine. Just day-dreaming."

Spike's eyebrow cocked, checking out the bulge in Xander's jeans before his gaze flickered up to Xander's face. "Good dream?" he asked idly.

Xander blushed a little, but couldn't break eye contact. Spike was looking up at him through his lashes and it was so bloody sexy that Xander's hands clenched from the effort of not jumping Spike right then and there. "Yeah, pretty good." he smiled a little. "So, what brings you out here?"

Spike smiled back, standing up. "Buffy and Faith rang, said they'd be busy all day and that you'd probably be here by your lonesome. Thought I'd drop by, keep you company."

Xander shrugged, gesturing to the stage. "All done here. Paint's gotta dry for a few more hours. We can go somewhere, if you want."

"Anyplace in mind?" Spike said.

Xander grinned, elbowing Spike playfully. "Hey! I had to decide yesterday. It's your turn to pick."

Spike's smile widened. "Do you like onion blossoms?"

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 9: Vidalia, Vidalia, girl won't you tell me why, Sweet Vidalia, you always gotta make me cry.

Xander gave a mini tour in his head as he walked next to Spike. And over here is where I parked last night, and if you look to your left, boys and girls, you will see where I was pushed against the wall while Spike tried to remove my tonsils. We're walking, we're walking, and we're stopping.

"They used to have the best Onion Blossoms at this club nearby called the Bronze, but then they changed the menus and they got rid of them." Spike said, unlocking the door to his apartment. Xander followed him in, and Spike locked the door behind him, tossing the keys on a table nearby.

Xander whistled as he looked around Spike's apartment. There was a large five-person black leather couch in the living room, facing a decent sized TV with VCR and DVD players. There was a stereo against one wall with a selection of CDs, and several bookshelves longing the other wall, near to overflowing with books. "Nice place." Xander wandered over to the nearest bookshelf and browsed through the titles, noticing several of his favorite poets and writers. "I like your tastes."

"Thanks." Spike replied. He was halfway to the kitchen when there was a muffled thump coming from another room, followed by a burst of giggles.

Xander frowned, "That sounded like..."

"Buffy?" Spike called, and a door opened, revealing the girl in question. Her long blonde hair was tousled and her face was flushed, almost the shade of the pink sheet she had wrapped around her torso.

"Hey, Spike. Xander." she greeted them with a smile.

"Thought you were gonna spend the day at Faith's." Spike said.

"We were," a sheet-wrapped Faith said, coming to stand behind Buffy and wrap her arms around Buffy's waist, "But you know how little food I keep in my fridge," that was directed at Xander, before glancing at Spike, "And since we figured you'd be hanging with Xan all day, we thought we'd move the party here. More food, fresh sheets, that sort of thing." Explanation over, she lowered her head to Buffy's neck and began nibbling at it.

"So we'll grab a few things and then we're out of here." Spike said, gesturing towards the kitchen. "We're going to try to make an onion blossom. You want us to save you some?"

"Ick, no." Buffy wrinkled her nose, "I don't like onions." She and Faith began walking backwards, back into the bedroom. "Thanks anyway though. Have a good time. Nice to see you again, Xander." The bedroom door closed and Spike and Xander exchanged amused looks before heading to the kitchen.

"You want to go to my place to try and make 'em?" Xander asked, leaning against the kitchen counter.

Spike cast him a quick grateful smile. "Sure. Thanks. Sorry about Buffy-"

"No problem." Xander replied, waving off the apology. "So, you and Buffy are roommates?"

"Yeah." Spike said, rooting through the cupboards. "We were friends online, and decided we wanted to move out of our parent's houses and rent an apartment together about two years ago. Ah hah! Found it." Spike pulled out a small box, with the words "Onion Blossom Maker" scrawled across it and a full color picture of the fried delicacy on the side, and showed it to Xander as if he was holding the holy grail.

"Cool." Xander eyed the box. "You ever try to use this thing?"

"Nope. This'll be my first time." Spike turned and opened the refrigerator, bending down to pull out a couple onions from the bottom drawer. Xander was busy giving his dick a stern mental talking-to about how Spike didn't necessarily mean 'first time' that way, and so barely managed to jerk his gaze away from Spike's jean-clad ass before he was caught staring.

Spike closed the fridge and put the onions and the small box in a plastic bag, before turning to Xander. "We're off?"

Xander nodded. "We're off."

Spike took a few steps towards the door, then paused. "Are you and Faith roommates?"

Xander laughed, envisioning the apartment that Spike assumed Faith and Buffy left for them. "No, I don't have any roommates. We're safe from whatever damage and debris Hurricane Baith left behind."

"Good." Xander could hear the relief in Spike's voice.

~*~

Spike and Xander bustled around the small kitchen, both crying. Spike had browsed Xander's collection of music and found an alternative CD to put on while they were cooking.

"See? This is why I don't cook much, especially recipes that involve cutting onions." Xander commented, tears streaming down his face. The plastic onion-holder in the box hadn't worked very well, and he'd ended up having onion slices rather than a blossom. He tossed the cut-up onions into a bowl and washed his hands twice before grabbing a paper towel to dab at his eyes.

"Apparently we need basil. Do you have any basil?" Spike said, trying to read the tiny print on the box through watery eyes.

"Let me check." Xander said, pulling out the drawer of spices. A couple months back when Faith had been cleaning out her place, he'd ended up inheriting most of her spices, even though he rarely used them. Poultry seasoning, black pepper, cinnamon, chives, cloves, mustard seeds, dill weed, celery seed, celery salt, but "No basil. Ooo!" he grabbed one of the small plastic bottles and showed it to Spike. "Mrs. Dash! Mrs. Dash has basil in it, doesn't it?"

"I think so." Spike said. "Mrs. Dash has everything in it. Toss in a few shakes." Xander did so, and put the spice away. "We need oil to fry it in."

"Got it." Xander said, pulling out a bottle of vegetable oil and a large frying pan. Together, Spike and Xander dipped the onion slices in the egg mixture, and then in the breading bowl, and then dropped it in the hot oil. Xander poked at the bubbling mass in the pan. "I think we used too much milk."

"Why's that?" Spike said, standing behind Xander and resting his chin on Xander's shoulder.

Xander poked the frying concoctions again, stirring it here and there. "The breading isn't sticking to the onion."

"Huh." They cooked it anyway, and spooned some of the concoction into two bowls. They took it out into Xander's living room and settled on the over-stuffed loveseat, and Xander turned on the TV and started flipping though channels. "Stop! Go back, Passions' is on." Spike exclaimed. Xander flipped back to the right channel, and Spike recognized the episode. "It's a rerun, but this is a good episode. Timmy's down the well. Do you watch Passions?"

"Nope, I'm usually too busy to catch the soaps." Xander replied, trying a bite of the onion-breading stuff.

Spike tasted a spoonful and then spit it back out, setting his serving on the coffee table. "I don't think we made it right." He watched Xander incredulously as he took another bite of the conglomeration, and then another.

"It's not too bad." Xander said, eating about half of his portion. "Kinda peppery." His eyes began watering from the spices and he put his bowl down as well, standing up. "I'm going to go get water. You want some?"

"Yes, please." Spike said. Xander filled two glasses, and came back in the living room to see Spike tentatively trying another spoonful, and scrunching his face up cutely in dislike.

"Here you go." Xander handed Spike one of the glasses, which Spike took and downed about half of the glass.

"Thanks." Spike said, setting the glass down and doing that looking-up-though-his-lashes thing that made Xander weak in the knees. Xander made a strangled noise deep in his throat, remembering to set his own water down before pouncing on Spike, ravishing his mouth as passionately as he had the night before. Spike kissed him back, but it felt a hell of a lot more hesitant that it had yesterday.

Cursing at himself for moving too fast, he pulled back. "I'm sorry." Xander said, one hand coming up to caress Spike's cheekbone. "You're just so fucking beautiful, I can't resist." The shy smile on Spike's face took Xander's breath away.

"It's all right. We'll just go slow, yeah?" Spike said, his voice soft.

Xander smiled. "Yeah. We'll go slow." They both leaned in slowly, lips meeting gently this time as eyes drifted closed.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 10: And hootenanny, well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.

A week passed, things moving slowly but steadily, and Xander was happy. He'd wake up in the morning, head to the stage, work a bit, chat with Faith over mochas, work a little more, hang out with Spike on his lunch break, finish up the day's work, then head over to Barnes and Noble to read and distract Spike until his shift was over. Then they'd go to one or the other's apartment and watch movies while making out, or go out to a restaurant or movie or coffeehouse and make out, or go back to the park and watch the sun set and make out under the stars. Sometimes one or the other tried their hand at cooking but it tended to turn out like the onion disaster, and so they usually either went out or ordered in. Buffy and Faith turned into Buffy&Faith which turned into Baith, and were rarely seen without the other when they weren't working.

Xander frowned as he took a sip of his mocha, the whipped cream on the top coating his tongue in a strange way. "Weird."

"Yeah, we changed brands." Faith said, nursing a warm chai. "So, how are things going in Spanderville?"

Xander chuckled at the nickname. "Good. Things are progressing."

"Reach third base yet?" Faith asked.

Xander choked on his mocha. "Faith!" she looked at him innocently. "I swear, you act more like a man than me. I do not kiss and tell."

She smirked. "So there has been kissing?"

Xander grinned. "Every night."

"Nice." she socked him in the arm. "Are you two ever going to make the beast with two backs?"

Xander rolled his eyes at the euphemism. "We will, one of these days. Patience is a virtue."

"Where's the fun in being virtuous?" Faith scoffed, sipping her drink.

"Well, it's not like you're living vicariously though my sex life." Xander remarked. "And speaking of sex lives, how is it going in Baithland?"

Faith shivered in delight, obviously reliving a memory. "Baithland is good. B's got this nifty set of black-leather handcuffs that matches the-"

"Hey, TMI!" Xander exclaimed, doing a time-out gesture with his hands. "Feel free to not go into details, especially of the leather, metal, or battery-powered kind."

"Suit yourself." she shrugged. "Edited version: We're good. Better than good." Xander thought she was almost glowing with happiness. "I never thought that I would ever feel like this, that I would ever find someone like her. It's amazing, and I lie awake at night scared to death that something's going to happen to ruin it." Her smile had vanished and she looked about to cry, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand.

Xander grabbed her hand, holding it between both of his own. "Hey, don't think like that. You two are great together, and everything's going to work out. You just gotta stop with the negative thinking. Now, repeat after me: I'm good enough, I'm strong enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!"

Faith burst out laughing, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. "Thanks, Xan. I needed that."

He hugged her. "Anytime, Faith."

"So, what are you doing tomorrow night?"

Xander lifted an eyebrow at her. "Probably hanging with Spike. Why?"

"'Cause I thought it might be fun if we all four hung out for once. B's gonna go rent some movies and I'll make popcorn, and I thought that maybe Spike could bring drinks-"

"I'm the dip." Xander interrupted. Faith smirked at him. "What? Onion dip. Stirring, not cooking. It's what I bring, you know that. And chips."

"I know." Faith winked. "I just think it's funny when you say it like that. And don't bring onion dip - B doesn't like it, remember?"

"Oh yeah." Xander nodded. "So, ETA of this little shindig?"

"Eightish?" Faith suggested. "At B's and Spike's place, 'cause they got that large-ass couch."

Xander nodded. "Cool. Will be there."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 11: Well if you will be my lover, I will shiver and sing. But if you will be my master, then I will do anything.

Spike was working on auto-drive, his body automatically ringing up books and exchanging currency while his mind wandered and counted the minutes before Xander would drop by. He rang up the CD "Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits" and read off the total with tax. The customer handed over a credit card and winked at him. "It's a Samhain gift for a big broody angel I know."

Spike nodded. The closer to Halloween it got, the more people began to wear their costumes 24/7. Take this guy he was waiting on, for example. Green make-up on all visible skin, red horns and contact lenses, and a purple suit. The name on his credit card was "Lorne Deathwock", and Spike figured that the guy must've had a really messed up childhood. His own hadn't been perfect, but he had to have done something right to be gifted with Xander. He absently began to sing under his breath. "Perhaps I had a wicked childhood. Perhaps I had a miserable youth. But somewhere in my wicked, miserable life, there must've been a moment of truth. For here you are, standing there, loving me, whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must've done something good."

He looked up to see the guy watching him with no small amount of curiosity. "A word of advice, honey." Spike quirked his eyebrow. "Don't keep secrets, they'll just come back to bite you in the ass."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Spike said, his heart beginning to beat faster. Who was this guy, a psychic or something?

Lorne shrugged. "You know exactly what I'm talking about, but whether or not you choose to accept it and come clean is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Only you can make that decision, but if you don't do something soon, the choice will be taken from you. Good luck, crumb cake. You're gonna need it." The guy took his bag and left without a backward glance. Spike watched him go, refusing to acknowledge that this stranger's advice had anything to do with the fact that he still hadn't told Xander that he was William.

Spike shook his head, before glancing at the clock. Three more hours until Xander would show up. His gaze drifted towards the direction Lorne had gone. Yup, Halloween sure brought out the crazies.

~*~

Spike and Xander walked up to the apartment, hands clasped between them. They walked in to find Buffy sitting on the couch, fast-forwarding through the opening ads. "Hey guys. Faith's in the kitchen getting the popcorn ready."

Xander picked up the DVD cover and read the title. "Velvet Goldmine? What's that about?"

"You got Velvet Goldmine?" Spike exclaimed. "I didn't know they even carried it."

Buffy smiled like the cat that had scored cream for all its friends. "I thought you'd be excited."

Spike grinned at Xander. "It's a good flick. David Bowie and Iggy Pop equivalents. You'll like it."

"Cool." Xander said. "I'm going to go help Faith." he left Spike chatting with Buffy, and entered the kitchen.

Faith looked up from where she was standing guard by the humming microwave. "Yo, Xan."

"Hey." Xander raised the bag he was holding. "I brought salsa and chips. No-onion salsa, I might add. Where do you want it?"

"Just set it on the counter, we can bowl it and take it out in a minute."

Xander leaned against the counter, watching Faith bustle around the kitchen as if she owned the place. She seemed to know exactly where everything was, pulling things from drawers and cabinets without hesitation. "Well, aren't you little miss housewife?" he remarked.

She glared mildly at him. "Joke all you want, but I don't trust B in the kitchen. Last time, she burned water."

"She did what?" Xander stared. "How can you burn water?"

Faith shrugged. "I have no clue, but she was able to do it. Smoke, fire, the whole bit. Here, hold this." she gave him a large plastic bowl.

"Weird." Xander glanced out the kitchen door to watch Buffy and Spike on the couch. "Hey, do you know anything about this movie we're gonna be watching?"

"Not much. Supposed to have boys shagging boys in it." Faith replied, taking the bag of popcorn out of the microwave and poured it in the bowl Xander was holding, careful of the steam. "Will you stop staring at me like that? I'm beginning to get a complex."

"That's it, next double date, we're watching girls. Victorian lesbian porn." Xander groaned as Faith's eyes lit up. He should've known she'd have a kink like that.

~*~

Half-way through the movie, and Xander had to admit he did like it. Christian Bale was cute, and Ewan McGreggor was definitely hot. So hot, in fact, that he found himself getting hard long before they reached the orgy scene. He glanced to his left where Buffy and Faith had been shamelessly making out since Ewan's performance with the oil and glitter. Buffy had one arm around Faith's waist and the other in her hair, whereas Faith had one arm around Buffy's shoulders and the other one working its way under her blouse. He looked to his right where Spike was sitting, eyes glued to the screen. They were holding hands, and a wicked thought sprang up in Xander's mind. He began to stroke Spike's palm with his thumb, back and forth ever so slowly.

Spike started in surprise, and looked at Xander. Xander bit his lower lip and smiled invitingly. Spike's gaze darkened, flickering to his lips and back. They leaned together simultaneously, over a week of practice minimizing the chance of bumped noses or clicking teeth. They soon lost awareness of anything but each other, hands straying to places known to bring pleasure to the other, tongues mapping out well-known territory.

Muffled giggling broke their trance and they pulled away from each other, turning to look at Faith and Buffy who were munching on popcorn and watching them. Xander chuckled. "Let me guess. This whole double date thing was an elaborate ruse so that you two could watch us make out."

"Pretty much." Faith said, grinning. Buffy elbowed her. "It was all B's idea."

Buffy gasped in shock, blushing. "Was not!" Spike threw a handful of popcorn at her. She dodged most of it, causing Faith to get hit by the crossfire.

Faith sputtered, and grabbed two handfuls of popcorn. "Oh, you're so dead." She threw them at Spike, who ducked and used Xander as a shield.

Xander smirked, picking up one of the large bowls of popcorn. "This is war."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 12: When it comes, it comes unannounced like a matador who’s taunting me with his reddest red cloak and I am the bull.

He held the black composition book, cardboard edges frayed and pages wrinkled from use. Spike flipped through it, reading the poems filling the pages, every line bringing back memories of Xander's face, Xander's smile, moments spent in Xander's company. There was a knock on the door and Spike's eyes glanced up towards the door. He quickly slid the book of poems under the cushion of the couch, before going to open the door. "Hey Xander."

"I went by the bookstore, but Buffy said you'd gotten off early. Is everything all right?" Xander asked with a hint of worry.

"Yeah, everything's fine." Spike said, his hand automatically going to his right pocket to touch the letter there, and he debated again how and when to tell Xan the truth. Wimping out yet again, he grabbed his jacket. "Wanna go somewhere?"

Xander still looked worried, but he wasn't going to push. "Sure."

~*~

It'd been yesterday that the weird guy, Lorne, had been in the store, but Spike couldn't stop himself from brooding over the man's advice. He wanted to tell Xan the truth, but he had no idea how to even begin. He knew Xan would be angry about him keeping it secret, but every day it became harder and harder to imagine telling Xan. Around noon his manager, Willow, came by to check on things. "So, how's it going?" she asked, strangely perky.

"Fine." Spike warily replied.

"Congrats on the letter."

"Thanks." His fingertips touched the letter that he'd been carrying around since he received it a week ago, inviting him to be part of the annual Barnes & Noble New Authors Book Signing. The letter was starting to get worn around the edges, but Spike couldn't stop carrying it around - he was half afraid that it might just blink out of existence if he didn't touch it every so often.

"I heard a rumor that they want to put out another book of your poems soon, since your first one's doing so well."

"That would be cool." Spike said, thinking about the collection of poems he'd written for Xander.

Willow noticed how distracted Spike was. "Hey, why don't you take the rest of the day off? The book signing's tomorrow, and so it's natural you'd be stressed. Go home and relax, okay?"

Spike felt a little guilty for leaving early, but his mind really wasn't on the job. "You sure?"

Willow nodded. "Yeah. It's pretty slow today, and you look like you could use some time to yourself."

So he'd gone home and moped, considering and rejecting dozens of different ways to tell Xander the truth, and finally coming up with nothing.

~*~

"Why do you like coming to the park so much? You work here everyday, I'd've thought you'd be sick of this place by now." Spike commented as they walked down one of the paths.

Xander pondered that for a moment. "I don't know. It's just, nothing's the same. It's always changing, so I can't get tired of it. I mean..." he gestured at nothing in particular. "What do you see?"

Spike took a good look around. "Trees. Grass. People. Pond. Stage. Same as every other bloody day. Why? What do you see?"

Xander looked around, trying to put his thoughts into words. "I see... everything. Over there," he pointed to a large tree where a couple were kissing, "They come around pretty often, and last week he proposed to her right at that spot. I see every performance that's been on that stage in the last few years, every missed line and prop mishap, every costume and choreographic move. I see that spot by the pond in the reeds where a mother goose walked past last spring with eight little gray goslings in a line behind her. I see the way the trees change colors every day, and the places where the leaves collect for children to play in and mothers to pick and choose materials for wreaths. I see the cardinal that's been hanging around for the last few weeks with its mate. I see different people every day: meeting someone new, spending time with someone old, or just relaxing in the park. I see the wind grow colder and the people start wearing jackets and I can see how the snow will pile up when winter begins." He spun away from Spike, arms outstretched to encompass the magnitude of the park. "Every day I come here I see something different, something that has changed, and that's why I don't get tired of coming here."

Spike watched Xander, awed by his passion. "I stand corrected."

Xander smiled at Spike, stepping closer. "You most certainly do." he reached out and pulled Spike close, running his tongue along Spike's lower lip. Spike's mouth opened and he sucked Xander's tongue inside, swirling his own tongue around it. Spike moaned, pressing closer as Xander's hands began to roam. Xander slipped one hand ever so smoothly into Spike's pocket, plucking out the letter that he'd noticed Spike touching every so often. Curiousness had gotten the best of him and he'd decided to find out what it was that was distracting Spike so. He broke the kiss with a grin, dancing out of Spike's arms before he realized he'd been pickpocketed. "What's this?" he asked, beginning to open the letter.

Spike panicked. The letter was addressed to William Barstow, and if Xander saw if, he'd figure it out... "Give it back." he said, trying to snatch it from Xander's hand, but Xan jumped out of his reach.

"You want it so much, come and get it." he said mischievously, then turned and ran. Spike only ogled his cute ass for a moment before taking off in hot pursuit. Xander laughed as he ran, jumping over roots and dodging around trees, but Spike was faster and managed to tackle him after a few minutes, snatching the letter out of Xander's hands. Spike held the letter in both his hands as high over his head as he could, Xander's hands trying to pry away his death grip from the slip of paper. They rolled across the grass, slowing to a stop with Xander on top, half straddling Spike. Their legs were tangled together and the rest of their bodies were pressed against the other. Spike's arms were still stretched over his head with Xander's hands on top of his, effectively pinning him down in this position. Xander admired the flush staining Spike's face and neck a dark red, even as they both panted for breath.

Xander leaned down, nipping Spike's earlobe before whispering in as seductive a voice as he could muster while breathing hard, "You got any plans for tonight?"

Spike shuddered with arousal, shyly rocking his hips. "Not really. You?"

The feel of Spike's groin grinding into his made Xander's eyes roll up in his head, and he groaned. "Yeah, got a pretty good idea in mind." He took a firm grip on his hormones and searched Spike's face, suddenly serious. "You sure about this?" The last thing he wanted to do was push for more than Spike was willing to give.

He was relieved to see no hesitation in Spike's eyes. "Yeah, I'm sure. Your place or mine?"

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 13: I want to see you hazy, weak in the knees. I want to see you come, come, completely pleased.

They made their way to Xander's apartment in silence, the chilly fall air not nearly enough to cool the attraction smoldering between them. Spike's thoughts were seesawing back and forth between wanting to tell Xan the truth, and almost girly apprehension about what was going to happen soon. Xander opened the door, letting Spike enter before closing and locking it behind them.

"So." Xander said, hanging his keys on a hook by the door.

Spike was nervously looking anywhere but him. "So." he replied intelligently. He jumped when Xander touched his shoulder.

"Hey, easy. We're gonna go slow, remember?" Xander soothed.

Spike nodded, his normal bravado evaporated, leaving nothing but the shy poet in its place. "Yeah." he whispered, ashamed at how hesitant he felt. He wanted this, damn it, had been thinking about sleeping with Xander for weeks, and now that the opportunity was within his grasp, he was too timid to take it. "It's just..."

"Shh." Xander said, wrapping his arms around Spike in a loose embrace as he leaned close. Spike copied the move and they began to kiss, slowly and softly at first, gradually building heat as their hands began to wander over each other's bodies.

Spike moaned, one of Xander's hands caressing his scalp while the other one was groping his arse. He had one of his own hands tangled in Xander's hair. His other hand was running up and down Xander's back under his shirt, eliciting little whimpers of pleasure from Xan.

Xander took the initiative, shuffling them step by step towards his bedroom. Every few steps they managed to shed an article of clothing, and by the time they reached his bed they were both left with only their boxers. Xander shimmied out of his last stitch, and held a hand up to stop Spike from doing the same.

"Let me." Xander said with a wicked grin. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of Spike's black cotton boxers, and slid them down as he sank to his knees. With a wink and a hand on Spike's hip to steady him, he ran his tongue along the throbbing vein of Spike's cock, from root to tip. Spike shuddered, his hands gripping Xander's shoulders for balance. Xander swirled his tongue around the head, probing the slit briefly before engulfing the head.

"God, Xander!" Spike cried out as Xan's warm mouth surrounded his cock. This was so much better than he'd imagined, and Spike was almost sobbing from sheer pleasure. He's been with a few guys in the past, but none of them had ever felt right, and so they had never lasted long or gotten very far. He'd fooled around a little, but it had never felt like this, like every touch was lighting him up like a christmas tree, with enough electricity snap crackle and popping in his nerves to power New York City for a year. Noises he didn't even know he could make were escaping his throat, and they seemed to urge Xander on because he was moving faster as his lips slid up and down on Spike's cock, sucking hard as he withdrew, and Spike felt like he was a firework, exploding and combusting until he was glittering bits of light flying across the sky. He crumpled and fell backwards onto Xander's bed, and Xander crawled on top, licking come from his lips as he smirked mischievously.

"Good?" Xander asked, his playful expression and dancing eyes hypnotizing Spike, even as his erection pressed into Spike's thigh.

"Bloody amazing." Spike replied, catching his breath.

Xander's grin widened. "Good, because that was just the beginning. I've got a few more ideas, if you're inclined."

"Ideas?" Spike asked, and his eyes widened as Xander's fingertips caressed his balls, then brushed lightly against his puckered hole. He swallowed hard, shoving his nervousness aside. "Okay." he murmured his acquiesce.

Xander kissed him, sliding his tongue inside Spike's mouth and coaxing him to respond, and soon Spike had forgotten about being nervous and was lost in the kiss.

Xander's hand slid under the pillow, fetching the small tube of lube that he'd put there after their first kiss, on the chance that he'd get lucky one of these days. Luck seemed to be smiling on them today, and Xander smiled too as he squeezed out some of the gel and warmed it up between his fingers before stroking Spike's ass again. He searched Spike's face, wanting to make sure that he was doing all right.

Spike trembled at Xander's touch, unable to control the shivers that coursed through his body. "Hey, are you sure about this? Because we don't have too."

Spike nodded, and slightly scared but still determined expression on his face. "P-please." he stammered, "I want this, I want you... inside. Please."

Xander nodded, slipping a finger inside Spike, who groaned at the intrusion. Xander gently worked his finger in and out, opening Spike gently. He slipped a second finger inside Spike's warm opening, stretching him slowly and gently. The third finger made Spike's eyes roll up in his head, and Xander watched Spike's face as he searched for the right spot...

Spike cried out, arching off the bed as if he'd suddenly been in intimate contact with a live wire. Xander chuckled at Spike's surprised, appreciative gaze. "First time?"

Spike nodded, his voice stolen away by the intensity of the moment. Xander grinned as he rolled a condom on, lining himself up between Spike's thighs. "Oh baby, you're gonna love this."

~*~

Hours and several orgasms later, they lay sated in each other's arms, curled together under the warm blankets. Xander's fingers were lazily brushing against the nape of Spike's neck, and Spike was happily nuzzeling Xander's neck.

God! He'd never imagined it could feel so good, and Xander had been so gentle and wonderful and nice, showing him how amazing it could feel. His heart swelled, and he wanted to tell Xander everything, share everything with him. "Xan?" he murmured. "You still awake?"

"Mmmm." was the reply, and Xander's eyes stayed closed. Spike nipped his throat, and Xander gasped, "Oh, do that again."

"What are you doing tomorrow?" Spike asked, lightly scratching his teeth along Xander's neck.

Xander moaned, trying to make his brain function. "Working all day, like usual. Why? What are you doing?"

"Nothing." Spike cursed himself for wimping out. "I've got plans too." He bit his lip, wanting to tell Xander how much he meant to him. "Xan?"

"Hmm?" Xander replied.

If he couldn't get up the nerve to tell Xander one of the secrets he'd been hiding, he'd tell him the other one... "I love you." Spike confessed, warily watching for the reaction.

Xander's eyes opened, looking at Spike with a stunned expression which melted into a warm smile. "I love you too."

~*~

Xander grinned sappily as he drove to work the next morning, mind playing a loop of 'He loves me!' over and over in his head. He was going to take Spike out somewhere nice after work, and had stored a nice set of clothes in the back seat to change into after work. His cell phone rang, and he answered it. "Any day you wake up next to the person you love is a good day."

Faith shrieked on the other end of the phone. "You guys slept together, didn't you? It's about fucking time. And you love him?"

"Mmmhmm." Xander said, sighing happily.

"God, you even sound like a besotted fool." Faith remarked. "I've got some good news that might even make your day better."

"I doubt you could make today any better, but go ahead and try." Xander challenged.

"William Barstow is going to be autographing his book at the east-side Barnes and Noble today."

Xander swerved into the next lane before regaining control of his vehicle. "He is?" he asked, afraid Faith was pulling his chain. To be this close to the person he'd been idolizing for years now...

"Hell yes. I just found out today. You gonna go?"

Xander glanced at the clock. "Shit, I gotta work."

Faith scoffed. "Blow off work, it'll still be waiting for you tonight, or even tomorrow. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet William Barstow."

Xander considered for a moment, and then gave in. "Alright, I'll blow off work and head over there. East-side one, you said?"

"Yeah." Faith replied. "It starts at eight-thirty, so by the time you get there it'll have already started."

"Hopefully there won't be too long of a line." Xander said.

"Why don't you invite Spike to go with you? I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it."

"Nah, he said he had plans for today. Besides, I kinda wanna go by myself, you know? Get some closure on this obsession."

"Okay." Faith replied. "Have fun. Tell me all about it."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 14: The less I need the more I get. Make me chaste but not just yet.

The signing was going rather well so far. Spike was surprised to find out how many people really liked his poetry, and how far they had driven just to get his autograph and meet him in person. The day was going just peachy, in fact, until he saw a familiar face in the line. That familiar face caught his gaze, and anticipating happy smile turned into horrified, betrayed stare.

Xander turned and bolted, making a bee-line for the front doors and outside of this building. The shelves of books were suffocating him, pressing in on him, and he needed to get some fresh air.

"Bathroom break." Spike told the Barnes and Noble representative sitting at the table with him, before running after Xander. "Xan." he called, but Xander didn't reply, just banged out of the doors. "Xan!" he called again, bursting out the doors seconds later. Xander paused a few feet away, his back toward Spike. "Wait a minute, I can explain..."

Xander laughed bitterly. "I don't need an explanation, I figured it out." He turned, pinning Spike with an accusing glare. "You're William Barstow. The guy I've been crushing on for years and the man I've been dating for weeks are one and the same." He stepped towards Spike, eyes seething with anger. "What's more is that you've been lying the entire time that I've known you. Since the first day we met you knew I liked your poetry, and you never told me. What else have you lied about?" He ended the question with a choked sob, remembering the night before.

The horrified and betrayed expression cut through Spike like a briar-filled whip. "God, no, Xan. I didn't lie about that. I love you." He reached out a hand to touch his face, but Xander flinched away.

"I don't know that. I don't know anything right now." He turned and ran, tears beginning to stream down his face. Spike watched him go, watched him turn a corner and out of sight. With shaking hands, he pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial.

~*~

Buffy had disappeared inside the bathroom to freshen up for a moment before they were going out to dinner. Faith sprawled out on the bed, half tempted to just blow off the dinner and keep Buffy here, but they hadn't gone out in a while and she knew Buffy was looking forward to trying out this new restaurant. Buffy's cell phone rang from its spot on the bedside table, and Faith grabbed it. "Buffy's cell phone." she said.

Spike sounded upset. "Faith, thank God. I need you to listen to me. Xander came to the book signing today-"

"Yeah, I know." Faith interrupted. "He was all psyched about it. How did you know he went to the signing? He said you had plans for today."

"I know because I'm William Barstow."

Ice began to run down Faith's spine. "That's not funny." She could imagine the scene, Xander walking into the book signing, the betrayal when he saw Spike. She felt sick.

"I'm not joking."

"You piece of shit." she enunciated every word, her voice low and deadly. Buffy came out of the bathroom at the poisonous sound of her voice, and Faith turned to her. "Did you know? Did you know all along that Spike was William?"

Buffy was frozen from the anger pouring off of Faith. "I-I"

Faith approached her, slow like a tiger about to rip its prey's throat out. "How long." she asked, and the quiet voice was even scarier than the angry one.

"Since the first night, when Xander came in to buy the book." Buffy was momentarily saved by Spike's voice on the phone.

Faith put the cell back to her ear. "What?" she snapped.

"I said, I know I'm an arse, but I need your help." It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse him, but he continued before she could protest. "Xander found out and he ran off. He needs a friend right now, " his voice grew quiet, sad. "and I don't think I qualify anymore."

"I'm on it." Faith said and hung up. She tossed the cell at Buffy, who caught it in mid-air.

She was halfway out the door before she heard Buffy say, "Will you be coming back tonight?"

Faith paused, hand on the doorknob. "I don't think so." she admitted, unable to look at Buffy. "We'll need to talk about this, but I can't right now. Xan needs me." She closed the door gently behind her, the click of the lock echoing like a gunshot in the hallway.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 15: I think it's time we try to open up our eyes, look away from the very thing that's made us cry.

Faith walked into work, hanging her jacket up on the hook. Her manager, Wesley, grabbed her jacket off the hook and pressed it back into her hands. She raised her eyebrow in question.

"We need you to head over to the Barnes and Noble store today for your shift - some of their staff has caught the flu, and they're shorthanded."

Faith whined in protest. "C'mon, Wes. Isn't there anybody else you can send?"

Wesley frowned. "Not really, no. Everyone else is accounted for, and I thought you'd relish the chance. Last thing I heard was that your girlfriend was working over there and you were thinking about putting in for a transfer. Did you two break up?"

Faith sighed. "Not break up. Just going through a little bit of a fight."

"All the more reason for you to go over there and make things right." Wesley advised. He laid his hand on her shoulder, a silent show of support. "The first fight is always the hardest, believe me. The longer you let wounds fester, the harder it'll be to make amends. You've been happier than I've ever seen you for the last few weeks - don't let that go without a fight."

~*~

Faith looked straight ahead as she walked into the Barnes and Noble, going through the routine of opening up a register and selling coffee without obviously looking at the counter on the other side of the room where she was sure Buffy was. She watched Buffy all morning out of the corner of her eye, watched as she sold books and rang up customers with a cheery smile. Faith could tell it was just a mask. When Buffy slipped in the back for her lunch break, Faith slipped off her apron and followed her into the employee lounge.

"Hey." Faith said, pausing in the doorway, unsure of where they stood now.

"Hey." Buffy sat down at one of the small round tables, motioning towards the other seat. Faith sat down, and they both said at the same time, "I'm sorry."

They offered each other shy smiles. "Me first." Faith said, and Buffy nodded. "I'm sorry, I've been a total head-case these last few days. Something hurts Xan and it sends me straight into mother tiger mode, and I have a hard time thinking logically. He's closer than a brother to me, and I can't stand to see him other than happy."

"I know." Buffy replied, "I feel the same way about Spike. He appears to be all cocky and bad-ass attitude, but that's all a front. He's so shy and gentle when you get to know him; I'm so afraid that one of these days someone's going to break his heart enough that he won't be able to recover. Or worse, he might forget that the bravado is only a mask and lose himself in it." She took a deep breath, folding her hands on the table. "When I first heard Xander call in about the book, I thought it would be cute to have Spike wait on him. He was so insecure about finally having a book of his poetry published, that I figured it would be an ego boost to see someone who sounded like they were a big fan. I had no idea they would click so well, and I know Spike never wanted to hurt Xander."

Faith laid her own hand on top of Buffy's clasped hands. "I know that, now. It took me a little while to get over the knee-jerk anger, but I'd have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to see how much they love each other."

"Spike's been walking around like a ghost since the signing." Buffy said, holding Faith's hand between her own. "Willow took one look at him this morning and sent him home to get some rest."

Faith nodded. "Xander's taken to moping in his apartment, when he's not working his ass off on the stage. I can hardly get him to answer his phone, much less leave his apartment for anything besides work." She hadn't even realized the moment when her second hand joined the first, and their fingers had intertwined. "You got any ideas of how to fix this?"

Buffy shrugged. "Besides locking them in a closet for a few hours? Not at the moment." She nibbled her lip as they grew silent, each consumed by their own thoughts.

"Are we going to be okay?" Buffy asked after a little while, her eyes watering as she kept her gaze on their combined hands.

Faith's thumb brushed against Buffy's index finger. "Yeah, I think so. I mean, I'll have to beat you and Spike up for hurting Xander, and then Spike can beat me up for walking out on you-"

Buffy laughed through her sniffles. "One big shovel-whacking and we'll all be fine?"

Faith winked. "Well, they say violence is good for relieving tension and solving problems."

"Hmm." Buffy replied. She lifted their tangle of fingers and kissed Faith's hands. "I love you." she whispered. "Can't sleep anymore when you're not next to me." She lifted her tear-sparkling gaze to pin Faith in place. "Promise you won't walk out again, no matter what. I don't care what happens or how angry we get, we never leave. Okay?"

Faith used their combined grasp to tug Buffy to lean over the table. "I promise." Faith said, leaning in to kiss her. "No matter what, my love. I promise I'll never leave."

~*~

Okay, the whole 'woe is me, my lover betrayed me' attitude was starting to get on her nerves. As much as she loved Xander, this depression had to stop. One week was long enough. She wasn't sure what she could do to put Spike and Xander back together again, but she was going to have to do something soon. Buffy's idea of locking them in the same room was starting to look more and more appealing.

"He said he loved me. How can I believe anything he ever said?" Xander moped, hands curled around a mug of hot chocolate. Faith sat next to him on the loveseat in his apartment, rubbing circles into his back. "God, all those conversations you and I had, analyzing his poems - I never even suspected it was Spike."

Faith frowned as something about the poems caught her attention. She couldn't quite put her finger on what was bothering her, but... "Hey Xan. Do you still have the receipt for his poetry book?

Xan's brow wrinkled as he wondered what a receipt had to do with anything. "I was using it as a bookmark. Why?"

"They dropped by the stage the day after you bought the book, didn't they?" Faith pulled the book off the shelf and found the receipt. She went over to his computer and logged on the internet, opening William's webpage. "When was your first date?"

"That Saturday." Xander sat down next to her. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for the page to load." She checked the dates on the poems, and turned to Xander. "'Serendipitous Adonis' was written the night you two met, and 'Hansel in Reverse' was written right after your first date. The poems are about you. There's your proof. He does love you, Xander."

Xander leaned forward, eyes searching the screen like a starving man devouring food. She was right, how could he not have figured it out? He reread the poem again, his epiphany shining new light on the meaning behind the words. Before he'd just thought the pretzel thing was a strange coincidence, and he'd been a little jealous about the idea of William kissing anyone, but now it was so very obvious that the poem had been written about their first date.

Hansel in Reverse

I ran from my parent's house
Sister-friend at my side
Bits of pretzel, a peace offering
Bread trail guiding me home.
Lips sweeter that gingerbread
Mouth hotter than the witch's oven
You've caught me, burned me alive
I yearn for the cage of your arms.

Faith watched as Xander stared at the screen, wondering why he seemed more sad when he was in silent shock than he had when he had been moping.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 16: I thought I'd forget you but I guess I forgot to, and lately I've been too confused to think.

"This collection is different than your previous work." Spike's agent said, browsing through the stack of poetry. Spike nodded, shoving his nervousness to the farthest part of his mind. "I confess, it is a larger quantity of poetry than we had been expecting you to produce in the time that has elapsed." Rupert Giles continued, pulling off his glasses to wipe the lenses briefly before slipping them back on. He studied the young man in the seat across from his desk for a moment. "We would like to publish this collection, if you are agreeable."

"Can the changes be made as I specified?" Spike asked, chewing on the inside of his lip until it bled.

Rupert nodded. "Yes, I believe so. You're sure you don't want a more upbeat piece for the last poem in the book?"

"I'm sure of the order." Spike replied firmly.

Rupert shrugged. "All right then. We're agreed?"

Spike hesitated only a moment before taking the pen Rupert offered, and signing his name to the contract.

~*~

Xander curled up in bed, pulling the blankets up to his ears as he stared at the wall. He shook in silent grief, only now at the end of the day letting the tears fall free and soak into the pillow. He knew Faith was baffled, wondering why he'd become even more of a hermit after finding out that he was the central figure in William's poems. He didn't know where to begin to explain to her that he wasn't upset with Spike, not anymore. No, though he mourned their relationship, he laid the full burden of blame on his own shoulders. It had been obvious in hindsight that Spike was William, now that he knew what kind of clues he was looking for. The type of books in Spike's apartment, the strangely insightful things Spike would sometimes say, the way Spike had absentmindedly smiled a little bit while also acting a little awkward whenever he'd started talking about William's poetry. He'd been surprised how easily he'd fallen in love with Spike, and he'd had a bit of a crush on William, so why the hell hadn't he been overjoyed to find out that they were the same man?

Faith had started to call three times a day, and stop by at least once every other day, and Xander had started spending more and more time with his deadbolt locked and his phone turned off. God, the look on Spike's face at the bookstore... Xander couldn't close his eyes without seeing that face, etched with pain and regret. Spike was a loving, kind man, and William was a beautiful, tender soul. Xander knew he wasn't worthy of William's attention, and after giving into the flight impulse, he didn't think he was worthy of Spike's love anymore. He wasn't smart enough to hold onto the best thing that had ever happened to him, so instead he confined himself to the bedroom. He didn't eat, didn't sleep much, just let the sweet memories of Spike in his bed torment his mind as longing wracked his body in penance.

After a few hours of tossing and turning, Xander forced himself out of bed and into clothing and a light jacket. He had the sudden urge to see Spike, to make sure Spike was all right, even though he was afraid Spike might see him and lure him into talking, and he wasn't worthy of Spike's forgiveness. He stumbled out of his apartment, scraggily beard-stubble scratching against the collar of his dark old flannel shirt.

He parked in one of the farthest spots in the parking lot, out of sight of the large picture window behind the front counter. There was only the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon, and the night was pitch black, but he could see well enough with the light pouring out of the store. He carefully approached the edge of the window, hugging the wall as he peeked in the window. He saw Buffy first, bustling around behind the counter and arranging merchandise, before his eyes fell on Spike.

He was a little paler than Xander remembered, his stance a little bit more slumped than it used to be. He wasn't smiling, wiping down the counter while staring into space. Even with the faint shadows under his eyes, he still looked like the most beautiful person in the world. With a pang of heartache, Xander withdrew, heading back into the night.

~*~

Spike let his body drift on autopilot since the store was slow tonight. He thought he saw dark hair and a flash of flannel out of the corner of his eye, and his head whipped towards the front store window as he searched the darkness for what had caught his attention. There was nothing outside, and Spike cursed his still-hammering heart as he wrote it off as a hallucination.

"Whatcha thinking about? Or do I even need to ask?" Buffy said, leaning on the counter beside him. He glanced at her and then glanced away, and she nodded. "Figured as much. Why don't you call him, or stop by his place or something? Hire a singing telegram?"

Spike snorted. "Singing telegrams never end well. Haven't you seen 'Clue' and 'Beaches'?"

She shrugged. "So either he'll get framed for murder or married, but at least that has to be better than no contact at all. And somehow he doesn't seem the type to propose marriage to a girl in a giant rabbit suit." Buffy sighed as Spike continued to evade eye contact. "Did you get the tickets?"

"They came in the mail, same as yours." he remarked.

Buffy waited for him to continue, but he stayed silent. "So... Are you going to give Xander a ticket to the B&N Halloween Bash?"

Spike jerked away from her. "Bloody hell, Buffy! My love life is my business. Can't you stop pestering me for five minutes?"

"Nope." she replied cheerily. She dropped the insanely-perky-ditz act for a minute. "Seriously, Will. You guys have to at least talk to each other, even if you don't get back together. If you keep avoiding him for the rest of your life, you'll always wonder 'what-if'."

"You're right." Spike said, then winked half-heartedly at Buffy. "Do you think you could give the ticket to Faith to give to Xander for me?" She smacked him upside the head. "Ow!"

"What are you, in high school? The Great Baith is not a messenger service." She replied. "You want him to come, you invite him yourself."

~*~

Two days later, Xander was still moping in his apartment, and Spike was still putting off the confrontation. Baith, currently nicknamed the "Bringing All Idiots Together How?" club, met at Faith's apartment.

"I just don't know what to do." Faith exclaimed. "They're both madly in love with the other, and they both think they're unworthy of the other. We're running out of time if we want them back together by All Hallow's Eve."

"I think I might have an idea." Buffy said, pulling an object from her pocket and handing it to Faith.

Faith looked at it, and then looked at Buffy. "It's worth a try."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 17: Hope dangles on a string like slow spinning redemption, winding in and winding out.

Xander awoke to banging on his front door. He tried the age-old tactic of ignoring it, but it wouldn't go away. He shuffled out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans as he went over to the door and glanced out the peephole. He sighed, unlocking the door and opening it a few inches. "Not really in the mood for company, Faith."

"Too bad." she replied. He was blocking her from entering, so she shoved the door open and walked in. "I've tried to be patient, I've tried to be a good friend and let you work your way through this, but it's time for you to pull your head out of your ass and fix your relationship."

Xander sighed, and headed to the kitchen to start the coffee. It was way too early in the morning to deal with real life. He sat at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee to brew. Faith took the seat next to him.

"It's an advance copy." Faith said, setting a small paperback book on the table. "B stole it from Spike, and gave it to me to show to you. You might wanna take a look at it."

Xander's fingers ran over the glossy picture of Spike on the back cover. It was one of the ones he'd taken in the park, and Spike was sprawled on the ground, grinning happily, punk to the core despite the grass and tiny flowers around his head. It was one of his favorite shots of Spike, and he had the original print framed on his bedside table. Faith silently watched him as he opened the book and read the dedication.

"To my Serendipitous Xan. I will love you until the stars turn cold." He'd barely scanned the pages before he realized that every single one of the twenty-five poems were about him. The two poems on the website he could write off as a passing fancy. He'd felt special and honored that Spike had used him for inspiration, but he'd figured that someone else, someone more worthy of William would soon catch his fancy, and then he'd forget all about Xander. But this, an entire book full of poems written for him, this was something different. This was evidence of a bond that had formed between them, one that shouldn't be broken so easily. He stopped to read one of the poems, recognizing one of their conversations in the park within the lines.

Transfiguration

Like the seasons of Earth, and the moon's phases,
In your eyes, everything changes.
Things never worthy of note before you,
Now they turn and twist into something new.
Pigment darkens, leaves fall and they die,
Skeleton branches clawing the sky.
Images repeated time and again,
Your eyes doth ordinary rend.
Every branch is different, every leaf unique,
The infinity of patterns each snowflake will seek.
I never noticed the details before
You drew back my curtains and opened my door.
And now, though I feel more overwhelmed by the minute,
My life wouldn't be whole without you right here in it.

Spike really did love him, and he loved Spike, heart and body and soul. The truth hit him like a swift blow to the stomach. The tiny tendrils of doubt that had lingered were blown away, and all he could feel was Spike's love for him. He was still blanketed in shame for having pushed that love away, but the overwhelming feeling of depression was starting to lift. He still didn't feel worthy of Spike's love, but he was tempted to be selfish enough to hold onto it. He quickly flipped to the last page of the book, wondering what Spike had written, what his last thoughts had been. His eyes started to water, the words blurring on the page as he read.

Begging Forgiveness

Long ago I crafted armor,
Razors and barbed wire wrapped around me.
I didn't warn you,
Didn't stop you from cutting
Yourself on my edges and secrets.
I tried to hide the truth,
My shroud is in shreds and tatters,
My mask is blinding me.
Darkness reigning now that your light has left,
I'm curled in the corner, rocking in my misery
Helpless, hopeless, without you.

Xander sobbed, biting his fist to muffle the horrible sounds issuing from his throat. Faith wrapped her arms around him and he clung to her, crying his heart out on her shoulder.

~*~

Spike walked in, agitation pouring off his body in waves. He sprawled in his usual chair, don't-mess-with-me glare reflected right back at him by the large mirror against the wall.

"Something bothering you?" Andrew asked, standing behind his chair. Spike glared at his reflection for another moment.

"Brown." he finally said, resigned.

Andrew blinked. "I'm sorry. For a moment I thought you said you wanted to get rid of this lovely blond, and go back to your natural color."

"You heard right." Spike snapped.

"Babe, calm down, take a chill pill." Andrew said, hands raised in a peaceful gesture. "Tell me what's wrong."

Spike sighed. "You ever been in love, Drew?" he said quietly. Andrew made a sympathetic sound.

"Poor baby. Did he break your heart?"

"Yeah. " Spike admitted. "But I think I broke his first." He stared into his own eyes in the mirror. Andrew watched as determination spread over his features. "I'm going to win him back. I don't know how, but I'll find a way. And the first step is going back to what I used to be, as close to natural as you can get."

"As you wish." Andrew said, and got to work turning Spike back into William.

~*~

The morning was the same as usual, busy but easily forgettable, until the screech-thunk-thunk sound outside. The Barnes and Noble that Spike worked at was not too far away from downtown, on a main four-lane street that had a lot of traffic during regular business hours. It wasn't unheard of for a car to be rear-ended as it slowed down to turn in to one of the many businesses lining the street, but this was starting to get obnoxious.

"Not again. Didn't we just have an accident last week? At least that one didn't run into a parked car; that's going to be a bitch to fix." Buffy grabbed the phone and dialed the city police, and gave them the address of the store where the accident was. People in the store who had heard the impact were filtering out the front door and into the parking lot to see the aftermath. Spike glanced out the front window. From what he could tell, the white SUV had slammed full-speed into the back of the beat-up blue Buick, which had been hit so hard it smashed into one of the parked cars - a purple Honda civic - in the Barnes and Noble lot with enough force to smash the front of the Buick up and in, bending the hood like an accordion. The force had also pushed the civic out of its parking space, but luckily there had been no one parked next to it. The owner of the civic broke away from the crowd of people at the entrance and was currently talking to the guy who had gotten out of the SUV. "No, I don't know if anyone's been injured." Buffy said one the phone, "Nobody's gotten out of the blue car yet." She covered the mouthpiece with her hand, and said to Spike, "You know, that Buick looks kind of familiar - do you recognize it?"

Spike's eyes widened as he recognized the vehicle. "Xander." he whispered, and Buffy's face grew horrified.

"Oh shit." Buffy murmured, and then she was talking into the phone again. Spike sprinted to the end of the counter, went around it, and ran out the door. Pushing his way through the crowd of onlookers, he finally broke through and ran to the driver's side door of the blue Buick.

Xander's eyes were closed and there was blood pouring down the side of his face. His seatbelt was on, but Spike couldn't see his chest rising and falling. "Xan, oh God, Xan." Spike cried, reaching out to open the door.

A man in a police uniform caught his wrist, and was standing between him and the car faster than he could blink. "Sir, we're going to have to ask you to step aside." Spike hadn't even heard the police cars or the ambulance pull up. He let the police officer push him back a little, but not enough that he couldn't still see Xander. Paramedics swarmed around the car and opened the door, extracting Xander from the wreckage and loading him onto a stretcher that was flat on the ground.

"He's not breathing. There's no pulse." One of the medics said. Another one got out those electric-pad things Spike recognized from episodes of ER. "Clear!" The medic said, and Spike felt the sudden urge to vomit as he watched Xander's body jerk from the electric shock. "No response. Clear!" Another jerk, and the medics were checking for a pulse again. "He's gone." They wrote down the time of death, and one of the medics got out a body bag. Somebody was wailing in grief, making loud sobbing noises. Buffy appeared out of nowhere and Spike clung to her, soaking her shoulder with his tears as he stared at Xander's still form. She was making nonsensical little shushing noises, but he couldn't really hear them over the wailing. After a few moments he realized the wailing was coming from his own throat, and as they zipped up the body bag, he shut his eyes and surrendered to the grief that was pulling him under.

"Spike!"

Spike opened his eyes and blinked, focusing on Buffy's silhouette at the door of his bedroom. She came over to sit on the edge of his bed and he sat up and wiped away the tears that has been streaming down his face. "Are you okay?" She asked, clearly worried.

"Yeah, 'm fine." Spike replied, his voice hoarse from crying.

"You don't look fine, and you were making some really weird noises." Buffy said.

"Was just a nightmare." Spike replied, shaking his head to clear it.

"Do you wanna talk---" Buffy said, but was interrupted.

"No." Spike said firmly. She cocked an eyebrow at him, and he looked down at his lap where his hands were fiddling with the hem of the blanket. "I dreamed that Xan died in a car wreck." he said, so quietly she almost missed it.

Buffy laid her hand over Spike's and squeezed. "Oh sweetheart, are you okay?"

Spike sniffed back the tears that were threatening to fall again. "Yeah. It was just a dream, nothing to fret about. I'll be fine."

"I'm sure Willow will let you call off again," Buffy added, but Spike shook his head.

"No, I want to work. Need to do something to get my mind off of it. Just let Wills know that I'll be a little late, okay?"

"Sure, no problem." Buffy replied. "Can I ask... what's with the brown hair?"

Spike half-shrugged. "I'm going back to what I was."

"Why?"

"For Xander. Because William is what caught his attention first, who he had crushed on before me. So I'm going to be what he wants."

"All right. If that's what you think he wants." She kissed Spike's cheek before withdrawing. She paused at the door. "Take your time getting to work today, okay?"

"Okay." he replied, and she left.

~*~

Xander ignored the alarm clock, living in denial that he was waiting until after he knew Spike should be at work to get out of bed. He took a short cold shower, barely long enough to rinse the soap off, and then dressed and got in his car to head to the park. Glancing at the dashboard en route, he cursed as he noticed the gas gauge was on empty. Xander pulled into the first gas station he saw and got out to pump.

~*~

Spike took a long hot shower, trying to get rid of the images from the nightmare that haunted him every time he closed his eyes. He got dressed for work, and noticed the two party tickets on the table as he walked out. On an impulse he stuffed them in his pocket and headed for his car. He was tempted to turn on the radio while he drove, but he was still shook up from the dream, and was afraid that even that much of a distraction would get him in an accident. A blue Buick caught his eye at the gas station as he passed, and for a moment he thought he saw Xander pumping gas. He did a quick double-take, and swerved into the next lane and then into the gas station lot, thanking every higher power he could think of that he didn't get into a wreck pulling a stunt like that.

A glance in the rear-view mirror reminded him of his current hair color, and he grabbed one of Buffy's old "Sunnydale U" baseball caps from the back seat and put it on. He pulled into one of the parking spaces next to the station's mini-mart, got out, and headed over to where Xander was standing before he lost his nerve.

"Hey." Spike said, pausing a few feet away.

Xander looked up. "Hey." he replied. Spike tried to figure out Xander's emotions from his tone of voice, but the one word had been so brief that he couldn't read anything into it. But at least Xander was talking to him - that was a start, right? He let his eyes drink in the sight of Xander, disheveled as he was. His hair had dried in an unruly tumble, and it looked like Xander hadn't shaved since the day of the signing. There were dark lines under his eyes, and he looked thinner than Spike remembered, but no matter how unkempt Xander looked, Spike still had to resist the urge to jump him. "What are you doing here?" Spike noticed that Xander had a strange look on his face, and was staring at the baseball cap as if it was a raw turkey Spike was wearing on his head. And it was no wonder, as Spike knew that Xander knew that Spike never wore hats.

"Saw you pumping gas." Spike blurted before he could think of a better 'oh, it was just a coincidence' kind of answer. "I wanted to say hi."

Xander blinked, "Hi, then." He tilted his head slightly. "Was there anything else?"

Spike pulled out one of the tickets and extended it towards Xander. "There's a Halloween party at Barnes and Noble tomorrow night. I was" hoping "wondering if you'd like to come."

Xander took the ticket, and looked back up into Spike's eyes with a small smile. "I'd like that."

"Really?" Spike smiled back, suddenly bouncing on his feet. "I mean, cool. See you there." he smiled again and walked back to his car, using every bit of his will power to not look back and see if Xander was watching him leave. Spike got in his car and let himself glance back at where Xander was, and couldn't help the grin when he saw that Xander was still looking at him. He waved a little, and Xander waved back as Spike drove away.

~*~

Xander glanced down at the ticket in his hand and then slid it into his pocket with a grin. Maybe things between them weren’t as wrecked as he'd thought they were. After all, Spike had pulled off an impressive lane change just to invite him to the party. He watched Spike drive away and suddenly frowned. What on earth was he going to wear to the party?

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 18: I'm starting to fashion an idea in my head, where I would impress you with every single word I said.

He'd thought he was strong, dammit. He'd thought he could hold fast to his values and opinions and morals, no matter what storm raged around him. He thought he had more than enough willpower to resist, but he had been mistaken. He'd overestimated his abilities, and now he was stuck in the deepest level of hell, enduring the most horrendous torture known to man. He was letting Baith give him a make-over.

They'd dropped by after work to hang until it was time to go to the party, only to find a panicking Xander raiding his closet for anything vaguely costume-like. "I could go as a hobo." He offered as a potential costume idea, pawing though a few old ratty flannel shirts.

"As much as the beard would go great with that costume, half of the point of going to the party is to make amends with Spike, and you're not going to impress him if you're working the 'ugh, bad break-up' look." Faith said, slapping his hand as he reached for another flannel shirt.

"I could be a clown." he said, holding up a bright blue and orange striped shirt with large red buttons.

"Do you want to retain any dignity at all?" Buffy asked, yanking the shirt from his grasp.

"Okay, how about this? I could wear a t-shirt with a bunch of unsharpened pencils sewn into it."

The girls stared at him. "That's a costume?" Buffy asked hesitantly.

"Of course! I'd be 'pointless'." Xander grinned.

"Lame, Xander. That's really lame." Faith sighed.

"Ooo! I've got an idea!" Buffy said, and whispered something into Faith's ear.

Faith smiled. "We could do that. Might take a little help, but it would work."

Xander waited for them to tell him the idea. Baith wore matching smiles. Minutes passed. "Um, are we going to tell Xander this idea, or are you just going to deny me a workable idea?"

Baith exchanged a glance. "I don't know, Xander." Buffy said, crossing her arms over her chest. "It's not like you've asked us for help, is it?"

Xander took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Will you two help me find something to wear for this party?" And thus was the good intentions that had paved his way, the damning words that had sealed his fate.

"Please." Faith smirked.

"Please." Xander repeated through gritted teeth. Forget the orange shirt, he was giving away his last shred of dignity right here.

"Sure!" Buffy chirped. "We've gotta go run by the mall and I'll pull a few strings, but I'm sure I can get Gwen at 'The Chamber' to help us out."

"Okay," Faith replied, "While you call Gwen, I'll see if Andrew has any openings for a quick highlight & style."

"Ooh!" Buffy exclaimed, "Good idea! Tell him not to be shy to trim a little too, shape it around Xander's face."

Xander's eyes widened as Baith tossed back and forth make-over suggestions like a tennis match, listing off names of people he didn't know and stores he's never set foot in. As the girls dragged him to the mall and from store to store, he began to fully comprehend the most deplorable situation he'd put himself in. The Chamber turned out to be a fetish shop tucked into the corner of the mall, and Gwen was more than happy to help them find the perfect pair of black leather pants. He'd tried to reason with them when they shoved him into a dressing room to try the pants on, even referencing that episode of Friends with Ross and the leather pants to back up his argument, but it didn't work. Andrew was a hairdresser who kissed Baith on both of their cheeks and chatted in hushed tones while Xander stared at his own reflection in the mirror.

"Yeah, I can do that." he heard Andrew say, as he broke away from Baith and stood behind Xander's chair. "So, I here you've got a lucky someone you're trying to win back tonight."

"Something like that." Xander said. Andrew's fingers ran through his hair, testing the weight and thickness of it. "What are you going to do?" Andrew just smirked.

Forty-five minutes later, Andrew spun Xander around in the chair so he could see the finished result. "You look like a prince in a fairy tale." Andrew sighed, happy with his work.

Baith exchanged a glance of satisfaction. "Much better." they chorused.

~*~

Two hours later, and the deadline was fast approaching. Xander was dressed in his new clothes - tight black leather pants and a silvery-gray poet's shirt, his expertly tousled and highlighted and slightly shorter hair sculpted around his face. A thin silver chain around his neck, holding a quarter-sized antique silver talisman over the center of his collarbone. Faith looked him over one last time, making sure all the tags and stickers were gone, and everything was tucked in and the fabric was hanging properly.

"Lookie lookie what I found." Buffy giggled, producing a familiar long black leather duster with a flourish.

"Where did you get that?" Xander asked.

Buffy winked. "It's Spike's."

"Klepto." Faith said affectionately.

Buffy's mouth formed an 'o' of shock. "Am not!" she exclaimed. Faith lifted an eyebrow. "I only steal Spike's stuff, and it's only in an effort to help Xan." Buffy amended, and held the duster up. "Here, Xan. Try it on."

Xander slid into it, luxuriating at the feel of the leather. It fit perfectly. He inhaled, smelling smoke and Spike. He caught sight of his reflection in the mirror and he almost didn't recognize himself. He looked like some of the actors in the theater - all gussied up and ready to play their parts. It suddenly clicked, and the epiphany almost knocked Xander off his feet. He remembered all the times Faith had needled him to audition, and how he'd refused every time. He'd never told her or anyone else why. It wasn't that he was afraid of acting badly. He was afraid of acting too well. He was scared to death that he would turn into a character so completely that he would lose himself, wouldn't be able to come back from it. He'd seen it happed to others, from famous actors to Larry and Fred at the youth theater - the characters they play fall in love, and uncontrolled, it bleeds over until the actors fall in love and start a relationship, only for the relationship to fall apart soon after the run of the show is completed. He was afraid to act, afraid to surrender his own thoughts and personality in order to become someone else, and risk forgetting what he thought made him Xander. He suddenly realized that the same thing applied. "Spike" was as much of, if not more so, a role to play. A mask to hide oneself in.

And then it made sense what he had to do.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 19: And I really really really care, and I really really really want to, and I think I'm kinda scared, 'cause I don't wanna lose you.

The main Barnes and Noble was packed, trays of finger foods covering the tables in the coffee-shop part of the store, dozens of people milling and mingling around the stacks. The lights were dimmed with a few disco balls tossing shards of light around, and most people were wearing fluorescent glowsticks. Xander walked into the store, Buffy on his left arm and Faith on his right. To the casual observer, it would appear that he was escorting the women in, but upon closer examination, it was apparent that the girls were holding onto Xander similar to the way two police officers would hold on to a suspect who might try to escape.

"Just remember," Buffy said, "Not everything has to be rectified tonight. This is a chance to patch up a few old wounds, and lay the groundwork for a long-lasting relationship."

"Yeah." Faith agreed. "The important thing is, that this new long-lasting relationship is built on trust and honesty."

"Ladies." Xander squeezed both of their hands. "I know you're trying to help, but please stop. Tonight is going to go fine. I forgive Spike for keeping the poetry a secret, and there's just one thing I have to say to him, and then we can move on with our lives."

"We just want to see you guys happy." Buffy said.

Faith winked. "And make sure you weren't planning some kind of payback or something."

There was a basket of various glowing jewelry next to the door, and Faith snagged a small yellow glowstick, cracked it, and popped it in her mouth. Buffy picked out a blue and pink necklace, and Xander was still deciding what he wanted when Faith whistled.

"Goodness gracious golly gee whiz." Faith exclaimed, catching sight of Spike.

Buffy grinned. "Now that's a blast from the past."

Xander looked up from the basket of glowthings, and froze. Spike was dressed in a wrinkle-less white oxford shirt, with the collar and first few buttons undone, revealing a silver chain - a necklace Xander had bought him one time when they were out on the town. The lights were too dim to tell if his trousers were black or navy blue, but Xander could see that they were crisply pressed and hung well on Spike's lean frame. A belt with a simple gold buckle and loafers with those little tassels completed the outfit, but Xander noticed with a start that the clothes weren’t the only thing different about Spike. Brown hair curled ungelled around his head, and a smart pair of wire-rimmed glasses framed blue eyes. A tiny sparkling caught his gaze and Xander realized the small silver piercing in his left eyebrow was the only thing left from the punk-look. The light glittering on the piercing was like a siren's call and Xander couldn't resist, his feet moving him closer as Baith made themselves scarce. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the conversation.

~*~

Spike couldn't breathe as Xander approached. Xander looked magnificent in silver and black, and he thought he might faint. Surely the room wasn't this warm a few moments ago. The shirt shimmered as Xander walked, the light fabric a perfect contrast to the smooth and supple leather, and hey... was that his duster? Spike shivered at the sensual thrill of seeing his lover wearing his clothes.

"What is all this?" Xander asked, gesturing to Spike's appearance.

Spike tugged on one of his sleeve cuffs nervously. "I'm becoming William again, for you. I thought that you'd want that."

Xander shook his head. "I don't want William."

Spike's gaze dropped to the floor, and he was surprised when he didn't see the shattered remains of his heart lying at his feet. That should teach him to get his hopes up. He'd known this was coming, but that didn't make it hurt any less. "I don't want Spike either." he heard Xander say, and he could feel hot tears prickling his eyes. Not here, please don't let me start crying here, Spike thought to himself, but his body wasn't listening. If only he could figure out a way to get out of the store before he embarrassed himself any further...

Xander's hand gripped his chin, lifting his face up and meeting his eyes. "I don't want them, because they're just masks, roles you play for the rest of the world. All I want is you, the real you. Doesn't matter what you look like or what name you call yourself, I want you." Spike stared at him, too shocked to move. This was everything he'd ever wanted, and he was afraid that if he blinked, Xander would vanish and it'd all be a dream. Xander licked his lips nervously. "Do you still want me?"

The faint undertone of uncertainty in Xander's voice was enough to spur Spike into action. "Oh, God yes, Xan. I love you."

And suddenly he couldn't get close enough. He smashed his lips to Xander's, harshly kissing him, bodies pressed together as hard as possible. Spike moaned at the feel of Xander in his arms again. It had been way too bloody long. Xander gave back as good as he got, mouth trailing down Spike's neck, sure to leave vibrant bruises in the morning.

"Get a room, you guys." Willow giggled, sipping on a glass of punch as she walked by. "You're almost as bad as Buffy and her girl."

Xander buried his face in the crook of Spike's shoulder, body shaking in muffled laughter. Spike grinned, scanning the crowd for the girls. Faith was sitting in a large chair amid the stacks, Buffy on her lap, and it looked like they were well on their way to third base. "Battle for the glowstick." Xander whispered, and now he noticed the small neon rod being passed back and forth.

"Looks like a fun game. Wanna play?" Spike said, and Xander blushed. He kissed Xan's shoulder, "Stay here, I'll be right back." and headed for the entrance of the store. Xander couldn't stop smiling as he watched Spike disappear in the crowd.

"Somebody's in a good mood." an amused voice said from Xander's left. He turned to see a man totally decked out in the Halloween spirit, from his red eyes and horns, to his green skin and purple suit.

Xander got over the outrageous costume quickly. Tis the season, and what not. "Yeah, well, I'm having a really good night."

The guy sipped his punch. "That's good to hear, gingersnap. Although, if I were you," his voice dropped to a hushed tone, and Xander barely heard him over the music and party noises, "I wouldn't count my chickens before they were made into a fabulous entree. There's always another obstacle on the road to eternal bliss." The guy walked off to mingle with other people, and Xander stared after him, confused by the spontaneous advice.

A touch on his shoulder and Xander jumped. "Woah, it's just me." Spike said, hands raised in defense. "You okay? You look a little spooked."

Xander shrugged it off. "Nah, I'm fine. Just some Halloween craziness." He forced the weird guy and his weird riddle to the back of his mind to dwell on later, and smiled at Spike, who was a much more pleasant person to focus on. "Did you get it?"

"Yep." Spike winked, sticking out his tongue to display the small glowing rod, before slipping it back inside the confines of his mouth. "Now, where were we?" Xander captured those smirking lips in a kiss, ready and willing to try and rescue the glowstick from it's prison.

~*~

The weekend found them sitting on the edge of the stage, watching the girls frolic like children, laughing and twirling around. Faith was dressed as a fey, with bells and ribbons woven into her long dark hair and sewn here and there on her clothes. Her outfit consisted of long strips of gossamer cloth attached to a barely decent corset and mini skirt. The light pink and pale yellow strips fluttered and swirled around her body as she moved. Halloween was the only day of the year that Faith ever wore pastels. Buffy was dressed as a harem concubine, dark pink shroud hiding most of her face, matching the dark pink blouse and gauzy pants. Silver bells and mirrors were sewn into her costume, and she had bells and dark pink ribbons woven into her hair like Faith. Together they danced barefoot in the grass, improvised steps and spontaneous moves forming an intricate flowing, ever changing work of art.

"They look like they're having fun." Spike lisped through a pair of cheap plastic vampire teeth. He ran a hand along his scalp, rubbing the thin layer of light brown peach fuzz that was all that was left of his hair. It still felt weird, although he didn't really notice his hair was gone unless someone touched his head or he walked past a mirror. After Xander's speech about how he didn't want any of his fronts, he just wanted him, Spike decided to try something different, and had his hair shaved off so that it could re-grow in natural. He wondered idly what his natural light-brown curly hair would look like with blue streaks.

"Yeah." Xander replied, petting Spike's head. Spike made a sound deep in his throat that sounded suspiciously like a purr, and leaned into the touch. "Want to join them?"

Spike hopped off the stage and extended his hand to Xander. "May I have this dance?"

"Why certainly, good sir." Xander smiled and took his hand as he hopped off the stage, the layers of fringe on his cowboy outfit rippling. They kicked off their shoes and socks, joining the girls in the middle of a grassy part of the park. Spike and Xander linked hands and began to spin, using their weight to offset each other and spin faster and faster. The world around them faded away, the girls melting into streaks of pink and yellow, and all that existed was the other's grinning face, their hands clasped together, and the wind whipping around them as they spun. The moment broke when one of them stumbled, sending them both tumbling to the ground, laughing. Buffy and Faith sprawled out near them in the grass, and they all lay there for a while, catching their breath and making pictures out of the clouds that drifted past. Xander's hand found Spike's and their fingers intertwined. "Love you."

"Love you." Spike replied, turning his head to look at Xander. "Perfect day."

Xander quirked an eyebrow. "Perfect day?" he pouted playfully. "So last night wasn't perfect?"

"Oh, pouty." Spike grinned wickedly. "Look at that that lip. Gonna get it." The corners of Xander's mouth twitched into a smile, and Spike rolled over so that he was lying half on top of Xander. "Gonna get it." he repeated, his voice dropping into a seductive rumble. Their lips met briefly, a gentle brush before Spike pulled away slightly. "Every moment with you is perfect." Xander's mock-pout broke and they kissed, long and slow, lazy like the branches moving in the fall breeze. The plastic teeth impeded their movements slightly, but Xander enjoyed wrapping his tongue around the blunt fangs and making Spike laugh with the sensation.

A shadow fell across them. "Spike? Is that you?"

Spike looked up and blinked, a hand coming up to shade the sunlight from his eyes. "Oz?"

~*~

The End.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Click here to read Xander's prequel: "Behind the Scenes"

Click here to read Spike's prequel: "Facade"

The sequel, "Want, Take, Have" coming soon!

Back to "Big Maypole Fish Thing"