He cursed the rain while he reveled in it. The falling water weighed him down and soaked him to the bone, even though he was as dry as possible underneath his umbrella. The rain forced out in the open when he wanted to hide in the shadows, forced to go slow when he wanted to move as fast as he was able.
Yet the rain matched his mood. It was cold, unforgiving, wretched, and gloomy - exactly what he felt like. He took a kind of dark comfort in it, that he wasn't the only thing miserable that night.
The night might have continued like that, with him miserable and the world wet, but it wasn't meant to be. Perhaps if he had taken a different turn at a different time, things might have turned out differently. But he was where he was when he was, so it was almost inevitable that he would run into Anya.
She was wearing a deep blue skirt that was plastered to her legs just below her knees and a black sweater that looked a size too big. Her hair was a deep shade of red cut to her chin, forced straight by the rain. Her arms were wrapped around her waist, either in an effort to stay warm or provide self-comfort.
"Anya?" He didn't realize he had spoken out loud until she stopped and looked in his direction.
"Spike?" she said, bringing a hand up to shield her eyes from the rain. "Is that you?"
Before he could fully think about the tug at his undead heart, he walked over and held his umbrella over both of them. "You're soakin' wet, luv. Why don't we get you out of the rain?"
"What are you doing here?" She looked very confused, as if she was dealing with more then she could handle and didn't know what to focus on first.
"All in good time. Let's get inside before you catch your death."
Anya nodded slightly but didn't move. Spike put his arm around her shoulders and started to guide her out of the park they were in. After a few minutes she seemed to break out of her trance and lead him to a two-story house a few blocks away from the Summers'.
The house was light green with dark green trim. It had a small porch, complete with a swing and flowers that spilled over the edges of their pots. Small trees and hedges lined the front of the house and a small concrete path expanded out of the driveway to the porch. It was very suburban Americana; Spike swore he saw a white picket fence surrounding the backyard.
Anya walked right up to the front door and unlocked it. She stepped inside and turned to look at Spike, who stood on the porch.
"Come on in," she said, "but don't try anything funny."
"Wouldn't dream of it." He stepped inside after closing his umbrella, shut the door, and propped the umbrella in a corner. "Why don't you go change into some dry clothes."
She hesitated a moment before going up the stairs. Spike made his way to the kitchen and, after some searching, started to make hot chocolate. He was just pouring hot water into some mugs when she reappeared in some old sweats. She raised an eyebrow but accepted the mug he handed her and sat down without comment.
"Nice place you've got," he said. "How long have you been here?"
"About a year and a half. We moved in shortly after Xander was promoted."
Spike experienced another tug on his heart, quite different from the one he felt earlier. He did his best to ignore it, although he wasn't very successful.
"And how is Xander?"
"Good," she said somewhat tonelessly. "He's good. What are you doing here, Spike?"
"I've got some business in town. I'm not plannin' to stay long, just enough to get done what I need to and then get out." He took a sip of hot chocolate. "What were you doin' walkin' in the park in the rain at night? Last time I checked, Sunnydale was still on the Hellmouth."
Anya looked at him for a moment, and then buried her head in her hands. "I think I'm losing Xander."
Whatever Spike had been expecting, it hadn't been that. He grabbed a napkin to clean up the hot chocolate he had spilled in his shock.
"What makes you say that?"
"He's been really distant. He puts in all kinds of overtime at the office or working with Buffy and comes home really late at night," she said, her breathing shaky. "He barely says anything to me when he is home. And . . . we haven't had sex in months. I think he's been sleeping on the couch. I just don't know what to do."
And with that she broke out into tears.
Quickly, he moved his chair around the table to sit next to her and put his arm around her, bringing her into a comforting hug. She resisted at first, but soon caved and rested her head on his shoulder. He held her as she cried out her fear, frustration, and hopelessness.
A silence fell after her tears stopped. Anya eventually pushed away from Spike and took her then cold hot chocolate in her hands.
"Are you the reason, Spike?" she asked, her eyes locked on the mug in front of her. "Is he having an affair with you?"
Xander and Anya were married during the summer after Buffy died. Everyone needed something positive and happy to focus on after so much bad. The girls could focus on flowers, dresses, and food preparations while the guys could sit back and shake their heads at female foolishness.
They had a small ceremony in the Summers' backyard, with only close friends and family present. Dawn was the maid of honor, Willow was the best woman, Tara was a bridesmaid, and Giles acted as father of the bride. Xander had even allowed an invitation to be sent to gang in L.A., and behaved himself when they actually showed up.
The first two months of their marriage were wonderful. They found their rhythm and managed to exist both separately and as a unit. They also found a rhythm with the group and the outside world. There were fights, but there was also wedded bliss.
Then Buffy was brought back. The rhythms they had so carefully crafted were torn apart as the blonde Slayer once again became the center of attention. Xander and Anya's marriage was neglected and became tense as time wore on, until the bliss they have achieved seemed to be a distant, almost forgotten dream.
Spike was no better off. His love for Buffy didn't die when she did, but became something small shoved to the back of his heart. When Buffy was raised, so was his love, until he was consumed by it. It didn't matter if she was ignoring or using him, he loved her so much it hurt.
One night, Xander and Spike ended up in the Magic Box alone, doing some research while Anya was at their apartment and the rest of the gang was out hunting the latest demon. A few hours into the research Spike found a hidden bottle of Scotch and the two men began drinking.
"Women," Xander declared after a large gulp of liquor. "There's just no understanding them. Anya doesn't like how much time I give Buffy. Buffy doesn't like how much time I give Anya. Sometimes I think they're just more trouble then they're worth."
"You said it, mate," Spike said. "They like to toy with your emotions, pull you this way and then spit in your face. I wish we could just swear them off."
"Why can't we?"
The two men looked at each other as they pondered Xander's question. In the space of a heartbeat they were on each other, kissing and groping and tearing off clothes to get to skin. In the space of a few more heartbeats, Xander was bent over the table and being thoroughly fucked by Spike and enjoying every minute of it. Both of their orgasms were quick but intense, as were the orgasms that followed.
By the time the rest of the gang returned, the two men were sitting across from each other at the table, calmly reading books. There was no sign of the bottle of Scotch, and the air only faintly smelled of sex.
Neither would admit later what exactly caused the sex, whether it was the alcohol or other factors. But whatever the reason, the events of that night did happen, and neither would trade the memories or feelings for anything. Which was why they met in secret to relive that night as often as they could.
The pull on his emotions became too much for Spike. He felt like he was a rope, with Buffy at one end and Xander at the other; at any moment he was going to split in two. So he did the only thing he could and left Sunnydale with the idea that his soul would be able to help him figure out what to do.
Anya and Xander's marriage settled down while Spike was gone. Buffy started paying more attention to Dawn and stopped demanding so much of Xander's time. They managed to find a precarious balance, one they could live with but nowhere near the rhythm they had once had. Both were waiting for something to send their lives spinning and couldn't settle down.
Spike returned to Sunnydale a few months later. He had found his soul, but not the clarity he thought would come with it. Instead, he found even more confusion along with guilt and self-loathing. Having nowhere else to go, he went back to the place he had run away from.
The affair between Xander and Spike resumed within two weeks.
"Is he having an affair with you?"
Spike was silent for a moment as he shook off the memories that assailed him. "No, luv," he said quietly. "That chapter was closed a long time ago."
The sound of a door opening and closing distracted them both. With his vampire hearing, Spike could detect the sound of keys being dropped onto a table and a briefcase being set down. He didn't need enhanced senses to hear the footsteps or the called, "I'm home, Anya."
The expression on Xander's face was almost worth the agony of seeing Anya again. It went from exhaustion to shock to panic to fear to shock to overload, all within a few seconds. He stood unmoving in the entrance to the kitchen, one hand in the process of loosening his tie. Once he managed to blink, he seemed to regain his senses.
"S-spike," he squeaked. He cleared his throat and continued. "What are you doing here?"
"Was in town, ran into Anya, decided to catch up on things." The vampire stood. "Anya, thank you for the hot chocolate. It was lovely chattin' with you, but I've got to get goin'." He leaned down and kissed her on her cheek. "Good-bye, luv."
He walked past Xander, picked up his umbrella, and walked out the front door, trying desperately to control the flood of emotion inside of him. He resolutely ignored the voice calling after him, and attempted to shrug off the hand on his shoulder and ignore it, as well. But the owner of the voice and hand had other ideas.
"Spike, stop, please."
It was the 'please' that did it every time, and Xander knew it. Spike thought. He stopped.
"What?" he said without turning around.
"What's going on?"
Spike sighed. "I told you, I was in town, ran into Anya, yada bloody yada. Nothin' more to it, so don't try readin' more into it then there is."
"But why are you in town?"
Running a hand over his face, Spike turned to face Xander. "You really want to get into it? 'Cause last time I checked, you really didn't want to know about the dark side of my life."
Xander blanched, but remained where he was. "I want to know. Really."
"Well, too bad, mate. I ain't got the time to tell you."
He turned and began to walk, but Xander stopped him again. "Will you have time later, some other day?"
Spike took a deep breath and let it out slowly, giving himself time to think. "Maybe. We'll have to see." And he walked away, this time without Xander following him.
For a while, he managed to avoid Xander, Anya, and all other Scooby Gang members who were still in Sunnydale, alive or dead. He stayed away from the Magic Shop where Anya worked, the High School where Buffy worked, the UC Sunnydale campus where Willow was studying for her Master's degree, and the cemetery where Joyce and Tara were buried. Luckily, he didn't have to avoid Dawn, since she was off at college on the East Coast.
His luck lasted a week. His business in Sunnydale was then delayed, and Spike had some time to kill while he waited for things to get back on track. Since all the people he wanted to avoid were grown up, he figured the Bronze would be a safe place to go. He could get lost for a while in the music, beer, and adolescent scents.
The people all looked the same as before and the smell was the same, even if the building had undergone some changes. It didn't really matter to him, since details didn't matter when trying to get lost. The first band wasn't bad, but the first beer was. The second band was worse; the second beer was better.
He didn't remember if there was a third band. Xander showed up shortly before the end of the second band's set.
The love Spike had for Buffy finally died, as all improper fires do, until all that was left was a deep friendship. All he had left was his feelings for Xander, which he didn't want to define. He was the piece on the side, a kept mistress, and it didn't do for the disposable one to develop unrequited love.
But he had had enough. He hated his situation, so it was time for him to change it. Xander was going to have to choose between him and Anya - he couldn't continue having both.
He waited until after the sex, so he would at least have that one last time to take with him. He waited until Xander's breathing had evened out, waited as long as he could until he couldn't wait anymore.
"Where's this thing between us going, Xander?"
It was as if he had declared he was madly in love with Anya and going to run away with her, or at least dropped a twenty-pound weight on Xander's chest. Xander's eyes were sort of bugging out of his head, and his mouth was open in shock.
"Um . . . what?" Xander managed to say.
"Where's this thing between us going?' Spike shifted up so he could have a better look at his companion, who was an interesting shade of white.
"Going? It is what it is. What brought this on?"
He tried to pull his lover closer, but Spike refused to budge. "I'm sick of bein' your little piece of fluff. I need to know exactly where I stand in your life and where I'm goin' to stand in the future."
"You - you're asking me to chose?" Xander asked, disbelieving.
"No." A relieved look bloomed on Xander's face. "I'm *tellin'* you to chose."
Xander's cell phone rang, saving him from having to respond to Spike. "Hello? Hey Wills, this isn't a good time. Can you - What?" He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, putting his back to Spike. "What happened? Is she okay? How -?" There was a pause. "I'm on my way."
He hung up the phone and started to put his clothes on, skipping his underwear completely in his rush. Spike observed this quietly for a few moments before speaking.
"What's goin' on?"
"Anya's been hurt," Xander said. He didn't look up from tying his shoes. "Someone tried to rob the Magic Box and shot her. I've got to get to the hospital."
Spike got out of bed and put his clothes on. "I'll go with you."
That caused Xander to stop. "Why?"
The vampire sighed heavily as he stomped into his boots. "Just 'cause I want you to choose doesn't mean I don't care about her. I'll go with you. You can tell the Scoobies you ran into me on the way to the hospital," he added.
"Fine," Xander said, grabbing his coat. "Let's go."
When they arrived at the hospital, Xander was taken right to Anya's room. The rest of the group made their own way to the waiting area, having been there so many times. Everyone dealt with worry in different ways, but it was routine and they fell into it quite easily.
Surprisingly, it wasn't all that long before Xander reappeared. Everyone but Spike rushed forward to hear what he had to report.
"She's going to be okay," Xander said. "She's obviously in pain, and she's still in shock."
"But she's all right?" Dawn asked.
Xander forced a smile and rubbed Dawn's shoulder. "Yeah, she's all right. In fact, you guys can go in and see her if you want. I know she'd love it."
They all went past Xander to see Anya, leaving Xander and Spike alone in the waiting area. It was very much like that one night in the Magic Box they had been left alone, except Spike had the distinct feeling there would be no sex.
"So this is it, then," he said, standing up and facing Xander. If he was getting the boot, he was going to keep as much of his dignity as possible.
"Yes, Spike. I'm sorry." Xander half-turned and looked in the direction of Anya's hospital room. "If I had been there with her instead of with you, I might have stopped this. She - she's broken. I can't leave her, not now. Maybe not ever."
"I see." Spike bit his lower lip and slowly let it go. Then he nodded. "Okay." And he walked out of the hospital, caught a bus out of Sunnydale, and never looked back.
"I didn't really think I'd find you here," Xander said, sitting down opposite of Spike. He looked as out of place at the teen club as Giles once had.
"Well, that makes two of us. Aren't you a bit old for this place?"
Xander snorted. "Insert cliché about pots here."
Spike took a long pull on his beer. "So, are you goin' to make me talk about the weather, or are you goin' to get to the reason you were lookin' for me?"
"It's as I said, Spike. I want to know what you're doing in town. I thought you had left."
"I had. Got as far away as I could afford, then took the only kind of work a tainted soul and tainted body allows."
One of Xander's eyebrows raised. "You became a prostitute?"
"No, you tosser," Spike said, narrowly suppressing the urge to kick the mortal. "I became a mercenary, fighter-slash-protection-slash-whatever for higher. Good money, decent work, something to pass the time."
"You did that for two years?"
"I'm still doin' it. That's why I'm here, doin' a job. Damn good money and a mate doin' the hirin', or else I would have said no. Should be done in a few days, and then I'm gone again."
Xander stiffened in his seat. "You're not here to kill Buffy, are you?"
"No, I don't take those job offers. It's somethin' in the demon world, and that's all you need know about it."
"So you didn't come back for . . ."
Spike chuckled humorlessly and picked up where Xander trailed off. "For you? Not bloody likely. You made yourself very clear two years ago. Runnin' into Anya was not my intention, although it's a good thing I did. She's miserable, you know."
Xander had the decency to look somewhat miserable, too. "I know. She's going to be even more miserable in a few days when she gets the divorce papers."
Time seemed to stand still for the space of a blink as Spike took in that piece of information. He wanted to shake or pinch himself to make sure he hadn't dozed off.
"Divorce papers?" Spike echoed. "You're divorcing her?"
"What can I say?" Xander shrugged, his eyes boring into Spike's. "I made the wrong choice."
He just looked at Xander for a moment before leaping up. "Wait a minute. Is that your way of tellin' me you want to pick up where you left off two years ago? 'Cause you can forget it. I'm not some - some *whore* you can use at your pleasure."
Furious beyond anything he had ever known, Spike stormed out of the Bronze. He felt humiliated, although he had done nothing but sit and talk in a room full of strangers. How dare Xander, how dare he!
Rough hands grabbed him and turned him around. Those hands then shoved him against a wall, while an insistent yet gentle mouth swooped down and claimed Spike's. The kiss was passionate, lustful, and just how Spike remembered kissing Xander could be. He forgot himself and let the other man kiss him senseless.
"That's not what I meant, Spike, though it's nice to see you haven't lost your ability to leap to conclusions," Xander said when he separated for air. Spike could only stare into the captivating brown eyes that looked at him so earnestly. "I don't want to pick up where we left off two years ago. I want to start over, properly, after the divorce is final. If you'll have me."
Another heated hiss and Spike's mind was completely gone and in no shape to make decisions. "I don't know, Xander. You hurt me, badly."
"I'm willing to work on fixing that hurt. I *want* to work on it. Please, Spike, say yes."
"To let me court you, properly."
Spike had to laugh at that. "'Court'? You want to court me?"
Xander remained serious, and if possible his eyes grew even more intense. "Yes, I want to court you. I want to ply your heart with words of adoration, worship your body, make love to your mind, and seduce your soul. I want to make up for the way I treated you and give you everything you deserve. All you have to do is say the word."
It was suddenly very warm in their little corner of the universe. Spike swallowed heavily. "Yes," he whispered.
The word was barely out of his mouth before Xander was catching it in his own and branding Spike's lips with promises of things to come.