Some days their relationship cruises the edge of the Romulan Neutral Zone, dangerously close to the line of cheesiness and high camp, but never quite crossing over.
Though then again, Xander has always though that in deep space, it would be hard to know precisely when you were on one side or the other of a designated line to within a few meters because you might as well toss out the cosmic distance ladder, and it's not as if you could get parallax off any fixed orbital point, plus the ship's computers would have to constantly recalculate recessional velocity, and everyone knows how hard it is to pin down the so-called Hubble Constant--
Spike is a thrilling thing to own. He's bought a collar for himself and presented it to Xander, not unlike how a dog will carry its leash to its master to go walkies. Not in his mouth, though, thank god. The collar's not leather, not studded, not dog. It's stylish and attractive, with stainless steel bands, "reminiscent of a Native American choker," to quote its accompanying marketing copy. And okay, there's a little leather on the back as it turns out, with locking buckles you can attach padlocks to. A ring in front is where you clip a chain, Xander guesses. Or a leash. Or a trailer hitch.
"Too much?" Spike asks, low and rueful. He's looking at the collar in Xander's hands and his face suggests he may be starting to have his own doubts, but maybe he's just afraid of having freaked Xander.
There comes a point in all of life's little pageantries when you just have to say whoa. Nuh-uh. Hello, Mister Sanity Man. This is the point when you realize you need to put down the Klingon costume, back away from the Hummer salesman, grab the tattoo artist's hand as the needle is lowering.
This, apparently, is not one of those times.
Xander: "This is just around-the-housewear, right?"
Spike gives him a slow, thrilling smile and a look from under his lashes that would melt glaciers. "'Course, pet. Just for us."
He slides down to the floor to sit between Xander's legs, face turned away and neck bowed. Xander takes Spike's choker off, puts the collar on. His bare neck, the moment between the exchange, is pale and perfect, with lines of golden hair that shade into the thick bleached mass above. When the collar is locked, Xander slips a hand around, slides his fingers between skin and steel to test the fit. It's close but not too close, though even if it were, it's not as if Spike needs to breathe.
Spike's soft groan goes all the way through Xander's body.
He turns and rests his cheek on Xander's thigh the way a dog would, shows off the line of his neck, collar to collar bones. It occurs to Xander that there's this whole dog *theme* sometimes with Spike's behavior, and it saddens him on a deep level. But he doesn't know how to fix it, or if it can be fixed. Spike has been well trained.
Still hating you, he thinks to Angel.
The man at his feet is beautiful, and Xander's hands stroke him. "You like that?" Xander asks, meaning the collar, his touch, everything.
Spike cheeks his thigh with sensual approval, wordless.
"What are you going to do for me?" Xander asks, running his hand in a casual, proprietary way up the side of Spike's neck, palm fitted to cup the underside of jaw and chin. Spike turns at once to kneel between Xander's legs, and mouths his rising erection. Head bent, hands under Xander's thighs, he nuzzles and laps and sucks Xander right through the denim as if this is all he can do on his own. After a few minutes, Xander unzips himself with a shaking hand, and his flushed cock thrusts out. Without any interruption, Spike takes it in his mouth--oh so fucking good, wet, slippery--and gives him head with the mindless compliancy of a slave. Xander wants to stop it, for about half a second where rationality and fear and love threaten to capsize him in panic, but then grabs the back of Spike's head and holds him in place and fucks him urgently, grinding with his own rough, mindless need until he comes. It takes less than a minute.
Spike licks the inside of his mouth afterwards, dips his head and rubs his face against Xander, picking up faint trails of stickiness on his cheeks. Xander's head falls back on the couch and he exhales. Add a scoop of ice cream and his day could get no better.
"For special occasions, okay?" Xander says about the collar before they turn in that night. Which in his mind translates to: put it in a drawer, please, and let's pretend we're a normal couple.
Spike: "You make every day special, pet." He says things like this now that he's formally declared his love, soft talk that from any other man would make Xander cringe. But there's a list of reasons why Xander doesn't cringe:
And he takes the collar off.
He looks strangely naked without it, more naked than naked. Like a statue some southern senator would demand to be clothed. He's bad and he's drawn that way.
Later that week, Xander says: "This is it, then?" He's sitting at the kitchen table holding a printed manuscript, and Spike is standing a few feet away, arms hanging loosely at his sides, hands working in finger-crunching little spasms that suggest a vast nervousness.
Spike: "Yeah." His entire face is a frown, a scowl, a dubious twist of second thoughts. "'S just scribbling. Would be if I'd used a pen, anyway. Dunno what that is on a computer." A pause while Xander continues to scan the first page in silence. "Doesn't matter." Spike's tone tries for dismissiveness. "Probably crap."
Xander looks up: "This is so great. I can't wait to--"
Spike, talking over him with a sudden anxious sharpness: "If you don't like it, you'll say so. No poncing about, just come out and tell me."
He's almost angry, and Xander smiles and soothes him and assures him it will be great, and if it isn't he'll say so, but that it'll be great, and so on, until Spike starts to look less nutso, and merely uneasy again.
Xander starts reading the novel in the living room that night, while Spike watches TV restlessly, shifting every ten seconds, eyes darting to Xander. Xander can sense his jittery attention--it's impossible to ignore at first--but he finally manages to sink into what he's reading and become absorbed, at least until Spike jumps up and mutters, "Going to the store for a bit, maybe get a drink. Be back."
Two hours later, he comes in smelling of cigarette smoke that may or may not be from a bar. He's drunk, though not enough that you can see it in his movements, and drops onto the couch looking depressed. "Shit, isn't it?" he says, sunk into motionless resignation.
Xander looks up from his page and says: "This--"
"--this is incredible. You wrote this without help?" It's a rhetorical question, but Xander's still boggling. He's never written a five-page theme paper without help.
Spike brightens hopefully. "Well, yeah. 'S been a while. Kind of rusty. Tried to write a book once before, back in the seventies, but Dru got blood on it." The memory seems to annoy him. "I'll tell you--Xerox and Microsoft, greatest tricks the devil ever pulled."
Xander brings the pages to bed to finish, Spike eventually leaning close and reading over his shoulder in a way Xander should mind, but doesn't. When he finishes, the end, Spike has questions, some of which Xander doesn't have a chance to answer, because Spike gets caught up in explaining what he was trying to do, and Xander still doesn't mind, because Spike is lit like a candle and his voice is what they call melodious--a word he used in the novel so it's right there in Xander's mind--and as Spike winds down, they make love, and the eager way Spike moves in his arms makes Xander gasp, happiness given flesh.
The manuscript's round-two reader is Willow. Spike's idea, but they both agree she's very smart, and she smiles excitedly when asked. "I'd be honored." She's holding the manuscript and sitting in their living room, and Spike is sitting on the edge of the couch, an expectant look on his face. Willow's own face shows realization. "Oh, you mean now."
Xander, fulfilling his role as the sane one, says: "Well, maybe just a few pages."
Willow quirks an understanding smile and settles back to read. After about a minute, as her face turns absorbed, Spike flees again. "Can't hack it," he says. "Going to take a walk. Find something to kill."
He goes, and Xander heads to the kitchen for a while, then wanders back in. Willow is sitting with the manuscript closed in her lap, her hand bookmarking the page. Xander sits down and meets her eyes with a proud smile.
Willow looks stunned: "Wow."
Xander: "What part are you on?"
Willow flips the work open momentarily and glances down: "Um...page three. The part where John decides to start a band."
Xander, smiling: "Amazing, isn't it?"
Willow: "Amazing...is an inadequate word."
Xander: "I can't believe he wrote over three hundred pages."
Willow, eyes widening with a moment's rapport: "I know! And all of them so bad!"
Xander, caught off guard: "Bad?"
Willow, displaying a manic, whiplash cheer: "Did I say bad? 'Cause I think I said sad, or, n-no, not sad--mad, plaid, Republic of Chad--what I meant was--"
Xander: "You think it's bad?"
Willow: "I--I'm not sure my own thinking has much to do with it, objectively spea--yes. It's very, very bad."
Xander: "Okay, but is it *bad*, or is it *Bridges of Madison County*, could-be-a-bestseller-anyway bad?"
Willow: "It could make dogs howl."
Xander puts his head in his hands. "Oh, man."
Willow: "And, quite possibly, doves cry." Launching under a head of enthusiastic and very inappropriate steam: "If you dropped it in the reservoir, it'd poison the water supply. And if you read it aloud, you'd give lab rats cancer--" She breaks off abruptly with a look of regret. "Sorry."
Xander: "Yeah. It's Vogon. I get the picture."
A dubious look from Willow. "Did you really think it was good?"
Xander: "It had a lot of pages. And words. And he wrote all of them." He raises his head and fixes her with a hopeless look. "Will, I thought it was better than *Neuromancer.*"
Willow, a faint smile of sympathy: "Wow. You've really got it bad."
Xander: "Okay, maybe not better than *Neuromancer*. Better than most *Babylon 5* tie-in novels, though." A thought occurs to him: "Hey, you know--you've only read three pages. Maybe it gets--"
Willow: "Xander, if I read any more my eyes will bleed. Trust me. It's *all* bad."
Xander, slumping again: "How am I going to tell him?"
Willow, heartfelt with relief: "Oh, thank god." Off Xander's look, apologetic: "Sorry. I wasn't looking forward to lying."
Xander: "You were going to lie?"
Willow, eyebrows raising: "People invest themselves deeply in their art, Xander--and, granted, we're using the word 'art' loosely here--but I don't want my throat ripped out."
That gives Xander something to think about. "What do I say?"
After some talk, Willow reluctantly decides that Xander shouldn't be the one to tell Spike after all, because a message like this should be delivered with constructive criticism, and so she valiantly takes the novel home with her, looking to Xander the way a soldier does when heading off to certain death. On Spike's return, Xander explains that she wanted to be able to read it "properly," and Spike accepts this.
A few days pass. Spike is difficult to live with and increasingly irritable with Willow.
"How long does it take to read a bleedin' book, anyway? Not like it's *War and Peace*."
No, Xander thinks. You're very right. He feels sad, and a bit scared. He's beginning to see what Willow means about the whole throat-ripping author thing.
He's not around when Willow gives Spike her constructive criticism, but when he comes home that night, Spike is sitting cross-legged in the open doorway that leads to the back deck, just out of range of the fading sunlight. He's got a fireplace poker in his hand and is sifting the ashes of his book on the hibachi. Xander's heart sinks, and he goes to Spike's side and slides down next to him, his back to the glass door so that he can see Spike's face.
Spike looks over dryly. "No worries. Symbolic, is all. Got it backed up on hard drive."
Xander smiles a little. "Rough?"
Spike, matter of factly: "I've had my entrails ripped out, tied up in a bow, and shoved back in, love." He pauses. "This was worse."
Xander winces inside, but keeps a straight face as he says, "You want me to kill her? Because I will. I'll kill her right now. Gut her like a fish--" He has to stop because Spike is smiling, eyes sharp and clear and looking directly into him, and it's one of those moments that makes Xander feel completely grounded even as the ground falls out from under him. He is right where he wants to be in the universe, and it's what they call bittersweet. Which is another word Spike used in his book, and Xander knows what he means. Wants to touch him, but doesn't.
"Nah," Spike says. "Thanks, though."
If it were his own hard work, Xander thinks, he would burn the damn thing, too. Except if it were him, he'd never even have finished it, and he knows this, because hey, a *Babylon 5* novel seemed like a good idea when he was fourteen. For about five days and five pages. But then he gave up, which is exactly what he'd do now too, if someone told him his stuff was crap.
Spike doesn't give up. They go to the bookstore and he picks out an entire basket of books on writing, pretty much just sweeping them off the shelf with his arm, and Xander pays for them all--makes a point of paying, even though Spike has his own credit card now.
Xander tells the bored cashier, "He's writing a book." Spike, leaning against the counter, rolls his eyes and looks vaguely embarrassed, but clearly takes it for granted that Xander will brag. And they go home and time wanders on and Spike reads some of the books, then reads more books that aren't about writing--"Guess I'd better, since it's the only bloody thing they all agree on"--and he reads and reads and reads, and kills some vampires and drinks beer and comes up with the perfect spaghetti sauce and fucks Xander, and starts writing again.