Every Tuesday and Thursday Xander drives Spike to his writing class at the university and picks him up again when it's over. Not because he has to, but because he gets a kick out of that moment a few minutes before ten when he arrives and steals a glance through the door and sees Spike sitting in one of those school-room desks: legs slightly spread and feet planted on the linoleum tiles, fluorescent lights making his hair look whiter than usual, face squinched up into a frown as he listens to someone talk. I could be a writer, Xander thinks when he stares at Spike, and it's untrue, but his eyes write without words: black leather shoes on the dull white speckled floor, slight curl at the jeans cuffs that Spike bitches about but refuses on principle to iron flat, and the slinky shape of hips and torso and the throwback of shoulders against the undersized desk. One hand holding a classmate's story, the other resting on his thigh, leather bracelet clinging to the wrist. He is real and so very unreal--vampires? writing fiction? taking night classes?--that Xander sometimes has a brief, strange uncertainty about whether his own life is real or not, whether the things he remembers have actually happened. Sunnydale childhood, fateful meeting with Slayer, failed wedding with vengeance demon, dead boyfriend. It all coalesces in the surreal here and now. Boy meets world. At these moments, Xander feels like he's seeing it for the first time. He loves Spike and this twice-weekly ritual, loves driving him home afterwards and talking about class, sometimes stopping for coffee at the Espresso Pump. It's like foreplay. Not just for sex, but for the rest of their life together. Spike sometimes looks over and catches Xander watching through the classroom door, gives a faint smile. His blue jeans, his shirt, the buttery tufts of his hair: he has style, he's brilliant and alive, the most living dead man Xander has known. Like just about every other human being on the face of the planet, Xander takes what he has for granted ninety percent of the time. And even the other ten percent of the time, there are still many things he never says to Spike. Daily life is a habit and you don't want to get too clutchy or co-dependent. If Xander walks into a room and notices how Spike's jeans fit and thinks, *sweet holy fuck*, he rarely says it aloud. How many times does Spike want to hear that? Some people say that compliments never get old. But Xander feels he'd just be babbling the same boring, unimaginative thing over and over, forcing Spike to think up a reply. Spike doesn't seem to worry about this in reverse. Xander has never been with someone who gives so many compliments. He isn't sure if Spike's just one of those natural romantics, or if Dru--the original Lady Die--needed constant reinforcement, but Spike is verbal, and will tell Xander over and over how sexy he is, how edible, how juicy and hot and good. But it's not just a sex thing. "You're a good man," he sometimes says, tender and warm, when Xander installs a safety handrail in the girls' house for Becca, or helps Willow with business taxes, or reassures Dawn that one bad, drunken night doesn't make her a loser slut doomed to a tragic and vampiric end. Xander's family taught him to take praise with a tight and distrustful smile, but he can't do that with Spike, who will wrap himself around Xander from behind and murmur regards against his neck, so that the words sink in--or, even harder to take--will say them right to Xander's face. Spike's gaze takes no prisoners. He'll stand close and stare with passionate admiration into Xander's eyes, or sometimes with a kind of deep wonderment. He has the super-power to melt human brain cells into pudding. Xander has a hard time saying stuff in general. Spike's influence is starting to loosen his tongue, but not everything makes it out of his mouth. You're amazing, he thinks to Spike when he watches him through the classroom door: I'm so proud of you. How do you say that aloud, though, without sounding as if you're talking to a four-year old? You probably have to add fucking: I'm so fucking proud of you. A manly, adult pride. Except then it's kind of extreme, as if Spike's not just attending night class but battling cancer or taking a shuttle trip to orbit. A few times they've gone to coffee with some of the students from Spike's class. Most are what Xander thinks of as real adults--over forty, with kids and paunches and grey hair--a category he doesn't count himself into yet. There's also a handful of aimless thirtysomethings in need of a creative jump-start, and one young guy, a short-order cook, who's already been published. Xander can't see any common factor among them, except that they like Spike, who bonds with the EMT over the difficulty of estimating blood loss volumes, reminisces with the lesbian lawyer about the sixties Berkeley scene ("Yeah, my mum was always telling stories"), and trades trivia with the cook on the methods and hit counts of famous serial killers. He looks comfortable among them, except that he clearly wants to smoke with the smokers, and Xander feels a twinge of guilt when he catches Spike's fingers twisting straw papers into intestinal designs. Spinning coins. Bending fork tines back and forth until they break off. Ginnie, the EMT: "Good lord, you're strong, honey." In the diner they frequent, Spike looks unnaturally pale--which he is--and his female classmates joke that he's a vampire. Ginnie tries to take his pulse while Xander looks on in rising alarm, but Spike is meeting Xander's eyes across the table and smiling slyly. He does flirtatious things with his hand to evade her grasp. "Now, now," he purrs. "I've got a jealous boyfriend, you know. I have to be careful." The women coo, and tease Xander with approval. Talking to normals has apparently required some interesting fabrications on Spike's part, and Xander is always careful not to accidentally trip him up. One night as they're heading home, Xander says, bemused: "You told them you worked for a mortuary?" Spike: "You'd be amazed how often that cover story comes in handy." Xander, with a slight, wry head shake: "No, I really wouldn't." Spike glances at him across the front seat of the car then looks off to the side where the trees are rolling by outside his window: "I'm a wicked man." His tone is strange and absent. Xander: "Good man, wicked past." He almost reaches over to caress Spike's thigh, but they're taking a curve on the beach road and he needs both hands on the wheel. A half-hidden smile directed out the window--harbor lights flashing by between breaks in the trees--then Spike offers: "Still got a wicked fashion sense." Xander, after a thoughtful nod: "Killer smile." Spike: "Bloody awful temper." Xander: "Cold feet. Warm heart." Spike: "Unbeating, though." Xander: "Plus, you're drop-dead gorgeous." Spike, glancing over again: "You been holding that in reserve?" Xander: "Nah, I'm the soul of spontaneity." A week or so later, spontaneity nearly makes Xander suggest that Spike invite his classmates over for dinner or drinks some night, but he holds that thought, figuring if Spike wants the company, he'll figure this out on his own. Life has its little moments. Xander, reading from the bag of Cheetos: "You know, if you call snackfood puffy and cheesy, it's a good thing. If you call people that, it's a bad thing." Spike: "Makes you think." Xander: "You're just saying that." Spike: "No, really. Snackfood, people--usually lump them in the same category." Off Xander's dry, lazily-lidded look: "Used to, anyway." The class is dredging up things. Writing exercises spark memories, Spike tells him. He shares these with the class in the guise of fiction, and impresses the others with a skill for morbid detail. In one piece, he describes a scene in a tenement in the nineteen-thirties, the smell of blood and the necessity of dismemberment. Flies, flesh, bonesaws. It's like Xander is right there, with Dru laughing in her bloodstained gown--smearing hearts across face and lips, peering dreamily into disconnected eyes, playing patty-cake with piles of severed hands--as Spike fills suitcases one by one with newspaper-wrapped body parts. An air of boredom and inconvenience rises from the page. Xander thinks he will have nightmares after reading some of Spike's writing, but doesn't. Spike does, though. He thrashes one night, muttering into his pillow, waking Xander toward four a.m. Vampires are strong, and Spike has never had a nightmare before, so it's a toss up where Xander's instincts might land him--sit up and turn on the light first, or just wrap his arms around Spike and try to ease him awake. Instinct says embrace him, and Xander does. Spike shudders and twists away and is suddenly standing by the side of the bed, naked and in game face. Scarier in the darkness of the room. A low growl comes from his throat--thunderstorm in the distance--and Xander shifts to snap on a lamp. "Hey," he says. Everything above the neck is twisted and snarled and monstrous, and the familiar choker at the neck is like a borderline separating this from the normal human body below that still shows signs of sex and Xander's mouth. But it's all the same, all one thing--a continuation of Spike. Xander would hate to be scared of Spike. He isn't now, and moves across the bed without a thought. "Hey," he says. "Easy." Runs his hands up Spike's body as he rises to his feet, and feels a twitch of awareness that's followed by the melting away of demonic features. And Xander must have it bad, like Willow says, and maybe he needs to be needed, because the way Spike lets his neck bow and head rest on Xander's shoulder--the feel of his nape, the slope of his muscles, and the tired, heavy drape of his body--folds together everything vampire and human until the difference is meaningless. His hands rest on Xander's hips and he cracks into soft, broken sobs. Xander wouldn't recommend it to people, loving vampires. This is the only one worth loving, in his opinion. And it was one of those wacky, unlikely things--it's not as if when your loved one dies and is born again as a creature of darkness you can say: "Stick a soul back in so I can take him home, please." It's sad, but it's random. Spike was just the one. Right place, right time. Fate and stupid moves and a perverse streak--whatever the hell went into it, he's here now. Xander, a week of nightmares later: "So, I'm just saying, any time you want a change of scenery, let me know, okay? I can take the time. Wherever you want to go, we'll go. A day's notice." Spike, rubbing garlic sauce on chicken--cutting board, kitchen island--looks up and smiles at him, his eyes showing bluish shadows. He is wearing one of Xander's oldest tee-shirts, the one that makes him look like a twenty-year old drummer instead of a hundred-year old vampire, if you don't look at the eyes too closely. Spike, in a low, sultry voice: "You trying to spoil me?" That voice would go right to Xander's dick like a buzz if the other man's deep tiredness weren't so obvious. Xander: "Always." Writing classes seem a stupid reason to Xander to stick around when they have no other real schedules anchoring their lives. Or they would, except that they're important to Spike. Xander doesn't push. He will be understanding, and he's not going to push. He lets another week pass, and the time is usefully spent. At the end of the week he takes Spike on a ride. Thinks about making him close his eyes as they approach their destination, but it's not necessary; they're coming at it from a back access road, and Xander parks by a set of anonymous outbuildings, and Spike is still curious and poking him with questions that Xander smiles at but won't answer. They crunch across asphalt and grass, around the building, and Xander unlocks a door in the chain-link security fence and there they are. Spike stares. Xander: "It was such a steal, I'd have been an idiot to pass it up." Spike stares at him, eyes slightly wide, amazed. Xander, mildly, hands in pockets: "It gets good mileage." Spike stares at him. Xander: "Okay, granted, it's going to depreciate in value, and I can't write it off for business if we use it for personal trips. And of course it's probably a tool of Satan. But--" Spike: "Have you lost *all* your chips?" They stand and look at the plane sitting fifty feet away. A balmy night wind sweeps the smell of fuel and tar lightly across the tarmac, and in the greater distance, a small commuter jet eases loose of the airport and rolls toward the runway, lights blinking. Xander stops pretending to be casual and, focusing, takes Spike's hands in his own: "I don't want to have to worry about flight times and sunlight if we want to go somewhere. That's all." Spike, helplessly: "Christ, pet--'s not like we're bloody rock stars." Xander: "So? Millions of people have private jets nowadays." Spike stares at him, eyebrows reaching new heights. Xander: "Okay. Hundreds, at least." It's decided that when you're a vampire, you've got plenty of time ahead of you to write, but a jet has a more limited shelf life--you don't just want to leave it sitting around unused, collecting rust. So they close the jet windows against the sun and head to Paris, a strange land filled--like everywhere else--with people far younger than the world they live in. Spike is one of a very select group, a small number of people who've seen the city before the turn of the century. He doesn't have as much to say about that as Xander expects. Has some stories, but they seem tinted with darkness, and he lives more in the now than in the past. They wander Paris at night, and go places Xander will forget the name of, and eat things that are too rich, and see trees and gravestones and the Eiffel tower and people and dog shit and books and chic dresses and pigeons and long loaves of bread, and one night Spike breaks into a small museum he's fond of, and they wander its halls without tripping any alarms, which is just one of those perfect things you don't question too closely. Spike, as they leave the museum: "Maybe I'll write about this." Xander: "You should."