Xander squeezed the bright yellow, squishy stress ball and inhaled deeply. It’s what Zach said to do when stress and that falling apart at the seams feeling threatened to take over. Breath, squeeze and breath again. Feeling marginally better, he focused his chocolate brown eyes on his partners and smiled congenially.
“Help me out, guys,” he flicked the wrists of his charcoal grey Armani jacket and rested his forearms on his teak desk. “Why are we building a house from scratch, I mean we haven’t done that in…never. We buy old buildings, fix them up and sell them on. Or we take on huge contracts. That’s what we do, right?”
“Well yes,” Steve Richards nodded his fair head, “usually.”
Xander waited for the rest of the sentence, leaning back in his leather swivel chair, “but?” He prompted, squeezing the ball.
“But Lawson-Smith is a very…influential, eccentric person. He wants Big Builders inc. to build his house, BB inc. builds his house…from ground.”
“Godfather type?” Xander asked.
“No Alex, just well connected and a popular guest in some of our most important clients' homes…you getting the picture?” Pete Howard, a grey haired, dignified looking man replied.
“Okay, influential, I get, eccentric I get, but why can’t we palm the project off onto one of our associates?” Xander reigned in the anger.
Well shit; he was done cowering and kow-towing. Sunnydale was a lifetime away.
He stared briefly at a framed photo of
Jo Harding, a striking woman in her early forties, sighed at his reticence, “look, we could just vote on it. But we want you on board. William Lawson-Smith said and I quote ‘I don’t expect to deal with one of your toadying minions either, I want this job done properly'…”
“Minions?” Xander echoed, smiling and fingering the scooby photo frame.
“Yeah, we said eccentric. Anyway, you have the most experience with foundations and blue prints, so Lawson-Smith is your baby,” Jo said with finality. “Think of the bonus.”
Xander snorted, like he cared about the money; he would soon be able to retire on more than modest savings in a few years, if he wanted to. He was more concerned about feeling like he had stumbled back into Sunnydale; designated the least flattering, most annoying tasks.
“Alright,” he sat up straighter, “I’ll do it, but this Lawson-Smith throws one hissy fit and I’m outta there. You don’t like it, you can find yourselves a new partner.”
“Cut the melodrama,” Pete soothed, “I hear he’s quite laid back…as long as he thinks he’s getting his money’s worth.”
Xander groaned, but before he could say anything, Jo shot to her feet. “Great,” she enthused, “you can personally deliver the good news. Would stay, but Rob’s working late and I gotta pick the kids up from, you know, where kids are at 7 pm.”
“He’s here?” Xander asked, unable to explain the tingles that shot through him.
“Yeah, in the waiting area, waiting,” Steve placed a comforting hand on Xander’s shoulder, “I’ll introduce you, but I gotta shoot off, too; kids, wife and boring domesticity. There is a price to pay for being blissfully single, you know.”
“Gimme a minute,” Xander said. His partners knew better than to argue with that ‘don’t crowd me’ tone.
Xander watched them file out
and sighed heavily when the door shut. He didn’t understand why he felt so
antsy. It was just another contract, right? Maybe it was because today was the
anniversary of his departure from Sunnydale eight years ago, or because he had
He shook himself out of his funk, smiled ultra-confidently and muttered ‘you are how you allow yourself to feel’ all the way to the door. Xander let Steve lead him to the waiting area, listening, but not really listening at him rave about this Lawson-Smith character. How he had phenomenal knowledge of Victorian buildings, how his wit was as sharp as a goddamn tack, how he…
“Why don’t you just marry the guy, huh Steve? Move him in with you and Marge; don't think you could obsess more if he paid you to warble his praises!” Xander shot, irritated.
Steve cast him a sidelong glance, “What’s going on? You’re snapping at everyone, hissing like a cat on hot bricks. Can’t a guy talk about a source of revenue without getting his head bit off?” He huffed.
Xander started to reply as they rounded the corner to the waiting area, but a definitely British, very familiar drawl stopped him dead in his tracks.
“Did someone say ‘bite’? Cos favourite pastime here.”
Spike had scented the whelp a mile off, he had heard him soon after. He couldn’t say he had missed the whinging, or given Harris a moment’s thought after leaving Sunnyhell. But ruffling a few feathers wouldn’t come amiss. He set his eyebrow at a jaunty angle and casually leaned against a wall, waiting for the feathered man in question.
“Spike?” Xander gasped, taking a faltering step forward.
Spike was unprepared for the rush of welcome he sensed from Xander. He hooked his thumbs into a couple of belt loops on his indecently tight, moleskin, black jeans and smiled. Genuinely. Before masking his face in bored disinterest.
“Well as I live and breath - or not - if it isn’t Xander bloody Harris…they got you brewing tea here or something?”
Xander’s grin did not, unlike his heart, stumble. “Posturing, gesturing and posturing as usual, Spike? Be nice, or I’ll build you a glass house.”
“You two know each other?” Steve asked, feeling like a spare tyre and a not too bright one at that. His brain failed to unravel the subtext flying back and forth.
“Yeah,” Xander replied, “from not so way back.”
“Spike?” Steve asked.
“Affectionate petname, be happy to demonstrate if you like,” Spike offered, not looking at Steve.
“Trust me, Steve, the answer would be ‘I’ll pass’,” Xander advised.
Spike snickered, “So Alex…?”
“Yeah William…and Lawson-Smith?” Xander grabbed a bunch of blue prints and shots of Spike’s plot from Steve’s grasp, “dinner I guess. You can tell me what you want and I can tell you what I’m prepared to give you,” fangless, Xander silently added.
“Oooh,” Spike flicked the tip of his tongue against his teeth, blue eyes twinkling, “quite the manly man I see, pet.”
Xander stopped half way to the elevator, internally chanting ‘Zeppo don’t live here anymore’. He turned serious, brown eyes on Spike, “you want me to build you a house to be fucking proud of or not?”
And will wonders never bloody cease? Spike thought, totally digging Xander’s whole 'fuck you' attitude, “want,” he replied.
“Okay then. Dinner, blue prints, shop talk,” Xander strode to the elevator, “and quit messing with Steve,” he snapped.
Spike chuckled and chucked Steve under the chin to close his gaping mouth, before following Xander into the elevator, cream leather coat tails swishing against his knees.
* * * *
Xander never brought new
clients back to his apartment before they had signed on the dotted line and had
had their finances cleared. Never. You just never knew
what kind of creeps were parading around
“What?” Xander asked, inching his hand towards a wooden cooking implement. Why was Spike staring at him like…like dinner; like some kind of moist, delicious thing?
“You cook?” Spike asked.
“Uh-huh, Chinese, Italian, good ole American…don’t do vampire though,” Xander said, stirring a pan.
“S’alright,” Spike said, walking slowly around the open living area, “I ate.”
Xander shuddered, “you back to doing…you know…that?”
Spike halted in front of bureau against a wall, “what did you expect Harris? That I’d turn to sucking on carrots? I’m a vampire, I feed on blood - you can say it, you know.” He lifted a photo. It was a duplicate of the one in Xander’s office. “Who’s the buck toothed wonder?”
Xander glanced across at
him, “Gen,” he quickly looked away, “MD, volunteering in
Spike slowly obliged, “why is it you never can keep them? You can reel them in, give them many orgasms…hell, you can even get them to the altar,” he stood in front of the bay windows overlooking a walled garden. “But what is it about you, that you just can’t get keep them – no staying power?”
Xander clattered a bowl of salad onto the breakfast bar, loudly banged a bowl of pasta next to it and violently rummaged through the fridge for a couple of beers. He had wondered the exact same thing on countless occasions. And he didn’t need Spike casually picking at the scabs of his insecurity. He raised angry eyes at the vampire standing in his studio apartment and licked inexplicably dry lips.
Perfect. Spike was perfect. The way those pants hugged his pert, tight buns? Perfect. The way that partially unbuttoned black shirt clung to his ripped, muscly torso? Oh yeah, perfect too. The high cheekbones, sweeping black eyelashes and diamond stud twinkling from a sweet, deliciously pale earlobe? Say it all together now class – PERFECT. Even with the ice-white hair replaced by natural, dark-gold, Spike was perfect, in an aesthetic kinda way of course and Xander was mad that he still noticed it.
The last time he had seen Spike was indelibly stamped on his memory. Eight years ago. The First - and the shiny new soul - had been throwing the vampire off kilter and Spike had began killing again. So it was back to the chains. But Spike, and the rest of them, had been worried that he wasn't really restrained; with the chip removed and teen-agers running around the place, the risks had been too high. So Spike had volunteered to leave Sunnydale…
"Where will you go?" Dawn asked tearfully.
"Peaches…he's obliged to take me in. It's better this way, Li'l Bit…safer," Spike grabbed his duffel bag. Hush reigned in Buffy's livingroom as they all digested what Spike's departure meant to each of them. Xander looked for relief and pleasure at this unexpected little present from the Fates. No relief, no pleasure was experienced.
Xander forbade himself from showing any concern whatsoever as he asked, "will you be back?" Spike said his goodbyes to each scooby in turn, before deigning to reply. Their eyes met and held for the briefest of non-confrontational, honest moments, before Spike's smirk bloomed.
"Doubt it, mate, can't think why you would bloody ask."
Xander stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets and ducked his head, "it's your madness, it's catching."
"Right then," Spike sauntered to the door, blonde hair shining almost silver, perfect body draped in leather duster. With a last nod to the subdued group, he walked out the door. That night, Xander tossed about in his sleep, haunted by intense, blue eyes seeing straight to his soul.
Back to the present, the dinner plates and cutlery screamed at the excessive force with which Xander handled them as he jarred them onto the breakfast bar. The salad dressing would have run away to hide if it had legs, when he approached it with intent. Xander regretfully noted the lack of garlic listed in the dressing’s many ingredients. A man needs garlic, and all he gets are e-numbers as long as his arm.
“This is the way it’s gonna be, fangless,” Xander filled a dinner plate, snagged a bottle of beer and pulled out a dining chair. “I work, you pay and you don’t ask questions about my fly fishing.”
“Whatever, mate,” Spike chuckled. “Only the fangless bit? Kinda redundant.”
Xander gasped and went statue still as a hand gripped his hair and jerked his head sideways, exposing the vulnerable, column of his neck. Teeth scraped over and over again at his beating vein and a tongue rasped in their wake, settling into slow sensual sucking.
Xander experienced what he could only describe as an alternate reality, because in this reality, he would never have been aroused by Spike; an undead, albeit souled, fiend. And male too, as if the rest wasn’t enough! But aroused he was. Painfully so. Even he, the epitome of unmatched minimisation and utter denial, could not discount the perky alertness of his loins.
Spike was not surprised by any of the reactions he sensed from Xander. Fear. Well, a vampire sucking on one’s neck invariably had that effect. Arousal. It took all kinds of folks and anyway, what was good for the slayer was good for the scooby. Longing. Harris had always been the ‘please, hurt me’ sort. What disturbed Spike was that his own rampant organ was exhibiting an excited leap of interest. Yes, it appeared that Deadboy Jr Jr had failed to discern the difference between a highly desirable bint (not that he was hung up on gender or anything as despicably human as that) and a fronting as a man of the world, whinging, moaning, has-been white hat. It wasn’t good enough. No, this was a perilous, if admittedly, delectable road to traverse. He released Xander, congenially patting him on the shoulder – a too late attempt at pal-liness.
“Now that we’re clear on what’s bleeding what,” Spike injected the utmost cheer in the words, “there’s my card,” a square of laminated paper dropped into Xander’s lap. He suppressed a groan. “I know where you work…and live. Get bloody building, Harris and no skimping on the cement.”
Muted foot-falls on the plush carpet, a flap of coat tails and Spike was gone.
“What the fuck…?” Xander stared at the closed door, pushed his dinner away and crept a hand towards his lap.
* * * *
Four weeks. It had been four weeks since Xander had seen Spike, and it was the best four weeks of his life. Yeah it was! Xander vehemently squeezed the yellow stress ball. During that time, he had gone over the blue-prints, made some amendments to Spike’s ambitious plan, hand picked the crew and personally inspected the plot for any flaws. Xander didn’t know it, but his attention to detail on this project surpassed that he had given to his accounts in a long time.
He justified the almost total time he spent on Spike’s house to his partners – and to himself – by saying that the sooner they got rid of demanding Lord Lawson-Smith, the better they would all sleep at night. None of his partners had the bravery to point out that apart from that one, scheduled appearance, Lawson-Smith had made no demands; Xander was too much of a snarling, snapping mother bear over his baby to tolerate justifiable interrogation.
When he wasn’t labouring over his new project, Xander exerted his efforts on chasing down every blond haired, high cheeked, blue-eyed ‘bint’ he could lay his hands on. That’s right, he fanatically reaffirmed his total commitment to the heterosexual, non-demon magnet way of life. Too bad he called one or four of them ‘Spikey’ during the odd climax…what? A man can’t make a genuine mistake now and then? Those girls never did call him back…
Xander expected that Spike meant to long-arm this particular operation, so he really wasn’t expecting to hear the sardonic, drawl on the other end of the phone.
“Harris, how’s my house coming along?”
No ‘I’m sorry I disappeared off the face of the fucking earth’? Xander frowned at this thought and pitched his voice at feigned surprise, “Spike! You don’t have to call, you know, we’ve got it all under control.” Well, it was true!
“Oh, I like to keep an eye on things, make sure you lot aren’t sleeping on the job.”
“What do you want, DB Junior?” Xander asked, irritated by Spike’s casual reply.
“Spike?” Xander tentatively asked.
“You know,” the voice was cold and steel hard, “I’m a client. That means I pay for your services. It does not mean that you can talk to me like something you bloody trod on. Sunnydale is over, deal with it,” Spike slowly explained. “Now, let’s try again. How is the house, which you are commissioned to build for me coming along?”
“There’s an excessive amount of limestone on your plot. That means that we’ve had to move your intended site for the house, or else the whole thing will come crashing down around your ears. We haven’t got planning permission for your ferris wheel yet, jury’s still out on concerns about light pollution. Otherwise, the house is coming along just fucking great, ” Xander grated, “will that be all, Mr Lawson-Smith?”
“No, that will not be all, Harris,” the voice was still cold. “I would like to discuss alterations to the plans over dinner. Tonight. 7 pm. Don’t be late.”
Xander pulled back from the harsh sound of the handset banging into its cradle and swore loudly, putting every ounce of dissatisfaction into each invective. Spike was such an asshole, an unholy pain in the butt, a soul-neutered big bad who had nothing better to do than terrorise – or try to – builders who didn’t even care about his fucking house! A slayer loving, issue having, pig-blood swilling, mother-turning mad man, who should just crawl back into the mildewy crypt from whence he came…his voice was JD on rocks: rough, cool and way intoxicat…get a life, Harris! Xander dropped his head into hands. And a girl. For fuck’s sake, get a girl…of the non-demon variety.
* * * *
Spike heard the elevator
doors swish open, heard the heavy tread of footsteps outside the door of his
“I want to see the site,” he said, all business-like, “arrange it.”
Xander’s eyes widened, not so much at the tone, but at the sapphire blue, jersey top moulding Spike’s torso. So tight it was a sin. “You haven’t seen the site?” Xander asked, with the tone usually employed for the unfortunate holder of 2.1 brain cells.
Spike stared at him from across the room, electric blue eyes enhanced by the top. Xander stared back, chocolate brown eyes glinting with hard challenge. Spike took a step forward, holding the gaze and growling so softly that only the hairs on the back of Xander’s neck heard it. What’s this, whelp, a challenge? Spike took another barefooted step and flashed Xander a little gold. He dropped his gaze to Spike’s pectorals. I thought not, Spike smiled, leading the way to the dining room.