The Magic of Computers


By Saber ShadowKitten





Part Five





"Do you want me to get out the straight-edge for you?"

Willow looked up at Xander's voice. "What?"

Xander gestured towards the kitchen table. "A straight-edge, so those forks you keep fixing will be perfectly straight."

Willow glanced down at the silverware under her fingers, started to straighten it a little, then snatched her hand away. She gave her oldest friend a sheepish smile. "You got me."

"Xander, come here and taste this," Spike said over his shoulder. The vampire, dressed in his customary black jeans and t-shirt, was standing in front of the stove stirring a pot.

As Xander rolled over to Spike, Willow made a final study of the plate-settings. She was certainly glad their kitchen table was made for six, although, with Xander's chair, the leg room under one end of table would be tight. She'd have to make sure she took the seat to Xander's left. Spike always sat to Xander's right.

Willow looked at the clock on the microwave and felt butterflies take flight in her stomach. Their guests would arrive any minute.

*Ding-dong.*

Or right now, she thought, nervously tugging on the hem of her pale green sweater as she went to answer the door. She looked around the front hallway she'd spent hours cleaning earlier that morning, took a fortifying breath, and opened the door. "Hi!"

Cordelia and Wesley stood on her front porch, with Angel standing behind them. "You're front light's out," Cordelia announced.

Angel sighed. "Cordelia."

"We're out of lightbulbs," Willow said with a grin. Same old Cordelia, she thought. "Come in, please. I think dinner's almost ready. I hope everyone likes salmon."

"Here," Angel said as he entered the house behind his friends. He handed Willow a chilled bottle of wine. "To go with dinner."

"You didn't have to do that," Willow said. Angel gave her a small smile and she felt the butterflies lift off again.

"This is a marvelous home, Ms. Rosenberg," Wesley commented.

"Willow, Wesley. Call me Willow," Willow told the bespectacled man.

"Willow," Wesley acquiesced.

"So, where's Xander?" Cordelia asked as she set her purse on the hall table.

"Right here."

Xander sat in the entry of the kitchen, his wheelchair taking up the entire doorway. His black "dress up" glove-clad hands rested on the worn rubber wheels. Dressed somberly, for once, in dark brown slacks and matching button-down shirt, he smiled tightly at them and said, "Food's on."

"Thanks, Xander," Willow said in the stunned and uncomfortable silence. He nodded once, backed the chair up and disappeared into the kitchen.

Willow looked from Wesley to Cordelia to Angel, frowning as they stared at the now-empty kitchen entryway. "Follow me. We no longer have a dining room, so we're eating in the kitchen. I hope that's okay."

Angel cleared his throat and forced the shocked expression from his features. "Of course it is. If we were having dinner at my place, we'd be eating in a basement on unpacked boxes."

Willow felt her lips curve at his awkward attempt at humor. "It's okay, Angel," she told him. She turned to Cordelia and Wesley. "Xander was in a car accident a couple years ago that left him paralyzed."

"How dreadful," Wesley said.

"Is he- is he all right?" Cordelia asked.

"Except for that whole not walking thing," Willow shrugged, "he has his good days and his bad, just like everyone else." She started for the kitchen. "Come on, let's eat. Spike's salmon is my favorite."

"Spike's salmon?" Angel asked as he followed Willow, with Cordelia and Wesley following behind him. "Is that a type of smoked salmon?"

"I don't know," Willow replied. "My cooking skills are centered around the freezer and the microwave." She entered the kitchen and spoke to the blond vampire setting plates of food on the table. "Spike, is the salmon smoked?"

"With my very own fags," Spike said. He looked past Willow and a sardonic smile appeared on his face. "'Allo, pops. Long time no see."

Angel came to an abrupt halt, causing Cordelia to bump into him. "Did I miss the stoplight or something?" she said, giving him a small shove before walking around him. She stopped when she saw Spike and arched her sculptured brow. "Willow, why is there a vampire in your kitchen?"

"She invited Angel to dinner, that's why," Xander answered from his spot at the head of the table.

"I meant Spike, lamebrain," Cordelia said with a scowl.

"Spike's a vampire!" Xander gasped and looked to Spike with huge eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Spike smirked. "Didn't want to spoil the mood."

"And here I thought there was a rattlesnake loose in the house."

Willow handed Spike the wine. "You'll have to excuse them," she said to her guests. "They don't get out much."

"Hey! We went out just last night and didn't see that movie. Isn't that right, Spike?" Xander said.

"One of the best sappy pictures I haven't watched in a while," Spike replied with a wink.

Angel, Cordelia and Wesley, who was standing partially behind Angel ready to fight, continued to stare at Spike as the blond put the wine on the counter and opened a drawer. Xander rolled his eyes and gestured to the other chairs. "Sit down, will you? I'm starting to feel like a midget."

"Yes, sit," Willow echoed as she moved beside Xander. "We're all friends--"

Spike snorted as he uncorked the wine.

"--and there's no need to stand on ceremony," the redhead finished, ignoring Spike.

The three guests looked tentative as they chose seats. Cordelia was about to sit on the other side of Xander when Spike appeared next to her and whispered in a threatening manner, "That's my seat. Find another."

Cordelia tensed, but replied caustically, "Geez, rude much?", as she moved to the seat at the end of the table, opposite Xander.

"Willow, why is Spike here?" Angel finally outright asked.

"Why wouldn't he be here?" Willow said in confusion. Then, it dawned on her. "Oh! I didn't tell you that Spike would be joining us, too. Sorry. I just didn't think about it because he's always here... which makes sense, since he lives here...," her hands fluttered in Spike and Xander's general direction, "...and where one of them is, the other usually isn't that far away..."

Spike and Xander both wore identical expressions of amusement as they listened to Willow. Spike walked to the table, poured some wine into Xander's glass and his own, set the bottle down, and took his seat.

"Anyway," Willow continued. "Spike works for Otherworld Tech, too, and since this is a sort-of business meeting, it's logical that you meet all the employees... Oh cool, this means I can take this dinner off of my taxes!"

Angel still looked concerned. Spike sighed exaggeratedly and yanked out the chair to his right. "Will you just sit down, pillock. I can't bite them, and I'm not gonna bite you. You'd leave a horrid aftertaste in my mouth."

The dark-haired vampire warily took the proffered seat. Wesley had taken the chair beside Willow and was cautiously examining the food on his plate.

Xander decided to get the conversation rolling before Willow became unhappy. An unhappy Willow-the-Witch had a tendency to cause his dinner to literally jump up and do the hustle. "So, Wills tells us you guys are super-dooper detectives. Have you solved any mysteries involving a wife's ex-husband's brother cheating on his wife with his wife's ex-husband's sister?"

"Xander, you really need to stop watching the telly," Spike told him.

"Actually, I think we did solve one of those," Wesley said. "Although the brother was a rather grumpy Bartyian demon and the woman he was cheating with resembled a Pekinese." He took a bite of his salmon. "Oh my, this is tasty. There's a bit of a zing to it."

"That's the picayune pepper. I learned that from Emeril. The secret's to add it to the lemon glaze while it's still whole and let the heat from the stove pull the juices out of it," Spike said, gesturing with a speared piece of salmon on his fork as he spoke.

"Who watches too much tv?" Xander teased. Spike made a face at him.

"Wait a second, you made this?" Cordelia said to Spike.

"Of course," Spike replied, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a vampire to cook.

"He even wore his 'Fuck the Chef' apron...," Xander grinned salaciously, "...and nothing else."

"Xander, language," Willow scolded.

"Sorry, mom." Xander dodged her swat and winked at her.

Willow shook her head and looked at Angel. "Angel, why don't you tell us what it is you do--"

"Besides ponce about like a foofed-up nancyboy," Spike completed for her. Willow glared at him. He returned her glare with an innocent smile. "What?"

"Aside from 'poncing about,'" Angel began, shooting a dirty look at the blond vampire, as well. "Mainly--"

"'We help the helpless,'" Cordelia chimed in. "That's our motto. I came up with it."

"Who could be more helpless than you three?" Spike said.

Xander suddenly grabbed Spike's wrist and squeezed. "Ix-nay on the pissing off the Itch-way," he warned, noting the angry glint in Willow's eyes. "I have plans for later that involve you and all your pieces-parts."

Spike nodded once and Xander released him. The thirty-year old gave Cordelia an apologetic smile. "That's a great motto, Cordelia. I like how you made it species-unspecified," he told her.

"I did?" Cordelia quickly recovered. "I mean: yes, I did. Since we don't just help humans, I thought it would be appropriate."

The conversation picked up from there, centering around Angel Investigations and leading into suggestions from Xander about a webpage design. Although Angel kept a wary eye on the now oddly quiet blond vampire seated beside him, he joined in the conversation with stories and anecdotes about some of the cases he'd worked on.

Eventually, the discussion turned into a game of "Do you remember...?" The bottle of wine was empty and the plates were picked clean. The tapers Willow had set in the center of the table had burned a quarter of the way down.

Spike leaned over to Xander and whispered, "I'm going to heave on all this soddin' togetherness if I don't get out of here soon."

"Go ahead," Xander told him. "I think you've suffered long enough."

"You sure?" Spike studied the brunette intently.

For a rude vampire, Spike certainly was sweet at times, Xander thought, a happy smile curving his lips. He knew Spike was concerned about leaving Xander's somewhat new and unimproved self without support. It made him feel all gooshy inside.

"Yeah. Get lost," Xander told Spike.

"I'll be upstairs if you need me," Spike said, then stood and addressed the others. "Well, I can't say what I think about this little stroll down memory lane without Willow turning me into a bloody chicken or something equally as fowl..."

Spike then strolled out of the kitchen to the accompaniment of groans and "boos!"







Part Six







Angel barely waited until Cordelia and Wesley had followed Xander out of the kitchen before asking Willow the question that'd been plaguing him all through dinner. "Willow, are you out of your mind?"

"What?"

The dark-haired vampire picked up two plates and joined her at the sink. "You invited Spike over for dinner!" he exclaimed incredulously.

"Not really," Willow said, frowning at him in confusion. "I only asked if he could make dinner."

"But for him to make dinner, he had to be invited over," Angel persisted.

"Angel, Spike lives here," Willow said as she returned to the table to continue clearing the dishes.

"He what?!"

Willow turned and gave Angel a questioning look. "I thought I already explained that."

"Explain it again, please," Angel said. "I must've missed the logic portion the first time around."

"Wow," Willow said in amazement. "You sound exactly like Cordelia. Or, at least, the Cordelia I remember."

Angel had the grace to color slightly. "Sorry."

Willow smiled. "No need. I think it's cute."

Then she blushed wildly and busied herself with the dishes.

Angel felt his lips twitch in the beginnings of a smile, and he moved to help her. "Why don't we start this thread of conversation again?"

"Okay," Willow agreed.

"So, Willow, why Spike is living under this roof and making dinner for people he obviously can't stand?" Angel asked.

"Well, about four years ago, Spike and Xander showed up on my doorstep with a big, black trunk and 'persuaded' me to let them crash here for a few nights," Willow began. She turned on the tap in the sink and raised her voice in order to be heard over the running water. "I hadn't seen either of them since Buffy's funeral and, after Xander passed the 'I'm-not-a-vampire' test and Spike proved that chip in his brain was still active, I let them in and they've been here ever since."

"Spike still has the chip?" Angel was surprised.

"Yep," Willow said. "Next Wednesday is his tenth anniversary with it. He's been stocking up on alcohol and plans to celebrate so hard, he won't be sober for a full month after he stops drinking. Of course, he might blow himself up first because he's storing the liquor in his office because he got too close to the alcohol with the soldering tools. I told him it was a bad idea, but Spike's Spike and he does whatever he wants."

"He wanted to make dinner for us?" Angel asked skeptically, as he handed her more of the dinner dishes.

"No, but Xander convinced him to do it anyway." Willow held up her wet hand, a joking smile on her lips. "Don't ask me how, because I don't know, and I want to keep my illusions that Xander is pure and innocent."

"Spike and Xander are together? Like a couple?"

"I would hope so -- they've been sharing a bed the whole time they've been here," Willow said, her eyes twinkling in amusement.

"Oo-kay," Angel dragged the word out disbelievingly.

"What about you?" Willow asked as she shut off the water and began stacking the plates in the dishwasher.

"Huh?" Oh, very eloquent, Angel, the vampire thought derisively.

"Do you have someone who's been sharing your bed?" The second the words were out of her mouth, Willow couldn't believe she'd said them.

"Is that the Willow-way of asking me if I have a significant other?" Angel said, one corner of his mouth quirking.

"That's the Willow-way of embarrassing herself," she told him, her face flaming and her eyes focused on the dishes.

Angel chuckled. "No."

Willow frowned. "No?"

"No, I'm not seeing anyone... yet."

Angel's eyes widened, then he quicky headed to the kitchen table to retrieve the remainder of the dishes. Real smooth, slick, he thought. Could I sound any more smarmy?

"Me, neither," Willow admitted, glancing over her shoulder at him. She quietly added, "Yet."

Angel almost dropped the wine glasses in his hands. He looked over at her, and when he met her shy gaze the floor dropped out from under his feet.

Willow looked away first and made a big production out of putting the silverware in the dishwasher. Her heart was pounding in her chest and the butterflies from earlier returned with a vengeance.

She couldn't believe she was flirting with Angel. She couldn't believe he was flirting back. She couldn't believe how sexy he looked in his creme-colored sweater and grey slacks!

"Here." Angel's soft voice came from behind her. Willow straightened and turned to him, but didn't look him in the eye. He held out the used wine glasses to her. She reached out to take them, and when her hands brushed his tingly tendrils snaked up her arms.

"Willow?"

"Um, yeah?"

Angel licked his lips and focused on a point on the wall across the room. "Would you, uh, like to go out with me tomorrow night? On a, um, date?"

"I'd love to," Willow breathed. Almost instantly, she swore. "Damn, I can't."

Angel had felt his excitement rise and plummet in less than a second, as if he was riding a carousel horse. "Why?" he asked, hoping he didn't sound as disappointed as he felt.

"It's company policy that employees can't date clients," Willow said, a forlorn note in her voice.

"Then I quit," Angel said immediately, startling both her and himself.

"Quit?"

Angel ran with the thought, uncaring that he was making himself out to be ten times the fool. "As of right now, I no longer work for Angel Investigations. If you have business with the agency, talk to the partners who run it, Cordelia Chase or Wesley Wyndham-Price. I'm just an unemployed schmuck asking a beautiful woman on a date."

Schmuck? Oh god, he was seriously floundering here. It was only Willow, looking scrumptious in a pale green sweater and long, black skirt. And her hair was falling just so over her face, making his hand itch to brush it back for her.

Willow giggled. "Angel, you can't quit."

"Why not?"

"Because I do," Willow replied. "Quit, that is. Otherworld Technologies now has a vacancy in its Software department. Know anyone interested in the job?"

Angel threw his head back and laughed. Willow joined in, and soon the two of them were practically rolling on the floor.

When they finally calmed, Willow's eyes were sparkling and, to Angel, they resembled green starbursts. A sappy comparison, but true.

The dark-haired vampire dropped his chin and reigned in his scattered thoughts. He tried to limit the number of times he made a fool of himself per day, and he was already past his quota. After taking a short, purposeful breath, he suggested, "What if neither of us quit and we go on that date anyway?"

"Be rebels? Buck the system? Stick it to the man?" Willow grinned. "I can do that."

"Then, it's a date."

"It's a date."

They stood there with beaming smiles on their faces until the beep of the intercom made them jump apart.

"Willow, tell Xander to turn the soddin' intercom on in his office," Spike's voice ordered from the speaker on the wall.

Willow rolled her eyes and walked over to the white intercom. She pressed the talk button and said, "Walk your butt down here and tell him yourself."

Colorful cursing about redheads and their parentage filled the kitchen and Angel chuckled. "I'll tell Xander," the vampire told her.

"Thanks," Willow said. "Spike's liable to be a real pain if he has to come down." Her brows furrowed slightly. "Although, that's not very different than how he normally acts."





Part Seven





Armed with the tiniest toolkit he'd ever seen, Angel climbed the stairs to the second floor of Willow's small Victorian home. According to Xander, Spike's office was the first door on the left.

The first door on the right was Willow's bedroom.

Ignoring his conscience, Angel stopped in the open doorway on the right. Willow's bedroom was soft, feminine, and a bit quirky -- just like Willow herself. The walls were painted a very pale peach and the carpeting was a light blue. A light oak mirrored dresser and a chest of drawers matched the light oak head and footboards of Willow's queen-sized bed. Stuffed unicorns, dragons and other mystical creatures, as well as thick candles of all colors and scents, were scattered around the room.

Angel started to take a step forward but pulled up short. He doubted Willow would appreciate him invading her bedroom, especially not with the illicit images flitting through his brain.

Quickly, the dark-haired vampire turned on his heel and crossed the hallway to the closed door with the small sign that read: "Otherworld Technologies Hardware."

Angel knocked once and opened the door. "Spike?"

"It's you. How lovely," Spike's dry tone floated to him from somewhere indistinguishable.

Angel entered the office and looked around curiously. Gutted computers, electronic equipment, and other hardware littered the two-room office that took up the entire left half of the second floor. There were winding paths between the large piles of disassembled machines and scraps.

A hefty stash of multicolored bottles of liquor was stacked in one corner of the room.

A motorized car zipped along the grey carpeting of one of the paths and stopped at Angel's toes. "Halt! Who goes there?" a tinny, robotic voice demanded.

One of Angel's dark brows raised as he looked down at the small car. "Cute."

"'Cute' does not have permission to be here," the robotic voice announced.

Then, the car shocked him right through his boots.

"Ow!" Angel exclaimed, jumping backwards.

Spike's laugh filled the office before the blond vampire came into view, wearing a pair of dark goggles around his neck. "Car, retreat," he said.

The car spun around and sped away from Angel. Angel watched it warily until it disappeared completely. "Where'd you get that car?" he asked.

"Made it," Spike said offhandedly as he pulled a pair of protective gloves off his hands. "What brings you up here, poofter?"

"I volunteered," Angel replied, suppressing his surprise at Spike's answer about the car. He held out the small toolkit. "Is this what you wanted?"

"Stupid boy," Spike sighed loudly and crossed to Angel. "I would've come down and gotten them."

"Xander didn't want you to have to," Angel told him. "Besides, I wanted to talk to you anyway."

Spike snorted. "Figures."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The great white poncey knight rides to the rescue," Spike said scornfully as he took the toolkit from Angel. "Well, guess what, peaches, no one needs rescuin' here."

Spike turned and walked away. Miffed, Angel followed. "I'm not trying to rescue anyone."

"Right," Spike scoffed, dropping the toolkit and his gloves on a cluttered workbench. "You didn't come up here to play Daddy to Xander and Willow."

"Believe me, I'm not having fatherly thoughts about Willow," Angel said under his breath. Louder, he said, "I'm only curious and, okay, a little 'white knightish' about why you're here. I know you, Spike--"

"No, you don't," Spike interrupted firmly. "You don't know a bloody thing about me."

"I beg to differ," Angel said with a pointed look.

"Beg all you want, tosser, but it still doesn't change the fact that you don't know jack." Spike leaned back against the workbench and folded his arms over his chest. "The bloke you ran with over a century ago doesn't exist anymore. Time, Drusilla, you, and this chip in my brain have seen to that."

"That doesn't explain why you work for Willow or why you're in some sort of relationship with Xander," Angel said.

"I'm in love with Xander."

The blunt simplicity of the statement surprised Angel. "You're in love with Xander?"

"Is there an echo in here?" Spike said sarcastically. He straightened, picked up his gloves and walked over to an obscure creation of welded metal.

Angel followed the blond with his eyes. How the hell could Spike love Xander Harris of all people? Xander was... Xander. He was unable to keep the disgust out of his voice when he asked, "Why?"

Spike shot a glare at Angel as he put on his gloves. "Because he's Xander."

"I just can't...," Angel shook his head, "Xander and you. Together. Lovers. That seems wrong."

"Then it's been wrong for six fucking wonderful years," Spike said.

Angel still couldn't believe it. Six years? "How in the world did you two get together?"

A small, purely happy smile spread across Spike's lips. "He rammed me with his motor."

"He ran you over with his car?" Angel repeated.

"Yeah." Spike's eyes took on a faraway look. "And then he yelled at me for making him hit me."

"Let me see if I understand. Six years ago, Xander hit you with his car, yelled at you because he hit you with his car, and you fell in love with him," Angel said.

"You forgot the part where he threw my carcass in his boot and left me in there for days," Spike added, his smile growing dopier.

"No, can't forget that." Angel wondered if Spike caught Drusilla's insanity, and hoped that he wouldn't go nuts, too.

Spike shook of his memories, grabbed a piece of soldered metal and checked its hold. "Don't worry your foofy head, Angel. Xander -- and because of him, Willow -- are safe from me, even if this chip wasn't working anymore."

Now that Angel didn't believe. "Oh really? And why's that?"

"Are you blind, mate?" Spike stared at Angel. "Xander's in an effin' wheelchair. There's no way in me goin' to heaven that I'd subject him to an eternity of that."

The blond turned away and began tugging on the soldered metal again. "Xander's going to be a wrinkly old sod before he dies. And, then, he can only die in our bed with my arms around him."

"You're nothing but a romantic sap, did you know that?" Angel mocked.

"Bite me," Spike said.

"And catch whatever it is you have? No thanks."

Spike snarled at him, but said nothing. Angel studied the structure that Spike was tugging on. "By the way," he said. "What the heck is that?"

"A new exercise machine for Xander," Spike replied. "Which I was in the middle of building before you interrupted me."

Angel chose to take the hint. "I'll get out of your way then."

"Good."

The dark-haired vampire started to leave, stopped and looked back at his childe. "Xander Harris?"

Spike grinned. "Buffy 'The Slayer' Summers?"

Angel smiled back. "Touche."

The younger vampire's chuckle followed Angel as he left the office. Pulling the door shut behind him, Angel stared at the open bedroom doorway across from him. He told himself he wasn't going to go in there, even as his feet traversed the distance between Spike's office and Willow's bedroom.

Once in the middle of the bedroom, Angel's feet ignored his brain and slowly turned him in a circle. In his first perusal, he'd missed the stencil of five silver-blue dolphins jumping invisible waves on Willow's wall. A collection of thimble-sized candle-holders sat on small shelving unit made especially for them.

Angel moved over to the chest of drawers where several framed photographs sat on top. He recognized one that Cordelia also had which had been taken during their junior year in high school. In a stacked frame, a photo of Buffy, Willow and Xander was under one of a very young Willow, Xander and a boy he didn't recognize. There was a picture of Tara and a black and white cat sitting in the back of the grouping, along with a photo of two people who Angel assumed were Willow's parents.

Front and foremost were two pictures that looked to be the most recent. One was a five-by-seven of Xander and Spike, both shirtless, streaked with mud, and wearing matching devilish grins. Xander's arm was over Spike's shoulder and Angel could see Spike's fingers curled around the surprisingly well-built Xander's bare side. Happiness practically radiated from the photograph.

The second picture sent a frisson of want through Angel. Willow was standing in shorts and a t-shirt at the top of the steps in front of her home, holding the gold placard he'd seen on the siding by the doorbell. The sunshine lighting her and the angle of the photo indicated that Xander must have taken it after his accident.

And, because of the angle, Willow's toned and lightly tanned legs went on and on and on...

With a soft curse, Angel turned and walked stiffly out of the bedroom, feeling all the world like a randy teenager who'd had his first glimpse at an adult magazine.





Part Eight





"What about this one?"

Xander made a face as he looked over at the redheaded woman standing outside of her small walk-in closet. "It looks like something I puked up last time I was sick."

"Um, okay," Willow looked down at her print blouse, "I guess I won't be wearing this one."

As Willow went back into her closet, Xander leaned forward on her bed and snagged a pink shirt with cats dancing on it. He held it up and shook his head. "Why are you worried about what to wear, anyway? It's only -- excuse me while I gag -- Angel."

"It's only a date with Angel," Willow's muffled voice floated to him.

"So?"

Willow straightened a creme-colored peasant's blouse as she exited the closet. "Do you know how hard it is to get a date when you're an almost-thirty-year-old woman?"

"I'm gonna have to say a big no to that one," Xander replied with a lopsided grin. "Spike wears the skirts in our relationship."

Willow giggled. "Oh, I can so picture that."

"He's got the legs for it," Xander's face suddenly darkened, "whereas I have the legs for nothing."

"Xander," Willow said his name with concern.

Xander shifted on her bed, having been carried upstairs by Spike so he could help his oldest and dearest friend get ready for her date. He forced a smile. "Don't mind the cripple. Let's concentrate on you and your horrid taste in clothes."

"Look who's talking," Willow countered, allowing him to change the subject. "I'm surprised Spike hasn't burned some of your stuff."

"Oh, but he has," Xander said, gesturing for her to change again. "I caught him roasting marshmallows over a bonfire of my threads when we were in New Mexico. I even got ticketed for having an illegal fire, even though he's the ass who torched my stuff."

"New Mexico, huh?" The peasant's blouse landed on the floor outside of the closet. "That must've been during your 'Merry Adventures with the Undead Tour' before you ended up on my doorstep."

"Correctomundo." Xander looked out the window Willow had opened once Spike had left the bedroom. Dusk was already upon them, and the California sky was a hazy dark purple color. It was such a vast contrast from the pure blue of the New Mexican sky from his memories. "I told him that I loved him for the first time that same week."

"Before or after his pyrotechnics?" Willow asked curiously, exiting the closet again. She pulled on the hem of a faded purple fringed silk cowboy shirt, sighed when Xander shook his head negatively, and went to try again.

"After," Xander replied. "Which means I really had it bad, because he burned everything but what I was wearing and a light blue tank that he said I looked sexy in."

"I wish I could find something that I looked sexy in right now," she grumbled.

"I'd come over there and pick something for you, but the only rug burns I tolerate are ones I get from Spike--"

"Virgin ears! Virgin ears!" Willow held her hands over her ears as she stepped back into the bedroom. "Don't sully me with your dirty talk."

Xander chuckled. "Okay. I won't discuss the size of Spike's--"

"Xander!"

"What?" Xander smiled innocently.

Willow sighed and shook her head. "You're impossible."

"I'm also illogical, unbelievable and hopeless," Xander added. He looked her over from head to toe. "And you look like a hooker."

The redhead made a sound of distress and looked down at her outfit. "I do not."

"Wills, trust me, that's not a first date dress," Xander told her. "That's a 'we've-been-out-several-times-and-now-I-want-you-to-boink-me-blind' dress." He frowned. "Unless you're hoping that Angel wants to screw you silly tonight."

Willow blushed furiously and fled back into the closet. The little red dress landed at Xander's feet with an embarrassed, "Get Spike to burn that!"

"Hey, Willow," Xander began as he stretched forward and snared the clingy dress. "You do realize that Angel still has that whole curse thing going for him."

"Uh-huh."

"I mean, I know this is just a single date, and your first one at that, but we all remember what happened last time Angel got lucky," Xander said.

"Xander, I'm not going to sleep with Angel tonight," Willow commented from the closet. "And I'm not going to worry about what may happen down the road. This may be my one and only date with him, and I just want to enjoy the company of a handsome, enigmatic man."

"I'm handsome and automatic," Xander said.

"Enigmatic," she corrected. "And yes, you are. But you're also in a long-term relationship with someone who loves you completely. I, on the other hand, am seriously lacking in the companionship department."

"Still, Angel?" Xander ventured.

"I like Angel," Willow said as she stepped back into the room. "I always have in a 'he's my best friend's not-boyfriend so he's off limits' kind of way. But Buffy's been gone for awhile now, and I don't think she'd mind if I went on a date with him." She gestured to her clothes. "What about this?"

"Pure Willow," Xander replied sincerely. "Caring and carefree all at the same time."

Willow beamed. "Xander Harris, if you weren't spoken for, I'd snatch you up just like that," she said with a snap of her fingers.

"Nah, I wouldn't want you to have to deal with the Wheeled Wonder," Xander said with a self-depreciating smile. "I don't want to subject anyone to pitiful ol' me."

"Why do you do that?" Willow asked as she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. She tucked one of her legs under her and studied him.

Xander was about to respond flippantly, but changed his mind. He looked out the open window into the darkening night and answered with quiet honesty, "If I put myself down first, it doesn't hurt as much when others do it."

Willow reached out and put her hand on Xander's leg. "I wish you wouldn't. You're a wonderful person, Xander."

The brunette looked back at her, saw where her hand was, and laughed mirthlessly. "If you say so, Will."

Willow frowned at him. "I--"

"Don't you have a date to finish getting ready for?" Xander interrupted. He made a shooing motion. "Go do whatever it is women do in the bathroom. I want to see the finished beauty before Angel gets here."

"Okay," Willow squeezed his leg and rose, "but we'll have this conversation again, soon."

Xander nodded and kept the fake smile on his face until she left the bedroom. Once she was gone, he slumped back against the headboard. He looked at his leg where her hand had been and snorted in disgust. He hadn't even felt her hand resting there.

"All right, Incapacitated Boy, stop feeling sorry for yourself," Xander said out loud, returning his gaze to the window. "You may not be able to walk, but you get laid regularly. How many other thirty-year-old men can say that?"

"Only ones who have a vampire lover, pet," Spike answered as he entered Willow's bedroom.

Xander gave Spike a tender smile. "Hey you. I thought you were going to stay holed up in your office until I buzzed."

"It's funny," Spike said as he put his hands flat against the headboard on either side of Xander's head. "I suddenly had this unbelievable need for Xander kisses."

"Are those anything like Hershey's Kisses?" Xander teased, his dark eyes lighting up with delight.

"Huh-uh," Spike leaned closer to Xander, "Xander kisses are much nummier."

Xander's small laugh was swallowed by Spike's mouth pressing intimately to his. The brunette sighed contentedly and relaxed under the gentle assault. Spike's firm lips brushed back and forth over his, sending familiar tendrils of longing to the area below his waist that worked quite fine.

The brunette raised his hands and slid them along his lover's t-shirt-clad sides. Spike's lean body never failed to turn him on. He groaned softly when the blond's tongue slipped between his lips to lightly tangle with his own. His heartbeat picked up in pace when he heard Spike's quiet growl of yearning.

Xander squeezed Spike's sides, and Spike broke the kiss. Questioning blue eyes met desirous brown. The need to be touched and touch in return filled Xander, and he whispered a bit hoarsely, "Let's go downstairs."

Spike's mouth curved into a loving smile. Without a word he straightened, scooped Xander up in his arms, and headed out of Willow's bedroom.

"Okay, Xander, what's the verdict?" Willow asked as she entered her room a few minutes later.

An empty spot on the bed was her response.

Willow huffed, walked over to the mirror above her dresser, and examined herself critically. "Well, Wills," she spoke to her reflection in as deep of a voice as she could fake, "I don't have an opinion anymore. I'm busy basking in my Spikey-lovin' while you waste away in spinsterhood misery. Maybe you should have worn the hooker dress after all. Have a last hurrah before you start adopting cats."

The doorbell chimed and Willow jumped. Her cheeks began to flame and her palms immediately felt damp as her wide green eyes met her reflection. "I have to go now. My -- eep! -- date's here."

Her reflection gave her a terrified look. Willow swallowed back her nervousness, grabbed her purse off the dresser, and hurried to answer the door.

Continued