Chapter 1

The sound of a limb breaking on the tree outside his window, followed by a too loud curse, shook the last of the grogginess from Spike.  A tapping on the window brought him to a sitting position.  He glanced at the clock on his bedside nightstand.  It was a little after two in the morning.

"Come on, Spike, open up."

It was Xander, his best friend, which was enough to rouse Spike from his warm bed.  The howling wind outside brought an icy draft to the wooden floor of his second floor bedroom.  He danced from one foot to the other as he hurried to the window.  Goose bumps rippled over his flesh as he pulled on the handles to lift the window.  The chilly November night wrapped around him, making Spike wish he was wearing more than flannel sleep pants.

"What the bloody hell are you doing here?"  Spike asked.  Despite his grouchy tone, he grabbed Xander's arm to help him climb into the room.  As soon as Xander was clear, Spike slammed the sash down.  He tucked his hands under his armpits hoping to warm them.

"I didn't know where else to go," Xander replied, sitting on the edge of Spike's double bed.  "My father was on a big drunk tonight. We fought."

"Shit, man."  Nothing else needed to be said.  Life had never been easy on Xander.  Not with an alcoholic father and a mother who wouldn't stand up for herself or her child.  There were always fights between his parents, sometimes ending up in physical violence against either Mrs. Harris or Xander when he tried to protect a mother not worth protecting in Spike's opinion. 

Every time it happened, Spike felt blessed, because the home life between the two lads was so different.  Although his father had died when Spike was young, his mother loved him and was his greatest champion.  Never in his life had he needed to question if he was loved or had to fear for his physical wellbeing.

Unfortunately, it was something Xander dealt with every day.  Only when he fantasized of another life or when he was with Spike and their small circle of friends did he feel happy and safe. 

Spike hurried over to turn the lamp on.  When he turned around, he wished he hadn't.   By the bruises and blood marring Xander's features the fight had to have been really ugly.  Xander hung his head, turning away as if to hide from Spike's gawking.  Something hurt deep inside Spike and, fueled with a blind rage, left him with a desire to murder the man who had hurt Xander.  Spike rushed to the bathroom across the hall to get a washcloth.  After soaking it in warm water, he returned to his bedroom.

"Here," Spike said, kneeling before his friend.  He gently cupped Xander's face, turning it upwards to see what the exact damage was to his friend's face.  "Did he hit you anywhere else?"

Xander laughed caustically.  "Not really.  A few kicks to the ribs when I tripped.  I think some of my hair is missing from where he yanked it so he could punch me again."  He closed his eyes, choking back a sob.

Spike wanted to tell his friend so many things to comfort him, but none of them was the truth.  It would happen again. Mr. Harris was the lowest kind of asshole alive and he meant every cruelty he imposed on his family.  With any luck, Xander would live through it.  He would be free from it all if he could make it through until he graduated from high school and turned eighteen.

Hopefully.

With nothing else to say now, Spike started to clean the blood from Xander's face.  He tried to be careful around the bruising, not wanting Xander to suffer any more pain. The swelling from the black eye would need ice.  Without realizing it, Spike was combing his fingers through the thick curly hair of his friend.  Soft caresses that a mother or lover would give for comfort. 

"Can I stay here tonight?"   Xander asked, leaning into Spike's palm. 

No hesitation. "Yeah."

An overwhelming need to protect filled Spike.  He leaned back to sit on his haunches, searching carefully for an answer to the confusing emotions he was experiencing.  They'd been friends for years, along with Willow and Buffy.  The four misfits banded together to form their own clique.  Nobody bothered them with not with only himself but also with Buffy ready to defend their names with their fighting natures. 

They'd shared their first kisses with the girls, before they'd all moved on to boyfriends and girlfriends who'd moved in and out of their circle.  Double dates, running away for the weekend with the "I'm over there" lie to protect them, getting into trouble and all of them waiting for the moment they could leave for college so they could make their mark on the world.

Family.  That's what they were, Spike reassured himself.  It was okay to be concerned and protective over a brother. 

He stood.  "Let me get some ice."

Xander grabbed his hand.  "I'm scared.  Really scared.  My father said some really mean things.  He kicked me out…I don't have anywhere to go."

Spike wanted to run.  This was too much.  Maybe his mother could help.  He started to tug away but the tears on Xander's face made him stay.  Sinking to his knees again, he followed his instincts and pulled his friend into his arms.

"You've got me and the girls," Spike whispered fiercely.  "You can stay here.  My mum won't care.  She likes your dumb ass for some reason."

Xander giggled, but kept his face buried in Spike's neck.  "I like your mum, too.  Always wished she was my mother…except that would…"

"Except it would what?"  Spike asked when Xander trailed off into a silence punctuated by the rigid form of his friend pulling away.  He watched as Xander stood to pace the length of the floor.  A floppy brown curl hung over Xander's left eye, obscuring the bruised swelling, while he stared at the junk littering Spike's desk.

"Nothing.  It's nothing."

Suspicion broke through everything else in his overloaded senses.  "What was the fight about tonight?"

Xander shrugged, refusing to look at him.

"You know you can tell me anything.  So, fess up to old Spike."

"I'd better leave."

Spike blocked the window.  He noted the butterflies in his stomach, the pounding of his heart, and the sudden tension between them.  He wouldn't allow his mind to formulate the answer, too scared of the answer.

"No, you're not leaving."

"Why?"

"Because I want to know what the hell was bad enough for your Da to beat you up like this and for you not to explain it to me."

"I can't," Xander mumbled.  "I'll lose everything."

"You won't lose me."  Spike reassured him, somehow he found himself stepping closer to Xander, pulling him into another hug.  It was safe there.  The world wasn't going to change.  They would be friends forever and Xander would never have to be alone again.  There was no hug back.  Just the rigidness his friend still maintained.  He felt like an idiot, but he wouldn't let go.  "Don't do this," he confessed.  "Everything will change if you go…I can feel it in my bones."

Xander leaned back.  "It's going to change anyway."  This time he cradled Spike's face in his warm hands.  "If it is then I want this just once."  He lowered his head, pressing his lips to Spike's.

No indignant surprise swept through Spike.  Only a soft uttered sigh before he let the cloud of confusion leave him with a moment of clarity so striking it may have been noon in the desert.  He could feel Xander pulling back.  He ran his fingers through soft tangled hair, interlacing them at the nape of Xander's neck so he wouldn't end this so soon. 

All the kissing he'd done with Buffy and other girls hadn't prepared him for this situation.  Did guys kiss the same as girls?  Who should be taking the lead?  Oh god, what if this led to sex?  His cock hardened at the mere thought of Xander naked in his bed.  He didn't know why this time it was different.  They'd shared camping trips, a fort they'd built when they were eleven, locker room time, and the double bed only a few feet from them, but never before had his body reacted to Xander like this hot, melting feeling invading his bones.

The ramrod straightness of Xander's body made Spike realize the man in his arm's felt as hesitant as he did.  They stood wrapped around each other, lips touching but neither was moving.  Forcing himself to relax, Spike leaned against Xander, opening his mouth to let his tongue follow the lines of his lips.  When Xander moved his hands to Spike's naked waist, it made him shiver, and jump a bit in response. Spike had forgotten his partial nudity until this moment when his erection was so hard he thought he'd burst with no further stimulation.

The tip of Xander's tongue touched his, experimenting by letting them slide against one another.  The heat of their mouths burned compared to the chilly air of the winter night drifting through the cracks of the old house.  Sensations rapidly layered against one another in a haze of pleasure.  Spike forgot all of his questions about what they were doing and followed the screams of his horny teenage body. 

He wrapped his tongue around that of his friend, and then traced the path of Xander's teeth before pulling back just enough to capture the bottom lip.  He gently bit down, but not gentle enough for lips already spilt.  Xander yelped, backing away with a laugh.  He ran his fingers through his hair.

"Sorry," Spike said, staring somewhere over Xander's shoulder. 

Everything was different between them, leaving Spike once more in a mire of indecision.  Was the kiss what Xander wanted?  Was his best friend using him to try to feel loved in a hateful world?  Would he think Spike was a pervert from his response?  What if he didn't want to be friends anymore? Would he be alone after all?

"Don't be," Xander whispered, running the tip of his index finger over his bottom lip.  "Spike…please don't say you were only doing it because you felt sorry for me?"

Spike grabbed Xander's hand, pressing it to his still raging hard on.  "Does that feel like pity?"

The relief on Xander's face reassured Spike's own fears and the soft pressure of Xander's hand reassured Spike.  Whatever was happening, they were in it together.

"Now what?"  Xander asked.

"Be right back," Spike said, needing to breathe for a second.  Just a little space to calm himself.  He took the stairs two at a time. It was dark downstairs, but he didn't bother to turn on any of the lights.  Only Xander occupied his mind as he grabbed a kitchen towel from the drawer where they'd been as long as he could remember, just like the boy upstairs had been around his whole life.  Both represented stability, but it wasn't…not anymore.   

Bloody hell, I kissed Xander…he kissed me.  Am I gay? 

He rubbed a hand over his face.  It was too much to think about.  All he would allow his mind and body to accept was that he loved Xander.  They were best mates, family, and now something more.  It felt right.  Good even.  Spike smiled.  Yeah, this was a good thing.

Whistling, he wrapped ice in the towels before running back to his room.  He hesitated in the door, watching Xander lying on his back on the edge of his bed.  Sometime while Spike was gone, he'd kicked his shoes off but was still dressed in his jeans and sweatshirt. 

"Hey," Xander said.

"Yeah, brought ice," Spike responded, sitting on the bed.  He held the bundles out. 

"Thanks…for everything."

They remained in silence for a few minutes.  Spike played with a loose thread on his blanket.  It was awkward.  Uncomfortable.  It shouldn't be like that, not between them.  He shifted position until he was sliding under the covers. 

"Get comfortable, so we can get some sleep."

Without shame, Spike watched Xander stand, pull his jeans and sweatshirt off.  Clad only in boxers, the brunette came back to the bed, slipping under the blanket Spike held up for him.  Once covered, Spike moved to Xander's side, helping to adjust the ice to do the most good.  He bent over to place soft kisses against the bruises covering Xander's chest. 

"Thought we were going to sleep?"

Embarrassed at doing what had felt so natural, Spike rolled over and turned the light off.  He stayed on his side, facing away from his friend.  A sigh from Xander only made Spike stiffen.  Did he imagine the whole kiss?  No, he could still taste Xander on his lips.  A hand settled on his hip.

"Come back," Xander pleaded.  "I didn't mean for you…I'm not sure I'm ready for the next step." He laughed.  "I'm not even sure this isn't a dream."

"It's not," Spike said, rolling back over to cuddle close to the warm body next to him.  "I'm all confused, too.  I just know I want to be close to you."

"Me too."

Smiling to himself, Spike relaxed.  Realizing Xander was his world may be a rough choice for a while, but they'd survived everything else and they would survive this, too.

to be continued…