Smoke swam through the stifling, humid air. Xander pulled the cigarette from his lips and let a curl of blue smoke drift between his lips. He surveyed the room with a cool, practiced gaze. He knew what he was looking for.

The red wallpaper and low lights gave the place a seedy feel, only helped by the threadbare carpet, black and worn crimson, littered with cigarette butts, crumpled paper and sticky bits of lint and God only knew what else. It stank of alcohol and the sweat of a hundred people. A throbbing, almost tribal music pounded through the room, seeming to move the air to its rhythm.

It was crowded tonight, wall-to-wall, and the little bit of light there was shone off metal studs, zippers, silk and black leather. Some stood on six-inch heels, some knelt by chairs. Some slid against each other, performing, showing off. All were connected by some chain or tether to one of the seated patrons of this place - the suits said money, whether they were on men or women, and they exuded the same casual ennui Xander did tonight.

Xander let his eyes play over tonight's stable, searching out the traits he needed. It's got to be perfect. If he's not completely perfect, I'll never get finished. Finally, his gaze lit on one in the back.

Shining, platinum blond hair, close cropped but not too much. Small build, not overly developed. Cheekbones Katherine Hepburn would kill for. Blue eyes.

From a distance, he looked good. Xander crushed out his cigarette and walked over to where he stood, parted the leather duster he wore. Nice touch. Kinda punk. He ran his fingers over the torn black shirt, felt taut washboard abs underneath.

Nodding, he turned to the redhead who held the strip of leather that attached to the collar the blond wore.

"Not bad, I gotta say. I'm Xander." He held out his neatly manicured hand.

The redhead took it in hers; strong, firm grip. "Willow." Her voice was liquid and smooth; she was a professional. She looked him up and down, and he carefully maintained his upright posture, his artfully bored expression. She couldn't be allowed to sense weakness, or he'd pay ten times the man's worth. "I've never seen you here... but you're no first timer."

"I dabble. A hobby, really. But I want something particular today, and he might be okay."

She looked at him again, speculatively. "Okay, Xaaaander." She drew out his name, tasting it. She smiled then, oily, a snake in the garden. "Go ahead."

Xander coolly turned back to Spike, took him by the jaw and turned his head to one side. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Willow deflate a little. Thought you'd hook me with that? Only a total rookie would try to grab him without looking him over. Try again, baby.

The blond's head turned smoothly in his hand, the lips opening just slightly. Nice. Xander held his head turned, twisted uncomfortably to one side, while he stroked the man's groin. The blond groaned, a quiet, wordless hitching of the breath. He widened his feet and closed his eyes, and Xander felt him move his hands behind his back to clasp there. Very nice.

"Speak." He used the tone of command he'd developed just for this, just for tonight.

"Yes, sir." The blond's voice was smooth as silk, the English accent coming through clearly, even over two words. That clinched it. Xander turned back to Willow.

"Three. For the night." The tone he used this time wasn't much different.

Her eyes widened slightly. "The night? But..."

"It's more than fair. Take it." A guy didn't spend a year in Africa, haggling with old women in the market without learning to bargain. He knew what the man was worth, and he wasn't lying. It was fair.

Her eyes flattened as she realized she wouldn't get any further with him. "Back by sunrise, don't forget." She unclipped the leash from the ring on her hand and tossed it to him. He counted out the three grand from the hundreds in his pocket and pressed them into her hand.

"Thanks. I'll have h-"

"Bored now," she singsonged, and fluttered her hand at him.

Outside, the rain hissed as it fell in sheets on the black pavement. It rolled down the fire escapes and awnings in fat drops to splat on the ground, run through the hair and clothes of those who stood by the door, trying to persuade the flat-faced men on guard duty that they were worthy to come in. No matter what they said, what they offered, no matter how often they returned, the burly pair didn't flinch. Could've been CIA for all the humor they displayed. They knew who was allowed, knew what to look for, and these desperate fucks weren't it.

Xander emerged into the night with relief, bursting out of the door and raking his hair out of his eyes. He let his head drop back, face to the black sky, closed his eyes and let the rain wash the smoke and stink of that place out of his nose, off of his fingers. God, that was hell. But, hey, could've been worse. Might not have found what I wanted. Could've let that Willow chick take me for the whole five grand I brought. He opened his eyes and looked over his shoulder at the man who'd followed him obediently from the club.

Even in the rain, he held his head high. The rain ran down his cheeks, softened his slicked-back hair so it curled over his forehead. His eyes were cast to the pavement at Xander's feet, and his hands were clasped at his back. Xander thought again of the two thousand dollars he'd managed to keep in his pocket. I would have paid it. It would have been worth it. Xander couldn't wait to get him home.

He took the man by the leash and started toward the end of the alley. It was expected; if he hadn't, the bouncers would have been suspicious, maybe started asking questions. Better to just give them what they wanted to see.

At the other end of the leash, the blond followed him, matching his pace exactly, keeping the leash taut between them, but not needing to be dragged. Xander was impressed - he'd been told about this, that the Slave would expect to be led, and that when being led this way, they'd walk right into a wall unless told otherwise by the subtle signals sent along the leash. He tried to remember those signals as best he could - pretty simple at this point, just lots of 'forward' - as he reached the end of the alley and hailed a cab.

He decided to forgo the leash signals and spoke directly to the man in his practiced boss-voice. "Get in."

The blond hesitated for a split second.

Then, he opened the back door and climbed into the cab, moving to the far side.

Xander dropped his leash, letting him get comfortable, and followed him in. He rattled off the address to his apartment to the cabbie, then leaned back against the ratty vinyl seat and looked at his new 'friend'.

He was stunningly beautiful, no question about that. Muscular and lean, a body anybody would envy. But that wasn't what had drawn Xander to him, what had made him select this man from the crowd at the club. Something about him was magnetic. Electric. He seemed full of energy, but it was all leashed, carefully controlled. He crackled with it, and when Xander'd seen that, mixed up in all that beauty, he'd known it was exactly what he needed.

He called up the canvas at home in his mind's eye. A vivid scene, a rumpled bed, outlined in crimson, violet, hurt and misery. It was seedy and mean, like the club they'd just come from, the bed curtains ripped and hanging limply from their rings. It could have been a rape crime scene or the office of a ten-dollar whore. There were stains that nobody wanted to contemplate too deeply, and cruel rents in the sheets. A bed, meant to mean comfort and safety and rest, and it was less than all that, horror and malevolence and cruelty... but above all, sadness. Burnt sienna and umber were sadness.

This man before him, this golden god, sold like chattel to feed some power-mad lunatic's lust and need for control... he would be the centerpiece of the painting, the jewel in Xander's crown at the showing in New York. Finally, after months of hunting for the right model, after months of disappointment and failure and someone who had beauty but not suffering, or suffering but not pathos, or pathos but not power, finally... Xander'd found him. The relief was flowing through him still, had been since he'd come out of the club. It was deeply gratifying, and Xander took a moment to enjoy it.

Only one problem now. Xander coughed, just thinking about the Problem. When Giles had told him about Slaves, he'd mentioned the twist in the idea, and Xander'd convinced him that it wasn't a big enough Problem that he couldn't deal with it, if it meant he'd get his model. Giles had seemed dubious, but had taught him what he'd needed to know anyway, and Xander'd pretty much ignored the Problem until now. Right now. In the cab. With this guy he barely knew. A total stranger, really. It seems like an obvious problem, when you think about it. I've bought a really expensive, highly trained prostitute. So how do I explain to him that I want him to pose for a painting when he expects me to...

Xander shook his head as images of the blond man next to him poured through his mind, shocking in their sheer detail. Xander thought he was a fairly open-minded guy, and though he'd never considered himself gay, it wasn't an idea that bothered him, really. Giles had said, though, that the Slave he'd get would expect to be... taken. Would see it as an insult, as an indication that he wasn't worthy, wasn't trained properly, was misbehaving, if Xander didn't take him. Xander'd insisted on a male for the painting, and Giles tried to explain, but Xander'd waved away his concerns.

Now that he was in the cab with this person... this real person... Xander felt nervous and almost giddy. Didn't want to upset him, or make him feel badly. Knowing what he was meant to do didn't bother him when the model hadn't had a face, was still some unknown guy with a weird sexual fetish. But with Killer Cheekbones staring out the window beside him... Xander was uncomfortably aware of some very confusing possibilities.

The light in the cab turned on, and Xander squinted against the brightness, belatedly registering the fact that the cab had stopped moving.

Oh. We're home.

Xander flicked the light on as he entered his apartment, relieved to be back in the safety of familiar surroundings. He tossed his keys on a small antique table near the door and turned to see his new 'friend' standing on his doorstep, hands behind his back, chin high, eyes lowered. Thank God he didn't live in a house. He was absolutely certain that, had there been no option, the man would rather have stood in the rain than cross the threshold without permission.

"Come in."

The blond stepped through the door and stood in the perfect center of the mat there, drops of rain rolling off his leather coat and falling onto the floor around his feet. Xander couldn't help but notice how his hair, which had been arranged in rigid rows by some kind of glue, now fell forward in damp, tousled spikes to curl over his forehead. He was... beautiful.

"Give me your coat," Xander said, nervous but still holding onto his authoritative tone. He held out his hand, and the man gracefully pulled the coat from his shoulders and laid the collar over Xander's hand. Distractedly, Xander hung it up, noticing as he did that the man's hands immediately returned to his back. Xander was more than a little unnerved by him. He's well trained. They're supposed to do that. His eyes, he doesn't even look around. Is he looking at my feet?

Xander stepped toward him and lifted his sculpted face up, so the man had to show those shockingly blue eyes. The warm yellow light played over his cheekbones, his wide forehead, the white scar on his eyebrow that Xander hadn't noticed in the club, but which he'd definitely be including in the painting.

Xander turned the Botticelli face to one side, trying to decide how best to angle him... but he was unprepared for the small, breathy moan that escaped the blond's lips. It was need, pure and simple, instantly recognizable. And it was for him.

Blood rushed straight down, like someone had planted a super magnet under his feet. The lust was sudden, surprising in its intensity. The images that had played through Xander's head in the cab returned in vivid clarity: the man on his knees, hands behind his back, sucking Xander's cock; on his hands and knees on the bed, wrists tied to the headboard, back curved gracefully; flush up against a wall, Xander pounding into him, squeezing his wrists in his hands.

Xander shook his head and stepped back, away from the man, as though just being in the same space as him, breathing his air, was causing the reaction. "Stay there," he commanded, only a slight quaver in his voice, and walked quickly into his kitchen.

Get a glass. Fill it with water. Drink the water. Put the glass down. Fuck, don't drop it! Just set it on the counter. Good. Now breathe. In and out, in and out his breath went, and he was all right, he'd be okay, just so long as he remembered to breathe. He went to the freezer, grabbed an ice cube and ran it over the back of his neck. There. Much better. Tossing the ice cube into the sink, he squared his shoulders and went back into the hall.

The blond man knelt on the floor, hands behind his back, knees wide. His black jeans were painted on, his black t-shirt taut over his whipcord muscles, all of which stood out in sharp relief from the uncomfortable position and from holding still on the floor. But something was different.

The man was looking straight at him.

His head was tilted back; piercing blue eyes pinned Xander to the floor. They were almost challenging. Giles had warned him of this, that the Slave would eventually sense that he wasn't an educated Master and choose some small way to defy him, but Xander hadn't thought it would be this soon.

What, a minute to compose myself was too much to ask? Hell. Xander mentally reviewed what Giles had told him. He took a careful breath, set his hands to his hips and looked right back at his Slave.

"Get up."

The Slave immediately did that, lowering his eyes as he had before.

"I'm going to ask you some questions, and I expect you to answer. Do you understand? Answer me."

"Yes, Master."

A shiver ran though Xander again at hearing that smooth, accented voice. He shook it off and began to walk, moving himself behind the Slave. "You looked at me. You aren't supposed to do that."

"I'm sorry, Master."

Xander steeled himself, raised one hand and brought it down sharply on the man's ass. The crack filled the suddenly-very-close air, and the man jumped. "I told you to answer questions, not give me apologies." The man stayed silent, and Xander noticed that he shivered on the mat. "Are you cold?"

"Yes, Master."

"Why are you cold?"

"Master, it was raining outside." He could never have been able to tell, had he not been listening very closely, but he was, and that was definitely sarcasm. He raised his hand again, and the smack echoed in the high ceilings.

"You're an impertinent Slave."

The Slave loosed his hands and turned to face him, looking straight into his eyes, just as cocky and full of bravado as any London street tough.

"And you're no Master."

"What?" Xander spluttered.

"I said, you're no Master." The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Any man who takes me wants to tame me. I've been punished for breathing too slow, for breathing too fast, for breathing at all." He shook out a cigarette and replaced the pack, digging in his pocket for his lighter. "You spank me once for speaking out of turn and when I crack jokes at your expense, you call me 'impertinent'. If you wanted to call somebody 'impertinent', you'd have taken bloody Wesley." He fished out the silver lighter and flicked it open. "So the question is, who the hell are you and what do you want from me?" He lit the Zippo and held it to the cigarette.

Xander was completely shocked. Zero to cocky in 2.5 seconds! How the hell did he know? Xander did the only thing he could think of. He reached out and plucked the cigarette from between his lips.

"No smoking."

The man looked at him, eyebrow raised. Then he shrugged, "Fine." He put the lighter away and looked Xander up and down as Xander put the cigarette carefully on the table. Then he held out his hand. "Name's Spike."

Xander breathed a sigh of relief. Oh, thank God. We're being normal people. If I'd had to do that Master/Slave thing for one more second... "Xander," he said, taking the man's hand and shaking it.

"So, Xander. You a cop?" Spike's eyes were keen, sharp, searching Xander's for any kind of deception. Xander was a little taken aback by how much those eyes seemed to see. He felt weirdly vulnerable under them.

"What? No, no, I'm not a cop."

"Uh huh. So, why'd you drop three large on me if you're not a Master? Your flat's certainly posh enough," he said, gesturing around to encompass the twelve foot ceilings, expensive artwork and polished floors, eyes still glittering hard.

Xander squirmed under those eyes for a second, then turned and walked into his living room, hoping Spike would follow after. "Well, it's kind of complicated. Thing is... can I get you a drink?" By the bar, he mixed himself a rum and coke.

"Yeah," Spike said, strolling into the room after him, all bravado and swagger. "Got any Jack?"

"Sure." Xander poured the drinks into glass tumblers and brought them to the middle of the room. He sat down on his white leather sofa, which stood in front of the stone fireplace, and passed Spike his drink. The blond dropped onto the sofa, whiskey dangling from his fingers, and looked expectantly at Xander. "See, thing is, I'm a painter."

Spike's eyes went flat, and his lips tightened. "You've got to be kidding me. A bloody painter?"

Xander swallowed nervously. "Yeah, a painter. And I've been doing this one painting, or trying to, y'know, and everything's set except for the person in the painting. I mean, I've got the backdrop and the whole thing, and I know how I want it to go, y'know? But no matter how hard I look, and trust me, I've looked... I mean, high and low; I've done model agencies and auditions for movies and just wandering around on the street and everything, I..." Xander realized he was babbling because he didn't want to say it. It just sounded lame, and this guy was clearly pissed. But, he thought, I might as well just get it over with, and then he can storm out in a righteous fury. "I just can't find a model."

Spike took this in, taking another sip from his drink, glaring at the fire. After a few moments, he said, "But you figure I'd do, that it?"

Xander drained his own glass. "Pretty much, yeah."

The blond sat, staring into the fire. He was angry, but he was thinking about it. You can tell, just by looking at him. He wears every emotion he has on his face. That's it, that's exactly what I need. He's perfect. The light played over his classical features. Well. That, and he's freakin' beautiful.

Finally, Spike seemed to gather himself. He put his glass down on the table and cocked a knee up on the sofa to look at Xander. "Right. Here's the thing. You broke every rule in the book." Xander tried to talk, but Spike held up a hand before he could start. "No, just listen. All right? You broke all the rules, and don't think for a second that I'm not mightily brassed off about that. But, as luck would have it, I'm not totally averse to this idea of yours, so I'm considering it." Xander nodded, relaxing a bit. Luckiest guy ever.

Spike finished his drink in one big swallow. "I want to see this painting," he said, looking into Xander's eyes. "All right?"

Xander didn't even think. "Okay, of course, no problem."

He stood and led Spike through the big set of double doors at the other side of the room, into the studio. He flicked on the overhead lights, the ones intended to show the paintings to the best effect, walked straight to the center of the room and pulled the covering sheet off of the easel in the center.

Spike walked slowly to the painting. His blue eyes roved over it, taking it in. Emotions played across his face: understanding, wonder, hurt, pain, and finally resolve. "Here. I'd be here, on my knees, yeah?" He let his finger trace over the air above the canvas, pointing as he spoke. "Bent back, leaning on my hand, head back."

Xander nodded fervently. He understands. Oh, thank God. "Yes, yes, exactly. That's exactly it. And I want you to be..."

"...hurt," Spike said, interrupting. "You want me to be hurt... and beautiful. You need me to be both, isn't that right?"

"Yes," Xander whispered, struck to the core. I want to explain, but I think he'd already know. If he does know... if he understands what I want to do here and he decides to help me... Oh, God, please let him do this. Xander looked at Spike. Sad blue eyes met his, and he was all of a sudden sorry for even asking. The man was so expressive, and Xander could so perfectly read the emotions on his face. He couldn't believe the words that came out of his mouth, even as he spoke them.

"Listen, I'm sorry. You don't have to do this."

Spike nodded. "I know." He dropped his eyes and turned away, walking idly around the room. Xander saw him think about it, saw him consider what he'd have to show. He saw the worry as Spike peeked under the drop cloths and looked critically through books of prints. Had Spike been anyone else, Xander would have completely lost his mind. As it was though, Xander thought he had the right to. He was judging Xander's work, judging Xander himself, deciding whether or not he would allow Xander to see what Spike could show him.

The moments stretched on and the tension in Xander mounted. The rain pattered on the windows and now and again there was the sound of far off thunder. Spike's boots squeaked on the floor and Xander stood, fidgeting with the edge of the drop cloth, sweating in the warm, humid air. Finally, when Xander was at the breaking point, Spike turned to him, blue eyes and pale beauty burning into his soul.

"All right," Spike whispered, "I'll do it."

Xander let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "Thank you," he breathed.

"Oh, don't thank me, pet," Spike said, eyebrow speaking irony. "I'll need something from you."

Xander nodded right away, knowing it was stupid to agree when he didn't even know what Spike wanted, but willing to promise him anything all the same. "Anything you want."

Spike looked at him, wary but smiling. "Don't make promises you can't keep, love." He walked over to Xander and took his hands. Xander blinked, but held on and looked up at the stunning man before him. He looks almost shy.

"It's complicated, you understand. I need... I need you to..." He stopped, breathed in. "We'll do the painting, I'll hold myself still and you draw or whatever it is. But then, when you're done, we do my thing. I've got to, you've got to understand, or I'll just..."

He trailed off and tried to pull his hands away, but Xander was nodding before he'd finished, and held on. "It's okay. It's fine, Spike, we'll do whatever you need. I'll do it. It's okay."

And because he couldn't think of anything better to do, he pulled Spike into his arms and held him, stroking one hand up and down his back.

Spike's body fitted perfectly into his, and Xander was suffused with a surge of protectiveness so strong it nearly made him shake. Emotion raged through him, and he tried taking some deep breaths to calm it, fingers curling into the t-shirt stretched across Spike's shoulders. Spike had his arms wrapped around Xander, clinging to him, though he didn't move or speak. Xander stroked his back, words dropping from his lips almost without his consent.

"Shh, shh. I've got you. I know what I'm doing. I'll do this for us. Don't worry. It's okay. Shh."

Spike drew in a shuddering breath, ribs rising delicately under Xander's fingers, then pulled gently away. Xander was struck again by Spike's looks: dramatic, rich coloring and features that conveyed his emotions with absolute clarity. He was shy, almost blushing, couldn't look at Xander, and he backed away, eyes on the ground.

Spike's fingers settled on his belt. He tried a couple of times to raise his eyes, but never got farther than Xander's chest. He opened his mouth to speak, took a breath, and closed it again. He moved his feet like he wanted to walk somewhere, but stayed put. His breathing was fast, too fast.

Xander got the message, loud and clear. Help me, it said. I need you. He didn't intend to disappoint. Xander briefly ran through what Giles had told him and stepped closer, slowly, one foot at a time. As he approached, Spike settled, all attention riveted to Xander, breathing slowing, eyes locked to Xander's feet.

Xander stopped a foot away. He reached out a hand and touched Spike's golden curls, still damp from the rain. Spike stilled completely. Then Xander flattened his palm, curling his fingers around Spike's head in a caress, and Spike leaned slightly into the subtle pressure.

Xander dropped his hand and steeled his voice. "Okay. Undress."

Spike dropped instantly to his knees. He stripped off the t-shirt first. With significant effort, Xander backed up, sat down on his stool and watched as the pale skin was revealed, an ever-widening strip with its perfect ridges and slight furring. It felt like there was electricity in the air, crackling over his skin and making him jumpy. Being able to tell this gorgeous Adonis to do anything, knowing he'd obey... it was thrilling. Powerful.


Xander felt the blush heating his cheeks as the thought crossed his mind. Earlier, he'd wanted to stop playing master/slave, and given the slight discomfort of having to sit down right now, he was developing a clear understanding of why. It made him widgy to think of it, so he concentrated on watching Spike instead.

Spike folded the shirt and set it on a chair far to his right. He had to lean on one hand, and his muscles rippled along his back as he stretched. Coming back, he sat down on the floor, methodically untied his Docs, pulled them off and tucked the laces in the top. He stripped off his socks and put them in the boots too, all very neat and precise.

Xander couldn't take his eyes off the man's feet, so like his own, full of bones and veins and a dusting of hair. Ugly man feet, which, perversely, made Xander suddenly fond of them. Spike dropped the boots under the chair, and then stood, hands going to his belt.

"No, no, wait." Xander stood up off his chair and walked close. Spike's hands immediately stilled, and Xander noticed his cheeks reddening more. "I want to do this part. Am I allowed to do that?"

Spike, eyes still fixed to the floor, swallowed audibly and nodded.

Xander felt the thrill dance up his spine. "Okay. Put your hands down, at your sides." He watched as the graceful white hands fell away. It was like posing a model, like sculpting, exactly. Molding something, making it perfect, perfect because you said it would be, made it that way. It was also deeply satisfying. "Okay, now move them... hmm. Hold them behind your back, like you did before." Spike lowered his eyes and complied, lithe and beautiful. Xander ran his eyes across the man, excitement thrumming through him. Just like making art, but more immediate, like firing a BB gun all your life and then being given a rifle.

Xander checked the pose, practiced eye catching every nuance. The submission was sweet but... something was missing. "Look at me."

There it was. Shocking blue eyes, lips slightly parted, he looked a little afraid, but then there was the wanting, needing, which had made Xander want him in the first place. It was so trusting, and something in Xander responded to that like a firework responds to a match.

"Yeah. Yeah, that's good." Xander heard the difference in his voice, the new depth. Spike heard it too, because the fear abated a little, and a smidge of the pride he'd shown earlier began to peek through. Good. Let him be proud of himself. Fuck, he should be. It's hard to hold still. Just call me Like-A-Leaf Harris. Xander laughed shakily in the silence of his mind. Supposed to be all mastery here, Will-of-Iron Guy. Giles'd be pissed.

He reached his hands out, let them settle on Spike's belt. He heard Spike pull in a sharp breath, felt the muscles under his fingers twitch, but the cool white hands stayed locked behind Spike's back. "Very good," Xander praised, and Spike breathed normally. Xander pulled the belt from him slowly, sliding the leather through the shining silver buckle, feeling Spike's body sway with the motion. He drew the belt off with one hand, bracing the other against the soft skin at Spike's shoulder. Xander felt the leather slither and rasp against the black belt loops, felt Spike leaning into him with the pressure, and realized for the first time how much he liked taking off belts. He was almost disappointed when the strip of leather finally lay free in his hand, and he tossed it onto the chair. Spike stood before him, waiting.

Xander's mind raced, talking fast. I want the next part. I want all the parts. It's my project, my work. Until we're finished, he belongs to me. I bought him for three thousand freakin' dollars, he's my model, mine. I can do what I paid for, I can tell him anything. I can be who I am; he won't play me. He can't. It's not what he is. I get this from him, I asked for it and he told me I could and he's mine.

His fingers came toward the first button on Spike's jeans and the blond leaned into him, rough denim brushing over his fingers. Eyes still on Xander, the want and need were clear, shimmering in his eyes. Xander let out a breath and slid his fingers between the fabric and Spike's body, surprised when the skin nearly burned him. "You're warm, Spike. Very warm."

Spike bit his lips from the inside, and Xander understood him instantly, as though his thoughts were hovering in the close air. Suddenly, Xander realized something. "Wait, Spike. Wait right here, I'll be right back." He pulled his fingers from the band of Spike's jeans and rushed across the room to the computer panel that controlled the lights. He pushed a few buttons and the lights dimmed and yellowed, giving everything a soft, luminous glow. Spike stood where Xander had left him, and as Xander returned, he let his eyes rove over the half-naked man standing so perfectly still on his studio floor, blue eyes still looking at him as instructed.

He neared again, this time standing much closer. "All right, stop looking at me." Spike's eyes flashed to the floor. "Good. Now do it. Slowly." Spike dropped his head to watch his own hands, moving to the buttons, still biting his lips. Xander felt the heat coming off him, standing as close as he was, could almost feel Spike's knuckles brushing the front of his own jeans as he slid the first button free. Spike's breaths were deep and even, but his fingers shook. There was a slight snick as the button was freed, and his jeans fell open just a tiny bit, exposing the skin beneath. Xander wanted more. Now.

The next button went, Spike's blunt fingers pulling at the fabric, then the next. The jeans fell open more each time, and Xander could clearly see now that he wore no underwear.

Good. That's good.

Xander stopped him at the last button, stilling the hands with his own and moving them behind Spike's back. Spike clasped them there, and Xander could hear his breathing get harsher, faster. He moved his own hands to the split fabric, and as he touched a corner, Spike made a tiny high-pitched sound. Xander flicked his eyes up to Spike's face and saw that his eyes were closed, and that he was biting his lips so hard they were white outside.

"Shh." Spike's eyes flew open and he was back to being afraid. He stopped biting his lips, and they fell open just a bit. Xander looked at him gently. "You were supposed to be quiet." Spike was stricken, miserable, instantly, and Xander saw the reason - when Xander'd played the In Charge card, Spike called his bluff, but this was different. This was disappointed, this was Xander needing Spike to be perfect and Spike failing - and Spike couldn't shrug that off. He knew Xander needed him, knew it wasn't a bluff, and if he failed, he really failed. No games.

Xander laid his hand on Spike's head again, and Spike lowered his eyes, ashamed. "Shh. It's okay. Just do as I tell you, okay? Exactly. I need you to do that." Spike lifted his eyes, brilliant blue shining with unshed tears, and nodded. "Okay," Xander said, and petted Spike's head, running his fingers through the curls. Spike closed his eyes and rubbed into Xander's hand. "Good boy," Xander told him. "Okay, new rule. You can't say words, but you can make sounds, okay? No words, just sounds. All right?" Spike immediately sighed, open-mouthed, nodding his assent, leaning into Xander's touch. "Good. Good boy. That's my good boy." Spike mmm'd, smiling a little, then steadied himself on his feet and looked up at Xander again in that shy way, little smile on his face, fucking gorgeous.

Xander felt the thrill again, this time through a very different area, and took a deep breath. It's only natural. It's only natural. It's only natural. Oh, God...okay, Xan-man, get a grip. Whatever happens, it doesn't matter, just so long as I get to finish my painting. Gotta get to it.

He swallowed and let his fingers move to Spike's jeans. He took both sides of the fly and pulled them so the last button popped free and the fabric spread apart, exposing the flat belly beneath. The flat belly, and the gracefully curved, shiny-tipped, flushed-red, completely rigid cock beneath.

Xander, unthinking, ran his tongue over his lips, and Spike whimpered, watching the movement. Xander heard it, stepped just a little closer, and Spike swayed toward him. They were almost flush with each other now, could feel the body heat radiating off one another. Xander ran his fingers around to Spike's sides, brushing the skin so lightly that he wasn't really sure Spike could feel them - only his breathing, harsh and ragged, said he could.

Tucking his fingers into Spike's waistband, letting the tips brush lightly along soft skin, Xander took hold of the fabric and pushed at it. He loosened it, pulled at it, but it wouldn't budge. It might as well have been painted onto Spike, and he saw no alternative, so he knelt down and pulled from the legs.

It worked. The jeans slid down Spike's legs. And Spike, high above now, let loose with a long, loud, harsh groan that seemed to come from the deepest part of his being. Xander pulled at the jeans until they pooled around Spike's feet. He kept his eyes carefully averted, but his head was so close to Spike that his hair might have brushed the other man's skin. He barely restrained the urge to lean closer, to feel the slight pressure as his hair parted.

Carefully, he put his hand to the back of Spike's knee and pulled forward. Spike pulled his foot free of the jeans, and Xander murmured to him. "Good boy, good." He took Spike's foot, put it back behind the jeans and placed it on the floor, then did the same to the other foot, making Spike step backward. Xander, eyes still carefully averted, picked up Spike's jeans and stood, turning his back to Spike, folding them carefully and setting them on the chair. And then there was no excuse.

He turned and looked at his Slave, standing naked on the hardwood floor, surrounded by white-draped canvas. Spike's hands were folded behind his back, eyes turned demurely to the ground. He shook, breathing ragged, every motion defined perfectly by the flood of low amber light that bathed every part of him. He stood stiffly, clearly waiting, wanting. As Xander looked on, a tiny drop of clear fluid slid down his proud cock. Xander's eyes followed the drop as it wove its way down, rolling over the shaft, the root, down the tender skin of his balls. Every square inch was completely smooth, devoid of any hair at all. It was so erotic that Xander actually shivered.

"Okay. Good. Now, go get on the bed."

Spike's eyes flicked up to meet Xander's, just briefly. They held a question, and Xander realized what he'd said.

"Stand! Stand, I mean stand. Right there." He pointed to a wide, solid table in the center of the room, and Spike immediately walked over to it and hoisted himself up. He knelt down in the center and assumed what Xander was beginning to think of as "the waiting pose" - eyes down, hands behind the back, head bent forward a little so the back of his neck was bared, spine straight.

This, Xander knew. Okay, still a little shaky from that incredibly embarrassing Freudian slip, but still: paint, stand, model. I know this. Xander closed his eyes for a moment, composing himself. It was a familiar process - going to paint. Center. Focus. He opened his eyes and looked at his model on the stand. First, since he was to be bent backward, he'd need a support. Xander walked in behind the stand and selected a curved, narrow block of wood he'd had made for the purpose, and came around front again.

"Okay, shift around to your right. Hold the pose." When Spike complied, Xander put the block of wood behind him. "Lean back over the wood." Spike rose up on his knees, then laid back over the support. Taking a breath, Xander walked around to the front of the stand.

Spike's body was stretched out just as Xander'd seen it in his mind. The tension was there in the muscles, the clean lines flowing along pale flesh, beautiful but fragile. The only part he hadn't imagined was the hard, flushed cock lying against Spike's belly, but it too was perfect in it's way - strong but exposed, ultimately private but on display for the world. He was perfect, and Xander once again felt a surge of pride at having found him, having brought him here.

Xander stepped forward, took Spike's right wrist and laid the black-tipped fingers on the pale thigh. Taking the other wrist, he placed Spike's hand on the stand, arranging the fingers so that Spike appeared to be supporting himself. Finally, he took Spike by the chin and brought his face to the side. The icy eyes opened wide, looking straight through him, and for a split second, Xander felt like he was the one on display.

"All right. This is the pose. Hold this as long as you can, but if you start to cramp, tell me, because if you don't, your muscles will start to spasm and I'll lose the light. Understand?" Spike nodded. "Good. You can relax your eyes for now, just look where you want to." Spike nodded again, and Xander felt more solid. Looking over Spike one more time, his eyes lingered at Spike's erection. I've seen a hundred models with a hard-on. I've seen it; it's totally natural, or, okay, sometimes it's a kink, but it never means anything. I want...

Almost without any conscious thought, he raised his hand. He watched it move toward Spike, almost surprised. His breathing got heavier, his vision narrowed. Then, a terrible thought struck him, and he turned to look at Spike. I couldn't take advantage of you, I absolutely could not do that.

Spike was looking at Xander's hand, inching toward his cock. As he noticed Xander's head turning toward him, he met Xander's eyes, and Xander was floored. There was only one word for the emotion in his eyes: need. Spike's eyes were needy, filled with it; they asked - no, begged - Xander to keep going.

Xander wasn't going to disappoint.

He touched delicate fingertips to the base of Spike's cock and began to slide them upward. Spike groaned loud, eyes closing tightly, head flung backward. "You're being so good," Xander crooned. "So good for me." Xander's eyes were locked to Spike's cock. The feel of the flesh beneath his fingers, so soft and tender, but with the steel underneath - just as perfect as the man himself. Xander's fingers encountered slickness, and he gathered up as much as he could. When he reached the tip, his slippery fingertips danced over the delicate skin, and Spike's voice climbed into the higher registers, breaking on his ragged breaths.

Xander drew his fingers away, a little shell-shocked. Before him, Spike sighed deeply and settled onto the block. Xander tried to gather himself again, walked back to the easel and looked at his fingers. Still look like mine, he thought. I wonder... He lifted the fingers to his lips and let his tongue sneak out to slide over the wetness there. Not exactly the same as me. But close.

Still in that vague, stunned state, he began mixing paints. He breathed in and out, taking care to go slowly, trying to still fingers he realized were shaking. Miraculously, the tones and hues came out perfectly under his brush. Everything matched, perfectly, and he chose to take that as a sign.

The air was close in the studio - humid and hot and everywhere. Xander marveled that he didn't feel suffocated by it. It felt like it was simply body temperature everywhere, like his body wasn't just confined to the mass of skin and bone and blood, but was instead expanding, filling the room, merging with the things in it. He could still feel Spike's cock sliding along his fingers.

He studied his painting. The form was sketched in already; he'd known the pose he'd want his model to take. The light black marks over the canvas only needed a little modification, which he did with a grease pencil. His fingers flickered in the amber light, and later he wouldn't remember moving them, or what he'd been thinking, only that the image had come effortlessly, like heart beats.

Then, raising his brush, he painted. Long strokes of a wide brush left pale skin in its wake, a small fan touched it with highlights from candles, or maybe a fire. Pink toes, dark shadowed places that the light couldn't reach, the curve of his buttock resting on his heel. Beautiful, his mind kept repeating. Just beautiful.

Finally, he was ready to paint the two parts left. He glanced up from his work. "You all right?" Spike nodded. "Okay. Turn your head the way I had it. No, a little up. There. Okay."

Xander moved out from behind his canvas. "I need an expression now." Spike nodded gravely. "I need to see you, Spike. I need your deepest, darkest places." Xander let his fingers brush along Spike's side, and Spike shivered. "Trust me. Let me in." He met Spike's eyes. "I'll take care of us, Spike. I promise."

Spike swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing along the pale column of his throat. Then he closed his eyes. Xander stood and stepped back around the canvas, picked up his paintbrush. This is it. This is where I see if this was all worth it.

Spike opened his eyes.


Hurt and pain, yes, but above all, sadness. Soul deep, filling his blue eyes, tugging at his lips, there was sadness. Sadness like that didn't make you angry. It didn't make you want to protect or rage against whatever'd hurt him. What it did do was crawl into your own soul and find your sadness, your pain, and make you share it. That face would make the strongest man cry. He's absolutely perfect.

Xander's hand blurred as he tried to capture the look in Spike's eyes, pale cream and pink and bright white and deep rose, and finally the rich, vivid blue. He almost cried with relief when he stepped back from the canvas and realized he'd done it justice. Still drying, the image almost leapt off the page, and it was just as evocative, just as moving as the man before him.

Xander looked back at Spike on the table. "Okay, you can stop." Spike relaxed, closing his eyes and letting his head fall backward, clearly relieved. The rest of his body relaxed, too, and Xander caught the little movement in the corner of his eye where Spike's cock bobbed against his belly.

Okay, Xander thought, stilling himself. Last part.

"Don't move," he said, moving toward the canvas again. Spike froze, perfectly obedient, and Xander felt that thrill rise through him again. He began to touch the brush to the canvas, and as the dusky color spread Xander got more and more tense. He painted skin he'd touched, wetness over places he'd gathered that wetness from. Glancing back and forth from the canvas to Spike, Xander began to get impatient.


Xander stepped back, let his hand fall to his side, still holding the paintbrush. He was buzzing with the thrill of painting, of the man on the table, so smooth and beautiful. Two years of waiting, of searching for just the right one, finally over. He felt drained, but as he looked over the canvas, a bone-deep satisfaction spread through him, and he knew. It was worth it. It was right. Relief flooded through him, too, and he nearly had to sit down. Instead, he settled for cleaning the paintbrush and setting it into its jar. Done, finally done, finally over. He moved out from behind the easel, leaving it behind with a vague sense of regret.

Then his eyes dragged toward the stand where Spike lay against the wood, and regret evaporated. The amber light swirled around Spike's body, lighting his pale skin and making his hair shine like firelight through champagne. Struck for a moment by how beautiful he really was, Xander had to stop and stare. He walked toward Spike, slow and hesitant, feeling like he was trying to move through water. Sound was muffled, every bit of his attention focused on the stunning creature spread before him.

Spike lay against the block of wood, hushed and barely breathing. Xander noticed the muscles in his thighs shake as he held himself still on the wood and shook his head.

Quiet but reproving, Xander said, "I told you to tell me if you got tired."

Spike lifted his head to look at him, and Xander saw wet tracks down his cheeks, gold in the soft light. The blue shone, misery that had been carefully held back in the painting pouring out. Xander's heart leapt in his chest.

His hands were reaching out before he could stop them, and he took Spike by the wrist and pulled him upright. Xander sat on the edge of the table and dragged Spike into his arms, holding him closely. Spike didn't make a sound, didn't protest or cry out - but his hands twisted in Xander's shirt and held tight, and he buried his face in Xander's shoulder. Xander rocked him back and forth, feeling the incredible tension in his shoulders and back as he stroked one hand up and down the smooth skin.

He didn't dare speak, only thought the words in his head. I owe you so much. Tell me what to do. Tell me what I can do; I want to make it not hurt. You showed this to me, and I'll never forget it. Just tell me...

Tentatively, like cautious birds, Spike's hands unclenched and began to move on his back. Barely there, they traced up and down over Xander's spine, and Xander shivered involuntarily, feeling feverish despite the air-conditioned studio. Spike pulled back then, gently, not very far but enough to get a little space between them. One of his hands came carefully around to trace up and down Xander's chest, tickling the hairs there. Xander began to breathe heavily, feeling the light touch skim over his skin.

Spike ducked his head shyly, still tracing Xander's chest. When he spoke, his voice was almost a whisper.

"I did well, then?"

"Oh, man." Xander was shocked that he didn't know, and petted the sharp blond hair in reassurance. "Yeah, you did good. If I said the word 'perfect' a thousand times, you might be starting to get the picture, okay? You did very, very, very good." Spike smiled shyly, and the sight of it ricocheted through Xander like speed, some part of his mind shrieking want want want want at him over and over. He stroked his fingers at the nape of Spike's neck, soothing, reassuring.

"So," Xander began, unsure really of how to say this, but determined to get it out, "you said you wanted something. Before we started, I mean."

Spike's eyes shot up to meet his, something like hope in them, but mixed with a strange dread as well. "Yeah," he murmured, dragging the word out hesitantly. "Suppose I did. But, uh... 's a little... s' other than you'd expect, I'd wager. I mean, I got your painting done up and all, but..." He squirmed in Xander's arms, seeming to try to get closer and further at once. He looked at the floor, the fingers of one hand wrapped around Xander's arm, holding on tight.

"Tell me," Xander coaxed, petting down the smooth back, silky skin skimming under his fingers. Spike twisted under Xander's gaze, trying to avoid it without leaving Xander's arms - impossible.

"Well, you know... what I do," he said, tripping over the phrase.

"Yeah," Xander said, his voice low. Spike meant the slaving.

"It's something I need, like. Something important?" The tone swung upward in a question, and Spike's eyes lifted, checking to see that Xander understood. Xander nodded gravely - yes, that's all right, I get it, go on.

Spike swallowed, nodded. Then he continued, voice hesitant and wary and even a little frightened. "Never knew any of them. Masters. They never knew who I was, not really. Name, maybe. But that's all. And you know... more, so I wouldn't ever ask you, but it's important, yet, and I can't just ignore..."

He began to stutter, to fumble the words, fight to get them out. He was blushing and fidgeting under Xander's steady gaze, trying to say something that was obviously near painful to say, and Xander's mind raced ahead of Spike's words, piecing it together. I don't get it. I don't know anything about him besides his name, and that he's a slave. Then Xander remembered the painting, sitting in the darkened studio. Well, I know that, too. I know that he feels, that strongly. As strong as I needed him to show... and he did show me that. And now he's asking for...

"And I thought tonight when you came in that... that you'd... I mean, I know I've no right to ask, but I just thought maybe... maybe you could..." He was brimming with shame, blush staining his cheeks cherry red. He turned his face away.

"You want to do what you came here to do." Xander whispered.

Spike turned redder and nodded his head miserably. "I shouldn't... I don't..." He trailed off and tried again. "You're not..."

"Shh," Xander said abruptly. "Quiet. Let me think." Spike went silent and still, head bowed.

Thoughts raced through Xander's head. Of course he's afraid. Why wouldn't he be afraid when he's going to show me more of who he is than most people ever get to see? Jesus. If it were me... Xander stopped that thought before it could get any farther, feeling the panic rise in the back of his brain.

Xander ran a hand through his hair, shook that off, and faced the one unalterable fact about this whole thing. If he wants this, I'll do it. I mean, I can at least try. I owe him that.

But what if I screw it up? I've never done anything that even sounds like this before. He wants... Giles told me some stuff, but we thought he'd just go with it, just get on the damn table and sit for the painting and go with it...

But then Xander heard Giles's soft, smooth voice in his head, saying You know, Xander, it may not be quite as simple as you imagine. There are a lot of intense emotions involved in the Master/slave relationship, and whomever you choose may not be very amicable to the idea. He may be hurt, or worse. It's not about the money. He'd sounded quiet and sincere, like he'd known what he was talking about, but Xander hadn't listened.

Okay. I thought he'd just take the money and go. Giles tried to warn me that this was a bad idea, and I ignored him. Fine. That's fair. But now that I've got him here...

Xander looked at Spike, fair head bent, naked and shivering in his arms. He was warm, shamed but still wanting, still needing what he'd asked for. His cock jutted up from his lap, swaying and red with desperation. It wept with need.

Xander felt the flush intensify in his cheeks as he stared at Spike's cock. He licked his lips, barely even aware of it. He wanted to know what it tasted like, what it would feel like between his lips. He wanted.

"Fuck it," Xander burst out, and Spike's head shot up to look at him, eyes wide. "We both need this, so I guess I'll just muddle through."

Spike shuddered and his eyes closed for a moment with relief, but they didn't stay closed as Xander's fingers found his cock. Spike breathed in harshly as his eyes widened, eyes locked to Xander's hand. Xander could hardly hear him, could only feel the slick skin under his fingers, burning hot and so soft. Spike was uncircumcised, unlike Xander himself, and the feeling was utterly foreign. Xander curled his fingers around Spike's erection, feeling the throb of Spike's heartbeat in his palm. He pulled, felt the foreskin move with him, and leaned down, head moving toward Spike's cock slowly.

Spike's breathing got heavier and heavier, and when Xander finally realized where he was, he was about an inch from the head of Spike's cock. He could smell the rich scent coming from Spike, wanted in, wanted to taste and feel - but he was also becoming uncomfortably aware that they were sitting on the edge of his studio table, and there was all sorts of twisting around involved here that was not in the brochure. Bed. Bed now.

He lifted his head quickly and looked at Spike, who looked back at him, breathing still harsh, eyes full of need. Xander tried to remember what Giles had taught him, tried to edit his words so they'd work.

He made his voice strong, commanding. Spike needed it, and Xander was determined to give him whatever he needed. Anything. "Get off the table," he ordered. Spike immediately complied, face flushing, but a small, relieved smile playing around his lips. As he stared at the floor, Xander could see his eyes, soft and maybe even a little happy. That heady sense of power spiraled through him again tingling through his legs and back.

"Good. Now, we're going to my bedroom. If you aren't allowed to do anything I tell you to, you have to tell me immediately. Understand?"

Spike nodded, once, and then lowered his eyes. Power thrilled through Xander's fingers, and they curled, wanting to reach out and touch.

"Good. Follow me."

Xander clenched his fists, turned on his heel and walked out of the studio. He could hear Spike following behind, feet thudding quietly against the hardwood in the hall, the Berber in the living room, the hardwood again on the way to the bedroom. A hundred voices clamored in his head, but the sense of power, weirdly, was the thing that shut them all up - like a devil over one shoulder, shouting down the angel and the conscience and anything that argued.

Doing this, it angrily insisted, end of story. Want Spike. Have Spike. News at eleven.

It seemed to take twenty years to get to the bedroom. Xander was hot all over, burning up. He stared at the wall, not wanting to look at the man behind him, or it'd all be over too soon. He worried for a moment about what to say next, and then knew. He'd said it before.

"Get on the bed."

There was a moment of stillness, and then the soft slaps of Spike's pale feet on the floor. Xander stared at the wall, at one of his paintings hung there. He'd done it right after having read Dante's Inferno, and it was full of red fire and suffering, the levels of hell clearly articulated. Behind him, the bed springs squeaked as Spike climbed on, and the sound prickled down Xander's spine. His eyes sought out one of the tiny replicas of himself, being tormented in the second level - lust. Then came the soft British accent, flowing low around him, sliding into his soul, into his cock, brushing him like light fingers.

"How do you want me?"

Oh, God...

"Lie down, face up. Spread your legs, arms above your head." Miraculously, his voice didn't waver. There was rustling behind him, the rustling of the covers as Spike slid over them, arranging himself as Xander had ordered. He could almost see it in his mind's eye as he stood, back to the bed - Spike splayed out, spread open, waiting for him. A low heat uncurled deep in his belly.

Images from earlier in the night flashed through his mind - Spike on his knees in the hall; Spike's head turning under Xander's hand; the little moan he made when he was turned on; the tiny bead of glinting silver that had rolled down his cock when he'd stood naked in the studio.

Xander turned to look at the bed, hard-on raging and arousal singing through him. Spike lay exactly as Xander had pictured, legs spread wide and hands above his head, toes and fingers gently curved and cock shivering. He was a picture, pale skin against Xander's own burgundy-black bedspread. The irony did not escape Xander, Spike splayed thus on a bed so like the one in the painting, and he immediately locked away the part of his brain that asked too many stupid questions. Spike. Bed. These are the only important facts.

Xander approached the bed cautiously, debating how to proceed. He wanted to enjoy this, to do everything rolling around in his head, but he wouldn't last five seconds as it was, so he'd have to take the edge off. But how to do that? And how to make sure he'd be dominant enough to satisfy Spike as well? He thought about that for a moment, struggling with the mindset.

He'd never really been all aggressive with sex. It was mostly a take-it-as-it-comes kind of thing, trying to get two sets of rocks off as best he could, the other person setting the tone. Being In-Control Guy... it was different, sure, but had him harder than he'd been in years; so, hey, not hating it. Xander tried to think of it, to see it like he'd see a painting when he was first conceiving it, picturing a blank canvas in his head and filling it with color and shape. What do I want to make? he thought to himself. What will evoke the feeling in me that I want?

The answer to that came quickly, the image filling his mind, a hot rush hard on its heels.

"Take your dick in your hand," he ordered Spike, "and hold it straight up." Spike complied with grace, curling his long fingers around his cock and pointing it to the ceiling. Xander noticed that Spike's head was propped up on the pillows, so he could see everything. Good. "Watch me. I want you to see." Spike nodded, holding himself rigid, eyes a little wild.

Slowly, Xander sat down at the side of the bed, watching Spike roll slightly toward him as the mattress gave under his weight. The thick cock seemed to push toward him as well, begging for attention. "Hold it tight," Xander whispered, then leaned down and took the head of Spike's cock in his mouth.

It was warm against his tongue, and not anywhere near as salty or bitter as he'd thought it would be, but slippery and kind of earthy. Spike gasped softly above him, and that more than anything else made Xander's cock throb, push against the clothes he wore. He wanted to hear that sound more. Louder.

He ran his tongue across the soft skin, tasted the slick fluid that had gathered there. Spike drew shuddering breaths, and Xander swirled his tongue around, tasting as much of Spike as he could. He felt Spike's hand tighten, felt a small tremor in the grip, and realized that he wasn't the only one who needed to take the edge off.

He pulled off Spike, sucking the tip as he did, Spike's breathing now fast and erratic. Xander trailed careful fingers over the blond's smooth chest and flicked a glance up at him, saw a tiny bit of sweat glisten at his temples. "How long will you last if I keep doing that?"

"N-n-not-not long..." His pulse raced under Xander's hand.

"I figured," Xander nodded. "I want you to last, Spike. I want you hard when I take you, and I want you to come when I do," - Spike looked terrified - "but if I take you like this, it'll all be over way too fast, am I right?" The fear receded in Spike's face as he swallowed and nodded, and Xander stroked him gently, feeling the taut skin under his palm.

"So, here's what's gonna happen. Stand up, over here." Xander gestured to the spot beside him, and Spike swung his legs around. Xander noticed that Spike maintained a careful grip on his cock, holding it straight as Xander had ordered, and he was a little surprised at that, but decided to let Spike keep doing it anyway, because it was unbelievably hot, and also oddly reassuring. Xander's skin tingled, the flush rising on his cheeks and neck.

"There's some... lubricant in the bathroom. Top drawer, right side. Go get it and bring it back here."

Spike hesitated again, just a split second. Then he turned and walked into the bathroom.

The worry crashed over Xander like a wave. Too hesitant! I suck. I'm the nervous, twisty, fidgety kind of master that couldn't keep a Slave to save his life, let alone do justice for Spike, who's, like, the king of all Slaves. He's probably in there right now, figuring out how to back out of... this... gracefully... Guh.

Thought exited Xander's head as Spike walked out of the bathroom. The pale blond still held his cock loosely wrapped in one hand, and the rise and fall of his stride pushed the thick length through his fingers. In the other hand, Spike clutched the bottle of lubricant, and though his head was bowed, it was easy to see that he was trying hard not to push his cock through the circle of his fingers, not to grip harder. By the bed, he stopped and extended the little bottle to Xander.

...And we're muddling.

As his hand closed around the lubricant, Xander's fingers brushed Spike's, and it was like touching a live wire. The heat shot through him, and he saw Spike start as well, feeling the same thing. "Get back on the bed, same as before," Xander gritted out, struggling to maintain control, "and hold out your hand."

Spike climbed onto the bed and arranged himself, and once more Xander felt that thrill of power course through him. Just the thought of what he planned to do to that long, beautiful body was enough to bring him close. As Spike spread his legs wide, obeying the orders, Xander stood up and started undressing, pulling his t-shirt from his jeans. Spike eyes darted down Xander's chest, over the belt, and Xander could see him fighting between the urge to watch and the knowledge that leering would probably be considered disobedient. Finally, Spike confined his gaze to the opposite wall, flustered.

"No," Xander snapped. "Don't look over there." Spike's eyes instantly returned to his. "Watch me. I want you to watch." Spike swallowed, and Xander could feel Spike's gaze sliding down his chest as he pulled the shirt up over his shoulders and off. Next came the jeans, and he was hotly aware of Spike's eyes on him, riveted now to the slowly widening vee of skin being exposed by the button fly. Xander felt the flush climb on his skin, an all-over-body blush heating him and making him shiver in the suddenly cool air.

Carefully, he tucked his thumbs into the waist of the jeans, into the elastic of his black briefs. His nails lightly scratched the tender skin at his hips, and he shivered all over again under the shrill sensation, under Spike's eyes, under the entire situation he found himself in - master to a slave, artist to a muse, worshipper to a deity. He dragged the coarse fabric off of his legs, away from his body, and felt the heated air on him, caught the scent of sweat and need that rose from between his legs. Spike shifted on the bed, eyes fixed on Xander's erection, and the look in his eyes...

Xander felt it hit him like a tidal wave: longing. Spike wanted him. It was naked in his eyes as a tree's limbs in winter, fragile, but still somehow tough, enduring. He'd shown the same need in the club. It was why Xander had picked him. Xander was suddenly bizarrely proud of him, and in that moment he felt like the worst hack the artistic world had ever spawned. This man was expressive and evocative and just... art, all by himself. And when the showing in New York came, and he was celebrated as a genius, he'd know the truth - any fourth-grader with a magic marker could have wowed the critics if they'd had Spike for a model.

He climbed onto the bed and knelt between Spike's thighs. Spike sighed, lips parting gently, and lifted his hips to show the shadowed cleft, coy and inviting. For a moment, the urge to just drive into him right there was almost too strong, almost overwhelming. But he clung to the thoughts of what he wanted to do, what he had planned, and tried not to think, but just to let the words come out of his mouth.

"Here." He flicked open the lubricant and spread a liberal amount on Spike's fingers. Spike held it, careful not to spill, and looked up at him with curiosity in the lift of his eyebrow. Xander reminded himself to breathe and took Spike by the wrist, guided his hand down past the rigid cock to his entrance. Spike's eyes went round as Xander touched slicked fingertips to the tender flesh.

"I want you to do this, and let me see." He was embarrassed even as he was saying it; the thought alone was almost too much. Spike was still awestruck, his hand staying where Xander'd placed it, and for a horrible moment, Xander wondered if he'd gone too far. "I mean, if that's allowed. You have to tell me if you're not..."

"No!" Spike blurted. "No, I mean... it's allowed, yeah. And I can do... I just thought you'd be less forward about it! I mean, I thought you wouldn't... I mean, you've..." Xander was relieved to see he wasn't the only one who could be self-conscious; Spike squirmed and fidgeted under his steady gaze, blush flaming under his ivory skin, trying to dig himself out of the hole he was now in.

Xander was amused, but it didn't take precedence over the lust coursing through his body, didn't come close. He was definitely impatient to see the image he'd created in his head, for Spike to do as he'd been told. And thinking of it that way gave him a peculiar sense of disappointment. "So you're hesitating? I mean, I gave you an order, and you're not..."

Spike's mouth became a little 'o' as he realized what he'd done, heard the tone in Xander's words. His words and actions were simultaneous, and when his slicked fingers began to push into his waiting entrance, his voice shivered with it. "God, I didn't mean it. I'm s-sorry, please, I w-I won't-w..." Xander watched as the blunt-tipped fingers spread Spike open, saw the cock shivering above; clear, shining fluid dripping down onto the flat stomach. He could smell Spike's arousal as Spike pushed his head back into the pillows, gelled locks curling under the pressure.

Then Xander was struck with an impulse. Spike had disobeyed. Quickly, before he could stop himself, Xander took Spike's leg in one hand and pulled it up and around, forcing Spike onto his side. Surprised, Spike let his hand slide free, but Xander was already moving, bringing his flat palm back and then raining stinging slaps down on Spike's curved ass. Spike cried out, a combination of shock, pain and lust, but it didn't last long. Xander was too close, and spanking Spike for his disobedience - the tingle of pain in his palm, the warm skin under his fingers, Spike moaning and arching into him - was too much for any human being to bear. Xander wrapped one hand around his aching cock and squeezed, then stroked just once, and then he was coming, feeling the intense bliss race through him like a flash flood at midnight, lightning ripping across the sky. When it subsided, Xander was left with a slow burn low in his belly. It hadn't been enough, just as he'd known it wouldn't, and he smiled with satisfaction.

Spike stretched a little, rearranging his limbs, and Xander's attention returned to him. He looked contrite for his misdeed, waiting for Xander to pronounce him forgiven, if he was lucky, or punish him further, but something... perhaps it was in his posture, lazy and feline, or in his eyes, sparkling with glee, but he unquestionably bore the faint aroma of having just been in the cookie jar.

Xander decided to let that go, given what had just happened, especially since Spike looked a little wicked like that, which was unquestionably sexy. And, also, because Spike's side was striped in come, and Xander was feeling very possessive of him.

He took hold of Spike's leg again and lifted a little. "Move it around the way it was..." Spike obliged immediately, and Xander grinned at him. "Good. Now. Finish what you were doing before you disobeyed me." Spike's eyes fluttered closed on a groan, and his hand slid down between his thighs to obey. As he stroked himself, Xander got up. Spike almost stopped, looked at him and made a little moaning sound of protest, but Xander leaned down and slowly licked the hand still moving between Spike's legs. "I'll be right back."

Spike's gasp and immediate harsh groan made Xander laugh under his breath. He felt fantastic, amazing. And, now, not even a little bit inadequate.

A moment's search in the bathroom yielded a towel, and Xander wetted it with hot water and came back to clean Spike up. The blond sighed under the attention, hand still obediently moving as Xander moved the warm cloth over his skin. He started high on Spike's side and moved downward, letting the heat of the water soak into the alabaster skin. Spike made yearning sounds under Xander's fingers, arching into the touch, the pleasure he felt displayed on his face like elegant letters across a white page. Not for the first time, Xander wondered at how beautiful he was.

As he worked, Xander edged closer to the front, and Spike gasped when Xander wrapped the heated, wet fabric around his cock. Spike's fingers stilled, and his eyes flew to Xander's.

"Three fingers, now," Xander ordered gently, and squeezed. Spike moaned, a small, breathy sound, and did as Xander told him. He was trembling now, all trace of amusement or complacency gone. His eyes were near black with need, and he looked up at his tormentor, silently asking, pleading, begging. Please, he seemed to say. I need you. I have this pain inside me; you've seen it, you bloody painted it, and I need you to make me feel something else. Anything else. Please. It stole Xander's breath, the way Spike looked at him.

He began to move. Up and down, he worked the cloth over Spike's erection. "Keep moving your fingers," he instructed, and Spike nodded fervently, obeying even as Xander spoke the words. "Now, I want you to know, for after: I'm not done with you yet. I'll give you a minute, but we're not finished, okay?"

Spike bit his lip, breathing rushing harshly in the still air, and nodded.

"You can say something, if you want."

Spike hesitated, seemed to fight with himself for a moment. Then, very quietly, he breathed, "I want... I want you..."

Xander grinned and dropped the cloth, then took Spike in his hand. Spike keened high, fingers busy between his legs, and Xander stripped him purposefully, deliberately, working the hard flesh like he would his own. He tried not to think about it. Didn't think that this was new, that Spike was curved and long, but that Xander himself was thicker, and that it was strange to feel the glans from the other way around, his thumb gliding over the sensitive cluster of nerves. He tried to focus instead on Spike. On the way he twitched in Xander's hand, the way he stopped moving his own fingers deep inside because he couldn't concentrate. On his eyes, as they screwed up, on his pink lips as they parted, breath flooding between them as Spike reached higher and higher. All too soon, Spike was jerking into Xander's hand and crying out, his cock pulsing strong as release wracked his body.

Xander knew he'd see this moment a thousand times again. He'd see it in the second before he came when he was jerking off in the shower. He'd see it in his mind's eye, when he painted it, because he would absolutely paint it. But most of all, he'd see Spike like this, shivering in ecstasy, whenever someone asked him to describe what 'awestruck' meant. Because this? This was like being there when someone gave birth, or when someone died. This was seeing someone get married or divorced, set free from prison after twenty years or thrown in to begin with. This was serious, important, and Xander knew, somehow, that this was different from every other time Spike was with someone. He knew Spike was showing him something not just anyone got to see, and he was struck with how personal it was, how much trust Spike was giving him. It was a privilege.

Soon, Spike relaxed, replete, breathing heavily, and Xander let him go. He couldn't wait, not one more minute. He turned to the bedside cabinet, Spike making shaky sounds behind him, got a condom and rolled it on. He crawled back onto the bed and between Spike's legs, ran his hands over Spike's legs in long, sweeping strokes.

"You all right?"

Spike nodded, smiling. "Yeah, all right."

"Okay," Xander said, and left it at that, because anything else would sound trite and stupid. Maybe it was corny, or hell, even trite and stupid, but he couldn't stop himself from taking one of Spike's hands in his, twining their fingers together. Spike's palm was warm, and he tilted his head and looked at Xander inquisitively, asking his silent questions again, but he held on tight as Xander moved into position. Then all thought was gone.

He nudged against Spike's entrance, felt the heat instantly brand him. Spike's inquisitive look vanished, his face intense. Carefully, Xander edged inside, and the heat and tightness almost overloaded him.

"God, Spike..." The words hovered between them, begging for a response, but Spike didn't say anything, and Xander wondered feverishly if Spike spoke, if that'd release a flood of words, if they'd have to say everything they'd implicitly understood up till now, if that'd take years to say properly. Just as fast, he realized that he didn't want to say any of it, just wanted it unspoken between them as he pushed deeper into Spike's body, in him now as surely as Spike was in Xander himself, in his studio and on his canvas.

Spike moaned, tried to cant his hips upward, to take more, faster. More unspoken words, and Xander responded, pushing in farther. Spike's voice rose as he thrust, and that shot straight through Xander's body, tingled over his skin, drove him further, faster, until he was pushed right up against Spike's body, and could go no further. Spike's breath was ragged and the sounds he made were desperate, frantic.

"Ready?" Xander managed to ask.

Spike broke. "God, yes, please, please, anything, please..."

Restraint was gone, caution with it, as Xander threw himself against Spike like fucking him was the only way to keep him, the only way to stop him from going back to whatever mystic world he really came from and leaving Xander stranded on earth. Both pairs of hands now were clenched together as Xander crowded into Spike, slamming against him over and over, his head resting on Spike's shoulder, tasting the salt sweat sheening the delicate skin.

Like a distant train, Xander felt his climax coming, and he threw himself into getting as much of Spike as he could, fucking him hard and fast, Spike near screaming beneath him, feeling Spike's fingernails drag across his back, dig into his ass, urging him on. Finally, like an act of God, he felt his body start to shake, and then there was blinding light behind his eyes and splashes of color and an explosion and an earthquake and possibly, far in the distance, an orchestra.

It was quiet, and the fire burned low.

"Do you want to see it?"

Spike and Xander stood face to face in the living room. They were both dressed in what clothes they'd had on, but Spike's whole attitude was different. No more the obedient slave, nor the abrasive punk, he stood quiet and peculiarly still.

"Nah. Think I'd best not. Just wind up with something to say about it, and I get in trouble that way."

They both laughed softly, and Xander looked at him with genuine fondness. "I get that. But just so you know, they make prints sometimes, so if you wander across yourself in an art gallery some day, I am not to blame."

More serious, then, Xander stepped toward him, edging into his space like one would a wary dog, leaving plenty of room for objection. When none were forthcoming, Xander touched Spike's sleeve gently, tentatively.

"Will... will I ever see you again?"

Spike ducked his head, almost sadly. "Probably not. Don't have a reason to come to the club anymore, and that's where I'll be."


"Hush," he said, peculiarly gentle. "I need it. You know that. So don't say something I'll have to argue with you about, right?"

Again, they smiled together. "Okay," said Xander. "If I wanted, could I come get you from the club?"

"Well, yeah," said Spike, sounding a little surprised, "but it wouldn't be different. I mean, apart from the painting." He grinned, white teeth flashing.

"Oh, there'd be painting, mister, you bet your kittens."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Kittens?"

"I had trouble coming up with something you'd bet," Xander confessed.

"Something wrong with money?"

"Nah. Nevermind."

"Right." Spike patted the pockets of the long black duster, checked to make sure he had everything. He did. They stared at each other across the long distance, awkward and strange.

Then they were kissing, and it was so much better, and Xander wasn't sure who'd started it, but it didn't seem to matter. Lips to lips, shared breath, so close that sight was just a blur of flesh and color, and touch was all that mattered.

Sooner or later, there was the sharp blast of a car horn outside. Spike pulled away. "That's my cab," he said, looking over his shoulder.

Xander held the lapels of his black jacket. "Don't go," he said, prideless. "Stay with me. You don't have to go back. I'd take care of you."

They kissed again, and Xander tasted apology on Spike's lips. "Can't, love. Time isn't right." He kissed Xander once, almost chastely, and stepped back. Xander let him go. "You don't need this," Spike said, producing his cigarettes, "and so long as I do..." He shrugged and tapped one out, set the filter to his lips. The reasons poured through the air between them, unspoken like everything else.

Xander nodded, regretfully. "You might be right."

The horn sounded again, impatient and intrusive. "Come by the club any time," Spike said, walking toward the door. Xander followed, and when Spike left the apartment, he held the door, watching Spike walk to the cab.

"Hey, Spike," he called, when the blond was just about to climb in. The rain had stopped, and the streetlights looked down to the black road. It smelled hushed and new, waiting for the dawn, like the storm had washed out the alleys and gutters and left things clean.

"Yeah?" He stood there, shining under the light, one booted foot planted on the pavement, one up on the runner.

"You were worth it. Without the painting." He meant it. He would have paid anything for tonight.

Spike's smile was like the first rays of the rising sun. "Thanks, mate," he said, his quiet, meaningful voice carrying easily through the silent morning. And then he got in the cab, and drove away.