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Title: The Exchange
Author: Entre Nous
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Post-Lover's Walk.

“No luck in Sunnydale, then?” Ethan paused to pat his pockets in the well-known sign of looking for a light. His companion reluctantly leaned forward and lit his cigarette. The lighter gleamed for a moment, reflecting the flame, then disappeared in the darkness of the bar.

“Depends upon what you call luck, mate.”

Ethan twisted his lips into something resembling a wry smile. “You left with quite a calling card. Exciting news to be sure, and surprising as well. Caused quite a buzz in the community. Let’s see, the last I’d heard from my sources, you were incapacitated . . . ”

“Yeah, well, that’s no longer the case.” Spike leaned back in a posture of relaxation, a gesture that belied his frame of mind by its apparent deliberate deployment.

“Yes. Walking about with the full use of your limbs and of course taking down the mayor’s gang of flunky vampires more than proved your point.” Ethan’s eyes flickered over the vampire with interest. “The scene had your marks all over it -- I knew you were involved from the moment I heard the story.”

Spike gave him a pointed look, and then tilted his head and parted his lips slightly, touching his tongue to his still-human incisor.

Ethan nearly laughed at the blatant reminder of rank and file. One would have thought that he was the one seeking a favor from Spike. As that was clearly not the case, he touched the rim of his glass lightly, signaling in the pose that he was in no rush to resolve this quickly. He sipped his drink, and remarked offhandedly:

“It is a shame, though, that the spell failed. I find love spells such fun -- they’re often accompanied by the most amusing destructive tendencies.”

“Didn’t fail exactly . . . just never had a chance to finish. Got distracted, and . . . ”

“And then you actually thought you could find her yourself.”

Silence. For the first time since they’d begun their tête-à-tête, Spike broke his steady stare into Ethan’s eyes. He dipped a finger into the pool of condensation left on the table from his bottle of beer and traced the grain of the wood.

Ethan forced the matter. Really, the night was wearing on, and now that it was clear who had the upper hand, nothing impeded resolution. “It makes sense you’d contact me. I’ll admit I’m pleased that my reputation extends so far.”

“You’d be surprised how few people know how to deal with chaos demons. No, you . . . probably you wouldn’t be surprised.” Spike paused. “You being one who knows all about chaos. . . ”

Ethan looked thoughtful, as though Spike’s response had been extremely subtle. “Ah! I rather think you’re asking for my help.” He tilted his head back and allowed his brow to un-furrow. “And I rather think that I’ll give it to you.”

“Yeah?” Spike smiled slowly as his face regained assurance. “Thought you might. After all, I could be a great deal of help to you when the occasion arises.”

Master vampire here, he might has well have said, and Ethan felt his lips twitch. How very crass.

“I’m sure of that,” Ethan replied generously. “Though I’d prefer payment now.”

“What . . . that is, in the way of -- ”

“Let me think,” Ethan interrupted. “Now, now . . . what could you have that I would want?” He raised the glass of whisky to his lips, never taking his gaze away from Spike.

A beat passed, then another. Ethan relished moments such as this. The turns and shifts in these type of exchanges held myriad charms for him -- they were nearly always the best part of the story afterwards.

The stare his question brought was in itself its own kind of reward. Ethan leaned forward just a bit so that he could watch understanding unfold in those widening blue eyes. Ah, yes. There it was. Gradually waning incomprehension, followed by disbelief, followed by the briefest glimpse of shock. Once a Victorian . . .

Spike gave him a sharp look. He laughed mirthlessly and shook his head. “You know, some things really never change.”

Ethan smiled widely. “They really don’t.” He raised his glass, and after a hesitation, Spike raised his own in a motion of sealing the deal. “Cheers,” Ethan said softly.

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