As If We Should Forget We Have No Hands

 

 

 

 

When Wolfram and Hart had folded up like a cheap Chinese fan - Angel was not supposed to win - things had gone from bad to...pear-shaped.   Gunn had survived, Lorne had disappeared, Lindsey had come back a la Lilah, and Wes was...around.  Sort of.  Sometimes.  And Angel...  Well, Angel hadn't signed his Shanshu away after all and Spike had stared at him, utterly gobsmacked for a good five minutes.  Then he'd got him to the ER with Gunn, called Giles and gotten drunk.  Really drunk.  He told Sunny at the Peppermint Stick that if she could make him pass out from orgasm he'd give her five thousand bucks.  She could, and he did, and he did, once he came to.  The next day.  It was all too much, really, and Spike spent a lot of time at the Peppermint Stick or up on the roof of this or that really tall building, just - keeping out of it. 

Connor joined him sometimes and he fell back into the Sunnydale routine - patrols, visit a demon bar, check out a crypt or two.  Connor loved it, Angel tolerated it - Illyria proposed genocide from time to time and Spike took to sneaking out and meeting Connor at La Mort.  Trendy and obnoxious but nobody from the revived AI would be caught dead there, so it was perfect.  Connor asked him one night if Spike wished he had gotten to be a real boy, and Spike had just laughed at him - told him he was too busy living to start dying now.  Connor had laughed too, a questioning look in his eyes, but it was true.  Spike had no intention of shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon, and Angel could have the bad teeth and rheumatism and erectile dysfunction.   Nothing there to tempt any right-thinking demon, even a souled one.

The Watchers decided, after the great End of the World Death Match, that Angel really was a good guy after all and that maybe they should help.  So a trio of Slayers was dispatched, and then Buffy and Spike found himself at the club or his miserable little flat more and more often, avoiding the Hyperion like the plague.  Somehow, Wesley had managed to divert the budgets of several Wolfram and Hart departments to a Swiss bank account and about a month after the law firm went down a courier had arrived from Zurich with papers and passcodes and everybody was suddenly a millionaire.   Wes had even taken care of Spike, which made running into Wes' corporeal-but-still-not-right self in the halls of the hotel not quite as awful as it could be.  (Sometimes Wes looked fine - sometimes he looked like the moment he'd died.)  Spike didn't really like the dead days, so he took his shiny new credit card and he drank a shot with Wes and Gunn down in Wes' old office and then he was out of there.

Vegas seemed like a good idea, at least for a while.  At least until he could figure out his next move.  He didn't mind the odd patrol - the occasional saving of the damsel in distress.  He didn't even mind the thwarting of world-endings and the execution of uber-baddies.  It was something to do, after all, and he'd gotten into the habit of keeping the world spinning and the fools in his path alive.  But he was restless and a little bored.   After two weeks of winning on the tables - it was easy when the cocktail of scents from your opponent practically spelled out 'bluff' - he gave up and gave in and called Andrew.  During the whole psychotic Slayer debacle Andrew had told him - in between rhapsodizing about souled vam-pyres and the Watchers and Rome - that if he needed a job, call him.  Anytime.   So Spike did, and Andrew said yes, they did have some jobs that needed that 'special touch'.  Then he'd said that there were always dark deeds that the true Champions couldn't do but Spike, of course, could, and Spike had hung up on him.  But then he'd booked a flight to London and went to say goodbye to Sunny and Connor.

Spike was a Champion - more than rat-eating, alley-lurking, tried-to-end-the-world-a-couple-times-'cause-I-got-shagged Angel was, that was for sure.  At least he wasn't running on guilt and hubris.  He just - didn't want to spend his unlife keeping the sheep safe.  A little culling would strengthen the flock.  He wanted to do... 

*Something better - something different.  Something...effulgent.  Only without the actual flames, this time.

Spike did eight jobs in nine weeks and Andrew was right.   These were nasty little jobs that you couldn't possibly do if you were looking at the world through your rose-tinted, Pollyanna-brand spectacles.  Or if you had your head up your rose-scented arse and there was no way even Wes would have stooped to most of them.  But they were necessary - Spike always made sure of that - and they paid well.  And he got to move, to go, which had always been his problem, anyway.  Too much time in one place - one city - one mood and he was ready to make some noise.  Do a little damage.  Having to scramble for transport and shelter in rinky-dink airports and war zones and desolate, gods-forsaken holes was interesting.  A challenge and Spike breathed deep and plunged in head first.  Honed some long-forgotten skills and wore the shiny off that card.  He hadn't had so much fun in years.  Not since Prague - not since Dru.  Not since - oh, so many nights and deaths and fights ago, when things had been less complicated and more...visceral.  He kinda liked getting the visceral back.  And the jobs kept coming.

 

 

 

Late September in London was wet and cold and fogged and Spike breathed it and swam through it and felt whole in his skin again.  He hadn't actually been back to the city for nearly a year - not since he'd started working for the Council - but it was, ever and always, home.   Something inside of him settled when he walked the familiar streets - even his demon seemed to stretch and purr a little.  Spike had four days of whatever he wanted until the next job - something in Marrakesh, they were waiting on the right moon phase.  'Whatever he wanted' turned out to be a room at the Savoy and some heavy-duty carousing in the London demon underground.  Did enough high-grade alcohol and uncut smack to make Charing Cross station look like Mars and nearly went to sleep under the Waterloo Bridge until some extremely lucky and well-meaning tourists 'saved him from drowning', found his key and dragged him home to the Savoy ten minutes before daybreak.  Spike fell face-first onto the bed and didn't move for two days. 

Andrew woke him up with a pot of tea and a tray of croissants and jam and clotted cream and about a thousand little fiddly spoons and plates and cups that all jangled like badly-tuned bells in Spike's sensitive ears.  Plus there was the head of security from the hotel who had had to open the door and was standing tensely by, asking if he needed to call 999 or the hotel doctor.  Spike rolled over and stared at them both and then realized that everything he was wearing stank of demon sweat and the Thames.  He pushed himself shakily to his feet and started to strip - the security guard lasted to the jingle of Spike's belt-buckle coming undone and then fled.  Andrew retreated to the sitting room and Spike spent thirty minutes lathering, rinsing and repeating and then just standing there, hoping the hot water would pound the headache out of his head along with the shampoo.  It didn't, of course, but he felt marginally less like ripping Andrew's head off when he got out.  He put on his Savoy monogrammed robe and got his cigarettes and lighter out of his coat.  The smokes were fused together with river-water and he threw them down and scrabbled for the last pack in the carton on the dresser - shook the water out of his Zippo and stalked into the sitting room.  Andrew was perched on the edge of the couch, a scone held in his hands rather like a squirrel holding a nut and Spike lit his cigarette and called the front desk - arranged to have his kit cleaned and then hung up.

He slumped down in the easy chair and stared while Andrew compulsively nibbled the scone.  Strawberry jam was dripping between his fingers and Spike could see a dollop of cream on the expensive Savoy carpet.  "So?  My four days isn't up - what're you doing, coming in here and waking me up?"

"Actually your four days were up yesterday," Andrew said, and Spike tried to mentally count back to when he'd arrived.  He couldn't. 

"Huh.  Everything's a bit of a blur, really.  Well - suppose I'm off to Morocco, then?"

"No, no, there's been a change of plans.  We sent another of our dark operatives to Moroc-co.  We've - run into a bit of bother with Xander," Andrew replied - trying on his 'lofty Watcher' voice.  The crumbs and shred of jam festooning his upper lip rather spoiled the effect.

"Xander?  What's he done now?"

"Ah, well, that's not exactly the case.  I believe it's more of a 'what has been done to him' situation."  Andrew licked his fingers clean and then opened his briefcase - pulled out several different colored folders, spreading them over the coffee table and getting the corner of one in the ginger marmalade.  Spike just groaned in frustration.  The appearance of colored folders was never a good thing.

Ten hours later Spike was on the 9 o'clock Thai Airways flight to Hanoi, settled into a darkened First Class cabin that he'd bought out himself.  He wasn't in the mood for company and didn't feel like dodging questions or even talking.    He just wanted to have a drink or two and read over the files he'd finally physically snatched from Andrew's hands.  Harris'd been doing the same sort of odd-jobs Spike had, only with less killing and more following up strange reports and checking on newly-placed Slayers and Watchers.   And somewhere in Vietnam he'd stopped checking in.  When Spike saw why he'd been in Vietnam, he felt a slow burn of anger in his gut.  Three newly-contacted Slayers gone missing, one found dead and mutilated in such a way as to suggest pretty black fucking magic.  Why the Council had sent Harris to investigate some magical baddie who was killing Slayers, even untrained ones, was beyond him.  Spike threw the folders down in disgust and got another drink - stared moodily out the window next to him until, somewhere over Calcutta with dawn pinking the skies, he finally shut the blind and settled to sleep.

 

 

 

Vietnam was wet and hot and crowded - muddy and dripping.  He'd been there years before with Dru, dodging Viet-cong and French soldiers and going for a memorable helicopter ride one wild night in the middle of the monsoon.   They'd had a gay old time but they'd had to get new clothes every other day and Dru's pretty silk underthings had never been the same again.  Spike was pretty sure his boots would take a good week to get back to normal and he stared down at them as the car he was in juddered over the sad excuse for a road, dodging a pothole on the right only to bottom out in one on the left.  ABBA was blaring from the radio and the driver bobbed along, chain smoking and cursing and babbling at Spike.  Gesturing out at the low, black clouds and slanting sheets of silver rain.  Spike had no idea what he was saying and didn't give a fuck.  He was pissed off and tired and already sick of the smell of mud and cow dung and whatever it was that everything was pickled in, over there.  It seeped out of the driver's pores and Spike lit his own cigarette as a defense.  Tail end of the rainy season and the land was green and thick - teeming with life in every puddle and every huddle of little houses. 

Spike wanted to go home, where life kept itself decently hidden behind concrete and steel and tinted glass - didn't attach itself to your sole and grow, for fuck's sake, like the mold growing along the edge of the taxi's window.

Son La was west of Hanoi by about four hours.  Or maybe six, or maybe ten.  He hadn't been able to get a straight answer at the airport and suspected that it depended on the conditions of the road and the amount of money he was willing to spend.  To get Harris and get the fuck out, he was willing to spend a lot.  He was willing to pull some strings and get a helicopter to fly them out except there probably wasn't a place to refuel between where Harris was and Hanoi, and crashing into the steaming undergrowth wasn't Spike's idea of a fun time.  Once had really been enough.

The village itself was fairly large and it took the driver a few minutes of aimless circling to finally find the hospital.  Spike looked out at the brick-and-wood building and sighed - pushed open the door and stomped across the morass of mud and water to the covered porch, rain easily getting past his coat collar and trickling down his back.  Several old men - wizened and nearly toothless, sticklike arms and legs huddled around fleshless ribs - squatted near the doorway, smoking and chewing betel nut.  As Spike approached the door they shifted minutely, looking at him out of the sides of their eyes.  One made a gesture with his fingers, spitting, and Spike snarled involuntarily as the ward skittered over his skin.  The sooner he was out of there, the better.

The building was clean inside, if too crowded.  The scent of sickness was nearly overpowered by bleach, and clusters of family were gathered around the sick, tending little cooking pots on Sterno stoves and talking quietly.  There didn't seem to be much staff and Spike wandered around for a while until he nearly ran into a round-faced little doctor in tan slacks and a white coat coming out of what looked like a records room.

"Hey, you the doc?  Are you -"   Spike pulled the damp slip of paper out of his pocket and squinted at it.  "You Nguyen Sahn?"

"I am Dr. Nguyen, yes.  Can I help you?"  His English was very clear-cut and precise, as if he'd learned it from a tape.

"Yeah.  I'm - William Pembroke."  Using that name still grated, but he had to be official here - had to get Harris out because when the Council had finally tracked him down, he hadn't had a passport anymore.  Or anything else.

"Aah!  Yes, of course."  The doctor turned and called softly down the hall and a moment later a pretty girl in a nurse's uniform came out of a doorway and walked rapidly up to them.  She had a clipboard with a sheaf of papers stuck in it and Spike gritted his teeth.  Stuff to sign, stuff to read, just - stuff.  Too much stuff.  His suggestion to Giles, via Andrew's cell, that he go in and just kidnap the man had been tut-tut'ed and ignored.  Going through channels was the Watcher's petty revenge, Spike was sure, for turning up undead once again. 

"If you'll just come to my office, we can take care of the paperwork," Nguyen said, smiling with white, crooked teeth out of his cherubic face and Spike wanted to vamp.  See how eager he'd be to sit in a cramped hole of a room and shove papers at him then.

But he didn't.  Despite everything that had happened, he wouldn't leave Harris in a place like this, affected as he was.  It would be too cruel, even for him.   A thought that made Spike even grumpier, because sod it all, he was supposed to be evil, soul or no soul.  Supposed to be something other than the soppy git he'd let Dru take and turn and teach.    

It took almost two hours to fill out everything and twice Spike had to call London and consult with Giles - call the American consulate in Saigon and the embassy as well to hash out the finer details of it all.  Halfway through the local police came in and kibitzed from the sidelines and it was, over all, a right royal pain.

"Right, then - that's it?  We done?" Spike asked, grinding out his umpteenth cigarette, and the doctor sat back and scrubbed at his eyes with his fingertips.

"Yes, we are done.  Let me take you to your friend now.  The officer will accompany you back to Hanoi."  Spike looked up at the skinny man in the rumpled uniform - grimaced when he grinned at Spike with discolored teeth.  He reeked of sweat and pickled vegetables and Spike thanked Christ he'd gotten some money changed in Hanoi before he'd come out.  The officer would not be coming along if Spike had to give him every last penny he had.

"Right.  Let's get moving, yeah?  Got a schedule to keep."

"Of course," Nguyen said - rose and gestured for Spike to follow.  The officer wandered along behind, smoking a foul little pipe and leering at the nurses.  The rain still pounded down outside and it was near sunset, Spike could tell.  Getting a little chilly as the sun slid invisibly down behind the clouds.  The doctor led him down a hall and then another and another, and Spike smelled dust and rodent droppings - a drain that wasn't working and mildew.  Spike grabbed the doctor's shoulder and jerked him to a stop - jerked him half around, anger making his muscles knot.

"Here - where the bloody hell are we going?  Where've you stuck him?" 

The doctor blinked mildly up at Spike, sorting through a ring of keys.   "He has nightmares.  His screaming was disturbing the other patients.  We had to separate him."

"By putting him in some bloody dungeon?  Bastard -"

"He's not in a dungeon," Nguyen said - shook his head at the officer who looked as if he might try and intervene.   Spike hoped he would - it'd save him some dosh, anyway.  "This part of the building is older, but it is not unpleasant."  Nguyen turned, shrugging - slipping out of Spike's lax grasp and walking a few more feet, stopping in front of a dark-wood door.  He pushed a key into the lock and it clicked open.  The door swung out on oiled hinges and Nguyen made a small bow in Spike's direction.   "Here he is, Mr. Pembroke."

Spike glared at the doctor for a moment and then he strode into the room.  It was small, but the walls were whitewashed and smooth - the board floor clean.  There was a cot in the corner with a ticking-covered mattress and a tangle of blankets - no pillow.  A wide, barred window dominated the far wall, bamboo shutters pushed open on either side.  Hills of deep green fell away and away beyond the sill, rolling and thrusting like a dragon's back.  The clouds were lifting from the horizon and a thread of mellow gold showed all along the western sky, turning the air and the falling rain to a rich verdigris-gold.  Xander was curled on the floor by the window, his arm on the sill, his chin propped on his wrist.  He turned slowly as Spike came in, and the light gilded his eyelashes and the oddly short hair.  It gilded his too-pale skin and made his single eye a hollow as dark as the empty socket beside it.

Spike wanted to say all manner of things, but the mild, empty gaze kept all but the simplest from coming out of his mouth.  "Harris.  I've come to take you home."

Xander looked Spike over - looked at Nguyen, who had come up on Spike's shoulder and was nodding, smiling widely.

"I guess you know me then," Xander said, and his voice was low and a little hoarse.  Unexcited.

"Yeah, known you for years," Spike said, the tightness in his muscles getting a little worse, because...  Well, because.  He tried a little fake cheer.  "C'mon then.  Miles to go."

"Before we sleep," Xander said, and stood up.  "Someone told me that poem was about dying."

"I suppose that must be so, then," Spike said, and Xander walked past him and out the door.

 

Xander fell asleep about a mile into the journey, wrinkled plastic bag clutched in his hands.  His 'things', as the doctor had said.  Things that the nurses - who obviously doted on Harris - and the doctor had given him.  A t-shirt, a toothbrush, a pad of cheap paper and a pen with Mickey Mouse on it - several packages of sesame candy with gaudy yellow and green labels.   Spike refused to think it was pitiful and instead studied the sleeping man in the near-total darkness of the car's interior.

Xander had lost weight since Spike had seen him last - dysentery, Nguyen had said - and the points of his wrists and the curve of his collarbones pushed sharply up against his pale skin.  He'd been found with a couple of broken ribs and a gash on his head, and they'd shaved his scalp to stitch it up.  Someone - one of the doe-eyed nurses, Spike was sure - had clipped the rest and trimmed it all as it grew so Xander's dark hair was mostly all the same length.  It stuck up in spikes and tufts, glued by humidity and rain.  Spike thought it suited his new, thinner face.  He looked like a teenager, slumped against the cracked vinyl of the car's back seat, dressed in flimsy cotton pants and an old Oxford, the sleeves rolled up and the collar moth-eaten.  Cheap rubber flip-flops on his feet and a tightly woven bracelet of some sort on his left wrist.  It was too small to go on over his hand - it looked as if it had been tied there.

Spike lit a cigarette and glared for a moment at the driver, who was eating something out of a tin, driving with elbows and knees and burbling along to a local pop band.  Spike wanted to reach over and punch the radio - punch the driver.   Wanted to use some sort of magic to get them back to the States or London or wherever and turn Harris over to his friends - get back to his life.  He didn't want anyone depending on him right now, and Harris was nothing but dependant, lost as he was.  His whole past scrubbed clean - his future more than a little uncertain.  That was for the witch and the Slayer and the Watchers to fix - that was for Dawn to cry over.   Spike - had things to do, even if he didn't entirely trust the Council since they'd sent Harris into the fucked-up situation in the first place.  When Harris hadn't done his once-a-week check-in, it had taken days for the Council to sort itself and get their Asian contacts going.  Days and days longer to follow Harris' trail - to find who he'd spoken to, and where he'd gone.  He'd disappeared somewhere between Mai Chau and Son La and a farmer had found him in his fields, sick and bloody and incoherent - naked.  The Slayer he'd been checking on had disappeared without a trace.  Son La was the closest village with a hospital and it had been three more weeks before officials had put two and two together and connected the missing American with the fever-wracked, raving man they'd had to tie to his cot most nights.

Xander murmured in his sleep, fingers clutching slick plastic and then going still.  Spike could hear his heart, steady and a little fast - could hear his lungs, which were wheezing just a bit.  Touch of pneumonia, maybe, or maybe the strain of the broken ribs still - hard to say.  They'd be mostly mended by now, if Nguyen knew what he was doing.   Five weeks - nearly six - before Andrew had got Spike on a plane and Spike shifted and sighed and flicked his cigarette butt out the window - wrapped his coat a little closer around himself and settled back.  He didn't move when Xander turned in his sleep, seeking - something.  Warmth maybe, but Spike didn't have any to give.  He didn't push Xander away though when he curled into Spike's side and stilled, one foot tucked under his knee and his forehead pressed to Spike's shoulder.  It wasn't so bad.

 

 

 

It was raining in Hanoi, too and they pulled up to the hotel with nearly twelve hours to wait until their plane was leaving.  Spike shook Xander awake from his restless on-again, off-again doze and led him, groggy and stumbling, into the hotel and up to the suite he'd booked.  Xander followed him in and then stood there, staring around.  Mini-bar and Jacuzzi and a separate bedroom - plush fabrics and polished bamboo and all of it about ten times bigger than the little room he'd been confined to in Son La.

"Wow.  Nice.  Is this your house?  Is this where you live?"

"Nah.  Hotel, mate.  We're still in Hanoi.  I don't live here."

"Oh."  Xander wandered over to the French doors and stood looking out at the city.  Neon gleamed like streaks of wet, vivid paint through the grey of rain and cloud.  "I knew I wasn't in America when I first..."  Xander turned around, the plastic bag crinkling in his fingers.  "Hanoi's in Vietnam - we're still in Vietnam, right?"

"Yup.  Sure are."  Spike shed his coat - kicked his boots off, heedless of the streaks of mud they left behind and crossed to the bar.  He poured himself some Jack and drank it down and watched Harris trail slowly around the suite - go into the bathroom and run the water, flush the toilet.  He came out with drops of water beaded on his mouth, looking pleased.

"I knew I wasn't crazy when I dreamed about toilets that flushed.  They didn't have any at - at the hospital."

"Surprised they had runnin' water there," Spike muttered, having another drink and Xander wandered over and watched him.  "What - you want some?" Spike asked, and Xander reached out and picked up the bottle - sniffed it.  He wrinkled his nose.

"Nooo - I don't think so.  Umm...  Can I - ask you a question?"

"Sure," Spike said - took the bottle back and poured a little more, disconcerted by Harris' hesitant manner - by the almost deferential way he was acting toward Spike.  He was used to sarcasm and snide remarks and - fight.  A little bite.  This Xander Harris - had none.

"I guess - I mean, you know me and - I know you, I guess, but - what's your name?"

Spike couldn't stop the short bark of laughter that burst out of him.  "Bloody hell, man, why didn't you ask before?  Should have told you back in the hospital - guess I forgot that you - forgot."  He patted his pockets for his cigarettes and then realized they were in his coat still, so he walked around to retrieve them, Harris turning in place, watching him.

"We've known each other for years, mate.  Had some wild times too.  I suppose you could say we know most of each other's dirty little secrets - helped expose some of them."  Spike got his smokes - tapped one out and lit up, inhaling deeply.  Harris looked a little troubled, nibbling his lower lip and still - still - clutching that damn bag in his hands.  "My name's Spike."

"Spike?  Really?  That's - different."

"Earned it, I did.  You know your name, right?  They told you?"

"Oh, yeah!"  Harris perked up at that, looking almost relieved.  "They told me I'm Alexander Harris and I'm from America and - um - I was doing archeology research?  And I got lost and I f-fell..."  Xander's voice trailed off and his face went tight - his whole body went still and Spike heard his heart start to pound.

"What is it?  Something wrong?"  Spike walked over to him, looking at the single, glassy eye that wasn't looking at anything in the suite at all.  "Harris?  Xander."

"Huh?"  Xander blinked - took a sharp, deep breath and seemed to shake off whatever had gripped him.  "Xander?  Why'd you call me that?  I'm Alexander."

"Yeah, but your mates call you Xander."

"They do?"  Xander followed Spike over to the couch - watched him as he sprawled down onto the squashy cushions.  He settled more carefully in the corner, slipping the flip-flops off his feet and tucking up against the arm - folding and refolding the handles of the bag.

"Listen, you can put that down, you know.  I'm not gonna take it, promise."

Xander looked down at the bag and his fingers tightened on it.  "I didn't - I mean, I'm sure you wouldn't, it's just..."

"Just what?"  Spike craned over the back of the couch for an ashtray and flicked his smoke into it.

"Just - I remember everything in here.  Remember where it came from and who g-gave it to me.  It's the only stuff I remember that's real, you know?"

Spike thought back - for one shivery moment - to the high school basement and the times he would creep to the balled-up mass of black leather that he'd shoved into a crack between wall and box.  Put his fingers on it, press his nose into it.  Let it, for one moment, anchor him in reality, even when that reality was unbearable.  "Yeah, I know," Spike said softly, and Harris seemed to relax a little.  Spike smoked his cigarette down to the filter and squished it out - stretched hard, twisting his neck.   "I'm gonna call the front desk - have 'em get you some decent kit.  We'll have the tailor come up and get your size, yeah?"

"Uh - you mean clothes?  Yeah, okay.  I kinda don't wanna wear these pants on the plane."  Harris licked his lips and leaned forward a little and Spike wondered what sort of revelation would be forthcoming.  "They didn't give me any underwear at the hospital," Harris whispered, and Spike snorted laughter - felt an odd little bubble of lightness tickle its way up through his belly and chest when Harris - Xander - started to laugh, too.

"Don't blame you, mate.  Those get wet - you might as well sell tickets."  Xander laughed harder, and the plastic bag slipped out of his hands and slithered to the floor, and he didn't even notice.

 

 

 

The flight seemed to take forever and Spike was sick of planes by the time they were touching down in Heathrow - stepping outside into more overcast and rain, Xander looking a little more like himself in new, dark jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.   They'd got him a patch for his eye in Hanoi, too, and Spike kept feeling jolted when he looked at it.  He'd liked Xander's face better without that black flag.

"Is it raining everywhere?" Xander asked, looking with disappointment at the lowering sky and mass of hurrying black umbrellas.

"Just everywhere we're going.   Don't worry; there'll be a clear day or two in June."  Spike lifted his arm, signaling a cab, and they both picked their way across puddles to the waiting car.

"Ha ha.  Oh, umm...you're probably serious, aren't you?" 

Spike shoved their bags into the boot - climbed in after Xander and gave the drive the address for the Council headquarters.  "Oh, pretty much."  Spike grinned and Xander grinned weakly back - clutched at the door handle as the cab turned sharply into traffic, accelerating jerkily.

"So, June...what month is it, anyway?"

"It's September 29th, 2005.  When - did you think it was?"

Xander's fingers kneaded at the jeans, digging in a little.  Spike had talked him into packing the plastic bag and Xander had fretted over it and unconsciously reached for it the entire trip.  "I - I didn't really think about it.  I mean - I knew it was 2005.  I don't know why I knew that and not the month."  Xander watched traffic and buildings and people go by out the window for a while and Spike smoked and did the same - found the silence disconcerting and finally stirred himself to break it.

"So - what do you remember?"

"That's the $64,000 question, isn't it?" Xander said, and then laughed.  "I guess I remember lame TV shows.  I remember...umm..."  Xander's fingers rubbed over the bracelet on his wrist, twisting it, and Spike watched him.

"Where'd you get that?  Remember that?"

"Not - really.  It's like - there's little flashes sometimes?  Like a movie.  But - I know when it's real and when it's, you know - Star Wars."

"Should hope so," Spike said.  The cab stopped with a jerk and Spike shoved the last of his cash through the slot - got out and got their bags and led Xander up the stairs and inside.  Nondescript sort of building near Finsbury Circus on the City Road.  Surrounded by museums and libraries - perfect camouflage for the buttoned-down Watchers.  Inside it smelled like books and dust and wet tweed and magic and Spike gave an involuntary shiver as he crossed the wards at the threshold.  They were spelled so he could get in, but they still felt like a two-second dip in burning ice.

"What was that?" Xander asked, standing stock-still in the entry, his bag in his hands and his expression a little wild.

"You felt that?"
"Yeah, it was -"

"Nasty, yeah.  Tell you in a bit.  Mostly it's just - protection."

"Protection from what?" Xander asked and he looked a little - freaked.

"Things that go bump in the night."  Spike headed for the lift, pushing back the scrolled gate and waiting for Xander to step in.  He didn't seem to want to.  "Listen, let's get upstairs and see Rupert - he can tell you what's what, all right?"

"Are there maybe some stairs we could take?" Xander asked, and Spike sighed.

"No.  Just for fires.  C'mon, the lift works great - just had the cables oiled." 

Xander gave Spike a look that was reminiscent of the old Harris - a look of utter incredulity and 'I'll make you sorry if you're lying' kind of look, damp hair sticking up in tufts and glittering with rain drops.  "I don't like - lifts," Xander muttered.  But he got in and watched Spike work the gate and the button and then stood there with one hand locked tight around the rail and the other white-knuckled on the strap of his bag.  Spike felt kind of bad, but not bad enough to take the stairs.  'Sides - he wasn't hyperventilating or anything, so he was okay.  "Is Rupert somebody I know?" Xander asked faintly, eyes on the creeping brass needle that indicated the floors.

"That he is, mate.  Known him longer than you've known me - practically your dad, isn't he?" Spike said.  Sure, laying it on a bit thick but the man needed a little reassurance.

"Why didn't he come to get me, then?  Why'd he send you?"

Spike saw the little flicker of uncertainty in Xander's expression - the hurt - and sighed.  That's what he got for trying to be nice.  "Dunno, really.  Important man an' all, Rupert is.  You'll have to ask him yourself."

"Yeah, okay," Xander said.  He didn't sound happy about the prospect.  Spike didn't blame him. 

*Can't remember his life and then I tell him his father-figure can't be arsed to come collect him out of the damn hospital on the other side of the world.  Fucking hell.*   Spike squashed the guilt handily, though - months and months of practice - and listened to Xander's heart pound.  He let him get out first when the lift stopped smoothly on the 5th floor - led him down the hall at a brisk pace, hoping the adrenalin of the ride were wear off.  "Here we are, then - Rupert's office," Spike said semi-jauntily, pushing the door open and startling Miss Manners or Miss Marple or whatever the hell her name was.  "Get us a couple teas then, ducks, would you?"

"M-mister Giles isn't in," she said, clutching a handful of manila folders to her chest, and Spike - halfway into Giles' office - stopped on one foot and pivoted slowly back around.

"He - what?" 

She blinked and took a step back - firmed her chin and lifted her head.  "He had - there was an emergency.  In Greenwich.  At the - the Millennium Dome."

"How in bloody hell could there be an emergency at that bloody useless pile of rubbish?  It'd be a mercy if the sodding thing slid into the Thames!"

"Hey, Spike - it's - it's okay, I mean -"

Xander was looking a little upset and Miss Moneypenny was looking near tears and Spike just wanted to kick something.  "It's not all right, actually," he snapped and then clamped his jaw shut as Xander flinched and the girl abruptly sat down, straightening her folders with shaking hands.

"He had to - to stop a clan of Grav-somethings from opening a portal.  There was a - a scroll."

"Oh, bloody fucking Christ," Spike snarled, but Xander was looking a little more than upset now and the wards kept prickling, prickling, prickling the back of Spike's neck.  Reacting to his temper and driving him up the wall.  "There's always a sodding scroll.  Did he leave a - message or some such?"

"He called.  He said - he was stuck on Tower Bridge behind a - a lorry.  It overturned and there are - squid everywhere."  Xander let out a startled snort of laughter and Spike rolled his eyes.  "He said - go over to - to the flat on Elsberry Street and get settled and he'll - call you tomorrow."

"Elsberry?"  Wordlessly the girl held up a key and a bright blue Post-it and Spike snatched them and strode out of the office, Xander trailing along behind.  Elsberry was where Xander's Watchers Council flat was.  *What, you think he'll suddenly remember when he's surrounded by his bits and bobs?  Damnit, Rupert - you should have been here!*    Spike mentally shook himself.  Giles wasn't here, he was, and they'd have to make the best of it.  "That's that, then.  We'll just go on over to this flat and - get a shower and some sleep.  Get some Indian take-away, yeah?  Get you a vindaloo to die for."

"Are we going to your house?  A scroll of what?  What are Grav-somethings?"  Xander hurried after him, his bag banging into his knee.  This time, Spike took the stairs.

 

 

 

Xander's flat was on the first floor, overlooking an overgrown bit of garden.  He had a view of St. James Park out the kitchen window and Charing Cross Station was only ten minutes away.  A nice flat - in a building gifted to the Council by some long-dead Watcher or other - but one that Xander didn't spend a lot of time in.  It was obvious Giles had had someone in to dust and turn the boiler on and there was a carton of milk, soda, some butter, cheese and eggs in the little 'fridge - tomatoes and bread and crackers on the counter.  Xander stood in the middle of it all - kitchen, sitting room and bedroom, with a modern bath and toilet in the back - and looked...let down.  There was a shelf over the TV with framed pictures of Buffy and Dawn, Anya, Willow and Tara and Willow and Kennedy - a group shot of all of them, Xander in the middle and grinning like a loon.  Pre-patch days, probably right before everything and everyone went to Hell in a hand-basket.   Spike didn't remember the picture - hadn't been around for it, he was sure. 

Xander looked at the pictures and looked away and fiddled with the zipper on his bag and Spike put the take away on the counter with a frustrated little noise.  *Bloody Watcher, ducking out on this!*   Spike shrugged out of his coat and draped it over one of the two kitchen chairs.  They were both hand-made - both completely different.  Xander had turned and carved them while recuperating from the broken leg that had ended his Slayer-hunting days.  Spike had only heard about them through Andrew - one of his interminable rambles while he told Spike about his next job.  They were nice chairs.  Spike wondered if Xander would remember how to do that.

"Well, come on; let's have some of this, yeah?  Best in the city."  Spike peeled the foil back from various dishes, sniffing appreciatively at the fragrant steam of lamb and pork and spices.  He dug out forks and searched for beer.   There wasn't any.  *Bastards.*

"Do I like this?" Xander asked, sitting down and running his fingers over the deep, carved relief of the chair's arm. 

"Dunno.  Guess we'll find out," Spike said, and dug in. 

"Yeah, guess so," Xander said.  He poked at this and that - finally took a mouthful and chewed contemplatively for a moment before his eye went wide.  "Ow!  Damn! Hot - hothot!"

"Yeah, it warms you up," Spike said, tearing off a chunk of naan bread and handing it over.  "This'll help."

"Water!" Xander groaned, and bolted for the sink. 

"Not a good idea," Spike chuckled.

Xander turned on the tap and stuck his mouth into the stream of water, gulping.  After a minute he coughed and turned it back off, looking desperate.  "Jesus!  That made it hotter!  Help!"  Xander stood panting, his eye tearing and his face flushed, water running down his chin.  His lips even looked a little swollen.

"Not that bad.  Well - Percy swore by milk - you've got some in the 'fridge, there.  But the bread'll help too."  Xander dove for the 'fridge - opened the carton and drank straight from it.  He groped his way back to the table, still drinking, and felt for the bread.  Spike pushed it into his hand, watching with amusement as Xander carefully sat.  Gasping, he finally put the carton down and took a huge bite of bread.   "So?  What d'ya think?"

"I think -"   Xander chewed - swallowed - eyed the food for a moment and then grinned.  "I think it's really good."

"Bloody right!"  Spike forked up another mouthful, chewing happily, and Xander followed suit, one hand on the milk carton.  

They ate most of the vindaloo and Spike finally broke down and opened one of the sodas in the 'fridge, drinking and making a face at the sweetness.   The food had been great but he was hungry still and needed to go out.  The rain had slacked off and it was dark outside - sometime after eight, Spike was sure.  Prime hunting time.  He had a few places he went - rounds to make, as it were.    A little compromise he'd made with his soul ages ago, and it worked quite well.

Xander was sitting back in his chair, his eye heavy - lid half shut.  Looking rumpled and exhausted and - lost.  When Spike stood up and pulled on his coat, he stood up, too.  "Where are we going?"

"Nowhere, mate.  I've gotta step out, is all - be back in half a tick."

"Uh - why don't I come with you?  I need to walk off some of that dinner."  Xander dug into his bag, pulling out stiff new jeans and shirts, looking for the leather jacket he'd picked out.  The one Spike had said looked good.

"Look, Xander, it's really not a good idea that you -"

"Spike."  Xander snapped upright, dragging the coat with him and spilling out pairs of socks and the plastic bag.  "I really - I don't -   Look, I'm not gonna stay here!"

His heart was pounding and under the grim look of determination was fear.  Fear in the white-knuckled grip he had on his coat - fear in the sharp, panting breaths he was taking.   He didn't want to be left alone in this strange flat - this strange city.  Spike got that.  But fuck - taking him along was going to be...  "Bloody difficult, you are.  You were always a pain in my arse, Harris."

"Was I?  Guess that's why we're friends then, huh," Xander said.  Grinned, and pulled on his jacket - ran his hand back through his hair and all but bounced in place.

"Yeah, that must be it, mate."  Spike couldn't stop the answering grin that stretched his own mouth and he shoved the flat's key into his pocket and opened the door with a flourish.   "C'mon, then.  Got some things to talk about while we walk."

 

 

 

"So I know the Slayer?  Or - one of them?" 

"Yeah - know several of 'em, actually."  Spike paused to listen down an alley - sniff the air that was thick with wet and rot.  Dockside, hunting - stalking through a creeping mist that was making Xander shiver.  It was oddly like old times.  Old old times.  "You know Buffy, and then there was some foreign Slayer and Faith - and then all those bloody Potentials."  Something scurried underfoot and Spike kicked it - sent the rat flying.  Xander shoved his hands a little deeper into his pockets, hunching into the jacket.   Spike needed to find something soon - Xander was getting cold.

"You're taking this awfully well," Spike said.  "Kind of thought you'd be calling for the men in white coats by now."

"No, it's...  I know you're not crazy."  Xander stopped when Spike did - watched him suss out a dark, derelict looking building.  "I do actually remember - one thing."

"You do?"  Spike turned, eyebrow going up in expectation.  There was something going on inside this warehouse.  Something nasty.  He could hear muffled groans of pain - harsh, panting breath.  "You remember something?"

"Yeah.  I never - forgot it, I guess.  I woke up knowing it."  Xander shivered, looking around them - looked at Spike and his eye was wide and scared - dark in the uncertain light.  "Demons are real.  That's the one thing I remember.  They're...real."

*Fuck.  That doesn’t sound good.  Maybe we should just -*  There was a sudden explosion of noise just behind them - a crash of something going over, shouts - and then the unmistakable shriek of someone in mortal pain.  Xander flinched, visibly cringing and Spike cursed.  "Stay here, right?  I'll be right back."  Spike darted into the building through a smashed door - took in a sharp breath.  Searching.  There.  Stink of burning and sex, filth and rotting food and alcohol.  There were two men - one was on the floor, screaming. His dirty fingers were clutched tight across his belly but his intestines were spilling out anyway; grey loops of flesh that glimmered wetly in the flickering light of a fire burning in a dented drum.  The man's clothing was torn - pulled half off him and his pale flanks were mottled with dirt and bruises.  Crouching over him - scarlet-bladed knife in one hand - was another man.  He was rifling the first man's pockets, scattering the meager possessions and pocketing a foil-wrapped square of some drug.

"Shut it, you!" the second man snarled - lifted the knife high, ready to make the final cut.  But Spike's hand was there, crushing his wrist - twisting it and sending the knife skittering over the floor.  The man on the ground was whimpering now - twitching.  Dying, his heart laboring to pump blood that wasn't there.  Spike didn't waste time talking.  He yanked the second man upright - wrenched his head over and bit.  The man yelped - jerked once - and then hung limply in Spike's grip as Spike rapidly drained him.   The blood was slick and hot in his mouth - down his throat - and Spike closed his eyes in pleasure.  There was a soft noise - a harsh, choking intake of breath and Spike spun around, feeling - almost dizzy.  Not wanting to see what he knew he would.

Which was Xander, not three feet away - staring in open-mouthed horror at the corpse in Spike's hands - at the near-corpse on the floor, gasping out a last, liquid breath.  Xander looking as if he was going to throw up and Spike dropped the man he'd drained - took one step forward.  "Told you to fucking wait -" Spike snapped, and only then realized he hadn't changed.  That his demon was snarling at Xander and Xander - was running. 

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"  Spike spun - kicked over the drum and watched for long seconds as the fire scattered - caught in the rubbish and rags strewn on the floor and leaped up, crackling and bright.  Then he ran, too.

 

 

 

He caught up to Xander about five blocks away.  Five blocks the wrong way and Spike leaped over a crumbling half-wall and scaled the rickety shed beyond - swung around a corner and caught Xander to his chest, wrapping his arms around him and spinning half around before he could slow their momentum - stop Xander's headlong flight.   Xander fought him, of course.  Fought hard, and Spike felt a cold skitter of unease down his spine as he realized Xander wasn't making a sound past his harsh, rapid panting.

"Xander - fuck's sake!  It's me!  Stop it - stop it!"

"You - you're - one of them, one of th-them, you're - d-demon -"

 Spike finally slammed him into a wall, fists bunched in Xander's new coat, pressing his shoulders into brick hard enough to hurt.   "Yeah, I'm one of them but I'm not - fucking hell, let me tell you -!"   Xander twisted, kicking, and Spike got one thigh between Xander's legs and got his knee up, pressing hard.  Xander gave a thin wheeze of pain and froze.  Somewhere along the way - during the fight, maybe - the patch had slipped off and he'd acquired a graze along his chin that bled sluggishly. 

Xander's hands were clutching Spike's wrists, nails digging in, palms hot and sweat-slick.   "N-nothing to tell, you're - demon, you -"

"Shut up!"  Xander and Spike both blinked at Spike's shout and Spike shoved Xander back again, making his breath huff out as his back connected with the wall.   Waft of vindaloo and sweat and Xander's chest heaving under Spike's hands.  "Listen, just - listen."  Xander was shaking his head wildly and Spike wanted to slap him - wanted to find Giles and gut him because bloody hell - this was the worst possible way of letting Xander know - anything.  If he'd just followed orders -

"You never bloody change, do you?  I told you to stay where you were but no, you had to come panting into that warehouse, following me like a fucking pup!"

"F-fuck you!"  Xander's hands squeezed, hard, and Spike snarled silently at the sting of the man's nails cutting into his skin.  "I heard - there was somebody being - hurt, I thought it was -   Let me go!"

"Stop it!"  Spike shook Xander again, but not very hard.  "Bloody hell, you need a manicure.  Listen - listen!"  Xander finally stopped struggling as Spike pushed with his knee again, making Xander stand up on his toes.  Spike bowed his head for a moment, trying to gather his wits.  *Thought it was me being hurt.  Came running in to help me.  Must be in his bloody genes.*   "All right.  Yes.  I'm a - a demon.  A vampire, all right?"  He looked up at Xander's shuddery gasp.  "But I'm not - I don't kill -"

"Yes you do -"

"Yeah, all right, I do.  But not - just anybody."  Xander's look of disbelief made Spike want to shake him again, but he refrained, just barely.  "The bloke I drained - he'd just killed that other one.  Raped him - took what bloody little he had and gutted the poor bastard.  Wasn't anything I could do, Xander."  Spike felt Xander's death-grip ease just a little and he backed off himself, forcing his hands to unknot from their grip on Xander's lapels - moving back just a little so his knee wasn't pressing up so hard.  "He was already dead - bled out before I got in there and that other one - he'd have done it again.  Done it lots, you know?"  Xander had slumped a little and now his hands slipped limply off Spike's wrists to hang by his sides.  His heart was slowing toward normal and he coughed once, turning his head and muffling it into his shoulder.  The mist had collected on his hair and eyelashes and he looked pale and cold - shivering in the dull, silvery light of a street lamp.

"I - saw him.  That - hurt guy.  His stomach -"

"Yeah.  Nothing to be done for him, Xander, swear on - on whatever the fuck you want me to swear on.  That knife was crawling - the whole place was.  He was dead no matter what."

"Yeah..."  Xander let his head fall back against the wall with a soft thump, eye closed and Spike finally let go of him completely - smoothed the crumpled leather of Xander's coat and took a couple steps back.  He felt in his pockets for his smokes and lit one, sucking in a huge lungful of smoke and holding it for a long moment.  Trying to calm down - trying to figure out what to do next. 

*I'll gut that bloody Watcher.*   "Sorry you saw that," Spike said finally, and Xander opened his eye - lifted his head and looked at Spike, his mouth a thin, grim line.

"Sorry I saw that guy with his guts on the floor, or sorry I saw you - s-sucking some guys blood?"

"Fuck you," Spike snarled and stalked a few feet away, smoking hard.  Wishing he could just send the man home and go get a drink.  Several drinks.   Several bottles.

Xander was silent for a moment and then he sighed and Spike heard his sneakers grit over the cracked pavement as Xander stepped up beside him.  "Okay, low blow.  I just -   I guess you're okay 'cause - you're that guy that came for me.  You got me - home.  I mean - they trust you, right?"

"Yeah, sure," Spike muttered, and plumed smoke into what was rapidly becoming a drizzle.  "Yeah, they trust me and I bloody well blew it, but - now you know."

"Now I n-know," Xander said, and Spike looked over at him - saw that he was shivering, his teeth almost chattering and his breathing - definitely wheezy.

"Sodding hell.  If you get pneumonia and die on me, mate, I'm gonna kick your arse from here to hell and back.  Let's get home and get you warmed up, yeah?"

"Yeah, s-sounds good to me."  Spike flicked the butt away and reached out - fumbled for a moment and then closed the zip on Xander's jacket, pulling it up snugly under his chin.

"You're too damn brave for your own good, Harris - you always were," he said. 

Xander managed a shaky grin.  "Yeah?  So I'm like, a h-hero or something?"

"Yeah, you're a hero," Spike said, and turned them in the direction of home.

 

 

 

Spike turned on the TV and watched footie and World Cup Snowboarding and some weird quiz show and what seemed to be an algebra tutorial - Xander apparently relied on the cabinets full of DVDs for entertainment.  Eventually he found himself dozing on the pull-out couch, body-clock still a little scrambled from international travel.    So he hit the 'off' button on the remote and settled to sleep, lulled by the rhythmless tink of rain against glass and the hissing drone of car tyres rushing over wet tarmac.

Something woke him - it felt like an hour or so later.  Something, and Spike lay there staring at the ceiling, hands tense on the loosely woven blanket he'd wrapped himself in.  Dawn was close - minutes instead of hours, now - and the windows were faintly grey.  Rain was still falling but the neighborhood was silent, suspended in that strange dead time just before the hustle of the day started all over again.  Spike listened and then he was moving when he finally figured it out.  It was silence, and the far-too-rapid pound of Xander's heart.

There was a lamp lit in the bedroom, dull amber light that showed an empty bed - sheets and blanket dragged halfway to the floor, pillow on the floor, squished between the bed and the night table.  And Xander's heartbeat, thundering in Spike's ears.  There was also the slightly wheezing, too-shallow gasps for breaths - the sound of someone trying not to breathe.  Or not to breathe too loudly.

"Xander?"  The breathing stopped with a tiny click and the shuffle of cloth on carpet - startled movement hastily frozen.  Spike walked slowly to the bed - pulled the covers up and piled them on the mattress.  Then he got down, first to his knees and then flat out on the floor, hands braced under his shoulders and his face turned toward the dark space between the box spring and the floor.  "Xander?"

Under the bed - pressed back against the wall - his fists curled up by his mouth.  Sweat-soaked hair sticking up in matted tufts and his eye wide and terrified.

"Hey, you okay?" Spike said, and then bit his lip, because - Jesus!  But what the fuck else was he going to say? 

Xander blinked.  "S-spike..."

"Yeah, it's me.  Spike."

"You need to get under here."  Xander's voice was thin with tension - breathless and rasping.  "You need to get under here right now."

"I do?"  Spike contemplated the narrow space - sighed heavily.  "Bloody hell, Harris -"

"Spike!  It's in here!"   A raw shout choked down to a whisper - wild look out into the empty bedroom beyond and Spike sighed - squirmed sideways until he was under the bed too, the slats pressing uncomfortably against his jean-clad arse and bare back.  He lay down, his cheek pillowed on his wrist.  Watching Xander shiver all over, convulsive twitches from nerves and chill.  His t-shirt was sticking to him with sweat and there was a draft somewhere.

"Happy now?" Spike grumbled, and Xander hissed at him.

"Shhhh!  Gotta be quiet, gotta - stay still.  Stay still, don't move, don't - make a sound, don't...shhh, shhh..."  Xander's gaze was glassy - distant - and Spike knew he wasn't seeing the room or the carpet or the vampire who was getting a cramp in his neck.

"Xander -"

"No, don't do that - don't do that!  Don't - fuck - gotta stop - stop it -"   Xander lashed out, kicking and hitting and clawing, eye screwed shut and his mouth open in horror and Spike scrabbled away - grabbed an ankle and hauled while Xander rolled and clawed the carpet, trying to get free - rapping his knuckles and his head on the wooden slats as Spike got him out from under the bed.  Gone silent again, gasping for breath - stinking of fear and misery and blood.

"Come on, Harris, wake up!  Wake up, Xander, you're dreaming - Xander -"  Spike ducked a flailing hand - caught a foot in the thigh and then a rake of Xander's nails across his cheek and he growled, vamping - pounced on Xander and crushed him to the carpet, arms around Xander's biceps and their legs tangling - hands locked across Xander's chest.  Squeezing until Xander went limp in his arms.  Spike eased up slowly, listening to the staccato beat of Xander's heart and the creak and rush of his lungs.  Xander's hands stopped clawing at Spike's wrists and he went limp - jerked hard, suddenly, and his head came up, nearly cracking into Spike's nose.

"What the - fuck - Spike?"

"Yeah?  I mean - yeah, Spike."

"Why are you - can you get off me?"

"Are you gonna go all - barmy on me again?"

Xander craned his head around, trying to see, and Spike twisted the opposite way so they could be sort of face to face.  The scrape on Xander's chin was bleeding again, just a little.  Xander looked - bewildered.  "Barmy?  What the hell is that?  Spike - my hand's bleeding."
"So's my face," Spike muttered, but he slowly let go and sat up - steadied Xander as he struggled upright and then slumped a bit.  "So's your face.  Again."

Xander examined his hand, wincing.  He'd skinned his knuckles under the bed somehow - on a slat, Spike was sure - and they were bleeding a little, looking bruised and sore.  "Damn."  He blotted at his chin with the sleeve of his tee and made a little hissing noise.  "Oo-kay."  Xander pushed his uninjured hand back through his hair - pulled his soaked shirt off his chest with a frown.  He looked up at Spike and his eye went wide and Spike almost ducked away from the hand that came up fast, to touch his chin and turn his face a little toward the light.  "Spike, Jesus!  Did - what happened to your face?"

"You happened to my face," Spike said, pulling away from Xander's cool fingertips - from the scent of his blood and chamomile soap.

"What?"  Xander seemed truly confused, his expression bewildered but...there was fear there, too.   Spike shook his head.

"Fuck.  Look, why don't you go get cleaned up, yeah?  Take a shower and wrap up your hand and -"

"And then you'll tell me why I attacked you?" Xander mumbled.  He was hunching over his hand a little, looking defeated.  "They - they tied me down, at that - hospital.  Tied me to that - cot.  I hurt Ngoc Minh one time, one of the nurses?  And Dr. Nguyen.  I didn't mean to!  Ngoc Minh gave me - gave me that Mickey Mouse pen.  So I could write stuff to re-member.  Thought it'd...stop when I was...h-ome..."   Xander's voice had gotten smaller and smaller as he talked and now it tailed off altogether and they sat there for a moment, Xander with his eye shut and his hands curled tightly into the hem of his shirt, and Spike...

Spike wanted to get up and kick the bed to fragments - wanted to call the Watcher right now and tell him get his arse out of bed and on this because -   Because it was all too fucking much like his own days of confusion and loss - sleepwalking through the streets and waking up with blood on his teeth and dirt under his nails and Xander...  Shouldn't have to go through anything like that.  Nobody should.

"You didn't attack me, Xander - just a dream, is all," Spike said finally, ignoring the sting of the cuts.  "You said - something was in here and I had to come under the bed with you -"

"Under the bed?"  Xander looked up then - looked at the bed and made a little face, like 'under the bed' meant 'under a slimy rock' or something.  "Why the fuck would I go under the bed?  I hate going under beds."

"Dunno.  You were -"   *Bloody crazy.  Scared to death and out of your head.*   "You were a bit confused -   told me something was in here and you started yellin' at it -"

"And then I hurt you -"
"I grabbed you!  Look - it doesn't bloody matter!"  Spike unfolded himself, standing up and raking his hand back through his hair, hoping there were no dust bunnies.  "Just a bad dream and we'll go see the Watcher tomorrow - well, today, and we'll get you sorted, right?"

Xander stared up at him - pushed himself to his feet and looked like he wanted to argue but then he just shook his head.  "This is really fucked up," he said.  He opened a couple of drawers and pulled out a fresh t-shirt and a pair of flannel pants - marched out the door and down the hall.  After a moment Spike heard the shower start up and he cursed softly.

"Yeah, fucked up is right, mate.  Fucked all to bloody hell."  Thank Christ they'd stopped on the way home and got a bottle.  Spike headed for the kitchen.

Three shots down, Xander came into the kitchen in his fresh clothes, his hair toweled to a hedgehog-y mess and a length of gauze fluttering untidily from his hand.  "I can't get this right," Xander said, sitting down and putting his hand on the table between them.

"Hands are hard to do by yourself."  Spike took Xander's wrist and pulled him a little closer - unwound the gauze and redid it, wrapping it neatly and then tying a small knot - tucking the ends under.  "There now, all better, yeah?"

"Sure.  It's weird.  When I was looking for a First Aid kit or something it was like - like I was snooping in somebody else's house."  Xander touched the white gauze with his fingertips and then looked up at Spike, his expression hopeful and a little wary.  "Spike?  Will you...would you do me a - a favor?"

"Sure," Spike said, pouring and drinking his fourth shot - taking a long breath as the burn became mellow heat.

"Would you - tell me...  Tell me about myself?  Tell me - how we met and - why I know Slayers and..."  Xander paused, looking down and away and taking a hard breath.  "Tell me what h-happened to my eye?  Tell me - everything."

"Don't really know - everything," Spike hedged, resisting for a moment.  Thinking it might be a bad idea, but thinking too, that at least he wouldn't make up lies or leave out the hard parts.

"Tell me what you know, okay?"

Spike studied the tired, earnest face across from his - poured his fifth and last shot and drank it down - put the glass carefully upside down on the table.  Then he leaned back in his chair, getting comfortable.  "All right, then.  Want me to start if off proper?"  Xander nodded.  "Right.  Once upon a time, there was a town called Sunnydale, and in that town was a boy called Xander Harris..."

 

 

 

"Really, Spike," Giles hissed, agitated half-whisper and much, much too close.  "Do you think that was wise?  I mean - you might have actually done him harm -"   Giles was looking harried, phone tucked under his chin and a half-dozen folders open on his desk - piles of papers and books and a faint whiff of spoilt shrimp from his shoes.   

Spike leaned away and put his cigarette between them as a shield.  Giles coughed.  "Do you think it was wise to not bloody be here when he got in?"  Spike didn't bother to 'modulate his tone' - took a hard puff off his smoke and ground it out in the congealed mess that was an early-morning bit of eggs and toast.

"There were Gravlocks, Spike, and they were attempting a Calling and I had to -"

"You had to do bollocks!  Andrew could have dealt with the bloody Gravlocks and you know it -"   Spike cut himself off in irritation as Giles held up a hand, his attention sharpening on the phone he was holding.

"Yes, I'm still here.  Yes of course.  A fax?  I don't believe I've received a fax, let me just -"   Giles strode out into the reception area, calling for his assistant and Spike kicked the wall, leaving a satisfying and dirty dent.

"Uh, everything okay?"  Xander was half in, half out of the room, looking as if he were interrupting the Pope or something and Spike kicked the wall again.

"Just Rupert being a sodding pain in my arse," Spike muttered.

"Weren't we...  I mean, didn't he expect us?" Xander asked, and there was that look again - that hurt, let-down look and Spike growled.  Xander just stared at him, wide-eyed.

"Yeah, he knew we'd be here. Oi, Watcher!!"

"I'm right here, for Heaven's sake, Spike."  Giles walked back into his office - stared pointedly at the damaged wall and then sat down, hanging up the phone.  "Now, Xander, if you'll take a seat.  I am - Rupert Giles, a Watcher -"

"Told him that already," Spike muttered.   Xander sat and Spike pulled out a cigarette and Giles leaned forward in his chair, looking very serious. 

"Perhaps you could tell me what you, uh, remember about your time in Vietnam?"

Xander blinked - looked over at Spike, who rolled his eyes.  "Well, uh...it was really hot and...I spent a lot of time watching it...rain?"

"Rupert.  He doesn't remember.  Did you not get the memo?  What he did for six bloody weeks in that bloody hospital has fuck-all to do with what happened to him!  What we need is a spell or something to fix it!"

Giles glared at Spike and Spike glared back and Xander sank down into his chair a little, looking less than pleased.   "We've set up an appointment with the coven.  They'll be coming here in a few days to see what, exactly, the nature of this - amnesia is."

"The nature of it?  It's a spell -"

"You don't know that, Spike!  He did sustain a severe blow to the head -"

"He can feel the wards!"

Giles opened his mouth and then shut it - looked over at Xander who smiled faintly.  "You can?"

"Yeah.  It was like...hot and cold and...furry.  But not nice-furry, it was more....bad-furry."

"How can there be a bad furry?"

"For fuck's sake, Rupert -"

"Mr. Giles, your three o'clock is here."

"Ah, yes, thank you, Miss Merchant."  Giles stood up - looked over his desk and removed the egg-toast-and-cigarette plate from the surface, shoving it into the rubbish bin.  "Really, Xander, I'm sorry, but until we can know the exact nature of your, um, problem, there's not much we can do.  We can't risk botching things and maybe wiping out your memories forever.  The coven representatives will be here on Thursday -"

"Thursday?" Spike barked, and Xander echoed him a little softer, looking dismayed.  "It's fucking Monday!"

"It was the soonest we could arrange for them to arrive.  Now look -"   Giles leaned on his desk - took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, a tired gesture that Spike supposed might wring sympathy from some.  But not from him.  "I realize, Xander, that this is a - a frightening situation to be in but believe me, we're doing our best."  Giles put his glasses back on - straightened up and brushed down the front of his suit-jacket.  "You're in your own flat, with your own things. I suggest you spend some time...familiarizing yourself with the things there and - and just relaxing.  Recuperating, as it were." Giles moved out from behind his desk and Xander stood up, looking like he wanted to say something.  Giles patted his shoulder.

Spike tossed his second cigarette after the first one and pushed between the two of them.  "Yeah, fine, we've got it, mate.  We'll push off now.  C'mon, Harris - things to do."  Xander gave Giles one last look, all sad brown eye and down-turned mouth like a poster for Oxfam.  Then he turned and followed Spike out of the office - past Miss Minchin and some suited, bespectacled Watcher-clone - and out into the hall.

"Guess that was kind of a bust, huh?" Xander said as they went down the stairs.  His voice was too low and too flat for Spike's liking and Spike stopped to light a cigarette - squinted at Xander through the smoke as he plodded down the stairs.

"Well, at least the witches're coming, that's something.  And - it's not so bad at the flat, is it?  Got lots of movies and things to watch.  Here, let's pick up the pace a bit, shall we?"  Spike grabbed his arm and hustled Xander down two more flights of stairs.

"Yeah, I guess it's okay.  I don't have it decorated or anything really, do I?  Don't I stay there much?"

"Guess not.  Out working like me, I expect."

Xander twitched in Spike's grip.  "Like you?  You said you killed things!"

"Oh, well -"   Spike was saved from explaining by the fire alarm going off and they sprinted the last flight - stood for a moment in the doorway, looking out into the dull-silver veil of rain.  "Got your brolly?  C'mon, then - gonna get a bit exciting around here, wouldn't want to get in the way."

"I guess not."  Xander opened his umbrella and they stepped out, walking briskly toward the tube station.  "Spike?  They're - I mean, the witches, they'll really help, won't they?  I mean -"

Spike sighed and stopped, turning to face Xander and hating the defeated look on his face.  "I promise you, mate, they will.  They'll do whatever they can.  Giles is being an ass but - you're a hero, right?  Saved the world a time or two, just like me.  They'll do whatever it takes, Xander."

Xander fidgeted with the handle of the umbrella, frowning.  "It's just that...he doesn't - Mr. Giles, I mean, he - does he like me?"

*Oh, fuck.  Fuck and damn.*   Spike had no idea why Xander's hesitant question was making his blood boil - was making him want to do a little damage to...certain people.  He just wanted to.  Wanted to get that scared, beaten-down look off Xander's face.  "Course he does!  He's just - he runs the whole Council, you know?  Very high-up muckity-muck with all the phone calls and - and random demons.  He's...always like that," Spike finished, thinking back, and yeah, Giles kind of was, anymore.  Falling further and further into the routines and the roles he'd grown up around - been a part of for so many years.  "Don't let it get to you, mate.  He's a right old bastard sometimes but if anybody has the answer, it's Giles."

Xander met Spike's gaze, holding them in stillness and silence for a long, long moment, the rain pattering on the nylon umbrella and the puddled concrete - gurgling in gutters and sluicing noisily down and down into the sewers.  It was a lot like Vietnam, really, except Xander was huddled into his new jacket and his breath smoked a little when he finally broke the silence.

"Yeah, okay.  I'm just - not gonna worry about it."

"Good on you, mate!  Now - got the whole afternoon to kill."   Spike took a last drag and flicked the butt away.   "What'll it be?"

Xander looked up, peering around the edge of the umbrella and getting rain in his eye.  "Well, no walks through the park.  Actually, I'm starving.  I didn't eat much breakfast so - could we get steak? And," Xander bounced just a little.  "There is no good food at my place, can we go shopping?"

"Bloody hell.  You're just like the girls.  Shopping," Spike sniffed, but he was grinning and Xander poked him with an elbow, grinning back - dodged a fat man in a flapping Macintosh and nearly jabbed Spike in the eye with the umbrella.

"Watch it, Harris!   Crossing here - mind the bloody taxis, they live to mow down pedestrians."   They dashed across the street and headed down the tube stairs, Xander folding the umbrella up and giving it a shake all over Spike, who growled softly.  The station platform was crowded and they fought their way toward the edge, Spike elbowing and stomping on toes without mercy, Xander apologizing every third step.

"Hey, Spike, why do you eat food?  I mean -"   He glanced around and leaned in a little closer, bringing his voice down to a whisper.  "Vampire!  I thought it was all about blood and real food would make you sick or something." 

"I like food, I'm gonna eat it.  Bugger the rules.  Do what I want, when I want, don't I?  Always have."

"So why do you work for the Council?"

"Some days I have not one sodding clue.  Here's our ride, step sharp."  They pushed onto the car and found a place to stand and Xander looked - happy.  Spike squashed the little voice inside that was happy for him and vowed to stop acting like a big girl's blouse.  The little inner voice jeered, and Spike did his best to ignore it.  *Never can get a break, me.* 

 

 

 

An hour and a half later Spike felt pretty sure he'd never want to see the inside of a Tesco's again.  Who knew picking out crisps could become a debate as serious as any Parliament session over euthanasia?  It went without saying Spike was for euthanasia.  And also for Prawn Cocktail crisps, which took a lot of maneuvering to get Xander to put them in the trolley.   

But now they were stocked: crisps, dip, cakes and biscuits.   Even some complicated bakery cakes to offset the preserved horror that were strawberry Swiss Rolls.  They had beer and soda, two whole roast chickens, a boxful of frozen mini-pizzas and, oddly, a bag of prepared salad that Xander had snuck in somehow.  Spike blamed the amnesia.

They were set, though, for some hard-core DVD watching and major couch-holding-down and it was the best way Spike could think of to keep Xander distracted until their appointment with the witches.

"Man, I'm like - a complete geek.  I've got all of Babylon Five!  And Star Trek, Star Wars, fuck - anything with 'star' in the title."  Xander gestured helplessly at the piles of DVD's around him, looking up at Spike with an expression of amused horror.  "Do I speak Klingon?  Or say 'May the force be with you'?"

"Not so I've noticed," Spike said, lighting up and ignoring the little sigh from Xander.  "There's good stuff too, though - Platoon and the Alien movies and -"

"Yellow Submarine.  Jesus.  How'd you stand to be around me?"  Xander selected something and slotted it into the player - climbed to his feet and came to sprawl down beside Spike, cradling a bowl of salt and vinegar crisps and some sort of dip.  An unholy combination in Spike's book, but then, Xander hadn't ever been subject to Clem's taste test parties.

"Oh, you had your good points.  Throwin' yourself into the middle of a good fight and distracting the enemy, that was always good.  And you always had good cereal on hand.  That chocolate vampire stuff," Spike said, making a vague gesture to represent the snaffling and violating of someone else's breakfast comestible.

"Wait, don't tell me."  Xander paused with the DVD remote pointing at the player.  "It went well in your blood?"

"As a matter of fact -"

"Jesus, don't go there!  Blood and Count Chocula, that's...that's..."
"Sacrilegious, you used to say."

"And I was right."  Xander hit play and settled back, munching contentedly.  Spike snagged a beer off the end table and opened it, getting comfy himself as the familiar, opening banter of Reservoir Dogs started to play.

 

Six hours and an unmentionable amount of snack food later and Xander was half-asleep, curled into the heaps of squashy cushions that he'd had the sense to cover his couch with.  Spike was dozing himself, blinking sleepily at the final scenes of Amazon Women on the Moon.  Xander had laughed himself nearly sick over the silly thing but now all he could produce was a sort of wheeze.

"Gonna live, then?" Spike asked and Xander stirred and pushed himself upright, his hair mashed against his skull and cheese dust along his lip.

"God.  I dunno.  Too...much...grease.  I need an apple or something."

"Bite your tongue!"

"Or you'll do it for me?"  Xander said, shooting Spike an arch look.  A clearly flirtatious look.   Then he noticed the raised eyebrow and, Spike was sure, confused gape and his expression went a little blank.  Spike snapped his teeth shut and groped for a cigarette.  "Uh - you did know I'm gay, right?"

"Well - uh - not as such -   Bugger!"   Out of smokes.

"Oh god!"  Xander flopped back into the cushions, disappearing from view.  "I can't believe I just outed myself.  I can't believe you didn't know!"

"Oi!  How in hell was I supposed to know!  Not like we ever had a quick round of 'hide the sausage', did we?"

"Did we?  I don't remember!  Maybe I'm so horrible in bed you're not telling me to save my feelings!  I mean -"

"Xander."  Spike pawed at the cushions in a growing panic, sending several to the floor until he found Xander's head buried in a bright orange one.   "I would never not tell you to save your feelings.   'Sides, you're probably right brilliant in bed.   Your bird Anya, she told me you were a Viking in the sack!"

Xander's head popped up, tousled and flushed and the little bastard was grinning.  "Oh, man, your face!"

"You tit."

"What the hell does that mean?  And I can't even begin to imagine a conversation where my - uh - girlfriend would tell you I'm a 'Viking in the sack'.  I mean - private, much?"  Xander sat up and rubbed his eye - stretched hard.  "I feel greasy.  I'm gonna call a hiatus to the moviethon and take a shower."

"Right.  Out of smokes, me, so I'll just step out to the shop 'round the corner."  Spike stood up and started looking for his boots - glanced back at Xander who was watching him with a closed sort of expression on his face.

"You really need cigarettes or are you going to...  I mean, it's been a while since you -"   Xander made a sort of grrr face, fingers hooked into fangs and Spike rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, I really need more fags.   I'll just - slip out tomorrow and -"

"No, uh, you know what?   It's - it's okay.  I mean, the Council knows about you and...everything so it must be okay, right?  So - I mean, I don't want you to go hungry just 'cause I'm...uh -"

"Squeamish?"

"Freaked out.  But yeah.   Just - do what you gotta do."  Spike found his boots and pushed his feet into them - knelt to do up the buckles, watching Xander the whole time.  Xander stared back, absently rubbing his fingers together in a strange sort of washing motion. 

*And what's that about, I wonder?  Didn't do anything like that before - mostly just shoved his hands in his pockets and stood there...*  A half-dozen mental images of Xander Harris standing with his shoulders a little hunched, fists pushed deep into his pockets flashed in Spike's mind.  Mute and stubborn and immovable.  This Xander was just - more open.  *Same person, isn't he?  Same person only without all the...filters.  Years of filters.  And what the Council knows and doesn’t know is not going to be discussed.  I'll just let that one slide.*

"Right, then.    Won't take long - back in an hour, I'd say.  You'll - be all right?"

"Man, I just outed myself.  Nothing can faze me now."  Xander waved one cheesy hand nonchalantly but Spike could hear the tiny quaver in his voice.

"Promise I won't be gone long.  You just bolt the door after me and I'll - I'll be back before you even know it, right?"

"Yeah, okay."  Xander took a deep breath - looked around himself at the litter of cellophane bags and smeared plates and empty bottles.  "Not like I don't have anything to do here to keep me busy."

"You always were a bit of a slob," Spike said, swinging his coat onto his shoulders and happily displacing his own bad habits onto Amnesia-boy.  "Drove me right round the bend when we kipped together, your towels all over the place, your moldy cups -"

"Oh, yeah, right.  I can't re-mem-ber!" Xander sing-songed, crumpling up some bags in his hands.  "You could tell me anything!  You could tell me I liked to - to sing show tunes!"

"You and Liza, mate, every Friday."  Spike dodged an empty dip container and pulled the door open - felt for the key.  "Back in a trice."

"Yeah, yeah, go already!"  Xander grinned, shaking his head, and Spike slipped out and shut the door quietly behind himself. 

*Well, this is one night he won't forget, that's for sure.*

 

 

 

It was actually a bit over two hours - well, call it closer to three - before Spike got back.  There'd been trouble and vamps and a fucking vanful of the bloody filth descending on what they thought was a riot, for Christ's sake.  Spike had had a merry hunt through the tangled streets of Whitechapel, losing himself in the pub-crawl crowd and feasting on a baddie or two.  Kicking a little ass and getting his kicked back a little and he bounced up the steps to Xander's flat feeling good.  Pleasantly full and a little sleepy, ready for a shower and a shag -

*Not bloody likely I'll get that, 'gay' or not.  He's gonna be sorry for that, I'll warrant.*   Spike could see it, though.  Those big, callused hands and soft lips - dark eye all full of soulful caring and world-weary cynicism.  *Probably pulls 'em in like a moth to the flame.  Rollin' in boys, our boy.*   He snorted softly at that and dug out the key - opened the door and stepped in and shed his coat before noticing - anything.

"H-hey, Spike," Xander said, and Spike stopped still.  Too much emotion in that voice - far too much relief and Spike turned and stared hard at the couch - now pulled out to a bed - and at Xander, who was sitting in a huddled lump up in the corner, a pillow clutched to his chest and that fucking plastic bag by his feet.  Flicker of the television screen in a too-wide eye.

*Hell's bloody bells.  Now what?  Oh, fuck.  Overdue, aren't I...*   "Hey, Harris.  Xander.  Guess I'm a bit late, yeah?  Had a bit of a to-do over by -"

"Somebody - that girl named Willow?  Called?  And she - cried and...  I didn't know what to say to her.  She kept - asking me q-uestions."  The little notebook was open to a scrawled page of words, the Mickey Mouse pen stuck crookedly through the wire binding.  "And...and...Lili's going to kill the unicorn and Jack has to kill her -" Xander wiped at his eye - sniffed and seemed to shrink down tighter - further into himself.

"Xander -"

"This m-movie sucks, I hate - movies where - where the hero has to - k-kill -"   Xander staggered up and almost ran for the bathroom and Spike just stood there wondering what the fuck was going on. 

*Take Red and rip her a new bloody everything!  What in hell was she thinking, calling here and - and -*   "Fuck me!  Xander!"  He could hear water running in the bathroom and he stomped down the hall - hesitated outside the door for a moment because if Xander was sick or using the toilet he was not going in.  "Xander?"

"I'm - fine!  Just -"   The door opened abruptly and Xander stood there, head down - water dripping off the short ends of his hair and a spatter of it down his t-shirt.  He leaned on the jamb, picking at a nail or a callus or something, not meeting Spike's eyes.  "She kind of freaked me out," Xander mumbled, and Spike sighed and leaned against the opposite jamb.

"She shouldn't have called or - bloody hell, not like that, she shouldn't have.  She knows better.  I'll have her fucking eyes for soup," Spike muttered and then growled when Xander burst into hysterical laughter.

"Oh, god, that's so - so gross!  Soup -"  Xander wheezed and clutched at Spike's shoulder and Spike hauled him back out to the living room - shoved him down onto the couch and flung pillows at him until he was half-buried.

"Just shut it, you.  I need to get cleaned up.  Got a bit - spattered out there.  And then we're gonna watch the end of this sodding movie and you'll see what real heroes do."

"What do real heroes do, Spike?" Xander asked, pushing pillows aside.   His fingers were creeping out to the notebook and Spike wanted to tell him don't, but...

*The only real things I remember...*   "Real heroes always win, Xander.  Just like us.  We always win."

Xander's gaze met Spike's and he looked calm, but not...  Not as if he believed Spike.  Not completely.  "Okay then," he said and picked the notebook up and turned back to the movie - watched with an increasingly bigger smile as Lili cut the unicorn free and Jack defeated the Lord of Darkness and the world - Jack's world, the hero's world - became lovely and warm again.  Spring again, in time for the young lovers to pledge their troth.   Xander watched and scribbled and shooed Spike to the shower.  When Spike came out the TV was off and Xander was curled on his side, the bag tucked away somewhere and the lamp still on.

"Is it okay if I just...  If I just sleep out here?  I mean...  If - it's not -"

"Nah, it's fine.  Shared quarters with you a time or two.  Won't bother me."

"Good.  Okay, cool."  Xander settled deeper into the covers and Spike sighed and hitched the borrowed sleep-pants up a little higher.  His own kit was stuffed in the hamper, fouled with blood and ichor and alley filth and he hadn't packed but two changes, anyway.  Needed to fix that.  He crawled into the bed and found a comfortable pillow - turned and burrowed and settled.

"Did you mean it, about the - gay thing?"

"Yeah," Xander said, sleep and laughter in his voice.  "Promise I won't molest you in your sleep."

"Oh, no worries.  I've buggered my share - makes no difference to me."  There was a moment of silence from Xander and then a soft breath that Spike had no hope of interpreting.   "You gonna - stay out, you think?"

Xander shifted and Spike lifted his head and looked over at him and Xander was leaning up on an elbow, looking back.  "I dunno.  I don't know why - I mean - why wasn't I already?  It's...fucking weird.  I mean, I am.  Do you think -"   Xander stopped, twisting a pillow-case cover and Spike pushed his foot over in the bed and poked a body-part.  Knee, he thought.

"Think what?"

"Do you think that the other - the real me'll remember - this?"

"You're as real as the other, mate," Spike said, and Xander shrugged.  "Yeah, I think he - you - will.  You will."

Xander looked up - looked away - curled back down, pulling the covers up and hiding his face in the crook of his arm.  "Good," he said.  Tiny whisper but Spike heard it, and he agreed.

 

 

 

When the witches arrived on Thursday, Spike and Xander were already in Rupert's office, happily devouring the rather nice tea Miss Molly had laid on.   Giles, of course, wasn't there - something Spike had dreaded and expected in equal measure.  Xander hid his disappointment by having a third helping of scone and clotted cream.

"In a meeting, I expect," Spike mumbled around a mouthful of currant bun and Xander swilled down some tea with an appalling amount of sugar and cream in it and nodded, licking away crumbs.

"I kinda figured.  So - none of the people I actually know...actually live here?"

"Not really.  Buffy and her sis were here for a while before the Slayer went haring off to L.A...  Dawn finished out her school year and went back to California, too.  Mini-Watcher, really - probably lovin' learning all that Watcher stuff from Wesley.  When he's not dead," Spike added, pouring more tea.

Xander choked slightly on an iced biscuit and gave Spike a squinty-eyed look.  "Dead?  As in - smelly, corpse-y dead, or dead like you?"

"Nothing like me."  Spike eyed his cup and dropped in a third sugar cube - still three less than Xander - and found his spoon - licked the plum jam off.  "He died in the final fight, right?  But he had some - spell or something.  Some kind of deal he made or - hell, I don't bloody know.  Anyway -" Spike laid his spoon on his saucer and took a contemplative sip.  "Sometimes he was just - Wesley and sometimes he was - Wesley when he died.  When he was having a bad day, it seemed.  Thinking too much about being dead and in debt and he'd...remember."

Xander's hand was frozen between plate and mouth and he slowly lowered the slice of walnut cake back to his plate.  "So - when he was all - bummed - he'd look all...corpse-y?"

"Well, more bloody and such, really, but - yeah."

"Okay.  Gross.  Was he really bloody or -"

"More like - psychic blood."  Spike gulped the last of his tea and looked at Xander's plate.  "Gonna eat that, then?"

"Huh?  Yes, I am.  Paws off."  Xander hunched over his plate a little, grinning, and Spike rolled his eyes and fished out a cigarette.

There were voices down the hall - coming through the door - and Spike let his smile fade a little, puffing hard on his smoke. 

"Ah, they're waiting?  Yes, thank you, Miss Merchant.  Right this way, if you please."   Giles bustled through the door and Xander sat up a little straighter.  Five other people - four women and a frail-looking man - followed behind.   "There should be some tea - oh, good Lord."  Giles stopped dead and looked mournfully at the picked-over trays and plates.  "Like a plague of locusts."

"Good afternoon to you, too, Rupert," Spike snarled, and Xander wiped his mouth on his napkin and reached for his pad and Mickey Mouse pen that he'd brought along with him.  To take notes, he'd said, but Spike recognized a nervous tick when he saw one.

"What?  Oh, yes, good afternoon.  Now - Xander."  Giles turned to face him and Xander looked up, his expression carefully blank.   "These are the ladies - and gentleman - from the coven in Devon.  They've found a spell that will tell us exactly what caused your amnesia."  Giles looked at the plates again and sighed.  "This is Mrs. Covington; she'll explain it to you."  Giles ushered a middle-aged, neatly coifed woman around in front of Xander - plucked a folding chair from between two file cabinets and unfolded it.  Mrs. Covington sat down, her purse clutched in her lap and Xander turned his gaze on her.  Giles slipped out and Spike could hear him telling Miss Mousie that she should have saved the tea until they were all there and was the spell room ready?   Spike snorted smoke and dropped his cigarette butt into his teacup.

"Xander, is it?" Mrs. Covington said, and Xander nodded.  "Right.  Well, you call me Helen, Xander, and we'll get on just fine.  Now, what Rupert said is true.  We're going to do a spell -"   Spike got up and pushed through the witches to the outer office.  They gave him pointed looks, shifting away ever so slightly and he grinned.

Rupert was looking over a paper and Spike went over to him and snatched it out of his hands - scanned it for a moment before tossing it down onto the desk.  List of spell ingredients - a diagram to chalk. 

"Spike, will you -"

"No.  How about you spend more than two minutes with your boy in there?"

"What?"  Giles took the paper irritably from his assistant's hand and started to read it and Spike snatched it again - pulled out his Zippo and lit it and stuck a corner of the paper into the flame.

"You're not listening, you git."

"Spike!"  Giles looked ready to use his fists and Spike smirked at him - clicked the Zippo shut.

"You going to listen now?"

"Please say what you're going to say," Giles said, his voice strained and too polite and Spike tossed the slightly charred paper down and leaned his hip on the desk.

"You're avoiding Xander and it's makin' him all - mopey.  You need to fix that."

"And I suppose I should just stop trying to fix him -"

"He's not bloody broken!"  Spike reached out and grabbed Gile's jacket lapel - yanked him close and held him there.  "He just needs to know his bloody friends are really his friends!"  Giles jerked away and Spike let him - watched him straighten his lapels with a yank.  "Not one of you has said five words to him except Willow and she called and got him all upset!  Cryin' on the phone to him and makin' him all -"

"Yes, well, I had a word with Willow, she called here before...  I had no idea she would be so - emotional."

"Girl's a walking live nerve, Rupert - you should have told her to hold off or - or send one of her bloody emails or something."  Spike patted himself for smokes and realized they were in his coat in Giles' office.  Giles was rubbing his forehead, his glasses held loosely in his fingers.  He looked old and tired and harried but Spike wasn't feeling very sympathetic at the moment.  Well, he never felt very sympathetic, truth be told.  Except just lately, and only for Xander.  And that was too bizarre to think about, really, so he concentrated instead on being pissed at the Watcher.

"I've been trying to discover what happened in Vietnam.  We have three dead Slayers now, Spike."  Giles glanced at the closed door to his office and leaned in a little and Spike kept himself from leaning back.  "The first one you already know about - the one in Vietnam that Xander was - was investigating.  The two others that were missing - they've turned up dead as well.  Except the last one was found in Malaysia, so this thing is moving, Spike.  And it's - it's kidnapping and killing Slayers as it goes."

Spike stared at Giles for a moment, the fury building.   The wards prickled up and down his spine, not-so-subtle warning.  "I saw the bloody report, Watcher.  I saw how that first girl died and any bastard with half an eye for ritual could see it was for some seriously black mojo!  Shite the strongest witch wouldn't go near and you sent Harris to deal with it?  Did you just want him out of the way, then?"

"You ass," Giles hissed.   His face was reddening with his own anger - eyes glinting furiously and Spike could hear his heart pounding under the tweed, hard and fast.  "Xander wanted to go!  He helped recruit those girls - he knew them!   He was determined to help!"  Giles voice had dropped to a harsh whisper - Spike made no such concessions.

"And you think sending him out alone was the sodding answer?  There should have been a whole team over there!  Should have sent Willow along and that Kennedy bint and any other trained Slayer you could get your hands on and been bloody careful -"

"You have no bloody idea what's been going on and -"

The door to the office creaked and Giles whipped around, hands going automatically to his pocket - his glasses.  Handkerchief and a polish and Spike stepped back - shot a withering look at Little Miss Marker, who was pretending to be typing something.

"Everything all right?" Mrs. Covington asked, and Giles cleared his throat - put his glasses back on and straightened up.

"Just fine, Helen, thank you.  Are you ready now?  Did you explain -?"

"Yes, I think Xander understands what's going to happen.  You said you had a room?"

"Yes, right down the hall, actually."   Giles held out his hand and Mrs. Covington smiled faintly and walked past - out of the office and down the hall, the others trailing behind and Giles hurrying to catch up and open the door.  Xander came out a moment later looking a little pale and Spike cursed under his breath.

"So, you up for this, mate?  Not gonna make you dance the Macarena naked or anything, right?"

"Huh?  Oh, uh - no, they're gonna - uh -"   Xander fumbled with his pad of paper, flipping the cover and several densely scrawled pages over until he came to a particular one.  "She said they're going to - cast a circle.  For protection.  Protection from what?"

"Doing magic makes things unsettled.  Some things..."  Spike guided Xander out of the office and down the hall, squinting at his scribbled notes.  "Some things are just - drawn to magic.  They wanna come in and fool around - poke at you.  Steal things, if they can."

"What, like - my wallet or something?" Xander said, trying on a small smile and Spike sighed.

"Nooo, more like your soul."  Xander twitched.  "But these witches are the best - know exactly what they're doing and we'll be safe as houses, promise you."  Spike didn't bother to voice his own, long-held feelings about magic and witches and if any of this was really a very good idea.  No point in making things any harder for...Xander.

"Yes, Xander will be perfectly safe but, I'm afraid you can't participate - Spike, is it?"  Mrs. Covington stood squarely in the doorway to the spell room, her hair let down in loose, bronze-blonde waves.  She was barefoot and Spike could smell sage and lavender burning beyond her.

"Who says I can't?" Spike growled, and Mrs. Covington smiled.

"I'm afraid I do.  This spell is very - sensitive.  The magics that are inherent in a being such as yourself would - upset it.  It would disrupt the casting."

"What you're saying is, me being a vampire fucks with your auras?"

Mrs. Covington's smile vanished.  "What I'm saying is, if you'd like to help your friend you'll kindly stay out of the room while we do the spell." 

Spike wanted to tell her she was a bloody, bold-faced liar.  He wanted to bite her.  But he knew - through some rather grisly experiments with Dru - that vampires and certain magic simply did not mesh.   "Bloody hell -"

"Hey, Spike, it's cool.  I'll be - fine, they say I'll be fine and - and when it's all over and they've got the cure all lined up we'll - uh - go get a drink, okay?"  Xander looked even paler - was clutching pad and pen so hard they were both buckling and Spike squashed his rising temper and forced himself to smile.  From Xander's expression it must have been ghastly.

"Right.  Pint and pie at the pub, on Rupert, soon as they're done getting all - chanty.  I'll just - be right up the hall, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay.  See you - uh - in a while."

"Yeah, see you."  Mrs. Covington stepped aside and Xander went in and the door shut.  Spike stomped back for his cigarettes and spent the next thirty minutes smoking and pacing.   *Supposed to be out in Mongolia somewhere catching a fucking Urr.  Supposed to be enjoying my unlife with money and booze and my pick of the adoring masses.  Or fucking clueless masses, whichever gets me laid.  Not supposed to be giving a tinker's damn about Xander sodding Harris.  I'm not giving a damn.  Just...earning some points, is all.  Yeah.  Right.*   Spike had never been a particularly good liar, even to himself.

 

 

 

There was a burning smell coming from the spell room - much too strong for comfort and Spike had just about decided to go in and make sure *Xander* everything was all right when the door opened on a puff of pale smoke and the oldest witch - the frail, white-haired man - walked stiffly out, coughing and holding a handkerchief to his mouth.  Spike stood up out of his crouch with a curse and strode down the hall while the man shakily found the bench along one wall and let himself down onto it.

A moment later another witch came out and then Mrs. Covington and a fourth witch, both coughing and looking a bit rumpled.    The last witch - a very fat woman who seemed to be having trouble breathing - came out on Giles arm and immediately went to sit next to the old man, huffing and holding a hand to her chest.

Giles stood in the doorway for a moment staring at Spike then he turned and went back in.  Spike stomped to the door and looked in, squinting at the bright shafts of sunlight that were lancing down from high, round windows.  Xander was against the far wall, one hand braced against old, dark wood, the other curled to his chest.  His head was down - eye closed - and Giles was standing there, a hand on Xander's t-shirted shoulder, talking softly.  He glanced up at Spike and said something else, questioning tone, and Xander nodded.  Giles patted his shoulder and walked away - came abreast of Spike and stopped.  He had a smudge of something along his forehead and his hair was ruffled, as if by a strong wind.

"It work?" Spike asked, and Giles nodded.

"It worked.  We need to sort the information we have - do some research.  We'll have everything we need in a few hours."  Spike nodded, ready to collect Xander - take him home or out to get drunk or - whatever he wanted.  "Spike -" Giles held out his hand and Spike looked at him, eyebrow cocked up.  "You have to understand...  Xander is - Xander is very - important to me.  Very...special.  But I can't - I mustn't let my emotions cloud my judgment.  I must be - focused.  Do you understand?"

"I understand he thinks you don't give a damn for him, Rupert," Spike said, and Giles sagged a little, glancing back at Xander who hadn't moved.

"I know.  I simply...  I have to make this right, Spike.  He was - devastated when that girl was found.  Crushed.  He blamed himself - said he'd brought her to the attention of all the monsters in the world and she died because of it.  He wouldn't listen when I begged him to stay in Nam Dinh until a team could reach him."  Giles blinked - took a deep breath and pushed his hands back through his hair.  Spike saw the glimmer of silver there - saw the lines that were etched that much deeper into the man's face - saw the exhaustion in his eyes.

"Harris was always the white knight.  Played it for Willow - did it in deadly earnest for Buffy.  And for you.  For all of us."  Spike hesitated a moment - reached out and fleetingly touched Giles' shoulder.   "Know you're doin' your best.  He has nightmares, Giles.  Bad ones."

"I'm not surprised."  Giles tugged his tie straight and stepped out of the room.  "Take him home, Spike.  He needs...  He needs a friend."  Spike nodded and Giles walked away down the hall, collecting the witches as he went.  As they filed raggedly into Giles' office, Spike edged around the periphery of the room, side-stepping sunlight and ending up beside Xander in one of the few shadowy spots.  Xander glanced up at him and Spike could see he'd been crying.  Xander rubbed his face on the arm of his t-shirt and pushed away from the wall - turned and flopped back against it, looking up at the blue-gold haze of smoke and sunlight that criss-crossed the ceiling.

"G-Giles said it worked."

"It did.  Told you.  They'll have it all figured out in no time - have you back, right as rain."

"Yeah."  Xander sniffed and Spike noticed that - in the hand curled tight to his chest - was Xander's pad and pen.  The pad was crushed almost in half and the edges were singed.

"Fuck's sake, Xander!  Are you hurt?  Is your hand burned?"

"Huh?"  Xander blinked and looked down at his hand - unfurled it with a wince and examined his reddened, soot-stained palm.  "Uh - it kinda tingles.  It's okay.  It - it was here."

"What was here?"

Xander closed his eye - clutched the pad back close, wrapping both hands around it and bringing them up high under his chin.  "This - this - th-thing.  I think I dreamed about - it.  And there was - blood and this - girl...  Two - girls - fuck, fuck -"   Xander slid down the wall, curling in on himself and Spike followed helplessly.  "Is that what happened?  Are those girls dead?  Did I - did -"

"No.  You didn't do anything, you didn't hurt anybody, I can promise you that.  I dunno about those girls but - whatever happened I know you were trying to help them, Xander.  I know it."

"How do you know?  Maybe I - maybe I'm a crazy person, maybe this is the real me and -"   Xander gasped after a breath, his voice rasping.  "And crazy-me comes out and k-kills -"

"Oh, rot!  Bloody, buggering bollocks, mate!"  Xander let out a bark of near-hysterical laughter and Spike swore again.  "Absolute load of sodding codswallop.  Utter shite."  Xander rolled his head on the wall, turning his face up to Spike.  He was laughing and crying and shaking and Spike lifted his chin in invitation.  Xander leaned on him - put his head on Spike's arm and pushed in close, his knees falling sideways and almost touching Spike's thighs.  "Festering mendacities," Spike murmured, and Xander huffed a raw breath and sniffed hard - pulled up his t-shirt to wipe his nose and streaming eye.

"Okay, I g-get it.  It was fucking horrible, Spike.  It was..."

"Life, mate.  Our life.  Big, bad nasty things out there and we find 'em and we fight 'em and we kill 'em.  Know why?"

"'Cause we're fucking crazy?"

"'Cause we're heroes, Xander.   'Cause we...are heroes.  You just keep remembering that."

"Yeah."  Xander sniffed again - shifted a little, and his loosely curled hand slid down to rest on top of Spike's.  "Crazy, like I said."

 

 

 

Xander just wanted to go home, he said, and for the first time ever Spike used one of the Council cars to get them there, riding low in the back under his coat since the sun was still intermittently shining.  He expected a comment or two - even a joke - but Xander was deadly silent the whole way and disappeared into the shower without a word.  Spike paced and smoked until he came out.

The pull-out couch was still out - unmade and messy and so, so tempting.  Tempting to Xander apparently, too, since he headed straight for it, his expression inward and unhappy.

"Xander, you want to -?"

"M'tired, Spike.  I'm just...gonna take a nap, okay?  Just - a short nap."

"Sure, mate.  You go on then."  Xander curled up in the middle of the bed and closed his eye and - surprisingly - was asleep in less than five minutes.  *He looked knackered at the HQ,*  Spike thought, but he knew it was really avoidance.   *And who'd blame him?  Demons, dead girls...he only gets to remember the fucked-up bits.*

Spike finished the bottle he'd started a few nights ago - smoked too much and cracked a window on the garnet-blue twilight to freshen the air.  He finally settled moodily into the overstuffed chair catty-corner to the couch - and why did Xander have a pull-out couch, anyway? - and stared at the sleeping man.  Xander shivered in his sleep, his eye moving restlessly under the lid and his fingers making tiny, spastic motions, tangled in the sheet.  Locked into motionlessness by his body's own self-preservation mechanism but not sleeping easily for it.

Twilight deepened to true night and Spike could smell rain on the air - could feel the closeness of more clouds rolling in.  The flat was nearly pitch black, lit only by intermittent washes of brilliance from passing headlights and the faint, pewter glow of a nearby streetlight.  And Spike - sat.   He felt too heavy to move - too weary.  Xander sighed out a hard breath and Spike's hand lifted fractionally but he didn't move - didn't get up.  The double chirp of the phone startled him out of his strange, half-aware state and he stood up fast - strode across the room and snatched the handset off its base before it could wake Xander up.

"Yeah?  What?"

"Oh, yes - Spike?  It - it's Giles -"

"Can hear that, Rupert.  Have you figured it out, then?"  There was a sigh on the line and Spike gripped the phone a little harder, waiting.

"Yes, we have.  I had to call Wesley and - and consult.  This is - something new."

"New for you, you mean?"  Spike asked, and he could hear Giles rustling papers - could hear the soft gurgle of liquid being poured into a cup.

"Fairly new for all of us.  Wesley had read about this - demon once before but - none of us have encountered one until now."

"Yeah, so - he knows what it is, so we know how to kill it, right?   Gonna send out the troops?"

"Actually -"   There was a pause as Giles drank and Spike ground his teeth, resisting the urge to snap at the man.  "Actually, killing it may be somewhat - problematical..."

By the time Giles rang off Spike was pacing again - smoking again - and as he slammed the phone down Xander stirred on the bed - took a long breath and pushed himself up onto his elbow, reaching for the lamp on the end table.  He snapped it on, blinking, and Spike winced away, grinding his cigarette out.

"Is it raining?"

"Maybe later," Spike said.  He rubbed at his eyes and flopped back down into the chair and Xander scooted up against the back of the couch, dragging blanket and pillows with him.  His cheek was creased - his hair a tufty mess and he pressed his palm flat to his eye and yawned hugely.

"Did I sleep a long time?  I'm sorry, didn't mean to, just -"

"No worries, mate."  Spike felt after his cigarettes and came up with an empty pack.  He cursed softly and crumpled it - threw it hard toward the kitchen where it bounced off the table and tumbled away into shadows. 

"Did - someone call?  I thought - the phone -"

"Yeah.  Rupert did.  Seems they figured it out."

"Oh."  Xander yawned again - stretched his neck and huddled down into the pillows a little.  "So - you gonna tell me?"

"Not much to tell.  It's a new thing.  Dimensional - thing.  It came here - sort of piggy-backed in with something else.  Somebody near where that first girl disappeared was doing some magic they ought not to and this thing slipped through."  Spike stopped picking at his nail and glanced up at Xander, who had an expectant look on his face.

"Yeah?  And then?"

Spike sighed.  "And then, seems like this thing is drawn to power - needs it.   We can't really know, but whoever let it in is probably dead.   Probably just some local and the Slayer there was sent to look into it.  And, the Slayer being a powerful, mystical girl..."

"It went for her next."

"Yeah.  You, now..."  Spike couldn't stand to sit anymore so he pushed himself to his feet - walked over to the long bookshelf that was against one wall and stared at it.  Books, pictures, graphic novels - textbooks and atlases and what might be journals all crammed in, side by side with knives and stones and strange little objects.  Keepsakes.

"I'm not - powerful.  Why would it want me?"

"You're something different," Spike side, and Xander made a huffing sort of noise.  "You've been out finding these girls - these new Slayers.  You've been - telling them what they are and getting them training - checking up once they're placed somewhere."

"Big brother," Xander said softly and Spike nodded, gazing at a picture of Xander and what looked like an entire family somewhere in Africa.  Older man and women, middle-aged and younger and babes-in-arms, and one girl with a fierce stare like a lion.  Slayer.

"Yeah."  Spike turned around to look at him.  "Why'd you say that?"

Xander shrugged, rubbing his hands slowly together.  "I don't...know.  Just...  When I look at those pictures up there -" he nodded toward the ones of the Sunnydale crowd - "It just seems like...  I am.  And the other ones...  Those girls are Slayers, aren't they?  They look -"

"Look different," Spike said, and Xander nodded.  "They are different.  Different, marked - a bloody tragedy waiting to happen.  There are more of them now then there ever were but - they still die young."

"Fuck," Xander said softly, and Spike walked over to the couch - settled, after a moment, on the edge of the mattress.

"It's the nature of Slayers.  You gave them everything they needed to survive, Xander."

"But I guess I got them killed, too." Xander rubbed his hands harder, frowning - looking down at them with a far away sort of gaze.  "I - remember...  There was blood.  There was - blood on my....hands..."

"You remember this?  When?"

"It was - the spell.  During the spell that...that thing...it came in there.  Or - part of it did, I don't -"   Xander's hands were rubbing fiercely now - shaking a little and his heart was starting to pound.

"Yeah, Rupert said - they could watch it."  And probably it had watched them.  Or at least known it was being spied on.  Xander could feel the wards because there was still some sort of tenuous connection between himself and the demon.  The demon who remembered, now - remembered what Xander had forgot.  His memories weren't gone - they were merely on loan.   And whatever it was probably knew, now, that they knew.

"It killed them.  I was there when it killed them.  I s-saw it during the s-spell.  I saw -"  Xander choked and leaned down over his hands as if he were in pain and Spike didn't know what to do - didn't know what he could do.  Xander moaned softly into the tangle of sheet and blanket across his lap.  "Blood on my hands, oh god, blood -"

"Stop it, damnit," Spike snapped, but it came out much softer - more of a plea.  He reached out and gingerly touched the short, silken hair at the back of Xander's neck and rubbed tentatively.  "You went there trying to save them.  You heard what happened and the first thing you did was try to fight.  You're not to blame, Xander."

"Yes I am," Xander muttered, his voice thick, and Spike shook his head mutely, fingers rubbing - scratching softly.  At a loss.

"You're not.  This thing is, and the bloody idiot that let it in.  It's just a - a predator.  Mindless, mostly.  It can do a lot of damage but it isn't smart.  It takes power, Xander - that's why it went after those girls.  It took their power - got itself a body, got itself some shiny toys."  And it had to keep taking power to maintain that body - to be able to affect things in this world.  Keep taking lives.

Xander's head came up, fast, and Spike's fingers curled around the base of his neck, just holding.  Feeling the flush of blood there.  "Then what the fuck did it want with me?  You said I don't have any powers!"

"You do, though.  You know.  You see.  It's lost here - it needed your knowledge."  Another reason it would be hard to kill.  It had the power of three Slayers under its belt - and it had Xander's knowledge.  It could blend in, and that's exactly what it was doing, somewhere in the bee-hive swarm of islands and people in the South China Sea.

"Oh."  Xander's hand-washing motion slowed - finally stopped - and Spike let his fingers slip free.  Xander wiped his eye, frowning.  "I'm such a fucking idiot.  Wanting you to - to tell me - 'It's okay, the evil monster really did need you, you really are special!'  God, how fucking stupid -"

"Don't be daft."  Spike flopped back on the bed, easing his shoulders and stretching bare feet out, wiggling his toes.  "You needed to know what happened - why it happened.  Why you were there.  Now you know."

"Now I know.  Jesus."  Xander sniffed - made a small sound that might have been a laugh.   "And knowing's -"

"Don't."  Xander chuckled softly and Spike rubbed his head back and forth, back and forth on the rumpled bed.  "It's no good just sitting here.  What say we have that pint and pie, then?"

"Yeah, that sounds good.  What kind of pie?  Do you guys eat apple pie?"

Spike made a groaning sort of noise.  "Of course we do!  Probably invented it.  I'm talking steak and kidney pie, some chips - you'll love it."

"Kidneys?" Xander said, a note of horror in his voice.  Then the phone rang again.

"Oh, bloody hell," Spike muttered, but Xander got up and got it and then - handed it off to Spike, a sheepish expression on his face.

"I don't do crying women too well."

"None of us do, mate?" Spike said, but he took the phone anyway.  "Who the bloody hell is this?"

"Well, I don't have to ask who that is."

Spike blinked.  "Buffy?"

 

 

 

"So - pie and a pint," Xander said, staring at the plate in front of him.  Browned pie with gravy coming over the edge - limp bit of lettuce with a hunk of tomato and some sliced cucumber off to one side.  Spike had already taken and eaten the two rings of raw onion.  Pile of chips shiny with grease and a topping-full glass of wine-dark beer.

"Best bloody pie and pint you'll find in London," Spike said, and ate his own onion.

"Yeah.  It looks...ummm...  Why is there vinegar on the table?"

"For the chips, mate - here -"   Spike snatched up the cruet and made as if to pour vinegar over Xander's chips and Xander yelped and hunched over his plate.

"Back off, man!  These are my - chips, and they will not be desecrated with vinegar!"

"Never know how much you'll like it 'til you try."  Spike waggled the cruet enticingly and Xander almost growled.

"No way.  Put it on your own.  I need ketchup."  Xander snatched the sticky bottle that was on the edge of the table and twisted the cap off - drenched his chips before Spike could get more than a shake or two of vinegar over them.  "You fiend," Xander muttered.

"Ketchup's for the pie.  You Yanks don't have a bloody clue."   Spike liberally salted and vinegar-ed his own chips and then tucked in, grinning at Xander's look of disgust when he slathered ketchup on the pie.

"You're such a freak - you're all freaks," Xander said, but he took a bite of pie and chewed thoughtfully.  "Hrmmm."

"S'good, yeah?"

"It's...different.  Is this just - meat?  There's no vegetables."

"It's not stew.  It's steak and kidney pie.  You want veggies we'll get vindaloo again."

"I'm not sure my esophagus is up for that so soon."  Xander ate another bite - ate a chip and then took a long swallow of his beer.  He wiped his lip off and fiddled with his fork.

*Here it comes.*   Spike drained half of his own pint in anticipation.

"Just so we're clear...  Angel used to be a vampire.  He got this - thing.  Made him human."

"Shanshu.  Some kind of half-cocked reward from the Powers That Be bloody annoying."

"Right.  Reward for being an evil vampire for two hundred years."

"For being a right poncey git with his head up his -"

"Right, right.  Anyway.  Human.  In LA.  Doing - Council-type, save the world type...stuff." 

"Right."  Spike forked up more pie - stabbed some chips and then sawed at his tomato with the edge of his fork.  It squished wetly over the lettuce.

"Doing the - stuff with Wesley-the-sometimes-dead guy, Gunn who used to be a gangster or something but is a lawyer now and - a god?"

"Reckon she's more of a demi-god now," Spike said, and drained his pint.  "Want another?"

"Huh?  Oh - uh, in a minute."  Xander took another sip of his beer and Spike rolled his eyes.  "And the Slayer that I know and her sister moved there to, like...help out."

"Help out, shag, whatever," Spike said, waving his hand.

"Not the sister -!"

"God no!  If Angel touched Dawn I'd have his guts.  So would Buffy.  'Sides, the niblet's got more taste than that."

"Yeah, she had a crush on you."  Xander grinned and Spike picked up his glass - stood up and tucked his thumb into the pocket of his jeans - canted his pelvis out just a little.

"Don't blame the girl, do you, Harris?"  Xander blushed.  Spike smirked and sauntered to the bar. 

"Not for one fucking minute."  Xander probably thought Spike wouldn't hear that.  It made Spike put a little extra slink in his step and the blowsy redhead behind the bar lit up, leaning forward to show off tired cleavage.

"What'll it be, sexy?"

"Two of the Skullcrusher, ducks."  Spike leaned on the bar - risked a tiny glance back.  Xander was eating chips and surreptitiously watching Spike and Spike...had a moment of doubt.  *He might be getting' an eyeful but it means sod all.  He's not...him.  It'll only end badly.  Worse than badly.  Apocalyptic, like.*   Spike pushed a note across the bar - realized it was something big when the redhead's grin went positively incandescent at his 'keep the change'.  Fuck it - was only money.  He grabbed the glasses and pushed back to their table and told himself to behave.  Looked down at Xander who was looking up through his eyelashes, this funny little half smile on his face and his paper napkin crumpled in his fingers.

"Miss me then, pet?"  *Bloody.  Fucking.  Hell.*

 

 

 

"Did you know Buffy was pregnant?" Xander asked, poking through a selection of gum.

"Not really too keen on the breeding habits, mate.  Figured she and Angel were getting all - intimate, now his soul's stuck tight.  Presumably."

"His soul - oh!  Yeah.  You told me.  Man, is everybody I know just - weird?"

"M'not weird."

"Dude, you're a vampire who eats food and works for the good guys.  You're weird, all right."  Xander tossed his gum in the air with a triumphant smirk and Spike snatched it - stomped up to the counter to pay.  Xander followed, pointing.  "See?  You pay for stuff!  You should be - ripping and tearing and drinking!  Creature of the night stuff!"

"I do that sometimes," Spike said, knowing he sounded sullen - no, pouty - but unable to stop himself.  "Do that a lot, me.  When I'm not..."

"When you're not being good?  'Cause you're a gooood vampire."  Xander was grinning - he was all but laughing, eye sparkling and his cheeks flushed from the chilly walk and Spike felt that sweet, sensuous flush of arousal go all through him.  

*Gonna wipe that smirk right off your face...*   Spike dropped a crumpled note on top of the gum and cigarettes and little tin of pastilles and took two long steps that brought him to within inches of Xander.  He insinuated one leg between Xander's and put his hand flat on Xander's chest, feeling the rapid, rhythmic thump-bump of Xander's heart under his palm.  "I am good, pet," he murmured, little cat-grin and half-lidded eyes and bump of his hip.  "But I'm even better when I'm bad."  The slow, scalding flush of blood that hit Xander's skin was fragrant with pheromones - sweet with clean sweat and soap and rich with hops.  Enticing and intoxicating and so fucking close...

The man behind the counter cleared his throat and Spike let his hand slip down Xander's chest as he stepped back, getting enough distance between them so that by the time his fingers were at waist-level they were also a couple of inches away.  Spike grabbed change and sundries and sauntered out of the shop - stopped outside to light up and wait for Xander.  It took him a minute to catch up.

When he finally joined Spike on the pavement Xander was pleasantly flushed and wide-eyed and Spike just ambled away down the block, letting Xander sort himself.  Two blocks later Xander wordlessly held out his hand for the gum and unwrapped a piece - shoved it into his mouth and offered the pack to Spike who recoiled slightly.

"None for me, mate.  Sticks in my fangs."

Xander snorted softly and shoved the gum away.  "Yeah, doesn't really go with the big bad vampire image."  They walked another block and Spike glanced over at Xander a few times.  He had his hands in his pockets, his head down.  He didn't look unhappy, just...thoughtful.

"I'm glad Buffy's not going to try and - do anything.  Even if she's only a month pregnant."

"Can’t imagine Angel lettin' her out of his sight, really," Spike said.

"It's just - if something happened...  That would really suck."

"Slayers are bloody tough.  But yeah," Spike said, when Xander looked up, frowning a little.  "It's for the best, I'm sure.  Only ever knew one other Slayer with a kid before, 'though I suppose a couple hundred years ago it was more common."

"How'd you know this other Slayer?" Xander asked, voice only curious - the faint scent of cherry gum.

"Killed her," Spike said shortly, and Xander's mouth opened and then closed and he ducked his head again.

"You were...  It's really hard to...I mean, I know you -"

"Yeah, you, Amnesia-boy, know me - souled up William the Bloody."

"Okay, maybe I don't know you.  Or...but, I do.  Some of you.  You don't seem....you're not -"   Xander floundered for a moment and Spike smoked, a curious mixture of anger and resentment roiling in him.  He didn't want to be the bloody good guy.  He didn't want to be...dismissed.  And he didn't want to scare Xander off.  "I can't imagine you just - hurting random people," Xander finally finished, and Spike sighed.

"Bet you imagined it pretty good when you saw me take that bloke out the other night, yeah?"  Spike stopped walking and turned to face the man, smoke hot and sharp on his tongue.  "That was me, Xander, just like this is.  I might be playin' on the side that's mostly keeping the world safe for puppies and grannies but I'm still a demon and it's best if you bloody well don't forget that."  Spike turned and walked on, and Xander did too.  "Never did before," Spike added, unnecessary and pointless bit of truth that made Xander take in a sharp, startled breath.

"What's that mean?"

"Nothing," Spike muttered, and Xander's hand reached out and grabbed his arm - pulled him around as Xander came to a dead stop.

"No, I don't think it's nothing.  What's it mean?"

"Bloody hell.  It means, Harris, that we hated each other on sight back in Sunnydale and it didn't improve much over the years and even if we've saved the bloody girl and the gold watch together, we weren't ever friends, all right?"  Spike twitched away and stomped on down the street, heading for the lit sign of a tube station.  Listening to Xander's heart beat and his lungs push and pull for short, shocky breaths.  Then Xander's booted feet moved - gritted on the concrete and stomped after him and Spike slowed infinitesimally.

"Okay, so - we hated each other.  So what?  We can't hate each other that much or you wouldn't be hanging out with me.  You could have just - shoved me into my place and left me there."

"Yeah, well..."  Spike shrugged, taking the last drag on his smoke and tossing the butt into the gutter.  "C'mon, got a train to catch."

"Where are we going?"  Xander sounded happy - again.  He sounded vindicated, like Spike's lack of argument meant he was right

*Not fucking right.  Still not friends.  Doesn't mean a bloody thing.*   "Got a place at Highgate cemetery - got a couple bits and bobs that might - help.  Protection and such.  You're like a bloody walking target."  *Nope.  Doesn't mean a fucking thing.*

 

 

 

Highgate was closed, of course, it being nearly ten, but Spike knew a way in a human could handle and they strolled in silence through the avenues of headstones and tombs and sepulchers.  Faint light from the street and a gibbous moon sailing silently in and out of gaps in the clouds.   Xander stumbled once or twice on uneven ground.

"It's really, really...creepy to think that I spent my after-school hours wandering around cemeteries in California.  Really creepy," Xander added as they walked past a finely sculpted weeping angel who seemed to glow in the intermittent, silvery light.

"Best place for vamps, and there was always some demon or evil cult or band of - possessed monks or some such hunting for relics or talismans.  When I lived in my crypt -"

"You lived in a cemetery?  Oh, wow, that's just -"   Xander stumbled over a hidden rock and yelped, flailing.  Spike caught him around the elbow and steered him to smoother ground.

"It was a bloody nice set-up.  Place upstairs for my 'fridge and telly, nice space tucked away underneath for my bed, access to the underground.  Was perfect until Captain sodding Cardboard blew it up."

"Blew it....up.  Okay.  Guess tonight's gonna be story time again, 'cause you've got to tell me - what the fuck is that?"  Xander flinched from a sudden rustling in the overgrown ivy that had taken over a tomb.  There was a short, shrill scream.

"S'a fox.  There's a bunch of them live here.  Sounds like a hare in a trap, doesn't it?"

"Sounds like a woman," Xander said, his voice suddenly low and flat.

Spike opened his mouth to say something but nothing sensible would come out, so he caught Xander's arm instead, pointing.  "Look - nearly there." 

Xander lifted his head, squinting a little, and then shot a wide-eyed look at Spike.  "We're going in there?"

"Fifth one down on the left," Spike said cheerfully, and walked on.  Xander scurried to catch up.  On either side were tall, narrow doorways that led into catacombs.  Each lintel was carved with a name or crest, most obscured by time and pollution and nature.  It was like walking down a row of derelict, crooked houses and Spike smirked to himself.  Creepy wasn't the half of it.

"Fuck, this is...ummm...   Going in?  We're going in?"

"Got it in one," Spike said, and stepped across the threshold.

"Uh - Spike, I don't -"   A fox ululated in the distance and Spike heard the sudden, almost panicked shuffle of Xander's boots.

"Stop!  Stop there - you'll take a tumble.  Hang on -"   Spike dug out his Zippo and lit the candle he kept stuck back behind a bit of crumbled stone.  He held it aloft and Xander blinked in the glow - looked around himself nervously.

"Okay.  Okay.  No bodies, that's good.  No - bones.  Umm - dirt.  I see dirt and - stone and - you, thank god."

"No fears, mate.  Nothing here but the worms."

"Actually not helping," Xander muttered, and walked gingerly over to Spike.  "So - uh - this is pretty low-maintenance.  Those - boxes in the walls and that - uh - big box there where there's probably a really old dead guy and his pet worms."

"Actually, really old dead guy moved out a while back.  Just the worms now."  Spike grinned at Xander's disgusted look and heaved aside the stone slab that sealed the tomb.  "You hold this now," he said, giving the candle to Xander.  "I've got to get a few things from the basement."

"Basement?  Oh, god.  I really do not want to go there.  Just - hurry up."  The foxes were yipping and snarling in a rising, eerie chorus and Spike swung his leg up and over the edge of the tomb - gave Xander a little salute and swung up the other leg - dropped straight down.  He chuckled softly to himself at Xander's gasp of surprise.

"Spike!  You okay?"

"Course I am!  Five minutes.  You just stand watch."

"Against what?" Xander called and Spike laughed.  Against nothing, actually - everything that might come through Highgate knew Spike had staked a claim and that he didn't tolerate mischief.  It was a quiet cemetery.  Spike lit another candle and moved quickly, opening one of three trunks and fishing out a silver medallion, a piece of polished malachite and a brace of intricately etched daggers.    He also perused a shelf that was lined with jars and selected one.  He could hear Xander's heart pounding - could hear him muttering to himself, 'damn vampires' and 'I must be crazy' and 'fucking foxes'.   

Tucking everything away into his coat, Spike blew out the candle and put it on its bit of broken plate - went to stand directly under the golden square of the open tomb.  "Xander?  I'm coming up!"

"Thank god - okay!"  Xander's boots scuffled on the dirt and Spike leaped straight up - touched one toe on the edge of the tomb and landed lightly in front of Xander, his coat rising and then falling around him like rustling, leathern wings.  "Way to fucking impress, Batvamp." 

"Don't call me Batvamp."  Spike scowled at Xander, who grinned.  "Have to stop on the way back and pick up a thing or two - I'll be buggered if I have to keep doing laundry every other day."

"Ooh, would that be shopping?" Xander waggled his eyebrows and Spike snorted - took the candle out of his hand and snuffed it out. 

"Yes, shopping.  And if you're real nice, I'll buy you a lolly."

"Pervert."

 

 

 

Back at Xander's flat Spike found a little paint brush in the junk drawer and opened the jar he'd brought back from the crypt.  The liquid inside smelled of earth and yew and juniper.  There was a large, empty space in the middle of Xander's living room floor and Spike dipped the brush into the jar and began to carefully paint on the glossy wood.

"What're you doing, Spike?" Xander asked softly.

"Something to make this place a little safer.  Let me concentrate, now."  Spike walked backwards, around and across, drawing a complicated veve.   The symbol of a god.   He'd never cared for magic - twisty, untrustworthy stuff that slipped and slid and made his head hurt.  But he'd learned this particular spell from a mambo in New Orleans.  A large and smiling woman who, despite her rich, bitter-dark skin and thread-wrapped dreadlocks had reminded him powerfully of Dru.   Spike understood vodoun in a way he didn't understand most other magic.  You gave so you could get - a price and a product. 

When the veve was done he poured a measure of whisky into a glass and set it on the open sill of the kitchen window - put a half-dozen cigarettes beside it and the piece of malachite.  "Papa Legba, open the door," he murmured, and somewhere behind him Xander stirred.

"Are you inviting something in?"  His voice sounded a little...shaky.

"Asking for a door to be opened," Spike said.  He poured some salt into his hand from the shaker on the back of the stove and turned back to the living room.  Back to Xander, who was sitting on the couch, his hands locked between his knees and his expression a little wary.  The veve gleamed faintly, fading as it dried to a translucent shimmer.  Spike stood at the head of it and closed his eyes for a moment.  This was the part he hated.  The part where the god - came in.

"Danballah-wedo," he said softly, "protect this place, and those that dwell within."  A sudden, hard gust of wind skirled through the kitchen window, bringing in the scent of wet earth and ozone - the scent of burning.   The wind danced around Spike, lifting the hem of his coat up and rushing up the sleeves - tugging at him.  Xander made a small noise - fear or excitement, Spike couldn't tell.  "Gros bon ange, protect this man.  Ti bon ange, keep watch."   The wind chuckled and Spike shuddered - felt the laughter bubbling in his chest and shook his head.  He flung the salt over the veve and it gleamed there like scattered diamonds.  Quickly, he crouched down and changed - dug the razor point of a fang into the ball of his thumb and flicked his bleeding hand over the symbol, scattering blood.  Mouth to the wound, he opened his Zippo and lit it - held the flame to the edge of the veve.  The entire thing went up with a whump and then seconds later fire and smoke were both gone and Xander sat blinking, looking dazedly at Spike, who rubbed a singed knuckle on his thigh.

"That should do it.  Keep most anything out, that will."  Spike stood slowly - found the brush and tossed it into the bin and screwed the lid of the jar down tight.  He deliberately didn't look at the now-empty windowsill over the sink.  He crossed back into the living room, feeling in a coat pocket.  "Here - this is for you."  Spike held out the medallion which had the same veve embossed on one side and a complicated sort of maze/web thing on the back.  "See, that's for trapping bad magic, if it gets to you.  This should keep it away, though.  Should keep that demon off you if it comes around.

"Is it going to - come around?" Xander asked, dropping the chain over his head and shivering.  He picked the medallion up and studied it, and Spike could see the gooseflesh on his arms.

"Dunno.  The witches might have got it stirred up.  It knows we know, now, and...  Well, it might run, or it might attack.  Never can tell."

"Oh.  Fuck, this thing is cold."  Xander settled the medallion on the outside of his shirt and started to slowly work his boots off.  "If it comes here...  Will it come for me?  Or for - anybody that's around?"

"Rupert said it needs power to keep the form it's made.  Or borrowed, I guess."  Spike shed his coat to a kitchen chair - pulled off his own boots and got a beer from the cabinet.  "Want one?" he asked, raising the bottle, and Xander nodded slowly.

"So it'll probably go for...Giles or - or you?  It got everything it could from me," Xander added, slumping down and propping his bare feet on the coffee table and Spike came over and flopped down next to him - handed Xander his beer and opened his own.

"Could do, mate.  Won't get to us without a fight, though.  Should see our Ripper with a sword."

Xander snorted softly.  "Ripper?  What, is that his secret Watcher name?"  He opened his beer and took a long drink - rubbed absently at his chest, his fingers not quite touching the medallion.

"Oh, no.  That's the name he went by back in his glory days.  Have to ask him, some time.  It's worth it to see him go all red and fumble for his handkerchief."

Xander laughed softly but then he sobered, picking at the label on his bottle.  "Did I...  Was I actually any good?  I mean - at fighting and stuff?  You said -"

"Oh, I know."  Spike drank deeply - leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling, thinking.  "Mostly just takin' the piss, mate.  You didn't have any real training - and why Giles never showed you lot how to fight better is beyond me - but you managed."   Spike rummaged in his mental memory file, digging until he found something Dawn had told him about on one of his sitting nights.   "Had a run-in with a chaos mage one year at Halloween - you all got turned into your costumes and you were dressed up like G.I. Joe or some such.  Said you remembered being the soldier for a long time."

"Yeah?"

"Oh, sure.  You stole this rocket-launcher from the Army base there and gave it to the Slayer so she could take out a baddie."

"Huh."  Xander didn't say anything else but Spike could just see the slow smile curling up the corners of his mouth and he smiled himself - drank another mouthful of beer and stretched out, feet bumping Xander's  a little on the table. 

"So...  You up for some chicken and something violent?"

"Always up for one of those," Spike said, and Xander elbowed him as he got up and went into the kitchen, small smile stretched to a wide grin. 

 

 

 

Waking up with an immediate sense of 'something's wrong' was fairly typical for Spike, but usually only on the job.  Ensconced in a comfy flat in London was as far as you could get from a job or typical, and Spike sat up fast, looking to his left and registering the empty mattress in seconds.

"Xander?"   No reply, but Spike could hear water running in the kitchen and he got up and walked carefully that way.  The little light over the sink was on - the taps were both open, wisps of steam coming up from the stream of water.  "Xander?"  A sense of déjà vu came over Spike as he crouched down and looked under the kitchen table. 

Xander looked back.  His arms were wet to the elbows and he was scrubbing at the back of his left hand with a little brush.  "Doing it again, it's doing it again and there's - look, there's all this blood, all this - blood -"   Xander stopped scrubbing and swiped at the medallion, wincing when his fingers touched it.

"Doing what again?  Xander?"

"K-k-illing another one, doing it again, just like the ff-first one, second one, third one but I was already - empty - it was the first one all over again and now - now -"  Xander stared down at his hands - started scrubbing again, hard, and Spike could see the skin over his knuckles going red - looking raw.

"It's not -"  real, Spike wanted to say, but it was - of course it was.  Still connected to the demon and it was killing again, somewhere.  And Xander was - seeing it.  Living it, for fuck's sake.   Or somehow the demon was letting him have some of his own memories back.  Showing them like some obscene movie in Xander's head.  "Come out from there, all right?  Come out and we'll -"

"Can't fix it, Spike!  I know that, you know; can't fix what I did but I had to do it, she was...she was all - torn and -"   Xander looked up from his hands, a streak of shed tears like quicksilver down his face.  Agony, in that drowning gaze.  "It lasts longer if she does and she was so - f-fucking strong and I - I had to...  Oh god!" 

Xander scrambled out from under the table, ramming Spike hard with his shoulder and knocking him sprawling to the floor.  Xander flung the brush onto the counter and leaned over the sink, heaving.  He coughed - choked - vomited again and then hung there, panting.  Spitting again and again and finally cupping water in a shaking hand and rinsing his mouth.   Spike pushed himself slowly to his feet as Xander splashed some water around in the sink - looked up, finally, his face a sickly pale green.  His gaze wrong - too distant, not quite focused.  Not quite there.

"Ss-spike, god, it's...it's everywhere, all over, it's -"   Xander ducked his head and coughed and then he looked down at himself and jerked upright.  "Oh no, no, no no!"  He hauled clumsily at his shirt, yanking it off over his head and throwing it to the floor - staring down at himself in horror.  "Blood everywhere, god, did you know people had so much blood inside?"  He tugged distractedly at the bracelet on his wrist.   "That's got blood in it, too - rotting from it...  Spike -" Xander said, and his voice was high and wavering and half choked.  "Did you know how much blood people had?"

"Course I did, mate.  Vampire, me, remember?"  Spike moved slowly, not sure what to do.  Wanting to pull Xander away from the sink and out of the kitchen but afraid of spooking him.  "Now you've got to stop, Xander."  Spike stood there, feeling completely useless as Xander snatched the brush back up and started scrubbing again.  Scrubbing his arms and chest and hissing in surprised pain when he touched what looked like a burn across his sternum.  Spike frowned at the mark.  It was just under where the medallion fell and as Xander frantically scrubbed, the medallion touched his chest and he flinched.  *Fuck.  It's hurting him because it'd hurt the demon...that's probably what brought this on, oh damnit, Xander, sorry...*  

"Yeah, you'd know, you're a demon, too but you don't have - it's not - fuck, Spike, help me!"  Xander clutched at Spike's shoulder, his hand warm from the water - eerily strong.  His knuckles were bleeding.  "I can't get it off and Giles is gonna - gonna ss-ee it, he's gonna know -"

"Know what?  What's he going to know?"  Spike knocked the brush out of Xander's other hand and grabbed his wrists - pulled him around so they were face to face and Xander struggled for a moment, panting - crying, his voice getting shriller and water dripping off his elbows. 

"Know what I did, he'll know what I did, had to d-do, had to, had to!"  Xander's voice rose to a shriek and Spike shook him, hard.

"Stop it!  Tell me what you mean!"

"I had to kill her!  I had to kill her, god, Spike, I had to kill her and she was l-looking at me, she was looking at me and she was - she was smiling!"  The last was a drawn-out wail and Xander jerked in Spike's hold and Spike let him go - watched him sink to the floor, his arms coming up to wrap around his head.  Muffling the hoarse, coughing sobs that jolted their way out of him. 

"Bugger," Spike muttered.  He didn't do comfort.  Well, he'd done it for Dru but she was easily distracted with a bit of violence or a necklace or sex.  None of which would work with Xander, more's the pity.  Spike crouched down, wrist locked in the circle of his fingers.  Hesitating.   If what Xander said was true - if what he was seeing or remembering was real and not something the demon was just - tormenting him with...  *It'll gut him when he really remembers everything.  If he killed one of his girls.  If what that thing did made it the only bloody option.  Fucking hell, he was there, with it and the girls and it let him go...  Why'd it let him go?*

"Spike -"   Whisper of a word from Xander and Spike shook his head, dismissing all his speculations for the moment.  "Spike, please don't t-tell Giles I..."

"Bloody hell, Xander, that's not important right now!"

"Yes it is!"  Xander's head came up fast, his arms clenching around his shoulders, his face wet and pale and flushed hectic red at the cheeks.  His eye red-rimmed and pleading.   The empty socket wept as well, dark lashes clumped together against his cheek.   "He'll think...he'll -"

"Who gives a fuck what a he thinks?  None of this is your doing, Xander, none of it."  Spike finally gave up - gave in.  Unlocked his hand from the bruising grip on his wrist and reached out.  Stroked his fingers carefully through Xander's sweat-damp hair and down his neck, where he let his thumb gently rub the soft skin just under the hinge of Xander's jaw.  Brush over and over the fluttering jump of Xander's pulse while his fingers slipped through the dark hair at the back of Xander's head.  Xander just stared at him, looking cold and defeated and lost.  The medallion swung a little and Spike frowned at it.

"Slip that off, all right?  That chain.  Think it's doing more harm than good."  Xander fumbled with the clasp and let the chain slither off his neck.  Spike took it from his hand and laid it above them on the counter where it slipped with a hissing rattle into the sink.  "Should get you back in bed," Spike said softly, still gently stroking Xander's hair, and Xander took a huge breath, his expression going from misery to confusion to resignation.

"I didn't hurt you this time, did I?"

"Eh?"

Xander reached up and trapped Spike's hand under his, squeezing softly.  "When I - I was dreaming again just now, wasn't I?  It's...blurry.  I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No.  Didn't hurt me one bit."

"Good," Xander said, soft sigh of a word, and he leaned forward, his other hand coming up to wrap around Spike's bicep and tug, ever so slightly.  Spike let himself be moved - let his forehead lightly touch Xander's and they leaned there for a minute.

"Is it true?" Xander whispered, and Spike closed his eyes for a moment.

"I - I dunno.  Might just be - what the demon wants you to think is true."

"Felt...true," Xander said, and Spike sighed.

"I just don't know, Xander."  Xander shivered and Spike pulled reluctantly away.  "Come on and get back into bed, you're freezing."

"I'm all wet.  I need a towel."  Xander let Spike haul him upright - stood there for a moment with his cold fingers on Spike's arms - his hip pushing at Spike's and his knee just touching.   Wet, bare feet next to Spike's and the damp leg of his sweats radiating chill.

"Need another bloody hot shower, is what you need," Spike muttered, and Xander smiled a tiny, twisted little smile.

"If I wasn't feeling like I might puke again at any minute, I'd invite you to share," he said, the matter-of-factness in his voice making Spike blink for a moment, dazed.

"You'd regret it, mate."

"Would I?"  Xander reached up and ran shaky fingers through Spike's hair - brushed the callused pad of his thumb over the scar through Spike's eyebrow, making Spike shiver.  "Have to tell me the story behind that one of these days."  His smile got a little stronger and he took a step back - stepped around, and headed for the bathroom. 

Spike just stood there, breathing slowly.  Breathing in the lingering salt and iron scent of Xander's blood - the scent of sweat and endorphins and skin, which on Xander was earthy and rich and had an edge of something like sun-ripened grass.  Good scents, that urged him to follow Xander down the hall - slip into the shower and... 

*And get myself staked come spell-breaking time.  Or at least blamed, and I'm sodding tired of taking the blame.*   Spike turned the taps off with a wrench and went back to the couch - lay down and pulled the blankets up and buried himself in a drift of pillows.  When Xander finally came back and slipped in beside him, he very nearly pretended to be asleep.  But that wasn't fair, and it wasn't...bloody...right.  Spike snarled into the darkness and nearly yelled when a warm, heavy hand slipped over his ribs.

"Thanks for - helping me, Spike.  For waking me up."

Spike blinked - breathed - let his own hand settle carefully over Xander's.  "S'what friends do, Xander.  That's all."

"Sure.  All."  The mattress shook a little as Xander shifted and his toes curled into the arch of Spike's feet.  "I feel like I should - say a prayer or something but...  I don't remember any prayers."

"Don't you?  I don't know too many, myself."  Spike rubbed the pads of his fingers over Xander's nails - over the rough cuticles and bitten edges, thinking.  "My nanny used to say this one to me.  Suppose it'll do.  'From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night - Good Lord, deliver us.'"

"Huh." 

Another shift, and a warm knee socketed gingerly in behind Spike's and Spike found he was grinning madly into the darkness of the flat.    "She was a barmy old Scot - kept bundles of thistle over the windows and a jar of nails under her bed.  But that's where she died, safe and sound."

"Guess it works, then."  One last tiny shift and a sigh, and Xander's breath was warm over the back of Spike's neck.  "G'night, beastie."

A hesitation, and then Spike sighed his own sigh, relaxing.  "Night, Xander."

 

 

 

"No, it's okay, really.  I...uh...I'm fine."

"It's just - I was having one of those days, you know?  The kind where you feel like kicking puppies and I hadn't heard anything for - two days and - and Giles called and said you were in London with Spike and I was just...  I was really upset."

*What in bloody hell?*  Spike rolled over on the bed, fixing a questioning look on Xander who was sitting up against the back, picking at the little pills on the blanket over his legs.  He looked tired.  *Willow.  Again.  Damnit.*

"Yeah, well - it's...okay, I mean - guess it was kind of a - a shock and...everything...  I get why you were - upset."

"She was upset," Spike muttered, and Xander frowned at him.  "She should have come up here and checked on her best friend in person if she was so bloody upset!" Spike snapped, loud, and Xander covered the mic on the phone.

"Spike!  She can hear you!"

"Bloody well hope so!"

"Is that Spike?  Is he there?  Why is Spike there?  Xander, you two don't - I mean...you're not like - best buds, you know?  You don't - um - loan him money or anything. Ever."

"Oh, for fuck's sake!"  Spike flung the covers back and stomped into the kitchen to find his smokes, deliberately tuning out whatever Xander was saying.  He dug his cigarettes out of his coat and lit up, puffing hard.  The light was still on over the sink and he stepped over to it - looked down at the medallion that lay in the bottom, chain half-slipping into the drain.  Spike plucked it out and held it up into the diffused, early-afternoon light that was coming through the kitchen curtains.  It looked - tarnished.  Darker.  He dropped it into a coat pocket and stomped back out into the living room just as Xander was hanging up.

"And thank you very much for all that - drama!  She was just apologizing."

"And being a right git about it, too."

Xander put the phone down on the end table and rubbed his eye.  "I told her you hadn't tried to borrow any money."

"Bloody hell.  I don't need your money - got plenty of my own.  Think I do my jobs for free?  She doesn't have a bloody clue."  Spike flung himself down onto the bed and blew a lungful of smoke at the ceiling and Xander sighed and lay his head down on the back of the couch.

"You know, that kind of made me think...  I mean, my wallet's gone - should I be like - calling credit card companies or something?  Do I have money?"

"Course you do.  Got a nest-egg that'd choke a horse.  Andrew took care of all the - other stuff."  Spike tapped cigarette ash into his palm.  "He said he'd have new I.D and a passport and stuff for you in - couple weeks.  Cancelled your bank card and all that.  Our Mr. Fix-it, Andrew is."

"Andrew...  Have I talked to him?"

"Nope.  He's been out and about 'gathering intel'.  He called a couple days ago when you were in the shower, told me about the passport and stuff.  Oh."  Spike glanced sheepishly up at Xander but Xander was still staring at the ceiling.  "Guess I forgot to pass on the word.  Sorry 'bout that."

"Huh?  Oh.  Yeah, it's cool.  Not like I need anything right now.  I'll - uh - pay you back for all the food and stuff." 

Spike felt himself going stiff and he sat up, forgetting his hand was full of ashes and smearing them on the sheet.  "That's not - I don't care about - damnit, Xander, I don't -"

"Hey, it's cool.  You said we weren't friends and so did Willow -"

"Fuck her -"

"Guess you two aren't friends, either?"

"Fuck this."  Spike slid off the bed and stood up - dropped his cigarette into an empty beer bottle and started hunting up his jeans.  "No, I'm not bloody friends with the witch or Andrew or Rupert.  I'm not friends with any of you, and it must be bloody true since Willow said, mustn't it?"  Finding his jeans under the bed, he yanked them on - buttoned them up and jerked his t-shirt on, furious and shaking.  He'd gone through enough of shite like this when he'd first come on to the Council - had enough people looking at him sideways and down and now Xander going there - was just too much.  "I only died for all of you and the bloody world and was tortured by a hell-god for little sis and hurt myself on that bloody chip for Willow's girl, back when she was still alive and -"

"Hey!  Hey, Spike - stop.  Stop."   Xander's hands on his shoulders pulled Spike upright from digging his socks out of his boots and Spike jerked away and then stood there, teeth gritted and fists curled.   "Listen, I - I don't know why I - I mean..."  Xander put both hands in his hair and scrubbed for a second, eye squeezed shut.

"Listen, okay?  I don't know why I even...said anything.   I'm just -"   Xander let his hands fall to his sides, opening his eye to stare at Spike.  "I'm kind of freaked out a little still.  About...everything.  About me and demons and...dead people.  Okay?  I'm sorry I said that."

"Bloody well should be," Spike muttered, but he let his socks drop to the floor, his fury subsiding a little.

"I am, okay?"  Xander sighed - gave a small laugh as if something were just occurring to him.  "You know, you keep saying you're not my friend but I think it's just...a cover."

"A cover.  For what, exactly?" Spike asked, glaring.   Wishing he'd turned the bloody phone off and they were still curled up in the bed and none of this mess had ever happened.

"Oh, I dunno."  Xander took a step closer - then another one, looking Spike up and down.  Getting into his space right proper, warm scent of his skin and the organic shampoo he'd bought at the shop.  "Maybe 'cause you...really are?  I mean - saved my life, got tortured, came and got me in that hospital...  I think -" Xander's hand rested flat and heavy on Spike's chest - moved just a little, as if he were smoothing out the wrinkles in the t-shirt Spike hadn't bothered to change for fresh.  "I think maybe you're upset because you are my friend and you just - don't want to admit it."   Xander's expression was serious - almost remote, as if he were thinking very hard about - something.  Spike felt curiously emptied out.  Thinking of nothing at all, just...watching.  Feeling.

Another step closer, warm thigh bumping Spike's - warm hand creeping out and curling over his hip and then...warm, warm lips, lightly brushing over his own.   Fingers sliding up and up until they were sliding around his shoulder and tugging him closer and Spike just stood still.  Closed his eyes and opened his mouth a little and let Xander slowly, carefully kiss him.

As if he were made of something breakable.  As if he were - fragile, or at least as if he were something not to be spoiled and Spike gasped in a hard, almost hurting breath and turned his head away - let his forehead go down to rest on Xander's shoulder and let Xander's hands stroke gently up his back.

"You're shaking."

"I'm bloody - angry."

"No you're not," Xander said, and Spike could hear the smile in his voice.

"You don't know.  Don't know a bloody thing."

"Oh, sure.  I know all kinds of things.  You smoke filterless Marlboros even when you have to tear the filters off yourself and you like really spicy food and your favorite movies have explosions and blood and gore unless they're weird Italian things with lots of soft-core sex and no plot -"

"Hey!  There was a plot -"

"Shhh."  Xander's fingers rubbed a little harder, up and down Spike's spine.  His chin bumped the side of Spike's neck and his lips brushed for a moment over the edge of Spike's ear.  "Just hush.  I know the important stuff.  You came for me.  You protected me.  You worry about me and you're taking care of me and you don't actually...have to." 

Another soft press of Xander's lips that sent a shiver over Spike's skin and he inched his hands up - slid them across soft cotton until his arms were wrapped around Xander's ribs.  "Well, got a job to do, haven't I?"

"Yeah, sure.  Job.  That's what this is."  The smile in Xander's voice was a laugh now but Spike just - didn't care.   It felt too damn good.  Heat and the solid press of muscle and bone - the hypnotizing thump-thump of Xander's heart and the slow, soothing rub of his hands.  Spike wanted to protest - wanted to tell Xander this really was nothing.  That in a few days the demon would be dead and the old Xander would be back and...

"Stop thinking about stuff and just..."

"Just what?" Spike asked, finally lifting his head - tipping it a little to one side and studying Xander's expression, which was one of quiet satisfaction.

"Just kiss me back.  Okay?"

"Yeah, okay."

 

 

 

Giles was predictably horrified by the nightmare and what the medallion had done.  He looked as if he wanted to grill Xander for every last detail but the shadow under Xander's eye - the defeated slump of his shoulders as Spike related the carefully edited tale - made Giles mouth go thin and tight and he sat down abruptly in his chair.  The medallion and its chain lay in a silver-black coil on his desk blotter.

"I...  I wish I had nothing new to tell you but - two more Slayers have gone missing.  One in India and one from Nepal.  The Indian girl's Watcher was - killed."  Giles rubbed his forehead slowly with his thumb, looking at the scattered papers on his desk.  "The Nepalese Watcher is also missing."

"Bloody hell," Spike muttered.

Xander leaned forward, elbows on his knees and his face in his hands.  He spoke from behind his fingers.  "What's it want?  I mean, is it gonna - take over the world or something?"  He shifted on his chair, slight creak of old wood, and Spike watched the singed and crumpled cover of the little notepad - that was tucked under his thigh - shift with him, a burnt corner flaking off.   "Is there some plan?"

"There is rarely a plan with - beings such as this, Xander, but Wesley thinks he may have an idea."  Giles pushed through a sheaf of scribbled-over notebook paper and plucked one out of the mess.    "Here we are.  By taking the power from the Slayers - and the Watchers, presumably - this being maintains its corporeal body.  It also gains the abilities of its victims, for a short time."

"As long as they're alive, it can use them," Xander said softly, and Giles blinked up at him.

"Er, yes.   Wesley said there have been one or two instances of this demon managing to make its stolen form permanent.  It then keeps - everything.  We think the Judge may have been one."

"Well, then, just need soldier-boy here to steal us another missile," Spike said, lighting up and feeling absurdly pleased at the little, flashing smile Xander sent him from under his palm.

"If it were only that easy," Giles said, leaning back in his chair and tossing his glasses down onto his desk.  "The Judge was bound by the forms it had taken - by the - power it stole.  This one is taking Slayer power which is -"

"Which is like a nuclear bomb to a firecracker?" Xander asked, and Giles made an agreeing noise.  Xander sat up, running one hand back through his hair and then touching the patch, settling it.  "So - how does it make itself permanent?  Is there some special - uh, thing it needs, like an amulet or something?"

"Well, no, not as such..."  Giles was looking at Xander with an expression of extreme reluctance and Spike felt something - he wouldn't call it panic - starting to flutter in his belly.

"Spit it out, Rupert.  We're all big boys here."

"Wesley postulates - and I agree, given the information he's passed along - that the demon is working its way to you, Xander.  Gathering power as it goes.  When it - finds you again, there's a ritual..."

"There's always a sodding ritual," Spike snarled.  He leaned forward and dropped his cigarette butt into Giles' cold tea.  Giles didn't even seem to notice.

"What kind of ritual?" Xander asked, his fingers curling around wire binder of the notebook - around the Mickey Mouse pen.

"It is...  Well, as you know, the longer its victims remain alive, the longer it can maintain its stolen power and identity."

"Yeah, we know," Spike snapped, and Xander shuddered, his eye closing for a moment.   "And its daisy-chaining them right now, isn't it?  Keeping one alive as long as it can until it finds the next one."

"Yes, exactly.  We believe that it's going to do a final ritual that will...merge -"   Giles stood up fast, pacing to his window and looking out into the fogged, drizzling day.  "We believe, Wes and I, that - it will somehow be able to take Xander's soul for its own.   If Xander's soul lives on inside of it, it's like a - a perpetual energy machine."

"Fuck."

"Then why - why not a Slayer's soul?"  Xander pulled the notebook free and held it now, rolling it in his hands and crushing it a bit more.  It was starting to look more like a lump of trash than a functional piece of stationary.  "Why not - the soul from the guy that let it in, or -"

"We're not sure," Giles said, turning around, and Spike snorted.  Giles sent a glare his way.  "We believe that, because it took your memories - your experiences - that it's in tune with you.  That your - soul - would actually be...sympathetic, in a way."

"You mean it's - used to me."

"And you're used to it, however dreadful that sounds."  Giles came back over - propped one hip on the edge of his desk and laced his hands together in his lap, looking at Xander with sympathy.  "If it tried the same thing with another - victim, they would both die.  Wesley thinks that's why it stole your memories but didn't kill you.  It needed time to...acclimate."

"Maybe we can trick it, then?"  Spike got out another cigarette and lit it, staring contemplatively at his boots.  "Make it take somebody else's soul."

"And just whose soul are you planning on feeding to it, Spike?  Mine?  Miss Merchant's, perhaps?"  Spike lifted his head with a jerk at the snarling tone in Giles' voice and Xander flinched back, gaze darting between the two of them.  "Or perhaps some random stranger off the street!"

"Giles -"

"Temping as it might be to give it you, Rupert, that's not what I had in mind!"

"Spike -" 

"What!"  Spike turned furiously on Xander and Xander jerked back for a moment and then leaned forward, glaring.

"What the fuck are you thinking?" Xander growled, fury making his voice rough - making his heart pound in his chest and Spike actually leaned away, just  little, before he stopped himself and took a deep drag off his cigarette.

"I'm just - puttin' things out there.    Looking at all the options -"

"You dying isn't an option!" Xander yelled, and in the ringing aftermath there was a hesitant knock on the door.  

"Not now, for god's sake!" Giles snapped, and Spike could hear Miss Muffet creeping away from the door.

"I wouldn't die - I'm a vampire.  Immortal and all that."

"How do you know?  You don't actually know," Xander said and Giles finally got it and turned a look of horror on Spike.

"Dear god.  Your soul?  Your soul."  He shot to his feet, taking a step toward Spike as if he would shake him - or perhaps hit him.  "You can't possibly - you'd be evil again!  You'd -"

"I’m not him, Rupert.  Expect it wouldn't matter much, one way or the other.  Didn't in Sunnydale, those last days."

"No, not at all, not until you attacked Buffy -"

"Lover's spat," Spike said, negligently waving his cigarette through the air and Xander's mouth - which had been open to say something - snapped shut with an audible click.  "Oh, er -"

"You and Buffy?  Seriously?  You guys had a - a thing?"

"Well - yeah," Spike said, and Xander - surprisingly - laughed.

"Why doesn't that surprise me?  I thought there was something - off - in your conversation."

"You've spoken to Buffy?" Giles asked, and Spike rolled his eyes.

"Yes, I actually have.  Not the first time, either."  A thought occurred to Spike and he grinned, shooting a look at Giles.  "Did you know she's up the duff?"

"She's - what?"  Giles sat down again, hard, and Xander made an exasperated noise, sticking the notebook back under his leg and scrubbing his sooty palms on his thighs.

"Oh - uh - maybe best if you pretend you're all - surprised, yeah?  Probably she was saving that."

"Jesus, Spike.  Way to ruin it for the girl.  And you're not feeding your - your soul to this demon.  That's -"

"I am a demon, mate.  Not like it'd matter -"

"Enough!  We are not having this discussion -"   Giles was looking as if he was having an apoplectic fit and someone chose that exact moment to open the office door.  "Miss Merchant, I told you -"

"Actually, it's mister," the person said, and Spike twisted in his chair in surprise, staring at the man in the doorway.

"Percy? What in bloody hell are you doing here?"

"Arriving in the nick of time, I believe," Wesley said, smiling gently.    Giles slumped, pressing a button on his phone and asking for tea - 'very strong' - and Xander got up and edged carefully away from Wes, getting behind Spike's chair.

"This is the deadish guy, right?"

"Kewpie doll for you, mate."

"Huh?"

"Never.  Bloody.  Mind."

 

 

 

"No, really.  I think that would be a brilliant plan," Wes said around a huge mouthful of pie and Spike shot Giles a triumphant glance.  "If we want to turn William the Bloody loose on the world again, inviting mayhem and destruction."

"Oh, for fuck's sake!  I told you - I'm not him!"  Spike waved a chip in the air.  "I stopped him from doing that way back, in case you've forgotten."

"I have," Xander said, grinning - concentrating on his plate and Spike whapped him mostly-gently in the back of the head.

"Shut it, you."

"Yes, we've all heard the story - saving the world for dog racing and Happy Meals on legs - hardly a ringing endorsement."  Wesley looked positively gleeful and Spike decided that being dead suited him. 

"Well I was evil then, wasn't I?   Seen the error of my ways since then and all that rot."  Giles seemed to be choking on his crust and Spike whacked him absentmindedly between the shoulder blades, making him reach for his pint with a strangled sound.

"And you'll be evil again if you give up your soul."  Wes took a long pull of his beer and wiped his mouth - belched contentedly. 

Xander leaned over to whisper to Spike.  "Will you really be evil?"

"Nah.  I mean - I am right now, in a manner of speaking but - wasn't so evil when I was savin' the Bit from that hell-god and all.  Didn't have my soul then."

"Yes, but you wanted to get - intimate - with Buffy," Giles said.  His voice sounded a little rough and he coughed.

"Well...yeah.  But I still did it, didn't I?  Even after she told me to bugger off."  Spike drank the last of his beer and looked around the table.  "Four more then, gents?"

"Oh, yes, same again," Wes said, finishing his own off and Spike waited expectantly.  "What?"

"Your round, Wes."

"Oh!  Yes, right..."  Wes patted his pockets while Giles drained his own pint, finally handing over a much-creased twenty-pound note.  "And I want my change, Spike."

"Yeah, all right," Spike said, pushing his chair back.  Xander copied him. 

"Just want to use the, uh - you know."

"Yeah, I know."    They made their way toward the bar, detouring around knots of rowdy punters and the occasional snogging couple.  Spike placed his order and leaned on the bar, looking around at Xander.

"Loo's that way, mate."  Xander nodded and slipped away and Spike lit a cigarette and ignored the scowl from the two bottle-blondes next to him.  Sodding anti-smoking bastards were ruining a good night out.

"Thirteen pounds seventy-one!" the bartender yelled, and Spike shoved the twenty at him.  A moment later, Xander was pushing up between Spike and the wall, looking a little rattled.

"Something up?" Spike asked, taking his change and dropping coppers everywhere.

"Oh, no.  There's some guy being sick in the bathroom.  And everything was - uh - sticky.  I should have just waited."

"You lot are pretty disgusting.  Here, grab hold," Spike said, and pushed two brimming glasses into Xander's hands.  He took the other two and then stopped as Xander leaned into him. 

"Wes doesn't seem very dead to me," Xander said, and Spike grinned.

"I suppose being back on his territory, doing the Watcher thing with Rupert - he's in fine fettle."

"Oh, okay.  Good."  Xander took a sip of the glass in his left hand.  "I was just a little...uh....concerned -"

"Didn't want to see him come over all blood and psychosis?"

"Basically, yeah."  Xander grinned suddenly and licked his lips.  "Are, uh, Giles and Wesley watching us?"

"What?  No - they're drawing something on a napkin or - thumb-wrestling?  I can't umph."  Spike stopped talking as Xander leaned in and kissed him, hard.

"Okay.  Ready to go back."

"Right.  What?  Yeah.  Right."  Xander's smirk was far too evil for Spike's peace of mind.

 

"It's really quite - simple," Giles said and Xander leaned forward, putting his finger down in the spilled dregs of his last pint and starting to sketch - something.  Looked like a map of Moscow. 

*Think I'm a bit drunk.  Probably that bottle I didn't share.*   Spike looked narrow-eyed at Giles and Wesley and quickly drained the last of his whisky.

"Right.  S-simple.  You're going to - going to - trick this demon into thinking it's getting my soul when it's really getting - Spike's.  Soul."  Xander looked troubled.  Wesley reached over and patted his arm.

"Yes, quite. And then....and then...and then..."  Wesley blinked owlishly - jumped and cursed when Spike kicked him under the table.  "Ow!  Bloody hell!"

"You drifted off there, mate.  Right - trick, spell, soul.  My soul.  Then when it - explodes or whatever -"

"It's gonna explode?  Oh, gross!  I don't wanna have exploded demon all over me, Spike!"

"You're bloody well not gonna be there!" Spike growled, and Giles wagged his finger at them.

"No exploding!  There will be no - exploding."  Giles nodded and Xander looked relieved.

"Promise?"

"Of course!  Tell him, Wes -"

"You know, I really miss...LA," Wesley said, and sniffled. 

"An' that's our bloody cue.  C'mon, Xander, not gonna stay here for the waterworks.  Rupert?  Can you manage a cab?"

Giles drew himself up in lopsided dignity.  "Of course I can!  Not so - very drunk.   Buck up, Wes!"  Giles slapped him affectionately on the shoulder and Wesley wobbled, his entire self going distinctly fuzzy for a moment.  "Now, none of that, man.  There shall be no - no - uh, Spike?"

"Blood and psychosis.  Good luck, mate."  Spike stood up - got his footing - grabbed Xander by the arm and got him up, as well.  Xander pulled his coat off the back of his chair and started to struggle into it, weaving a little.

"Yeah, no blood, no exploding, no...  Wait.  What about your soul, Spike?"

"We'll talk about it later," Spike said, and steered Xander out into the night. 

 

 

 

The ride home sobered Xander up a little - it was cold and drizzling and there was a decided breeze that was keeping the air fresh, not letting it smolder down into the usual fug of burning and exhaust and the tidal Thames.   Xander walked in silence up his block - held the key up when Spike couldn't find it and opened his door without too much trouble.  Once inside he shed boots and coat and flopped on the couch with a sigh.

"Okay.  Tell me about your soul, Spike."

Spike finished kicking off his own boots and settled down next to Xander, scowling.  He really didn't want to talk about it.  "How 'bout we just watch some telly -"

"Spike."  Xander was all but glaring at him, patch on the coffee table and his palm rubbing gingerly at the empty socket.  "Just - tell me."

"Not gonna like it," Spike mumbled, and Xander turned sideways on the couch, tucking one foot up under himself, his arm lying along the back.  Not quite touching Spike, but close.

"Try me."

"Yeah, all right.  You remember - bugger.  Okay, listen."  Spike told the outlines of the story of Glory - of Buffy's death and her resurrection.   Of her time in heaven and her misery on earth for the first year or so.  Xander listened and looked faintly sick and Spike paused to get a beer.  Xander wanted water.

"I can't believe that...  I mean, I understand missing somebody but - how could we?  That was just..."

"It was grief, Xander.  Fear and grief and Willow not using her head.  All of you feeling so guilty you didn't care if it was wrong or right."

"It was fucked up," Xander said, and took a long drink.  "Okay, so - what does this have to do with you?"

Spike drank half his beer in one gulp and tipped his head back, staring up at the ceiling.  "When I died the first time, my soul was gone, sure as if I'd died and been buried in the natural way.  And then I went and got it back.  And I think that...it...that he...was maybe..."  Spike stopped and shut his eyes and twitched ever so slightly when he felt Xander's fingers curl gently around his shoulder.

"You think your soul went to heaven, too?  Like Buffy's?"

"I don't - know.  Don't know about souls and...heaven.  Know more about hell.  But it - he - he remembers.  Remembers dying and - and that it was good, after.  He was safe and he was happy and..."

"I'm sorry," Xander said, closer than he had been and Spike opened his eyes again.   Blur of dark hair and pale skin in the corner of his eye - Xander's palm warm through the sleeve of his t-shirt.

"Did it to myself," Spike said, shrugging a little.   "He suffers, you know.  Not just because of the demon and all the killing and such, but...  He just does.  Every day.  It's not fair to him."  And that was it, really.  It wasn't fair, and it really wasn't all that good.  William - if that's who was inside - didn't like this time.  Didn't like what Spike did - didn't like the violence and the blood and the darkness.  He missed books that Spike didn't have much time for and music Spike refused to listen to.  Most of all he missed the sunlight and Spike could only take so much.

"So....what happens if...  I mean, are Wesley and Giles right?  Are you gonna be all...evil and bad again?  Are you gonna hurt us?"

"No.  Probably not.  If you act nice."  Xander made a little squeaky noise and Spike rolled his head to look over at him, grinning.  "Git."

"Hey, Amnesia-Boy here!  If - if you say you won't hurt us then - I believe you."

"You won't, though," Spike said, and Xander looked unhappy.  But his hand was still on Spike's shoulder, so Spike figured maybe it was okay.

 

 

 

For the next three days they mostly stayed in.  Spike fielded calls from the Watchers about what they were doing and he and Xander got pretty familiar with every movie Xander owned.  And pretty familiar with each other.  It was the least sex Spike had ever had but it was somehow...more.  It was weird.  It was driving him fucking crazy.

Spike congratulated himself on not pushing Xander down onto the couch and fucking him until he passed out, even though Xander was all but stripping down and bending over.  *Won't thank me for it, either way.  But it's for the best.*

"I can't believe I'm that big a jerk, Spike.  I mean - seriously - am I really that much of an asshole?"  Xander looked at Spike over the wall of pillows Spike had constructed on the pull-out couch.  Bloody bastard insisted on lying around naked and warm and fucking hard and Spike wanted it down, for the record, that he'd resisted.

"You're a right bastard," Spike said, and then relented at Xander's hurt look.  "Listen, you're not so bad, yeah?  We've got a past, is all, and it's gonna...get in the way.  M'not gonna be the bad guy again.  I mean -"

Xander started to laugh.  "You mean you wanna be the sensitive, fluffy, heart-shaped vamp?  All gooey and sweet?  Emovamp?"

"I mean I don't wanna have to fend off your attempts to stake me ten minutes after you remember I shagged your girl in front of you and all your friends, and now I've shagged you," Spike snapped, and then closed his eyes and dragged a pillow over his face because, really - what the fuck was he thinking?"

"What?  You did what?  You shagged - that means had sex with, right?  Spike!"  The couch shook as Xander demolished the wall and dragged the pillow off Spike's face.  His knee and shin and foot where over Spike's legs and his hand was flat on Spike's bare chest and Spike didn't want to open his eyes and see the hurt, disgusted look he knew would be there.

"Well, you'd dumped her, hadn't you?  And Buffy'd dumped me for all and good and we were both feeling a bit sorry for ourselves."  Xander's fingers were stroking gently and Spike wondered, suddenly, if it mattered as much as he supposed it did.   "And those bloody - nerds...   They'd wired up the shop and Buffy's house and fuck knows where else with cameras and of course Willow figured it out the same minute me and Anya -"

"Oookay.  Wait.  Anya - she's the one I left at the altar, right?"

"Yeah."

"So...ummm...yeah, I guess I'd be kinda...pissed but...  I mean, I'd left her, at the altar.  Who was I kidding?"

"You almost chopped my head off with an axe," Spike said, opening his eyes and looking at Xander, who was looking puzzled and a little amused - and a little disgusted, but not, apparently, over Spike.

"I really am an asshole if I thought that I could tell the girl I jilted who she could sleep with."

"Well, you and me weren't -"

"I get we weren't friends, Spike."  Xander hesitated for a moment and then he leaned down and pressed his lips lightly to Spike's.   When he spoke again, he barely pulled away, whispering voice puffing warm air over Spike's chin.  "But that doesn't mean I had the right to - to take an axe to you.  I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Course not, I -.   Well, I ducked and then Buffy was there.  Sodding chip -"

"Good."  Xander kissed him again - hitched himself closer so his entire warm, naked body was pressed tight to Spike's.    "So I got to watch you have sex with somebody, huh?"

"We weren't - naked or anything.  Dunno exactly what you saw."

"Hmmm..."  Xander kissed him again and Spike closed his eyes and took a breath and pushed.  Rolled them both over so he was on top and Xander was laughing softly, squirming around and hooking his foot over Spike's thigh - opening himself to the press of groin and denim and hard, desperate flesh.

"You bloody bastard.   You're making this fucking impossible."

"Kind of the point," Xander breathed, his hands doing wicked, wicked things down Spike's back and under the waist of his half-buttoned jeans.

"You just don't get it," Spike groaned.  He pushed his face into the warm, sweet-salty crook of Xander's neck - let Xander rub and grope and arch and twist until he was fucking close - so damn close. 

The phone rang.

"Don't you fucking dare," Xander snarled, flushed and sweet with clean sweat, panting into Spike's shoulder and his hands digging into Spike's ass - holding him tight and close, one leg wrapped around and the other splayed wide, foot braced.  "Just - fuck - Spike -"

"God -"   Spike fastened human teeth into Xander's throat and pushed - twisted - moaned into Xander's skin, heartbeat like a military drum under his tongue.  Aware of the sudden, warm slickness on Xander's belly - of his own body shuddering through a climax he couldn't have stopped if he'd tried.

"Fuck -"   Xander was limp - falling open like a starfish on the tangled sheets, eye closed and hair sticking up in clumps.  Spike unlocked his jaw - eased back a little and looked with a sort of horrified glee at the deep, red bruise he'd managed to inflict on the pale-gold skin just over Xander's collarbone.

"Bloody hell, Xander -"

"Don't say you're sorry, don't say it sucked, don't say I'll regret it.  Okay?"  Xander groped blindly and found Spike's head - slid shaking hands into Spike's hair and pulled him down into a sloppy, breathless kiss.  "Don't say a fucking thing.  It was fucking amazing.  We're gonna do it again.  I'll sign a contract in blood that says I won't try to stake you."

"Oh god fucking damnit all to fucking hell -"

"Shut up, Jesus -"   They kissed until they were stuck together and then staggered into the shower, blue twilight coming in through the long strip of windows over the shower stall.  Xander got out first and when Spike came into the kitchen - back in clean jeans and thank god, Xander was in sweats - Xander tossed a beer at him.

"It was Giles on the phone.  He said they've figured out the spells they need and - uh - Willow figured out a way to track the demon."  Xander's voice was casual - careful - and his hands were shaking again and his expression was too shuttered to be hiding anything but fear. 

"And?"

"And they're right.  It's coming here." 

 

 

 

Of course it was back to the Council headquarters the next day, to sit in Giles office and watch him and Wesley dance around each other.  A card table in the corner for Wes and stacks of papers, books and ratty scrolls on every flat surface.  Wes was on the phone taking rapid notes, his hair a rat's nest and his cheeks dark with stubble.  He looked a bit post-Illyria, really, and Spike hoped he wouldn't be having one of his...spells.   Giles was balancing two books on his lap and writing something, glasses slipping down and his shirt sleeves rolled up, tie askew and top button undone.

"Jeez, have you guys even slept?" Xander asked, and stepped hastily aside for the divine Miss M, who was just bringing in a loaded tea tray.

Spike looked it over critically.  "Hope you got the good jam this time, that plum was a bit -"

"That is for myself and Wesley, Spike, if you don't mind - we've been hard at it since sun-up!  Yesterday!"  Giles cleared a space for the tray and shot warning looks at Spike and Spike reached for his cigarettes, slumping down into one of the chairs.

"Not very mannerly, are you?"

"You don't even need to eat!" Giles snapped, and Wesley put the phone down and rubbed his eyes.

"Is there tea?  Thank god."  There were a few moments of tea-making and shuffling about.  Xander got the folding chair out and Wes mainlined two cups, his fingers shaking ever so slightly.  "We've worked out how to do - everything.  Lure the demon and trick it with your soul, Spike, and then collect your soul again when the demon is destroyed and - and put it back in you."

"Got it all figured out, do you?"

"Yes, I believe we do."  Wes picked up a currant bun and nibbled.  "It's a variation on something we used once with Angel, a muo ping.  It's a sort of a...jar of holding."  Xander made a snorting noise and Spike made a mental note to ask him what that was about.  "We'll need something from you, Xander, in order to set things in motion."

"Yeah?  Okay...what?"

"Just a little blood," Giles said.  His voice was scratchy and he was downing little deviled-ham-and-cress sandwiches like the Fyarl he'd once been, wolfish snaps of his teeth into soft white bread.    "It's for a glamour, of sorts.  To make Spike look and smell like you."

"Better ways to do that," Spike muttered, too low for anyone but Xander to hear and Xander snorted again, flush of blood rushing to his face that made Spike want to grab him right there - show the Watchers a thing or two about vampires and sex.   *Right there over that desk would do nicely...fucking hell.*

"Okay, so - blood, glamour - the demon grabs Spike and we zap it?"

"You don't do any -"

"Xander, I really think that -"

"Perhaps -"

"Stop!"  Xander actually yelled and the three of them stopped talking - stared at him in surprise as he pushed a hand back over his still-tufty-but-growing hair and then leaned forward, his hands clasped tightly together between his knees.  "Look.  I get it.  I'm just human, nothing special, blah blah.  But if you think I'm going to - to hide away somewhere while you guys -" Xander leveled a glare at the Watchers, who bridled.  "You guys who are - are mostly just human do all the dirty work, you're crazy.  All of you," Xander added, turning his gimlet stare on Spike, and Spike snarled.

"Don't care if you think we're sodding barking, that's not the bloody point -"

"No, it's not," Xander said, and his voice was tired - a little sharp.  "The point is, from what Giles and you both told me...  This is my job.  My - thing.  I went looking for Slayers and I found this demon and - I have to be there.  I have to be there."  His fingers washed and washed and washed together and Spike smoked the last inch of his cigarette - ground it out on the bottom of his boot, watching that restless movement.  Knowing exactly what Xander was thinking about.

"Okay.  You're right."  Spike held up a forestalling hand as both Watchers opened their mouths to protest.  "We're going to be controlling this.  We'll make sure it goes exactly where we want, and we'll make sure it's a place that's safe."  He stared, jaw clenched, ignoring the flummoxed look from Giles and the knowing smirk from Wesley.  The Watchers finally exchanged glances and nodded, giving in.

"I suppose we could do another glamour.  To - to disguise Xander," Wesley said, drawing a piece of paper towards himself - plucking a pencil out of a cup.  "There's that one by Horbach, it's easy and quite effective -"

"Oh, yes - quite.  That will do nicely.  Now, Xander - I'm afraid we need the blood."

"Sure," Xander said.  "Thanks, Spike."

"Just make sure you do what we say," Spike muttered, flashing back to Dawn and 'mind me' and not feeling like a sitter at all, no.  Feeling like a slightly panicky lover who was facing something dire for the first time.  *I'm a bloody fool.*

"Sir, yes sir," Xander muttered, but there was life back in his voice and his fingers clenched together once and then dropped away to rest naturally on his thighs, tension easing out of his shoulders with almost audible clicks.  

"Right - ready?"  Giles was holding a small silver dagger and a pottery bowl that had some sort of markings on the inside in what looked like charcoal and Xander blinked and then straightened in his chair.

"Yeah, let's - let's just get it over with."

"Of course.  Spike, if you would -"   Giles held out the bowl and Spike took it - reached across Xander and lifted his left arm.

"Just hold it up, yeah?  It won't hurt much.  Will it?" he added, looking at Giles with a little glimmer of gold in his eyes and Giles narrowed his eyes and huffed, coming around the end of the desk.

"Of course it won't.  I'm not a butcher.  Now, Xander - just hold still."  Giles put his hand below Spike's on Xander's arm, gripping firmly.   He rested the silver blade on the fleshy part of Xander's forearm.  "Libere datus," he murmured, and slashed down.  Xander twitched but held still, his teeth in his lip, and a thin line of ruby welled up and then ran down.  Spike caught the drops in the bowl and when there was about a teaspoon's worth in the bottom, Giles nodded.  "That is sufficient, thank you," he said, and Wesley appeared over Spike's shoulder with a wad of gauze that smelt strongly of witch hazel.

Bowl and gauze shifted around and Spike was left holding the gauze to Xander's arm while Wes and Giles did something with the bowl, tucking it out of sight.  "You all right?" Spike asked, and Xander nodded.

"Yeah, I'm good.  It didn't really hurt - just kinda stung.  What - what was that you said, Giles?"  Xander put his own fingers over Spike's and Spike reluctantly let him take control of the gauze.  Wishing - with a little twist of heat and tingle down in his gut - that he could put his mouth to Xander's skin and taste...

"Eh?  Oh - I said 'given freely'.  It's - a bit of a blessing.  That spell won't work if you obtain the blood through subterfuge or violence.  Now - that's done..."

"And I think it's time we were off home," Wesley said, eyeing the last of the sandwiches on the tray.  "We'll need to do some tricky spell-work to set everything up and I, for one, would feel better about it if we were well-rested.  Rupert?"

"Hmmm?  Oh, yes, yes..." Giles started out of a semi-daze, looking around vaguely and slowly gathering up his jacket, a leather-bound notebook and a few papers from the desk. 

Spike reached over and picked up a small cream cake, holding it out to Xander.  "Here, better have that.  Don't want you getting wobbly after the blood-letting."

Xander took the cake with a roll of his eye.  "It's not like they took a bowl-ful or something.  I'm fine."  He stuffed the cake in his mouth anyway, earning a tsk from Giles and a grin from Wesley.

"Never underestimate the fretting power of the vampire, Xander - like father like son, I'd say."

"Angel is not my sodding father, Percy!  Bloody Irish bastard is - was - nothing more than a - a distant relation!  On Dru's side, and you know what she was like."

"Yes, actually..."  Wesley's face took on a distant expression and Spike stood up fast. 

"Right.   We've got our own - things.  To do.  So -"   Spike was interrupted by the phone and Giles spoke briefly, his shoulders slumping and his face taking on a hard look.

"Yes.  Yes, all right.  Yes, please fax that to Miss Merchant...  Thank you."  Giles rang off and stood there, silent, and Wes finally took the phone out of his hand.

"What is it, Rupert?"

"That was - was an operative in Germany.  We've been tracking the demon and - we were sure it was making its way overland from - from India.  It was spotted in Berlin..."  Giles rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, sighing.  "It's managed, somehow, to move more rapidly than we anticipated.  And...another Slayer is missing.  It's getting - much stronger, much too quickly.  We have perhaps a day."

"Oh, fuck," Xander whispered, and Spike felt the demon rise - up and out with a soft growl.

"Then you two better get your kip in and get to work.  I've got my own preparations to make.  Xander -"

"I'm not staying here," Xander snapped, and Spike reached out rapped his knuckles on Xander's skull. 

"I know that, you git.  Safest place is with me, yeah?  And thank Christ for bloody English weather or I'd be reduced to dodging through the streets in a blanket."

"I think I'd pay to see that," Xander said - shaky laugh and a punch to Spike's shoulder, doing his best to hide the fear that was making his heart trip-hammer behind his bones.

"You don't have the bloody means.  Rupert - Percy -"   Spike nodded once and then strode out of the office, leaving the Watchers to whatever preparations they had.  He had to see a man about a dog.  A very magical dog.

 

 

 

"Spike?  What did I just step in?"

Spike considered.  "Viscera, I'd say.  Liver?  No - that's spleen there, see -"

"Oh god -"   Xander looked around and then lunged for the crumbling edge of the ledge they were traversing. 

Spike snatched him backwards by his jacket collar.  "What in bloody hell do you think you're doing?"

"Scraping this off, Spike!  It keeps squishing."

"Plenty more of that where we're going."  Spike smoothed Xander's collar down and then found his hand smoothing Xander's nape - the silky-soft hair just under the curve of his skull and Xander's eye went a little darker, pupil expanding.   "There's a nest of Krv around here - they're not keen on calling 'round the bin-men."

"Are they - keen - on attacking harmless passers-by for all their viscera needs?" Xander asked, swaying closer, a gold and earth-brown cobra in the dim amber light.  

"Xander, that's a dog spleen."

"You really know how to turn a guy on," Xander murmured and swayed right into Spike, warm mouth pressing tight and warm hand slipping under Spike's coat to splay, heavy and possessive, across the small of Spike's back.

"Always been one of my specialties," Spike murmured back, curling his fingers up through Xander's hair and fisting his other hand in Xander's jacket collar.  Keeping him close.  A distant rumble became a rushing roar and the wire-strung incandescent bulbs that were hung overhead - one for every fifteen or so feet - trembled and chimed against the old, slimed brickwork.   Jubilee line, dragon in the dark and Xander shivered under Spike's fingers and pulled slowly back.

"Probably should - keep moving," he said, a little breathless, and Spike nodded slowly.

"Yeah, probably should.  Doesn't do to keep this bloke waiting."

"Yeah."  Another moment of stillness and then Spike blinked and really did back off - let his hands slide slowly down and away and Xander let him, grinning.

"I guess this is what you meant by 'demon magnet', huh?  Can't keep your hands off me."

"You're an insufferable prat, mate, and don't you forget it," Spike said, and neatly side-stepped a pancreas.  "Now that's human."

 

"Fucking - hell - thanks, love," Spike said, taking the cigarette Xander was offering, smiling at little at the flushed cheeks on the man opposite.    At the slip of the tongue that Xander hadn't seemed to mind - or not noticed, maybe.  "All right, now?" 

Xander coughed again.  "Yeah, sure, I'm fine.  Catch me volunteering to light one of those tubes of evil, carcinogenic death again!"  Xander huffed into his curled fist and made a face.

"Flask in my coat there," Spike said, trying not to bite his cigarette in half.   The needles bit deep, coated in a pale mixture of holy water and salt from the Dead Sea.   Thin trails of blood were running from the center of Spike's biceps and the middle of his back, right between his shoulder blades.  Ticklish and chilly in the damp air but Spike didn't move except to puff smoke slowly in and out.   Xander dug out his flask and took a tiny sip - made a face and took another.

"Smoke tastes a lot better second hand," Xander said, and Spike grinned at him.

Doormun - who wasn't a mage, exactly, and wasn't a witch, exactly, or even exactly human - dipped the needles into the little cup of solution and leaned in, tattoo machine whining like a dentist's drill as he slowly drew the complicated veve over Spike's sternum.   Last one, thank Christ, because the hard burn and buzzing sting and tickling, trickling blood were all about to drive Spike over the edge.  But he sat carefully still instead and smoked and watched Xander flinch for him.

He'd told Xander the marks were for protection.  To keep the demon off him, to keep the Watcher's spells from doing what they weren't supposed to do.  Specific to being a vampire and not for him and Xander had just nodded and watched with a wide eye.  Sucked in air and shifted uncomfortably when Spike's skin had blistered under the drops of holy water and sent up thin tendrils of white smoke.

"Not so bad," Spike said, and Xander shook his head.

"It looks fucking - horrible.  Your skin -"   Xander took a last, tiny sip of whisky and tucked Spike's flask away again.

"Be all healed after my next meal, yeah?  No worries."  Doormun hissed a little between his teeth, shooting Spike a hard glance and Spike stopped talking, willing himself back to that null place he'd spent so much time in after losing his hands.  After Glory and after his spine had been crushed and after he'd been half-flayed that time in Amsterdam.   Except the null place was a little harder to achieve with Xander right there, soft scent of leather and salt and lust, his hands curling and twitching because he wanted to reach out and touch, and he couldn't.  Spike found himself watching those hands, instead.  Imagining those hands, and that was pretty much as far from null as you could get.

"Yah, is all done, then," Doormun muttered, sitting back, and Spike blinked and reached up to carefully take the mostly-ashed cigarette from his mouth.  He looked down at his chest, grimacing a little, and then twitched back as Doormun slapped a soaking-wet towel over the veve

"Jesus Christ!  That's bloody cold!"

"Vill feel better.  Vater from the fjords, salt from Lot's vife, vhite sage, cocaine.  Vill make the blut stop."

"Could've given me some warning," Spike muttered.  Doormun cleaned away the blood from all four marks and then stood up, cracking his back and his neck and his fingers, looking like a gnome made of gnarled twigs and dried sinew, his skin rough and dark.  "Anything I need to know?"

"Vill hurt, when they vorking.  You vill know.  No hot tubs or sunlight.  Huurn."

"Ha, very funny.  What'd you think, Xander?  Still got my looks, then?"  Spike stood up as well and let Xander turn him left and right - step around him to examine his back.

"I dunno.  I'm not sure about a guy with tattoos, man.  It's kinda - hard core."  Xander was grinning but he reached out and lightly touched the red skin over Spike's heart.  "Does it still hurt?"

"Burns a bit, is all.  I've had worse.  Doormun, as always - top drawer."

"Al-vays a pleasure, Herr Spike.  Take my card - take two!  You may haf a friend -?"

"This one's 'bout it,' Spike said, taking the cards and tipping a nod toward Xander - finding his shirt and pulling it on with a wince.   Xander gathered up his coat and handed it across and Spike pulled out another cigarette.   "Right, then - off we go.  Doormun." 

"Herr Spike," Doormun said, little click of his heels and a bow - bow toward Xander who nodded back.  They were silent for the twenty minutes or so it took to climb back up to street level.  They stood in the shadow of a doorway for a moment, Spike finishing a third smoke and Xander scraping the soles of his boots on the edge of a concrete step.

"Well - that was fun.  Who knew there were ents living under London?"
"He's not a bloody ent."

"Kind of looked like one.  Like the hickory one, maybe.  Or oak."

"He was a bit - rough," Spike said.  The sun was nowhere in a nowhere-grey sky, mist sifting down fine as flour over them and the streets shining like glass, streaked with neon and the blue-white of halogen headlights.  "Could go for a pint - round of billiards, maybe, something -"
"To pass the time?"  Xander stopped scraping his boot and looked over at Spike.  "I think if this demon's gonna be in town in twenty-four hours I'd like to spend my last -"

"Not your last -"

"My last hours as...as this Xander doing something...else."

"Yeah?"  Spike tilted his head a little, giving Xander his best 'come let me ravish you' once-over, and Xander blushed hard.

"Fuck yeah."

"Talked me into it, then," Spike said, and Xander looked...relieved, which wasn't right.

Later, in the warm murk of Xander's living room - in the cocoon of scent and sweat and blankets - Spike lifted his head from Xander's throat and looked down at him, knowing his eyes were glittering demon-gold.

"You're not going to die, you know."
"Feels like I might.  Feels like - like I'm going to be turned off like a switch."  Xander's fingers rubbed slowly along Spike's spine and he shifted a little, one leg tangled with Spike's, the other hooked across his thighs.  His own eye was dark and wide and a little wet, long lashes like cobwebs.

"I promise you'll remember.  S'why I didn't want...  Well, why this is a bloody bad idea, yeah?"

"Yeah, worst fucking idea of my life," Xander said softly.  "I'm sorry I was...sorry for being a jerk all the time."

"Don't be bloody daft," Spike growled, and Xander laughed.

"Trying, man.  I'm..."  Xander took in a sharp, shaking breath and Spike worked his hands a little further beneath Xander's back, pulling him closer and dropping a short kiss onto Xander's mouth.

"I know, love.  You are, and I am.  It's all right."

"Yeah.  Yeah, okay," Xander whispered, and Spike closed his eyes and leaned in.

 

 

 

Brrrrp, brrrp.   

Spike twitched ever so slightly, his fingers pressing for a moment a little tighter into the warm flesh under them.

 Brrrrp, brrrp.

*Bloody...hell...*   Spike felt the bed jiggle as Xander shifted. 

"S'that the phone?"

"S'fucking phone."  Spike lifted his head, blinking.  The flat was dark, the bed warm and he could see the cobalt-blue of the phone winking at him from - over there.  *Too fucking far away.*

"Mmmphf."  Xander pushed himself up onto an elbow, yawning.  Spike saw him fumble for the lamp next to the couch and he hastily squinted his eyes shut against the sudden glare.  "I'll - uh -"

"Too late," Spike said.  The phone was silent now and he flopped onto his back, wiggling until he was comfortably against Xander's warm side.  "Why'nt we go sleep in the bedroom ever?" he asked and Xander manhandled Spike over, back to chest, Xander's arm around Spike's ribs.

"I - dunno.  Seems kinda...weird.  I mean...."  Xander paused and took a long breath, lifting Spike a little, and Spike laced their fingers together.   "I kinda feel like a guest here."

"Not for long, though."  Xander squeezed Spike's hand gently and they lay there a moment, silent.  Xander's heartbeat was slow and even - lulling - and Spike let his eyes drift shut.   There was a heaviness to the air and Spike heard with mild surprise a distant rumble of thunder.  *God.  Done it this time, haven't I?  Really gone and done it.  Made this so fucking hard...  Fuck, I wish -*

 Brrrrp, brrrp.

"Oh, bloody hell!"  Spike flung the covers aside and leapt up - stalked to the phone and flipped it open.  "It's gone bloody midnight, can't you leave off the bloody jangling down the line!"

"Spike!  There's news, about that Slayer in Berlin.  She's been rescued!"

"Wesley?  Rescued how?"

"Giles says some of Andrew's - er - black ops?  About six hours ago."

Spike laughed, looking over at Xander who mouthed something at him.  "Yeah, I know what he means.  Bloody hell - is she...  I mean -"

"She's in bad shape.  But she's alive, and we're hoping when she's out of - of surgery she'll have something to tell us.  The demon -"

"Got away, didn't it," Spike said, and Xander rolled his eyes and made writing motions.  Spike waved at him, 'hold on', and Xander sighed heavily and crossed his arms over his chest, mock-pouting.  The thunder rolled again, louder and closer and Spike caught a flash of lightning out of the corner of his eye.  The air seemed to tingle over his naked skin.

"Yes, I'm afraid so.   We hurt it, though - it's lost some of its power but..."

"But it's still a threat."
"Yes.  We've sent an escort - we want you and Xander to come back here right away.  We really can't risk being separated when it arrives."

"Fucking hell," Spike muttered.   "Xander - get dressed.  The bloody demon's on the move."

"Who's hurt, Spike?" Xander asked, scrambling out of the bed and snatching at his clothes.  Spike started doing the same, letting the phone slip a little between ear and shoulder.  He could hear Wes still talking but tuned him out for a moment.

"The German Slayer -"

"Fuck - is she okay?"  Xander pulled his jeans-leg down over his sock and shoved one foot into a boot, tying it swiftly.  There was a crash of thunder, loud enough to hurt Spike's ears - snap of lightning hard after and Xander flinched and grabbed his shirt.

 "They got her away - she's alive -"

"Spike, are you listening?"

"No, bloody hell!  Need to get our kit -"   There was a thump in the hall and then a slithering scrape and Xander froze, shirt in his hands and one boot still off, staring at the front door. 

"Fuck.  Spike?"

The door exploded inward, and someone - stepped in.   

"Wesley - it's here."

A sharp, shocked indrawn breath, and then -   "Oh god.  Get to the mews, Spike - move, get to -"

"Xander!  Get back here."  Spike threw the phone down, pulling on his jeans fast enough to burn his thighs. The figure in the doorway swayed, shadowed and striped with what might be blood.  Xander backed slowly, dragging boot and shirt and jacket with him, awkward crab-crawl over the bed as it watched.

It took a limping step forward and Spike cursed, stamping his feet down into his boots and jerking his coat on.  No shirt, no belt, but the blessed, engraved daggers in his pockets and the dull, stinging ache of the healing tattoos.  The demon hissed softly and Xander made a small sound - sharp gasp for air.

The demon - was Xander.  Or some strange approximation of him.  Taller, a little wider but thinner - almost skeletal.  Shock of dark hair, ragged and lank - wet looking.  Xander's face but - not.  Longer and saturnine and deathly pale.   Beautiful in a twisted way and streaked with dirt and blood.  Jeans and white shirt and long, dark coat all wet - ragged as if it had torn through something to get there.  Spike grabbed Xander's arm and dragged him rightward.  To the other side of the invisible veve on the floor.

"Ss-pike, it - he looks -"

"Just a trick, love.  Just a - a way to make you stumble.  Stay here, stay by me."  Spike could feel Xander shaking, hard enough to chatter his teeth.

"Not a trick," the demon whispered.  Voice like a soughing wind, rough and breathy and low.  Xander flinched hard.  "Brother...blood-brother -"

"I'm - n-not -"

"Don't talk to it!"

"Ss-spike..."   The demon turned an eye - wide and dark - on Spike.  The other socket was deeply shadowed, seemingly empty but for the spark of green deep inside.  "Can't trust the vampire, brother.  Tricked uss...hated uss...tried to kill uss...  Hurt our friendsss..."

"I don't remember that!" Xander snapped - shoved his foot into his boot and jerked the laces into a tangled knot, knee to his chest while Spike steadied him.   "I don't remember anything but Spike h-helping me.  You took everything else!"

"I will...give it back..."   The demon limped forward - one step, then another, its shoulders hunching slightly and its hands curling - long nails glimmering in the light.  Then it leapt, panther-long and agile.  Halfway across the veve, pale-blue fire roared up from the lines of the symbol, wreathing the demon.  It crashed to the floor, screaming, and Xander took one hesitant step forward.

Spike stopped him with a jerk.  "Let's go, Xander!  Now!  That won't hold it long!"

"Shit - okay -"   

Spike ran, Xander's wrist in his hand, a knife in his other - taste of iron and salt in his mouth.  Xander ran with him, shirt and jacket clutched to his chest and his heartbeat thundering in Spike's ears.  Down the stairs and out into the night, both of them almost falling over the two bodies at the street door.

"Spike!  They -"

"They're dead!  We don't have time, Xander!  *Got to bloody move -*   A late-model Bentley stood idling at the curb, stinking of fear and the demon and Spike shoved Xander through the driver's door and pushed in behind.  He put the car into gear, slamming the door as he stomped down on the pedal and shot them out onto the rain-slick street.  Thunder roared overhead, lightning flickering like a strobe.  Beside him, Xander pulled on his shirt and jacket with shaking hands and then patted over his pockets.

"I l-left my notebook back there," he said faintly and Spike risked a fleeting touch to Xander's knee as he swung them wildly around a slow-moving cab.

"It's okay - you don't need it," he said, and turned them north.

 

 

 

Spike fought the sliding, shimmying car around a final corner and straight into the alley that let onto the mew's courtyard.  Three huge buildings - stables and tack rooms that had become garages and then storage - ringed a cobbled square that the Council used now for long-range weapons practice.  The buildings themselves had become barracks, training rooms and an infirmary for newly-arrived Slayers.

At the moment it was pitch-black and shut up tight, although Spike could sense life. Could sense Slayers, in the upper stories.   With Molotov cocktails and fucking flaming arrows, he devoutly hoped - fire was usually fatal.  He hit the brakes, wrenching the car half-way round in the middle of the yard - shoved it into gear and was out almost before Xander had pushed himself back from the dash.   The rain was sheeting down now, cold and slanting and hard as bullets, thunder growling and lightning close enough to make the hairs stand up on Spike's neck.  He was drenched before he made it around the bonnet and Xander slithered out of his seat and into the deluge, blinking.

"Get inside!  They're in there - get the fuck inside and go up!" Spike screamed, jerking Xander toward him by his jacket - turning and pushing him.  The wicket gate in the tall main doors cracked open, showing Giles' face, tense and white in the glow of a torch.

"Xander, hurry!!"

Xander was fighting him - scrabbling at Spike's coat, his fingers slipping on slick, wet leather.  "No!  Spike - they didn't have time to do the glamour, it'll come straight to me!" Xander's hair was flat to his skull, sleek and black - his face running with rain.  He hadn't put on his patch and he seemed vulnerable and far too young without that dark armor.

Spike grabbed Xander's biceps, squeezing hard - seeing Xander flinch and not caring.  "That's why you get as many of us between you and it as you can, damnit!"   Thunder again, shaking the sky - shaking the fucking ground and Spike felt something...something coming.  Coming fast.  Panic and fury twisting in his gut like snakes and he shifted his human face away, snarling.  Pushing Xander away - making him stumble and nearly fall.   "Fucking run, god damnit!  Run!

"Come with me!" Xander screamed - screamed into a crash of sound like a fucking bomb.  White light stabbing down all around them, ozone and the pop of rain-soaked cobbles drying and exploding in a handful of seconds.

And the demon, skimming down the lightning like a child on a slide, black hair a corona around its salt-white face and it didn't look quite as much like Xander as it had   When its bare feet touched the cobbles Spike felt...intent.  A surge of energy from the mews like a hammer strike and he leapt without thinking and took Xander to the ground.  At least ten arrows - burning with a copper-green flame - slammed into the demon's body.  Synchronized strike that made it look like the arrows had sprouted out from the inside and the demon screamed.  Keening howl of a gutted dog and it lifted its hand - touched lightning and was gone.

"Jesus - is it - where -?"

"Don't - bloody know -"

"Spike, Xander!  Get in here!"  Wesley, sounding too damn calm, his voice muffled and strange.   Spike rolled off Xander and pushed himself to his feet, shaking his head like a dog.  Everything was still buzzing from the fucking lightning and he was half blinded - ears ringing.  He found Xander more by scent than anything else - hauled him to his feet and got them both in stumbling motion toward Wesley and Giles.  "For god's sake, hurry!"

"We're fucking coming, Percy!"   Stepping into the mews and out of the rain was a distinct relief.  Five or six Slayers with crossbows stood in a row just inside the door and Spike spared them a raking glance before turning to Xander.  "You all right?  Didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Uh - fuck, I d-dunno, my elbow hurts."  Xander rubbed distractedly at the scuffed place on his jacket - stared wide-eyed at the Slayers for a moment and then turned a withering glare on Spike.  "'Get as many of us between you and it'?  That's your fucking plan?  That's the most fucked-up -"

"It works, for fuck's sake -"

"Shut it, both of you," Giles snapped.  "We don't know how it got away but it's not here now and we've got enough time to do the glamour and get the both of you into position."  Giles shoved his torch at a Slayer and picked up a canvas carry-all, rummaging.   "We've got spell traps all around the main floor here - Spike, take off your coat."

"Here - Xander, hold this -"  Wesley put a candle into Xander's hands - tossed Spike's coat at a third man, some Watcher Spike had never met and then took the jar Giles handed him, prying at the cork.  "This is the - the Xander-glamour, Spike, it's just a few symbols...  What in bloody hell is that?"  Wesley was staring at the tattoo on Spike's chest and Giles leaned in as well.  The marks were raised and white - mostly invisible except for the minute shadow they cast.  Giles noticed the one on Spike's left bicep and his eyebrows went up.

"Protection.  Just do the bloody spell; we don't have time to faff about!"

"Yes, right -"

"Oh god, it's...  Spike, it's coming back, I can - can feel -"   The candle was drooping sideways in Xander's grip, stream of clear wax spattering the concrete.  Xander's gaze was unfocused and he took an unsteady step forward, blind.  "It's cold up...there but...  Hurts, it...  I'm burning...cut...like being cut...part of me...cut out...follow...the fire..."

"Xander -"

"Stand still," Wesley hissed and then Spike jerked as Wesley's fingers - smeared in something cold and wet - moved over his chest.  Wesley sketched rapidly, symbols that covered the veve and reached from collarbones to belly.  "Here - put out your tongue." 

Spike glared.  "What the fuck -"

"Just do it, for heaven's sake," Giles snapped.  He took the candle from Xander and pushed at Xander's jacket.  "Xander, get your jacket and shirt off, hurry.  I have to hide you."

Spike opened his mouth and Wes' fingertip touched his tongue.  Explosion of complicated taste - sulphur and blood, earth and ashes and myrrh.  It soured - became bitter and then faded entirely and Spike blinked, dizzy.  Then it was over and Wesley was drawing something over Xander's chest while Giles sprinkled a dark powder over the candle flame, sending a disproportionately large cloud of smoke rolling toward the ceiling.

"That's it, that's done it -" Wesley muttered, corking the jar and shoving it away and Giles took Xander's arm.   Xander flinched slightly and Spike wanted to growl.  Bruises were already coming up on the pale skin from where Spike had tackled him and he wanted to take Xander up and away himself

"Xander - you need to get upstairs."

"Giles...Giles?"  Xander blinked - looked around himself, his gaze searching until it fell on Spike.  "Too late, Giles."

*Bloody - fucking -*   Too late even for that.  The air groaned - the building did - and thunder crashed.  Glass shattered outward from every window in sight and Spike found himself wrapping his arms around Xander again - rushing him away and down, behind a jumble of mats and sparring pads.  There was a second or two of frisson as the air charged impossibly fast and then lightning split the roof - ceiling - the floor ten feet away.  Burning chunks of wood and plaster rained down, and screams, and at least one Slayer from the upper floor.  Rain poured into the hole that had been blasted through three layers of building and the demon stood there, swaying on its feet.

Half naked, more blood, more black.  Burned, it seemed, and coming undone at the seams.  Hunching a little - lifting and turning its head like a dog that scents and is uneasy.  The face was still Xander's but it was a caricature now.  Too long and too cruel and the teeth too sharp when the lips lifted away in a nearly-soundless growl. The hands were clawed - the legs bending in the wrong places and Spike felt Xander shiver convulsively, gasping in a sharp breath.

Spike could hear the Watchers and the Slayers moving - whispering - setting up spells and taking positions and someone, somewhere, turned a torch onto the demon, who hissed and shielded its eyes.  Another torch and another until it was standing in a pool of bright light.  The demon shifted and turned, dazzled, and Spike put his fingers to Xander's lips - got Xander to focus just on him.  "Don't move.  Stay here.  Let the bloody Watchers do their thing, yeah?  Gonna gut this fucker, love, and then I'm going to come get you.  Understand?"

"I - I -Ss-spike -"

"Understand, love?" Spike said - caught Xander's jaw in his hand and kissed him.  "Fuck, I hope you don't - don't -"

"I won't forget," Xander said and kissed him back and then Spike crawled upright and stepped away from their hiding place - stepped out into the empty floor and stepped toward the demon.  It spun, growling louder, crouching down - and then froze.  It lifted its head and took a long breath, mouth open and blood-red tongue licking out once.

"Brother...you must...  I need you, brother..."

"I know you do," Spike said, fighting to keep his human face - fighting to keep his voice level.  He could feel the Slayers still - could feel their focus and their intent and he could feel the spell.  Giles and Wesley chanting something so softly, faint waft of hemp and lavender smoke.  He walked slowly - carefully - toward the demon.  It shifted, facing him - limped forward a half step and then stopped, grimacing.  "I know you need me," Spike said softly.  His nails were cutting into his palms and he could taste Xander on his lips.  *Please, fucking please don't watch, this is gonna fucking hurt and...don't -*

"Yesss..."  The demon's arms lifted - reached - the tattered remains of the coat sliding off and revealing corded muscle and long bones - skin leprosy-pale, mottled with bruises and blood.  Ropes of knotted veins and sharp knuckles and the hands were cold - so fucking cold when they settled on Spike's bare shoulders.  When they lightly caressed Spike's arms and then reached up to cradle his face.  "Yess, brother."  The demon leaned in and sniffed again and Spike braced himself, every muscle tight and trembling.  He could see Xander out of the corner of his eye, dark head just lifting over the edge of some piece of equipment and he bit his lip, willing himself to not move - not react - do nothing.

The demon's head tipped, one side and then the other.  Doggish and quizzical and a good six inches taller than Spike - twice as broad.  "C'mon then, c'mon, c'mon -" Spike muttered, and the demon grinned.

"Love you, brother," it hissed and it leaned forward and lightly pressed its mouth to Spike's.  Cold carrion kiss, wet and iron-tanged and fucking horrible and Spike recoiled only to have it snatch him back hard, hands gripping Spike's biceps now, jerking him close to the demon's chest.  "You tass-te...sweet as honey-mead," it murmured.  And then it sank five claws into Spike's chest, and sieved Spike's soul out. 

Spike felt it go - rushing, tearing, burning wrench to the very root of himself - to the warp and woof of his entire being and he felt his knees going - felt the blood down his belly and felt his throat burning as he screamed.  Felt the concrete floor jolt his knees and saw the demon lift something.  Golden, pulsing - shining like a thousand stars and the demon swallowed it.  The glow wobbled - winked - fluttered like a guttering candle and then began to grow.  Brighter and brighter, enough to hurt Spike's eyes and he was falling, sideways and down, feeling oddly empty - oddly cold.  Feeling the demon inside himself surge and turn and scream again as the glow became sunlight-bright and the pain of it all become too much.

The last thing Spike saw was Xander running toward him, and the demon flying apart.

 

 

 

"Te implor, Doamne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte..." 

Spike lifted his head, wincing at the bolt of fiery pain that shot from the top of his skull to the pit of his belly.  He was cold - limply weak - wet with blood.   *Is this what being born is like?  Is this...*

"Nici mort, nici al fiintei..."  Familiar voice. 

Spike blinked, forcing his vision to clear.  Something wet on his face...  *Rain.  It's raining in the...the window.  Should shut that, ruin the carpet...why am I -?*

"Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-i va transporta, sufletul la el."

The pain grew, moment by moment as the voice chanted on.  Stinging, then burning, then something like sunlight and holy water - like acid.  Points of fire at breast and back and shoulders and he wondered if this was what if had felt like for St. Sebastian - for Christ.  *Christ on the cross...cross he probably made.  Carpenter with a death wish....  Xander?*

"Asa sa fie! Asa sa fie! Acum!  Acum!  Acum!"

The pain became something beyond - incandescent and all-consuming and Spike threw his head back and screamed.   Something - touched him.  Lips - cheek.  Something whispering in his ear, more emotion than words but clear.  As crystalline and wrenching as the agony that made his back arch like a Halloween cat's.

"Thank you..."

As abruptly as it had started the pain was gone and Spike curled down over himself, gasping.  Retching hard on air he didn't need and jerking away in blind, terrified instinct when hands caught his shoulders - touched his head.

"F-fu-ck - off -"

"It's me, Spike.  It's Wesley.  Are you...  Can you hear me?"

Spike licked at dry lips - pushed himself crookedly upright, hands on his thighs.  The mews were lit up like Christmas day and Slayers, Watchers and assorted...others were all swarming around.  Two Slayers lay on stretchers, being carried carefully away to the infirmary; the ones that had fallen when the lightning had shattered the roof and floor.  Rain was falling through the hole still, a steady cataract that reminded Spike of...   *Cora Linn...on the Clyde...bloody Angelus wanted...grouse moor holiday...got lost beating the bloody birds out and that water...Dru said it was like the breath of god...foaming under the moonlight...Dru said...*

"Spike?  Spike."  A cold, wet hand slapped his cheek, hard, and Spike growled, feeling the demon snap to the surface - hearing the sharp inhale of startled breath and then he blinked and pulled the demon away.

"Percy.  Don't need to slap a fellow around, I'm...  I'm...fine, just.  Fuckin' - hurts, all that -"   Spike waved his hand in the air.  It was shaking - wet and streaked with dirt and blood, black under his nails as if he'd clawed the ground.  *Probably did.  Fuck...*   "Where's - where's Xander?  He all right?  Did it work?"

Wesley leaned back a little, awkward in his crouch and Spike struggled to get up, forcing wobbling legs to obey.  Wesley looped a hand under his arm and hauled him the last foot or so and Spike stood there, shirtless and shivering.  Fiery little aftershocks of pain twisting through him when he essayed a step toward the stairs. 

"It seems to have worked.  He - he remembers himself.   He remembers -"   Wesley sighed, a grubby hand going up to massage his forehead and Spike sighed with him.  Wished like hell he had his coat and his smokes and...

*Wish I was fuckin' out of here.*   "Remembers what he did, doesn't he?" Spike asked, and Wesley nodded.

"He killed the Slayer in Vietnam, Spike.  It was how he got away.  They - decided together, she told him to.  She was..."  Wesley shivered - fuzzed - took on a paler aspect.  A dust and blood streaked one - one with the grave shining dark and hideous out of his eyes.  "She was too far gone and they...decided..."

"Yeah, I can probably figure out the rest," Spike muttered.  He saw his coat tossed carelessly over a padded horse and he winced his way over to it, feeling light-headed.   His cigarettes, thank Christ, were right where they were supposed to be and he lit one up and smoked, blocking out Wesley's not-quite-right form - blocking out the rubble and the blood stains and the black smear where the demon had been.

Blocking out a lot of things to concentrate on the sizzle of the damp tobacco and the curl and heat of the smoke in his lungs - the slight sting of it on his tongue.  The taste, which was too little of good tobacco and too much of chemicals, but...  He was used to it.  He looked down at himself.  At the bloody mess of his chest which really - could have been worse.  No broken ribs, no gaping hole.  Just five points of heat and pain that still bled sluggishly at every inhale.

"We took Xander upstairs - he had some scrapes that needed cleaning up and...you look like you could use a bit of a wash and brush, yourself.  I'm sure he'd like to see you," Wesley added, ghosting out of nowhere, jarring Spike from his daze.

"Huh?  Oh, yeah.  Right."  Spike took another drag and then glared over at Wesley.  "Stop feeling so bloody sorry for yourself, mate.  Can't go staggering around looking like a sodding extra from 'Night of the Living Dead'!"

Wesley rubbed a shaking hand over his face, smearing dirt and blood - straightened his shoulders and his spine and fuzzed again.  Then he was himself, the Wesley who'd gotten drunk in the pub and Spike felt a faint grin tugging at his mouth.  "Cheerio, pip pip," Wesley muttered, and Spike almost laughed.

"Best go brew some tea, mate - gonna be a long night."

"It's already been far too long for some," Wesley said, and Spike caught his glance upward.

"Yeah.  Reckon I'll just...pop in.  Probably needs -"

"Needs a friend, Spike," Wesley said, his hand warm and firm on Spike's shoulder.  "He needs to know he's not going to be - abandoned."

Spike heaved a sigh - took a last drag and dropped the butt into the puddle that was forming under the hole.  He could hear several people up above, stomping around and shouting - the heavy slither of what was probably a tarp.   He folded his coat over his arm, reluctant to foul the lining with blood.  "Yeah, okay.  Lead the way then, mate."  Wesley smiled faintly and headed up and Spike followed along behind, exhaustion in every muscle - lead in his bones.   And dread in his heart, that still didn't beat.  He wondered if Xander would remember telling him it didn't matter.  He wondered if it would matter now.

 

 

 

He could hear Xander before he could see him.  Smell him - sweat and terror and blood.  Low, broken voice saying...something.  Something to Giles and Giles saying something back and Spike didn't really listen, just heard the tone.  Desperation and heartbreak and exhaustion - numb misery echoing down the wooden-walled hallway.

"It's in here, it's in here, Giles - all of it's - in here, I c-can't -"

"Yes you can, Xander.  You know you can.  Here -"   Soft sounds - the clink of glass on glass and then the sound of liquid pouring and Spike pushed the infirmary door open.  Xander was slumped in a chair, holding a thick mug in shaking hands.  Giles was standing beside him, cradling his own mug - capping a bottle of whisky with his free hand.   He had a graze on his forehead that had leaked blood down his temple.  Xander seemed to be staring down into the mug, his shoulders curled and bowed under his half-buttoned shirt.

"Ah, Spike -"

Xander's head came up fast - his knuckles went white on the mug and Spike stopped dead.

"I remember everything," Xander said.  Water was still threading out of his hair - dripping off the ends and wetting the shoulders of his shirt.  Blood on his shirt from scrapes - a cut - something, somewhere along his ribs.

"Told you you would," Spike said, and Xander lifted the mug to his lips - seemed to realize what was in it and made a curiously young face, grimacing a little and lowering the cup again.  His gaze drifted back down - back to the whisky or his fingers or maybe the floor - maybe the drop of blood that gleamed there.  Giles' blood, Spike could tell. 

"Yeah.  I remember that I...killed -"

"I know, Xander," Spike said, and Xander's gaze rose again, slowly.   Rose until they were eye to eye and then Xander was crying, the mug dropping from his hand.  Body folding down over his knees, his hands coming up to his face.  Hands white-knuckled and shaking and muffling by sheer force of will the hoarse sobs that shook his entire frame.

Spike swayed where he stood - took a half-step forward and Xander's hand reached out, grimed with soot and trembling.  Blind reach for comfort and Spike shook his head - went across the floor and sank down cross legged, taking the cold hand in his.  Giles retreated around the desk, slumping heavily into his own chair.

Xander dragged in a rasping breath, forcing himself toward calm.  Rubbing his wet face on his shirt-sleeve and sniffing.  "I remember," he whispered, and Spike put his other hand on the back of Xander's neck, digging into rock-hard muscle and the velvet nap of Xander's hair.  Leaning until their skulls were touching and Spike closed his eyes.

"I know, love.  It's all right."

"I don't want this in my head.  I don't."

"We most of us don't," Spike whispered, and caught Xander as he crumpled forward, trying in vain to fend Xander's cheek away from the mess of his chest.  "Xander - don't -"

"Doesn't matter.  Not your blood anyway, is it?"

"No, I guess it's not," Spike said finally - watched Xander curl himself down and around, the empty socket pressed to Spike's thigh, his hand finding Spike's and squeezing.

"Just need to - to take a minute.  Rest a minute," Xander murmured, and the sudden laxness of his body told Spike he was unconscious.

*Rest and sleep, sleep and dream.  If only I did not have bad dreams...*   "You rest, then," Spike said softly.  A while later, Giles dropped an old tartan rug over Xander and a while after that, Wesley brought Spike hot tea laced with whisky and a clean, white t-shirt.   Spike didn't say anything, and neither did they. 

 

Sometime around dawn Xander finally stirred and Spike woke from his own half-doze to help him sit up.  Xander was stiff, grimacing as he climbed slowly to his knees and then his feet and stretched hard, making his back and one knee crack like old wood.  Spike stood more easily and dug out a cigarette - lit it and leaned one hip on the desk, watching as Xander rubbed his eye and scrubbed his hands back over his skull and then picked up the rug.  He draped it over the chair and then finally - finally - looked at Spike.

Shuttered expression, his whole body held rigid, like he was expecting an attack.  His gaze skittered and darted and never quite stopped and Spike sighed.

"Guess you'll want to go on home, then?  Back to your flat."

"I...guess.  Kind of want a shower."  Xander plucked at his stained, wrinkled shirt, making a face.  Then he took a long breath, looking unhappy.  "I should probably talk to Giles first, though.  And - Wesley.  Tell them..."  Xander stopped talking and shook his head - looked around the room again with an expression that clearly said talking to Wesley or Giles - or maybe even Spike - was the last thing he wanted to do.  That the thought alone was exhausting him.

"Don't have to, you know.  They can wait to get all the gory details."

"Gory, yeah."  Xander's mouth twisted in a sort of smile and then it trembled and collapsed and Xander closed his eye and just stood there, arms wrapped around his ribs and his chin sunk onto his chest.  Trying for some measure of control.  Spike could tell it wasn't working.

"Listen, Xander -"
"I really wanna go home.  Can you just - can you get me home, Spike?"  Tremble in his voice, too - tremble and catch and Spike knew that shouldn't make him happy but it did.  Made the demon sit up and take narrow-eyed interest because: weakness and prey and leverage.   Spike battered that aside - pushed down nest, too, because this wasn't Dru after Prague or Angelus after that mess in Bogotá.  This was Xander Harris who remembered, and who might very well just spit in his eye.

"Course I can.  Got cars here, be home in a trice."   Spike stubbed his half-smoked cigarette out on his boot sole and tossed the butt into the trash - stood up and closed the gap between himself and Xander and put a hesitant hand on Xander's shoulder.  Xander shuddered, catching a hard breath and leaning the merest fraction into Spike's touch.  It was all he really needed.  For now.

 

At the flat, Xander walked in and then stopped dead, staring.  The veve on the floor was burned black and the stink of charred wood hung in the air.  Spike shut the door behind them and moved across to the kitchen - opened the window to let in the breeze.  Xander shed his jacket and then looked at the still-pulled-out couch.  At the covers tangled over it and the dents in two pillows.    He looked up at Spike - looked like he might say something and then he shook his head and walked away.  Bedroom - bathroom - hissing rush of the shower and Spike took his bottle down from the cabinet and took a long, long drink.  He draped his own coat over a kitchen chair and took off the stained t-shirt - wadded it into the trash.   Xander's dirty clothes were in a heap on the bedroom floor and Spike got a spare shirt out of the carry-all he had stashed by the dresser.

He settled with the bottle in Xander's living room chair and listened to the shower - listened to him turning it off and getting out - drying and dressing and brushing his teeth.  Listened to him stand in the hallway and hesitate for long, long moments before going into his bedroom and shutting the door. 

It was a rare, cloudless day and Spike was too tired to play hide-and-seek with the sun.  Too tired to move except he did - heeling off his boots and spreading the bed up a bit.  Laying down on - god fucking help him - his side and staring at the reflected sunlight that danced and dazzled on the tile behind the sink.  Staring until the prisms and sparks blurred out into a shimmer of white.

He woke to a hoarse shout from Xander's room - to minutes of heavy breathing and the creak of bedsprings.  Then the door opened and Spike lifted his head.  Watched Xander walk down the short hall, rumpled t-shirt and rumpled hair, eye red and lashes stuck together with tears.  Looking like a child coming into his parent's bedroom - looking like a man with too much on his mind.   Xander didn't say anything - just curled down into the sheets and blankets and took Spike's hand in a grip that hurt.

The demon huffed in atavistic pleasure - surge of triumph and satisfaction.  Spike didn't quell it this time - didn't even try.  *Possession is nine-tenths of the law, so they say.  Nine-tenths of your heart...*

Xander shifted a little - adjusted his grip, pulling Spike's hand up close to his chest.  "I don't know what to do," he whispered.

"Nothing to be done, love," Spike whispered back, and Xander sighed a shaky breath out and closed his eye, and Spike watched him until they were both asleep again.

 

 

 

The next few days were - surreal.  Xander seemed in a daze, most of the time.  Lost his train of thought halfway through conversations and flinched from voices - from noises.  His dreams escalated from bad to horrible to fucking unbelievable and Spike watched his shoulders bow and his gaze turn inward - his pale face go paler in contrast to the dark circle under his eye.  Spike tried to talk to him but Xander didn't seem able to say - anything.  He'd start and stop and chew his lip - get up and pace in frustration and finally just go silent.  The words dammed up behind his teeth and too much emotion flickering in his gaze.

Spike just wanted to take him away somewhere - somewhere without nosey Watchers or staring, whispering Slayers or agitated phone calls from 'best friends' who couldn't seem to shut up.  Xander talked in a hollow voice and sat silent and hunched afterward and Spike went out and vented his frustration in various vicious, bloody ways until the rising sun drove him inside again.  Xander never said anything when he found the torn, bloody shirts in the trash, or had to take Spike's sponged-off coat down from the curtain rod before he could shower.   It made Spike want to get right up in his face and yell at him.  Or, alternatively, fuck him boneless and breathless and not let him out of bed for days.  But Spike didn't do either.

Xander still slept on the couch but the nightmares came thick and fast and Spike gave up all pretense of sleep - sat up all night, watching him.  Trying to stop the dreams, or sooth them away.   Trying with everything he had in him to keep his instincts at bay, because his instincts were getting damned impatient. He wanted Xander fixed - fuck him, turn him - take him away.  The only solutions that rang true in the discordant clamor of frustration and unhappiness and need.  Anyone else that damaged would have been dismissed as food and dispatched the first night.  Spike grimly ignored the demon inside himself - ignored every whisper and scream and shout by drinking them into silence.  But... 

It was so bloody hard.

Seven days of hunched silences and screaming nights and that bleak, wounded stare and Spike was ready to bolt.  Xander scurried off to the Council building every morning, looking like death warmed over and Spike would pace and smoke and drink and curse - slip out on the gray days and find a scrap or two to occupy his mind.  Everything seemed tinged with a blood-red haze now, and he was on a hair-trigger.

 

Seventh day and Xander came in an hour after sunset, shutting the door silently and slipping off his jacket.  Spike glanced up at him, surly and half drunk and steeling himself for another night of the gibbering horrors.  But Xander sat down next to him on the couch, hands between his knees, fingers laced and locked together and his knuckles white.

"I gotta...talk to you."

"'Bout fuckin' time," Spike snarled, and Xander flinched.  "Christ, Xander -"

"Shut up, okay?  Let me just - say - what I need to say."

"Fine," Spike said, looking away.  Smoking furiously and ignoring the sick certainty that was knotting in his stomach like demented snakes.

"I've been talking to a doctor, kind of.  Therapist.  Down at the Council and...talking to Giles..."  Xander fell silent and Spike tamped out his cigarette and took a long drink from the bottle he held, watching Xander's fingers twist and clench. 

"Yeah?  What's that got to do with you and me?"

"With -?  Spike...fuck..."  Xander reached up and pushed the patch off his face - rubbed at the socket for a moment and then looked up at Spike, turning the patch in his fingers.  "You know, you're the only person I've ever been comfortable around without this on."

"I've seen worse - why should I care?" Spike mumbled and Xander gave a choked little laugh.

"Yeah.  It's cause you don't see it, Spike.  You just don't even...fucking notice.  Everybody else notices."

*I notice.  I notice but it doesn't matter.  Doesn't change...anything.  It's just you...*  

"I'm not scared of you," Xander said, and Spike looked at him, shocked.

"Of course you're not - why should you be?  Xander -"

"I know about those tattoos, Spike.  I know what they mean.  I know what they did."  Xander's voice was calm - his gaze steady and his hands finally fallen still.  Only his heart beat, fast and furious in his chest and Spike fought back the growl that threatened and reached for his whisky.

"Just what is it you think you know?"

"Spike -"   Xander sighed softly and shook his head - reached out and with one finger touched the center of Spike's chest.  Touched the tattoo under the black cotton, a flare of warmth against Spike's skin.  "They weren't to protect you from the glamour or anything else.  They were to protect you from the re-souling spell."  Xander looked up from where his fingertip was rubbing gently over Spike's sternum.  "You let William go."

Spike stared down at Xander's hand - at the chewed back nail and scarred knuckles.  At the cuff of Xander's jumper, which was raveling a little.  He took in a shaky breath - opened his mouth to say something.  But there was nothing to say. 

"I understand it, what you did.  What you said about William..."  Xander's hand fell slowly away, brushing Spike's knee and Spike's own hand darted out and seized his wrist - held it in a grip that probably hurt, but Xander didn't flinch.  "I remember the things you did in Sunnydale.  You were always - different.   It made me mad.  I wanted to find things to hate you for but you kept doing all this stuff...  And Dawn, and Buffy..."  Xander sighed softly and pushed his free hand back through his hair, making it stand up on end.  Making him look like a somber hedgehog and Spike wanted to laugh.

"So - what are you going to do about it?" he said softly, and Xander looked surprised.

"Well, nothing.  I mean - what's there to do?  It's a done deal.  And if William's - where you think he is...it'd be a dirty trick to yank him out of there again.  I couldn't - justify it."

"Not your place, to decide," Spike muttered, and Xander's wrist flexed in his grip.

"I know.  It never was.  There's so many...things..."  Xander stopped and shook his head again.  "Listen, I wanted you to know because I'm leaving in the morning."

"You're leaving."  Spike felt the words like blows, falling with the sick ache of already-bruised flesh being struck again and again.

"Yeah, I'm - I'm going up north.  There's a place...  I can't live like this, Spike."  Xander's voice cracked and he stopped and swallowed - took a breath and went on.  "All these memories...they're so fucking strong, they push at me all the time.  Confuse me..."

"It'll get better, Xander, promise."  Spike let his grip on Xander's wrist loosen - let Xander's hand twist and take his, palm to palm.   "It's like - when I first got the soul, went a little crazy, didn't I?  But it - sorted itself soon enough."

"Yeah, after you'd killed a bunch of people.  I can't take the chance, Spike!"  Xander's hand gripped fiercely and Spike squeezed back, watching the dark eye close for a moment and then open again, sparkling with tears that Xander blinked back.  "Sometimes I don't even know - what's me.  I don't know and I can't stand it.  They said maybe...they could erase some of them.  Or...I dunno.  I have to do something.  I have to get out of here - away from...all this."

"Yeah.  Guess you do."  Spike lifted the bottle and drained the last inch - set it down with a little click on the coffee table.  He gently disengaged their hands and stood up.  "Guess I'll be moving on, then."

"What?  Where?  Spike -"   Xander stood up as well, mouth and eye wide in shock and Spike swung his coat on - patted his pockets and took a final look around.  A long look at Xander.  "What about -"

"The Council?" Spike interrupted, knowing it wasn't what Xander was asking about.  Desperate not to let anything be said - for things to be made final.  *As long as he never says...if I don't, then...maybe...*   "Oh, the Council's seen the last of me, mate.  Told Andrew I quit this morning.  Sick of doing their sodding dirty work, aren't I?  Let 'em find somebody else for the job.  Got my own life to live."

"Yeah.  Guess you do."  Xander's arms were around his ribs - too-familiar gesture anymore and for a moment Spike wished Xander could find comfort in that pad and Mickey Mouse pen again - wished those things could be the anchor they had once been.  Solidity in a shifting, bewildering world.

"You go get your head straight and then..."

"Then -"   Xander looked as if he was on the verge of some violent emotion, shaking as his fingers dug into his sides.   "Then what, Spike?"

"Then we'll see I guess." Spike strode toward the door - stopped and turned and walked back to Xander and reached out and cupped his face.  Held it, fingers just brushing the empty socket - the point of his jaw.   "Don't let 'em tell you what to do, Xander.  Don't be afraid.  You're a hero, remember?  Nothing changes that." 

Xander nodded, silent and Spike turned and walked out.   Out of the city - out of the country.  As far and as fast as he could.  And even though his soul was gone, his heart still felt as if it had been shattered, just the same.

 

 

 

Monbaz Street was alive with music - with people.  Swirling groups of boys and girls, giggling and dancing and drinking soda.  Pretending to be tougher, sexier - hipper than they really were.  About half were tourists, alternately trying to blend in or sticking out like loud, sore thumbs and Spike growled softly as an overly made up woman teetered into him and his chair, her heel catching in a crack.  He shot her a venomous glare and went back to sipping moodily out of his flask.  Nobody sold alcohol around here and he didn't know why the fuck he'd come.

Didn't know why he was in Jerusalem, of all places.  Holy of holies and rife with bloodshed - sacred and profane cheek by jowl and the very dust under his feet so steeped in holy water and sin it almost hurt to walk on it.  Almost hurt to breathe.

But then, he only had to breathe when he chose and if hurting and breathing were the same then - he could stop.  Except then it hurt to not breathe - hurt to think and Spike snarled to himself and lit another cigarette.  Everything hurt now.  Remembering the past - thinking about the handful of people he'd loved.  All of them gone, and here he was sitting and brooding and hurting and would it ever fucking end?  Four months of selective mayhem, violent sex and a sodding river of blood and he was still...

*Still want him, for fuck's sake.  Like I wanted Dru so bad I made an utter fool of myself.  Angelus...fuck - don't need to revisit that shite.  And did it again for Buffy.  Not making a fool, this time.  Just being a fool but at least no one's here to tell me so.*

No one and nothing and Spike lit another cigarette and watched the smoke swirl up, stained red and blue and green by the neon and the colored lights.  Watched it go up and sideways as a hand fanned it away from a tanned, familiar face and Spike felt the smile - felt it stretch his lips and bare his teeth and lift his mangled heart.  For just a moment.  One precious moment and then he wiped it away - looked away.  Felt himself hunching and stopped it and then didn't know what to do.

Ended up doing nothing as Xander pulled a chair out from the table and sat down.  He was past being thin, now - was back in fighting trim, it seemed.  Broad and muscled under the jacket Spike had bought him in Saigon.  Hair grown out long enough to flop in his eye a little and...no patch.

Spike smoked and watched Xander take a drink of Coke - watched Xander's throat swallow and his tongue lick his lips and cursed himself for watching but really couldn't stop himself from watching and what the fuck was wrong with him?

"Come here often?" Xander said and Spike snorted cigarette smoke and looked Xander straight in the eye.  Didn't see anything but amusement and...

*Don't see anything.  Stop it, now.*   "Just passing through," Spike said finally, and Xander took another sip of Coke.

"Yeah - you've been passing through a lot of places lately."

"What, you've been keeping tabs?" Spike snapped, and Xander looked down at his bottle, tipping it this way and that.  Watching the neon reflect along the sides.

"The Council tracks - everybody.  Now.  Willow figured out some remote viewing kind of spell -"

Spike stood abruptly, snarling, and Xander blinked up at him, looking dismayed.  "Bloody witch is spying on me?  I'm not their bloody go-to boy anymore, they need to -"

"Spike - stop."  Xander's voice was quiet - almost a whisper and Spike stopped cold and looked at him, waiting.  "She can only do it if she has something of yours.  And I - took it.  Okay?  She's not spying on you."

"Not anymore, you mean," Spike muttered, but he sat back down, finishing off his cigarette and taking a long drink from his flask.  He held it up and Xander shook his head.  "So, what'd I leave behind?" Spike asked.  He couldn't think of anything at the moment.

Xander looked a little shifty - stretched his leg out and dug his hand into his jeans pocket.  He pulled out a chain, heavy and silver and Spike stared at it blankly for a moment before remembering... *Took that off to get the tattoos, gave it to him to hold...*

"You kept it."

"I kinda...forgot about it?"  Xander didn't exactly look at him when he said that and Spike could see the faint lines at his throat where a thickish piece of jewelry might have blocked a little sun.

"Liar," Spike said.  He stood up again, sweeping smokes and flask and lighter into his pockets - snagged the necklace from Xander and stepped around behind him before he could react.  Undid the clasp and looped the chain around Xander's neck.  "You've been wearing it for weeks, I can tell."

"Yeah, so...what?" Xander said, his fingers coming up in what looked like a habitual gesture, settling the chain and stroking over it.

Spike leaned down, mouth close to Xander's ear.  "Wearing it and thinking about me."   Spike knew he sounded smug - didn't actually care.  Xander sat there for another moment, Spike's fingers on his shoulders.  Waiting - breathing.  Or not, maybe.  Spike wasn't.  "C'mon, I've got a room at the Colony - got a private terrace to the garden."  Still smug, because the Colony was the best hotel around, and the terrace rooms were always booked.

"Of course you do," Xander muttered, but he got up and walked with Spike - out of the Russian Compound area and into East Jerusalem, the scent of night-blooming jasmine wafting in from somewhere.  Probably forced blooms from a hothouse, so early in the year.  They bumped shoulders and wrists as they walked - got caught looking sideways at each other too many times until Xander started laughing and then Spike did.  He ducked into the shadow of an overhanging balcony and snatched Xander in with him, pinning him to the wall with a knee and hip - hands on either side of Xander's head, palms flat to the cool, crumbling brick.

"Why are you here, Xander?   Why'd you come looking for me?"

Xander's eyes caught the light, faint shimmer of red in the shadows.  "I - wanted...  Well, I wanted to talk to you.  About - stuff.  Demons and...stuff."

"Stuff?  Really.  You wanted to talk to me about...stuff."

"Well...yeah," Xander said, and his hand came up to the necklace and his fingertip stroked over the thick coil of metal - the close set links that more than anything resembled a silver snake.   His other hand somewhere on Spike's coat, slipping a little on the leather.  "Stuff and...other stuff.  Private kind of stuff I don't really wanna talk about under somebody's bedroom or whatever," he said, glancing upward.   A radio was playing somewhere above them; doleful classical music, all lute and drums.   Someone's living room, maybe - bedroom.

"Private stuff."  Spike grinned, knowing Xander probably couldn't see much more than a silhouette.  "All right, come on."  He pushed away from the wall and walked on and Xander fell into step beside him again.

At the hotel, they walked in companionable silence to the east house - the ground-floor suites that had once housed a Pasha's wives.  Spike unlocked the door and flicked on a light or two - tossed his coat over a plump foot stool and went to the bar for a drink.  "Want anything?"

"Nah - think I wanna stay sharp for this."

"Is it gonna be that bad?" Spike asked, staring at the amber liquid in his glass.  Not quite daring to meet Xander's eye and Xander sighed and took off his own jacket - perched on the edge of an overstuffed chair, his palms cupping his knees.

"I don't - think so.  Wanna give it a try?"

Spike tossed the whisky back in a single gulp - came over to the chair that sat opposite Xander's and sprawled down into it, affecting nonchalance.  "Why not?  Try most anything, me."

"Yeah.  Uh...  Xander's fingers strayed upward again - rolled the necklace back and forth for a moment.  It seemed to give him courage.  His heartbeat - pounding hard for most of the walk - settled a little toward normal.  "That demon...when he died, I got my memories back and I got - well, I got all of his, too."

Spike frowned - sat forward in his chair a little.  "His.  You did?  Its - his from - when he took yours?"

Xander shook his head, his gaze going distant for a moment.  "No.  His from - from his first memory.  I got - his whole life.  He was pretty old.  I mean, for a human.  Older than you."

"Bloody hell, Xander -"   Spike wanted to reach out - take Xander's hand.  Touch him.  But the chairs were too far apart and it was...   *Too much, too soon.  Just listen.*

"Yeah.  It was...pretty crazy.  The place he was from was - a lot different.  Darker and more -"   Xander made a gesture with his hands, helpless looking.  Shook his head again.  "It's hard to describe.  Do you - does the demon in you remember...where it was before?"

"Before?"

"Before it - you...fuck.  Before William got turned?  I mean, you weren't just - floating around in limbo or anything, right?"

"No.  There was a place..."  Spike looked away for a moment.  Remembering a place of green light - a seemingly endless sea of towering green and a true sea of cold, depthless water that foamed with life.  Remembered the bone-deep tug and screaming pain of becoming.  Remembered - waking.  "It's... out of reach, now."

"Yeah."  Xander rubbed his hands up his arms, looking cold.  "He wanted out, from where he was.  It wasn't a prison but it wasn't - home.  He'd made a mistake.  He...liked it here.  I remember how much he liked the air - the colors."

Spike liked it here, too - the other place a dim memory that didn't compare, mostly.  But - this wasn't a fucking fairy tale.  "Did he like gutting those girls?" Spike said, watching the odd, rapt expression snap off Xander's face, replaced with misery.

"Yeah, he did.  Not because he wanted - it wasn't like torture, to him.  It was survival."  Xander looked straight at Spike, his shoulders going back and his chin coming up.  "Like when you killed that guy in London, that first night.  Survival."

"I don't have to vivisect my prey," Spike snapped, and Xander shivered.

"No, you don't.  But you've done worse.  But - Spike..."  Xander pushed himself to his feet and paced over to the French doors - stood looking out at the garden, silver and charcoal in the glow of a gibbous moon - squares of honey-gold from the lights of other, occupied rooms.  "The thing is - I remember him.  I remember how fucking happy he was when he saw me at my place.  I remember how much it hurt when that ward burned him and - I remember riding the lightning over London.  He could hear me.  He could hear my soul and it was...  It was so...beautiful."

"So, you're the demon apologist now?  Telling me how my own kind's got its own special take on the world - how we're all precious, pretty snowflakes or some such bollocks?"  Spike stood up too - stomped over to the bar for another, stiffer drink.  Xander just stood there, looking out, and Spike stood a few steps behind him, watching.  Listening to him breathe and listening to his heart - to the faint susurrus of metal against metal when Xander touched the necklace again.

"No, I'm not...whatever that is.  I'm trying to tell you that...  I guess I'm trying to say I don't see things...the same anymore.  I still - have those bad dreams..."  Xander's voice cracked a little and he paused for a moment then went on, voice hardening into something closer to a growl.  "Doesn't matter how much he liked fucking orange soda, he still tore those girls apart and didn't...fucking care.  But he...cared about other things.  Cared like - anybody would.  Like any human would."  Xander's fists clenched and relaxed, his shoulders tight.  "And it's all in me, now."  Xander turned around with a sigh - stood there staring at Spike.  Staring long enough to make Spike fidget.

"So you had this epiphany and thought I should know?"

"Yeah.  Kinda.  Thought I should tell you I didn't let them - talk me into anything.  I didn't let them erase anything.  I remember other stuff too, Spike."
"Back to the stuff, now," Spike said, still feeling like he wanted to fidget.  Feeling nervous, somehow and not quite as smug and Xander smiled a slow smile.  Took a few steps forward until he was right there, up close and personal and completely ignoring anybody's 'space'.  He was warm, and smelled thickly of salt and honey and something...savory.   Something good that Spike wanted to taste.

"Yeah.  Stuff.  Like...movies and take away and steak and kidney pie.  Stuff like that."  Xander's smile faltered a tiny bit and his fingers twitched and Spike knew he wanted to touch the necklace.  "Like you crawling under the bed with me." 

"Don't do that for just anyone, you know.  You were a special case."

"Special, all right," Xander said, and swayed forward just a little.

Spike closed his eyes - took in the scent and the heat and the pressure of him.  Xander's blood rushing through his heart - his lungs pushing and pulling air and his knee creaking as he shifted, just a little.  "More special than you know, love...so bloody much more -"

Faint laugh from Xander.  "If you ever walk away from me again I'll give this necklace to Willow and let her teleport you to a warded circle in the middle of Council Headquarters."

Spike's eyes snapped open and Xander was this this this close, face solemn and sober but his gaze - laughing.  "I ever walk away again, love, I'll deserve it."

"Yeah, you will."  Xander leaned in that last inch - pressed his lips to Spike's and kissed him.  After a moment or two of sheer intoxication Spike's arms came up and pulled Xander close.  His hands fitted into the hollow at the small of Xander's back and pushed up through his hair and Xander sighed into the kiss and wound his own arms around Spike.  Found that hold that pressed them together just right - embraced Spike just right and Spike almost laughed and Xander pulled back, smiling.

"What?"

"This stuff.  You remember this stuff, too."

"Oh, yeah.  Pretty damn hard to forget...kiss...this...kiss...stuff."

"Bloody well hope so," Spike huffed, and then tumbled them both to the couch for as much stuff...as they could stand.

 

 

 

 

 

One year later, somewhere in Middle America...

 

"Xander!  Fuck's sake, can we go?"  Spike appeared like a jack-in-the-box at Xander's elbow and Xander almost toppled his hot chocolate - with extra whipped cream, nutmeg and cinnamon - over his laptop.

"Spike!  Jesus - Christ!"  Xander gripped the edges of the table and tried to slow his heart down from running-from-trolls speed while Spike jittered next to him, oblivious to the glares coming at him from the clusters of students huddled over their own laptops, notes, and mocha frappe latte-chino whatevers.   "Do you want me to die of a heart attack?  Just - keel over in the middle of nowhere in a pool of overpriced coffee?"

"Got a heart like a steeplechaser, love, you won't die from that."  Spike's fingers - which were like pointy icicles - gripped Xander's chin and tilted his head up.  Xander sat there and let himself be kissed breathless by cold, cold lips and tongue and teeth.

"Right, okay.  Uh.  What's a steeplechaser?"  Spike grinned.  "Never mind.  Why are you in here yelling at me?"

"It's almost six.  We need to get on the road, love."  Spike was tapping his fingers and twitching at his coat and in general acting like a six year old on a sugar high and that could only mean one thing.

He'd just cheated the entire demon population of Bumfuck, Wherever out of every kitten they had.

"I’m not gonna get in the car and find it packed to the gills with kittens, am I?" Xander asked, clicking the 'spell check' button and watching various words light up in red on his screen.   Getting better - only eight, this time.

"What?"  Spike looked guilty for all of three seconds and then he pulled out his cigarettes to cover - lit up with a flourish and leaned on the back of the chair, his hand stroking absently through Xander's hair.  "This town's dead, mate - not got a kitten here I'd heave into a pit of -"

"This is a no smoking facility, sir," a voice piped up, and Xander and Spike both swiveled to stare at the gangly student standing behind them.

"Yeah?" Spike said.  He took a deep lungful of smoke.  Xander hastily hit 'save' and closed his laptop - shoved it into its bag while wrestling with his jacket.  It was caught on something on the back of the chair. 

Spike blew the lungful into the boy's face.  "Piss.  Off."

The student coughed, waving a crumpled napkin in front of his face.  "I c-can have you banned!  All I have to do -"

"Listen, you git -"

"Whoa, look at the time!  Gotta go!"  Xander yanked his jacket so hard the chair came with it, then toppled over and crashed to the floor.  Spike and the student both stared at him.

"Bloody hell, Xander, what've you got against that chair?"

"We need to go.  Remember?  Lots of driving to do.  Hold this."  Xander shoved his laptop bag into Spike's arms, confident Spike would catch it.  He yanked his jacket on and grabbed his hot chocolate and then Spike's arm and towed him through the tables and out the door.  Spike stumbled backwards through the tables, clutching the laptop and blowing as much smoke over the crowd as he could.

"Man, one of these days -"

"One of these days what?  Not one bugger in there with the stones to do more than whinge at me." 

Xander stopped by their car, shivering.  It was snowing like crazy, thick white flakes spinning down and down, already a couple of inches thick over the parked cars.  They prickled with cold as they fell on Xander's skin, like a soft mist.  It was pretty in the white light of the parking lot lamps.  The snow shone like sugar-dust and softened the edges of everything and Xander took a long breath, liking how the cold air made the inside of his nose crinkle. 

"You worry too much, love."  Spike smirked at him and Xander snatched his laptop back.

"You're driving.  I didn't have time to finish my letter."

"With pleasure," Spike said.  He pushed Xander into the side of the car, pinning him and groping leisurely at pockets and not pockets, cigarette held out and away and his mouth finding every hot spot between Xander's chin and his collarbone.

"What are you...oh, yeah...doing?"

"Looking for the keys, love," Spike murmured, pushing an icy nose into Xander's collar.

"God!  Jesus, okay - jacket pocket.  No more groping until you're at least seventy degrees."  Spike jangled the keys and straightened up, grinning at him and Xander grinned back - wiped snow out of his eye and walked around to the passenger side.

 

An hour later he'd finished his letter to Willow and one to Dawn, deleted a ton of spam and shared the 'In-Crease UR P*E*N*I*S SIZE!!!' advertisement with Spike.  He folded his laptop away and reclined the seat a little.  They were somewhere in Kansas, heading west - California by Friday and Christmas with Angel and Buffy and the little bald monkey they called Natalie.   Seven months old for her first Christmas.  To make up for it, Xander had promised Spike an entire week in Vegas for the New Year.

They had a suite at the Las Vegas Hilton.  The Star Trek Experience was going to be taking all of Xander's folding cash, that much he knew already.  If Spike would let him out of the room.  Xander tilted his head, peering speculatively at Spike in the cobalt glow of the dash lights and occasional oncoming head light.  Spike was tapping on the wheel, singing softly along with ...  Xander concentrated.  Tom Petty.

"What is it, love?  Want to stop?"

"Oh, no.  Just thinking about our Las Vegas trip."

"Yeah?"  Spike grinned over at him, flash of pointy teeth and golden eyes.  "New Year you're never gonna forget."

"You think?"

"Oh, I know.  Trust me, pet."

"I think I do," Xander said quietly, and Spike's smile was softer this time.  His hand brushed over Xander's thigh and then squeezed gently, and Xander put his own hand on top of Spike's and they rode along in a comfortable silence for a few minutes until Spike cursed and jerked his hand back to the wheel, bullying the car through a slick spot.  Xander just closed his eye and gripped the door handle.  He never even looked at the speedometer anymore - it wasn't worth the panic attacks.  The car lurched back into true and there was a rustling in the back seat and then a small, pitiful noise.

A sort of 'meew' noise. 

Xander's eye popped open.  "Spike?"

"Mmm?"   Spike said, fumbling along the seat for his cigarettes.

*The fake nonchalance of the caught-red-handed vampire!*    "I just heard a - cat."

"No you didn't."

"Yes, yes I did." 

"Meew!"

"There!  I heard it again!"

"Not a cat, love."

Xander turned to stare incredulously at Spike.  Spike glared at the road.  "It was a cat, Spike.  I know what cats sound like."

"No, it -"

"MeewMeew!"

"In chorus!  There's two cats in here, Spike!"  Xander clawed at his seat-belt, thought better of it and twisted awkwardly, trying to see over the seats.

"No, there are not two cats in here -" Spike said, a little desperately, and Xander snapped on the interior light.  It illuminated a cat carrier, lined with a plush and festive red and green throw.  Two little faces - pale coronas around dark masks - stared up at him.  Very blue, very crossed eyes blinked at him and two little mouths opened, exposing miniature white fangs and pink tongues.

"Ah ha!"

"See, not cats," Spike said, and lit up.  He cracked his window and the sudden roar of cold air made the kittens hunker down, ears going back.  "They're kittens."

"Spike!"  Xander closed his eye and took a deep breath.  Counted to ten.  Lifted his hand up to the silver necklace he still wore and ran his fingertip over it.  Opened his eye.  "You're scaring the kittens with that noise and making them cold."

"Huh?  Oh -"   Spike took a huge lungful of smoke and then blew it out - shoved the butt out the window and powered the window back up.

"Why are there kittens in the car?"

"Buffy asked -"

"Oh, Jesus.  Does Angel know?"

Spike looked shifty.  "Angel thinks cats climb into cribs and steal a baby's breath."

"Angel doesn't know."
"I'm not daft.  I made Buffy write me a note."

"A...note?"  Xander boggled at Spike a little and Spike reached into his coat - pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and handed it across.

Xander unfolded it.  "I, Buffy Summers Griffin, do solemnly swear and promise that kittens were my idea."  It was signed with a flourish underneath and Xander silently folded it back up and handed it to Spike, who tucked it away.  "Well.  Okay, then."

They drove another mile or so, Refugee thumping along in the background. 

"That's half the reason you agreed to this whole trip, isn't it.  To send Angel into a tailspin over kittens crawling all over his precious Natalie."

"Too bloody right, love.  They might even climb the tree."

"That would be something."  Xander sat for another mile then mentally shrugged.  He undid his seat-belt,

turned off the interior light and scooted over next to Spike, snuggling close and putting his hand on Spike's thigh, high and in.

"I love you, you know.  Evil, conniving creature that you are."

"Never doubted it for a minute, love."