Little Runaway

Little Runaway

 

 

Dawn was crying and Spike put his hand out to touch her hair - pulled back at the last minute because... would she really want him to do that?

"You wanna know what I'm scared of, Spike?  Me.  Right now, Glory thinks Tara's the key. But I'm the key, Spike. I am."  Dawn pushed her hair back, her eyes wide and wet.   Angry.   "And anything that happens to Tara...is 'cause of me.  Your bruises, your limp... that's all me too!  I'm like a lightning rod for pain and h-hurt.  And everyone around me suffers and - and dies. I must be something so horrible...to cause so much pain and evil."   Her voice had died away to a miserable, sniffley whisper and she hugged herself.
"Rot," Spike said, as firmly as he could, and Dawn wiped angrily at her face, looking stubborn.

"What do you know?"
"I'm a vampire, Niblet.   I know somethin' about evil. You're not evil."  He sighed and sat down next to her - braved an awkward pat on her shoulder. 

She looked up at him hopefully, but then her expression fell again.  "Maybe...I'm not evil. But I don't think I can be good." 

*What's so bloody special 'bout bein' good, anyway?*   "Well, I'm not good, and I'm okay."   That got a sort of choked laugh out of Dawn and they sat in silence for a couple of minutes.  Spike had just decided to reach for a cigarette when Dawn straightened and turned to him.

"Spike - you'd do anything for Buffy, wouldn't you?  I mean - anything to help her.  Right?" 

Spike looked consideringly at Dawn, pulling out his smokes and lighter.  "Well, yeah.  'Most anything."

"And you know - all she really wants right now - all she wants - is to keep me safe.  Right?"

"Ye-aah..."  Spike said slowly.  He lit a cigarette - plumed smoke up and away from Dawn.  *What's she gettin' at, I wonder?  About as subtle as a whore in church.*

"Then - don't you think - the best thing for me to do would be to just - go away?  I mean - if Glory can't find me, then she can't do the ritual, and if she can't do the ritual then she can't go home and she'll just - fade away, won't she?"

"I don't think anybody knows what'll happen to her if she doesn't go home, Niblet...  But you're not goin' anywhere - you're gonna stay right here, safe and sound.  Me and Big Sis, we'll take care of Glory."  Spike put as much sarcasm as he could into that last - anything to hide the sinking feeling he got when he thought about the Hellgod.  She was tough - he'd never felt such strength.   Not even Buffy's hardest punches had done more than turn her head.  Unless the Watcher came up with something - or Red found some spell - the Hellgod seemed invulnerable.  Was invulnerable. 

"But you can't!"  Dawn jumped to her feet, agitated, and Spike twitched back a little.  "Don't you understand?  The only way for all this to stop - for all this - this pain and...hurting to stop is for me to go away!" 

Spike had a sudden, unwelcome thought and he grabbed Dawn's arm, ignoring her startled gasp and dropping his cigarette.  "You're not talkin' about - you're not asking me to -"   

Dawn gaped at him, and then shook her head wildly.  "No!  No, I'm not - I don't want to kill myself!  We should just run away, Spike!  You take me - take me anywhere.  Take me down to Mexico or - or up to Canada - anywhere!  If we leave right now we can get far enough away that she'll never find us!"

"What?"  Spike roared, and Dawn started to cry again, trying to pull her arm out of his grip.

"It's the only way, Spike!"

"Bit, you're just upset -"

"Stop that!"  Dawn screeched, and Spike let go in utter startlement, his ears ringing.

"Of course I'm upset!  You almost died because of me!  Tara is - Tara lost her mind because of me!  All these terrible things keep happening because of me!  Buffy lays in bed at night and cries!  I hear her!  Do you know how that makes me feel?  I'm not a stupid little kid, Spike!  I'm this - this damn key that's making all these horrible things happen to the people I love and it has to stop!"  Dawn ran out of breath and steam at the same time and collapsed onto Spike, sobbing noisily.  Spike looked down at the sleek fall of brown hair buried in his t-shirt for one shocked moment and then he gathered her close, shushing her gently.  He settled them carefully back on the rock ledge and continued to pet her hair - croon nonsense into her ear.  It was eerily like Dru when she'd had a bad dream or a bad vision, and he gingerly rested his lips for one moment on Dawn's head.

After a bit Dawn sat up, wiping at her face and sniffling.  Spike rummaged in a pocket and came up with a mostly-clean bandana and passed it to her.  Dawn blew noisily - wiped her face - tried to hand it back.

"Just toss it, pet.  Don't fancy havin' that in my pocket."  Dawn tossed the bandana away then slumped, looking at her hands.

"You don’t think it would work, do you," she mumbled, and Spike sighed.

"Listen, Bit - in theory - in theory, mind - it's a brilliant idea.  Get you out of the way of the Goddess of Bad Home Perms - let the Slayer deal with her without any distractions, but -"

"But what, Spike?" 

Spike stood up - paced back and forth, wincing when he came down too hard on his hurt leg.  He retrieved his cigarette and puffed on it.  "But, in practice, there's a bunch of stuff you've left out!"

"Like what?"  Dawn folded her arms - got that look on her face that said 'Slayers Little Sister' and had sod-all to do with monks and mystical keys.

"Like - like runnin' away takes a car, yeah?  An' - money.  Lots of money -"

"I have almost three thousand dollars, Spike."  Dawn said quietly, and Spike stopped dead and gaped at her.

"What?"

"I said - I have three thousand dollars.  I - I've kinda been...stealing stuff and -"

"Stealing stuff?  What in bloody hell have you been stealing worth three thousand dollars?"  Spike glared at her and Dawn cringed away a little, then sat up and put her chin in the air.

"Me and Janice figured out a way to get those tag-things off of clothes.  And she goes into the really ritzy places in the Mall and - and she wears this kind of disguise -"

"Bit -" Spike warned, flicking the burned-down cigarette away, and Dawn gulped.

"Anyway, she takes the most expensive stuff and gets the tag off and then, later, I come back and I pretend I got it for my birthday only I don't like it or it doesn't fit and they give me my money back.  See?  And we split the money.  And - I took some stuff from the Magic Box, too, and sold it -"

"Sold it where?"  Spike asked, a dread certainty in his stomach, and Dawn wet her lips nervously.

"Sold it at that -th-that pawn shop down on Rosera -"

"Christ!  What in bloody hell were you thinking, Bit!  That place is -"

"It's the only place to sell magical stuff!  And I told them I was the Slayer's little sister and - and that you would come and kick their a-asses if they didn't give me a good price -"

"Oh fuck."  Spike slumped to the stone ledge, head in hands.  *No bloody wonder I've been gettin' the damn evil eye in there!  What the hell did she think she was doing?*    Spike sat there for several minutes, thinking of all the horrible things Buffy would do to him when she found out.  Thinking of all the horrible things that could have happened to Dawn.  Thinking, after another minute or two in which Dawn shuffled nervously and coughed, that the plan wasn't half-bad, really.  *Three thousand bucks'd go a long way in Veracruz...* Spike thought, remembering with a fond smile the three months he and Dru had stopped off there on their way to Brazil. 

Dawn saw the smile and sat down next to him, suddenly perky again.  "See!  You think it's a good idea, too!  I've got a route all planned, Spike - I got maps online at the library and I got a cell-phone from the guy at the pawn shop - he put it in somebody else's name -"

"'Cause it's stolen, Bit," Spike said absently, sitting up and lighting another cigarette.  "Probably doesn't work."

"Yeah, it works - I called Janice on it and she called me.  He said it would work no matter what.  I just have to buy those cards that give you minutes, 'cause there's no place to send a bill to.  And I've got my stuff packed - the stuff I'd really need and would m-miss, and I know where to get some - some blood for you..."  She trailed off and looked at Spike, and Spike finally shook his head.  "Wouldn't work, Niblet.  The minute Big Sis can't find you she's gonna come find me, and the minute she realizes you're gone with me she's..."  Spike stood abruptly, pain wrenching through him.  "She's gonna think the worst."   *And she will, too.  Doesn't matter that I didn't sell the Bit out to Glory - all she sees is...the evil, soulless monster she hates and...  She'll dust me before I have time to blink.*

"But Buffy knows you wouldn't hurt me!  I mean, you didn't tell Glory who - wh-what I am and -"

"Doesn't matter, platelet.  She just...doesn't trust me."

"That's stupid, Spike.  You love her." 

Spike laughed - smoked for a minute.  "Doesn't matter how I feel though, does it, Bit?  All that matters is how she feels.  And she doesn't love me.   Never will."  Spike stared at the glittering surface of the rock wall in front of him - tiny chips of quartz and mica shining like stars in the dimness ,catching the light of the torch he'd brought back there.  *Never will.  She never will.  I've just been foolin' myself all along.  Hell - maybe I only love her 'cause she WON'T love me.  Who knows?  It's crazy, to love the Slayer. All that crap Dru told me...havin' to be nice to her and her...gang 'cause of this damn chip...  It's got me all - messed up in my head.  Time to get straight.*   Spike dropped his cigarette - turned to look at Dawn.

"She'll just come after us and dust me, Little Bit, and that's one extra thing she doesn't need right now."  Dawn looked at him for a moment, and then she smiled, slowly.  "But - she wouldn't come after me - us - if she thought I was with somebody she could - could trust, right?  If she thought you were just being paid to bodyguard me and the real mastermind was - was somebody else, right?" 

Spike snorted.  "Right.  What, you gonna talk the Watcher into comin' along for the ride?  Never happen, Bit."

"No, not Mr. Giles."  Dawn made that typical 'He's old and frumpy' teenager face, and Spike almost laughed.

"Who then, Niblet?"

 

 

 

"Xander?   Xander!  Wake up!"

"Wakey-wakey, Harris!  Time to rise and shine!"  Xander felt like he was slowly surfacing from the bottom of a pool of syrup.  Or maybe cement.  His head felt too big, his mouth was dry and tasted absolutely awful, and there was a dull thudding behind his eyes. 

*I did not get drunk to dull the pain of Tara getting...brain sucked.  I didn't fall and hit my head...  I wasn’t attacked on the way home...  I wasn't attacked at home.  Or - wait...*    Xander tried hard to remember what had happened, but he was distracted by something cold and wet on his face.  "Stop that!  What the hell -"   He opened his eyes - immediately squinted them shut again.

"Oops, sorry."

"Gimmie the torch, Bit." 

*Dawn?  Spike?  Oh my god.  Spike got the chip out and I've been kidnapped.  He's gonna turn us over to Glory!*   Xander felt his heart start to pound and he flinched away from the cold thing that touched his face again.

"Relax, Harris.  I'm not gonna turn you over to Glory.  And I didn't get the chip out."  Spike's voice was so frustrated and disconsolate on the last statement that Xander opened his eyes again. 

*He wouldn't be able to keep the smirk out of his voice if he really had got it out.  So what the hell?*   He stared at Dawn, who was leaning over the front seat of the car, a wad of damp fast-food napkins in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.  Spike was next to her, holding a flashlight.

"What the hell is going on?"  Xander tried to yell but found he couldn't - his throat hurt and he felt a little - dizzy.  "What did you do to me!  Don't you dare hurt Dawn, you undead freak!" 

Spike rolled his eyes - shot a look at Dawn.  "I told you, Niblet.  You owe me five bucks."

"Xander, why do you have to be such a - such a jerk!"  Dawn pouted, and Xander goggled at her. 

"What?  We've been kidnapped by Fangless and I'm being a jerk?  What the hell -"

"We haven't been kidnapped - you have.  We're running away." 

Once again Xander could do nothing but stare.  His mind reeled - and boggled - and -   *And I think it's shutting down.  This is just - insane.  Running away?  What is this, an After School Special?*   Xander lifted his hand to wipe his face and realized he couldn't.  There were manacles around his wrists, with chains that led down to his -   Xander bent over a little, squinting.  Yup, manacles around his ankles.  And a short length of chain locking it all to the floor of the car via a sturdy stainless bolt.    "I'm chained to the fucking car."

"Wondered how long it would take you to notice."  Spike's voice was definitely smirky this time, and Xander sat up and shot him an evil glare - looked around.  The car had dark windows - really dark windows.  And rather ratty leather seats and the handle of an ax sticking out from under the driver's seat.  And it somehow looked...familiar.

"The DeSoto?"   Xander asked, and Spike grinned.

"Yup.  Willy had it in a lot for me - just had to go pick it up."  Xander nodded - wrenched suddenly on the chains and glared when Spike laughed.   "You can't break 'em, Harris.  Those might not hold me but they'll hold you just fine."

"How do you feel, Xander?"  Dawn looked concerned and Xander felt his mind boggling again.

"How do I feel?  Dawn, pardon me very much, but that is the stupidest question you could ask me."

"Well pardon me for caring!  Spike thought he might have given you too much of that stuff -"

"What stuff?"  Xander asked, and his voice was deadly quiet.  Spike widened his eyes at him in a parody of fear.  He looked like a manga character when he did that and Xander suppressed a wildly inappropriate urge to laugh.

"Don't get all threatening, Harris.  I just gave you a little shot of sleeping dust.  Had to get you out of your place and into the car, didn't I?  Didn't want to have to explain or listen to you squawk."   Xander stared at him - at Dawn, who took a swig of the water.  

*This is insanity.  This is...my life.  Jesus.*   "Dawn?  Could I have a drink?" 

"Huh?  Oh, sure."  Dawn held the bottle out - winced a little when Xander rattled his chains at her and held it to his mouth for him.  He drank several long swallows and felt the roughness of his throat ease a bit.

"Thanks, Dawn.  Now - I would really, really like it if you two could explain to me why, exactly, I'm chained to the DeSoto."  Dawn and Spike looked at each other, and Spike raised the scarred eyebrow, looking surprised.

"I told you he'd be reasonable."

"That you did, Bit.  He probably won't stay reasonable, though."

"I'll be perfectly reasonable if you just explain," Xander snarled, and Spike grinned. 

Dawn shook her head.  "Okay.  It's like this - I was telling Spike..."  As Dawn outlined the plan - and his role in it - Xander grew increasingly calmer. 

*Right.  Fine.  We're, what - a couple hours out of Sunnydale?  Buffy and Giles and Willow - well, maybe not Willow - will be along any time now.  This car is easy to spot, and Willow can do a spell...  I'll be home by lunch time.*   He relaxed and leaned back against the seat behind him and Spike looked surprised - then amused.  "What're you laughing at, Fangless?"

"Oh, nothin' much.   Just the little thoughts whirlin' around in your head, is all."

"What's that mean?"

"Just that I can see what you're thinkin', plain as day.  You're thinkin' we're still close to home and that the Slayer and maybe the Watcher'll be here any minute like the Lone Ranger or somethin', and whisk you off home."

Xander felt himself pale a little at the amused tone Spike used, and looked at Dawn, who looked anxious.

"Well - it's true, though."

"Uh - Xander..."  Dawn twisted the napkins in her hand - looked at Spike. 

Spike smirked.  "I gave you the sleeping dust on Wednesday night.  We drove 'til the sun came up and hit a motel - then we drove again, and then we slept - and then we drove -" Spike's grin was as wide as Xander's eyes felt, and his stomach turned over in fear. 

*What the hell - it's been - two nights?  Three?  This is...* 

"It's almost dawn on Saturday, Xander.  You've been asleep awhile."  There were traces of fear and worry in Dawn's voice, and Xander looked over at her - saw the same thing in her eyes.

"I'm okay Dawn.  No thanks to the evil undead.  Jesus, Spike, I could have died!"

 "Nah."  Spike dug around in his coat and came up with a cigarette - rolled down the driver-side window and lit it.  "I was pretty sure you'd be okay."  He winked at Dawn, who smiled back, and Xander pulled at the chains again.

"Well, okay, so we're - we're further away than I thought.  Doesn't mean that Buffy and Giles won't -"   Spike was shaking his head, still grinning, and Xander wanted to punch him.  "What now?"

"I've still got connections, Harris.  I got us a spell - put it on the car, and on me and Niblet and you.  If Red tries a locator spell it'll tell her we're someplace else - or it won't tell her anything - or it'll tell her we're still in Sunnydale.  Warlock bloke I know, he likes the idea of scrambling the signal, like they do with the pay-channels on the telly."  Spike puffed - tapped ash out the window.   "He said it'd work a treat, and it does.  Had another bloke I know test it, last rest stop." 

Spike was watching Xander closely and Xander tried hard not to let his feelings of panic and defeat show.  He was pretty sure it didn't work.  "Fine, then.  You're running away from being the key, Dawn, and Spike is running away from being decent for once in his unlife and you decided to drag me along.  Great."

"Get over it, Harris," Spike snapped, and tossed his cigarette butt out through the window.  "Dawn wants you here - you're gonna take care of her during the day and keep her company.  I'm gonna keep the demons and other assorted nasties off 'a the both of you and provide money and whatnot.  We're not goin' back until Glory's dead.  Live with it."

"Sure, I'll live with it Spike.  But did you guys think of how Buffy is gonna live with it?  She's gonna be going crazy, Dawn!  Do you have any idea how worried she must be?  How could you do that to her?"   Spike was scowling at him, and Dawn gulped.

"I - I know she'll be w-worried, Xander, but -"

"There's no but, Dawn!  This is - this could kill her."  Dawn stared at him, and her eyes got bigger and bigger and suddenly she was crying - hoarse sobbing that made Xander's heart constrict painfully in his chest.  Spike looked murderous now, and he kicked his door open - got out.  Xander tensed, expecting the back door to open and Spike to lean in and punch him *chip, he's got the chip still!* but nothing happened for a minute.  Then Dawn's door opened and Spike was coaxing her out - talking in a low, soothing voice.  Xander could just see them in the dim light of - wherever they were.  Dawn had her head on Spike's chest and Spike was petting her hair, holding her gently.  Xander frowned at that - tried to see where they were but he only got the impression of concrete and dirt and asphalt - under a bridge, maybe, or in a garage.  He could hear traffic noise, but not much.  After a few minutes Spike let Dawn go and she crawled back into the car, her face pink and splotchy and her nose running.  She grabbed some dry napkins from the dash and blew her nose - wiped her face.  Spike shut her door and came around - got into his seat, still frowning.

"Don't do that again, Harris.  You've got no right to make her feel that way.  She's - we're both - doing what we think's best."

"I left a tape, Xander.  We did.  Spike sto - got a video camera and we made a tape.  I explained the whole thing, and I even talked about some stuff that only me and Buffy know, so she'd know I wasn't being - forced to do it.  And Spike - Spike promised, right on the tape to take care of me."

"Like that means anything," Xander mumbled, and Spike reached back and whacked him in the head - grimaced at whatever the chip did.

"Fuck you, Harris.  I may be a vampire and I may be less than nothing to you, but I was an honorable man, and I still am honorable.  I swore on my unlife I'd keep Dawn safe, and I meant it.  The Watcher'll understand even if the Slayer doesn't." 

Spike looked truly pissed and Xander stared at him for a minute.   *Is he for real?  He seems - sincere.  Jesus Christ.  This is all - this is nuts.  But there's nothing I can do about it.  Not now.  Damnit.*   "Okay - fine.  You promised, you left a tape - that's great.  What the hell about me?  Anya's gonna think -"

"We told them about you, Xander - we told them you agreed to come along to protect me.  Anya will probably think you're a - a hero, or something."  Dawn smiled nervously at him and Xander sighed.

"I doubt it.  She'll probably think...  Oh, fuck it.  Sorry Dawn." 

Dawn rolled her eyes.    "You didn't hear Spike last night when we couldn't get out from behind this truck.  Whole new set of words I hadn't even heard before."   She grinned at him and Xander couldn't suppress a snort of laughter, and the tension in the car eased a bit.

"Oookay...  So, I'm awake now.  What's going on?  And I gotta tell you - I really need to pee."  As soon as he said it Xander realized how truly uncomfortable he was down there, as it were, and he suddenly thought that if he didn't get out of the car they were all going to be sorry.  "Uh - I mean it, Spike.  I really, really need to -"

"Yeah - sleeping dust meant you were sleeping.  Not doing anything else, thank fucking god."  Spike opened his door and got out - opened the door on Xander's left and leaned in, key in hand.  He unlocked the padlock that held the chain around the bolt on the floor and helped Xander get out by dragging on the chain.  Xander stood slowly, his whole body cramping.

"Right.  Ok.  Bathroom?  Now?" 

"Right."  Spike looked around - jerked on the chain and Xander stumbled along after him.  Fortunately there was enough slack that he could walk normally, but his legs felt like two big logs or something, and his calves were knotting up in some spectacular charley horses.   It seemed they were in some sort of garage - abandoned by the look of it - with the dawn light coming in milky-blue through the soaped-over windows of the garage doors.  Through a doorway there was a counter and some empty shelves and then a scratched red door that Spike kicked open.  He reached in and pulled the string and a yellow bulb miraculously snapped on.  The bathroom wasn't too awful, but there were no windows at all.  Spike unlocked the manacle on Xander's right wrist - re-locked it around his left wrist and pushed him towards the bathroom.

"There you go, Harris." 

Xander shot him a dirty look and shuffled in - shut the door and locked it.  He heard Spike laugh.   "Stupid vampire," he muttered.   When he was done, he cleaned up as best he could in the trickle of cold, gritty water that was all he could coax from the tap.  He looked in the spotted mirror over the sink, grimacing.  He was pale - dark-circled under his eyes - and his lips were chapped and cracked.  His teeth felt - tasted - horrible.  He unlocked the door and stuck his head out, and saw Dawn standing by the counter.

"Xander!  Better now? Here - I got you your toothbrush."  Dawn came over, holding out his own toothbrush and paste from home, and a new bottle of water. 

Xander took them - tried on a small smile.  "Thanks, Dawn.  Look - I'm sorry.   I - I didn't mean to make you cry, but don't you think -"

"Yeah, I do think, Xander!  I think everybody kinda forgets that sometimes."  Dawn's expression was fierce and totally serious.   "This is gonna work.  Glory can't find me - nobody can.  And when the time for the...the ritual is over and Glory is all...messed up, Buffy'll be able to kick her butt, no problem.  Or Willow will.  It's better this way.  Nobody else will get hurt and Buffy can just concentrate on Glory." 

Xander looked at her - at the hope and fear and exhaustion in her eyes, and he let whatever he'd been going to say just...die.  She needed this.  Needed to think this was a good idea - a solution - a way to help, and Xander wasn't going to make her cry again. 

*But I'm not going to go easy on Spike.  Even if Dawn doesn't know better, he should.*   "Oh...okay, Dawnie.  Okay.  I'm just - I just wish you'd - talked to me first."  Xander turned back to the bathroom and got his brush ready - started on his teeth.

"It'll be okay Xander.  You'll see." 

Xander looked at her reflection in the mirror - nodded and smiled a foamy smile, and Dawn smiled back.  Xander spat into the sink and cracked the water bottle open - rinsed his mouth.    *Hope it will be, Dawnie.  I really do.* 

 

 

 

Spike paced the empty garage - smoked two cigarettes in rapid succession and watched Dawn and Xander surreptitiously through the doorway into the 'shop' part of the garage.  Despite his confident air in front of Xander, he was a little worried.  He knew Red and the Watcher didn't have a chance in hell of finding them, but he wondered about Glory.  She might be a couple bricks short, and she might have more interest in the Shopping Channel then any actual godly-stuff, but she was, at the very bottom, a god.  That meant she could do things nobody else could do.  And just because she hadn't been able to find her key before didn't mean she couldn't now.  Spike knew - he knew -that the three of them disappearing might look funny, but he hoped that his torture and Xander's relative non-special status would just make her think they didn't want to get hurt.  And that what she'd done to Glinda would seem like a good reason for the Slayer to get her little sister out of harm's way.  He hoped. 

*Fuck this.  No time for second guessing.  We're - oh - halfway there maybe, if the roads hold out.  It'll be fine.  Just gotta get the call over with, get Harris checked out behind the wheel.  Bastard had better not fuck up my car.  Right.*   Spike flicked his cigarette butt away - sauntered over to where Xander and Dawn were talking, leaning on the counter.

"Powdered your nose then, Harris?" he asked, and smirked at Xander's baleful look.  Xander held his left arm out, looking pointedly between the manacles and Spike.  Spike looked back - raised his eyebrow.

"Spike -"

"What?  Oh - oh, right."  Laughing inwardly, Spike dug the key out and unlocked the right manacle - in a quick move re-locked it around Xander's right wrist.  Harris gaped at him for a moment and then scowled furiously at him.

"What the hell do you think - Spike!  Get these off me!"

"Not on your life, Harris.  They're stayin' on 'til we get to where we're goin'.  You'll live."  

"You - you -"   Xander spluttered, unable to find the words, and Spike just grinned at him. 

Dawn looked uncomfortable.  "Spike, don't you think -"

"Now Bit, we agreed; I'd handle Harris - do what I thought best.  You know I can't hurt him, and we don't want him runnin' to the nearest cop or phone and makin' a call, do we?" 

Dawn bit her lip - looked at Xander, who was ready to explode, then at Spike who did his best to look reasonable.  She sighed.  "Yeah.  Okay.  We did.  You're right."  She looked over at Xander and shrugged - wandered away towards the car - and Xander did his best to throw his hands up in frustration, making a growling noise.

"Arrrgh!  Spike, this is some sort of - some sort of twisted -"

"Revenge?  That what you're thinkin'?"  Spike leaned in close - flicked a glance at Dawn who was going through the boot of the DeSoto, looking for something.  He dropped his voice to a hiss.  "Well, you're right.  Chained me in that fuckin' tub, tied me in your fuckin' chair - get used to it Harris - I might just lose the key for a while."  Spike hadn't intended for there to be quite so much venom in his voice, but it got away from him a little bit and Xander went white and stared at him, his mouth a little open.    *Stupid bastard.  Now just shut up.*    He straightened up - reached and brushed imaginary lint from Xander's shirt.

"Now - you probably need something to eat, hey?  And then we'll see if you can drive my car without wrecking it."  Spike turned on his heel and went over to the car - pulled a baggie of blood from 'his' cooler and drained it.  He heard Xander heave a sigh - shuffle over to the car.

"What's there to eat, Dawn?" he asked, and Spike fought a smile - hid it by rooting out more blood. 

*Only a dozen bags left.  But - plenty of livestock around where we're going.   And some...Houses of Ill Repute, if I remember correctly.*   Spike grinned to himself.  Riley had discovered what a lot of humans before him had - it felt good to get bitten by a vampire.  And Spike knew of a few places along the way that catered to that.  He could get a fresh meal and some extra cash, if he was right.  He'd been subtly testing the limits of the chip - trying a few things.  It was...interesting.  He was pretty sure he could bite a willing human and the chip would do nothing at all.  Mind over matter, perhaps.  Or - pheromones.  Something.  He didn't know, really, but discovering he could circumvent it, even a little, was exciting. 

*Not the same, not the same at all but it's better than nothing and it is not gonna be in there forever.*

 

Xander had assembled a huge, sloppy sandwich from the stuff they'd gotten in Tucson and was wolfing it down.  He looked to have actually dropped a couple of pounds during his magic sleep, and the planes of his face were a little more defined - a little sharper.   His hair was tangled over his head - more fly-away than usual, hanging in his eyes and curling softly around the nape of his neck.  Xander glanced up and saw him - made a sort of 'what' face.

"Just makin' sure you're all fit to travel, Harris," Spike lied, and went back to his blood.  *Nothin' wrong with havin' a look-see.  Who knows, he might turn out to be...entertaining.  If he manages to get the stick out of his ass.*   Xander shook his head and finished off his sandwich - awkwardly helped Dawn re-pack 'her' cooler and slammed the boot shut.

"What time is it?  Is it time, Spike?" 

Spike looked at Dawn - looked contemplatively at the light coming through the windows.  "Yeah, I guess.  Go ahead and get it over with, Bit."

"Get what over with?"  Xander asked, his voice thick with suspicion. 

Dawn pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket.  "I'm gonna call Mr. Giles and then I'm gonna call B-buffy.  Spike said I should call Mr. Giles first because he'll probably be a lot calmer." 

Xander looked over at Spike and Spike shifted a little against the fender of the DeSoto.  "Yeah, he's probably right." 

Dawn nodded and carefully tapped in the number - waited nervously.  The Watcher picked up on the second ring, and Spike could hear him quite clearly, although it was obvious Xander couldn't.

"Hello?"

"M-mr. Giles?  It's me - it's Dawn." 

Sharp intake of breath, and then:  "Dawn?  Oh good Lord - are you all right?  Where are you?"

"I'm fine, Mr. Giles.  I'm - I'm not telling you where I am.  I'm safe, though.  I'm not hurt."

"Dawn - please - you have to come home.  If you're not - if what you said on the video tape was true, then please - just come home." 

Dawn was silent for a moment, and she looked at Spike when she spoke next.  "No - I won't.  I'm sorry, Mr. Giles, I really am, but - this is the best way.  I'm sure it is."

"You don't sound sure."

"I am.  Xander's here - do you want to talk to him?"

"Well, yes, all right.  Dawn - please be careful."

"I will - I am.  Hang on."  Dawn held the phone out to Xander who reached for it and then stopped - held his manacled hand up in frustration.  He'd have to hunch to use the phone.  Spike just shrugged and Xander took the phone with a scowl.

"Hello?  Giles?"

"Xander - are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Giles, really -" Spike tuned them out - went to pace the edges of the garage - look under the counter and in the corners for anything interesting.  He found a newspaper that was a few months old and picked it up - scanned the headlines and then tossed it back down.  Xander seemed to be finishing what he was saying and he walked back out. 

Xander held the phone out to him.  "He wants to talk to you." 

Spike raised an eyebrow - took the phone.  "Hullo, Rupert."

"Spike."  There was a moment's silence, and then Giles took a hard breath.  "Spike, if you dare - dare ­- to harm one hair -"

"You'll do what - mentally beat me?  Give it a rest, Rupert.  I wouldn't hurt Dawn for anything and you know that.  Or you bloody well should by now.  And I can't hurt Harris, much as I might like to.  They're both safe as houses."

"If they're in your company they're anything but.  I really am having a hard time crediting Dawn with this hare-brained scheme.  I can't imagine what inducements you used -"

 "Watcher -" Spike said, and the chill in his voice silenced the other man - made Xander look up from where he was surreptitiously fiddling with the manacles.  "You can imagine all you like.  I'm going to keep Dawn safe no matter what.  I promised I would - you saw that I did.   Use that brain of yours and figure it out."  Spike jabbed the off button hard - resisted the urge to throw the phone across the garage.  Instead he handed it silently to Dawn who turned it back on to call her sister.  Spike had no desire to listen to Buffy and he went to the far side of the garage where there were some lengths of old chain hanging down the wall.  He distracted himself by pulling them apart, link by link, and was startled when Xander approached, phone once again held out. 

"Buffy," he said, and glanced back over his shoulder at Dawn, who was hugging herself, leaning against the  car and looking like she was crying.  Spike compressed his mouth to a thin line - took the phone and nodded over at Dawn.  Xander nodded back and went over to her, leaning close and talking quietly to her.  Spike hesitated another moment, but he could hear Buffy's voice, calling him, and he finally lifted the phone to his ear.

"Spike?  Are you there?  Answer me, damnit!"

"Slayer."

"Spike, I - "   Silence, and a sharply in-drawn breath.  "You'd better not hurt her.  Or let her get hurt." 

"You know I won't.  Didn't give her up, did I?  I promised, Slayer.  She's safe."  Another moment of silence - soft breaths. 

"Keep her that way, Spike, or I swear - you'll beg for me to dust you."

"Yeah."   Spike hesitated - almost added something else, although what, he had no idea.  Instead he just turned the phone off.                

*So.  Slayer.  I...it wasn't so bad.  Her voice...*   Spike sighed.  Her voice had made him cringe - made him melt, just a little.  *Don't want to do this.  I don't - I won't love her.  Not anymore.  Not now.  Doing this for the Bit - for me.  Show them...I can do it right.*   He decided to not examine the reasons why he'd want to show the Scoobies anything.  Spike scrubbed his hand over his face - back through his hair.  Time to show Xander how to work the DeSoto - give him a proper warning so he'd drive carefully.  Spike was tired and he wanted to curl up and sleep for the next eight hours or so.  But he kind of doubted he would.

 

 

 

"Oh crap.  Dawn, hang on."  Xander pressed his foot down on the brake - gritted his teeth as the DeSoto juddered and bounced its way over yet another truly horrific stretch of dirt road.  Driving with the chains was awkward as hell, and fighting with the wheel over washboards and axle-breaking pot-holes was making it even more difficult.  Dawn held grimly onto the back of the seat and the dash, trying to brace herself.   She looked a little green and Xander had a pounding headache.   Spike had grudgingly allowed that if Xander were going to drive they had to scrape some of the paint off the windows and now there were clear patches in the windshield and driver and passenger windows.  The sun was just low enough to shine through them and right into Xander's eyes - high enough yet that it wasn't time to stop.  But they were going to stop, because Xander had had just about enough.  He glanced in the rear-view mirror at the long hump that was Spike under a shiny silver camping blanket - thinner, lighter, and more sun-proof then the ratty woolen Army cast-offs he'd used in the past.  My idea, Dawn had said proudly, and Xander had raised his eyebrows - shaken his head.  He just didn't get it.

*Why in hell does she like Spike so much?  Why does she trust him?  I mean, okay, she's been around him for years...sort of.   He's always kind of been there...  She knows all about the Hellmouth and vampires and demons...  Maybe it's 'cause she's the key?  Maybe she just...trusts him because he's keeping her safe?* An Army truck jounced by going the other way, the back filled with soldiers.  *Well, relatively safe.* The Mexican military was very - visible - here.    There didn't seem to be any immediate threat, or any kind of action going on.  They were just - around.  The vestiges of the soldier in Xander idly identified the weapons the soldiers were carrying as Xander navigated a hair-pin turn and another bone-cracking washboard.  The DeSoto was a workhorse on these horrible roads - powerful and heavy enough to handle most of it.  But it was by no stretch of the imagination a comfortable ride.  Xander was amazed that Spike was actually able to sleep.   As they came out of the turn, Xander could see a cluster of buildings up ahead and breathed a sigh of relief. 

*Take a small break - get out - stretch.... Oh fuck.  Fucking hell!*   Xander had somehow forgotten that Spike had the keys to the manacles - to the padlock that kept the chains anchored to another stainless bolt in the front of the car.  He couldn't get out of the car - couldn't do anything.  "Fuck!"

"What?"  Dawn looked nervous and Xander took a hard breath - tried to relax. 

"I really need to take a break and Spike's got the damn key."  Xander fumed, gripping the wheel tightly, and Dawn shifted a little in her seat, looking over the back at Spike's motionless form.

"Maybe I could -"

"No, no - no need for that.  We'll be stopping soon anyway.  It's okay, Dawn."  No way was Xander letting Dawn fish around for the keys.  Xander had watched Spike click the padlock shut, then watched him push the key down deep into his jeans-pocket.  A pocket in jeans so tight that the outline of the key-ring had showed clearly against the denim.  Along with...something else, and Xander had blinked and then looked away so fast he'd almost hurt himself.  Spike had just chuckled, getting the blanket out of the trunk and getting comfortable in the back seat.

"You just take care of my babies, Harris," Spike had said, laughter in his voice.   

They had taken one pit stop around noon - Dawn insisted - but Xander hadn't actually had to -do - anything.  But he'd consumed another sandwich and two more bottles of water since then and now he really just wanted to stop - ease the ache out of his shoulders and back and find a bathroom.

"What're we coming up on, Dawn?" 

Dawn rooted around in her backpack - pulled out a series of print-outs that she'd stapled together.  "Hmmm.  Ok - we're...about - no, wait, that was..."  Dawn flipped pages back and forth - squinted at her watch and stared out the window for a minute.  "I'm pretty sure this is La Primavera.  There's a spa here - Rio Caliente?  There should be a sign.  We're about - an hour from Guadalajara.  That's where we stop tonight."

"An hour?  Fuck."  Xander shifted uncomfortably.  *An hour.  I can do an hour.  Damn.*   They went around another corner and suddenly they were in deep shadow - the sun was gone behind the mountains and he hastily pulled the DeSoto over onto the verge.  "Spike.  Hey, Spike!  Wake up!"

"M'awake, Harris."  There was a crinkling, and Xander watched in the mirror as the silvery blanket was slowly pushed back as Spike checked for sunlight.  After a moment the blanket was pushed away more briskly and Xander felt Spike lean onto the back of the seat.  "This doesn't look like Guadalajara, Harris."

"That's 'cause it's not, Spike.  But I really, really need to take a break." 

Spike snorted softly - his hand appeared and touched Dawn's shoulder.  "How're you doin', Niblet?" he asked, and Dawn smiled.

"I'm okay - just kinda stiff.  And hungry."

"We'll get a fancy meal in the city, yeah?"

"Yeah."  Dawn sighed, and Xander looked over at her.

"What's up, Dawnie?  And Spike - could you get with the unlocking, please?"  He rattled the chains a little and Spike patted him on the head.

"Sure, Toto.  Hang on."  Xander scowled as Spike opened the door and slid out.  He looked back over at Dawn.  "Dawn?"

"Oh - I just - I want to get a hotel room.  I want to take a really looong shower and I want to sleep in a bed."  Xander's door opened and Spike crouched down, key dangling from his fingers.  "Can we Spike, pleeease?  Just one night?"

"Now Bit, we made our plans -" 

"But we can change them, Spike, we're not on a - a schedule!"  Dawn dug into her backpack again while Spike unlocked the padlock and cleared the chain from the bolt.  He stood up and backed away a little, looking up and down the deserted road.  Xander swung both feet out of the car - scooted forward and slowly stood up.  His whole body protested, and he groaned as cramps started in his calves again.

"God damnit - oh, that hurts."  Xander stretched gingerly - doubled up when a particularly nasty spasm caught him low across his back.  "Ahhh!  Oh, ouch -" He leaned on the edge of the door and tried to get his hand around to massage it out but he couldn't. 

Dawn scrambled over into his seat, looking out at him with wide eyes.     "Xander, what's wrong?  Are you ok?"

"Just - just a stitch in the muscles, Dawnie; my back's all fu- messed up from sitting for so long.  I kinda hurt it on a site a couple months ago; it's not all the way better yet."  Xander twisted gingerly but that only made it worse and he leaned his head on the door-frame and gritted his teeth, unable to do anything but ride it out.  He started in surprise when he felt a pair of cool, very strong hands on his back, pressing and kneading the muscles there.

"That the place, Harris?"  Spike asked, and Xander straightened marginally, grimacing.

"Yeah, that's - oh, man...yeah."  Xander couldn't help it - his eyes closed and he leaned his head back down, giving in.  Spike's hands were so strong - much stronger then Anya's or Willow's - and the vampire was digging his thumbs in and working knotted muscle loose in practiced movements that were pleasurable agony.  Or maybe just pleasure, since the chip didn't seem to be going off.

"Christ, Harris, it's like a sheet of iron down here."  Spike leaned into him, kneading harder, and Xander stifled a groan.

"Are you hurting him?  Xander?"  Dawn's voice was anxious and Xander chuckled.

"No, he's not hurting me Dawn.  It feels...man...feels good.  Ah!  Yeah..."  Xander was uncomfortably aware that his moaning and groaning sounded a bit...well...sexy was the only way to describe it.  But it did feel that good.  The 'burning rocks' feeling of knotted muscles gradually gave way to an overall warm glow and Xander finally lifted his head - straightened fully and then twisted a little, stretching as best he could.  Spike's hands rested lightly on his hips, as if to start up again if he needed it.

"All better then?" the vampire asked, and Xander looked at him over his shoulder.  He didn't really think about it, but he was smiling.

"Yeah - much better.  Thanks."  Spike was looking at him - a funny sort of look of surprise and wariness.

"C'mon - better take care of - everything else."  Spike motioned vaguely towards the heavily overgrown verge and Xander abruptly remembered he needed to pee. 

"Right."  He held his wrist out, waiting for Spike to undo the manacle, and was stunned when Spike unlocked the right one and then the left one - and then crouched down and undid the ones on his ankles.  He stood up and slung the chains over his shoulder.

"Go on then." 

Xander stared at him for a moment, blinking - then he grinned and shuffled around the open car-door, heading for a clump of jungle-looking foliage that he hoped would screen him from Dawn.  Behind him, he heard the chains clink and then Dawn:

"Thanks, Spike."

"Sure Niblet.  You tell him he'd better behave, though, or back they go." 

"Right.  Look, Spike, we're only - only six-hundred miles from..."  Dawn's voice faded as Xander walked further away and he looked back over his shoulder.  She was engrossed in showing something to Spike, not paying any attention to him - although Spike, Xander noticed, was keeping his eye on him.  The vampire lit up a cigarette and blew smoke towards him - looked back at Dawn.

*Weird.  Wonder why he took them off?  Not gonna question it 'cause, Thank god!  But...I wonder...  Fuck it.   I'm just glad they're gone.  And oh man, that was the best massage I have ever had.  Who'd have known?  He should have gotten a job doing that in Sunnydale - he'd have had a line around the block.*   Xander stretched and twisted, reveling in the looseness of his back muscles and reached down to undo the button and zipper on his jeans.   *Feels too good to spend the whole night in the damn car.  Talk him into stopping, Dawnie!  I want a shower too - and a sit-down meal and...another shower and maybe we can find a hotel with a laundry...*    Xander finished - jumped back a little, startled, as something rustled in the thick, green plants that rioted just a few feet away.  There was a strange sort of noise - like a gear being ratcheted, and something rocketed away through the underbrush.  Xander drew in a startled breath and hurried back to the car.

"Somethin' up?"  Spike asked, his eyes glinting gold in the twilight as he looked over Xander's shoulder towards the dark jungle.

"Huh?  Oh - uh, no, I don't - I guess not.  Just a bird or something."  Xander pushed his fingers back through his hair and grimaced at the lank, greasy feeling.  "So, we're gonna stop and see the sights for a night, huh Spike?  Get a hot shower, get some good food - big bed to stretch out on..." He grinned at Dawn, who grinned back.  "A big city like that - they'll have cable.  You could catch up on 'Passions' I bet, Spike."  Dawn snickered, shoving her papers away and Spike narrowed his demon's eyes at Xander - pointedly blew a lungful of smoke at him.

"I already decided we needed to stop.  I'm outta blood, anyway.  Guadalajara's got some...places I can use."

"Oh.  Great!"  Xander bounced a little - put his arms up over his head and stretched hard, arching his back and twisting a little and then relaxing back to a normal posture.  "Let's get going!" 

Spike was still staring at him but a moment later he flicked his cigarette away and slung the chains into the back seat.  "I'll drive the rest of the way - sun's down behind the mountains now."

"Okay.  Dawn, you need to -"   Xander made a gesture with his hand and Dawn flushed a little.

"Uh - yeah.  There isn't anything - big in the trees, is there?"  She looked over at the jungle, biting her lip.

 "Nah.  Just birds and things," Spike said.   "I could tell if anything big was out there.  You're safe, Niblet."  Dawn looked skeptical but she grabbed the roll of toilet paper from under the seat and walked towards the back of the car - kept walking a little further.  Xander and Spike both watched her until she got part way behind a big, flowering bush.

"Don't look!  Just turn around!"  Dawn called, and they obediently turned.

"Hey - Spike."  Xander said, and the vampire looked over at him.  "Thanks for - taking those off.  I appreciate it." 

Spike shrugged, looking away.  "Just be sure and behave, Toto, or the leash goes back on."

"Don't be such a jerk, Spike."  Xander kicked at a rock in the road - glared up at the sky, which was streaked with clouds and dyed in vivid shades of scarlet and vermillion and lemon.  A beautiful sky - breathtaking you might say - if you didn't have to share it with an undead demon from hell.  Xander scowled over at Spike's profile.  *Jerk.*

"Same to you, Harris," Spike snapped, and Xander had to look away to hide the twitching of his mouth.  Despite the chains - and the crazed scheme - and the sleeping dust, Xander was actually rather...relaxed, anymore.  He'd finally realized something.  Spike really would do anything at all to keep Dawn safe, and even if this was part of some grander plan to worm his way closer to Buffy's heart, Xander at least respected his desire to make sure Glory got nowhere near Dawn.  And Dawn...  Xander sighed.  She was just a kid - *Sort of* - but she liked Spike.  And she trusted him.  And Xander had decided, until proven otherwise, to trust her. 

*Might just be magic, like I thought - the monks programmed in something so she'd go to the person who was able to keep her safe no matter what.  And even though Buffy wants to be that person...she just can't, not while she still has to deal with Glory.  This - this could actually work.* 

 

 

 

Guadalajara was big and Xander was glad it was Spike who was driving - Spike who threaded their way through crowded streets and shouted things at other drivers who passed on the right, didn't use brakes or signals and totally ignored traffic lights and signs.   Xander had as much Spanish as any other self-respecting SoCal boy but he hadn't been aware that Spike was fluent - and seemed to have as thorough a command of swears in Spanish as English. 

Finally, they pulled up into a parking lot by a huge hotel, the Fenix.  Spike and Xander hauled everything out of the trunk and lugged it inside and Dawn trailed behind, staring around.  The hotel was nice - colorful inside with plants and plushy furnishings.    While Spike leaned on the counter and got them adjoining rooms, Dawn wandered the lobby looking at the things in the gift shop and watching the traffic and pedestrians going by outside.  She picked up a couple of glossy brochures and a printed map that showed how many attractions were in walking distance of the hotel - a lot, apparently.   Xander just slumped in a chair, feeling the stiffness and weariness of a long drive creep over him.  He didn't care that it was only around seven o'clock - he wanted something hot to eat, a shower, and a bed, in that order.  Finally Spike came over, sliding a little paper folder into his pocket.

"C'mon Niblet - we're on the fifth floor."  He slung his duffle over his shoulder and hoisted the stacked coolers - Xander grabbed his own bag and Dawn's and they made their way upstairs.  The rooms were nice - high ceilings and dark blue carpet, two double beds in each room and little balconies that showed a view of the street, Avenue Corona.  Dawn stood on her balcony and breathed deeply, smiling.  It was close to eighty degrees and Xander knew she was thinking of the pool in the hotel's inner courtyard.  After a moment she turned and picked up her carry-all and slung it on the bed - unzipped it.

"I'll have to buy a swimsuit - I didn't bring one, I wasn't - wasn't really thinking about swimming.  There was a clothing store down in the lobby -"   Dawn turned to Spike, a hopeful look on her face, and Spike leaned in the doorway that connected the rooms, smiling at her.

"Sure, Bit.  Tell you what - you run down and get what you need and me and Harris'll get something from the kitchen, right?  What d'you want?"  Dawn perused the room-service menu, asking Spike what different things were and Xander spent a little time on the other balcony, just watching the traffic and people go by below. 

*I've never been this far from home.  I wonder what Anya's doing?  Probably mad at me, no matter what Giles and Buffy tell her.  Wish I could talk to her.*

 Spike had made it clear that the two phone calls a day were to be made to Giles and Buffy only, and then only Dawn would talk if possible.  He didn't seem eager to talk to Buffy at all, which Xander thought was strange.  Spike had also made it clear that if anybody wanted to talk to Xander they'd just have to be around when Dawn made her calls.  So far Anya hadn't been around, but Xander couldn't really imagine anyone had told her much beyond the bare essentials.   Neither Giles nor Buffy would want Anya at their house, waiting for a phone call. 

*I hope Tara is ok...  Dawn said they might have a line on a spell to...get her back.  Fuck, I hope it works.  Tara doesn't deserve that...doesn't deserve to be pulled into all this crap...  Hell, none of us do.*  He turned around and leaned on the railing, watching Spike pull some bills out of his pocket and hand them to Dawn - watching Dawn mooch a couple more in the time-honored teen tradition and then give Spike a quick kiss on the cheek.  As she bounced out of the room, Spike looked after her with an expression of fondness and longing that made Xander go still. 

*He looks like...heh...like a real boy, almost.  When he's with her.  What is it about Dawn that makes him the most human?  Maybe it's because...she's the only one of us that treats him the most human.*  Xander shook his head - turned to look back out over the city and only jumped a little bit when Spike yelled his name, telling him to pick something from the menu and call room service.

 

 

 

Food, a long, hot shower and couple of hours of Spanish-language TV put Xander and Dawn to sleep before ten.  Spike had gone out long since for blood and to 'get the lay of the land', as he said.  Xander hoped muzzily that he wouldn't get into any fights or forget where they were staying, since he had taken all the money with him.   Then Xander slept, heavy and dreamless, and woke with a start sometime later, disoriented.  He lay in the bed for a moment, blinking up into the blackness, then rolled over to look at the clock.  Five forty-five a.m.   He wondered if Spike was back.  He got up and maneuvered himself carefully to the bathroom, squinting in the light that flickered on over the sink.  He used the toilet and got a drink - checked the other bed.  No vampire.  He pulled on a pair of jeans and went to the connecting door that they'd left partially ajar and looked in on Dawn.  She'd left her curtains open and the distant glow of the city center limned her faintly in a silvery grey.  Xander turned his TV on for a few minutes - turned it off again.  Early-morning programming in Mexico was no more exciting than it was in California.  Feeling restless, he got up and lugged Spike's cooler into the bathroom and drained out the water and the last of the ice.  One lone blood packet floated there and he lay it on the tub rim while he dried the cooler out.  Then he got Dawn's cooler and did the same thing, putting the depleted packages of cold-cuts, cheese, bread and fruit on the counter by the sink.  He got the room key and took Dawn's cooler down the hall for ice, then repacked it back at the room and tossed Spike's blood on top.  Then he sorted through the clothes in his bag and made a pile of laundry and a pile of clean stuff, and re-packed the clean stuff. 

Then he stood on the balcony and fretted, wondering when the sun would come up and when Spike would arrive.  He'd been outside for about ten minutes - and seen the sky lighten perceptibly - when a platinum-haired figure appeared far up the street, moving with that distinctive, loose-hipped strut that Xander would know anywhere.  He watched Spike walk along the avenue, passing in and out of streetlights, smoking a cigarette and drinking from a bottle.   When he was directly below the hotel Spike looked up and Xander was sure the vampire saw him.  As Xander watched, he drained the bottle and tossed it towards a trash-bin and then sauntered on, disappearing into the building.  Xander turned around and waited, watching the door, and after a few minutes it opened and Spike slipped inside.  He ghosted over to Dawn's room and looked in for a moment, then joined Xander on the balcony.

"Harissss...."  Spike said and he stood there, swaying slightly.  His eyes were absolutely black - pupils dilated as far as they would go.  His hair was mussed out of its usual order and stood up in soft spikes.  And there was a bruise on his jaw - on his throat.  Most noticeable, though, was the smear of blood across his lower lip and chin.  Xander felt a faint, unpleasant lurch in his belly.

"What'd you do tonight, Spike?"

"Me?  Oh, I..."  Spike smiled slowly, suddenly all fangs, and Xander tried to back away - felt the balcony rail behind him and froze.  "I...glutted myself tonight, Harris...fed until I was almost sick.  Fucked until I was sore."  Spike reached up and wiped ineffectively at his mouth - lowered his hand, watching Xander closely. 

Xander knew Spike could hear his heart pounding - could smell the sweat.   "Yeah?  How'd you - do that, Spike?"

"Oh, it was easy, Harris.  Just had to find a few of 'em that were...willing.  If the flesh is willing -" Spike's human face came back, and he tapped the side of his head.  "If the flesh is willing, then the spirit - doesn't do sod all."  He giggled softly - clumsily took off his duster and flung it at Xander's bed where it hit the edge and slithered to the floor.  He lifted his right foot and yanked his boot off - almost fell.  Tossed the boot aside and took off the left.  No socks.  Then he lifted the hem of his t-shirt and took that off as well.  Xander gasped.  There were bruises over Spike's ribs and shoulders - bloody scratches.  Spike looked down at himself and giggled again.   "Be gone by morning.  I can feel it, all the blood.  Rushing through me - making me whole again.  No worries, pet."  He undid his belt and then his jeans - peeled them off and sent them flying after his t-shirt.

There were more bruises - distinctly finger-shaped ones on his hips, and Xander stared at them - lifted his horrified gaze to Spike's face.  "Spike!"  He tried to keep his voice low.  "What in hell happened?  What's going on?"

"Oh, Harris, don't be such a...wanker.  Just a few bruises.  You 'member what Captain Cardboard was doin', right before he left?"  Spike turned and leaned on the railing next to Xander and Xander nervously crossed his arms over his bare chest, trying not to look down at Spike.  The vampire seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was standing on a balcony *next to another guy!*  totally nude.

"Yeah.  That - that thing with the vampires - letting them...bite him."

"Right.  That's right.  Know why he did that?"

"'Cause he's a total fuckin' moron?  You tell me, Spike."  Spike stared at Xander for a moment, his eyes huge and rather hurt looking.  *Manga-look.  Stop that, Spike, and tell me what the fuck is going on.  You're freaking me out.*

"He let them do that 'cause it felt good.  Vamp bite - feels like - well, let's just say it feels almost as good as a nice, hard fuck.  But -" Spike held up his hand, one finger raised, and Xander saw the ring of abraded flesh and more bruises around his wrist.  "But, if you combine the two - bite and sex - you get...bloody Nirvana."  Spike grinned and leaned back over the balcony rail, arching his back in a smooth, impossible curve, and Xander wanted to grab him by the shoulders and fling him inside before he fell.

"So - you're saying...you got bit and had sex?  I don't get it." 

"No, no, no, bloody hell, boy, aren't you listening?  I didn't get bit, I did the biting.  And some of the fucking, too."  Spike laughed softly, straightening back up, and Xander recoiled slowly, glancing nervously at the doorway into the room.

"You - you got - is the chip -?"  Spike sighed dramatically - put his hand on Xander's shoulder and leaned into him, his face inches away.  He smelled of whiskey and cigarettes and blood and...an underlying musk; sweet and thick and slightly rank.  Xander froze, not daring to move.

"You're not listening, pet.   I went to the place - whorehouse, you'd call it.  Where humans, like you -" Spike poked Xander in the sternum.  "And like Riley, come to get a bite - get the ride of a fuckin' lifetime.  This bloody chip...    Like I said...if the flesh is willing...I can feed."  Spike's face shifted, and Xander stared at the demon's face that was inches from his own.  He thought his heart might just pound right out of his chest.

"You - if they want it, you can bite them?  Did you - you didn't kill -"

"Christ, Harris!"  Spike threw his hands up in frustration, morphing back to human and catching himself on the rail, unsteady.    "I was at a place of business.  I was the business!  I drank their wonderful, scalding-hot, full-of-life blood and I fucked them and I got paid for it!  Made...  I don't remember how much I made.  'Nough to last a while.  And I can go back oh, anytime.  Go back tomorrow night."  Spike looked down at the balcony floor - scuffed at the polished concrete with his bare foot.  His left hand absently circled his right wrist and rubbed gently, and Xander saw the matching abrasions there.

"Looks like you got fucked a bit too, Spike.  That part of the package?  Let them hurt you?" 

Spike shrugged, his face suddenly going blank.  "Pays extra, Harris.  An'... he didn't hurt me much.  He was on somethin', that last bloke.  I feel..."  Spike scrubbed his hands furiously back through his hair - looked at Xander with an expression that was mingled pain and bravado.  "Ride of a fuckin' lifetime for that wanker."   He lurched forward suddenly - stumbled into the room and flopped down on Xander's rumpled bed - pushed his face into the depression Xander's head had left in the pillow.  "Tired, Harris.  So tired."  Xander stood for a moment longer against the rail - finally went inside and looked down at Spike - at the long sweep of back and buttock and thigh that was mottled with bruises and a few scratches.  Bruises that were fading, sure, but that were there, all the same.

"What was he on, Spike?   Spike?"  Spike didn't answer - seemed asleep or unconscious, and Xander waited another minute then sighed and pulled the covers out from under the prone figure - pulled them up over Spike's shoulders and smoothed them.  Then he turned and shut the curtains tightly and walked gingerly around to Spike's bed, tripping a little over the discarded clothes.  He pulled off his jeans and climbed in - tugged and twisted to get the chaotic covers under control.  Then he lay down, surrounded by the sweet-musk-smoke smell that was Spike, and tried hard not to think.  He'd think about this in the morning, maybe.  Or maybe not at all.  He wasn't sure why the thought of Spike selling himself for blood made him so uncomfortable. 

*Sold himself to us, didn't he?  Only we didn't ask him to fuck us...we just ask him to bleed for us.  And then didn't pay him, half the time.  And let Buffy beat on him...  Why should this feel wrong when that didn't?  That...should have - we're supposed to be the white hats.   At least this is his choice...except, with that chip, he really doesn't have a choice, does he?  Sell something or starve.   At least these people want him...when did we ever do more than tolerate him?*  Xander didn't like that voice - the practical voice, the voice that said things he wouldn't dare admit out loud.   "I don't like this at all," he murmured to himself, curling over on his side and burrowing down under the covers.  Maybe in the morning it would all seem...different.  Eventually, he fell asleep.

 

 

 

They stayed two weeks in Guadalajara.   It was just too good.  Spike hadn't felt this sated - this content - in over a year.  The fresh human blood revitalized him - made him feel as he had before, and he didn't want to give it up.  Finally, he asked the owner if there were any blood houses in Veracruz and the vampire gave him two names and a promise of a recommendation if he needed it.  Spike chose to ignore the looks Xander gave him - the looks of mingled disgust and curiosity and...was that worry? that made Spike want to just slap him - or give him a demonstration.  But he doubted that flesh would ever be willing, and so he restrained himself. 

Dawn was having a blast - swimming half the day, walking the few blocks down to the market and shopping to her hearts content - practicing her Spanish with a phrase-book and an atrocious accent on any victim in sight.  Xander spent his days mostly with Dawn; shadowing her on her shopping trips and lazing in the sun around the pool.  His skin tanned a few shades darker and his hair took on reddish highlights.   Spike liked to watch them from inside the hotel - Dawn as brown and sleek as an otter, diving off the side and knifing through the water, or lounging on a chaise, reading a magazine.  Xander would stretch out on his back or stomach and read a book - some pulp mystery from the hotel lobby - and occasionally do a cannonball or equally splashy, disruptive thing in the pool, wetting Dawn or chasing her down and ducking her. 

*That's how she should be.  Laughing and glowing - not all scared, not all...beaten.  How's she's gonna be every minute she's here.*   

News from Sunnydale was good and bad.  Willow had found and successfully performed a spell to take Tara's self back from Glory.  The loss had weakened the Hellgod enough that Buffy was able to beat her into submission with the Troll hammer they'd kept from an earlier, less successful Willow spell.  But Glory had been put into a human boy's body in an effort to contain her and when she was beaten she reverted to him.  To Ben, for fuck's sake, the nurse who'd helped Buffy and Dawn so much when Joyce was sick.  So of course, the Slayer couldn't kill him - wouldn't let the Watcher do it, either - and when Glory recovered she came bursting right back out.  Missing the ritual had weakened her a little - or the Dagon Sphere had - but she was still tough and ruthless and surrounded by sycophants who would do anything to please her.   Still a threat, since she still lusted for 'her' key.  Spike had heard the defeat in Buffy's voice the last time Dawn had talked to her.  She had finally admitted that Dawn was safer far away, and that she'd have to stay away until they figured out what to do since the easiest option - killing mortal Ben - was forever out of their reach. 

However good Guadalajara was, Spike was anxious to get to Veracruz.  To find a place and settle down - to nest.  He didn't like the impermanence of the hotel and the proximity of strangers who were too close and too curious.  He wanted a little villa, like he and Dru had had in Brazil - or a private house off the main streets.  He had almost eighty thousand pesos in a lockbox in his cooler - not a lot, but enough to get a few months rent somewhere.  If the blood house in Veracruz was as busy he could make enough to buy a place.  He had connections in this country still - he just had to revive them - work them a little.  His reputation was untarnished here and that made things easier.  

The longer he spent in the hotel the more the feeling came over him that he didn't really want there to be a solution to the 'Glory Problem'.   He was...enjoying himself.  Blood and sex and companionship; almost what he'd had with Dru and the Family so long ago.  Harris might not approve of him, but disapproval was nothing compared to the constant threats and physical beatings that the Slayer had handed out.  And he was more than happy to live without being endlessly dragooned into stultifying 'research parties' where he would be alternately reviled, ignored, or called down by the Watcher.  And Buffy's utter disgust - he could go forever without experiencing that again.   Dawn...  Dawn liked him - Dawn trusted him, and it made him feel...  *No point going into that.  Just...*   Just get them safely to Veracruz, get a place...  He hadn't let himself dwell on it too much, but in Sunnydale rumors had hinted that down here, there was someone who might be able to do something permanent about the chip.   And that right there put him on edge every day they weren't going east. 

On the fourteenth day he'd chivvied Dawn and Xander into going over a couple blocks to do laundry and buy supplies and then they'd left, heading east and south; Xander driving them carefully over one of the last decrepit roads they'd have to take to get them to the Gulf coast.

Veracruz was much like he remembered - tall palms and banana trees, wide roads; the stately Colonial architecture made much less formal by adobe and soft pastel colors.  Cafes and coffee shops and dozens of markets.  The smell of the sea and vanilla, and the mingled scents of exotic spices, crowded humanity; a different, richer earth.    Dawn liked it right away and even Xander seemed to be pleased with it and Spike felt something that had been drawn tight and hard in him relax.  It was going to be okay.

 

 

 

Dear Witchy Woman -

You're right - it's hard to believe it's been three months.  It's been a weird three months...  But also good.  Dawn is just fine.  She's really...  This has all changed her so much.  But in a good way!  Let me hasten to add, in a good way!  It's like she's...grown up a little.   It's hard to explain.  She's just not so whiney anymore.  Not so much with the teen angst thing.   I don't know if it's just that there's less stress on her here, or something else. 

 

Xander paused in his letter-writing and picked up his cup of tejate.  It was cool, creamy, and chocolaty and Xander had become addicted.   It looked a bit odd: sort of greyish, sort of chunky, with foam on top.  Once Spike had assured him it had no demon components, he'd given it a try.  And it went down like a dream.  He took a long sip and sighed in pleasure then looked back at the email he was slowly pecking out.  Who'd have thought they'd have cybercafés in Mexico?  And who'd have ever thought that he would be sitting in one?  Xander grinned to himself and adjusted the keyboard a little.  Spike had said 'no' to regular mail - it took too long, and there were those tell-tale postmarks that could give them away.  So Dawn had suggested email and gotten Willow's address during the next phone call and a little tutorial on the best place to get a web-based account.   So now he and Dawn both had an email address. 

Dawn used hers every day to download lesson plans from Sunnydale Jr. High - it was that or be held back a grade.  Willow and Buffy had concocted a story about her father; illness, and a long visit and the school had bought it.  Dawn had grumbled, but Xander knew that little bit of home made her happy.

Xander only did mail once a week - he couldn't type very fast and was still a little leery of doing something that would mess up his account.  That and...he just didn't have too much to say.  He couldn't talk in detail about where they were - some of the really neat things they'd seen.  He didn't want to talk in detail about Spike or what the vampire was doing to finance them.  And Dawn emailed plenty about herself, so there wasn't anything to say there.   Willow asked him every email how he was doing and Xander just didn't know what to tell her.  So he told her nothing but the sort of 'I'm fine' platitudes that didn't satisfy either of them.  But he wasn't going to admit that he was enjoying himself.  That he liked it here and that he liked being with Dawn...and with Spike.  Xander shook his head and turned his attention back to the screen.

 

The people who live next door have become real friends - Dawn goes over every day to hang out with the daughter.  They're 'Spike approved', whatever that means.  Basically they're nice people who don't pry into the oddity of a very young 'sister and brother' living alone with this weird, nocturnal English guy.  Thank god.  Not so good with convincing explanations, I'm thinking, no matter what I could come up with.

Tomorrow is some sort of big dance-thing here, something Dawn and her friend have been planning for for weeks.  Spike is even teaching her some dance steps and what he calls 'party manners'.  And you haven't seen surreal until you've seen a vampire get down and dirty about which fork to use.  Dawn really

 

There Xander paused.  Dawn really...what?  Loves Spike?  Looks up to him?  Trusts him?  All of those things and more, Xander was sure.  And Xander knew why.  It wasn't an infatuation thing - she didn't have a crush on him, or - not much of one, anymore.  It was because...

Because of how Spike treated her.  He deferred to her.  Not in any kind of creepy way, but...  Take the kitchen.   Dawn had gotten very excited about decorating it.  But Dawn got excited about a lot of stuff, and Xander hadn't really paid attention.  But Spike had spent half the day talking to her about it, and pacing around the kitchen and jotting notes in his thin, upright hand-writing.  Then he told Xander to take Dawn shopping and be sure to get exactly what they'd decided.  Xander had done it with a shrug and a frown but when they'd staggered back home, weighted down under a couple gallons of paint, dishware, some lumber for shelves and other things, Dawn had been hyper - bouncing around and insisting they do it now, tonight.  Spike had just smiled at her and helped open paint - basically told Xander they'd be up all night if need be.  And they had, but it had been fun and the kitchen was pretty; all greens and golds and browns, with green-glass dishes and paper blinds that made the brilliant morning sunlight a warm, golden glow.   Spike had hugged Dawn and told her they should have company over - show off her talents, and Dawn had preened.  Xander had just watched them, feeling...jealous

After that, Dawn went to Spike with ideas - with plans.  Schemes to go here or there, ideas to make their house nicer or the yard prettier, or to plot some activity that Spike could join in on - something in the evening or inside.  And Spike listened - listened to her with a seriousness and a grave attention that wasn't patronizing - that wasn't the 'listen and then she'll go away' kind of dismissiveness that Xander knew even he was guilty of.  He didn't just give in to her, though - oh no.  They'd had a few screaming arguments where Xander had simply sat and stared, utterly dumbfounded by Dawn's ability to goad Spike into a snarling fury and Spike's knack for reducing Dawn to quivering hysteria. 

But the funny thing about that was - Xander took another sip of his drink - the funny thing was, afterwards they were fine with each other.  It wasn't like his family, where arguments smoldered and seethed for days, for weeks - Hell, years.    Just waiting to break out in some new and ugly way.  Another reason Xander had spent Christmases on the lawn: to escape the furious battles that would inevitably happen after one too many cups of high-octane eggnog had been consumed.

*I am jealous.  Of...their friendship.  I feel alone out here.  I wish...*   But Xander stopped that thought dead in its tracks, because wishing...  Well, it wasn't a good idea, even if you weren't on the Hellmouth.  He went back to his email.

 

Dawn really took to all the 'lessons'...  She said it made her feel like a real lady.

I'm fine.  I'm working now - part time.  Doing carpenter work - finishing stuff.  Not what I'm used to but I'm learning some neat new skills and it's money in my pocket, which is definitely of the good.  Tell everyone that I said hello, and that I miss them.  But especially you, Wills.  Take care of yourself, okay? 

                                                                                                                Love and special hugs -

                                                                                                                                Xander

 

Xander hit 'send' - watched as the mail program did its thing and confirmed the mail was gone.  There wasn't anybody else - Giles refused to have a computer, and Buffy didn't have time for more than short notes to Dawn.  And Anya...   Xander sighed and shut the computer down.  Anya had been confused about his leaving.  Then a little angry.  Then indifferent as she'd decided to experience life as a single girl.  Xander hadn't actually heard from her in...two months.  It had hurt, that so-fast switch from what had been nearly love to - nothing at all. 

*But...kind of expected it.  When your relationship starts with one person stripping down and handing over a condom so they can get you 'out of their system' you can't really expect...true love. And let's just be honest here and say it wouldn't have ever been true love.  Not when...*   

He chugged the last half-inch of his drink and got up, tossing the cup into the trash on his way out.  Not finishing that thought.  He needed to get some food, get home. His night to cook.  He and Dawn were taking turns, learning how to make palatable meals with the dizzying array of fresh food from the markets.  Here, processed food was more expensive and Xander had quickly realized that buying the food he was used to was a waste of money.  Besides, he'd discovered he liked cooking.  It made him feel - like he was contributing something.  Doing something useful, making the place more - homey. 

*It is home.  More than the basement ever was - or that damn expensive apartment Anya talked me into.  It's...*   Something else Xander didn't let himself dwell on for too long.  That he felt more at home with the evil undead and a girl who wasn't really a girl - was disturbing, on some level.  And it felt a little disloyal.  He was sure if Buffy had been in this situation that she would never be happy with it - never settle into a routine, or relax.  But he couldn't help himself.  Even though he sometimes felt left out when Dawn and Spike bonded over the insane intricacies of Mexican soap operas or early-morning pancake feasts, he was... 

*Happy.  Isn't that nuts?  Happier than I've been in a long time. Happy without Anya, which...which makes me feel the guilt in a whole new way.  Who'd have thought ten minutes innocent conversation with Larry could make things weird two years later?*   Xander stood on the curb, staring at the traffic, thinking.   

*I'm happy because...I'm not hiding, here.  I'm being more...myself...than I have been in a long time.  Being a big brother makes me...forget I'm not the Slayer.  Being around Spike...*   Xander stumbled as the crowd behind him moved and he stepped off the curb and crossed the street.  Another thought he wasn't going to follow to its conclusion, even though he found himself thinking about it more and more.  He turned right and headed down to the market to get some fresh tomatoes and the sweet, dark-purple peppers Dawn liked to have in her salad.  They'd adopted the local custom of the 'big' meal in the middle of the day - and usually a nap afterwards.  Even Spike sometimes roused himself and came out to eat, but not often.  Xander paused, his hand hovering over a plump mango.  Lately Spike had not looked good at all.  Even with his near-nightly infusions of human blood there were dark circles under his eyes, and his skin seemed nearly translucent it was so pale.  He seemed - out of it, a lot.   Not drunk, like he had been in Sunnydale from time to time; drunk and furious and sarcastic.  Now he seemed - dazed.  He barely spoke, some days, and stumbled around the house as if he were half asleep.  It made Xander uneasy. 

He chose a few more things and headed home, thinking in a distracted way about what to make for lunch, what was wrong with Spike, what it was he felt for Spike, and if he should do something about it.  But he didn't come to any satisfactory conclusions by the time he walked through their little gate and up to the front door.  He found a note from Dawn telling him she was next door - she'd have lunch there - and he trotted over for a minute to make sure everything was all right.  Following a Spike-rule, but he didn't mind.  Dawn just rolled her eyes at him and her friend Serafina giggled, looking at him from under her lashes.   Xander shrugged and smiled - went home again to put the food away and put some leftover fish in the oven to re-heat.  He cut up a few vegetables on a plate - put a little bowl of flavored oil with them to dip, and put the kettle on to boil.  Shed his short-sleeved shirt, feeling overheated in the kitchen, leaving a white wife-beater.  Then he went warily to see if Spike wanted to get up. 

 He stood in the doorway and watched the vampire for a few moments.   Spike's room was all dark reds and ambers, with rose-amber paper blinds behind heavier curtains that made the whole room a dim, garnet cave.   Dawn's doing, and Spike seemed to like it well enough.  Spike moved sporadically, his hands twisting in the sheet, his eyebrows drawn down in a scowl.  Xander and Dawn had both learned early on that to walk over and shake his shoulder - touch him at all - was a bad idea.  He reacted instantaneously and violently, and getting hurt was bad enough - they then had to deal with a Spike whose mood was beyond foul having been woken by a jolt from the chip.  So they'd learned to stand in the doorway to his room and call him.    

*Do all vampires do that, or just Spike?  He always looks like he's having nightmares...*   The usual corollary - that the evil undead deserved nightmares - didn't follow.   Xander suddenly hoped Spike would wake up, because he really wanted to talk to him.

"Hey Spike - Spike?  Lunchtime.  Wanna get up and have some fish?  Spike?"  The vampire went still suddenly, and then Spike sat up fast, demon-gold eyes flickering around the room and settling on Xander.  A moment of tense scrutiny and then Spike relaxed and stretched himself  - a hard, arching stretch that made every muscle and bone on his upper body stand out in relief and made the thin sheet he slept under slip down to the tops of his thighs.  Xander did his best to keep his eyes on Spike's face, although he couldn't help a quick check for fresh bruises. 

*And something else.  Let's not fool ourselves, here - your day wouldn't be complete without a little mental grope of the evil undead.*   Xander shifted uncomfortably against the doorjamb, frowning.  But it was true.  He looked at Spike - a lot - and that was something else he was unhappy about.  Spike eased out of his stretch and cocked his head, listening or scenting, Xander wasn't sure.

"Where's the Bit?"

"Next door.  She left a note, and yes I went over.  She's fine.  Want some of that fish we had?"  Spike pushed his hands back through his hair, considering.  Xander never told him that it didn't do a bit of good - when Spike woke up, his hair was always tousled out of the rigid style imposed by the hair-gel and it wouldn't lie flat again until Spike showered and re-did it.  But Xander liked how it looked like this - soft spikes all over his head, a few stray locks curling over his ears and sometimes over the scarred eyebrow.  Like today.  Xander smiled a little, letting himself look at that for a moment, and then snapped back to neutral as Spike said something.

"Huh?" 

A roll of expressive eyes, and Spike repeated himself slowly.  "I said, is there any of that soup left, Harris?"

"Oh - oh yeah, sure."  Spike nodded and flung the sheet back, standing up and doing another stretch by the side of the bed and Xander faded back from the doorway before he could embarrass himself, carrying the mental image of Spike's long, lean body with him to the kitchen. 

The soup was a tortilla soup, bought at the market from a plump little man with an alarming mustache and it smelled so good heating up that Xander decided to have a bowl for himself.  He leaned against the stove, watching the flames flicker under the pot, thinking about how he was going to get Spike to talk.  A lie would probably be best. 

*Except I'm not too good at that, so a...semi-lie.  That'll work* 

A minute later and Spike ghosted in, silent in bare feet, heading straight for the kettle and the tea-things.  He was wearing the loose, striped-cotton pants Dawn had bought him.  They were so not the Big Bad, but Xander had to admit he was secretly pleased that Dawn had gotten a size too large and that Spike habitually wore them with the drawstring barely tied, and without a shirt.  Of course, that was a distraction Xander could have done without today, but... 

*I'll live.  Oh fuck.  Cuts on his back.  Damnit...*   Xander frowned suddenly, his pleasure at Spike's state of undress effectively quashed by the wounds.  They were long, shallow, and regular.  In other words - not from fighting.  The guy that had roughed Spike up in Guadalajara had friends, and they apparently liked the same sort of thing.  Spike sprawled down in a chair and lit a cigarette, seemingly watching the smoke as it drifted up and then was swirled away into nothing by the big, sail-bladed fan they'd put in the kitchen ceiling.  Xander ladled out soup, got the fish out of the oven and settled into his own chair.    They ate in silence for a few minutes and then Xander mentally steeled himself and looked up at the vampire.

"Hey Spike...?" 

"What?"  Spike dipped a long slice of pepper into the oil and crunched it - licked his fingers. 

Xander blinked.  "Listen, I wanted to ask you something."  When Xander didn't say anything else, Spike paused with another piece of pepper halfway to his mouth. 

He looked at Xander, oil streaking down his fingers.  "Well, out with it Harris.  What is it?"

"It's just - I was..."   *Jesus!  Just spit it out.*   Xander coughed - tried again.  "Well, not so much me as Dawn was...well...  She's worried about you, Spike." 

Now it was Spike's turn to blink, and he slowly moved the pepper to his mouth and slowly crunched it down, his eyes off in the far distances again.  "Bit's worried about me?  Worried about what?"

"Well - about...  About how you look.  And - act, sometimes.  You don't look - healthy.  And you wander around in this daze...  She's just - a little freaked out.  I told her it wasn't anything.  Told her you were just - staying out too late...drinking too much."  The last thing was total inspiration that Xander had tacked on, because Dawn was a child of her generation and was fanatical about the whole drugs and drinking thing.  She didn't like it when Spike drank, but she had come to the conclusion that vampires could drink without the same consequences that humans had to face.  Of course, she hadn't told Spike that, because she didn't like it when he was drunk at all.  He scared her then.  Truth be told, he scared Xander then - more than his drunken father ever had.  Spike drunk in Sunnydale had been bitchy and moody and a little comical.  Spike drunk here was - vicious and cutting and violent. 

Spike scowled over at Xander, wiping his fingers on a napkin.  "M'not drinking too much.  M'not drinking at all, just lately.  What the fuck did you tell her that for?"

"Well, what should I tell her?  That you're out letting these - perverts - hurt you and...and you know..."  Xander couldn't finish that, but Spike knew what he meant, and he angrily snatched up a cigarette and lit it, snapping his lighter closed and puffing furiously.

"'You know'?  Christ, Harris, how old are you?  Can't you say the word?  Fucked, as in - I'm getting fucked so that you can sit on your ass here everyday.  And so the Bit can do her shopping and her - her decorating and -"

"Don't pin this on us, Spike!  I have a job, even if it's only part time.  It's not my fault I don't have a passport or anything!  Oh - wait - that would be your fault, since you didn't bring my ID or anything along!  And Dawn isn't even seventeen, she can't get a job."  Spike flicked ash onto his plate and glared, and Xander took a deep breath.  "Listen - I'm not - we're grateful, Spike!  I understand what you're doing.  Dawn understands - what we've told her.  But - but that's not the point."  Xander hastily held up his hand, forestalling Spike's next comment.  "The point is - you don't look good.  You look - sick.  And these people - whoever they are, they...  For fuck's sake, Spike, they hurt you!  And they're on whatever drug the guy was before 'cause you come home all - spacey.  A lot.  And that really freaks Dawn out.  I mean - you were goin' on about Dru a couple days ago - saying some really crazy stuff!" 

That, in fact, had been the thing that had prompted this whole 'talk'.  Spike wandering out of his room at ten in the morning, eyes dilated black and his face alarmingly pale, even for a vampire.  Rambling on disjointedly about Dru and little girls, blood and tea parties and his Family...  Talking as if they were there, in the room, and getting frighteningly lost in the house - going so far as to try to open a door to outside.  Dawn had shrieked and Xander had grabbed him and dragged him to his room, agreeing with Spike when he called Dawn 'Dru', letting him stroke her hair - getting him back into bed.  Spike had dropped off almost at once and hadn't said a word when he'd gotten up.  When Dawn had tentatively brought it up that evening, he'd said he'd had a bad dream and must have been walking in his sleep - that he did that sometimes.  Dawn, who had her own share of bad dreams, had accepted that and hadn't mentioned it again but Xander had been shaken - had been pretty damn frightened. 

*What if he had walked outside?  What if he'd - Christ!  Pull it together, Xander.  Focus.*    Spike was staring at him and when he lifted his cigarette to his mouth to take a final puff, Xander saw that his hand was shaking.

"You do remember that, don't you?  You remember - trying to go outside?" 

Spike stubbed the butt out in his plate with a little more force than necessary - leaned forward and put his elbows on the table, his head in his hands.  "Yeah, I remember.  Fuck, Harris, I was just - just havin' a bad d-dream."

"No you weren't.  You weren't sleepwalking , Spike.  You were out of your mind.  What the fuck do these people take?  Why do you let them hurt you?  I mean - the money isn't worth it, Spike!  We don't need half the stuff we've got - we can get by on less -"

"No, Harris."  Spike squeezed his eyes shut - dug his fingers into his hair.  "We aren't 'getting by on less'.  Niblet...she's not gonna live in some cramped little hole, worryin' about her next meal.  She -"

"I already told you - don't put this on us.  It's cheap to live here.  You're not doing this so Dawn can have ten pair of shoes.  Spike -"   Xander stood up abruptly and paced to the stove and back - went around the table and pulled a chair up close, so that he was inches from the vampire, his knees almost touching the long thigh.   Spike hadn't moved - was still hunched over the table, eyes shut.  Xander reached out, very slowly, and put his hand on Spike's bare shoulder and Spike jumped like he'd been shot.  Xander hastily removed his hand.

"Spike - tell me.  We're down here to keep Dawn safe.  But you're acting so fuckin' - weird - it's making me nervous!  I mean - if something came through the door right now, could you even stop it?  I can't do this alone, Spike.  But I'm gonna have to try if you won't tell me what's going on.  We have to fix this."

"Fuck you, Harris," Spike said, but the usual venom wasn't there at all - in fact, he just sounded tired.

"C'mon, Spike...  Please?"  Xander added the please deliberately - put his hand back on the smooth, muscled shoulder for completely selfish reasons.  

Spike heaved a huge sigh - leaned slowly back in his chair and looked straight at Xander.  "I'm payin' off a debt, Harris.  In about - two more weeks, I'll have it paid in full.  That's why I'm...letting these people - do what they do.  It pays triple what just a regular fuck and bite would." 

That was the last thing Xander expected to hear and he blinked, confused.  "Ookay...  What debt?  I mean - how the hell have you gotten into debt so fast?  It's not - not this house, is it?  I mean, we don't have to -"

"No, no, no - sod it all, Harris, it's not the house and it's not you, and it's not Dawn.  It's...  I found a Yn'n Clan here.  They do mojo - very specific mojo, with electricity." 

Spike was looking at him, his hands tense on his thighs, his jaw tight, and Xander just sat there for a minute until suddenly it clicked.  "You're - doing something to the chip, aren't you."

"Yes." 

Xander didn't move - Spike didn't - and they sat there for at least a minute.  And then Xander blinked, and slowly rubbed his hand over his face.  "Right.  Okay.  I...  Should we leave?  Should Dawn and I just - go?  Before you do it, I mean?" 

Spike's eyes went very wide and Xander swore he got paler, although he didn't think that was possible.

"No.  No, you - Harris -"   Spike stood abruptly, fumbling for a cigarette, scrabbling after his lighter and almost dropping it.  His hands were shaking hard now and Xander stood up as well - reached over and gently cupped them, guiding the flame to the tip and holding it there until the cigarette caught.  Spike's hands seemed colder than they should be, and Xander wanted to hold them - chafe some warmth into them.  Instead he carefully let go.  Spike drew in a deep lungful of smoke - tossed the lighter down and laughed shortly, a sort of rasping bark.  "Fuck me, Harris, you just - I'm not going to kill you.  When will you -?  Fuck it."  Spike paced over to the sink and stood there, his back to Xander, the cigarette held trembling out over the drain.  Spike's back was so tense his muscles were quivering, and one of the cuts had opened.  A thin thread of blood tracked slowly down beside his spine, and Xander picked up a clean napkin and walked over to him - carefully blotted the blood up and threw the napkin away.

"You made a point of telling me for, what - almost a year? how you were gonna kill me the minute the chip came out.  What am I supposed to think?"

"Maybe you're supposed to think that - that since I didn't give up the Bit to the hell-bitch and since I helped the lot of you for months that I...  That you can trust me." 

Xander stood there for a minute, and his inner voice was telling him two things - one, that the evil undead can never be trusted and two, that he really, really wanted to just lean onto Spike's back and slip his hand's around that narrow waist - lay his cheek on one cool, hard shoulder.  Xander irritably shushed his voice.  It really wasn't being terribly helpful.

"You're right.  You got Dawn down here - you've been taking care of her...  Hell, you've been taking care of me!"  Xander walked back to the table and sat down heavily.  "Okay - so, let's say I trust you and you're not going to kill us when you get it out, or whatever.  What are you going to do?  I mean - are you going to - to go back to being all..." 

Spike turned around, leaning against the sink and there was a faint smile on his face as he lifted the cigarette to his mouth.  "Am I going to go back to being a real vampire?  Hell yeah.  S'what I am, Harris - I can't be anything else!   I'm not gonna bathe in the blood of ten virgins every night or anything, if that's what you're wondering."  Spike took a last puff and dropped the cigarette into the sink - came back over to the table and sat down again, nabbing a slice of squash and inspecting it.  "There's old vamps here - old demons.  This country - has a lot of magic in it.  They don't appreciate the kind of random slaughter the Family got up to in the old days.  Hell, when me and Dru were here last time, even she reined it in.  Doesn't pay to fuck with the Old Guard 'round here.  And bathing in blood isn't all it's cracked up to be, anyway.  It clots too fast."  Spike dipped the squash into the oil and chewed, and Xander mulled that information over - made an obligatory 'ewww' face at the blood comment.

"Okay, so - when this happens - you're done with this guy's friends, right?  You're done being a damn - gigolo and coming home with fucking bruises and shit, right?"  Spike shot him that wide-eyed look again, the manga look, and Xander bit his lip.   *Why not just go down on one knee, huh Xander?  Jesus.* 

"Well, yeah.  They might not actually survive the night it comes out."  Spike had a faraway look in his eyes at that, and Xander shivered just a bit.

 "And you'll be done with this - spacey shit too, right?  You'll be - you'll be normal again?  I

mean -" Xander held up a hand and couldn't stop the grin from stretching his mouth wide, "as normal as you get.  Right?"

"You git," Spike snorted.   "It's the damn shite they take.  These people take more fuckin' crap than I did in the seventies."

"Oh."  Xander thought about that.  "Is that gonna be a problem?  I mean - are we talkin' withdrawal and - and undead rehab and that kinda stuff?"  Another snort from Spike, who was devouring a tomato slice, and Xander grinned again.  *He's actually talking and acting like...like the Spike I know and lo- whatever!  Go Xander!*

"Nah.  Can't get addicted, me.  Doesn't happen.  But I can feel the - come down, I guess you'd call it.  But then, I'm all healed up by the next day or so, so I'll be fine once I'm - once it's done.  Just a day or two of, you know, the shakes maybe."

"Okay.  Good.  That's good.  I think the idea of an undead Betty Ford Clinic is too twisted even for me."   Spike actually laughed, tilting his head back, and Xander fought the idiot grin that threatened to split his face in two.    *God, I'm glad that's over.  No bloodshed, no yelling, no -*   

Spike leaned forward, pinning Xander with a calculating stare.  "Right.  You got your answers.  I want a few of my own, mate."

*Oh crap.*

 

 

 

Spike watched Xander flush - watch him drop his eyes and lean back in his chair, trying to put a distance between them.    *Gotcha, Harris.  Some things you don't wanna tell me, I know.  But you're gonna.*  Spike allowed himself a small smirk of amusement as Xander jumped up and started gathering plates and loading them into the sink - putting away the soup.  Avoidance at it's best.  Spike just ate peppers and squash, watching him until the human suddenly leaned his hands on the sink, wet and soapy to the wrists.

"Well, are you gonna ask me anything, or are you just gonna sit there and - stare at me?"

"You're the one been doing the staring, mate.  Every time I move - hell, when I'm not moving - you're staring at me.  What's that all about?"  Spike could hear Xander's heart pounding in his chest.  Could smell the sweat and the tinge of fear.  And the blood, because Xander was blushing again and it made him smell so...damn...good.  Spike got up and stalked across the kitchen - stood just behind Xander, close enough to feel the living heat - close enough to see the tremors in the hands that were clumsily washing a plate. 

"I'm just - just making sure that you're not...  That those people, that they're not...hurting you too much."  Spike stood absolutely still at that.  Stared in astonishment at the back of Xander's flushed neck and shoulders.  At the curls of mahogany-colored hair that were sticking slightly to the damp, tawny skin.

"You...  Pet, that's..."  A shiver went over the body in front of him, and Spike lifted one hand - let it hover just over Xander's shoulder.  Let it slowly down, back to his side.

*That's - not what I thought I'd hear.  That's something I never thought I'd hear.  Not from this Scooby, at any rate.*    "You care, Harris?  Worry 'bout me?"  Spike took a step closer - inhaled silently, letting the wonderful scents of blood and fresh salt-sweat and...arousal...roll over his tongue.  He closed his eyes for a moment in sheer bliss. 

"Well yeah, S-spike.  Me and Dawn'd be - pretty bad off if something h-happened to you."  Xander tried for cocky, but his voice was strained and hoarse and faltering, and Spike smiled, glad he was behind the boy.  Glad he could have the illusion of control, because he was...completely thrown. 

*What now, then?  Never thought...  Well, can't be anything more than - curiosity.*   Spike swayed fractionally closer - felt his chest just barely, barely brush against Xander's shirt.  Xander was frozen - breathing in sharp little breaths that hitched his ribcage and made the faint brush of shirt-on-skin come and go; now harder, now softer.  Spike lifted both hands - let them delicately trace the air just above Xander's wrists and forearms and biceps. 

"That's so, Xanderrr..." he said, letting his voice go low and rumbling.  "But that's not why.  Tell me why."  Xander was shivering now, his hands clenched tight on the sink's edge.  Spike edged a little to one side and saw that his eyes were closed, his lower lip caught so hard between his teeth Spike was surprised that he hadn't drawn blood.  He let his hands continue their slow, slow caress and he saw the gooseflesh rise on Xander's arms - saw him twitch, just a little, wanting the touch - anticipating and dreading.    "Don't be scared, pet..."  Spike whispered, and Xander let out a strangled, breathy sound that might have been a laugh.

"Oh - okay, Spike.  I won't be afraid of - of somebody who -"   Xander clenched his jaws shut, shaking his head slightly and Spike wondered how he'd end that sentence if he let himself.  The instinct was to pounce; Xander was naturally prey and at this moment he might as well have been lost and reeking of blood in some dark street, because the demon was ready to exploit any weakness it saw.  Ready to put a claw into any tiny crack and pry until the soft, sweet core - visceral or mental, made no difference - was exposed.  And Xander...

*He's just - a bruise.  One deep bruise that's just kept getting hit and hit until the lightest touch makes him flinch.  Makes him...lash out.  Makes him raise that heavy, heavy shield...  White knight to the end.   But there's a way past that.  Soft and slow would win him.  If I wanted him.*  The demon wanted - but the demon was as happy to kiss as kill and Spike felt, much to his surprise, that he wanted Xander to stop being afraid for real.  But he couldn't resist a little push, because he was Spike, after all, not William.

"Wouldn't hurt you, pet," Spike whispered, and let his hands settle finally, lightly, on Xander's wrists - let his fingers circle around the muscle and bone and hold, ever so gently.  Then he bent his head and put his lips on Xander's shoulder.  Let the tip of his tongue ghost over the point of bone that was just there, under the skin.  Tasted, for long, long seconds the salt-flesh and the sweet that was soap, and the underlying taste that was just Xander - something like a plum, something like anise, rich and tantalizing.   He pulled away then, letting his fingers trail over Xander's wrists.  Turned his head to let the soft lock of hair that was just there, along Xander's neck, brush his cheek.    Xander seemed to have stopped breathing and as Spike took one step back, then another; Xander suddenly shivered violently, his head dropping down between his shoulders. 

Spike turned silently and went back to his room - curled into the bed.  He was tired and he was still feeling strung out.  But he smiled, as he lay there.  Xander hadn't stopped him - hadn't said a word.  And the human's arousal and fear had been about equal.  *Wonder how long he'll deny it?  Wonder...what he thinks...when he stares at me.*

 

 

 

When Dawn had finally left for her dance - she'd had to model her dress, of course, and Xander had had to take pictures - the house seemed echoingly empty.  Xander wandered nervously from living room to kitchen to living room again, thinking and not thinking about the day before.  About barely-there touches and that strange almost-kiss and Spike's voice whispering 'wouldn't hurt you...'   He'd started out lying to Spike, and he'd ended on a lie.  He didn't check him over for new hurts every morning because of Dawn, or because he was afraid Spike was being hurt too much by his most persistent 'clients'. 

*Well, okay, yes, that is one reason.  The other reason is...because...I hate it.  I hate seeing him like that.  He shouldn't have to do that - those people shouldn't be allowed to do that and...  I'm not supposed to care what happens to the evil undead!  I should be worried about the damn chip!  But I do and I'm not and I want to kill those fuckers myself...*  

Xander ended up on the balcony that looked across the street to the Gulf.  It was Marine Day and there were boats strung with colored lights in the harbor and a few scattered fireworks going off, glittering like early stars in the soft, damson twilight.    The moon was a hand span above the horizon, huge and saffron-gold, and Xander just leaned against the rail and watched it rise, slowly burnishing from copper to silver-white.  The damp, sea-salt breeze felt good ruffling through his hair, and he felt he could stay out there all night.

*Yeah, just hide out here.  Not face...anything.  Why do I have to fall for all the wrong people?  I mean...  Everybody I've ever liked has turned out to be some sort of horrible monster...  Or been ashamed of me, thank you so much, Cordy.  Or...fuck...just wanted to use me for something.  And Anya, you fall right in that same category as Faith, even though I think...you didn't plan it.  But we didn't have anything between us but our mutual need for...company.  Some scrap of normalcy so nobody would know exactly how fucked up we are.  So where does Spike fit in?  He said he wouldn't hurt me...do I trust him?*  

That was the hardest part.  That was the clincher.  Xander already trusted Spike, in several different ways that had nothing to do with sex or love or hearts being ripped to shreds and stomped on.  Xander trusted Spike to take care of Dawn no matter what.  Xander trusted Spike to tell him the truth about pretty much anything: balls-out honesty was one of Spike's better traits.  Xander trusted Spike...

*And there it is.  I trust him.  I have trusted him.  He stood up to Glory and didn't say a word about Dawn.  He's helped us, and helped us...  He's taken all our shit and never once has he let Dawn down...  Or us.  He might not seem like a part of the gang but he is, no matter how much he denies it or...Buffy denies it.  And I'd put him at my back before anybody else on the planet.  But...do I trust him in this.*

Xander sighed and closed his eyes - breathed deeply of the mingled scents of ocean and flowers and damp earth; the acrid stink of fireworks and the subtler smoke of...    *Cigarette.  Oh!  Where is he?*   Xander listened hard, and was finally rewarded with a soft inhale and exhale, right behind him.  "I know you're there," Xander said softly, and Spike laughed, very low.

"Wasn't tryin' to hide, Xander."   

Xander took in a small, sharp breath.    *He just said my name, damnit, he didn't...  That shouldn't get to me.*   "So what - what's the plan for tonight?  You...going out?" 

Another puff and Spike sent the cigarette butt arcing out to the street, tiny coal and trail of sparks like a distant comet.  "No, not going out.  I thought I'd stay in.  Thought I'd...  take up where I left off." 

Xander opened his mouth to ask 'Left off what?', but he knew exactly what and his heart lurched into a faster, harder rhythm.    "Spike..." Xander said, and then stopped and sighed.  Because he didn't know where to go from there.  He wanted, with all his nerve-endings, those touches and that kiss again.  But what else he wanted - what else he might get - he had no idea.  And it was too much like Anya, in a way: physical attraction and a pit full of sharpened stakes under there somewhere because could they ever really have anything in common beyond the desire for a fuck?  Because whatever Xander thought he was feeling, he was damn sure Spike wasn't, and he really, really didn't want to go down the path of utter rejection once again.

*Fuck.  I trust him to be himself and I don’t think that includes...feelings...for me.  Beyond the horny kind.*   Xander knew, without a doubt, that he was easy.  Give him a smile, give him some attention, and he was ready to give away his heart.  And he also knew, down deep, that of all the people he might choose Spike would be the one most able to tear him into the tiniest, most painful shreds possible.

"What is it, Harris?  I can practically hear the wheels turning."  Spike's voice was still low, but there was a bit of an edge to it now and Xander turned against the rail so he could see the vampire.  Spike was leaning against the doorjamb, looking a little pissed off.  Back in the striped pants, his hair still damp from a shower. 

*Damnit.  Not helping.  Shouldn't have looked.*   "I'm just...  What do you want from me, really?" 

Spike just stared at him for a minute and then his gaze lowered and raked Xander from head to toe and back, a hot light coming up in his eyes.  "Thought that was obvious, mate."

"Right, okay."  Xander pushed his hands back through his hair - crossed his arms.  He knew he looked defensive, but he couldn't help it.  He was defensive.    *And I am not freaking out.  I am calm.  Larry freaked me out because he went from the guy that liked to flatten me to...to the guy who might wanna kiss me.  Spike is not freaking me out because he...wanted to kill me not too long ago...Jesus Christ.*   Xander shook himself a little and tried to get back on track.

"Yeah, I get that, but...  Spike, I don't think I can...do that.  This.  Whatever." 

Now Spike looked more than a little pissed, and he came off the jamb and strode forward, standing right in front of Xander.  Close enough to touch, and Xander clenched his fists under his arms and didn't move.  "Can't do what?  Can't lower yourself to touch the evil undead?  What, I'm beneath you, too?  Where d'you get such a fuckin' high opinion -"

"Whoa, wait!"  Xander held up a hand, accidentally brushing Spike's arm, and they both flinched.  *Where the hell did that come from?  Hit a nerve...a Buffy-nerve, I bet.  Let's not think about Buffy.*   "I didn't say anything like that.  Just - damnit, Spike, I wanna know what you think you're gonna get from me!" 

Spike stared at him, scowling.  "Get from you?"  Spike looked like he was about to say something else, but suddenly he just backed off.  "Harris - what's goin' through your head?" 

Xander sighed and looked down at his bare feet - looked back up at Spike, who was against the doorjamb again, arms crossed as well.  "What's going through my head is...  Well, basically all the other people I've gotten involved with.  And if you exclude the non-humans, you have one girl who didn't want to be seen in public with me, and...Willow, who became gay.  Or whatever.  And one girl who tried to kill me and -"

"Who tried to kill you?" 

Spike looked intrigued and Xander sighed again.  "Faith.  Remember her?  The other Slayer?"  Spike's eyes went wide and Xander wanted to -   *Want to kiss that look right off his face.  Damnit.*   "And then Anya, who maybe doesn't count as human and just barely noticed that I was gone.  Not a good track record.   And I'm just..."

"Gun shy?"  Spike was smiling now.  Smiling in a rather predatory way, but smiling, and Xander felt a wave of warm tingles run down his back at that.  It was a nice smile.

*Maybe I should be running and screaming. That can't be good.*

"Harris - you're only...what...nineteen?"

"Twenty."

"Right, twenty.  Do you really think you should have found your - one true love by now?" 

Xander had to laugh - that sounded so funny, coming from Spike.  "Well, no - probably not.  But...   I like people, you know?  And when I like them, I tend to...really like them.  And that's just never worked out well for me."  *Hand him the keys to the castle.  Why not? Fuck.*   

Spike's smile had softened now and he moved forward again, slowly.  Stalking, maybe, or maybe just trying not to spook him.  "So you're sayin' you...like me," Spike murmured, and Xander had to roll his eyes.

"Well - yeah.   But I know you don't.  And I just -"

"You know?  Tellin' me what I feel, now?"  Spike was inches from him again and he reached out and put his hands on either side of the railing, trapping Xander against it and getting just that much closer.

"Well, no, I -"   Xander felt a moment's panic and he took in a sharp breath as Spike's thigh brushed his.  Spike's eyes were half-closed, and his tongue flickered out over his lips.  "That's good.  Shouldn't make assumptions, Xander...  What I think I'm going to get from you is just..." 

Spike leaned forward suddenly and kissed him, and Xander froze in complete shock.  *Oh my god.  Okay.  Oh!  Do something, idiot!*   Xander let his eyes go shut - unlocked his jaw and let Spike kiss him, and it was really - quite - "Nice, that's..."

"That's what I'm gonna get from you, Xander.  Something nice.  Something better than nice.  You've been watching me, and thinking about me - 'bout drivin' me crazy with all those looks and...blushes..." 

Spike kissed him again, slowly, his tongue stroking and tasting and Xander felt his arms unclench and he hesitantly reached out - put his hands on Spike's biceps.  Spike's mouth was open a little wider, pushing a little harder, and Xander let him in - tipped his head a little and kissed back, tasting smoke and toothpaste - tasting something sweet.  He felt Spike's arms move - felt Spike's hands settle lightly on his hips and squeeze, just a little.  After a moment he pulled away and Xander found himself staring at Spike - staring into his eyes and seeing want and maybe...some sort of affection there.  Something, he just wasn't sure what.

"Spike - I don't know -"

"I know you don't.  Listen, Xander.  I'm not your soul mate, yeah?  Not your one true love.  But I - like you.  You might rush in where you shouldn't and you might be a little too mouthy for your own good but you're brave, and you stand up for what's yours, yeah?   I know you'd do anything for the Bit."  Spike moved close again, rubbing his cheek along Xanders, gently.  Putting tiny, nibbling kisses along his jaw.  "We're here, and we...get along.  Told you already - I won't hurt you, pet.  Sometime the Slayer'll figure out what's what with Glory and then you'll be goin' home, yeah?  And until then...why not just...enjoy this?"  His hands had moved, slowly, and they were under the edge of Xander's shirt now - thumbs rubbing slow circles on his ribs and his fingers pressing into Xander's back.  Xander knew his own hands were tight on Spike's arms - tight enough to hurt a human, but probably nothing to the vampire.

*Why not?  There's a lot to enjoy here.  And he's probably right.  Doesn't everybody get a crush on their...kidnapper?  Stockwell syndrome or...oh!...something like that...*   Xander gasped softly as Spike kissed his throat; wet kisses that trailed down to his collarbones.   "Stuff like this never t-turns out well," Xander muttered, last effort, because he wasn't fooling himself.  He knew he was in for a world of hurt.  It already hurt, to think about going back to Sunnydale and seeing Spike go after Buffy again.  *Except he doesn't talk about her anymore.  And he doesn't talk to her...  Maybe -*

"Won't turn out bad.  Promise, Xander.  Won't hurt you."  Spike slid his hands up the back of Xander's shirt and pulled him close, kissing him hard this time; kissing him like he was drowning and Xander was oxygen and Xander just - let go.  It was more than he had in him, to resist the obvious desire.  The want that was in that kiss and the in the hard body that pressed eagerly against him.

*Hard - oh god.  What do I - do, what -*   Spike ended the kiss, laughing softly, his groin tight to Xander's and their mutual arousal pressed between them.

"I can hear your heart, pet.  Goin' a mile a minute."

"I'm just a little - a little inexperienced.  And freaked out.  I don't have any clue -"

"Mmmm..."  Spike rolled his hips a little, and Xander groaned softly.  "Don't worry about it, Xander.  Can't do this wrong.  C'mon, come inside."  Spike took a step back and his hands trailed down Xander's body - caught one hand in his and tugged.  Xander followed, trying to calm down a little.  Spike led him into the living room and sprawled down onto the couch - pulled Xander down on top of him. 

"Just do what feels good, yeah?  Whatever you want."  Spike was cool and solid and so there, lying not quite still on the smooth, pale linen and Xander froze for one long second, totally unable to think of anything whatsoever.  Then he dropped his head down and kissed, using all the tricks Cordy had taught him and Anya had seemed to like the best.  Spike made a small noise in the back of his throat and moved, bringing up one knee so that Xander's hips settled between his thighs and their erections were side by side, pressing hard.

"God -"   Xander put his forehead on Spike's shoulder - took a deep breath and kissed the skin there, tasting.    Soap and that sweet taste again, like honey or molasses.  Thick and dark - delicious.  He kissed everywhere he could reach and then squirmed a little lower and they both gasped at the friction.  Spike's hands - that had been kneading and rubbing at Xander's back - tightened for a moment and then he was pulling at the edge of Xander's shirt - getting it up, getting it off - and Xander had to slide back up a little, wanting to feel skin on skin.

"So warm..."  Spike murmured, and he rubbed his hands slowly up Xander's back to his head - stroked through his hair and pulled him closer, kissing again. 

*Oh, good kissing - this is really good kissing...  Why did Buffy have such a problem with this?  Not thinking about that - oh!*   "Spike!"  Xander pushed himself up on his arms, startled to feel Spike's hand at the front of his jeans, slipping under the waistband.

"You don't want me to, Xander?"  Spike was wide-eyed and tousled. 

Xander belatedly remembered his hands burrowing into Spike's hair and Xander slowly let himself back down.  "No, I - I was just...suprised, is all.  It's - all right."

"Better than all right," Spike murmured, and pulled him down again, and then things got...hazy.

*Oh yeah, better than all right...*  Xander's hands were shaking and his jeans were gone, and Spike was moving under him like a snake - like a cat; all writhe and arch and hiss.  The cool skin was like cream and honey, smooth and sweet, and Xander couldn't stop touching it, couldn't stop tasting it, and Spike was making these little murmurs of pleasure every time he licked or sucked or bit, and he really couldn't stop doing that, either.  Xander wanted - something - wanted more, and he pushed his cock into Spike's belly and ground against him, panting.  "Spike - fuck, I -"

"Let's go in the bedroom, pet," Spike whispered, and Xander shivered all over.

"Yeah - okay, yeah..."  He pushed himself clumsily upright, letting Spike go, and the vampire pulled him in for a hard, hard kiss.

"You're so fucking sweet, Xander, taste so good..."  Spike had his hand again, pulling him along and Xander stumbled after.  There was a candle lit in Spike's room - a fat, saffron-colored thing with four wicks, smelling of beeswax and citrus and Xander laughed, slightly hysterical.

"Wow - romantic c-candlelight.  Were you planning -?"  Spike tipped his head a little, eyebrow going up, gaze roving over Xander again in that calculating, greedy way and Xander felt a spasm of want twist in him, making him gasp.

"Just hoping.  Can't blame me now, can you?  You kept looking, pet, and...thinking, and..."  Slow smile, just a hint of that cock-sure twist of the lip.  "Can't hardly resist you, love."

"Oh..."  Xander couldn't make his voice work, after that - couldn't even put another word after that small and wondering sound and Spike laughed softly, pulling him over to the bed.  To the tangle of dark-red sheets and garnet-colored pillows, cotton cool against Xander's palms and knees as Spike laid himself down on his back and took Xander with him; legs wide, knees bumping Xander's ribs, and Xander froze again.

"You...  Spike, I d-don't -"

"Shush, love.  Already told you - can't do this wrong.   Here -"   Spike twisted, his body a rope of amber and milk in the candlelight, deep turquoise pools of shadow.  Xander hovered, on his knees, watching Spike unearth a glass jar from the litter of books and cigarette packs and newspaper on the bedside table.  Watched him unscrew the lid and tip it invitingly towards Xanders.  A waft of smells - cinnamon, musk, ginger - and he reached hesitantly and scooped some out.  Creamy-smooth, cool and heavy.

"Go on then, love - make yourself all slick for me, won't you?  Make it so you'll just glide in, love, all hard and slippery and hot..."  Spike's voice was a rumbling purr in the dimness, his body arching and open and waiting, and Xander smoothed the cream over himself, gasping a little at the coolness, groaning a little at the delicious glide of his fingers.

"Come on, then Xander, come on -" Spike whispered, and Xander reached out and rubbed the last of the cream over Spike's cock, watching in fascination as the vampire's belly rippled and tensed - as a pearl of clear liquid welled at the tip.

"Spike -"

"Here, love," Spike murmured, and his legs were around Xander's ribs, pulling him close; his hand was on Xander's cock, guiding him, and Xander felt the puckered flesh of Spike's body - felt the resistance that melted to a clinging friction - grasping, cool flesh that seemed to draw him in and he gasped for breath, panting.

"God, god -that's - fuck, that's -"

"Sweet, sweet - little more, love, all the way, come on - need you, Xander, need you right inside - need all of you inside - come on -"  Spike's breathy, moaning voice made Xander shiver and he pushed forward, groaning.

*Nothing like - Anya, nothing like - anything - that's - god, that's just -*   Xander suddenly couldn't wait - couldn't stop - and his hips bucked forward, burying him as far as he could go.  Spike arched against him, one leg curling tight around his ribs, one slipping up onto his shoulder.  His cock was moving with his body, darker for the blood and Xander stared - drew back and pushed forward and gasped again - watched Spike writhe again; watched his long fingers skate over Xander's trembling forearms and then they slid over his neck - into his hair - and Spike was pulling him down, urging him on and Xander just let his body take over - let his cock and his hips and his mouth dictate what was to come.        

Stuttering, hitching glide, clench of muscle, tongue and teeth and lips consuming his own, sucking out his breath and pushing it back in and Xander felt something, small bump of flesh that pressed at his cock-head and he pressed back, twisting, and Spike keened, soft sound of pure delight.

"Oh, fuck - Xander, love, right, right - there, Xan, again, do it again -" murmured into his mouth, hands clutching his back, hips grinding up.  Xander did it again, again, again - panting and moaning himself, shaking from the sensations.  Lost in the smoky musk that was Spike's skin and hair, lost in the molasses-sweet taste of his mouth and the crooning voice that told him 'yes' and 'more' and 'love, love, so good, fucking lovely...'.   Spike's hand slipped between them and then his fingers were at Xander's mouth, slipping in, and Xander tasted something cool, salt-sweet, and he sucked greedily, flickering his tongue over and around Spike's fingers.

"That's me, that's my taste, love that’s - god - that's how good you are, Xan, make me fuckin' want you so much -"  Xander shuddered all over, driving deep, his neck arching, eyes closing.   Spike's mouth was cool on his throat - cool and wet and sharp, prickling, and he knew and the knowledge sent spasm after delicious spasm through him.

"Fuck, Spike - yes, yes, yes - fucking yes..."  The fangs were like needles of silver ice, sliding in effortlessly and the suck of Spike's mouth pulled at the very root of his cock.   Xander's orgasm was like a heartbeat, booming through his whole body in hot, tight waves and he cried out, thrusting furiously.  Beneath him Spike was growling, panting, and Xander pushed in harder, his body locked in the final twisting spasm and Spike arched up hard against him, his cock pushing at Xander's belly and a sudden pulsing of cool sperm slicking them both.  Xander's arms were shaking - his legs were - and Spike just pulled at him, pulling him down, taking Xander's weight between his thighs and onto his chest, kissing and licking and stroking his hair.

"Thank you, pet, so sweet, so good..." Spike murmured, and Xander shivered in delight.

"Jesus, Spike, that was - was so fucking good -"  Xander kissed what he could reach - neck and shoulder, jaw - finally found Spike's mouth and kissed him hard - sucked the cool tongue into his own mouth, bit at mobile lips.  Old-iron taste of blood and a dark, smoky sweetness. 

They both jerked a little, startled, at the sudden crump of an explosion and then the room was washed in scarlet and white, green and gold and blue and electric purple as fireworks began to flare and die over the Gulf.  Spike's skin was dyed every color - his eyes glittered like stars and Xander just laughed.

"Did you plan this, too?  Fireworks?" 

Spike ginned up at him - squeezed him tight with arms and legs and the muscles deep in his body and Xander groaned, doing his best to press in closer.  "Sometimes things just work out," Spike murmured, and then they were kissing again and Xander knew he was lost, gone - hopelessly snared.  And he didn't care.  The next day, when Dawn called Buffy - it was over.  Glory was dead - Dawn was ecstatic.  Xander...just wanted to die.