Chapters

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Prologue

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Title: Salvation

Author: Margie

Rating: NC-17 (for the naughty sex parts)

Pairing: X/S

Warnings: May be some graphic descriptions of child abuse, and in later chapters, possible (secondary, to the fic) character death.

Summary: Completely AU Fantasy. Everybody's human. Xander was given up for adoption when he was a baby. 25 years later a sister he never knew he had needs a donor. A friend comes to ask for Xander's help.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Joss owns it all damn him! Any lyrics used in this fic belong to Metallica and anyone else they want to share with, which unfortunately isn't me.

Feedback: Yes please!
margaritagomez1@msn.com

Archive: If you want it just email me to tell me where it's going. It will eventually be on my own website when I get the chance to update (
www.angelfire.com/indie/margarks/index.html)

Authors Note: This is something new for me. Never done a Fantasy AU X/S fic before. It's actually a challenge/idea that I read somewhere but now can't remember where. I think it might have been for Spuffy, so I hope that person doesn't mind me twisting it up for Spander!

Thanks to my beta, Edi, for all her hard work! And Jen007 for checking over all my medicalese.


***




Prologue




God, she looked so pale. He should be used to it by now, her frailty, watching the weakness steal over her once athletic body. It made him ache to remember her strength.

He watched as her eyelids fluttered in her sleep, indicating her dream state. He hoped that they weren't nightmares as was so often the case lately.

He took her hand gently so as not to wake her. Turning it, he exposed her palm and traced the lifeline he found there. So short, so short a time left. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, letting his lips linger for just a moment.

Slowly he brought her hand back down, laying it lightly on the bed. He stood, his duster swirling about him, and made his way out of the room. The beeping echo of the machines and her soft huffs of breath were all the noise that followed him.


***


"I'm going. I'll convince him. No worries, luv." Spike spoke softly, but with as much confidence as he could muster.

"I can't let my baby die, Spike." Joyce worried at her bottom lip, trying not to let the tears that pooled in her eyes fall.

"She won't," Spike reassured her, his hand stealing out to grace her shoulder, giving comfort. "I won't let that happen. Buffy and I have been mates since my da flew us over that bloody pond. I'm not about to let her leave me now."

"Thank you, Spike," Joyce whispered, losing the battle and wiping at the waterfall of tears.

"I'll make him understand. Don't worry."

Neither of them chose to bring up the fact that this was their last chance. That even if he agreed to donate; he wouldn't necessarily be a match. For now they clung to hope. It was all they had left.


***




Chapter 1 - Introductions




Xander was in the middle of tossing tonight's costume into his duffel when the doorbell chimed. He made his way out of the bedroom and through the living room wondering who it could be and what they might be selling. He wasn't expecting anyone. Not that there were many people in his life he'd want to expect. He hadn't made very many friends, none at all really, since moving here and he sure as fuck didn't want either of his parents to be on the other side of that door.

Just to be on the safe side he took a quick peek through the peephole. His breath caught at the sight of the man standing before the door. Even with his features slightly skewed due to the concavity of the peephole, it was still obvious that he was a looker. His hair was slicked back and bleached almost white. His eyes were an arresting blue that almost mesmerized Xander even before he could open the door.

"Yes?" Xander prompted, as the door swung open to give him his first clear view of the stranger. Worn black jeans hung low on the man's hips, a tight black t-shirt showed off the ridged muscles of his abdomen. Atop the t-shirt he wore an electric blue button up that almost matched the color of his eyes. Xander found himself staring, though he tried his best to appear nonchalant.

"'ello, mate. Are you Alexander Harris?" Oooh, sexy accent.

"Yes?" Xander repeated, both answering and asking a question.

"It's nice to meet you, Alex. I'm William, but my friends call me Spike." Spike held out his hand.

Xander reached out and took the offering, shaking hands politely, still wondering who this man was. "Xander."

"Excuse me?"

"Nobody calls me Alex. It's Xander."

"Oh, sorry, Xander."

The man looked chagrined and Xander wondered if his tone had been too curt. It had been a long time since he cared whether he offended anyone or not. The thought that he felt guilty for making the stranger even more nervous than he already appeared, made Xander stop and wonder.

"Is there something you needed? Have we met before?" Xander asked, still trying to figure out what the man was doing here.

"Actually, mate, was wonderin' if you had a minute to talk?"

"Talk?"

"Yeah, sort of, came to discuss some things with you." Spike shrugged. "If you're free, that is."

"What is it you want to discuss? Are you a lawyer or something?" He certainly didn't look like a lawyer.

"No, I just...we have a mutual acquaintance, sort of...it's complicated. Could we sit for a spell?" Spike asked.

Xander studied the man before him critically, trying to assess the potential hazards of letting him into his home. After a moment, he shrugged and stepped aside, gesturing with a free hand toward the living room sofa.

"So, who's this mutual acquaintance?" Xander asked after joining Spike on the couch.

"Her name is Buffy Summers," Spike began tentatively.

"I don't know any Buffy Summers," Xander responded, brow furrowed in thought.

"Yeah, well, the thing is, she's your sister." The words rushed out so fast Xander wasn't sure he heard them correctly.

"My sister? I don't have a sister, man. I think you might have the wrong guy."

"No. I've got the right bloke, believe me. We've been trying to track you down for months." Spike paused, waiting for his words to sink in.

"Track me down?"

"Yes. Your mum. Your biological mum, and I, we've been searching for you."

"What?" The word came out a whisper. His biological mother? What the hell did she want? "Why?"

"Your sister, Buffy, she's sick," Spike began, only to be interrupted.

"So, I *do* have a sister. Is that what you're telling me?" Xander demanded, the look on his face transforming from one of confusion to anger.

"Yeah, mate, and she's sick. She needs a donor. We've all tried, but none of us are a match."

"And my *biological* mother sent you to see if I'd be willing to donate, too," Xander clarified.

"That about sums it up, luv."

Suddenly Xander stood; the look on his face was a mask of pure anger. He strode toward the front door and opened it wide. Holding on to the knob with one hand, he gestured with the other. "Get out." The words were spat through gritted teeth.

"Xander, please, Buffy - "

"I said, get out!" Xander nearly screamed. "You think I care? You think I give a damn about the one she kept? The baby she actually wanted?" Tears had gathered in Xander's eyes, and he blinked them away rapidly. There was no way in hell he was going to cry in front of this guy. This stranger that had been sent to save the sibling he never knew he had. The sibling his *mother* had loved.

"Xander, you don't - "

"Get the fuck out!"

And because he could see that he was getting nowhere, Spike went. Xander didn't slam the door, only let it slide softly shut. The finality of the soft click echoed on both sides of the door.


***


Fuck! Xander swiped at the tears that now fell. He hadn't cried since he was a child. Since the first few months of his long, interminable stay with the Harrises. The first time that Xander could remember Anthony Harris hitting him, he was about four years old, just going on five.

They'd bought him all new clothes for kindergarten, and Jessica Harris had been so proud. She'd paraded him around the room in his new school wear; Xander had smiled proudly, loving the attention he was getting. Not paying attention, he'd tripped on the floor and torn a hole in the knee of his new trousers. Before he could even try to right himself, Mr. Harris had hauled him back onto his feet and backhanded him.

He remembered the awful sting, and worse, the shock of what had occurred. His eyes had teared instantly and he'd begun to cry, great big wracking sobs that made his chest hurt. He'd looked up at the man he'd been calling dad with fear and confusion. When all he saw was anger, he'd turned to his mom only to find an expression of what he now knew to be pity. He'd see that look on his mom's face many times again over the next several years.

When the tears wouldn't stop his father only got angrier. Anthony Harris' second punch knocked him back on to the ground. He curled himself into a tiny ball, but that didn't stop the pain from the swift kicks his father landed. It didn't take Xander long to learn that he shouldn't cry, at least not where anyone could see him. Soon he'd learned not to cry at all.

But now the tears came unbidden as he fought to catch his breath. All this time, he'd had this fantasy that his real parents had given him up for some noble reason. That they *couldn't* have kept him, no matter how much they'd wanted to. But now, that fantasy was shattered. They hadn't kept him because they hadn't wanted to. They'd obviously wanted to keep *her*.

Who the fuck cared if *she* died? Not him.


***




Chapter 2 - Persistence is Key




Spike was not giving up. He hadn't expected this to be easy, but he was surprised at the anger that he'd seen in Xander's face. He'd expected the man to be shocked, and yes, a bit angry, but nothing like the rage he'd seen simmering in those chocolate eyes.

What had incensed the man so? Spike could understand feelings of anger and jealousy, but Xander had acted as if he hadn't even cared whether Buffy lived or died. But Spike had seen compassion and caring in him before he'd dropped the news about his mother. Could he hate her so much that he was willing to let Buffy suffer? A woman he'd never even met before?

Spike was hoping that, once the shock had worn off, the answer would be no. That Xander would understand that whatever reasons his mother and father had had back then, they had nothing to do with Buffy. That Buffy shouldn't be punished for whatever slight Xander felt his parents had inflicted upon him.

Spike studied the scrap of paper he'd written Xander's work address on. The private investigator they'd hired had provided a lot of information; home address, work, phone numbers for both. Spike had debated calling him before his arrival, but had feared his response. He didn't want to be turned away before he could even meet the bloke he was supposed to convince.

Now that he'd been rebuffed, Spike's only plan of attack was to dog the man until he agreed to listen. And so he found himself here, wondering whether he'd written the address down incorrectly. The PI had mentioned that Xander worked in the adult industry, stripping. This was something that hadn't entirely shocked Spike; although he'd never actually known any strippers of the male persuasion, he had met one or two of the female variety.

Xander's profession didn't particularly shock him, but his place of employment did. He'd expected something along the lines of The Fabulous Ladies Night Club, not The Gentleman's Club for Men. Xander stripped at a gay club? Was Xander a pouf? Spike had never been in a gay club before, and he wasn't especially interested in changing that. But if this was the only way to make Xander realize he wasn't going away, at least not without another serious discussion, then he had no choice.

Spike steeled himself and entered the smoky club. The lights were down low and it was difficult to see more than a few feet in front of him. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. He waited, wondering where Xander was and if he would get a chance to talk to him before the show started. He was glancing around the club, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness when the stage lights came on and an announcer appeared.

"Good evening, everyone! As always, our sexy stallion Xander is first up! Enjoy!!" The crowd erupted in applause and then the man moved off the stage and the lights turned to focus on the break in the curtains.

Unconsciously Spike held his breath, and then nearly fainted when Xander appeared. Sexy stallion? The man hadn't been kidding. Xander's dark brown hair looked almost black shining in the lights on stage. His skin was slick and shiny from some type of oil, and his cheeks were flush. His costume tonight was some kind of cowboy, although there wasn't much to it. He appeared to be wearing a black leather vest with no shirt underneath, and black leather chaps with just a matching black thong. Every time he turned his back on the crowd they were treated to an excellent view of his ass clenching and unclenching as he moved sinuously across the stage.

Spike found himself squirming on his barstool. He was shocked to realize he'd already gotten half hard watching the man strutting on stage. What was wrong with him? He'd never once been attracted to a man before; he wasn't a pouf, thank you very much. He liked women just fine. Not that there was anything wrong with it, just that, that had never been something he was interested in. But as he watched Xander dancing above him, Spike couldn't help but lose himself in the man's performance.

But when Xander started taking his clothes off, Spike's jaw dropped open. Maybe he hadn't thought this whole thing out too clearly. He'd forgotten that, whether he was in a gay club or not, by the end of the night Spike would be seeing Xander naked. And though it obviously didn't bother Xander, since he did this sort of thing every night, Spike wasn't too sure how he felt about the idea. He'd never seen another man naked before, barring actors in movies. His nervousness was made worse by the fact that he was still half hard and getting harder every moment.

Then Xander was wearing nothing but his thong, hips gyrating to the music, muscles glistening from the oil. And Spike couldn't move. His eyes were glued to the man before him, and he was powerless to look away. If not for the loud beat of the music, Spike would have heard the raucous laughter and hooting catcalls. Or maybe not, absorbed as he was in the performance itself.

And then, between one blink and the next, Xander reached down and grabbed his thong and pulled. The flimsy thing ripped away revealing Xander in his entirety. Spike felt his cock twitch, and he stomped down hard on these new and off-putting feelings clawing through him.

Finally the lights went down and the club went back to its previous dim atmosphere until the next performer was ready. Spike took the time to breathe in large draughts of air, choking slightly on the smoke he inhaled. He was sipping his now warm beer absently when he felt a presence next to him.

"Enjoy the show?"

Spike spun to find Xander sitting beside him, a beer placed with a smile from the bartender in his hands. "Uhm...yeah, mate, it was...you're very talented."

Xander threw back his head and laughed at Spike's spluttering attempt at a compliment. "Never been to one of these clubs before, have you?"

"No, I - "

"Save the denials, I know you're not gay," Xander interrupted. "You don't set off my gaydar."

"Gaydar?" Spike asked, brow upraised.

"Yeah, you know. A gay man's ability to sense other gay men in the area? Like radar? Gaydar?" Xander tried to clue him in.

"So, you're..."

"Yeah."

They sat in silence for a minute, each sipping at their beers only as an afterthought. Finally, Xander broke the silence between them. "So, you're not going to go away, are you?"

"No, not until we talk."

"We've already talked."

"You were upset. Understandable, but you don't even know Buffy. Don't know anything about her, or why her life's worth saving."

"Buffy. That her name?"

"Yeah. Buffy, Buffy Summers. Real name's Elizabeth, but nobody calls her that, not even your mum."

"She's not *my* mom," Xander said through gritted teeth.

"I'm sorry. Didn't mean - "

"What? Didn't mean to bring up a painful subject? Didn't mean to rub my nose in the fact that she didn't want me?" Suddenly Xander spun off his stool and stood. He waved a perfunctory goodbye to the bartender, grabbed a small bag Spike hadn't seen lying on the stool beside him and headed for the door.

Hurriedly, Spike threw a few dollars on the bar and chased after him. "Xander, wait!"

Xander stopped but didn't turn around. When Spike caught up to him, he started walking again. The club was only about a mile from his apartment and he had apparently walked to work that evening.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, and Spike was glad that he'd thought to bring his duster. The Las Vegas night was crisp as the wind whipped up. When he'd found out that Alexander Harris lived in Las Vegas and worked as a stripper, Spike was wary of what kind of man he'd find. But after meeting Xander he knew, deep down, that he was a good man, and that he would eventually agree to do the right thing.

"Xander, I'm sorry."

"Yeah, you said that already." Xander shrugged.

"I'm trying really hard to say the right things. I don't want to make this any more difficult for you than it already is." Spike was earnest. "It's hard for me, too, you know."

Xander chuckled mirthlessly. "Yeah, I'm sure it was really hard growing up with a mom and dad who love you, parents that actually wanted you around."

"Don't have a mum. Died when I was just a babe," Spike muttered.

"I'm sorry," Xander murmured.

"I do have a da, though. He and Joyce are quite close, as are Buffy and I," Spike explained.

"She your girlfriend?" Xander asked, curious.

"No. Just friends. More like siblings. She's been a part of my life for a long time now," Spike answered.

They were quiet as they walked the last few blocks to Xander's apartment. When they got to the building's front door, Xander held it open for Spike, a silent invitation to enter. Heartened at Xander's gesture Spike stepped in, then followed Xander back up to his apartment.

"Okay, I'll listen. But I don't guarantee you'll like my answer," Xander stated as he fished his key out his jeans pocket and inserted it in the lock.

Just then the door across the hall opened and a bundle of pure energy came racing out. The tiny figure hurled himself at Xander, hugging his leg enthusiastically.

"Hey buddy." Xander ruffled the young boy's hair. Spike estimated his age at about seven. He was what Buffy would call adorably cute. Brown hair, just a shade lighter than Xander's, deep chocolate colored eyes, and an infectious smile that he turned on Spike almost immediately. Spike found himself grinning back.

Spike's jaw dropped open for the second time that night when the little boy turned to Xander and asked in a curious voice, "Daddy, who's that?"


***




Chapter 3 - Bran




"Bran, this is...William. He's a friend," Xander explained. "He's going to come in and talk for a while, okay? You can play in your room until I call you for your bed time snack."

"Okay." Bran nodded happily. He loved playing in his room. He had a castle built out of legos and he played pretend with dragons and knights and kings and stuff. He liked it best when daddy played with him, though.

Before he ran off he remembered his manners just the way daddy had taught him. "Nice to meet you, Will'm," he called out before scampering off to his room.

After Bran ran off to play, Xander led Spike back into the apartment. "Coffee?" he asked, needing to fortify himself with some caffeine. When Spike nodded he gestured for him to make himself comfortable in the living room while he prepared it.

When it was ready, Xander brought the tray of coffee and a plate of some store bought cookies Bran had begged for, back into the living room with him. He set the whole thing down on the coffee table before taking a seat and turning towards Spike.

"Guess you're wondering about Bran, huh?" Xander asked, holding his mug in both hands and blowing softly over the top to cool it.

"None of my business, mate," Spike said softly, not wanting Xander to explain anything that made him uncomfortable. Though he was wondering, and immensely curious as to how a gay man came to have a son.

"Yeah, well you're right about that," Xander answered, looking away. "But you're practically family, right?" He gave another bitter laugh that made Spike wince.

"Xander, you don't have to say anything. You don't have to do anything but listen, and try to understand why I'd do just about anything to keep Buffy alive for as long as possible."

"No. I told you I'd listen. You don't have to worry about that. I never go back on my word." Xander's tone was serious. "But, I guess..." Xander paused to try to find the right words. "I guess I *wanna* talk about it. I haven't really talked, not about anything important, with anyone since...well, since Willow."

Spike found himself leaning forward, wanting to hear more about the man that sat before him, despite his protests to the contrary. Since the moment they'd met, only hours before, Spike found himself inexplicably drawn to Xander. There was something in his eyes, something that enthralled him, that made him want to learn more about the different parts that made this man up. "Willow?" he prompted.

"She was my best friend, my only friend," Xander began. "Growing up, I guess neither of us were really part of the 'in crowd'. We were from the wrong side of the tracks, you know?" Xander put his mug down, finding the taste of coffee bitter in his mouth. "People, they didn't understand us, either of us. They used to call her a slut, but she never slept around. Never! She dressed kind of...she just wanted to piss her parents off." Xander stood now, pacing the small room, his hand running through his hair in an absentminded gesture.

Spike watched, fascinated, as Xander traversed the room. Finally Xander stopped in front of the fireplace; a framed photograph of a cute redhead smiled back at him. "Her parents used to hit her. She never told anyone, not even me. But I could tell." Xander kept his eyes on the picture, never once turning back to Spike. "We had a lot in common." It took a moment for the full meaning of Xander's words to hit Spike. When they did it was a like a blow to the gut.

Xander was quiet for so long that Spike thought he might have forgotten the other man was there. "She fell in love." This time Xander turned around, catching Spike's eye. "He was a nice guy. He actually took care of her, you know? He proposed and everything. She was so happy." Xander had a sort of wistful smile on his face at the remembrance of his friend. "They had Bran. He was a beautiful baby."

"He's still beautiful." Spike interrupted.

"Thank you." He gave Spike an acknowledging nod. "He wasn't even two years old when they had the accident." Xander closed his eyes as if to block out the memory. "I got the call just past midnight. It was a drunk driver. Willow had me listed as next of kin. She gave custody of Bran to me." Xander's eyes were open once more. "When her parents found out they tried to take him away. But Wills was smart. She used to get straight A's, even though some of her teachers accused her of cheating; she never did." Xander shook his head. "She made sure that her parents couldn't break the will. She made sure that nobody could take Bran away from me."

"Anyway, I keep pictures of them around, her and Wesley. Bran knows that they were his parents, but he calls me dad. I don't think he remembers them much." Xander's voice trailed off.

Unwittingly Spike found his hand stealing out to cover Xander's. He gave it a comforting squeeze, not knowing exactly what to say. When Xander smiled up at him Spike felt something inside him twist, though he couldn't say what.

After a while Xander pulled his hand away. "Guess that was probably more than you wanted to know, huh?"

"No, I...I want to know whatever you want to tell me," Spike answered in earnest.

Xander looked at him, trying to discern the sincerity of Spike's words. The man was here to beg a favor, after all. But in the end he nodded, not having the desire or the energy to argue.

How do you...how do you do it, Xan?" Spike asks, amazed at Xander's ability to raise such an obviously happy child in such harsh circumstances and completely alone.

Xander raised his eyebrow at Spike's shortened nickname for him, but decided to let it pass. It had been a long time since he'd let anyone get close enough to give him a nickname other than the one Wills had given him so many years ago. "Do what?"

"How do you work around raising Bran? Don't you have to work most nights? Who watches him?" Spike asked, curious.

"Bran gets taken care of. I never leave him alone!" Xander's tone was defensive.

"Course not, luv. Didn't mean that. Just amazed at anyone raising a child by themselves, 's all." Spike was quick to reassure.

"Sorry," Xander muttered, still not quite sure what to make of the man that had so recently crashed into his life. "I don't work most nights. Usually only two nights a week and always the early shift, like tonight. The club's open 24 hours and I usually get the day shift while Bran's in school. When I work nights they always schedule me for the early show, so I'm home by 7. They like me enough to work around my schedule." Xander shrugged. "When I work nights Tara, next door, watches him. I'd make more if I worked more nights, but I'd rather be here for Bran."

Spike nodded, finding himself admiring this man he'd just met. "Do you still want to talk about Buffy tonight?" Spike checked his watch. "Could always come back tomorrow, mate."

Just then Bran came bouncing back into the room. "Daddy! I'm huuuungry." He emphasized his words by rubbing his stomach. "Can I have my snack now?" He gave his dad his patented puppy dog eyes.

Xander smiled, scooping the boy up in his arms and tickling his stomach. Bran giggled and tried to squirm away but Xander held him fast. "Snack, huh? You want a snack? How 'bout I snack on you?" Xander gave a tiny growl before burying his face in Bran's stomach and chomping playfully.

"Daddy!" Bran squealed. "Stop, no! Daaadddy! Stop!"

Spike couldn't help the smile that inched across his face at the display of father and child before him. Spike stood, grabbing his duster from the back of the sofa, figuring it was time to make his getaway. Before he could get very far Xander's voice rang out across the room.

"We're having hot cocoa and cookies, did you want some?" Xander asked, already on his way to the kitchen, a squirming child in his arms.

Spike thought about it for a minute, before following Xander into the kitchen. "Got any of those little marshmallows?"


***




Chapter 4 - Family Dinner




Spike stood outside Xander's apartment, bag of potato chips and a bottle of soda in hand. After Bran's bedtime snack last night, Xander had invited him back over for dinner tonight. They were having hamburgers, and Spike's job had been to bring the chips. He thought Bran might appreciate a bottle of soda as well, so he'd picked one up while he was at the market.

He thought back to last night when he'd first begun to crack the puzzle that was Xander. When Spike had gotten on the plane to meet this man, he hadn't thought much about the man himself beyond whatever was necessary for him to agree to help. He'd hoped that Alexander Harris was a decent, caring person; that he'd *want* to help, knowing that he could be another human being's last hope for survival. Spike hadn't thought beyond those characteristics necessary for the successful completion of his own mission.

But watching him last night, Spike realized the complexity behind the man. The layers that made up Alexander Harris pushing him past the 2 dimensional image that Spike had been working with. He was a lot more like Buffy than Spike would have thought. The loving way he cared for Bran, especially in light of what Spike had learned last night about Xander's own childhood. The strength it must have taken to get past that childhood, to raise the baby of a friend now long dead leaving him completely alone.

Spike's own heart ached for the boy that Xander had been. He had no idea what it was like growing up in a house where no one loved, where parents were cruel and hurtful. His own da hadn't been especially demonstrative, but Spike had never doubted his love. Had never cowered in fear of punishment. He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the dark thoughts. No wonder Xander was bitter. No wonder he needed more than just a 'please' to drop everything for a sister he'd never met and a mother that had abandoned him to the life he'd been forced to live.

Spike poked at the doorbell and waited. When Bran opened the door he smiled. "'ello, bit."

"Hi, Will!" Bran chimed, throwing his arms around a jeans covered leg before racing back into the living room. "Come on! My knights are defending their castle from the evil dragons!"

Raising his eyes from Bran's retreating form, Spike found Xander watching him sheepishly. "He's excited to have you over again. We don't get many visitors."

"'S okay, Xan. He's a treasure, your Bran," Spike assured him, handing Xander the chips and soda he'd brought.

"Thank you." Spike was surprised to see a faint flush creeping up Xander's neck. "The burgers will be ready in just a minute."

"No worries. Need help?" Spike asked. When Xander shook his head, Spike headed toward the living room, smiling. "I'll just go help defend the castle then," he called back over his shoulder, making Xander chuckle.

Xander made his way back to the kitchen. As he flipped the burgers he tried to examine the feelings churning inside him. It had been a very long time since he'd let anyone into his life. He'd told Spike things last night that he hadn't spoken to anyone about in almost eight years. Nearly a decade, really. After Willow had gotten together with Wesley he hadn't wanted to intrude on their lives, so he'd kept his distance. It felt good to have someone there to listen again.

And the amazing thing was that Spike *had* listened. He'd listened, and cared, and even comforted. And that was definitely something Xander had missed over all these years. And something he hadn't been expecting. So he'd issued an invitation to dinner.

They still hadn't talked about Buffy or his 'mom'. But Xander found it harder and harder not to care whether she lived or died. Maybe because he knew how much Spike cared. What was he thinking? He'd known this man less than 48 hours and he was already trusting him? Already wanting to return the help and comfort he'd received the night before?

Giggles filtered in from the living room, and Bran's voice, directing Spike on the attack. Spike was answering with serious 'yes, sirs' and probably even saluting. The picture in Xander's mind made him smile. Bran seemed to really like the bleached blond.

Xander shook his head. He was getting into dangerous territory. Liking the man was one thing. *Liking* the man was another. Xander hadn't forgotten his first reaction to Spike. The jaw dropping sexiness that had assaulted him before he'd even opened the door. They'd already established that Spike wasn't gay. So no matter how nice, how attentive he was, or how well he got along with Bran, Xander couldn't hope for anything more than friendship. If even friendship were on the table.

He was still here trying to convince Xander to help Buffy, and Xander couldn't forget that. All this getting to know each other could be just another load of crap. Xander would have to be careful. He'd had enough disappointment in his life that one more wouldn't break him, but he didn't want Bran getting hurt in the process.

They ate dinner with Bran firing question after exuberant question at the pair. Xander only raised his eyebrows indicating with a look that tonight's culprit was the half empty bottle of soda that Spike had brought. Spike shrugged, smirking at Xander's accusation.

"You talk funny."

"Brandon Harris!" Xander's exasperated exclamation rang across the table.

"'S okay, mate. I'm from across the pond." Spike answered the unasked question. "We all talk funny over there." He smiled.

"What pond? Is it the one in the park?" Bran asked, oblivious to the chuckles the grownups let loose.

"No, luv. I meant the ocean. I'm from England. It's on the other side of the world, mostly," Spike answered.

"Oh." Bran wasn't sure what that meant, but it sounded far away. "Do you have to go back? Or can you stay with us?"

"Well, bit, I'd love to stay with you. But I was kind of hoping you'd both like to come with me." Spike answered hesitantly. "Not to England," he added hastily when Bran started bouncing up and down in his seat. "Just to another place where I live. It's by the ocean though. 'S called Sunnydale."

"Can we dad? Huh? Can we?"

"That's something William and I are going to talk about. After you put your plate in the sink you can go play in your room, while we discuss it. Okay?"

Bran nodded and then ran off to his room, humming happily.

Xander brewed some coffee and they both headed out to the living room with their mugs. They sat, Xander looking at Spike expectantly.

"Buffy is my best friend. We met years ago, when da first moved us here. She was the sweet girl next door, yeah? Showed me around the school, and all that bollocks. Three years ago she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It's a mouthful." Spike made a disgusted face. "Basically means she's got cancer."

"They tried chemotherapy. Worked a treat, for a while at least. It was almost as if she had never been sick at all. But about six months ago it came back, even worse. She's so weak now, she can't even..." Spike stopped, sucking in deep gulps of air, trying to keep the tears from falling. It worked. "They said her best bet is a stem cell transplant. That means we need a bone marrow donor. But none of us are a match. They said usually a brother or sister would be the best, so we hired an investigator to find you. We don't even know if...don't even know if you'll *be* a match." Spike couldn't stop the silent tears this time. "But I had to try."

Xander sat silent for several minutes, absorbing Spike's words. It was strange to see the man crying. He seemed so...strong, Xander guessed the word was, or maybe stalwart. He just didn't seem like the type of guy to burst into tears. Even without them, Xander could tell from the tremor in Spike's voice how much Buffy meant to him. And it made him think of Willow. Of what *he* would have done, would have gone through, if only he could have saved Willow's life that night.

Xander nodded to himself before answering the question in Spike's pleading eyes. "We'll go." He felt more than heard the quiet rush of breath that left Spike's body at his acquiescence. "Bran's winter break starts after Friday. We can leave then." Xander was already making plans in his head. He'd have to talk to his boss, the school, just in case they didn't make it back in time. Tara would probably water his plants, bring in the paper.

"Thank you." Spike whispered the words.

Xander looked up sharply at the heartfelt thanks. "Just remember, I'm doing this for you, for your best friend. Not my 'sister', or my 'mother'. Is that clear?"

Spike nodded, grateful for whatever reason Xander gave.


***




Chapter 5 - Joyce




The flight hadn't been overly long, just enough for Bran to get excited about. He'd been bouncy the entire trip, staring out the window, pointing at clouds and the tiny buildings that came into view as the plane came in for landing. He'd never been on a plane before, and Xander was glad that Bran had this chance at such a new and exciting experience, at least.

But even Bran's excitement couldn't overshadow the feeling of dread that washed over him at the thought of meeting his 'mother'. Spike had told him that he'd called ahead; that Joyce would be expecting them. But would Xander be prepared for her?

Bran was eager to meet her, Xander knew. He'd had a long talk with Brandon about where they were going, what they were doing, and who would be there to meet them. He was young still, but Xander thought he understood about as well as Xander did. It wasn't an easy thing to explain to a child, or an adult, he thought.

Xander rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans, wondering why he was nervous. He shouldn't be nervous. Who cared what kind of impression he made on a woman who hadn't even wanted to keep him? Who cared what she thought? Nevertheless, his palms were wet and clammy, his leg bouncing nervously up and down.

Unexpectedly, Xander felt the weight of Spike's hand atop his own. "Relax, luv. Everything will be fine." The smooth tones of his accent floated over Xander and calmed some of his nerves.

"Thanks, Spike." Xander smiled tentatively and was rewarded with a smile from Spike.

"Look, daddy! A park! Can we stop, daddy? Huh?" Bran pointed out the window of their cab, eagerly bouncing in his seat.

"Sorry, Bran. Not right now, buddy. Maybe after we meet everyone we can come back, okay?" Xander offered. "Maybe tomorrow?"

"Okay, daddy," Bran acquiesced.

Xander leaned down and kissed the crown of his head, ruffling Bran's hair as he straightened. He was such a good kid. Xander wondered at his ability to raise such a child. More often than not, he thought that it might just have been something innate, passed on from Willow. Maybe there was just no way for Xander to mess up. For that he was glad. Bran deserved a happy, innocent childhood. He hoped that when he was grown up and looking back, he would have a thousand happy memories to choose from.

Then the car was pulling in to a driveway, a house looming before them. Xander swallowed, wanting to resist Spike's pull on his hand as he exited the taxi, but unable to.

"Ready, luv?" Spike asked with an anxious look on his face.

"Do I have a choice?" Xander spat back. "Sorry."

"No worries, luv. And you do have a choice." Spike squeezed his hand once more. "You don't have to meet her. She'll understand if you don't. But she wants a chance to explain."

"What? Explain why she threw me out and kept her?" Xander asked venomously. "Don't want an explanation." His voice sounded petulant even to his own ears.

"Know you don't, Xan. But maybe you deserve one?" Spike observed.

Xander took a deep, cleansing breath, wanting to expel the anger that seemed to be festering in the pit of his stomach. He closed his eyes in his effort to calm down. He hadn't felt this close to losing control in a long time. He'd vowed to himself that he would never be like Anthony Harris and that meant keeping a tight lid on the anger and the hatred that was threatening to bubble up.

"Daddy?" The tremor in Bran's voice had Xander's eyes shooting open. "Are you okay, daddy?" Bran had never seen his father like this, so still, and straight. He looked angry, but Bran didn't think he'd done anything wrong.

"Yeah, Buddy, I'm fine." Xander blew out the breath he'd been holding.

"Your da's just tired, Bran, and nervous about meeting Joyce. Are you nervous, bit?" Spike asked trying to distract the boy.

"What's nervous mean?" Bran asked looking up at Spike. "Is it when my tummy feels funny? Cause I kinda feel funny in my tummy right now," he ventured, rubbing at said tummy.

"Yeah, luv," Spike laughed, scooping up the giggling boy. "That's exactly what it means." He blew a raspberry on Bran's stomach before looking back up into the child's smiling face. "But don't be nervous, bit. Joyce will treat you right proper. Probably have biscuits and milk waiting, too."

"Biscuits?" Bran scrunched up his face in disgust, making Spike laugh so hard he almost dropped him.

"Cookies, luv. Biscuits are cookies," Spike explained.

"Cookies!" Bran repeated, turning to look toward the front door longingly.

Xander chuckled, making Spike relax fractionally. "Okay, I can take a hint. Let's go."

Xander tossed a few dollars through the window of the cab, thanking the driver and then straightening up. In his hands were two duffel bags that held both his and Bran's clothes. Spike's suitcase was sitting on the drive next to him. Spike released Bran, who immediately ran toward the front door, bouncing on the step until Spike and Xander could join him.

Xander's foot tapped nervously on the porch while Spike rang the bell. The tapping increased as footsteps neared the entrance and the door swung slowly open. A woman stood on the other side of the threshold. Her blonde hair just beginning to show wisps of gray in it. She had worry lines etched into her forehead and around her eyes. He skin was pale and she looked like she hadn't had a good night's sleep in more than a month. But when her eyes lit on Spike, she smiled, and Xander saw a hint of the woman she used to be.

"Spike!" She greeted him with a hug.

"'ello Joyce. How are you? How's Buffy?" Spike asked, worry creeping into his voice.

"No change." Joyce shook her head, finally letting go of the bleached blond to look over at the newcomers. "Hello." She smiled shyly at first Bran and then Xander.

"Joyce, this is Xander Harris." Spike gestured toward him. "And his boy, Brandon."

"Bran! Daddy only calls me Brandon when he's mad," Brandon explained.

"Okay, Bran, whatever you say." Joyce was hard pressed to fight the chuckle that threatened. "Why don't you both come in? I've got cookies and milk in the kitchen."

"Cookies!" Bran looked toward his father for permission. Xander nodded and he darted into the house.

"Brandon!" Xander cried out, embarrassed that his son had raced straight toward what was presumably the kitchen. He felt red hot color infuse his cheeks and he willed it away. Not wanting to care what this woman thought of him or his son.

"It's okay, Xander." Joyce reassured him, reaching out to touch his arm and lead him into the house. She paled when Xander recoiled from her touch.

"Xan," Spike called softly, and Xander turned to him. The blond inclined his head toward the living room and then led the way. Xander followed, not looking up into Joyce's hurt expression. They both took seats on the couch, while Joyce reclined in the armchair.

"Dad!" Bran called, running back into the room to join them, a cookie in each hand. "They're choc'late chip!" he announced between bites. "Want one?" He offered one of his hands.

"No thanks, buddy." Xander ruffled his hair. "Why don't you go back into the kitchen and have some milk with those cookies, 'kay?"

Bran looked from his dad to Will, and then to Joyce. "Are you gonna *talk*." He made a face.

"Yeah, buddy, just for a little while, okay?" Xander answered, smiling.

"I knew it." Bran rolled his eyes, making Xander's smile turn into a chuckle.

"You're a smart 'un, aren't you?" Spike said, swiping at the laughing boy. He caught him around the middle and hauled him close. "Don't worry about it, 'kay, bit? Just gonna say a proper hello, get to know each other like," he reassured the boy.

"Okay." Bran squirmed out of Spike's hold and turned to face him. "Will?"

"Yeah, luv?"

"Are you gonna stay with dad?"

"'course, luv. If he wants me to." Spike's gaze slid sideways toward Xander.

"Good," Bran announced, then he leaned in to whisper in Spike's ear, "I don't think the funny feeling in his tummy's gone yet."

"Don't worry, luv. I'll stay as long as your da needs me, okay?" Spike whispered back. Then he leaned back and swatted Bran on the butt. "Now off with you, bit. And leave a biscuit for me, will ya?" Spike called after him.

"He's a beautiful boy," Joyce ventured.

Xander had been smiling at the small exchange he'd witnessed, but the grin dropped away at Joyce's words. "Yeah," he answered noncommittally, unconsciously leaning closer to Spike.

"Xander..." Joyce wasn't sure how to begin this conversation. "I know you probably don't believe this, but I'm so sorry. I thought...I thought I was doing the right thing."

"Yeah, right. That's why you kept *her*, right?" Xander asked sarcasm dripping from his lips.

Spike could feel the anger building, could feel Xander taking deep breaths and trying to remain calm. He inched closer, wanting to be there to support the man he now considered a friend. A man Spike found himself respecting and admiring more and more every minute.

"Things were different by the time I had Buffy, please, let me explain," Joyce pleaded.

Xander lowered his head and let loose a deep, heavy sigh. Spike could sense the tension rolling off him, and wished that there was some way that he could make this easier for Xander.

Xander looked up, a weary expression on his face. "Go on then. Explain."

"I...we were very young when I became pregnant with you. Hank proposed, said he would take care of me, that we would work everything out. But then, seven months in, he got scared. He left me, said he wasn't ready to be a father. I was so young, only eighteen, my parents... I tried to go back to them, but they said I had to 'lay in the bed I'd made'. They'd warned me that we were too young, that Hank wasn't the kind of man who would stick around. But I was in love." Joyce shrugged, a small, sad sigh escaping her lips.

"I didn't know what else to do. I didn't have a job, didn't have any money except for the few hundred that Hank had left in our savings account. It was barely enough to make the next month's rent. I tried to find a job, Xander, I swear. But no one would hire me, because I was seven months pregnant," Joyce explained. "Mom and dad said they'd take me back, let me live with them, if I agreed to give you up. They didn't want to raise another child. I told them I would raise you, that I'd take care of you, but they didn't believe me. Said I was too young for that kind of responsibility and that it would eventually fall on their shoulders." Joyce had begun to cry now. Silent tears that fell glistening down her red cheeks. "I didn't think Hank was ever coming back. I didn't think I had any other choice."

Xander's anger had dimmed somewhat, though not completely abated. Seeing Joyce cry and listening to her story, he tried to understand how she must have felt back then, lost and alone. "What about Buffy?"

"You have to understand, Xander, that I never though Hank would come back. I thought he'd gone for good. About a year after I'd given you over to the adoption agency, Hank came back. He had the final divorce papers in his hands, but he told me he couldn't sign them. That he still loved me, that he should never have left. I told him it was too late, that I couldn't forgive him. But he kept at me." Joyce shook her head, the tears still falling. "Eventually I believed him. We stayed married, a year and a half later we had Buffy."

"So you got everything you ever wanted. The happy family: loving husband, doting daughter. And I was left..." Xander's voice trailed off, eyes suspiciously wet. Spike leaned in, their thighs barely brushing. Xander relaxed ever so slightly, but Spike felt it and pressed more firmly against the other man's leg.

"Not so happy after all," Joyce laughed bitterly. "Before Buffy was even five years old, Hank left me for a younger woman. Turns out I was a fool twice over."

Xander was silent for a long time, taking in Joyce's story. Finally a harsh chuckle escaped. "At least I wasn't a bastard, huh?" Xander voiced the one point of merit he could think to find in her story.

"Xander, please - "

He stood, cutting her off. "I think I've heard enough. We should go. Don't worry, I'll still help Buffy." Xander waved off her protests. "Bran!" Xander called, schooling his features before the little boy could come rushing in. "Ready to go, buddy?"

Bran looked from one adult to the other, noting the woman's wet cheeks. He was silent for a moment, before looking back up to Xander. "Sure, daddy," he answered solemnly. Then he turned to Joyce. "Thank you for the cookies."

She smiled, nodding. When she reached out to touch him, Xander scooped Bran up in his arms and carried him to the door. Spike followed them out, giving Joyce an understanding look. "I'll work on him, luv," Spike whispered before stepping into the foyer. Joyce only nodded once more.

"Xan!" Spike called out as soon as he stepped over the threshold. Xander was standing on the driveway holding their bags and looking like a lost little boy. Spike's chest ached at the sight. "My car's next door at da's house. We'll just grab it and go, okay?" Spike didn't wait for an answer, just strode over to his Desoto and popped the trunk.

"You don't have to, Spike. Just let me call another cab to take us to a motel," Xander said.

"No, luv." Spike shook his head. "You can stay with me. Don't want you using any of your own dosh when you're here to help us. 'sides, got three bedrooms at my place. No worries."

"Okay, Spike." Xander acquiesced easily, not really wanting to be alone. They were loading the bags in the trunk when Xander stopped to look up at the house. "Don't you want to go in and say hello to your dad?"

"Da's not home. He's in class now. 's professor at the university. I'll call later, let him know I'm back in town," Spike answered absently. "Maybe you'd like to meet him? We could have dinner or something together?"

"Sure, Spike. That'd be nice." Xander wondered what Spike's father was like. If he was anything like Spike, Xander thought they might get along okay.

It was only minutes to Spike's 'flat', as he called it. It was a nice apartment, three bedrooms, with a sunken living room. More like a townhouse really. It was plenty big enough for the three of them. And Bran was more than excited to find out that Spike had a Playstation 2 hooked up in one of the bedrooms. The one that Bran had tried to claim as his, but Xander had over-ruled him. He didn't want Bran staying up all night playing video games.

While Bran was busy playing something bloody, Xander wandered back out into the living room to collapse on the couch. Spike joined him a minute later, letting him know that Giles would be expecting them at the house by 7pm. Xander nodded, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. Fatigue had stolen over him like a thief, sapping all his energy. The encounter with Joyce had drained him completely, and at the moment he felt like a rag doll that had gone through the washer and then been wrung out.

"You okay, Xan?" Spike asked hesitantly. He wanted...he wanted to comfort him, but didn't know how. Ever since they'd met, Spike had had the strongest urge to protect Xander. To take all the hurt and the pain he could see hidden behind his eyes and make it vanish.

"I don't know, Spike." Xander's eyes were still closed, his head flopped raggedly on the sofa back. "I know Joyce means something to you. That you don't see her as a bad person, but...I just...it's not easy for me, you know?"

"I know, luv." Spike couldn't help placing a hand on Xander's shoulder in comfort. When Xander's eyes opened and he turned to gaze at Spike, the blond was stunned to stillness. The look in Xander's eyes was so full of pain that Spike wanted to weep. "Don't, Xan," he whispered as the first tears began to fall.

Xander laughed mirthlessly. "You know, I've cried more in the past three days than I have in the past 10 years." Xander swiped futilely at his tears, before giving up. "Anthony taught me a long time ago that crying was useless."

"Anthony?" Spike was afraid of the answer.

"My *father*." Xander spat the word out like a cruse.

"I'm sorry, Xan," Spike whispered, aching yet again. "Please, luv, don't." Spike accompanied his words with a hand brushing against Xander's cheek. He cupped the tanned skin, swiping at the tears with his thumb. And before he knew what he was doing, Spike leaned forward and pressed their lips together.

Xander was hesitant at first, but the feel of Spike's lips, the touch of a man that cared, had him responding almost feverishly. He leaned into the kiss, wanting to prolong contact. Wanting the feeling of comfort and care to go on for as long as possible. Xander's tongue snaked out to taste Spike's bottom lip and he thrilled at the tiny moan that his move produced. Xander took advantage of Spike's open mouth and plunged in. He tasted every crevice, taking special care to trace the outline of Spike's sensitive gums.

"Daddy!" Bran came racing back into the room, intent on telling his dad just how far he'd gotten in the game he'd just played.

The two men broke apart, breathing rapidly. Spike shot Xander an alarmed look, not knowing what had happened or what to say. "Xan, I'm sorry, I didn't - "

"No," Xander interrupted him. Smiling as Bran skidded to a halt in front of them. "Forget about it. Just the heat of the moment, right?" Xander wished Spike would contradict him, but the other man only nodded, silent. When Bran began to detail the vastness of his success, Xander watched from the corner of his eye as Spike stood and left the room.


***




Chapter 6 - Dinner with Giles




The ride back over to Spike's father's had been silent. A part of Xander wanted to take back the kiss, if only to return them to their previous state of camaraderie, but the other part of him wanted nothing more than to savor that kiss. To remember what it felt like to have Spike moaning against him. To feel the same desires he felt reflected back at him. What would have happened if Bran hadn't interrupted? How long would the kiss have gone on?

Xander could tell that Spike was confused, and scared. Hopefully not disgusted. God, Xander didn't think he could stand that, if Spike were disgusted with him, the idea of kissing him. He knew that there was very little chance that it was going to happen again, or that they would share any deeper intimacies, but he couldn't seem to stomp out that small spark of hope.

They had already established that Spike wasn't gay. And Xander wasn't exactly the kind of prize that would gay a man up. But...he'd seen the caring look in Spike's eyes, had felt...something.

They arrived at Mr. Giles' promptly at seven. The man that answered the door was warm and friendly, and though Xander didn't have a very good track record with people other than Bran, he found himself liking Mr. Giles almost immediately.

"You talk funny, too," Bran said in between mouthfuls.

"Brandon Harris!" Xander admonished, flushing at his son's second faux pas in as many days. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Giles, he just hasn't met that many foreigners. Actually none at all except for Spike and yourself."

"Quite all right," Giles was more amused than offended. "And please, call me Giles, all my students do."

"Will says he's from across the pond, but not the one in the park," Bran continued, oblivious to the rest of the conversation going on around him. "Are you from across the pond, too?"

"That I am, little man," Giles answered, smiling. "I'm Will's da, so we actually came across the pond together."

"Will says it's not really a pond. It's an ocean. We learned about the oceans in school one day. The paficic and the atlantis. Do you know about the oceans?" Bran asked, wide eyed.

"Yes, a bit, what would you like - " Giles began but was quickly interrupted by an overly energetic Bran.

"You're Will's da? Does that mean you're his daddy? That's my daddy!" Bran grinned and pointed at Xander.

Xander laughed, letting some of the tension ease out of him. Then he took his napkin and reached over to wipe at his son's mashed potato covered face. "Sorry," Xander apologized to no one in particular as he wiped. "No more chocolate for you, buddy!" Xander teased, making Bran pout.

After dinner, Xander offered to take a taxi home to let the two men have some time together. Both Giles' men declined, so Xander insisted that they at least have a mini-reunion while he and Bran watched cartoons in the living room. At his suggestion, Xander thought Spike looked a little relieved, making Xander wonder if just his presence alone now made the other man nervous.

"So, Alexander Harris," Giles began when they were out of earshot. "Not what any of us expected, I believe."

"No, nothing like," Spike mumbled as they walked along the hall toward his father's study.

"Seems like a nice young man," Giles offered, taking a seat in his leather armchair. "And Bran is certainly a precocious child."

"Yes, it's amazing how well adjusted Bran is," Spike responded. "Given Xander's own childhood experiences, it's a bloody miracle he's turned out as well as he has. Able to love and care for a small child of his own."

"I'm afraid it's difficult for either of us to really know what Xander's had to deal with. And you're quite right that he is an amazing man to have been able to overcome such obstacles." Giles watched his son with a curious eye. "Is there something you're not telling me, Will?" Giles had made it a point to insure that his son knew he could tell him anything. Since Olivia died, leaving the two of them alone, he wanted Will to know that he always had someone he could talk to and count on, no matter what the issue.

"Ikissedhim," Spike mumbled incomprehensibly.

"What was that?" Giles leaned forward slightly in order to better hear.

"I kissed him." Spike's whole body seemed to be blushing.

"Oh."

"Is that all you have to say, da? I tell you I kissed a man and you say 'oh'?" Spike cried, throwing his hands in the air, frustrated for no good reason.

"Well, son - " Giles began, but was interrupted.

"I mean, I didn't *mean* to. He was upset. And I wanted...I don't know what I wanted. And then at the club...I, God, da! I've never been attracted to other blokes before!" Spike was confused and upset and embarrassed all at once.

"What does Xander say about all this?" Giles asked softly.

"Well, we haven't exactly discussed it over tea," Spike spat sarcastically, then gave his father an apologetic look. "I...I don't know. He kissed me back, I think. I mean, yes, he did. But then after...after he just brushed it off."

"Will, I don't believe I've ever seen you this...agitated...over anyone before." Giles observed.

"Well, these are extreme circumstances, da!" Spike nearly shouted.

"What is it *you* want, Will?" Giles prodded.

"I don't know," Spike answered forlornly. "It's confusing."

"Do you like him?"

"Yes," Spike ventured after a long while. "But I'm just not sure what that means."

"Maybe you should tell him that?"


***


The ride back to Spike's was silent as Spike contemplated the conversation he'd had with his father. When Xander checked over his shoulder he noticed that Bran had fallen asleep in the back. He leaned over and spoke as quietly as possible so as not to wake him.

"Spike, if you'd rather we go to a hotel, you know, if you're uncomfortable, it's no problem," Xander offered, having sensed the other man's discomfort all night.

"What? No." Spike was broken from his reverie by Xander's unexpected offer. "Xan, mate, I think we should talk." Spike had just pulled into the parking spot beneath his apartment building. "Let's get inside and put Bran to bed, yeah?"

Xander's heart felt heavy. He didn't want to talk with Spike. He had a feeling he already knew what the conversation would be about and how it would end. But he sighed, cradled Bran in his arms and carried him up to the apartment. Once he'd laid Bran down and tucked him in, kissing his forehead before tiptoeing out of the room, he rejoined Spike in the living room.

"Okay." Xander collapsed onto the couch. "What do you want to talk about?"

"About earlier, Xan, the kiss - "

"Look, I told you, don't worry about it. I was upset, you were comforting, things got out of hand." Xander shrugged, already wanting this conversation to end. "Just the heat of the moment."

"Stop saying that!" Spike snapped at him. He'd stood and was now pacing the floor. "It may not have been a big deal to you. But *I've* never kissed a man before, and it meant something to me. I'm just not sure what. I...things are confusing...I don't know what's going on, or how exactly I feel."

"Meant something to me, too," Xander practically whispered.

"What was that, Xan?"

"I said, it meant something to me, too," Xander repeated, louder. "You're the first person I've let into my life in almost 10 years. You think your kiss didn't make me *feel* things? You think I haven't called myself an idiot a thousand times over for even hoping that you might not..."

"That I might not what, luv?"

"That you might not regret it? That you might not have found it, *me*, disgusting?" Xander stared down at the floor, his mop of brown hair shielding his eyes from view. "That you might even want it again?"

"Oh, Xan. I'd never find you disgusting. And I don't regret it. I'm just confused. I *do* have feelings for you, luv. But you have to understand this has never happened to me before. I've never been attracted to another bloke, and I'm not sure what to do about it." Spike ran shaking fingers through his already rumpled hair. "We only just met, and you've stirred me all up inside. Can you give me time, Xan?"

"Sure," Xander shrugged, not raising his gaze from the carpeted floor. "I'm kinda tired, Spike. Do you mind if I go crash?"

"Sure, Xan." Spike watched, brow furrowed in worry, as Xander stood to leave the room. He looked like a man resigned to a hard life. Spike's protective instincts clamored and he had to fight the urge to follow Xander and offer what comfort he could.


***


Chapter 7 - Buffy

"Hey, sweet, how are you feeling?" Spike asked before leaning down to kiss Buffy on the cheek.

She smiled wanly at him. "Fine, Spike. How was your trip?"

"It was great, luv. I brought someone to meet you." Spike stepped aside so that Xander and Bran could move closer to the bed. "Two someones, actually. This is Xander, and this little bit is Bran."

Xander tried not to be jealous of the kiss Spike gave Buffy, or the way his hand lingered in hers even as he stepped aside for them, but it was hard. Xander nodded a greeting at the sick woman. She looked like she was only sixteen, but Spike had told her she was already twenty-two. She was pale and petite and Xander guessed she'd been on chemotherapy for awhile because she wore a cap on her head covering what little was left of her hair.

"Hello, Xander." Buffy gave him one of her wan smiles as well. "Thank you so much for coming."

Xander couldn't find anything to say, so he remained silent and nodded again. He was just beginning to think it might be a good idea to leave, rather than continue to stand there in awkward silence, when Bran spoke up. "Are you my aunt?"

Surprised, Buffy looked first to Spike, then to Xander, for guidance on how to answer. Xander shrugged before answering her unspoken question. "I told Bran about you and Joyce. I don't keep secrets from him."

Buffy turned toward the curious boy and smiled, nodding shyly. "Yes, I guess I am."

"I've never had an aunt before." Bran tilted his head sideways, studying her.

"I've never had a nephew."

"I've never had anyone but daddy." Bran's simple statement made Xander catch his breath, a sharp pain pinching his chest. "Now I have you, and Will, and that Joyce lady, and Giles." Bran's face lit up like a light bulb. "He's Will's daddy!" he exclaimed excitedly.

Buffy laughed, regretting it slightly as she segued into a coughing fit. "Sorry," she mumbled.

"Maybe we should let you rest, luv," Spike suggested. "Xan still has to go down to the lab and give blood for the test."

"Okay, guess we should get it over with, huh? Find out whether Xander's a match or not?" Buffy answered, her voice light, yet they all knew how much was riding on the outcome of these tests. "Nice to meet you, Bran." She turned her eyes toward Xander. "And I do really want to thank you, Xander. I know originally you didn't want to come, and that Spike probably pushed you into it. He can be a little stubborn."

"Oi!"

She smiled indulgently at him. "And thank you for bringing Bran down, letting me meet my nephew."

"Look," Xander began, wanting to make things clear. "I'm going to help you, but I'm not doing this for you, or Joyce. Bran's excited about meeting new people, and yeah, I told him that the three of us were, sort of, related...but that doesn't mean that I think of you as a sister or that woman as my mother. So don't pretend it does." Xander paused to run work-roughened fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be harsh. This is really hard for me. I'm here because Spike asked me to be. He says you're his best friend, which must mean that you can't be all that bad, but it's going to take more than one quick meeting for me to agree with that."

Xander reached out for Bran, bringing the boy up to his side and hugging him close. "Bran and I have been on our own for a long time now, and we've been fine." Xander pushed aside the small doubt that stabbed him at those words. "I'm not saying that I'm not going to try, I just need more time. Maybe after...everything...we'll all have more time to, I don't know, get to know each other, I guess. Okay?" Xander fiddled nervously with Bran's hair, making him squirm.

Xander had been avoiding Buffy's eye almost the entire time he spoke; nervous and *feeling* harsh, even if he hadn't meant to be. So he didn't notice Buffy's eyebrow raise and the inquiring look she threw at Spike when Xander mentioned his name. He also missed the telltale blush that rose in Spike's cheeks at Buffy's scrutiny.

"Xander, it's okay," Buffy said. "I'm sorry. Mom never told me about you, not until, well, they started looking."

"Never?" Buffy couldn't read the look on Xander's face. She didn't know whether he was hoping for a yes or a no.

"No, I'm afraid not. I don't know how you feel, I couldn't. But I *am* sorry," Buffy apologized again.

"Thank you." Xander let the words whisper from his lips.

"Xan, luv, could you give us a minute?" Spike asked after a moment of silence.

Xander looked up sharply at Spike's voice. He nodded, though his eyes darted back and forth from Buffy to Spike. "Yeah, sure. I'll take Bran to go get a candy bar or something."

"Yay! Chocolate!" Bran cried, racing out the door causing all three adults to chuckle and release some of the pent-up tension in the room.

"I'll see you out in the hall," Xander called over his shoulder, before going out the door after his son.

Spike was watching as Xander disappeared behind the swinging door. When Buffy spoke, he turned to meet her gaze.

"He's cute."

Spike could feel the flush creeping up his neck and onto his cheeks. "Yeah, I...uh, he's very - "

"I was talking about Bran," Buffy laughed. "But I have a feeling you weren't."


"Oh." This conversation was oddly reminiscent of the one he'd had with his father last night.

"Is that all you have to say?" Very oddly reminiscent.

"I, uh, he's been through a lot, Xan, has," Spike ventured.

"Yeah, I know. Mom sort of explained the whole thing to me after you called to let us know you were flying in."

"Oh." Bugger. "Look, luv, I think I'm...Xander, he's...I don't know, Buffy! It's like I'm drawn to him. Want to make things better, let him know he's not alone," Spike finished still blushing profusely.

"Then, what are you doing here?" Buffy asked.

"Huh?"

"Didn't you see the way he looked at you? At us? He probably thinks you stayed in here to profess you're undying love or something!" Buffy exclaimed, exasperated with her friend.

"What? Why? I told him you were like a sister to me." Spike looked around, as if he could find the answer to his confusion somewhere in the room.

"It doesn't matter what you told him," Buffy explained. "You didn't see his face when you kissed me. And you didn't see his eyes watching our hands the entire time he was in the room."

"He was?"

"Yeah, now go find him." She shooed him out of the room with a gesture. When he nodded and kissed her goodbye she called after him before he could slip out of the room. "And let him know you want to take all his pain away!" He turned and threw her a two-fingered salute making her laugh softly.


***


After the lab tech had taken the blood he'd informed them that the results probably wouldn't be back until at least the next day, if not two. The queue in the lab was quite long, but Dr. Calendar had asked them to try rushing it through as fast as possible. Spike made a quick trip to Buffy's room to let her know and then they headed out.

The drive home was quiet, except for Bran's singing along with the radio. Spike was surprised that Bran even knew the words to some of the songs that blasted from Spike's radio. He didn't think they were Xander's type of music, but when he glanced at Xander, he seemed to be absentmindedly humming along as well.

"Didn't think this was your kind of music, luv," Spike told Xander.

"I was big into Metallica, way back when. Still am." Xander shrugged. "Sort of had a theme song."

"Theme song?"

"Yeah," Xander turned to peer out the passenger side window. "The Unforgiven."

Spike wracked his memory but couldn't quite come up with the words to that song. "That on the Black Album, luv?"

"Yeah."

Spike gave up trying to get Xander to talk for the rest of the trip back to his flat. When they got back, Bran ran straight for the Playstation while Xander took a seat in the living room.

"What's wrong, Xan?" Spike asked, coming to sit beside him.

"Nothing." Xander shrugged again. Spike was getting frustrated, not knowing what was on Xander's mind. "You were probably right, you know. This thing," Xander gestured between the two of them. "It's crazy."

"I never said it was crazy, Xan. Just that I needed some time," Spike insisted.

"No, I mean, you're not even gay, Spike! And I live in Vegas; you live here. It's just...useless," Xander finished quietly. "I'm kinda tired, I'm gonna lie down for awhile, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, Xander stood and made his way to Bran's room where he could lie down in peace and quiet. The door clicked softly shut, leaving Spike outside feeling confused and upset.


***


Xander was lying in the dark, trying not to cry. What had he been thinking? He'd told himself before they left that he wasn't going to fall for Spike. That it was useless and would just end up getting both he and Bran hurt. And look what he'd done!? And look how right he'd been.


***


Spike made his way to his room, pulling off his duster and hanging it in the hall closet as he went. In his room he rummaged through his CD cases until he found the Metallica Black Album he'd bought ages ago. He hadn't listened to it in years, but he slipped it into the CD player now. He queued it to track 4, The Unforgiven, then sat down to listen.

~~~
New blood joins this earth
and quickly he's subdued
through constant pain disgrace
the young boy learns their rules

~~~

Oh, God, Xander's theme song.

~~~

with time the child draws in
this whipping boy done wrong
deprived of all his thoughts
the young man struggles on and on he's known
a vow unto his own
that never from this day
his will they'll take away


what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never be
never see
won't see what might have been

what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never free
never me
so I dub thee unforgiven

~~~

Spike wondered when Xander had first discovered this song. How young was he when his father first hit him? Never free, never me? No, he wouldn't let Xander believe that. Not anymore.

~~~
they dedicate their lives
to running all of his
he tries to please them all
this bitter man he is
throughout his life the same
he's battled constantly
this fight he cannot win
a tired man they see no longer cares
the old man then prepares
to die regretfully
that old man here is me

what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never be
never see
won't see what might have been

what I've felt
what I've known
never shined through in what I've shown
never free
never me
so I dub thee unforgiven

you labeled me
I'll label you
so I dub thee unforgiven
~~~

Spike let the CD spin on, not listening to the rest of the songs. He lay back on his bed, thinking of Xander, of the boy he might have been. Spike made a vow of his own. Xander wasn't going to die regretfully, he wasn't going to keep trying to fight a battle he's already won. And Spike was going to make sure he knew that.


***


Chapter 8 - Unforgiven, too

"Come on, luv," Spike cajoled. "Give her a chance, yeah? Da will be there, too. I know you can't understand why she did it, or how she felt - "

"You're wrong, Spike. I know how it feels to be alone, to not have anyone to lean on. To face the prospect of raising a child by yourself when you have no idea what you're doing." Xander stood, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans and looking away. "That's *why* I can't understand why she did it."

"I'm sorry, Xan." Spike took a step forward but Xander backed out of his reach.

"Let's go then. Bran's excited to see them again. If nothing else he deserves to have some family, doesn't he?" Xander asked, voice brittle. "I've never let him near Willow's parents, and fuck all, if I'll let Anthony or Jessica near him."
"What about Willow's bloke? Haven't his parents asked to see Bran?" Spike wondered aloud.

"They're dead. When he was a kid, I guess. He told us he was raised in an orphanage for boys."

Spike nodded. "Then you're right, luv. Joyce made mistakes, Xan, but she's got love in her. She'll love Bran, if you'll let her."

Xander nodded, going down the hall to fetch Bran from his room.

"She could love you, too, if you'd let her," Spike whispered under his breath. "So could I."


***


They arrived at the house to find Giles and Joyce in the middle of having tea. Apparently they did this at least once a week, a reminder to Giles of his home, and time for the two of them to just get together.

"'ello, da, Joyce." He nodded at them both, leaning down to allow Joyce to kiss his cheek.

"Would you like some tea, Will? Xander?" Giles asked, reaching for he refreshments.

"No, thank you." Xander answered gruffly, but he caught Bran looking at him pleadingly. "Maybe Bran could have a cookie, though."

Bran threw his arms around Xander's leg. "Thanks, daddy! I love you!"

Xander laughed and ruffled Bran's hair. "You love me 'cause I give you cookies?"

"No, silly! I love you 'cause you're my daddy!" Bran was happily munching on his cookie. "Miss Burkle says that you're 'opposed to love your family." Bran nodded sagely at his dad.

Xander looked up at Joyce, who smiled tentatively at him. He shook his head before turning away. What did she want from him? Bran was right, you *are* supposed to love your family. So why hadn't she loved him?

"Is Miss Burkle your teacher, honey?" Joyce asked.

"Yeah, she's super smart. She knows everything about everything!" Bran threw his arms wide.

"I'm sure she does," Joyce smiled then patted the seat next to her on the couch. "Would you like to come sit with me, Bran?"

When Bran looked to him, Xander smiled and nodded. Bran threw one last hug around Xander's leg before bouncing over to Joyce and sitting beside her with a cookie-crumb grin on his face.

Xander remained standing awkwardly, not really feeling part of the scene before him. Joyce sat on the couch speaking softly with Bran, who was laughing and stuffing cookies in his mouth. Giles sat on the armchair watching the two, sipping a cup of tea and smiling softly. Behind Giles stood Spike, his hands resting on the back of the armchair as he leaned forward slightly to speak with his father.

The whole thing reminded Xander of some old Norman Rockwell painting of life, family, and love. Except he wasn't part of the painting. He was a spectator, watching from somewhere outside the warm circle of the fire. And he felt cold. Unconsciously he crossed his arms atop his chest in order to keep the rest of the world out. Or maybe to keep what little warmth he had left in.

For years Xander had focused entirely on Bran. He hadn't let himself think about what else was missing from his life. And he'd been extraordinarily lucky to have Bran. Bran, who loved him unconditionally, Xander chuckled softly to himself. Whether he gave him cookies or not. Having Bran with him was what had kept him going all these years without Willow.

Xander remembered thinking of Spike as the man who had 'crashed' into his life. And that was exactly what it felt like. From the moment Xander had opened that door his life had changed, irrevocably altered.

Xander slipped silently away, through the kitchen, and out the back door. He sat on the porch step, just staring out at the trees surrounding Joyce's backyard. He wasn't sure how long he sat there before he heard the back door creak open. He was expecting Spike and was surprised when he heard Joyce speak. "May I sit?" she asked, indicating the step he occupied.

He nodded reluctantly, wondering why she was out here with him, rather than inside. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude," he apologized.

"No, of course not," Joyce dismissed the apology. "It's peaceful out here, isn't it? I come out often to sit and think." She took the spot next to him, hugging her knees close to her chest. They were quiet for a long while, just sitting together, listening to the various sounds around them. Finally Joyce spoke, breaking the silent war between them.

"When Buffy first got sick, I thought a lot about you."

"I know. You needed a match. I'm here, aren't I?" Xander interrupted.

"No. I mean, yes, but that wasn't until later, until recently. I meant that I thought about *you*, worried about you, really. I didn't know much about leukemia back then, and no one seems to be definitive on the actual causes anyway. And I thought, God, does my baby boy have it, too?" Xander was surprised to hear a slight tremor in Joyce's voice.

"Are you trying to tell me that, when Buffy, the daughter you raised, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, you thought of me?" Xander couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

"Of course I worried and cried and prayed for Buffy every night. But, yes, Xander, I did think of you as well. I've thought about you since the moment I gave you up. I've prayed every day since that I'd done the right thing and that you would be happy, and healthy, and loved," Joyce insisted.

"Guess, God doesn't like you very much."

"Oh, Xander." Joyce's eyes misted over. "But don't you see? He *does*. He brought you back here to us. He put Bran in your life. And He got you away from those people - "

"I got myself away from them!" Xander stood abruptly, anger sweeping his features.

"Xander, I'm sorry," Joyce whispered through the tears that now fell. "I wish I could go back and change what I did 25 years ago, but I can't!"

"I know." As quickly as it had filled him the anger fled. In its place was nothing, just an aching emptiness in the pit of his stomach. "I...I think we better go." Xander turned and walked back toward the door, grasping the knob in his hand. Without turning back he addressed her one last time. "I'm trying, Joyce."


***


After his talk with Joyce Xander hadn't wanted to stay any longer. Xander refused to tell Spike what had occurred out on the back porch, and asked instead if Spike could drive them home. Spike agreed though he was reluctant to leave for his appointment once he'd dropped them off. Xander insisted that everything was fine, and that he would only feel guilty if Spike missed his meeting.

Just yesterday Xander had finally asked Spike what it was he did for a living, since he didn't seem to have any sort of set work schedule. He was shocked to find that Spike was actually one of the few science fiction authors that Xander himself enjoyed reading. He only had three books published so far, but all had been well received, if not bestseller material. And the royalties were enough to live comfortably on while he worked on his next one. Spike was currently out meeting with his publisher.

"Are you okay, daddy?" Bran asked, watching his father walk across the room to sit beside him. "You look sad. Why are you sad, daddy?"

"I'm okay, buddy." Xander leaned down to kiss Bran's cheek. "Just tired."

"I love you, daddy." Bran waited to see the smile that his daddy always had for whenever he said that. When he got it, he bounced up and hugged his daddy around the waist. "Did seeing Joyce make you sad? We don't have to go back if it makes you sad," Bran assured him.

"Thank you, Bran." Xander hugged him close. "Don't worry about me, okay? Everything's fine," he reassured his son.

Bran wasn't sure he believed his daddy, but he nodded his head in agreement anyway because he thought that was what his daddy wanted. "If you're okay then, daddy, is it okay for me to go play in your room?"

"Sure, Bran." He swatted the little boy on the butt as he scampered out of reach.

Spike said he would pick up something for dinner on the way back, so not to worry about making anything or ordering in. Xander checked his watch. He still had a few hours before Spike was due back, so he figured he'd get in a quick nap. The last few days had left him exhausted, and constantly feeling drained. He walked down the hall and poked his head in on Bran. The boy was oblivious. Sitting cross legged in front of the television, controller in hand, Bran's attention was on the race car zooming down the road. Xander smiled softly at the back of his son's head before continuing down the corridor toward Bran's room.

Before lying down he clicked on the radio, tuning it to the same station that Spike had had on during their ride home the other night. He put the volume on low and then slipped his shoes off. He lay on his back, thinking about the conversation he'd had with Joyce. Thinking about his feelings for Spike. About how pale and fragile Buffy looked in the hospital.

How had all this happened so fast? One minute his life was chugging along like clockwork. He had work, he had Bran; he had a routine. And now he had a 'sister', a 'mother', and, well...Spike. Xander thought about the Harrises; thought about his life growing up, meeting Willow, and then raising Bran. Sometimes it seemed to him as if his life had happened to someone else entirely; as if he knew the details because he'd seen the movie, or read the book. Xander fell asleep with thoughts of his life playing through his head like the rerun of a bad television show.


***


Spike came in, his arms laden down with bags. He'd stopped at the Thai restaurant down the street for dinner, hoping that Bran and Xander would enjoy the cuisine. So far he hadn't come across any food that either of them had refused to eat, but he assumed there had to be something they didn't like. Spike just hoped that it wasn't Thai. He'd just laid the bags down on the kitchen table when he heard Xander's strangled scream. Spike dropped everything else and ran.

Bran reached his father before Spike could; the boy was already in the room, his arms around his dad when Spike arrived. "It's okay, daddy," Bran soothed. "I'm here now, daddy. It's okay."

Xander was shaking, his hair mussed from sleep, sweat dripping from his forehead. He'd obviously had a nightmare, and from the looks of it Bran was used to dealing with the consequences. The idea of a seven year old boy comforting his father out of a nightmare was so poignant that Spike had to blink the moisture from his eyes.

"Thanks, buddy, I'm okay." Xander kissed Bran's forehead, holding him close for a moment before pushing him away. "Don't worry, Bran. Daddy's fine. Just a nightmare, okay? You can go back to your game, okay, buddy?"

"Are you sure, daddy?" Bran asked, a worried look gracing his face. "Do you want me to lie down with you while you sleep? I could keep the monsters away."

Spike watched as Xander's lip quivered but no tears fell. Xander reached out again, bringing Bran back for a tight hug. "I love you, Bran." He sighed out the words. "Thank you, buddy, but I don't think I'm going back to sleep right now. It's almost time for dinner anyway, so why don't you go play for a bit until I call, okay?"

"Okay, daddy, I love you, too." Bran tilted his head up and bussed Xander on the cheek before turning to leave.

Xander finally looked up to acknowledge Spike's presence. "So you got back in time to see the show, huh?" He stood, making his way across the room to the small bathroom adjacent. After throwing some cool water on his face he toweled off, checking his haggard features in the mirror. He could see Spike leaning on the door frame behind him, trying to look casual.

"Have nightmares often, luv?"

"Often enough."

"Does Bran - "

"Look, I don't really want to talk about it, okay?" Xander cut him off. He fussed with the towel for a moment, folding and straightening it on the rack before turning around. "Did you get anything for dinner?"

Spike recognized Xander's obvious need for a change of subject. "Yeah, Xan. Thai, I wasn't sure if it would be okay. If it isn't we could always order pizza."

"No, Bran loves Thai. I hope you got Phad Thai, it's his favorite." Xander eased past him and through the door. Spike followed him back to the kitchen and watched as Xander got out plates and silverware, setting the table. The busy work seemed to be calming Xander down, so Spike let him continue. Xander pulled down several small serving bowls and distributed the food among them. Before calling Bran, he put some Phad Thai noodles, barbecue, and a spring roll on his plate.

Bran came running at his name, his face beaming when he saw their dinner. "Thai! Yay!" Bran sat immediately, looking up at Xander. "Thank you for my noodles, daddy!"

Xander smiled. "You're welcome, buddy. Don't eat too fast, okay?"

"Mphky," Bran answered, his mouth full.

Spike and Xander sat as well, filling their own plates with different dishes. The meal was eaten mostly in silence, only Bran's occasional babble interrupting.

"Okay, Bran, go brush your teeth. You can stay up for another hour, then it's off to bed," Xander instructed.

After brushing his teeth and changing into his pajamas, Bran came back out to the living room where Xander and Spike were sitting on the sofa watching the news. "Daddy, will you play with me?"

"Sure, buddy, what do you want to play?"

"Is Will going to play, too?" Bran asked, his eyes darting towards Spike.

"Would you like me to play, bit?" Spike asked, leaning forward in his seat.

"Yes. Please?" Bran asked, puppy dog eyes to the fore.

"'course, luv. If you like. What's it to be then?"

"Pirates!" Bran was enthusiastic about his choice. He'd already procured the umbrella he'd found in the closet of his room as his sword.

Both men followed Bran back to his room with bemused looks. They were to be his first and second mates on the ship (his bed) as they sailed the atlantis ocean looking for lost treasure and ghost ships. When they reached Bran's room they all climbed aboard the 'ship' and Bran began issuing orders. Bran threw a towel at Spike ordering, "Swab the deck!"

Obediently Spike saluted and answered with an, "Aye, aye, captain!" Before taking the towel and swirling it around atop the bed spread. Xander watched, feeling just another bit of the protective wall he'd built around his heart crumble at the sight.

"Don't just stand there, daddy!" Bran pleaded. "Look for *land*." He emphasized the last word in a harsh whisper.

"Oh, sorry, buddy. I mean, captain! Aye, aye, captain!" Xander saluted and obediently began searching the area for land. Every few minutes he'd point and call out, "land ho!" Just to hear Bran giggle.

Finally Bran was yawning left and right, so Xander put a stop to the fun and ordered Bran under the blankets. Xander tucked him in snugly then kissed his forehead. "Goodnight, buddy."

"Thanks for playing, daddy," Bran said sincerely. "Is Will going to kiss me goodnight, too?"

Xander smiled and stepped aside, giving Spike a questioning look. The blond stepped up without hesitation and leaned down to give Bran a goodnight kiss on the cheek. "Sweet dreams, luv."

"Thanks, Will. You make a good second mate." Bran answered sleepily, eyes already drifting shut.

Spike and Xander tiptoed out of the room, shutting off the light as they went. They left the door cracked open so that the light from the hall filtered in, just in case Bran woke in the middle of the night.

"Thanks, Spike." Xander stopped in the hall outside his room. "I really appreciate you taking time out to play with Bran like that."

"No worries, luv. Bran's a good little bit," Spike assured him. Spike wanted to broach the subject of Xander's nightmare again, but just then the phone rang. He shrugged apologetically before hurrying down the hall to answer.

Xander sighed. Immediately upon entering his room he set to cleaning up Bran's latest exploits. Once the Playstation was properly stored and the games reshelved on the entertainment center, Xander turned down his bed. He turned the radio on the clock radio on, again searching for the station that he'd been listening to earlier in Bran's room.

He stripped down to his boxers and slid under the covers. It was early but he still hadn't fully recovered from his earlier nightmare and so, instead of reinvigorating him, his nap had only drained him further. The music played softly around him and he tried to focus on the sounds rather than the thoughts swirling through his head.

When the soft knock sounded he sat up in bed and called out, "Come in." He'd expected Bran, but Spike stood on the other side of the door instead. Xander was up and at his side before he knew what happened, wiping the tears off Spike's cheek. "What happened?"

Then Spike smiled, the grin lighting up his face, his blue eyes sparkling. "Joyce just called. You're a match, Xan." Spike threw his arms around Xander and hugged him close. "Thank God." Spike sobbed the words, his whole frame shaking with the force.

Xander patted Spike's back awkwardly. He was glad that he'd be able to help, really, he was. But he wasn't sure how he felt about Spike's display of emotion. "What...what happens now?"

Spike pulled away from him in order to look him in the eye while he spoke. "Well, luv, they'll give her the radiation treatment tomorrow afternoon. Joyce, da, and I are all going to see her beforehand. They have to keep her isolated afterwards for about 3 months. The treatment leaves her without much of an ability to fight off disease, so... If you and Bran would like to come, I'm sure she'd like that."

Xander nodded, knowing that it would be good for Bran to see her one more time if he wasn't going to be allowed near her for at least another 3 months. Who knew if they would even be able to come back to Sunnydale at that time?

"Great, luv." Spike beamed at him. "You're scheduled to donate the day after that, and then they'll actually do the procedure on Friday."

"That's Christmas."

Spike started, of course it was! He'd forgotten all about the holiday coming up. "Well, what a lovely pressie that'll be, don't you think?" And then Spike realized that all Xander was wearing was a pair of boxers, and he blushed, looking away.

Xander quirked an eyebrow at him, after all, Spike had already seen him completely naked at the club. "I was just going to bed. Thanks for letting me know." Xander turned back toward the bed. "Could you close the door on your way out?"

Spike watched Xander walk away from him, not so soft sounds coming from the radio playing in the background. "You sleep with the radio on, Xan?"

"Usually, is that a problem?"

"No, luv. Just wondering why?"

"I like the noise, it gives me something to focus on. Helps me sleep." Xander shrugged, deciding to slip under the covers in a subtle hint to Spike to leave.

"And if you don't have anything else to focus on, Xan? What do you think of? Why can't you sleep?" Spike asked, moving into the room and over to Xander's bed. When Xander looked toward the blank wall of his room instead of answering, Spike sat on the bed, forcing Xander to acknowledge his presence.

"It's not all the time. But, some memories just don't go away, you know?"

Spike reached out one hand, covering Xander's on the blanket, the other cupping Xander's chin to force their eyes to meet. "Tell me about your nightmare, Xan."

"It was just a dream, Spike. It doesn't matter." Xander tried to pull away from Spike but he held fast.

"It does matter, luv. You were dreaming about them, weren't you? About one of the memories that just won't go away?" Spike prompted. "Don't shut me out, luv, please." Spike pulled him closer, shifting on the bed until his back was to the blank wall and he could hold Xander to his side. "This thing *isn't* crazy. *We* aren't crazy, luv. Give us a chance, yeah?"

Xander desperately wanted to. He felt warm and safe in Spike's arms and he wanted to know that the feeling wasn't fleeting. He wanted the feeling to be real. The words to another Metallica song, Unforgiven II, flitted through his mind briefly.

~~~
Lay beside me, tell me what they've done
Speak the words I wanna hear, to make my demons run
The door is locked now, but it's opened if you're true
If you can understand the me, then I can understand the you
~~~

Could Spike make his demons run? And could he trust Spike with the knowledge it would take for that to happen? For Spike to truly know his demons?

"I...I was dreaming about the day I finally left the Harrises for good." Xander shuddered at the memory. Spike held him closer, wrapping his arms tight around Xander's middle and laying his palms gently on Xan's abdomen. Xander sighed and leaned into Spike; resting his head against Spike's shoulder, he continued his story.

"I had met a guy. I was about seventeen, he was the new kid in school. Had an accent and everything, he'd just moved from Ireland. I thought it was cool." Xander burrowed deeper into Spike's arms the further he got into his story. "I'd never been attracted to a guy before. I didn't know I was gay, or that the reason I wasn't really interested in sleeping with Anya, my girlfriend, was because of that. But I started spending a lot of time with him, Doyle. And then one day he kissed me."

This time Xander's sigh was wistful, remembering that first tentative kiss, and the way that Doyle had looked at him so shyly afterward. "I broke up with Anya. Probably a really shitty thing to do, but I couldn't help it. I started spending even more time with Doyle. We got closer, and he started asking why we never went to my house, why he never met my parents. I couldn't tell him. Didn't want him to know." Xander's voice hitched.

"Then one day he surprised me. The doorbell rang and I answered and he was there. He smiled, and leaned in to kiss me. I tried to pull back, but it was too late. Our lips brushed and when he pulled back he looked hurt and confused at my reaction. But before I could say anything Anthony was there. I tried to yell, to warn Doyle, but Anthony grabbed him, pulled him into the house." Xander wiped at the tears running down his cheeks.

"He punched Doyle hard, until he fell onto his knees. Then he kicked him in the stomach. Anthony kept yelling about fags and fairies and kicking. I tried to stop him, I tried to punch him back, but he was still bigger than me. He hit me and I went down. I could taste blood in my mouth, and all I could do was watch him beat Doyle." Xander was shivering in Spike's arms. Spike shifted again so that they were now both under the covers and their bodies were flush against one another. He rubbed his hands up and down Xander's arms and spoke soft words of comfort.

"Doyle was pretty bad, they ended up taking him to the hospital after Anthony dumped him in the park. The next day I packed a bag and left. I stopped to see Doyle, wanted him to come with me, wanted to apologize, I don't know. But Doyle didn't want to see me. When I got in his room, he refused to talk, except to say he wasn't going to report it. He didn't want the world to know he was gay and that he'd been beaten because of it."

"Oh, luv, I'm so sorry," Spike whispered, unable to resist kissing the crown of Xander's head.

"I haven't seen the Harrises since." Xander shrugged. "I don't ever want to again."

They were silent for a while, Spike just holding Xander, the radio playing in the background. Xander was surprised to find the song that had flitted through his head playing. Maybe that's why he'd thought of the lyrics, it had already been playing when he started his story. It felt like hours since he'd first begun to speak, but it was probably only minutes. The last of the song played through, filling the silence around them.

~~~
Lay beside me, tell me what I've done
The door is closed, so are your eyes
But now I see the sun, now I see the sun
Yes, now I see it

What I've felt, what I've known
Turn the pages, turn the stone
Behind the door, should I open it for you

What I've felt, what I've known
So sick and tired, I stand alone
Could you be there, cause I'm the one who waits
The one who waits for you

Oh, what I've felt, what I've known
Turn the pages, turn the stone
Behind the door, should I open it for you
So I dub thee unforgiven

Oh, what I've felt
Oh, what I've known

I take this key
And I bury it in you
Because you're unforgiven too
~~~

"Spike?"

"Yeah, Xan?"

"Could you stay? I mean, just like this? Until I fall asleep?"

Spike tightened his hold. "Yeah, luv. I'll stay."