Rating: NC17

This is a pretty different fic for me so I'd really like it if you told me what you think.

Very AU. Angsty. Takes place in the future, I guess.
The world now knows of demons due to a tragedy, and people are now in constant danger. Demons plague the streets and people live without hope. Vampires have sided with humans againt the intrusion, although many are still dying.

But it takes tragedy to create a hero.


Genre: AU, angst. Perhaps a smidge of h/c.
Warnings: AU, angst, violence, mention of main character deaths, snoggin'.
Notes: Spike still has the chip, thus no soul. Xander has both eyes. And it's an entirely different world, so you've been warned. Also, this doesn't really follow Season 5 on Angel, except for the fact that Angel works for Wolfram & Hart.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, I just like to hurt 'em and rebuild 'em.
Feeback: Please! With *chocolate* whipped cream and a cherry on top!

Feedback: Yes please! I need it!






Hero


by
Markedxup







Prologue

Out of poverty and despair often rises the most famous and repeated tales of heroism, war, and hope, ground into people's brains so often they might as well have been stuck in a history book somewhere. Truth is not an essential for these tales, although they sometimes form a truth of their own in the interpretation and if the people telling them believe enough, it doesn't really matter if they're true or merely pretending to be. Heroes, cowards, humans, and demons; all stories with perhaps a grain of truth in a wave of fantasy. And, as it so often does, the worst times bring the best stories out of those who need them.


~~


Only on full moons he appears, with knives and guns slung around his waist. He's six feet high with two feet of mangled black hair that flows in streams when the wind whips it around. He's a demon, a creature of the night who lurks just beyond your vision when the moon reaches its peak, and if you don't get home by midnight, he'll get you.


But he won't hurt you because he's a friendly man. He's rail thin with skinny arms and pale flesh and he warns you of dangers in the road ahead. He can talk to the birds but only if no one is watching, and he scares easily away from all but the smallest, most gentle children.


But did you know he's a hero? He can shoot a gun from half a mile away and still hit dead center with one eye closed and both hands tied behind his back. He carries a machine gun with him but doesn't need a bulletproof vest because nothing can penetrate his skin. He appears when people are in danger and saves them without a thought to his own safety, rushing into speeding traffic and saving the girl from the man in the alleys


He's an evil creature; the cousin of Lucifer himself with jagged fangs in place of canines. He has a stringy mane and a leather tail and black horns he keeps hidden. Don't look upon him too long if you have the misfortune to encounter him. He will lock his fangs into you and drag you down to Hell.


A hero, a demon, an angel, a devil. A creature neither Good nor Bad, merely existing between. A Ghost.


~~



After the Big Tear had occured, people could no longer hide behind their own ignorance. Demons are among us and they will kill you.

The portal was an occurance of extreme chance as byproduct of a fanatic perfrorming a ritualistic sacrifice to the god Lidaki. The leftover energy was so powerful it created a rip between dimensions, the human world and the almost-hell dimension K'lain. The portal manifested itself where the most pent-up energy pulsed beneath the surface; a Hellmouth.

Through the portal arrived hordes of demonic creatures named Keilans who not vaguely resembled velociraptors. Their skin was a tough, wrinkled ruddy brown and their snouts curved down to form a blunt beak lined with teeth jagged enough to rip limbs from bodies. They stood on two legs, though hunched over, and their forearms were skinny and more or less irrevelant from lack of use. Their thick strong legs ended in red talon-like claws, four on each foot. A sturdy tail waved out behind them, ending in a thin whiplike tassel that stung like a scorpion's. Blue-ish feathers hung sparcely from the base of their heads and shoulder blades, giving an almost birdlike appearance to the otherwise reptilian creatures.

When thousands of these poured into the streets of downtown California, chaos and hysteria wracked the country. People had never seen a demon (that they knew of) before and some thought that dinosaurs had returned. Hundreds, if not thousands of people were slaughtered by the demons; ripped to shreds in their bedroom or eaten alive on the streets while others swarmed away. The economy took a nosedive when hundreds more fled the country, as the demons quickly spread to other states and some made it as far at the Midwest in two weeks. The governent made a feeble attempt to cover the deaths and creatures roaming the cities, but that hope was soon abandoned when footage of a ten year old having his entire arm bitten off by a huge lizard-like creature was released by a public news station, and soon the entire world couldn't turn on the TV or the radio or even walk down the street without the horror being crammed down their throat.

Specially trained militia groups were sent to exterminate the demons, but never seeing or experiencing a creature like this before left them with gaping disadvantages, which only widened once the Keilans realized that humans were just easy food. Their jaws were so huge that bites were almost always deadly, and the stinger on their tail usually infected the recipiant with a virus that slowly drove them insane and stained their fingernails and the whites of their eyes a pale red. Their saliva also acquired a pink tinge and their muscels began to spasm to the point of seizure.

The demons quickly spread to neighboring Mexico and killed hundreds more, literally eating their way through villages and cities. Worldwide chaos and panic drowned out every other seemingly important event and left the media just trying to keep up with the amount of carnage piled upon them. Eventually it was discovered that Keilans react to household ammonia, and enough of it caused them a spontaneous and messy death. It was a common to see people actually drenching their yards in ammonia, and the clingy acidic smell became a constant companion wherever you went. The outbreak was finally under control after a year and a half, and many of the demons had been killed in mass quantities. It was still forbidden, however, to be out later than eleven o'clock. Sightings and the report of a new death would appear almost daily, but the world was slowly recovering from the hysteria.

The economy, however, was in shambles. People were afraid to work any type of night shift or in any park, national or otherwise. The death toll was so high, it was estimated that 152 new cemeteries had to be constructed in the U.S. alone. Canada also suffered a lengthy death list, but the Keilans had mainly occupied the southern states and Mexico, which told something about the climate of their home dimension. The rest of the United States suffered greatly. Many had fled their homes, only to return to find them ransacked by criminals, destroyed by the Keilans, or inhabited by other people who had found their homes nonexistant. The average life in America became a bleak reality as people used what little money that had on the bare essentials.

The subject of demons came as a shock to people, but they were forced to accept it and all its dangers. Vampires were soon exposed but people seemed to trust something with a human face, as ridiculous and naive the notion might be. Vampires, however, proved to be one of the biggest helping hands in the slow restoration of normal life. Humans and vampires formed an uneasy alliance against the Keilans, as the vampires had suffered many deaths at their expense, also. It was not uncommon to see a vampire and human conversing idly in the late hours of evening outside a Restoration Building, bound together by a tragedy that both have suffered their part through. As for the little fact of vampires also killing humans, the vampire attack toll dropped dramatically when vamps realized that they would only be safe from the now knowledgable much-outnumbering humans by discontinuing their slaughter of regular people. It was common knowledge that to stake a vamp would kill it, and so vampires reluctantly submitted to this reality and only killed those who wouldn't be missed or noticed or just relented to animals.

There were a number of blood banks set up specifically for vampires to feed and in return they declined from killing humans and even joined with them to exterminate the remaining Keilans. As for the other species of demons, it was rare to see a report of mysterious death in the papers now, as it was even rarer to find a school that didn't have a certified Demonology class. Professionals who had known of demons prior to the Big Tear were now high ranking, extremely useful officials in the U.S. government.

The Watchers comittee came forth with their involvedness, and though relatively disliked by the public, they were accepted as important figures. The history of Vampire Slayers slowly unfolded to the press and media, who were amazed at how ignorant they had really been for thousands of years. Vampire Slayers were now a figure of moumental heroicy and idolism, even though they were now more or less unneeded, for vampires, at least. The most recent name released as a Slayer was Buffy Summers, and the survivors in Sunnydale (a strangely larger number than the surrounding cities, and the people there had just repiled that 'We're used to the wierd stuff') had exclaimed with joy and some with repentance that they knew Buffy and the shadiness of her life now shifted into realization. She was not featured on any of the death lists, but no one had heard or seen from her or her immediate friends since the initial Tear. A momument in her, and every previous Slayer's, honor was constructed in Washington D.C.

America was in a gray period, not unlike the Depression, with thousands out of work and home. Although now, it was dangerous to live on the streets, and people found comfort in no one but those they could trust. People had no hope and no direction. They had no heroes or idols; celebrities a forgotten luxury. But it takes a tragedy to create a hero, and if there was enough of anything it was tragedy.



~~



The first incident was reported on June 9th at 3:57 AM. A nineteen year old male had been walking home after work, one of the few brave enough (or desperate enough) to handle a night shift at the local drug store. Out of the thick woods beside the sidewalk bounded a six foot high Keilan, jaws snapping and salivating red-tinged drool at the sight of the young man. He had panicked, as most tend to do, and stumbled over himself as he attempted to flee in the opposite direction, a wasted effort as Keilans can run faster than racehorses with twice the stamina. It would have been another depressing report of attack in the next morning's news if the man had not been pulled roughly out of the way and thrown to the ground. The man later told reporters that his rescuer was 'like a ghost, and didn't seem real,' if not for the fact that he cleanly sliced the head off the Keilan with an ammonia-laced axe.

A detailed report of the rescuer was never given, and no one came forward to accept the position. He was classified as 'Male, tall and dark haired' and that was all the man could recollect. The encouter had been swift and direct. The person had killed the demon and disappeared.

Two more accounts of this type of rescuing were reported in the following month, all referring to a tall dark-haired man with some type of axe or sword that saved people during the night when it looked like there was no other chance. They had all agreed to the first man's desciption of the man being 'like a ghost' and the name stuck. In the months that followed, there would be numerous stories of men and women saved by the Ghost, a mysterious man who rescued during the night and was otherwise unknown. The public, eager to admire something, latched on and obsessed over the stanger, idolizing him in a way that people needed. He became the celebrity, the hero in the tide of despair, the silent outsider with no a face.

But, of course, there will always be those who can't accept heroes or someone that other people think is one. They called this man a demon, a devil, someone to be hated. They created stories and outlandish theories about this unwelcome figure and rebelled all posotive accounts of him. They held onto their despair with an iron grip and expected others to do the same.

The mainstream loved this man, though. Every rescue was featured loud and joyously on front covers of magazines and newspapers everywhere. People were always eager for accounts of physical attributes of the Ghost, but they still weren't even sure if he was a demon or a human, although that didn't stop them from canonizing him, and probably wouldn't have either way.

One five year old girl who had just been saved from a Keilan in her own backyard, announced solemnly to the crowd around her, "He was a cowboy. Only the cowboys have eyes that lonely." The quote was featured all around the world and some even called the man the Ghost Cowboy after it. When asked for a deeper description of his eyes, the five year old paused in thought then replied, "Brown. Brown and some purple." This baffled reporters, but the girl had refused any suggestion that she might be mistaken, stubborn in ways only children can be.

The Ghost not only rescued people from demons, there were also reports of people being saved from criminals and rapists and all your basic alleyway scum. The vague description coincided with all the others; tall, dark haired, and quick in the night.

It was still controversial whether the man really was a hero, and it took the perspective of a homeless man to get it close. "He ain't no good guy or bad guy. He jus' hit what piss him off." This came from a person who had nothing to lose and no facet to uphold; quickly becoming the majority of the population.

People were poor and they were paranoid, and when they found something that could divert those facts from becoming all they were, they sunk their teeth and held on like a rottweiler.



~~



Gray, murky light reflected dully off the windows and filled the streets with a dirty but still quality. It always seemed gray, day or night. The half-demolished buildings and trash strewn through the streets brought even the sunniest day down to a half-hearted grayscale, and lights were always on at night, competing with the silence for the most depressing quality. He'd gotten used to the gray fast enough; vampires were creautes that adapt. Besides, he didn't exactly go out much during the day so he didn't mind the lack of vibrance, but the silence- the fucking silence...

Gone were the late night parties and strains of throbbing base from passing cars. The laughter and constant noise of teenagers out after bedtime? Vanished. Even the aggravating barking of dogs and the click-clicking of high heels had disappeared along with their barely-dressed girls flaunting from street corners. The city worked and lived in total silence during the night, and anyone forced to venture out while the sun was low was not keen on making much noise themselves. It was banned, anyways, due to the Curfew and you'd most likely get caught by the patrollers if you so much as thought about stepping out your door. The only others allowed out at this time were vampires, two at a time of course, and the Combatants.

There were certain sections of 'infected states' (states who had gotten the brunt of Keilan invasions) that were constant slaughter houses for demon attacks. The government had set up special attack forces that exterminated the demons in these towns or cities, mostly in California, Nevada, and the surrounding states. Anyone who lived in those areas was in danger, but the forces had narrowed down attacks a surprising percent, most of the Combatants being vampires with nothing left to fight. The areas in infected states were called Keilan Zones; K.Z.'s in the buildings and Kahzzi's on the streets.

There were two beeps from Spike's waist and he pulled up the Communicant. He scanned the tiny electronic map of the city and located where the red dot glowed vividly. He snapped it back on his belt. "Harper Street," he growled to Samson. The dark vampire nodded, turning quickly and pulling the gun off his belt. Spike did the same and they jogged quickly but silently down the street and around the corner. They arrived soon where the dot had indicated and ducked low behind the empty laundromat. Spike glanced around for Dan and Parks and finally paused his eyes on alley two away from his on the opposite side of the street. He could clearly see them crouched behind a dumpster.

Samson nudged him in the shoulder and gestured toward the large grocery store alley about 200 feet away. Spike nodded slowly and trained his expert eyes for any indication of movement. He needn't have tried so hard, as not two minutes after arriving, the metallic sound of an overturned garbage can sounded like an alarm in the silent streets. Spike snapped off the safety and cocked the gun, levelling it at the opening of the alley. He let himself shift into the demon; a luxury he was rarely allowed for humans tended to get nervous around it. The pungent smell of the acid-laced bullets assailed his senses and he fought to rid of it. The smell overpowered his scenting and sometimes even threw his off the target. Spike heard the clipping of claws on the concrete floor and his grip on the gun tightened and the gun would have broken it if they weren't proofed for vampire strength. They hadn't had an incident in days and Spike was full of piss and vinegar.

A few seconds of shuffling and then a low growling that sounded slightly birdlike reverberated low from the alley. Spike shifted forward, poking his outstretched arms with the gun around the corner and stepped slowly into the street. He could sense Samson follwing him and in his peripheral vision saw Dan and Parks doing the same. The growls subsided instantly and the snuffling was gone. Spike froze. The acrid aftertaste of ammonia hit him again and his twitched his nose in attempt to push it away. That damn smell would be forever imbedded in his brain and at the back of his throat as a handicap. Breaking his stare he looked to Samson, slender eyebrows drawn together. The vampire shook his head, barely perceptively, and they both glanced over at the other two, silently asking where the Keilan went. Dan and Parks were gone. Spike blinked. "Where'd-"

A thunderous screech roared behind them and Spike whipped around, bullets spewing from his gun. He stumbled backward as the huge form of the creature towered in the alley, musceled thighs contracting and retracting as it stormed toward them. The bullets tore through the demon's chest and spit up tiny splashes of blood, but otherwise doing nothing to slow its travel. To his right, Samson skittered back as the demon fixed its crimson eyes on him and its leathery lips pulled up to reveal rows of uneven jagged fangs. It's blunt beaklike nose was smeared with garbage and there was a scar running the length of its neck, signifying that it had seen a few of these fights and had returned relatively unharmed. The Keilan lunged forward and buried its teeth deep into Samson's shoulder, borrowed blood bubbling up to spill around its teeth and Spike heard the dry sound of the shoulder blade splintering. He aimed at the Keilan's eye and fired a round, keeping his arms balanced while stumbling backwards. The demon shreiked and pulled Samson off his feet, throwing him in an arc where he slammed into the wall, blood smearing into the scratchy bricks as he slid down into a heap at the ground.

The simple creature turned its head to Spike, murder plainly written in the one usuable eye it still had. The other hung limp and smashed from its socket onto its bony cheek. Spike dropped his gun, seeing a lost cause if there was ever one, and turned and ran. There was no shame in running, even for a vampire, from these slaughter machines and Spike pounded down the street, arms pumping and vampire speed aiding his adrenaline induced panic. He could feel the ground vibrate as the half-ton demon started after him. Spike suddenly wished he had something he could maybe pray to, but all he could think of was Dawn, and her timid smiling face burned painfully in his mind. His rapid fleeing brought him to an especially bad part of town and trash decorated the streets like absract art. Spike could feel the Keilan gaining despite his lead, and when the smell of ammonia hit him hard he blacked out for a moment and his foot clipped on some random piece of garbage.

For a few disorienting, terrifying moments Spike learned how it felt to fly. Then a blinding pain slammed into him and he hit the gravelly ground and skidded for a good fifteen feet on his head and left shoulder. He could feel the skin being pulled away and replaced with tiny rocks and a flood of liquid. Through the haze of pain and unconsiousness, Spike saw the shadowed outline of a large figure above him. Then he heard the thud of flesh on flesh and the figure flew out of his rapidly decreasing vision, though something hit his already wounded arm and giant bolts of electricity shattered his nerves. A welcome yet terrifying darkness settled in, something alien and foreign after the years of constant gray, and Spike spiraled away from his body.





Part Two



Vague objects and impressions swam before his senses. Some shapeless movement and the sensation of warmth accompanied brief flashes of intense pain that was almost enough to jar Spike to consiousness, but only lasted long enough to increase disorientation before he fell back, slowly drifting and lacking the lucidity to wonder why. Eventually coherent thought returned, though he could not point out at what point exactly it did. All he knew was that now he was lying with his back on something soft and his head hurt like a bitch. His mind scrambled to fill in the blanks as to how he had gotten here, but only a jumble of half-realized panic crowded to be analyzed first. An image suddenly blared loud and menacing in his throbbing head. A Keilan.

His eyes flew open and shut again as waves of nasaeu rocked through his body. The entire left side of his body burned fiercely and he could hear the roar of blood in his temples. His shoulder felt like it had been skinned raw and doused in salt...and what about- Oh god, his hair.

Spike's eyes flew open again and this time he forced to keep them like that. He attempted to lift his right hand and to feel his head but a paralyzing agony ripped through him and his arm felt a million times heavier than it should be. A sickening warmth traveled up Spike's spine and he leaned over and vomited over his right arm, his stomach emptying itself in shivering lurches until he was just dry heaving and his throat cracked. Feeling lighter in his body and his head, Spike slumped and his head lulled back to the rest drowsily.

When the water had cleared from his eyes and the explosions of pain had subsided to a dull roar, Spike peered cautiously at his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was that his chest was bare and the left side was bandaged with thick white strips. Although he couldn't feel much beside the burning sensation, he guessed his head would be bandaged too. But by whom? And where was he?

A warm blue blanket was tangled at his legs and he was lying on a sort of soft mattress that was placed on the ground next to a wall. The bed was directly under a window so, Spike guessed, the sun wouldn't be able to reach him. The rest of the room was oddly bare, with only a wooden nightstand and a door at the opposite wall, closed. The walls were creamy tan and the beige carpet was spotless. Gold lines embroidered the white panelling running above the carpet and a few slats of sunshine dawdled restlessly along the walls. And the smell...There was something maddeningly familiar about the smell that lingered around the plain room and it pricked his memory like he should know what it was.

Spike shifted slightly and even the tiny movement caused black spots to appear all over his vision and he reduced the scream he wanted to let out to a yelp.

I need blood.

Blood would cure his injuries; it'd take time what with the watered down crap they gave them these days but it would at least help beat down this pain. And how the fuck'd he get here anyways? It's not like Samson or Park's would've-

Spike saw teeth dig into Samson's shoulder and blood well up, bubbling and hot around them.

Oh. So not with Samson. He was still in his 'Bat trousers but he doubted any other officer would have brough him back to their own hole, just dump him off at the hospital. Spike licked his lips. They felt and tasted like sandpaper and his tongue was so dry it did nothing but get stuck.

He finally just decided that wherever he was it couldn't be too bad; they'd patched him up after all. Besides, the temptation of falling back into that weightless void outweighed any though he might have had about waiting for the place's owner to return. He closed his eyes and began falling.



~~



With the blanket tangled around his feet and his right arm pressed protectively against his bare chest, he couldn't decide if Spike looked more like a child or a homeless person. He'd let his hair grow out and the free strands were flung carelessly over closed eyes. It was darker than when he'd last seen it, an amber honeyed color that looked more natural than the shock white ever had.

The bandages stood out starkly against his pale body and half of his chest and head was wrapped up in them. A good amount of hair was hidden beneath the bandage and he knew Spike would have a fit when he realized it. Vampires and their hair.

The absence of movement was interrupted by a small twitch, followed by a small noise, and finally a small sliver of blue visible between the dark lashes. Spike's chest raised as he drew in a breath and every rib was clearly visible beneath the milky skin. Then his neck snapped up an inch straighter and the demon drew out hard behind the human features, snarling at the alien scent. Unfortuantely, due to his unhealed state, the changing face brought on another wave of gritty pain and Spike howled, fangs gnashing.

Spike heard a body drop down beside his and twisted his face away in a useless attempt to evade it though he was immobile and helpless on the floor.

"Hey, Spike," He stopped struggling at the words he could barely hear above the roaring in his head. "Stop fighting you motherfucker." Spike blinked in confusion and some amazement at the affectionate tone though he didn't recognize the voice. He gingerly turned his head and the sight only deepened his puzzlement until a moment of realization turned it to shock.

"...Harris?"

The large man beside him smiled gently and apprasingly, the corner of one lip turned up just a bit higher than the other in what would be called a lopsided grin if it could be called that on a person like this.

He was huge, to say the least. Not fat, quite the opposite, but the muscels on his arms looked like something found on a wrestling show. Bronze skin covered powerful biceps that seemed something closer so steele and merged seamlessly with a tight black shirt that barely restrained the massive chest. Spike couldn't detect an ounce of fat as his eyes traveled up and down the man's abdomen, and finally back up to meet slightly humoured eyes. Dark, dark hair spilled down in messy waves and melted into the shirt, leaving Spike no clue as to how long it really was.

Not only was the man massive in...muscle terms, he exuded height and strength and purpose. He was the kind of person who sucked all the importance from the room without meaning to and left you rattling on the ground with an echo of your petty previous thoughts. This- person smelled like confidance and acceptance and rain. Spike had nothing to say.

"I always have wondered what you'd look like speechless. The drool hanging from your lip is a nice touch, too."

Spike's jaw snapped shut. "Wh-...But your..." The man Harris? nodded understandingly, eyes flickering over Spike's bandages and for some reason he felt exposed in his prescence and under observation and tried to reach down for the blanket. A hand stopped him with a push back down on his chest and- Harris? reached down and pulled the blanket up to him. "You can't move. you'll only hurt yourself worse."

Spike continued to stare.

"Can't say I've heard anyone call me 'Harris' for a while." The man stated casually, as if discussing a football game they'd both just watched. Then he frowned at the lack of facial movement in Spike's vicinity. "Are you okay? Do you need some more painkillers?"

Spike shook his head dumbly. "You're dead." He stated clearly and articulately, defying his crashed and crumpled train of thoughts.

"Actually, I'm very much alive." The man stood up as if to prove it. "Although I won't be able to say the same for you if I don't get you some blood."

Spike almost called after him as he left the room carrying the small amount of Spike's sanity with him. The door clicked shut and the vampire wondered if he just had a hallucination. Or an illusion. Or a mirage, or whatever they're fucking called. His head burned sourly with the added thoughts and he imagined that some brain matter had probably leaked out on his little tumble.

After convincing himself that he was just delusional and had settled back down, the door swung open again and the man walked in with two warm mugs of blood in one hand. Without a word he sat next to Spike, then said quietly, "You can't drink these too quickly or it'll just come back up." Spike recognized the tone as the one he used for luring victims out of their hiding places once a demon or robber had torn through. He barely nodded.

The man slowly raised the cup to Spike's mouth and as the vampire leaned forward to catch it, the man's scent washed over him again. It was achingly familiar, rain and warm sheets and vanilla, and made him think of basements and laughter. But there was another smell just beneath, something foreign and bitter that made his mouth hurt like touching your tongue to metal and made the hairs at the nape of his neck stand at attention like well-trained soldiers.

The first sip of blood, warm and rich and coppery and defintely not pig's blood started a tingle at the base of his spine and he fought to restrain the demon. The man fed him the rest of the blood, slowly with intervals between sips to make sure it stayed down. By the end of the second cup, Spike was feeling decidedly more satisfied and lucid.

The man smiled gently when Spike's eyelids began to droop and started to stand. "Wait." Spike's voice was rough and scratched his throat on its way out. Dark concerned eyes focused on him and with yet another shock he realized the eyes weren't brown. They were dark and seemed brown form a glance but in this light they seemed to have sort of a...violet quality. Like a sheen placed just in front of the eye as a shield. He told himself he was just seeing things.

"You're really...Xander?" Even the name didn't agree with the man who floated silently above the floor like a ghost despite his size and smiled with sadness in his strange eyes.

"I don't know if I'm Xander exactly." Shadows gathered in the hollows of his face and Spike realized it was night and he had no idea how many days and nights he'd been here. "I was Xander with my friends and Alex with my parents, but when I lost both I didn't have any letters left to make even the shortest nickname." Another sad smile obscured by the darkness. "But now I do have a friend back, so I guess you can call me Xander if you want." Xander left the room without a sound save the clicking of the door and Spike was suddenly grateful for the lack of furniture in the room as it would have felt far too crowded with anything but Xander in it. He took up all the space you needed for thought and the rest drifted lazily out of reach until that click dropped it back into place. A wave of exhaustion and numbness spreading in his aching side told Spike that there had been something else in that blood that he hadn't noticed in his hunger. Exhasution folded over him and kept him silent and dreamless the entire night.



~~



The next day or night or afternoon came slowly with a heady fog of disorientation that narrowed down to one thing when a mug of warm blood rested on his lip. He deliberately tasted the bitter taste of added painkillers in it this time but was grateful for the necessary numbness and drowsiness they provided him as he rested his head back and went to sleep.

The large man accompanied every journey out of the comfortable darkness and Spike grew used to a warm hand gently cupping his jaw and scooping up his dribbled blood with a finger.

That's Xander, that is.

Xander? No, that can't be him. Xander was a git. A brave git, but a git all the same.

Xander was packed away with those memories that had acquired a layer of dust and were blocked partially by the mounds of bodies and piles of old newspapers that never got thrown away in his mind. Xander didn't belong in this new phase of Spike where the only remaining history from that sunny strangled past was a young woman with dishwater brown hair that could turn tears into laughter with a timid smile and a gentle hug. Every other menial activity in this diluted world focused on that smile and the rest he pushed far away where nobody bothered to look anymore.

Xander didn't belong here and Spike wasn't sure what he would do if his system was interrupted by a person he had left behind with every other possesion he'd owned and every other friend he'd wanted.

Full consiousness finally returned, as it unfortunately must always do, and Spike woke to find the shadows on his wall pale peach. Peach meant morning and Spike wasn't used to mornings. He didn't know what to do. He was saved from making any decision by
the door swinging open and Xander striding in with his usual double dose of blood. "Awake I see." It wasn't a question but Spike felt inclined to answer, as he usually did when Xander was in the room.

"Feel better," he murmured smoothing out the wrinkles in the blanket with his right hand.

"Well that's good."

Spike drank both mugs and noted that Xander's eyes did indeed look violet in this lighting just as they had in the dark.

Probably from being exposed to the radiation. After the portal had closen there was still enough energy being knocked around to cause problems like birth defects and slight deformities, which only gave people more reason to flee.

Xander sat back and watched Spike with an open expression that was neither expecting nor prompting. The vampire found it slightly disconcerting and opted for a question. "What happened?"

Xander raised a brow. "You don't remember? You were fighting a Keilan and...fell." He gestured pointlessly at the bandages then paused as if contemplating whether or not to tell him more. Xander finally sighed and said softly, "You also got stung."

Spike felt a bolt of terror jolt through him before supressing it with a deep breath and shoving down the panicked thoughts that jumped to mind.

Stung?! What if I got the virus thing!

Technically it wasn't a virus but doctors had no other words for it along with no cure and the best they could offer was that it was a type of slowly-killing illness that also affected demons, namely vampires. It was only contracted by the sting of a Keilan's tail and not contagious otherwise, so people who played it safe would remain so.

"You're...sure? That I was stung?"

Xander nodded and contemplated the ground with concerned half-glances back up at Spike. "But I'm not sure if you got the disease. I knocked the demon out of the way before it could hit you too badly."

Well that's a relief. At least I still have a- wait. Harris knocked the seven foor high Keilan out of the way?

Spike glared in disbelief and suspision. "You knocked the Keilan out of the way?"

Xander's mouth became a firm line and Spike suddenly felt like he had taunted the guard dog only to find that his leash was unnatatched.

"I've changed, Spike. We all have. I'm not the same teenage boy you knew."

Spike watched Xander stalk graciously out the door but leave it open a few inches, tan skin flashing over well-developed muscles and waves of dark hair flowing out behind him.

I can see that.

Spike bit back the boxes full of questions and buckets full of fears he had stored up behind his wall of medication-induced calmness built up over the past days, and subconciously wondered if there was some connection between Xander's newly acquired battle skills and a few strange rescue reports he'd overheard down at the station. He wondered where the hell he was and when he'd have the courage to ask Xander. He wondered how the bloody fuck had the boy survived the Tear and become the person he was today.

Spike busily planned out his next brief Q&A session with Xander and worried about his hair.





Part Three



Over the next few days Spike gathered information like apples, picking only the fullest most promising issues and severing them from their holder with a well-placed question. A few times he caught a straight answer, sometimes he only got a partial taste, but more often than not he missed the stem by a mile. Without any other form of entertainment besides his own mind, Spike had nothing better to do than bother Xander.

Spike took a bite out of the fruit he'd been poetically compared his troubles to the entire day.

But despite the nagging and sarcasm, he really was concerned. This was not the laughing annoying git he knew so well and Spike found himself desperately looking for similarities between the two Xanders he had. An eye roll or telltale grin were the only deciding factors he had yet to find, and the enormity of change amazed him. And bothered him.

He was quiet. He was contemplative. He was considering. He worked over a question in his mind before deciding whether or not to answer, and even if he chose to answer the response would be vague and slightly cryptic, wandering just in the realm of a response but never giving direct acknowledgement. It annoyed the hell out of Spike.

The vampire tried everything he could to get Xander to yell at him, underrate him, or insult him with more than a solitary clever quip, but the man refused to rise to the challenge and eluded the setups with a gentle head shake or a "Do you need some more blood?"

Spike never asked where Xander disappeared to most nights, or why dark bruises sometimes patchworked his heavy arms. He wasn't sure he wasnted to know.

Spike found himself missing the banter and self-deprecating humour that the boy had provided with an endless supply. This new violet-eyed quiet man...Well, Spike didn't know him.



~~



"This room is really starting to get old. I've begun dreaming about miles and miles of sand. Quite boring and vamps aren't really made for desert terrain, yeah?"

Xander twisted the mug in his hands, fingers tracing the smooth mouth. "Yeah, I can see you could use a change of scenery." Xander could hear the indignant 'I'm not a soddin' pet' grumble in the back of his mind but surprisingly Spike stopped before the comments hit the air. He felt inclined to continue. "Got a nice bed-"

"No!" Spike sat up. "No more bloody beds. I'll settle for a couch, chair, a ruddy floor before bein' strapped to another fucking bed!" Spike threw his blanket off him as if it had suddenly offended him but snatched it back up faster than Xander could say 'security blanket.' The vampire had yet to unglue the frayed blue fabric from his body.

"Okay, okay," Xander held up a hand. "But I only meant to sleep in. You've graduated to couch for the daytime."

Spike grumbled and fidgeted with his bandages but helped slide into Xander's arms when he reached over. Spike wished he was strong enough to walk and not have to go through this whole awkward ordeal. He hadn't even made it out of this room yet and was eager to see the rest of the house...or whatever they were in. Xander had said they were still in southern California but apparently he wasn't generous with specifics these days.

Spike gripped a broad shoulder with his right arm and pushed his left protectively into his chest despite the sling holding it in place. His nose filled with the smell of crisp sheets and sun-baked skin and warmth seeped through the thin shirt into his bare chest. For a moment he wasn't sure what to do with his useless legs but Xander solved that problem by dipping his other arm under the knees and getting to his feet. Xander quickly began walking before Spike could make any comment about being carried like a girl.


~~


Spike gritted his teeth.

Great.


~~


"You have...big...arms..."

"All the better to carry you with, my dear."


~~


Xander set Spike down on a worn leather couch facing a large set of windows. Oh fuck, no TV. He slid and scrambled until he was comfortable with his head at one end and feet dangling off the other. The leather was smooth and cool under him and he immediately liked it, stretching out his full length to enjoy it all. Xander just smiled and said, "I'm sorry I don't have a TV. Got music though."

Spike raised a brow. "Since when do you have music? Your musical vocablary consisted of cartoon theme songs and Hostess jingles last time I 'eard."

Xander grinned and tipped his head to the side in what might be called a shrug. "Gives me something to focus on."

Spike wanted to ask what he meant but knew he wouldn't get an answer save a knowing shake of head or another godawful smile. The smiles Xander demonstrated these days were so fake Spike half expected to find a Made in Taiwan sticker on the back of his head.

The vampire soaked in the soft leather and warmth of the room as Xander retreated into other unknown depths of the room. He was feeling good today and planned on convincing Xander to let him take a shower and even inspect his hair. But first he would get him to answer some questions. Right after he recharged a little. "Hey, Xan," Spike mumbled into the couch. "Think y'could get m'blanket?"


~~


"So." Xander looked up from his sandwich. "You have purple eyes."

The eyes in question blinked.

Spike took a sip of lukewarm blood.

"Yes I do."

The vampire let out a pained sigh. "I seem to remember perfectly brown eyes the last time I saw you."

"Well, the last time I saw you you were using my toothbrush. And you had a shirt on."

"My bare chest distractin' you then?" Spike teased.

"Oh no, it gives me something to look at." One side of Xander's mouth quirked as Spike blinked twice in rapid succesion.

Wow, not even a blush. Is this really the whelp?

"But it wouldn't hurt to gain a bit of bulk." Xander critically eyed the almost obscenely protruding ribs as Spike squirmed under the inspection.

"Anyways," Spike cleared his throat and wondered why the previous statement had caused it to tighten. "I asked about your eyes."

"No you didn't."

"That's not the soddin' point!" Spike slammed his mug down on the table and drops of blood flew into the air. "The point is I suddenly wake up with half my skin peeled off and feelin' like my head was through a cheese grater and there's this fucking muscle- person guy taking care of me who claims he's Xander Soddin' Harris with big arms and purple fucking eyes!"

Spike fell back into his chair having leaned forward almost face to face with Xander during his rant. The borrowed blood thrummed in his veins in a way he had so dearly missed after days of bed and now couch confinement. Xander for his part just managed to look mildly surprised and even amused, which only added to the fire twisting through Spike.

"It's not as mysterious as you might-"

"I don't fucking care!" Spike was on a roll now and he didn't intend to stop any time soon. "Who died and made you a big man, anyways?"

Xander's eyes hardened and a chill went through Spike and dampened the fire to a few sputtering embers. The wooden chair scraped loudly as Xander stood. Spike could see little spiderwebs appearing in the glass Xander gripped tightly in his hand and half-prepared himself for a shatter or a punch.

"A lot of people."

The fire and ice swept out of the room on a breeze and Xander fixed a tight if not menacing smile at the unconsciously cowering vampire. "Do you want some more blood?"

He pushed across his mug. "Yeah I could go for some, pet."


~~


Things were quiet and almost comfortable and Xander knew it was coming. He'd known all along obviously, Spike and his damn curiousity and damn hair, and it shouldn't have made him so mad before becuase Spike was- Spike and he should expect nothing less than low comments and below-the-belt punches. Even though, it had still hurt.

But the pain was like picking a scab, annoying and disheartening for a moment because it had taken so long for the wound to close, but every time you accidentally scraped it the pain took less and less time to leave until there was nothing left but an ugly scar enclosing some bad memories.

"It was about a day after the Tear."

Spike raised his eyes from the magazine he was absently flipping through. He saw that Xander planned to continue and softly closed the magazine and set it beside him as if not to throw Xander off his decision.

"It was that crazy time, y'know, where you couldn't open your door without half a body falling in. I had just gotten back into town from LA. Remember, I was of course the chosen one to retrieve the spell book?" Spike silently nodded. "Anyways, I'm driving into town and notice there is like, absolutely no one on the streets except for the massive line pushing out of the city. I had been driving all night and wasn't listening to the radio so I had no idea about...anything."

Xander's voice was rough and his sentences halting and awkward. Spike nodded every so often to encourage him to go on but Xander seemed to have no intent of stopping. Spike could tell he hadn't recited this story to anyone else by the raw emotion behind the shielded words and it gave him a strange twinge of pride to know he was the first. He just hoped it wouldn't be too painful for either of them.

"So I drive into town and there's this low hum, like a hive of bees or a motor. I can't really tell what it is and I open the window to find out, you never know if it might be a demon or something. Suddenly I notice that there are people running, like, everywhere. I mean the streets are crawling the further into the city I go and there's blood in puddles on the sidewalks and running down the drain, just all over. I'm panicking and wonder if I should get out of the car to help them when this lady runs up screaming her head off and pounding on the window to let her in and I open the door to ask what the hell is going on and let her in when there's this-"

He waves a hand as if feeling for the right word. His sentences are flowing freely now and even stumbling over each other in their attempt to get out.

"-explosion. I mean it wasn't really but that's what it sounded like and what it felt like and the next thing I know the car, the fucking car, is closing in and pressing down on me. I feel the steering wheel pushing into my side and I think I was bleeding but I can't remember and I look up to see if the lady is alright and she's standing there, screaming of course, and then she's just- gone."

Spike could hear Xander's strong heart racing and hoped the rage the man had unconsciously stored up behind a wall of compliance didn't take this moment to bash through. He really did not want to be in the same room, or even building, when it chose to.

"And then there's this rocking and crash like something heavy jumped off the car and then I'm staring this thing with red eyes and teeth and looks like a fucking dinosaur in the face. I'm pretty sure I was screaming by then too, but I don't remember that either. Then the demon pushes its head through the door I so stupidly opened and just- sinks its teeth into my shoulder." A hand came up to clutch the shoulder as if the remembered pain had become physical, and for all Spike knew it had.

"And it's trying to drag me out and I'm just- it just hurts so bad but the steering wheel is holding me in place so it can't- couldn't drag me out." The rough voice had gone smooth and now turned to a scratchy whisper. Spike found himself hanging on every word and caught up in as much fear as Xander was in now, desperate to hear a happy ending, though, seeing who he was facing presently, not expecting one.

"It finally gave up. I think I may have passed out but the next thing I knew I was lying with my head on the crumpled dash and blood was- everywhere. Someone was trying to yank me out, amazing considering the number of dead and dying on the street that day...and all the following ones. But I did get out eventually, and went to the hospital. But as soon as they had fixed me up I was on my feet and out the door. There was just no room."

Xander leaned back and loosened his grip on his shoulder. He felt relaxed, somehow. Relieved, as if he'd finished heavy exersice. The only think he could compare it to were those few weightless boneless moments after climax. But the story itself wasn't over.

"I checked my apartment. Wrecked. Checked Buffy's house. Demolished. Willow's, Anya's, even your crypt, crushed and abandoned." Spike felt a type of wonder creeping on when he realized Xander had cared about him, too. "So I went to the Magick Box, out of sheer panic and desperation. Wiped clean, but still intact. I heard people screaming nearby and hid in the basement and the demons didn't find me. That's what the hum was, by the way, when I drove into town. The combined noise of everyone in the city screaming. I still hear it in my sleep."

Spike didn't comment at the last confession but thought of his own dreams of blood-soaked blonde hair and endless terrible screaming.

"But they didn't get me," He said with a note of wonder. "Still haven't."

Xander smiled and a chuckle escaped him. The smile was open and soft and contained the essential ingredient all his previous had lacked. Happiness. And, like every time he'd seen that smile on a boy who resembled this man, Spike smiled back.


~~


Xander dreamed about Willow that night. He'd done it often before and the dreams always turned from joyful into horrific as a monster ripped the redhead limb from limb and Xander could do nothing but watch as blood splattered his face and as his friend fought back.

She always fought in his dreams. His Willow, she was like a bullet. Seemingly small and harmless, but when you put some force behind her... She could fly. And she could cause pain in ways no one so cute should be able to, whether she meant to or not.

But tonight, Xander didn't dream about piercing screams and struggling limbs. He dreamed about a time when he and Willow were playing in the sandbox at kindergarten and some bigger kid had stepped on their sandcastle. Willow had burst into tears and it had scared Xander so much that he hugged her and wouldn't let go until she promised she wouldn't cry anymore. Xander then vowed that he would never let anyone make her cry and she had smiled all pretty under the tears. Then they built back the sandcastle bigger and better than before and the teacher had smiled at it.

Xander felt wet tracks on his cheeks when he woke during the night on the couch, but the reason behind them had changed from all the other times he woken the same way. And when the loneliness cracked hard into his chest, Spike didn't even comment when he snuggled up behind him in the soft bed although he was very much awake. He just pulled the blue blanket tighter and warmer around both of them and snuggled right back.





Part Four



The lower tones of gray slid into the city like a shielding fog and fuzzed the alleyways to mere suggestions of a shadow. Like every previous night and each one that would follow, silence shifted in just as unsuspectingly and settled down for the dragging night. A slight drizzle dampened the sidewalks and drove a comforting pitter-patter rhythm into the balmy air, fitting into the downtown scene as perfectly as it could. Abandoned streets lined by abandoned sidewalks complimented the abandoned buildings jutting high, if not menacingly, into gray sky. The few trees that resided reluctantly in the even fewer patches of browning grass ruffled quietly as if trying not to disturb the harmless scene they fearfully presented.

Footfalls that refused to echo clipped softly down the cracked and veined street and the shadow looming behind them gave the man it trailed a cartoonishly huge quality. The vertical, colored version on the shadow contrasted sharply with the stationary objects filling the melancholy city, but still managed to correspond by exhibiting the surrounding colors of black, gray, black, and gray gray gray. The only opposing hues were two pinpricks of violent violet.

Xander matched the mantra in his head with the crooked street sign and slowed until he stood beneath a gray-yellow stoplight parting the street into four identical intersecting paths. He slid onto the sidewalk and leaned so his back hit the rough brick wall, allowing him to see everything on all sides yet fade out of sight himself into the irrelevant shadows. He subconsciously fingered the cool metal slung in his back belt loop, fingers gliding back and forth as he waited and watched.

Minutes ground away sluggishly yet Xander didn’t budge an inch, save the rerouting finger on the slowly warming metal. Somewhere far away a dog barked loudly, causing no reaction from the waiting man, but obviously from its owner who shushed it instantly or tugged it inside. A pale gray moon winked teasingly from its paramount view of the slumbering city, partially hidden by a billboard advertising cleaning products. The handful of visible stars stared either longingly or reproachfully at the scene below, and the others masked in strips of fog were either lucky or unfortunate that they couldn’t see it at all.

A rumble that was more felt than heard sounded once along the street and the roving finger stilled. More silent filled moments dragged by, then another, slightly closer, rumble vibrated the chalky bricks Xander’s back pressed against. The finger joined four others and curled around the metal shaft, lukewarm from the friction of being rubbed. Once more, after a period filled with gentle rustles and monotonous drizzles, a growl provoked the silence and the slick metal glided out of the constricting fabric and into the air with a sheen of dull silver, which is really only a fancy name for gray.

Peaking recklessly over the smudged line where street met sky, a spoiled auburn crown dipped back and forth until the entire bizarre head swung into visibility. Vivid red eyes burned with unintelligence and primitive hunger as the rest of the body lumbered carelessly down the street. It paused.

Xander didn’t move, and the axe hung parallel to the ground in the most casual way an axe could hang, if there is such a thing.

The demon inhaled with a snuffling breath and exhaled greedily, large and suddenly interested eyes traveling down the street and rummaging through the shadows for the source of the delicious smell.

Xander sighed, bored.

The creature lowered its head from its hunched neck and the bulging haunches exploded into action as the demon sprung forward, tiny arms held ridiculously in front of it and eager claws grabbing at the air.

Xander chewed a fingernail and counted bricks.

Keilan strength caused the street to shiver with every connection the clawed feet made with it, but the air remained as stationary as a train without an engine.

Xander wondered if he should get Spike more blood. Human was hard to come by these days and he needed to stock up in case he couldn’t find any in the future.

Blue feathers raised at the base of the demon’s head and shoulders as it pulled back leathery lips to reveal rows of knife-like disproportioned teeth. A fetid bloody smell gushed from the open mouth and it neared its destination; the ripe luscious torso of the thick body in front of him.

Before the teeth could meet skin, however, metal did. Slicing cleanly through rough flesh, the acid-lined edge bit through muscle and tendons, instantly sizzling the surrounding tissue until it passed through to knock bone. Xander withdrew the blade with little difficult, blood nicely slicked the path out, and hacked once more into the creature through the chest, shattering thick bones and tearing internal organs with ease.

The agonized shriek that tore from the wide mouth was horrendous and annoyed Xander as he wiped the delicate splatters of blood from his hand. He turned and walked silently but quickly through a nearby alley, leaving the tortured lacerated creature staggering to its knobby knees and eventually crashing to its side.

Xander decided he’d get Spike more blood tomorrow; he was too eager to get home and talk to him now.

He never saw the single bright flash of light from the opposite alley or heard the hushed click buried under the screams of the dying Keilan. But even if he did he probably wouldn’t have worried that much. All he thought about was an injured blonde vampire lately.


~~


Spike dozed on the soft leather couch, half waiting for Xander to return and half trying to convince himself that he didn’t care one way or another.

I’ll have to ask him about this so-called music collection.

He’d been rather bored the past few days, nagging Xander more than usual and in return getting more wan smiles and patient avoidances. Since the narrative from the other night, Xander wasn’t exactly in a communicative phase. In other words, his vocabulary consisted of “Okay” and “Don’t you dare spill blood on my couch.”

Spike felt he could recount every detail of the room the couch was in, presumably the main room, with his eyes closed and had actually tried it once or twice when the boredom became too overwhelming. Xander had also refused him any rights to a shower or bath, saying that his wounds had to be sealed enough to remove the bandages. Spike had thrown a book at him and Xander had thrown back one of his rare glares.

The creak of a door shifted the room into clearer focus for the dozing vampire and he adjusted himself into a more sitting less slumped position.

“Have fun at the playground?” Spike called, rubbing the unbandaged side of his head then scratching under the white strips.

“Loads,” Xander replied and shrugged off his thick black coat.

He must’ve been sweating like a pig.

“How you feelin’?” Xander kicked off his boots and a wave of sweat barely masking blood drifted toward Spike who took this with some surprise and a lot of consideration. The question itself slipped out of Spike’s mind instantly; Xander always asked how he was doing. Then the vampire remembered what he’d been meaning to show him and looked up eagerly and a bit proudly.

“Actually, learned a new trick.”

Xander glanced up with an eyebrow cocked and waited.

Spike slid his legs out from under him and settled them firmly on the ground. Taking his right hand and placing it on the couch for support and leverage, he then swung his injured side out above the floor. His legs unfolded shakily as his weight was slowly distributed on them, muscles moaning and a few screaming, but Spike determinedly pushed the majority of his weight above them and stood. One hand still rested firmly on the couch, but still. He was fucking standing.

Xander had unconsciously taken a step forward when he had seen Spike attempt to stand, but now seeing him relatively stable and on his own feet he felt a burst of strange pride and accomplishment, as if it was himself standing after being so terribly hurt.

Spike saw Xander smile and knew the hours of pain and whimpering were so worth it. He attempted a bow to complete the act, but failed miserably and ended up staggering backwards with his legs singing with pain. Xander was there in a flash, grabbing Spike before his ass could even hit the carpet. He cradled the vampire protectively in strong arms and let out a breath as Spike sucked in a few unnecessary ones.

Blonde strands fell into Spike’s eyes, long and darker at the roots from missed bleachings. Xander brushed them away and the piercing blue eyes he uncovered blinked up into his. Then Xander felt lonely, and it hit him harder than it usually did. Probably because he wasn’t alone, and he suddenly he wished he was closer to Spike because he was tired of talking to no one. A wandering finger traced the scar splitting a blonde eyebrow and Xander made up his mind.

Spike stared up at Xander, something he’d grown used to during the first months he’d lived with him in his basement back in Sunnydale. He’d imagined himself in this same position often during that time, but his legs weren’t usually begging for an amputation in his fantasies. And the eyes staring into his were the color of melted chocolate, not fresh bruises. He’d abandoned those daydreams anyways. He knew a lost cause when he saw one.

Xander spoke softly, something that surprised Spike coming from all those muscles and dark hues. “That was amazing. But I bet the end part hurt. How about a warm bath.”

It wasn’t exactly a question but Spike nodded mutely, afraid to open his mouth and let his coarse accent and awkward words ruin the moment. Xander pulled Spike up to his chest and carried him, again like a bride by her groom


~~


Spike smiled.

Great.


~~


Xander lied when he said a warm bath. The water was practically boiling.

Spike was a happy vampire.

Xander helped him out of shirt he’d borrowed; his smallest, yet it pooled around Spike’s thin chest where it was used to encountering thick muscle. Then was the hard part. Xander wasn’t sure exactly which way would cause the least pain, but Spike seemed dead set on just ripping the bandages off.

“You’ll just hurt yourself more,” Xander told him and he reluctantly settled down and braced himself. The first layer was easy to get off. Xander peeled off the tape and unwrapped it, like he did when Spike was drugged asleep and he had to change the bandages. He hadn’t had to do it very often, vampire healing and all, but he’d made sure Spike would feel absolutely nothing during the transition when he did.

The second layer was a bit more difficult. It touched the skin in some places, but Spike managed not to flinch when it was peeled away and revealed to fresh air. Xander was working on his chest first, so at least he didn’t have to keep his head still yet. The third and final layer hurt like a bitch. Every inch burned as it was uncovered, and by the time his entire chest was bare Spike was sincerely reconsidering this whole bath thing. Seriously, bathing? Overrated.

“Don’t worry, it’ll get better.”

Yeah, when you buy me a new coat of skin.

But it did. Eventually the burning ceased and left him with a weird exposed feeling but only a faint reminisce of pain. The place where the skin had all but rubbed off was still raw and angry red, but it appeared to be starting to heal and some of the edges were already budding with new skin. Gotta love that vampire healing time, even if it was slowed by the Keilan’s irregular poison.

“Think maybe you could just leave the head one on?” Spike asked with a bit of hope and a lot of dread. He wasn’t looking forward to having a head full of needles.

“Oh, come on. Your head wasn’t hurt as bad as your chest. And besides, I thought you wanted to see your hair.” Xander rubbed a soothing circle onto Spike’s naked back, carefully avoiding the raw parts. Spike leaned into the warm touch and roughened hands and grudgingly accepted the fact that he’d have to unwrap his head.

Think of the hair.

Xander slowly peeled back the first layer, carefully separating the white cloth from the other cloth, and unwound it. The second layer provoked a whimper and Xander placed a hand on his shoulder, kneading and stroking until the sounds ceased. Xander stripped the last layer away without warning and faster than the previous and Spike yelped loudly and vamped out, fang piercing his bottom lip and causing twin trails of blood down his chin.

“Shh, it’s okay,” Xander murmured into his ear and gripped the shoulder firmly, pulling the shaking vampire into his chest.

“Fuck-” He said brokenly. Spike drew in deep breaths until his head stopped throbbing and eventually left him with just a humming ache. “Can I-” Spike cleared his throat and carefully shook off the demon. “Can I see my hair?”

Xander seeped dread and a bit of shock. He hadn’t redone the head bandages and was seeing it unwrapped for the first time. He gulped and shook his head, realized Spike couldn’t see him, and replied, “Um, how about you take the bath first? Get it clean and all.”

Spike paused then nodded. “Yeah, wanna see it in the best condition.”

Xander suppressed another gulp. “Uh, okay, then. Let’s go.” He raised Spike into the air and he let out a very unvampire-like squeal. Xander laughed and could practically feel Spike scowling at him even when staring at the back of his fully-healed head.

“’Kay. Pants.”

Xander balanced Spike on his feet and waited a moment to make sure he’d stay up, then let his hands slide away and quickly moved in front of him. Xander paused awkwardly, wondering how to do this with the least amount of- well, more awkwardness. Spike tilted slightly on his feet and grabbed Xander’s shoulders for support. Leaving Xander’s hands free.

“Okay,” he mumbled, reaching forward and unzipping the borrowed jeans. But his hands had suddenly become clumsy and too big for the zipper and it slid out of his grip as he fumbled with it.

“Xan, you act like you’ve never undone a bloke’s pants b’fore.” Xander practically growled at the sneer in his voice but restrained himself.

“Well, I’m sorry if I don’t have as much experience with it as you.”

Spike kneed him in the groin. “Ow!” Xander finally undid the button and grasped the zipped and managed to yank it down, leaving Spike open with, of course, nothing underneath. Xander hadn’t given him any underwear to borrow, not having any himself. He cleared his throat and looked everywhere but in front of him, pulling the sides of Spike’s pants down until he had to get to his knees and pull them off.

Spike then had to lean forward to keep his grip on Xander’s shoulders, and all in all it made for a very alarming picture with Xander on his knees in front of a very naked Spike whose hands were twisted in the cloth of Xander’s shirt.

Of course it made it all the more alarming when a knock punctured the silence. Xander was startled to his feet, which caused Spike to lose his grip and fall back, only to be caught by a defending arm. Xander stared down at Spike and quickly picked him up again and dropped him into the water, ignoring the howls as raw skin met boiling heat and rushed out the door.

There were only two people that visited Xander and one of them was presently out of the dimension so he wasn’t surprised when he swung open the door to see a disheveled ex-Watcher standing behind it. “Xander, I-”

“Get in.”

Wesley blinked but obediently stepped through the doorway then stumbled toward the couch as Xander pushed him. “Wait.”

Xander rushed back to the bathroom while Wes stood in confusion. Spike hissed at him from the tub and appeared about to make some lewd comment but Xander silenced him by splashing some water over his head.

Wesley blinked at the door in concern when he heard the strangled cry rip from it. He decided to follow Xander’s order and quickly sat on the couch. A soft blue blanket was crumpled at one end and he reached for it to cover his legs.

“What the fuck--”

*Splash*

“AH!”

Xander vigorously scrubbed his back.

“STOP it!”

Xander glared at him but stopped.

“What are you doing?”

Xander sighed. “Can we just get this over with?”

“Not like that, we can’t!” Spike growled, gingerly cupping his left arm. Xander slumped against the side of the tub. “I’m sorry,” he sighed.

“Yeah, well, how ‘bout you just...clean me. Softly!” Spike wondered at the absurdity his life had become based on that last sentence. Xander complied, and soon Spike was clean and his hair shampooed. He refused to let Spike wash his own hair though, and softly massaged the shampoo in with comforting strokes that left Spike purring. Once all bubbles were washed off, the water draining, and Spike was wrapped in a fluffy towel (blue, because he insisted), Xander finally allowed him to look in the mirror.

“Took you long enough,” the vampire grumbled. Since vamps were outed to the world, scientists had been in a frenzy and developed a number of new devices including a type of mirror that reflects vampire images. Used some type of light refraction thing; Spike hadn’t really paid attention to the specifics.

Xander positioned Spike in front of the mirror with a knot in his stomach, muttered something, and disappeared out the door. Spike stared in shock at the face that stared in shock back at him.

“Oh, God,” he wailed, “my hair!”

The entire left side of his head was practically bald, save a thin layer of peach-like blonde fuzz. The right side was still terribly intact, long, and silky, dropping to curl over his ear and get in his eyes. Spike gasped in a breath and held it. He looked like a punk band reject. Even more than he already had.

He let the breath out with a shuddery sob. And made a decision. “XANDER!”


~~


Xander held the razor in his right hand and nervously fingered the button. “You’re absolutely sure?”

Spike nodded. “Can’t very well go on looking like this.”

Xander sighed and moved his hand to Spike’s long strands. He loved the silky texture free of gel and the color free of bleach. “All right.”

Spike screwed his eyes shut as he heard the electric razor start. He just couldn’t watch.


~~


Xander rubbed a hand over Spike’s head in awe.

“Are you done?” the vampire asked, voice broken with misery.

“Yeah,” Xander breathed.

Spike slowly opened a cautious eye and peeked into the mirror. His imaginary breath caught yet again. Fine blonde fuzz covered his entire head and made him look like one of the criminals he put away so often in his job as a ‘Bat. The radical change accentuated his sharp cheekbones and made his eyes an even chillier blue than before. Spike’s jaw hung in shock. He looked...Bad Ass.

He glanced up in the mirror at Xander to see his reaction and saw another slack jaw, but in those dark confusing eyes, blazing heat. He blinked and drew in another breath, hardening instantly under that stare.

Xander shook himself and rubbed his hand again over Spike’s head. It felt even softer without the stringiness of long hair and tickled his hand. Spike grinned. “I look-”

“Bad Ass.”

They both chuckled.

Xander finally ripped himself away from Spike’s head and stumbled out the door.


~~


“You can stay on the couch. Fix yourself something if your hungry.” He threw a pillow and blankets at Wesley where he awkwardly caught them. “Is everything-”

“Everything’s fine.” Xander disappeared behind the door and reappeared with a wet, shaved vampire in his arms. “Everything’s great.” He said and vanished into a hallway. Wesley stared after them for a moment but finally set down his pillow and covered himself with the blue blanket. Xander came in after a moment and pulled it off him, then rushed out of the room.


~~


“Like I told you, it’s not as mysterious as you think.”

Spike shrugged. “So you don’t know why?”

“Probably just some side effect of the Keilan bite. I mean, it happened gradually, like my hair growing. One day I wake up and it’s halfway to my shoulders. And I have purple eyes.”

Spike grinned and reached out to touch his dark waves. Xander smiled under the soft touch and in turn stroked the shaved head. He still couldn’t get used to the feeling. “Well, we could rub each others heads all night” blushes on both sides “or we can get to sleep.”

They separated and tucked the blue blanket over them, repeating the pattern they’d made nights before when Xander had first crawled into the bed with Spike, and hadn’t left since.

In the other room, Wesley stared in confusion up at the ceiling and wondered where Xander had found another blonde vampire that looked so similar to Spike.





Part Five



Spike woke as the smell of blood tickled his nose. He twitched and mumbled meaninglessly into the pillow, pulling his arm over the cool sheets closer to his chest. He felt the bandages on his chest crinkle at the movement and turned his head on its side. Blood slammed into his senses and his eyes flew open as he jerked abruptly to a sitting position. He blinked into the raw gray of dawn and peered around with blinking sleep-fuzzed eyes. When his mind cleared enough for him to comprehend the smell, Spike immediately turned to Xander, panic pounding through his veins.

Xander sprawled peacefully, taking up a good half the bed with his legs thrust half-in half-out the covers and one bent at the knee. His head tucked neatly into the pillow and messy dark curls fanned around the sheets. Slow breaths emanated from him rhythmically, but no blood.

Spike blinked and took another breath. The smell was strong but not pure- like it was watered down. It also wasn’t human. And it was painfully familiar. Spike paused for a long minute then looked back down at his own pillow, dreading and hoping at the same time. There was a pinkish stain smudged into his pillow and he leaned down to inspect it.

He’d known he tended to...well, drool a little while he slept; a trait he had been unable to rid of even after death.

I just bit my lip in my sleep.

He quashed the impending fears with every bit of reasonable sense he could find strewn around his quivering mind.

I just had a bad dream and bit my lip.

He looked back at the sleeping Xander, snoring softly with only a thin undershirt stretched over taut muscles. It rode up a bit at the hem and exposed a slice of bronze skin and a teasing trail of dark hair.

Or maybe a very good dream.

Spike didn’t move for a moment, weighing the consequences of telling Xander and those of ignoring it. He might not have bit his lip. That might be blood in his saliva and he could have that disease that spreads through a Keilan’s sting.

Or it could be nothing.

Spike flipped over his pillow and went back to sleep.


~~


Xander woke to the jarring eruptions of thunder. After the initial deafening crack, spirals of descending snarls smashed into the earth and left it shivering and cowering for the next. One eye peeked open and then shut in a grimace as the bed vibrated and the windows rattled hopelessly. He moaned and pulled the pillow over his head.

“Up, up, sunshine.”

Xander jerked at the voice right in his ear. “Why?” He mumbled into the bed.

“Don’t want to keep Tweeds waiting. What’s he doin’ here, anyways?”

Xander threw the pillow off the bed as he remembered Wesley. He glanced at Spike then at the dresser, did a double-take and ended up staring at the vampire’s head for a good two minute’s before remembering his little haircut the day before. “You look like a biker.”

Spike snorted. “Yeah, all I need is a moustache and a few bitches.”

“And a bike.”

“Not necessary.”

Xander pulled off his shirt. Spike blinked and averted his eyes. Xander usually went into the other room to change but apparently wasn’t into modesty today.

“So what, again, is he doing here?” Spike fingered his shirt and made a half hearted attempt to yank it over his head with one arm.

“Not sure exactly,” The bed dipped as Xander sat down behind Spike and slowly pulled off the shirt, careful not to let it get caught on his slung arm. Spike didn’t believe him for a second.

“I don’t believe you for a second.” He turned to see a half-smirking Xander in only black pajama bottoms.

“I didn’t think you would.” Another burst of thunder rocked the house and a fork of lightening split the room into eerie illuminations and cowering shadows. Xander’s dark hair was nothing short of chaotic around his broad shoulders and his dusky eyes seemed almost sinister when lit up by nothing but whatever lurked behind them. Spike swallowed and felt a shred of fear twist its way down his spine and turn to heat as it neared his groin.

The moment broke instantly.

“Well, should probably make sure Wes hasn’t fretted himself into a tizzy. He tends to do that more than usual these days.”

Spike turned away again as Xander stripped and got dressed and he managed to tug his own bottoms off without any help. Of course he was then left with only a sheet on, but Xander threw him a pair of jeans and a shirt and left him to struggle until he got most of the important parts covered.


~~


Wes woke to the strange feeling of a hand on his shoulder. After months of rude awakenings by screaming fits or a new lengthy death report, the gentle shaking was the most unfamiliar rousing of all.

“Wes? C’mon, wake up.”

A thunderous growl reverberated through the room and his soft couch shook beneath him.

Now that’s more like it.

“Wh-where is it? What species is it? How do we kill it?” He fumbled blindly for his glasses and tried to blink things into focus. A strong hand caught his groping arm and stilled it.

“There’s no demon, Wes. Well there is, but I don’t think he’s going to be much of a threat.”

Wesley stared up at the large fuzzy object and blinked furiously. Said large object slid glasses onto his nose and the erratic lines melted to form sharp solid ones. Xander smiled softly at him. “Hungry?”

Wesley rubbed a hand over his head and attempted to smooth out his protesting hair. He stole a hand over his chin and winced as he felt rough stubble graze his it. “What do you have?”

Xander disappeared behind the couch and Wes could hear him rummage through cabinets and the hum of opening the refrigerator, broken sporadically by surges of echoing thunder. “Well...some frozen waffles, Lucky Charms, and all the yummy blood you can drink.”

“I’ll have some cereal.” He carefully decided Not To Ask. More clambering, rustling, and then the clinking of cereal being poured into a bowl. Wesley sighed and pulled the raggedy blanket off him. Another gut-wrenching smack of lightening and its aftershocks caused him to grimace and decide he wouldn’t be getting back to the base anytime soon.

Xander poured milk that soon did a trick and turned very magical colors while Wes slumped into a chair, resting with his face in his hands and the jacket he’d slept in slightly off-kilter.

Xander leaned against the counter and cocked his head, studying Wesley critically but with sympathy. “You don’t look so hot, Wes,” he said as gently as he could.

Toffee colored eyes peaked between fingers and rested on him, ready to unleash those scornful comments behind them if not interrupted by a barking command.

“Xan! C’mere!”

“And so the demon roars,” Xander pushed himself off the counter and walked purposefully out of the kitchen and down the hall. Wesley poked at the bizarre colors in his bowl with a spoon and nibbled a bit at a marshmallow. His eyes brightened a few watts and by the time Xander had returned with his arms full of hungry vamp, Wes had gulped down half the bowl.

Xander raised a brow but chose not to comment, setting the blonde down on the couch where he immediately became interested in the ancient radio slouching reluctantly on the dusty nightstand.

Wesley stared at the vampire with skepticism and a bit of alarm. “Xander,” he coughed, lowering his voice and averting his eyes back to his pink milk and melting marshmallows. “Although I understand that your...job is a very demanding one, I don’t believe it wise to continue your...trend of picking up these random young men-”

“Oi. Picked me ‘specially, he did.”

Wes stared in shock at the back of the couch. He turned to Xander who sat half-smirking into the bag of blood he was pouring into a blue mug. “Is-is that-”

“S’me, Dusty.” A blonde head peaked over the couch, one eyebrow raised sardonically over smiling blue eyes.

“Sp-Spike!” Wes stood, knocking the chair back and stepped forward then stopped, not sure if he should hug the vampire or pummel him. Spike settled it by opening his arms only half-mockingly.

Spike breathed in the scent of books and leather and felt lukewarm memories tugging at his mind and a sense of calm dull the worrisome tingling of his nerves. Even with the comment passed and forgotten, his mind remained on the concern Wesley had brought up about Xander’s...trend.

“I was sure you had perished,” Wes straightened up after a moment of embrace and scrutinized Spike with a Watcher’s eye.

“Nice to see you too, mate.”

They had only known each other for a brief time when (on one of the extremely rare occasions) Spike had visited Angel. After a few disconcerting moments, Angel had grudgingly introduced them and they had gotten along rather well, considering. The whole poker incident aside, they’d been almost friends. And anyone alive you recognized these days was considered a friend.

“That’s a very— radical change from the last time we met,” Wes’s eyes bugged at the sight of his hair.

I always assumed it was a vain vampire thing.

Spike grinned and it made him look positively evil. “Yeah, Xan had a little go at it.”

Wesley looked between them. “Yes, I see.” He turned and settled back down in his chair, pouring more cereal and chatting lightly with Spike between crunches.

Xander popped the mug in the microwave and punched in a few numbers. He watched Spike and Wes trading war stories, keeping them vague and distant of course, like everything was today. When the microwave dinged he pulled out the mug and placed it on the table opposite of Wes. Spike looked up at him and slid into his arms as easily as walking and let him drop him into the chair.

Wes stared at them. He’d seen doting, but this was a little much. Spike noticed the stare after a few sips and held up his slung arm. “Got in a bit of a tiff. Not up much for walking right now.”

Wes nodded sympathetically and dropped his spoon into the bowl. Xander poured himself some cereal and crunched it meditatively, eyes and mind obviously far away from the conversation.

“So now you know why I’m here.”

Still not sure if I do, though.

“That reminds me,” Xander interrupted. “Spike watch out for red in your saliva, in the whites of your eyes, and fingernails. Want to be sure.” He waved off Wesley’s concerned expression and Spike felt guilt douse his stomach with ice cold water. He coughed.

“Now what exactly are you doing here?”

Xander looked appraisingly at Wes to answer, wondering which lie he’d choose.

But the disheveled man turned back to him questioningly.

Xander shrugged ambiguously.

It is fun to see them squirm.

Wesley sighed and glared at him before turning his attention back to Spike. “Well,” he began carefully. “Surely you know of Xander’s...vocation, by now?”

Spike blinked. “You mean sittin’ his lazy arse around the house brooding? I swear if there were any more self-flagellation around here it’d be Hairboy’s lair.”

Wes looked at Xander in surprise but the violet eyes were preoccupied with the ceiling. The ex-Watcher sighed. “Well, surely you’ve heard of this...luminary who rescues people. I believe they call him the Ghost.”

Spike nodded, “’Course I’ve heard of him. Who hasn’t? Can’t go a bloody day without hearin’ who the big ‘hero’ saved today.” Spike secretly thought that the Ghost played an important role in people’s hope for the future and helped them realize that there was more than evil in this new world. Of course he’d get pummeled down at the station for believing in any of that fairy tail crap. Stuff’s for kids. Kids need heroes.

“Well. Meet your friendly neighborhood Ghost.” The smile on Wes’s face at the incredulous look on Spike’s was priceless. Xander chuckled as Spike’s eyes grew as wide
as his blood mug.

“Y-you can’t be serious!” he sputtered after a rare speechless moment.

Xander?! The whelp a bloody superhero?!

“Yeah, all those comics finally did pay off.” Xander picked up his bowl and Wesley’s, shoving them into the sink and briefly squirting them with water. Spike blinked furiously at his mug. After the initial shock had ebbed slightly, understanding and logic decided that it did, actually make sense. Almost.

“So that’s why you’re so—” He waved a hand in the general muscular area. Xander grinned.

“So breathtakingly gorgeous?”

“Not ‘zactly the words I was searchin’ for, but whatever floats your boat.”

Xander shrugged off the memories of brutal training and exercising, the immeasurable amount of splintered bones and over-strained muscles, and the acid taste of vomit after every meal. “Can we just say I ate my veggies and drank my milk?”

Spike stared at him until he began to fidget then nodded slightly. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Xander felt something strangely akin to relief and clapped his hands. “Well! Since it’s such a lovely day-” Spike’s mug almost rattled off the table at the outburst of thunder, “-how about Wes and I get down to...whatever it is he came here for.”

Spike watched skeptically as they shared little secretive glances and made their way down the hall to the bedroom. Spike sighed and fidgeted with the radio some more, a lost hope with the age of it and the storm raging outside.

Static crinkled and buzzed on every channel.

“And- news” *crackle* Spike stopped turning the knob and pressed his ear to the speaker. “Downtown- suburb *crackle* L.A. A body *crackle* near the *crackle* looks like *crackle* work of *crackle* Ghost.”

Spike thought of last night and the faint smell of blood buried under the other, more intriguing, smells of Xander.

So you are a bloody superhero.</i>

He felt an insane burst of delight.

Buffy would be proud.

His reflecting suddenly crashed, however, when he realized that that is why Xander had done it. Why he’d gained all that muscle and silence and become the trained killing machine he was today. The world needed saving and, for once, there was no compassionate heart-breaking blonde chit to kick ass and save it. Buffy and the Scoobies wouldn’t be flying in at the last minute to save this show. Xander had realized and accepted this before anyone else in the way only he could and he was the only one to do something about it. Sacrificed his own life and choices to let some family know they’re safe in the new big bad world of demons. He’d sacrificed everything but his personality, and even that had its scars.

Spike clicked off the radio.

So.

He stared at down the hallway where Xander and Wes had disappeared into.

Xan’s a hero. Guess he was always one, but it’s official now.

He glanced down at his own hands, twisted in his lap.

And apparently he has a little...trend. Should’ve known he had more than good intentions in mind when he picked me up and fixed me up.

Spike smiled a little.

Kept boy for some ‘breathtakingly gorgeous’ superhero? Not the worst fix I’ve had.


~~


“I thought you worked for Broodboy.”

Spike asked as soon as Wes entered the living room. The man blinked and wiped his glasses with his shirt, a sure sign of agitation for any Watcher.

“I did.” But when he answered the words were forceful and Spike knew he’d hit a nerve.

“He works for that law firm now, right?” Spike could see Wes visibly tense. Well, once you’ve got the nerve you’ve got to see what part it twitches.

“Wolfram & Hart, yes,” The ex-Watcher’s tone was full of ice and stamped with a big ‘fuck-off’. Spike loved it.

“Yeah, must’ve been a real let-down when you realized your Great Hero wasn’t exactly pure in heart and mind.”

“I never asked for pure in heart, just in judgment.”

“And when he didn’t have it you came crawling to the next biggest hero you could find?”

Xander stepped into the room and cut off the budding argument as he saw it. “Wes, you need to call Sam or something?”

He shook his head, cooling down even as Spike tried to bait him again. “I doubt I could get reception in this storm.”

Spike glanced between the two. “Okay. So Xander’s a hero. ‘The Ghost.’ What does that make you, his sidekick? The Ghostly Chains?”

Wes cleared his throat, irritated, but refusing to give in. “No-”

“Boo Boy?”

Wes gritted his teeth.

“Sheet Man?”

Xander coughed and Spike quieted, still grinning like mad.

Wes continued with a clipped tone as if syllables were money. “Since Xander has no supernatural abilities himself, I make sure he knows of danger when and before it happens.”

“Uh huh,” He raised a scarred brow, “and how exactly do you go about doing this?”

“Sam.” Xander dropped to the couch beside the vampire. “Has visions. Like Cordy used to.”

Wes and Xander felt a stab of pain at the mention of Cordelia. Her death had affected them more than others, as they had both cared for her deeply at one time or another.

Spike nodded, soaking this in. “So basically your another Broodboy. Without the fangs and the chastity belt.”

“And the hair-obsession.”

“Of course.”

Spike and Xander grinned, sharing a precious moment to mock a mutual enemy. Angel was barely even a hero anymore. Luxury and power had spoilt him and even his aspirations weren’t so noble anymore. Money had a way of doing that to people (and it proved vampires were no exception) especially when there was so little of it to go around now. Besides, vampire working for the good of people? Not so big of a deal. Most vampires had done something for the Good, at least a little, already anyways. If you weren’t a ‘Bat you could become a bodyguard and get paid in the best human blood available; a rare thing of late. The fact that he had a soul didn’t coincide with people’s interests either. A little weird for their tastes.

Spike blinked up at Xander as a splash of lightening brightened the room. The crashes followed almost instantly, causing a grimace from each of them. Spike groaned and grumbled. If he was bored he’d have to make sure everyone else knew of it.

Spike turned onto his side and stared at the radio, decided against it, and began rummaging through the drawers in the nightstand. He snorted.

“Gettin’ in touch with your feminine side, Xan?”

He held up a cylinder of sparkly blue fingernail polish.

“That’s Sam’s. Left it here.”

Spike smirked and twisted it open. “So this Sam’s a little limp in the wrist, eh?”

Xander sighed. “Sam’s a girl, Bloodbreath.”

Spike glanced up at the nickname and hid his pleased smile by flipping onto his stomach. He celebrated any sign of Before Tear Xander. The vampire pulled out the little brush and inspected his own chipped nails. The black polish had worn off to a few gray flecks clinging desperately to pink nail.

Might as well.


~~


After his nails were dry and glittered with every hand movement he made, Spike asked Xander about the so-called music collection he owned.

“Oh yeah. It’s in the closet.”

He picked Spike up with one arm and carried him out of the room. Wesley gaped at them. He still wasn’t completely used to Xander’s strength. Or the whole carrying thing.

Xander placed the blonde on the bed where he adopted a doubtful expression and a skeptical arm-cross. “Well, let’s see it.”

Xander just grinned and opened the door to his closet.

Spike’s jaw dropped. “Holy fuck.

Rows of CD’s filled four entire shelves, categorized by genre then alphabetically. Under the shelves was stored a high quality stereo and sound system, all black and shiny and new-like. Spike’s eyes bugged and he slid off the bed and pulled himself closer, immediately locating the ‘rock’ section and pulling out CD’s.

“Careful! I organized those perfectly!”

“Why the hell do you need so many?” Spike exclaimed, delightedly opening a Rancid case.

Xander shrugged. “Keeps my mind busy when I exercise.”

Spike hadn’t seen all of the rooms in the house yet but knew there was at least one other empty room like the one he’d first been in, saying that Xander really wasn’t a decorator. He’d rightly guessed that the others were occupied for either exercise equipment or for a training room.

“Can you bring these out into the main room?” Spike asked, gesturing to the stereo.

“Sure.”

Once the system was hooked up where the TV should have been, (and Spike still didn’t understand how Xander Harris didn’t own a TV) Spike began playing all different kinds of songs from the giant stack he’d piled up on the nightstand. Wes gritted his teeth and sighed his way through countless songs by the Ramones, NoFx, Clash, and of course, Sex Pistols.

Spike stared in confusion at the title of the next random CD he picked. “Pansy Division?” He looked up but Xander was in the kitchen. It was in the ‘rock’ section so he shrugged and punched in a random track.

“I was really not the sort
To do well on the tennis court
He whipped my ass in tennis
Then I fucked his ass in bed”

Spike and Wesley’s jaws dropped and they looked at each other, the stereo, then at the doorway that connected the room to the kitchen. Xander’s head peaked in, flushed pink in the cheeks as he scrambled to turn off the music.

“I couldn’t wait to feast my eyes
Upon his meaty, hairy thighs
He whipped my ass in tennis
Then I fucked his ass in bed”

Spike and Wes roared with laughter as Xander hurriedly clicked off the stereo and glowered, at it, cheeks burning. “It was a gift,” he mumbled.

“Right.” The other two replied in unison, which set them off with more howling peals of laughter at poor Xander’s expense.


~~


The sun peaked defiantly through the masking clouds, shedding scraps of gray light onto the ground wherever it could reach. Wes stood at the door, smiling at Xander on the other side and Spike behind him on the couch. “Well Xander, I hope all goes well with your next task. And Spike, I do hope you get better soon.”

Spike saluted, again only half-mockingly.

Xander nodded. “Come visit again soon, Wes. I’m tired of only talking to you through the phone.”

“Well I have been very busy but I will try to make time for another visit. Hopefully the weather will allow for a more light-hearted occasion.”

He fumbled with his jacket and, again, Xander settled the decision by opening his arms. The embrace wasn’t as awkward as he had feared, and left Wes with a secure feeling. “Bye, Xander and Spike.”

Xander stared at the door for a long time after it closed. He decided he liked the sound of that good-bye.


~~


“Let’s go outside.”

Spike snorted. “Why?”

“It’s getting nicer out. Come on, I have a porch with a roof.”

“All right, just a minute.”

Xander walked out of the room while Spike built up his CD stack again, placing the ones he liked best at the top. While setting the Pansy Division one at the very top, he noticed that the nail polish on the edge of his thumbnail had been scraped off. He brought it closer to his eyes.

Between strips of sparkly glossy blue, pale red glared teasingly up at him where a healthy pink used to shine.

“Ready?” Xander walked back into the room and stepped behind him to pick him up.

Spike wetted his dry lips with his tongue. “Yeah,” he breathed, and Xander pulled him into his arms.





Part Six



Spike stared at his food and fought the urge to slam his face into it. Xander was watching him warily and it was all the vampire could do to keep up the cool facade and looked bored. And not hungry. His stomach growled low and he desperately wished for some blood. Even the human food would do. Just please, Xander, look away-

“Would you like another bottle?”

The pretty blonde waitress smiled at Xander and he lost most interest in Spike. “Yes, that’d be great.”

Spike’s hands flew out from under the table and began stuffing his face full of food. The waitress and Xander both turned to stare incredulously and Spike thought he saw a bit of envy in Xander’s gaze, even if it was shielded by a pair of dark sunglasses. He shrugged and slid his hands back into his pockets as Xander continued his guarding of the vampire’s every action. The waitress walked uncertainly away and Spike sighed. “Why are you starin’ at me?”

“Why are you acting so weird?”

Spike shrugged uncomfortably. He didn’t like lying to Xander, even though he’d been doing it since the first day he woke up at the man’s house. “First time back in public. Bit nervous, is all.”

Xander stared at him. “Uh huh. And what was with the-” He made vague ‘stuffing-your-face’ motions.

Spike shrugged again. He was going to get shoulder cramps from this. “Dunno.”

“Uh huh.” This one even less believing than the last.

To tell the truth

’Cause I can do that in my head

Spike didn’t really know why he refused to tell Xander what was happening.

Still don’t know for sure, do I?

But he did. Somewhere between the played up self-confidence and the frayed remains of paranoid William, Spike could feel that tiny worm of hated truth eating away slowly at the crumbling walls of delusion. Hell, he could smell it. Death. And that was the worst part, waking up every morning and smelling that faint coppery bitter stench of fear that only those who know they’re going to die smell of.

Fear isn’t a pleasant smell like cocky vampires and delusional horror writers made it out to be. It’s nasty; tastes like moldy pennies and urine at the back of your throat.

But, he guesses, it can grow on you until you come to crave it, like some vamps. After all, it wasn’t the chalky pill you craved, it was the soaring place it flew you to. Fear is the vamp addict’s favorite fix.

Spike, he’d been more of a thrill-of-the-hunt kind of guy, himself.

“Here you are, sir.” The soft clinking of bottle on slick wood knocked Spike out of his musing and onto the lumpy bench seat crammed into the crowded restaurant. Xander took a swig from the bottle and set it back down with a sigh, a neck crick, and one eyebrow pointed skyward.

“You want to go home?”

Spike nodded.

“Okay.” Spike was suddenly very grateful for the ‘understanding’ factor that someone had added to the mix when molding this new Xander. Spike watched as Xander waited until every waiter had passed out of sight before turning his back to the aisle and helping Spike out of the seat.

Must’ve been hard to shape everything out right, Spike reflected as he slowly made his way to the door with one hand clenched in a tight fist and the other melded to a sturdy arm, What with only raw materials to work with.


~~


Xander slumped into the driver’s seat and tried not to look exasperated. Spike had been practicing walking the entire week without inflicting too much pain on himself, but everything he’d slowly built up had suddenly been demolished with this little trip out and the vampire sat panting harshly and clutching his right thigh in pain.

Xander couldn’t understand what was wrong. Spike had been strange all week. Monday he’d been fine, but as each day passed he’d slowly lost some luster and some drive, until he was left with- Spike panting in the passenger seat groaning in agony. It was like a story passed down from parent to child, losing a handful of details every generation until the present one is left with nothing but skeletal facts.

He’d tried to get Spike to communicate more than required grunts, but no such luck. The vampire was silent, something Xander had always thought he’d appreciate but now realized was even worse than constant bothering and insults. He was worried.

Xander drove home, tires jarring the car slightly when they skipped over cracks near the old gas station where a Keilan had thrown down a lamppost. Xander gritted his teeth as a tiny whimper escaped the hunched vampire. It hurt him more than any blade or tooth had, and that in itself worried Xander. He wasn’t supposed to make attachments. He wasn’t allowed to have friends or family or something he cared more about than his job. Where had this sudden intimacy come from? He had barely liked Spike when he knew him well. Why did the sight of this blonde vampire trying desperately not to make a sound rend something inside him he’d thought was lost and unable to return?

The car shifted and pulled into the driveway, climbing slowly to roll to a stop in front of a white garage door. Xander stepped out of the car and walked around to Spike’s side, opening the door and waiting for the vampire to get ready. Spike offered a pained smile that stripped a few more layers off Xander’s rock hard outer shell and leaned back for the man’s access. Xander slid one arm behind Spike’s back and the other under his knees. Spike was already used to this strange embrace and it had faded from awkward to comfortable and comfortable to comforting.

Xander carried Spike up to the front door where he shifted his entire weight to one arm and unlocked and opened the door with the other while Spike...giggled. Xander glanced down in surprise at the vampire who seemed to be marveling at the man’s strength. A genuinely pleased smile tugged at the sides of his lips, but mostly at his twinkling blue eyes fixed shyly on him in an expression he found he’d been waiting for without even realizing it. Again, some abandoned emotion inside of him expanded and painted his mouth to mimic the vampire’s, expression slightly wondrous and for the first time in years, unguarded.

Spike’s smile faded, not to the closed, slightly pained expression he’d demonstrated all week, but to something else that Xander’s couldn’t identify. Xander blinked and crushed the moment by jerkily twisting open the door and stepping inside, swinging both arms up again to hold Spike.


~~


Spike fiddled with the nail polish, occasionally checking to see if his newly painted sparkly nails were dry, but mostly just staring into space. He felt very much like an idiot, hiding the surfaced blood under his fingernails with multiple layers of glittery blue nail polish, but whenever he even considered telling Xander his stomach twisted into a tight knot and his limbs froze and refused to melt. He’d felt something akin to terror when he’d thought Xander had glimpsed his chipped nails in the restaurant, so he’d kept them hidden under the table and in his pockets for the rest of the day.

Spike sighed and set down the bottle with a clink, turning to shuffle through some more CDs before going to sleep. Somewhere between Vicious and Manson, Xander appeared quietly in the doorway. Spike’s eyes flickered up to him but continued scanning the track lists, finger traveling up and down the rows searching for the best song. He heard Xander move closer than a hand gripped his roving finger and he glanced up in surprise and a little alarm.

“Why do you keep painting them?”

Spike blinked at the absence of humor. No girl jokes?

“Need to do somethin’ to keep me busy.”

Spike almost winced at the pathetic lie. “Well maybe I like to paint m’nails.” He did wince at that.

Xander frowned and leaned closer to him. Spike’s eyebrows drew together and he leaned away, not quite sure what Xander was trying to do. A strong hand came up and gripped his jaw, thumb pressed hard into the hollow of his cheek, and twisted his head to the side.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re-”

He stopped at the sight of Xander’s face. It looked the same as it had for the few weeks he’d stayed. Except for the eyes. Still violet, still beautiful, but now broken, something deep inside shattered and smashed and cold.

“Why are your eyes red?” The low whisper sounded ridiculously childlike in its insecurity and fear, twisting its way up Spike’s spine like nails on a chalkboard. He opened his mouth but nothing came out, save half a choked-back sob and a lot of confusion.

“I don’t know.” He hated how rough his voice was and how he sounded on the brink of tears, but as he felt something slide down his gripped cheek he realized he was. Xander carefully wiped the tear off with his thumb but turned his head after looking at it. Spike stared at the finger where a tiny smudge of red soaked into the skin. He reached a hand to his own face and wiped off the slick track. A watery smear of red flawed his own pale hand.

He was crying bloody red like a fucking Anne Rice vampire. Spike felt a sputtered cry lurch though his throat and then he was falling forward to land on a warm sturdy chest, sobs wracking his body and leaving him shivering as they fell freely. He felt an arm curl protectively around his back and pull him closer but couldn’t diminish the icy weight that had plunged into his stomach.

He was going to die. He had a fucking expiration date. Death was inevitable and there was nothing he could do but watch his life tick away. Pale fingers dug hard into round biceps and Spike froze in realization. He was a fucking human.


~~


Xander sat motionless beside Spike’s curled form under the sheets, blonde fuzz smooshed against the pillow and thumb pressed suspiciously into his chin.

Didn’t know Spike sucked his thumb.

Xander couldn’t even work up a smile. He got quietly to his feet and walked out the bedroom door, leaving it half closed behind him as he moved down the hallway, through the living room, and out the front door. The shadowy air was warm and faintly electric with either an approaching or departing storm. Thick gray clouds drifted lazily across the iron colored sky and a steady breeze ruffled the surrounding trees. Xander stepped onto the driveway and walked down the street, passing the houses full of people he knew nothing about and likewise had rarely glimpsed him. His heart beat strange in his chest, too loud and too demanding, and Xander felt himself break out in a nervous sweat.

Spike was dying. Ridiculous, seeing as he’s a vampire, but that didn’t make it any less true. Suddenly Xander was outraged. Spike was dying! He’d just gotten something someone back that he cared about and as soon as they’d gotten close he’d been ripped away. Sure, Spike was still in his house, in his bed even, but the knowledge between them was like a mile-wide gap. Why did everyone Xander care about die? He needed to kill something.

He looked up and found he had stomped his way into town, the buildings adding their own bulky shadows under the incandescent streetlights. Xander’s eyes raked the streets hungrily, begging for a demon to slink around the corner, but the silence rang loudly in his ears with nothing to break it.

A small shuffle in the alley to his right and Xander whipped out the gun from his back pocket and trained the nose at a point somewhere in the shadows. He waited, frozen, until a small silhouette slid slowly against the ground. Small?

Xander stepped forward cautiously but didn’t lower his gun. Nothing more moved and he took a chance and called quietly, “Someone in there?”

The sound of muted footsteps and then a small face emerged from the shadows, followed by a body. Xander dropped the gun from its target and slid it back into his pocket. “Shouldn’t you be home?”

The boy scowled at him, shiny blue eyes going from terrified to resentful in half a second. “Why don’t you go home, old man.”

Ouch.

Xander stepped forward but the boy stood his ground. He couldn’t be any older than fourteen, Xander decided, but the way his ragged clothes hung off his body made him look even younger. Messy brown hair flopped well over his ears and into his eyes, looking even stringier in the dim light. Obviously one of the kids whose parents had either been eaten or given him up when they had lost everything, a sad but not rare occurrence.

This is his home.

Xander couldn’t see into the alley but he was sure he’d find some blankets and probably stolen food. “It’s not safe out here,” Xander sighed, knowing the kid would just be stupidly defiant and end up getting eaten in a few days if he didn’t move.

“No duh,” the boy stared hard at Xander, daring him to say more. Xander held up an arm in a half-shrug, “There’s a center down the street. I could help-”

“I don’t need your help,” the kid snarled, waiting impatiently for him to move on. Xander called the lost cause as he saw it. “At least let me give you some money.” He pulled out his wallet. The kid seemed more reluctant to deny this favor but still refused it.

“I’m not a fucking charity project.”

“Kid, you’re a fucking charity project if I’ve ever seen one.” He held out the crisp bills to the boy like tempting an angry dog out of its cage. Blue eyes stared suspiciously at it, but then cleared as if realizing something. “Oh. So what do you want in return?”

Even with being barely able to see his face Xander caught the meaning in his tone and drew back, shaking his head again, “No offence, but you’re not exactly my type.”

“A guy?”

“Illegal.”

The kid snorted, though not as unkindly as before and stepped forward to snatch the money. “Sure, whatever.”

A low growl slapped Xander in the face and he barely had time to draw his gun before two fiery red eyes slid around the corner, followed by half a ton of muscle and teeth and damn hungry demon. Xander jumped to the side and pushed the kid into the alley, ignoring the screams of protest and the downright screams. He let loose a round that slammed the Keilan hard in the belly, blood spurting in shallow fountains before splattering sickly to the street.

The next round of bullets didn’t defuse the Keilan though, and Xander found himself far too close to snapping jaws than he wanted to be. Reaching through a slit in his pant leg, he pulled out a large knife strapped to his thigh, bringing it slicing through the air and gleaming silver in the streetlights. The Keilan wasn’t deterred by the sight of the large blade, however, and plunged its thick head down, putrid breath hot and sticky on Xander’s face as fangs about half the size of his knife and twice as thick swung towards him. He could see the bits of flesh wedged between the teeth and held his breath as he brought the knife over and then plunged it down into the large sandpapery tongue.

A burst of blood sprayed up and all over Xander as the demon roared in agony and drew his head back to point its blunt nose to the sky, howling. Xander jumped to the side and fired at the Keilan’s leg and chest, watching as it collapsed and the demon staggered to the side before crashing to the ground in a spray of blood and whimpers.

Xander coughed and wiped the blood around his mouth off with a sleeve. He heard heavy breathing and remembered the kid, staggering over to see if he’d been hurt at all. “You okay?”

The boy nodded, still lying on the ground pushed against the brick wall, but obviously not hurt. Xander sighed and glanced around the alley. A crumpled blanket and a few wrappers. A decision he wished he didn’t have to make see-sawed but the quiet sniffing of the boy finalized it. “Come on, kid. You’re going home with me.”

The bright blue eyes filled with a kind of grateful fear, but most prominent was the fear. “I-I thought I wasn’t your type.” Xander had to give the kid credit; he had balls. Not admitting that he was really afraid of going home with the strange man who’d just slaughtered a 7-foot demon, but avoiding the situation by insulting him.

Now where have I seen that before?

“Don’t want to fuck you kid, just get you out of the street. At least until tomorrow.” Xander decided there was nothing left to salvage of the holed blanket and helped the kid up with a hand. He still seemed very reluctant to go with Xander but one glance at the overturned body with one red eye permanently open in a glassy stare, and he scuttled after the retreating man.

“So...are you like...that Ghost guy?” The boy asked in a whisper as if someone was around to care. Xander smiled at him. “Ghost guy? I think you’ve been reading too many comic books.”

The kid frowned as if disappointed and Xander felt a pang. “Hey, but you never know. He might exist.” The kid considered this and nodded and was silent for a while as they walked through the streets.

“What’s you name, anyways?”

The brown haired boy didn’t answer immediately but finally replied, “Stephen.”

Xander waited for the last name he knew wouldn’t come. “King?” He asked playfully.

Stephen snorted. “I wish.”

They both shared a small laugh. “So what’s yours?”

“Xander.”

Xander? What kind of fag name is that?”

“Hey! Xander happens to be very hip!”

Stephen snickered, “You do know that ‘hip’ isn’t hip anymore, right?”

Xander frowned. “Really? Well then it’s very cool. Do they still say ‘cool’?”

“Moderately.”

“Well there you go.”

Xander stopped when they reached his house. Stephen stared. “Wow.”

Thank you, Wes, for fixing me up with the awesome place. I can impress children with it.

“Come on, let’s get inside.” It wasn’t until Xander opened the door for Stephen to shuffle through that he realized he had gone more than thirty seconds without thinking about Spike and his- problem. He shut the door firmly behind him and gave the boy some blankets for him and the couch. If forgetting about Spike was what they called healing, Xander wanted to be injured forever.


~~


Spike sat at the table staring at the boy fast asleep on the couch. “Um, Xan? Might be taking this whole Rescue Shelter plan a little too seriously.”

Xander dropped into the seat beside him. “No, he just needed a place to stay for the night. Only got room for one stray.” He gave Spike a grin that seemed just a bit too over-processed and attempting to be normal.

“Is he okay?”

“Uh huh, everything’s fine.” Xander munched on a piece of bacon.

Yeah, you say that.

Spike tried to ignore the brittleness of his words, as if at any time he might crumble all over the floor.

“Sam’s coming over tomorrow.”

“Oh? Vision girl? Why, something wrong?”

“No, just wanted to come over. She’s- odd like that.” Xander sipped his milk.

“Sounds like your cuppa.” Spike dipped his bacon in blood and smirked as Xander raised a brow.

“You know it.”

They were interrupted by a quiet mumble and both pairs of eyes turned to the couch. The boy blinked and slowly opened his eyes. He sat up and appeared very alarmed for a moment, but settled down a little when he saw Xander.

“Bacon?”

The boy blinked then nodded.

When the three were situated around the table, the kid glancing suspiciously at Spike, Spike glaring confusedly at the kid, and Xander humming as he finished his breakfast, Spike was the first to talk. “How old are you, kid?”

“Fifteen.” Xander looked up in surprise.

“You look younger.”

“Thanks.”

Xander shrugged.

“What’s your name?”

“Stephen.”

Spike nodded speculatively.

“So how old are you?”

Spike sipped his blood. “One hundred thirty-two.”

The kid barked a laugh. “Yeah.”

Spike grinned.

“He’s a vampire,” Xander clarified. At the distressed expression on Stephen’s face Spike added, “Don’t worry, pet, couldn’t hurt you if I wanted to.”

“What?”

“Spike has a little condition called Chippus Ozappius. Basically he won’t take a bite out of you if he isn’t up for a major headache.” Stephen calmed down and ate some more bacon. After a moment, though, he said, “Spike? That’s almost as bad as Xander.”


~~


Xander watched Spike stare into the mirror. Every once in a while he’d turn to the side to get a better look at his eyes, and each glimpse would be followed by a series of winces. It wasn’t too bad, now; it just looked like he had allergies. But Xander had seen some of the cases far into the disease and it looked like their irises were floating in a puddle of blood.

He quietly slid next to the vampire, wrapping one arm around him in a firm embrace. They were silent for a moment, but Xander finally was able to push the words out of his tight throat. “I’ll find a cure, Spike. I swear I will. I’ll get Wesley on it and everyone at the base and we’ll find a cure. I promise.” He stopped before his voice broke.

“I know you will, luv.”

Xander smiled into Spike’s fuzzy hair and continued to stare at them in the mirror. “What a pair of eyes we are.”

Spike smiled. “Yeah, what a pair.”





Part Seven



Spike watched as Xander flew back and forth through the rooms, picking up random crap strewn around the floor and basically making it look like the occupants weren’t a bunch of crap-strewing people. Every once in a while he’d stop and glare at Spike.

“Why don’t you help?”

And Spike would gesture to his left side as his feet sat propped up on the table and he rapidly clicked the remote. “Take pity on the injured vamp, mate.”

And Spike would continue going through each and every channel on the brand-new satellite-equipped TV next to the stereo and mountain of CDs.

Then Xander would make sure there was more in stock in his kitchen than blood, beer, and Lucky Charms, drumming his fingers on the fridge and mumbling under his breath.

Quickly followed, of course, by a double-take and stare at Stephen, positioned on the side of the couch opposite of Spike, staring with his jaw half-open and eyes glassy from prolonged TV-watching, and frown and ask, “Why are you still here, again?”

To which Spike would reply without taking his eyes off the screen, “Nowhere to go, safer in here, set him free later. We already had this conversation, Xan.”

“Oh yeah.”

And repeat.


~~


A loud knock at the door and Xander scrambled to the front room. “Okay. I did it. I think I finally have the house so perfect she’ll have nothing to criticize.”

“Congratulations, mate.”

Xander cleared his throat and swung open the door. Spike glanced up to see a young woman with chestnut brown hair and dark green eyes, a confidant pose and a taunting smile. “Finished scrubbing the place to a blinding sheen so I won’t rag on your ass, Purple?”

Spike liked her immediately.

“Nice to see you again too, Sam,” Xander stepped aside to let her in. She took in the room with a quick sweep and turned her bright eyes on Spike. “Another sexy blonde?”

Okay, I’m starting to really worry about these ‘another’ comments people keep making.

Xander coughed with a burst of color in his cheeks. “Actually that’s Spike. The guy I told you about...”

“Oh!” Sam looked at the vampire with a new interest. “I didn’t realize things were so serious. You’ve adopted already!” She grinned.

Stephen glared at her. “Not a fucking kid,” he growled.

“Oh, he takes after both daddies,” She slid onto the couch next to Spike. “At least from what I’ve heard.”

“Hm? Xan talk about me, does he?” Spike leered up at the larger man silently fuming in the corner.

“Raves, more like. Every time we’re on the phone I can’t get a full vision out without ‘Oh, guess what Spike and I did today’ or ‘Spike spilled blood on the couch today.’”

“Still haven’t gotten the stain out,” Xander fingered a dark splotch on the leather.

“Oh, get over it you anal twat.”

Sam grinned and gestured for Xander to sit next to her. “So, vampire got hit by the big lizards and giant hero guy takes him in to ‘fix him up.’”

Xander grimaced at her tone and subtle insinuation.

“But what’s with the kid? And before you explode at me-” she held a hand to the snarling teenager, “-you walking bag of hormones, just let Mr. Phantom answer that.”

Stephen grinned triumphantly. “I knew it! You are that Ghost guy!”

Xander glared daggers at Sam. “Great, that’s all we need. A fucking homeless kid that’ll do anything for money who knows that I’m the fucking Ghost!”

“I’m not-” Stephen started but Spike cut him off, sticking up for Xander, which surprised the man considerably.

“He could bloody well tell the whole-”

“Hey,” Sam defended herself and raising her voice slightly, “I didn’t know you didn’t tell him! I figure he’s staying at your fucking house, he knows that you’re-”

“I’m not gonna tell anyone!” Stephen shouted. “God, what do you think, I can’t keep a fucking secret?”

The other three stared at him.

“You’re not going to tell?” Xander asked quietly.

“What can I say? I’ve read too many comic books.”

Xander grinned.

“Well. That’s all settled. Why are you here, anyways?”

“Xander decided he’s getting too old for the job so he recruited me.” Stephen smirked.

“Right. I’m going to use the bathroom.” She stood and began to walk out of the room but stopped. “And the TV’s crooked, Xander.” She left as Xander punched the couch and cursed the gods.


~~


While Spike and Stephen were busily conversing over the newest Green Day CD, Xander quietly pulled Sam out onto the porch. She seemed ready to comment but withheld when she saw his posture and expression. Her eyebrows drew together in worry and slowly building dread. She’d seen that look on him before once, when he’d gotten drunk and ended up blurting out a story of a time he found a pretty girl’s torn body lying crooked on the street. ‘Blood almost as red as her hair’, he’d sobbed out between gasps and swallows, eyes filled with emotion and tears, yet still managing to appear glassy and dead and Sam had wondered who the girl could have been whose death caused such total despair.

And seeing his odd violet eyes nearing that void, Sam stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. “Xander, what’s wrong?”

He blinked and licked his lips, drawing in a shuddery breath and exhaling it in a sigh that carried the weight of a life. “It’s Spike.” He said simply, voice not breaking or cracking or faltering, but flat and, Sam realized, hopeless.

“The Keilan...stung him.” Xander stared at a point beyond her.

Sam felt like a dead weight had been tied to her stomach, slowly pulling and sinking it down when she realized what it meant. Spike got stung and now he’s going to die. Simple logic yet so confusing when she tried to analyze it. Spike was there, sitting in the next room arguing with a teenager over pop culture, but he was already dead in almost every sense of the word. Sam bit her lip hard and made a promise she hoped and feared she could keep.

“We’ll save him, Xan.” She tried to sound confident and sure of herself; she was Sam, Ass-kicker of Evil and Queen of Splitting Headaches. They had Wes, the Fastest Researcher in the West, and Gunn, the Best-Dressed Brother in LA. With Xander, your local Ghost Guy and Purple Man, they made some crack team superhero squad, but they didn’t let their own people die. Sam would make sure they’d find a way to help Spike, one fucking way or another.

“I’ll get the people at the base on it right away,” she told him forcefully.

Xander nodded and offered a tiny smile, barely lighting up his shadowed face but suggesting a glimmer of hope. With one arm he swept her into a tight hug. She rested her cheek on his shoulder and pretended not to notice the way it shook.


~~


Sam stayed for lunch but reminded Xander she was needed at the base and Wes would have a fit if she didn’t get back too soon. She said good-bye to Stephen and Spike, whom she’d got along famously with, and pecked Xander on the cheek.

“Don’t wear him out too bad before tonight,” She warned Spike, making her way out the door in a flurry a movement.

“For the last time,” sighed Xander, exasperated. “We’re not-”

“I’ll try not to!” Called Spike, and she was gone.

Xander shook his head but didn’t comment, not as agitated as he appeared. Sam’s teasing gave him a little thrill that he pushed down, far away from the surface.

Stephen fidgeted with the TV remote, a cheerless and slightly worried expression coloring his face. Xander sighed and softly sat down beside him.

“You know, I was thinking,” He said suddenly, looking at the black screen and seeing the blue-eyed boy reflected in it. “Despite your otherworldly charms-” an expected snort “-you might actually come in handy once in a while if you, maybe, wanted to stay. Until you get a better offer, of course.”

Stephen turned to look him in the eye, slightly wary and calculating. “And,” he finally said. “How exactly might I come in handy?”

“Every great superhero has a sidekick.”

A small grin and a gleam of sincere happiness out of those smirking eyes. “’Course they do, old man.”

Xander winced. “Hey, I’m not so old! Really!”

Stephen just leered at him silently. Xander stood and stomped out of the room, filled with happiness and a few worries.


~~


Spike sat quietly on the porch, pretending not to watch as the sky faded from pink to purple to a deepening blue over the numerous fenced yards and tiny lumps of the city in the background. He heard Xander quietly open the door and step through. Spike thought it was strange he didn’t hear any birds out.

“Feelin’ better,” he offered after a moment of silence. In his peripheral vision he saw Xander nod and felt the tension ease up a notch.

“That’s good.”

Spike waited but he didn’t say anymore. “You want to sit?” He turned and patted the spot next to him. Xander stared at it for a moment then walked over and sat down on the wooden bench. Another comfortable, if slightly anxious, pause.

“I talked to Sam.”

Spike looked over at him.

“About the...you.”

Spike nodded. He’d suspected as much.

Boy won’t let somethin’ go when he’s got his teeth into it. Not sure if I admire or resent that.

“What’d she say?”

Xander licked his lips and Spike’s eyes dropped to follow the tongue’s progress. “That she’d get Wes and everyone else on it.”

Spike still was unclear what Xander and his people meant when they said ‘everyone’ or ‘base’ but he somehow felt he didn’t really have the right

or the nerve

to ask. He felt edgy about some things. He also felt confused and maybe just a tiny bit scared.

“Why do you care?” Spike wished he had been able to say that in anything above a whisper and that the scared-little-boy look he knew was firmly on his features would magically transform into an indifferent smirk.

“’Cause you’re a hero?” And that came out with a lot less contempt and a lot more sadness than he had anticipated. He looked Xander in the eye and waited for an answer to one or both.

Xander stared at Spike, his eyes blank and mouth a straight line. He could answer the first question in a million different ways. He could reassure and comfort, tell Spike it was because they were friends and he cared about him. He could joke, though he knew he wouldn’t, very Xander-like and say if he didn’t he’d be stuck alone with a kid and a refrigerator full of blood. There were so many ways he wanted to respond, yet none of them seemed strong enough to break the growing silence. And since the words refused to come and Spike was looking at him with his big blue eyes sparkling in the dimming light and his blonde fuzzy hair looking so soft, Xander answered him with a few less words and a little more touch.

When Xander leaned forward Spike felt an odd sort of insane happiness, like he’d been waiting for this without even knowing it.

When Xander breathed hot on his lips with his eyes closed with neither of them touching, Spike felt a thrill and a desire, and leaned forward that half-inch to taste the man beside him.

When Xander licked Spike’s lips with a warm wet tongue, sliding back and forth and leaving glossy stripes and the vampire panting slightly, Spike felt a tingle of lust wind its way down to his groin and grow.

Spike let out a breathy sigh, eyes half open and hand gripping the side of the bench. He gasped when Xander lightly bit his bottom lip and leaned forward hard with a moan, smashing their mouths together, breaking the gentle moment into a shower of hot sparks. His tongue probed into that delicious heat, running back and forth and exploring every nook and cranny, tasting the rain and vanilla that he thought would be chocolate.

Xander raised his hands up to Spike’s head, pulling them closer and kissing back with passion. He ran his hands through Spike’s soft hair and down his silky smooth neck, warm ice beneath his fingers. Spike’s sliding tongue was cool but warming, slipping in and out of his mouth in a way that made Xander’s pants far too tight for comfort. Xander took Spike’s bottom lip between his own, sucking until it was swollen and the vampire was making a high keening sound at the back of his throat, hands now clutching desperately to Xander’s broad shoulders.

Xander slid a knee between Spike’s and felt the hard bulge pressing heavy and warm into his thigh. He pulled his mouth away from Spike’s gasping and moaning one with an effort and kissed a trail down that smooth neck, marking the milky white flesh with hot wet kisses. Spike’s back arched with a frantic groan as Xander nibbled on his sensitive neck and he leaned into him, jean-covered groin pressing harder into the questing knee. Spike rolled his hips, hot friction and Xander’s hand sliding up into his shirt causing him to buck and his eyes to become misty yellow with flecks of brilliant blue.

Xander’s calloused hands rubbed Spike’s smooth chest and over nipples hardened to bullets, pinching and scraping with a fingernail. Spike was now sliding roughly back and forth, humping Xander’s knee with his head thrown back and a continuous low cry, spiking in places when Xander sucked hard on his slick neck or tweaked his nipples after circling them with a hot thumb.

A loud creak froze them, Spike perched on Xander’s knee with his back doing its best impersonation of a half-circle and Xander with his hands up Spike’s shirt and his mouth fastened to a pale shoulder.

“Xander? Spike? You out there?”

The vampire flew backwards as Xander stood abruptly, falling back onto the bench and scooting to the far end, hands twisting in his lap to hide his evident erection. Stephen stepped onto the porch, eyes slightly worried but brightening when he saw them. “Shouldn’t you be out fighting for the safety of purple eyes everywhere, hero man?”

Xander coughed, picking his jacket off the floor and quickly bunching it into a ball and holding in front of his crotch. “Uh, yes, of course. I need to go bite- fight all the forces of evil and um...stuff.” He scrambled out the door and hoped the boy didn’t notice the hot flush on his cheeks.

Stephen stared at Xander as he disappeared into the house. “Huh. Wonder what’s got him all worked up.”

“We weren’t doing anything!” Spike yelled and jumped to his feet. Stephen stared at him with wide eyes. “I need to go,” the vampire muttered, vanishing into the house as quickly as his healing leg and sexual frustration could carry him. Stephen stared at the door in confusion and appraisal, one eyebrow cocked in puzzlement and a bit of worry.

I live with a bunch of freaks.





Part Eight



Xander sat nervously at the table, rolling a pencil back and forth.

Heat of the moment thing. Didn’t mean anything. He’s probably embarrassed about it and trying to forget.

The pencil rolled to his right hand.

He likes me. Maybe more than likes me. He kissed me and seemed to enjoy it from my viewpoint.

It rolled back to his left.

Then again, he’s dying for Christ’s sake, he’ll take whatever he can get. Probably only sticking around because he isn’t fully healed yet. I’m lucky he hasn’t jumped out the window and hailed a cab to the nearest hotel.

It rolled back to his right.

But-

“Oh, go fuck him already for God’s sake.” Xander jumped at the voice from the adjacent room. “It’s not like there’s anyone else he’s waiting to. You either, for that matter.”

Xander glared at the dim light in the doorway. “What are you talking about?” He demanded.

An exasperated sigh floated from the back of the couch. “Go. Fuck. Your damn. Vampire.”

Xander jumped to his feet then remembered Stephen couldn’t see him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he repeated indignantly.

“Well then you need some hearing aids, old man, ‘cause if I talk any slower it’ll be morning before I finish.”

Xander ignored the age comment and stomped away from the snorting teenager in the next room. “It’s not fucking like that-”

“God, you’re such a drama queen.”

“I am NOT!”

Xander paused, soaking in the peals of laughter and gritted his teeth. “I will be in my room sleeping with my- sleeping fully clothed and asleep next to my- the also fully clothed sleeping-”

There he gave up because Stephen couldn’t even hear him over his own laughter.


~~


Spike woke and was surprised and impressed to find Xander curled as far away as he could get from Spike on the bed. He hadn’t thought the man would have the balls to even be in the same room as the vampire, let alone sleep in the same bed as him. Without moving enough to wake him, Spike slowly turned to his side to face Xander. Well, Xander’s hunched back.

Even in his sleep he looked stressed and tired. Spike felt a tiny glimmer of fear when he spotted a stray gray hair nestled between the dark chestnut waves. He knew Xander was getting older; one of the many unpleasant but inevitable traits of humans, along with their frailty, emotional overloads, and bodily excretions, all of which Spike hated with a passion. He was in denial that Xander; laughing, joking, sunshine Xander, could become older. But then again, he’d went and become a man when Spike had turned his back for a second that became four years, and attained those gentle silences and patient muscles, tiny gray hairs and worry lines, and a perpetual hidden slump in his shoulders from carrying the weight of the world on them.

No one had ever asked Spike’s permission that his friends could grow up and grow old. How was it fair that the only option he had was to wait and watch as his little girl and Xander and even himself now, slowly died before his eyes? It wasn’t. It was a terrible conviction all in itself, even without the plunges and head dunks that sickness and injuries and depression gave you. Spike had felt he’d kept his head above water well enough in his short life and long unlife, sputtering and gasping and falling under occasionally, but doggie paddling himself back up admirably well, seeing as he had no inflatable lifesaver to keep him afloat; like the Slayer who’d had her friends, Angel had his soul, and others had their families. He had the chip, but that was really just a small piece of deadwood, giving a false illusion of buoyancy, but offering nothing more than a vague sense of security.

Spike reached out slowly and carefully and slid his hand over Xander’s strong arm. He scooted closer and loosely gripped Xander, lying so the front of his body was flush with the man’s back. Yes, it’d be awkward when they woke up later, but Spike bet that Xander knew all types of different swimming strokes. He was strong and buoyant and could keep Spike’s head out of the water when death and insanity came in the form of a big shark with red eyes and patient smiles revealing fangs bigger than his own. Spike held onto Xander and squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to shiver.


~~


Stephen was enjoying himself enormously, reclining at the couch with his arms slung over the back, watching as Xander spilled scalding coffee on himself, over-poured the blood in Spike’s mug, and sat at the table hunched over eating his cereal with brown and red mixing repulsively on his white undershirt. Spike wasn’t any better, attempting to spark a conversation and failing miserably when all he got in response was a flicker of eye contact and a fleeting blush. It was like a terrible sitcom.

“So...uh...” Spike tapped the rim of his mug with a blue fingernail. “Kill any big baddies last night?”

Xander fiddled with his toast.

*a small bout of simulated laugh track*

“Right.” Spike gulped his blood too fast and it burned his tongue. He spat half a mouthful and added more designs to Xander’s caffeine and plasma tie-dye shirt.

*a huge burst of overzealous laughter*

Xander dropped his spoon into the bowl with a loud clink and glared at his shirt. Spike shifted uncomfortable in his chair, but was obviously trying to hide a grin. Xander visibly gritted his teeth and stood. He stripped off his shirt and picked up his coffee, walking quickly down the hall to his room. Spike sighed and pushed away from the table to stand, causing his chair to scrape loudly against the wooden floor. Stephen watched as Xander jumped at the noise and more hot liquid splashed onto his now bare torso. “FuckdamnSHIT!”

*an explosion of cheers and applause as the scene faded away*

Stephen clapped along with them.


~~


Xander clicked the seatbelt shut and turned to see that Spike and Stephen had done the same. “Okay,” he began, speaking loudly and articulately for the first time that day. “There is to be no fighting, mocking, laughing, taunting, teasing, joking, pointing, gasping, puking, coughing, breathing, annoying, or smirking at, on, or to, anyone or anything when we get there. That clear?”

“Yes mother,” chorused from the passenger and back seat.

“Okay. Just so we’re clear.” He jerked them out of the driveway and drove them to the base.

Xander wasn’t exactly keen on bringing them. He’d actually tried to convince them that it wasn’t a good idea, but both (especially Spike) had protested loudly and colorfully that he ‘wanted to know what the bleedin’ hell you lot are yappin’ about’ when Xander and his friends mention the base. Xander had eventually broken down and agreed to take them.

He explained sparely on the way the main purpose of REHV. Research, experimentation, and help for victims. Meaning Keilan victims, of course, as Xander didn’t have to explain. Spike understood the research and help parts but the experimentation caught him a bit off guard. “It’s all very careful and proficient,” Xander was quick to assure him. “Mostly minor spells and possible chemical cures and aids.”

By the time the sleek black car had pulled into the giant concrete sheet of a parking lot, packed at the front with expensive looking cars and further back dusty, beat up, sagging boxes on wheels, Spike and Stephen were fairly well informed of the goal and importance of REHV. Finding either magical or chemical cures for diseases and injuries spread by Keilans, and getting the homeless, moneyless, friendless nobodies back on their wobbly feet.

Xander parked at the very front in a spot with a blue ‘Reserved’ sign poking out of the ground. “Fancy, pet,” Spike purred in his ear and didn’t fail to notice the (pleased?) blush that spread on his cheeks. They quickly jumped out of the car, Xander glancing not-co-covertly to make sure Spike was well on his feet, to which Spike responded with a slightly undignified tongue sticking out, and walked on the short sidewalk to the giant professional-looking double doors. Spike noted them with an air of skepticism as he pushed them open, expecting the inside to be not unlike the Wolfram & Hart building he’d visited for the first time last year.

He was frozen to the spot, however, as a large scaled neon green lizard with spines poking out his back leaned against a white archway and concluded an apparently hilarious conversation with a (compared to the demon) miniscule blonde woman. Behind them two vampires wandered idly down the lobby room, chatting amiably and nodding to a few humans they passed. Xander regarded Spike’s flabbergasted expression with just the hint of a grin.

“What? You thought we only catered to humans?”

Apparently not.

Spike jumped out of the way as a purple dragon-like demon lumbered through the large doors with a wispy trail of smoke flitting out behind it.

“Let’s go then."

Spike and Stephen stumbled after Xander, the former expressing his surprise in the manner of a subtle eyebrow cock and the latter with eyes as big as saucers and practically tripping over his lower jaw. Xander walked quickly through the lobby and nodded at the receptionist who grinned and did a little wave and hair-flip thing. Spike mentally added her to his To-Kill list and barely restrained a snarl. Xander kept walking until he reached one of the many hallways where he turned and started down it, vampire and teenager in tow.

There were less people and not-people than in the crowded lobby, but a few passed in white lab coats and a few more with stacks of dusty books under their arms. Spike was about to make a comment but was cut off by Xander’s abrupt stop at a door labeled ‘Wesley Whyndam-Pryce.’

“Joy.”

“What? You like Wes.”

“Yeal, he’s just the person I wanted to see. Because I came here to read books and attain a layer of dust on my clothes.”

My clothes. Which reminds me, we need a trip to the mall.”

The two shorter people shuddered.

“Hey, I only have so many clothes for both of-”

The door opened with a click and a scruffy (And dusty, Spike noted) ex-Watcher poked his head out. “Xander!” He grinned and swung the door fully open. “Come in.”

“Wot, no ‘Spike!’?”

“Or ‘Stephen!’?”

Wes looked at the vampire.

“I figured you’d be offended, considering just about anything beyond the realm of punk rock offends you,” he turned to Stephen. “And I don’t even know who you are.”

“Oh, so that makes me less important?”

“Guys!” Xander held up a hand. “What did I tell you in the car?”

“Sorry, mother,” they mumbled and Xander glared at them.

Wes blinked nervously. “Okay...Well. Anyways, Xander, Sam has a vision report waiting upstairs and Derrick here,” a dark haired geeky guy behind him waved a little, “might have a lead on your...” -he glanced uncertainly at Spike- “problem. We’re going to look further into it and will report to you if we find anything at all useful.”

The vampire cocked a brow.

“Okay, thanks Wes.” Xander offered a quick but sincere smile and herded the other two out the door and back into the hallway.

“What was that about? ‘Problem?’” Spike asked suspiciously, eyes darting between Xander and the closed door.

“Nothing,” the man replied a little too quickly and a lot too distractedly, turning them down another hallways and stopping in front of an elevator.

“Sure didn’t sound like nothing. Sounded a lot like something.”

The light blinked at them and the door slid open, six feet stepping in and three stepping out. Stephen turned sideways as to not get hit in the face by a large gray fin. Xander sighed and looked directly at the vampire, another first for the day. “Spike. It was nothing. At least now it’s nothing, maybe it will be something later but that’s only if we’re lucky and later comes soon.”

A swish and the odd sensation of being pulled vertically, swaying the teenager on his feet just a bit although the other two pairs remained firmly on the ground. Spike stared Xander in the eye, dark blue and faint red to brilliant violet. Thunderstorms at sunset. Fresh bruises and blood. The ding and (against the rules) smirking, knowing glance snapped them out of their eye-lock and pushed them out the door and down the hall to yet another door, this labeled Samantha LaMere. Xander didn’t bother knocking and twisted open the knob.

“Xan-boy!”

Spike stepped back as he watched the larger man be attacked and assaulted with a ferocious hug and peck on the cheek. Spike felt his features melt into a demon’s and shook his head to change them back.

Soddin’ hell, she’s just his friend. Like Willow was.

Spike ignored the alarmed expression on Stephen’s face and concentrated on Not Thinking about why he’d even been so upset in the first place. When all four of them were inside and the two who weren’t bored were conversing vigorously over a small sheet of paper that Spike couldn’t get close enough to read no matter how far he craned his neck. He gathered, however, from the equipment and similar papers crowding the room, that they had to do with visions. There were pinups on a cork board of a giant map of L.A. and its surrounding towns and photos of different random street corners and buildings.

There was what looked like a computer on a metallic gray desk in the corner, but instead of video games and porn (‘cause what else do you need them for?) there were little places after the words ‘time of day’ and ‘landmarks’ that he supposed you typed in and it would spit out a little sheet of paper like the one they were waving and talking so seriously about now, that would tell you when and where whatever vision she’d had would happen. Handy, Spike decided.

“Hey, I have nail polish just like that.”

Spike looked up at her then back down at his nails. “Uh, yeah. Right.”

“All right, so Shorewood Drive at eleven twenty-nine?” Xander interrupted.

Sam nodded, folding the paper and handing it to Xander. “And don’t forget to bring your gun. I’ve heard there have been some pretty bad attacks around there. All that forest; they should evacuate the whole place.”

“They’re people’s homes, Sam,” Xander said, tucking the paper into his pocket. “That’s all that some people have left.”

She nodded and smiled a little, and Spike was hit with a wave of sadness and joy. Every aspect of Willow was etched clearly in her features.

Hoe can he stand talking to her and seeing her every day? It would kill me.

Then he remembered he was already dead in just about every meaning of the word.


~~


Spike had been ecstatic and a bit wondrous to find a picture of himself in the door labeled ‘Alexander Harris’ (which “someone” had scrawled ‘Purple Boy’ over on a piece of paper in decidedly feminine handwriting). Granted, it also had Buffy, Willow, Tara, Anya, Dawn, and a tired but happy-looking Giles. But still, Spike was there, hovering at the sides with a cigarette stuffed in his mouth and eyes glaring angrily at the person behind the camera, which was Xander, he realized, as he wasn’t in the picture.

Spike wondered again how Xander could keep something so memory and pain invoking on his wall, but there it was nestled between scraps of papers and pictures of buildings. When Spike saw the photo tacked up without a frame or any type of indication of what it was and how much it meant, he tore it off the wall angrily. How could Xander keep something so important so carelessly? Every time Spike thought of Buffy he’d see blonde hair matted with blood. With Anya it was her big eyes, filled to the just the brink of tears and terror. Giles would be the sound of crinkling red-soaked pages drifting to the ground in a wet ruffle. And the poor witch, Spike could hardly bear to think of her, because all that came to mind was a terrified longing scream for her lover, whom they’d never seen during the Tear or after. Spike had held onto a tiny glimmer of hope that she’d lived but finally only accepted that two Scoobies and a vampire had lived. The vamp and one Scooby in this room, and the other tucked away in a safe place that Spike visited often and thought of ever second that he didn’t.

Spike turned the picture over, still fuming and disappointed in Xander, when he saw the words in black pen on the back of the picture. The letters were more defined and mature but the clumsy schoolboy scrawl still lurked behind them, friendly and goofy in an off-hand way. Spike’s scowl dropped of his face instantly and was replaced by a wondrous look.

My Family.

And Spike did something he promised, he swore, to himself he wouldn’t do, because it never lead to something good and continued to dunk him headfirst into the stinging salty water he’d worked so hard at keeping his chin above. But it was something he could never get control over and once he did at all, he did it all the way, completely and totally, no going back.

He fell plunging and splashing in love.





Part Nine



Xander poked his head into the room, eyes flickering over the blanket twisted at the ground, small mountain of CDs, lopsided stack of new clothes, and overstuffed couch.

“Stephen?”

There was no answer and Xander closed the door to the room that had become the teenager’s overnight. He walked down the hall and into the living room where Spike was busy watching every channel on the TV for 2.5 seconds and munching on something orange and allegedly cheese flavored.

“He’s not in his room either.”

Spike grunted as Xander sat down beside him.

“Where the hell could he be? He didn’t mention any...well, friends, or anything.”

Spike grunted and itched his arm.

“I’m just kind of worried because...I didn’t tell you this but...”

That earned a sideways glance that finally turned into a sigh, body shift, and full-on stare. “Well tell me now, then.”

Xander bit his lip. “When I first...found him-” he tried not to wince at the stray dog comparison “-I tried to give him money. Well, first I tried to get him to come home with me but he wouldn’t and I guess that’s a good thing ‘cause that means his parents gave him the whole ‘don’t go with strangers’ talk, before they were eaten or whatever, or maybe he learned the hard way and-”

He stopped at Spike glare. “Right. Anyways, I tried to give him money but he wouldn’t accept, of course, but then he sort of seemed to realize something and was all...”

“All...?”

“Hooker-ish?”

Spike snorted. “Hooker-ish?

“Well, whatever. Seductive. Not for me, I mean, but attempting to be.”

“So,” Spike leaned back, stuffing a handful of orange crap into his mouth. “Yer sayin’ that we have a teenager, a bloody fifteen year old, who you think is out chattin’ up old blokes and letting them-”

“Please don’t finish that.” Xander groaned.

“You sure? I had a really good pun-”

“Don’t!”

“It involved-”

Xander scooped up more orange munchies and crammed then into the vampire’s mouth. “Not listening!” He ran out of the room before Spike could spit anything at him.

“Mrrphg!”


~~


Xander sighed heavily and dropped down next to Spike again. “He still isn’t back.”

“To quote the boy in question, no duh.”

“It’s past midnight.”

“Must’ve been a bust night.”

Xander glared at him. “How can you say that? He’s a kid for God’s sake.”

“So were you, but you still went out and fought bloody demons every night.” Spike said in a more than slightly resentful tone.

Xander turned to look at him, surprised. Spike’s eyes were still fixed intently on the screen, eerie blue and slightly pink around the edges. Xander felt his gaze wander down to skid along the sharp cheekbones, and remembered how they felt digging into his shoulder. A burst of memory from That Night exploded in his mind and he quickly flushed red and turned away to stare at the carpet under his bare feet.

Spike glanced over at him, wondering what had caused that sickly sweet smell of worry to change so quickly to bitter embarrassment and a fleeting hint of delicious arousal. Spike felt a tingle of hope and hunger. “Pet?”

Xander tried not to shiver at the low voice and was about to cough and leave as quickly as he could, when the squeak of the door broke the tension he hadn’t known was there and filled him with utter relief.

Damnit boy, you always ruin our moments!

Spike turned to glare at the teenager.

“Hey,” Stephen kicked off his shoes and walked past them to his room. Xander stood, ever the mother figure.

“Where the fuck have you been?”

Stern mother, of course.

Stephen looked at him a bit disbelievingly. “Out.” He said in a voice that clearly meant the one word should extinguish all doubt.

“Don’t patronize me!”

Stephen blinked.

Great, I’m being patronized by someone who’s not even old enough to know what the words means.

“Out where?” Xander clarified, not budging an inch, eyes narrowed in suspicion. They (his eyes) were trying to be so serious, but being purple just made the whole appearance ridiculous and Spike had to stifle a hysterical giggle.

“What the fuck are you, my mother?”

“No, but I’m thinking that maybe yours could have used a little work if you’re out there doing what I think you’re doing.”

Spike’s eyes widened before they squeezed shut.

Oh no, Xan. No blows to the mum. ‘Sides, you didn’t have a bloody great one yourself.

Stephen fixed an incredulous glare at Xander before turning, stomping down the hallway, and slamming the door shut behind him. Xander dropped to the couch with a sigh.

“Fuck.”

“Fuck indeed.” Spike felt a bit like glaring at him himself. “What was with the mum comment? That really wasn’t necessary.”

Xander covered his face with a hand. “I know. Oh damnit, I really screwed this up. What should I- I’m going to go talk to him.”

Spike snorted. “Yes, ‘cause you’ve really proved you’re the gifted Whore Whisperer.”

Xander smacked him up the back of the head. “Would you stop it?!”

“But I’ve got this really good one-”

Xander walked out of the room before he could get past “So he was blowin’ this guy-”


~~


Xander knocked quietly on the door and earned a long silence in return. He knocked a little louder and something heavy that sounded like a shoe was thrown against the other side.

“Stephen,” Xander sighed, leaning against the wood and hoping the boy wasn’t on his headphones. “Listen, I’m really sorry. I just- If you’re...Do you need money? ‘Cause I have plenty- I mean...damnit. I’m really no good at this.”

He sighed again and drummed his fingers on the side of the doorway, then the door suddenly opened and he almost fell into the room. He looked up to see Stephen in classic teenager stance, arms crossed, weight shifted to one foot, and a slightly resentful expression of his face.

“No. You’re not.”

Xander grinned a bit helplessly and shrugged. “What can I say? Never had a kid- teenager before.”

Stephen tried to hide a smirk at his slip-up. “Never?”

“Well, Dawn sort of, but she doesn’t really count. She was more like my little sister.”

“And I’m like what?” Stephen cocked an eyebrow and Xander suddenly hated Spike and his damn influence. “Your son?”

Xander blinked and stammered, “Well- I didn’t, I mean- I really wasn’t-”

He stopped at Stephen’s short laugh. “Hey. It’s okay. You’re a lot cooler than my real dad ever was.”

Xander tried not to wince at the word ‘was.’

“And look where it got him.”

Xander sighed. “Stephen. I’m not trying to be your- father figure or anything, I just don’t want you to get hurt. Seriously.”

Stephen looked at him and appeared to be considering this. “So...What would this...not being my father figure entail?”

Xander furrowed his brow and pretended to be deep in thought. “Well. I definitely wouldn’t look out for you. I wouldn’t pay for your clothes or anything, I wouldn’t be nice to you or get worried when you stayed out too late. I wouldn’t try to get you to do anything more than watch TV or demand you to bring home your girlfriend for dinner. And I most definitely wouldn’t be your friend.”

Stephen slowly nodded, eyes blinking and trying to conceal emotion. “That sounds about right.”

“Good.” Xander said softly. “Then I won’t be your father.”

Not at all.


~~


Spike waited until Xander was asleep and snoring, still well on the other side of the bed— because he still hadn’t shed that layer of typical Xander hesitance and insecurity that he tried to hide and hid successfully to those who didn’t know to look for it; Spike knew— although he had yet to complain or comment when he woke up with the vampire curled around him and clutching his side.

Luckily neither the bed nor floor creaked when his weight was shifted on them, and he made it silently out the door. He walked down the hallway and into the kitchen, slinking like a cat and pausing every few seconds to make sure Xander or Stephen hadn’t heard him. If he was going to do this right (which he desperately wanted to, if nothing else than to see the look on Xander’s face) he had to make sure the man didn’t know.

He picked up the cell phone dropped carelessly on the counter and let himself onto the porch quietly, pulling the handle on the door up as he opened it as to not let it squeak, one of the many sneaky tricks he’d acquired over the years. Spike leaned against the side of the house in the warm balmy air and was once again glad he didn’t have a heart to be racing.

He dialed in the number that had been bouncing around his head all day, having to start over a few times because they keep making the damn phones smaller and smaller and he had to guess a few times to get the buttons right. He’d accidentally called the wrong number and when “Hello, it’s Candy, how may I please you tonight?” floated through the tiny holes in the phone he’d snapped it off and hoped it wouldn’t show up on the phone bill.

But he finally got it right and held his imaginary breath until a soft voice greeted him after a frighteningly long amount of rings.

“Hello?”

Spike slumped onto the bench with relief. “Bit.”

“Spike!” She squealed and he tried to not wince, hoping her voice wasn’t as loud in the house as it was to him out here.

“Oh my god, where have you been, you stupid vampire!”

Spike blinked. Okay. Not ‘zactly the blinding relief I had in mind.

“I’m sorry Pet, I wanted to call sooner but Xan always has his phone with-”

“Xan? As in...Xander?”

Spike couldn’t help his grin at the tiny flutter of hesitant hope in her voice. He was astounded that there could be even that shred left. His had been scraped away long before, but hers had prevailed despite the constant abrasion that death and fear had offered her.

“Yeah, Dawn. Xander.”

The phone was quiet for a moment and Spike started to worry. Was there a time limit on these damn things? He was about to redial the number but stopped when a choked-back sob skittered through.

“Pet? Come now, don’t cry,” he soothed, using his low voice he saved only for the girl.

“Spike,” she sniffed. Spike felt his heart (yes, the one that doesn’t work) break and crumble at her voice. “I want to see him,” she whispered.

“That’s why I called,” he murmured back, a sad ironic smile tilting the corners of his mouth. “I want you to come here with us.”

At she let loose the sobs and tiny gasps and little outbreaks of hope disguised with happy words, Spike closed his eyes and leaned the back of his head to the house, eyelids to the stars and doubts to the wind. She’d proved him right again. No matter how long and dark and scary the night became, he knew he’d always have Dawn to brighten it eventually.


~~


Stephen sat, his mouth open and eyes filled with horror. Occasionally little gasps of terror would drop from his low-hanging jaw.

“That...is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life.” He shuddered violently and wrenched his eyes away from the scene. “And I lived on the streets for two years, so that’s saying something.”

“It’s good!” Xander insisted around a mouthful. “Really!” He dunked the half-eaten Twinkie into his glass of chocolate milk again.

Stephen stood and stumbled away. “I can’t watch this.”

Spike entered the room, scratching his fuzzy blonde head and blinking sleepily. “Wot happened?”

“Xander’s a freak,” Stephen called, picking up the remote and clicking on the TV.

“Preachin’ to the choir, mate,” Spike sat down in a chair at the table and reached for the mug of blood he knew Xander had warmed for him. He froze as he watched the man take another bite of soggy brown cream and cake and dropped the mug like it had burned him, turned on his heel and ran through the doorway to jump onto the couch next to Stephen, clutching his stomach all the way.

“Oh, God!

“I know,” Stephen laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “It’s hard to tear your eyes away from.”

“I’ll never eat again.”

Xander threw the Twinkie on the table where it splattered little drop of brown-colored cream. “It’s good, damnit!”

Spike and Stephen shuddered and huddled together on the couch.


~~


The blade sliced cleanly through the junction at the shoulder and neck, severing the head from the body and crumpling it to the ground in a spray of blood and fading whimpers. Xander indifferently wiped the edge of the axe with the cloth of his jacket and turned back down the street. He hadn’t seen or killed any Keilans tonight but the stray rogue demon had satisfied his hyper mind and limbs. He’d spent the rest of the night convincing himself he didn’t like blondes. Especially adorable ones.

He glanced up and realized he was on Wexford, the street notorious for curfew-breaking illegal activity and a haven for stoners everywhere. He ignored the quick scuttling that sounded in the alleys and the lights up ahead that immediately flickered out when his figure was spotted on the horizon, probably mistaking him for a Combatant or other type of Violence Regulating Officer. He doubted the people here were aware they were in the middle a large K.Z. but also doubted they would care if they knew. He pulled his jacket hood over his head and was glad he put up with the extra heat and sweat it offered because it was times like these, in front of people who would do anything for money and crack, that he really needed to conceal his identity.

There were a few lonely catcalls from the sides of the street but he didn’t spare a glance or a thought. These people didn’t deserve what had happened to them and he wasn’t going to judge them for how they had handled their misfortune. If he had nothing to lose he would probably scorn those who did, too.

And that was just the problem. He wasn’t supposed to have something to lose. He was supposed to dedicate all his time and thought and energy to helping and saving other, not create bonds and a family of his own. That’s why the only thing of Buffy that had escaped the Tear was heroic stories and lost loves and old memories, and that’s why he refused to give in to the temptation of hope and family and love. That why he couldn’t- and didn’t -like blondes. Especially adorable ones.

A shape to his right flickered just out of his vision in the dull gray streetlight. There was something familiar about the stride of the shape and the cocky stance of the shape and Xander turned as he realized there was something even more familiar about the appearance of the shape in dingy gray light. He saw blue eyes and shaggy brown hair dulled and muddled and made hopelessly real by shades of murky slate.

“Stephen?”

The Stephen-shaped shape ducked into the shielding shadows of the surrounding buildings. Xander felt a hot flare of anger and betrayal rise and singe the back of his throat. He felt something he never had before, and later would realize it’s the closest he’d ever get to any fatherly emotions.

“Get back here, you little shit!”

Stern father, of course.

He jumped into the alley, hood still in place but bouncing on his head as he reached and grabbed a handful of brand new shirt. He jerked the body toward him and angry frightened blue eyes stared into his.

“Get off me!” The teenager thrashed and tried to pry himself free, but Xander held on harder than he had for any axe in any Keilan fight.

“No!” Xander roared, shaking the boy and yelling at him, incredulous, feeling crazy and damn angry. “What are you doing?! You said you wouldn’t! You goddamn said you wouldn’t!”

It wasn’t until he stopped shaking him that he noticed the tears streaming down his cheeks, leaving shiny gray streaks. Muffled sobs and cries failed to stop his “I didn’t,” from breaking out, and Xander realized that...he hadn’t. He hadn’t promised anything. His lips parted in shock and sadness and he wanted to apologize so bad it hurt.

But Stephen beat him to it.

Xander dropped to his knees, chalky gray gravel biting through the fabric of his jeans and digging into his skin. He cradled the boy with his head to his shoulder, surprised that it wasn’t awkward at all and instead filled him with this warmth close to somewhere inside him he hadn’t realized was cold. He drowned out the constant stream of ‘I’m sorry’s with soothing circles on his back and low comforting murmurs and shushes, but the stream of tears dampening the cloth on his shoulder refused to be hindered.

“I’m sorry, Stephen,” He whispered somewhere into his hair or ear. “I forgot that you...didn’t promise.”

The boy wrapped his arms around Xander’s broad chest and slowly slid down to his knees beside him, face still buried in the crook of his neck and heart beating fast and hard against so close to Xander’s. He felt Stephen nod against him and heard, “I promise. I promise now, I swear I won’t do it again...” The voice cracked and Xander rubbed more soothing shapes into the trembling back. “...Just, please don’t...”

“Don’t what?” Xander asked. I’ll never let you go. I need you to tell me what’s not cool and what clothes to buy and that Twinkies in chocolate milk is disgusting and unnatural.

“Don’t make me go,” he began sobbing again and Xander’s felt his heart quiver and threaten to crumble or burst or stop.

“I won’t, I would never do that.” He said honestly and all whispery and was surprised at how small his voice sounded in the giant gray night. “Come home with me?”

A half-cry half-laugh sounded from the trembling mouth. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

They walked out of the street with arms slung dependently around each other and dozens of envious lonely eyes trailing them as they made their way home.


~~


They had just sat down to dinner when the doorbell rang. Xander was surprised and confused and anxious. No one he knew rang the doorbell. They all knocked or just opened the door. He was even more confused when Spike looked up with excitement and expectancy in his already bright, bright eyes.

Xander walked towards the door and felt the vampire’s shining eyes on him the entire way. He reached for the knob and opened the door, evening California light spilling brilliant colors into the house. Xander’s breath caught in his throat before he could utter a “Hello.”

It was...Dawn.

Little laughing, smiling, sarcastic, pouting Dawn, but...transformed into this beautiful long haired soft-eyed—woman.

Xander couldn’t move and his body tingled with disbelief and absolute joy. He stared at this young woman he’d thought- no he’d known -to be dead, and his limbs and mind refused to work. So she did what he couldn’t.

“Hi, Xander,” she whispered into his ear after sweeping him into a hug. And, if nothing else, that hug was the most familiar thing in the world.

And he suddenly remembered how to reciprocate.





Part Ten



Spike fingered the soft frayed edges of his beloved blue blanket and traveled the long rocky road he figured every guy stumbled onto at least once in their life. The question was thought over and sweated over so often he didn’t understand why someone hadn’t published a valid ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. The guy who did it would be a billionaire, no doubt, because if every guy knew the right answer to this question there would be a whole lot more happy in the world, for both the asker and the askee.

Unfortunately for Spike, someone had yet to type up the answer in a book or post it all over the internet, or better yet, write a song about it. There were tons of songs about the question, but not a whole lot about the elusive answer. It was goddamn frustrating and Spike just didn’t have the patience for it.

Xander suddenly poked his head into the room. “Oh good, your awake. I thought you were going to sleep until noon, and by that time our entire room would be under drool-water. So get up, get dressed, and get your blood ‘cuz we’re taking Dawn to see the base and I don’t want a hungry vamp snarling at the receptionist again.”

Spike blinked as Xander’s head disappeared from the doorway. He noticed that?

He shook his head and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, mind skipping over the rest of the lecture and stopping and dwelling on the ‘our room’ the man had said, then kicked himself for being such a girl.

But he couldn’t stop himself from doing a cartwheel back onto the long ugly road.

Do I tell him?


~~


Xander was in a state of bliss. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so light, so happy and complete. Dawn was alive and she was beautiful. The first few days after she’d arrived, Xander couldn’t stop staring at her, half in disbelief and half in wonder. He felt like she was a leprechaun or something and if he didn’t keep his eyes on her at all time she’d slip away or disappear into thin air. As of yet, she’d done neither, but Xander wasn’t taking any chances.

Xander had tried, at first, to kick Stephen out of his room so Dawn could stay in it, but she would have none of it, assigning herself to the couch. Xander didn’t know fifteen-year-old boys could give such dirty looks.

Stephen didn’t like Dawn. For what reason, Xander couldn’t fathom, then again he was still in awe of her every move. Stephen on the other hand, seemed to resent her. Xander had tried to explain to him that it was a miracle she was even alive, and that they’d practically been family before the Tear but the boy just scoffed and glared. Spike finally had to restrain him before he ripped the ungrateful kid’s head off.

Dawn had told Xander about how she'd survived, how she’d hidden in the basement of the Magic Box while the others had tried to fight upstairs. He could see the pain and guilt in her eyes when she spoke about it, but could also see the resolve and forgiveness in them.

She’s forgiven herself.

Xander noted this with a touch of pride and envy and not a little guilt. She explained how Spike had found her and they’d stuck together fiercely, enduring the following horror and outbreak with their eyes screwed shut and hands clamped firmly over their ears, until it was finally safe enough to peek out and step back into the gray, gray world.

Xander learned about the abandoned house they’d *cough* borrowed *cough* and the few friends they’d made over the years. Years, he realized, that Dawn and Spike had lived together through and Spike hadn’t uttered a single word about. He hadn’t mentioned how he had to become a Combatant to pay for their food and clothes, he hadn’t casually let on about the Keilan that destroyed their new house, thankfully while they were away, so they had to move L.A. and rent an apartment. And he most definitely hadn’t brought up the fact that she was dating. Dating.

“You’re what?” Xander screeched. “You can’t do that!”

“That’s what I told her!” the vampire exclaimed from the couch. “But did she bloody listen? Of course not!”

“You guys are way over-protective,” Dawn said, smiling. “It’s not like I’m fighting crime and dating a broody vampire.”

The boys thought this over for a moment. “Yeah,” they agreed, mumbling.

“Besides, I’m not seeing anyone now.”

Spike looked up, eyebrows creeping towards his hairline. “Really? Wot happened to that Chris bloke?”

She blinked, fumbling with the hem of her shirt, “He, um. . . He was sort of a drug dealer. . .”

“Bloody hell!” Spike threw the remote at the wall.

“You inherited the Summers’ bad taste in men gene, didn’t you?” Xander asked, exasperated.

“Well. . . I do live with Spike,” she said teasingly. The vampire glared at her over the top of the couch.

“What I want to know,” the girl said, “is what is up with your head.” She pointed to the thin blonde fuzz.

“Wasn’t exactly in the best condition when I got here,” Spike explained, running a protective hand over his soft head. “Most of it was gone anyways. Xan just shaved the rest of it off.”

Xan?” she asked, a hint of a grin tipping the side of her lips. “There something here I should know about? ‘Cause I could swear I saw both of you go into the same room last night.”

A short, blink-filled pause.

“No! It’s not like that, there’s just only one bed-”

“Bloody hell no! I would touch this big oaf if-”

They both stopped when they saw the next to hysterical state she was in.

“Oh, quit it. T’wasn’t that funny,” Spike grumbled, glaring at the laughing girl.

“Yes it was! Oh, you guys are too easy.” She wiped her eyes but continued smiling at them as they awkwardly stared at the ground, then the ceiling, and finally at the hems of the shirts they were fumbling with.

“I’m gonna get some-” Xander waved in the general direction of the coffeemaker.

“I’m gonna go-” Spike waved in the opposite direction.

Dawn smiled. “Okay.”

They are so in love.


~~


The four of them arrived at REHV, two shuffling along reluctantly, one turning and trying to soak in every detail, and one skipping.

“Would you bloody well stop that,” Spike hissed.

“Stop what?” Xander asked, smiling and oblivious. “Hi Kate!” Hr waved at the blonde receptionist so obviously flirting with him.

“Hi Xander,” he did a little wave and followed him with her eyes as she chatted on the phone.

Xander poked Spike in the shoulder. “Stop growling.”

Spike glared at him for being so naive.


“Dawn, you know Wes,” Xander waved a hand at the dusty man trying to pry his nose out of a similarly dusty book. His head popped up at the introduction. “Did you say-”

He turned and the book hit the table with a bang. Dozens of heads poked out of the aisles and did a simultaneous (obviously practiced, Spike scoffed) ‘shhhh!’

“Dawn?” Wes whispered.

Spike rolled his eyes at the following hug, dramatic scene, etc. “This is getting very repetitive,” he sing-songed, ignoring Xander’s elbow jab and Stephen snorting agreement.

Then of course, the “where have you been/how are you” conversation, which usually bored Spike to life, this one not excepted.

“She’s been with me and she’s fine.” Spike stated, trying to cut out all the emotional crap. “Can we go now?”

He was, of course, ignored and wandered over to the other tables while the hushed discussion continued. He spotted the dark haired geeky kid that was supposedly helping Wes find out more about Spike’s ‘problem.’

“Hey,” the vampire called, paying no notice to the frantic shush’s that followed it. The greasy haired kid looked up. “Darren, right? Have ya found anything out about my ‘problem’?”

“I-it’s um, Derrick,” the kid stammered, glancing nervously around. “Are you, uh, Spike?”

“No, I’m the bloody Queen,” Spike sniped, drumming his red-edged fingernails on the dusty table. “Of course I’m fucking Spike.”

The boy seemed even more distressed, stuttering and looking wildly around for someone to save him. “I-I’m not really supposed to—I don’t think I-I— th-there’s—”

Spike slammed his hand down on the table, silencing Derrick and causing glasses-framed eyes all around the library to turn and glare angrily at him. The vampire leaned forward so his cool blue eyes were inches from the boy’s, the edges just a little too red to be lack of sleep. “What do you know?” He asked, adding a touch of fang and a shimmer of gold.

The familiar bloody hell I missed it smell of respect burst through the stinking fear and panic. “We’ve found a vague reference,” the kid whispered.

Spike leaned back an inch. “Reference to what?”

Derrick’s shoulder slumped slightly at the movement away from him. “It appears to be a vampire with an infection or disease.”

Spike nodded, about to ask for more when a hand on his shoulder stopped him. “Frightening the researchers? Not a good idea, Bleacho.” Spike was about to comment that the nickname didn’t really apply to him anymore; he hadn’t used bleach in almost a year, but Xander cut him off again. “Don’t worry Der, he’s only hungry.”

Spike tried to protest but was dragged off by the neck of his shirt. “Stupid, soddin,’ Purple-”

Xander pulled the vampire up into a hug. “Love you too, Bloodbreath.”

Spike felt said breath leave him in a whoosh at the words, even just used in play. The hard chest kissed his own thin one for a moment before releasing him and dragging him out the door.

*clunk*

Hello, road. You’re looking frustrating and disconcerting today.


~~


Eight pairs of feet shuffled out of the late evening air and through the front door of the house. “I’m going to bed,” Stephen called, already stripping down to his boxers on the way to his room.

“I think I will, too,” Dawn said, unfolding the blanket and draping it over the couch. “Thanks for taking me there, Xander. It was really good to see Wes again and nice to meet Sam.” She turned and pulled the man in for yet another hug. “I can’t believe how much I really missed being with people and didn’t even know it.”

“Hey!” Spike protested. “I’m people!”

“I meant interesting people,” she replied, grinning.

Spike scowled, but pulled her into a tight hug. “Glad your with us, Nibblet.” He said into her ear. She smiled at the nickname he’d never stopped using. “See you tomorrow, Spike.”

She watched them trudge sleepily off to their room. Their room. “I knew it,” she giggled happily. Spike and Xander. “They’re so cute together.” She slid onto the couch and pulled the covers over her.

Spike and Xander. She closed her eyes and focused on the muffled creaking of crickets outside, and not the niggling sad fact that ‘us’ had turned so quickly from ‘Spike and Dawn’ to ‘Spike and Xander.’


~~


Xander didn’t like flowers. Never had. They were pointless and vain and high maintenance. They reminded him too much of Anya. Not that he thought of Anya that way; he tried to recall everyone of his past with fondness even if he hadn’t while they were living, but over time, without obligation and love or hate clouding his judgment, he was able to see people more for what they really were and not for the inflated expectations he’d once viewed them through.

But anyways. Flowers. He had them in his yard. Why? Who knows. But they were there. And it hadn’t rained in a while, judging by the sickly brown his grass was turning. And flowers need water. Right? The last time he’d checked they did.

Xander lugged the thick green hose around the corner of his house. “Stupid, pointless flowers. . .” He dropped the hose and walked over to the nozzle.

“In the next chapter of the Amazing Purple Man’s life,” Spike announced loudly from the shelter of the porch. “Purple Man and the Thirsty Flowers of Doom.”

Xander heard Dawn’s giggles from inside the house.

“Can he brave the horror and defeat the terrible Flowers to win the hand of his beloved vampire?”

Xander heard a distinct thump as a small hard object was aimed at Stephen and missed its mark.

“Or will he perish at the leaf of the horrifying Flo- aw, shit!”

Spike sputtered and hissed, shaking his head hard and scrambling into the house. “Fuck you!” he called after him, scampering away like a pissed off cat.

Xander grinned, aiming the strong stream of water back at the drooping flowers.

I was right.

Spike looked even cuter when wet.


~~


The moon was just a tiny silver sliver peeking timidly through the wispy clouds. Spike wished it was bigger. It somehow made him feel lonely knowing only a small fraction of pale gray light stared down at them. But he was just being stupid. The moon doesn’t make people lonely.

“It’s nice out, huh?” Xander asked quietly. Spike heard the desperate cry for conversation in his voice and sympathized with it.

“Yeah. Moon’s pretty.”

Bloody buggerin’ hell. Did I just say ‘pretty’? I am such a soddin’ girl.

“Yeah. . .pretty.”

Good, he said it too.

It was their first time alone at night (sleeping didn’t count) since their little snogging session and both could feel the tension like a knife at their throats. Spike had felt nothing but trepidation about this moment, and the question in his mind had yet to be answered.

What do I do?

“Why didn’t you tell me about Dawn?”

Okay, wasn’t expecting that.

“What do you mean?” he asked, looking into the bright violet eyes lit only partly by the sparse light the slice of moon offered.

“Dawn. Why didn’t you tell me you were living with her. Hell, why didn’t you tell me she was alive?” But strangely, despite his accusatory words, the man didn’t sound angry.

It must have been terrible, Spike realized, believing that every single person you loved from you past is dead.

He barely repressed a shudder at the thought of what Xander must have gone through.

And I wondered why he’d changed so much. He had to.

“I’m sorry, Xander,” he said quietly, “but I didn’t know if I could trust you at first.”

“Trust me? You mean you thought I’d hurt Dawn?” Now a bit of anger creeping in.

“I didn’t know, Xan! I didn’t know who you were anymore! I know that the old you would never hurt her, or anyone else for that matter, but after all—everything. . .everyone changed a little, pet,” Spike smiled sadly. “I mean, look at you. Not exactly the clumsy white hat you were when I last turned around. You’ve. . .changed.”

Spike couldn’t stand the look on Xander’s face.

“It’s not a bad thing, pet! Hell, I would’ve been disappointed if you hadn’t changed a bit. Now, the eyes I wasn’t expecting-” the shy smile did wonders for Spike’s wilting ego “-and the muscles were a nice touch, but deep down we all know you’re the awkward droopy git we all know and love.” That word again. “Just with a few. . .minor improvements.”

He flashed the man his best you-know-you-love-me smile and felt his still heart warm to the answering one. “So yeah, I’ve changed. How have you?”

Spike didn’t even need to think about it. “Pet, I’ve changed so often over my unlife I’m beginning to forget what I started out as.”

Xander grinned a little.

“For one thing, I took care of a bloody girl for four years. I used to eat them as a side dish and now I’m borrowing nail polish and discussing if Brad or Johnny is cuter with one. I was forced to change, ‘cuz of the chip. Permanently change, mind you. I’ll never be able to hit or bite a human again without feeling a lightning storm in my head, even if I ever do get the thing out. Demon’s a simple creature, and the chip is almost childlike in its programming. Hurting human = bad. That’s all the demon needs to know to follow that rule forever. I’ve changed so much and so often that sometimes I forget who I’m supposed to be. It’s. . .scary.”

Xander was staring at him and the smile was gone. In its place were slightly worried, parted lips that Spike just couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of.

“I’d say I’m sorry but I’m not,” Xander said very quietly.

Spike blinked.

“I wasn’t exactly on the best of terms with the Spike I knew four years ago. But now—I mean, I’m really happy I met this Spike. Who takes care of little girls and paints his nails sparkly blue and at least pretends to pay attention when I speak. It’s—I would have been really disappointed if I hadn’t gotten to see this changed, with just a few minor improvements Spike.”

The vampire felt breathless, which he supposed was something he should be used to since he’d already gone a hundred and some years like it.

“Xander,” and for a moment Spike had the answer. For a moment Spike understood what to say. For a moment Spike knew.

“I love you.”

Spike was half-surprised and half-disappointed there weren’t any fireworks or sudden choir music piping through the warm night air. He couldn’t remember ever saying those words and meaning half as much as they did just now.

The look on Xander’s face was one he’d both love and hate the man for, a long time after it had past.

Spike leaned forward and closed his eyes and desperately wanted those warm lips he’d been dreaming about the past few night to push hungrily against his and proclaim their own love. Spike wanted to be made love to, not even caring that it was girly, and maybe carried to bed.

He pushed forward with hoping lips and kissed the warm, soft empty air.

His eyes flew open and onto Xander who had stumbled to his feet. “Xan?-”

“You-you,” the man seemed to be in shock. “But you-you can’t-”

“Xander? What are you-” Spike felt fear and dread and damnit regret douse his stomach and tie up his throat into tiny little knots.

“I’m-oh god Spike I’m so sorry, but I can’t,” the man sobbed, shaking his head so hard that loose russet curls bounced around his shoulder.

“Wh-Wot do you mean?” Spike asked, panicking. “Of course you-”

“No! I’m not supposed to! I promised myself I wouldn’t—goddamn it I wasn’t even supposed to have friends! How would I ever have a-” Xander obviously couldn’t think of a name for what Spike would be.

“Lover?” the vampire whispered.

“No! Don’t you get it?! I promised, I can’t—I don’t want to end up like Buffy!” he screamed the last part.

Spike stared at him in disbelief.

“I’m-I’m so sorry Spike, but—I can’t.” Xander whispered, eyes dropping to the floor where tears soon followed.

The vampire was very, fucking pissed off.

Rage growled through his veins like an acid and poured to slosh and fill his cold heart. “Fuck you, Xander! That’s not how it was! That’s not how it works! You would be honored to end up like Buffy!”

Spike jumped to his feet. He reached forward and grabbed Xander by the neck, pulling them close and smashing their mouths together fiercely. “I love you, you son of a bitch.”

Xander fell back as he was shoved away and watched Spike disappear over the porch railing and into the murky gray night.

“I can’t,” he whispered, and he wished he could remember why.


~~


Xander was in a state of misery. He couldn’t believe how fast he had dropped from soaring to crawling.

This is why I can’t have a family. Just imagine what it’d be like if he’d died.

He didn’t even try to repress the shudder.

The phone rand and Xander trudged over to it, picking up the receiver and pressing it to his throbbing headache. “What?”

“Xander,” Wesley’s clipped tones slid into his ear. “You’re sounding. . .miserable.”

“Thanks, I hadn’t noticed.” Wes’s accent wasn’t helping the headache. “Just tell me why you called.”

“Oh yes, well we aren’t exactly positive and we will need to conduct more research to be absolutely sure, but we think we might have possibly found-”

“Come on Wes, I really just want to get to bed.” Xander massaged his temples with his free hand. “You might have found what?”

“A cure.”





Part Eleven



Xander combed a hand through his hair, resenting that it came back shaking and slicked with sweat. He watched Dawn peering nervously at him but remaining quiet, finding her answers by observing the dialogue people in white coats or thick dusty glasses would pass back and forth like a joint, each savoring their own turn and trying to make it longer and better than the others’.

Stephen’s head was ducked and his hands were shoved into black jeans, eyes glancing around suspiciously and snapping a “What’s going on?” every few minutes. Everyone ignored him, of course, and that just made him even angrier and warier.

Xander practically kissed Wesley when he saw him poke his head in the door. “Wes!”

The ex-Watcher glanced at him and a strange emotion flickered over his features. “Xander,” he said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. When he had reached Xander, skirting the cluster of conversing researchers and scientists, Xander couldn’t help but notice how bedraggled and tired Wesley looked. “You okay?” he asked, turning his back to the two younger people and lowering his voice slightly.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Wes assured him, offering a small tired smile. “Well, let’s get to work then,” he said louder, and the discussion beside them stopped.

“This,” Wesley began, adjusting his glasses and gesturing to the group of people in white lab coats, “is a small portion of the scientists currently searching for a permanent cure for the disease spread by the sting of a Keilan. They are, as of yet, wildly unsuccessful-” five pairs of agitated eyes glared at him “-in the curing of either a human or demon specimen carrying the infection.”

Xander felt his heart drop and mind buzz with panic and confusion. Then why did Wes bring me here?

“But it was brought to my attention that, because of the nature of the victim and his--unlikely past relationship with the unnatural, that it might be wise to search somewhere other than in a test tube.” Wes smiled at Sam, lurking at the edges of the crowd, who flushed happily at his pride for her contribution. Out of the corner of his eye Xander saw the kid’s, Derrick’s, face twist into a scowl.

Xander smirked. ‘Unlikely past relationship with the unnatural.’ GeekSpeak for ‘lived on the Hellmouth.’

“So a team of researchers began investigating references to vampires and illnesses and any related themes. They weren’t many, but we managed to round up a fair number of vague allusions and sifted through them carefully. There was one in particular, a prophecy, that stood out and mentioned a ‘chosen demon’ with some type of illness. Along with the—other clues it supplied, we have good reason to think it refers to Spike.”

Xander’s head swam. Prophecy? ‘Chosen demon?’ They were just supposed to find a cure or at least something to slow the disease’s effects, not some--prophecy to be fulfilled.

Dawn soft voice broke the growing silence. “What exactly is wrong with Spike?”

Wesley blinked in confusion and turned to Xander. Oh shit. I never told her.

“Um. . .” He took a deep breath. “I forgot to tell you. Both of you actually, but. . .Spike was actually stung by the Keilan that attacked him. He. . .contracted the disease it spreads.”

Dawn stared at him with her lips parted and eyes wide and shiny. For a moment she was a little girl learning her best friend was dying, but then with her throat cleared and a tiny nod she back to the young woman Xander was still slightly wary of but growing to love more every day.

Stephen was grim-faced but trying not to show any emotion. Xander could see his jaw was clenched and throat tight from withholding a shout or a sob or gasp. Xander wished he would make some type of noise or show some type of his customary anger. But his shoulders kept rising and falling in precise rhythm and his arms hung lax at his sides. The absence of emotion frustrated him more than Dawn’s breathy and tearless gasps.

“Wes,” he said too suddenly and loud. The man’s head snapped up. “The prophecy. What is it?”

“Yes, of course,” he mumbled, picking up a thick book and flipping through it. “It was difficult to translate from the original dialect; the language has many variations and some words can have up to seven different meanings depending on what region you say them.” He turned another page and trailed his finger down it.

“It mentions the Demon with a Red Sickness, and here is what we presume it means to be the cure.” He cleared his throat, glanced up at Xander, and read the passage.


The Chosen Demon must live with the knowledge of a human, until he attains the humility of one.

Then he shall drink from the blood of the Hero and become physical what he has remembered to cherish.



There was silence as each mind twisted the words to mean something. Xander’s heart thudded loud in his chest.

“The first part, read it again.”

Wes looked down at the book. “The Chosen demon must live with the knowledge of a human, until he attains the humility of one.”

Knowledge of a human. What does that mean? And how would a vampire attain the humility of a human? They’re evil by nature.

The fact that Spike was always an exception to the rules nagged at Xander, but he refused to let himself hope.

“How do we know this prophecy is even about Spike?” Xander asked, exasperated. “It could be about any demon with the disease. And what kind of explanation for a cure is that? It doesn’t even make sense!” He was beginning to get inexplicably angry.

No, not inexplicably. He had been watching his friend slowly die! He hadn’t commented on how long it took for the vampire to fully heal even with human blood to aid him, the process slowed by the fact that he was getting sicker even as he got stronger. He hadn’t commented on the streaks of pale red peeking through chipped black polish or the way his irises seemed to be floating in cracked veins in the morning. And he hadn’t commented on the way the vampire was beginning to forget where he put his Cd’s or the remote, even though this terrified him the most with the threat that insanity might be slowly creeping up. He’d stayed quiet and careful, but now. . .

“He’s dying, goddamnit! Even if this is about him and it is a cure, by the time we actually figure out what it means he’ll probably be dead already!”

Xander felt a hand on his shoulder but he wrenched free. “Don’t you care? He’s my—”

And Xander realized, for the second time, that he couldn’t think of a word for what Spike was.

“Come on, Xan,” Dawn said quietly, “let’s go.”

He let himself be led out the door and out of the building by her, and didn’t respond when the receptionist waved at him.


~~


Xander sat in the passenger seat, letting Dawn drive them home. He’d been surprised when she asked, then remembered she was eighteen and well over the age of knowing how to drive. He sat quietly with his head against the seat and his eyes closed, trying to calm the roaring in his head to a dull murmur.

“So. . .Are prophecies always that cryptic?” Stephen asked from the backseat.

“Yes,” replied Dawn and Xander.

“’Kay.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence. When they were home, Xander went immediately to his bedroom and locked the door. Dawn stood in the hallway staring at the other side and wanting to be with Xander.

Not this Xander, though. The old Xander, the one who’d held her and made her laugh even when she was crying. She loved that Xander and the memory of him, but this new one was quiet and solitary. Not cold exactly, but definitely lukewarm.

She missed Xander even when she was in the same room with him, because something was missing or maybe added that caused him to be wary of his own shadow. She knew she’d never have the old Xander back, but maybe a glimpse of a goofy grin or lame joke could help her put behind the old and embrace the new with some familiar love and warm memories.

She never wanted to forget, just move on.


~~


Xander held the soft blue blanket to his chest. How ironic, he’d always mused, that Spike picked the one that used to belong to Jesse. But however sweet the coincidence, Xander couldn’t help but feel a pang whenever he saw the vampire wrapped up in worn blue fabric. The one thing he’d kept from his past, warming a killer he used to hate. It seemed his past was beginning to catch up with him, no matter the measures he’d taken to be free of it.

Xander held the blanket to his cheek, fuzzy cloth pressed warmly against his skin. When he pulled it away, he was surprised to see damp spots decorating it. Two months. Spike had lived with him for just two months and had already made him cry twice. Two more times than he had in the four years before his arrival.

Xander felt lonely.


~~


Dawn sat next to Stephen on the couch. He was staring blankly at a show on MTV. Dawn didn’t know Stephen—well, at all. Spike had described him as a ‘pushy little git’ with some pride in his voice and Dawn had accepted that with utter belief, with what little she’d seen of him. But she could tell there was something more than a typical teenage boy under the typical teenage boy facade, and given what she knew Spike occasionally and her friend Jeremiah to act like, she had an idea of what it was.

“So. . .How long have you been staying with Spike and Xan?”

The boy continued staring at the TV without answering.

“You didn’t know he was sick either, huh?”

Bam did an ollie over a shopping cart and Stephen remained silent.

Dawn inwardly sighed. If they were going to be friends at all they had to be honest, and she didn’t want this secret hanging over him for his whole life or their possible friendship.

“They know you like boys?”

That caught his attention and he snapped his head around to stare at her. “What?” he asked incredulously.

“I said do Spike and Xan know you’re gay?” she asked conversationally, glancing at Don Vito sputtering and drinking beer.

What? I’m not gay!” he spat the word and Dawn felt the need to wipe it off her face.

“Sure,” she gave her full attention to the TV and let Stephen glare at her open-mouthed.

“I’m not!” he yelled.

“I said ‘sure,’ didn’t I?” she replied flippantly.

“But-Why would you even think that?” he asked, and Dawn pretended she didn’t hear the worry in his voice.

“No reason.” She knew she was torturing him and tried to feel bad about it, but it was hard with him gaping and flouncing like a fish.

“Bullshit!” he exclaimed.

“I just have a few friends that are and you, I don’t know, reminded me of them.”

He scowled in disgust. “I’m not a fag.”

“We’ve already established that.”

They were quiet for a moment.

“But what do you mean I reminded you of them? Do I like—sound gay or something.”

Dawn was trying very hard not to laugh at this point. “No.”

Stephen was getting exasperated. “Then what?!”

“I don’t know. You just do.”

Stephen sighed but it sounded more like a growl.

After a moment Dawn said, “They wouldn’t care you know.”

“What?”

“Spike and Xander.”

“They wouldn’t care about what?”

“If you were gay.”

“I’m not!”

“I know, I’m just saying. Spike actually has—nevermind.”

He glanced at her. “He’s what?”

“Nothing.”

“Come on!”

“No.”

“. . .Please?”

She sighed. “He’s kind of. . .you know.”

“No, what?”

“What have we been talking about for the past ten minutes.”

It took a minute for realization to rise. “Seriously?” he asked in disbelief.

“Yeah. You mean you haven’t noticed?”

“Well. . .he does paint his nails. . .and spends a lot of time on his hair even though he barely has any. . .he seems to like leather a lot and sleeps in the same bed as Xander.”

He suddenly looked up. “Oh my god. Are he and Xander-” he waved his hand in a gesture that Dawn supposed was meant to mean ‘together.’

“Well, not exactly,” she said cryptically.

“What do you mean?” Stephen asked, scooting a little closer.

She glanced at him. “Why do you care anyways? You’re not gay, after all.”

“No,” he said a little slower this time.

Another contemplating moment filled with a commercial break.

“Alright. . .I might, um, have thought about it once or twice,” Dawn could barely hear him, he was talking so quietly.

“About what?” she asked, barely restraining a grin.

“That I might. . .you know.”

“No. Just tell me.”

“Be. . .gay.” He said it like it was a death sentence and a lifesaver all in one.

“Uh huh.”

He blinked. “Did you hear me?”

“’Course I did. I’m not deaf.”

He blinked again.

She turned and smiled at him. “It’s okay, you know.”

He gave a short bitter laugh. “No. Not where I’m from. It’s like someone took a Sharpie and wrote ‘Make my life hell’ on your forehead. Believe me.”

Dawn heard sad experience in his voice, something she was hearing more and more often from each person she met. Maybe not his experience, she mused, but definitely something that stuck with him.

“But we’re not there,” she said, looking him in the eye. “And not everywhere is like that.”

“So?” he asked, returning her face-to-face challenge. “A lot of places are.”

“So you’re just going to lie whenever you’re faced with a difficult situation. How courageous of you.”

“Better a shit-scared chicken than a dead fag,” he growled low in his throat.

“Is it?”

He shook his head. “What do you even know? You’re just a girl.”

Her face hardened and she grabbed his collar, using her strength and years to her advantage. “Yeah, just a girl who lived on the Hellmouth her whole life and survived the Tear at its heart. Just a girl who’s sister was the fucking Slayer.” She pushed him away. “Yeah, I’m just a girl.”

He stared at her, eyes wide with surprise and respect. They were quiet for another minute. “They. . .they really wouldn’t hate me?”

Dawn blinked. “No. Of course not. I don’t think they ever could.” She’d seen the way Xander looked at him and it made her yearn for the father she’d barely known.

“Okay.” He was quiet.

“I don’t hate you either, you know. I think you’re a bit of a bitch sometimes but I kinda like you.” She grinned.

He smiled back. “Thanks. I like you too.”

She reached out and pulled him in for a hug.

“Hey, do you know where Spike went last night? He goes out sometimes for a drink but hasn’t even come back yet.”

They broke away and Dawn looked at him in alarm. “You’re right.”


~~

Xander woke to three loud knocks on the door. “Wha- huh?”

He stumbled to his feet and to the door, fumbling with the knob and opening it to a determined-looking Dawn and Stephen. “What?”

“Where’s Spike?”

Xander rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t know where he is! We were just- talking last night and he got angry and ran.”

“And you were going to tell me this, when?” Dawn demanded angrily.

Xander shrugged. “I don’t know.”

She sighed, “You’re useless.”

“And you sound like every girlfriend I’ve ever had.”

“I pity them.”

“Me too.”

She grabbed his shirt, because that seemed to be working so well today. “What were you taking about?”

“Just stuff.” He pried her hand off and walked past her to the kitchen. He poured some coffee, glanced at the clock and wondered why this didn’t feel strange at 1 in the afternoon.

“Well it was obviously something upsetting,” she crossed her arms and Xander couldn’t help but see Buffy.

“I guess.”

“You guess. Spike is out alone in the middle of the day, and you guess something upset him.”

The mug froze at his lips. Middle of the day. “Oh shit.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I’ve got to go look for him,” Xander ran to his shoes, jumping on one foot and pulling them on.

“What were you talking about?”

“He could anywhere, god, he could be dead-

“Xander!”

He paused, chest heaving, to look at her.

“What. Were. You. Talking about?”

He shook his head.

“Tell me. It might help us figure out where he went.”

He thought about this. Dawn knew Spike better than any of them, after all, and she wouldn’t help until she got answers. He took a deep breath and leaned against the door. “He. . .he said he loved me.”

Dawn and Stephen gaped at him. “Oh.” She said quietly. “Well. . .what did you say?”

He screwed his eyes shut. “I said I couldn’t. . .”

Dawn stared at him in disbelief. “You what?

“Dawn, I- I promised myself I wouldn’t. I shouldn’t even have seen him at all, let alone you two. I can’t make connections like this, I need to be focused completely on- It’s just I. . .”

But with the way she was staring at him the words sounded stupid even to him.

“Let me get this straight. You gave up your one chance to have Spike, who you so obviously are head over heals in love with, because of some stupid promise you made to yourself in the lowest point of your life that you wouldn’t have any friends because you didn’t want to risk losing them? Xander,” she reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder. “You need friends and love. They’re what will keep you fighting when just ‘because its right’ won’t. Family—it’s what they really fight for, all the heroes. Just look at Buffy. Without her family, without us, she wouldn’t have had anything to fight for. You need us, Xan.”

Xander looked at her, the promise, the life he’d set out for himself slowly crumbling at her words. Was it really that simple? Had he really fucked it up that much?

“Okay,” he whispered. “But. . .What do I do?”

She looked at him as if he were crazy. “Go!”

He turned and stumbled out the door and down the steps, jumping into his car and speeding down the road with tires squealing and engine howling.


~~


Xander searched every warehouse, crypt, and seedy motel within a three-mile radius. He had yet to lay eyes on the blonde vampire, but he was terrified at every piece of dust that floated his way. Xander finally pulled into a bar, heart sunk and clenching with worry and guilt. Xander was on his third beer when he saw Spike in the corner furthest from the windows, gulping whisker although he was obviously already piss-drunk. Xander felt his heart leap at the sight of the scowling vampire, then clench again at the expression of pure misery on his face.

Xander got up and walked over to Spike’s booth, dropping into the side opposite him. “Hey,” he said quietly.

Spike looked up sharply, eyes swimming drunkenly but fixing on him. His features twisted into a game-faced snarl. “You,” he growled through flashing fangs.

“Spike, I-”

The vampire lunged at him, tipping over his glass and latching onto his shirt with a clenched first. Xander felt the first blow to his cheek and tried to stumble to his feet. Spike snarled again and threw a punch to Xander’s chest. The man didn’t double over but felt the wind knocked out of him. Not wanting to hurt Spike, he grabbed him by the back of his shirt and yanked him backwards. The vampire fought and snarled and gnashed his fangs, but finally his drunkenness caught up with him and he passed out with his head lolling to the side.

The bartender was calling to Xander if he needed help but he declined, swinging one arm under Spike’s knees and the other under his shoulders. The familiarity of the embrace did not leave Xander untouched as he quickly walked out of the bar, infinitely thankful that the building’s shadow allowed a dustless path to his car.

As Xander drove them home he couldn’t stop himself from staring at the sleeping vampire, still in game face, and think how beautiful he was. But he also couldn’t stop thinking, subconsciously, how the bruises on his own face hadn’t seemed to hurt the vampire at all.


~~


Spike woke and felt like someone was beating his head with a sledge hammer from the inside. It was dark, thankfully, and he blinked around in the dim light, wondering where he was. His room, he realized with awe. He felt the soft blue blanket on his chest and heard the thud-thud of a heartbeat beside him.

He turned slowly onto his side and stared at Xander, trying desperately and failing to keep his eyelids from drooping, and he couldn’t help but feel a touch of affection despite his fury. Stupid adorable git.

Xander’s eyes flew open and Spike realized he’d said his thoughts aloud. “Spike?” Consciousness settled in more firmly and he scrambled away. “Spike, please don’t hit me, I know I deserve it, I more than deserve it for being such an idiot, but please let me explain-”

“Not gonna hit you, pillock.” Spike laid his head down on the soft pillow.

“Oh. Thanks.” Xander settled back on the bed. He sighed. “Listen, Spike-”

“Yeah, yeah, heard it b’fore. Can’t, won’t, promised, you’re a bloody broken record.” Spike mumbled into the pillow. Sleep was looking mighty good again.

“No. I mean. . .This sounds incredibly lame, but I changed my mind.” Spike peered up at him. “I’m so sorry, Spike, for what I said before. It’s been pointed out to me that I was being a total idiot-”

“Could’ve told ya that, mate.”

“-and that I shouldn’t lie to you anymore.” Xander smiled. “I. . .love you, Spike.”

Spike stared at him, not quite believing what he was hearing. “You. . .”

Xander hesitantly reached out then pulled them close. “Are in love.”

Spike gaped. “Oh. . .Wow, I can’t believe-”

Xander shut him up real good.





Part Twelve



Spike couldn’t believe the speed at which time was rushing past him. Just a few hours ago he’d been drowning his misery in whiskey and tears, and now he was sucking face with the man he loved. Not a bad transition, mind you, although a terribly quick one. In fact, the long said sucking went on, the less it mattered to Spike about the memory of stinging liquid down his throat, the previous days, or any other subject that could be classified into the ‘Thought’ category.

Spike was far more concerned with slippery lips, hot breath on his cheek, and rough hands sliding slowly up his shirt, than those brief flashes of coherency that usually added up to something resembling “oh, fuck” “god, more” and “Xanderrrrr.” No, not too many brain waves rolling off this vampire.

Clothes, however, rolled freely.

Spike panted as Xander’s hands wrapped around his waist, rubbing sensuously against sharp hipbones then gripping the hem of his shirt. Xander’s lips pressed hard into Spike’s own before pulling away as he lifted his shirt over his head. Xander grinned at the vampire, and he shivered under the wicked stare. The man leaned forward to whisper in Spike’s ear. “I was really worried while I was looking all around the city for you.” Spike’s unneeded breath hitched as his ear was nipped and licked, yet he felt a twinge of guilt. “Know what I was thinking?” Xander asked, pulling away for a moment.

The blonde gulped and shook his head, staring at the dark eyes in front of him and watching the violet be swallowed by lusty black. He couldn’t help the shiver as the intensity of the stare burned into him.

Spike gulped and Xander watched the bobbing adam’s apple, wanting to lean over and bite it. “I was thinking,” Xander continued, sucking and nipping the sensitive flesh by the vampire’s ear. “That if I ever see that bastard alive again,” Spike gasped in excitement and fear as he was pushed onto his back and strong hands pinned his own uselessly at his sides. He realized that with his illness and not being fully healed, that the muscled trained man could overpower him easily. His cock hardened even more in his pants. “I’d have to shove him against the nearest solid object and fuck him through it.” Xander’s voice growled into his ear. Spike bucked up into him, bare chest heaving at the words.

Xander’s eyes narrowed and he devoured the demon’s mouth hungrily, tongue probing and teeth catching swollen lips between them. Spike couldn’t believe how much the intensity bordering on anger that Xander exuded with every pant aroused him to the point of nearly getting off at his harsh words. The man ripped his mouth away from the pinned down vampire’s and began working on a nipple, feeling it harden beneath his tongue as he flicked it then circled it, loud moans escaping from gasping mouth above him. Xander sucked until the dusky pink bruised and pinched the hardened nub between his teeth. Spike screamed and bucked off the bed, hips searching furiously for friction but finding none. He groaned in disappointment and need, but began gasping again as Xander moved to work over the left nipple, licking and sucking and nipping until the vampire was pleading.

Xander paused to examine the rock hard man beneath him. Slightly longer, honey colored hair sticking up in haphazard patches, dark blue eyes practically black with need, staring up and begging him to move lower, and bruised swollen lips parted and slick. The smooth pale chest rose and fell chaotically, erect nipples slightly purple above the nearly hairless abdomen, save a thin trail of wispy blonde hair leading down into the obscenely bulging jeans. Xander licked his lips predatorily and watched more black engulf the shining blue eyes.

But despite his desire to just fuck the man into next week, he knew that wasn’t what he or Spike really needed. He smiled and murmured, “Love you,” into the blonde’s ear, feeling him smile.

“You too, Xan.”

Xander looked into the blue and black eyes, ignoring the red tint, and began kissing Spike again, this time softer and without the fierceness of before. Spike moaned and kissed back passionately, tongue sliding into Xander’s mouth and tracing every crevice. Xander tasted sweet alcohol and smoke, even though he hadn’t seen the vampire light a cigarette since he’d arrived. Spike’s back arched and his jean-clad erection rubbed against Xander’s, making the man pulled away panting for a moment, then dive back down, deepening the kiss hungrily and moaning every time they brushed against each other.

Xander pulled away again. “Keep your hands there.” Spike nodded and licked his lips at the throaty voice, keeping his hands outstretched at his sides when Xander let go. Xander slid down the vampire’s body, tweaking his nipples again and eliciting a loud moan. He paused at the navel, glancing up wickedly at the blonde then dipping his tongue into the depression, slowly rimming the shallow cavern. Spike imagined that tongue somewhere else and his breathing picked up as Xander continued to move lower.

He slowly unbuttoned Spike’s jeans, hands playing lightly over the huge bulge. The vampire bit back a moan as Xander slowly unzipped him, cursing under his breath at the slow progress. A patch of curly blonde hair peaked out of the black jeans and Xander’s cock hardened even more as he quickly ripped Spike’s pants off, thick dick bouncing free and almost slapping him in the face. Xander licked his lips and panted, Spike gasping as hot breath laved his cock. Xander grabbed the base and began licking around the bulbous head, tongue slipping inside the foreskin where angry red peaked out.

“Ah!” Spike’s hands fisted in the sheets, and he barely restrained from yanking Xander’s hair and shoving his mouth onto his dick. The dark haired man grinned up at him, sliding the foreskin up and down in experimentation. Spike bit his lip and realized he was still in game face. With a shock, he also realized that Xander had initiated sex with him in game face. Changing his features back to human, he couldn’t help but feel thrilled that Xander could love him even when facing the demon.

Xander’s tongue circled the swollen red head of Spike’s cock, tasting the first dribbles of cool precum and lapping it up at the slit. Above him Spike was a constant shower of gasps and moans, hips pumping and trying to force Xander to do more. Xander just ignored him and grinned at the power he held over the vampire. Finally he decided he’d teased him enough and popped the whole head into his mouth, sucking and swirling his tongue around it. He slid his lips down the shaft until his mouth was filled, humming and twisting his head to taste it all.

“Oh! Xander, god, more!” Spike cried, gritting his teeth now to keep from reaching down and twisting his fingers in the long dark hair. His hips pumped up and his dick slid more into Xander’s mouth. He gasped and did it again, slowly fucking the man’s face until Xander grasped Spike’s thighs and pulled off his dick with a slurp. “Uh, uh ,uh,” he scolded. He held the vampire down to show that he would be setting the pace. Spike growled in defiance but his arms stayed locked in their places. Xander smiled and began sucking again, taking more and more of his dick in until he was deepthroating Spike, pulling out to suck on the head then back down to fill his throat and hum around the thick shaft. Curly blonde hairs tickled his nose and he breathed in the heady scent.

Spike gasped and his eyes flickered yellow as Xander kept working his cock, going faster and faster until Spike felt his balls tighten. He yelled and arched his back hard, feeling his orgasm rise. Then Xander stopped, releasing him and pinching the base off his cock to prevent him coming. Spike howled in frustration. “Xannn,” he pleaded, giving his best puppy-dog eyes and pouting face. Xander shook his head. “It’s hard to look innocent with your dick slapping me in the face,” he commented and the vampire grinned wickedly.

Xander reached up to kiss him again, sharing Spike’s taste between them until it mingled and joined their own essences. Spike arched up into Xander and gasped as cock met rough denim. He felt so naked next to Xander’s fully clothed body and it excited him even more. He purred as he rubbed his erection against the hard jean-clad bulge and left a sticky trail of precum. Xander breathed a laugh and began fumbling with his own buttons, finally just ripping the shirt off when Spike began thrusting harder and his moans escalated to a high needy pitch.

“Xander, please,” the vampire begged, hands coming up to help with the pants Xander was struggling out of. Xander immediately pinned them back down at his sides. “I told you to keep them here,” he whispered huskily, staring hard into Spike’s wide eyes. “Do I need to get some rope?” He felt Spike’s cock twitch against his clothed one. He laughed low in his throat and finished removing his own jeans, tossing them to a corner.

Spike let out a little moan as his eyes hungrily scaled Xander’s muscled body, taking in the thick bronze arms holding himself above Spike, lingering on the long arced scar on his shoulder, and remembered the story of the Keilan that bit him in his car. He wanted to reach out and trace it but at the last minute remembered to keep his hands firmly on the bed.

Xander’s large, perfectly formed chest rose and fell with the deep breaths he took as he watched Spike watch him. There was a little dark hair around his cinnamon colored nipples, but other than that spread sparsely, except for the thick trail leading down from his navel to his huge cock dangling over Spike, slowly seeping pearly drops of precum that landed in his blonde pubic hairs and dribbled down around his dick. Spike couldn’t stop staring at him and imagining that huge cock in him, mouth watering and ass clenching at the thought.

Xander began moving down his body again, not resisting a small lick at his nipples, and perched himself behind Spike’s dripping cock. He slowly pushed the blonde’s knees until they were bent and his pale rounded ass was available to him. Xander licked his lips and pulled the firm cheeks apart, exposing the wrinkled pink pucker. He blew on it, hearing the whine from the vampire. Xander leaned down and kissed each cheek then licked a circle around the hole, tasting the delicious sensitive flesh and basking in the loud moans and gasps he caused. The only words Spike could manage were high pitched “Oh, oh, oh” sounds that escalated every time the hot wet tongue dipped closer to his twitching opening. It was Xander’s secret pleasure, making a smaller blonde boy scream in ecstasy. He grinned against Spike’s pale cheek. Now he had one all for himself.

Xander licked the smooth hairless sac in front of him, sucking one ball then the other into his mouth and snaking his tongue back down the sensitive strip to the pale pink hole, soaking in the delighted shouts before thrusting his tongue into Spike’s opening, twisting until he screamed and thrust back, then pulled out and did it again. His tongue slid in and out of Spike’s hole until it was slick and dripping and the vampire was wildly thrashing his head back and forth. Spike couldn’t believe how good Xander was at this, not sure if he should feel jealous or thankful for the people he’d obviously practiced on before. Spike had always loved rimming, having a guy hold him down and tongue his hole until he was begging not to stop. Xander was by far the best he’d had at it, though, and he thought he might get off on the rimjob alone until the tongue slipped out and didn’t return.

“Ahhh! Fuck! Xander, come one!” he pleaded hoarsely, cut off for the second time, squirming and trying to get the man to keep doing that amazing rimjob. Xander was too far gone him himself, though, and lunged over to the nightstand. He yanked open a drawer and pulled out a tube, settling back onto the vampire’s thighs. Spike raised a brow as he squirted a generous amount of lube onto his hands. “What?” Xander asked irritably. “You thought I gave up sex just because the world almost ended? Pfft.” He tossed the tube back onto the nightstand.

Spike shrugged but felt a little ridiculous. Of course Xander hadn’t given up sex. Spike tried not to think about the fact that this was his first time in four years. No wonder I’m so sensitive, he mused, My dick is starved for something other than my hand.

Xander positioned himself behind Spike’s twitching hole, pumping and slicking his cock as the vampire impatiently waited. “Fuck me, Xan,” he purred seductively, winding his legs around Xander’s back. Xander grasped them both and threw them over his shoulders instead. Spike shuddered in anticipation, knuckles white from clutching the sheets so hard.

Xander looked into his eyes and remembered again not to let his lust take control of him, leaning forward to kiss him softly and breathe “Love you” against his lips. Spike swallowed and nodded, heart swelling in his chest.

Xander lined up his thick cock with Spike’s clenching hole, pumping it a few more times. Spike desperately wanted to thrust backward but knew Xander wanted to set the pace so he stayed still. Xander slowly inched forward, a moan escaping his lips as the broad head of hic cock passed through the tight ring of muscle. Spike threw his head back and whimpered, not being able to resist and thrusting back. Xander grasped Spike’s sharp hipbones and continued to push himself in, watching Spike’s ass swallow more and more of his thick shaft. He wanted to thrust all the way in one quick stroke, but it was so desperately tight and he knew he’d hurt the smaller man. Finally his entire cock was sheathed and he was balls deep in the vampire.

Spike couldn’t believe how huge Xander felt in him, filling him up to the point of pain and intense pleasure. He groaned at the burn in his ass as Xander pulled out a little then thrust back in.

“Oh, fuck, Xan,” he panted, chest heaving and cock soaked his abdomen in precum. “More, please.” Xander pulled back and shoved back in roughly, broad head stabbing Spike’s prostate. “Ah! Oh, god, Xander,” Spike felt his face change to the demon’s and he pushed back harder, knees locking around Xander’s shoulder and pulling him in. Xander drew all the way out and rammed back in, hitting Spike’s prostate again and causing sparks to shoot through his cock. Xander began thrusting madly, pounding into Spike’s ass again and again and pulling him back by his hips to meet each brutal blow. The air was filled with shouted curses and the slick sounds of a sex, the smack of Xander’s balls slapping Spike’s ass with each fierce thrust, and the pungent heady smell of aroused men.

“Xander!” Spike yelled, feeling his balls begin to tighten and tingling begin in the small of his back. “Need to,” he panted, words broken by the hard impact of Xander’s thrusts. “Please!” He knew he wasn’t going to last and threw his head back gasping.

Xander felt his own orgasm rise and pulled out of Spike until only the head of his cock was in, then began pumping it back and forth through the tight ring of muscle. Spike screamed as his ass began to spasm, and his orgasm slammed into him. “Spike!” Xander yelled and slid one last time into Spike, all the way to the root, and exploded deep inside as pleasure wracked his nerves and shuddered through his body. Cum spurted out Spike’s cock in thick white ropes and splattered onto Xander’s taut abdomen and chest, and onto his own pale stomach. He felt his insides coated with hot cum as Xander slumped onto his arms, panting over Spike, then finally fell onto him, face against his chest.

They were quiet and breathing hard for a moment. “Wow,” Xander finally said, chest still heaving on top of Spike’s. Spike nodded, “Yeah.” Xander looked up at him and smiled, straightening himself upright and pulling out of the vampire. Spike moaned at the loss but grinned as the man tumbled into bed beside him.

Xander reached around and curled an arm around Spike, pulling him close. The blonde snuggled up to him and began to purr contentedly deep in his chest. Xander chuckled quietly and closed his eyes, forehead against Spike’s. “Love-” he began sleepily. “I know, Xan, you too,” Spike laughed and curled up against him. He matched his breathing with Xander’s and they quickly drifted off to sleep.


~~


Stephen opened one eye and cautiously lifted the pillow off of his head.

Silence.

He slumped in relief, tucking the pillow underneath his head and turning on his side. His sweat soaked hair flopped into his eyes and he brushed it away. Which is worse, he wondered, squeezing his eyes shut and begging sleep to take him away, having to listen to your parent-figures have sex in the other room, he threw the sheets off his overheated body, or getting turned on by it?


~~


Dawn opened one eye and lifted her head off the couch.

Silence.

Damn!

She rolled over and went to sleep, cursing Stephen for getting a closer room to all the action.


~~


Xander was halfway through his coffee before he noticed anything strange. Stephen, he realized, had yet to glance in his direction today, and Dawn had an idiotic grin on her face.

“I think you owe me some money,” she stated casually while crunching her Lucky Charms. Xander blinked in confusion as Stephen held out a small fistful of bills, grumbling and red-faced.

“What was this about?” he asked, eyes darting between the two of them.

“We had a bet,” Dawn said, leering at Stephen for another moment.

“On what?” he asked slowly.

“Whether you or Spike would be the top.”

Scalding, slightly Xander-tasting coffee splattered the table.

Spike walked in wearing black pajama bottoms and a backwards tank top, rubbing his eyes and looking thoroughly fucked. He ran into the wall once and bounced off, conveniently landing in a well-placed chair. “Wot happened?” he asked sleepily.

“Foam! I have a friend who’s a drum teacher!” Xander jumped to his feet and ran to the counter. “He soundproofed this whole room by wrapping it in foam stuff!” He gestured wildly with his hands, red faced and eyes wide. “I bet he could lend us some!”

Spike stared at him. “What’s he yapping about?”

Dawn shrugged. “He’s weird in the mornings.”

“Don’t need to tell me, ducks,” Spike began sipping the warm mug of blood set out for him, watching as Xander began running around the kitchen searching for a phone number.

“I wrote it down somewhere, I know it!” He announced loudly, digging fiercely through a drawer.

“Face it, you’ll just have to be like other married couples,” Dawn stated matter-of-factly. “Having sex while the kids are away.”

“Foam!!” Xander shrieked.

Spike grinned. “Heh, that’s—wait a minute. Married couple? Then what would I—”

“The loving wife and overworked mom,” Dawn said innocently over her mug.

“What?! M’not the sodding mum!” he protested loudly, slamming down his blood and causing little flecks to splatter on Dawn’s arm. She wiped them off with a finger and smeared it on his forehead.

“Well, you are the bottom.”

She smirked as he jumped to his feet, storming away angrily. “Not a sodding girl,” he mumbled, padding down the hallway. “Load of whackjobs. . .”

Stephen took a sip of his orange juice.

“I found it!!” Xander waved the slip of paper in the air triumphantly. Dawn threw her spoon at him.


~~


Xander sighed and tapped his foot on the ground, glancing up at the clock impatiently. He really didn’t like holding this purse; it tended to give people the wrong idea and two guys had already winked at him as they passed. He just hoped Dawn was nearing the end of her shopping excursion and wouldn’t need him to ‘watch her things’ as she tried on more outfits.

She finally emerged from the fitting room, smiling with a shirt draped over her arm. “It looks so cute,” she told him.

“Great!” He shoved the purse back into her hands. “Can we go now?”

“Okay, let me pay for this and we’ll catch up with Spike and Stephen.” Xander sighed and watched Dawn move to the end of the long line for the counter.

I am never getting within five miles of the mall again, no matter how big the fashion crisis.

Dawn had left their apartment in such a hurry to get to Spike and Xander that she hadn’t packed anything before her bus ride. They’d debated going back to their place for the few possessions, but opted to just get a whole new wardrobe and start over. What Xander hadn’t realized at the time was that ‘whole new wardrobe’ meant cleaning out the entire mall one ‘adorable skirt’ at a time. He was slowly going insane.

“’Kay!” She finally sidled up to him, handing him yet another large shopping bag with a picture of a half-naked man on the side for him to hold. “They said they’d be at the food court about now.” Dawn led the way as he stumbled after her under the weight of her purchases. Each father he passed winced in sympathy at the sight.

“Hey, luv, having a good time?” Xander couldn’t see with all the bags in the way but heard Dawn squeal as Spike presumably picked her up. She was nearly taller than he was but he insisted in treating (and spoiling) her like she was a young girl.

Xander dropped the packages to the table with an ‘oof!’ He slumped into a seat.

“Hey, pet,” Spike pecked him on the cheek and he managed a half-hearted smile.

“Hey,” he replied breathlessly.

Dawn began chatting to Stephen about something and Spike slid into the seat next to Xander, eyeing the sizable mound of bags. “Well, superhero strength came in handy for something.”

Xander nodded. “Gonna need some vamp help getting it to the car, though.”

“What about him? He’s cute,” he heard Dawn saying to Stephen.

“Dawn! He’s like, eighteen.” Stephen replied, looking at her dubiously.

She shrugged. “You can’t put an age-limit on hotness.”

“No, but there is an age limit for legal-ness.”

Xander cocked his head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

Dawn glanced over at him. “We’re scoping out possible candidates to be Stephen’s boyfriend.”

Xander blinked. “Boyfriend?” he asked weakly.

Dawn nodded and Stephen flushed. Xander rubbed his temples and dreamed of the giant bottle of Aspirin at home.

“What about them?” She pointed at a group of college guys carrying trays of Chinese food.

“He’s fifteen!” Xander exclaimed. Dawn scowled at him.

“There’s no age limit on love, either.”

He sighed exasperatedly. Spike shrugged. “She does have a point, luv. I’m a good hundred years older n’you.”

Xander peaked at him through his fingers. “Shutup and get me a Cinnabon.”


~~


Spike glanced at Xander. He’d been acting strange all evening. “What’s wrong?” He finally asked, setting down the book he was reading and staring at the man.

Xander looked up at him. “Nothing.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.” Spike scooted closer to him. Stephen was listening to music in his room and Dawn was decorating her new one, leaving them the usually lively living room quiet and all to themselves.

Xander sighed. “It’s just. . .something about the day when you were at the bar is bothering me.”

Spike stiffened at the mention of the terrible day. “What is it?”

Xander’s eyebrows furrowed and he glanced up at Spike. “Well, after I went over to your table and you went all vampy, you kinda- hit me.”

Spike’s heart clenched and threw his arms around Xander. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“No that’s not it,” Xander shook his head. “It’s just. . .well, do you remember feeling any pain when you did it.”

Realization rose in Spike’s mind. “Um. . .not really. . .but I don’t remember much of anything, was pretty arseholed at the time.”

Xander nodded slowly. “Well. . .pinch me.”

Spike blinked. “What?”

“Pinch me.”

“Why the hell would I do that?”

“I need to see!”

“See what?”

“If the chip still works!”

Spike stared at him. “The chip?”

“Yeah,” Xander replied.

Spike released his hold on Xander. “The chip.” Now his voice held complete contempt.

“. . .Spike?” Xander asked, concerned.

“So you need to make sure your vamp won’t step over his line, right? Make sure the training collar is still firmly in place.”

Xander’s jaw dropped. “No!” He said quickly. “Not like that!”

Spike glanced at him.

“I meant it as a good thing. Like ‘see if the chip doesn’t work so we can celebrate’ kind of way.”

Spike stared at him. “Why would you do that?”

“Because,” Xander grinned, snaking his arms around Spike’s waist. “You’d be a full vamp again, fanged and ready to. . .protect your girl in case one of the mean college guys tries to take her purse.” He laughed as Spike poked him in the nose.

“I’d be a little more help than that, you prat,” he grinned.

Xander leaned forward and kissed him. “’Course you would.”

They shared the comforting embrace for a moment before Xander interrupted it. “But still. Pinch me.”

Spike rolled his eyes and reached out with a hand, moving toward Xander’s arms and pinching the skin between his fingers. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the splintering pain. . .that didn’t come.

He cautiously opened one eye to see a grinning Xander. “Either you have really got that tolerating pain thing down or we have a chip-free vamp!”

He laughed and fell back as Spike jumped into his arms. “This calls for some celebrating,” Spike said, waggling his eyebrows and squirming suggestively on top of
Xander.

“Indeed it does!”

They giggled and celebrated their way into the bedroom.


~~


Xander lay wide away staring at the ceiling as the idea formed slowly but inevitably in his mind like a sharp jabbing icicle. It was a terrible idea, he knew, but he couldn’t stop it from creeping up on him nevertheless.

“Spike,” he whispered, looking over at the sleeping blonde.

“Hm?” Was the sleepy answer.

“Wake up.”

Spike heard the serious tone and did.


~~


Stephen woke to the quiet knock on his door. “Stephen?” he heard form the other side.

“Yeah?” he called, rubbing his eyes and sitting up.

“Can we come in?”

“Sure,” Stephen answered nervously. The door opened and Spike and Xander walked through, kneeling beside his bed.

“I’m sorry about this, but Spike needs to pinch you.”

Stephen blinked but when he saw they were serious, held out an arm. “Okay.”

Spike glanced up at him the reached up, fingers lingering a moment over his soft skin, then tweaking it between them. The boy watched in alarm as his eyes closed and a strangled moan escaped from his lips. He clenched his hands over his head tightly.

“Thanks Stephen,” Xander said hurriedly, grabbing Spike and helping him out of the room. Stephen stared at the door for a while after they left, but he was so tired and thought was too hard to grasp, so he rolled over and drifted off, thoughtlessly.


~~


Spike immediately had his arms full of shivering Xander as they left the room. The vampire was confused. “Pet? I don’t get it.”

Xander’s heart pounded and it sounded far too loud in the dim hallway. “It’s not that your chip stopped working,” he whispered against Spike’s chest, realizing what had happened just as he said it.

“It’s that I’m not human.”





Part Thirteen



Xander sighed and stared at the door in front of him. Sure he’d suspected it a little, but finding out you’re not fully human was kind of nerve-wracking.

Will Spike care?

Xander felt a pang of fear. Granted, Spike was a demon also, but maybe he was only in love with his 100% human, cuddly, person-Xander. Well, not cuddly per se, but definitely not blood-drinking, horn-growing, or whatever, Xander. He shook his head to rid of the thoughts and reached out for the knob.

The ‘Wesley Wyndham-Pryce’ sign winked over him in the dim hallway as the door creaked open.

“Wes,” Xander called, stepping into the room oddly dim. “I think I-”

*crash*

*thump*

“Umph!”

Wes stumbled into view holding a pillow over his—important parts, which were the only parts covered on his body.

Xander’s jaw dropped.

Wes has nice abs!

He shook his head hard. “Wes?!”

The man blinked very stupidly and let out a very unmanly squeal. “I was- I mean-Xander! What are you doing here?” But it was hard for him to look stern while wearing nothing but a pink floral pillow.

“Umm. . .you know what, I can’t remember anymore. But. . .I’m going to take a wild guess and say I interrupted something. Because the other option is that you read in the nude and I am so never touching these books again.” Xander shuddered and felt the intense urge to wash his hands.

“Wes? Was someone there?”

Xander’s jaw dropped again as he recognized the feminine voice. “Sam?!

Damn, my jaw is getting a workout today. And I can just imagine Spike’s smirk at that thought.

“Um, well, you see-” Wes turned heel and ran.

“Xander?” Sam poked her head around the corner. She stepped over, wearing a sheet. Xander started to back away from the insanity. “You and Wes?” he sputtered.

She shrugged. “So? You’re fucking a vampire. We all just have weird hookups.”

“No I’m-”

Wait, I am.

“. . .So?!”

Sam grinned, tucking her silky brunette hair behind an ear. “Point and case. So how about you go home and do just that and I’ll try to scrape Wes off the ceiling.” She winked at him one last time then disappeared behind the corner.

Xander closed the door behind him, mind buzzing. Ookay. . .my not-humanness has definitely been topped. Wes and Sam? Xander waited for another shudder and was surprised when it didn’t come.

And Dawn must unquestionably be rubbing off on him because “They look cute together” couldn’t have entered his mind otherwise. Right?


~~


Spike just snorted when Xander told him about the pair. “Well good on Tweeds. He looked like he could use a good lay. So m’guessing you didn’t find out anything about. . .” He trailed off and couldn’t think of a phrase to describe their current predicament.

“No,” Xander sighed, pulling his knees up to his chest. Spike thought he looked oddly childish in the position and felt a soft smile at tug his lips.

“There’s just so much to do and figure out. We haven’t even started looking into the prophecy yet and there’s been an outbreak of attacks—”

“This prophecy,” Spike interrupted. Xander had told him hurriedly and vaguely about his doubts over some prophecy, but Spike didn’t have any details. “It’s to cure me, right?”

“We’re guessing,” Xander sighed. “It’s not exactly crystal clear who or what they’re referring to, but we’re hoping it means us.”

Spike felt a bubble of hope rise in his chest and quashed it before it could get too big. “What’s it say?”

“What, the prophecy? Oh, some cryptic crap, you know the drill.” Xander waved it off. “The first part doesn’t really make sense and the only thing I get from it is that the sick demon has to drink from some ‘hero.’”

“Well at least tell me what it says!” Spike prodded him in annoyance. He felt he’d probably get a bit more out of it than Xander had. But a bloody dog could get more out of it than that git, the way he only sees the words and not what they mean or could mean.

Xander sighed. “Um. . .” He pretended to be drawing up the memory, but the truth was the words had been bouncing around his head since the minute he’d heard them, and he hadn’t forgotten a single word. “The Chosen Demon must live with the knowledge of a human until he attains the humility of one. That’s the first part.”

Spike didn’t respond, words whirring through his head and scrambling to make sense. Knowledge of a human. That means something important, I know it. Spike bit his bottom lip and began running through the possibilities in his mind, seeing if they fit to the second part of the sentence like a jigsaw puzzle.

“Yeah, those ancient writers and their cryptic shit. They could seriously use some Anya lessons.” Xander massaged his temple with a hand. “You have any idea what it means?”

Spike shrugged. “Sure I could figure it out. Might take a little bit but I-”

“Yeah, tell me how that goes for you, bleach-for-brains.”

“You do realize that doesn’t apply to me anymore, dontcha?” Spike replied, arching a skeptical eyebrow.

“Sure it does.” He grabbed the back of Spike’s head and shook it. “Don’t you hear it sloshing around inside?”

Spike batted his hand away with a play snarl. “Well at least mine’s doesn’t have a cream filling.”

“A delicious cream filling.” Xander placed his hand back on Spike’s head ruffling the hair that had steadily grown longer and was not the soft stubble it had started out as. His hand could comb through the short blonde waves now and Spike leaned in to the touch, a low vibration against Xander’s chest as he pressed himself against it.

“Yeah, cream, delicious.”

Xander snorted at the strange wandering of their minds and kissed the top of Spike’s head, trailing his hand down the side of his neck to rub circles on the rumbling chest. The vampire arched his back and buried his face in the crook of Xander’s neck, letting out a satisfied moan as Xander stroked his hardened nipple through the fabric of his shirt.

“Let’s go out for dinner,” Xander said suddenly, stilling his hand.

“Wha- Now?” Spike asked incredulously, squirming in his attempt to make the hand continue its lovely massage.

“Yeah.” Xander stood up, making Spike fall onto his side on the couch. The vampire stared after him with an open jaw as he walked into the bedroom to change. What’s bloody gotten into him?


~~


Dawn and Stephen had gone to rent a movie and buy popcorn while Spike and Xander went to a restaurant downtown, Spike enjoying the busy atmosphere more then he thought he would after weeks of almost isolation, except for Xander, Dawn, Stephen, and the people they passed at REHV. It was strange how comfortable being surrounded by humans made him. Probably because he didn’t see a neon ‘Eat Me!’ sign over each one he passed, now.

Xander was much less comfortable in the busy restaurant. Less because of the bustling people and more because of his nagging fears. Spike hadn’t seemed to act like anything was different, but that could all change if when they figured out exactly what was different with Xander. There were a million possibilities and Xander found each more discouraging than the last.

But he tried to forget about his doubts for a while to spend time with Spike. They hadn’t had much time alone with Dawn and Stephen always around, and while a busy restaurant didn’t exactly qualify as ‘alone,’ it seemed a lot more private than their own house for some reason.

“So, Wes and that Sandy bint are gettin’ it on? Did you walk in on them or sumthin’?” Spike took another bit of his nearly raw steak.

“Um. . .it’s Sam, Spike.” Xander replied, sipping his beer and looking at the vampire, worried.

“Oh. . .oh, yeah.” Spike blinked and looked puzzled for a moment, but shook his head and resumed devouring his dinner. Xander felt suffocating fear rise into his chest as he thought of the disease and how forgetfulness and distractedness were the first signs of inevitable insanity.

Spike suddenly smelled the foul fear pouring off of Xander and looked up at him, concern darkening the features of his face. But before he could open his mouth to ask what had set him off, a hand appeared on the man’s shoulder.

“Xander!”

Spike looked up to see a guy, not much older than Dawn, it looked, dressed in a waiters’ outfit and grinning with familiarity. He had dirty blonde hair and light blue eyes that were trained intently on Xander.

Xander looked up surprised. “Uh. . .hi? Oh! Um. . .Kevin?” He asked, suddenly feeling a very different kid of cold fear drop into his stomach. “What, uh, are you doing here?”

“I work here,” the boy replied with a hint of a grin, indicating his outfit. Spike watched Xander shift uncomfortably in his seat, looking at everything but the kid.

“Oh. . .great,” Xander replied weakly, eyes darting between the two blondes. Spike’s eyes narrowed in suspicion at Xander’s strange behavior.

“Who’s this?” He asked, plastering on a smile and asking in a friendly voice. Xander glared at him. Spike never used a friendly voice for real, so he must be suspicious.

“Kevin, Spike; Spike, Kevin,” He introduced them quickly, downing the rest of his beer in one audible gulp and rising to his feet. “But we were just about to go, so. . .Can you get our ticket?”

Kevin frowned at him in annoyance, lower lip protruding in a pout that he wasn’t important enough to spend anymore time on. “Of course, sir.” Xander winced at the contemptuous tone but didn’t reply as the boy walked off.

“What was that about?” Spike demanded, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the man. Xander sighed but refused to look Spike in the eye. “Nothing. Let’s just go.”

“No. I want to know who-”

“Here’s your ticket.” the boy thrust it into Xander’s hands. He was about to turn on his heel and leave when he caught Spike’s eye and paused. “Nice to know your at least feeding your tricks now. The whole fuck-and-flee scene was kind of off-putting.” He walked away without another word.

Spike felt the words click in his head and his eyes widened. Fuck-and-flee? Blonde kid? Xander’s “trend?” And even though he knew Xander hadn’t ‘given up sex just because the world almost ended,’ he hadn’t expected to actually meet one of the people he’d done it with.

As much as Spike tried to convince himself and others that it wasn’t so, he was a very jealous person. Other people couldn’t touch what was his, even though Xander hadn’t exactly been his when said touching went on. Still.

Xander read the conflicting emotions as they flitted across Spike’s face until they all agreed on one thing. Xander was a meanie. “Spike,” Xander said in a reasoning tone, “I didn’t—”

The vampire got up and left.

“Spike!” Xander called after him. “Goddamnit.” He ripped a few bills out of his wallet and smashed them to the table, turning and running after the vampire. He earned a good number of glares as he brushed past eating customers and narrowly missed running headfirst into a waiter carrying a tray full of martinis. He finally burst out of the restaurant, head turning right then left as he searched the sidewalks for Spike. The streetlamp caught a flash of black leather (Xander had bought Spike a new duster, to the vampire’s overwhelming joy) and took off after it.

He was right behind Spike who was striding quickly and purposefully away from him, hands shoved in his pockets, when the first rumble shook the ground. It was like someone had pressed the pause button on the city. Everyone stopped walking and talking; even the cars stilled. Xander froze with his hand outstretched toward Spike, who had also stopped in his tracks. Xander could tell everyone around him was holding their breath, even the little kids on the sidewalks clutched their parents hands and waited with wide eyes.

Another vibration shivered through the city, and everyone sprang into panicked motion and noise, cars originally going in the direction of the tremors squealing in their attempt to U-turn and speed the other way. The sidewalks filled with people clambering to get away, then suddenly were drained as they rushed into stores and restaurant, pushing each other away in their attempt to get inside.

“Spike!” Xander called over the noise. Spike turned back to him, adversity forgotten in the face of this new danger. Xander jumped forward and grabbed Spike into a tight embrace as if this would shield him. “We need to get inside!” Spike cried, eyes desperately searching for a store that wasn’t packed to the doorway with terrified people.

Xander pushed him toward the nearest one. “You go, I’ll take care of it.”

Spike stared at him incredulously then shook his head. “No! You can’t! Not with all these people around!”

Xander looked around at the frightened faces staring in wary expectancy out the storefront windows. “But. . .I can’t just let it get away!”

“You have to!” Spike tugged at his sleeve. “C’mon, we need to get inside!”

An ear-splitting shriek shattered the air and huge vibrations chattered Spike’s teeth. “Xan!” He yelled, voice almost hysterical. We’ve survived this long, don’t want to bloody end it now when we’re actually happy for once!

But Xander did this on a daily basis. He’d been itching to sink his knife into something for a while now; the few Keilans he’d encountered of late were young and taken out with just a gun.

“Go inside, Spike, I need to get this thing.” He pushed the vampire into the store before he could protest, and yanked his hood over his head. And Dawn says I’m crazy for wearing a sweatshirt in this heat.

The ruddy brown blunt tip of a nose poked around the corner, and Xander watched the large nostrils widen as they scented the air, and if the excited clicking noises were anything to go by, found something it liked. A large rounded head turned the corner into the street, wrinkled brown skin looking even uglier in the dim evening light. Xander felt quite at home, adrenaline spiking in anticipation and left hand gripping the butt of his gun while his right slid down into the slit in his jeans to grasp the hilt of the knife strapped to his thigh.

Blazing red eyes swiveled around before fixing hungrily on Xander, jaw dropping an inch as a thick strand of sticky red saliva drooped down from its jowl, revealing yellowed chipped fangs. Another deep inhalation and the bright blue feathers around the creature’s neck and shoulders rose and fanned like a peacock’s tail. Xander wondered if there was some missing link of evolution there between peacocks and the demons and the disturbing image of a zoo pen filled with squawking Keilans made Xander shake his head and try to focus on his training. He let some background music leak into his brain, helping himself find a rhythm and a beat. Those hours of training with headphones clipped to his ears weren’t just for fun, after all.

Xander could hear the terrified screaming from inside the surrounding stores as the demon threw back its head again and let out a reverberating shriek that rattled the windows. Xander wished he had a crossbow because that would have been a perfect shot at its throat, but he rarely carried crossbows when dealing with Keilans; they were too slow and ineffective most of the time.

When the Keilan had lowered its head and began lumbering toward Xander, its fire-colored tail curled up like a scorpion’s over its back. Xander watched the stinger vibrate with electricity and felt a hot flash of anger as he was reminded of Spike’s contact with it. He raised the gun out of his pocket, turned off the safety, and cocked it in one swift motion. The demon paused at the noise, head cocking very much like a bird’s, before continuing to stalk toward Xander, gaining speed as it ambled along.

Xander waited, heart pounding in excitement as the Keilan gained even more speed, now very close and jogging toward Xander with huge thigh muscles bulging as the clawed feet hit the ground. The street shuddered louder and louder ad the demon came within fifty, twenty, ten, feet of Xander’s outstretched arm. He could hear people screaming at him to move and get out of the way and if he had turned would have seen many people cover their eyes as they expected a bloody scene from Jurassic Park to play out right in front of them.

Xander’s breath came evenly as the Keilan roared right in his face, hot putrid breath blowing his hair and covering his body like a thick blanket. Vicious red eyes were wide and greedy, nostrils flaring, and a growing steady screech building up deep inside the demon’s chest, jaws beginning to open and salivate as its fangs lunged forward to—

The Keilan jerked back with a squeal of rage at the explosion, blood dropping thickly to splatter at the ground. It swung its head back and forth as white hot pain crashed through its face, fiery pain burning in the cavern where its nose used to be. Another screech of outrage and pain as deep, swift slashes sliced through his tough skin and hot red blood splattered out.

Xander lunged at the outstretched neck and ripped a jagged line through the throat vibrating with noise. His own blood pumped loud and hot in his veins as he eviscerate the thrashing demon, intestines spilling into the street in thick gushes. Xander plunged the knife once more into the hunched creature, burying it to the hilt in the top of its bony skull. He heard the satisfying crack as it split around the metal, and the Keilan crashed to the ground.

Xander withdrew the knife with no difficulty, wiping the liquidy brains onto the still carcass of the demon before sliding it back into the thigh strap. He checked to make sure his hood was still securely on and turned around quickly, leaving behind the hunched form of the body and innards steaming on the pavement in the late evening air.

He walked past the stunned, shocked, and horrified faces without looking up or down. He knew he couldn’t go back to get Spike; the vampire would just have to catch up with him. He also knew that the people behind him were just realizing they’d witnessed the Ghost in action. He just hoped none of them had had a camera.


~~


“Dawn? Stephen?” Xander called out as he opened the door. Spike trudged in happily after him, thoroughly satisfied with himself after being fucked against an alleyway wall by a battle-wound Xander. He couldn’t believe how unbelievably hot the man had looked fighting that big demon. Damn, he was already up for another round just thinking about it!

Xander paused as her heard a quick shuffling noise and then silence. “Dawn?” He called out again, beginning to worry.

“She went out to meet some friend,” Stephen called out from the other room. Xander almost collapsed in relief. Spike noted how much the thought of Dawn or Stephen hurt frightened Xander compared to the slaughter-machine Keilan he’d just faced down without a gasp. Love is crazy, he decided.

“What were you doing?” Xander asked, eyeing the spilled popcorn and open porch door with suspicion.

“Nothing,” replied the boy a bit too quickly.

“Uh huh. . .” Xander walked across the room to close the door and Stephen flushed and turned to the TV, fiddling with the hem of his shirt.

“Have a good dinner?” Stephen asked as Spike shrugged off his duster and kicked off his boots (also courtesy of Xander).

Spike recalled the waiter incident and bloody killing fiasco. He also recalled the magnificent coring against a dumpster. “Fabulous,” he replied, hard cock bulging in his tight jeans as he followed Xander’s enticing grin to the bedroom.


~~


Spike was lying on his stomach, trailing a finger down the many crisscrossing scars on Xander’s back when it came to him. He sat up, immediately rousing the half-asleep man beside him. “Of course! Don’t know why I bloody didn’t see it before!” He exclaimed excitedly, eyes wide at his discovery.

“Huh—What are you talking about?” Xander asked sleepily, rubbing his eye with one hand.

“The prophecy, the first part! ‘The Chosen Demon must live with the knowledge of a human.’ Knowledge of a human. I couldn’t figure out what it meant before, but now I’ve had time to think about it and I realized what really makes demons so much different than humans.”

Seeing that he had Xander’s full attention, he continued. “Vamps ‘n such are all cocky, right? They think they’ll all rule the world and are unbeatable. Humans are much more cautious, most of ‘em anyway.” He gave Xander a hard shove “But it’s not the evilness that make’s ‘em like that. It’s that they’re immortal. They can live forever. Humans know they can’t so they aren’t as reckless. Humans will eventually die, no matter what. Unless they’re turned or something, of course, but then they aren’t human anymore. So that’s it. That’s the knowledge of all humans.”

Xander stared at him. Is it really that simple? It made perfect sense, really, but half of Xander didn’t want to believe it. Because the knowledge was bittersweet. They were one step closer to fulfilling the prophecy that was supposed to cure Spike, but if it was right, then that also secured another inevitable in Spike’s life. He would eventually die.

But so will I. And so will Dawn, and Stephen and Wes and Sam. We’ll all die, we just need to make the most of it before we do.

And Xander finally understood what Spike meant when he said Xander would be honored to die like Buffy. He’d been afraid of dying, he realized, and having no one else remember him when he was gone. Buffy would always be remembered and loved and Xander craved that assurance. He’d built up a family that he knew would remember him and love him if he died and Xander couldn’t help but feel so proud to have such love directed at him.

He smiled at Spike, not trusting his own words. The vampire watched the tears build up behind Xander’s eyes with concern, but his face broke into a shining beautiful smile when he saw Xander’s happiness. He leaned forward and buried himself in the man’s strong chest and felt strong arms wrap tightly around him. Xander felt hope bubble up inside his chest, the feeling foreign and strange to him now, but definitely something he could get very used to.





Part Fourteen



The sun drifted lazily down the pale slate of a sky, leaving a snail trail of hazy orange. Stephen watched it sluggishly melt behind the trees with his head lying sideways on his arm, draped over the wicker bench with his bare feet hanging over the side. The warm air wasn’t too humid so he was perfectly comfortable. He couldn’t believe how relaxed he felt.

I can’t remember the last time I could just do nothing.

He’d always been doing something, as long as he could remember. Playing, working, laughing. Trying, fighting, hustling. He’d forgotten (or maybe he’d just never known) the simple pleasure of sitting back and letting the world pass by. He hadn’t known you could just watch it without trying to change it somehow.

Do people live all the time like this? He wondered, Without doing anything?

*I’d* never be able to.

Stephen couldn’t stand it when other people so much as tried to open the door for him. Jeff said it was because he always thought he had to prove something, but Stephen just got annoyed when people thought they had to do things for him just because he was a kid, or just because his parents died. Maybe Jeff was right (he usually was) but Stephen preferred to think that he was just independent.

There was the sound of the front door closing through the open window above him that led to the kitchen, and he listened as he heard Xander kick his boots off. After a moment, Spike’s careful footsteps pattered into the room. Dawn was out shopping. Stephen half-heartedly listened as the two discussed what Wesley had told Xander about the lab results regarding Xander’s blood. He could hear the bitter tone of Xander’s voice as he mumbled about a bite and a Keilan and part demon. He could also hear the soothing and reassurance and acceptance in Spike low voice, easing closer to Xander’s until there was just quiet for a while.

Stephen was glad there wasn’t any crying. He’d feel pretty uncomfortable listening to them cry, so he guessed that was the upside of living with two men. It’s all hide-your-feelings-until-they’re-dragged-out-in-the-open. Although that was increasingly becoming the raw end of the deal, as Stephen was starting to find that he wasn’t as happy keeping quiet about everything as he usually was. Yet another thing he’d never experienced; wanting to share.

This whole family vibe must really be getting to me.

Stephen shifted and sat up as kissing and moaning sounds drifted through the window. There were some stumbling footsteps in the direction of the bedroom and some heavy breathing, and Stephen jumped over the railing and began walking toward the front of the house before he could hear anymore.


~~


Stephen had known Jeff since they were both eight. Obviously, before the Tear and Keilan fiasco. They’d both grown up in a nice middle-class neighborhood with a public school nearby and a surrounding of family restaurants, scattered churches, little shops, and friendly people. The meaning of the word ‘death’ was as foreign to them as going hungry, and they were only concerned with the important stuff like video games and getting picked first in gym class. When Jeff moved next door, Stephen was ecstatic because he finally had another boy in the neighborhood to play with.

They hit it off immediately (although it’s hard not to when you’re that age) and were instantly inseparable. They were on the same baseball team, the same paintball team, they read the same comics, and spent the night at each other’s houses almost every night. Their parents had become great friends and even their little sisters toddled together in the backyard. Stephen had never had a closer friend.

Then in fifth grade, when they were both eleven, while Mr. Rykovich was attempting to explain long division to a mass of giggling kids, the alarm went off and everyone jumped up from their desk and into a line, like they’d been taught to do in case of a fire. It wasn’t until they were outside lined up against the side of the school building that they found out the alarm was not a drill. It was also not for a fire.

Stephen remembered little kids screaming and older kids gathering their siblings and calling parents on their cell phones. Neither he or Jeff really knew what was going on, but Mr. R. kept gasping about an attack, so they were both petrified that there were terrorists. All around them parents were rushing to the school and picking up their crying and confused kids, and finally Stephen’s mom arrived and hurried both of them to her car.

Stephen and Jeff had asked what was happening, and Jeff’s eyes were beginning to tear up from fear. She wouldn’t answer them and just told them to be quiet and put their seatbelts on. Now, Stephen had realized she probably didn’t even know herself was happening, but her motherly instincts had just told her to come and protect her son when she learned that something bad was going on. Stephen wondered how you could keep loving someone more and more after they’ve already gone. It killed him that he couldn’t have recognized this while she was still alive.

His mom herded both of them into the basement where Stephen’s dad had set up the little white TV and their dusty old radio on a card table. There were sleeping bags and snacks and Stephen’s raggedy bunny that only Jeff knew about and it was kind of exciting, like another sleep over but with the whole family. Maggie and Sarah were playing with Beanie Babies in the corner, and Jeff’s parents were sitting on the couch, his mom with her head in her hands and his dad staring into space.

They had all moved to Stephen’s basement because Jeff’s wasn’t finished and was a lot smaller and smellier then Stephen’s family’s. Also, they felt safer together and Stephen’s dad had a shotgun, which rested confidently against his leg as he sat down on a chair. Stephen had never gotten along real well with his dad; he yelled and drank a lot but was really a good guy and wouldn’t hurt anyone even in the worst depths he went to. His mom had called it stress-drinking. Stephen’s dad was a prison guard.

They had stayed in the basement, Jeff and Stephen reading comics in the corner while their parents watched the news on the tiny television with grim and disbelieving eyes. A few words had leaked over to them, but the boys had defiantly blocked out the all the bad stuff and focused on superheroes. They didn’t want to know what was happening, because that way it couldn’t scare them. And it’d all be over soon, just like the time those murderers had escaped from jail and were loose in their town and Jeff’s family had come over. They’d all stayed in the basement and played and watched the news in their separate corners until the murderers had been caught and afterward they all laughed like it was nothing and went out for ice cream. Stephen wanted to get a milkshake this time.

But when the little rectangles of light that were the basement windows had faded to black, whatever had happened still hadn’t stopped, and both families were still huddled in the basement. Finally, Stephen got up and went over to his parents. He turned to the TV and caught a glimpse of a demolished building on the screen before his mother had clamped a hand over his eyes. “Honey, why don’t you go keep playing with Jeffrey.” She had told him in a slightly weak and trembling voice, but stern all the same.

He had protested, saying he had a right to know what was going on, and when Jeff came over and added his own objections, the adults finally allowed them to sit at their feet and watch the TV.

Reporters’ voices narrated the images as they flashed across the dusty screen, buildings that had been torn apart, huge masses people rushing through the streets, some sobbing and all terrified, and flipped over cars and huge chunks out of people’s homes. Then a blurry video clip of a large unidentifiable brown figure turning and walking down the street, bulky head lowered like a predator and thick tail trailing straight out behind it. Then the figure’s head moved to stare straight at the camera and the image on the screen froze. Stephen felt his heart slam up into his throat as he stared into wide brainless eyes, painfully red even with the television’s bad reception, and winkled blurred lips pulled up just far enough to expose a row of jagged fangs, the smallest of which appeared to be the size of his thumb. A smudge of blue atop its wide head looked like a parody of a mohawk.

The first thing that came to mind was that part of Jurassic Park where the kids are stuck in the kitchen with the Velociraptors. Jeff’s hand gripped his shirt because he knew exactly what Stephen was thinking and that he was terrified of that movie. Also probably because he was scared shitless himself. The reporter’s voice kept spewing out things like ‘attack’ and ‘dispatch military’ but Stephen could barely hear it over the loud and blaring mantra in his mind. Those things aren’t normal.


~~


Stephen and Jeff’s friendship hadn’t been crushed by the deaths of their parents. If anything it had brought them closer, once again the same, this time in their tragedy. But with their parents went their houses and their homes. And there was no time to grieve because they could be next. Hiding and sleeping in alleyways and homes people had abandoned, they cried at night when they were alone but during the day they just tried to survive. They went to one of those places on the news that they had said accepted children who had lost their parents and homes, but there was just no room.

Stephen and Jeff grew up overnight, and became the oldest twelve-year olds the world had seen. Finally, after almost a month of sleeping in doorways and stealing from the grocery store, terrified that they wouldn’t wake up the next day, they met Dustin.

Dustin was fifteen and lived in a place he called Dure Refugio (Dustin was half hispanic) and Stephen and Jeff met him and were immediately asked to come stay with him. Amazed that they had so easily found a place to live, they didn’t even bother to ask why. Which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Stephen preferred to think that if they had asked about it, they would have immediately refused and been eaten with a week. So maybe it was fate.

It turns out Dustin’s Dure Refugio wasn’t exactly the haven they’d had in mind. It was, to put it lightly, a place where male hustlers went at the end of the day. To sleep, to brag about their money earned, and to trade advice. Stephen and Jeff were appalled when they found out the main source of income for these boys. But they were too young to actually do it, and the boys were actually very nice after he got to know them, and they accepted them and let them sleep and live in one of the rooms of the abandoned hotel.

Half of the building had been demolished and it was a small hotel to begin with, so Jeff and Stephen had to share a room and bed but that was okay since they’d done it tons of times before when they’d slept over at each other houses, high on chocolate chip cookies sneaked from the pantry and hilarious stories about the gossip from school. Now they ate frozen meals when the microwave worked or sandwiches when it didn’t. They didn’t go to school so there weren’t many stories to tell, but they entertained themselves with the few comic books they’d managed to salvage. Stephen still slept with his bunny, cradled between their bodies at night like their friendship that had lasted so long and only frayed a bit at the edges.

After a year of learning to be hungry and helping dress wounds from fights the other boys got in so often, Stephen and Jeff figured they were old enough. Dustin and Vic and Mark and all the others had grown attached to them and said they didn’t feel angry that the boys ate their food, thus using their hard-earned money, and hung around without contributing, except for the occasional stolen wallet or purse from random people on the street. Stephen learned that the Keilans (he had finally learned what they were and had actually had a few close calls) weren’t the only danger where they lived. He learned that there were so many things, even before the demons had come, that were just as dangerous.

Stephen learned about HIV firsthand when Mark tested positive, and he learned about sex because it was all around him, and he learned about drugs when they found Alex with blue skin and a needle sticking out of his arm, and he learned about the bad people that lurked behind business suits and friendly smiles because they were the ones that stopped in their cars beside you on the street corners, and he learned about faggots because of Ben.

Ben came to Dure Refugio about four months after Stephen and Jeff had. He had strawberry blond hair and smiled a lot even though he had lost everything. Stephen liked him and Jeff liked him and all the other boys liked him. Ben was sixteen so he could be a hustler (Dustin was the one who decided who was old enough) and he did very well, judging by the way his pockets bulged when he came home late at night. Ben became a part of their family, because that’s what they were, and everything was like it always was.

Until Dustin went into Ben’s room and found him kissing another boy who wasn’t paying Ben to do it. After that Ben didn’t stay at Dure Refugio anymore. Stephen had asked Dustin why because he was sad to see Ben go; he’d liked the boy and the constant smile made him happy. Dustin had told Stephen that Ben was a faggot and would only bring them trouble if the boys who lived a block away found out. They were a gang, Stephen had found out in his first week at the hotel, and they beat up on Dustin and all the other boys whenever they could. They didn’t like how they got their money and often yelled nasty things at the windows.

Stephen was confused about why it would be any different with Ben, and Dustin told him that the gang knew that all these boys were only hustling to get money and weren’t really queer. But if they found out about Ben they’d have a whole new reason to kill them. Stephen was still confused but Dustin said something about a boy named Simon and then he got real sad and walked away. None of the other boys even mentioned Ben or acknowledged his departure, although Stephen could tell they were all sad to see him go. He was still confused. Why was Ben so different just because he liked the contact with other boys? Everyone else did it, but Ben enjoyed it, at least to a degree. What was the real difference? Stephen was confused but he was starting to understand.

When Stephen and Jeff turned thirteen, they decided they were old enough. They told Dustin this but he disagreed, although after pointing out the money they could earn and that they could pass for an older age, Dustin reluctantly approved them to go out with everyone else when they left in the morning. It was exciting and terrifying and a bit sad to know that this was what Stephen had to look forward to for maybe the rest of his life. But it was still exciting, too.

The first time he got picked up he was terrified. But he did what the boys had instructed him to do, asked for the money first and then gave the man a blowjob in his car. It wasn’t very hard but he was afraid the man would realize he was thirteen and not fifteen like he said and that he’d never done this before and throw him out after taking back his money and he wouldn’t have anything to brag to the other boys about or to buy his dinner with.

But he figured he did alright because his mouth filled with hot liquid after a while and after he’d spit it out discreetly, the man grinned at him and told him to be in the same place the next day. So Stephen agreed and the man drove off and Stephen felt good because he’d done something right. And he had enough money to get McDonalds tonight.


~~


Stephen learned more about blowjobs and rimjobs and hand jobs and fucking and fisting and techniques than any thirteen, fourteen, and finally, fifteen-year-old should be allowed to know. He earned good money and he and Jeff sometimes had contests to see who could make the most in a day, although Jeff usually won because he was a lot prettier than Stephen, at least in Stephen’s opinion. Where Stephen’s hair was straight and dark brown, Jeff’s was wavy and dirty blonde. Where his eyes were cold blue, Jeff’s were warm hazel. Where his expression was always guarded, Jeff’s was open and welcoming. They were both scarily thin but could hold up a fight rather well. And they did, often.

Stephen learned a lot of things that he could never have with his parents or at school. But some weren’t for the better, as he was told to always keep his emotions bottled up. He didn’t cry at night anymore and the memories of his mom and dad and little sister slowly began to fade. It was sad but it helped. It helped Stephen focus on the here and now, because those were the people that needed him, not some happy memory from a past life. They had no further to go.

But when it seemed okay, and it seemed like everything was starting to make sense, the world flipped over. Because Stephen learned about kissing.

He’s never kissed anyone before in his life, besides the phantom memories of being tucked in and pecked on the cheek by a faceless body. So every second he spent with his lips against Jeff’s was new and exciting and terrifying. And Stephen was happy. Because he learned about love.

But he was also very scared. Because he was a faggot. And Dustin would find out and make them leave. Or even worse, the gang that lived a block away would find out and they’d kill him. Or even worse than that, they’d kill Jeff.

Stephen was afraid, and for once, between the two of them, Jeff and Stephen couldn’t figure out the right thing to do. So they told him.

And Dustin was so sad.


~~


After almost a week of living by themselves, Stephen and Jeff realized that they didn’t stand a chance alone in downtown L.A. They slept where they could and ate what they stole and used the money Dustin had sympathetically given them. They did what they did best; hustle, and lived on that.

Stephen could feel the life he’d built up slowly slipping away as they had less and less to eat and had more and more close calls with the big ugly demons with huge teeth and red spit. And Stephen was realizing that they couldn’t live like this.

Then Xander came. Jeff had been out hustling and Stephen was resting in the alley they had been sleeping in, and suddenly there was big man with strange eyes and a gun aimed at him that killed a Keilan before his eyes without breaking a sweat. And that had showed him that he couldn’t continue to live out here and after scrawling Jeff a note telling him he’d be back soon, had gone with Xander to see if there was a place he and Jeff could stay.

And by the time he’d sneaked out to go back to the alley that night, Jeff was back and waiting anxiously for him. Stephen explained about Xander excitedly and that he and Jeff could stay and be off of the street. But Jeff pointed out to him that Xander could kick them out for the same reason that they’d had to leave the Dure Refugio and that it was just too risky. Jeff told him he’d gotten an offer to stay with a couple because they’d recently lost their son and had a room open and wanted some company. He assured Stephen that they could see each other any time they wanted and it was best for both of them, and with a long lingering kiss, Stephen learned about sacrifice.


~~


The light had faded to its customary chalky grey that meant nighttime by the time Stephen had stopped wandering. He looked up and found himself deep in downtown, but he knew every way to everywhere, so he couldn’t get lost. He debated whether or not to visit Jeff again, but decided it was too late and began walking back home. And he liked the sound of that. Home.


~~


When he got back he decided to go in through the porch door as to not disturb anybody, but found Spike out there, trying furiously to flick a lighter on. Stephen reached out and easily lit the cigarette in the vampire’s hand and sat down next to him.

“Where ya been?” Spike asked after a long drag.

Stephen shrugged. “Nowhere. Just walking.”

Spike nodded. They were quiet, each lost in their own thoughts and worries. Stephen noticed Spike’s miserable expression and after a moment of debating whether or not to, asked what was wrong.

Spike looked ready to disregard the question, but paused and looked the boy in the eye. “I’ll make you a deal, pet.” Stephen listened, wary yet intrigued. “You’re messed up.”

Stephen blinked. “That’s not a deal.”

“No, it’s a fact. I don’t know where ya lived or what ya did before this, but it screwed up something in you and believe me, I know repression when I see it." He jerked a red-nailed thumb in the direction of the house. “Guy’s a bloody poster boy for it. So, I tell ya my fear and you do your worst on me. Gotta promise, though. No holdin’ back.”

Stephen looked into Spike’s eyes and tried to see past the ring of bloody red. This went against everything Dustin had taught him and the rules he’d set his life by. If he brought up what he’d been denying himself, there was no turning back. Stephen just wouldn’t be able to stand it again. But what kind of life is it, Stephen wondered, that you forget who you are just to make it easier? It isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be messy. And Stephen was tired of trying to pretend it wasn’t.

“Okay.”

Spike looked at him another moment then nodded.

“I’m gonna die. And I’m bloody terrified. Not of the dying part, although that’s pretty scary too, but about Xander. He’s starting to get his hopes so high over this prophecy thing and it’ll be such a disappointment when we find out it’s just a load of shite. He’s been repressing Buffy and Willow and Anya and Giles and every-bloody-one else’s death for so long and is just startin’ to accept it. He was just startin’ to heal. And then I had to go and get all sick like and now I’m gonna die and then he’ll be right back where he started and- oh, fuck it.” He wiped his hand across his eyes and it came back smudged red. Stephen pretended not to notice how his voice cracked or how he was sniffling, and instead just put his hand on the vampire’s shoulder, stopping it from trembling. “So yeah, it’s pretty fucked up. I just hope Dawn can help him and that he eventually finds someone else-”

Here he couldn’t go on and Stephen could practically feel the pain radiating from his body. He pulled Spike in for a hug and the man sobbed silently against him until he got under control. It was quiet with their arms wrapped around each other until Spike finally pulled away, wiping the snot off his nose with his duster sleeve.

“So. your turn.”

Stephen wondered where to start. How could he possibly put his pain into words? He’d fill a novel and then some. His parents, the Tear, hustling, being so hungry, stooping so low, faggots, hating, loving, being away from Jeff, not knowing what the hell to do. He was overwhelmed.

An image of his mom, dad, and Maggie in the backyard, laughing and playing by the swing set filled his eyes with tears.

“I miss my family.”

And Spike pulled him in and he cried against his chest. Real crying too, with sobs and gasps and full-body shudders and snot dripping from your nose. And he couldn’t stop for a while. And it felt so good.

And finally he was reduced to whimpers and his eyes were closed, still clinging to Spike like he would drown if he didn’t. Who knows, maybe he would. Stephen hadn’t learned much about this crying thing.

Suddenly Spike went real still and then there was a soft chuckle above him. Stephen pulled away and looked up, confused. “What?” He asked, surprised at how raw his voice sounded.

Spike looked down at him, smiling. “Humility,” he said, like it held the key to all knowledge. Stephen didn’t understand but realized he didn’t have to, and put his head against Spike’s chest again.

And he learned about family all over again. Because they were some things you could never learn too much of.





Part Fifteen



“Oh, fuck, harder!”

Xander arched his back, fingers grasping short blonde hairs in time to his cries. Twin slivers of bright blue flickered up under heavy lidded eyes and dark lashes.

“God, Spike!”

The shout and heavy pants echoed throughout the empty street, slipping past dead storefronts and silent houses that Xander no longer watched worriedly. The warm tongue sliding up his erection and wet lips sucking relentlessly on the head were making sure of that.

“Oh god, I'm gonna- ah!”

Xander bucked forward as he felt his balls draw up and orgasm swell through his body. He watched through half-closed eyes as Spike’s face was coated in cum, spurting into his open mouth and dripping down his chin. With a gasp he stumbled backwards and was grasped by his belt loop as Spike stood and pulled him closer. Xander grinned breathlessly and kissed the vampire, tongue coming out to lick and clean his face.

Spike purred appreciatively, kissing the man deeper and moving closer to rub against him with need. Xander fingered Spike’s erection through his tight jeans, fingers playfully rubbing and squeezing as he teased the vampire, and Spike loved every minute of it.

Xander couldn’t hold back a giggle as he glanced around the street surreptitiously and hurried Spike into the nearest alley.

“I did you in the middle of the street,” Spike protested even as Xander slid a big hand up his shirt and began to play with his nipples.

“Well you don’t need any lessons in voyeurism,” Xander replied, dropping to his knees and swallowing Spike’s cock whole.

Spike didn’t feel like arguing anymore (or something like that) and shutup.


~~


Xander paused outside the door and fumbled for his keys. Behind him Spike stretched happily, mumbling something about sleeping like a rock. Xander was glad they hadn’t run into any demons on their patrol, not only because it gave them ample time to – attend to other important matters, but also because he was still worried about Spike’s condition. True, the vamp had trained with him and they’d only run into a few minor difficulties, but Xander still didn’t feel completely sure that Spike could hold his own in a fight.

But, as Spike had pointed out, he already had the disease so he didn’t need to worry about contracting it, and Xander could definitely use some help. But the fact remained that Spike would only get worse as his condition progressed, unless they managed to fulfill the prophecy. Xander wondered when he’d actually become a believer of the prophecy thing.

Probably about the time he’d realized the worst thing he could do was give up hope.

That was the funny thing about this whole family they had going on; it tended to really make you set your priorities straight. And Xander list was clear.

1. Spike, Dawn, and Stephen's safetly and well-being
2. His family at REHV
3. Keeping the city as safe as possible
4. Wearing sunglasses as often as possible.

Because people tended to stare when they noticed your eye color isn’t one of the primary colors. They really should make a Crayola called Violet Brown.

“Y’gonna open the door anytime soon, luv?” Hard arms encircled his waist and pressed a satisfied body against his back.

Xander added ‘sex with Spike’ somewhere between the number one and two positions on his list.


~~


“Stephen, Dawn, have you eaten?” Xander called as he walked through the door. Spike kicked off his boots and threw his duster over the coat rack. He had been disappointed at first when they hadn’t encountered any demons on their patrol, but had thoroughly enjoyed the alternative. He hadn’t known Xander could be so. . .spontaneous.

Spike walked into the living room, freezing when he saw an unfamiliar body draped across their couch. For a moment his unbeating heart slammed up into his throat as he felt paranoid panic spread through him. But then he saw Stephen also lying asleep next to the stranger. The stranger who, on closer inspection, turned out to be a boy that couldn’t have been older than fifteen. Spike let out an unnecessary breath.

Dawn was sitting in the recliner next to the couch and glared at them, furiously shushing. Spike stared at the pair in confusion and raised an eyebrow at the girl.

“His names Jeff,” she whispered and turned the TV to mute. Silent images flickered blue over the boys’ still bodies. “He’s Stephen’s friend.”

One of the Stephen’s arms drooped over the boy’s shoulder, face nestled into the crook of his neck causing reddish blonde hair to fall over his nose.

Bit more than ‘friend,’ I can see.

Xander seemed surprised

What, you didn’t think the boy had mates? Bloody hell he’s not completely useless.

but shrugged tiredly and walked off to the kitchen. Spike didn’t feel like a late-night snack so he dragged Dawn out of the recliner, ignoring her squeal of protest and dropped into it himself. Then he pulled her down into his lap and hugged her against his chest.

She smiled at the familiar position; it was something Spike had done since she was fourteen and screaming her heart out at being left behind. Spike wouldn’t yell at her to stop or tell her to shutup. He’d just pull her into his lap until she settled down and let her cry against his duster, not caring when it got smeared and sticky. And afterward there’d be this calm silence, when she’d lie quietly against the solid vampire, sometimes with her arms around his neck, but more often just lying against him, letting him fully support her weight and emotions.

Dawn wondered if Spike knew just how much he had saved her. Not just from the demons or the fires or the bad men in alleys. But from herself, and the despair that followed when she thought she had no one. Spike had been a father, a brother, a friend, and a protector to her when she thought she couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t deserve to keep going.

He was her savior.

But now, as she stroked the red fingernails over her arm and felt a thinner chest behind her than the one from a month ago, she realized that even Spike needed to be saved sometimes. And he didn’t necessarily need a superhero or a magic cure to make him better.

He could start with just a friend.


~~


Stephen woke up next to a body. His initial response was ‘Oh shit, I fell asleep at a client’s house.’ But upon closer inspection he realized that Jeff was nestled against his chest and under his arm. Which he just couldn’t decide on whether to be grateful or scared shitless about.

Because they were on the couch.

And Xander’s shoes were at the door.

Dawn said he wouldn’t care. Besides, he’s sleeping with Spike, himself. I’m being so pointlessly paranoid.

But it was an ingrained response and instinct. He needed food and he needed shelter. He shouldn’t have done anything to have risked that. He still wasn’t sure Spike and Xander wanted one street rat around, let alone one who had a boyfriend. A boyfriend who would no doubt want another night on this comfortable leather couch in this wonderful house. A boyfriend who had been recently kicked out of his former residence once the family he’d been staying with had caught onto where his main source of income came from.

Stephen was caught between waking Jeff up and telling him to leave, and packing up his stuff right now. He groaned and dropped his head to the cushion.

“Mornin’ sleepyhead,” Xander voice floated in from the kitchen. “I made pancakes so you might want to wake your friend up.”

Stephen gaped at the wall. That’s -- that’s it? All that worrying for nothing?

“Does he like orange juice or milk?”

Stephen found himself very glad that life was sometimes disappointing.


~~


“So, how did you and Stephen meet?” Xander asked a wide-eyed Jeff who was staring at the man like he had just jumped up and done the Can Can around the kitchen.

“We’ve, uh, been friends since we were little kids. Like, eight.” He replied after a moment, still blinking owlishly.

“Ah.” Xander stuffed another forkful of pancake into his mouth. “Ere are ooh aying?”

“. . .What?”

*swallow* “Where are you staying?”

“Um. . .” He glanced quickly at Stephen for help.

“With a friend,” Stephen hastily answered, not touching his own meal. His stomach was doing little backflips.

Xander looked about to reply but a jaw-cracking yawn sounded from the hallway and everyone turned to see a sleep-rumpled Spike with blonde hair mussed and sticking up in clumps. The vampire rubbed a hand over his eye and stretched, nose inhaling the warm buttery smell of pancakes.

“If you’re going to pour anything other than syrup on them, I’m going to have to ask you to eat at the counter.”

He flipped Xander the bird and grabbed a plate, scratching his ass with one hand and opening the fridge with the other. “You lot don’t know what you’re missin’. Ruinin’ your food with bloody syrup.” He gave an affected shiver and popped a bag of blood into the microwave.

“Yes, well some of us would like to keep our food down this morning.” He turned back to Jeff. “By the way, I’m Xander. And that’s Spike.” He waved his fork in the direction of the vampire who was now drizzling warm blood over his pancakes. “And I think you’ve already met Dawn.”

The girl waved and smeared more butter over her toast.

“I’m Jeff,” he replied uncertainly, eyes still asking Stephen what was going on.

“You know,” Xander said. “If you needed a place to stay. . .We're always open.”

Stephen looked up in surprise. “You really mean that?”

“Of course!” Xander replied, startled. “You think I’d say no to your friend?”

A multitude of answers sprang into Stephen’s mind but he cut them off. Why had he been so scared? “Of course not.” He smiled at Jeff who looked excited and touched.

“Really? Thanks!” He grinned at Stephen.

“Of course, this means we’ll have to go shopping again. . .” Xander shuddered.

“I am bloody well not going back to that mall!” Spike cried indignantly.

“And we’ll have to clear out another room and buy another bed.” Xander reached over for a pad of paper and a pen.

“Actually,” Stephen interjected, “he can just, um, stay with me.” The boy felt his cheeks flush with heat and watched Xander pause and study him.

“I guess. . .” He replied slowly. “But. . .promise you’ll make sure we aren’t in the house if you decide to. . .be friendly.” He said with a pained expression.

Stephen knew he was blushing scarlet, but arched an eyebrow at the man defiantly. “Only if you do the same.”

Spike snickered from the counter and Xander’s face turned a shade of red itself. “Don’t think you’ll be needin’ to worry about that, mate,” Spike grinned form the counter. “Xan here’s found the middle of the street to be his new favorite ‘friendly’ place.”

He ducked as the syrup bottle was chucked at him and clamped his hands over his ears at Dawn’s loud squeal.

The whole room laughed as Xander stormed out of the kitchen, angry appearance spoiled by his Tasmanian Devil boxers.


~~


Spike fingered the piece of paper in his hands, smoothing out the crumpled edges and smeared ink. He had written the first part of the prophecy on it, the part that Xander had told him. He felt, no he knew, that he’d fulfilled the first part. He’d lived with the knowledge that he would die, and attained humility with his talk with Stephen. Actually he’d attained humility throughout his entire life with Dawn and then Xander, and realized that humans weren’t the weak creatures he’d taken them for.

In fact, they were the strongest of all. Their ability to survive despite lacking the strength to fight the Keilans, and their perseverance even when their friends and family and home had been taken from them. Spike had seen humans in a whole new light, and it’d only taken the biggest tragedy in the world for it to happen. But it’d given him something he needed to start healing. Respect. For humans and love and life.

They were really the strongest things of all.

~~


“What’s the second part of the prophecy?”

Xander turned around to see Spike, and five minutes later he was sitting on the couch with his head in his hands. “Spike, are you – are you sure?” He asked shakily.

“I’m positive,” the vampire replied confidently.

“But how do you know?

“I just do.” Spike said shortly. “And I need to have the next part so I can complete that too.”

Xander glanced up at him, violet eyes full of worry and concern and trust. “Okay.”

He sat up and brought the memory of Wes’s words to mind. “Then he shall drink from the blood of the Hero and become physical what he’s remembered to cherish.”

Spike closed his eyes. “That it?” He asked after a moment.

Xander nodded, then remembered Spike couldn’t see him. “Yeah.”

There was another moment of silence.

“Don’t suppose you know what it means?” The man asked tentatively.

“Well, obviously I’ve gotta drink from someone. Or something. A 'hero'.” The vampire opened his eyes.

“What kind of hero do they mean exactly? Like, Deadboy type hero? Or Mother Teresa type hero?”

Spike shrugged. “Could mean anything. There are tons of different types of heroes. Usually you pick your own.”

“What do you mean?” Xander asked, leaning back and sliding an arm around Spike’s quivering shoulders, bringing the vamp closer to comfort him.

“Means that there’s no such thing as a hero unless you want there to be. Someone could be a hero for you alone, and nothing to the rest of the world. Doesn’t always have to be a ‘save the world’ type of thing. Could just be a mother or father type of thing.”

Xander thought about this. There were so many heroes in his life. Buffy and his friends, of course. Wes and Sam and every person who’d helped him survive over the years. Even the tricks he’d picked up, from helping him go insane with loneliness. Lovely Dawn, and Stephen for saving him from himself and his own stupid mistakes. And Spike. The hero in the shape of a victim, shaping Xander’s life into something wonderful and beautiful he didn’t know could exist.

“So. . .do you think it applies to you, personally? That. . .you drink from your own Hero?” Xander asked quietly.

Spike looked up at him. “I don’t know. It could mean so many things. But. . .if it
did. . .there’s only one person who it could possibly be.”

Spike smiled at Xander’s cute confused expression.

“You, Xander.” He pressed his lips softly against the man’s.

“My Hero.”





Part Sixteen



There was fire.

Thick and hot, rimmed with solid clouds of black smoke that pushed her down into submission and filled her lungs every time she cried out. Like she was breathing cotton.

Vision blurring, someone screaming in the background; a high wavering note that seemed to melt in the flames and dribble all over the charred floor. Her voice.

Turning and trying to run, stumbling over something heavy on the ground. Refuses to look down into the Watcher’s eyes. Hot flickering hands twist up her sides, encouraging her to give in, to do what she’s wanted all along. Believe it.

Then, strong real hands gripping her shoulders, spinning her around. Her knight in black leather and smoke-stained hair. And although the fire is all around them, enveloping them in a scorching fist, he doesn’t fear dust. Because she’s still screaming, and he’ll do anything to stop it.


~~


She woke up to bright blue eyes peering down at her in genuine fear and concern. For a moment she was still in Sunnydale and Spike was saving her, but as Stephen’s worried voice prodded her senses, reality slowly leaked back into her brain. She was safe.

“Dawn? Are you okay? That must have been a really bad nightmare because you’ve been screaming for like five minutes.” He babbled, eyes wide and still inspecting her, making sure she was alright.

Dawn nodded shakily, feeling for the first time her sweat-soaked state. Her pajamas and pillow, even the sheet was damp. “I’m okay now,” she breathed. She was. Really.

That was almost five years ago. I shouldn’t still be having that dream.

She sighed, letting her head fall back. Stephen seemed to calm down, settling a little on the side of her bed. “You sure?”

“Yeah.” She smiled at the boy. He really seemed concerned. “Why didn’t Spike come in?” She asked after a moment, insecurity and confusion picking at her.

“They went to the base to see Wes. Something real important, apparently.”

Dawn relaxed a bit. He hadn’t forgotten her.

“Did they tell you what it was?” It could be a real bad important thing or a real good important thing. She’d learned a long time ago to not hope or dread during situations like this. It just wasted too much energy on something that was inevitable anyways.

“Nope. Little secretive bastards that they are.” He grinned goofily and she couldn’t help but smile.

“Where’s Jeff? I figured you two would take this daddy-and-daddy-are-out time to get a little closer.” She teased him and he blushed, still grinning though.

“Yeah well, loud screaming tends to ruin the mood a bit. Loud screaming from another room, that is.”

The smile slipped off her face and she looked down at the sheet tangled over her, dark splotches where sweat had soaked through. “Sorry,” she said softly.

“No, it’s okay. Really, as long as you’re okay.” He paused. “You are, right?”

“Yeah,” she replied laughing quietly. Right up until you leave me here alone with the fire and the dark and the bodies.

“But. . .” He’ll think I’m such a child. Which is ridiculous because he’s a child, although I doubt he’s ever been afraid of the dark before. Losing your family tends to make things like nightmares seem small and stupid. But it hasn’t for me. Maybe he’d understand.

“Do you think. . .maybe,” she shifted, embarrassed. “You could stay here, for a while?”

He was quiet for a moment. “Okay,” he replied slowly. The breath wooshed out of her lungs in relief. “But don’t try anything. I have a very protective boyfriend in the other room.”

The door creaked open and said boyfriend peeked in. “You guys okay? I heard her stop but you didn’t come back. . .” Jeff trailed off, seeing how close they were and feeling inexplicably lonely.

“Yeah, she’s fine.”

“I’m in the room, you know,” she grumbled, pulling the covers up around her more. The drying sweat was starting to make her chilly.

“Um, I was going to stay with Dawn tonight,” Stephen explained. “To wake her up in case she has another nightmare or something.”

Dawn watched the air slowly deflate out of Jeff. He looked like a little boy who had lost his puppy.

“But – you could stay too!” She blurted, feeling ridiculous after she said it.

Stephen laughed. “Sure, why not? It’ll be like a sleepover without the video games and popcorn and going to a different house. And it’ll actually have sleeping.”

Dawn raised and eyebrow but slid off the side of the bed. “You two shared a bed when you had sleepovers as a kid?”

They glared at her. “We were like, eight.”

“You boys are so bad.” She said, pulling a clean sheet and pillow out of the closet. She actually heard them roll their eyes at her behind her back.

“Okay.” They all scooted in together after the covers and pillow had been changed; Dawn and Jeff on the sides and Stephen sandwiched between them. All three giggled, squirming around to get comfortable.

“I’ve never been this close to a girl in my life. It’s very alarming,” Stephen said, trying to get close to Dawn without having to touch any of her girlie parts. Jeff wrapped his arms around his waist and he settled instantly, one hand over Jeff’s and his head leaning against Dawn’s shoulder. Dawn snuggled closer, closing her eyes and matching her breathing to the pace of the two boys’ beside her. Stephen’s warmth pressed into her side and Jeff, though unfamiliar, seemed somehow right at home with his fingertips barely brushing her hips.

The lull of sleep and fog of night didn’t seem so daunting anymore. And Spike hadn’t even been here to comfort her. Maybe she didn’t need to rely on him for everything. Maybe she could build herself up, with help from others of course, but be her own person without the guiding hand of Spike to walk her through it all. She’d like that. To be her own person. Buffy would like that.


~~


Wesley’s eyes, which had been at Spike and Xander’s arrival full of sleep, were now wide and very much awake. The duo had knocked loudly at his door at twelve o’clock, demanding that he ‘let them the bloody hell in.’ He’d let them in, grumbling and reminding them of the time all the way, and brought them into his kitchen.

By the time they’d finished their short story he was listening intently and not even thinking up clever ways to kill them anymore. They’d told him their interpretation of the second part of the prophecy and shocked him with its insight. Of course, the term ‘hero’ would apply to the Demon personally. It’s the only kind there is.

But if they were right, then the answer was simple and had been in front of them all along.

It made sense. In fact, it made more than sense. Had they really thought that Xander had come across Spike and rescued him by coincidence? Then that there would be a prophecy pointing to a hero while they just happened to be living and working with one every day? Wes truly didn’t know why anyone hadn’t though of it sooner.

“Yes, that actually does make a great deal of sense,” said Wes after hearing their account. He settled down at the table, lost in thought. “We’ve found out that Xander isn’t fully human,” he tried to ignore the cringe “and now Spike needs to drink from his Hero to fulfill the prophecy. Xander’s part-demon state ensures Spike a pain-free feeding.”

The puzzle pieces were slowly falling into place, a few at a time. Some had been lost and many had been destroyed or wiped away over time, but if you got enough pieces together you could still see the basic picture and everything that would have been. And some things that wouldn’t have. The good thing about not knowing was that it left open all the possibilities. Wesley preferred to believe that Cordelia and Fred and Buffy and all the others would have lived out a long and happy life. That was the advantage of not knowing.

“So, we don’t need any special ritual or anything?” Xander asked, surprised. “It’s
really. . .that simple?”

“Most things are if you really think about it,” Wes replied. “People just tend to make things so much harder than they are because they think they should be.”

Spike sighed in annoyance, but the big grin stretching across his face ruined the facade. “Well as much as I adore the life lessons, Tweeds, I think me and Xan have a date with our big bouncy bed and my fangs. Or the car, whichever’s easier.”

“I’m afraid,” Wes held out a hand and caught Spike’s shoulder before he walked out of the room, “that this still contains risks.”

“But I thought you said it was bloody simple,” Spike pouted, lower lip jutting out and Wes suddenly knew why Xander put up with the blonde’s attitude.

“Well,” The ex-Watcher cleared his throat, ignoring the cry of ‘Awwww, cute!’ in his mind and trying to blink things into focus. Sam’s in the other room, think of Sam. “There is still the fact that you are sick. And Xander’s blood contains the DNA of the creature that made you sick. We have no idea how your body will react to it.”

“Well, my body’s doing just fine with it,” Xander protested.

“Yes, but your body is part Keilan, and it became that slowly and gradually, starting with the bite on your shoulder. You’ve probably become immune to the disease they carry and many others, perhaps. You might even have powers you’re unaware of.”

He watched Xander’s eyes widen.

“But Spike is not part Keilan and he has a disease. His body is sick and your blood might make him even sicker.”

“Well then. . .how do we find out?” Xander asked, slumping into the seat next to Wes. He could tell the man was beginning to think this was not simple at all.

“We have a test,” Wes said shortly.

“How?”

“We take a small sample of Xander’s blood and see if Spike reacts to it at all.”

The two of them glanced at each other, and Wes could see the silent conversation bouncing back and forth through their eyes. Amazing.

“Okay,” said Spike after a moment. “Let’s do the test.”

“Very well.” Wesley sighed, standing up. “Next time you two have a breakthrough, please have it while I’m not dreaming about owning a condo in Miami.”


~~


Xander shifted on his feet nervously, eyeing the equipment scattered around the lab. Labs had always made him edgy. Something about the sterile smell and clinical air about the place made him uneasy. Obviously Spike felt the same way because he was clinging to Xander and refused to go near any of the equipment.

“We have two chemicals here that should counteract the response if Spike does react badly to your blood.” Wes tapped two clear vials on the shiny slick counter.

Xander nodded, suddenly not feeling too sure about this. What if his blood made Spike really sick? Then they’d just be back to square one with no idea about the prophecy and a vampire in even worse condition.

But Spike was being so brave, looking at him determinedly and hopefully. Xander loved him so much. He wanted to tell him that but had to seem just as brave as the vampire was trying to. He had to.

“Here,” Wesley handed him a thin blade and tiny plastic cup, like the ones you measure cough syrup in.

Xander glanced over at Spike who was watching him with wide blue eyes. He picked up the blade and chose a spot on his arm, sliding the metal over his skin and barely feeling it split around the edge. He turned his arm and let the welling blood drop into the cup. It was thick and dark red. Didn’t seem strange in any way. Didn’t seem unhuman in any way.

“That should be enough.”

Xander withdrew his arm and took Wes’s offered alcohol wipe and bandage. He handed the tiny cup to Spike.

The vampire stared at it, his nostrils dilating as he took in the scent. Xander wondered what he smelled.

“Don’t panic if you can’t breathe well or begin to lose consciousness,” Wes was saying. “Just try to focus and swallow.” He again tapped the vials.

Spike nodded, face trying to look hard and indifferent. Xander reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. The vampire glanced up at him and smiled. “I’ll be okay.”

And with a deep breath and a mumbled something that sounded like ‘to Sid Vicious,’ he threw his head back and gulped down the small mouthful of blood.

And his head came back upright, looking perfectly normal. “Well that was-”

Then he started shivering violently and a bright light zipped up his body like he’d been electrocuted.

Xander froze in fright.

But then it stopped.

Spike looked up at him with wide eyes. “Bloody hell, that was good!”


~~


At home, Dawn’s eyes opened. It felt like someone had swept over her body with tiny pinpricks of electricity. She tingled. And she felt inexplicably happy.


~~


Wes walked back to his room. He’d given Spike and Xander the key to one of the extra accommodation rooms at the base. One with a particularly large bed. Just as long as they didn’t bother him until morning.


~~


Xander kissed Spike’s grinning face, pulling him in for a long hug.

“This is wonderful, pet.”

Xander agreed wholeheartedly.

“But. . .what about the last part of the prophecy?”

They both had their ideas. Neither wanted to share. Better not to hope or dread; just accept. This prophecy was destiny. They were destiny. They’d just have to accept whatever was meant to be thrown their way.

Spike smiled against Xander lips, just enjoying the feel of being in the arms of his lover, his Hero. He leaned over breathlessly and delicately kissed his neck.





Part Seventeen



Spike could feel life slipping through his teeth.

Hot and heavy as it slid past his lips and danced around his fangs, heating his throat as if he’d sipped hot coffee. Coppery and thick and warm and that special spice that fresh blood has. And underneath that Spike could feel the power, something just not quite human but ancient and almost frightening in its intensity.

But mostly he could feel the life.

Xander’s life.

And it had a tangible taste; fortunate and patient and forgiving and loving. Like a secret code embedded right down to the blood, imprinted so deep into his body that he couldn’t change it if he tried. Nothing could.

It made Spike almost believe in destiny.

And as Xander’s life rolled over his tongue and began to spread impossibly through his body, Spike almost believed in second chances.


~~


Dawn’s eyes flickered open again, this time wide and fully. An odd sensation tingled the tips of her fingers and toes, as if they’d fallen asleep. It wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling, it actually tickled a bit. She liked it. She felt somehow connected to all the people she loved; her family.

Beside her, Stephen rolled over and opened his eyes sleepily, twitching his arm and sighing until he fell back into a contented sleep.

Even, beside him, the corner of Jeff’s mouth twitched a bit, and the boy’s nightmare vanished.


~~


In their main headquarters in New York, the CEO of Wolfram & Hart felt the being inside him he called a soul wrench in agony. It sobbed within him like a living thing.

The pen dropped from his hand.

As his soul wailed and grieved, Angel knew he’d lost. After being the paradox of life and death for so long and not being able to partake properly in either, the battle had finally ended for him.

He hadn’t been good enough and he’d been beaten to the reward. His death and soul would continue to be a part of him until he was dust. He didn’t have to try anymore.

Angel laid his head down on his desk and wept in relief.


~~


Xander could feel his heart slowing as it pumped blood into Spike’s mouth. He could feel death beginning to lodge itself at the base of his throat, creeping up and down his body as the pulling sensation became stronger. It was like Spike had tied Xander’s veins to his fangs like shoelaces then yanked them out his neck.

It tickled in his fingers and toes.

Xander had never felt more loved.


~~


Spike didn’t notice the light until it was probably almost gone. He was too focused on the unnatural warmth spreading through his body to notice that he’d been engulfed in a white glow. His pain skin became almost translucent in the illumination.

Spike let his mouth fall from Xander’s neck. When he closed his eyes he could see through his transparent eyelids. Xander was watching him with violet half-moons. The vampire hadn’t even been aware he was rubbing against Xander, the big man’s thigh between his own, until the friction became almost too much. Then his heart beat for the first time in a century and pumped the incredible orgasm right out of him.



~*~*~



Xander awoke and the first thing he noticed was the floor. Mainly because he was sprawled uncomfortably on it. The second thing he noticed was the numb feeling in his neck. He felt weak and tired, but there was no pain. His body seemed to be repairing itself rather quickly from whatever had happened and it was making him exhausted.

The third and most important thing Xander noticed was Spike. Who, like Xander, was lying in a heap on the floor next to him. Not their floor, either.

“Spike?” He called groggily, sounding more like a plea than an inquiry.

The body didn’t move.

Panic jump-started Xander’s senses and he pulled himself over to Spike and flipped the vampire over. Xander shook him by the shoulders, almost passing out with relief when he saw blue eyes flicker open.

“Wh-?” Spike mumbled sleepily.

Xander let his head drop to the vampire’s chest. An unfamiliar vibration pounded his ear.

What the-

Xander’s head jerked up. Spike cocked a sleepy eyebrow. “Whassumatter?”

Xander stared at the clear blue eyes. Clear blue like cut crystal and pale white softening the edges.

Xander’s gaze flickered to Spike’s fingernails where pastel pink shined healthily. And back up, where a flush darkened the contours of his angular face.

“Spike!” Again with the breathy whisper instead of ecstatic cry. He felt babble bubbling up through his throat for the first time in a while.

Impossible. But-

How do you tell someone they’re alive? That their dream has come true? Xander wasn’t familiar with either of those and it scared the fucking hell out of him.


~~


Spike stared up at Xander and it slowly dawned on him what had happened. The night before came back in brief flashes. Spike draining Xander. But the man was alive. A white glow – some unimaginable pain in his chest. Instinctively he raised a hand to his chest to see if he was hurt.

His heart almost stopped when he felt it under his fingers.

“Bloody hell!

Spike scrambled to his feet and Xander rolled off his chest. Spike began to pat himself down with his hands, glancing at his clear fingernails and feeling the warmth coming from beneath his skin. His warmth. Like there was a giant heater inside him.

It was mind-blowing.

And impossible.

“But – how?” He sputtered, still not able to comprehend it. Xander came up from behind him, touching Spike’s cheek hesitantly as if he were afraid it’d burn him. Spike felt like it’d burn him. How was he so bloody hot?

“I don’t know,” Xander whispered. Spike wished he’d stop doing that. Made him scared.

“And how are you okay? I practically drained you last night. And how-”

Xander put a hand over his mouth. After a moment he removed it and leaned forward, brushing their lips together. Spike felt heat rise in his cheeks and something lurch in his chest.

The kiss felt more real than any of their others had. Well maybe not more real, but definitely more alive.


~~


Wes stared at them in incomprehension.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“What do you mean you don’t understand?!” Spike yelled. “We’ve bloody told you three times!”

“Yes, but-” Wesley’s threw his hand up in the air. “It’s impossible!”

“Fuckin’ feel me yourself!” Spike grabbed the man’s hand and held it to his cheek.

Wesley’s eyes widened as he pressed into the warm skin. Xander shifted in agitation and slapped the man’s hand away. “Keep ‘em to yourself, buddy.”

The ex-Watcher began to buzz with excitement. “This is incredible! We need to – do tests! And, and study this! Oh my – we need to experiment!” The man screeched, jumping up and down like a school girl.

Xander watched him, amused. “Okay. . .It you’re done geeking out, can you please tell us what the hell is going on?”

Wes cleared his throat and recovered himself. “Yes, um, very well, sorry about that. Anyways, it appears that you are human.”

“To quote an annoying teenage girl, duh.” Spike crossed his arms tightly.

“Well this must be the last part of the prophecy. ‘He shall drink from the blood of the Hero and become physical what he’s remembered to cherish.’ It must mean human.”

Xander and Spike absorbed this. “So. . .that’s it? I’m human now? I just bloody go on my little way?”

Wes shrugged. “Yes, it appears so.”

“But. . .what was the point of the prophecy?” Xander asked. “Is he supposed to accomplish something by being human?”

“What’s the point of any prophecy, really?” Wes asked wearily. “Most of them seem like just an ancient demon’s way of fun. Messing with people and altering the future. Although it appears. . .and I’m merely guessing here, that maybe. . .Spike wasn’t supposed to be a vampire.”

The two stared at him.

“Well, maybe he was just. . .meant to be human. After all, he's been restrained with the chip, helped the Slayer and her friends, and become a Combatant who kills demons for the government. Frankly, you've been a terrible demon.”

Spike scoffed indignantly but Xander cut him off.

“You mean,” Xander paused. “Prophecies can actually mean good things?”

“Oh, of course. Not all are apocalypses and raising the dead and warfare. Some are as simple as someone losing their job or finding a stray pet. Most of these, of course, go unnoticed by researchers and such, because of their irrelevance, but much of what happens today has been predicted. Who knows, maybe all of it has. We only know what is recorded, and those are usually the more important ones.”

It was almost too much information for them to grasp. The concept, too, was frightening. Is there really no free will? Xander wondered. Has everything already been planned out?

He didn’t know if that should be depressing or reassuring.

“Anyways, I strongly feel you should get used to your, er, humanness. Maybe you do have some higher act to fulfill, but for now you should just become more comfortable in your body.”

“Easy for you to say,” Spike mumbled. His heart was so bloody loud. And the heat.

“But what about me?” Xander asked. “Spike took a lot of blood last night. How am I okay?”

“Xander, you forget. You’re not completely human anymore. The demon in you has quickened your healing response and can act as a last reserve when you become seriously injured.” Wes smiled softly and apologetically.

Xander thought about this for a moment, nodded once then turned to the former vampire, a wide smile on his face. “Let’s go home.”


~~


Dawn squealed. Stephen’s jaw dropped. Jeff blinked.

“Is this normal?” He whispered to Stephen. The boy could only shake his head.

“Oh my god!” Dawn ran up to him and wrapped her arms around him. “I can’t believe it! This is so great!” When she pulled away she had tears in her eyes.

“I don’t get what’s so bloody great about it,” Spike grumbled. “It’s too hot, too achy, too easy to break. I have to fuckin’ worry when I fight now.”

Dawn just shook her head because she knew he didn’t mean it. It was weird; she felt connected to them still like she had last night. Xander’s joy and Spike’s nervousness flickered from them to her like there was an invisible thread strung between them.

“Just think,” Stephen added helpfully. “The sex will be great.

They were quiet for a moment then all burst out laughing.


~~


Spike mopped the sweat off his brow. It was sticky and disgusting and ran in his eyes. His muscles ached from his experimenting and his heart was beating as fast and hard as a jackhammer in his chest.

He’d been training, testing out his abilities and endurance. The preternatural strength was gone, but he was still pretty tough. Not as tough as Xander, but that was okay. Spike was beginning to accept who was the dominant one in this relationship. He supposed he could be the nagging wife well enough; he’d had plenty of lessons from the girls back in the day.

It’s just, he felt so — human. There were all these emotions running through him that sometimes he felt like he was going to break down and cry for no reason like a bloody teenager. And he was as horny as a teenager too.

But whatever mystical means had brought Spike back to life, they’d spared him the pain from a soul. He had a soul of course, but he didn’t feel the weight of everyone he’d killed on it. He could still remember them--he remembered everything--and he felt guilty when he thought of them, but there was no gut-wrenching pain like what Angel had described.

For that, Spike was eternally grateful.

But he still hadn’t gotten over Xander’s uproarious laughter at the expression on Spike’s face when he first had to go to the bathroom. Ugh, I don’t think I’ll every get used to those sounds and smells.

But there were good things. Great things, actually. Like the sun. Spike loved the sun. He still jumped whenever a ray first hit his skin and hesitated instinctively at the door before stepping outside, but he laid out and tanned himself almost every day on the porch in the backyard. His dismal pallor was just beginning to darken and his hair was bleach-white again.

It was still always too hot, but Spike was beginning to get used to it. Xander had assured him he would. And sometimes Spike forgot that he had to breathe and would end up almost passing out with his face all red and Xander would choke on his own laughter. All in all, Spike made a pretty pathetic human.

But Xander made him feel perfect.

It was amazing, feeling his heartbeat quicken and his skin flush when Xander touched him. While being a vampire had given him an extra-sharp sense of everything else, being human made him hyperaware of his own body. It was aggravating and delicious.

But perhaps the best thing about being human, apart from the predicted amazing sex, was food.

Spike loved food. He couldn’t get enough of it. He’d been able to taste and smell and eat it when he’d been a demon, but everything seemed bland and lacking compared to blood. Now every food was something to be cherished and eaten often.

Spike would have eaten his body weight in chocolate if Xander hadn’t reminded him of training and patrols. And he would have enjoyed it.

Dawn, on the other hand, wanted him to experience and explore everything he’d missed out on while being a vampire. She took him to the beach, shopping through the streets, out to the finest restaurants for lunch (to the great displeasure of Xander’s wallet), and to every public place only open during the day that they could find.

Spike could say, without the risk of sounding like the awful soap operas he loved, that it was the first time he’d really felt alive.


~~


Xander pushed Spike’s shoulders down, pressing him into the sheets and pulling back so just the broad tip of his cock poked through the tight ring of muscle in Spike’s ass. The blonde whimpered and tried to push back desperately, but Xander held him firm.

“Xan, fuck!” He cried as Xander slipped in a fraction of an inch more. “You’re bloody torturing me!”

Xander had found it was even more arousing to have hot and human Spike at his mercy than cool and chipped one. The slighter man was so needy, gasping and losing himself like he’d never experienced such contact before. He still wasn’t used to the so human need without the underlying bloodlust. Just plain lust.

“You want it, Spike?” Xander’s voice was husky and he just knew it made was making Spike leak all over their sheets.

“God yes, Xan!” He choked out, hands clenched and muscles trembling as he attempted to push Xander deeper into his body. “Fuck me, god, please!”

Xander groaned, control slipping for a moment. He could torture Spike all night. He had done that on numerous occasions, and the man loved every masochistic minute of it. But the kids were going to be home soon. . .

“Fuck!” Spike screamed as Xander thrust all the way in, rigid flesh scraping his prostate. He moaned helplessly, hips thrusting back and forth as he fucked himself on Xander’s cock. “Yes,” he hissed. “Harder, like that!”

Xander pounded into him, sweat slick on both their bodies and ragged moans accompanying the sounds of flesh slapping against flesh. Finally, Xander felt his balls draw up and his fingers dug hard into Spike’s shoulder blades as he cried out, orgasm sweeping through his body.

Spike hand disappeared under his own jerking body, and in moment he was crying out too, back arching under Xander’s fingers as cum coated their sheets.

Xander slumped down, limp cock slipping out from Spike. He panted and peeled off the condom, tossing it into the wastebasket beside the bed. He waited until Spike had regained control of his breathing and rapidly beating heart before leaning over and kissing his flushed lips. “Is it just me or does it keep getting better?”

The blonde let out a breathless laugh. “We’re really gonna have to soundproof our room if it does.”

Xander decided against bringing up the foam guy again.

“We’d need to soundproof Jeff and Stephen’s then too,” Spike added, grinning because he knew it bugged the hell out of him. The larger man winced, shaking his head to rid it of the images.

“How can you joke about that with someone who’s practically our son?”

Spike shrugged. “I just like to annoy you. Take it where I can get it.”

Xander poked him in his soft belly. “Hey! I thought the soul was supposed to make you less annoying.”

Nothing can make me less annoying. And souls have nothing to do with it. Just look at Angel.”

Xander shuddered and chuckled, kissing Spike on the top of his soft and curly hair. It’d grown out even longer and hung in a sun-bleached halo over his face. “I love you,” he murmured.

“You too, git.” Spike pulled his blue blanket over them and sighed contentedly. Once upon a time he would have been disgusted with these soppy exchanges of words and teasing, but now it just felt right. Even if it was ridiculously romantic sometimes. But, really, he was beginning to like this human stuff just fine.





Part Eighteen



Xander was sure that at some stage, things would start reversing. That once he got just happy enough, he’d reach a saturation point and everything would start to crumble. It was the story of his life, after all. But so far nothing had crumbled very much, and Xander wondered maybe if it was because he’d finally built a strong enough foundation.

His relationship with Willow and Buffy and Anya and everyone from what he tried not to think of as his ‘past life’ had been built on insecurities and disproportionate compromises. There was an uneven balance in it, and the Tear had been the final thing to devastate that thin connection. But with Spike and Dawn and everyone else he’d finally come to accept as his family, the relationship seemed stronger and more honest. Real. There was no point anymore to have people close to you that didn’t truly want you for you.

So maybe that’s why things hadn’t crumbled yet. Not to say that there weren’t difficulties, there would always be difficulties, but somehow they had all still stayed together. Devotion like that was a miracle to Xander. He didn’t really think that kind of thing happened except in books and cheesy movies.

But Spike was still with him, and now alive. Dawn had found her way to him, still alive and unbroken. Stephen and Jeff only completed him further and he found himself unable to imagine a life without them. Wes had been there all along.

So maybe it was just Xander’s long-buried construction guy philosophy peeking out, but he was beginning to think that if you worked hard enough and built up the most solid, unyielding bond you could, that maybe even an apocalypse couldn’t break it.


~~


Spike shifted on his feet, one hand half-raised at the ready. His head was lowered and he balanced on the balls of his feet, muscles twitching in expectancy. A trickle of sweat was slowly working its way down his spine, dodging around the knots like a soccer player weaving through cones.

There was a quick movement at the other end, and Spike needed to time it exactly or he would-

Fuck!

Spike threw his racket down furiously, watching the ball bounce quickly out of the corner of the court with a death glare. “This game’s bloody impossible!”

Dawn laughed from the other end, coming up to lean against the net. “No it’s not. You just need to practice.”

“Don’t want to bloody practice,” he muttered, walking over to the shaded area so he could gulp his water bottle down. Apparently being human required constant thirst and hunger and frustration.

Dawn walked over to Spike who was now sitting dejectedly on the bench and glaring at the tennis court as if he was trying to ignite it with his mind. Knowing Spike, he might be, she decided.

“It’s fun once you get the hang of it.”

“No it’s not,” he replied petulantly. “It’s stupid.”

“You’re just frustrated because I’ve finally found something I’m better than you at.” She grinned.

“Am not.” She watched him lift his lip at the court and stifled a giggle. He was trying to show it his game face. Good luck with that.

“Anyways,” she stretched and noticed the cute guy in the next court pause and watch her. “Want to go home?”

“Yeah,” Spike muttered, apparently still angry that the girl had beaten him at something. She rolled her eyes. “Okay, let’s go.”

Dawn drove because, honestly, the car didn’t need any more damage done to it. Spike had already driven into two mailboxes and a squirrel, the latter of which was now taking up residence in their backyard with a tiny cast on its hind paw and a collar that read Barney, courtesy of Spike.

Don’t even know why I agreed to come here.

Spike stared gloomily out the window.

Stupid Xander, telling me I looked good in these shorts.

He glanced down at his legs.

Bloody liar! I’m so frickin’ pale.

Spike gave a huge sigh. Dawn peeked at him only half-worriedly. “What’s wrong?”

“Besides you dragging me over here to waste my time?” He growled.

Dawn winced, readjusting her grip on the steering wheel. “You know, whatever you’ve been so pissed about lately don’t take it out on me.”

It was Spike’s turn to flinch. He gave another Angel-esque sigh and slouched further into his seat. It’s nothing you need to worry about, Bit.

They drove the rest of the way home in a silence that used to be comfortable, once upon a time.

~~

When presented with a problem, Xander usually took it head on. From this vantage point, you could see what kind of a fighter it was, whether it had pointy claws or an extra set of teeth, and what parts it shielded, as those would be its weak spots. This particular problem, however, Xander watched from a safe distance away. He tucked it into a quiet place in his mind and waited until he was ready to face it.

It was obvious that his family needed him. He was, although it terrified him to admit it, the core of their unity, which everyone else gravitated around. He’d brought them all together, one way or another. If something were to happen to him. . .

Xander wasn’t sure they’d be able to stay together if their foundation crumbled.

And that was the last thing any of them needed.

Spike would try to be the leader, try to be the comforter and the protector and he would give it all he had, but Xander just knew he didn’t have it in him. He was a natural leader but he still needed someone to rely on. So did Xander. If one of them fell eventually the other would too.

So that left Xander with a choice. Protect the world, or protect his family.

Some days he couldn’t help feeling that they were one and the same.


~~


Dawn had watched Spike and Xander dance around each other for a week. It was strangely cute in a weird way, but generally just frustrating. It’d all started when Xander came home with his hand wrapped in bandages.

“What happened?” Dawn had yelped, followed quickly by Spike jumping to his feet and rushing over to the man. Xander had laughed it off like it was nothing. “Just a cut,” he’d said.

Spike was in full panic mode. “Was it a Keilan? Did it bite you? Oh god, are you infected?!” Again, his high pitched voice and mothering were oddly cute, but he was obviously terrified so Dawn had no time to coo over it.

Xander had assured him that he’d just miscalculated a swing of an axe and that he was fine. There was nothing to worry about.

Spike was extremely relieved.

Then Spike was livid.

Followed by a litany of ‘be more careful’s and ‘scared me to fucking death’s he finally calmed down and slouched in the corner. His posture hadn’t left the slouch since that night and his mood had not improved a bit.

Dawn had a feeling she knew what the dispute was about, but she really didn’t want to get in the middle of it. She knew better now.

But she hoped Xander would make the right choice. Whatever it was.


~~


Stephen and Jeff were on their third round of Texas Hold’em when Spike announced he had to ‘get out of this bloody hellhole.’ Which meant he was tired of being cooped up in the house and was going to the bar to yell at the jukebox for playing crappy songs and get into a high-stakes drinking contest with a demon.

It was a typical Friday night.

“Have fun,” Jeff threw over his shoulder as the blonde man walked out the door. They waited a good minute after it slammed before dropping the cards where they were and rushing to their bedroom.

“I had a pair of threes, what about you?” Stephen asked, pulling off his shirt.

“A straight,” Jeff replied, undoing his belt. Stephen grinned. “How ironic.”

The met halfway in the middle over their unmade bed in a quick sloppy kiss.

“How long until Xander comes home?”

“About half an hour.”

“I can work with that.”

“I know.”

Another shared grin and a playful shove that flipped one of them onto their back and the other, conveniently, right above him.


~~


Xander made sure to drive home extra slow. He was not coming home to shrill moans and the sound of a bed banging against a wall again.

Lalalalala!

Foamfoamfoamfoamfoam!

So after a good extra twenty minutes of driving around aimlessly, he finally returned home and cautiously opened the door. “Are you decent?” He called out. A silence greeted his ears that he could actually hear filled with eye rolls. He stepped into the room and the scene of Stephen and Jeff playing cards over the back of the sofa greeted his eyes.

“Good.”

And again with the teenagery eye tolls.

Xander walked past them to the kitchen. “How about zipping up, Stevo?”

The boy turned red and quickly yanked his zipper up.

Xander pulled the leftover Chinese out of the refrigerator and popped it into the microwave. “So,” he called over the hum. “Where’s Spike and Dawn?”

“Bar and party.” Was the murmured response.

Xander sighed but it was masked by the beep from the microwave. He’s been going there a lot lately. Xander set the plastic carton down on the table. I know what’s bothering him, though. I just don’t know what to do about it.

It wasn’t something you could decide on overnight. Whatever he chose, that would affect the rest of his life. It would affect everyone’s life around him, family or not.

Standing and eating half-stale Chinese food while listening to your son (yes, son) sleepily mumbling to his boyfriend that he’s raising the pot by three Cheetos while your own boyfriend is out get snockered in a bar is not the conventional time for people to make life-changing decisions.

But since when was Xander conventional?

He realized that, with the same imperceptibility as love comes and slips away, deciding on something like this wasn’t something that was a definite choice or happened and you knew it. It sort of worked itself out until your answer was clear.

Xander listened to Jeff make a joke and heard them giggle as they drowsily kissed. In the background the television showed scenes of recent Keilan attacks. But it was muted. And his family was not.


~~


Wes understood. Not that Xander had doubted he would, but it was still a relief. “I understand. You need to protect your family now.” And he summed it up with a perfect British politeness that made Xander sure he had chosen the right thing. “Still, this is a huge loss. It will be extremely hard to find someone who could fill your shoes.” And a clean British goodbye that Xander could see easily see through.

“I’ll miss you too, Wes.” He pulled the man in for a hug that was decidedly not British, perfect, or polite. And it wasn’t even awkward once Wes gave in.

“Good luck, Xander,” the older man wished him sincerely. For once Xander didn’t mind the feel of tears prickling his eyelids. “You too, Wes.” There was another comfortable moment. “Make sure you screw Sam silly for me.” He could actually feel the heat radiate off the ex-Watcher’s neck. “Well, not for me, actually, ‘cause that’s just be gross, but you know what I--”

“And some things never change,” Wes muttered dryly, pulling away. Xander barked a laugh. They said their goodbyes again and wished each other happy lives until the next time they meet.

Xander drove home from REHV for the last time, this time hoping he wouldn’t have to return.

Some things never change.

But some things have to.



~~


Spike knew as soon as he saw Xander’s face.

That didn’t mean he didn’t go through the dragging it out and the reasons behind it and what it would mean, but for a few joyful moments they were in each other’s arms; two parts of a very grateful whole. Two fast heartbeats thudded against chests until neither was sure which was their own or if they had separate ones at all. Maybe they were conjoined at the heart. Doomed to fail if the other stopped.

Spike was used to no heartbeat, but it probably would have come as a shock to Xander. Best not to risk it.

“Are you sure, luv?” Spike asked, arms wrapped around Xander’s head and hands bunched in his thick hair. “Maybe we could find a way around it. Only go out on certain nights or whatever, or bring backup wherever you go.”

“No,” Xander laughed breathily against Spike’s warm cheek. “It’s not even that it’s too risky. It’s just. . .” He wasn’t sure if he could put what he’d been thinking into words. “It’s the concept. I should put my family before everything else and endangering myself endangers my family. I need to be here, full-time.”

Spike smiled against his neck and he knew he understood. “Okay.”

Xander grinned. “So much for being a poet.”

Spike nipped his ear. “Hey!” He picked up the slighter man who laughed loudly as he spun him around and dropped him onto the couch. He crawled over him, ignoring the blonde’s waggling eyebrows, and kissed him on the forehead. “Maybe you shouldn’t be here full-time,” Spike giggled as Xander unbuttoned his shirt. “Mother hen is my job. Bloody hell, did I really just say that?”

Xander grinned. “Maybe I’ll go back into construction.”

“I do love men in yellow hats.”

“And flannel shirts.”

“Ooh, will you fuck me in a yellow hat and flannel shirt?”

“And construction boots?”

“Duh.”

They both snickered at the Dawn-ism.

“What about the– ooohhhh.....”

“Mmm?”

“Neverm— oooohh...”

“......ooohhh.....”

“....ahhhhh.......”


~~


A lot of things happened the following months.

Xander got a job at a nearby construction site. Spike got a job as a part-time writer for a local music magazine. Stephen turned sixteen. Dawn got involved in her first serious relationship, much to the dismay and joy of Spike and Xander. Jeff brought home a puppy, who promptly ate Barney. Xander gave Spike a ring and wore one to match it. Both of them officially adopted Stephen. Xander turned twenty-eight, which made him five years older than Spike (in the eyes of the law). Spike got freckles.

But although they were full of these events and these turning points, they seemed to slip away like water through cupped hands. It was a good slipping, though, as slipping goes. It was a blissful slipping, and Xander found himself happier than he could ever remember being.

He still thought of Buffy and Willow and Anya and Giles, and everyone from what seemed so long ago. He now kept the picture from his office on his mantel, and told Stephen and Jeff all there was to know about his old friends. He still got a bit teary when he did it, but again, it was a happy teary. Those times were past, but that didn’t mean they should be forgotten. They weren’t.

Spike, his constant companion, was probably the only reason Xander had come to terms like this. Without him, without realizing he still had more to live for; more to give, there would be none of this. There would be none of what he was now. Spike was the key and the box all in himself. Xander hoped Spike knew this. He hoped he understood. But the blonde man was good at that.

On rare occasions Xander would see a news report asking where the Ghost had gone, or read horrific stories in the newspaper about demon attacks. But they were dying down, slowly but surely. The government had most of them under control by now. The tragedy was coming to an end. Xander would have sporadic urges to go out and fight, or would get inexplicably angry and dream of sinking metal into rough flesh. But those too were fading.

He still wondered if he’d really made a difference. If Buffy, whatever heaven she surely had gone to, was looking down at his small family and smiling. If she was proud. He had a feeling she was.

And, despite what the news reports said and what the guilty voice in the back of his mind sometimes whispered, Xander had finally accepted what he needed to do and who he needed to be. Because he didn’t have to slay demons and fight evil for his family, to be a hero.

To them, he already was.





Part Nineteen





The End








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