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Sabre Shadowkitten

Part Seven

The hospital was crowded. People with every injury imaginable walked, stumbled, were carried or pushed through the automatic doors. The scent of antiseptic did little to mask the smell of blood and death. The Grim Reaper paced the corridors, ducking into rooms to claim victims of gunshots and car accidents with little regard or sympathy for those the patient left behind.

Spike paced the floor in the waiting area, unerringly stepping over stretched out legs and avoiding other pacers. Concerned family and friends of patients filled the room, sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs of avocado and mustard color and reading year old magazines. Some drank vending machine coffee, their shaking hands announcing that they've already had too much.

Spike's hands shook despite not having any coffee. Carding his fingers through his hair, he continued to wear a hole in the tile floor. Xander was due to be released any time now, and the wait was driving Spike crazy. He and Wesley had been shooed from Xander's room by Nurse Ratchet so the resident on-call could give the brunette a final exam before releasing him.

A squeak of a gymshoe on the floor caused Spike to whirl on his heel. He breathed a sigh of relief and quickly crossed to the brunette with a white bandage around his head coming down the hall. "Are you sprung?"

Xander nodded, and whispered, "Will you keep yourself covered? It's disturbing enough that you're glowing without the naked thing."

"Sorry." Spike re-tied the hospital gown he was wearing backwards.

"Mr. Harris, are we ready to leave?" Wesley asked, meeting Xander at the entrance to the waiting area.

"We're good to go," Xander replied with a sidelong glance at the mostly naked glowing vampire standing beside him.

Wesley nodded, completely ignoring said naked glowing vamp. "Very good. I'm parked in the pay garage. This way."

Spike fell into step beside Xander. "He still can't see me, pet. No one but you can for the moment."

"Lucky me," Xander muttered. Louder, he asked Wesley, "How's Angel?"

"Heavily sedated," Wesley answered. "I've spoken with Gunn, and Angel most likely won't awaken until tonight sometime." He gave Xander a not-too-friendly look. "By then, I expect you will be gone."

"What are you getting mad at me for?" Xander followed Wesley out of the hospital and into the parking garage. "I didn't do anything to Spike."

"I know that," Wesley said, "but this is a time for family..."

"And I'm not a part of it," Xander finished, a bitter note creeping into his voice.

"You are, too," Spike stated.

"Invisible, naked glowing people's opinions don't count," Xander mumbled, rounding the car to the passenger side. "Especially someone who is probably a figment of my concussed imagination."

Spike waggled his brows. "You imagine me naked?"

Xander ignored him and got into the car. Spike grabbed the car door before it closed. "I need to get in, too, pet."

"Is there a problem?" Wesley asked from the driver's seat, looking quizzically at Xander.

"No." Xander waited until Spike slithered into the back seat before pulling the door shut.

As the car got underway, Spike sighed and scooted out of the sunlight coming through Wesley's open window. He adjusted the hem of the hospital gown, keeping his dangly bits covered. He really needed to find some different clothing. Mint green was not his color, glowing a faint gold or not.

Looking out the tinted side window, Spike let his mind drift over the events that led him to being mostly naked in the backseat of a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, sex was not involved.

Spike remembered standing in the lobby of the Hyperion, giddy because Gunn had mislabeled Xander as Spike's boyfriend. Then there had been pain. It had ripped through his body unexpectedly, and it was worse than anything he'd ever felt. At that moment, he had wished for permanent death, the pain was so awful.

He'd thought he had died when the pain abruptly stopped and he'd opened his eyes to find himself floating in a colorless void. Before he could question what had happened, his mind had been filled with answers and information, and then he was suddenly standing in the lobby of the Hyperion again and Xander was bleeding on the floor.

He knew why he was glowing and why only Xander could see and hear him at the moment. He hadn't a clue as to why he'd returned naked as a jaybird from his impromptu visit with the Gods, but that was unimportant. What was important was, getting back to the Hyperion, letting his family know he was not dead... er, more dead... and telling them what the prophecy had meant.

Spike would've done the second part sooner if Xander hadn't been in need of medical attention. He'd been afraid that if he'd popped up, alive and glowing, Xander would've been ignored as the blond tried to explain what had happened, and that was unacceptable. Human head injuries were not to be taken lightly, and it had been possible that every second would've counted. Spike now knew from the hospital visit that the boy hadn't been in any real danger, but at the time he wasn't going to chance it.

Leaning forward, Spike lightly tapped Xander on the shoulder. "When we get to the hotel, I need you to play Ghost-ly Whoopi Goldberg and act as a temporary Medium for me."

Xander's response was to ignore him. Spike sighed again. "C'mon, luv. I need you to do this for me."

He was still ignored.

"I'll say please if I have to."

No response.



"Pretty please?"

Not even a twitch.

"Pretty please, with a naked me on top."


"Pretty please, with my promise to put clothes on?"

Success! A faint nod. Although Spike didn't know if he should feel insulted or complimented by the fact his nudity bothered Xander.

They arrived at the Hyperion, and with a terse "Stay here" to Xander in the lobby, Spike dashed upstairs to change out of the hospital gown. Not wanting to waste time, he threw on a pair of jeans only. However, he couldn't stop himself from going next door to check on Angel.

Angel was flat out on the bed, his features slack because of the sedatives that had been given to him. From the bedroom, Spike could see Gunn sitting in a chair on the balcony, the tear tracks on his face glinting in the late afternoon sun. The blond became choked up. Gunn was grieving for him. Spike knew that his patchwork family cared for, and even loved, him, but seeing his supposed death cause tears really drove it home.

Clearing his throat, Spike turned to his sire and brushed his fingers across Angel's brow. His thumb left a glowing golden streak that faded away after a moment. Because of the sun, he couldn't let Gunn know he was still kicking and the drugs in Angel's system put him down for the count, too.

"I'm okay, Angel," Spike said, even though the older vampire couldn't hear him. "You haven't gotten rid of me yet." He placed a kiss on Angel's brow, which also left a glowing mark that faded shortly thereafter, then headed downstairs.

Wesley was leaning over a book at the registration counter, although Spike could tell he wasn't reading it. Xander was sitting sideways on the third to last step of the red-carpeted grand staircase, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. The white bandage around his head made Spike wince. Xander was fine, Spike reminded himself. Concussed and stitched, but overall no real harm was done by his idiotic father figure.

Cordelia and Dawn had not returned from their shopping excursion, which was good. Spike didn't want them to suffer one iota of heartache with the mistaken impression that he was dust. He loved his best friends too much to do that to them.

"Xander," Spike addressed the tired-looking young man. "I need you to tell Wesley that I'm here." He didn't want to give Wes a heart attack by suddenly appearing, which was why he'd waited until after the hospital trip to do this.

Without opening his eyes, Xander said, loud enough for Wesley to hear, "Spike's not dust."

Wesley's head whipped around and he stared hard at Xander. "Come again?"

"Spike's not dust," Xander repeated. He cracked open his eyes, and gestured at the blond standing in front of him. "He's right there. Apparently, I'm the only person who sees him."

"That is not funny, Mr. Harris," Wesley said harshly.

"Am I laughing?" Xander straightened and pointed directly at Spike. "No joke. Spike is right there, glowing gold and making me play Telephone."

The look Wesley gave Xander caused Spike to shiver on the boy's behalf. He had to intervene before the not-so-secret love of his life learned that Wesley wasn't simply the book geek he appeared to be. "Tell Wes that I gave him Henkley's 'Nershoix' for his birthday with the naughty bookmark inside," Spike directed.

Xander repeated the information, and a deep furrow appeared between Wesley's brow. "What did the bookmark say?" Wesley asked warily.

Spike told Xander, who passed it on. "'Rec' li betex ter winde'k'... ca, um, ca..." The younger brunette looked at Spike. "What's the last word again?"

"'Cacum,'" Spike supplied.

"'Cacum,'" Xander finished.

Wesley looked stunned. "Where-where is he?"

"I'm right here, Wes," Spike said, stepping in front of him.

"In front of you," Xander told Wesley.

Wesley hesitantly extended his hand, and Spike clasped it with one of his own. The other man removed his glasses, staring intently at his hand. "I can feel something holding my hand. Is he holding my hand?"

"He's holding your hand," Xander confirmed.

The blond brought his other hand up and ran his fingertip from Wesley's hairline on down, ending with a tap to the tip of his nose. A streak of glowing gold was left behind where Spike had touched, and when it faded Wesley jerked as the vampire suddenly appeared in front of him. "Spike?" Wesley gasped.

"Present and accounted for," Spike said with a small smile. "Sorry about the scare."

Wesley used their clasped hands to pull Spike into a hard hug, then abruptly released him and stepped back. "Um... yes... good to have you back... if you'll pardon me," he said in a wavering voice. He pivoted and walked quickly out of the lobby.

Spike watched after him. Wesley wasn't one to show his emotions in public, even if the public consisted of two people. Spike hated that he'd caused yet another member of his family any pain, but it was their feelings for him and his feelings for them in return that had caused what happened to him, and knowing what he did, Spike wouldn't change anything.

The blond took a seat beside Xander on the step, propped his elbows on his knees and chin on his fists. He waited silently for Wesley's return, running over his explanation in his head. Xander had closed his eyes again and was once more leaning against the wall.

"Why me?" Xander broke the quiet with his blunt question.

"Why were you able to see me first?" Spike tried to clarify.

"No." Xander opened his eyes and pinned him with his dark gaze. "Why do you like me in a naughty-touching boyfriend way?"

Spike's mouth fell open, and he answered intelligently, "Uh..."

Xander continued to stare at him, and Spike shifted uncomfortably on the step. He twisted his hands and his gaze flitted around the lobby, not focusing on anything for long. "How-how do you know I like you at- at all?" the blond stammered finally.

Xander snorted. "I may be an idiot, but I'm not blind, Spike."

Spike's looked at Xander in amazement. "Angel said something exactly like that earlier today."

"Neat. But that doesn't answer my question," Xander said. "Why me? Why did Gunn's mistaking me for your boyfriend make you look as giddy as a schoolgirl?"

"Er... ah..." Spike dropped his chin and picked at his fresh coat of blue nailpolish, which was glowing a faint gold like the rest of him. "Well, um, you're-you're attractive, and, uh, pretty smart, and- and humorous. And you have an infectious smile." He smiled as he pictured it, and continued. "You're protective of your friends, loyal to the point of stupidity, braver than the bloody Slayer, and... uh..." He glanced at Xander, and finished softly, "You don't treat me like an insect you're too lazy to kill."

Xander took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Spike held his own metaphorical breath, waiting for the boy's response. He couldn't believe he'd sort-of confessed his love, after telling Angel and Cordelia he wasn't ever going to spill. It showed how weak he was when it came to Xander, Spike thought.

"Okay, Glowboy, listen up," Xander said, rising to his feet. He stuck his hand in his pockets and looked down at Spike. "I don't like you, and until last night I didn't think anyone else liked you either. However, my blue nails and the crack in my skull says otherwise."

Xander pulled one hand from his pocket and flipped something to Spike. "Prove to me that you're worth liking, Spike, and then we'll talk about the naughty-touching boyfriend part."

Spike stared at the chip in his hand as Xander wandered away.

Part Eight

"I don't see him." Gunn stopped at the bottom of the grand staircase in the Hyperion's lobby, folded his arms, and glared at Wesley. "Again, I reiterate, English, if this is your idea of a joke, I will hurt you."

"I assure you, it is no joke," Wesley said. "Spike is right in front of you."

Taking his cue, Spike stood on his tip-toes -- sometimes being short sucked -- and placed his hand on Gunn's shiny bald head. Gunn started at the invisible touch and Spike dropped his hand. A glowing gold hand-print remained briefly, then faded away. Gunn jerked when Spike materialized suddenly in front of him.

"Spike?" Gunn questioned warily.

"Not dead," Spike replied in jest.

Gunn punched him across the jaw in response.

"Ow! What was that--"

Gunn hit him again.

"Bloody he--"

And again.

Spike flinched when it looked like Gunn was going to punch him a fourth time. Instead, the big black man grabbed him in a bone-crushing hug.

"You peroxide jackass," Gunn said, his voice wavering with emotion. He released the vampire after a moment, wiped his teary eyes, and promptly punched Spike again. "That's for making me cry."

Spike rubbed his jaw, ignoring the snickers from the other two men in the lobby. "Then what were the others for?"

"The first, for making us think you'd died. The second, for not being dead. And the third... just because," Gunn answered. He stepped back and looked over Spike from head to toe. "Why are you glowing?"

The blond hitched up his jeans -- bugger, he really had lost weight -- and padded to the desk. "This is why I'm glowing," he said, pushing Xander's feet off the desk and picking up the English translation of the prophecy.

"You are a part of the prophecy?" Wesley said, joining him by the desk.

"I am the prophecy," Spike corrected, "and now that it's been fulfilled, you don't need to worry your pretty little heads about it."

They all stared at him like he'd lost his mind.

"Is it that hard to believe?" the blond said.

"Yes," chorused the three.

"Very funny," Spike said flatly.

"All right, Spike," Wesley said, taking the translated prophecy from the faintly glowing vampire. "Tell us why you think this prophecy pertains to you."

"I don't think; I know," Spike said.

"And how do you know?" Wesley asked.

"I'm glowing, ain't I?"

Gunn walked over and smacked Spike upside the head. "Don't be smart."

Spike glared at the other man. "I already have a pseudo-father, I don't need a second one."

"Then stop being mouthy and answer the question," Gunn told him.

Spike refrained from childishly sticking his tongue out at Gunn... barely. He glanced at Xander, who grinned mockingly at him, before turning back to Wesley. "I know because the Powers told me. I've been chosen as their Herald."

"You don't look at all like a Harold," Xander commented. "A James, maybe. Or a Samuel."

Spike gave Xander a dirty look. "A Herald is like a job, not a name, you plonker."

"What are you heralding, Samuel?" Gunn asked with a smirk.

Spike's dirty look transferred to Gunn, but it was Wesley who answered, "The first days of the apocalypse." The bespectacled man looked at the translation in his hand, then at Spike. "Dear heavens."

"Don't worry, Wes, the apocalypse isn't coming tomorrow," Spike said quickly. "I've been chosen to inform a flock of do-gooders that they are players in the World Cup of games between Good and Evil."

"Sounds like the plot to a bad sci-fi movie," Xander said. "Then again, the last eight years of my life have been like the plot of a bad sci-fi movie."

"I'm with you on that," Gunn commented to Xander. He leaned a hip on the desk, crossed his arms, and said to Spike, "So, I take it we're some of these 'players.'"

The blond vampire shook his head. "No, you're family, and I wanted you to know I wasn't dust like you'd thought." A corner of his mouth turned up. "M'not really supposed to allow the non-warriors to see me."

And Spike wasn't supposed to reveal his presence to those not a part of the apocalyptic battle to come. It was to ensure his safety, to allow him to travel freely, and... well, because he was glowing. It would be a right pain if he had to keep explaining the reason for that, and he doubted many would believe the answer anyway: that he was a Higher Being. The chosen warriors would believe, of that he knew, as would his L.A. family, which was why he'd 'freed' their minds by touching their heads, allowing them to see him. And, of course, he'd touched Xander because he was in love with the guy, that was just a given.

"Um, who are the warriors then?" Xander asked. A lightbulb seemed to appear above his head. "Buffy's probably one, right?"

"That skanky bint isn't even on the Second list," Spike replied with a sneer. "Angel's one of the players, though, and his Second is a bloke named Lindsey McDonald."

"The Wolfram and Hart attorney?" Wesley said in disbelief. "You must be joking."

"I don't joke, not about this," Spike said seriously. "As I will tell Angel when he wakes up, he is one of the warriors picked by the Powers to fight on the side of Good. The powers have deemed this Lindsey as Angel's Second, the one who will fight at his side."

Gunn exchanged looks with Wesley. "Spike said he wasn't joking, but why do I want to laugh my black ass off?"

"I take it you know who Lindsey McDonald is?" Spike said.

"Yes," Wesley replied. "He is an attorney who works for the evil Wolfram and Hart law firm."

"Isn't that redundant? Evil lawyers?" Xander said. He was ignored.

"Angel and Lindsay do not get along," Gunn explained. "And that's putting it mildly."

"Sometimes the greatest enemies make the best lovers," Spike said, dropping his gaze to his bare feet rather than blatantly staring at Xander. A silence descended over the lobby, causing everyone to shift uncomfortably.

Finally, the blond cleared his throat, and continued. "No matter what happens between Angel and Lindsey, they will be at the battle, of that I'm certain." He refrained from telling them Angel and Lindsey might both end up fighting for the other side. That information was for Angel's ears only.

"Is there anything else you can tell us about this battle?" Wesley inquired.

"Only that I'm leaving as soon as I talk to Angel and say goodbye to the girls," Spike replied. "Xander, I trust you'll be able to drive the DeSoto back to Sunnydale with Dawn."

"You're not coming with us?" Xander said with a grin. "Woo-hoo! Break out the champagne!"

"Yeah, throw a soddin' celebration," Spike said, hurt by Xander's response. "The Slayer and the rest of your chums won't ever see me again." He started for the stairs, muttering, "Not like you really ever saw me before."

"I did, too, see you," Xander stated, catching up with him. "More than I wanted, actually."

Spike snorted. "That makes me feel much better."

"Well, what did you expect?" Xander said. "You're a vampire. A soulless monster. That which is to be staked by Slayerettes like me."

They reached the top of the stairs, and Spike faced Xander, spreading his arms wide and ignoring the audience below. "Then why the hell haven't you staked me, eh? If I'm such a bloody monster, why am I still walking around?"

"You had the chip," Xander said.

"What, this?" Spike dug the chip from his jeans pocket and held it up. "Is this the chip you mean?"

Xander swallowed audibly and took a step back, his face paling. "Uh... yeah. Th-that's the one."

Spike could smell Xander's fear, and his hurt and anger grew. "The only thing this hunk of wire and metal did was, to get me to slow down and think. It wasn't preventing me from hiring someone to kill you all."

If anything, Xander became paler. "You mean, you could have killed us at any time?"

Spike clenched his fists, the metal prongs on the chip cutting into his palm. "But I didn't, did I? And that's the whole effin' point."

"Then why haven't you told Gunn or Wesley that the chip is out, huh?" Xander said, showing a spark of courage despite his fear, which was one of the reasons Spike loved him.

Spike unclenched his fists, took Xander's hand, holding tightly when the brunette tried to jerk away, and pressed the chip into his palm. "The chip doesn't matter to them, Xander. It never has. In fact, Angel tried his damndest to get it out."

"Oh," Xander said faintly.

"I've been chosen Herald by the Powers, Xander," the glowing vampire said slowly, looking into Xander's fear-tinged eyes. "Out of everyone on Earth, both demon and non-demon, the Powers chose me to gather the warriors of Good. Don't you think that says something?"

"Yeah: what were the Powers smoking," Xander quipped with a wary smile, "and can They give me some?"

Spike laughed, shaking his head in complete amusement. Gods, he loved this boy. "If you want to tell the others about the chip, go ahead," he told Xander. "I'm going to sit with Sleeping Broody until he wakes up."


Spike started to leave, but Xander called his name after a few steps. The vampire stopped and turned to face him again.

Xander glanced at the chip in his hand, then looked back at Spike. "I may not have trusted you, but I always knew you were there."

The blond knew Xander was referring to all the times Spike worked with the Slayer and her group. He smiled faintly, nodded in acknowledgment, and continued to Angel's room.

Part Nine

Spike decided to finish dressing and to put his room to rights before sitting with Angel. He couldn't bring anything on his journey; just the clothing he wore would become invisible to the naked eye, like him. He also wanted to leave as soon as he could. He might be a Higher Being now, but he was still a vampire and that pesky sun limited his travel times. He didn't get any nifty magickal abilities as the chosen Herald, he was only invisible to the untouched population and he had the authority of the Powers behind him.

He ran into Cordelia and Dawn in the hall, both loaded down with shopping bags and newly styled hair. He quickly gave them the ability to see him, and the first words out of Cordelia's mouth were: "Spike, have you been listening to your Ziggy Stardust albums again?"

Despite being mortified, Spike gave them the short, short version of the explanation he'd given to Wesley, Giles, and Xander. The girls believed him much more readily, but he shared things with them on a much more regular basis than with the rest of his mismatched family, so that made sense. He also received kisses and congratulations, rather than mocking celebration and punches in the jaw.

He informed them he'd be leaving that night and didn't know when he'd return. He had a mental list of where all the warriors were located, but the world was a mighty big place and there might be difficulties along the way. Having to limit his travel to nighttime was one of them. Still, Dawn pouted, whined, and tried to weasel an invitation. Spike told her no, because, one, they didn't have any money and, two, Buffy wouldn't let Dawn go with a visible Spike. What were the odds of her going with an invisible one?

With promises not to leave before saying goodbye, Spike and the girls parted and he entered Angel's suite. The dark-haired vampire was sprawled on the bed exactly as Spike had last seen him. Pulling up a chair beside the bed, the glowing man sat, leaned forward, and clasped one of Angel's limp hands between both of his. Silly sod, Spike thought affectionately. Getting all worked up over Spike's supposed death was touching, but unnecessary. No one should mourn him.

Angel was groggy when he awoke from his drug-induced sleep an hour later. Spike smoothed his fingers over the other man's brow and smiled when he focused bleary eyes on Spike. "Welcome back," Spike said.

Angel blinked several times, and asked hoarsely, "Are you a ghost?"

"Not a ghost." Spike briefly cupped Angel's cheek and quoted, "'I'm a real, live boy.'"

Crunch. There went the rest of his ribs, Spike thought as Angel squished the demon out of him. What was it with his family and hugging him all the time? Jeez.

"My boy, my boy," Angel peppered kisses on Spike's glowing face, "my sweet, sweet boy."

"Oh, for hell's sake, cut it out, you ponce," Spike grumbled exasperatedly, trying to squirm out of Angel's embrace.

"You're not dust. I think I'm entitled to be mushy," Angel told him, hugging him even closer. "Don't ever die on me again, understand? You're not too old to be taken over my knee."

Spike's face was smashed against Angel's chest, so the older vampire didn't see the eye-rolling. "Are you going to let go?" the blond said, although it sounded more like: "Maroo gun da ledgo?"

"No." Angel manhandled Spike into a desired position, sitting sideways on his lap, wrapped his arms snugly around the smaller man's waist, and held him. "Now, explanations, please. Start with what happened in the lobby and go from there."

Spike stopped trying to break Angel's hold and gave into sitting on his pseudo-father's lap like a little boy. With more detail than he'd given any of the others, Spike shared what had happened -- the grey void, being chosen Herald and what that entailed, and Angel's role in the apocalypse, including his task to convince Lindsey McDonald to fight with him when the time came and warning him that the bad guys would try to seduce him to their side.

Spike watched the wheels turn in the other man's mind as he processed everything. It was a lot to take in but he wasn't worried about Angel disbelieving him, and not just because he was one of the warriors. Sometimes having a father, even a self-proclaimed one, had its advantages. It was nice to be taken seriously and not have everything he said questioned, which rarely happened with Slayer, Incorporated, even after all these years helping them.

He would've moved to L.A. long ago if he hadn't felt indebted to Angel for trying to have the chip taken out. Spike had told Angel earlier that he stayed in Sunnydale to watch Xander's back, but that wasn't entirely true. He'd only been in love with the boy for about a month. All the years before that, he'd stayed to watch Buffy's back, for Angel.

"So, the prophecy was about you, huh?" Angel said eventually.

"Scary, eh?" Spike grinned.

"Extremely," Angel agreed. He frowned. "But I don't remember an ice storm."

"Prophecies are rarely literal, Angel, you know that," Spike said. He raised his chin and fluttered his lashes. "What color are my eyes?"

Angel's frown deepened. "Blue, why?"

"Patience, Peachesan," Spike tut-tutted. "What color is a cloudless sky?"

"Blue," Angel replied.

Spike nodded. "Remember my waterworks earlier this afternoon?"

"'Icy tears, warm heart,'" Angel quoted himself as understanding dawned.

"Right," Spike said. "And remember how I rubbed my eyes and said I saw colorful spots after? Spouted off flowery poetry about rainbows? An Angel's eye is a rainbow that forms a complete circle."

"Colorful spots." Angel put two and two together and came up with three. "'The one that is three: the hunter, the predator, the prey,'" he recited. "You hunt demons, as a vampire you're a predator, and your chip makes you prey."

Spike tapped his nose. "Bingo. And the next line was referring to you: 'a demon with a heart of light.'"

"Which means, the prophecy really was about you," Angel said, a hint of awe in his voice. "Now you're a Higher Being, a Herald for the Gods."

"Kind of neat, innit?"

"It's more than kind of neat, Spike," Angel said. "It's- it's..." He paused, and an expression Spike had seen before, but never with this intensity, appeared on Angel's face. "I am so proud of you."

Spike could have been knocked over with a feather. His jaw dropped and he stared at Angel in shock. His mentor had never said those words before, or even implied them and, truthfully, Spike had longed to hear them his entire life.

He was feeling all odd inside and wasn't too sure he liked it, so he quickly changed the subject. "My chip is gone," he blurted.

Angel stared at him a moment. "Not only have you being given such an honor, your chip is gone, too?" He made a sound of disgust. "Not fair. I'll trade you your prophecy for mine," he whined, referring to the Prophecies of Aberjian.

Spike laughed, and the world righted itself again. "Forget it," he said. "I happen to like being a vampire."

"Even though, over the past five years, until now, you've been handicapped by the chip?" Angel inquired thoughtfully.

"Even though, and more because," Spike said cryptically. He finally managed to escape Angel's hold and moved to sit cross-legged on the bed beside the other vampire. He searched for the words, and continued. "'Spike' was an invention, you know. Creating him gave me the chance to be the complete opposite of what I was as a human: a foppish bookworm without a spine, who couldn't fight his way out of a paper sack."

"I know," Angel said, prompting Spike to go on.

"It was fun being Spike," Spike continued, "and after a few years he became less of a role and more of who I was. I turned into the Badass Master Vampire who Drusilla adored and others feared." He gave Angel a twisted grin. "Then I get to Sunnydale. Stuff happens, some good, some bad, some really bloody awful. I leave, I come back. I leave again and come back. I leave again and come back and get my fangs capped. And that's when things began to change."

Angel tilted his head slightly, listening intently. "How?"

"I stopped and smelled the roses, basically." Spike plucked at his bootlaces. "Oh, I was still a Badass Master Vampire, but I was also alone. Very, very alone."

He shrugged abruptly before Angel could show pity. "S'one of the reasons I started helping your ex-twat. I wasn't welcome to pal around with the other demons once I took up hunting them for sport, and Buffy, et cetera, at least tolerated my presence if I played nicely with everyone."

Angel nodded in understanding. "You had to play a new role."

"I see all that hairgel hasn't rotted your brain." Spike ducked the swat and continued. "You're right on the role-playing. I dug into my memories of how William behaved as a human and tried to act a little like him around the others. Then you started asking for my help and my best behavior was required around your pets, too. Eventually, just as Spike became me, I turned into the conglomeration of SpikeWilliam, and I kind of like being him."

"I kind of like you being him, too," Angel said with a mischievous grin. "'Pure' Spike was a real dick."

Spike flicked him off, then segued, "From what I heard, this Lindsey is a dick, too."

"It will be like you never left."

Conversation over. Spike pounced and wrestled with Angel until they fell off the bed. The blond stood first. Angel was on his hands and knees still, and Spike smacked him on the ass, leaving a glowing gold hand-print on that large expanse of buttock. Angel growled, and Spike laughed and took off running.

The centuries old vampires, having the maturity that came with age, careened into the Hyperion's lobby where the others had congregated, and skidded to a halt. Spike immediately put on his "I'm an adult" face. Angel wore the same expression, but he still de-pantsed Spike.

"Angel!" Spike exclaimed, scrambling to pull his trousers and underwear up again. Laughter, at his expense, filled the lobby. Xander put his hand over Dawn's eyes, but she pried his fingers apart and peeked through them. She wolf-whistled.

"Dawn, stop looking at Spike's naked parts," Cordelia scolded, while blatantly ogling said naked parts herself.

Spike tugged up his jeans and re-fastened them. "Nobody should be looking at my naked bits unless they plan to do something with them."

"If you can find them, first," Xander said with a smirk.

More laughter at Spike's expense. How typical. He gave Xander a black look, then addressed the group. "And on that humiliating note, I'll be shoving off."

Everyone sobered quickly. "Already?" Cordelia said, walking over to him.

Spike nodded. "Miles to go and all that rubbish."

She stepped into his hug and kissed him briefly on the mouth. "You'd better email and IM me," she said.

"I will, luv," he agreed.

Dawn took her place. "Write me, too," she said by his ear. "Are you sure I can't come with?"

"Dead cert," Spike said, hugging her tight. "I'm not going to France anyway."

"Oh, well, in that case..." She grinned, but it was a little wavery.

Angel hugged him next. "Take care. If you need anything..."

"I'll call," Spike promised.

Angel kissed the top of his head and stepped away. Wesley came forward next and gave Spike's hand a hardy handshake. "Good luck with your endeavor."

"Thanks, Wes," Spike said. He turned to Gunn, who'd come up beside him, and was promptly punched in the face.

"That's for anything you're going to do," Gunn stated.

Rubbing his jaw, Spike glowered at the other man. He pivoted to Xander, who had walked up behind him. "You gonna hit me, too?" the blond asked caustically.

"Only if you want me to," Xander said with a quirk of a brow.

Spike leered. "Kinky."

Xander rolled his eyes and stuck out his hand. "Go away, Spike."

Spike glanced at the large, tanned paw in front of him, and clasped it tentatively. His own brow rose in surprise when he felt Xander press a slip of paper against his palm. He put it quickly into his pocket after giving Xander's hand a pump. "I'm going. Try not to get killed, eh?"

"Will do," Xander agreed with a smile.

Spike wanted to capture that smile in a kiss, just one kiss, because he suddenly had a bad feeling he'd never see the boy again. He swallowed nervously and glanced at the others. Every single one of them was gesturing or mouthing for him to kiss Xander. Gods, talk about bloody embarrassing. He hoped Xander didn't see what they were doing.

Spike returned his attention to the brunette, who was watching him with those chocolate anime eyes of his. The blond licked his lips and took a small step closer to Xander. "Can... will you... if... Oh, fuck all," he growled, and swooped in for a kiss.

The kiss was short. It was dry. It was closed-mouthed. It was, by far, the worst kiss ever. And the applause and cheers didn't help matters, either.

Spike looked warily at Xander, who seemed to be shell-shocked. He wasn't being splattered across the lobby by an angry male, at least. "Uh, sorry 'bout that," he mumbled, wishing he hadn't gone and kissed the other man.

"Sorry you kissed me," Xander asked, "or sorry you kissed me so badly?"

"Er... either. Or both. You pick," Spike replied, embarrassed.

Xander lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug. "I kind of liked it."

"Huh?" Spike goggled at him.

"I got to be the cliché," Xander grinned lopsidedly, "and that's cool."

Spike had no effin' clue what Xander meant. Of course, his brain had frozen shortly following the phrase, "I kind of liked it."

Xander waved his hand in front of Spike's face. "Hello? Earth to Glowworm."

Spike started, blushed, and grumbled, "What?"

"You're going to ruin my movie moment if you don't leave now," Xander said in an exaggerated stage whisper.

"Right." Spike turned and headed for the front doors of the hotel. At the top of the steps, he glanced back, and saw his family gathered to one side and Xander alone on the other. "Well, bye."

"Bye, Spike," everyone said in some shape or form, but Spike only heard the boy's deep tones. His gaze lingered on Xander for a minute, then he walked out the door.



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