Chapter 1 Circus Skills
“Are you serious?”
It was the question that Spike had been asking himself for the past several hours. Naturally it was ten times more irksome when it came from Angel.
“You think I misheard?”
“No. I’m just clinging to the hope that you did.”
“I haven’t ballsed this up; Rupert was very specific.”
“Xander Harris,” Spike confirmed.
“And Giles told you where to find him? This is where we’re headed?”
“You can always turn the car around and….”
“Not if Giles was very specific,” Angel responded with heavy sarcasm.
“Don’t take it out on me. ‘Bout time you just bit the bullet and dealt.”
Spike felt Angel’s gaze flicker over to him and away several times.
“Spike…” the older vampire began in an implausibly reasonable tone. “You…er…you told me you got on with him.”
“At the end, yes,” Spike conceded, knowing where this was going and wishing he’d kept his mouth shut about that, however long ago the conversation was. “But only at the end, before that…”
“You still have a better record with him than me. He never stopped hating me.”
“Fancy that. Can’t believe I spent years thinking he was an idiot.”
Angel glowered and Spike, because it was expected of him, glowered back.
“You can take this one,” Angel eventually announced.
“I can…! Excuse me if I’m not overwhelmed by your generosity.”
“All you have to do…”
“Ah, no. Two days ago it was beyond my feeble skills, remember?” Glower. “I have to put up with Harris, then you do too.”
There was a long, thoughtful expanse of time when they both pretended to concentrate on the road, while, in fact, both tried to mentally dredge up the last news they’d had on Xander.
“No-one talks much about him,” Angel said with a frown in due course.
“Got out, didn’t he? Obviously something better came along and he jumped ship. And I repeat: can’t believe I spent years thinking he was an idiot.”
Arriving in the small North Californian town they’d been directed to by Rupert Giles, they tracked down the address; very evidently no-one at home, but a neighbour was kind enough to explain where Xander could be found of an evening.
It was only a two minute drive, and soon Angel was parking up outside a cheerful, red-brick building; the two vampires exchanged a wary look as they approached and saw the sign that welcomed one and all to the Stokes Chapel.
“I doubt we’re the ‘one and all’ they’re thinking of.” Angel hesitated outside the main doorway. “You think we’ll be able to walk in?”
“Only one way to find out.”
The question was made redundant as they reached for the door; it was yanked open and a jolly lady of questionable age received them with great enthusiasm, telling them they were only just in time for the evening’s meeting but luckily there were a few spare seats and she’d be able to sneak them in at the back.
They agreed with perfectly schooled, highly appreciative smiles and nods, and let her lead on. It didn’t take more than a brief glance between Spike and Angel to share their thoughts on this one: very strange for a chapel, in fact, highly un-chapely. More so as they took their seats at the rear of a packed auditorium and absorbed the general air of subdued but plainly evident expectation. And there, on stage, the apparent focus of this expectancy was…
If Spike hadn’t been looking out for Xander, he wouldn’t have recognised this alternative version of the young man he’d known in Sunnydale. The scruffy, worn-out being on the stage barely pushed any buttons, let alone rang any bells. He looked as if sleep was a foreign concept, and peace was off the planet. Spike was refusing to think ‘Xander as main feature’ and had worked along to roadie for a Christian revivalist, but then a few eavesdropped words clued him in and a wide grin crossed his face.
“He looks a mess,” Angel muttered, and Spike guessed he was referring to Xander’s state of being rather than appearance, although either might have applied. “What help is he going to be?”
“Shut up, fun’s starting.”
Xander was now fiddling with a tiny microphone, which he awkwardly clipped to the neck of his t-shirt, but then he looked up and there was the smile, the broad, guileless Xander smile, and yes, recognition for Spike, a jolt of semi-welcome memory that took him back six, verging on seven years.
“Hi,” Xander said, “this working?” and he grinned at the animated response from the crowd. “Guess you know me.” More applause. “Won’t bother with the spiel then, just get down to business.”
“Is this what I think it is?” Angel asked with a suitably doom-laden voice.
“D’know. You think it’s a Spiritualist meeting?” Spike taunted, perfectly happy with the night’s entertainment but knowing Angel’s feelings on this particular subject.
Within the auditorium, assistants wielding microphones sprung to attention as Xander concentrated, evidently listening.
“Okay. Okay, I’m…” He crossed the stage and gestured to the far left of the auditorium. “…over here. I’m… Okay, thank you, yes,” Xander said to an invisible presence. “Looking for someone who lost a grandparent, or grandparent-type figure recently, and… I have a reference to…” Xander let out a short laugh. “A motor engine for Thanksgiving dinner?”
There was a small commotion from the area Xander had indicated, cutting short Xander’s words, and an excitedly anxious middle-aged woman was bustled to her feet; a mic was passed along to her and she self-consciously spoke into it.
“Hello. Hello, Xander. I’m
“…and, yes, yes, the engine makes sense, my grandfather was stripping it down on the dining table and we had to eat around it at Thanksgiving because the pieces couldn’t be moved.”
“He thought he’d never put it back together again if it got all mixed up.”
“That’s right, yes.”
“And…it’s still there
now,” Xander said with another laugh, “but the family has…he’s showing
me…flowers…dressed it with flowers?”
A ripple of laughter ran through the audience.
“It is still there, I couldn’t bear to move it.”
“I am not repeating that!” Xander protested, and now the entire audience laughed along with the man’s granddaughter. “Is it enough to say that he knows you’ve found better ways to remember him than staring at a dismantled engine?”
“Oh, I can imagine the
Angel was literally squirming in his seat; he turned and hissed at Spike:
“Didn’t Giles warn you it was him? Directly him?”
“But Xander never showed any indication…”
“Will you shut up? I’m missing the good stuff.”
“You stay, I’ll wait in the car.”
Spike grabbed Angel’s wrist before he could leave.
“Not a chance. Too important for me, remember?”
“But that was before…this.”
“Sit back, shut up, and enjoy the show. Unless… Not scared, are you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“We’ll watch this, see what we think of him, and then, if he’s the bloke for the job…”
“You can…” Spike contradicted.
“We can talk to him.”
“After all, it’s only Harris, what harm…”
Spike’s attention was caught by what was happening on the stage, as Xander struggled against interruption to retain his contact with the woman’s grandfather.
“I’m sorry, what…? Can you wait a moment, there’ll be time for— No, no, that’s… No.” Xander’s distress was evident and he was shuddering, harshly and visibly, even at the distance the vampires were from the stage. “No, don’t show me, don’t show me, just tell me. I understand. I do, I believe that, I’ve seen… Don’t – no, I don’t want to feel—” Xander’s hand came up to his neck, and he paled in shock, staggered slightly. The audience’s good humour switched noticeably to unease, and Spike spotted a couple of people, presumably Xander’s lackeys, dithering at the edge of the stage, not sure whether to intervene. “Yeah, I know,” Xander was reassuring the spirit, voice shaking hard now. “I know.”
No searching or scanning the audience: Xander’s gaze fell directly on Angel.
It looked as if Xander was going to keel over; his assistants were at his side in an instant, letting him lean on them rather than attempting to hold him.
“Sorry,” Xander told the audience. “Short break. I’ll be back, don’t go anywhere.”
The stage darkened and Xander faded away.
“Well,” Spike said with equal parts amusement, sheer nosiness, and discomfort, “what do you make of…”
Angel was gone.
Later, backstage, Xander
sat alone in a dimly lit room, wrapped in the goat hair blanket that was his
only remaining souvenir of
Wanting to be furious but too weary to be furious. Barely finding the strength to rip off the eye-patch that irritated the fuck out of him, or move to the mirror and check his neck for the tenth time, looking for the bite mark, the wound that had drained…
“Too. Fucking. Many.” He pointlessly clamped his hands over his ears. “Too. Fucking. Many.”
He shut his eye, concentrated on trying to block out the constant voices, but he couldn’t, he’d never found the way, he’d never find the way, and…
Temporary relief. Passing out.
A common occurrence – nowadays Xander’s post-meeting consciousness appeared to have a hair trigger – but it was never frequently/for long enough to satisfy Xander’s need for escape. Always too short a time before…
Passing out, coming to, and when he opened his eye he saw a pair of filthy boots. His gaze travelled up the form they were attached to, black jeans with grubby knees, trim body draped in a battered leather coat, silver rings on the hands, remnants of black nail polish, and there, right at the pinnacle of this apparition, was Spike’s head.
“Great. Ollie skipped town but forgot to take Stan,” Xander observed flatly.
“Hello. Xander.” Proving that Spike could be polite when he wanted something.
“What do you want?” Because Xander wasn’t fooled.
Spike ran over the question in his mind. No hostility, just a genuine enquiry. No hostility. A good sign that he clung to.
“Can we talk?”
Xander stirred, realised how much effort it was going to take, and un-stirred.
“Does it have to be now? I’m pretty beat.”
“Mmm, you look wretched,” Spike agreed with as much sensitivity as Xander would have expected.
“But this is exceptional.” Sharper now. “I don’t usually have to contend with the Scourge of Europe and a stadium-worth of their victims.”
“We didn’t know it would happen.”
“And you didn’t bother to find out. What the fuck did you think I was doing? Making this stuff up?”
“A couple of hours ago we thought we’d been sent to you as a contact, a go-between, not…” Spike gave a feeble wave in Xander’s direction.
Xander burrowed further into the blanket until he was nothing more than a sprout of dark hair.
“Go away. I have nothing for you.”
“Not real then?” Spike goaded. “I thought it was too good to be genuine. Few plants in the audience, bit of a theatrical swoon…”
“I don’t need your—”
Xander fell abruptly silent; Spike failed to notice.
“Nice act, though. Would’ve been a scream in a Victorian music hall, they loved their freaks and…” A hum came from within the confines of Xander’s cocoon. Spike stiffened, whole body tensing in an instant.
An instant of time, a fleeting moment. Twisting the way he’d see Xander forevermore.
“I’ll be off then, if you can’t…”
“Early one morning, just as the sun was rising,” Xander sang stiltedly, “I heard…”
“Not funny, Harris!”
“…below. Oh, don’t deceive me…”
The blanket dropped away, and Xander wobbled to his feet, closing in on Spike. The vampire’s hands clenched into fists and he glared at the human.
“Not another word.”
Xander’s fingers flicked in an unconscious mannerism, coaxing the spirit on.
“C’mon, Honey, you can do it. Help her.”
“I’m warning you.”
“That’s better, that’s… She…she forgives you. You’ll know what. She’s still with… With William, you…you, William. Still with you and…and she’s… Proud of who you are now, what you do.”
“No,” barely audible, Spike weakening as Xander’s contact strengthened.
“With you when…” Xander shook his head. “A dragon? You fought a dragon?”
“Yes, you did, she was with you, and… Oh,” Xander frowned painfully. “Shared your loss. Losses. And…always such a sensitive child. She wants you not to be ashamed of feeling…”
Spike seized Xander by the throat of his t-shirt, pulling him close and growling, eyes turning yellow in his upset.
“Think you’re so fucking clever?” Spike snapped out, and Xander rapidly shook his head. “You know about the song, the rest you’ve been told, you can guess…”
“On your birthday – thirteenth birthday – your father told you it was time to be a man…a man…with…a man’s pursuits. A man with a man’s pursuits.” The words were coming faster now, almost gabbled. “He burned your poems and stories, she couldn’t stop him, but she wanted to, and she tried to reason with him, but…” Spike shoved Xander up against the nearest wall, knocking the air out of him, but Xander whooped in oxygen, croaked on, “…and…it didn’t matter that you couldn’t cry when he died, he’d been too hard on you, he’d worn down any good feelings you had for him, but she knows, she knows how you suffered, you suffered together, and she…”
With a hard punch to the face, Spike helped Xander to a little peace. Angry and confused and guilty, he heaved the unconscious man back into the armchair and threw the blanket over him.
Hurrying to the door, Spike paused with an unsteady hand on the catch, turning back slowly to look around the room. Beyond himself and Xander it was, apparently, empty. Brutally empty.
“Did you speak to him?”
Spike leaned in the open window of Angel’s car.
“Only for a moment. Nothing’s resolved.”
“You screwed it up, didn’t you?”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll leave Harris to you then, shall I? If I’m screwing it up.”
“No! I…Spike, no, I… I’m sure you dealt wonderfully with the whole situation.”
Requisite mutual glare and…
“In the absence of your sanctimonious gitness, I thought it best not to pursue the subject while he was still…edgy. After what happened.” Spike watched Angel perform another of the night’s uncomfortable shifts. “Yeah, your fault, your victims, and as for doing a runner, you cowardly wanker…”
“Are you staying here? Or coming back with me?”
“I think I’ll have to stop and have another word with him. See if I can make amends. For you,” Spike quickly added. “Us,” more sombrely. “‘The Scourge of Europe and a stadium-worth of their victims’, he said.”
Two souled vampires, two highly troubled faces.
“Want to find someone else?” Angel asked, but Spike saw the question coming and was already shaking his head.
“If we’re directly involved – and we have no choice there – we’ll get this with whoever we go to. At least this way we don’t have to explain, he knows it all. Or maybe not all, but enough,” Spike corrected himself. “Unless there’s another way entirely?”
This time it was Angel shaking his head, and he was already starting the car’s engine.
“Take it easy on him,” he instructed, trying not to sound begrudging. “And stay in touch.”
“Where will you be?”
“Somewhere a long way away from Xander Harris and his circus skills.”
Alone and hidden by the darkness, Spike could be honest.
Bitterly, he thought of his father, William’s father, and there was the old hatred, resentment, fear, regret, love…
Why love? He never deserved a moment of affection, he was emotionally stunted, intellectually vain, inadequate in every respect, a tyrant and a bully, and he never deserved love and…
He never deserved…
Deeper darkness, the thickest shadows, Spike let himself be engulfed.
Needing the purest black of night.
The all-consuming black of relentless mourning.
Xander’s friends had found him unconscious and gently brought him around with quiet encouragement and hot tea, not suspecting that this was anything other than one of his usual recovery spells.
“Spike?” was the first word to leave Xander’s lips as he came to, and he suddenly jerked awake, staring around the room. “Where did he go?”
“Who go?” asked Simone Colberg, designated lackey number one by audience member Spike.
“There was a guy in here, bleached hair, sharp features, all in black.”
“I passed someone like that in the corridor.” Henry Colberg: lackey number two. “He looked upset, what did you say to him?”
Xander’s hand came unconsciously to his jaw.
“Something about his mother. But not like that sounds.”
“Did he hit you?” Simone demanded as she pulled his hand away and poked at the soreness. “You want me to call the cops?”
“Ow, and ow.” Xander slapped the prodding fingers away. “No cops. I passed on a message that… I’m never going to be any good at knowing when to stay quiet. This was something that mattered, he would have wanted to hear it eventually, I’m sure, but what I said to him had to be a shock, big shock, and… Let’s just say I should know better with this guy’s temperament.”
“That’s going to be a nasty bruise, I’ll get some ice.”
“No, H, really. I’m fine, I’ll put something on it when I get home if it needs it.”
“I’ve had worse in the past, I promise you.”
“That is the most appalling reasoning,” Henry told Xander crossly. “Dismissing this assault because…”
“Can we schedule a fight about this for some other time? Any weekend is good for me. At least any weekend that isn’t this year. Or that has a Saturday or Sunday in it. Or that involves me waking up any time over…”
“…a forty-eight hour period,” they chorused.
Xander was helped up – unnecessarily helped, he lost no time in protesting – and there followed a good deal of protective grumbling when he immediately reached for his coat.
“I’ll call you in the morning, okay? Let you know if I’ve had some sense knocked into me.”
“Xander… You’ve had a bad evening, and now this shock… You want me to get someone else to take tomorrow night?” Simone tiptoed through the question with uncalled for delicacy.
“No, I’ll be fine.”
The woman sighed, refused to question how many times she’d heard that immensely irritating phrase from this immensely irritating individual, and sat back to watch as her husband pursued Xander along the corridor and tried to secure a guarantee that he was about to go straight home and to bed to get some much-needed rest, not prepared to accept the futility of trying to reason with their obstinate friend.
“At least let me arrange transport for you,” Henry was persisting, even as Xander pushed through the security doors at the rear of the building and attempted to escape the stifling concern.
“It’s five minutes, I don’t need a car to—”
The words dried up when Xander caught sight of the shock of white-blond hair that gleamed under the parking lot lights. Henry followed Xander’s gaze, and his face flushed red with anger when he saw Spike.
“I think you should leave right now, young man,” Henry warned, “before I call the police and have you charged.”
Spike ignored the threat, just stared, hard and intensely at Xander, and couldn’t help the stupidity of bitterly resenting the last person to have heard his mother’s voice.
“What do you want?” Xander asked, not quite cautiously, but certainly without the bravado of their earlier meeting.
“Can we talk? Now?”
Xander took a deep breath and released it slowly, recalling the vampire’s doggedness and fairly sure that whatever Spike had in mind would need to be addressed before he’d go away and leave them in relative peace.
“You want to walk me home?”
“Trust me, H, I know what I’m doing.”
Without another look at Spike, Xander began to walk; it was only seconds before Spike fell in beside him.
“Do I know what I’m doing?”
“You’re perfectly safe,” Spike assured, and Xander glanced at him in eloquent disbelief.
“What’s this about? Or did you simply track me down to ruin my meeting and take a shot at breaking my jaw?”
“I’m…” The ‘sorry’ refused to happen. “I’ve a legitimate reason to be here. We need your help.”
“Straight to it. Okay.” Xander diverted them to take the long way home: this was already beginning to feel like a long way conversation. “‘We’ being?”
“Oh, y’know,” Spike said casually, “mankind.”
Xander gave a chuckle.
“Just mankind? So long as it’s no biggie.”
“And since when do you include yourself in mankind? Thought demonkind couldn’t swing it, huh?”
“I’m working for mankind. And mankind needs your help.”
“I don’t do that stuff anymore, didn’t anyone tell you? No apocalypses, saving the world, talking down the genocidal best friend. I switched my name to the list headed non-essential personnel. You’ll find me in the column marked ‘retired due to mutilation’.”
“I wouldn’t be here if there was any choice, trust me.”
“Trust you? Wow, amazing how easily that doesn’t come.”
“Rupert Giles sent me to you,” Spike tried another tack. “He thought you were the one for the job.”
“It’s a job now? How’s the pay?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t want to.” Xander stopped walking and leaned against a streetlight. “It’s taken me long enough to find my place in life, I don’t intend to let you disrupt it.”
“Look, Ha…Xander, I understand if you won’t take me seriously. Who would you…”
“You can’t do that! You can’t ask me who I’d like to be coerced by,” Xander said with a laugh, but inside his head he was already making the list. “No-one could sway me,” he lied, already up to double figures.
“I could always…bop you on the head and carry you off,” Spike said conversationally.
“Like that worked so well the last time. If this turns out to be another bullshit love spell to win her back…”
Spike smiled sadly, eyes suddenly full of memories.
“She’s gone. Drusilla. Angel and I both felt it happen.”
The ignorantly smart comment that once would have emerged without thought stuck in Xander’s throat. Bereavement was, regardless of who, how and why, bereavement.
“That’s… I’m…I’m sorry for your loss, Spike. Genuinely. But don’t expect me to be sorry she’s no longer making a meal of the population.”
“No, I wasn’t sorry about that either.” Xander looked at him curiously. “Soul. Insists on having its way.”
“I hope you’re not here to talk to her, ‘cause it doesn’t work like that.”
“Hardly save the world, would it?”
Xander realised that he’d totally lost track of the conversation, nodded, and resumed walking.
“Want to tell me about it? Not saving the world, just why I matter.”
“If you’ll tell me how you got to be the one that matters.”
“Only if you tell something equally as personal.”
“Quid pro quo, eh? Next you’ll be calling me Clarice, which I wouldn’t advise, by the…”
“What did you do when you walked away earlier?” That wiped the smirk from Spike’s face. “And why didn’t you keep going? I made you really angry and it’s difficult to understand why you came back.”
“What did I do…?” Spike considered, and Xander noticed the muscles in his jaw twitch with strain. There was almost a sense of panic when he realised that Spike was about to be honest.
“Forget I asked. You really don’t have to ans…”
“What did I do? First thing: got rid of Angel. Then I thought about…” Spike inhaled sharply. “I wept, is that what you want? I believed what you said, you repeated, I had to fight – and yes, truly fight – my way past the memories it stirred, and then I simply hated you for hearing her voice. I wept with sadness and with rage and…” Spike’s voice broke into a humourless laugh. “Amusing, isn’t it? I have a soul to bare. I hurt, is that what you need to hear?”
Xander pushed through the fuckinghellfuckinghellfuckinghell.
“Did you really believe what I relayed to you? Did you question it? Because you always should.”
“No-one knows a thing about my father,” Spike admitted sullenly. “I’m not about to call you a charlatan.”
“Then why only sadness and rage? There should’ve been some comfort in there, Spike.”
“It wasn’t…enough. Enough for comfort.”
“What would be? After the existence you’ve led?”
The question, an admittedly fair one, was asked without any apparent malice so instead of provoking defensive bluster, it caused Spike to dwell on the subject for a while, and he was still thinking it over when Xander made another long way home diversion to accommodate the vampire’s pondering.
“When I came back,” Spike finally said, “I wasn’t sure if it was to ask the question I’m supposed to be asking you, or asking the one I actually want an answer to right now.”
The thought of the question was traumatic enough – the idea of speaking the words was beyond Spike’s present capacity to deal.
Spike picked up speed and was away from Xander in seconds, into the darkness, the blond hair being the last scrap of the vampire to fade to nothing.
“That isn’t… I’m not trying to force anything out of you,” Xander said, trusting that Spike’s acute senses would allow him to hear, sure that he wouldn’t get too far ahead, not if he sincerely wanted Xander’s help. “I want to know why me. The reason you actually came here. There had to be other options, better mediums, so…”
“I don’t have to explain the stadium of victims,” came a disembodied voice. “It’s hard enough to explain the rest.”
“See, expediency I get. Expediency is easier than it being specifically me that’s somehow essential.”
Xander kept walking and, after five minutes, Spike was back at his side.
“It began after I lost the eye,” Xander started abruptly, feeling obliged to keep his side of the deal but also wanting to forestall any further confessions from the vampire. “It’s been suggested that it was always in me but latent, and the shock brought it out. I asked around and it turns out that the ability runs in my family; makes sense now why my parents would have nothing to do with my supposedly crazy great-aunt.”
“Had it already started before the end of Sunnydale?”
“Vaguely. At first I kept accusing
“Why did you come back to the States?”
“She told me to. Practically threw me out of the country and told me to find where I fit in. So I came home, made some contacts, learned a lot more about what I was and wasn’t capable of, and ended up here. Fitted in. I began to help people and… I understood why this was happening to me and I started to feel worthwhile. Completely at peace with myself.”
Now it was Xander’s turn to fall into silent thought and Spike held back on the many questions he wanted to ask, feeling any interruption would be inappropriately crass, even for him; eventually they ended up outside Xander’s house.
“Home,” Xander told Spike, failing to notice that the vampire already knew and had automatically stopped at the gate, barely aware of Spike following him to the front door.
Spike waited patiently as Xander went inside, sure of what was coming when Xander turned to look at him, studying the resurrected undead curiously in the light from the hallway.
“Can I come in?”
Xander evidently thought that over, but his face was unreadable.
“No. Not this time.”
“Please? It’s about…” Spike turned away, frustrated and embarrassed.
“This is about… Not the world ending, this is about your mother?” Spike lowered his head and nodded. Long pause. “You’re not going to hit me again?”
“No, I’m sorry I did that, I just…lost my head.”
“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t say that unless I meant it. I’m sorry I hurt you. Xander.”
Spike looked directly into Xander’s eye, exposing himself emotionally, and Xander thought that maybe Spike was sorry: he looked suitably, unfamiliarly humble. Beyond that, he looked… Desperate.
“If I let you in it doesn’t mean I’m even considering agreeing to do whatever it is mankind sent you to ask me to do.”
Xander’s fingers irritably swept through his hair, once and again.
“Why does this feel like such a stupid thing to do?”
Spike shrugged. Hopefully.
“You need to trust your instincts. Unless they’re telling you to slam the door in my face.”
There was another substantial pause as Spike inched closer and closer to the threshold.
“God, what the…” Xander sighed. “Spike… Come in.”
Chapter 2 Freak
“You live alone?” Spike asked as he carried out a rapid, uninvited recce of the house.
“Yeah. Why are you surprised?”
“You never struck me as a loner. Undeniable pack animal, the Xander Harris I knew.”
“That’s funny in ways you can’t begin to understand.”
Spike returned Xander’s grin, appreciating the moment’s humour whether or not he understood the source. Xander left Spike alone to snoop, knowing there was nothing personal for him to find, and the vampire exploited every minute.
“So, never a Mrs Harris?” Spike called as he came to the end of his methodical rummaging.
“No-one could put up with me after this…ability came out.”
Spike entered the kitchen to find Xander pressing a cloth filled with ice cubes to his jaw.
“Oh, bugger,” was muttered under his breath, but it was enough to make Xander jump. “I am sorry about that.”
“You can stop apologising now, you’re in.”
“Can I take a look?”
“No. Switch the kettle on, I’ll make coffee. Tea? I don’t have anything stronger.”
“No brandy for the distraught and wilting?”
“The idea is to stop before…” Xander’s gregarious manner vanished instantly; he shot a look of disappointment at the vampire before replying tersely. “No. No brandy.”
“I wasn’t taking the piss.”
“’Cause that wouldn’t be like you at all, would it?”
“I’m really not…”
“How about…” Xander irritably tossed the cloth and ice cubes into the sink. “…we get on with what you’re here for, then you can leave.”
Spike followed Xander to the living room and slumped on the sofa as Xander sat rigidly in a vast and comfy-looking leather chair, arms defensively crossed over his chest.
“First things first: want to put the ‘saving the world’ proposal to me formally so I get the pleasure of telling you and Angel to go collectively fuck yourselves?”
“Look, don’t go cold on me because you took something I said the wrong way.”
“What is this about?”
“Actually…” Spike sat forward in his seat.
“You don’t mention your mother again until this is done.”
Spike toned down the glare he sent Xander and concentrated, or at least tried to, on the reason he was officially there.
“Right. First things first: I sincerely want your help with this case I’m working on, I do want that. Edited highlights?” Xander nodded, a short disinterested movement. “A new prophecy’s been unearthed: usual apocalyptical doom. The only bloke with the knowledge to prevent what looks like an inter-dimensional war has been killed, allegedly an accident, but it looks more like a hit, and it’s probably to stop this very information being passed on.”
“And you need to talk to him, talk to Dead Guy?”
“Gee, I wonder where I fit in.”
“That’s it. Edited highlights. All you need to know.”
“And this is why you disrupted my meeting?”
“You couldn’t have picked up the phone?”
“Rupert thought it’d be best to come and see you. And like I said, we weren’t expecting…”
“Giles told you to come to me. Giles sent Spike to Xander. And you didn’t think to ask about the early onset of senile dementia?”
“He thought you’d want to help.”
“Other mediums can do what you want, and maybe they can—” Xander stopped sharply, dry-washing his face before resting in his hands, hiding for a moment. When he looked up with an exhausted sigh, determined to put an end to this idea/conversation/visit, he was stunned to see concern on Spike’s face. Completely undermined by that caring expression, any animosity that had been driving him slipped away and he stunned Spike in turn with a brief, apologetic smile. “It isn’t what I do any more.”
“I can see that.”
“I wasn’t that much good when I was doing it.”
“You played your part.”
“And I’m not the most reliable of mediums. You need the best for something this crucial.”
Spike realised that he’d get nowhere by putting pressure on Xander and, let’s face it, at this precise point in time he didn’t give a toss about what he was supposed to be here for, his focus had shifted entirely the moment Xander had started to sing in that dingy little room at the rear of the meeting hall. The sorrow that had filled him, wracked his body after Angel’s departure, was still a heavy, agonizing weight, and Spike’s mind, heart, soul were all fixed on one individual, and it wasn’t someone who could affect any world other than his own.
Looking for an inroad, desperate for more information but cautious about heavy-handedly introducing his mother into the conversation, Spike – with an assiduously manufactured façade of cool, objective interest that didn’t fool Xander for a moment – asked…
“Tell me about it. How it all works.”
“That’ll take… Edited highlights?”
Xander sank lower in his chair, stretching out now and making himself comfortable, giving the impression that even the edited highlights meant long haul.
“’Kay… Very basically, clairaudience: that’s hearing the voices of people who have passed over. Clairvoyance: seeing spirits or anything they’re trying to show me. Clairsentience… That’s the tricky one, that’s…feeling what they felt. It can be difficult to cope with if the feelings are very strong.”
“Like at that meeting? Those people who were trying to show you what Angel…”
“Yeah,” Xander cut him short, unconsciously touching his own throat. “Like that.”
Spike waited for more but nothing was forthcoming.
“Blimey, any more edited and it wouldn’t have been worth drawing the breath to speak.”
“It’s enough though?”
“You don’t read minds, or…make ghosts appear, or…”
“I’m a medium, I don’t do party tricks.”
“What’s it like when…” Spike’s voice trembled momentarily and he swallowed hard. “When you see things? Is it like…real people, living people?”
Xander paused because of the falter, but Spike’s earnest attention encouraged him to continue.
“Um… Yes, but… No. A form builds up from ectoplasm and it can take a while before the person seems solid. For a time they’re transparent, and they gradually become more…real. Although I don’t like that term, ‘cause they’re all…”
“Did you see her?”
The question burst out of Spike as the façade spectacularly collapsed, and the distress in his voice made Xander, quite literally, sit up and pay attention. Despite knowing from experience quite how emotional Spike could be, it was still troubling to witness the rapid disintegration of the character when faced with something that had evidently plagued him for well over a century.
“Your mother?” Xander gently confirmed, and Spike was temporarily speechless, looking over at him with eyes that were transformed into pools of liquid blue. “No, I didn’t see her, I heard her.”
“I need to know…” Spike’s voice, hoarse with emotion, caught and failed.
Drawn by that irresistible beseeching gaze, Xander slowly rose and crossed to join Spike on the sofa, paying great attention to every nuance of the vampire’s body language, sagging shoulders to clenching, clenching hands, more than willing to help if he could, but anxious not to get another thump.
“There isn’t much more I can tell you, but…if you want my impressions…?” A frantic nod and Xander thought back to their earlier encounter, easily recalling the sense of the kindly woman who’d spoken to him. “She seemed quite content. I wasn’t aware of any trauma in her present existence.”
“No?” Spike whispered, and at the slightest shake of Xander’s head, Spike’s eyes clenched tightly shut, tears that he didn’t attempt to hide or wipe, tumbling down his face. “What I did to her,” he managed to croak, “what I made her…”
“I’m aware that you turned her.”
“Killed her. I killed her. Yes, turned her. Found I’d…I’d screwed it up. Had to… I… St…staked her. Killed her. Again. I killed her.”
“The person I felt was warm and caring, and eager to tell you she loves you.” More tears and Xander edged closer, putting what he hoped was a comforting hand on Spike’s wrist. “She’s still your mom and she loves you.”
“I thought I’d—” Spike gasped a breath, a belated attempt to find a little restraint. “Thought I’d condemned her to – to eternal damnation.”
“Well, I guess you screwed that up too,” Xander teased, but kindly, and it raised a smile before the next flood of tears.
It was hard to stay with Spike - a weeping vampire brought back memories that Xander didn’t want to entertain, even after all these years, so, trusting Spike would be okay now the worst admission had been aired, he stood and started to creep toward the door.
“Is she around now?” Spike’s hopeful voice brought him back. “Please?”
“No, I’m sorry, she isn’t.”
Spike looked crestfallen.
“And you can’t…”
“They come to me voluntarily, I can’t force them here.”
“But she might come back?”
A sinking of very earthly spirits as Xander realised that this could mean Spike lurking until he’d heard whatever he needed to, but…
“Yes, she might.”
“Is there anyone else…y’know, around? For me?”
Xander concentrated, moved closer to Spike, then further away.
“That’s really strange, I…” Xander shook his head, put aside his curiosity over spirits and demons, and concentrated on finding an answer for Spike. “When we’re apart…I can feel people there, but I think… It’s not the kind of contact you want, it’s…”
“My victims,” Spike acknowledged flatly.
“Funny they didn’t show up at that meeting.”
“They did. There were simply more of Angel’s, and he’d created greater hatred. I got the impression he liked to play with his food, while you were— God, I don’t want this conversation.”
Xander tried to leave that mental image behind and returned to the kitchen, pouring milk into a pan to make hot chocolate for them both, pleased to find a pack of marshmallows that Simone had left in the cupboard. It seemed ridiculous to be cosseting a demon, but… Xander recognised bone-deep suffering when he saw it; the person he’d had no choice but to become wasn’t about to shun anyone who was in mourning.
The spirits that had been reluctant to talk while he was in Spike’s company surged forward now, and Xander was inundated with messages, some from Spike’s victims, but others that had no bearing and were a confusing, jumbled mass, the kind of tumult that drove Xander to believe that he had been right in his first assessment of this condition: he was indeed quite crazy.
Fingers on his temples, rubbing at the growing tension ache, Xander tried to separate the voices on the off chance that there was something in the hubbub that bore any relevance to the here and now. One moment they were a barrage, the next they were swiftly easing off, and Xander looked in the direction of the hallway, anticipating Spike’s presence, already having discovered and accepted – without too many probably unanswerable questions – that proximity to the demon kept them at bay. Spike was standing in the doorway, awkward and appearing…not fully recovered, but as if he were playing the part of a man who was. Xander offered up a mug. Spike seemed about to accept, then hesitated.
“You look knackered, maybe I should…”
Xander gave an un-amused amused snort.
“You want in on the running joke?” Spike raised his brows questioningly. “I’m not good at sleeping. Hopefully I’ll catch a couple of hours before tonight’s meeting, but I’m not counting on it.”
Despite the lightness of his tone, Spike noticed Xander’s hands shook when he made the comment and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that it was a difficult subject.
“Then… Yes, ta.”
Spike took the chocolate and scooped out a melting marshmallow, affectionately remembering another mother as he sucked it off his finger.
“I’m not trying to stop you if you want to leave.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
“And won’t you need to make a move before dawn?”
Spike paused with the mug halfway to his mouth.
“Didn’t think of that, did I? I was so preoccupied by what I was here to— By what I wasn’t here to ask you…”
“This mean I’ll be stuck with you?” Xander grinned. “You want me to tie you to a chair? Relive the not-so-glorious past.”
“Not stuck,” Spike said with a mean look. “I can phone for a car anytime.”
“You going to hit me again?”
Spike blinked with surprise at that coming out of the blue.
“You going to make a pain of yourself over this ‘mission’?”
“No. Should be important – is important – but it doesn’t feel it in the light of— Y’know.”
“I know.” Spike nodded and became fascinated by the contents of his mug. Xander led them back to the living room and sat in his armchair. “If you keep your fists to yourself, and don’t bring it up again – saving the world, not your mom – you can… You’re welcome to stay.”
“That’s what I said.”
“C’mon, you know from past experience that I’ll tolerate you rather than throw you out and let you burn.”
“Welcome?” Spike persisted, and watched the strain return to Xander’s face.
“Company is… Rare,” Xander admitted after a few minute’s thought. “My choice,” he added before Spike could insert a comment about other people’s good taste.
Spike wasn’t thinking anything of the sort, having learned in a very short space of time to view Xander through kinder eyes. A reflection of getting something he wanted, certainly, but also of not being ridiculed for his fears or blamed for the necessity of them, and this from the person who, at one time, would have unkindly made the most of Spike’s confession and subsequent anguish.
“Hard life, is it?”
“Aspects are. But not hard as in it being a hardship, I can’t for a moment claim that, just… The closer people get, the more…attachments they bring along.”
“Attachments as in…” Spike waved a finger in the air.
“Yeah. Most mediums can choose when to – for want of a better description – tune into the right wavelength to pick up voices, but I’m permanently tuned in, I don’t have the ability to tune out or switch off, it’s like…” Spike pulled a troubled face. “Oh, yeah, that expression sums it up perfectly.”
“Know what it’s like, don’t I? Living with voices that don’t belong in a body’s head.”
“I would never have thought of that. It has to feel the same - no way to disconnect, the wavelength is always active.”
“That one of the reasons you think I should find someone else for…that thing we’re not talking about?”
“I get distracted, sometimes I can’t be selective and I’m simply…overwhelmed. I am flattered that you asked me, and I can’t tell you what it means to me that Giles thought I was capable, but… I have to be realistic, for my sake, for yours. Mankind’s. And I’m sorry that I can’t recommend anyone who’d do the job but not be freaked by the stadium of victims. ‘Cause that is scary.”
“You were scared of the people?”
“Not the people, the actual victims, no. But what they were showing me, letting me feel, that was…” Xander shuddered.
Wary that Xander might ask him how he reconciled himself to the past – a question Spike knew he couldn’t answer to the human’s satisfaction – the vampire kept quiet and surreptitiously watched as Xander eventually closed his eye and relaxed in his chair. Meditation or a rare interval of sleep, Spike couldn’t tell, but Xander’s breathing slowed and his heart rate dropped. Spike had just decided on sleep when Xander quietly spoke.
“Are you ever scared?”
Spike considered that carefully, refusing to reply with noisy, dismissive bluff when Xander was being so honest with him, while there was trust to be built. And, yes, while Xander had so much he wanted.
“I have been. There are times when I know I should be. It’s rare nowadays.”
“All scared out? Lucky man. Vampire.”
“It’s true, y’know: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Look at you.”
“The last thing I want to do is look at me.” Xander opened his eye to meet Spike’s curiosity. “I’m afraid that if I look too closely I’ll see that you were right.”
“I was right?”
Xander stood and wandered off, leaving Spike feeling like an utter shit for ever using that word. He sat and sulked, listening to Xander’s progress, hearing the distant sounds of the shower starting, Xander singing, and he sounded cheerful enough.
“Maybe he’s used to being called a freak,” Spike said to himself, and that suggestion was as discomforting as referring to Xander as such in the first place.
He switched on the TV, flicked around the channels, finished his chocolate, finished Xander’s chocolate, put his feet up and tried to be exactly what Xander would expect on his return. Because Xander used to dismiss everything Spike said, every hurtful barb or jibe would be like water off a duck’s back, and that’s just what Spike needed now. For his own peace of mind and, okay, he grudgingly included Xander.
All the deliberately casual posing proved fruitless on Xander’s return. As he passed by the living room door he broke his humming long enough to call out and ask Spike if he wanted something to eat. Automatic ‘yes’ to that, and Spike was up and following Xander into the kitchen, being sent back to collect the empty mugs while Xander studied the contents of the fridge.
“What do you fancy?”
“What have you got?”
“Pretty well stocked up.”
“Is this your doing, or is there someone else taking such diligent care of the guru?”
Xander laughed at that.
“Hanging on your every word, weren’t they?”
“At the meeting? The people in the audience hang on every word because of who might be talking, not because it comes out of my mouth in particular. You should watch some of the more experienced mediums work. Or, better still, you shouldn’t.”
“Food of the gods!” Spike suddenly exclaimed and pulled a cylindrical cardboard tube from the cupboard he was rifling through.
Xander closed the fridge and turned to see what Spike had found.
“What is? Oh, those. Favourites of H’s, he buys them especially.”
“Ah, right, thought he was a bit Oxbridge.”
“He went to college in
“Fine as the cookies?” Xander grinned.
“Biscuits. English chocolate biscuits. Can I have these?”
“You gonna share?”
“No!” Spike snapped as if it was the most outrageous suggestion he’d ever heard. “Maybe,” he adjusted sulkily before the pack could be repossessed by Xander.
“You can have them if you ask for the cookies.”
“Bollocks. There’s a reason the language is called English. You know what you can do with your cookies.”
Spike went to smash the pack down but his inherent reverence for McVitie’s won out and he replaced the tube in the cupboard.
“You’re not going to steal them?”
“No,” Spike pouted.
“Then you can have them.”
Spike’s expression morphed from shock to disbelief to pleasure.
“Right,” was all the thanks Xander received. “When are they on?”
“On? What? What on what?”
“The more experienced mediums.”
“At the weekend, but… No, Spike. You’ll be gone by then anyhow.”
“You on tomorrow night?”
Xander turned a very suspicious look on Spike.
“And you want to know…?” Spike shrugged nonchalantly. “Your air of disinterest needs working on, pal.” Spike adjusted his features to ‘seriously bored in a tedious existence’ and shrugged again. “That’s better. A little effort…”
“You mind if I come along?”
“Stadium of victims,” Xander explained with forced patience, ruffling his damp hair in an already familiar irritable movement.
“Maybe that won’t happen again.” Glare. “Or maybe you’ll cope better this time, now you know what you’re dealing with.” Glaaare. “I promise I’ll leave if they overwhelm the proceedings,” Spike offered.
Xander was back in the fridge.
“How about… Eggs, bacon, tomato, got some hash browns in the freezer…?”
“I won’t be any trouble.”
“Fucking hell, don’t say that! A Spike that won’t be any trouble? It’s like…finding myself in another dimension where chinchillas control the Hellmouth.”
“Actually, they can be nasty little brutes, I remember when we—” Glaaaaare. “Maybe not. Nice fry up sounds spot on.”
“Why do you want to attend another meeting? Are we back to your mom?”
Seeing straight through the lie, Xander impatiently clattered a pan onto the stove and lit the gas.
“Make yourself useful, wash up the mugs.” Spike bit back the ‘fuck off’ and did as he was asked, unable to find a towel afterwards and pulling the back of Xander’s baggy t-shirt out of his sweatpants and drying his hands on that. “I died, didn’t I?” Xander groaned. “I was run down on the way to the hall tonight and I’m in a brimstone-lite minor hell dimension with a Spike-alike who’s going to make eternity one long moment of intense annoyance. Hash browns. And don’t you put your hands anywhere near me at all when they come out of the freezer.”
“Wouldn’t have dreamed of it.”
“The butter wouldn’t melt expression could do with a little work too.”
Spike’s face became a picture of perfect soulful innocence, and Xander grinned and shook his head. Spike brought back the hash browns from the freezer, and hopefully banged down a bag of onion rings.
“I want to watch you work. I enjoy mediums, Dru used to delight in them.”
“Is there a viscera-drenched anecdote that goes with this? ‘Cause…no. Hugely no.”
Spike filed that delightful story away for another time and pitilessly attacked Xander’s weakest line of defence.
“All right. I’m not expecting my mother, but I can hope, can’t I? Like everyone else there who wants a message. There’s always a hope.”
Spike saw his victory flit over Xander’s face and fought back the smile that might unbalance the scales.
“Okay. But if it starts to go wrong…”
“I’m out of there. You won’t see me for dust. And that’s – that’s a troubling turn of phrase for a vampire.”
Xander turned back to his cooking, giggling quietly to himself, and the warning look that Spike gave him didn’t need any practise at all.
They talked through a dinner, about past times – both fascinated by the slanted way they each remembered various events – always taking care not to be too provocative in their comments, not wanting the verging-on-pleasant atmosphere to be decimated by anything too disturbing or controversial. They talked about the present, Spike’s mostly as Xander felt his had been covered, and established that one of the few personal things they had in common – their contempt for Angel – was still firmly entrenched.
Spike had seen the other scattered Scoobies more recently than Xander and was able to catch the human up with their lives and more.
“Dawn? With a Mohican?” Xander repeated when he’d finished choking on his food.
Spike balanced two hands with spread fingers on the top of his head in a copy of the punk plume Dawn was now sporting.
“Looks a treat, she does. Yellow at the roots, blue at the tips.”
“You’re making this up.” Spike crossed his heart with a finger. “I would have heard Buffy explode, even from here,” Xander insisted.
“The hair is nothing compared to the boyfriend.”
“He trouble?” was anxiously demanded.
“Nah, just has that feel about him.”
“You’re sure about that?”
Spike nodded and helped himself to more onion rings, not choosing to reveal that Dawn’s boyfriend reminded him of his own calculated transition from William to Spike, and even if the boy looked and worked very hard at being a Spike, in Dawn’s company and unknowingly observed, he transformed into a complete and utter William.
“He loves the Bit. Slayer won’t be told so let her worry, seeing as she always knows best.”
“Buffy upset you recently?” Xander bit back a grin.
“Not talking about that,” Spike retorted sourly.
“I thought you got on so well now.”
“Bloody woman. Never comes up with a plan that involves exploding her own sodding car as a diversion.”
“Buffy broke Spike’s car?” Xander said with faux sympathy, soulful eyes and pouting bottom lip.
Xander laughed and snatched the last of the bacon before Spike could claim it, amazed that he had an appetite for once, and astounded that this unexpected encounter had cheered him considerably rather than been a disturbance to his deliberately tranquil life.
They talked. And talked.
“You want to get some sleep?” Xander asked when he finally noticed that the world beyond the drapes had lightened. “There’s a guest room.”
Spike simply wriggled further into the deep corner of the sofa.
“I’m good here. If you want to go up…”
Xander dismissed that and made more tea and coffee to accompany the last few cookies, thought of another dozen or so things he wanted to discuss, and hurried back to his improbable companion.
They talked. And talked. And talked. And when Spike finally nodded off, Xander crept closer and made himself comfortable at the opposite end of the sofa, taking advantage of the demon’s quietening effect on the voices and settling down to a rare, semi-undisturbed doze.
Xander woke first, mid afternoon, feeling remarkably refreshed and grateful enough not to start questioning the sanity of spending the morning, not only snoozing alongside a vampire, but inching closer and closer to him as it became clear that an almost complete silence could eventually be achieved. Naturally he’d never tell Spike that he’d made this discovery when he was approximately a hair’s breadth from the vampire’s body, and he certainly wasn’t about to divulge that he’d all but curled up to him for the respite.
Rising and stretching with a satisfied creak, Xander strolled away; behind him, a single blue eye opened to a slit and the faintest smile touched Spike’s mouth.
The armoury was bolstered: knowledge was such a useful weapon.
Spike tracked Xander down to the kitchen about half-an-hour later, yawning and scrubbing his fingers in his hair, playing the part of the recently woken. As he approached, Xander backed away, not out of alarm but to carry on the conversation he was having with an unseen presence. Spike naughtily pretended not to have caught on and managed to drive Xander into the drizzly garden before turning back to explore the fridge.
“What are we having?” Spike asked when Xander returned, rubbing his damp and chilly arms.
“You can have whatever you want, I stick to tea and toast whenever I’m taking the meeting.”
“Food affects your ability?”
“I get nervous. Really nervous. Therefore I try to stick to food that won’t projectile vomit past the second row.”
“I’d pay to see that.”
“You can be so…”
“The front row was full of deaf old biddies, it’d be…”
“No. No alternative entertainment. You come along tonight and sit at the back, you don’t speak to anyone, you don’t amuse yourself by flashing yellow eyes, you don’t feast on… That’s a point, what are you going to do about blood?”
“Why, you offering?” Spike asked with a deliberate look that swept greedily over Xander and stopped, with interest rather than guilt, at the purple bruise on his jaw.
“In your dreams, pal.”
“I fed well before I came to this forsaken dump.”
“It’s a nice dump: nice place, nice people.”
“You’re only saying that because they haven’t lynched you for devil worship.”
“Oh, yeah, ninety-eight percent freak-tolerant.” Spike’s manner changed instantly, and Xander understood why: Spike wasn’t the only one who was paying attention. “Spike… The freak thing didn’t matter, okay? You’re acting like I never got called it before you showed up, but that isn’t the case, it’s something…” Xander dismissed the subject with an untidy wave of the hand. “…something I have to live with.”
“Anyone says that to you in my presence…”
“Hey, look, this is us, getting along, freakier still. Let’s not end this freak show by getting arrested ‘cause you punched out the town bigot. Now, there’s an opening, maybe you could apply to be the town bigot: I don’t know the pay and hours but I’d take a bet that you have unlimited rights on terrorising the liberals.”
“I thought you’d changed. You haven’t changed.”
“Open that gob and a great stream of twaddle pours out.”
“I’d take offence to that if I gave a shit about anything you said.”
“See, nothing’s changed.”
“Nothing?” Xander checked. Spike shrugged and picked at the piece of fried chicken he’d liberated from the fridge. “Fine.” Xander lashed out, catching Spike across the jaw and sending him thumping back against the door. The demon rose to the surface and the expression on Spike’s insulted rather than damaged face was a scary image. Xander instantly held up his hands in surrender. “For yesterday. Now we’re even.”
There was a long tense moment before the vampire’s face smoothed back to human; a longer moment still before Spike gave an amused nod, and went back for more chicken.
A couple of hours before the meeting they strolled to the hall, and Xander cautiously broached the subject of the initial reason for Spike’s visit.
“Will it be hard? To find another medium?”
“Rupert must have suggested you for a reason. Maybe he knew you’d be brave enough to take on something…”
“Sucking up to me won’t work.”
“Seriously. I don’t know any other mediums, but – forget the stadium of victims for a moment and think about the job itself – is there one that you could introduce to this situation without them wetting their knickers?”
Xander went through a mental list of his immediate colleagues and those he knew in passing; it didn’t take more than a few seconds to see Spike’s point.
“Giles thought I should do it?”
“Didn’t say should,” Spike replied honestly. “But obviously thought could.”
“It’s going to be dangerous, isn’t it?”
“What makes you think that?” In receipt of Xander’s cynical look, Spike nodded. “If this bloke we need to talk to was murdered, there’s a chance that anyone helping contact him would be next in line.”
“It would mean falling out of sight?”
“Low profile until the appropriate time, yes.”
“I couldn’t leave here.”
“You’ve already said no, Xander, I’m not pressing you.”
“Yeah, I know, I appreciate that.”
“Be hard for you, packing up your house…”
“The house isn’t mine, it belongs to the chapel.”
“Same difference: it’s your home.”
“Can’t you find someone non-human to contact Dead Guy for you? Wouldn’t that cut out some of the problems?”
“The prophecy indicates that the manifestation – Dead Guy’s contribution – is via a human, and it goes on about strength from weakness, and some claptrap about the mediator’s mortality.”
“It’s that risky?”
“No, the mortality thing isn’t about dying because of this business, it’s more a reference to the kind of being we need to…”
“I get it.”
“I’d be looking out for you. If you were doing it. Which you’re not.”
Xander smiled at that before opting for a little silent rumination. When they arrived at the hall’s rear doors he stopped and turned to Spike.
“Answer me something honestly?”
“If I can.”
“Damn, I just asked Spike to answer a question honestly. And he agreed to try. One of us has seriously lost the plot.”
“Yeah, but, apart from that…?”
Xander took a deep breath, and a troubled frown kinked his brow.
“Don’t you think I’ve done enough? What I’ve given, what I’ve lost?”
“Haven’t I done enough?”
Spike stared into the troubled brown eye and eventually nodded.
“You’ve done enough.”
Letting out a relieved breath, Xander turned and walked into the building; Spike permitted himself a moment of smugness, feeling the weight on the line and mentally preparing the landing net.