Manifestation by Lazuli Kat



Chapter 5 This Much

Spike stirred as sunset approached, smiling at the lovely toasty state of his body thanks to Xander’s shared warmth.  Move or stay put?  He didn’t think Xander would freak out if he woke to find himself wrapped around a vampire, not if it had given him the best sleep in, possibly, years, but did he want to take a chance?  This was Xander, however much the turn his life had taken had changed him.  There could be panic and loudness and the loss of the smidgeon of trust they were teetering on the edge of.  With a sigh Spike peeled himself away, shivering with the chill when he lost that intense heat, even though the room itself was quite warm.

Having heard the faintest sound of a familiar engine during the morning, Spike knew that Angel had arranged a delivery; he went to the door and, standing carefully to one side because of the sun’s last rays, threw the lock and opened it, reaching a single hand out to snatch in the large duffle bag that was sitting on the threshold.  Fresh clothes, other odds and ends they might need, nice fat roll of notes, a few bags of blood which Spike transferred from the insulated sleeves to the small fridge in the hospitality area of the room.  He switched the kettle on while he was there, preparing mugs for tea and coffee and listening as Xander woke.

“Okay,” soon came the man’s encouraging voice, talking to the boy, Spike guessed.  “Show me.    Again.    Okay, yes I can see it now.”  Spike turned to watch, leaning against the wall and being still and silent.  Xander was on his back, and his hands were poised over his chest as if holding something Spike couldn’t see.  “Yeah, it’s wood, lacquered white, it’s…  Smaller.”  His hands adjusted.  “And when the lid opens…”  Xander opened the lid that only he could see and smiled.  “Music box.  The dancer, the ballerina, pops up and dances to the tune.”  Xander began to hum along, and Spike recognised it immediately.

“From Swan Lake,” he told Xander quietly.

Swan Lake, is that right, is that…  That’s what your mom told you, okay.  Swan Lake,” Xander gratefully turned the smile on Spike.  “And this is where?    Okay, I can find that now.  What’s inside, what’s…”  Xander frowned.  “Show me again.    Again.    And you made her that, okay, thank you, that will help.    Okay.  You rest now.  Rest now.”

Xander’s hands flopped onto his chest, his eye closed and he inhaled deeply, releasing the breath slowly.

“Was that your client?” Spike asked wryly as he turned back to finish preparing their drinks.

“He was nine years old when he passed.  Can you – William – remember being nine?”

“Not really,” Spike lied.  “Those memories become insignificant after a while,” he lied again.  “Here,” he brought the coffee to Xander and sat on the edge of the bed.  “Can I ask something?”

Xander shuffled to a sit, took the mug, and sipped.

“Thanks.  Yes.”

“You passed out after the uber-nasty had been at you.  Is that usual?”

“Can be.  If the contact is very stressful, or draining, or if I’m working for a long time.  It doesn’t always happen, and I can’t predict when it will.  There are so many reasons why I’m not the right guy for your job, if you want to change your mind…”

“Don’t keep doing this.  You know you’re not going to talk either of us out of it.”

“In that case…  I hope you’re prepared to keep picking me off the floor.”

“I caught you last time, I’ll catch you next time.”

“That’s quite…touching.  And equally disturbing.”

Spike chuckled.

“Medusa was more disturbed…”

“Don’t call Simone that.”

“…I think she thought I was about to run off with you.”

“She was right then, you did.”

“I’ll take you back to Medusa.  In one piece.”

“More sincerity?  Shit, brain’s going into meltdown.  Can I change the subject, or at least slide it several feet towards any place I feel comfortable?”

“Slide away.”

“I think I have to go by myself to see Chrissie.”


“It’s only into town and…”

“No,” firmer.

“How much trouble can I get into here?”

“The boy died in circumstances that you think might be questionable and you’re going to be poking around in all that.  I can see the potential for trouble, even if you’ve conveniently manoeuvred it to your blind side.”

“You block the voices, the people who are trying to talk to me.  Fantastic for a good night’s sleep – and I never said but I do appreciate that – but I need to be able to get a clear link to the boy.”

“You just did.  I was standing…”  Spike gestured to the hospitality area.  “We simply need to establish the minimum distance away you need me to be for that to happen.”  Spike stood and crossed to the far side of the room.  “Is this enough?”


“Is this enough?” Spike repeated sharply, the severity of his voice conveying that there was no way he was about to let Xander out of his sight.

Xander listened.

“Seems to be,” he admitted.

Spike moved a step in.

“Now?”  Xander waved him closer.  Then closer again, before holding up his hand to stop Spike’s progress.  “I come along with you, keep at least this distance away, and I’m there to catch you if you pass out.”

“You’re…protecting your investment, so to speak.”

“Yes,” Spike replied bluntly.

“Not doing this ‘cause you think I’m an idiot who’s going to blunder into a Scooby-Doo script.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?” Spike replied with a snort of derisory laughter.  Xander’s undisguised look of hurt briefly became sad acceptance before settling as bitter resentment; he took himself away for a shower.  “I didn’t mean…”

The slamming door cut his words short, and Spike was left alone to analyse the exceptional talent he had for alienating people without even trying.

While Spike took his turn in the shower, Xander went to the diner for what his screwed up body clock insisted was breakfast.  As he waited for his food he took a notebook and pen from his coat pocket and tried to make sense of some of the scribbles inside, pretending that he was okay with the time away from home because it meant he’d catch up with detailing some of his more interesting contacts and experiences for a highly intrigued Willow.  He set to work with great determination that lasted only minutes before he was wondering how Douglas was and what Simone and Henry were up to.  Who had taken his place and if he’d even be missed; he knew that the other mediums who worked at the chapel were better than him, all having honed their abilities since childhood, but he also knew he had a good rapport with many regulars who specifically chose his nights to attend.  Then he went back to wondering about Douglas, and how angry Spike would be if he made a single call that divulged nothing of his whereabouts or circumstances, just allowed him to be assured that his friend was okay.

The food arrived while he was staring at his phone, and eating gave him more time to think.  Which he did.  Trying to move forward rather than look back.  Finding his concentration persistently slipping away from the Dead Guy situation and fixing on a nine-year-old boy and his traumatised mother.  Nerves suddenly struck him, turning his stomach into an uncompromising knot; the remainder of the food on his plate was left uneaten as he considered the evening’s sitting and the responsibility he’d heaped onto his own shoulders; he’d never done anything quite like this before, and if he’d been asked about the possibility a week earlier he’d have said no way, not without the advice and support of the experienced team he usually had access to.  Yet here he was, with a mourning woman, a son’s restless spirit, and his only backup was someone who thought he was a fool for trying to help.

Xander was back to staring at his phone, but he returned it to his pocket with a sigh.  He didn’t want to fight with Spike.  In order to use his skills to the best of his ability Xander needed to stay calm and collected and, more than that, if this low profile scenario carried on for any length of time, it would be unbearable for the two of them to be at close quarters and constantly at each other’s throats.  Ah.  Bad turn of phrase when there’s a vamp in the equation.

Besides, Xander liked to think he’d matured rather nicely, become a better person than…the one who’d thumped Spike a couple of days ago.  He cringed at the thought, closing his eye for a moment and opening it seconds later to find he had company.

“I shouldn’t have hit you,” he told Spike at once, before his pride could stop him.

“Oh.  Right.  Not a problem.”

“Really?  You’ve just…forgotten it?”  Spike nodded and stole an abandoned pancake.  “You want something of your own to eat,” Xander offered, “or shall we go?”

“Consider this a well constructed and impassioned speech about why we shouldn’t,” Spike told Xander as he licked syrup from his fingers.

“Okay.  That’s a…well constructed and impassioned speech, and I’m truly moved, but…shall we go?”

“I’ve packed up our things.  I reckon we should find somewhere else to stay.”


“’Cause you’ve un-lowed your profile and I want us out of here.”

“You don’t even know anyone’s looking for us.”

“You do your job.  Let me do mine.”

Xander gave in without a struggle.


Having paid his diner bill and asked for directions to the address he’d been given, Xander wandered back to their room to pick up his belongings.  Spike was already there and standing by the dresser, holding and studying the eyepatch, evidently deep in less than pleasant thought as he rubbed a thumb over the smooth surface.

“Terrible time,” Xander admitted, quietly enough not to startle the vampire.


“We got through it.”

“At a price.”

“That’s right.  I lost my cool car but you were only turned into a pillar of flames, how unfair is that?” Xander joked, not wanting to dwell on losses – youth, innocence, home, eye, Anya – and not wanting to see Spike’s shoulders slumped miserably as he reflected.  “Want to hear something crazy?” he asked brightly.  “I feel like I can’t see so well when I’m wearing the patch.  Think it’s psychosomatic?”


Xander came close to Spike’s back, reaching past to take the patch away from him.  Grinning to himself he took the last step until they were touching.  He felt Spike stiffen.

“Spike…  I know you won’t want to hear it, but there’s something I have to tell you.”  Xander flicked the patch onto the dresser and placed his hands on Spike’s waist before taking his time sliding them forward, down, and around until they rested on Spike’s backside.


The protestation due to follow that curiously toned address never emerged.  Target identified, Xander slipped his fingers into Spike’s jeans pocket and pulled out his keys.

“I’m driving, baby,” he whispered into Spike’s ear.

Snatching up his patch and backing quickly off, Xander grabbed his luggage and left.

Spike remained fixed in place, deeply disturbed by the contact, the pretence of intimacy; stunned and ashamed by the sudden longing he felt to be close to someone, anyone: it wasn’t about Xander, it was about…not being alone.  An unpleasant revelation when he thought he was past that nonsense.

He collected his duffle and followed Xander out to the car, trying to find a persona to wear, or at least get cross at being touched – teased – in such a way.  But after the clumsy remark he’d made earlier he felt he owed Xander a little slack, so there would be no glaring or growling or threats to keep his hands to himself.  He’d give Xander nothing.  And as he felt completely empty it meant that Xander…got the lot.

A smile from Xander as Spike got into the car after throwing his duffle into the trunk, not a snarky, gotcha smile, more of a harmless, please-get-the-joke smile.  Unexpectedly finding a little something in the nothing, Spike gave Xander a nod that evidently told Xander he was off the hook because the smile relaxed.

“Navigate for me.”

Xander dropped the order slip with the address and directions into Spike’s lap, started the car and pulled out of the motel’s parking lot, following Spike’s monosyllabic instructions and soon finding their destination: a tidy little house on the edge of town, surrounded by open countryside to the south and west, and woodlands to the north.  Xander parked up, peered into the dusk and coveted.

“Wouldn’t it be great to live somewhere like this?” he said, more to himself than to his gloomy companion.  “So peaceful.”

“Quiet enough for the kid’s last screams to be heard, but remote enough that…”

“You say anything like that when we’re with her and…”  Xander put a stop to the pointless threat about to emerge from his mouth.  “You wouldn’t.  I know you wouldn’t.”

“There’s a turnaround,” Spike noted with begrudged interest.

“I have to stop doubting you, your intentions, all of it; if we’re permanently at odds I’ll need medication before the week’s out.  I can do it.  I can do it.  And…Spike…  God, this is difficult, what I have to say, and I’m not fooling around now.”  Xander paused awkwardly.  “Since I started doing what I do, I’ve been used to having someone I can lean on.  Figuratively and sometimes physically.  I spend a lot of time alone but I always know my colleagues and friends are there for me.  And now…they’re not.”  Another tense pause.  It was obvious where this was going and that was good, Spike’s nothingness being usurped by a welcome swell of self-importance as Xander continued.  “I need someone for support and I’m sorry but that has to be you, whether we like it or not.”  Spike looked away, giving the illusion of being thoroughly unimpressed, but in truth hiding the satisfied smile that played over his lips.  “You keep being honest.  Be honest with me now.”  Xander turned in his seat and waited for the vampire to do the same so he could meet Spike’s eyes.  Spike, realising what was expected, straightened his face and looked to Xander.  “Say I can trust you…”  Xander held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.  “…this much.  This much is all I need to work with.”

Spike stared at the gesture, appreciating Xander’s need and accepting that, as he had all but forced the man into this reliance, the least he could do was accept his part graciously.  The thinking time extended to encapsulate a momentary surge of irrational resentment at being needed, and Xander was beginning to look extremely worried by the time Spike gave a well-played, determined nod that embodied selflessness.  The vampire even went so far as to extend the trust gap to an inch-and-a-half, and adding, for good measure:

“We’re on the same side.”

“I know that, and I’m going to do my best to keep reminding myself.”

Spike finally cracked a smile.

“Pod Xander.”

Xander grinned.

“Yeah, I guess I’ve mellowed.  Shame it doesn’t always hold around you, but I’m going to try.”

“For her?”  Spike tipped his head toward the house’s lit porch where Chrissie was anxiously waiting for them.

“Her.  Us.  Sanity in general.  Don’t let us down, Spike.”

Spike bristled at that questioning of his integrity for a whole five seconds.  Then, all else aside, he reminded himself of the chance he was being given to prove himself, and who it was – the vulnerability of who it was – giving him that chance.  He felt quite moved, and he didn’t like that one bit.

“I don’t let people down.  Not anymore.”


“Okay, my arse.  I don’t need your endorsement.”

Xander pulled on the eyepatch.

“That’s fine.  I’m sure with your track record you won’t get it.”

“Good,” Spike snapped, and Xander climbed out of the car while Spike quickly reviewed the last exchange.  “No, that isn’t…  Oi, Harris, hang on…”

Spike caught up with Xander as he arrived beside the woman, experiencing unanticipated pity when he looked at her properly for the first time, seeing how desolate she appeared.

“Hi Chrissie, I’m Xander Harris, this is Spike.”

She turned a weak smile on Spike but her attention was understandably focused on Xander, and she led him inside without a word, issuing no invitation and leaving the vampire stuck outside.

Xander,” Spike prompted through clenched teeth.

“Yeah?  Oh.”  Xander thought fast and returned to Spike.  “Umm…Chrissie, are you quite happy for us both to be in here?”

“Of course, I’m sorry, where are my manners?  Come in, Xander, Spike, please, come in.”

They followed her through to the living room, where a brawny youth was waiting; his apprehension was laced with a hostility that seemed to flavour the air.  Chrissie dithered between the boy and her guests.

“Hi, I’m Xander, and this is Spike,” Xander said with his best inoffensive smile.

“And this is Toby, he’s my eldest son.”  It didn’t need a psychic to see the moment when the awful truth struck home yet again: not her eldest son, her only son.  She hurried to put an arm around him and hug, trying to comfort them both.  “This is Toby.”

Xander smiled again while Spike studied the surroundings, relatively happy once he’d figured out the basic ground plan of the place and where the exits were.

“Has your mom told you why I’m here?” Xander asked.  Toby nodded.  “Are you okay with that?”

“I’m not…”  Toby cleared his throat and tried again.  “I’m not going to stay while you do…whatever it is you do.  This is for my mom, I think it’s crap.”


“That’s okay, he’s fine, thinking that.”

“I’m so sorry,” Chrissie told Xander, “he’s…well…  I’m sure he doesn’t mean to be rude.”

Xander wasn’t, but magnanimity won out.

“The prerogative of being…what?  Seventeen?”


“If you can’t get it out of your system at sixteen…”  Xander shrugged amiably and Chrissie let out the breath she’d been holding.  “Hey, Toby, Spike can keep you company while we’re talking to Wayne.”

The woman’s face crumpled in upset and, barely able to excuse herself, she hurried from the room.

“How d’you know his name?  Someone in town tell you?” Toby demanded.

“He told me.”

The boy shook his head hard and stormed out of the room.

Spike turned on Xander.

“I thought you wanted me with you.”

“I’ll be fine, I just think a one-to-one will be better.  There’s also a chance that Toby will come back and cause trouble, so if you can keep him occupied…”

“If he thinks it’s crap, what is he getting so worked up about?”

“He’s afraid.  He’s just a kid, and he’s afraid of what he doesn’t understand.  And he has to be feeling pretty protective of his mom right now.”

“I might take the opportunity to have a word with him about his manners.”

“Don’t say anything to make him feel bad.”

“Why?  He’s already insulted you.”

“No, he hasn’t, that wasn’t about me.  Look, I don’t want any repercussions for Chrissie if you make Toby feel…”

“Yeah, yeah, all right.  Kid gloves for the little shit.”

“Spike…” Xander began cautiously.  “I know you get this.  I know you do, whatever front you put up, I know.”

“You don’t know me.”

“I know a mother’s son.  I know you get this.”

Xander tensed as he waited for the repercussions of being so presumptuous but, after the briefest pause, Spike merely gave another of his resigned sighs and started out after the boy.

Xander sat in the armchair closest to the door, closest to Spike, he supposed, should he need him.  As he waited the music box tune entered his head, sung by a child’s voice, and the nerves began to disperse: this would go well, or as well as it could with that poor woman suffering so deeply.

Chrissie returned, apologetically waving a handful of tissues, actually managing a smile when Xander joked that he should have a sideline selling the things.  She offered him a drink, and he accepted a glass of water, and while she fetched it he encouraged her son to make firmer contact, feeling his guide’s presence very strongly as Wayne was helped to express himself.

“He keeps singing to me,” Xander told Chrissie the moment she returned.  “It’s the tune from the music box, Spike says it’s Swan Lake.”


“It’s wood, the box Wayne showed me, and it’s been lacquered white, it has a ballerina that dances.”  Chrissie nodded.  “Inside there’s a…a charm, maybe not a charm but that’s the sense, and it’s stone, there’s a hole drilled through and it’s on a lace or a leather thong.  He made that with his dad as a gift for you.”  More dumbstruck nodding from Chrissie.  Xander hesitated before continuing, knowing how hard this was going to be for both of them.  “He may tell me things about how he died, can you cope with that?”

“He’s okay now?” Chrissie pleaded, fresh tears falling.  “You said he’s okay.”

“He is.  Completely recovered from how he passed, he’s…with…”  Xander listened.  “Thank you.  Your grandmother, she’s taking care of him.”

“Tell me,” Xander made out through the sobs.  “Tell me everything.”

Spike found Toby outside the house, idly rocking himself in the rope swing that hung from a large tree at the side of the garden.

“We don’t need this,” the boy insisted sullenly as Spike strolled over to him.

“No?  Have you looked at your mum recently?  Really looked?  At a guess she’s mid-thirties or so but she looks fifteen years older, she’s stick-thin, newly grey, her eyes are dead, her hands shake.  You don’t think that’s someone who needs help?  Needs comfort?”

“Not from him, from what he does.”

“What do you know about it, eh?  Saw a TV movie that said it’s all bollocks, that the depth of your knowledge?”

“It’s not right.”

“You’d know, would you?” Spike grinned.  “With sixteen years of worldliness tucked under your belt.  Where’s the furthest you’ve been in sixteen years?  Other end of town?  Well, if the diner holds the key to the universe’s infinite mysteries you’re set for life.  If not…”


Spike strolled a circuit of the garden.

“What’s happening?” Toby asked, nervously as the show of bravado slipped.

“Inside?  Your brother’s talking to Xander, Xander’s passing what he says on to your mum, and your mum’s no doubt bawling her eyes out and enjoying every minute of it.”


“Not in a Man U doing the double kind of way, but she’s in touch with the boy she thought she’d lost forever, course she’s enjoying it.”

“How does she know it’s really him?  That guy could be making stuff up.”

“That guy’s got a name,” Spike said coolly, and Toby shrugged.  Xander doesn’t know anything about your brother.  He’ll just repeat what the kid tells him and then it’s up to Chrissie to judge whether it’s really her son.”

Xander could have asked around.”

“Why?  You’re a pair of nothings, what’s to gain?”  Spike liked the gleam of anger he saw in the boy’s eyes at that, it was far better than the impotent sulking.  “That’s it, get pissed off with me, might get you past the self-pity.”


Another circuit of the garden after the boy became resentfully quiet, but that seemed to have passed by the time Spike returned.

“What are you?  His manager?”

“Something like that.”

“Can you do this stuff?”

“No, and I wouldn’t want to.”


“’Cause…  It isn’t fun.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes, all the time,” Spike lied without compunction.  “Xander suffers for this, suffers the dead to help the living.  The spirits that talk to him…  He experiences the way they died, it could kill him any second.”

“Really?” Toby asked, wide-eyed with horror.

“Yeah,” Spike assured him, warming to this fabrication.  “Every time he does this he’s risking himself, but does it stop him?  Nah, not Xander.  Bloody hero, he is, ready to drop dead to help the likes of your mum.  The likes of you.”

“We should stop him then, maybe, before…before…”

“How did your brother die?”

The stroppy teenager turned into a grief-stricken boy before Spike’s eyes, posture weakening, despair undisguised by the head dropping forward.

Wayne drowned,” came the answer in a thin, shaky voice.

Spike recalled Xander saying there was something not right about the child’s death.  It begged the question…

“Drowned, or was drowned?”

The sound of strangled emotion accompanied Toby jumping from the swing and running off and, having managed to thoroughly upset the boy, Spike considered going after him but basically couldn’t find it in himself to give a toss.  Instead he lapped the garden a few more times before quietly re-entering the house.

He paused in the doorway of the living room; the reading had apparently come to a halt and Xander was sitting on the edge of the sofa, holding Chrissie’s hand and talking in low, comforting tones about the spirit’s messages.  She seemed inconsolable.  Spike revised his thinking: perhaps enjoy was ever so slightly the wrong term.

Despite having had years to get accustomed to the idea, Spike still hated being useful.  Useful.  It rubbed the wrong way against every fibre of his demonic being.  But a glance and gesture from Xander and he found himself in the kitchen, making tea, being useful.

“I’m not your bloody tea wallah,” he snapped the moment that Xander joined him.

“Keep your voice down.”

Spike growled and Xander held up his hands in a placating stance.

“Oh, come on then,” Spike demanded at the sight of Xander’s uneasy expression, “this is going to be good.”


“Don’t take the piss.”

“Er…yeah.  Thing is…  Chrissie has asked us to stay here for a couple of days.”

“How did she convey that?  Draw it on the carpet in snot?”

“I said we would.”

“You fucking what!”

Spike,” Xander hissed, “shut up.”



Spike seized Xander by the elbow and swiftly manoeuvred him through the house, barely leaving him time for a ‘Just collecting our stuff’ to Chrissie as he was hustled past.


“Get in the car,” Spike ordered once they were outside.

“I’m not leaving.”

“We can talk privately in there.”

Xander popped the locks and they climbed inside the Mustang, Spike with an energised sense of purpose, Xander with reluctance that exuded from every pore.

“You speak to Toby?”

“Don’t try to change the subject.  We can’t stay here, we don’t know these people…”

“It’s about as low profile as we can get.”

“Until there’s talk of the strangers staying with the diner’s waitress and they’re there because one of them talks to the dead.”

“That’s not…”

“It is going to happen, small place like this where everyone knows everyone else’s business.  And what about the brat?  He certainly doesn’t want you here.”

“Maybe, when he understands…”

He doesn’t want you here.”

“Chrissie feels all alone in this.  Her husband—  She says he works someplace away from here but I think he’s gone, so it’s just her and Toby, and she can’t lean on him, he’s just a kid, and she’s suffering so much.”

“You can’t put everyone right.”

“I’ll tell you what I couldn’t tell her,” Xander continued, unconsciously lowering his voice.  “She knows he drowned and the circumstances were odd.  What she doesn’t know is that he was deliberately held under.  Nine-years-old, an innocent, and he was murdered.”

“I’m not entirely without compassion, Xander, I can understand why that’s difficult for you to come to terms with.”

“This isn’t about me.”

“It shouldn’t be, that’s right.  How d’you know that the person who killed the boy isn’t going to bump you off too if it looks like you know too much?”

“I don’t know.  But what I do know is that Chrissie needs my help.  This family needs my help.  They need to understand what happened to their son and brother so they can move on.”

“An accident becomes a murder, and you think they’ll move on from that more easily?”

“They will when we find the person responsible and he’s brought to justice.”

“It’s probably some vagrant, passed through and long gone.”

“If that’s true they still need to know.  The authorities need to know to stop the guy hurting someone else.”

“If you don’t care about the risk to you, what about the risk to everything if the murderer chucks you in the same river and…”

“Pool.  It was the pool, it’s…”  Xander gestured through the windscreen to their right.

“Stop missing the point!”

“This is the point.  I’m staying, we’re figuring out what happened, and if there’s a risk…  I’m trusting you to keep me safe.”

Xander held up the thumb and forefinger: the inch-and-a-half gap became two.  Spike slapped the hand down.

“Your argument: me and daylight.  You go out in daylight, this bloke catches up with you, you’re dead.  Then what do I do?”

“Umm…  Find a medium so I can tell you who it was.”

“Is this where I get to hit you again?”

“I’m sorry you’re mad at me, but…”

“Not sorry enough.”

“No.”  Xander gave him a broad smile and shrugged.  “We’ll be okay.  You told me you’d keep me safe, that I could trust you.  Why would you lie?”

Xander left the car and collected their belongings from the trunk.  On the way back to the house he paused in conversation with, presumably Wayne, looking off in the direction of the pool.  Two steps on that course and Spike was out of the car and frogmarching him into the relative safety of Chrissie’s home, finding the woman herself waiting for them with tea and sandwiches.

“I thought you could stay in Wayne’s room,” she told Xander after they’d eaten.  “Is that okay?  Does that help or hinder what you do?”

“That’ll help, somewhere familiar to him.  Is there space for Spike in there?”

“There’s a guest room…”

“I really need Spike to be with me.”  The entirely wrong penny dropped and Chrissie blushed furiously.  “We’re not…  I didn’t mean…”  Xander couldn’t help the giggles.  “No, it’s just that Spike has this effect on the spirits, keeps them quiet so I can sleep.  If I’m going to get any rest I need him close by.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Chrissie smiled, embarrassed by her previous embarrassment, and Xander started giggling again.

“I’m not that bad a prospect,” Spike protested.

The giggles broke into laughter.

“There’s a mattress that I can put on the floor next to Wayne’s bed, will that suit you?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Spike said as he frowned at Xander.  “He’s hysterical.  Which is handy as I do seem to have this irresistible urge to give him a slap right now.”

“No, no, no!  I’m fine, not laughing at that, not…laughing.  At all.”

Good as his word, Xander managed to stop, even if it was a stop full of contorted features and bitten lips.

“Probably just the tension lifting,” Spike explained reasonably to Chrissie, and Xander guffawed.

“Yes,” he agreed as he wiped his eye.  “It is that actually.  Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Chrissie told him, “it’s wonderful to hear laughter in this house again.”

A nice sentiment to end the night on, and Spike herded Xander upstairs and left him to experience Wayne’s personal space in solitary splendour for as long as it took to bring the mattress from the spare room.  Spike dropped it alongside the bed Xander was sat on.

“That be all right?”

“Maybe you should put it…”

Xander pointed to a space along the far wall.

“What help will I be to you over there?”

“We don’t want Chrissie thinking we’re doing anything…y’know…in here.  It’s her son’s room.”

“I think she got the message loud and clear.”

“Yeah, but…  Can we try it this way?”

“You won’t sleep.”

“I’m not that tired, and I’m used to…”

“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Spike muttered before turning to take the bedclothes for the mattress from Chrissie as she came in with a bundle.

“It’s a nice room,” Xander said with a smile.  “He was…  The contentment he felt is still here, in the residual energy.”

“He was a very happy little boy.”

“Unlike that one,” Spike muttered from where he was staring out of the window.

Seconds later a door slammed downstairs and both men saw Chrissie steel herself for the conversation she was about to have with her remaining son.

“Please, if you need anything, just call.”

“Thanks.  We’ll be fine.”

A round of good nights and Chrissie left them.

“He’ll give her a hard time.”

“Maybe,” Xander conceded, although he knew Spike was right, and it wasn’t long before they were aware of raised voices as mother and son quarrelled over the night’s arrangements.

Xander shook his head and hummed to distract himself as he moved the mattress and got to work with the sheets and blankets, Spike joining in with tunes he recognised as he snooped in cupboards and drawers.

“You care which you have?” Xander asked.

Spike gestured to the mattress rather than the bed.  Back to humming, Xander kicked Spike’s duffle out of the way and went through his own bag for his toiletries, starting to leave for the bathroom but hesitating at the door.

“What?” Spike asked.

“I don’t want to walk into family warfare.”

“Not your problem.  Not if you believe you were right to stay,” Spike finished provocatively, ensuring that Xander was out of the room in seconds.


Spike was in bed by the time Xander returned, and he breathed in the sweet scents of toothpaste and soap, studied the shaved face and combed hair.

“Why the effort before you hit the sack?”

Xander stopped and thought, questioning his routine.  Smiled affectionately at the memory.

“Force of habit.  Still.  Due to a long time of having an Anya.  Had to smell good, taste minty fresh, and if a single bristle scraped…”

Unfortunately the memory had advanced to include the room’s other occupant, and so much for the care Xander had taken time and again when all Spike had to do was wallow in self-pity, stink of booze and tip the woman in question onto a magic shop tabletop.  Xander returned to his bag, rifling through until he found a well-worn paperback book with a pen tucked inside; onto the bed, and he found and pored over a page, staring at it blindly in his annoyance for a while before his interest was genuinely gripped and he started writing in fits and starts, either on the body of the page or scribbling what looked like figures in the margin.

“What’s that?” Spike asked, seeing Xander’s jaw clench before he made the effort to let the plethora of negative emotions go, and rather admiring him for being able to manage it.

“It’s a puzzle book.  Numbers, logic, that kind of thing.  Not words, I’m no good at crosswords, I get one word stuck in my head and I can’t think of any others, so Doug…”

“Doug again?”

“He gave me this.  It’s hard work, it forces me to concentrate, almost to the point of cutting out the voices.”

“No almost if you let me move this mattress over there.”

Xander gave Spike a long, cold, perfectly eloquent fuck-off-and-die look before returning to his puzzle; the vampire pseudo-nonchalantly turned his back and settled down to rest, or at least to attempt the illusion of rest as his mind relentlessly followed the monotonous, scratchy sounds of ballpoint on paper.  Spike didn’t want to dwell on yet another mistaken assumption about the man, but he was prepared to concede that assuming Xander was managing to let all the negative emotions go might prove to be…a little…premature.





Chapter 6 Comfort

It was the sound of bare feet pacing, floorboards, rug, floorboards, rug that woke Spike.  The low muttering should have done the trick but Spike guessed that it had been a continual murmur for so long his sleeping self had become used to it.


“It’s okay, go to sleep, go back to sleep, I’m…I’m…”  Xander’s voice cracked and the pacing took on a new urgency.  “Go to sleep, I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay…”

“What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.  Wayne, maybe, trying…  Not Wayne, no, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t have the strength to…  Oh, God, my head’s gonna…  One day I’ll be mad with this, something inside my head will shatter and…”




“No.  No.  I…  No.”

Spike leaned up and watch the fraught man pace some more.  Xander’s arms came up and wound around his head, as if somehow he could protect himself, block out the constant barrage.  The distress on the young man’s face screamed of how unsuccessful that approach was.

“Xander, c’mere, I’ll help you.”

Don’t do that.”

“No hidden agenda, Pet, just want to…”

“Makes me weak.  Don’t make me weak, I can’t…  Fucking hell, I can’t do this, I’m not good enough, I can’t do this.”

The voice broke apart again and Spike could see how hard Xander was shaking.

“Can’t do it alone, perhaps?” Spike suggested, lowering his tone to sound inoffensive, appealing even.  “Let me help you?”

“Getting the job done?” Xander asked with a bitter laugh that threatened to turn into a sob.  “Can’t do it, can’t focus, no focus…”


“Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.”  Pacing.  “It’s not Wayne, it’s…  Not normal.  This is—  I’m not normal, not even for a freak, not if…”

“Shh.  Want to wake up Chrissie?  That brat of hers?”

“I don’t care.  No, I do care.  I do.  If it would stop, for a minute, one minute, if I could…I could…”

The pacing had become fast and erratic, bringing Xander close enough to Spike that, when he stumbled over the edge of the rug and almost crashed to the floor, Spike was able to grab his wrist and pull him onto the mattress, overcoming the automatic struggle for freedom and tugging Xander close, forcing him still for as long as it took him to notice that the voices had been silenced by the demon.

The effort to escape abruptly became the effort to be closer, Xander mindlessly seeking the peace that Spike brought him, wanting rather than resenting the gentle, calming strokes that ran over his neck and shoulders, down the twitching muscles of his gradually unclenching back, needing the shushing and wordless noises of comfort that took the place of the racket that had seemed quite determined to send him insane.

The result was inevitable, Spike supposed; hot body squirming against him in the darkness, reminiscent of so many moments – memories – he’d attempted, sometimes pretended, to shun, and there didn’t seem so much difference between squirming to be close and squirming to get away, not when a vampire who is multiple times stronger has his arms around a human who is really not going anywhere.  The thin cotton sheet and equally thin cotton boxers that separated them may as well have not been there; Spike’s body responded to the stimulus and he was hard in seconds: vampire hard, vampire fast.

Spike didn’t care, he was actually enjoying the contact, but he knew Xander would feel betrayed and repulsed, certainly wouldn’t react favourably in any shape or form and…  Fuck me, yes!  …the man was getting hard in response, still pressing closer, hands wriggling out to grab and hold, pushing past the sheet and onto cool, bare flesh that was kneaded and clawed at.

Too dark for Xander to see who he was clinging to, the man was driven to distraction and very possibly not in control of his actions; it was up to Spike to put a stop to this.

No stopping then.

The medium’s nonsensical rambling stuttered to a halt, but the shuddering breaths continued as Spike moved for the first time, rubbing his erection against Xander’s.

“Steal you back from the ghosts, shall I?” Spike crooned, nuzzling Xander’s cheek and grinning against the skin as he waited for Xander to freak out at his mindless participation in anything other than the quest for peace and comfort.

Spike felt the change as he dragged his cock over Xander’s, the good in him relishing being able to turn the man’s anguish to pleasure, the wicked streak simply wallowing in the eroticism of a fresh and unlikely fuck.  There were probably several hundred comments he wanted to make, from teasing to downright pornographic, but Spike reluctantly kept quiet: there was always the chance that this encounter might come to an abrupt end – and not of the satisfactory variety – if he reminded Xander who was methodically working their bodies together.  Even so, Xander leaned back, turning his face away, and for a split second Spike was enraged to think it was over, but the rest of the still-trembling body stayed put, and Spike ran a hand down to the human’s hip and tightened his grip, determined that neither of them was going anywhere until this was done.

But Xander was apparently working to the same game plan.  The fingers that had been carving nail marks in Spike’s back made a hurried move to cup the most convenient buttock and grasped far more clumsily and harshly than Spike’s more controlled touch.  The vampire groaned at the show of urgency, delighting in the thought of bruises being left on his body, however fleetingly: physical proof of being desired.  Undeniable proof should Xander suffer a lapse in memory when this was over and start an unequal apportioning of blame.

Spike felt his features change, the rarely seen demon coming to the fore and thankfully concealed by the night; despite the presence of the soul, the urge to bite wasn’t easily suppressed, but the inner struggle added its own piquancy.  An absolute flurry of movement, relentless pursuit of release, and Spike abandoned the habits of a century and just let himself go, doubting that Xander would want more than this and therefore…  Trained.  I’m fucking trained.  Fucking women.  …not needing to make it last for hours.  This was more than a half-decent fuck, it was…liberation.

With a hearty moan Spike soared into his orgasm, aware of Xander joining him, the man stiffening and gasping, yet astonishingly silent except for the rigidly suppressed creak that very nearly escaped his throat.

Repercussions.  Spike knew there had to be repercussions.  For a moment he even considered the possibility of Xander coming to his senses and getting away from the situation – the vampire – as fast as possible.  Up, dressed, packed, into the car and on his way home without listening to a word of Spike’s…apologies.  Okay, he would apologise if Xander thought he’d taken advantage but he’d be damned if he apologised for the rest because – Spike smiled to himself quite genuinely – he had bruises.

Xander shifted, and Spike reluctantly removed his hand from the hip that fitted so nicely into it.  Surprisingly, no running away, just a turn and a fidget as Xander got comfortable, pushing himself back against Spike and finally relaxing when he felt a strong arm encircle his waist.

“Quiet,” Xander observed flatly, sounding quite exhausted.  “Quiet.”

“What happened?  You said it wasn’t normal.”

A quiet groan at the thought before Xander forced himself to answer.

“It was…everything I usually have, but…  More.  Amplified.  It’s…it’s the mental equivalent of standing beside a jackhammer.  Inside a ring of jackhammers.”

“Another way for that nasty to get at you, you think?”

“I don’t know.  Could just be me feeling out of control.  Panicking ‘cause I don’t have the usual people around me.  If I was panicking maybe it wasn’t as bad as…”

“It was bad, I could see that.”

“Don’t make excuses for me, I have to figure this out.”

“In the morning.”

“Yeah.  In the morning.”

Another subdued grumble as Xander leaned up, Spike barely resisting the urge to grab him and bring him back: surely he wouldn’t be daft enough to try spending the rest of the night alone?  Evidently not.  The leaning up was about reaching over to grab the blankets that Spike had discarded soon after getting into bed.  Xander covered their bodies and tucked them in before once more shuffling as close as possible to Spike.

Spike returned to stroking and fussing, whispering reassurances as Xander began to doze, the caresses to the dark hair giving way to fingertips being drawn over brow, nose, cheek, to the smooth, recently shaved jaw.  Lips.  Spike tickled Xander’s bottom lip and grinned when the tip of his tongue poked out to lick the irritation away.  A few more acclimatising touches and Xander was more asleep than awake, ignoring the fingers, even the one that gradually slid between his lips, scraping past teeth that parted for the intrusion, in, out of the sleek, moist heat, slowly and rhythmically.

Spike closed his eyes and simply…imagined.

More muttering.  Spike woke to the, by now, familiar sound of it, opening his eyes fractionally to see Xander pulling clothes onto a freshly showered body.

“I’ll do that,” Xander was saying as the words became discernable.  “I will do that, I just need to let Spike know, and…    Again.    No, I…  Help him.    Ah, okay.  Thank you, Saul.    I can find that.    No, that’s okay, I’m happy to.”

“Happy to what?” Spike asked suspiciously, making Xander jump.

The human turned to him and held up a quieting hand as he brought his conversation to a close.

“You rest now.    I’ll be there.”  As Xander listened his gaze travelled idly over Spike’s body, and the vampire went though the motions of a leisurely stretch, kicking back most of the covers and making a display of it.  “Okay.  Rest now.  Rest now.”

Seemingly impervious to Spike’s attempts at garnering a little interest, Xander sat on the end of the bed and started tugging on socks and boots.

“Where are you going?”

“I, um…”  Xander glanced over at Spike and shocked him with a friendly smile.  Wayne wants to show me where it happened, and I…”


“It won’t take long, the pool…”

“No.  Not if I can’t go with you to keep you safe.”

“I don’t need keeping safe.  This will just be a quick look around, and…  Anything feels wrong, or the uber-nasty shows up I’ll be back fast, that’s a promise.”

As Xander rose and headed for the door, Spike was up too, barring the way before the vampire was seen to move.  Now Xander refused to let his sight line drop below Spike’s chin.

“Don’t you ever feel the cold?”

“My job, we agreed, was to keep you safe.”

“And my job, my…vocation, isn’t about being safe, it’s about helping people, and I can’t do that if you smother me.”

“Don’t give me ideas, that pillow is perfect for it.”

Xander chuckled.

“I’ll be careful.  I may not be the person you expected when you showed up, but I haven’t forgotten what Sunnydale taught me.”

“There’s a killer out there somewhere, and if he gets the merest inkling of what you’re up to, knowing how to stake a vamp isn’t going to cut it.”

“Can we be totally honest here?  You want me for your job because I’m a convenience, I’m not fooling myself I’m anything more.  If something happens to me before the big day you can find another medium, however awkward some of the job description may be.  Something else I learned in Sunnydale?  I’m expendable.  How about neither of us try to pretend any different?”

With a sincere smile, Xander moved an unresisting Spike aside and left the room.  Amazing how those words stung: one expendable to another, Spike supposed.  If they’d been delivered in anything other than that reasonable tone they may have been easier to brush off or argue against, but Xander knew exactly what he was talking about.  And, amazingly, he didn’t seem to mind.

It made Spike twice as determined to get the man through this in one piece, and he rather liked that there were aspects of Xander that brought out the best in him.  Liked and resented, naturally.

To make up for his admiration of Xander he did his best to find and steal the stereo, but he’d apparently been outsmarted there.  He picked up the puzzle book from the floor and studied the page it fell open at.  He’d been expecting…he wasn’t sure what – join the dots, he uncharitably smirked – but this was complicated stuff, and he could see from the amount of scribbled notes and calculations around the edges of the page that Xander wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t find it easy,  But Xander had persisted and was halfway through the book, discounting the few unfinished puzzles that had been scribbled into oblivion, evidently in frustration when Xander gave up on ever finding the solution.  Spike turned to the front page.  MENSA.  Spike sighed and shook his head, pissed off to discover yet another way in which he’d underestimated his companion, and this was something – someone – he should have remembered: the Xander Harris that accepted tackling the impossible as a reasonable option.  Douglas obviously understood Xander very well, and look at the bloody inscription:

“‘To keep my dear Padawan occupied’,” Spike sneeringly read aloud.  “‘With great affection, Obi-Doug.’”

Spike was beginning to hate Douglas.

Xander had returned after a couple of hours, quite safely, and they’d found a note from Chrissie under a fridge magnet telling them that she had changed to day shifts, they should help themselves, and she’d see them later.  Spike rolled his eyes at the ridiculously trusting nature of the woman, lecturing her in her absence while Xander made them sandwiches for lunch, deep in thought over what he had and hadn’t discovered.

Toby, Spike confirmed after a moment’s listening for an extra heartbeat, was in the house, which left Xander reluctant to talk about the circumstances surrounding Wayne’s death, not wanting them to be interrupted and the boy’s brother to be alarmed or upset by anything he overheard.

“The front of the house is in the shadow of the trees.  I’ll move the car into the shade and we can go sit in there and talk about it,” Xander told Spike firmly when the vampire tried to extract some details.

“Very unsuspicious.  It’ll look like we’re staking the place out.”

“No-one’s going to notice, the road outside doesn’t really go anywhere, I doubt anyone much passes by in the winter.”

Doesn’t really?

“It just goes up to a picnic area and lake.  We need to check that out ‘cause someone could have got to the pool from there.  I want to feel if there are any emanations.”  Xander noticed Spike’s smile.  “What?”

“You.  Emanations.”  Xander looked a question.  “The new edition Xander Harris takes some getting used to.”

“We don’t have to talk about any of this if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“Not uncomfortable, almost…excited.  You talk emanations and I get a bit of a tingle.  Least…I think that’s the emanations,” he said leadingly.

The blush that swept over Xander’s face confirmed that Spike had hit the intended target, and there was a tense moment of expectation that was far more than almost exciting.  But no anger from Xander, despite the blush no coyness, apparently not even regret.

“Spike, what happened…  Was that okay?  I didn’t mean it to happen, I don’t know how it did, and you didn’t say to stop, but I wouldn’t want to assume…”

“It was okay,” Spike assured, baffled by the fact that Xander obviously thought he had started it, but quite willing to let that version stand.  Really okay.”

“I think I know why I was so troubled last night,” Xander told him, ignoring the insinuation.  “I have a routine that prepares me for a reading or a meeting.  I always give myself time, if not to fully meditate, then to be quiet and focus properly, attune myself to the energy around me.  I came into this not calm, not ready, completely stressed by everything that’s happened over the last few days.  So, my fault.  Not the uber-nasty, my own shoddy preparation.”

“No more jackhammering voices of a night then?”

“I can’t promise anything, that’s part of my problem.  Y’know…”

“If you tell me one more time to find someone else…”  Spike pause, stumped for a suitable threat.  “Actually, I don’t know what I’d do because you’re right what you said earlier: you are convenient.  That severely cuts down my scope for intimidation.”

Xander snickered.

“I’m going to spend some time alone this afternoon before Chrissie gets home, do what I should have done yesterday before the reading.  You can spend the time figuring out tortures for me that won’t offend the soul or screw with my efficiency.”

“Or…” Spike began in a sultry voice as he sidled a little closer.  “We could go to bed and carry on where we left off.”  Xander looked mortified, and Spike sat back, rubbing his hands gleefully.  “No objection from the soul, even to that agonised look on your face.”

“Wait, wait, wait.  Sexual innuendo as torture?  After Anya – undisputed queen of verbal blunt force trauma – you’re an amateur.”

At Xander’s dismissive snort, Spike quickly slid into the vacant chair beside him, arm around the broad shoulders before Xander could get away.  The seductive voice returned, and it brought a set of fingertips with it that trailed down Xander’s neck, barely touching but raising goosebumps nevertheless.

“Think you misunderstood, Pet.  Not just innuendo.”  A single fingertip rested on the pulse point.  “Now, tell me…”  The accent snapped to coarse, overemphasised cockney.  “She ever strap one on and give it to you?”

Xander slapped a hand over Spike’s mouth.

“Fuck.  Off.”

“That a yes or a no?” came the mumbled response.

As the giggles started Spike’s tongue squirmed wetly against Xander’s palm and he snatched his hand back, ewwing and wiping it on Spike’s t-shirted chest.

“Does my mom know about you two?” came a disgusted voice from the doorway.

“Us two?” Xander replied blankly as Toby took the long way around the kitchen to the fridge, simply to avoid passing closely by them.

“Course she does,” Spike smiled, catching on at once, rising and stalking the boy.  “She thought while we were here we could initiate you, introduce you to the joys of unrestrained arse banditry.  We’re just waiting for her cheque to clear, then we’ll toss a coin, and the loser will get to pop your painfully uptight cherry.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” Xander chuckled as he watched Spike intimidate the hulking thing that passed for a boy in these parts.  “We’re just…  Damn, what are we, Spike?  Friends would be an exaggeration.”

“Kin.  Care of Sunnydale.”

Toby was now reversing around the table, having become suddenly convinced that Xander was a safe bet if he needed protection from the man who was pursuing him with slow but frightening intensity, the last few minutes having taught him more about watching what he said than years of reprimands from his mother ever had.  Spike finally herded Toby to where he wanted him, and the boy squeaked as he fell back into the chair Spike had recently vacated.

“Leave him alone, Spike.”

Spike took a few more intimidating steps, bowing and almost nose-to-nose with Toby before giving an intimidatingly depraved grin.

“Okay, Love, anything for you,” he told Xander in a very sexy voice, then spun quickly away.

“Word of advice,” Xander told Toby with faux gravity.  Never taunt the animals.”

Trudging through the cold and dark, they checked out the picnic area that was on the other side of the trees that bordered Chrissie’s house, then started to walk the shore of the lake.

“Picking up anything?” Spike called to Xander who was twenty yards ahead of him.

“Nothing so far, nothing that matters,” Xander called back.  “I think we should turn around.  Going through to the pool would be a better idea.  Did you pick up the flashlight from the car?  The path is hard enough to walk when the sun’s up, moonlight won’t be enough.  Not for me, anyway.”

“Yeah, I’ve…”  Spike growled disapprovingly.  “We’re going like this?  All the way?”

“We can get closer, you know that, but this is good.  And it can’t be helped, not if I want to be receptive.  I can go by myself if…”

“This’ll do.”

Xander skirted around Spike, maintaining the excessive distance, and headed for the overgrown pathway he’d found earlier that day, the one that connected what should have been perfectly safe land where the boys played, to this public ground.

“Chrissie seemed a bit better tonight,” Spike observed as he narrowed the gap a little.  “Not so overwrought.”

“It happens that way sometimes.  She’s found out that she hasn’t lost her son entirely, and every contact makes her stronger.  I barely told her anything new today, nothing about his death, he just wanted to talk about his favourite toys, but that was enough.  It’s often the little details that makes a person…makes a person…”


“Uh…  Stay there.”

Spike watched as Xander came to a halt and concentrated, increasingly fascinated by the twitching fingers that beckoned the spirits closer.

“Is it to do with Wayne?”

“No, wait.  Wait, Spike.”  Xander listened a while longer before literally bouncing on the spot in satisfaction at a firm and deliberate connection.  “Okay.    Again?  Edward?  No.  Again?    Ed…mund.  Edmund.  Edmund.    Okay.  Armit…Armitage, got that.  Edmund Armitage.    Yes, I can…  Who?    Oh, I…  Oh.”  Xander slowly rotated to face Spike, seeing the vampire’s shell-shocked expression and wishing he’d listened to more of the message before speaking aloud.  “William Armitage?” he asked apologetically, and Spike swallowed hard, nodded unsteadily when he finally remembered how to.  “You want to hear any of this?”  A more immediate reaction now as Spike firmly shook his head.  “Okay.  I’ll get Saul and Jesse to help him move on.”

“He’s here?”

Spike’s voice was disturbingly weak, and for a moment Xander considered lying but he knew Spike would see straight though any attempt to convince him that his otherworldly helpers had somehow acted in super-quick time to rid him of the contact.

“He is.”

“I’d love to see him,” Spike said shakily.  “See him, have him here, real, get my hands around his fucking neck…”  Xander twitched uncomfortably and Spike took a few steps forward.  “What?  What did he say?”

“He didn’t say.  But…  I saw…”

Xander refused to reveal more but Spike waited a full minute before accepting that sentence was at an end.

“What did you see?”

“You.  Then.  Through his eyes.  In life he wasn’t…”  Xander fought down the sympathy, not wanting Spike to misinterpret it as pity.  “A kind man.”

Spike hated the idea of Xander being one more person to be intimidated by his git of a father; he began to march toward the medium, strong now, back in control.

“Don’t look so worried, I’m not about to take it out on you.”

The spirits fled as the demon approached, Edmund slow to disappear but gone by the time Spike reached out and put his hands on Xander’s shoulders.  Squeezed.

“It was his neck you wanted to get your hands around, wasn’t it?”

Spike laughed lightly and shook his head in belated disbelief.

“What a shock,” he stated rather obviously, running his hands over Xander’s upper arms.

“I must be about the last person you’d want to know any of this.  I don’t have a choice, but I…”

“I don’t mind you knowing,” Spike said too brightly, a glaringly false show of not being bothered.  “What then?  What did he show you?”

“You don’t need me to tell you.”

“I do.”  And here came the honesty, the pain.  “I’ll always be wondering if you don’t.  Every time you look at me I’ll be wondering what you’re thinking.”

“I look at you and think Spike.  This, here, you, Spike.”

Spike’s hands dropped to Xander’s; he entwined their fingers and brought the knot of digits up between them.

“Strong hands you have.  Always a worker’s hands.”

“Yeah.  I still do some carpentry.  Raise a few extra dollars for the chapel.”

“Strong.  You’d—  Never lift them to a kid, would you?”

Xander’s fingers tightened around Spike’s.


“Saw him trying to beat the child out of me, didn’t you?”

“Belt.  He had a belt.”

“Doubt he knew any better.  Just wanted to be rid of his namby-pamby milksop of a son, wanted someone to be proud of, another barrister in the family.  Papa’s footsteps, and I couldn’t follow.  Fine, upstanding gentleman he was, no-one would dream to question why his boy could barely walk some days, brutality being the prerogative of the working classes, not…  He just wanted rid of the weakness, and thought if he hit William that bit harder, beat William, beat…me…”  Spike finally looked directly at Xander, eyes glittering wetly in the moonlight.  “Why does it still hurt?”

“Because he betrayed you.”


“Yes.  What he did was wrong, it was cruel, it was a betrayal of you, and of everything a good father should be.  You had the right to expect not to be hurt by him.”

“He really wouldn’t have known any better.”

“Don’t make excuses for him.”

“Am I?”

“Kids do.”

“I’m not a kid anymore.”

“Yes, you are.  You’re his kid.”

“I’m a vampire.”

“Okay, you’re his scary, blood-sucking kid.”

“You’re not scared of me, are you?” Spike frowned, suddenly acutely aware that he was still clutching Xander’s fingers.

“I, um…  A little.”

“I don’t want that.”

“It’s just the tiniest bit of precautionary fear.  I think it’s healthy.”

Spike looked down at their hands; Xander’s gaze followed.

“What did he want to say?”

“We didn’t get that far.”

“He just wanted to show you his technique with a buckle, did he?” Spike demanded with a humourless laugh.

“Spike…  That may have been his way of showing me what he had to apologise for.  A lot of spirits come through to acknowledge that what they did in life was wrong, they come to say sorry.”

“You said he wasn’t a kind man.”

“The man he was showing me.”

“But you don’t know.”

Xander thought back, trying to pin down the exact impression he’d received from Edmund.

“I was shocked too, but…  I don’t remember hostility.”

“I’ll be kicking myself later for not taking the opportunity to tell him what I think of him.”

“He knows.”

“He does?”

“I betcha.”  The thought of that alone was quite therapeutic; Spike’s hands relaxed and Xander was able to wriggle his fingers loose, but made a split-second decision not to pull them free.  “You okay to go to the pool?”  Spike released Xander and dipped into his pocket for the flashlight.  “It may have been your mom that told him to come and put things right.”

“He shouldn’t be anywhere near her.  He should be in hell.”

“It’s not as simple as that.”

“I don’t want to hear that he’s been…  What?  Rehabilitated?” Spike ground out the word in disgust, and Xander thought it was time to drop the subject.  He took the offered flashlight and started toward the path.  “Xander?”


“You think she’ll come back?  My mum?”

Xander stopped and turned, an encouraging smile at the ready.  It faded at the sight of a master vampire’s tear-filled eyes.

“I do.  I can still feel the love she had for you, Spike.  William.  It isn’t always easy for them to get through, but if she finds the strength she’ll come back.”

Spike sniffed, nodded, waved Xander on.

Glad for the distance and the privacy that picking his way through the undergrowth allowed him, Xander thought about what he’d heard, seen, felt, and his heart ached for the child that Spike had been.  His own parents had been difficult to live with at times, but their constant arguments and sometimes neglect of him were nothing compared to knowing your father held you in enough contempt to want to eradicate the person you were, trying to mould your nature with a sharp leather belt.

He’d been left feeling quite nauseas by the contact and its consequences, and it was with great relief that he felt Wayne join him, excited by Xander’s presence and brimming with happiness despite the tragic end to his mortal life.

Ten minutes later the boy zipped ahead to the pool and Xander was left in relative quiet; his mind made up, Xander spoke to Saul and made an unprecedented request.

Find William Armitage’s mother.

Nothing remotely sinister during the walk through to the pool, words and images from Wayne when Xander arrived but no information that was of any help.  As they made their way back to the car the men automatically gravitated toward one another, sharing a few ideas and observations, but more preoccupied with their inner thoughts.  Still enjoying the novelty of the silence when Spike was near, Xander gradually narrowed the distance, close, closer, and finally to nothing by the time they reached the Mustang, shoulder-to-shoulder, and if he’d been bolder he would have gone so far as to hold onto the vampire’s arm, as he’d been allowed to do that one time as they walked home from the chapel.

Pausing beside the driver’s door, Xander stared into the murky distance as he thought about what next, startled out of his deliberations when Spike pressed up against his back, hands running up and down his arms once again, but slowly now; face nuzzling into windswept hair.



“I’m Xander,” he grinned.  “And you’ll really regret this when you get over the emotions that have been raked up tonight.”

“Why will I regret this?”

“’Cause…I’m Xander,” was repeated with a laugh.  “And we’re in public, and you’re…snuggling.”

The explosion of denial Xander was expecting never happened.

“So?  I like snuggling.  Rarely get the chance.”

“Yeah, I guess vampires aren’t renowned for it.  Bloodshed and mutilation, yes, canoodling in picnic areas…not in the Watcher diaries.”


“You stopping now?  Or do I call Giles and tell him to start a new chapter?”

“You mind then?”

“It’s not that I mind, I’m used to bereaved people acting out, but I think you’ll…”  Spike was away and around to the passenger side of the car so fast that Xander turned in a complete circle looking for him before their eyes met over the car’s roof.  “You mad at me for saying that?”

“No.  Don’t want to be reminded is all.”

“Okay.  I won’t do it again.”

Xander popped the car’s locks, and they climbed inside.

“Anywhere else you want to go?” Spike asked.

Xander glanced at the dashboard clock.

“Bar’s gonna be closed.”

“I was thinking more his school, or his friends’ houses.”

“I think all the answers are with Wayne.  He’s the only one who can tell us what we need to know.”

“Is it likely?  That he’ll tell us?”

“Possibly more than likely right now.”

“Back to Chrissie’s then?  I’ll stand back and you can have another crack at the ghost.”

“Or we could go back to Chrissie’s and grunt and groan outside Toby’s door,” Xander suggested with a wicked grin.

“Now you mention it…  You surprised me.  In fact…  I think I’m a bit disappointed.”

“Disappointed by…?”

“You.  I expected you to be loud.”

“You expected me to be…”  Mischievousness adroitly masked by an expression of mild interest, Spike watched Xander’s consternation as the penny dropped.  “You expected?  You…?  Since when have you been expecting?”

“Since you made your move.  Don’t worry, I haven’t been concealing a hankering for your arse since Sunnydale.”

“I didn’t make a move!  And…and…we’re in a stranger’s house, she’s in the next bedroom, her homophobic, us-hating son is across the hall, of course I’m going to be quiet.  And can anyone tell me why I’m explaining myself?”

“Well, yeah, there’s all that, but when I considered…”

“No, don’t consider, don’t go there at all.”

“Isn’t it a little late to be squeamish?”

“I don’t want to talk about this.  And I don’t want you considering anything.”

“You started it.”

“I did not!  Yes!  I did!  And I swear I don’t know how it happened.  I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, and I’d be eternally grateful if a bolt from the heavens would strike me down right now.”

“Waste of energy: a car’s the best place to survive a lightning strike.”

“I know.  But I’m prepared to step outside if you keep saying…”

“That I couldn’t resist you?”

“Stuff like that.”

“You were all…warm and…wriggling, I couldn’t help getting—”

“I was – I was…stressed out, badly stressed out.  I think…I tripped and fell onto the mattress with you, I wasn’t making a move, I was…”

“Joking aside, I do know that.  Made you all the more appealing.  If it’d been a move I’d’ve…”

“Let me get this straight.  You were turned on because I was suffering?”

“I was turned on because you were warm and wriggling.”

“But you said…”

“What I said was…  It wasn’t me being conned, it was you being honest.  That matters.”

“Yes.  Yes, I was being honest, but I still don’t know…”  Xander took a deep breath.  “I didn’t thank you.  For helping me, letting me sleep, not—  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I promise you I won’t…”

“Don’t tell me you won’t do it again.”

“You think I’d lie about that?”

“No, I like to live in hope.”

“You’re not serious?”

“It was nice.  Wasn’t it nice?”

“It was…  Oh, fuck, I can’t believe we’re having this conversation, just because…because…”

“Because I’d expected you to be noisy.  Maybe another time…”

“No.  No other time.”

“There’s a challenge: make a screamer of you.”

“I am not—”  Xander took another deep breath.  And yet more.  “Conversation’s finished.  We’ll go to back to the house, you’ll leave me in peace for a while, and I’ll meditate, and what happened last night won’t happen again.”

“You don’t want to share your emanations?” Spike teased.

“I don’t want to give in to the need to repeatedly punch you and then get very drunk.”

“Any chance there’s demon blood in you?  Shag, fight, bottle, it’s a classic.”

“We didn’t…!”  Xander lowered his voice.  “Shag.  We.  Did.  Not.”

“That’s right,” Spike agreed.  “Nothing to get worked up over.”

“I’m not getting worked up.”

“It barely even counted as sex, it was more about…relief.”


“Frottage as stress management.”

Xander dropped his face into his hands.

“I wonder if I could still whittle a stake.”

“Do we need a bad joke containing a stake metaphor here?”

“We really, really don’t.”

Seeing Xander having to hide from him, Spike felt a little guilty; he used a single finger to prise the nearest of Xander’s hands away from his face.

“I’m only playing.”

Both hands dropped into Xander’s lap.

“I should know that, shouldn’t I?  You’ve changed but you haven’t changed.”

“It’s not meant cruelly.”

“I get that.”

“You do?”

“Sure, you’ve…”  Xander chuckled wearily.  “Changed.”


As the Mustang pulled out of the picnic area Spike turned in his seat to study Xander’s profile as he drove.  It was a rare way to view the man and not be reminded of being too slow in a vineyard.  By the end of Sunnydale his ensouled self hadn’t minded Xander, and now…  It astonished him to realise quite how much he admired this version.

“Xander…  I didn’t like you being upset enough for it to happen, but…  It was nice.”

No reaction for a moment, then Xander gave what might have been the slightest, highly ambiguous nod.