Manifestation by Lazuli Kat



Chapter 7 Mr Convenience

Early morning, and Xander sat at the kitchen table, clutching a mug of coffee that he hadn’t  felt able to move to take a sip from in two hours, precariously balanced between despondency over the lack of any control he seemed to have over his abilities, and fear of being driven to a state of lunacy by the effects of them.

Exactly as he’d told Spike he would, he’d meditated, he’d been calm, the voices were at a bearable level, and he’d felt perfectly in control when he’d laid down to go to sleep in his own bed.  Too stubborn or proud, or something equally as futile under the circumstances, he’d dismissed Spike’s suggestions of sharing a bed, or even just moving the mattress (and himself) closer.  By four a.m. Xander was pacing and frantic, desperate for help and literally throwing himself at Spike the moment the vampire had even hinted at a renewed offer.

Okay, he usually had difficulty sleeping due to the constant stream of voices, but that was his life, that was normal.  Constantly tired was normal.  Right now…anything but normal.  Screaming, screaming, screaming, never resting for a moment.  Screaming.  Not normal.

So, exhausted, overwhelmed, and feeling quite hopeless.  Plus there were no words to describe this level of frustration.  Dread.  What if this doesn’t stop?  What if something about me has changed and it’s permanent?  Not about Dead Guy, nothing to do with Spike’s problem at all.  At this rate he’d be Spike’s problem.

Spike.  Spike was…peace.  How the fuck did he get to the point where Spike was peace?

And how did getting off for a second time with the peaceful dead help?  Can’t happen again.  So wrong to take advantage of him like that.  Can’t happen again.  But…Spike was peace.

The only peace, and rapidly being made inaccessible by Xander’s wholly inappropriate physical reaction to the unexpected kindness and soothing touches, to the proximity of a real and solid body.

Peace, and the comfort of someone to hold.  Comfort, yes.


They understood one another, it seemed, he and…  Spike.  How the fuck did he get to the point…

His phone was only inches away from his hand, tempting him to make one quick call home, the Colbergs, or Douglas: couple of questions, timely reassurance, where was the harm?

Funny you should ask that, he answered himself brusquely.  The harm, I decided at six this morning, is the killers of Dead Guy going after my friends rather than me.  If someone believes my friends have any information they might be in danger, but if they say they don’t know a thing and aren’t believed they might be in danger anyway, and maybe they already are and if I don’t go back they’ll be hurt or worse and…

So it went on.  Over.  And over.  And over.

Trying to ignore the fact that peace was a flight of stairs away.


“I don’t need Spike, I can do this, I can cope by myself,” Xander said aloud.  With a little help, to himself.  And as he tried for the nth time since dawn to reach out for that elusive help he was abruptly able to identify a major part of his problem, shocked that he’d been too preoccupied dealing with the disruption, the psychological trauma resulting from the massive volume of noise to notice the significance until now.  Help.  “Help?”

It wasn’t peace that Xander pursued now, but the only sounding board he had.  Up the stairs at a run, he raced into the room he was sharing with Spike and…came to an indecisive halt at the sight of the vampire’s still form, envious of the untroubled sleep and reluctant to disturb that coveted state.

But Spike was already waking, slowly and rather foggily because an automatic scenting proved the interruption to be Xander, and no threat; he dozily reached out for the human.

“Xander?” he muttered, and smiled as he felt the mattress dip with Xander’s weight.

“Hey, Spike.”

At the sound of Xander’s miserable voice, Spike was fully awake in an instant, eyes springing open and hand already reaching to rest consolingly on a bare forearm.

“Tell me.”

“What’s to tell?” Xander said with an insuppressible tremor in his voice.  “Bad night, couldn’t sleep, first because of the jackhammers, next because I felt so screwed up.  I was wrong about taking control, I can’t do that.  Meditation doesn’t work, all the lessons Doug taught me are useless, and…  Since I got up, it’s been so loud, in my head, like…like…  Imagine a hundred people shouting at you at once, amplified and amplified again, all somehow able to stand…”  Xander held his hands up, either side of his head, no more than two inches from each ear.  “Screaming.  Nothing makes sense.  Nothing.  I’m scared that I’m losing…  Fuck!  All I am.”

“Don’t panic, that won’t help.”

“Help, yes, that’s what I came to tell you.  I can’t get help.”

“Your guide?” Spike speculated.

“Saul and Jesse.  Whatever is happening here is pushing them away.  Jesse is gone, completely gone, and I can barely feel Saul, can’t hear a word he says, not clearly.”

“Is it me?  What I’ve got you into?” Spike frowned.

“That’d be easy, wouldn’t it?  To blame you for everything.  But I can’t do that, and not just because I should be able to stop the worst of this.  I made the decision to help you, I’m not being coerced, and I have to take the consequences, whatever happens.”

“Is there a chance,” Spike began tentatively, “that you’re doing this to yourself?  No, let me finish.  I know I don’t really understand any of this, but I’m wondering if you’re so scared of losing what you’ve got you’re somehow…overcompensating.  Opening yourself up to more.”

“I’ve been trying to stop the voices, not…”

“Any chance it could be…I d’know, a subconscious reaction?  It’s been a hard few days for you, maybe…”  Spike shrugged.  He also tried to fathom what was going on behind that glazed expression Xander now had on his face.  “What?” he asked when he couldn’t.

“Quiet,” Xander murmured, and his eye closed in blissful appreciation.

The hand still on Xander’s arm squeezed and gently tugged, Spike coaxing Xander to lay alongside him.

“Yes.  Quiet.  You relax now,” Spike suggested as he gave a few calming strokes to Xander’s stomach.  “I’ll shut the ghosts up for you.  You take it easy, have a bit of a nap, everything will seem easier when you’re not exhausted.”

“You think?”

“C’mon,” Spike smiled, “few of those deep breaths humanity seems to find so useful.”

“Just humanity?  I’ve noticed that you sure breathe a lot for someone who doesn’t have to breathe.”

“We all have bad habits.  If I turned you…”

“Can you not?”

“Turn you or speculate?”


“Deeeeep breath,” Spike encouraged with a grin; Xander almost smiled and absolutely obeyed.

Few breaths, peace and quiet, and the tension began to ebb, leaving Xander thinking that maybe Spike was right, that sleep and deal was the way forward.  New meditative mantra: sleep and deal.  Sleep and deal.  Sleep and

“Not happening,” Xander groaned.

“It will if you’re quiet.”

“Talk to me.”

“Bore you to sleep?  Got the wrong bloke here for that, you should have opted for Angel when you had the chance.”

“You trying to give me nightmares?”

“Talk to you.”  Spike considered.  “With you or at you?”

“Either,” Xander yawned.

Pause for thought.

“You know when we were talking yesterday, after…after my father showed up?”  Xander nodded.  “I said I wanted him to be in hell and you said it’s not that simple.”  Xander nodded again.  “Can you explain that?  ‘Cause I’ve always thought heaven or hell, not options.  When we spoke about the soul before you never mentioned options.”

“You sure about this?  You were pretty upset about Edmund not…”

“I want to understand.”  Xander drew breath to talk Spike out of this but Spike pressed on.  “Edmund is clearly not in hell.  How close was rehabilitation to the mark?”

“You’re not going to lose your temper if you hear something you don’t like?”

“Probably.  But like I said last night, no taking it out on you.”

Xander turned to face Spike; whatever reassurances the vampire gave him, he needed to see Spike’s expression so he could gauge exactly when to shut up.

“Anyone who passes into spirit damaged, or ill, or not right in any way is helped to become well.  If they’ve been bad they’re encouraged to see that and…”

“Back to sodding repentance, are we?”

“Sodding repentance can be a part of the healing process, yes.”

“Buffy went to heaven not hospital.  Heaven.”

“Buffy got what she needed and that’s what it’s all about.  Y’know the average person with an average life will get something…”

“Average?  There’s motivation to live as long as possible.”

“Tell you what: you snipe, I’ll sleep.”

Xander started to roll away but Spike caught him and tugged him back.

“Sorry.  Sorry, carry on.”

Xander paused, taking a moment to decide whether carrying on was worth the effort: this was a Spike he remembered well, stroppy and demanding, only hearing whatever was necessary to feed his acerbic comments.  But he also had that infuriating way of looking deeply interested if it suited him.  Like now.

“Sure?” Xander asked wearily.

“The average person…?”


“Wants what they’re familiar with, and they can have that, they can have the family members they’ve lost back with them, they can have their pets, they can have an eternity of – of…watching baseball.  Lying on the beach.  Or travelling the world seeing the wonders they’d missed out on seeing when they were alive.  Pick a heaven, every one is personal.  Wayne wanted to be with his grandparents on their farm, that’s where he is.”

“Everything’s hunky dory, no matter what kind of bastard you were in life?”

“Some of the worst characters get trapped here, on this plane, no eternal rest, just the constant reminder of everything they did wrong.  No peace.  Ever.”

If they give a toss.  I don’t believe every…what are we talking about?  War criminals?  Serial killers?  You can’t tell me that every one of them regrets their actions.”

“I wouldn’t try to.  They’re just people after all, and some people can’t ever be helped.”

“But no hell?  Fire and brimstone?”

“Hell dimensions, we know.  Hell, as such, for humans…not sure.  It may be that spirits in a human hell can’t contact mediums.  That would explain why I’ve never had contact with one of them.”

“It’d be a privilege, they wouldn’t be due privileges.”

“Yeah, see, that works.”  Xander gave Spike a sleepy, apologetic smile.  “I did warn you that I wasn’t sure about all this stuff.”

“Edmund…” Spike said thoughtfully.  “If the people around him knew how he’d behaved, and disapproved…  Edmund might have cared enough about their opinions to…reconsider his actions.”

“I’ve experienced instances when a person gets what they think they deserve, projecting themselves into a hell of their own design.  But they’re helped.  I get the impression that very few souls are beyond healing.  Even if it begins with the wrong motivation – and I don’t doubt that you know Edmund well enough to judge – it usually ends with the right results.  A lot of spirits come through to apologise for something they screwed up in their lives.”

Spike laid his fingertips on the back of Xander’s wrist, remaining motionless as he mulled over what they’d been discussing.

“We going to listen if he comes back?” he eventually asked in a quiet, guarded tone, more William than Spike, Xander imagined.

“I may not have any choice, but you do.  If you want to listen to what he has to say, then I promise you I’ll be as accurate as I can, even try to get something directly back to him if that’s what you need.  But the choice is yours.  William’s.”

William,” Spike snorted, before he switched to a mockery of his nineteenth century accent.  “Yes, Papa.  No, Papa.  Young Master Harris may allude to the choice being mine, but one cannot utter boo to a fucking goose.”

“Lucky you have Spike to speak for you.”

“Too bloody right!  And all I’ll have for him is…fuck off, Papa.”

“So.  You want me to tell you if he…”

“Don’t even give him that much consideration.  He turns up, you come to me and we’ll let the demon scare him away.”

“I’ll do that,” Xander yawned.  “Now, you mind if I…”

Xander closed his eye.

“‘Nother minute, that’s all.  Xander?”

Xander opened his eye.

“Yeah, still here.”

“William – the soul – will get what he wants.  But the demon will get what it deserves.  Real not projected hell, supposedly.  Even a demon like me who’s doing their best to fight the good fight.”

“Sorry.  I didn’t make the rules.  But at least William…”

“I’m not William, I’m Spike.  Not a truly bad man, not anymore, but I’m Spike and I’m damned.”

“You’ll carry on as…”

“Someone I don’t want to be?”

“The impression your mother gave me is that William was a fine person.”

“But it isn’t me.  I’m what the demon made me, what I made myself, I’m Spike.  What would be left if that was stripped away?  William Armitage with William the Bloody’s memories?  Or William Armitage with no memories of the life I’ve lived since I was turned?  Without those memories I wouldn’t be me at all, and I’m not talking about the blood and gore, I’m talking about the world around me, how I’ve seen it change, what I’ve learnt, observed, been a part of.  Thousands of experiences I…”  Spike stopped and sighed.  “That’d be it, wouldn’t it?  Losing all of Spike, good, bad and indifferent.  I’d be the William that died in that alley.”

“What about the memories since you got the soul back?”

“Yes,” Spike considered, “what about them?  Demon-tainted so they’re out too, I’d guess.”

“Maybe…  If you didn’t remember Spike you wouldn’t miss him.  That sounds cruel, I know, but…”

“I want to remember, and I’d settle for bad as well as good.”

“No, that’d be wrong.  Without the influence of the demon, some of the things you’ve done would be unbearable.  No demon and you – William - would be better off without the memories.”

“William knew bugger all about living, and everything I know will be lost.”

“Back to if you didn’t know you wouldn’t care.”

“But it isn’t right, it isn’t…fair.”

Xander raised an eyebrow at the demon who’d murdered uncountable humans whingeing about fairness, and Spike had the decency to look embarrassed.

“Where were you between Sunnydale and LA?  Do you remember?”

That quietened Spike for a while.  A deep frown lined his brow as he tried to recall anything about that time.

“In the amulet?” he eventually suggested in a less than confident tone.

“The amulet.  You mean…the bling that ate Sunnydale?”

“Didn’t you ever hear the full story?”


“Where did you think I’d turned up from then?”

“At the time?  Didn’t care.”

“Angel was sent the amulet and I popped out.”

“Like a genie?”

“Near enough.”

“Wow.  And…wow.”

“So that must have been where I was.  In the amulet.”

“You don’t remember…”

Spike was already shaking his head.

“For me, it was…turning to ash, and a minute later…un-turning.”

“Kinda screws with where I was going but…  Maybe it means that the Powers will intervene when you finally finally get dusted.”

“I’ll get to heaven?  Whole me?”

“It’s a theory.”

“When I came out of the amulet I was, effectively, a ghost, and there was a time when I was being dragged toward hell, I could feel what was waiting for me.  The threat was enough.  The reality…”  Spike shuddered.  “You asked me if I ever got scared and I don’t mind telling you I was terrified of that prospect.”

“That’s a while back now.”

“Yeah, but I’ve had a couple of near misses recently.  We’ve.  Me and Angel.  That’d really be hell, wouldn’t it?  Having to spend eternity with him.”

“Can we leave tearing Angel to shreds until I’m awake enough to enjoy it?”


“Though…  These must have been scarily near misses to fix your mind on all this.”

“They were…”  Spike’s expression fleetingly exposed more ghastly memories before he forced himself away from the past and toward the hopefully distant future.  “The Powers could send me to heaven, yeah?  And it’d be whatever I want it to be?  Could I…catch up with my mum?”


“Or sit in the sun?  I’d have decent beer, constant nooky, and …  Oh.”  The growing smile disintegrated.  “Does that mean I’d have to meet Edmund?”

“Only if you wanted to.  If it ever happens you won’t have to do anything or meet anyone unless…”

“You’re making this up, aren’t you?  It’s all too…perfect.”

“That, Spike, is why we call it heaven.”

Nothing further from Spike, and Xander began to seriously doze, rousing himself only to turn onto his other side, noticing that the vampire’s hand had not only come along for the ride, but brought the rest of its body for company.

“Comfort, huh?”

Spike pressed in close and tightened his grip.


It was with great trepidation that Xander crept from the Spike zone later, but his fears proved ungrounded.  Miraculously, it seemed, he was back to business as usual, low hum of voices, Saul’s reassuring presence.

“What happened?    All night, this morning, how could you not be aware?    That’s…creepy.  How come only I…”

“You’re as bad as those people who can’t read to themselves,” Spike interrupted as he sprawled out over the area Xander had recently vacated.  “I had a cousin who did that, constantly did that.  All the voices too, and it’s not like he had a talent for it, he completely ruined Dickens for me.  Can you imagine a Macawber who sounded like an English Barney Rubble?  It was worth being turned just to kill him.”  Spike stopped griping long enough to notice that Xander was leaving.  “Hang on, where are you off to?”

“I’m going back to the pool.”


“Because I think it will be productive.  You might have been right about me panicking and making things bad for myself, and you were absolutely right about catching up on some sleep, I feel great, rested, on top of my game, I want to exploit that.”

“Wait a few hours and I can go with you.”

“But going in daylight gives me a better feel of how it would have been for Wayne.”

Spike clicked into automatic protestation mode, hesitated, clicked out again.

“Get yourself killed,” he said with a dismissive wave.

“Thanks,” Xander grinned, delighted not to have yet another argument on the subject.

“If the next time I speak to you it’s via Douglas, my first words will be…”

“I told you so.  Yeah, I can imagine.  I’ll be careful.”

“Oi!  Mr Convenience!”  Spike called Xander back from the hallway.


“Be careful.”

“I said I’d be careful.”

“Yeah, but this is me telling you.  Be careful.”

“Are we being bugged?  Does Angel have to hear you say that or you get your ass kicked?”

“Piss off,” Spike grumped, and Xander smiled brightly in agreement, leaving at speed before Spike thought of new ways to delay him.

Spike rose and crossed to the window to watch him go, Xander’s exuberance plain to see as he bounded down the path that eventually led to the thicket that eventually led to the pool.  A movement caught the vampire’s peripheral vision and his head snapped around as he tried to determine the source.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Apparently.

He continued to study the immediate vicinity, grateful that the shade from the house’s eaves meant he could take his time without fear of ignition.  It didn’t take long to work out the best way to get to Xander should he need to: leave by the front rather than the back door, skirt the wall of the house, along by the chicken coop, then he’d be risking the daylight until he got to the shade of the trees.  If he was careful to avoid any stray sunbeams that managed to sneak through the canopy of branches, he should be able to get close enough to the pool to carry out a dash and grab if saving the human became necessary.

Shouldn’t become necessary, Spike knew, despite all his scaremongering.  But there were worse ways of spending his time than plotting to save Xander’s arse.  And, as he’d unfortunately noticed, as arses went, this was a rather nice one.

The walk to the pool was chilly and windy, and the rainfall during the morning had left the ground slippery and, in places, treacherous, but Xander enjoyed every step, skid and scramble of it.  No appearance by Wayne as yet, and that disappointed him a little, but he had Saul for company, plus, amidst the drone, various other distinct voices that appeared to have connections with people in the town; he was tempted to ask Chrissie if it would be possible to arrange a very low-key meeting for any interested locals, but the joint threat of the uber-nasty, and the predictable tirade of Spike’s single-minded objections was off-putting enough to get him past that questionable idea reasonably quickly.

The pool came into view and Xander experienced a surge of spiritual energy that stimulated all his psychic senses to a point where he felt like he was buzzing with the strength of his abilities.  Knowing this was going to be a successful encounter, Xander picked up speed, determined and excited and recalling earlier days when every contact, however vague, made him feel as energised.

Powerful impressions hit him as he finally arrived at the water’s edge; such a beautiful, tranquil spot, even today, protected from the worst of the blustery weather by the density of the surrounding trees and shrubs.  He made his way to the bench that was little more than a storm-broken branch hefted across two boulders, sat, and relaxed.  Dropped the few defences he had and opened his mind.  Smiled.  He could feel Wayne here, playing and laughing…  Safe, this should have been safe, it was always safe.  …but the thoughts of childish fun were rapidly usurped by echoes of the truth, the horror that would be imprinted on this idyllic spot forever: Xander felt Wayne, became Wayne, experiencing many days, not just the one that saw his death, confused and overlapping: the inner sensations of familiarity and fun being overwhelmed by insecurity and fear; playful splashing became a fight for survival, an innocent ducking…  Not so innocent.

Xander unconsciously gasped for air as he felt Wayne/himself sinking, feeling with sickening clarity the hand on his head, then the foot on his back, holding him under the pool’s surface.  He heard bubbles as the oxygen burst from him, choked as water rushed into his lungs.  Encountered…the beginnings of death.

Xander yanked himself out of the re-enactment, shaky from the vivid sensations and needlessly whooping in huge breaths, but recovering quickly and well, knowing he was in control.  In control: after the disturbed night, and morning brimful of despair, it was quite thrilling.  With Saul’s help he explored the residual energy for more information, and it wasn’t long before an invasive sensation of being spied on made his skin itch, causing tingles that ran up and down his spine; the feeling was so strong and persistent that Xander began to wonder if this was about now as well as then.

Possibly now rather than then?


Spike’s casually dismissed warnings about the killer rushed through his mind and left a smirking, vampiry ‘I told you so’ in their wake; as his heart began to pound, it was all Xander could do to fight the urge to look around, determined not to warn anyone hiding in the shade of the trees of his suspicions, taking time out from his investigations to force himself a little calmer.

On alert now, but belligerently determined not to be frightened away when he was working so well, he continued his reading of the area, careful not to outwardly react to any new revelation, and eventually, unhurriedly, pulling his cell phone from his pocket, pretending to make a call and clearly telling the imaginary recipient that there was…

“Nothing.  Chrissie is going to be so disappointed that there’s nothing more, but I can’t tell her what I don’t know.”

…and faking a few more sentences of mundane conversation before putting the phone away.

With defeated body language, Xander left the pool, listening hard and hearing a branch crack, but distantly; picking up speed, he hoped that meant whoever had been watching had been assured by his act that the killer’s name was not about to be revealed.  Always a chance he was about to be ambushed by someone who knew the short cuts, but Xander chose to concentrate on getting back to the house as fast and as safely as possible, and not scaring himself with scenarios that ended with him sharing Wayne’s fate.

One thing he pretty much knew: it was doubtful he’d ever be quite so happy to see Spike again.

Spike’s newest pastime: Xander watching.  He’d been studying him closely since he’d come back from the pool and, although the man had barely spoken a word, Spike was able to judge that something had either occurred, been revealed, or had troubled his charge enough to bring about a great deal of intense thought.

As Xander thought, and Spike watched, Chrissie returned from the diner and chattered on to the pair of them about her sons, home, work, life, not noticing that her audience was preoccupied, obviously just glad to have adults in the house to talk to for a change.  A decent, unremarkable woman who didn’t deserve what the fates had heaped upon her, Xander considered as he emerged from his deliberations in time to hear her suggestions for the evening meal.

“Is there a Chinese take-out in town?” he asked; Chrissie nodded.  “Great, that’ll save you cooking for us again.  Providing you like Chinese food,” Xander finished with a questioning look.

“I do, we both do, and we haven’t had any for such a long time.”

“Associations?” Xander asked reticently.

“Cost,” Chrissie countered.  “It’s an extravagance we do without.”

“Well, tonight, you be as extravagant as you like: Spike’s paying.”

“Is he?” Spike asked, switching on to the conversation at the mention of his name.

“He is.  Or his bos—”  Glare.  “Er…business partner is.”

“Oh, right, yes, whole menu, three times over if Angel’s paying.”

“I have their leaflet in the kitchen somewhere.  The prices will be out of date but it’s the same address.”

As Chrissie hurried off to search, Xander went into the hallway and called up the stairs.

“Toby!  Spike’s buying Chinese.  You want some?”  Xander dropped his voice.  “Or are you so full of shit there’s no room?”  He heard Spike’s snigger next door, a timely reminder of the vampire’s enhanced hearing.

Toby evidently didn’t loath their guests quite enough to pass up the chance of a free meal and was quick to join them and make a list of his preferred dishes; Chrissie’s face fell as he kept adding and adding, and when Xander asked for her choice she demurred, saying she’d share with her son, earning herself a filthy look from the boy.

“If you don’t pick, Spike really will buy everything,” Xander insisted, and Chrissie apologetically pointed out a couple of favourites.


Dangling the keys on one finger, Xander lured Spike out to the car before ceremoniously handing them over.

“You come with me to pick up the food,” Spike told him, glancing back at the house’s open front door.  “It’ll give us a chance to talk,”.

“You’re hardly the last of the romantics.”  Xander pressed his hand to his chest.  “I’m sure, deep in your heart, you don’t want your first time with the Mustang to be a threesome.”

“C’mon, get in.”


“You’re going to tell me what happened, Xander, you might as well accept that and spit it out.”  Xander just stood and stared, unsurprisingly stubborn.  “What went wrong?”

“Nothing, and I’d rather you didn’t assume I always fuck up.”

Another rapid look toward the house then Spike moved, grabbing the front of Xander’s shirt and pulling him close before he could back away.

“You know, don’t you?” he asked confidentially.  “What happened to the boy.  Who happened to the boy.”  More obstinate silence, and Spike’s grip loosened, fingers smoothing out the crumpled material.  New strategy: perhaps he could coax where he couldn’t threaten.  Still lightly stroking, he dropped his voice, filled it with concern.  “You’re an intelligent man, Xander, you don’t need me to tell you how much danger you could be in, keeping that kind of information to yourself.”

Xander’s hand flattened Spike’s, stopping the movement before patting patronisingly.

“Don’t forget the fortune cookies,” Xander told him with a strained smile, “and don’t forget…what’s a convenient lie for you is truth to me: I’m smarter than you think.”

“It wasn’t a lie.”

“It wasn’t the truth, and don’t make it worse by lying about that now.”

“All right, you’re an idiot and if you carry on like this you’re going to die.  Happy?”

A shout from the doorstep disturbed them mid-scowl.

“Hey, Spike!  Get soda.”

“Fuck off!”

“Ah, gross.  You two ever stop?”

Toby made obvious retching noises as he stomped back inside, leaving Xander and Spike to take a look at their proximity to one another.  Neither was particularly bothered: Xander’s mind insisted Spike-plus-close-equals-peace, circumstances be damned, and Spike…  Spike’s hand twisted beneath Xander’s and tangled their fingers, staring at the contact and once again pondering the strangeness of any kind of physical connection.

The sound of a fresh row came from the depths of the house as Chrissie objected to comments still being made by Toby, and Xander sighed and disentangled himself.

“We have to move back to the motel.  I refuse to be the cause of even more upset here.”

“Before we leave, Xander, promise you’ll let me remove his tongue via his arse.”

“Hardly low profile.”

“Let’s make an exception, eh?  I’d even give up heaven for the pleasure of dismantling his ribcage with a…”

“Whoa, whoa, enough.  I want to be able to keep the food down when you finally get it.”

Spike shut up, took the hint, at long last got into the car, and Xander cringed at the squealing of tyres as Spike drove away as only Spike could.

Seconds later Xander felt Wayne join him, and with the boy chattering in his ear, Xander made his way back inside to share more of his words with his mother.

After dinner Xander grit his teeth when Spike, having noticed the boy drooling over it on several occasions, offered to take Toby out for a spin in the Mustang.  Xander knew it was to give him what might well be the last chance to talk to Chrissie about Wayne, and also to explain that they were moving out and, as diplomatically as possible, why.  But he didn’t know if Toby was in more danger than his beloved car or vice versa, and Spike looked suspiciously pleased with himself when the boy leapt at the offer.

“Don’t let her talk you round,” Spike told Xander firmly before he left.

“I’ll do what I think best.”

“Every decision is yours, eh?”

“About this, yes, you know that.”

Spike looked at Xander in contemptuous disapproval before starting to walk toward the car and waiting teenager.  It was only seconds before Xander called him to a halt and hurried over, throwing his arms around him in a hug.

“What the…?”

“I may never get another chance to freak out Toby,” Xander explained quietly as he nuzzled Spike’s neck and sniggered.  “You have to see his face.”

Spike smiled wickedly and hugged Xander back.

“Now, Love, you’re making him jealous,” Spike said, perfectly audibly.  “You know he’s only so difficult ‘cause he fancies me.”

With a deep, deep sigh, Xander nodded and made a show of reluctantly letting the vampire go.  He glared at Toby, who was in turn staring with wide-eyed horror at Spike.

“Hey, you,” Xander snapped.  “Start groping Spike and you’ll have more than the spirits to be scared of.

Jaw flapping to accommodate words that wouldn’t come, Toby shook his head frantically from side to side, then it was back to staring at Spike as he approached and aimed the remote at the car, unlocking the doors.

“In you get, Pet.  I promise I’ll be gentle with you.”  The boy’s eyes flicked from Spike to car to Spike to car, and he evidently decided the Mustang was worth the risk, getting into the passenger’s side and sitting squashed against the door.  “Ready for his emergency exit,” Spike laughed as he turned back to Xander and, receiving a warm, open, connecting smile in return, abruptly wanted to abandon his plans to terrorise the boy with his particular brand of driving skills and stay here, close to Xander, giving him peace and protection.  The strength of his feelings caught him by surprise, and maybe some of this, any of it, showed on his face because Xander looked at him curiously before holding up a hand in a farewell gesture and backing toward the house.

Perturbed and confused, Spike climbed in beside Toby, slapping away the stocky hand that was prodding at buttons on the inactive stereo.

“Fuck off,” came the predictable response.  “You want me to tell my mom you been touching me?” Toby asked with an ugly grin as he turned his attention back to the player.

Spike snatched up the boy’s wrist and put on a little pressure, causing a gasp and a whimper.

“You can tell Mom anything you damn-well like,” Spike told him, eyes flickering to gold and back in a second, chuckling at the fear that transformed Toby’s face.  “Whether she believes you is a whole other matter.”

Xander listened for the screech of burning rubber as the car took off – possibly quite literally – and there may have been a hint of maniacal laughter in there too but, hey, Spike could make his own fun.

By the time an exceptionally smug Spike and a pale-faced Toby returned it was obvious that the evening had been tense and traumatic for both Xander and Chrissie.

“You look shattered, mate,” came involuntarily from Spike’s mouth as he laid worried eyes on his charge.  No way they were moving out tonight.  “Want to go up?”

“I’m okay.  Just a while longer.”

“C’mon, Xander.  You need a break.”

“I’m fine,” but the tone of Xander’s voice made it plain he wasn’t.

Spike treated them to one of his exasperated sighs, and Chrissie gave him a brief look of…  Spike couldn’t quite define it.  She seemed torn between highly grateful and seethingly resentful for the interruption.

“You understand that he needs his rest, don’t you?” Spike said pointedly, and Chrissie was too polite to do anything other than nod and offer bedtime drinks, which Spike refused on both their behalves, wanting to get Xander to their room and undisturbed as soon as possible.

Spike gently persuaded an almost-too-tired-to-protest Xander to his feet, and guided him to and up the stairs with a hand on the small of his back, a hand that felt suspiciously caring.

“Is he gonna die?” Toby asked with undisguised fascination as they passed.

“What?” Xander asked, bemused.

“You never know.  Best keep out of the way.”

Toby – reluctantly – kept out of the way.


Once they were alone Xander shrugged the hand away and turned on Spike, obviously unhappy.


“I’m not about to pass out, not this time.”


“So will you stop treating me as if I’m going to break?”

“I’m concerned, that’s all.”

“I know you have to get me wherever we’re going in one piece, but I can look out for myself, Spike, I’m certainly old enough to choose my own bedtime.  I don’t need anyone to nanny me, especially you.”

“Oh.  Offended now.  Why especially me?”

“Because I know how false it is.  And why is it offensive for me to be realistic about that?”

“Why is it false?”

“Oh, please.”

“No, spell it out.”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?  You’re…Spike.”

“Yeah.  This Spike, not Sunnydale Spike.  I’m a changed man, Xander, and you know it.  You can’t go through what I’ve been through…”

“Let’s forget it, huh?  I don’t want to fight, I just want to hit the sack.”

“’Cause you’re tired, I could see that, it’s why…”

Xander glared and Spike scowled.  And Xander gritted his teeth and smiled.  None of the warm, open, connecting now.

“Okay.  Thank you for your concern.”

“Now you’re taking the piss.”

“I am.  But it may get me into bed.”

Spike stalked over and Xander took a wary step back, yanked forward again by his shirt front before Spike began to undo buttons.

“Excuse me?” Xander said pointedly.

“Being nanny,” Spike grinned.

Thoughts of the Darling’s overprotective Nana in Peter Pan filled Xander’s thoughts and he gave in to an irresistible chuckle as he nudged the hands away, continuing with the buttons himself.

“Want to explain why Toby thought I was going to die?”

“I said that what you do could kill you at any time.”

“Why did you tell him that?”

“He thought you were some interfering git, in it for gain.  I just wanted to shock a little respect into the moronic twat.”

“I’m such a hero,” Xander laughed.  “Do I finally get top billing?”

Spike smiled and nonchalantly stripped off his own clothes, sliding into the bed and making it plain he was sharing with Xander tonight from the offset.  Xander thought about that as he undressed down to t and boxers, coming to the conclusion that the demon in his bed allowing him to sleep and nothing more was actually a better prospect than starting the night alone and joining Spike on the mattress later.  When Xander might possibly have had a few fraught hours and he was desperate enough for…things…to happen.

He thought about going to wash and shave, but Spike was right about that: why bother?  And he didn’t want it to seem as if he was making the effort for the vampire sharing his bed.  Without so much as a look at Spike, Xander got in alongside him, feeling the last of the more persistent spirits leave.

“Quiet,” came the usual murmur.

“Going to tell me?”

“Tell you?”

“Today, tonight.”

“I’ll tell you whatever you need to know tomorrow, ‘kay?”

“Maybe you’ll sleep better…”

“You’re doing enough.  The quiet’s enough.”

“I know you’re troubled, I can see it.”

Tomorrow, Spike.”

“I thought I was here to help.  What did you say in the car?  You need someone to lean on?”

“I appreciate the offer of support but…”

“You’re not going to take it.”

“We will talk.  I promise.”

Xander moved onto his side, facing away from Spike; before he had a chance to relax Spike was there, curling into him and moulding to his form, rubbing his face in Xander’s hair and running an arm around his waist.  Forget any requisite protestations, Xander wanted the contact and didn’t care that this was Spike, especially when the vampire was such an out-and-out cuddler – or was that coddler? – probably more attentive in this respect than any lover Xander had ever known, and how ridiculous was that?  Xander half-shrugged Spike off, just to feel him re-attach.

“Talk to me,” Spike whispered, the pitch and situation bringing words that were far removed from work to Xander’s mind, and he giggled softly to himself at the thought of Spike’s reaction if they were aired.  “I’m serious,” Spike insisted, naturally misunderstanding the humour.  “I want to help you.”

“Concentrate on what you’re here to do, I’ll tell you when I need help.”


“Your gig is keeping me safe,” Xander reminded him, snuggling back and feeling the hold on him tighten.  “Here I am, safe Xander.  Congratulations extended to the bodyguard.  Mr Convenience is still on the planet.”





Chapter 8 Taking Chances

Xander woke in the night, dopily suspicious at why until the fresh, raucous burst of voices brutally drew his attention to the lack of Spike.  Sitting up sharply he gazed around, blinking hard into the room’s darkness and finally making out the shape of the vampire against the moonlit window.

“What’s wrong?” he asked hoarsely, throat dry from sleep.

“Nothing.  Get your head down.”

Xander groped out to his side and switched the bedside lamp on.

“Can’t.  The voices are…bad.”

“Again?”  Spike turned back to study Xander.  “Why?”

“Maybe just the strain of last night.  Maybe…I don’t know.”

Spike immediately returned to the bed, sitting on the edge.


Xander moved a little closer, eyelid instantly beginning to droop.

“Yeah,” and he slumped back down, not noticing that, with a little help from a carefully placed hand, he’d left the covers behind.

Not admirable but effective, Spike acknowledged: he’d wanted Xander to wake up, had even hoped that he’d wake up horny but wasn’t sure how long it took the individual human body to form habits.  Two nights, two orgasms, all it took for a demon to come to expect.  Or possibly expect to come.  Spike swivelled and stretched out on the bed beside Xander, knowing this was taking quite a chance, that Xander hadn’t really been in control the past two times they’d…what?  Barely mutual masturbation, more like masturbating using another person.  But it was sex, and any sex was…

“Good enough,” Spike accepted, already half-hard at the thought.


“Nothing, Pet.”


“Let Spike look after you.”


Consent enough for a souled vampire who should know better; Spike ghosted his fingertips over the back of Xander’s forearm, feeling the soft hairs brush aside, feeling the heat, and growing harder with the sensations.  Better if Xander wasn’t too aware to start with: Spike started to reach for the lamp, but it was so tempting, the opportunity to make this…real.

Xander was halfway to sleep when his hands were taken and led to a new resting place above his head.  Okay.  Three-quarters to sleep and his t-shirt was slid up his body and there was nuzzling.  Nuzzling?  Back to halfway, ‘cause…  A cool tongue flicked over his nipple and although his body perked up with immediate interest, his mind freaked.  Maybe he’d got the whole way to sleep and this was the oddest dream although how odd would it be after the last couple of nights when he and Spike…he and Spike…he and…

“Spike!” Xander protested as he jerked awake from the joint sensations of the vampire’s mouth sucking hard at his nipple, and a hand teasing the skin beneath the waistband of his boxers.  Spike,” a warning as he attempted to shove the vampire away.

“Don’t have to be strictly lights out, do we?” Spike asked as he caught Xander’s wrists and playfully restrained him.  “Tell me you don’t want to see what we look like when…”

“No, I don’t, and you don’t, and…  Fuck, Spike, will you…”

A determined struggle and Spike abruptly realised the playfully was only applying to him, quickly releasing Xander and having his attempt to revert to calming touches struck forcefully aside.  Xander scrambled off the bed and to the far side of the room, hands slapping over his ears in a reflex action when confronted by the noise.

“Xander, come back here.”

“This is not gonna happen, this is…it’s…this is not gonna happen.  This—  Shut the fuck up!” was hissed in desperation.


Xander scrambled back to kneel beside Spike’s feet, within the Spike zone but as far out of range of those persuasive hands as possible.

“Don’t do this to me, please, just let me have some quiet.”

Spike stared appraisingly and regretfully accepted, yes, bad move.  He kept forgetting how vulnerable Xander was in these moments, and he kept forgetting how his own conscience was affected by that vulnerability.

“I wanted us to feel good.  Like before.  But better.”

“But that…  And this…  Oh, God.  Before…  It was like you said, about the relief from tension?  Why am I repeating back to you something that was only meant to humour me in the first place?”  Spike shrugged, face grim with unconcealed disappointment.  “See,” Xander continued stiltedly, “this would be…sex, the other…wasn’t?  No, that’s not right.  But it is.”

“It wasn’t sex?  Fine,” Spike said sourly.  “Glad we’ve sorted that out.”

“Spike, I don’t mean…”

“Don’t worry, I said fine, I meant fine, I understand perfectly.  You’re all the bloody same, aren’t you?” he finished with a sneer.

“Understand what?” Xander asked vacantly.  “Who’s the same?”

Spike turned, punched the pillow unnecessarily viciously a few times, then dropped onto it.

“Should’ve expected it, I’m just here to be used.”

“No!” Xander denied the accusation instantly, horrified that what he’d suspected about himself might actually be true.  But no.  The real truth emerged without hours of angst-ridden introspection.  “What happened before wasn’t using you.  It was needing you.”  No movement from the rigid back facing him, and Xander crawled up the bed, warily putting a hand on Spike’s shoulder.  “Needing you.  That’s scarier than a fuck, Spike.  It’s so…intimate.  I’m not good at that.”

“I don’t care if you do use me,” Spike grouched.  “Seeing as it’s in a good cause.”

“And we’re not all the same.”

“Oh, sure.”

“Spike…  I am really grateful for the peace that you’ve brought me, and…and…  I kinda like this guy.  I’ve had the chance to get to know you a little and…” The pressure from his hand increased momentarily.  “It’s not always easy, but you, me, there’s familiarity, and the comfort runs both ways, and we’re getting on okay, and you shouldn’t be able to torture this outta me but I like you.  And I can’t…I can’t afford to like you any better.”  Spike’s interest was most definitely piqued; he began to turn his head to see Xander but a heavy hand kept him in place.  “Can’t say this stuff if you look at me.”  Spike nodded beneath Xander’s hand and Xander felt him stop pushing.  “The peace is enough incentive for me to get…attached…to you.  The rest…  Can’t happen, I can’t cope with any kind of emotional crash when you're gone.”


“I have to be.  Fuck knows, I don’t want to be.  But I’m not using you, Spike.  If I took advantage before I’m sorry for that, but I’m not using you.”

The hand disappeared and Spike took that as a sign he could roll back, which he did without hesitation, staring in wonder at a Xander who couldn’t meet his eyes.

“I think,” Spike admitted, guilty conscience outweighing his better judgement, “that I started it.  The first time.”

“No, I practically leapt on you.”  Spike couldn’t disguise the smirk; Xander flicked a glance and away.  “I did,” Xander repeated, flushed with embarrassment.

“There’s always a chance that we leapt at each other.”

“See, this is why it’s all wrong.  You, nice, considerate, and…wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.”

“I have no excuses other than being a bad, horny demon who may not have coveted your arse since Sunnydale but has been doing his best to make up for that since we got here.”  Xander’s jaw dropped in astonishment.  “There.  That should piss you off enough to stop you liking me for a few hours.”

“Is…is…is that true?”

“Might be.”

“That’s not true.”

“Get your kit off and let’s find out.”

Xander gave a short, insecure laugh.

“That’s not true,” he insisted. 

“I am a bad, horny demon.”

“But the rest is about heat of the moment, not coveting…coveting…”

“Your arse?  Very nice arse it is too.”

Spike’s laughter at Xander’s stricken expression gave him away, and although Xander tried to appreciate the well-meant if inapt teasing, the main topic of the conversation wasn’t going to be laughed off.

“Tell me you believe me.  About using – not using you.  I’ll feel really bad if you think I did that.”

Spike’s smile became indulgent.

“Bloody soft nowadays, aren’t you?”  Xander waited, and eventually Spike sighed.  “I was there, I know how little thought was involved.  Not using.”

Xander slumped in relief and let himself be manoeuvred into a nice, comfy, sleep-friendly position, his back to Spike as he always seemed to prefer, Spike throwing a grounding arm over him but sensibly choosing not to get any closer on this occasion.

“I promise I won’t…”

“Oi, none of that.  Thought we’d already been there.”

“Living in hope,” Xander recalled.  “For a demon without the necessary physiology, you’re so full of shit.”

“Hmm, sounds as if you like me.  Like me much more and I’ll have to start watching for a stake in your hand.”

“Hey…  C’mere.”

Spike didn’t need to be asked twice.  Once again Xander had caught him by surprise and Spike was delighted at that; he shuffled as close to the man as he could possibly get and, a few positioning nudges later, Xander was being undeniably cuddled.

“Are you delirious, Pet?”

“Must be.”

“Knew there had to be a reasonable explanation.”

Xander tipped back his head in encouragement and the nuzzling started, swiftly followed by the sensation of Spike hardening against him.


“Ignore it.  Go to sleep,” Spike purred into Xander’s hair.  “When you wake up you’ll see this was all a horrible nightmare.”

“You’ll be here?”

“Oh, yeah.  This bad dream ain’t going anywhere.”

A much nicer day as Xander made his way back to the pool.  He was fairly sure he shouldn’t be doing this and absolutely certain that Spike would be furious when he woke up and guessed why Xander had sneaked off and where to.  But this was about peace of mind: Xander had to know he’d got the facts absolutely straight, whether or not he ever passed them on.

When he’d left the area the previous afternoon he’d have sworn it would take the company of an armed troop to get him back, but the sun was bright and the night’s almost-gales had dropped to a breeze, there were insects buzzing and birds singing, and the ominous atmosphere had completely evaporated.  Here and now, Xander couldn’t recall exactly what had spooked him.  The day had been grey, bleak, a fitting reflection of this place’s tragedy; the wind had been so fierce it could easily have caused any noises he’d interpreted as sinister, and as he was naturally hypersensitive after sharing Wayne’s last moments, there was every chance he’d imagined the threat.

Today the pool looked beautiful, felt welcoming, and once again Xander’s first impressions were of the fun that Wayne had had here.  Once again Xander’s heart ached with the knowledge of how that fun was so cruelly curtailed.

Disturbed by an intermittent thunking sound from outside, Spike stirred, groped for Xander, groaned to himself when it became clear that the man had been gone for a while.

“Too much to hope that you’re safely downstairs indulging me in a nice fry-up,” Spike murmured to the absentee.

Nah.  Xander was always going to be Xander.  Stretching, scowling at that bloody irritating noise, Spike thought about more sleep, thought about the fact that there’d miraculously be a cooler of blood in the trunk of the Mustang, thought about a shower and a nice, leisurely wank ‘cause there was still plenty of pent-up lust remaining from the episode in the night.

And on the subject of pent-up lust…  Xander couldn’t afford to like him any better, eh?

“Have to work on that.”

Something else to work on: his hand wrapped around his cock and a full sharp tugs brought it to a full erection, and in his mind he tried out the idea of this being Xander’s hand, involuntarily thrusting into his fist at the thought, and if that was Xander’s touch, how would his mouth…  Ohhh, yeah, just like that, Baby, just.  Like.  That.  A moment’s fantasy of Xander sucking his cock and glancing appealing up at him and Spike was snatching his hand away and cursing.  Two lust-darkened eyes had looked to him for approval and that was wrong, it was…  Fuck!  How could it be a betrayal of this Xander?  Fuck, fuck, fuck!  Fucking bloody stupid sodding soul, all your fault.


He grumpily rose, grumpily showered, grumpily dressed, grumpily stomped down the stairs and hoped – grumpily – that Xander was somewhere in the proximity so he could take this out on him, however unfair or irrational that was.

Alone in the house, it turned out, and that suited him if he couldn’t have Xander.  Company.  Couldn’t have Xander’s company; he rolled his eyes.  He didn’t want to tolerate Chrissie’s miserable face or desperate prattling, and he’d certainly had enough of the not-so-incredible hulk with his dull wits and sheer ugliness of spirit and…  Sheer ugliness.  Spike picked up one of the photos that Chrissie had evidently been sharing with Xander when Spike’d taken Toby for a bowel-loosening lesson in eighty-miles-per-hour handbrake turns.  That was the husband, Spike supposed – very average – and that was the late, lamented Wayne.  Sweet-looking child, Spike conceded, and apparently the glue that had held the family together.  Although, the way Toby was looking at his brother…

“‘When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child’,” Spike quoted to himself.  “‘But when I became a man, I put away childish things.’  And then…”  Spike was already running back to the kitchen.  “…naturally…”  Peering out into the yard to see a pile of freshly chopped wood, no boy, and no axe.  “…became a fratricidal psychopath.”

Racing upstairs to grab the mildly sun-proofing duster, Spike mentally rushed through his pre-planned rescue route, furious at himself for not having serious doubts about Toby earlier and questioning the whereabouts of the nasty suspicious nature that had served him so well for years.

“Why are you crying?”

The words jerked Xander from the past to the present and he was back sitting on the bench by the pool; his hands instantly came up to wipe the tears from his face.

“It’s not me,” he explained.

“Is it…”

Wayne.  Yeah.”


Xander looked incredulously at Toby.  The axe over one shoulder and the thick branches under the opposite arm might have made another man hold his tongue, but not Xander.

“Because this part of his existence was taken from him in horrific circumstances.  You know what I’m talking about, Toby.”

“He – he drowned,” Toby insisted.  “Just drowned.”

“You know the truth.”

“It was an accident.”

Xander flinched as Wayne screamed in his ear.

“It’s okay, Wayne, it’s okay.”

“Is he talking to you?  Is he?  What’s he saying?  He’s a liar, what’s he saying?”

“That it was no acc…”

“It was, it was a fucking accident!”

“No,” Xander said firmly.  “Holding a boy’s head under until he passes out could be an accident if it was a badly timed joke.  Keeping him under with a foot on his back…”

“That isn’t how it happened!”

“Your brother told me.  Showed me.”

“I’ll fucking show you.”

Toby threw down the wood and began to march around the perimeter of the pool; Xander was immediately on his feet, hands held up in a placating gesture.

“Toby, you don’t want to hurt me.”

“I’ll fucking show you.”

The words might have been the same but they were full of insecurity, and the boy slowed in his approach.

“You don’t need to hurt me.  I’m not going to tell your mom.”

“You—  I don’t believe you.”

As Toby took an aggressive step forward, swinging the axe into a two handed grip, Xander took a step back.

“It isn’t up to me to tell her.  But someone needs to,” Xander continued pointedly.  “So you can all be helped.  So you can get over this.”

“No,” the boy said weakly, a tremor in his voice.

“Yes.  It can be better.”  It seemed an inordinately long time before the axe swung back down, the handle sliding through Toby’s fist until the head rested on the floor.  Xander smiled sympathetically as he saw the child that Toby still was despite his size: tears filling the pale eyes, jaw wobbling with the effort of holding back harrowing emotions.  “You want to come talk to me?”  Xander returned to the bench and sat, leaving plenty of room for company.

“No,” was sniffed.


Xander forced himself to look at the pool, wanting to show trust, hoping that Toby would respond favourably to it and trying not to let himself grow edgy when the boy fell broodingly silent and unmoving when the sniffles stopped.  A couple of shuffled steps and Toby cleared his throat.

“Where’s Spike?”

Xander shrugged.

“Probably still sleep.”

“He said…he said that what you do is really dangerous.”

“Yeah,” Xander grinned, “about that…”

“You could die from this at any time.”

“See, what Spike actually meant…”

“If they found you in the pool where Wayne died that would kinda make sense, wouldn’t it?” Toby said flatly.  “You feeling his feelings.  Sacrificing yourself to help my mom.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck, stay calm, stay calm.  Stay.  Calm.  Think.  Thinkthinkthink.

“See, that’s so typical of Spike, making out that I’m the brave one, when…  I have to tell you, he’s incredibly brave, knowing what the…umm…secondary effect would do to him.”

“Secondary effect?”

“Didn’t he tell you?  Probably didn’t want to scare you.  If I died through this the psychic energy would be released and anyone within…I d’know…”  Xander looked around, picking out a distinctive tree about five-hundred yards away.  “Anyone between here and that tree with the curling branch, they’d suffer far more than me.  Imagine dying from going crazy with psychic energy.  You’re a bright kid, Toby, I know you’ve been paying attention, you understand what I’m talking about.”  Xander dropped his voice, trying to sound as chilling as possible.  “I’ve seen videos of mediums dying from stress and the people around them tearing out their own hearts to end the madness.”

“That…that…that isn’t possible.”

“Oh, yeah.  I’ve seen people using fingers and sticks and pens in their ears, up their noses, trying to kill off their brain to stop it.  That’s how I lost my eye, did you know that?  Got too close to an imploding medium and poked it out trying to get at my brain.  Luckily I was saved but…  God, that’d be terrible if it happened now and you…  We won’t think about it, ‘cause even an Olympic athlete couldn’t get out of range in time.”

“Okay.  Okay,” whispered the boy, thinking it over, and Xander sent up a silent prayer that he was as gullible and stupid as he appeared.  “Okay.  Uh…Xan…Xander…  How are you feeling now?”

“Umm…  Little shaky actually.  Hey, don’t suppose you could go back to the house and let Spike know?  That’d keep you both safe in case…”

Xander graphically mimed his head exploding.

“You’ll tell him, won’t you?”  Xander jumped as Toby shouted.  “Once he knows it will all be over, this will be over.”

“I’m not going to tell him anything,” Xander insisted calmly.  “My work is nothing to do with him, this is entirely private.”

“It would be better…better…  Spike said you could die from this.”

“I’m not going to die, Toby, I’m going to help you.”

“There’s only one way you can help me.  Shut up.  You have to shut up.”

Reminiscent of many desperate times in the past, this one happened so fast it seemed to be over the moment it started: Toby covers the distance between them at unlikely speed, Xander’s head turns to see the boy looming over him with the axe raised, starting to fall.  Before it can strike a hand shoots out from the trees and snatches the weapon away, followed by a booted foot that sends Toby sprawling.  At the same moment Xander is grabbed by the collar and yanked over the bench, caught around the waist by a strong arm and tugged out of the light into the dense woodland.

Back in real time, Xander struggled against the rigid hold.

“Spike, you can…  Let me go, will you?  I have to see if he’s okay.”

The grip tightened and Spike grabbed a fistful of Xander’s hair to hold his head still.

“Tell you what,” Spike ground out furiously into Xander’s ear, “how about you shut the fuck up until we’re back at the house?  That way I won’t need to punch you out and carry you.”

The sheer level of barely contained rage in the vampire’s voice, in his tense body, was enough to make Xander comply, and he let himself be dragged through the trees by his grim-faced companion.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Spike demanded amidst the seething and pacing and last wisps of sun-struck vampire smoke.  “I can’t believe you knew how that kid died and yet you still went back out there, took such a pointless risk.”

With a growl he headed Xander off, stopping him from leaving the living room for the fifth time.  Xander took a deep breath, battling to retain his temper because one of them had to.

“I didn’t see it as a risk, and…it was my decision.”

“Fucking idiotic one and you’re too up yourself to admit it.  That demented thug…”

“He’s just a boy.”

“He has two inches on you and he’s built like a brick shit-house.”

“He’s sixteen.”

“He’s already killed once!”

“No, listen…”

“You bloody listen for once: you shouldn’t be taking chances.  And before you start the bleeding heart defence, remember he got rid of someone who was an inconvenience to him.  You, Xander, are more than an inconvenience, you’re a threat.”


“He was about to split your skull open with an axe!  If I hadn’t been there…”

“But you were.  Doing your job.  Great, finished, end of conversation.  And, Spike…”

“Finished?  Excellent.  Get your gear together, we’re leaving.”

“I’m not going anywhere, not yet.  I need a chance to speak to him, to help him.  To help both of them start healing.”

“I don’t…!  You know you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Xander dismissed Spike with casual wave.  “Grew up on a Hellmouth, insert your own horror story.”

Once again Spike barred Xander’s exit, but this time Xander caught Spike off his guard with a double-handed shove, clearing the doorway and sprinting up the stairs, shucking his coat and throwing it across the bed.  Doing his best to ignore Spike’s determined pursuit, Xander crossed to the window and looked for Toby.  Spike slammed the door behind them and leaned against it.

“Tell her now.  Phone Chrissie and tell her, then we can get out of this dump.  Let her help him, he’s her responsibility.”

Xander swivelled around, staring at Spike in shock.

“I can’t tell her the truth.”

“Then what was the fucking point?” Spike demanded furiously.

“This was about bringing her a little closure.  That isn’t up to me now, it isn’t up to you either,” Xander told him pointedly, “so you don’t say a word, okay?”

“You don’t think she deserves to know?”

“I don’t think it’s up to us to tell her.  I’ll talk to Toby, persuade him…”

“Not to slit your throat.  That’s if you get the chance before he has the knife in.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You can’t put yourself at risk, you’re too important for that.”

“Ah, fucking hell, Spike!  You know how much this appals me?  You sucking up out of expediency.  At least once I could have relied on you to be a truly honest pain in the ass.”

“We’re talking inter-dimensional war, Harris.  The kind of conflict that would have made sodding Glory turn and run.”

“What is this?  Your apocalypse is bigger than my apocalypse?”

“We take them one by one, and this…”

“I can’t listen to you, it’s like being trapped in a room with Angel Mini-me.”

“You take that back!” Spike ordered as he strode angrily across the room, only coming to a halt when Xander, literally, had him at arm’s length.

“Or what?  You’ll hit me again?  Or maybe just hit on me.  I think I need time out to figure which of those disgusts me more.”

Xander dropped the arm that was keeping Spike at bay, picked up and pulled on his coat, and headed for the door.  Spike watched with growing exasperation.

“You can’t…”

“Yes, I can.  More to the point, I am.”

“Wait a while, I’ll come with you.”

“I’m sick of the sound of your voice, I need to be away from you.”


“I can look after myself.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember that quite clearly from the past, you manfully taking the battle to wherever you’d been knocked on your arse.”

“If it turns out that you’re right about Toby, and he catches up with me…  I’m sure you can find yourself another freak,” Xander told Spike coldly.

Last check that he had his wallet and keys and Xander was out of the door; Spike started to follow for all of two steps, then he waved dismissively after the young man, morphing the gesture into an aggressive bowman’s salute.

All it took was the sound of the Mustang revving up and roaring away for Spike’s feelings to recoil and hit him in the gut.  That was Xander gone who knows where, maybe even back home, and Spike was left with an incomplete mission, no medium, the tedious weight of Angel’s expectations and a whole shit-load of explaining unless he turned this around.

He’d have to be reasonable and he hated that, and why was he in the wrong here anyway?  It wasn’t usually a bad thing to get mad that someone in your care was deliberately putting themselves in danger.  It was pretty much expected that you’d want to keep your charge alive in Spike’s particular line of work.  But now, through no fault of his own, he’d have to be reasonable.

Whatever had happened, was happening, was due to happen, it wasn’t going to be happening under this roof, Spike knew that much.  Stuffing their belongings into the two pieces of luggage, Spike paused to rifle through Xander’s to make sure his phone wasn’t here.  No, and that was a good thing, at least he could contact the infuriating man at some point.  The stereo was gone too and it irritated him beyond reason that he couldn’t figure out where Xander had stashed that.

It felt like he had hours to wait for dusk, but in truth it was barely one, and when he was finally able to throw the bags over his shoulders and leave he felt positively exultant.  No-one to say goodbye to, Chrissie still at work and the lout having laid very low since trying to permanently part Xander’s hair, and Spike considered both of them fortunate not to have got in his way.  On the side of good, maybe, but he was more than ready to tell her to fuck off for taking advantage of Xander’s generosity, and Toby…  Spike trudged along the road, unmindful of the distance he had to walk to the motel, passing the time in blissful contemplation of how many ways he could torture the boy to an excruciating death.


“Fuck off.”

“I’m at—”  Spike looked at his phone and couldn’t contain the growl.  He stabbed the number in for a second time and waited for it to be answered.  “Don’t you fucking dare hang up on me again!”

Spike felt Xander consider that.

“What do you want?” Xander sighed, displaying more sense than annoyance.

“I’m at the motel, your stuff is here.  We’re leaving this place tomorrow but for tonight it’s room six again.  I’ll leave the door open for you.”

“Ah, great.  You couldn’t have booked me my own room?”

“D’know, Pet.  How are the voices?”

There was a protracted pause.

“See you later.”

Of course Spike was awake when Xander arrived, but the moment he heard the car he stopped his prowling and dropped onto a bed, ready to mimic sleep and totally ignore the man, or oh-so conveniently stir and indulgently welcome Xander back to his peace-inducing embrace, whichever would have the best impact.

Stumbling footsteps and Spike was mentally rolling his closed eyes, listening as the door opened with barely a sound; the slightest creak as Xander leant against the doorframe.

“Spike?” came a hoarse whisper.

It was all about figuring out whether Xander wanted him awake or asleep, and then he’d do the opposite and—  An automatic scenting breath, and Spike leapt up and crossed the room in a blur, switching on the nearest lamp and easing Xander into its light with careful hands.

“What happened?”

“Couple of guys,” Xander said as Spike led him to the bed and sat him on the edge, rushing to turn on another light so he could see the damage to the man’s face more clearly: an amount of bruising, few cuts and grazes, nothing that needed a major repair job.

“But why?  Why you?”

He looked down in surprise as Xander’s hands fisted in the loose edges of his shirt and pulled him closer.  Spike didn’t bother to resist, and he would have been lying if he’d said he wasn’t intrigued by the move, doubting that, after their earlier altercation, he’d have witnessed it from a completely sober Xander.

Xander kept the pressure up until the only place for Spike to go was on his lap, so he straddled Xander’s thighs and sat, let the dark head lean against him.  Only then did Xander let out a coarse breath and fall still.

“Tell me,” Spike encouraged, tone softly persuasive.

“What’s to tell?  I’m such an idiot, should have known he…”

“Was this Toby’s doing?”

“Yeah.  Could say he loaded the gun and let someone else pull the trigger.”

“Oh, fuck, you don’t mean…”

Spike started to feel over Xander’s body for more damage, particularly where the lower half of Xander’s t was smeared with blood.

“Figure of speech.”  Spike would have been aware of the stink of a fired weapon clinging to Xander the second he’d entered the room.  And he should have recognised from the stain patterns that the t had simply been used to wipe the blood from Xander’s face.  He shook his head at his alarm, letting the sudden anxiety go as, once again, Xander settled against him.  “You warned me.  You warned me and I was too busy being…being…”

“A right wanker?”

“Ah, shit, that’ll do.  I didn’t listen and if I had I wouldn’t be sitting here…”

“With a lap full of vampire.”

“…feeling sorry for myself.”


“Yes.  Needlessly.  Idiot, I’m an idiot.”

“If you’re sore, shall I…?”

“Don’t go.  Please.  And you can tell me I’m pathetic for wanting to be this close, to feel—”  Xander cut off briskly and pressed his face into Spike’s chest, heedless of the mess he was making of Spike’s clothes.

“Safe?” Spike suggested, hands running soothingly over the human’s taut neck muscles, his tense shoulders.  The shoulders shrugged, and Spike’s fingers came to Xander’s chin, tilted the troubled face up, and his mouth settled over the worst cut, the one above Xander’s right eyebrow.  He felt the moment when Xander was bound to throw him off come and go, and he worked his tongue over and into the ragged cut, cleaning the wound and making the most of the tiny amount of blood that flowed.

“Do I taste good?” Xander asked amid shivers that exposed his shock at the events of the past twelve hours; despite the circumstances Spike suspected there was a smile behind the words.

“Mmm.  Human – and you just about count as that – delicious.  Distinct aftertaste of decidedly cheap booze, but we’ve all been there, eh?”

Spike’s mouth gently skittered over Xander’s flesh, seeking out any more blood, licking up and spitting out the last specks of dirt that had clung to Xander’s face when he’d hit the floor during the fight.  Lastly the vampire took extraordinary care over the graze at the outer corner of Xander’s left eyelids, his ministrations more like the tenderest kisses than first aid.

As brazen as Xander was about the disfigurement, two minutes into the treatment Spike felt hands crawling up his back, felt the anxious tremor in them, and once again he let himself be manoeuvred closer, this time into a bonafide hug.  His fingers combed through Xander’s tangled hair, unravelling knots until the passage was snag-free, and he kept stroking, stroking and fussing, with a reassuring touch that Xander began to press into.

“Stop fighting me, Xander,” Spike eventually dipped his head to whisper.  “Let me keep you safe.”

Xander groaned in what sounded like…disappointment?  Embarrassment?

“Is it wrong for a man to want that?”

Spike’s fingertips played with the softest hair at the nape of Xander’s neck.

“Aren’t you used to being weaker than the people around you?”

“Great, thanks.”

“It was an observation.  An observation doesn’t immediately become an insult because it comes from me.”

Pause.  Sigh.

“Okay, yes, the people around me in the past were stronger, but…  I’ve still never felt safe.”

Stroking, combing, stroking.

“I can help you with that.  If you like you can pretend it’s just because of being needed for this whatnot we’ve got ourselves into.”

“I’m needed for this mission so I have to be protected?”

“That’s it.  I want to keep you safe.”  Spike nuzzled Xander’s temple, virtually anaesthetising the man with his calming words and actions.  “And I will.”

“Just…because.  Not…the rest.”

“That’s right.  When the job’s done you can get yourself kicked into next week or rot in any hell of your choosing for all I care.”

“That’s a relief.”

Spike chuckled and fussed.

“I used to enjoy it: being the protector.  After a century of looking after someone it’s sort of…ingrained.”

“We all like to feel needed,” Xander mumbled.

“Yes, and if I want to protect you that doesn’t mean you’re weak, because you’re not, you’re a real battler, everyone knows it.  Brave too.  Foolishly brave at times.”

“I’ve always tried.  I’ve had to try.”

“And there’s no shame to it.  There’s always someone stronger.  We all get to confront that.”

Despite his encouraged lassitude, Xander made himself pull back and look into Spike’s face, seeing a relaxed expression that he guessed reflected his own.

“Would you allow it?  Allow yourself to be weaker and need protection?”

“Have done, haven’t I?  Whether it was Dru feeding me when I was stuck in that sodding wheelchair, or being reliant on the slayer and you lot for blood when I was first chipped.  Plenty of times.  Just a case of getting on with it.”  That reminder and Xander was waking up, enough to feel bad about the past when he considered the situation he was now in, with the former bane of his existence vowing to be his protector.  “You’re so predictable,” Spike smiled.  “How about…”  His fingers moved in Xander’s hair, circling, mesmerising.  “We forget the past – me trying to kill you, you letting me starve – and agree to play nicely now.  If only to keep you alive long enough to save the world.”

“I wish you’d been there tonight.  Let’s see those bastards take on a sober guy without a blind side.”

“You only have to give me a nod, Xander, and I’ll skin ‘em alive for you,” Spike offered in a tone that was usually reserved for words of love.

“No, Spike.  No reprisals.  Promise me.”

“Course, Pet.  No reprisals.  Whatever you say.”

Xander nodded, accepting that particularly insincere agreement, and Spike’s mouth crept back to the damage he’d been diverted from.  Exercising the greatest care he explored the graze beside the withered eyelids and, after an edgy moment of Xander clasping Spike’s back so hard the vampire felt the human’s nails sinking into his flesh, Xander began to relax again.  To allow.  And soon his entire world had focused to lick, stroke, lick, stroke.