Chapter 33 Necessary Tears
Spike didn’t manage to set a foot outside the building before unspecific yet urgent messages reached him, demanding his return to the medical unit where Xander was being treated. The fear that Xander’s condition had somehow taken a turn for the worse jolted him out of his post-traumatic daze and he was surprised to find himself alert and running in an instant, instinctively racing to Xander’s rescue, regardless of what or where.
Unfazed by the commotion when he arrived, he pushed through the people who were trying to help Xander and, prising Xander’s arm from his face, proprietarily seized his lover’s hand. There were better ways of finding privacy: he swung toward the cluster of doctors and nurses and, full game face in place, roared for their withdrawal.
Even Bunny wasn’t about to antagonise a vampire in full-blown protective mode, and she hurriedly ushered her team from the room, keeping her eyes averted as she closed all the blinds before leaving, shutting the door behind her.
Alone now, and not likely to be bothered again for some time, Spike deliberately donned his human features before kissing Xander’s brow, laying his cheek against it and shushing, coaxing the distraught man toward calmness with gentle touches.
“What is it, Love?” he asked when Xander seemed possibly more able to answer coherently. “What did she say? She hurt you?” Xander briskly shook his head, gasping to catch his breath as the initial panic subsided. “What then? Who? If it’s a who I promise you they’ll wish they’d never been born when I get my hands on them.”
“It’s not… Oh, God, Spike, what do I…”
More tears, more comfort; Spike wriggled onto the bed beside Xander and, hampered by the braces on Xander’s left arm and leg, cuddled him as best he could.
“You tell me, and I’ll sort it.”
“You can’t. Not this.”
“C’mon, Petal. Before you drown in your own snot.” Xander gave a tearful laugh and allowed Spike to wipe his eye and nose on the sheet. “There you go. Bloody gorgeous, all over again.”
“Spike…” Xander’s voice trembled to a halt, but a little more concentrated comfort made him able to continue. “I can’t… I can’t hear them any more. That bastard did something to me and…”
“Wait. Wait. You…”
A deep breath and it all came tumbling out.
“No voices. No voices, no Saul, no Jesse. I thought it was the zone, you were around and I assumed the voices were quiet because of that but they’re gone, Spike, they’re gone, it’s all I can do, it’s all I’m good for, and they’re gone, and I may as well have died.”
“Ah… Fucking. Hell.”
Spike was off the bed and pacing in a split second, Xander gazing despondently after him.
“You don’t even want to be near me if I can’t…”
“Bollocks to that, Love.”
“I thought they’d told you. Of course they’d leave it to me, of course they would, but I thought… I am so sorry, Xander.” Spike stopped moving and gestured hopelessly. “You must bloody-well hate me.”
“Why should I…? No. You? You did this to me?”
“Yes. No. It’s not what you think, I just wanted you to have some peace when you were waking up, peace to get better without…”
Xander’s expression turned to thunder.
“What have you done to me?”
“It’s magic. It’s a spell. I didn’t do it myself, naturally, I got…”
“A spell. A frigging SPELL?”
“I can’t believe you’d do this to me!”
“For the quiet.”
“Do you have shit for brains?”
“I didn’t want you to be disturbed.”
“Well, I am fucking disturbed!” Xander couldn’t stop himself shouting. “Take it away! Get rid of it!”
“But you need to rest. The voices…”
“You’ll be here, won’t you, to keep the voices quiet? Or are we done? Is that it? You got what you wanted and we’re done?”
“I… I didn’t think you’d want me here.”
The tirade died on Xander’s lips.
“Why would you think that?” he asked in surprise.
“When you found out…”
Spike sighed and slumped on the foot of the bed.
“Found out what?”
A pained look was fixed on Xander for a full minute before Spike sighed again and slumped a little further.
“Bloody scam, wasn’t it. The prophecy was one very clever con. Created to give Ezequiel a way back. We were well and truly set up.”
“Hezekiah figured that with our resources we could find a way to get his grandson back. Reunite that bunch of evil bastards.”
There was a long pause while Xander took that in.
“When did you know?”
“Zooza knew something was up just after you went into your grand finale.”
“I… I think I remember. He was shouting for the reading to stop.”
“But too late. Soon after that…we knew it was all wrong.” Another long pause. Spike stood, ready to leave, unable to meet Xander’s eye. “Sorry.”
“Um… No. No, don’t be sorry. We knew how dangerous the family was together. They needed to be kept apart, kept weak. You did that.”
“That. More. I had to—”
In a flash of rage, Spike punched his fist into the nearest wall, through the plaster and into the steel frame. Then he did it again.
“Hey, you think we can defer the mindless fury until I feel strong enough to really enjoy it?”
Withdrawing his bleeding hand, Spike stared at it, remembered his knuckles covered in Xander’s blood.
“Mindless fury. Yes. Whenever you like.”
Xander saw the pain, emotional rather than physical. The guilt. He knew what Spike would be going through, how much he must have suffered after all the promises he’d made to keep his charge safe.
“Spike… I need you to know. I don’t blame you for any of this.”
Spike’s attention snapped back to Xander.
“You can’t mean that.”
“You were doing what you thought was right.”
“Why would I blame you if you didn’t know? Why would I take it out on you?”
“You would have once,” Spike said bluntly.
“And you’d’ve let me die once,” Xander responded in the same tone, “so…?”
“I put you in danger, I almost got you— I did get you killed, that was all my fault.”
“I made a choice.”
“No, you didn’t, this whole thing was put to you in such a way that you couldn’t turn it down. I manipulated you. The person you are was used against you, and inside…inside I’m sick with it.”
“You tried to stop me, remember? When you found out how dangerous it was. This was my choice, and I don’t want to fight over it.”
“Maybe it wasn’t the scenario we expected, but… I saw, Spike, I experienced what the Escolets were capable of. I remember every revolting thought that the uber-nasty put in my head. They had to be stopped and we stopped them. It’s going on my résumé as a world-saving event, I don’t expect you to contradict that and screw with my rep.” Spike shook his head, unable to accept that forgiveness could be so easy. Xander noticed the shake and, “What?” he asked.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why would I lie? For God’s sake, Spike, you know me well enough. If I want to call you all the names under the sun, I’m gonna do it. If I want to blame you for the dinosaurs becoming extinct, I’m gonna do it. But for this… No name calling. I don’t blame you. Manipulation and exploitation, not good, but you needed the job done. I remember how needing the job done back in Sunnydale made me do some stuff I’m not too proud of, so I accept why you did it. I bet it wouldn’t happen now, would it?”
“No. Never again.”
“Okay. We set that aside, and we’re back to why would I blame you? I want a brilliant answer in thirty seconds or you let it go forever.”
Absolutely no way that Spike could be honest and say that it was the kind of thing that would happen simply to fuck them up, absolutely no way Spike could say that. The seconds ticked inexorably by.
“Because it’s the kind of thing that would happen simply to fuck us up,” he blurted out at twenty-nine.
Xander beckoned him over, waiting patiently for Spike to dither across to him and take his offered hand.
“It didn’t work.”
“It didn’t?” Spike asked, a heart-rending amount of hope in his voice.
“No. It didn’t. We are not fucked up. At least, no more than we ever were. Of course, if you find out that this spell is immovable…”
Spike kissed Xander’s hand and respectfully returned it before marching to the door.
“I’ll put an end to it right now.”
“And you’ll come back?”
Spike wavered, for what felt like the millionth time in their relationship wondering where the line had been drawn.
“To keep the voices quiet, yes.”
“To keep me company, yes,” Xander contradicted. He continued haltingly. “Unless… Have we got to over when it’s over?”
“Not over,” Spike retorted vehemently, and then hurried away to deal with the spell.
“Good,” Xander murmured into the silence he left behind. “‘Cause, me… I’m not done yet.”
Twenty minutes later the spell’s effects were reversed, and Xander jumped with the surprise of the voices rushing back to him. He quickly greeted Saul, found Jesse, concentrated on the babble and relished the disruption of the previous, abnormal, quiet.
“Better,” he murmured as he closed his eye and relaxed. “Better. Better.” Thus encouraged, the pleas for his attention swelled. “Okay. Okay. This is…”
His relief was short-lived. The racket was incredible, how had he ever lived with this? Remembering all that his mentor had taught him, Xander patiently, and as thoroughly as a medium with his disadvantages could, set about rebuilding his mental barricades.
Xander felt quite exhausted by the time Spike returned with the zone and the peace, and he dozed while Spike occupied his time fixing the photographs he’d retrieved from Xander’s belongings to the closest wall. Pleased with the result, and disappointed with the lack of immediate praise, Spike grumbled to himself as he turned to the puzzle book he’d also brought with him, finding a problem that looked manageable and settling down to the tedium of it.
He’d primed Dylan to fetch coffee and doughnuts, and when they arrived he placed the tray on the bedside cabinet and patted Xander’s arm until he stirred and took a deep breath.
“Is that what I think it is? If it’s just you wearing mocha aftershave start running now.”
“Coffee. Doughnuts. Care of the git.”
“Aw. Nice git. Help me up so I don’t choke on this?”
A moment of complete flummox, then they figured out if Spike managed the braces as Xander shuffled up the bed, a degree of uprightness was indeed attainable.
“You okay then?” Spike asked as he inched Xander’s caged limbs along the mattress. “Voices back?”
“Boy, are they back. I’d forgotten how overwhelming they were.”
“See? I was doing you a favour.”
“Sure. But that didn’t stop me spending the time before the spell ended thinking up suitable tortures for you if you’d screwed up and it was permanent.”
“First thing is, you’d have to turn me so I could persecute you for eternity.”
“I’m likely to do that, am I?”
“I know you said the company line goes against turning the…er…inmates, but you could do this in your own time.”
“Referring you to my previous comment.”
“I’m likely to do that, am I?”
“What? You don’t want me to persecute you for eternity?”
“What I want…is immaterial. This do? You comfy?”
“Yeah, this is great. Gimme. Gimme, gimme.”
Xander was handed, and virtually inhaled, his treats. Now able to look around more easily, he studied the room, noticed and thanked Spike for the photos, and was unreservedly thrilled when Spike informed him he had several Sunnydale refugees waiting to see him as soon as he was ready.
“No worries now?” Spike asked. “About how they’ll react to this you?”
“You were right, that was all about me, nothing to do with them. Knowing I could have died without even getting a chance to say hello again puts it all into perspective. I was being, frankly, an ass.”
“Well, seeing as you said it…”
“Honeymoon’s over,” Xander grinned. “No more protecting me from myself.”
“In fairness, I always said you were being a dickhead over this.”
Spike chose to find one of the photographs particularly interesting as Xander finished up the last doughnut and meticulously sucked and licked every trace of sugar from his fingers, not wanting to imagine, to rouse the libido that continued to survive his depression thanks, or otherwise, to the demon.
“You don’t fool me,” Xander told him with a smile, and Spike wanly reciprocated, moving to take away the tray, then sitting on the edge of the bed to brush away the last of the sugar clinging to Xander’s chin.
Close enough at last, Xander grabbed Spike’s wrist, tugging, hand skipping to the sleeve of the black t-shirt to pull him closer, then to the back of his neck to bring him closer again. Xander closed his eye as he brought their brows together, feeling Spike lean in, hearing him start to breathe as he trembled under the weight of the crippling emotion that he’d mistakenly thought he wasn’t wearing like a huge glowing billboard.
“Talk to me,” Xander urged.
“Can. You will. Please don’t let this be about me.”
“I’m here, Baby, I’m right here.”
“I killed you.”
“You killed Escolet. More than that, you dealt with Dead Guy and the uber-nasty in one go, I couldn’t have asked anything more of you.”
Spike shuffled closer, arms squirming around Xander and holding him in a tight embrace, so much so that he was aware of the strong thudding of Xander’s heart vibrating through both their bodies. His head fell onto Xander’s shoulder and he felt Xander rubbing his cheek against the loose curls of his gel-free hair.
“Baaaaa,” Spike murmured.
“What else?” Xander gently pressed. “Who else?”
“Paolo,” came the hoarse reply after many minutes had passed. “Paolo Roski.”
“He worked here?”
Spike gave a shake of the head that felt more like a shudder.
“Hired hand. But I’d known him for years. Good bloke. Very honourable for a thug.”
“The rubbish I came out with, things I told you. How could I have thought that these people mean nothing?”
“You were just trying to protect yourself. We all do it, one way or another.”
Xander felt Spike’s attempt to pull himself together, and reluctantly let him draw back.
“What do I do? Right now? Counsel me, Counsellor.”
“Right now…” Xander paused in thought. “Did Paolo have family?”
“Just his mum.”
“Well, she’s going to be feeling very alone, and I bet she’d appreciate a visit from someone who cared about her son and could tell her what a good man he was.”
“You think? She’s not just going to be angry and tell me to shove off?”
“Maybe. But if she did you’d understand why.” Spike thought and nodded. “Offer her comfort and that’s where you’ll find a little of your own. Don’t be scared of grief. Hers or yours.”
“I don’t know how you cope with it. All the time, you’re surrounded by misery…”
“No, I’m not.”
“Do you remember how you felt when your mom came through? How relieved you were that she was in a good place and that she still cared for you? First and foremost my work is about peace of mind. There’s sadness, yes, but overwhelmingly there’s joy.”
So…” Spike stroked his fingertips over the back of Xander’s hand. “Can I tell her about you? Paolo’s mum. Tell her, maybe, one day…”
“Yes. You can go there now? I have no idea of the time.”
“I can go.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“This matters, you go.”
“Be fine. I noticed the puzzle book; I can work on the improbable now the impossible’s been dealt with.”
“If you get lonely you can call me, I’ll…”
“Spike, I have LA’s deceased in their entirety to keep me company. There are even some living people if I get desperate. I’m not likely to be lonely, so…scoot.”
The worried expression remained, but Spike dipped forward to kiss Xander’s cheek, then hurried away before he could change his mind. In his absence the voices surged, leaving Xander wondering if there were any that were pertinent. After all, as he’d reminded Spike, there were living people here, and living people did tend to draw their departed relatives. Much more satisfying than any mathematical puzzle, Xander closed his eye and concentrated, seeking out any human-plus-spirit posers that he could solve.
Hours passed without Xander noticing, medical staff coming and going unobserved; it was a tap at the door that eventually drew Xander’s attention back to the here and now. Leaving his spirits, he gestured Zooza in.
“Hey! My saviour!”
The mage dismissed the sentiment with a foppish wave and pulled up a chair to sit at Xander’s side.
“How are you, dear chap?”
“Seriously, thank you. I don’t know what it would have done to Spike if I’d died.”
“Ah. Unfortunately, we do. He thought you had, and he wouldn’t be told otherwise.”
“He… For how long?”
“Three weeks. Unreachable. Yesterday, Angel resorted to physical force to make him see you, this you, alive and healing.”
Xander automatically bristled.
“Did Angel hurt him? ‘Cause of me?”
“Angel told me. As far as you’re concerned, he’s always the villain of the piece.”
“We have history.” Zooza hmmed and the smile widened. “This is about Spike,” Xander continued.
“Spike,” Zooza sighed. “I’m still not sure if Spike believes the evidence of his own senses, or simply assumes that you’re an elaborate hoax he’s playing along with.”
“He really thought I was dead? That I stayed dead?”
“He refused to listen to reason. Consumed by his own fear. I’ve warned him.”
“I’m glad you told me. Doesn’t look like he was going to.”
“Less about Spike,” the demon announced. “More about Xander.”
“Me?” Xander asked, slowly diverted from troubling thoughts of Spike.
“You. My sincerest, sincerest apologies regarding the old hocus pocus. The proposal seemed quite reasonable when Spike put it to me, but I do appreciate how distressing it must have been, having it sprung on you like that. You should have been told of the spell’s effects before you had the chance to become alarmed.”
“Yes. But you’re forgiven, he’s forgiven…”
“Angel?” Zooza teased.
With a baritone chuckle, Zooza playfully punched Xander’s thigh.
“Vampires, eh? Who’d have ‘em?”
“Can I ask you about what happened? With Escolet?”
Zooza sat up in his chair, hands primly on knees, strictly serious now.
“Of course you may.”
“Spike had to kill me to get rid of him. Now I’m alive again, is there any kind of guarantee he won’t be back?”
“The clan was all but destroyed…”
“Ezequiel. I just need to know about Ezequiel.”
“You’re absolutely sure of that?”
“I am. The only way he could be expunged from your body and made harmless was by employing the symbols on the dagger; Spike used the dagger to dispose of him. Ergo…”
“It scares me,” Xander interrupted. “The idea that he could come back some day, hurt the people around me. Use me to hurt them.”
“Maybe it makes me as irrational as Spike, but I need more.”
Zooza shuffled in his chair and fell quiet, drumming his fingertips against his chin as he thought. Xander waited patiently, distractedly wondering about the time and hoping Spike wouldn’t walk in on this conversation.
“I could find a spell,” Zooza suggested casually, “that would make you impervious to that kind of invasion.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. Please, yes, find me something.”
More thoughtful drumming.
“In the course of your work have you ever allowed the possession of your body by spirits?”
“No, that isn’t something I can do in normal circumstances.”
“Is it a skill you hoped to develop over time?”
“Because this kind of spell would make it impossible.”
“I see that. If you did this for me and I changed my mind at some point…?”
“The spell could be removed by any competent practitioner of magic. And it could be cast by Willow if you’d prefer.”
“No, I can’t ask her. I want to play down how big a deal this business with Escolet was, and I can’t do that if I’m asking for protection in the same breath.”
“Is Spike to be told?”
Xander hesitated, but it was actually pretty easy to answer the question.
“No. Spike doesn’t get told. Or, at least…I’ll decide when.”
Zooza gave a brisk, single nod, then bounced to his feet, reaching to shake Xander’s hand.
“I’ll start looking immediately, it shouldn’t take too long.”
“Good. The sooner it’s done the better.”
The mage strode determinedly off, and Xander quickly ran over the conversation they’d just shared, re-examining every word about Spike’s fears. It made Xander’s heart ache to think that he was probably very bad for Spike and, in the light of that, how much they enjoyed being with one another was inconsequential. Had there been signs of this before The Event? Was this a part of why he’d insisted on over when it’s over? Because him mattering to Spike made Spike weak and, particularly after seeing how Spike was presently suffering, all he wanted was for Spike to be strong? Xander letting the spell be cast and returning to his home in the back of beyond was a good thing, because he would be safe there. Safe, if a little restless, he admitted to himself, knowing it would take time to settle down after the excitement of their adventures. But if he was safe, and Spike could be convinced of that fact, surely Spike would be stronger.
As earlier, Xander failed to notice that one of the nurses had entered the room, and he remained oblivious to all but his worries and the white noise of voices until the young woman was fiddling with the pillows supporting his left arm.
“Orange blossom and pearls,” Xander repeated the message that had been thrust to the forefront of his mind.
The nurse all but hopped on the spot in delight and, at Xander’s gesture, hurried to the chair that Zooza had vacated.
“I’d heard you could do this,” she enthused, “and I so hoped…”
Xander waved her quiet as he listened intently.
“You’re using the same church. The same church as…Alice? … Yes, Alice, the church where Alice was married.”
“You were named after her.” They shared a happy smile, and for Xander it was as if his world had been restored and was finally turning on its true axis. He chuckled as he addressed the two women, in spirit and on the physical plain. “Hi, Alice. Hi, Alice.”
When Spike returned, a little before midnight, Xander had given up attempting to sleep and was propped up in bed, methodically unravelling the latest puzzle. The pleasure that immediately lit up his face at Spike’s return quickly turned to concern as the vampire slumped into the visitor’s chair and stared, dolefully and silently, at the floor.
“That bad?” Xander asked quietly, hoping he hadn’t made a terrible mistake by sending Spike to meet the grieving mother.
Spike gave a shrug. Then, two minutes later, he gave another.
“No,” he finally said.
Xander set the book aside and patted the bed.
“C’mere, tell me about it.”
Spike’s gaze gradually crept up to where Xander was patting, and he seemed to be summoning the energy to make the move when there was a shout from along the corridor, Angel sounding well and truly pissed off.
“I’ll have to…” Spike sighed and gestured, heaving himself to his feet as Angel arrived and stood, glowering outside the door
“Angel,” Xander acknowledged coolly.
“Xander,” Angel reciprocated without taking his eyes off Spike; the moment he was in reach, Spike was prodded further along the corridor, out of Xander’s sight-line, but still within earshot. “Where have you been?”
“Sod off, I’m not in the mood.”
“The Vree’vathets, Spike, remember them?”
“What about them?”
“They’re your responsibility.”
“You have to be the one to deal with that situation.”
“No, I couldn’t, that isn’t how they…”
“I don’t care, all right?” Spike snapped. “I have to be here, Xander’s more important.”
“I’m warning you: one word against him and I’ll be the nastiest surprise on a dark night you’ll ever have.”
“I think you already have that one covered.”
“I wasn’t! Xander is recovering well, and will understand if you have to leave for…”
“I’m not going anywhere and that’s the end of it.”
Spike made a visibly peeved reappearance, straight to Xander and sitting on the bed, snatching up his hand and clinging to it. Xander was aware of Angel pausing in the doorway, but refused to focus on anything other than Spike, and he was glad when the older vampire stopped huffing and puffing and finally left.
“What’s that about?”
“Bunch of would-be nasties we’re obliged to deal with.”
“Not as far as I’m concerned: noisy, self-important little shits.”
Xander wriggled his hand free and brought it up to caress Spike’s cheek, feeling the lean into it, disappointed when no kisses to his palm or fingertips followed, missing the attention he’d grown used to.
“How do you feel after visiting Paolo’s mom?”
“Better. Worse.” Xander nodded his understanding of that. “Tired.”
Finally, something practical that Xander could help with.
“Help me lie down?”
Spike reluctantly moved, loathing the loss of physical contact, and he manoeuvred the braces as Xander wriggled down the mattress.
“Comfy?” he asked when Xander was horizontal.
“I will be,” Xander smiled, and he threw back the covers in invitation. “Don’t look so shocked,” he told Spike with a laugh, “just…get in here.”
Spike took a cautious step forward and was stopped by Xander’s hand gesturing for the clothes to come off. The duster was slowly shed, but that was it. Xander wondered about the reluctance, and if he was somehow missing something, making Spike do what he didn’t want to.
“Yeah, maybe it’s not such a good idea, having you naked,” Xander joked, giving Spike a way out, “not while me and the catheter are such close buddies.”
No disappointment; no relief.
“I’ll sleep in the chair, bring it over so the voices are quiet…”
“Do you want to talk?”
Spike brought the chair closer and sat, hunched and miserable, while Xander deliberated over pursuing this indefinable subject or changing it. He opted for distraction.
“Bunny came by earlier and said that they’re changing the braces tomorrow.”
Now Spike did show some interest.
“Changing them for what?”
“They’re being stripped down to the inner sleeves, so the cages go, and I can start to move my elbow and knee a little. Did you know they’re not broken? I thought they were broken.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Ligament damage mainly, although the knee has a chipped bone, but I’m getting to the stage when I need some physio, so…”
“Did they say why they’re not taking it all off?” Spike asked, on his feet again and around the bed, studying the arm brace.
“Support, keeping everything in the right place.”
“They putting you under?”
“Heavy sedation, Bunny said. I don’t know how ‘under’ that is.”
“Need to know more? I can always…”
“No, I’m fine with it. And I’m ecstatic about the pins going, ‘cause…” Xander indicated one of the metal intrusions. “…is driving me crazy, it won’t stop itching.”
“You should’ve said.”
“I did, I told them, but the cream they used only lasted…”
Xander shut up as Spike leaned in closer and drooled a gob of saliva onto the offending area, squeezing a finger through the metal cage to rub it into the skin.
“Pure. Bliss. Straight away, I feel that working.”
“How about the leg?”
“Inner knee. You’ll know where, I’m damn sure it glows in the dark.”
Spike repeated his actions and Xander finally got a smile out of him by groaning in orgasmic pleasure as the itching subsided.
“Anywhere else?” Spike asked, examining Xander’s skin through the leg brace.
“They were expecting me to be in raptures over being semi-mobile again, and all I could think about was having a decent scratch. I’m good, thanks.”
Spike’s gaze flicked to the bandages on Xander’s head.
“Yep, tomorrow. That’s what I’m happiest about, I guess.” Xander poked at the bandages, crown to jaw. “These bring back all kinds of bad memories.”
Back around the bed to where Xander was more accessible, Spike leaned in and pressed a kiss to his brow, whispering against the skin.
“Sorry. I wasn’t there for you. Sorry.”
Xander fumbled for Spike’s hand, finding it and clutching it to his chest.
“Hey, listen to me. Listen. That was a lifetime ago, and I expected nothing from you. Y’hear?”
The reply was slow to arrive and completely unconvincing.
Some determined tugging and Xander managed to get Spike onto the bed with him, refusing to accept the reluctance as genuine and only satisfied when they were back in their position of the previous night: Spike’s head on Xander’s chest, Xander’s arm tightly around him. Together, little by little, they relaxed. Xander wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was whirring through Spike’s mind, but he wanted to share what was in his own.
“If I look okay with the bandages off I want the girls to visit me tomorrow.”
“That’ll make them happy.”
“But only if I look okay, so you’ll tell me?”
“I want to seem as okay as possible. No turban, no bag of pee, minimal hardware.”
Spike rubbed his temple against Xander’s chin.
“Want me to give you a shave?”
“I’d like that. So long as you don’t get creative. No Mohawk to match Dawnie’s.” Spike agreed without a fight and laid his head back down. “Spike…”
“You have my patch?”
Xander felt the vampire tense beneath his hand.
“I’ll need that tomorrow. If I see the girls.”
“Wouldn’t this be a good time for them to meet Xander patch-be-damned?”
“I’ve thought about it and… I don’t want them to be reminded…”
“Like they can ever forget.”
“They got used to the patch, it’s a kind of normality.”
For a second Spike seemed about to argue the case for the Xander he’d got to know in the last couple of months, and if he were honest, Xander would have been reassured about Spike’s state of mind if he’d made a predictable if pointless fuss. But Spike only seemed about to argue, and the moment passed.
“I’ll make sure you have it.”
“You knew to take it off me. I appreciated that.”
More tension in the body beneath his hand, and Xander stroked, hoping to offer a little comfort. He certainly gained comfort from it, and that was all he needed to rapidly head in the direction of sleep. He nuzzled Spike’s hair before bestowing several kisses on his scalp, then let himself drift.
However soothing the kisses were meant to be they were like barbs to Spike, and he cringed under the affection shown. He felt he’d been driven mad by the circumstances, or an accumulation of circumstances, or by the soul, or the unquestionable obscenity of a demon living this life, weighed down by these sensibilities. He hated the soul, he hated Buffy, who he allowed himself to blame for it, he hated Angel who exploited it, he hated Zooza simply because he could smell that the mage had been hanging around Xander, and he hated Xander the most because he made the soul and the sensibilities… Worthwhile. The knowledge burned, worse than the spark inside ever had, and Spike knew he had to get away, but his movement roused Xander and the arm around him was pulling him close again.
“Don’t go,” was barely intelligibly yawned.
“I think I have to.”
“This is wrong, Xander.”
“I shouldn’t want you…”
“…and you shouldn’t want me. This.”
“You kidding?” Xander mumbled, adding truthfully, but with no thought, “You’re the reason I stayed.”
It was like a punch to the gut, that sleepy admission, and Spike was rigid as he took it in, appreciated the momentousness of it – Xander choosing him rather than heaven – and finally understood that Xander was not, and had never been, humouring him. The huge knot of emotion inside him began to unravel, his body succumbing to shudder after shudder as the obstruction containing them disintegrated and a gamut of feelings swelled to the surface. Not the time or place Spike would have chosen, but honesty dictated that this was always where it would happen; he gave up the fight, weeping as silently and privately as he could.
But evidently not silently or privately enough.
Xander was instantly awake and awkwardly attempting to turn toward Spike, to hold him more securely and offer any consolation he could. A concerned and tender, “Baby,” was all it took for Spike to be burrowing against his chest and absolutely sobbing.
Xander wasn’t sure he understood the reason for this breakdown any better than he understood so much else about Spike and his unforeseen complexities, but he recognised the release of suppressed emotion, the necessary tears; he could comfort, and he did; he could whisper reassurances about the here and now, the both of them being here and now, and he did.
Ten minutes in and the ferocity of the crying jag eased; five minutes more and Spike was up and leaning over Xander, kissing him hard as the last tears dripped onto his face.
“Is this still about me?” Xander managed to ask between kisses.
“I’m such a fool.”
“You are if you’re mourning ‘cause of me, Spike.” The same assurances, now loud and clear and pointed rather than whispered. “I’m here, I’m alive. Look at me.”
Spike reluctantly broke the next kiss to do as he was told, gazing at the face he’d come to treasure and feeling a fresh surge of emotion.
“Yes,” he said hoarsely.
“You saved me.”
“Saved me. Thank you.”
Tears welled in Spike’s eyes once more, and Xander’s fingers played in the vampire’s hair, bringing him into a much gentler kiss now.
“Can you sleep, you think?” Xander asked, trailing affectionate touches over Spike’s face and neck. “Here. No going anywhere.” Suddenly feeling quite exhausted, Spike nodded, kissed, settled. “Tomorrow we’ll talk. And if you don’t want to talk you’ll listen.”
“Maybe? So there’s room for negotiation? Spooky.”
Spike abruptly sat up, tugging the sheets away from Xander’s body, down to his hips. He stared at the vivid scars on the pale skin, stopping Xander from pulling the sheets back over himself.
“Look what I did to you. After all my promises.”
“You kept every promise that mattered.”
“This isn’t helping,” Xander told Spike firmly, despite being intensely moved by the sorrow on his face. Spike’s fingertips ghosted over the purple marks and Xander manoeuvred his right arm into a position where he could smack Spike’s hand away. “They don’t hurt, they’re not a problem, okay?” he snapped as he finally retrieved the sheet. “Any more misery, and it’s you you’re feeling sorry for. Leave me out of it.”
“You’re right,” Spike admitted in a whisper.
“We’re done tonight. Lie down with me, we’re going to sleep.”
“For Christ’s sake! Spike! Here! Now!”
“I’m not a bloody dog, I don’t come to heel,” Spike protested; nevertheless he acquiesced, too tired to make a fight of it, cuddling up to Xander and feeling much better for the man’s honest irritation.
“I’m asleep. You told me to and…”
“Yeah, but I’m awake and it’s your fault.”
“No, but if I say that I’m pretty sure I can guilt you into something.”
“I want to get up.”
“Why can’t I?”
“’Cause you’re wearing more hardware than a frigate.”
“And you have tubes sticking in places we don’t want to think about.”
“Tomorrow. When you’re stripped down and disconnected.”
“Whatever they say?”
Heavily sedated proved to be ‘completely out’; one minute Xander was watching a hypodermic needle being emptied into the valve that was a permanent fixture on his arm, and the next he was coming blearily to, not entirely sure that anything had occurred, mainly due to the déjà vu effect that was a white coat introducing yet more drugs into the valve.
“…to counteract the sedative…” he managed to take on board, and he mumbled something indiscernible in response.
A few minutes passed and he was verging on fully awake; the first thing he saw, naturally, was Spike’s nowadays permanently stressed face.
“Smile,” he told him, and Spike tried a smile as he helped Xander drink some water.
“How you feeling?”
Peering down his body, Xander raised his left arm and tentatively bent it. The flexible components in the sleeve quietly ticktickticked, and a grin broke out on Xander’s face.
“‘Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology’,” he quoted with great satisfaction as his knee stiffly ticktickticked into action. “No puncture marks,” he noted, “was that…”
“Help me sit up?”
Not so awkward a move with Xander being more in control of his limbs, and he was soon upright.
“All right?” Spike checked for the twentieth time before sitting on the edge of the bed and studying Xander closely; Xander, frowning, studied him back.
Taking a moment to compose himself, Spike reached up to Xander’s face, stroking his jaw affectionately, taking courage from Xander’s appreciative smile and finally covering the left eye socket.
“How about now?”
Xander’s right hand shot up to grasp Spike’s wrist, holding it in place while he tried to wrap his mind around what he’d just been shown. Couldn’t be true. He was still unconscious, dreaming. Hallucinating. It couldn’t be true. Because…it couldn’t be true.
“Spike?” emerged as nothing more than a stunned whimper.
“Don’t panic, Love, it’ll all make sense.”
Xander let Spike slowly remove his hand, and Xander could see the difference, he could see…
He could see.
His hand rose and fell, once, twice, as he tried to find the courage to explore his own face. At last he made himself touch the socket, barely breathing as his fingertips shakily explored the convex rather than concave eyelids. The worst of the initial shock passed, although Xander was wary of letting it be replaced by any kind of euphoria. Not yet. He might still wake up. He looked at Spike. Looked and looked.
“Is this…” he eventually ventured, apparently having not woken up. “Is this why my head hurt so much?”
“Somehow the nasty began a regeneration of the optic nerve, and naturally the muscles were virtually atrophied in that area and needed bullying into shape. Cloning an eye was the simple part apparently, and that’s the bit our people did. That and the surgery to put it in and connect it.”
“Cloning? So…it’s actually my eye?”
“You’ll need to do exercises, and put up with headaches and neuralgia for a while longer, remember to rest it for a while every day, but in a couple of months it’ll be like you never lost it.” Spike observed, fascinated, as Xander covered his right eye then his left as he studied his surroundings. Right, left, right, left. “Escolet told me he would make improvements to your body. I thought he meant a decent haircut.”
Xander smiled at that, allowing Spike to relax a little, and then he looked at Spike. Looked and looked.
“The sight’s not as good as my right eye. Not that I’m complaining, I… Spike… Spike…” Xander’s voice was trembling again. “Is there a mirror?” Spike fetched the hand mirror that had been left for this very purpose. Xander took it, held onto it so hard his knuckles turned white. “I think… I really think I need to do this alone.”
With a sharp nod and a neutral expression that concealed his disappointment at being asked to go, Spike left.
Xander took several deep breaths before holding the glass up to his face. He studied his reflection, out of habit not looking directly at his left eye socket. Even now, with this miraculous development, he had to force himself to look at his face as a whole, and… There he was. Xander Harris. Despite the blur, despite the slightly lazy eyelids, after all these years of strange detachment, he finally recognised himself again. He would know Xander Harris if he saw him, and the person he saw was Xander Harris. He clenched his eyelids shut for a full minute, and when he opened them, Xander Harris was still there.
“Hi,” he whispered, not a terribly passionate welcome for a man who had been gone for so long, but… “Hi.”
Gradually Xander’s eyes filled with tears, and when he could barely make himself out any longer he set the mirror aside and stopped being as brave as those around him had needed him to be when he’d been mutilated. He no longer needed to be brave. Yet again his life had been turned upside-down, but this time, with the eye’s return, he could finally allow himself to mourn what he had lost.
Spike waited in the corridor, impatient and cross, hearing and feeling Xander’s tears like knives to his heart, wanting to hold and comfort Xander in the way that he himself had been held and comforted in the night. He paced and dithered, and even though he knew he hadn’t given Xander long enough to come to terms with any of this, he barged back into the room, plonked himself down on the bed and tugged Xander into an embrace.
“I want to be alone,” Xander weakly protested, unsuccessfully attempting to prise Spike off.
“And I don’t. Stop being so bloody selfish.”
“Just shut up and hold me. It’s been a tough morning.”
Not for him, for Spike: Xander did as he was asked and clung to Spike as he was cuddled and cosseted, and soon Spike was kissing his tears away, saving the most delicate of kisses to place on the lids of his left eye, pausing there before moving to his mouth and filling this last kiss with an emotional content that Xander would later realise he’d never experienced before in his life.
“Your doing?” Xander asked hoarsely when he could finally speak.
“You were owed, Love, big time. Angel wanted to thank you in a practical way.”
“Yeah. Wish I could take the credit, but…”
“Why wasn’t I told?”
“Because if the operation was a failure you would never’ve had your hopes built up, you’d never feel like you’d lost your eye for a second time. If the eye had been dead when they took the bandages off today, they’d’ve taken it away and the headaches could have been blamed on the after-effects of the event; you’d’ve been none the wiser. Would have been too cruel to build your hopes up.”
“It’s… I… I can’t believe it.”
“Yes, you can,” Spike insisted, picking up the mirror and showing Xander his restored face. “And you know what? Bloody. Gorgeous. Always.” Xander knocked the mirror aside and went back to hugging, the fresh wave of tears soaking into Spike’s t-shirt. “I like this too much, y’know, Petal: you needing me.”
“I do,” Xander agreed.
“Makes me all soft on the inside and hard on the outside. You’ll forgive that, eh? This once?” Xander nodded, and proceeded to wipe his nose on Spike’s sleeve. “Recovered enough to slime me? Suppose that’s a good sign.”
“Recovering. I’ll be okay. Thank you.”
“And you. Thank you.”
“What have I…”
“More than you think.”
“Okay,” Spike echoed, and his smile made Xander smile. “Still set on seeing the fan club today?”
“The…? The girls! Oh, wow, the girls! And there’s me with…! Wow.”
Spike peeled himself away from Xander and went to where his coat was slung over a chair in the far corner of the room. He rifled through the pockets and brought the eyepatch out, trying his best not to mentally relive the moment he’d taken it and refusing to spare it a glance as he crossed back to the bed.
“Here.” He passed it to Xander. “You said you wanted it.”
Xander, on the other hand, examined the patch closely, like an alien object he’d never laid eyes – plural – on before.
“Terrible time,” Xander repeated his admission of weeks ago.
“Yes,” Spike agreed once again, although not entirely sure that they were agreeing on the same thing.
Several minutes passed in thoughtful silence, then Xander offered the patch back to Spike.
“Don’t you? It was a big part of your life.”
“That’s right. It was.”
The offer wasn’t withdrawn and the patch eventually taken; Spike inquisitively cocked an eyebrow and Xander gave him a grim smile.
“The freak show left town.”
Chapter 34 Meaning It
There was, naturally, high emotion and great jubilation when Xander was visited by Willow, Buffy, Giles and Dawn in the early afternoon, but Spike turned his back on it all, absenting himself from the immediate vicinity before the group arrived, and skulking on the periphery of the affected area for hours after their departure.
Zooza however, did join them for a while, remaining after they’d left to explain to Xander that he’d found a good, strong spell to prevent any attempted manifestation similar to Escolet’s, and the short delay in presenting it to Xander had been because Zooza had spent time working on his own variation to ensure that non-invasive spirits attempting to contact the medium would not be impeded.
When Spike returned that evening, the scents lingering in the room were like the signatures in a visitor’s book, and it was Zooza’s that he was perturbed by. It was ridiculous to be suspicious of the entirely heterosexual, Doctor Bunny-smitten mage, but Spike was determined to introduce Zooza into the conversation to ascertain if Xander was developing…an attachment. Xander, however, was still too excited by the visit of his friends to give Spike time to figure out the best way to broach the subject, immediately beginning a minute by minute account of his meeting, interrupting himself only occasionally to return to the subject of Dawn’s vertical, peacock-hued hair.
“…and they all wanted to know where you’d got to,” Xander concluded as he came to a breathless halt.
“Business to take care of,” Spike lied.
“Really?” Xander pressed, having already picked the problem apart and figured out that the truth was more about Spike anticipating a backlash for what had happened at the barn.
Spike could see that Xander already knew so what was the point in evading the truth?
“They think I’m the biggest bastard, right?” he said gloomily.
“The guy who saved me…”
“The guy who put you in danger in the first place.”
“You didn’t know that,” Xander patiently reiterated, “you did everything with the best intentions.” Spike looked to Xander, still needing and wanting reassurances to quell his persistent guilt, even if it meant Xander repeating himself for the hundredth time. “C’mon, Spike, we’ve all been there. We all understand about what we have to do.”
“I know Buffy’d get it. She loved Angel when she stuck a sword into him and sent him to hell.”
“I guess there are certain similarities: he recovered and she’s the one who carried on suffering for it.”
“Yeah, well… Not exactly where I was going. Buffy’d understand, but the others…”
“Understand too. But, Spike, this isn’t about them. They weren’t there, and even if they tried to judge you over what happened – which they haven’t – they’d have no right. This isn’t about them.”
“You don’t think…”
“Shut up and listen.” Spike opened his mouth to protest but Xander’s glare was enough to silence him. “You remember the conversation we had after that weird reading in Woodbury, the brain-damaged husband? About making difficult decisions for someone else, no choice about making a choice, the cruelty of it?” Spike nodded. “That’s where we arrived at thanks to Dead Guy, and what I needed from you was the last thing you wanted to do. You had no choice, and that was as cruel as it gets. We understood that in Woodbury; we have to understand it now.”
“Does that mean… Have you forgiven me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive. Anyhow, as you know, if I wanted to be mean about it, I’d find it so much more satisfying to blame Angel.”
Xander looked so pleased with himself over that, Spike couldn’t help smiling, and that one smile made everything so much easier for some indefinable reason. Possibly the huge grin Xander gave him in return before gesturing him to the far side of the bed. Spike investigated, finding a large duffel bag.
“They brought you laundry?”
“Christmas presents. From them, for us. Not us as in us, but…us.”
“No telling them then? The us?”
“I told them…enough.”
“Giving them the option of denial?” Spike asked, and rather than feeling the expected pang of rejection, his smile caught him by surprise as it re-emerged to match Xander’s oh-so cheeky version.
“If they can’t figure it out from the amount of times I said ‘Spike’ in a single sentence, it has to be ‘cause they don’t want to.”
“Wicked child. Playing games with the kith and kin.”
“Does it make me a bad man if I want to see them struggle to ask if they’ve got it right about us, basically for my own entertainment but…yes, I admit it, also a little payback?”
“I was always the last to know, wasn’t I? Willow deciding she was gay; Buffy deciding to get it on with the then evil undead…”
“The Bit won’t struggle,” Spike warned, sidestepping any possibility of Buffy hijacking the conversation. “You know her, she’ll want photographic evidence.”
“At least we have a cursed camera to blame for having none.”
Each waited for the other to offer up the suggestion that it wasn’t too late, and a little realistic discussion on the boundaries of over when it’s over would have helped their situation greatly, but no discussion, no boundaries, no suggestion.
“What did they think of the eye?” Spike progressed to an easier subject.
“Want to hear the strangest thing? The girls didn’t notice. They came in and were relieved to see the alive and in one piece Xander they wanted to see and there was fuss and hugging and everyone talking at once and asking too many questions to answer. I looked past them and Giles was standing at the door and… His face. Y’know, there have been so many times when I’ve wondered if he even liked me, if he was gritting his teeth and putting up with me ‘cause he was there for the girls and I was their unavoidable accessory, but… His face, Spike. For a moment I thought he was going to cry, and that totally freaked me out, because…well…Giles. Then the girls followed where I was staring and noticed that Giles was out of it, and when they figured why… Let’s just say it was loud. It was very loud.”
“And the other changes?”
“I was so stupid to think that we wouldn’t fit together any more ‘cause of what I do now. I have to say that there were moments when they seemed to be waiting for me to magically summon up Joyce, or Tara, whoever, but it didn’t happen, and I didn’t put on any kind of show. We talked about it, my work, and about what happened at the barn; I accepted the hero-worship stoically,” Xander finished with a very fake self-deprecating sigh.
“Want your pressies?”
“Not yet. I’m going to take them home and have Christmas. I don’t care if it’ll be February, I’m damn-well going to have Christmas at home with—” Xander stalled and shot an enquiring look at Spike. “Do you still want…?”
“I’m thinking of having a party, so all my new friends and my old friends can get to know one another. I’ll even extend the invitation to Angel ‘cause I’m sure he’d love to spend some time with the mediums from the Stokes’. And Dylan, so I can see Angel cringe every time he gets called Big Daddy.”
“Sure. Can’t leave out my other saviour, can I? You think that means I have to invite Bunny?”
Spike ignored Xander’s question, more eager to hear the answer to one of his own.
“What do you think of Zooza?”
“Zooza? Uh… He has the face of one of my childhood heroes, I have to think he’s pretty cool.” Spike turned his best scowl on Xander. “What? What do you want me to say? Other than being damnably handsome and kinda exotic, he’s a really nice guy, he’s compassionate, he makes a good counsellor and I’ve needed one.”
Spike visibly bristled.
“You could have talked to me.”
“No, I couldn’t. You’re too close.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No. But…yes. For what I need to talk about.”
“You know him better than I do, Spike, you don’t need me to tell you anything about him. Although…”
“He’s really worried about you. Really. You might not be aware of that. Or aware enough.”
“I am. Aware. Aware but not impressed.”
So not the direction Spike had intended to take, but he’d got used to sharing his thoughts and feelings with Xander and, right now, it felt totally alien not to share these. Besides, he selfishly longed for the solace Xander would provide as he delved into this particular subject.
“Him and Angel, they think…” Spike came and sat on the edge of the bed, near enough to feel connected to Xander, just too far away to be touched or held or prematurely comforted. “After what happened to you I…I didn’t cope well. Or at all. They tried to tell me you’d been revived, but… I didn’t know. I was past knowing. I lost you and that was that. I lost you.”
Xander sensibly chose not to mention that he’d already been made aware of this and instead reached for Spike, finding himself thwarted, just as Spike had intended.
“Come here, Baby, come closer.”
“No.” Xander accepted that, albeit unhappily. He sat back and waited for Spike to continue. “Each time we lose someone it’s harder for me to cope, harder for me to build myself up again. Bad enough with a replacement huminion, but you…well, you know.”
“An original,” Spike agreed, and he risked a glance at Xander, the muscles clenching in his chest when he saw the degree of concern on the man’s face. “Angel, Zooza, they reckon I need to stop working here, that I’m past recovering from the losses.”
“Is that what you think?” Spike hesitated as welcome lies tripped through his mind. “Is that what you think?” Xander repeated, gently prompting.
“Yes,” Spike painfully admitted, “and it makes me useless.”
“You felt it, Xander, you know what it’s like when a fundamental part of what makes you the person you are is taken away. However briefly, you got to experience that, so no automatic gainsaying, all right?”
“Even if you can write yourself off so easily, I can’t. I know the good you can do, it doesn’t have to be at such a high cost to yourself.”
“I’m not prepared to leave the firm and, whatever I do within it, I always seem to be in a position where the people around me are at risk.”
“You’re not prepared to make any material changes?”
“Then you have to make some emotional ones.”
“How…? What sort of emotional changes?” Spike asked warily. “Have the soul sucked out of me so I don’t give a toss?”
“Hmm, let me think. Am I brave enough to suggest to a vampire he needs therapy?”
“I really do think the world of you, Petal, but sod off.”
Xander smiled and once again gestured Spike closer. This time, after an exceedingly short pause for thought, Spike moved to his side and allowed himself the soothing caresses Xander so effectively administered.
“You ever talk about it?” Xander asked.
“The losses? Barely. I’ve told you more than I’ve told anyone. Had to, didn’t I?”
“Had to be honest to win your trust.”
“Actually, you being yourself won my trust.”
“That’s right, smush me to death.”
“Like you don’t love it.”
Spike took Xander’s hand and picked at the remnants of the nail polish he’d applied what felt like a lifetime ago.
“Want me to re-do this for you?”
“Something to keep you busy while you very obviously change the subject? Sure. And if the girls haven’t already guessed about us…”
They shared a grin, and Xander turned his attention to coaxing Spike closer, sensing the moment of doubt and dealing with it the only way he could when words seemed redundant: he kissed Spike. He kept kissing Spike. Kissing him and holding him and kissing him and meaning it.
Xander eventually dozed; Spike did and didn’t, wanting to but knowing he was awake, and pretending wasn’t cutting it. He carefully disentangled himself from Xander then stood to stretch, aware that Xander was already groping after him. He spent a few minutes studying Xander’s disgruntled expression, but as soon as the first…
…was uttered, he returned to the bed, sitting and letting Xander find him and shove him around like a lumpy pillow until comfortable lounging in the vampire’s lap was achieved. As Xander sighed contentedly and got back to his nap, Spike wallowed in the intimacy, running his fingers through Xander’s hair as he half-sang, half-whispered to him.
A familiar scenario with an unfamiliar subject. Fond memories of coddling Drusilla came and went, driven out by the frustration and grief he still experienced at the reminder of his sire’s loss. Despite knowing the apparent restrictions when it came to contacting spirits residing in any kind of hell – and however much he’d loved her, Spike wasn’t about to kid himself that hell wasn’t what Dru deserved – Spike began to contemplate asking Xander if there was any possible way to get in touch with her. After all, Escolet had somehow managed to come through, so maybe Xander’s ability plus a bit of a magical nudge and… A distinct prickling rippled over Spike’s skin. He was being watched. A surreptitious glance at the observation window proved futile due to a combination of no light in the next room and the reflection of the dimmed lights in this; no scent was discernible through the doorway thanks to the air barrier that helped keep the room sterile.
More nosy about than troubled by this intrusion, Spike ran through the possibilities, coming to the swift conclusion that it had to be one of Xander’s lot as anyone on the firm would make their presence known immediately, particularly as they were all aware of how protective – or possibly neurotic – Spike was when it came to Xander. So… Willow, Buffy, or Giles? Not Dawn. Although… On consideration, Spike suspected that even Dawn with her youthful brashness might choose to observe rather than intrude. Which of them? And was…whoever…looking on in delight, or surprise, or shock, or disgust? Had they missed every one of Xander’s hints earlier in the day and were now trying to figure out if this – Xander sprawled over Spike and receiving care and affection rather than censure – was for real?
Spike closed his eyes and ran a little fantasy behind them. Yes, this was for real, this was very real, but the person watching wouldn’t understand that, they’d make a fuss and then Xander would wake up and reject their concerns, loudly and unequivocally claiming Spike as his own. Spike smiled to himself, because he had no doubt that Xander would make that claim, no denying his lover even if they were on the verge of being over when this was over.
Of course, the fantasy was not fulfilled. No fuss was caused, and no White Knight response needed from Xander. Spike soon lost interest in whoever was spying on them, his full attention returning to Xander as he stirred and automatically hugged before making an awkward turn, blinking Spike into focus, and offering up a smile.
Spike smiled back.
“Gonna keep your promise?”
A couple of seconds and the reference dropped into place.
“I’m going to keep my promise.”
Wrapped up against the elements and wedged into a wheelchair, Xander stared up at a night sky he’d temporarily believed he would never set a mortal eye on again. This was not quite what he’d expected when he’d asked to get up and out, but the roof was good enough for him and far less stressful than most other venues would have proved.
One of Spike’s fists tightly and permanently gripped the chair – he kept trying to relax it but found that the moment he stopped directly thinking of loosening his grip the clenched fist was back. Okay, he was still a little overprotective, he could cope with that, especially as it kept him this close to Xander, and more especially as this Xander was so worth being close to. The man was plainly thrilled to be outside, his expression full of the joy of living, and bloody gorgeous didn’t cut it, not at this instant.
“Beautiful,” Spike murmured.
“Yes,” Xander agreed, gazing at the stars and remaining clueless over what he’d confirmed.
The icy breeze blew Xander’s hair into his face time and again and, just as often, Spike brushed it away, un-obstructing his view and gaining smile after smile from Xander who thought he was simply being considerate.
Spike’s heart ached to see Xander looking so well, for negative as well as positive reasons: when Xander was completely better this would end. Their February Christmas would come and go and this would be over. On impulse he leant across and kissed Xander’s winter-cold lips while he still had the right, appreciating Xander kissing him back without hesitation, but missing something that Xander whispered as a moment of undeniable terror hit him: the thought of these cold lips being cold because of unliving death.
“Are you not listening?”
Another reassuring kiss and Spike was determinedly here and now.
“What did you say?”
“Back inside. Is there a lock on my door?”
“Because?” Xander suggestively twitched his eyebrows. “So we can… You mean it?”
“I’ve missed you, Spike.”
“And I’ve missed you, Love, so much, so bloody much, I just didn’t think…”
“I know. But think. Now. Think. And then… Do more than think.”
Xander watched with an almost feral interest as Spike rapidly closed the blinds of his room and hauled a vast, heavy medical cabinet in front of the door in lieu of a lock.
“Angel could still…”
“He’d take the hint.”
Spike took a last, quick look around to see if he’d missed anything – not that he cared, he’d put on a bloody show, but Xander was a tad fussier about their privacy – and then, satisfied, looked to Xander for his approval.
“Take your clothes off,” Xander said, an interesting tone to his voice that made the words half-plea, half-demand.
With a smirk, Spike started toward Xander, ignoring the smacking hands as he lifted him from the chair to the bed.
“Oi, behave yourself.” He began to remove blanket after blanket. “When I’m all hot and naked, don’t want to have to stop to peel you like an onion, do I.”
“‘Kay,” Xander grumped, but Spike had such a way of doing things that Xander was perfectly amenable and already hard when Spike arrived at the hospital gown and teased away this final layer before helping him recline.
“There.” Spike proudly surveyed his work, dragging a single fingertip along Xander’s erection. “How nice is that?” Tickticktick from the left knee as Xander instinctively bucked to find Spike’s hand. “How do I know I’m going to get hard every time I hear a clock ticking from now on? Or Death Watch beetle, what about…”
“All right, all right. Watch, Love.”
Backing away, Spike began the elegant transition from clothes to skin, pausing at intervals to tease Xander with polite requests for further instructions.
“Jesus, Spike, you barely wear anything, how can it take you this long to get out of it!”
Spike loved Xander’s impatience, and he loved being the cause of the clear drips that oozed from the eye of Xander’s straining cock to lie, glistening, on his belly.
“Shall I fuck you?” Spike considered as he casually played with himself, rolling his foreskin back and forth and pretending to be impervious to Xander’s stifled groans. “Ride you?”
“Not that, not here,” Xander told him breathlessly, “just… Ah, forget it, I’ll do it myself.”
The moment Xander’s hand wrapped around his own shaft, Spike was there, draping his body over Xander’s and resisting the enthusiastic demands for more contact as he took care to mind the damaged knee and elbow. Finally their cocks met and Xander bit back an exclamation as Spike slid his rigid member along the human’s.
“A return to silence,” Spike observed. “Have to see about that.”
“No, you won’t. Maybe I don’t want to advertise what we’re doing.”
“You started it.”
“I know, but that doesn’t mean I want a lecture from Bunny about abusing the facilities.”
“You don’t honestly think— Ah. You do.” Spike continued the slow rub against Xander, sweetening his voice. “Shall I kill the old cow for you?”
“She’s useful,” Xander humoured him.
“Then I’ll turn her.”
“She’d give you indigestion.”
“There’s always Bisodol.”
“She might want her sire to show her a good time, and I’m not talking about seeing the sights.”
Spike fell still and grimaced.
“I hate that, I shouldn’t have thought it.”
“You with someone else.”
“But I’m here. With you.”
“I know, I know. Remember back when we were fighting and I told you to go find a whore? I knew you wouldn’t but…”
“You knew that, did you?”
“Yeah, I did. I totally knew that, but when you walked away and I thought, just for a second, I thought you might…”
With a ticktickticking, Xander managed to grab Spike with both hands, holding onto him with just the kind of unnecessary possessiveness that Spike enjoyed so much.
“I’m here,” Spike assured, brushing his lips over Xander’s. “I’m…” Yours. “…not going anywhere until we’re done.”
Xander nudged up with his hips and Spike began to move again, slowly dragging his erection over Xander’s, relishing the sensation of Xander’s fingernails unconsciously sinking into the skin of his back as he teased the head of Xander’s cock with his own, slippery glans. Too aroused to last long, it was only minutes before Xander’s hand scrabbled at Spike’s hair for purchase, using it to drag him into the kiss that muffled hard-fought groans of satisfaction as Xander thrust upward and came hard. The wet heat against his body, his partner’s fevered breathing as he tore his mouth away, and Spike gave himself over to his own release, driving his cock against Xander and almost biting through his lip as he pandered to Xander’s whim and tried his best to remain silent. His head was still buzzing with the exertion when he heard Xander’s whispered comment about how good that felt when you thought you’d never have another orgasm on this plain, followed by an apologetic,
“Sorry, Baby, you have to move.”
Spike slid to Xander’s side, just as it struck him how energetically he’d been pounding against the man’s recently wounded body. He abruptly sat up, hand hovering anxiously over the reddened scars.
“Love, I’m sorry, I didn’t think, I…”
“Hey, hey, no.”
Spike turned a bewildered look on Xander.
“Knee. Odd angle,” Xander explained, and Spike slumped with relief.
“Buggering hell, I thought I’d done you some damage.”
Grabbing a corner of a sheet, Spike tenderly wiped all signs of their spent lust away before bowing his head to kiss each of the scars.
world will be better for this’,” Xander softly sang.
“That bloody song,” Spike moaned. “Think I could get it out of my head after I read your letter?”
“Oh, yes,” Xander said pointedly, “speaking of letters, you want to tell me why all my friends got their Dead Xander letters?”
Spike’s head popped up and he glared.
“You were dead,” he accused.
“You mean you got them mailed during the however many seconds of my temporary death? You ever need another job, UPS is going to snap you up.”
“I told you,” Spike said, embarrassed by this reminder of his own frailty, “I couldn’t take it in that you’d lived.”
“You must have scared my friends in— Damn, I need to phone them! What’s the matter with me, I should have phoned them! Spike, gimme your phone.”
“Can’t use a cell in here, you’ll have to wait for the morning. You ask and someone’ll bring you a phone you can use.”
“You said they were spoken to. Simone, H, Doug? When? Before or after the letters?”
“You bastard, you stupid bastard!”
“Yes, stupid bastard,” Spike sighed, hoping agreement would shut Xander up.
“Don’t agree!” Xander automatically protested.
“Make up your mind then.”
“I… Just… Damn!”
“Oh, leave it, Petal, it’s a bit late for histrionics.”
“They know I’m okay now?”
“Forget the attitude, Pal. This is your fault, you take it like…”
“What do you want? Want me on my knees, grovelling?”
“Oh. Oh, shit. You had to mention being on your knees.”
With a snicker, Spike relaxed back at Xander’s side, fingertips playing in the dark treasure trail of hair from navel to groin.
“On my knees, on my back, front, floor, bed, fixtures, fittings, you name it.”
Xander drew breath to speak, stopped, went again.
“Spike… Any idea how soon I can leave this place?”
“I need a why?”
“You can’t go dashing off home before you’re ready. And your place will probably need to be cleaned.”
“It’ll be clean, I promise you. Simone will have…”
“Professionally cleaned. You’re barely healed and you might be susceptible to…”
“Frankly, unless it’s ankle-deep in ‘roaches—” Xander stopped with a shudder. “Gah! Shouldn’t have gone there. Bugs.”
“You’re better off here until the braces are removed and your physio’s well under way.”
“You trying to keep me a prisoner here indefinitely?”
“Don’t exaggerate. I think Bunny’s idea is to get you up and mobile as soon as possible, but without rushing it, just so you don’t have any weakness. She must mean your joints not your head ‘cause she doesn’t know you like I do.”
“The doctor wants me up,” Xander mused. “That’s good. I mean…you know how much I like to be up. Then there’s the whole…you dealing with the upness to look forward to.”
“Yes, I know you can. But think: you, home, and privacy, Spike. Privacy. You on your knees, back, front, bed, and…privacy.”
Spike swallowed hard.
“There’s a thought.” His hand wrapped around Xander’s thickening cock. “Have to have a word with Bunny first thing.” Xander nodded, possibly about the suggestion, possibly in encouragement as Spike’s fist slid up and down, up and down. “Love…”
The days progressed.
Xander made numerous phone calls to his New Forest family, long, long calls that Spike liked to eavesdrop. He gave up any pretence of not listening when Xander was talking to Doug, explaining all that he’d experienced during the contact with Escolet. Spike crept onto the bed to hold Xander tighter and tighter until Xander had to hang up to plead for room to breathe.
“Don’t listen,” Xander told Spike.
“How about they’re my private calls. And…”
“They hurt you.”
Spike laughed at that, and it was such a bitter, twisted sound that Xander’s skin crawled.
Spike soon abandoned reasonable and made a huge fuss about the nurses and orderlies helping with Xander’s ablutions: it was only Xander’s vociferous protestations that prevented Spike dealing with bottles and bedpans, but he did allow Spike to shave him, and to assist him into the shower whenever the need was felt. What they managed to get up to in the shower ensured the need was felt at least twice a day, and probably would have been more if the semi-functional arm and leg hadn’t posed such problems in the throes of…showering.
Xander was more than ready for his physiotherapy, doggedly working through the initial stiffness and discomfort in his limbs and progressing rapidly.
The exercises for his eye were approached with the same determination; his headaches gradually lessened and the vision in his left eye improved day by day.
The girls continued to visit, together and individually, and each time Spike managed to avoid them. Eventually Dawn had the chance to ask Xander, privately, how it had felt to be the one in the spotlight.
“Not good,” Xander had instantly admitted, and it was a pleasure to have someone to talk to who understood that heroic deeds didn’t necessarily indicate the presence of a hero, and this particular instance featured a normal guy feeling thoroughly miscast, entirely out of his depth, who was merely doing what he knew he had to do.
“The title of hero,” Dawn pronounced, ripping off Giles but happily making it sound like her own work, “is rarely applicable to those who grasp at it with both hands.” She cuddled up to Xander’s less-metallic side. “Sorry, Xan, but…you’re a hero.”
“Why is Zooza here so often?”
“Spike, you know why.”
“Talk to me.”
“You think? Okay, how about we discuss what Anya said, about your place in…”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
Xander sighed and rolled his eyes.
Both of them.
The staff gradually became accustomed to finding Spike in Xander’s bed of a morning and, during one of Spike’s coffee/doughnut/Twinkies/chips/pizza runs, Bunny considerately had Xander moved to a more private area. Naturally, when Spike returned and couldn’t immediately find his partner there was minor hell to pay, but the situation soon calmed down when Xander was able to convince Spike of the lack of any ill intent, despite the bad timing; the lock on the door further persuaded Spike of the sense of the move.
Buffy finally caught up with Spike, corralling him into an empty room and very pointedly closing the door behind them.
“How are you, Spike?” she asked, and kindly. Spike simply glared. Buffy tried a smile and the glare got glarier. “Oh, okay, I see, no playing at nice.”
“What do you want?”
“To know why you’re avoiding us.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Sod off, can’t you? I have to meet Bunny in an hour and one pestiferous woman a day is more than enough.”
“Is this still about your car?” Buddy tentatively asked.
“Not the car, forget the sodding car.”
“Ah. Xander then.” Glaaare. “You think we blame you for what happened to Xander.”
“You’d be pretty dim not to seeing as it was my fault.”
“Xander doesn’t blame you, so why should I?”
“Xander doesn’t,” Spike snorted dismissively. “He’s too bloody nice for his own good.” Buffy didn’t even attempt to disguise her grin. “What?” Spike demanded.
“I recognise this.”
“I simply said…”
“I know the face.”
Spike turned away.
“You don’t know anything.”
Buffy crossed and brushed her fingertips over his arm, making him swing back to face her, resentful and full of anger as he recalled the anguish she had unwittingly caused Xander, in and out of the medium’s dreams. He jerked his arm away and barely stopped himself from hitting her.
“Don’t touch—” Xander’s property, he only just prevented himself snapping. Obsessing, yes, and he hated Buffy for seeing that. He found a new area of the room to stalk to, away from Buffy, wishing he could walk away as easily from his screwed up past.
“It matters to all of us that you know we don’t blame you,” Buffy persisted, keeping her promise to the reunited Scoobies.
“I don’t need your absolution. The only forgiveness I need is my own, and that won’t be happening for a while yet.”
“Come and spend some time with us, all of us.”
“No. I don’t need this from you, any of you. You lot, you’re my equivalent of Xander’s bugs: real enough to irritate the fuck out of me, insubstantial enough to ignore.”
There was a lengthy pause before Buffy sighed and turned to leave.
“It wasn’t your fault. The only thing I can reasonably blame you for is not letting me be there. Together we might have…”
“I’m happy to. I am so, so happy to.”
Willow and Giles visited Xander. Willow succumbed to Xander’s pitiful tale of snack-deprived woe even faster than Spike had earlier in the day, and left to procure a second round of goodies for him. Once alone, Giles, bearing tangible guilt and regret, apologised profusely to Xander for getting him involved in the battle with the Escolets, but quickly added how proud he was of Xander for his contribution.
“Is that a first?” Xander asked, a cheeky grin covering how moved he was by Giles’ admission.
Giles looked at him as if he were mad.
“I’ve always been enormously proud of you,” Giles insisted. “Of all of you. Didn’t you know?”
“No. Maybe. Right now…any chance you could tell me again?”
“I sent him out for a DVD.”
Angel glanced around the room.
“I know. He’s buying the player too. Actually, I just wanted him out of this place for a while, it’s not good for him.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Xander nodded and gestured to a chair. Angel sat.
“Come a little closer and the voices will stop,” Xander told him, smirking at the vampire’s unease as he shuffled his chair forward.
Angel regarded Xander with interest before pointing at his face. His new eye.
“How is it?”
“Good. Thank you.”
“No, don’t… Okay. Yes, you’re welcome. Thank you too.”
Xander shrugged and Angel fell silent.
“So… Spike?” Xander prompted.
“This is difficult.”
“It’s Spike, it’s bound to be.”
A rueful smile was followed by a weary sigh. Angel stared at his hands, stared at the floor, fidgeted in his seat, and finally looked back to Xander.
“We have to help him.”
“Thank God it’s only that, for a moment I thought it was going to be the shovel talk and, can I point out right now: shovel talk: premature.”
“Never mind. Carry on.”
Angel blinked hard, and refocused his train of thought.
“I don’t think Spike can cope with much more of this life.”
“Hey, that better not be a stake in your pocket or you being pleased to see me.”
“Will you take this seriously?”
“Seriously? Okay. Seriously… I know what you’re saying, and I know what you’ve told Spike. But whatever advice you give him he’ll simply do the opposite of what you want ‘cause that’s how he’s wired, and, other than offering him support and counselling, there’s nothing I can do.”
“He respects your opinion. You could tell him to…”
“No, stop right there. It’s not up to me, or you, to make Spike’s decisions for him.”
“Even if he’s making the wrong ones for himself?”
“Yes, even then. We’d do it for the right reasons but…he’d hate us and himself and…things would only get worse.”
Angel thought, stood, wandered, returned, sat.
“This…weakness will be the death of him. Him and others. I don’t want that.”
“What do you want? Spike completely out of the firing line?”
The vampire gave a slow shake of the head.
“Spike away from the people who are in the firing line. He’ll put himself at risk without a second thought. But any risk to the people he cares about and… You know.”
“I do. I do know.” Xander caught a glimpse of bright blond in the hexed mirror Spike had set up for him to see along the corridor. “So, yeah, I understand a lot more about the eye now, but… Hey, why isn’t magic used to fix broken bones?”
“Because if the spell broke at any time the bones would too,” Spike answered as he breezed into the room, packages under both arms. “And what the hell are you doing in here?” Spike grouched at Angel, turning away to put the packages on a cabinet and missing the look of gratitude his grandsire shot Xander for the timely change of subject. Unburdened, Spike spun back and stared hard at Angel, waiting for an answer.
“Just passing the time of day,” Angel said lightly, “with your boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Xander automatically protested.
“But you make a nice couple. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen you together, and you do.”
“Bastard!” vehemently from Spike.
“Is it so much more satisfying if you think I disapprove?”
“Yes!” the lovers chorused.
Angel rolled his eyes, sighed, and plastered on the habitual frown.
“This will never work. Both of you…you’re unstable, unreliable, you’re losers. Only difference now is that you’re a pair of losers.”
Spike and Xander exchanged a glance and, at Xander’s nod, Spike stepped forward to shake Angel’s hand.
“Thanks, mate,” he said sincerely.
Muttering to himself about like finding like, Angel left. Spike watched him go before turning his attention back to Xander, springing onto his boyfriend’s feet.
“I’m not your boyfriend?” he grinned as he crawled up the bed. “After what we’ve been up to, I’m not even your boyfriend? You cheap little tart.”
“You’re not my boyfriend, you’re my ‘licious hunka studly not-just-sex fiend,” Xander grinned back, forcing his fingers into Spike’s hair for leverage and smothering Spike’s laughter with a sloppy kiss the moment his mouth was accessible.
“I used to be the joke boyfriend,” Spike reminded Xander as he carefully settled himself.
“You used to be a lot of things.”
Xander stroked his fingertips over Spike’s face, studying their path and adoring what he saw.
“I’ve been thinking. About changes.”
“No, no, don’t…” A protestation too late as Spike slid to Xander’s side and treated the ceiling to his blankest expression. “Change doesn’t have to be bad,” Xander whispered as he tried to coax Spike back.
“You’re leaving, right? That’s the change you’re talking about, that’s what you were really discussing with Angel.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“You’re going though, aren’t you.”
“That’s no surprise, surely. I’ve been pestering you about going home since… Pretty much since we started out from New Forest.”
“This is different.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is. But…”
“Christmas still on, is it?”
“Am I still invited?”
“I absolutely refuse to have Christmas without you. That answer your not-so-smart question?”
Spike relaxed a little, turned a little more, halfway to holding Xander.
“And then it’s over,” he said flatly.
The defeated tone was enough to spur Xander on, to propose the change he really wanted to make. Not easy though. Sometimes it felt like nothing with Spike was easy. But, worth it? Hell, yes.
“I’ve been thinking and… I don’t know how it would be for you, but I had this idea, and…yes, it would mean a change. Big change. I was thinking, well, hoping, that we could still…y’know…keep in touch. See one another. Maybe.”
Xander felt Spike stiffen in what he hoped was surprise or anticipation or anything other than a prelude to ridicule and dismissal. Spike’s tension was, in fact, more about stifling what might prove to be an inappropriate display of exuberance if he’d somehow misunderstood Xander’s stumbling implication that their late Christmas had come early.
“What, you mean, like…?”
Xander opted to start in the box marked harmless.
“We could be friends, friends is good, or – or… We could…slightly… Be together?” Xander offered apologetically as his courage popped out for a beer. “Long distance together. Which is notoriously hard, yes. But, y’know…friends anyhow, whatever.”
The slightly incredulous tone was enough to convince Xander that he was making the biggest mistake here with the whole prospective togetherness; he mentally hit the panic button and manoeuvred into reverse.
“Too difficult, to be more than friends, I guess.”
“Well… What do you think?”
“I… What do you think?”
“Okay, right, what I think. Okay. I… No, it’s… I know your work means you have to be here, so…” Exhausted by a single sentence, Xander groaned and gave up. “I didn’t say it was a smart idea, just…an idea.”
“S’pose, at a push…you could stay in LA with me,” Spike suggested, making a fairly bad job of sounding nonchalant as his sense of anticipation grew.
Xander’s hopes barely had a chance to soar before they were plummeting again.
“I can’t. No way I can cope with LA, not the real outside world LA. It’s like I told you before, it’s so crowded, the voices…”
“Sorry, course you can’t cope, and you shouldn’t have to. Another not smart idea.”
“Plus there are people at home that I need. How much easier would it have been if I could have talked to Doug about Wayne, or how to find Tania?”
“There are other…”
“No, I don’t mind visiting other chapels, but I don’t want to be anywhere else but the Stokes’ permanently. I trust those people more than I can say, and…I need them. Really need them. And, y’know, you’d soon get tired being the only person I could lean on.”
Spike stopped fighting his natural inclination to snuggle up to Xander, and Xander bundled him closer the moment he got the chance.
“I don’t expect you to leave LA,” Xander continued, doing his best not to sound quite so devastated as the what ifs he’d been clinging to since before the Dead Guy Event began to seriously fall apart. “I doubt you could stand living where I do. Stand Medusa and not be pointlessly jealous of Doug. It’d be too quiet, you’d be bored outta your mind.”
“Our hours are compatible,” Spike said reasonably, and Xander hugged him tighter.
“You think maybe that’s it as far as compatibility goes? In truth? That and English chocolate coo…biscuits.” No answer from a fairly overwhelmed Spike, and Xander turned his head, rubbing his face against Spike’s brittle hair, knowing he was going to lose this. “I shouldn’t have said anything. We can’t happen.”
Spike heard the roughness creeping into Xander’s voice and hoped it stopped before he ended up bawling in empathy.
“We’re compatible,” he insisted. “Fits and starts, perhaps, but we do get on.”
“Why shouldn’t we happen? How about… What if I half and half it? Between LA and New Forest. Or I could use your place as a base, drive to LA if and when. And why would I get bored? I’d get to watch you work all the time and I’ll never get tired of that. Feel so bloody proud of you, Love.”
Xander heard the roughness creeping into Spike’s voice and hoped it stopped before he ended up bawling in empathy.
“You said you didn’t want to make any material changes.”
“Is this what you meant when you asked?”
“No, that was all about you. But this stuff has been buzzing around my head since I woke up and the thought of not… I’m so used to you, Spike, to us, and I’m so…I’m so…”
“Attached, yes. The idea of not seeing you again after Christmas…”
“That was never going to happen,” Spike protested, conveniently forgetting his own negativity. He squirmed out of Xander’s hold and leant up so he could see Xander’s face and reactions. “Bloody short memory you’ve got. How about England? I was serious about that.”
“You mean it? We’re really going to England?”
“You thought it was a token pre-death fantasy, eh?”
“Maybe,” Xander smiled, and Spike kissed him.
“Promise is a promise, Petal. And, what if we do another chapel crawl? Minus the death and bloodshed. Make it an annual road trip: few chapels, you can read, get yourself into trouble…”
“Here, fancy me for an agent? I bet I could get you on the telly in less than a month.”
“No,” Xander chuckled. “But the rest… I like.” The smile faded. “Wish I could pay my own way.”
Rather than the automatic dismissal of Xander’s wish, Spike took a moment to think.
“Have you thought about asking the Council to pay for the reports you’re writing?”
“They would and they should. Specially the Escolet stuff.”
“Will you help me write that up? I wasn’t aware of too much when he was in control.”
“Course I’d help. And I’ll get Rupert to speak to the Council. That should put a few quid in your pocket, just in time for you to treat me to tea at the Savoy.” Footsteps along the corridor and Spike peered into the magicked mirror to see Angel approaching. “Angel,” he told Xander. “Probably wants to watch.”
Xander was giving Spike a final smack for that thought as Angel tapped on the doorframe before entering the room and stopping, hands on hips, and glaring.
“The Vree’vathets, Spike.”
“What about ’em?”
“They’ve killed an entire nest of Koets, and it has to be to get your attention.”
“What are Koets?” Xander asked with a concerned frown.
“Nothing of interest.”
“They’re a fairly small, relatively harmless demon,” Angel explained patiently despite the non-wavering glare. “They keep themselves to themselves unless they’re repeatedly attacked and then they swarm and…”
“You said it: they’re all dead,” Spike said dismissively. “Swarming won’t be an issue.”
“That was one damn nest! The family unit extends to twenty-three others. If you don’t get out there and deal with this the Vree’vathets will attack another other nest and there will be hundreds of Koets swarming and snacking wherever they pause.”
“When you say snacking…?” Xander ventured.
“Usually they live on carrion,” Angel explained, “but when they swarm they’ll attack anything, they become mindless. They tend to invade cinemas or…”
“Oh, come off it. Evidence of that is so rare it’s probably an urban legend.”
Xander prodded Spike in the side.
“Spike, if there’s any chance…”
“…and simply talking to these…these…”
“Vree’vathets,” Angel supplied.
“….will stop it…”
Spike swung away from Xander and off of the bed.
“In my own good time, all right? Those wankers don’t respect anyone who comes running when…”
Angel stepped up to Spike, nose-to-nose.
“We’re way past posturing, Spike, you need to talk to the Vree’vathets before they stop playing with Koets and start tearing the city apart looking for you.”
“Well, maybe I just don’t bloody-well want to!”
Xander cringed as Spike’s shout reverberated around him and out along the corridor.
“Keep it down, Baby, you’ll have…”
“Shut up, Xander, keep out of this.”
“Oh, fine, fine,” Xander sulked, ticktickticking as he attempted to turn his back on the vampires. “Take it outside.”
Spike bit back the vicious retort that he knew Xander didn’t deserve, and stalked into the corridor, Angel right behind him.
No demons to deter the spirits and they were instantaneously there, Saul guiding one in particular to Xander for his immediate consideration. Far easier to deal with this than the quarrelling vampires, and Xander happily diverted his attention.
In the corridor the vampires seemed to be stuck in a loop, and for the fourth time they were back to Angel insisting…
“If you don’t want to take responsibility for a situation you’ve allowed to develop, maybe I was right, but for the wrong reasons.”
The fourth time and Spike finally called him on it.
“Oh, for— I’ll take the bait, satisfied? Right about…?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be working here.”
“How did I know that was coming?” Spike sneered.
“I can’t have you here if…”
“It’s not your choice. Fifty-fifty control, remember?”
“Even Xander agreed that…”
“What?” Spike demanded frigidly. “What did he agree?” Obvious really; Spike’s heart sank to his boots. “He agree to spin me any old load of bullshit to get me out of this place?”
“No. He’s simply as worried…”
Spike spun away, back to Xander’s room, furious and determined to have the truth, to find out why he’d been played and if Xander’s invitation to join him in New Forest contained a single word of honesty or was simply misguided altruism. As he strode back into Xander’s room he barely noticed that Xander was distracted and obviously in communication with a spirit.
“I’ve had enough of this, Xander, enough of walking on eggshells, I want to know…”
“It’s okay, I can… … Yes, I can understand.”
“Hang up, Xander, we need to talk.”
“Okay, Honey, take it slowly.”
“I knew that silence spell was a good idea. I’m going to get Zooza to mix me up a batch and…”
“Spike,” Xander said sharply. “Spike!”
“This spirit was drawn here by the present circumstances and…”
“Think I care?”
“Do you know a Stephanie?” Xander asked, still listening to his contact.
“No,” Spike snapped.
“Yes,” Angel immediately contradicted from the doorway. “Stevie,” he reminded Spike.
“You have a message?” Angel tentatively enquired.
“We’re not her sodding answering service, are we? She can get off her lazy arse and visit you tomorrow for a reading.”
“No,” Xander disagreed, “no, she can’t. The message is from her.”
“From her, Spike, and… This is difficult because she’s so recently passed.” Xander concentrated, waving the gradually encroaching vampires further away. “Okay. There was…anger, massive anger, directed at…her? … No, not her, not just her. Here. Anger directed here, and she… She tried to deal with it, she thought she could, deal with… … I can’t quite catch this, it sounds like…Oondletor, Oonder…”
“Uund’d’tar,” Angel corrected him.
“Yes, yes, that. She tried to deal with…Oon…that guy and…she was… … No, again, tell me again, surely that’s not… … Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. No, don’t make me feel it, don’t…” Xander groaned and shook his head as if trying to dislodge the trauma that was being conveyed to him. “Saul.” His guide intervened and Xander took a deep breath before turning to the vampires. “She was…she was…a sacrifice. … Yeah, I’m… … Okay, Honey, you rest. Rest. I’m not going anywhere, you rest now.”
Xander felt Stephanie leave him and, bewildered by this talk of a sacrifice, looked from Spike to Angel for an explanation.
“Uund’d’tar,” Angel said quietly, “is the Superior of the Vree’vathets.”
“But, didn’t you say that only Spike…”
“Yes. It would be far too dangerous for anyone else to attempt to deal with them.”
Xander’s gaze returned to a stunned and finally speechless Spike.
“Congratulations, Spike,” Angel ground out in seething fury. “One of our own. Another one of our own. And this time…you may as well have killed her with your own fangs.”