Repossession by Lazuli Kat

 

 

Chapter 7

A whole day of peace and rest.  No Monday blues, just peace and rest.  Willow went to the shop for a while, Xander and Spike did virtually nothing.  Listened to music, if that counted as anything, flicked through some books, but mainly just lounged on the sofa and communed.  Xander talked about their past, their rocky beginning, the battles they’d fought and won, the people they’d known, the good times, not-so-good times.  But not the bad times.  The counter-productive could only be lived with, not spoken of.

“Then I had to leave.  For work.”  ‘Your loss, Xander.  Fuck you!’   “Which is when you came to live with Willow.”  Your loss, Xander.  Fuck you!’   “I tried to stay in touch, but I guess vampires aren’t the best communicators.”  Your loss, Xander.  Fuck you!’   “I wrote.  You didn’t.”  ‘Your loss, Xander.  Fuck you!’   “I eventually took the hint and stopped.  Thought I might be…” hurting, distressing, tormenting  “…irritating you.”  Your loss…’

Spike’s touch on his face broke Xander out of the destructive cycle in his head.  The vampire was concerned: could he feel Xander’s inner turmoil?  No, that was ridiculous.  The heartbeat was probably just wrong, reflecting anxiety instead of calm.  Xander rearranged his thoughts from the negative to the positive and smiled.  Spike’s hand dropped away, tucking back into the warm folds of the human’s sweater as he shuffled back into the position of optimum comfort he had established through wriggling and insinuation.

“I always cared.  There wasn’t a single day when I didn’t think about you.  I was…sad, but…  You believe I always cared, don’t you?”  Nod.  “And you know I care now?”  Nod.  “Don’t forget that.  Ever.”  Shake.

In the evening Spike was persuaded to go for a ride in the car, Xander and Willow giving him the guided tour of the town’s highlights and low-lifes.  They parked outside Angel’s mansion for a while, explaining, in an assiduously censored account, what had happened there.  There was no sense of the familiar, no recognition, and the vampire was troubled by the disappointment that engendered.  A big heap of reassuring went on and Xander drove again, now just for the pleasure;  Spike carefully switched on the CD player, glancing back at Willow in the back seat to see if this was acceptable and, oh, yes, this was great, just like the good old days if you took some fucking monumental changes out of the equation.  Spike reached out from years past and there was his influence: Xander and Willow could both accompany The Clash, word for word, and they sang as they cruised.

More music when they got back to the house.  Willow turned the radio on and joined Xander in the kitchen to heat up blood and make hot chocolate.  Spike was drawn to the soulful sounds of the late-night playlist, heavy on the romantic, words defined enough for him to just about follow the sense; he stood gazing at the player, letting the mellow music flow over him.  Xander brought in the drinks and placed them on the coffee table, turning to where the vampire was lost in his own world and feeling a distinctly lonely pang on Spike’s behalf.  He moved behind Spike, sliding his arms around the thin body; Spike melted into the touch, his head falling back onto Xander’s shoulder, letting himself be swayed in time to the music.

“My Spike,” Xander murmured.  “I never want you to be lonely.  I always want to be around for you.  My beautiful Spike.”

The purr broke out.  Spike was where he most wanted to be: lost in the closeness of the one person he trusted unequivocally.  Lifting his head he turned within the circle of Xander’s arms, sliding his hands up and around the broad shoulders, rolling his brow against Xander’s before slowly rubbing his cool, smooth cheek over the warm, stubbled skin of the human’s.  Unnoticed, Willow curled up in an armchair and watched the tender scene, knowing love when she saw it and gulping against the sentimentality that upped the tempo of her heart and clogged her throat with emotion.  Abruptly feeling an intruder, she silently took herself away.

Xander rolled away from Spike and stretched, finally feeling he’d caught up with his sleep.  A glance at his watch told him it was past one in the afternoon, which would go some way to explaining it.  The vampire stirred and instantly reached out to reassure himself that Xander was still with him; the human caught his fumbling hand and squeezed.  Some time in the early morning, aching from laying on his back so much, Xander had turned from Spike, allowing the vampire to curl up behind him, which was fine but…  He’d turned himself and Spike and spooned behind the vampire, wrapping an arm around his waist and burying his face in his hair.  A thunderous purr emerged and Xander had fallen back to sleep, aches forgotten, a sappy smile fixed on his face.  Now he squeezed the hand again and rolled back onto his side, once again pressed to the thin body that burst into an appreciative purr.

“I love it when you make that noise,” he confessed with a grin.  “If I’d known you could sound like that I’d’ve found a way to get you to do it years ago.”  He leant up, head on his hand, and he gently kissed Spike’s shoulder.  “I was such a fool.”  Shake.  “Don’t disagree, you don’t remember.  Do you?”  Pause.  Shake.  “See, you’ll have to take my word for it: I was a fool.”  Xander rested his mouth against the surprisingly warm flesh of Spike’s neck and let his mind wander into the past.  Not a good idea: it didn’t take much for the memories of his Spike to stir him, and he shifted to give himself a little room before this Spike noticed he was getting hard.  Unlike a couple of nights ago, he felt no guilt, because his reaction made perfect sense, more sense than the state of physical numbness he’d lived in for years.

“I’m going to take a shower.  You want to stay here?”

Without waiting for an answer Xander kissed the back of Spike’s head and slid out of the bed.

 

Privacy felt strange.  Xander looked around the bathroom before reaching into the shower cubicle and turning on the water, and he was alone, and there was no Spike pressed against the outside of the door waiting for him to re-emerge.  Shrugging off t-shirt and boxers, he was alone and naked.  Still hard, but that was going to take all of thirty seconds to fix because now he was letting himself be horny, he was big time horny, and his pleasure-starved body was screaming for release.  Thirty seconds was starting to sound ambitious.  Stepping under the stream of water he clicked the cubicle door shut behind him, heart and breathing increasing their pace in anticipation; he took a handful of shower gel and conscientiously washed himself, sluicing away five years of frigidity before he allowed himself to let Spike into his head.  A tremor rippled through his body as he acknowledged what he was about to do, aroused by the expectation of arousal.  He shampooed his hair, taking his time, mind defying him by creeping off toward the past, toward his Spike, and his breath caught as he recalled the desire he’d witnessed in the vampire’s eyes, desire for him.  I should have said yes, why didn’t I say yes?  Yes to Spike’s love, to his body, to the chance to possess such sensual magnificence.  Xander leant one arm against the wall, resting his head on his forearm as his other hand dropped and wrapped itself unceremoniously around hard flesh that simply could not wait any longer for attention.  In his head, Spike was with him, lust in his sparkling blue eyes, strong hands exploring, taking, taking anything he wanted; long, cool fingers skimming Xander’s expectant cock, sliding to the base as his mouth…  ‘You’re so damned hot.’  As his mouth…  Ohhhh…fuck…

“Spike,” Xander groaned longingly as his mind allowed Spike to swallow him deeply, and he came with a strangled cry, collapsing against the wall in an attempt to remain upright as the spasms wrung out his body.  “God, yes, Spike.”

The vampire stood outside the bathroom, palms flat against the wooden door, head tilted as he listened to the faint sound of his other name against the thunder of water.  Confusion battled against the need to be with his master against the fact he’d been told to stay in the bedroom.  But Master had whispered that name so appealingly, and it drew him, drew on the emotions that churned behind the passive façade.  William slowly turned the handle and eased the door open a sliver, then a strip, then enough for him to slide through.  The scent in the room was heady and unfamiliar: it sent a thrill through him in a way he couldn’t comprehend, neither good nor bad, but it moved him powerfully.   The jitters it inspired were almost enough to drive him back to the hallway but movement attracted his attention as his precious master shoved himself away from the shower wall and under the steaming water, standing with his face upturned, fingers raking through his hair time and again.  William observed with devoted eyes the beauty of the form, transfixed as the muscles beneath the creamy skin flexed and moved with voluptuous fluidity, and this first sight of Master naked made William feel inadequate and self-conscious, too aware of being ugly and awkward.  He held up an arm and saw the repulsively prominent bones, the pathetic lack of flesh and muscle beneath dull skin of such sickly pallor that it emphasised every blemish and scar.  One last glance at Master’s perfection and William’s shame forced him to leave, creeping back to bed and burrowing despondently beneath the covers.

Xander washed again in a brain-dead, wrung-out way, wanting nothing more than to dry off and fall back into bed.  Okay, he knew if he got through the hormonally induced fifteen minutes of sexual jet-lag his head would de-fog and he’d be awake, but the idea of a post-orgasmic nap with Spike in his arms sounded pretty damn fine, and he could even pretend—  Well, no, maybe he shouldn’t pretend anything.  No pretence, no danger of blurring the so-far defined line between this Spike and his own.

Xander smiled at the sprout of hair emerging from the bedclothes, the only visible sign of vampire.  Exploiting the unexpected degree of privacy, he dropped the towel from his waist and began to dress.

“Hey, dozy, I’m running you a bath.  There’s not room for the two of us in it, but I can still wash your hair for you.  You like that, don’t you?”  Not a nod, or a shake, and Xander froze momentarily before crawling onto the bed beside Spike and gently easing back the covers.  “You okay, Spike?”  The vampire turned his face into the pillow.  “Spike?”  Xander stroked his hair and neck, deeply concerned by this withdrawal, at a total loss for the nth time in three weeks.  “You know the deal.  If something’s wrong you’ve got to find a way to tell me, so I can put it right for you.  You know I will if I can.”  Nothing.  Xander shifted closer and put an arm around the inert form, kissing the exposed neck and feeling a shudder.  “Please tell me what’s wrong.”

Spike squirmed out of his embrace, pushing himself to a sitting position and waiting for Xander to sit too.  Then he determinedly seized Xander’s arm and made him hold it out, putting his own alongside it and cringing at the contrast.  Xander took this in, played about with it in his head, thought he’d figured the problem out.

“You don’t like the way you look?  And…what?  You think you should look like me?”  Nod.  “But you never looked like me.  And the way you look right now is because you’ve been…I mean…because…because you’ve not been well,” Xander settled on, not wanting to go the starvation and torture route.  “You never looked like me, you always had a smaller build, very compact but muscular, and you’re naturally much paler.  And the scars…well…  You won’t always be like this, you’ll get better and be happier with how you look.”  Please don’t let me be lying, please let him get better.  “But it’s not like it matters to me.”  Xander entwined his fingers in Spike’s and brought the hand to his mouth, kissing each knuckle in turn.  “You’re always perfect to me.”  Spike sagged against Xander and let himself be comforted, defenceless against any show of affection from this human.  “I’ve got to go and turn the water off.  Don’t think Willow would be impressed with a flooded bathroom.”  But Xander couldn’t leave quite yet.  “Spike…you know you have the right to privacy, don’t you?  You can take a bath by yourself, wash your own hair.  I’ll have to help you with the dressings, but…”  Shake.  “Sure?”  Nod.

 

Xander’s face was troubled as he finished dressing Spike’s back.  Why the hell wasn’t the vampire healing?  He was probably better fed than he’d been for years, cared for and coddled, but the wounds were as raw as the first time he’d seen them.  He’d thought about spending time with Willow’s books, but he doubted that any of them would be likely to explain how to treat and heal a poorly vampire.  Then he thought about phoning Giles but couldn’t face that after ignoring the man for over five years.  Talk to Angel?  Fuck off!

“Spike, do you feel any better than when you first came to me?”  The hand rocked.  “Are you still in much pain?”  Nothing.  “You can tell me the truth.”  Unconvincing rock.  “Still in pain,” Xander muttered under his breath.  “Do you know why you’re not healing?”  Blink.  “Never mind, it was a long shot.  We’ll talk to Willow later.”  He smiled at his use of ‘we’: great three-way conversation ahoy.

He helped Spike into the angora sweater and they processed down to the kitchen, heating several bags of blood and making toast.  They sat at the table and Xander steeled himself.

“You remember Buffy?”  Nod.  “She made you feel…wrong?”  Nod.  “Will it be too bad if she comes around again?”  Nothing.  “Because, however she makes you feel, the two of you used to be friends and she wants to see you again.  And Dawn – Dawn really wants to spend some time with you and they kinda come as a set.”  Nothing.  “But if the answer’s no that’s okay, because I don’t want you to feel bad.”

Xander waited with wildly swinging hope and dread as Spike deliberated.  Yes, fine, try for a reaction, break Spike out of this shell.  No, fine, don’t have to cope with the gnawing resentment.  Spike eventually met his eyes, searching for guidance.  Xander remained passive, refusing to influence him one way or the other.  Then, nod.  Not a reluctant nod.  Not a flicker of emotion.  Just…nod.  “Sure?”  Nod.

Which is how the five of them came to be settled in Willow’s living room at seven-thirty, discussing their days and trying to pretend this was another casual gathering and everything was hunky-dory.  Buffy was reluctant to so much as glance in the vampire’s direction, whereas he seemed much bolder tonight, studying her with undisguised curiosity, a piercing stare, eyes occasionally glinting gold.  At last he lost interest and turned to his books, stretching out on the sheepskin with his 20th Century art.  Buffy’s sigh of relief at the removal of the scrutiny was felt by them all, and even Xander empathised.

They discussed Spike’s physical state, none of them able to come up with a satisfactory explanation for why the miraculous vampiric healing hadn’t kicked in, why he wasn’t gaining weight, why he was still in pain.

“How far can you let this go?” Buffy asked.

“What do you mean?” Xander answered, the suspicion in his voice making all three women wary.

“If he’s suffering, not getting any better…”

“You don’t wanna be going where I think you’re going.”

“He’s happy,” Willow told Buffy pointedly.

“Doesn’t it make you feel…”  Buffy’s voice trailed off and she shook her head.

“What?” Xander demanded.  “What?”

“I just…”

What?

“Xander, leave her alone.”

“It’s…” Buffy took a deep breath, glancing at the vampire’s back. “…heartbreaking.”

At the unexpected admission Xander backed down, took a deep breath of his own and sighed.

“Yeah.”

“But he is happy,” Willow reiterated, refusing to be miserable.  “And if he doesn’t remember the past, he doesn’t know any different.”

“Xander,” Dawn began quietly, “do you think I can…”  She gestured to Spike.

“Dawn…”

“I know what you’re going to say, Buffy, but he’d never hurt me.”

“You don’t know.  That’s not your Spike.”

“He’s in there.  I have to believe he’s in there.”  Buffy threw up her hands in exasperation.  Dawn looked back to Spike.

“Xander?”

“He seems fine with you.”

“Keep off the rug,” Willow advised.  “Territorial.”

Xander gestured for her to go ahead, ignoring the slightly panicked look from Buffy.

Dawn moved slowly, kneeling on the floor a few feet away from Spike.  He looked up from his book and studied her dispassionately.

“Can I come closer?  I’d like to see.”  Spike glanced at Xander, recognised his approval, turned back to Dawn and eventually nodded.  Dawn moved in, cross-legged, making sure she didn’t encroach upon the sheepskin.  Spike slid the book over.

“Spike willingly shares,” Buffy narrated the scene with a half-hearted smile.  “It’s worse than we thought.”

“I noticed you keep going back to this picture.  Is it one of your favourites?  The one you like best?”  Nod.  “I don’t get abstract, I like things to make sense.  But this is okay.  It’s…it’s reflections in a wet pavement.”  Frown.  “You know, when the floor gets wet and you can see lights and things in it.”  Spike raised an eyebrow and Dawn grinned at him.  “To me, it’s a wet pavement.  Can I pick one I like and you can see what you think?”  Nod.  Dawn flicked through the book and settled on Klimt’s The Kiss, gliding her fingertips over the rich golden reproduction.  “Look at the way they’re into each other.  It’s so romantic but it’s also a bit creepy because he’s almost strangling her.  I mean, what if Klimt was saying the only way this guy got his girl was by throttling her?  Or she’s drugged.  Or he’s a vampire and she’s a minute away from death and he’s about to turn her.  She doesn’t look unhappy or mad about it, but then you said it was…” Dawn paused to get the words exactly right.  “‘An exquisite moment of relinquishment and attainment.’  I always thought that was very beautifully explained.  Poetic, even.  Of course you followed it up by explaining that you woke up willing to rip the throat out of every human within a mile and desperate to shag your sire into next week.  Kind of took the romance out of it.”

Xander and Willow shared a chuckle, even Buffy found a genuine smile.

“Do you remember telling me that?”  Shake.  “Do you know you’re a vampire?”  Nod.  “Could you kill someone right now for the pleasure of a live feed?  Drink blood straight from a person?”  Shake.  “Because of the chip?”  Frown.  “Because it would hurt your head.”  Thought.  Shake.  “Why?  Sorry, that’s a dumb thing to ask, I know you can’t explain.”  Spike, however, touched the hand of the man in the picture.  Then he sat up and turned to look at Xander.  “Because…  Because of Xander?  Because Xander…  Because Xander won’t love you any more if you do,” Dawn finished rather triumphantly.  Spike’s eyes dropped away from Xander’s face and he gave a shallow nod: he didn’t actually understand the word love but he’d certainly understood the sense of Dawn’s words.  “You’re wrong,” Dawn confided.  “Xander will love you whatever you do.  The way Xander looks at you makes this picture look like a cheap thrill.”

Willow and Buffy cagily looked to Xander, waiting for fireworks, or at least remonstration, but Xander just watched the young woman and the vampire, pokerfaced.

“Can I tell you something, Spike?”  Spike shifted until he was sat cross-legged facing Dawn.  Nod.  “I want to tell you something you don’t remember but that I need you to know.  It’s one of – no, it’s the main reason – why I love you.”  Blink.  Dawn cautiously reached out, coaxing Spike’s hand into hers and caressing until she felt the resistance dissolve.  “Seven, eight years ago I was in trouble.  Maybe not the biggest trouble I’ve ever been in, I mean it wasn’t like Glory, but I was…in trouble.  I think you’ve probably got that part by now.  This tribe of demons wanted me as their – it’s hard to explain – part god, part sacrifice.  I couldn’t be their god without the sacrifice part, but I didn’t want either.  They were strong and vicious and persistent and, through powerful magic and sheer numbers, they managed to get past everyone, even Buffy, and I was helpless.  You were pretty much out of the picture by then but you appeared out of the blue and rescued me.  No-one asked you to, there was nothing in it for you, and it was really dangerous because they fought with wooden spears.  But you saved me, got me through several of their attacks, and you took me away from here until the threat had been dealt with.  Then you brought me home and got your ass kicked by Buffy before I could explain.  You were my hero,” Dawn laughed a quiet, embarrassed laugh at the admission.

“I asked if you helped me because I was the key and you didn’t want your life to be turned upside-down if I was…used.  I saw on your face that it had never occurred to you, but you said, ‘Yeah, that’d be it.’  I waited, and you got all shifty and irritable ‘cause we both knew you’d lied and for some reason you didn’t like to lie to me.  Eventually you admitted you saved me because I was your friend and, at that time, you felt you only had two of them in the entire world.  I felt special and a lot safer, and I only had to share you with Xander which was more than okay because Xander’s been my number-one guy for, like, forever.  And now he knows ‘cause he’s sitting right there listening and how embarrassing is that?  But he’s your number-one guy too, I know, so I’m in good company.”  Dawn smiled into the vampire’s blue eyes, and she noticed a spark that she hadn’t seen before.  “You understood all of that, didn’t you?  Or the important parts?  Or at least enough?”  Nod.  “Good.  Thank you…thank you for being such a special friend to me,” Dawn’s voice trailed off as her emotions got the better of her.  Spike solicitously raised her hand and pressed his brow to it.  Xander heard her gulp from across the room.

“That’s his way of saying thank you back,” Xander explained.

“Do you think I can…?”  Dawn’s free hand hung over Spike’s bowed head.

“I think so.”

Dawn gently laid her hand on Spike’s hair, feeling him jerk slightly with the surprise.  But he didn’t make any move away, and Dawn affectionately stroked the silky waves.

“This is different,” she whispered.  “You used to plaster so much gel on your hair I’d sometimes wonder if it would break if I touched it.  This is nice.  You have nice hair.”  There was no response to her words and she kept up the attention, just happy to be allowed this close to Spike.  After fifteen minutes without a move, Xander sat forward in his seat.

“Spike.  Spike, have you gone to sleep?”

“Would he?  Just sitting here?”

Xander smiled indulgently and nodded.

“Spike.”

“You want me to give him a nudge?”

“He’s going to be sore if he stays like that much longer.  Be very gentle.”

Dawn touched Spike’s shoulder and he was instantly alert, head springing up and almost butting her nose.

“Did you fall…”

Spike pulled back sharply, away from Dawn, disorientated and lost.

“Spike,” Xander called, and that was all the vampire needed to scramble in his direction, hurling himself at Xander so the human fell back in his seat with a whoosh that was the air being knocked out of him.  “Hey, pal, one of us needs oxygen,” he protested wheezily as he righted himself.  Spike squirmed into his accustomed position, and Xander responded as habitually, hugging him tightly, unable to stop the visible shiver as the vampire’s lips found his neck.

“Oh, wow,” came softly, unconsciously from Dawn.

Willow was on the edge of her seat, practically bouncing with excitement.

“You’ve got to hear this,” she stage-whispered to Buffy and Dawn.  “Is he going to do it, Xander?”

A subdued purr had started the moment Spike had felt Xander wrap his arms around him, but now Xander exchanged a grin with Willow before he nudged Spike’s head down and sank his face into the blond/brown locks.  One tender kiss was all it took for the rumble to explode into general audibility.  Dawn slapped her hands over her mouth to stifle the delighted squeal, Buffy’s jaw fell open.  They followed Willow closer, Dawn kneeling at Xander’s feet and reaching out to touch.

“Hey, don’t pet the vampire,” Xander only half joked.

Dawn’s hand fell into her lap.

“But you do.”

“Well, he’s my vampire, and if you don’t play nice I’ll take him and go home.”  Dawn slapped Xander’s calf.  “Seriously, I don’t know how he’d react if you disturbed him right now.”

“Could be very protective,” Willow agreed with a nod, trying to be solemn watcher woman but failing miserably as the purr coaxed smile after smile out of her.

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” Buffy grinned before realising her admission.

“Angel not the purry type?” Dawn teased.

“Not purry,” Buffy blurted out after a slight pause, dissolving into giggles with her sister.

“See, that’s a happy vampire,” Willow said very deliberately to Buffy as she waved in Spike’s direction.

“Happy vampire,” Buffy conceded, and Xander watched the tension flow from her.  Maybe he’d been wrong about her.  Spike’s condition was, after all, ‘heartbreaking’.

But the damage had been done.  Something Xander recognised about himself was his capacity for trust and the depth of his loyalty.  He could be disregarded and taken for granted, could be the comic relief and doughnut-boy until the sense of worth was sucked right out of him, he could be kicked time and again but he’d keep going back for more because of loyalty and trust.  But once his trust was shattered it was hard, sometimes impossible, to get him back on side.

It was one of the reasons he liked his boss so much: when they’d met Xander was working for a different company – the one he’d left Sunnydale for – and although he enjoyed the work he didn’t feel connected.  He’d met Patrick MacDonald on a site and they’d only spoken for an hour before he’d offered Xander the heady position of Contracts Manager in the firm he’d established several months earlier.  He’d swiftly and accurately assessed Xander’s character and was able to appeal to the best aspects of it, and carried on to exploit those traits in the most positive way.  There were four of them who effectively ran the company, and Patrick had chosen the other two men, Rafe Sinclair and Jake Buchanan, with the same rapid, self-confident surety that he’d shown when picking Xander, dismissing their protestations about lack of experience in the same way as he had Xander’s.  They were the Gang of Four their employees joked affectionately about, and, regardless of their inter-dependence within the company’s structure, it was loyalty and trust that held them together.  What he’d found with people who had no right to claim such devotion made Xander question those who did claim the right.

“Xander, it’s not like we had a choice.”

And he was caught, held back by Angel as he leapt for the slayer, clenched fists hurtling in her direction.  Xander: Spike’s blood staining his skin, dried under his nails.  Xander: incensed, crazy with horror and grief, unable to contain his fury and demonstrating the alarming strength of the mad.

“Have you seen him?  Did you even look at him?  He was dying.  Struggling free and taking a swing at Angel.  “Get your fucking hands off of me, you cunt!”

Reaching for the back pocket of his blood-soaked jeans and there was a stake in Xander’s hand as he went for Angel again; he heard flesh ripping as the tip of the stake made superficial contact with the vampire; he heard the slayer’s shriek through the haze.  Then Willow was in the way and Willow would always be protected.

“Please, Xander, no,” gently, and the stake was taken.

“Angel?”  Buffy’s concerned voice, checking out the man who’d willingly given up his troublesome grand-childe.  The same grand-childe that Xander inconveniently adored.

Something precious snapped inside Xander and it died quickly, withering to nothing and leaving a dense, dark void.  He knew the truth of it when he looked at Buffy and felt nothing but seething contempt.  His attention slowly spiralled inward until it focused on the slow trickle of blood escaping from the cut he’d made inside his elbow; he put his thumb over the incision and applied pressure to stop the flow.  Such a tiny cut.  Tiny cut that saved a big bad life.

Eerily subdued now, Xander turned and walked away.  From the slayer, the Scoobies, the research parties, the joint patrols.  From the sense of belonging he had counted on for more years than he cared to remember.  He walked away from a way of life.  And he found Spike waiting.

“…Xander?”

“Sorry, what?”

Dawn rolled her eyes.

“Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said?”

“No,” Xander answered immediately and honestly.

“Willow was telling us about your car.”

“And?”

“Can I drive it?  Just around the block?  Can I?”

“Not a chance.”

“Don’t you trust me with the big-bucksmobile?”

“It’s not that.  No-one drives the car but me, period.”

“Can we go for a ride then?”

“I’m not putting Spike and Buffy in a car together.”

“I don’t have to go,” volunteered Buffy.

“And we’re not going there either.”

Spike stirred in his sleep, twisting further in to Xander and winding an arm around his neck.  Xander waited until he settled and eased the arm away.

“He doesn’t look too happy now.  You think he dreams?” Dawn asked quietly.

She and Xander exchanged a disturbed look.

“I hope not.  I hope he doesn’t dream about…”  Xander’s voice trailed away, and it was joined by most of the colour from his face.  “I don’t want him to dream.”

“Don’t want him to be somewhere you can’t protect him?”

“That’s exactly it,” he admitted in a low tone.  Spike jolted awake and stared around in a daze.  “You okay?”  Spike directed the alarmed stare at Xander and, after a few seconds, recognition set in and the relief was tangible.  His hand came up and touched Xander’s face, making sure this image was real before squeezing his eyes shut against a wash of tears and collapsing back onto the human’s solid chest.  Dawn was right.  “Oh, no,” Xander whispered as he gathered the vampire a fraction closer.  “Oh, fuck, he dreams.”

Past midnight and Xander was standing out on the front lawn, staring into the darkness.  A cool breeze disturbed his hair and after a while he gave up trying to brush irritating strands from his eyes, forcing himself to a place of toleration.  Acceptance.  Maybe he was like Spike, that he accepted all things eventually.  His peripheral vision registered the vampire, sitting on the porch under the light, afraid to venture further out into the world while it was compromised by black shadows.  His senses told him that he was also being observed from the living room window: watcher, slayer, key.  They kept watching and watching, Xander the fucking freak show, fascination of the horrible, as he fought to control himself under the bombardment of horror that kept hurling itself at his vampire.  Dreams.  How bad is that?  Dreams.  He had seen the fear in Spike’s eyes and the knowledge that he couldn’t shield him from the terrors that invaded while he slept was chewing up his guts.  Accept.  Deal.  Accept.  Deal.  Accept, deal, accept, deal, accept deal accept deal acceptdeal acceptdealacceptdealacceptdeal…  No!  Unacceptable!  Fuck off!

 

“He can’t do this.”

“He is doing this, Buffy,” Willow corrected in her don’t-mess-with-me voice.

“He’s falling to pieces.”

“Can’t we do more to help?” Dawn asked in an unoptimistic tone.

“You got as close as you could to Spike earlier on but he forgot you in fifteen minutes.  We can’t get to him so we have to support Xander.”

“I don’t want to see him hurting anymore because of that vampire,” Buffy said coldly.

“Buffy!” Willow and Dawn chorused.

“Look at him.  Beating himself up because Spike dreams, for God’s sake!”

“Would it kill you to show a little compassion?” Dawn demanded.

“I think Xander’s showing enough for all of us.”  Buffy sighed heavily.  “I love him, he’s my…my brother.  And this hurts.”

“Because Spike’s not worth it?”

“Because I don’t want to see Xander in pain, full stop, regardless of who’s causing it.”

The truth in the statement brought the burgeoning argument to a halt.  Dawn gave a slow miserable nod.

“Let’s go home.”

 

Willow saw them out and went back to the window, studying Buffy as she said her guarded farewells to Spike and Xander.  There was a definite something bubbling under the slayer’s surface, and it made her uncomfortable to say the least.  With a great effort and an equally great swell of unhappiness Willow admitted to herself that she didn’t trust Spike with Buffy for a moment.  So, did she tell Xander of her doubts?  After they’d managed to get through an entire evening together for the first time in six years?  Willow promised herself she would be vigilant and protective.  She hoped it would be enough.

Xander curled up behind Spike, momentarily sickened by the odours of the antiseptic and anaesthetic creams he had recently applied.  He swallowed the nausea down and proceeded to inch closer until there was no space between them at all.  Once he was safely in Xander’s arms, the vampire could be gently interrogated.

“Do you dream, Spike?”  Nothing.  “Do you see pictures in your head when you sleep?”  Pause.  Nod.  “Do you remember the pictures when you wake up?”  Pause.  Nod.  “Are they…are they of…bad things?”  Long, long pause.  Nod.  “You know…  You know I…can’t…”  Xander’s voice wavered and Spike squirmed around within his embrace, holding him close with determined strength, stroking his back and rumbling away.  Xander saw the humour of it.  “You’re comforting me because you have nightmares.  This wasn’t where I was going.  Spike…”  The vampire’s fingers rested over his lips, stilling them, and Xander felt the overwhelming relief of not having to know the right thing to say.  He kissed the fingertips and whispered his thanks against them.  Spike…purred.

 

 





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