He was so tired, he couldn't think straight. They had been researching every afternoon then heading out to patrol every night trying to get a line on the newest `big nasty' coming to town, so they could destroy it and save the world…again. That was why he forgot what day it was, forgot it was his father's payday and the fact he would be drunk by now. Instead of going straight to the basement, he veered off into the living room to pay his rent for the month. When he walked into the room, his father caught him across the back of the head with the bat he was using on Xander's mother. As the boy hit the floor he caught a glimpse of his mother lying in the middle of the floor, blood pooling around her head. All he could think of was that his father had really lost it this time, this time he had killed his mother and now he was going to kill him.

He didn't know how long his father had been beating on him; he had lost all track of time, it could have been five minutes or it could have been an hour. It was different this time, his father was like a man possessed, it wasn't the usual `I've been drinking all weekend' violence. He would pick Xander up by the back of his jeans and hit him again, he did this again and again, stopping only to pour another couple of shots of cheap whiskey down his throat. The next time he picked him up and hit him, the boy went stumbling backwards and landed in front of the large picture window. Before his father could get to him, a lawn chair came flying through the window and two strong, pale arms reached in, grabbed Xander and pulled him through the opening.

Spike had taken to following the boy home after patrol, especially now that he was working so hard on his construction job, researching and pulling nightly patrols. The boy walked around in a daze most of the time and Spike knew he wasn't eating right and Gods knew he wasn't sleeping too good in that house of horrors he lived in. How could he with that drunken bastard of a father and hell, his mother wasn't much better, didn't want to get out or get help, so she stayed drunk as well. The vampire stood in the shadows and watched the boy go into the house; he could see Xander walk into the living room through the lit up windows. Spike was headed towards the windows when he saw the baseball bat swing down and it didn't take a genius to figure out what was getting hit with it. The vampire howled, he could hear the blows hitting the boy as he ran to the big picture window in the front. He reached the window just as Xander's father sent him flying towards it. Instead of going to the door, Spike threw a chair through the window and pulled his boy out. The wanker was so drunk, he didn't even notice. Spike lifted the boy into his arms and took off running to the only place he could think of to go, the Watcher's. He knew there would be someone there, probably the whole lot of them. Xander began to groan and try to move in his arms and Spike started to talk softly to him.

"Shh, pet, take it easy. Xan-pet quit fighting, I'm taking ya' to watcher, he'll know what to do. Easy pet, be still or you'll hurt yourself even worse." Spike started to purr and Xander quieted down and was still, but he had a death grip on the front of the vampire's shirt. Spike was being extra vigilant, the boy had enough blood on him to attract every vamp in Sunnydale and Spike didn't have the time to fight them, he had to get Xander to help as quickly as he could. He breathed a deep, unneeded sigh of relief when he saw the shop come into view. He started to kick the door, trying desperately to get someone to come let him in.

"Spike, enough, I'm right here. XANDER?? What in the devil happened to the boy, Spike, was he attacked? Hurry up, bring him to the back..lay him on the sofa." The girls jumped up and started yelling when they saw the vampire coming in carrying their friend.

"SPIKE, WHAT DID YOU DO THE XANDER???" Buffy was headed towards him with a stake in her hand.

"Wasn't me. Chip, remember? It was that drunken excuse for a father of his. I..well..I been following the whelp home some nights. He's been so tired, he wasn't being careful and you lot never even noticed. You `friends' seem to forget Xan works full time at a bloody hard job then spends most of the night helping you ungrateful gits. The boy's wore out and tonight he walked in on his father during a drunken rage. I wasn't far behind him but the bastard had time to get a few good licks in, the last time he hit him, he knocked him up close to that big window in the front so I broke it and pulled Xan-pet out of it. I brought him straight here." While he explained, Spike was trying to lay Xander down on the sofa, but Xander would not let go of the vampire's shirt. Everytime Spike let go of him, Xander started whimpering and moving around violently. He would calm down as soon as Spike took hold of him again. Spike finally gave up, picked the wounded boy up and sat down with him on his lap, Xander immediately snuggled against the cool chest and calmed down. "Easy, pet, I won't let you go. I'll stay right here with you.

I've got you now, nothing's going to hurt you, I've got you." Spike was gently running his hand through the dark sweaty curls.

"Well, are you lot going to just stand there or are you going to bloody well help? You can see the whelp don't want me to turn him loose, we need warm water and something to wash the blood off of him, towels or something." The vampire went back to murmuring softly to the injured boy.

""Spike, just why is Xander holding on to you, he doesn't even like you. What did you do to him?" Buffy couldn't let anyone else have the last

"You don't know everything, Slayer. Xan-pet and I are friends, have been for a while now. You never noticed we try to patrol together, did ya? We go out for a few beers and play pool together coupla times a week, sometimes we just stay in and watch movies. You stupid bints never notice anything about the whelp, do you? Too busy with your own little lives to worry about your white knight, you're all to stupid to notice that he's the strongest and loyalist of all of you, hell even Angelus knew that. The boy'd do anything for you, saved your life when the Master killed you and made sure you sent Angelus to hell to save the world, didn't he? Hell, how many times has he put himself in danger to save one of you? And all any of you can do is run him down and make him feel useless, calls himself the `donut boy' or `the Zeppo'. Why wouldn't he cling to me? He knows I care about him, who he really is." Words that Spike had wanted to say for months came spilling out of his mouth. It infuriated him when Xander ran himself down, thinking he wasn't as good as the rest of this pathetic group. "None of you ever noticed when he was so sore he could barely walk or when he was a mass of bruises, when you knew he hadn't been fighting anything for weeks."

"If it was so bad why didn't he get out. He was old enough to leave, so why didn't he?" Willow was not willing to take any blame for not paying attention to Xander.

"Because he's the fucking white knight, the good guy. He thought he could help protect his mum if he was there to take the blows instead of her. And just like you bunch of ungrateful, blind gits, she never acknowledged it or thanked him for taking the beatings so his dad would leave her alone, hell, most of the she blamed him, said if he hadn't made the bastard mad it wouldn't happen. The bitch would leave him on the floor bleeding and get drunk, well drunker." While he talked he used the wet clothes Giles handed him to clean the blood off his boy's face. He knew what he needed to do and just hoped Xan wouldn't get too mad at him. He carefully bit down on his wrist and put it up to Xander's mouth. "Come on Xan-pet, just drink a little, it'll help the hurt, luv."

Buffy let out a screech and lunged towards to pair on the sofa. Willow was right behind her yelling. "SPIKE WHAT IN THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?? YOU AREN'T TURNING XANDER!!" Before the pair could get to the sofa, they were grabbed from behind. Giles had both arms wrapped around Buffy's waist and Tara had hold of both Willow's arms, pulling her backwards. "Giles let me go, he is not going to feed Xander, I won't let him."

"Buffy, have you ever listened to anything I have tried to teach you? Spike isn't turning Xander; he is helping to heal him. Vampire's blood in small doses can help heal. You can bloody well see that he hasn't drained him, which as you SHOULD know, he would have to do in order to bring him over. Willow, I am shocked at you, I know you have learned enough about vampires to know that." Giles was rather disgusted with both girls behavior.

"I can heal Xander, I can find a spell and heal him, he doesn't need Spike. There are plenty of healing spells." He was her Xander, her best friend.

"A little late to be jealous isn't it, Red? You know the whelp hates you using any mojo on him, especially when you don't bother to ask. Now you all be quiet and let me and the boy rest, either that or I take him out of here." While he talked, the vampire stretched out on the sofa with Xander stretched out next to him. The boy had wrapped both arms around the vampire and was snuggled up under his chin. If the scoobies didn't like that they were lying here together, too fucking bad. He watched as Giles made sure the windows were covered completely and started ushering the girls to the front of the shop. "Thanks, watcher."

"Rupert?" Spike whispered.

"Yes, Spike?"

"I think the boy's mum's dead. I could only make out two heartbeats. She was probably dead before I got to the window, might even have been dead before Xan got there."

"I'll see to it that the girls know, then I am going to see if I can get them to go home, but I am staying here in case something happens with Xander and you need help. At least I am going to try and get them to leave, I don't expect to succeed, they're nothing if not stubborn." With that he closed the door to the back room and left the pair in the dark.

The girls were still arguing about leaving Xander alone with Spike. They were sure Xan would rather be with one of them than the blonde vampire. They decided that Spike was lying, Xander didn't really feel that way about them.

"Giles, do you really think I've been a bad friend to Xander. We've been friends since nursery school. He's my best friend."

The watcher pulled his glasses off and was cleaning them, giving him time to think of how to answer the witch. "Well, let's see Willow, he has been systematically ignored for months, not one of us bothers to checks on his well being, yes, I'd say we have all been disasters as friends."

"It's not like I have much time, I mean with school and every…"

"Oh yes Willow, the all encompassing `I have school' excuse. You two have used that quite a bit in the last year, haven't you? But isn't it odd that Xander works full time at a physically demanding job and yet has time to be there every time one of us needs him for something. Does he ever refuse or tell one of us he's `too busy' or just `doesn't have the time'? He makes time to research, patrol, repair stuff for all of us and be there whenever we summon him. So yes, I think that would mean we are truly very bad friends. That is ceasing as of this minute, Xander is going to need our support in the next few days, if you don't think you can be there for him, you should just go home now and stay away. Spike just informed me that he is sure Xander's mother is dead. She was more than likely already dead before Xander got home tonight. He is going to need our help; this is going to be very hard for him, not onfiltered his mother's death, but also facing the fact that his father killed her. It will mean the police and a trial added to the pressure of having to bury his mother, who he obviously loved if he was willing to be beaten to protect her. He will need us and he will need Spike, you two are going to have to realize that it is Spike that has been Xander's friend lately and he is going to need him. You can see for yourselves how he clings to him, it is not our place to approve or disapprove of their relationship. Now if you don't want to go home, you know where I keep the pillows and blankets. I will be in my office doing some bookkeeping that needs taking care of." Giles went to his office and closed the door leaving the girls to absorb all he had told them. They never made another sound as they got the blankets and made pallets on the floor. The three cuddled together, all of them needing human contact tonight.

Giles was dozing with his head on his desk, when someone started banging on the door of The Magic Box. He jerked his head up and tried to focus on the clock, Gods, it was only 7 o'clock in the morning. Who in the devil could be banging at this ungodly hour? His children plus one peroxided vampire were all here and Joyce would know that Buffy was with him. He yelled as he exited his office, "Just one minute, I have to unlock the door. Oh bloody hell, just a minute." He was trying to get the door unlocked so that infernal pounding would cease. The girls were awake and trying to unwind themselves from the blankets. He finally threw the door open, there were two men in suits waiting to be let in.

"As you can very well see, we are not open for business for another three hours. Come back at ten." He tried to close the door but one of the men caught it with his hand.

"Are you Mr. Rupert Giles?"

"Yes, I am. What can I do for you gentlemen?"

"I'm Detective Sanders and this is Detective Barlow, we're with the Sunnydale police. We're looking for a young man and were told that he is frequently in your company, an Alexander Harris."

"Yes, come in gentlemen. Tara would you please make some coffee, Buffy, you and Willow please get the blankets put away. Please forgive us, we were up most of the night."

"You all four spent the night?"

"Yes, the girls are student at UCSunnydale and frequently use the shop for all night cramming. I don't approve of course, but what can you do? What do you gentlemen want with"

"There was an incident at his home last night and we need to question him about possible involvement. Is he here or have you seen him."

"Yes, Xander is here. He's asleep in the back room but you are not going to go barreling in there and scare the boy. We know some of what went on last night and the boy is no condition to be interrogated."

"Mr. Giles, we just need to ask the boy some questions about last night, not interrogate him. Would you please take us to him?" The girls had come to stand on either side of Giles and they were making it clear by their body language that they were protecting their friend.

They walked back to the door of the training room and slowly opened the door. It was still very dark in the room and Giles really hoped that Spike had stayed clothed. He reached over and turned the lights on. Spike was sitting up on the sofa holding the sleeping Xander in his arms . The boy once again had a tight grip on the vampire's shirtfront.

"Bloody hell, you trying to blind me? Can't even get some sleep around this soddin.."

"SPIKE, these gentlemen are from the police, they need to talk to Xander about last night."

"Well, they can just sod off. Not waking the boy up, he's been through enough, he needs to sleep, so you lot just get the hell out."

"And your name and relationship to Mister Harris?"

"And just what the devil do you need to know that for?"

"Spike, please just answer them."

"I'm William..William Bradford and I'm Xander's mate." It had been many decades since Spike had spoken that name out loud, it sounded strange to his ears..

"His mate?" The detective said it like is was something nasty.

"Gentlemen, William is British, by mate he means they're..friends..pals you would call them."

Xander started to moan lightly and move around in Spike's arms. He still would not let go of the vampire. He turned his sleep-blurred eyes towards the others in the room, finally noticing they weren't alone. The bruises stood out darkly against his skin, they covered most of his face and arms. "Uh G-man, who are these guys and what's going on?"

"Mister Harris, we need to ask you some questions about last night. We're from the police." Xander's eyes got huge and he kept looking from person to person when it finally hit him and his eyes got glassy with tears. "Spike? I..can't..Spike?"

"Shh Xan, it's alright pet. You don't need to bother the boy, I saw the same things happening that he did, if fact I probably saw more."

"You were there Mister Bradley?"

"Yeah, was on my way to visit Xan and see if he wanted to go shoot some pool. I saw him go in the house and head for the living room.."

"You could see him do this?"

"Yeah, all the curtains were open and it was all lit up. Anyway, I could see in the house as I walked towards it, Xander was walking to the living room when I saw his father bring a baseball bat down on his head." Xander tucked his head under Spike's chin and held on tightly. He was crying quietly. "When I got to that big front window, I could see the wanker hitting the boy. The last time he hit him, Xan landed by the window, so I threw a chair through it and pulled the boy out. Brought him straight here to his friends."

"Did you see his mother at all?"

Xander turned his tear stained face to them and said "I saw her when I first came into the room, she was down on the floor there was all this by her head and s..she wasn't moving. He killed her didn't he? He finally killed her and he almost killed me this time. If it hadn't been for Spike, I'd be dead too wouldn't I? Spike saved me, didn't he?"

"Mister Harris has your father done this before?'

"More times that I can count, he's been hitting my mom since I was six or seven. He didn't start on me till I was ten and tried to defend my mom, he quit hitting her and started whaling on me. I..I tried to get her to leave, tried to get in between them, but nothing helped. She always blamed me, said if I was a better son, smarter, more polite, didn't make him mad so much he wouldn't beat me, but if that was true why did he beat on her too? you have him in jail this time?" Xander knew he needed to move off Spike's lap, but the vampire made him feel safe and like someone cared about him.

"Mr. Harris it is my duty to inform you that after you were rescued last night your father, evidently in a fit of remorse, took his own life." Xander just stared at the man then turned his head into Spike's shoulder and cried. "We'll need you to come in and make formal statements in the next couple of days, both of you." Spike jerked his head up and stared at the cop then looked over at Giles.

"Gentleman, William has a photosensitivity problem, an allergy to sunlight, it causes massive burning of his skin. He can't possibly come to the police station during the day."

"Just call us in advance and we'll arrange something." The detective handed Giles a card with his name and number on it.

"Wh..when, I mean, I need to get in the house. All my stuff is in there, I don't even have any clothes."

"Mister Harris, it's a crime scene, you won't be allowed in for awhile."

"But my stuff is in the basement, I live down there, can I at least get some clothes? I can't stay in this stuff and..oh shit, work. I have to go to work, I'm late, I can't lose this job. Spike, let me go I have to go to work." The boy was struggling, trying to get the vampire to turn him loose.

"Xan, stop it, you're going to hurt yourself worse. Rupert can call your work. Now calm down. They aren't going to expect you to work when they find out why you're not there."

Giles went over to the struggling pair and laid his hand on Xander's face, "Xander, I'll go call your employer and explain. No one would expect you to work after what happened. There's..well..there's going to be a lot of stuff for you to see to in the next few days, I am sure your employer will understand. Gentleman, the boy is going to need in the house as soon as possible, not only for clothes, there will also be legal papers he needs to find."

"Have him call us later today and one of us will meet him there. There has to be an officer present before he goes into the house. Mister Harris, I imagine it will be about a week until you can move back into the house. The case in pretty cut and dry, there won't be a trial, of course. It is pretty obvious what happened." The detectives walked back to the front of the shop and let themselves out. Xander turned his head back into Spike's neck.

"I..I can't do it. I can't live in that house again. What will I do, Spike? I can't live in that hellhole again, I'll always see her lying there." Spike was rubbing his back in small circles giving his boy what comfort he could.

"Then you'll sell it, pet. You don't have to go back there, we'll help you find a place, an apartment maybe, a proper apartment. And you won't go back in that house alone, one of us will go with you." Then Buffy and Willow walked over and sat on either side of the pair.

"We'll help you, Xander. You won't have to do it alone. Mom would probably let you stay at the house until you find a place. She'd enjoy it, you know how she likes to `mother hen' everyone." Buffy laid her hand on Xander's leg.

Willow laid her head over on Xander's shoulder and started talking, "We haven't been very good friends lately, we know that. But we love you Xander, don't ever think we don't. Whatever help you need, we'll be there. Oh Goddess, Xan, I am so sorry, we were blind and stupid but it won't happen again, ever." Tara and Giles stood together and watched as the three friends reconnected. It was sad that it took a tragedy for them to finally see what they had almost thrown away, a friendship that would last a lifetime.

Two weeks later, at sundown, everyone gathered at the cemetery, they wanted to be there for Xander. Cordelia and Angel had driven from LA, Cordy to support Xan, Angel because he didn't want her alone in Sunnydale. It had been a busy two weeks, Joyce had let Xander stay until he could find an apartment and surprised everyone when she let Spike stay as well. Xander only left the vampire long enough to go to work, they had become inseparable. It surprised no one when Xander invited Spike to move into his apartment with him. What did surprise everyone was discovering that Xander's parents had actually had funeral insurance and plots already bought, even more surprising was discovering they had life insurance. Of course, as a suicide, his father's wouldn't pay off, but there was a ten thousand-dollar policy on his mother and as an only child he was beneficiary. Xander had hired the cleaning crew that worked for his boss to completely clean out the house, giving them everything in it but his few possessions and some stuff from the kitchen, then he put it on the market. He would never set foot in the house again. He had both of his parents cremated, he knew all too well what could happen to bodies buried in Sunnyhell and did not want it to happen to his parents. Tonight he was burying their ashes in the side by side graves and it would finally be over, he could begin to put the nightmare behind him. He walked over to the two graves that had already been filled in.

"I..I want to thank all my friends for being here for me and supporting me. There really isn't anything I want to say about my father, for very obvious reasons. I don't know what made him like he was, but I believe you can't always blame your childhood for what you do. He was responsible and chose to do what he did. I was going to let him rot, but my mother would want him next to her. I was very angry with my mother for years because she would never leave him, but when I cleaned out her stuff, I found letters from before they got married. Letters from a young, naïve, shy girl who was very much in love with her childhood sweetheart. A girl who was looking forward to a future with the man she loved more than anything. They made me see my mother in a different light. What I am going to read is from a letter she wrote just before they were married." Xander pointed a small flashlight at the paper in his hands and began to read.

"My darling, tomorrow we will be joined as one, one heart, one soul. I knew, from our first meeting on, that we were meant to be together, that I had met my soul mate, the one who was meant for me. I can think of nothing I want more than to be your wife and the mother of your children. We will be together always and forever.." Xander must have memorized the letter because as he spoke he never took his eyes off of Spike, it was obvious to everyone present that what the two shared was much more than friendship and that Xander was speaking to Spike and Spike alone. "I hope that where ever she is, she is at peace and safe, no longer in pain. She deserves to rest now."

Spike walked over to Xander and put his arms around him, being there to support the man-child who was now his mate in all ways, who soothed his demon and gave him something he had never experienced in all his onr hundred and twenty plus years on this earth, unconditional love and acceptance. They had saved each other, Xander from a violent death at his father's hands and Spike from a forever spent in loneliness.

The End

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