Summary: Xander is gravely injured, and left to the tender mercies of Spike
Feedback: Need it like air.
Random Disclaimer: I do not own any of the bois, don't sue, all you would get is bellybutton lint!

To Break, To Mend


He can hear their voices, skitter slither through the darkness like little white fish. Words that had no cadence, no meaning, no substance.

"Xander" "full-recovery" "amnesia" "full-time care giver" "I can’t"

Then the silence cursed and blessed and drowned in. Butterflies dance on his flesh, breathe fire over his nerves. Ice that whispers soothes tortures. Sharp fingers pull his hair, tear his skin, and wipe his tears. All the while the fish swim.

Tiny blocks of white come into focus, scattered with dark shadows. Blurred monstrous faces hover over top. Bit by bit the room comes into focus, too bright lights sending him to spiral back down into the comfort of sleep. Loud noises making him jump and roll, pulling the IV’s out of his arm and chest. The canula wrapping round his throat, hanging him limp as rags off the side of the bed.

Days and weeks of faces he can’t remember and names that slip from his grasp. Vicious hands twisting and bending his limbs into impossible shapes, food shoved down his throat and strangers wiping his ass. Then it’s time to go home. Wherever that is. With...him?

"C’mon Xan. Lets get you out of this place, yeah?"

And thank fucking god. Soft, kind, gentle. Light touches from somebody who finally, finally knows what they are doing. Where was this Doctor Nurse Physical Therapist weeks ago?

"Know you can’t talk, pet. Can’t do much of anything yet. I know what to do though. Took care of Dru didn’t I?"

He lets a tiny whimper. Somebody is promising, with touches, not to fold, spindle or mutilate his tortured body. Somebody becomes a demi-god.

Everything is moving, unfamiliar sounds that he knows he should know. Squeak of rubber soled shoes, metal clanging and chinging, quiet laughter. Darkness reaches out and pulls him back into her soft embrace, wrapping him up and tucking him in. Counting his heartbeat in time with the white flashes of light behind closed eyes. One...two...three...four...

"Goin to the mansion, pet. Your da said...well, he said you weren’t welcome back until you could pay the rent. According to the doc, that’s going to be some time." There is something ancient- familiar about the voice, the accent and the brittle words. But the tone, the rhythm of the voice curled around him, he knew...knew nobody had ever spoken to him like that before. Then the rockingswayingsoothing motion stopped, and he was being pulled and twisted and lifted into gentle arms.

He couldn’t feel the flesh touching him. Just the constant pressure and the same cool temperature as the night air. Something...something...something...

"I can feel you trying to squirm away. What’s got you riled now, pet?" The dark changes, moves in closer, memory whispers ‘inside’.

Time moves funny when you can’t remember it passing. Hours slide into one another, marked by events. Anything to break up the monotony, the droning buzz of confused thoughts and silent babbled conversations.

He just, he wished he could remember who the blonde was.

Words. Very first order of business. Who and where and why. The need to know becomes more driving than the need to just hear his own voice. To know what it sounds like. Deep and gravely, or silky smooth? Accent or flat. He can’t remember.

His hands are large, compared to the slim, delicate ones of the blonde. Fine patches of dark hair, covering thin silver scars. Ridges across the pads of his fingers, shallow gouge marks his caretaker says are from woodcarving. That comment awakens a hunger, a thirst, he can feel the slick grain of oak in the palms of his hands now. Odd pressure on his thigh. The blonde knows.

He wakes one morningafternoonnight to find a chunk of raw wood across his lap, rough grit sandpaper thrust into his hand.

"Doc said to give you something familiar. This is all I can think of." He sits across from the bed, in the chair put right there, so he can reach out and smooth and touch and comfort when the nightmares get too much.

"Ssss" That’s all he can manage so far. Single letters all strung together. ‘Ssss’ for Spike, that’s the blondes’ name, when he can remember. ‘Dddd" translates into day, time, when is now. Eyes and fingers flick towards parts of the room, glasses on the table, books for when the fish in his head become too much.

"Yeah, pet. Spike. That’s me. Spike. And this," he tugs on the chunk of wood, "Will be a stake as soon as you and your hands are on speaking terms again."

Spike tinkers and pitter-patters around the room, competing with the white noise in his head. The world narrows to this bed, this space in time, and time ceases. Oh, the clock ticks, the second hand provides endless stretches of amusement. He wonders if the tiny black line every moves backwards.

"Xan? Luv? Time for your exercises." Cool cool hands on his legs, and he can almost feel his skin, like it belongs on somebody else, just draped over his bones and loosely tied on. But the muscles, those screaming terrified agonized muscles belong to him and him alone.

Fast and slow and there are days the sun never rises, and the moon never shines. Hours and hours of monologue from his guardian, by the time they have reached the final passage of ‘Hamlet’, he can say a complete word.

"Piss." Only it comes out like a pop and a hiss, but he can hear his own voice again. And his name is firmly etched in his mind, XanLuvPet. And Spike is the only face he knows, the only person who exists beside himself.

"Xan? Luv? I need to go out for a bit. Willow is going to come visit you while I’m gone."

Panicpanicpanic Suddenly he knows his skin belongs to his bones, so tightly wrapped and binding, forcing all the air from his lungs.

"Nnnn..... Nnnn....Nnnno" But Spike doesn’t hear, doesn’t see, doesn’t stay.

Spike presses against the door, hard enough that his hair catches in the grain of the wood. He can hear Xander’s heart, fast and thready like a tiny bird pounding against the window. Panic and terror strong enough to curdle in his belly. Willow was in there, though. Best friend and all that. But he can hear Willow begin to panic as well. Her breath coming in short, wheezing gasps the soft scuff of her shoes as she backs away from the shattered remains of her friend. The acid salt scent of her tears, smearing her mascara, and falling to wet the dust on the floor.

Then the sounds of Xander’s harsh, ragged breaths disappear.

He opens the door and is flat on the bed before Willow bumps into the wall.

"Shh, Xan, s’alright pet, I’m here." Winds his fingers in slick tangled hair, tugs Xander’s head until it tucks up under his chin. "Not goin anywhere, safe as houses and all that rot. C’mon boy, calm down."

Willow stares, scrubs at her face then backs slow slow slow out of the room. Walking away from a wounded creature.

Xander shudders, tense muscles trying to arch and roll under the soothing caress of his guardian.

His world.

A hitch, then he begins to breathe again, short hard draws until his lungs get used to the idea of air again. Spike croons and murmurs, Hamlet and Othello in a harsh whisper. A gentle tug on his finger catches his attention, Xander has moved his hand. Hooked one skeletal finger through Spike’s forefinger.

Spike realizes that panic has its good points after all.

"You all good pet? Yeah? All right, need to calm the witch now. Sleep Xan. Be right here when you wake up."

Months of listening, of being lulled by the crisp soft voice, and Xander is asleep by the time Spike opens the door.

"Fuck, Red...Sorry. Didn’t realise he would go all twitchy." Spike leads Willow away from the bedroom, rubbing her back with a slow updown sweep of his hand.

"Twitchy? That’s what you call twitchy?" her voice is sharp, scared.

"That’s nothing, Willow. You should hear the nightmares. He can talk and scream and curse then." Spike flips on the kitchen light, motions for Willow to sit at the tall center island. Busies himself with coffee and blood.

"He...Xander can talk?" she watches Spike, knowing the release of mindless activity, of endless repetition.

"Doc says he has been able to since he woke. The blow didn’t damage the verbal parts of his brain. Just bruised his spine, and cracked his skull."

"Oh." A tear slides down her cheek, emerald eyes close in remembered agony. "He saved me, Spike. That demon..."

Spike pushes the coffee cup into her trembling hand, refusing to feel any kind of sympathy.

"And you repay that by pulling a disappearing act for four months? I’m sure when all this comes back to him, he’ll take your thanks with all the graciousness and aplomb it deserves." He stares at her accusingly, every line in his body vibrating with tension and hostility.

"It hurts too much. I did that to him, and I can’t fix it. I can’t..." She reaches for the cup, knocks it over with shaking hands instead.

"Come visit him, pet. Come sit and read to Xander, let him know your voice again." Spike pushes away from the table, wearily cleaning up her spill.

"You sound like Giles."

"M’not an idiot, Red. Just play one for you children."

"I...I’ll come back soon, ok?"

Spike watches Willow leave the table, returns the watery limp smile, and breathes a sigh of relief when the door closes behind her.

Spike curls in the chair, pulling his duster up to cover his legs. Covers that with a quilt Joyce had brought. Watches Xander arch and mumble and clutch at the sheets.

He hates this room, this house, and this town. Hates that he knows what to do with Xander, how to twist and manipulate his body, keeping his muscles from fading away completely. Hates it all. But the boy had saved them, had known that jumping in front of the Vartak demon was a death sentence. And had done it without blinking. And then to be abandoned by his bird and best friends.

Even demons had more respect and empathy than that.

"Help me?" Xander’s incoherent mumbles take form, begins the cycle that Spike had memorized. He pushes the heavy fabric and leather from his lap, and slides into the bed next to the boy.

"Shh, Xan, shh pet. Spike is here, I have you luv."

The moon sets, false dawn slowly fills the room with violet and azure and crimson. Spike untangles himself long enough to pull the curtains closed, then tucks back down next to Xander, falls into a restless slumber next to the sweating mortal.

He swims, arms aching straining fighting against the undertow. Hands, skeletal and gray, reach out, winding and twining and grasping at his ankle foot leg. Disembodied voices echo in the murky light, calling and accusing. All the ones he couldn’t save. All the ones he lost. Lost lost lost so many gone and dead and dying stuck in this wretched bottomless place. Calling his name, all of his names. Worthless jackass idiot whelp useless helpless stupid moron. First last and middle. Skin is stripped soul is ripped brains are sucked heart is bled. He floats, unable to see or hear or feel. Cold pressure above below outside inside. Drowning suffocating living dying. Numb.

The blankets are tucked around his body, tight and sharp. Pressing in and holding him down. Ssss lies next to him, not breathing. Something something something...tiny white fish long silver eels slip and wind and he can’t catch them long enough to ask what they are saying. Hates and hates and hates.

""Shh, Xan, got you pet." The words are uttered without air, without sound, he reads them on bloodless lips. He knows why they are that color, he knows, but it’s gone before it’s there.

Routine. Toes. Wiggle check. He can feel the fabric of the sheet catching on dead rough skin. Hates. Flex of calf muscles, thigh muscles. Feel the hairs on his legs tangle with the thread count of the cotton. Hates. Piss hard-on, tenting the white fabric. Hates. Belly chest arms. Scratchy musty bedcovers. Hates. Trapped and stupid and mute. Hates.

Ssss moves twitches in response to him flexing and cataloging. Pets softly, murmurs The Tempest. Tries and tries and tries to soothe. He can’t move can’t breathe can’t hear can’t see. Hates and panics and cries silently. Why why why. Remember know think talk move walk. Anything. Just not this anymore


Spike bolts upright. Blue eyes snapping and popping and looking right at Xander.


At first it was grunts and growls, tongue unused for too long rebelling against the new workout. Slowly words began to form. Come together enough that Spike could understand them, respond to them. Words like ‘walk’ and ‘piss’ and ‘light’ and ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Always with a ‘thank you’, but never a ‘please’. Xander never asked for anything, Spike had to listen for the grumbling of his stomach, or the raspy sound to his voice, or the light blue tinge to his lips to provide basic necessities of mortal life.

The girls come to visit, Willow holding true to her promise to visit more often, dragging a somber Buffy behind her. Xander curls under his blankets, nodding, hmmming, until they leave, and promptly pushed them from his mind the minute the door closed after they left. Spike can tell the boy has no idea who they are,

Giles visits, provoking a more extreme reaction.

"Xander? Can you hear me?" Xander, boy, can you hear me?

Giles reaches a hand out, shaking, trembling, intent on stroking Xander’s head. The hand reaches for him, wobbly and unsteady

The fingers curl back at the terror now etched on his face. The fingers curl into a tight fist, purple veins and brown splotches decorating the leather flesh

"Xander? What’s wrong? Spike, what...what did I do? I’m not going to hurt you, Xander" Xander? Awww, what’s wrong boy? Jessica, tell me, what did I do? Did I hurtcha Xander?

Faces and figures overlap, spicy-sweet bergamot becomes sour-thick bourbon. Tiny silver minnow’s morph and twist into ravaging leviathans, chewing on his limbs, swallowing him piece by piece.

Xander howls, bird-like fingers flying up to clutch and claw at his eyes. Spike can see the bones popping and snapping under parchment thin flesh as Xander rolls and arches away from Giles. Xander tilts, thumps heavily on the floor, and then pulls himself into the confining shadows under the bedframe.

Spike drags Giles out of the room.

"I...I don’t understand this, Spike...why?" Giles leans heavily against the doorframe, wiping sweat and tears from his ash-gray face.

"Honestly? I don’t know. Memories all jumbled up or something." Spikes scrubs his face, pushing his fingers up to twist and tug his own hair. "I’ll figure it out though, just...stay away for a bit, yeah? I’ll call you when...I’ll call you." And closes the door gently on the ex-Watcher. Then goes to pull Xander out from his hidey-hole under the bed.

"Don’t know how you do that pet. Move so fast when it suits you." Down on his belly, stretched out full to reach Xander pressed against the wall. Hands slide smoothly under trembling arms, wriggle and snake backwards until he can go to his knees, soothing and shushing the entire time.

"C’mon, Xan. Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we? Been a day or two since you got a bath. Need a shave too. The rugged look works for some, but not you. Come on then luv. Got some nice soup that Joyce sent over. Beef and barley, get some bulk back on your bones." On and on and on, until Xander is naked and immersed to his neck in scalding water. Spike washes his hair, gentle like he’d always washed Dru’s. Lamb-soft washcloth, scrub between fingers and toes, behind ears and down the knobby center of his back. Lulling the boy into a half sleep state before pulling out shave cream and a straight blade.

"Time for that shave, Xan. Just hold still now pet." Scrape and wipe and tilt. Monotonous rhythm.

"Ow." Wet velvet eyes snap open, staring at the line of crimson on the blade. Xander shifts, lifting one hand out of the water to rub against his jaw. Spike watches, torn between the fascination in Xander’s eyes, and the intoxicating drop of blood on the boy’s finger. Xander slowly extends his hand to Spikes lips, pushing the finger between quivering lips. Spike suckles, tongue laving and pulling the rich fluid from the whirls of Xander’s fingertip. His eyes pop and crackle gold, Xander jerks his hand away, watching as Spike skitters back from the edge of the tub.

" remember?" He fights the demon down, locking the beast behind tightly closed doors. Xander’s eyes widen, brief and curious, then he shakes his head ‘no’.

"That’s all right pet, just, more blood for Spike, yeah?" Slipping back into caretaker mode, he calmly wrestles Xander from the cooling water, drying him off and dressing as quickly as he can. Gets Xander tucked and cozy under the pile of blankets.

"Care to tell me what that was all about pet?" Slides his voice into the silk smooth tone that tells Xander safe and home and comfort. Xander tilts his head, flicks his eyes side to side, then closes them. Presses down into the soft pillows.

"Father." Then tugs and pulls the blankets to cover his face.

Spike drops into the chair, knowing that he is missing some link, some connection that has been made in Xander’s addled mind. He knows that Giles has never, ever harmed Xander. Talked down to him, yes, but never anything physical. And he really didn’t know that much about the boy’s home life, not enough to say if there had been abuse there.

The blankets shift, catching his eye. Xander peers out from under the pile, almost-black eyes centered on Spike.

"Dead" His eyes snap shut and Spike can hear his heart and breathing drop into sleep patterns. Calm and sedate.

Spike worries and twitches over what is slipping his grasp, and follows Xander into sleep.

Spike sits in the chair, across from Xander, lighting one of his inevitable cigarettes. He pulls in a deep lung full, then the smoke boils and wisps from the pores of his flesh.

"That’s right, pet. I'm a dead thing"

The skin on his face seems to slough off, dripping down, falling to coat his thigh with viscous pale fluid. The hollow socket where his eye used to be twinkles wetly and madly back at Xander. His face pulls back in a rictus grin. A high pitched whine pours from his mouth, fangs descend, blood dripping and worming down his chin.

"Soon, you’ll be dead like me"

Xander claws his way out of the swirling nightmare, heaving and batting away the frantic hands pinning him down.

"Xander! Luv, c’mon! Just a dream, a bad bad dream! Fuck, quit hitting..."

Xander bolts upright, smacking Spike in the nose with his head. Jerks away at the deep crimson blood flows down that pale shadowed flesh.

"Not dead not dead." Head shaking, too long hair falling over his eyes.

Spike wipes his face, one hand hovering over Xander’s back. Not touching, not daring.

"That’s right, Xan, you’re not..." Xander swings an arm out wildly, knocking Spike off the bed.

"I’m not dead. You are. You are youareyouare..." The cry trails off into a silent scream, arms reach up to curl over his head, head tucks down to hide between knees. Xander pulls himself into an impossible knot, shying away when Spike stands up, towering over the bed.


Xander marks the passing of time like heartbeats. Days flying past thin and reedy, or like a slow and rhythmic thumping. He tiptoes round Spike for one long measure, then slides into silent acceptance of his undead status. Even going so far as to heat mugs of blood with his morningafternoonevening coffee.

The first time, Spike watches the boy carefully, unsure as to what exactly he was doing. Xander stands in the open doorway of the fridge, bathed in cold white light. Staring at the clear pouches marked ‘O+’, nestled deep in the crisper drawer. Tucks a hand down, running his fingers over the block letters before pulling out a packet, weighing it in the palm of his hand. He closes the drawer, shuts the door gently, and lays the blood on the counter. Spike sits very, very still. Xander pulls out the small kitchen sheers, and a plain black mug. Cuts the bag and pours the blood into it. Never turning to look at Spike, making no sounds. Slides the mug into the microwave, pours his own coffee, pulls the mug out when the microwave dings. Xander turns, carrying both cups to the island, sets Spike’s in front of him.

Spike watches, detached, as Xander puts the tip of his middle finger on his own forehead, feeling the soft, smooth flesh between his eyes. Then does the same to Spike. Firm slow up down side side tiny circles. Xander tilts his head, brown eyes locked on Spike’s face, and then slides his hand down. Following the sharp line of his nose, to trace around his lips. Soft push and he is touching short blunt teeth.

"These...grow? I...I can see it in my head, like...somebody else’s memory. I know its mine, but...I don’t want it anymore. Show me?"

Spike shakes his head, pulling away from the inquisitive touch. "Thought you didn’t want it anymore, Xan." He shifts out of the chair, taking a step backwards.

"No, I don’t want the memory...not all faded and, and like an image of an image. I want it to be real. I...I want...I need to see you."

For the first time in decades, Spike doesn’t want to show his demonic face, doesn’t want this person to see him in true form. Xander recognizes the hesitation, the reluctance, but refuses to give up.

"This isn’t your real face, Spike. This is the face you wear so you can walk the streets and not scare little children, the face that gets you booze and smokes. Its the mask you hide behind, so nobody can see what makes you tick, what makes you real. Bleach and snark and all the attitude you can gather around you like your precious duster. None of it is your real face. I need real. Please."

Spike was strong until the please.

He closes his eyes, drops his head to his chest, and gives. Bones crack and pop and move. Flesh ripples, eyes turn burnished gold, canines drop. And he looks at Xander.

Xander looks back, then retraces the line from Spike’s ridged brow to his razor sharp teeth. Spike drops his jaw, letting Xander gingerly finger the inside of his mouth. Salt dry flesh poking and prodding the chasms and pockets of his cheeks, where the line of teeth meet the ridge of bone, then deliberately slicing the pad of his finger on one fang. Letting the blood drip and pool on Spike’s tongue.

"Real. Thank you." He’s out the door before Spike can catch him, asleep when Spike gets up to the bedroom.

Spike stares at this creature, so fey and familiar. Hopes that this is the one night in weeks that his sleep is unbroken by ugly dreams.

"Can I go out with you tonight?" Xander has been prowling and pacing, diving into the corners of the mansion, digging out memories best left buried for Spike. Once he decided to be whole, he became whole. Physically at least.

"Answer’s the same it has been every night the last week, pet. No." Spike settles the duster on his shoulders, patting down the pockets and hidden slits in the liner. "Soon as Buffy or Rupes can get over here and start training you-"

Xander pounces.

"Why can’t you? You would do it better than either of those two."

"And again, answer’s the same Xan." Spike shakes his head, the tenacity of this new Xander amazes him sometimes, frustrates him more often.

"I know, the chip. But here’s the thing. It’s all a matter of perception. The chip percieves when you intend harm against a human. But what about half-breeds? Somebody with even a drop of demon blood in their veins?" Xander vibrates, sure that his theory is right. Now if he can just get Spike to see it.

Spike feels like he has been hit in the chest, wonders if this is how humans feel when they get the wind knocked out of them. Half breeds? Even a drop?

"And where would that leave you?" Curiouser and curiouser.

Xander’s face drops, becoming still and carefully blank.

"I...I remember...that image of an image thing...hyena and soldier...possessed...hyena was a demon spirit...still...still here." His eyes show emotion though, fear, pride and something feral and wild. Spike walks towards him, standing close enough to see Xander’s pupils dilate, and the tiny veins in his face swell and throb with blood.

"Got a bit of demon hiding in there do you? That’s an interesting tidbit." He tilts his head, considering, searching Xander for any hesitation or reluctance. None. Leaning in, he touches his nose to the side of Xander’s neck. Drawing in a deep lung full of boy scent. Digging to find the earth and primal and ancient beneath the soap and coffee smells. Flicks out his tongue, lapping up the liquid salt sweat.

"Tomorrow, Pet. Tomorrow." Stepping back, Spike looks once more into clear pleading eyes, then walks out of the house.

Spike had thought about Xander’s theory, turned it every which way but straight, and it still made sense. If he could somehow sense a half-breed, or even someone with just a drop of demon blood in their veins, his life would go back to mostly normal. That in itself was enough to prompt him to experiment. With enormous success. He could fight, he could spar, and he could feed. Took a few nights of scenting, tasting the air around people to learn to recognize the pheromone signature, Buffy was the key.

She had attacked him, verbally at first. Accusing him of having Xander under thrall, drugged, brainwashed. Brushed aside his scathing explanations, told him they never would have left Xander under his care regardless of the years he spent caring for Dru, had they known the effects it would have had on their friend. It didn’t matter that Spike had the room, the knowledge, or the time to care for an invalid. They wanted their Xander shaped friend back now, and that was that.

"You just don’t get it, do you Slayer? That’s all he is now, Xander shaped. The boy isn’t the same boy you knew." That’s when Buffy threw her first punch, and Spike threw back. She got in a second good one while he was in shock, shock but not pain. A victorious primal howl and he’s on her. Buffy waits a hairsbreadth too long and Spike has her pinned to the ground, hands wrapped tight around her throat.

"Fuck you, you stupid bitch. Fuck you and all you idiot children. You didn’t appreciate Xander when you had him, and you haven’t the brains to appreciate him now." Springing off her, Spike races into the night, laughing like a joyful lunatic.

Xander lay curled on the couch, idly thumbing through a book, barely twitching when Spike bursts through the front door. Just glanced up briefly, nods, then returns to his reading.

"Well?" Spike demands.

"I was right. It’s all a matter of perception." Xander slides his bookmark into place, then carefully closes the antique volume and lay it on the table. Then looks expectantly at Spike.

Spike waits until Xander’s hand is back in his lap before pouncing. Settling himself lightly across Xander’s thighs, hands braced on strong shoulders.

"You were spot on, pet! I could...Fuck!" And kisses Xander. Hard and demanding at first, gentling at the sound of a heart beating almost too fast, breath sucked in with a shallow whoosh. Then Xander kisses him back, lips and teeth and tongue sliding and locking together like fate. The taste explodes in Spike’s mouth, rich red wine, and exquisite chocolate, strong coffee. All swirled and liquid and Spike is drowning.

Xander wriggles and twists until Spike is tucked under him. Hands tugging and pulling until he can get the black T up and off, tracing ribs, his thumbs flicking over taut flesh. Xander kisses and licks and bites, batting Spike’s hands out of his way, not letting the blonde touch him.

"Xan? Please luv?" he can hear himself begging, can taste the desperation in the air, and still Xander pushes his hands away.

"Can’t. Not allowed." Xander sits up, hands dancing down Spike’s belly, deftly popping the buttons of his jeans. Spike tamps down the urge to thrust when Xander presses his thumb into the slit of his cock. Manages with a strangled groan.

"What pet? Can’t what?" he looks into Xander’s face, recognizes the flat, blank look in those forest rich eyes. Feels his erection wilt in response.

"I...I’m sorry. This isn’t what you want?" Xander’s forehead crinkles in confusion. He tilts his head down, wrapping his hand around Spike’s shaft and jacking softly. Spike puts his hand over Xander’s, stopping the motion.

"Xander? Look at me pet. Look at Spike." He waits until Xander’s eyes are locked on his, feels something deep inside shatter at the desolation clear in their depths. "Xander? What am I not allowed to do?"

"Touch me." The words are so quiet, so hurt.

"Why not luv? Why can’t I touch you?" Spike rubs his thumb over the pad of Xander’s hand, the same soothing circles he used during a nightmare.

"I...I don’t know. It’s a rule...God’s rule?" Xander turns his hand, letting Spike rub larger circles. Blinks back crystalline tears.

"Why Xan? Why is it a rule?" Spike wants so badly to pull Xander to him, fight all the baddies under the bed, and get rid of all the chains binding him to the past.

"B..because...because nobody ever has." The lost look shatters dissolves in a torrent of tears. Xander folds, crumples into Spike’s waiting arms. Finds home.

Spike watches the boy in his lap shatter dissolve break. Listens to his shuddered cries of ‘why’ and ‘no’. Closes his eyes and wills strength and heal towards Xander. Time stops moving around them, reality collapses and they become only .

Fingers buried in silk hair, arms wrapped and locked and Spike loses himself, feels whatever part of his brain that is Spike slide in and tangle with Xander, lets the seeping pain and whispered words paint the picture.

"Little boy lost, I can see him standing under the tree that was forever in Willow’s backyard, black eye split lip. And he doesn’t understand why. Failed at everything, couldn’t win, couldn’t keep. Lost Jesse, lost Willow, lost lost lost. Don’t know, can’t learn, can’t be."

Xander lapses into silence, Spike can feel the quivering muscles smooth out and calm. Heart rate becomes slow and steady, breathing becomes measured and even. Shifting and twisting, pulling his arms away from Spike, Xander sits up.

"I’m not that child anymore. Not sure who I am." Slide and thump and Xander is curled on the floor next to the couch, clear eyes blinking owlishly up at Spike. "Tell me what happened?"

Spike watches the transformation in awe. The shattered creature that had lain in his lap is completely gone, replaced by...something new and still not totally whole, but mostly healed.

"Giles got wind of a new demon come to town. Vartak, big, stupid, likes to rip out and wear entrails. Willow found a spell she thought would, if not kill the thing out-right, at least hold it long enough for me and Buffy to kill it. She was wrong. The spell bounced off it’s hide, then the Vartak went after Willow. You, white knight complex in full gear, jumped between the demon and Red, getting yourself knocked into the lamp post. Which promptly threw you off into the path of a pretty big truck. Got lucky, I suppose. The truck only clipped you, spinning you back into the fight, where me and Buffy almost had the Vartak dead. When it fell, it landed on you."

Xander nods, knowing it was probably a little more graphic than that, but thankful that that particular memory seemed to be permanently erased from his memories.

"How long ago?"

"Better part of a year, you were in a coma for just over a week. The doc had to drill into your skull to relieve the bleeding, take some of the swelling down. Oh, for future reference? Don’t try to go through one of those airport metal detectors. Set it off like whorehouse at Christmas. Got more pins in you than bones now."

Xander flashes back to one of his first clear memories, silver scars on his hands, long twisty lines making bizarre maps all over his legs and arms. Now he knows where those came from.

"One more question. Well, two, but...why you? Why am I here with you?"

Spike sighs, they had never actually discussed the whole ‘creature of the night’ thing, to do that now along with who Dru was...

"You know I’m...ah...right. I’m a vampire, pet." Some things never change, Xander still has that ‘you’re a bigger idiot than I thought’ look, and aims it at Spike. "All right. Drusilla, my Sire, got herself hurt pretty bad in Prague. Giles thought that I...ah...would be the best choice to look after you while you got better." Spike looks everywhere but at Xander, not wanting the boy to see the lie in his eyes. Xander just blinks, then a tiny smile dances across his mouth.

"Yeah, right. So, teach me?"

Spike snaps his attention back to Xander, confused.

"Teach you what Xan?"

"Everything, Spike. Everything."

"You have to breathe pet. Even and slow in and out." Spike stretches his arm out, parallel to the ground. One finger sneaks out to tap Xander on the nose.

"You don’t breathe, and I don’t see you having any problems." Xander is pretty sure his lungs have completely gone on strike. They don’t want to breathe in and out any more. They want to go somewhere that air is optional.

"Center of balance is different for me, Xan. Never seen a vamp in true demon form, without the human shell, but I’m pretty sure we have tails." Spike can see the image forming in Xander’s head, knows by the flush of his cheeks that a laughing fit is in the works. Waits for it. three...two....

Xander doubles over, arms wrapped round his belly. Laughing hard enough that the only sounds coming from him are desperate gasps. He can see Spike with a long, bleach white and leather black tail.

Spike leaps, knocking Xander to the ground and digging his fingers in trembling sides.

"Can’t be distracted pet. Getcha killed right off." His grin is pure evil, as he tickles Xander into silent tears.

"Well well well, isn’t this all comfy cozy?" Buffy’s voice slices through the air, quickly followed by Willow's stunned gasp. Xander can hear Giles behind the girls, frantically searching for his handkerchief. "Spike, get off of Xander. Now."

Spike searches Xander, looks deep in his eyes for any sign of panic, feels for tense muscles, scents for any fear. Finds only surety and calmness wrapped around him.

"It’s ok, had to happen sooner or later." Xander gently pushes Spike off, then rises gracefully to his feet.

"Hey Buff. Giles. Wills."

Buffy’s eyes rake him from head to foot, then take on a hard, sharp glint. "What happened to you, Xander?"

Xander looks down reflexively, wondering what she meant. Bare feet, loose black trousers, chest and belly covered with razor fine white scars. Oh.

"I almost died, Buffy." Xander moves over to the stone bench, picking up his t-shirt and dragging it over his head. "Hey Willow, how’s school going?" he can see Spike, from the corner of his eye, moving silently behind Giles. Watches as he drops into the familiar loose hipped, heavy-eyed, and rolling shoulder-fighting stance.

"Damn it, Xander!" he should have known she wouldn’t just drop it, just accept. It wasn’t in her make-up. "We can’t touch you, can’t talk to you, God, we can barely be in the same room as you. I want to know what’s happened." She’s right in his face now, he can smell the mint from her gum and the oil from Riley’s gun on her flesh. He opens his mind, his senses, the way Spike has shown him. Her form shimmers inside his view, becomes a black hole, with a violent swirl of color on the edges. Sucking in the emotions and sensations of those around her, not giving anything back.

He extends this inner view to Willow, finds calm ocean blues and corals, overcast with frightened yellows. Pushes further to include Giles. Rich warm forests, browns and greens, isolated by his innate nature.

"Buffy, I need you to step away from me now, please." Xander matches her look for look, calm and sure of himself.

"Not until you tell me what is up with you!"

He can almost taste her frustration now, sharp and bitter in the air. Can definitely see it on her face.

"You wouldn’t understand, Buffy. I thought...maybe...but I was wrong. I almost died, that changes a person. At least it’s supposed to."

She finally backs up, blue eyes a mass of confusion, hands balled into tiny fists. "I don’t understand."

Xander feels a thread of impatience, knowing that no matter how many times he tries to explain, she never would.

"Simply put, Buffy, I had the opportunity to take all the bad shit that was my life, and change it. I took that opportunity."

Spike watches closely, watches Xander filter through the rabbit warren of memories in his head.

"I’m not...bait. I don’t go and doughnuts anymore. I’m strong now, I’m smart. Smarter than I ever thought I could be. And nobody is going to take that from me. Not you, or Giles or Willow." Xander stands tall, proud. Not making a declaration, but stating fact. "I...I still love you, but I sure don’t like any of you right now. I can count on both hands the number of times in the last year you have been here. I get the whole ‘don’t want to see your friend broken into a lot of itty bitty pieces’. I really do. But you all were my world. My father, my sister, my friend. And you pretty much abandoned me. It doesn’t hurt, my memories are really too vague for that, but it does piss me off. I remember enough to know that if situations were reversed, I would have been there about every day, regardless of my feelings, or your reactions to me. And now? It’s time for you to go." Xander steps away from Buffy, turns away without looking at Willow or Giles, goes back to his forms.

Spike steps aside, letting them pass through the door. A nod once to the watcher and the witch, keeps his face carefully blank as Buffy walks past.

Xander waits until he hears the front door slam shut before letting his smirk out.

"I think we should probably stay out of her path for a while, Spike." He looks at his friend, laughter and life dancing in his eyes. Spike smiles back.

"Think you’re right about that one pet." Spike moves in close, tasting the victory and pride on the air. "So, now what?"

"Now, Spike? Now we go hunting."

Xander wears the dark like a second skin, sucking it down into his pores and owning it. Slink and slide, through the shadows, keeping away from the light for the first time in his life. They take out nests of fledges, so silent the last vamp standing is the first to notice death has invaded the lair.

Black on black on sun-kissed bronze, Xander spins and slices. One hand wrapped around a silver-gilded stake, the other wielding a wickedly honed short scimitar. Through warehouses and deserted buildings, vamp’s, demons, and the occasional psychotic drunk. Very little escapes once Xander and Spike start hunting.

The Bronze is always the final stop before heading out to the cemeteries. Weaving among the dancers, preying on the predators. Xander watches Spike writhe against a dough-faced vamp, as he wraps his arm around her back and dips her low, then comes back up empty handed.

Xander scans the crowd, picking out three more vampires in the crowd. Watches as one follows a familiar redhead out the front doors. He catches Spike’s eye, motions towards the front of the club, then follows the vamp following Willow.

She turns in time to see the dust settle on the asphalt, eyes raking him from head to foot and back to head. Sees the too-long hair, tight black pull over, black leather jeans, and scowls at him.

"Are you a vampire now, Xander Harris?" Willow glares, balls her hands into fists, and plants them on her hips. Xander can’t help it, he has to laugh at her ‘mom-stance’.

"No, Wills. Still human. Wanna check my pulse?" He holds out his arm, inviting her to check.

"Well, maybe just a little." She puts two fingers on his wrist, counts silently. Nods.

"Can I hug you?" He doesn’t answer, just pulls her in tight against his chest. Wraps his arms around her and breathes in the sage and clove and baby powder scent that lingers on her flesh. Holds her like that until her hands begin to flutter against his back.

"Air...I need air, Xander." He loosens his grip, lets her turn enough that she tucks against his side, but keeps one arm slung around her back.

"Walk a lady home?" Willow smiles, pure and innocent and happy.

"White Knight escort services. Taking ladies home is our specialty." Xander smiles back, feeling something comfortable and familiar settle in his belly, "Somehow that doesn’t sound just right." She giggles, and slaps him lightly on the chest, then sobers.

"Buffy is really mad at you right now."

Xander carefully steers her under the street lamps, he can feel Spike following behind, but no sense in taking chances.

"Honestly Willow? I don’t care. Not overly fond of her right now myself." Xander keeps his eyes on her face, extending his sight to watch the colors flicker and dance around her.

"What happened?"

"Well, it’s like this. I was broken, really really broken. And I had a decision to make. I could stay broken, stay this helpless, bumbling boy, or I could grow up. That’s all I did, really. Just grow up. Become what I always knew a man could be. Strong and capable, worthy of all the things I want in life." The striated colors swirling around Willow smooth out, a core of tranquil blue, lightening shade by shade to a pale aqua on the edges. Calm and confident and accepting.

"What do you want?"

"What does any of us want? To be loved wanted, cherished. To go to bed know that even though I’m afraid of something, I can fight it. Respect, friendship, all of it Wills. Buffy may be the Slayer, but in the end, she is just a girl. She isn’t a better person then me, smarter, or prettier. She has strength and speed on her side, but that’s all semantics. Perception, Willow, it’s all just a matter of perception. Deep down inside, I am the better person. Because I don’t have the super special slayer skills, I have to do things the hard way, and I learn from it. I know what not to do next time. And I grow from what I learn. I almost died, and your magics, her strength, and Giles’ knowledge couldn’t help me. Couldn’t fix me. I had to fix myself. I know that’s why you all stayed away, and that’’s ok. Pretty chickenshit, but ok. I’m a better person now, a better fighter, a better thinker. I learned from that mistake, and I sure as hell won’t make it again. Buffy can accept it or not, her choice." Xander pulls her to a stop, presses a kiss to the top of her head. "Love you Willow. Always have, always will. You have the same choice. And I do believe this is your stop." He gently untangles his arm and steps away.

"I...I love you too, Xander. All of you." Standing on tiptoe, she kisses him back and walks away. He watches to make sure she gets inside the dorm ok, then turns to find Spike standing in the shadows.

"Hey Spike?"


"Take me home?"


Dear Journal.

New Year’s Morning and I sit in Paris. The lights twinkle and seem to sing. False dawn is creeping over the horizon and I let the images sear into my memory. It’s my last one, by the time this final sun sets, I will be as dead and eternal as my lover. Oddly poetic words coming from the second-biggest fuck up to come out of Sunnydale High. The Hellmouth really has the honors of taking first, I think. I once asked Spike to teach me, and he did. Language and art and music, self defense and guerilla tactics.

Sunnydale has been gone for about ten years now, and ya know, I really don’t miss it that much. Spike said to write it all down, and I think I got the important parts, guess I’ll have to dig this thing out in a hundred years and read it again. I keep in touch with Willow, that’s gonna change here in about an hour or so, Buffy....not so much. She and I never really came to terms with the changes that I had undergone, we were never really able to get our friendship back on an even keel.

Giles moved on after the town sank, went back to England and reformed the Watcher’s council. We have an understanding. They don’t hunt my lover, I don’t turn my lover loose. It works.

Buffy went to La, where Angel pretty much turned over the whole ‘save the world’ thing he had going on there, and hightailed it off to parts unknown. Until Willow showed up in London, then Deadboy came out of retirement and changed her sexuality back. So now Angel does the training thing, Willow does the Wicca thing, and Giles does the paperwork thing.

And Spike and I? We are on permanent vacation. I’ve seen places and people that I only dreamed existed, eaten foods that, years ago would have turned me inside out and upside down. I know a dozen languages, have learned to paint and ride a camel. There is so much more for me to see, to taste, to touch. This journal? Not the end, just the beginning.

"Pet?" his voice is as hushed and quiet as the sun rising over the Great Cathedral, drifting out of the shadows to wrap around Xander.

"Almost there, Spike. Almost." Xander closes the journal, caressing its embossed leather spine. The last gift for him under their tree, Christmas morning a week ago. Spike had asked him if he was sure, Xander had answered with a kiss. Then he began to write it all down.

The End

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