So, this is for [info]ponders_life and i hope, i hope, i hope i got close to the mark. It's okay to say you hate it! *please don't hate it!!*
Ahem. Okay, that's enough of *that*!

Thank you, dear Ponders, for bidding and donating - you're a peach! Sweet Charity still goes on, in various forms, so why not consider contributing? :)

This is Adult, this is Spander...what more is there to say? Oh! There's this. Most especial thanks and love to [info]reremouse and [info]sweptawaybayou for reading and encouraging, and to [info]darkhavens the bestest beta *evah*. *Mwah!*

OMGETA!: Something in this fic was stolen from [info]_beetle_!! She told me i could! And i forgot to say! Thank you thank you, _beetle_, you are the BEST!! EVAH!!



The Five Stages of Grief


by
Tabaqui



The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it...

In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water...

In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.


Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen



The Great Rift Valley was a trough that ran for four thousand miles, from the arid plateaus of Syria to the dense, wet jungles of Mozambique. Crossing borders and an ocean, teeming with life and apparently, flamingos. And in all that, he was to find one, single human.

Thank Christ, Spike thought, for global positioning.

Spike looked down at his phone. 0°46'6.70?S, 36°21'2.32?E. He looked at the tracker. The same numbers flickered back at him. Where in bloody hell is he, then? Spike took a long, long breath in, mouth a little open. Letting the wet, spicy air roll over his tongue – fill up his sinuses. Searching. Although for what, he wasn't exactly sure anymore. A faint sense-memory of sawdust and Brut and burnt sugar teased him but he dismissed it with a sharp shake of his head.

That was years and continents ago and Spike was pretty sure that whatever his brain remembered, he wouldn't find it here. Irritably, Spike shoved phone and tracker away and turned in a slow circle. Memory wouldn't work, but finding a human – that was never hard.

Heart, lungs, belly, bowels. None of 'em are quiet. Spike breathed in again, gaze tracking across the swampy, rolling land. Lake Naivasha was about fifty yards away, rippling bright and quick under the waning moon. A fishing camp was off toward the west, dense smell of fish guts and campfire and sweat – the peculiar, vinegary musk that came of eating a mix of wild game and processed food. The faint double-thumps of several heartbeats and the soft, snuffling noises of humans in deep sleep. Spike dismissed all of that – shifted again, looking east. The swampy land leveled out there – rose a little, brushy land sprouting a tree or two. A tree that shivered, just a little, limbs swaying. Except there was no breeze. And there was a telltale heartbeat. Spike rolled his eyes at himself. Poe wasn't necessary.

Found you. Spike reached into a pocket and unearthed cigarettes and lighter because, quite frankly, he wanted something to do with his hands. With his mouth, too, because God alone knew what would come out of it. Five years and I still don't have a fucking clue what to say. Spike lit up and took a long drag – headed uphill, his boots sinking a little into the spongy earth.

The crest of the rise was drier and Spike found him in a crouch, back to the slim trunk of the tree. Bottle gleaming wetly in his hand, thin yeast smell of cheap beer.

"I guess the lion doesn't sleep tonight," Xander said, and Spike let out smoke and breath on a thin laugh.

"I won't do the 'wimoweh' part," Spike warned, and now Xander laughed.

Took a long gulp of his beer, his throat working in the cool slant of moonlight coming through the acacia leaves. "You know, that's not even the right word. About half of that song was originally in Zulu."

"The things you learn when you travel seven thousand-odd miles." Spike folded down cross-legged in the tussocky grass and Xander ducked his head down, swirling the few inches of beer around and around in the bottle. He took another drink and then a third, finishing off the bottle while Spike smoked his cigarette down to the filter and pinched it out.

Something made a clatter in the reeds down near the lake's edge and Spike looked that way for a moment, seeing nothing but light and shadow.

"So...why did you travel seven thousand-odd miles?" Xander asked finally, and Spike reached for another cigarette.

"They want you back."

"They."

"Don't pretend not to know. The three Fates." Or the Morrigan, Spike thought, but he didn't share that.

Xander sighed softly. "Buffy and Willow and Dawn." Spike just smoked, silent, and Xander tapped his fingers on the bottle, onetwothree, onetwothree. "Didn't know you were working for the Council again."

"I'm not." Spike tapped ash into the grass – looked up sharply as a bat dove past, its thin call faint even to his ears. "I do the odd job for them now and again. When it's slow."

"Ah." Xander lifted the empty bottle to his lips and blew across the top, making a low hooting that vibrated in Spike's ear bones. "You know I don't actually...know what you do?" For the first time since Spike sat down, Xander actually looked up at him. Dusky-tanned skin, his hair cut bristle-short. Two eyes, which Spike had heard about through the demon grapevine. But he hadn't heard that the new one was a pale, new-born-baby blue.

Spike covered his shock with a hard drag and an overly-energetic flick of the butt, sending ashes and sparks scattering. Then he grinned. "I'm a cleaner."

Xander blinked at him. "I'll just call you Mr. Wolf, then."

Spike blinked back. "I don't have the faintest fucking clue as to what you're goin' on about."

Xander grinned then, and Spike felt it like a physical thing, a jolt all through him. "I know."


~*~*~*~*~


Xander, it turned out, was staying about two miles away in another fish camp, only this one was just him and his bedroll and his dusty-blue Range Rover. There were four jerry cans of petrol strapped to the roof and three of water and a dent in the driver door the approximate height and shape of a water buffalo's head.

"Water buffalo," Xander said, patting the dent, and Spike snorted softly.

"Smelled the bloody thing."

"Yeah? What's it smell like?"

"Sodding stupid bovine."

Xander chuckled softly – slotted his empty beer bottle into his cooler and shut it, clicking the little latches down tight. There was a heap of embers and the charred ends of sticks in a shallow hole in a spot cleared of grass and Xander settled down next to it, picking up a longer stick and poking around in that way people do. Latent pyro tendencies rising to the challenge.

Spike sat, himself, fussing with the tails of his coat. "Why don't you have some proper camp chairs?"

"'Cause this isn't proper camping? I'm not usually out here."

"Where are you usually, then?"

Xander leaned in toward the embers and blew, making them flare from sullen cherry-red to white-yellow scintillations. A few sparks flew out, erratic fireflies. In the sudden glare, the pale eye was white – blind. "Usually I'm in Thika. Got a job with the Aberdare park."

"Huh." Spike smoked the last of his cigarette and flicked the butt into the fire. "All right, you bastard. Why in hell is that thing in your head that God-awful color?"

"Ha!" Xander slapped his hand down on his thigh, shooting a triumphant look at Spike. "Knew you couldn't resist. It's new. You know?"

"I know it's new. I was there when it became a bloody hole. Literally. What's new got to do with it?"

"When the Sangoma fixed me up he said it would be like a baby's eye. Babies are all born with blue eyes like this. By the time they're two or three it settles into whatever color it's gonna be for life." Xander rubbed his knuckles under his nose and poked at the fire again, the embers clinking together like glass. "I've only had it about a year, he said be patient."

"It looks damn strange."

"Yeah." Xander sounded rueful – a little embarrassed – and Spike watched him stir the embers around and around, frowning.

"Why'd you do it, anyway? Rather liked that patch. Had a bit of style to it."

"Yo ho ho. Not really my life's ambition. I just got tired of...talking about it. Making up stories. Remembering, you know?"

Spike sighed, reaching into his coat and pulling out his flask . He unscrewed the lid and took a long drink. "Oh, I know. Wait'll you've got a century and a half to rake over."

Xander didn't say anything and Spike offered the flask. After a moment Xander took it – took a long gulp and then sputtered, coughing, holding the flask out with a shaking hand. "Jesus."

"That's Tennessee sipping whisky. Sip."

"Could'a...warned me." Xander coughed again and then wiped his wrist over his mouth.

"Thought you were a big boy, now," Spike said, and they both froze ever so slightly. A little stumble-catch in the conversation that they both did their best to ignore. Not what I wanted to bring up, for fuck's sake.

"Well, I'm gonna turn in. Dawn comes early."

"Xander –"

"You wanna bunk in the Rover?" Xander asked, standing and brushing off the seat of his khaki pants. Making a big to-do of it. Not looking at Spike, not looking at anything. Faded grey t-shirt under the worn cotton button-up, loose thread and a missing button at the bottom.

Spike concentrated on the details, too – stood up in one easy motion. "Got a room at the Blue Posts," Spike said, capping his flask and tucking it away.

"Thika's almost a hundred miles away."

"Yeah. Got my own Rover, don't I? Left it up – that way." Spike waved a negligent hand vaguely northward and Xander just stood there, his hands shoved into his pockets and his boots muddy across the tips.

"I'm not going back," he said suddenly. Blurting it out like it was say it now or never at all.

Spike was familiar with that. "Didn't imagine you would, but...had to try." Spike shrugged. Sometimes you had to do things. Sometimes it was how you...disconnected. Five years was too long to be hanging on the line, waiting for the other person to say 'goodbye'.

"And they thought you'd be...the best person for the job?"

"Not going to send Giles, are they?" Spike said softly, and Xander let out a long, long breath.

"No, they're not. Look, just..."

"Got the room for a week," Spike said, and Xander nodded.

"Okay."


~*~*~*~*~


Back at the Blue Posts, dawn an imminent and fragile yellow-green on the horizon. Spike slouched down into a low-slung chair made of bull hide and bones, letting his head tip back. The ceiling was beamed, dim – cluttered with wispy cobwebs in the darkest corners.

Spike sighed and shifted around – pulled his phone out of his pocket. It was vibrating strongly and flipping it open showed him seven missed calls. Seven new messages.

Christ. Give a body a chance... He dialed it over to 'silent' and chucked it at the coffee table, where it hit and spun and went still. Spike sighed and shut his eyes for a moment. His coat smelled like wood smoke now, and his boots like marsh-water. Harris had been a collection of sharps and flats and one lone arpeggio of sweet and it had utterly supplanted the five year old memory of the All American Boy that he'd used to smell like. Act like, demon-loving and world-saving aside.

Five years...five years. Half a decade. Nothing whatsoever to a demon who could, potentially, live forever. But it was clear in Spike's heart – muddier in his mind. Except for one thing. Dru's death, that was still razor-edged. Still something Spike shied away from, unless he was deep in his cups. And then he wallowed.

But that's not today, Spike thought. He dragged himself upright and heeled his boots off – shed coat and clothes on his way to the bath. He was going to wallow in the tub, and then the netting-swathed bed. Let Harris sort himself, and then...

And then it would be back to New York, most likely, and the pile of jobs he had waiting. He was almost respectable, except that he got as much blood on his hands now as he had a hundred years ago. Spike spun the taps and closed the drain – leaned against the porcelain edge, his eyes unfocused – feet cold on the green tiles. Picking over memories like a bowlful of cherries. Which life is not... Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor... Spike snorted softly to himself – slipped down into the tub, iron and clay warming under the lap of steaming water. Beggarman, thief...


~*~*~*~*~


Spike woke all at once, senses and instinct alerting him to...something. He didn't move – didn't open his eyes. Voices in the corridor, and then the thin scrape of metal on metal. By the time his door was half way open, Spike was sitting up in the bed, welter of sheets and netting. The light coming in through the parchment blinds was thick – volcanic. Simmering with heat, drowning the room in its honeyed glow.

And Xander, standing hesitating in the doorway, same khaki trousers, different t-shirt. Dust on his boots and a sheen of sweat on his face.

"Come further in, come further up," Spike murmured, and Xander shut the door.

"That might be overstepping the lion analogy just a bit," he said, and Spike grinned at him, reaching for lighter and cigarettes on the nightstand.

"What, you're the only one that can have a Christ complex?"

"I'm just a carpenter," Xander said, flopping down onto the bone and hide chair. It creaked.

"So was he, until Yahweh came whispering in his ear. Like a snake."

"I thought it was like lion's claws."

Spike lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply – scrunched back into the pillows a little, staring up at the knot of netting that hung five feet above his head. "Can't remember, actually."

"Makes sense, though, if you think about it." Spike tipped his chin down and watched Xander pick at a seam on the chair. "God – any god – talking in your head? That's gotta hurt, you know? All that..." Xander waved his hands around, loops of beads on his left wrist clicking. "All that infinite-ness or whatever trying to cram into your head and not, you know...blow your top off."

"Only god I ever met kicked the living shite out of me," Spike mused, and Xander made a little snorting noise. Spike raised an eyebrow.

Xander raised two back. "Living, shite – you get my drift."

"Would've been disappointed if you'd missed it," Spike said, and pulled in another lungful of smoke. Xander watched him, his fingers absently caressing the glossy curve of bone that formed the chair arm. "Thought you had a job?"

"I have some, uh – holiday time or whatever. Thought I'd, you know..."

"Mooch off my expense account for a week?"

Xander's eyes, dark and light, flicked over the room. Came back to Spike and made a slower, assessing journey. Spike obligingly kicked the sheets a little lower. "Well, you know what they say..."

"Do I?" Spike leaned up on one elbow and ground his cigarette out in the cobalt-blue ashtray. Pushed his palm flat to his ribs and skimmed down, letting his fingers curl a little over his hip bone.

"Waste not, want not? Or maybe..." Xander slouched a little lower in the chair, legs sprawled wide. Eyes half-lidded and glittering. The sunlight was charring from amber to ashy rose, charcoal shadows creeping out from the edges of things. "Maybe ask and ye shall receive."

Spike put his hand out and lifted the edge of the netting – slithered under it in one fluid movement and stalked across the intervening floor space, head down. He put his hands on the burnished arms of the chair and leaned in, his cheek nearly touching Xander's. "You asking?" he rumbled, and Xander shivered. Xander's thready sweet smell was overlaid with wood smoke and lemon and the spicy dust of the roadside and Spike breathed it in. Mouth a little open, tongue coming out to touch his upper lip. "You smell different."

"I took a shower," Xander whispered, his breath warm on Spike's ear.

"You smell like Africa. Like five hundred thousand years of summer and blood."

Xander's fingertips touched Spike's thigh and it was like being touched by five burning brands – five live wires. The blush of rising blood all under Xander's skin added a musky saltiness to the scent of him and Spike's eyes closed, involuntary. His mouth wet with saliva and his teeth itching. "I dreamed you had paws like a lion." Xander's other hand skittered up Spike's hip – ribs – settled on his chest. On the fine net of scars there, years old. "You had silver claws, and you tore my heart out."

Spike pushed his cheek into Xander's, hard. Let his knees bend and his legs go wide and settled himself on Xander's thighs, elbows on collarbones and his fingers rubbing over the plush bristle of Xander's shorn head. Met the mis-matched gaze with his own. "I suppose I ate it, then?" he asked, and Xander breathed in, nodding.

"You said it was just for safe keeping, though," Xander said, and Spike leaned forward the last few inches and kissed him.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander sat down into the hide chair with a little sigh, dropping a grease-spotted brown bag onto the planks of polished wood that served as a coffee table. A string bag was plunked down beside it and Xander pulled out four dripping bottles of beer. The local brew, Tusker, and Spike made a small face.

"I know, I know. But I like it. You've got whiskey, anyway."

"Thank Christ for small favors." Spike slumped a little lower in the not-matching, other hide and bone chair. It had a lower, more bowl-like construction that lent itself nicely to blow jobs and slouching. His let his hand drop down and skim across the floor to the bottle waiting there.

"Samosa?" Xander asked, holding up a triangle of fried pastry and – Spike sniffed – meat. Goat, probably.

"I think not. Goat and Jack don't mix." Spike tipped the bottle toward Xander and took a mouthful – set the bottle back down on the floor.

Xander shrugged and took a bite, holding a hunk of pot bread underneath to catch drips. Chutney and the sweet scent of fresh pineapple and papaya mingled with the savory smells of the other foods and Spike breathed deep and smoked, watching Xander eat. Fourth or fifth meal since Xander had shown up at his door and it felt... Felt a lot like old times, and Spike dismissed that with a shake of his head.

"So – did you tell Buffy I wasn't coming back?"

"Haven't spoken to Her Nibs since I got into the country. Should never have let them have my bloody number."

Xander pried open a beer bottle and took a long drink – heeled his boots off, shoving them under the table and wiggling his toes. His socks were wooly, a weird sort of muddy brown-green color. "So I guess it's not an apocalypse or anything, huh?"

"Didn't say. Just said you weren't talking to them." Spike lit a fresh cigarette and watched Xander through the smoke. Xander ate and wiped his fingers on the brown bag when he was done, and leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out.

"I stopped talking to them about...four and a half years ago. Once I figured out nobody was going to say what they did was a bad fucking idea."

"That what it was?" Spike asked, seeing a flash in his inner eye of Dru. Bloodied and screaming. Crying, her long fingernails tearing runnels down her cheeks – snatching out hanks of knotted hair.

Xander picked at the label on his bottle – tapped his fingers against the glass. Onetwothree, onetwothree, and Spike wanted to snarl at him to just stop. "Yeah. It was. A very bad fucking idea, Spike, and you know I never... I never thought it wasn't."

"Could've fooled me," Spike muttered and pushed himself to his feet. Paced to the window and stood there, peering out through the crack between blind and frame. The sun still at least four hours from setting and Spike wanted to just...go. Bad fucking idea. This is a bad fucking idea. Don't know what in hell I was thinking... Which was a lie, but Spike was good at ignoring the lies, anymore.

"Spike..." There was resignation in Xander's voice – weariness and sadness and Spike lifted his hand and pushed it behind the blind – let the sun's heat soak into his fingers for a moment and then pulled them back when the first faint wisps of smoke curled up from his fingertips. "Do we really have to go over this again?"

"Why not? Never really sorted it back then, did we? 'Sides, I could use a good fight right about now."

"I'll bet." Xander drank and Spike listened to his heart, which was beating a little faster. To his lungs, which worked smooth and soft. "I know I sided with Buffy at first. What was I gonna do? She's..."

"The Slayer. Not any sodding thing else." Spike turned abruptly away from the window and stalked across the floor – flung himself back down into his chair and groped for the whiskey bottle again. It was warm on his tongue – hot and cold all at once in his throat and he drank two – three times. Leaned the bottle on his thigh and stared at Xander, who drank a more moderate amount of beer and wiped his mouth on his wrist.

"She had Giles and Willow. Was she supposed to just ignore them? She trusts them."

"She never learns from her mistakes. Or theirs. She just goes blithely on, slaying first –" Spike choked on that and fell silent and Xander heaved himself up from his chair. Came around the end of the coffee table and crouched down next to Spike, one hand on Spike's knee. Condensation from the beer soaked through Spike's jean-leg and he shifted irritably, not looking down into Xander's earnest gaze.

"She trusts them, and I trusted her. We had a lot of trust, back then. She'd...saved the world, you know?"

"We did. We saved the world, Xander. All of us, and what the fuck does that have to do with any of it? It wasn't about her."

"I know." Xander dug his fingers into Spike's thigh a little, rubbing. His gaze thoughtful and elsewhere. "I know it wasn't. But it was...it was easier to make it about her. You know? Everything else had been for so long..."

"Out of our bloody minds," Spike muttered, and Xander's eyes snapped back to Spike – lost the dozy look for something a little more sharp-edged.

"Is that what you think? Thought?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Spike glared down at Xander, who glared back up, his grip on Spike's thigh tightening. Painful, if Spike hadn't been a vampire. If he'd let himself feel it. "We went from hatin' each other to shagging in the bathroom at every gas station between Sunnydale and LA! That's 'round the bloody bend, if you ask me!"

Xander just stared at him for a minute and then he laughed. Not even a cynical laugh, or a bitter, twisted laugh or – well – any sort of laugh that Spike expected. It was a full-on belly laugh of the kind Spike hadn't heard – or indulged in – in a long time.

"That wasn't crazy, that was fucking...awesome. Some of the best sex of my fucking life."

Spike blinked. "Yeah...? Yeah...it was...damn good..." He slouched a little lower, legs going wider and Xander's whole body leaned forward an inch or so before he stopped himself. Squeezed Spike's thigh extra-hard and Spike jerked a little. "Not a damn piece of ripe fruit, me."

"Sorry," Xander said, but Spike could tell he wasn't, particularly. "Listen, Spike – it was kind of crazy. It was like...some sort of insane grieving thing, only we skipped the other parts or something. Did it backwards."

"There are parts?"

"Well, yeah. All the cool kids say so." Xander held his fingers up as he went along. Starting with his thumb, which made Spike smirk just a little.

Caught that off me.

"There's...denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance."

"And us fucking on every available surface was which part, now?" Spike asked, and Xander slipped forward onto his knees, both hands flat on Spike's thighs – fingers creeping upward to Spike's belt.

"I'd say it was...acceptance."

Spike watched Xander's fingers work his belt open – ease his jeans button free, and then pull the zipper down. "And...these last five years?"

"Umm..." Xander worked Spike's cock free of the denim and Spike couldn't help the little groan of pleasure that hummed up out of his throat as the warm, callused fingers stroked him. "Probably...well, bargaining –"

"Please God let me come before anybody walks in on us?"

Xander laughed again, softer, his hot breath huffing over Spike's belly. "Exactly. Then denial –"

"Only that one time –"

"And then...anger..." Xander stopped stroking and just leaned there, his lips nearly touching Spike's skin, and Spike locked his muscles tight, to keep the shiver in his belly from shuddering out through every limb.

"Yeah. Sorry about that, pet."

"Kind of...inevitable. Considering it was us, you know?"

"I –" Spike stopped talking for a moment when Xander's lips – chapped and warm and not remotely shy – pressed down against him, tip of Xander's tongue slicking out to taste.

Xander sat back just a little, licking his lips. The look of a cream-fed cat on his face. Looking up at Spike with those odd, off-balance eyes. "And then there was depression."

"Was there?" Spike asked, and Xander's fingers tightened ever so slightly on Spike's shaft. "Yeah," Spike sighed. "There was."

"Yeah." Xander sighed. "Wow, kinda killed the moment," he mumbled, and Spike reached out and snagged Xander's shirt-collar and yanked him up and forward, Xander's belly pressed to Spike's cock, chest to chest and nearly mouth to mouth.

"Get naked and get on the bed." Xander tasted like salt and grease and goat and hops. It was surprisingly not bad. "Now."

"Fuck the bed," Xander husked, and shoved with incredible dexterity at his khakis.

"Yeah...all right...fuck." Xander's grin was smug.





In the night the city lives too—the day is not all.
In the night there are dancers dancing and singers singing,
And the sailors and soldiers look for numbers on doors.
In the night the sea-winds take the city in their arms.


Night Movement – New York by Carl Sandburg



New York was cold, and Spike stood on his fire escape, smoking and watching the traffic going past in the street. Sniffing in lungfuls of exhaust and pepper and frying beef – cooking rice and ginger and fish. Off to the east he could just see a snippet of the Brooklyn Bridge, lights haloed and smearing through a haze of pollution. The sun was five minutes from setting, the sky a dull amber-blue, vanishing rapidly behind clouds. It was going to snow soon. Spike stepped back inside and shut the window – crossed the scuffed planks of the floor and settled behind his desk, tipping his chair back and propping his feet up.

It was an old, wooden, spring-loaded chair, very Sam Spade and Spike plucked a bottle of Jack out of the bottom drawer of his desk and poured himself a shot. The sudden entrance of a hot broad only added to the Maltese Falcon air, except this broad was no Brigid O'Shaughnessy. And she was hotter than Mary Astor ever dreamed.

"So you're, what, Harry Dresden now?"

"Wrong decade, love," Spike said, fishing for his Zippo. Faith crossed to the desk and hitched one jean-clad hip up onto the edge. Cigarette from Spike's pack and Spike stretched his hand out, thumbing his Zippo open and lighting it. Faith leaned forward, her hand resting lightly on Spike's knuckles, guiding him. Her fingers were cold and dry, her nails painted ox-blood dark. She pulled in a long draw of smoke and straightened, her dark gaze amused, her eyebrows arching.

"I was thinking more of Dashiell Hammett than that Butcher bloke."

"Dashiell? Was that in this century, old man?"

"Made a talkie and everything," Spike said, pouring out another shot. Faith snatched the glass from under his reaching fingers and downed it with a little shudder.

"Cold out tonight."

"Gonna get colder." Spike took his glass back and let his feet drop to the floor with a thump, shoving the bottle away and kicking the drawer shut. "Any chance you've got something to do tonight?"

Faith stretched, feline and comfortable in her skin, smoke around her like a halo. Or burning brimstone. "Thought I'd shadow you tonight. See where the really happening clam bakes are."

"I'm working tonight."

"Hey, funny, so am I."

"Bloody...hell." Spike lit his own cigarette and stood up, snatching his coat off of an old-fashioned coat rack in the corner. Jesus Christ, I'm living in a bad Mike Hammer movie. "You are being very carefully low profile so that you don't get your fool head cut off by the entire Eastern seaboard's demonic equivalent of the Russian Mafia!"

Faith made a little moue of annoyance, fingers toying with the fringe of the black and white checkered scarf she had tucked into the neck of her leather bomber jacket. "Being 'low profile' is just another way of saying 'being bored out of my friggin' skull. C'mon, Spike!" She jumped up off the desk, bouncing a little on the balls of her booted feet. "Let's go kick some ass, Sunnydale style."

"That's what got you into the fucking mess you're in, you nit." Spike shrugged his coat on and shoved cigarettes and lighter into a pocket – checked to be sure he had his various other bits and bobs tucked away and stalked toward the door. "You stay here. I've got a pack of idiots who think they can conjure Cthulhu or some such up from Gowanus bloody Bay, which means I've got to spend half the bloody night staggering around Brooklyn."

"I love Brooklyn!"

"You would," Spike snapped. He fished in his pocket and drew out a roll of money – peeled off a few bills and tossed them onto the little table by the door. "Have some vindaloo delivered. Or a movie. Or a bloody hooker and some underage porn, I don't care, just stay here."

"Jee-sus." Faith pouted, slumping back onto the desk – ashing into the overflowing tray sitting on the corner. "You need to get laid."

"Unless you're offering, I suggest you shut it," Spike snarled. He spun on his heel and yanked the door open.

"Hey, Spike," Xander said.


~*~*~*~*~


The Cthulhu worshippers couldn't wait, but Xander would, so Spike went out and did what he did, tracking five misinformed and conscienceless humans down and dispatching them neatly. Their blood was on his tongue as he made his way out of Red Hook Park and back to Chinatown. Back to Xander, who had looked tired.

Who had still smelt of Africa; heat and distance and earth thick with age. Spike walked up his seven flights slowly, smoking and pondering and at last drifted to a stop outside his own door. Voices inside, Faith and then Xander and Spike closed his eyes – leaned his head against the soft old plaster of the wall and listened.

"So what was the deal? Buffy said they tried to re-soul some vamp, but it went bug-fuck all over 'em?"

"Not 'some vamp'. Drusilla. Spike's... The vampire that made Spike."

"We never met."

"Good thing, too. She'd have taken you out. She was...powerful."


Spike laughed softly. Xander the vampire-hater, defending his Dru. It was true, though. Faith was too full of guilt and shadows – too uneasy in her skin, even after all these years. Back then – Dru would have had her for tea.

"Don't be so sure, Harris."

"You weren't there. You didn't see... Look, she had visions when she was human – dreamed the future. It's one of the reasons Angel wanted her. He made her crazy. The soul made her crazier. They tracked her for three days, and she killed seven Slayers. She almost got Buffy. You know what she did to Giles and Willow. The only thing that...stopped her was Spike."


Dru in the dirt – Dru streaked with blood. Her dress in tatters, and her skin. Her eyes stretched wide but seeing...nothing. Blind to everything but the horror that played in her head; penny-arcade movie, soundless and stuttering, freezing at the worst moments. She had been a sweet and special child – a child of her God, terrified and alone. Angelus had twisted her, this way and that, until she had broken. Crazed and fractured beyond all repair, her voices uplifting her one day – dashing her flat the next. Powerless Queen in a grotesque kingdom of her own making.

Queen on her knees, begging..."Please, oh please...Spike, please...the nails, the thorns, the screams, they won't stop, they won't stop..." Thin hands scrabbling at the ground – prying up a bit of broken stone. Lifting it and bringing it down onto her breastbone, over and over, the bone underneath breaking with a dull crack. "They drive into me over and over and over, Spike, no rest, no quiet, no no no, pleeease make it stop, make it stop, makeitstop!"

Nothing to be done – nothing to do. Barely anything left of her, and she'd fallen to dust in Spike's arms. Bolt shot from a bow – bow held in Xander's callused hands. It had all fallen apart, then. The truce between the survivors and the LA group – the strange and delicate, blooming thing that Spike and Xander were still puzzling over. Giles was near-dead, Willow gravely hurt. Buffy...near-drowning in the guilt of another plan gone wrong – of another heap of the dead and dying.

And Spike, insane with rage and sorrow, had poured out every last drop of vile bitterness and hate onto Xander's bowed head. "Guess you're all grown up now, aren't you? All grown up and making a bloody fucking balls of your life and mine, too, you useless fucking shite. You've never been good enough for the queen fucking bee so you took her leavings and you know what? You're still not good enough."

Spike pressed his skull harder into the wall, driving the images back; the emotions that still slunk and hissed and rose up, shrieking, when he least expected it.

"I never got why you and he –"

"We never did either. But it worked, until...all that. They thought Dru could be...their pet seer or something. Tell how to fix...things."

"Things like no more Slayers being called, you mean."


There was a sigh – a shifting – and Spike heard the springs of his chair creak. Heard something being moved over the surface of his desk. Pen, maybe, or some papers. Something.

"Yeah. Like that. Didn't work. They never should have..."

Shouldn't have done it – shouldn't have thought it. Shouldn't have presumed to force a soul onto a mind already mazed and fissured with too much pressure – too many losses. Should have fucking asked, instead of being so bloody arrogant to think they knew best. Spike felt his fingers digging into the wall – the bones of his face warping as the demon snarled to the surface.

"She was a killer –"

"That's not the fucking point, Faith. It was wrong. It was just...wrong. And she died – I killed her, and Spike was holding her and after... I had to choose."

"We all do. We all make choices."

"I made the wrong one."


Spike shuddered all over. Pushed himself away from the wall and dusted plaster off his hands – settled himself with a breath or two, the demon subsiding. He reached out and turned the knob – swung the door open hard. Was gratified to see Faith jump a little, sliding off his desk with a look of surprise, swiftly hidden. "You, Slayer – take a walk. Plenty to kill in the city."

"How'd the –"

"Get. The fuck. Out!" he barked, and she blinked, taking a step back. Stepped forward and then she was pushing past him and out the door, brows down and her mouth a thin, hard line. Xander just sat there, drawing some mindless pattern on the blotter with one of the chopsticks Spike kept in his pen cup. Never knew when you might need a small, secret stake. Spike kicked the door shut behind him and stood there. Not breathing, but feeling like he needed to.

"You always did like to eavesdrop," Xander remarked, making a triangle, and Spike huffed in a breath so he could say something. "I'm sorry you had to hear all...that. Again." Xander wouldn't look up, but for once the evasion didn't make Spike mad. Didn't even make him nervous.

"Not like I don't hear it in my head from time to time."

"Yeah. Me, too."

Xander drew a circle – a star. Several interconnected squares and Spike walked forward and leaned against the desk edge, watching him. Fishing for a cigarette and lighting it, watching ovals and lopsided hexagons trail invisibly across the thick, green paper. "I never asked you to choose."

"I know." Xander looked up finally, the chopstick bouncing softly in his hand. Onetwothree, onetwothree. "Maybe you should have."

"Oh, it's my fault again, is it?" Spike asked, but he was smiling, just a little.

"It's always your fault, Spike." Xander slotted the chopstick back in among the pens – stood up and leaned forward, palms flat on the desk. "I thought I had to. I thought...with everyone so – hurt, and you and Buffy... I mean, you almost killed her. I thought..." Xander shrugged – looked away for a moment and Spike reached out and touched his jaw, gentle little tap with his closed fist.

"You should always leave the thinkin' to those of us who've had practice doin' it." Xander grinned, fleeting, and then sobered again, and Spike sighed. "I wanted to ask you to... I wanted you to be on my side. Wanted you to – choose ..."

"Why didn't you?"

"Was afraid you wouldn't, wasn't I? Was afraid you'd do...just what you did. Told myself I couldn't expect anything else. And if I never asked...well, then – felt less pathetic, didn't I." Spike traced his own formless line on the blotter for a moment. "Never meant...what I said."

"I know that. I always knew that, Spike," Xander said softly. He watched Spike's fingers. "I told myself you hated me for what I did... I thought I could hide from that."

"I did, for a while. But there wasn't anything else to do. She'd never have lived like that."

"Yeah." Xander swayed a little on his palms, back and forth, his gaze unfocused and Spike crushed out his unsmoked cigarette. "Spike, I just – I want..."

"What?" Spike asked softly, and Xander looked up finally. Lines of exhaustion around his mis-matched eyes – smudge of red African soil on the shoulder of his jacket.

"We did all five stages. Hit 'em all. Maybe now we could just...live?"

"Live," Spike said, his voice flat, and Xander made a little 'oh shit' expression

"Metaphorically live! I mean. I – oh, fuck it." He was laughing when he leaned forward, laughing into Spike's smiling mouth and kissing Spike as if five years and three continents hadn't come between them. And Spike was laughing, and kissing him back, and it was just like being alive.




The End







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