Xander walked down the street with Buffy, not talking. He was mulling that over in his mind. For once, he didn't feel the need to fill the silence. Didn't feel like he had to chatter, and babble, and make semi-witty observations. It was a new thing for him, and he liked it.
Ever since Buffy had died, there had been a lot of new things. Like, being the responsible guy that long, miserable summer, when even Spike had been a welcome presence. Taking care of Dawn - of the Summers' house. Making sure the 'bot didn't blow their cover, making sure Giles didn't drink himself to death. Keeping Tara and Willow positive and keeping Anya... Well, keeping Anya from hating him, mostly. When all had been said and done, and Buffy was in the ground - he just couldn't do it. Said, finally, what was in his heart. It just hadn't felt right, his thing with Anya. He had forced himself to admit that Anya was because of - well, lots of things, but mostly Anya was an escape. So he'd said no, and he'd endured her hurt and rage, and the baffled curiosity of the rest of the gang. Endured in silence, and for the first time silence had actually - worked for him. It didn't seem to have worked for everyone else, but Xander had decided that that was too bad. Babble, for once - had not been his friend.
Spike had, surprisingly, been rather...cool about the whole thing. He'd only mentioned it once. One night on patrol, when it was only a week in the past and Xander was still raw. Spike had shredded a fledge and contemplatively licked the blood off his fingers, looking at Xander.
"So - word is you and demon-girl are through."
"Yeah," Xander said, sighing. Bracing himself for mockery.
"Takes balls, to jilt a vengeance demon. Even an ex one. Guess you know your own mind, eh?"
"Yeah," Xander had said, astonished. "I do. Wow! First person to get it."
Spike had grinned - leaped past him to take down the second fledge that was sneaking through some bushes, and that had been that. Now there was something of a truce between him and Spike. Well, something a bit more than a truce, but what, exactly, Xander wasn't sure. He contemplated the non-hostility between himself and Spike often. And that was new, too, and Xander liked that, as well. All that hate had just been so...tiring.
Now it was 'Attack of the Nerds' and everyone was sick to death of the little weasel's interference. So he and Buffy, out looking at the most-recently rented houses in Sunnydale, trying to find their lair, or hideout, or whatever it was. They were down to three addresses, after having spent half of the day being disappointed, and Xander felt like they were getting close. Or, he hoped they were, because his feet hurt, and he really just wanted to go home, and eat, and collapse in bed. He might be a foreman at the site, but he still worked, and he was tired. Buffy squinted in the amber glow of the streetlight at the sheaf of papers in her hand - looked at the house number that was flaking off the curb.
"This is the one. Come on." The house was dark, so they decided to walk around the back, see if there were any lights anywhere. As they came around the back corner, there was a low, breathy throbbing sort of sound, some sort of flute or pipe. Xander looked at Buffy, who shrugged, and they went cautiously forward. There were still no lights, and Buffy shook her head.
"I don't think there's anybody home," she said, and went around the next corner, back towards the street. Suddenly there was a thud, and Xander ran to catch up, rounding the corner in time to see some sort of waxy-looking demon backhand Buffy into a car. Buffy spun and caught herself - launched an attack, and Xander cast around frantically for a weapon. He saw a length of pipe on the ground - like something you'd use to shoot off bottle-rockets - and he grabbed it up. The demon was strong, and every kick or punch Buffy landed rocked it but didn't stop it, or seem to slow it down much. Xander edged around the battling pair - got a good angle and brought the pipe down hard. The demon grunted and spun around -rushed at him, and he dodged, trying to bring the pipe down again but missing. Buffy jumped on its back, twisting its neck, but it pulled her off and threw her. She landed hard and for a moment was still - dazed - and the demon growled and pounced.
"Buffy!" Xander brought the pipe down again and again, and the demon seemed to hunch inward. Buffy kicked up hard with both feet, and the demon staggered backwards, flailing, knocking into Xander who stumbled to one knee. He raised the pipe again and suddenly the demon lunged at him and he felt a sickening jolt of pain in his shoulder. He looked down to see a long, wicked spine stabbing into his arm, and he yelled and jerked away - saw Buffy grab the demon and send it hurtling into a parked car, smashing the window. And then....
Xander is struggling - panting - desperate. Two men in white are grappling with him - trying to pin him down, and he kicks out.
"Xander! Hey, you okay? Xander?" Buffy was shaking him - crouching down beside him, eyes wide, and Xander realized he was on his back on the sidewalk. He sat up slowly and clutched his arm. Where the demon had stabbed him hurt - a fiery throb like a bad bee-sting, and he winced as he slowly got to his feet.
"I - I guess I'm okay, Buffy. That demon had a - a spine-thing. Stabbed me. It just -"
"You were yelling." Buffy looked at him, a worried frown on her face, and Xander flexed his arm a little, grimacing.
"I dunno - I kinda...lost it there for a second. I guess it got away?"
"Yeah. But - I'd say we found the secret lair. Let's get back to the house and see what kind of demon that was - I want to make sure you're not poisoned or something." Buffy put her arm through his and Xander rubbed his hand over his face - stumbled a little.
"Yeah. Good idea," he said.
When they got back to Buffy's house, though, Willow was out, and there was a note from Dawn, saying she was at Janice's house, she'd be home by nine. Xander sat down on a stool in the kitchen, leaning on the island and rubbing his shoulder. It was really sore.
"You okay? You look a little -" Buffy made a face, and Xander grinned tiredly at her.
"Yeah. Just had a long day, and now this - it kinda hurts. I don't feel...I dunno...like I'm gonna die or anything, though."
"Since you've never died before, how would you know?"
"Spike!" Buffy snapped, jumping around, obviously startled by the vampire who had slipped silently in through the kitchen door. Xander was startled too, but he was too tired to care and just rolled his eyes. Spike grinned - flicked his cigarette butt out into the yard.
"Why would you feel like you were dying, Harris?"
"He got stabbed by some big, ugly, waxy demon. We don't know if it's poisonous or not - we were kinda hoping Willow would be around." Ever since Buffy had died and come back, there had been a sort of truce between her and Spike, as well. Another new thing - another good thing.
"Hmmmm..." Xander watched as Spike came around the island and reached for him, and he surrendered weakly to the vampire undoing a button on his shirt and pulling the collar wide so he could see the wound. "Stabbed with what? A horn or somesuch or a - a weapon?"
"A spine, in its hand," Xander said, trying not to flinch as Spike prodded the wound a bit. Trying harder not to lean into the hand that was resting lightly on his arm. The wound was swollen and purpling, oozing clear lymph fluid. Xander thought it was odd that it was bloodless.
Maybe that's part of the poison, though... he thought. Suddenly the room wavered out of focus.
"That could have gone better," the man with the syringe says, and he pulls the needle out.
"Oh - don't -" Xander jerked hard away from Spike, who was holding his bicep.
"Xander, you okay?"
"Easy, mate," Spike said, and Xander looked around at the bright kitchen - at Buffy's worried face and Spike's curious one.
"Oh man, that wasn't - wasn't of the good. We really need to find out what that demon was."
"What happened? You just - blanked out and then you were -"
"Panicking a bit," Spike said, and Xander leaned on the countertop, pulling his shirt back up and fumbling at the button.
"I wasn't - well, I don't know what I was doing. I thought I was somewhere else... Buffy, I could really use a drink of water."
"Sure, Xander." Buffy turned to the cabinet to get a glass and then filled it, and Xander drank gratefully.
"Listen - I'm gonna go back out, look around for this thing - maybe go to Willy's and see if he knows anything. Spike, can you - can you get Xander home?" Spike lifted an eyebrow and looked at Buffy, as if contemplating an intricate schedule in his mind and deciding if he could shuffle bloody mayhem and kitten poker around to another day.
"I s'pose I could, Slayer," he drawled, and Buffy gave him a tight little smile.
"I'll leave a note for Willow, so she can get started on the research right away. You just go home and relax, Xander."
"Buffy, I -" Xander wanted to protest, but another wave of dizziness came over him and he gave up. He didn't feel bad, but he sure didn't feel right, either, and now was not the time to play stoic hero. "Okay - I'll go home with Rex here - at least he can keep the lady next door off me. She wants my body." Xander waggled his eyebrows suggestively and Spike snorted. The lady next door was in her fifties; a sort of overblown, overbleached parody of a woman, and she had tried to coax every male in the building into her apartment. She had tried particularly hard with Spike when the vampire had come over for beer and movies until Spike had told her he was gay and Xander was his lover. Then she'd started asking fashion advice. There didn't seem to be any way of avoiding her, and it had become a running joke between them. Oddly, having his neighbor - well, probably neighbors, at this point - think he was gay and with Spike, really didn't bother Xander at all. And the newness just keeps happening.
"What? Xander, I think you're delirious." Buffy put her hand on Xander's forehead, frowning, and Spike laughed aloud, feeling over his pockets and coming up with a pack of smokes.
"Better get you home, Harris, before your brain explodes. Watch yourself, Slayer." Spike yanked Xander up unceremoniously by his good arm and dragged him out of the kitchen. Xander pushed irritably at him.
"Watch it, Blondie, you'll bruise the goods."
"In your dreams, Harris. I've got things to do. The faster I get you home, the better." Xander pulled free and tugged his shirt straight.
"Fine, just don't haul me around like luggage, okay?" Spike rolled his eyes and pulled open the front door - lit up as his foot hit the porch.
"Don't smoke in the house!" Buffy yelled from the kitchen.
"I'm outside for Christ's sake!" Spike yelled back, and Xander shut the door.
"Let's go, Spike. I'm not feeling so hot."
"Right." Spike strode off down the walk and Xander hurried to keep up. He wasn't sure how he was, but a weird, disconnected sort of feeling kept creeping up on him, as if his head were floating several feet above his body, tethered by a thin string. I am Xander's disassociated head, Xander mused to himself, stumbling a little over an uneven section of sidewalk and hissing as Spike grabbed his sore arm to steady him.
"Don't be such a wimp, Harris," Spike muttered, but he let go.
"Don't be such a jerk, Spike," Xander muttered back, but there wasn't any heat to the exchange. We're like Ralph and Ed - or like Ralph and Alice, maybe. "To the moon, Alice!" Xander said, and Spike blew a lungful of smoke towards him.
"I am not Alice, you git." Xander couldn't suppress a laugh and Spike scowled and stalked ahead, affront in every line of his body - even his duster seemed irritated, snapping around booted heels, and Xander laughed again.
Another ten minutes saw them to Xander's front door, and he fumbled with the key until Spike made a sort of growling sound down in his chest and snatched it from him - shoved it home and pushed the door open.
"Home sweet home," Xander said, and stumbled forward to collapse on his couch. Spike followed him in and shut the door - went into the kitchen. After a minute he came back out with two bottles of beer in his hand. He clicked on the lamp by the couch and sat down on the coffee table.
"Here, mate, have a beer. Do you good." Xander got his elbows under him and pushed up, then sagged back.
"Too tired. Besides, alcohol will probably kill me in my poisoned state. Are you trying to kill me, Spike?"
"Nah. Wouldn't waste the beer. Alcohol could only help. We could pour some on your shoulder." Xander heard Spike twist the cap off and flick it with deadly accuracy into the kitchen, where it hit the wall and bounced down into the trash. The wall was already scored countless times by other caps, and Xander had given up telling him to quit.
"No, I don't think so. Don't think a beer-bath would help." Xander was feeling warm - almost hot - and he heaved himself over onto his back and unbuttoned his shirt - started to worm out of it. He'd forgotten to unbutton the cuffs, though, and they caught around his wrists. He struggled with them, trying to yank his arms free.
"Calm down, Alex. You're going to hurt your arm. Just let me get the buckle..." A young man, hovering over him - blonde haired, wearing all white. He is tugging at the restraint around Xander's wrist. Xander fights to keep still, hating the claustrophobic feel of the thing, hating the vulnerability of being laid out, unable to fight.
"Xander! You in there, mate?" Spike was leaning over him - Spike was holding his wrist and one strong twist of his thin fingers popped the button on his shirt and freed him from it.
"Huh? Oh man - fuck - that was..." Xander sat up, shakily yanking the other cuff loose and then huddling over his balled-up shirt.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" Spike took a swig of his beer and Xander reached out and took it out of his hand - took a quick drink himself.
"I dunno, Spike. I was - I saw... I was in a hospital or something. It was - really creepy. It was real." He shivered, and Spike sat back, eyeing him with a sort of cat-like curiosity. The kind of curiosity that waits for a twitch so it can pounce.
"Yeah? You didn't go anywhere... Just got all -glassy-eyed and started flailing around. 'Bout ripped your shirt in two."
"Huh." Xander wiped his face with his shirt, feeling a sheen of cold sweat there. "I think - I'm gonna take a shower real quick, okay? Spike -" Xander looked at the vampire, who looked back, one eyebrow cocked up. "Will you stay here? I mean - I should only be in there for about five minutes. If you hear a big - a big thud, or I'm not out in six..."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll come stop you drowning. Whatever." Spike slid easily from the coffee table to the couch and picked up the remote - clicked the TV on. "I've got better things to do than listen to you wank in the bath, so get a move on, mate."
"Ha ha. No wanking tonight - Delia didn't come out of her apartment."
"Oh - right - you couldn't hear." A smirk twisted the corner of Spike's mouth up. "I think Delia got lucky tonight. Must've hit the pizza boy over the head." Xander gaped at him, open-mouthed, and then dissolved into a fit of helpless guffaws.
"Oh my god! You could hear her? Jesus! Did it sound like she was having fun?"
"Somebody sure was," Spike chuckled, and Xander shook his head in disbelief - got slowly up off the couch and shuffled towards the bedroom.
"Damn. Okay - five minutes."
"Make it four." Spike flapped the remote at him, seemingly already engrossed in something about biohazardous weapons, but Xander wasn't fooled. The TV coming on usually meant Spike was in for the night and Xander went back to his bedroom to get some clean flannel pajama pants and an old t-shirt, grinning to himself. The shower felt wonderful - even when the water and soap stung in the wound - and Xander stood under the hot spray for more than five minutes, just letting his muscles relax and the tension flow away with the shampoo.
I'm not poisoned - just in shock for a little bit. I mean - I got stabbed! If I were poisoned I'd be - frothing at the mouth or something. Paralyzed. I'm fine. He finally got out and toweled off - pulled on shirt and pants and went slowly back out to the living room. Spike was sprawled on the couch, boots and duster off, a third beer on the coffee table and a box of saltines beside him.
"Hey! I thought you had better things to do." Xander went into the kitchen and poured some cran-grape juice - grabbed a bag of tortilla chips and some salsa.
"Well, yeah - anything's better'n babysitting a Scooby, but it's a Tarentino marathon! Reservoir Dogs, From Dusk 'Til Dawn and Pulp Fiction." Spike chugged his beer, sneering at the commercial about the Army that was running.
"I thought you hated From Dusk 'Til Dawn," Xander said, plopping down on the couch and putting his snacks on the coffee table. Spike shoved a saltine into his mouth and chewed noisily. When he answered, he spit little crumbs of saltines out, and Xander snatched up a pillow to ward them off.
"It has its high points. That Salma, dancin' with the snake, she's a high point."
"Too true." Xander shook the pillow off and propped it behind his head, and they settled down to watch the marathon. At some point, Xander found his eyes fluttering and fluttering - finally closing altogether, and he slipped away, listening to Mr. White tell Mr. Blonde he was a madman.
"Hey, Alex. Time for your meds. C'mon - just take 'em, okay? Donít fight me." The same blonde-haired man, and a room that was painted a pale green. People dressed in casual, sloppy clothes mill around, and white-uniformed people move among them, handing out little paper cups of water and...
"Xan-derrr, shut up," Spike whined, and Xander jolted to full consciousness, panting. He was on his couch, curled into the corner, and Spike was laying over the rest, his feet tucked behind Xander's back, his head pillowed on his duster. The TV was off and the room was bathed in a pale golden light - sunlight coming in through the kitchen window. It only came in there for an hour or so, just at dawn, and Xander realized he'd been asleep - that he'd been...
Dreaming? Was that a dream? That seemed so... God, it's the poison, HAS to be. I'm poisoned and it's making me crazy. Xander sat up and ran shaking hands back through his hair, wincing when his shoulder throbbed. Okay, that's REAL, that pain - I felt that... The light is real, and my neck is sore... Spike's feet are cold, that's real...
"M'sleepin', mate!" Spike rasped, squinting at him and scowling, and Xander realized he'd been talking out loud.
"Fuck you, Spike. I just - I had this dream and... I need to call Wills. She's got to tell me what the hell is going on. That was - was -" Xander stopped, shuddering, and Spike made a sort of interrogatory noise.
"Heart's goin' too fast," he mumbled, and Xander put his hand to his chest and felt the rabbity thudthudthud.
"I - had this dream but - it was so real. This - this doctor was telling me I was - in a hospital - telling me I was crazy and that - that all of this was made up. Was in my head."
"Made up?" Spike's eyes were closed - he was nearly asleep again.
"Yeah - everything. You even. All just - a fantasy."
"Broke an' alone. Way to dream, Harris." Spike's voice trailed off to silence and Xander just sat there for a long moment, hugging himself. The dream - whatever it was - had really creeped him out. He needed to talk to Willow.
"Uh? Xan...?" Willow sounded completely out of it and Xander felt a wave of guilt wash over him.
"Oh, hey, I'm sorry Wills, I - I didn't mean to wake you up but - I really need to talk to you." He could hear Willow clearing her throat - heard her shifting around, probably sitting up in bed.
"Ummmm...right. Okay. What - my god, it's not even six - what did you need, Xander?"
"About that demon - I need to know about that demon from last night. Did you find out anything?"
"There was a demon? Uh - no, I -" Xander could almost hear Willow's mind slipping gears, going from 'too early too sleepy' to 'danger, Will Robinson!'.
"Yeah. Me and Buffy ran into this demon last night while we were looking for the Nerds. It stabbed me with this spine and -"
"Oh! Oh, are you all right?"
"I don't know, Wills! I keep - I keep having these weird...hallucinations." A soft gasp from Willow, and more rustling noises. Xander imagined she was getting up, and he waited while Willow dropped the phone and picked it back up.
"Sorry! Just - my robe - okay, hallucinations? What kind of hallucinations? I mean - like you're dreaming, or -"
"They're really - real, Willow. I mean - really real. I'm in this - hospital. This mental hospital, and the doctor told me I'd been in there for - years. It was creepy." More breathing, rustling noises, and Xander wondered what Willow was doing now.
"Right, okay, so really real hallucinations about - about a mental hospital? Okay. Oh! Here's a note from Buffy, it was kinda behind the sugar bowl, I didn't see it... Oh - okay, she's got the description here..." Willow yawned, and Xander felt that spasm of guilt again. But not too strongly. He was a little too freaked out to be guilty at this point. "Let me just - let me get a shower, Xander and kinda wake up and then I'll hit the books. I don't have class today so I can have my own little research party all by myself..." She trailed off and Xander knew what she wanted, and he grinned to himself.
"I'll come over and help, Wills. I gotta get some breakfast. How 'bout...gimmie an hour?"
"Sure! That sounds great." Willow did sound happier, and Xander told her goodbye and hung up - looked over his shoulder at Spike, who was asleep again, curled around his duster like he was guarding it.
Can't send him home now... Well, won't be the first time he's crashed here. I know there's some blood in the fridge, too... Xander yawned hugely and made his way into the kitchen. He closed the blind on the window and went about making some French toast, trying not to make too much noise. As he dunked the first piece of bread into the eggs-milk-cinnamon, Spike appeared. His t-shirt was wrinkly and his hair was mussed, and his eyes were red-rimmed and half-shut. He looked strung out, but Xander knew from experience that it was just the normal 'vampire, sun is up, should be asleep' look. He stood in the kitchen doorway for a minute, just blinking and watching Xander work.
"What're you doing?" he asked finally, his voice hoarse.
"Making French toast." Xander flipped the slice in the skillet, waiting.
"Yeah? Make some for me?" Xander grinned down at the toast.
"Sure, Spike." Spike nodded, looking a little dazed, and then got Xander's kettle and filled it. His hands shook in the morning - some sort of adrenaline residue, Xander thought, but wasn't really sure. After his first cup of poisonously sweet tea it would go away, and the rest of the pot would be drunk black.
And isn't it a little odd that I know that? I mean - why would I know that? Xander thought about that as he made a second and third piece of toast - as the kettle boiled and Spike assembled his first cup. He decided it was because of their truce. Since it had started, Spike had come over more and more; to watch his movies and eat his food, to chivvy him out to play pool or to patrol. Xander thought that maybe Spike was lonely - or that he knew Xander was. And even though it was contrary to everything Giles had taught them, he thought that Spike just...liked him. Liked his company, liked his taste in movies and junk food, liked his morbid jokes. And Xander was okay with that - with yet another new thing.
And I'm okay with the liking because... I like, too. I like more than I should. Or, no - not should, just...more than I ever thought I might.
As he slid the first plate of French toast onto the table, Spike rummaged a packet of blood out of the fridge and heated it - poured it over the toast in lieu of syrup and ate. Xander just ignored him. He'd long ago gotten over any squeamishness he had about blood and food together. Like the hatred, it had just gotten to be too tiring to react all the time. And the fact that he let Spike keep blood here - human blood - well, that was just because a well-fed Spike was a happy Spike. He finished making his own breakfast and settled down to eat while Spike got out a couple more packs of blood to drink, and finished off his third cup of tea.
"Goin' to see Red, then?"
"Yeah, thought I'd give her a hand with the research thing." Xander took a bite and moved to pick up his glass. His arm brushed the handle of his fork and the fork slid off the edge of the plate and straight down to the floor.
"Damnit -" Xander pushed his chair back and leaned down, groping for the fork - clutched at the table's edge as dizziness suddenly overwhelmed him.
"You gotta have a new fork. Can't use a fork that's hit the floor. Ms. Lawrence! Ms. Lawrence, Harris needs a new fork! Can't use a dirty fork!" Xander sits up fast, gasping in a startled breath, and finds himself at a round table with three other people. The speaker is an older, heavy-set man, black hair in a scraggly comb-over and wearing a raveling cardigan. He's bouncing excitedly in his seat, holding his own fork aloft.
"Go!" Xander shouted - gasped in a hard breath - and realized he was on the floor, crowded tight into the corner. Spike was crouched down about three feet from him, his eyes wide and startled, a little drop of blood at the corner of his mouth.
"Xander - Harris! What the hell?" Xander gasped again, dragging oxygen into his lungs hard, feeling light-headed and clammy with sweat. He wiped his hand over his face and felt an ominous heat in his eyes.
Fuck. That was - that was bad He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the tears to go away - go back down into the ducts - and after a moment they seemed to, and he opened his eyes and looked at Spike. "I - I guess I had another - episode. Something. I didn't - hurt you, did I?" Xander made a gesture towards his own mouth and Spike snorted, his mouth twitching up a little at the corner. He tongue licked out, cleaning away the blood.
"Nah - you just yelled some. Gonna get up?" Spike's head was tilted a little to one side - his voice was low and soothing, and Xander had a sudden memory of Drusilla and he shivered. I am NOT crazy. Just 'cause Spike is treating me like...her. Doesn't mean anything...
"C'mon, Xander - finish your breakfast, yeah?" Spike hadn't moved - hadn't changed the low tone of his voice, and despite his fears Xander felt - grateful for that.
"I - I don't think I want to eat. In - in the hospital we - there was French toast there, too." Xander pushed weakly at the floor, levering himself upright and Spike rose from his crouch and watched him, brows drawn down in a speculative way.
"Same breakfast, huh? Well - that proves it. You really are just a crazy guy in an asylum." Xander looked sharply at him at that, but he could see the wicked humor dancing in the vampire's eyes and he took in a deep, shaky breath and let it out in a strained laugh.
"Yeah, okay. I'm being a - drama queen here. Got it. But...it's just... I've never been in a mental institute, Spike. I've never visited one or - or anything! How do I know what they look like? How am I making up all this - this stuff? I mean - If I picture the loony bin in my head I'm thinking like...that Dracula movie or - or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This place is - I mean, it's a hospital but it's not all dark and scary..." Xander slumped into his seat, staring down at his plate, and Spike settled opposite him, lighting a cigarette and tapping it absentmindedly on the rim of his cup.
"Don't know much 'bout them myself. Dru liked to go in, sometimes - said she had to free all the little birds... What's this place called? Do you know? Maybe you can - find out if it's real. I mean - real here."
Xander looked up at Spike "What are you - what's the deal, Spike? Why do you want me to...explore this? I'm not crazy!"
Spike just looked at him - took a long, slow drag of his cigarette. When he spoke next, the smoke came out in little puffs with his words, like some sort of fairy-book dragon. "Didn't say you were crazy. But - don't you wanna know? Aren't you curious...why?"
Xander just stared at him - lifted his hand to push sweat-lank hair off his face and winced. "Oh damn. Spike..." Xander stared at his hand in horror.
"What? Something wrong with your hand?"
Xander looked up at him, blinking, the tears back but he would not let them go, oh no. "In - there - where I was... I was trying to get away and I banged my hand on this cart - this metal cart. It hurt. My hand hurts, Spike! If - if that's the dream and this is the real place, my hand shouldn't hurt!"
Spike just looked at him, for a long, long moment, the cigarette tapping and tapping on the cup rim. "Maybe... You might have hit it in your mad dash for the corner there," Spike said finally, but Xander could see the doubt in his eyes.
"Maybe." Xander rubbed his hand for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Okay. I gotta - go take another shower, and get over to Buffy's house. I told Willow I'd help her figure out which demon we're looking for."
"Right. Guess I'll - stay here then," Spike muttered, and Xander thought he heard something that might have been disappointment.
"Yeah - you can. Get some more sleep. When we figure this out, you're gonna need to go with Buffy - help her kill it. It kicked our asses."
Spike's eyebrows went up, and the smirk appeared again, just a little. "Kicked the Slayer's ass? Yeah - I'm gonna want to be in on that."
"Just watch her back, okay?" Xander tried to glare at Spike, but it wasn't working.
"Watch it get kicked," Spike said, the smirk full-blown now, and Xander finally let loose a weak laugh.
"Just don't let it stab you. I'm thinking a hallucinating vampire is not of the good."
"Well, it's not bad... I mean, New York in the '70's, every third meal was on something. I got right up there with Dru in the 'seeing things that aren't there' category." Spike lifted his cigarette slowly to his lips and took the last drag. "Good times, those..." he murmured, and Xander felt - well, he actually felt a moment's sorrow. The love of Spike's life was gone, and he couldn't be a vampire, not really, because of the Initiative. That had to just...suck. Xander shook his head at that. The truce...just kept changing.
But it's good. Because...I'd much rather have French toast with Spike then have him hunting me down. Or slapping me down with that oh-so-nastily-perceptive mind of his. I can deal with...friends. Or whatever. "Right. Shower. I'll ignore the 'feasting on innocents' nostalgia."
Spike blinked and looked at him - dropped the cigarette butt into his cup. "Nobody was innocent in New York in those days, mate. Not where we lived." Spike leaned back in the chair and yawned, stretching hard, and Xander stood up and went away to the bathroom, wondering why the thought of non-innocent feasting didn't bother him.
It happened again in the shower - a wave of sick dizziness and then that place and Xander thought that if it didn't stop soon he really might go crazy. Back in Sunnydale, cringing and shivering in ice-cold water and Spike, Spike turning off the water and getting a towel around him, urging him out of the tub and helping him get dry. Hunting out sweats and another old t-shirt for him, making him sit down and drink a cup of his own Spike-made tea that was as bitter and acid as the fear in Xander's stomach.
"Right. You're stayin' here, Xander." Xander grimaced at the tea and put the cup down carefully, his hand shaking too hard to let him drink without spilling.
"No, I promised Willow -"
"I don't care who you promised. What are you gonna do - drive over there? Put your car through somebody's house 'cause you're havin' a - vision? Even if you walk, you could walk out into the street. Red can find the demon by herself - she's got the Slayer." Spike had this look on his face - the same look he'd turned on Dawn during the summer when she'd tried to get him to leave her alone - let her go someplace at night or stay by herself. Stubborn and faintly angry, and Xander just didn't have the stamina to go up against it. Dawn had never won against that look, either. It almost beat Willow's 'resolve' face for utter implacability.
"Spike -" Xander tried once, just to say he did, and Spike shot him a glare.
"I said no, Harris."
"Well, that's new too," Xander murmured, and Spike raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, nothing. I guess - if I'm gonna stay home I'd better call Willow -" He yawned, reaching for the phone. It took a few minutes to convince Willow that he was better off at home, and Xander hated the beginnings of fear he heard in her voice. Finally he hung up - yawned again. "I'm gonna go back to sleep, Spike. You need a blanket or anything out here?" Spike stretched again in his chair, eyes closed.
"Yeah, blanket would be good." Xander got him one and went into his bedroom - flopped across the bed and pulled his pillow under his head and was asleep in moments.
"What?" Xander lifts his head with a jerk. He's on his...on a bed. Nubbley blue blanket, coarse sheet that smells of bleach. The aide - Mark - is in the doorway.
"Xander?" Xander lifted his head, the wall pressed hard into his back, the sheet tight around his leg. Someone's face -
"Bloody hell!" Xander blinked again, and it was Spike, but he kept...changing. Fading to the sun-bright face of a twenty-something junkie, snapping back to the dim bedroom and Spike's angry - worried - gaze.
Fuck my head hurts. "Wouldn't do that. I mean -" Xander pushed himself up onto his elbow, one hand held out, a pleading gesture. "I wouldn't...except...I got so lonely, you know?"
"Christ -" Someone shaking him and Xander turned and looked.
"Alex? Hey, Alex? You okay?" Will has his hand on Xander's shoulder - is shaking him very gently and Xander reaches up and lays his own hand on Will's - squeezes hard. Will's hand is like ice.
"I don't want to see this, I don't want to see this - " Xander was aware that he was moaning, was aware - because it hurt - that he was on his knees on the uncarpeted floor of his bedroom, that his face was against the cool plaster of the wall and that there was a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't want to see what, pet?" Soft voice, Spike's voice, and Xander looked over gratefully but there's blood, good god there's blood and Xander could only stare in horror.
"Oh god, that's her blood, that's - Dawn's blood. Don't make me see this!" Xander reached blindly and felt a shoulder, an arm, under his hand and he pulled himself closer - close as he can - because the shirt under his hand is dry, no blood, and he wanted to trust that and not his eyes.
After a few minutes Will pulls away - wipes his face on the tail of Xander's shirt and then huddles down into the flannel, looking like a little boy despite the make-up and ladder of silver rings up his left ear. Xander shivers at the shift, at the twitch of there to here that makes his head pound.
"Xander? Will you wake the fuck up?"
"Trying, I'm trying - don't let go -"
And then he's in the garden again, and Will is rubbing his back - stroking his hair. And Xander's pretty sure he can remember the nauseating reek of burnt flesh - feel the burn of smoke in his throat and in his eyes.
"Xander, if you don't wake up I'm gonna fuckin' hurt you I swear! Wake! Up!" Xander flinched away from the voice that was yelling in his ear - from the hand that was pinching tight on his arm. He lifted his head too fast and banged it into the wall behind him. He slowly realized he was sitting on the floor - huddled on the floor, in the corner of his bedroom, and Spike was crouching down, yelling at him.
"Damnit, Harris, wake up!" Xander lifted his hand and put it over Spike's hand that was holding his arm so painfully tight.
"Spike, I'm - it's okay, I'm - I'm awake." Spike glared at him, looking intently into his eyes, then he abruptly sat, as if his legs don't have the strength to hold him up anymore.
"Christ, Harris. You were really... C'mon, get up off the floor." Spike pushed himself up and dragged Xander up by his arm and Xander went willingly - looked down at himself and then searched frantically over his arms. But the skin was smooth - unmarred - and he leaned against the wall and took one shaky breath after another.
"Oh god, that... Spike, has Willow called? We gotta fix this, we - this is really -"
"Yeah, she called askin' about you and I told her you were sleepin' and she said they were still working on it." Spike tentatively let go of his arm, as if afraid Xander would fall right back down and Xander walked carefully over to the bed - sat down on the edge and hugged his arms around himself. "What was happening this time? You were really - upset." Spike settled on the bed next to him and Xander turned a little, pulling one leg up.
"Well, you said - maybe I should explore this - other place. So I did. I had a visitor and I asked about - how I'd gotten there, stuff like that." Xander's face felt stiff - his head was so muzzy.
Hate fevers. Always make me...feel...
"Your mum and dad then, comin' to see you?" Xander shot an incredulous look at Spike, who looked blank for a moment and then laughed, shaking his head. "Oh, right. What'm I thinking? Course not. So, who came to see you?" Xander looked at Spike.
How is this gonna go over, I wonder? "Well, actually... You did. You were the one visiting me." Spike's eyes went wide, and he just sat there for a minute, his fingers tapping on his thigh, rapid nervous patter that Xander noticed and then tried not to notice, his stomach lurching.
"Me? You're - windin' me up, mate." Xander shook his head slowly and Spike just looked - totally shocked. And a tiny bit pleased, and Xander smiled to himself at that. "Well, what did I do? Was I a vampire?"
"No - no vampire. You were human - your name was Will..." Xander began to recount what had happened, telling the story as Will had told it, and Spike listened silently, his fingers finally going still on his thighs.
"...And then - you woke me up. It was so - I mean - I had scars on my arms! And you - he - had all these notebooks full of pictures and stuff... Spike - I used to draw all the time. I used to dream about being a comic-book artist or - or even making my own comic. I mean, you can ask Willow..." Xander stopped and scrubbed his hands over his face. "My dad didn't like me drawing. He made me stop but I still draw there, Spike. I draw there." He looked at Spike and the vampire's gaze was steady - waiting.
"I can...remember. It's what I do...it's all I do, Spike, just - drawing you, and Buffy and Willow. Making you real. Making you... Mine But he couldn't say that out loud. Spike's face showed something just then - pained recollection and recognition - something so familiar.
"Spike? Do you know how it feels...I still draw..." Xander stopped, his voice cracking, and almost jerked away when Spike's fingers touched his arm - quick skim, gone almost before he can feel it.
"Yeah. I know. I lived for poetry, before Dru... Read it, and wrote it..." Spike's voice wasn't any better, and he rubbed the back of his neck, looking anywhere but at Xander. "Still read it, you know? I can still get lost in it when I...need to." Spike finally looked at him, and Xander just nodded slowly, not speaking. Because he knows what it is to need to be lost, sometimes. His throat was dry and sore from talking and - crying, he guessed - and he wanted some juice or a soda.
"I'm thirsty, Spike. Let's -" He made a gesture, out towards the kitchen, and Spike nodded, sighing.
"Yeah, something to drink." Spike stood up and strode into the kitchen and Xander followed him. He felt weak and a little shaky - he felt drained, and he slumped down into a kitchen chair and let Spike get a soda for him. Spike sprawled opposite, draining half his beer in one go, and they sat there in silence for a long time, just thinking. The phone ringing startled them both and Spike cursed and got up - grabbed the handset.
"What. What? Oh - hey, Red... Yeah, he's up. Hang on." Spike handed the phone off to Xander and got another beer - sat back down. Listening in, obviously, but Xander didn't care.
"Hey, Wills, how's it going?"
"Good news! We figured out what kind of demon it is!"
"You did? Willow, that's great! I knew you'd come through for me! So what's the 411?"
"Okay it's a - it's a Glar - a Glar...ghk Guhl Kashmahnik." Willow stumbled over the demon's name and Xander just grinned.
Who cares what it's called, what did it do to me and how do we fix it! "Of course! Exactly what I was gonna say. So...the poison? I'm poisoned, and not crazy, right?"
"Yeah, you are. Poisoned, I mean. But we're in luck; the demon carries the antidote to the poison right in its own stabby-spiny thing! So all we have to do is hunt it down, and - and restrain it, and get it to try and stab or something..."
"Yeah, I get the picture. So - want me to come over? Have me and Buffy go find it and kick its ass?"
"Uh, well, no - I mean, it's nocturnal, so it's not gonna be easy to find. The book says it has to eat pretty often and drink a lot of water so we've got some good ideas about where it'll go once it's awake. We just have to - wait, Xander. Until tonight." Xander felt a leaden sense of dread settle over him, and he frowned into the phone.
"But - why wait? I mean, getting it in its lair, during the day, that would be easier, don't you think? I mean -"
"Leave off, Harris. I heard what sort of demon it is. Best to take that one on when it's out and about. Down in the lair it's pretty damn dangerous." Xander just stared at Spike - realized Willow was still talking.
"What? I'm sorry, Wills, I didn't -."
"I said, Spike's right, it's too dangerous. The book says -."
"Yeah, okay. I get it." Xander sighed and leaned his head down on his forearm, lying over the table. "I'll just - sit tight then, Willow. Thanks, okay? Thanks."
"Sure Xander. Anytime. I'm gonna go and get the herbs I need, so everything's ready to go when we haul the demon in. You should try to rest. It said that a lot of times the victim will get a fever and feel tired, nauseated, and....ummmm...depressed."
"Oh, yeah. Got it. 'K, Wills. Talk to you later." Xander clicked the phone off and just lay there some more, and after a minute Spike moved, and the snick of his lighter told Xander what he was doing.
"You think maybe you wanna go back to sleep? Let me have a proper kip?" Xander lifted his head and grimaced, feeling dizzy.
"No, I really...don't want to do that. I don't feel that great, really."
"You didn't finish your breakfast - you wanna eat?" Xander considered that - considered his stomach, which thankfully wasn't showing signs of being nauseated.
"Yeah - I think food would be all right." Xander looked at Spike, who looked blankly back at him, and then his eyes widened.
"Oh, you don't think I'm gonna cook for you, do you? Evil undead, me. I don't cook."
"Well, but... Okay, no cooking. I'm feeling a little dizzy, though - I hope getting up and moving around doesn't make me...sick. Willow said...nausea." Spike glared at him, smoking furiously, but Xander knew he'd won. For a Master Vampire who'd tortured people with railroad spikes, Spike was surprisingly touchy about some things, and human illness was one of them. He refused to even stay in the same room as someone who was sick, and throwing up could drive him right out of the house, as Xander has discovered rather nastily during the summer. He'd tried to drown his sorrows one night and gotten sick on really cheap wine. He'd started to throw up and Spike, who had been helping him up the apartment steps, had let go so fast Xander had fallen and scraped his knee, plus puked all over his leg and shoe. Spike had turned on his heel and left, and he hadn't come over for three days after that.
"Harris - you... Oh, sod it! Fine, I'll make you something." Spike viciously ground out his cigarette. "What the hell do you want? Popcorn maybe? I could probably do popcorn."
"No, I don't think I could handle popcorn. I think I've got some instant oatmeal in the cabinet. That would work."
Spike got up and yanked open the cabinet and rummaged around for a moment, then pulled out the box. "This it?"
"Yeah, that's it. You just make it in the microwave." Spike opened the box and took out a package - dumped the oatmeal into a bowl.
"Now what?" Xander lifted his head from where he'd let it drop back onto his arm, and stared at Spike.
"You're kidding, right? The directions are right on the package."
Spike snarled silently and snatched the package out of the trash - perused the directions. "A half cup of water. What kind of cup? A tea-cup or one of those cups you put your milk in? Or maybe -"
"Spike! Jeez." Xander hauled himself to his feet and crossed to the sink, grabbing the bowl of dry oatmeal out of Spike's hand. "A measuring cup, but you don't have to be that precise. I just put in this much..." Xander demonstrated, putting enough water into the bowl to soak all the oatmeal but not so much that it would be soupy. "And then you just cook it for a minute." Xander handed the bowl to Spike, who turned around and put it in the microwave that was right behind him. He pressed the button and then stood there, watching.
"I can't believe you don't know how to make oatmeal."
"I don't like oatmeal, Harris. Nasty stuff. Tastes like - like paper."
"Well, obviously you haven't been fixing it right." The microwave dinged and Spike pulled the bowl out, handing it off to Xander with a look of disdain. Xander got a spoon and stirred - added butter and brown sugar. "Hand me the milk, would you Spike?" he asked, and Spike wordlessly got the milk for him. Xander poured a little in - stirred some more - and then turned to the vampire with a grin. "This is how oatmeal should be. Here - try some."
"Oh, come on, Spike! It's great, I promise." Spike rolled his eyes but he picked up the spoon and took a small bite. Ate it with a serious, contemplative look on his face that made Xander want to giggle. He looks like Tigger,trying haycorns.
"Huh. That's pretty good, Harris." Spike looked at Xander's bowl and Xander started laughing out loud.
Oatmeal is what Tiggers like best! "Here, just take it. Hand me another package." Spike took the bowl with a grin of triumph and dug out another package and after a couple more minutes they both sat down at the table and ate. Spike considered adding blood but in the end decided he liked it well enough without, and they finished in a companionable silence. Finally Xander sighed and pushed his bowl away.
"I think maybe I'll just watch some TV. If you want, you can go crash in my bed. The TV won't bug you in there." Xander said it as casually as he could, but he still saw Spike stiffening out of the corner of his eye. Giving him a look that said 'What the bloody hell are you up to, Harris?'
Nothing. Up to absolutely nothing, except that...that I don't want him to leave, and I know that when Will talked about me 'working' I wasn't horrified by the idea of having sex with some guy, I was horrified by the idea of having random sex with strangers for MONEY...and being TWELVE... I just wish I'd worked all this out BEFORE I asked Anya to marry me. Escaping from possible homosexuality by marrying an ex-Vengeance demon hadn't been one of Xander's better ideas, but it had seemed like the thing at the time. That and finding himself physically wanting the evil undead... had just been too freaky. A 'normal life' still had its attractions, but he was starting to define 'normal' as 'what makes me the most happy', and he found that that - worked really, really well.
"I'll just - watch a little with you. It's almost two - Passions is on in twenty."
"Spike. I didn't plan on watching the weirdoes of Harmony on my day off!"
"If I'm gonna be stuck in here with you all damn day snapping you out of your fugue state or whatever the hell every half hour than I decide what's on the TV." Spike stood up and sauntered over to the couch - picked up the remote. "'Sides, I have the remote, Harris." He was grinning, and Xander just stared - shut his mouth with a snap.
"Fine. Don't be nice to the poor guy who got poisoned, to the guy who's providing the comfy couch and the cable. And don't forget, the oatmeal." Xander stomped over to the couch and flopped down, scowling, and Spike laughed.
"Shove over, human. You're taking up half the couch." Spike turned the TV on and pushed at Xander's shoulder, trying to get him to move over. Xander pushed back and then poked Spike in the ribs. Spike yelped and curled up like a snake and Xander cackled and poked him again.
"Harris! Stop it!" Spike wriggled around on the couch and pinched, right above Xander's knee, and Xander collapsed, giggling, his leg jerking uncontrollably in Spike's grip.
"Oh, ow, stop! Ah! Spike, stop, I'll move over - ah!"
"You gonna be good?" Spike purred, squeezing just a little more, and Xander gasped for breath and held his hands up in surrender.
"Promise, promise, promise!" Spike let go, a smirk of triumph on his face and Xander fell over sideways on the couch, trying to catch his breath. "It is so not fair that you know... Hey! How do you know that that's my Achilles...knee?"
"You remember when Red an' Glinda weren't gettin' along at all?" Spike changed the channel three or four times in rapid succession and Xander twisted over onto his back, his feet on the coffee table and his calves bumping Spike's knee.
"Yeah... Wait, do I wanna hear this?"
"Sure you do. Went down to the Bronze one night to play some pool -"
"Hustle some college students out of their cash -"
"They're rich, they can afford it. Anyway, Red was there all boo-hooing and tryin' to drown her sorrows with Cosmos, I ask you. So I ordered her some shots and told her to, you know, really let it all out." Spike had a little smile on his lips and Xander knew that wasn't all that had happened.
"Spike! You and Willow - you didn't -"
"What? Bed the witchling? Hell no, like my goolies right where they are, thank you very much. No, I just...encouraged her to talk a bit. Acted like I was one'a her friends, all sympathetic ear and whatnot." Spike flipped through some more channels and settled for a moment on two fat women who were screeching and hair-pulling all over a stage while the audience cat-called and cheered. Xander tried to imagine what a drunk, depressed Willow had told Spike.
"So...she came clean about the knee and...oh god. I really don't want to know what else, do I?" Spike shot him a sly, sideways glance and slumped down further in his seat - put his own feet on the coffee table, letting his legs rest heavily on Xander's.
"Probably not. Let's just say I'll be watching Passions whenever I like or some...little, tiny secrets might just slip out." Xander groaned and covered his eyes - uncovered them when Spike flipped the channel and the sound of gunfire filled the room.
"Hey! Leave it here! That's El Mariachi!"
"Told you, Harris -"
"No, it's almost over. It'll be over when Passions is ready to start. C'mon, Spike." Spike just rolled his eyes, but he tossed the remote down on the couch, on the side away from Xander and they watched the final fifteen minutes of slaughter in silence.
Passions was the usual mish-mash of overwrought emotions and over-the-top 'magic', and Xander watched with amusement while Spike 'watched' by muttering at the TV and occasionally shouting. Xander just lounged, taking in both shows and laughing under his breath until he felt himself dozing off. Then he sat up with a jerk, startling Spike who leaned sharply away from him, eyes flaring gold for a moment.
"Harris, what the fuck?"
"I just - I was... I didn't want to fall asleep." Spike started to say something, but didn't - turned back to the TV with a preoccupied air. Xander jerked himself awake two more times before Spike finally sighed and shifted over on the couch.
"Listen, Harris, just lie down and go to sleep. If you start twitchin' around I'll wake you up, okay?" Xander considered that, uneasy, but he was just so tired...and the damn fever; fevers always made him tired, and he was getting that loopy feeling, too.
"Yeah - okay. Just - be sure and wake me up."
"Not like I want you flailin' around, anyway," Spike mumbled. He pulled a pillow out from behind his back and fluffed it a little - set it on the couch beside his thigh and gave it a little pat.
"All fluffy and nice, see?" he said, and Xander considered the pillow, a strange and not unpleasant sensation of butterflies in his stomach. Finally, he lay down, curling around the pillow, the top of his head just touching Spike's jeans. He tried to watch the TV - stay awake despite Spike's promise. But Spike's hand had settled, light as a feather, on Xander's head, and after a moment it began to stroke through his hair, and Xander just sighed and gave up and gave in - squirmed a little closer and closed his eyes.
Mmmmm...nice. Don't wanna get up. Xander burrowed a little deeper into the pillow, trying to ignore the person who was saying his name - trying to ignore the hand on his shoulder, shaking him. But he couldn't ignore -
"Jesus Christ!" Xander flailed wildly and rolled right off the couch, landing on his sore shoulder. "Ow. What the fuck-!" He glared up at the vampire who was laughing helplessly, tipping slowly over off the arm of the couch and into the spot he'd just been in. Spike tossed the piece of ice he'd stuck in Xander's back at him, and Xander batted it away irritably.
"Damnit Spike, what the hell was that for?"
"Had to get you up, didn't I? Spike curled into the left-over heat from Xander's body, making a pleased sound down in his chest, and Xander pushed his hands back through his hair and sighed.
"Didn't have to do that. I almost had a heart attack! What time is it?"
"Hour past sundown. Red an' the Slayer are on their way over. Red's gonna wait here with you while me and the Slayer go get the beastie."
"Oh." Xander rubbed his hands over his face. He felt - odd. Still feverish, and out of it. Sleeping during the day always makes him feel a little lost. He yawned and decided he really needed to brush his teeth. He climbed slowly to his feet and went into the bathroom, teeth and toilet and face-wash on autopilot. He went into the bedroom and changed into an old pair of jeans, and then pulled a flannel shirt on over his t-shirt, feeling suddenly chilled. Back to the kitchen, and he chugged cran-grape straight from the jug - eyed the boiled eggs, and the Tupperware of tuna-fish but both make him feel queasy. Sighing, he shuffled back into the living room and looked at Spike, who was stretched over the whole couch now, all the pillows under him or behind him, the remote dangling from his hand and some old guy on the TV, talking about...
"Who's Frank Zappa?" Xander said, easing himself down, legs out flat under the coffee table and his back up against the couch, just level with Spike's waist. Spike lifted his head and stared at him.
"If you don't know, I can't possibly explain." Xander rolled his eyes.
"Is this about him, then?"
"No, it's about Alice Cooper."
Spike was looking right at him and Xander decided he needed revenge for the ice. "Alice Cooper? Who's she?"
Long, long stare of wide eyes and then: "Bloody hell! Are you from this planet? Do you ever listen to anything but soddin' country? Unbelievable! You, pet, need to be taken in hand -" Xander couldn't control himself anymore and let loose with a strangled snort that devolved into full-on laughter. Spike just stared at him and Xander wheezed uncontrollably - wiped at the tears that were forming in the corners of his eyes and pointed a shaking hand.
"Git," Spike muttered, glowering, but the hand that whapped at his head was gentle, and it lingered a moment, tugging gently on his hair. Xander coughed once and then settled down, the laughter trailing off. Alice himself was on the TV now, talking about one of the first live shows he'd done, and the man looked good, considering.
"He's, what, like seventy or something?" Xander asked, and Spike whapped him again.
"Not hardly. Fifties, something like that. Smart bloke."
"Oh please," Xander groaned, rolling his head back on the couch so he could stare at Spike. "Do not tell me you met him!"
"Well, yeah. He was goin' into rehab in seventy-eight, up in New York. Me an' Dru were still up there - you wouldn't believe how long we got free stuff, drinks and..." a quick glance away, "things, off'a me killin' that Slayer. He was around one night at some club, and they got him up to do a song and after we talked about Zappa, 'bout the punk scene...stuff like that. Dru liked him." Xander thought about that - looked at the man on the screen, whose black eyes twinkled, and whose thin mouth smiled at some memory that he was re-telling.
"Think he'd remember you?" Xander asked, and Spike shrugged. Or, it felt like a shrug - Spike's hand was still in Xander's hair, and Xander wouldn't say a word, not one word.
"Dunno. He hadn't gone into rehab yet." They watched in silence until a commercial came on, and then Xander rolled his head back again, so he could see Spike's face.
"I didn't dream, earlier. Thanks." Spike's expression, which was one of vague disgust at the SUV commercial, went from surprised to pleased to cocky in about three seconds.
"Told you, pet," he said. Then his hand slid out of Xander's hair and went behind his head, and he leaned back, utterly casual. Xander just stared, bewildered, until a moment later there was a knock on the door and he was levering himself up and going over - looking out the peep-hole, because this was Sunnydale and he was not an idiot. Buffy and Willow were waiting outside.
"Hey! My favorite witch and my favorite super-girl!" Xander opened the door wide, grinning, and he could see the answering smile on Willow's face go from 'anxious but supportive' to real. Buffy smiled too, and they both stepped inside. Spike looked up from the couch, sitting up now and lacing his Docs.
"So - ready to go demon-hunting, Slayer?"
"Really ready." Buffy whipped a small axe out from under her coat and Spike grinned - grabbed his other boot.
"My kinda girl." Buffy just rolled her eyes. Willow had a carry-all over her shoulder and she set it down by the door.
"So, Xander - how's it been today? Any more hallucinations? Are you feeling all right? You look flushed - do you have a fever? I think you have a fever." Willow darted at him and put her hand on his forehead and Xander flinched away a little.
"Wills, it's okay. I think I have a fever but it's not too bad. I had - a few more...episodes, whatever you want to call it. But I'm okay." Willow blinked at him, nervously washing her hands together, and Xander felt the first twisting of nerves in his belly. Oh great. She looks nervous as hell. What sort of horrible thing is she going to tell me? That in order for the antidote to work I have to paint myself yellow and dance on the roof? I have to eat something gross? Fuck...
"Willow? Out with it. You look like you're about to twist your hands right off."
Willow stared at him - looked down at her hands and abruptly stopped, whipping them around behind her. "Oh! Xander I - that is -" She looked over at Buffy, who was looking just as nervous.
Spike stood up from the couch and stalked over, frowning. "What's goin' on, Red? You're as nervous as a cat."
"I'm not! I mean - it's unfair to say cats are always nervous and - and sexist to equate a woman with -"
"Willow!" Xander put both hands on Willow's shoulders and gave her the slightest of shakes. "Can you please just tell me what's going on?" Willow looked at him unhappily, then at Buffy, who made a sort of encouraging 'go on' gesture.
"Well...Xander...you remember when - when Jesse died..."
"Course I do, Willow."
"Do you remember...right after?"
"Well - yeah! Do you mean, later that night or - like the next day? Of course I do." Willow bit her lip, and Xander wanted to shake her again.
"What do you remember, exactly?" Xander was really getting nervous now.
"I remember...the whole cheerleading fiasco, and Amy...and then - Mantis Woman, who could forget that, and...that weird guy Buffy dated for a while who was like a - an adrenaline junkie... And then the hyenas... How much remembering do I need to do, Wills?" Willow was pale, now - paler than her normal red-headed complexion made her, and Buffy was frowning.
"Spit it out, witchling, no need to drag it out." Spike stood with his arms crossed over his chest, scowling at Willow, who looked at him wide-eyed, and then back to Xander.
"Okay. Well - right after Jesse died... You were really depressed, Xander. I mean - really depressed. It got bad. You stopped coming around, and you wouldn't talk...and...you tried to - hurt yourself."
Xander just stared at her. No - no, I didn't. I was - upset, yeah. I mean - Jesse and me were best friends! But I didn't... Xander shook his head, looking from Willow to Buffy and back again. "No, Wills, that's not right. I'd remember something like that. I mean - come on! Buffy-!"
"It's true, Xander. Giles - went to your house. Talked your mom into - into a hospital stay. She really freaked when he told her that you were hurt. She told your dad... Well, Giles was shocked by the language." Faint smile from Buffy, and Xander felt his head doing that floating thing again. Couldn't exactly feel his feet, or his legs. He staggered back a step and felt Spike's hands catch him - ease him down onto the arm of the sofa.
"But I'd remember that, Willow! I mean - if I hurt myself, where's the scar? I don't have any scars!" Xander held his arms out, turning them, and Willow reached out and took his hands.
"You didn't - you didn't cut your wrists, Xander, you -" She stopped, head bowed, and Buffy shifted uneasily - stepped up next to her.
"We did this whole section on human anatomy, and you said it was the first useful class we'd had - it would teach us how to kill stuff better. And you - cut your leg -" Buffy fell silent as well and Xander just looked at her.
"Right - here." Willow let her finger hover just inches above Xander's thigh - front and slightly inside, and Xander just looked down, baffled.
"Femoral artery, pet. Cut that - you can bleed out in minutes." Xander looked up at Spike, who looked gravely back.
"But..." Xander stopped. He did have a scar on his leg. But that was -. That was from the hyena thing. Wasn't it? When we were running through the woods, chasing Buffy, I raked it open on a broken branch... It hurt, but... Xander closed his eyes tight, thinking - forcing himself to focus on the past, on the weeks after Jesse's death. They were - curiously flat. Lacking in detail. And then, like a fish swimming up from the bottom of a lake, a flicker of memory rose to the surface of his mind - shone there for a moment, all crimson and silver - and then was gone.
Oh god, I did. I DID - I... Memory of a knife, and a sharp lance of pain, and blood, Jesus Christ, so much blood, and Giles horrified face - books tumbling to the floor and his hands fumbling with the buckle of his belt, whipping it off and tightening it around Xander's thigh...
"You tried to kill yourself, man. That fuckin' crazy down the street, that vet? He told you to cut your leg, not your wrist. Told you you'd go quicker if you cut your leg - blood would pump out faster." Will's blue eyes are hard with remembered anger, and Xander can see the crazy guy - scraggly guy in a wheelchair, old Army fatigue jacket and dirty nails. Hooked on morphine in the hospital after a Vietnamese satchel-bomb took his legs, and never recovered. He nods slowly, the images of that night so clear - of Will tying the ragged sleeves of a flannel shirt around his leg, tight as he can - screaming at him, crying, holding him so tight Xander could barely breathe. Xander reaches out and touches Will's cheek.
"Oh god!" Xander was on his feet - backed into the wall - and Willow and Buffy were staring at him, their faces agonized and terrified. Only Spike looked calm, and he held his hand out to Xander.
"Come on, mate. You'll be all right." Xander's heart was pounding so hard and fast it hurt, and he pushed a shaking hand back through his hair and staggered towards the couch. Spike watched him - walked over and scooped up his duster.
"C'mon, Slayer. We've got some hunting to do. Just talk to him, Red. Keep him here." Willow nodded frantically, her eyes welling with tears, and Buffy's face had an expression of grim determination on it.
"We'll be back as soon as we can, Xander." Then they were gone, and Willow sank down on the couch next to him, sniffling a little.
"Tell me - tell me what else, Willow. What else am I - forgetting? Or, repressing or whatever the hell you call it."
"Not - not too much. They got you to the h-hospital on time. I mean, of course they did! And you had to stay in the - the psych ward for forty-eight hours. But Giles went straight to your house, and he still had - had blood all over him, and he told your mom you needed to be someplace - someplace better, that could actually help..." Willow gulped and wiped her eyes, and Xander felt sick inside - felt very, very cold, as if all his blood were congealing around his heart, making it pump extra hard.
"She signed the papers that night and you went - two days later. The field trip to the zoo was - was the first thing you came back for. Typical Hellmouth welcome home." Willow tried to laugh, but failed, and Xander couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe.
"Willow - where did they send me? Where - I mean, there's no m-mental hospital in Sunnydale."
"Oh! No, there isn't. They sent you down to Oxnard. This place called - Five Pines House." Xander stared at her, and the blood that seemed to have been collecting in his chest - leaving his limbs cold and tingling - suddenly shot through him as his heart gave a terrific, thumping whump of terror. A wave of giddy, nauseating heat and sudden dizziness. He clutched his head in his hands, the living room going dim, blackness crowding around the edges of his sight. Willow seemed very far away, and her voice faded to nothingness even as he watched her reach for him. He didn't feel her hands on his - didn't feel anything at all except his knees hitting the floor and then he was -
"No, no, no....god, no - fuck...Wills...Will..."
"Xander, please -" Xander slowly lifted his head - slowly, slowly let his eyes focus, and it was Willow, rubbing his back, shaking his arm; Willow whose voice was thick with tears and with fear. "Xander, come on, you're really scaring me! Xander -"
"Willsss..." he rasped, and she gave a little convulsive sobbing laugh and hugged him.
"Xander! You're back! I mean - oh, that was terrible, that was..." Willow sat back and wiped at her eyes with a wad of damp toilet paper - blew her nose. "Do you - do you want to get back up on the couch, Xander?" Xander looked around and realized he was on the floor.
Seem to spend a lot of time down here. He pushed himself slowly upright, and then crawled onto the couch. His throat was sore - his eyes felt hot and swollen, and the fever was still on him, making things sound a little tinny - a little distant and strange. He slumped onto the couch, and Willow got up and darted into the bathroom - came out with the rest of the roll of toilet paper. She unreeled some and held it out to him, and he took it and used it - tossed it down onto the coffee table. Willow did the same, then she reached over and put her warm, damp hand on his forehead.
"Oh, you're really hot! You need to take some - some aspirin or something. You have aspirin, don't you Xander? I'll go look, and something to drink too, I'll find something..." Willow bustled away, checking the bathroom cabinet and then the kitchen - finding his super-size bottle of generic aspirin and shaking some out into her hand. She poured cran-grape into a glass and carried it all over to him, and Xander dutifully swallowed the aspirin and the juice.
Is this real? It feels real. It feels like...Willow and me. It feels like... An image of Will came to him briefly - showing him the drawings in the binders, showing him what he could be, there, in that place. Showing a friendship - showing love - that had survived things even more horrific than Sunnydale.
Which do I chose? If I abandon Will - I'm abandoning...a wife maybe. A daughter who doesn't even know her own father... Giving up on the world - letting it eat me alive. If I chose him...then everything I've done and said for the last five years - the last twenty! Is a lie... What I feel for Willow and Buffy and Dawn...for Spike... God. I don't know how to do this, I don't know how to figure it out... Xander sank his head into his hands and tried to block out everything - the fever, and his confusion, Willow's soft voice telling him he'd be all right - the echo's of Will's voice, telling him he needed him. Tried to follow the paths of new memory - tried to find that boy that had wanted to die.
I don't want to die anymore. But where do I want to live? Where do I want to live...
An hour, maybe - maybe more. He faded in and out, sitting on the couch, watching Willow talk, or cry, or fetch juice. Watching his hands clutch themselves, knuckles going white. Watching the clock tick over, minute after minute. And still not knowing what to do. Two families - two lives - and both seemed real, now. Both seemed the right one and he just wanted to curl into the corner and not wake up, not come back. Find a third place where he'd never seen a demon or run away from home - where his friends weren't witches or junkies... He let Willow shove more toilet paper into his hand, wiping methodically at his eyes, shivering as the aspirin broke the fever and he sweated through his t-shirt and flannel both. It was uncomfortable, sitting there in the damp clothing - cold and gross - but he was so tired, he didn't want to move, and his head still felt all wrong.
Please hurry and get back, Spike. Find the demon and... And what? Make the antidote and kill my daughter. Or I... I leave right now, and I have her, and Anya...and Will. And Dawnie is dead, there, and Willow and Oz are gone... No Giles, either, and no Buffy... Oh god... There was a thumping, and then the door swung open, banging into the wall, and Buffy and Spike strode through, arguing.
"But just because Dru thought that was - was sweet doesn't mean -"
"You don't get it! Dru liked it 'cause she's a vampire! With Harris it's a - a guy thing!" They were both scowling - a bit ruffled - and Spike had a streak of greenish - stuff - down the arm of his duster.
"Guys!" Willow squeaked, and they both shut up and looked at her - looked at Xander.
"It's not been too awful, has it, Red?" Spike asked, and Willow got up, clutching at the last bit of the toilet roll.
"Oh, no, it's - well, did you find it? Can I make the antidote now?"
"Right -" Spike fished in the pockets of his duster and came up with two screw-top jars. A long portion of yellowish spine - gently oozing - rested in each. "Got both, just in case." Spike handed the jars to Willow with a flourish, and she took them and went quickly into the kitchen, holding them away from her body.
"You're okay, Xander?" Buffy asked softly, and Xander nodded, his hands tight on his knees.
"I'm all right. Thanks, Buff, for -"
"No problem, Xander. You know I'd do anything for you." Buffy smiled down at him and he looked at her - slowly smiled back.
"Yeah, I know you would. You're a good friend, Buffy."
"Learned from the best," Buffy replied, and Xander had to look away - duck his head down and rub at his eyes. Buffy patted him gently on the shoulder and then went into the kitchen. Willow had a pot on the stove and something on the chopping board, and Xander heaved a sigh - leaned back and looked up at Spike.
"It didn't stab anybody else, did it?"
"Nah. We all know when to dodge, unlike you." Spike sprawled down onto the couch and dug into his pocket again - pulled out a long, whitish...rock? He held it out to Xander. "Here you go." Xander just stared.
"What the hell is it?"
"It's a tooth! From the demon? A souvenir, like. Show you made it an' all."
"Oh." Xander took the tooth and looked at it. Long as his index finger, a little curved, sharp along one edge and bloody at the gnarled root. He tested the point gently on his finger and winced when it broke the skin.
"Careful, pet." Spike was looking at him expectantly, and Xander thought for a moment about what he'd been saying to Buffy when they had come in.
"This is cool, Spike. Think we could drill a hole through the top, put it on a chain?" He grinned, and Spike stared for a second and then grinned back - looked over at Buffy.
"Oi! See? He likes it!"
"You guys are weird," Buffy muttered, and turned back to Willow. Spike snickered and wiggled out of the duster - pulled out his smokes and leaned back on the couch, feet up.
"Everything go all right while we were out?"
"Oh, everything was..." Xander stopped, and rested his head in his hands. He was so tired.
"Harris?" Spike's voice was low and soft and Xander shivered just a little - looked up, finally, at the concerned face opposite him.
"I saw more - of my life there. Will told me - I tried to...kill myself there, too. Told me that... I have a child there, Spike." Spike drew slowly on his cigarette, watching him through the smoke. "I have a little girl. Her name's Tara and she's five. Me and Anya..." Xander stopped again, putting the tooth down on the coffee table and rubbing his temples. His sweat-damp shirts clung unpleasantly and right at that moment he was sure he could just sink away into sleep, and dreams, and do nothing at all, and be perfectly happy.
"Harris - Xander...hey..." Xander lifted his eyes and looked at Spike, and suddenly he wanted to tell him everything - tell him what he was feeling, and how confused he was - how much it all hurt.
"You'll be all right, pet," Spike said, and Xander shook his head.
"No, I don't - don't think I will. Not really. Spike... I can go there. If I really want to. Go and just stay and...have a normal life. Have a kid and...and everything. I know how. I know what to do." Spike's eyes went wide as he realized that Xander was looking at the stake that lay on the coffee table. The one Buffy had put down. Suddenly the vampire's face went from shock to utter fury, and the demon rose, snarling.
"Oh, that's bloody lovely that is," Spike rasped. "That's just bloody fine. You think it's that simple, mate? You think you can just pick that up and put it through me and you'll be all better? What'll come next, Harris - puttin' it through Red's back? The Slayer's heart?" His voice was low and shaking with emotion - so rigidly restrained that he was barely opening his mouth. "Nobody dreamed me up, Harris, nobody made me out of fuckin' paper and pen - for sure not you. You try what you're thinkin' and you'll be more sorry than you've ever been in your miserable fuckin' life." Spike's fingers had popped through the worn faux-suede of the couch and sunk deep into the foam beneath. Xander was frozen in place - utterly shocked. He'd never seen Spike this angry, this bestial, and he knew he was seeing the demon undiluted by snark or flirtation, caution or even rationality. But some small part of him fought even that.
"What could you do, Spike? You can't hurt me."
Spike hissed, low and horrid as a snake, and Xander shivered violently. "I can rip your bloody throat out, you fool." Spike unclenched one fist from the couch with difficulty and reached out - took Xander's hand in his and ground the bones together. Hard. It hurt - a dull, crushing pressure that quickly ratcheted up to something agonizing and Xander opened his mouth in a silent shout. Spike let go, and Xander cradled his hand, staring at him.
"You - you hurt me. That hurt! How fucking long, Spike?" Spike was staring at Xander's reddening hand - looked up from under his brows and Xander flinched back from that look of gleeful fury.
"You remember, right after that bastard Riley tried to stake me? I went down into the Pit - went down into that Initiative fuckin' hole and dug out every paper and disc and scrap I could find and it was all there. Every bloody piece of code. And I pulled in every favor I'd ever been owed and it's off. Been off. Over a year, Xander. Through Glory and all. Off." Xander just stared at him, rubbing his hand. Let the information slowly settle into his brain. Behind him, he could hear Buffy and Willow talking quietly; Buffy reading out directions, Willow carefully repeating them. Quiet sound of water boiling, a knife mincing something, a mortar and pestle reducing soemthing else to dust. Too absorbed to notice him - to notice Spike.
Off, the chip's off...and he's here, and he... Xander let go of his throbbing hand and reached out slowly - touched Spike's cheek, feeling the demon's bones and flesh for the first time. Caressing lightly. Spike's eyelids dipped closed ever so slightly, and then he shivered and the demon was gone, and his human face was there under Xander's fingertips, cool and smooth as burnished ivory.
"Why? You asking why?" Spike whispered, and Xander could only nod, his voice like a burr in his throat, scratching and sticking and not working at all. Spike hesitated for one long moment, just staring at him, and then he leaned forward.
Kissing...me. This is... Xander felt his eyes close - felt Spike's mouth, satiny and ever so gentle. Lips lying along his, barely moving. Tentative brush of a tongue-tip along the seam of Xander's mouth and Xander drew in a hard and shaking breath. Opened his mouth to it - opened his mind to it. Taste of smoke and pomegranate, taste of honey and the pepper-sweet of sassafras. Xander let his fingers slide back through the raw silk of Spike's hair and grip there - felt his other hand curl into Spike's lapel, the leather slick and soft in his fingers. Spike made a small sound - a sort of sobbing sigh, and pulled away. Xander opened his eyes, trembling, and Spike was there, right there, and his eyes were like thinly blown blue glass, and Xander could see through them - see behind them. See love and longing, fear and need. See want, and hope. He let his hands come slowly down to his lap, sense-memory of leather and Spike's skull making the tips of his fingers feel raw.
"But you... You d-don't... Me? Is it me?" Xander whispered, and Spike nodded once, his hands creeping out to lie on Xander's thigh.
"You. Been you for...a while. Since that summer..." Spike's gaze was so steady - so unflinching. Xander couldn't move under it.
"What do I do? Spike - they need me. And Tara..."
"No. No, Xander. They don't need anything. They're...just ghosts, love. Just - wishes, maybe. But not people. Don't you remember, Xander, the spell? You're the heart, Xander. You always have been. Steady and strong. You keep all of us here, love. Keep us - living. " Xander felt his mouth curling up in a habitual and sarcastic smirk, and Spike's did the same, brief flash of the Big Bad. "Right, unlife, whatever. Don't side-track me, pet. You go back if you have to - go back and tell them goodbye. They don't need you like we do." Xander shook his head - tried to speak - but Spike put three fingers to his mouth, shushing him.
"Xander, think. They haven't had you - you've been lost, there. Lost and gone and here and they're...fine. They're alive. Your girl - she's got your child and she's got this...this Will, right? And he's got her and friends - a life. They needed you, but it's just habit, love. Just...old reflex. They've had to make do without and they've muddled through. But we haven't. We can't."
"We..." Xander murmured finally, and Spike's hand slipped away from his mouth.
"We...me. I can't, all right? I can't. Please, love..." Xander swayed forward, and kissed Spike back. Kissed eagerly and hungrily because he wanted to taste those words - need, heart, please...love. Wanted to know what they felt like vibrating up from the well of Spike's heart, and he whispered as he kissed him, finding long fingers lacing with his, gripping tight.
"Say it again, tell me again..." And Spike was the one taking in a breath now, Spike was the one trembling as he murmured into Xander's mouth.
"Need you. Love, love you. Please, please..." It was a moment that spun out, as fine and sweet as candy floss, until Xander didn't know what it was not like, kissing Spike.
"It's done, guys." Buffy's voice, an edge of laughter, and Xander pulled away, Spike following for a moment and then drawing away as well. But he didn't let go of Xander's hands, and the smile Buffy gave the both of them was indulgent and a bit sad.
"Better - better bring it, then," Xander said, his heart pounding, and Spike ducked his head and squeezed Xander's fingers tight. Willow came over from the stove, a mug in her hands. Whatever was in it steamed slightly, and she handed it carefully down to Xander. He looked into the mug and wrinkled his nose.
"It's green, Willow. And not a safe sort of guacamole green. This is -"
"It's demon-green, pet." Spike held up the smeared sleeve of his duster and Xander made a sort of 'gag me' face.
"Oh, right. Okay. So I just drink it and poof...all better?"
"Well, not poof so much as - sometime tomorrow morning, all better." Willow looked tired and a little queasy, and if the smell coming off the cooling sludge in the cup was anything to go by, boiling the stuff up had been even worse. He noticed belatedly that the fan was on over his stove, and the kitchen window wide open.
Wow. Undead kissage obviously a major distraction... Speaking of... "Uh - Buffy? You're awful - amiable." Buffy's smile got a little bigger, and she glanced over at Spike before she spoke.
"Yeah, well, you've been Captain Oblivious, Xander. And Spike has a hard time keeping his mouth shut. I...get it, you know?" Beside her, Willow had the same sort of smile - indulgent but troubled, and Xander looked to her next.
"You are kinda...clueless sometimes, Xander. I mean - how many dates -"
"Dates?" Xander was shocked.
"Well, what do you call pool and 'movie nights' and - and Bronzing and -"
"An' goin' out and killin' various beasties? That's good for a quick shag up against a headstone most times."
"What?" Xander was lost, and Buffy was stifling giggles, and even Willow's shocked look faded quickly.
"What do you mean, 'most times'? How many people have you taken patrolling?" Spike just rolled his eyes.
"Meant - well, me and Dru -. Never you mind, pet. Just -" Spike motioned towards the mug and Xander looked bck down into the muddy depths.
"Oh, right. 'K, Wills. Hope you did this right." Xander put the mug to his mouth and tested the heat of the mixture for a moment, then tipped the mug up and drained it. "Gah! Oh, Wills, that's - that's so completely foul. God." Xander shuddered and pushed himself to his feet, shoving the mug in Buffy's direction. "Gotta brush my teeth. Gah!" He went into the bathroom, hearing Willow and Buffy and Spike start talking behind him, voices low but tense. Spike seemed to be - explaining something.
You tell 'em, Spike. Tell 'em whatever they need to know and then...tell 'em to go home because... Xander flipped on the bathroom light and squinted for a moment - brushed his teeth twice and then went into his bedroom to change out of his damp clothes into a fresh t-shirt and an old zip-up hoodie. Right. Ready to face...everything. Face THEM. I have to.
He went slowly out to the living room and Buffy was pulling on her coat - Willow was shoving the last few items into the carry-all. "We'll be back tomorrow, make sure everything's okay. All right, Xander?" Willow looked anxious and Xander smiled at her - went over to her and hugged her close.
"Sure, Wills. Thank you."
"Oh." Willow's voice was soft in his ear - a little choked. "Like I wouldn't help you, Xander!" She pulled away and smiled at him, shouldering the carry-all, and Xander turned to Buffy - hugged her, too.
"Anytime, Xander. Except, next time, don't get stabbed, okay? You really - really had us worried."
"I'll learn to duck, okay?"
"Not bloody likely," Spike grumbled, and Buffy shot him a half-hearted glare.
"You two... Well, 'be good' is probably impossible. Just - don't scare the neighbors." Buffy laughed outright at Xander's shocked looked and then she and Willow were gone, sharing conspirator's grins.
"C'mon, love. Come here." Spike held his hand out, inviting, and Xander stepped over to him and took his hand - was eased down onto the couch, stretched out on his side with Spike behind him. The vampire fitted himself to every bend of Xander's body, one arm snugly over Xander's ribs and folded up against his chest. Xander covered Spike's hand with his and then sighed, dreading the next bit.
"I'm going to - tell them goodbye, Spike. Tell them...they'll be okay. You make sure and wake me up, okay? Wake me up."
"I will, love. Promise." Spike hooked the blanket he'd used the day before off the back of the couch and drew it over them, and Xander closed his eyes. Willing the shift to come. Wanting it over. Spike was solid and so real - cool tip of his nose in the back of Xander's neck, his hand slowly stroking over Xander's chest. Anchoring him. Xander turned, in his mind; faced the deep, and dived down.
Will is looking through a binder of drawings, cigarette smoldering forgotten in his hand. The sun has come around a little and Will sits in a patch of light, practically glowing. Xander lifts his head and looks around him. At the table again, and Dr. Northern is watching him with anxious, clinical eyes. Xander takes a deep breath, and Will looks up at him and smiles.
"Wake up, love... Don't go." Spike murmured, tightening his arm around Xander's chest, and Xander blinked, breathing in a deep, quiet breath.
"Just need a drink," Xander whispered, and he slipped free of Spike and the blanket - went over to the kitchen and got a glass of water. He sipped it slowly, watching Spike. The sun was just coming up, coming through the window, sparking off the glass and the water - reflecting a faint golden glow onto the vampire. Making him over in pastel gilding and watered carmine, making him -not alive, but otherworldly. Iconic. Xander finished his water and put the glass in the sink - turned, and saw a notebook on the counter. One of Willow's that she had evidentially forgotten. Xander regarded it; something trapped and twisted in his chest easing tiny wings - stretching. He smiled and picked the notebook up and opened it to a clean page. Pulled the pencil out of the spiral binding. He walked back into the living room and sat on the corner of the coffee table and studied Spike. Looked at the line of shoulder and bicep that rested above the edge of the blanket. Traced his eyes over the elegant shape of skull and jaw and eye socket. Began, with hesitant strokes, to draw.
To my dearest and best loved friend, Will Sinclair. These drawings are yours, held in trust for Tara... Use them. Make our comic - make our childhood. Give her everything we never had. Don't ever forget...
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