This was written for a [community profile] fandom_helps auction, to benefit Planned Parenthood. The very lovely baudown was kind enough to bid and win a Buffy/Angel/Firefly offering.

Sadly, the email with prompts was lost in an email 'incident', but they *did* request Spike/Xander. I went with - what would have happened if Xander had joined the Army, like Spike suggested, in 'The Yoko Factor'? I fudged the timeline a wee bit, so that Xander ended up in combat.

So - here's the fic! Hope you enjoy! 5,706 words.
Warning: Some semi-graphic scenes of battleground wounds and discussion of said wounds in a hospital setting. A bit more on the 'war is hell' side than not.



Reveille


by
Tabaqui


Looking back, Xander's never really sure why he believed Spike, of all people. Ol' Blondie Bear wasn't exactly the most trustworthy source. But, Xander supposed, it was a testament to how long Spike had survived and how canny he could be, because Xander had listened to him. Had believed him.

And so, in July of 2002, Xander had found himself stepping off an Army bus in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, straight into heat and humidity that was nothing like a Sunnydale summer. Baking concrete and the reek of exhaust and the sharp stink of fear-sweat all around him.

And then the yelling and the stumbling around and more yelling and more stumbling. Five days of paperwork and shots and haircuts and brand new uniforms so stiff they could cut you, smelling of industrial cleanser and dust, waiting for the next cycle to start. For the real deal.

Some old guy with a squint showing them how to brush their teeth, for fuck's sake, and endless nights where Xander lay on his bunk in boxers and a t-shirt, sweating, hypnotized by the constant buzz of the insects outside.

Cicadas, this one guy said, scratching a sun-burnt nose. Xander wondered what they looked like. He wondered what Buffy and Willow were doing, if Anya was still pissed at him or if she'd moved on already. She was a go-getter. But mostly, he wondered what the hell he was doing, following this insane path on the say-so of one William the Bloody, Spike, the Fangless Wonder with the bleached-blond hair.

He was out of his frigging mind.


Basic...sucked. It was so damn hot, and there were ticks and these things called chiggers and once, memorably, poison ivy. And a thunderstorm that took out the power and sent them huddling in a greeny-gold sort of twilight down in some old shelter, everybody on the floor with their arms over their heads, just in case. No tornado touch-down, apparently, but plenty of storm damage that they spent the next couple days cleaning up.

At least it was a little bit of a break.

Xander lost twenty pounds, got no mail, and broke his pinky finger. He also got a tattoo the first and only day they let them off post, stiff in his Class A's, rolling up his sleeve in the shop to get an Army Infantry insignia on his bicep.

Except, instead of two crossed rifles, he got a rifle crossed with a stake, because you never forget your origins. The old guy doing the tattoo didn't even ask.


His next stop was Georgia – Fort Benning. Two days on a Greyhound and one day in a Motel 8, sucking down delivery pizza and watching 12 channels. Back in his Class A's first thing in the morning and Advanced Individual Training.

If anything, Georgia was even hotter than Missouri, because it was so damn humid. He lost another eight pounds and then gained back eleven in muscle and learned fifty different ways to kill someone. None of them involved a stake. Or a spell.

He gave up on mail call and spent way too much time perfecting the corners on his bunk and generally tried not to think about it too much. Mostly he ran around in the heat and bugs and learned how to be as stealthy as possible with sixty pounds of gear on his back and body armor making everything he did a little stiff and a little clumsy.


Everything seemed okay, really – or at least, nothing seemed bad until, suddenly, Xander was shuffling in a line of guys onto a transport plane, trying to get comfortable in a swaying mass of cargo netting and seats that weren’t really seats, the roar of the engines so loud it made his ears ache. He could feel it in his bones.

He could feel the ground dropping away and they flew (through night and day, in and out of weeks…. Well, not really, but God, it sure felt like it,) until they were touching down just past dawn somewhere that wasn’t anywhere Xander had ever imagined he’d end up.

A week later, they were rolling into Baghdad, the sun like a hammer on the anvil of the desert, everything too bright and too fast and too loud, and this was nothing like slaying vampires, nothing at all.

He lost track of time, after a while – so tired he kind of went through exhausted and out beyond, into some other place that didn’t have a name but had a smell. Blood and cordite, dust and his own sweat, the offal reek of a dead dog, dead person, dead world.

He found himself sitting on an empty crate somewhere in the clutter of the back of a temporary motor pool, just trying to get some quiet (he likes the quiet), when the whisper of feet over the sand made him jerk upright, panting.

"Well, well, well. What have we here? G.I. Joe all dressed up and nowhere…fucking. Hell."

Xander shot to his feet, squinting into the shadows, seeing only a pale blur – the cherry of a lit cigarette like a mercurochrome firefly.

"Identify yourself, right the fuck now," he said, startled at the rasp of his voice, the ragged quality of it, like he’d been yelling. (Maybe he had.) The tiny dot of glow-in-the-dark paint on his weapon's sight trembled right along with the tremble in his hands.

"I’m hurt. Don’t recognize me? Hasn’t been that long." Movement – the flare of the coal and someone – someone - .

"Jesus – fucking…no way. No way!" Xander felt his finger twitch on the trigger of his weapon, felt like he’d been punched in the gut, breathless and dazed. "I’m like – ten thousand miles from home and you’re here? What the hell!"

Spike grinned, all pointy teeth and gleaming eyes; dragged on his cigarette and puffed out smoke like a thin, white dragon when he spoke. "Not so far as all that. Anyway, I’m the one should be pissed off – I finally claw my way out of that hellhole called Sunnydale and what do I find but a bloody Scooby."

Xander's finger curled tighter, the metal of the trigger cool against his skin, the sight right there, right between Spike's golden eyes, right on the crumpled features of his face. Then the face smoothed out, black brows and ink-blue eyes and he was just…so fucking familiar. An actual face from home, and Xander just…didn't know what to do.

(Don't even have a stake, why the hell don't I have a stake? Not like all the monsters are in Sunnydale, anyway –) His brain shied violently away from a memory and he found his knees folding and his ass hitting the crate with a little thump. The tip of the barrel of his M16 hit the toe of his boot and he shifted it off absently, just staring.

"What are you doing here, Spike?"

Spike flicked ash from his cigarette and leaned up against a mound of camo-net draped crates. He kicked absently at an extra-long fold of netting, scuffing it against the sand. "Taking in the sights. Having a little fun."

"Fun?"

"S'my kind of fun, blood and chaos. You humans know how to make messes, don't you?"

"Shut up. How did you… The chip's gone, isn't it?"

Spike grinned at him. "Just figured that out, did you? Been gone – a long time."

"Don't tell me, let me guess…Adam?"

"Oh, in a way. Adam, all those bloody vivisectionists, Army types. They got themselves into a right mess, there, at the end. Took quite a bit of damage. But it worked out for me."

Xander stared at him, his gut churning, his heart pounding. Wanting to know and desperately not wanting to know; hating that Spike would know, would realize…. "Did – did Buffy-?"

Spike paused in the act of lifting his flask to his lips, a look of surprise and then amusement crossing his features. "Oh, you don't know? Nobody told you? But here I thought you were all bosom buddies, compatriots to the bitter end?"

"Jesus, just - Shut up. Was it? Bitter? Was there-?" Xander swallowed, feeling sick, feeling like he might actually tip right over, face-first in the sand. "Are they-?"

"Are they, what? Alive? Unharmed? Still human?" Spike grinned harder, tipped the flask up and took a long swallow. "Demon-girl's back to being a demon, actually. Couldn't hack it. For the best, really; she never did quite get the hang of it. And that wolf-boy, well – no curing that-"

"Damnit, god damn you-" Xander found himself on his feet, heart crashing inside his ribs like bombs, shaking with the concussion. "Just- Fuck, just, tell me, is Buffy- Is sh-she-?"

"Oh, don't get all red-faced and huffy." Spike screwed the cap back on the flask and tucked it away, tossed the butt of his smoke off into the darkness. "Slayer won through, though that G.I. Joe of hers didn't." Flick of a smile, like a blade flashing, and Xander knew why Riley hadn't lived. "And your little witchy friend, she's still mucking about with things she ought not to. Or was, last I saw. She'll be sorry for that, one day."

"I hate you," Xander said, feeling behind him for the crate and sinking down again. He felt like he was going to throw up.

"Mutual, Joe. Well now." Spike straightened up and brushed his hands together, stretched his chin up and shifted, little whispering crackle of bones and cartilage reforming. "I've had enough chit-chat – fancy a drink, me." He grinned happily, and Xander snapped his weapon up, bringing it to bear with a little rattle.

"Fuck off-"

Spike looked sharply upward and then the air seemed to compress – expand – and there was a bone-deep whump as fire erupted from the night. Somewhere in the camp Xander could hear screams – shouts – someone yelling Incoming! and he was on his feet and running, Spike forgotten.

Everything receded into a haze of heat and smoke, dust and shouting. By the time it was over, Spike was long gone, or so Xander figured. Himself, he was in a truck headed somewhere else, a long groove torn in his calf, pain throbbing fire up his leg. Watching the sun come up, cherry-grey haze on a dusty horizon, he just couldn't bring himself to care.


Vampires were like stray cats, maybe, Xander thought. Two weeks later, he was camped with his unit in the remains of some village or other, waiting out the night; pinned down by an unexpected and too-damn-good sniper somewhere to their north. The area was cut with washes and gullies, sand-storm slips and subsidences from earlier action, and the guy was a ghost, couldn't be found.

So they waited, and in the pitch-black, moonless night, Xander went the ten, careful yards he could go for a piss, feeling his way carefully and scuffling through broken bricks and ripples of sand. Waited, and he wasn't disappointed.

"Better watch your step," Spike said, Zippo illuminating his face like a fucking neutron bomb, and Xander hit the deck, cursing, blinking hard, night vision totally gone. He could hear Spike moving, the click of pebbles rolling together under his boots.

"Are you fucking nuts? There's a sniper out there!"

"Not in his line of sight right now," Spike said, and Xander pushed himself over, peering up at an upside-down Spike, smell of dust and leather in his nose.

"For fuck's sake." He closed his eyes for a moment. "All I wanted to do was piss. That's all. And maybe get a nap. Instead I've got a Sid Vicious wannabe in a leather coat running around my desert."

"Sid was a wanker, and I don't think pissing on it makes it yours. You wanker," Spike added. He took a drag and looked up – out – held out his hand. "Get on your feet, why don't you? You look like some kind of half-witted tortoise down there."

"Fuck you," Xander muttered. He crawled upright and leaned against a pitted wall, wiping sand off his face. Uselessly, as he hadn't had a shower in four days and most of his body was dusted with the fucking stuff.

"So what's your plan, then? Hide down in the dirt 'til Ahmed caps you?"

"We'll get air support in the morning, take him out. Jesus, I just…wanna sit down and relax for five damn minutes without somebody trying to kill me, you know?"

Spike made a soft snorting sound, and the cherry of his cigarette described a short arc as he flicked it away. "Should've let Dru have you then, boy. You'd be resting in peace these many years."

Xander felt the air move as Spike turned – felt the soft wick of leather over his hand, Spike so much closer than he'd realized, but moving away – leaving. Silent, not even disturbing the night-sounds of the insects singing in the darkness.

In the morning, it took an hour of careful, widening spirals to find the sniper's body. Xander was pretty sure he was the only one that noticed the two puncture marks on the dark, bearded throat.



Spike-the-stray came back and came back, not the very next day but compulsively, or something. Turned up when least expected, smoking and snarking and making Xander twitch in remembered, useless reflex. He still didn't have a stake, fuck knew why. It just seemed a bit too…surreal, maybe. With everything going on – bombs and chemicals and bullets – a sliver of wood was just too damn easy.

The third time after the sniper, Spike had a candy bar – Cadbury's with caramel – that he casually dropped in front of Xander in the dust, startling the hell out of him. The next time after that, it was a little thumb drive, chock-full of music. Not all to Xander's taste, but still….

Xander didn't think about where he'd gotten it, who it had belonged to before. Sometimes he didn't see Spike, he only found candy or a magazine or cigarettes – tucked into a blanket-roll, or shoved down into his boot. Things Xander could trade – little home comforts. At least they weren't headless birds and eviscerated rabbits.

Although bodies turned up sometimes, too - soldiers with bombs, men with satellite phones and scribbled-over maps. The enemy, as far as they could tell – as much as anyone could tell friend from foe from hapless civilian anymore. Xander got hit again, a minor peppering of shrapnel in his shoulder. The resident medic picked it out with forceps and stitched him up with a local, popping his gum behind his paper mask.

Xander was on stand-down for a few days after that, since he couldn't wear a pack on his bandaged shoulder, and he moped around camp and cleaned his weapons and sorted and packed and re-packed his gear. Bored and irritated at himself for being bored, because what the hell was he thinking? Down time in Hell was fucking down time – he should be dancing a damn jig.

Instead he was morbidly wondering what he was missing, and watching for his team to come back, hoping like hell they'd found nothing – done nothing. Cheated him of action when he suddenly, bizarrely, wanted nothing but.

Three days into his enforced rest, he said 'fuck it' and double-padded the itchy little snags of stitches that freckled his shoulder and bicep and declared himself fit. His squad went out that morning on recon to a little town called Suleiman Beg, up north, and it felt good to be on the move – back in the game. He had no idea why he felt so…happy. He actually felt giddy, and Trucker and Hippy both kept giving him looks. Hippy even did the finger-cross thing, telling Xander his grin was 'creepy as fucking hell'.

Probably it was. Xander didn't know what his problem was, exactly, but maybe it had to do with getting hit twice and still being okay. With seeing Spike half a dozen times or more and still having a heartbeat. Maybe it was the double-pack of Twinkies he'd found in his gear, so Disney-bright and obnoxious it hadn't even looked real. He shared them out at break, one each, and one for their driver, Airman Sheila Tussy, who Trucker challenged to a deep-throat Twinkie competition. Tussy just licked the cream out of her Twinkie with a grin and curling tongue, and yeah, there was Trucker's jerk-off material for the next month, at least.

Xander was pretty sure he'd never laughed so hard. Not since Sunnydale – not since…forever.

Something he thought about later, when Tussy was a mangled mess in what was left of the driver's seat, and Trucker was just gone, and Hippy was screaming, and screaming, and screaming….


Xander thought Hippy was screaming. He thought he might be screaming, too, but he couldn't really tell. Couldn't hear a damn thing – couldn't really see, and fuck, he was so damn cold. He hadn't really been cold in a long time, and it almost felt good, except for how it felt like burning ice, and every time his heart beat, it thumped through his body like a huge hammer, making his eyes and his fingers and his belly thump right along with it. His head felt cold – felt wet – and he tried to turn it so he could look at the rest of the convoy, see if anybody else had been hit. But his neck made this horrible sort of crunching that he felt more than heard, a popping, static-y kind of thing that shivered his eardrums without being a sound at all, and it made him want to puke.

He could still taste Twinkie cream, just a little a lingering saccharine sweetness in the crevices of his teeth. Sweet that was being blotted out by salt-dust-iron, and he swallowed and gagged and swallowed again, panting. Wouldn't be so funny if he heaved up half-digested cake and cream and choked to death, laying there like a damn idiot. He closed his eyes and opened them, and something went pop and his hearing came back, at least a little.

"Ah, fuck, fuck me, Point Break," somebody said, and a hand came down on Xander's shoulder and he knew he screamed that time. "Okay, okay, I got ya, I got ya." Xander blinked tears out of his eyes – blinked again and tried to breathe without actually breathing, because that hurt, too – the air was on fire, or his throat was….

There was a face hovering over him, silhouetted against the pale-blue sky. Just a shape for way too long until they ducked down and did something and Xander finally figured out it was their medic, it was EZ.

"EZ," he said – tried to say – and EZ did something down by Xander's hip that made him jerk, an agonizing and totally helpless reaction that had EZ patting Xander's shoulder again.

"Fuck, I'm sorry! Don't you fuckin' move, they're comin', you're gonna be outta here, man, so fast- You just lay right here and don't you fuckin' move, you hear me?" Pop of EZ's gloved fingers against Xander's cheek, his dark, blood-freckled face dipping down close, and Xander did his best to nod.

"Jesus, you are the dumbest motherfucker. Did I or did I not just tell you not to move? Dumb-ass SoCal surfer fuckin' motherfucker," EZ said, and Xander felt his chest moving – his belly rippling – in an ugly, rasping, rattle of a laugh.

"Sssorry," he managed, hiss and a sigh, and EZ's fingers rested on Xander's temple for a moment, just touching.

"Yeah, you're always sorry. Okay, all right, here we go, here we go-" EZ was looking off somewhere – up and out – and then Xander felt more hands on him, and felt his whole body being held – lifted – turned. And everything whited out, sheet-lightning flash, pain like the end of the world. And then nothing, nothing, nothing at all.


He woke up once – twice – a third time. Every time for longer, every time more clear. Woke to pale-beige walls and white linens and the pop and hiss of breathing like Darth Vader. The third time, he finally figured out that he was Darth. There was a ridged, white tube snaking over his chest and into his mouth, and tape itching on his jaw, and air coming in – hissing out – and he could feel the panic rushing over him in waves, hot-cold-shaking, making something beep too loud, too fast, right in his ear.

A moment later, someone was leaning over him – olive-skin, red-brown hair – a hand on his shoulder that patted gently and a voice telling him in no uncertain terms to calm down.

Just calm down, Harris, come on, breathe for me, come on, breathe….

Xander shuddered and squeezed his eyes tight shut – tried to do what she was asking, just breathe, just relax. The tube kept pushing air, and he fought off the panic and let it. Let it push and pull oxygen into him and out of him, feeling sweat at his temples and on his neck but not feeling much of anything else…anywhere.

He just lay there, and more people came in, and they were all talking but not really talking to him, which was good, because he couldn’t say anything, anyway. But then the bed was moving up and hands were on him again and he went ahead and opened his eyes because hey – something was happening. The same person – nurse? doctor? – was telling him they were going to take the tube out, here we go, blow out hard-

The tube came up and out with a rush, making Xander feel like he was being turned inside out, and he coughed, choked, coughed again, shaky and wet and a taste like iron and bile in his mouth. The woman swabbed at his mouth with a little sponge on a stick, wiped at it with a tissue, and then he was lowered back a few inches, pillow behind his neck and a mask over his face, elastic over his ears but….nothing. Nothing.

"C-can't…ff-eel," he whispered, and somebody else – tall guy, old, sandy-haired, sunburned – put his hand on Xander's shoulder.

"Harris, I want you to tell me what you can feel, okay? Can you feel this?" Pressure on his neck, on his shoulder, and Xander nodded slightly.

"Ye-yeah, I can."

"Okay. How about this." More pressure, lower down – chest, maybe? It felt weird.

"Yeah? Ff-eels…funny."

"You have some diminished sensation there. Now how about-" A sharp, shockingly painful stab of sensation, down to his hand and up to his elbow, and Xander yelped. "Okay, okay. Now…how about this-" The doctor was watching him, faded blue eyes pinning Xander to the bed, and Xander waited. And waited.

"You…gonna do it? I'm not…not feeling…anything."

"No? Do you feel this?"

More nothing, and Xander looked down, frantically; saw that the doctor was pinching his hip, prodding his thigh; long fingers stripping back sheet and waffle-blanket and touching here, there, there… And nothing. Xander could see the curving tube of a catheter going over his knee and off the side of the bed and he couldn't feel that, couldn't feel the tube anywhere, couldn't feel the bed under his ass or his back, there was just nothing. Nothing.

"Oh, God, oh, God, oh…fuck m-me, oh…G-god…."

"Okay, c'mon, Harris, I told you, you gotta breathe." The woman again, her dark eyes intent on his, her hand on his neck, her face so damn serious, and Xander shook his head, the oxygen mask slipping a little, warm plastic against his mouth.

"But I c-can't, I c-c-can't, I d-don't-" The beeping again, loud and fast and really annoying, and the doctor saying something and then, and then…warm little rush, everything slowing right down and Xander blinked, dazed.

"Why don't you just sleep a while, okay? Just sleep a little while and then we'll have a talk." The doctor patting his shoulder gently; the nurse lowering the head of the bed a little, pushing at his leg and tugging at the covers; movement Xander could just see but wasn't connected to him at all, not connected to anything at all, just a doll, rubber doll….



The next time he woke up, it was as dark as a hospital room ever gets, some low light on in the bathroom, light coming in through the half-shut door. The window beside him was a pale-black rectangle, outside lights shining up onto low clouds, no details, just...glow.

A shadow detached from the corner of the room and moved toward him, and Xander watched through the dregs of the sedative, not even remotely worried. The shadow resolved into black leather and peroxide hair – snip of red at the collar. Spike. Of course.

"My, you've gotten yourself into a bit of a fix, haven't you?" Spike said. He settled one hip on the edge of the bed, looking critically down at Xander's blanket-draped legs, and Xander wanted to shuffle away from him. He rolled his head, looking at the bed next to him, but he curtains were closed – the soft shush and hiss of a respirator the only sound.

"How'd you-? Why are you…?"

"Oh, the desert was getting boring. Got sand in places sand shouldn't go. And it's playing hell with the leather." Spike brushed idly at the sleeve of his coat – stuck two fingers into an inner pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

"F'you…smoke in here, they'll know," Xander said, and wondered why he even cared.

Spike made a face and shoved the smokes away. "So. They got you right proper, didn't they? Up one side and down the other. Can't feel that, can you…." Spike said, and Xander looked down to see Spike digging his nail into Xander's thigh.

"Sstop it."

"No…you can't. Look what they've done to you, pet," Spike murmured, and Xander blinked, his brain whirling slowly, drugs and exhaustion and barely-leashed panic muddling everything.

"Mm'not…not a p…pet."

"Oh, hush now, Action Man, just hush," Spike said, and he leaned forward, his long fingers turning Xander's head to the side – rucking down the gauze taped to that side of his throat. Xander could feel that - the sting and pull of tape, and the cool press of Spike's lips, a wet, slick touch of what had to be Spike's tongue. And then a stinging prickle that became a burn that became a bone-deep, throbbing ache and Xander whined, thready little sound of shocked revulsion.

Maybe somebody pushed the button, then, for the morphine, or maybe…he was warm and then he was cold and then it was dark, and then something was touching his mouth, cool and wet and salt-iron, the abattoir all over again, dust in his eyes making tears run down his face, everything rushing away and away….

"Sss…pi...."

"Go to sleep," Spike whispered, so Xander did.




When he woke up again (damn, was he ever going to stop waking up?), he was in total blackness. He blinked and then blinked again – reached up to rub his eyes and his knuckles hit something slick and cool. He felt around, slowly at first, then more and more wildly. Panicking as he felt only slick, chill plastic, tough and stiff and everywhere. His nails glanced off some texture and he clawed at it.

He felt it give and break and split, seam unraveling straight down and up and he tore at it – rent it wide – only to have his fingers hit something else. Something hard enough to jam his fingers back in their sockets and he stopped, panting. Finally realized that he was moving – he could move – and that started a galvanic convulsion of his whole body, arching and hitting and kicking, his throat too tight for words, his brain static-buzz nothing, totally offline.

A moment later, the blackness seamed and then ruptured – shattered – and light poured in, tear-bright. Xander shouted, kicking – jackknifing upright, straight into a pair of hands that locked down on his shoulders and shook him.

"Hey! Shut it, would you? You'll have every G.I. bloody Joe in the place down on our necks. Harris! Fuck's sake!" A hand like a stone slammed his cheek, snapping his head sideways, and Xander froze.

He realized he'd screwed his eyes shut so he opened them, carefully slitting the lids, sucking in air like a bellows, shaking. Staring around at dull-steel walls that curved up, and a dusty steel floor, a space cavernous and grey. C-17, Xander's brain supplied, automatic. Transport plane.

To his left was an oblong box with a flag tucked carefully around it. An American flag, blood red and snow white and twilight navy, wrapped around a coffin. Xander flailed his hand out and found a smooth, metal edge – gripped it and looked down and realized he was sitting in a coffin. In a body bag, in a coffin, the shredded plastic of the bag pooled around his naked hips.

"What...wha…how…fff…uck…."

"Hey! Harris!" The hand rocked his head back again and Xander whipped around toward it, snarling. Felt his lips peel back and his face crumple, a strangely thick sensation, as if his skin were tougher – his bones heavier. "Pay attention, boy. We've got about five minutes to clear this fucking flying death trap before my midnight snack's replacement comes along. You hearing me?"

"Spike? Spike, what-? What did you-? What-?"

"Fuck, I forgot how stupid some of you wake up." Spike loomed over Xander, grabbing his biceps and wrenching him upright, onto his feet. Shove between his shoulder-blades and Xander staggered forward a step and went down, feet tangled in the body bag, hands slapping down hard on the chill belly of the plane. Xander floundered, off-balance, kicking his feet free of the rattling plastic and finally twisting, falling – landing on his ass, his knees hooked over the side of the coffin, his tailbone stinging. Spike stood on the other side, cigarette in his mouth and his hands on his hips, staring down. Disapprovingly.

"You asshole, fucking bastard, God damn-"

"You need a drink. And to shut the fuck up." Spike took a hard drag off his cigarette and flicked the butt away. It arched through the air and bounced off the leg of the soldier who was slumped over by the wall, his eyes open and glazed, his neck torn. "Stop gaping and get up."

"You just- You fucking…fuck-" Xander kicked his legs free and dragged himself upright, and then stood there, swaying a little, staring down at his feet. His feet – his legs. His moving feet and legs, his feeling feet and legs. He took one step and then another, staggered around the end of the coffin, avoiding stepping on the crumpled flag with a wild side-step. "I- My legs. I can- Look, I can-"

"You're not quite healed up – need another good dose or two for that." Spike looked him up and down, scrutinizing. "But good enough. Go get those clothes on, yeah?"

"What, his?" Xander stared down at the dead soldier, at the smears and trickles of blood on the skin of his throat, and felt his mouth fill with saliva. Fuck, he was hungry….

"Yeah, his. Unless you fancy going out naked."

"I can't believe you killed me."

"The bloody Ottomans killed you, you prat. I just fixed it. Or did you want to lie in that bed for the rest of your miserable life being fed through one tube and pissin' out another?"

Xander stared at Spike for a long moment, and then he went over to the dead soldier and began to jerkily strip the uniform from his body. "Why'd you have to kill him? Bad enough they have to find that." he jerked his chin at the warped lid of…his…coffin, the shredded body bag. "This is so fucking disrespectful."

"They're dead, they don't mind. Chop, chop." Spike tapped a new cigarette from his pack and lit up – dug down into a pocket of his coat as Xander yanked on fatigue pants, tee and over shirt. The guy's boots were too small and no way was he going to cram his feet down into them. He arranged the man's limbs as decorously as possible and then crouched there, staring at the smear of blood on his knuckles. God, he wanted to taste it.

"Here, thought you might like these. Souvenir, like." Spike tossed something through the air and Xander reached and caught it automatically, then looked down at what he'd caught. Chain and tags – his own tags – filthy and warped as if something had been chewing on them. They smelled like blood.

Xander stood slowly, the tags clenched tight in his fist. He could hear traffic, somewhere – little night sounds, a whip-poor-will, frogs, voices…. He blinked, shaking his head. "Spike, why would you- ? Why would you do this to me? Why'd you even care?" Xander watched Spike huff on his cigarette, look past Xander's shoulder into the shadowed interior of the plane's belly, and finally focus on Xander again. His head tipped just a little to the side, quizzical look on his face as if he hadn't much thought about the 'why' until that moment.

"I dunno. It gets…boring sometimes, knocking around by myself. Gets a bit…." He lifted his hand and made a gesture, long, white fingers and cigarette and smoke all at once through the air. "Thought I'd like some company, is all." He looked over at Xander and Xander looked back and suddenly he felt his face kind of…relax.

He reached up and touched his nose – his forehead – and felt his own skin and muscle and bone, familiar as the sunrise he'd have to hide from. Wondered if lonely was the word Spike hadn't been able to make himself say.

"But…why me? You hate me."

Spike snorted softly, stepped forward and gently pried the tags from Xander's hand – draped the chain around his neck, slipping them inside the open collar of the shirt, little jingle and chime. "Just wanted a familiar face, is all. You coming, then?" He strode a step or two away, looking back over his shoulder, and Xander jerked all at once into motion, following Spike down the ramp on legs that barely wobbled.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming. Think there's a 24 hour place around here? I'm really fucking starving."




The End



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