This is a Spike/Xander story, eventually. It takes awhile to get there. This is the story of what could have happened if both Buffy and Anya had died during the fight with Glory.
A pulsating ball of energy formed in the sky near the top of the tower. Xander found he couldn’t take his eyes away from it as bolts of lightening ripped from the seething mass. They had lost, really, truly, irrevocably lost. He’d never really believed such a thing was possible. A hard shove sent him to hands and knees onto the rough concrete slab, jolting him out of his thoughts. He flipped over to face whatever hellish beastie had sent him sprawling. Then he saw her, one pale arm peeking out from under a pile of concrete and debris.
He scrambled forward and began throwing pieces of concrete and twisted metal to the side.
He eased her out from under the fallen debris.
She was eerily still as he ran his hand over hair matted with concrete dust, blood, and an alarming yellowish ooze. Everything ceased as he tried to comprehend that he was still living while she was not. It was impossible. Life without her had been inconceivable for months, hence the marriage proposal. She couldn’t abandon him; she wouldn’t do that to him.
Friends, he had to find his friends. Willow would make this make some kind of sense.
He found them all grouped around another pile of rocks, around another golden haired body. He stumbled as he joined them, Anya held to his chest. Buffy lay face up in the rubble, as still as Anya, and reality crashed into him like a wrecking ball. It was only then he realized it was quiet.
Willow looked on in mute horror, clutching Tara to her. There would be no help from that quarter. Giles stared at Buffy’s body like a lost child; no help there either. No help from Spike, body obviously broken from his fall, weeping in a shattered heap at the fallen Slayer’s feet. He laid Anya’s body down next to Buffy’s to better appreciate the total destruction of his world.
Movement dragged his eyes to the tower. Dawn descended the rickety stairs like a somnambulant, one arm pressed tightly to her stomach, her eyes fixed on Buffy. This was going to destroy her and he had no words, no quips or assurances to soften the blow. He saw her eyes go wide and she called Spike’s name as she quickened her steps. His eyes cut back to the vampire who continued to stare at Buffy while thin tendrils of smoke rose from him in the pre-dawn light. A few more minutes and he would be a momentary pillar of flame and then nothing but ash. Xander envied him, wishing that he could embrace oblivion with so little volition.
Dawn was running down the stairs in that ridiculous ceremonial dress and bare feet. Spike would be dust before she ever reached him. Xander considered the effect of one more loss on Dawn, and promptly decided Spike would just have to wait to immolate himself. He snatched a tarp off a pile of bricks and threw it over Spike before manhandling the unresisting form into the small office building. His movement snagged the others into his wake like they were caught in an undertow.
“Supposed to be me,” Spike gasped out, over and over. Xander didn’t have time to listen. He was moving now, if he kept moving he could stave off complete collapse. His mind ordered the necessary tasks and assigned them like he would at the site.
“Giles, go get the car.” Giles’s stricken eyes met his briefly, then he nodded as he moved off. “Dawn, honey, how badly are you hurt?”
“Not, not bad, they’re shallow cuts.” She slapped her hand over her mouth as if she’d just uttered an obscenity.
He squeezed her hand quickly then beckoned Tara over. “Check her over, if she’s not too bad we’ll fix her up at the house, help her find her clothes. Willow, you’re with me, we’re going to set Spike’s leg.”
Everyone scrambled to do what he said, grateful to have a task to focus on rather than the corpses of their friends.
Xander looked Spike over. The obviously broken leg was the most visible injury, but he had no idea if there was something more serious, or if he could do anything about it if there was. Concentrating on what he could do, he grabbed a couple of pieces of rebar, then he sent Willow in search of something to tie the splint together.
“Shoulda let me burn,” Spike groaned while Xander felt over his limbs and along his ribs.
“Not happening today,” Xander growled. Willow returned with some rope she’d scrounged. “Willow, grab his shoulders.”
While Willow got a firm grip on Spike, Xander told him, “You may be an undead pain in the ass but you’re our undead pain in the ass, and we take care of our own.” Then he jerked the leg straight, yanking a scream from Spike.
Willow looked a little green, but she was holding up. “Shouldn’t we call someone? So they can come get …” She swept her hand in the direction of the two bodies.
“No!” The vehemence of Spike’s denial snapped both their heads towards him. “No one can know. Dawn’s … without family, they’ll take her.”
“But we’ll take care of her,” Willow insisted.
“Damn straight we will,” Spike agreed. “Which is why we have to keep the government out of it.”
“Sure it’s a little unusual but once we explain…” Willow, who felt guilty about cutting class even to save the world, wasn’t ready to concede that proper channels shouldn’t be followed, but Xander was getting a disturbingly clear picture of what Spike was saying.
Spike cocked a damning eyebrow at her. “Oh yeah. A bachelor magic shop owner, a bachelor construction worker, or two lesbian witches still in college. They’d hand a thirteen year old girl right over to you.”
“He’s right,” Xander managed not to choke on the words. “We have to take care of this.”
“There has to be some other way.” The quivering of her lip told Xander she couldn’t face this disaster without some reputable authority to hide behind. Even if he had the energy to ease her grief, he wouldn’t know how. There was no easing this grief. He jerked the ropes securing the splint tight, taking out a bit of his pain on the task. Spike breathed sharply but didn’t complain.
“We’ll talk about it together before we decide anything,” he assured her. He was spared coming up with a better answer by Giles pulling up in the car. Moments later Tara and Dawn emerged from some back room, Dawn back in her old clothes.
Further discussion was tabled until they got back to the house, before someone happened on the scene and rendered the discussion moot.
They loaded their dead and wounded into Giles’s car. With ill grace, Spike bowed to the wisdom of the trunk being the only safe means of transporting him while Dawn slipped into the front. Before Giles could climb in, Xander brought the bot to the car. He and Giles shared a look before Giles nodded and Xander loaded it into the back seat with Buffy and Anya. It might cause questions none of them could answer and it seemed wrong to abandon it amidst the rubble. Then Xander, Willow and Tara walked to his apartment.
During the walk Xander found his momentum running low. He pushed thoughts of his last sight of Anya as far down in his mental awareness as he could, but it kept bobbing to the surface. He wished the girls would chatter so he could focus on them, but they had as little to say as he. Nevertheless, once they reached the apartment he was indescribably grateful for their presence, which kept the echoing emptiness of the place at bay. Willow and Tara went to work packing up his essentials while he stood in the closet trying to pick out a dress to bury Anya in. He couldn’t seem to make his mind decide between several options and in the end he closed his eyes and pulled something off the rack. He cracked one eye and looked at his choice, hung it back up and took down the one next to it. He rapidly went through the apartment and added a few things to the suitcase the girls had packed for him while they packed Anya’s dress, and then they made a hasty retreat. Xander wasn’t certain he’d ever be able to make himself return to the place.
Back at the house they renewed their delayed discussion. Xander sat on the floor with his back against the couch. What he really wanted to do was go upstairs and tend to Anya but this couldn’t wait. Willow and Tara sat above him and couldn’t seem to stand to be further than a few inches apart, reaching out to each other continually while keeping contact with Dawn who huddled between them, unnaturally silent. Xander wondered if she was going into shock. Her eyes kept darting to Spike, who slouched on the other end of the couch, as if she expected him to crumble to dust at any moment. Giles sat in the chair looking like he was about to explain some arcane mystery to a group of students. Xander wished he could believe some sort of rational explanation would be forthcoming, some way that Buffy and Anya weren’t lying dead in an upstairs bedroom. It would help if Giles’s hands didn’t shake as he fiddled with his glasses.
“If we wish to retain custody of Dawn the authorities cannot know what has happened.” Xander was certain another apocalypse was on its way when both he and Giles agreed with Spike.
“But, we can’t do this, we’re not equipped…” Willow protested.
Tara squeezed her shoulders, “Of course we can, baby. Families used to take care of these things all the time. It used to be normal.”
“I had to hand my mother over to strangers, and I hated it,” Dawn said in a quiet voice staring at her hands gripped in her lap. “I want to take care of Buffy.”
“We’ll bury them tonight,” Giles said, as if daring anyone to contradict him.
“So, will the Council send the next slayer here or somewhere else?” Willow asked, obviously eager to avoid further strife with a subject change. Willow was apparently giving herself resolve face, forcing herself to face the tragedy that awaited her upstairs.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a next slayer,” Giles said.
“Come again,” Xander said. He’d heard the spiel often enough to know the rules. One slayer dies, another is called. That was the rule.
“I believe the line now goes through Faith,” Giles said, sounding infinitely tired.
And the fun just kept on coming. Faith was fairly close to the last person Xander wanted to see right now.
“So the Watchers will, what, break her out of prison? Can I be several states away when they do?” The quip fell automatically but it gave no relief to his numbed senses. Idly, he wondered if he was going into shock.
“While Buffy lived the Watchers were content to allow Faith to stay in prison. Now that she is … gone, the situation has changed. I don’t intend to tell the Council about that change in situation until we decide the best course of action.” Giles was clearly using his usual wordy method of building up to something.
“But don’t the Watchers need to know?” Xander couldn’t help but think there was a certain naivety in Tara’s question. Xander hadn’t been certain of the Watchers’ good guys status since senior year.
As usual Spike used the steamroller method of broaching a delicate subject. “So they send a team to kill the bint, get a girl more to their liking. Let her and her Watcher safeguard this hellhole. We could find someplace cozier to live, someplace safer for the Bit.”
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose as if he felt a headache coming on. “Yes, Spike, that is the most disagreeable way you could have expressed that. While I can’t fault your desire to remove Dawn from the Hellmouth, I’m not comfortable being an accessory to Faith’s murder. There has been enough death of late and I, for one, am heartily sick of it.”
The finality of Giles’s tone deterred further discussion but Willow interjected one more point anyway. “As long as we’re keeping secrets from the Council, what say the Key was destroyed in Glory’s ceremony?”
Agreement was unanimous.
Dawn refused to be prevented from preparing her sister’s body and no one thought it anything like a good idea for her to be left to such a task alone. Tara offered to help and Willow was stuck to her like glue. This left Xander alone to prepare Anya’s body, but he preferred it that way, the last service he could do for the woman he loved. After some token protests they left him alone while they went to help Dawn pick out a dress for Buffy.
After he started the tub filling, Xander retrieved Anya’s body from Joyce’s bedroom. He paused to lay a quick hand on Buffy and whisper a goodbye.
In the bathroom he stripped Anya’s dirty and torn clothes off and lowered her into the tub. He found washing her hair bizarrely relaxing. Gently as he could he washed the blood and grit from her hair and body, straightened and wrapped mangled limbs. It felt like he was putting things as right as he was able. He would not fail her in this final service as he had in battle. He very carefully rinsed her hair, one hand shielding her face. She detested soap in her eyes. He dropped a kiss to her forehead before he lifted her out and dried her from head to toe. He dried and arranged her hair, attempting to hide most of the damage. Finally he slipped the dress onto her unresponsive body. Briefly he debated the engagement ring. Ultimately he left it in his pocket; after all, she’d been right, the world did end last night.
He carried her back into Joyce’s room and laid her next to Buffy. He left before the girls could come in. He was afraid Willow might try to comfort him, and he was afraid she might say nothing at all. He wasn’t sure which he feared more. He fled downstairs, where he was free from any expectation of expressions of sympathy, from either Giles or Spike.
Giles was applying a bandage to a bare-chested Spike’s back while trying to convince his patient he needed stitches.
“Only thing to fix me up is blood,” Spike said over his shoulder. “Don’t have enough juice in me right now to heal anything.”
Without a word Xander bypassed the watcher and vampire and went to the kitchen. There was a block of knives by the sink. He took the paring knife and tested its sharpness against his thumb. It would serve. He ignored the strange looks the other two gave him when he walked in and perched on the edge of the couch. Without a word he sliced his forearm open, offering it to Spike. It was a good sharp knife and he barely felt the blade biting into his flesh. He found himself curiously detached from his own actions, putting no significance to them. A problem had been presented and the solution was obvious, simple.
Spike stared at him in shock momentarily, but brought the dripping arm to his mouth before Xander’s blood spilled uselessly to the floor. If Xander had ever shocked Spike before he was sure he would have remembered it.
At Giles’s horrified look he said, “Don’t want to have to dig alone.”
It was a good, practical reason and it would placate Giles. It might even be true. His mental processes hadn’t really gotten that far.
There was another, unspoken reason that he suspected they knew anyway. He hoped he’d get light headed enough from blood loss to pass out. Hell, if Spike drained him dry he’d consider it a favor. Spike’s tongue felt strange as it chased the streams escaping down his arm back to their source and then began lapping over the wound. It tickled in a way that felt oddly pleasant. He was actually a little disappointed when Giles pulled his arm from Spike and began bandaging it. He didn’t pass out, but he did feel pretty woozy, the past couple days catching up with him at last. He barely heard the lecture from Giles to never do such a stupid thing again as he sank to the floor. A pillow was shoved under his head as he drifted off to sleep.
The ground writhed under their feet, the smell of ozone filled the air as lightening arced and crackled overhead and debris rained from the sky. Xander glanced up for the source of the rain of dust and concrete chips and spotted the crumbling of the neighboring building. He pulled Anya away over shaking ground to the shelter of the office. They checked each other over, finding only minor scrapes and bruises, and laughed at their latest close call. They looked up at the portal and …
Xander’s alarm went off. He stretched, feeling his feet poking over the end of the double bed. He got out of Buffy’s bed to retrieve his day’s clothes from the suitcase sitting on Buffy’s dresser and reflected yet again on the sick twist of fate that had him sleeping in Buffy’s room. It had been three days since they had buried the room’s rightful occupant, and he wasn’t sure it would ever feel normal. He had to be at work before any of the girls needed to be at class so he had a little uninterrupted time in the mornings.
Willow and Tara had taken up residence in Joyce’s room, and Spike had been installed in the basement. Xander found he couldn’t protest Spike’s presence. He was still recuperating from his injuries, and they needed him too badly to risk some nasty finding him at less than full strength in his crypt. Only Giles had declined an invitation to live at Casa Summers, claiming a need to have an adult refuge from the house’s other denizens. Xander suspected it had more to do with needing a refuge where he could get roaring drunk and weep without upsetting the rest of them.
He went through his morning routine fairly mechanically. A shower and shave took all of fifteen minutes then he headed downstairs. He found Spike staring out the window at the rising sun, standing just out of the path of its deadly light.
“There’s coffee,” Spike said without looking at Xander.
“Thanks,” he replied, still trying to fathom the fact that Spike had made coffee, for the second day in a row, as he shoved two frozen waffles in the toaster. Weird as it was, it allowed him to get to work both on time and fully awake. By the time he finished breakfast, movement could be heard upstairs but he knew better than to talk to any of the girls first thing in the morning.
“Get some sleep,” he told Spike as he grabbed his tool belt and hardhat. He got the usual grunt in response and exited the door.
Work was easy. There were problems, personality conflicts, orders not arriving on time and the like, but none of the decisions he made had the fate of the world riding on them. And there was good, hard physical labor to exhaust his body and mind to numbness. When he couldn’t achieve numbness, he steered his mind to the bizarreness that was his life while he hung drywall. He would put the night they buried Anya on fast forward to the point where Dawn dragged him aside and flung her arms around his neck, thanking him for saving Spike while his shirt soaked up her tears.
“I know he’s a monster,” she wept even as he rubbed her back and tried to tell her she didn’t have to explain. “But he’s my monster.”
Later that night he’d been awoken from a fitful sleep by the sound of crying coming from down the hall. He blinked himself awake, reorienting himself to the strange surroundings. It probably took him a full minute to realize the crying was coming from Dawn’s room, and he stumbled into the hallway, toward her open door. He didn’t get farther than the doorway. Spike sat on the bed rocking the sobbing girl in his arms and crooning a snatch of some old lullaby to her very softly. It made him wonder if Spike had been poised at the foot of the stairs, waiting for sounds of distress.
Spike caught sight of him in the doorway and nodded his head back towards Buffy’s room as if to say, ‘I’ve got this.’ Xander must have still been half asleep because he went back to bed without a word of protest. Maybe it took a monster to chase away the bad dreams that haunted Dawn, haunted them all, he thought briefly before going back to sleep. Maybe that explained the fact that he and Spike had been civil to each other, one of the strangest things to come out of this warped situation.
Midway through the afternoon Giles called and asked him to drop by after work. As much as he didn’t want to, Xander told him he would. Worry over what Giles might want to discuss kept him reviewing all the worst parts of the last few days. It got bad enough that he was glad when the workday ended so he could get it over with.
Giles was sober when he answered the door but Xander noticed the bleary eyes and generally rumpled appearance that suggested this hadn’t been the case earlier in the day. The lingering scent of whiskey was a dead giveaway. “Hello Xander, thank you for coming.”
“No problem, Giles. What’s up?” Xander was uncomfortable entering the familiar apartment. Giles had always been a stickler for order in the small space, but now dirty clothes were in evidence, some even draped over furniture, a plate with the remains of Chinese takeout was left on the coffee table and several glasses were leaving rings on the wood.
Giles took a seat at the dining table which was covered with a rather disorganized pile of papers. Xander recognized insurance statements and Magic Box receipts amongst the handwritten notes. Xander couldn’t help thinking that Anya would have been able to whip the mess into shape in under an hour. He’d been more than happy to cede all financial planning to her eager hands months ago.
“I was designated the executor of Joyce’s estate, and so I have been dispersing the insurance money to pay for the hospital and household bills,” Giles explained. “I believe I have finally paid the last hospital bill.” He shuffled through a stack to his right while he talked. “However, thanks to the totally bolloxed healthcare system in this country, the money Joyce meant to sustain the girls for some years will barely cover the next three months.”
Xander slid into a seat opposite Giles. He was uncertain where to begin and grabbed a package of manila folders off the floor. He began unwrapping it, to have something to do with his hands as much as anything. Plus Anya swore by the things. “My lease is up next month, once I’m not paying rent I can help out.” It was the best use of his paycheck he could think of.
“I was reasonably sure you would feel that way,” Giles said approvingly. Then he fished a handwritten piece of notebook paper from the bottom of a pile on his left. “This is the amount Willow and Tara will be able to contribute to the household expenses.”
He passed the paper over. It wasn’t much, but then tuition ate up most of their scholarships. He added his monthly salary to the paper and stuffed it in a folder he then labeled income.
They spent over an hour sorting through the various piles. The worst part was watching Giles pick up a sheet and stare at it as though he couldn’t make any sense of it. He’d always relied on Giles to be the stable rock of their little group, the designated adult. It was strange, and, not a little frightening, to watch him wrestle with the task as if it were beyond his capabilities, as if he were too tired to think. For the thousandth time that day, Xander wished Anya were here. She’d have some inappropriate and cuttingly accurate remark to make that would break through the brooding silence that was becoming the group norm.
Consulting a household budget that Giles had compiled a month ago, Xander postulated, “Doesn’t look too dire, my salary can cover most of this. With Willow and Tara pitching in, we won’t be living high on the hog but we’ll be able to get by.”
“The proceeds from the Magic Box will be able to cover any shortfall and begin a college fund for Dawn,” Giles said while shoving the last sheet into the appropriate folder. The mess had been reduced to a manageable stack of folders. Giles seemed to take some comfort in the establishment of order over this small pile of chaos.
Xander felt a cold shiver pass through him at mention of the Magic Box. “No hurry about reopening though, right? You’ve got your Watcher’s salary and we’ve still got some insurance money. I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking forward to walking in there again, now that she’s gone.”
“Yes, the place is quite full of memories,” Giles admitted.
Xander remembered proposing to Anya in the basement of the shop and said nothing, not trusting his voice.
“Still,” Giles continued, sounding old and resigned, “It must be reopened, it’s too valuable a resource to leave closed indefinitely. I intend to have Jonathan pack away the training room equipment. That should go a long way towards making it more tolerable.”
“Jonathan?” Xander found himself choking on the name.
“Yes, he starts work tomorrow,” Giles said absently while staring at a spreadsheet. “It’s advantageous that he knows something about magic.”
“Yeah, I guess that would be good,” Xander stumbled out pushing himself away from the table. He had a ridiculous image of Jonathan fondling Anya’s cash register. He’d always had something of a soft spot for Jonathan, seeing him as something of a kindred spirit. Right now, he hated him more than he’d ever hated Angelus. “I better get back to Casa Summers, Tara’s cooking and I don’t want to be late.”
“Can I rely on you to manage this?” Giles asked, indicating the budget that Xander had been perusing.
“Absolutely Giles, I’ve got it covered.” He would have agreed the sky was green with pink polka dots to get out of that apartment in the next thirty seconds. He backed out without another word.
He drove the long way home, then twice around the block, trying to gain control of himself. He couldn’t go in and let his girls know he’d been crying. He pulled into the driveway and plastered a grin as brittle as fine china on his face.
Willow was going through the mail and Dawn was doing her homework at the kitchen table, Tara was standing at the stove stirring spaghetti sauce. Xander inhaled extravagantly as he entered.
“Mmm, smells fantastic,” he swept Tara into a low dip, “you have seduced me with your culinary skills, I’ll give you gold, jewels, furs as long as you cook for me.”
The over-the-top performance had the desired effect of setting all three girls giggling. It was a sound he’d missed in the last few days. As an added bonus, it kept them from noticing that he couldn’t manage a laugh. He righted Tara and slid into his place at the table amid questions as to his whereabouts.
“Giles and I were just figuring out the vast Scoobie financial empire, and I’m happy to report we’re comfortably in the black.” He was grateful he had some good news to report. “Speaking of black, where’s short, pale and fangy?”
“You just missed him,” Dawn said, eagerly ignoring her homework. “He headed out to check out a vamp nest before the whole gang goes charging in. He should come back in an hour or so.”
The last time they’d tried to patrol the Hellmouth without Buffy, they had made do with walkie talkies, but their range was truly pathetic. It was time they upgraded to cell phones.
Willow had gone back to sorting the mail while Dawn caught Xander up, now she exploded back into the conversation. “Dawn! What the hell is this?”
He watched Dawn hunch down and dart her eyes to the available exits so he intervened. “What’s the problem Wills?”
“She’s been skipping school.” Willow pointed at Dawn as if she was accusing her of clubbing baby seals.
“Hey, we all had unexcused absence due to apocalypse on our records,” he defended.
“Xander, she has thirty unexcused absences. Thirty!”
“Dawnster? That’s not like you,” he said, trying for calm.
Dawn’s voice got soft and small. “I kinda went nuts after Mom died. I wouldn’t have done it again, after Buffy told me they were talking about taking me away, but then we were running from Glory and things got a little out of hand.”
Tara, Willow and Xander exchanged looks, and Tara nodded toward the dining room while saying, “Dawn, why don’t you make the garlic bread for me.”
Xander gripped Dawn’s shoulder and winked at her before following Willow out of the room.
“They’re talking about putting Buffy on probation,” Willow hissed. “That means home visits and interviews, and we have no Buffy!”
“Calm down, Will. The wheels of CPS turn slowly, trust me.” He regretted saying it when it produced that sympathetic look from Willow. “We’ll go and talk to the principal. See if we can’t make a deal of some kind.”
“Depends on what she’s missed,” Willow said, shifting into battle mode. “With this many absences I’m not sure we can avoid summer school. Maybe I can cast a glamour. We have plenty of components….”
“Set up an appointment, I’ll take a long lunch or something and we’ll get this straightened out,” he said. Willow tended to get flustered around authority. In the old days he would have been propping her up when she was reduced to meek babbling. These days he might be called upon to prevent Willow turning the principal into a newt. He felt like a parent.
The day after going over the finances with Giles was Saturday, and Xander was lounging around reading the paper, drinking his morning coffee before he started the day’s chores. The house’s upkeep had been neglected during Mrs. Summers’s illness and even more after her death. Xander made himself useful whittling at a small mountain of minor home repairs. If it also served as a great excuse not to return to his apartment to pack up his and Anya’s things, he wasn’t complaining. Dawn plodded downstairs wearing blue pajamas covered in romping bunnies. Xander was half out of his chair, ready to act as a visual shield against hopping portents of doom, when he realized there was no need. He made a muttered apology to the girls around the dining table, heading up to Buffy’s room before he broke down.
He closed the door behind him quietly before he sank onto the bed facing the window. He sat there just trying to breathe. He bunched the comforter in his hands seeking stability, something to ground himself. Behind him he heard the door open and shut with a tiny click. Willow sat down next to him not saying a word. When he began to gasp out sobs, she rubbed his back.
He wasn’t sure how long they sat like that before his breathing came easier and he turned to her and said, “We were going to get married.”
She pulled him into a hug, whispering understanding words into his shoulder. Wrapped in the arms of his best friend he felt better than he had since That Day. Just telling someone seemed to ease something inside. “It feels like there’s this huge hole in my chest, like someone reached in and ripped out major organs. Sometimes, I think of something I need to tell her, and I’m halfway through dialing the phone before I remember.”
“Shh. I know,” Willow said in a soft voice, still stroking his back. “I can help. There are a couple spells that can help speed you through the grieving process. There’s even one that can make you forget ….”
Xander pulled away from her, not even trying to conceal his horror from her. “Forget! Willow, have you gone crazy? My memory is all I’ve got left of her.”
“But those memories are hurting you,” she insisted. She looked down, relenting at the look on his face. “OK, maybe the forgetting is a little extreme but I’ve got other stuff.” Her eyes were shining with the joy of finding a solution to a difficult problem. “I’ve needed to focus. Kind of put missing Buffy on a shelf. There’s this spell that numbs the pain until it’s just this undercurrent, no more ripped out heart feelings.”
She was excited, as she always was when she saw a way to help. Maybe this thing worked for her, but he couldn’t help wondering what price had to be paid for the relief. Consequences seemed to be things Willow didn’t concern herself with anymore, not when the thrill of discovery was on her anyway. And she never liked accepting that sometimes, there was nothing to do but go through the pain.
“I think I’ll get through this without magical help,” he managed a lopsided smile to reassure her. “I just needed someone to listen to me for a minute. Thanks.”
The smile didn’t do the trick. Willow pulled herself away from the spell components dancing in her head and refocused on him. She looked at him with sad eyes, like she had when he was failing geometry, like she wished she could just pour the formulas into his skull. “Are you sure? It doesn’t have to be a big spell, there are lots of little ones that just, ease things along. I hate to see you hurting like this.”
“I’m absolutely sure. Just doing the big girly cry thing and having you listen helps a lot. I feel much better now,” he assured her. He put on the best goofy Xander face he could manage. “I’m just going to wash up and I’ll be right down, ok?”
Reluctantly, Willow left the room. He knew her. Because she cared, she’d be watching. If he didn’t want to be the lab rat for one of her spells, he’d have to watch his step. If he didn’t bring Anya up again for a week or so her attention would go on to other things. It muted the comfort crying on her shoulder had afforded him, but he knew he couldn’t talk about Anya to anyone in the group anymore.
Sunday found him in the basement, tightening a leaky pipe. He tried to ignore Spike, who sat on the camp cot that served as his bed and attempted to stare holes through him.
“Was thinking,” Spike said into the oppressive silence, “could use your bedroom furniture down here.”
Xander found himself unable to argue with this logic as there was no way the king size bed would fit in Buffy’s room. “Sure, why not.”
“Comfy bed, is it?” Spike said in a nonchalant tone.
Xander shut his eyes, when that bed had contained Anya it was the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept in. Without her he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to fall asleep in it again.
“Been sleeping rough long enough,” Spike continued as if Xander had answered. “If it’ll hurry matters along, Giles and I can pack your place up, probably grab that Jonathan bloke Giles has working for him now. Could get it done by the end of the week.”
Xander gritted his teeth at the mention of Jonathan but conceded that this was likely his best chance of avoiding sorting through his shattered life himself. Careful to keep his back to Spike and his voice neutral he said, “If you’re that impatient to mooch my stuff, feel free. Its not like you haven’t already snooped through everything I own.”
“Well, I am hoping your porn collection has upgraded since your basement days,” Spike snorted.
“Just get me my clothes and my tools, do whatever you want with the rest.” Xander kept his voice steady. Not like anything anyone was likely to find there would come as much of a surprise. Not like he had the faintest clue what to do with most of it or the mental energy to try.
“Giles was talking about using the training room for a store room,” Spike said, with a hint of sympathy in his voice. “Someplace to put extra stuff, until you and the Bit feel up to going through it.”
Xander nodded. Sounded reasonable, and much cheaper than another apartment. “That would be good.”
“Don’t mind,” Spike said nonchalantly. “I always liked demongirl. Always knew where you stood with her.”
Xander peered over his shoulder to smile. “Not many people really appreciated that about her.” He turned back to his work. “Me, I wouldn’t know what to do with a tactful girlfriend.”
“Well, yeah,” Spike sounded as if this was abundantly self-evident. “You can trust a girl like that, that she means what she says. Dru doesn’t have a deceitful bone in her body, lots of incomprehensible ones but none deceitful.”
And that was indeed one of the things he loved about Anya. She might embarrass him in front of his friends, but if she told him something good he knew she really meant it. “She liked you too. Said you were the only person who didn’t turn green when she talked about the old days.”
Finding himself in the strange position of conducting a civil conversation with Spike, now seemed like an opportune time to satisfy his curiosity. “What’s your angle, Spike?”
“My angle? Do I look like a bloody triangle to you?” All trace of civility disappeared and Spike started pulling on his boots, obviously intent on leaving.
That may have been a bit poorly worded to a guy who’d just taken a job he’d been dreading off his hands. Xander made his tone more conciliatory. “I mean, I get the chasing Buffy thing. But why stay now? You could be out creating mayhem with your vampire buddies. I mean, you hate most of us.…”
“Don’t hate any of you,” Spike grumbled under his breath.
That shocked Xander so much it called for complete abandonment of his task, so he could give the vampire his full attention. The fact that Spike had affection for Dawn was undeniable but he’d always been comfortably certain of Spike’s hatred of himself.
“Excuse me? ‘As soon as I get this chip out I’ll rip your guts out and make origami out of them.’ Sound familiar?”
Spike’s gaze pinned him in place. “Yeah, it sounds familiar. Also sounds old, nearly a year now. Things change. I’ve made myself a bloody pariah in the demon community for you lot. Don’t have many other places to go. Closest thing I’ve got to family is right here. Besides, promised Buffy I’d protect Dawn to the end of the world. I failed on the tower, I won’t fail again.”
“Spike, I …” Xander was saved trying to figure out what he could say to such a declaration by Spike storming out of the basement.
Xander moved on to the next task on his to do list and tried not to think about what he’d just learned.
Two days later he came home to discover that all of Buffy’s things had been removed from her room and his clothing inhabited the closet and the dresser. Even the bedspread had been changed from the girly confection that had decorated it to a more neutral solid green. He felt like a ghoul but couldn’t come up with a legitimate objection. When Dawn started talking about making the room over to reflect its more manly occupant there were traces of tears in her eyes. He realized this was one of her chosen methods of coping and he couldn’t say no.
The meeting with Dawn’s principal went as well as could be expected. Oddly enough she never even asked why Buffy hadn’t come herself, so all their carefully crafted lies were available for their next encounter. The principal and Willow spoke the same language, and Xander soon found himself a little awash in the discussion of credits and percentiles. Didn’t matter, he was just there for moral support anyway. It ended pleasantly with the decision made to send Dawn to summer school, and no one turned into a newt. All in all, much less painful than he had expected.
Dawn was much less pleased with the arrangement. She complained about the unfairness of this bitterly, which Xander was secretly glad to hear. It was the sort of thing a girl her age should complain about. It sounded like healing to him. It would also give Dawn something to engage her just when the last thing she needed was to sit around home and think about how much she’d lost.
A week and a half after they lost Buffy and Anya, they called a full Scooby meeting. Giles wanted to talk strategy now that they would have to patrol the Hellmouth without the Slayer.
“Regular patrols have been disrupted while we concentrated on Glory, and while we recovered.” Giles said, spreading a map of Sunnydale across the dining room table. “It is vital that we rapidly assess the current state of affairs with Sunnydale’s demon population. I think it is prudent to divide up into teams and investigate the area in sections.”
“Oh, I could test my ball of sunshine spell, I think I have it perfected.” Willow bounced in excitement.
“Right, I’ll be staying far away from your team then,” Spike grumbled.
Spike had fully recovered a week ago. Even so, he became a permanent resident of the household by one of those unspoken agreements that seemed more common than the spoken variety these days.
“Yes well, I was going to recommend that we split into teams of two and…”
“Me and Tara,” Willow blurted, while Tara gave her an indulgent smile.
“Guess that means you and me, Fangless.” Xander gave Spike’s chair a playful kick.
“I suppose you expect me to keep you from getting eaten then?” Spike said with a quirked eyebrow.
“I guess that leaves you and me, huh Giles?” said Dawn.
“Nope Dawn, that leaves you and Giles holding down the fort,” Xander said.
“That is so totally not fair!” Dawn erupted. Fortunately a knock at the door interrupted her before she got a full head of steam going.
“That’ll be the pizza I ordered, be right back,” Xander said as he made good his escape.
The move safeguarded Giles as well as Dawn. He, Willow and Tara had agreed that Giles was too shaky to patrol at the moment. He handed $30 to the pizza boy as he took the two larges from him. He was a generous tipper since his own delivery days even though it cleaned out his wallet. Which was strange, because he was pretty sure he’d had $50 in there. Sure they were doing ok but he needed to keep better track of money than that.
The arrival of food and the subsequent scramble for napkins and drinks effectively tabled the argument of who was patrolling and who was staying home. Dawn wore a resigned pout.
Giles assigned sections of Sunnydale to the two patrol groups. Spike insisted that he and Xander cover the opposite end of town from Willow and her experimental spell, which was easily accommodated.
Oddly enough Xander didn’t mind being paired with Spike as much as he might. Since their little talk in the basement they had kept conversation to a minimum, and Xander found the silence strangely restful. Spike didn’t comment on his silences, and the two of them could snipe at each other without engaging in anything too emotionally taxing.
They checked out possible trouble spots and Xander found himself mulling over the puzzle Spike presented. Looking over the past couple months, he tried to remember when the last time Spike had acted against them was. He couldn’t come up with much since Riley’s departure. Well, there had been chaining Buffy up and threatening to feed her to Drusilla, proving lovesick vampires could be as stupid as lovesick teenagers. Revising his opinion of Spike was an unappealing task but, given that they were stuck with him for the foreseeable future, one he couldn’t see a way to avoid.
He was sunk enough in these thoughts that he didn’t sense any danger until Spike yelled at him to watch his back. Xander spun around in time to see something large, gray and scaly bearing down on him. He barely got his ax up in time to block a swipe from the creature’s claws. Then Spike leaped onto the thing’s back and started whaling on it with his sword. Xander tried to distract it from attempting to claw the attacker from its back with a frontal attack. He deflected one swipe but wasn’t fast enough to get his ax in the path of the second set of claws. He threw himself back from the attack but he still felt the burn of claws raking his side. He looked up to see Spike shove his sword deep into the creature’s neck and watch it topple over. He congratulated himself on sustaining only minor injuries from the fight: the claw marks were barely bleeding. Then numbness began to spread out from his side. He stumbled over to the nearest gravestone, propping himself against it as he sank to the ground.
He’d just gotten himself settled when Spike came up. He shoved Xander onto his side to get a look at the claw marks. He didn’t look happy about what he was seeing.
“What was it?” Xander was disturbed to hear his words come out slurred.
“Graknor. Got paralyzing poison on its claws. Here, try to move your legs.” Spike’s matter of fact, clinical tone was freaking him out. His attempt to move his legs produced pitifully weak results.
Spike cupped Xander’s chin and turned his head so he faced him. “Talk to me, Harris,” he commanded.
Xander tried, he really did, but couldn’t produce more than a gurgle.
“Right then,” Spike picked him up like the heroine of one of those bodice ripper romances his mother read. It was humiliating, but there was very little he could do about it since he seemed to have lost all ability to move.
“Blink for me,” Spike snapped at him, as he headed out of the cemetery. When it was obvious even that motion was beyond him Spike propped him up for a second and shut his eyes.
Xander was barely conscious of movement when Spike resettled him. His body was too numb to distinguish individual motions, and now he was blind as well.
“Don’t want your eyes to dry out,” Spike explained.
Spike’s consideration was more reassuring that disturbing, which was a change. One Xander didn’t bother to contemplate for long. The mortification of having his head resting on Spike’s shoulder was blunted by the fact that he couldn’t see, and could barely feel, anything happening outside his own head. There was just a vague rocking motion that was more soothing than anything else. Maybe he’d just sleep through the whole trek back home.
Spike’s voice close to his ear roused him a little from this. “Go to sleep on me now and you won’t be waking up again.” Spike sounded irritated, as if Xander was purposely inconveniencing him.
Well, he imagined dying would be pretty inconvenient. As much as he didn’t want to desert his friends, a tendril of relief snaked through him, like smoke rising from a vampire at sunrise. It was a seductive idea, that he could just fall asleep and not wake up. No more playing team cheerleader while he was hollowed out inside. Maybe he’d even meet up with Anya on the other side.
“Giving up then?” Spike said, as if he hadn’t expected anything else. “Good choice, I bet you’re numb enough I could probably drain you right now. I’ve gotten patient, if I have to wait for the poison to kill you that’s hardly a problem.”
Under ordinary circumstances the image of Spike draining him dry would have been disturbing. As it was, he saw no reason why Spike shouldn’t get a good meal out of his death. Spike wouldn’t be able to sink fangs in him if it hurt, and in his current state he guessed it probably wouldn’t. A painless death was certainly more than he ever expected the Hellmouth to accord him. Whatever Spike chose to do with his body after the poison killed him was of little interest. In either case, he was powerless to even express an opinion, so he mentally washed his hands of the whole matter.
“Of course, with you all limp like this I could probably bugger you without a headache. Worth thinking about.” Spike said in a considering tone. Xander was simply too tired for straight-man panic. He was beyond caring. Now if Spike would just stop talking he could die in comfort, and Spike could do whatever he liked with his body.
Then Spike’s voice dropped an octave, took on a dark undercurrent that would have made Xander shiver if he’d been able. “Got a better idea. Bet I can get some blood down you without much trouble. Bet you’d make a lovely vampire, pet.”
Xander’s heart gave a lurch. He tried to tell himself that Spike wouldn’t be able to make good on the threat, but he wasn’t being very convincing. He should be able to be convincing inside his own head. And Spike’s honey dark voice continued. “Wonder who you’d go for first? Rupert? Bet you’d find something interesting to do with those glasses he’s forever rubbing. Have a spot of revenge for every time he made you feel stupid.”
And Xander could see it in his mind. Himself, or a demon shaped like him, taking petty pride in ripping up the closest thing he had to a father. He wanted to scream, to run and hide, but he was stuck leaning against Spike’s chest.
“Maybe it’d be Dawn, she’s a lot of responsibility isn’t she, not really in the plan. Mmmm, bet she’d taste sweet. Might have to beg a bite off you.” The sweet, dark whispers kept flowing like poisoned honey, and now Xander was determined to pound Spike’s face in. How dare he! He was supposed to be sworn to protect Dawn.
Spike wasn’t finished. “Might have to pull you off Willow. You can drain her, that’s fine, but fledges are such messy eaters, and I don’t want you to mark her up too bad. I’m thinking she’d make a beautiful vampire. Useful too.”
Xander had far too much knowledge what vampire Willow would be like. And she could only be worse now that she’d gotten so magically powerful. He couldn’t bear to think of his beautiful Will tainted like that. He desperately tried to struggle, but the signals refused to travel to his muscles. It was like he was trapped in some kind of weird dream, unable to affect anything around him.
And still Spike went on. “Real wiz Willow is. I’ll just bet she could find some way to bugger the chip. She’d do it for her sire. Betcha with a little tweaking the Buffybot could coax that pesky soul out of Angelus. Now that could be some real fun times. I’d give you to him as a toy. He can’t resist breaking a new boy in, keep you in chains for days, maybe weeks. Might even drive you mad. While he’s busy with you I’ll get Willow to bind Dru to me for eternity. She’ll never stray again. Yeah, I’m really liking this plan. You just lie there and die like a good boy, and we’ll be having fun in no time.”
Xander wondered if it was possible to vomit in this state. He felt a jar and heard a door swing open. Then he heard Giles sounding frightened. “Spike, what happened? Is Xander…?”
“Still alive for now. Graknor demon, I’m gonna take him upstairs.” Spike said in a perfectly normal tone, as if he hadn’t just been discussing Giles’s murder a few minutes ago. Xander desperately tried to scream a warning.
“Of course, I’ll make coffee.”
Coffee? Giles was making coffee? Xander knew he wasn’t Giles’s favorite person but was the response to being told he was about to die really to prepare a warm beverage for the ocasion? His outrage was still frothing when he was laid down, presumably on his own bed.
“Always knew you’d die without a word,” Spike whispered in his ear. “Bloody lamb to the slaughter you are.”
Then he heard Willow’s shriek, “Xander! Please, you have to be all right. Please, open your eyes.”
And he thought about Spike putting a demon in her body, about himself with his fangs sunk into her throat and he screamed a whisper, “No, no, you have to stake him.” He winched his eyes to half mast and shoved at Spike hovering above him even though he had all the strength of a new-born kitten. “Wants to turn me.”
Just then Giles came dashing in clutching a mug. “You’re moving! That’s wonderful! Spike, help me prop him up.”
Despite Xander’s ineffectual struggles Spike maneuvered him into a sitting position. “No, you have to stake him.” Then Giles was tipping the mug to his mouth and he had a mouthful of what tasted like espresso with lots of sugar, and he had to swallow or drown.
“Perhaps it would be better for you to wait downstairs,” Giles said to Spike.
Spike barked out a laugh, then a huge, smug grin spread across his face. But he nodded and turned to go. At the door he waggled his eyebrows and said, “Maybe later, Harris.”
He looked at Giles who just tipped more espresso into his mouth. “Willow, would you get me another cup, and start another pot, we have to keep his adrenaline up until the poison works its way out of his system.”
Willow sprinted out of the room, eager to be useful.
“Giles, what happened? Why are you pouring espresso down me?” Xander asked in confusion.
“You were poisoned by a Graknor demon, it paralyzed you, depressed all of your systems. If you had fallen asleep, you could have suffocated. I’m not sure what Spike said to you, nor do I particularly want to know, but he elevated your adrenaline levels which counteracted the poison. Do you think you can hold the mug? It would be best if you drink the whole mug, possibly another cup or two as well until you have muscle control back.” Giles had to help him hold the mug steady but by the time he finished the contents he was holding the mug, albeit shakily, on his own.
When he’d fully recovered Xander sought Spike out in the basement. He handed him a beer and sat down on the cot. “I understand you saved my life.”
“’s my job innit? Pulling you Scoobies’s fat out of the fire,” he said in a blasé tone.
“You scared me shitless,” Xander said, leaning back on his hands.
Spike allowed a smile to curve one side of his mouth. “Good to know I still have it in me.”
Xander looked over at his companion with a sly smile of his own, “And you loved every minute of it.”
That got him the full evil grin. “Oh hell, yeah!”
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