“So, how much of that did you hear?” Xander said into the darkness.
“Every word. You weren’t exactly quiet.”
Spike’s voice came from the vicinity of the bed and Xander turned in that direction, hoping the slightly darker blotch he was staring at was actually Spike.
“Good, because I didn’t want to have to go through that a second time.”
Spike turned on the bedside lamp, and Xander climbed the rest of the way down the stairs. Spike was shoving clothes into a duffle bag. “So, when the going gets tough the vamp gets gone?”
“I’ll be at my old crypt. You can find me when you need help with patrol,” Spike sneered as he zipped up his case. “I’m a useful monster, but none of you want me here. Not even Dawn.”
“Well boo hoo, gonna pitch a fit and run away from home then?” Xander mocked as he pulled the duffle off the bed and tossed it to the side. “Dawn’s a teenager who’s had a very traumatic evening. What’s your excuse, mister Big Bad?”
Xander knew he was being unsympathetic, but he was too tired, and on the edge of freaking, to care at the moment.
“Dawn won’t even look at me, Harris.” The look Spike gave him made him feel like a low grade moron. “I can’t stay here.”
“Dawn doesn’t know what to feel. Before tonight, every monster that threatened her was easy to understand. They wanted to eat her, or use her against Buffy, and the lines were nice and clear. The vamp tonight liked her, wanted to turn her. Now she’s got to wonder if you want the same thing.”
Xander really hated his brain sometimes. He’d come to grips with the fact that Spike considered them his family and probably wouldn't eat them, even if the chip stopped working. What he hadn’t considered, really considered until now, was that Spike might want to make them his very own vampire family. He blocked Spike’s path to the stairs and looked at him hard. Spike stared back, fists and teeth clenched.
“Do you, Spike?” The question came out softer than he intended, but he’d lost the desire to kick Spike while he was down.
“Bleeding hell, Harris, she’s fifteen.” That “you’re an idiot” glare was still in full force. “Do you think I would condemn someone I cared about to being fifteen forever?”
That answer did nothing to satisfy Xander, and he doubted it would go far with Dawn either.
“Not to mention the little chip problem you’ve got going at the moment. I’m not naïve enough to think that thing’s going to work forever. What happens when it gives up the ghost, Spike? You planning on making yourself a new vampire gang from materials at hand?” Xander stood with arms crossed blocking Spike’s escape route. He shoved all the implacability he could into his voice but he couldn’t summon up any anger to go with it. Maybe he was just too tired.
Spike slumped onto the bed. Xander leaned against the banister, not crowding him.
“Dawn told me she felt safe with me, and I yelled at her to take it back,” Spike said tonelessly, staring at the wall. “Bleeding ironic.”
“Dawn may have taken awhile to join the caravan, but us not trusting you is hardly new territory.” It was backhanded sympathy at best, but Xander needed to get them back onto the question at hand. He needed an answer he could believe, or he’d be looking for a stake before it was too late.
Spike threw his head back and laughed, high pitched and mocking. It sent an icy tingle along Xander’s skin.
“You’ve always trusted me. The whole lot of you.” Spike’s voice was shaky with laughter verging on tears.
“Huh?” Was the most intelligent comment Xander could come up with to such a ridiculous statement.
Spike turned red-rimmed eyes on him. “Oh, not up here.” Spike held a finger to his temple like he was about to shoot himself in the head. “In the gut.” His other hand jabbed a fist into his stomach. “Where it counts.”
Xander straightened in shock and stared at the obviously deranged vampire. “What could possess you to believe we ever trusted you?”
Frustration replaced grief on Spike’s face. He began counting things off on his fingers. “The night we took down Angelus, Buffy waltzed right out of the room to call you. Left me all alone with her mum and little sis.”
Another finger raised.
“When I came back to Sunnydale the first time, I strolled into this house easy as you please. No disinvite.”
“We didn’t think you were coming back,” Xander insisted.
“What, trusted my word on that, did you?” Spike’s smile wasn’t pleasant as he raised a third finger. “Fine, who did Buffy take her mum and sis to for safekeeping?”
Xander figured there were reasons for that as well but didn’t want to interrupt again. He gave looming a try. The quicker they finished with this strange fantasy of Spike’s, the quicker they could get to the real issue.
“Not convinced, are you?” Spike’s snide tone grated on Xander’s already raw nerves. “Let’s cut to the chase shall we? If you didn’t trust me, you’d have dusted me the minute I found out Dawn was the Key. Tell me, did any of you even suggest it? Have one of your little Scooby meetings about it?”
Xander had to consciously close his gaping mouth. In fact, none of them had even given it a second thought. They’d all known it was a secret to be guarded with their lives, and yet Spike knowing had never even warranted a comment.
“Thought not,” Spike nodded, secure in his reasoning, or possibly Xander’s gobsmacked expression. “If you’d talked about it, I’d be dust. Logic would have told you a soulless, evil thing could never be trusted with that kind of information. But your gut knew better.”
Xander wondered if he could get whiplash from the number of mental jolts he was getting tonight. Regardless, he had to get back on topic.
“Okay. I’ll have a nervous breakdown about that later. But I need to know--“
“No.” Spike slumped back in on himself, he seemed smaller. “Not planning on turning any of you.”
Xander found himself disappointed. Weren’t they good enough to keep around? Then what he was thinking actually penetrated his brain and he had to grab the banister to keep from sinking to his knees in shock. He had no desire to be a vampire, even now when two super strong fighters would be a real asset. He should be jumping for joy, not like the only one without a date to the prom. He stomped on his traitorous emotions. “Why not?” Xander told himself it was disbelief that laced the question.
“Turning’s a crap shoot. Demon could be weak, leave your personality pretty intact, or it could completely consume you. No way to know for sure. Most vampires turn someone they like the looks of. If it doesn’t work out they stake or abandon ‘em and try again. Would have happened to Dru an’ me ‘cept Dru’s visions were handy, and I was useful for looking after her.”
Spike stared at nothing once again.
“Would have done it, back before keeping a bunch of human children alive became my reason for existing.” He let loose a self-deprecating chuckle.
Xander’s body moved without any consultation with his brain. Maybe it was that gut over brains stuff Spike had been talking about. Without being sure how it happened, he found his arms wrapped around Spike.
“We’ll make it all right. She’ll understand, we just need to let her get her head straight tonight.” He didn’t know if the words were getting through, but his tone must have been. Spike’s head fell to his shoulder as he collapsed against Xander’s chest. There were a few hitched breaths, like the unbreathing vamp was trying to get enough air. Then he felt the dampness on his shoulder and realized Spike was sobbing. Xander had never had a man use him as a comfortador before, but the principle was the same. He avoided the over-gelled hair, instead, concentrating on rubbing Spike’s back and murmuring promises in his ear.
As he held Spike, he thought his brain might just be catching up with his gut. Mentally, he went over what he owed the vampire. Xander was quite certain that, without Spike’s intervention, he would have returned to the clearing with Dawn to find Giles dead and a reception committee of hungry vampires. Spike and he had been patrolling together long enough that there were at least half a dozen instances where Spike had pulled his fat out of the fire. In fact, most of the people Xander loved had been rescued by Spike in various ways at one time or another. It was a debt he could never repay.
He realized he meant every soothing word he was whispering in the distraught blond’s ear. Spike was part of his family.
The next day Xander made sure he was home before Dawn returned from school. Spike had to talk to her, but that didn’t mean he had to do it alone.
Lunch had been spent on the cell to Willow and then Giles. He’d explained that part of Dawn’s problem was she didn’t feel she contributed anything to the group. Willow was excited at the idea of Dawn’s Key power (if such a thing still existed) being put to practical use. Giles was eager to give her a workload substantial enough to keep her out of trouble.
Xander was afraid he’d arrive at the house with a van full of ancient texts for Dawn to work her way through. Still, if she was going to find her niche she needed to sample all the flavors on offer.
He wanted to talk to Spike about some of Dawn’s other options before she made it home.
“Spike!” he called as soon as he walked through the door. “Where are you?”
“I can hear you,” Spike grumbled as he emerged from the kitchen. “What are you doing home? S’not even three o’clock.”
“I want to talk to you about training Dawn.”
Spike’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Train her to do what?”
“What you do best.” Xander threw himself on the couch, a little smile playing about his mouth. “Fight.”
“No.” Spike answered with the finality of a judge’s gavel.
“Look, I know you don’t want her patrolling. Neither do I. But sometimes the combat zone comes to her. Might be a good idea if she knew how to defend herself.”
He could tell he’d hit a nerve when Spike looked like he’d tasted something bitter.
“If she gets trained she’s going to want to go on patrol.”
“She wants to go on patrol now. What’s the difference?”
Spike leaned on the arm of the couch and into Xander’s face. “If she thinks she can handle herself, she’ll take stupid chances instead of running away.”
Xander knew he was being infuriating, and it just made him smile wider. “Nope, Bleach brain. She’s as suicidal as the rest of us. She’s not going to run whether she has the training or not.”
When intimidation gained him nothing, Spike straightened and folded his arm across his chest. “You just have all the answers, don’t you?”
Xander was feeling smug. He didn’t get to win arguments with Spike often. Each one was a special cause for celebration.
“Been thinking about it all day. I’ve got Giles set up to show her the joys of being a watcher. That should take five minutes. Willow’s going to show her witchy ways. You get the fighting.”
The speculative look Spike got in his eye started Xander worrying.
“Long as I’m teaching the Bit, might as well do you as well.”
“Hey, I’ve been doing this for five years.” Xander was touchy enough about his fighting ability not to want to hear Spike’s comments on it.
“Ya haven’t done bad, for not having anyone teach you. Don’t know what Rupert was thinking. Could have at least shown you how to use a spear or something.”
“I think he kept hoping I’d stay fray adjacent.”
Spike smirked at him. “That was effective.”
“Hey, I’ve got a hard head, which has served me well in more than one combat situation.” Xander relaxed at the lack of criticism. Of course, if he agreed to train with Spike he was guaranteed of getting belittled at every session. “So, when do we start?”
“Got big plans for tonight?”
“I guess I do now.”
“You and Spike going out on a date?” Dawn asked incredulously from just inside the door.
“That depends,” Xander asked with a sly grin. “Does it count as a date if we ask you along?”
She eyed them both warily, not coming any closer. Xander abandoned humor as a tactic as it clearly wasn’t working.
“I just asked Spike to train you in fighting, and he offered to include me on the lessons.”
Now that he thought of it, the arrangement might just make Dawn a little more comfortable. He wondered if Spike was maneuvering him into being a buffer between them.
Dawn was clearly conflicted. Being allowed to fight was a big carrot, but she and Spike had unresolved issues. A quick glance at Spike confirmed the wariness went both ways. He hadn’t moved an inch and seemed content to let Xander handle the conversation. Their relationship’s foundation had a few cracks in it but, if he could get them talking, he was willing to bet it was still sound.
“Right. Basement. Both of you.”
The double indignant stares made him rethink his role as their mutual target.
“We need to have this out, and if we stay here we’ll get interrupted,” he explained. He got up and shooed them both toward the basement. They went, casting unsure looks his way.
Xander perched on the washer and waited for them to arrange themselves. Dawn sat on the edge of the recliner, Spike on the foot of the bed. Both of them were avoiding eye contact. He was going to have to drag them bodily through this conversation.
“Dawn, I’ve talked to Giles and Willow. You’ll be researching and spellcasting in no time.” Dawn perked up. “Little spells,” he hastened to add. “Levitating pencils, meditation, that sort of thing. We’re planning to put you to work. You may regret ever asking to be a full-fledged Scooby.”
“No, that’s great,” she assured him. “I want to help. I’m thinking I might start learning a language, like Sumerian or something. I bet I can pick it up pretty fast.”
Xander blinked at her enthusiasm. She’d be the perfect protégé for Willow and Giles. This was a side of her he didn’t understand at all.
“Good. Giles is the best person to get you started on that dead language thingy. Meanwhile, Spike’s the best one to teach you fighting, and he can’t do that if you aren’t talking to each other.”
Spike looked at his hands. Dawn glanced around the basement avoiding looking at either of them. Xander heaved a sigh.
“Dawn, Spike and I talked last night.” Oh good, now she was glaring at him. At least she was paying attention. “I trust him. Apparently, I always have.”
Spike’s head snapped up. He looked surprised Xander had used the words. Xander figured it was time they quit pussyfooting around.
“Maybe,” Xander said, “it would help if you told him what you’re afraid of.”
Dawn bit her bottom lip for a moment, gathering her thoughts. Then she openly stared at Spike. Spike winced under her regard.
“Why do you like me?”
That question came from left field as far as Xander was concerned. Spike seemed thrown by it as well.
“You’re like your mum.” Mentioning Joyce softened Spike’s face, he looked wistful. “You treat me like I’m more than a useful monster. Leastways you did before yesterday.”
“That’s it?” Dawn was less than satisfied with the answer.
“It’s a bloody stupid question! Why do you love Tara? Why do you love Xander? I love you because you’re my Lil’ Bit. If you want a soddin’ diagram ask Rupert. I can’t give you one.” Spike’s voice was laced with frustration and pain. Xander suspected that Dawn hadn’t realized just how much she had shredded Spike.
Dawn stared at Spike as if she was assessing his sincerity. Then she nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Spike and Xander exclaimed simultaneously.
“Yeah.” She looked at them both as if they were stupid. She went over to Spike and threw her arms around his neck. “When do we start the fighting training?”
“Tonight, after your homework.” Spike seemed to be answering out of reflex.
Dawn disappeared upstairs.
“Um, yay?” Xander said.
Spike laughed so hard he fell back onto the bed.
Xander finished up the grouting in the bathroom. Once it cured he’d declare it operational. He was tempted to delay telling the girls it was almost good to go. If he didn’t sneak in before they knew, he suspected he and Spike would be the last to taste the fruits of their labor. Then again, giving Dawn first crack might dispel any left over animosity. He surveyed their work and was pleased. He’d insisted on a huge mirror covering most of one wall. Spike had grumbled but it made the modest sized space appear huge. He’d sprung for a gi-normous water heater to fill the two person Jacuzzi tub, and he wasn’t thinking of Willow and Tara in that tub, really he wasn’t.
He took particular pride in the cabinets. He’d invested many hours in the hard to carve walnut, and he had loved every minute of it. Feeling the wood take shape under his hands had been glorious.
He stretched and returned to the basement room. There were still things he wanted to do in here. Eventually he wanted to enclose the washer and dryer in their own little room to cut down on the noise, possibly build a big closet next to it for storage. For the moment though, it looked finished. Once he was talked out of more lurid colors, Spike had agreed to ivory paint on the walls. Xander regretted that cost and practicality resulted in the floor being a laminate that mimicked a wood floor instead of actual wood. Still, it gave the space a warm, lived in feel that went well with the new furnishings.
Xander’s musings were interrupted by Spike coming back downstairs. “Finished already?”
“Yeah, wasn’t that much to it.” A mischievous grin spread across his face. “Want to sneak in a shower before we tell the girls?”
“Tempting, but we’ll be paying for it years from now, and you know it.”
Spike’s logic was irrefutable. Didn’t mean he didn’t think about it. “So how’d the homework go?”
“History paper finished, and if she doesn’t get an A I’ll eat the teacher.”
“You do realize just how disturbing that image is, right?”
“Hey, I’m sacrificing here. Give me a hell of a migraine it would.” It was good to see Spike grin in that semi-evil way of his. Being back in Dawn’s good graces meant the world to him, anyone could see that. “Best get upstairs and eat your dinner. Rupert’s having his go at the Lil’ Bit. Soon as he’s finished we’ll start your first combat lesson.”
With a jaunty salute he climbed back up to the kitchen. Tara was puttering at the stove when he entered. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “So, what’s for dinner?”
“Stroganoff sound good?” She stepped aside to reveal a steaming pan.
Xander grabbed a plate. “Load me up. I have a feeling I’m going to need my strength.”
Tara giggled and dished up the meal. “I think Spike plans to put you through your paces.”
“I take solace in the fact that if he hurts me, he gets a headache.” He procured a Coke and tucked into his dinner. “You know, I’ve fought him before, without the chip.”
Tara’s eyes widened in amazement. “I didn’t know.”
“Oh yeah, twice.” Xander nodded sagely. “Well, in the sense I was swatted aside like an annoying bug but, hey, lived to tell about it.”
That earned him a fresh bout of Tara giggles, and he considered himself well rewarded. He hadn’t felt this good since before the final battle with Glory. He was very careful not to voice those sentiments lest he jinx them.
Half an hour later he was back downstairs. Spike had pulled out a couple of old training mats and spread them in the middle of the floor. Dawn was practically vibrating with the focused attention she’d gotten tonight.
Spike rubbed his hands together as if he was about to cause serious damage. Xander tried to remember the last time he’d seen the chip activate. “Right, children. Start with the basics, shall we?”
“Cool! Where’re the swords?” Dawn was bouncing on her toes as she looked around for weaponry.
“Safely packed away. You’re learning to fall tonight.”
“Think I’ve got that covered,” Xander grumbled. He was all too acquainted with landing on his posterior.
Before he could offer any further protest, Spike hefted him like a sack of potatoes and flung him at the mat, where he landed with all the grace of that selfsame sack of potatoes.
Spike growled and pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead like he was trying to hold his brains in.
“Serves you right,” Xander said indignantly. He rolled slowly to his feet and rubbed at his offended backside.
Dawn sniggered at the both of them, then squealed when she found herself deposited hard next to Xander.
She scowled. “That wasn’t fair, I wasn’t ready.”
Spike shook off his discomfort and began his critique. “You really think the monsters are going to give you fair warning? That’s why you need to learn. You need to be able to use the momentum of the fall to roll yourself back to your feet. Lying all sprawled out like that you’re a perfect target for a follow up attack.”
He motioned Xander over. “I’ll give you a thrill, lackbrain. Throw me over there, like I just did to you.”
Dawn scurried out of the way. Xander hefted Spike up with far more difficulty than was good for his manly ego and threw him at the mat. Spike barely touched the mat before he did a shoulder roll that resulted in him standing back on his feet in a crouch.
“I still say it isn’t fair,” Dawn insisted. “You’ve got those vampire reflex thingies.”
“So have most of the things you’re likely to fight,” Spike countered. He turned to make his point to Xander. “You’ve been lucky. Fighting with the slayer, the bad guys would knock you down then turn their attention to the real threat. You get a few seconds to get yourself back into the fight. If you’re caught alone, or perceived as a threat, you get knocked on your ass and you’re lunch.”
Xander squinted at Spike. “Can you show me that fall again, a little slower?”
They took the next day off to recover from their bruises. Xander felt modestly optimistic about his progress. Spike still flung him about like a rag doll, but he was recovering his feet pretty quickly by the end of the lesson.
A cloud appeared in his sunny sky when Jonathan called to inform them Warren had developed a freeze ray, which he planned to use on a heist of some kind. Where, he didn’t know.
They scanned through everything they could find looking for likely targets. Hours later Willow exclaimed from her laptop, “Oh! I think I found it!”
They crowded around her. She had the website of the local museum up. A large diamond, supposedly with mystical qualities, was set to arrive the next day.
“Be tough to fence a rock that big,” Spike commented.
“I don’t think Warren wants it for the money,” Tara said.
“There’s any number of spells you could enhance with a mystical gem that size,” Willow explained. “It would be a powerful focal point.”
“So, when would he make his move?” Xander asked.
“No way to be sure, but it won’t be here long,” Willow scanned the article as she spoke. “I’d guess tomorrow night, right after it arrives.”
“Do we call the cops?” Dawn asked.
“Sunnydale PD isn’t up for much beyond traffic stops,” Spike opined. “We’ll have to take them out ourselves, call the cops in after.”
“Whoa.” Xander said. “What do you mean we, white man?”
Spike scowled at him. “I mean that three or four of us stake out the museum and nab them, what do you think I mean?”
“You’re not going.” Xander said with finality.
“The hell I’m not.”
“They’re human, Spike. As in they can hurt you, you can’t hurt them.”
Willow broke in at this point. “I think Xander and I should be able to handle a couple of geeks.”
Spike turned a fierce glower on her. “Geeks can have guns. You bulletproof all of a sudden?”
This started Willow bouncing in her seat. “Oh, I’ve been practicing this great shield spell, bullets would bounce right off it.” Tara smiled indulgently and put her hands on Willow’s shoulders.
“To bounce where exactly?” Spike was far from convinced.
“Sounds like a good reason to keep us down to two then,” Xander interjected.
It was clear Spike was unhappy with the arrangement, but he saw he was overruled. He leveled an accusatory finger at Xander. “This time, you stay well behind Red, you understand? Your luck, you’d catch every ricochet.”
Xander mock saluted at him. “Private Harris, reporting to the rear of the column, sir.”
He could tell Spike wasn’t very happy with that.
They weren’t able to get in touch with Jonathan before they moved to stake out the museum the following night. There were only two entrances, the front doors for the public and a rear loading dock. Willow took the front and Xander took the back. Willow had set up a mental link between them before they left the house.
*This is one great big bust.* Xander heard Willow whine in his head. That still wigged him out big time.
He barely restrained himself from responding out loud. *I really wish you wouldn’t do that, Wills. I feel like a mental case.*
*It’s just a little telepathy, silly,* she chided. *If I could do it long range we could save a ton on cell phones, it’s handy.*
*And entirely freaksome. I don’t think they’re coming tonight. Maybe,* He caught movement out of the corner of his eye on the side of the building. *What’s that?*
*Isn’t that my line?*
*Hang on, I’m gonna see if I can’t get a better line of sight.* He hugged the wall of the alley and eased his way over to the corner. He couldn’t see much, just movement in the shadows, and a metallic scraping noise up on the roof. By the time he was even with the corner, and thought to look up, all he got to see was a pair of legs disappearing onto the roof.
*Dammit Wills, we forgot about the skylight.* He refrained from kicking the wall in favor of edging around the building.
*Come around to the front, I’m trying to jimmy the lock. I think I can bypass the security system.*
Xander hugged the wall, alert for anyone on the roof who might be looking down. Two tense minutes later he made it to the next corner and spied Willow at the front entrance, head bent over the lock. He moved to shield her from view.
“How long is this going to take, Willow?” he whispered, bouncing in place while scanning the street. It was a good thing Sunnydale tended to roll up the streets around midnight.
“Just give me a minute,” she whispered back in a distracted voice.
Xander spent the next few minutes, each several hours long, rehearsing what he would say to the nice police officer who pulled up and asked what they were doing. He’d gotten up to having left his pet hamster inside, when Willow’s triumphant voice declared, “Got it.”
They wended their way through two exhibit halls, and had to duck behind a sarcophagus to avoid detection by Rusty, the night watchman, before they got a view of the room with the diamond.
Jonathan was suspended from the skylight, fumbling at his waist where the wires attached. Warren was cutting into the case covering the diamond. A blond headed kid that must be Andrew had a ball in his outstretched hand, and he was chanting.
“Don’t do this, Andrew,” Jonathan growled at him as if he was threatening to destroy some precious possession.
A bright flash of light had them shielding their eyes. When they blinked the spots away, they saw Andrew looking bewildered, and Warren pocketing the diamond. He shook his head like he didn’t expect any better from his cohorts.
“Guess we won’t be doing this the easy way after all.” Warren pulled out a gun and leveled it at Jonathan.
Xander moved to charge Warren, when Willow put out an arm to stop him. He looked down and saw she was chanting under her breath. The shield spell he presumed.
Lucky for them, Warren seemed to have taken the evil villain correspondence course and was busy monologuing. “Tough luck, Sparky. We were just gonna leave you hanging around. You’d be a babbling idiot who didn’t remember his own name, much less ours but you’d be alive.”
Jonathan stared back at Warren and said nothing.
Warren shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll find myself another pair of dupes. Scrambled eggs-for-brains here will take the heat, you’ll be dead, and I’ll be home free. Now, let’s see if that Teflon magic you’ve got works on bullets.”
Jonathan shut his eyes.
The hell with staying to the rear, Xander couldn’t watch Warren shoot Jonathan down in cold blood. Before he could move, Willow stood up shouting, “Hey Warren, over here!”
Warren spun to face them and fired, two or three shots. Willow was propelled back into Xander, and they both went sprawling.
Xander was up again immediately, feeling over Willow for injuries. He fully expected his hands to come away bloody. She hit at his hands in irritation. “Watch the hands, mister.”
“I thought you were hit!”
“Gotta figure out how to dissipate the energy,” she muttered. Xander helped her to her feet, then they both lurched over to the scene of the crime. Xander figured Rusty should be showing up any second.
Warren lay against the display case, his limbs splayed out around him, a shiny, wet stain growing on his chest. Willow kicked his gun away, Xander could tell she’d always wanted to do something like that. Xander plucked a pair of wire cutters from a passive and confused Andrew and cut Jonathan down.
“Thought I was a goner,” Jonathan confessed.
“Nah, we had your back,” Xander eased him down from his suspended position.
Jonathan clutched at something under his shirt. “You aren’t kidding. If Willow hadn’t amped up this reflection amulet, that would be me.” He pointed to Andrew, who stared back like a baffled two year old. “We’ve known each other since first grade. How could he do that to me?”
Jonathan seemed more hurt than angry. Xander wished he had an answer for him.
“Guys,” Willow’s voice was thin and quavery as she knelt beside Warren. “I think he’s dying.”
Rusty came skidding around the corner and stared at the scene, obviously trying to make sense of it.
“Call 911!” Willow demanded. One more look told the man he was out of his depth, and he scampered off to the phone.
“It was a perfect plan,” Warren mumbled, then his eyes tracked to Jonathan. “You didn’t suspect I knew. I made sure.”
“You’re right, I didn’t,” Jonathan glanced at Willow and Xander. “Just lucky I had friends.”
“Guys, we need to get out of here,” Xander urged. He pulled Willow to her feet. “He’s calling the ambulance,” he assured her. “There’s nothing we can do here.”
A series of wet, rattling coughs issued from Warren. Willow’s eyes were fixed on his prone form until Xander and Jonathan pulled her from the room.
Xander kept them moving until they were five blocks from the museum and the sound of approaching sirens, then they paused to take a quick breather and assess any damage. Willow was very far from her happy place.
“Giles told me the spell wasn’t ready, but I was so sure.”
Xander didn’t think she was actually talking to him. He’d heard her go into these out loud internal monologues before. He turned his attention to Jonathan for the moment. “How you doing, champ? Were you hit?”
“Oh God.” Jonathon paled. Apparently, the possibility hadn’t struck him before. He patted at his chest and arms as if he wouldn’t have noticed a bullet hole by now.
Willow covered her mouth in alarm. “I could have hit you!”
Xander gripped her shoulders, shaking her. If he didn’t break Willow out of her self-reproaching headspace they wouldn’t get back to the house for hours. “But you didn’t, you hit Warren, and I can’t say I’m sorry about that.”
Xander had a passing thought for his own lack of feeling on the subject. Warren was human after all, and they didn’t kill humans. But Warren had been about to kill Jonathan and had tried to kill him and Willow. Sympathy for his possible demise just wouldn’t come. In the meantime, he had people he cared about to shepherd safely home.
“We need to keep moving, they’re going to be looking for us,” he said.
“No, they won’t.” Willow spoke casually, greater matters on her mind.
Xander gripped Willow’s shoulder tighter, the fabric of her fuzzy, black jacket tickling his fingers, in an attempt to draw her attention back to him. “Want to run that by me again?”
“I cast a confusion spell on us before we left the house. Anyone who saw us in passing wouldn’t be sure of what they saw. By the time Rusty gets back, he’ll convince himself that Warren and Andrew were alone in the room.”
Xander pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes, then shuddered briefly when he realized he was channeling Giles. “Willow, what have we said about casting magic on people without telling them?”
Right on cue the defensive tone came up. “But it was just a tiny spell, hardly anything at all. Giles and I thought it would be useful in the field. I’ve been studying it for weeks.”
“You still should have told me.” Xander remained steadfast in his irritation. A glance at Jonathan had him wondering if he needed to find a paper bag for the kid to breathe into. Thinking that talking might stop him hyperventilating he asked, “What happened tonight? Why didn’t you call us?”
Jonathon had one hand braced against the wall of the nearest building as if he could soak up it’s stability through physical contact. Swallowing convulsively he replied, “They were watching me like hawks, I couldn’t slip away. Should have known they’d figured it out. But I thought we’d do the robbery and then catch them with the stolen goods. I thought actually robbing a place would wake Andrew up, you know?” Jonathan looked at Xander with wide, hopeless eyes. “Guess I was pretty stupid, huh?”
“No.” Xander threw his arm over Jonathan’s shoulders. “You trusted him, and you tried to save him. That’s never a stupid thing. Look, I don’t think you should be alone tonight. How about you come home with us?”
Jonathan gave a grateful nod and they continued on their way.
Back at the house, they found Spike and Tara waiting up for them.
“Who’s hurt?” Spike demanded by way of greeting.
“No casualties for the home team this time,” Xander assured, trying to move past him into the living room.
“I smell blood,” Spike insisted, grabbing Xander’s arm and violating his personal space to sniff at him.
Xander shook himself loose from the vampire’s grasp. “Yeah, well, the other team wasn’t so lucky.”
Tara was holding Willow’s blood-smudged hands and looking like she wanted some answers.
“I think I killed Warren.” Willow’s little-girl voice always cut Xander to the quick. He foresaw some long soul searching nights ahead.
Giving her hands a speculative look, Spike cocked an eyebrow at her that clearly indicated she should continue.
Willow’s mood spun to attack mode. “You were right! Okay! Ricocheting bullets are dangerous, is that what you wanted to hear?”
Tara tried to shush her, whispering frantically that Dawn was asleep, but Willow tore away from her and went charging upstairs. Tara turned to them with an apologetic look and followed her up.
Xander stared after them for a minute then turned back to Spike. “In a nutshell, Andrew’s mind-fried and Warren was shot. Bad. We’ll find out how bad tomorrow.” He turned his attention back to Jonathan. “We don’t really have a guest room so you take mine and I’ll bunk with Spike.”
“Really, I can just go home,” Jonathan protested edging back for the door.
Xander was having no arguments at this point. “I have to be at work in four hours. Spike has a king-sized bed downstairs. Let me grab some clothes for in the morning, and I’m going to bed. Maybe I’ll actually get to be the first one to use the new shower.” He turned a commanding eye on Spike. “Any objections?”
Spike seemed more amused than anything else by this sudden string of the-way-things-were-going-to-be. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Good. C’mon Jonathan, I’ll show you where things are.” He marched upstairs with Jonathan trailing uncertainly in his wake and Spike smirking after him.
Xander descended the stairs to the basement too tired to wonder if he’d made the right decision. He’d settled Jonathan in his room with a few vague directions on the location of towels and spare toothbrushes. The night’s adrenaline surge had worn off on the walk home, and Xander was painfully aware of how little sleep he was going to get before he had to be at work. He had his tools, his hard hat and a change of clothes, and it would take an impending apocalypse to keep him from tumbling into bed.
Spike wasn’t in the basement, and he hadn’t passed him on the way down. He wasn’t up for speculating on where the vampire might have gone. Possibly the thought of sharing bed space with one Xander Harris had sent him off for a late patrol. If so, Xander would likely have the bed to himself, since he’d be getting up right before sunrise.
Stripping down to t-shirt and boxers, Xander slipped into bed and was asleep in seconds.
A hand gripped his shoulder and shook him out of his sound sleep. “Sorry, mate,” Spike’s voice floated unwelcome to his ear. “S’time to get up.”
Xander tried to burrow deeper into the covers. “What time is it?”
“Little after 6.”
Xander pried one eye open to glare at the fuzzy numbers on the alarm clock. It was 6:15, meaning he had about enough time to grab a shower and a pop tart before he had to be out the door.
“Dawn christened the tub last night.” Spike was seated on the side of the bed now. “Was in there for over an hour. Think she drained the water heater twice. You get first crack at the shower though.”
Not able to cobble together enough brain cells to come up with a worthwhile response, he grunted as he pushed himself out of bed and staggered to the bathroom.
He turned on the shower massage and the overhead rain shower spray and went to empty his bladder. By the time he was finished, steam was billowing out of the stall. He climbed in and let out a heartfelt sigh as the hot water pelted his skin. He stood with his hands braced on the glass in front of him, just feeling the hot water pound into his back and neck, while, from above, he was gently soaked. He would have loved to stand there for half an hour or more, but he didn’t have that kind of time, so he grabbed the soap and washcloth and gave himself a quick scrubbing.
He exited the shower feeling much more human. One of the big fluffy bathsheets was hanging on the towel rack. He rubbed himself down, luxuriating in the soft absorbency of the huge towel and the lingering warmth of the bathroom. The towel wrapped around his waist, he cursed himself for not bringing his toiletries down last night. Then his eyes fell on the bathroom counter. There sat his deodorant, razor, in fact all his toiletries, neatly laid out.
He stared at them like alien objects for a moment. Willow and Tara had both disappeared into their room before the sleeping arrangements had been made. Even if Jonathan had thought about doing it, he wouldn’t have known which toothbrush was Xander’s. That left Spike.
This wasn’t the first time Spike had been considerate, and it was doing his head in. It was against all the laws of the universe. He almost hoped he found one of the items was booby-trapped. It would be easier than figuring out how to deal with Spike being nice.
He thought about his and Spike’s changed relationship while he went through his morning routine. Sure, they still sniped at each other, but it had been quite awhile since there was any real venom in it. He’d gotten comfortable trusting Spike, relying on him. Xander’s feelings had grown from manly solidarity against the overwhelming tide of estrogen in the household to genuine caring. He’d always assumed Spike still kept a healthy level of animosity toward him. Guess he was wrong. This level of thoughtfulness smacked of outright affection.
Clean shaven and ready to get dressed, he exited the bathroom in quest of his clothes. Fortunately, they hadn’t moved from the chair he’d thrown them on earlier that morning. He started getting dressed when movement from the bed caught his attention.
Spike was snuggled into the warm indentation Xander had left when he got up. Spike was face down with the burgundy sheets pooling at his waist. Looked like he hadn’t changed his habit of sleeping in the nude.
He could imagine the way Spike’s back would feel under his fingertips. Satiny skin stretched tight over lean muscle and the knobs of his vertebrae. How his flesh would warm under his touch.
Abruptly, Xander realized he’d been standing with one leg in his pants, staring at that expanse of flawless, milk white skin. It was definitely time to enter the dating pool again. If the repress button was that faulty, then humiliation and disaster was just around the corner.
He finished getting dressed, keeping his eyes averted from the beautiful body in the bed. The smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen was a sufficient siren song to drag him upstairs.
He filled his travel mug with freshly brewed caffeine goodness, grabbed his pop tart and headed for the door with just enough time to make it to work. His progress was stopped when he spotted Jonathan in Xander’s bathrobe, sitting on the floor in the living room. He was watching the local news with the sound turned down low.
“What are you doing up?” Xander asked. The Magic Box didn’t open for another two hours. Plenty of time for another hour of quality sleep. For that matter, given last night’s activity, he doubted Giles would object to opening late today.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Jonathan said fiddling with the robe’s tie. “I had to know what happened, and I couldn’t call the hospital.”
Xander nodded his understanding. If Warren talked, the police could be looking for Jonathan right now. There was very little chance Warren wouldn’t try to pin the whole thing on Jonathan the minute he got to talk to a police officer. It had to be nerve wracking. “Have they reported anything?”
Jonathan stared more intently at the tight knot holding the robe closed. “Yes.” He looked like he couldn’t figure out how to feel about the news he had to deliver. Finally, he looked up and managed two words. “Warren’s dead.”
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