Rating: NC-17
For Ponders_life, who wanted post-NFA, post-disaster S/X.
Many thanks to ChyldofEternity for the beta.

Deciphering Fire


Xander hates flying.

It's not that he worries about the plane crashing; he doesn't. It's more that there's something highly unnatural about it -- like being in one of those haunted houses where balls dropped onto the floor roll uphill instead of down. It's just wrong.

But there are times when you have to do stuff you don't like, and Xander's not dumb enough to think that he was past that, even setting aside the kinds of reminders that they all get on a regular basis.

In this case, it's a phone call from Dawn that has him on a flight from Cleveland, where he's been for almost a year, helping Faith and Robin keep an eye -- just the one, in his case -- on the Hellmouth there. Andrew's there, too, but Xander spends a lot of time not thinking about Andrew, or at least trying not to think about Andrew.

He knew something was wrong as soon as he picked up the phone -- Dawn's voice was small and worried, breathy, and he'd been quick to reassure her that whatever was wrong, it would be okay, they'd figure it out. The shock when he'd heard that her problem was an unwanted pregnancy and an irresponsible boy that bailed as soon as he knew had been intense, but Xander's over that part of it now. You don't grow up in Sunnydale without learning how to move on quickly.

The plane is making its approach, getting ready to land, the flight attendants -- all women except for one guy who sets Xander's gaydar off like whoa -- making their way up the aisles to make sure everyone has their seat belts fastened. The blonde, the one who reminds Xander of a frailer version of Tara, smiles shyly at him as she bends over to check to see that he's strapped in, which is so totally unnecessary that Xander knows it's her way of flirting with him. She's pretty in a perfect sort of way that he would have been attracted to years ago.

While Xander waits for his suitcase to appear through the apparently-magical system of conveyor belts, he digs the folded piece of paper out of his pocket and looks at it just to make sure, but Dawn told him she'd meet him here in the baggage claim area. He keeps looking around for her, but there's no sign of her, even though he knows to look for her with shorter hair.

He's just stepped forward to grab his battered suitcase with its collection of travel stickers when he hears a shocked voice behind him. "Xander?"

Xander turns and swings his suitcase into Spike -- he hadn't realized how close he was standing. Spike swears and steps back, looking astonished, so fucking surprised that Xander doesn't even know what to say.

"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" Spike asks.

"I'm supposed to be meeting Dawn," Xander says, looking around for her futilely in the crowds again.

"No, I'm supposed to be..." Spike trails off and frowns.

"Sounds like she pulled one over on both of us," Xander says. "Are you okay?"

"Of course I'm okay," Spike says, clearly irritated. "Takes more than a bump on the knee to hurt me -- you know that."

"Yeah... sorry." Xander puts his suitcase down and notes that Spike is holding one, too. "What do you think she would have done if one of our planes had been late?"

"Been in a hell of a lot less trouble than she's going to be once I get my hands on her," Spike growls, and Xander remembers what it was like to have the sexier version of that growl directed toward him.

"You don't think the whole story was a lie, do you?" Xander asks. He'll be really, really mad at Dawn if it was.

"You mean the part where she's got a bun in the oven?" Spike says. Xander's a little surprised that Spike would use that kind of language about Dawn -- anyone else and it wouldn't surprise him to hear worse, but Dawn's always been special. To Spike; to everyone. "Doubt it. Sounded real enough to me."

Xander nods. "Me, too." It's okay like this, with both of them focusing on the problem instead of each other. "So what now?"

Spike looks around. His hand makes the aborted motion Xander knows well -- the one where he starts to reach for a cigarette before remembering he's somewhere he's not allowed to smoke. "I've got her address somewhere. We'll find her."

"At least it's after dark," Xander says. "Huh. That way." He points toward the escalator and they both start in that direction. Spike hangs back and lets Xander step into the escalator first -- there's a good amount of space between them because of their suitcases, and Xander is just turning to face Spike to say something to him when he realizes that the building is trembling, a sound like the high-pitched whine of an airplane suddenly getting louder and louder and making everything shudder.

Xander hears Spike say, "Xan -- " and then there's an impossibly loud sound, an explosion, and the escalator falls away beneath him.

He doesn't feel the impact of his body landing.


Spike doesn't lose consciousness when what feels like half the bloody building falls in on him; he clings to it stubbornly despite the hot pain in his arm that tells him it's broken in addition to half-crushed. "Xander?" he chokes out. There's no reply, although he can hear people all around him -- breathing, whimpering, dying.

It's been more than two years since he saw Xander last, but Spike refuses to believe that any of the sounds he can hear are Xander. Xander might be unconscious, but he's not dying. Not dead.

He shoves himself up, struggling valiantly against the weight that's pressing him down, determined, but he's stuck fast. His arm's pinned, and the pain that streaks through him's enough to have him gasping.

"Xander!" He puts everything into it, then goes as silent as he can, listening.

There's no answer.

The sounds of the people around him fade into the background as Spike waits, hopes. He remembers all sorts of things -- the way Xander had looked at him after the first time they'd kissed, that one eye filled with wonder, is the one he keeps going back to. Better than remembering the fights they had, fights that Spike started for reasons so complicated there was no way to define them.

Time drifts, and Spike goes along with it. He thinks about tearing out of there -- he might be strong enough to do it, even if it meant leaving the arm behind, but he can't quite bring himself to.

Soon, he tells himself.

Xander finds him before it comes to that.

"Spike?" Xander's voice is low, rough. He chokes, and Spike wishes fiercely that he could see him. "Spike!" Louder now.

"Here!" Spike says, waving his free hand even though he knows there's no way Xander can see him. "You all right?"

"Yeah, I'm okay." Xander's voice is closer. "Talk to me."

"I'm caught," Spike says. "Something's on my arm. Think it might be part of the floor from above." He shuts his eyes. "I can't shift it on my own."

"It's okay," Xander says. "Just hang on."

"Not like I've got anywhere to go," Spike says, almost laughing. Giddy. Xander's alive, and that's all that matters.

Some of the debris that's on top of Spike but out of his reach moves, and Spike winces away from it as dust comes raining down on him. "Spike?" Xander asks.

"Right here," Spike says. "Try not to drop anything too big on my head, all right?"

"I'm trying." There's the sound of something else shifting, and a chunk of what Spike's pretty sure is metal slams onto the floor an inch from his face. Spike swears, and Xander says, "Sorry! Sorry. Hang on." A few seconds later a big piece of drywall is moved, and Spike can see Xander standing above him. "Jesus, Spike."

"Yeah, well, he could walk on water. Don't know if he could levitate large objects." Spike tries to laugh, but the place where the edge of the beam, if that's what it is, is cutting into his arm just below the elbow hurts like hell.

"How bad is it?" Xander asks, his eye scanning. There's a cut above his eyebrow; it gives his face a crooked sort of symmetry, not that Spike cares. He's just so glad to be able to see him.

"Bad," he answers shortly. "See if you can get someone to help shift it."

Xander ignores him and moves more loose rubble before grabbing onto the beam and straining to lift it off of Spike. Spike can practically hear his muscles tearing, can definitely hear the growl that Xander probably doesn't even know he's making as he gives it everything he's got, but the beam doesn't move, not even slightly. "Fuck," Xander pants.

"Find someone else," Spike says. "Go on." He twists his mouth into something like a grin. "Take your time. I'm not going anywhere."

"Shut up," Xander says, but he goes without saying anything else. Spike can hear him for a while -- talking to people, reassuring, then moving on, further away, until his voice is lost under the other sounds.

Again, Spike waits, and he's not the patient sort. He spends a few minutes trying to see if he can change position enough to get some leverage to lift the beam that's got him trapped, but it's no use, and the effort leaves him growling -- sounds more like a whimper, but it's really a growl -- in pain.

Lying on his back, looking up, Spike sees the sky.

It's early morning; he doesn't know what time. Dark still, but it won't be that way for long, and he's a sitting duck, dust waiting to happen. "Harris!" Spike shouts, not having planned it.

Someone else calls out, and then Spike can hear other people reassuring, moving heavy objects. Where the bloody hell is Xander?

A stranger bends over Spike suddenly, a woman. There's drying blood in her hair; she reaches down to touch his face and Spike lets her, not thinking until it's too late that it might reveal too much. "You're in shock," she says, feeling how cool his skin is. "It's okay. There are people coming -- police, rescue people. We'll get you out."

"D'you see my friend anywhere?" Spike asks. "Tall bloke, dark hair? Eye patch? He went to go find someone to help move this." He gestures at the beam with his free hand.

The woman straightens up and looks around, then shakes her head. "No."


"I'm Meredith," the woman says, crouching down and touching his arm so gently that it doesn't make things hurt worse.

"Spike," he says tightly, waiting for the constant pain to flare into sharp agony again.

"It's okay," Meredith says. "I'm not going to mess with it. You're really stuck."

"Really. Never would have guessed." Spike's voice is so sarcastic it's a wonder the bird's not offended, but she just smiles faintly and stands up again.

"Oh, I think I see your friend."

Thank bloody hell. Spike manages to keep still while he waits, manages not to struggle, but the relief that washes over him when Xander's worried face appears is so strong that it leaves him weak and trembling. "Look up," Spike says, because that'll be enough.

Xander looks up at the gradually lightening sky through the hole in the roof and pales. "Fuck."

"Couldn't find anyone to help?" Spike asks. He knows Meredith and Harris won't be enough, not on their own. "What about something sharp?"

There's confusion on Harris' face for a few seconds, then resolve replaces it. "No."

"Better than the alternative, inn'it?" Spike says.

"No." Xander moves down somewhere near Spike's feet and grunts. The beam that's got Spike pinned shifts, settles, and Spike screams all the air out of his lungs, the sound tearing the inside of his throat to what feels like ribbons.

Warm hands on his face.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Xander's saying, soothing as best he can with gentle touches. "God, Spike, I'm so sorry." There're tears in his eye.

"S'okay," Spike gasps. He looks up -- the sky's lighter than it was the last time he looked. "Go on and get something. Somebody's got to have a pocket knife, right?"

"What are you talking about?" Meredith says, and Xander turns and snaps at her.

"Go find something we can use as leverage. Something strong. Go!"

She goes, and Xander looks at Spike again, anger and fear warring on his face. "No. No way," Xander says.

"I'd heal up a treat, pet," Spike says gently, needing Xander to be okay with it so that he can, too. "Better than being a pile of dust."

Xander shakes his head. "No." Doesn't surprise Spike that he's stubborn, of course -- that's one of the reasons they'd ended up together in the first place. Xander'd decided he wanted Spike, and refused to take no for an answer. Fucking wooed him, until Spike had no choice but to open his eyes and see how incredible the man standing in front of him was.

Now he might not have a choice but to walk away from a part of himself, literally. At least Spike knows it won't hurt as much as walking away from Xander does.

"At least look for something," Spike urges. "Could be an axe or something, locked up. In case of fire."

"We aren't even talking about this," Xander says, looking around. "We're going to get you out of here."

"Xan --"

"Shut up," Xander says, wheeling on Spike with a searing fury. "Just shut the fuck up! We are not cutting off your fucking arm, do you hear me? And you're not suggesting it, like it's no big deal. You don't know, okay? What it's like. So just shut up and give me a minute to think."

Silent, Spike studies Xander's face. It's flushed but determined, and for a second Spike thinks about asking Xander to kiss him, just once, in case it's their last chance.

Then Meredith comes back with three security officers with delusions of grandeur, and between the four men they manage to get the beam off Spike's arm. He's not sure whether to be relieved or sick, and ends up being both at the same time, curled up around his ruined arm with Xander's hand on his shoulder.

He fucking hates being sick. Been hours since he had anything solid, and throwing up the liquor he drank on the plane is like throwing up acid.

"Is there an ambulance?" Meredith asks.

"Don't worry, I'll find one," Xander says. His hands feel so bloody good on Spike, even through his clothes, even wrapping a torn t-shirt around Spike's arm and pulling it tight. Hurts so much that Spike dry-heaves again, clinging to Xander's hand. "Okay, sweetheart, okay. I know."

Hearing Xander call him that again's enough to snap Spike out of it, for a moment, anyway. Long enough. "Got to get out of here and figure out what the hell happened," he says, struggling to his feet with no small amount of help from Xander.

"It sounded like a plane crash to me," Xander says.

"More than one," a security guard says. He's got a gun holstered in his belt, but Spike figures he's never used it. "We saw two, outside. The one that hit the building and another one that came down in the parking lot."

"Two at the same time?" Xander sounds doubtful. "What are the chances of that?"

"Not bloody likely," Spike agrees. "Come on."

Xander waits until they're far enough away to say to Spike, in a low voice, "The sun's rising."

"I know." It's all Spike can do to stay on his feet and moving forward; if it weren't for Xander's arm around his waist, he'd collapse. "You go. Get me settled somewhere, come back when you know."

"No way." Xander shakes his head.

"Don't be stupid," Spike says sharply. "I'm no good like this, and you know it."

"Yeah, well, I also know there's something we can do to change that," Xander says, and Spike wants to answer; he really, truly does. But the floor's rising up to meet him. The last thing he hears before he loses consciousness is Xander's worried voice, and the last thing he thinks is that it's going to be a long fucking day if they spend it taking turns passing out.


Spike doesn't give him enough warning -- Xander almost drops the vampire on his face. "Spike? Shit."

He lowers Spike the rest of the way to the floor, then looks around, trying to find a safe place to hole up for a little while. Now that they've moved away from the part of the building they'd been in, the walls and stuff are in better shape, but the chaos around them is still pretty chaotic. There are people bleeding and screaming and some of them are even running around, but Xander's too distracted by Spike to pay enough attention to any of it to figure out what's going on.

Hefting Spike over his shoulder, Xander moves off to the right and shoves open the door to the stairwell, ignoring the 'emergency only' sign. He almost expects something to happen -- a blaring alarm, more security guards coming running -- but it's surprisingly quiet, and dark, inside. Xander gently lowers Spike to the floor, cradling the vampire's head with one hand as easily as if he's done it every day for the past year instead of just wishing he'd been able to.

Spike's always been pale, but now he's so white that his skin's almost transparent. The t-shirt Xander tied around his arm five minutes ago is soaked through with blood, but Xander thinks maybe the bleeding is stopping now.

Even if it is, that doesn't change anything.

You can't fly with a knife, not even a little pocket one, but Xander has his keys in his pocket, and one of them is sharp enough to do the job. It's just a ragged wound, not deep; he drops his keys onto the floor with a clink and pulls Spike closer, cushioning Spike between his updrawn knees and leaning against the wall as he presses his forearm to Spike's mouth.

"Come on, baby," Xander coaxes. The endearment is as natural as blinking; even that thought makes his eye socket ache. Everyone's been telling him to get a prosthetic eye for ages, but he keeps putting it off. Spike was the only one who ever understood why he didn't want one.

Spike whimpers and twitches, his tongue coming out to lick at his lips.

"That's it." Xander hopes he sounds less afraid than he feels. Cold flick of Spike's tongue across his skin, then Spike slides into vamp face and bites down.

It hurts. Xander knew it would; he's not stupid, even if he had hoped that all the erotic stuff about letting a vampire feed from you was true. It sucks that here, now, is the first time he's ever felt it, but he needs Spike, and this is the only option he's got.

After a minute, Spike makes a little sound of pleasure in the back of his throat and reaches up to hold onto Xander's arm. Xander lets him, trying to ignore the pain of vampire teeth sunk into his flesh and concentrating instead on Spike's expression as he feeds. "Good," he murmurs. "Good. That's it." He strokes Spike's hair with a touch more like a lover's than a friend's; he's missed this so much that he aches with it.

Spike swallows, licks, swallows again, and then his eyes open, golden and none the less beautiful for it. He blinks, then shifts back to his human face so quickly that they're both startled by it. "You shouldn't have done that," he says shortly, pulling away.

"Yeah, because having you unconscious is so much better," Xander snaps. "Concentrate, okay? We have more important things to worry about than what I should or shouldn't have done." He grimaces at the sensation of blood trickling down his arm.

"Let me see," Spike says. He's moving easier, at least, like his own arm doesn't hurt as much. He grabs Xander's wrist, none too gently, and looks at the wound. "S'all right." It's a grudging admission, and he's not wrong; the bleeding is slowly, sluggish.

Then, very slowly, Spike lifts Xander's arm to his mouth and licks the skin.

Every hair on Xander's body, or at least it feels like it, stands on end. There's a world of difference between an unaware Spike licking him and this -- this is deliberate, careful, wanton.

Spike raises his head and leans in, still slowly, giving Xander time to stop him, but that's the last thing Xander wants. This is what Xander wants, and when Spike's lips touch his, he moans desperately and surges closer, grabbing two handfuls of Spike's shirt front and holding on, feeding from Spike's mouth as surely as Spike was feeding from him only minutes before.

God, he's missed this so much. Kissing Spike was always an incredible surprise; he can remember the first time, pulling back and staring at Spike with a sense of wonder more intense than he'd ever felt before, and now he's trying to recapture that, to cram everything he's missed in the past year into this one moment, which is obviously impossible, but it's just as impossible to stop.

"Shh, love," Spike murmurs finally, pushing him away. "There'll be time for this later."

Xander gives him a look of disbelief. "What if there isn't?" he asks, gripping Spike's shirt so tightly that his knuckles hurt.

"Then we'll both be devastatingly disappointed," Spike says, brushing his thumb across Xander's cheekbone. "Gotta find Bit, don't we."

Xander had forgotten about Dawn. Jesus. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, yeah, you're right. We do."

They get to their feet, Xander leaning on the wall a little bit more than he thinks he ought to. His head aches. "Wait," he says.

"What?" Spike sounds impatient.

"Just... promise me you won't leave again until we talk. Really talk. Okay?" Xander's sure he sounds as desperate as he feels, and the look in Spike's eyes confirms it.

"I swear," Spike says. "All right?" He pushes the stairwell door open and steps through the doorway. "Where the hell are we?"

"Not too far from where we were before," Xander says, and that's when he smells -- and sees -- the smoke. "Is that -- ?"

"Yeah." Spike grabs onto his arm and drags him back into the stairwell.

"Where are we going?" Xander asks, stumbling then catching himself as Spike starts to haul him up the steps.

"Up," Spike says. "Gotta get to the ground floor, don't we?"

Xander tries to think. Weren't they...? Oh yeah, they'd never actually made it up the escalator. Even in the stairwell there's the smell of something, something wrong, but Xander doesn't think it's smoke. It's sharp like ammonia, and it makes his stomach flip-flop. He gags and stumbles again. "What is that?"

"Magic." Spike slows down, glancing at Xander. "Surprised you can smell it."

"I wish I couldn't," Xander says. "Wait. What? Why?"

"Think you forgot to add 'Where,'" Spike says.

"Not to mention who, but that's not the point. I shouldn't be able to smell it?" Xander's mouth was working faster than his brain.

"Never have before, have you?" Spike shakes his head as they turn the landing. "Something's changed."

"Any idea what?" They get to the next door and Xander pauses with his hand on the crash bar, not pushing the door open until Spike has time to answer.

Spike seems to think about it before shaking his head, but Xander knows him too well. If there's a way someone can lie badly with a gesture, Spike just did it.

"What?" Xander says.

Spike sighs heavily and looks away. "Guess," he says.

"Well, I'd say apocalypse but don't you think that's kind of cliché at this point?" Xander shoves the door open and stares into the open mouth of what he's pretty sure is a dragon.

The dragon snarls and belches and gets a look in its beady eyes that tells Xander it thinks he looks like a tasty snack, and Xander... can't... move.

"Shut the bloody door!" Spike shouts, and does, getting the metal surface between Xander and the gout of flame that shoots out of the dragon's mouth in the nick of time.

In a trembling voice, because he's shaking all over, Xander says, "Apocalypse, anyone?"


Spike's cursing under his breath; should have known it was a dragon. It hasn't been that long since he saw one, even if Angel was the one that got to fight the bloody thing.

The dragon gives a roar and slams its head against the other side of the door, which pushes Spike into Xander.

"That's a dragon, right?" Xander asks, wild-eyed.

"Doesn't look like a poodle," Spike agrees, as the dragon smashes into the door again. "Upstairs," he orders, and shoves Xander in the direction of the stairs.

They stumble up to the next landing, and Xander turns and pushes Spike against the wall hard enough that Spike's arm shrieks in protest. But Xander's mouth is on Spike's, God, so fucking warm, and Spike can't help but clutch at him.

Can't help but want him.

"What the hell was that?" Spike asks, when Xander pulls back from the kiss, gasping for breath.

"Just in case we don't get another chance," Xander explains, and then they're moving up the stairs again. The dragon must have turned its attention somewhere else -- to someone else -- because it's not smashing its head into the door anymore, but Spike's distracted by the taste of Xander's blood in his mouth and the memory of Xander beneath him, lips parted, eyes wide, as Spike...

Xander shoves the stairwell door open and shouts, teeters on the edge of the crumbled floor. Spike grabs onto him and jerks him back.

"Jesus," Xander gasps. "Think we could have stuff like this stop happening any time soon?"

Below them, the dragon looks up through the missing floor and snarls.

"Place is a death trap," Spike says, as someone screams and the dragon whips its head around and snaps at whoever it is. "Bloody hell." Fucking heroism -- he can't just go off and let the dragon eat a bunch of people, can he, as much as he wishes he could. "Stay here. You hear me?" he says to Xander.

Xander's eye goes wide. "Oh, no. You're not -- "

"Stay here," Spike says again, raising his voice, then turns and leaps through the doorway, falling to the floor below.

The fall is faster than he'd expected -- space is smaller than it looks -- and he almost misses his target, but he manages to grab onto the big scales at the base of the dragon's neck just before he slides off it. The dragon shrieks and adrenaline charges through Spike like a freight train, filling him with joy.

"That's right," he tells her -- knows it's a girl, somehow -- and barely evades her snapping jaws when she turns her head to bite him. He laughs. "Weren't counting on someone like me, were you!"

He's not as aware as he should be of the daylight filtering in through the shattered roof above him; he's more aware of Xander standing in the doorway above, watching, in danger. The dragon flings her body to one side, rolls, and Spike loses his grip on her. He hits the floor hard, sliding through a patch of sunshine just a bit too diffuse to do more than superficial damage, and slams into a huge chunk of concrete that used to be a wall before it became a floor. He grunts in pain and looks up -- just in time to see one of the dragon's feet coming down toward him.

Spike throws himself out of the way with a fraction of a second to spare and hears, dimly, the sound of feet on metal stairs. He curses, knowing beyond a doubt that it's Xander and wishing he'd done something a little more stern than telling him to stay where he was, like tying him to the bloody railing.

The dragon's still coming at him, of course, so Spike jumps to his feet, dives behind a crumbled wall, and narrowly misses being turned into a kabob when the dragon breathes a gout of fire that engulfs the spot where he just was.

There's a clanking noise and the dragon turns its attention in the other direction. Spike catches a glimpse of Xander standing in the open doorway to the stairwell with a metal bar in his hand; he bolts to his feet and shouts at the dragon, waving his arms above his head, desperate to draw the thing's attention away from Xander. "Hey! Hey, dragon! Over here!"

The dragon hesitates, and Spike takes advantage of the moment to yell at Xander, "Get out of here, you moron!" before the dragon's forearm comes flying at him and knocks him clear across the room.

By the time Spike blinks the blood out of his eyes, the dragon's already headed for Xander again, and Spike feels a viciously cold slice of fear because he knows, knows deep down in his soul, that there's no time to get there and stop what's going to happen.

He staggers to his feet anyway, but before he can do more than get himself upright, there's a near-blinding flash of light. Spike winces away from it involuntarily, throwing an arm up to protect his face, and when it's gone the dragon is lying collapsed on the floor, eyes opened, unmoving. Dead.

"What the -- ?" Spike starts, and then hears a familiar voice from his right.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find you guys in the middle of this," Dawn says. Her hair's shorter than it was the last time he saw her -- it'd make her look older all on its own, even if it weren't for the gentle swell of her belly underneath the thin salmon colored fabric of her dress -- and her hand's raised like she had something to do with what just happened. In fact, as Spike stares at her in shock, she shakes her hand casually and a thread of silver-white magic crackles between her fingers.

"What the hell was that?" Xander asks, open-mouthed, pointing.

Dawn rolls her eyes. "Are you the only person on the planet who hasn't seen Lord of the Rings? It's a dragon."


Surprised enough that he can barely put words together, Xander stammers, "But... with the... and the..." Was it Dawn that just killed the dragon?

"Come on," Dawn says, gesturing. "We need to get out of here while we still can. There's another one of these things out there flying around."

"Another dragon?" Xander asks stupidly.

"Don't think she's talking about planes, love," Spike says, and Xander is struck stupider by the fact that Spike just used that word again. It's been so long. "Only one problem, Bit; sun's up."

Dawn shakes her head. "We'll figure something out."

"Not that easy," Spike says. It's a lie and all three of them know it. It makes Xander wonder what the hell is going on in Spike's head.

"Everything's easy," Dawn says.

And the scariest thing is, Xander's pretty sure that's the truth.

"Thought I told you to stay up there," Spike says, falling into step just behind Xander as they follow Dawn.

Xander shrugs. "Since when have I listened to what you told me?" It comes out sharper than he meant it to, and there's a pause before Spike answers.

"Never," Spike admits, then, more quietly, "Not that you owe me anything, now."

It's such a shock as far as admissions go that Xander almost trips over his own feet -- he'd never, ever thought he'd hear Spike say something like that, plus he's not sure what to make of it. "If you're talking now as in right now, I probably don't," Xander agrees.

"Could you guys save the deep meaningful conversation for later?" Dawn says, turning. Her shirt is pulled tight across her stomach; Xander wonders if it's a natural human response to want to put a hand on her belly, to feel the life growing there. Not that he doesn't know better than to try it -- the memory of Willow with magic crackling from her hands is a little too strong just now. "I really think it's a good idea if we get out of here."

There's the sound of people screaming outside; it makes Xander's gut tighten up, and he realizes that he's holding Spike's hand. He doesn't even remember reaching for it.

"Stay close," Dawn orders, and steps through the broken door frame out into the fractured sunlight, her hair gleaming like gold.

"Um, Dawn..." Xander discovers that Spike is following her and balks, digging in his heels. "Hey!"

"It's okay," Spike says, and gestures up over his head.

Xander looks up. There's... something, floating there, a dense gray cloud that seems to be absorbing the sun's rays right above Spike. "Oh look," Xander says faintly. "Spike's Eeyore."

The glare Spike gives him would be scary if it weren't for the fact that they're still holding hands. "Don't even want to know who that makes you," Spike says.

"Probably Owl," Dawn says, grinning. She doesn't explain how she made the magical sun-blocking cloud, and Xander doesn't ask because he's too busy watching the carnage going on around them -- demons, people screaming and running around. There's a split in the pavement like an earthquake opened the earth up. Maybe it did. "Come on -- this way."

They follow Dawn the equivalent of three or four blocks before she falters, suddenly pale.

"Bit?" Spike says, and lets go of Xander to grab onto her just as the cloud thing starts to dissipate.

"Fuck. Spike, go!" Xander takes Dawn from him -- her hands are cold -- and Spike runs the two hundred feet or so to the shadow of the nearest building, getting underneath the awning outside the door where he's protected from the sunshine.

Dawn doesn't argue when Xander scoops her up. Even pregnant, she doesn't weigh much, and Spike's got the door to the small building open by the time they get there.

There's a couch inside. It looks like it's seen many, many better days, but Dawn sighs with relief anyway when Xander sets her down.

"Sorry," she says. "I don't know what... I guess I don't really know what I'm doing." And with one hand holding Xander's and the other gripping onto the front of Spike's coat, Dawn starts to cry, and Xander and Spike are helpless in the face of her tears; all they can do is pat her awkwardly and murmur reassurances as the world outside continues to fall apart.


By the time Dawn falls asleep -- not that it takes long, she's exhausted -- Spike is just about ready to close his eyes and join her. Been a stressful day, what with the flight and all, not that he'd admit it, and the moment in which he'd believed that Xander was about to die had been like a lifetime.

Gone quiet outside now. He's not sure if that's good or bad; either way, they're stuck where they are until nightfall.

"Transportation office," Xander says, looking up from where he's been rifling through the desk drawers. "Or something."

Spike pulls down the window shade the rest of the way, hissing as the thin stripe of sunlight burns the edges of his fingers. He shakes his hand and sits down in a chair that's even less comfortable than it looks, wishing there was another couch in the place. They're probably lucky they've got the one, though. "Doesn't matter," he says. "Not likely to be any weapons no matter what sort of office it is."

"No, but if I could find some kind of map I might be able to figure out where some might be," Xander says.

Spike gives him a withering look. "If you think I'm going to let you out of my sight, you're further off the deep end than I'd imagined."

"And again with the needing to remind you that you don't get to tell me what to do," Xander says, shutting the drawer and straightening up. Easy to forget how tall he is; in this small space, though, Spike remembers. Xander sighs. "Don't worry; I wouldn't leave you and Dawn here." Then, as Spike opens his mouth to protest, adds, "No, I know that's not what you meant."

Dawn murmurs and shifts in her sleep, one hand settling on her bump. Spike can't resist reaching out and touching her.

"Is she okay?" Xander asks softly.

Spike nods. "Yeah. Worn out is all."

Xander moves closer, watching her. "She didn't tell me she was so far along."

"Nor me," Spike admits. "Thought she'd just found out." He glares at her even though he knows it's wasted effort. "She set this up."

"Uh-uh," Xander says immediately, shaking his head. "I don't care what's happened, she wouldn't do something like this. She -- " Spike's expression must derail Xander's train of thought, which is what he intended it to do. "Oh. You didn't mean the apocalypsy thing."

"No." Spike shifts uncomfortably in his chair. "I meant getting the two of us in the same place at the same time."

Xander leans against the desk. "I would have come anyway," he says quietly. "Even if I knew you were going to be here."

The tone of Xander's voice hurts. "Knew you weren't happy with the way we left things," Spike says. His arm itches where it's healing. "But I thought it would be easier on both of us this way."

"With you telling me that I was better off without you and then leaving?" Xander asks. He drops his head down into his hand and rubs his forehead. "Maybe this isn't the best time to be having this conversation."

"Probably not," Spike agrees, and reached out toward Xander. "Come here."

And Xander, much to Spike's relief, does; kneels on the floor at Spike's side and puts his head down in Spike's lap. Spike begins to pet his hair immediately -- second nature, even after all this time apart. "You left me," Xander whispers, his voice so soft that no one but a vampire would be able to hear it.

"I'm sorry," Spike says. It's the truth, just like it's the truth that leaving was one of the hardest things he's ever done. "Thought you'd be better off without me."

Xander snorts and runs a hand up the back of Spike's calf. "I wasn't," he says. "I'm not."

If it's time for confessions... if this is the last night they have together, considering what's going on outside the little office they're trapped in... "Missed you so much I could hardly stand it," Spike says, running his fingers through Xander's hair then down along the side of his neck. "Think there's a bathroom in here? Probably ought to clean this up." Xander shivers when Spike's fingertips brush over the small, blood-encrusted wound.

"It's not like it's going to get infected," Xander says, but he gets up and goes over to the other door in the room, pushing it open cautiously. "Oh, nice. This makes my place look clean." He flicks the light switch and goes through the doorway, and Spike hears the sound of running water.

On the couch, Dawn shifts again, but she's sleeping.

Spike gets up and goes to check the outside door -- he broke the regular lock when he shouldered the door open, but there's a deadbolt. Seems strong enough.

"Looks better," he tells Xander from the bathroom doorway.

Xander jumps and whirls around. "Jesus!"

"Sorry," Spike says, meaning it. He reaches out to soothe Xander. "Forgot you wouldn't be able to see me."

"I can't believe you're here," Xander says, pulling Spike closer, one arm around his waist. He nuzzles at Spike's throat and Spike gets hard instantly. "You're really here, right?"

"Yeah," Spike says. Now that he's got Xander pressed close to him again, it's hard to remember why he ever left, and he makes a rash promise. "Won't leave you again, love. Not if you don't want me to."

Xander takes Spike's face between his hands and looks into his eyes. "I'll never want that," he says seriously. "But don't make promises you can't keep, okay?"

"You think I'm lying to you?" Spike asks, offended.

Xander looks at him for a long few seconds before he shakes his head. "No -- I think you mean it. But we're kind of in the middle of a disaster here, and -- "

Deciding he's heard enough, Spike kisses him.

The sound Xander makes is startled, but he moans happily almost immediately, his big cock hardening against Spike's thigh, and Spike aches with the need to have that monster inside him, splitting him open. "Want you to fuck me," he mutters between kisses.

Xander groans again, more loudly, and shudders. "Dawn?" he whispers.

"She's asleep," Spike says, refusing to feel any guilt. "Won't know, will she?"

Apparently it's a good enough argument for Xander, who's already undoing the front of his trousers and taking out his cock, grabbing Spike's hand and wrapping it around the heated flesh. "Promise you won't leave me again," Xander pants.

"I promise," Spike says, working Xander's cock with his fist. "I swear it." He wants Xander so much that he can't believe he ever left, and he's pretty sure he's stopped caring about all the things that made him leave in the first place. Fuck thinking that Xander'd be better off without him; together they can do anything.

"Spike... Spike..." Xander's eye's closed, his hands rough on Spike's arse. "Christ I missed you so much. Fuck."

Been too long -- Xander's ready to come just like that, and Spike, not wanting to miss it, drops down to his knees and takes Xander's cock into his mouth, swallowing it all down as Xander gasps and curses and comes.

Xander shudders when it's over and pulls Spike back to his feet, kissing him breathily. "I love you," Xander says, and that, of everything, is what starts Spike trembling and brings tears to his eyes.

"Don't see how you could," he says gruffly. "Not after what I did."

"Yeah, well, I don't see how I couldn't," Xander says, forcing Spike to look at him. "It's not the kind of thing I know how to stop doing." He runs a hand down to the front of Spike's jeans and rubs Spike's aching cock through the fabric. "I love you," Xander says again, and Spike can feel his eyes widen as he comes, just like that, nothing more than a touch and a few whispered words.

He knows he ought to feel ashamed of himself for being so easy, for having so little self-control, but he's not.

It's always been like this with Xander. That's the one thing Spike's never forgotten.


"How's it feel?" Xander asks, brushing his fingers over the torn fabric of Spike's shirt sleeve. He can't see the arm itself from the position they're in.

"S'all right," Spike says gruffly.

"You were pretty casual about it," Xander says. "Back there." The edges of the fabric are stiff with dried blood, and he's glad he doesn't have the sense of smell Spike does because he's happier not smelling it.

Spike shifts, pressing against Xander for warmth, or so Xander thinks. It's quiet outside; it has been for a while, actually. "Wouldn't have been the first time," Spike says finally.


"In L.A., there was this girl," Spike starts.

"What!? Wait! I don't want to know," Xander says, but Spike shakes his head. There's a little grin on his face, the kind Xander always wants to kiss off of him. Or maybe hopes to kiss on.

"Not like that," Spike says. "She was crazy. In an asylum. Turned out she was one of the potentials."

Xander is confused. "And that has to do with you being all casual about cutting off part of your body because...?"

"I did say she was crazy," Spike points out. "Thought I was some bloke that'd kidnapped and tortured her as a little girl. Decided the best way to keep herself safe from me was to make sure I'd never touch her again." He holds up his hands. "Cut 'em both off."

"Oh my god." Xander inhales sharply, caught up in the horror of it. He takes both of Spike's hands in his and brings one of them to his mouth, just holding it there against his lips.

"Wasn't so bad." Spike shrugs the lie. "Not like I had to live with it long term, right?" There's sympathy for Xander in his voice, which Xander simultaneously craves and hates.

"You never told me," Xander says. It's not what he should be focusing on, but he knows that nothing good would come of him focusing on what he really wants to focus on, and wow, look at that, he's babbling inside his own head now.

Spike sighs and leans in against Xander. "Didn't think about it all that much -- whole thing didn't last more than a week. That's not so long when you've been around more than a century."

Gathering Spike closer, both arms around him, inhaling the faint scent of whatever shampoo he uses, Xander sighs, too. "You're full of shit," he says.

"No m'not," Spike mutters against Xander's collar bone.

"Yes, you are."

They're sitting on the floor, leaning on the sofa Dawn's sleeping on. It's probably only a couple of hours until sunset; in some ways, Xander is actually glad that they're stuck here. It kind of takes the pressure off. He's starting to get worried about Dawn, though -- she's been asleep for a long time, and there's no way to know how much all that magic took out of her.

"I wish my phone worked," Xander says. He'd tried it before, but for whatever reason it won't even turn on, even though it had been working fine until everything went all apocalypsy.

"Not much anyone could do from where they are anyway," Spike tells Xander's neck. Jeez, it gives Xander goose bumps and an erection to have Spike's words blowing air across his skin like that.

"I know, but I'd feel better if I knew that they knew." It's stupid and he knows it, but the thought that Buffy and Giles and Willow might not have any idea what's going on bugs him. "Do you think they know about Dawn?"

Spike shakes his head. "Don't you think Buffy'd be here if she did?"

"But did Dawn tell us because she wanted an excuse to get us back together? Or did she not want Buffy to know?" They're just hypothetical questions, and Xander's not sure he even wants to know the answer to them.

Behind them, Dawn stirs. "Buffy?" she murmurs.

Spike turns and pats Dawn's ankle. "Nope, Bit. Just me and Harris."

She mumbles something Xander can't understand and rubs her belly, low down. It's almost like a caress, to the point where Xander looks away because it's too intimate -- it feels wrong to watch her.

"Dawn? Wake up now, that's a good girl." Spike must be worried about her, too.

"Spike?" Dawn opens her eyes and looks at them, then sits up quickly. "Are we okay?"

"Yeah, we're fine," Spike says, glancing at Xander and smiling a little bit. "Pretty quiet out there."

She curls her legs up underneath her, wrapping her arms around herself. "What happened?"

Xander turns around. "Do you mean while you were asleep, or in a more esoteric sense?"

"Either. Both." Dawn shakes her head and yawns. "I guess I figure there was some kind of Hellmouth thingy. Like, a magical explosion or something? It was like there was this... and then there was all this magic. It's not like I accidentally swallowed it with my prenatal vitamins, right?"

"I don't think magic works like that," Xander agrees. "Wait, you're taking vitamins?" That made it sound like Dawn wants the baby, and he'd sort of had the opposite impression, before, on the phone.

"Uh-huh. They make me want to barf, but you have to if you don't want, I don't know, the baby to be born without half its spine or something." Dawn's hand strokes over her stomach again, almost unconsciously, and she looks suddenly worried. "The magic won't do that, will it? Hurt the baby?"

Spike gets up and sits on the arm of the couch. "Wouldn't think so. Witches have been having babies as long as everyone else."

"I'm not a witch," Dawn protests, but she doesn't sound convinced.

"I think we should be worrying less about that and more about what the hell we're going to do next," Xander says. "How far is your place from here?"

Dawn shrugs. "I don't know. I mean, it's not like I measured. I don't even have a car."

"Right," Xander says slowly. "A car."

He can feel Spike's eyes on him as he crosses over to the desk and pulls open the drawer he'd been looking in earlier. Yup, right where he'd seen them before -- a whole collection of keys with little tags attached to them. Xander chooses one at random and holds it up where Dawn and Spike can see it.

"Tah-dah," he says, grinning.


"Cut it out!" Xander says from the front seat, and Spike seriously considers clamping a hand over Dawn's mouth if it'll get her to stop shrieking. "Do you want me to crash?"

Dawn's eyes are huge in her pale face. "You're not even watching the road!"

"Well, that could have something to do with the fact that my eardrums are being ruptured," Xander snaps. His knuckles are white.

"Oh, so now intact eardrums are necessary for driving?" Dawn snaps back.

Spike, refusing to be the voice of reason, especially under the circumstances, says sharply, "Both of you shut up. Barely missed being turned into a cinder by a dragon -- I don't fancy picking myself out of a car wreck to top off the day," and they both go quiet. Thank God.

The streets are mostly deserted, but there're cars everywhere, so Dawn's got a point about Xander needing to watch where he's going. It hadn't taken long to find the SUV that matched the keys -- it'd been close enough to the building they'd holed up in that they probably could have left hours before they had, if they'd only known. Now all they have to do is... well, that's the problem, isn't it? They're going back to Dawn's flat because it's the only place any of them are familiar with, but that doesn't mean it's any kind of a solution.

"Ow," Dawn says beside him, and Xander glances in the rearview mirror, alarmed.

"What?" Xander says.

Dawn shakes her head. "Nothing."

"Baby's kicking?" Spike guesses, and Dawn nods.

"Not hard," Dawn says. "It's not big enough for that. Yet." She grimaces and licks her lips. "I'm just not used to it. It feels weird."

"But you're okay, right?" Xander asks.

"Yes, mom," Dawn says.

Spike resists the urge to tell them to shut up again.

For about four seconds.

"Shut up," he says. "Both of you. Not going to say it again." He's got better things to do than listen to the two of them bicker like children; he's watching out the windows, all around. Just because things seem calm doesn't mean they are.

Just then, there's the sound of a woman screaming. Dawn's hand slips across the seat and finds Spike's, and he squeezes her fingers.

"Getting close to your place?" he asks her.

She swallows. "I think so. Um, right at the end of this street."

"Got it," Xander says, then goes quiet again.

Spike thinks maybe he liked it better when they were arguing. The silence just emphasizes how fucked up things are, and none of them need that.

"There," Dawn says, pointing. "That's my building."

Someone's just running up the steps toward it, struggling to unlock the front door, and there's something chasing him -- some sort of demon, Spike doesn't rightly know or care what sort, because Dawn lets go of his hand and gives him a wild, pleading look, and he's out of the car before it's even stopped, ignoring Xander's strangled shout and the feel of what might be a yard of skin being scraped off his palm as he falls and catches himself and runs.

In the background there's the sound of the tires on pavement; it's accompanied as always by the sharp hot smell of rubber. There's blood in the air, sweet, and Spike keeps his eyes on the young bloke being manhandled by the demon. Thing's got more mouths than arms, and that'd be saying something, but Spike's too busy jerking it away from the kid. Or what he'd have called jerking if the thing hadn't outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds -- it barely moves when he tries to toss it, and then it's got hold of him. He doesn't let go, though. Result is they both go arse over kettle down the stone staircase -- assuming the demon's even got an arse. They run out of momentum halfway down with the thing's weight solidly on top of him.

Spike can hear some muffled sounds, then there's -- well, whatever it is burns through him with enough power to fry more than a few brain cells. Can't even scream, it's so strong, but when it's over the demon's gone and he's left twitching there.

"Spike?" Bit's voice. "Oh my god, did I kill him?"

"He's already dead," Xander says. It's a valiant attempt to sound casual, but Spike knows better. Knows that voice as well as his own. Xander's hand settles on Spike's chest. "Come on. We need to get him inside."

And since Spike can't move or, apparently, talk, all he can do is lie there as Xander manhandles him up over a shoulder and carries him into the building.

Spike can see -- and not that it isn't a nice view, dangling where he can see Xander's arse -- but he can't say anything, not even when he catches a glimpse of the young kid following them. Seems like Dawn's on top of it, though.

"Are you okay?" she asks him. "What's your name?"

"Joe," the kid says. "I can't find my mom." Kid's got to be in his mid-teens at least, but going through something like this tends to bring out the child in people -- Spike's seen it before. "She went out to get milk, and then the power went out, and... that was a monster, huh?"

"Basically," Dawn agrees. "You can stay with us until we find her, okay?"

There's the sound of a key in a lock, and then Xander's jostling Spike through a doorway and down onto a couch. Kneeling beside him. Spike moves his eyes deliberately toward Xander, hoping he'll understand. "Yeah, I know," Xander says, picking up one of Spike's hands. "It's okay. Can you move your fingers?"

With effort, Spike makes his fingers twitch -- not much, but enough. The movement sends little zaps of pain through his nervous system. He does it again, and manages a bit more movement.

"Good," Xander says, rubbing his hip.

"Is he okay?" Dawn sounds anxious; Spike can't see her, but he can hear her well enough.

"I think so. Whatever it is seems to be wearing off," Xander tells her.

Dawn makes a sound of relief, then says something to Joe half under her breath. Spike can hear them moving around, but he's focused on Xander, who's gently rubbing his arms and legs.

Xander sees him watching and raises an eyebrow. "What, you think I won't use any excuse to get my hands on you?" he asks softly. Spike manages to move his arm enough to grab Xander's hand, and Xander smiles. "There, see? It's coming back. We're safe here. No hurry."

Maybe it's the lingering results of whatever magic Dawn shoved through him when she was toasting that demon, but Spike's feeling revoltingly sentimental. Wants to call Xander all sorts of stupid pet names, wants to hold him close and just breathe in the scent of him, all warm and human and alive.

Good thing he can't do anything but lie there.

Xander's massaging Spike's hand now, one finger at a time. Each touch is slow, deliberate, driving the confusion from Spike's misfiring nerves and warming him at the same time. He can move his feet easily now, flex his toes inside his boots.

"How's he doing?" Dawn asks, her voice suddenly closer, and Spike can turn his head to look at her where she's leaning over the back of the sofa.

"Better," Spike says; his voice feels too wide for his throat, but at least he can talk again. "Next time, try something else first, yeah?"

"I didn't even know I was going to do that," Dawn says. "It was as big a surprise to me as it was to you."

"Somehow I doubt that," Spike grumbles, struggling to sit up. Xander helps him without a word, getting him into a position where he can lean against the arm of the sofa. Bit looks worn out -- there are dark circles under her eyes, and her hand is resting on her bump, stroking it mindlessly. "Looks like you ought to get some sleep," he says.

"I did," Dawn reminds him. "Remember?" She gives Xander an arched look. "I think I fried his brain."

"Nah," Xander says easily. "He was always this stupid." It's said with affection, but that doesn't mean Spike's going to let it slide by without comment.

"Like you should talk," he says, punching Xander in the shoulder, but there's not enough force behind it and he hopes that'll be blamed on his overall weakness. "Got more sense than the lot of you put together."

"Uh-huh." Xander seems unimpressed.

"He doesn't look dead to me," Joe says, coming over to join Dawn. His thin upper arm's bare where she cut his shirt away from the wound she bandaged.

"It's kind of a long story," Dawn says.

Joe looks worried and twitchy. "I want to go see if my mom's back," he says. It's not asking if someone will go with him, but they all know that's what he's doing.

"Okay, come on," Xander says, getting up. Spike can hear something in his knee grind as he does it. Fuck humans and the way they get old. "Is it on this floor?"

Shaking his head, Joe says, "No, it's up two."

"Take a weapon," Spike says, because there's no point in telling Xander not to go.

"Right," Xander says. "I'll just pull one out the artillery that's handily located in my ass."

Joe's eyes widen, but Dawn just rolls hers and says, "I haven't gone totally mundane, you know. There's some stuff in the cupboard next to the fridge."

Xander and Joe go to check it out the supplies, and Spike shifts himself into a more comfortable position, flexing his hands. There's only a faint prickle left to show anything was wrong. He gets up, cautious, waiting to see if his legs will hold him, but they do.

Dawn's watching him, ignoring Xander and Joe as they rattle a sword and some kind of club from the tangle of vacuum cleaner hoses in the tall cupboard. "I'm sorry," she says.

"Don't be. Killed the demon, didn't you?" Spike tilts his head to one side and gives her a little smile.

But she bites her lip, frowns. It's quiet, Xander and Joe not saying anything where they are, a few yards away. "Yeah, but that's not what I meant," Dawn says, and Spike sees what she's talking about -- for bringing them here, together, for tricking them, and he smiles again.

"Don't be sorry," he repeats, and lifts his head to meet Xander's gaze, that one gorgeous brown eye, perfect enough that it almost makes up for the fact that the other was lost. Xander looks back at him, steadily, and Spike answers for both of them. "We're not."


Xander takes Joe back to his apartment and watches the joyous reunion with his mother. He leaves the club with them, telling them to stay inside and keep the doors and windows locked and the blinds down. "We'll come back and check on you later," he says, and goes back to Dawn's apartment, where Spike jerks him anxiously inside.

"It's okay, his mother came back," Xander says, suddenly tired. All that adrenaline rushing around, probably. "Where's Dawn?"

"Went to find some other phone she thinks might be around," Spike says, locking every lock on the door and shoving a chair under the handle for good measure. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Xander says, settling one hand at the base of Spike's skull and running the other down along his throat and chest, reassuring both of them with something as simple as that. Spike's lips are damp, like he's been licking them, and Xander wants him in a deep, primal way that doesn't surprise him at all.

"I found it," Dawn calls from the other room. "It's still charged."

They don't know why this phone works when the others didn't, but it's not like they're going to complain about it. Xander holds his breath as the phone rings and Dawn waits, wide eyed and hopeful, for someone on the other end of the line to pick up.

"Giles? It's me," Dawn says, waving one hand in the air the exact same way she had when she was fifteen and excited about something.

Xander watches Spike's face as Dawn talks, wondering if Spike can hear both sides of the conversation. Spike's eyes go back and forth from Dawn to Xander, and every single time he looks at Xander his lips twitch in something close to a smile.

"I know. I know!" Dawn is saying. "But we're okay. Me and Spike and Xander." She listens, pacing in a tight circle. "I don't know -- a lot." She's frowning. "Are you sure? Really?" She looks at Spike and Xander. "It's just here," she tells them.

"Just L.A.?" Spike asks.

"Mm-hm." Dawn is already talking to Giles again. "How do you know?... Okay. But the airport's, like -- oh. Okay. Right. Uh-huh." Again, to Spike and Xander, "Buffy and some of the other slayers are on their way. They're going to fly into San Francisco and come get us."

Part of Xander wants to wrestle the phone away from her just to be able to listen to Giles' voice on the other end; sure, it's the part of him that's sixteen and wishes Giles was his father, but he got control of that part of him a long time ago.

Well, last year, anyway.

Dawn nods and says "Yes," about six more times before hanging up. She's smiling even though she looks, suddenly, as tired as Xander feels. "Their flight will be in tomorrow," she says, one hand on her hip in the way that pregnant women stand, thumb rubbing the small of her back. "We're supposed to stay here."

"Think we can do that," Spike agrees. "You need to sit down?"

"What?" Dawn sounds confused, then shakes her head. "Oh. No, I'm okay. What I really need to do is get some sleep, I think."

"Because you didn't do enough of that this afternoon?" Xander asks, then immediately wants to kick himself.

"Yeah, you do that," Spike says. "Come on." He takes the phone from her hand and gives it to Xander to hold, then leads her back to the bedroom. Xander can hear him getting her settled, both of them talking in low voices, and he tries not to let himself feel a pang of jealousy. Still, he migrates slowly toward the room, unable to resist listening in on their conversation.

"I know," Dawn says. "It's just... you guys are so good together."

"Sometimes," Spike says. "Sometimes we're bloody awful. You know what we were like."

"That was temporary," Dawn says. Xander can imagine her punctuating it with a wave of a hand. "You would have worked through it."

Spike clears his throat. "Yeah. Well. Didn't have a chance to, did we."

It's quiet for a minute, then Dawn says, "Why did you leave?"

Spike sighs; it sounds weary, like he's been walking away from Xander all this time. "Thought he'd be better off without me," he says. "Not like I've got the best track record, is it?"

"The stuff with Buffy wasn't your fault," Dawn says. Xander's surprised to hear her say it -- there was a long time during which Dawn had blamed Spike for everything that happened between him and Buffy -- and he wonders, from the silence that follows, if Spike is surprised, too.

"Yeah, actually, it was," Spike says. That's not a surprise, Spike blaming himself.

"Not just yours," Dawn says. "Anyway, that's over; this doesn't have to be."

Spike gives a short bark of laughter. "It's not," he says. "Took two years and a lifetime's worth of denial to get here, but now that I am... it was never over between Xander and me."

"And... that's good. Right?" Dawn sounds hesitant, and Xander holds his breath waiting for Spike's answer, creeping closer to the doorway.

"Yeah," Spike says. "Yeah, it's good. I hope." He raises his voice a little bit. "I'll do anything I can to make things right, Pet," he says, and it's clear that he's talking to Xander.

Xander walks the last three steps and leans on the door frame, his eye straining to see in the half-dark of the room. Dawn is in bed, leaning against the headboard, and Spike is sitting on the end of the bed. "I know," he says. He's not sure he gets why it's so easy to sweep aside what they'd been through -- heck, what he'd been through after Spike left him -- but it is. "I know you will."

Spike makes a dismissive noise that Xander knows doesn't really mean anything. "So you going to come clean about how you got in a family way?" Spike asks Dawn.

"I'm pretty sure you can figure that out on your own," Dawn says with heavy sarcasm.

"You know what he means," Xander says, and Spike gives him a grateful look. "Don't you think you owe us that much?"

Dawn looks down. "What is there to tell? There was a guy. I thought he loved me. I got pregnant and when I told him it turned out what he really loved was having sex with me. He disappeared a couple of days later."

"Maybe he'll get eaten by a dragon," Spike says helpfully, and Dawn starts to cry.

"Hey," Xander says, going and sitting down next to her and gathering her against his shoulder. She sounds pitiful, sniffling, and she clutches at him. "I'm sure he won't get eaten."

Dawn gasps and laughs and sniffles some more. "I hope he does," she says with spirit. "Stupid asshole."

Xander pulls back and looks at her. "Dawn Summers!" he says in mock horror. "Did you just swear?"

"Fuck you," Dawn says, wiping her nose on his sleeve in retaliation, and Xander jumps away from her.

"Gah! I can't believe how disgusting you are!" he says, considering taking off his shirt. "Has she always been this bad?" he asks Spike, who's grinning widely.

"Pretty much," Spike says.

"Hey!" Dawn frowns at him. "You're supposed to be on my side."

"Not when you're using my boyfriend as a sodding handkerchief," Spike says.

Dawn grins -- ah, the hormonal swings of fertile women -- and reaches for a kleenex, blowing her nose. "Spike's got a boyfriend," she says in a sing-song voice.

"Damned right I do," Spike says, and gets up and comes over and kisses Xander to an accompaniment of a soft whoop from Dawn. "I do," Spike says, questioning, one thumb tracing Xander's jaw. "Don't I?"

And Xander nods and looks into Spike's eyes and smiles like an idiot as he says, "Yeah. You do," and they kiss again, and again, until Dawn huffs and gets out of bed and shoves them out into the hallway.

"I'd tell you to get a room," she says. "But I guess under the circumstances I'll have to settle for telling you to get out of mine." She shuts her bedroom door in their astonished faces, then opens it again before either of them can move. "And try to keep it down, okay?"


Bit shuts the door again. "When did she get so..." Xander asks, but stops, unable to come up with whatever word he's looking for.

"She always has been," Spike tells him.

"You think she'll be okay in there?"

Xander looks at the door, but Spike says, "Already checked it out. M'not stupid." The windows all lock, and the bed is far enough away from them that Dawn'd have plenty of time to get out of there.

"Yeah, actually, you kind of are," Xander tells him.

"Fuck you," Spike says, not without humor.

"I was kind of hoping," Xander says, and tows Spike toward him and kisses him.

It's not desperate kissing like before, even though their hands are hard on each other's bodies as they undress each other. They're both stupid, really, letting their guards down like this, but it's been so long that Spike can't bring himself to care. He unbuttons Xander's shirt and peels it off him, getting his mouth on every bit of skin he can reach, warm and full of life. Can't let himself think about all the things that might have stood in the way of this moment, this one fucking perfect moment when he closes his hand around Xander's erection and holds it, when Xander's teeth bite down on his neck in just the right spot and makes him groan.

"Not listening to Bit, were you," Spike mutters.

"Shut up," Xander says. "Don't even... when we're -- " Spike's thumb rubbing over the flared head of his cock stops him from finishing what he was about to say, not that Spike needed him to. He knows what Xander was thinking -- that they shouldn't be talking about sex and Dawn in the same breath, which is bloody stupid considering she's in the next room and knows exactly what they're up to. "Oh, fuck, Spike," Xander breathes, shoving his cock into Spike's grip.

"That what you want?" Spike murmurs, kissing him. "You want to fuck me? Put this big gorgeous cock inside me?"

Xander moans softly and his hands finish pushing Spike's jeans down, settle on Spike's hips and tighten there. "God, yeah," Xander says.

Turns into a race then, with the rest of their clothes being shed in an awkward tangle. Spike doesn't care how it happens -- just wants Xan in him, filling him up, fucking him -- but Xander has other ideas and pulls him down onto the couch into his lap, cock poking hopefully against Spike's arse.

"Shh," Xander says, kissing him, touching him everywhere. "It's okay, baby. We don't have to rush."

Spike wants to protest, but hearing Xander call him that takes away any fight left in him and he lets Xander do whatever he wants. Lets Xander kiss him for a long time, opening his mouth up to taste. Lets Xander rub and pinch his nipples until they're pink and sore and each touch makes his cock twitch and leak. Lets Xander slide out from under him and kneel on the floor between his thighs and suck his cock until he's trembling, fists clenched, lower lip swollen from him biting it because no matter what he says he doesn't want Dawn to hear him whimpering.

"Stay here," Xander says, and Spike waits as Xander strides over to the tiny kitchen and opens cupboard doors. Waits and watches, because Xander -- Xander naked from behind, the line of his strong back and shoulders, the soft swell of his bare arse -- is worth waiting for.

Xander comes back, cock jutting out in front of him, with a bottle of cooking oil, and kneels down again.

"Some reason you're assuming I don't have lube in one of my pockets?" Spike asks.

"Do you?" Xander asks, twisting the cap off and pouring a handful of oil into his palm, then wrapping his hand around Spike's erection and stroking.

Spike curses and shudders at the sensation. "Fuck! Love..."

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Xander sets the bottle down and lets his other hand join the first until they're both slick and Spike is gasping and rocking his hips. Then he slicks his own cock and grabs onto Spike's hips, pulling him closer to the edge of the cushion.

On his knees, Xander lines up his cock and pushes slowly into Spike, so slowly that Spike doesn't know if he can stand it. "Xan... love. God." He thinks he can feel Xander's pulse in the cock that's inside him, stretching him wide, and he writhes, trying to get it deeper.

Xander gasps and grabs onto Spike, hard. "Okay, if you're going to do that, this is going to be over really, really fast."

"Then we'll do it again," Spike says, clenching around Xander's cock.

"No," Xander says stubbornly. "We're going to get this right the first time." He pulls out a little and slides back in.

Spike reaches up and touches Xander's face. "Not the first time, though, is it, pet."

"It's the first time this time," Xander says. "And this time's going to be different. Would you please stop distracting me?" He pulls out and thrusts forward again, cock sliding deep into Spike, and Spike clutches at the couch cushion and takes it, groaning.

He remembers how surprised he was, the real first time Xan fucked him. Surprised at Xander's technique, at the way he could go on for what felt like hours, at the way his cock felt made for Spike. Made him mad for it, thinking about it all the time, what it was like to have that big cock driving into him. Made him come again and again.

He's shuddering now, the memory more than enough to take him to the edge, and Xander pulls him closer, keeps thrusting into him, kissing him, cradling the back of Spike's head with one hand. "Jesus," Xander mutters.

Spike licks at Xander's mouth, trying to distract himself from the inevitable. His cock is still wet with cooking oil, the base of it and his balls sliding against Xander's stomach; it's perfect because coming like this isn't easy, and Spike doesn't want it to be. Nothing else about the two of them being together's been easy. "That's it," Spike says encouragingly, knowing what it does to Xander. "Really give it to me."

Gasping, Xander does, moving faster, thrusts jabbing his cock into Spike. "You're so... jeez, fucking hot."

"So are you." Spike watches him, sweat beading along his hairline. "Christ, love." He's close now, so close.

"Gonna come," Xander warns him. Thrusts even harder. "Oh fuck. Oh Jesus, Spike, sweetheart, I'm -- " His head goes back, cords in his neck standing out like a fucking offering, but Spike doesn't need it. He just needs this -- Xander inside him, Xander coming in hot spurts that fill him up, and then Xander fumbles a hand onto Spike's cock and Spike comes, too, like fire and skies cracking open, like the end of the world.

When he's aware again, Xander's out of him and licking the fluid off his belly, hungry for it, and Spike groans. "Gonna kill me."

"You're already dead," Xander says, lifting his face and grinning. S'always been one of the things Spike loves about him -- that he'll just come out and say it, no worries about offending because it's the truth. "I really want to suck you off."

Spike stretches, settling himself into a more comfortable position. "Like I'd say no." And he watches Xander suck his cock, slow at first until he's hard again, then quicker, harder, until Spike's hands are tangled in Xander's hair and he's fucking Xander's mouth. He chokes out Xan's name when he comes, slow and desperate.

After, they lie on the couch together, tangled up, Xander half on top of Spike like a warm human blanket. Xander's head's on Spike's shoulder. It feels good there, right, and this moment's the best one Spike can remember in a long time. There's still a niggling worry that he's going to end up hurting Xander, but he tells himself firmly that worry's for other people. Not him.

Besides, won't let it happen, will he.


Xander jerks awake to the sound of loud, insistent banging like a fist against a door. A slayer's fist against a door, he realizes, just as Spike shifts underneath him and knocks him off onto the floor. "Spike!" Xander says, complaining and rubbing his bruised ass.

"Dawn!" It's Buffy's voice on the other side of the door, and Dawn flies out of the bedroom and unlocks the door, fingers fumbling with the deadbolt even as Xander looks around frantically for his clothes because he's naked and as much as being naked with Buffy was a fond daydream of his at one point in his life, that point is long past.

He manages to grab a shirt -- Spike's, he thinks -- and hold it in front of him just as the door flies open and Buffy comes in, hugging Dawn. Spike is casually pulling on his jeans with his ass to the door like he doesn't care who sees, and the half dozen or so slayers coming into the apartment behind Buffy get an eyeful. Buffy and Dawn are both talking at the same time, with Buffy's voice louder as the shock of discovering Dawn's pregnancy gets the better of her, then Buffy turns her head and looks at him and her eyes go even wider, if that's even possible.

"Xander, where are your clothes?" she asks, just as Spike turns around, zipping up his jeans. "Oh my god." She puts a hand over her eyes. "Dawn, please tell me you were sleeping in the bedroom."

The slayers, only two of whom Xander even recognizes, are snickering even as they lock the door behind them. Dawn smacks Buffy with the back of her hand. "Of course I was!"

"Well, good." Buffy looks at Spike. "Find Xander some clothes, okay?"

Spike grins and eyes Xander appreciatively. "Think he looks pretty good the way he is."

"You would," Buffy says, then makes a face. "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that."

"It's okay," Xander tells her. "Believe me, I want clothes on me just as much as you do." The thing is, he pretty much can't move without exposing more of himself than he wants to. "Spike, come on..."

But Spike's still grinning, running a hand along his bare abdomen sensuously. He's having way too much fun with this.

"Asshole," Xander mutters. He does what he can to wrap the t-shirt around himself in a poor simulation of shorts and stalks out of the room and into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him with a slam.

Might as well use the facilities while he's there. While he's washing his hands, there's a knock on the door, and Dawn says, "Xander? I brought your clothes."

He opens the door a crack to the sight of her worried face. "Thanks."

"Are you and Spike fighting again?" Dawn asks.

"What? No." Xander shakes his head, wanting to reassure her even as she hands over his clothes. "I mean, yeah, but not for real. This is just... Spike being Spike. I still love him, even when he's a jerk. Okay?"

Looking relieved, Dawn nods and goes back to the living room. By the time Xander joins them again, Buffy's on the phone with Giles and Spike's getting ready to light a cigarette. Buffy gives him an impatient glare and glances at Dawn, and Spike sighs and puts the pack of cigarettes away. Xander throws his t-shirt at him; it lands in his lap.

"Uh-huh. Yeah. We're going to get them out of here and then we'll clean up." Buffy nods earnestly even though Giles can't see her through the phone. "Oh, believe me, we know. There were like a thousand of them on the roads between San Fran and here."

"What, police?" Dawn asks, and Buffy nods.

"I don't know, Giles, I think it's pretty well-contained. And now that the sun's up... yeah. I know. Okay, talk to you later." She hands the phone back to Dawn and stands up. "Right. We're out of here."

Dawn frowns. "I just need to get a couple of things. Hang on." She goes back toward the bedroom.

"Okay, but hurry up!" Buffy calls after her. As soon as Dawn's gone, though, she turns to Xander. "Did you know about this? With the-- ?" and she gestures to show a rounded stomach.

"Not until a couple of days ago," Xander says.

"Tried to tell her," Spike says, getting up and pulling on his shirt.

"And the magic thing? Even Giles doesn't know what that's about." Buffy crosses her arms.

Spike grins. "Didn't know about that until she killed the dragon."

"I guess that would come in handy," Buffy says. "It's fine," in the way that means it's not. "We'll deal with it later. Right now I just want to get her out of the city."

"This would be the part where you tell us what the hell is going on," Xander prompts.

Buffy shrugs. Somewhere along the line, and Xander's not sure when it was, she stopped caring why; learned to focus on finding a solution. The rest of it doesn't matter to her, not really. "Something about a crack in fabric's reality," she says, waving her hand. "It's different from a hellmouth thing, Giles says."

"So it was just our bad luck that it happened here and now." Xander sits down on the rickety coffee table -- he could build a better one in an hour -- and puts on his sneakers.

"Good luck," Spike says. "Otherwise Bit would have been alone."

"It was just a temporary thing," Buffy says. "Opens up, lets all kinds of nasties through, then closes again. Giles thinks it was just a fluke." She glances at the other slayers, who are standing back, quiet, letting them work things out. "Anyway, now we're here to clean up the mess." Looking at Xander and Spike again, "I want you two to go with Dawn."

"Where to?" Xander asks.

"I don't care," Buffy says. "Far enough away from here that I don't have to worry about her. It's not like she won't be able to come back -- probably by the end of the week, if things go like we want them to."

Dawn comes back into the room with a small bag over her shoulder, and Xander stands up and takes it from her without a word. She gives him a smile in return. "Okay," she says. "Ready."

"We have a car downstairs," Buffy says. "A couple of us will take you far enough for you to be safe -- an hour and a half should do it, probably. We'll leave you to take the car the rest of the way and head back here, meet up with everyone else." She stops and suddenly hugs Dawn again, tightly. "It's going to be fine," she says. "And once things are a little less crazy, we'll talk. Okay?" She pulls back and looks Dawn in the eyes.

Dawn gets a little bit teary at that, and seeing her cry is one of the few things that makes the back of Xander's throat get tight; he wants to comfort her, but he's reluctant to interrupt the whole sisterly moment they've got going.

He feels a hand touch his waist and turns his head. Spike is standing half next to him, half behind him, and he's there, filling up the empty space that's been there since he left Xander, and Xander knows -- knows, deep down, that everything's going to be okay.

They're together, and nothing else matters.

"Here, before I forget to give it to you," Buffy's saying, and Xander realizes she's holding out a credit card, waiting for him to take it. He does. "For the plane tickets," she says, when he gives her a confused look.

Oh. Right. They're going to have to get on another plane.

"Great," Xander mutters as they head out the door, but the understanding look Spike gives him -- because Spike remembers, he always remembers every little thing Xander says or does -- makes this okay, too.

Funny how he'd forgotten that's possible. It hasn't even been that long, in the grand scheme of things. He looks at Spike thoughtfully as they walk down the hallway, following Dawn and Buffy and the other slayers.

"What?" Spike says, almost irritably.

"What what?" Xander asks.

"Why're you looking at me like I've suddenly grown a third eye?" Spike shoves his hands into his pockets, which Xander is pretty sure he thinks makes him look bigger even though it actually has the opposite effect.

Xander stops, grabs onto him, and kisses him. By the time he's done, Spike's wide-eyed and shyly pleased, lips pink.

"What was that for?" he asks, voice surprisingly soft and gentle.

"You still haven't said it," Xander tells him, which is stupid, because he doesn't need to hear it, not really.

"Haven't said..." Spike shakes his head. "God, how I managed to fall in love with such a stupid bloke is beyond me."

The girls have all stopped walking, too, and are watching them. Dawn is delighted, and Xander wonders how long she's going to stay that way once Buffy finds out about the exciting new magic powers that seem to have sprung out of nowhere.

"Spiiiike loves me," Xander crooned. He starts to turn and Spike whaps him across the back of the head, but not hard. It doesn't even hurt. "Hey! What was that for?"

"You being an idiot," Spike says.

"Wow," Dawn says, hands clasped together like she's the maiden in a fairy tale. "They really are in love."

"God help us," Buffy says, and they start for the stairs, Xander rubbing the back of his head like it hurts and giving Spike little glances as they go.

He can't stop smiling.

Title comes from Pablo Neruda's Poetry:

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

The End

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