Hard-Bitten


by
Whichclothes



Part Seven

The rental car reeked. It had been sitting in the garage, untouched, since Xander fished Spike out of the sewers. The un-air conditioned garage in Chicago in August. Xander was fairly certain there were several new life forms growing inside of it. The Avis people must have felt so, too, because while they were forced to take this car back, and couldn’t charge him extra, they refused to rent him a replacement.

And then maybe he instantly got on some kind of rental car blackball list, because nobody else was willing to loan him a car to drive to LA either. He was discouraged at first, but then had another idea. He called a taxi and had it take him to some nearby car dealerships. A couple hours and some hard bargaining later, he was the proud owner of a used Dodge Sprinter. Or, technically, the Council was. The van didn’t have a trunk to stuff Spike in, but it had been a delivery vehicle in its former life, and the entire windowless back compartment could be shut off from the front, making it lightproof. Spike would have plenty of room to stretch out there. Xander could crash back there while Spike drove, too, which would get them to California all the faster.

The salesman gave him directions to the nearest Walmart, where he bought a big red cooler and a bunch of blankets and pillows. Might as well be comfortable for the drive. He bought a road atlas, too.

He drove back into the city. It was a Saturday and traffic was light. He even found a place to park outside Vega’s store. He was late—he’d promised ten and it was past noon—and he wondered whether the wizard would be there.

He was. As soon as Xander walked inside, Vega hurried over. “Xander!”

“Sorry I’m late.”

“I was worried! I thought maybe something happened to you. Like…like a vampire attack.” As he finished his sentence, he stared pointedly at the red mark on Xander’s neck, which wasn’t hidden by the collar of his t-shirt.

Xander blushed slightly. “Not all vampire attacks are bad things,” he mumbled.

Vega raised an eyebrow. “I thought you weren’t gay?”

“Yeah, well, apparently I’m not particularly straight either.”

“Xander, I know Spike has a soul, but with the spell--”

“Christ! You’re not going to try to warn me off him, too, are you? I don’t think you’re in any position to be doing that, hex-man.”

Vega sighed and nodded. “You’re right. Come here. I have a few things for you.”

Xander followed him over to the counter, where there were several objects laid out. Vega picked up the first one. It was a small plastic pillbox of the kind you could buy in any drugstore. He opened it, and inside was a single pill, a big, dull yellow one. “If you swallow this, you’ll be invisible for four hours.” Xander’s eyes bugged out slightly. “Not inaudible, and people can feel you. They can see anything you wear or carry, too. Even your patch. It just works on your body.”

“So I have to be naked invisible guy?”

“Exactly. And it won’t work for Spike. The body has to be alive.”

“Okay.” Xander took the plastic box and stuck it in his pocket.

Next, the wizard pointed to a knife without touching it. It looked like a hunting weapon, with a wide, jagged blade and a carved bone handle. “It’s enchanted. It’ll be bound to the next person who touches it. Once it’s bound to you, all you have to do is call it, and it’ll find you, even several miles away.”

“How do you call a knife?”

“I’ll show you. Touch it.”

Gingerly, Xander pressed a single finger to the handle. Vega nodded.

“Okay. Stand over there and say ‘kisu.’”

“Hey. That’s Swahili.”

“You know Swahili?”

“A little.”

Vega looked impressed.

“Kisu,” said Xander. The blade came flying off the counter, straight at him, and he had a split second to conclude that this was some convoluted trick of the wizard’s, but then the knife slowed, and it nestled itself gently into his right hand. He whistled. “Wow!”

“Handy, huh?” Vega grinned. “Okay, one more thing. This one’s for Spike.” He lifted a small brown bottle between his fingers. “There a salve inside. If he rubs it on the skin over his heart, he’ll be able to go out in the sun.”

Xander gasped and Vega lifted up his free hand in warning. “Just for one day! After that, it’s worn off and he’ll burn. But it’ll last from one sun-up to sundown. Just make sure he uses the whole bottle.” He held it out, and Xander shoved that in his pocket, too.

Xander was looking at the knife, trying to decide where to put it—walking around the city with a big blade in his hand was probably unwise—when Vega ducked behind the counter. He came back up again with a black leather sheath that was attached to a belt. “Here,” he said, sliding it over the glass toward Xander. “This ought to work.”

The knife fit perfectly, and Xander happily buckled it around his waist. It would still look odd, but be a lot less likely to get him arrested.

Vega came back around the counter and walked with Xander to the door. “I know you said you didn’t want to hear it, but I really am sorry. And I wish we’d met under better circumstances.”

“That whole come-on, with the kiss…that wasn’t part of the get rid of Spike plan?”

“The only thing I planned for you, Xander, was to get you into bed with me. I’m truly sorry that plan didn’t succeed. But it was a nice kiss.” He smiled, and a little sparkle returned to his eyes.

Xander stuck out his hand, and the other man shook it. “It was a nice kiss. Thanks for the toys,” Xander said.

“Good luck, Xander.”



Spike was pacing anxiously across their room.

“What took you so long?!” he yelled as soon as Xander was in the door.

“Transportation arrangements.” Xander set the cooler down on the floor.

“You could have called.”

“Thought you’d still be asleep.”

“Wasn’t.” Spike crossed his arms around himself and stomped to the curtained window, where he stood with his back to Xander.

“Sorry. I’m not used to checking in with someone regularly.”

Spike’s back was stiff.

“C’mon. I got us a cool ride, and Vega gave us some neat stuff.”

Spike swung around to glare at him. “I expect you were having a jolly old time with the wizard.”

“Spike. Power pouting is not a good look on a vampire.” Except it kind of was, because Spike’s lower lip was stuck out a little, and his lashes were lowered, and he looked altogether delicious, actually.

Xander prowled closer until he was almost touching Spike, and then whispered in his ear: “When I got too sulky, my parents used to threaten to spank me.”

Spike glowered a moment longer, then gave in. “Sodding spell. I expect you’d enjoy that.”

“Spanking? Maybe.”

The pout turned into a leer. “Giving or taking, pet?”

Xander leered right back. “It’s negotiable.”

A beat, then, “You’re more bent than I expected.”

“One word, Spike. Anya.”

As Spike looked at him thoughtfully, Xander went to the armoire and began pulling out his clothing. His suitcase was slightly more worse for the wear after a couple of Spike’s fits of temper, but it still held everything. “Want me to put your stuff in here, too?” he asked.

“Yeah. Ta.”

Xander stuffed his luggage full of their clothes and books and toiletries. “Got enough blood for the road, Spike?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m good. Ordered some yesterday, remember?”

“Okay. We can leave now if you want. The van’s vamp-safe, and it’s down in the garage, so you can get to it okay. I’ll take the first shift driving.”

“All right.” Spike looked relieved to be almost on the road. He emptied the contents of the fridge into the cooler.

They took a last look around the room, lifting vases and flowers to make sure they had all their belongings. Xander had made a cash withdrawal while he was running errands, and now he left a dozen twenties on the desk. Maybe that would soften the blow when the maid saw the state of the room.

They picked up their things and took the elevator down to the lobby. While the desk clerk flirted with Spike, Xander signed the bill, wincing at the total. Back in Sunnydale, he could have lived for half a year off that much money.

Spike sneered when he saw the van.

“Okay, it’s not very stylish,” Xander said, shoving the suitcase in the back. “But it’ll get us there. Look.” He pointed at the interior.

Spike poked his head in and took in the pile of bedding.

“Better than a trunk, isn’t it? And it gets better mileage than that De Soto you used to drive.”

“Used to nick Peaches’s Viper,” Spike said mournfully. “It was necrotinted and everything.”

“Yeah? Well, I used to be happy when I got to drive my Uncle Rory’s piece of shit Ford. This is a Rolls Royce by comparison, and I ain’t complaining. So all aboard.”

Spike hoisted the cooler inside and climbed on into the back. Xander showed him how they could close the partition, which had an opening small enough to keep out the light, but big enough that they could still hear each other.

“Ready?” Xander asked, turning on the engine.

“Ready.”

“Westward ho.”



They made good time through Illinois, and it was dusk by the time they got past Des Moines. Xander pulled over at a gas station with a Burger King next door. While Spike filled the van’s tank, Xander filled his own with a Whopper and fries. Then they swapped spots, and Spike took his turn driving while Xander snuggled into the blankets in the back.

“I didn’t tell you yet about what Vega gave us,” Xander yawned.

“A curse, and trouble for Angel?”

“Besides that.”

“What?”

“A magic knife for me, and a pill that’ll make me invisible for a while.”

Spike snorted.

“You’ll probably only use it to spy on birds undressing.”

“Why would I do that when I can see you undressed instead?”

Xander could tell by the set of Spike’s shoulders that he was pleased with that.

“And he gave me something for you, too.”

“Don’t know if I fancy a pressie from a wizard.”

“Oh, you’ll like this. It’s magic goo. Spread it on, and you can be out in the sun for one whole day.”

“Bloody hell!” Spike whispered.

Xander let his eyes fall shut. He’d always liked the feeling of a moving vehicle under him. Back when he was little, his family took an annual trip to Denver to visit his grandparents. He’d stretch out in the back seat, tune out his parents’ perpetual bickering, and just feel the miles roll away beneath him. Trains were even better than cars. And ships—ships were the best of all. Like napping in a rocking cradle.

“What would you do with it, Spike?” he asked sleepily.

“With what?”

“Your day in the sun.”

“Last time I tried to kill the Slayer.”

“Mmm. Gem.”

“Yeah.”

Another huge yawn. “So now?”

“Walk on the beach. Bloody seaside was always cold and wet when I was alive.”

Xander fell asleep as Spike was speculating aloud about whether vampires could tan.



Xander woke up groggy and disoriented. It was pitch dark, and at first he had no idea where he was. Then he remembered, and he realized that the van wasn’t moving. “Spike?” he called.

There was no answer. He sat up and peeked through the partition, to discover that the front of the van was empty. He opened the barrier and peered outside. It looked like they were in a large, empty parking lot, but there were no lights and he couldn’t see much. The moon was full, but it was cloudy out. He glanced at the dashboard. The keys were still in the ignition. Good.

He opened the driver’s side door and stepped outside, stretching and groaning when he first hit the blacktop. They were the only car in the lot. A large building loomed just across the street, and there was a much smaller one off to one side, with a small pool of yellow light around its door. An elevated highway curved behind the lot. He could hear an occasional car zooming by. There was no sign of Spike.

“Spike?” he yelled. No response. Where the hell was he? It’s not like a vampire needed pit stops. Xander called again, louder, but the only answer was the echo of his own voice.

He jogged off to the back of the lot, under the highway. There were some railroad tracks there, and beyond that he could see nothing. Where the fuck were they, anyhow?

He ran toward the small building. There was a sign over the door: Champions Club. Okay. But there were two flags as well. One of them was Old Glory, and the other was red, with a big white “N”. He realized then that the big building nearby was a stadium, and he knew where he was. Nebraska. Lincoln, to be exact. That was helpful, but he doubted Spike had had a sudden yearning for Herbie Husker memorabilia. Where was his vampire?

Uncertain about what to do, Xander returned to the van and leaned against the front. The hood was cool. That meant they’d been parked here a while. He pulled out his phone and glanced at the time. Just past three. Another three hours or so until sunrise. With no better plan of action, and no clue where to begin looking, he sat on the hard tarmac with his back against one tire and waited.

He waited a long time. Maybe even dozed off. But then he heard a noise and he lurched upward, his back stiff and his skin chilled. It was the sound of running footsteps, but with a strange rhythm, and they were coming closer. He squinted into the darkness. “Spike?” he said, slightly hesitantly. The footfalls came faster, and faster yet, and he tensed. And…there! Oh, thank fuck! “Spi—“

Before he could get the name out, the vampire was on him, knocking him bodily to the ground. “Ow!” he said as his head bounced none-to-gently against the pavement.

Spike moved just a bit and Xander’s breath stopped as he got a good look at him. He was vamped out. His face was red with blood, and one whole side of his head was matted with it. An enormous, gaping slash extended from his neck and down his chest. His eyes were yellow and alien.

He snarled at Xander and bared his teeth. Xander felt cool liquid soaking through his clothes, making his stomach and his legs wet, and he realized with a sick twist to his gut that that was blood, Spike’s blood. Spike was badly injured.

“Spike,” he whispered, but the vampire growled at him. There was a whimpering, desperate edge to the sound.

Fuck. He was hurt, and he was hungry, and he needed human blood. Not the animal stuff they’d filled the cooler with because Spike said it kept better, and because it led to fewer hard-to-answer questions if the car was ever searched.

“All right,” he said softly, and he tilted his head to one side, baring his neck before the demon.

Quick as a flash, Spike bit him.

It was different than last time. Yeah, the fangs still hurt. But the last time—was it only a few weeks ago?—it had been that annoying, aggravating vampire who attacked him. That arrogant, snarky, formerly mass-murdering fiend who’d tried to kill him when he was evil and just irritated the hell out of him when he wasn’t. And yet that first bite had still felt very, very good.

But now, this was Spike. The man whom he’d been sharing a room and a bed with, whom he’d spent more time with than anyone in years, whom he’d comforted and laughed with, and into whose body he had blissfully sunk only twenty-four hours ago.

This felt like every inch of his body, inside and out, had been turned into one giant erogenous zone. He couldn’t have tried to stop this if an apocalypse was happening three feet away. Wouldn’t have wanted to. He clutched Spike tighter to him and howled as an orgasm ripped through his body like a tornado. But Spike kept feeding and Xander’s cock was still hard and he felt another gale-force wind gathering in his core and gods, this was a feeling worth dying for. He came again, bucking and thrusting up against that hard body, and little sparkly lights danced at the edges of his vision. He didn’t know if it was from blood loss or the force of his climax and he didn’t much care, because he was pretty sure he could come again before he was drained.

Spike tore his head away and screamed. Xander tried to hold onto him, but he was weak, and Spike was so strong, and Spike was across the parking lot and gone before Xander could even sit up.

Xander looked up at the sky and swore. It was almost dawn.

Using the van for balance, he heaved himself to his feet. “Spike!” he shouted with all his might, but of course there was no reply.

Xander didn’t know how long he leaned against the car, his legs shaking, tears blinding his one eye. But when he finally straightened up, it was fully light out and he was still alone.

He looked down at himself. His t-shirt and jeans were coated in sticky gore. He could feel more dried blood flaking on his neck. His shirt had rucked up during the attack, and his back itched from bits of dirt and grit. He had a mental image of what he would look like to a passerby: a one-eyed, filthy maniac.

Unsteadily, he let himself back into the van. He stripped off his ruined clothes and used some of the melted ice in the cooler to wash his face and neck and groin and hands. Then he pulled a clean set of clothes out of the suitcase and put them on. Beside the passenger seat were the warm remains of a giant cup of Coke, as well as a half-eaten bag of Doritos. He ate the chips and drank the soda, grimacing at the taste but hoping to replenish some body fluids and blood sugar.

A short time later, he was startled by a knock at his window. He turned and looked. A police officer was frowning in at him. “What are you doing here, sir?” asked the cop.

“Just resting a little.”

“You’re not a student here?”

“No. We’re traveling through, and—“

“Sir, this is a student parking lot, not a campground.”

Xander looked out at the lot, which was still empty except for his van and the patrol car. “I understand. But, I mean, parking doesn’t seem to be a problem today.”

“Fall semester hasn’t begun yet, sir.”

“Well, I’ll be long gone before it does.”

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Xander sighed. Arguing with this guy wasn’t going to get him anything but trouble. He’d rather the nice officer not see his blood-drenched clothes, or the great big knife tucked under the blankets in back. And in any case, it’s not like Spike was going to come loping across the parking lot in the bright morning sun.

“All right,” Xander said, getting up and moving to the driver’s seat. “I’m leaving.”

The cop watched him as he started the engine and pulled away.



Even if he’d been in the mood for tourism, Lincoln wasn’t exactly a tourist hotspot. Xander drove aimlessly for a while, through campus and the small downtown, past the phallic capitol building, and then south for a while until he was out of town. Then he circled back.

He parked the van downtown and walked around, and eventually he came to a coffee house and stepped inside. It had exposed brick walls with various pieces of art hanging on them, each labeled neatly. The ceiling was high, and fans lazily moved the air around. A dozen or so people were seated at an eclectic array of tables. Xander went to the counter and ordered a big coffee and an OJ and a bagel and a piece of chocolate cake. He was suddenly ravenous.

He sat in a comfortable chair by the window and ate and drank. He got refills for the coffee, and the cute girl at the counter, who had multicolored hair and a pierced eyebrow, smiled at him each time. He watched people walk by. There weren’t many of them; it was a Sunday, after all. He thought about calling London, but what good would that do? If he told them what happened, he’d only get more lectures about being near Spike, and he so didn’t need to hear that right now. He did try Angel again, just for the hell of it, but of course got no answer. And he worried. How badly was Spike hurt? What had happened to him? Had he made it somewhere safe before the sunrise? Would Xander be able to find him?

He spent most of the day at the coffee house. Nobody seemed to mind.

It got busier around dinner time, and Xander stopped by the counter and left a twenty in the tip jar, then left. This time he veered toward campus, wandering past the buildings. Again, there were very few people around. A few teenagers on skateboards and a couple of jock types. A pair of middle-aged women in shorts and headbands. A harried professor-looking guy with a battered briefcase under one arm, limping quickly down the sidewalk. Xander sat on a bench for a while, then got up, walked for a while, and sat on another.

When his stomach began to rumble again, maybe an hour before sunset, he went back to the van. There was a sandwich shop just down the block, so he downed a roast beef sub and some chips. Finally, he got back in the van and drove to the parking lot where Spike had disappeared. He hoped the cops were nowhere around.

He parked exactly where they’d been before. Then he did a quick circuit of the area, trying to find any signs of Spike, to get any idea where a vampire might hide out. As he searched, the sun went down.

Two hours later, he was exhausted and he’d found nothing. Deep in the back of his brain, a nasty voice was telling him there was nothing to find, that all that was left was a pile of dust, mixed now among the dirt alongside the railroad tracks. Xander refused to listen to that voice.

He sank down on a broken piece of curbing, trying not to sink into despair as well. Spike couldn’t be gone. He just couldn’t.

And then a small rustle caught his attention.

It didn’t sound like footsteps. It was more like the swish of something creeping through grass. He stood and looked around him, but the moon was obscured by clouds again tonight, and he saw nothing but blackness.

The rustle came again, closer.

“Who’s there?” he said, fighting to keep his voice steady.

Silence.

A few minutes later, another rustle.

And then, suddenly, a rush and a roar. He braced himself for another assault, and he could see that whatever was coming at him was on all fours, and was certainly not a vampire.

And then there was another bellow, and another rush in his direction, and he had just enough time to think, “Oh, fuck. It’s a pack.”

But instead of coming at him, the second creature slammed into the first one, throwing it off balance. There was an earsplitting chorus of growls and howls and screams, and as a stray beam of moonlight broke through, Xander saw a blond vampire in a leather duster grappling with an enormous dog. Not a dog, of course. A wolf. A werewolf.

Blood and fur were flying everywhere, and it was a terrible fight. Xander had witnessed a lot of battles. Taken part in plenty of them, too. And with his one practiced eye, he could tell that Spike was weakened and losing.

Without even thinking about it, Xander shouted, “Kisu!” There was the crash and tinkle of broken glass way across in the parking lot, the whoosh of a flying missile, and then the knife was nestled snugly in his grip.

Xander had, of course, experience with werewolves. He knew it would take a silver blade to kill one, and he was pretty sure his new knife was steel. But even steel could do some damage, and so he strode toward the snarling mass and plunged the knife deeply into a furry flank. The wolf screamed. Xander withdrew the knife and thrust it in again, and again, and again, until he realized the beast was still, its nearly severed head cradled in the vampire’s hands.

Xander and Spike looked at each other. “Spike,” Xander said, but the vampire was gone, lurching across the weeds. Xander called the knife to his hand again and looked down at the corpse at his feet. It was no longer an animal, but instead a naked, balding, middle-aged man. With a small start, Xander recognized him. He wondered where the professor’s briefcase was now.

And then Xander took off after Spike.

It was easy to track him this time. Spike was moving slowly. Xander found him huddled in a miserable ball, half underneath a small shed.

For what seemed like the zillionth time, Xander said his name, but this time softly, gently. “Spike.”

“Piss off!” Spike yelled.

“No.”

“I’m not one of your sodding Scoobies! I’m a fucking vampire and I bit you and I’ll do it again.”

“Good.”

Spike unfolded himself and looked at him incredulously. “Good? Good!? I fucking ate you, you twat!”

“I wanted you to, moron! It felt really goddamn good. And you were hungry and you needed to feed.”

Spike suddenly stood and pulled Xander up by his shirt. He vamped out, his bloody fangs inches from Xander’s face. “Look what I am! I’m a fucking demon. I’ve bathed in the blood of thousands of humans, tasted their life pouring down my throat, felt their bodies twitching and dying beneath me. Look at what I AM!!” he roared.

Xander lifted his arms and cupped Spike’s face in his hands. He moved his own face even closer, focusing his eye on one of the furious yellow ones before him. “I see what you are,” he said quietly. And he leaned his forehead against the bumpy one.

With a terrible cry, Spike released his grip on Xander’s shirt and crumpled to the ground. Xander collapsed too, and gathered Spike into his arms, and felt Spike’s tears dampening his shoulder.

They stayed like that a long time, rocking slightly.

At long last, Spike said in a broken voice, “You have to go. You—“

Xander pushed him away and narrowed his eyes. “Listen to me. I’m. Not. Fucking. Leaving. You. You’ve bitten me twice—once at my invitation—and twice you’ve stopped yourself before you drank too much. And tonight you saved me from a fucking werewolf, Spike. It almost tore you apart. You’re stuck with me, so stop telling me to leave.”

Spike looked at him, and then he nodded.

Xander stood and helped Spike to his feet. Spike had to lean heavily on him as they made their way to the van. Xander shook his head slightly at the window that had broken when he called the knife. Xander helped Spike inside, and when he saw his condition under the bright dome light, he hissed in shock. Spike was a goddamn mess.

With an odd sense of déjŕ vu, Xander helped Spike peel off his shredded clothing, and he wiped him fairly clean with the cooler water, and Spike guzzled the remaining bags of blood on the principle that animal was better than nothing. Xander pulled out his handy dandy first aid kit and taped up the worst of Spike’s wounds, giving each a little kiss as he went. Then he wrapped Spike in the blankets and shoved some pillows under him and ordered him to get some sleep.

Spike blinked at him, clearly exhausted. “You’re not going to drive, pet. You look knackered.”

“No. I’ll get us a motel room and crash for a while.”

“Good.”

Xander started to move to the front of the van, but Spike grabbed his shirt. “Wait,” Spike said.

“What? Is something the matter?”

Spike pulled Xander closer and struggled upright, and then pressed his lips against Xander’s. It wasn’t the most passionate of kisses, but it was sweet and tender and it made Xander’s heart melt. Then Spike fell back onto the pillows again and Xander went to look for a room.





Part Eight



“You’ve been working out, yeah?”

“Sure. Been doing lots of vampire carrying reps.” Xander set Spike gently on the bed.

“You were stowing a few too many doughnuts for a bit there.”

“Africa fixed that. Not a whole lot of Krispy Kremes there,” Xander grinned. “I’m gonna go grab the suitcase and cooler. Want me to run you a bath when I get back?”

“Yeah. Ta.”

Xander went back out to the parking lot. It was a Motel 6. Not as nice as the Monaco, but then they weren’t planning to spend weeks here. It had a bed and a tub, and that was the main thing. And the room opened directly into the parking lot, so Xander didn’t have to worry about how to smuggle a mangled demon through the lobby. Xander hoisted the nearly empty cooler on one shoulder and the suitcase in one hand and returned to the room. He was going to have to find a way to get Spike more blood pronto, but first he could get Spike cleaned and settled in for the day. And a shower sounded good to him too.

He started the tub filling, then got Spike. He’d carried Spike in from the van wearing nothing but his duster and a blanket, so it was simple to strip him and then carry him into the bathroom. The water turned muddy pink as soon as Spike was in it, and Xander knew it was going to take several water changes to get Spike clean.

Spike leaned his head back and closed his eyes as Xander dabbed gently at the slashes and bite marks that covered his body. “Want to tell me how you ended up wolf wrestling, Spike?”

Spike sighed. “Stopped for petrol. You were out cold, snoring away. But when I got out to fill the tank, I could smell wolf and fresh human blood. So I followed the scent. It wasn’t far.”

“Now who’s the white hat?”

Spike snorted. “Was only…curious.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

Spike glared at him but Xander just smirked back.

“I followed the trail to that car park at the university. Then I got out to investigate.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Weres are nasty beasts, love. Thought you’d be safer in the van.”

Xander was instantly furious. “Look at me!” he yelled. Spike opened his eyes in surprise.

“I’m just the Zeppo, right? Nothing special. Not a single super power. But you know what? I’ve been fighting monsters for half my fucking life, and I’m still here. Only missing one little body part. Haven’t died even once, which is more than a lot of the people I know can say. And I don’t need you or anybody else deciding what’s safe for me!” Xander slammed the towel onto the side of the tub and stood. He stomped to the corner of the small bathroom and stood with his arms crossed and his back to Spike.

“Finished?”

Xander didn’t answer.

“You’re right. You’re a brave man and a good fighter and I shouldn’t have treated you like that.”

Spike’s voice was soft as he said this, and Xander relented enough to turn and look at him. He saw Spike, naked and beat up and small and vulnerable-looking in the water, and his anger melted away. “Okay. Don’t let it happen again.”

“I won’t.”

Xander knelt again next to the tub. He looked at Spike earnestly. “You told me before to look at what you are. And I did. You’re a vampire, and…I accept you as a vampire. I…I want you as a vampire.” He’d ducked his head as he said this last sentence, unable to meet Spike’s gaze. But now he looked straight into blue eyes. “You don’t have to want me, but accept me as I am. I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but I’m not a fool, and I’m not a child, either.”

Spike lifted a hand out of the water and stroked Xander’s cheek with it. “No, you’re not. You’re strong, Xander. Strongest person I know. And I do want you, you know.”

Xander smiled. They were good words to hear, even if he knew they were only temporary. “Okay, then,” he said.

“We’re sorted?”

“I guess we are. Tell me more about the wolf.”

“It was wolves, pet, and that was the problem. At first I saw only one, feeding on a kill. Somebody’s going to have a nasty surprise next time they go looking through that field. When I saw what the wolf was doing, I lost my temper.” He sighed. “Stupid. Went after it without thinking. Got torn up a bit, but was getting the better of it—nearly had it dead. And then the other one attacked.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. Perhaps I could have managed two if I was fresh from the start, but I was already tired and hurt by the time the second one got there. I did kill the first one, and crippled the second, but it nearly tore my head off.”

“I can see that.” The wound there was still open and gaping horribly.

“I got away. I expect I ran toward the van. Don’t much recall. It was too injured to follow.”

“And then you met up with me.”

Spike set his jaw and looked away. “Yeah.”

Xander gently turned Spike’s head back toward him. “I knew you were hungry, Spike. I…I trusted you. You didn’t bite until I told you to, and you stopped before you took too much. Against my objections, may I add, because sweet merciful Zeus!”

Spike squinted at him. “It doesn’t bother you to get off on a vampire bite?”

“Only the good, hot and bothered kind of bother.”

“Oh.”

“Spike, I lost my virginity to a Slayer gone bad. I almost married a former vengeance demon. A little nibble isn’t gonna disturb me.”

Spike blinked at him and then gave a small leer. “Imagine, then, what it feels like to get bitten while you’re shagging.”

Xander’s cock, which had been dozing away peacefully, woke up with a twitch. Xander splashed a handful of water at Spike’s face. “Don’t go putting ideas like that in my head when you’re in no condition to follow through. Evil undead guy.”

Spike laughed.

“So what did you do all day? How’d you not get crisped?”

“Hid in one of those sheds.”

“What were you going to do?”

“Dunno. Was considering watching the sunrise.”

“Jesus, Spike.”

“I was hurting, love. No way to mend. And…I couldn’t bear to hurt you again.”

“Don’t you think I’d be hurt if you dusted?”

Spike opened his mouth, blinked, and then closed it and swallowed.

“Were you still in the shed when the wolf came at me?”

“Yeah. I heard you calling. Wasn’t going to answer. But then I heard the wolf, too.”

“You saved me.”

“And you were handy with that blade, pet.”

Xander grinned. “That was a useful present.”

Spike’s head fell back again. His face was drawn and his body was clean, but still badly damaged. They needed to get some blood and some sleep and then get the fuck out of Dodge before the assortment of corpses behind the stadium was discovered. And Angel was still…wherever Angel was.

Xander stood. “Ready for bed?”

Spike nodded.

“’Kay.” Xander looked down at himself. His clothes were still covered in blood and grime. No sense getting Spike dirty again when he carried him. Xander pulled his shirt over his head and let it drop on the floor. He sure was going through a lot of clothing lately.

Suddenly, Spike hissed loudly. “Oh, love,” he groaned.

Xander looked at his shoulder, where Spike’s horrified gaze was pointed. He didn’t understand what the problem was. There were just a few minor scrapes, so small he hadn’t even realized they were there.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“It bit you.”

“It’s no big deal. You’re the one who was the real chew toy.”

“But I’m a vampire. I’ll mend just fine. You’re human, Xan, and you’ve been bitten by a werewolf.”

“So? What—Oh.” Spike’s point finally sunk in. “Oh.”

“Xander—“

“Wait. Just a minute. Just…. This won’t—it won’t affect me right away, right?”

“Not until the next full moon.”

Xander let out a long breath. “Okay, then. I’ll deal later. We have other fish to fry right now.”

“But—“

“I mean it! I’m good at denial. An expert. And any thoughts about turning furry are going to be struck firmly from my brain until later. Hey, look on the bright side. Maybe I’ll get killed trying to save Angel and then I won’t have to face it ever.”

Spike shook his head mournfully, but Xander reached into the water and pulled the plug. When the tub was drained, he wrapped a big towel around Spike’s shoulders, scooped him up, and carried him to the bed. “Get some sleep, Spike. You need it. We have a long drive still.”

Spike looked doubtful, but he was clearly still exhausted and in pain. His eyes fell closed, and within minutes he was deeply asleep.

Xander fished his cell phone off the bedside table and took it into the bathroom with him. He closed the door so as not to disturb Spike, and dialed England.

“Rupert Giles here.”

“Hi, G-Man.”

“Xander. Where are you?”

“Lincoln, Nebraska. And I’m really tired and I need to crash, so could you just listen? We can pretend you lectured me already, or you can save it for later, okay?”

Heavy sigh. “All right.”

“Thanks, Giles. Okay. Quick version: Spike’s hurt. Werewolf attack. We need human blood, like, now. Where can we get some?” The whole story, especially the parts where Xander got twice bitten, could wait for later. Much, much later.

Giles paused. He was probably polishing his glasses. But all he said was, “All right, Xander. I know someone who could get human blood, but I’m afraid he’s quite a distance away.”

“Where?”

“Las Vegas.”

“Shit.”

“Yes.”

“That’s, like, a thousand miles from here.”

“Erm…twelve hundred, actually. But it’s closer than LA. Can you make it there?”

“We’ll have to, I guess.” Xander felt dumb from fatigue. “Okay, thanks. I’ll, uh, call you later, okay?”

“Please do. And be—”

“Careful. I know. Bye, Giles.”

“Bye, Xander.”


~*~*~*~*~


When Xander woke up, it felt like he’d only slept for minutes. But the clock said 5:30pm, and his stomach agreed. He must have woken Spike up, too, because the vampire blinked blearily at him.

“Pet?” Spike croaked.

“Will you be all right if I go get something to eat? Then we can hit the road.” He didn’t need to tell Spike how long that road would be before they’d get him a decent feeding.

“Fine,” Spike replied. “I’ll have a bit more of a kip, yeah?”

“Good.” Xander leaned over and kissed the pale forehead.

He took a shower before he left, and that helped wake him up. It felt good to be clean again.

He’d noticed a grocery store nearby, one of those big, warehouse-style places. He steered the van over there. The butcher was willing to sell him a gallon or so of cow blood (for sausages, Xander lied, not very convincingly, but he got the blood anyway). He got some more ice for the cooler, too, and a bunch of food for himself. Stuff he could eat while he drove.

It was dusk by the time he returned. He hauled the cooler and suitcase back to the car and filled the cooler up. Then he bundled Spike in his duster and blanket and carried him to the van. He placed the vampire carefully in the nest of blankets and pillows. Spike moaned a little, but said he could manage. Then Xander checked out of the motel and headed west.

Spike drank a little and then fell back into a fitful sleep. Xander ate with one hand and drove with the other, trying to put the miles behind them as fast as he could.

Nebraska was fucking endless. It was all flat and nearly featureless, and sometimes Xander could almost swear they weren’t making any progress at all, like characters in an old cartoon, with the same background looping endlessly behind them. Finally, though, they were in Colorado and the land started to rise.

It was still dark when they blew past Denver. By Grand Junction, Xander had been driving nearly nine hours and he couldn’t see straight any more. He pulled into a rest stop and climbed in the back. He woke Spike up enough to get him to eat some more—Spike had been semiconscious or out completely most of the night—and then Xander crawled carefully in beside him and went to sleep.

He woke up about three hours later, and it was fully light outside. He fed Spike some more, used the bathroom, and then climbed back in the driver’s seat.

By the time they arrived in Las Vegas, late in the afternoon, Xander felt like he’d spent his whole life behind the wheel. It didn’t help any that Spike had been moaning fitfully for miles, the constant bump and jostle of the ride having aggravated his injuries.

Xander knew this city fairly well. There was always a lot of demon activity here, so the Council had sent him on errands to Vegas more than once. He hadn’t minded. It beat, say, Detroit. And he could usually get in a little gambling or a show after he’d dealt with the demonic issues. His love of Cirque du Soleil was one of his deepest secrets.

But there’d be no acrobats this time. Xander found a motel downtown, one that wasn’t too skeezy but that allowed him to park right outside the room’s door. It was still light out, but with the help of a blanket and Spike’s coat, he was able to dash his vampire into the room combustion-free.

Spike was pretty much out of it, just whimpering and twitching slightly. Xander placed him on the bed, which looked entirely too inviting right now. But no rest for Xander yet. Instead, he smoothed at Spike’s hair for a moment and then dialed the number Giles had given him.

“Hello?”

“Uh, hi. My name’s Xander Harris, and—“

“Gotcha. Your Watcher told me the tale, kid.”

Xander didn’t bother explaining that Giles wasn’t strictly his Watcher. “Okay, great. Can you get—“

“Some perky A Pos. No problemo.”

“Oh, thank gods. Can you get lots?”

“Sure thing. Where can I find you?”

“Best Western on Las Vegas Boulevard. Room 103.”

“I’ll be there in two shakes.”

Xander hung up feeling a little better. He sat next to Spike and drank some water, and tried to soothe a little of Spike’s pain away. Spike half-opened hazy eyes and rasped, “Where, love?”

“Vegas. And dinner’s on the way.”

Spike’s eyes fell closed again.

It felt like days, but it was less than half an hour later that there was a knock at the door. Xander got up and opened it, only to be faced with a tall green demon in a purple suit. The demon had red horns and red eyes, and he was carrying a big paper bag. “Delivery!” he sang.

Xander let him in. At this point, he would have let in anything that promised to help make Spike better.

“Hi,” said Xander.

“Hey there, pumpkin. I’m Lorne.”

Lorne walked over to the bed and looked down sadly at the torn and naked vampire. Xander hadn’t wanted to cover Spike’s wounds for fear that the fabric would stick to them, and he had nowhere near enough bandages. “Oh, Spikester,” the demon sighed. “What did you do to yourself this time?”

“You know him?”

“Yeah. We’re buds from way back. Haven’t seen him in years, though. Let’s say we get some of this red stuff in him, huh?”

Xander positioned himself next to Spike on the bed, and then carefully raised Spike’s upper body, supporting his head and back with his arm. Lorne dug in the bag and brought out a packet of blood. He darted into the bathroom and came back with a plastic cup, and then he tore open the packet and filled the cup half-full. He handed it to Xander.

Xander held the cup near Spike’s mouth. “Spike,” he said softly. “Open up. Down the hatch.”

Spike’s lips parted just a little, and Xander tipped the cup. Some of the blood dripped down Spike’s chin, but at least some got inside, and Xander was very relieved to see the vampire swallow. He tipped the cup some more, and soon the cup was empty, so Lorne refilled it.

By the time they’d emptied a half dozen bags, Spike’s eyes fluttered open. “Green jeans?” he whispered.

“Hey, slim,” Lorne responded, rubbing Spike’s arm.

“What…what…?”

“I’m your source for human blood in the greater Las Vegas area. Not a service I normally provide, actually, but I’ll make an exception for my little prince.”

“Cheers.”

Xander eased Spike back onto the pillows. “You want more now, Spike? Or in a while?”

“Sleep…a bit…yeah?” Spike’s voice was weak.

“Okay. I’ll wake you up in a while for round two.”

Spike’s eyes shut, but it seemed to Xander that he looked a little more peaceful already. Less like a murder victim and more like his normal, dead but sexy self.

Xander stood, and he and Lorne walked to the door. “Thanks, man,” Xander said. “I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”

“My pleasure, pilgrim. You want to tell me how he got in this state? Mr. Giles just said something about an attack.”

Xander considered this for a moment, He didn’t know this colorful creature. But Spike seemed comfortable with him, and Giles had trusted him enough to call him. “It’s kind of a long story. See, Angel sent Spike to Chicago, and—“

“Hold on there.” Lorne held up one long green hand. “I have a show to get to tonight. Let’s save some time. Sing me a song.”

“Huh?”

“A song, muffin. Just a few lines will do it.”

“Umm…what kind of song?” Was this guy crazy?

“Whatever you like. Just—no Sinatra, okay? I like to leave ol’ blue eyes for the professionals.”

Xander hesitated, but Lorne was smiling expectantly at him. Oookay. Xander had bought a couple of CDs for Spike before they left Chicago, and Spike had been humming along with one of them when Xander fell asleep in the van. So the first song that came to mind was a Clash tune, and Xander mumbled a verse to the demon:

I heard the people who lived on the ceiling
Scream and fight most scarily
Hearing that noise was my first ever feeling
That's how it's been all around me

Lorne put his hand up again. “Enough! Got it. Oh, honey. That’s quite a journey you’re on.” He patted Xander’s shoulder. “Buck up, all right? There’s a silver lining, I promise. It’ll be a little…complicated. But you’ll work it out.”

Xander had no idea what the guy was on about, but he nodded sagely.

“And our little cowboy? His anger is understandable. Believe me. But Angel-cake was right in what he asked me to do.”

“What? I don’t—“

Lorne frowned. “I did it, honey. I pulled the trigger on Lindsey. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s why…why I had to stay away from Angel all these years. And your little sugar pie, too. But it was still the right thing to do.”

Xander was too astonished to respond properly, and besides, his brain was running on fumes. So he simply smiled and thanked Lorne again.

Lorne patted him again. “You two take care of each other, you hear? You need each other.” The demon stepped out into the dusk and was gone.




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