Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Spike/Xander
Disclaimer: Nothingís mine and theyíre all lies.
Spoilers: Some stitches of BTVS Season 7, and a detail of Seasonís 6 finale. Set sometime after S7ís Him
Author Notes: Itís a Hurt/Comfort piece, and my first real venture into writing this pairing after endless hours of extensive reading. Hereís hoping it came out right.
Feedback: I need it more than oxygen. Itís the only food for starving muses!

Summary: Xander finally lets himself discover that thereís much more to a person that what they let you see.

Nightly Vigil

Yours Truly

Bleary eyes opened in the darkness of the bedroom as Xander rolled over, tired limbs weighting down his movements as his body sought to merge with the warm, soft sheets where he lay. It had been an exhausting day. Work on the site had been particularly difficult after one of the workers had fallen down a shaft and broken his leg. Hours of reassurance to the distraught men followed by hours of paperwork to report the incident did very little to lift his spirits. Then, as he'd dragged his weary body towards home, he'd ran into Willow, and had been put up to date on what they had against the First. They had nothing.

Worry and physical needs had made him crawl into bed earlier than usual, with barely a thought to having dinner, or having even a smidge of conversation with his undead, and unwanted houseguest. Spike had been nowhere in sight when Xander had gotten home, and there had yet to be a sound from the Vampire to disturb his relative peace.

And yet, here he was.

2:21 AM, and sleep was far from his grasp. Beyond any conscious decision, a routine had been established, and now, it seemed, was far too late to try to stop it. Xander already knew that his body was merely waiting for what he knew would happen soon. With a sigh, the young man turned over, staring at the ceiling. In vain he attempted to conjure up something in the way of resentment towards Buffy, who had seemingly sealed his fate, and his resting hours, when she'd cemented her decision to lead Spike into his apartment.

2:32 AM, and Xander heard the first sound of the night. So it began. Before the first cry was over, Xander was already rolling out of bed, sprinting up on legs that suddenly lost some of their exhaustion. Pushing away from the comfortable mattress he was abandoning, his sure steps led him directly towards what had once been his spacious walk-in closet, only to suddenly become his too-narrow guest-room. The cries grew in volume the faster he moved, and almost without thought he was turning on the light in the hallway in order to illuminate the trashing figure he could now see, in a scene that seemed doomed to endless repetition.

There Spike sat, in the farthest corner of his bed, unseeing blue eyes wide with a fear so intense, it threatened to freeze Xander every night he saw it. Slender hands shook violently as they moved, clawing against the alabaster skin of Spike's chest, leaving row after row of bloody gashes in their wake; it almost seemed the hands moved on their own volition, the movement and the pain unnoticed by the vampire whose blood dripped slowly onto already stained sheets. More disturbing for Xander, were the sounds. Horrible, choking gasps for air from a creature that didn't need them, whimpers and sobs that begged forgiveness to ghosts that the human had yet to see for himself. Among the tears, and the nightmares, as all the other nights he'd been privy to this scene, Xander's presence went unnoticed.

2:36 AM read the clock on glowing digits as Xander rushed forward, hurrying to take a hold of the offending hands that seemed to grow weaker and thinner every time he took a hold of them. The bloodied digits struggled briefly against his, as they always did, but even the attempt was half-hearted, as if the fight had been long ago been drained from Spike's body. The weak tugs though, reminded Xander briefly of the bagged blood that remained untouched in his fridge, before more pressing concerns replaced the thought.

Whimpers and broken slices of words slid from Spike's lips as his body gave another violent shudder, skin icy to Xander's touch, and it was all Xander could handle as those eyes remained without focus, lost and trapped in a past that held too many nightmares.

"Spike!" he called softly, aching to raise his voice and drown out the sounds coming from those shaking lips, but knowing it would only serve to increase the vampire's terror "Hey man, it's ok now, you hear me? Look at me. C'mon buddy, I'm here now, it's all right..."

Nothing. No recognition, no silence, no stop to the shaking and the crying. Xander closed his eyes, holding tightly to the hands in his grasp in an effort to ground him. "C'mon Spike, look at me now, it's okay. You're safe here, c'mon, you're only dreaming. Yeah, that's right. Good. Take deep breaths now, calm down..."

2:41 AM and his voice or his words seemed to seep slowly into the fog that clouded around the vampire, slowly calming the broken pleas for forgiveness and for mercy. As the broken voice trailed off into silence, there was a moment in which Xander wasn't sure of Spike's reaction. Then the vampire blinked once, twice, before the vampire's blue gaze cleared and turned shamefully to stare at the bloodied gashes adorning his chest.

"Hey," Xander called softly, knowing from experience that his continued silence only made things worse. "You awake now?"

A slow nod was his response. It was time for the second half of their ritual. Subdued, shamed and terrified, the vampire remained frozen in Xander's presence as the human leant forward slightly, intent on meeting the wandering eyes. The pain he saw in them almost made him regret it. "It happened again, huh? Well, let's get you cleaned up, ok? C'mon."

And so it went. Turning on every light they walked past on their way, Xander led Spike towards the bathroom, and there Spike sat quietly on the edge of the tub as Xander dampened an old washcloth kept within reach for this nightly occurrence. Kneeling, Xander made a show of carefully cleaning the hands, sliding the cloth over the shaking fingers that didn't move away from his touch. The legs of the black sweatpants the vampire wore to bed had small drops of blood on them, Xander noticed calmly, and he made a note to wash them later. Then, it was time to clean the chest wounds. Carefully dipping the washcloth in lukewarm water, Xander wiped the blood from the raw scratches that painted a frightening pattern on Spike's skin. Half-healed wounds from earlier nights had been re-opened, and Xander was once again reminded that he needed to start monitoring the vampire's feeding habits; else Spike would fade away without them noticing.

As a steady background noise, Xander talked. Unsure by now whether the words came as a means to reassure himself or the vampire, the man had long ago stopped wondering. Without thought the words came, a patchwork of conversations that merged into a steady monologue to fill in the silence. Gentle rebukes on the need to repeat this ritual nightly, the happenings at work, the more-obvious roots in Spike's hair as well as the untamed curls, the weather, the distinct lack of wet towels to be found on the bathroom lately, anything was enough to distract them both from the silent tears that still managed to slide past Spike's battered defences.

Then, as he carefully applied unnecessary antiseptic to the wounds, Xander's mind wandered; from Spike's screams, to Buffy's tale of her warped relationship with the vampire, to the near-rape, and Spike's soul. In between the images, his mind drew blanks as he tried to pinpoint the moment when he'd forgiven Spike so much. Perhaps, he hadn't. It wasn't really about forgiveness, no matter how much Spike begged for it in his nightmares. It wasn't about understanding, because a human in his twenties could hardly grasp how a demon's blood-lust could transform a person, could drive him or control him enough to cause mayhem and find enjoyment in it, only to then be confronted with the weight of his actions when the soul was returned. When the man Spike had once been woke up once again inside his body. Maybe it was about acceptance. About accepting that the weight the vampire now carried was heavy enough with death to pressure it further. Maybe the acceptance had come after endless nights of broken cries, lingering madness, and endless days of Spike's obviously monumental efforts to pull himself together when it was time to face the world. Maybe acceptance had come the day he noticed how Spike's former personality, the one he knew and had come to hate at one point in his life, was so obviously a mask, that it was almost impossible to recognize the man beneath it. Maybe.

Pulled from his thoughts, Xander's hand stilled, realizing for the first time that the wounds he was tending were already as clean as they would get. With a quiet sigh, Xander stood, storing away the supplies, and facing the mirror for one long second in which he made a decision.

Turning back to Spike, Xander smiled sadly, helping him back to his feet and leading him towards his own bedroom, without feeling the need to provide him with an explanation.

3:05 AM, read the clock as Xander moved forward, pulling Spike along with a gentle hold in his forearm. Reaching the bed, he threw the covers aside, settling the vampire in before climbing in beside him, aware that his whole house was still lit up, but unwilling to leave Spike's side long enough to go and turn the lamps off. He was incredibly thankful when Spike offered no comments or questions as to why Xander had changed their routine like this, instead of leaving Spike in his own bed. This way, Xander didn't have to explain how he usually spent an hour listening to the sobs coming from down the hall, not daring to rush forth and provide further comfort. This way, Xander didnít have to explain why he couldn't handle that anymore.

With little trouble, Xander pulled Spike close, engulfing his cold form into arms that had stayed warm despite the cool air in the bathroom. Settling the smaller man into the hollow of his collarbone, Xander heard his own voice which had still nattered away on auto-pilot, slowly drift to nothing as his mind wandered again. Running one hand soothingly down Spike's smooth back, he thought about the vampire he held. Thought about his 'Big Bad' persona and the different layers he had managed to hide for so long, only to be stripped bare by his own guilt, now that his soul had been returned. He thought about long ago, back in his basement, when Spike had sometimes laughed delightedly at something on TV, and looked so very human that Xander had wondered about the man before the demon, before Angelus and Drusilla, before the murders. Xander let himself admire the strength that it must have taken never to bow or be broken by anyone, only to be shattered by the weight of his own actions.

He thought back to their banter, the insults, the hatred that had once lain between them; remembered the hunter, the predator that had managed to bend everything he was to fit in with humans, even without the soul. He thought about Dawn's fierce protector on the days Buffy was gone, and the 'evil soulless thing' that even while denying it, had done his best to protect them all on countless occasions. And in that moment of thought, Xander let himself acknowledge that Spike was more human than they ever gave him credit for. More human that most of the people Xander had ever met. Sometimes, even more human than Xander himself was.

It was simple, really. Maybe acknowledging that, even to himself, was enough. Enough to see that the man that was suffering now, in his arms, had somehow never fully allowed the demon to rule on its own, and now he was being made to grieve for everything his darker side had been unable to control. Because it was this same thing as they'd so cruelly, and so often treated him as, that had let Dawn cry herself to sleep on his shoulder for weeks after Buffy was gone, and took her to see the grave every single time she asked. He was the only one that bothered to laugh at some of Xander's jokes, taking him seriously when it was necessary, even while pretending not to. He was this monster that curled tightly when he slept, breathing as if he needed it, and when he cried he hid his face so nobody could laugh about it. It was Spike who cried the most when they'd seen Buffy's broken body, the only one who kept it together at her funeral for Dawn's sake, and the only one that mourned all that she'd lost when the Scoobies had blindly brought her back to life. It was this same monster in his arms who had felt so guilty for trying to hurt the woman he loved, that he travelled across the world to gain the soul which shattered him to pieces.

And now, Xander noticed, the monster was shaking, sobbing as quietly as he could manage to Xander's chest, hiding his face in the human's throat, while Xander allowed himself for the first time to see Spike completely, beyond all the faÁades, and the dirt that lay between them.

3:24 AM, and Spike had become someone else in Xander's eyes. It was strangely liberating, he thought faintly, before the thought lost all importance as he tightened his arms around Spike's shaking body.

"Shh, it's okay," He whispered softly, not even thinking about it as he planted a gentle kiss to Spike's smooth brow. "I've got you now, it's all right. We'll find a way to make it better, ok?" cool hands moved, slowly, uncertainly, to grip Xander's T-shirt in a death grip over where his heart lay. "How 'bout we change the ritual, hmm?" he asked the blond curls against his mouth as he ran soothing hands over every inch he could reach. "Tomorrow night you can sleep here, ok? No questions asked. Just come to bed here, and we'll deal with this together. We'll try to scare the ghosts off."

Another shudder was his only answer. Xander closed his eyes against his own sadness, knowing that Spike would take him up on the offer if only to stop the dreams for a night. He knew that Spike was too hurt to put up much a fight, too tired to struggle with this alone any longer. "Close your eyes Spike. Just try to relax. That's it...It's okay now. Get some sleep, ok? I'll keep the ghosts away."

One by one, the muscles of Spike's back loosened a notch, and the shuddering breaths stopped, only to start again a few minutes later, in a soothing pattern Xander was strangely familiar with.

3:52 AM, and Spike's grip loosened in his T-shirt, exhaustion having taken him under, and Xander let himself relax. Planting a lingering kiss on the top of Spike's head before his own tired body could stay awake no longer, he let sleep overwhelm him, his chest warm with the first stirrings of something altogether new.

The End

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