by Miriam Heddy


At some point in the middle of their fight, he had blurted out something about how Spike would still be living at home with his Mommy if he hadn't, y'know, staked her. It just sort of slipped out, the way things did in the heat of the moment, and Spike had gone very, very still and stared at him with those wide, blue eyes before pointedly grabbing Xander's iPod from the table by the sofa and dropping it to the floor, letting gravity do the work. The iPod sort of bounced off the hardwood floor with a loud crack.

And Xander didn't even have time to react before Spike very deliberately lifted up his foot and stomped on it, grinding it into the floor with the heel of his boot until it made a final, squeaking sound--the last sound it was ever going to make.

Xander had just glared at him, and Spike had glared back, and somewhere in the back of his mind, Xander had realized that Spike hadn't meant to do that anymore than he'd meant to bring up Mommie Dearest.

But he'd been too angry to deal with that revelation, and too busy looking for something of Spike's he could break. The problem was, he couldn't find anything of equal value to destroy--at least not in the living room. Though upstairs, there was a lamp Spike claimed was antique, and when he talked about it his eyes got all soft and hazy, which made it perfect, except by the time Xander had run upstairs to get it and had it in hand, the door slammed downstairs, hard enough to rattle the glass cabinets in the kitchen, and with Spike gone, there was no point in destroying the only lamp in the bedroom.

Xander had ended up sitting down on the edge of their bed, on Spike's side of it, breathing hard and trying to get a handle on things. He'd finally picked up Spike's pillow and hit it, hard, only to notice a few blond hairs stuck to the pillowcase, and he'd had to put the pillow back down and walk downstairs to get away from the bed and Spike.

The pillow helped him to start to calm down, and walking through the cemetery helped him calm down a little more. But he wouldn't say he was calm, exactly.

But he was getting there. Assuming they were still together after he found Spike, which was very much in doubt at the moment, Spike was so buying him another iPod--a newer, better one.

Somewhere between the pillow and walking downstairs, he'd come to the conclusion that it was probably a very good thing that he hadn't married Anya, because he was starting to think that wrinkly, demony pseudo-Xander had been right on the money about how that would have gone.

It was really no consolation at all that Anya had ended up dead anyway, or that Spike was already dead and so safe from kitchen-related head injuries. Xander had made a point, when furnishing the new flat, of not buying frying pans or pretty much anything out of wood that he might, in the heat of the moment, use as a makeshift stake when someone started crushing beloved Apple products. It was bad enough that they had actual stakes in the house locked up in the weapon's trunk along with a few crossbows and a gun that shot silver bullets. He wasn't taking any unnecessary chances.

He'd always figured that, having survived two alcoholic parents, staking his best friend, averting a few apocalypses, not averting an eye-gouging, and finally falling in love with the world's second most annoying vampire, it was understandable if he had some lingering anger management issues. But he had to admit that he'd come close a couple of times--maybe too close.

Xander took a deep breath to clear his head as he caught sight of Spike's crypt. He stopped in the doorway and cautiously peered inside, because he could hear someone in there. With his luck, it would be the wrong vampire, though it would serve Spike right if someone had pinched his favorite crypt, and maybe, if someone had, he'd let them live.

But it turned out to be just Spike, and he watched as Spike paced the length of the concrete walls, looking oddly out of place--just a short, thin, blond guy with his shoulders hunched in--looking more like vamp bait than actual vampire. Spike looked almost delicate and frail, and for a moment, that impression overwhelmed everything else--even the anger--and he had a sudden, irrational urge to protect his monster from all the bigger, badder monsters out there, even if that number included himself.

But then sanity reasserted itself and he remembered that his monster, however tastefully appointed and fashionably slim, was still a monster, albeit one who'd scaled down his efforts from Scourge of Europe to Scourge of Xander.

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