Stepping back a pace, Xander nearly tripped again over a clutch of
cloth. He tried to kick it away, then bent down to dislodge it before
straightening slowly with the thing in his hands. It was Spike's old
duster, now slashed to ribbons. Somehow he didn't think a demon had
done that; except the one who had a right to.
He laid the duster on the end of the bed and hesitated, then gave Spike's shoulder a little shove. "Spike...hey. Time to wake up."
The vampire didn't move or make a sound, and Xander, wondering if he might actually be in a coma, pulled him onto his back. It was like detaching a cicada skin from a tree; he came rolling lightly as if he were empty, all shell, no meat. His eyes were closed; his face thin enough that he almost looked like someone else, someone Xander had never met.
"Spike," he repeated, sitting on the edge of the bed. A beetle scuttled from under the blankets and along the mattress; he ignored it, focused on the sharpness of cheek and collar bones, the outline of skull at the temples, the tiny dry flecks of blood around Spike's lips from whenever he last drank.
"You in there?" he asked, easing back one eyelid, then jumping when both eyes came open, dark pools without recognition. "Remember me? Xander. Xander Harris." Nothing. "Monkey Boy?" he hazarded helpfully. That got him a blink, and slowly awareness filtered back into Spike's face. He looked at Xander without enthusiasm; he looked a hundred years' worth of tired.
"What do you want?"
His voice was so low and parched Xander could barely make out the words, and by sickbed instinct he looked around for water, but there was only the whiskey. He poured some into a dirty but not yet sentient glass and tried to give it to Spike, who didn't exert himself to take it, so Xander nudged the glass against his lips. The other man's eyes sparked into a weak glare--proof that the pilot light was on, anyway--then he sipped. A frown etched his brow; Xander suspected this was as much effort as he'd made in weeks. When Spike finished drinking, he let his head fall back with eyes shut.
"I used to think I was a nice guy," Xander said. Spike opened his eyes again with what might have been a shadow of interest. "Now, not so much. I haven't cared enough to find out how you've been. When Dawn talked about you, I killed every conversation dead." A flicker of something crossed the vampire's face. "Now I," he took a ragged breath, "I'm here looking for favors. I need your help."
All interest drained away. "Need somethin' killed," he said, resigned, his words less than a question.
"I need you to come live with us."
Wan as a ghost against his pillow, Spike frowned up at him for several passing ticks. "Sorry," he finally muttered. "Ears going funny. Thought you said you needed me to come live with you."
"Anya's leaving. I need someone to look after Tara and Dawn. I need..." Fumbling for honesty, Xander looked briefly away, unused to talking to Spike like a person. "I need somebody to keep me from going off the deep end."
"And where do you think I am?" The words rolled out hollow as smoke rings.
After a moment considering him, Xander reached out and took one of Spike's hands. "I'll help you out," he said. "If you help me."