Who Wants to Live Forever


Part Twenty-Three

Willow walked through Sunnydale breathing power in and out like a small human dragon breathing fire. Bartholomew and two other women walked with her. The younger was barely a girl, the spell required a nymph, and Willow held her hand firmly so that the child wouldn’t run off in fear. Bartholomew occasionally took her other hand. Willow was rather impressed with his strength. Most men either ran away or went mad with the power. Bartholomew seemed placid, accepting the unfamiliar magiks and breathing through them with a strength a laboring woman would use to breathe through contractions. He had adapted with the quickness of a natural, Willow noted, thinking with part of her mind that poaching a Watcher as a priest would make an interesting project.

As they approached the house Quentin Travers inhabited, she saw Giles lying in the front yard. He seemed comfortable, if drunk. He grinned up at the sky, and as they walked by Willow heard him giggling. Bartholomew hesitated, and glanced at Willow. She shook her head. They could sober Giles up later. He was familiar with power. He wouldn’t be harmed, only incapacitated for a while. They walked into the house.

It was over in an instant. Most of the men were overcome as she walked into the room. They held their heads and sank to the floor. Quentin ran away. He plastered himself to a wall and tried to claw through it. Willow was not conscious of herself. She couldn’t see her hair whipping around her face or her opaque black eyes. She utilized the blue light of power arching around her companions, and didn’t consider the effect the vision of them would have. Quentin sank down in fear and tried to hide his face.

Bartholomew spoke the words he had been instructed to say. “Sie werden entlastet. Sie treten ab. Sie werden beendet.” Quentin nodded helplessly.

“Yes,” he whined. “Ja. Zugestimmt.”

The house seemed to release a great sigh of air.

Willow relaxed and pulled a chair out from the long table. Sat down. The other woman handed a cordless phone to Bartholomew. He pressed some buttons and raised his eyebrows at Quentin. “You have some calls to make, Travers,” he said, handing him the phone.

Quentin wearily accepted it and listened to who had been called. He shot a look at Bartholomew and glowered. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, is Colonel Finn available?” An odd expression came over his face, but he recovered. “Yes, well then I need to speak to his CO.” During the call’s transfer, Quentin hesitated then informed Bartholomew. “Finn is dead. Maurice Forster killed him.”

Neither he nor Bartholomew saw the expression on Willow’s face.


It was like something from long ago. In a cool, dark place, Xander hung over Spike whispering and begging. Blood dripped very slowly over the vampire’s unresponsive lips. A shaking, rough finger tried to push the wet drops into his mouth.

“C’mon, Spike. Drink for me, buddy. Just a little. C’mon.”

Spike turned his mind away from the voice and burrowed back into the darkness. There was too much wrong in the place they would draw him back to. He didn’t want to go. He just wanted to sleep and float here in the twilight.

“Why don’t you try a straw or somethin’,” Brown offered helpfully.

Xander feebly pushed the drops of his blood into Spike’s half-open mouth as they dripped from the small wound in his arm. “Can’t force it into him,” he explained, desperation in his voice. “Doesn’t work like that. He has to drink.”

Brown gulped. “Gach, I had to ask,” he commented, nauseated.

They had been able to get the vampire back to the van without being seen. Brown, wired and shaking with shock, had managed to get the vehicle out onto the road. He wasn’t even sure where he was going, just getting the hell out of Dodge. He drove with half a mind, the other half worrying over Maurice. He wondered why the fucker had done it. What had made him suddenly, apparently, change. Spike. Something between him and Spike. He watched Xander in the rear view mirror attending to apparently nothing on the mats in the back. Spike had lost consciousness, or whatever it was vampires had, as soon as they lifted him, and hadn’t resurfaced. He reeked of burnt flesh and Xander had found a raw wound at the back of his head, above the neck. It was hard to say what was wrong with Spike. Whatever the injury was, it wasn’t apparent on the surface and he wasn’t healing. Probably because he wouldn’t take Xander’s blood.

Xander was at his mental and emotional extremity. He was punchy with magical sensitivity. Adrenalized by Maurice’s injury and their escape. And desperately afraid for Spike. Feeling the rejection of his blood as a personal rejection, as the beginning of the rejection of the claim. His mind reeled at the deja vus being played out, and he felt thrown back to the place where he had dragged Spike out of the earth.

He had thought he had won, but he had been wrong. He had been pulling Spike out of the grave, but he had lost his grip. He was losing him.

“Goddamnit, Spike, I can’t do it without you,” he whispered desperately. He bowed his head to press his lips into the white hair. Under him, the vampire lay absolutely still. Xander wondered if Spike could even hear him. “Spike?” he whispered into the soft hair. His hands ran gently up and down the vampire’s blanket-covered body. “Oh god, Spike, I’m so sorry.” He babbled, not even sure what he was apologizing for. His own actions. The whole world’s. “Sorry. God. So sorry.”

Xander held the dagger against his inner arm once more, and nicked it with a quick flick of the sharp blade. He held himself steady for a minute so he wouldn’t faint from the intense sensation on top of all the other intense sensations. Blood welled thickly. He pushed the wound hopefully against Spike’s mouth. Nothing.

Brown glanced nervously in the rear-view window. “Watch yourself with that blade,” he cautioned. “It looks sharper than shit,” he muttered, his thoughts veering back to Maurice. “Crazy fucker,” he said.

Xander squeezed his arm. Little drops of blood fell onto Spike’s lips. He pushed them in, hoping the taste would get Spike’s attention. He nestled his head next to Spike’s. “You told me I taste like the ocean at night,” he whispered so low he hoped only Spike could hear him. “Remember, Spike? You told me I tasted like salty chocolate.” Tears were in his voice now.

Prying at his own arm with the sharp point, Xander fought off the shocks that threatened to shut him down, and opened the wound a bit further, blood trickled now more steadily. His sensitized skin and emotions and heightened awareness peaked, and as he rubbed the blood over and over Spike’s unresponsive lips, he saw it all flowing as an inevitable progression from that first moment in Spike’s tomb all those years ago to the present. It had all been about blood. Blood and love and commitment to something for no sane reason, but because his heart demanded it. It had all been about this. About putting himself inside of Spike.

He bent down and lapped his own blood from Spike’s lips, then forced a French kiss into the still vampire’s mouth. Using his own blood, he gently massaged Spike’s cool tongue with his own. He thought he felt a response. It could have been the movement of the van, but he thought he had felt a response.

Brown turned the van onto Sunnydale’s main road. He wondered if they should head back to town or to where the Coven had gathered. He glanced back at Xander and saw him kissing Spike. He turned with a disgusted noise and gripped the wheel. “Geez, Harris,” he said, “yer necrophilia’s gettin’ a little intense.”

“Shut up,” Xander said grittily, sitting up and reaching again for the dagger. Brown glanced in the rear-view mirror, then bolted up, slammed on the brakes, and jumped around to get into the back.

“Whoa. Fuck. Stop.”

He was too slow to stop him, however. Xander sliced across his wrist, a large, deep gash, and pressed his arm hard to Spike’s mouth. He wobbled for a minute, then slowly fell across Spike’s chest. Blood gushed from the artery into the immobile vampire’s mouth.

“Geezus! Fucking Geezus! Hell!” Brown jumped around inside the van. He grabbed some rope that hung off the side panel and jerked Xander’s gushing arm from Spike’s face, applying a messy, tangled tourniquet as quickly as he possibly could and pressing down with all his strength on the wound with his hand, while holding the insensate Xander’s arm up in the air with the other.

Looking down, he turned away revolted. A large quantity of vivid blood pooled in Spike’s open mouth like a bowl of crimson soup. His head turned away, his hand desperately searching for a pulse on Xander’s neck, he belatedly remembered the warning about Xander’s blood and looked in despair down at himself. He was saturated with it. “Fuck,” he said.

He forgot all about it when Spike began to choke. Or gurgle. His head came up and a bubble of blood erupted over his lips. He made an awful retching sound and his body, under Xander’s inert form, began shaking. Brown hung onto Xander’s still oozing arm and watched helplessly. He didn’t dare let go of Xander, and wouldn’t know how to help anyway. Spike wasn’t trying to breath, of course, but he seemed to be having a convulsive reaction to the blood, as if his body were trying to eject it.

Brown still groped at Xander’s neck, finding a pulse and following it with slippery fingers. Xander’s arm stiffened in his grasp and he gratefully started trying to rouse him.

“Harris! Fuck! Come on, answer me.”

Xander groaned and rolled his head on the shaking surface. His shoulder hurt and he still felt dizzy. He groped for comprehension and could feel that Brown had his arm yanked in the air above him and that was why his shoulder ached. He jerked his arm away and felt the pain quite suddenly like a hard kick. He pressed his head down, fighting the black faint that threatened again. With his heightened senses, he heard Brown breathing hard and felt the heat of the other man standing so close to him. Under his face, Spike’s chest heaved and Xander suddenly registered that Spike was moving.

He jerked up and wobbled with dizziness. Brown was behind him immediately, hands on his shoulders. “Look, Harris. He’s chokin’ or somethin’. What do we do?”

Xander gripped Spike’s torso and stared as the vampire ejected little bubbles of blood, dribbling down his chin, and convulsed on the mat.

“Spike?” he whispered desperately. “Oh shit. Oh fuck, Brown, what’d I do to him?”

“Shit if I know. You’re crazy, man! Why d’ya cut yourself?”

Xander cradled Spike’s shoulder with his good hand, rubbing his thumb helplessly back and forth over the bones there. “I don’t know,” he said confusedly. “It seemed right…” he trailed off, watching the vampire’s reaction. There was so much blood. His own, true, but still disturbing. His eyes traveled up to take in Brown’s blood saturated body. “Fuck.” He felt a leaden weight in his chest. “Fuck. What did I do?”

Spike suddenly reared up and gagged, blood brimmed below his lips, then his mouth closed. And he swallowed hard. Xander leapt forward.

“Spike?” He saw the vampire’s throat convulse and swallow again. “Spike.” Xander hugged the bloody man to him, rubbing his face against the vampire’s, whimpering into his ear. “Spike? Answer me.”

Spike groaned. Xander hugged him harder. He was still fighting the incipient nausea and his vision blinked in and out. The dizziness was tremendous and exhausting and he wanted to close his eyes and rest. But Spike was now making a lot of noise. Writhing under his hands, his chest arching repeatedly, little yelps and animal noises of pain coming out of his mouth. “Hang on,” Xander whispered to himself and to Spike. “Don’t let go.”

Brown shuffled around behind him, upset the way a man of action will be when his friends are covered with blood and he doesn’t know what to do. “Should I get the witches?”

“No,” Xander said without thinking. “Not yet.” He didn’t know why he felt that he needed to keep this between him and Spike. The dark cloud of nausea swelled in the back of his brain and he leaned into Spike again, willing the vampire to consciousness. “Brown,” he murmured urgently.

“Yeah, man.”

“If I pass out again, call them.”

“Fuck.” Brown kicked something.

Xander was splayed across the vampire, blood in his hair and across his clammy looking skin. It was obvious that he was hanging onto consciousness by a thread. Spike was still making bizarre noises but the tremors had stopped. Brown saw Xander’s shoulders shaking and heard the weak sobs. “Spike. Please. Come back to me, baby. Please.” Then, as Brown watched, one of Spike’s arms slowly rose and fell across Xander’s back.

Xander froze. He pulled back, his face a mess of tears and blood. “Spike?”

Spike’s eyes blinked slowly open. Out of focus and with gold flashing, he saw the bloody face and teary black eyes before him. His body was reporting pain, especially pain in his genitals, and his recovered motor capacity still came with extreme discomfort. It seemed that every movement put stress on his neck. The dark, emotional eyes, the pain and the blood. Time folded a bit and the vampire whispered in horror, “Angelus?”

Xander reared back. Spike awake and apparently less injured temporarily suspended the wave of horrific jealousy. “Spike,” he corrected tearfully, “It’s me.”

Spike was quiet. His eyes portrayed the experience of wandering through a century or two of memories. Xander saw, with a little swell in his heart, the moment when Spike remembered him. “Xander,” whispered the vampire in wonder. “You’re here.”

Xander held back his tears, his head was spinning. “Yeah. Here I am.”

Spike looked confused. “I thought you were mad at me.” He sounded like a child and Xander petted the bloody face comfortingly.

“No. No. Never mad.” He blinked to keep the vampire in focus.

“But you left.” Pain rippled through Spike’s eyes. Xander suddenly realized that the vampire hadn’t quite caught up to the present. Spike looked dazed, his eyes rolled slightly and the gold flashed again. His lids began to flutter shut. “No,” Spike whispered.

“I came back, Spike,” Xander reminded him, desperately. He could feel Spike slipping away and his arm was making its presence known again. The ache growing into a throbbing pain. The nausea rose again. He bowed his head against Spike’s chest and took a deep breath. “Brown.”

Brown surged forward. “Yeah, man.”

“Help,” said Xander. And he passed out.


This wasn’t a dream. It hadn’t that sliding, inevitable feel that a dream had. As if one were riding on a carnival ride, the track laid out, the thrills programmed. Terror, but the lassitude of knowing something else was in control.

If he focused, he could feel his body. He didn’t want to feel his body, so he let that awareness step behind the curtain, but he knew if he wanted he could Behind a grey curtain, that Spike had knowlingly drawn with his mind, he floated in twilight.

Sounds and light tried to press through from outside, but Spike’s mind held the gauze tightly over itself. Beyond the gauze, like a horde of ravenous insects, their world. Not mine, he whispered to himself. Their world, not mine. He could find no good reason to go there.

“Spike!” Brown was shaking the vampire frantically. He couldn’t even lift Xander, let alone carry him up the hill to the coven. He couldn’t take a vampire, ostensibly a corpse, to a hospital. He had no idea what he was dealing with here, anyway. He shook Spike violently. Damnit, he could see the vampire’s eyeballs twitching away beneath his closed lids; why wouldn’t he come to? “Spike!” he yelled into the bloody face, “I need your help, man, wake up!”

It seemed absurd, Spike dreamed the thought, that all these humans who hated him so much were always trying to force him to approximate life. To stand the corpse up, throw it at their latest trouble. He was dead, wasn’t that what they wanted? He rolled in his metaphorical space and pulled the mental gauze closer.

But something crept in. Over and under and through the gauze, washed the scent of the blood. Spike could taste it in his nose. It clung to his mouth. He tried to make it grey, make it go away behind the curtain, but it soaked into him like mist. Not mine, he reminded himself. But the blood knew better. The blood knew his skin, knew he belonged to it. It wrapped its claim around him and drew him through the gauze.

Spike groaned. “Bloody fucker, what d’ya want?”

“Xander’s out cold, Spike.” Brown was dragging at the vampire, trying to sit him up. “He’s bled out.” He looked at the groggy and confused creature before him. “Bled out a lot,” he said, carefully not telling Spike why.

Spike saw and felt the heavy mass of bloody and unconscious man before him, and came to with a snap. “Xander. What happened to him?” He gathered the man to him, his hands running over him found the wound. Saw the sloppy tourniquet. He felt the blood pumping through him. He hugged Xander to him tighter. “Geezus fuck, Xan,” he said into the blood soaked hair. He looked around. “Where’s the knife he done himself with?” he asked Brown, all business.

“God, Spike, what are you gonna do?”

“He needs blood,” said Spike, finding the dagger and tilting its point into the edge of a vein on his arm.

“You’re gonna turn him,” said Brown, in a panic. “No, Spike. Listen. He’s lost too much blood, this time you’re gonna turn him.”

Spike hesitated. “How fast can you get to a hospital?”

Brown leapt to the front seat, and cranked the key harshly in the ignition. “We’ll find out,” he said grimly, banging the van into gear and veering out onto the road.

Spike pushed the blade into his arm and pressed the bloody limb into Xander’s mouth. “Better be fast enough or you’re gonna arrive with two demons in your back seat, ‘stead a one.”

Brown jammed the accelerator to the floor.


Brown happily delivered one vampire and one human to Sunnydale Hospital’s Emergency Ward. The three emerged from the van, a half-clothed and painfully sore Spike carrying Xander, Brown yelling warnings to the medics about the HIV. As they trolleyed him in, Spike informed the doctors of Xander’s blood type with such authority they believed him and started an IV immediately.

Brown was trying to give info to the admissions nurse, with an agitated Spike interrupting with aggressive questions and suggestions, when Dr. Thomas approached them. She gave the two the once over.

“Shower,” she pronounced sternly. She grabbed a passing nurse. “Get these two men to a shower.” She paused. “Bag the clothes with gloves.”

“Whoa.” Brown backed away. “What the hell?”

Spike wasn’t paying heed. “How is he, doc?” he asked immediately. “’Can I see him now? Wankers won’t let me past the line.” He waved frantically at a white line on the floor.

Diana looked him over. “Are you family?”

Spike snorted, “Yeah. Right. Do I look like family? He’s my…” he paused, fumbled in his mind, “he’s my boyfriend.” He pronounced the word carefully, feeling its weirdness in his mouth.

Diana shook her head. “Only family.”

“Aw come on, doc. These guys are practically married,” Brown protested. He was glaring evilly at an orderly who was trying to encourage him towards someplace, probably showers.

Diana shook her head again. “Rules,” she said. She stepped back from the stressed vampire and frowned with sympathy. Spike was obviously barely controlling his desire to run past the white line and down the hall to find Xander. “He’s better,” she assured him. Spike’s eyes pleaded for the reassurance, even though Spike’s feet wanted to go find out for himself. “He’s conscious and not in shock.”

Brown snorted with relief and feebly attempted to grasp Spike’s arm. The vampire was pacing and practically wringing his hands.

“Shower,” reminded Diana sternly. The orderly stepped forward. Spike and Brown both pulled away. “And then maybe someone might be allowed a visitor.” She waved the carrot.

Spike became alert. “’Kay,” he said quickly. He grabbed Brown. The young man jerked in the grip, but it was not removable.

They were led away.


Hospital showers are always cold. One hopes the hot water is diverted to the sinks the surgeons use to scrub their hands before surgery. But the shower that Spike shared with Brown was icy.

It was a large aquamarine tiled room with drains every two feet. The smell of antiseptic was overpowering when they stepped in and became more so when the water hit the tiles.

Brown shivered. As far into a corner as he could get and still have water hitting him. Most of the blood had stayed on his clothes, he was grateful to observe. His hands were covered with the gore, but he appeared to have no wounds there through which the infection could have passed. He hoped. He glanced at Spike. He had carefully averted his gaze from the vampire since they had been sent into the room to strip and deliver their stained clothes to a hamper. He hoped Spike was doing the same.

Of course not. Spike was ogling him with a big grin on his face. Brown scowled and fought the ridiculous impulse to cover himself. Instead he posed jauntily. “Like what ya see?”

“Sure,” said Spike, lackadaisically. He turned back to the spray and began rubbing the green antiseptic soap over his bloodied chest. “Yer alright.”

“You know,” muttered Brown, scrubbing furiously also. “Most guys have nightmares about stuff like this.”

Spike ‘hmmed?’ and scrubbed. He lifted his face into the spray.

“Bout takin’ a shower with some gay guy lookin’ at him.”

Spike blinked at him. Water fell from the dark eyelashes. In the aquamarine room, his eyes were the color of the sky. Brown gawked, then turned away furiously.

“Fuckin’ nightmare.”

Spike chuckled. “Don’t worry. Xander’s it for me.”

“Yeah, well good,” said Brown. He thought a minute. “For how long?”

Spike played with the soap. “As long as he wants me,” he admitted in a low voice.

Brown turned to him, now completely unconscious of his own nakedness. “Right. ‘Til he gets too old or too sick and isn’t hot anymore.”

Spike looked up, surprised. “Not about the sex, ya know.”

“No?” Brown looked extremely skeptical. “Seems like it’s all about sex with you two. Sex and fighin’.” He strode out of the shower and grabbed a towel.

Spike turned off the faucets and stood dripping and thinking. “Yeah?” he said, troubled.

“Well, yeah. What else do you do?” He tossed a towel to Spike. Spike caught it easily without looking.

“Fight evil.”

“Yeah, a few more years of that and Harris’ll bite it one night. He ain’t young, ya know.”

“Drink. And play pool.”

Brown was grimacing at the pile of hospital garb they had been left. He lifted a pair of slacks. “Think Xan should lay off the drinkin’ with the AIDs and all, don’t you?”

“Watch telly? Go to the mall?”

“Now there’s the basis for a long term relationship!” declared Brown cynically. He tossed the longer pants to Spike who began to pull them on thoughtlessly.

“Don’t care,” said Spike. “Just sittin’ in a room with him. Makin’ him laugh.” Thinking of it, his eyes crinkled up in a small smile. “That’d be enough.”

Brown looked at him. The preternatural blood-drinking creature of the night stood with wet hair in hospital fatigues smiling dreamily.

“Geez, that’s so fucking romantic,” declared Brown sincerely. He stomped to the door. “You make me fucking believe in Santa Claus, man.”

Spike blinked. “There really is a Santa, ya know.”

“Somehow I just know I don’t wanna hear this,” said Brown with rolling eyes.

“Fat, ugly Kratslik demon. Eats bad children.”

“Not listening,” sang Brown.

“No sleigh and reindeer, though. Has wings. Like a big bat.”

“La la la la.” Brown had his fingers in his ears. They went out into the hallway, looking for Xander.


Willow wasn’t a soldier. She was a healer. Neither her nature, nor her position in the Coven, was suited to a long-range military battle. After the initial capture and capitulation of the renegade Council members, which required the level of magic only she could employ, she had handed the responsibility happily to Bartholomew and Giles.

Then she came straight to Sunnydale Hospital to find Maurice. The Watcher was still in the critical ward. The ricochet had hit a kidney, and he had lost a lot of blood. The subsequent operation had taxed his exhausted and toxic body even more. He was stable, but still weak, and Willow sat next to him, holding his hand and willing him strength.

She decided to step outside for a moment when the nurses came in.

Outside the door were military police. She ignored them, their presence told her that the Initiative was still operating as usual, but there was nothing to be done by her about that at the moment.

She stood casually two feet away from them, in her mind erasing their uniforms. A little mental magic couldn’t hurt and was amusing as well.

“Pillock. Why would the bloody numbers skip around like that?”

Willow blinked. Blinked again harder. At the end of the hallway stood a bleach blonde punk vampire in hospital green. Next to him, a young slacker, similarly attired, pointed down a hallway.

“Spike!” called Willow.

The vampire looked up. “Red,” he said flatly. He narrowed his eyes. “Who told you?”

“Told me?”

“Xander’s gonna be okay…”

“Xander?” Willow was startled. “Was Xander hurt?”

Brown was doing the puzzle slowly. “Why are you here?”

“Maurice,” Willow said quickly. She lay a hand on Spike’s arm. Noted his flinch. “What happened to Xander?”

“Your friend had massive blood loss. Resulting, apparently, from a self-inflicted wound,” Diana said, approaching them.

“Maurice?” said Brown, looking beyond Willow to the military personnel at the door. “The old fucker made it,” he breathed in relief. He headed towards the door.

“Self-inflicted? What are you saying?” Willow asked Diana in amazement.

“He cut open his wrist. Apparently his friends here stopped him.”

Spike could not read the expression Willow turned on him. “Can I see him?” she asked Diana, still regarding Spike.

Diana led them to Xander’s room. “He’s conscious,” she stated. “But he needs to rest. You can’t stay long.”

Spike pushed eagerly through the door.

Xander was a portrait in white. He lay on the white sheets, pasty and drained. His face turned listlessly towards the window. His shiny dark hair tousled and sticking up. The fluorescents and white walls sucked all the color from the room, except for a bright red blood bag dangling from a gurney by the side of the bed. To a vampire, he was a confection. A white chocolate truffle with a cherry on top. To Spike, however, he was his Xander. In pain again. In the hospital again. Because of Spike.

He wanted to rush to him, but Xander was so utterly still. He turned when Spike entered and stared at him without speaking.

“Hey, pillock,” whispered Spike. He nodded at the blood bag and almost managed a smirk. “Got yerself a midnight snack?” When Xander didn’t respond, he looked away.

Diana checked the monitors and IV drip routinely. “Do you want visitors, Mr. Harris?”

Xander blinked at Spike. “Sure,” he said in an inflectionless voice.

Willow looked at the two men and followed Diana from the room. In the hallway, she stopped her before the doctor strode off again. “What will happen now?”

Diana gave Willow a sympathetic look. “Your friend will speak to one of the staff psychiatrists,” she explained carefully, “if he seems stable we will contact his regular therapist and release him.”

“If he seems stable,” Willow repeated.

“Suicide attempts are not uncommon. Oddly enough.”

“Not so odd,” said Willow to herself thoughtfully, walking slowly back to the room.

Xander watched Spike as the vampire stood looking out the window with his back to Xander. Spike looked so out of place here he hardly seemed real. It wasn’t just the ridiculous green hospital garb. It was the environment itself. There was something basic, human and gritty about institutional linoleum and fluorescent lights. Something that focused on bodily fluids and bedpans. Magic and metaphysics lived in the Hallmark cards in the gift shop. These rooms and these halls were for keeping the fleshy machines alive.

“Why’d ya do it, Xan?”

Xander hardly heard the question, it was spoken so quietly. He stared at the IV needle. The plastic tape holding it in his arm was slightly crooked and peeled at one corner. This seemed important. It meant something. He sighed.

Spike turned and gave him an exasperated look. “You almost offed yourself, Xander!”

Xander studied the tape on his arm. He felt very tired. Hollow. Pointless. “Yeah. Well.” He looked at the vampire. Spike seemed to be too much bone and unreal hair and translucent skin. He looked like a book illustration. Xander felt there was nothing to say. None of this was real, so there was nothing to say about it. He felt equally that there was too much. That somewhere under the blood loss, and the weird medication, there was too much. If he tried to get a grip on anything, tried to find words, it would all be too much. So he let his eyes rest without emotion on Spike.

Spike approached and touched his arm and the fact that his touch was inhumanly cool seemed appropriate, seemed to reaffirm his not-there-ness. Xander didn’t respond. The door snicked open and Willow entered the room.

Xander looked at Willow and it all came down. Without any curtain, or pretense of normality; there was all his failure, all his disappointment in himself and in his life. Willow who had made him his lunches all through grammar school, tutored him all through high school. Willow who accepted his weirdness and his failures as dear and charming. Willow who had believed in him. He felt nakedly inadequate. A small sprawled worm of nothing lying under the harsh lights, and here was the person who had believed he could be more. Xander raised his free arm over his eyes and tried to hide.

Willow stood silently, wondering what to do. Spike was petting Xander’s IV’d arm, his fingers shaking. He alternately gazed hopefully at Xander and pleadingly back at Willow. Willow approached the bed. “Xander,” she said with as much kindness as she could muster, “the power did things to you, sweetie.” She looked at Spike; he seemed so tense and fragile. She spoke carefully. “It raised the magic in you. The magic from Spike’s blood,” she explained, watching the vampire.

Spike stilled and his jaw clenched. He looked down at Xander’s hand. Willow felt that some other train was running on tracks near her, but couldn’t see it yet. “When it wears off, you might not understand everything that happened,” she said. “To the psychiatrist, it will seem like a psychotic episode. She’ll try to give you Prozac.”

“How long will it take to wear off?” Xander spoke from under his arm.

Willow took a deep breath and seemed to go internal for a bit. The air around her swirled with dissipating magical debris. “Not much longer,” she decided after a minute.

“Good,” said Xander. He kept his arm over his eyes. He couldn’t look at Spike. “I wanna sleep now,” he said. “I wanna sleep until it’s gone.”

Spike took his hand slowly off Xander’s arm. To Willow he looked like he was folding down, becoming smaller. He hunched over with his hands in his lap. “Yeah. It’ll be gone soon,” he whispered painfully.

Xander turned his head, still under his arm, away from Spike. The vampire shriveled noticeably and stood. He folded his arms around himself and stepped back from the bed biting his lip. Willow felt the pain in the room like a blast from a furnace.

“We’ll go.” She took Spike’s arm, noted his flinch at her touch again with a raised eyebrow, and led him out the door.

Xander didn’t acknowledge their leaving.

In the hallway, Spike broke free of Willow’s arm and strode off at top speed. She ran to catch up to him. “Wait. Spike.” He obediently stopped and waited. Head down, arms still at his sides. She ran up and tried to look into his face. He avoided her.

“Spike, Xander’s not himself right now.”

“Yeah,” Spike said with a great deal of bitterness. “Sort it out then, witch. Make him right.”

Willow stared. “What’s going on, Spike?”

Spike took a breath, Willow noted with alarm, and looked her in the eye. “He said that’s what he wants.” Spike couldn’t bear standing still and walked off again, heading for the hospital exit. Willow jogged beside him.

“What? Spike, what did he say?” But the vampire strode out into the night without answering. Willow stopped at the door, watching him walk into the dark. Then turned to go back to Maurice’s room.

She hesitated as she passed Xander’s room. Saw him through the door, once more turned to the window. She hoped he was asleep. She moved on.

Xander lay and wished with all his heart that Spike would come back, and despised himself for wishing it. As the tingle of magic and the rush from Spike’s blood wore off, and as Willow’s earthy presence brought him the rest of the way into his sorry self, all he could think of was what Brown had told him Spike felt about the claim. Here he lay, a complete idiot who couldn’t handle a little second hand magical smoke. A fragile ill mortal with nothing to recommend him. No wonder Spike had seen reason.

Xander could see now, quite clearly, why he had wanted the claim. It had been a childish attempt to keep Spike from leaving him. Like an insecure teenage girl using sex to keep her boyfriend, Xander had teased Spike with blood and seduced him into a fatal bond. Xander angrily regarded his foolish and selfish act. After the diagnosis he had tried to change. He had thought he had changed. Become more responsible, more accountable. Forced himself to look hard at the man in the mirror. It had been slow, difficult and painful. Spike’s affection, his touch, had been like a balm. Xander had buried himself in it, unwilling to lose it and go back to the grim reality of himself. And now he could see how he had weakened and once again been willing to do anything to stay inside the bliss. A wave of intense longing surged through him, and he didn’t know anymore if it was withdrawal from the blood, or simply an emotional need for Spike.

Xander’s eyes went to the call button. He could get them to summon Willow, he imagined. And if he asked her, she would bring Spike back. But Xander considered how little he deserved the comfort, and he didn’t press the call button. He lay shivering in the suddenly frigid room, tearfully missing his vampire and cursing himself for being what he was.

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