Rated R (for language, flirting and unkind thoughts)
Spike/Xander friendship/pre-slash Spike is injured and Xander finds himself taking care of him.
Takes place about five months after 'Into the Woods'(Riley left town) but before 'The Body' (Joyce still alive).

Inside Outside


Part One

High on a hill overlooking the town of Sunnydale, a group of five humans and one vampire stood in a circle around an unmarked stone sunk into the soil.

"Are you sure this is it?" Xander dropped down into a crouch and shone the flashlight directly onto the stone. "There aren't any squiggles saying 'Here Be Monsters' or anything. It's just a rock."

"It's the right place, whelp, and you lot only have," Spike looked at his watch, "about half an hour before he rises."

"And why should we believe you?" Buffy demanded. She shone her light directly into the eyes of the vampire causing him to back up a step and put a hand up in front of his face.

"Anya and I both agreed that Spike translated the text correctly, Buffy, so do stop trying to pick a fight." Giles motioned for Willow and Tara to begin the preparations to bind the demon to the earth for long enough after it rose to enable them to defeat it.

Buffy sighed and lowered her flashlight, moving away from the rock to give the witches more room. "Fine. But I still don't see why you and Anya couldn't have translated it yourself."

" 'Cause I knew what all the words meant, not just every third one." Spike answered before stalking away to lean against a nearby tree and lighting a cigarette.

Xander skirted the stone and stopped beside Buffy. "Why can't you give him a break once in a while? I mean, he's finally helping without being paid for it and you are harder on him now than ever."

Buffy glared at the object of discussion and shook her head. "Because I don't trust him."

Xander rolled his eyes and tried again. "You have to admit he's been behaving himself these last few months, right?"

"That we know of, yeah. But who knows..."

"Buffy! Spike did not cause Riley to leave. Spike only showed you what was going on. He had nothing to benefit from doing that and everything to lose. So, ask yourself, why did he do it?"

Buffy shook her head again and looked away. "I don't know and I don't care. And I don't know why you, of all people, are suddenly so buddy-buddy with him."

"Oh, let's see, hmmm. Could it be because Anya is now more interested in making money than me or sex? Could it be because you're busy with your mom and Dawn? Willow and Tara are busy with school and each other? Or how about; because if someone isn't nice to him, he's going to go back to actively plotting our destruction? Pick a reason because they're all true."

Before Buffy could reply, Giles called them both back to the stone. It was time.

As demon raisings went, it was pretty routine. The demon rose, became furious that it couldn't move out of the six-foot circle that had been cast around it and had lashed out accordingly.

Unfortunately, no one had bothered to mention that the demon would be nearly ten feet tall, have three heads, a heavily armored body, two tails with poisoned tips and four arms with a five-foot reach.

Buffy, Giles, Xander and Spike, all armed with a sword and axe each, fought the demon while Tara and Willow tried to keep the binding circle from breaking. Each of the combatants held their own, but the warriors couldn't seem to make any progress towards the death of the demon, either.

After a long twenty minutes of battle, the demon was minus one head and two hands, but was showing no signs of slowing down. Knowing that the battle needed to end soon, Buffy yelled for Xander and Spike to concentrate on removing one head while she and Giles concentrated on the other.

By the time it was over, Buffy would have a new scar on her back, Xander would need stitches in his left leg and possibly his right shoulder, Giles would need a new pair of glasses, his left pinky reset and new jacket. It was only luck that no one was hit by the poisoned tail.

Tara and Willow, using the first aid kit that had been brought along, patched up the trio of humans enough to get them all back to town where injuries could be reassessed for a possible hospital visit.

The group began limping back towards the two vehicles that had brought them to the battleground. Half way down the hill, Xander realized they were missing one bleached blond vampire.

"Damn!" Xander sighed and turned around to retrace his steps.

"Xander! Where are you going now? The car's this way." Buffy yelled after him.

"Spike." He didn't have the energy to explain any more than that. After a few minutes, he made it to the top of the hill and scanned the area for the usually glaring platinum hair.

"Here, this might help."

Xander jumped when Willow appeared next to him with a flashlight. "Thanks. You see him anywhere?"

Willow ran the light over the area of the fight and demon remains and then worked her way out. She stopped and pointed to the tree line. "Over there."

Moving as quickly as his injured leg allowed, Xander and Willow crossed to where Spike was laying crumpled against the same tree he'd been leaning against earlier. Xander kicked one of Spike's legs but the vampire didn't move.

"Come on, Spike, get up."

Willow knelt down and shined the flashlight over the unconscious vampire. She found a few cuts and gashes, mainly on his chest and lower legs where his leather coat hadn't offered any protection, but nothing seemed bad enough to have caused him to be unconscious. She grabbed the lapel of his coat and pulled him forward, gasping when she saw the back of his head.

"Oh, no!"

"What?" Xander couldn't see what she was looking at from where he was. "What's wrong with him?"

"His head is bashed in pretty bad. It looks like he might've hit the tree."

"Oi! Stop moving me about!" Spike groaned and opened his eyes. "And tell the ground to stop spinnin' while you're at it."

Xander grinned and limped closer to the vampire. "Come on. You know Buffy won't wait forever." He held out his hand to help Spike up. "How'd you end up all the way over here, anyway?"

Willow stood and offered her hand as well.

Spike took both and pulled himself up. After a few seconds where he wasn't sure he was going to remain upright, he steadied himself and released their hands. "Don't rightly know. I'd have to guess the big ugly threw me over here." He lifted one hand to the back of his head and winced at what he found.

"Ow!" He looked at his hand, covered with his own blood and then shrugged. "Good thing I've a hard head."

"It's not… broken, or anything, is it?" Willow asked. "It looked pretty bad to me."

Spike shrugged off her concern and headed towards the car. After a few feet, he realized he was shakier than he'd thought and slowed down to let the humans catch up.

"Spike? Spike you home?" Xander pushed open the crypt door and frowned at the complete lack of light. It was an hour past sunset but he was sure that Spike would be home since he watched some show on Wednesday nights if there was no Scooby emergency.

Well, Xander thought, he'll just have to miss it tonight. His own fault for not showing up for four days.

Making his way over to where he knew Spike's armchair and single electric light were, Xander called out again. "Spike, if you're playing some kind of game, stop it, okay?"

"Go 'way."

Xander jumped and nearly stumbled over the chair when he reached it. He snapped on the light and turned towards the bed where the voice had come from. "Not funny, Spike. Why're you moping around in the dark, anyway?"

"I said go away, didn't I?" Spike snapped back. He pulled the covers up over his waist and gave Xander the two-finger salute.

Xander smirked at the vampire's foul mood and wondered what had happened to set him off this time. He hobbled over to the bed and sat down on the edge to take the pressure off the leg which had required six stitches. "Up and at 'em, Spike. Giles needs you to look at something with him."

The vampire turned on his side, away from Xander. "I said piss off! I ain't going anywhere and Rupert can bloody well go fuck himself."

Xander left off trying to scratch his stitches without actually scratching them and looked over at the vampire. "What the hell is your problem?" He glared at the back of the bleached head for a moment then reached around and yanked the covers down off of Spike. "I said let's go."

Spike rolled back over and glared at the mortal. Or at least he glared at where he thought Xander was. "No. Now. Get. Out." He pulled the covers back up over him and closed his eyes.

Xander frowned at what he thought he had just seen, but was equally sure couldn't be.

"Don't hear you leaving, boy," Spike growled, his eyes remaining closed.

The minutes ticked by while Xander puzzled out what was going on. Having run it around in his head several ways, he kept coming back to the same thing. "You can't see me, can you?"

"Have my eyes closed, don't I? Get out before I throw you out!"

Xander stood and hovered next to the bed. "Fine. Throw me out then." He crossed his arms across his chest and waited. "Well?"

Several more minutes passed in silence before Xander sighed and reseated himself on the edge of the bed. "You should have just told us that you hurt your head worse than you thought."

"Weren't that. Least not entirely," Spike finally mumbled.

"Then what? Come on, you got to help me out here if we're going to figure out what to do about it."

Spike's face twisted into a snarl, ridges appearing and disappearing, and his hands shot up to hold his head. "Arrrggg. Stop it!"

"Spike! What is it? What's wrong?" Xander climbed further up onto the bed and leaned over the vampire.

"My head, you stupid git! Get away from me!" Spike swiped at Xander, missing him completely.

A few minutes passed and the pain appeared to recede. Spike dropped his hands and lay there, panting. "How long has this been going on?"

"Since the night after that soddin' demon threw me against a tree!" Spike yelled at the mortal. "Keep getting the pain in my head just like when I try to hurt humans, only I ain't hurtin' anybody. Can't hardly see no more either." He reached up and grabbed Xander's arm, finding it on the first try. "Don't tell the others about this. Promise! I won't have them all pitying me and such."  

"Okay, okay. Just calm down, Spike." Xander tried to pry Spike's fingers off his arm. "Now, let go of my arm, you're hurting me. Spike… let go!"

Spike released his grip, let his arm flop back down on the bed and stared sightlessly at the ceiling. "Just stake me now, before it gets any worse."

Xander rubbed his arm where Spike had squeezed. "Let's see if we can fix it first, okay?"

"Whatever. Won't make a difference," Spike said, dully.

Chewing his lip, Xander considered where to start. "How long since you ate?"

" 'Bout three days."

Xander nodded. "How about I get you something to eat and then we can start figuring this out, okay?"

Spike hesitated for a long moment and then nodded his agreement.

"Here. This is the last one." Xander handed Spike the container of blood and sat at the end of the bed, propping a notebook on his crossed legs. "So let me make sure I understand everything."

"Why are you doing this?" Spiked, propped up against the headboard of the bed, sipped his third container of blood. He had to admit he did feel a little better, a bit more clear-headed, at least. His sight was still very blurred but at least he could see the outline of the other man at the end of the bed.

"Why wouldn't I? Now, when we got back from demon slayage, you slept the day on Giles' couch and when you woke up, your head was all healed, right?"

"Almost healed. Still a bit soft in the center but about right for the time that had passed."

"And you felt okay when you left that night?"

"Yeah. Went to the corner store to get some smokes and was heading for the butchers when it happened the first time."

Xander nodded and wrote something down in the notebook he'd picked up when he'd gone to get Spike's dinner. "You weren't doing anything to anybody? Just walking along?"

"Just bloody well walking down the street. Weren't bothering anybody, weren't thinking anything particularly nasty, just walking to the butchers. How many times are we going to go over this?"

Xander held up his hand but dropped it when he remembered that Spike probably couldn't see it. "Just this last time. I want to make sure we don't miss anything. I'm writing it all down so I can look stuff up later."

Spike snorted and shook his head. "I don't think there's a book for this, Xander."

"Yeah, well, you never know. So you get the pain in your head like when you're trying to hurt someone. How long did it last?"

"How the bloody hell should I know? I wasn't timing it!"

Xander sighed and scratched at this stitches again. "I'm just trying to figure out if it has gotten worse or what. You know, was the first pain real quick and now the pain lasts longer, how long in between the times it flares up, stuff like that."

"Oh, right. I think it lasts about the same amount of time each time but I don't know about how often. It doesn't seem like there's any certain schedule to it but I'm not exactly able to look at the clock, am I?"

Xander nodded and wrote something else in the notebook. "And you're sure this is the chip and not just having your head bashed in?"

Draining the last of the blood from the container, Spike wiped his hand across his mouth and held out the empty. "I've had me head bashed in plenty of times and this never happened before. It's the soddin' chip."

Xander took the empty container and set it on the floor. "Okay, well… I guess we better get going."

"I don't know what you're on about now, but I'm not going anywhere."

Unseen by Spike, Xander rolled his eyes and got off the bed. Searching for Spike's clothes, he explained. "You've been lucky no one else has shown up here before now. And I don't just mean Buffy. It's not safe for you here and you know it."

Spike stubbornly shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. "This is me crypt and I ain't leavin'."

"So you want someone to come stake you?" Xander threw the black jeans at Spike's head and winced when they actually hit him. "Sorry." He resumed looking for the rest of the vampire's clothes.

"Now that you mention it, YES!" He threw the jeans towards the end of the bed.

"Look, I called Giles and put him off tonight by telling him I couldn't find you and that I was going home because my leg hurt. But that's not going to work for long. I can hide you at my place until you're better and no one will be the wiser." He carefully lowered himself to the floor and looked under the bed for Spike's boots. Finding what he was looking for, Xander pulled out the boots as well as Spike's duster. But the vampire's t-shirt was nowhere to be found.

"Demon girl?"

"Let me worry about Anya. Now get dressed or I'll drag you through Sunnydale naked. Between the two of us, it's going to take forever to get home and I'm tired."

Spike shook his head again but then started feeling around for the pants he'd tossed away. "Pushy bastard. Liked you better when you were still playing brainless puppy-boy."

The walk back to Xander's apartment took nearly an hour. Mostly accomplished with Spike cursing every person he'd ever known, the chip, the Initiative and whoever it was that invented curbs and decided that sidewalks needed cracks in them.

They had made it to the hall outside Xander's door without any major incidents or accidents when Spike crumpled to the floor, holding his head and moaning in pain.

Not knowing what else to do, Xander knelt down beside the vampire and pulled the blond into his lap. "It's okay. It'll be over in a minute. Just hold on." Even when Spike screamed at Xander to stop touching him, Xander held on to him, waiting for the pain to pass.

Not aware of anything other than the suffering vampire in his arms, Xander didn't notice when a door down the hall opened and a man in a bathrobe strode into the hall.

"What the hell is all the noise?" The neighbor stopped a few feet away and scowled down at the two men on the floor. When he saw that the blond man was obviously in pain, his expression changed to one of concern. "Is he all right? Should I call an ambulance?"

Without taking his eyes off Spike, Xander shook his head. "No. Thanks. Um.. He'll be okay in a minute. Sorry to bother you. It won't happen again."

The man hesitated and then moved closer. "Can I help you get him inside?"

Xander looked up at the man this time. "If you could just unlock my door, that'd be great. I can handle it from there. The keys are in the door."

The neighbor stepped around the pair on the floor, turned the key and pushed open the door to Xander's apartment. "You sure you don't need any more help?"

"No, I got it. Thanks."

Spike shuddered once and let out a sigh of relief, his hands falling away from his head.

"See, he's fine now." Xander looked up at the neighbor. "It's uh… a form of epilepsy."

The neighbor nodded his understanding and stepped back. "Well.. I'll… I'll just let you take care of him then." He turned around and headed back to his apartment.

Xander waited until the other door closed before returning his attention to Spike. "Can you get up?"

"Of course I can bloody well get up!" Spike placed one hand on the floor next to him, levered himself out of Xander's lap and stood up.

Xander climbed to his feet much more slowly, his injured leg throbbing from the stress he'd put on it this evening. He waited a moment until Spike stopped swaying and got his balance. "Okay?"

"I need to… Just let me sit down somewhere and then stake me."

"We are not having that conversation again." Placing his hands on Spike's upper arms, he guided the vampire through the door and to the couch. "Sit here while I lock the door."

"Why are you doing this? Why can't you understand that I'd rather be dust than be like this!"

"I'm too tired to have a deep, meaningful conversation just now." Xander turned the deadbolt and slid the security chain on. "It's late and we're both going to get a few hours of sleep." He limped over to the windows and pulled the curtains closed. "And if you had really wanted to be dust, you would have just crawled out of your crypt door and waited for the sun."

Spike leaned back on the couch and remained silent, too worn out from the pain to argue with Xander's logic. But, even though it had been as painful as before, this last episode hadn't totally drained him like the others had and his sight hadn't fazed out right afterwards like before, either. The only explanation that came to mind was the blood Xander had forced him drink before they'd left the crypt.

Maybe that was the answer to his problem. He should have thought of that sooner. Blood was always the answer, wasn't it? Of course! Just feed heavy, hopefully on human, and everything would be fine. He'd heal up just fine, no more pain, vision would clear up and…

Spike sighed and shook his head at his thoughts. He knew there was no way he'd end up being that lucky. It made sense that the blood would help but if the problem was with the chip - and he was sure that it was- he knew he could drain a hundred Slayers and it wouldn't really fix him. But, the blood did seem to help. He opened his mouth to mention it to Xander, but was cut off.

Xander frowned when Spike shook his head in disagreement. He didn't know what part of what he'd said that Spike was disagreeing with, but it didn't matter. "You know I'm right, so I don't want to hear another word about it." He stopped next to the couch and nudged Spike's leg with his foot. "Come on, one more move and then we can both sleep for awhile."

Spike's eyes popped open in surprise. "I ain't sleeping on the couch?" He always slept on the couch when he stayed at Xander's. Well, the three times he'd passed out here after one of their increasingly frequent all-nighters.

"No. I don't want to have to get out of bed when you start screaming your head off again." Which by his calculations, would be in about three or four hours, max. Xander used his foot to nudge the vampire again. "Get up, I don't think I can drag you."

Spike stood and allowed Xander to guide him into the bedroom, surprise at the turn of events making him forget to mention his newly formed 'more blood' theory.

Xander was tired when he got up the next morning. Spike had three attacks during the night; twice screaming him awake and once, disoriented and whimpering in pain, the vampire had flailed around, hitting Xander on the cheek hard enough to leave a bruise.

Several times during the night, Spike had begged him to end it, that the pain was worse than anything he'd ever endured and he couldn't take it any more, driving home to Xander just how very bad this really was. In the past, Xander had seen Spike with broken bones coming through the skin, cuts so deep they must have scored bone and once he'd had his stomach ripped open, long dead organs ready to spill out if the vampire moved his hand. But Spike just shrugged it off, showing up days or weeks later nearly healed and none the worse for wear.

He'd never heard Spike beg for anything and never, no matter how torn up he was, for final death.

Xander thought maybe he'd made a mistake in trying to help Spike. Maybe it was just better to do what he asked and end it. He was clearly suffering in a way that was unbearable and he had asked… Anyway, how was he going to help the vampire when he didn't even really know what was wrong?

Clumsy from lack of sleep, Xander nearly slipped getting out of the shower and laughed at himself. "Just what I need; a head injury of my own." He dried himself off and checked his stitches. It didn't appear that any had popped from the stress he'd put them through. After brushing his teeth and combing his wet hair, he put a towel around his waist and went back to the bedroom.

Spike was still on the bed and appeared to be asleep. Xander quietly got some sweats out of the drawer and pulled them on, all the while watching Spike for any signs that he was awakening. Of course it was kind of hard to tell since the vampire wasn't breathing or anything.

He slipped quietly out of the room, pulling the door almost closed, and went to the kitchen to make himself some coffee. While it was brewing, he picked up the notebook he'd started the night before and flipped to the first page, re-reading it as if it would be more helpful now than it was before. "Damn." He shook his head morosely and sighed.

The coffee finished with a final gurgle and he pushed his notes aside. Coffee poured, he leaned against the counter and stared at the nail hole left from where a calendar had hung and thought over his options. There really weren't many and he'd gone over them in his head the night before while Spike whimpered in pain, but it was the only thing he could think to do until the vampire woke up and they could discuss it.

There was Giles, but Xander already knew he would not be at the top of Spike's list. While the Watcher might possibly have an idea about how to help Spike, Xander wasn't sure that he would. It was true that Giles wasn't cruel to people but Xander also knew that Giles did not consider Spike a person. So, Giles was left on the list, but near the bottom.

There was staking. Xander had almost ruled that out entirely until living through the last night. He decided it didn't belong on the main list so moved it to the 'After All Else Fails' list and refused to think about why it wasn't at the top of the first list.

Xander supposed that Buffy should make the list somewhere simply because she was the Slayer but he couldn't think of anything Buffy could or would do to help. He moved her to the 'After All Else Fails' list, possibly to wield the no-other-choice stake.

There was Willow. Which was a possibility. She'd always been a little more sympathetic to Spike than anyone else, not much, but a little. She was good with the research and could do spells and even if it was too advanced for her, Willow would probably be able to find someone else. So, Willow provisionally went to the top of the list.

There was Angel. Again, he couldn't see any way the other vampire could possibly be of any help since this was a very unique situation, but he was the only other vampire Xander knew that probably wouldn't bite if he was asked for information about vampire stuff. Of course, Xander didn't know if Angel would even be willing to help and he'd bet that Spike would rather remain in pain forever than ask Angel, but still, Angel was on the list.

Then there was muddle through and hope it fixed itself. A possibility but not likely.

Xander sighed again and turned to get himself another cup of coffee.

"None of those are acceptable."

"Fine, then you tell me what we are going to do then. And can I just add how creepy it is when you sound like Giles?"

Spike closed his eyes and sighed. Xander and his stupid bloody list were going to drive him crazy. Crazier. "I do not sound like bloody Rupert." It came out sounding much less forceful than he'd intended.

He heard Xander shift on the couch next to him but the human remained blessedly silent. It wasn't that he wasn't a little grateful that there was at least one person on the earth that cared whether he died or not, cared whether he was in pain or not, and actually volunteered to help instead of wield the stake. But really, if Xander's list were their only options then, really, the only choice he had was the stake.

"You're going to let your pride kill you, is that it?"

Spike mentally rolled his eyes, since actually doing it would probably just make him dizzy, and put forth his own solution. "The blood last night really helped. If we could get our hands on human and lots of it then maybe…."

"So, we're going for the 'gorge yourself and hope the whole situation disappears approach?"

If Spike hadn't known Xander even as well as he did, he would have thought that Xander had just scoffed off his suggestion. And perhaps he had been, for a second, but by the time he finished his sentence, Spike could hear the tumblers falling into place for the other man.

"It's always about the blood, Harris."

"Yeah, it is, isn't it."

Spike opened his eyes at the flat tone Xander had used and tried to see through the grayness that seemed to be coating his eyes. By the time he was able to process what he was seeing; Xander thinking, the other man was up and heading to the bedroom. He reappeared a few minutes later, fully clothed, and returned to his seat on the couch.

"Do you really think it will help or are just trying to get me to leave you alone long enough for you to off yourself?"

Warning signs he was becoming all too familiar with fluttered on the edges of his nerves. "Yes, I think it will help and no I'm not going to off myself." At the moment, Spike added silently. There was still time for that later if need be. "You know where to get it?"

Gritting his teeth against the rising pain in his head, Spike was only peripherally aware that Xander was nodding hesitantly in answer to his question.

"I've some dosh stashed at the crypt. In the urn in the rear right-hand corner under the dead rat. Get it, take it, use it." He closed his eyes again and leaned back on the couch. He wanted Xander to leave before the next attack came full on otherwise he'd have to wait even longer to get what he needed.

"I'll be back. Go back to bed if you need to, Spike, I don't mind."

Spike kept his eyes closed but nodded quickly, mentally screaming at the damn human to just hurry up and leave. His wish was granted and he heard the door close and the dead-bolt being locked.

He breathed a sigh of relief and lay completely down on the couch, preparing for another mind-shatteringly painful trip to hell.

"Xander! Hi!"

Xander jerked guiltily to a halt and turned to face his friend, smile firmly in place. "Hey, Wills, what brings you out this way?" He was suddenly glad that it had taken him a while to locate Spike's money-he'd really have to make Spike brush up on his left vs right basics- and was still on his way to, instead of from, his destination. "I thought you had class today."

"It's Saturday, Xander." She gave him the 'should I be worried' look and cocked her head. "Even I take a break sometimes."

Xander smacked himself on the forehead and made the appropriate 'I'm an idiot' noises. He was so out of it that he'd forgotten what day it was. "Guess I got knocked down harder than I thought."

"Knocked? You were knocked? When did this happen?"

He gestured to his bruised cheek with a chagrined look. "Walked right in to somebody when I went out for a bagel this morning. We knocked heads pretty hard and I landed flat on my ass. Well, my cheek knocked his head pretty hard."

"Are you okay? I mean, nothing permanent?" Willow brushed her fingers along the bruise and winced in sympathy. "It doesn't look too bad."

"Just smarts a little is all." He smiled reassuringly and shoved his hands in his pockets, painfully aware of the passing time. "So, what are you doing on this not-so-great side of town?"

"Oh!" Willow's eyes sparkled with excitement and she began nearly bouncing. "I found that book we were looking so hard for last week. You remember, the one that Giles said really was a 'must have' but we absolutely couldn't find? Would you believe that there was a copy right here in town all along?

"Come over here and look." Willow tugged Xander off the sidewalk and slightly into the mouth of an alley. She reached in an ordinary plastic grocery bad and pulled out a crudely bound leather book. "It's not an original but it's a first edition copy." She displayed it proudly, running her fingers over the cover. "Amazing, isn't it?"

Xander was less than amazed and, actually, had no idea what she was talking about but years of practice had prepared him for just this kind of thing. "Wow! And it was right here all along? Amazing."

"Yeah and would you believe the book store had it sitting in the 'Foreign Language' section thinking it was in Italian or something?" She beamed up at Xander and quickly replaced the book in the bag. "I'm taking it over to Giles' now. Boy, will he be surprised! Wanna come with?"

Xander continued smiling pleasantly but shook his head. "Nah, got some stuff to do but I'll be over later to watch G-man drool on his nifty new book. You can tell me all about how many shades his face turned while trying to be excited and British at the same time."

Willow whacked Xander playfully on the arm. "He's not so much like that now." She caught sight of the watch on her arm and was suddenly in a hurry. "Ooo, gotta go, I'll see you later then, right?"

Xander nodded, already moving back out to the sidewalk. "Yeah." He waved as Willow hurried down the street. "Be careful." He waited until she was out of sight before continuing on his way to the really, really wrong side of the tracks, which were about half a block away from the ordinary wrong side of the tracks. Except there weren't any actual tracks.

Part Two

Xander fumbled with his keys and after a few tries using his left hand to get the door open, set the cooler down, switched the bag to his left hand and the keys to his right. Finally, the lock clicked open and he managed to get everything inside without droppage or breakage.

"Spike?" The vampire wasn't on the couch where he'd left him nor was he in the kitchen where Xander placed the cooler and the bag on the counter. The bathroom door was open, so he wasn't there either. A peek in the bedroom solved the not very mysterious mystery.

Spike was sprawled out on top of the covers of the bed resting anything but peacefully. He twitched slightly in his sleep and looked drawn and even more tired than when Xander left two hours before. He hadn’t meant to be gone that long but there had been no help for it.

Xander approached the bed and sat on the edge, frowning when the vampire whimpered and turned on his side. It was times like these, few and far between as they were, when Xander was reminded that Spike was not as invincible or as monstrous as he'd like people to think.

"Spike?" He shook the vampire's shoulder gently, not wanting to startle him. "Come on, wake up. You need to eat."

Slowly, Spike opened his eyes and blinked a few times but otherwise remained still. After a few more minutes, he seemed to become more aware of his surroundings and he rolled onto his back before sitting up. "What time is it?"

"About 11:30. I was gone longer than I expected, are you okay?"

Spike started to nod but winced instead. "Yeah, just peachy. What took you?"

"Fazolli didn't want to cooperate so I had to uh… kinda persuade him. I just hope Buffy never finds out I used her as a threat to buy blood for the evil undead… "

"Who the hell is Fazolli? Did Willie sell the place?" Spike spoke carefully and was scooting to the end of the bed as if every inch of skin hurt when he moved.

"Willie? What's Willie got to do with… Oh. No, I didn't get the stuff there. I wouldn't trust that little rat not to sell me pig labeled as human and it's not like I could tell the difference."

Having made it to the end of the bed, Spike was waiting until his head stopped spinning enough to be able to stand. "So who's Fazolli?" Maybe if he distracted Xander enough, he wouldn't notice how much worse off he was since the human left.

"Demon. Of some kind. Horn in the middle of forehead kind. Anyway, I uh… kinda followed… you know… Angel one time and… Well, that's where he'd get his occasional bag of human. I always meant to tell Buffy about it but it never seemed the right time."

Xander watched Spike closely, waiting to see how long it would take before the vampire admitted he wasn't going to be able to get from the bedroom to the kitchen without some help. It was clear that the vampire had had another attack while he'd been gone and, at least for now, was again almost totally blind.

"Huh. Where's this Fazolli blokes place then?"

"Over on Pecan Street. Runs the business out of the back of the Mr. Thrifty Store." Xander had always found that ironic in some ways. It was the same store his mother had bought most of his clothes as a kid before Xander started refusing to go there. "I got sixteen bags but it took all the money I got from your place. He said I was getting a good deal but I think he jacked the prices up some because I'm human."

"No, it was a good deal. A really good deal." Spike rocked forward and made it all the way up before his legs gave way and he ended up back on the bed. With a sigh of defeat he held out a hand toward Xander. "Be a mate and give us a hand, eh?"

Xander immediately got up and helped Spike to stand. He said nothing about Spike's worsening condition and neither did Spike. "Why so expensive when it's running around, free for the taking in the original containers not twenty feet from where Fazolli is selling it?"

They were half-way across the living room, Xander's arm firm around Spike's waist, by the time he was able to answer. "There's some kinds of demons that don't like to kill unless they can't help it but only need blood on occasion and this here is a town with a Slayer. Wouldn't do to catch her notice so they buy when they need it. There's all kinds of reasons to buy blood and he probably even has a few human customers. Although they're probably not buying it for their pet vampire."

Xander kicked the chair out from under the kitchen table and lowered Spike down onto it. "You're not anybody's pet, Spike. But, you know, now that I think about it, you might look kind of cute with a choke chain around your neck." He went quickly to plastic bag containing his impulse buys and removed an oversized frosted glass beer mug. It had looked big enough in Mr. Thrifty's to hold an entire bag of blood so he'd bought it and a pack of cigarettes on his way back through the store on his way out.

Spike snorted his opinion of Xander's words and cocked his head as Xander moved from the counter to the sink to the microwave. Shortly, the microwave started humming and the water ran for a few minutes before being turned off. A few squeaks of glass being dried and then the microwave binged.

"Tell me if it's too hot, okay?"

Spike's hands were guided to an object that was emitting the delicious smell of fairly fresh, hot blood. He felt his mouth water and his face ripple, demon trying to emerge. As soon as he got a good grip on the - he felt the contours of the warm glass - beer mug, he lifted it to his mouth and began gulping it down.

"You can change if you want. If it makes it easier or… whatever."

Not having to be told twice – although at another time Spike would have been angry to realize just how well he'd been trained by these humans – Spike's face shifted and he swallowed down the last few drops in the glass.

"Hold on, I'll heat up another." The mug was taken, rinsed, refilled and placed in the microwave. "Is it helping, do you think?"

Spike wasn't hearing anything outside of himself. He could feel the healing blood moving through his body, filling his veins, rushing to fill that part of him that kept the corpse moving night after night. His demon stirred and demanded more.

He opened his eyes and turned his head toward the source of his nourishment. Xander stared back at him and nervously shifted from foot to foot obviously hoping that the microwave would be done soon. As soon as it dinged, he popped open the door and gingerly set the mug back in front of a very hungry looking vampire.

Once again, Spike lifted the mug and gulped the contents down quickly, not bothering to savor the life that was entering his body. He was too starved for it, too empty. When the glass was again empty, he held it steadily out at arms length for more.

"You… you're looking better all ready." Xander quickly repeated his rinse, fill, microwave routine, only this time he stepped to the side of the microwave to open the door so he wouldn't have to turn his back on the vampire at the table. "Heh. Heh. Umm… Spike… I always wondered… Can you see better like that? I mean, is it like a cat or something? 'Cause your eyes kind of look like a cat's right now. Only, you know, I'm not a mouse or anything so could you quit looking at me like I am one?"

The Xanderbabble finally registered with Spike and he blinked, breaking his concentration away from the beating of Xander's heart. Oh, the blood was helping all right, he could feel it regenerating his body in a way that animal blood just couldn't do. Even the skin on the back of his hands was starting to look a little different; not pinker but… more right somehow.

The third mug of blood was placed before him and he was barely aware of Xander backing slowly away again. This time he drank slower, taking a few mouthfuls at a time, then pausing to savor the thick liquid as it coated his mouth and slid down his throat. By the time he reached the bottom of the mug, he knew he'd had enough for now.

He placed the mug back on the table and closed his eyes, willing the healing to begin in his head. When nothing unusual happened for several minutes, he frowned and forced his human mask back to the fore. He opened his human eyes and was only slightly surprised to be able to see clearly again.

The relief he felt at the possibility that this would work must have been evident because he heard Xander sigh in relief as well.


Spike shook his head slowly and grinned when there was no dizziness or pain. "In a few hours, let this batch do its job first."

"Gotta tell you, Spike, I was a little worried there for a minute. Okay, not worried, scared. You were staring at me like I was next." Xander laughed nervously but tried to cover it by picking up the mug and taking it to the sink to wash. "But you look better. Much better. So, maybe we won't have to do any actual research or anything. And a day without research is… shit."

"Shit? Really? Like research that much, do you?" Spike was only half paying attention. He flexed his hand a felt a distantly remembered strength flow through it. He was definitely going to have to get Fazolli's address, he sold quality product.

"No. Willow. I saw her on my way to pick up the blood. We talked for a minute and I told her I'd be over later. I'm going to have to go or she's going to start wondering why I never brought you over yesterday and why I was over in that part of town today." He dried his hands on a dishtowel and walked over to the bag still sitting on the counter. After fishing around inside for a few seconds, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray and put them on the table in front of Spike. "This is a 'because you're sick' kind of thing. Don't think this means you can smoke in my apartment once you're better."

Spike blinked up at the human in surprise, shocked into silence. He opened his mouth but nothing came out and he had the uncomfortable thought that now he owed this mortal something. Not for the cigarettes really but for what they represented. No one, demon or human, had ever gone out of their way like this for him.

"Yeah, I know, your tongue would burst into flames if you said, 'thank you, Xander'. Don't worry about it, you can let me win at pool a few times instead." He turned back to the counter and removed the last two items, purchased at the Quick-E-Mart around the corner. Instant hot chocolate and a bag of little marshmallows.

Spike felt tears gathering in his eyes when he saw that and he quickly shoved his chair back and stood. "Goin' to take a shower. That okay?" he asked bruskly.

"Yeah." Xander barely got the word out before Spike was semi-rushing out of the kitchen, still moving slower than normal, but much faster than he'd arrived in the kitchen 30 minutes earlier. "Huh. Guess human blood really does pack a punch." He shook his head at the amazing healing ability of vampires and wadded up the plastic bag.

Xander was on the telephone with Anya and so only caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye when Spike came out of the bathroom and went immediately in to the bedroom.

"I said I'd be over later and I will. I DO have other things to do besides just hang out at the store you know." Xander listened for a few seconds as Anya repeated her theme of the day; 'Xander, I know you don't have anything to do, I think you're just trying to punish me for being right.'

"For the third time; I am not playing some kind of relationship head game. I'm not trying to punish you and you weren’t right in the first place. Now, I will see you later and no, I'm not mad." He hung up the phone before she could protest. Sometimes he wondered how someone so old could be so dense.

Almost as soon as he'd limped back in to town with the rest of them and had to go the hospital for stitches, Anya had been harping on about how Xander wasn't the Slayer and shouldn't be helping with dangerous things. That it wasn't fair to make her wait around like a war bride and hope that he came home in one piece. When he'd pointed out that, maybe, he wouldn't get hurt as often if there was another person there to help, she'd simply said, "I'm not the Slayer either. And besides, I have a business to run."

The longer he was with Anya, the more he found they didn't have in common and he was beginning to get the feeling that Anya was becoming as frustrated with him as he was with her. Still, he wasn't ready to break it off with her just because they had a few issues and attitudes to work through.

Spike exited the bedroom wearing an old pair of Xander's sweats and Xander opened his mouth to object to the unauthorized clothing borrowing but closed it again when Spike gingerly lowered himself to the couch, clearly still not quite right. After a few seconds, the vampire picked up the television remote and began flipping from channel to channel but much slower than was his usual habit.

Xander joined him on the couch, remaining silent except for the occasional, 'hey, stop there a sec'.

Several hours, one seizure and five bags of blood later, Spike was zonked out on the bed again. The stress of the day had caused Xander to lay down for a nap with Spike after the vampire had fed the last time and he'd slept for nearly an hour. The blood did seem to be helping the vampire to heal. He looked much better and had only had the one seizure in nearly seven hours, even if it was a particularly brutal one that had left Spike unconscious for an hour.

Now Xander was patting himself down in anticipation of leaving the apartment. He'd left a note on the bed side table reminding Spike that he was going to the Magic Box and that he'd be back no later than 9:00. Xander figured that Spike would probably sleep the entire three hours he'd be gone, but didn't want to chance being gone any longer than that.

It had felt a little weird moving Spike's head off his shoulder and slipping carefully out of bed to change out of his shorts and t-shirt and into something more suitable for public consumption, but it had felt a lot weird when he'd gotten the urge to leave the vampire a note just on the off chance that Spike might wake up while he was gone or might have forgotten their earlier conversation.

He was really going to have to start curbing these 'caretaker' tendencies. He was sure it couldn't be very healthy for him to be this way and would somehow end up getting him in a lot of trouble one day.

Another drawback to wanting to help everyone with their problems was that you tended to end up with ex-demon girlfriends who needed to be taught how to be human again.

Xander thought he might actually be a little depressed by the time he pulled up in front of the Magic Box and climbed out of his car. The irony of realizing he might have an unhealthy need to take care of people because he was currently caring for a soulless, unrepentant, evil vampire was not lost on him.

He shook it off for now and pushed through the door of the store, bell tinkling annoyingly above him. "Well, I'm here now, the meeting can officially commence." He smiled when Willow looked up from her book and went to the table to join her. "Where's everyone else?"

"Oh, Giles and Anya are in the basement looking for something and Buffy's in the back room." Willow tipped the book she was reading so Xander could see the spine. "I finally pried it away from Giles long enough to take a good look. I think this is really going to be helpful."

Xander smiled and nodded. "Cool. So, what the what tonight?"

"Buffy spotted a Barkesh demon out by the old school last night so we're probably going to get a refresher course on them." Her eyes drifted back down to the book for a moment before jerking guiltily back up to Xander. "Sorry, it's just…"

"Hey, no problem. I know my charms are not equal to that of the written word. Go ahead and read if you want, I'll go see how Buffy's doing."

"You have charms. You do!" Willow protested.

"Willow, it's fine. Really. Read your book." Xander pushed back his chair and headed for the training room. He really wasn't mad about Willow preferring a book to him but it would have been nice to chat with her alone for a minutes. Sometimes he felt like he hadn't talked to his oldest friend in months even though he just had. It was just that they didn't get very much alone time anymore. It was a shame but he guessed that was just what happened when you grew up and got a life, even if was as strange as theirs.

Buffy was beating the snot out of her heavy bag when Xander entered the room. He skirted the edge of the room and went to sit on the mats stacked against the back wall. She didn't seem to notice him so intend on her workout was she. That was okay with him since it meant he had a rare chance to just watch her move without anything trying to kill him while he did it. It was a guilty pleasure to watch her really get into it and he leaned back on his elbows to partake.

After about fifteen minutes, she finally gave the bag a final hard kick and then stepped away, shaking out her arms and legs. "Were you ogling me, Xander?" She turned and put her hands on her hips, legs splayed.

"No. No ogling. I was just studying your superior fighting technique so that one day, I too can kick butt and defeat evil sand filled bags." He pushed himself up and walked over to join her.

"In other words, ogling." She nodded her head but grinned at his unrepentant shrug. "You just better hope Anya doesn't catch you." Buffy went to the counter and picked up a bottle of water, twisting the top off with one quick movement.

"Will said you saw some sort of demon over by the school?" Xander quickly changed the subject away from his jealous girlfriend since he really didn't want to talk about her right now.

"Yeah, but I don't think it was any big. It didn't seem to take any interest in the school, it was just near there. But, I reported it to Giles and Giles said we have to crack a few books to make sure those kind of demons don't have a tendency towards world domination or Hellmouth opening." She shrugged as if saying, 'what are you going to do, he's Giles'.

Xander grinned back in a moment of shared understanding and humor.

"Oh, there you are. Didn't Willow tell you I was in the basement?"

Xander groaned inwardly, not realizing until that moment that he'd been almost dreading seeing Anya. Outwardly, he smiled at her and nodded his head. "Yeah, but I figured since she didn't also say, 'and there's a big slimy monster trying to eat her' that I could safely talk to other people while you were busy."

Anya tilted her head as if she were trying to decide if Xander was being sarcastic or not. "Well, I'm not busy now so you can say hello to me."

"Hello, Anya." Xander dutifully replied.

Buffy's eyes went from Xander to Anya and back to Xander. She was so not getting in the middle of this. "I think I'll go see if Willow's found anything on our potential monster of the week." She slung a towel around her neck and slipped out the door.

"You are still angry with me."

"No, An, I'm not. We already talked about this and we're not going through it again."

"We can talk about it or not but you are angry with me, even if you don't know it."

Xander thought about that for a minute and nodded. "Maybe I am, yeah, but I still don't want to talk about it right now. I just want to do a little Scooby research and then go home."

"You're not coming over later?"

"No. I told you before, I really do have things to do. Work things."

Anya waved away his words. "You work construction. You can't do that at night. Are you cheating on me? Because if you are, I'd like to know now."

Xander gritted his teeth and repeated, "An, I'm one of the foreman for this job and I have paperwork to do and if you listened to me for half a second sometime, you'd know that. As a matter of fact, I really shouldn't have come here at all. Everything needs to be finished by tomorrow and I'm only half-way done. So, I'm going now."

Without waiting to see what she'd say, Xander headed for the door at the back of the training room and pushed through it out in to the alley. Some of what he'd said was true; he did have paperwork he had to do for the job. But what was left would take an hour at most and it wasn't really due until day after tomorrow, Monday, when they entered the next stage of construction. He was just getting so tired of her constant demands to be the center of his attention all the time. And was it really too much of him to ask that she actually keep up with his career advancement, such as it was?

By the time he pulled in to his semi-assigned spot in front of his apartment building, he was definitely feeling depressed. Since the giant snake graduation event, too many things seemed to be changing, and not in the good way. There were distances between everyone that shouldn't be there, there were thoughts that had no place in his brain and a general dissatisfaction that went far beyond just his current problem with Anya.

Sure he'd moved out of his parent's basement, he had a really good job that he enjoyed and money to spend. Then there was the gorgeous girlfriend and almost more sex than he could handle. No one had been killed and they were still the defeaters of evil on a regular basis. All of the good. Right?

But weren't things supposed to be more… more….

More what, you ungrateful prick?

His mental voice sounded uncomfortably like a certain undead acquaintance and shocked him out of his inaction. Xander got out of his car and glanced up at his apartment window. There was a light on in the living room that he hadn't left on. Spike must be awake then.

Spike heard the footsteps in the hall and clicked off the television, slightly surprised that Xander was back so soon. He'd awakened soon after the other man left and had just finished his first glass of blood, having sipped it so slowly that it was almost cold by the time he got to the last of it.

By the time the human had closed and locked the door behind him, Spike could see by the slight slump of shoulders and total absence of his usually immediate chatter, that there was something wrong.

"Hey. Feeling any better?" Xander threw his keys on the kitchen counter and removed his light jacket, slinging it over one of the bar stools.

"Passably good. Was just thinking 'bout getting up for more." He held up his empty mug.

"Well don't let me stop you." Xander went over to the dining room table and sat down, flipping open a manila folder that Spike hadn't even noticed before this. "I have some work to do so a little quiet would be nice."

Spike's eyebrow rose as he stared at the man at the table as he unfolded a large section of paper and started comparing it to something on another piece of paper. Xander was actually serious! "Didn't get enough studyin' with yer mates?"

"This is for work. You can turn on the T.V. if you want, just keep the sound low, okay?" Xander never looked up from the papers on the table.

Now Spike was sure there was something going on but he really wasn't up to his usual style of manipulation to find the answers. He spent the next few minutes watching Xander before heaving himself off the couch and joining the mortal at the table. "So, what'cha doin'?"

"Gotta make sure we have enough materials on hand or on order to finish up." He swirled the large piece of paper to face Spike. "See, I'm in charge of this building and I have to match what's planned," He tapped the blueprints with one finger, "with what's in inventory or on order." He indicated the list in front of him. "That way we never have to stop to wait for materials and Xander gets a nice big bonus for finishing on schedule."

"You, in charge of somethin'? Doesn't that mean the apocalypse is coming?" He heard the humor in his voice which had appeared totally against his will. "What're you buildin', anyway?"

"Some kick-ass condo's. But I'm only the foreman on the condo offices. Less to mess up with that."

For some reason, Xander's self-depreciation bothered Spike. "Gotta start somewhere, don't you? So, what's so kick-ass about this place?"

Xander suddenly became much more animated, previous doldrums apparently forgotten in the face of discussing manly things like hammers and nails. "It'll be a real small complex, only four buildings with four units in each and an office. They'll be pretty high-end, two and three bedroom units with lots of square feet, expensive marble counters, hand-made tile and built-ins. And stuff like every unit having a huge whirlpool tub in the master bathroom, plus a shower, and a shower with no tub downstairs."

Strangely, Spike didn't feel his eyes glazing over as they usually did when one of the do-gooders started on about something. Maybe it was just Xander's enthusiasm for his job or maybe it was his earlier realization that he owed something to this human, but Spike nodded carefully to show he was listening and asked for more details about being foreman for the building of the condo office.


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