The Beast in Me
The Beast in Me - Johnny Cash
The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day
And by night rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me
The beast in me
Has had to learn to live with pain
And how to shelter from the rain
And in the twinkling of an eye
Might have to be restrained
God help the beast in me
Sometimes it tries to kid me
That it's just a teddy bear
And even somehow manage to vanish in the air
And that is when I must beware
Of the beast in me that everybody knows
They've seen him out dressed in my clothes
Patently unclear It it's New York or New Year
God help the beast in me
The beast in me
Xander hated Cleveland. After three years of African heat, Ohio winters held a chill that made his bones ache. But Faith understood that three years could seriously change a person. A fact that had yet to make an appearance in the minds of Willow and Buffy. Some of the changes were purposeful, and most of them Xander hadn’t discussed with anyone yet. Not for the first time, he missed Spike. There were some things you just didn’t discuss with girls. Or with slayers. Not that Wood was a girl, or a slayer. But he had been a principal at Sunnydale High, which made him also off limits in Xander’s strange little book of propriety. And he needed to stop talking to Giles before words like propriety took up permanent residence in his head. Anyhow, six months back in the good old U.S. of A., and he still couldn’t shake the feeling that things here were not quite as real as they had been in Africa. Cleveland made him restless, whether it was just the city, or whether after everything that had happened, he could actually feel the Hellmouth. He wasn’t sure, and he certainly wasn’t going to ask. He’d have to explain about Africa and the things that had happened there, and he couldn’t even do that for himself, much less his friends.
But here he was, wandering the streets of Brooklyn Heights. It was the outskirts of the city, and there had been some missing children from the trailer park beyond the golf course. Three in the past six months, all between the ages of nine and twelve. So Xander loped through the golf course, looking for places a child-eating demon might hide. Cleveland had the same problem as Sunnydale, in that no one particularly wanted to admit that there was a problem. The police had done a cursory investigation, and there had been a short article in the paper about the possibility of a kidnapper, and then everyone except for the poor children’s parents had forgotten about it. Well, and the Hellmouth Crew. Xander, who Faith pronounced, “had an honest face” was the one sent to talk to the parents. In all three cases, the children had gone to bed, and had simply not been there in the morning when the parents had awoken. No signs of a forced entry, but the doors had been unlocked from inside the house. Xander frowned, stopped and sniffed the air, and frowned again. It sounded like the children had left the house voluntarily. But why? He finished his circuit of the golf course, and turned towards home. At least the six or so miles he was jogging every night was keeping him in good shape. Xander seemed not to notice the shadow behind him as he crossed the street to Slayer Headquarters, or the pile of cigarette butts by the tree in their neighbor’s yard.
Spike had watched Xander’s running form for about an hour. There was something different about the boy, something more confident in the way he ran. He had seen the boy sniff the air several times, like his human senses could pick up something like the scent of whatever prey he had been hunting that night. Harris had also been alone. Scoobies almost never hunted alone. Something was going on and Spike was going to find out what it was.
Spike found himself a crypt in St. Theodosius’ Cemetery, It was a good spot for watching Harris, It bordered the golf course, and the boy cut through it on most nights. Whatever the boy was hunting, he obviously thought it would be found in the golf course, or near it, because he went there every night. And Spike followed, cataloging changes in the boy who was now a man. The most important change seemed to be that Harris no longer thought of himself as prey. He went looking for fledges in the cemetery when his hunt through the golf course was unsuccessful. Spike found himself watching the play of muscles under Harris’ clothes, and admiring. The boy had a lot more stamina than he used to.
Spike had been watching for about two weeks when something happened that made him decide to show himself. There was a nest of fledges roaming the cemetery, looking for a new bolthole. Spike was thinking about going to scare them off, when Xander made his nightly pass through. It was twelve vampires against one Scooby, and Spike wasn’t about to watch the boy be torn apart. But by the time he had made his way from the cemetery gate, coat flying behind him, leaping over headstones, Harris had already dusted four of them, and was ripping the head off a fifth. Spike stood stock still in amazement for a full minute, before leaping into the fray. In the end, Spike was only able to dust three, while Xander staked the rest. Xander stood there looking nonplussed.
“You’re awfully active for someone who’s supposed to be dust at the bottom of the Sunnydale crater,” Xander remarked dryly, pulling a bandana out of his coat pocket and wiping the dust from his face.
Spike leaned against a headstone. “That’s a long story, mate. I think I’d rather hear yours,” Spike nodded to the dust at Xander’s feet. “You seem to be the same person you were on the outside, but you’ve changed, yeah?”
“I’d rather know why you’ve been following me,” Xander countered, annoyed by the vampire’s aggressive tone. “I’ve been smelling you for weeks. I thought I was going crazy at first.”
“Smelling me? Human senses don’t pick up vampire odor, donut boy. Stop arsing around and tell me what’s going on!”
“I’ve known you long enough that I know the smell of your brand of cigarettes, Spike. If you don’t want to stand out, don’t smoke those imported things.”
“France is only good for two things, and that’s cigarettes and snobbery. I’ll smoke what I want to.” Spike realized he was being successfully diverted. “And that doesn’t answer my question.”
“Which was?” Xander raised his eyebrow in what he hoped was a passable imitation of Spike’s own facial expression.
“Are you human or what, you bleeding idiot?!”
“Well I still give blood at the Red Cross. So I'm still more human than you, Blondie Bear.”
Spike snorted his disbelief, but did not argue further. “Not debating that, whelp. Didn’t come here to argue with you anyway. I’ll just be off then.”
Did Spike look hurt? Xander remembered how he had been missing Spike just a few days ago, and placed his hand flat on the vampire’s chest. “Wait, Spike. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. We haven’t seen each other in years, the least I can do is offer to buy you a beer so we can catch up.”
Xander did not miss the almost grateful look that Spike swiftly covered with a mask of indifference. “If you say so, mate. Not in my nature to turn down a free drink.”
In spite of Xander’s offer to catch up, they walked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Xander stopped at his car, and they agreed that driving was probably not a good idea that night, so they kept walking. Xander pointed out a bar with pool tables, and they went inside.
Xander paid for the table, and made Spike buy the first round of beers on the principle that he’d probably be paying for the rounds they’d be playing for, as was their custom. Xander mused to himself over the fact that he and Spike had customary behavior on the way to the table.
“Harris, you’ve certainly changed. Usually, you’d have talked my ear off before we got to racking.” Spike said with an unreadable look.
“I would’ve thought you’d be grateful for the quiet, Spike.” Xander sighed, feeling suddenly like he had lost something. “It’s been three years and then some. I’ve changed. I guess you could say I had a lesson in growing up, the hard way.”
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours…” Spike leered at him.
In spite of himself, Xander grinned, briefly. Oh, well. The easiest way to avoid the subject was to tell part of the truth. “I spent three years in Africa, hunting slayers. There’s a lot of death there, and most of it’s not supernatural. I watched a mother with AIDS suffocate her starving, dying child while it was sleeping, so that it wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I’ve watched rescue workers be shot for bringing food to starving people because their governments are starving them to death on purpose. I’ve seen people shot for a number of reasons, actually, and none of them made any sense to me. I’ve seen all sorts of death, and seen people hang on to life when they should be dead. And I guess that just sucked the babble right out of me.”
Spike merely nodded to this, leaning on his pool cue with a thousand mile stare at the green felt of the pool table. He cleared his throat after a minute, a small sound lost in the ambient noise of the bar. “I'm really sorry you had to go through that, mate,” he leaned his hip against the table, still leaning on the cue, “but what happened to you?”
It took an effort of will for Xander to look away from the crystal blue gaze fixed on him. He was a lousy liar, so again he resorted to the truth. “I don’t exactly know. And I'm really not ready to talk about it.”
Spike nodded again. “Then let’s play some pool.”
Xander was a little tipsy, and he called Faith to let her know not to expect him. “Yeah, an old friend came by to visit, and we’re getting plastered, so I'm gonna crash with him tonight.”
“Five by five, Xan. We’ll see you tomorrow, then? And remember, use protection, we don’t want you coming home preg-“ Xander hung up. Spike was sniggering at him. Christ, was he always going to be the butt-monkey?
The bar closed, and they were still talking. Spike told the story of the amulet, Wolfram and Hart, the final battle that had destroyed what was left of Angel Investigations, and looking for a place to be. Xander talked mostly about Africa, a carefully circumscribed account of the things he had seen and done there. They wandered back to the cemetery. Xander was tipsy, Spike less than, but not letting on.
“Spike, why don’t you ever, I dunno, rent an apartment?” Xander asked as he surveyed the dusty crypt. Sitting gingerly on the broken couch, he sipped the beer Spike had tossed him.
“Well back in Sunnydale, I couldn’t. No green card, no dosh. When I came here, I wasn’t sure if I was staying, so I just grabbed the first space available. Besides, I'm kinda used to it, yeah?” Spike sat next to Xander with another beer, flipping open the zippo and lighting his cigarette one-handed.
When am I going to stop being impressed by that? Xander slouched down and stretched out his legs. “So, Blondie the Bloody, what’re we watching?”
“Whatever’s on the three channels I get, burger boy. Haven’t had time to steal cable yet. Besides, got some money now, put some aside. I might just get a flat.” Spike drew deeply on his cigarette, and blew smoke at the ceiling thoughtfully.
“Gonna make Cleveland your home base then? Another Hellmouth?” Xander tried the eyebrow again, as it had been getting him good results so far.
“Well, gotta fight the good fight somewhere. Couldn’t stay in L.A. Not after –“ Spike made an expressive hand gesture that Xander interpreted as ‘all the events surrounding and including the last apocalypse I was involved in,’ and shrugged. “I was thinking, we could be mates, like, if you didn’t have to live with me, and deal with my towels on the floor, or blood rings in your coffee mug.” Spike looked at Xander hopefully.
Xander was completely floored. He stared, mouth open, for several seconds, as Spike looked increasingly irritable. “Um yeah… Yeah, we could do that.” Had Spike really just apologized to him? He’d have to ask Faith when the next apocalypse was due. “I was just thinking the other day, actually, that I missed talking to you. Except for Jesse, you’re really the closest thing to a male friend I’ve had, like ever. I used to think, you know, that it would make me happy to see you dead. It didn’t. Knowing you’ve been an ass to a guy who died to save the world is not a good feeling. I never told you how sorry I was, that I never really got my head out of my ass in time to really be your friend. But I am. Sorry that is. Or was, because it looks like you’re giving me a second chance. Right?”
Spike couldn’t help but grin. Africa may have made Harris quieter, but the boy had stood up to bigger things, and kept his babble. “Yeah, Harris, a second chance, for both of us. Mates, right?”
“Can we call it friends? The word mate reminds me of nature shows, and things I hope I don’t have to do to be your friend.” Xander blushed, as he thought about it, and certain parts of his body stirred as if interested. No! There will be no thinking about interlocking parts and Spike. Bad! No! “Um…S-s-sooo… What’s on the TV?”
It took them about two weeks to find Spike an apartment, given that they could only see apartments the owners would show at night, and Xander’s insistence that the building be up to code. Spike would have no repeat of the basement of doom, so they went up a lot of stairs. Finally they found the perfect one, a loft in the third floor of a house that had been built at the turn of the previous century. The windows were small, and they had shutters that could be closed.
Xander had not explained to Faith why he spent so much time ‘patrolling,’ but it was time to tell her about Spike, he surmised, when she was waiting up for him when he came home.
“Where were you? Robin and I drove all over town looking for you, and you weren’t anywhere we could find. Do you have a girl on the side or something?” Faith chuckled. “That’d be grand,” she drawled sarcastically, “but why didn’t you tell us? Something’s not on, Xan. What’s up?” Faith folded her arms and tilted her head inquiringly.
“It’s not a girl. It’s Spike. He’s back. Scooby curse, it’s hard to stay dead. I don’t really know why I didn’t just tell you guys. We’ve been swapping war stories and playing video games, mostly.” Xander blushed. Faith was about to assume the worst, and he knew it.
“You’re sleeping with Spike? William the Bloody, the chipped wonder?” Faith laughed, falling back into the chair behind her, and holding her sides. “I knew you were gay!”
Xander spluttered as an image of naked Spike wandered through his head, with the same results as the first night he had spent with the vampire in Cleveland. “I am NOT gay, Faith. I just like hanging with him is all. We’re not sleeping together.”
Faith stopped laughing suddenly. “Is he trustworthy? I know the chip stops him from killing, but will he try to get to us in other ways?”
“Earth to Faith! He has a soul, now. Burned to death saving the world, remember? Chip’s been defunct since before that.” Xander was a little pissed.
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Slipped into that black and white world there for a minute. You’d figure I’d learn, seeing where that mode has gotten me before.” She sighed. “Sorry,” she said again, “We square, Xan? I can kind of see why you weren’t quick to tell me he’s alive, considering.”
Xander patted Faith’s knees. “Yeah, we’re fine. I used to be all ‘vampire bad!’ too, remember? We just need to keep reminding ourselves that we’re past that for demons that don’t kill humans.”
Faith smiled briefly. “Yeah. What’re we going to do about Robin? He’s got something of a chip on his shoulder where Spike is concerned. I'm not sure we should tell him.”
“Yeah, I remember Robin’s grudge,” Xander frowned. “There’s a high likelihood that he’s going to find out eventually, though.”
“Well, how ‘bout we burn that bridge when we come to it? I'm pretty sure Spike can protect himself, but I think we’d all prefer it if he didn’t have to.”
Xander nodded thoughtfully, and changed the subject. “So – what’s for dinner?”
Spike went with Xander on his nightly rounds of the trailer park, golf course, and cemetery. It had been two months since the last child disappeared, and they had found nothing.
“I got a police scanner, so we’ll know when he takes the next one,” Spike said thoughtfully around his cigarette as they were walking back towards Xander’s car.
“That’s a really good idea, Spike. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“’S why you got me, pet,” Spike grinned, blowing his smoke away from Xander’s face.
Xander grinned back. Spike had lost some of the chip on his shoulder lately. He was really good company. They like the same kinds of video games, and Spike was teaching him to appreciate punk music, and ‘football’. Xander, in turn, taught the vampire about peanut butter and honey sandwiches and the Klingon language. Xander had spent several nights over the course of the passing months as Spike’s guest, as they got roaring drunk playing Halo on Spike’s beat up Xbox. Xander’s grin grew as he thought about the present he was giving Spike for Imbolc, a holiday he only knew about because of Willow. But it was an excuse to buy Spike something with the Council’s credit card. Xander figured Spike was owed a few things on the Council’s dime.
“Yeah, you’re almost as neat as an Xbox 360,” Xander retorted with a sly grin. “We need to stop at my car on the way back to your house.”
“Well what’re we waiting for then? Let’s go!” Spike picked up the pace, Xander matching him, again and again until they were running down the street, both of them laughing like loons for positively no reason.
Xander had the sudden thought that this version of Spike would have liked Jesse. The thought sobered him, as he unlocked the trunk and pulled out the duffel bag he had hidden the game console in. There were a couple of new fighting games too, that he had seen Spike looking at. He slung the bag over his shoulder, his mouth suddenly full of Jesse’s dust.
Spike saw Xander go pale under his tan as he pulled a big bag out of the trunk, and ran to take it, thinking the boy had somehow been hurt. “What’ve you got in here? Bricks?”
Xander gave up the bag without a fight, smiling wanly at Spike’s joke. “No, I just thought about someone who hadn’t crossed my mind in awhile.” He ran a hand through his hair, standing it on end for a moment before it flopped back down in front of his eyes.
“How did they die?”
Xander gave Spike a panicked look.
“People don’t generally get that look over someone who’s still around, pet. C’mon, you can tell old Spike. You’re the only person I talk to besides the butcher, and somehow I don’t think he’s gonna be interested in your secrets.”
Xander started to walk as he told Jesse’s story from meeting in kindergarten to the day he got dusted. Spike walked by his side, and when Xander had finished, he slung an arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“Darla always was a right cunt,” he said.
Xander blinked back tears, feeling better for having unloaded, and glad to be back on neutral territory. “Yeah, she was that,” he said, sighing. “Dust now.”
“Twice over,” agreed Spike. “So what’s in the bag, donut boy?”
“It’s for you, actually. But you can’t open it ‘til we get to your place.” Xander grinned as rebellion warred with curiosity on Spike’s face. “Spike, the house is right around the corner. You can totally wait the three minutes it’ll take us to walk up the stairs!”
He chuckled at Spike’s dubious look, and fished the keys out of Spike’s duster so he could open the door.
Spike practically knocked Xander over in his haste to get up the stairs. Xander jingled the keys as he walked up the stairs. “You can’t get in without me, unless you want to explain to the landlady that the door is broken again,” he grinned at the vampire.
Spike hadn’t heard him. He had stopped and unzipped the bag on the landing, and was staring at its contents. He looked up at Xander with a wary expression on his face.
“This for me?”
“Well, yeah, I said so didn’t I? I put it on my expense account.” Xander grinned at the rapt vampire.
“Well, that’s a bit of all right. I'm rubbing off on you.” Spike grinned back.
Xander had a vision of that in more literal terms, and blushed to the roots of his hair. He bent to pull the games out of the bag to hide his reddened face. “I got these too, just on the off chance we ever get tired of playing Halo.”
The wary look was back. “What’s all this for, mate? ‘S not my bloody birthday.”
“Imbolc,” Xander replied. “I hear it’s traditional now to give the latest in electronics for ancient pagan holidays.”
Spike chuckled at that. “Well open the bloody door, already! Let’s get this thing hooked up!”
When Xander got home, Robin was waiting for him this time. He grabbed Xander by the front of his coat, and shoved him back against the door.
“Well, hello to you too, Robin. I see you missed me,” Xander quipped, but Robin didn’t smile.
“How long has he been alive, Xander? How long has he been back and no one’s told me? He killed my mother, and you’ve been palling around with him and smiling in my face like nothing’s wrong – “
Faith came bursting out of the kitchen and pulled Robin off of Xander. “Jesus, Robin! What the fuck is your problem that you attack him when he’s barely in the door?”
“Spike,” Robin spat. “William the goddamn Bloody. We take this – this traitor into our home and he repays us by making friends with a killer.”
Xander stood to his full height. He had a couple of inches on Robin. “Firstly,” he hissed, counting off on his fingers. “Spike isn’t alive, he’s undead. Secondly, I didn’t tell you because I had a pretty good idea of what your reaction would be, and thirdly, your precious fucking home wouldn’t be here if Spike, the killer you’re freaking out about, hadn’t given his fucking unlife to ensure its safety.” Xander took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “Why were you following me?”
Robin tried to throw Faith off, but she was having none of it. She half dragged, half carried him to the living room and sat him down on a chair. “Xan, take your jacket off, at least. Come and sit and we’ll talk like civilized beings.” She aimed those last two words at Robin with a reproving look.
Xander didn’t take his jacket off. “No offense, Faith, but I think I’d rather go. I'm not feeling very civilized at the moment, and by the looks of it, neither is Robin.”
Xander got back in his car. He needed to go and tell Spike that Robin was angry still.
Spike answered the door bedheaded and grumpy. “Weren’t you just here?” Spike yawned, inhaling deeply, and his eyes shot open. “Harris? You okay?” The smell of adrenaline was thick on the air.
“Yeah I'm fine, but I thought it would be best if you had a heads up about this. Can I come in?” Xander so didn’t want to have this conversation on the landing.
“Yeah, yeah. Come on,” Spike turned away, and Xander noticed that Spike was wearing a pair of ratty cut-off sweatpants that were covered in paint. Low-slung over his hips, and full of holes, they revealed more than they hid. Xander blushed to his ears. Those were his sweatpants. The paint was from right before Joyce died. Xander and Buffy had painted the kitchen for her, to try and keep her spirits up. What was Spike doing with them? He opened his mouth to ask, and then shut it again. He couldn’t afford to get distracted.
Spike disappeared into the bathroom and came out again a few minutes later in jeans and a t-shirt. Xander locked the part of him that was disappointed in a small box and buried it. Deep. He was here to warn Spike. Very serious, and not at all about the porcelain fineness of the small of Spike’s back. Xander scrubbed his hands through his hair. He was gonna tell his story and get the hell out of here before his libido staged a coup.
Spike lit a cigarette and sat on the couch. “So? What’s so important that you come flying back here in the middle of the day?”
Xander swallowed. “I told you Robin Wood was living at the house, right?”
“Yeah,” said Spike charily, “What of it?”
“He followed me, and saw me with you. He was waiting for me when I got home.” Xander sighed.
Spike was instantly on his feet, cupping Xander’s chin to examine his face in the light. “Are you alright, mate? If he hurt you, I’ll eat him, soul or no soul!”
Xander put his hand over Spike’s wrist, turning his face back towards the vampire. “I'm fine, Spike, really.”
Their eyes met for a long moment. Spike’s thumb brushed across Xander’s chin. Xander forgot to breathe until Spike took a breath. A small gasp escaped both of them, and Xander looked away, embarrassed.
Spike cleared his throat, pulling his hand away both too slowly and too quickly for Xander’s liking. They looked everywhere but at each other. “Where you gonna stay, now?” Spike wanted to know.
“I hadn’t thought about that. All my stuff is at Faith and Robin’s…” Xander had a sudden longing for Africa, where it was at least warm when you had to sleep outside.
“I’ll make up the couch. You’ll stay here.” Spike’s tone brooked no argument.
Xander waffled for a minute, and then decided not to argue, on the grounds that, his sudden attraction for Spike aside, it was less likely that he’d die from insanity than from freezing.
It was less than a week later when the police scanner screeched out an amber alert. Another child missing. Spike had been patrolling with Xander every night, hoping against hope that luck would be on their side. A day and a night passed, they talked to the child’s parents. It seemed like there were no clues.
They got lucky. That night on the golf course, Xander saw a flash of color off in the distance. They sprinted towards it, Xander pulling out ahead. When Spike got there, Xander was holding a small blanket. It was a patchwork thing, soft and brightly colored. A large, overgrown, thorny bush had captured it. Xander was pushing it aside, scratching his hands up in the process. Together, they pushed aside the tangled branches to reveal a sewer entrance.
“Score,” said Xander flatly as Spike pried off the manhole cover.
“Demon four, us one,” Spike replied, as he climbed down into the darkness. Xander followed.
The spot they had come down in was a four-way junction. It was completely black, except for the dim light coming from the open manhole. There was nothing to tell them which way he had gone. They went a little way down one pipe, killed some sort of giant lizard that had been living there, and decided to give up for the night.
They got home and took turns showering. Spike insisted that Xander go first, which Xander only halfheartedly resisted. When Spike came out of the shower, Xander had pulled all the thorns from his hands and forearms, and was daubing them with antibiotic ointment he had gotten from the first aid kit in his car. Spike took the ointment away from him, gently took his arm and slathered it liberally, wrapping it in gauze. Xander was struck speechless for several minutes. This was not a side of Spike he’d expected to see focused on himself. He had seen Spike be gentle with Buffy, and the girls, but he was a guy. He protested weakly, feeling overcome with some nameless emotion, but Spike would have none of it.
“Sodding humans are always dying of some small thing or the other. Besides, what if they get infected and your arms fall off?” Spike picked at a thorn stuck in the base of his thumb, refusing to look at Xander.
Xander smiled at that, and took Spike’s hand. As carefully as he could, he took the tweezers and pulled the thorn from Spike’s hand. His skin was cool, but Xander’s hand burned where it had touched him. Xander bit back a gasp. Spike was a guy. A straight guy. Buffy, Harmony, Drusilla, they were all girls. He had no reason to believe that Spike would be interested, especially in Xander, king of the Zeppos. And Xander was straight. Why was that almost an afterthought? He tried to cover his confusion.
“So I guess that makes me the mouse,” he babbled, flushing at Spike’s raised eyebrow. “You know, the lion and the mouse? The thorn in the lion’s paw? Or was that not a story yet when you were a kid?”
Spike chuckled. “You think I’m older than Aesop? You Americans have no sense of history.” Spike could smell the blood rushing to Xander’s face. “Hungry. Want something while I’m in the kitchen?”
Xander got up and followed Spike into the kitchen, where they argued on the relative merits of certain sandwich fixings, as Xander made a sandwich, and Spike nuked his blood.
“I don’t care what you say, mate, putting crisps inside your sodding sandwich is disgusting.” Spike argued.
“So’s dipping them in blood, but you don’t hear me complaining… much,” Xander retorted, following Spike into the living room.
Spike snorted and snatched the remote.
Xander struggled over the next few days. Being in close contact with Spike made his secret harder to keep, and his attraction for Spike didn’t wane. The moon rose night after night, and Xander wanted to howl at it, make his frustration known to whatever gods watched over young men who were mostly human, but not quite 100% pure any more.
Spike wasn’t helping, either. They were slowly clearing the sewers under the trailer park of demons, scaring off the harmless ones, and killing those that attacked them. Sometimes he would get a little too into it, and he’d catch Spike watching him with an indefinable look afterwards. The close scrutiny made Xander’s stomach flip. Partially with fear of outing his secret, and partially with the knowledge that Spike was interested enough to watch him.
They killed a Par’keckt demon one night, Spike twisting off its head as Xander drove a sharp piece of pipe into its heart. Xander staggered back when the pipe spewed a brown, foul-smelling ichor all over him. Spike took a bandanna out of his pocket, and carefully wiped Xander’s face with it, before any could get in his eye. Spike’s hands were chilly against his overheated face, but again, he felt a burning sensation when Spike touched him. His whole body flushed. Spike’s hand brushed his cheek, and down along his jaw line to his neck. Xander shivered, in spite of the heat suffusing his entire body. Spike, misunderstanding, moved to support Xander around his waist. Now the vampire was pressed against him from shoulder to hip. Xander bit back a groan.
“Gotta get you home. That ichor isn’t doing you any good,” Spike looked at Xander, a concerned expression on his face that caused Xander’s chest to tighten.
“I'm okay Spike, just taken by surprise a little.” Looking away, Xander pulled himself away from the vampire, but Spike was having none of it, pulling the young man snug against his side.
“Right. Well, better safe than sorry, in your case, yeah? Who would make me grilled cheese and then be grossed out when I dipped it in my blood if you weren’t around? Not to mention the Xbox is better when I can kick yer arse at it.”
Surprised into looking Spike in the face, Xander saw only gentle humor and continuing concern there. An ache settled permanently into his chest, but he smiled anyway. “Yeah, Xbox is better when you kick my ass at it.”
The next night, they noticed a gathering of demons in one of the larger drainage pipes. There were several species together, and they were milling about aimlessly. Spike pulled Xander back into the shadows to watch and see what they were doing.
“Sginvia, Ithnak, H’kartian. All carrion eaters. They seem to be waiting for something, yeah? They’re watching that small pipe there. There must be something about the water…” Spike’s whisper trailed off as they watched a small body fall from the pipe.
Before Spike could take a step, Xander was swinging his axe, cutting a squat Ithnak demon nearly in half and howling with rage. Spike bolted in after him, but not before noticing the eldritch green glow to Xander’s eye. That boy had some explaining to do.
They left the demon bodies lying in the filthy water, but Spike watched Xander tenderly pick up the mutilated body of a little girl. She was covered in cuts and burns in designs that looked like they could be mystical.
“Let’s get her somewhere there’s better light. I’d like to copy some of those marks down. Spike pulled a notepad and pencil out of his duster pocket, but Xander didn’t move. “Harris?” Spike waved a hand in front of the stony countenance of the boy next to him. Then he noticed that Xander was shaking. Spike put an arm around his shoulders, and gently guided him to where a grating was letting in some moonlight.
After unsuccessfully trying to get Xander to lay the body down, Spike had him sit so he could draw the symbols. He checked for vampire bites or other teeth marks. There were none. The child had been kidnapped as a sacrifice, not as food. Four children, so far the sacrifices had not worked. No bodies, because the carrion eaters got to them while they were still fresh. Whoever was doing this had planned well.
“Xander, we have to leave her body where it will be found, do you understand?”
Xander looked up and nodded, dully. The green glow was gone, replaced by unshed tears.
Spike wanted to try and see where the pipe she had come out of went, but Xander was in no shape for that. They walked through the tunnels until they found a piece of the sewer that was under construction, and left her to be found. It was close to dawn, and not even the carrion eaters would come here this close to when the workers would be coming down. Spike had to pull Xander away from the body, supporting him when his knees gave, and half-carrying him until he could walk.
Xander didn’t cry, in the throes of a grief too deep for the solace of tears. Just plodded along bleakly, not acknowledging Spike’s presence, except to wait for him to unlock the door to his apartment. Once inside, he went into the bathroom, and Spike could hear the sounds of retching. Spike didn’t know what to do, so he made up the couch. Xander brushed his teeth, came out of the bathroom, and lay on the couch, eyes open and listlessly staring at the wall.
Spike scrubbed his hands through his hair, making the gelled strands stick out at odd angles. He’d never seen Harris take a death this hard. Even when Buffy died, Xander had kind of been the rock they all leaned on. He looked down at Xander, and wondered what he should do. He opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again, thinking better of it.
Finally, he simply said, “It’s okay to wake me, you know, if you need to talk…”
Xander nodded without looking at him, so Spike went to bed, leaving his door open.
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