"Look, it can't be a Glomach demon—there's no bloody slime trail!"
Xander slipped through the door as quietly as possible, not wanting to interrupt Spike's train of thought. This meeting had been supposed to end over an hour ago, but from the mess of books and papers all over the conference table, it looked like they were still going strong.
Well, not strong necessarily, but at least still going. Giles had loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar; his hair was disheveled as though he'd run his hand through it many times. Andrew was slouching in his chair and doodling on his notepad. And Spike was leaning over the table with both hands, his voice rising with obvious frustration and fatigue. "If it was a Glomach, it'd be mating this time of year. An' if it was mating, it'd leave a slime trail."
"Well, er, yes, but we can't ignore the possibility—" Giles started as Xander quietly circled the table to take the empty seat next to Spike's.
"Wait!" Andrew said. "What if its, um, biological clock has been messed with? We never tracked down all the pockets of temporal distortion after that thing with the evil physics professor."
"Guess that could do it," Spike admitted, looking annoyed. He threw himself back into his chair with a squeak of leather against leather, and glanced sideways at Xander. "Hi, pet."
"Hi. Got bored with waiting for you." Xander pitched his voice low so it wouldn't carry to Giles and Andrew, who were tossing back and forth ideas for capturing a disoriented, horny Glomach demon. "Can I spring you out of here?"
"Not just yet." Spike rolled his eyes back towards the other two. "Thing is, neither of them's ever seen a Glomach. I kept one as a pet for a while in the thirties. Dru liked the way she could pull its ears off and they'd grow right back." He raised his fist to his mouth and stifled a short cough.
"Hey, are you okay?" Xander whispered. Up close, Spike looked even more tired than he had from the door. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his skin was vampire-pale.
"Sod off, I'm fine," Spike whispered back fiercely, and Xander bit back a groan. He'd known Spike long enough by now to figure out the code: the more emphatically Spike insisted he was fine, the crappier he was feeling.
Meanwhile, Spike tossed a book in Giles's direction. Giles fumbled and barely managed to catch it. He glared at Spike. "Are you going to help figure out how to destroy the demon, William, or are you just going to sit there nattering with your boyfriend?"
Andrew blushed, and Xander winced. Giles using Spike's real name was a sure indication that Spike had somehow managed to completely piss him off. Which was another bad sign, because usually Giles put up with Spike pretty well. So Spike was being more annoying than usual, which probably meant he was overcompensating for something. Such as, oh, wild guess here—he was getting sick.
Meanwhile, Spike flipped Giles a two-fingered salute. "Fuck off, Watcher. If it's really a Glomach, you don't need the books. Only way to kill 'em is with fire."
"Fire." Giles's expression smoothed, and he sat back in his chair. "Of course, I should have recalled—I apologize for snapping at you, Spike. It's been rather a long day, hasn't it?"
Spike didn't answer; he was pinching his nose, and his eyes were squeezed shut. Xander knew with sinking certainty that he was fighting back a sneeze. His guess had been right, then; Spike was coming down with something.
Giles didn't notice. His attention was on the books he was now stacking more neatly on the table, presumably preparing to take them back to the library. "So we're finally done here. I'll send Angel to deal with the Glomach demon."
"Are you sure?" Andrew asked. "Remember, fire is one of the vampyre's fatal weaknesses."
That stopped Giles in mid-stack. "Oh, quite right. We'll send one of the Slayers, then."
"Right, well I'm no more bloody use to you, so I'll be off." Spike said it cheerfully, like a joke, but Xander knew the bitter truth that lay underneath. Spike wasn't happy with his new role as researcher instead of muscle. He was constantly frustrated by the weakness of his human body compared to the vampire super-strength he'd lost.
Spike stood up and strode quickly out of the room, not even glancing back to see if Xander was with him.
The reason was clear when Xander caught up to Spike at the top of the stairwell. Spike was leaning white-knuckled against the wall, and Xander was just in time to see him shudder forward with a loud sneeze. "Ahtsshoo!" It echoed harshly against the stone walls.
"Gesundheit." Xander pulled a Kleenex out of his pocket and offered it to him. Spike never carried the things himself, no matter how much he needed them.
"Cheers." Spike blew his nose quickly and stuffed the tissue into his jacket pocket. "Those books are fucking dusty. Makin' me sneeze all afternoon."
"Yeah. The books." Xander stepped forward, pinning Spike against the wall. Spike started to move away but Xander pushed his shoulders back against the stone and kissed him on the lips. Spike let his lips part with a soft moan, and his hands snaked greedily around Xander's back to pull him closer. Xander kept kissing him, but he had a purpose here: he stroked Spike's cheek once with his knuckles, then laid his palm on Spike's forehead. "They gave you a fever, too," he commented dryly, pulling away from the kiss.
Spike glared at him, flushed now from more than the fever. "That's cheating, you wanker."
"So sue me." Xander glanced back to make sure they were still alone in the stairway. "You were supposed to go home if you started feeling sick, remember?"
"I'm not sick." He turned aside with a shuddering breath. "Hetchsh!" He pressed his fingers against his temple wearily, and gave Xander a rueful look. "I'm not very sick."
"It's okay," Xander said softly, resisting the urge to scold Spike again for not taking care of himself. "Let's just go home."
Xander swore under his breath when the weather outside hit them. It was just above freezing out, and raining hard. He seriously considered telling Spike to go back inside and they'd call a cab, but he knew that would be above Spike's tolerance for Xander 'fussing' over him, and it would just end up in a fight with Spike storming off alone on his motorcycle, headed for a bar instead of their apartment.
So Xander followed Spike to the curb where he'd left his ride—a six-year-old Yamaha touring bike, all black and chrome. It was more powerful than the one he'd lost in Sunnydale. In August, just after he'd bought it, he'd taken Xander on a road trip to Germany. Ostensibly they'd been there tracking down rumors of another Slayer, but the point of the trip was the Autobahn and the bike. Xander still remembered that nighttime ride—the metallic taste of fear, the way his arms ached from holding onto Spike so tight for so long, the warm, hard, safe feeling of Spike that somehow kept Xander from closing his eyes or crying like a little girl as they flew over the asphalt at 180 kilometers per hour, zigzagging between other vehicles like Trinity in The Matrix: Reloaded.
And then going into a gas station bathroom together at 3 a.m. just outside of Berlin, shaking with adrenaline, fucking for the very first time.
The only time Spike seemed like his old self was on the bike, and Xander knew better than to try to take that away from him. Even when it was December and pouring rain and Spike was already getting sick.
Xander zipped his own leather jacket up as high as it would go, put on the helmet Spike handed him, and straddled the bike behind his lover. Spike kicked the starter and the bike roared to life, a great rumbling beast between their legs. Xander hugged Spike a bit tighter and smiled; he couldn't not love this.
It was just a fifteen minute drive back to the apartment. Spike took it slow and cautious, nothing like that night on the Autobahn. The rain was freezing in places, and black ice was hell on a bike. Stopped at a red light, Spike hunched forward and coughed. Xander worried silently, trying to decide whether he was feeling Spike shivering in his arms or if it was just the vibrations of the bike.
They still hadn't figured out how Spike had become human. There'd been some prophecy, apparently, and from what Xander'd been told it was Angel who'd believed for years that he was destined to regain his humanity as some kind of reward for a job well done. Then Spike had turned up human after getting dusted in the big fight with the Senior Partners. No one really knew how or why. The question was still on the back burner—due for research as soon as they'd dealt with all pressing emergencies.
Which probably meant never.
And hey, coming back human sounded good, but it hadn't been such a great deal for Spike. From what he told Xander, being human after being a vampire was like having someone wrap you in cotton wool and leave you like that to interact with the world. His senses were diminished so much he'd felt deaf, blind and unable to smell for the first month. It hadn't helped that he was practically blind, even by human standards, until Giles had finally figured out that he needed glasses.
The reduced strength was hard for Spike to accept, too. Xander could sympathize there, since he'd had plenty of feelings of inadequacy over his years of sidekicking for Buffy. It was worse for Spike, though, since he had been used to such effortless power. Now even Andrew could beat him at arm-wrestling.
The worst, though, was that Spike had somehow come back wrong. He got headaches—skull-splitting migraines that left him swearing and shaking and huddling in the dark, refusing food or company for days at a time. And he got sick. His immune system just didn't work very well; no one knew why. He'd already been hospitalized with pneumonia twice since he came to Rome. Now every time he came down with a cold, Xander got scared.
Home, finally. They peeled off their soggy jackets and boots, holding on to each other for balance.
"Keep stripping," Xander said, padding barefoot across the parquet floor to their closet. It was a bachelor apartment; between them they didn't even have enough stuff to make it cluttered.
"H-how d'you manage to m-make that s-sound not sexy?" Spike complained through chattering teeth, peeling his shirt off over his head.
"Here, put these on." Xander handed him a pair of his own flannel pajamas. They were too big for Spike, but Spike wouldn't be caught dead—so to speak—owning flannel pj's, so he was stuck borrowing Xander's.
Spike took gave the gray plaid a long-suffering look. "C-couldn't I j-just wrap up in the quilt again? Ah-hahchoo!"
"You'll wear that and wrap up in the quilt," Xander snapped. "What the hell is wrong with you, Spike?"
"We never bloody well figured that out, did we?" Spike shot back, his sudden anger hot enough to stop his shivering momentarily. "It's a fucking mystery, innit?"
Xander stopped himself, took a deep breath, watched while Spike angrily yanked on the pajamas, then stepped forward to touch Spike's cheek. "Sorry. It's—I get mad at you when I'm worried about you, it's stupid. But why did you go to work today if you were getting sick?"
Spike shrugged, avoiding Xander's eye. "Thought it was nothing, just a sore throat." He coughed, putting a hand again Xander's chest for balance. Xander wanted to hug him, but he had to get out of his own wet clothes first.
"You still should've stayed home."
Spike gave Xander a rebellious scowl and headed for the kitchenette. "No one else stays home with a bit of a sore throat."
"Giles would understand." Xander wondered if it was even worthwhile rehashing the argument; it hadn't helped the last ten times. "Everyone would understand. You need more—"
"No! God, Spike, it's not about being strong. Nobody else has been through what you have." By now Xander'd pulled on a soft old pair of jeans and a soft blue shirt. The apartment was warm enough he didn't mind going barefoot.
"Everyone's been through something," Spike said softly, turning just as Xander came up behind him. He touched Xander's eye patch, his own eyes drawn into that faraway, quizzical look he got sometimes when they talked about the past. Which they didn't do much.
There wasn't anything Xander wanted to say in response to that, so he just kissed Spike instead. And tasted...alcohol. Xander opened his eye and peeked around Spike's shoulder and saw an open bottle of cheap whiskey sitting on the counter. Where the hell had that come from?
"It's medicinal," Spike said defensively, following Xander's gaze. Then he ducked his head and sneezed again.
"We agreed not to keep any alcohol in the apartment," Xander reminded him softly.
"Yeah, 'cause you were drinking too much. So this is mine and you can't have any." Spike grabbed the bottle and tilted it up against his lips, slamming back the whiskey in big gulps.
"Spike, what the fuck!" Xander felt almost dizzy for a second with hurt and fear. They'd agreed. They'd agreed to keep it out of the apartment. He grabbed the bottle from Spike and upended it over the sink. The clear liquid gurgled out, wafting its smell of sickness and depression, and for a second Xander desperately wanted to lap it up. He fought the urge down, then set the empty bottle in the sink and turned to face Spike.
Spike was leaning back against the fridge, looking away from Xander, and there were tears running down his cheeks. "Sorry," he croaked.
Xander sighed, and went and finally wrapped his arms around Spike, who leaned back into Xander's embrace. He was shaking.
"Come on. You're supposed to be wrapped up in the quilt by now." How could he be mad at Spike for being fucked up? Not like any of them weren't. And Spike handled it better than this most of the time.
He let Xander lead him to the couch. Then Spike turned on the TV and flipped until he found a soccer—uh, 'football'—game, while Xander pulled the spare quilt off the bed.
"Cheers," Spike said quietly, taking the quilt and wrapping it around his shoulders. His voice was getting hoarse, Xander noticed.
Before he joined Spike on the couch, Xander went back to the fridge and poured orange juice into a tall glass. He heard Spike sneezing again, so he grabbed the kleenex box from on top of the fridge.
"Here. This is what you're supposed to be drinking." Xander handed Spike the glass, then tucked himself in behind him. Spike put the glass down on the coffee table and leaned back, his head resting on Xander's shoulder. Xander clasped his hands around Spike's chest—not that he could really even feel Spike through the thick quilt—and tugged him a bit closer.
Spike grabbed a kleenex and pressed it to his mouth and nose. "Aah-achoo! Hetchoo!" Xander felt him rocking forward with each one. He blew his nose, tossed the tissue away, and let himself go limp on top of Xander again. "This fucking sucks," he said quietly, stating a fact.
Xander raised one hand to Spike's face, and smoothed his hair back from his warm cheek. He kept stroking Spike's hair while he said "Yeah. But I've got you, okay? I'm not leaving. And I love you."
Spike snuggled back into Xander's touch, sighing with something between weariness and contentment. "For what it's worth, pet, I love you too."
"It's worth a lot," Xander said, meaning it. And after that, they watched the game silently until they both fell asleep.
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