He Needs Me
They watched, helplessly, from the rooftop as the demon Buffy was fighting suddenly morphed into something much larger, with more teeth and longer claws. Spike’s scream as the demon’s gigantic thumb plunged into Buffy’s chest, ripping it open and pulling her heart out, made Xander’s blood run cold. He watched in horror as, ignoring the gloating demon, Spike threw himself upon Buffy’s body, his howl echoing off the walls of the alley. The howl increased until it was a snarling roar, drowning out the sounds of the battle still raging around them. Leaving his sword on the ground, the vampire threw himself upon the still-celebrating demon, teeth snapping and claws rending the scaled flesh.
The battle was short by most reckonings, but it seemed forever to the two stricken people on the roof. Willow’s heartbroken moan was echoed by Xander’s “No, please, God, no. Not again.” They watched, their eyes going back and forth between the fallen slayer’s bloody body and the raging vampire’s fight with the much larger demon. Like a terrier, Spike never stopped his relentless assault on the being that had destroyed their reunion before it had even begun.
“Room for one more?” she’d asked, stepping up beside him. On his right, as always.
“Always room for one more, luv,” he’d smiled back, his joy at seeing her again unmistakable, despite his grief at the loss of his friends.
“You know,” she’d said casually, while fighting off two demons with a sword that never stopped moving, even as she carried on a conversation. “When this is over, I’m totally going to kick your ass for not believing me. You aren’t going to walk for a week.”
“Lookin’ forward to it, sweetheart,” he’d replied, striving for an equally casual tone as he realized the meaning behind her words. “I love you, too.”
“Good,” she grunted, moving off to attack a group of vampires that were wearing down the novice slayer fighting only a few feet away. “Try to hold that thought.”
Spike’s answer had been lost in the renewed pressure from the hordes of demons still pouring into the alley and he’d grinned as he moved to intercept the next wave before it could get to the slayers now backing them up with crossbows and accurately-thrown stakes. When the solitary demon had broken through to where Buffy was fighting, he hadn’t been worried; confident that she could handle one unarmed, if ugly, demon on her own. A gasp from behind him had him whirling in time to see the suddenly gigantic monster plunge its talons into Buffy’s chest. Her eyes had flown to his, the light in them going out even as he moved towards her.
While his brain had told him that she was dead before she hit the ground, he’d frantically tried to pull her chest closed and stem the flow of blood mixing with his tears. He’d been completely unaware of the grief-stricken howl coming from his throat as he gazed into her vacant eyes.
His attack on her killer had been pure instinct, his own demon screaming for revenge, while the poet in him sought to join Buffy in death. Oblivious to the damage being inflicted on his own body by his much larger opponent, Spike continued to fling himself at the other demon. His teeth were ripping off great chunks of flesh everywhere he could reach, his clawed hands holding him in place while he ripped and tore in a frenzy of grief and rage, oblivious to the damage being done to his own body.
Behind him, the slayers didn’t know what to do – they couldn’t shoot at the demon without risk of hitting the constantly moving vampire that continued to swarm over it uttering eerie, snarling cries that brought tears to the eyes of even those girls who didn’t know who he was or why he was so intent on avenging Buffy.
When a now-bleeding and broken Spike finally fell to the ground, the girls immediately filled the barely-standing demon with crossbow bolts, sending him toppling onto his back to remain still. Spike was crawling painfully over the blood-soaked ground, the heart that had been ripped from Buffy’s chest carefully cradled in his one functioning hand. He reached her still form and fell onto it, striving to put the heart back into her chest before collapsing over her and passing out.
The fight moved away from their area, the influx of slayers changing the battle from a certain defeat to a difficult, but perhaps winnable fight. As the area was cleared of combatants, groups of the youngest slayers began to move through the alley, picking up dead or injured fighters and carrying them to waiting ambulances. Two of them followed Willow and Xander, now down from their supervisory positions on the roof. They stood silently while the witch and her lieutenant stared down at the two blood-soaked bodies before them.
Willow waved the stretcher-bearing girls over and attempted to move Spike’s body so that they could put Buffy on the stretcher. Without opening his eyes, or appearing to be in any way alive, the vampire tightened his hold on the Slayer, his soft keening moans barely audible in the wake of the battle still raging only a block away. Awkwardly, Xander bent down and tried to lift the vampire’s broken body.
“Come on, Spike,” he said, as kindly as he could through his own tears. “Let us get her out of here. You can’t help her anymore, and the sun is coming up. Let her go.”
The vampire’s only response was a cessation of the keening, followed by one final, sobbing gasp as he rolled off and lay still, his broken bones bent at awkward angles and his sightless eyes staring at the lightening sky. He clutched Buffy’s heart in one hand, but at Willow’s soft, “Spike, she should be buried with all her parts, don’t you think?” he placed it back on her body where, with a wave of her hand, Willow magicked it back into the slayer’s chest and then closed the gaping hole. She nodded to the young slayers who lifted the stretcher carrying the world’s oldest and most successful slayer and walked slowly towards the ambulances with it.
There was a zone of silence that followed their progress as everyone they passed realized whose body was lying so still and bloodless. Buffy’s body was placed in a van with other dead slayers and Willow climbed into the front to accompany them to the Council-friendly mortuary. She looked over her shoulder to see Xander standing over Spike, obviously shouting at the immobile vampire.
Signaling for the driver to wait, she walked quickly back to the alley and tugged on her oldest friend’s arm.
“Come on, Xander. It wasn’t his fault. Let him go, if that’s what he wants. He has a right.”
She glanced down at the still body, noting the broken limbs, sunken cheeks, and the flesh that was just beginning to smolder with the brightening light that was creeping down the alley. She knelt beside him and touched his forehead with her hand, closing her eyes as she sought to enter his mind. She flinched back with a cry at the overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness she found there. She mourned briefly with him for the loss of Wesley, Gunn, and Fred, and blinked in surprise at the grief she could feel about Angel’s fate; but the most powerful emotion was the one that said clearly that he had no desire left but to join Buffy in a permanent death.
Muttering a few words that would lessen the vampire’s pain long enough for the sun to reach and destroy him, she stood up and tugged on Xander’s sleeve again. He shook her off, staring at the man at his feet, tears streaming down his face from his one remaining eye.
“No!” he said quietly, then more loudly, “Do you hear me, Spike? No. You don’t get to do this. She died trying to save your worthless ass, and I’m not going to let you throw that away. You’re going to live – just like the rest of us.”
He bent down and easily picked up the surprisingly light vampire, walking out of the alley and to nearest ambulance before the rapidly rising sun could do more than singe Spike’s exposed skin.
“Do you want to hear about the funeral?”
Dead eyes looked up briefly. “You can tell me all about it while you show me to her grave.” Spike struggled to move his still-broken legs over the edge of the bed.
“It’s daylight, you moron.”
The only reply was another flat stare as he propped himself up on his only good limb.
“Not happening, Spike.”
A gentle shove was all it took to force the weakened vampire back onto the bed, where he shut his eyes and became as immobile as the corpse that he was. Xander stood over him, his own grief barely under control as he tried not to hate the helpless creature in front of him.
First Anya, now Buffy – and he’s still here. If he thinks he’s going to leave me alone…
“So,” Willow’s voice was intentionally cheery. “How’s it going?”
“I’m not going to let him die.”
“Xander…you know that I love you, right? And I know that you’re grieving, too – just like the rest of us – but…”
“Who are you doing this for?”
“I’m doing it for Buffy,” he said, refusing to meet her eyes.
“Right. Because making Spike suffer was so important to her.”
“I’m not trying to make him suffer, Will. I swear I’m not. I just don’t think he should take the easy way out while the rest of us have to deal with—”
“Xander, please don’t finish that sentence. Misery loves company. I get that. But this is just…”
“I’m not going to let him die.”
“Eat, you miserable excuse for a vampire. Eat or I’ll pour it down your throat until you choke.”
“You can’t choke a vampire, you git. Leave me alone.”
“I’m not hungry.” Losing interest in the exchange of insults, Spike turned his face to the wall, refusing the cup of warm blood being offered.
Xander stood for a minute, hands on hips, then with a sigh he put the mug down on a nearby table. He studied the vampire’s wasted frame and shook his head.
“I’m not going to let you die,” he said quietly.
“Yeah, got that the third time you dragged me back when I was crawlin’ to the door.” Spike rolled over and raised bruised eyes to Xander’s. “Hate me that much, do you?”
“I told you, Buffy died because she came here to save you. I’m not letting that sacrifice go to waste. She wanted you to live – you live. End of story.”
“If she wanted me to live, she shouldn’t have died on me,” came the whisper from the bed. Once again, Spike’s head was turned to face the wall. “Got nothin’ left, Harris. Let me go.”
“I don’t get it,” Xander said, sitting on a nearby chair and crossing his legs.
A derisive snort was his only reply, but he decided to treat that faint trace of attitude as an encouraging sign.
“You knew where Buffy was – and after Andrew spilled the beans, she knew where you were. Neither one of you did anything about it. We’re thinking she’s over it. Then she hears that Angel has dragged you into some war against all the demons in the world and… whoosh… she’s on a Council plane with a small army of slayers, running off to the rescue. You’d have thought she-— All of a sudden she’s all about how much she loves you and how she can’t leave you to die again.”
A small shudder passed through the inert body on the bed, and Xander wasn’t sure that he hadn’t heard a small moan, but he pressed on.
“And you – all those Evil Inc jets and high-tech communication equipment around, and you never came to see her. Never even told her you were alive. But now you want to die with her. I really don’t get it. Is this some kind of weird Slayer/Vampire thing? ‘cause I’ve got to tell you, if I’d heard that Anya was back, I’d have been on a plane as soon as I could get one.”
There was a soft sound from the bed; it took Xander a minute to realize what it was. He flinched as he recognized the muffled sound of sobbing coming from one of the strongest vampires he’d ever seen. It was a sound he’d only heard once before and, with a shudder, he suddenly recalled when. Remembering Buffy’s plunge into Glory’s portal, and her subsequent fall to the ground so far below, he realized that the only other time he’d seen Spike cry was when he was dragging his broken body towards where Buffy’s lay at the foot of the tower. There was an eerie similarity between that scene and the one he’d witnessed several days ago, and he cringed as he remembered it and the reason Spike had not walked into the sun that time.
“How long are you planning to keep this up? Willow frowned at the frail-looking body lying in the basement of the Council-owned townhouse. Spike looked, if anything, worse than he had immediately after the battle. In addition to his obviously not healing wounds, still broken bones and blood-stiffened clothes, he was noticeably thinner. His pale skin was almost translucent, no sign of color or life in it.
“As long as I have to,” Xander said quietly. “As long as he isn’t dust, he can live... I think.”
“Xander…” Willow bit her lip. “He doesn’t want to live. Don’t you think it’s cruel to make him?”
“Is this the same woman who wouldn’t let me leave him alone in my apartment because he might try to stake himself again?”
“He had no good reason to want to die then,” she argued. “He was just having a… a tantrum; and feeling sorry for himself. I was younger then, and didn’t know how much losing someone you love could hurt,” she added softly. “I reacted to my loss by trying to end the world. All Spike wants to do is leave it. I can’t argue with that.”
“Well, I can.”
“Aren’t you even going to tell me to get lost?” Xander stood beside the bed, holding the mug of warmed blood without which he never entered the room.
“Get lost.” The hoarse rasp was barely audible, the vampire’s weakened state not allowing him to pull in enough air for a solid growl.
“It’s not going to be any fun, if you won’t argue with me.”
There was nothing but silence from the still figure, lying with his face turned to the wall. Xander waited, shifting his weight from foot to foot until he realized that he wasn’t going to get any more response.
“You don’t quit! Damn you!”
There was no sound from the bed, and he finally turned and left, mug of blood still in his hand.
In spite of the familiarity built up by years of exposure to chipped Spike, including two rounds of having him for a roommate, Xander had never quite forgotten the vicious killer that had come to Sunnydale and almost killed Buffy in their first fight. When Buffy had first had Spike’s chip removed - in spite of knowing that he’d killed several people while under the First’s control, Xander had begun sleeping with a stake under his pillow. He’d had more than one argument with Anya about her lack of serious concern over the vampire’s newly recovered ability to kill.
Xander fought when he had to. He knew the right moves to make, he stayed in shape by sparring with the slayers, but it was never something that he liked doing – just something his life-style made necessary from time to time. Spike and Buffy, on the other hand, had always fought with a joy and enthusiasm that bewildered him. He’d seen them fighting against each other – exchanging insults while trying to land a killing blow that neither one could ever seem to manage. He’d seen them fighting together against odds that would have sent most people into full retreat, and he’d never seen them be anything but enthusiastic about the fight and resolute in pursuit of the victory.
Neither of the two stubborn warriors could have been called a quitter. It just wasn’t in their nature to give up. Even Spike’s half-hearted attempt to stake himself after he was first chipped hadn’t been real. Had he been serious about wanting to die, all he needed to do was open the basement door and step out into the yard at noon. His temporary bout of depression lasted only as long as it took him to find a way to needle Xander and to learn that he could fight demons.
Xander’d refused to believe that Buffy’s sacrifice on Glory’s tower was anything but an attempt to save her sister’s life. That she may have been tired of the battle was just not something he’d even considered. He’d felt the same way about Spike, until he’d found him sprawled on the Summers’ front lawn one night, dead drunk and moaning. It was then, as he tried to get some coherent explanation from him, that Xander heard about the promise Spike had made to protect Dawn and understood how large a part that promise played in the keeping the grieving vampire undusty and functional.
The key, obviously, was to find something or someone who needed Spike alive.
Xander stared at the shrunken, broken body in front of him and smothered a frustrated curse. In the three weeks since Buffy’s death, he’d tried everything he could think of, short of intravenous transfusions, to get some blood into the rapidly weakening man. He had no idea if a vampire could starve himself into being dust or not, but he had no doubt that Spike was well on his way to answering that question.
Although the grieving vampire could barely summon the energy to speak, Xander made another attempt to communicate his willingness to help him.
“Spike,” he began, pausing to expel a loud sigh, “please, just drink some blood. I can’t watch you just fade away like this.”
“Never asked you to, did I?” was the barely audible response. “Why can’t you leave me be?”
His face set in stubborn lines, Xander replied, “I’m not going to let you die.” Softly, he added, “She wouldn’t have wanted that.”
There was a tiny twitch from the otherwise immobile body. “Stubborn bint never knew what she wanted.”
Finding some encouragement in this verbal exchange, Xander persisted. “She wanted you to survive Angel’s little war. I know that. Do you really want to disappoint her?”
There was a weak snort. “Wouldn’t be the first time, now would it?” With what was obviously a major effort, Spike turned his head towards the hovering human. “When are you going to give this up and let me have my peace?”
“So, I’m to spend eternity in hell, then? Grievin’ Buffy and being harassed by you?”
“As long as you insist on being a drama queen…”
“You don’t know what it’s like!” The effort of snarling loud enough to be heard apparently exhausted Spike, who subsided into utter stillness. He’d long since become too dehydrated for tears to form, but his distorted mouth was evidence of his state of mind.
“Right,” Xander snapped, “because I’ve never lost anyone I cared about.” His own face twisted as he remembered Jesse, Joyce, Tara, Anya and the still-fresh pain of having watched Buffy die again. He drew a shuddering breath and choked back a sob of his own before spinning on his heel and running up the stairs. He didn’t hear the barely whispered “I’m sorry,” that filled the air behind him.
Surprised and dismayed by the unmanly crying jag that had followed his retreat from Spike’s bedside, and completely unaware that the sound of it had carried to the vampire’s keen ears, Xander didn’t return until the following evening. In spite of his insistence that he was never going to give up, he was finding it hard to summon the energy to warm up blood several times a day, only to have it refused, often without so much as a “go away.”
He entered the darkened room, surprised to find Spike’s eyes open and watching him. He waited until Xander had approached the bed, then whispered, “I’m sorry, Harris.”
“Huh? What?” Xander almost dropped the mug of blood in his shock. Not only was it the first time that Spike had voluntarily spoken except for a growled response to his offers of food, but it was an apology. Words he didn’t think the vampire even knew. He gawked at Spike, then automatically set the mug down on the table before asking, “Are you apologizing? To me? And what for?”
Instead of answering, Spike’s eyes followed the path of the mug as it landed on the table which, had he been able to move, would have been within easy reach, but in his current state might as well have been in another room. The hungry glance went unnoticed as Xander continued to gawk in disbelief. When the mug wasn’t forthcoming, Spike closed his eyes with a sigh.
He made a concentrated effort to inhale enough air to speak, then gasped out, “For being a selfish git and forgettin’ that you would be hurting too.”
Exhausted by the effort to speak more than a few words, he lay still while Xander tried to make sense of what he was hearing. As he gradually absorbed the fact that Spike had acknowledged Xander’s own grief, he remembered the way his eyes had followed the mug. He quickly picked it up and knelt beside the bed, tipping the straw and touching it to Spike’s dry, cracked lips.
He was completely unprepared for the bolt of happiness that shot through him when a trickle of blood was pulled up through the straw and into the starving vampire’s mouth. He watched Spike’s Adams apple bob as he took small sips of the blood and forced them down his throat. After watching Spike struggle to pull the blood through the straw, Xander realized that he was actually too weak to create the kind of suction needed to get all the blood before it became too thick to go through the bent straw.
He pulled the cup away from Spike’s mouth, shushing him gently when he whimpered. He moved onto the bed and slid one strong arm behind the fragile-feeling man, easily lifting him into a sitting position. With his other hand, he brought the cup to Spike’s lips and tipped it slowly until the blood was trickling into his open mouth. Spike’s eyelids never even fluttered as he opened his mouth and allowed the life-giving liquid to flow down his throat.
It’s like feeding a baby bird Xander thought in wonder as he continued to pour blood into the open mouth. When the cup was empty, he took it away and gently lowered Spike’ back onto the bed. There was no response from him, only the smallest sigh as his head rested on the pillow and he felt the blood soaking into desiccated tissues.
“I’ll be right back,” Xander told him, sliding his arm free and standing up. There was no acknowledgement, but he chose to take that as permission to leave as he hastened from the room.
The microwave’s timer moved in slow motion as he waited for the refilled mug to heat to the proper temperature, snatching it out of the oven before the buzzer was even finished. He ran back to the basement room and directly to the bed. It didn’t appear that Spike had moved, but Xander felt sure that his shriveled face looked just the slightest bit fuller.
He took up his position again, supporting Spike’s shoulders and head with one arm while holding the cup with the other. He smiled when the mouth opened eagerly and the tips of fangs just peeked out from under the lips. If he felt any fear at this reminder that he was feeding a starving vampire, it didn’t register. He was fully confident that Spike wouldn’t hurt him, and that if he went into some kind of feeding frenzy and tried, that he could have broken the helpless vampire in half with one hand.
Once again, he poured the life-giving liquid into the waiting mouth, smiling at the way Spike’s throat muscles had already strengthened and at the way he was gulping the blood as fast as he could swallow. When the mug was empty, Xander reached back and set it on the table, keeping his arm around Spike to hold him in a semi-sitting position. He stared at the still-shrunken face, wondering why the knife-like cheekbones weren’t slicing through the pillows when Spike buried his face in them. All the bones in the Spike’s face and body stood out in sharp relief, the well-muscled flesh that Xander remembered from his times as Spike’s roommate nowhere visible. Only the very pale skin seemed to be holding the skeleton together. Shrinking unconsciously from the sight in front of him, Xander pulled the thin blanket up until Spike was covered from his neck to his feet.
Except for taking off his shredded and bloody duster and boots, Xander, at first, hadn’t bothered to remove Spike’s bloody clothes, knowing that unless he cut them off, he would only aggravate the broken bones beneath them. However, after several days of watching him refuse to eat, he’d finally bought a pair of sewing shears and carefully cut away the stiff, blood-encrusted tee shirt and jeans. Spike was now naked and spent most of day covered by the blanket that Xander had provided as much for modesty’s sake as unneeded warmth.
When a tremor went through him and he opened one bleary eye, Xander immediately asked, “Do you want more?”
Spike tried to shake his head, but settled for a gruff, “No. Need to see if that stays down.”
Xander nodded and gently lowered Spike to the bed, sliding his arm out and sitting up straight. He then realized that his other hand was still resting on Spike’s collarbone where he’d left it after pulling the blanket up. He snatched it back, cringing when Spike’s mouth twisted into a wry grin.
“’s matter, Harris? Is the sight of my hot little body getting to you?”
“You wish,” Xander replied, moving off the bed and onto a nearby chair. He watched for several minutes until he realized that Spike had fallen into a healing sleep, then he got up and carried the empty mug upstairs. He stood at the sink, rinsing the cup out, then suddenly dropped it into the water and began to shake. He gripped the sides of the sink, his tan knuckles turning white while his body trembled – with relief or anger, he couldn’t have said.
Xander held the cup in one hand and the steadily gulping vampire with the other arm as he watched the liquid disappear down Spike’s throat. His joy in the fact that Spike was now eating was mitigated by still-dead look in his eyes and his lack of interest in anything that was going on around him.
“Can I ask you a question?”
A weak shrug was the only reply as Spike swallowed the last drops of blood.
“Okay, when Buffy died the first time, you didn’t dust yourself – you dealt. Not well, and not without a lot of help from alcohol, but you were dealing. You didn’t try to off yourself, and you didn’t stop going through the motions of living. Why the dramatics now – when you hadn’t even been around her for more than a year?”
“That’s a bloody personal question, don’t you think?” Spike’s voice was flat, with just the faintest trace of a growl to it.
“I know it is,” Xander replied quietly, as he moved his arm and allowed Spike to sink back onto the pillows. “I just thought… if I could understand what’s different this time….”
Without opening his eyes, Spike said, “Back then she was an unattainable dream, wasn’t she? A piece of heaven that I’d never be allowed to touch. But she treated me like a man… like I was a friend. And that was good enough. Her kindness to a monster—” His voice choked off and Xander put his hand on Spike’s shoulder, surprising them both with his tenderness.
“Never mind – I’m sorry I brought it up.”
Spike shook his head, biting his lip and taking a deep breath before continuing.
“No, ‘s alright. You asked. You might as well hear it.” He took another calming breath and whispered, “That was hard then, won’t deny it; but I had the Bit to look after and I had the memory of the way Buffy’d put her trust in me… It was hard, but not like this. Not like knowing she’s gone after....” He fixed Xander with an intent stare. “Now I know what it’s like to kiss her, to have her kissing me; to feel her around me, loving me, holding me, trusting me – to know that she did love me. That I wasted all that time thinkin’ she was better off without me; telling myself that she’d just been throwing a bone to a dyin’ man….”
His eyes glared into Xander’s suspiciously moist ones. “You don’t know what it was like – to wait for that love. She always loved you. All the Scoobies – you never had to wonder if she cared, if you’d be forgiven when you fucked up – none of you know what it meant to be me. To be thinking that she couldn’t love a monster. And then, to hear her say it again, and to lose her all in a few seconds—“
Spike shuddered all over and turned his face away. “She loved me, and she’s gone. They’re all gone. Everyone I had. My friends… my grandsire… I’ve got nothing left, Harris. Nothin’.”
Willow cocked her head and stared dubiously at the sleeping vampire.
“Are you sure he’s getting better?”
“I’m sure,” Xander said stubbornly. “He doesn’t look better, but he can talk when he wants to, and he’s not quite so… shriveled looking.”
“He’s not healing,” Willow pointed out, gesturing to the wounds oozing the precious liquid onto the sheets. Spike was now wearing a much too large pair of Xander’s boxers – more for Willow’s benefit than because Spike cared what he did or didn’t have on.
“I know.” Xander's shoulders sagged. “I don’t know what’s wrong. I feed him, like, ten times a day.”
“I think I know.” She nodded to herself. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
When she returned, a jar of rich red blood in her tote bag, Xander frowned.
“What’s this? Magic blood?”
“In a way,” she said, enigmatically. “Get me a mug, will you?”
“Here,” he said. “This is Spike’s mug.”
Willow raised her eyebrows at the bright red “I’m a hero” mug, but said nothing, only poured some of the blood into it and stuck it in the microwave. She went to set the timer, but Xander intercepted her and said gruffly, “Here, let me. He likes it a little warmer than 98.6.”
Her eyebrows climbed even higher, but she deferred to Xander’s superior knowledge and waited patiently for the oven to ‘ding’. While they waited, she put the jar containing the remaining blood in the refrigerator. She said nothing when Xander removed the mug from the oven and gestured towards the basement stairs. Willow followed him down, a small frown creasing her brows.
“Hey, Spike, Willow’s here and she brought you something.”
“Did she?” The lack of interest and enthusiasm in Spike’s voice crushed what little hope Willow had begun to feel, and she shot her friend a look that said clearly, “All you’re doing is prolonging his agony.”
“No, Willow. Watch. You’ll see,” Xander said quickly as he leaned over the bed. “Come on, Spike, sit up. Show Willow how well you can feed yourself now.” He waited anxiously while Spike used a trembling arm to push himself into a more vertical position against the wall. Xander quickly slid onto the bed beside him and held up the mug. “She says she’s got the good stuff here. Don’t hurt her feelings.”
Spike obediently opened his mouth. He lifted a pale, shaky hand and placed it over the broad tan one holding the mug, guiding it to his mouth and beginning to swallow. He’d taken two deep gulps when his brain caught up to his taste buds and he choked, sending Willow a bewildered stare.
“Take it, Spike,” she said softly. “No one gave who didn’t want to. They’ll be hurt if you don’t use it.”
He nodded and tipped the cup back up, pretending that it was his own weak hand that was holding it, and not the one that had been feeding him ever since he started eating. He drained the mug in no time, exhaling an appreciative sigh when he’d licked the last trace of the blood out of it. He let his hand fall away and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall, a small smile upon his face.
“You know that’s disgusting, right?” Xander scolded. “That whole licking the cup thing?”
There was no answer, just another happy sigh. Xander looked up at Willow, understanding beginning to dawn. “Slayer blood?”
She nodded. “When I explained what was going on, almost all the girls who knew him wanted to give. And even some of the ones who didn’t know him, but who saw….” Her voice trailed off as she watched Spike’s face tighten up. “Anyway,” she said briskly. “They all wanted to help.”
“Thank them for me, please, Red.” Spike’s voice was a subdued whisper, but stronger than before for all that. The two humans marveled as they watched the skin visibly fill out over his bones. He was still emaciated, but no longer looked like a skeleton in a pale suit. Suddenly, he grabbed Xander’s arm and tugged on him.
“Take my ankle,” he demanded. "Take it and pull.”
“What? No! I’m not going to hurt you like that. What’s wrong with you?”
“You’d rather that leg healed with the bone in two pieces?” Spike said through gritted teeth. “’cause that’s what’s tryin’ to happen now.”
“Oh, shit!” Xander wrapped one powerful hand around Spike’s ankle and put the other on his knee. With a quick, apologetic glance at the vampire’s determined face, he pulled the two joints apart until the leg was straight, then slowly allowed them to come together until he could feel the edges meet. A loud hiss from Spike was the only sign that setting his leg was causing him pain.
Spike nodded, unable to speak for a second as he waited for the agony to subside. When he felt recovered, he silently held out his bad arm, which was also obviously trying to set itself in a shape never intended by nature. Xander placed his hand on the arm, but Willow stopped him with a quiet, “let me.”
Rather than touching him, she ran her hands on either side of Spike’s arm, just close enough for him to feel their warmth. She muttered to herself as she moved her hands around his body, hovering over every inch of his torso with clinical detachment until she had satisfied herself that all his bones were lined up properly. She sat back and waited expectantly.
“How’s that?” she finally asked, when he just sat there with his eyes shut.
“It’s good, witch-woman. Thank you.”
She stood up and motioned for Xander to follow her out of the basement. He gave Spike one last, unacknowledged look, then followed her up the stairs.
“Why do you think he’s suddenly decided to eat?” she asked Xander quietly.
“Well… because he wants… he needs….” He stopped, unable to lie to himself. “You think he just wants to be able to leave,” he said, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “So he can kill himself.”
“I think you have to be prepared for that possibility,” she said gently. She put a hand on her best friend’s arm. “I don’t want you to fall apart on me if that’s what happens.”
He shook his head slowly. “He won’t do that to me,” he insisted. “He’s a bastard, but not that much of a bastard.”
“He’s a very old vampire whose reason for living has gone,” she responded. “Unless you’ve given him another reason to live, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
When Xander came downstairs several hours later, mug in hand, he didn’t say anything, just nodded and handed the cup to him when Spike held out a steady hand. He watched stoically as the vampire breathed in the aroma of warmed blood and then, in a few powerful swallows, emptied the cup. He handed it back, his hand barely brushing against Xander’s fingertips as he let go.
“Thanks, mate,” he said quietly, lying down and closing his eyes.
“Why do you do that?”
“Why do I do what?” Spike opened one eye and frowned at the other man.
“Go to sleep after I fee—after you eat.”
“That’s how it works. The blood goes in and the body shuts down while that amazing slayer magic does its job. I need to sleep.”
“Fine. Sleep. I was just curious.” Xander tried not to sound offended as Spike obviously drifted off.
“We’ll talk when I wake up.” Spike’s whisper was barely loud enough for human hearing, but the man nodded and took the mug upstairs with him. “Yes, we will,” he whispered to himself. “We definitely will.”
“So, what’s the big deal with Angel and his crew? It’s not like you’ve known them a long time…well, except for Deadboy. I guess you and him go back a ways.”
“Ya think?” Spike’s snort was the first sign of attitude that Xander had seen in him since he’d starting eating, and he struggled to hide a delighted grin, waiting instead, with a patient expression on his face. When no answering remark was forthcoming, Spike’s face settled back into its normal expressionless lines.
“They took me in,” he said, not meeting Xander’s eye. “Made me one of them. They were my mates. Charlie and I – we liked the same bars, an’ Oxford was a bit of alright once he took his nose out of his books. Loved sweet little Fred, he did. Tore him up when Blue took over her body, but then we all learned to get along with her royal mightiness – and even she was one of us. Lorne… well, he was just a big teddy bear hiding in a demon’s body. Never wanted to hurt anyone in his life. They were my friends, Harris. And they’re gone.”
Aren’t we your friends? Xander thought, offended, then answered his own question. No, I guess he wouldn’t see us that way, would he? Just Buffy’s friends, to be protected when she wasn’t there. Hell, Giles even tried to have him killed.
“And Angel? I thought you guys hated each other?”
“The great poof?” Spike sighed. “That’s complicated,” he said. “Bit much to explain how things were between us back in the day, and how they changed when he had the soul shoved into him. The Angelus that you saw when Buffy…” He shook his head, whether to clear it of images of Buffy and Angel together or just because he was at a loss for words, Xander wasn’t sure.
“That wasn’t the Angelus I knew, Not that he wasn’t a rotter way back when, but at least he was a sane rotter. That one in Sunnydale – he’d been driven a bit round the bend from livin’ with that soul for so long. I wouldn’t have cared if the Slayer’d killed him. Thought she had, but Dru said not. Said her ‘daddy’ was just ‘away’. Turned out she was right.”
“For which we’re all oh-so-grateful,” Xander muttered, unable to hide his own dislike for the older souled vampire. His remark brought a reluctant grin from the man on the bed.
“The poof was comin’ around,” he said softly. “Havin’ friends, people he cared about – people who cared about him…it was bringing him ‘round. He was taking his work for the Powers That Like to Bugger Us pretty seriously. It’s what brought on the war you saw. He messed up the Senior Partners pretty good, he did. We all did.”
There was just the merest trace of pride in the Spike’s voice and Xander seized on it.
“You guys must have been something pretty special to rate all that firepower they threw at you,” Xander said, putting as much admiration into his voice as he could.
“Yeah,” Spike agreed, closing his eyes again and turning his head away. “They were pretty special – and they were my friends. Meant a lot to me, they did.”
“I guess… I guess we – the Scoobies – I guess we were never friends, were we? Except for Dawn and Buffy, you wouldn’t miss us if we were gone.”
“Not gone, are you?” was the enigmatic reply as Spike turned his head into the pillow and went back to sleep.
When Spike awoke, it was to the sound of swearing and the scent of sweat. He searched for the source of the noise and found Xander on his hands and knees, trying hook an old television set up to the cable box.
“What are you doin’, Harris?”
Xander sat up abruptly, banging his head on the small table and letting out another string of exotic curses. He watched as a small smile crossed Spike’s face.
“I believe you know some words I don’t,” Spike said, admiration in his voice in spite of the teasing tone. “Were some of those in Swahili?”
“Might have been,” the embarrassed man admitted. “I thought I’d be done here before you woke up.”
“Done with what?”
“I know how obnoxious you can be when you’re bored, and I figured if you were feeling better, then you were definitely going to be bored and I just don’t want to have to put up with your whining and complaining, so I brought a TV down for you.”
“And you did that so that you don’t have to listen to me whine?” Spike’s eyebrows were raised in a weak imitation of his normal scornful expression, and he waited while Xander fumbled for an answer. “I mean, what with you bein’ all the way upstairs and all…”
“I thought you might like to watch your stupid soaps,” Xander muttered. “I’ll take it back if you don’t want it.”
Spike’s voice was gentle as he replied. “I appreciate it, mate. Don’t take it away.”
“Fine. Here you go, then.” Xander handed him the remote and asked, “Are you hungry again? Do you want more blood?”
“In a while,” he responded. “Why don’t you sit and watch the telly with me for a while? Help me catch up on my stories, yeah?”
“Yeah, okay. I’ve got time….” He sat in the wooden chair beside the table, then shifted to the bed when Spike sat against the wall and patted the large empty space beside him.
“I won’t bite,” he said, flashing a bit of fang. “Not to hurt, anyway.”
Xander shook his head at the half-hearted leer on Spike’s face.
“If you’re going to try to scare me, you need to do better than that, fangface. I know I’m still stronger than you are.”
“Not for long, whelp. You might remember that and try being really nice to me.”
“You don’t think I’m being nice to you?” There was no disguising the pain Spike’s words caused and he flinched before responding. He surprised them both by placing a thin hand on top of Xander’s where it rested on his leg.
“I could hear you, you know,” Spike said, squeezing the hand lightly. “You and the witch, I heard you.”
Xander’s mind flashed back to the conversation he and Willow had after feeding Spike the slayer blood. He raised an apprehensive eye to Spike’s expressionless blue ones.
“And I probably am that big a bastard,” Spike said quietly, removing his hand and turning on the TV. “I just thought you ought to know.”
“I don’t get it! They’re just running all over the field! Doesn’t anybody have to stay in one position?”
Spike’s laughter was warm, not mocking. “They really are keeping their shape pretty well,” he instructed. “Nobody has to stay in one place, as long as someone is covering the area or the player. ‘s what makes the game so much fun. Lots of room for creativity. Look at the run, there. Brilliant!”
“Looks like chaos to me,” Xander muttered. “And what’s with all the excitement over two lousy points? There’s just no scoring in this game!”
“Oh.” The familiar sarcasm in Spike’s tone made the other man’s heart jump a little, but Xander deliberately kept his eye on the screen. “Unlike a fourteen to nothing score in Yank football, which means how many touchdowns…?”
“Goal! The red team scored a goal and you were so busy dissing real football that you missed it.”
“Well… fuck…. Was it a good one?”
“The ball went into the net – how can it be a bad one?”
“I just meant, was it pretty…? Who shot, who had the assist? Never mind, Harris, the niceties of the game are wasted on you.”
“I’m learning them,” Xander said with a pout. “It’s confusing, you know. All that running around and no time outs. My eye gets tired.”
“Think about the poor sods doing all that running.” Spike gave Xander’s rapidly expanding waistline a little nudge. “I’ll wager they don’t live on pizza and cinnamon sticks.”
“That’s your fault! If I could trust you not to off yourself the minute I’m gone, I could get back to the gym. You think I don’t know I’m getting fat?”
“If I promised not to, would you go?”
Spike’s eyes remained fixed upon the game; his tone was calm and even. He might have been asking Xander to hand him a beer. There was a heavy silence, then, in an equally calm tone, Xander replied.
“If you gave me your word? Yeah, I would. I miss working out, seeing the girls every day…”
“Never asked you to do this,” Spike growled, shifting his weight and flexing the wasted muscles in his rapidly mending leg.
“Never said you did.”
“So, you’ll go?”
“If you promise you’ll still be here when I get back.”
“He promised you he wouldn’t kill himself, and you believed him?” Willow’ was unable to hide the “Are you stupid?” lurking behind her words.
“I have to, Will. I can’t stay with him 24/7 for the rest of my life. Anyway, I… I don’t think he would lie to me.”
“So, he wants you to start working out again? What’s that all about?”
He rolled his shoulders, then mumbled, “He wants to take care of me.”
He gave Willow a shamefaced grin and offered, “I have a theory about Spike.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I think he needs to be… needed. To keep him alive and happy. “ He wagged a finger at Willow’s dubious face. “Just listen. He was a momma’s boy before he was turned, right? Dawn ratted him out about that a long time ago. And then, he took care of a loony-tunes vampire for over a hundred years. Lots of needing there. And then he fell in love with Buffy and started helping her, right up until she died.”
“Well, he didn’t try to kill himself then!”
“He would have; but Buffy had made him promise to take care of Dawn for her. Dawn needed him, so he stayed alive. Drunk, most of the time, but alive. And then, when Buffy needed him to help her again… well, the less said about why she needed him after she came back, the better – but he was there for her. When we weren’t. And then, when the world needed saving and she’d done all she could, he lets his brand new soul incinerate him so that she can live. Comes back and finds out Deadboy needs him to fight evil. Don’t ask me why he would want to help Angel… it’s probably some weird vampire thing… but they needed him. So, he stayed there instead of going to Buffy who was doing just fine without him.”
Willow wrinkled her brow, pondering the examples Xander had offered. Then she nodded slowly. “So, you think he’s decided that he needs to stay alive so that you can go back to being fit and healthy?”
“Yeah, kinda.” He shrugged. “If I’m wrong….”
“If you’re wrong, I’m going to have a lot of pieces to pick up, aren’t I?” she said with a shrewd glance at his face. “And not just because you failed to keep him alive…”
“I don’t know what you mean.” He refused to meet her gaze, sending his eyes around the room and pretending to be very interested in the books over her shoulder.
“I mean, I think you want him to stay alive because you’d miss him if he was gone. This isn’t about Buffy anymore, is it?” Willow’ voice was soft and kind, her instinct having told her years ago that Xander’s vociferous hatred of the blond vampire was hiding something else.
“It’s… possible… that I don’t hate him quite as much as I used to.”
“Don’t let yourself get hurt, Xan,” was all she said.
Xander entered the house, his heart pounding in fear at the silence. No television, no loud music, nothing. Bowels clenching, he ran to the door to the basement and threw it open, shouting, “Spike? Damn you, you’d better be here or I’ll….”
“Or you’ll what?” drifted up from below. “Yell even louder and ruin my poor vampire hearing?” Spike didn’t move from his place on the bed, but he smiled as he heard Xander’s heart rate drop back to normal.
“You’re here,” he said as he came down the stairs.
“Promised you, didn’t I?” Spike shrugged and sat up, running his eye over the other man’s body. “Can see you had a good workout.”
“How do you know what kind of a workout I had?”
“Can smell you. All hot and sweaty…”
“Oh. Yeah. Guess I need a shower, huh?”
Spike shook his head. “I don’t mind it,” he said softly, then quickly, “Wanna watch the telly with me? There’s a Three Stooges marathon on.”
“You don’t want me to shower first?”
“Nah. Smell all manly, you do.” Spike grinned at him and gave something very close to one of his patented leers. Xander’s heart rate went back up again, partly at the look on his face, and partly from happiness at having glimpsed another indication that Spike might be learning to enjoy life again.
“Well,” he said with a blush he couldn’t hide. “If you think you can resist my manly smell, I’ll watch for a while. I can shower later.”
“Could use one myself,” Spike murmured. “Been awhile since….”
They were both quiet, remembering the night that Xander had finally cut off Spike’s blood-crusted jeans and tee shirt. Although he had cringed at the skeletal body exposed, Xander had tried to hide his horror and, instead, brought a basin of warm water to the bed and carefully sponged off Spike’s wasted body. It had taken several bowls of water before the dried blood was gone and the man could see the still-oozing wounds.
Since Willow’s visit with the Slayer blood, the wounds had closed, and the bones had begun knitting themselves back together. Although Spike had not tried to stand yet, he appeared stronger every day.
“You think you can handle yourself?” Xander inquired, cursing his choice of words when Spike raised a ribald eyebrow. “I mean, with the going up the stairs and the standing, and….”
“Knew what you meant,” Spike said, his expression softening. “Got you to help me get up there, don’t I?”
“Oh, yeah. Of course, you do. I wouldn’t let you try that by yourself….”
“Then I’ll be fine,” Spike said, settling against the wall. “You’ll be here to help me.”
In spite of his words, Spike did not join Xander in the shower, but he did ask him to bring him another basin of water and some clean clothes. He raised his eyebrow, but didn’t say anything when Xander presented him with a pair of new sweat pants and a new tee shirt in the right size. Or, in what would have been the right size if Spike were not still so thin.
Every day, he obediently guzzled whatever Xander brought him. Sometimes it was pig or sheep blood from the butcher’s, sometimes human blood that had passed its expiration date at the blood bank, and once a week it was slayer blood – donated by the young girls who had heard about the souled vampire who saved the world, only to lose the woman he loved. Their little teen-aged hearts couldn’t resist the romantic story, and they were determined that Spike was going to survive and get well.
And every day, the blood that he was taking in worked to heal both the wounds and bones and the wasted flesh that covered them. Spike would now walk to the foot of the stairs several times a day, gazing up the flight and mulling over how much of his still-lacking energy it would take to get to the top. Every day he would shake his head and walk back to the bed, lying down and resting until he felt like moving again.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“ ‘s look like I’m doing, you git? Sittin’ on the floor and having a little rest.”
“It looks to me like you came upstairs by yourself and fell down when you got to the kichen.”
“Shows what you know….” Spike muttered. “Give us a hand, will you?”
Xander was already moving, sliding a strong arm under the still painfully thin vampire and easily lifting him to his feet. He kept his arm around Spike until he stopped swaying and nodded that he was all right. He released his grip on Spike’s waist, but hovered right beside him until he was safely seated at the kitchen table.
Without speaking, Xander went to the refrigerator and took out an almost-empty container of Slayer blood, pouring it into a mug and sliding it into the microwave. He set the time and temperature, then sat down across from Spike while he waited for it to be warm enough.
“What were you trying to prove?”
“Nothing. Jus’ thought I ought to be able to feed myself by now. No reason for you to keep waitin’ on me now that I can walk again.”
“I don’t mind waiting on you.”
“I mind.” At Xander’s flinch, Spike quickly put out his hand, but was unable to reach the other man’s arm where it rested on the tabletop. Moving away quickly and going to the microwave, Xander took out the mug and set it in front of Spike, all without looking at him.
The dark-haired man shook his head and walked towards the doorway. “I need to shower,” he said curtly and left the room.
Spike gave an exasperated sigh and began to sip his mug of slayer blood.
“There’s a Monty Python marathon on tonight…”
There was no inflection in Xander’s voice and didn’t look up from the meal he was shoveling into his mouth. He hadn’t spoken since walking out of the kitchen earlier. He’d taken his shower, remaining under the hot water until it began to run cool, then dressing and lying on his bed staring at the ceiling until his rumbling stomach forced him into the kitchen where Spike was still sitting at the table. The fact that he was now nursing a beer while his blood mug soaked in the sink, indicated that Spike was able to get up if he wanted to. With a guilty start, Xander realized that the still-weak vampire was probably sitting there because he was afraid to try to get downstairs by himself.
“Yeah. There is.” Spike sighed and shifted in the chair. “But if you don’t want to watch with me, I’m not going to beg.” He lifted the bottle and drained it, standing up and carrying it to the recycling tub before walking slowly towards the door to the basement stairs.
“Wait for me,” Xander said quickly. “I don’t want you doing that by yourself.”
“I’ll be fine. You finish your dinner. See you tomorrow.”
Clutching the railing in a death grip, Spike forced his shaky legs to move down the stairs, one tread at a time. He was only halfway down when his right leg buckled and he was unable to hold himself up. Uttering a soft “bugger” he landed on his ass and bounced down several steps before he could stop himself.
With a curse, Xander shoved his chair over backwards and bolted for the stairs. He relaxed when he saw Spike sitting on one of the lower steps, rubbing his lower back and snarling. Moving quickly, he came down the stairs and got in front of him, throwing one of Spike’s arms over his shoulders and supporting him as he gingerly descended the remaining steps.
Keeping his knees bent so that Spike could do as much of the work as possible, Xander muttered, “I don’t know why you have to be so dammed short. I feel like an ape, walking like this.”
“You are an ape,” Spike snarked back, sinking gratefully onto his bed and stretching his aching legs out in front of him. He winced as he bent forward, rubbing his back again.
“Nothing. Bumped my back on the steps is all. It’ll be fine.”
“Let me see.” Without waiting for a response, Xander moved behind Spike and pulled up his tee shirt to examine the scraped skin and developing bruise. “I’ll get you some ice for that,” he said, standing up and walking towards the stairs. “Unless you don’t want me doing that either.”
“Don’t be a git, Harris.”
“Says the asshole who thinks he can walk up and down stairs without help.”
“Maybe I don’t need help. Maybe I just like having your hands on m’ body.”
“And maybe pigs will fly,” Xander scoffed, running lightly up the stairs.
When Spike was happily propped up on pillows, ice bag on his back and new mug of blood in hand, he waited quietly to see what Xander was going to do. He’d casually switched on the TV and was watching intently as the first movie began, trying very hard not to seem to be asking Xander to stay with him. His only concession to his desire for company was the large open space he’d left on the bed. When the other man finally threw himself down with a casual “Might as well see which one’s going to be first,” Spike hid his smile, saying only, “Oi! watch it, whelp. You almost spilled my beer.”
A snort was his only reply as Xander squirmed around until he was comfortable, stealing one of the pillows that wasn’t really doing Spike any good and putting it behind his own back. He tipped his beer to his mouth and focused on the TV.
Five hours, two six packs and several trips to the bathroom later, he stood up with groan, saying, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m going to sleep. “ He stretched, and saw Spike eyeing his body as he did so. “So,” he asked casually, “is the working out doing any good?”
Spike snorted, and swallowed more beer. “Looks like there might be a bit less of you,” he responded, taking another, longer, look now that he’d been asked. “Prob’ly still soft as one of those doughnuts you like so much, though.”
Xander rubbed his hand over his flat belly and laughed. “You’ll never know, fangface.”
“Didn’t say I wanted to, did I?” he snorted.
“Oh you want me. You know you do.” Xander preened and flexed in a poor imitation of a body builder’s pose.
“Got that backwards, don’t you?” Spike scoffed, even as he ran his eyes over the tanned, healthy body in front of him. “It’s you can’t keep your hands off my body. The only thing I might want from you is that hot blood flowing through your veins.”
“You want my blood?” All playfulness left the man’s voice and he lowered his arms to put his hands on his hips. “After all I’ve done for you, and you’re thinking about eating me?”
Spike said nothing, just raised one eyebrow and smirked until Xander realized what he’d said. He groaned and collapsed into the chair.
“I so did not say that.”
“Oh, you so did,” Spike imitated, grinning like a madman.
Xander sat up and pointed his finger at the grinning vampire. “Let’s get something straight, buddy. I am. Straight, I mean. I am straight. I am NOT gay.”
“Neither am I,” Spike agreed amiably.
“Well, good, then. That’s settled.”
“If you say so.” Spike clicked the TV off and squirmed around until he was lying in the bed, only his bare legs covered by the blankets. “Tuck me in?” he leered, laughing when Xander just shook his head and headed for the stairs, his arms full of empty bottles. He was on the bottom stair when Spike’s voice, suddenly sober sounding drifted over to him. “I like it when you take care of me,” he said softly. “Jus’ meant I don’t like bein’ helpless. It’s too much like when I was in that blasted wheelchair.”
Xander nodded and continued up the stairs. “I knew that,” he threw over his shoulder. “I just wanted you to miss me for a while.”
Spike waited until the door had closed behind the man he’d known since he was a gawky teenager and then whispered, “I did, whelp. I did.”
“Would you stop hovering! “
“I’m not ‘hovering’, I’m…I’m …”
“Fine! I’m hovering. I just don’t want you to fall again. I thought you’d broken your leg yesterday.”
“Well, I didn’t. And if I had, it would be half-way healed by now; what with all the slayer blood Red has brought over.” He gave Xander a stern look. “You don’t think they’re givin’ too much, do you? Don’t want some slayerette gettin’ her arse handed to her one night on account of having tried to save my miserable life.”
“I’m sure Willow wouldn’t let any of them give too much. You’re not the only one with supernatural healing, you know. They’re probably recovered before you’ve even slurped it down.”
While they talked, Spike was making his way up the stairs, determinedly not holding on to the railing. He had been able to get himself up and down safely for several days, but his first attempt to do it without the extra support of the banister had ended in a bad fall that had left him moaning at the foot of the staircase.
With a triumphant, “Ha! Told you so!” he reached the top and stepped into the kitchen. Xander smiled to himself when Spike went immediately to a chair and sat at the table, rather than going to the refrigerator to get his blood; but he said nothing, only getting the blood out and pouring it into Spike’s mug. While he waited for it to warm up, Xander watched surreptitiously for some sign that Spike was more exhausted than he was letting on.
As happy as he was that Spike seemed to have regained some interest in a few things like his soaps and the English Premiere League team that he insisted Xander was going to learn to love, he was puzzled about the weakness that continued to plague him. He remembered when he and Giles had carried Spike’s battered body back to his crypt after Glory’s torture. Within a few days, the vampire had been stealing motor homes for Buffy and stopping sword thrusts with his hands.
He glanced up at Spike, remembering how he had helped Spike light a cigarette when his bandaged hands wouldn’t allow him to work his lighter.
I’ve been taking care of him a lot longer than I thought. You’d think he might have noticed by now.
“Why don’t you think of us … Willow and me… as friends? You’ve know us a lot longer than you did Angel’s crew.”
Xander kept his voice light and casual, never taking his eyes off the TV screen and the men running around in the snow in shorts. Spike gave a start, but kept his own face carefully facing the TV as he tried to come up with an answer.
“Do – did you think of me as a friend?”
“Well… maybe… after you stop trying to kill us. In an annoying roommate-who’s-a friend-of-a-friend kind of way.”
“You know lying makes your nose grow, right?”
The other man sighed and slumped down against the wall.
“Fine. We never thought of you as a friend. You were just… there, you know? I mean, first there was Willow and me, and then Buffy and Giles, and then Deadboy – only he wasn’t around all that much and he kept getting turning evil and getting sent to hell and then running off to LA – And Oz and Cordy – but they didn’t stay either. And then there was you. Like, right there – before Anya, before Wesley, before Tara.” He gave Spike a dark look. “You were part of my youth. Not a particularly happy part,” he hastened to add, “but part of it. Always there. I’m just… used to you.”
“Used to me.” Spike gave him an incredulous look. “I tried to kill you, almost did once, lived with you in that smelly basement, saved your sorry arse while Buffy was….” He stopped and swallowed hard. “While Buffy was dead the first time.” Spike’s eyes squeezed shut and he shuddered. Without thinking, Xander reached across the small space between them and placed his hand on Spike’s leg. He squeezed it lightly and whispered, “I miss her, too, you know. I loved her from the minute I first saw her standing outside the school and talking to Willow. She was something very special, our Buffy.”
“She was, Harris. That she was.” Spike’s voice trembled, and he rubbed one hand across his face. The large hand resting on his leg was trembling too, and he covered it with his, lacing his fingers with Xander’s and clinging tightly.
For long minutes they sat like that, their hands – one pale, one tan – linked tightly while they fought for control of their emotions. Eventually, Xander gasped, “I think you might be getting your strength back.”
“Huh?” Jarred out of his attempt to smother the pain that still shot through him any time he thought about Buffy, he lifted damp eyes to Xander’s.
“My hand. You’re crushing it.”
Spike looked at their joined hands, still resting on his thigh and blinked. Then Xander’s words registered and he forced his stiff fingers to relax and open. He slid his hand off the other one and dropped it to his side.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “You should have said somethin’.”
“I did. I said ‘you’re crushing my hand’ and you stopped. We’re good. No apologies needed.”
Spike nodded and pretended to concentrate on the screen. When he felt the atmosphere in the room was less tension-filled, he asked calmly, “So, you think I’m getting my strength back, do you?”
“Xander says you’re getting stronger.” Willow gave Spike a smile over her shoulder as she put the jar of slayer blood in the refrigerator.
“Yeah. Seems so.”
“You don’t seem real happy about it – not that I expect you to be happy, happy yet, but you know…”
“I know what you meant, Red.” He gave her a grin that almost reached his eyes. “You’re cute when you babble, you know that?”
“Don’t go flirting with me to change the subject, mister!” she scolded. “I’m immune, remember?”
“Yeah. I remember. Playing for another team, now. Doesn’t mean I can’t think you’re cute, does it?”
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Yeah, I’m getting stronger. In fact, I don’t think you should be accepting any more donations from the slayerettes. I don’t need it and they don’t need to be giving it up.”
“You’re turning down slayer blood?” Her expression said that she was clearly questioning his sanity.
“Soul’s a bloody pain in the arse that way,” he muttered. “Wish I could get rid of it sometimes…”
“She wouldn’t have wanted you to do that,” Willow said quietly. She watched him carefully for any sign that her allusion to Buffy was going to be too painful for him, but he just shrugged and nodded.
“Prob’ly not,” he agreed. “But she’s not here, is she?”
“No,” Willow agreed. “She isn’t. But she would still want us to take care of you.”
“That what you’re doing, Red? Taking care of the old vamp for the sake of a dead slayer?”
“For the sake of a dead friend,” she corrected. She sat down at the table and faced him. “And for a living friend.”
Their eyes met in reluctant understanding
“He really wants you to get better,” she said.
“Know that. But what’s he going to do when I am?”
Willow frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I have a theory about the whelp. I think he needs to be helping somebody. He started helping Buffy when he was just a boy, and he stuck with it through apocalypses, demon girls and losing an eye. And he was helping the slayers – findin’ them, bringin’ them here. Just when he was running short of slayerettes to find, he picks up my worthless carcass and decides he’s going to save me from myself. Even while I was wantin’ to die, he was helping me to live.”
Willow stared at him, her mouth agape as she remembered Xander’s reason for thinking he could get Spike to stay alive.
“So, you thinking that making you healthy is keeping Xander happy?”
“Think it gives him a purpose. He likes having a purpose,” Spike said with just a trace of stubbornness, as though she might argue with him.
“He does.” Willow nodded. “You might say that he needs somebody to take care of….” She fixed Spike with a hard eye. “Does that mean you’ve been faking how weak you are?”
“What? No! Why would I do something like that? You’re daft, Red.”
His sputtering wasn’t terribly convincing and Willow nodded to herself.
“You want to know what I think?” she asked, rhetorically as she stood up and prepared to leave. “I think you and Xander are swimming in the same river.”
Xander came home later than usual; his clothes were damp with sweat and he was grinning widely. Spike looked up from where he’d been lolling on the couch and smiled faintly.
“What’s this, then?”
“I worked out with some of the girls this afternoon. It felt good. I’m all charged up with endorphins and--”
“Yeah, it means—“
“Know what they are; I’m just surprised that you know that word.”
“I know a lot of things you don’t know I know,” Xander said haughtily.
“Is that right?” Spike’s drawled response and the leering glance he sent over the once-again taut and hard body in front of him was designed to rattle his housemate. Xander obliged immediately, blushing under his tan and dropping his own gaze.
“Not what I meant,” he mumbled.
“What’s not what you meant? All I did was ask an honest question.”
“You were innuendo-ing, and you know it.”
Spike laughed, a full, hearty laugh that made Xander smile in spite of himself.
“Ah, but you’re so easy to get to.”
“I am NOT easy!” Xander rolled his eyes and groaned. “You’re doing it again!”
“I’m not doing anything. ‘s not my fault that you think every thing I say is about sex… and you… and me….” Spike reclined on the couch and stretched out his legs, smiling when he saw Xander’s eyes run over his body.
“Gah! I’m going to take a shower!”
“Let me know if you need any help. You know, for those hard-to-reach places.”
“I don’t have any hard to reach places,” Xander’s voice carried back to him. “I’m very flexible, I’ll have you know.”
“Oh, whelp.…” Spike’s response sounded more like a moan than speech, and Xander groaned to himself before shouting, “Shut up, Spike!”
A soft chuckle was the vampire’s only response.
The shower pounded on Xander’s head while he stood still and tried to pretend that Spike’s suggestive looks and remarks weren’t having an effect on him.
“I’m straight, I’m straight,” he chanted. “I like girls. I love girls. They’re all soft and clingy and giggly – not compact and muscular like… Gah!”
He glared at the body part that insisted on betraying him every time Spike’s lewd mouth said something that made it twitch and grow. With a whimper, he surrendered and reached for the soap.
He rinsed carefully, knowing that Spike’s keen nose would know instantly what he’d been doing if he left a trace anywhere on his body. When he was sure that he had removed any tell-tale fluids, he dressed in loose sweats and walked out to where Spike was just sitting down with a cup of warmed blood.
“Feel better now, do you?” Spike said with a straight face, holding in his laughter until Xander had disappeared into the kitchen. He waited until the other man was sitting down with his dinner before entering the kitchen to put his mug in the sink.
“I hate you,” Xander muttered, never looking up from his meal.
“No you don’t,” Spike whispered into his ear, startling him into giving an unmanly yelp of surprise.
Before he could complain about Spike’s sneaking up on him, the grinning vampire had waved and retired to his own room in the basement.
“No, I don’t,” was the whispered admission when the door had safely closed behind him.
“I want to see it.”
“I’m ready. I can handle it. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. Just tell me where it is and how to get there.”
Xander looked at Spike as though he’d just asked him to bare his neck.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Spike sighed. “I’m not going to off myself, Harris. You ought to know that by now. I just need to see it. Need to say ‘good-bye’.”
“How do I know you won’t just park yourself there until the sun comes up?” Xander’s brow was creased and his mouth was drawn into a worried frown.
Spike stepped closer to him and looked up into Xander’s anxious face. He gazed at the man who had cared for him for the past three months, running his eyes over the familiar features and inhaling the scent that had become a part of his life.
“Because I wouldn’t do that to you,” Spike said quietly. “Turns out I’m not quite the bastard I thought I was.”
Xander watched from the shelter of an old, brush-covered mausoleum as Spike knelt by the well-tended grave. He’d promised Spike that he believed him when he said that he had accepted Buffy’s death, but he’d still parked the car at the end of the street and walked back to the quiet cemetery. From where he was, he couldn’t hear or really see what Spike was doing, so he just watched patiently until Spike stood up.
Spike stood, head bowed and shoulders slumped for a few more seconds, then straightened, threw back his shoulders and swiped at his eyes with one arm.
Xander shrank back into the bushes as Spike strode towards him, just enough of the old swagger visible in his walk for him to be easily recognizable in the pale moonlight. When he came level with Xander’s hiding place, he stopped and pulled out his cigarettes, lighting one and blowing the smoke out in a steady stream before saying, “Come on out, Harris.”
Xander’s obedience to Spike’s request was hastened by the arrival of two recently risen vampires that had crept up behind him while his attention was on Spike. He burst from the bushes, stake in hand and whirled to face the dirt-covered vamps.
Too new to recognize another vampire when they saw one, nor to be able to judge its age, the fledglings charged what they anticipated to be their first meals; only to be met by fists and stakes.
Xander’s opponent had run straight at him, counting on his superior speed and frightening mien to allow him to subdue the larger human. To his surprise, the man he charged simple shifted to one side and allowed the unfortunate vampire to impale himself on the stake he was holding.
Turning away from the falling dust, Xander watched as Spike methodically pummeled the other vamp until he was lying on the ground. Then he held out his hand for the stake and plunged it into his opponent’s chest. He stood up, handed the stake back and dusted his hands.
“Well, that was a bit of alright, wasn’t it?”
He turned and began to walk towards the gates, not waiting for Xander to catch up. In spite of his shorter stature, his long strides carried him away rapidly, causing the other man to jog after him.
“You didn’t believe me, did you?”
“I did. I mean, I wanted to, but…”
“Told you I wouldn’t.” Spike’s casual shrug couldn’t hide the disappointment in his voice.
“I’m sorry. I worry.”
“Yeah, so I’ve noticed.”
Spike’s forgiving smile was answered by a sheepish grin and a shove.
“Then you should have been expecting me.”
“What makes you think I wasn’t?” Spike snorted and shoved back just hard enough to make it clear that he had regained much of his strength. “Knew you’d be around somewhere. Hovering.”
“You know you love it,” Xander said. “You wouldn’t know what to do if I stopped worrying about you.”
“You could be right,” was the quiet reply as they reached the car.
“Where are you going?”
Xander shifted from one foot to the other. “Willow’s sending out a patrol team of newbies tonight. I promised I would supervise and take notes. For tomorrow’s debriefing.”
“A patrol of slayers? Debriefing? When did Slayer Central become all army-like?”
"Some of the watchers have been in the military. They’re trying to make things a little more organized.”
“So, you’re going out with a pack of inexperienced slayers?” Spike’s obvious, if unspoken, concern suffused Xander’s chest with warmth.
“You could come with – if you want to.” He tried to sound casual, but his eye was bright and his hand clenched around the stake he’d been putting into its holster.
Spike’s gaze was steady. “Do you want me to come?”
Trapped in those eyes that could say so much and yet be so inscrutable, Xander could only stare back, helpless to respond.
Yes! Yes, I want you to come with. I always want you to be where I am.
Shaking himself free of the unexpected and unwelcome thought, he realized that Spike had taken his silence for a “no.” He watched in dismay as the vampire slumped into the corner of the couch, his eyes shuttered and his face still.
“No. ‘course you don’t. Got all those hot little slayers to watch over. Don’t need an old vamp getting’ in the way. You go on.”
“I… you…” At a loss for what to say, Xander could only stutter briefly. “What will you do while I’m gone? If you don’t come with me,” he added.
Spike shrugged, staring at the blank TV screen.
“I’ll find somethin’ to do with myself. Maybe take a walk – see if I’ve still got what it takes to rule the night. Or maybe just stay here… by myself. Alone… thinking… alone…”
He peered up at Xander’s stricken face and forced himself to grin.
“Ha! Gotcha!” he said. “Look at you, all worried I’m gonna be lonely if you’re not here. “
“You mean you won’t be?” Xander’s dismay wasn’t faked and Spike’s grin became genuine.
“Maybe, a little,” he allowed. He walked up to Xander and looked up at his face. “Maybe I should come with you. So you won’t worry about me.”
“Maybe you should come with, so you won’t worry about me,” Xander countered, meeting Spike’s eyes challengingly.
They remained gazing intently, bodies almost close enough to be touching; looking very much like two men spoiling for a fight. Finally, Spike dropped his eyes and moved away.
“I’ll watch your back, if you watch mine,” he mumbled, moving away and keeping his back to Xander.
“Sounds like a plan,” Xander said, exhaling the breath he hadn’t been aware of holding.
“Right, then. Let’s go.”
“Age before beauty.” Xander gestured towards the door, and laughed aloud when Spike growled at him. “Go on,” he said with a grin. “Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you’re not old and I’m not … okay, not beautiful, cause that would be… just… wildly inappropriate and unmanly. You’re old, and I’m… manly…”
“Quit while you’re ahead, Harris,” Spike laughed, smacking Xander on the ass as he scooted out the door ahead of the sputtering man.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Are you all right?”
“Of course, I’m alright. Not dust, am I?”
“You don’t have to be dust to not be all right. It’s not like you’re at full strength yet.”
“You don’t know what my full strength is, you git.”
“Well, I think you expended a lot of it taking on those three vamps by yourself.”
“Somebody had to rescue you. The slayerettes were all busy.”
“You didn’t have to take on all three of them. I was getting up.”
“Didn’t know that, did I? Anyway, told you I’d watch your back.”
“You did, you saved my life.”
“Too bloody right, I did.”
“So, you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. Did he bite you?”
“Nah, never laid a fang on me.”
“If you two are through checking each other for booboos, we’re ready to head back to headquarters.”
“Are you watching porn?”
“No, I’m watchin’ the Disney channel,” Spike said, rolling his eyes. “What the bloody hell does it look like?”
“It looks like porn. Girl on guy porn…oh! girl on girl porn!”
The picture shifted again to two well-built young men, stroking each other and murmuring endearments as they writhed on a large bed.
“Well, that’s just disturbing…”
“Want to join me?”
Xander handed Spike a bottle of beer and settled down beside him on the couch.
“Am I paying for this?”
Spike shrugged. “Thought the Council of Wankers was paying for everything?”
“Good point.” He tipped the bottle up and swallowed. “What are we watching?”
“It’s a mixed bag – bit of this, a little of that.”
“Hmmmm. Oh, girl on girl, again. Gotta love it.”
“Oh yeah. Kind of hard to watch that and not get all… interested, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, well, considering that my social life for the past few months has consisted of spending every night with you, I’m not sure that this is in my best interest.” In spite of his words, Xander’s eye was glued to the screen and his breath was coming hard and fast. He squirmed uncomfortably, then gasped as he realized that Spike had opened his pants and wrapped his hand around the rigid shaft poking out of them.
“What are you doing?”
“What you’d be doin’ if you had any sense. That can’t be comfortable.” Spike pointed to the bulge straining at Xander’s zipper and clucked sympathetically.
“Yeah, okay… I can see where that would be…” He unzipped his jeans and sighed with relief when his cock was free to stand up and appreciate the effects of the action on the screen.
“See – isn’t that better?”
Spike’s voice was a low rumble that made Xander’s cock twitch in spite of himself. Instead of answering, he took a quick peek at the other man’s erection, mentally comparing it to his. He’d seen Spike naked more times than he cared to count – both when the vampire was living with him in Sunnydale and since he’d brought his broken body home with him. But he’d never seen him with a full-fledged hard-on.
As careful as he tried to be, Spike caught him and chuckled.
“Mine’s bigger than yours,” he teased, running his hand down his cock.
“Is not,” was the indignant response.
“Care to prove that?”
“You’re on, buddy. I’ve got a tape measure around here somewhere…”
“Oh, we don’t need that.” Spike slid closer to the fast-breathing man and purred, “All we need to do is put them up against each other and see which one is the biggest.”
“This has got to be a really bad idea.” Even as he was speaking, Xander was turning sideways so as to bring his hips in line with Spike’s. He trembled as Spike slowly brought their cocks into alignment and allowed them to brush together. Matching gasps came from their mouths as Spike slowly wrapped his hand around both cocks and held them lightly together.
“Mine’s longer,” Xander gasped.
“No fair. It’s all that slayer blood you’ve been drinking.” Xander’s chest was so tight that he could barely get the words out. He felt as though every drop of blood in his body had gone to the part now enclosed in Spike’s fist. He groaned when the vampire moved slightly and the two swollen cocks slid past each other. He involuntarily shoved his hips forward, maintaining the contact between them.
“Easy there, pet,” Spike growled. “You keep that up and I’m gonna forget that I was just teasin’ you.” He squeezed and pushed himself closer to the man whose heartbeat he could hear pounding rapidly.
“Teasing bad,” Xander gasped, stretching his arms to pull the blond vampire against his body. “Very, very bad.”
“Well,” Spike murmured as he wrapped his legs around one of Xander’s muscular thighs, “I am evil.”
“You are,” Xander breathed in his ear. “Evil, and unspeakably… guh!”
“Does this make us gay?”
Spike sprawled beside Xander, stretched his arms over his head and shrugged.
“Makes us who we are,” he said. “I mean, what did we really do? Compared cocks and got each other off. Except for the doing it to each other, coulda been any two or three guys sitting around drinking and watching porn.”
“So, we’re NOT gay?”
“Well, I’m not. Think the jury might be still out on you. You did squeal like a girl…”
“Shut up, Spike.”
Spike raised his head and stared his dare at the other man. Xander looked down onto the familiar face – now, once again chiseled and beautiful the way it had been so many years ago when the vampire had first come into his life. Spike’s lips were parted slightly as he waited to see what Xander would do.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Xander said, stalling for time, unable to tear his eye off the full lips just inches away.
“I would, luv,” Spike whispered, moving his face closer and tilting his head slightly.
Willow stood on the balcony overlooking the training room and smiled to herself. Below her, a lithe blond man with supernatural speed and strength was sparring with a tall, well-muscled man who was holding his own in the choreographed practice session. Suddenly, the blond spun and kicked out, bringing the other man to his knees and falling upon him, pinning him to the floor.
“I win,” he growled, rubbing his human teeth on the other man’s neck. “Consider yourself had.”
Xander squirmed under Spike and smiled as the blue eyes darkened. “No,” he said softly, arching his neck for Spike’s imaginary bite. “I win.”
“Oh my god, that’s hot!”
Willow whirled to find several of the younger slayers standing behind her and staring down into the training room; where the vampire had heard the gasped remark, and quickly rolled off his companion. He glared up at the embarrassed girl, then suddenly grinned and blew her a kiss. He offered Xander his hand, pulling him to his feet.
Xander gave Spike’s hand a squeeze, then dropped it and waved at the girls and Willow. She waved back, beaming at the two good-looking men below her.
“Let’s go home, Spike. I have some stuff to do there.”
“You know I love it when you talk dirty to me.”
“Shut up, Spike.”
“I’m planning to. You can count on it.”