Xander held Spike close, letting the tears run down his own cheeks unchecked. Spike had given up Drusilla. And he’d done it for Xander. He felt unworthy of that kind of gift – what did he have to offer Spike that could compare to 100 years worth of love? Buddy gave him the equivalent of a smack to the head, flooding his mind with images of Xander and Spike laughing together, fighting back to back, teasing Kendra, tending each other’s wounds, kissing – lots of kissing for two men that had only tonight decided to become more than friends.
Whatever it was that he and Spike had, Spike wanted it just as much as Xander did, and that was all that mattered. Besides, he had come to Spike’s rescue, what more could Spike ask for? He grinned evilly as he contemplated the best time to bring that up. Should he wait until they got home, and he got some blood into Spike, or would it be better to jump him while he was still weak and disoriented, so he wouldn’t be able to come up with a good comeback? The opportunities were endless.
Kendra finished bandaging Giles, and as she moved away to see if she could help Clem with Tara, Giles noticed Xander holding Spike, whose sobbing had trailed off, to an occasional hitched sigh. Giles’ eyes narrowed as he took in the two of them, and their close embrace, and his mouth pinched down to a thin line.
Xander felt the usual shame that showed up whenever Giles looked at him like that. It didn’t matter what he’d done, or if he’d done anything wrong at all. It was hardwired into him. But he felt Buddy and Death Song shoring up his usual crumbling pride, reminding him that he had the right to do whatever he wanted. Spike needed him, and Giles had no right to think less of Xander for being there for him.
Xander held his head high, and stared back at Giles, just daring him to say anything. Xander hadn’t jumped into this relationship. He’d thought long and hard about it, and he deserved a chance at happiness, the way anyone else did. Giles could stick his head up his own butt if he wanted, but he wasn’t making Xander feel like he was doing something wrong, when he knew in his heart, that this was the right thing for him. Giles looked away from him then, and Xander sighed in relief. Just because he was willing to stand up for himself, didn’t mean he was looking forward to it. If Giles didn’t push it, he was happy to avoid a confrontation.
Xander hugged Spike tighter, and went back to thinking up ways to work Spike’s new status as Damsel in Distress into the conversation. This was way better than calling him Xander’s squire. He realized that it might be somewhat insensitive to say anything this soon after Spike lost his sire. That was a rather traumatic event for a vamp from what he’d heard. But then, maybe what Spike really needed was a distraction, something else to focus on for a while. This would definitely grab Spike’s attention. Xander was looking forward to the look on his face, already.
Giles used the wall he was leaning against to help him stand, pushing against it to lever himself up off the floor. Xander thought he should probably feel bad about not rushing over there to help, but he had his arms full of weeping vampire at the moment, and he wasn’t about to let go until Spike was ready. Spike shouldn’t have to face them all until he had his shields back up. Xander supposed that sounded kind of geeky, but Spike used his callous nature the way Xander used his jokes, to hide his true face from the world. Spike deserved the chance to pull himself back together again before facing them all.
Especially since Xander was going to put him down soon enough. The words Damsel in Distress kept circling around in his head. He chuckled – he just couldn’t help himself.
“The look on your face bodes ill for someone, Xander. I hesitate to ask exactly who the recipient might be.” Giles spoke softly as he walked past the two of them, as if he didn’t wish to disturb Spike.
Xander grinned widely, but chose not to answer. That ought to keep Giles guessing for a while. He thought he must be wrong about Giles’ motive for speaking softly, because Giles had never avoided a chance to annoy Spike in the past. He watched in surprise as Giles righted, then brought over the chair Puffy had been sitting on, planting it behind Spike.
“Can you ease him down onto this chair?” He kept up the soft voice, and Xander watched in surprise as he put his hands on Spike’s shoulders, patting them awkwardly like he would someone who needed comfort. That couldn’t be right.
“Spike, you need to let go of Xander, and sit down while we ready ourselves to leave.”
Oh, right. Xander realized with a start that this mansion was full of demons that would not be happy with what they’d done. Spike didn’t seem to have heard Giles, and Xander looked nervously up toward the door into the basement. He was surprised that someone hadn’t come down already. It was a busy lair.
Giles’ eyes followed his to the top of the stairs. “As weak as Tara is right now, she has no reserves to shore up the spell she put on that door.” Giles gestured for Xander to try getting Spike to let go, but Xander didn’t want to do that. Spike needed him.
“There’s no telling when the demons above will realize something is wrong, and check the other entrances to the basement. If Dru’s spells broke when she died, they’ll be free to come in and find us here. Even if they can’t get in, they’re likely to set up a guard at the entrances, while they find a witch or sorcerer who can help.”
Spike stirred slightly at that, but Xander wasn’t sure if that was due to the threat of another fight simply to get out of the place, or because Giles mentioned Dru’s dusting. It didn’t work though, Spike tightened his hold on Xander, and Xander went back to rubbing his back in small circles.
Giles sighed in exasperation. “Spike,” he said firmly, “You must let go of Xander so we can bandage his wounds before we leave.”
Spike took in a big breath, and Xander thought he was probably scenting the air. He cringed. He was all sweaty and covered with ichor and blood, some of which was even his own. The worst wound was on the outside of his leg, where the Laumear had got him with that deflected strike. He could feel it throbbing in time with his pulse, but he was pretty sure most of the bleeding had stopped.
Spike pulled back, holding him at arm’s length. “You’re wounded?” He stepped aside, and pulled Xander to the chair, practically throwing him at it. “Sit down.”
“Hey, the chair was for you!” He sat, because he didn’t want to argue with Spike right now. It didn’t have a thing to do with the fact that, now that he was concentrating on it, his leg hurt like a really hurtful thing. Some hero he was. Buddy gave him another mental head slap, and Xander jumped.
Giles, who was bringing over the first aid kit Tara had been carrying in her bag, frowned at him. “I haven’t touched you yet, Xander.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s Buddy. He’s not happy that I keep putting down my hero status, but look at me, I’m covered in my own blood.”
“And does Buffy always come back without a scratch in your world?” Kendra asked indignantly.
Xander jumped. He didn’t know the others could hear him. He took a deep breath when he realized she was right. Buffy had been wounded enough times that they had teased her that if she hadn’t had Slayer healing, she’d be covered in scars.
He shrugged self-consciously. “I guess not.”
“You need to stop comparing yourself with others.”
Kendra’s voice was strong and determined, and Xander realized that this was important to her. She’d been compared to others for her entire life, but it sounded like she was getting a grip on that. Good for her.
“Not that you can’t improve – everyone should push themselves to new heights every day. But don’t hold yourself up to others, Xander. Just do the best you can – that’s all that anyone should ever ask of you.”
Giles had been kneeling by Xander’s wounded thigh, wrapping a cloth around the bandage he held over the wound on Xander’s leg. He stopped, looking over at Kendra, listening intently to her words. When she stopped speaking, he turned back to his task, but nodded his approval.
“Well said, Kendra.” Giles took a deep breath; this was obviously hard for him. “Those are words we should all take to heart.”
When she responded, her voice was soft. “Thank you, Giles.”
Xander couldn’t see her from his chair, since she was behind him, but he thought he could hear her proud smile in her voice.
“Yeah, well that’s all right for you mortals.” Spike sounded bored. “Personally, I already know there’s no one as good as me.”
Clem’s snort of laughter had them all smiling except for Spike, who flashed two fingers, and a bit of fang in Clem’s direction.
Giles’ exasperated sigh made Xander grin, despite the tightness of the wrapping Giles was tying around his leg. He was pretty sure that Giles saw through Spike’s bravado and appreciated the way he had broken the tension. But he played his role, keeping up his part of the balancing act that was at the heart of this group.
Giles tied off the wrap. “This will do until we can get you home.” He gestured at Xander to get up. “Try walking around, and tell me how that feels.”
Xander took a few tentative steps, then, more confidently walked a dozen more. It hurt, but then that happened when someone poked a sword in your leg. He limped back in Giles and Spike’s direction. It took him a moment to realize what was different about Spike. “Hey, the gold in your eyes is fading.”
“Yeah? Makes sense. It was Dru’s spell, and she’s…” He shrugged, not finishing his sentence.
Xander took his hand, squeezing it.
Spike put his hand on his own chest. “The runes are less painful, as well. It looks like it’s all fading away.”
“Will the locks on the doors do the same thing?” Kendra asked.
“Not these, no.” Tara spoke up for the first time, and Xander was relieved to hear that at least her voice was strong. Good. They were going to need to have their weapons drawn. Carrying Tara would slow them down. He listened to Tara explaining the difference between the spell on Spike and the one on the doors, but his mind was elsewhere. Death Song was singing to him.
He walked over to the place he’d set her down earlier, picking her up carefully, and smiling gently at the beautiful song she sang. She was so pleased with their first engagement. Xander wasn’t quite as satisfied, not that he blamed her in any way, but he still had a lot to learn. She and Buddy stroked him simultaneously in that way that they had, showing him that they understood, and would be proud to help him pursue both knowledge and skill.
He thought about that. Kendra had said that there was always room for improvement, and look at how much she already knew. There wasn’t anything wrong with him just because he was still learning. Both Buddy and Death Song recognized his potential. It wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but then few important things were. He’d make them proud, though. He was sure of that.
Spike walked up, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. “You all right, love?”
Xander turned and studied him. Spike looked paler than normal, still somewhat shaky, but he was definitely dealing better. His eyes looked bruised, and Xander hated the hurt he saw there. He had a feeling that once they got home, Spike would fall apart again. He was too stubborn to lose face in front of the others.
Buddy and Death Song did that internal stroking thing again, offering him their support. Xander smiled, comforted. They made him feel like he was complete, now, and that was an amazing feeling. Spike’s eyes were drawn to his new sword, and Xander showed her off, turning her to catch the light.
“Isn’t she amazing, Spike?”
“She’s a beauty,” Spike said reverently.
A sudden impulse struck him, and he asked Death Song if she approved. She did, so Xander held her on the palms of his hands and offered her to Spike, who was shocked.
“I’m no hero, Herc.”
“She knows that. But she can tell that you and I belong together. She calls you my…” He wasn’t sure if he understood what she meant – maybe he was misunderstanding the word she used.
“Your what?” Spike eyed the sword cautiously.
Xander blushed, but decided to say it. What the hell. “My Master.”
Spike nodded seriously. “That’s right. I’m your teacher. The one who trains you. Your guide.”
“Oh!” Xander let out his breath in a whoosh, relieved that she wasn’t expecting him to pretend to be Spike’s love slave or something. It wasn’t like he and Anya hadn’t gotten into some role playing from time to time, but Xander’s sex life was none of Death Song’s business.
“I get it now. That’s not so bad.”
“We’ll just keep that ‘other’ meaning of master in mind for a more private moment, shall we?”
Spike grinned at him, one eyebrow arched, and so sexy that Xander had to fight down a wave of lust. Now was not the time, he told himself. Later. Much later. Xander held Death Song out again, and Spike carefully took her from his hands.
Spike gasped as he slid his hand onto her grip. “I can hear her! Her voice is faint, but I actually hear her,” he said in surprise, his blue eyes open wide. He stroked his hand reverently over her, and started checking things that Xander had no idea about, staring down the length of the blade, and balancing her on the side of one finger.
“She’s perfect, Xander. Her balance, length, weight – everything is perfectly suited to you. Does it work the way it does with Buddy? She naturally fits herself to her Hero?”
Xander nodded. “I guess so. I don’t get how that works.”
Spike shrugged. “Well that’s mojo for you. Don’t even try understanding. You’re better off that way.”
He tilted the sword from side to side, and Xander took the time to admire her from another point of view. Her gold and copper highlights shone around the center groove that ran most of the length of the blade. Fuller, he reminded himself. That’s called the fuller.
“Are these designs just scroll work, or do they mean something?” Spike asked.
“They mean something, but they’re decorative, too. I’m not sure I get it all, but there are runes worked into the design for protection, strength, speed, wisdom, stuff like that.”
Spike looked at him contemplatively. “You’re communicating with her better than you do with Buddy.”
Xander hadn’t realized that, but he supposed it was so. “She’s stronger. I can feel her, even when you’re holding her. I have to be in contact with Buddy before I can tell what he’s thinking. And even then, it’s not as clear as what I get from Death Song.”
“Death Song?” Spike smiled, approvingly. “Now that’s a noble name for a sword. She needs a good oiling. They haven’t treated her the way she deserves. We’ll have to take care of that when we get home.”
“Oh, right. We have to get out of here.” Xander took Death Song back, and slid her into her scabbard, pleased that she and Spike got along so well. Both Buddy and Death Song sent back images and feelings that the closest Xander could come to would translate as ‘family.’ The word wasn’t precise enough, but it worked.
They were in the hallway on their way out before Xander realized that Spike wasn’t with them anymore. He looked around, and saw Spike standing over the spot where Kendra had dusted Puffy. He walked back to Spike, who stood there for a moment, staring down at the mix of blood and ash that was all that was left of his doppelganger. Then he spoke softly.
“I told you that I’d watch you dust and spit in your ashes, you arrogant prick. Who’s laughing now, eh?”
Spike turned his back on Puffy, and they walked out of the room together, leaving nothing behind but ashes.