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Before the Time of Dawn


by
Shadowscast



Part Four


"We're going to the hospital."

"No, we're bloody well not."

"You got bit, Spike. You're bleeding from the neck." Xander managed to keep his voice from cracking, but he had to clench his fist hard to keep his free hand from shaking. The other hand was tucked under Spike's armpit, holding him up.

"It's nothing." Spike moved his hand, uncovering the neck wound. "Is it spurting?" He waited for a second until he could answer his own question. "No. Not spurting. He didn't get the jugular. He was a sodding fledge, fresh outta the ground. I just need a bandaid and I'll be fine. We go to the hospital, things get very fucking complicated."

"Okay," Xander conceded reluctantly. "Let's at least get back to the motel before any more of the Sunnydale nightlife tries to eat us."

He tucked the broken fence slat under the back of his belt, just in case. Then they made their limping way towards the Downtowner, avoiding graveyards and dark alleys.

"So do you think that dusting that fledge will screw things up?" Xander asked.

"Moot point now," Spike observed. He shrugged, and winced. "I didn't recognize him. Probably in the original timeline Buffy dusted him some night on patrol. Shouldn't make a difference that we saved her the trouble." He stumbled, and Xander caught him.

"I will be really pissed," Xander said, making sure Spike was steady before he let go, "if we get back to the future and find out that vampire was supposed to have saved the world."

They made it back to the Downtowner without any more excitement. When they got close Xander kept out a wary eye for any other guests coming or going—specifically, Faith—and with the coast clear, they ducked quickly into their room. Spike tossed his blood-soaked shirt in the garbage, Xander cleaned the bite and taped a bandage over it, and they collapsed into bed together.

The bed squeaked.

"Well, that was a fun day," Spike said. "Wonder what tomorrow will bring?"

"And you said I was jinxing us."

"Touché," Spike admitted.

Xander rolled up on his elbow and took a good look at Spike. He'd taken the brunt of the beating from that vampire; Xander had just got knocked to the ground once, and then run off for the stake. Spike's face was almost unmarked, which was a good thing considering that they still needed to move inconspicuously around town: there was a scrape just outside his right eye, probably where he'd banged against the fence, but that was all. Then there was the white bandage taped to his neck with two red dots already soaking through: not an uncommon injury in Sunnydale, though usually a fatal one. His torso had taken most of the damage, and Xander wondered whether Spike would even tell him if he had a broken rib. "Hey, Spike," Xander said softly, touching his undamaged cheek, "how badly are you hurt?"

"I'll be fine," Spike said predictably, avoiding Xander's eye.

"Seriously, I want to know." Xander ran his finger down Spike's cheek to his jawbone, trailed down to the collarbone, hesitated there. "'Cause I really wanna have sex with you and I want to know if it's okay."

"Oh." Surprise, pleasure and relief mingled in the syllable. Spike looked at Xander straight on. "In that case—it's perfectly okay, luv, but we'd best be gentle, I'm a bit banged up."

Sex was slow, sweet, life-affirming. A lot of kisses before anything else—exploring, testing, celebrating. When they were done they lay snuggled together until the shift in Spike's breathing let Xander know he'd fallen asleep. About the same time, Xander's stomach started growling. Between jet lag and time travel Xander's inner clock felt like a Salvador Dali painting, but he suddenly realized it had been a hell of a long time since he last ate.

It wasn't even very late, local time—not quite ten o'clock. There was a 7-11 a block away from the motel, so Xander left Spike sleeping and came back ten minutes later with two plastic-wrapped ham sandwiches. He woke Spike up, they shared a not very exciting dinner and watched basketball on cable—"I think I remember this one," Xander said, "The Lakers win,"—and they finally went to bed for real. Xander pretended not to notice that Spike took a couple of prescription-strength painkillers along with his normal bedtime pills. If he said anything about it he worried Spike would just start hiding them from him again the way he had the first few months they'd lived together.

"I love you," Xander whispered once the lights were off and Spike's warm body was pressed against his.

"Love you too," Spike whispered in return.


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

Xander woke up before sunrise. He lay quietly in bed beside Spike until there was enough light to distinguish the patterns in the wallpaper from the water stains, and then he slipped out from under the covers. The digital clock said 6:47. He pulled on shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes, and threaded the room key onto a chain he could wear round his neck. He opened the door a crack, peeked down the walkway to make sure Faith wasn't around—if memory served she'd probably be asleep at this hour, but if she wasn't she was more likely to be on her way in than out—and seeing that the coast was clear he eased out the door and closed it gingerly behind him. He was always so careful not to wake Spike up, even though he knew from experience that these hours in the morning were the time Spike was most deeply asleep.

Keeping the Faith problem in mind, he jogged immediately away from the motel, covering a couple blocks at a gentle pace before he stopped to stretch.

These morning runs had become routine over the past few months. He'd needed something to do to fill the time until Spike woke up. Spike needed a lot of sleep, about nine hours a night, while Xander could never manage more than about six. Even when they were in their own apartment in Rome, it was hard for him to kill three hours in the morning without disturbing Spike. So he left the apartment—he went running.

He'd been surprised at how much running seemed to help with everything else. It was like meditation, kind of, only without the need to sit still. Things would come up in his mind while he ran, and the rhythm of his sneakers on the ground and his in-and-out breath would keep him from getting lost in the worry or fear or regret, and then after a while the thoughts would slip away and there'd be nothing but the running. He didn't have nightmares about the Congo anymore, or about Caleb, or even about high school. And as an added plus, he was in the best shape of his life.

One thing he thought about a lot when he ran was Spike. They'd been dating now for over half a year, counting from that night in Germany. Xander tried to imagine what his younger self, probably asleep now in his parents' basement, would say if he told him. He wasn't even sure which factor would freak him out the most: that he was dating a former vampire, that he was dating a guy, or that he was dating Spike.

Probably his younger self would punch him in the face, call him a liar and a demon, and go running to Buffy for help. Good thing he wasn't planning on making that visit.

Still, he let the dialogue with his younger self play out in his imagination.

"He's not evil anymore," he silently told teenaged Xander. "He's human now. And he died saving the world—twice! And even before that, he went and got a soul—on purpose, not like Angel. And even before that he helped us fight demons, baby-sat Dawn, let Glory nearly kill him. I don't think he ever was all that evil, not like other vampires."

"Are you insane?" his younger self exploded inside his head. "You know when the last time I saw Spike was? He gave me a concussion, threatened Will, and kidnapped us away to the old factory. Cordelia caught us kissing and got impaled on a piece of rebar!"

"Well, okay, yeah," Xander admitted, "I mean, he was a vampire."

"So what the hell do you see in him?" younger Xander asked.

"For one thing, he's fucking hot," Xander said. "You can't tell me you haven't noticed—I know damn well you have."

"No comment," said younger Xander, since of course he couldn't deny it what with older Xander knowing his every thought. Well, and it didn't hurt that older Xander was actually controlling both sides of this conversation.

"You wouldn't believe the things he knows how to do with his tongue," Xander went on. "I mean, seriously: think over a century of practice."

"Does he still do that thing where he tilts his head a bit and raises his eyebrow and looks at you like he's thinking about eating you?" younger Xander asked. "'Cause that always was weirdly sexy..."

"Now you're getting it!"

"Okay, but even if he's sexy, and not necessarily evil, what about the fact that he's an asshole?"

"Hey, you're the one who dated Cordelia."

"Technically, wasn't that you, too?"

In the real world, Xander came to a red light and jogged in place, waiting for the green. "Try to stay with the point, okay?" he thought at younger Xander. "The thing with Cordelia worked for as long as it did because insults are sexy. Fighting with her made you hot. You never wanted to date someone sweet; if you had, there was Willow." The light changed and Xander loped forward. "And hey, Spike can be sweet. But he's also snarky and prickly and a little bit dangerous."

"Oh yeah, that sounds like a great basis for a relationship," younger Xander said, bitingly sarcastic. "I mean, okay, I'll admit that me and Cordelia weren't the poster children for happily-ever-after. But that was a high school thing. You're, what, twenty-four? Shouldn't you be taking things more seriously now?"

"This is serious," Xander said. "Maybe I'm not explaining it right. Being with Spike is really good, okay? Good like the best times with Anya. He's ... I'm better, when I'm with him. I stopped smoking, I stopped drinking, I can talk to him like no one else. He gets me. And you know, I think I'm good for him too. I think he was kind of ... lost, until I came along."

Younger Xander stayed silent for a moment, as though in contemplation of the many very serious issues Xander had raised in that little speech. Then he asked, "Who's Anya?"

Xander laughed out loud. He broke his own rhythm and stumbled over a crack in the pavement and steadied himself against a nearby brick wall, still laughing. "I don't even know who Anya is yet!" he said to the wall.

"Hey man," said a strangely familiar, slightly out-of-breath voice behind him, "are you okay?"

Xander turned half around and his eye widened. Larry. He barely stopped himself from saying the name out loud.

"Xander!" Larry said, sounding surprised. "I didn't recognize—I've been pacing myself off you for the past couple blocks, hope you don't mind. I didn't know you ran," he added.

Shit. Shit. Shit. "I'm sorry," he said, "you've got the wrong guy." He turned all the way to face Larry, revealing his eyepatch.

Larry frowned slightly. "Oh, yeah, now I see—man, you look just like this guy I know. Only, I guess he's a bit younger. Hey, you wouldn't be any relation to Xander Harris, would you?"

"Oh, Xander Harris," Xander said, grasping at the straw Larry had just handed him. "Yeah, actually. He's my cousin."

Larry nodded. "You've got a major family resemblance going on there. Oh," he held out his hand, "I'm Larry. I go to school with Xander."

Xander shook his hand, feeling very weird. "Rigby," he said, giving the name of his real 30-year-old cousin in Tulsa. "Nice to meet you."

Larry grinned and gave Xander's hand a healthy squeeze. "I'll have to tell Xander I ran into you."

"No!" Xander said quickly. "I'd, uh, rather not let the Harrises know I'm in town. I'm just here on business. We're not on good terms."

"Oh. Uh, sorry to hear it," Larry said, looking a bit awkward now. "Anyway, I'd better get going before I cool down. I won't say anything to Xander."

He started to turn to leave, and Xander suddenly flashed on the memory of the last time he'd seen Larry. Graduation Day.

Xander sprinted to catch up. "Hey," he said, "I have to finish my run, too. Mind if I join you?"

What the hell are you doing, you idiot? Xander asked himself. This is the opposite of being careful and lying low!

He thinks I'm Rigby, he told himself. He won't say anything to anybody. And he'll be dead in six months.

That's what it was about, of course. If Sunnydale was a ghost town, Larry was one of the ghosts.

Not like they'd ever exactly been friends, but Larry had proved himself in the end. Hell, if he'd survived Graduation Day he might be an Associate of the new Council now, just like Xander and Spike.

"I'm gay," Xander said out loud suddenly, without preamble. "That's why the Harrises don't like me."

"Huh?" Running alongside, Larry cast him a startled look. "No kidding! So am I!"

"I know," Xander said without thinking, and then bit his tongue.

"Xander tell you?" Larry asked.

"Yeah," Xander agreed quickly, "I realized it was you when you told me your name." Oh yeah, Xander, you are a smooth operator, he winced mentally.

"Is he out to you?"

Xander thought about his eighteen-year-old self, about the desperate panic that had seized him every time Larry tried to have a frank talk with him about sexuality. "No," he said, thinking it was an honest answer in some sense. "I don't think he's even out to himself, yet."

"It's weird," Larry said, "he came out to me last year—gave me the courage to face myself, you know?—but ever since then he's been living in Narnia."

"Narnia?" Xander repeated, slightly confused.

"Way the hell in the back of the closet," Larry explained with a grin. "Hadn't heard that one before?"

Xander shook his head, grinned back.

"Maybe you should talk to him about it," Larry said.

"It'll happen when he's ready," Xander said. "I think he needs to grow up some more—get out of Sunnydale, maybe."

"Hell, we all need to get out of Sunnydale," Larry said, laughing-serious.

Suddenly there was a lump in Xander's throat and he couldn't reply. He swallowed hard and concentrated on the rhythm of their sneakers on the sidewalk. "Someday," he managed to say, "he's gonna look back on all this and admire you."

"I guess," Larry said, not really listening. "Hey, I have to turn off here."

"Okay," Xander said, slowing down alongside Larry and thinking of all the things he wished he could say. Stay away from giant snakes. Look behind you. Tuck and roll. "I'm really glad we met," he said. "Good-bye."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

Spike stirred in bed when Xander closed the door behind himself. "Luv?" he said sleepily. "That you?"

"It better be, or you're in trouble," Xander pointed out. He kicked his sneakers off and went to sit on the edge of the bed beside Spike.

Spike took his glasses from the bedside table and blinked up at Xander. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Xander said.

"Don't give me that. It's written all over your face." Spike braced himself on one elbow and sat up so he could cup Xander's cheek in his hand. He brushed his thumb along Xander's jaw and said, "Tell me."

Xander was distracted for a moment by the sight of Spike's chest—the blanket had slipped down to reveal numerous bright red bruises, big and splotchy. There were bruises on his forearm, too, where the vampire had grabbed him. "Shit," Xander said, "you're a mess."

Spike narrowed his eyes. "Don't change the subject, pet."

"Okay," Xander sighed. "I ran into someone I knew from school. Larry. We talked a bit. It was a head trip."

Spike raised his eyebrow. "You didn't say anything foolish, did you?"

"Nah. I said I was my older cousin, and we just talked about life and stuff." Xander let out a slow breath, and then added, "He was one of the kids who died fighting the Mayor."

"Oh," Spike said. "Like Harm."

"Yeah, only he didn't get vamped, just dead."

"Sorry, luv," Spike said softly. "You want to talk about it some?"

Xander shook his head. "Nah. It's okay. I'd better have a shower."

Spike shrugged. "Then let me come along and wash your back."

"I kinda want to be alone," Xander said.

"No you don't." Spike touched Xander's hair and seemed to consider kissing him but decided against it. "If you did, you wouldn't have come back here yet."

"You're hurt," Xander said, protesting for form's sake now because he really did want Spike to take him into the shower and kiss him and make him forget that there was no real reason beyond the capriciousness of the universe that Larry had died and Xander had lived.

"Bruises, scratches, nothing serious," Spike said. "Hot water will do me good."

So Xander let Spike lead him into the bathroom, waited for him to run the shower, and then in the wet and the steam he closed his eye and let the gentle feel of Spike's hands take him away from everything else. Burglaring





Part Five


They dressed in black for breaking into the school library. Nothing conspicuous, nothing that screamed "I'm out for a pleasant evening of cat-burgling!"—just black jeans for Spike, black cargo pants for Xander, black t-shirts all around. Spike wore his motorcycle jacket, and Xander had a black corduroy blazer he'd borrowed from Giles before the trip.

They took the rental car and switched the headlights off when they pulled into the school's driveway. At the library's rear entrance—the little-used door that led directly into the stacks—Xander listened with a stethoscope for a minute to make sure the place was empty. Sure, it was nearly midnight on a Saturday, but remembering the hours the Scooby gang used to keep, a little caution was in order.

He couldn't hear a thing. "Go for it," he whispered to Spike.

Spike pulled out his lock picks and set to work. They glinted silver in the beam of the sodium light mounted over the door.

In a very short time the door swung open, silent on its hinges.

The library was dark inside, which was good—if anyone was there, they'd have the lights on. Spike slipped inside first and Xander followed, pulling the door shut behind him.

It wasn't pitch black; the moon, three nights from full, shone though the skylight. Once Xander's eye adjusted he could easily make out the bookshelves, the big table and chairs, the circulation desk, the door to the rest of the school.

A shiver ran down his back. For just a moment it was as though he could see them all gathered around that table: Willow in her fuzzy pink shirt poring enthusiastically over the latest dusty text, Oz beside her all cool and laconic, Cordelia pouting and remote but working with them anyway, himself cracking jokes and secretly wondering if he even belonged, and Buffy golden in the center of it all.

Spike's hand on his shoulder brought him back. "You see if you can find the ones out here while I break into the office," he whispered.

Giles had given them a list of six books to bring forward in time. "All six of them are irreplaceable, full of vital information," he'd said, "and after the First's assault on the Council and the destruction of Sunnydale, no copies remain at all. As long as you're in the past anyway, it would be very useful if you could collect them."

"Wasn't there some little thing about not altering the timeline?" Spike had said pointedly.

"I never did find the need to consult these particular volumes in the later years in Sunnydale," Giles had assured him. "If I happen to miss them, I am sure I will attribute their disappearance to the confused evacuation on the morning of the mayor's Ascension."

So here they were. Xander pulled out his pocket flashlight and started searching.

He'd found two of the books on the list when he heard footsteps and voices in the corridor outside. He killed his flashlight and dashed for the office, where Spike was standing on a chair to scan the titles of the books Giles kept on the high shelf.

"We've got company," Xander said, shutting the door behind himself as quickly as he could without slamming it.

"Bugger," Spike said, and snapped off his own flashlight.

At almost the same moment, the library itself was flooded with bright fluorescent light.

"Fuck," Xander whispered, "Get down on the floor."

They sat side by side, backs pressed against the door. If anyone glanced in from the main room, they wouldn't be visible, but if anyone actually tried to come into the office they were screwed. Xander scanned the room for a better hiding place, but nothing presented itself.

Buffy's voice carried easily through the door. "...definitely some kind of nest," she was saying, "right where you thought."

"And you didn't get a good look at any of them?" Giles asked.

"Just shadows," Faith said. "Like B said, we stayed pretty far away. There were too many of them to take on without some kind of plan."

"Well, that's where we come in," Xander heard his own cheerful voice, only slightly muffled by the door. "We're plan-tabulous!"

In the dark office, Spike poked Xander in the ribs and raised an eyebrow. Xander cringed. "I'm eighteen," he whispered defensively.

"I've been working on a spell that might help," Willow said out in the main room. "I think I could fill the cave system up with a sort of dense fog—they wouldn't be able to see what's going on, and maybe you could take them on a few at a time."

"Well that—that's a promising line of attack," Giles said. "Let's talk about techniques for fighting in low visibility."

"They're talking about the Sisterhood, aren't they?" Spike whispered. "Thought this meeting wasn't supposed to happen until Sunday."

"That's what Giles said," Xander whispered back. "I guess he was wrong."

"What do we do if he decides to come into his office for a spot of tea?" Spike whispered.

Xander shrugged in the darkness. "Run for it?"

"And outpace two Slayers who are already between us and the exit?"

"Fuck." Xander grimaced. "I guess we explain ourselves nicely and as vaguely as possible, and then break out the Lethe's Bramble."

"You do realize that's a terrible plan, right?"

"Oh yeah. I'm well aware."

"All right then."

They lapsed back into silence.

In the main room, it sounded as though Faith and Buffy were practicing some combat moves on each other. There were feminine grunts and occasional clatters and thuds. Faith hasn't crossed the line yet, Xander reminded himself. She's still one of the good guys. Hasn't even fucked me yet.

"Wish I could see her," Spike whispered.

Xander was actually confused for a moment, until he realized Spike wasn't talking about Faith.

Buffy.

Oh god.

Buffy was out there, probably fifteen feet away from them. A younger version, sure, but Buffy nonetheless.

Spike hadn't seen Buffy since the day the amulet had burned him up saving the world. She'd found out that he was alive after Xander found him in LA, and of course she'd been furious at Spike for not contacting her and with Giles and Andrew for keeping him a secret. But then there'd been a lot of things happening at once—Xander had gone straight to South Africa to meet up with Rona's team and fight vampires who'd taken over a gold mine, Spike had been sick, and Buffy herself had had to go to Siberia to help Faith fight a frost demon. By the time everyone was safe again, Buffy had heard from Willow that there was something between Spike and Xander.

Ever since then, Buffy had been away from Rome whenever Spike and Xander were in it. And they never talked about it—not him and Buffy in their rare, stilted phone calls, and not him and Spike.

He was a little afraid that Spike was still in love with Buffy. He wasn't sure whether Buffy had ever been in love with Spike, but six months of awkwardness and silence said she felt something about him.

"Can I take this book home, Giles?" Willow asked.

"Yes, of course. Just let me stamp the card."

They could hear Giles's footsteps as he passed the office door on his way around to the back of the circulation counter.

Spike coughed, muffling the sound against his sleeve.

"Shhh," Xander whispered. "He's really close."

Spike nodded, but Xander could hear him breathing. Struggling to breathe. Fuck. He was having an attack.

Spike fumbled in his jacket pocket and his inhaler clattered to the floor between their feet. Wincing at the noise, Xander snatched it up and pressed it into Spike's hand. Spike shook it and then took it between his lips and inhaled sharply. Xander held his own breath for as long as Spike held his. In the heavy silence, Giles's footsteps headed closer to them again and then away as he rounded the desk and went back into the central area, presumably to give Willow the book.

Spike exhaled slowly.

"Are you okay?" Xander whispered.

"Think the medicine's doing the trick," Spike whispered back, hoarse now and quieter than before. "Already breathing easier."

"What happened?"

"Been feeling ... off, all day," Spike confessed. "Maybe it's the Sunnydale air."

Xander's stomach tightened in familiar worry. "Are you getting sick?" he whispered.

"No," Spike insisted. "Nothing like that."

Xander laid his palm over Spike's forehead. He didn't feel feverish.

"I'm fine," Spike said.

Out in the main room, the party seemed to be breaking up. "So we'll reconvene tomorrow at four o'clock," Giles said. "Willow, you should come an hour earlier to practice the spell."

There was a bit of random chatter and squeaking of chair legs against the floor. Xander held his breath again; if Giles was going to decide to come into his office, this would be the moment.

The library light turned off.

"Oh god," Xander said, allowing his voice to rise just above a whisper. "That was too close."

"Good warm-up for Tuesday, then, wasn't it?" Spike said. "Let's find the rest of the books and get the hell out of here."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

They drove back to the motel with six stolen books in their trunk.

The thing they forgot to take into account, Xander realized slightly too late, was that driving was faster than walking.

As he was unlocking the door to their room, he heard Faith's voice behind them, "Hey, mister, can I bum a cigarette?"

Xander's hand tightened reflexively on the doorknob. He stepped even closer to the door, keeping his face hidden. "Sorry luv," he heard Spike say behind him, "Don't smoke anymore."

"No?" Faith said. Her voice was all teasing and sultry. "Now why would you give it up? Don't tell me you're one of those clean-living types."

She's flirting with him! Xander realized, appalled. In three days I'm going to lose my virginity to her, and she's flirting with my boyfriend!

He couldn't just keep standing there with the key in the door; Faith would realize something was weird. He was afraid to even say anything to Spike, in case Faith recognized his voice. So he just opened the door and slipped inside. He left it open a crack so that Spike could follow.

Which he wasn't doing.

"Turns out," Spike said in a low, amused, silk-and-sandpaper tone, "the things are bad for you."

Xander stood with his back pressed against the wall between the door—still open a crack for easy listening—and the window. He didn't turn on the light in the room.

My boyfriend is flirting with Faith.

"I have been told I'm a bad girl," Faith said.

"Fuck," Xander whispered to the empty room. "I am gonna kill Spike." He turned and took a step sideways, peeked carefully between the room's closed curtains.

Spike and Faith were standing face-to-face, closer to each other than strangers in a deserted parking lot had any business standing. They were right in front of the rental car; Faith had one combat boot perched provocatively on its bumper, and she leaned slightly forward with her elbow on her knee. Spike had his thumbs hooked in his belt so his fingers just happened, so very casually, to frame his package. He was looking at her with that subtle I'm-gonna-eat-you smile that made Xander's knees wobble when it was directed at him, and this was wrong on so very many levels.

"I used to like bad girls," Spike was saying.

"Used to?" Faith repeated, putting on a blatantly seductive pout. "So what do you like now?"

"Nice boys," Spike said, nodding towards the room he shared with Xander.

"Really." Faith chuckled, low in her throat. "Should've known. So," she lifted one finger to touch Spike's chest, "What would you say to both at once?"

Spike caught her wrist in his hand, brought her finger up to his mouth and sucked on it for a moment, locking eyes with Faith. Xander shivered, watching them. "Love the idea," Spike said, releasing her hand. "But my good boy is a little more on the conservative side, so I must regretfully decline."

"Too bad." Faith took a step backwards and caressed her hips with her hands. "If you change your mind, you know where I am, bad boy."

Spike watched Faith until she disappeared into her own room, and then finally came inside.

"What the hell was that?" Xander demanded as soon as the door was closed.

Spike flicked the lights on and blinked in the brightness. "What?" he said, innocent as a kitten. "We didn't do anything."

"You talked," Xander pointed out acidly. "Remember the fucking timeline? The one we're not supposed to screw with?"

"She'd never even seen me before," Spike said, taking his coat off and tossing it over the armchair. "No way of knowing who I was."

"But she'll see you again! For what's supposed to be the first time!"

Spike shrugged it off. "She won't recognize me. My hair'll be all different, and I won't have the glasses."

"Oh yeah, glasses, that's an impenetrable disguise." Xander rolled his eye. "Who do you think you are, Clark Kent?"

Spike sat down on the bed and started unlacing his boots. "All right, say she does recognize me later. So what? She'll think she had a narrow brush with the Big Bad, she'll wonder why her Slayer sense didn't tingle, and that'll be the end of the story. Doubt she'll even bother to mention it to anyone." He kicked the boots across the room and flopped down on the bed.

Xander threw his own jacket on top of Spike's and stalked around to the other side of the bed. "You're not taking this thing seriously enough," he accused Spike. "If we fuck up here, we could ruin everything. You took a stupid chance. Why did you even talk to Faith? You could've just said you didn't smoke and then followed me into the room!"

"Why did you talk to Larry this morning?" Spike retorted.

"Okay, that's totally different. I mean, for starters, Faith's not dead. You can fucking call her up and flirt with her as much as you want as soon as we get back to the future, I don't fucking care."

"Oh." Spike propped himself up on his elbows so he could look at Xander better; now his expression was serious. "Yes, you do. You're not mad at me for the timeline, you're mad at me for Faith."

"No I'm—well, yeah!" Scowling, Xander kicked his shoes off and stripped off his t-shirt. "You were writing act one of a porno flick with her, right in front of me. I think I have a right to be pissed off!"

"I wasn't going to do anything with her," Spike said. "It was all just ... fun."

"You sucked her finger."

"If you calm down, I'll suck all sorts of different parts of you," Spike offered.

Xander was not ready to be appeased. "I know you think you know her, but that's later—you don't know her from now. All she wants is to use you and throw you away."

Spike tilted his head. "Who are we talking about now, exactly, pet?"

Under the influence of Spike's penetrating look, Xander stopped and thought about what he'd just said. "Okay, I may have some outstanding issues here," he admitted. "But that doesn't change the fact that you shouldn't have talked to Faith."

Spike lay back down on the bed. "May've got a bit carried away. Sorry," he said to the ceiling.

Xander sighed, and decided he didn't want to fight about it any more for now. He finished changing into the boxers he'd been using for sleeping in. When he turned around he saw Spike's eyes were closed. "Are you even going to get undressed?" he asked. Spike didn't respond. Xander crawled across the bed and shook his shoulder.

"Hm?" Spike said, opening his eyes.

"You're not going to sleep in your clothes, are you?"

"Right. No." Spike dragged himself into a sitting position, sat with his head hanging low for a minute, then started peeling off his shirt.

Xander tucked his knees up under his chin and watched. The bruises on Spike's back and chest were on their way to bright purple, and from the slow way he was moving, Xander guessed there was some pain involved.

The transition from being pissed off at Spike to being worried about him was so routine that Xander barely even noticed it happening. "Are you sure that fledge didn't break any ribs?"

"Positive," Spike assured him curtly. "Had enough broken ribs as a vampire, I bloody well know the difference between that and a bit of bruising."

"It's not a bit. It's—damn, we should've put ice on them or something. I could run to the 7-11...." Xander uncurled, moved as though he was about to get off the bed.

"No," Spike snapped. "Let's just go to sleep."

Xander glared back at him. "Why are you mad at me all of a sudden? I'm not the one who was making come-fuck-me eyes at Faith."

Spike's hand curled into a fist but he didn't do anything with it. "I'm tired, all right? My chest still hurts and I ache all over and I hate being human and I was only flirting with the fucking bint, it didn't mean anything!"

"Jesus," Xander whispered, almost under his breath. Spike's frustration with his human situation almost always went unspoken; it scared Xander, sometimes, how bad it had to get before Spike would say something.

He had no idea how to respond to Spike's explosion.

Spike was taut, angry—he had a look like he wanted to storm out of the room, but wearing nothing but pajama pants and covered in bruises he couldn't exactly head down to the local bar. Xander pitched his voice low, conciliatory. "Faith doesn't matter, you're right. She's a ghost here." Trying to talk Spike down from his trembling furious isolation on the other side of the bed. "I didn't mean to—I didn't realize you were so wiped out. I'm sorry." He crawled across the bed and wrapped his arms around Spike from behind, and Spike didn't relax but he didn't resist. "Let's go to sleep. I'm tired too. It'll all be better in the morning."

"No it won't," Spike said. Flat, no tone. "I'll feel like shite in the morning. I feel like shite every morning."

Xander felt a chill run down his spine even though the room was perfectly warm. He wanted to hug Spike tighter, but remembering the vibrant bruises he brushed a kiss across the nape of his neck instead. "When we finish here you're going to go back to London and see your doctor again," he said. "Promise me, Spike."

Spike made a noise that sounded vaguely affirmative.

"Out loud," Xander insisted. "In words. Promise it."

Spike squirmed around so he was facing Xander. "I promise," he said against Xander's lips, suddenly sounding like himself again, "as long as you promise to come to Camden Market with me and get something pierced."

Xander blinked. Thought about it for a second. "Okay," he said. "Deal."

They sealed it with a kiss. Ten minutes later Spike was asleep with his head on Xander's shoulder. Xander lay there for a long time, holding him, until finally sleep came and took him too.





Part Six


"I'm gonna be in big trouble if Mom looks in my room before I get back," Dawn said, frowning nervously. "This better be worth it."

"It is, Niblet," Spike assured her. "You're saving the bloody world,"

She heaved a dramatic sigh. "Yeah, and nobody's ever even going to know about it."

"Welcome to my life." Xander gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Tell you what: in 2005 we'll throw you a big party to thank you for all this."

"If I have to wait six years, there'd better be a lot of ice cream," Dawn said.

"All you can eat," Spike promised.

She started to smile. "And presents?"

"Many, many presents."

"And if Mom catches me and yells at me, you'll make sure she apologizes in the future?"

Xander felt his own face freezing into a horrible parody of a smile as he tried not to show by his expression that there was anything wrong with what Dawn had just demanded.

She wasn't looking at him, though, she was looking at Spike, who said without hesitation, "Absolutely. I promise, pet." Then he turned to Xander and said, "We'd better start going over the battle plan, don't you think?"

Tremendously grateful for the change of subject, Xander unfolded a diagram of Sunnydale High and spread it on the table. "Okay. Here's the situation. It's a full moon, so Oz got locked in the book cage at sunset. Willow will be there with him. Giles and Buffy started out there too, but then Giles went to Restfield to consult the Spirit Guides, and Buffy went to Willy's." He glanced at his watch. "That's where they should be now. All we have to do is avoid them."

"This is so cool!" Dawn interjected. "Can we have code names, by the way? I've got one picked out and everything."

"All right, Niblet," Spike said. "What've you got picked, then?"

She grinned. "Magic Spice."

Spike's lips twitched but his voice remained completely level as he said, "Good choice. Now, we're on a tight schedule here, so we'd better let Xander get on with it."

"Right," Xander said, getting himself back on track. "At this point the Sisters are ranged around town individually. At about quarter past ten, Faith is going to meet one of them at the park on Clarkson Street, but I intervene and she, uh, leaves the Sister alive."

"You you or other you?" Dawn asked.

"Other me," Xander said. "Past me." He noticed Spike giving him a significant look. Xander shrugged slightly—don't worry about the Faith thing, we've got more important things to focus on. Spike nodded, apparently getting it. "By then," Xander went on, "we want to be in the school. Because it's about to get crowded in there, and we want to get into a good hiding place before the fun starts."

"The Hellmouth will open in the library, right?" Spike said.

"Yeah. Angel and Buffy will be there, and Willow and Giles, and Faith. The Sisterhood will be ranging a little farther; they'll be in the corridors and the classrooms. Mostly on the first floor. And, um, that's when I come in with some undead friends."

Dawn crinkled her forehead. "I'm not undead," she pointed out.

"Not me me," Xander said. "Other me."

Spike tilted his head, looking appraisingly at Xander. "Wait a mo', pet. Didn't Rupert send you on this interesting job because you know the area and you weren't in the school that night?"

"Well. Yeah. There's a few things Giles doesn't actually know about that night."

"Such as?"

"Jack O'Toole and his undead buddies tried to blow up the school." Xander hesitated, strangely reluctant to let go of the secret he'd kept for six years. "I stopped them."

"Well." Spike gave him an odd look. "Good for you."

Xander held his gaze for a moment, silently promising to talk about it later. Then he pointed at the diagram of the school. "We should hide here, around the top of the main staircase. I'm pretty sure no one ever went up to the second floor that night. From there, we can keep track of what's going on. After I—younger me, I mean, leaves the school, there won't be much time before Giles manages to close the Hellmouth. That's when you come in, Dawn."

She nodded. They'd talked about this part already, on the phone. "I run into the library screaming 'Buffy, Buffy, you have to help, there's demons attacking the house!'"

"You have to pant hard," Spike reminded her. "Like you just ran all the way to the school."

"How many demons?" Xander asked her.

"Um, what do you think—maybe eight?"

"No, answer me like you'll answer Buffy when she asks."

"Okay." Dawn nodded firmly, then opened her eyes wide in feigned panic. "Maybe ten! I don't know! It was a lot and it was dark and I ran through the bushes so they wouldn't see me!"

"You don't look like you've been running through bushes," Spike noted. "We'll find you a bush on the way to the school."

"What did they look like?" Xander asked.

"About as tall as Angel, with long pink hair, big teeth, and tails!" she said, still putting on a convincing show of desperate panic. "The tails had this three-part forky thing at the end," she added, slightly calmer.

"Not so much detail, Niblet," Spike said. "Not at first. Stick with the tall, big teeth, tails. That's general enough. Sounds scary. When you all get to the house and find nothing there, Mr. Giles is sure to ask you for more detail. Then throw in the pink hair and the fork at the end of the tail, and he'll recognize them as Chiradimen demons. They're a mostly harmless breed. Like to dance around a house and scare the wits out of the occupants, then teleport back to their lair and laugh about the funny faces the humans made."

"Those sound like pretty lame demons," Dawn said, wrinkling her nose.

Xander shrugged acknowledgment; they were pretty lame. "So, ready to roll?"

Dawn nodded. "Magic Spice reporting for duty, ready to save the world!"


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

They parked a block away and scurried through the shadows up to the front door of the school. Spike peeked through the door and then motioned for the others to follow.

The school was still quiet. The three of them ran straight to the main staircase and up, and stopped at the top. They sat side by side with their backs to the wall.

Dawn and Spike, sitting to either side of Xander, were both panting a little from their sprint. Xander wasn't; he had his morning runs to thank for that.

There were twigs and leaves stuck in Dawn's hair and on her shirt, and she had a faint red scratch on her right cheek. True to his word, Spike had stopped at a park with some good bushes on the way to the school, and Dawn had enthusiastically plunged through them to attain the desired effect. Xander squeezed her shoulder. "You are awesome, you know," he whispered.

She grinned. "Big party in 2005, right?" she whispered back.

"You bet." Even though Dawn wouldn't actually remember any of this, Xander decided they should throw her a party when they got back to the future. Eighteen-year-old Dawn certainly wouldn't object.

On Xander's left, Spike was still trying to catch his breath. He was sounding a little wheezy.

"Spike?" Xander whispered. "You all right?"

Spike pressed his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He looked like he was trying to control his breathing, but not so much succeeding.

"Is he okay?" Dawn whispered, sounding a little scared.

"He'll be okay," Xander whispered back, outwardly calm. He reached into Spike's pocket and took out the inhaler. "Spike, you need this." He took Spike's hand and closed it around the molded plastic. Spike opened his eyes, and his gaze darted to Dawn for a moment before returning to Xander. With obvious reluctance, he shook the inhaler and took a dose.

Xander breathed again as soon as Spike did. Spike tucked the inhaler back in his pocket, eyes straight ahead and jaw tight. Xander guessed that it hadn't been easy, doing that in front of Dawn. He put his hand on Spike's leg and wished he could say something.

"Do you have asthma?" Dawn asked.

Spike flinched, barely noticeably, then turned to face Dawn. "Yeah," he said. "Ever since I turned human."

"A girl in my class has really bad asthma," Dawn said. "She's not even allowed to do P.E."

"Ah," Spike said. "Well, mine's not that bad."

"I bet you miss not having to breathe, huh?"

Spike was saved from the conversation by the sound of the school's front door opening. He put his finger to his lips in the 'shhh' gesture and raised his eyebrows at Dawn. She nodded and pressed back against the wall. Spike peeked around the corner quickly and then retreated. "Think it's your boys," he whispered to Xander.

"Where are we going to make the cake?" said someone down in the lobby. Xander thought he recognized the voice of the first guy Jack had raised, the big dumb one who'd been buried in his letterman's jacket. Bob? Bob.

Dawn tapped Xander on the shoulder. Cake? she mouthed silently, looking puzzled.

Bomb, he mouthed back. And then, since she still looked confused, he mimed an explosion with his hands. Her eyes widened.

"I know just the place," said Jack O'Toole. That wasn't a voice Xander was ever going to forget. "Come on, boys, we're going to the boiler room."

Their footsteps faded away down the hall.

"Now what?" Dawn whispered.

"We wait," Xander said. "They'll be coming back the same way in a few minutes. It'll be a while before the serious excitement starts."

Dawn rocked her knees back and forth. "I didn't know saving the world was going to be so boring."

Spike leaned closer to Dawn—casually putting his arm around Xander as he did so. "Tell you what, Niblet. I used to tell you vampire stories, keep you entertained—used to, that is, from my perspective. Hasn't happened yet from yours, obviously. Wanna hear one?"

She nodded, eyes sparkling.

"All right then. So, let's see. It was the winter of 1885, and four especially evil and powerful vampires had just arrived in Vienna by train...."

Xander listened to the story, as fascinated as Dawn but for different reasons. Spike never wanted to talk about his vampire exploits to Xander—not in any specific terms, anyway. Sometimes in the middle of the night he woke up sweating and shaking with tears on his face, and when Xander woke up too and asked him what was wrong he'd say he was dreaming about being a vampire, but he never got into details.

For Dawn, though, there were details. There was a velvet dress and a diamond necklace and blood and soot mixed in the snow. Spike was spinning a gothic horror story, and Xander didn't know for sure whether every detail was true but he guessed that the bulk of them were. Spike didn't use the vampires' real names; Angel was the big brooding Irishman, Darla was the pretty blonde lady, tough as steel, Drusilla was the dark fey beauty, and Spike himself was the fey one's lover, the wild youth. Xander wasn't sure whether Dawn at this point knew enough of Spike's or Angel's history to figure out who the story was really about; if she did, she wasn't saying a word. She just listened in wide-eyed fascination.

Eventually the story was interrupted by the sound of running down below. Spike took a quick peek, then turned to Xander. "You're here," he said.

"Oh man." Xander pressed himself harder against the wall, as though that could make any difference.

"I want to see!" Dawn whispered, and tried to crawl over Xander.

He grabbed her shoulders and held her back. "Too risky."

A door crashed open and there were more footsteps, multiple people this time. "He must be around here somewhere," Jack said. Then the sound of running. Spike snatched another glimpse, just as a roaring squeal and a bigger, further-away crash sounded from the direction of the library.

"One of the Sisters just ran by," Spike reported. "This is shaping up into a bloody French farce!"

Xander tugged Spike back behind the wall. "All we have to do is stay out of the way until it's over."

They could hear muffled screams and shouts now coming from the library.

Dawn cringed. "Buffy's in there. Are you sure she's going to be okay?"

"As long as we don't interfere," Xander assured her, "everything has to go exactly like it did the first time."

Spike shook Xander's hand off. "I have to watch for when you leave, remember?" He edged around the corner again. "Hey, you're chasing one of the dead boys with a fire ax!" he whispered, sounding way too amused with the situation. "Good on you!"

Xander frowned, trying to remember the exact sequence of events. "Was it the skinny one? 'Cause if it was, we're about to come back this way..."

"You're right!" Spike whispered. "Now you're the one fleeing with the zombie on your tail—no, wait, there's three Sisters chasin' the both of you! ... Uh oh." He pulled back around the corner fast.

"Uh oh what?" Dawn said.

"Think maybe one of 'em saw me."

Xander sprang to his feet and yanked Dawn up too. "Dawn, move. Get into a classroom, close the door."

She hesitated, her eyes huge in her face. "What about you?"

There was no time left. Spike made it onto his feet just as the Sister came snarling around the corner. Xander quickly put himself between Dawn and the demon, while Spike held up his hands and said quietly, "Whoa there, girl." Then he made a more complicated gesture, pointing at the palms of his hands each in turn, then at his mouth, and finally making a swoosh motion with his left hand, index finger crooked.

The Sister of Jhe stopped short and ceased growling. She cocked her head, narrowed her glowing red eyes, and then started gesturing back at Spike. She smacked her left palm with her right fist, baby finger extended, and then made a twirling motion with her two index fingers.

"What's going on?" Dawn whispered behind Xander.

"They're talking," Xander explained, pitching his voice low. "Demon sign language." That was the reason that Giles had chosen Spike, in particular, for this mission: he was the only one on the Council who knew the language. In fact the existence of a standard demon sign language had been entirely unknown to the Council until Spike had happened to mention it a few months previously. It opened up a whole area of research that had the more scholarly members of the Council all excited. But for now, the important thing was that this Sister of Jhe seemed to be fluent. Xander relaxed a little, and let Dawn creep up beside him.

Spike and the Sister kept signing at each other. To Xander's admittedly untrained eye it looked kind of like American Sign Language, only with more violent stabby gestures.

After another flurry of hand motions culminating in Spike miming slicing his own throat, the Sister bowed awkwardly and quietly ran away back the way she'd come.

Spike turned back to Xander and Dawn and, leaning against the wall, said "That's done, then. She'll pass the word to the other Sisters."

Xander rubbed his arms uneasily. "It's too early. We weren't supposed to contact them until the Hellmouth closes. What if they change something now?"

"In the original timeline, the Sisters didn't play much of a part in the battle in the library," Spike reminded him. "Their big excitement didn't come until afterwards, when your bloody Scoobies chased them around the school and killed them all."

"And that's where I come in," Dawn said—somewhere between reminding them of her part and seeking reassurance.

"Right," Spike agreed. "And that moment's coming up soon, so we'd better keep an eye out."

"Spike?" Dawn said. "What does this mean?" She mimicked the last sign he'd made in the conversation with the demon, sliding her fingernail along her throat.

"Oh." Spike smiled. "Means 'good-bye.'" He peeked around the corner, then ducked back. "And there you are," he said to Xander. "Walking out nice and peaceful-like."

Xander felt an unexpected rush of adrenaline, realizing what that meant—two floors below them, the bomb had come within a second of detonating. "Okay," he said, reaching for the same calm he knew the Xander downstairs was feeling, "time to get Dawn into position."





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