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How The Light Gets In


by
Shadowscast



Part Thirteen


Xander lay quietly with his head on Spike's lap. Spike was stroking his hair, not saying a word, just coughing once in a while. Xander sniffled; his face was a wet mess of tears and snot, and he desperately needed a kleenex, but he didn't want to move or speak, because that would break the spell.

He'd told Spike. He'd said it out loud, and the world hadn't ended, and Spike hadn't called him a coward or a murderer. That didn't mean he wasn't, of course...but it was something. It was unexpected, and good.

It was Spike who finally broke the silence. "You should tell Rupert."

"How?" Xander's voice came out all raspy from the sobbing; he sounded almost as bad as Spike. He must think I'm pathetic, thought the self-mocking part of him.

"Might not be as hard as you think. Rupert's a bloke who understands shades of gray and hard choices, Harris. Remember the time he plotted to get me killed?"

"We all tried to kill you, Spike." Xander managed a hollow laugh. "You were evil."

"Well, yeah, but I mean that time after I got the soul, when he tried to use Robin Wood to do for me."

"Oh." Xander swiped his shirt sleeve across his face and sat up. "Look, no offense, Spike, but you weren't human." He wasn't sure if the little twitch Spike's lips made was a wince or not, but he rushed to add, "That makes a difference to Giles, is what I mean. He's got that whole Watcher philosophy—humans 'yay,' demons 'boo.'"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Seem to recall someone else having that attitude."

Xander shrugged. "I grew up."

"Well, Rupert's a bloody grownup too, innit he? Do you still think he's a fucking toff-nosed librarian, after everything? Ask yourself this, then; what ever happened to Ben?"

"Ben who?"

"Ben-is-Glory Ben."

Xander frowned, confused at the non-sequitur. "He, um, I guess he died."

"Right. And who killed him? Buffy?"

"Hell no. She wouldn't—"

"Right then." Spike coughed, and leaned back against the pillows. "I was a broken useless heap at the bottom of the tower. Dawn was up top with Buffy. You were with Anya, the witches were together—count it on your fingers. Who's left?"

"Shit." He'd never really thought about it; there'd been too many more important things to deal with. Too much grief. "Maybe one of the minions...?"

Spike shook his head. "I asked Rupert about it a while afterwards—got worried that Ben had slipped through the cracks again, maybe no one even remembered him but me. He said he'd taken care of it."

"Oh." Xander was too tired and wasted to really figure out what this meant, but he had a shivery feeling at the back of his neck. Before he could say anything else, the phone rang. Who the hell's calling at 3 a.m.? With a pang of worry, he picked it up. "Hello?"

It was Illyria. "Sorry to call in the middle of the night," she said, "But do you know where Spike is? He never came home from work."

"Oh. Yeah, uh, he's actually here with me." To Spike's questioning look, Xander mouthed 'Illyria.' "You want to talk with him?"

She did, and Xander handed over the phone. Then he went to the bathroom to clean up. He pulled off his eye patch and splashed cold water over his face. He felt strange, light and hollow and not quite real. The bathroom light seemed too bright. When he came out into the room again, patch back in place, Spike was just placing the phone on its cradle.

"I told her I'm staying here for the night," Spike said. "Hope that's all right."

"Sure." He felt awkward suddenly. "There's only one bed, you can—"

"It's wide enough for the two of us." Spike stifled a cough. "Don't know about you, but I'm right knackered."

"Okay." Xander shook his head, trying to focus on the necessary mundane details. "I can give you a T-shirt and boxers to sleep in," he offered, heading for his suitcase.

Spike undid his leather bracelets, set them on the bedside table, then pulled his own T-shirt off. Xander, busy undoing his boots, only saw the movement out the corner of his eye, but he looked up just before Spike pulled on the shirt Xander had tossed him. In that moment he caught a glimpse of dozens of thin pink scars crisscrossing Spike's chest.

"Jesus, Spike, what happened to you?"

Spike looked up, surprised, tugging the T-shirt into place. "What?"

Xander waved a hand at his own chest. "Who cut you?" The long thin scars matched the ones on Spike's right forearm. It must have happened after he turned human, otherwise they would have disappeared like the one on his eyebrow.

"Was nothing," Spike muttered, fiddling with the belt of his jeans. "Just some demon with long nails."

Spike wasn't all that great at lying, and he was obviously doing it now—badly, with the eye contact avoiding and the mumbling and the vagueness. Whatever, none of my business, Xander told himself. He just hoped it wasn't an Angel thing.

They finished changing in silence. Xander usually slept in the buff, but that didn't seem like a good idea tonight, so he put on a fresh pair of boxers before he crawled under the covers beside Spike. "Good night," he said awkwardly, reaching for the light switch.

"Night," Spike mumbled, already curled up away from him. "Sweet dreams."

***

Xander woke up with a headache and a hangover taste in his mouth. He woke up to the sound of coughing, and for a moment thought he was back in the hospital in Kinshasa.

No. L.A. Spike.

"'Morning," Xander said as soon as there was a break in the coughing. "You okay?" The eye patch had slid around sideways; he didn't usually sleep in the thing. He tugged it into place before he looked at Spike.

Spike caught his breath and tugged the blankets tighter around his shoulders, burying his face in his pillow. "'m fine. What time is it?"

Xander squinted at the digital clock. "Just past ten. Want to get brunch downstairs? My treat."

"Wanna sleep more," Spike mumbled into the pillow.

"Okay." Xander considered trying to go back to sleep himself—but now that he was awake he needed to pee, and he was desperately craving a cigarette. "I'll bring you up something," he promised, and climbed out of bed.

He sat on the hotel's terrace so that he could smoke while he had his coffee. The sun was bright and hot, and he could hear the roar of the traffic out front. It was a good noise, the kind of noise that could anchor a guy in the here-and-now and stop him from freaking out too much at the memory of getting drunk, coming on to his former mortal enemy, getting rebuffed, and finally spilling out his darkest secrets to said former mortal enemy while curled up on his lap, crying.

What does Spike think of me now? Last night, Spike had been...supportive. He'd been incredible, really—all non-judging and comforting and then letting it go after Illyria called and Xander got into pretend-it-never-happened mode. There was a little cringing, ashamed part of Xander that still wished he could turn back time and shut himself the hell up, but mostly what he felt was a profound sense of relief. And maybe Spike was right about telling Giles; at least it would be easier to tell him now that he'd already made his confession once. Maybe he wouldn't even have to get drunk for it next time.

And as for the kiss...okay, he really had no idea what was going on in Spike's head. It's Spike's turn to make the next move, he decided. Xander had made it clear enough that he felt something, and he wasn't going to be the loser stalker guy who keeps trying when he's not wanted.

He just hoped he hadn't already totally blown it.

***

"Hey, Spike, you awake? I brought you juice and a muffin." He hadn't wanted to go right back upstairs and wake up Spike, so once he'd finished his first coffee Xander had asked for a newspaper and a refill, and he'd stayed in the sun catching up on world events until the lunch crowd started filling up the place and the waiter asked him pointedly if he'd be buying anything else.

Spike stirred and croaked out, "Not hungry. Ta, though." He'd obviously been out of bed at some point, because the kleenex box from the bathroom was now on the bedside table along with a scattering of crumpled used tissues. Nice.

Xander shrugged and headed to the mini-fridge to put the juice inside. "Spike," he said over his shoulder, "did you notice that round basket-like thing beside the bed? It's what we humans call a 'trash can.' We use it for disposing of gross things that our roommates wouldn't want to touch."

Spike pulled himself up enough to give Xander two fingers. "Not your roommate, am I?"

Xander grinned at that, though he wasn't sure why. "At least you don't leave blood rings on the coffee table anymore."

Instead of responding, Spike just coughed. Xander's smile faltered at the hollow, wheezy sound. He didn't sound that bad last night, did he?

Xander went over to the bed. "Are you all right?" he asked, a bit nervously. Spike had fallen back flat on his back, and he was still coughing. "Can I help?"

"My bag," Spike gasped.

The red courier bag was on the floor at the foot of the bed. Xander snatched it up and brought it to him. "What do you need?"

Spike's eyes were open wide, and he was still making that scary wheezing noise. "Front pocket."

Xander ripped open the zipper and shook the bag so its contents fell on the bed. A pencil, a small black notebook, an expired bus transfer—and an inhaler. "Here," he tried to hand it to Spike.

Spike didn't lift a hand to take it. He was obviously struggling to breathe. "Shake," he managed to say.

Xander was starting to get scared. He looked down at the inhaler. It had a label on it printed with instructions in big bold letters: Shake for 5 seconds before using. Okay, I can do this. He shook it vigorously; it rattled like there was something loose inside. With no watch on he wasn't sure how long five seconds was, and every breath seemed like an eternity. Then Spike reached for the inhaler, and Xander pressed it into his hand. He watched him put the mouthpiece between his lips, press the canister sharply and take a long, wheezing breath. Then Spike dropped his hand and the inhaler down to his chest and closed his eyes, still holding his breath. His jaw was tight, and his face was pale. Finally he let out a sharp cough, and seemed to start to breathe more normally as he opened his eyes.

"Jesus, Spike. What just happened?" Xander's mouth felt dry, and he wasn't sure that his voice wouldn't crack.

"Think I'm sick again," Spike said dully. "Feels like I've got a fucking Chirago demon sitting on my chest."

"Shit." Xander flashed back to Angel's warnings—maybe Deadboy hadn't been overreacting, after all. "I think we should go to a hospital."

"Just take me home." Spike struggled to sit up. "Illyria's there, she'll—" He coughed, and didn't finish the sentence.

"She still has the cell phone," Xander pointed out. "How about I call her now?" He didn't wait for Spike to agree, he just dialed the phone. Elder god or not, Illyria was Spike's actual roommate and she probably knew something about his health issues. Xander didn't want to go all Angel on Spike's ass and start trying to strong-arm him into seeing a doctor—maybe Illyria could talk him into going voluntarily.

She answered after the second ring, a chirpy "Hello?" in the Texas girl voice. Xander quickly explained what had just happened, and Spike glared at him.

"Oh good Lord," Illyria groaned, "is he running a fever, too?"

"Um, hold on." Xander put the receiver down on the table and turned to Spike. "Illyria wants to know if you've got a fever. Can I feel your forehead?"

Spike rolled his eyes at that. "Can't keep your hands off me, can you?" There was something affectionate in his tone; he was joking, not complaining. Xander managed to smile a bit as he laid his hand across Spike's forehead, but the smile died when he felt how hot he was.

"Yeah," Xander reported back on the phone, "he's got a fever."

"Damn it, not again." Illyria sounded upset; Xander wondered what she'd sound like if she was using her god-king voice instead. "Take him to the ER at County General, okay?" she said. "I'll meet you there." She hung up before Xander could ask her to talk to Spike herself.

Fuck. "Okay, Spike. We're going to the hospital. Illyria says so."

"Bloody hell," Spike said weakly. "All right. Gotta do what Smurfette says, don't we? Where're my fucking clothes?"





Part Fourteen


"She said it won't be long," Xander said, sitting down beside Spike. "Probably twenty minutes." 'She' was the admissions nurse at the ER, to whom Xander had just handed a filled-out form listing Spike's name (fake), address (real), birth date (fake), and Medi-CAL number (real).

Spike was huddled shivering in Xander's jacket, though the temperature in the waiting room was in the high seventies. He was vampire-pale; just getting to the hospital seemed to have sapped his energy. "You don't have to stay," he said. "I'm all sorted now."

"Shut up, Spike, and lean on me before you fall over." He tucked his arm around Spike's shoulders; there was just a moment of stiff resistance, and then Spike sagged heavily against him.

"Fuck" he swore, and it turned into a rattling, body-shaking cough. Xander held on tighter.

"You're gonna be okay," Xander promised, because it was the kind of thing people always said at times like this. He didn't know what to say, really; he was kind of scared, but he figured Spike would hate it if he showed that.

When Spike stopped coughing, he rested his head against Xander's shoulder. "Thought I was okay this time."

Xander pitched his voice low so the people sitting to either side of them wouldn't hear. "Was it like this before? I mean, when you were human, before Drusilla—did you get sick a lot?"

"Nah. Don't remember much, it was a hell of a long time ago, but I'd remember if it was like this. Didn't get the headaches then, either."

"Then something must have gone wrong when you turned human again. Look, I know you haven't been exactly jumping at the idea of going to Rome, and frankly I don't blame you if you don't want to get involved with the Council, but we have a couple doctors there who work with us. They know about Slayers and vampires and everything. You could tell them the truth about what happened to you, and maybe they'd have a better chance of figuring out what's wrong."

"Bloody hell, I came back wrong." Spike said the phrase like it had more significance than a half-echoing of Xander's words. "Wonder what she'd say to that?"

"She who?"

Spike ignored the question. "Just as well," he said in a brighter tone. "Last night if I hadn't felt like shite I probably would've shagged you instead of tryin' to get you to talk."

The words hit Xander with a shock and a little thrill, and a whole complicated undercurrent of the memory of what had actually happened. He guessed Spike was just doing the bravado thing, but—"Really?" he laughed.

"Fuck yeah."

"Oh well..." Xander hesitated. "Maybe later, huh?"

"Later," Spike agreed, and coughed. His voice was fading again, and he leaned more heavily against Xander. "Tired now."

Impulsively, Xander kissed Spike on the temple. Spike's eyes were closed, but he reacted with a small, quick smile. Then his expression went slack and Xander had to tighten his grip around Spike's shoulders to keep him from slumping forward. "Spike? Are you—oh shit."

So apparently, passing out was a great way to bump yourself up in the ER waiting line. There was a flurry of activity when Xander called for help, and soon two orderlies had strapped Spike onto a gurney and rushed him away.

Left alone with no one to hide his worry from, Xander found it too hard to sit still. He felt like Motcha demon hatchlings were running up and down his back, his throat felt weird and tight, and he wanted to punch something. After a three-second staredown with a security guard, he decided to go outside for a smoke.

He was on his third cigarette, talking with a nicotine-addicted doctor about the amenities offered by hotels in Zimbabwe, when Illyria showed up.

"Where's Spike?" she said instead of 'hello.' Her brown hair was coming out of her ponytail in frizzy wisps, her cheeks were flushed and she was breathing hard.

"Inside," he answered her question. "Did you run all the way here?"

"Of course." Already her breath was coming steady; Xander wondered whether that meant she had a superhuman recovery time, or if she'd only been faking the panting to start with. He had a feeling she wouldn't get out of breath at all if she were in blue mode. "I want to see Spike."

***

The waiting was easier for Xander now that he had something to do—keep Illyria out of trouble. Every time she went to the reception desk to ask what was going on with Spike, she sounded a little less like a polite young woman and a little more like an angry god-king. When the clerk finally told them that 'Mr. Curtis' was being admitted but they couldn't see him yet, Illyria's eyes went cobalt. Time for damage control mode—Xander grabbed Illyria by the elbow and escorted her to the hospital gift shop.

An hour later, they walked into Spike's room. The room had three beds; the middle one was empty, and an elderly black man slept in the third. Spike's bed was adjusted so he was propped in a half-sitting position, facing the door. He didn't see them come in, though, since his eyes were closed. He was hooked up to some kind of monitor, an IV drip and an oxygen tube. He looked...sick.

Xander hesitated at the doorway but Illyria closed in on Spike's bed in three long strides. "Spike," she said, and it sounded like a command. Xander was about to tell her to be quiet and let him sleep when Spike opened his eyes.

"Blue," he said softly. And then, "Harris?"

"Hi, Spike."

As Xander came to stand beside her, Illyria held out the bundle she'd been carrying in a stiff-armed gesture. "We brought you an anatomically incorrect miniature bear made of fabric."

"Oh." Spike's eyes flicked to Xander, registering amused surprise, before he raised a slightly shaky hand to take the teddy bear. "That's right sweet of you, luv. Watch the dialect, though, hey? This is a public place."

"There's no one listening," she protested, but she said it in her higher, softer, human voice. "Anyway, forget all that. How are you doing?"

"Better," he said. "Breathing's easier. Think they're gonna keep me a day or two."

"I should hope so." Her fingertips touched his hair, and she looked like she couldn't decide whether to muss it up or caress it. "You gave us quite a scare, sweetie."

Spike winced. "Don't lay it on too thick, Blue."

Illyria withdrew her hand, and when she spoke again her tone lay somewhere midway between her two extremes, low but tentative. "I only meant to say—I have grown fond of you. I wish your existence on this plane to continue. The frailty of your human body concerns me."

"Sorry, pet, I didn't mean—" He stopped, coughing.

"Maybe we should let you get some rest," Xander suggested.

"No, I want to talk with you. Illyria, would you give us a mo'?"

Her chin rose, and she stepped back. "I shall seek out your caretakers and question them."

"Just don't threaten anyone," Spike advised her. She nodded once, and walked away. Spike turned to Xander and raised an eyebrow. "A teddy bear?"

"Illyria—"

"Doesn't have any money," Spike interrupted, "so either she nicked it or you bought it."

"She was starting to mutter things about ripping out entrails," Xander explained, shuffling his feet. "I had to do something to distract her."

"She gets edgy in hospitals."

"Do you think the doctor will tell her anything?"

"Might. Last time I was here I told them she was my girlfriend."

There was a chair nearby. Xander tugged it to the side of Spike's bed so he wouldn't have to look down on him while they talked. "Right, Angel said you were in the hospital before."

"Yeah." Spike sighed, petting the teddy bear absently. "Seems like I've bollixed up this human business. Can't stay out of the fucking hospital. Doctor said I've got pneumonia again."

"That's—shit. I'm sorry, Spike. That sucks." The diagnosis wasn't a big surprise; Xander realized he should have tried to get Spike to see a doctor yesterday. Of course, that would've meant listening to Angel.

"Listen, Harris. I think you're right—I came back wrong." Spike's voice was fading, like he was getting tired, but he turned his head to look right at Xander. "If you think your old librarian can still find a use for me, I'll go to Rome."

And see a doctor who knows what vampires are, Xander added silently. He felt an unexpected relief at Spike's decision. "He will. I'll call him as soon as it's morning in Italy."

Spike nodded slightly, and closed his eyes. "Watch out for Illyria tonight, would you?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

Xander nodded, then realized Spike couldn't see. "I will," he promised. He stood up to go, and nearly missed Spike whispering his name again.

"Harris?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for the bear."





Part Fifteen


"So what did Spike want to talk with you about?" Illyria asked as she fastened her seatbelt.

Remembering how Illyria had reacted last time he mentioned the going-to-Rome plan, Xander briefly considered being evasive. She was obviously really worried about Spike, though, so he decided to go with the truth. "We have this theory that something went wrong when he turned human, and that's why he keeps getting sick. If it's true, then maybe the Council can help him."

"So they're going to send a doctor over?"

"No, he's going to go to Italy. Once he's better, obviously." Xander glanced sideways—Illyria was frowning, but it wasn't a scary expression, just a thoughtful one.

"If he goes, I'll go too," she said.

Xander nodded. "I figured you would. That's no problem. I can get you travel documents—"

"Oh, there's no need for that." Illyria flashed him a wry smile. "As far as the government's concerned, Fred Burkle never died. I still have her I.D. and passport and everything."

"Right. Okay." Xander wasn't sure what to say to that. It was a little freaky to dwell on the fact that he was sitting next to the corpse of a murdered woman. "When you're like this—I mean, when you're not, um, blue—are you basically being her?"

"I have access to all her memories. I can reproduce her mannerisms exactly. Even her own parents didn't notice a difference."

"You met her parents?" Okay, that was creepy.

Illyria shrugged absently. "They came by not long after I took over the shell. Wesley was appalled, but he didn't tell me to stop it. They still think she's alive."

"Does it bother Spike when you look and talk like her? I mean, I've noticed you usually change when he's around."

She gave a curt nod. "It bothers him. You missed the turn."

"Oh. Shit."

The rest of the way to Spike and Illyria's place, Xander just concentrated on driving.

***

The battery in Xander's cell phone had just enough charge left in it for him to find out he had four messages, but it died when he tried to find out what they were.

"The charger's back at the hotel," he said. "You'll be okay here, right?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm immortal and I have superpowers. I think I can handle an afternoon on my own, thanks."

Xander hadn't exactly been concerned about her physically...in fact, he wasn't so much concerned about her as about what she might do to anyone who crossed her path. Plus, Spike had said to watch out for her.

Still, though, she seemed fine.

Back at the hotel, there were three messages and a package waiting for him at the desk. The messages were all from Giles and they all said "Ring me as soon as you get this." The package was from the fake Roman address the Council sometimes used. He opened the package in the elevator on the way up. It had Spike's new I.D. So, that was useful at least.

He called Rome right away even though it was one in the morning there. Giles answered, sounding tense. He didn't even ask Xander why he hadn't been answering his phone all day—he jumped straight to business. "There's a situation in South Africa."

Xander felt his hand clenching tight around the phone; he sat down on the bed and made a conscious effort to relax his grip. "Shit. Giles. I told you I am not going back—"

"I know," Giles cut him off. "But this is South Africa, not the Congo. It's an entirely different situation, a crisis of supernatural rather than human origin. We had a distress call from Thandiwe."

Thandiwe was a Slayer—one of those who'd chosen not to join the Council, or even to travel to Rome. She was one of the youngest Slayers Xander had found, only twelve when Willow cast the spell. He'd explained the situation to her and her parents—in English, yay British imperialism—and her parents had decided that she was too young to go to Rome for training. She had a bright, crooked smile and she loved playing soccer. "What happened?" Xander asked, filled with sudden dread.

"The town was attacked by vampires. From what she said, there were at least thirty of them—more than we've known to ally together since the Master tried to open the Sunnydale Hellmouth. They drove all the humans down into the mine."

"Jesus. That's—thousands of people."

"Indeed. And Thandiwe is planning to rescue them."

Xander closed his eye—his one eye—and rubbed his temple. "Okay, but what does this have to do with me? That's a job for Slayers. My suggestion would be lots of Slayers, but hey, you're the boss man..."

"Rona's group boarded a flight to Johannesburg two hours ago," Giles said. "But you're the only one who knows Thandiwe—the only one of us she knows..."

"I can't."

"Xander, this may be the best way to get past the difficulties arising from your last visit to Africa."

That was bullshit, and Xander knew it—stiff-upper-lip Watcherly bullshit. But anyway, it wasn't the point. The thought of going back to Africa didn't make him start shaking and flashing on gunpowder and blood, not now. He knew he wasn't what you'd call 'over it,' but spilling his secret to Spike had made a difference...and this was all very significant in a personal growth kind of way but still not the point. "I can't leave LA, Giles. Spike's sick."

"Pardon?"

"He's got pneumonia, it's pretty serious. I just got back from the hospital."

"Oh." Giles was clearly thrown for a loop. "Oh dear. When did he become ill?"

"It happened pretty fast. I mean, he was sick on Sunday when he was working on that translation with you, but it was just, like, a cold. Yesterday at the store he seemed better, but Angel was worried about him...which reminds me, I recruited Angel for the Council."

"Excuse me?"

"And Spike's agreed to it, too, by the way, and if you order now we'll throw in a primordial god-king for the low, low price of absolutely nothing."

"Perhaps you had better back up a bit, Xander, and explain what you've been up to for the past couple days." Giles sounded kind of irritated, but Xander wasn't sure if that was because of him recruiting Angel and Illyria along with Spike or just because he wasn't already hopping on a plane to Johannesburg.

So he gave Giles the Reader's Digest version of the past couple days, skipping the parts about bourbon and kissing and blood-soaked secrets. He told him the things he'd learned—how Angel was spending his nights brooding in a derelict hotel and seemed like he was ready to start fighting for the good guys again, and how Spike had been getting sick ever since he turned human.

"That is troubling," Giles admitted when Xander got to the part where Spike confessed his fear that he'd come back wrong. "I wonder...could it be something as simple as his immune system being out of date? I think you were quite right in your recommendation; he'll be better off here. But in any case, now that he's getting medical care he doesn't need you. Thandiwe does."

"Giles, this is America and he doesn't have insurance. They're going to discharge him as soon as they possibly can, and I'm not leaving him with just Illyria to take care of him. She didn't notice when he didn't fucking eat for two days."

"What about Angel? You mentioned that he seemed quite concerned for Spike's welfare."

"Not possible. Spike won't invite him in."

"Interesting," Giles said, sounding exasperated. "Why not?"

"I never asked. I assumed it was something to do with Angel being an asshole."

It wasn't like Giles was going to contradict him on that one. Xander thought he heard a muffled snort of laughter.

"The point is, Spike hasn't got anyone else. I can't leave him."

"Spike must be greatly changed," Giles mused. "It's quite unprecedented to hear you advocating for him."

"Uh, yeah," Xander agreed. Really, he wasn't sure Spike had changed much at all...but something sure had.

Giles really doesn't need to know about the kissing.

Giles didn't seem to notice the lack of conviction in Xander's reply. "I think we can solve this problem," he said. "For one thing, now that Spike's agreed to work with us, the Council will cover his medical expenses."

"Okay, that'll help. But he still shouldn't be on his own—"

"Quite right. I'll send Willow and Kennedy to stay with him until he's ready to make the journey to Rome."

Xander's resistance to the plan made it easy to see its logical flaws. "Don't you think Willow would be more useful than me for fighting thirty vampires? I mean, she could take them all out with a box of office supplies."

"Willow isn't available for the mission," Giles said, suddenly evasive.

"But she's available to come to LA?"

Giles cleared his throat. "She won't be able to do magic for the next several months."

"What?" A whole new texture of worry rippled through Xander's stomach. "What happened?"

"Oh, no, it's—it's nothing to worry about," Giles assured him. "You had really better ask her yourself." Xander's fear abated at his tone; he sounded bemused more than anything. "So that's settled then?"

Xander knuckled his forehead and let himself dwell for a moment on how much it sucked that he had to choose between being there for Spike and helping to save thousands of people. Couldn't the fucking universe get things lined up better, give him one crisis at a time? "Yeah," he said, pushing the words out despite himself, "I guess that'll work."

***

The elevator door was closing to take Xander up to Spike's floor when someone's fingers intervened. Xander hit 'open door'—and regretted it as soon as he saw who it was.

"Angel."

"Xander?" Angel hesitated, looking disconcerted, but when the doors started closing again he quickly stepped inside.

"How did you find out he was here?"

"Illyria." Angel glared at Xander, but kept well to his own side of the elevator. "I told you this would happen."

The fact that Angel was right did absolutely nothing to make Xander like him more. "You really have no conception of how much you're not wanted here, do you?"

Angel rubbed his thumb over the knuckles of his other hand. "Are you planning to try to keep me away from Spike?"

Xander considered it. He was still considering it when the elevator dinged open—but really, short of making a scene that would get them both kicked out, what could he do?

It was dinner time in the ward. The middle bed in Spike's room now held a twenty-something guy who was spooning up his jello while talking in rapid Spanish with a pretty, dark-haired girl. The old guy in the last bed was slowly working on his vegetables, keeping his gaze on the room's muted TV. As for Spike, he seemed to be asleep; his tray of food sat untouched off to the side. The teddy bear was still tucked into the crook of his arm.

Xander wasn't sure it was a good idea to wake him up, but he had to talk to him. Giles had booked Xander on a midnight flight to Johannesburg; he'd be heading straight to the airport from the hospital. Xander had talked to Willow and cleared the plan with her, so all that was left was to make sure Spike didn't go all wiggy at the idea...

God, I can't believe Willow's pregnant.

Angel, meanwhile, was frozen in the doorway. Knowing from first-hand experience that invitations weren't an issue for vampires visiting hospital rooms, Xander left him to get over it.

"Hi Spike," he said quietly, sitting in the chair at the side of the bed. "You awake?" Spike didn't respond, so Xander gently squeezed his hand. He opened his eyes just as Angel finally came into the room. There wasn't another chair, so Angel was left looming over the bed.

Spike glanced up at Angel, then at Xander. "Should've told me there was going to be a party, I would've got beer," he joked weakly. As he spoke, he threaded his fingers through Xander's.

Xander's heart sped up when he realized what Spike was doing. We're holding hands. In front of Angel.

Angel either didn't notice or pretended not to. "Illyria told me you're going to Rome," he said. "She thinks the Council's doctors are going to help you."

Spike gave a slight shrug. "That's the general idea."

"I've agreed to work for the Council too," Angel said.

Spike's eyes went wide at that, and he turned to Xander for confirmation.

Xander suddenly realized that Spike might be upset that he'd recruited Angel, too. Shit. "I figured, why should we hog all the fun?" he said, squeezing Spike's hand conspiratorially. "There's been a posse of slime demons terrorizing Ecuador all month. I bet Angel could handle them."

Spike grinned, and Angel looked vaguely uncomfortable and possibly pissed off, so that was all right.

"I talked to Giles," Xander added. "He's going to put everything in motion. Oh, and—" with his free hand he pulled Spike's new passport and green card out of his pocket, "—you're all set up now for international travel."

Spike let go of Xander's hand to take the documents. Opening up the passport, he raised his eyebrow. "He named me Will Smith?"

Xander hadn't looked carefully at the name Giles had chosen; now he stifled a snort of laughter. "Hey, at least he didn't go with Spike Jonze."

Angel looked perplexed. "Smith is a very common surname, isn't it? I don't see the problem."

"There's no problem," Xander said with a shrug. "It is a common name—there's probably like a hundred William Smiths in LA." He started humming the 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' theme under his breath until Spike glared at him.

"Look, you'd better hang on to these things 'till I get out of here," Spike said, holding out the documents to Xander again. "Got no bloody privacy in this place."

"Uh, no can do." Xander winced inwardly, hating what he had to say. "I'm leaving, Spike. Tonight." He reached for Spike's hand again, explaining quickly before the surprised look in Spike's eyes could turn into anything worse. "When I talked to Giles he told me about this huge crisis in South Africa. A bunch of vampires have taken over a gold mine and taken thousands of prisoners, and there's a local Slayer but I'm the only one who knows her."

"Oh," Spike said. "Well, I suppose you'd better go save the world, then."

"I'll look after Spike," Angel promised quickly.

Spike bristled at that. "No you won't, you bloody poof."

"No, he won't," Xander agreed emphatically, daring Angel with a glance to make a thing of this. "Willow and Kennedy are going to come stay with you when you get out of the hospital, until you're ready to go to Rome."

"I don't need anyone looking after me," Spike muttered, glaring at both of them in turn. "And it'd be nice to be bloody well consulted about these things."

Xander didn't bother arguing the point with Spike; he figured that with Angel listening in there was no way Spike would admit to needing anyone to take care of him. Instead, he just squeezed Spike's hand and apologized. "Sorry. Everything's happening really fast, there wasn't time to talk to you first."

Spike seemed to accept that. "Be nice to see Red again," he acknowledged, and stifled a cough.

The Willow solution seemed to satisfy Angel, too; at least he wasn't arguing. "I'll give your I.D. to Illyria," he offered, getting back to the original topic. "It'll be safe in your apartment."

"All right." To Xander's surprise, Spike handed over the documents.

Just as Angel was tucking the fake I.D. into his pocket, a nurse came into the room. Angel stood aside so she could check Spike's readouts and his IV. She frowned at the untouched meal tray. "No appetite, Ian? You really should try to eat."

"I will, luv," Spike promised. "Just been busy talking with my friends here." The nurse moved on, and Xander pulled the table with the meal tray on it into position so Spike could reach it. Spike grimaced at the food—limp grilled chicken, mushy peas and carrots and red jello. "'m really not hungry," he muttered.

Xander found himself exchanging a worried look with Angel; he broke eye contact before Spike could catch them. "Just try some of the jello," he suggested, "even a hospital kitchen can't screw that up."

So Xander and Angel ended up making small talk of the who's-where-doing-what-now variety while Spike ate. Xander shared the bombshell that Willow had dropped on the phone, and found them a lot less surprised than he had been.

"Who's the daddy, then?" Spike asked around a mouthful of jello.

"She didn't say. She's still with Kennedy, so...yeah, I have no idea."

"It's not mystical, is it?" Angel asked, looking suddenly worried.

"Probably just one of them turkey baster deals," Spike suggested, looking cheerful at the confused and grossed out looks that he elicited from Angel and Xander respectively.

Having eaten the jello and a couple bites of the chicken, Spike laid down his plastic fork and knife and closed his eyes.

"Spike? Are you all right?" Angel asked before Xander could.

"Just fagged out is all."

"I'll fix the bed," Xander said. They'd raised it to its maximum angle so that Spike would have support for sitting up while he ate; now Xander lowered it to the position it had been in when they came in. "Maybe we should go, so you can sleep."

"Angel, you'll get that stuff to Illyria, right?" Spike said. "I want a word with Harris before he goes."

"Right." Angel hesitated, then turned to go. "I'll be back tomorrow."

"I know you will."

When the door closed behind Angel, Xander shook his head. "I don't get you and him."

Spike gave a faint smile. "S'pose it's complicated. Family always is, innit?"

"Do you still think of him as family?"

"Don't know what we are, exactly. That'd be one of the complicated bits." Spike looked at Xander uncertainly. "Xander? What are we?"

Hell if I know. Xander rubbed the back of his neck and focused for a moment on the teddy bear. "Damn, Spike, you gotta warn a guy before you ask a question like that." He waited for Spike to say something, to help him out, but Spike just waited. "I'm not sure if we're anything, yet."

"Oh." Fuck—Spike sounded hurt. "Well, I just wanted to know," he said, and the hurt Xander had heard in the first syllable was gone now, covered up with as much flippancy as Spike could muster when he was this close to passing out. "Good luck in Africa and all."

"I said that wrong." Xander reached for Spike's hand. "I mean, we're something, we're old comrades-in-arms, we're friends...if we hadn't both been really fucked up I think we would've had sex by now."

The flow of Spanish conversation from the next bed faltered for a moment, and Xander belatedly realized he should probably lower his voice.

"Thought you wanted to shag me because you were fucked up," Spike said, but he let Xander hold his hand.

It wasn't something he could flat-out deny. "This is confusing as hell, okay? I didn't expect to ever like you, but now I do, and it completely sucks that you're sick and that I have to leave, but...I'll see you in Rome, right?"

"I like you too, Xander," Spike said, hardly above a whisper. "When do you have to leave for the airport?"

Xander glanced at his watch. International flight, leaving at midnight... "About an hour."

"Stay here till then?"

"Sure." Xander squeezed Spike's hand, feeling almost giddy just because Spike wanted him to stay. "I'd like that."

Spike fell asleep quickly after that, his right arm wrapped around the teddy bear and his left hand in Xander's. Xander sat there, watching him breathe. He wondered whether they'd be able to pick up from here when they saw each other again, or would it be all weird. He wondered how he'd stopped himself from realizing in Sunnydale how beautiful Spike was. He wondered what the hell Spike saw in him, why he let Xander in while chasing Angel away.

Then the time was up and Xander had to leave. He slipped his hand out of Spike's as gently as possible. He hesitated, then kissed him lightly on the forehead. Spike didn't stir. "Bye," Xander whispered, not expecting to be heard. "See you soon."



Part Sixteen


Xander was dreaming about vampires when the door buzzer rang just after noon. He woke up to the taste of stale beer and cigarettes, and the perky chatter of the satellite station that had been showing the Red Sox versus the Yankees at two a.m.—now it was an infomercial for some kind of exercise equipment that looked vaguely like a comic book villain. He stumbled to the window, nearly tripping over his jeans and shoes. He hoped it was Andrew, and not Giles or one of the girls; if it was Andrew he wouldn't have to get dressed. He stuck his head out and squinted down at the street below. "Hello?"

It wasn't Andrew, Giles or one of the girls. He saw bleached white hair, a black leather jacket—and then Spike tilted his head up, shielding his eyes against the sun, and shouted "Oi! Harris! You gonna let me in or not!?"

***

He just had time to shut off the TV and pull on yesterday's jeans while Spike was coming up the stairs. Then there was a sharp knock on the door and he opened it, and faced Spike for the first time since he'd left him in the hospital in June.

The first things Xander noticed were the differences. For starters, Spike wore glasses. The stark black rectangular frames managed to look vaguely punk, but in an intellectual way. He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket over a red T-shirt and black jeans. Overall, he looked a hell of a lot better than he had in LA.

"Hi," Xander managed to say. "I thought you were still in England."

"They let me go a couple days ago," Spike said with a half shrug. "How's your arm?"

"Pretty good," Xander said, flexing his hand automatically, just a little startled by the question. "Got the cast off last week. How did you—"

"Rupert mentioned it when he called on me a few weeks back." Spike finally stepped into the apartment, giving it a cursory glance before he turned back to Xander. "So, would you be up for a road trip?"

***

Twenty minutes later, his hair still wet from his shower, Xander was eyeing Spike's bike nervously. "It's a 1998 model, near perfect condition," Spike explained, patting the gas tank almost reverently.

Xander pulled on the helmet and leather gloves Spike handed him. They were black, to match the bike. "You haven't told me yet where exactly we're going."

"Germany," Spike said, meanwhile reaching under Xander's chin to make sure the strap was done up right.

The brush of Spike's knuckles against the skin of his neck made Xander's pulse race, made him think of all the things they hadn't said to each other yet, all the questions left between them in June in LA. What are we to each other? But all he asked was, "What part of Germany?"

Spike pulled on his own helmet, and flipped up the visor to grin at Xander. "Berlin. You did pack a toothbrush, hey?"

***

The bike growled and purred between Xander's knees, a living thing. As they rounded the first corner he knew he was going to fall off, and his arms locked desperately around Spike's waist.

"Lean into it!" Spike shouted over the engine noise. Yeah, like that helped. Xander's right foot slipped off the passenger peg for a second and the adrenaline rush left his blood roaring in his ears even louder than the Roman traffic. "Into the bloody turn!" Spike repeated, his voice maybe cut off a bit by Xander's death grip on his abdomen.

At the next turn, he got it. It was like dancing; he just had to follow Spike's movements. He dared to relax his grip a bit, so his hands were resting on Spike's waist instead of clutching it frantically. By the time Spike had them out of Rome's traffic-choked streets and onto the traffic-choked highway, he was starting to enjoy it. It was like dancing—two bodies becoming one. Like dancing and...other things you could do with one other person. Other things he still hoped he might get to do with Spike sometime soon.

***

The first time they stopped to eat, just inside Austria, they talked about where they were going.

"Rupert's not as good with that locator spell as Red is," Spike said, "but he thinks there's a Slayer in Berlin—maybe a new one."

A new Slayer? That would be important. So far all the Slayers they'd made contact with had gained their powers at the moment of Willow's spell. Andrew had even voiced the worrying theory that with the line of succession broken, no more new Slayers would ever be called.

"How are we going to find her once we get to Berlin?"

"Su Li's back in Rome, having a rest. I've borrowed her compass."

"Okay, that works." Willow had made five of the magical devices back when they first started rebuilding the Watchers' Council and searching the world for Slayers. It had taken her a full week. They looked like ordinary compasses—they were, in fact, cheap compasses bought from the travel shop near the central train station in Rome—but within a ten mile radius of any Slayer, the needle would point directly at her.

Xander had lost his in the Congo.

When they finished eating, Spike went to the counter to pay with his new Council credit card, and Xander went outside. It was windy out, so he went around a corner of the restaurant to a more sheltered side before lighting up a cigarette.

Spike appeared half a minute later. "Where are you off to, Har—oh."

They exchanged an awkward look for a moment, Xander holding his breath instinctively because he didn't want to blow smoke Spike's way.

"I'll get the bike ready," Spike said abruptly, and stalked away.

Xander blew out the breath he'd been holding, closed his eye, and let his head knock back against the wall behind him. Shit. It was such a stupid thing to be all awkward about, such a fucking stupid thing to come between them. Especially when you considered that for most of the time they'd known each other, it'd been Spike who smoked and Xander who said things like 'if you stink up my apartment again while I'm at work I swear to God I'll stake you.'

But that was the problem, really. Spike had smoked for a hundred years or so, and probably loved every minute of it. Not like he'd had to worry about lung cancer or cigarette taxes or anything. Now he couldn't smoke, and Xander bet that his own smoke breaks reminded Spike of the long list of things that got screwed up when he turned human.

He took another long drag. He shouldn't smoke, anyway. The girls were always hassling him about it. Dawn kept asking 'What kind of idiot starts smoking past the age of thirteen?' But when a soldier named Philippe had handed him a cigarette in the back of the truck as they were driving Mathilde's body back to Kinshasa, the prospect of getting emphysema thirty years down the road hadn't seemed like a really important concern.

He'd tried to quit when he got back to Rome from LA. That had lasted a day.

He heard Spike rev the engine. "I'm coming!" he shouted, grinding the stub of the cigarette under his heel.

***

The second time they stopped to eat, just after midnight somewhere in Germany, they talked about where they had been.

"When did you get the glasses?"

"Soon as I got to Rome. Rupert figured out I needed them when I didn't recognize him in the airport."

"Oh. So back in LA, you were—"

"Blind as the proverbial bat, yeah." Spike shrugged and gave a rueful half-grin. "I thought it was just the change from vamp senses to human that made everything seem all blurry. Suppose I should've clued in when I couldn't see the bloody telly from the bloody couch."

Their food came—some kind of meat in batter thing for Spike, and roast chicken with fries for Xander. Weirdly, the waitress gave him mayo along with the fries. Spike discreetly shook a couple pills out of a prescription bottle and popped them in his mouth, chasing them with a gulp of Coke.

"I tried to call you in England," Xander said suddenly. It had been bothering him ever since Spike showed up that afternoon. "I left four messages."

Spike shrugged. "Wasn't in a mood to talk." He stuffed another bite in his mouth.

"Down in the gold mine my phone didn't work. When I got out, I got all Willow's emails at once, about you almost dying and everything." Xander saw Spike's expression closing down—he didn't want to talk about this. Xander pushed ahead anyway. "I called LA as soon as I could, but the only one left at your place was Kennedy. She told me you were better, I'd just missed you, you'd gone to Rome. But then when I finally got to Rome, you'd already gone to England."

"Wasn't my choice," Spike pointed out, which Xander already knew. "Rupert thought this doctor he knew in London would have a better shot at figuring me out than those youngsters who patch up your broken Slayers in Rome."

"So, did she?"

"Did she what?"

"Figure out what was wrong with you."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Yeah, all right? It's sorted now. Just gotta take some pills."

"Hey, that's great."

"Yeah. So what about you? Did you talk to Rupert about how you let that Slayer get killed in the Congo?"

Xander winced. "Thank you, Spike, for your sensitivity. And yes, I did."

"And?"

"He's making me see a combat psychologist." Xander realized that he was about as eager to talk about this as Spike was to talk about his health. So, okay, time for a conversational truce. "Hey, you haven't told me how Willow's doing!"

Spike grinned. "She looks about the same, only with bigger breasts."

***

Back on the road. It was past midnight, but Spike still thought they could make it to Berlin. The road was wide and straight, and the nighttime traffic was thin.

They followed a silver BMW in the left-hand lane for a while, cruising along at an easy 130 kilometers per hour. The loose sleeves of Xander's battered leather jacket snapped incessantly in the wind, just audible over the healthy roar of the engine. Xander had to keep his head ducked down behind Spike's or that same wind would threaten to tear him right off the bike. His arms were wrapped around Spike's waist, and he could feel the steady rise and fall of his breathing.

Maybe fifteen minutes north of the restaurant, Spike decided the BMW was going too slow. He pulled out to the right and accelerated past it. Xander held on tighter against the G-force...which wasn't letting up. The BMW had vanished from the rearview mirrors, but Spike was urging the bike still faster. They were gaining fast on a semi in their lane, and Spike darted to the left again. They zipped past the semi and then slid over in front of it to get past a red Ferrari that was in the fast lane.

"Maybe we should slow down!" Xander shouted, but Spike gave no sign of hearing him. A nervous peek over Spike's shoulder at the speedometer showed the needle holding steady at 180.

He's insane, Xander realized suddenly. We're going to die. We're going to be nothing but a red smear on the autobahn. There won't be enough left of us to send home in a bucket.

And then it hit him. Two months ago he'd been fighting a vampire apocalypse two miles under South Africa. Five months ago he'd been chasing a rogue slayer and her heavily-armed entourage through an actual war zone. A year and a half ago, it was ten thousand uber-vamps in Sunnydale High. God, he hadn't been safe since he was fifteen years old—and even then, he'd only thought he was.

We should have died a thousand times over. Hell, Spike did die.

The helmet muffled his giggles, but Spike must've felt the shaking; he tensed up, started to ease off the throttle. Xander patted Spike's thigh, and though he was pretty sure Spike couldn't hear him, yelled "It's okay! I just realized we're fucking immortal!"

Spike gave a slight nod, and the engine roared. Xander barely managed to resist flinging his arms out and making airplane noises. The road became one long blur—they weren't driving, they were flying.

Of course they were going to die. But not tonight.

***

When they finally stopped for gas, Xander felt like he was still flying even when he got off the bike. At the edges of his vision, the whole world still seemed to be rushing by. The ground under his feet seemed to be vibrating with the cadence of the bike.

It had been a long time since their last rest stop. The toilet was one of those 'ask for the key at the desk' deals. Spike took his turn first, then Xander. Xander noticed that his hands were shaking as he undid his fly.

When he opened the door again, Spike was right there in his face.

"You've been behind me all day, I want to fucking look at you," Spike said in a low, growly voice, pushing Xander back into the washroom and letting the door click behind them.

"We had face time over supper," Xander pointed out, letting Spike back him into the tile wall.

"Not enough. Couldn't do this at the restaurant." He planted his hands on the wall on either side of Xander's shoulders, and kissed him.

"Uhummm," Xander murmured in agreement and encouragement. He hadn't seen this coming, but he was sure as hell ready for it after spending the whole day with his arms wrapped around Spike. Now he slid his hands under Spike's jacket and T-shirt at the small of his back; his skin was hot, smooth, sticky with sweat. He pulled Spike tighter against him, and Spike made a little sound that was almost a moan and attacked his mouth with more ferocious kisses.

When Xander felt Spike's hand slide down between them and cup his crotch, he turned his head to escape Spike's lips long enough to say, "Shit, Spike, not here. The gas station guy's going to wonder what's taking us so long."

Spike grinned, and nipped playfully at Xander's neck. "Don't worry, I told him you were constipated. Told him not to expect you out for half an hour."

"You did not! You don't know that much German."

Spike shrugged it off. "It's the middle of the bloody night. The bloke's sitting behind the counter reading a magazine about the sodding X-files. He doesn't care how long we take."

Xander wasn't so sure, but then Spike kissed him again and squeezed his balls gently and Xander decided he didn't care what the gas station guy thought.

Worst case scenario, Giles'll bail us out of jail.

That was his last fully coherent thought for a while.

"Want to feel you in me," Spike was whispering in his ear. "Want you to fill me up." A zipper sound accompanied his words; he'd opened Xander's fly.

Xander shook his head, even as he closed his eye for a second to sink into the shivery, delicious feeling of Spike easing his dick out of its confinement. "I didn't bring—I don't have—"

"I did. I do." Grinning, Spike produced from his pocket a box of condoms and a very small bottle of lube.

Xander laughed. "You were planning this!"

"Thought we'd find a hotel, talk first." Spike kissed Xander again. "But I got impatient."

"You, impatient?"

Soon Spike's jeans were down around his knees and his hands were braced on the edge of the sink. Xander was behind him, teasing him with one slicked-up finger. He was a little nervous, actually; that time they went to the gay bar he'd tried to make Spike think he was all experienced now, but actually this was exactly the fourth time Xander had had sex with a guy—and only the third time he'd topped. "Feel okay?" he asked, trying to make the question sound sexy instead of anxious.

"Fantastic, pet. Now go ahead and fuck me."

Xander watched Spike's face in the mirror as he entered him. Spike's eyes squeezed shut behind his glasses and his teeth clenched, and on the edge of the sink his fingernails scraped the porcelain. Xander hesitated, afraid he was hurting him.

"Don't stop, pet. Bloody hell, don't stop."

Xander's body was happy to not stop. Sweet Jesus, it was happy.

His hands were on Spike's hips, helping his balance, but now he reached around with his right hand to touch Spike's dick. Spike was wearing a condom, too—"don't wanna make a mess," he'd murmured at some point in the middle of the kissing and touching and getting ready—so he was inhumanly smooth against the palm of Xander's hand. Xander matched the movement of his hand to the rhythm of his hips and Spike rewarded him with a happy-sounding groan. His eyes opened slightly, glittering feral slits gazing at Xander in the mirror.

Spike came before Xander did. His head arched back and his knuckles went white and he moaned through clenched teeth, and Xander thought he was beautiful.

He paused, after, wondering if he should stop now.

"That was fan-fucking-tastic, pet," Spike murmured. "But you're not done, are you?"

That was all the permission Xander needed. Now Spike was watching him in the mirror with wide-open eyes and a lazy grin, licking his lips suggestively—and part of Xander's brain decided it was kind of redundant for Spike to flirt with him when they were already in the middle of having sex, but the rest of him was too busy enjoying it to care.

After Xander came he grabbed the base of the condom and carefully pulled out of Spike. Spike was still leaning against the sink, with his head hanging down now, and his arms were shaking. Xander tossed the condom into the garbage and leaned against the wall. "Fuck," he said. "That was..."

Finally standing up, Spike smiled. "Good, yeah?" There was just a hint of insecurity in his tone, like maybe on some level he wasn't sure if Xander had enjoyed it at all.

Which was crazy.

"Come here," Xander ordered him. His voice came out all low and rough.

Spike peeled off his own condom first and tossed it in the trash, and he fumbled with his jeans as he crossed the short distance to Xander. As soon as he was in arm's reach Xander grabbed him and pulled him close in a tight hug.

"Good?" Xander whispered. "I've been waiting for that for two fucking months, Spike. It was incredible."

"'Course it was," Spike murmured back, letting his cheek rest against Xander's collar bone. Xander felt something rough and warm; Spike was licking his neck. Then he felt Spike's teeth nipping gently at his skin, and Xander laughed.

"You're not a vampire anymore."

"Old habits, luv," Spike murmured with a smile in his voice.

"Spike? Did you just call me 'love'?" He wouldn't even have asked if he weren't so far past exhausted, in a state like being drunk. Now Spike stiffened in Xander's arms and butterflies dive-bombed Xander's stomach and he wished he'd kept his mouth shut.

"Just an expression," Spike clarified, stepping back from Xander. "I'm fucking English, recall?"

"Yeah. Uh. I don't mind. You can...call me that."

Spike raised an eyebrow at Xander, seemed to study him for a minute, then smiled. "Right then, luv. Time to go."

"Wait," Xander said. The thought of getting back on the bike and pushing on for Berlin suddenly struck him as incredibly stupid. They were both so tired they were shaking, and it's not like they were even in a fucking hurry. "There was a sign for a hotel at this exit, right?"

"Think so, yeah." Spike frowned. "Why?"

Thinking was hard, like wading through molasses. And who wades through molasses, anyway? But Xander managed to decide before he opened his mouth that trying to argue that Spike was too tired to go on was a strategy doomed to defeat. So instead he said, "I'm totally wiped. If we go much farther I'm going to fall asleep and fall off the back of the bike."

Xander was afraid for a moment that Spike would argue it anyway. But then Spike touched Xander's hand and looked at him, head tilted just a bit to the side, and said quietly, "All right then. I'll get you safe to bed."

Xander got a nice feeling in his belly when Spike said that. Warm, and soft, and unexpected.

The attendant barely raised his head from his magazine when they handed back the key. Outside, Xander pulled out his pack of cigarettes. "I'm going to, um, walk down the road a bit for a smoke," he said.

"Yeah, okay." Spike stuffed his hands in his pockets and scuffed the pavement with his boot, and tried to look like he didn't care. "I'll come meet you with the bike."

Xander, meanwhile, was still staring at the pack in his hand. "Know what?" he said. "Screw this." Without letting himself think twice about it, he shoved the cigarettes into the garbage can outside the station door.

Spike's eyebrow lifted again. "You're going to be in a right bad mood tomorrow, luv."

"Yeah, well." He shot Spike a tight grin. "You can distract me."

They climbed on the bike and set off slowly away from the highway. Xander kept his head high, willing himself to stay awake until they got to the hotel. He felt strange and light—giddy, maybe, from the exhaustion and the sex and the endless vibration of the bike.

No, it was more than that. Something had changed. This thing with Spike...it wasn't over. It was only beginning. Xander wasn't sure how far it could go, or what it meant, but he knew one thing: he was happier now than he'd been for a very, very long time.







The End



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