"What do we do if the bugger doesn't show?" Spike whispered.
They were crouching behind garbage cans in the alley where, according to Giles's usually infallible calculations, the Dur'athan demon would bring its seventh victim in about—Xander checked his watch—two minutes.
Spike had the anointed dagger. Xander had the big kitchen knife. The plan was that Spike would stick the dagger through the Dur'athan's eye while Xander got the intended victim the hell out of the way.
Xander shifted his weight, trying to keep the blood flowing in his legs. Beside him, Spike was perfectly still.
Spike seemed be doing better since the breakdown two nights ago. Last night he'd been in a good mood when he woke up, and he'd gone out with Xander to a bar where they played pool and had a couple beers, and it was fun.
What was weirder—rubbing a vampire's back while he cried, or having a great time spending an evening with him?
Maybe the weirdest thing for Xander was realizing last night that he was glad that Spike seemed happier.
"It's coming," Spike whispered.
A moment later, the Dur'athan came around the corner. It was easily seven feet tall, with a dark purple hide covered in short, blunt spines, and it had one yellow eye in the middle of its forehead. It had a young East Asian woman tucked under one arm; she was conscious and struggling, but the demon's other hand was clamped over her mouth so she couldn't scream.
"Right then," Spike said, popping to his feet. "You're a big ugly, aren't you? You'll be letting the girl go now."
The monster turned its face towards Spike and roared, showing three rows of slimy, jagged teeth.
Spike snarled into game face. He leapt up onto the garbage cans and slammed into the demon, stabbing the dagger into the arm that was holding the woman. The monster swung its arm to slash at Spike with its six-inch-long claws—and the woman slipped out of its grasp, landing on the pavement by its tail.
That was Xander's cue. He sprinted towards the woman, who was already stumbling to her feet. He put his arm around her shoulders and helped her get up and out of the alley, fast.
As soon as they were around the corner of a building, the woman looked at Xander. "What the fucking hell was that?" Her eyes were wide, and she was shaking.
"Something from hell. Are you hurt? Can you run away?"
"Not hurt bad. I can run." Behind them, the monster roared, and there was a sound of crashing garbage cans. "Thanks for the rescue," she gasped at Xander, then spun and ran away, barefoot on the pavement.
Xander wished briefly he could make it a more thorough rescue—find her shelter, or something—but the battle was still raging in the alley and he thought he'd better go back and help.
He rounded the corner just in time to see the Dur'athan fling Spike against a brick wall like a rag doll. Spike dropped to the ground, his face smoothing back into its human form, and the demon drove its claws right into Spike's chest.
"Hey!" Xander yelled, picking up a metal garbage can lid. "Over here!" He flung the lid at the demon, Frisbee style. It bounced off the Dur'athan's neck, and the demon roared again and stood up, turning to face Xander.
Spike, clutching his chest with the hand that wasn't holding the dagger, rolled to his feet. As the monster took a step towards Xander, Spike tucked the dagger between his teeth and grabbed the Dur'athan's thick fleshy tail. He braced his feet and yanked the tail so hard he swung the monster off its feet, and this time it was the Dur'athan that slammed into the brick wall.
Spike grabbed the dagger out of his mouth and slipped back into game face as he dove at the Dur'athan, fangs gleaming. The monster stood up just in time to take the dagger in its neck instead of its eye. Spike fell backwards, leaving the dagger stuck in the demon's neck. The Dur'athan spun around and whapped Spike with its tail; Spike flew into the opposite wall.
Meanwhile Xander spotted a pile of loose, broken bricks. He picked one up and hurled it at the Dur'athan. The brick hit its mouth and it howled with what Xander sincerely hoped was pain.
Spike leapt onto the beast's back, wrapping his arm around its throat to grab the dagger. The Dur'athan flung itself backwards, slamming Spike against the wall. Spike dropped off and rolled to the side. Xander flung two more bricks at the monster. They hit its flank, and it hardly seemed to notice. Spike jumped up onto a rusted old stove, and from there dove at the monster, dagger raised. He plunged it into the Dur'athan's eye. The monster let out a high-pitched squeal that hurt Xander's ears. It staggered backwards away from Spike. Then there was a crackling, electric sound, and purple lightning started flashing around the monster. The lightning intensified and then, with a loud crack, the monster disappeared. The dagger fell to the pavement.
"I love it when they disappear like that," Xander quipped giddily. "No cleanup. Just like a video game!"
Spike was in no condition to walk home. He could only manage a couple steps without assistance.
"Same bus we took that first night goes by a block from here," he said. "I can make it that far."
The leather duster had made it through the fight intact. It had been hanging open, so when the Dur'athan had clawed Spike it had just wrecked his shirt. And, oh yeah, his flesh. Now Xander buttoned up the coat to hide Spike's injuries, and hoped that the bus driver wouldn't look too closely when they got on.
Spike dug his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a couple of bus tokens. "You take these," he said.
Xander took the tokens. They were bloody.
With Spike's arm slung over Xander's shoulders, Xander half-carried the vampire to the bus stop. In a stroke of amazing luck, the bus was rounding the corner just as they arrived.
Spike pulled himself together to get onto the bus without help, and the driver barely glanced at him. He collapsed into the seat nearest the rear exit of the bus, and sat very still with his arms pressed over his chest and his eyes wide, staring out the window without focus. Each time the bus lurched and bumped, there was the slightest wince. Xander held his breath each time, barely realizing it.
When they reached their stop, Xander helped Spike stand up. There was a pool of blood by his feet. His knees buckled, and Xander caught him before he fell back down into the seat.
"Think I'm going to need a bit more help, pet," Spike mumbled, and then his head dropped forward limply.
"Fuck," Xander whispered. He picked up the unconscious vampire and carried him quickly off the bus. Blood dripped from the bottom of Spike's coat as Xander walked towards the store, leaving a splattered trail on the pavement. He had to put Spike down at the front door—it always stuck, Xander needed two hands to pull it open. Spike moaned softly when Xander picked him up again.
"We're home," Xander told him. "You're going to be fine."
"'Course I am," Spike murmured. "Vampire. Immortal. This is nothing."
Xander pulled the door closed and carried Spike all the way back to the bathroom, making his way around the shelves in the dark by memory. Then he put him down on the floor and fished in the duster's pockets for the lighter. He lit the candles in the bathroom, then turned to Spike.
His eyes were open, watching Xander. He was lying where Xander had set him, with his head and shoulders propped up against the wall and his legs sprawled out, boots resting against the opposite wall of the small bathroom.
"Okay, let's get you patched up," Xander said, forcing himself to sound cheerful. Spike watched glassily as Xander pushed the coat down off Spike's shoulders and pulled his arms out of the sleeves.
The front of Spike's t-shirt was shredded, so Xander took the scissors out of the box under the sink and just snipped it off him. Spike's chest was a mess of blood—it was hard to see where the actual holes were. Xander would have to wash off the worst of the blood. Lacking any better washcloth, he took one of the cleaner pieces of t-shirt and rinsed it under the tap.
Xander looked up at the mirror while he rinsed the cloth. His black eye was a lot better—the swelling was almost gone, and the bruises were pale yellow. That was one good thing, at least. And he hadn't got so much as a scratch tonight.
He couldn't see Spike in the mirror. It hung at a tilt, so he could see the leather duster lying on the floor behind him, strangely flattened in places, but he couldn't see Spike or the clothes he was still wearing. Weird how that worked.
Xander turned around and knelt down, and started wiping the blood off Spike's chest. Spike still had on the bandages Xander had applied after the fight with the pterey. They were ripped and bloody now; they'd have to come off. Xander peeled the gauze pad off the place where the pterey had bitten Spike's shoulder. Underneath the pad there was a crescent of small puncture wounds, oozing red.
The pterey bite. It hadn't healed at all.
That couldn't be right. Xander grabbed a candle off the sink and held it closer to get a better look. "Careful, pet, I'm flammable," Spike murmured. His lips looked gray.
The bite looked the same as when Xander had bandaged it up. Xander had seen how fast vampires heal—the wounds should have completely closed over in the space of one or two days. How long had it been since they stole the pterey eggs? Four, five days?
Xander picked up the scissors and carefully slid one blade under the bandage wrapped around Spike's abdomen. He snipped the bandage, and tried to tug it off. It was stuck to Spike's belly with dried blood. Gross. It was a good thing vampires' wounds resisted infection.
Xander set the candle back on the sink, got the t-shirt rag sopping wet, and then used that to wet the stuck bandage. He let it sit for a minute, hoping that would loosen it a bit. Meanwhile, he cleaned around the new wounds.
There were deep scratches oozing blood on both of Spike's forearms. Xander wrapped bandages around them. That was the easy part. His chest was a mess, though. There were evenly spaced punctures all over, like someone had slammed him with a peg board—that was probably from when the spiny Dur'athan pinned him between its back and the wall. There were four deep gouges just above the old bandage—that would be from the claws. The Dur'athan had been trying to gut him, and it would have worked on a human.
Xander hadn't noticed Spike taking any cuts to the legs, but he figured he'd better check. The jeans were soaked with blood anyway; they'd have to come off.
Xander unlaced Spike's boots and pulled them off, then his socks. Then the jeans, trying not to shift Spike around too much when he lifted him up. He wasn't wearing underwear. Not a tidbit of information Xander had really wanted to know about Spike, but hey, no modesty in the trenches. There was one stab wound in his left thigh, which Xander quickly wrapped up. Other than that his legs looked all right, just a few bruises.
Finally, Xander started peeling away the old bandage around Spike's belly. It was still pretty stuck. Spike batted at his hand, trying to push him away. "Fucking hurts," he complained.
"Yeah, I bet it does." Dried blood came off with the bandage, and the horizontal gash underneath still looked fresh. "This is an old wound, Spike. Why hasn't it healed?"
Xander grabbed the box from under the sink and shook its contents around. "Fuck, there's not enough bandages left."
"Chemist five blocks north of here," Spike mumbled, his eyes closing. "Open all night."
"Uh, okay, I can get bandages there?" Spike didn't answer. "Spike? Which way's north?"
Spike opened his eyes and managed to look scathing. "The way the bus was going, pet."
It had started to rain outside. That was good. It would wash away the blood trail leading from the bus stop to the store. It would hide the bloodstains on Xander's clothes.
A 'chemist' turned out to be a drugstore. Xander bought lots of bandages, and some antiseptic, too. Then he walked back quickly, ducking his head against the now torrential rain.
Why hadn't Spike recovered from the fight with the pterey? What would stop a vampire from healing?
Blood. Vampires got their powers from blood. Spike wasn't drinking blood, he was starving, and now he'd lost the ability to heal.
Okay. First thing in the morning, Xander would go find a butcher and buy some blood, and he'd hold Spike's nose and pour it down his throat if he had to.
After Xander had wrapped Spike's torso completely in bandages, he dressed him in fleece pants and top—Xander's, not Spikes. They'd fit more loosely around the bandages than anything Spike had. Spike protested, but he was only semiconscious so Xander didn't give his opinions much weight.
Then Xander carried Spike to the futon and laid him down on it. Xander stepped back, and wrapped his arms around himself, and realized he was shaking.
His clothes were sopping wet from the rain and the blood. It was four in the morning. He'd just been through a death-match with a demon. He was squatting in an abandoned building in a foreign country, keeping watch over a mentally and physically fucked-up vampire who Xander was just now realizing he cared about. A lot. Okay, it was okay to cry for a minute. Just for a minute or two.
Xander pulled the store's door firmly shut behind him. This early in the morning, the sun would stream right in if it was ajar at all.
He lit some candles. Spike was still lying on his back to one side of the futon, where Xander had put him in the night.
"Wake up, Spike." Xander shook his shoulder gently, and Spike frowned and mumbled incoherently without opening his eyes. "Wake up, I've got blood for you. You're going to drink it."
Xander got a sweater out of his duffle bag and bunched it up, and put it under Spike's head to prop it up. Spike finally opened his eyes. "I'm really not hungry, pet," he rasped.
"Like hell you're not." Xander unscrewed the top from the jar of pig's blood, then dipped his finger in the liquid. "Mmm, blood." He then touched the finger to Spike's lips, and brushed the blood across them.
Spike's eyes opened wider. The tip of his tongue darted out to lick the blood.
"There, see? Yummy, nummy blood." Xander moved in closer, lifted Spike's head and shoulders onto his lap, and tucked his left arm around behind Spike's head to support it. It was disconcerting how cold the skin at the nape of his neck felt, even though Xander knew that was normal for a vampire. Xander touched the rim of the jar to Spike's lips. "Open up now," he said softly.
Spike's lips parted, and Xander tilted up the jar to let the blood run into Spike's mouth. Spike suddenly went into game face, and for the first time ever Xander was relieved to see the demon features. Spike reached up to grab the jar himself, and he gulped the blood—then suddenly he changed back to human face and started gagging. He flung the jar away. It smashed wetly on the floor in front of the bathroom. Spike huddled forward, coughing.
"Spike?" Xander said, fighting back panic. "Spike, what's wrong?"
"Death, it's death, it tastes like murder, death," Spike gasped, still choking out blood. The front of the gray sweatshirt he wore now had a big red-black stain.
Maybe that was why Spike always wore black—it hid bloodstains better.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Xander held on to Spike, waiting for him to stop coughing.
Finally he did. His head fell back onto Xander's lap. He wiped the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand, and then let the hand fall limply to his side. "Bloody hell," he said softly.
"You can't drink blood at all now."
"Not for the past three weeks," Spike admitted hoarsely. "Before that, less and less."
"You drank a bit when I brought it before."
Spike gave a wry smirk. "I only pretended to, pet."
"This is bad, Spike," Xander said in a low, soft tone. "You're starving. Your injuries aren't healing. You lost a lot of blood last night, and you didn't have much to lose."
"Don't be so gloomy, pet." Spike smiled a bit, but his voice was strained and quiet. "It's not like this can kill me."
Xander gave the haggard vampire a skeptical look. "You don't think so?"
"Nah. Didn't the Slayer let you read her sodding Handbook? Wooden stake through the heart, decapitation, sunlight, fire. That's the whole list. No other way to kill a vampire."
Xander thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "That's a lie."
"What do you mean?"
"Buffy killed a vampire once by getting him to drink holy water."
Spike blinked once, slowly. "What vampire would be daft enough to drink holy water?"
"And another time, Faith shot Angel with a poisoned arrow, and he would have died if Buffy hadn't made him drink her own blood."
Spike snorted weakly. "The poofter never deserved her."
"My point, Spike, is that there's more than one way to skin a cat. And more than four ways to kill a vampire."
"Hold on now." Spike frowned thoughtfully. "Weren't you the one who always wanted me dead?"
"Well, kind of, at times...okay, yeah." Xander brushed his fingertips along the side of Spike's cheek, wiping off a fleck of blood. "I changed my mind."
Spike closed his eyes and grimaced. "Go back to Sunnydale, pet. We're done here."
"No." Xander shifted away and lowered Spike's head back down onto the pillowed sweater. "We're not done yet."
"Yes, I accept the charges. Xander, thank God you rang," Giles said. "I've been leaving messages at the hostel for the past thirty-six hours—have you not received them?"
"Um, no, I'm not staying at that hostel anymore," Xander said. "What's the problem?"
"Well, for starters, I rather hoped you'd ring me last night to let me know you survived the encounter with the Dur'athan demon," Giles said, his words clipped with restrained anger.
"Right." Xander slapped his forehead, feeling like a jerk. Of course Giles would have worried. "It was just...Spike got beat up pretty bad, I had to drag him back to his place, and...sorry. I'm really sorry, Giles. I'm fine—not a scratch."
"And the demon?"
"Dead. Dagger through the eye, just like you said."
Giles's tone softened. "No harm done. But listen: I did a bit more investigation into the background of the Dur'athan. They aren't indigenous to this plane. They must be summoned. Which— which begs the question—"
Xander completed the thought. "Who summoned it?"
"Exactly. The coven in Devon has been working on a locator spell, but of course the demon was summoned at least two months ago, so any traces would be very faint."
"And whoever did it might summon another one."
"I very much hope to the contrary, but I would advise Spike not to pawn that dagger just yet."
Spike was in no condition to use the dagger right now. If there was another demon, it would be a huge problem. And Xander knew he should tell Giles that, knew it was important, but he didn't. Instead he said, "Okay, keep me posted on that. I promise I'll check in more often. Hey, before I go, I have a question. Is it possible for a vampire to die from not drinking blood?"
"Well—what? Why do you ask?"
"Me and Spike were debating it, and I figured you'd be the one with the final answer," Xander dissembled almost smoothly.
"Vampires in captivity have survived being deprived of blood for extended periods of time. The hunger brings out the beast to an alarming degree, of course—they go quite mad with it. The faintest whiff of blood drives them into a frenzy. They do weaken, but die? No."
Spike wasn't mad with hunger, he was fucking anorexic. Maybe it was different in vampires with souls.
"What if a vampire was deprived of blood, and then injured, too?" Xander pressed. "The kind of injuries that would kill a human. Could that kill a vampire?"
"Well, I've never heard of—" Giles sounded puzzled, and a bit intrigued, the way he always got with unanswered questions. "I suppose it is theoretically possible, if the vampire did not have sufficient blood resources to heal the wounds, that they would worsen and eventually kill it." He paused, then said sternly, "Xander. Tell me why you're asking this."
"Like I said. Me and Spike were talking about it."
"Xander, if Spike has been experiencing difficulty finding enough blood to drink—if he is going hungry—he could become quite unpredictable and dangerous. Even with the chip, I don't think you should be alone with—"
"He's not dangerous, he's fine. It's fine. Bye." Xander hung up the phone quickly before he could hear Giles's reply.
Heavy traffic rushed by, an unending roar.
Spike could die.
Not only that, there might be another Dur'athan demon to fight.
Xander knew what he was going to do, and he knew that he couldn't let Giles even suspect it.
Xander gathered the things he needed by the futon before he prodded Spike awake.
"What now, pet?" Spike whispered when he woke up. Xander laid his hand along Spike's cheek and looked at him, thinking this through one more time.
Spike's face was gaunt and absurdly pale. His lips were gray and cracked; there were dark circles around his eyes. He wasn't bothering to breathe.
"You can't drink the blood of things that have been killed," Xander said softly. "So I want you to drink my blood instead."
Spike's eyes went wide. "No."
"It won't kill me if you don't take too much. It won't taste like death—it'll taste like life."
"I can't bite you, pet. Not even if you want me to."
"I know, the chip. You won't have to bite me." Xander picked up the kitchen knife, and poured antiseptic over both sides of the blade. Then he gripped the knife handle firmly in his right hand, and pressed the blade against the inside of his left wrist.
"No," Spike whispered again.
"You'll drink," Xander said, as sternly as he could manage. "And then you'll stop before you take enough to hurt me. I know it's possible." And if Spike didn't drink, he'd die. And if he drank too much, Xander would die.
This was no time for second thoughts. Xander gritted his teeth, and slit his own wrist.
It hurt, and blood welled up fast, glistening in the candlelight. Xander pressed his wrist against Spike's mouth. The vampire looked appalled for a moment—and then his face slipped, shifted, and he wore the knobby features of a demon, and he drank.
Xander had expected the pain, he'd braced for it. What he hadn't expected was the euphoria.
He felt like he was floating. The licking, slurping noises Spike made as he drank seemed unnaturally loud and resonant in the still room, and the sounds were warm, round, soft, lovely, erotic. Spike's yellow eyes glittered like amber in the candlelight. The deeply crumpled ridges of his brow were beautiful. Xander let the knife fall from his limp fingers, and then reached up to trace the ridges with his fingertips. They were firm and cool. Why had he ever thought they were ugly? And then they shifted, changed, smoothed away under his fingers. Spike's blue eyes shone in the candlelight, and he pushed Xander's wrist away from his red, wet lips, and Xander felt an intense sense of loss, of emptiness—and then a wave of dizziness.
He let his head drop onto his lap. The dizziness passed in a couple seconds. His wrist ached—it was still bleeding. Xander reached for the gauze pad and pressed it over the wound.
Spike was looking a little stunned. He raised his scarred eyebrow when Xander looked his way. "That was very fucking dangerous, pet."
"I need you to wrap tape around my wrist. I can't do it one-handed."
Spike sat up—and that was good, he'd been too weak to do that before, that meant it had worked—and took the medical tape, and wrapped it quickly and firmly around Xander's wrist. When he was done, he still held on to Xander's hand.
"I didn't know it would be..." Xander paused, cleared his throat, embarrassed. "...sexual."
Spike rubbed the back of Xander's hand with his thumb. "Did you mind that?"
Xander hesitated, repeating the question silently in his head. Did he mind that he'd just shared an intensely sexual experience with a vampire? A male vampire? Spike? He thought he should, but he didn't. He started to shake his head, but then instead he leaned in and kissed Spike on the lips. Spike's lips tasted like Xander's blood: bitter, coppery. They were warm.
Spike leaned in too, and his lips moved on Xander's, parting, playing. His hand slid up Xander's back, pulling him closer.
Xander was already hard, had been since Spike started feeding off him. He was lightheaded, too, and he knew that was the blood loss. This wasn't the right time to start anything. They weren't strong enough. They weren't thinking straight. It was too fucking weird. "Stop."
Spike pulled away. He looked as confused as Xander felt. The hand that was still holding Xander's had started shaking, Xander wasn't sure when.
"Why did you do that?" Spike asked.
Xander felt his cheeks flush. "I don't know, I'm sorry, I just wanted to kiss you, and then I wasn't sure..."
"Not that, you bloody idiot. Why did you make me drink?"
"You were dying."
Spike's hand shook harder. "But I'm no good...I didn't deserve..."
"Shhh." Xander knew what to do this time. He hugged Spike tight as the vampire's whole body started to shake, and when the deep, wracking sobs began, Xander held on.
And when Spike was quiet again, Xander whispered that it was time to sleep again. They lay down, and Xander kept his arms wrapped around Spike's cool body, and Spike tucked his head into the crook of Xander's neck, and Xander fell asleep with bleached blond hair tickling his cheek.
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