Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Characters are property of Mutant Enemy. This story was written for fun, not profit.
Xander waited for Spike in his crypt, rolling a polished wooden stake between his palms.
He wasn't going to dust him. Well, maybe. Finish the job he'd started outside the Magic Box, before Buffy got in the way. Buffy'd never have to know. But probably he'd just scare the bastard. Maybe it'd be satisfying to hold Spike at stake-point and yell at him for a while. Xander hadn't come here with a specific plan. It's just that last call had come way too early; Xander hadn't drunk enough yet to wash away the pixelated memory of Spike fucking Anya on the Magic Box table. He'd headed for home but his feet had taken him here instead, and Spike wasn't in the crypt, so. Xander waited.
Finally the door opened and Spike walked in. Xander rushed at him and slammed him against the door frame with the stake's point hard against his chest. A second later Xander was flying backwards into the crypt. He slammed against the sarcophagus and fell to the floor with a bone-jarring thud.
"Ow! ow! ow! ow!" he heard from Spike's direction. That would be the chip going off. So, okay, at least he could take some satisfaction in Spike's pain.
Xander managed to get back up to his feet before Spike did; he felt bruised, but not broken. "I hate you, Spike," he said conversationally, figuring he might as well make sure Spike knew who'd jumped him.
Spike came out of his head-clutching crouch and glared at Xander. "Thanks, Harris, I really needed a fucking migraine tonight. Icing on the bloody cake. Buffy know you're here?" His voice came out low, raspy.
Xander took a couple steps to put himself between Spike and the door. "Nah, I thought I'd surprise her with a nice little box of dust in the morning."
"Sod off, Harris, if you were going to dust me you wouldn't be standing around talking about it. Sorry I shagged your ex, even if it's none of your bloody business. Now go home."
Okay, wow, Spike just apologized. But it wasn't a sorry kind of sorry, it was an I don't want to talk about this now get the hell out of here kind of sorry. Therefore, Xander didn't feel especially appeased. "Maybe I just want to draw out the moment."
Spike sighed and stood up, backed away from Xander until he hit the opposite wall of the crypt. Light from the nearly-full moon shone through the door behind Xander, highlighting the stark planes of Spike's face as he leaned back against the wall and held his hands out in a surrender gesture. "You going to do it, then? Fuckin' get it over with."
Xander shook out his stake-wrist, seriously considering it. "Nah, you wouldn't just stand still for it."
"You'd duck aside at the last minute and let me run into the wall, or hit me again."
"Oh, and I want my head to explode now? Bein' staked probably hurts less."
The vampire's glare was challenging, like he wanted to provoke Xander into making a move. Which certainly meant Xander shouldn't make a move, but he was still a little bit drunk and a whole lot mad, and dammit if Spike was just going to stand there asking for it—
Spike didn't move aside and he didn't hit Xander. Xander barely managed to pull his thrust before it ripped through Spike's shirt and flesh. And yeah, he pulled it. He kept his left hand pressed against Spike's chest, pinning him against the wall—an illusion, really, Spike could break his hold any time, possibly even without setting off the chip—and the stake's point hovered just over its target. Spike tilted his chin up to glare at Xander, and his eyes glittered defiant. "Told you you weren't going to dust me," he taunted, the words soft like sandpaper.
Xander swallowed hard and wondered if he could do it. How many times had he dreamed of shoving a stake into Spike's cold, dead heart? How many other vamps had he dusted without a nanosecond's regret? And those were vamps who hadn't violated Anya...Buffy...Yeah, he just might be able to do this. And Spike had to know it.
"If you aren't scared I'm gonna dust you, why are you shaking?" Xander knew for once he sounded just as dangerous as Spike.
Spike just closed his eyes and tilted his head back, exposing a long white line of throat in what had to be a serious submissive gesture for a vampire. And he was literally shaking in his boots; with his hand on Spike's chest Xander could feel him trembling. And suddenly Xander realized this wasn't just a mind-fuck; Spike was really going to let Xander kill him.
And oh, fuck, it was tempting. To never see Spike again, never hear his snarky voice, never need to remember that this evil creature had profaned two women Xander worshipped...he pushed the stake against the spot over Spike's heart, digging in just a little. Almost hard enough to go through the thin cotton of Spike's black t-shirt, but not quite. Spike's adam's apple bobbed, but he didn't move or open his eyes.
Fuck. The evil, soulless thing looked just like a man resigned to death. He felt just like a person, his chest warm and trembling under Xander's hands, and there was no way Xander could kill...wait a second. Warm? "Since when do you have a body temperature, Spike?" Xander gripped a handful of Spike's shirt and slammed him harder against the wall. "Did you eat someone tonight?"
Spike's eyes popped open and he looked shocked. "I can't even shove you off when you're trying to kill me, you berk, how'm I gonna eat a human?"
"No problem drinking the blood if somebody else does the killing, right? You finally find some new pathetic vamp chick to team up with?"
"I was out at the butcher's getting sodding pig's blood, which you made me drop when you attacked me in my own fucking crypt."
Xander instinctively turned to look, and Spike slid away from him in one of those too-quick-to-follow vampire moves. There was a paper bag on the floor by the door, and since by now Spike had fled to the other side of the big stone sarcophagus, Xander went over and picked up the bag. There was a jar inside, unbroken, and Xander recognized the style the butcher's shop used. Okay, so Spike was telling the truth about buying blood—that didn't mean he hadn't already drunk a human dry tonight.
"Toss that over here, would you, mate?" Spike said, holding up a hand with a hopeful look.
"Not so fast." Xander pocketed his stake and started tossing the jar back and forth between his hands, advancing on Spike. "Why are you warm, Spike? Only time I know of that vampires have body heat is when they've just fed off someone."
"Well, I don't fucking know, do I?" Spike started circling the sarcophagus to stay on the opposite side from Xander, so apparently the go-ahead-and-stake-me window was closed. Damn. "I'm feeling bloody strange tonight, all hot one minute and cold the next. You have the good witch put some kind of whammy on me?"
"No, but that's a nice idea..." Xander said, switching directions suddenly as though there were any chance of catching a vampire who'd decided to play keep-away. Then he gave a second's serious thought to what Spike had said. "Are you trying to tell me you're sick?"
"I'm trying to tell you to leave me the fuck alone if you're not gonna stake me," Spike said with a hint of snarl.
"Okay, stop." Xander stopped moving, and so Spike did too—glaring at him across the big stone box. "I'm gonna come over to you, but I'm not gonna hurt you. See?" Xander took the stake out of his pocket, held it up, then tossed it off to the side. It clattered and rolled away on the not-quite-level stone floor. Xander started around the sarcophagus again and Spike waited for him, caution written in his tight posture. When Xander got close enough he reached a hand out toward Spike and the vampire flinched and backed away a step. Xander rolled his eyes. "Like I could hurt you with my bare hands?"
"I'm not afraid of you, Harris," Spike said with an extra-dark glare, and he held his ground when Xander reached out again and laid his hand on Spike's forehead.
Spike should have been as cool as the night outside and he wasn't; he was hot. He was definitely warmer than Xander, which meant the heat couldn't have come from feeding; he wouldn't have got any warmer than body temperature from that, and then he would've cooled down some on the walk home. He was still shaking, too, and maybe there was more to that than fear for his unlife. So, okay, sick vampire; something supernatural was going on. Xander couldn't quite bring himself to care. "Here," he said, tossing the blood jar at Spike's midsection, "have your snack. Get well soon—or not. And stay the hell away from Buffy and Anya."
Spike caught the blood with one hand and gave Xander the two-fingered salute with the other. "Cheers. Now make like a bloody tree and leave," he said, and Xander did.
Walking through Spike's cemetery at noon the next day, Xander held a lively debate inside his brain over whether he should go back to Spike's crypt, or just keep on walking through the graveyard, maybe go have a pizza for lunch.
When he replayed last night's events in his head, he couldn't deny that at one point Spike had been ready to let Xander stake him. It wasn't just the chip that had let Xander overpower him; the chip didn't stop Spike from using his vampire dexterity and super-speed to get the hell away. But Spike had stood still and dared, practically begged Xander to stake him. There was a word for that kind of behavior: 'suicidal.'
Personal feelings aside, Xander had to admit Spike was a valuable ally. So it would probably be better if he didn't dust himself. Plus, there was that mystical illness thing; he should find out if Spike was feeling better, or worse. After all, it was Xander's duty as a Scooby to check out anything bizarre that happened in Sunnydale.
Xander waited a minute in the doorway of the crypt for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. "Spike?" he called out; no answer. He went and opened the trapdoor to the underground room, and called out again; still no answer. Down the ladder, then. He had a mini flashlight on his keychain; he pulled that out and shone it around. The place was a charred ruin, which worried him for a second—had Spike decided to self-immolate after Xander left last night?—but then he remembered Buffy explaining how Riley had set off a grenade in here to kill a bunch of baby demons Spike had been idiotically harboring. Anyway, Spike was nowhere in sight, so Xander climbed back up and tried shining the mini flashlight's beam into the dark corners of the upper room, just in case. In the farthest corner from the door, he found Spike: curled up on the floor with his face to the wall, wrapped in a dirty gray army blanket.
Xander crouched next to him, letting the flashlight's tiny beam play over his face. The vampire wasn't breathing in his sleep, so he was perfectly still. Xander reached around and laid his palm on Spike's forehead the same way he had last night; Spike still felt as warm as a feverish human.
"Gah!" Spike jerked awake at Xander's touch and scrambled away from the contact, which meant he bowled into Xander. Xander fell down in a tangle of vampire and blanket, instinctively grabbing Spike as he landed on top of Xander.
"It's me, Xander, don't fight me!" Xander said as fast as he could, to stop Spike from doing anything they'd both regret.
"Bugger," Spike gasped. Xander let go and Spike rolled off him. Xander sat up, while Spike gathered the blanket around his shoulders and sat against the wall with his knees drawn up. By now Xander's eyes had adjusted enough to the dimness of the crypt that he could tell Spike was glaring at him and shivering. "What the hell do you want now, Harris?" His voice rasped as though a century of smoking had finally caught up with him.
"I, well, believe it or not I came to see if you were okay," Xander admitted, feeling wrong saying it. "I'm glad you're not," he added, and yeah, that felt better, more in line with the natural order of things.
"Fantastic. Your curiosity's satisfied. Now go away and let me sleep. It's the middle of the fuckin' day if you hadn't noticed."
"Yeah, um, I'm kind of wondering what's going on. I thought vampires never got sick."
"I guess I'm just special," Spike said, sarcastic with a definite edge of bitterness. "Fancy finding out what's wrong and getting me fixed up?"
Xander's appropriately biting reply was cut off by Spike suddenly hunching in on himself and sneezing violently.
"Bless you," Xander said automatically.
Spike's head popped up; Xander caught a glimpse of snarling demon face before Spike shifted back to human features. "Never say that to a vampire," he snapped.
"Why, does it hurt?" Xander entertained a brief fantasy of catching vampires by running after them yelling 'Bless you! Bless you!' until they fell down, twitching in agony.
"No, it gives me the willies."
"Oh." He tried not to sound too disappointed, for politeness' sake.
Spike sniffled, and pulled a rag out from somewhere under his blanket. It looked like something he might've cleaned his motorcycle with; ratty and gray with old grease-stains. He covered his mouth and nose with it just in time to muffle a second sneeze.
"Bl—" Xander just stopped himself from doing it again. Damn, that was one deep-ingrained habit.
"Hetshh!" Spike sneezed again. He kept the rag pressed to his mouth and nose with both hands. His eyelids fluttered, and he took a shuddering breath, and let out another harsh sneeze. "HA-choo!" The last one was more vocal than the others, and his accent rounded out the sound at the end.
Xander watched, amusement mingling with worry. He'd never seen Spike quite this pathetic, not even in the early post-chip days in Xander's basement apartment. He seemed helpless against the sneezes, and each one shook his whole body. He was curled up tight with his knees to his chest and his shoulders hunched up, trembling. The blanket had fallen off one of his shoulders the last time he sneezed; now Xander could see Spike was wearing his duster.
"Are you cold?" Xander asked. Even in the hot California midday, the crypt managed to be chilly. Wondering at his own sanity, he offered, "I could get you more blankets or something..."
"Eh-tshoo!" Spike huddled miserably around his rag, managing to shake his head at Xander's question. "Just want to—ahh...ahtchoo!...ahh...hatchooo!—Fuck! Haa-tshoo!"
Spike didn't seem to be able to stop sneezing long enough to talk, so Xander guessed at the end of his sentence. "You, um, want to stop sneezing?"
Spike nodded, sneezing again. This one sounded harsher, like it hurt his throat.
Okay, Spike probably hadn't been sick since he was turned over a century ago. He wouldn't be used to sneezing; he wouldn't know how to help himself. Xander felt a little pity for the guy, so he said, "Try blowing your nose, that should help."
"Haachoo!" Spike shuddered at the end of the sneeze, and then managed to shake his head. He'd given up opening his eyes between sneezes. "How—haa...haatchoo!"
Xander frowned. "You know how. Don't you?"
Spike sneezed, shook his head, sneezed again.
"Oh, come on, when you were a human you must've—"
"Don't remember," Spike choked out, then sneezed another three times in quick succession. "Hehchshh!...hchsh...achooo! Aaaagh!!!" Spike suddenly threw himself backwards against the wall with an expression of agony, clutching his head with both hands.
"What the—the chip? Did the chip just fire?"
Spike didn't make any reply but a strangled whimper. The tendons at the sides of his neck stood out sharply, and his teeth were bared in a tight grimace. It definitely looked like a chip attack, but Spike obviously hadn't been trying to hurt Xander.
With his hands clenched around his head, Spike's face was uncovered. Xander saw his expression soften and his nostrils flare. "AhCHOO!" he sneezed, unmuffled. His head snapped forward with the sneeze and then back again, banging into the stone wall with a thud Xander could hear even over Spike's anguished scream.
Okay, this was too horrible even for Spike. If the chip was going to go off every time Spike sneezed now, Xander fucking well had to help him. Xander crawled forward and, gingerly, reached for the rag Spike had dropped. To Xander's profoundly great relief, it was dry; maybe vampire sneezes were dryer than human ones.
Meanwhile, Spike sneezed again, and in the subsequent chip attack he fell over sideways, a tight, screaming ball of agony.
"Here, take this, you gotta blow your nose," Xander said, and tried to pull one of Spike's hands away from his head to give him the rag. That didn't work; Spike was clutching his head so hard the tendons in his hands were twitching, and Xander was no match for vampire strength. Dammit. He could only see one way to do this....
Xander took the rag and pressed it over Spike's nose. "Blow your nose."
Spike sneezed instead. "Heh-tchsh!" The rush of warm air through the rag was soft and dry against Xander's hand; it was a weird feeling. There was no time to think about it, though, because Spike jerked away from him with another raw scream, and banged his head twice against the flagstones.
Xander swore and grabbed Spike's shoulders to stop him from doing more damage to himself. "Don't fight me, Spike, I'm trying to help you!" He roughly pulled the vampire up so he was sort of in his lap, Spike's back against Xander's chest. Xander kept one arm clamped around Spike's chest, and used the other hand to hold the rag against Spike's nose again. This time he tried pinching Spike's nostrils shut. "That help?"
"tchh!" A shudder ripped through Spike's body with the stifled sneeze, and Xander barely managed to hold on to him. The next sound Spike made was more a hoarse, strangled moan than a scream, but Xander guessed it meant another firing of the chip.
"Okay, didn't help." Xander stopped pinching Spike's nose, and held the rag more gently against it. "You have to blow your nose, I'll help you, okay?"
Spike sneezed weakly, and moaned again. Xander wasn't sure if the vampire could even hear him, but he had to try.
"It's—you just breathe out through your nose as hard as you can. Try it."
Spike took a breath, then gave a pathetic little snort.
"Again, harder," Xander urged.
Spike tried again, and this time there was a wet sound of congestion clearing. The rag suddenly felt warmer, and Xander counted his blessings that it was much thicker than a Kleenex.
"One more time."
Spike blew again and it sounded less wet.
"That better?" Xander realized he'd fallen into the same soft, crooning tones he used to use with his neighbor's toddler when he baby-sat. He completed the parallel by folding the rag over and wiping under Spike's nose. "Okay now?"
Spike went limp, and finally dropped his hands from his head. He sagged heavily against Xander, trembling every few seconds. "Fuck," he whispered after a ragged breath, "next time...let me...knock myself...out."
"Is that why you were banging your head on the wall? Jesus, Spike, that's no way to cure a headache." Xander was still holding Spike, and he was feeling kind of weird about it. He shifted out from under, lowering Spike to the floor. But then Spike's head was lying on bare rock, and every time he shuddered—every couple seconds—his skull smacked against the stone.
The army blanket was lying in a discarded heap off to the side. Xander balled it up and slid it under Spike's head.
"C-cold," Spike rasped. "Want the blanket r-round me."
"Um, okay." Xander pulled the blanket out again, then laid it out beside Spike. "Here, roll over on it, so it's between you and the floor."
Spike rolled over to his stomach then crawled onto the middle of the blanket. He lay down again with a collapsing sort of thud. Xander wrapped the sides of the blanket up around him.
"You have anything else you can use as a pillow?" Xander asked. "You keep banging your head against the floor..."
"Doesn't m-matter," Spike said with his eyes closed. "Head h-hurts too much to feel it."
"Oh, fuck, Spike," Xander sighed. "That's—do you realize I'm feeling sorry for you? That's how bad this is." He was pretty sure Spike didn't have anything around he could use as a pillow. Xander couldn't stand any more of the sound of Spike's head knocking against the flagstones as he shivered; it was too awful. So he moved over and sat by Spike and said, "Put your head in my lap, I'll hold on to you for a while." He half-expected Spike to swear at him if he didn't ignore him, but instead the vampire gave a soft moan and lifted himself up enough to rest his head against Xander's leg.
Okay; now what?
In theory, Spike in agony was a wonderful thing. In practice, Xander had to admit that he didn't have a taste for torture. He almost felt sick to his stomach from watching Spike convulse under, what had it been, five successive chip attacks? Six? And Spike was hot and shivering, and his throat sounded raw, and his head must be hurting like hell. There had to be something someone could do to help him.
Xander touched his fingers to Spike's temples and started rubbing in gentle circles. "Does that help the headache?"
"Yeah," came Spike's surprised whisper. "Why—?"
"Dunno." Xander kept massaging Spike's scalp, working his fingers through the brittle clumps of gelled hair. "I still hate you, okay? But man, nobody needs that much pain." His fingers brushed across Spike's cheek, and it was wet. Had he been crying? His forehead was dry; it wasn't sweat. So, yeah, crying. It was too dark to see if tears were still flowing and Xander decided not to say anything; it didn't seem like something Spike would want him to know.
The shivering finally stopped, and after a while Xander noticed Spike wasn't breathing anymore. He guessed that meant he was asleep. Xander let one hand rest on Spike's head and the other on his chest, feeling a strange, novel protectiveness towards the unconscious vampire. He shifted his position slightly to get more comfortable, and he let Spike sleep.
About an hour later, the crypt's door banged open and Tara burst in, breathless and flushed.
"Tara, what are you doing here?" Xander kept his voice soft, not wanting to wake Spike.
"Xander?" Tara shut the door behind her, cutting off most of the light. "Is that you? What are you doing here?" She looked around, her gaze passing over Xander; obviously she couldn't see him in the shadows while her eyes were used to the brightness outside.
"Try not to make too much noise," Xander said, choosing not to answer Tara's question. "Spike's asleep."
"He's here too? Is he okay?"
Xander heard Tara strike a match; she lit a pillar candle that was sitting near the door, and used it to light her way over to Xander and Spike.
"No, he's not," Xander said. "He's sick. Do you know what's going on?" He saw surprise flicker over Tara's face when she came around the sarcophagus and saw that Spike's head was cradled on Xander's lap.
"Not really." Tara knelt next to Xander, and placed the pillar candle on the floor carefully distant from Spike. She was breathing hard, as though she'd been running. "Clem came and found me at Buffy's house. He said Spike was in trouble, that he was sick."
"Yeah. It's like some wacky vampire flu." Light from the candle illuminated one side of Spike's face; Xander could see now that Spike's cheeks were a bit flushed. Funny, it almost made him look alive.
Spike coughed suddenly, and opened his eyes. "Shite!" he yelped, and jerked away from Xander. He leapt to his feet, still tangled clumsily in the blanket, and staggered backwards into the wall.
"Spike, it's okay, it's just us," Tara said, half-rising on her knees.
"What the bloody hell is everyone watching me sleep for?" Spike demanded hoarsely.
"I stayed after you fell asleep," Xander said. Now that Spike was off his lap, Xander shifted his legs around and tried to work the kinks out of his back; sitting still for an hour on a stone floor wasn't as comfy as it sounded.
"I just got here," Tara said. "Clem said you needed help."
"Clem," Spike repeated. With his back to the wall he slid down to the floor with a thud. Xander could see his knees shaking where the tails of his duster fell away. "Right, Clem was here. This...morning?"
Tara nodded. "He's really worried. Do you have any idea what's wrong with you?"
Spike shook his head, sniffling. "No bloody clue. Fuck, I'm gonna—hatchsh!" He stifled the sneeze into his clenched fist.
"Oh shit." Xander waited for Spike to scream, but he didn't; he stayed frozen in a tight ball, pressing his fist hard under his nose. Maybe the chip had reset or something—earlier it had taken a lot of sneezes to set it off the first time, but then it had fired every time Spike sneezed. "Tara, do you have any kleenex?" Xander asked quickly.
"Sure." She dug in her pocket and produced a folded tissue with a few specks of lint clinging to it. "Here, Spike."
"het-chsh!...ah-tchsh!" Spike didn't seem to notice Tara holding the tissue out to him.
"Give it to me." Xander took the kleenex from Tara and went over to kneel by Spike. He pulled the vampire's fist away from his nose and pressed the tissue there instead, then wrapped his other arm around Spike's back to hold him. "Blow your nose."
"Ah-chooo!" he sneezed instead.
Xander felt the explosion of warm air through the tissue, and he felt Spike's body jerk forward with the force of it; Xander held on tight.
"Come on Spike, blow. Breathe out as hard as you can through your nose, remember?"
Spike took a deep breath—and started coughing.
"Dammit," Xander muttered, trying to keep his hold on Spike as the vampire shook with the coughing fit.
He seemed to catch his breath, but he just sneezed again, weaker this time. "ehtshhoo."
"Blow," Xander said firmly. "Now."
Spike managed a breath without sneezing or coughing, and he blew hard into the tissue in Xander's hand.
He blew again, and it sounded better.
"Feel okay now?" As before, Xander folded the tissue over and wiped Spike's nose with a clean corner. "Not gonna sneeze again right away?"
"Better," Spike mumbled, and slumped against Xander's shoulder.
"Okay, you've seriously gotta learn how to do that for yourself." Xander contemplated the warm, damp kleenex. "Ew." He tossed it away into a corner of the crypt; Spike could damn well clean it up later.
"Xander, you just helped Spike blow his nose." Tara sounded understandably surprised and confused.
"Yeah, um, it's a thing. He doesn't remember how to do it." Xander considered the vampire who was limp in his arms, shivering every few seconds. "Spike, you'd better lie down again."
With a bit of help from Xander, Spike curled up on his side with his head resting in Xander's lap. Tara bit her lip, watching with a worried sort of frown, and then moved in to tuck the blanket better around Spike.
Xander touched her arm when she came close. "Earlier he had a worse sneezing fit and the chip started malfunctioning," he explained. "It started going off every time he sneezed. That's why we kinda freaked just now."
"Oh." Tara's eyes went wide. "That must have been awful."
"Bloody right it was," Spike rasped without raising his head. "Head still hurts." He coughed. "Feel like shite all over. Don't know what the fuck's wrong with me."
Tara sat cross-legged with her knees nearly touching Xander's. "I'll try to help you," she said, reaching over to brush her fingers across Spike's forehead. "Oh," she gasped, and looked at Xander. "He's hot!"
"Yeah, it's weird, isn't it?" Xander laid his hand on the side of Spike's face for a moment, feeling the heat radiating off him. "It's almost like he's alive."
Tara pulled a little spiral notebook and a stub of a pencil out of her back pocket. "I can try research, see if anything like this has happened before. What other symptoms are there, besides the fever and the sneezing and coughing?"
"He's, um, shivering."
"Cold," Spike contributed in a croak.
"Sounds like your throat hurts, too." Tara sounded so honestly sympathetic, it almost made Xander ashamed of his lingering antipathy. But not quite.
"Yeah," Spike nodded.
"Did your head hurt before the chip started firing?"
"Everything hurts." He closed his eyes and moaned softly.
"Vampires are such babies when they're sick," Xander said, trying for a joking tone. Tara just glared at him.
"Whatever's happening to Spike is probably mystical," she said. "Spike, do you have any enemies who might want to—" She was cut off by a choking laugh from Spike.
"I got nothing but enemies."
"I'm one," Xander pointed out helpfully.
Tara shook her head with a hint of a smile. "Not very convincing, Xander, from where you're sitting now."
"Just taking a mid-game recess," he said lightly, smoothing Spike's hair away from his forehead. The gel seemed to be wearing off or something; the hair was softer than before.
"Anyway—" Tara got matter-of-fact again. "When did you start feeling sick, Spike?"
"Okay, did anything unusual happen yesterday? What did you do all day?"
"Started out just minding my own business. Had some pig's blood. Then Buffy comes by with this camera, accuses me of spying on her." Spike coughed. "Understand I have you to thank for that, Harris."
Xander shrugged. "Okay, in hindsight it's obvious it was the geeks—but I still say it could have been you."
"So Buffy and I had a bit of a row," Spike continued, soft and bitter. "No fists this time, just harsh words. Then I went to the Magic Box."
The hairs on the back of Xander's neck stood up, and he remembered why he hated Spike. "And what did you do there?"
The tone of the question must have given Spike the idea that Xander's lap wasn't a great place for his head anymore. He sat up and slid himself away from Xander, propping himself up against the sarcophagus. "For what it's worth, Harris, I didn't mean for that to happen. I went there looking for something to dull the pain—a spell or something—and Anya brings out this bottle of whiskey instead, and we get to talking, and next thing you know—" he waved his hand vaguely, then doubled over, coughing.
Tara frowned. "Wait, you were already in pain then? I thought you said you started feeling sick around midnight..."
Spike gave up on sitting again; he curled up on the floor with his head cradled on one arm, and the blanket tight around him. "Not this kind of pain, pet. Worse kind. Unrequited love."
Xander snorted. "Right. The kind of really intense love where ten minutes later you're screwing someone else.
"Fucking hell, Harris, I've had about enough of this." Spike's voice sounded sharper and stronger than it had yet today, and he struggled to sit up to better glare at Xander. "You hurt Anya, and—" a glance in Tara's direction "—someone else hurt me, and then Anya and me took a little comfort in each other. Which we were bloody well entitled to do, since our respective others had broken up with us."
Xander really wished Spike wasn't sick and pathetic right now, because he really wanted to punch him in the face, but he couldn't bring himself to do it when Spike was so completely helpless.
Wait, broken up? Now Spike was trying to say Buffy'd been dating him? Funny, there hadn't been any word about hell freezing over. Xander practically growled at the vampire, barely restraining himself from reaching out and shaking him.
"M-maybe we shouldn't talk about all this right now," Tara interjected nervously. "Spike, Willow kind of told me what she saw—"
Spike seemed confused. "What did she see?"
"You and Anya having sex on the Magic Box table," Xander said, angry heat spilling into the words. "We all saw it—Willow, Buffy, me, Dawn."
"Christ." Spike looked appalled. "Dawn? She was there?"
"There was another spy camera, Warren must have planted it," Tara explained quickly. "Willow tapped into the feed and, well, there you were."
"Hell," Spike whispered. "Gonna kill that wanker Warren." He coughed, and rested his head on his knees.
"Can we get back to trying to figure out what's making Spike sick?" Tara asked, almost managing to sound fierce. "Spike, you were in the Magic Box, you were drunk, you had sex on a table. There's a lot of dangerous objects in there; maybe you touched something you shouldn't have? Can you remember touching anything?"
"Touched a lot of things," Spike muttered into his lap.
"That's enough!" Xander snapped, lashing out a hand to grab Spike's collar and slam his head back against the sarcophagus. "I don't want to hear it!"
"Just meant there were a lot of things on the table, I swept them off," Spike choked out, and Xander let go of him. "Wanker," he added, and dropped his head, coughing again.
"Okay, so that's a possibility. Maybe there was something on the table, a cursed object or something," Tara said, unsubtly scooting forward to get between Spike and Xander. "What about afterwards?"
"Harris here tried to dust me, but that's nothing special."
"Was Buffy very upset?" Tara asked, tentative. "I know she'd broken up with you, but..."
Spike lifted his head, looking worried. "Wait, everyone knows about her and me now? Bloody hell, she is going to kill me."
Tara laid a hand on Spike's knee. "Well, I guess everyone knows, but I don't think she's going to kill you. Actually, I've known for months."
"Huh?" "What?" Spike and Xander spoke at the same time.
"Did she know you knew?" Spike asked.
"She told me."
"Oh." Spike looked almost like he was going to start laughing or crying. "Thought she didn't want any of her friends to know about us."
Xander couldn't understand why Tara gave Spike a sad, sympathetic look and squeezed his hand. He couldn't understand why Tara had apparently known about what was going on between Buffy and Spike months ago, when he and Willow hadn't known a thing. And he couldn't understand how there could be something between Buffy and Spike at all.
"Did anything else happen after you left the Magic Box?" Tara asked, trying again to get them back on track.
Spike shook his head. "Went walking. Dusted a couple fledges. Started feeling kind of strange, thought it was just the whiskey wearing off. Went to the butcher's for blood, came back here. Harris tried to dust me again."
Tara shot Xander a dirty look and he muttered, "Well, obviously I didn't try very hard."
Spike sniffled and rubbed his nose. "That's all. Wasn't feeling right, so I just stayed put, tried to get some sleep. Woke up feeling worse...hetchoo!" He groaned, let himself fall sideways to the floor, and sneezed again.
"Uh oh." Tara dug in her pocket and found another kleenex. "Here."
Spike took the tissue and, to Xander's relief, blew his nose without help. "I wanna sleep," he muttered, hoarse and exhausted.
"That's probably a good idea," Tara agreed. "Xander, could I see you outside for a minute?"
Xander followed Tara out into the bright heat. They squinted at each other in the sunlight. "What now?" Xander asked.
"I'll go to the Magic Box. I can ask Anya what was on the table last night, and I'll check out the books on vampires to see if anything like this has happened before." Tara gave a worried glance back towards the crypt. "We should probably try to make Spike more comfortable—get him a box of kleenex, more blankets, maybe some blood?"
"Yeah...I guess I could do that."
Tara surprised Xander by squeezing him in a quick hug. "I want you to know I'm proud of you. I know you don't like Spike, and I know you have some pretty good reasons for it, but you're still trying to ease his suffering. You're a good person."
Kind of flustered, Xander shrugged it off. "Hell, I think he should suffer. Just, y'know...not that much. Earlier, when the chip kept firing..." He shuddered, remembering. "It was bad."
"We'll fix it. Somehow."
Xander gave her a wry grin. "What can't we face when we're together?"
Clem was in the crypt when Xander came back bearing a couple kleenex boxes, an old blanket he used to use for camping, and three pints of pig's blood. The floppy-eared demon was quietly agitated, tiptoeing around and whispering too loud. Spike was asleep behind the sarcophagus. Xander gave Clem the stuff and told him what Tara was up to. Then he left.
He stopped by the Summers house in the evening for a Scooby update. Buffy told him that the Geek Trio had abandoned their basement apartment and left a James Bond supervillian trap for her, complete with flying buzz saws.
"You gotta to admire their style, at least," Xander said, and Buffy glared at him.
Willow was busy trying to decrypt some files that Warren, Andrew and Jonathan had left behind. Tara was sitting next to her, reading a thick, dusty book and playing footsies. So, wow, it looked like they were back together. Xander was happy for them, even if it did rub salt in his own gaping wound.
Tara obviously hadn't told Buffy about Spike, so Xander didn't either.
The next day, Tara called Xander just after he got home from work. She and Anya hadn't found anything useful, though she said there were still a few books they could try. Willow was busy with her decryption project, and they were still keeping Buffy out of the loop because things between her and Spike were, in Tara's words, "just too complicated for now." Tara wanted Xander to go down to the crypt and check on Spike.
Spike was awake and coughing when Xander entered the crypt. He was sitting propped up against the sarcophagus with both blankets wrapped around him, reading a paperback book by candlelight. There was a mug half-full of blood to his right, and a kleenex box surrounded by balled-up tissues to his left.
"Hey Spike, Tara said I should check on you," Xander greeted him. It seemed important to let Spike know he wasn't here of his own volition. "Where's Clem?"
"Told him to bugger off," Spike said, his voice sandpaper-rough.
"So you're feeling better?" Xander asked hopefully. He looked better. He was sitting up and not visibly shaking. Problem solved?
"Nah, 'bout the same. Didn't want him catching it, if it's the kind of thing you can catch." Spike's eyes fluttered suddenly; he turned his head to the side and sneezed. "Heh-chush!" The candles flickered. Spike swore under his breath, grabbed a kleenex and blew his nose.
"Oh. Wow, didn't know you could care about someone besides yourself."
"Then you haven't been paying attention." Spike glared at him.
"Lusting isn't caring."
"I don't lust after Dawn, or—oh bloody hell. Forget it." He sounded tired more than angry, and Xander felt a little twinge of guilt. And another when Spike added, "You should leave too. This might be something humans can get."
"Now you care about me?" Half wondering, half sarcastic.
"Hell no. Care about people you hang out with. Don't want you giving them my cooties." Then he doubled over coughing, dropping his book.
Xander sighed. "Don't worry about it. If I can catch it, I've probably already caught it. And if it is a human virus, then it's just the flu. Worst-case scenario, there's the hospital."
Spike caught his breath and picked up his book, then put it down more carefully with a bookmark in place. "Flu killed more people than the Great War." He sneezed, muffling it against his elbow. "Bad time for vampires—folks so scared of strangers." He reached for a kleenex and caught the next sneeze in it. "Etchshoo!"
Xander watched Spike blow his nose, a bit concerned. "Has the chip gone off any more?"
"Once," Spike said, touching his head as if remembering the pain. "Couldn't stop sneezing. Chip kicked in after about fifteen in a row. Seems like it overloads, or something."
"Jesus." Xander winced. "How'd you stop?"
Spike gave a grim smile. "Bashed my head on the wall 'till it all went black."
"What? Dammit, I told you not to do that." Not sure why he was so worried about this—it's Spike, the vampire we love to hate, remember?—Xander went over to Spike and looked at his head. His hair at the back was matted with dried blood, and when Xander gingerly touched the place Spike hissed and jerked away. "That must hurt," Xander said.
"Yeah, but it'll heal."
"There's gotta be a better way...maybe human cold medicine would work on you."
"Drugs are good. I like drugs," Spike said almost cheerfully. Then he doubled over in another coughing fit.
Xander waited it out. "I could go to the drugstore now," he offered when Spike was quiet.
"Yeah, sure. I g-gotta lie down," Spike mumbled, tipping sideways. Xander darted in and grabbed a candle out of the way before Spike knocked it over. Then he moved the other two candles further away from Spike for good measure. Spike's eyes were closed and he'd started shivering again.
Xander felt a bit more worried—yeah, unnatural as it seemed, he was worried about Spike—and he crouched beside the vampire. "What just happened?"
"Got d-dizzy. T-tired." Spike's teeth chattered when he tried to talk, and the words came out weakly.
"You should sleep, I guess." Xander leaned in and touched Spike's forehead; he was still burning with fever. "Want me to stay?"
"Okay. Um, somebody'll check on you later, I guess. And I'll go to the drugstore."
Xander blew out the candles, and left.
Xander thought about stopping by the Magic Box to see how Tara was doing, but he didn't feel quite ready to see Anya yet. So he called from a payphone, feeling like a coward.
The news from the Magic Box was "no progress," so Xander went and bought a bottle of cold medicine from the drugstore and dropped it off at the crypt. Spike was asleep, a tight motionless ball, and Xander was careful not to disturb him.
Then he went to the Bronze, hoping loud music, crowds and alcohol would distract him from the aching Anya-sized hole in his heart, and from his confusing concern for the sick vampire he wanted to hate, but couldn't.
The Bronze was distracting, all right. Distracting to the tune of a super-powered Warren and a fist to the face. But apparently Warren had better things to do than beat Xander to a pulp; he ran off with his sidekicks and Xander ran off to warn Buffy.
There followed a unique Scooby meeting with Buffy in the bath, soaking out some kinks from a rough patrol, and Willow and Xander in the hallway talking to her through the bathroom door. Xander kept getting distracted by the realization that Buffy was talking to them while naked. Willow claimed to have no such problems. Which was good, because she was the one with the important info—she'd finally decrypted the Geek Trio's files, and she knew where Warren was headed.
After Buffy left to deal with Warren, Willow asked Xander to drive her to the Magic Box to pick up Tara. It'd been a couple hours since he had his two drinks at the Bronze, so he had no excuse not to drive. He waited in the car so he wouldn't have to face Anya.
The problem was, he owed her an apology. He knew he did. But he couldn't say it, not yet, not when he still hurt so much from seeing her with Spike.
"Thanks for the ride," Tara said, getting in the back. Willow rode shotgun. "Can we stop by and check on Spike?"
"Sure." Xander pulled out onto the street. Late-night traffic in Sunnydale was light to nonexistent.
"So, wow, is he really that sick?" Willow asked.
"He seems pretty miserable," Tara said. "I haven't been able to find any records of vampires with symptoms like his, so there's no way to tell if he's actually in danger, or if it'll go away on its own."
"Now that I'm done untangling the Geek Trio's records, maybe I can help with the researchy stuff."
So Tara spent the short trip outlining the dead ends she'd investigated so far. Willow approached the problem with the confidence of someone who hadn't already spent two days banging her head against it.
When they got to Spike's crypt, Willow pulled a powerful flashlight out of her backpack. She played the light around until she found Spike in his huddle of blankets, surrounded by crumpled-up tissues.
He lifted his head, squinting against the light. "Who's there?" he croaked.
"Ooops, sorry for blinding you there." Willow pulled the beam away from his face. "It's Willow, Tara and Xander." Tara meanwhile lit a couple candles, and Willow snapped the flashlight off.
Xander noticed the bottle of cold medicine he'd left dropped off earlier lying on its side, empty. He picked it up. "You took the whole thing?"
Spike nodded, and coughed.
Xander glanced at the label. Well, it wasn't like they gave a recommended dose for vampires. "So, um, did you get any relief from fever, cough and nasal congestion?"
Spike sneezed twice and reached for the Kleenex box with a badly shaking hand.
Willow frowned. "I think that'd be a no." She looked at Tara. "We can't leave him here."
"Uh, he does live here," Xander pointed out. "Well, okay, not live technically, but—"
"Willow's right. He doesn't even have a bed anymore. God, we just left him lying on the cold stone floor." Tara twisted a lock of hair in her fingers, looking ashamed.
"He's a vampire, it's his natural..." Xander started, but he couldn't finish that thought with Spike shivering on the floor surrounded by a mess of used tissues. He looked, sounded, and probably felt like a very sick human. "Okay, where do we take him? Not my apartment," he added quickly.
"I think...the Magic Box." Willow nodded to herself. "We can pile up some mats in the training room for a bed, and that way we can keep an eye on him while we work on figuring out how to fix him."
Xander didn't like the idea, since it made him think of the last time Spike had been in the Magic Box, but he couldn't think of a better place so he kept his mouth shut.
Tara knelt down by Spike. "We want to bring you to the Magic Box so you'll be more comfortable. Is that all right with you?"
Xander could barely make out Spike's reply, "Anya ag-gree t-to it?"
"We haven't asked her yet ..." Tara turned a worried face up to Willow. "Maybe we should ask her first."
"No, it'll be fine," Willow said confidently. "We do Scooby stuff there all the time. We'll keep him in the training room, it's not like he'll be bothering the customers."
"Right then, l-let's go," Spike said. He sat up and let the blankets fall away from his shoulders; he was still wearing the duster underneath. Xander stepped forward and gave him a hand up, then kept a precautionary hand around Spike's waist. The way Spike was shaking, Xander didn't think he'd make it to the car without help.
In fact they barely made it out of the crypt before Xander felt Spike sag against him.
"Uh oh." Willow jumped forward and grabbed Spike's arm, helping Xander catch him before he fell.
"What happened?" Tara asked, stepping out with the blankets in her arms.
Spike's head hung limp, and his eyes were closed. "I guess he fainted," Xander said, shifting his hold so Willow could let go. "You know, when this is over he'll probably want to kill us for seeing him like this."
Tara started spreading the blankets out on the grass. "Here, lie him down again."
Xander looked down at the limp vampire. No way to tell how long he'd be out of it. "It's not far to the car, I can carry him." He lifted him up, momentarily surprised how easy it was. Between the attitude and the vampire super-powers, Spike usually managed to seem pretty big; actually he was a slender guy, and not very tall.
By the time they got to the Magic Box Spike was awake again. He seemed like he was going to protest when Xander picked him up to carry him in, but when he took in a breath to talk he started coughing.
Willow darted ahead to open the door. The bell dinged to announce their presence, which was pretty redundant considering the hacking-up-a-lung noises Spike was making. Anya looked up from counting the cash. "What—why did you bring Spike here? This is a store, not an infirmary."
"Point me the way to the nearest vampire infirmary and I'll take him right there," Xander offered, meanwhile heading straight for the training room. Even if he was light for a full-grown guy, Spike still had to weigh about a hundred fifty pounds, and Xander's arms were getting tired.
The girls followed him in; Willow and Tara rushed to pile some gym mats together for a makeshift bed, and then Xander gratefully put Spike down on it.
Anya crossed her arms, looking unhappy. "He has a perfectly good crypt. I don't see why every problem that ever comes up has to involve my store."
Willow seemed surprised at the objection. "We have to help him. I know he's only sort-of our friend, but he's really sick."
Spike coughed again, with a deep, rattling sound that would definitely be a bad sign in a human. Tara tucked the blankets around him with a concerned frown.
"I know he sounds bad, but I don't think there's anything to worry about," Anya said. Her tone was much too bright, which told Xander for sure that she was worried; he wondered why she was trying to hide it. Usually she spoke her mind with no concept of tact. "He can't die of a respiratory infection, you know," she continued. "He doesn't actually need to breathe."
"Vampires aren't supposed to get sick at all," Tara pointed out. "We have no idea what this could do to him." She pressed her palm to Spike's forehead and then looked around, startled. "Xander, come here. He wasn't this hot before, was he?"
Spike's eyes were open, but he didn't react to Xander's approach. He was taking shallow breaths now, each one setting off a hollow rattle in his chest. Xander felt his forehead; Tara was right, he was hotter than before, impossibly so by human standards. "Damn, that's some fever. Ahn, do you have a thermometer somewhere?"
"It's in the easily-accessible first aid kit behind the cash, as required by local Health Code."
"I'll hit the books," Willow said, turning to follow Anya back out into the store. "There's got to be something that'll help."
Xander waved a hand in front of Spike's face; Spike's eyes didn't follow the movement. "Do you think his brain is frying?"
"Oh bugger," Spike said faintly, "I could end up like you."
Anya came back with the thermometer, and gave it to Tara, who tucked it into Spike's mouth and told him to keep it under his tongue. Xander couldn't see the red line from where he was, but from Tara's intent, worried expression he could tell it was going up steadily. Then there was a sharp, clinking snap, and Tara jerked the thermometer away with a startled gasp. "It b-broke!"
Willow rushed in from the other room, and Tara handed her the glass tube; it hadn't shattered, but Xander could see the crack in it.
"This only goes up to 108," Willow said, examining the broken thermometer. "He must be hotter than that...Anya, do you have any lab thermometers in stock?"
"I do," she said, looking a bit pale. "I'll get one."
With the new thermometer, they successfully took Spike's temperature. It was 122 degrees.
"We have to tell Buffy," Tara said. She was sitting at Spike's side now, holding his hand. Spike hadn't reacted to anything since the fried brain remark; his eyes were unfocused and he'd stopped breathing entirely.
"I don't think she could help," Xander pointed out, even though he realized he wasn't helping much himself. "This isn't a fighty kind of situation."
"She'd want to know about this," Tara said, and Xander didn't really like it but he knew she was right.
Driving to Buffy's house, Xander remembered that she'd gone off to fight Mighty-Mouse Warren. It suddenly occurred to him to worry about that; Warren had never seemed like much of a physical threat before, but tonight Xander had nearly broken his own knuckles on Warren's face, and Warren hadn't even flinched. They hadn't even tried to figure out where Warren's power-up had come from before Buffy ran off to fight him. If this whole thing with Spike had distracted him while Buffy was in danger, Xander was going to take it out of the vampire's hide. Assuming he recovered...which he might not...fuck Now Xander was feeling bad about thinking threatening thoughts towards Spike, and that was just wrong.
Buffy wasn't home. Dawn let him in, and then they played crazy eights while they waited for Buffy. Xander tried not to let on that he was worried; Dawn didn't need that kind of stress. He made her go to bed at eleven.
Buffy came in the front door just before midnight, bruised but upbeat. "Two down, one to go!" she called out. "Andrew and Jonathan are going to jail! Warren got away with this stupid jet-pack thing, but I broke his balls so he's not much threat."
"You, uh," Xander tried not to squeak, "broke his balls?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Not those balls. He had two magic balls, that's where the Mighty Mouse mojo was coming from, and I broke them, so problem solved. All is right with the world. Hey, I wonder if Dawn left me any pizza?"
Xander sighed, following Buffy into the kitchen. He hated being the bearer of bad news. "Buffy, there's another problem. Spike's kind of gotten...sick."
"Huh? Vampires don't get sick." She opened the fridge, made a happy noise, and pulled out a leftover pizza slice.
"Right. Except he is. Sneezing, coughing, fever and chills, the whole deal."
"Tha's weird," she said with her mouth full. "How'd it happen?"
"No idea. Willow, Tara and Anya are all trying to figure it out."
She frowned at the list of names. "Everyone else knows? How long's he been sick?"
"Since the night after his breakout amateur porn performance," Xander said, tapping into the well of bitterness—yep, still plenty bitter, vampire nursing duties notwithstanding. Buffy flinched.
"Where is he?" she asked.
"We just moved him to the Magic Box. Willow and Tara thought he'd be more comfortable there than in his crypt."
Buffy glanced at the wall clock. "It's pretty late now. I guess I'll go over in the morning and see what's up."
"Um, you might wanna go now," Xander said, dragging the words out reluctantly.
Buffy swallowed her last bite of pizza. "So Spike has a cold. Weird, I admit. Probably magic-y. But I'm not magic research girl, and I am beat-up-by-Warren girl, and now that I've broken up with Spike and seen him having sex with Anya, I think it's time for a little space between him and me."
"I'm all for space," Xander assured her. "But, um, I kind of underemphasized the badness here. Spike's too weak to sit up and he's running a temperature of over a hundred and twenty degrees."
Buffy's eyes went wide. "Take me to the Magic Box. Now."
Buffy went straight for Spike. He wasn't wrapped in blankets anymore, and the duster was thrown over a nearby chair. Tara was still sitting with him; she had a bowl of water and a rag in her hands. "It cools him off a bit," she explained, dipping the rag into the bowl and partly ringing it out before laying it over his forehead.
"Oh my God," Buffy said softly. "Spike, I'm here, can you hear me?"
His lips moved; Xander thought he could make out Buffy's name in the nearly inaudible rasp.
"I think he can't breathe enough to talk." Tara dipped the rag in the water again, and lifted his head to smooth it along the back of his neck. "He was coughing a lot, earlier." She looked up. "You two should go back out and talk to Willow, see what she's learned."
Out in the shop, Willow gave bad news in a soft voice while Anya bustled anxiously around the shop. Xander wondered whether Anya's unease was more about Spike's mystery illness or just being in the same room with Xander. "Spike's temperature's gone up ten degrees in the past two hours," Willow said. "It's over a hundred and thirty now."
"What does that mean?" Buffy asked. "Will it hurt him?"
"Well, he's not exactly comfy, but that temperature won't damage him. If it keeps going up, though, it will. According to the Watcher's Council records Giles left behind, a vampire combusts when its core body temperature hits 185 Fahrenheit."
That number sounded familiar to Xander..."Hey, isn't that the temperature McDonalds used to keep their coffee, before that lawsuit?"
"Yes, that's not actually a coincidence," Anya interjected.
"Anyway..." Willow continued with a curious glance in Anya's direction, "Tara's been trying to get him to drink chilled pig's blood. And I'm looking up magical fevers now. Trouble is, there's so many, and the antidote always depends on the cause."
Buffy sat backwards on the chair next to Willow's. "Any leads on that?"
"None at all," Anya said. "No hints, clues, or suspicions."
Buffy turned to Xander. "I think I'll be here for a while. Would you mind going and staying with Dawn?"
Just after eight a.m. Willow called Xander at Buffy's house. They still had no idea what was going on or how to fix it. Spike's temperature had stayed steady around 140 for most of the night, but in the last half hour it had suddenly climbed to 170.
Xander left Dawn with orders to fill the bathtub with cold water and then go to the corner store and get as many bags of ice as she could carry. He promised her he'd explain why when he got back. Then he drove to the Magic Box, fast.
Buffy carried Spike out of the store, wrapped in a blanket to keep the sun off, as Xander pulled up in front. She laid him in the back seat and then got in front, and Xander burned rubber.
She dropped him in the tub with his jeans and boots still on. He was already shirtless; Xander guessed one of the girls had taken it off him in the night in an effort to cool him down.
Dawn hovered in the background, clearly freaked out and loudly demanding explanations. Xander told her what he could, which was nothing useful. Meanwhile Buffy pushed Spike's head under the water and held it down.
Xander went back to the Magic Box to get Willow and Tara. When he got there, Anya surprised him by closing up the shop so she could come, too.
Back at Buffy's house, they found Buffy perched on the edge of the tub, holding Spike's head out of the water so she could take his temperature. Dawn was sitting on the closed toilet with her arms tucked around her knees, looking worried.
Buffy took the thermometer out of Spike's mouth, looked at it, and sighed with relief. "It's working," she said. "He's already down to 163."
"Oh thank God." Willow sagged against the wall, sounding a bit giddy. "'Cause I don't know about you, but this was my last idea."
Xander noticed how hollow-eyed Willow and Tara both looked. "Why don't the people who were up all night go get some sleep now? Dawn and I can watch Spike for a while, make sure the water stays nice and icy."
Tara and Willow went to Willow's room, and Anya headed downstairs to sleep on the couch. Buffy insisted she was fine, at first, but the bruises from yesterday's fight with Warren stood out bright purple on her arms, and she couldn't stop herself from wincing when she stood up to get more ice. "Go, sleep," Xander insisted again, and she let him push her towards her bedroom.
"But get me if anything happens—anything, okay?"
So Xander and Dawn kept vigil together.
After three hours and twenty-two bags of ice (the guy at the corner store must have been seriously wondering what kind of party they were having), Spike woke up.
He woke up frantic and splashing, a very close imitation of a cat dumped in a bathtub of icy water. Xander went to grab him and hold him down, but just in time he remembered the bad combination of super-strength, chip, and disoriented vampire; he kept his hands off Spike. Dawn must've made the same calculations because she stayed back behind Xander, calling out to Spike to calm down and stay where he was.
Spike scrabbled out of the tub, fell to his knees on the tile floor in a dripping mess, then staggered to his feet and looked wildly around.
"Spike, you're sick, you need to stay in the bathtub." Xander tried to sound firm and soothing.
"No," Spike gasped, and lurched out the door into the hall.
Dawn pushed around Xander to the door and yelled "Buffy! Wake up!"
Buffy burst out of her room still wearing yesterday's clothes. "What's going on?"
"Spike!" Dawn yelped, pointing. Spike was nearly to the bottom of the stairs, stumbling alternately against the bannister and the wall.
"Oh damn." Buffy ran after him. Xander and Dawn followed as far as the top of the stairs, where they had a view of—oh shit—Spike trying to open the front door.
"Spike, no!" Dawn shrieked. He hesitated with his hand on the knob, half-turned towards Dawn, and that was enough time for Buffy to get there and grab him.
"What the hell are you doing?" she demanded, yanking him away from the door.
Anya sat up on the couch, rubbing her eyes sleepily. "What's going on?"
"I want to leave," Spike said, struggling ineffectively against Buffy's hold.
"Spike, it's the middle of the day!" Dawn called down to him, her voice squeaky with fear. Xander put a hand on her shoulder, a combination of comfort and restraint.
"Oh," Spike said, sounding kind of confused.
"Come on, you've got to get back in the bathtub." Buffy guided Spike back up the stairs; he looked disoriented, but he didn't resist her. Anya lay back down on the couch and pulled the blanket up over her eyes. Xander and Dawn stood aside to let Buffy and Spike into the bathroom first.
When he saw the tub, Spike froze. "No," he said, standing rigid in the middle of the bathroom.
"Yes," Buffy insisted impatiently, pushing him towards the tub.
"No! Get the fuck away from me!" Spike tried to wrench out of Buffy's grasp, but Buffy held on, looking grimly determined, and pushed him towards the tub again.
"It's for your own good," she said, twisting his arm to try to get him under control, but he threw his weight against her to break the hold.
Xander and Dawn pressed themselves back against the far wall of the hallway, staying out of the way as Buffy and Spike wrestled. Dawn swallowed audibly. "Do you think they're hurting each other?" she whispered.
Xander shook his head. "Nah, I think they're holding back. They haven't even punched any holes in the wall yet."
Spike seemed to get tired quickly; there were only a few more seconds of struggle before Buffy shoved him towards the tub again and he didn't push back, only begged, "No, Buffy, stop," wide-eyed and desperate. "It's so fucking cold, I can't—" The backs of his knees hit against the edge of the tub and he lost his balance. With flailing arms he grabbed the shower curtain, but instead of holding him up the whole rail came crashing down. Spike bounced off the edge of the tub and landed in a heap under the shower curtain on the tile floor.
"Fuck," Buffy swore with a glance at the holes in the plaster where the shower rail had come loose—and then shot a guilty look back at Dawn. "You didn't hear that."
Spike threw the curtain off and started to try to get up.
"Oh no you don't!" Buffy jumped on top of Spike to pin him down; she straddled him, sitting on his hips and holding his wrists over his head.
"Get the fuck off me!" Spike snarled, legs and head thrashing in a futile attempt to throw Buffy off. Xander wondered why he wasn't in game face by now.
"If you don't get in the tub right now, I'm going to knock you out first and then put you in," Buffy threatened.
Xander glanced sideways at Dawn; she looked pale and horrified. He poked her in the ribs and whispered "Good thing Buffy never tried to get work as a nursing aide, huh?" He was rewarded by a faint smile and a stifled snort of laughter.
Meanwhile, Spike had changed his tone from threatening to begging. "Please, Buffy, just let me go. I'm so cold." He sounded like he was about to start crying, which was really fucking disturbing.
Dawn pushed off the wall. "Let me try." She went into the bathroom and knelt down beside Spike. With a glance up at Buffy, as if asking for permission, she brushed at the damp hair that was plastered to Spike's forehead. The touch got his attention; he turned to look at her.
"Spike, I know you think you're cold, but you're actually really, really hot," Dawn said. Her voice was a little too bright, and Xander knew she was trying to hide how scared she was. He reminded himself that Dawn was the only one of them who actually thought of Spike as a friend. "Willow says if you get too hot, you'll burn up," she went on, "same as if you went out in the sun or caught on fire. Everybody's trying to figure out what's wrong, but the only way to keep you safe for now is for you to stay in the cold water, okay?"
Spike gazed at her for a long moment, then whispered, "If you say so, Niblet."
"You'll get in the bath?" Buffy said. "No more fighting?"
Buffy climbed off Spike, giving her sister a complicated look. Spike sat up, then sagged against the side of the tub. "Bloody hell. Little help here, Slayer?"
"Um, sure." Buffy hooked her hands under Spike's shoulders, and pulled him to his feet. Just then the doorbell rang. "Anya'll get it," Buffy muttered absently, shifting her hold on Spike so she could lift his legs up over the edge of the tub. She lowered him down into the water; he winced as it closed over his bare chest.
"We should take his temperature again," Dawn suggested, hovering just behind Buffy with the lab thermometer in her hand.
"Yeah," Buffy agreed, "that's a good—"
She was interrupted by a sound like a gunshot from downstairs. A woman screamed—Anya, it had to be Anya—and the scream was cut off by a second gunshot.
Xander felt like his heart stopped.
He was barely aware of Buffy pushing past him, snapping "stay here!" at him and Dawn. That wasn't an order he could follow. He ran down the stairs after Buffy, he saw Warren backlit by sunlight in the open front door, Warren with a gun. Buffy threw herself at Warren in a football-style tackle. The gun went off again and Xander heard the bullet smash into the plaster just behind his head, but that wasn't important, all that was important was Anya. Anya on the floor beside the coffee table, eyes wide, chest covered with blood.
"Oh God, oh fuck, Ahn, no." Xander fell to his knees beside Anya and pressed his fingers to the side of her neck, searching desperately for a pulse. "Be all right Ahn, just be all right, I'll make everything better, I promise..."
Anya blinked. "Ouch! That hurt!" she exclaimed, her voice surprisingly strong. Then she sat up. "Warren shot me!" she exclaimed, sounding more pissed off than injured.
"Ahn, you're okay!" Xander felt shaky with relief. The bullets must've just grazed her....
"This is getting seriously not-funny," Buffy said, pinning Warren up against the wall and nudging the gun away with a cautious toe. "You are so going to jail this time, robot-boy." She turned to give a worried glance over at Xander and Anya. "What happened, Anya? How bad are you hurt?"
"Oh, I'm all right," Anya said brightly. "More scared than anything."
But Xander'd had time by now to get a better look at Anya's chest; not only was her shirt soaked with blood, but there was a clear bullet hole just to the left of center.
She saw him looking, and crossed her arms over her chest to hide the hole. She glared at him.
"Ahn..." he said quietly, feeling the tight ball of fear and confusion start to form in his stomach again, "What happened?"
"You left me at the alter, that's what happened."
"What do you mean?" he asked, but he was afraid he already knew.
"D'Hoffryn gave me a second chance, and I took it," she said, lifting her chin in defiance against his look of horror.
Xander stood up, stumbling backwards away from her. Behind him, Buffy said in a shocked tone, "You're a demon again?"
Xander heard a gasp from the top of the stairs; he looked up and saw Dawn, Willow and Tara gathered there.
Anya stood up, too. "Well you don't have to sound so disappointed; if I wasn't a demon, I'd be dead now."
Buffy hesitated. "Okay, we'll talk about this later. For now, we've got to deal with Warren."
The next twenty minutes or so passed in a haze for Xander. The police came, took statements from everyone in the house (except Spike, who stayed hidden in the bathroom), and took Warren away in handcuffs. Warren seemed depressed and completely defeated; he didn't say a word to contradict Buffy's story about him arriving at the house with a gun and taking a couple of wild shots before Xander managed to knock the gun out of his hand and knock him to the floor.
Xander was afraid to look at Anya. He couldn't stop thinking about all the gruesome, awful things she'd told him she'd done to men when she had her powers before. Now she had them again—why wasn't he covered in oozing boils yet?
As soon as the police left, Willow turned to the others and said "Scooby meeting. Bathroom. Now." Buffy nodded, like she'd been thinking the same thing. Anya looked reluctant, but Buffy took her elbow with a light touch and a grim face. It was pretty clear that the subject of this Scooby meeting was going to be 'What do we do about Anya being a demon again?'
Spike was huddled shivering in the bathtub with his arms around his knees. "C-coppers all gone, then?" he asked through chattering teeth as Dawn, Buffy and Xander came into the bathroom.
"Yeah, and Warren's under arrest. That should be the last we see of him," Xander said hopefully. He noticed that Anya hesitated at the door to the bathroom, but Buffy tugged her in, and Willow and Tara stayed just outside the door looking almost like guards. He wondered why this meeting had to be in the bathroom—it wasn't like Spike would have anything useful to contribute.
"So, Anya, um, now that we know you have your powers back, do you have anything else you'd like to tell us?" Willow asked; she looked worried, and a little angry.
Spike started to attention at that, splashing water over the edge of the tub. "You have your b-bloody powers back!? Since when? D-did you d-do this to me?"
Oh, hell. Xander understood now why Willow and Buffy had wanted to confront Anya in front of Spike—it was about Spike.
Anya hugged herself tight, looking miserable, and didn't answer. Willow spoke up instead, softly. "It'd be an awfully big coincidence, wouldn't it? Anya's the patron vengeance demon of scorned women...and Spike got sick right after he, um, scorned Buffy."
"B-bloody hell, Anya, th-that's not p-playing fair." Spike looked more hurt than angry.
"I don't get it, though," Buffy said. "I've been thinking about it for the past half hour, and I'm sure I never used the W-I-S-H word in front of you."
"We've all been pretty careful about that word lately," Dawn agreed.
Anya was still standing tight and defensive with her arms wrapped around herself and her jaw clenched. Xander knew that look. Even if she was a demon again, she was still Anya. "Come on, Ahn, just tell us what's going on and we can all fix it together. Nobody's mad at you."
"Speak f-for yourself, mate." Spike splashed around like he was trying to stand up, but he fell back into the tub, coughing. Anya winced, watching him.
"It wasn't Buffy's wish," she said finally, pushing the words out fast. "It was Spike's."
"Huh?" Buffy said exactly what Xander was thinking.
Anya rubbed her arms absently as she spoke. "Just before Spike came to the Magic Box that day, Halfrek gave me a lecture about how I shouldn't be so sexist, men need vengeance sometimes too. And then when Spike came in, it was coming off him in waves. I could've felt it from the other side of California if I'd been looking for it...."
"I wasn't looking for vengeance!" Spike protested.
Anya shook her head. "No, no, that's not how it works. If a woman's actually looking for vengeance, she doesn't need a demon, she can do it herself. There are ways, you know. I wasn't a demon yet when I nailed Olaf's—" Anya glanced at Dawn and stopped herself with a rare display of tact. "Never mind. The point is, I go to women who've been hurt by men and don't know what to do about it. Then I enact vengeance. So really, I'm kind of like a social worker," she added brightly.
"But if this is Spike's wish, how come he's the one who's sick?" Tara asked from her place in the doorway, just as Spike sneezed.
"Yeah, I'd like t-to know th-that," Spike muttered, sniffling.
"Don't you remember what you wished?" Anya asked him.
His eyes widened. "Oh, bloody h-hell."
"Well, what was it?" Buffy asked impatiently.
Spike scowled and didn't answer, so Anya told her. "He wished he was more human, so you could love him. Not the greatest start for a vengeance curse, but hey, like D'Hoffryn always says, it's the interpretation that counts."
Spike glared at Anya. "Th-this is not what I m-meant."
Her voice took on a defensive edge again. "Hey, if you want your wish to turn out all puppies and butterflies, you tell it to your fairy godmother, not a vengeance demon. You don't think Dawn wanted all Buffy's friends to be trapped in the house forever with a phase-shifting demon, do you? Or that Cordelia wanted Sunnydale to be taken over by vampires?"
"Huh?" Buffy interrupted. "Cordelia wished what?"
"Oh." Anya looked vague for a moment. "It was a thing, alternate timeline, remember the vampire Willow?"
Spike coughed. "C-could we get back to wh-what's important h-here? Anya, I t-take back the wh-wish. I don't wish it. Just f-fix me, okay?"
Anya frowned. She turned towards Spike, and her eyes flashed purple, and for a brief, terrifying moment Xander glimpsed her demon face—purple and ridged. Beside him, Dawn backed as far away from Anya as she could in the small space. Then Anya looked normal again, and she shook her head. "No, you wouldn't like that timeline. It's better this way."
Spike sneezed again, and shivered. "I d-don't see h-how it could b-be worse than th-this."
"For one thing, at this point in that timeline Tara is dead."
Willow gasped audibly. Xander turned instinctively to look at Tara; he saw Willow gripping her hand so hard her knuckles were white. Tara looked troubled. "So we trade my life for Spike's?" she asked.
"If we have to," Willow said, in a tone that made the hairs on the back of Xander's neck stand up. He didn't want to know what Willow had done after Tara died in that other timeline.
"But Anya, can't you just end the curse?" Dawn said. "The way Halfrek ended the stuck-in-the-house curse after she got caught in it?"
"Oh, the end is built in. It's up to Buffy to end it."
Buffy frowned. "Well why didn't you just say so?! What do I have to do?"
"You have to feel bad for how you've treated Spike, and then you have to kiss him to break the curse," Anya explained, sounding oddly defiant.
"That's it?" Buffy asked, incredulous. "Great, okay, I'm sorry for whatever it was that I did." She leaned over Spike and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. "Feel better?"
Spike shook his head, and turned towards the wall to sneeze. "haasshoo! isshoo!"
Dawn rolled her eyes at her sister. "Oh come on, Buffy, that was the worst apology ever."
Anya tilted her chin up. "You can't cheat a vengeance demon, Buffy. I know what you did to Spike. You can't break the curse until you honestly acknowledge it, and feel appropriately sorry. Now if you'll excuse me, a woman in San Francisco just caught her husband in bed with his secretary." And with a pop, she disappeared.
Dawn looked puzzled, and a bit angry. "What did she mean, Buffy? What did you do to Spike?"
"It wh-wasn't th-that b-bad," Spike choked out between chattering teeth before he sneezed again. "Ehtchoo!"
"What wasn't that bad?" Dawn insisted, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at her sister.
Buffy groaned. "Okay, now I'm starting to understand how this is a vengeance curse on me. God, what am I supposed to say? Sorry I broke up with you for being evil?"
"No, I was wrong," Dawn said. "That was the worst apology ever."
"Aaaachooo!" Spike sneezed again. "C-could s-someb-body g-get me a f-fucking t-tissue?"
"I'll get it," Willow said, and headed for her bedroom.
"I don't think it's about saying you're sorry," Tara said, ducking her eyes and blushing. "I think it's more about really meaning it. But Anya had no right to do this."
Buffy looked at Spike and sighed. "Hey, I guess I'm just lucky she didn't turn me into a troll."
Spike made a strangled noise that might have been a laugh if he hadn't been shivering so hard. "L-like t-to see th-that—hachoo!"
Willow came into the bathroom and held a kleenex box out to Spike. He reached out a dripping, shaking hand, ripped a tissue from the box, and pressed it over his mouth and nose in time to catch another sneeze.
Tara stepped into the bathroom too, and tapped Xander on the arm. "Do you think the chip's going to go off again?" she asked in an undertone.
"Oh shit," Xander whispered, "I forgot about that."
"Why would the chip fire?" Buffy asked; as usual, they'd forgotten about her super Slayer-hearing. "I don't think Spike's about to hurt anybody."
Spike sneezed again, and Xander gave him a worried look. Spike was hunched miserably over the tissue, and it looked like he was trying to hold back another sneeze. Xander really didn't want to see him go through another series of chip attacks. "It happened the other day," he explained. "He had a sneezing fit and after a while the chip started firing every time he sneezed."
"Hehchoo!" Spike balled up the kleenex and tossed it in the general direction of the trash can. "F-fuck th-this," he said, and slid down so his head was underwater.
"Do you think that'll work?" Buffy asked, leaning over the tub curiously.
Xander came closer so he could see too. Underwater, Spike's eyes were closed. He'd have looked peaceful, except he was shivering so hard he was churning up the water. Then suddenly his head snapped forward, and a couple big bubbles sprang to the surface. Spike surfaced a moment later, choking and gasping.
"Didn't work," Xander observed.
"I didn't know it was possible to sneeze underwater," Buffy said, sounding awestruck.
"Hiishhoo!" Spike sneezed again.
"We've got to do something!" Dawn said, bouncing on her toes in anxiety. "Buffy, can't you just feel sorry for whatever it is?"
"Dawn, honey, that's kind of a complicated thing," Willow said.
"Maybe we should let him warm up again," Tara suggested. "He wasn't sneezing or coughing last night when his temperature was around 140."
"Haachoo!" Spike sneezed, then slammed his head against the side of the tub with a strangled scream.
"Oh shit, it's happening again." Xander looked to Buffy, but she wasn't making a move; she was watching Spike with a horrified expression. "Okay, we try Tara's idea. Now. Buffy, get Spike out of the tub."
That was enough to snap Buffy into action. She grabbed Spike under his shoulders and pulled him out onto the floor. He lay where she dropped him, limp and panting. "Xander, get one of the big towels from the linen closet. Tara, Willow, get Dawn out of here."
"Hey!" Dawn protested in a voice near tears. "I care about Spike, you know, probably more than you do!"
Spike sneezed again, a muffled "tchhh!" against his fist, and then screamed. He slammed his head against the floor and Buffy grabbed him to stop him from doing it again.
"I know you care about Spike," Buffy said to Dawn. "That's why I don't want you to see this. I promise I will fix this, but I need you to be somewhere else, okay?!"
Xander started scrubbing Spike dry with the towel. Where his fingers brushed Spike's flesh, he felt that it was icy cold. When he looked towards the door again, Willow, Tara and Dawn were all gone.
Spike gasped as if he was about to sneeze again, and Buffy pressed her finger under his nose. For a second it looked like it had worked, but then he sneezed violently, his upper body jerking forward out of her arms. Then he fell back, clutching his head. "Ow ow ow ow oooow. Fuck. Just knock me out, Buffy, pleeeease," he moaned.
"No! I can't do that!" Buffy turned to Xander. "Can I? I mean, should I?"
"Dammit." Xander grabbed another kleenex from the box. "Let me have him, this worked before." Buffy moved aside and Xander slid into her place, supporting Spike's upper body. He planted the tissue over Spike's nose and said "Blow."
"C-can't" Spike gasped. "hetchooo!" Xander held on as tight as he could as Spike writhed in the agony of the chip attack. When Spike went limp, Xander put the tissue over his nose again.
"You can do it. Just breathe out hard through your nose. You did it before."
Spike took a breath, coughed, tried again, and this time Xander felt and heard the congestion clearing out of Spike's nose.
"Again," Xander said, and Spike blew again; it sounded clear this time. Xander wiped Spike's nose clean with a corner of the kleenex, then tossed the thing into the trash.
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Wow, that was gross."
Xander stared at her. "I'm sorry, should I have let you knock him out instead?"
Buffy sank to her knees and winced. "Sorry, I was just trying to be funny. It didn't work." Looking at Spike, she touched her upper lip. "Is that normal?"
Xander was confused for a second, then he looked down at Spike's face. There was a dribble of blood coming out of his left nostril. "Uh, no," Xander said, "That didn't happen last time. Spike, are you okay?"
Spike didn't answer. His eyes were closed, and he was limp but shivering. Then he made a strange high-pitched noise, sort of like a hiccup.
"Spike?" Buffy tried. "Can you hear me?"
He made the sound again, and again, and suddenly Xander realized what it was—Spike was crying.
Spike opened his eyes, which glittered wet. "Buffy, go away," he said, the words low and distinct.
"I can't go away," Buffy said, looking like she was about to start crying herself, "I have to break the curse."
Xander shook his head. He thought he understood this much, at least: Spike didn't want Buffy to stick around and watch him cry. "I think you should go, Buff. Hang out in the kitchen and try to figure out what Anya was talking about. I'll come get you when Spike's ready."
A tear slid down Buffy's cheek. She stood up but hesitated at the door, looking back at Spike and Xander. "How could Anya do this to us?"
"I don't know, Buff," Xander said, trying not to think too hard about it—they were still in the middle of a crisis here, there wasn't time yet to mourn Anya. "I don't know her anymore."
Buffy left. As soon as she was gone, Spike let out the breath he'd been holding in a ragged sob. He rolled away from Xander and curled up on the floor, weeping, with his hands pressed over his face to muffle the sound.
Xander felt pretty fucking awkward. He sat there on the floor next to Spike, waiting for him to stop, wondering if he should say something. Wondering, too, why Spike hadn't told him to go away along with Buffy. He knew for a fact that Spike didn't like or trust him...maybe it was just that Spike didn't care what Xander thought of him.
When Spike finally was quiet, Xander tapped him on the back and nudged the Kleenex box toward him. Spike rolled over, took a tissue and blew his nose. His eyes were red-rimmed and his nose was tinged pink. He looked so human, Xander was tempted to prop him up in front of the bathroom mirror to see if he cast a reflection.
"C-could be worse," Spike said through chattering teeth. "Least A-angel's n-not h-here to see."
"Yeah, hey, I'm with you on that one." Xander stood up. "Any day without Angel is a good day, right?"
"Wait here a minute, okay?" Xander figured that if Spike had to warm up, he'd probably be better off in one of the bedrooms than in a puddle on the bathroom floor. First, though, Xander had to check that the curtains were closed against the midday sun.
The idea of Spike in Buffy's or Dawn's bed was just too creepy, so Xander decided to take him to Willow's room. He figured that Willow couldn't exactly complain, not after the way she'd volunteered the Magic Box for a vampire infirmary the other day.
Spike was able to walk to the bedroom with just a little support from Xander. His boots squished with every step. "Gonna have to take those off," Xander noted. "The jeans, too."
Spike sank to the floor at the side of Willow's bed, and fumbled with his laces. After watching Spike swear at his shaking hands for a minute or so, Xander said "Let me do it."
Spike let his hands fall away. He leaned his head against the side of the bed, and watched Xander undo his boots for him. Once they were loose, Xander tugged them off with difficulty. Spike wasn't wearing any socks, and the wet leather seemed to have shrunk around his feet.
"Um, can you take your jeans off?" Xander asked.
Spike closed his eyes momentarily, and grimaced. "'Fraid n-not, mate."
"Right," Xander sighed, "Didn't think so." He quickly undid Spike's belt and fly, and tugged the jeans down past his hips, then all the way off.
Spike looked annoyingly good, naked; all lean, well-toned muscle and pale, perfect skin. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, getting turned into a vampire was a pretty sweet deal.
Suddenly Spike sneezed; all the sharply-defined muscles in his chest went tense at once as he rocked forward with the force of it. Xander held his breath and waited to see if the chip would fire; Spike leaned his head against the bed again with a tired expression, but he didn't look like he was in pain.
"No chip?" Xander asked, just to confirm.
Spike shook his head. "Must've re-s-set. I—" He broke off, coughing.
"Okay, time to get you to bed," Xander said. He lifted Spike straight up off the floor and onto the bed. He'd forgotten to pull the covers back first, so he laid Spike down on top of the comforter and then pulled the sides of it up over him. "How 'bout I go get Buffy now."
Spike shook his head. "Not r-ready."
"Right. You must be tired." Xander took a step toward the door. "I'll let you sleep, then..."
But Spike shook his head again. "Buffy's not ready."
"What do you mean?" Xander went back towards the bed; Spike's voice was rough and low, hard to hear from across the room.
"I get what demon girl's tryin' to do. She really is tryin' to help. Thinks Buffy'll feel bad for me bein' sick, and that'll...change things." He coughed. "Makes sense in a twisted, female kind of way, don't it?"
Xander felt his throat clench shut at mention of Anya. He tried to steel himself against the feeling. "I think the operative word is 'demon,' not 'female.'"
"Whatever," Spike mumbled, and coughed again.
Xander suddenly realized that Spike wasn't shivering so hard anymore; he was talking without his teeth chattering. "Hey, are you getting warm already?"
"Still feel cold."
Xander sat on the edge of the bed so that he could lay his hand on Spike's forehead. The vampire felt just a little bit cooler than a human should.
"You're warming up fast. If you get too hot, you'll have to go back in the tub."
Spike shuddered dramatically. "I'd rather burn."
Xander snorted. "Wuss. I thought vampires were supposed to be tough."
Spike coughed, then turned his head to gaze steadily at Xander. "Tell you a secret, mate. I'm a shite excuse for a vampire."
"Um..." Xander's automatic reflex was to say something comforting, but it didn't really seem appropriate. What would he say? No, really, you used to be pretty scary?
"I mean, it took a soul to turn Angelus into the slayer's bitch," Spike went on. "What's my excuse? And I'll tell you something else. When I said that thing to Anya, you know, wishing I was more human? I was thinking about a soul. I was thinking that maybe if I had a fucking soul, Buffy'd change her mind about me."
God, that was a mind-bend. Spike had nearly wished for a soul in front of Anya—and she might even have been able to give him one, if she'd thought it was vengeance-y enough. Which it probably was; Spike had made it clear often enough that getting a soul was a fate considerably worse than death for a vampire.
"What is this, death-bed confessions?" Xander asked, covering up his confusion with a joking tone.
"More'n likely, yeah." The comforter around Spike's shoulders moved in a way suggestive of a shrug. "Buffy's not going to be able to do what Anya wants." He coughed weakly.
Xander sighed, and buried his face in his hands. "Christ, this is—I'm not going to say all my fault, but, okay, mostly my fault."
"How's that, mate?"
"Anya's mad at me for breaking up with her, so she gets mad at Buffy for breaking up with you, so she uses her demon powers—which she only has because I screwed up—to make you sick so that Buffy'll feel bad, when what she really wants is for me to feel bad."
"Hey, chin up. It's not all about you, y'know."
Spike's tone was sort of comforting, which was unexpected enough to get Xander to lift his head and look at the vampire.
"She was a demon for more'n a thousand years before you met her," Spike went on, his voice hoarse but gentle. "You can't change that in a year or two."
"Yeah. Well." Xander's throat got tight; he was not ready to take sympathy from Spike. He needed to get out of the room, now.
Buffy was in the kitchen, leaning against the back door and gazing out the window. She turned around when Xander came in. "How is he?"
Xander shrugged, and forced himself to sound casual. "Warming up. He's still conscious and not shaking so hard anymore, so I thought it'd be a good time to get some blood in him. Assuming the plan is still to try to help him?"
Buffy gave a wan half-smile. "Yeah, that's still the plan. Such as it is."
"Where's Dawn?" Xander opened the fridge. There was still a half-full jar of pig's blood in the back.
"Willow and Tara took her to a movie."
"That's good." Xander decanted the pig's blood into a mug with a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on it. "Willow might be a bit annoyed when she finds out there's a naked vampire in her bed..." Buffy's eyes went wide. Shit. Xander wished he could take back the 'naked vampire' remark. "Uh, how are you doing?"
"Oh, staring out the window, thinking." She glanced toward the window again, as though something out there might actually help them.
Xander slammed the fridge door shut. "This...this fucking sucks, Buffy. I'm sorry you got involved in this. I'm the one who hurt Anya, and she's taking it out on you...on Spike."
"Huh?" The connection apparently wasn't any more obvious to Buffy than it had been to Spike.
"She wants you to feel sorry for breaking up with Spike because she really wants me to feel sorry for breaking up with her."
"Oh." Buffy absently nibbled on her thumbnail, looking troubled. "Yeah, I guess there could be some projection-y things going on, but..."
Xander stuck the mug in the microwave and set it for thirty seconds. "But what?"
"I did some bad things to Spike," Buffy said in a small voice. "I didn't mean to, but it just..."
"What are you talking about?" Xander went over and put his hand on Buffy's shoulder; she looked so lost.
"I, um, hurt him sometimes."
"Okay, but..." Xander was starting to get a weird feeling in his stomach. "You're the slayer. He's a vampire. He's lucky you didn't dust him years ago." The microwave dinged, but Xander didn't move.
"But he stopped fighting back, and I didn't...sometimes I was just so angry at everything else ..." Buffy's hand on the window ledge was clutched into a white-knuckled fist. "Remember how he came to my birthday party with a black eye? I did that to him. And then I didn't want to see it, didn't want to see him, but he came, and he had a stupid present for me, and then there was that curse and nobody could leave and I couldn't get away from it, I had to keep facing him." Her voice broke, and she pressed her face against Xander's shoulder.
He rubbed her back, feeling confused and a little disturbed. "Shhh, Buffy, it's okay. He's a vampire. A few bruises, that's nothing. You broke his spine that one time, and he's fine now." But Xander knew there was a difference between crushing Spike in a Slayers-vs-Vampires battle royale and what Buffy seemed to be describing now. Even if Spike was still an evil creature, they'd all decided it wasn't fair to hurt him when he couldn't fight back.
Buffy pulled away, rubbing her eyes. "You should take the blood up before it congeals."
Spike was asleep. Xander debated letting him get some rest, but decided blood was probably more important, so he gently shook Spike's shoulder.
Spike woke up coughing. "What?" he croaked.
"Blood." Xander started to hand the mug to Spike, then realized that would just result in a nasty stain on Willow's nice blue comforter. "Here, I'll set you up." He put the mug down on the bedside table, then propped a couple pillows against the headboard, and tugged Spike into a semi-sitting position with his shoulders resting against the pillows. Spike didn't protest the handling, and he didn't move from where Xander put him. His eyes were dark hollows, and his cheekbones stood out even more sharply than usual; he definitely needed some blood.
Luckily, Xander'd thought ahead to put a straw in the mug. He held the tip up to Spike's mouth now, and Spike opened his lips to accept it. He didn't lift a hand to take the mug, so Xander held it there for him. Spike took a couple slow sips, then turned his head aside to cough. Xander tried to get the straw back in his mouth when he stopped coughing, but Spike shook his head and kept his lips closed.
"Uh, are you okay?" Xander asked.
"Fuck off, Harris." He closed his eyes; his eyelids looked fragile with their faint webs of blue veins visible through the translucent skin.
"Hey, I'm just trying to help here. Do you want the blood, or not?"
Spike shook his head. "Feel like I'm gonna sick up," he whispered.
"Oh. Oh, shit." Xander put the mug down and looked around for something he could use as a basin if Spike actually started to puke; there was a plastic trash can next to the bed that would do in a pinch. "Right now?"
"Nah, it's okay," Spike said, a bit stronger. "S'okay if I don't move."
"Right. Okay." Xander hesitated, unsure what to do next. He touched Spike's forehead; he was starting to feel hot. "I think I should get Buffy now."
Spike opened his eyes. "No."
"Look, I think she might be able to break the curse now. She told me about...what she did to you before her birthday party. She cried, Spike. She definitely feels sorry about it."
Spike frowned. "What's that, then?"
"You don't even remember? See, I told Buffy a few bruises wouldn't matter to a vampire...this whole curse is so stupid."
"Oh, that." Understanding flickered in Spike's eyes. "Nah, I don't think that's Anya's big thing. I deserved that beating—tried to get between the Slayer and her righteous self-sacrifice."
"Tried to stop her from turning herself in over killing what's-'er-name. Warren's girl."
"Oh." Xander cringed. "Christ, if I'd known Buffy was going to the police I would've tried to stop her my—" He cut himself off and stared at Spike. "But that was over a week before the birthday party."
"So?" Spike said disinterestedly, his eyelids heavy.
"So, you heal fast. You barely had a black eye a week after Glory worked you over." Xander swallowed, and asked quietly, "What the hell did Buffy do to you?"
Spike's eyes opened wide. "Bloody hell, don't take that tone—it wasn't her fault. She was terrified. She thought she'd killed a girl. She needed to hit...someone...and I heal, don't I?"
Xander stood up fast, and walked over to the window. He was feeling a strong urge to hit something himself, but if he put a hole in the plaster he knew he'd just have to repair it. This was all wrong and confusing and wrong...Spike was evil, Buffy was good, it was supposed to be that simple. Spike making excuses for Buffy beating him to a pulp was not simple.
"Okay," Xander said finally, still looking through the crack between the drapes at the green backyard, "What do you think Anya wants Buffy to acknowledge?"
"Dunno, really," Spike admitted. "Maybe just keeping me her dirty little secret for so long. I kept asking her to tell the rest of you about us..."
Xander felt his fingernails digging into his palm. He made one last attempt to fit this into his sane, proper, hopelessly decaying Spike-is-bad world view. "Why? So that you could show off your conquest? You couldn't kill this Slayer, so you fucked her?"
"Yeah," Spike agreed in a sharp, hurt tone. "Sure. That was it."
It struck too damn close to home; Xander couldn't help but see the parallel to the way he'd made Anya hide their engagement from the rest of the group for those long months. Not because the time wasn't right, as he'd told her then, but because he was afraid that telling his friends would make it real.
This wasn't exactly the same, though. He'd been afraid to make it real because deep down, he knew he wasn't good enough for Anya. He had a feeling that Buffy's reasons were different.
Suddenly Xander heard retching noises behind him. He spun around, swearing, and saw that Spike had rolled over so his head hung over the side of the bed away from Xander. Xander ran to him, grabbing the garbage can on the way, but when he got to Spike's side he saw nothing was coming up, even though Spike was still shaking with dry heaves. There was a tiny puddle of red on the floor underneath him—that'd be the two sips of blood he'd taken a few minutes ago.
"Shhh, you're gonna be okay," Xander soothed meaninglessly, rubbing Spike's back. The comforter had fallen away when he'd rolled over, and his skin was hot and slick with sweat. When a few seconds passed in silence, he asked, "Is it over?"
Spike's head bobbed; hoping that was a nod, Xander rolled him back onto the bed. Spike was panting with shallow breaths, and he stared blankly at the ceiling.
"If you were human, I'd offer you a glass of water," Xander commented awkwardly. "Um, Spike? You still with me?"
"Yeah." Spike's reply was faint.
"Damn, Spike. This isn't good." Moving on instinct, Xander sat the bed next to Spike and laid his hand along the side of Spike's face, feeling the heat and the sweat. Spike made a non-verbal sound deep in his throat, a sort of animal whimper, and turned his head enough so his cheek pressed against Xander's hand. Xander responded by moving his hand back towards the hairline, smoothing the hair away from Spike's face. The gel was completely gone now; his hair was soft and it clung to his head in loose, damp curls. Xander ran his fingers through Spike's hair, and watched Spike's expression soften; fine lines of tension at the corners of his eyes and mouth disappeared at Xander's touch. This was wrong, this was bad; why was Xander feeling tender and protective towards a vampire who'd tried to kill him on multiple occasions? Xander pulled his hand away, and watched the tension lines return. "I'm going to get Buffy. It's time to end this."
Buffy hesitated at the bedroom door. "Is he asleep?"
Before Xander could answer, Spike opened his eyes. "No, just waiting for you." He pulled himself into something closer to a sitting position, propped up against the pillows. The sheet Xander had draped over him slid an inch or two down his belly, but kept him decently covered. Not that Buffy hadn't seen Spike naked before, but Xander didn't want to think about that.
Spike seemed magically better than he had a couple minutes ago; Xander guessed it was some kind of vampire willpower trick. Not wanting to look so weak in front of Buffy, probably. Xander could get that, it was a guy thing.
Buffy still hadn't crossed the threshold into the room. Spike was very still, his fever-bright gaze locked on her.
"Hey, um, so I guess you two have a lot to talk about." Xander started to edge back out of the room.
"Stay." Spike spoke quietly, almost a whisper.
Buffy made a quick, startled motion, glancing at Xander then back at Spike. "What, you think we need a chaperone?"
"Never mind." Spike rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, sniffling. "Send the boy away, then, if you want to."
Buffy turned to Xander, her cheeks a bit flushed. "I'd rather do this alone, okay?"
There was a pack of cards sitting on the coffee table in the living room. Xander decided to play solitaire; instead he found himself sitting tense on the edge of the couch, shuffling the deck over and over. He tried to tell himself he wasn't worried; Spike couldn't hurt Buffy, after all.
When a tentative inner voice suggested Xander might be worried about Spike, the thought got squished pretty damn fast.
Despite his very firm not worrying about what was going on overhead, when he heard shouting he threw the cards down and hurried upstairs. The bedroom door was ajar, and he stopped outside to listen before bursting in and maybe just making a fool of himself.
"I never did love you, Spike, that's the whole point!" Buffy was shouting.
The apology thing wasn't going too well, apparently.
"Oh yeah?" Spike's voice was only a little softer than Buffy's, though it sounded painfully hoarse. "Then tell me why you didn't like me bringing a date to the wedding."
"Do you know how childish that was, trying to make me jealous like that? You have the emotional maturity of a three-year-old."
"At least I bloody well admit to how I feel."
"What you feel isn't love. It's obsession, it's want, it's lust—you're not capable of love!"
Xander wondered if he should clear his throat to let them know he was out here, or go back downstairs, or burst into the room and try to stop them from fighting. And yet he stood there, doing nothing.
"That's not true." Spike's voice was quieter now; Xander had to strain to hear it. "I do love you, and I know you felt it sometimes, when we were together."
"What I felt was disgust at how low I'd sunk," Buffy said. Xander cringed; that was harsh. He'd never seen this side of Buffy before. "Being with you was killing me, Spike, and I don't know what the hell Anya expects me to say to you now but I'm not sorry I ended it."
"If I'm just an evil thing, you might as well stake me." There was bitter acceptance in Spike's tone.
"You're not a threat, Spike. Not with the chip."
"Not worth saving, though."
"I tried! I kissed you, didn't I? But I'm tired of playing Anya's game. I'm sorry I hurt you that time, but I'm not sorry I don't love you."
"Go on then, and leave me the fuck alone."
Before Xander had time to get out of the way, Buffy came through the door and nearly slammed into him. Her face was flushed and her eyes were wet. "Xander! What the h— were you listening to us?!" She shut the door quickly behind her, as though that would push the words back inside.
"A bit." Xander hooked his thumbs in his jean pockets, and avoided her eye. "No big deal, I have plenty of fight-ignoring experience from home, y'know?"
Buffy looked startled at being compared to Xander's parents. "This isn't the same. At all." Back in the bedroom, Spike sneezed. Buffy winced, and explained unnecessarily, "I don't think I broke the curse."
"So what now? You're not giving up, are you?"
Buffy hesitated, looking a bit unsettled. "Xander, since when do you care what happens to Spike? Hey, you haven't been possessed again, have you? Walked in on any demonic rituals lately? Seen any unexplained green flashes of light?"
Xander shrugged, because it was a good question actually and he didn't have an answer. "Could be a touch of the ol' Florence Nightingale syndrome," he admitted.
"You've been possessed by a bird lady?!"
"Uh...no." And now that he thought about it, the Nightingale thing was about falling in love with your patient, not just ceasing to hate him, so maybe it was better all around if Buffy had no idea what he was talking about. "Just you know how when you almost lose someone, you start thinking about all the non-evil things they've done in the past couple years?"
"He's still evil." Buffy said flatly.
"So why were you sleeping with him?"
She hugged herself, looking miserable. "It was a mistake. God, I can't—I can't deal with this now. I'm going...out." She pushed past Xander and ran down the stairs. She slammed the front door so hard Xander thought he could feel the shock wave.
No point in following her; he'd never catch up. So Xander went back into the bedroom.
"Hello, Florence," Spike greeted him, looking positively cheerful.
"Oh shit, you heard..."
"Vampire," Spike reminded him.
"All I meant was that I've worked so hard to keep your sorry ass alive the past few days, I feel like I've got a stake in it now." He paused, realizing what he'd just said. "Uh, bad word choice. Sorry."
Spike shrugged it off. "No worries. Know what you—hachshh!" He turned his head away from Xander when he sneezed. After, he didn't finish his sentence, just slumped further down on the pillows with a barely audible moan.
Spike was pretty well fucked if Buffy gave up on him, Xander realized. And Spike had to know it.
But Buffy wouldn't give up, would she? She'd just gone out to deal with things. She'd be back. And it was up to Xander to take care of Spike until then. He grabbed the Kleenex box from the shelf near the bed, and sat next to Spike on the bed. "Here, blow your nose. Don't want the chip going off again."
"Right." Spike's voice was hardly more than a whisper now. He took a tissue and blew his nose weakly without lifting his head off the pillow. He must've used up his energy reserves in the shouting match with Buffy.
"I heard the last bit between you and Buffy," Xander admitted. "Is that how things normally went between you two? When you were...together?"
"Nah, normally we'd be shagging like crazed weasels at this point," Spike said with a faint hint of a smile, watching Xander curiously for his reaction. Xander kept his face from twitching with an extreme force of will. "Couldn't get it up for her today, though, thanks to this bloody curse." He shivered, then brought the crumpled kleenex up to his nose just in time to muffle another sneeze. "Hashhoo!"
"Get it u— holy shit, is that why Buffy wanted me out of the room?"
"Nah, one thing just led to another after she kissed me, tryin' to break the curse."
Xander frowned, not liking the implications. "Did you...want to have sex with her?"
Spike gave a sharp laugh that turned into a cough. "Bloody hell, what do you think? Not the best day for it, but I'll take what I can get. Never really been about what I want, has it?" He sniffled, and seemed like he was about to sneeze again, but nothing happened. A moment later he added "Anyhow, couldn't do it. Think that pissed her off a bit, not that she'd admit it. She's always gotta play the innocent, make me make her do it so she can say after that it wasn't her fault...hehchoo!"
Xander pressed a fresh kleenex into Spike's hand and waited for him to blow his nose before he asked, "Does it bother you when she says you're evil?"
"I am evil," Spike said. Which wasn't actually an answer to the question.
"Oh, I know you used to be evil. But lately? Since before Glory, even, you've been fighting alongside the rest of us. Even last summer..."
Spike shivered. "You shouldn't have brought her back." He said it sadly, quietly—not an accusation, just a statement of fact.
"I know." Xander felt almost dizzy admitting it. Denial was an important coping mechanism, and difficult to let go of.
"No, you don't know. You don't know what she's been through this year, what she's been like. She hid it from all of you, didn't want to hurt you lot with the knowing. Even after the bloody la-la-la singalong, she went back to hiding it and you all let her, didn't want to face the truth. She came back wrong, Harris. There's darkness in her now, she's drowning in it. Only reason I had a chance with her—she needed someone she could let it out with. Someone it didn't matter how much she hurt."
Spike coughed then, listlessly covering his mouth with the tissue then letting his hand drop as if it was too heavy to hold up.
It made Xander a little nauseous, this realization that things were really deeply fucked up in a whole lot of ways, and an awful lot of it was at least partly his fault. Certainly more his fault than Spike's, who hadn't known about the plan to resurrect Buffy and who hadn't stood up Anya at the alter.
"You think it doesn't matter if she hurts you?" Xander asked, focusing on the last thing Spike said. One thing at a time. Deal with Spike now; deal with Buffy and Anya later.
"I mean, I'm still not so happy with this idea of you and Buffy in a relationship, but from the sound of it that's what it was, and..." Xander hesitated, not sure how to put it, not sure he could even believe he was saying this, "...she shouldn't have hurt you."
"You don't know what you're talking about, Harris, you should just shut up."
"No. Look at me, Spike," he said because the vampire had shut his eyes. "Okay. Look, I know a thing or two about fucked-up relationships, and fucked-up people, and I obviously don't have a right to cast the first stone but there's no one else here, so...Buffy had no right to treat you like that. I love her, and I wish I'd known how much she was hurting so maybe I could've helped, but that still doesn't give her the right to use you for sex and tell you you're disgusting and beat you up when she's feeling bad. That's not right. That's...abuse."
"Get real, Harris," Spike whispered, eyes still closed. "I know what abuse is. I lived with bloody Angelus for twenty years, didn't I? Buffy's just going through a bad time."
"Okay, you know what? Making excuses for her? Not helping." Since Spike still wasn't looking at him, Xander took his hand and squeezed it gently; he needed to connect with Spike somehow, make sure he was listening. "She needs real help. Grownup help. Giles-type help, maybe."
"The Watcher left," Spike pointed out. "No help there."
"He'll come back. When I tell him about this...he'll come back."
"hetchshh!....ehchshh!" Spike's hand jerked in Xander's each time he sneezed. Xander held his breath, waiting for the chip to fire, but Spike just swore under his breath—frustrated, not in pain.
"Here." Xander held out a fresh tissue for Spike. "You gotta stop sneezing."
Spike lifted his hand maybe an inch off the bed, then let it drop. "Too bloody tired," he whispered. "eh...etchshh!"
"It's okay, I'll help you." Xander held the tissue over Spike's nose. "Blow," he told him, keeping his voice light to hide his worry. It seemed like Spike was going downhill again; how long could he last like this?
Spike managed a weak blow; Xander waited another minute but he didn't sneeze again, so maybe it was all right. He wiped Spike's nose, and tossed the kleenex towards the garbage. Then he touched his palm to Spike's forehead; it was hot, and damp with sweat. "How are you feeling?"
Under Xander's hand, Spike shivered. He moved his lips, but no sound came out.
"Sorry, Spike, I couldn't hear you," Xander said quietly, gently stroking the side of Spike's cheek—he remembered Spike seemed to like that, before, and it had freaked him out a little but now he really, really just wanted to make Spike feel better, and it didn't seem like he could.
Spike licked his parched lips, and tried again. This time Xander heard one word in his whisper: "...scared...."
"God Spike, I'm sorry, I wish I could..." Xander broke off, because there really was nothing he could do. Spike was facing a slow and painful yet very imminent end to his unlife here, and Xander couldn't do much more than watch. "You should sleep, it might help."
Impulsively, Xander leaned over and brushed his lips against Spike's forehead. "I'll watch over you, I promise," he whispered, his lips still almost touching Spike's hot, pale skin.
Less than a minute later, Anya popped out of thin air at the foot of the bed. "Xander! What's going on here?"
Xander quickly put his finger to his lips. "Spike just went to sleep, I think. Things are bad, Anya, you've got to take the curse off."
"No I don't." The line between her eyebrows told Xander she was confused or worried. "It's already broken."
"Oh." Xander glanced down at Spike, confused. He felt the vampire's forehead and, yeah, he did seem a little cooler than a minute ago. "So Buffy...then it worked? Earlier? She thought it didn't."
"I know. She came to my store and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't nullify the curse." Anya crossed her arms, looking a bit indignant. "And while I was explaining to her about the rules governing legitimate use of vengeance demon powers, I felt the curse break!"
"So you, um, lost control of it?"
"No! Someone met the terminating conditions." She looked over her shoulder at the closed bedroom door. "Did Dawn come back? Tara?"
"No, no one's been here but me and Spike..." Then Xander's brain caught up. "Wait, it didn't have to be Buffy who broke the curse?"
"Well, no. It certainly would have been more satisfying from a vengeance standpoint, but—" She stopped, staring at Xander. "You kissed Spike?"
Xander felt his ears burning. "On the forehead!"
"Oh." She rubbed her arms thoughtfully. "Well, that would meet the technical condition...but only if you were feeling very affectionate towards Spike, and very sorry about the way Buffy treated him."
"Affectionate?" Xander felt his voice squeak a little. And then he glanced down at Spike, who really did look like he was resting easier now, and Xander realized that he was glad that Spike was safe. So, okay, a little affectionate. In a manly way. He looked back at Anya. "I'm sorry about...about what Buffy did to Spike, what we did to Buffy, what I did to you...God, Ahn, it's such a mess."
"I know," she said in a small voice, suddenly tight.
She looked lost, and he wanted to stand up and wrap his arms around her and tell her it'd all be okay...but he'd lost that right a while ago. And besides, it wasn't okay; she wasn't Anya anymore. She was Anyanka, a demon; no chip, no soul, and when Buffy had threatened her earlier she'd probably meant it.
"He'll be all right now. He just needs rest, and blood," Anya said, and Xander realized she meant Spike. "I didn't mean to hurt him, you know. It's just my job. I have to go."
She disappeared with a pop, and Xander stared at the spot as the afterimage faded from his eyeballs.
"You say something, pet?" Spike asked sleepily, blinking.
"It's just me here, Spike."
Xander hesitated, then put his hand over Spike's. "Go back to sleep. Anya fixed you up. You're going to be okay."
"That was right decent of her," Spike murmured, closing his eyes again.
Xander kissed Spike's forehead again—not sure why, it just felt right—and lay down beside him. It was only midafternoon, but Xander felt drained. Too much had happened today. There was too much that he had to do now, to start fixing everyone who was broken, and he didn't know how. He'd call Giles tomorrow morning, it was already the middle of the night in England. He'd talk to Buffy. He'd talk to Willow about that look in her eyes when she'd heard Tara'd died in the other timeline. He'd...make sure Spike was all right.
They were going to be all right.
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