"We've got a new player in town," Buffy said, standing in front of the group with her arms crossed over her chest. "Dresses like a preacher. Calls himself Caleb. Looks like he's working for the First. He's taunting us, calling us out. Says he's got something of mine. Could be another girl, could be something else. Don't know, don't care. I'm tired of talking. I'm tired of training. He's got something of mine? Fine. I'm getting it back, and you guys are coming with me."
That's how it had started. Xander had arrived at the Summers' house shortly after dark, having worked late and then rushed home for a quick shower. His hair was still damp on his neck as he stood listening to Buffy exhort the troops. He and Spike could only exchange small smiles from across the room as Buffy and Faith swept out to do some recon, leaving at least two dozen scared young girls looking to them for guidance. Sighing, Xander gestured for the other non-potentials to join him in sorting weapons and passing them out. He also corralled Rona and Kennedy, who were the strongest and toughest of the potentials, to help.
"Spike," he said casually, "let's get that other chest from the basement, 'K?" The vampire nodded, and they walked down the stairs, away from the chattering of the girls and the quiet voices of Giles, Willow and Andrew. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Xander turned. Spike was still standing on the last stair, making him momentarily taller than his lover. Xander buried his head in the vampire's hard chest and wrapped his arms around his waist. Spike wrapped his own arms around Xander's warm shoulders and held him close for a long moment. They both raised their heads to look into one another's eyes.
"Hi," Xander said.
"Hi, yourself, love," Spike replied, kissing him lightly on the lips. "You ready for this?"
"Um, no?" Xander answered with a grin. He sighed. "I guess I'm as ready as we ever are for this sort of thing, Spike. I just worry - it seems like Buffy's going off half-cocked. This thing smells like a trap." They separated reluctantly and moved to the far side of the basement to drag the large trunk toward the stairs.
"Yeah, well," Spike said, "I understand her frustration - waiting around is its own kind of hell; she's used to taking action." They hefted the trunk between them and started up the stairs.
"What was it you and Giles said when we headed out to fight Glory?" Xander asked.
As they mounted the stairs, Spike intoned, "'We few, we happy few - we band of buggered'."
Back in the living room, Xander brandished a weapon that looked for all the world like a spiked baseball bat.
"Now remember," he admonished the gathered girls, "we're looking for killing blows only, people. So, chest and throat if it's a vampire. Stomach, chest and face if it's a Bringer." He handed the bat to Rona, who looked at it as if it was a large, slimy snake and asked, "What if it's something else?" Xander nodded at her. "Could happen. Something other-worldly. And here's a handy rule: don't go for the flashy tentacles just because they're waving 'em about trying to get your attention. Go for the center - brains, heart, eyes. Everything's got eyes."
"Except the Bringers," Dawn said.
"Except the Bringers," Xander agreed. Molly, one of the potential slayers, had a nervous look on her face.
"I don't want there to be tentacles. I'm not good with squishy," she said. Hefting an enormous sword, Kennedy glowered.
"I don't care if it's Godzilla. I want to get in this thing."
Andrew piped up, "Godzilla's mostly Tokyo-based, so he's probably a no-show."
Rona threw Andrew a withering look. "You people are even crazier than her," she said, with a toss of her hair.
"Than who?" Xander asked.
"Buffy, man," she replied. "I mean, taking us right into the bad guy's lair." Xander gave her a speculative look.
"Well, that's where, generally speaking, you'd go to find the bad guy." His tone held a warning. "And I don't think you came here to fight plaque." She snorted.
"No, I came here for protection." Xander stepped toward her, and Spike found himself edging closer to the confrontation.
"Well, you signed on to fight with -" Xander started. Suddenly all the tension went out of Rona's body. In a low, miserable voice she said, "Look, I know, but...this plan is trouble. OK, Buffy doesn't care how many of us she puts in danger -"
Xander placed a hand on Rona's shoulder. "Let me tell you something about Buffy. In fact, you should all listen to this." He gestured to the entire group, who were already riveted to the discussion anyway.
"Uh, we kinda were," Kennedy admitted in a slightly chagrined voice. Xander grinned at her, and then looked around the group, making eye contact with each girl.
"I've been through more battles with Buffy than you all can ever imagine. She's stopped everything that's ever come up against her." He cleared his throat in a vain attempt to make his voice less husky with emotion. "She's laid down her life - literally - to protect the people around her. This girl has died two times, and she's still standing. You're scared? That's smart. You got questions? You should. But you doubt her motives, you think Buffy's all about the kill, then you take the little bus to battle." Xander made a point to focus his gaze on Rona and then Kennedy as he continued, "I've seen her heart, and this time - not literally. And I'm telling you, right now, she cares more about your lives than you will ever know. You gotta trust her. She's earned it."
They all turned as Faith's voice drifted in from the foyer, where she and Buffy were standing just inside the open front door.
"Damn, B - I never knew you were that cool." Buffy stared at Xander with tears in her eyes. They shared a smile, and then she turned to Faith.
"Well, you always were a little slow."
With a laugh, the brunette slayer replied, "I get that now." Buffy looked around at the armed group arrayed across her childhood living room.
"All right," she said, "let's saddle up."
As they all swept from the room, Spike stopped Xander with a hand on his shoulder, holding him in place until they were alone in the silent house.
"Just in case I don't see you til after, pet ..." Their lips came together in a sweet kiss that threatened to turn passionate. Spike pulled away and brushed his fingers along Xander's jaw. "Don't get dead, Xan," he said. Xander turned his head to kiss the vampire's cool fingers.
"OK," he agreed. "Don't get deader." They shared a grim smile and joined the others.
"Son of a bitch," Xander thought as he heard the signal - lots and lots of yelling - from inside the winery. He was not ready for the sight that greeted him when he and his troops entered the room. Both Buffy and Spike were down, Buffy looked unconscious; Spike was struggling upright in a sea of spilled wine. Kennedy was extracting herself from a jumble of wine barrels, and as Xander watched incredulously, the guy with a bad bowl cut dressed as a preacher easily snapped Rona's forearm and was holding her for a Bringer who was preparing to stab her. Xander fired off a bolt from his crossbow, which pierced the Bringer's forearm. It turned away from Rona to charge him.
Xander managed to hit the oncoming Bringer with two more crossbow bolts before it crossed Faith's path and she lopped its head off with her sword. Xander smiled his thanks to her and ran to Buffy's side, calling her name. She looked up groggily, and then reached for his hand. He steadied her as she regained her feet. They both turned toward the fight just in time to see Caleb snap the neck of a dark-haired potential and reach for Molly.
"Xander," Buffy said weakly, "get them out of here. We have to retreat. Do it." She cursed as Caleb stabbed Molly and tossed her body casually aside and rushed him. This time the fight was a little more even, and Buffy managed to push Caleb back enough for Xander and Spike to organize a hasty retreat.
Grabbing Buffy's arm, Spike told her, "We're all leaving." He dragged her backward as Xander helped Kennedy up and herded the others out. Spike and Xander exchanged a grim look as the vampire carried Rona's limp form up the stairs, handing her off to the more ambulatory potentials gathered there.
Later, he would remember every excruciating second, every word. In the moment, however, it all seemed a blur. He saw the preacher grab Xander from behind and spin him around. He saw the bastard's lips move as he drew back one hand and shoved his thumb deep into Xander's eye socket. Spike saw the dark blood cascading down his lover's face and heard his heartbreaking scream of anguish. Moving with supernatural speed, the vampire vaulted the rail and charged Caleb, knocking him away from Xander. The human fell to the floor with his hand covering his injury, whimpering softly. Spike stood over Caleb, ready to kill the man or die trying.
Buffy rushed to Xander's side and helped him to his feet. Spike spared the false preacher one look of murderous rage, then grabbed Xander from the other side and hustled him up the stairs and away from the scene of their defeat. As soon as they got outside, Buffy looked at Spike over Xander's bowed head.
"You got him?" she asked. He nodded, and she went to get the car. The vampire lowered his lover to a sitting position on the ground and tilted his head up. Xander kept his hand over his face, and his remaining eye searched Spike's face wildly.
"Let me see, love," Spike crooned, gently pulling Xander's hand from his face. The vampire raised one shaking hand and brushed the still-flowing blood from the rapidly swelling area, hoping against hope that he would see a shining brown eye under all the gore. It was not to be. Spike slumped as he realized exactly how much damage had been done. He felt so helpless. He straightened and brought his thumb to his mouth. He allowed his fangs to elongate and bit deeply into the base, and then pressed the bleeding digit to Xander's mouth. The human began to struggle.
Spike peered into his face and said quietly, "Drink it, Xan. It won't save your eye, but it'll help you heal faster. You want to stay in the fight, don't you?" Xander nodded slowly. "I promise, it won't hurt or change you." Xander nodded again and closed his lips on the wound, drawing hard and swallowing.
Giles' car screeched to a stop, and Spike helped Xander into it, while others helped the most seriously injured get settled for the trip to the hospital. The vampire squeezed his lover's hand once, then stepped back and let him go. It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done. The car took off, and Spike turned back to the shell-shocked but less seriously injured fighters.
"Come on," he said, "let's get the fuck out of here."
Xander looked at the clock on the VCR that was attached to the TV that hung over the foot of the bed. Hanging there on its bracket, it looked like an electronic vulture - squatting, waiting for him to die. He thought maybe they'd given him too many drugs. The red numbers on the clock's digital readout were blurred. It was either eighty-five minutes past one or four-thirty. He couldn't tell and he couldn't really have given a fuck. His eye - or lack thereof - didn't hurt. As a matter of fact, that entire half of his head was numb. They'd given him numerous shots in his face, none of which had hurt after the first one.
The medical professionals had poked and prodded him. They had flushed, cleaned and bandaged the bloody cavity where his left eye had been. They had put little bags of stuff on poles and run lines into his arm. They'd taken his clothes and given him a thin cotton gown, which he'd stripped off and hurled into the corner as soon as Willow had left two or twenty hours ago. Finally, they had left him the fuck alone, and he'd only had to scream it at them twice.
He had not cried. He'd kept it together when he'd heard those final words from Spike as he'd drunk the vampire's blood while sitting on his ass on the dew-covered grass of the winery. "It won't save your eye..." He'd stared stoically straight ahead as the doctors and nurses had calmly discussed the complete destruction of his left eye and remarked that he seemed to have very little surrounding damage, and that he seemed to have minimal trauma to the area. He had closed his remaining eye for a second at that - he no longer had two eyes; he had an eye and an "area". He wondered if he'd ever feel anything but numb ever again, but he hoped not.
He'd barely been able to speak to Willow - her agony and guilt were living things, sitting on his bed and clutching his hand as surely as she was. He'd spared her a couple of sad almost-smiles and pretended to be drifting in and out of consciousness until she'd finally gone away, leaving him with a small kiss on his numb forehead. Xander leaned his head back against the pillow and stared at the door, willing Spike to be there. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, the lean, blond vampire was there, looking wildly uncomfortable.
Xander blinked rapidly, then lifted one hand to gesture Spike into the room. Spike entered, closed the door and walked to the side of the bed, peering intently into the human's battered face. Xander met his eyes.
"You're the first one other than doctors who's looked at me straight on since I got here," he observed.
"I'm not much for shyin' away, Xan," Spike said in a low voice. Xander nodded once.
"'K. Sit," he gestured at the open patch of bed next to his hip. Spike sat gingerly and raised one hand to his lover's face. He eased the bandages away from the wound and looked at it carefully, unflinchingly. He gently put the bandages back into place.
"You're healing pretty good. You should take a little more of my blood, though, if you want to get out of here by tomorrow night," Spike said. Xander nodded.
"I want out." Dispassionately, Spike tore into his own thumb again with his fangs and held it out to the human. Xander wrapped both hands around Spike's proffered one and licked across the wound before closing his lips around it and sucking hard. He drank two full mouthfuls of the vampire's blood, and then held his lips against the wound as it closed and healed. He then kissed the spot and released Spike's hand.
"Thank you," he said formally, allowing his own hands to drop back by his side.
Spike cleared his throat. "Watcher wants me to take Andrew up to the mission in Gilroy - looks like the preacher-man's been there. I'll be back tomorrow night. You going back to your place after you get out of here?" His tone was studiously casual.
Xander nodded, "Yeah." He looked up at Spike and tilted his head. "Will you come there when you get back?" Spike returned the human's stare for a long moment.
"If you want me there, I'm there," he replied. Xander nodded again, and then sank back onto the pillows tiredly, closing his eye and rubbing his hands over his face. Spike placed one long hand onto his lover's shoulder and squeezed gently, and then he turned and walked out of the hospital room.
The "Welcome Home" banner looked hastily made, and the girls were a little over-dressed, but Xander appreciated the effort as much as he could through the pervasive numbness. He was mostly happy to be out of the hospital.
"Oh, God," he whispered, surprised.
"We didn't have time to do more. You have to pretend there's a big party here," Kennedy said. Dawn greeted him with a long hug.
Stretching for a bit of levity he assured Kennedy, "That's fine. Parties in this house, I usually end up having to... rebuild something."
Buffy was standing in the doorway between the living room and dining room, looking harried.
"Welcome home, Xander." She smiled. "I wanted you to be here for this. I think you'll be interested in what I found out." Willow turned to her and asked, "W-what did you find out?"
Addressing the group, Buffy said," I-it's about the cellar. Look, I know that night wasn't fun for any of us... but I figured out some things about that place, and I realize now what we have to do. We're going back in."
Xander zoned in and out of the following conversation, in which pretty much everyone in the room tried to convince Buffy she was acting rashly, while Buffy made an ass out of herself by insisting that she was in charge. Xander spent a large part of the conversation trying to remember the appropriate political reference for the situation. By the time he'd realized that the name he was trying to think of was Alexander Haig, Anya was speaking to Buffy, who had just spouted off that the troops needed a strong leader.
"And it's automatically you," the ex-demon said in an even tone. "You really do think you're better than we are."
"No, I - " Buffy protested, but Anya cut her off. "But we don't know. We don't know if you're actually better. I mean, you came into the world with certain advantages, sure. I mean, that's the legacy." She waved off Buffy's attempt to interrupt. "But you didn't earn it. You didn't work for it. You've never had anybody come up to you and say you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn't make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us."
"I've gotten us this far," Buffy said. At her smug tone, Xander spoke up.
"But not without a price," he said, thoroughly sick of the whole discussion. "I'm trying to see your point here, Buff... but I guess it must be a little bit to my left... 'cause I just don't." Her mouth fell open, and suddenly he just couldn't be there anymore. He pushed himself to his feet and walked out the front door. He could hear voices rising inside as he turned down the walkway and headed toward his apartment, and he couldn't muster up the energy to give a shit.
Spike walked through the mostly deserted streets of Sunnydale alone, smoking a cigarette. He had taken Andrew back to the Summers' house and walked into what was, by his definition, a shit storm. He wasn't particularly proud of himself for having gotten into a fight with Faith, but he also thought that a mistake of epic proportions had been made in sending Buffy away. After the debacle with Faith and the others, he had tracked Buffy to an abandoned house. He had talked to her as honestly as he knew how, and hoped that his words had made some sort of impact. She had asked him to stay, to hold her, and he had. But, as soon as she fell asleep, he had left her with a hastily penned note, his promise to Xander foremost in his mind.
He thought about the surge of relief he had felt when Willow had told him that Xander had not been a part of the mutiny. Making a choice between his former and current lover would have been hellish - he was glad it was a non-issue. Spike hoped that his words to Buffy had penetrated as he told her in no uncertain terms that he didn't love her, didn't want her, but still believed in her as a person and a leader. The vampire paused outside Xander's building and looked up at the young man's window, the only one that was lit. He wondered what awaited him upstairs.
He walked in and took the stairs two at a time, then knocked at the door. Xander opened the door and gestured Spike inside. The human looked better than he had at the hospital - his face was freshly shaved, and an eye patch that covered most of his bruises had replaced the bandages. His hair was damp, and he was wearing a white terry cloth bathrobe. As soon as Spike shut the door, Xander turned and dropped the robe. He was naked underneath. The two men locked eyes for a moment, and then Xander fell gracefully to his knees and clasped his hands in the small of his back, casting his eyes to the floor. Holy shit, Spike thought, as his cock became instantly erect.
Spike quickly took and released two unnecessary deep breaths, then crossed the floor to walk all the way around Xander, looking at him closely. He choked off a small sound that came to his lips unbidden when he realized the human was wearing the plug they'd used on the movie night. Spike stopped directly behind the kneeling man.
"How long has the plug been in place, pet?" he asked, adding, "Answer me."
Xander's voice was low when he responded, "Couple of hours." The vampire leaned down and pulled it out with a twisting motion.
"Don't want you to get sore," he explained, tossing it toward the sofa. "Bedroom, now, love. On your knees by the bed," he said simply. Xander rose to his feet and walked into the bedroom, head down. He stopped and sank to his knees next to the bed, waiting.
Spike unlaced his boots and took them off. He also took off his duster, socks and shirt, but left his jeans on. On reflection, he was not surprised by Xander's behavior. The injured man needed reassurance; this was his way of getting it. The vampire walked into the bedroom. Arrayed on the top of the dresser was an assortment of supplies from the same shop where he'd purchased the plug. Spike didn't know when Xander had gone shopping, but he was quite surprised by the human's selections. He glanced over at the bed and noticed that it now had a set of four leather restraints securely attached to the four posts; each ending in a padded cuff. Looking back at the dresser, he took a quick inventory; the black leather cock ring; a set of adjustable nipple clamps with a chain running between them; a large butt plug; a short-handled whip, a supple black leather strap with a wooden handle; a riding crop; a wooden paddle and a leather flogger with soft tresses.
Crossing the room, Spike kneeled down in front of Xander.
"Look at me," he commanded. Xander complied, and the vampire was shocked at his blank expression. "Explain. What's this all about?" Spike asked, laying his hands on the human's knees. Xander took in a deep breath and exhaled.
"I...I need you to help me." His voice was low and had very little inflection. "I can't feel anything anymore." Spike smiled kindly.
"Are you sure it's not the painkillers, Xan?" he asked.
"No. As soon as they took out the IV I stopped taking them. I palmed the pills. I haven't had any drugs other than antibiotics in over eighteen hours." His voice started to waver. "I can't feel anything, Spike. I need you to make me feel." Spike sighed and leaned forward to cup Xander's chin in his hand. He leaned in and kissed the mortal's forehead, then his lips.
"Eyes down, love, and wait for me to get ready." Spike saw the quick flash of gratitude on Xander's face before he complied and smiled tightly.
Spike walked into the bathroom and retrieved two fluffy white towels. He folded one and laid it across the pillows on the bed, then stripped the top sheet and blankets off. He placed the other towel in the center of the bed. He walked back to the dresser and picked up the nipple clamps and chain. He was glad to see that they were adjustable. He returned to Xander and kneeled down. He licked his fingers, and then ran them lightly around the human's left nipple, which immediately hardened under his ministrations. He pinched it sharply, and then fastened the clamp just tight enough to make Xander gasp. He repeated the action on the other nipple. Then fastened the chain between the two clamps, running it behind Xander's neck instead of across his chest.
Standing, he said, "On the bed, Xander - face down." Xander complied, and Spike quickly secured his wrists and ankles in the restraints so that the human was spread-eagled on the bed with one towel under his face and the other beneath his groin. Spike gently reached around and removed Xander's eye patch.
"Comfortable?" he asked. Xander nodded.
Spike walked back to the dresser, and selected the black strap. The leather was supple and soft, and it had been carefully made to insure that no sharp edges remained to cut delicate skin. He ran the length of leather through his hands for a moment as he returned to the bed. He leaned down so his lips were near Xander's ear.
"OK, love. You have my permission to speak or make any noise you want to. The building's practically deserted - most humans have left Sunnydale. For this particular occasion, the safe word is 'enough'. Are we clear?" Xander nodded.
Spike placed the strap directly between the human's shoulder blades and drew it gently down his back, letting it trail down the crease between Xander's buttocks and allowing the edge to tickle the taut globes of his balls, barely visible between spread legs. Spike smiled as the restrained man shuddered visibly. He flicked the strap twice more, and then eased it away. He braced one knee on the bed, drew his arm back and brought the strap down across Xander's buttocks with a resounding crack. The human's entire body stiffened, then relaxed against the mattress; he didn't make a sound.
Spike drew back again and lashed the strap against Xander's body precisely one inch higher than the reddening stripe he'd made previously. He continued the motion mechanically, using a moderate amount of force - not wanting to injure the man spread out before him. He paced his blows evenly, lashing Xander from just below his shoulder blades to the backs of his knees. Spike worked silently until, after several minutes, he heard the human break, sobbing openly into the towel under his face. Spike sat down on the bed and ran his fingers through the tousled sable waves that spread out on the pillow, comforting his lover as he let out the pain and frustration of the past two days. When the sobs began tapering off, Spike went to the kitchen and returned with a sports bottle of water, offering the straw to Xander, who sipped gratefully. The vampire picked up a corner of the towel and wiped his lover's face.
"Xan?" Spike asked, "Are we done here?" Xander shook his head resolutely and turned his face into the towel. The vampire nodded and stood again, taking up the strap from the bedside table. He resumed his previous position and went back to work, this time overlapping and crisscrossing his strokes. At the first crack of leather on his reddened skin, Xander let out a yelp, and then continued to vocalize, moaning, gasping and crying out as the leather hit him. Spike could smell his arousal, and also the tangy scent of his release when the vampire angled the strap so that its edge snapped against the human's balls with just enough force to sting.
Without giving Xander a chance to recover from his orgasm, Spike continued his punishment, watching avidly as the human flexed and relaxed his entire body against his bonds on each stroke. He began speaking in a low voice, his words in counterpoint to the sharp slaps of leather on flesh.
"Use the pain, Xander, just feel it," he said. "Pain is like fire - it's a living thing. It moves and breathes and acts and reacts. Let it ripple across your body, let it run over you and through you. Let it - let me - bring you back." Spike worked his way down the human's back one final time, and then flung the strap across the room. He stripped off his jeans and crawled onto the bed, straddling Xander's body.
Spike took all of his weight on his hands and knees, leaning down until his lips were at Xander's ear.
"Xander," he hissed. He shifted so one hand was free, and ran it down to the first line of welts on the human's back. His fingers closed on the edge of one mark, eliciting a loud groan from the prone human. He repeated the action until Xander was writhing under him, his moans and yelps growing in volume. Finally, the human threw his head back and begged.
"Enough, Spike, please - fuck me - now - hard! Please." Moving with blinding speed, Spike released all four restraints and hauled Xander up onto his knees. The vampire reached over to the bedside table and snared a tube of lubricant. He hastily spread a handful over his erection. His fingers bit into the tender flesh of the human's hips as he lined up his cock and slid home with one hard thrust.
Xander made unearthly noises each time the head of the vampire's cock brushed his prostate; howling Spike's name and sobbing as he was roughly fucked. Spike's hips churned as he buried himself over and over in Xander's hot, soft channel. He leaned over the human, knowing that the contact of his cool chest would soothe the abused skin of Xander's back. Spike felt his own orgasm building and wanted Xander to come with him. His eye was caught by the glint of the chain at Xander's neck. He looped it around his finger and gave it a quick tug, wrenching both of the human's nipples sharply. Xander climaxed immediately, and the muscles in his ass clamped down on Spike's cock, pushing him over the edge. Before their mutual spasms could end, the vampire once again tore into the base of his thumb with his fangs and fed Xander his blood.
As soon as Xander released Spike's thumb from his mouth, the vampire rolled off his lover. He turned the human onto his side and released the nipple clamps. He swept the towels off the bed and carried them to the bathroom, returning with a warm, wet washcloth. He cleaned Xander carefully, and then covered him with the sheet and blanket. Spike slipped into bed in front of Xander, and smiled when the human curled around him and pulled him back against his warm chest.
A warm kiss brushed the vampire's cool ear and Xander whispered, "Thank you, Spike."
They remained curled up together for a long time, neither speaking but both remaining awake. Xander's large hands gently explored Spike's chest and abdomen, petting and soothing him. The vampire gave himself up fully to the sensations, lying limp against his partner. Finally, the soft strokes became harder, and Xander's hand found Spike's jutting erection and stroked it languidly.
Arching into the contact, Spike whispered, "Oh, that's good, love - your hand feels so good on me. Don't stop." Xander chuckled.
"I have no intention of stopping, unless it's to do ...this." On the last word, he swept his hand down to cup and tug at Spike's balls, eliciting a groan. Spike attempted to turn over, and Xander stopped him with a hand on his hip.
"Nope," he said, "Stay like this, I like it. Be a good little vamp and stay still." Spike laughed out loud. "What's so funny?" Xander asked.
"Nothing, pet," the vampire replied. "It's just good to have you back." His voice caught on the last word, and Xander relented, allowing Spike to turn in his arms so he could clutch the slighter body to his chest and wrap him in his arms, holding him close. Xander was startled when he realized that the vampire was shaking. He pulled back slightly so he could look into stormy blue eyes.
"Are you OK?" Xander asked. Spike gave him a small smile and took an unneeded breath. The vampire ducked his head against his lover's chest and got a grip on his emotions.
"It's just been a hell of a couple of days, pet, and I'm just so damn glad that you're alright." It took great effort to keep his voice level. Xander tightened his arms around Spike and rocked back and forth gently.
"I'm OK, Spike. Why don't you tell me about the rest of it."
Spike sighed and started talking. He told Xander about the trip to Gilroy and what he and Andrew had discovered at the mission. They laughed together over the vampire's exasperation with the formerly evil nerd. Spike related the happenings at the Summers' house and after he'd tracked Buffy. Xander listened, but didn't offer much comment, other than to ascertain that Buffy was safe. Spike assured him that he'd made sure the house she was staying in was secure. Over time the pauses in the conversation got longer, and the two men clung together, exchanging gentle touches and kisses until they fell asleep, wrapped safely in each other's arms.
"It was Spike." Buffy's words were quiet, but they cut Xander to the bone. He felt his knees give, and Andrew helped him to sit on the ground. It was Spike, and Spike was dead, deader, dusted, gone. It was Spike.
It was Spike who had held him in the predawn hours and shared laughter and sweet words and touches. It was Spike who had woken him up yesterday afternoon to spread Willow's healing liniment onto his abused back with cool, strong hands.
It was Spike who had sprawled under him as the two men made love for hours.
It was Spike who sent him off to the Summers' house to gather the others and look for Buffy.
It was Spike who had been on Xander's mind when Buffy returned with an injured Faith and the other girls. It was Spike who Xander had overheard talking to Buffy in the kitchen.
It was Spike who had joked, "Honey, you're home." Buffy's reply was a subdued, "Yeah." Spike looked at the weapon she carried.
"And you did it. Fulfilled your mission, found the holy grail, or the holy hand grenade, or whatever the hell that is." She held it out to him.
"Right now we're going with scythe. You like?" He shook his head a little.
"Pointy and wooden is not exactly the look I want to know better, but it does have flair." Buffy had stopped, and rested one hand on her hip.
"Got your note," she said, her tone holding just a little hurt.
"I'm sorry about that," Spike said. "But it doesn't matter. You're back in the bosom, all's forgiven, and last night was just a glitch. A little cold comfort from the cellar dweller, let's don't make a thing out of it."
Xander listened while they had a stilted conversation about discovering the origin of the weapon until finally Buffy had left. From the stairs he'd called out a quiet, "Hey." Spike turned, and a brilliant smile lit his face.
"Hey, yourself," he said, and walked over to the stairs, lounging against the rail.
"Look," Xander began, "I don't know how you're feeling about last night..."
"Terrified," the vampire said, looking away.
"Of what?" Xander asked. Blue eyes met Xander's worried brown one.
"Last night was... God, I'm such a jerk. I can't do this."
"Spike..." Xander whispered, suddenly afraid of what he might hear.
"It was the best night of my life," the vampire said. Xander's eye widened, not understanding. His eyes welling, Spike ran a hand through the human's hair and cupped his cheek. "All of it, Xan, all of it. You asking me to help you and me actually being able to come through for you. And then after - when we were together. I've lived for sodding ever, pet, I've done everything -- I've done things with you I can't spell, but I've never... been close. To anyone, until last night. After all was said and done, all I did was hold you, and watch you sleep, and it was the best night of my life. So I'm, yeah. Terrified." Xander laid his hand over the cool one on his face.
"You don't have to be," he assured his lover. "Maybe, when this is all over..." Spike laid a gentle kiss on top of Xander's head.
"No. Let's just leave it. We'll go be heroes - it's what we do. We'll worry about after...after, OK?" Xander nodded and allowed the vampire to pull him to his feet. They shared a sweet kiss in the dimness of the kitchen.
"Well," Xander said. "Hero time - let's follow her and make sure she gets what she needs." Spike nodded and they swept out of the house.
It was Spike - or rather, Spike's nose - that had led them to the temple, where they witnessed Caleb's death and Buffy and Angel's reunion - where they had first seen the amulet.
It was Spike who had walked Xander home, telling him that he would return soon.
It was Spike who had returned two hours later, with the amulet in his pocket, after having left Buffy sleeping alone on his cot in the basement. It was Spike who had carefully explained to Xander that he would be their champion, as unlikely as that sounded.
It was Spike who had stared into Xander's face calmly, knowing that there would be no happy ending, no riding off into the sunset - and also knowing that Xander knew it, too.
It was Spike who had held him close through the predawn hours. It was Spike who had told Xander stories of his youth, stories of his early days as a vampire, stories he'd undoubtedly made up on the spot while the human's warm fingers traced his ribs and hot tears painted his chest.
And it was Spike who had cried silently against Xander's back as they made slow, sweet love one last time, unable to look at each other without shattering from the emotion on their faces.
It was Spike who had made Xander pack a duffle bag with the few possessions he thought the human would want to keep, and it was Spike who surreptitiously slipped his old Zippo lighter and the digital camera into the bag as it sat on the table.
It was Spike who had held Xander's hand as they walked through the deserted streets in the false dawn on the way to the Summers' house and kissed him softly in front of the door before they entered the house.
It was Spike who had smiled at him and winked, eyes filled with sorrow as he herded the potentials into the school basement.
It was Spike on Xander's mind as he spent a last Scooby moment with Buffy, Willow and Giles; as he fought next to Dawn; as he looked for Anya's body in the wreckage; as he boarded the bus; as the world ended and as he crumpled to the ground, bereft.
It was Spike.