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Dawn’s party was held on the beachfront restaurant’s
porch. Xander looked around, confused, as he climbed from Spike’s car where it
was parked in the deep shade of a shelter much like the one at Jen’s shop.
“Why does this place seem familiar?”
“This is where you ran to that first time,” Spike
supplied. “Now help me unload this stuff.”
“The shading arrangement certainly is convenient.”
“Ya think?” Spike asked and pushed a box of decorations
into Xander’s arms.
The owners of the restaurant introduced themselves to
Xander and greeted Spike warmly. After checking on the ice cream, and stowing
the cake in the cooler, Spike sprawled in
a chair and propped his leg on a table. “How about getting us a couple of
beers, mate? This party business is right tiring.”
Xander paused in unwrapping a roll of streamers. “You
haven’t done anything! We’ve got decorations to put up.”
“Were those our orders?”
Xander frowned. “We were told to deliver them.”
“Right. And I guarantee if we put something up, the
ladies will only tisk tisk and say we did them wrong. Then they will redo
“But if we do nothing…”
“Xander! Which is the less work-like of two evils?”
Spike interlaced his hands behind his head and leaned back.
Xander put the streamers back in the box and nodded.
“Right. Two cold drinks coming up!”
When Dawn and her boyfriend arrived, the porch was
festooned with glittery streamers and bobbing balloons, which Xander and Spike
had to put up at Willow’s direction after all. “At least we didn’t have to
do it twice,” Spike said when Xander glared at him.
Michael was of a height with Dawn, and had an easy manner
about him. He smiled easily and made Dawn smile, too. “Who does he remind me
of?” Xander asked Spike where he held court in the deepest shadow.
“Two words. Letterman’s jacket.”
“Eep!” Michael really did look like the young man who
had come into possession of an enchanted jacket, making every woman who saw him,
including Dawn, fall in obsessive love with him.
“Yeah, funny innit. He’s a good man. Believe me, with
this crew, if you had so much as taken a penny candy when you were three we’d
know about it.”
Spike chuckled. “Have a seat and let them come to us.”
Xander opened a fresh Coke and sat down. It wasn’t long before Gunn and Oz
joined them in the cozy, cool corner.
Soon the porch was filled with strangers. Xander was
shortly overwhelmed with all the local friends who had showed up to wish Dawn a
happy birthday and say a few words to her before she went back to Europe. His
problem was they also wanted to meet the new, reclusive, and attractive
After an hour or so, the well-wishers ate their cake and
drifted away, leaving “family” and Michael.
Dawn came over to their corner and stood with her hands on
her hips until the men left off their passionate debate of CGI viruses practical
“Yes, Nibblet?” Spike finally said, right after making
what he felt was a strong point and not letting Gunn reply.
“I hate to break up your social circle, but I want to
play volleyball and we need a couple of strong hitters,” Dawn said, looking
pointedly at Xander and Oz.
Oz shrugged. “I’m in.”
“I can’t do much good with my bad leg, sweetheart,”
“Can you referee?”
“That I can do.”
“Xander?” Dawn asked as the other two got up.
“Um… I’ll get my party shirt all sandy.” Xander
plucked at the sequined hula girl and pineapple shirt Spike had given him.
“Then take it off.”
“But Spike will be left all alone up here.”
“Please?” Dawn pouted.
“Go on, Nibblet, I’ll reason with him.” Spike said.
With a final pout and flounce, Dawn turned and ran down to
“Thanks for getting me out of…” Xander began.
“Hand over the shirt and I can watch fine from here.”
Spike sighed. “Xander, go play volleyball. It’s a
beautiful day and your best friends want to play with you. I know you’ve got
one of those wife beaters on under that shirt, so you won’t be naked. Get!”
“I might hurt somebody?”
“Xander. It’s not a contact sport. Get your shirt off
and get out there before I throw you out.”
Xander could see the resolve in Spike’s eyes and finally
It wasn’t long before Xander had thrown himself into the
game and was laughing along with the rest of them. Spike sat back and enjoyed
the pleasure of his friends.
After a couple of hours, the sun was setting and everyone
returned to the porch for hamburgers, more cake, and the opening of family
One after another, they gave her their gifts, all were
thoughtful or amusing. Last of all, Xander handed Dawn a small neatly wrapped
package. She had been pestering Xander for clues for days. “Is this what came
from Jen’s?” she asked.
Eagerly, Dawn unwrapped the package and opened the jewel
box squealed. “It’s beautiful!”
“I was afraid it was too cheesy.”
“No, it’s perfect.” Dawn leaned over and gave Xander
a big hug.
“Can I see?” Willow asked. The box held a little, gold, hand-crafted pen shaped like a key with four small green stones set into the bow. “These aren’t emeralds, are they?”
“No, it’s pre... er... peridot.” Xander said. “One
time I talked to Tara about when she saw Dawn… as energy.” He looked at
Willow apologetically for bringing up her long lost lover, but the redhead just
smiled sadly and nodded. “She said it was a pretty, bright green energy. Jen
said she thought this stone would be best. I didn’t tell her why, just
“Thank you, Xander. I’ll wear it proudly.”
“Don’t forget the
other package, Xander.” Spike put in.
“Which? Oh, the one from Jen. She was sorry she
couldn’t come, but she had a show in the city. She sent this.” Xander found
the small, flat box.
“A present form Jen! I didn’t expect that! I hope it’s her art, but she wouldn’t just give it to me, would she?” Dawn opened the box and squealed again. “It is! So cool!” Dawn held up the two small paintings of a red and a green fish creature. She passed the paintings around and opened the small card. “She says it’s her chance to spread her fame to Europe,” Dawn giggled.
Spike got to his feet. “Enough of this! It’s been along
time since we’ve had a good fire!”
“Marshmallows!” Xander and Dawn called at the same
After much whooping and jumping, with Xander demonstrating
some moves he’d picked up in Africa, then Willow and Midra doing a blessing on
them all, Xander found himself sitting beside Dawn on one side of the fire with
marshmallows between them.
“Somehow, I always knew you’d come back,” Dawn said
quietly. “I never left you out of my prayers.”
“Thanks, Dawnie. You were one of the people who kept me
going.” He pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “But I must admit that in
my mind you looked like you did the last time I saw you in that crowded
Dawn laughed. “That was a dive of a hotel, wasn’t
“It sure was. I must say, you’ve grown up a lot, and
I’m proud of you. I never even started on my college degree, and here you are
starting on a masters.”
“Eh. I have a knack for languages is all.”
“Knack,” Xander scoffed. “How many do you know
“Twice as many as Giles.”
“That’s my girl. I’m proud of you.”
“I’m proud of you, too.”
“Why of me?” Xander asked, poking at a log.
“I can’t begin to imagine what you went through, but
you survived, and you’re working on getting back to the real world.”
“Spike’s being a big help.”
“Don’t let him go, Xander. Don’t let him get away.”
Xander laughed. “I’ve paid him for a year, he’s not
Dawn tossed a few twigs into the fire and watched them
catch. “In that horrible summer when Buffy was dead, I got to know Spike
better then any of us knew him. Maybe better than anyone has. We spent a lot of
long nights talking.”
“I’ve learned there is more to Spike that I ever
suspected,” Xander stared at a bed of glowing embers.
“Just… for me, promise you will allow yourself to see
Spike and all he has to offer, okay? Don’t let him run away if he tries.
That’s long been his way of dealing with things.”
“I will, Dawnie, I will.”
Dawn hugged her friend. “I’ll miss you, Xander,” she
said into his long hair.
“I’ll miss you, too. We’ll talk, lots.”
“Hey! Who’s this getting some action by the fire?”
Spike said, squatting down beside them.
Xander pulled Dawn into his arms and dipped her away form
the fire. Dawn squealed and giggled. “Mine!” Xander grunted, and blew a
raspberry on Dawn’s bare neck.
“I think Michael would have a thing or two to say about
Xander drew his brow down and stuck out his jaw. “Who dat?
Who want girl?”
Spike raised his eyebrow and pointed to where Michael had
come around the fire and was standing, smiling. “Dat? Dat little man!”
Xander picked up Dawn, tossed her over his shoulder, and stomped over to
Michael. He ignored Dawn’s fists on his back. “Why you need girl?”
“I love her.”
Xander grunted. “And?”
“I want to keep her.”
“Oh, then what I get?”
Michael shrugged. “Marshmallows?”
“Vampire?” Michael said pointing at Spike.
Xander looked over at Spike. “Vampire? What I do with
“I have no idea. Play chess?”
Xander hauled Dawn off his shoulder and pushed her into
Michael’s arms. “Okay. You take girl. She skinny anyway.”
“Hey!” Dawn giggled.
Xander nodded and stomped to Spike. “You, vampire. Teach
Spike crossed his arms as if daring Xander to pick him up,
too. “Boring game, mate, what say we gather some firewood and keep the tribe
“Firewood good quest. We go.”
Xander stomped off into the dark with an amused Spike
“Damn,” Xander said after Spike caught up a little ways
down the brightly moon lit beach. “I should have taken off my pretty party
“It would be a shame to ruin it,” Spike said dryly.
“I like it,” Xander pouted. “It’s the ultimate
tacky shirt. I’m proud of you for having the courage to buy it for me.”
“Spike! You didn’t steal it!”
“No, I gave a young man a twenty to buy it for me.”
“I don’t see any drift wood.”
“I was told there’s a deadwood tree a little ways
“I like Dawn’s fella. Too bad she has to leave him.”
“In three month’s he’s finishing his degree here and
joining her,” Spike said.
“I’m glad to hear that. It sucks to be alone.”
“I know,” Spike said under his breath.
“Is a great party! Thank you for kicking me off the
Spike shrugged. “Truth was, I needed to catch up on my
e-mail. I wrote a letter to Giles about the magic bits you picked up.”
“Do you think that will help us find the location of the
“Spike? Will you stay with me again tonight?”
“Yeah, mate. Won’t leave you alone unless you want
A little further on, they found the tree. Spike used his
supernatural strength to break off branches other beach fire harvesters could
not get, as Xander steadily stacked them up.
Spike heard Xander’s sudden intake of breath. “What is
it?” Spike asked, coming to his side as he dropped his arm full of wood.
“I cut myself,” Xander answered calmly. Spike glanced
down and could see the shine of a broken bottle in the moonlight. “Here,”
Xander held out his hand where a line of blood was just starting to well up on
the heel. “Don’t waste it.”
Spike’s first reaction was to warn Xander of the intimacy
of such a gesture. He met Xander’s eye as the rich smell of fresh blood hit
“I know,” Xander said forcefully as the first drop
fell. “Help me out.”
Spike took his hand and sealed his lips around the inch and
a half long gash. He licked away the line of blood and swallowed Xander’s
healthy and rich blood. He pressed his tongue to the cut, pushing the sides of
the gash together, holding back the flood, and suppressed the urge to suck. The
scent of Xander’s skin, so close and sweaty caused him to grow hard.
“I need your t-shirt,” Xander said after a minute, his
voice husky. “I don’t want to tear my party shirt.
Spike hadn’t realized he’d closed his eyes until Xander
spoke. He looked him in the eye and nodded slightly. Holding Xander’s wounded
hand gently in place, he helped him untuck and rip free his plain black t-shirt.
Between them, they managed to tear off a long strip of
material and fold a small pad. With the make shift bandage ready, Xander looked
into Spike’s eyes again. “Thanks, Spike. It’s a deep cut and…”
Spike just rolled his eyes making Xander chuckle. On
Xander’s count, Spike swiftly replaced his mouth with the cloth and tied it
tight. “There, very little wasted. Let’s get you back. I think it’ll need
to be stitched.”
Xander held the hand above his heart. “There’s no rush
now. Why don’t you grab an armful of wood?”
Spike tilted his head. “Okay, but if you go all woozy,
I’m taking it and leaving you.”
Xander laughed. “Fair enough.” He watched as Spike
picked up the broken bottle and threw it in an exact arch into a nearby
trashcan. “An ecologically considerate vampire: how funny.”
“My friends are on this beach all the time. I won’t
always be around to play tourniquet.” Spike hefted the pile of wood Xander had
gathered and set off.
“You know what always confused me in vampire fiction?
That a vampire’s saliva has a healing agent in it. That makes no sense at
Spike barked a laugh. “I don’t know what vamp came up
with that long ago, but it’s a great way to sneak a drink form those that
don’t know better.”
Spike broke the silence after several minutes. “Was that
a common practice in the caves?”
“What? Vampire first aide?”
Xander studied his feet for a couple of steps. “No, but
Anthony… as my protector, Anthony could, when he wanted… tend my
“He got regular fresh meals, didn’t he?”
Xander shrugged. “He got what he wanted. I… didn’t
ask. He never fed from me to the point of making me weak, if that’s what
“Ever… No, too personal.” Spike said.
“Ever? Personal? Oh!” It had been arousing having
Spike’s lips on him, drawing his blood. He was kind of surprised Spike went
there and brought it up. “During sex,” Xander said quietly.
“Sorry. Don’t mean to stir things up.”
“Yeah, sometimes. I never understood before how someone
could get hooked on it. I saw what it did to Riley, but it’s a hell of a
thing. As I’m sure you know.” He trudged on a couple of steps. “After
Anthony died, there where nights… I was almost like a junky. I thought about
taking another vampire lover… there was a pleaser vampire.” Xander sighed.
“It wasn’t until after he was gone that I understood why Anthony
wouldn’t… bite me more often. ”
Both men thought of mentioning the intimacy they’d just
shared, but neither felt it needed saying.
“Thanks,” Spike finally said.
“For the snack?” Xander joked.
“For the trust. And the snack.” Spike frowned,
considering. “Though it’s rather like at a store where they give you one
sodding tiny crumb of cheese on a toothpick, making you want a whole wedge.”
Xander grinned at Spike. “Do you want my whole wedge
“I have finally discovered what I’ve long suspected.”
“You really are a nummy treat.”
“Well, keep talking pretty like that, and you may just
get a slice.” Xander’s smile abruptly crumpled and he stumbled in the sand.
Spike dropped the wood and worriedly put his arm around
Xander, steadying him. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yeah… I thought…” He watched Spike as the vampire
checked his hand for bleeding. A thin, darker line marked the bandage.
“It’s not too bad, but I want to get you treated before
it gets worse,” Spike looked from Xander’s hand to his suddenly close face.
Xander’s lips parted as if to say something, but he drew
in a shaky breath instead.
“Right. You are not allowed to play resilient he-man ever
again. You’re getting shocky.” Spike put one arm around Xander and held his
bandaged hand up with the other.
“My hero,” Xander sighed, leaning against him.
“Idiot,” Spike muttered affectionately.
“So I taste good?”
“You do, Xander.”
“Wanna taste me again?”
Spike pushed down the desire to show Xander how much he
wanted him there and now. He’d learned with Buffy how wrong it was to make the
first step. If someone wanted him, they’d tell him. “When you’re ready,
Xander. Not before. Now shut up and let me get you safe.”
Xander started to make another flirtatious remark, but held back. Spike was right. He’d only been out of Africa for a month and thoughts of Anthony were too near. It wasn’t fair to either of them. “It’s a date,” Xander murmured as they reached the circle of the firelight.
On to Chapter 40
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