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Chapter 6

Spike held his friend as he quietly sobbed. Big hands bunched in his shirt and pulled him close. Spike did not object. He knew how to sooth, how to comfort. Drusilla would sometimes weep over her losses like this. Even without a soul and crazy as a loon, she would mourn for her family and herself.

When Xander moved his legs and gasped in pain, Spike picked him up without hesitation and carried him to the bed. He grabbed up the warm quilt at the foot of the bed and draped it over Xander’s shuddering body. Then he held the bigger man, petting him, stroking his hair, and murmuring soft, supportive words.

Finally, Xander’s breathing evened and the rocking stopped. He rolled away from Spike at last, taking the blanket with him. Spike hesitated, then sat up on the bed. “Don’t go,” Xander croaked.

“I’m not leaving. Just fiddling a bit.” Spike felt Xander’s eye on him as he moved to that side of the bed. “Did Oz forget to tell you about the mini fridge?” Spike knelt by what Xander hand taken for a clunky and ugly bedside cabinet, drew out a bottle of water and opened it. Gratefully, Xander raised himself up and drained the cold, fresh liquid. He never thought he taste of plastic could be so wonderful. When he lowered the bottle, Spike had another ready. Once he’d drained that one, he lay back down and watched Spike moved around the room.

“Don’t leave, Spike,” he said again as Spike blew out all but one of the lanterns and carefully folded the ends of the cloth around the hair to tie it into a bundle.

Spike paused and cocked his head at Xander. “Don’t leave your room, or don’t leave the house?”

“Oz told me you will do jobs then vanish until needed again.” 

“Sometimes, yeah. Keeps up the ‘mysterious creature of the night’ image.”

Xander’s eye closed and his voice slurred. “I have a job for you.”

Spike returned to his bedside and put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re too knackered to deal now. I won’t leave this house, I promise, and later I’ll return to your room, okay? Call out if you need anything. I’ll hear you.”

Xander nodded into his pillow and fell deeply asleep.

Spike stood and watched Xander sleep. The man had loved and lost someone, that was clear. He’d become a killing machine to be respected, and he trusted his former roomie and tormentor with his private rituals. Did this signal another apocalypse?  He pulled himself away, put the used spell components on the dresser for later clean up, and blew out the remaining lamp. He hesitated over the box, then decided to take it with him. From what Xander had said, he never wanted to see them again, yet needed to keep them. He could always bring it back.

Spike closed the door behind him and went to the small second floor room he liked to use when he stayed over. He heated a packet of blood from his own mini-fridge in the small microwave and rapidly drained it. Even after a meal of human food, he still needed blood. He wasn’t too surprised when his hands started shaking. Xander’s inner strength amazed him. He had been forced to transform from a gentle, caring soul to one who could kill without passion if commanded, but Spike could see that he’d not changed inside. The man had kept everything tamped down to survive. He’d kept each reward jewel as a reminder, an albatross of the lives he’d taken. And now the bottle was uncorked. Spike knew in his soul want Xander wanted from him. Hell, he’d stick around even if Xander didn’t ask him. He knew the Xander of old and respected him. Spike just hoped he was strong enough to do it. Five years is a very long time to stay unbroken.

It was ten o’clock by the time he’d taken a quick shower and changed. Three pairs of eyes followed him as he reached the foot of the stairs and crossed to his favorite chair. “Anything good on, or shall we pay-per-view?” he asked as if he hadn’t just spent most of the day closeted with one of their best long-lost friends. He allowed the TV Guide flung by Dawn to connect with his head. “Watch it. Fella could get a paper cut.”

“Tell!” Dawn demanded. Willow silently echoed her, and Oz just held his wife, supporting her, but not pressuring Spike.

“Xander spent five years being unbroken. He’s going to have to break before he can mend.”

Willow let her anger turn to tears. “I remember Midra. She was only a slave for a year and a half. It took her a long time to get over it.”

“She still hasn’t completely,” Oz said quietly.

“You never do,” Spike put in, looking emptily at the TV. Willow started to ask him how he could know, but Dawn was moving before she could say anything. She sat on the floor beside Spike and put her head in his lap as she had long ago through lonely nights in that dark summer when Buffy had been dead. His hand moved to her unnaturally green hair and stroked it, comforting her, and taking as much offered comfort as he could allow.

They sat like this as the TV babbled about celebrity marriages and Willow cried herself out. Finally, Spike sniffed in a “it’s just allergies, never mind me” way and tugged at Dawn’s hair. “So, what’s the story, my green haired goblin?”

“Oh, that. I… um… I met Lorne.”

“Lorne?” Spike fondly remembered the demon with red eyes, horns, and green hair and skin. Lorne was always respectful to him, even when he was incorporeal. They had once spent a night drinking and swapping Angel stories. “I thought he went into hiding.”

“He did. Both Gunn and Angel have tried to get me to tell them where he is, but I never will. I won’t tell you, either, so don’t ask.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Niblet. So why go green?”

“He was down and lonely. He didn’t think anyone could ever find him attractive. So…”

“Show of solidarity?”


“If you talk to the velvet frog again, tell him I say hey. But be careful, Niblet,” Spike said. “I know too well the slippery slope of hair treatment.”

All eyes turned to Oz, he of the oft-changing hair, who returned the looks with a steady, knowing gaze. “Stick with black or shades of red,” he said wisely.

“I’ll keep that in mind. No bleaching.”

Spike wagged a finger at her. “It stings, pet. Like hell it does.”

“So why did you for so long?" 

“It reminded me of Dru.”

“Dru?” Willow asked. “She didn’t dye her hair.”

“No,” Spike sighed. “My black plum could make it hurt… oh so good.”

“Ew,” Dawn said. “No bleaching for sure.”

“If you must try it put seven or eight packets of Sweet-n-Low in it, it doesn’t sting quite so much.”

Spike sat in companionable conversation for a little while. He listened to the others talk about plans to return the demon girl to her clan later that night and the human to her family back in Africa. 

The very mention of Africa suddenly dropped the weight of the last couple of days on Spike’s shoulders and he drooped. Only Dawn noticed. She put her hand up on his knee beside her cheek where it rested on his thigh.

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly.

“I’ve not slept in a long time, Niblet. It just caught up with me.” He petted her hair reassuringly.

Dawn squeezed his knee and asked timidly, “will he be all right?”

“In time, yeah. And… I think he wants me to stay near.”

Dawn sat up and rose to her knees. “So you’ll be hanging around for a while?”

This drew Willow and Oz’s attention from the movie. Spike sighed. “Looks like.”

“Yay! You’ll be around for my birthday!”

“I always send you pretties, don’t I?” Spike asked fondly, cupping her cheek.

“Yes. But it’s not the same as having another chance to try to get you to wear a pointy hat.”

Spike dropped his head back on the chair and moaned dramatically. “You were eleven. It was for three seconds. Let it go.”

Dawn’s bright smile lit the room for Spike. “Nope. Even when I turn a hundred and ten, I’ll be after you with a pointy hat every birthday.”

Spike smiled. “It’s a date.” He stood, stretched, and made a decision. He felt drawn to stay near Xander, saw no reason to hide it and stir up speculations and worries. “I’m crashing in the comfy chair in Xander’s room. Don’t know how he’ll be feeling when he wakes up.”

The light mood vanished. “It’s bad isn’t it?” Willow asked. “Even though he seemed so cheerful as he ate.”

“He was a captive, a slave for five years, Red. He’s changed. They changed him. I think he’s stronger now, in many ways, but that doesn’t make him any less…wounded.”

“So what do we do? Act like he’s been on vacation?” Willow chewed her lip with worry.

"I respect him." He searched for something they'd understand. "Like he fought the end of the world for five bloody years. Every day closing the Hellmouth. You need to know about him...come to me, right? I’ll get your info.” He gave a sharp nod and turned, cutting of the questioning. “Night."

Willow stood and stopped him. “Spike.”

“Yeah, Red?” He turned half back around. Willow stepped close and wrapped her arms around him. He hesitated, then returned the hug. Except for Dawn, he was rarely touched. He figured it was habit, he being the Big Bad, a vampire, and all.

“Thank you, Spike. Thank you for doing the things you do for all of us.”

“Pay’s good,” he covered his surprise, his voice catching.

Willow ignored him. “Thank you for finding Xander and bringing him out. Thank you for all you’ve done for him, and all you probably will. Just know that as much as you’re there for him, we’re here, too. For both of you.”

He looked up to catch a nod of agreement from the solemn Oz and a smile from Dawn over Willow’s shoulder. “Thanks, Luv. That means a lot, it does.”

Willow pulled away and wiped her face. “Let me pile up a tray of food. If I know my Xander, he’ll wake up hungry.”

“Yeah, that’d be good. He’s as big as horse now, he’ll probably eat like two of ‘em.” He dashed the back of his hand over his eyes.

Spike paused at the second floor landing and nipped into Willow and Oz’s bathroom. He took the pair of hair trimming scissors and comb he knew were kept there and continued upstairs.

Xander woke up abruptly. Someone had touched him. His body tensed, ready to fight, but the room was still and silent. When he opened his eye and found his vision filled with smooth white instead of rough rock or thatching, his first thought was he’d been blinded. His eye was drawn to the slowly turning ceiling fan, and it all flooded back. The rescue, freedom, his friends, Spike.

As if in answer to his thoughts, there was a movement beside him. The side of his leg was touched again. Xander turned his head to find a fully-clothed Spike sprawled mostly face-down beside him, with one leg drawn up, and apparently sound asleep. Spike’s face was lax and his mouth half-open. This wasn’t he first time he’d watched Spike sleep. How many lifetimes ago were the basement days, anyway? The vampire looked much as he always had, as should be expected, but Xander thought he perhaps a little rounder about the face. Maybe pig’s blood was fattening. Spike’s long hair was starting escape its braid and Xander’s hands itched to comb and re-braid it.

Then Spike’s face tensed, and his leg twitched. Spike’s knee nudged Xander again. “Aw, like a puppy,” Xander thought. As soon as a smile stretched his lips at the image, Spike gasped and fought his way to his hands and knees.

“Leave me alone, Pavayne!” he shouted. Spike’s eyes darted around and finally focused on Xander. “Oh, sorry,” he said, sat back on his heels, and rubbed a hand over his face.

“Some big bad after you?” Xander asked, not unkindly.

“Think of Jack the Ripper, Pinhead, and Dr. Crippen rolled into one.”


“Exactly.” Spike dropped his hand. “Sorry if I woke you.”

“No, I’d just woken up. What are you doing in my bed, anyway, Spike?”

“It’s a king-sized and you were only using a bit of it. ‘sides, that comfy chair is comfy for reading, but it’s too short for sleeping.” Xander just looked levelly up at him. “What? I wasn’t under the covers, even!”

Xander let the smile he’d been suppressing blossom. “I’m kidding you, Spike. I don’t mind.” Xander sat up and stretched. From the light around the window it was still early morning. “I’m going to shower. Now that my hair… now that I can use water that’s hot and almost completely free of mud and piss.”

“Yeah, California’s still up to it’s green, healthy ways. Don’t know why I stick around this state.” Spike flopped back down on the bed as Xander got up. “There’s food when you’re done. Willow made me bring it up,” he said into the pillow.

Xander glanced at the tray piled with little boxes of cereal, fruit and, apparently, muffins. He grinned and looked back to Spike. The vampire was now taking up the whole bed and had tossed the Xander-warmed blanket half over himself. “Puppy,” Xander thought.

The day before, Xander had stood almost unthinking and scrubbed his body over and over. He’d used a bar of soap and thrown away the ruined blue mesh sponge he’d used to scrape as much of Africa from his skin as he could. This time, he focused on his hair. He squinted at the cheery array of many colored bottles that lined the shelf along the shower and almost glowed in the stray sunbeams that filtered through trees outside and the frosted glass of the window. Who know hair care could be so beautiful? He picked one that claimed to be able to clean away any residue, poured a generous palmful, and stepped under the hot spray of water.

As he massaged his scalp and worked out knots and tangles, he thought. Last night Xander, one-time Zeppo and all around loser, had in front of  Spike, one-time tormentor and sometimes Big Bad, cried like a child and Spike had not ridiculed him. In fact, Spike had held him and comforted him, then returned to his room and slept beside him. What did this all add up to?

Xander lathered, rinsed and repeated until his scalp was just short of bloody, and he had determined that what he’d sensed in Spike long ago was real. Spike’s soul was still in place, and his heart was sincere. When he finally turned off the water, he’d decided that the impulsive request he’d made to Spike the night before was real and true. He knew Spike was his anchor, and prayed the vampire knew it, too.

Xander came out of the bathroom an unmeasured time later.

What he saw stopped him dead in his tracks. Spike sat on the reclining couch, his long legs stretched out and one arm up on the back, with his head resting in his hand. In the other hand he held a paperback, angled so the sunlight pouring through the window shone fully on the open pages. Disinterestedly, Spike turned a page, not even looking up at the naked man gaping at him. “’bout time. The power company called, they want to know when they can open the locks and start generating power from the water supply again.”

Dumbfounded, Xander walked over to Spike and touched his sun-warmed hair. “How?..”

“Oi! You’re dripping on my book!” Spike ducked away from under Xander’s bulky form. Xander’s hand lingered in the very real sunbeam, then slowly fell.

“You’re human!”

“What? No! God forbid.”

“But…” Xander raised a hand and pressed it to Spike’s neck below his ear.

Spike sighed and rolled his eyes, but allowed Xander to feel his lack of pulse. “It’s called necro tinted glass. Something Wolfram & Hart worked up. I helped rescue a wealthy demon git and he repaid me with it. I don’t have  a home, so Oz installed it here. It's in the bathroom, too. Are you through pawing me, wild boy?”

Xander dropped his hand but didn’t quite blush. “That’s neat. That’s really neat.”

Spike grinned at his old companion. “Innit? Ready for brekkies? There’s juice in the fridge.”

Special credit to Sexymermaid for the line about respect and the end of the world.

On to Chapter 7

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