All About Spike - Print Version
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Ars moriendi
By wiseacress

Sequel to Modus Vivendi

Story notes: There was widespread dissatisfaction with the ending to Modus Vivendi. In general, most plaintiffs requested an ending in which Xander stayed with Spike and their relationship continued to develop. I thought about that for a while, and came up with this.

To understand this story, you should probably read Modus first. Then you should forget everything that occurs after Xander falls asleep questioning his sanity in Chapter 13. In other words, we are taking advantage of the fine Whedon-approved tradition of Alternate Universes, and positing that Angel never showed up, and Xander never left the loft.

This ending isn't intended to abjure the previous ending. You can pick whichever one you like. Or dislike least, as the case may be. Feedback is welcomed at the usual location.

All thanks to Peasant, who is always right, and Indri, who read generously under adverse circumstances.

He lies awake in the dirty sheets, listening to the music and the sweep of feet in the kitchen. They’re speaking in Spanish, English, some French and German and God knows what, and a few times he hears his own name in the mix. Xan-der, rolled with amusement off a woman’s tongue. The music is all Spanish. It’s about love—amor, mi amor, no me abandona mi amor—and the singer’s voice is taut and plaintive. It’s a song on its knees. They’re dancing through it, laughing.

It’s warm out there. He can hear the hum and the occasional tetchy thump from the generator: the sound of heat. He wouldn’t dance, but he could go out and sit with his back to the wall, just sit quietly and drink whatever was handed to him, and soak in the warmth. Listen to what they’re saying about him. It would be an appealing thought if he were someone else entirely. If the people in the kitchen were other people. If they were people.

A bottle falls and starts to roll, and the record skips, and he binds the sheet tighter over his shoulder. He doesn’t have a watch anymore, but the moon has been out of the window for hours. It’s getting late. They’ll go soon. The music will go with them, and the house will fold back into a pile of dry boards, empty at its core. A dead man practising philosophy on the couch.

Or maybe not. Maybe this will be the night he’ll appear, throwing a long black shadow in the yellow light from the hall. He’ll have a bottle in his hand, and he’ll smell of booze and smoke and anticipation, and maybe he’ll rap his knuckles against the doorframe ironically, or maybe he’ll just stand there, waiting to be asked in.

He's cold all the time. His clothes are California clothes, and this isn't California. It's the Empire state, which sounds grand but isn't. They're in some silent, gutted ghost town, putting up in a gangling bare-boards pile left over from a time when people built them tall and skinny, with lots of narrow stairs. There's no heat, no electricity. There aren't enough blankets. It's November now, and November in the Empire state means snow.

They’ve been frozen in place here for more than a week, which means they should be due to move again soon. But Spike’s not showing any signs of leaving. He’s stopped talking about finding Liv, and though he’s mentioned friends in the city, he hasn’t said anything about going there. Hard to imagine what Spike, of all people, sees in a boarded-up ghost town in the middle of winter. Hard to imagine why they’re stalled here, while Spike tinkers with the DeSoto and makes careful conversation and a bed on the couch.

Maybe it's just road fatigue; they've covered a lot of ground since the chip came out, because Spike wanted to see everyone. Wanted to show off. They've been laying a bloody trail east across the nation, and sometimes Xander wonders what's stopping Buffy or Angel from picking up a newspaper and figuring this out, and just showing up on the doorstep with a stake and dustpan. They used to be good at this research stuff. But maybe it isn't that easy to put this together, or maybe once evil leaves the orange grove, they don't bother with it anymore. Maybe they just aren't looking in the first place.

Anyway, it's tough for him to pass judgment on what they are or aren't doing when he's so thoroughly occupied in doing nothing, himself. From time to time he thinks about a decision he made in another lifetime; he was just going to give up and let himself fall. When he made that decision he was sitting in an armchair, drinking a glass of bourbon. He was warm and there was food in the fridge and all he had to do was sleep and watch television and mind his own business. That was a pretty good life. He's such an idiot.

He puts on three or four shirts, and the one sweater that’s made it this far, and goes down to the kitchen to boil some water. There’s no hot water here, and that makes it doubly weird that they’ve lasted so long, because Spike likes baths. At first it seemed like a girlish kind of thing for him to like, but after a week of being cold, Xander gets it. Baths warm you up. There's a little window just after Spike's come out of a bath, after he's cooled down from the weird overheated feverish stage, and before he's back to room temperature, when he feels human. His skin is the right temperature, and even his mouth is warm. That's nice, in a way.

There's still a little light when he comes into the kitchen, and a moth beating against the window pane to get out. As he watches, it falls to the sill and lies there. It's too cold for moths, and this one's days are numbered whether it comes or goes. He studies it for a minute, then takes the pot from the sink, fills it at the banging, jerking faucet, and lights the little gas range. The flame is beautiful in the half-light, a ring of soft blue teeth.

He stands close to the flame pretending he can feel some warmth from it, and watches the unmoving moth. There are other bug husks on the sill around it, a few flies, some cobwebs. Below the sill there's a knothole in one of the boards, and he can see the purple shadows cut into the snow bank outside. He's so used to seeing his own breath indoors that he doesn't notice it anymore.

The back door slams and there's some cursing, and then Spike's boots start down the hall toward him. Xander doesn't turn around when Spike pauses in the kitchen doorway.

"Fucking serpentine's hanging by a thread."

He nods. The serpentine went on the Nova, right after he got it. He can't remember how much it cost to replace now, but it was enough that he had to borrow the money from Anya. Serpentines didn't come cheap.

"What're you doing?"

"Boiling water."

Spike comes in and looks over his shoulder, as if he has to see it with his own eyes. As if Xander hasn't boiled water here several times a day, every day. Xander doesn't move, neither away nor toward. He just stands there, looking at what Spike is looking at, which is the flakes of rust floating and settling in the pot.

After a minute Spike takes hold of the tail of his sweater and pulls him back a step. "Don't go up in flames, will you?"

Xander purses his lips and nods as if it were a serious consideration, and after another pause, Spike walks out.

It used to be much worse. Bad. Really bad. In the first weeks after Spike found his feet again, after he was done shitting his intestines out in a bloody soup on the bathroom floor, when he was just realizing that he'd really done it, really shaken the chip—that was bad. A bad time. In his mind, Xander has it cataloged under "A" for Awful, "M" for Miserable, and "F" for Forgotten. Except of course it isn't really forgotten. Maybe the "F" is for Fucked-Up.

Liv was gone by then. She hung around just long enough to see Spike start walking again, then skipped out before he got big and bad enough to stop her. Even now when Xander thinks of her, he vacillates, trying to decide whether she knew what was going on. She never said anything. Probably she didn't care. Probably she was too busy figuring out how she was going to disappear with all that money. Sometimes when he's trying to decide whether she knew, his mind takes a side trip and he wonders whether she ever considered taking him with her. Or at least asking. He might not have said no.

The first night Spike came back covered in blood—drenched in it, like he'd opened someone up and rolled in the result—Xander was too shocked to say anything. He just gaped when Spike dropped the duster and stood there like some kind of hellish Keith Haring self-portrait, wearing a red T-shirt that had been white when he'd gone out. He was leaving blood footprints. His skin was copper. The whitest thing left about him was his grin, which was enormous. He was grinning with pure delight, like a dog that had just retrieved and wanted to be praised, wanted to do it again.

Xander just stood there, and in a minute Spike was all over him, kissing him and pushing at him, knocking him down and then dropping down on top of him. There was a second when Xander was lying splayed, shoving with his good arm, scrabbling uselessly with his heels, and staring up into that bright bloodied face. He remembers that face very clearly, even months afterward. There was nothing unusual about it, really. Nothing outstanding, compared to what came after. It was just the first time he'd seen Spike from quite that angle, seen the teeth from quite that perspective, and known that everything so far had been play compared to what was going to happen next.

Bad days. He tries not to think about them. But he does.

He’s found that if he closes off a certain part of his mind, he can have lengthy conversations with Willow. He can’t think about her very much when he’s here, when something is demanding his attention in what he assumes to be the real world—if Spike is in the room he can’t even think of her without panicking. But if he’s alone, lying still with his eyes closed, and everything is quiet, he can cut ties with reality and shoot the breeze for days.

Where are you now? Willow asks, and he considers.

New York, upstate. Some little town, I don’t know what it’s called. Jesus, it’s freezing.

What are you doing?

Nothing. Just waiting.

Waiting for what?

Car parts. Or spring, whichever comes first.

A brief pause. Then, predictably, like a delicate elbow to the gut: He leaves you alone all the time. Why don’t you go?

It was a straight shot east from LA to Tucson, and somehow they crossed the border to Nogales, though Xander can't remember exactly how. Spike drove, and Xander spent a lot of time sunk down in the seat with his head in his hands, sick and dizzy and exhausted. He had a lot of holes in his throat. He remembers listening to Pistols at top volume, over and over, hating it more each time. Spike's hand was always on the back of his neck or on his leg, and Spike was singing along to the music, grinning and shouting and smoking a thousand cigarettes. He remembers Spike pulling without warning into turnouts in the middle of the night and spilling sideways into him, kissing him with a mouth that tasted like an ashtray, calling him beautiful and biting down hard while Xander flailed with both hands and found only the door handle, the seatbelt, the floor. Once he clawed the glove compartment open, and a couple of old Playboys slid out and smacked him in the forehead.

Spike went off the deep end in Mexico. Completely off, so Xander was afraid to be around him or talk, afraid to draw his attention because he might do anything. He bought a gun, or won it in a card game or something, and for a while he used it laughingly to order Xander around. Turn on the telly, love. Close the blinds, love. He'd sit on the bed and tip it indolently in Xander's direction, smiling as if it were a shared joke. A few times Xander was just sitting doing nothing, and he looked up to find Spike aiming the thing at him, grinning. Come sit with me, love. Come sit on my lap.

For a while he wondered if radiation could drive a person insane.

Spike had a lot of friends in Mexico, and the longer they were there the more friends there were to see. Word had started to spread about the chip being nuked, and suddenly everyone wanted to greet the new, old Spike. There were endless brutal bouts of drinking, impromptu wrestling matches, shootings, screamed insults, tearful remembrances. Spike got into a fight with something that took the bottom half of his right ear off, and for the week it took to heal he left a dark red jelly on the pillows. He lost the gun at some point, which was a relief.

The water, or the food, or something, made Xander so sick he could hardly drag himself back and forth to the bathroom. Spike wasn't disgusted; he thought it was funny. He stood at the bathroom door while Xander crouched over the filthy toilet, and laughed. When Xander emerged, shaky and reeking, he ambushed him onto the bed and bit him again.

He was manic, irrepressible. He hardly slept at all. During daylight hours he turned the radio and television on full blast and paced around the motel room, occasionally dropping onto the bed where Xander lay, tearing the pillow off his head, kissing or biting him or working at his clothes. At night he disappeared alone or with a gang, and came back just before dawn with a bloody smile.

A few times Xander wondered if he was going to die here. He couldn't much bring himself to care, as long as the pain in his gut stopped.

Finally one of Spike's friends stuck his head into the room, scowled, and said something in Spanish, fanning the air in front of his face. Spike laughed. Xander was lying in a ball on the carpet by the bed, and Spike had to step over him to go out. He leaned down and kissed Xander behind the ear, and the friend said something else, and Spike’s fingers tangled briefly in his hair, and then they were gone. Several hours later Spike came back and dropped a paper bag on the carpet in front of Xander, then went into the bathroom and started the shower. There were bloody fingerprints on the bag. Inside was a bottle of something chalky and medicinal. It helped.

Things finally spooled out in Mexico; either Spike ran out of friends or he ran out of interest. He was still hopped up, still obscenely pleased with himself, still looking for trouble and spoiling for a fight. But he wasn't the crackling, mad-eyed bastard he had been. He was slowing down. He was bored by the vicious little towns now, and annoyed with most of the friends he'd tracked down. He turned the car north, and again, like ghosts, they made it back into the land of the free.

They were in Texas, and Spike hated Texans, so they pushed east to Louisiana, and down to New Orleans. Again, Spike knew everyone. They ended up staying a while, putting up in a rotted old house in a kudzu-covered lot, lent to them by an old woman without any eyes. There were a lot of cats in the place, all skinny and mistrustful.

Spike went out fighting and drinking in the evenings, and Xander slept or sat on the perilous balcony, watching the cats stroll their little paths. The air smelled thick. He had a bottle of cutrate tequila left over from Mexico, and he kept it on his knee and from time to time remembered to drink from it. A raw, flaking rash had begun to blossom on his neck and on the back of his left hand.

The first night Spike came back stoned, Xander couldn't figure out what was going on. He'd never seen Spike like that before—sleepy, dopey, leaning in the doorway with a dumb torpid expression, as if all the whirling spitting wheels in his head had been wrapped in wool and packed away for winter. Xander sat staring at him, trying to decide what to do, and eventually Spike shuffled forward and laid himself out along the settee beside Xander, his head in Xander's lap, his boots planted on the arm. He was boneless and heavy, and he didn't make any demands.

Xander sat still until it seemed that Spike had gone to sleep. Then he lifted the bottle and took a careful sip. He was afraid it would wake Spike up. But nothing woke Spike up—not a cat fight in the vines, not a drunkard weaving up to the front of the house and yelling Spike's name over and over for half an hour, then cursing, unzippering, pissing an age, and wandering away again. Spike didn't move for hours, until the sky was dark blue instead of black and the stars were starting to fade. Then Xander poked him in the shoulder, and poked him again, and finally grabbed the collar of his coat and shook him.

He woke up looking confused, and then sheepish, and staggered inside to collapse on the bed. Xander stayed put a little while, until some feeling came back to his legs. Then he followed, and there was a day of utter motionless quiet, of just lying together in sleep or half-sleep, as if the world had looked in an unused back drawer, found some leftover mercy, and tossed it in his lap.

Sometimes—and strangely, it's usually during the quiet spells, when nothing very bad has happened for a few days—she won't leave it alone. He's going out tonight—why don't you leave? Just put that Nancy Sinatra on and start walking.

I did go, he tells her. Once. Early on. It didn't…it didn't work out.

He glances uneasily back over it, the night he just got out of bed and pulled his coat and shoes on, walked out of the empty motel room and left the door ajar behind him, as if he were just stepping out for a cigarette or some ice. It was a warm night, somewhere between New Orleans and New York. The air smelled sweet and industrial, and he found himself walking along the side of the highway, the wrong side, with white headlights bearing down on him like ocean breakers. The big trucks pushed a wall of warm foul air in front of them, and sucked him half into the lane when they'd gone by.

Before he knew it he was out of the oasis, and the night was black except for the blinding stream of traffic, and he had no idea where he was going. It occurred to him that he should try to hitch a ride, but he didn't want to hitch back the way he'd come, so he waited for a gap and jogged to the far side.

He walked backward with his thumb out, and nobody stopped. When he thought about it, he realized he wouldn't have stopped either. Stopping for a guy like him, in the middle of the night, the middle of nowhere—that was dumb. After a while he dropped his thumb and just kept walking.

Sometime later a car did pull over, and he looked up and saw the familiar black shark glaring back at him with red taillight eyes. He stopped walking and stood there while it backed up. There were a few seconds to consider stepping out to his left, into the path of the sixteen-wheeler that was blasting by.

The DeSoto's passenger side door popped open. Spike was sitting looking at him silently, his face white and hard in the dashboard glow. Xander got in.

Back in the motel room, he expected to be hit or bitten or fucked against the wall, taught a lesson of some kind. He kept his hands down at his sides and waited for it with his shoulders up around his ears. But Spike just dropped the duster, disappeared into the bathroom, and ran the water full blast. Xander waited, then finally gave up and crawled into bed. He woke up to find Spike lying on his back on the far side of the mattress, on top of the covers. When Xander moved toward him, he shifted away. Xander swallowed and said, "I'm sorry."

Spike didn't reply for a minute or so, then said, "Don't be." His voice was quiet and hollow.

Xander lay still for a while, trying to think. There was a strange feeling in the middle of his chest, as if some thread were being drawn slowly out of him. It hurt. He closed his eyes and rubbed them hard. Then he moved over and wrapped an arm tightly around Spike's chest. Spike tensed. After a minute he raised one hand and patted the top of Xander's head a couple of times, as if he didn't know how to touch him.

"I'm sorry," Xander repeated.

Spike's hand rested on the top of his head. "Fuck's sake," he said, quiet and frustrated.

Xander didn't say anything, just forced his other arm under Spike's back, so he could clasp his hands against Spike's ribs. He squeezed hard. Hard as he could.

Spike's palm moved down the back of his skull and rested on the nape of his neck. After a minute, he said, "You should go to sleep." His voice was a little more normal.

Xander’s cheeks were burning. He pushed his face into Spike’s side so he couldn’t see anything, so the world was pared to smoke and skin and silence. The unspooling in his chest was slowing, hurting less. He could still feel the big trucks shuddering past, pushing and pulling, like forces of nature.

He didn't know what all Spike did, but whatever it was, the end result looked pretty good. He started to take an interest in the stuff that spilled out of Spike's coat pockets at the end of each night. While Spike was in the bath, he went through it. The white papers must be acid. The pills could be anything. The little resinous wads were hash, he knew; plenty of times he'd seen Spike open up a cigarette, drop the tobacco into a fresh paper, add a few bits from the wad, and seal it all up to smoke. It smelled strong and sticky and kind of nice. There were a few other things he couldn't identify at all: a little glass bottle with an eye dropper; a weird gelatin, like Turkish Delight, wrapped in paper and aluminum foil.

There were enough little paper squares that a couple wouldn't be missed. He put them in his pocket and took them sitting on the porch, watching the cats, after Spike had gone out.

About an hour later he started to realize that he'd made a mistake. He was hearing a dull roar just over his shoulder, and then voices in the house behind him, and every time he jerked his head around to check on the speakers they traveled just out of sight. The kudzu was rippling like a giant animal. A woman in heels walked through the kitchen behind him, and asked who was that man sitting out on the balcony. His skin began to crawl. His mouth tasted sour and dry.

He sipped a little tequila to wet his mouth, and tried to close his eyes and ignore all of it. A man with heavy feet came and stood over him in silence. He smelled of sawdust. Xander opened his eyes and stared at the porch ceiling, where several large delicate spiders, big around as dinner plates, were tentatively circumnavigating the burnt-out bulb. He was afraid one would fall on him, and he looked away. A cat sat yawning on the edge of the kudzu. It glanced at him, looked away, then looked back with sudden malign intent. His heart began to race.

When Spike got back, Xander was curled in the bed with the sheet wrapped tight around him, cold and sweating. He'd been listening to people come and go all night; Spike was just one more. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed, and was real.

"You sick?"

Xander rolled over and looked at him silently, not knowing what to say. Spike looked startled, and put a cold hand on Xander's forehead. "You're all clammy. You got a chill or something?"

Xander shook his head. Someone dropped a plate in the kitchen and started cursing, and he flinched. Spike reached out and pulled him upright, pulled him close, and stared into his face. "Oh, fuck. What'd you take?"

"Acid," Xander said. "I think."

"What'd it look like?"

He described the little paper squares. Spike winced. "How many?"

"Two." Spike's face was starting to distort, and he had to look away. "It was stupid, I'm sorry, I didn't know—"

"'s all right." Spike's arm was around him, stroking his shoulder. "'s not your fault, I shouldn't leave these things lying around."

He laughed morosely at that, and Spike kept stroking his shoulder and back. He felt a little saner with someone else there. It was easier to ignore the goings-on throughout the house, the sound of dogs belling in the yard, the odd movements in the sheet. Spike pulled him down onto the mattress and for a minute he was terrified there would be kissing or biting or something else, something he couldn't possibly handle right now, but there wasn't. Spike just kept an arm around him and asked him now and then how he was doing, and he said he was fine. Fine.

"Next time you want to try something," Spike said, "let me know first, all right?" Xander nodded.

He fell asleep with his head on Spike's chest, with the man and woman standing over the bed arguing viciously in whispers.

After half an hour, he’d lost most of the feeling in his toes. Wait here, Spike had said, slipping through the doors with a distracted smile, already tuned into something he’d caught a whiff of somewhere inside. Big damn ugly building, and Xander didn’t want to know what was inside it. He didn’t want to know what made Spike’s chipless eyes light up like that. He pulled his cap a little lower over his ears and tried to lose himself in his coat. California coat, a coat that got mocked and bullied by real cold. Inner-city cold, snowless and savage.

He was thinking vaguely about trying the doors, maybe just getting inside the foyer and waiting there, instead of out here on the street like a dog, when there was a bang of locks and Spike strode out with the brilliant buzzing grin. He was smoking a cigarette, crackling orange sparks. There was a little blood at the corner of his mouth.

There wasn’t time to say anything, not that there was anything to say. Spike just rammed him up against the wall and pushed a cold bloody tongue into his mouth, and there was a cold hand popping the buttons on his coat, and the tip of the cigarette was scorching his cheek. Xander coughed and squirmed, and Spike paused to flick the cigarette away, then started on Xander’s fly.

“Spike—not here.”

“Yeah, here.” Spike grinned and shoved his hips up against Xander’s. Bone on bone. It hurt.

“Spike—" Xander pushed at Spike’s hands, watching the street past his shoulder. “Not here, Spike. Really. Come on, let’s at least—"

Spike buried his face in Xander’s neck, made a deep snuffling sound, and started to press down with his teeth. Xander twisted away. “Spike, I’m serious. Where’s the car?”

“Where we left it. Come on, love—"

“I’m going to the car.” He said it firmly, as if he were already walking away, though really if Spike didn’t want to let him walk, he wasn’t going anywhere. After a minute, Spike let him go and he stumbled free, buttoning his fly and his coat, hoping that the whole thing had just looked like a mugging to anyone who might have seen.

He couldn’t remember exactly where the car was, but at least he started out in the right direction, and after about a block Spike stopped walking a step behind and started leading the way. He had another cigarette lit already. He was like this, after eating. He smoked nonstop, talked a blue streak, couldn’t keep his hands to himself. He looked at you like he wanted to roll right over you. Like he was going to blast right through you.

When Spike was like this, Xander sank a little deeper into himself, kept quiet, and tried to stay out of the way. It wasn’t easy. Spike looked for him. He wanted to kiss Xander while he still had blood in his mouth, wanted to do all kinds of things to him that ended up being messy and bloody and usually painful. The worst thing was, he clearly wasn’t trying to be cruel. When he finished he wanted to lie close, and if Xander pulled away he looked confused. Hurt.

The DeSoto was suddenly right there on the curb, and Xander slowed down. Back at the building, the car had seemed like a good ploy. What could he do now to put it off a little longer? The car wasn’t safe either; maybe he could tell Spike to wait until they were somewhere else, until they had a room or at least until they were out of the neighborhood. Spike passed the passenger door and opened the back door instead. Xander stopped walking.

“Spike, maybe—" He didn’t get the chance to say more; Spike turned and grabbed him, yanked him half off his feet and shoved him into the car. Then he piled in after and slammed the door, and they were a messy banging tangle of limbs, Xander trying to get turned right way around and Spike on top, grappling with him. Xander ended up with his head in the footwell, pinned, breathing hard. Spike pushed his coat up and started to kiss his back.

That wasn’t too bad, so he just lay still for it, and after a bit Spike wedged a hand beneath him, undid his fly, and started to stroke him. He was saying Xander’s name under his breath in a singsong, half-laughing, as if Xander were the one doing something unaccountable. His touch was light, and that was one thing you had to give him; he was gentle in that department. He’d never bitten Xander there.

Xander pushed up a bit, cautiously, and Spike let the pressure off so he could turn on his side. Then they were spooning on the narrow seat, with Spike’s lips pressed against Xander’s ear, saying his name over and over in an amused tone. Spike started to move his hips very slightly, pushing Xander forward and letting him fall back.

Xander swallowed and tried not to make any sound. Sounds could be interpreted in a lot of ways, he’d found. Usually Spike considered them to be encouragement.

He lay still and tried not to make a sound, tried not to jump to any conclusions about what Spike wanted, but then Spike shifted his hips and pushed forward again, and there wasn’t much doubt anymore.

“Want to fuck you, love,” he murmured. And there was no doubt at all.

Xander stared at the rip in the back of the driver’s seat and tried to think. Spike worked his other hand down between them and tugged at Xander’s jeans. Xander flinched, then abruptly made a decision and squirmed around. It was dark in the car, but there was just enough reflected light to see that Spike was smiling, that he looked pleased and surprised.

“Hello beautiful,” he said, and pulled Xander in for a long kiss that tasted like iron.

Xander kissed back, and for a while he thought maybe that was enough, but then Spike’s hands started working at his jeans again, harder this time. He gasped and shoved Spike’s hands away, then wriggled down the seat and took Spike into his mouth.

The idea was that this was better than the alternative. Better for Xander at least; less painful and humiliating, on a scale of one to a billion, and if he could do this right then maybe Spike would forget about the other. Sometimes it worked.

Whether he was doing it right or not, there was a pattern. At first Spike just seized up and lay rigid, with his eyes screwed shut and his fists clenched. That was the easiest part, when he was still grappling for control. Then he’d gasp quietly or make a weak sound deep in his throat, and sometimes there would be time for Xander to feel a baffling flicker of almost-fondness. He might put a hand on Spike’s hip or stomach, and sometimes Spike’s hand would come down and press overtop of his.

Then Spike would open his eyes and watch, and the little sounds would turn to a string of praise and curses, beautiful beautiful love fuck oh love, beautiful. Xander tended to try to hurry it up at that point. It could get pretty furious by the end, when Spike had forgotten to be gentle.

This time was no exception to the rule, except that when they got to the part where Xander buckled down, Spike pushed him away. Xander looked up in confusion.


“Told you love, I want to fuck you.” Spike was smiling, tugging at his shoulder, running one hand down his own belly to touch the wetness Xander’s tongue had left.

A black hole opened in Xander’s chest, and he blinked. “Just let me—" he said weakly, and tried to maneuver back in, but Spike stopped him and pulled him up.

“Love you,” Spike said, and kissed him. His fingers were in Xander’s hair, pulling the cap off and scrubbing the scalp. “Want to be in you.” He got a hand in Xander’s jeans and yanked them down, and when Xander let out a hopeless little moan he growled back and pushed his tongue into Xander’s mouth.

It might be funny, Xander thought, as Spike was pushing his own jeans down. It was such an awkward, ridiculous, messy hobby. Someone should find some humor in it. Maybe he would have, once upon a time. He used to be the guy with the smart mouth, and he sure would have had something smart to say about this. About him trying to turn over with his jeans still wrapped around his ankles, figuring numbly to at least get it over with fast, and about Spike stopping him and pulling them both upright, so they were sitting together, Xander across Spike’s lap. Spike got rid of the jeans and made Xander face him, and they did it like that. Spike said some ridiculous things about love and beauty, and Xander had to say some stuff too; it was part of the deal. Hilarious. It must be. For someone.

Somewhere along the line Xander picked up a map. It disappeared immediately, but he found it later, stomped on the floor in the back seat, when he was rifling the car for warm clothes. He keeps it under the mattress and looks at it sometimes when Spike's out. It gives him a strange feeling to look back over the route they've taken to get here. It gives him an even stranger one to run it backwards with his finger, all the way back to the west coast where for some reason he still imagines himself living, in his old apartment with the bead curtain and the roaches. If he closes his eyes he can see himself waking up in the morning, going to work, coming home. Reading the newspaper. Getting a bite from the taqueria up the street. He can run the loop for hours, just watching himself do unimportant things, going on about his life.

That was a month ago, maybe more. The frozen wait outside the building, and the fiasco in the back seat of the DeSoto, and the terrifying inner city tour that followed, because Spike wanted to find the restored Masonic Temple: Detroit. The City That Put the World on Wheels.

Cleveland—Spike almost got himself torched in Cleveland, by three guys in a gas station. He stood grinning and baiting them with a cigarette between his lips while the one holding the fuel nozzle tried to work up the nerve to use it. Somehow, it didn't happen. Later that night, in the motel room, Xander lay wondering whether Spike thought he was faster than fire, whether he thought he couldn't be killed.

Spike didn't know anyone in Amish country, so in Pennsylvania he spent the night in. The motel had an orange velour bedspread, which amused him for some reason. He said it made Xander look Roman. By the time they left, the bedspread was mangled in the corner, and Xander was walking slowly and carefully and with quiet concentration, like Lazarus.

Then they were in Jersey, and Spike was swigging from a flask and making Jersey jokes, and Xander sat staring at the dashboard and nodding from time to time. After a while the jokes petered out, and then they were just riding in silence through the Garden State, mile after mile of slush-spattered freeways. Without really thinking about it, Xander assumed they were going to the city. After a while he realized that Spike had stopped smoking. He was just driving, both hands on the wheel, looking sideways at Xander from time to time and frowning as if Xander were someone he almost recognized but couldn’t quite place. Or didn’t want to.

They didn’t go to the city, and Spike didn’t say why. They turned north instead, slipped off the freeway at an exit Xander didn’t see, and drove straight to this house as if Spike knew it. He broke the lock off the back door with the tire iron, and they’ve been here ever since.

Okay, Willow says. So the leaving didn't go so well. It doesn't mean you can't leave again. You can, you know. Leave.

He doesn't respond to that, just sits thinking about the curve of her cheek, the smell of her hair, the brown argyle sweater she's had since junior high. After a while she gets the hint and moves on to something else.

I'm learning new stuff, really cool stuff. Locator spells, and retrieval spells, and spells for making time go backward so you can undo stuff that's happened.

That's great, he says. Did I tell you about that place in Terre Haute? With the Wiccan Wednesdays, twenty percent off all mortar and pestle sets?

Yeah, you told me.

We should go there sometime. You can stock up on nasty herbal stuff.

Yeah. But first you have to come back.

He pauses. Talking to Willow has been getting harder lately; she's more insistent, she needles him more. More and more, she's forcing him to account for himself, and he can never do it, so he just falls silent. It's starting to worry him, because what if it gets to the point where they can't talk at all? He doesn't think he could stand that.

Look, he says. I have to be honest here, Wills. I don't know whether I'm going to make it back there.

There's silence. It's the first time he's said anything like this, to her or to himself. Well, it's all to himself, he knows that, but she seems so real—

Remember Cleveland? she says. She's got her serious face on, the one that's always creeped him out, because it's so cold and purposeful and unlike her. Remember that gas station in Cleveland?


Remember those guys, with the gas hose?

He doesn't say anything.

You could do that, she says. He's not invulnerable, Xander. He just thinks he is. You could burn him, or stake him, or open the curtains when he's sleeping—

He's backing away from her in his mind, shaking his head.

—he doesn't keep close tabs, you could surprise him—

No, he says. No, I can't do that—

—you've done it before, you've killed lots of them, and what about the people he's killed, what about the things he does to you—

A spasm goes through him when she says that, and he groans and wants to cover his ears like a child, but it wouldn't help. No, he says, over and over. I can't do that, I can't—

—you could use his lighter. Break a chair up for a stake. Visit a church and get some holy water—

No. No, I can't—

"Who are you talking to?"

He jerks and lies rigid under the blanket, blinking in the half-light. Spike is standing in the doorway, his coat still on, staring at him. Xander just stares back, his mouth open in shock. After a minute Spike steps in and peers around the room.

"You talking to yourself?" he says. When he looks back at Xander, his expression is disturbed.

Without thinking, Xander puts out a hand, and Spike comes over at once, crouches down, and takes it. "Got cold little hands," he says, rubbing the fingers and then kissing them. Xander watches him in a trance. Has he been having these conversations aloud, all this time? He thought they were in his head.

"Getting more like Dru every day," Spike says, and gives him a quick worried smile.

They take a night trip to Woodstock, because Spike is feeling nostalgic. It's a forty-five minute drive, quiet all the way. Spike keeps to his side of the seat, and Xander sits staring out the little patches of clear glass on his window, feeling the careful looks that Spike is giving him. It's amusing, really, and it spells itself out in the simple declarative in his mind, like a first-grade reading primer: Spike thinks Xander is going crazy. It's funny because it's true.

Woodstock is a quaint little place, a single winding road lined with yuppified bookstores and restaurants. They've put white lights on the trees for Christmas. Spike drives through it with a silent frown, then turns off onto a side road and takes them out into the dark countryside. He's looking for the field, but he can't find it, and they end up just driving back roads for an hour or two, the headlights flaring off the snow banks. Finally Spike pulls over and cuts the engine, and Xander shakes off his daze and sits up straight, waiting to be mauled.

But Spike doesn't maul him. He doesn't even look at him; he just rolls down his window and leans out with his elbow on the door, staring up at the stars. It's a clear night, silent and black. After a couple of minutes, Xander forces down the window on his own side and looks up too.

They sit there for a while, not talking. The longer Xander watches, the more stars he can see, as if they're appearing for his benefit.

After a while he starts to shiver, and Spike leans back in and rolls his window up, starts the engine, and puts the heater on. Xander stays out a moment longer, because watching the stars makes him feel calm and sane, and because he's afraid that when he leans back in, Spike is going to tell him he's beautiful or something just as awful. When he finally does roll his window up, though, Spike doesn't say anything. He just flicks the headlights on and turns them around, back toward town.

As they're driving back he smokes a cigarette, and Xander can't help but think of it as postcoital. As if the two of them sitting out there, staring at the stars and not even talking, was as good as sex.

He's sitting in the front room, in the broken-down wingback chair by the cold fireplace, an old Life magazine open on his knee to a picture of Ike Eisenhower. There are piles of old magazines in several rooms, most of them bloated and moldy, a few of them still readable. He doesn't read much, but he'll flip through for something to do. He's got a cup of hot water in his hand, still steaming. It never really warms him up, but he drinks it all day anyway.

Spike comes down the hall and puts his head around the door. "Go for a walk?"

Xander glances up, nods, and puts the cup carefully down on the floor. The invitation doesn't surprise him anymore; he even expects it around this time of evening. Spike asked for the first time a week ago, and Xander accepted warily, sure it was going to turn into something bad. But it was just a walk, a stroll along the snowy sidewalks, past the decrepit boarded-up houses, and when they got back Spike went out again and left him to his own devices. They've walked every night since. It's become a routine.

Spike waits on the step while he puts his coat on, and then they start off down the middle of the street, because the sidewalks aren't cleared and there are never any cars. It's cold and cloudy, which means there'll be more snow soon.

Xander keeps his hands thrust in his pockets and walks fast for the first few minutes, trying to warm up. Spike doesn't comment, just smokes and watches the sky and occasionally veers off to peer inside the black, glassless windows of the houses they pass.

They walk down to the canal, and then along the uneven old towpath, windblown and glazed with ice. Xander keeps a hand on the rusty iron railing, and has to catch himself a few times when his shoes slip.

He's concentrating on his footing too much to look up, and he jumps when Spike takes firm hold of his coat. Then he sees the black figure coming down the path toward them, and is transfixed. Spike's walking in front now. His shoulders are up and he's swaggering, and even from behind he looks like someone you don't want to fuck with. His hair is silver in the starlight.

The figure keeps coming, big and bulky, but it's slowed down a little. Xander tries to think through the fog in his brain. He should warn the guy. It's probably already too late. Is he going to see someone killed? Is Spike going to take someone's throat out right in front of him?

"Don't," he says quietly, and Spike gives no sign of having heard. "Please. Don't."

Spike turns his head slightly and gives him a quick annoyed look, the sort of look he gives harmless idiots. Then he turns back to the figure. It's a man, tall and broad, with a full red beard and a flattened nose. He's wearing a pea coat and a watch cap just like Xander's. He stops a few feet away on the path and looks them over.

"Nice night," he says at last, and Spike shrugs.

"S'pose," he says. "Depends on what you're doing."

"I'm walking."

"No, you're standing gawping at me. You'll know when you're walking, because you'll feel my boot up your arse."

The man smiles widely. "Hey, Spike," he says.

"Hello, Standish."

The big man takes his hand out of his pocket, and Spike shakes it. Xander swallows and presses himself against the railing, trying to find somewhere to disappear into, and the big man looks over Spike's shoulder at him.

"You're busy," he says, looking back at Spike. "Sorry to interrupt. Unless you're in a sharing mood—?"

Spike jerks his hand back, and shifts to try to block the big man's view. "He's not a meal," he says coldly.

The man raises an eyebrow, and then comprehension breaks over his face. "I remember hearing about this," he says. "Milosz told me: Spike's got a human. I thought he was kidding. But I guess—" He glances at Spike's face and trails off.

"Nice seeing you, Standish," Spike says.

The big man pulls himself a little straighter and glances back at Xander. "Right," he says. "Same old Spike. Well, good luck to you, little man." He smiles at Xander, and then the smile widens and his fangs shine like icicles. "Still got some juice in you, smells like. Got an expiration date?"

Xander says nothing. His hands are locked around the railing behind his back.

The man chuckles. He pats Spike on the shoulder and says, "You've got a live one there, Spike," and when Spike says nothing, he gives him a little salute, turns on his heel, and starts back the way he came. In a minute or two he's just a dim shape in the darkness, and then he's gone.

Xander stands listening to his heart thud in his head, watching while Spike stares down the path almost a full minute after the man’s gone. Then he turns away and glances at Xander. "Come on."

Xander pries his hands off the railing and follows Spike back the way they've come, back up to the sidewalks and the gutted silent houses. He's shivering from cold and nerves, and he just wants to get back to the house, back to doors that close and cold sheets he can pull over his head.

Halfway there, Spike stops and shoves him up against a wall. At first he thinks it's anger, but then Spike's hands are under his coat, icy against his belly, and he gasps into Spike's mouth. The kiss tastes of cigarettes.

Spike hasn't kissed him since they got here. Hasn't touched him. Ever since they arrived he's slept on the ageless, slumped couch in the front room, and let Xander take the waterstained mattress in the back. He's given him wary sidelong looks and shown him the stars, asked him to walk in the evening, kept to his side of the house, the car, everything. This is the first kiss in all that time. Cold and smoky and carnal as always, and maybe a little more desperate even than before. Xander stands with his back arched stiff against the wall, his hands dangling at his sides, waiting for it to be over.

Spike pulls back slightly and studies him, then tries again, more gently. The tip of his tongue just brushes Xander's lips, and for a second Xander's eyes want to close, and his hands want to rise up and touch Spike's face. He doesn't let it happen. Spike pulls his hands out from under Xander's coat and steps back. He straightens Xander's clothes as if he'd just noticed they were awry.

Xander wipes his mouth and looks away at a house across the street. Spike doesn't say anything. He doesn't apologize, but he doesn't move away. Xander keeps looking at the house.

Finally Spike sighs and digs through his pockets, produces a cigarette, and lights it. "Fucking Standish," he says, stepping back onto the sidewalk. "No pleasure seeing that prick still walking the earth, I'll tell you."

Xander stands there a minute, staring at the trampled snow around his feet, then peels himself off the wall and starts down the dark street after Spike.

The kitchen is warm and yellow, hazed with smoke, fuggy from the tracked-in snow melting in clumps on the floor. It reeks of Spike's cigarettes, Standish's cigars, the women's perfume and the dope they're all passing. The only clean air comes from the blue rectangle of night below the steamed window over the sink, the window that Spike's chocked open for the generator cable. There's a record player in the corner, playing scratchy sad Cuban music. Standish brought it, along with half a dozen bottles of sweet red wine and a black-haired woman named Luz who is almost as tall as he is. Spike’s eyes keep flicking back to her, sharp and careful.

There's another woman too, a shorter blonde one, who seems out of place for some reason Xander can't put his finger on at first. He's sitting in the corner, behind the table with his back to the wall, a glass of wine untouched in front of him. He’s heard all this before, the night before and the night before that, wrapped in cold sheets on the other side of the wall. Tonight, though, there was no choice. You’re here, Spike said, planting a chair firmly. No explanation. He stares at a clot of graying snow and tells himself it's just a matter of keeping quiet and going unnoticed. At least he's warm.

The woman named Luz is draped over Standish's lap, one brown arm around his neck, playing with his earlobe. She's holding a glass of wine in her other hand, a joint tucked between her first and second fingers. He has one hand around her waist, the big thumb stroking her side, and is gesticulating with the other, dropping cigar ash on the floor.

"The order's gone all to seed," he's saying, over the music. "If Cathbad could see the twerps they're grafting on these days, his fucking head would explode. That stupid bitch Caitlin got everyone worked up about the bloodline, and everyone's siring like dogs, hoping they'll make another one like that—"

"God forbid," Spike mutters, and tosses back the rest of his glass. He's drinking bourbon, not wine.

"It needs a purge, is what it needs. Someone needs to take a torch to the passel of them, and I'm the man to do it."

"El Valiente," Luz says, and laughs a low throaty laugh.

"Who's Caitlin?" the blonde woman asks, and they all ignore her.

"Aurelius," Standish says, with the air of a man settling to his topic. "Now you have a totally different problem. How many of you are left, these days? Ten, a dozen? Do you even count Angelus anymore?"

"Who?" Spike asks, frowning at the cigarette he's rolling.

"What you need—" Standish says, and pauses while Luz puts her wine glass to his lips. "Thank you, love. What you need, Spike, is a shot in the arm. You need to make someone. Dru's out of the picture, right? Well, time to get out from under her skirts, my friend. Time to turn someone tall, dark, and ravishing." As he speaks, his hand travels up Luz's waist and cups her little breast. She glances down at his fingers, smiles bitterly, and looks away.

Xander's gone tense in his chair at the mention of Dru, expecting Spike to turn it into a fight, but he doesn't. He just smiles and pours himself another glass, and watches while Standish leers and raises his eyebrows and sets his cigar down on the table edge. When he slips his free hand up the bottom of Luz's dress, she stiffens slightly and then drops her forehead to his neck, her hair veiling her face. Standish's cigar rolls off the table. The blonde woman blushes into her glass.

"Got a room in back," Spike says, after a minute. His tone is amused and strangely wistful.

Luz lifts her head and gives him a black-lipped smile, then lets her gaze travel over Xander and the blonde woman. "They smell so good," she says, and slides off Standish's lap. Standish rubs the front of his trousers uncomfortably and bends down to retrieve his cigar, while Luz glides barefoot across the floor toward Xander's table. Xander sits frozen, watching her advance. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices that Spike has moved to the edge of his chair, and his face is hard and alert.

"Have a care, hermosa," he says quietly, and Luz turns at once and rests her hands on the back of the blonde woman's chair. Then her hands are on the woman's shoulders, and in her hair, combing gently.

"This one?" she says, smiling, running one brown hand down the woman's throat. "Yes, she's right for you, Spike. Perfect. You like him?" She tips the woman's head back and looks into her face, and the woman nods dumbly. "Of course. Even an idiot like Standish can see you are meant for each other."

The blonde woman laughs nervously, and Standish snorts. Xander's palms are sweating, and he runs them down his trousers. He wonders if there's some way he can warn her. She'd think he was stoned, or insane.

"Destiny," Luz says ironically, and pulls the woman's chair back. "Dance with me, little girl."

The woman gets up uncertainly, and Luz sweeps her into an embrace, starts spinning her around the room until she's laughing and stumbling. Luz's dress is split in the back, and her legs are long and brown and dark-haired. The soles of her feet are black with dirt.

They swing around the room, then back to where they started, and Luz drops the woman into Spike's lap. He holds his glass at arm's length to keep from spilling it.

"Lovely," Luz says, in a businesslike tone. "I think you must take this one now, Spike, while you have her."

Spike smiles absently at the woman, who is watching him with wide bright eyes. Her cheeks are flushed, and her hair has swung across her face.

"What do you think?" he asks, raising an eyebrow. "Might be fun, yeah?"

"I don't want to be turned," she says. "But I'll sleep with you if you want."

Spike's grin widens, and he casts a disbelieving look at Standish, who is smiling and shaking his head. "Where do you find them?" he asks, and then turns back to the woman. "Well, that's certainly a tempting offer."

"I don't want to be turned," she says again, then seems to work her nerve up, and puts her hand on his chest. "But if you just want a little bit of fun—"

Xander sits frozen, staring at her. He feels like someone has brained him with something huge and soft, something that's obliterated his mind. How can she know what they are? Something is twisting bitterly in his gut. Luz laughs, dancing back around the table to Standish. The record skips and the Spanish voices stutter briefly, and the air in the room seems suddenly too warm to breathe.

Spike starts to say something, then glances over and catches sight of Xander's face. He takes the woman's hand off his chest and returns it deliberately to her, then gives her a little push off his lap. "Another time, love." She lingers, and he pats her rear and pushes her away.

Luz is back on Standish's lap, watching closely with heavy-lidded black eyes. "No?" she asks, pulling her knees up and curling her dirty toes. "She's not for you, Spike? But you must be so lonely." Her eyes flicker to Xander, and the corners of her mouth rise.

"Never lonely with the thought of you in my mind, Luz," Spike says, and Luz laughs and drops her head onto Standish's shoulder. The blonde woman sits back down in her chair and pours more wine into her glass, and says nothing for the rest of the evening.

They leave an hour before dawn, and Xander gets up while Spike is still outside saying his goodbyes. He goes straight to the bedroom and crawls under the cold sheets in his clothes, then lies there listening to his heart pound. After a few minutes Spike comes to the door, hesitates, then comes in and sits down heavily on the mattress beside him. Xander doesn't move.

"Keep away from her," Spike says. "Both of them. They're trouble."

Xander says nothing. After a minute he nods, because Spike seems to be waiting for an answer of some kind. He has no intention of going anywhere near any of them. He's not the one who invited them over in the first place.

He assumes that's going to be the end of it, and that Spike's going to get up and go back out, back to his own bed on the front room couch. But Spike just sits there, and after a minute or two Xander's better judgment falters and he makes eye contact. Spike's watching him with a strange fierce expression.

"You know that was just a bit of fun," he says. "That girl, I mean. I wouldn't ever."

The girl. The blonde girl, the one who knew what they were. For a minute, Xander can't figure out what he's talking about—he wouldn't ever what? Bite her, kill her? Of course he would. Then he realizes Spike's talking about something completely different—sex, or love, or something. Spike thinks he's jealous. He feels a weird mixture of desolation and rage and a slight, bewildered tenderness.

"It doesn't matter," he says, and looks away.

"It does," Spike says. He puts a hand on Xander's shoulder and rolls him onto his back. "Of course it does. I wouldn't ever do that. You have to know that."

He stinks of booze and smoke, and Xander tries to count the empty bottles in the other room, tries to estimate how drunk he is. His voice is raw. The hand on his shoulder is too hard, too heavy. It's ridiculous. What is there to be jealous about?

"It's okay," he says, and puts a hand up to pat Spike's forearm awkwardly. "I know that, Spike."

Spike clutches at his fingers and kisses them, and Xander lies there with a pain in his chest, thinking of the girl, the way she'd said I don't want to be turned, the way she'd walked out of the house to do God knows what with Standish and Luz. She'd walked out, that was the key thing. Whatever else she suffered or did tonight, somehow she'd walked out. She was free.

He wonders sometimes what Spike sees in him.

There's a clouded old mirror over the bathroom sink, half the silver flaked away, but he can still make himself out in it. Sometimes he stands in front of it and inspects himself in sections. He's skinny and white and anemic-looking, and his eyes are like burnt holes. Half the time he's unshaven, and most of the time he's unwashed. It's too much trouble to heat enough water, and he's too cold anyway to strip down.

He has old scabs and scars all over his neck, as well as in a few extracurricular places. He has the rash on his hand and throat. His hair needs cutting. His clothes need washing. His fingernails are black.

So he doesn't really get what Spike means when he starts throwing around words like beautiful, which he does with embarrassing frequency, every time he gets worked up. It's like Spike doesn't even see that stuff, like it doesn't matter to him at all. Well, maybe that's not so strange, given that he's dead and a demon and all.

Maybe being dead gives him a permanent long view, so that falling desperately in love with someone he hated a year ago doesn't seem like any big. Xander can almost see that. If he were dead, he's pretty sure none of this would bother him very much, either.

But it's weird, when he's taking stock like this, to think about the good old days when Spike just wanted to kill him. When did that stop? Looking back, it's all seamless, a headlong blur from hatred to worship, and even now sometimes he can't tell the difference. It's unsettling. He never asked for this.

Once upon a time there was a…craving, something to do with a constant empty ache in his chest, and cockroaches in his apartment. But that was a lifetime ago. And now, whatever he says and does gets held up in midair, flipped on its back and manhandled into something else entirely. Confirmation, approval, a plea for more. Even when he says no—but has he ever said that? He's said Oh God, and Christ, and Please, and made all manner of desperate inarticulate noises, but has he ever said no or stop? He's sure he has, but he can't remember when.

It hardly matters anyway, because he knows it would just get translated into some new brand of yes, and Spike would keep doing whatever he's set his mind to do. Like that moment long ago, lying on the floor of the loft with his head still ringing, trying leglessly to scramble out from under that dripping copper grin. Even then, Spike had been saying love you, love you. With his fingers digging into Xander's ribs, his elbow cracking him hard across the jaw. He didn't notice. Love you. Wrenching his head aside, one hand tearing at his jeans. Love you. It wouldn't have mattered if Xander had said no. It would only have made it worse to remember, later on.

"Right, that's it." He turns around and Spike is standing in the doorway, staring at him. "Come on, let's go."

"Go where?" He's standing over the gas range again, watching the rust flakes, watching his breath. He's tired. He wants to drink some hot water and crawl into bed.

Spike tightens his lips and walks away without a word, and Xander stands listening to his footsteps go down the hall, into the front room. Then they come back, and when he appears in the doorway again he has Xander's coat in his hands. He throws it, and it hits Xander in the chest.

"Put that on. Let's go."

"Where are we going?" In the minute that Spike was gone, he had time to think that this is it, they're moving on, and the magical misery tour is starting up again. He had time to feel afraid, and to realize that whenever he thinks he's at absolute bottom, there's another step just below. But this doesn't seem like Spike's pulling up stakes. This just seems like an outing. As soon as he thinks of it like that, he feels a completely different kind of fear.

"Get you a decent meal."

He just stands there staring, clutching his coat against his chest, until finally Spike starts across the room toward him. Then he shakes his head and turns quickly back to the range. "Nah, I'm fine, I don't want to—”

A hard hand grabs his elbow and yanks, and he has just a second to flip the range off, so the place won't burn down while they're gone.

He has no idea where they're going to get a decent meal in this dead town, and as it turns out they don't. Spike takes them back out onto the freeway, and they drive fifteen minutes south, then turn off into a little cluster of lights and signs: food, gas, lodging. There's a diner attached to the gas station, and Spike pulls in and cuts the engine.

They're nosed right up to the plate glass window, right up next to one of the booths, with the silverware and glasses laid out, the little plastic stand-up with the prices for beer, the bottle of Heinz 57. There's no one sitting at it, but there are a few people at the counter, and at a couple of the tables. There's a waitress in a T-shirt and jeans and a short apron. She looks about sixteen years old.

Spike pockets the keys and opens his door, and Xander just sits there, staring through the glass at the yellow light and the people. His heart is racing, and his hands are damp. Spike glances back, then lets his door swing almost shut again. "What?"


Spike opens his door again, then lets it fall shut when Xander doesn't move. "What's the matter with you?"

"I can't go in there."

Spike just looks at him, and he runs a hand through his hair. He's shaking slightly. "I'm—look at me." He holds his hand out and they both look at the dirty, chopped fingernails, the dirt in the web of his thumb, the grimy shirt cuff. "I'm disgusting."

"You're fine."

"I haven't showered in a week. More than a week."

"Have a bath later, then."

"I can't go in there." He rubs his hands on his jeans and glances at the yellow light. The girl is pouring coffee with the order pad tucked into her apron. The light is warm and soft, and everything looks clean.

Spike's hand drops onto his knee and he just manages not to jerk his leg away. "I'm not hungry anyway, let's just—"

"Don't be stupid," Spike says, then softens his tone. "You're fine, you look fine." His hand leaves Xander's knee, curls around the back of his neck, and starts to pull.

Xander throws a quick glance at the window in front of them, ducks his head free, opens his door, and gets out. He closes the door and stands there with his hands jammed into his pockets, staring at the "Open" sign on the door. After a minute, Spike gets out too and leads the way in without a word.

The light is butter-yellow, and there is the click of silverware, the clink of glassware, small conversations and clattering in the kitchen. There's a smell of grease and warm bread and coffee. It loosens something in Xander's stomach and spine, and he's suddenly ravenous. Spike, walking in front of him, looks back over his shoulder and raises an eyebrow.

"Told you."

Xander swallows and says nothing. They take a booth along the wall and Spike sits facing the door, which leaves Xander staring at the black slate of the window behind him, and at his own reflection. He pulls his sleeves down over his hands and studies the paper place mat. It's printed with a red cow, overlaid with a map of cuts: rump roast, sirloin, chuck, strip steak.

The waitress appears over them, impassive, pen in hand. She has menus under her arm, but Spike cuts her off before she can start the spiel. "He'll have the breakfast special. Cup of coffee. I'll have a beer."

"Kinda beer?"

"Whatever you like, love."

She gives him a skeptical, heavy-lidded glance, and goes. Xander starts to get up, and Spike's feet block him. "Where you going?"

"I want to wash up."

Spike says nothing, but the feet withdraw. Xander walks fast back to the men's room.

Inside, the light is too bright and there's a smell of floral disinfectant and whoever used the place last. He stares at himself in the mirror, which seems mercilessly sharp after the impressionist blur of the one he's used to. He looks like a junkie. He looks like hell.

He pumps cheap iridescent soap out of the pink plastic bulb bolted to the wall, and washes his hands. The suds are grey at first, then white as he adds more soap. He gets the worst of the dirt out of his fingernails, then washes his face carefully. He wants to fill the sink with hot water and plunge his whole head in, but he can't walk back out there dripping down his collar like a homeless guy.

He does the best he can and then catches sight of himself as he's drying his hands on the rough brown paper towels. He doesn't look any better. Suddenly it's too much, and he's on the verge of hopeless tears, on the verge of walking out and grabbing the first person he sees and begging for help, or maybe grabbing Spike and begging to be killed, turned, something. Anything. Just no more of this. He can't stand it anymore.

He leans against the sink and keeps drying his hands, one finger after another after another, until the paper towel is a worn frazzle and the stabbing pain in his throat is gone. He's okay. He stands up, pushes his hair back, and takes a deep breath. He's okay. He throws the towel away and turns off the light on his way out.

His plate's already there when he gets back, and Spike is sitting with one arm curled around his beer bottle, the other hand resting on the neck, turning it in slow half-circles. He doesn't look up until Xander slides into the booth across from him.

"Ought to get to that before it gets cold," he says.

"Yeah," Xander says, and picks up his fork. Then he just sits there, staring at the plate. It's two eggs sunny, a side of home fries, toast, and bacon. The egg yolks are viscous and bright crayon yellow. He hesitates, then spears a fry.

Spike watches him eat, watches the other people in the diner, drinks a little beer. Xander puts his fork down and drinks some of the coffee, and it's good. It's all good—the hot greasy food, the hot thick coffee. After a second he realizes the coffee has cream in it already, and that Spike must have put it in.

Spike reaches out, breaks a chip off one of the bacon strips, and eats it. He's watching someone at the counter, over Xander's left shoulder, a middle-aged man who's talking to the waitress. Xander doesn't have to turn around to know it; he can hear the guy going on about gerrymandering, or something. The waitress gives him a couple of uh-huhs, sounding bored out of her teenaged mind. Xander tries to remember when he last sat in a place like this, a homely dumpy blueplate-special type of place like this, where middle-aged guys tried to talk politics over pie.

He eats a few more home fries, drinks some more coffee, and is contemplating the toast when Spike shifts suddenly and straightens up as if he's decided something. Xander freezes with his fork in midair. If Spike gets up, if he follows someone out or God knows he's crazy enough to do it in the men's room—

But Spike is just staring at him, tapping his fingers against his beer bottle, looking strangely frustrated.

"So," he says. "How's it?"

Xander swallows past the lump in his throat, and it takes him a minute to understand what Spike's asking about. The food, he realizes. "Fine. It's fine."

"Good. You need it."

Xander drops his gaze back to his plate, and stabs another fry.

"We'll stop somewhere on the way back, lay in a store. What do you want?"

He eats the fry, which doesn't taste quite as good as the others, and shakes his head. "I don't know. Doesn't matter."

"You want coffee? You drink enough bloody water, might as well get something with a little more kick."


"Cereal? And, what—bread? Make yourself toast or something."

"Yeah. Okay."

Spike swigs from his beer, and a silence falls again. Xander shifts uncomfortably and drinks his coffee, and the guy behind him segues to filibustering, or something. The waitress says something, and he says Oh darling I'd love to, but the wife'd kill me—oh hell, give me a slice anyway, and she laughs. Spike gives a quiet snort and turns back to Xander.

"On course for a coronary, that one. Smoker."

Xander tries the bacon. It's not bad. Salty, still almost hot. Maybe it'll give him a coronary. Maybe he should take up smoking.

Spike reaches over abruptly, grabs one of Xander's toast slices, and stabs his egg yolks decisively: one, two. Then he drops the toast on top of them and leans back in his seat. "Can't stand those things," he says. "Fucking eerie, staring up at you like that."

Xander looks down at the yellow ooze creeping across his plate, then back up at Spike, who's staring at him. There's an obscure challenge in Spike's eyes, a spark, and Xander suddenly remembers a dream he had once, of sitting in a diner across from Spike, and kissing him. It was a good dream. He remembers feeling happy and loved.

He feels suddenly sick, and pushes the plate away. Then he picks it up, stands, and walks it over to the empty table next to them. He wipes his hands on his jeans and turns back to Spike, who's watching him with dismay.

"Can we go now, please?"

They stop off at a supermarket and in the surreal fluorescent light Spike buys food at random: cereal, bread, Pop-Tarts, tomato juice. Xander follows listlessly, then remembers soap, and throws that in. Spike pays with a wad of bills from his coat pocket, and Xander sacrifices a few more ounces of sanity to wonder whose money it used to be, and where they are now that it's Spike's.

Back at the house, Xander goes straight to bed, and Spike stays up heating bathwater. As he's lying staring at the cracked window pane, Xander can hear the wet slippery noises of Spike in the bath, using the new soap. Sometimes Spike sings to himself when he's in there, and makes squelching noises that sound suspiciously like he's squirting water between his palms, but tonight he's silent.

After a few minutes, Xander gets up and walks down the hall to the bathroom. The door is ajar; it's dark inside. He just stands there, not knocking.

Spike says, "Yeah, love?"

Xander pushes the door open with one finger and walks in. His eyes are pretty good in the dark by now; he's used to it. He can see the white blur of the tub, the vague shape of Spike in it. He goes over and sits down with his back against the tub, his knees drawn up to his chest.

Spike doesn't say anything, but after a minute his hand comes out of the darkness and rests on Xander's head. It's warm and wet and it acts like a switch; before he can do anything about it, Xander's face is buried in his knees, and he's crying. Silently, his arms wrapped around his head, just shaking.

There's a swish of water, and then a warm arm awkwardly around him, a hand on his back. Xander hitches, coughs, and gets hold of himself. He wipes his face, but he can't stop shaking. He's cursing under his breath.

Spike takes his arm away, and they just sit there for a while with Spike's hand still on his back. Not moving, just resting there, as if Xander were furniture. Finally Xander wipes his face and sighs and starts to get awkwardly to his feet. His knees are still a little tricky, sometimes.

He braces his hand on the tub edge, and Spike's falls over it, dry now and cooler.

"You all right?" he says, and Xander tries to smile.

"I'm fine. Sorry about that."

He tries to go, but Spike's hand closes around his wrist. "What's happened to you?"

He tugs, but Spike doesn't let go. "Nothing. I'm tired, that's all."

"You're different. You're all moony and you never bloody talk."

"I'm fine. I just want to go to sleep."

"You know I love you." He flinches, and Spike's grip tightens. "I do. Wish I didn't sometimes, but I do."

He doesn't know what to say to that, except what he always says. "I know."

"Then why are you so fucking mopey?"

And that's just it—the part that Spike doesn't get. Xander can't help laughing, a sharp bitter bark. Spike's hand tightens painfully on his wrist, then lets go. He snatches his arm back and rubs the sore spot.

"It's a joke, is it?" Spike's voice is cold, and Xander take a step back.


"Well, something's funny or you wouldn't laugh."


"What, is that the only bloody word you know?"

He has a crazy self-destructive impulse to say it again—No—but he stifles it. He just stands there rubbing his wrist, staring at the floor.

"And now you're mute again. I swear to God, you're driving me round the fucking bend with this."

Xander takes another step back and scratches at the rash on the back of his hand. There's nothing to say. His hand itches, his head hurts, and he wants to go to bed.

"I'm not an idiot, you know." Spike's tone is flat, and Xander shakes his head reflexively. "I'm not completely stupid. Have I ever asked whether you…whether it's the same for you?"

Xander stands still and tries to think. Spike's never talked to him like this before. For some reason, it's terrifying. His heart is lurching in his chest. No, Spike's never asked. He shakes his head again.

"No, I haven't. Because I know the answer, and I'm not stupid enough to ask for it to my face. But this is just the same as hearing it."

Xander takes another step back. He can't remember why he came in here in the first place; what dumb impulse was that? He just wants to get out, go back to bed, go back to sleep, and when he wakes up Spike will have forgotten this and moved on to something else.

There's a little sound of water moving, and he can see that Spike's leaning forward. "The thing I don't get," he says, "is why you're still here."

Xander tries to swallow, and can't.

"You don't want me," Spike says. "Fair enough. Door's open, Harris. You don't want to be here? Get out."

There's a long silence, while Xander clenches his hands, releases them, clenches them again. "You're a demon," he says at last. His voice sounds weird and throaty. "You're a vampire. You eat people."


"I'm supposed to want that?" He realizes after he's said it that he's lagging a lap in the conversation, and says, "I did leave. You came after me."

"Yeah." The water shifts again. "And you came back."

"If I walked out right now, you wouldn't come after me?"

There's silence for a few seconds. "Be stupid to walk out there in the middle of the night, middle of winter. You're smarter than that."

"No I'm not."

"Well if you want to go, don't keep fucking moaning about it. Just, next night I'm out, don't be here when I get back."

Xander clenches his hands, feels his fingernails bite his palms, and releases them again.

"Or else stay," Spike said. "And don't be so fucking soft."

Xander opens his mouth, and there's a violent movement of water. "Get out of here," Spike says. His voice sounds thick and strange. "Go back to bed."

Xander turns and starts walking blindly back to the door. Then he stops and turns back. "You're a monster," he says, clearly and almost calmly. "You're a murderer."

"Go to fucking bed."

"If I did say I wanted to go, what's to stop you from just killing me?"

"Not a clue."

Xander laughs again, sharp and dry like a cough. "Right. You could kill me any time."

"You don't piss off and let me bathe, I might just."

"Yeah. It's a joke to you, isn't it? It means zero to you. You could do it by mistake."

There's a long moment of silence. "Don't be stupid," Spike says at last.

"That fucking gun in Mexico—"


"That gun, that stupid fucking gun you had—"

There's another swish of water, and he can see that Spike's leaning forward, over the edge of the tub. "I never had a gun."

Xander just stands with his mouth open for a few seconds. "You had a gun," he says clearly, when he can speak again. "In Mexico. You used to point it at me when you were bored."

"You're crazy."

Xander's hands are in fists again, and he's fighting a wave of panic. He isn't insane, he didn't imagine it. He can't breathe properly.

"I didn't—" Spike says, and then trails off. Xander takes a deep breath. "That was different," Spike says slowly, as if he's remembering something. "That was a strange spell, I was…different."

"Different," Xander repeats.

"I wouldn't have done it," Spike says. He's rubbing his head, Xander can see faintly. "I wasn't that much of a lunatic."

Xander says nothing.

"It was just…it was like being let out of a cage. I was a bit off for a while. I don't remember…but I wouldn't have hurt you—"

Xander laughs, loud and startling. "Jesus Christ," he says, and laughs again. Then he turns and walks out, because he can't stand being there anymore, there's nothing big enough to say, and if he has to try to say something he's going to start swinging instead. He gets halfway down the hall to the bedroom, then hears Spike coming after him and veers away to the front room instead. He leans against the wingback chair and faces the doorway. There's moonlight in here; he can see better. He's cold, and his heart is hammering.

Spike comes around the doorframe and stands glaring at him. He's got a towel around his waist. His skin is wet and steaming slightly.

"What are you on about?" he asks. Xander grits his teeth and shakes his head.


"You think I'd hurt you?" He pauses, but Xander doesn't say anything. "Because I wouldn't. Just because I can, doesn't mean I have to, you know."

Xander looks away at the window, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.

"Have you gone mute again? Because I swear to God—"

"You remember that night you came back to the loft, back in LA? The first time you really—after you'd…you were covered in blood." He glances sideways and sees confusion and frustration in Spike's face. "Oh come on, you'd just killed someone and you were fucking drenched, and you came back like that and—" He pauses. "Don't tell me you don't remember."

Spike just stares at him, and after a minute he takes a breath and looks at the window again. "Okay. How about driving out here? Rest stops. Remember those?"


"You thought I liked that?" Silence. Xander wets his lips and glances sideways quickly, and away. "You don't think that hurt?"

The window is dark with dust, dirt, cobwebs. The moonlight casts a mottled pattern on the back of the sofa and the floor.

"If I hurt you," Spike says slowly, "why didn't you say something?"

Xander laughs, and cuts it off before it can build. "I really think I did," he says, weighing each word carefully.

"I don't remember it."

"You don't remember much."

"I told you, I wasn't myself." Xander chews his lip and stares at the window. "It was a bad idea to have you along just then. But there wasn't anywhere to leave you—"


"Look, I didn't mean it, I was just a bit mad for a while. And you're all right—no permanent damage—"

Xander laughs and scratches the back of his hand viciously.

"What?" Xander turns to stare at him. Spike looks confused and annoyed and at a loss. "A couple of nips, maybe I was a bit rough. I don't see how that's so—"

"I'm not talking about the biting," Xander says. His face is hot, even though he's freezing. "I'm not just talking about the biting."

Spike stares at him, then suddenly the pieces fall into place and he half-smiles, quizzically, disbelievingly. "What—that?" Xander says nothing, and Spike's smile fades. "What are you saying, exactly?"

"What do you think I'm saying?"

"I haven't the faintest fucking clue."

"You think I wanted that?"

Spike drops his gaze deliberately to the floor and seems to consider. "Yeah," he says after a moment. He looks up at the ceiling, glances at the window, then finally looks straight at Xander. "I was under that impression, yeah."

"You were wrong."

There's a long silence, while Spike just looks at him, his eyes narrowed and his lips pursed. Xander's sweating, and he feels sick. "Jesus Christ," he says, when he can't stand the silence anymore. "I'm not gay, Spike."

Spike looks taken aback. "I never said you were," he says immediately.

Xander has a sudden urge to punch something: the window, the doorframe, Spike. He reaches back, grabs the top of the chair, and digs his fingers into it. "Then why did you think I'd want that?" he asks, carefully and slowly.

Spike's looking at him as if he's started speaking Urdu. "I never thought—" he starts, then stops, works his mouth, and settles his shoulders firmly. "Look, that's stupid, it's just a bloody word, it's got nothing to do with anything. Got nothing to do with what you want."

"Yeah," Xander says. "Sorry, I'm such a literalist. What's the best way to say, I never wanted to be fucked by a guy?"

Spike just stares at him. His jaw is ticking frantically, and all his muscles have gone tight.

"You don't think that hurts?" Xander says bitterly. "You moron."

Spike clears his throat. "If I hurt you," he asks, "why didn't you say something?" His voice is tight and quiet.

"We already did this part, Spike. I did say something. I fucking yelled—"

"You never said stop."

He just stands there for a second, and they look at each other. Spike raises an eyebrow. "You never told me to stop," he says again, more firmly.

"I tried—"


"All the time. You're a vampire, Spike. I'm a guy with a bum shoulder and no knees—"

"You wouldn't have had to fight me off. If you'd told me to stop, that would have been it."

Xander closes his eyes for a moment, trying to make his head slow down. His fingers are clenched around the back of the chair, cold and sweaty and painful. For months he's felt like there's nothing to say, no words for anything, and now there's too much to get out. He wishes desperately, crazily, for someone to do this for him.

"I tried," he says flatly, when he can speak again. "I tried to get you to stop. You didn't."

"I didn't know."

"Oh come on. You couldn't tell from looking?"

Silence, and after a minute he looks up. Spike's face is white and blank, like a stranger's.

"No," he says.

Xander stares at him a minute, and suddenly he's just exhausted, clicked off like a light. He sighs and pries one hand off the chair to rub his head. "You have no fucking clue, do you?" he says wearily. "No chip, no fucking clue."

Spike shifts his weight from one foot to the other. Xander frees his other hand and rubs his arms. He's freezing.

"At least the biting felt good sometimes," he says absently, and catches Spike's flinch out of the corner of his eye. For a minute Spike stands still, swaying, as if he's been punched and hasn't managed to fall down yet. Then he turns and disappears. His footsteps go back into the bathroom, and Xander wonders whether he's sick. Then they come back down the hall, quick and purposeful.

He rounds the corner with something in his hand, already held out. It's a wad of bills, Xander sees. He stares at it dumbly as Spike walks across the room toward him.

"Right," he says. "Here, that's bus fare at least." Xander just stares at the money, and Spike stops a few feet away, holding it out. "Go on," he says. "Take it."

Xander puts his hand out without thinking, and Spike puts the money in it. "That'll get you home," he says. "Sunnydale, wherever."

Xander stares silently at the money in his hand: fives and tens and twenties, all folded up together a couple of inches thick. He has no idea how much it is.

"Babylon bus stops at the gas station out by the exit," Spike says. "There'll be one in the morning."

Xander keeps staring at the money, then slowly closes his fingers over it. "Babylon?" he repeats dumbly.

"Long Island. Get you to the city, at least."

Oh. He nods, squeezes the money, then puts it into his pocket. He can feel it there against his leg, cool and flat. Spike takes a step back and stands staring at him, his lips pressed together, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He looks small and skinny and pale, and his face is impassive.

Xander puts his hand in his pocket, touches the money, and nods. "Okay," he says.

He lies awake in the dirty sheets, staring at the crack in the window and listening to the faint sounds from the front room, where Spike is. They aren't much, just an occasional pull of breath and once or twice a faint muttered curse.

The money is on the floor beside the mattress, in a neat pile. There's a little over four hundred dollars.

The pillows smell like Spike.

He doesn't have a watch and there's no clock in the house, but as soon as he wakes up he knows it's late. The light through the curtain is pure white on the foot of the mattress. It must be afternoon.

He gets up and goes down the hall to the bathroom, pisses, washes with cold rusty water. Glances at himself in the warped mirror, starts to turn away, then sets his jaw and stares steadily at his reflection. He doesn't look any different. He needs a shave.

The tub is still full of cold water, so he pulls the plug, then sits down on the edge to fit a new blade into his razor. When he looks up, Spike's standing in the doorway. He looks wan and thin and angry.

"Thought you were going."

Xander pauses, then drops his gaze and tests the razor against his thumb.

"I missed the bus. I'll catch it tomorrow."

He gets up, turns away to the sink, and starts to work up a cold lather with the soap. After a minute or so, Spike walks away.

When he's done shaving he goes back to the bedroom to scrounge something warmer to put on, and ends up standing in the middle of the room, staring at the tangle of sheets on the mattress and the pile of bills beside it. He feels tired and numb and hopeless. After a few minutes he realizes he's in here because he doesn't want to see Spike. He listens for a minute, to see if he can tell where Spike is. Silence.

There's nothing warmer to put on, so he straightens his shoulders and walks out, down the hall to the kitchen. The grocery bag is still on the table, and he pokes through it, pockets a couple of Pop-Tarts, and grabs his coat off the back of the chair. He could just go out the back. That would be easiest. But for some reason he turns and goes back down the hallway, to the front room.

Spike's pulled the wingback chair around to face the windows, and he's sitting in it with one leg up over the arm, staring out at a cornflower sky. He glances up briefly as Xander pauses in the doorway, then looks away and shakes a cigarette out of the packet on his knee.

"I'm going for a walk," Xander says, and waits. For what, he isn't sure.

Spike says nothing and doesn't look at him. He lights the cigarette, draws hard, and blows out a blue cloud. Finally he looks up with an irritated expression, as if surprised to see Xander still standing there. "All right," he says, elaborately clearly. "You do that."

Xander hesitates a moment longer, shooting a look at the windows. There's a thin bush with a few winter berries in front of the house, and as he watches, a gust of sparrows descends into it, shaking off the snow. He can hear their peeps even from where he's standing.

Spike takes another drag of his cigarette, and Xander glances at him. He's watching the sparrows, a furrow in his brow.

"Okay," Xander says. "See you later."

Spike raises a hand without looking at him, and he goes out the front door, breathing shallowly through his mouth because the air is so cold it stings. The door doesn't fit right in the frame and he has to yank it closed, which frightens the birds out of the bush. Then he's walking down the little icy path to the sidewalk, nudging the cockeyed gate aside, and turning right because he doesn't want to walk past the front windows, past Spike.

The sky is huge and deeply blue. The sunlight off the snow banks stabs his eyes.

He pulls his collar up as far as he can and starts walking fast, listening to the crunch his shoes make in the snow. His ears are burning, and his toes are going numb. It's probably sixty degrees in Sunnydale right now. You probably wouldn't need to wear a jacket.

He doesn't know where he's going, but he ends up on the towpath, just because it's where he's been before. The canal is frozen almost completely over; there's snow drifted a couple of feet up its walls. The ice in the middle is gray and rotten-looking, with a black seam of silent free water like a spine. He stands in the sunshine with his hands in his pockets, staring down, while his eyes go sticky with cold. There's no visitation, no revelation. Just a few dead leaves frozen to the ice, fluttering dryly.

When he's too cold to stand still anymore he starts walking again, back up the sloping icy sidewalk with the sun in his eyes. It occurs to him that it would be nice to see something living. A cat, for instance. He'd be pretty happy if he saw a cat right now. Or even some more birds. Just something out here in all this silence, out threading the frozen sunshine with him.

He gave you money, for crying out loud, Willow says, and he settles a little deeper into his coat and tries not to scowl. What do you want, a ride to Port Authority?

I'm going, he says. Color me gone, I just overslept.

I should be coloring you Baltimore by now. Xander, you can't let this slide.

No sliding. I promise.

Promise you'll leave.

I just did.


He rounds a corner and has to grab a telephone pole as his feet almost go out from under him. That cuts off the flow of conversation for a bit. He's leaving the warehouse neighborhood behind, and now he's in narrow streets lined with houses again. They're all thin and tall and slanted at odd angles, with boarded windows and collapsed porches. The sidewalk is lined with black, leafless trees.

There was more than four hundred dollars there, Willow says at last.

I can count.

Where do you think he—

I don't know. I don't want to know.

A long pause, and he wonders whether that's it for the day. What time is it? He's hungry, in a vague way.

He gave you money to go, Willow says, and he sighs.

Yeah, Wills, we've covered that already—

Why did he do that?

He pauses, unsure of where this is heading. I'm thinking, so I can go.

Why does he want you to do that?

Because—He hesitates. Because he finally figured out that it's been a one-man show.

No reply.

I told him, he says after a minute. That—you know. That I'm not digging the scene. And never was. And fuck him, he thought it didn't hurt?

There's a careful silence, and then she says, So he's upset?

I don't know. I don't care.

You told him this was bad for you, and he gave you money to go. He doesn't say anything. But you didn't go.

Hey, I'm going. I'm gone. I'm eating a Philly dog as we speak.

He's walking faster now, not paying attention to where he's going, and when he finally looks up he's alongside a row of houses without yards, their front windows pressed right up to the sidewalk. There must have been a fire here at some point; he's just passing a house that's been half-given to flame, its roof and one wall missing entirely. The other houses are blackened, their windows shattered, debris scattered on their porches and steps. Despite himself, he peers in as he goes by, into the dim ruined husks where people used to live.

In the middle house there is a pair of eyes looking back. Black liquid eyes, shining in the inside darkness, and he skids to a stop and almost falls.

"Hola mi hijo," Luz says, and smiles.

He's silent, the world is silent, and suddenly Willow is nowhere around. He gets his feet under control and takes a step back.

Luz blinks slowly, languidly, and uncurls from the blackened chair where she's been sitting. She's wearing the same long dark dress she wore that night at the house, or maybe it's another one like it. Over that she's wearing a heavy ugly corduroy coat that's too big for her. It's Standish's coat, Xander realizes after a second. She pulls the collar up and buries her hands in the pockets as if she's cold.

"Hello," someone says, and after a second he realizes it was him.

Luz smiles and lowers her lids at him. "What are you doing out here, niño?" she asks.

He hesitates, then says, "Walking. Just…going for a walk."

She nods. "It's a lovely day for a walk."


There's a little silence, and he wonders where Standish is. It's stupid to talk to her. Stupid to stand here at all. He has a sudden moment of panic that he's not standing in direct sunshine, but he is. Not even in the shadow of a tree branch.

"You like this cold weather?" Luz asks, and he blinks. Then he has to fight off the urge to laugh. Vampires have to make conversation too.

"No," he says matter-of-factly. "I pretty much hate it, actually."

Her smile widens and becomes more confiding. "Oh! You cannot hate it more than I do, niño. I grew up on heat, on fire. Now—" She pulls the coat closer around her. "I'm always cold."

"Yeah, I know what that's like."

"Perhaps." She eyes him. "You would not like to come inside, to share your coat with me?"

"No." He says it fast and sharp, not caring how it sounds, and she laughs.

"But you share with Spike."

"No I don't."

"No? Who bites you, then?" She's watching him with a glint in her eye, a curl at the corner of her lip. He half-raises a hand to his neck, then drops it. He'd forgotten, briefly, about how he looks.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, pointing with his chin at the burnt timbers. "I thought you'd be somewhere dank and windowless, this time of day."

She shrugs. "I forgot the time. And Standish is being a prick. He can sleep alone today."

"Uh-huh. What if someone comes by?"

"No one comes by here."

And he has to admit, she has a point. He nods and resists the urge to take another step back. "Well, I have to get going—"

"Of course," she says, tilting her head and curling tighter into the chair. Her eyes glitter. "Back to Spike."

"No, not back to Spike. Just—just back to—I just can't talk right now." He can't remember exactly where he had to be, but he knows it isn't Spike, and it isn't here. Willow—he was meeting Willow somewhere. Baltimore.

"Such a shame that Spike can't walk with you," Luz says. Her eyes are enormous, glossy, familiar. "Such a bright day. It must be so difficult, to be with him."

"It is," he says softly. It isn't so dark inside the house, now that he's been looking for a while. It looks sort of warm and homey.

"Spike makes things difficult, niño. They can be simple."

He's a step closer to the blackened doorframe, and he almost thinks he can feel heat coming from inside. The air might be wavering a little with it. Simple sounds…good.

"You must be tired," Luz says, tipping her head back to rest on the chair. "All that blood…it must exhaust you."

His eyelids are heavy, and there's a spot on the floor by her feet that's perfect, inviting him. He steps forward, right up against the doorframe. He's in the shadow of the roof now, and it isn't cold, it's warm.

"You want to come in, no?" Luz asks, and he nods dumbly. "You want to be dark and safe." He nods again. "You see, it's simple after all. Spike is an idiot."

He nods again with a slight smile, because it's true, Spike is an idiot. It's vaguely gratifying to hear someone else say it out loud.

"He thinks he can keep you like this," Luz says, and he nods again, only half-listening. "He thinks—what? That you won't break. You're kindling, niño." She pats the chair cushion. "Come and sit with me a while."

He lifts his foot to step over the doorsill, and her smile changes.

"You are certain you want to do that?" she asks.

Suddenly it's like he's been jerked bodily out of himself and slammed back in, and the world is bright and cold and breathless at his ears. He's standing in darkness, he's half-inside the house. He takes a stupid, awkward hop back, tangles his ankles, and hits the icy sidewalk hard. He can't breathe. He's gasping, grabbing at his legs to pull them out of the last inch of shadow, and when he finally gets far enough away to look back, Luz is laughing at him.

He stands in the snow bank, one hand braced on a tree trunk, swallowing the weird bitter taste in his mouth and watching her grin. She cocks her head and makes fake fangs at him with her fingers.

"Very close, niño," she says. "Close enough I could smell you again. And none of him on you, you didn't lie."

He pants, wipes his mouth, looks away and then back.

"You smell good," Luz says, and folds her hands comfortably over her stomach.

"You made me do that," he says, and it sounds a little shrill in the bright clear air. "You do that thing, like Dru. That thrall thing."

Luz shrugs "Perhaps you wanted to do it."

"I don't think so."

"Perhaps you don't admit."

"I didn't want to do it."

Luz inspects her fingernails briefly. "Perhaps," she says, "you should not speak to me, if you think I can do this to you."

He stares at her a second, then shoves off the tree trunk and steps warily back onto the sidewalk. He's an idiot. It's a wonder he isn't dead already.

Luz says nothing as he takes a few steps back the way he came, and for some reason that makes him feel a little safer. He pauses, and without looking back says, "Why did you let me go?"

Her answer takes a moment. "Perhaps I am not your enemy."

He half-turns and glances at her. She's still sitting in the chair, watching him quietly over her shoulder. Her face is unreadable. Spike said she was trouble.

He hesitates, then blurts, "Can Spike do that?"

"Do what, niño?"

"Make people do things. That they don't want to do."

She regards him solemnly. "Ay mi hijo," she says after a minute. "I hope you will come back and speak with me again."

Somehow he finds his way back through the cold white maze, bangs through the front door, straight down the hall, and drops face-first onto the mattress. He's vaguely aware of Spike moving around in the front room, and then nothing.

When he wakes up it's dark, and the house is silent. He rolls onto his back, fishes the Pop-Tart out of his pocket, and eats it carefully, in small fragments. Then he folds the foil wrapper into a neat, tiny square, and lets it spring open in his hand. There's still no sound in the house. If Spike is around, he's keeping quiet.

There's a sliver of moon, like a fingernail clipping, in the top corner of the window. Christmas must be coming. In Sunnydale, there'll be aerosol snow and polymer evergreens, and Giles will be moving the Druid wares, and by now they must know he's not in LA anymore, somebody must have picked up a phone. They must have missed him by now.

He folds the wrapper tiny again, presses it hard between his finger and thumb, then lets it unfurl on its own. He's still tired.

Luz's eyes were black and deep, like windows into a burnt house. Spike makes things difficult. They can be simple.

Simple is hard to imagine in anything but the past tense.

The thing I don't get is why you're still here.

He thinks about Willow but she doesn't come. Maybe she's said her piece. Maybe he's really on his own from now on. He puts his hands behind his head and watches the moon, and finds himself wondering for no good reason if it hurt Luz to be turned.

He's jolted hard, and he wakes up with a tang of fear in his mouth. It's late, dim morning and Spike is standing over him, still wearing his boots and coat, like the wrath of God after a hard night. His eyes are red and strained-looking, and there's a trace of a bloody nose on his upper lip. He's wavering slightly on his feet.

"You're still fucking here," he barks, and Xander blinks.


Spike just stands there glaring at him, and Xander looks back for a second, then blinks again and looks away. "What time is—"

"Late. You missed it again." There's a stench of booze and puke and ashes. Xander swallows and clears his throat.

"Right. I'll…I'll catch it tomorrow."

Spike just stares at him a minute longer, and he's really drunk, really tipping, in a minute he's going to fall face-first onto Xander. Xander sits up quickly.

"I'll catch it tomorrow," he says again, and Spike takes a dizzy step back.

"Yeah," he says. "See you do."

Then he turns and walks out fast, bashing into the doorframe and snapping around to punch it, as if it had attacked him. He pauses, staggers, shakes his hand, and goes out inspecting his knuckles.

"Sorry," Xander says quietly.

Down the hall, Spike kicks something, and it shatters.

The sky is clear again, blue as a cheerleader's contact lens, and he's freezing. The food Spike bought is still in the paper sacks on the kitchen table, surrounded by sticky half-frozen bottles of wine and cigarette butts. It was a nice thought, but he really can't eat much of it. Spike bought coffee, but no filters. Bread for toast, but there's no toaster. No can opener for the tomato juice, which is probably frozen and anyway, he's always hated the stuff. He has a couple of chilly Pop-Tarts in his pocket again, like K-rations or astronaut food.

He leans on the metal railing and stares down at the black line of water in the middle of the canal. It looks a little thinner today. There's a pinch in every breath he takes. He watches a forked twig bob past and reflects that of all the disadvantages of being dead, feeling cold all the time must be the worst. Not that he plans to do firsthand research.

He's been wandering dead ends all day, and though he doesn't have a watch anymore he's sure it must be close to three o'clock. The angle of the sun is getting low, the blue of the sky is starting to deepen out. It'll be dark in an hour. Time to go back to the house, and if he times it right maybe he can stay away until Spike's already gone out. If Spike isn't planning to spend the night passed out on the couch in the front room, with his mouth open and his arm over his face and his shirt rucked up to show an interesting boot-shaped bruise on the left side of his ribcage. He was snoring when Xander left. He only did that when he was really beyond recall.

Xander pushes off the railing and starts walking carefully back up the steps to the sidewalk, keeping an eye out for ice. When he gets to the top he glances right—that's the way to the house, but it's too soon to go there. He can see his own leftover footprints up and down the snowy sidewalk on the other side of the street. He's too cold to think properly. He wraps his arms around his chest and turns left, the one way he hasn't gone yet today, and before he knows it he's walking past house fronts painted black with soot, and the light seems very low.

He can't help himself; he stares into every blown-out window he passes, his heart thudding in his throat. It's hard to tell which house she was in last time. They all look the same, and the shadows are different now. There was a screen door half-buried in snow in the side yard, or maybe that was the house beside it. There was an armchair in the front room. But she might have moved that. He should have paid better attention. He shouldn't be here. Keep away from her. Both of them. They're trouble. Why didn't he pay better attention?

He walks all the way to the end of the street, staring into blackened porches and living rooms, frustration and anxiety and finally anger cracking him, because none of the houses is right, and none of them is occupied. In desperation he tries the other side of the street, even though he knows it's wrong. The sky is the color of mussel shells. He crosses back over and tries each house again, stopping on the sidewalk and looking carefully for any movement inside. She might still be asleep. She might be waiting to see how serious he is.

By the time he's been up and back all the way again, daylight is more theory than practice, and the temperature's dropped another couple of degrees. He stands in the middle of the sidewalk, wipes his nose, and says out loud, "Luz?" There's no response. Just silence, and a first star through bare black rafters.

He walks back to the house with his head down, his hands jammed in his pockets.

The doorknob bites his hand and then, even as he's wincing, the door swings open and Spike is in his face. "Where the fuck?" Half-yelling, almost pushing him off the step. "Are you blind now too? What time is it?" He smells awful. He's too close, too close even to see properly, just a sharp loud face wired tight with anger. Xander tries to step back, but Spike grabs his collar and shakes him. "It's fucking dark out, Harris, last thing I need is you to get yourself fucking topped and I get the blame—" He yanks Xander inside and slams the door behind him.

Xander's banged into the wall, still trying to get his bearings. Then they're just standing there in the hallway, Spike's hand on his coat, and Spike doesn't seem to know what to do next. "Stupid twat," he says grimly, and gives Xander's coat a final shake. He's already letting go and starting to step back, but it's too late, Xander's arms are rigid and his ears are roaring, and before he knows what he's doing he's shoved Spike. It feels like shoving some much bigger, heavier person. It only moves Spike back a step, but it puts him off balance, and in the instant before he figures out what's going on, Xander's punched him in the face.

His hand crunches—knuckle on chin—and he closes his eyes for a second against the pain. When he opens them again, Spike's coming at him and he knows he's screwed.

He's slammed back into the wall, a shoulder rammed in his solar plexus, his head smacked into stars. He can't breathe. Time halts. He has the vague blind sense that Spike's face is crushed against his, that he can hear Spike grinding his teeth right beside his ear, and if he could breathe he'd smell acid and smoke and familiar skin. A hand clamps onto the back of his neck and squeezes, and he loses his legs entirely. He’s pushing feebly at whatever he can reach. Some part of Spike, he can't tell what. Chest or arm or neck—it's all hard and furious and Spike is yelling in his ear now, or at least it sounds like yelling. It's too loud to tell.

"Fucking leave!" Spike is shouting. "Get the fuck out!" He shakes Xander hard by the neck, and Xander still can't breathe, he's going to die, he's going to suffocate right here in the hall. Red spots are whirling inside his head. Vaguely, he can hear himself making a sick gasping sound.

Spike's grip shifts, and they're moving, he's dragging Xander boneless and foot-dragging down the hall and into the front room. Xander tries to get his fingers under Spike's hand, and can't. There's a sip of air in his throat now, halfway down to his lungs. He tries to get his feet under him, and can't.

"I gave you money," Spike is saying. "What more do you want from me? You're doing—doing my head in, you're—" He shakes Xander again and drops him abruptly on the couch. Xander bounces and tries to breathe.

"You think I like this?" Spike snaps suddenly, as if he's just remembered what he's supposed to be saying. He's looming now, out of focus. But Xander can clearly see the flaking black blood under his nose. "You think I want this?"

Xander heaves in a breath and turns away, and Spike grabs him by the hair and jerks his head back around. The pain is sickening, humiliating, and it makes Xander furious again. He brings his knee up hard into Spike's side, and Spike gasps and lets go of him. He tries to sit up, but there isn't time. Spike's already shoved him back down and wrenched him to the edge of the couch by the waist of his jeans. He gets a quick glimpse of Spike's face—hard, purposeful, furious—and sees him raise a knee onto the couch.

The natural progression hits him like a fist in the throat, and he feels stupid for just an instant, then really frightened. He bucks board-rigid against Spike's hands, and starts punching again, whatever he can reach. Not going to let this happen. He gets maybe two good ones in before Spike grabs his wrists and pins them over his head with one hand, then fastens the other on his throat.

Spike's saying something, rasping something, but the roar in Xander's ears is too loud and he's too busy fighting to hear. He gets a knee in, one hand free, his knuckles in Spike's eye, and has a dim tunneled roaring view of Spike going suddenly, easily to game face. Fury face. Xander doesn't stop punching. Then something he doesn't see cracks him across the cheek and nose, black red bloom like fainting and he feels a blast of heat in his head and thinks, Oh God, not knocked out.

He wakes up with something warm and wet all over his face, and his first thought is too confused and terrible to archive. It's just blood. He sees it on his fingers when he touches his lip. And then some minor functionary leans over the wrecked desk of his mind and whispers gently that Spike's come is only room temperature anyway.

Something touches his head and he jerks and half-falls off the couch. It's Spike, backed a few feet away, staring at him. There's blood on his face, too. He looks shocked. He has one hand out still, as if he doesn't know how to put it away.

They stare at each other.

"Are you all right?" Spike whispers finally. He sounds dazed.

Xander touches his chin again, and looks at the blood on his fingers. His face feels hot and strangely tight.

He gathers himself onto his elbows and knees, then loses steam and has to just hang there, his head resting on his fists. His throat burns and there's too much spit in his mouth. He hears Spike move behind him and sits up quickly, even though it makes his head spin. His spit tastes like salt.

"Are you—?" Silence. Xander wipes his lip again—that's where the blood is coming from, it seems like—and sniffs wetly.

When he made that decision to let go and fall, he hadn't been thinking of this. Hard to say what he'd been thinking of, really.

He thinks he can keep you like this. He thinks you won't break. You're kindling, niño.

"I didn't want that," he says to the baseboard.

"What are—" Spike says, and stops.

He wonders if the blood smells good to Spike. Of course it does. Stupid even to wonder.

He leans on the back of the couch and gets painfully to his feet.

"Are you all right?" Spike says again, and Xander turns to see that he's still standing there with his hands out strangely, as if they're wandering without permission. Vampire mime. "I hit you."

"Sure." He says it automatically, even before he has a chance to recognize Spike's weird, disbelieving tone. "Yeah, sure." His head hurts, his body hurts. He's retort-free.

It takes another moment or two to realize that Spike's never hit him before. Not meaning to. Not since he was a black hat and everything was simple. There's probably some meaning in that realization, for someone who cares enough to find it.

He touches his lip lightly again, then wipes his hands on his jeans and walks around Spike without looking at him. He feels oddly light, even though he's exhausted. Angles don't seem to matter much. Veering works fine.

"I'm sorry."

He waves a hand over his shoulder and keeps going. The pillow will be cool against his face.

"Xander. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I'll see you tomorrow."

He veers down the hall, the old faded wallpaper too close to his face, and tips around the doorway into the bedroom. Falls into bed. The pillow is cool indeed.

When he wakes up the blind is drawn against the sun, and his head is pounding. He's lying on his back on the mattress, the covers pulled up to his chin, his hands at his sides, like a dead man. Even with the blind drawn, the room feels too bright. He squints at the window and feels the weird hot heaviness that means his cheek and eye are swollen. His frees one hand from the covers and pats his cheekbone gently.

Footsteps are coming down the hall for him; in a minute, Spike is in the doorway. He hangs there without saying anything, and when Xander's done feeling his face, he looks up. Spike's washed his face and combed his hair back and he's even changed his shirt. He's wearing a black T-shirt with a flaming skull on it, a little small for him but probably the cleanest thing he's got, given that Xander's never seen him wear it before. Still, it looks weirdly familiar.

"Thought you'd want—" Spike lets it hang and gestures tentatively with one hand. He's holding a towel and a little amber plastic bottle. "For your face."

His face. Xander doesn't get it for a second; then he does, and sits up slowly. His arms shake under his weight. Spike's crouching next to the mattress, the towel held out, and Xander takes it with his left hand, because his right is swollen and stiff from meeting Spike's chin. Which looks just fine, of course.

The towel is full of snow, just starting to soak through. He puts it against his face and just sits there, staring at the foot of the mattress, while Spike rattles something out of the plastic bottle. Familiar sound. Spike's hand appears in front of him, a couple of Demerol in the palm. Xander just stares at it.

After a long minute, Spike draws his hand back and tips the pills back into the bottle. Xander turns his head, slowly, and watches him click the childproof lid on. It's the same bottle. Spike is looking strangely embarrassed. And the shirt—

"Oh," Xander says, as it comes to him. "That was Liv's." He feels a weird satisfaction in making the connection. Spike looks confused, so he points awkwardly. "That shirt. She had it back in—in LA."

Spike glances down, takes the bottom hem between his thumb and forefinger, and pulls it out so he can see the front. He studies it for a second, as if he's never seen it before, then shrugs. "Sure. Gotta kill that bitch. I was going to do a wash, you want me to take any of your kit?"

His tone is false-casual, and Xander squints to focus on him properly. Spike glances at him, then back down at the bottle in his hands. He's playing with it, rolling it between his palms, the pills inside clicking quietly. Have they done laundry once since leaving California? Or even before? If they have, Xander can't remember it.

"Look," Spike says, and then stops and scratches the back of his head sharply. He glances up, resettles himself on his heels, and closes his hand in a fist around the bottle. "Look, I know this has been hard on you."

He pauses, and Xander knows it's his cue to give a derisive snort, but he doesn't have it in him. He feels translucent. He waits.

Spike holds the bottle between his finger and thumb and seems to read the prescription label. Alexander Phillips, it must be made out to. Whoever he is. Funny how familiar the sound of the pills is. And what's the feeling it gives him, to hear them? Something painful and murky, and he doesn’t want to feel it so he stops listening.

"I mean," Spike says to the bottle, "I know it's been wrong. For you. I thought—I didn't get that before. But I do now. And I'm sorry."

Xander shifts the towel against his cheek.

"I'm sorry, Xander," Spike says, looking straight at him. "I'm sorry for all of it. I didn't mean to hurt you."

The thing is, he looks sorry. His mouth is tight and his eyes are sharp and wet, and he's searching Xander's face for a sign, any sign. He's the picture of Sorry. Strange, when you consider.

"It's all right," Xander says. It's all right. He's tired, he wants to forget any of it ever happened. File it under "F." He'll go to the city, get a job that makes no difference, live his life. He can't imagine having grandkids to tell this to.

"I'm sorry I hit you," Spike whispers, and reaches for his free hand. Xander lets him take it.

"It's all right."

"I'm sorry I—" Spike breaks off and kisses his puffy knuckles lightly. "I always fuck things up." Pure despair.

"No." Xander smiles slightly. "It's okay. I'm all right, it's no big deal." Enough. All is forgiven and he wants to go, to be away and alone with the sharp cold spine of blackness growing in him. Spike is sorry. Spike has apologized. He feels the blackness tremble, the seam begin to widen. Now is not the time. Spike's lips are cool on his knuckles.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Spike says again, his mouth against Xander's skin, and Xander carefully puts the towel down, reaches out, and put his hand on Spike's head. Spike starts and stares at him.

"I know," Xander says gently. "I know you didn't mean to, Spike. It's all right. Really." Spike's eyes are huge, hopeful, disbelieving. Xander pats him lightly, twice, on the head, then drops his hand to Spike's shoulder. "It's all right, Spike. I'm okay."

Spike half-turns his head to look at Xander's hand on his shoulder, as if he can't quite believe it's there. He's shivering. He looks back and his face is stripped wide open, shaking and wet. Something shivers back in Xander's chest, and he looks away quickly, down to the bottle in Spike's hand.

Spike shifts and sniffs, and Xander knows without looking that he's just wiped his eyes. There's a pause.

"I bloody wish I didn't love you," Spike says.

Xander nods.

"No," Spike says. "Strike that. I bloody wish you loved me back."

Xander smiles. Something in him whispers, Wait, wait. There'll be time enough.

"You should sleep," Spike says. "Rest up, give yourself a chance to heal. Be on the bus tomorrow."


"Let me in there with you a minute," Spike says. Xander looks at him. Spike half-meets his eyes, fiddling with the bottle, letting the request hang like a bar bet, an idle suggestion, some advice. Like he doesn't care one way or another.

Xander collects the towel and squirms over onto the cold side of the mattress, and Spike pulls up the blankets and gets in. He's still got his boots on, still got the bottle in his hands. He lies on his side studying the label again, while Xander lies a foot and a half away, the towel pressed to his cheek.

"How's this stuff for pain?" Spike asks, staring at the bottle. Xander considers.

"Good." Pause. "Great."

Spike glances at him, then back at the bottle. "Maybe I'll keep it around. Just in case."

In case what? he wonders idly—he's seen Spike beaten black and blue, seen half his ear torn off, and the pills were never mentioned, so God knows what he's banking them for. Dismemberment, maybe.

"You sure?" Spike says, raising the bottle slightly. Xander nods. Spike nods back, as if he understands, and puts the bottle carefully, precisely, on the mattress between them. Then he closes his eyes and sighs and sinks his head into the pillow. He looks very tired. It's been a while, Xander realizes, since Spike slept anywhere comfortable.

"I'm going to sleep all bloody day," Spike murmurs, his eyes closed. "And all bloody night. And when I wake up you're going to be gone."

Xander nods.

He lies watching while Spike falls asleep, while his face loosens and his lips part and the ends of his fingers twitch. Xander dozes a little, himself. When he wakes up for the final time, sudden and clear as if someone had shaken him, the room is almost dark and Spike hasn't moved. The towel has soaked the pillow between them.

He lies still for a minute, letting his eyes adjust, feeling the gritty ache in his jaw and cheek and hand. Spike's face is open, serene. The face of a man who's given up. Xander considers, then leans over and kisses him lightly on the forehead.

Then he gets carefully out at the end of the bed and starts collecting what he'll need.

There's a taste to anger. It's thick and sharp and dry, like electroshock therapy, like a thousand volts of lightning injected straight into the spinal marrow, ripping through every tissue and regrouping in the gut to come barreling out the mouth because that's how you puke, that's how you get rid of what makes you fucking sick.

"Luz!" he yells again, and pauses to listen. His mouth tastes putrid. He leans over and spits into the snow. It ought to be black, it ought to sizzle. It's just spit. He unscrews the bottle and takes another sip. Silence. Fuck.

He drops his head and starts walking again, his arms wrapped around his chest for warmth, his shoes sliding a little on the ice. Every time he loses his footing he wants to scream and smash the bottle on the pavement. Fucking stupid. All his life he's run from vampires, and now that he wants one, he can't find her. Fucking stupid. He can't smash the bottle; it's all the booze he's got. Jim Beam, three-quarters full. He took it off the mantelpiece in the living room when he left. He left the front door ajar because he didn't want to bang it and wake Spike up.

Spike's going to sleep all day and all night, and when he wakes up, Xander's going to be gone.


"Luz!" he shouts again, turning in a circle and staring down the street the way he's just come. They're here, they're somewhere, they must be somewhere. They must have a house, like Spike's. An oh-so-humble abode. They entertain. Can't do that without a base of operations.

"Where the fuck are you?" he shouts, his arms straight out, teetering on the balls of his feet. "What the fuck am I supposed to do, bite myself?"

The world has no opinion. He spins back around and starts walking again, as quickly as he can without falling. The pack throws him off balance, and he wants to wrench it off and hurl it into the nearest tree, but there's some part of his mind that's still sane enough to stop him. The same part that kept a silent chokehold on all of this until Spike was asleep, until he was sure he could get out, until he could come looking. Until he could actually do something about the sound and fury.

Or try, at least.

Fucking vampires. Fucking no-show vampires.

"I'm right here!" he yells, swinging the bottle out again for emphasis. "I'm drunk and alone and will you please come fucking bite me, you gap-toothed Goth fuckers!"


He keeps walking.

Three more hits on the bottle, another block of the wrong houses. He yells for her again, and the streets and sky give back nothing. Maybe he's the one who's disappeared. Maybe Spike finally did him in, made something hemorrhage or broke his skull against the wall, and all of this is just a useless epilogue. Could be this is what ghosts feel like. Riddled with bile, lost, stamping.


The last voice he wants to hear, and he flinches physically, then feels like an idiot.

"You're not here," he says out loud. "You're in Sunnydale. I made you up to keep me company, remember?"

Xander, what are you doing?

"Cataloging my LPs. Cut it out."

It's not safe out here.

He just laughs at that, and fingers his swollen cheek.

Why don't you leave? Just walk—keep walking, go to the highway and hitch or call—

"Nah," he says. "You go on ahead, I'll catch you up later."


He stops walking and sighs. "What you fail to understand, Willow, is that—" He stops because he can't think how to say it, how to even start to find the words. His head feels suddenly agonizingly full, too much rage beating red at the inside of his skull, it should come shooting out of his mouth and nose in a bloody fountain, he should have an aneurysm of fury and die right here. He'd welcome it. He stands with his hands clenched in his hair, waiting for it to crest and pass. When it finally does, he's left panting.

"Okay." He wipes his mouth and spits into the snow. "Okay. So, that happened."

Xander. You don't have to do this.

"No," he says grimly, and takes the bottle from his pocket. "I want to do it."

He starts walking again, a little unsteadily at first, then faster and straighter. It's cold, so cold his footsteps sound gritty and there's a moon dog, but he doesn't feel it. He feels hot. He feels like he could drop his coat right here, drop his pack, lose everything and just start to run until he finds her. Until he hunts her down and tells her—fucking orders her—to do it to him.

"You catch that whole apology scene?" he asks, slipping and grabbing a lamp post to steady himself. "That whole mea culpa drama? Real tearjerker, huh?"

It doesn't matter. He doesn't matter. You don't have to do this.

"Man, for a guy he does a good line in trembling lips, don't you think? And the way he couldn't even say half of it, you know, because the emotion—" He swigs, loving the burn. "'I'm sorry I hit you, Xander.' 'I'm sorry I hurt you.' 'I'm sorry I fucked you—'" He stops, his whole body rigid and hurting, a blaze between his ears. When he comes back, his hand is gripping the neck of the bottle so hard it aches. He pries his fingers loose and drinks, then laughs. "Sorry, that didn't actually make the cut. It was, you know, implied."


"Fucking idiot," he snarls, and then throws his head back and bellows, "Luz!" He waits a minute, staring at the hazy pale circle around the moon. Ice crystals, or something. Fascinating. Where was the stupid bitch?

Xander, please. Please stop this. Please come back.

The sky's gone blurry and his eyes hurt, his throat hurts and it won't stop working. He tries to drink and can't.

"I can't come back, Willow," he says. "I can't come back now."

Oh, sweetie. You can. Just walk to the road, just call us.

He stands swaying, shivering, his face upturned, tears running down his cheeks and into his ears and collar. There's a trench of pain in his chest. Her soft woeful eyes, the smell of her. The smell of her house when they were kids, the newspapers stacked on her parents' hall table, the dying ficus in the sun porch. The summer he spent trying to teach her to swim. The one kiss. He remembers the taste completely.

"I can't come back now, Willow," he says, and wipes his face. Tears freeze fast here.


"No," he says, and shrugs her off. He walks away down the street, leaving her behind in the argyle sweater she's had since junior high, calling after him without making a sound.

Finally he's too tired to keep looking, and he slings his pack through the window of one of the burnt-out houses and makes a cold bed in the blackened corner of what might have been a living room. This must be bottom. He drinks a little, pillows his head on his pack, and watches the moon move through the empty window frame opposite.

When he hears footsteps one floor up, he's not sure whether he's awake or asleep. He doesn't move. It can't be safe to walk around up there, he reflects. The ceiling is stained with huge brown eddies of thaw water, soot like negatives of flame. The footsteps go across the floor to the back of the house, and come quietly down the stairs.

He lies with his ankles crossed, his hands behind his head, the bottle nestled to his side. She comes down the hall trailing a finger on the wallpaper, trailing a coat behind her like a train.

"Hola, mi hijo," she says, stopping in the doorway and smiling at him. Her hair is black and loose. She’s wearing the same dress, or another like it. Her feet are bare.

"You update your tetanus?" he says, gazing at her feet.

She blinks slowly and looks down at her feet, then back at him. Her eyes pass over the bruises on his face, rest there a moment, then move on. "What do you want, niño?"

"I want you to bite me," he says immediately, and lets his head drop back onto his pack. There's silence.


"Why not?"

Silence. He lifts his head and looks at her. She's leaning against the doorframe wrapping the coat around her—Standish's coat, he notices again—and pushing back her hair.

"I've seen you people turn pencil-neck froshes," he says. "Accountants. Cheerleaders. I'd make a better vampire than that, don't you think?"

She shrugs, fussing with the coat.

"I've been staking vampires for years. I know everything not to do. I'd be a great addition to the family."

"You want to be like us," she says absently, as if verifying the point.


"You want to hunt?"

He hesitates, then says, "Yeah."

"You want to kill."

He swallows. There's a long silence. He thinks of Spike's wet eyes, the jumping muscle in his jaw. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it. I didn't mean to hurt you.

"Yeah," he says roughly, and has to clear his throat. "Yeah, I could do some killing."

She raises her head and looks at him steadily for a minute, then goes back to the coat. He expects her to say something, but she doesn't, and the silence just gets longer and longer, until finally he sits up.

"Look, maybe I was vague. I'll reprise. Bite me."

She hardly glances at him, but says in a low, bemused tone, "Por favor…"

"Please. Thank you. Before I freeze to death."

"You are cold?" she says, looking up with real interest. He has to rein his impatience in hard.

"Yeah. I'm cold."

"You smell warm, though," she says, and crosses to his side.

She moves faster than he'd expected, and he can't help the age-old recoil, the stupid grapple for the bottle beside him because after all it's a weapon of some kind. She crouches beside him and watches him force himself to let the bottle go.

"You smell wonderful," she says, and leans toward him.

He swallows hard and closes his eyes, feels his heart kick up into red alert, feels sweat run down his sides. It's going to hurt. He knows it will. And it won't be Spike, and for a foolish instant that makes him sad.

Her hair brushes his cheek, her lips touch his jaw. He thinks, I'm sorry.

Then she's gone again, and all he has is a smell of charcoal and iron.

"What if I just drink you?" she asks.

He opens his eyes and looks at her. She's crouched on the burnt floor beside him, one elbow on a raised knee, her chin on her hand, regarding him thoughtfully.

"What if—?" he asks, then gets it. "Oh. Well, that's… Well, I hope you won't." Incredibly lame, and all he has.

"If I turn you," she says, "you will be truly cold. Not warm anymore, at all."

He lies watching her. She runs her hand down her leg and examines the polish on her toenails. Spike had cold hands, cold legs. Cold mouth. Because he was dead. Because he was a demon.

"Right," he says. "Night like tonight, I'll be a balmy 32 degrees, or maybe I'll just be dead if that's what you decide to do, but one way or another, could we please get this show on the road? I've got stuff to do."

"What stuff?" she asks quickly, her eyes flashing up to his.

"Just—stuff," he says. "Unfinished business, as they say in the movies. Can we—"

"Why do you want this?" she asks. Her eyes are black and bright in the moonlight. He tightens his lips and stares at her. "Ay," she says. "Let me ask, then, what do you want to do to him?"

"Kill him," he spits, before he knows he's going to. As soon as he's said it, the fury is back, a hammerblow to his brain. It hurts, it makes his fingers stiff and his face hard, and he has to open his mouth and gasp as if he were being choked. He's never felt anything like it. He wants to kill.

"What do you want to do to him?" Luz repeats, and he manages to find her face and see the oddly compassionate interest on it. It infuriates him even more—he is pitied—and he has to stop himself from swinging a fist at her head. He unscrews the bottle with shaking fingers and takes a short swig.

"Kill him," he says, when he can breathe. "I want to fucking kill him. I want to beat the living crap out of him and—"

"And?" Luz says, when he doesn't go on.

He's holding his head in his hands, trying to keep his skull from exploding, and the last few frayed cords of reason are popping. He shakes his head, grinds his teeth.

"And—?" Luz says again, more gently.

"And fuck him," he spits. "Fuck him so he knows what that's like, how that feels, fuck him up, stake him, dance on his ashes. I want to do a Snoopy dance on his goddamned ashes, see how he likes that. Then go and get a Big Gulp and call it a day."

There's a long silence, while he trembles and holds his head and wonders if he's going to throw up in his own lap. Slowly, the pain eases down, and he's sitting on the cold burned floor again, in silence, with a taste of used electricity in his mouth.

"Ay, mi hijo," Luz sighs. "I like you. I'll think about it."

She sleeps with him, curled up against him with her face against his throat. Because he's warm. Because he smells good. He lies stiffly for the first few hours, staring at the ceiling and trying not to twitch when he feels her dreaming lips work against his skin. Finally he falls asleep, and when he wakes up next he's holding her in his arms.

When he wakes up again the sky outside is bright, and there's a square of sunlight a few feet away, glinting on an empty Captain Morgan's bottle. Luz is still curled against his chest, one knee drawn up over him as if they were lovers. Standish's coat smells like cigars.

He lies for a while looking at her, at the faint lines around her eyes, the jut of her cheekbone, the few grey strands in her hair. She was older than he is, when she was turned. He wonders where she lived, when she was alive. I grew up on heat, on fire. He wonders how Standish met her.

He's tired enough to go back to sleep, but ridiculously, he has to pee. He shifts slightly and she opens her eyes and looks at him.

"Sorry." There's a moment, staring at those blank black eyes, when he remembers what she is and feels a stab of fear. She could lean in now and open his throat in a single mouthful. He's sleeping with a barracuda.

He swallows and her eyes soften slightly with what might be recognition, and she smiles. The smile doesn't make him feel any better, but then she lifts her leg off his side, and that's a relief. He sits up and puts a foot or two of floor between them, trying not to look like he's doing it. Stupid, when a foot or two doesn't matter a damn.

"I dreamed about making a boy of my own," she says, and stretches so that the coat falls open and he can see the hard outline of her rib cage through her dress. "A blue-eyed boy with soft lips and a cock like a tulip."

He blinks and pulls his coat closed. "Oh." That hangs in the air long enough to make him feel irretrievably stupid. "Well, that's—"

"Standish was angry," she said, rubbing her eyes. "He came in with a branch and staked my boy."

He looks around, finds his bottle, and tucks it into his coat. Some part of his mind is starting up with a plaintive, nonsensical whine: he'd expected to be turned by now. He's supposed to be one of the living dead. He shouldn't still have to pee.

"He was gone," Luz says. "And Standish was still angry, and he beat me with the branch until my bones showed through my skin."

He pauses with his fingers on his buttons, and glances at her. She's lying on her back, staring at the ceiling, her face sombre.

"Is Standish—?" he says, and then can't think what to say. It's none of his business. She turns her head and looks at him, and he meets her eyes for a moment, then glances away at the square of sunlight on the floor. "You should be careful," he says. "No curtains out here."

She watches him for a moment, perfectly still, and without thinking he reaches out and pulls Standish's coat closed around her. He pats it lightly. "I guess I should go."

"Back to Spike." She says it naturally, without hesitation, as if it were a foregone conclusion. He feels his face go stiff.


"No?" She props herself up on one elbow. "You have not forgiven him?"

"Forgiven—?" He laughs sharply, gets to his feet, and grabs his pack. The anger's starting to swell again, and he needs to get moving before it makes him punch something. "No. No. Not so much with the forgiving."

He starts to turn away, blinking at the bright white world outside the door. He hears her shift behind him.

"You still want to be bitten?"

He hesitates, then turns back. She's standing up, the square of sunlight just beside her, all but touching her foot. He can't wait to be out in the sun, feel some warmth on his skin.

"Yeah. Yeah, I still want…to be bitten."

She stands there staring at him, and he waits, and nothing happens. Finally he shakes his head and turns away again.

"Yeah, well, you know. Have your people call my people." He starts for the door.

"Mi hijo."

He turns back, halfway out into the world. She looks thin and somehow despairing.

"If you want it so much, you can wait."

He nods. "Yeah, that's what my folks said about tickets to Sturgis."

She holds up three fingers. "You can wait three nights, niño. In three nights, I'll decide."

He stares at her. Three nights. Why three nights? An eternity. And at the same time, some tiny boneless thing is wriggling deep in the mud of his mind, beginning to panic. What is he asking for?

"Okay," he says. "Three nights." They both nod, and he turns and goes out into the sun.

He sits on a bench by the towpath and sleepily eats a Pop-Tart. He hadn't known that Pop-Tarts could freeze. It makes almost no difference to how they taste.

He's still hungry when it's gone, but he ignores that. In his pack he has a few sweaters, a wine bottle filled with water, the road map he kept hidden from Spike. There are a couple more Pop-Tarts in the outside pockets, and there's the money. Four-hundred-odd dollars stuffed in with the Pop-Tarts, and just about as much use. There's nowhere here to spend it, and even without thinking about it he knows he's not going anywhere else. Not yet. Not for, say, three days or so.

He wasn't expecting a counter-offer. He wasn't expecting to have to make a sales pitch. He was a healthy neck, a willing lunch. All he asked in return was a mouthful or two of disgusting, and then he'd be on his way.

What do you want to do to him?

Kill him.


He can imagine how it must feel, to be like them. He's been close to their kind all his life. He's seen them when they first rise, when they're still puzzling over the sore neck, before they've even thought to be glad they didn't sign for cremation. Seen them hop over a tombstone for the first time and stand there with a look of bewildered, animal delight at their own lightness and speed. Seen them go poof on the end of a stake in no time at all. Usually a stake with Buffy at the other end, wearing something kicky.

He's seen them straight out of the shell like that, and he's seen them after a few years knocking around, like Spike and Dru and Darla. He's seen them old and ugly, blanched by tunnels and power. He knows them like an extended family, and sometimes he's dreamed he's one of them, that he's useful in the fight, he has a purpose, and no one has to look out for him. He used to wake up from those dreams feeling gross, like a traitor.

The sun is warm on the back of his neck, and he closes his eyes and lets himself doze a little. He can imagine Spike's hard bicep in his fist, knows how it will feel when his fingers bite into Spike's skin and he sets his feet and yanks. He's heavier than Spike. It'll take Spike right off his feet, send him ten or maybe fifteen feet through the air. He'll hit the wall at the height you'd hang a picture. That's enough to daze even a demon, and by the time he's started back to his feet, Xander will be over him already, and he knows how the muscles in his shoulder and side will feel, whipcracking, when he starts to punch.

He wakes up to find the little bush beside the bench full of sparrows. When he moves his hand to his pack they dart away, but they come back for the Pop-Tart crumbs he scatters.

He walks all day, making a game of finding streets he hasn't tried yet, until finally there are no streets left without his footprints already going in at least one direction. The shadows get long and blue. He's tired. He tries the door of a warehouse down by the canal, and lets himself into a black cavern of rusted metal and ropes. There were ships here, once. Upstairs is a small office with a desk, filing cabinet, and fold-away cot. Jackpot.

No blankets, but he covers himself in sweaters and curls sideways to avoid the worst of the springs. The room smells of mildew. He swigs bourbon, wiggles his toes to bring the feeling back, and thinks about his fist around Spike's wrist, his arm windmilling, the crack of the bone inside. It's a satisfying thought.

After a while, not as satisfying as it should be.

He closes his eyes and forces himself to think of Spike crouching wet-eyed in front of him. I didn't mean to hurt you. So convenient, the apology in bulk. Sorry for…well, everything. Don't know what I was thinking. He can let himself the roll of rage now. He waits for it.

It doesn't come.

He tightens his grip on the bottle and grimly turns his mind to that night in the loft, his head ringing, blood in his mouth, Spike flipping him and grabbing him and— And he's instantly furious, gasping and outraged as if a switch has been hit, and now when he thinks about the bone twisting into a fringe of greenstick inside Spike's arm he's exultant and he can go even farther with it. He can think about smashing Spike's head into the wall, dazing him, and ripping his jeans down, fucking him without preamble, until he bleeds and cries and begs. You're sorry? You didn't mean to hurt me? He can imagine hurting him like that, fucking him to hurt him, because there are no words for what he's felt, how sick it makes him and how much he hates it, all of it, what it's done to him and what it's still doing. He'd never thought of doing that to anyone, ever. Always thought of it as a travesty, an atrocity. Which it is. It's monstrous.


He takes a long drink, waits blinking for it to settle, and then another to keep it company. He's not tired anymore; he's tense, juiced with disgust and anger. He reaches down and rummages in his pack until he finds the road map. There's just enough light left in the office to see the major routes. He props himself up on one elbow and starts tracing highways north, south, west. Wondering where he'll go.

The sun's back in the window, nosy and tireless, celestial guidance counselor, and he groans and pulls a sweater over his head. His temples throb, his mouth is paper. He fishes the water bottle out of his pack and drinks as much as he can, in small sips. It's cold and it tastes of rust.

His stomach takes it in, looks it over, and starts up a bitchy whine: water isn't food, apparently. Feeding a Pop-Tart to the sparrows is already seeming pretty stupid. There are two left, and he eats half of one without understanding what flavor it's supposed to be, then covers his face again and tries to sleep.

Three nights. Three nights and a maybe. It's out of his hands now, he's made his case. Somewhere, in some half-burnt house in the snow, his fate is being decided and he's not going to be consulted again. Not until she makes up her mind, and finds him.

If the answer is no, he wonders whether she'll tell him that. Or just kill him.

He thinks of her lips against his throat, soft and needing, and because he's half-asleep and drifting, it makes him hard. Just that touch, the brush of skin against his, a body curled into his as if for protection. It makes him want to be gentle and calm. He slides a little farther into sleep like that, imagining his hand on a thin back and feeling comforted, himself, by the way he strokes it.

Next time you want to try something, let me know first, all right?

Spike's hand had been gentle on his arm and back, and his shoulder had been bony but familiar to lean on. He doesn't want to think about Spike. But he does. He thinks of that black night when he seesawed in and out of the world, in and out of sanity, and each time Spike's calm arm was the lever that brought him back.

I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you.

Too late, he thinks, or makes himself think, but he's too sleepy for venom. He should think of something terrible, sort through the memory chest for one of the really awful moments, but he's too tired. He doesn't want to feel like that right now. Later. He'll get angry again later. Right now, he just wants to—

Sleep, with Spike's cool arm around him. Soft, dreaming lips against his throat.

He's still hard when he wakes up, and he curses his body, then rolls off the cot and shuffles downstairs to piss in the snow. The light is dark blue, late afternoon. He's never pissed in the middle of a street, in the middle of the day, before. He has the leisure, while he does so, to look both left and right, all the way up the hill and down to the canal. Not a soul in sight.

He wonders what Spike is doing right now. Rattling around in the big empty house, smoking, watching the birds. Having a bath. Reading a six-month-old racing paper. Cussing Xander out when he notices that his bourbon isn't on the mantel. Drinking a few litres of rotgut wine instead and wandering out into the sunshine.

Xander taps off and folds himself awkwardly back into his fly. Then he stands looking down at the bump in the front of his trousers.

"What do you want from me?" he asks. "God."

He feels too exposed, out here in the daylight with a hard-on in his trousers like some kind of raincoat pervert, so he goes back inside and wanders the cold dark aisles of rusted machinery until his cock finally gives up on him. Then he goes back up to the office, wraps himself in sweaters, eats the second half of the Pop-Tart, contemplates the whole one that's left, and decides against. There are no books in the office, nothing in the desk drawers. He spreads the map out over his legs and looks for little towns in warm places, towns with names like Euphoria and Gladness and Normal.

He wakes up cold, all the sweaters fallen to the floor. His stomach wails in the darkness. In a fit of self-indulgence he eats the last Pop-Tart, so fast he almost chokes on the crumbs. That gives his stomach something to think about, and he finds the sweaters by touch and piles them back on the cot.

He's too cold to fall asleep again, so he walks a careful circle around the room, cot to desk to wall to cot and back. Each time he goes around he passes the window and sees the stars. No moon, no light. He should have brought a flashlight, or a candle. He wasn't thinking very clearly when he left.

In three nights, I'll decide.

The flatworm twists in his gut again, when he sees her standing barefoot on the burnt floor. He asked to be bitten. To be turned. Her black lips, smiling at him in the kitchen, her strong brown hands in the blonde woman's hair. Is she still alive, that woman? Is it really possible to bargain with them?

He asked to be bitten—for some reason that won't leave him, and the twist of worry is growing and roiling, and suddenly his mouth drops open and he gasps. Willow. His life. Everything— He closes his mouth and forces himself to think of white fingers digging into his shoulder, teeth in his neck, the thrust and tearing pain and suck and nothing left undone, he's done it all or been done by at least, not a shred of innocence left to him, or even imagination, because it was what Spike wanted, because Spike loved him. Things he shouldn't know. About Spike, about himself. What else is left, after that? What other option is there?

He's weeping, standing in the middle of the room with a wet face and heaving shoulders, too full of hatred and disgust even to fold and do this properly, prone. He's dead already.

I'm going to sleep all bloody day. And all bloody night. And when I wake up you're going to be gone.

He's gone already.

He stands there weeping, exhausted, until finally the cot bends gently into the backs of his knees and he's dry, wasted, hiccupping in the silence.

He hasn't moved since he sat down, over an hour ago. He doesn't trust his body, doesn't want to distract himself. His hands are clasped loosely between his knees, and his head is bowed. It's too dark to see anything, but he's staring at the floor.

He's thinking.

He doesn't want it anymore. He doesn't want to be bitten, turned, or killed. That's the starting point. He might never have wanted it, might only have been furious and afraid and desperate—but that's a distraction. He doesn't have time for distractions.

He has to think.

He gave himself up a long time ago, and he gave himself up again two nights ago, and he has one night left to try to get himself back. If he can. If it's possible. He's not sure it is.

His first thought was to run. He has four hundred dollars in his pack, he could make it to the city at least, He's got one more night to do it. Maybe he'll still try, if he gets desperate enough. But if he does that, it'll be a gesture and nothing more. He doesn't have to be told that running isn't in the rules, and if he runs, sooner or later, she'll find him. She has all the time in the world to track him down. So, no running.

His next thought was Buffy. The highway, a pay phone, Buffy. No time to explain, just help, get on a plane and fly here, I'm in New York, not the city, just the state, a little town where they don't even plow the streets, I don't know what it's called, I'm still alive, I need your help—

Could she get here fast enough? Could he even explain in time? It all seems so unlikely. Buffy seems like a figment of someone else's imagination, a better imagination than his own. One that could dream up a shiny blonde vengeance machine, unstoppable, unafraid. And on the other side of the continent.

He can't imagine making that call. His mind won't make that leap, won't bring Buffy here to the land of snows. He can't imagine explaining to her how he got here in the first place, or why his neck is full of holes, or why he never called before.

No Buffy.

It takes him a long time to consciously try the next thought. Which is Spike.

He feels his heartbeat jack up and for a while he can't think past that, just the fact of Spike, who suddenly seems realer than he has in a long time. Or real in a different way. He has a clear image of Spike's face: he can study it, the grooves of his cheekbones and the exact blue of his eyes, as if Spike were right there in front of him. Funny, because most of the time he only has the outlines. He doesn't like any more detail. Doesn't allow himself to have it. But right now he has to be clear and focused, and there's no time for what he won't allow himself.

So, Spike. If he's still in the house at all. If he didn't wake up, see Xander and the money gone, and pack his own bags. Take himself and his failing serpentine off for a fresh start in Florida. It's possible.

All of which is another distraction. What matters is—can Spike help him?

Spike knows Luz. He could talk to her, make her call it off. He could fight her, if it comes to that. Could he fight her and Standish, both?

Xander has a brief, prophetic image of Spike struggling with Standish, and Luz breaking his neck simply, from behind. Then, as he crabs on the dirty floor, a broken chair leg—

He shuts his eyes and squeezes his palms together. There's a pain in his throat. It's a distraction. He has to think.

If it were Luz only, Spike could help him. But it may be both of them, and two against one is easy to predict. The pain in his throat is swelling. It's funny, almost. He did this because he wanted to hurt Spike. Wanted to kill him. Now, the thought of him fighting and dying is terrible.

He can't ask Spike for help. This is his own fault, even if everything else is Spike's. Briefly, he hopes someone is keeping a tally, because it's complicated and he's starting to lose track.

So, no Spike.

That's the point at which he starts to feel he's run out of options. The sky is lightening outside the window; he hears a bird peep somewhere in the eaves. It will be morning soon.

And then it will be night.

He stands at the window watching the last stars disappear into the dawn. That night outside Woodstock, leaning out of the car and staring up until his eyes watered, seeing more and more stars, the longer he looked. The smell of cigarettes and snow. His teeth starting to chatter.

Spike turns the heater on and it kicks in with a clunk. He's looking for a cigarette. The headlights need aligning. The car turns, straddles the road, idles while Spike tries another pocket.

Xander leans over and takes hold of his collar, pulls him gently around, and kisses him. Softly, sweetly, the way a kiss in a car should be. He can feel Spike's smile against his mouth. It's a beautiful night. There's time.

No food left, so he goes down to the street and snaps an icicle off the drainpipe. It helps to crunch it in his teeth, it helps to have something solid going down his throat. He eats it all, pees a second hole into the snowbank, and stands again contemplating the front of his trousers. Apparently he's going to die with a hard-on.

He wonders if he should write a note of some kind. For Willow. He feels guilty at having abandoned her, turned his back on her, even though he knows she was never here in the first place. And maybe, somehow, if he leaves a note it will find its way back to her in the real world, and she'll at least have a transcript of what went down.

The desk drawers are still empty, so he rummages in the warehouse until he finds a broken China marker and an abandoned newspaper. He takes them back up to the office, spreads the paper on the desk, and writes, "Dear Willow" in the top left-hand corner.

Then he just sits staring at the paper, because he can't think of a single thing to write.

He lies on his back watching the square of sunlight move down the wall by degrees. He isn't cold. He wishes he could say he weren't hungry, but his body's too practical for that. His stomach hurts and he feels a little woozy. He keeps thinking about roast chicken.

His body's practical in other ways, too—or if not practical, indifferent to his plight. He's half-hard, as if fear and resignation were a turn-on. He refuses to do anything about it, because he knows what he'll end up thinking about and he doesn't want to think like that right now. It would be hypocritical, to say the least.

When the square of sun is halfway down the wall, he gets carefully up and goes downstairs, outside into the last of the bright day. He washes his face in a snowbank, washes his hands, then thinks what the hell and pulls his coat and sweater and shirt off, and scrapes snow in handfuls all over his chest and arms. His skin turns a startled pink. He shivers, but he doesn't really feel cold. He takes his trousers off and does his legs as well. There's a ruthless satisfaction in dousing his cock with a handful of snow.

When he's scrubbed all over, hopping from foot to foot and breathing in rigid little gasps, he forces himself to stand still and take stock. It's his body, the one he's had all his life. His second toe is longer—the smart toe, Willow used to call it—and he has a scar above his left knee from the trash heap when he was nine, and now a scar under his right knee from the surgery in LA. He's an innie. There's a mole in his right armpit; the doctor told him to keep an eye on it when he got older. Those are his ribs, his hipbones, the bumps of his spine. His hands are rough and square and familiar. The scars on the backs are familiar. His tan has faded. His cheek hardly aches at all now.

Same old body. Looking it over, he feels inexpressibly sorry for it.

He dresses slowly, and leans against the wall for the sun. His face throbs and prickles in the heat.

When the sun is so low the sky is flat turquoise with a lip of orange, he pushes off the wall and starts back inside. He's cold, and the black maw of the warehouse is freezing. He hurries upstairs and wraps himself in the sweaters, then lies shivering violently in the half-light.

He has hours left at best, and he wonders how he'll stand them. How he'll stand it when she comes. He'll try to talk to her. If she doesn't listen, will he weep? Beg? His mouth tastes strange, coppery. He might vomit, if he had anything in his belly. He should have run, should have gone to the city to buy some time and called Buffy, or maybe Willow could do something from that distance, or at least if he was in the city he'd die somewhere with lights. Somewhere he could see her face, see his own hands as he fought.

It's dark now, or so close it makes no difference, and he closes his eyes and thinks as hard as he can, Willow, I'm sorry. Not your fault. Love you. I should have—

So many things he should have done, he can't start. He hopes she gets the cable. He has to think about himself now, try to put himself in order.

Maybe it won't be so bad. With Spike, the biting was good sometimes. There were times he'd craved it. Invited it. So strange, now, to think about that first time, midnight on the couch with his knees a shambles, kissing sweetly. Smiling in the darkness. Everything important that's happened to him since Sunnydale has happened in the dark.

Spike's mouth had tasted new, and his hands had been gentle, and he'd said, You're toasty. His teeth had been pure sex. He'd cleaned Xander's neck with alcohol, and taken him to bed.

He's a little hard again, and this time he doesn't judge himself. It hadn't been so bad, back then. He can see, looking back, how it all came about.

He shouldn't be thinking about this. Not now, in his last few hours on Earth. He should be thinking about his life, his soul, which he only knows he has because he's seen what the lack of one looks like. He should pray, or something. He should try to make a plan.

His hands are clasped between his knees for warmth, and he's stopped shivering quite so badly now. That first night, when he'd meant to put his hand on Spike's side and touched his belt instead—he'd been mortified. Wanted to pry up a floorboard. Because he'd touched Spike's belt.

You can do that, you know.

He unclasps his hands and raises one, shifts a little, and runs his fingers over his half-erection. He's smiling. What the hell. It doesn't matter. Spike's mouth had been cool, he'd held himself up so he didn't hurt Xander with his weight. His fingers had felt good in Xander's hair. That kissing, and the kissing that came later, the times it was sweet and gentle or sweet and sharp, Spike's hand on him or in him, lips at his cheek and ear, the heady submerged knowledge that he was loved. Loved.

Even when it was brutal, love.

His hand is harder on his cock now, his wrist jerking, and he's grinning and biting his lip at the perversity of it all. But, more. No reason not to. Not now. He lets go and undoes the button of his trousers, rakes the zipper down.

Downstairs, in the warehouse, the door bangs closed.

He freezes. His mouth is suddenly bone dry. He can't hear, the roar in his ears is too loud, and then he can—and the footsteps are halfway up the steps already.

He buttons himself and sits up on the edge of the bed. His cock is tiny in retreat.

He should have made a better plan. He thought he'd have more time.

In his head he's trying to remember what he'd thought of to say. Her name, first. What then? He has no idea.

The office door opens and he wets his lips and looks up in the darkness, tries to think, tries to speak, and can't.

There's silence, and he realizes he's shaking. She'll smell how afraid he is. He wishes he weren't so afraid.

"I'm not—" he says, and stops. Something's wrong. It isn't her. He knows it isn't her.

Standish was angry. He beat me with the branch until my bones showed through my skin.

He isn't prepared for this. He stands up anyway, locking his knees because his legs are shaking. He should say something. His mouth is too dry to speak.

There's a shift in the darkness, a footstep, and he opens his mouth to start talking fast, last line of defense, only line he's ever really had.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Spike asks.

There's a pause. Xander blinks. His mind has fled.

"What?" he says.

Spike comes further into the room and Xander backs up reflexively. It's Spike, he knows that, but his heart is still racing and his body only knows how to retreat.

"You didn't leave," Spike says flatly.

"No," Xander says. It's not Standish, not Luz, it's Spike. "How did you find me?" he asks, because it's the next thought through his mind.

Spike doesn't say anything for a minute. "You've been staying here?" he asks, and toes something on the floor. "Why didn't you leave?" Xander says nothing, and after a few seconds he hears Spike sniff sharply. "What are you scared of?"

"I'm not—" he says, and falls silent, because of course he is, of course Spike knows it. No point lying. He can't quite understand how Spike is here, and not Luz. "Did you see her?"

"See who?"

Xander shakes his head. "Right. No, that's stupid, I just thought…forget it."

There's a rustle of coat, a click and grind, and light. Spike's holding his lighter up at arm's length, so Xander can see him. Same face, same blue eyes watching him carefully. He didn't think he'd see that face again. The light from the flame is soft and yellow, painting moving shadows around the room. He can't help glancing over Spike's shoulders, at the open black door behind him.

"It's just me," Spike says quietly.

"I know."

"What're you doing here?"

Xander opens his mouth, then closes it and shakes his head. Spike's voice is gentle, his face is hard and earnest. The scar in his eyebrow glows. Xander wants to touch it.

He opens his mouth again and says, "I don't know." He sounds like someone on the verge of tears.

Then he is in tears, shaking and looking away with his fists at his sides, and Spike clicks the lighter off and doesn't touch him. He stands for a few seconds in silence and darkness, wondering if Spike is watching him or looking away to give him that small measure of privacy, wondering why the hell Spike hasn't touched him yet, what kind of summons he's waiting for.

"Where the hell are you?" he snaps finally, bad-tempered, fisting tears out of his eyes.

There's a sigh, a movement, and Spike is close enough to feel, close enough to smell. "I'm right here," he says. Close enough to touch, if Xander just reaches to his left.

He leans instead, and his head meets Spike's neck, and he can feel Spike's throat working, can hear the click of his teeth inside his jaw. Spike's hands come up and rest lightly on his shoulders. He makes a shushing sound.

Xander presses his forehead to Spike's neck, grabs hold of his coat in shaking hands, and cries. He feels Spike's hands pat his shoulders, through his coat and sweater and shirt. Light, gentle pats, when what he wants is to be snared in arms that are stronger than his own. He wipes his nose on his hand, wipes his hand on his trousers. He's a mess.

He lifts his head and kisses Spike on the mouth.

For an instant it's good, it's familiar, it's sweet and blameless and it makes him ache and he moans in his poor bitten throat. Spike's lips are cool and soft and he pushes his head forward a fraction, just enough that he's kissing back. And then he pulls away.

Xander's left kissing air, his mouth open, his eyes closed. He closes his mouth and licks his lips.

"Bad idea," Spike says, and steps back.

Xander's still holding onto his coat, and he doesn't let go when Spike tugs at it. "Why?"

"Why what?" Spike's voice is rough; he clears his throat and jerks at his coat again. "Let go, it's leather."

"Why is it a bad idea?"

Spike doesn't answer, but suddenly there are twin blows on his fists, sharp downward smacks, and he lets go in surprise and pain. Spike takes a breath, as if he's about to say something, but he doesn't. Xander hears him turn away and take a step.

"You shouldn't be staying here. It's not safe, I told you that."

"I'm all right." This isn't going the way he wants it to. Spike's right, of course. "I'll get the bus tomorrow—"

"Heard that before."

"I'll get it tomorrow."

"I'll drive you out now. Get your stuff, let's go."

Xander stands still and says nothing. After a minute he hears Spike turn back to him.

"I said, get your stuff. You keep hanging around here, you're going to wake up with herself hanging over you and then you'll—"

"I did," Xander says softly, without realizing he's going to.

There's a pause.

"You did what?"

He's trying to think. There's a best possible route to take here, there's a way to do this that would involve telling as little as possible, but he can't think what it is. He can't even think of what he's going to say, a moment before he says it.

"I saw her."

"Saw—Luz? You saw Luz?" Spike's surprise is loud and sharp. He takes a step forward, so he's close enough to smell again. Xander's fingers twitch.

"Yeah. Talked to her. A few times."

"You—" Spike seems at a loss. "Where? When?"

"Around. There are some houses, burnt houses, and she was in one of them."

He can feel Spike studying him, and he doesn't need the light to see the furrowed look of dismay and concentration. The wheels ticking over, fast. "What about?"


"What about me?"

Xander closes his eyes for a second. "She can do that thing, like Dru. That thrall thing. Did you know that?"

He hears the coat again, and then Spike's got the lighter open, and he's right, dismay and concentration. More fear than he'd imagined. When did he fall in love with that face?

"What are you talking about?" Spike asks clearly.

"She does that thing, puts you in a trance." He wants to touch Spike's hair, the ear that grew back. Amazing. Inhuman. He's not human, that's the point. "It was sunny and she talked me half into the house with her."

Spike's staring from under his brows, his jaw hard, shaking his head slightly as if he can't let it loose any further than that. "I never heard of—" he says, then abruptly shakes his head harder and takes a breath. "Doesn't matter. What did you talk about?"

Here's where he needs to be canny, to hold something back. "I asked her to turn me. So I could kill you." He's never been good at holding back.

Spike's eyes widen and he fumbles the lighter. For a second they're in darkness, and then he sparks it again and he's staring at Xander with horror.

"You—" he says.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Xander says.

Spike stares at him, his mouth open, and through the raw relief he feels at simply telling someone what he's done, Xander starts to feel a curl of fear. It should be funny—Spike the eminently surpriseable. It's not funny. Suddenly he wants to take it back. He shouldn't have said anything.

"What—" Spike says. He stops, and makes a visible effort to get his face under control. "What—what did she say?"

Xander half-smiles and decides. "I'm still here, aren't I?"

Spike just stares at him.

"And you're not strung up in front of an east-facing window." He shrugs and spreads his hands, palms out. He wants to go on, to say that none of it matters anymore, it's going to be all right. He's not sure it's the right moment to say that, though.

Spike stares at him a few more seconds, as if trying to read through his skin, see the truth in him, and then all at once the horror in his face folds in like ash and he's slack with relief. Xander just gets a glimpse before the lighter clicks off, but he sees enough to make him reach out into the darkness and touch Spike's shoulder.

"Hey. Come on, I'm fine. Kind of hungry, maybe…."

Spike makes an inarticulate noise—it might be bafflement or rage or grief—and suddenly Xander's wrapped up in thin hard arms, crushed, a bony sternum ground against his own, no air in his lungs. He fights his arms free and wraps them tight around Spike in return. Squeezes as hard as he can. They stand pinned, tipping, barely balanced, until Xander's head starts to swim. He squirms and Spike lets him go and lets him suck in a lungful or two of sweet black air, and then there's no further discussion, Spike just hauls him back and kisses him.

It's hard desperate kissing, cliff's-edge kissing, and Spike's hands are under his shirt, up and down his skin, thumbs socketed in the hollows at the base of his spine, just above his buttocks, making him jump. Spike's mouth is over his, in his. His tongue tastes good. Xander's hands are in Spike's hair because the fucking coat gets in the way and makes him hard to touch. It's all right, he loves Spike's hair, how soft it is, how short. Loves his palm cupping Spike's skull. He wants to go to bed with Spike. Right now. Never thought—it doesn't matter. He just wants more, wants to keep being alive and feeling this, this broken-through transport of everything right, everything brilliant. Brilliant even in the darkness. He feels like he's glowing.

He bites Spike's tongue and grabs his collar, starts walking backward to the cot. Spike lets himself be pulled a step or two, then fights his mouth free and says, "Wait—" Xander finds Spike's mouth and kisses it, then finds his hand and yanks it down to show him it's all right, he's hard, he wants this. He's alive, he's loved.

"Wait—" Spike says again, but softer, and he doesn't move his hand away.

"No," Xander says, and kisses him again. Idiot. Taste of smoke and booze and cold, taste of love. Life. It can break him open on a rock, as long as it doesn't leave him. As long as he doesn't have to say goodbye to this, all of this, this dead little town and the world at large, his own body, the handkerchief of soul. He understands better now. Why Spike is the way he is. Desperate. Understands how it feels.

Spike rubs him, takes hold of him and strokes him twice through his trousers, and metaphysics flees. He squeezes his eyes shut and grabs Spike's forearm, holds it tight and trembling.

"Just—I'm—" His mouth doesn't work, but Spike gets it, and they stumble back the last few steps and the cot hits Xander in the back of the knees. He gets a spring in the back when they fall. The pain makes him grin.

Spike's lying on top of him, a hand on his leg and another on his jaw, then in his hair, smoothing it because of course Spike can still see. And it's funny to think that here they are again, a couple of horny guys making out in pitch darkness, as if nothing that's happened in between has mattered at all. As if it's been a straight line from there to here, a smooth trip with no wayside stops, no breakdown lane, no breaking down.

That makes him sober, and he lies still, feeling Spike's weight on him, feeling Spike's cock press hard into his thigh. Spike's fingers are light and orderly in his hair. They pause a moment, and he can feel Spike considering.


He wraps his arms around Spike's waist before he can roll away, and shakes his head. He's not smiling, but he still wants this. It's just—

"I love you," he says.

Spike's fingers stop, then move down and touch his bruised cheek lightly. There's a long silence.

"Look," Spike says at last. Then he doesn't say anything else for almost a minute. Xander waits, watching the darkness where Spike's face must be.

"You don't," Spike says at last. "You're just upset." His voice is resigned, adult. Xander smiles slightly and shakes his head, then shrugs and pulls Spike down for another kiss. It tastes good, tastes like Spike, but he can feel the resistance. Before it's really over, Spike pulls away and rolls off him.

"Bring whatever you want to take," he says, from somewhere by the door.

Xander lies on his back on the cot, everything vital pulsing in his groin, and listens to Spike's footsteps go down the steps.

He gathers up the sweaters, finds the bourbon by the head of the bed and the roadmap by the foot, and fits it all into the pack. He has to make his way down the steps by touch, and he barks his shins twice in the minefield of the warehouse. Spike's left the door open, a rectangle of night blue. He heads for it, feeling his way.

When he gets there, Spike is standing twenty feet away, chipping at the rime on a snowbank with the heel of his boot. He's smoking, and the smell is clear and essential in the cold air. It makes Xander's mouth water. He walks over, and Spike glances up.

"Got it all?"

He nods. Spike's eyes look wet and thumbed, but before Xander can say anything, Spike turns and starts walking. Xander tips his head back and stares up at the stars. Impossibly far, impossibly lovely. Without looking down, he fishes in his pack for the bourbon and unscrews the lid.

"That mine?" Spike sounds…not irritated, but like he's trying to sound irritated. Xander nods and drinks. The taste fills his nose and throat, stings and sears, and he coughs, wipes his chin, and squints through the blur of tears it brings on. He can hear Spike walking back, crunching in the snow.

"Could've asked…" The bottle's taken out of his hand and he hears Spike swig. Long swig. Then a pause, and another, shorter and thoughtful. Without looking, he knows that they're both standing in the same position, heads tipped back, eyes on the stars.

"I know…two constellations," Xander says, shouldering the pack slowly. "And I can't find either of them."

Spike snorts a laugh, and when Xander reaches out, the bottle meets his hand. He drinks.

"I was a crappy Boy Scout."

"Couldn't be worse than me," Spike says. "Took me ten bloody years to learn when the sun was going to rise."

Xander screws the cap loosely back on the bottle and hands it over, and they start walking up the hill slowly, side by side, like old men.

Halfway back, in the middle of the silence, Spike suddenly says, as if he's decided they should have a conversation: "I talked to Standish."

Xander glances over. "Yeah?"

"He turned up. Had some news from Milosz."

Spike's got the bottle, and there's a pause while he drinks. Xander waits until he's done, then holds out his hand.


"Liv got kacked."

Xander's foot falters. He recovers fast and takes a drink; he doesn't think Spike can have noticed.


"Yeah. Somebody else caught up with her first. Ibiza. Of all places."

Xander swallows hard and concentrates on the glow in his belly. If she'd asked him to go with her, he might not have said no. She was the only one who'd known where he was, who he was with. He has a strange, dizzying sense of things winding up. Playing out. All things come to an end.

"Thought he'd get under my skin," Spike is saying. "Knew I wanted to do her." There's a pause, and then his tone turns wistful, appreciative. "She had agates, taking off like that."

Xander nods.

"The moral," Spike says, holding his hand out for the bottle, "is this. Don't fuck with little women in pink dresses."

The house looks smaller than he remembers, the little bush barer. The footprints up the walk are familiar. He's lived here for weeks, longer than he's lived anywhere in what feels like his entire life. It's not a pretty place.

They go in the front door, Spike bashing it with his shoulder to get it to give, and of course it's no warmer inside than out. It's pitch black in the hall, and Spike says, "Just a mo," and heads down toward the kitchen. Xander stays put by the doorway, blinking in the darkness. It smells the same. Dust and cold and old, forgotten things. Emptiness. Cigarettes. Time.

A weak yellow light is coming back down the hall; Spike is carrying a candle. It makes his face monstrous. He stops a few feet away and shrugs slightly, embarrassed. "No more generator."

Xander glances to his right, into the front room. He sees broken glass, magazines torn to shreds, the couch disemboweled. Spike moves the candle away, and the room falls into darkness.

"You need anything?"

He resists the urge to say you, and shakes his head. Spike holds the candle out, and after a moment's hesitation, Xander takes it. Their fingers don't touch.

"I'll go put the sparkplugs in." He doesn't explain, and Xander doesn't ask. If it's not the serpentine, it's the sparkplugs. If it's not one thing, it's another. Spike walks around him and starts for the door. "We'll put you in a motel for the night. You can get a bloody wake-up call this time."

"Spike." He has no idea what he's going to say next, and when Spike stops and turns to look back at him, he just stands there. Then he says, "I don't want to go."

"Yeah, well." Spike half-smiles, wearily, like a parent. "That's too bad."

"What happens if I don't go?"

"What do you think?"

Xander glances into the front room again. Laid out like a lesson: this is what happens. He looks at the couch, the ribbons of foam, the springs that stabbed his back when he was fighting. Without thinking much, he says, "You could take an anger management course."

Spike snorts. Then he turns and goes out, leaving the door ajar.

Xander stands in the hall for a minute, staring at the wreckage without really seeing it. He's going to be in a motel tonight, in clean sheets, with a shower and soap and a baseboard heater. He has money; he can order a meal. He can use the telephone. It all seems almost unbearably exotic, seductive. He thinks of clean white sheets and is hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion, as if he hasn't slept in a week. His knees want to fold. He wants to curl up on the cold floor and go to sleep.

He shrugs the pack off and lets it drop, then walks into the front room. The candle's starting to drip, and he tips it to let the wax run off. The flame flickers long and orange in the warped old mirror that used to be in the bathroom. Now it's propped on the mantel where the bourbon used to be, and the floor in front of it is littered with cigarette butts.

He stops in front of the mirror and holds the candle up, moves it left and right, and watches the orange glow in the mirror follow suit. He's a dim outline, a mess of dirty hair and a glint of tired wet eyes, a few fingers wrapped around a candle stub. That's what he amounts to. Spike's right, he needs to catch the bus. He's given himself up for lost twice already; he can't have much luck left.

And even though he doesn't think he wants to go anywhere, doesn't want clean sheets and magic fingers if it means waking up alone, he has a weird feeling, like a part of his brain is waking up after months of torpor. Telling him Spike's right about the love, too. He doesn't love Spike. He just thought he was going to die.

He thinks of Spike's cool hand on his head, thinks of him alone and tearing the place apart, and he wants to put his head down and weep. He's exhausted. He can't do this anymore. He wants someone else to do this for him.

He drips a little wax onto the mantel and stands the candle in it. He's going to curl up on the couch and sleep until Spike's ready to go. It's all an anticlimax, it all feels stupidly unfinished, but he's too tired to do anything about it right now. Somehow, she decided against. God knows why. Maybe she never really considered it in the first place. Maybe he dreamed the whole thing up.

He turns to drop onto the couch, and just catches the movement out of the corner of his eye. Then she's on him, a hand over his mouth and an arm around his waist, snapping his head back, knocking the breath out of him. He flails and staggers backward, and they fall onto the couch. A spring stabs him. He can't breathe.

It's not like it was with Spike. It doesn't feel good. Her teeth pop through his skin as if he were a fruit, and she pins his face with her arm to drink. He's gasping, gurgling. He can feel his own blood scalding out of him, soaking his neck, more blood than he's ever bled, and so fast. His hands are cold. He hasn't screamed. It's so stupid to die like this. He won't let himself die like this.

He makes a massive effort and bucks her half-off, choking. Coughing. He can't breathe to scream. She's torn something in his throat. He has just a second to figure that out and then she's on him again, her hair in his eyes, her fingers under his shirt and in his hair. His face is soaked and cold, he's still coughing. His fingers are dug into the couch, and he knows he should use them to beat her, but he can't let go. There's a banging sound coming from his feet. His heels hurt.

She lifts her head, and for a strange slow moment they regard each other. Her eyes are yellow, unrecognizable, kind.

"Mi hijo," she says gently. Her face is painted with his blood. "Mi hijo, you will do better than I can do."

He sucks desperately for air, gets none, and grapples at her shoulders with hooked fingers. She smiles and lowers her head again.

He thinks he must die now, but he doesn't. Somehow he must be breathing, though he can't feel it, because he feels his heart stagger and lose its way. He loses track of his arms and legs. Can't keep his eyes open. Vaguely, he knows his trousers are wet. That's embarrassing. Worse than the pain, almost.

"Take," she says, and lifts his head. There's something in his mouth. He coughs it out. She lifts his head again. "Bebe, mi hijo. Drink."


Spike's voice, and his eyes flicker open, pure reflex. Her face is still close to his; she looks startled, angry. Then there's a blur and confusion and he's knocked down, onto the cold floor with the wax and blood and broken glass, and he hears her wail. Blood is pooling around his head. Someone grabs him. Spike's fingers are in his skin, hauling him roughly onto his back, prying his jaws apart.

"No," Spike is saying, and in the dim light he doesn't look monstrous at all. He looks frightened and perfect. "No," he says again. "Spit it out. Open your mouth, spit—" His fingers are in Xander's mouth, pawing something out in strands. Messy. Dying is messy.

He's not cold, though. He's warm. Funny. And there's no time to regret, just a great opening and he's in it but he isn't enough for it, it bends and frees him gently, inexorably, until he has no choice, he has to let himself let go.