Aftermath

by
Imaginary Images




Chapter Six



Arriving back from their shopping trip a few hours later, Spike heard Xander grousing as they came down the hallway. "Why me? Why do they always pick me? Was I a terrible person in a past life? Am I really a demon magnet? That was just talk, right? I swear, next time I see Wills I am making her Gay. Me. Up. Just like I threatened before."

"XaaaanderÖ" said Charly, in her best Ďcome-hitherí voice, "You offered to give me a back massage once, do you remember? Maybe I should take you up on your offer, get these gay thoughts out of your head? I'll make you forget about those gross demons."

Xander stared at Charly, obviously uncomfortable, until Di tried to make him feel better by joking. "But, Xander, maybe you should feel flattered. I mean, not everybody has had such a wide variety of suitors as you! I mean, um, from what Iíve heard." She tried to cover for having heard all about Xanderís special brand of admirers, but he caught her.

Indignant, he demanded, "Hey, how would you know?"

"Uh, Dawn?"

Xander bellowed, "Dawn!"

At this point in the conversation, they entered the main room. Dawn looked sheepish, having heard Diís confession. "Sorry, Xander, but your stories are just too funny to NOT share. Besides, theyíre just stories, right?"

Xander looked flustered, and Spike couldnít help being curious. "Whatís the matter, Harris? Some mummy chick hit on you? Or a Praying Mantis lady? Iíve heard the stories too, mate."

"God, no, I wish it were that simple. This was some Scabby She-Demon! She looked like she stepped right out of Evil Dead 2!. The girls saw a bunch of them the first time out and thought they were harmless. Just turned out they werenít looking for girls; they were looking for guys! Not that Iím not man enough for them, but ugh!" Xander paused in his ranting with a shudder and put his hands over his crotch, belatedly trying to protect the merchandise. "Gah, itÖShe put the moves on me, grabbed me. Tried to feel me up!"

Charly tried to put a comforting arm around Xander, but he slipped out from under it effortlessly, without even noticing her hurt look. However, he just as quickly leaned into Dawnís embrace when she smoothly moved between the two, and gave Xander a sisterly hug. Xander started ranting again. "Thatís it, Iím giving up on women. I just know that one wanted to eat my head and lay eggs in my neck. God, I need another shower!" Xander then ran back to the bathroom. A few seconds later they could hear the water gurgling through the rigged up pipes as he started the shower. Charlyís hurt look quickly transformed into something more calculating.

"Bit, what the hell was he on about?" Spike was staring at the door where Xander had just disappeared.

Dawn started laughing. "The demons we saw earlier are harmless, but they are looking for a mate! He scared them off easily. You should have seen him. He was babbling on about being gay. It was hilarious. He wasnít in any danger. They must have liked Xander because their pack wanted him. Their whole pack! He could have had an entire harem! ĎCourse they were pretty gross. They were all scabby, eewww!" She shuddered at the thought.

"Well, Harris does seem to draw a certain type of woman doesnít he? No wonder heís talking about batting for the other team." Spike didnít pay any attention to Charly giving him a dirty look before she stormed out of the room. Di and Margot followed her quietly.

Since it was almost dawn again by this time, they all started getting ready to bed down. The girls took turns in the new bathroom after Xander returned from his shower.

"You calmed down any yet, Harris?" Spike was sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette.

Xander responded while he was making up his little bed in the corner. "Yeah, I guess. I just get so sick of all the nutjobs trying to push me around, push me into sex. I know this sounds totally girly, but doesnít anybody want a relationship anymore?"

Figuring that the last part was hypothetical, Spike focused on the first. "Speaking of loonies, whatís up with your slayer honey?"

Xander looked up at Spike, and thought for a moment. "Not my honey. I think I was just a means to an end for her. She thought she could get something, get ahead, I guess. I donít really know." He looked kind of depressed as he got up and walked over to Spike. "You ready to get out of that chair?"

"Yeah, just toss me towards my cot would ya?"

"Ok, letís go." Xander leaned down, and Spike wrapped one arm around the boyĎs neck and was able to actually help some. Spikeís right leg was still completely useless, but his left was able to hold some of his weight to get the few feet to his cot. Xander helped him into bed. "That blood really has helped you a lot hasnít it? Youíre moving a lot better already."

"Sure has, mate. Hopefully theyíll be willing to open a vein a couple more times. Little more help from the Slayers and Iíll be right as rain."

"You donít have to be so callous about it. Theyíre not exactly jumping for joy over it as it is." Xander pointed at Spikeís half of the room. "Hey, Spike, mind if I move my mattress somewhere over there? I can really hear the pipes I rigged up gurgling through the wall over here."

"I suppose itís alright. Youíll probably be hearing that 24/7 with this many of them birds around. Although, from what I noticed youíre the one that showered twice today."

"You try having some scabby she-demon feeling you up and see if you donít feel dirty." Xander once again shuddered.

Xander moved his mattress so it was along the same wall as Spikeís cot. While he was getting settled, Spike grilled Xander some more about Charly. "So what about the bird? You and her got a thing going?"

Xander hesitated at first. He sat down on his relocated mattress, leaned back against the wall, removed his eye patch and closed his good eye before speaking. "Itís definitely a thing all right, but not really. Iíd just gotten back from Africa, and let me tell you I was lonely over there! Hardly anybody spoke English, so with only the occasional interpreter, I didnít have many people to talk to."

Spike was lying in what seemed to be his standard position, on his back. He blew smoke rings at the ceiling while he listened to Xanderís story. "Anyway, she was in training. Giles thought it would be a good idea to include me in the training as well. He claimed I needed to work on my eye/hand coordination. I think he really just wanted to give the new slayers a new toy to beat on. She started hitting on me while hitting me. I didnít realize until a few weeks later that sheíd already pretty much worked her way through all of the younger watchers, male and female. Not sure if you knew this, but theyíve brought several new ones on board to try and rebuild the Council. Theyíre mostly relatives and stuff of the old Council. Maybe she thought she could get ahead quicker if she had some connections. I donít really know. Somehow, she was under the very mistaken impression that I had connections, could get her out of some training or a better room maybe. I think she mistook me for a real watcher. Weíve talked some. I thought weíd ended up on an ok note, but she still flirts with me sometimes. Sheís a good slayer, but..."

Spike finished his sentence for him, "Sheís just not doiní it for ya, is she? Just because someone has the powers of a superhero doesnít bloody make them your bloody soul mate, ya know." Spike didnít add that he thought the reason Charly looked like she might be trying get close to Xander again was because here, in this place, Xander basically was the leader. She probably thinks she can control him. Silly bint. Spike was glad that Xander wasnít as oblivious to Charlyís attentions as he appeared.

Thinking about that for a minute, Xander responded with, "Iím just so sick of being in relationships that arenít equal, ya know?"

Spike was quiet for a moment but then responded, "Yeah, I hear that. I spent a hundred years with Dru." This was said as if it explained everything.

Xander interrupted. "She was nuts, Spike, and evil, how can you compare her to anything?"

"Thatís my point, you git. Sure, sheís loony and evil, but she needed me. Sometimes she even loved me, but she never treated me like an equal. And Buffy, well, I willingly took any little scrap sheíd give me, then I ended up hurting her because she wouldnít give it all. How much more unequal can you get?"

Xander mulled that over briefly. "I guess I understand that. You havenít had the best of luck in relationships either, huh?"

"Not by a long shot, mate."

"Hey, Spike. Are you going to have nightmares again tonight?"

"Probably. I have them a lot." Spike didnít seem to want to share any more than that.

"Oh, well, in that case, just try not to make too much noise all right?" Xander said with a laugh, but then got serious. "Spike, what are we doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"This. Sharing. Itís kinda weird."

"Weíre blokes, stuck in the company of a boatload of birds. Weíre just stickiní together is all, mate. We can still hate each other if that makes ya feel any better."

"Yeah, it does. Speaking of which, did I ever tell you how much I hated you for Dawn giving her crush on me up for one on you?"

"Iím sure you have one or twice, and by the by, I heard your little confession earlier. Thanks mate, Ďpreciate it."

Xander mumbled, "Oh, kinda hoped you hadnít. Anyway, Ďnight Spike."

------------------


In his dream, Xander was walking along with the three slayers towards the sporting goods store. He noticed the demons before the rest of the group. When he pointed them out, Di said, "Theyíre ok. Theyíre the ones we saw earlier. They just ignored us." This time they werenít ignored, however. With only a few wisps of hair on their heads, gray mottled skin, full of scabs and wearing no clothing, they were quite ugly. It was also quite obvious that they were female. One carried herself like a leader and walked straight towards them. All three slayers went into defensive positions surrounding both Xander and Dawn. The demons ignored them, though. The lead demon walked right up to Xander and spoke in her best ĎLarge Marge the Butch Truckerí voice, "You are not mated. You mate with us, yeah?" Completely shocked by this, Xander just gaped. Looking back at the rest of her pack, the demon commented, "Not very bright, but looks strong. We take back to lair, yeah?" The rest of the pack, about 8 demons, all grunted and nodded their heads up and down vigorously.

This brought Xander out of his stupor. "Ahh, I think youíve made a mistake. You donít want me. Iím already spoken for. Yeah, um, I have someone waiting for me back at OUR lair." Ignoring his comments, the demon stepped right into his personal space and grabbed Xanderís crotch with a firm hand.

"Hey, hands, bad places!" Xander jumped back. The girls tried to lead him away, but they were surrounded by the pack. The leader once again got into Xanderís personal space. Here the dream split from reality. In reality he had shouted out, "Iím taken, married. OH. Iím Gay, YEAH! Thatís right. Iím gay, and my big strong boyfriend is going to be sooo pissed if you donít back off right now!" The demons backed off covering their ears. "This one too loud. Would never listen." In his dream though, he was suddenly struck mute and the she-demon put one arm around him, squeezed his balls tighter and licked up the side of his faceÖ


Xanderís moans woke Spike up.

Spike tried to break the boy out of his dream. "Harris, wake up!"

When he got no response, he flopped around until he managed to get himself on his stomach. Then he pulled himself up to look over the edge of the cot. Even in the almost total dark Spike could make out Xander, flailing his arms around. Reaching his hand down, Spike started smacking at Xanderís head, the only thing he could each. "Harris, wake the hell up!"

Xander suddenly sat upright in bed with a yell. "What!?" He was disoriented and tried to scramble away from what had woken him only to ram one shoulder into the wall and his hip into Spikeís cot, almost tipping it over.

"Calm down, mate. Itís just me. It was your turn for a nightmare, I guess."

"Oh, Shit! It was that scabby demon. Ugh, in my dream she did more than feel me up! I thought it was her touching meÖ.Gah. I think I need another shower." Xander stopped for a second. "Hey, what the hell did you hit me for?"

"Well, thanks, you idiot. I hope I donít look like some scabby arsed demon!" Spike sounded outraged at the idea. "I couldnít get your attention, ya tosser."

"No, you dope. You donít look like them. In the dream she was licking my face. When I woke up with you smacking me in the face, IÖI got confused. Sorry."

Figuring Xander had probably had enough sharing for one day, Spike went for the tried and true snarky response. "Well, it was only a bloody dream. Go back to sleep, you noisy bugger."





Chapter Seven







Over the next few weeks, the group quickly settled into a routine. Spikeís nightmares continued on a regular basis as well. As a result, Xander got rid of Spikeís cot and replaced it with a mattress similar to his on the floor. All that separated the mattresses was small wooden crate, which was being used as a nightstand to keep a lantern and Spikeís smokes within reach. This way when Spike did have a nightmare, Xander could easily just reach over and try to wake him. Waking Spike usually failed though; so more often than not, Xander simply held Spikeís hand the rest of the night. Either way, keeping the mattresses close made sense. Since no one asked, Xander certainly wasnít going to explain the need for the proximity. If anyone else noticed the handholding it wasnít mentioned. Spike thought Dawn knew since sheíd sneak in early sometimes to sit at the foot of Spikeís bed and talk to him before anybody else woke up. He was pretty sure sheíd gotten a view of the clasped hands a time or two before he could hurriedly pull away from Xander. She never asked about it, though.

Everyone except for Spike patrolled. They were trying to learn the area, as well as learn as much as they could about the different factions fighting for control in the city. While the group tried to avoid direct confrontations as much as possible, the gang did frequently come across humans and demons alike, willing to share information. Some violent groups existed, but most of the beings stuck in the city were just trying to survive. Theyíd gotten into a few brawls, though nothing the Slayers and Illyria couldnít handle. Even Dawn held her own in a couple of scrapes. Where Dawn went, so did Illyria. It was the one point Spike wouldnít waver on. He wasnít thrilled when he heard that Dawn had indeed been involved in a couple of fights.

No one really knew what Illyria thought of the arrangement. On one hand, she spoke frequently about what pond scum they all were and how it was beneath her to play body guard to such lowly creatures as them. On the other, at times when Fred would shine through, it was obvious that she felt out of place when not included in the girlsí whispered conversations about fashion, movie stars, etc.

Dawn had suggested that they map out the area to better understand the territories they were dealing with. They had been working at methodically marking down street by street what they were finding, be it demons, supplies, possible threats, places to hide, information, etc. So far, they had determined that the biggest immediate threat existed about a mile north of their location where the border of one factionís domain seemed to be located. As far as they could tell, it was headed up by a particularly nasty demon by the name of Tydok. While they had not personally encountered him yet, they heard he was a lumbering bull of a demon with cloven hooves and huge horns. He was scaring the hell out of the remaining local population. Three major factions seemed to be at work, including Angelus and the army he was reportedly building. Luckily, the area where they were currently hiding out didnít seem to hold much importance to any of the more violent groups. They werenít sure why, but hoped it stayed that way. Angelus and his recruits were said to be much farther north and west from their location. They had even less information on the third group, who seemed to be staying in the eastern parts of the city.

Apparently, on the night of the big showdown, thousands upon thousands of people had unexplainably experienced a very strong compulsion to leave the city. This explained why they ran into so few humans. With most of the humans gone, demons no longer had to hide, and they could now walk in plain sight.

Another thing that became a routine of sorts, was Charlyís pursuit of Xander. Spikeís room had basically become Command Central since they had found some old couches upstairs in what probably once was a break room. They had hauled the furniture downstairs and set them up in the corner and often hung out there during meal times or after patrolling. Dawn joked how it was like having a real Scooby meeting again. Spike often noticed how Charly would try to sit beside Xander. She would use the opportunity to reach over to touch his hand or knee as they talked about the most recent patrol. Charly also apparently thought that leaning over and showing off cleavage would be especially effective. Xander seemed mostly oblivious to all the attention focused his way. Just as often, Spike saw how Dawn would wiggle her way between them to sit beside Xander. Thatís my niblet! Spike thought he might as well get in on the fun and also started working to distract Xander from Charly. That bint is nothing but bad news. Heíd call Xander over to the table to look at the current map they were marking up or interrupt Charly in mid flirt to ask his opinion on where the girls should patrol next just to get Xander to walk away from Charlyís flirting.

Xander didnít get out to patrol as much as the rest of them since he was on Spike duty the most, though Dawn volunteered when she could. Spike enjoyed his time with Dawn, getting to know her again without the Buffy factor interfering. Spike and Xander seemed to get along in their own bickering way, so the arrangement just worked out. On more than one occasion Dawn referred to the boys as an old married couple.

A schedule for giving Spike blood was also hammered out. On any given day only two of them would feed him, trying not to give too much and risk getting weak. Illyria helped as well by bringing back the odd meal for Spike. The first time that happened was not a pretty sight. The slayers, especially Charly, complained long and loud about it, thinking that Spike was going to kill the poor unfortunate soul. In the end though, they were simply outvoted. With no choice, unless they all wanted to give up even more of their own blood to Spike, they had to live with Spikeís snacking. Spike suspected that Charly was putting pressure on the other two slayers not to give any more blood than necessary. He also thought that Illyria was secretly enjoying the reactions whenever she brought some half-conscious person or demon into their hideout. As a result of both the willing bloodletting and the snacks from Illyria, he was improving by leaps and bounds.

Spike noticed that every time Xander offered up his own wrist, no one else was around. He thought the feeding might be giving Xander feelings the boy was uncomfortable with. He knew from experience that vampiric feeding certainly could be an erotic experience. Spike figured the boy wasnít that comfortable with his sexuality; yet, for some reason he felt oddly reluctant to call him on it. Heíll figure it out on his own without me harpin' on him.

One day while all of the women were out, Xander was in the bathroom fixing a small leak that had sprung in the makeshift plumbing. As he tightened the misbehaving pipe back down, he heard a loud yell echo through the hallways. Surprised by the sound, the wrench slipped, whacking his knuckles against the pipe and splitting them open. Xander jumped up and ran back to the main room, holding his bleeding knuckles, but ready to fight if needed, only to find Spike standing all by himself in the main room.

"Harris, look! Iím back! Iím walkiní!" Spikeís entire face was lit up by a huge, triumphant smile.

"Terrific, Spike. Now can you help me? I just hurt myself while you were shouting with glee," Xander complained.

"Get over here, you git. What did you do? And, Iíll have you know, I never shout with glee." Spike remained standing where he was, looking a little guilty.

"Spike? Whatís up? You look like you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar, or quite possibly with your hand down your pants. Oh wait, you wouldnít care if someone caught you touching yourself. And guilt? Not a good look on you."

Sounding apologetic, Spike tried to explain. "Well, I may have exaggerated just a wee bit." He held his thumb and forefinger close together to emphasize the Ďweeí part.

"A wee bit? What the hell are you talking about? And when the hell did you become Irish?"

Spike demonstrated. He managed to shuffle the few feet from one chair to another. His right leg dragged much more than the left, and he also had to grab the table edge to steady himself. "Ok, so Iím standing, but not quite sure if Iíd callthiswalkingjustyet." He rushed out the last bit as he sat down heavily, exhausted from the short trip.

Xander sat down next to him. "Still, I think you did great, Spike. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and soon youíll be walking right out the door. Overreact much?"

Missing the Christmas Special reference, Spike simply chose to get huffy. "Well, I thought it was a bloody big deal. You try lying around for months unable to move. Not enjoying being called Matt, ya know. I hear the girls talking. They forget, I can hear them."

"Really, truly, Iím happy for you, Matt, but can you help me bandage this up. Iím bleeding like a stuck pig here." He held up his bloody knuckles to show what he meant.

"Yeah, give it here." Spike took Xanderís hand and started cleaning up the wounds. "Ya tosser, itís just a few scratches." The words were harsh but the tone and actions were gentle.

"Well, it feels like a big owie!" Xander defended his own brand of overreacting, and tried to pull his hand back.

"I think youíll live. Here, let me clean that up." Spike refused to let go, and using some of the first aid supplies that always seemed to litter the table, he worked on cleaning up the scratches.

Dawn had a knowing look on her face when she and Illyria walked in a moment later to find Spike and Xander talking softly while Spike bandaged up the scratched knuckles with the same gentle care he used to only reserve for Drusilla.





Chapter Eight







"Think youíre ready for this, Spike?" Xander asked while they stood side by side at the doorway of the main room.

Spike stared at Xander like heíd lost his head. "What the hell do you think? Bloody hell, yes. If I donít get out of here, Iím gonna go completely Ďround the bend."

Xander put a helping hand on Spikeís right elbow and started walking out with Spike limping alongside. Spike had been getting progressively better over the last week or so, but the badly damaged right leg still caused him to lurch quite a bit, and his balance wasnít quite steady yet.

Spike put his left hand on the railing and his right arm around Xanderís shoulders while the pair made their way slowly up to the roof. Eventually, they walked out into the moonlight, causing Spike to let out a whoop of delight. Exhausted, he let Xander manhandle him into one of the folding chairs heíd had the girls bring up. It was actually a nice, quiet spot. Because the building was taller than the rest in the area, it gave the illusion of even more privacy in an already quiet area.

Hands shaking some from the effort heíd just expended, Spike had a hard time lighting up a cigarette, but eventually got it. They sat in silence for awhile, just looking up at the stars.

Spike finally spoke. "This is nice, innít? Without all those bleediní women nattering on and on Ďbout nothing."

Nodding, Xander agreed and ticked off all the womenís transgressions on his fingers. "Yeah, they can be a bit much. Iím glad the five of them went out patrolling, actually. Charlyís bossing everyone around. Diís trying to keep the peace. Dawn and her Ďmapping out the cityí and other brainstormy ideas. Margot tries too hard to please everyone. Illyria bitches about how worthless we all areÖAnd doesnít Di have that scary vibe goiní on with being so sweet, but so extremely, dangerously knowledgeable about how to create explosives with bleach and a few other household items?"

"Yeah, like I said, nattering on and on." Spike couldnít resist the jab at Xanderís expense. "Yeah, actually, she is a little scary, mate. Could come in handy at some point, though." Heíd been there the day before when they were heating up food on the camping stoves, and Di went into a long explanation of what she could do with that propane tank, a little bleach and a match. "And thatís why us blokes are stickiní together," Spike responded sagely while pointing his cigarette at Xander to emphasize his point.

Spike finished the rest of his cigarette in silence before speaking again.

"Xander?"

"Yeah?"

"Ya wanna hear Ďbout my nightmare? Maybe youíll have an idea on what it means."

"You think I could interpret your dreams?"

"Sure. Arenít you the bloke Ďthat sees?í Besides, I think you might understand part of this one."

"Well, that was said right before psycho-priest-guy gouged my eye outÖand um, did I ever thank you for saving me, saving my other eye?"

"No, you didnít."

"Um, thanks, Spike."

Stunned by this continued show of friendship, Spike could only respond in kind. "Youíre welcome."

Xander shook his head as if to clear it. "Look, enough with me baring my soul crap, ok? This is getting weird again. You and I shouldnít get along this well. It goes against the natural order of things. Why donít you tell me about those dreams if you want? Iím sure I could make fun of them, and that should make us both feel better."

"Ok, mate. Works for me. Itís a doozy though, so hang on."

The dream begins the same way every time. Heís in mid fall from what he is now calling "The Dragon Drop," so it starts out with a rush. However, in this dreamscape, when he hits the ground, he lands nimbly on his feet. Spike can see Angel sprawled motionless on the ground. Not far away lies Gunnís broken and bloodied corpse. "Oh, Charlie Boy, what happened to you?" Spike asks the still form. Half of Gunnís jaw is ripped loose, yet the corpse lifts its head, turning toward Spike, one eye staring sightlessly off in the wrong direction. The deep and booming voice that comes from this horrible parody of Gunn seems to echo from everywhere and nowhere at once. "She gave you somethiní man. You need to use it."

Spike recoils a little from the awful sight of that terribly broken face speaking, but then squares his jaw, twitches his head right and then left in a stretch of neck muscles, before giving ĎGunní his best Ďgive me yer best shotí look. "What? Who gave me what?"

Gunnís corpse continues, "The same one who gave him somethiní." It nods at Angelís prone figure. "Only yers is for keeps." Gunnís jaw falls completely away, hitting the ground with a juicy thud. He looks down at it with no more interest than as if heíd just dropped a quarter before reaching down and picking it up. He squishes it back into place, then looks back at Spike. "You need the eye that sees. Only that can tell you what to do with the knowledge. Iím not gonna explain this too many more times, man. Blondie Bear, you need to catch on and catch on quick. Everything depends on it. Quit keepiní shit to yerself. You need to share. You saw where doiní that got him." Gunnís corpse points at Angel with one horribly mangled hand, and then his entire body simply melts away into a large puddle of blood with a nasty gurgle. The blood creeps towards Spikeís boots, but before it reaches him, a bright white flash drowns out everything in sight.

From this point on, the dream varies each time. After the flash, this latest "episode" shows a couple running through the darkened LA streets, being chased by an unseen monstrosity. They pass by several burnt out XXX rated movie houses, shops and bars. Thereís a flash of one sign in particular, but itís too blurry for Spike to read.


"Ok, Spike. Stop for a second. That whole corpse thing was just nasty all right? That was your friend? Holy Moley, thatís just all kinds of gross." Xander looked a little green even in the moonlight while Spike gave him a dirty look. "Ok, I can do this. Can you repeat that last part? I was too busy being grossed out to really pay attention."

Spike fidgeted. "Mate, I donít really want to do this more than once! Itís bad enough I keep dreaminí this shit!"

Xander put his hand on Spikeís wrist and squeezed lightly. "Spike, please? Just tell me that last part again, not the part with the talking corpse pulling a Beetlejuice, though, ok? This might be important."

As Spike started to repeat the last part of the dream, Xander suddenly felt like his hand was locked onto Spikeís wrist by some invisible force. At the same time, he realized he could see! With perfect clarity, he saw exactly what Spike was describing, down to the last little detail. He could even hear the footsteps of the running couple smacking on the pavement, the thundering footsteps of whatever chases them, the womanís scream as the evil gets closer and the rain clicking against the gaudy plastic awnings. Even his sense of smell was working overtime; the smoky smell of the burnt out buildings hung heavy in his nose. The one major difference from Spikeís description--Xander had a perfect view of the broken neon sign, which read ĎHeatherís Hot House.í Even the building number 1325 was visible.

"Whoa Nelly, what the Hell was that?!" Xander wrenched his hand away from Spike, and the vision instantly faded, though the phantom sounds continued to echo around the rooftop for a few seconds. The smell lingered even longer.

His eyes looked wildly around the rooftop as Spike ranted. "Oh bloody hell, itís not a dream is it? What did that silly bint give me?"

Xander looked at Spike, his eye wide and scared. "Oh, crap. I think she gave it to me too."







Chapter Nine







"Silly bint? Which silly bint would that be, Spike?"

"Not now, Harris. We need to get back downstairs. The women are on their way back, and I can hear them three blocks away. Someone is getting a boot in their arse for not being quiet, even if you have to put it there for me. Somebody could damn well get dead."

Xander was still a little flustered after what had just happened, and now Spike was being a bossy ass. "Want me to just toss you down the stairwell? Meet you at the bottom? Itíd be quicker."

"No, I bloody well donít want you to toss me down the stairwell, you git. Just give me a hand here, will ya? Iím gonna tear them all a new one, but it probably wouldnít have the same effect if you carried me down the bloody stairs now would it?"

"Ok, ok, mister impatient vampire guy."

As they neared the door to the roof, Xander stopped and took a peek over the side. "Spike? Tell me what you see."

Spike leaned over and could only see four silhouettes.

"Bloody hell. Letís go, Harris."

Together the guys mostly slid down the stairs and arrived back just as the women did.

Dawn ran into the room and threw herself at Spike. "Sheís dead, sheís dead!" She was crying hysterically.

Illyria stood off in the corner. Charly and Di were checking each otherís injuries. They were both banged up, bruised and bloody.

Amidst her crying and sniffling, Dawn kept repeating the same words over and over. "Itís all my fault, all my fault."

"Whoa, Bit, you gotta slow down. Talk to me, ok?" Spike sat down on one of the couches and drew Dawn into his lap.

Xander stood behind them with his hand on Dawnís shoulder. "Yeah, Dawnie, we canít help until you slow down and tell us what happened."

The four of them were patrolling, Illyria conspicuous by her absence. The four girls had only run into a couple starving vampires so far this evening. Just as they were passing by a darkened alley, several demons ran out to surround them. They were various sizes, shapes and colors, but all looked mean. They were all carrying various weapons, chains and tire irons.

One of the demons spoke up. "Well, lookie here. All these little girls out all alone. What do you guys think? Should we keep Ďem?"

Charly tried to stand in front of the others. "I donít think so, Ugly. Weíre leaving. You can step away or fall down. Either way, weíre outta here."

"Mouthy one, arenít ya? Donít worry. Iíll take the sass right outta ya!" With that, the leader pounced on her. All the rest of the demons jumped into the fight as well.

Di and Margot fought valiantly. Even Dawn was managing reasonably well until one of the demons grabbed her around the throat. Margot saw this and tried to intervene but was pulled up short as another demon whipped his chain around her neck and pulled, hard. There was an audible crunch as her neck snapped. Dawn tried to scream, but with the demonís hands around her throat she only managed a small croak.

Suddenly a shape dropped down from above and batted two of the demons away with one hand. This shocked the demon with his hands around Dawnís throat so much that he let go. She managed to scramble away and watched Illyria kill all the remaining demons in a few seconds.


Spike listened to Dawnís story, then motioned Xander to come around the couch and sit. Spike gently handed Dawn off to him, before getting shakily to his feet. He limped over to Illyria, changing to his vamp face and charging her, ramming his arm into her throat. "Just where in the FUCKING. BLOODY. HELL. WERE. YOU?"

For the merest fraction of a second, Illyria looked surprised and even flinched back in the face of Spikeís anger before catching herself and pushing back. "I do not answer to you, half-breed! There once was a time when anyone who took that tone with me would be cinders before they finished speaking."

"Yeah well, BLUE. You ainít what you used to be and you will answer me. Where were you?" Spike was shaking with anger.

Dawn pulled away from Xander and ran between Spike and Illyria, putting her hand on Spikeís chest and trying to push him back. "Spike! Stop yelling at her. It was my fault. I told her she could go off by herself if she wanted. Sheís always stuck watching me."

Spike turned his anger on Dawn before he could stop himself. "What the hell were you thinking, Bit? You could have been killed! How many times has she left you alone?"

"I wasnít alone. Di, Charly and Margot were with me."

"Yeah, and Margot is dead now, so a lot of bloody good that did!"

"Iím sorry. Iím so sorry, Spike. Itís all my fault." Dawn started to cry again.

Spike visibly calmed himself and took Dawn into his arms. "Shh, now, Bit. Itís ok, just gave me a scare."

Illyria was still angry and didnít calm down as easily. "The girl was ignorant and weak. She deserved to die. Iím surprised the entire human race hasnít wiped itself out with itís own stupidity. You are all nothing but bugs beneath my feet, unworthy of my notice."

It was Xanderís turn to step up. "Look you big Blue Meanie, can you just give it a rest? You hate us, blah blah blah, weíve heard it. Margot is dead and youíd think the little bit of Fred that you supposedly still have in there might understand that. Instead of just bitching, why donít you try and help us if weíre so damn ignorant."

The comment about Fred did seem to affect Ilyria, causing her to back down some. "IÖI shouldnít care what happens to you. Iím a God-King. I had entire worlds under my control. Why canít I control theseÖfeelings?"

Spike looked at Illyria from over Dawnís shoulder. "Blue, right now I donít give a tinkerís damn about your issues. You best just stay outta my way for awhile. Címon, Bit. Letís go get you settled." Spike led Dawn out of the room, his arm around her.

Illyria stomped out without another word. They could hear her head up towards the roof.

Charly went up to Xander and put her arms around him. "Xander, honey. Are you ok?"

Xander ignored Charlyís affections and just went for the group hug. "Not really. Címere, Di." He gave both girls a huge squeeze. "Now, why donít you two go lay down. Itís been a helluva day."

--------------------


While Spike was sitting with Dawn, Xander went and sat on his mattress, cross legged, with elbows on his knees and head in his hands. Spike limped back in awhile later to hear Xander sniffling.

Spike flopped down onto the mattress, startling Xander, who tried to act like he hadnít been crying. "Spike, Iíd like to be alone."

"Not gonna happen, pet."

Xander hurriedly wiped his hands over his face and looked up. "Spike. Do you not understand the meaning of the word - alone?"

"Thatís the last thing you need right now, pet."

"Fine. Iím too tired to argue. Dawn all right?"

"Yeah. She cried herself to sleep, but I think it was more about her thinking I was pissed off at her than anything."

Xander tensed when Spike put his arm around him.

"What are you doing?"

"Loosen up, ya daft bugger. Christ, Iím not gonna hurt you. Only tryiní to help."

Xander lifted his head and looked at Spike with tears running down his cheek.

Spike gently wiped the tears away and said, "Talk."

Xander hesitated for a second, but then he did as instructed. "I got Margot killed. Iím a horrible wannabe watcher. People keep dying! I should have been out there with them."

"What? And get yerself killed too?"

"Gee, thanks. Glad you think so highly of my fighting skills. I do alright, you know. My point is that theyíre my responsibility."

"No, they bloody well arenít. Theyíre all adults. They came here willingly, knowing the risks that exist on any mission. You can only try to help. You sure as hell canít make Ďem listen to you. Lookít me and Niblet. She only listens to me when she wants to. Iíve already had to hear this crap from her. Itís not your fault." Spike squeezed Xanderís shoulder hard to emphasize this. "Now get over yerself. Iím the narcissistic one, remember? Thereís only room for one of us Ďround here, ya hear me?"

Xander snorted. "Thanks, Spike. Youíre really bad at this comforting thing, you know?

"Made ya smile though, didnít it? Now lay down." Spike physically pulled Xander down until he was lying with his head on Spikeís chest.

"Besides pet, if this vision thing is what I think it is, your place in this isnít out there." Spike gently ran his hand through Xanderís hair.

"So what? I get stuck with you?"

"Would that be so bad?"

"No, I sípose not." Xander started to relax into Spikeís touch, but then suddenly tensed. "What if one of the girls sees us like this?"

"What do you care? Dawn already thinks weíre shagging like rabbits and sheís the only one that matters in my book."

Xander sputtered, "She WHAT? Oh God."

"Harris, she doesnít care, and neither should you. Now shut up and just relax, you git."

"Iím so going to regret this." Xanderís voice trailed off, but he made no attempt to move from Spikeís embrace. Eventually, they both dozed off.

Spikeís dream started as usual. First the free fall, followed by seeing Gunnís ravaged corpse. This time however, when it (Spike just had a hard time calling it Gunn) leaned up and spoke the words changed. "Hey, Blondie Bear, Ďbout time you started paying attention."

Spike looked at the corpse and complained. "Well, maybe if youíd been a little more direct and to the point Iíd have caught on quicker!"

"Touchy, touchy arenít we, Spike? My connection to the conduit is shaky at best. I canít be rockiní the boat or the big kitty Ďll get pissed. It wouldnít let me just lay it out there for ya." Gunn paused as his jaw fell off again.

"Yer falliní apart, mate. Canít you do somethiní Ďbout that? Itís a might disturbing." Spike said this as he knelt down in front of the corpse.

"Nope, my time here is limited. Wonít be neediní this much longer." He pointed down at his jaw before picking it back up. "Actually, need to cut the chitchat short broí. Got someone waitiní on me, so letís make this quick. As youíve probably figured out, Cordelia left you something when you bit her. The Powers saw that the visions are tough on a soul, so they decided to split up the duties. Youíre the conduit. Your boy is the interpreter. They werenít even really sure who the interpreter would be until you two shared that vision. You have the ability to handle the visions. He has the ability to see, to understand. You already saw how it works. You see, you tell, and he understands. It takes both of you together to make it happen. While the dragon wanted Angelís soul, The Powers want yours right where it is. Now you need to act on them. You wonít always get as much notice as you did with this one. Been cutting you some slack, Ďtil you catch on.

"So the bloody Powers are controlling my soul? I donít think so, mate!"

"Easy, Spike. Itís not like that. They want yours safe, and this is one way they can keep an eye on it. They want to protect it better than they did his." Gunn once again pointed at Angel.

"Fine, but Charlie Boy, why couldnít you warn me about the girl? The Slayer? Maybe we could have saved her."

"Ahh, that. Look, Blondie Bear, she wasnít meant to be here, they wouldnít let me warn you. I do have to explain to you, though. Some of these visions will be easy, but others wonít be. The energy canít be expended to simply hand them to you both every time. Going to have to figure them out on your own. Thatís where the boy comes in. This is his gig as much as yours. No getting out of it for either of you, either. Donít even think about bitching about it. You might as well stick together. I see the way you two have been looking at each other."

The Gunn/corpse pointed at Angel. "One last thing. Thereís a turf war cominí, and you need to get a handle on this. Do it right, and you might even save him from himself. Now itís time for me to get back. Wes is waitiní for me."

"Charlie Boy. Christ, Iím sorry this happened to you. You were a good man."

Gunnís voice and body were starting to fade away. "One last thing. I shouldnít even say it; theyíll probably kick my ass, but tell Fred to hang in there." And then he was gone. Spike didnít get the chance to remind Gunn that Fred was gone. "Daft git, he must have meant Illyria."



Spike lay awake for awhile, mulling over this latest dream, with his chest to Xanderís back, his arm wrapped around the boy so he could feel his heartbeat. Harris is not going to be thrilled with this latest revelation. Eventually Xanderís heartbeat picked up, and his body, previously relaxed during sleep, slowly tensed as he awakened and noticed Spikeís hard-on pressed against his ass.

"Spike?"

"Yeah, Pet?"

"I think itís working again."

"That it is, pet. That it is." Spike started nuzzling the back of Xanderís head and neck, soaking up the shampoo smell of his hair, enjoying the closeness.

Sounding a little bewildered, Xander asked, "Spike?"

Spike smiled into Xanderís hair. "Yeah, pet?"

"What yaí doing?"

"Relaxing. So be quiet, would ya?"

Xander shifted a little, the ensuing friction causing Spike to exhale and ruffle the hair at the back of Xanderís neck. Xander froze at the sensation.

"Pet, itís ok. Relax, alright?" Spike was very surprised that he hadnít jumped up and run out in a complete panic already. Not sure whatís happening here, but Iím pretty sure The Powers just gave me their blessing. Might as well just go with it. "Nothiní wrong with taking a little comfort in each other."

"Youíre not moving, are you?" Xander asked in a shy voice.

Amused, Spike responded. "Only in a good way, pet. Only in a good way."

"Oh."

Since they were facing away from the door, the pair didnít notice Charly peek in and catch them snuggling.







Chapter Ten







They snuggled quietly and dozed for a few hours, before Spike worked up the courage to talk about his latest dream. He nuzzled Xanderís ear a little before he whispered, "I had another dream."

Xander hadnít expected those exact words during such a tender moment, so he rolled over and gave Spike a quizzical look. "Uh. What? Huh?" He tried to catch up. "Was it the same one?"

Spike wound his feet between Xanderís. "Naw. This was different. Got a little more history. Not sure youíre going to like it, though."

Xander looked Spike right in the eye. "Give me your best shot. Canít get much weirder than this," He said, referring to the two of them cuddling in bed.

"Weíll see. The short of it is this. Your mate, Cordelia, used to get visions. Sheíd see bad things that were going to happen, and Angel and his gang would try to stop them. Not sure if you ever knew that. Well, it looks like she passed that little trait on to me, to us." Spike looked at Xanderís chest as he talked, afraid this revelation would scare him away for sure. If this doesnít make him do a runner, nothing will. Hell, I might run, not quite sure whatís going on here, yet. "I might have, um, bit her."

"Us? What do you mean? You bit her? What the hell are you talking about? I thought you didnít bite anybody anymore," Xander demanded as he tried to push Spike away from him.

"I was just trying to figure out if she was evil. It seems I was misinformed at the time. Anyway, from what I heard, the visions just about killed the bird. This time Ďround The Powers That Be decided to split the duties up, between you and me. According to them, I can see the visions, and you can decipher them."

At this, Xander sat up and turned away from Spike. "Jesus, Spike. No, way. This canít be right. Who the hell are The Powers That Be, anyway? Why us?"

Spike sat up next to Xander and tried to put his hand on the boyís shoulder, but Xander shrugged it off in a huff. "Harris. Listen to me. Iím not any happier about this than you are. Iím damn sick of having shit stuck in my cranium without my permission. The Powers are apparently the ones Cordelia and Peaches have been using as their bloody guides for years now. If it hadnít been Gunn passing the message, I wouldnít even have listened, but he was always pretty straight with me."

Xanderís expression softened a little when reminded of just how many times Spikeís head had been fucked with. "But, why me? Why us? How do you know itís real? I canít do this. I can only half see as it is. Iím not good enough for something like that. 'Sides, noone asked me what I might want."

"Look, mate. Itís not about your eyesight. Itís about something deeper." Spike poked Xander in the chest to illustrate. "That psycho that Buffy cut in half said you were the one that sees. I think itís about you understanding situations sometimes when nobody else can. You can see the big picture better than others. That is, you can when you pull that stick out of your arse long enough to pay attention. I donít know if itís for real. Wonít know Ďtil we try."

Xander relaxed even more at Spikeís words. He looked at Spike with a small grin. "Spike, was there a compliment in there somewhere?"

"Itís possible there may have been a wee one, and I mean wee. Canít have you getting all big headed on me now, can we?" Spike looked off into the distance, deep in thought. "Not sure about you, but I figure for me, itís about the whole redemption thing. Like the great Poof, Iíve got a long way to go on that score, mate. Maybe The Powers realized they went about it all wrong with Peaches and are trying to get it right this time."

"Hmm. I guess you could be right. So, weíre their guinea pigs now. How fun. Can we say no?"

"Donít think so, mate. It didnít sound like there was a choice." Spike lit a cigarette, and they sat in silence for awhile, both obviously thinking about what this could mean for them and their lives. Xander watched the smoke swirl around and up each time Spike exhaled. Spike watched Xander stare at the smoke, deep in thought. Well, he hasnít run yet.

--------------------


In an effort to distract Dawn from the loss of Margot, the guys sat her down and shared the entire dream/vision revelation. Illyria was once again nowhere to be found, and the two remaining slayers were hiding out upstairs. They talked about everything from the content of the dreams, to what they thought it all meant. Dawn was excited about the idea of Ďhelping the helplessí and couldnít wait to go stomp on some bad guys.

However, Spike was in super protective mode. "I donít think so, Bit. You are not stepping foot outside Ďtil I say so."

Dawn whined, upset, "Spike. You canít make me stay in here forever."

"I bloody well can too. Donít try me, Bit."

Xander offered up a compromise. "Spike, what if you and I go out and patrol a couple times. We can make sure youíre up for it physically. Then maybe we can start taking Dawnie with us. You know we canít leave her cooped up in here indefinitely. Iíd rather keep her close to me, since weíre not really sure whatís up with Illyria. Granted, I know you think my fighting skills suck, but two watching out for her has to be better than one, right?" He paused, going over what heíd just said. With a sheepish look, he added, "Is me mentioning my lack of fighting skills, helping, or hurting here? Can I just shut up now?"

Dawn laughed and bounced in her seat, happy with the offer. Spike acquiesced, knowing that the idea at least bought him a few days before heíd have to even consider letting Dawn outside the building.

Dawn couldnít resist shocking them. "By the way, I know where that Club is."

"Well, Bit, you gonna share that with us?"

She looked as if she was tempted to try and use the information to get them to take her along, but hesitated. Spike could practically see the wheels in her head spinning. "Pet, donít even think about trying to come along."

"Ok, ok, here." She pulled one of the maps theyíd been marking up out of the mess on the table. "Itís north/east of here. I saw it awhile ago on one of our patrols. Di and I joked about going inside one of the shops just to check it out. Illyria wouldnít let us, though. I remember that particular sign because it wasnít broken like a lot of the others."

Xander looked over Spikeís shoulder at the map. "See, you donít need me. She figured it out. Oh, and Dawn? I never ever want to hear about you going into one of those places, ok?"

"Harris, donít be dense. Youíre the one that saw the sign, the one that could read the sign." Spike looked over his shoulder at Xander, then teased, "So I guess now isnít the time to tell you about the time I took her to one of those nifty shops then, is it?"

Disappointed that the vision appeared to be authentic, Xander grumbled, "I guess itís real then, unless itís some place youíve hung out at? Maybe itís just stuck in your subconscious."

"Not to say Iíve never frequented any establishments such as that, but how do you explain YOU sharing the vision?"

With no answer to that, Xander sucked it up. "Um, I suppose thereís no time like the present, eh, Spike?"

"Sípose not, Harris."





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