Cricket


by Saber ShadowKitten







Part Four



"I'm bored. I'm going to go kill something," Angel stated, pulling a double-headed axe from a file cabinet drawer. He twirled it in his hand and looked over at the two men sitting side-by-side at one of the desks. "Anyone want to come with?"

Spike and Wesley had been working non-stop on the translation for three solid hours, and Angel had been a pest for two of them until he'd been banished from the lobby. Xander had been highly amused when Angel had disappeared upstairs like a dog with his tail between his legs.

Soon after Xander and Spike had talked, Angel had returned with a large mug of blood and practically forced it down Spike's throat, all the while glaring at Xander. Wesley had returned, too, book in hand and ready to work, ending any further conversation between Spike and Xander. Cordelia, though, had not come back, and neither had Dawn.

Xander sat cross-legged on the registration counter, as quiet as a mouse. He was fascinated, unable to take his eyes off of Spike. He'd never seen Spike work so studiously before, or look so comfortable in the role of researcher, or seem so comfortable with those around him. If Xander hadn't been with Spike in the same room the entire time, he'd wonder where the pod was hidden.

"I could use a break," Wesley said to Angel, rising from his seat.

"Spike?" Angel inquired.

"Nah, you go ahead," Spike said distractedly, scribbling something on a second legal pad. "I'm going... to... hmm.... that's not right..."

Xander's lips curled up at how Gilesean Spike sounded, the glasses perched on the end of his nose only adding to the resemblance.

Angel turned to Xander, frowned, and offered reluctantly, "Harris?"

"No," Xander waved Angel away. "I think I'll stay injury-free, thanks."

Angel's frown deepened. "Don't bother Spike," he warned, spinning the fighting axe in his hand. "Let's go, Wes."

After Angel and Wesley left, Xander continued to observe the new Spike. Well, new to Xander, at least. He had a feeling that this Spike was considered 'normal' by the L.A. residents and Dawn.

Spike tossed the pen on the desk, leaned back in his chair, popped up his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. It was such a benign action, one Xander saw Giles do when he was frustrated or tired, but seeing Spike do it caused a bubble of laughter to escape.

The blond vampire glanced at Xander over the rims of his glasses, scarred brow raised. "Want to share, mate?"

Xander shook his head and hopped off the counter. "It's nothing," he said, walking over to the desk. He motioned to the books and papers spread across the surface. "Are you guys making any progress?"

"Yes and no," Spike admitted, although warily. "I know what it says in general, but not exactly."

"If you know what it says, why are you still working on it?" Xander asked, confused. Research had never been his strong point. Actually, he had no strong points when it came to World Savage; he just had big balls.

"Because it reads like a prophecy, and not a simple 'help me, help me' message," Spike replied, complete with a falsetto distress cry. He sighed and leaned forward again, studying the coffee-stained legal pad. "The problem with prophecies is, one wrong gerundive can change the whole soddin' meaning of the text."

Xander slid onto the chair Wesley had vacated. "I was under the impression that you and Wesley spoke Ishtar."

"Irushk, Xander. Ishtar is a horrid B-movie, starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty," Spike said, chuckling. "I speak the language fluently, and Wes has a passable knowledge of it, but neither of us reads it very well. And like I said, prophecies are very precise."

"I take it Angel doesn't know Irushk," Xander surmised, looking at the squiggles on the legal pad.

"He knows a handful of words, enough to get a drink and a whore," Spike said with an openly affectionate smile. "Which is why his 'translation' was such a bleedin' gas. Five'll get you ten, he was acting all serious-like when he read it."

"Because Angel's such the joker," Xander said dryly.

"There's a lot about Angel you don't know, pet." Spike's voice was soft, serious. "Just like there's a lot you don't know about me."

Xander turned to Spike and studied him briefly, before admitting, "I'm beginning to see that."

Spike looked away suddenly, and cleared his throat. He began to straighten the papers and books on the desk with intense concentration. Xander almost laughed again. He'd flustered Spike!

"If there's nothing else on that pea brain of yours, Harris, I do have to get back to work," Spike said, a bit growly.

"Let me help," Xander said, suddenly desiring to prove he had more in his head than a tiny vegetable. "I'm tired of sitting on my ass, doing nothing."

"But you do it so well." Spike smirked at him.

"C'mon, I'm serious," Xander said. "I want to help."

The blond tilted his head to one side and he assessed Xander's sincerity, the he nodded decisively. "All right," he said. "I assume you don't know any Irushk."

"Not a peep."

"Then we'll look at this like a pictogram," Spike said. He tapped the page of squiggles. "Each of these symbols is a letter, the letters are grouped together to form words, and the spaces in between separate those words."

"So this one, this one, and this one are all the same word?" Xander asked, pointing to three places on the page.

Spike looked at Xander, impressed. "Maybe I was mistaken about your brain size. Good going."

Spike was complimenting Xander. Normally, the idea that the vampire would pay Xander a compliment was not only laughable, but Xander wouldn't have believed that what came out of Spike's mouth was sincere. Now, though, after getting to see what Xander suspected was the "real" Spike, the brunette had no doubt that Spike's compliment was just that: a compliment.

Xander flushed, pleased and slightly embarrassed that something so simple could make him feel so happy. "Um, so what do you want me to do?" he asked.

"The same thing you'd do with a pictogram." Spike handed him a pen and a fresh pad of paper. "Make words out of the symbols."

"This translates directly into English?"

Spike laughed lightly. "Not sensible words, no. Phonetically, however..."

"Got it." Xander pointed to one of the three matching words on the page. "Tell me what this says in Irushk."

"Wingilong," Spike read.

Xander wrote what he heard on his scratch paper, then pointed to another group of symbols that were repeated multiple times on the page. "And this?"

"Hingee."

"And this?"

"Ohfong." "T'hingee." "Ay'."

Armed with a lot of nothing, Xander got busy. He scratched and scribbled, erased and nibbled on the eraser, and asked Spike to translate other symbols at times. Every so often, the brunette felt Spike's eyes on him, but when he looked up the vampire was hard at work.

At some point, Spike left and returned with coffee, which Xander drank without tasting as he continued to make nonsense words from symbols.

Xander reached for the cup without looking, and his hand closed over rough, cool skin instead of Styrofoam. He raised his eyes and saw that he and Spike had reached for the same cup of coffee simultaneously.

Turning his head, he met Spike's gaze, and the comment on his lips died at what he saw reflected in the vampire's sky blue eyes. Hope. Hunger. Longing. The impressions were fleeting, then a mask abruptly descended and all Xander could see reflected was himself.

"Hands off my coffee, kid," Spike said.

Xander quickly pulled his hand back. "I've had too much anyway." Way too much, to be seeing what he had in the blond's eyes.

Spike sipped the coffee, made a face, and set it aside. He gestured towards the pad in front of Xander. "How goes it?"

"I have almost all of them, I think." Xander passed the pad with a half-shrug. "I don't know how accurate it is, considering it's jibberish."

"If it was Jibberish, there's be more rishini," Spike said solemnly.

"Hold on, hold on," Xander said. "There's a language called 'Jibberish?'"

"Of course."

Xander gaped at the vampire. "No way. You're lying."

Spike winked over the rims of his glasses. "Maybe."

Xander scowled, and Spike laughed before turning his attention to the brunette's work. He grew very still as he read, and Xander shifted uncomfortably. It was useless crap, Xander knew it, and Spike just didn't want to hurt his feelings.

Wait a minute, Spike not wanting to hurt Xander's feelings? In what reality was Xander living?

"Bugger all, Xander." Spike straightened and darted glances between the original and Xander's 'translation.' The vampire added a few words to Xander's page, then slumped in his chair. "Un-fucking-believable. If we would've asked for your help to begin with, I would've had a new coat of polish on my nails by now."

"Er... is that good?" Xander asked tentatively.

"Is what good?"

Xander jumped, startled, and spun on his seat. Angel and Wesley had sneaked in without him hearing, both covered in brown slime but looking quite cheerful. Kind of like Buffy after a good slay, Xander noted.

"Harris here translated the bloody prophecy," Spike answered.

"Really?" Wesley hurried over to the desk. "What does it say?"

Spike lifted the legal pad and read, "In English, it says:

When ice falls from a cloudless sky
and an Angel's eye forms in the heavens
The one which is three:
the hunter, the predatory, the prey,
will come forth.
He will join with a demon of hell
but a heart of light.
He will have the power of the gods
and so beings the first days of the Apocalypse."

When Spike was done, Angel gave Xander a suspicious look. "I didn't know you knew Irushk."

"I, uh, don't." Xander glanced at Spike. "Cricket here told me to treat the squiggles like a pictogram puzzle, so I did."

"Who?"

Xander grinned, glad to have the attention directed away from himself. He'd wanted to be seen as worthy, but now that it happened it was downright embarrassing. "Cricket," he repeated, pointing at Spike.

Angel turned to the other vampire with an upraised brow. "Cricket?"

"Grr," Spike said to Xander, with vast humiliation and little threat.

Xander batted his lashes and blew a kiss. Spike suddenly froze, staring at Xander over the rims of his glasses. Then he dropped his chin and smiled somewhat bashfully.

Angel looked at Spike, looked at Xander, then looked back at Spike. He groaned audibly and covered his face with his slimy hands. "I was not evil enough to deserve this."





Part Five





"Cordelia." Spike tossed his duster onto a chair in his room, which was on the second floor of the Hyperion. He closed the suite door behind him. "What're you doing in here? I was going to change, then join you and Dawn."

"Dawn crashed," Cordelia replied. She was leaning against the headboard of the bed, paging through a magazine, her nail kit on the night-stand beside her. "We're going shopping tomorrow."

The blond vampire shucked his boots, socks, and jeans, and crawled onto the bed with her. He pillowed his head on his arms and shot her a dopey, sideways grin. "Xander called me 'Cricket.' It's his new pet name for me."

"He should've called you 'Pathetic,'" Cordelia told him with an amused smile.

"Yeah," Spike sighed happily.

"How that boy can't see that you're head over heels for him is beyond me," Cordelia said. "Even if you hadn't told me, it's so obvious."

"That's easy, luv." Spike turned on his side and propped his head on his hand. "One, Harris is oblivious to the idea that another bloke would fancy him, especially if that bloke is me."

"And two?" she prompted.

"And two," Spike continued, "this is really the first time he and I have been in the same place since I realized I loved the tosser." He dropped his gaze and plucked at the comforter. "I've followed him around some after dark, but the need for my help has been very little, of late."

"No brooding," Cordelia scolded, exchanging her magazine for the nail kit. "Tell me instead your plan for winning his heart."

"Ignore him, mainly." Spike squirmed at the look she gave him. "What do you expect me to do? I'm done with the translation, which means we're probably leaving tomorrow... er," he glanced at the clock on the night-stand behind Cordelia, "...later tonight. Once we get back to Sunnydale, Dawn will want to see her other friends and I won't have an excuse to hang around."

"Dawn not being there is the perfect excuse for hanging around," Cordelia said. She wet a pad with nail-polish remover, took his hand, and started on his nails. "Ask Xander if he wants to catch a movie or something."

Spike stared at her in horror. "You mean, ask him on a date?"

"Saturday night is prime date night," Cordelia said pointedly.

The blond swallowed the knot of fear in his throat, and whispered nervously, "I don't think I could do that."

"The worst Xander could do is say no," she told him gently.

"No, the worst he could do is laugh in my face, or perhaps give me a right good kicking," Spike corrected. He shook his head. "I'd rather have a love that's unrequited than rejected."

"'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'"

"'Once a fool, always a fool,'" Spike quoted back. He made a disgusted noise. "Enough talk about my being chicken shit. Dish me on Dad's love life."

Cordelia snorted. "What love life? You two are probably the sexiest guys on the planet, and you're in love with another male, and Angel doesn't think he deserves to have a relationship so he avoids women like the plague." Cordelia glanced up from painting Berry Blue polish on his nails. "Can vampires get the plague?"

A knock on the door underlined Spike's answer in the negative.

*****

"It's open!"

Xander wiped his surprisingly damp palms on his Dockers before grabbing the doorknob to Spike's room and giving it a twist. The vampire had disappeared soon after he'd given Xander that strangely bashful grin, and Xander had been shown to a room by Angel shortly thereafter. It was extremely late. Or early, depending on point of view. It didn't really matter, he still shouldn't be visiting Spike at this hour, especially since it was very possible that the vampire desired Xander for more than just a friendly game of checkers.

But that was the question motivating Xander to knock at the vampire's door at an odd hour of the morning. He wanted to know if Spike was into him, or hungered to be in him. Xander clenched his buttocks at the thought and suppressed the urge to run away. No one but doctors were allowed in there, and that was only if the brunette couldn't get out of the exam.

Then why was he standing outside of Spike's room?, an evil little voice chirped in the back of Xander's mind. "Because I need to tell Spike there's no way in hell I'd bend over for him," the brunette replied aloud.

Nodding in decisiveness, he threw open the hotel suite door, walked purposefully inside, and pulled up short. "Oh, uh... s-sorry," he stammered. Cordelia was in Spike's bed and, while she was fully dressed, Spike was only wearing a tee-shirt and underwear. "I didn't mean to interrupt..."

Wait, Spike was wearing underwear?

Xander checked again. Yep. Underwear. White Fruit-of-the-Looms, if his identification skills were accurate. He snickered. "I never pegged you for the tighty-whitey type, Cricket."

"What?" Spike said, confused.

Cordelia, however, tittered. "He's referring to your choice of underwear, Spike."

Xander hadn't known vampires could turn that color. He laughed as Spike scrambled to cover himself, earning squawks of protest from Cordelia. "Spike, your nails!"

The brunette was practically on the floor, he was laughing so hard. "Looks like... I interrupted... another... Girls Night In...," he gasped between riotous chuckles.

"Sod off." Spike was pouting, and blushing furiously, and had twin streaks of bright blue slashing his jaw.

Xander felt something tighten in his chest... which he quickly blamed on lack of oxygen. His laughter trickled off, and he smiled teasingly. "I can't wait to tell Buffy and the others about this."

Horrified, wide blue eyes turned on Xander. "You wouldn't."

Xander chuckled evilly. "Wanna bet?"

Spike pulled the comforter over his head, and a muffled choking sound could be heard. Cordelia winked at Xander, then patted the bed. "Come join us. I'll do your nails, too." She swatted the lump beside her. "After I fix Spike's."

A smudged-nail-polished hand emerged from under the covers and pointed in Xander's direction. "His fault! Hit him, not me!"

Xander took Cordelia's invitation only because he had the sudden need to sit down. Spike was acting... cute. Silly. And he was wearing white Fruit-of-the-Looms.

Cordelia grabbed Spike's hand and examined the fingernails. She sighed disgustedly. "Great. We have to start over from scratch.

More of Spike emerged from under the covers as he sat up, and the ruffled, still pink-cheeked blond stared balefully at Xander. "You're mean," he stated childishly and stuck out his tongue.

"Don't stick out your tongue if you don't plan on using it," Xander said automatically. Then he turned a pretty shade of pink.

"Do you two want me to leave?" Cordelia asked with a smirk.

"NO!" Spike and Xander exclaimed simultaneously and with equal alarm. Then they looked at each other and, again simultaneously, called, "Jinx!"

Both grown men snapped their mouths shut and looked hopefully at Cordelia. Neither was allowed to speak until someone said their name, according to the Jinx-game rules. Cordelia chuckled. "Not a chance. You'll both just have to stay silent until I'm done with your nails." She raised her Berry Blue nailbrush. "Who's first?"



Part Six





Spike sighed softly, causing Angel to look down at him. It was Saturday afternoon, and the two vampires were in the courtyard, the hotel's shadow allowing them to enjoy the clear day without fear. Spike was stretched out on a stone bench, his blond head resting on Angel's thigh. The older man was taking a break from researching the prophecy's meaning, and Spike had joined him. It had been many moons since the blond had visited L.A., and Angel was happy for the company. He had missed Spike greatly.

"What's that sigh for?" Angel asked. Spike's eyes reflected the cloudless sky, making his irises ten times more blue than usual. The brunette carded his fingers through Spike's partially gelled hair, waiting patiently for an answer.

Spike somewhat shrugged. "Just enjoying the day, s'all."

"You're not thinking about Xander?" Angel smirked at Spike's startled expression. "I know you're in love with him, Spike. Heck, a blind man could see that."

The younger vampire shifted slightly. "You don't think Xander knows, do you?"

"I said a blind man could see it, not a dumb one."

"Xander's not dumb," Spike scowled. "Take it back."

Angel's smile grew more amused. "Very well. Xander's not dumb, he's just an idiot."

Spike rolled his eyes. "I'll let that one slide, seeing as it's true."

The older vampire twined a white-blond lock of hair around his finger. "Will you ever tell him?"

"No," Spike replied firmly. "At least right now I can keep an eye on him at night. It would be impossible to protect him if I was laughed out of Sunnydale, or worse: staked."

"You don't think Buffy would come after you simply because you're in love with Xander?" Angel said.

"She might if she thought I had some sort of nefarious scheme going," he replied.

"Do you?"

"Of course I do." Spike grinned cheekily. "Only it involves auctioning off the Slayer's knickers to the highest demon bidder."

Angel tugged hard on the lock of hair between his fingers. Spike laughed. "Seriously," the younger vampire said. "I don't have any evil plans going. I just love the moron."

"Well, if things don't work out, remember you can always come home," Angel said.

"Home, huh?" Spike studied the other vampire a moment. "Is that what this place is?"

"For you, hopefully home is wherever I am," Angel replied tenderly. He watched as those sky blue eyes filled with tears, and clucked his tongue when they began to fall. "Hey, now. Living with me can't be all that bad."

"No," Spike smiled through his tears. "It's not all that bad."

Angel caught a teardrop with his finger. "Icy tears, warm heart," he whispered.

"Argh, bastard." Spike pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. "You're not allowed to make me cry."

"Says who?"

"Says me." Spike lowered his hands, opened his eyes, and blinked rapidly. "Wild. I have colorful circles dancing in my vision." His gaze slid past Angel to the sky and after a moment he quoted softly, "'The soul would have no rainbow, had the eyes no tears.'"

Abruptly, he stood and kissed Angel on the forehead. "Love you, Pops," he said quickly, then disappeared into the hotel.

Angel smiled after him, watching through the window as he went to help Wesley. "Love you, too, sweet boy," the brunette murmured. "Love you, too."

The vampire raised his gaze to the clear blue heavens and inhaled the fragrant early summer air. It was a beautiful day. He hoped the prophesied apocalypse wouldn't ruin it.



*****



Xander sat on the grand staircase, leaning against the brass railing, still half-asleep. His nails were bright blue, courtesy of Cordelia the Insane, with Spike sporting a matching set. Cordelia had not said either of the boys' names until after she had finished her nail torture. During their silent time, Xander had surreptitiously studied the blond conundrum while pretending to read his ex-girlfriend's Glamour magazine.

Spike had these cheekbones that became more defined when he pouted, which was every time Cordelia looked up from her manicure as he tried to get her to say his name. His sparkling blue eyes had matched his nail polish in the hotel suite's lamplight. He had a scar on his leg, a fairly nasty one that Xander had asked about once they could talk again. Spike had regaled them with a wild tale about a possessed lawnmower that had them both in stitches, until Xander had pointed out that it couldn't be true since there weren't lawnmowers back in the day, and vampires didn't scar. Then the blond had sheepishly told them he'd fallen off a bookshelf he'd climbed to reach a book when he was ten.

Xander had gone to bed shortly after that. Sheepish Spike was just too much to handle, on top of everything the brunette had witnessed earlier. A vampire wasn't supposed to have facets, and the fact that Spike did had greatly fried Xander's brain.

Sitting on the steps, Xander felt more or less confident that Pod Spike wouldn't freak him any longer. The blond vampire looked like he usually did, dressed in black jeans and tee -- no white jockeys in sight. He was bitching to Wesley while he helped the other man, a normality Xander was also glad to see.

"What's this? Angel's boy comes for a visit and no one bothers to call me?" a new voice boomed in the Hyperion lobby.

Xander stood as Spike smiled widely and quickly crossed the lobby. "Gunn!"

The blond was met by a large black man, who grabbed him in a tight hug before twisting an arm around his neck and giving him a noogie. Just when Xander thought he was fine with the strangeness, here was another person who immediately welcomed Spike.

"So, what brings you to L.A.?" Gunn asked, affectionately ruffling Spike's hair.

"Helping the souled demon with the poofy hair," Spike replied. He hitched up his jeans and rocked on his heels. "Yep. The old man couldn't do it on his own, 'cause as you know he's got a brain the size of a peanut, so he called in the big guns."

"Spike, you're so full of it," Angel said, smacking the younger vampire upside the head as he walked by.

"Did you bring the little ray of sunshine with you?" Gunn said.

"She's shopping with Cordelia," Spike said. Xander came down the stairs, anticipating an introduction to yet another person who thought Spike was the shit.

"Hail, hail, the gang's all here." Gunn turned to Angel. "I think this calls for a family dinner, don't you?"

"At Roosters?" Spike said eagerly.

"Where else?" Gunn answered with a grin at Spike. The black man caught sight of Xander. "Hello. I don't know you."

Spike gestured for Xander to come over. "Xander, meet Gunn, my badass brother-in-arms and Angel's lackey," he introduced. "Gunn, this is Xander, my... uh...," he paused a significant moment, his sky blue eyes searching Xander's face, "...my-my friend."

Gunn looked between Spike and Xander, then grinned again and punched the vampire on the arm. "I see how it is, you dog." He held out his hand. "Good to meet you, Xander."

"Same here," Xander responded, shaking the other man's hand.

Gunn nodded politely, released Xander's hand, and walked over to where Angel stood near the registration counter. "Family dinner, what do you say?" he prompted. "Spike's boyfriend can come, too."

Angel and Wesley both snickered. Xander stared at Spike, waiting for him to correct Gunn's erroneous assumption. Spike was looking intently at the lobby floor as if he wished it would open up and swallow him.

"I don't know," Angel drawled. "Spike's boyfriend might not want to join us for a family dinner."

"Shut up, Angel," Xander said, not looking away from Spike.

Spike lifted his chin and briefly met Xander's gaze. That was all it took for Xander to see that the vampire wasn't upset by the mistaken label. More like pleased, with a dash of bashful embarrassment thrown in. Internally, Xander freaked.

Externally, Xander barely caught Spike before his head smacked on the tile floor.

"What the hell?" Xander cradled the peroxide blond's head in his hands, watching wide-eyed as Spike began convulsing wildly. The vampire's pupils were tiny black pinpoints in a sea of blue, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. White spittle gathered at the corners of his slack mouth.

"Spike!" Angel exclaimed, dropping to his knees beside the prone, spasming blond. He reached for Spike and quickly drew his hands back when Spike levitated off the floor.

"This can't be good," Gunn said, gaping in shock as Spike's jerking body rose rapidly towards the ceiling.

"If he says he's an emissary for Gozer the Gozarian, I've truly seen it all," Wesley murmured.

Slack-jawed, Xander stared as Spike rose higher and higher, past the gold-plated hanging chandelier and into the painted dome ceiling. Just as he thought the vampire was going to pass right through the ceiling, Spike's body burst like a firework into glowing gold particles that slowly drifted towards the floor.

In the stunned silence of the lobby, the clink of a metal object hitting the tile was like a gunshot. Xander jerked and dropped his gaze, his eyes immediately finding a quarter-sized object on the floor in front of him. He picked it up, noting the wire prongs lining the sides and the glowing green window in the center. "Spike's chip," he whispered in disbelief.

Suddenly, Xander was on his back, being shaken roughly by an enraged brunette vampire. "What did you do to him?!" Angel snarled through his fangs. Wild gold eyes pinned Xander as effectively as Angel's bulk. "What did you do?!!"

"Nothing," Xander yelped, his head hitting the Parque tile with each violent shake by Angel.

"Angel, stop!" Gunn ordered. He and Wesley grabbed the vampire under the arms and dragged him off of Xander.

Xander blinked the stars out of his vision, stifling a groan of pain. He heard Angel, Wesley, and Gunn yelling at each other, but they sounded like they were in a tunnel. Concussion, possibly, Xander mentally diagnosed himself. He touched the back of his head and his fingers came away bloody. A contusion, too, he thought.

"You're bleeding all over the floor." Xander felt something press against the back of his head, and he hissed in pain. "Bloody pillock. I think we need to get you to a hospital, Xander."

"Good idea," Xander said between clenched teeth. At the hospital, maybe they could explain why he'd just seen Spike explode and was now hearing his voice.

Xander raised his eyes without moving too much and saw Spike kneeling behind his head, looking down at him with worry. "You're glowing," Xander said. "And you're naked."

Spike glanced at his lap, pressed his thighs tighter together, and blushed. "I see that. You, uh, see that, too."

"You're pretty good looking," Xander slurred as the world lost focus, "for a dead guy."

"Xander, don't conk out on me," Spike said, his voice growing fainter with each word. "Xander, come on, luv..."

"Sorry, Cricket. Gonna take a nap now. 'Night," Xander said, allowing the darkness to pull him under.



Part Seven



The hospital was crowded. People with every injury imaginable walked, stumbled, were carried or pushed through the automatic doors. The scent of antiseptic did little to mask the smell of blood and death. The Grim Reaper paced the corridors, ducking into rooms to claim victims of gunshots and car accidents with little regard or sympathy for those the patient left behind.

Spike paced the floor in the waiting area, unerringly stepping over stretched out legs and avoiding other pacers. Concerned family and friends of patients filled the room, sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs of avocado and mustard color and reading year old magazines. Some drank vending machine coffee, their shaking hands announcing that they've already had too much.

Spike's hands shook despite not having any coffee. Carding his fingers through his hair, he continued to wear a hole in the tile floor. Xander was due to be released any time now, and the wait was driving Spike crazy. He and Wesley had been shooed from Xander's room by Nurse Ratchet so the resident on-call could give the brunette a final exam before releasing him.

A squeak of a gymshoe on the floor caused Spike to whirl on his heel. He breathed a sigh of relief and quickly crossed to the brunette with a white bandage around his head coming down the hall. "Are you sprung?"

Xander nodded, and whispered, "Will you keep yourself covered? It's disturbing enough that you're glowing without the naked thing."

"Sorry." Spike re-tied the hospital gown he was wearing backwards.

"Mr. Harris, are we ready to leave?" Wesley asked, meeting Xander at the entrance to the waiting area.

"We're good to go," Xander replied with a sidelong glance at the mostly naked glowing vampire standing beside him.

Wesley nodded, completely ignoring said naked glowing vamp. "Very good. I'm parked in the pay garage. This way."

Spike fell into step beside Xander. "He still can't see me, pet. No one but you can for the moment."

"Lucky me," Xander muttered. Louder, he asked Wesley, "How's Angel?"

"Heavily sedated," Wesley answered. "I've spoken with Gunn, and Angel most likely won't awaken until tonight sometime." He gave Xander a not-too-friendly look. "By then, I expect you will be gone."

"What are you getting mad at me for?" Xander followed Wesley out of the hospital and into the parking garage. "I didn't do anything to Spike."

"I know that," Wesley said, "but this is a time for family..."

"And I'm not a part of it," Xander finished, a bitter note creeping into his voice.

"You are, too," Spike stated.

"Invisible, naked glowing people's opinions don't count," Xander mumbled, rounding the car to the passenger side. "Especially someone who is probably a figment of my concussed imagination."

Spike waggled his brows. "You imagine me naked?"

Xander ignored him and got into the car. Spike grabbed the car door before it closed. "I need to get in, too, pet."

"Is there a problem?" Wesley asked from the driver's seat, looking quizzically at Xander.

"No." Xander waited until Spike slithered into the back seat before pulling the door shut.

As the car got underway, Spike sighed and scooted out of the sunlight coming through Wesley's open window. He adjusted the hem of the hospital gown, keeping his dangly bits covered. He really needed to find some different clothing. Mint green was not his color, glowing a faint gold or not.

Looking out the tinted side window, Spike let his mind drift over the events that led him to being mostly naked in the backseat of a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, sex was not involved.

Spike remembered standing in the lobby of the Hyperion, giddy because Gunn had mislabeled Xander as Spike's boyfriend. Then there had been pain. It had ripped through his body unexpectedly, and it was worse than anything he'd ever felt. At that moment, he had wished for permanent death, the pain was so awful.

He'd thought he had died when the pain abruptly stopped and he'd opened his eyes to find himself floating in a colorless void. Before he could question what had happened, his mind had been filled with answers and information, and then he was suddenly standing in the lobby of the Hyperion again and Xander was bleeding on the floor.

He knew why he was glowing and why only Xander could see and hear him at the moment. He hadn't a clue as to why he'd returned naked as a jaybird from his impromptu visit with the Gods, but that was unimportant. What was important was, getting back to the Hyperion, letting his family know he was not dead... er, more dead... and telling them what the prophecy had meant.

Spike would've done the second part sooner if Xander hadn't been in need of medical attention. He'd been afraid that if he'd popped up, alive and glowing, Xander would've been ignored as the blond tried to explain what had happened, and that was unacceptable. Human head injuries were not to be taken lightly, and it had been possible that every second would've counted. Spike now knew from the hospital visit that the boy hadn't been in any real danger, but at the time he wasn't going to chance it.

Leaning forward, Spike lightly tapped Xander on the shoulder. "When we get to the hotel, I need you to play Ghost-ly Whoopi Goldberg and act as a temporary Medium for me."

Xander's response was to ignore him. Spike sighed again. "C'mon, luv. I need you to do this for me."

He was still ignored.

"I'll say please if I have to."

No response.

"Please?"

Nothing.

"Pretty please?"

Not even a twitch.

"Pretty please, with a naked me on top."

Nada.

"Pretty please, with my promise to put clothes on?"

Success! A faint nod. Although Spike didn't know if he should feel insulted or complimented by the fact his nudity bothered Xander.

They arrived at the Hyperion, and with a terse "Stay here" to Xander in the lobby, Spike dashed upstairs to change out of the hospital gown. Not wanting to waste time, he threw on a pair of jeans only. However, he couldn't stop himself from going next door to check on Angel.

Angel was flat out on the bed, his features slack because of the sedatives that had been given to him. From the bedroom, Spike could see Gunn sitting in a chair on the balcony, the tear tracks on his face glinting in the late afternoon sun. The blond became choked up. Gunn was grieving for him. Spike knew that his patchwork family cared for, and even loved, him, but seeing his supposed death cause tears really drove it home.

Clearing his throat, Spike turned to his sire and brushed his fingers across Angel's brow. His thumb left a glowing golden streak that faded away after a moment. Because of the sun, he couldn't let Gunn know he was still kicking and the drugs in Angel's system put him down for the count, too.

"I'm okay, Angel," Spike said, even though the older vampire couldn't hear him. "You haven't gotten rid of me yet." He placed a kiss on Angel's brow, which also left a glowing mark that faded shortly thereafter, then headed downstairs.

Wesley was leaning over a book at the registration counter, although Spike could tell he wasn't reading it. Xander was sitting sideways on the third to last step of the red-carpeted grand staircase, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. The white bandage around his head made Spike wince. Xander was fine, Spike reminded himself. Concussed and stitched, but overall no real harm was done by his idiotic father figure.

Cordelia and Dawn had not returned from their shopping excursion, which was good. Spike didn't want them to suffer one iota of heartache with the mistaken impression that he was dust. He loved his best friends too much to do that to them.

"Xander," Spike addressed the tired-looking young man. "I need you to tell Wesley that I'm here." He didn't want to give Wes a heart attack by suddenly appearing, which was why he'd waited until after the hospital trip to do this.

Without opening his eyes, Xander said, loud enough for Wesley to hear, "Spike's not dust."

Wesley's head whipped around and he stared hard at Xander. "Come again?"

"Spike's not dust," Xander repeated. He cracked open his eyes, and gestured at the blond standing in front of him. "He's right there. Apparently, I'm the only person who sees him."

"That is not funny, Mr. Harris," Wesley said harshly.

"Am I laughing?" Xander straightened and pointed directly at Spike. "No joke. Spike is right there, glowing gold and making me play Telephone."

The look Wesley gave Xander caused Spike to shiver on the boy's behalf. He had to intervene before the not-so-secret love of his life learned that Wesley wasn't simply the book geek he appeared to be. "Tell Wes that I gave him Henkley's 'Nershoix' for his birthday with the naughty bookmark inside," Spike directed.

Xander repeated the information, and a deep furrow appeared between Wesley's brow. "What did the bookmark say?" Wesley asked warily.

Spike told Xander, who passed it on. "'Rec' li betex ter winde'k'... ca, um, ca..." The younger brunette looked at Spike. "What's the last word again?"

"'Cacum,'" Spike supplied.

"'Cacum,'" Xander finished.

Wesley looked stunned. "Where-where is he?"

"I'm right here, Wes," Spike said, stepping in front of him.

"In front of you," Xander told Wesley.

Wesley hesitantly extended his hand, and Spike clasped it with one of his own. The other man removed his glasses, staring intently at his hand. "I can feel something holding my hand. Is he holding my hand?"

"He's holding your hand," Xander confirmed.

The blond brought his other hand up and ran his fingertip from Wesley's hairline on down, ending with a tap to the tip of his nose. A streak of glowing gold was left behind where Spike had touched, and when it faded Wesley jerked as the vampire suddenly appeared in front of him. "Spike?" Wesley gasped.

"Present and accounted for," Spike said with a small smile. "Sorry about the scare."

Wesley used their clasped hands to pull Spike into a hard hug, then abruptly released him and stepped back. "Um... yes... good to have you back... if you'll pardon me," he said in a wavering voice. He pivoted and walked quickly out of the lobby.

Spike watched after him. Wesley wasn't one to show his emotions in public, even if the public consisted of two people. Spike hated that he'd caused yet another member of his family any pain, but it was their feelings for him and his feelings for them in return that had caused what happened to him, and knowing what he did, Spike wouldn't change anything.

The blond took a seat beside Xander on the step, propped his elbows on his knees and chin on his fists. He waited silently for Wesley's return, running over his explanation in his head. Xander had closed his eyes again and was once more leaning against the wall.

"Why me?" Xander broke the quiet with his blunt question.

"Why were you able to see me first?" Spike tried to clarify.

"No." Xander opened his eyes and pinned him with his dark gaze. "Why do you like me in a naughty-touching boyfriend way?"

Spike's mouth fell open, and he answered intelligently, "Uh..."

Xander continued to stare at him, and Spike shifted uncomfortably on the step. He twisted his hands and his gaze flitted around the lobby, not focusing on anything for long. "How-how do you know I like you at- at all?" the blond stammered finally.

Xander snorted. "I may be an idiot, but I'm not blind, Spike."

Spike's looked at Xander in amazement. "Angel said something exactly like that earlier today."

"Neat. But that doesn't answer my question," Xander said. "Why me? Why did Gunn's mistaking me for your boyfriend make you look as giddy as a schoolgirl?"

"Er... ah..." Spike dropped his chin and picked at his fresh coat of blue nailpolish, which was glowing a faint gold like the rest of him. "Well, um, you're-you're attractive, and, uh, pretty smart, and- and humorous. And you have an infectious smile." He smiled as he pictured it, and continued. "You're protective of your friends, loyal to the point of stupidity, braver than the bloody Slayer, and... uh..." He glanced at Xander, and finished softly, "You don't treat me like an insect you're too lazy to kill."

Xander took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Spike held his own metaphorical breath, waiting for the boy's response. He couldn't believe he'd sort-of confessed his love, after telling Angel and Cordelia he wasn't ever going to spill. It showed how weak he was when it came to Xander, Spike thought.

"Okay, Glowboy, listen up," Xander said, rising to his feet. He stuck his hand in his pockets and looked down at Spike. "I don't like you, and until last night I didn't think anyone else liked you either. However, my blue nails and the crack in my skull says otherwise."

Xander pulled one hand from his pocket and flipped something to Spike. "Prove to me that you're worth liking, Spike, and then we'll talk about the naughty-touching boyfriend part."

Spike stared at the chip in his hand as Xander wandered away.


Continued