Cricket


by Saber ShadowKitten







Part Eight



"I don't see him." Gunn stopped at the bottom of the grand staircase in the Hyperion's lobby, folded his arms, and glared at Wesley. "Again, I reiterate, English, if this is your idea of a joke, I will hurt you."

"I assure you, it is no joke," Wesley said. "Spike is right in front of you."

Taking his cue, Spike stood on his tip-toes -- sometimes being short sucked -- and placed his hand on Gunn's shiny bald head. Gunn started at the invisible touch and Spike dropped his hand. A glowing gold hand-print remained briefly, then faded away. Gunn jerked when Spike materialized suddenly in front of him.

"Spike?" Gunn questioned warily.

"Not dead," Spike replied in jest.

Gunn punched him across the jaw in response.

"Ow! What was that--"

Gunn hit him again.

"Bloody he--"

And again.

Spike flinched when it looked like Gunn was going to punch him a fourth time. Instead, the big black man grabbed him in a bone-crushing hug.

"You peroxide jackass," Gunn said, his voice wavering with emotion. He released the vampire after a moment, wiped his teary eyes, and promptly punched Spike again. "That's for making me cry."

Spike rubbed his jaw, ignoring the snickers from the other two men in the lobby. "Then what were the others for?"

"The first, for making us think you'd died. The second, for not being dead. And the third... just because," Gunn answered. He stepped back and looked over Spike from head to toe. "Why are you glowing?"

The blond hitched up his jeans -- bugger, he really had lost weight -- and padded to the desk. "This is why I'm glowing," he said, pushing Xander's feet off the desk and picking up the English translation of the prophecy.

"You are a part of the prophecy?" Wesley said, joining him by the desk.

"I am the prophecy," Spike corrected, "and now that it's been fulfilled, you don't need to worry your pretty little heads about it."

They all stared at him like he'd lost his mind.

"Is it that hard to believe?" the blond said.

"Yes," chorused the three.

"Very funny," Spike said flatly.

"All right, Spike," Wesley said, taking the translated prophecy from the faintly glowing vampire. "Tell us why you think this prophecy pertains to you."

"I don't think; I know," Spike said.

"And how do you know?" Wesley asked.

"I'm glowing, ain't I?"

Gunn walked over and smacked Spike upside the head. "Don't be smart."

Spike glared at the other man. "I already have a pseudo-father, I don't need a second one."

"Then stop being mouthy and answer the question," Gunn told him.

Spike refrained from childishly sticking his tongue out at Gunn... barely. He glanced at Xander, who grinned mockingly at him, before turning back to Wesley. "I know because the Powers told me. I've been chosen as their Herald."

"You don't look at all like a Harold," Xander commented. "A James, maybe. Or a Samuel."

Spike gave Xander a dirty look. "A Herald is like a job, not a name, you plonker."

"What are you heralding, Samuel?" Gunn asked with a smirk.

Spike's dirty look transferred to Gunn, but it was Wesley who answered, "The first days of the apocalypse." The bespectacled man looked at the translation in his hand, then at Spike. "Dear heavens."

"Don't worry, Wes, the apocalypse isn't coming tomorrow," Spike said quickly. "I've been chosen to inform a flock of do-gooders that they are players in the World Cup of games between Good and Evil."

"Sounds like the plot to a bad sci-fi movie," Xander said. "Then again, the last eight years of my life have been like the plot of a bad sci-fi movie."

"I'm with you on that," Gunn commented to Xander. He leaned a hip on the desk, crossed his arms, and said to Spike, "So, I take it we're some of these 'players.'"

The blond vampire shook his head. "No, you're family, and I wanted you to know I wasn't dust like you'd thought." A corner of his mouth turned up. "M'not really supposed to allow the non-warriors to see me."

And Spike wasn't supposed to reveal his presence to those not a part of the apocalyptic battle to come. It was to ensure his safety, to allow him to travel freely, and... well, because he was glowing. It would be a right pain if he had to keep explaining the reason for that, and he doubted many would believe the answer anyway: that he was a Higher Being. The chosen warriors would believe, of that he knew, as would his L.A. family, which was why he'd 'freed' their minds by touching their heads, allowing them to see him. And, of course, he'd touched Xander because he was in love with the guy, that was just a given.

"Um, who are the warriors then?" Xander asked. A lightbulb seemed to appear above his head. "Buffy's probably one, right?"

"That skanky bint isn't even on the Second list," Spike replied with a sneer. "Angel's one of the players, though, and his Second is a bloke named Lindsey McDonald."

"The Wolfram and Hart attorney?" Wesley said in disbelief. "You must be joking."

"I don't joke, not about this," Spike said seriously. "As I will tell Angel when he wakes up, he is one of the warriors picked by the Powers to fight on the side of Good. The powers have deemed this Lindsey as Angel's Second, the one who will fight at his side."

Gunn exchanged looks with Wesley. "Spike said he wasn't joking, but why do I want to laugh my black ass off?"

"I take it you know who Lindsey McDonald is?" Spike said.

"Yes," Wesley replied. "He is an attorney who works for the evil Wolfram and Hart law firm."

"Isn't that redundant? Evil lawyers?" Xander said. He was ignored.

"Angel and Lindsay do not get along," Gunn explained. "And that's putting it mildly."

"Sometimes the greatest enemies make the best lovers," Spike said, dropping his gaze to his bare feet rather than blatantly staring at Xander. A silence descended over the lobby, causing everyone to shift uncomfortably.

Finally, the blond cleared his throat, and continued. "No matter what happens between Angel and Lindsey, they will be at the battle, of that I'm certain." He refrained from telling them Angel and Lindsey might both end up fighting for the other side. That information was for Angel's ears only.

"Is there anything else you can tell us about this battle?" Wesley inquired.

"Only that I'm leaving as soon as I talk to Angel and say goodbye to the girls," Spike replied. "Xander, I trust you'll be able to drive the DeSoto back to Sunnydale with Dawn."

"You're not coming with us?" Xander said with a grin. "Woo-hoo! Break out the champagne!"

"Yeah, throw a soddin' celebration," Spike said, hurt by Xander's response. "The Slayer and the rest of your chums won't ever see me again." He started for the stairs, muttering, "Not like you really ever saw me before."

"I did, too, see you," Xander stated, catching up with him. "More than I wanted, actually."

Spike snorted. "That makes me feel much better."

"Well, what did you expect?" Xander said. "You're a vampire. A soulless monster. That which is to be staked by Slayerettes like me."

They reached the top of the stairs, and Spike faced Xander, spreading his arms wide and ignoring the audience below. "Then why the hell haven't you staked me, eh? If I'm such a bloody monster, why am I still walking around?"

"You had the chip," Xander said.

"What, this?" Spike dug the chip from his jeans pocket and held it up. "Is this the chip you mean?"

Xander swallowed audibly and took a step back, his face paling. "Uh... yeah. Th-that's the one."

Spike could smell Xander's fear, and his hurt and anger grew. "The only thing this hunk of wire and metal did was, to get me to slow down and think. It wasn't preventing me from hiring someone to kill you all."

If anything, Xander became paler. "You mean, you could have killed us at any time?"

Spike clenched his fists, the metal prongs on the chip cutting into his palm. "But I didn't, did I? And that's the whole effin' point."

"Then why haven't you told Gunn or Wesley that the chip is out, huh?" Xander said, showing a spark of courage despite his fear, which was one of the reasons Spike loved him.

Spike unclenched his fists, took Xander's hand, holding tightly when the brunette tried to jerk away, and pressed the chip into his palm. "The chip doesn't matter to them, Xander. It never has. In fact, Angel tried his damndest to get it out."

"Oh," Xander said faintly.

"I've been chosen Herald by the Powers, Xander," the glowing vampire said slowly, looking into Xander's fear-tinged eyes. "Out of everyone on Earth, both demon and non-demon, the Powers chose me to gather the warriors of Good. Don't you think that says something?"

"Yeah: what were the Powers smoking," Xander quipped with a wary smile, "and can They give me some?"

Spike laughed, shaking his head in complete amusement. Gods, he loved this boy. "If you want to tell the others about the chip, go ahead," he told Xander. "I'm going to sit with Sleeping Broody until he wakes up."

"Okay."

Spike started to leave, but Xander called his name after a few steps. The vampire stopped and turned to face him again.

Xander glanced at the chip in his hand, then looked back at Spike. "I may not have trusted you, but I always knew you were there."

The blond knew Xander was referring to all the times Spike worked with the Slayer and her group. He smiled faintly, nodded in acknowledgment, and continued to Angel's room.



Part Nine



Spike decided to finish dressing and to put his room to rights before sitting with Angel. He couldn't bring anything on his journey; just the clothing he wore would become invisible to the naked eye, like him. He also wanted to leave as soon as he could. He might be a Higher Being now, but he was still a vampire and that pesky sun limited his travel times. He didn't get any nifty magickal abilities as the chosen Herald, he was only invisible to the untouched population and he had the authority of the Powers behind him.

He ran into Cordelia and Dawn in the hall, both loaded down with shopping bags and newly styled hair. He quickly gave them the ability to see him, and the first words out of Cordelia's mouth were: "Spike, have you been listening to your Ziggy Stardust albums again?"

Despite being mortified, Spike gave them the short, short version of the explanation he'd given to Wesley, Giles, and Xander. The girls believed him much more readily, but he shared things with them on a much more regular basis than with the rest of his mismatched family, so that made sense. He also received kisses and congratulations, rather than mocking celebration and punches in the jaw.

He informed them he'd be leaving that night and didn't know when he'd return. He had a mental list of where all the warriors were located, but the world was a mighty big place and there might be difficulties along the way. Having to limit his travel to nighttime was one of them. Still, Dawn pouted, whined, and tried to weasel an invitation. Spike told her no, because, one, they didn't have any money and, two, Buffy wouldn't let Dawn go with a visible Spike. What were the odds of her going with an invisible one?

With promises not to leave before saying goodbye, Spike and the girls parted and he entered Angel's suite. The dark-haired vampire was sprawled on the bed exactly as Spike had last seen him. Pulling up a chair beside the bed, the glowing man sat, leaned forward, and clasped one of Angel's limp hands between both of his. Silly sod, Spike thought affectionately. Getting all worked up over Spike's supposed death was touching, but unnecessary. No one should mourn him.

Angel was groggy when he awoke from his drug-induced sleep an hour later. Spike smoothed his fingers over the other man's brow and smiled when he focused bleary eyes on Spike. "Welcome back," Spike said.

Angel blinked several times, and asked hoarsely, "Are you a ghost?"

"Not a ghost." Spike briefly cupped Angel's cheek and quoted, "'I'm a real, live boy.'"

Crunch. There went the rest of his ribs, Spike thought as Angel squished the demon out of him. What was it with his family and hugging him all the time? Jeez.

"My boy, my boy," Angel peppered kisses on Spike's glowing face, "my sweet, sweet boy."

"Oh, for hell's sake, cut it out, you ponce," Spike grumbled exasperatedly, trying to squirm out of Angel's embrace.

"You're not dust. I think I'm entitled to be mushy," Angel told him, hugging him even closer. "Don't ever die on me again, understand? You're not too old to be taken over my knee."

Spike's face was smashed against Angel's chest, so the older vampire didn't see the eye-rolling. "Are you going to let go?" the blond said, although it sounded more like: "Maroo gun da ledgo?"

"No." Angel manhandled Spike into a desired position, sitting sideways on his lap, wrapped his arms snugly around the smaller man's waist, and held him. "Now, explanations, please. Start with what happened in the lobby and go from there."

Spike stopped trying to break Angel's hold and gave into sitting on his pseudo-father's lap like a little boy. With more detail than he'd given any of the others, Spike shared what had happened -- the grey void, being chosen Herald and what that entailed, and Angel's role in the apocalypse, including his task to convince Lindsey McDonald to fight with him when the time came and warning him that the bad guys would try to seduce him to their side.

Spike watched the wheels turn in the other man's mind as he processed everything. It was a lot to take in but he wasn't worried about Angel disbelieving him, and not just because he was one of the warriors. Sometimes having a father, even a self-proclaimed one, had its advantages. It was nice to be taken seriously and not have everything he said questioned, which rarely happened with Slayer, Incorporated, even after all these years helping them.

He would've moved to L.A. long ago if he hadn't felt indebted to Angel for trying to have the chip taken out. Spike had told Angel earlier that he stayed in Sunnydale to watch Xander's back, but that wasn't entirely true. He'd only been in love with the boy for about a month. All the years before that, he'd stayed to watch Buffy's back, for Angel.

"So, the prophecy was about you, huh?" Angel said eventually.

"Scary, eh?" Spike grinned.

"Extremely," Angel agreed. He frowned. "But I don't remember an ice storm."

"Prophecies are rarely literal, Angel, you know that," Spike said. He raised his chin and fluttered his lashes. "What color are my eyes?"

Angel's frown deepened. "Blue, why?"

"Patience, Peachesan," Spike tut-tutted. "What color is a cloudless sky?"

"Blue," Angel replied.

Spike nodded. "Remember my waterworks earlier this afternoon?"

"'Icy tears, warm heart,'" Angel quoted himself as understanding dawned.

"Right," Spike said. "And remember how I rubbed my eyes and said I saw colorful spots after? Spouted off flowery poetry about rainbows? An Angel's eye is a rainbow that forms a complete circle."

"Colorful spots." Angel put two and two together and came up with three. "'The one that is three: the hunter, the predator, the prey,'" he recited. "You hunt demons, as a vampire you're a predator, and your chip makes you prey."

Spike tapped his nose. "Bingo. And the next line was referring to you: 'a demon with a heart of light.'"

"Which means, the prophecy really was about you," Angel said, a hint of awe in his voice. "Now you're a Higher Being, a Herald for the Gods."

"Kind of neat, innit?"

"It's more than kind of neat, Spike," Angel said. "It's- it's..." He paused, and an expression Spike had seen before, but never with this intensity, appeared on Angel's face. "I am so proud of you."

Spike could have been knocked over with a feather. His jaw dropped and he stared at Angel in shock. His mentor had never said those words before, or even implied them and, truthfully, Spike had longed to hear them his entire life.

He was feeling all odd inside and wasn't too sure he liked it, so he quickly changed the subject. "My chip is gone," he blurted.

Angel stared at him a moment. "Not only have you being given such an honor, your chip is gone, too?" He made a sound of disgust. "Not fair. I'll trade you your prophecy for mine," he whined, referring to the Prophecies of Aberjian.

Spike laughed, and the world righted itself again. "Forget it," he said. "I happen to like being a vampire."

"Even though, over the past five years, until now, you've been handicapped by the chip?" Angel inquired thoughtfully.

"Even though, and more because," Spike said cryptically. He finally managed to escape Angel's hold and moved to sit cross-legged on the bed beside the other vampire. He searched for the words, and continued. "'Spike' was an invention, you know. Creating him gave me the chance to be the complete opposite of what I was as a human: a foppish bookworm without a spine, who couldn't fight his way out of a paper sack."

"I know," Angel said, prompting Spike to go on.

"It was fun being Spike," Spike continued, "and after a few years he became less of a role and more of who I was. I turned into the Badass Master Vampire who Drusilla adored and others feared." He gave Angel a twisted grin. "Then I get to Sunnydale. Stuff happens, some good, some bad, some really bloody awful. I leave, I come back. I leave again and come back. I leave again and come back and get my fangs capped. And that's when things began to change."

Angel tilted his head slightly, listening intently. "How?"

"I stopped and smelled the roses, basically." Spike plucked at his bootlaces. "Oh, I was still a Badass Master Vampire, but I was also alone. Very, very alone."

He shrugged abruptly before Angel could show pity. "S'one of the reasons I started helping your ex-twat. I wasn't welcome to pal around with the other demons once I took up hunting them for sport, and Buffy, et cetera, at least tolerated my presence if I played nicely with everyone."

Angel nodded in understanding. "You had to play a new role."

"I see all that hairgel hasn't rotted your brain." Spike ducked the swat and continued. "You're right on the role-playing. I dug into my memories of how William behaved as a human and tried to act a little like him around the others. Then you started asking for my help and my best behavior was required around your pets, too. Eventually, just as Spike became me, I turned into the conglomeration of SpikeWilliam, and I kind of like being him."

"I kind of like you being him, too," Angel said with a mischievous grin. "'Pure' Spike was a real dick."

Spike flicked him off, then segued, "From what I heard, this Lindsey is a dick, too."

"It will be like you never left."

Conversation over. Spike pounced and wrestled with Angel until they fell off the bed. The blond stood first. Angel was on his hands and knees still, and Spike smacked him on the ass, leaving a glowing gold hand-print on that large expanse of buttock. Angel growled, and Spike laughed and took off running.

The centuries old vampires, having the maturity that came with age, careened into the Hyperion's lobby where the others had congregated, and skidded to a halt. Spike immediately put on his "I'm an adult" face. Angel wore the same expression, but he still de-pantsed Spike.

"Angel!" Spike exclaimed, scrambling to pull his trousers and underwear up again. Laughter, at his expense, filled the lobby. Xander put his hand over Dawn's eyes, but she pried his fingers apart and peeked through them. She wolf-whistled.

"Dawn, stop looking at Spike's naked parts," Cordelia scolded, while blatantly ogling said naked parts herself.

Spike tugged up his jeans and re-fastened them. "Nobody should be looking at my naked bits unless they plan to do something with them."

"If you can find them, first," Xander said with a smirk.

More laughter at Spike's expense. How typical. He gave Xander a black look, then addressed the group. "And on that humiliating note, I'll be shoving off."

Everyone sobered quickly. "Already?" Cordelia said, walking over to him.

Spike nodded. "Miles to go and all that rubbish."

She stepped into his hug and kissed him briefly on the mouth. "You'd better email and IM me," she said.

"I will, luv," he agreed.

Dawn took her place. "Write me, too," she said by his ear. "Are you sure I can't come with?"

"Dead cert," Spike said, hugging her tight. "I'm not going to France anyway."

"Oh, well, in that case..." She grinned, but it was a little wavery.

Angel hugged him next. "Take care. If you need anything..."

"I'll call," Spike promised.

Angel kissed the top of his head and stepped away. Wesley came forward next and gave Spike's hand a hardy handshake. "Good luck with your endeavor."

"Thanks, Wes," Spike said. He turned to Gunn, who'd come up beside him, and was promptly punched in the face.

"That's for anything you're going to do," Gunn stated.

Rubbing his jaw, Spike glowered at the other man. He pivoted to Xander, who had walked up behind him. "You gonna hit me, too?" the blond asked caustically.

"Only if you want me to," Xander said with a quirk of a brow.

Spike leered. "Kinky."

Xander rolled his eyes and stuck out his hand. "Go away, Spike."

Spike glanced at the large, tanned paw in front of him, and clasped it tentatively. His own brow rose in surprise when he felt Xander press a slip of paper against his palm. He put it quickly into his pocket after giving Xander's hand a pump. "I'm going. Try not to get killed, eh?"

"Will do," Xander agreed with a smile.

Spike wanted to capture that smile in a kiss, just one kiss, because he suddenly had a bad feeling he'd never see the boy again. He swallowed nervously and glanced at the others. Every single one of them was gesturing or mouthing for him to kiss Xander. Gods, talk about bloody embarrassing. He hoped Xander didn't see what they were doing.

Spike returned his attention to the brunette, who was watching him with those chocolate anime eyes of his. The blond licked his lips and took a small step closer to Xander. "Can... will you... if... Oh, fuck all," he growled, and swooped in for a kiss.

The kiss was short. It was dry. It was closed-mouthed. It was, by far, the worst kiss ever. And the applause and cheers didn't help matters, either.

Spike looked warily at Xander, who seemed to be shell-shocked. He wasn't being splattered across the lobby by an angry male, at least. "Uh, sorry 'bout that," he mumbled, wishing he hadn't gone and kissed the other man.

"Sorry you kissed me," Xander asked, "or sorry you kissed me so badly?"

"Er... either. Or both. You pick," Spike replied, embarrassed.

Xander lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug. "I kind of liked it."

"Huh?" Spike goggled at him.

"I got to be the cliché," Xander grinned lopsidedly, "and that's cool."

Spike had no effin' clue what Xander meant. Of course, his brain had frozen shortly following the phrase, "I kind of liked it."

Xander waved his hand in front of Spike's face. "Hello? Earth to Glowworm."

Spike started, blushed, and grumbled, "What?"

"You're going to ruin my movie moment if you don't leave now," Xander said in an exaggerated stage whisper.

"Right." Spike turned and headed for the front doors of the hotel. At the top of the steps, he glanced back, and saw his family gathered to one side and Xander alone on the other. "Well, bye."

"Bye, Spike," everyone said in some shape or form, but Spike only heard the boy's deep tones. His gaze lingered on Xander for a minute, then he walked out the door.



Part Ten



"You never know what you've got until it's gone."

Xander never really understood what that statement meant until Spike was gone. The others didn't seem to notice that the vampire wasn't turning up at the major Scooby gatherings, but that wasn't surprising. They hardly noticed -- or chose not to notice -- Spike when he was there.

Xander noticed the missing blond, especially when they went to fight a major bad. He never realized how essential Spike's fighting ability was to taking down the nasties, even if he was just there to watch their backs. As the months passed since Spike went away, Xander estimated the gang had been to the hospital or free clinic three times as much as when the vampire was helping. The others may not have consciously acknowledged Spike's assistance, but subconsciously it was obvious they relied on him.

Outside of the fight against the forces of darkness, only Dawn was truly unhappy about Spike's absence. Their friendship was a close one, and his leaving made her bitchier than usual, even though Spike emailed and chatted with her often. When she had left for college, it had been to Buffy's very audible relief.

Time passed and things in Sunnydale continued on in their Hellmouthy manner. Buffy whined about her lack of life, Willow and Tara practiced magick with mixed results, Giles researched and observed, Anya continued to be obsessed with money and sex, and Xander lived to hear that annoying computerized voice proclaiming: "You've got mail!"



To: thatxandershapedguy@aol.com

From: cricket818@aol.com

Subject: I Hate Finland

==

It's too bloody cold! I'm practically sleeping on top of the radiator at the hotel, and tomorrow I won't even have that luxury. The warrior I'm after in this hypothermic wasteland is, of course, out in the sodding ice fields.

Why did I agree to do this again?

Send electric cock-warmer,

Me



Xander chuckled as he finished reading Spike's latest email. When Xander had first slipped the vampire his email address when they'd said goodbye, he had questioned his sanity. With that action, he had indicated to Spike that he was interested in keeping contact with someone who, until that weekend, he couldn't stand. Since he received the first tentative email from Spike, however, Xander hadn't regretted taking that initiative.

At the very least, Xander and Spike were now friends. Somewhat daily emails and weekly AOL Instant Messaging chat sessions had seen to that. The Spike Xander had met in Los Angeles turned out to be a man he liked and wished he'd taken the time to get to know better.

Sometimes, Xander, Cordelia, Dawn, and Spike were all online at the same time, and they created a chatroom to visit with each other. Mostly, though, Xander and Spike communicated privately via IM or email, and Xander secretly enjoyed that more. In fact, Xander was in front of the computer every night, hoping that Spike would have computer access wherever he was in the world.

But despite the fact that Xander did spend time doing other things, sitting in front of the computer passed the point of being an annoyance for Anya, and she'd issued an ultimatum: the computer went, or she did. Anya collected the last of her belongings from Xander's apartment four Sundays ago.

Her breaking up with Xander had hurt, but the brunette didn't want to be with someone who wouldn't allow him to have outside friendships, especially since nothing really changed between them after he started talking with Spike. Instead of vegging in front of the television, Xander vegged in front of the computer after Anya had gone to bed at ten o'clock. Sometimes, Xander and Spike made special arrangements to chat earlier or on weekends, but Anya had always known about it in advance. That still hadn't been good enough for her, and they'd decided to end their crazy five-year relationship.

To: cricket818@aol.com

From: thatxandershapedguy@aol.com

Subject: re: I Hate Finland

==

Cricket--

Q: If you have a worldwide list in that bleached head of yours, why aren't you finding the warriors in the *warm* countries and wait to do the cold countries when it *isn't* winter?

X

P.S. I don't have a cock-warmer anymore, I broke up with Anya, remember? :)



*****

Spike looked up from his book when the sound of an opening door played from the speakers on the computer. A large smile graced his features, illuminated by the computer screen in the closed library in northern Finland. Like he did everywhere else he'd traveled thus far, he'd broken into an establishment with public Internet access to log onto AOL and keep in contact with his family. While en route from destination to destination, his computer access was limited, and on the nights he sought out the next warrior on his list he didn't use the computer at all. But in between times, he relished the email he received and the times he was able to chat.

"You've got mail!" the computer told Spike as he stuck a bookmark in his place and adjusted his seating position in front of the computer carol. Another door opening sounded almost simultaneously, and he laughed softly.

"Looks like tonight won't be silent, after all," he murmured to himself in the empty library. Some nights passed when he sat in front of the computer and no one on his 'Buddy' list logged on. Those nights dragged forever, and he'd started brining a paperback book to read while he sat and hoped for cyber-company.

Both Xander and Cordelia had come online and Xander had sent Spike an email. The vampire sent a quick hello via IM to Cordelia before reading the email message. His lips twitched in self-deprecating amusement, and he pulled up the screen to send an IM to Xander.

cricket818: A: I am a moron.

thatxandershapedguy: You're just realizing this now?

cricket818: ha-ha.

Cordelia answered Spike's greeting in a second window, and he switched to her.

angeldoesntpaymeenough: Hi! Hello! Hey! and Are you being good?

cricket818: Tell everyone hello, and gesture rudely to Angel, will ya?

angeldoesntpaymeenough: Will do...

Xander's window flashed and Spike Alt-Tabbed back to him.

thatxandershapedguy: How's tricks? I haven't heard from you in a few days.

cricket818: Had to take the train to get here. Not fun.

thatxandershapedguy: Where in Finland are you?

cricket818: Havolak. It's north of Ivola.

thatxandershapedguy: Map time.

Spike felt a happy thrill when Xander's words appeared. The boy had decided to mark Spike's travels on a large wall map, using colored pushpins and string. According to Dawn, who'd seen the map, it was "way cool." She never mentioned that Xander was also printing out any unexplained exanguinations and hanging them on the wall, too -- of which, from Spike's doing, there would be none -- so Spike assumed Xander was marking the map because he was interested in Spike and not checking up on his chipless actions.

angeldoesntpaymeenough: Okay. Everyone's gone now, but me. Did you know that dustbunnies actually have teeth?

cricket818: Yeah. Nasty critters. Hope Larry, Curly, and Shemp took a flame-thrower.

angeldoesntpaymeenough: And the fire-extinguisher, for when Angel lights himself on fire.

Chuckling, Spike switched to Xander again when he returned.

thatxandershapedguy: Back. You're on number 27.

cricket818: Only 27? *groan* I feel like I've been doing this for an eternity and I'm not even near the vicinity of done.

Spike flipped to Cordelia.

cricket818: I've only heralded 27!!! warriors. 27!

angeldoesntpaymeenough: That's it? But you've been gone since June.

cricket818: I know.

Xander sent him another IM, and Spike changed screens to reply.

thatxandershapedguy: Before I forget, Giles is getting rid of a bunch of New Age costume jewelry -- sterling silver rings, leather bracelets, etc. Want me to snag you some?

cricket818: Ta, Xander. Size 8-10 on the rings.

Cordelia's query, which she'd sent almost simultaneously with Xander's, waited for a reply.

angeldoesntpaymeenough: How are you holding up?

Spike removed his glasses, set them aside, and rubbed his eyes. How was he holding up? Let's see: he was in Frostbite, Finland, after a four-day train ride with Bossy the cow and all her smelly friends; tomorrow night he had to set out on skis to reach the next warrior; and he'd just found that he was only on warrior number 27 after being gone for 25 weeks. Twenty-five weeks of being invisible, of having to be silent while traveling with others or walking through a crowd, of having to break-and-enter hotel rooms, clothing or grocery stores, and places with public access computers in order to talk to someone who knew he really existed.

cricket818: Gods, I'm so fucking lonely. It's not so much the silence as it is being in a room full of people and no one seeing me. It was neat at first. Now, it just reminds me of how alone I really am. I feel like I never left Sunnydale.

Spike hit enter as he reached for his glasses. He'd been reading since he'd arrived, hours earlier, and the words were definitely blurry around the edges without them now. After sliding the gold frames onto his nose, he returned his attention to the screen, and saw that he'd sent the reply to Cordelia's question... to Xander.

*****

Xander read and reread the words in his IM window, growing more disgusted with himself on every pass. Months ago, what Spike wrote, which was so out of the blue Xander figured he must be conversing with someone else at the same time, wouldn't have bothered Xander at all. Now, though, that single sentence, "I feel like I never left Sunnydale," was making him physically sick.

Xander pushed back from the computer desk, stood, and paced to the giant map tacked to the second bedroom/computer room wall of his apartment. He stared blankly at the colorful pushpins that marked Spike's journey, his stomach turning over with nausea. Xander knew they... he had treated Spike like crap, but the brunette hadn't realized how greatly their behavior had affected the vampire, until now.

Xander knew what loneliness was like, to be surrounded by your friends and have them not remember that you're there. It had taken him years -- and a little help from Anya -- to learn to take what was offered from Buffy, Willow, and Giles, and stop waiting for more. They each had their own lives, and just because Xander was greedy for attention didn't mean they had an overabundance of time to give. Insert psychobabble where appropriate, Xander thought wryly.

Crossing back to the computer, Xander prepared to do something he should have done long ago. Spike was someone with feelings just like everybody else. He had his own hopes and wishes, problems and concerns, dreams and nightmares, although most of his were on the darker side of the spectrum. On top of that, Xander liked the guy, and it was time Xander let him know it.

thatxandershapedguy: I'm sorry.

A long minute passed with no response from Spike. Xander wondered briefly if the vampire had left. His name was still in the online 'Buddy' list.

thatxandershapedguy: Spike? You there?

Another pause, then:

cricket818: I'm here. I didn't mean to send that to you.

thatxandershapedguy: I figured, but I'm glad you did.

cricket818: ?

thatxandershapedguy: I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the way I treated you when you were here.

cricket818: There's no need for apologies, Xander.

thatxandershapedguy: Yes, there *is.* You're a great guy, Spike, but I couldn't see past the Grr to find that out. I never trusted you, I didn't like you, and I didn't want you around.

cricket818: If this is an apology, I'd hate to see your praise.

Xander laughed in spite of himself. He could hear Spike's dry tone of voice as he read the words, and it made the bile in his throat a bit more palatable.

thatxandershapedguy: I like you, Cricket. A LOT. And I want you to know, if you ever come back to Sunnydale, you'll be welcomed by me.

Xander reread what he wrote after sending it, and groaned. He quickly added a tag line.

thatxandershapedguy: We now return you to our regularly scheduled male grunting.

The brunette waited again for an infinitely long minute for Spike to respond. When he did, Xander's self-disgust vanished, and he smiled.

cricket818: *grunt grunt* Cordelia made me promise to come home for Thanksgiving. Dinner's next Thursday at the Hyperion. Do you want to come? *grunt.*

thatxandershapedguy: Demon turkeys couldn't keep me away.



NC-17 Version
PG-13 Version