"Okay, let me see if I have this right." Xander paced the short length of Giles's living room, ticking
off points on his fingers. "The Initiative did something to Riley. An Initiative doctor is going to fix
Riley if he goes to said doctor before he blows a gasket. However, Riley is missing. And psychotic.
And you want us to help find him."
Buffy nodded. "That about covers it."
Gathered together by Buffy's phone call, Willow, Giles, and Xander had been informed about the
problem with Riley and the Initiative's plan to help the soldier. Buffy wanted to help Riley.
Xander, however, had a secondary goal. "And Spike?"
She shrugged. "He can help, too. The more looking, the better, I guess."
"No." Xander shook his head sharply. "What about Spike? We've got an Initiative doctor
practically in the palm of our hand."
"You want to remove Spike's chip?" Willow said with surprise. "Still?"
[Still?] "Still? Of course, still," Xander said, irritated. "If there's a chance to get it out, we take it."
"But I thought that, you know...," Willow said, "...since you two were together--"
"That I wouldn't want him whole?" Xander crossed his arms and glared at Willow. "So, I take if it
Tara had cancer, you'd just sit on your ass and watch her die?"
"That's not the same thing, Xander," Buffy said.
"How is it different?" Xander asked icily. "Both are a destructive foreign body inside your
significant other, killing them."
"Spike's already dead," Buffy snipped.
Xander narrowed his eyes. "Low blow."
"Xander," Giles emerged from the kitchen, "you cannot compare a hypothetical operation that could
save Tara's life to an operation which would allow Spike to take lives again."
"You're forgetting that the operation would save Spike's life," Xander ground out.
"Once more, might I point out, Spike's already dead," Buffy said sweetly.
"Xander, how could getting the chip removed save Spike's life?" Willow asked, a furrow of
confusion between her brows. "It only gives him a headache when he tries to do something bad."
"Bad, like protect himself from the gay-bashers that jumped us the other night?" Xander said
pointedly. "Luckily, I have a strong swing from years of demon fighting. Those innocent humans
were only able to hurt him a little bit."
Willow looked startled and Buffy frowned deeply at that piece of information. Giles, however,
continued to try and dissuade him. "You are well aware that you will be the first person Spike kills
once the chip is removed," Giles stated.
Xander shrugged, unfolding his arms. "My will's in order."
"I vote no," Buffy said. "If he gets the chip out, I'll have to dust him and I...," she dropped her chin
and picked on the hemline of her shirt, "...I kind of like the jerk."
[Okay, maybe she's not a bitch.] Xander sighed. "I kind of like the jerk, too, Buffy, which is why
we have to take this opportunity. It's his brain being fried, his unfairly imposed handicap, and that
means it's his choice. And I can pretty much guarantee he'll want it gone."
The living room became quiet. Xander looked at each of his friends [my family] and wondered if
this would be when he would have to chose between them and Spike. He hoped not, because he
didn't think he could survive without all of them in his life.
Willow spoke first. "I would do anything I could to help Tara."
Giles popped up his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It really is Spike's choice to make,
"Buffy?" Xander looked at his blond friend.
Buffy sighed. "Fine, we'll get the Initiative doctor to take out Spike's chip. But we help Riley first,
"Got it," Xander agreed. [Wahoo! Spike, you're as good as gold.] The brunette sat on the edge of
the unoccupied chair, forearms braced on his knees. "So, let's figure out how we're going to do
Xander didn't tell Spike why they were at the hospital or what was going to happen shortly.
Anticipation would have made Spike super-annoying, and the wait had been hard enough for
Xander to bear alone.
[Left at the Peds nurses' station. Soldier in yellow. Soldier in blue. Hello, Willow and Tara.
Soldier in red. Pass surgical room 129 where Riley and the doctor are. Hello, Buffy.] Xander
prompted Spike to sit on the orange plastic chair a short way down the corridor from Buffy.
The blond vampire gave Xander a questioning look. "I saw the witches and the Slayer," he
whispered. "What's going on?"
"Just stay put until I tell you," Xander said obscurely. He slanted a look towards Buffy, who had
risen and was now crowding the door to room 129.
Xander and Spike had arrived just in time. Motioning for Spike not to move, Xander stood and
started back up the hall the way they came. Riley emerged from room 129, and Buffy was
immediately all over him. Subtly, she maneuvered him out of the doorway and used him to block
the non-uniformed soldier standing guard.
At that moment, Willow and Tara made a commotion, causing everyone to look in their direction.
[Giving me ample opportunity to slip into the surgical room, pull the fake pistol from my pocket,
and press it to the Initiative doctor's back.] "Hello, doc," Xander purred in the balding man's ear.
"Let's you and me take a walk."
The man gasped and stammered, "Wh-what do you want?"
"I want you to shut up and make no sudden moves," Xander instructed. "We're going to walk out
that door, turn left, and head down the hall. Understand?"
The doctor nodded faintly. Xander jabbed the pistol hard into his back. "Move."
The Willow and Tara commotion was still going strong. Added to it was Buffy keeping Riley and
the closest Initiative soldiers distracted as Xander and the doctor left the surgical room. Spike was
still seated on the chairs, though Xander could tell he wanted to go see what was happening.
Xander jerked his head, indicating for Spike to follow. Quickly, [and luckily without being
stopped,] the strange party descended a level and entered an empty surgical viewing room. Glass
windows lined the top of one wall, separating the viewing area from the main floor. The sterile
room had everything necessary to perform a surgical operation, according to Willow's research.
Xander forced the doctor toward the operating table, stepped back, and leveled the weapon at him.
"Why are w-we here?" the doctor asked, furtively looking for another exit.
"You are a doctor for the disbanded Initiative," Xander stated. "Spike here has one of the Initiative
behavior modification chips in his head. You are going to remove it."
Xander didn't shift his gaze at the surprised outburst from Spike. "If you want the chip out, now's
your chance, Spike. It's up to you."
"I can-can't do it," the doctor said.
"You will and you are," Xander told him, "or I shoot you."
The doctor showed some backbone, straightening his short stature and puffing out his chest. "Go
ahead. If you kill me, I can't perform the operation."
"I never said I was going to kill you."
Though said quietly, the threat echoed in the surgical room. Spike applauded softly, and remarked,
"Nice one, pet. Almost had me wettin' my trousers."
The vampire came into Xander's line of sight and hopped on the operating table. Xander could see
the tension in Spike's corded neck and around his eyes, though he appeared at ease. "Well, doc,
how do you want me?" the blond said.
The doctor looked between Spike, Xander, and the weapon, swallowed nervously, and went to work.
"Uh, re-remove your coat and l-l-lie down," he instructed.
Xander stayed silent the entire time the doctor was prepping Spike. He circled the table one time,
briefly squeezing Spike's hand for reassurance [both mine and his.] As he passed by the doctor
working behind the light blue head drape, he murmured in a low, flat tone, "Hurt him, and I'll shove
this gun so far up your ass you'll taste the bullet when I pull the trigger."
The doctor stiffened, nodded fearfully, and went back to shaving a portion of Spike's head. Xander
tucked the fake pistol in the waistband of his jeans and chose a spot where the doctor could see him
and he could watch the procedure. [Stay confident-looking, no matter that the nervous butterflies in
my stomach have nervous butterflies in their stomachs.]
"I-I have to warn you, I've never done this before," the doctor said, picking up a scalpel. The
balding man glanced at Xander. "I worked with the soldiers, not the-the experiments."
[Snarl. Spike is not an experiment!] "Do your best," Xander ground out.
The doctor took a deep breath and began. Xander winced at the first sight of blood, winced at the
crack of bone when the doctor entered Spike's skull, and winced when he saw what a vampire's
brain looked like up close and personal. Spike hadn't made a move or a sound since the doctor
started, and Xander wished he was on the other side of the head drape, once again holding his love's
"There it is," the doctor said, pointing to the edge of an object deeply imbedded in Spike's brain.
Xander stared. [That little hunk of metal is what gave me the chance to fall in love with the sexiest,
shyest vampire on the planet. Huh.]
The doctor started to cut the brain tissue surrounding the chip. Xander's stomach turned as more
and more of Spike's grey matter was pulled apart. The local anaesthetic prevented Spike from
feeling anything, according to the doctor. [But how can you not feel someone cutting into your
The doctor's cutting eventually exposed a covered wire connected to the visible edge of the chip. He
retrieved a pair of sharp shears and attempted to cut the wire... and attempted... and attempted... and
"It won't cut," the doctor finally admitted, dropping the shears on the surgical tray. He gave Xander
a worried look. "The wires are covered with the same alloy the chip is made of, and I can't cut it.
And if I can't cut it, there are only two options."
"And they are...?" Xander prompted, knowing that he was going to hate the answer.
"I can either dissect his brain," the doctor replied, "or leave the chip alone."
[I knew it. I hate the answer.] Xander closed his eyes briefly in pain on Spike's behalf before
walking around the table. Spike's face was a blank mask when Xander saw it, blue eyes staring
straight at the ceiling. The brunette covered the vampire's hand with his own. "Spike?"
"Leave it in," Spike said without inflection.
[GodDAMNit.] Xander raised his eyes to the doctor. "You heard the man. Sew him up, and you're
free to go."
The snip of the surgical tape signaled the doctor's completion of his work, and he was out the door
in a flash. Xander was still standing beside the table, fingers closed around Spike's limp hand. The
blond hadn't even twitched since he last spoke, open eyes still fixed on the ceiling.
[I'm sorry, baby,] Xander thought, but he would not say it out loud. Spike didn't want pity, the
brunette knew. And sympathy wouldn't change the outcome of the operation. [I'm so, so sorry.]
The chip was permanent.
It seemed like forever passed before Spike moved, but it was more like five minutes. The blond
shoved the head drape away, sat up, and swung his legs over the edge of the table. "Did he patch it
up good?" he asked.
Xander glanced at the neat white bandage taped to the top of Spike's head. "Looks fine."
Spike stood, his hand slipping from under Xander's. He put on his duster and started for the door.
Xander wanted to scream. He wanted to throw things. He wanted to gather Spike in his arms and
hold tight. Instead, he merely followed.
Outside Sunnydale General Hospital, Spike lit up a cigarette and looked around the well-lighted
area. Xander stood beside him, keeping silent.
"I'm going to kill things," Spike stated.
"I'll be home," Xander said in return. The vampire nodded once and strode away.
From his pocket, Xander produced a cell phone and dialed Giles's number as pre-arranged. "He still
has the chip," was all Xander said when Giles answered. Then, he disconnected and headed home.
The sun rose at 6:42 a.m. It was 6:29, and Spike had yet to come home. Xander sat on the couch in
the same place he'd been all night, watching the minutes change on the illuminated VCR clock. He
wasn't worried so much about Spike being accidentally caught outside after dawn as he was Spike purposely
being outside after dawn. The bad thing was, Xander would understand if Spike greeted the sunrise.
It would shred Xander's heart into a million pieces, but he'd understand.
The clock changed to 6:30 and Xander heard the snick of the door being unlocked. Relief flooded
him and the knot of tension in his stomach relaxed. He didn't move from the couch, however, when
Spike entered the apartment and re-locked the door. Xander didn't want to crowd or give unwanted
attention to Spike if he wanted to be left alone. Guys understood what other guys needed [which
makes me wonder why everyone isn't gay. And that was as random as random thoughts could be. I
need sleep. And a cuddle.]
Xander watched from the couch as Spike hung up his duster and removed his boots. His white-blond hair was covered in blood and slime, and the rest of him wasn't any prettier. His face was
scratched and bruised, and a wicked cut caked with dried blood slashed the side of his neck.
Spike retrieved a beer from the refrigerator and disappeared down the hall. A few minutes later,
Xander heard the shower turn on.
Luckily, it was Saturday, so Xander didn't have to worry about work. With a sigh, he unfolded
himself from the couch and headed into the bedroom to catch some sleep now that Spike was home,
safe and sound [and miserable.]
Xander was counting sheep when Spike emerged from the shower. The brunette watched his
boyfriend through half-slitted eyes as Spike pulled on his sleepshorts with jerky movements. The
vampire didn't look at Xander when he crawled into the lower bunk. The light went out, and the
bedroom was plunged into darkness.
[Love you. I'm sorry.]
The squeak of the ladder alerted Xander that he was soon to have a visitor. He shifted to the edge of
the top bunk, leaving room between himself and the wall. A few seconds later, that space was
occupied by a silent specter, who curled against Xander, head tucked beneath the brunette's chin.
Xander fixed the sheet over both of them, curved a hand around Spike's bare side, and whispered a
He pretended that the cool drops he felt hit his chest were from Spike's damp hair.