He was never quite sure what actually woke him, whether it was the shaking or the sound of something falling over in the apartment, but Spike would always remember the time: 3.17pm on the day that Xander died.
He went from dead sleep to hyperaware in one jerk, and then blinked at the clock, trying figure out why he was awake in the middle of the afternoon.
Looking about, he noticed the tumbled glass next to the alarm clock, and the crooked lampshade, and heard a variety of alarms going off outside, and belatedly realised that something had happened.
Inexplicably clumsy fingers fiddled with the radio, trying to find a local news report, and then he listened with growing unease as the DJ recapped the main points of the afternoon's bulletin.
Earthquake. Minor damage. Aftershocks expected. Hospitals on alert. All off-duty medical and emergency services personnel requested to report for duty.
And then, right at the end of the droned recitation, just as Spike was beginning to relax, a report, just in, of a structural collapse at a construction site on the outskirts of Sunnydale, and he froze. And prayed. And then he was scrambling for his jeans, snatching up a T-shirt (Xander's, from the previous evening) and stamping his feet into his Docs.
He had one hand on the door when the phone rang, and he quivered for a moment in indecision. Only the thought, hope, that it was Xander calling to tell him not to worry, kept him from opening the door and racing down to the basement.
"Spike! Did you hear? Has he called? Do you know if it's his site? Is he okay? Oh, please, Goddess, tell me he's okay!"
It was Red. And while he liked her, and he really did, he couldn't cope with her babble right now, especially when he didn't know the answers to the questions she was throwing at him, and her asking was actively preventing him from getting the damned answers.
"He hasn't called. I don't know what's going on but I'm on my way to find out. If he calls, you tell him I'm on my way to the site and he'd better wait for me there. It'll take me about twenty minutes if none of the tunnels have collapsed, maybe another ten if I have to detour a bit. But tell him to stay out of trouble till I get there, right? If he calls..." Spike paused, swallowed hard. "When he calls, you tell him I'm coming to him and not to do anything stupid."
And without waiting to hear Willow's reply, Spike threw the phone onto the table and raced from the apartment.
The sewer tunnels were mostly undamaged by the quake, and Spike mentally sent up a prayer of thanks to the late Mayor Wilkins for getting his priorities right. Municipal buildings had probably rocked and cracked and crumbled, but the sewers, those very useful escape routes, were constructed to last.
Spike fairly flew from tunnel to tunnel, following the route he had mapped out on Xander's second day at the new site in a fit of mid-afternoon boredom. He'd stood in the shadows of an alley across the road from the construction site that day. It was the closest he could get without making himself conspicuous by dashing through traffic draped in a smoking blanket.
He'd spent an hour watching the tan, muscled and often overweight workers swarming over the beams and girders, throwing banter and bad jokes and ribald comments back and forth, and he'd seen the respect they showed their foreman, who always had a smile and a quick word for each of them, and he'd felt proud of the man he'd grown to love.
The memories kept Spike from going mad as he splashed through puddles of dark, viscous fluid, and tried not to brush against the eerily luminous green fungus that coated the curved walls in places. Finally, after what seemed like a hundred miles of tunnel, he was there, easily hefting the grate up and shimmying through the hole into the small, evil smelling gap between a dumpster and the back wall of a Korean grocery.
Once again on the surface, he could hear alarms, sirens and car horns going off all around him, but they were pushed to the back of his consciousness as he caught the sound of orders being yelled in a voice he vaguely recognized.
It sounded like Xander's second in command, Jimmy something, a macho Italian stud who had watched Xander for weeks without saying a word and then one day cornered him in the office, asked if they could talk, and then without pausing for breath had admitted to being gay and asked for advice on how to tell his family. When he'd seen Xander's befuddled expression he had admitted seeing him and Spike in the alley next to the Bronze one night, and after Xander had turned new shades of pink, they'd had a frank discussion.
But why was he giving the orders here and now, in the midst of the wrecked site, when Xander should be the one in charge?
A cold, hard lump formed under Spike's breastbone as he moved to the very edge of the shadows, straining his gaze to see what the hell was happening on the other side of the road.
Two of the three partially constructed buildings were still standing, though looking a little ragged around the edges. But the third, the one that had been damn near done, appeared to have almost completely disappeared into a hole in the ground, and it was around this crumbled mess that everyone was running and shouting.
Try as he might, he could neither see nor hear Xander, and from the look of the barricades put up to keep the rubbernecking crowds back, there was no way he could unobtrusively sneak onto the site under a smoking blanket to go and find him. And so he watched, frustrated and helpless, as dusty heroes both uniformed and not, fought to shovel away tons of rubble.
Time inched forward, and slowly the crater deepened as more lumps of brick and concrete and twisted beams were dragged out of the way. Spike's ragged nails cut bloody half moons in his palms as he tried not to imagine the worst, tried not to see Xander buried under the very thing he had gotten such joy creating.
He couldn't believe, refused to believe, that Xander had been in the building when it collapsed, but he couldn't think of any reason for him not to be giving orders unless... unless the White Hat with the self-preservation instincts of a lemming had gone in to rescue whoever was trapped within the rubble.
Spike's temper began a slow burn as he imagined all the various ways he would make his mate pay for putting himself in danger and by association putting his partner through so much stress. And then a flurry of activity around the hole in the ground caught his attention and he forgot all thoughts of revenge and restitution and watched without blinking as three men were pulled from the ruins.
And suddenly there was Xander, crawling out of the crater under his own steam and moving to check on the dust-coated men he'd followed out. Spike took half a step forward before remembering the sun, and drew back into the shadows, cursing as he patted out a burning spot on the back of one hand.
He opened his mouth to call out and almost swallowed his tongue when he saw Xander pat one of the rescuees on the shoulder before turning back to the hole. He couldn't... He wouldn't... He did. Stunned, Spike watched Xander lower himself back into the hole, one hand steadying his hardhat even as it clutched a huge rubberised torch.
"I'll kill him. I'll pull his guts out through his nose and use them to whip him bloody. I'll..." Spike realised he was ranting out loud and clamped his jaws shut. The diatribe continued unabated within his skull for several tense minutes, halted only by a severe aftershock that sent him stumbling back against the dumpster.
By the time he had righted himself and moved back to his corner, he was too late too see anything but a thick cloud of dust and debris almost obscuring the already ruined building. The sight nearly sent him to his knees. The hole into which Xander had disappeared only minutes ago was now filled with the remains of the building that had survived the first shock. Xander had been buried. Alive?
Spike watched silently as everyone began patiently re-digging the hole. He didn't move, didn't breathe, didn't even smoke, but every time someone walked between his shady spot and the scene across the road, he had to restrain himself from screaming at them to get out of his line of sight.
He didn't know what he'd do without Xander. The boy, man, had taken up residence in a heart Spike had thought would never feel warm again, and showed no signs of even thinking of leaving. He'd seen the best of Spike and the worst and still loved him, all of him, without reservation. Hells, he'd even served Spike breakfast in bed on more than one occasion, crumbling the Weetabix into the blood himself!
Spike had never expected things to go as far as they had. In truth he'd kissed Xander for the first time because he'd been drunk, and lonely, and horny, and the boy had just sat there in the crypt yammering away about how the demon girl had left him because she didn't think he was completely straight and she didn't want to marry him and then come home one day to find him screwing the pool boy in her bed, and Spike just wanted to shut him up for five bloody minutes.
And then Xander had turned his confused, pain-filled gaze on Spike and proceeded to stun the frustrated vampire... for a few seconds.
"Do you think I'm gay?"
Spike had blinked, and made a split-second decision that changed his entire unlife.
"Nah, mate." And as Xander's face relaxed into an expression of sheer relief, Spike had tossed his bottle to one side and taken hold of twin, tanned, biceps. "You're bi."
And then Spike had kissed him.
Two weeks later, Xander had asked him to move into the apartment and then announced his new roommate as a fait accompli to the rest of the gang. They hadn't actually told everyone they were a couple, but Tara had taken about five seconds to figure it out, and Willow hadn't taken much longer. Giles had pulled Xander to one side after about a week and asked him if he had any idea what he was getting himself into, and then had cornered Spike and told him that if anything happened to the boy he looked on as a surrogate son, Spike would spend eternity in an air-tight box sealed in the concrete support of some anonymous overpass.
That was the closest Spike ever wanted to get to actually meeting Ripper, so he'd nodded and sworn to protect the boy with his unlife and then stunned the ex-Watcher by thanking him for being the father figure Xander had been lacking. They'd ended the evening on a tentative truce, which had turned, over the years, into a cautious friendship, finally cemented when Spike had won an argument over demonic grammar and thus averted a very nasty little apocalypse.
Two hours later, the sun was sitting low in the sky and Spike was ready to risk a few small surface burns to get closer to his trapped lover. A car pulled up, blocking the end of the alley, and Spike was one step away from punching out the window when he realised who was behind the wheel.
"Willow told me she thought you'd be here somewhere. I take it Xander is still...?"
"Alive, Rupert? Is that what you were going to ask? I don't bloody know, do I, stuck over here where I can't hear what's going on. He was alive a few hours ago when he crawled out of a dirty great hole in the ground. 'Course, then the stupid git turned around and crawled straight back in again. A few minutes later there was an aftershock and everything fell in on top of him. They've been digging for hours now and not brought anyone out."
"I'd know if he was dead, wouldn't I? I know I never took much notice when Angelus was twittering on about vampire lore and the house of Aurelius, but I remember bits and pieces, and I know he said something about a bond, a kind of link, between mates."
Giles blinked and scrambled awkwardly out of the car.
"Do you, ah, mean the consort bond? Because there's a ritual specific to each clan that needs to be performed by the Master of the..."
"Angel came down last week and did the necessary. We kept it quiet because... well, Xan didn't fancy telling you lot how he had to let Angel bite him so as to make him an honorary member of the family." He frowned for a moment. "Actually, I think he was more embarrassed about the fact that he had to bite Angel. He insisted on brushing his teeth twice before he'd even let me kiss him!"
"You took Xander as Consort?" Giles asked weakly, sure he'd misunderstood. Consorts were exceedingly rare, and a human consort was almost unheard of. He began mentally flicking through Watcher's journals and reference books and almost missed Spike's reply.
"It was what Xander wanted. He'd seen mention of consorts in one of your books and kept on at me until I'd told him everything I knew, which admittedly, wasn't much. Then he went back and read everything he could find on the subject. Did you not notice how helpful he'd been during the last few research parties, book after book after book? And then he started in on the Poof, phoning him up nearly every day with more questions and wanting certain things clarified and explained again. He even got that Cordelia bint in on it so she'd make sure Angel didn't use the excuse of work to cut the conversations short."
"Spike, surely you must have explained..."
"It was what he wanted, Rupert. He'd done the research, knew the risks, the benefits, everything, and he wanted it. He was all ready to launch into a big detailed explanation, plead his case, when I told him that if he could get the Poof to agree then I would be honoured to take him as my consort. He spent hours more on the phone after that convincing Angel to shift his arse and come down here for the ceremony."
Spike grinned in remembrance of one particular snippet of conversation.
"I got home one evening just in time to hear him shouting at Angel down the phone. 'Dammit, Deadboy, you've been wanting to bite me for years! I'm here! I'm ready! Now get your broody ass back to Sunnyhell and bite me already!'"
Giles blinked at the look of pride on Spike's face, and wondered why he constantly underestimated this Master vampire, even after all these years. He knew, on one level, that Spike loved Xander at least as much as he'd ever loved Drusilla, but every time he saw real evidence of it he was amazed anew.
"So you took Xander as your Consort. You didn't think to ask Angel to elaborate on what would actually happen once you'd bonded? Don't you think that was a little...?"
Spike interrupted before Giles could finish.
"Xander's been working his arse off trying to get the construction back on schedule after that cock up last month with the plumbing. He said we could take some time and figure everything out once the inspectors had okayed the site. Looks like that plan's shot to shit. So all I know is, there's supposed to be some kind of link between us, and if something happens to one of us the other knows about it. Dammit, Rupert, we thought we had time to find out all this stuff!"
One hand outstretched, Giles was just about to offer what little comfort he could, when a yell from across the road captured their attention.
"Where are the damn paramedics? We have an injured man here!"
And then the smell of spilled blood, too much blood, hit Spike, and he vamped out before he could stop himself. A second later he knew it wasn't Xander's, and he forced his features back into their human cast.
"It's not him."
"How can you...?"
"I can smell the blood. It's not his. There's a lot of it. Don't think the paramedics will be able to do much for the poor bastard besides distract him while he bleeds out."
The callousness of the comment barely made Giles blink, and he realised that, at some point during this bizarre relationship, he had accepted the fact that while Spike loved Xander and tolerated the rest of them for his sake, as far as the vampire was concerned, the rest of the human race were still happy meals on legs.
And right at this precise moment in time Rupert Giles couldn't bring himself to care one way or the other. The closest thing he'd ever had to a son was trapped, maybe injured, please gods, not dead, less than a hundred yards away and he was unable to do anything more than stand around and watch with the rest of the gawkers.
"Spike, I..." Giles removed his glasses, pulled a linen square from his pocket and absently polished the lenses as he tried to order his thoughts. "I know a little about the consort bond, though most of the documentation I've seen focuses on bonds between vampires. I think I've only seen two references to vampire-human bonds and they were rather vague, I'm afraid. However, assuming the basic principles are the same, we may be able to ascertain Xander's... status within the ruins."
"You mean you can help me figure out if Xander's dead or not? Then what are we waiting for!" Spike glared at the ex-Watcher as if blaming him for waffling on when they could have been busy doing what needed to be done. "Come on!"
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and slid his glasses back into place.
"You need to calm down, Spike, and focus. We'll probably be better off attempting this in the car. We have less chance of being interrupted that way."
Spike was ensconced in the passenger seat before Giles had finished the sentence, and chipped black nails were drumming on the dash by the time Giles had slid back into the drivers' seat.
"Get on with it, then, mate!"
Giles thought for a moment, and then sighed.
"The ceremony last week, when you exchanged blood. Was that the only time you... ah... did so?"
"What bloody business is it of...?"
"It makes a difference to the strength of the bond, Spike. The more often blood has been... exchanged, the stronger the bond becomes, at least between vampires. The Council has often wondered why exactly that would be so, taking into account the fact that the blood is, in effect, stolen and therefore..."
A bloodcurdling growl from the vampire next to him had Giles quickly back on track.
"My apologies Spike. So, have you...?"
"Yeah. We have. Before and after the ceremony, as it happens." He laughed. "After all those years of listening to him complain about 'bloodsuckers', it turns out it's one of the daft git's kinks. Leastways it is now he's with me. I can't quite see Queen C or the demon girl enjoying the feel of his teeth splitting their skin, tearing into their flesh, so he can suck down a mouthful or two of their lifeblood."
It was several moments before Giles was able to continue the conversation; he was so completely taken aback by the mental pictures that had been conjured up at Spike's admittance. He wondered vaguely whether this 'kink' had anything to do with Xander's possession by a hyena spirit when he was a teenager. Giles made a mental note to look into it further.
"That should make things easier, I hope. Now, you need to clear your mind and focus on Xander." He ignored the sardonically quirked brow that was aimed his way, and continued. "You need to concentrate on trying to feel him in your mind. If the bond took properly during the ritual then you should be able to sense his existence as a quiet continual 'hum' almost, or so I believe."
For several tense minutes Spike tried to do as instructed, but the fear of failure kept rising and overpowering his attempts. A hand on his arm brought him out of his internal battle and he looked up to see Giles wearing a small, pained smile.
"You seem to be fighting to keep your demon aspect at bay while you're doing this. That may not be the way to go. If I'm correct in believing that your senses are more acute when you are 'vamped out', as the children put it, then in all probability, that also holds true of your ability to sense the consort bond."
Spike looked down at the hand still resting reassuringly on his arm, and then back up at Giles, and silently acknowledged that this man was probably the best friend he'd ever had, living or dead, apart from Xander. With a nod, he relaxed and allowed his demonic face to come forward, and almost immediately felt something... alien, in the back of his mind. It was a steady thrum, and, stunned, Spike realised he knew it was Xander's life force. Encouraged, he focussed harder, and could make out a dull feel of hurt, and helplessness, and even a touch of anger, but no real fear.
The breath Spike hadn't known he was holding was released in a shaky sigh as he collapsed into the seat and let his head fall back, his eyes closed tight to prevent the escape of any unseemly tears of relief.
"He's alive. Hurt, somehow, and pissed about it, but wherever he is, he feels safe enough not to be scared. Of course, if he felt fear like normal people he would never have jumped into the bloody hole in the first place!"
Now that Spike knew his consort was alive and relatively unharmed he began cataloguing the ways he would make Xander pay for causing all this stress and upset. The sound of a stifled sob stopped his planning almost before it got started, and he looked back into Giles' suspiciously moist eyes.
"Thanks, Rupert, for helping me with this. If it wasn't for you I'd still be wondering if Xander was alive." He reached out and patted the knee next to his, earning him a startled blink.
"Tell you what - when we get hold of Xander, you can have first kick at his sorry arse, teach him to go worrying everyone. Then it's my turn. He wont be able to sit down for a week when I'm done with him."
"As much as I'd enjoy, ah... discussing appropriate measures of punishment with you, Spike, maybe now that the sun has gone down we can move closer to the action and find out if they know what's happening down there."
Spike was halfway across the road before Giles had managed to get his door open, and the older man was forced into a short sprint to catch the vampire before he went storming in to demand information.
"Perhaps I should..." Spike stopped and spun round.
"He's my mate, and I'm not about to do anything that might prevent us finding out what's going on with the rescue. Besides, most of them know me. I've beaten half of them at pool and the other half at cards. They all know about us." He snorted at the swiftly hidden look of surprise on Giles' face.
"What? You think just 'cause he's in construction he's been playing the macho ladies' man for his crews? Nah. Whenever he gets a new crew in, he takes them out for a drink after their first day and introduces me as his partner. There's always at least one idiot in the bunch who tries to cause trouble on site, but most of his men love him and they tend to nip it in the bud. He's only had to fire one jerk who was planning on screwing with the paperwork to get Xan in trouble, and even then he tried everything he could think of to sort it out with the bloke first."
Spike became quiet as they neared what was left of the construction site. Giles turned when someone yelled and saw two firemen heading in their direction. Before the uniformed men could reach them, however, they were stopped by a man in a hard hat who sent them back to the barricades at the end of the street. He jogged over to them and started talking immediately.
"Spike, hi. Xander told me to keep an eye out for you. We figured you'd be here as soon as the sun went down. He told me to tell you not to rip anyone's head off for letting him do what he had to do. Said you'd understand he had to do whatever he could to make sure his men were okay."
To Giles amazement Spike allowed the man to take his arm and lead him across the rubble-strewn site towards one of the trailers that housed the temporary offices.
"Now, there's no need to worry too much. We know pretty much where he is; we just have to be careful about getting to him. Apparently there's some kind of underground structure down there that nobody saw fit to put on any of the maps, and that's where most of the building ended up when the aftershock hit. Xander managed to lead most of the men into a side tunnel away from the falling debris. I think he was saying something about the mayor when the radio went dead." He shrugged. "We're taking it slowly so we don't send anything down on top of them while we try and find the entrance to this tunnel."
Powerful fingers closing like a vice on Giles' arm made him hiss in pain, and Spike loosened his grip immediately. With a quickly muttered "Thanks, Paulie," Spike began towing Giles back towards the car, stopping when they were safe from curious ears.
"If Xander mentioned the mayor, I'm betting he meant Wilkins. I bet that canny bastard had the sewer system extended way beyond the town itself and didn't put it on any official maps so no one could question him about it. Xander's spent enough time in those tunnels to recognise one when he's stuck in it. That's where he is, Giles. He's in the bloody sewers!"
"But, surely, you must have known...?"
"I never needed to come out this way before Xander started working here. And even then I just figured, what with this being a couple of miles outside of where the town limits used to be, Wilkins's tunnels wouldn't come out this far. The last half-mile I used to get here was pretty new and much smaller than the big pipes back under the older parts of Sunnyhell. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I missed them because I didn't expect them to be there."
Spike began pacing back and forth in front of Giles, duster flapping around his legs and dust puffing up around his ankles.
"If Xan's in the sewers, he must be looking for a way out. If I go back the way I came I can look for more of the old tunnels, maybe find a way into the..."
A yell from behind them had them spinning on their heels. Paulie came charging across to them.
"They're okay! They're out. Harris just scared the shit out of a bus driver by popping up through an access grate in the middle of Lincoln, nearly a mile south of here. He stopped traffic to demand they help pull his injured men out. They're all on their way to Sunnydale General right now."
They were in the car and almost within sight of the hospital before either of them made a sound.
"He really hates hospitals, y'know? I bet he's in there now wishing he was back in the sewers. At least back there he was in charge; he had some idea of what was going on. Hospitals always make him feel helpless and insignificant. He hates that more than anything. That's part of the reason why he kept helping Buffy once he stopped trying to catch her eye. It made him feel like he was a part of something useful, helping to protect the world, or at least his small corner of it. He needs that..."
Giles stayed silent and allowed the worried vampire to ramble on as he navigated through traffic snarls and detours to reach the hospital. Once there, he discovered that there was a distinct lack of parking space, so he pulled up to the kerb and interrupted his passenger's monologue.
"Spike, you go on in and find Xander, make sure he's okay. I'll find somewhere to park the car and walk back to you." A horn sounded impatiently behind them and Giles sighed. "Spike, Xander is in the hospital, no doubt wishing you were with him, or rather that he was with you. Now go on in and I'll catch you up in a little while."
It took Spike nearly fifteen minutes to find someone who knew where Xander and his crew had been taken, and by that time he was fighting the urge to go on a rampage through the building in search of his mate.
Following hastily scribbled instructions he almost missed seeing the grubby huddle of construction workers sitting in a small annex off the main corridor. Only the sound of a familiar name mentioned in their conversation as he passed made him stop and double back.
The discussion cut off as soon as he stepped through the doorway, and Spike realised they had obviously been waiting for a doctor to arrive. As soon as they registered the lack of white coat, half of them turned back to their colleagues, but one stood up and crossed to where he stood.
"It's Spike, right? I'm Craig, one of the electricians. I don't know if you remember me, but Xander said you'd turn up here sooner or later and he asked me to tell you not to worry, it's not too serious, just a dislocated shoulder and a few minor bumps and bruises. They've taken him upstairs to sort out the shoulder and clean him up a bit, but he should be back shortly. We're all waiting for news on Joey Capelli and Mark Winters. Joey got stuck through the shoulder with a piece of piping when the first tremor hit, but..."
Spike tuned out the rest of the explanation, and allowed himself to relax now that he knew Xander really was still in one piece. Muscles that had been tight for hours slowly loosened and Spike was suddenly exhausted and hungry and wanted nothing more than to scoop up his lover and carry him back to bed so they could celebrate life the old fashioned way.
At the first sound of that voice, Spike turned, and came face to face with his bedraggled consort. A sling supported Xander's left arm, and butterfly bandages decorated his cheek, brow and lip, holding together several small cuts. A purple bruise was beginning to blacken his right eye, and from the way he stood, Spike knew his lower back was aching ferociously.
"Hey, Spike." Xander smiled a sweet, welcoming smile, and held out his right arm. Spike moved instinctively into the embrace, careful to avoid the more obviously damaged parts of his lover, and lifted his face for a careful kiss, mindful of the damaged lip. Neither of them cared that they were the single focus of every man in the room as they silently reassured each other that all was now well again. Eventually, however, they were interrupted.
"Um, Boss... Did anyone mention anything about Joey or Mark while you were upstairs?"
Spike could almost see the cloak of 'Boss man' descend over Xander's shoulders, but the arm around his stayed where it was so he didn't mind losing his consort's full attention for a while.
"Joey was lucky, or so the docs say. The pipe went through soft tissue and somehow didn't even chip a bone. The news about Mark isn't so good. There's nothing they can do until the swelling goes down. If that was all that was putting pressure on his spinal cord, then he should be back on his feet in no time." The alternative scenario was left unsaid, but everyone knew...
The hand on his shoulder squeezed in subtle comfort as Spike tensed, memories of being trapped in a wheelchair, helpless and at the mercy of an insane Dru and an even more insane Angelus, flickering behind his eyes.
He could have done without the reminder of his past weakness, but suddenly he was certain he knew why Xander's back and shoulder were damaged. No doubt the White Hat had insisted on carrying his injured man to freedom. Xander would never change, and Spike was inordinately glad of that fact, though anyone who dared say as much would be in for a world of hurt.
"Joey and Mark have both been given beds and I've called their wives, they're on the way here now. You guys need to go home, clean up, and get some rest. Don't even think about coming into work tomorrow. Spend some time with your families, clear up whatever mess this quake made for you personally, and I'll be in touch with what's happening once I've spoken to head office."
Spike stood silently in Xander's embrace as the men crowded around, each one needing to pass on their individual thanks, and pat him on the shoulder, or touch him briefly on the arm, the back, the hand. Spike wondered if Xander had any idea how much he was respected and, yes, loved, by his workmates. As far as they were concerned he had saved all their lives today, and he was now their hero.
But at last they were alone in the antiseptically decorated room, and Xander sagged against Spike with a relieved sigh.
"Can you not shout at me until we get home, please, Spike? Could you maybe just hold me for a while?"
They sat snuggled together on one of the badly padded bench seats for barely five minutes before there was a sound from the doorway. Their irritation at being interrupted faded to nothing at the sight of Giles, and Spike jumped up and eased Xander to his feet.
"Taxi's here, luv. Let's get you home and into bed." A wink in Giles direction kept the older man from expressing his opinion of the public transportation label, and as soon as he saw how awkwardly Xander was moving, Giles agreed with the idea behind it wholeheartedly.
The trio were halfway across the hotel lobby when Mark's wife and three children came rushing in, and Xander immediately straightened up and turned to Spike, who rolled his eyes and nodded.
"Go and talk to her, Pet, we'll wait here. But don't be too long about it or I'll come over there and sling you over my shoulder. You need to be in bed."
With a grateful smile, Xander picked his way through the clumps of patients and visitors and medical personnel, managing to reach his targets before they could hit the blank wall that was commonly called the reception desk. After a short discussion, hugs were exchanged, and Xander repeated the directions he'd been given on how to find Mark in the labyrinthine hospital. After another quick round of hugs, the family disappeared into the first of many corridors, and Xander looked around for his escorts.
A row of snack vending machines in the corner caught his eye, and Xander suddenly noticed how hungry he was. Spike and Giles seemed to be involved in an animated discussion, so he figured he had time to grab something before Spike dragged him home and started coddling him. He grinned as he dodged scurrying nurses, digging in his pocket for coins. He knew that Spike would want to have sex, to reassure himself that Xander was okay, was still alive, and was still his, but Xander also knew that he would have to be the one to initiate it. For some reason Xander hadn't quite figured out yet, when Spike needed reassurance sex, he never ever started it. Oh, he'd cuddle, and kiss, and pet, but the first overtly sexual move would have to come from Xander, and then Spike would become a very opinionated, pushy bottom.
Xander studied the various snack foods on offer and calculated how much nutrition-free food his handful of coins could buy. Several minutes later he was the proud owner of a couple of bags of chips and a chocolate bar and was trying to decide between coffee, Coke and Dr Pepper when someone caught his elbow as they raced past, sending his remaining change onto the floor.
With a groan, Xander dropped to his knees. His back complained bitterly at the action, but his need for caffeine was paramount and without the coins now scattered at his feet, he was out of luck until he got home and that was just too long to wait.
Seconds later he became aware of the fact that he was kneeling in a slowly spreading puddle of chilled water that was seeping out of the chilled drinks machine to his right. Great. Now he got to go home in wet pants. Like this day wasn't bad enough already?
Xander reached out to pick up the final coin just as another tremor hit, causing shrieks of panic but very little damage. At the back of the drinks machine, a loosely attached wire that had survived the previous shocks came free and dropped to the wet tiles.
As the current ran through him, Xander convulsed and fell forward onto his out-stretched right arm, which gave way with a sickening snap. His already injured left shoulder hit the corner of the drinks machine hard, causing a flare of agony that went un-noticed as his heart stopped dead from the electric shock.
Spike glanced at the clock and winced. The Scoobies were due to arrive en masse any minute to see for themselves that their fallen soldier was alive and not too badly injured. He and Xander only been home themselves for a short while, after twenty-four hours spent in hospital to ensure no lasting effects from the events of the previous evening. And it had been Xander's decision to keep everyone away from the hospital. He had asked Giles not to tell the gang about the 'dying stuff', announcing 'after all, Buffy's already been there, done that, got the extra Slayer.' Giles had agreed, eventually, and left Spike sitting next to the hospital bed, one cool hand resting quietly under tanned fingers wrapped to protect the burns.
Stifling a sigh, Spike followed the sound into the bedroom, where Xander was sitting, practically bouncing, on the bed in the midst of every pillow, blanket and comforter they owned.
"Spike, I need to go to the bathroom."
"I'll get the bottle..."
"No, Spike." Xander bit his lip and tried to look sorry for the hell he was about to inflict on his love. "I need to go to the bathroom." He glanced down at the sling on his left arm and the plaster cast on his right, and grinned weakly. "I need to go."
It took about five seconds for Spike to figure out exactly what Xander meant and then he was backing away from the injured man like he was on fire or soaked in holy water.
"No. No no no no no! I can't... Look, your mates will all be here in just a minute, maybe..."
"Spike, they're girls! And before you say it, I am not asking Giles to wipe my ass." Xander pouted prettily and Spike felt his resolve crumble.
"You said you'd take care of me, Spike. You told the doctor you'd watch my every move and make sure I didn't try and do anything until my shoulder was better and my collarbone was healing properly. And you know I can't use my right arm at all because of the broken wrist and fractured ulna and the electric burns. I'm at your mercy." He fluttered his eyelashes and Spike sagged in defeat.
Muttering dire and improbable threats, Spike carefully helped Xander off the bed and into the bathroom, settling him on the toilet before escaping to wait outside the door. When Xander was done, he re-entered the green and blue accented room and quickly and efficiently bathed and dried his lover.
He'd just finished helping Xander into a clean pair of sweatpants when the doorbell rang, and it rang twice more while he made sure Xander was comfortable on the sofa before he moved to answer it.
Spike threw the door open just as Buffy leaned on the buzzer for the fourth time and he scowled at her. She grinned, unapologetic.
"We thought we might be interrupting something. I didn't want you deciding to ignore us. How's Xander?"
Spike stepped aside to allow her in, followed by Willow, Tara and Giles. There were several gasps and then a flurry of questions directed at him, Xander and a pointed "Why didn't you tell us he was this hurt?" aimed at Giles by a furious Willow.
"Guys, I told Giles not to say anything. I spent one night in hospital, and you know how much I hate that. I didn't want you all worrying." He looked across, taking in Willow's fingers clenched on Tara's and her bottom lip trapped tightly between her teeth, and winked reassuringly. "Spike stayed next to the bed all night, so I wasn't alone."
Willow knew that reassurance was for her benefit because she'd been the one to comfort him when his parents had taken him to the hospital with appendicitis aged eight and left him there by himself to go watch football at his Uncle Rory's house. A nurse had managed to get a phone number out of him after an hour of scared sobbing, and it had been the Rosenberg family who had spent all day and half the night by his bedside, comforting and distracting him from the thought of an operation.
"You're a hero, Xander," Buffy announced, even as she frowned at the cast and sling. "There was a woman on the local news just before we came out who said you'd carried her paralysed husband for over a mile through the sewers after you risked your life to rescue the men who were trapped when the building collapsed. How did you do that with two broken arms?"
Slowly, Xander explained what had happened at the site, and then under the site, with interjections from both Spike and Giles. Several times Buffy tried to interrupt to ask questions about how he had done all this with two broken arms, but everyone shushed her into silence.
When he finally got to the events that had happened within the hospital, there was complete stunned silence, and then Willow was sobbing and trying to hug him without hurting him even more, and Spike was trying not to fidget under the weight of remembered terror.
He knew he would never forget how he had felt the consort bond suddenly go dead. Until then he hadn't consciously been aware of Xander's life force throbbing quietly in the back of his mind, but the abrupt loss had terrified him, sending him into a mindless panic as he searched the hospital lobby for Xander, a confused and worried Giles trailing in his wake.
Though it had taken barely two minutes to reach the sudden mass of medical activity on the other side of the room, he felt like he had been searching for hours. He had breached the ring of onlookers just as someone had managed to shut off the power supply, and then watched, unable to move closer, as doctors and nurses swarmed around his lover, trying to bring him back from the dead. Those had been the longest moments of his existence and Spike hoped he never had to go through something like that ever again.
Xander's knee nudged his thigh, and Spike looked up into warm, brown eyes full of understanding and promises of restitution. Then he winked.
"Hey, Willow. You always said that junk food would be the death of me."
Willow grinned through her tears.
"Well, yeah. But of all the ways to die, trust you to come up with a new one! I meant clogged arteries or a heart attack or something, not electrocution."
"He's always been a contrary bugger, Red, you know that. I'm amazed anything he does still surprises you."
"Spiiiiiike, I've got an itch. Scratch my nose?"
Ignoring the gales of laughter, Spike stoically reached across and scratched Xander's nose. The things he did for love...