Title: Brotherly Love

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (post-series)

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Joss is amazing. I am not Joss. Therefore I make no money off this whatsoever.
Summary: Xander and Spike are stick in Philly. And Xander has a cold.

Notes: Thank you to kat_leaf and smokeycat for helping me out back in 2006 when I needed some help getting going with the beginning! Your feedback was much appreciated. The story didn't go precisely where I thought it would back then, but I think I like where it ended up anyway.



Brotherly Love


            It was one of those crazy universal laws, just like gravity and the fact that foreigners ran the best 7-11's: colds always struck at the absolute worst times possible. Technically there was never really a good time to catch one, but getting sick in the middle of a mission when you're thousands of miles from home was not enjoyable in the least. Demons were manageable, but colds were pretty well out of their control so Spike and Xander had ended up in the inner-city Philly emergency room late on a Wednesday night.


            “I've already been to another hospital and that walk-in clinic on Columbus,” the well-dressed and, frankly, gorgeous woman told the emergency room attendant. “Now my brother is a doctor and says I really need to speak with a toxicologist right away about these bad chemicals in my body.”


            The attendant seemed rather glad to have a layer of Plexiglas and a counter in-between them. “As I've said before, Miss, it's a busy night tonight, as you can see, and the doctor will see you as soon as possible.” Unconsciously she was tapping her pen against the counter just beside the sign which read:

We reserve the right

to see emergency patients

in order of severity,

determined on a case-by-cases basis.

Then, just below that were the words:

Restrooms are down the hall to the right on your right.

The cafeteria is on the third floor.

Vending machines are down the hall to the right.

Clearly they had been asked a time or two about the long waits and were prepared. Though to be fair to vampires, Spike thought they should have added directions to the blood bank.


            Spike's stomach was feeling a little rumbly, but he told himself that he had blood waiting for him back at the motel. He was reminded of his old instincts, however, feeding on the weak and helpless. And this waiting room would have been a banquet. Spike considered asking Xander if he wanted a bite to eat, but he didn't want to get up at the moment and miss the current drama.


            “You don't understand,” the woman continued, drawing Spike's attention back like rubbernecking while driving past the scene of a car wreck. “You can smell the chemicals. They're coming out in my bra!” The attendant covered her laugh quickly and professionally. The woman raised a trash bag into the air and did not notice the attendant's amusement, or that of practically everyone else in the rather full waiting room. “I've brought all my clothes from the past eleven days. They all smell, too. I've got to speak to a toxicologist right away. If you don't believe me, smell my bra.” She leaned forward and pressed her bosoms against the Plexiglas.


            Highly amused, Spike glanced at Xander, one seat over, hoping to share in the amusement. But Xander was sitting slumped in the uncomfortable plastic chair with his head tilted to one side and his other side resting against Spike's so that he remained somewhat upright. It hadn't been intentional; that was just the way his body had leaned. Possibly he was asleep.


            As the woman at the desk tried to persuade the mad woman to take a seat for now, an elderly man sat down in the empty space in front of Xander and Spike. It wasn't really so much a seat as a low side table upon which a half dozen crinkled and over-read magazines had been attractively fanned out. The man was skinny and delicate-looking, bald apart from frizzy tufts behind each ear. The man leaned and turned to the side to face a woman sitting with a woman who could not have been more than two years her senior. “What's wrong with your mother?” he asked of her.


            Spike raised an eyebrow, curious and eager for some more entertainment. The slightly older woman instantly took offense, and the other answered. “Nothing. This is my sister.”


            The elderly man nodded, paused for a beat, then got up. He took a few unsteady steps, then hovered over Spike. “What's wrong with your mother?”


            Spike, having lost his last bit of patience around the time of Xander's last sneezing fit, managed to exercise a rare amount of self-restraint. “Not a thing, Mate. She's been dust for a while now.”


            The old man had barely waited for the response before moving on to another pair in the waiting room and inquiring similarly.


            Spike looked back over to see that Xander was certainly awake now. “This place sure does attract its fair share of crazies,” Spike commented.


            Xander nodded weakly in agreement, his head bobbing up and down with extended movements. “Well, we're here, aren't we?”


            Spike was making progress towards a smile when Xander pitched forward. “Hehhshooo!” He fell back against the hard, curved plastic seats and snuffled. Spike glanced at the tissue box on the desk beside the informative sign, but Xander was already digging a wad of tissues out of his pocket and snuffling into them. Xander had tried to explain earlier to Spike about how he didn't like the idea of coming sick to a waiting room and then using a shared tissue box but Spike hadn't really been paying attention.


            Xander blew his nose to produce a gurgling sound. And though clearly miserable, the many eyes from around the room that the sound had attracted did not seem to faze him now. He was probably used to getting stares and glares thanks to his eye. Or the lack of an eye, rather. Xander sighed and closed his remaining eye wearily. “Wish I were back at the motel in bed,” Xander said. “I'm not really that sick.” He spoke in a whisper, not only because they were in a waiting room, but more because he'd lost his voice for the most part earlier that day.


            Luckily, vampires had excellent hearing. “Yeah. After two days of you sniffling I've stopped believing that.”


            Impervious to the cold and wet weather, Spike's only annoyance as they headed down the muddy slope towards the drainage pipe and access to the sewers was Xander's constant sniffling. It grated on him, until his hands were clenched in tight fists. Since acquiring his soul, goodness wasn't so hard for him to come by. But that didn't mean he couldn't be irritated once in a while. Especially when it concerned Xander. Civilly, “I'm sure the slayers and I can take care of the demon. Go back to the motel, Xander.”


            “Sniff! Sniff! I'm coming with,” Xander insisted. “We have no idea what we'll find, sniff, sniff, and you'll need all the help you can get. Sniff!


            Walking two by two, the slayers were maybe ten paces ahead, already entering the sewer system through the drainage tunnel. The sun would be up in a few hours and it was too late to turn back now. Spike took the opportunity to swing an arm out, stopping Xander in his tracks for a few seconds, to talk seriously. “Fine, but in the morning you're going to get checked out by doc—”


            “Shut up about that, will you? I'm not that sick and you're not in charge here.” Xander said, his voice cracking and his statement punctuated with a cough. Spike just glared at him. “Okay, yes, I am sick.” Well, that was an improvement from the day before when he'd been sniffling and completely in denial. “But it's just a little cold. SNIFF! A hot victory meal, sniff, and a good nap after this fight, sniff, sniff, and I'll be good as new.”


            Spike wasn't one to overlook the restorative powers of a good battle, but something told him Xander was all talk on this issue. If he got worse, Spike wasn't above dragging his arse all the way to the clinic, whether Xander thanked him for it or not. They continued walking.


            “Look, you're sick and we're here finally, so let's at least get you seen before we split.”


            Knowing Spike was right, Xander nodded and brought the tissues up again. “Huhhh-Chuhhhh!


            Not a minute later, the boy sitting next to Xander and his father were called back to be seen. The boy cradled his arm in a makeshift sling and his father helped him up. Xander waited a few moments because of waiting room etiquette. But when no one claimed the seat, Xander took the opportunity to stretch out on the chairs. There weren't enough chairs for him to be completely comfortable, though, and he attempted to curl up several times with his hands folded under his head like a pillow to no avail.


            Though the condition Xander had been in when he'd convinced the boy to go to the hospital had constituted an emergency in Spike's eyes, he had since resigned himself to the fact that a patient with what presented like a cold was going to be pushed to the very end of a list. They could do nothing but wait. And, faced with a long wait with Xander squirming and sniffling and one where he was merely sleeping, it wasn't much of a decision. Spike sighed and patted his thigh. “It'd be best if you tried to sleep. Pass the time quicker.”


            Xander looked up, shooting him an I'll-stake-you-if-you-don't-back-off look. “If you think I'm going to put my head in your lap, Spike, you're…” He broke off, coughing, and couldn't stop.


            Spike reached down and patted Xander's back. It was a completely useless action, apart from the fact that Xander looked less likely to kill Spike. After blowing his nose, the coughing abated. He lowered his head back onto his arm, but it was hard and he couldn't get comfortable. “Oh screw it!” he said at last. With a final glance up at the platinum blond vampire, Xander guardedly rested his head on Spike's thigh.


            It was a strange sensation, having the boy's head on him. He could feel Xander's pulse. He could feel the steady breathing. He could feel the heat.


            Xander couldn't feel his own heat, however. He shivered a few times. Without thinking about it, Spike slithered out of his duster and draped it over Xander. Xander smiled then coughed. Quite a bit more. He winced and shivered again.


            Spike looked away as sirens suddenly blared. An ambulance pulled in and a bloodied pregnant woman was rushed right back in a wheelchair. She went by in a blur, but Spike caught a whiff of the blood and he could sense both heartbeats getting fainter. “This might not be a Hell Mouth, but it sure is rising up the evil scale,” Spike commented.


            “Just needs muzak and a demon in the basement and it's there,” said Xander in a strained whisper, between sniffles, coughs, and more sniffles.


            This pushed Spike all the way into chuckling lightly, and the vampire patted Xander's back again. It must have done some good, because Xander smiled and snuggled closer, rubbing his cheek into Spike's black jeans. “What're you doing?” Spike asked abruptly, staring down at him. Resting his head was one thing, but snuggling? This was the same Xander who hated him, right?


            Xander sniffled and looked up apologetically, not quite sure of himself. He didn't look like he wanted to move either, however.


            “Fine.” Spike would put up with it, or at least not hate it. “Just… go to sleep.” Spike watched Xander settle in and grow comfortable against him. Spike's hand moved, instinctively wanting to touch more, but settling for Xander's shoulder. Xander flinched at first, but didn't shake Spike off. And he allowed Spike to hold him steady as another sneeze hit.


            “h'Shuhhh!” Xander snuffled into his tissues again, wiping his nose dry afterwards.


            “Alexander Harris?”


            Xander sat up at once, then instantly regretted doing so. He pressed his hand to his head and winced. Spike made eye contact with the technician who was starting to grow impatient, and then he pulled Xander to his feet and guided him back with an arm around his waist, otherwise Xander wasn't going to get there at all.


            They claimed he was Xander's brother when asked and Spike was allowed to stay while Xander was examined. This seemed to be a relief to Xander, who wasn't overly fond of hospitals.


            The technician asked some basic questions of Xander and checked his temperature. He had a low grade fever, which Spike had suspected, despite Xander's reassurance that he wasn't that sick. Then the woman drew the curtains around the small white bed Xander now lay back in. Spike stood awkwardly to the side, avoiding the mirrored panels on the ceiling amidst the normal plaster ones.


            Xander looked so tired, weak, helpless, and Spike suddenly felt compelled to jump into bed with him, as though wrapping his arms and curling his body around the boy would somehow protect him. Problem was, the thing that was hurting Xander was inside, and being a good fighter wasn't going to help with that. Not to mention the fact that the boy would kill him if he tried anything of that sort. It was one thing to be there to provide a little reassurance and familiarity, and quite another to start caring. Unable to justify a reason to move closer, and certainly unable to make himself move closer without a reason, Spike proclaimed, “Silly for me to just stand 'round here doing nothing, innit? Maybe I should go wait back—”


            “Please stay,” Xander insisted with a croak, using his voice above a whisper even though he knew he shouldn't. His expression was one of need and desperation, his eye was wide. He was so strangely persuasive that Spike did, indeed, move closer to the bed. When Xander spoke again, he was back to whispering. “Good thing Yameeca and Melinda caught that Tesselect demon already. Once I get through here we can hop the first flight out of Philadelphia.”


            “Let's hear what the docs have to say first, all right?” said Spike. He was used to being skeptical. Not that he knew much about illnesses, but he was completely certain Xander shouldn't be flying in his current condition.


            What the doctor had to say, between taking throat cultures and examining every inch of Xander above the waist, was that there was a bad virus going around that looked just like what Xander had. However, Xander didn't seem too sick at the moment (Xander glared at Spike at this) but that he should take some medicine and keep an eye on his temperature to be sure it didn't get worse (Spike glared back at Xander). The doctor also said Xander shouldn't travel while he was congested because his sinuses and ears wouldn't be able to take the pressure.


            “I used to get strep throat a lot when I was a kid,” Xander told the doctor.


            The doctor shrugged. “I'll do a test for it, but I doubt that's what you've got. Usually with strep there isn't any fever or congestion like what you seem to have. It's probably just a little virus but I'll start you on something just in case. You should be feeling better soon.”


            Xander thanked the doctor while Spike hung there, feeling immensely annoyed that the doctor would define a guy who could barely talk as 'not too sick'.


            It hadn't been a wasted trip, however. One of the scripts Xander had been given was for some strong antibiotics. The doctor had sent some tests to the lab, which was unsurprisingly backed up. They were welcome to wait for the results, but Xander had just wanted to get back to bed and that was one point Spike was willing to back him up on. Xander needed sleep and Spike needed blood.


            Xander leaned on Spike almost entirely as they headed to the rental car, with recommendations for medicines and a costly bill explaining away the last seven hours of their lives. “For someone who hasn't been sick in over a hundred years, you have a pretty decent bedside manner,” Xander whispered, immediately dissolving into more coughs. He opened the car door and slumped down into the bucket seat.


            Spike waited for the coughs to stop before leaning over Xander and fastening his seatbelt for him. Then he walked around the car and sat down in front of the wheel. “Yeah, well, I know a certain slayer who'd dust me if she heard I didn't take good care of you.” Which reminded him to reach down and turn on the car's heater for Xander once he'd started up the vehicle. Xander smiled at the warmth and his eyes slowly closed despite his best efforts at staying awake for the ride back. Spike took advantage of this. “So here's the plan. We swing by a drugstore on the way back for your other meds. While I'm there, I'll rob the place and you keep the car running for the grand getaway. Got it?” Xander hadn't heard; he was asleep already. Spike sighed. “Maybe next time.”


            As he didn't know the town, it had taken a fair bit of driving to locate an all-night drugstore. And when Spike climbed back into the car with a plastic bag in his hands, Xander was awake and sneezing once again.


            “Hitchew! Hehh… hitchew!” Xander pulled what looked like every last one of his tissues out of his pocket and blew his nose into them heartily. He avoided Spike's eyes, but Spike wasn't watching him, in order to ensure Xander have his privacy. Besides, what did he want to watch Xander sneezing his head off for, anyway? It wasn't as though Xander looked dead sexy or anything. Maybe a little cute… Spike would give him that. But certainly nothing more than that. It was Xander, after all.


            Xander drifted in and out of sleep the rest of the way home and woke to Spike hovering over him from outside the car again. “Hurry up, Harris,” he said with urgency and shivered. There Xander was with too much body heat and here Spike was with absolutely none. Plus, “Bugger! It's raining again.”


            It had also been raining when they and the two slayers had gone traipsing through the sewer system during their demon hunt. At the beginning of the hunt, Melinda and Yameeca had told them to turn back just in case, that they could handle it. But it took more than a little dirty water to stop Xander and Spike. The slayers had been glad of their help when it came time to fight the demon and free the human captives before the blood sacrifice. Lucky for them all, it had been your standard blood sacrifice with the long, drawn-out chanting and candle lighting, and they hadn't given the demon and its followers a chance to finish it.


            Spike was acutely aware of everyone and everything during the battle. Both slayers were beating the Hell out of the demon. As it was roughly the size of a two-story building and had four enormous tentacles for squeezing, it wasn't the easiest opponent for them take down. He and Xander were making their way through the hoards of the demon's followers to break up the ceremony. It required pure brute force, and Spike couldn't help but be a little impressed with Xander's technique. He hit hard, making sure each went down and wasn't going to get back up to strike.


            Xander was the one who reached the hostages first, who loosened the ropes and used his body as a barrier as he pointed them in the direction of safety. But it was Spike who leapt past three of the hooded and scarred clichés of demon-followers to get to one who had an axe and was swinging right at Xander's neck. In the heat of battle, there was no time for 'thank you's but Xander definitely noticed and gave Spike a grateful look for watching his back.


            Spike shrugged it off then and didn't mention it when the slayers asked how their part had gone. Xander had sneezed and coughed his way through that whole conversation and, after refusing to do anything about it, Spike dropped the subject. He did, however, make sure Xander had something warm to eat and made sure he went straight to bed where he stayed for most of the day. Xander didn't fight him on that one.


            Though Spike tried to sleep, as well, Xander's snores were obnoxiously loud until Spike shoved his own pillows under Xander's head to help with the sound. So Spike spent the rest of the day watching television and listening to the soothing sounds of rain on the roof of the motel.


            “Hitchew! Hihhtchew!” Xander shivered violently as he now slid back under the stiff covers of the motel bed. His body seemed to be shaking constantly, whether from shivers or sneezes or coughs, and Spike could tell it was painful for Xander. Spike would have said something about how it served him right for spending so much time in the sewers, but he hadn't exactly turned back when told to, either. And from the look of it, Xander wasn't in the mood for a lecture.


            Besides, Spike wasn't the lecturing type, especially when he was hungry. Spike grabbed a bottle out of the mini fridge. He considered heading down the hall to the floor microwave. But a glance back at Xander, who was coughing horribly again, made him want to stay put. He knocked back half the bottle cold, not getting the same rush as usual from it. His hunger subsided eventually to be replaced with concern.


            Xander was sounding impossibly worse. Spike turned, staring down at the boy. “That cough of yours—”


            “If you don't want to hear it, go ask the motel manager for another room and pay for it yourself,” Xander replied in a whisper, of course. He rubbed his eye. “Where are my fucking pills?”


            “Oh, so now you want them, do you, Mr. 'I don't need to go to the hospital'?” Spike chuckled to himself as he grabbed the bag from the drug store and headed to the bathroom. There was a stack of small plastic cups with the motel logo printed on them. Spike fumbled with one, trying to extricate it from its plastic sleeve. In the mirror's reflection, he could clearly see Xander, as his own reflection was absent. The boy sat there, alternatively pinching his nose and staring blankly at the wall with his mouth open. Spike glanced down at the empty spot on the side of the counter where the tissue box usually sat, tissues available one at a time through a slot. Xander had already pried the box out, but had been working his way through the tissues all day. As he used more and more, the less he seemed to like to use them. Spike had witnessed a few grimaces after hard rubs, prompting Spike to pick up a box of purportedly softer tissues at the drug store as well. He didn't really understand how anyone used tissues anyway; handkerchiefs were so much softer.


            He headed over to Xander and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Water,” Spike said, thrusting the cup over, the water sloshing but not spilling. “Meds…” Spike squinted as he read the label on the bottle and the tiny print on the back of the box. Xander ended up with three pills in his hand, which he popped into his mouth one-by-one. “And tissues.”


            Xander's eyes lit up as he gulped down the rest of the water, wincing at the pain that brought. “Those hotel tissues are like sandpaper.” He smiled with satisfaction as he ripped the box open and pulled a Kleenex out. Able to rub and blow his nose without wincing, he aimed a “Thanks” Spike's way.


            Spike said nothing, because he didn't know what to say, but he wouldn't have had a chance to say anything, anyway. Xander snapped forward with two more sneezes. “heetchoo! hihChew!” He coughed and blew his nose, which took about five minutes from start to finish. Xander groaned, “Fuck. M'never going to get to sleep. You might as well go ask for a separate room.”


            But Spike did not budge. “Shut up and close your eyes, Harris,” he said. Before he could stop himself, he was running his fingers, black fingernail polish and all, through Xander's hair with soothing strokes.


            Suspicious, Xander looked up at him for a moment. Then exhaustion took over. He closed his eye and gave himself over to the touch and to sleep.


            Spike did not dare move after that. He didn't want to turn on the television, in case that woke Xander, and the remote was on the other side of the room, besides. So he just sat there, looking around the room.


            If you asked him, one of the most unstoppable forces in the world was the thing which made every low budget motel room look exactly the same. Same chincey furniture, same bedspread that made you go blind if you stared too long, same underlying stale smell with air freshener on top. He didn't have to open the closet to see a few metal hangers that couldn't be removed from the pole, and he didn't have to open the dresser drawers to know there was a Bible there. Pillows were lumpy (especially when piled up the way Xander's were) and blankets were thin (and every one of them was on Xander's bed right now).


            “I j-just can't get warm. Sniff! Sniff!” Xander whispered as he sat in bed, his eyes closed. Xander had, of course, waited until the clinic had closed for the day before really beginning to complain. And as he complained, his voice steadily declined.


            “What do you want me to do about it?” Spike was irritated and didn't know what to suggest.


            “hehh-Chihh! Sniff!” Xander pulled a tissue out of the box and rubbed his nose with it. Then he looked over at Spike imploringly and spoke softly, unable to do anything else. “Just don't leave.” He waited, making sure Spike didn't laugh at him for that. Instead, Spike gave a resolute nod. Whispering, “I don't like being sick and alone.”


            “I'm not going anywhere, Harris,” Spike said. Then he nodded towards the windows and the thick, flowered curtains in front of them. “Can't even if I wanted to”


            “huhh-Chuhh! Huhh-Chihhhh!” He looked a bit relieved at Spike's words, but no better physically. When he coughed for several minutes straight, and Spike brought over a cup of water, he took it immediately and thanked Spike .But it was still another hour before he let Spike feel his forehead and another two hours before he let Spike drag him out to the hospital emergency room. By then the sun had set and their way was clear.


            Spike glanced at the radio alarm clock, with its blaring red numbers which told him it was both too late and too early to call the Slayers, and they'd already placed a call to Giles with the news of the disrupted ritual, freed people, and a dead demon. There was literally nothing to do but now sit and watch Xander sleep. Strangely, as Spike softly ran his fingers through Xander's hair again, it didn't altogether feel like a tedious pastime.




            Spike woke in the morning to a jarring, irritating ring in his left ear. It wasn't the alarm, because he hadn't set the alarm, but the phone. He swore under his breath and lunged for it, pulling it off the hook before it could wake Xander. Though there were two double beds to the room, Spike had stayed beside Xander in his bed, having fallen asleep in mid-pet.


            “'Lo?” he said groggily, glancing over at the clock. It was nearly 8am. The sun would be on the rise already and he'd be stuck in the room for the day now, at any rate.


            “Mr. Harris? This is Temple University Hospital.” Of course it was. Following a seven hour wait was an 8am wake-up call. Sounded about right. “I have the results of your throat culture we took.”


            “Oh.” In his exhaustion, Spike vaguely remembered that. He didn't bother to tell the woman on the other end of the line that he wasn't Xander. “Yeah?”


            “You tested positive for strep, I'm sorry. Make sure to take the antibiotics the doctor prescribed for the full course.”


            “Got it. Ta.”


            “Feel better. Bye.”


            Xander stirred as Spike hung up the phone. He coughed and rolled onto his side, looking up at Spike, blinking his eye with a confused expression on his face. “What's going on?” he asked, his voice cracking and straining to get out the words.


            “Congrats. You've got strep throat on top of your cold. I'll call the girls and let them know you won't be travelling with them.” He grinned. “Luckily, you're rooming with a vampire. You can't give it to me no matter how hard you try.”


            Xander shook his head and sneezed again. “Hitchew! Hihshoo!” He shook his head. “No, I mean what are you doing here in my bed?”


            Spike smiled slyly and got up. “I must have passed out after we got back. Between the fighting and the hospital, I was knackered. Didn't mean anything by it.”


            “Oh,” Xander replied, apparently considering the reply carefully. Then, sitting up partially, “I could use another cup of water.” The tone of his voice did not reveal if he was saying it to get Spike off the bed or because he really just wanted water.


            Either way, Spike got up and obliged, running the tap water a few moments to make sure it was as cold as tap water could get. After handing it over, he rang the girls in the next room and explained the situation to them. Melinda and Yameeca promised a good breakfast when they were up and about. As soon as he hung up, Spike found the cup thrust in his face in a silent request for a refill. He eyed Xander for a moment then went to get more water.


            When done, he settled down beside Xander again. Xander wasn't exactly a prize to behold, what with one eye gone, a sallow face, a red nose, and sleep-ruffled hair. But Spike still gave his head a good pat. Xander coughed quite badly and slid back down under the covers. He buried his face into his pillow and practically snuggled up right against Spike. “hehh…” Tiredly, he reached out from beneath the covers and pulled a few tissues out of the box conveniently located at the top of his pillow now. “ehhhChuhhh! huhhShhoo! H'Chooo!” He shivered and blew his nose simultaneously, then sighed with exhaustion. He'd only had a few hours of sleep, after all. “I feel awful,” he complained.


            Spike nodded. “Yeah. Bet you do.” His voice a bit too cheery.


            Xander groaned. “Just my luck. Sick and stuck in a room with an unsympathetic vampire for company.”


            Spike shrugged. “Hey, if it's brooding you want, you can call Angel. Least you've got a vampire here who's not going to feed on you when you turn away to sneeze.”


            “hehhh… hahhh-EHShhhh!” Xander sneezed wetly, shaking and sniffling miserably afterwards.


            “Not that even an evil vampire would want to drink you when you do that.”


            Despite the words, there was a good deal of amusement in Spike's voice, and Xander gave a bit of a smile. “I should go vampire hunting with a cold more often then, is that what you're saying?”


            Encouraged by the smile, Spike grabbed the remote and sat down on his bed, on the side closest to Xander. He haphazardly flipped through the channels. “So what do we tell the girls?” he asked.


            Xander coughed. “Go home.” He waved his hand. “There's no reason for anyone but me to stay behind.” He pushed off from the bed and found his footing. He scratched and rubbed at himself, uncomfortable from sleeping in his clothes. He was just starting towards the bathroom when his legs gave out on him. He would have found himself face-down on the bed if not for Spike's quick reaction time and his arm around Xander's middle. “I can get to the bathroom myself,” he muttered, his voice already so much of a whisper that it was hard to distinguish the muttering from the usual.


            “Of course you can,” Spike said, his sarcasm coming through perfectly clear. He pulled Xander along and made sure the man was upright and holding onto the towel rack before leaving him in the tiny bathroom. He heard the usual bathroom sounds, right down to a flush, but also heard a variety of the familiar ill-Xander sounds. And when the door swung open, Xander practically fell into his arms.


            Spike struggled to get him back to the bed. Xander kept doubling over with coughs and he acted as though he'd been hit on the head one too many times, dizzy and disoriented. But when Spike got him in the bed and pulled the covers up over him, Xander grabbed hold of Spike's arm and wouldn't let him leave. “Your touch is so cool,” he whispered, pressing Spike's hand to his forehead and then his cheek. Spike sighed but let Xander do as he wanted. He was only room temperature, but supposed that was cool enough for Xander who felt incredibly hot.


            A knock on the door made them both jump. Xander dropped Spike's hand and Spike pretended to be repulsed by having to touch the man. Spike answered the door while Xander tried and failed to look more presentable. Especially as another bout of coughing seized him.


            Melinda and Yameeca were there bearing bagels and more orange juice. Both looked a bit tired but put on smiles as they stepped inside because of the sunlight. “So what's the sitch?” Melinda asked, bordering on obnoxious. “We headin' out of town today or what?” She stood there, absentmindedly winding brown hair from her ponytail around one of her index fingers.


            “Xander isn't. He's too ill to travel,” Spike declared as he gestured towards the generic motel room table and chairs. The girls both chose to sit down on Xander's bed, however. Spike watched as they rubbed his leg through the blankets. He saw how Xander let them freely feel his forehead. Spike cleared his throat. “And I don't think he can stay here alone.” Besides the fact that it was probably true, Spike also had in his mind Xander's plea from the day before about not wanting to be sick and alone.


            “I can!” Xander insisted in a weak, strained voice. Then he immediately cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. “HIH-Chuhhh!


            Spike smirked. “Which just goes to show you the sort of quality decisions he's making right now.”


            Xander could not reply for all his coughing.


            “We can stay here with him,” Yameeca said, running her fingers through Xander's dark hair. “Stay and look after him, the poor thing.”


            Spike felt himself tense up, and was aware of his hand clenching. But he tried to speak calmly, for all that. “You two should go home without us. Report in. See if they've got anything new going on for you.” There was always something new going on. Too many demons and not enough slayers. “I'll stay with the boy—”




            “—and we'll get tickets for a later flight when he's up to traveling. I can't go anywhere today until the sun goes down anyway.”


            Everyone decided that was the best course of action, and discussed Xander while they ate quickly. “So you have a bad cold?” Melinda asked, her ponytail bouncing as she reached over and patted Xander's arm. He didn't flinch in the least.


            Xander nodded. “Got strep throat, too. I feel awful all over.”


            Spike rolled his eyes. Right. Now Xander easily admitted how he felt. To them.


            “Poor baby!” Yameeca said, topping off his orange juice. It seemed pretty much the only thing she could think to say to him, in his condition, and said it another five times at least during the course of breakfast.             Xander wasn't exactly milking it, but he wasn't pushing them away, either. When breakfast was over, the slayers went back to their room to pack and he looked a bit depressed to see him go.


            Spike made the arrangements while Xander showered. Spike was stretched out on his bare bed, watching television and dunking pieces of bagel in his mug of blood when he heard the thunk. It was loud and was accompanied by a metal clank and then a hiss of water.


            Spike sighed put down his mug. He found Xander passed out in the tub, naked. The beige and purple striped shower curtain was draped over him and over the side of the tub. Xander must have made a grab for it because it went down with him, metal rings and shower rod and all. Spike sighed and reached forward to turn off the water, getting only a little wet in the process.


            In all the times he'd stayed with Xander, he'd never seen the guy naked before. Xander had always been careful about that. And now here he was, naked and… bleeding. With the water cascading down, the smell had been weakened and washed away, but now it hit Spike in full. Instinctively, he was salivating. He could see a bit of blood dripping down the side of the tub. “Don't let it be his head,” Spike whispered to himself as he reached down and carefully but easily pulled Xander up. Luckily, Xander had only scraped his shoulder on the faucet during the fall. And not too deep a cut at that. Spike stared at the drops and trails of blood for one moment before dismissing the urges and tending to Xander. It smelled revolting and full of illness anyway.


            It was standard operating procedure to travel with a first aid kit, and Xander had it in his luggage. A bandage and a quick towel dry took care of Xander, then Spike effortlessly carried him back to bed. He had a feeling Xander wouldn't like being dressed by him, though he did stand by the bed, staring for a few moments before he made the decision to leave him unclothed but cover him with blankets. This wasn't the sort of hotel that came with luxurious, fluffy, white bathrobes. It was the sort of motel where you felt lucky if they remembered to give you clean towels in the first place.


            Xander came to as Spike put a cool cloth on his forehead. Xander took about a minute to figure out what had happened, notice his clothing situation, discover the bandage, and then he groaned. “Bloody hell?!”


            Spike laughed. “Yeah, that's about right. You think I like taking care of you?”


            Sniffling, “You stayed, did't you?” He lifted his hand and scrubbed at his nose. Spike handed him a tissue. Their eyes met and fingers brushed meaningfully. Xander paused then ruined the mood by blowing his nose.


            “Didn't you want me to stay?” Spike asked quietly. He'd said so, hadn't he? Spike wasn't imagining that. Right?


            Xander didn't reply right away, blowing his nose repeatedly, sniffling, and then blowing his nose again. He then completely avoided the question, not that Spike could blame him. “Whed cad I sniff! Sniff! When can I take more medicine?”


            “Now,” Spike said, glad for the excuse to leave Xander's side for a few moments. The antibiotic was to be taken every twelve hours, but the other stuff was every four. Xander was ten minutes short of it, but ten minutes was nothing in the grand scheme of things. As Spike got the medicine, Xander slipped into a pair of boxers and t-shirt to serve as pajamas. Xander took the pills then fell quickly to sleep.


            Spike nodded off a few times after that, but mostly sat on the side of Xander's bed and flipped through channels. There was absolutely nothing on television. The medicine, whatever else it helped with, knocked Xander out. Thankfully, without the fall and the wound this time. The man snored like a jackhammer, and Spike had to turn the volume up on the television to hear it properly.


            Around three-thirty, the phone rang. It woke Xander up, and he rolled over, coughing, while Spike answered. Yameeca was calling. Their plane was boarding and she just wanted to be sure it was still all right for them to fly back to Scotland. Spike assured her they were all right, whatever else she might be hearing from Xander in the background. The conversation ended quickly, and Spike hung up the phone.


            Spike looked over at Xander, sniffling constantly. He waited for a pause. “The slayers are—”


            “Sniff! Sniff!


            Spike sighed. Talking over the sniffling, “They're flying out as we speak.”


            Xander nodded back. “So, sniff, sniff, it's just you and me now,” he whispered, a little unsteady. “Sniff!


            “Got a problem with that, Harris?” Spike asked, grabbing Xander's empty plastic cup and going for more water. It was already time for more meds.


            “No. Of course not,” Xander replied, not sounding entirely genuine. “Do you have a problem with it?”


            Over by the bathroom, Spike shrugged. “S'ppose it's a nice to have some rest and some time off innit? Naturally, you could have picked a better place to get sick than here in exotic Philly, but I can't be choosey. A vacation is a vacation.”


            Xander shrugged noncommittally.


            As Spike walked back, he studied Xander's face carefully. “You would have rather had one of the girls stay instead, right?” He handed three pills and the water over to Xander as he sat back down on the side of Xander's bed.


            Xander swallowed them one at a time, but did not meet Spike's gaze afterwards. “No. I'm glad it's you.” Then he pressed the butt of his hand to his forehead. “Fuck… this fever… don't know what I'm saying.”


            Spike wisely started flipping through the channels again, just then, and let the conversation drop. He was just as uncomfortable with the direction it had been going in as Xander seemed to be. Every so often, Spike would pause on a channel for a little while, trying it out. But inevitably he got bored with it and moved on. He couldn't keep his mind straight or his attention on anything. Finally he gave up and dropped the remote control into Xander's lap.


            “You getting stir-crazy already?” Xander asked, looking sleepy but recovering the remote.


            Shrugging, Spike wasn't sure what was with him exactly. Maybe it was fatigue, or maybe he was worried about Xander and the long stretch of days ahead of them. Or maybe it was something else he didn't want to think about. A walk would help. Better yet, a walk and some demon arse-kicking. But it was bright and sunny outside, like the daytime was somehow mocking him.


            When the medicine kicked in and Xander fell back to sleep, Spike found himself pacing impatiently back and forth across the small motel room. Some mindless talk show was on the television, but thankfully ended before too long and early evening news started. Reassuringly normal reports about vandals and traffic accidents calmed Spike somehow. However, his paranormal senses perked up as he heard a breaking news story.


            Flashing blue and red lights illuminated a small pile of bodies: dead women all in awkward, unnatural positions their bodies would not normally have found themselves in. Spike stood, frozen in front of the television screen. An Asian reporter stood with a microphone held to a police officer's mouth. “At least a dozen bones were broken in each body and there are strange markings on the skin,” he was explaining. “It looks as though these poor women were squeezed by something massive. What that might be, we have not yet determined.”


            “It's a Tesselect demon,” Spike informed both the cop and the reporter. He groaned inwardly and went back to the bed. He nudged and poked at Xander until the man woke, sleepily.


            “What is it?” Xander asked, lifting his head and rubbing his face. “Spike—” he began, angrily.


            “There've been dead bodies. We've got a Tesselect demon to track down and fight.”


            Xander paused for a moment, and then he laughed out loud and shook his head. “Nuh-uh,” he said, collapsing back face-down onto the bed, cheek hitting the pillow. “Nice try, Blood Boy, but you can't fool me. We already did that. Sniff! Sniff! And I feel a hundred times worse now than I did then so I know this isn't a time loop.” He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around one of the pillows in his pile.


            “I know,” said Spike. “It isn't a time loop. There's another one out there.”


            Xander was silent for a moment. Then he cursed loudly into a pillow so that he couldn't be understood except in tone. When done, he lifted his head again and looked at the news report, which was just ending to make way for an alert about a six-alarm fire. “Of course there is,” he whispered.


            “Yameeca and Melinda are somewhere over the Atlantic right now. So we've got two options. We either watch the body count rise while waiting a few more days for back-up… or we try to take this thing on by ourselves with slim hope of success.”


            Xander coughed terribly into his pillow then made eye contact with Spike. Speaking in a broken, squeaking voice, he tried to go above a whisper. “Just give me a chance to get out of these pajamas.”


            As it happened, Xander had time to spare. The sun was still up and they had no ideas about where they might find this demon. It was hard enough to track down a demon in Sunnydale when they were familiar with the town. The only parts of Philly they'd seen were the airport, motel, and the part of the sewer where the last Tesselect had been living. Oh, and the hospital. Couldn't forget that one.


            Dressed now, Xander still lay in bed, working his way through tissue after tissue with blows so that he would be a little less stuffy when it came time to head out. Of course, they didn't know where they were heading out to.


            Spike clenched his hands into fists. “Problem is, we don't know where the second demon is, do we?” It had taken a vampire and two trained slayers to track it down in the first place.


            “We deed helb,” Xander agreed.


            “Helb?” Spike had a feeling that if he laughed, Xander wouldn't be so happy with him.


            Xander made the effort to sit up, pushing off from the mattress and readjusting the pillows repeatedly until he seemed mildly satisfied. Then he retrieved his cell phone from the nightstand, where the contents of his pants pockets resided. Spike had studied the items earlier when he'd had nothing to do. There were mostly tissues, loose change, and his wallet. But there were a few items that surprised Spike. The subway token from Australia, for example, must have had some special meaning for him to be carrying it about still. And there was a worn, wrinkled, and creased photo of the Scoobies from Xander's high school days that seemed like it should have belonged in his wallet for safekeeping but wasn't. There were also two twist ties, a safety pin, and a bottlecap with a fun Snapple fact printed on it. Oh, and a cellular phone, of course. That was what Xander went for now.


            Xander scrolled through the numbers in the phone's address book before finding the one he wanted. He waited patiently as the phone dialed and tried to connect. Then he forced himself to cough, probably to clear his throat.


            This was a painful mistake. Once the coughing began, it wouldn't stop. The strong, moist, uncontrollable coughs bent him in half and shook his whole body. At first, he tried to keep the cell phone pressed to his ear, so he could listen for an answer. But the coughing grew too overpowering and his hand slowly lowered, then dropped the phone in favor of tissues.


            From across the room, Spike could hear the break in the ring and Giles' “Hello?” Spike walked over to retrieve the phone as Giles went on. “Hello? Xander? Is that you?”


            “It's him,” Spike said into the phone, ignoring the look Xander was shooting him, though the man was still gripped in the midst of coughs. “And me. Don't think he can talk all of a sudden.”


            Xander continued to cough. He glared at Spike for a moment then waved his hand for Spike to continue.


            “We have a bit of a situation on our hands here.”


            “Has Xander's condition worsened?” Giles asked, sounding only mildly concerned.


            Spike stared at the man, who was fighting against his coughs, trying to calm them and clear his throat. He didn't know how to answer that question. Xander definitely seemed worse. But Xander wouldn't want to admit that, especially not to Giles. “That's not the situation I'm referring to. The problem is with the Tesselect demon.”


            There was a pause. “I was under the impression that the Tesselect demon you fought is quite dead.”


            “It is,” Spike said. “It's the other Tesselect demon that's out there still killing that we're worried about. Thing is, we don't know how to find it.”


            Another pregnant pause made Spike roll his eyes. This wasn't bloody rocket science. There was a demon who needed to be fought. They'd been doing this for ages. “We can trace it to a general location.” There were some scuffling sounds and murmured voices in the background. Spike could almost make out what they were saying, but Xander sneezed suddenly and repeatedly, which drowned out the other sounds. Spike got up for some tissues and a glass of water for Xander. “North Broad Street and West Ontario Street,” Giles said finally. Silence followed. “Spike, did you hear me? The magics say it's at North Broad Street and West Ontario Street.”


            Spike patted Xander's back. Xander coughed and blew his nose and coughed again. “Yeah, I heard you. Thanks,” Spike said. “Except now we're out of slayers here to deal with it.” Spike very tactfully didn't mention that Xander was just about out of commission now as well, unless Tesselects could be taken down by sneezes. “How soon can you get someone back here to help?” He very nearly said 'helb' just for a laugh.


            “I'll look into that right now.” Which meant he'd stand there staring at the world map and thinking while someone else pulled up the schedule for him on a computer terminal. “Can I put you on hold while we look? It could take a little time.”


            “Ta.” The hold music was “It's a Kind of Magic” by Queen. Spike smiled at the irony and the memories the song evoked.


            Xander coughed a bit more. Then he spat into tissues, cleared his throat a half dozen times, and gulped down some water. He motioned to take the phone, but Giles was back on the line already and Spike shook his head. It was easier just to get the news and finish up the conversation now.


            “Our closest operatives are engaged. The soonest we could get someone there is two days.”


            “That's not going to be soon enough,” Spike said. “The death count's already high and will double each day.” This was an unacceptable amount of casualties, and the numbers would rise until it was stopped.


            Giles sounded exasperated, and Spike knew the man had more important things to do than micromanage every one of the dispatched teams. “I know, but I'm afraid I cannot spare—”


            “Then we'll handle it ourselves.”


            “Spike, I don't really think that's the best—”


            “We'll be in touch. Send someone if you can.” Spike snapped and hung up. It certainly wasn't Giles' fault they were stretched thin, but he was stuck and needed to take it out on someone. And for some reason, he didn't want that person to be Xander. “Fuck,” he said, tossing Xander the phone. He needed a smoke but he couldn't go outside as it was the daytime. All he could do was pace back and forth again, trying to work this thing out toward an acceptable solution.


            Spike wasn't aware that Xander was staring at him until he spoke up. “Sbige?” Wheeling around, he saw Xander patting the bed. “There's dothig we cad do udtil the sud goes dowd. We bight as well get sub rest add codserve our edergy.”


            A little hesitantly, Spike walked over and sat back down on the bed. “I can't let you go out there. You're ill.”


            “Add I cad't let you go out there alode.”


            “Buffy would never forgive me if I let something happen to you.”


            “So that's the reasod you're codcered? Because of what Buffy bight say?”


            Spike didn't answer right away. This was partially due to the fact that he wasn't sure what his answer was, and partially due to Xander starting to sneeze again.


            “hihCheww! Hah-EHChooo! HihChuhhh!” The sneezes acted like strong, definitive answers to Xander's own question.


            Spike pulled a few tissues out of the box and handed them to Xander. “Quit talking; you'll strain your voice.” He watched as Xander blew his nose, regarding Spike curiously the whole time over the bunch of tissues. When he was done, however, he took Xander's advice and didn't talk. Instead, he snuggled under the covers and settled in for a nice long sleep. And though he seemed to want to keep up the eye contact with Spike, Xander's eyelids eventually fell and remained closed.


            And Spike, who still felt like pacing, stayed on the bed, watching Xander until sleep overtook him.




            The local news every half an hour didn't have any more details about the attacks and missing bodies. But then local news gave way to national news, which had no coverage at all. Spike set off the moment the sun set over the tops of buildings, over the horizon. Though it had nothing on England, Philadelphia was nonetheless filled with rich history. And, in this case, history amounted to quite a few cemeteries. Spike supposed he should feel right at home while passing them, but all he felt was worry. Most likely, this was him marching to his doom.


            It had taken all four of them last time, and he was only one now. But he didn't exactly have a choice in the matter and if he were going to go down, at least he'd do it in the heat of battle with a smile on his face. Besides, kicking a little demon arse didn't sound like a bad idea at the moment.


            The streets of Philadelphia were busy, so no one paid him any attention. Even though most of the historic sites had closed down already, there were still groups of tourists peering into windows and trying to catch glimpses of the Liberty Bell. Restaurants were packed, bars were likewise, and Spike was tempted to pop in to have a last drink. But then he spotted one of the televisions in a bar, which was showing a news story, and the reality of the situation hit him again. He wasn't just going to defeat a demon, he was going to stop something that was killing people. Lives were at stake and he was the only one who could do anything about it. So, with a firm resolve, he headed onward.


            Spike wasn't sure what to expect, but winding up at the hospital again clearly wasn't it.


            He wasn't hurt. And he wasn't bringing anyone there, not even Xander. The hospital, as it turned out, was the place standing at the intersection of North Broad Street and West Ontario Street. “I wish I could say I'm surprised,” Spike said to himself as he headed in through the most unobtrusive entrance he could spot at a glance.


            As luck would have it, he ran into a janitor just inside. The guy was tall and broad shouldered. He looked imposing, but not more-so than Spike in vamp-face. “Sorry, buddy,” Spike said, dragging the unconscious body into the nearest room. “But I need your uniform and your card. Gotta save the world again. Or, at least, Philadelphia.” He stripped the man down to undershirt and underpants, pausing just a moment to admire what the man had to offer in that state, then pulled on the uniform.


            Exploration was the very first task. Tesselect demons like the cold and dark, which is why they had found the first in a sewer tunnel. As the hospital was temperature-controlled and quite well lighted in that off-putting florescent light and tile wall sort of way, there were a limited number of options. And the first stop, naturally, was the basement.


            Spike had to admit he wasn't much of a fan of dark, demon-infested basements. Heck, for the last few years of his life, he'd really had his fill of basements—first Xander's then the high school's and then Buffy's. Angel had even set him up in a basement room at Wolfram and Heart in-between being a ghostie and squatting in fake!Doyle's digs. But here he was again, heading down the service stairs, not at all sure of what he would find but knowing whatever it was wouldn't be good.


            He checked room after room, corridor after corridor. There wasn't even a blood bank down there to afford him a snack as he searched, not that he had a taste for human blood any longer. The place was packed with room after room. The first dozen or so he checked were storerooms of the sorts of medical supplies that didn't need to be under serious lock and key. The next sets of rooms were abandoned and held mostly cobwebs and outdated equipment. And then came long stretches of nothing at all.


            The light bulbs in the overhead panels were almost all burned out. The few that were still lit flickered in unpredictable intervals like menacing, pathetic strobes. The concrete floor began growing slick, damp. Spike wished it was so because of a drippy, exposed pipe, but he knew what he was walking in was blood. He could almost taste it as the intense smell invaded his nostrils and stuck there. In fact, the further he got, the stronger the smell grew.


            It was nearly driving him crazy now. He was caught between lust and revulsion, not sure whether he wanted to lick the floor or be sick on it. Perhaps both, at this rate.


            And then there were the sounds. He doubted that humans would be able to hear it, which was probably why the Tesselect demon had gone undiscovered down here for so long. His heightened senses made the sounds crystal clear to him. He heard the soft, anxious breaths, heard the screams and pegging. Heard the sucking and chomping and squeezing. And the squelch of the suckers on those gigantic demonic arms.


            Spike broke out into a run. He didn't care if that meant the demon would hear him coming. He didn't care that his boots were literally splashing in puddles of blood. He felt bad for the janitor's uniform, which was getting splashed as well, but he didn't care enough to stop or even slow. He avoided the walls, as well. His arm had brushed against one just lightly and had come away with a film of drippy, sticky slime. Spike didn't even like to think about what that was; he didn't want it to slow him down, though. It wasn't too difficult to avoid, because hospital hallways were typically wide enough to accommodate equipment and beds and, in the case of the basement, small forklifts to move large amounts of supplies.


            The hallway seemed to go on forever. Spike knew he was bang on course but was starting to worry this might be some magics at work. He knew the hospital spanned several blocks but this seemed impossibly large. Just as he was starting to doubt he would ever see an end to this, the hallway began to widen. And the hallway wasn't made to widen. The reason it was wider was that the walls had been crushed. What had once been a hallway with rooms on either side was now a big, open area. And, at the end, in the middle, Spike glimpsed part of the Tesselect.


            This one seemed slightly smaller than the last. It wasn't two stories tall, but what it lacked in height it made up for in girth. It was smushed and spread out in the low-ceilinged storeroom. Its four tentacles were fat with muscles as they searched around for things to crush and consume. There were holes in the ceiling and wall, leading up to a grassy area, by the look of it, and perhaps another part of the hospital. The Tesselect looked like it didn't need followers to worship it and bring it victims. It had taken the initiative in setting up right in the middle of the city to snatch its own pray.


            Speaking of pray, the bodies of several woman lay along one wall. As soon as he saw them, Spike knew it would only be a waste of time and the element of surprise to try to get to them. The bodies were pale and broken, slumped in unnatural positions, in ways human bodies could only bend once the life—and everything else—had been squeezed out of them. It was sickening and rather heartbreaking.


            And then, as Spike stood there, the Tesselect stretched out one of its arms. One suction cup latched onto a body and pulled it along the floor. The lifeless body flopped weirdly along, sliding on a floor thick with blood and slime and other bits of what had once been in people. The sucker stuck on so easily, as if it were created to latch onto people the way a suncatcher's suction stuck to glass. The arm with the body thrust through one of the holes and stayed there for quite some time. The Tesselect was trying to trade a used up body for a fresh one. But now, it only had three arms free instead of four. The odds were still largely in its favor, but Spike could take what he could get.


            He charged. Fire would have taken care of the beast in seconds. In the sewer, they hadn't been able to utilize that particular weapon because of the hazardous chemicals and the live victims they needed to get to safety. Here, it wasn't an option either. If a fire started here, the whole hospital would go up in flames; the fire department would never reach this place until it was too late. A fire would hurt far too many innocents.


            Spike moved close, attacked, backed off, and moved in again to attack. He had to avoid the arms and the stickiness everywhere. He had to avoid the main body of the beast at all costs, because that was where the creature's pincers and sharp spikes of teeth resided. The arms might squeeze him and crunch him, but he could heal from that. The teeth and pinchers, on the other hand, could snap his head clear off his body and then he would be dust. He fought, and it fought back, mostly just swiping at him, almost as if it were swatting at an annoying fly. It didn't seem to want to kill Spike; it just wanted him gone.


            But Spike had no intention of going. He continued his attack. Spike had a knife on him and wished he had more. Though, honestly, he couldn't have done all that much more even if he had had a whole storeroom of weapons. He wished he had a whole team of slayers, actually. Or, at least, someone else. There were plenty of other things to use, though. There were broken chairs. There were ropes. There were various items left behind by poor individuals the Tesselect had grabbed. Spike used whatever he could get his hands on, feeling a bit like this were a strange episode of world wrestling. Demons weren't easily defeated by a hit from half a metal chair, after all.


            The knife dug into one of the tentacles, tracing a large gash along it. This significant blow was met by a bellowing scream from the beast. When it pulled its arm back in pain, however, it took Spike's knife with it. Spike swore.


            And then came a more desperate dance. The beast wasn't just annoyed now; it was angry and hurt. And a hurt, thrashing, cornered Tesselect demon was infinitely more dangerous than an annoyed one. It turned its two black pools of eyes right on him. And when it moved, it glided swiftly on the sea of ick, moving almost as fast as Spike the vampire could.


            One of the tentacles tried to wrap around him, but Spike slipped out of its grip. Another roar filled Spike's ears, and he tried to ignore it. All four arms were coming at him now, and it was rounding on him. Soon there wouldn't be room for Spike to move. And without anywhere to run, it was only a matter of time before one of the tentacles grabbed him.


            Spike thought about ducking into one of the holes in the wall, hoping it would lead to escape, but the demon's full attention was on him. It would see which he chose and stick its arm in after him. As it had made the hole, it would know it better than he would. The sucker would grab him and pull him back. And then one chomp and it would be all over.


            Except, Spike couldn't come up with an alternative. He might be able to dodge and duck and get to the other side of it, but that would buy him nothing more than a few seconds, a minute at best. And if he were going down, damnit, he wanted to take the thing down with him. After all this, after his whole bloody life and unlife, he owed the world that much at least. He would take down this beast feeding on a hospital and town of people who couldn't take care of themselves. It would be the last thing he would do, but he was going to do it.


            That's when one of the arms got him. It swirled around his waist and upper legs, aiming low so he couldn't slip out from beneath and trapping his legs so he couldn't slip out from above. It tightened around his body, constricting him. Luckily, he didn't need to breathe. And, luckily, the arm it had chosen to grab him with was the wounded one. It didn't squeeze quite as hard as the others might have, and it had the knife still sticking in it.


            Spike grabbed the weapon, pulling it like a sword from a stone, and waved it around at arms' length, hoping it hit eyes or pinchers or something that would do enough damage.


            But then one of the other arms swung over, slapping him hard, breaking him at the waist and knocking the knife from his hand as well. And then one of the suckers stuck right to his chest. He tried to push, tried to free himself. He knew the beast wasn't used to having victims live through a squeezing or a snap like that, so he still sort of had an advantage. Or he would, if he could get free to maneuver. Spike felt his body lift into the air and, when he looked down, he looked straight into those flaming eyes. He wished he'd brought a flame thrower after all. He dangled in the air, trying to get free but knowing it was futile.


            Closer and closer he got to the mouth and teeth. The Tesselect wasn't using his pinchers and wasn't moving quickly now. It wanted to savor this moment, wanted to savor him. Spike closed his eyes and wondered how, in a matter of seconds, he could possibly make peace with the world another time. Three times now he was sure he would meet his end, and each time he had come back for more. This, though, this would be the


            The Tesselect jolted and screamed again. Spike was attached, so he wasn't dropped. But he flew through the air along with the thrashing arms. He moved so quickly he only saw flashes of yellow amidst the dark green scales of the Tesselect's thick-skinned body. It was such a huge mass in the room, a blob of beast, but something was hitting it. Something big. Something powerful. Something… beeping.


            Spike tried to make sense of the sounds, as the demon's scream went from anger and surprise to agony. Whatever it was, was actually doing damage.


            No… no, not just damage. Whatever it was was taking the damn thing down. Spike tried again to free himself, but the sucker was relentless. Spike worried that whatever was taking the thing down would hurt him, as well. But as he had already written himself off, the worst possible outcome was already expected. But the attacker stayed clear of the arm where Spike was stuck and, in the end, the Tesselect stopped flailing. Its cry quieted and then broke off entirely. In the silence, there was only beeping.


            The arms stopped moving altogether, crashing to the covered, concrete floor. Spike hit the pavement hard, and the arm fell right on top of him. He couldn't push it off. He couldn't even move. And, suddenly, he had an awful vision of what life in that wheelchair had been like. And he thought of the bank of wheelchairs he had seen upstairs for escorting patients from one ward to another. “Oh no. Not again,” Spike whispered. He lay on the floor, choking and trying not to ingest any of the blood, even though he knew it would make him stronger.


            Minutes passed since he had felt the arm twitch. Surely the demon was dead by now. Maybe whoever had attacked it hadn't seen Spike. Maybe it was a rival demon who wanted the Tesselect's turf. Maybe it was a rare albino Tesselect. But, then, why wasn't it trying to feed off him?


            And then, the tentacle was hoisted into the air and, with it, Spike. And Spike, his vision going from black to blurry, saw a familiar face with only one eye looking back at him. Spike blinked furiously as Xander pulled him free from the sucker. And, as he fell onto the floor again, that bit of yellow made sense.


            “I hobe the hosbital doesd't biss this forklift. Betweed the blood add the hits it took, it's doe good to adybody adybore.”


            “What are you doing here?” Spike choked out. His ribs felt crushed. Maybe even shattered.


            “Broad add Odtario, I heard Giles say it od the phode. Here, I'll helb you ub.” Xander offered his hand.


            Spike wanted to take it, but he couldn't Panic raced through Spike as he realized he was free but still couldn't move. He could lift his head but not his arms or his legs. He couldn't even feel much of anything below the neck. He wanted to make some sort of witty remark about Xander needing to use the forklift to get him out of there, but Spike was too worried for that. Victory or death. Those had been the only two outcomes he had considered, and the latter had definitely been the more probably. But this… “I can't go through this again. Please, pet, kill me now,” Spike said, looking about for a sliver of wood.


            And then, before he knew what had hit him, a foul taste struck his tongue. It was blood. Disgusting, polluted blood. But it was warm and, despite its content, would help him. It was incredibly warm, actually. It was fever-hot. And it was driving him wild. Spike opened his eyes and saw Xander with his arm outstretched. “Sbige,” Xander whispered, swaying dizzily. “How buch…?”


            It was nearly impossible for Spike to pull away, even though it tasted putrid. But he looked up at Xander and forced himself to stop drinking. He pulled back, realizing that, as he did so, his body was moving back. It was moving. His legs. His arms. His back. He felt stiff and sore, yes, but he could move.


            And he did move. He moved swiftly to catch Xander as man keeled over, having passed out. “I get it,” Spike said. “We're taking turns saving each other's life now are we, pet? Well, I know just the place to take you and, lucky for me, you're in no condition to object this time.” Spike rose to his feet, taking Xander with him.




            Spike felt the bed move and lifted his head. For the past three hours he had been sitting in the chair by the bed, arms crossed upon the soft blankets as a pillow. But Xander seemed to be waking up finally. “Sbige?” Speaking that word made his nose wrinkle. “Oh… I… hab to… to… hihCheww! hehChehhh!


            “Oh, right.” He offered the tissues to Xander. The box the hospital had provided each room was still over by the sink. This was a box Spike had bought from the little shop downstairs. After he had brought Xander up After he had slithered out of the blood and slime-soaked janitor's uniform. “How are you feeling?”


            “Awful.” Xander closed his eye and his body relaxed slowly into the mound of pillows propped up behind him. Then he suddenly opened his eye and stared straight at Spike. “Where the Hell ab I?” His voice strained to get the words out and the effort made him cough.


            “In a hospital room a half dozen floors above a dead Tesselect demon.”


            He sighed, nodding slowly. “Right. I rebebber.” He reached out and took Spike's hand, apparently remembering everything now. “Wait, how are you?”


            “A deal good better than you are. Your fever, er, spiked. And you lost a lot of blood. But you'll be all right. They want to keep you for a day or two, though.”


            Xander pulled a few tissues out of the box and curled up with them. “heh-Choo! Eh-IhChoo! hehhChuhhh!” Xander glanced up, looking apologetic but comfortable sneezing in front of Spike.


            Spike had seen him looking far worse, and the same went for Xander. A sneezing fit or two was nothing in comparison. “You should get some rest while you can. Never know when the next crisis will spring up.”


            “You're stayig with be though, right?” He was pleading, but Spike pretended not to hear the desperation in his voice.


            “I told them I'm your brother. They're apparently used to crazies around here, so they didn't mention the fact that we look absolutely nothing alike. I'll go get our stuff from the motel room tonight when it's dark. I know you don't like hospitals, but it's only for a couple of days. That should be enough time for you to fight that cold and strep throat. Then we can head home. Or at least finally get away from this hospital.”


            “I dew this blace was evil.” Xander squeezed Spike's hand.


            Spike nodded, though evil was the furthest thing from his mind right now. “You're right. All it needs is some muzak.”