Spike didn’t remember much.  The sudden peal of a phone ringing.  A voice that said Xander and accident and unconscious.  The vague memory of calling the Watcher, riding under blankets in his car.  Buffy, restraining him while she cried—that, he distinctly remembered.  It was her tears—salt and power and rare as the diamonds they emulated—that had shocked him into compliance.

He sat, now.  The chair was hard, fiesta orange and so cracked and worn with age that it was probably radioactive.  In better times, he’d tease Willow into making her paranoid about harmful effects before common sense kicked in.  A doctor had already been by, explaining that there had been nothing more than some bumps and scrapes, but they needed to run more tests.  Because he hadn’t woken up, yet.  Tests where they’d need to take quantities of his blood.  Spike remembered a time when doctors weren’t automatically respected.  He remembered when they were called grave robbers and leeches, people to be feared with their intrusive methods and constant need to cut, cut, cut.  To see inside where no one was ever supposed to see.  They were vampires in a way honest vampires never could be.  There was no nourishment from their actions, no rush of endorphins as the id was continually pleased.  They just took, took everything away from their patients in the name of holy Science and Learning and For the Future, while bodies lay dying and in pain before them.

They’d still scream if Spike did as he wanted, like throwing the balding fellow who said Xander was under his ‘care’ against the wall, squeezing the life out of him until he quacked like the quack he was.  They’d still hurt, these doctors and nurses and interns and students, their god of Science and Medicine not protecting them as he made their blood beat out their broken skin, make their—

“Spike, daydreaming about killing the doctor isn’t going to make Xander any better.”  The Watcher’s voice was resigned, a hint of bitterness wishing that such tactics would speed things along.  Watcher didn’t like hospitals anymore than the rest of them—too many memories here.  All of them bad.  “Don’t set your chip off again, please.  I don’t want them trying to examine you.”

Nurses here went for the pulse before they even asked if anything was wrong.  One had already tried to count Spike’s before babbling, nervous voices explained they were waiting for a patient, not admitting themselves.  Cradling his aching head, Spike tried to think about something other than ripping throats to get what he wanted.  What he wanted.  He wanted Xander.  He couldn’t even smell him under the wave of sickness and death and professional grade disinfectant.  Until he could, Spike knew he couldn’t stay calm.

Mr. Harris, there’s been an accident on the site.  Xander was working on the third story when the beam slid loose. . .

Dawn was holding his hand.  He could feel her against him, insubstantial as cotton candy, dividing her attentions between the entrance the doctors came out of and Spike’s face.  “Can I get you something?  I. . . I could steal you some blood, maybe?  Since we’re in a hospital, I bet it wouldn’t even be hard.”

He tried to smile at her, patting her hand the way Giles had not ten minutes before.  He could see her thought—old stuffy British guys—and it coaxed a real smile unbidden out of him.  “Not hungry, love.  But thanks.”

“You sure?  You could help me.  It’d be an adventure!  Come on, Spike, you can teach me how to do a little B and E.”

“‘B and E’?” came disbelieving from across the row of chairs.  “Dawn, where did you pick up bad guy lingo?”

“Duh, Buffy, from you.”

“Hey, I never—”

He went deaf to the sisterly argument behind him, so focused on the approaching doctor that he could count the man’s heartbeat.  “Doctor?  You’re treating Xander, aren’t you?”  He knew his accent had changed, slipping back into more formal tones—he knew, because there was nothing but shocked silence from his friends waiting next to him.  “Is he all right?”

“He’s fine.  A little banged up, but he’s finally woken up and responding normally.  He’s going to have to take it easy for a while.  He’s got a nasty concussion, some bruised ribs, and a bunch of scrapes—but now that he’d woken up, he’ll be fine.  Are any of you family?  I can let someone back.”

Three pairs of hands pushed Spike forward, but the skeptical expression on the doctor’s face stopped them all cold.  “I’m family,” he said numbly.  “All he’s got.”

He could see the hesitance.  The doctor didn’t want the law suit, didn’t want the attention of the California Supreme Court faced his way.  Spike snarled, deep and low in his throat, fingers crooking as his body understood no Xander and reacted accordingly.

Buffy’s hand was implacable on his arm, Giles’ voice a low buzz underneath the roaring in his skull.  He knew why Buffy stopped him, but already his vision was greying from chip-induced pain and he needed to go inside.  There, where Xander lay, awake and alert without Spike to care for him.  And if this doctor didn’t get out of his way he was going to risk the chip and see how much mayhem he could—

“Yes, I see.  Very well, Mr. Harris.  If you follow Carla, she’ll take you to Xander.”

Carla was a pretty black woman in the shapeless blue sacks they dressed nurses in.  It was a shame that an ass that fine was hidden under cloth that atrociously cut, Spike told himself as he was led through halls that stank of sick and dying.  He told himself that to dismiss Xander and dying from his mind.

“I’ll come back to take you up front in a little,” Carla told him when they reached a curtain-covered bed no different than the hundreds they’d already passed.  Spike held still as she departed.  The hospital was too noisy.  Too crowded, full of people he didn’t care about, didn’t want to suffer around a wounded Xander, who hated noise and bustle when he was sick.  Calm and peace and quiet was what sickly Xander wanted, and Spike wanted to shout at the hospital staff to make them flee, kill the other patients so there was only Xander.

Because there was only Xander.

“Hey.”  Croaked and worn, the voice was still fondly exasperated and full of the kind of love Spike had searched a hundred years for.  “Stop hovering behind the curtains, Spike.  Lemme see you.  Tell me how bad I look”

Spike remembered stepping forward.  Remembered ascertaining for himself that Xander was fine—color normal, heartbeat and breathing steady, injuries tended, no unusual heat or swelling anywhere in his body—and then there was nothing until he found himself carrying Xander over the threshold, his larger body secure and balanced against Spike’s preternatural one.

“I can walk,” Xander protested against Spike’s shoulder, laughter bubbling through the indignation and appreciation.  “You don’t have to carry me.  Or maybe you just like to carry me, is that it?  Like to be the big, strong, manly one for once?”

His eyes were twinkling black in the darkness of an unlit apartment but Spike could see the pain there.  Xander hated being helpless.  His grip on Spike’s shirt trembled as Spike lowered him into bed, glaring curtly to ensure Xander didn’t move an iota.

Xander’s friends were hovering in the doorway, having learned that lesson from prior misadventures.  “Spike?” Buffy called.

“Piss off.”

“Oh, yeah.  Nurse Grumpy is definitely in charge,” Willow said.  Raising her voice a little, she called, “Xander?”

“I’m fine, guys,” Xander answered from the bedroom.  “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah, right.  You think Nurse Hatchet’s gonna let you near a phone, Xan?  We’ll come over.  We can tell you stories to keep you awake and Spike can take out his nervous energy by feeding all of us.”

Spike backtracked from the kitchen specifically to snarl at the—accurate, damn her—Slayer and firmly shut and locked the door.  Not that it truly mattered since they all had keys, but the principle got through.  The Xander Variety Hour was over.  Time for the Spike and Xander Show, and Spike wasn’t interested in any interruptions whatsoever.

Back in the kitchen, he fixed tea laced with the drugs Xander was supposed to take.  That was set by the bed stand, Spike pausing for a quick, reassuring kiss on swollen lips before he hurried around the apartment to make sure everything was perfect.  It wasn’t cleanliness that mattered, once he’d ensured a stumbling, disoriented Xander wasn’t going to trip on his way to the loo or the kitchen—not that he’d get up at all, if Spike had any say about it—but quiet.  The water-lamp they’d been given was switched off, window’s shut to block the outside world.  The candle Willow had made them was lit to keep the place smelling clean and fresh and provide a soothing glow.  He hurried through each of these steps, knowing he didn’t have much time.  Five, maybe ten minutes tops before—


Tossing down the box of matches while the flame sputtered before finally catching hold around the wick, Spike had boots, socks, and jeans removed by the time he’d finished all five steps from dresser to bed.  Crawling under the covers, Spike positioned himself as best he could to accommodate a larger chest with bruised ribs and a head that didn’t need a bony purchase to rest against.  Then he held still, arms held open and waiting.

Xander folded inside with the same half-sob of release a child will utter when reaching their tree house, or fort, favorite pillow or stuffed animal, the darkened bit of closet, the place under the bed, or the blanket they bundled around them, mummy-like, in a bid to make the world go away.  Xander wrapped himself around Spike’s body as tightly as his bruised ribs would allow, not relaxing until Spike’s arms completely the circuit and closed around him.  Then he shuddered, muffling gasps of pain as his bruised body protested each muscle shivering with reaction.

It was always like this, when Xander was hurt, the same reaction, the same repressed pain until it got too much and had to come out.  Xander hated it—or had, anyway.  Spike’s refusal to do more than care and help had unnerved Xander more than any of the declarations they still sometimes had trouble telling each other.  Declarations could always be brushed off or changed.  This could never be dismissed, would never change, not for Xander.

Not for Spike, either.

“Shhh, love,” Spike murmured, touching as much as he felt able while one by one the muscles in Xander’s body began to still.  “I’ve got you.  I’ve got you, love, and it’s all right now.”

Spike couldn’t protect him from the world—no one could.  Fate and pride weren’t things anyone could control.  But when the curveballs were thrown, and the wobblies left destruction in their wake, Spike could do this.  And he always would.

“Here, love, I’m here.  It’s all right.  I’ve got you, Xander, and you’re safe now. . .”