Spike can hear them through the floor above him, screaming at each other like they were actually furious at each other.  They weren’t.  Well, no, they were angry—Angel didn’t know jack about dealing with a woman and the Slayer wasn’t good at telling when something was wrong—but it was all strum and drang.  They’d be kissing and more, soon enough, and he’d be left alone, down minding the bloody phones like he was a sodding secretary.

Saddest part is, they weren’t wrong.  Three years and he was still out of sorts, no sign that it was going to change soon, either.  It’d been okay, the first few months back.  He’d had Angel mostly to himself, then.  But then Buffy got sick of bein’ teacher and, as he’d told her bloody over and over again, started missing the rush of the fight.  So she teamed up with Angel.

Yeah, okay, there was a bit more to that, since Angel’s curse was circumvented or stepped over or something, but that was the long and short of it.

Not that he’d held out hope, of course.  Angel was her one and only and that was the way it was supposed to be.  Taken him too long to figure it out, but he had.  But she wasn’t with Angel, back then, and no indication she ever would be again, so Spike had allowed himself to hope.  Well, not even hope.  But Angel’d been there, acting the way he never had and Spike had always wanted, when he let himself think of things like that.  Like, well, a brother.  Or something.  Like someone who cared.

And Spike, of course, saw the finger and decided he wanted the whole bloody hand.

That was years ago, though, and he’d dealt with it.  Well, hid it.  Gotten much better at that, the last three years, and neither Buffy or Angel, who knew him better than anyone else, could see beyond what he let them.  So he hid, sliding deeper and deeper behind the mask, every time the phone rang.

Like right then.  Buggering thing wouldn’t let a vamp brood in peace, would it, always ringing and disturbing him out of a right good snit.

“What?”  So he made a crappy secretary.  It was part of his charm.

“Is there a Spike there?”

“Yeah, what?”

“Uh. . . this is Spike?”

“What the bloody hell do you want?”

“Do you know an Alexander Harris?  This is Dr. Werstminer of L.A. hospital.  He’s a patient of ours, and according to his records, you’re listed as next of kin.”

Spike lifted the phone away from his head, shook his head and then the phone, before putting it back to his ear.  “What?”

Is this Spike—”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m Spike and you better repeat what you just said or I’m gonna come down there and make you.”

“I want you to come down here,” the doctor snapped, temper snapping almost audibly.  “That is, if you are the Spike who’s listed as Alexander Harris’ next of kin.”

Xander had done what?

And then right on the heels of that thought, Xander was in the hospital.

“I’ll be there in five.”

Working at Wolfram and Hart did have some advantages, specially since they went out of their way to make everything vampire-friendly.  He wasn’t the right vampire, of course, but he was certainly going to take advantage of it.  Appropriating Angel’s car and driver took a game-faced hiss, something none of these humans had ever seen before, and with a judicious use of Fred’s portal magicks, Spike was there in the promised five minutes.

Next of kin.  He knew what that meant.

“Spike, here to see Alexander Harris,” he rapped out to the receptionist, making sure he looked every inch the high-ranking employee of the prestigious Wolfram and Hart Corporation.  The leather coat and eyeliner made for a better impression, he thought with nostalgia, but given the mousey squeak and instant compliance from the girl, Spike wasn’t complaining.

Navigating the hospital’s picture windows was tricky, but he’d become very good at that over the years.  Except why were they leading him up, instead of down?

“Ah, Spike.  I’m glad you’re here.”

The doctor—thin, balding, obviously holding his onto patience with teeth and toe-nails—offered a smile but not a handshake.  Spike looked at him, then the closed door that Xander lay beyond.  He only just barely pick out the unique scent under the layers of antiseptic and other noxious smells, but it was there.  Xander was in there.

Xander who’d stayed in Cleveland despite the Witch and the Watcher moving off to England, the ’bit to law school, and the Slayer LA.  He taught the new Slayers, Buffy’d told him, but hadn’t been specific.  Of all of them, Xander had kept the least in contact.

When the doctor’s arm came up to bar his entry, Spike almost shifted right then.

“What’d you bring me down here for, if not to see him?”  And what the hell was this next of kin business.  Shouldn’t have that been the Witch?  Buffy, maybe, since she was still on the same continent.  Him?  Xander hated him.  “Well?  Let me in!”

“Not until I get you to sign his release forms.”

That halted Spike’s overwhelming urge to go inside, to see Xander, who’d named him next of kin.  “Release?”

“He’ll need a lot of help and support as he recovers.”


“Yes.  He’ll be fine, we removed the wood in time.”

Spike felt something crawl in his gut.  “Wood?”

“Yes, he was stabbed in the chest—they were aiming for the heart, we think—with a sharpened piece of wood.  Fortunately, he’s in remarkable health and should make a complete recovery.  He’s having difficulty speaking at the moment—he was beaten although most of the other injuries are superficial—and it took us nearly a week to understand that you where the one he was asking for.”

“Asking for?”  He realized he’d been echoing everything the doctor said and shook himself.  “Right.  Beaten, stabbed, but he’ll be o—he asked for me?”

The doctor nodded and opened the door.  “He’s right in there.”

Spike entered the room with a vampire’s grace and silence, not wanting to disturb him if Xander was awake.  He was.  Lying on the bed, half-covered in white bandages, Xander’s eye met his squarely and a tiny grin appeared on dry, cracked lips.  “Remember,” Xander whispered carefully, the effort due to a huge black bruise to the right of his adam’s apple.

And then Xander touched the empty socket still covered in a black leather patch.

Spike nodded and smiled.