Title: Recompense

Author: Circe                                                                          Rating: A hard R

Thanks to my beta, cerdd_gwen.

Spoilers: AU S7 with spoilers through The Killer in Me

Summary: The First now sees Spike as a liability. Xander couldn't agree more.

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Xander watches Spike sleep. Pale skin gleams in the moonlight streaming from the tiny window in the converted closet the vampire is calling home. Xander moves over and closes the curtain, sends shadows skittering across the floor. Spike's gotten careless; sun would have come up, fried him crispy.

            Xander's hand hesitates, still holding the wispy fabric. His wrist jerks back in a convulsive gesture and the curtain opens again. Spike's gotten careless. No one will know.

            Spike sleeps naked and Xander notices the self-inflicted wounds on his once-perfect chest. Buffy hasn't talked much about Spike's … condition … but Xander can see it clearly for himself. Can reach out and touch it. The scratches and welts and crusted blood scream wrong and badness. Pain and suffering. Well-deserved misery.

            He inches closer, drawn by equal parts fascination and disgust. He wants to know. Wants to know what it is about this creature that calls to Buffy, calls to Anya. Wants to see with his own eyes what his women have seen.

            Xander curls one finger under the edge of the sheet and pulls, observes the predator in repose. Spike's body is a study in contradictions. Once Xander marveled—in secret, of course—at this chiseled elegance. Every teenaged imperfection, each stubborn love handle on his own frame seemed to grow and fester every time he looked at Spike. Now the vampire's body seems softer, less dangerous. But at the same time, suffering has pared him down, distilled him to the barest essentials of who he is.

            There is something incredibly sexual about him, this creature with the face and body of a fallen angel. His thighs are strong and muscled, dark hair trails down from his taut belly to where his slumbering cock rests softly against impossibly pale skin. This is what Buffy sees when she looks at Spike. She looks past the blood on his hands and on his teeth to see this cock.

            It hardens under Xander's gaze—is Spike thinking of the Slayer, too? He itches to touch it like they did. Just to understand.

            Spike's eyes open and they blink sleepily at the sight of Xander standing there beside the bed, wearing soft flannel boxers and a white t-shirt and a tattered old robe. He's lost his edge; old Spike would have had one hand pressed to Xander's throat and the other to the headache from his chip if he'd been surprised out of sleep. But this Spike seems merely resigned, as though it's the waking, and not the one who woke him, that he must guard against.

            "Xander?"

            He knows then that Spike is really and truly fucked up. When was the last time the vampire used his proper name?

            "Shh."

            Spike shifts and notices he is naked and uncovered. He doesn't look at Xander, keeps his eyes trained downwards. Xander is reminded of the episode with the porcelain figurines earlier that day, at that jacket guy's house. Turning away doesn't solve things. Recompense is owed.

            Xander leans over Spike, whose eyes flutter closed, hands falling weakly, vulnerably to his sides. "Shh," he repeats, and slides onto the bed. With the barest of motions he brings his own groin to skim delicately along Spike's thigh. The vampire moans as Xander's cock hardens.

            Spike's pink tongue darts out to wet his lips. Xander watches avidly. "W-why—What are you doing?"

            Xander moves up Spike's body, curling against him. He brushes his lips against one ear and blows hot and damp, causing shudders of pleasure. "What Buffy asked me to," he breathes. His hand reaches down to grasp Spike's erection. "She asked me to take care of you. She can't do it properly, you see—" Small nibbling kisses down Spike's jugular. Gasps. "—she can't give you what you need. What you deserve."

            He draws back, sits on his haunches, stares down at Spike's tensed body. "I know exactly what you deserve, Spike."

            "Xander, what the hell do you think you're doing?" He looks up and sees Jesse standing in the doorway, a disgusted look on his face. "You forgot the stake."

Xander jerks awake, sweat pouring down his body. He throws the covers off and swings his legs over the side of the bed. He sits there for a minute or ten with his head hanging down and his breath coming in laborious gasps.

            He can't—he can't take much more of this.

Willow looks up brightly as he comes in. "Hey, Xander."

            "Cakes in a pan, huh? Smells good." He closes the back door, absently fingering the curtain tacked up over the window panel. Spike's gotten careless; Buffy hasn't.

            Willow turns her attention back to the stove, carefully prodding one of her slightly burnt creations with a spatula. "Would be good if I didn't have to make enough to feed an army," she says. "Do you know how many pancakes a bunch of teenaged girls eat?"

            "What ever happened to good old fashioned eating disorders?" Xander sneaks a pancake from the steaming pile. He receives a sharp rap on the knuckles from the spatula for his trouble.

            "Very not funny. And if anyone should be on a diet—"

             "Okay, okay! Point taken. You're clearly not down with the Xander blubber." He sits down on a stool in front of the counter and traces a random design in the spilled pancake mix. When he looks up again he sees that Willow is ignoring her smoking pan and staring at him in concern.

            "What?" he asks. Lightly.

            "Xander—"

            "You've got something to say, Will, so just say it already."

            Her voice is earnest. "I worry about you, Xander," she tells him, just as Spike walks into the kitchen.  

            "Ah. Living dead. Of course."

            "I'm worried about you," Willow repeats. "You aren't yourself lately." She ignores the figure standing silently in the doorway.

            "Uh huh."

            There's a pause, then Spike says, "Witch has a point."

            Xander's head snaps round angrily. "Shut the fuck up, Spike."

            "Xander!" Willow's face is a picture of shock.

            He jumps off the stool, strides across the room, gets in the vampire's face. "Were we talking to you? No? Didn't think so."

            "Xander! It's just Spike. He didn't do anything."

             "Excuse me? He didn't do anything?" Xander jerks a hand through the dark hair at his temples, pushing it back, revealing a small circular scar just below the hairline. "Remember how poor innocent Spike kidnapped us? Remember how he gave me this? How he beat the crap out of me? Remember how he threatened to shove a bottle in your face? What about how he would have drained you dry if the government hadn't chipped his ass? Or how Cordy nearly died because of him. He didn't do anything? What about the thousands of people, he did kill over the years? People like Tara, people like Dawn. What about how he nearly raped your best friend?"

            Xander snorts. "Ring any bells? Guess not." He turns back to Spike, who is standing motionless, face wiped blank of any expression. "Gotta hand it to you, Dead Boy. You've got them all eating out of your hand."

            "What the hell is going on here?" This comes from Buffy, frozen at the back door, sweat soaking her clothing after her run.

            "I should have known. God forbid anyone criticize your pet vampire."

            "You have a problem, Xander?" Buffy's voice is dangerously quiet. It's the same quelling tone she uses on Dawn these days, when the younger Summers dares to question Spike's presence in the house.

            "No. No problem." Xander looks at the floor, muddy from the traffic of too many Potentials. "I'm going to finish the front window." He pushes roughly past Spike, elbow seeking out still-healing ribs.

Xander measures the width of the frame and listens.

            The sound of water running. The sound of a Slayer slamming a fridge door a little too hard and the resulting rattle of china in the cupboards. Willow's sigh.

            "What was that about?"

            Again, Willow sighs. "How's Spike? He disappeared pretty quickly."

            "He's gone back down to the basement. He's a little fragile since—" Xander pencils a notation onto the wood. "What did Xander say to him?"

            The edge in her voice is back. No tenderness there for him. Only for Spike.

            "It was again with the badness. Inigo Montoya 'you killed my father' stuff. Except, Spike didn't kill his father, though Xander might like him better if he had—"

            "Will. I need to know."

            All humour drains from Willow's voice. "Buffy, he's not himself."

            Xander searches through his toolbox for the right size of nail. Stupid expression, that. Who else would he be?

            Another lengthy pause. "Right. I'm on it."

            The sound of a glass being put into the sink. The faint acrid smell of burnt sugar.

            "Xander? Can we talk for a minute?"

He wants to laugh. Buffy's sitting on the couch, staring at him with that earnest "I'm a counselor at the local high school" expression on her face. The one that furrows her brow and purses her mouth in that delectable way that haunted his wet dreams for five years of furtive teenaged masturbation.

            "New girl!"

            "That's right, I saw her. Pretty much a hottie! So tell!" Xander demands of his best friend.

            Jesse shrugs. "Tell what?"

            "What's the sitch, what do ya know about her?"

            "New girl!"

            "Well, you're certainly a fount of nothing!"

            Buffy Summers. Life's funny that way. Changes on you when you least expect it. Gives you purpose.

            "Are you okay?" Buffy begins.

            Xander stares at Jesse, who looks close to total breakdown. "Jesse, man, are you okay?"

            The look Jesse gives him is incredulous. A look that says, I've just been kidnapped by vampires—who knew they existed anyway?—and hogtied in some underground tunnel.

            "What do you think?" Jesse says. "I am not okay, on an epic scale. We gotta get outta here!"

            "It's cool," Xander reassures him. "Buffy's a superhero."

            Buffy comes close, breaks the shackles. "Hold on …"

            Jesse looks urgently at Xander. "I don't trust her."

            Gives you heartbreak.

            Xander begins to hammer in the nails. He can see it irritates Buffy, but he's doing this for her, after all, on his time off. He needs to get back to the construction site. He doesn't have all day.

            "I'm fine, Buffster. Really. A little stressed, maybe; a little weirded-out by the whole imminent end of the world thing, but I'm fine. Good to go."

            "It's been tough on all of us."

            "Yeah."

            Buffy's mouth curves with the conspiratorial smile that used to get his blood racing. "I think we could all use a vacation."

            "You've saved the world, Ms. Summers. What are you going to do next?"

            She plays along. "I'm going to Disneyland!" The smile spreads to her eyes and she is beautiful.

            She deserves so much more.

            "I think Willow's a little concerned about how quiet you've been lately, Xander."

            "Things are heating up around here. There's a lot of work to be done."

            "Yes, but—"

            "I used to fantasize about living in a house of nubile girls." Xander leers comically at Buffy, making her laugh. "I know better now."

            "Yeah, it is kinda hectic, isn't it?"

            Willow comes to join Buffy on the couch. She's darting those shy little Willow looks in his direction. Kennedy and Dawn enter the room as well. Looks like the Talk has run its course.

            You guys busy? Are we interrupting? We're interrupting."

            "Hey!" says Buffy.

            "Hey!" says Willow.

            Jesse grins. "Hey there!" He's good with the ladies.

            ("Hey, Cordelia!" Sunnydale's most popular bitch gives Jesse the fabled Glare o' Disdain. "Oh, yay, it's my stalker," she says. He tries again. "Hey, you, uh, you look great!" Cordy's eyebrow raises. "Well, I'm glad we had this little chat.")

            Willow beams excitedly. "Buffy, this is Jesse and that's Xander."

            "Oh, me and Buffy go waaay back, old friends, very close." Xander's playing it cool. "Then there's that period of estrangement where I think we were both growing as people, but now here we are, like old times. I'm quite moved."

            Jesse turns to him. "Is it me, or are you turning into a bibbling idiot?"

            "No, it's, uh, it's not you."

            "There are pancakes in the kitchen," says Willow. Kennedy's fingers dance along Willow's sleeve heading for the bare skin at her wrist. Xander watches as Willow twitches uncomfortably. "Um, why don't I show you?"

            She leaps up and Kennedy follows her into the kitchen. Obviously Willow isn't that uncomfortable.

            Dawn looks at Xander. "Whatcha doing?"

            "Attempting to fix the air conditioning," he jokes, indicating the empty space where glass once was. "Thought you might be a little tired of the great outdoors."

            "It'll just get broken again." Buffy sags a little on the couch.

            "That's what I'm here for," Xander intones. He checks his watch. "But not for very much longer. I've got to get out to the construction site before eleven."

            He sees the look of disappointment on Dawn's face. He's happy that she places so much value on his presence. It's important to be important to someone.

            "Oh—" Buffy makes a vague gesture, like she's just remembered something. "Could you pick up some more blood for Spike while you're out? We're running low."

            Very subtle. Obviously the Talk isn't quite over yet. This is the "We're all part of the team" segment.

            His hesitation is hardly noticeable. "Yeah, sure. No problem."

The drive to the construction site is mostly silent, though Jesse appears to have something on his mind. Finally Xander cracks.

            "What? You're worse than the girls."

            "Nothing." Jesse stares out the window.

            "Don't be like that. Just tell me. What?"

            Jesse turns and gives him an incredulous look. "How can you ask me that, man? I trusted you, Xander. But you killed me."

            "If I hadn't you would have killed me." ("Jesse, man! Don't make me do it!")

            "How many times has Spike tried to kill you? Buffy? Willow?"

            "Jesse—"

            "If it's simple self-preservation, why's he still here, hurting people?"

            "Buffy says—"

            "The new girl? You're thinking with your hormones, buddy. How long have you known me? How long has Willow known me? It's Jesse, remember?"

            "No, you don't understand. You were already dead. I didn't kill you. You were already dead. Giles said so. You weren't my friend. You were the thing that killed my friend."

            Jesse crosses his arms; Xander recognizes the Jesse-sulking posture from when they were kids. A lump forms in his throat.

            "So you did what you had to do. Yet Spike still lives, searching for his oh-so-poetic redemption. Where was my chance to change? Willow could've gotten a soul for me if you'd just waited. Why am I dust? Why me and not him?"

            Xander's head bows to the steering wheel. The recrimination in his friend's voice is killing him. "I didn't—it was an accident. Someone pushed me. The stake—" Desperately: "Jesse, man. We're buds, don't you remember?"

Jesse refuses to meet his eyes. "You're like a shadow to me now."

The Summers' house is a glittering nightmare of prepubescent femininity. Xander enters, holding the paper bag of blood in front of him like a shield. The girls melt away from the squick factor and he makes it to kitchen unscathed. It's empty but for a forlorn Dawn, unhappily surveying the meagre contents of the fridge. A plague of locusts never had it this good.

            "Food?" she asks hopefully.

            "Not unless you're on a particularly disgusting liquid diet," he replies, shucking away the bag to reveal the blood packets.

            "Blech." Dawn watches him stack his purchases on one of the empty lower shelves of the fridge. "Why do we have to feed him, too? Isn't it enough that he's living in our house?"

            Jesse likes Dawn. She's his type: dark hair, tall. Xander told him it was tacky to lust after a friend's sibling, but Jesse countered with Xander's senior year Willow crush. Better a friend's sibling than someone who's practically your own, he said.

            "Buffy's house, Buffy's decision," says Xander mildly. He sits down.

            Dawn perches on the counter and regards him with her big eyes. "You let him stay at your place." There is accusation there. Jesse lounges against the sink. He's still not speaking to Xander, but his interest in where this is going is palpable.

            Xander massages his temples. "Your sister asked me to. It wasn't the time to argue—there was too much going on."

            "But you didn't want to, right?"

            "Right."

            Dawn steals a glance out into the hall. There's the sound of laughter and voices, but no one's coming. "What you said last night— ("They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn't chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody's watching me.") —it really … you really understand what I'm going through."

            "Nobody's watching you," says Jesse.

            Xander's startled out of his reverie. "What?"

            "I guess what I'm trying to say," says Dawn, "badly, as usual, is that I don't know what I'd do if you weren't around, Xander."

            Dawn scooches closer, her words come faster. "I can't stand living here. Buffy's gone back to being Distant Girl. I mean, I know that things aren't exactly fun around here because of the First Evil, but I just can't talk to her anymore. It's just like it was last year, only worse, cause at least she's saving the world this time instead of sleeping with Spike so I can't complain."

            Jesse gives Xander a meaningful look. Xander makes the "I'm a dork, I have no idea what that look means" expression. Then he gets it.

            "It's getting pretty crowded around here," Xander says.

            "Duh. It's a three hour wait for the bathroom. My bathroom."

            "Why don't you come live with me at my apartment. I've got room."

            The eyes widen. "Really?" she squeaks. "Really? Do you mean it?"

            "Buffy'll have to agree, but yeah, I mean it. You can come back with me tonight if you want."

            She throws herself into his arms. That's how Willow and Buffy find them moments later.

            "Holy hugs, Batman," says Willow. "Can I get in on the cuddly action?"

            Dawn's face peers around Xander's shoulder. He can feel the tension in her slim body. Trust can be easily broken, difficult to replace.

            They disentangle. Buffy isn't even looking in their direction; she's getting a mug down from the cupboard and the scissors from the drawer.

            "How sweet," Jesse says. "New girl's cooking for her killer."

            Buffy says yes. One more free bed.

Dawn is telling him about the mega-scariness that was her night fighting the demon attacking her mother. "Hey, other than Anya, you're the only one who didn't get a visit from the First, aren't you?"      

            Xander gets up to get more nachos from the kitchen.

            Jesse's in there, standing next to the empty bag. "They're finished," he says, mouth full.

She's asleep in the master bedroom. He wouldn't make her sleep where Spike had. Xander and Jesse are watching television, debating the merits of the George Foreman grill.

            Xander stuffs a Twinkie into his mouth. "Anya always wanted one of those."

            "God, enough with the Anya already. You made the right decision. You weren't ready to get married yet. She was pressuring you into it."

            "Maybe. But I hurt her pretty bad."

            Jesse shakes his head. "You gotta stop beating yourself up about it, man. She's been hitting on Spike every chance she can get lately. Wants more of what she got last spring, I guess."

            Xander chews.

            "You know when you left her alone in the apartment with me and Spike? She went into his room and—"

            "Jesse!" Xander puts the remote down on the coffee table. "I really don't want to hear it."

            His friend holds up his arms in surrender. "Fine, okay. See? No more talking about the ex."

            They watch raw chicken get its fat drained away like magic. "Enjoying having Dawnie here?" asks Jesse.

            "It's nice. But I still don't understand why you thought it was such a good idea."

            Jesse shrugs vaguely, his attention on the television. "It's good that she trusts you. She's the key."

            "The Key?" Xander mutes the volume.

            "Turn it back on," Jesse protests. "They're gonna show us how to clean it next. Yeah, doofus, the key. To getting you back to normal." He laughs. "You're turning into a crazy hermit bachelor, man. You're talking to yourself now, did you know that? You're starting to creep even me out!"

            Xander rips open another Twinkie.

"Oh my God!" Dawn stands in the kitchen and stares at Buffy in horror. "You had them take the chip out?"

            "It was killing him!" Buffy yells back. "What was I supposed to do?"

            "Uh, gee, let it?"

            "Dawn, he loves you!"

            "He's a rapist! He killed all those people!"

            "He was under the control of the First. You know he was." Buffy shoots Xander a glare. "And for the last time, he didn't rape me!"

            Dawn follows her gaze. "Xander! Do something!"

            "He's not evil, the devil made him do it," says Jesse. He's watching Xander intently. "Someone's got to put a stop to this bullshit."   

The sisters have taken their argument outside, away from the gossip-starved flock of girls. Xander goes down into the dark basement, doesn't bother to hit the light switch.

            "Spike?"

            For a second he thinks that Spike isn't there, then he hears a faint "Yeah?" The vampire is slumped on his cot. He had major surgery that afternoon, migraines all morning.

            Xander comes close and sits down beside him. Spike raises his head in surprise. "Slayer need me?"

            "Buffy will never need you."

            Xander's tone, his voice, maybe the look in his eyes—something helps Spike understand. He shifts on the cot; false breath hitches, then steadies. "So that's it?"

            "She'll never do it. I can't just stand here. You know?"

            "I know." His head tilts to the left, he opens his mouth to say something else, but Xander doesn't give him a chance.

            Spike looks down at the stake protruding from his chest. And then—

            Dust.

The stake clatters to the floor, breaking the moment. Xander looks behind him in alarm. Vampire swirls in the cross-breeze from the open basement window. "Do you think anyone heard that?"

            But Buffy is already standing at the bottom of the stairs, her hands clapped over her mouth in horror.

            Xander knows that she will see only him and the dust, but he turns to the First Evil anyway. Things need to be said, one final time, before it's too late. "Jesse, man. I'm sorry."

            "Sorry? I feel good, Xander! I feel strong! I'm connected, man, to everything! I, I can feel the worms in the earth!"

            "I'm glad, buddy," says Xander. He sinks to his knees on the hard basement floor. Buffy is crying out, coming towards him, face contorted with grief and fury. "Are we okay now?"

            Jesse morphs into game face. His eyes are yellow and fathomless. "Yeah, Xan. We're okay."

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Author's Note: Some dialogue is taken straight from actual episodes of BtVS, notably Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest.