Summary: Spike and Xander are devastated by their failure to stop Doc.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Several days after the next-to-last scene of "The Gift."

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


COMMON GROUND


The guests had departed, and Xander was walking around the Summers house, searching for stray dishes, when he saw Spike sitting quietly in a corner of the living room, staring at the floor. Xander frowned and called out, "Hey, Spike. . .everyone else has taken off, and it's dark now. . .maybe you should go home and eat something, or get some sleep."

Spike looked up, and Xander was shocked at the vampire's appearance. He had seen Spike after Glory had nearly tortured him to death, and somehow Spike managed to convey the sense of being even more mangled than he was that day without a mark being on him. He was even paler than usual, causing Xander to suspect that he had not eaten at all since the battle with Glory. There were dark circles under his eyes, and the eyes themselves contained none of the usual energy, or even the glint of intelligence. . .they looked dead and cold. His expression was blank; usually, Xander would expect to see anger, or annoyance, or at least irritation at Xander's comment. . .instead, there was only a bare acknowledgement on his face as he began to rise. Xander shuddered, and an impulse of compassion for the vampire that would have been alien to him only days before caused him to step forward and grasp Spike by the arm and amend, "On second thought, sit down and let me see if Willow did as good a job of planning as she usually does."

Spike sat quietly, and Xander walked over to the refrigerator and searched for a few moments before finding the innocuous wrapped container near the back. He smiled, heated the contents in the microwave, then poured them into a mug before walking back into the living room and handing the warm blood to Spike, commenting, "Here. . .Willow thinks of everything."

Spike didn't respond for a moment, then mechanically reached out and began sipping on the blood, as if he was having an afternoon snack rather than his first meal in several days. Xander watched him for a moment, then shook his head and quietly murmured, "Spike. . .I never thought I'd be saying something like this, but. . .she wouldn't have wanted you to react like this. She wanted all of us to go on, including you."

Spike blinked, and there was a hint of the old Spike in his eyes as he finished the blood and stood, glaring at Xander and snapping, "You're deluding yourself, Harris. . .if Buffy was here, the only thing that would stop her from staking me is that it would be too damned good for me." He looked down and whispered, "I promised her that I would protect the Niblet until the end of the world. . .great job I did with that."

Xander was silent, and Spike's face contorted as he snapped, "I've killed two Slayers. . .demons twice my size and with far more experience. . .and what happens when the moment of truth comes? I get trounced by a skinny old demon that Buffy defeated with a flick of her wrist, and left to watch while she-" He stopped, unable to continue for a moment, then shook his head and concluded, "You were right about me last year, Harris. . .it isn't even worth the effort to kick my ass any more."

Xander stood there, looking at the beaten face of an old enemy for several seconds before he set his jaw and replied, "Maybe you're right." Spike flinched, and Xander nodded and continued, "So why don't you kick mine?"

There was a moment of silence, and Spike slowly looked up at Xander and asked incredulously, "What?"

Xander glared at Spike and goaded him, "Come on. . .I mean it. You can still pack a pretty good punch. . .I saw you knock that idiot Knight down the other day before the chip got you. Just haul off and start beating on me. . .between vampire strength and that chip, we'll both be pretty messed up in five minutes or so."

Spike shook his head in disbelief and asked, "What in the hell's wrong with you?"

Xander laughed bitterly and replied, "Damn, Spike. . .you really are off your game, aren't you? At any other time you'd have seen it in two seconds and would be mocking me with it. . .the epic uselessness and incompetence of Xander Harris in a fight."

Spike blinked and responded, "Harris. . .you put Doc down, I didn't. . .I don't know what-" He paused, and realization dawned in his eyes.

Xander nodded and snapped, "Yeah. . .I put him down. . .I put down a demon that had kicked your ass without breaking a sweat. . .care to quote me the odds on that, when we both know that without the chip you'd put me down in a heartbeat? He was playing us, Spike. . .he wanted us to get those scrolls to Buffy and Giles. . .and I fell for it, because I was so thrilled at beating a demon that you couldn't that I just didn't think."

Spike stared, and he felt pure rage for a moment before he recovered and asked, "Why? Without those scrolls we never would have figured out how to stop the ritual. . .why would he give us the method for stopping the apocalypse and then start it himself?"

Xander shook his head and replied, "I don't know. . .but he seemed like kind of a weird follower for Glory. . .a demon who likes to sit around reading quietly shouldn't exactly want total chaos. Maybe he just needed the portals opened for a while, and figured that Buffy would close them one way or another. I know one thing, though. . .I should have made damned sure that bastard was dead, even if I had to hack him to pieces to do it."

Spike snorted, then responded, "Hindsight is 20-20, Harris. . .I never should have come back to this burg after Buffy kicked my ass and took the Gem of Amara away from me." He frowned and shook his head, commenting, "Damn. . .I should have noticed that too. . .that old bastard did a good job of manipulating us." Spike saw the stark guilt remained on Xander's face, and his old instincts nagged at him to stay silent for a moment before he sighed and called out, "Harris."

Xander looked up, and Spike continued, "For the record. . .even though I definitely could kick your ass without breaking a sweat if it weren't for this wonder of modern technology in my head. . .you're a pretty damned good fighter for someone who isn't the Chosen One or who doesn't have a decade and a half of training with those bloody Watchers. . .not that fighting was ever your big thing with this little group anyway." Xander blinked, and Spike elaborated, "After the Big Poof went bad a few years back, you wouldn't believe how much I had to listen to him bitching about you screwing up his plans for Buffy and your pals. . .he was going to turn her that night in the hospital, and you stopped him cold. Oh, and when you bungled that love spell. . .he and Dru were yelling at each other for days. . .quite a spectacle, it was." He chuckled, then added, "Mind you, I just would have killed you all without all of the bloody melodrama. . .but I thought you should know. . .particularly since it's bound to annoy the hell out of Peaches that you do."



Xander shook his head in involuntary amusement, and while he couldn't bring himself to say "Thank you" to his old enemy, the expression on his face said it silently as he commented, "OK, so we let Buffy down. . .and the guy who tricked us into doing it is still out there. . .there was no body where Doc would have landed." Xander set his jaw and locked eyes with Spike, adding, "I think we should do something about that. . .don't you?"

Spike looked back at Xander, and the fire was back in his eyes as he replied quietly, "Absolutely." He minutely examined Xander, then commented, "Both of us could use a decent night's sleep first and a few meals. . .but tomorrow night, we'll turn this town upside down to find that bastard."

Xander nodded in agreement, and Spike started past him, then paused and turned to the man with whom he had spent most of the past year and a half exchanging insults. Silently, he offered his arm, and Xander reached out and locked forearms with the vampire, seeing the determination in the eyes that had been dead only a few minutes before. After a moment, Xander released Spike and the vampire departed without another word. Xander sighed, looked around for a few minutes longer for any stray dishes, then left the house himself.

The sound of footsteps echoed through the house, and Willow, Tara and Giles came down from upstairs, where the sound of the intense discussion between Xander and Spike had carried very well indeed. Willow looked at Giles with concern and commented, "They're going to get themselves killed going out there like that."

Giles looked reprovingly at Willow and replied, "Both of them are quite capable and resourceful, Willow. . .recent setbacks aside. Still, it probably would be wise if we quietly provided them some assistance. . .they need to do this to exorcise their guilt, but Xander's analysis is sound: Doc apparently had his own agenda, and it may have made him far more formidable than they will expect him to be-and far more dangerous to the world itself."

Willow and Tara nodded, then looked after the departed figures, hoping that grief and a desire for vengeance didn't force them to lose more friends in the next week.



As always, comments are welcomed and desired