Xander waited until he and Giles were the only ones left in the library, long after everyone else had gone home for the night before putting down his book and looking at his friend and mentor. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course." Giles looked up into the wary deep brown eyes, seeing the hesitation in them. "What's troubling you this evening?"
"Um, I have...." The younger man stopped, clearing his throat. "Is it okay to do a bad if it's for a good reason?" he blurted out. He leaned back, clenching his hands on his stomach. "I mean, if someone asked you to do something that you knew was wrong but it was the only thing that might be the best thing in their lives, would it still be bad?"
"You do have a knack for finding the hard questions, don't you?" He took off his glasses, rubbing his nose. "This is something that men have wrestled with for ages, Xander." He looked over at the teen, seeing the tension in his posture and put a clue he'd had gotten the other night with the present situation. "Is this about the friend that you went to visit the other night?"
"Yeah, how..." Xander shook his head. "Never mind, Willow was here. She told you, right?"
The older man shook his head. "Only that he was ill and was a mutual friend that she didn't feel comfortable visiting." He looked down the table. "What's wrong with him?"
"When he was younger, he was a really good kid and he helped a bunch of people, including me and Will. One day it came back to bite him." He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "I shouldn't tell you but I need to talk about this. I need your word not to say anything. Not to Buffy, not to Girly-guy, and especially not to Will."
"If it's going to affect us, I may have to break that trust."
"It's not but I need it. I absolutely can't tell you if you won't give it. I promised him." He waited and eventually the older man nodded. "When he was twelve, our friend tried to help someone that had been stabbed, holding his wounds so he wouldn't bleed to death." The older man started to pale. "Now you know where this is going, right?"
"He's *ill*?" Xander nodded. "I can see why Willow feels uncomfortable dealing with the issue."
"If she had her way, the word AIDS would be erased from the human language just so she wouldn't have to put his name and it together." He frowned, looking down then back up. "When he was really sick last time, he asked me why I didn't come over so often so I told him about the vampires, not anything specific but that I had helped get a few."
"And now he wants what?" Giles leaned in closer, needing to hear if what he suspected was correct.
"He asked me to find a sympathetic one and ask them to turn him." He scrunched up his face. "He's a few years younger than us, sixteen, and he's been *so* close to death so many times. I just don't know what to do. He understands and all but all he really wants to do is be well and live." He tapped the table rhythmlessly. "What do I do?"
Giles took a deep breath. "I don't know. If he truly knows, then it would be his choice, but he would become an instant enemy." He rubbed over his nose again. "Xander, this is the most difficult decision you might ever make and I can't help you with it. I trust that you'll think about it carefully but I can't tell you what to do."
"But is it still a bad if I ask?" He stopped his fingers, looking into the deeper eyes of the older man. "I owe him my life, a few times."
"I wouldn't lay any blame on you either direction you choose and the others shouldn't if they truly knew the situation, but Willow may well be upset with you." He put his glasses back on. "You have to do what you feel is best."
"Thanks." Xander stood up, walking out.
"Tell me what you've decided?" Giles called but the younger man didn't answer him.
Xander took a deep breath as he stood looking at the present lair of Spike and his little family of bloodsuckers. He walked out of the shadows, straight up to the guard. "I need to talk to Spike. I have a message for him," he told her. She grabbed him and dragged him inside, tossing him to the floor in front of the head Vampire. "Spike," he said, looking up. "I need to talk to you. Send them away."
"Why, if it isn't the Slayer's friend." He waved at the guard to go then looked around. "Did she send you?"
"Nope," Xander said, standing up. "Personal business that I need to talk to *you* about. As in alone." He stood there, waiting, hands in pockets, very still.
Spike weighed the level of threat and decided that the person before him was mostly harmless. "Leave us," he called, waiting until all his new children were gone. He stood up, walking closer to the young boy. "What do you need to discuss with me? Angel again?"
"No, a friend of mine." He pulled his hands out of his pocket, pulling out his wallet to open it to a picture. He handed the thin piece of film over. "He's sick and he wanted me to ask you to turn him. He knows and all, but I'm torn." He started to pace. "I didn't want to come but he's special and I couldn't not do it for him. Now, I'm leaving it in your hands."
"And why me again?"
Xander stopped, looking at him. "Because I can trust you not to hurt him too much." He walked back over in front of him. "He's been sick since he was twelve. All he wants is to live, whatever it costs him."
"Yeah, but he didn't do anything to deserve it." He slumped a little in on himself. "He tried to help a guy that had been stabbed but he had been skating that morning so he had scratches on his hands. He was only trying to *help* but it's going to kill him. Soon."
"How good a friend was he?" Spike asked as he handed back the picture. "And you still haven't answered the 'why me?' question."
"He's saved me, a few times, from the bad guys in my life. And I trust you, strange as that sounds. I know that if you decide to do this then he'll be protected and taken care of until he can leave town. You'll keep him safe."
"I'm flattered but many would be most upset."
"Listen, all right. I'll do anything to save him. If I could trade places with him, I would. If I had one wish right now, it would be for him to be all right again. I will do anything to save him, to make his one last wish come true."
"He knows what this means? Exactly what will happen?"
"I told him the last time he got really sick." He sat down in the only chair in the room, slumping down into it. "I don't even know if I should be asking this or not but I can't let him go without trying."
"What are you willing to do to save him?" Spike walked over, standing in front of him. "Outside of dying, would you be willing to serve me for a night?"
"How?" Xander didn't look up, even though he knew where this was going.
"Nothing that would harm you permanently, no death, no turning. But you would be mine for a whole night."
"Anything," the young man said again. He looked up into the pale blue eyes, letting his own fall into them. "Anything," he repeated slowly.
"I'll go see him tomorrow."
"He's about to get really sick again. Don't wait too long?"
"Of course not, but all that will be fixed once he's one of us."
"You'll protect him? Let him go when it's time?"
"Like any of my others, he'll have to prove he can stand on his own before he goes, but I'll not treat him badly if that's what you're asking."
"Yeah, mostly. I don't want him to be Dru."
"That wasn't me. *That* little mess was Angelus." He crossed his arms. "Agreed?"
"Yeah," Xander said. He stood up. "I'll be there." Spike nodded. "When?"
"After it's done. I know you're a man of your word." Xander nodded. "I'll send you a clue, something that won't attract notice from your friends." He moved a little closer. "Don't think I'll be gentle with you."
"But he'll live. That's what he wants." The teen walked out, going out into the night.
Xander looked up from his reading to his friend in the bed. The too thin body, the limp brown hair so like his own in color. Everyone had said that they could have been brothers, might have been actually according to gossip, but now they were as different as night and day. He glanced over the monitors and tubes running into the frail and failing body, knowing what each was for from long experience looking at them. He marked his place and cleared his throat. "I asked about it," he said quietly.
His friend smiled, a light and happy smile, mostly born of painkillers now instead of the natural energy that used to flow out of him in waves. "And?"
"One should be here tonight. He'll do it." He scooted the chair closer. "Are you sure you want to do this? I know you want to live but to take this step is final, no coming back from it to go to dances." He brushed a dry lock of hair off of the light skin, grimacing at the oil in it. "You need a bath, Ray. Haven't they been taking care of you?"
"Yup, but I asked them not to for today. The soap hurts and I couldn't deal." He coughed lightly, covering his mouth with a tissue. "Thanks, Xan, for doing that. I know how much it must eat you."
Xander took Ray's hand in his, squeezing it lightly. "Seeing you like this eats me. Going to see Spike was just scary." He sat back, keeping contact with the warm flesh for what might be the last time. "But I'll be here." He swallowed hard as the door opened and Spike walked in. "Ray, this is Spike. He's the one I talked to about you."
"'Ello," the Master vampire said, grinning. "My, you're a young one. He didn't say you were such a young and tasty morsel." He looked at Xander. "Are you sure you want to see this?"
"Yeah, I have to. For me." He squeezed the hand he held and leaned back again, getting comfortable. "What do I need to do?"
"Not be in the way mostly." Spike looked at the monitors. "These might be a problem though."
"I'll go have them switched to no alarm status," Xander said, getting up and walking out. He held himself in check, only looking at his friend once before he left.
"He worries about you," Spike told the younger teen. "Quite a lot."
"He and I were like brothers." He sat the bed up. "I'm under no illusions here, I just want to live life, no matter how I do it."
"Good. I'm glad you're not going in for all that Anne Rice crap. We're nothing like that."
"Fine," Ray said, nodding. "What do I have to do?"
"Just lay there and enjoy it." He saw the blush. "He told me you were young when you got sick so I'm assuming herebut you're innocent?"
"Of everything but my hand." He grinned, so much like Xander's, something that Spike noticed immediately. "Why him?" he asked softly, rubbing over an arm. "Why do this for him?"
"Oh, I'm not being altruistic in the least. He's going to serve me for a night in exchange." He saw the blush and heard the small gasp. "But he knows the deal same as you do." He looked out the window. "My...associate will be here soon. He's the one that'll drain you. We all take a lot of precautions in regards to your disease." He frowned as the door opened but then brightened up as Xander led the other vampire in, pushing him toward the bed. "I told you no snacking." He looked over the former middle management worker, grimacing in disgust at his appearance and slimy attitude. "You're a mess."
"But she was so helpless," he whined, in a very oily but grating voice. "So young and innocent." He looked at the body on the bed, licking over his lips. "But this is a better one." He looked back at Spike, arranging his clothes. "For me?"
"Yes, we're turning him." He nodded at the door, prompting the other vampire to go lock it then looked at Xander. "Last chance to back out, either of you." Both teens nodded. "Or leave for that matter."
"I'm staying," Xander said quietly, taking his friend's hand in his again. "The nurses think you're having a self-liking moment, seems you have those often."
"Hey, I'm still sixteen," Ray said with a small smile. He squeezed the hand in his. "You sure? I can do this alone."
"Like hell." The older teen looked at the Master vampire. "Well?"
"Toad," Spike called, motioning the other vampire over. "Do your worst to him. He'll feed off me." He saw the small hurt look. "Oh, don't even. You'd ruin him and he wants to live for a while longer." He glanced back at Xander before pulling a knife out of his pocket and opening it, laying the shiny blade on the bed as he looked at his childe to be. "I'm the one you'll call Sire." He brushed some of the dark hair back, watching as it fell again. He nodded and the other vampire lifted the sheet, crawling under to do what he did best.
Ray's whole body arched up as the cold head reached his groin, letting out a hiss as the cold mouth surrounded him. He looked at Xander, smiling even as he moaned in pain at the sharp teeth sinking into him. "I'll be okay," he whispered, not letting the warm hand go. He looked back up at Spike, smiling just a little as he got weaker. "This is nice."
Spike laughed lightly. "I know and you'll soon know more than that but it'll all feel good." He rolled up his sleeve with deliberate slowness, making sure both teens knew what was going to happen next. He picked up the knife, looking at it, letting it flash a little in the light before putting it to his arm and making a shallow cut. The younger teen pulled it greedily to him, sucking on it.
"Easy now. You don't need the whole lot." He pulled a stake out, nodding at the vampire under the sheets, looking Xander in the eyes.
The older teen nodded, taking the stake with his free hand and hiding it in his lap for now. He kept hold of the frail hand as it got weaker, as it lost its grasp on his, as it grew colder by the second. He watched the eyes so like his own, if a little more golden, grow dim as the life left him. Then he heard the final beep of the monitor, the eyes closing partially with a sigh as the vampire under the sheets hummed in appreciation of the gift he'd just gotten. Xander got up, closing Ray's eyes for the last time, then pulled back the sheet and staked the vampire under it, pouring all his hurt, pain, and anger into that single movement. He tossed the stake away, looking at Spike. "When you're ready, call me."
"You want to be part of his first feed then?" He waved at the bed, nodding at the body, getting a silent nod in reply. "I'm sure he'd like you to be."
"Call me and I'll be there." Xander walked out, heading out into the dark night, alone with his thoughts.
Spike picked up his knife and licked it off before walking out. He ran into the nurse, pulling her aside. "He just went during his time," he told her quietly. "Don't hurt him too much." He let her go, walking out of the hospital. For now. He would have to come back for his new childe later.
Xander wandered into the library, frowning at all the people there. He licked his lips, then sat down, picking up a book.
Giles cleared his throat. "How are you this evening?"
"And where were you?" Buffy asked. "You're way late." She put down her book as she looked him over. "You okay? You look upset."
Xander nodded, silent. He flipped a page, not really looking at it. When the continued stares got to be too much, he slammed the book down. "What? Aren't I allowed to be upset too?" He stood up, heading out.
Giles looked at the teens then walked out after the younger man, finding him sitting in the lounge area. He sat down beside him, touching their arms and shoulders together. "It was a hard choice and you did what you felt best," he said quietly.
"And he'll be happy now?" He looked up, his eyes very wet and tired looking. "I watched, I couldn't leave him."
"I can understand that. Who did you ask?"
"Spike," he said softly. "But was it the right thing?"
"That may haunt you forever, but I'm sure you could talk to him in a few nights to ease your mind a little." He stood up, patting the top of the dark hair. "Go home, I'll make up suitable excuses for them." He started to head back but the quiet words stopped him.
"He looked so happy. That look when he took his last breath and gulp of spit, he looked so happy." Xander curled up in the corner of the couch, looking at his hand, the one that he had held onto Ray with until he was gone.
"Then he will be," Giles said, walking back to his duty. He was stared at as he walked through the doors. "Just a bit of a personal problem. He's going to go home and deal with it." He took his seat again, opening up his book. But the thought wouldn't leave his mind.
Xander picked up his phone, grunting into it. He nodded and hung up, getting up and putting on the clothes he'd picked out to go do this in, looking in the mirror so he could smooth down his hair, then left the house. He took his time walking, sure that Spike had been generous enough to let him have the few extra minutes to settle his mind. The door of the warehouse was opened for him, the vampire that did it not saying a word as he pointed him in the right direction.
He walked toward the back, seeing a familiar form on the bed. He brushed over the damp hair before sitting down, making sure that the newly made vampire was still asleep.
"You can't be his first," Spike said from the corner. "He'll kill you." He looked at the other person in the room, nodding at her. "That's her job, she wants made."
"Is he safe?" Xander didn't look at the other pale form.
"It's not living in him anymore. All of the virus is dead from the time he died." Spike got up, walking over to the bed after shutting the door. "He'll be fine, Xander, I'll make sure of it." He laid a heavy and cold hand on the teen's shoulder, trying to comfort him. "You helped him live."
"And I'm still not sure I was right to do that." He looked up. "When?"
"I'll tell you. Some night before graduation but not one where you'll be interrupted by your job." He pulled a piece of purple ribbon from his pocket. "You'll be given this. That night, you'll come to me." He slid it over the warm cheek before putting it back in his pocket, then stepped back. "Come away, let her wake him. It's time." When the teen didn't move he pulled him up, walking him over to the chair, hissing at him, "Unless you want to take her place and become one of us, I'd learn how to listen."
"I do, but I wanted to see his eyes." He looked up. "I wanted to make sure he was still in there."
"He is, it's just a bit more crowded." Spike sat down in his chair, watching as the new vampire and the wanna-be looked at each other. "Oh, for heaven's sake, bite her," he called when there was no action.
Xander got up, walking over to the bed. "Hey," he said softly, sitting down beside his friend. "Just do it, I'm here." He got a small nod and Ray's demonic feeding face came out for the first time, turning and tearing into the young woman's throat. She screamed, her smile huge as she died. He watched it all, hearing every pleased sip and gulp, seeing every suck, watching as the new vampire became aroused by his first feed. When he was done, Xander reached over, running a finger down the side of Ray's now cold cheek. "Still hungry?" He got a silent nod so held out his wrist. "Just don't turn me. I'd never hear the end of it." He hissed as the skin was broken but the gentle sucking made him smile. "Still you, huh?"
"Of course," the younger teen said, pulling back. "I'm still me and you're still you and as soon as I can, I'll leave so you don't have to face the future of staking me." He grinned, lapping over the two small bites as he sat up, still smiling. He stretched, then hopped out of the bed to do a few pushups. "Oh, yeah! This is good!" He looked at his friend, seeing the pain in his eyes. "I'm okay, really, Xan. Forever and always now. No more hospital food, no more nurses getting fussy with me because I was itching." He walked around the bed, pulling his friend up to hug him. "Thank you," he whispered. He let him step back, smiling again. "You're the bestest."
"Yeah, but only after you." He stroked over the smooth, cool flesh again then glanced at the corner before walking out, not saying another word. He walked all over town, thinking about what he'd done, what he'd chosen, and how to tell the others. He looked up as he walked past Willow's house, seeing the lights on.
He made another decision, deciding it wasn't his secret to tell now and went home.
Xander looked up as his back door opened, grinning at the body crossing it.
"I knew it was a mistake to openly invite you over." He got up, hugging Ray. "You sure you want to do this? She's gonna be pissed."
"She's my friend, Xan, I'd hope she'd be happy for me being better." Ray looped his arm around the older teen's walking him out into the night. "Ever think of joining us?"
"Only as a last resort." They walked down the street, catching up on all the little details of the last few weeks, ending up on Willow's front lawn. Xander walked inside, knocking briefly in case her parents were home. He tapped on the bedroom door, grunting at Oz. "Will, need you out front. Stay, Oz, this isn't for you." His friend nodded so he walked back out to sit on the couch and wait for her to finish redressing. When she came out, he led her to the front door and down onto the first step. "Ray?" he called.
Willow gasped as he walked out into the moonlight, looking very healthy, if a bit pale. She looked back and forth between the two men then started to back into the house. "You didn't," she whispered, "please tell me you didn't do what I think you did." She stood in the doorway, looking at her friend. "Please, Xander, tell me you didn't."
Ray walked up to stand in front of the steps, looking up at her. "He didn't do anything I didn't ask him to, Willow. I wanted to live and I was prepared to pay the cost." He shrugged. "I'm not going to do anything to you, and I'll leave as soon as I'm strong enough. I just wanted to let you know I was okay." He turned, walking away.
Xander frowned at her then ran after him, making his choice.
She walked back into the house, slamming the door, and fell directly into Oz's arms, sobbing.
Xander caught up to him at the end of the street, holding Ray still with a hand on his arm. "I tried to tell ya." He dropped the hand. "She'll get over it." He shrugged, standing there, waiting for the vampire to say something.
"Spike said I should drop my old ties." He turned to look at his friend. "I'd like to keep us though, at least until I leave."
"Hey, I'm easy to deal with." The older teen grinned. "You know where I live." He turned, heading for his house.
Ray smiled. "Yeah, I do, don't I?" He walked down the street, heading to his new home, happier now that all that was over. He ran into his Sire at the next corner, sliding into his side. "I'm done."
"Then we'll go home. You still need to rest." They headed home now, together.
Xander walked past his friends before school, heading into his locker. He took a flier from someone, reading it absently, then turned around to hand it back. "You're a dick," he told the kid. "I hope you get it." He turned again, heading back in his original direction but turned back to the kid with the anti-gay/AIDS flier. "Never mind, nobody deserves to die that way. Not even you or those like you." He made a side trip to the library, walking up behind Giles and patting his back.
"You were right," he said softly. "It was for the best." He leaned against the edge of the table, looking at the older man. "He's happy."
"Then you made the right decision and you'll be able to sleep easier." Giles took off his glasses, rubbing at his eyes. "I've been wondering what the cost was." He looked at the pained face, knowing what the cost was just from his lack of statement. "Ah, I see. When?"
"I don't know. He said it wouldn't interfere. ButI'm only trusting that a little."
"Tell me beforehand and come to me afterwards. We'll get you cleaned up so they won't know." He touched the hard shoulder in passing. "Don't be afraid to make the tough calls, we all have to sometime."
"And was yours right?" Xander asked, turning to watch him.
"No, in my case it wasn't." He rolled up his sleeve, showing off the tattoo. "It most definitely wasn't." He walked into his office, rolling it back down at he went.
Xander walked out, heading for his first class.
Willow looked up as he walked into the library, scowling at him. "Still here? Not out playing with Ray?" She tossed her notebook at him. "What gave you the right to make that decision for him? Who made you God?" she yelled.
He took a deep breath, picking up the notebook and tossing it back to the table in front of her to give himself time to calm down. "He did. Ray asked me to ask for it. I didn't force him, and he's happy now. He's got what he wants, a life outside of the hospital and his health." He looked at her, waiting for it to sink in. "Deal or not! I'm not losing another friend, not over this. When you're ready to talk to me like a person instead of a bad kid, you know where I am." He looked at Giles, who appeared to be hiding in the office. "I'm going home. Call if you really need me."
He walked out, heading out into the early dusk. He sat on a bench outside the school to watch the sunset, something he hadn't done in years.
Oz sat down beside him. "He's happy?"
"He's living, that's what he wanted." He glanced at the older man. "Pretty colors."
"Yeah, they are." He patted the strong arm as he stood. "Give her some time to deal." Then he walked back inside.
"I know," he muttered, "but I did what was best." When the colors were gone and only the inky blue remained he stood up, finishing his trek home, at ease with himself.
Xander looked at the envelope on his bed, shaking his head. "Ray," he muttered. He sat down, opening it and pulling out the purple ribbon. "Or not." He put it down, making a little design out of it to stop the trembling in his hands.
He arrived at the warehouse right after sunset, waiting patiently for Spike to show up. The other vampires avoided him like he was poisonous but his surroundings were a blur. Finally Spike walked out, dangling a length of chain in his hand. It was wrapped around his neck and fastened before his shirt was pulled off. "Just be a little gentle, I'm not that used to this," he said, looking down.
"Oh, I know, pet. That's why I gave in. What you have to give is the most precious gift in the world."
"No," Xander said, turning around to look at his keeper for the night, staring into his eyes. "The one you gave was. Life is more precious than anything when you're sick." He looked back down. "Whatever," he said.
The chain was released and his shirt handed back. He looked at it in confusion. "Go home," was whispered in his ear. "I can't do that, he'd kill me. I just wanted to make sure that you realized what you'd done." He headed back into the dark recesses of the building, watching as the teen walked out, still probably confused. "You'll understand some day," Spike said. "And I'll be there then." He wrapped an arm around his favorite childe. "Until then, I have your twin." He smiled. "Don't I, pet?"
"Until that blonde thing comes for me, yeah." He kissed his Sire, leaning into his firm body. "But I got the better deal." He led the way back to the bedroom, smiling at those around him.
Xander ran into Buffy in the graveyard as he cut through it. She stopped him, pulling him down to sit beside her. "Pretty night," he told her.
"Yeah, it is." She hugged him. "Tell me what he looks like and I'll be careful of him." She was handed the wallet, open to the picture of them together. "Okay," she said as she handed it back, "he's safe as far as I'm concerned unless I catch him doing really bad stuff." Her cheek got kissed and then she was alone again in her duty.