It occurred to Xander that he hadn't asked about what had happened to the Xander of this reality. He was about to rectify that when another - more important - question struck him.
"Spike? How can you be out here in the sunlight?"
Xander was so used to his Spike being out in the daytime that it hadn't dawned on him that this vampire shouldn't have the ability. He climbed on the bike while he waited for an answer.
"The witch - Red - did some mojo on me awhile back. Made me sunproof."
"Oh. Where is Willow?"
"Dead. Got eaten by a nasty beastie. She was protecting the lil bit; she did good."
"And me? This world's Xander?"
"Killed by Glory. Same as his chit. Shame, that; I liked her."
Xander nodded and started the bike. So he and Anya were both dead here. That would explain why things were different. Beating Glory had been a team effort; everyone was needed. Apparently, even he.
As they drove, he could feel the strong grip of the vampire behind him. It made him ache for his lover. He hoped they would find him, that he would be in one piece. Hell, as long as he wasn't dustů Xander knew he would recover eventually, and that would be good enough. Of course, he'd rather they found him before anything drastic happened to him. They got to the spot where the demons had first appeared and Xander stopped the bike.
"This is where they had him; he told me to go, otherwise I never would have left him."
"You did the right thing. He would have been too distracted if you had stayed. Can't pay attention to the fight if you're worried someone else is gonna be hurt. That's what got Red killed."
Spike wandered off and Xander watched as he stopped every few feet. The vampire would lift his head slightly and sniff, or he'd crouch down and study the dirt. Eventually he came back to Xander and got on the bike.
"You don't know where you're going. 'Sides, you drive like crap."
Xander had no argument for that, and if it got him to his mate quicker, he would gladly let the blonde drive. They tore off through the trees and Xander had a sudden flashback to the first time he had ridden the bike with his Spike. It was scary as hell. Apparently, this Spike was hell on wheels, as well.
They drove for some time; every now and then Spike would stop and sniff the air before taking off once again. Xander tried his best to pay attention to where they were, just in case he had to find the way back on his own. So far, he had named each new bizarre place they drove through: "melted crayon land", "Muppets on speed land", "the smelly place", and they were currently driving through what he'd come to call "hell's kitchen" as the place was hot as... well, hell; and there were boiling pits of lava strewn about the landscape.
Xander breathed a sigh of relief when they finally exited that place. They were now in a dense foresty place; the trees looked as though they were centuries old. Spike stopped the bike and nudged Xander to get off.
"We'll have to leg it from here. Those demons have very good ears; they'll hear the bike coming and we'll get caught."
"Okay. Lead on."
"Let me make one thing clear. The girl is the only thing that matters; if your Spike is already gone, we're out of here. If I get caught, you run. Stay alive, Xander. Get Dawn to the next world. If it's as nasty as this place, you keep her with you until you get somewhere she'll be safe. Understood?"
"Yeah, I get it. Keep Dawn safe. Can we go already?"
Spike growled and spun on his heel. He started off through the dense trees, Xander followed behind him. They walked for awhile in silence before Spike stopped and motioned for Xander to stay put. He then crept quietly through the trees until Xander could no longer see him.
Xander began to panic. What if Spike took off on him? What if he got lost here and never found his mate? He could feel his heart beating wildly in his chest; he could hear the pounding of his pulse in his ears. He remembered what the vampire had said about these demons and tried to calm himself. It wouldn't do anyone any good if he got caught because he couldn't control his own emotions.
Spike came back through the trees, a nasty scowl on his face. He approached Xander and shook his head when the human opened his mouth to speak. He pointed toward the direction he had come from and put his finger to his lips in a silencing gesture. Xander nodded and followed quietly behind as the blonde led him through the trees.
What he saw when they emerged on the other side was enough to make him sick. There were holding pens filled with all sorts of different creatures. He saw humans, vampires, some of those little mushroom people, and others he hadn't ever seen before. He didn't see his lover, though. He wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not.
Spike directed him to a tree in the distance. There, chained and gagged, was Spike. Xander desperately wanted to go to him; the vampire beside him anticipated his reaction and grabbed his arm in a vise-like grip. Xander spun around, his face a mask of fury. Spike stared him down with cold eyes. Once Xander was more in control of himself, the blonde released him and pointed to a path off to the side.
They followed the path, occasionally ducking into the surrounding forest for cover. Eventually they made it to a spot that was within twenty feet of the tree Spike was chained to. Again, Xander made to go to his lover and Spike held him back.
With a contemptuous look on his face, Xander watched as the blonde version of his mate crept silently toward his mate. He knew that Spike had a better chance of getting to him than he did but it didn't make him feel any better about doing nothing. Spike was his mate, he should be doing something to help him.
The blonde vampire crept up to the back of the tree and began to work on breaking through the chains that were holding his double. He felt the vampire begin to tense and twist around and hissed out a warning.
"Stop struggling, wanker! I'm here to save your sorry arse."
Finally, the blonde was able to break the chain, and he quickly unwrapped the dark-haired version of himself. They started back toward the path and Xander.
They took off as quickly as they could while still making as little noise as possible. Once they had cleared the camp, Xander pulled his mate into his arms and kissed him soundly. The other Spike growled his displeasure and suggested they save the reunion until they were back at the hotel.
They weren't far from the bike when Spike cried out in pain. Xander spun around and gasped at what he saw. Spike was holding his hand over the stump of his wrist - where his right hand had been only seconds before. In front of him was his severed hand and a very sharp axe-type weapon, covered in blood.
Xander grabbed his lover and pulled him along. There were several demons running after them and they had no time to stall. The blonde Spike had already retrieved the bike and had it running. Xander pushed his lover onto the bike behind the blonde and looked around frantically.
"Get on the bleedin' handlebars! We have to go!"
Xander did as he was told and they took off. It wasn't until they were out of the trees and back into "hell's kitchen" that he began to relax. Not much, mind you, he was still scared for his life and that of his lover's. Spike wasn't looking so good; he had lost a fair bit of blood, and was barely holding on to the vampire in front of him.
When they reached "the smelly place", Xander insisted they stop for a minute. Spike grumbled but did as he was asked. Xander used part of his shirt to bandage Spike's wrist and then used the rest to tie his lover to the blonde Spike's back in case he passed out. He realised to his dawning horror that Spike had lost his ring - it had been on his now-severed hand, and there was no way to get it back until they shifted.
It was still fairly dark in "the smelly place" and "Muppets on Speed land" didn't have a sun. Not that he'd seen anyway, so they should be pretty safe there, as well. But "melted crayon land" had two suns, and then they would be in the real world again. And obviously, the sun there would kill his mate.
"Er, Spike. Sunlight is gonna be a problem for him."
"Should be dark enough by the time we get back. No worries."
Xander shrugged his shoulders and got back on the bike. He hoped to God he never had to travel on the handlebars again. He was pretty sure that Spike had scared at least ten years off his life with his driving, and Xander wasn't so sure he had that many years left in the first place.
All Xander wanted was to get back to the hotel and hold his lover in his arms. He knew that Spike would be okay eventually. Vampires had amazing regenerative properties, and if they could get Spike some human blood, he would heal up pretty quickly.
Xander snapped out of his thoughts when he heard the blonde Spike cursing - loudly - in his ear. They had just entered "melted crayon land" and they were being chased. Xander looked back over Spike's shoulder and cursed as well. The demons from before were still chasing them, and it looked like they had gained a few helpers.
Spike gunned the engine and the bike sped up. Xander held on with a white-knuckled grip; he could see the demons were gaining on them and wished once again that they hadn't shifted to this reality in the first place. Then he began to feel dizzy. This could be very good, or very badů
Bright sunlight bathed his face and he opened his eyes. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision and then sat up with a start. He was lying on the ground, the motorcycle a few feet away and no sign of his mate.
His mate. Sunlight.
"Oh fuck! Spike!"
Xander ran to the bike and fell to his knees. The blonde demon was just sitting up; he had a wide gash on his head from when the bike must have gone down. He still had Xander's shirt tied around him. But where Spike - Xander's Spike - should have been, was just a pile of ash on the pavement.
"Bloody hell! You could'a warned a bloke it was a bumpy ride."
Spike rubbed at the bump on his head and looked behind him. Xander was staring wide-eyed at the remains of his mate. Spike realised what must have happened and he scrambled to the boy's side just as the human let out an ear-splitting wail.
Spike knew they couldn't stay here in the middle of the street. They were sure to draw attention, for one thing, and he needed to find Dawn for another. If he understood correctly, she should be in the same place as he had left her.
"Come on Xander, nothing you can do for him now."
Xander didn't hear him. He was lost in a world of pain and grief. He just wanted to open his eyes and see his lover again. But each time he did, he was confronted with the ugly truth. His mate was dust. Gone. Never again would he kiss those cool silky lips. Never again would he look into those icy blue eyes and see them filled with love - for him, only him. He would never again hear his voice, never hear him speak words of love or anger. Never again hear the breathy moans of his passion, the choked sobs of a thousand torments relived in his dreams. He would never hold him in his arms again. He was gone.
Spike was debating on simply leaving Xander there in the street and taking the bike to go find Dawn. He didn't have time for this; sure he felt for the kid, but he had a promise to keep and everyone else was expendable. The witch, the boy, the wolf, they were all just a means to an end. If their lives bought time for Dawn to escape then it was an acceptable loss as far as he was concerned.
"Oh for... Sod this!"
Spike stood and manhandled the sobbing human onto the bike. After picking up the bags and various things lying about, he climbed on behind him and did his best to drive with one hand while holding onto Xander with the other. He pulled up in front of the building where Dawn should be and turned off the bike. He left Xander outside on a bench and went to find his charge.
Xander was still sitting on the bench outside the hotel when Spike emerged with Dawn. The girl looked around and smiled at the sight of the Sunnydale she remembered. Then she saw Xander. He had stopped crying - though tear tracks still streaked his face; in fact he had stopped everything.
"Spike? What's wrong with Xander?"
"He lost his mate. The other me didn't make it."
"Oh. That's awful!"
"Nothing to be done about it now, Bit. We need to find out if this place is safe, then we need to get him to remove the spell so we don't end up going with him next time if it is."
"We should find Willow."
"Good idea; come on."
Spike put Dawn on the bike and looked over at Xander before climbing on the bike. Dawn gave him a dirty look when he started up the bike and began to pull away, but she was used to his behaviour by now. She looked back sadly at Xander as they turned the corner.
Xander wasn't sure how much time had passed; he looked around, not recognising where he was, at first. Then it all came back to him, the shift, Spike being dust, the other Spike bringing him here and then leaving him. He didn't care. All he wanted was for this to never have happened. He wanted to go home, and he wanted his mate. He needed to feel his strong arms around him. Hear his deep voice rumbling in his ear, telling him everything would be all right. He could never have that again, and the realisation made him physically ill.
Xander lurched off the bench and stumbled toward the hedges before losing the contents of his stomach. He heaved until he thought he might pass out from exertion. Then he remembered that he had left Spike - what was left of him - alone on the edge of the road. He took off running. He wouldn't allow his lover's remains to be swept into the gutter. He had hated himself for years after Jesse died because he knew that his remains had been swept up and thrown in the trash.
Crying and panting in exhausting, Xander dropped to his knees and looked at what used to be the love of his life. He thanked all the gods he knew of that it hadn't been windy or rainy that day and that Spike's remains were still here.
By the time Willow found him, he was crying softly and running his fingers through the dust. She approached him slowly like he was a wounded animal. She stopped a few feet away and crouched down. After a few minutes of silent observation she called his name.
He didn't answer, or even acknowledge that he had heard her.
"Xander, it's me, Willow."
He was still silent so she crept closer until she was right beside him. She gently lay her hand on his bare shoulder and he flinched. She regretfully removed her hand and opened the bag she had with her.
"Spike, um the new one, said you might be here. He also told me why. I'm so sorry Xander. I wish there was something I could do to make it better, some way to help."
"A spell. Bring him back, Willow. I know you can do it. You brought Buffy back."
For the first time since he'd lost his lover, Xander felt hope blossom in his chest. It was crushed again with the next words Willow spoke.
"Oh Xander. I can't, Buffy was a human - a champion for the powers, even. Spike was a demon. I don't know how; I don't think there's a way."
Xander began to tremble and he turned away from the redhead and looked back down toward the pile of dust in front of him. He knew he was crying; he even knew that he was making this odd keening sound. He just didn't care. What did it matter anymore?
Willow handed him a shirt and when he didn't make any move to take it she slowly slid it on over his head and manoeuvred his arms through the sleeves. She pulled a medium-sized clay pot with a cork lid out of the bag, as well as a small dust tray, and went to clean up the vampire's remains. Xander grabbed her wrists and squeezed them painfully until she dropped the dust tray.
"What. Are. You. Doing?"
Xander was practically growling at her, and for the first time ever, Willow was afraid of him. He was still Xander, the boy she had known since kindergarten. Even if he wasn't her Xander, she never thought she would be afraid of him, but she was.
"I was just going to put his remains in this pot, so you could keep them. I swear I only wanted to help. Xander, I would never do anything to hurt you."
Xander knew she believed what she was saying was true, but he knew what she was capable of, what his Willow had done to him.
"I'll do it."
Xander took the pot and carefully swept up every trace of his lover. Once he had finished, he pushed the cork into the top of the pot and cradled it in his hands. He couldn't believe that something this small held his whole life. He shuddered and got to his feet. Willow reached out toward him and then pulled her hand away before touching him.
"Xander? Will you come back to the shop with me?"
Xander looked up at her and blinked the tears from his eyes.
"Um, well you don't have anywhere else to go, and you should be with friends right now."
"I don't have any friends here. This isn't my home."
"You're Xander. That makes you my friend. Please Xander, come back with me." Xander thought about it for a minute then nodded his assent. He took two steps toward her and then stopped.
"Will Spike be there?"
"The... new one. I don't want to see him right now. Actually, I don't think I can handle seeing either of them."
"I'll go in first then; if they're there I'll ask Buffy to take them somewhere else. Okay?"
"Okay. Thank you, Wills."
"You're welcome, Xander. I am your friend; if you need anything ... please ... just remember that. Okay?
Willow smiled sadly and held out her hand. Xander took it warily - still clutching Spike's ashes to his chest - and they began the walk back to the Magic Box in silence.
The motorbike was parked out front. It was such a simple thing, but it brought him to tears. Bringing back memories of their first few days together, how Spike had slowly but surely corrupted his way of life. He touched it gently, caressing the seat, reliving the times he would lean into his lover and close his eyes as they sped down the freeway. It was such a simple thing, but he knew he would miss it terribly.
Xander waited until after Willow had gone into the shop to open his duffel bag. He found the oil - what was left of it - and used some to anoint the clay pot that held the vampire's ashes. He wanted to make sure that if he ever got home, Spike went with him. Once he was finished he wrapped the pot in a bulky sweater and put that, as well as the oil, back into the bag.
He could hear voices inside; he knew that Spike was in there, at least one of them anyway. He was glad he hadn't gone in. Just listening to his voice - even muffled by the barrier of the door - was making his chest constrict. This was a torture beyond anything he could have thought of. To see his lover's face, hear his voice, and have it not be him... Hell, this was one to make Angelus proud.
Anya had really outdone herself. If her aim was to hurt him, to make him pay for breaking her heart, she had succeeded - tenfold. There was no way she could hurt him more than he was hurting right now.
There was the sound of doors slamming and then Willow came back. She had pasted on a fake, cheery smile and led him inside. He looked at the faces of the people he knew, the people he would always associate this place with. Then he looked at the ones that didn't belong here, the ones that were out of place. One of them so utterly wrong in this setting he thought he might have been hallucinating.
Giles was there, Anya, Willow, Tara and Dawn as well. They were right; they belonged. Angel didn't, though. He should be in L.A., saving people from evil lawyers. Xander thought that maybe he should tell him that, but then figured that he really didn't care anymore. If his life was ruined - if his mate couldn't be saved - why should anyone else be saved? What was the point?
But it was the other vampire that threw him. Standing in the corner, a blank look on her face, stood Drusilla. Xander watched in silence as she seemed to come to life before his eyes. She wove her way toward him, smiling sweetly and dancing to a tune only she could hear. She stopped a few feet away from him and began to twirl in slow circles. Everyone in the room seemed to be drawn into her spell.
"It's all black and red. Bleeding. Clawing at your insides."
The vampiress moved closer and whispered in his ear.
"I can hear it, its music. It sings to me like screaming children. So sweet, your pain. Can I taste it? It's been ever so long."
She snapped her teeth at him and spun away. Xander blinked as if it had all been some bizarre dream, that he wasn't really seeing the insane demoness in Scooby Central. Then Angel stood and took Dru by the arm and guided her from the room. That seemed to break the silence the others had fallen into. Willow led him to the chair Angel had just vacated and got him to sit.
"I'm sorry. I should have made Buffy take her, as well."
Xander looked up at her, confusion clearly written on his face. Nothing was making sense anymore. He didn't really care; he had actually thought for one moment there that she was going to kill him. He wouldn't have stopped her.
"Dru, she has a chip - like Spike. I don't know much about what's going on with you, Sp... He was kinda rude. He just said that you had been cursed, that you were hopping between realities and that your lover was... gone."
Gone. The word itself was enough to make the ripping pain in his chest blossom again. He didn't want to be here, he didn't want to see these people, these carbon copies of his friends. He wanted to go home. He wanted to go back to the last world - before Spike had been captured by those demons, when they were making love. Everything was always better when they made love. They never would again.
"I - I have to go."
Xander stood and made for the door. He flung it open only to run into this world's version of himself. He looked at the shocked expression on the other Xander's face and laughed hysterically. It was all suddenly too much. He couldn't bear the strain of it any longer. As he collapsed to the floor he vaguely heard Willow explaining what was going on to his confused twin. Then, there was blessed darkness.
When Xander opened his eyes again, he knew he was alone. He could hear voices, but they were muffled. He was lying in a soft bed in a dark room. He sat up slowly and listened to the conversation in the other room.
"I said I was sorry."
"I know, but you can't take it out on Spike. That Xander is not me, Angel. And it wasn't our Spike who marked him."
"I know, and I didn't mean to attack him. I just kinda went crazy. I could smell Spike all over you - him - and my demon reacted. I don't like you smelling like anyone else, Xander. You're mine."
"No, I'm not, Angel. Not really."
"Xander ... We've talked about this. I can't claim you."
"Not 'can't', Angel. Won't. You won't claim me, and you're right, we have talked about this. I don't want to talk about it any more. I'm going to bed."
Xander listened with a small amount of curiosity. He and Angel? That was unexpected. He wondered what Buffy thought about all that. He needed to use the bathroom, so he quietly got out of bed and walked to the door. He cracked it open and looked out into a dark hallway. He could see lights on in the room ahead so he walked toward it.
Angel was sitting on a dark brown leather sofa. His eyes were closed and he looked like he was lost in thought. Xander didn't want to disturb him and was just about to turn and walk back out the way he came when Angel's eyes snapped open and he turned to look at him. Xander couldn't help but shiver under the intense gaze. Then the vampire shook his head and blinked. Sad brown eyes looked into his and Angel stood.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine. Um, where's the bathroom?"
"Back down that hall, last door on the left. Are you hungry? I could make you something?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Some tea, then? It might help."
Xander realised he hadn't eaten in a while, and after throwing up earlier, he probably should at least try to put something in his stomach. He nodded acceptance to Angel and went in search of the bathroom.
Standing in the bathroom in front of the mirror, Xander had to admit that he looked like hell. The bags under his eyes had bags of their own. His eyes were red and swollen and they looked... haunted. Then again, what did he expect? He splashed some cold water on his face and then dried it on a towel before leaving the bathroom.
He found Angel in the living room, a tea service set out on the coffee table. He almost grinned at the idea of Angel owning a tea set, but he just didn't have the strength to make that kind of effort. Instead he dropped onto the sofa and waited as the vampire poured him tea, adding liberal amounts of sugar to it and passing him the cup.
Angel nodded and fixed himself a cup, as well. They sat in silence for some time; when Xander finished his tea, Angel fixed him another cup. Finally, Xander couldn't take the absolute silence.
"Tell me about this place, about you and Xander?"
"What do you want to know?"
"Anything, everything. I just don't want to think about my own problems right now. You know?"
"Yeah. I do."
So Angel told him. He told him how they had fallen in love, how hard Xander had fought against it. He told him about the bad times - when Angelus had come back - how Xander had learned magic so he could restore his soul. Xander perked up a bit at that. This was the second time his double had been a magic user. Maybe he had a hidden talent after all. He reminded himself to look into that when he got home; if there was a spell to bring back Spike, he would find it.
"So, if you love him and he loves you, why won't you claim him?"
At Angel's shocked expression, Xander explained that he had overheard their earlier conversation. The vampire sighed and hung his head. He mumbled something that the human couldn't quite make out.
"I said, because I don't deserve him. Xander, I'm a monster - a demon. I've killed thousands of people, destroyed their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I don't deserve to have such a gift."
"And what does he deserve? Has my double done anything so horrible that he should be made to suffer?"
Angel looked outraged at the idea.
"No! Xander's never hurt anyone. He deserves to have everything he wants."
"He wants you."
"I know, but he deserves better. He deserves a life in the sunshine, a family, and children if he wants them. I can't give him those things; eventually he'll want them. If I claim him, it's forever. I won't let him go. Not even if he wants me too."
"Yeah, I guess you do."
They sat in silence once again. Xander finished his tea and stood. He stopped beside Angel and squeezed his shoulder in support.
"I think you underestimate his feelings for you. If he loves you, and I think he does, he understands what he's getting into. Don't deny yourself happiness, Angel. You'll regret it if you give up on this chance."
Xander went back to the room he woke up in and laid down on the bed. He buried his face in the pillow and cried himself to sleep.
When I woke up this morning I had forgotten that he wouldn't be here. I reached out for him in my sleep and he wasn't there. It woke me instantly, and then the pain came back. It hurts, like nothing I've ever felt before.
Angel came to me. He held me while I cried and tried to explain why it hurt so much. It turns out, it's because of the claim. When we mated - bonded to each other - we exchanged more than just blood. We exchanged a piece of ourselves, and now that piece is missing. It feels like I'm dying inside. Angel says it will get better in time. I don't know if I believe him. I feel like I'll always be in agony.
I dreamt last night that I was home. That I was in my own bed, that Spike was there with me. I was so happy. I just held him and breathed in his scent. He kissed me. Then he told me he would always be there, that he'd never leave me. He lied. 'Cause he's not here. He'll never be here again. I feel like it's my fault. I was the one who wanted to leave the hotel; I was the one who needed to find out what was going on in that strange place. If we had've just stayed in the room, he'd still be with me.
The others - Angel, Xander, Willow, Tara, Anya, Dawn and Buffy - have been tiptoeing around me like I'm made of glass. I know they mean well, but I just wish they would leave me alone. I have to see Spike and Dawn today. They've decided to stay here, thank God. I don't think I could handle any more time with that Spike. He's heartless about anyone who isn't Dawn. I understand, but it doesn't mean I want to be around him.
Xander and Angel are a couple. Now there's a puzzle. They've been together since Xan was in high school. In this reality, it was Xander who caused Angel to lose his soul. It was also Xander who gave it back - permanently. I have a copy of the spell he used. I'm going to give it to Angel if I ever get home.
This world's Spike is still with Dru (there was no Acathla here, Xander restored Angel's soul just a few weeks after he lost it) they got chipped together and he rescued her from the Initiative base. Apparently that made him more than demon enough for her. Plus, the scoobies feed them, so where would she go, anyway? I'm happy for Spike, even if it does hurt to know that not every Spike is in love with a Xander.
It turns out that there is a reason I'm such a demon magnet. I have a natural born affinity for magics. I never knew. I guess that's why the Xander from way back - the one that gave me the spell oil - and the Xander from this world are so good at it. Willow and Tara both practice here as well, but they're nowhere near as good as Xander. Hmm, I might have to look into that when I get home. Should be enough to give Giles a few more gray hairs and sleepless nights.
I haven't been able to even open Spike's duffel bag. I can't. Not yet. I know what's in there. His duster and Doc's, his black jeans and t-shirt, the clothes we bought for him, his journal and his CD's. Also, the ring. It showed up when we shifted. Willow found it when she came to me - she knew what it was and kept it for me. When she gave it to me earlier today, I almost threw up. I remembered that the last place it had been was on my lover's severed hand. I put it in the bag without even looking at it. Maybe someday, when the pain is less, when I'm home, I will go through his things. Look at his clothes, listen to his music and read his words. But not right now. Right now it just hurts too much.
Xander closed his book and stuffed it into his bag just as his double came through the door - followed by Spike and Dawn. The blonde didn't look very happy to be there, but Xander was beyond caring. He looked up at Dawn and smiled. He was happy for her, having to live in that other crazy reality had to have been rough on her. He was glad he was able to help her; he just wished the cost hadn't been so high.
Xander stood and went toward Dawn. Spike growled and stepped in front of her. Xander rolled his eyes at the vampire's possessive display.
"For Christ's sake, do you want the spell broken or not?"
Spike stepped aside but Xander noted that he didn't go far. It was disheartening to realize that this Spike didn't trust him. He took Dawn's hand and held it in both of his. He whispered a few soft words and let go.
Dawn smiled at him and Spike stepped up. He thrust his hand out toward Xander and waited. Xander closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then took the vampire's hand. He was overwhelmed immediately by the feel of it. It was just like a hundred other times that he had touched this skin, except this time it wasn't his lover. He whispered the words and then fled back to the spare room and closed the door. He stayed there until his double knocked softly and told him they were gone.
"No problem. That Spike is a bit ... I dunno, but he makes the Spike I know seem like a friendly guy."
"Yeah, well if you saw where he came from you'd get it."
"He told us about it. Some of it anyway."
"Yeah? So what happened there? With all the craziness I never found out."
The two sat on the sofa and talked for a while. Xander listened while his double told him what Spike had shared with the group. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Glory had killed Buffy. Doc had already cut Dawn so the portal was open. Spike saved her, but without Buffy to close the portal, it remained open. Spike had taken Dawn, Willow, and Tara and run for it.
Tara had been killed within days; she and Willow had worn themselves out casting protective spells on Dawn and Spike so when the dragon came at her, she was unable to protect herself. Spike had left her behind, grabbing Dawn and making a break for it.
Willow had been next. She was never the same after Tara's death. She made sure Spike had every advantage possible to protect Dawn - including sunproofing. She had fallen in battle with a group of magic-using demons. Her death had bought time for Spike to get Dawn to safety. He fell in with a werewolf pack for a few days; that's where he met up with Oz.
Oz had agreed to help Spike and Dawn, but only if he did something to stop the new breeds from taking over what was left of the original Sunnydale. His family was still alive and trapped there; they refused his offer to bite them.
"I wondered why he didn't ask to come with."
"Yeah, he had his own pack apparently. He sounds much wolfier than the Oz I know."
"The one I know isn't into the whole pack thing either."
This world's Xander made dinner and they ate together in front of the TV. He asked about the reality that Xander was from, almost choking when he heard about Anya and the wedding that wasn't. He couldn't believe his double had almost married that blunt, outspoken ex-demon.
Xander decided to go out for some air; he had been inside for what felt like days. He stepped out onto the sidewalk and breathed deeply. The cool night air was refreshing; he had the sudden urge to just get on the bike and drive. He didn't care where he went, just away from Sunnydale and any reminders of Spike or the scoobies. So that's what he did.
San Francisco was nice. It was way different than Sunnydale, or even L.A. Xander thought he might enjoy staying here for awhile, no matter what reality he ended up in. He booked himself into a motel and then went out on the town.
Being out on the town consisted of finding the nearest bar and getting embarrassedly drunk. Can't-stand-falling-down-on-your-feet drunk. He was surprised he even made it back to the hotel. He probably wouldn't have if he hadn't thrown up after the dark-haired man in the leather coat tried to pick him up. Vomiting was an amazingly sobering experience.
He must have shifted at some point between falling face-first on the bed in the early morning hours, to waking at some point in the afternoon. All his things were there, the bags that he had left at Xander and Angel's as well as the ripped shirt he had left on the side of the road. He shoved it into Spike's duffel bag and then went to the bathroom and threw up again.
After a hot shower and a shave, Xander left the room in search of coffee and something bland to settle his stomach. He found a neighborhood diner, right beside a drugstore a block and a half from the hotel. He purchased a pair of dark sunglasses from the store and then went into the diner for some breakfast.
After ordering coffee and toast, he picked up a section of the morning paper off the countertop and idly read through the comics and horoscope pages. He snorted at his reading.
Your past comes back to haunt you.
Try to view things from a different perspective.
Love is not in the cards for you right now,
But someday all will be clear.
He tossed the paper back onto the counter with a disgusted snort and took a healthy sip from his coffee. He felt a little better after eating and ordered another cup. He headed for the men's room just as the door to the street opened. When he came back there was a man and his little girl sitting two stools down from his, and he smiled at her as he took his seat.
The little girl smiled back and Xander turned back to his coffee. He drained the cup and placed a couple bills on the counter and rose to leave. He got a good look at the man sitting with the child and groaned. Only he would run into himself in San Francisco. This was supposed to be an escape from the Scoobies. Apparently the fates had it in for him; he wondered if there was anywhere in the world he could go and not have to be reminded of who he was and what he'd lost.
He figured he'd better get this over with. Obviously he had no choice but see what changes his life had undergone in each new place. He tapped the other Xander on the shoulder and when he looked up he removed his glasses. The other man jumped, his eyes bugged out a fair bit and he stumbled to his feet.
"Who - who are you?"
They walked for a while until they reached a small park in one of the nicer neighbourhoods. While the little girl went to play in the sandbox, Xander and his double sat down. Xander looked at the small child; she was very pretty with dark brown hair and the greenest eyes he'd ever seen.
"Yes. Her name is Amelia."
"She's very pretty. How old is she?"
"She's two and a half. Almost."
"Who's her mother? Cordelia?"
The other Xander smiled and shook his head. He looked over at his daughter and watched her play for a few minutes. When he turned back to his double, he was watching Amelia as well.
"Her mother. It's Willow. We moved away when we found out she was pregnant; got married and settled down here. Sunnydale is no place for a child to grow up."
Xander nodded his agreement.
"Is she ... Where is Wills?"
"At home, working. She runs a very successful Internet company."
"What about you?"
"I help her."
They sat quietly until Amelia decided she wanted to play on the swings for awhile. Xander watched as his doppelganger lifted the little girl into his arms and carried her to the swings. He looked happy pushing his daughter and laughing at her demands to go higher. He never would have pictured himself with children - his life was monsters and slaying and construction work.
After a while, Xander came back and invited his twin to come back to his house and see Willow. Xander accepted and they headed out of the park. They walked the four blocks to the house and Xander waited outside while his twin went in to explain things to his wife. The door opened a few minutes later and Xander came back out followed by Willow and Amelia.
Willow was beautiful. Her hair was still long and the deep auburn shade it had been in high school. She was wearing a pair of soft, faded denims and a pink button-up shirt. It looked like it wouldn't fit over her swollen belly for much longer. She had to be at least seven months pregnant.
"Willow, you look ... wow. Pregnancy agrees with you."
She smiled at him; it was a smile he hadn't seen in a very long time. It was the smile of his childhood friend, before everything went crazy. This was the smile of a young girl who thought the world was a good place. Before she became the uber-powerful witch his Willow now was. He never realised how much he missed this part of her.
"Thank you. So, Xander tells me you're on some kind of tour of the universe, huh? How'd that happen?"
"Long story. Be lucky you got out of Sunnydale when you did. That place is cursed."
Willow led them all inside and they sat around the kitchen table with coffee and cookies while Xander filled them in on his life story. He left out the parts about Willow and her use of magic, as well as the fact that she was gay now. He didn't figure it was relevant to this Willow and Xander. Plus he didn't tell them about Spike. He knew if he tried to talk about his lover he would start to cry, and he really didn't want to do that here.
Willow was shocked, to say the least. She hadn't really thought about Sunnydale since they'd left. She was happy in San Francisco. She was married to her childhood sweetheart, had a beautiful daughter and a baby on the way, a great job, a nice home and a future.
Xander waited until Willow had put the little one down for a nap before asking about their life together. He just wanted to get this over with, find out what was up so he could go back to the hotel and maybe get wasted again. If he wasn't so sure that he needed the information before he'd be able to shift again, he wouldn't have bothered.
It was too bad too, 'cause before the last world and losing Spike, he would have been eager to find out how all this had happened.
"It was back in senior year. I was dating Oz and Xander was temporarily insane."
"By that, she means I was dating Cordy."
"Like I said - insane. Anyway, we got kidnapped by Spike..."
Xander swallowed down the sob that started to rise in his throat at the sound of that name.
" ... he wanted a love spell for Drusilla. Long story short, we got caught kissing by Cordelia and Oz. They didn't take it well. We got together, weren't careful enough, and left town right before graduation."
"We didn't tell anyone. We just left."
"They probably think we're dead. It's better this way; if they knew we were alive, they'd just drag us back into that life again."
"We don't want that. We're happy here."
Xander nodded and finished his coffee. He wondered if it would be rude to just leave? He really didn't want to be here anymore. Not with Mr. and Mrs. "Perfect Little Family".
"Well, I think I have what I need to be able to move on. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm sure you understand that I just want to get home."
Willow walked him to the door and touched him gently on the cheek before leaning up and hugging him briefly.
"I hope you find your way home, Xander. And I hope you have a good life when you get there. Maybe you should think about leaving Sunnydale; staying hasn't seemed to do you any good."
"Yeah, you might be right there. I'll think about it."
Xander walked back towards his hotel, only stopping long enough to pick up a bottle of JD and a pack of cigarettes. He wasn't actually going to smoke them, but he wanted to smell the smoke. It soothed him and made him feel like Spike was still with him.
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