Quantum Xander 2
In Wake of the Curse


Part Six

Spike stood on the balcony and smoked. He'd gone through seven cigarettes already and still had no excuse for what he knew he was going to do. He looked around the shaded-off area of the balcony he was standing on and smiled. Xander had been adamant about him not smoking inside; but instead of simply expecting him to go without a smoke during the day, he had carefully screened off a section of the balcony for him to use. It was little things like this that had made him wonder what the man was up to in the first place.

The first morning he had awoken in Xander's bed he was disoriented. He had a nagging feeling that something major had happened and he didn't remember any of it. Slowly it came back to him; being in the basement, seeing Dru, Angelus, The Master, A.D.A.M., Glory, even Buffy. All of them taunting him with his failures. He began to lose himself, his grip on reality. Then Xander came.

He remembered being crazy, saying the most insane things about hall passes and disappearing doors. Xander had dismissed his worries and taken him out of there, going so far as to carry him when he collapsed in grief.

He remembered Xander sending him to shower, giving him clean, warm clothes and making him hot chocolate before sending him to bed - his bed. The fact that Xander had taken the couch for him said a lot. As he lay there that first morning, he wondered when it was that Xander had been replaced, and who this new Xander was. He wondered if the scoobies were aware of the change.

Things only got worse when Xander came home. He had not only brought Spike a mug of warm blood, but he'd given him clothes - new clothes - that he had paid for himself. Then he told him about the spare room. Spike had been stunned by the gesture, and wanted to know what he had done to the real Xander, and the boy laughed in his face and told him he was sorry.

That was the strangest thing ever. Xander had apologised to him, for things he had no reason to feel bad about. It wasn't as though he had been any better to the kid before or after the chip. Spike had accepted the apology, made a few of his own, and they seemed to move on from there. But he still had no idea why Xander had changed, or what it meant. It made him uncomfortable; if he had changed, he could change back. Spike didn't want to get comfortable only to be thrown out on his ass.

That was why he wanted to know what had happened to Xander. Finding out about the curse had answered some of his questions; he knew how situations like that could make you grow up fast. He had still had too many unanswered ones though, so he'd resorted to snooping. Now, knowing that Xander had been mated to his alternate - one of his alternates - he had to know the whole story.

Spike - the one who'd written the journal - had mentioned a couple of times that they had taken a third into their bed, or the hotel lobby, in Angel's case, and Spike had damn near choked reading that. The very idea that Xander would fuck Angel, of all people, made him doubt his sanity once again. The thing about him and two Spikes was much easier to understand. If he was attracted to one, why wouldn't he be attracted to another? Which brought up the question of 'what exactly did Xander want from him?'.

Spike ground out his cigarette and went back inside. He walked straight back to Xander's room and picked up his journal. He was damned already, so he might as well read it.

As the minutes passed, Spike read through Xander's words and felt like he was there with him. Xander babbled on paper the same way he spoke. He could tell the young man was frightened but trying to deal with this new situation the same way he always did; accept it and move on - with humour, if possible.

The way he wrote about his one double and the crazy slayer - Faith - made him chuckle; he just couldn't see the boy settled down as Joe Normal. He snorted at his opinion of Angelus after the demon reality; of course he had cursed after reading what the boy had been through there, and the nightmares that followed. He was kind of glad his other self had comforted the boy. He was still freaked out about the being-owned-by-Riley thing. He couldn't hold in the laughter at the image of Xander and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce together. Angel's watcher was a bigger prig than Rupert.

The time seemed to fly by as he lost himself in the story Xander had woven. He felt the highs and lows of the man's journey, blushed at the imagery some of the pages produced and cried along with him as he read about his pain after losing his mate. The tears of pain turned to those of amusement at the idea of a female Xander carrying his child. He bet the boy wasn't too happy about it, especially as it was Buffy that had cursed him.

He wondered how the boy had survived all that, no one to lean on, not knowing if he'd ever get home. It was no wonder he was being so kind to him. This man knew who he was - who he really was. There was a reason why he still acted so much the same even now that he had a soul; William had always been a part of him, and now Xander knew that.

He wasn't sure how to deal with this information. He was being given an opportunity here to let someone see the real him, the man he had always been underneath all the fronting and bravado. Someone who already knew who he was and accepted it. He could finally just be. All he had to do was let Xander in.

He read the entry about him and Buffy. How Xander had finally figured it out. He felt a mix of joy and pain. Joy that Xander would accept the fact that he loved her, and that if Buffy ever gave him another chance he would be supportive of them; but he felt pain for Xander, for having even a slight chance of being happy when Xander's mate was dust. He turned the next page and saw that it was the last entry of his journey. He sighed and debated on turning the page. He had his answers, and anything else in that book was about the here and now. He knew he had to put the book away but he watched as his traitorous hand turned the page. He read.

I haven't written since I've been back. It just seems so weird; this was a part of a life I no longer lead. I'm home now, no unexpected shifts into alternate realities, no meeting other Xanders out there and finding out what their lives are like. No wondering what the next place will be like.

Life here is simple compared to that. I get up, I go to work - yes I still have my job. Thanks Anya! - I come home, shower, eat, go to Buffy's, patrol, and then come home to bed. Well at least I did. That all changed yesterday. While at Buffy's place getting ready to head out, Spike showed up. I almost swallowed my tongue.

I admit it hurt to see him, he was so beautiful in this tight blue shirt, hair freshly bleached. He looked like a wet dream. And he only had eyes for Buffy. I realised then that my life had just taken on new levels of pain. He's not my Spike, but he's still Spike, and it hurts knowing he loves her.

I was lying in bed trying to figure out what was different about him when it dawned on me - Spike has a soul. I went to the high school and brought him home with me. I was so angry at Buffy; I mean how could she just leave him there? But then I realised she was scared. Of him, of herself, of what she feels. I know Buffy, and she wouldn't have spent all that time with Spike, sleeping with Spike if she didn't feel something for him. It's so much easier for me; yeah I'm a guy and no one knows I'm bisexual yet, but she's a slayer, and she's having emotional feelings toward a demon.

Yeah, it's happened before - Angel - and look how well that worked out for her, and Spike didn't even have a soul. I think that's what made it worse, he tried to rape her; he proved to her just how soulless he was and even though she was angry, even though she was scared, she still felt for him. Now, well, now he goes out and does the one thing that he knows will hurt himself the most just to give her a reason to let herself love him, and she doesn't know how to deal with it. For all Angel's declarations of love, without his soul, he hated her. Spike loved her without a soul and got one just to prove it. From her perspective, it's kinda scary.

So now I have Spike here, and set up in the storage room. I bought him a bed and a dresser, sheets, pillows all the basics. The fridge is stocked with blood; I got him some clothes and asked him to stay. You know what he said? He asked who I was and what I had done with the real Xander.

I miss my lover. At night I crawl into an empty bed; cool sheets caress me instead of cool flesh. I sleep with a pillow spooned to my chest instead of my mate. I see him in my dreams and he smiles at me, holds me close, tells me he'll never leave me. But then I wake up alone and the pain starts.

I haven't found anything to deal with it yet. Sometimes it gets so bad I think I might die. The other night on patrol I was almost killed by a fledgling. If it weren't for the claim I think he would have gotten me. He hissed out 'Spike' just before Buffy came up and dusted him from behind. I'd forgotten all about the scent on me from Spike's claim. I found a spell to mask it the next day, I've been using it ever since. Good thing too, or I would have had a lot of explaining to do when Spike showed up like that. It was bad enough when Nancy asked if there was anyone there who hadn't slept with each other. I'm sure from the look he gave me he could smell my arousal.

I do find him attractive; I mean he's Spike. Physically, he's identical to my mate. But he's not him. I can't pretend he is, either. I don't want to. I didn't bring him home for that. I took him in out of friendship, out of compassion. I only want my Spike, no others. There has to be a spell out there somewhere, and if there is, I'll find it.

Spike closed the book and put it away. He had some ideas of how he might be able to help Xander, but he didn't know how to go about it without telling him he had read his journal. If that other Spike's blood had helped with the pain, then he was more than willing to bleed for him. And of course, there was the little issue of Darla. If some hotshot law firm was able to bring her back, then there had to be a spell to raise the undead. He just needed to find a way to let Xander know without tipping his hand.

Part Seven

Xander pulled into his parking spot and turned off the engine. He really liked his new car; it was such an improvement over his Uncle Rory's old wreck. He stepped out, retrieved the book and the bag of herbs and then locked the car. As he turned around, he let out a very unmanly shriek as Anya appeared right in front of him - demon face to the fore.

"Jesus Christ, An! What are you trying to do? Scare me to death?"

Anya laughed and reverted to her human guise. She shook her head fondly at the man she had almost married.

"No, if I were trying to do that, I would have succeeded by now. I just came to see how you are doing. So, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine. Really."

"No you're not. I know you, Xander; something is wrong. What is it?"

"I found out about you and Spike."

"Oh. Are you angry? Because you have no reason to be. You left me, and Spike was just as sad as I was. It was comfort. And really none of your business, as I already said."

"I'm not angry. Not at you, or Spike. I understand why, I just... well, I found out, and when I asked Willow if she had ever planned on telling me, she told me that they were keeping it from me on purpose. That they decided I was better off not knowing. I'm so tired of other people making my decisions, of not having control over my own life."

"How did you find out, anyway?"

"Spike told me."

"Xander, I think you should tell them what happened. If you want to keep your friends you have to be honest."

"The way Willow was honest?"

"No. What she did was wrong. But keeping the truth from people won't make your problems go away."

"I know. I'm just not ready yet."

"All right. But do it soon, okay? Maybe you could start with Spike. He'd be the easiest to talk to, and once that's out of the way, you could find out if he's interested in having orgasms with you. He's very good."

Anya nodded her head emphatically and Xander choked. Then he smiled at her.

"I don't want to have orgasms with Spike. I just want to be friends. And no, before you say it, I don't want to be orgasm-friends with him, either. He loves Buffy, and he's not my Spike."

"Well, okay. I'll see you later, Xander. We'll have lunch."

Anya disappeared and Xander headed for the front of the building. He honestly missed Anya's strange ways. For all her bluntness, she tried to be a good friend to him, even after he'd left her at the altar. Not many women would forgive a guy for that. Not many vengeance demons, either.

He made his way up to his apartment, still mulling over the strange conversation he had had with the woman at the bookstore and then the even stranger one with his ex. He wasn't sure if he should talk to Spike. He wasn't sure he could talk to him. Spike had enough problems right now; he didn't need Xander adding to them.

As he walked inside, he smelled a familiar scent that prickled at the back of his mind. He followed it and found the vampire in the kitchen, a bloody knife in his hand, a few chopped vegetables in a bowl and a puddle of blood on the counter. He frowned at the scene. Spike spun around, pushing the bleeding digit into his mouth and smiling sheepishly at Xander.

"Sorry. Was going to surprise you with dinner, but I made a right mess in here."

Xander smiled indulgently and went into the room. He pulled Spike's finger from his mouth with a wet slurping sound and examined the wound. He had to stop himself forcefully from licking the tip where blood began to well up once again.

"Maybe you should go clean that out. I'll tidy up in here."

"Ta. Sorry 'bout the mess, pet."

"Don't worry about it. I'll call for pizza, no biggie."

Spike headed for the bathroom and Xander grabbed a roll of paper towels and the spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner. He looked at the puddle of crimson liquid on the counter and then decided Ďwhat the hellí. He was desperate, after all, and he ran his finger through the sticky mess and brought it to his lips.

He closed his eyes as the taste washed over him, taking him back in time to the first time he had drunk from his mate. His cock leapt to attention and his eyes snapped open. He quickly finished, swiped his fingers through the blood again and licked them clean before spraying down the counter and tossing out the vegetables. What the hell had Spike been thinking anyway? Who ate cucumbers and eggplant together?

Spike watched from his vantagepoint in the hallway. It had been a good plan on his part, clumsy kitchen accident. No fuss no muss. Xander got what he needed and Spike didnít have to confess his crimes. He still felt bad about snooping, but knowing he could help Xander made it worth it. It gave his soul some peace. Unfortunately, the wall of pheromones that had hit him had left him rather in desperate need of a wank.

He waited until Xander had finished cleaning up the blood and throwing out his admittedly poor attempt at dinner - he could actually cook if he wanted to - before going back into the room. A quick glance down told him Xander was just as hard as he was. He smirked.

"So, pizza for dinner and then what?"

"Um, well, I suppose patrol and then home."

"Right. Uh, want company? Been a few days since I whaled on anything. Could use a spot of violence."

"Yeah, I'm sure Buffy won't mind."

Pizza was ordered and eaten, Spike dipping his crusts in his blood. They suited up and headed out into the night. The walk over was made in companionable silence, interrupted occasionally by easy banter. Xander thought that Spike might be starting to open up to him.

Buffy was surprised to see Spike at her door; since the night of the giant worm demon, he had kept a pretty low profile. She knew he was trying to give her time and space and she appreciated it. She knew that the Spike standing in front of her now was not the same man who had attacked her. He had changed - willingly, for her.

"Hey guys, come on in."

They followed Buffy into the house and looked around at the grim faces of the other scoobies. Tara and Willow were curled up together on the end of the sofa; Willow was stroking her hand through Tara's hair. Dawn was sitting in the chair by the far side of the room looking decidedly green.

"Hey, what's up?"

Xander hadn't seen the gang this down for some time. He wondered what in the hellmouth had happened this time.

"Dawn and Tara found a body."

Buffy was in full-on slayer mode. She hated it when her vocation affected her sister's life. It was just not fair as far as she was concerned; Dawn was just a kid, she shouldn't have to deal with all of this.

"It was... flayed."

Willow's contribution to the conversation. As soon as the words left her mouth, Tara shuddered in her arms and she resumed soothing her. Xander looked at Spike and raised an eyebrow.

"Don't look at me, pet. I'm strictly a fluids man, myself."

"Ewww, and gross, Spike. I was simply wondering if you had any clues on what kind of demon eats skin."

"Well, there's Clem... "

As the scoobies all stared in horror, Spike continued.

"...but he prefers the extra-crispy chicken variety. He wouldn't eat a human if you paid him."

Spike seemed to consider what he'd just said.

"Well, maybe if you paid him. But it'd have to be a bloody lot of money. You people aren't as clean as you look, you know?"

The collected group of 'eeww' faces made Spike wonder if he'd said too much. Then Xander laughed, followed by Tara's delicate giggle, finally followed by an unladylike snort from Dawn.

"What? S'bloody true! Humans are full of diseases, and you sweat, and your skin attracts dirt and..."

"Spike, I think they're laughing at the irony of a vampire - a creature who haunts cemeteries and claws its way out of the grave lecturing about cleanliness."

Buffy raised her eyebrow at him and then smiled as Spike realised she had a point. While he himself preferred to be clean, he had to admit that hygiene wasn't your average vampís first priority. Or their tenth priority, to be honest.

"True enough. So, what's the plan then? Books, or do we go hunt?"

"We hunt. They..."

Pointing at the girls.

"...do the book thing. Xander? You with us or staying to help with the research?"

It was a casual offer, but Xander could tell she wanted him to accompany her. He shrugged his shoulders and walked toward her and Spike.

"You know me, not so much with the book thing. Think I'll accompany you guys, maybe I'll get a chance to throw myself at something particularly nasty."

The trio headed out into the darkened streets of Sunnydale while the three who were left behind hit the books and checked out the demons on-line. It was Dawn who finally found something.

"Look! Right here it says the demon Gnarl is a parasitic demon who paralyses his victim with a poison secreted through his fingernails - more like claws actually, and then cuts strips from their skin. Oh, yuck. He does this while they're still alive."

"B-but there was no skin? I didn't see any skin."

"You wouldn't, he eats it. And furthermore, he drinks the blood, licks it up like a cat. There was no blood; this is our guy. Come on, we gotta find the others and tell them what we've found."

It was several hours later when they all stomped wearily into the Summersí house. They had found the demon; he had been hiding in a cave. Unfortunately, he was having dinner when they got there. It was too late to save the girl; she was already dead, but they killed the demon.

"I still don't think that was very funny!"

Dawn - hands on her hips and a scowl on her face - stared at Xander and Spike. They grinned and shrugged their shoulders.

"Oh come on, you would have laughed if it happened to someone else."

"But it didn't, Xander. It happened to me, and you guys... posed me! Like I was a life-sized Barbie doll or something!"

Xander grinned. He couldn't help it. Buffy was fighting the demon and he and Spike were guarding Dawn after she had gotten too close and the demon had scratched her. It was purely an accident that he realised she was moveable. It had been Spike's idea to pose her like Buffy. Putting a stake in one of her hands, placing the other one on her hip and then moving her mouth into a scowl. It was funny. He had to play too.

"Well yeah, but at least I didn't make you stick your tongue out and go cross-eyed."

"Oi! You were the one who tried to make her look like some soddin' B-movie vampire. Honestly, Xander, claw hands and a big show of teeth? I thought you were more familiar with us vamps than that."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Come on, blondie, let's go home."

"Right. Night all."

Dawn watched as the two men left the house together, talking and laughing as they went.

"Is it just me, or does anyone else think Xander has a thing for Spike now?"

Dawn smirked as three women stood gaping at her. Oh yeah, she still had it. She smiled and headed up to bed.

Part Eight

The next week was crazy. Xander had felt more like himself since Spike's accident in the kitchen, but the vampire was acting more than a little bit weird. Xander would catch him smelling him sometimes, and he stared at him a lot. Especially at his neck. It was giving him a wiggins. Not that he thought Spike would bite him; it was just that soul or no, he was a vampire, and Xander understood that a whole lot better than he used to. The worst part was, Xander remembered how a bite felt when it was done right, how it made him hard and left him wanting; he wasn't sure if he'd even defend himself if Spike attacked. Again, not that he thought he would.

After the incident at the site, Xander had tried to keep a tight rein on his anger. He certainly didn't want to end up losing control or doing anything like that again. So, he put aside his anger and mistrust of Willow and tried to fit back into the goofy-Xander place he had vacated when the curse came into effect. It seemed to be working; no one noticed that his efforts were half-hearted at best. No one, that is, except Spike.

They had spent the evening tracking down some high school punk who was using a magic-ed jacket to get all the girls to fall for him. It worked well, as not only was Dawn swooning over the creep, but Xander had walked into a Mary Kay Letourneau situation with him and the Buffster in one of the empty classrooms.

He had taken Spike with him to get the coat, seeing as how RJ had shown up at the Summers' house and mojo-ed both Willow and Anya as well. Good thing they had stopped by; Willow was all set to turn him into a girl. God only knows what An had been up to. Something involving grand larceny, he was sure.

So with the coat in his hands, Xander led Spike back to Buffy's place where they burned it. Just your average evening's entertainment here on the hellmouth. He wondered why it was they didn't have more tourism. "Come for the sun. Stay for the possession!" They could make a fortune selling novelty shirts that read "My parents vacationed on the Hellmouth and all I got was this stupid t-shirt, an extra eye in the back of my head, and the memories of an ex-Green Beret." It was catchy if not original.

Now they were home, two men vegging in front of the TV, drinking beer and watching soccer - Xander refused to call it football no matter how many times Spike corrected him. It was... comfortable, easy, relaxing, and God he just wanted to scream with the frustration of it all.

Spike was miserable. Buffy had been making eyes at her boss, not to mention riding one of the students. Xander was miserable, as well. He felt uncomfortable around his friends because they all wanted to know what had happened and he wouldn't tell them. He was trying to learn how to control his magical powers but he wasn't having a lot of success - blowing up the john had been the only thing that had gone right, and he was horny as hell. He had gotten used to keeping up with his mate's sexual appetites and he felt the absence of sex very acutely.

Spike was sniffing him again. It was very discreet, and if Xander hadn't been waiting for it, he wouldn't have noticed. As it was, he was highly irritable so he snapped at the vampire.

"What? What is it about me that you keep sniffing me?"

"I wasn't!"

"You were! You were so sniffing me, pal."

"Like I'd sniff you."

"Oh you would! You... Hey! No fair cheating. We were having an argument, buddy. You can't blindside me with humour."

"Alright, you smell nummy. Happy?"

"You. Are a funny vampire. Funny, funny vampire. Maybe we should put you on stage; you could be the undead Jerry Seinfeld."

Spike snorted and rolled his eyes. Xander squinted his in suspicion.

"Hey! You were doing it again!"

"Doing what?"

"Distracting me. Now out with it. Do I smell bad or something?"

"No. You smell... actually you smell fuckin' amazing. For some reason, you've always smelled good, like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. But lately? It's... overwhelming. I'm surprised every demon on the hellmouth hasn't been gunning for you. You are the demon equivalent of prime rib, Xander - with all the trimmings."

"Oh. So when you said I smelled nummy, you were telling the truth?"

"Yeah. Now shut up and watch the match."

An hour later and the game was finished. Xander didn't remember much about it after talking to Spike. He spent the rest of the time trying to figure out how to mask his scent to the demon population of Sunnydale. The last thing he wanted was to go around smelling like a steakhouse while out on patrol. He switched off the television absently and closed his eyes. He was getting a hell of a headache. He tried a few of the meditative breathing techniques he had read about while trying to learn how to focus his control, hoping they would ease the pain a bit.

He was in a light doze when he felt cool finger at his temples, gently circling, applying just the slightest bit of pressure. Spike had amazing hands, Xander had almost enjoyed having headaches in the past because Spike would always scoot in behind him - just like he was now and ease the tension for him.

"Yeah, just like that. Fuck, you have the best hands."

Spike shook his head fondly; he could feel the tension radiating out of the man and knew this would help. He had waited until Xander was in a light doze before moving into position behind him. He admitted he had an ulterior motive; he was trying to see if Xander had a scar, since he couldn't smell a claim on him. He smelled like magic though, so there was a good chance he was masking it.

"Hmmm, love your hands. Don't stop, feels good."

Xander was in his happy place. Reclined against Spike's cool chest, gentle fingers rubbing small circles on his temples, he only wished for the purr; that would make everything perfect. He would fall asleep if only Spike would purr for him.

Spike gently moved Xander's head to the side and gazed into the open collar of his shirt. There it was, plain as day if you knew what you were looking for. A scar; a claim. His claim. It was identical to his mark - every vampire worth his salt knew the look of his own bite, as well as the bite of his family, and their enemies, for that matter. It kept you from mistaking another master's pet for a random meal. The demon within him reacted at once to the visual stimulation. Having felt alone and unwanted for so long, it grabbed onto this lifeline and held it tight. Spike felt the demon's satisfaction as it rumbled happily. It wasn't alone; it had a companion - a mate - even if it wasn't technically his. He was the only "Spike" in this reality.

"Mmm, purry. Nice vampire. Pretty vampire."

Xander mumbled happily and then fell asleep to the feel and sound of Spike purring - content for the first time since getting his soul - behind him. Eventually, all good things had to come to an end and Spike lifted Xander into his arms and carried him to his bed. He deftly stripped him out of his shirt and jeans and with a soft kiss to his forehead tucked him in and whispered goodnight. Xander smiled in his sleep and whispered back.

"Night, Spike. Love you."

Spike smiled sadly and left the room. He wanted to believe that the words were meant for him, even though he knew better. It wasn't as though he was in love with Xander; his heart still belonged to Buffy. But he was lonely, and having someone who loved him, even in friendship, would be nice right about now.

Part Nine

Xander had woken early in the morning feeling refreshed and happy. He had had the best dreams; Spike had been here, talking to him, holding him and kissing him. They had made love over and over. He felt... sated. He rolled onto his back and stretched.

"Morning love, did you sleep well?"

Xander squeaked and sat up. He hadn't expected anyone to be in his room. He panicked, thinking that somehow he had taken advantage of his roommate in his sleep. But that wasn't Spike-with-a-soul in his bed. It was Spike - his Spike. Dark hair, twinkling blue eyes; he was beautiful.


"Here, love."

"Oh, God! Oh God!"

Xander scrambled out of bed and stood trembling by his bedroom door. He wanted so badly to just throw himself into Spike's arms and cry in relief. But he couldn't trust what he was seeing. Spike was gone; he knew this.

"What's wrong, love? Not happy to see me?"

"No... yes, I mean, of course I am! But, you're dead. Dust, I mean."

Spike climbed out of bed and walked toward Xander. He was naked and hard and Xander looked at him and he wanted him. He stepped toward him holding out his hand. Spike stopped just out of reach and shook his head sadly.

"Can't, love. No touching; that's the rule."

"Why? Why can't I touch you?"

"Not corporeal, am I? Nothing but dust in the wind - or a pot as the case may be. Besides, you don't need me. Got a perfect replica across the hall. He's got a soul and everything; no reason for your mates to get testy or anything."

"Wha... Spike? No. He's not; he's not you. I love you."

"Really? Then why'd you tell him you loved him last night? Wasn't me that carried you to bed; wasn't me that undressed you, that kissed you goodnight. It was him. It was him that you smiled at, that you spoke words of love to."

As Xander tried desperately to remember the events of the night before, the image of Spike in front of him began to change. His hair lightened, his body thinned out and his eyes lost the spark of life within them. He looked like he had when they had first met. When he had been with Riley.

"No. Don't do this."

"Why? This is what I am, just a used-up replica of the demon you really want."

Spike's skin became mottled with bruises; scars appeared on his chest and abs, his skin began to peel away in strips. Xander shook his head in denial. He didn't want to see this.

"Why? Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me?"

"But I do love you, Xander. I died for you, didn't I?"

Spike's image changed again, this time to what he looked like just after his hand had been severed. Xander sobbed and stepped toward him again.

"I'm sorry, oh God I'm so sorry. I never meant... It was an accident."

"Hmm, doesn't help though, does it? I'm still gone, and you're all alone. Doesn't have to be that way, love."

Xander shook his head.

"I don't want him. Only you, Spike. Only you."

Spike smiled softly at him.

"Come with me then, Xan. We can be together again, just you and me. Forever."

"I... Wait. How?"

"Death isn't the end, love, it's just the beginning."

Xander didn't understand what Spike was talking about at first but when the realisation hit him, he backed away from Spike instantly. He looked again at the image in front of him.

"No. You're not Spike. He would never ask me to die. I don't know what you are but it won't work. Whatever it is you're up to, you will fail."

"Suicide thing was too far, huh? Hmm. You seemed so ripe."

"Who are you?"

The Spike-thing sneered at Xander and then affected a sad, pouty face.

"But I love you. I don't want him, only you. Please. I know what's really in your heart; you'd take him in an instant if he offered. Use him up; pretend he was the real thing. You're not the pure soul you pretend to be, Xander; I know what you're capable of - all that darkness inside you. You've got a taste for it now, don't you? It's the end of the world, lover. Whose side are you going to be on? From beneath you it devours."

Xander watched - shocked - as Spike's face distorted, his grin growing wider and wider until he turned inside out and disappeared. Xander dropped to his knees and wept. He was still crying minutes later when Spike knocked softly on his door. He didn't even register the door opening or the vampire crouching down in front of him.

"Xan? You alright?"

Xander's hand shot out and grabbed the startled vampire. He raised his eyes to look at him and sagged in relief.

"You're real."

"Er, yeah."

"You're real, you're real, you're real."

Xander chanted, as the tears flowed freely. Spike was starting to become increasingly worried about the man and pulled him up off the floor. He led him out to the kitchen and propped him on one of the kitchen stools before setting about to make coffee. When it was finished, he slid a heavily sweetened mug of it in front of Xander and waited for him to drink before asking what had happened.

"I can't... I just, I can't talk about it."

"Yeah, been hearing that a lot lately, Xander. You don't talk to your friends, you don't talk to me; you need to talk to someone, luv. You're fallin' to pieces here, Xan and it's worrying me."

Spike snorted in disgust.

"You hear that? You got me, the Big Bad, worrying about your sorry arse. Come on, Xander, out with it. What the hell's going on with you?"

Xander drank some more of his coffee and then looked at the vampire who was leaning casually against the counter. He looked the very picture of disinterest, unless you knew him, and Xander did know him - intimately.

"I, it's a long story, Spike."

"That's the beauty of immortality, pet. I have the time."

"It started with the curse and what happened to me during that time."

Xander began his tale starting with the morning he woke up in an empty apartment. Spike knew the basics, having read the boy's journal, but wanted to hear Xander tell it. It took awhile to tell, and Xander had stopped a few times in the telling, once to call off work for the day, and a couple other times just to gather strength before telling about a particularly horrid event. By the end of it, Xander was shaking and crying and being held by a very confused vampire.

Part Ten

Spike sat at the bar and drank his beer in silence. He was trying to figure out what to do about his conflicting emotions. After hearing what had happened to Xander, all of it, including his visit that morning by something pretending to be his mate, he had held the man in his arms as he wept.

His demon felt the need to soothe him, and the man in him agreed wholeheartedly. Xander had been more than kind to him since his return and he wanted to repay him. But he was beginning to feel things for him that he had no business feeling. He loved Buffy. He had gotten his soul for Buffy. Of course he knew that Xander didn't want him; well okay, maybe he wanted him but he didn't love him. He was grieving for his lover - his mate - and was trying to find a way to bring him back. At least that had given him the chance to tell him about Darla. He expected Angel would be getting a phone call sometime soon.

A pretty blonde girl slid onto the stool next to him and set a package of cigarettes on the bar in front of him. He nodded to her and she smiled. They started talking, small talk - decent band tonight, that sort of thing. All the while Spike was wondering if Xander was all right. He had convinced him to take a sleeping pill and make an early night of it before leaving the apartment. He needed time and space to put his head on right.

Buffy would be out there right now somewhere in one of the many cemeteries this quaint little town had. She'd be patrolling, fighting for her life possibly, and he should be there with her, protecting her. He stood to go; the girl stood as well. He offered to walk her home and she accepted.

He didn't remember much after that. He had woken up at home in his bed. He felt unusually well. Full, and his demon was sated. He got up and wandered across the hall to check on Xander. He quietly pushed the door open and peered inside.

Xander was sleeping peacefully. He was glad for that; after hearing what he had been through and about the visit from the evil that had pretended to his lover, he wondered if the man would sleep at all. That was the reasoning behind the sedative.

Spike closed the door and went out to the living room. It was just a few hours before dawn and he knew from experience that there would be nothing but infomercials and repeats of Gilligan's Island on the television. So, he dug a book out of the couch cushions where he had stashed it a few nights ago and sat down to read.

Xander was dreaming

It was bright outside; he was lying on the beach watching the waves. He closed his eyes and let the heat of the sun and the sound of the waves crashing on the sand soothe him. He had always loved the ocean and wondered why he didn't take the time to go there more often. He felt a cool hand slide across his chest and smiled as soft lips caressed his cheek.

"I miss you."

"I'm always here, love; told you I'd never leave you."

"But you did. You're not here anymore."

"Sure I am. Can't you feel me?"

Spike continued to pet Xander; he ran his fingers lightly over his arms and shoulders before kissing his neck - directly over his mark. Xander shuddered and pressed into his lover with a sigh.

"Right now I can, and it's wonderful, but I can only feel you when I sleep. I want more."

"I know, love, but this is all we have right now. Besides, you can still feel me - in here."

Spike tapped Xander's chest right over his heart.

"Just like I can feel you. You're a part of me, remember? Just like I'm a part of you. My being dust doesn't change that. Mine, forever mine."

And then Spike kissed Xander softly.

"I have to go, love."

"No, not yet! You just got here."

"I know, but our time is short these days. There is something coming, love, something big. You need to wake up and go see your slayer friend."

Xander clutched Spike to him with all the strength he possessed.

"Just a few more minutes, please, Spike. I miss you so much."

"Okay love, okay."

Spike pressed his lips to Xander's and kissed him again. The sounds of the ocean faded out as the real world came crashing back with an annoying buzz.

Xander reached out and slapped ineffectually at his alarm clock. He could still feel the effects of his dream. The sound of Spike's voice, the taste of his lips. He sighed and rolled over, grabbed his clock and turned off the alarm. He didn't want to go to work today; he wanted to go back to sleep and dream of his mate. But he had taken yesterday off and if he wanted to keep his job, he had to go in today. Besides, he had to see Buffy as well. He would drop in on her at lunchtime and tell her about his visit yesterday.

The morning had crawled by. Every time Xander looked at the clock, he sighed. He didn't want to talk to Buffy, but he knew he had to. He just didn't know what to tell her. That he had been visited by something that looked like his dead lover? Not gonna happen, 'cause hello? No one knew about his Spike, or anything else that had happened while he'd been gone. So what then? Tell her he had been visited by a dead person who said the end of the world was coming? Yeah, that'd go over well.

"Fuck it. I'll think of something when I get there."

Xander picked up the phone and dialled Sunnydale High. He waited to be connected with "Miss Summers'" office and smiled. Whoever thought Buffy would end up a guidance councillor? Not him, that was for sure. It made sense though, that the slayer's day job would be directly over the hellmouth. Actually, it was a bit too much of a coincidence for his liking. Maybe he'd do a little poking around into the new Principal's history. Make sure he wasn't evil or anything.

"Hey, Buff. You doing anything for lunch? .... Great. You want me to pick you up or meet there? .... Okay, I'll see you shortly."

Xander grabbed his jacket and left the trailer, locking it behind him. He nodded and waved to various guys on the crew on his way to his car. He couldn't help but chuckle at poor Rodney. Whatever he had used to wash with had dried his skin so badly it was red and blistered. He wondered if Jeremy hadn't been right after all - he could see Rodney's wife dousing him with bleach.

As Xander drove, his mind drifted back to earlier that morning. He had staggered out to the kitchen to set the coffeemaker before getting in the shower. On his way past the living room back to the bathroom he had noticed Spike asleep on the couch. He had a book resting open and face down on his chest, one arm over his eyes, the other dangling off the couch and resting on the floor. His legs were straight, feet crossed at the ankles and he was barefoot. Actually he was bare-chested as well, just wearing the light blue denims that Xander had bought him.

With the feelings the dream had brought on so close to the surface, he found himself subconsciously moving toward the sleeping vampire. Then his mind threw up the image of that thing that had impersonated his mate - telling him that he was dark, that he would use this beautiful creature in front of him to satisfy his own needs. That was just the bucket of cold water he needed. He had left the room rather quickly and jumped into the shower. Turning the water on cold. By the time he'd come out, Spike had gone to bed. Xander poured coffee into a travel mug, grabbed a couple of packages of blueberry muffins and left.

As he entered the parking lot for the high school, he took a couple of deep, fortifying breaths and tried to be calm. Buffy waved to him from across the lot and he slowed the car as she came toward him. He pulled to a stop and she opened the car door and climbed in.

"Wow. You look like I feel"

Xander looked at her and grinned.

"Well if you feel like shit run over twice, I'd have to say you were dead on."

Xander knew he looked washed out. The bags under his eyes had luggage of their own; he hadn't bothered to shave, and he barely bothered to finger comb his hair after his shower.

"Xander. I need to ask you something. It's about Spike."

"Okay. What is it?"

"I talked to this vampire last night on patrol, he went to school with us - Holden Webster; ring any bells? Anyway, we fought for a while, then we talked - it was way weird - he was a psychology student or something before he died."

"Wait. You were being head-shrunk by the evil undead?"

Xander shook his head and chuckled. Buffy laughed softly, as well.

"Only you, Buff."

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking too. Anyway, he helped me to realise a few things about myself, but that has nothing to do with what I need to ask you. Xander, he told me he was sired by Spike."

There was a deathly quiet in the car while Xander absorbed that bit of information. Then Buffy dropped another bomb in his lap.

"That's not all. You remember Cassie, that girl I was trying to help, the one who died? Well Willow had a close encounter of the scary kind with her last night. She tried to trick her into killing herself, telling her that Tara had sent her, and that she wanted her to join her in the afterlife."

"Wow, um..."

"There's more. Dawn saw mom. At least she said it was mom, but it might have been whatever it was that Willow saw."

"I saw someone, too. He told me it was the end of the world."

Buffy looked at Xander long and hard.

"What else? I know there's more to it than this Xander. I can see it on your face. You have something-face."

"He tried to convince me to die, as well. He was very convincing; up until that point, I believed he was really..."

"Who was it, Xander, who did you see?"

When Xander didn't answer, Buffy got impatient.

"Xander! We don't have time for this; what you saw - who you saw might be very important to figuring out what's going on. The Cassie-thing said something about "from beneath you it devours". I've been hearing that in my dreams lately; that and seeing girls die. We don't have the luxury of secrets anymore. You are going to have to tell me."

Xander pulled off to the side of the road and thumped his head on the steering wheel. Buffy was right, he had to tell her the truth, but he so didn't want to. This was going to be bad. Very, very bad.

"It was Spike."

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