Mermaid's Steam



by

Kirasmommy



Part One

The moon was high in the jeweled sky but the two lovers took no notice. They had eyes only for each other. He had proposed to her this evening upon the beach and they were making love tenderly in the most romantic spot he could think of. The roar of the ocean was like soft enchanting music as he showed his love to her with the promise of many more nights of such passion to come.

As the waves lapped over their feet as they lay much too close to the water the man felt something touching his foot. He absently kicked thinking it was just a bit of seaweed that had come in on the wave. He had time to only gasp as he felt the touch tighten then pull him into the water.

The woman sat up screaming as another creature came from the water and grabbed her also. No promises saved them.

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Anya held on to the pillow tightly as Xander dressed for work. "You're going to leave me someday."

Xander paused looking at her incredulously as he pulled on his shirt. "What? No I won't! What makes you say that?"

"You will! Or I will. One of us will leave the other. It will happen. We can't stop it. One of us is going to die. Sooner or later one of us will not wake up someday. Or maybe one night we will go help Buffy and pbbt...that will be it. Dead." Anya pulled the pillow up tightly to her body as she pouted. Her pink satin nightgown rode up on her thigh and for a second he was distracted.

Xander stared at her as he tried to catch up to the conversation that she had obviously been having with herself long before she included him in it. "I'm not sure I'm following this."

"We are going to die. Someday. And we don't know when. And then one day, one of us is leaving the other. And we can't stop it." She had tears in her eyes as she spoke. "I don't think I could take it if you died."

"Anya..."

"No it is true. I can feel this body...dying a little bit every day. I look in the mirror and I can see it age. I have...lines appearing under my eyes. I saw a GRAY HAIR Xander! I have GRAY! I'm getting old. And you are getting old. True you don't look it but we are human and humans get old and die! And either I'm going to lose you or you are going to lose me and it is SO not fair." Anya was crying into the pillow softly.

"Oh Anya. Gray hair isn't a big thing. I've had a little gray since I was thirteen. Heck back then I thought it was kinda cool." He smiled at he gently. "Anya I can say with a certain amount of certainty that I don't think I will personally be leaving you anytime soon. Okay. I promise."

To himself he wondered how she knew she had gray when she dyed it so often.

"You promise? You won't die on me?" Anya asked him.

"Let's just say it is hard to keep a good man down and leave it at that." Xander told her with an almost sad smile.

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Xander worked hard for the rest of the day and only thought briefly about his conversation with Anya. He didn't want to think about her dying. It hurt too much. It hurt too much to think about any of his friends dying. It was easier during the day to avoid the morbid thoughts that would sometimes come to him in the night. He would find himself brooding when he should be sleeping.

At night they would come and he had no other recourse but to think about them and at those times he believed that he among all of his associates probably understood Angel the most. Buffy may understand the man's heart but Xander understood the man's soul. And sometimes he envied Angel the knowledge that he did indeed have a soul. Xander had no such knowledge. No such reassurances that he had that all-important aspect of life that would carry him into any type of afterlife. Perhaps when he was gone...he would truly be gone. No heaven, no hell, just gone like a flame blown out. He had often thought about asking Willow if there were a spell that would tell you if a soul were present. But then he would think about his best friend and the other morbid thoughts would return. Someday his best friend would die and just as before with Jessie he would have to stand there and bare his loss.

He thought about Spike and other vampires briefly. Perhaps that is why they didn't make friends among humans. Besides the whole, they are a food source, lets not make friends with our snack idea. Perhaps it hurt too much to watch them die. Did it hurt Spike on some level to know that Buffy would die long before him barring a stake though the heart? Did Spike even realize that yet? Had it occurred to him? What was it like to watch everyone you ever knew die as you remained unchanged? Did immortality get old after a while? Did they get bored and want it to ever end? Or do they strive to keep it interesting? How do they handle the crushing loneliness that being so long lived has to bring? Is that why they turned other people, in the hopes that one will stay with them and make the loneliness all the more bearable? Is that why Spike really loved the insane Dru? Is it because she had stayed with him and made it easier? Would he have been as infatuated with any other demon under those circumstances? Or was it a whole Sire and Childe thing?

So many questions burned in Xander's mind at night keeping him awake long after he knew he should be sleeping. But they mainly boiled down to 'What became of you when immortality became too tiring?'

And having avoided thinking about the entire subject all day, now that night had fallen once more he looked at the ceiling and asked his unanswerable questions. As he contemplated death and life and un-life, Anya slept peacefully at his side calmed by his promise not to leave her unexpectedly.

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Giles held the morning paper in his hands as he read the front page over and over again. The picture was much too blurry to see anything of consequence but the story struck a cord that put him on alert. According to the news item two late night swimmers had been attacked and partially eaten by sharks. On a beach that had never had any dealing with such a thing. Giles adjusted his glasses as he read the complete account of what was found over and over again. It was ordinary yet it was not and if his time on the Hellmouth had taught him anything it was to trust his instincts.

After a few minutes of considering it he finally called everyone and asked them to meet him at the Magic Box later that afternoon.

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"So you think this was not a shark attack." Xander asked him later that night.

They had spent a considerable amount of the afternoon researching the books and discussing the possibilities.

"Something just isn't right. I can't put my finger on it." Giles told him.

The sun had already been down for a couple of hours and Buffy was preparing to go on patrol when Spike rushed into the shop and slammed the door shut behind him.

"Sea monster!" He barked.

They all stared at him blankly.

"Seeeeaaaaa Monnnnnsssster." He said slower as though talking to a slow child.

"Huh?" Xander said.

"By the ocean. Big, mean, black lagoonish sea monster. Tried to take a bite out of me. Thought that would be up your lots' alley." Spike told them adjusting his coat.

"You do know that you aren't welcome here right?" Buffy asked. "Like as in stake through the heart not welcome."

"Right so I should just stay in my crypt and let you guys figure out on your own what is eating people?" Spike asked. "No problem...ta."

He started out the door and Giles sighed heavily. "Spike wait. What exactly did you see?"

He had a put upon expression on his face as he waved Spike back. "You are on probation as of right now until this matter is put to rest. Try anything though and we will use the dust buster to clean you up with."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Right."

He sat down and put his feet up on the table. "Right it was big, scaly, looked like the creature from the black lagoon and had many sharp teeth and likes to eat people including yours truly which means that I would prefer that it wasn't around. I mean I may not be top of the food chain anymore but I don't need to be someone's Vampire McNuggets either."

He pulled out a piece of paper while he was talking and started to sketch what he saw while everyone grabbed more books. Buffy took her jacket off and sat back down. A couple of hours later they still had no luck locating information on it but they had recognized the creatures.

"The swim team. They've come back." Xander said quietly.

Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Apparently."

"Swim team? That is a bloody stupid name for a demon." Spike said.

Everyone ignored him as they stood up. "We should go take a look around and see if anything is still moving tonight."

As the young people filed out the door Spike brought up the rear. "Swim team? I mean come on...that hardly strikes fear into your enemies does it? Beware...the swim team. They have come to eat you up. Nope not even a chill."

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They walked along the beach as they looked for any sign of the creatures that were once human. Each took a different section in teams of two. Xander walked quietly along Spike as they checked out a small section near an outcropping. Spike growled. "Nothing here."

Xander nodded. "They probably already ate and are sleeping it off somewhere by now. We won't find them tonight."

Spike said nothing as he looked up at the clear bright stars.

"Thinking about Dru?" Xander asked him quietly.

"Obvious?" Spike asked just as quietly.

"I remember her thing with the stars." Xander shrugged.

They walked on in silence as they turned to head back toward the others.

"What is it like?" Xander asked finally.

"What is what like?" Spike asked confused as he pulled out a cigarette.

"Living so long. Is it lonely? Do you get bored? If you had a choice would you be mortal again?"

For a few seconds Spike said nothing and Xander could only hear the ocean and feel the give of the sand under his feet.

Spike turned to look at Xander as though he had just grown another head. "What the bloody hell are you talking about mate?"

"Never mind. Just mindless ponderings." Xander said with an embarrassed smirk.

Spike crushed the newly lit cigarette out suddenly. "Yeah sometimes. Miss Dru. She was my Dark Goddess after all. But I don't get all broody like that pouf of a grandsire of mine. Try not to think about it too much truthfully."

"Do you think the loneliness will ever get to be too much?" Xander asked quietly again.

"You are rather morbid tonight aren't you mate?" Spike lifted a brow.

"Sometimes. Just trying to imagine what it is like to watch the centuries pass you by as everyone you ever cared about dies. I would just think it is lonely."

"God you are depressing." Spike pronounced as he walked a little faster.

Xander shrugged.

The night was pronounced a bust and they all tiredly went home vowing to meet the next night to try once again to locate the monsters in question.

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Xander woke up late. It had been his day off and he slept through the day and woke up well after the time that he was supposed to have met his friends. Anya had already been gone since earlier, she worked at the Magic Box. He raced to get cleaned up and dressed and threw the refrigerator door open. It was bare of what he needed.

"SHIT!" He had forgotten to buy more the day before.

He raced out the door intent on meeting them there and hoping that the hunger wouldn't present too much of a problem.

As he raced through the park a woman came out hobbling. "Help me! I...I...was...just attacked!"

She looked hurt and reached her hands out to him to steady herself. He put his hands on her arms to pull her up.

Her demon face slid forward as vampire teeth came down. He almost sighed as she tried to bite him and instead shifted his weight throwing her off balance. She ended up in his arms and he pulled her head back and he leaned forward grabbing flesh between teeth.

Xander turned quickly as he heard the shout behind him. He dropped the girl he held in his arms and tried to wipe at the blood upon his lips as Buffy gasped in shock. The girl fell briefly before staggering up and running as fast as she could despite the blood loss. He tried to think of something to say as in one brief moment he saw everyone there. Willow looked ready to cry as Tara tried to hold her. Anya had grave acceptance upon her face before she turned away. Giles looked sad and resolute as Buffy raised the stake in her hand but it was the look of shock and confusion on Spike's face that took him by surprise. He almost smiled at the look when he remembered the stake being held near him.

"Buffy, you don't know..." He started.

"You aren't Xander." She said sadly almost to herself. As though she were trying to convince herself so it would make her job easier. Her eyes held tears as she took a step forward.

"Maybe we could curse him..." Willow began.

"You don't have t..." he started as he stepped forward trying to convince them that it wasn't necessary really.

She gasped as she perceived an attack and stuck out quickly imbedding the stake deeply within his heart.

He sighed as he slid silently to the ground with only a slight gurgling sound issuing from his lips. As his eyes closed and he started to feel himself die. "Sorry." He whispered as he felt his body grow colder.

He was dead within seconds.

Willow stared at him wide eyed a few seconds before she started moaning. "Oooooh no. oh no oh no oh no" over and over again as she fell upon his body.

Buffy looked at him with a dull expression as she stood in shock. "He didn't turn to dust. Why didn't he turn to dust? He should have turned to dust."

Giles covered his mouth and closed his eyes while Anya walked away crying silently. Spike shook his head sharply trying to clear it and find his voice.

"He wasn't a vamp. He was still human." He leaned heavily against a nearby tree. "She was the vamp."

He stared at the dead man on the ground and shook his head. {Yet he was draining her as though they were reversed.}

Giles gently yet firmly pulled Willow off of the body as Tara wrapped her arms around the crying red head still chanting "oh no". Giles nodded his head at Spike and Spike understood.

"We will deal with the...the...the body...Xander...later." Giles spoke softly. "Spike I want you to take him to your crypt until I can contact the council. I will need their help to deal with this. Seeing as how you are on...probation...with us I suggest you do it without argument."

Suddenly Buffy broke out in tears as Spike lifted the seemingly boneless body in his arms. The larger man looked out of place in the smaller man's arms and was awkward to carry. He shifted him around until Xander's head fell upon his shoulder. He turned without a word and started for his crypt as Buffy started to cry in earnest.

He heard the screamed "NO" behind him as Giles started to make shushing sounds.

He felt curious eyes on him as he made his way through the cemetery by the other denizens of the night but none tried to interfere with him or stop him. They were curious but not curious enough to risk a fight.

He kicked the crypt door open and walked in kicking it close behind him. "Well whelp, I always knew you were going to get it in the end but I didn't figure on the slayer doing it."

He laid the man upon what served as his bed and looked at him carefully. "Just what the bugger were you doing anyway? Never saw a human biting a vamp before unless he was being turned...and you'd have to be close to death for that to happen. What the bloody hell were you doing?"

The corpse had no answer for him as it lay motionless before him. He stretched out the limbs in a more natural position and pulled out the stake still embedded within his heart. "Now what do I do with you?"

Spike sat next to the dead body and studied it. Xander looked like he was merely sleeping. Soft and long eyelashes brushed soft cheeks that had no flaws. And the tousled hair just added to the idea of a young man only sleeping. Lying down and relaxed his body looked bigger than it usually did. Broader and more muscular since he was no longer hunched over as though ashamed of his body. Spike reached out in spite of himself and prodded an arm. He was surprised at the muscle he felt there. He ripped at the shirt and pulled it back to look at the wound closer. There was lots of blood surrounding it and he smirked. "No one would notice if I had a bit of a nibble."

He leaned closer and flicked a tongue out at the wound taking a generous lap. A few seconds later he was spitting it out and trying to wipe his tongue off as he glared at the body next to him. He grabbed a bottle of whiskey off a nearby table and gargled with it before he spit it back out. "YUCK! What the HELL have you been taking?"

He gargled again and spit.

He glared at the body and pouted. Even in death the young man had managed to spite him. "Some Nummy Treat you turned out to be. Gross! Blatant false advertising!"

He walked to his sitting chair and turned on the television intent on watching it. He smiled at the movie and lost himself in it. Several hours passed without incident when suddenly he felt eyes upon his back. He hadn't heard the door open. He was positive he would have heard it opened since it had a pronounced squeak recently. He steeled himself and turned around slowly.

Xander was sitting up looking at him blinking tiredly.

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Spike stood up slowly and swallowed hard. "Xander?"

Xander tilted his head slightly and opened his mouth. Then he closed it with an audible click as he looked down and saw the blood upon his chest. He grimaced and looked up at Spike with an embarrassed expression.

"What are you?" Spike asked quietly unable to bring himself closer. He cautiously sniffed the air but it only told him that a human was nearby.

Xander rubbed at the blood on his chest and watched as it rolled and flaked off. "Yuck I hate blood it gets so sticky."

"True." Spike agreed softly.

As he rubbed the blood off Spike could see that the wound had disappeared completely. "What are you?" He asked again.

"I'm...me...same as I've always been. Never changing. Just me." Xander told him.

"You died mate. Watched you. Heard the heart stop. You were dead. And you haven't been turned." Spike told him in a tone that was almost accusing him. The tone said, 'You are breaking the rules and I don't appreciate it so lie back down and be dead again'.

Xander half shrugged. "So what else is new? I get killed at least three times a year. I feel like Kenny on South Park. 'Oh my God! They killed Xander! You bastards!' It's okay though, next day I feel fine. Hurts like hell at the time though."

Spike's eyes got wide and he looked vaguely innocent while confused. A look not lost entirely on Xander. {How cute...no not cute. Bad Xander bad thoughts...not cute. Except that he is.}

"It's okay. It takes some getting used to. The others didn't know, I guess they will now." He sighed unhappily. "I guess you all sort of caught me in the act."

"You mean the GRRR I'm not a vampire but I play one on the telly impersonation you gave us? Yeah we caught you." Spike said leaning against his chair trying to look casual as he remembered that Xander's 'victim' had been a vampire. "Just what was that about mate?"

Xander looked down miserable. "I was hungry. I ran out of blood at my place. What with everything going on... I was on my way to see everyone and she jumped out at me to try and drain me. I figured what the hell..."

"So you said Cheers and decided to grab a bite to eat? As a vampire no one would miss her?"

"Pretty much. I mean...she would have been staked normally at least I could save a buck tonight right?" Xander looked hopeful at Spike who only managed to look slightly disturbed.

"You smell like a human but you drink blood and you don't die...what the bloody hell are you?" Spike demanded finally.

"Immortal." Xander told him sadly. "It's been about three or four years."

"You've been immortal that long and none of us caught it?" Spike asked incredulously.

"Well it isn't like I advertised it. Besides I heal real fast so most the time I was alive again before anyone noticed I had died. Depending on the wound it only takes a few seconds to half a day." Xander told him pulling the rest of the ruined shirt off of him as he stood up.

Spike backed up further not wanting to get too close to Xander. Xander searched around and managed to find a spare black T-shirt lying in the

corner. He slid it on and found it really tight but it covered him. He prowled around finding himself slightly amused as the closer he got to Spike the more Spike would move to get further away.

"Did you...well you know...die...around me...before?" Spike asked crossing his arms over his chest as Xander picked up the television controls to flip the channels.

"Yeah a few times...recently in fact. Remember the big troll guy that was Anya's ex? Remember he hit me with that damn hammer...it killed me. But the wound was pretty simple...healed in a few seconds. Anya was impressed, she thought I was just dazed. Spike I was dead for that few seconds. I was amazed because no one could figure out getting hit by a hammer that size would kill me!"

"I thought it should have but I figured maybe he didn't hit you hard enough." Spike said quietly.

Xander shrugged as he sat down with a sigh. "Do you have any blood here? I mean it is only fair...I used to share mine with you!"

Spike's eyes went wide again and pointed numbly at the small refrigerator near the chair.

"Cool thanks." Xander pulled one out and drank it quickly without heating it. {Again with the cuteness...no again not cute...okay cute.} "Tastes nasty cold but I couldn't wait."

Spike bit his lip and rubbed at his arms as he kept the makeshift bed between himself and Xander. "You still haven't told me why you drink blood."

"Because it is not as bad as eating people." Xander told him as he changed the channel during a commercial. "You have cable? How do you get cable in a crypt?"

Spike made a strangled noise. "Got tired of static...and not legally that is for sure...You're a cannibal?"

Xander looked at him sadly before nodding his head again. "Not by choice though...and I don't really do it even though I crave it so bad. The closest I've done is buy a pig and ate that. Usually I do the blood bag thing. Angel told me how he did it so...I adapted. I mean I was sort of sweating it when you came to stay with me that time because I was afraid that you would notice that I ALREADY had blood in my fridge before you even showed up."

"I wasn't paying too much attention actually...too busy whinging on about my own problems." Spike admitted quietly.

Spike ran a hand through his hair before he asked. "How did you get like this?"

Xander was interrupted as the crypt door opened and his friends all filed in slowly. He gulped as they stared in horror at him. They looked terrible and he felt guilty for having worried them but before he could say anything Buffy shrieked in anger.

"You turned him?" She rounded on Spike who gaped at her.

"I...?" Spike choked out as she started to chase him around his bed.

Xander rolled his eyes and sighed. "Buffy stop!"

Buffy stopped shortly and wiped tears from her eyes. "It is okay Xander...we will curse you and get your soul back. We will...we will deal with this...maybe Angel could come down and help..."

"BUFFY! I'm NOT a vampire!" Xander finally interrupted her.

Willow wiped her nose frantically as with the other hand she pulled out a water gun and shot him in the face. He closed his eyes as it hit him right between them then down toward his mouth. She stopped and he shook the water off a little.

"Done yet? Or do I need another Holy Water shower?" Xander asked wiping at his face with a hand.

Buffy dropped the stake that she was holding in her hand and broke into fresh tears. "You aren't DEAD!"

She scooped him up into a giant bear hug. "I thought I killed you! Why aren't you dead?"

He patted her on the back gently trying to figure out the gentlest way of telling her the truth. "Buffy there...is...some stuff...you all should know."

They all looked at him apprehensively. They all still had questions and they all knew that something was very wrong. None of them had forgotten what he was doing when they had found him.

He backed away from her and looked around the interior of the crypt. It was dark and dank and he didn't want to tell them here. It would make things seem so much worse. "Can we go back to Giles? I want to be where there is more light. Someplace warm..."

"Of...of...course. Of course we can." Giles said flustered. "The sooner we get...this...settled the better."

The trip to Giles place was uneventful. Spike and Xander rode in silence as Spike practically hung onto the door sitting as far away as possible while looking casual.

As the car pulled to a halt Spike all but tumbled out as he opened the door. Xander rolled his eyes and shook his head to himself. {Not cute Xander. He is SO not cute when he is having a wiggins.}

As they all sat down he tried to think of the best way to begin. He honestly couldn't think of one.

He took a deep breath and grabbed the letter opener off the table next to him. He toyed with it for a few seconds in his hands before he began to speak.

"A few years ago do you remember me being on the swim team?" He asked still turning the letter opener over and over in his hands.

There were varying degrees of nodding and muttered yes and yeahs.

"Do you remember what the Coach said was in the steam?" He asked.

"Shark stuff I think." Buffy said.

Xander nodded. "Yeah...shark stuff. There was other stuff in it too but I found that out later though."

He looked at each of them silently. He noted that Anya was missing from the group and he wondered where she was. He shook his head to himself.

"There was more in the steam than shark...stuff...in fact those were like...inactive...ingredients. After what happened I did a little bit of snooping and found out the truth. The main ingredient was Mermaid."

Giles looked shocked while the others with the exception of Tara merely looked confused. "Mermaid is a terrible poison!"

"You are familiar with it?" Xander asked hopeful.

"Not really. I just remember reading a little about it from my days learning the arcane. I don't remember that much. Just that it was a poison used in certain spells." Giles confessed guiltily.

Xander felt his face fall. "Oh, well you are right it is a terrible poison, a horrible poison in fact. It is also really rare. REALLY rare. I have no idea how Coach got it. Don't really want to know either. See all he would have had to do is expose us one time to the steam bath. It would have worked. He would have gotten the results he wanted and it would have been done. Everyone on the team would have had some of the effects without being poisoned by it. But he got greedy. He exposed everyone over and over again. He wanted to win so bad. When I came onto the team he needed to change me quickly. I found out about the steam but I didn't realize that the special dinner he threw us that one night had a little extra kick to it. He did it to give me the full benefits faster. Or at least that is what he thought."

"He fed you Mermaid?" Giles asked dreading the answer.

"Yes. Me. The others he didn't because they had already had enough of the steam to give him what he wanted. Me, he knew he didn't have the time short of locking me in the steam bath for a couple of days."

"Okay so what did the steam and the...oh gross...food...do to you?" Buffy asked bluntly.

Xander sighed and lifted the letter opener up. "Mermaid has always been sought after because if you can live through it and if you are strong enough and if you are LUCKY it imparts something many people want."

He drew the letter opener over his wrist cutting deeply into it. The blood ran freely and Spike turned away from it. Everyone gasped and tried to stop him but he held up a hand. "Wait."

After a few seconds he wiped at his arm revealing no wound. "You receive eternal life and eternal youth depending on the part of the Mermaid used."

Everyone quietly regarded him as Giles finally asked. "You're immortal? Why didn't you tell us?"

Xander ran a hand through his hair. "For a short time I didn't know, I knew something was wrong with me but not what. Then there was a certain amount of shame as I discovered more about what my life now meant. I was exposed to the steam first. The Mermaid had been made into a mist spray and put into the air. Depending on the part of the Mermaid it can do different things to you. It wasn't until later that I actually ate Mermaid's flesh."

He blinked rapidly and bit his lip. He closed his eyes tightly and waited until he could control himself. "I changed. Just as the others changed but I was one of the lucky ones that didn't become a monster due to exposure. The creatures we are looking for...the swimmers...they have a name. They are called Lost Souls. I didn't learn that until later after they had swam away that first time. The Mermaid's poison can grant you eternal life and leave you human, turn you into a monstrous Lost Soul or just kill you. I know you never kept track of the others afterwards but I did. They all died within a few months after it all happened. The poison finished working its way through their bodies and it killed them."

He stood up and picked up one of the books off the table that they had been researching in earlier. Giles had brought it home after Spike had taken his body to his crypt. "You won't find them in these books and I should have told you that. And I should of told you all about my change. But I was so ashamed. I had become like the very creatures we hunt down! I was scared to tell you."

"What exactly have you become?" Spike asked quietly.

"A living human vampire at best. A cannibalistic monster at worst." Xander told them in a hushed voice.

Willow cried quietly. "How long? How long have you been feeding off of people?"

Buffy paced behind the couch trying to reign her temper in.

"I...I don't!" Xander said urgently. "I don't really! I drink from bags I have never fed off a human. Ate a pig once...not the first time of course but that time it was on purpose."

"But earlier..." Willow started.

Spike shook his head quickly. "She wasn't human pet. She was a vamp. She had jumped him and he turned the tables on her."

Tara rubbed little circles on Willow's back. "I read about Mermaids...when...when...when I was younger. They are cannibals. They eat...eat...humans...and even each other. When...when you eat their flesh...it would do its best to turn you...you...you into a mermaid like them. That is why...why it is a poison...the human body isn't made to be changed so completely. It is bad stuff. I've read some of the legends...most ended...not happily ever after."

Xander nodded. "Tell me about it."

Buffy gestured helplessly toward Xander. "You didn't tell us...we...we would have tried to understand. We would have worked through a cure! You should have told us the blood transfusions didn't save you."

Xander shook his head. "Buffy there is NO cure other than chopping off my head. And by the way the only way to stop the Lost Souls is to cut off their heads too."

Giles absentmindedly cleaned his glasses. "Just when did you discover that you were immortal?"

"Um that would have to be when Angelus tried to kill me. He was going to do it to get to you. He was NOT a happy camper by the way. He was going to turn me at one point but I taste awful apparently."

Spike nodded to himself.

"He was going to kill you?" Buffy asked.

"Didn't quite work out."

Spike jumped. "Wait I remember that! You had him cursing a right blue streak! I thought it was funny myself."

Spike chuckled at the memory.

Angelus had the young man tied down as he drew a knife down his chest. He had already tried to taste the blood only to be repulsed by it. "I'm going to make you scream."

Spike sat in the corner looking bored. "Look just get on with it will you?"

Angelus growled at Spike and returned to what he was doing. Xander finally obliged him with a loud scream as he sank the knife deeply in his chest. He pulled the knife out and smiled. The dead body lay on the slab as he turned back to Spike after he cut the ropes that had held the boy down. "I'll just leave this on her porch for her to find..."

"I'm not dead yet."

Angelus turned back to the body mouth gaping. Spike blinked in surprise and lifted himself up a little on his arms to get a look. "He's right you know. He isn't dead yet."

"Yes you are!" Angelus told him coming to stand back over him.

He raised the knife again and plunged it down several times in a row. Spike raised an eyebrow. "Seen Psycho too many times mate?"

Angelus wiped at the blood that had splattered up into his face. Even the smell was a little revolting. He turned back to Spike again. "As I was saying before being so rudely interrupted..."

"Nope still not dead yet."

Angelus whirled around with fury in his eyes. "Will you just die!"

"Hey maybe it's a trick knife or something?" Spike offered.

Angelus held it up and wiggled the blade. "Nope...but just to be sure should I try it on you?"

"No...no I believe you." Spike said wheeling himself back a little.

Angelus came back close to the boy and grabbed him by the hair and cut his throat. He pulled the skin open just a little to make sure it was really cut then pushed it back. He made a satisfied sound and turned back to Spike.

"After she finds his body she will come looking for me. When she finds..."

"Ya still didn't make me dead yet." A small voice spoke and echoed around them.

Spike bit his lip as Angelus looked as though he was about to have a conniption fit.

"You're dead, you're dead, don't argue with me you're dead!"

Xander raised himself shakily on his wounded arms. "Then can I go now? I have a test tomorrow."

Spike smothered a chuckle. "Mate I think you are losing your touch."

Then in a humorous voice he said, "And now for something completely different..."

"I hate Monty Python," Angel growled before turning to the boy and yelling, "GET the hell out of here!"

Xander slid off the slab and left as quickly as possible. Angelus turned back to Spike, "Not a DAMN word! Do you hear me? Not one single DAMN WORD!"

Spike laughed quietly to himself as he pulled out of his memory, that night had been filled with Angelus ranting and raving and cursing at everyone and everything. Even Dru couldn't do anything right in his eyes.

"Yeah Angelus wasn't too amused that I wouldn't stay dead if I remember right." Xander "That was the first time, second and uh third time I was killed. It was after that I started to investigate what may have happened to me. I was able to get my hands on the Coach's notes and read them. Once I found out about the Mermaid in the mix I started researching them, you know not a lot out there about them. Mostly just old legends and like Tara said they don't end too happily ever after. Most end with death."

"Why? I mean what is so bad about eternity mate. I'm signed up for the hitch myself." Spike asked suddenly.

"Well for one thing not all of them got the completely human or human looking package deal. Most people die and if they don't die they become monsters. Lost Souls...remember those cool freaky dudes from earlier...they live forever like that. Then even if you get the you-get-to-be-human package deal there is an expensive price tag. What becomes of you once you tire of immortality? What happens when you've done everything you ever wanted to do? What happens to you when everyone you ever cared about dies? Because only one human every few centuries becomes immortal like this."

"There...there...is a legend about a Nun...in Japan." Tara said quietly she was still extremely nervous and upset.

"Yes, not of the good." Xander nodded.

"She died and she had...these...ashes." Tara spoke a little bolder. "They were the ashes of a Mermaid. If you sprinkled them on flowers they would bloom and be healthy even in winter but she got killed and the ashes fell on her. She became a soulless demon and killed everything in her path. She had no thoughts and no remorse. She was hollow and killed everyone."

Buffy stared at Tara. "What happened?"

"She wandered into the forest and eventually the ashes wore off, she became a corpse again. Different parts of the Mermaid have different effects. The steam affected Xander first. He told us that because...it is why he...wants..." She tapered off looking down. "There was a little girl that had a Mermaid's liver and she wanted to eat other people's livers...a woman that just had the blood she lived for revenge on her sister. She had the claw of a Lost Soul and was old inside but her face was eternally young."

"Different parts do different things." Xander said quietly.

"So what do we do now?" Buffy asked sitting down finally.

Giles cleared his throat. "Well first things first. We need to stop the...the...Lost Souls. We now have a way of killing them so we will deal with that first."

"Where is Anya?" Xander asked quietly.

Everyone looked down or away from him not wanting to answer.

"Where is she? I mean I don't want her to think I'm still dead..."

"She's gone Xander. We don't know where she went. She packed and left as soon as she got home earlier. She didn't leave a note. We looked for her at her apartment. We figured that she couldn't deal..."

Xander sat back in shock. She was gone? She couldn't be gone could she? He was alive there was no real problem. He wasn't any different than when she first met him they could work through it. But she was gone.

Giles squeezed his shoulder briefly.

"It's almost dawn, we should all catch a few hours sleep then start searching for possible hiding places for them. I'm thinking near the ocean." Buffy announced quietly.

Willow rubbed her face and hugged Xander. "I'm glad you aren't dead...permanently."

Xander smiled at her but it felt hollow. He took the hugs all in stride then walked out the door surprised when Spike fell into step with him.

"So is that why you asked the questions before? About loneliness? Not looking forward to your precious Anya dying?"

Xander glared at Spike. "What about you? Don't you love the slayer? She will die too you know. She will die sooner than Anya most likely."

Spike's face darkened. "I know that."

Xander softened a little. "I know you know. It hurts. I wonder if I'm destined to always be alone."

"I doubt that pet." Spike said lightly. "You have your friends."

"For how long Spike? We fall in love and then our love is taken from us. Taken either by death or by those we had given it to."

"Your slayer says that soulless demons can't love." Spike growled. "Therefore if that was true why should I care."

"Because I have to wonder if it is true." Xander turned to him. "I don't know that I have a soul still. But I know that I love. I care. And if I am soulless and I can love then that means that vampires can too."

"Why would you have no soul mate?" Spike asked him confused.

"Didn't you listen? Different parts do different things not everyone is affected the same. Those creatures are called Lost Souls for a reason. The Nun lost her soul and became a terrible demon...the majority of the ones that have been infected by some part become killers. I am no exception really. I want to eat flesh I want blood. I just don't go through with the kill."

"I think I see where you are going with this." Spike said quietly. "You are afraid they will start to question that and then..."

"Yeah."

Spike nodded.

"You're lucky in a way...you know one way or the other." Xander mumbled.

Spike bit his lip as Xander turned a different corner and he continued on to his crypt. {Do I really?}









Part Two

Xander approached the door of his apartment gingerly. It was cracked open and he knew that he had left it closed. He pushed it open further and his first thought was that someone had broken into his apartment and ransacked his place. But he quickly saw that was not really the case. Nothing expensive had been touched. But the majority of his pictures from the walls and tables were missing. Personal items that he cherished including his Babylon Five memorabilia were missing as well. But the stereo and television were not touched.

As he entered the bedroom that he shared many times with Anya he felt his heart drop as he saw the piece of paper on the dresser.

Dear Buffy and all,

I'm sorry for the mess but I knew that if I waited I wouldn't be able to get the things I needed the most. Between his parents and everyone else they would take everything that would remind me of him. I can't stay here any longer. I can't bear to be so close to him and not have him. The memories are too much. Please forgive me. I loved him so much. It just hurts too much. I'm sorry. I'm leaving town tonight.

Anya

He crinkled the paper up in his hand and sat heavily on the bed. She was really gone. Gone out of his life forever. She would never know that he was still alive. And worse she would think that he broke the one promise he knew he could keep. That of staying alive.

As the sun came up he remained sitting on the bed in shell shock still not entirely absorbing that once again he was alone.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

In the crypt Spike sat quietly on his bed as Buffy slammed the door behind her. She had come to tell him not to get any ideas, That there would never be ANYTHING between them ever. He crossed his legs and sat with his elbows on his knees supporting his chin in his hands. {Maybe I'm destined to be alone too.}

He shook his head hard at the thought. {No, no we are not going to brood. We are going to go on and act like everything is fine because everything bloody well is fine.}

He lay back and straightened his body. {I sound like the bloody Queen...we? We who? Do I have a mouse in my pocket? Well maybe in my coat...I really should clean out the pockets in that thing.}

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

The next evening Xander laid the note down for everyone to read as he sat down in a corner. Willow sighed and hugged him. "I'm so sorry Xander."

He shrugged without saying anything. Spike sat down next to him without a word. Everyone turned to Giles as he opened up a notebook where he had been keeping notes.

"We've already checked the initial beach and we now know how to kill these creatures..." Xander tuned out the sound of Giles speaking as he brought his clasped hands to his chin.

Spike cast a small glance at Xander out of the corner of his eye. In a low voice he finally said. "Sorry the ex-demon chit ran away."

Xander glared a little before turning forward.

"Maybe she will come back or we can find her. We could ask the Pouf, he's into that kind of..."

"No." Xander told him quietly.

"Why not? I mean I know you aren't fond of the bugger but..."

"No I mean no in finding her. Let her find a happy life away from here. She deserves that." Xander closed his eyes briefly trying to focus again on Giles.

Spike stared at him. {Do you mean let her find a happy life or let me hide from life pet? That way you don't have to watch her die.}

Xander felt the look and kept resolutely looking forward.

As the others all stood up grabbing swords and axes Xander felt a little panic. He had missed a major part of the conversation and he had no idea where they were heading. Spike lit a cigarette and walked easily out of the store with everyone not caring where they were heading. He had finally decided that Xander was no different than he had been and it wasn't very 'Big Bad' to avoid him. So he liked to munch on vamps. Lots of things did.

He flicked the ashes off his cigarette as he walked silently beside the young man. He briefly thought of the Nun that had been covered with Mermaid's ashes and came back soulless and evil. Angelus would have loved that story. He might have even been tempted to try and get some and play. He shook his head to himself. Angelus was insane now. A secret part of him would be happy if he never came back. And he knew that Dru knew that secret and it created a bigger rift between them.

The group stopped and both in back hoped that they would tell them where they needed to go without having to ask and admitting they had not been listening.

They were rewarded when Buffy started pointing in the directions they needed to go. "Tara, Willow you go to the park where the fountain is. Xander, Spike you go to the public pool over near the apartments. I and Giles will go to the pool near..."

They turned heading in the direction they were being sent. Spike twirled his ax around like a baton with his cigarette hanging loosely in his mouth. "Are you going to brood all night. Because if you are I'll have you know...you still aren't as good as Angel at it."

He laid the ax on his shoulder and flicked the cigarette. "Trying to ignore me? Oh that just makes it more interesting. How about some limericks! There once was a slut named Buff who liked it rather rough..."

Xander growled.

"Don't like that one? How about this one...There once was a slayer called slutty who..."

Xander gave him an exasperated look. "So you are the one that has been writing those limericks on all the men's room walls!"

Spike gave a short bow. "I also copied her home phone number on every bathroom wall, men and women's, in Sunnydale. That was a two-week project by the way. I'm rather proud of that. Also if you look at the moose at Willie's on the far wall that is in that dark corner...the Slayer's underwear is hooked to the upper antler. Nicked them before I got uninvited. They have flowers on them."

He looked really pleased with himself and grinned from ear to ear. "Did that one earlier tonight."

Xander stopped short and stared at him.

"What?"

Xander snorted then laughed then giggled hysterically.

"You okay mate?"

Xander leaned against a dark building holding his stomach. "Just...just...I don't know. Here I've been wondering how I'm going to go on. Go on without Anya...go on after my friends die...go on forever...and here you are already over a century old and you are pulling childish pranks."

"Not childish...no child could reach high enough to hook one of those antlers."

Xander laughed again sliding down the wall. After a few minutes he stopped and looked up at Spike. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Making me laugh again."

"Not a problem mate." Spike sat next to Xander with his back against the wall. "I have a secret whelp. A secret about how to survive through the decades and I'll share it with you."

Xander looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

"You do it one day at a time. Try not to look that far ahead. No further than you would if you were mortal. No further than at most five years. Just do everything ONE day at a time. Because that is all you can live it is one day at a time. Take it as it comes and worry about the here and now and let the future bring itself to you."

"I just...everyone I know..."

"Will die." Spike finished. "But they will even if you were mortal. Buffy could walk out tomorrow to go to class and get hit by a car. Giles could have a heart attack tonight in his sleep. Joyce died because her time came. No one did anything to her and mortal or immortal you had to live through that. And immortal or not if one of them dies unexpectedly...it would make no difference. You will experience it, you will deal with it and you will move on. Hell if you want to get technical about it you could get in a wreak and get decapitated. You would be surprised how often someone loses their head in an accident...literally. I'm a vampire...but I could die tonight if I was in the same wreak and lost MY head. Or someone stakes me."

Spike looked Xander in the eye and continued. "Mortal or Immortal we can end up alone. Anya could have decided some day that she wanted to experience the thrill of dating someone new...Buffy wouldn't go out with ME if I was human and graduated with you lot. Bloody hell mate... there are NO guarantees whether you have a short life span or an incredibly LONG one. I can make minions all day long...I could make childer... but that doesn't mean that any one of them would stay with me. You could get married to someone but that don't mean they will stay with you. Look at the divorce rate pet."

Xander stood up and pushed himself away from the wall. "That was most likely the most morbid pep talk I've ever heard but it works. Thanks."

"Not a problem pet." Spike stood up and they fell into step next to each other as Spike started to swing his ax around.

"Please be careful with that thing." Xander told him.

Spike shrugged as he swung it in smaller circles.

"You know it still don't change the fact that I'm some sort of monster." Xander told him.

"That is all just a matter of perception pet. One man's monster is another man's friend. People hate snakes but they eat the mice that carry the diseases. It's all in how you look at it." Spike told him easily.

"I'm a cannibal Spike pretty sure that falls under the category of monster."

"Nah! 'Sides it isn't like you've actually eaten anyone. Lots of people eat pigs and cows. Some eat steak so rare it is still bleedin." Spike told him humming to himself for a few minutes. "Cannibalistic behavior has been noted in the human race for centuries. It is present in everyday speech...people tell each other that they are so yummy they could eat them up. You can trace such thoughts and actions clear back to human origins if one must be accurate. In fact clear up till contemporary history. Mad Cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is basically a result of cannibalism as is Scrapie in Sheep and Kuru in humans found in Papua New Guinea in 1957. Some people consider cannibalism religious in nature. In John 6:53 though 6:57 Jesus said 'Most assuredly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don't have life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he who feeds on me, he will also live because of me.' And that is in the bible. An interesting note is that the art of mummification in Egypt was actually an early attempt to prevent cannibalism..."

Spike felt the stare and turned to meet it. "What?"

Xander blinked slowly at him. "Oh...my...GOD! You sound just like GILES!"

Spike nearly cut himself with the ax as he almost dropped it. "Do NOT!"

"YES you did! Even the accent!" Xander pointed at him in accusation. "You're smart!"

"No I'm not! I-I-I mean..." Spike tried to figure out a way around it.

Xander smiled evilly. "What were you in life?"

"Uh...pick pocket?" Spike tried.

"Were you a librarian?" Xander asked.

"NO! I most certainly was not. I will have you know I earned the title of William the Bloody long before I died!" Spike drew himself up.

Xander considered him then got excited jumping up and down. "Oh Oh OH I know! I KNOW! You were a schoolteacher! I can smell them a mile away! All my teachers were evil too, guess it wasn't that big of a change for you huh? Wow isn't redundant to be an undead evil schoolteacher? I mean you should just say...evil evil evil! All three words mean the same!"

He was yelling it as he waved his finger at the blond vampire.

"SHHHHHH!" Spike clamped a hand over Xander's mouth. "Shut the bloody hell up!"

He took his hand off the young man's mouth slowly.

"You were a school teacher!" Xander declared again.

"And you are about to be headless if you don't shut up!" Spike hissed.

Xander grinned and laughed. "Let me guess they called you William the Bloody because you flunked everyone?"

"No. I wasn't a teacher all that long before I was turned." Spike growled as he turned away and started walking. "I was a history teacher."

Xander wrinkled his nose. "Ew. I sucked at history. I sucked at English...um I sucked at school period."

Spike didn't say anything as he tried to walk faster.

"So why were you called William the Bloody then?" Xander asked. "Aw come on. Can't be any worse than being a teacher. I think all my teachers hated me. I mean most my teachers tried to eat me. I guess you sorta fall in that category." He said offhand.

"I was a good history teacher but a bloody awful poet." Spike made a face.

Xander giggled. "Well your limericks are good if that is any consolation. I liked the one about what she does with the stake at night. Don't you DARE tell her that!"

Spike laughed. "She got right up my nose that night."

As they rounded the corner their laughter died as the saw in the pool the dark shapes of the creatures they were looking for.

"Uh-oh." Xander said intelligently.

"They look a lot bigger." Spike said vaguely.

"I think it is because they are in the water."

"Well I can't swim let's go home." Spike said brightly turning back.

Xander grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. "Here you call the others and I'll keep watch."

He handed Spike a small cell phone with its tiny numbers and writing and turned to the pool. Spike brought the phone close to his face then held it far away squinting. Xander glanced over and rolled his eyes. "Glasses? Where are your glasses? I should have known."

"Dru broke them after I was turned. She thought I looked better without them." Spike admitted.

"You know they invented contacts." He took the phone away from him.

"Oh and how many eye docs do you know that cater to vamps mate?"

Xander shook his head and dialed the number. A few minutes later he ended the call and turned to the vampire that had taken up a position where he could look around a corner to watch the creatures but could pull back out of their view.

"They are on their way. We just need to make sure they don't leave before then."

"That might be a bit of a problem mate, look." As Spike pointed the creatures climbed out of the water one by one.

"You know something? Murphy was a bastard." Xander said as he lifted up his sword.

"I always thought so too." Spike agreed lifting his ax.

"Aim for the neck and try to make it clean. If we don't do it right it will just piss them off." Xander said stepping out from around the corner.

"Well judging from the look on their...faces...I'd say something already beat us on pissing them off."

They lumbered past them as they jumped out in front of them. "Um guys?"

They ignored him as they continued down the concrete path from the swimming pool.

"Well that went well." Spike said balancing the ax on his shoulder.

Xander scowled and raced ahead of them. "Whoa! STOP!"

The three fishy monsters stopped and looked at him. "Fight now?"

They looked at each other and shrugged and then walked past him.

"I feel so...dissed." Xander said.

Spike shrugged and followed them at a leisurely pace still carrying the ax on his shoulder. "Call the others and tell them change of plan."

Xander dialed as he jogged after the monsters and the vampire.

They followed the creatures that did not seem so much as in a hurry as they were determined. "Where do you think they are going?"

"Why ask me?" Spike asked lighting a cigarette.

Xander talked into the cell phone giving directions as they went. Soon it became apparent where they were heading, the burnt out school.



They made their way into the school carefully as Xander lowered his voice. The old gym seemed to echo a little as they walked through it.

He spoke quietly into the phone. "You are out front? Good we seem to be heading toward the old swimming pool."

He heard the pounding of footsteps down one of the many halls and knew that soon they would be there. Spike and Xander watched as the monsters slowly stepped into the now long empty pool and saw the giant opening in the center where it had split sometime during the explosion. Buffy and Giles were the first to reach them but Tara and Willow followed close behind them as one by one each creature wiggled through the crack at the bottom.

"What the hell are they doing down there?" Buffy asked.

Xander shrugged and cast a look at her as he jumped down. "One way to find out."

Spike dropped his cigarette and stomped it out before also jumping down into the empty pool. "Sounds good to me."

They each carefully pushed their way down the large crack in the floor, surprised when there was already a light down below.

"A sub-basement?" Giles whispered.

The light was weak and was barely enough to see by but not far ahead they could see the three ex-swim team members steadily walking. They flicked their flashlights on to aid them in seeing and followed.

The sub-basement opened into another room. In the center of the room a large cage sat. And in the center of the cage a corpse lay pinned down with harpoons. Small stones lay around the table and the hair of the dead woman lay over her face. She had no legs but a long tail with fins.

Xander felt weak kneed as he saw her. "The Mermaid!"

"That bastard actually had captured a Mermaid." Xander breathed.

Tara looked at her in shock. "I-I-I never thought I would see a real one."

The three Lost Souls that were once named Dodd, Cameron, and Gage circled the dead mermaid sorrowfully.

Xander tentatively joined them and they made room for him by their side. He looked back at his friends and made a decision. He reached out and grabbed one of the harpoons and pulled it out. It was difficult, as it had gone through the body and through the table underneath. He threw it to the side and stepped back, as he did he nearly slid on the tiny smooth stones surrounding the table and he reached down to pick one up. Pearls. Perfect pearls along the ground. The Mermaid's tears shed long ago, as she was tortured for the pieces that the Coach would use.

He held it tightly in his hand as slowly each of the Lost Souls reached out and grabbed the three remaining harpoons. They pulled it out and threw them upon the ground then waited. They were rewarded when minutes later the Mermaid lunged forward snarling and baring fangs.

Though standing far back the others jumped.

"Thought Mermaids were supposed to be pretty little chits." Spike gasped.

Tara calmed herself down visibly as she slowly found her voice. "They can be but that is her natural face. Like vampires have two one human, one demon."

"She was alive like that all this time?" Giles asked sadly. "Trapped here with no help?"

As the Mermaid ran out of strength and collapsed back on the table the Lost Souls gently picked her up in a loving embrace. Xander reached out carefully and pulled her long blonde hair back away from her face revealing a monstrous visage. Finally one who seemed to be the leader gathered her up completely into his arms and held her close. They walked back slowly the way they came and the group that had been watching stepped back.

They escorted the aquatic creatures with their unconscious charge back to the beach where they had first arrived and saw them off as they began their trip home.

Xander hugged himself as he watched them swim away pulling the creature that was responsible for the change in each of them. A gift or a curse that had been forced from her without consent and now rescued by those that were now forced to live under it.

"I guess they had a good reason for coming back." Willow said vaguely.

Xander nodded as some small part of him wished he could go with them.

They all walked away from the beach slowly. Buffy decided that it would be best to go back out on patrol and the others agreed easily with her but still Xander hung back.

Spike slowed also until he was even with him. He whispered quietly to the young man. "Feel almost like she was your sire?"

Xander nodded. "A little."

"Hurts to be left by your sire." Spike told him. "Feels so lonely."

Xander nodded again. "I guess you know the feeling."

Spike looked ahead and saw that the others were almost swallowed by the darkness and he reached out to take Xander's hand. "Don't have to be alone though."

Xander looked up at him shyly. "Didn't think you..."

"Gender's never been an issue."

Xander squeezed his hand. "I think I would like that actually."

"We could see how long it takes before we get tired of eternity. See how long it takes to tire of immortality."

Xander smiled. "And we'll take it one day at a time."

"Yes pet. One day at a time, as slow as you like." Spike agreed.

Xander chuckled. "Won't have to take it too slow."

Xander pulled Spike a little closer. "Stay, tonight."

"I can do that." Spike said.

"Every night."

"I can do that too one night at a time."

As they kissed they could hear the ocean roar and the stars looked like jewels hanging in the sky.



The End




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