(R. Spike/Xander. Big angst. Black humor.)

So, they're in love. And Xander's immortal. Everything should be hunky-dory - except. There're a few nasty little clauses that come with Xander's condition. A happy ending, but it's a long ride in a darkened DeSoto to get there.



A Long Time


by
Mad Poetess

I had seven years with Spike, seven good years, back when I was young and human and stupid enough to hope it would last forever and stupid enough to fear it wouldn't. They were strange, and silly, and almost the sweetest I've ever lived, almost.

It started the night of my twentieth birthday. Spike was back with us, as with us as he ever was, anyway. Somehow he'd managed to wheedle and charm and insult his way back into our extended circle, if not our good graces, and he even showed up for my birthday party at the Bronze, though he steadfastly refused to wear a silly hat. He gave me a new radio, to replace the one he'd "borrowed" when he moved out of my basement, the one the Initiative soldiers had smashed to pieces in his crypt when they went on their wild search-and-destroy mission after Professor Walsh's death. The days when we thought Adam was the monster to end all monsters.

The party wound on into the night, uninterrupted by vampires, except the invited one, demons, or any of the other usual Scooby birthday treats, and as the guest of honor, maybe I shouldn't have been the first one to get tired and head for home, but I was. Anya...that had fizzled of its own accord, a few months earlier. She had finally figured out that she was stuck as a normal human girl, and she wanted a normal human relationship, one that didn't involve things that continuously go bump in the night. We'd parted more or less friends.

So I was heading home alone, and Spike mockingly volunteered to walk me back, to protect me from all the oogedy-boogedies out there on the Sunnydale streets at night. Something that had become a habit since Anya'd left, that walk with Spike. From Giles' place, or the magic shop, or wherever we'd been pounding on the oogedies, to the house that those of us who weren't living in a rent-controlled condo had scraped up enough money to share. I'd let the college girls who didn't have to work the next day wander home in their own sweet time, protected by Slayer super-strength, and pretend not to enjoy the juggling of insults, the picking at my fighting technique, the weird but not *bad* unease that accompanied every moment alone with the Bleached One.

This walk was quiet. Spike was...almost nice. We joked about turning twenty on the Hellmouth, party hats and why he was never going to wear them, on pain of staking...little stuff.

We reached the door, I unlocked it, and turned to go inside. He was still standing there, this strange expression on his face, neither smug nor pissed, which were really the only two I knew how to identify on him.

"What?" I asked, turning back to face him.

"Just..." he answered, standing outside the barrier of a doorway he'd never been invited through, and leaning towards me, pulling me to him under the porchlight, and kissing me. Long, soft, so very different from Cordy, from Anya, and it goes without saying, from Faith. Though there was something of her wild hunger in it. When he let me go, he straightened my jacket, smiled a bit oddly, said "Happy Birthday, Xander," and turned to leave.

"Spike..." I said, not knowing what I was saying, but knowing it was right.

 

"Hmm?"

"Come in." And just like that, he did, and I let him in. Yeah, literally and metaphorically, and anatomically, and permanently. I led him back to my room, and there was us, me being awkward and shy and twenty and male, and him being more tender, and less mocking, than I could ever have imagined, and it was good. Good. That's a laugh, but I'm not Baudelaire, though I've gotten a bit more wordy with advanced age. It was better than good. It was... well, it was Spike. It was there, in that moment, and I've never gone back, never regretted for an instant. Oh, everything else, I live for regret, but not Spike. Never Spike, never the paper-white skin, the silken cords of his muscles, the hair still soft after a century of bleaching, the rough throaty English voice in my ear, whispering into my mouth. Never that night or any of the ones after.

*******

There was sneaking, and laughter, and the usual cutting remarks around the Scoobs, to cover the fact that we were getting groiny, as Cordy would've put it, and just because he's Spike. Eventually, there was Buffy catching us in a full-on tonsil-hockey session behind a mausoleum on patrol. Yeah, fights, screaming, shouting, recriminations, the usual happy Scooby life, and the Hellmouth nights went on around us. If they didn't exactly accept Spike, they accepted that I wanted him, accepted that I loved him maybe even before I accepted it, and they were willing to give me that. He moved into my room the next year, and as long as he did his half of the dishes and didn't drip blood on the living room carpet, they put up with him.

He was with us through everything, though Dawn, as confused and befuddled as the rest of us, though the vampire attacks and the army of zombies, and all the signs and wonders the world and Sunnydale could throw at us. Through Buffy and Willow's graduation, even, and the party after, at which, to the amazement of all, he did wear a silly hat. Granted, it was a mortarboard with "Slayer: Dress Size 2, GPA ditto" spelled out on it in masking tape. He lifted Willow up to help her hang her valedictorian certificate above the fireplace, and kissed her on the forehead when she slid back down. Of course, then he made some obnoxious comments about having enjoyed the ride, but that's Spike for you. He was with us. He was with me, and by extension, he was with us.

And when he was with me, wherever, it was the best place in the world to be. It didn't matter what he was, except mine. It didn't matter that he was two inches shorter than me-- when we walked down the sidewalk or through the sewers or around the happy haunts of the dead in the middle of the night, I wasn't afraid. Silly, when any punk kid with a knife or a gun could've taken me out and Spike wouldn't have been able to lift a finger, but I wasn't afraid of anything. Nothing but losing him.

When did I start thinking about not being with him forever? Or about being with him forever, for that matter? Well, I'm willing to admit that I wasn't thinking about much of anything that first night, leading him back to my room in a fever of strangeness and desire, but...oh, about five minutes afterward, as we lay there in the coolness of an air-conditioned room, and I listened to him not breathe. Okay, I'm like that. Call me a girly-man. I wasn't planning an afternoon wedding under the trees, or anything, but sleep with a vampire, fall in love with him, and see if you don't start thinking about eternity in a new light.

When you're twenty, twenty-five, it's easy to put off the question of eternity. The question of whether you'd turn to your lover and ask him to find some way to make you into what he is. You're young, you have years before you start to fall apart, go gray, get soft around the middle. And making me into what he was...from all we knew about being a vampire, it couldn't really happen.

Even if he could, if he managed to get the Initiative chip out of his head, which was getting less likely as that organization slipped further into the X-Filesy black ops land of Never Happened, or if he could convince Deadboy Senior to do it for him... It wouldn't be me. I would die. A demon would walk around in my body, one that, according to Anya, had a hunger for blood, a penchant for leather, the hots for Willow, and a distressing tendency to eat former friends. Which Spike might like, but I wouldn't be around to enjoy it, or not, as the case might be. He shushed me when I tried to bring it up. Repeatedly. Finally he whispered in the middle of the night, locked away in our room where no one could hear, that he didn't want me like that. That he wanted me, not something that looked like me, no matter how good it looked in leather.

See how easy it is to break somebody's heart and make it sing, in the same few words? I didn't bring it up again. But I thought it. Over and over. Will he stay, as I get old and small and forget who I am? Will he watch me die? Is sixty-some years with him enough? When I go wherever I go, will he still be roaming around the world kicking demon tail? Will he remember me in a hundred years? A thousand? When he's dust, will he come to the same place as me, this demon whom, despite myself, I love? Buffy and I have a few things in common, more than our natural hair color.

Seven years, seven long goofy, painful, wonderful years, and every so often, he'd look out at the horizon, at the ocean, at the desert, and I'd know he wanted to be out there. He'd say "Let's us take off for the Continent this summer, just you and me and a copy of 'Wicked French for the Traveller.' We'll paint the town black. Take in a Pistols revival show. Scare Dru out of whatever crypt she's hiding in and have a little threesome." But spring turned into summer, and we never did, never left. Not when my friends, sometimes our friends, if he was in a good mood, were still fighting the good fight on the Hellmouth. There's always another disaster around the corner.

*******

Seven years, and it all came down to one stupid, piddly little twelve foot tall slime-spewing demon with sixteen spiny tentacles for arms and no personal hygiene to speak of. Buffy was busy fighting tentacles two, three, and four, Willow and Giles were paging through some obscure tome written in bat's blood on the skin of a virgin sheep, looking for the dispersing spell, and Spike was happily battering away at three more of the thing's arms with a double-bladed axe. Me, I was holding my own, which after eleven years of playing Slayerette, wasn't as shabby as it had once been. Until one of those extra arms whipped around and without so much as a 'Say your last goodbyes now, kid' rammed a three-foot spine straight through my heart.

It hurt. Like a motherfucker, if you want a medical description. There was a lot of blood, I guess, though everything was pretty hazy. Spike was there, in a heartbeat, which he didn't have, and I was rapidly losing. Buffy fought the thing into a corner, and Willow, our little Willow, threw a word at it that I can't even form properly in my head, much less transcribe. It burst into dust and light, and everybody could've cared less, because they were all crowded around me. It's so nice to be the center of attention. I couldn't talk, could barely even breathe, and here's Buffy hitting out at Spike, ordering him to stop this, to turn me, to do something. Spike shifting between game face and human without any control, raging that there wasn't a damn thing he could do, a damn fucking thing. He held me in his arms, and let her beat at him, and damn if he wasn't crying, which only Willow has ever seen him do, and he was drunker than all hell at the time, and it didn't matter what face I was looking at, monster or human, they were all Spike, my Spike, and I was losing him sooner than I ever feared.

Then I was...elsewhere. Okay, as a travelogue description, that pretty much sucks, but I think the place is pretty much designed to defy definition. Wouldn't want those who make it back to be able to draw a decent map or anything. It wasn't anything like a final abode kind of place, anyway...it was just...elsewhere. Murky and full of colored lights that glowed and disappeared, like when you rub your eyes and stare into a dark room. There were voices, and rushing wind, or water, or something that sounded like your basic ocean waves relaxation sound played on the mother of all surroundsound stereo systems.

"Do you want to live?" a voice rang out, echoed in smaller voices, from the left, right, male, female. "Do you want to live, to live?"

"Of course," I shouted at the top of what passed for lungs there, and of course it made no sound, because I didn't have any lungs, and I wasn't on the play list for the cosmic DJ around there. But they heard me all the same.

"Do you want to live forever, Alexander Harris? It's the only way you're going back." A shimmery silver form spoke in a sexless voice that seemed to have no emotion to it at all, neither concern nor contempt.

Forever? Forever is a long time, when you're twenty-seven, dying on the floor of some cruddy little sea-cave while your immortal lover holds your body and whispers hysterical nonsense in a half-dozen demon languages. Forever? Does Angel mousse too much, is Spike not a natural blonde, are you not offering me the world on a platter?

"The Hellmouth needs a guardian," it said as it seemed to process my thoughts.

"The Hellmouth has a guardian," I threw back, sending images of Buffy, golden hair shining in the moonlight, kicking, punching, staking, dancing like a demented dervish on the heads of demons and vampires.

Now there was emotion, rebuke, something. "The Slayer does not guard the Hellmouth. The Slayer guards the world. Others die every day because the Slayer is tied to the Hellmouth, waiting for the next apocalypse to rise. It was not meant to be this way. The Slayer is needed elsewhere. The Slayer, the Watcher, must travel. The Hellmouth grows strong, and it needs a guardian."

Fine, the Hellmouth needs a guardian, and I'm the man for the job, apparently. What the hell I'm supposed to do is anybody's guess.

"Be there. Always. Slayers will come and go, those who fight alongside the Slayer will rise and fall; those who serve the light will be born and die, will come to town and fight the battles they were meant to fight. You must be there always. To know what will happen, to warn them, to help them, to guard the Hellmouth."

"Why me?"

Now there was true emotion, such as it was, a sneering smugness that I'd only ever seen on Spike, and never so coldly. "Because you want forever. So very, very much."

And I did. Whatever it was knew that I did. Wanted Spike forever.

"You cannot leave the Hellmouth. Understand this: you cannot. That body will die, the true death, if you leave the borders of the town. You must be there, always. You can tell your friends the truth, that you were given to guard the mouth of Hell, but you may not tell them why you cannot leave. You will not even be able to speak the words. Accept or reject the offer, but when you accept, know that you take on the responsibility. The body you will wear will live at the mercy of your task, and you can lose it just as easily."

I took it. I made a deal with what I'm guessing are the Powers That Be that Angel griped on about so much. Lesser powers, I hope. I keep thinking somewhere inside me that whatever's really in charge of us loves us, even after all the shit we've all been though. These things didn't love us. They were just doing their jobs. The excuse of soldiers and administrators and executives, and a thousand other killers and torturers, down through the ages. Anyway, I said yes. Yes to forever. With Spike, I hoped. On the Hellmouth.

*******

I woke to find Spike holding me, still, human as he seemed to always become in moments of emotion other than rage, ever since that day. Just plain old human tears streaking his beautiful face. There's enough water and salt in blood for a vampire's body to manufacture saline, did you know that? They can cry blood, too, which is picturesque and messy, but just like the baby doll your sister had when she was six, they can cry real tears.

So when I stretched and yawned and looked at him, blinking, taking in the face I'd never thought I'd see again, needless to say there was dancing in the streets. Okay, nobody was up for dancing, but there was Spike covering my face with kisses, and Willow and Buffy trying to shove him out of the way to see if I was really alive, and even the G-Man was looking like somebody'd pulled the rusted remains of his Citroen from the junkyard, said Alakazam, and brought it back to humming life.

There were explanations, and there was getting me cleaned off, which, to everyone's disgust but mine, Spike did mostly with his tongue, since an opportunity to get at that much of my blood hadn't exactly arisen in the past, and somewhere in there they got their minds wrapped around the idea that I was effectively immortal. Whooping and hollering, and celebration into the night.

And the next night, as usual, there was something nasty waiting in the woodshed. Unlife on the Hellmouth went on as usual. And on. And Spike started looking at me like I was something he'd never seen before. Not a thing to be cherished only because it was temporary, but a longtime companion, with or without the irony.

*******

Those years were good, too. Finding out that whatever the bad guys threw my way, it had healed by morning. Fighting alongside Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Spike, and the newbies of the week. Oz returned, for a while, never getting back together with Willow, but letting his mostly-under-control wolf out to kick serious oogedy-boogedy whupass, then drifting off to the East Coast in search of a good sound and someone to love.

Five years or so, and I was still twenty-seven, and Spike, well, he'd been about that old for a hundred years already. We were a matched set. Two guys in love and on the prowl, and if we felt each other up in the middle of the town square under the full moon, who was gonna mess with us? I could take the humans, he could take the demons, and he could take me any damn time or place he wanted to.

But he wanted to take me to Paris. He wanted to take me to Prague. To Whitechapel. To Brazil. To fucking Borneo. To Reno, at least. And all I could say was "I have to stay. I can't leave the Hellmouth." And I could feel him slipping away. I couldn't get the words past my lips, when I tried to add "or I'll die...". My throat froze up, and I'm sure he thought I was being all noble and stubborn and soul-having, but I literally couldn't tell him. The bastards stopped me, every time.

I could lie naked in his arms, be inside him, have him inside me, have my mouth around his cock or vice versa, or my tongue in his mouth, and I could see that no matter how there he was, he was somewhere else, too. I never worried about him wanting Drusilla back, funny. He would or he wouldn't, he felt about her however he felt, but I knew how he felt about me. Thought I knew. I just...also knew he wanted to be out there. He was never meant to live forever in the cage of a little California town full of monsters and white-hats.

I was losing my mind, there in Sunnydale in my own little first floor apartment with my sweet evil blonde lover, who I knew, just knew, was about to leave. And one summer night, looking out the window at the cheshire cat moon, he did. Asked me to come with him. Over and over. Anywhere. We fought. We screamed, and shouted, and hit each other, because I could always hurt him, and now I'm not really human anymore, you see, so he can hurt me too. Not that he ever needed to lay a hand on me to do that. And in the end he kissed me, and said he loved me, and he had to leave, and he'd be back.

*******

A year later, to the day, and I hadn't heard from him, hadn't seen him, hadn't gotten a scrap of a report of where he was or what he was doing. Willow had looked through whatever magicks she could scare up, but either he was hiding himself, or someone was doing it for him. Buffy had waited six months before calling him every name in the book, and a few I hadn't heard before. Showed exceptional restraint on her part, considering her temper, and the way I'd gotten when Angel lost his soul. Deadboy. Yeah, he got into the act, too. Shook every vampire and demon tree he could find, to see if his wayward childe, or any news of him, fell out. Nothing.

So. That would be the first night that I tried to kill myself. I thought it all out very neatly, for a crazy man. A little music, a nice Zinfandel, a picture of Spike and me on the Viking Ship at the fall festival, grinning into the camera like loons. A note on the bathroom door asking that Willow be the one to come in and take care of me, as she always had. My sister-girl. She'd hate me, but she'd understand. Because, like Spike, she loved me.

Sitting in a warm bathtub, looking at the two of us, arms around each other, dark hair and bleach-white blonde, both idiots together. So in love with him I'd have walked into hell and asked for his soul back if I thought he wanted it. Still that much in love, and that much alone. Holding a very sharp straight razor. Which would have looked-out of place in my bathroom, our bathroom, since Spike was a true creature of technology and had switched to electric the minute he could steal one, and I'd stopped having to shave when I came back from the dead. The hair on my head still grows. Don't ask me why. Insert Hellmouth here. But I'd bought the razor yesterday, so no questions from well-meaning friends. Just me and the water and the blade and the music and the night.

It was cold, and sharper than I expected, but I'd been hurt worse by any number of demony creatures' teeth. Pain-wise. Hopefully not permanency-wise. Down the length of one arm, down the other. Let my hands fall into the warm water, watched it start to turn pink, then red. Spike would consider it to be a waste of good blood, but then he wasn't here, was he? Started to get cold, even though the water was warm with my blood as well as its own heat, but didn't really feel like moving to do anything about it. Drifted off to sleep.

*******

Felt pretty damn stupid in the morning, when I woke up cold and sticky in a tub full of my own blood. If you're gonna wake up cold and sticky, you should at least have had a good time the night before. Fuckin' PTB's, or whatever they really were. Didn't seem to matter if it was demon, vampire, or Xander, permanent boy-moron, I couldn't get out of it that easily. Took the sign off the door, cleaned up the bathroom, thanked various gods that Willow hadn't walked in on me, or I would've found out if "Death By Witch" could be added to the list of no-go exit routes.

I can hear it now, so don't say it. First of all, what the hell made me think I could off myself if nobody else seemed to be able to? I don't know. Wishful thinking. Hubris. And of course, the next question is "Why didn't you just take a stroll along Oxnard Boulevard, past the city limits sign?" Because that would've been admitting that Spike was never coming back. It would've been permanent. Somewhere inside me I knew damn well that nothing I did to myself was going to do more than hurt like hell, but it gave me the illusion that I might wake up tomorrow somewhere else, maybe with a badass British vampire rubbing my back, or sucking on my toes. If there's a Heaven, that's as good a description as any I've read. Spike could be dust somewhere, anywhere, and if there's a God, or plural thereof, they'd let me end up with him, wouldn't they?

So I went back to being what I'd promised to be. The good and holy defender of the Hellmouth. If you're counting, the Sunnydale High contingent was on the yuppie side of thirty-three, now. Willow... Willow had a girlfriend and a boyfriend... she was undecided on that score, but each knew about the other. Buffy was beautiful. Strong, angry, willing to fight and fight...and she was leaving. Cordelia called from L.A. The Slayer was needed, or there might be a new Hellmouth to contend with. It was starting.

Giles didn't follow her. He gave up trying to be her Watcher about the same time he gave up hoping he'd ever be her lover, I think. Instead, he'd become her best friend, and he sent her off to Angel with a smile and a hug. Still ran the local magick shop, the only owner never to be drained by vampires, because he had a brain in his head and a cross over the door. Ethan Rayne stopped in from time to time, either to cause trouble or just visit. When the trouble came, we stopped it. When there wasn't any, and Ethan was around, I didn't ask any questions.

*******

Another year, still no word of, or from, Spike. So this time, on the anniversary of his skipping town, I went the middle-aged debutante route. A bottle and a half of Seconal, with a whiskey chaser. An evening of British comedy on cable, laughing at the parts where Spike would have laughed, laughing at the parts where Spike would have groaned or thrown things at the screen. I've always been a cheap date, comedy-wise. Popping a pill every five minutes or so, tossing back the JD and imagining Spike on the sofa beside me, making fun of me. Left the note for Willow, and everything.

The next morning, I cleaned up the vomit, turned off the TV, and went back to work. Oh, work. I did have a job, of sorts. Daylight work in the skilled labor industry, which translates to being the only guy on the construction site not whistling at the Sunnydale jailbait walking by. Not that I'd stopped appreciating the female form when I became Spike's boytoy, or vice versa, but it just seemed like too much work. There was only one body I really wanted, and it wasn't around.

Time passed. I can't say it was slow or quick, and I can't say I was thinking much of anything worth repeating. I was trying not to think at all. Willow knew. She saw me slipping away inside myself, and it was eating her up, so I tried to be a brave little toaster for her. I patented the goofy-grin, hey, Xander's alright, look. She didn't believe it for a minute. Neither did Giles. Yeah, I cried, at home, under cover of darkness. Bite me. I'm allowed.

On the evening of my thirty-fourth birthday, I walked home alone. I sure as hell wasn't worried about oogedy-boogedies. There'd been a party, yeah, and probably silly hats, which I'd probably refused to wear, in silent honor of Spike. I was seriously thinking about speeding up the anniversary schedule and trying something new and entertaining tonight. Maybe electric shock. So when I turned the key in the lock, and a hand touched the back of my neck, I wasn't worried. Frozen, yes, but not worried. What could anybody do to me? And then I recognized the touch, the one that pulled me around and close to him under the porchlight, and whispered, "Happy Birthday, Xander," as he put his mouth to mine.

I'm a creature of habit, and a sappy romantic, and all that shit. I said, when I had breath to speak, "Come in, Spike," inviting him into his own home and we went to the bed he hadn't seen in two and a half years, and it was...better than good. Not like he hadn't been away. Better than that. Better than that first, sweet, psychotic time. Look, if you want blow-by-blow descriptions, ask Spike. He's good at that. Interpret that any way you like. We found a few new ways of doing things, and rediscovered a hundred old ones.

*******

In the moonlight, in the lamplight, as we lay there in bed, my head on his chest, I asked, knowing the answer, "You staying?"

"Thought I might do, yeah." Always a cigarette in his hand when he thought he had to act like Brando.

"Forever?"

"Forever's a long time, pet." Which is polite vampire-speak for no. And I nodded, and accepted anything I could get.

He stayed for four years, that time. Four torturous years, when I was sure that any night, this would be the time he'd get up, smoke by the window, pull on his jeans and duster, and disappear back into the world. He stayed to see Angel get his redemption, his prize, his humanity. Well, that was in L.A., but he stayed to see Angel and Buffy get married. I was Best Man, and nobody asked any questions when I asked if they'd have the wedding in Sunnydale. Giles gave her away, Willow was Maid of Honor, and Spike walked down the aisle with Cordelia on his arm as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

Of course, he painted something exceptionally rude on the soles of Angel's shoes, slipped a sardine on toast down Joyce Summers' cleavage, and got Wesley so drunk that he admitted to all and sundry that he'd had the hots for Cordelia for years. Which, seeing as her date was a tall black dude who reminded me vaguely of Riley's friend Forrest, probably didn't do much for his reputation at work on Monday morning, but Cordy looked touched. And beautiful. Spike also wore the garter, which he'd caught with a vampire's preternatural grace, as an armband on his rolled-up sleeve, and danced the Time Warp to great applause from the assembled multitudes. Made Angel look like... well, me, in high school. That's Spike. Good enough to eat. And I did. Several times.

And months later, when I could feel him getting twitchy, I waited, and of course, it happened. Middle of the night, stroking my chest after sex, he got up with a strange little hop, and reached for his jeans.

"Going, then?"

"Yeah, I think I'd better. Coming with?"

"Can't."

"Yeah. Love you, Xander. I'll be back." And he was out the window. Gotta give it to the man (not that I wouldn't in an instant if he so much as batted an eyelash), he knows how to make an exit.

*******

Auto-erotic asphyxiation isn't all it's cracked up to be. I know there's something in the knowledge that you just might bite the big one while being stupid, with a belt around your throat, standing on a chair, that's supposed to give you the stiffy of all time, but frankly... Probably knowing that no matter how sore your throat is in the morning, you still have to go out the next day and pound a mallet to keep yourself in Cran-apple and suicide materials takes some of the thrill out of it. The knowledge that no matter whether you fall or you don't, you'll still get up in the morning... the fact that you don't really want to get up in the morning...

I did. Fall, that is. Woke up to find myself swinging from the chandelier with a hell of a sore throat, and no in-the-pants action at all. Might have been better if I'd used Spike's belt, but the only one he had was around his waist, wherever he was. Or at least I assumed it was. I'd never asked if he'd had anybody else while he was gone, and hadn't really cared. If he'd been happy, good. At least one of us was. Anyhow, I whispered a sick-call to the site, and got down to some serious sipping hot chocolate and being exceptionally thankful that Willow hadn't found me this time.

She came over to check on me, as she always did, and I was lying on the couch, reading some deep modern novel about love and redemption and the internet.

"You okay?" she whispered, as if it had been her with the leather around her throat.

"Oh, yeah. Strep, that's all." But I never get sick, and she knew. She could see the bruises, and she knew. She'd always known, and she came over and sat beside me, and held my head, and she cried, though I couldn't. Wouldn't.

"Why don't you go with him?" she asked, red hair shot with tiny streaks of silver. "Why don't you just fucking go, Xander?"

"Can't," I whispered back, and my throat closed up as usual.

*******

So...Spike would come and go, never here or gone for longer than five years, and when he was gone, I was living on human time, every moment tangible, every day dragging on like it wouldn't ever hit tomorrow. I tried a hundred creative methods of suicide, but never did take that walk down Oxnard Boulevard. Spike took to sending postcards, but they were never from where he actually was, and nobody ever saw him. Gifts, sometimes. A pair of boots from Barcelona, a Bob Dylan joke. The softest leather you could touch. For Christmas, one year, a duster just like his, cut to match my size. I wore it until the summer got so hot you could swim in the sweat pouring off me, and then reluctantly hung it on the coat rack until fall.

The next Christmas he was there, arms full of presents, and his hair grown back to its natural dark brown. That was a shocker. Strange, a stranger in my arms, and he looked so damn young. When he was there, the world flew by on vampire time. It was...unsurprising, to watch our friends age around us, Willow finally marrying, Buffy and Angel returning for holidays with their one, precious, child, a little brown-haired girl who Angel looked at with wonder and disbelief every time she entered the room. With Spike in my arms, time both rushed and stood still, and I couldn't see the passing. When he left, it was all I could think about.

When he started to get twitchy, itchy, I could feel it, and I'd egg him on. Better he go then, still in a good mood, kissing me and ducking out the window, than leave after a fight and have that be the one time he never came back, him dust in the wind and me never hearing about it. It became a shorthand: Forever's a long time, you coming, can't, I love you, I'll be back.

*******

Willow finally found me out officially-- as a joke on the world, I'd taken to leaving out that same note I'd taped to the bathroom door the first time I tried to blow this joint, and with my finger, don't laugh, stuck in a dismantled lightsocket, and the other hand in a pitcher of water, I must have looked either completely hilarious or completely pathetic.

For the first time, instead of cleaning up after myself, I woke up in my own bed, with my sixty-eight year old best friend and surrogate sister standing over me with her hands on her hips.

"Just what the hell did you think you were doing?" she bitched at me, wiping my forehead with a cool washcloth.

"Umm...experiment?" I ventured, getting used to the feeling of being able to use my tongue properly again.

"And we learned?" she sighed, sitting down on the bed.

"Don't give Willow a key to the apartment and expect her not to use it?"

She bent slowly to kiss my cheek. "I don't suppose you'd listen if I told you not to do shit like this, Xander?" Willow's language had gotten more blunt over the years, especially when she was pissed at me. Hey, when you're a multi-millionaire computer software designer who's built two companies from the ground up, you can talk any way you want, too.

I shook my head. "No, but you don't really have to clean up after me. The note was just tradition."

She lay down next to me, and I liked having her there, just me and Wills. It was just us now, in Sunnydale. Giles... Giles had died two years ago, in his sleep, which must be the most peaceful way a Watcher, even an ex-one, ever left. Ethan had come for the funeral, and there was no talk of chaos, just a skeletal, quiet eighty-some year old man with a shake in his voice as he read his bit of the eulogy. I haven't seen him since. Buffy and Angel had moved to England when Amanda graduated from college, but they came back for Giles' funeral. Buffy didn't speak, the whole time.

Two Slayers had come through town, one after another, and a host of other do-gooders, and I'd gone along with them on their demon-hunts, been the white knight, played by the rules. Guarded the Hellmouth. Gotten my scars and seen them fade in the morning. The power had left Buffy when she got pregnant, so Doreen must have taken over from her. The other-- a quiet, almost anorexic Indian girl, Subita-- Angel said Faith had been killed in a prison fight, defending twenty other women from a werewolf gone wild on the ward.

Who else? Oh, Anya. It would be funny if it weren't so... no, it's just funny. She married, now wait for it, Parker Abrahms. Straight out of college. Maybe he mellowed, turned into a decent guy by himself, or maybe the constant eye of an ex-vengeance-demon kept him on the straight-and-narrow, but they moved to Tarzana years ago, started a brood of little Anyas, God help us all. Willow heard from her occasionally.

Cordelia was still single, still lovely at sixty-eight, had a swarm of lovers, and was blissfully happy, running Angel Investigations with a staff of two, Wesley and Gunn. Who, in the fine old L.A. tradition, had squabbled over her for years and finally given up and fallen in love with each other. Which suited Cordy just fine, since she could tease them about sucking face in the office. At seventy-two, Wesley Windham-Pryce sucking face with what still had to be the most buff man of color this side of fifty. But then, they'd been at it for years.

Oh--Amy. Amy the Rat. What a time to remember her, you're thinking. But that's the thing. Your average domestic rat doesn't live very long, you see. A few years at most. Amy... Willow never could find the right spell, but the little brown rat just kept running in her wheel. Eating yogurt drops. She hadn't aged. Unless Willow had a deep, dark secret and was replacing the rat every few years, Amy Madison was still a seventeen year old girl trapped in the body of a rattus norvegicus.

*******

Okay, so it hadn't been the same construction site all that time. Hadn't always been a construction site. And I'm my own Grandpa, according to the deed on the apartment building. Vampires do it, so can I. Granted, they usually do it by skipping town, see above re:Spike, but it can be arranged on a local basis, especially when you have a gorgeous ex-redhead of a hacker working her way through your history.

And time passed, as time does, even in Sunnydale. Joyce died a few years after Giles, and Buffy and Angel returned for the funeral, looking... human. Old. Never thought I'd see either of them old, for different reasons, obviously. Spike was back in town, and he didn't crack a single Slutty the Vampire Slayer joke. Amazing restraint. His hair was blonde. Never the dark hair again, when he'd seen how much it disturbed me, made me think of him as some young English guy who lost his life in an alley two hundred years ago. Not my Spike.

A lot like how looking at his sire, gray and thin and in his body's mid-seventies, made him feel, I think. Buffy white-haired and scowling at him, that was a trip, too. No senility in the Sunnydale gang, folks. We're all going out bitching and howling at the world. Those of us that are going out. And we'd all lived to more of a ripe old age than any of us ever expected.

And me, Spike gone to parts unknown again, still twenty-seven, at seventy-five. It was a laugh and a half, it was. I took a stroll by the twice-rebuilt Sunnydale High, and realized that I could wander in, sit down at a desk, and probably learn more in the few hours it would take them to figure out I wasn't a student than I did during the four years I allegedly was.

*******

Spike had been gone for seven years, the longest ever, and not a line, not a postcard, not a pair of edible underwear in a plain brown wrapper, in the last five. Willow was tired of finding me in the morning, I think. I told her to can it, that we both knew I'd be fine, but she said that wasn't the point. Sick of me hurting myself, sick of the bruises, the "I'm okay's," the silent dry sobs that were the closest I could ever come to crying with Willow in the room. I was half afraid that this time he was dust, half afraid he just wasn't coming back. But from the moment he first kissed me under the porchlight, he'd never lied to me.

Being with him tore me up, but it was like breathing after being choked, and it was the best thing in my life. Ever. Being away from him...I was the walking dead. Except the dead don't hurt. I didn't feel old. I felt twenty-seven. Just twenty-seven, and without the only man in the world I love beyond all sense.

Our anniversary, as it were. The forty-second summer since Spike had first walked out with a kiss and an I'll see you again. I considered, briefly, seeing how far I could get out of town before this PTB-sponsored body gave up the ghost. But there was always the possibility I'd see Spike again, and as always, that kept me alive, barely.

Home, then, and for a kick, I'd set up the oldie but classic, bathtub, razor, wine, pictures. More, not just the festival picture. Spike and me at the mall, him pointing to the Gap sign and making Vomiting Face. In the vestry hall at Buffy and Angel's wedding, two guys in tuxes kissing against a wall, oblivious to Willow with a Polaroid. Most of me has the good sense to hope she took off after she snapped that picture, and didn't stick around for what we did against the wall afterwards, but a sick, twisted bastard in there somewhere hopes she took an entire roll. All of us at the graduation party. Willow and Tara. Willow and Jesse and me, in fourth grade. Spike naked, smiling lazily up at me from the floor. Spike, Spike, Spike and Spike, and some more Spike, for variety. A few in full vamp-out face, which must have confused the folks at the Photo-Mat. Wait, this is Sunnydale. Forget I said that.

For the music, the best of all. A party recording, done with Willow's hand-held CD recorder, of Spike, singing along to "My Way." William the Bloody, international recording star, bellowing out over the voice of Gary Oldman playing Sid Vicious covering Frank Sinatra. (Yeah, I know it's really Paul Anka, but I'm a child of the eighties. Bite me.) Do I have taste in tunes, or what? Am I a pathetic lunatic, or what? Don't answer that. With Spike's voice alternately crooning and wailing in my ear, depending on the verse, on permanent repeat, I sipped wine, thought about how lame I'd become, thought about how I didn't care, and how I didn't want to think about cleaning up the next morning. Thought about Spike, fierce and cruel and funny and loving and mine. Sliced and diced, and fell away into darkness.

*******

I woke sooner than I expected, to the usual headache that accompanies the loss and mysterious replacement of all my blood, and the sight of Drusilla idly paddling her fingers in the reddened bath water. She hadn't changed much in fifty-some years, but then, neither had I. She was wearing some shiny thirties flapper number, so at least she'd outgrown the pseudo-Renaissance Victoriana she'd been stuck on in the late nineties. See, live forever and you, too, can become a fashion critic, high-school geek boy.

If Dru was here... then he couldn't be far away. I looked over the side of the tub, where he crouched, staring at me. The weirdest look of annoyance and terror and...I don't know. The music was still playing, and the lovely Spike-and-Xander shrine must've made me look completely psychotic. Which, for Spike, is something of a turn-on, but I was still utterly humiliated. I groaned. Which made my head hurt more.

"How long have you been doing this?" he growled, reaching out to touch my face. "How bloody long?"

Dru licked her fingers, and reached into the water for more. Sharp fingernails came awfully close to the bits of me that I'd rather not lose, but hey, they'd grow back, right? I tried to smile, but it was a weak effort at best. "This?" I indicated the water, the razor, with a floppy wave. "It's a classic. Only oldies but goodies. Or you mean the whole shabang?"

Spike put his head in his hands. "God, she was right. She was right, Dru." He rose, spun, kicked the wall hard enough to make the tiles ring. Which hurt my head, too.

"Bitch." I whispered, only half meaning it.

"Dru?" Spike said, looking up

"Willow. Willow...told you." Dru was tracing patterns in the water, and Spike reached for my arms, trying to pull me up.

"Leave it, Dru," he barked. She looked up, a little girl's hurt on her peaky white face. "Yeah, Willow told me. She was on the porch, and she let me in. I've lost my keys. Lost the whole bloody duster. Had to run us in under a flamin' tarpaulin. Dru, I said LEAVE IT!"

He picked me up like a child, and Drusilla snatched her hand back to her mouth, wailing softly. I was dripping blood everywhere, of course, down his blue silk shirt, white-t-shirt, stonewashed jeans, onto the floor. Colors. I got him out of vampire monochrome. A little delirious, folks. Even blood in his yellow-gold hair, trying to drape my arm around him.

I gestured vaguely over his shoulder at Dru. "Go... go ahead, Dru. No sense wasting good blood. Spike, I'm fine." Dru happily dipped her fingers in the water again, scolding forgotten.

"No you're not bloody fucking fine, you daft moron. You're nothing like fine." He crushed me to his chest, oblivious of the blood. Well, someone would have to get it out of the carpet if he carried me through the living room, which he was doing, back to the bed. Our bed. He set me down as gently as...as Spike is capable of, which is far more than you'd think.

"I'll be fine, Spike. I'm..." I giggled. "I'm a professional. Don't try this at home, folks." He put his head down on my chest. Smelled me. Spike's big on smelling, he is. And licking, and biting, and...

He pushed my wet hair out of my eyes, and stared hard into them. His own blue eyes were unreadable. But they were there. I'll take anything I can get, as I believe I've said before. "How long...have you been doing this, Xander?"

See, I'm not allowed to lie to him. It's one of the rules. Unspoken, but there all the same. Leave things out, yes. Couldn't help that, every time he asked me to go with him. Had to. But no lying, like he never lies to me. "You want a date, or just a general timeframe?"

He growled. Pissed-off vampire growl. Ooh, I'm terrified. Don't like him mad at me, though.

"July seventeenth, two thousand twelve. " One year after the first night that you left, you bastard. "Love you, Spike." Pathetic, like I said. He lowered his forehead to mine. Rested it there. So cool. Felt good. The best.

Wet, though. Not Spike--not crying. Never an unmanly thing like tears. Only when completely blitzed, after Dru left him the first time, or when he thought I was dead. Well, I was dead, temporarily. Only then. Spike doesn't cry. He's Marlon Fucking Brando with a London accent.

"How many times? How many fucking times?" Yeah, crying. Dammit.

I shrugged. Pointed to the bottom drawer of the bureau. My drawer. Where I kept my comics and crossword puzzles and stupid human shit that he'd never want to look at. And a stack of five-year diaries, dating back to my twenty-first birthday. The days with Spike written in green ink, the days without in black, the nights I tried to check out described in clinical detail, in red. For scientific purposes, in case I finally came upon one that worked, and some other poor sucker set to guard the Hellmouth could make use of it. Yeah, I know. The city limits sign.

Spike got the books, turned the pages. Laughed a little at some of the things I said about him, until he got to the first red page. Then there was only silence, and the sound of paper turning. Every page. Every book. Eleven of them. The look on his face when he looked up--because I'd been watching him, you see. Wasn't going to sleep, as much as I wanted to, not with Spike right here. In the glorious white flesh. The look on his face...

"Why?" he whispered. "Bloody hell, Xander, why?" Cross-legged on our bedroom floor, holding the pile of books that had been there all along, if he'd been a nosier vampire.

"Helps to pass the time," I answered, which was as true as any other reason, and not really a lie.

He surged back up off the floor, this blood-streaked guy with bleachy-hair and blazing blue eyes. Did I mention I love him? His hand on my chest, near my throat. Fingers making little white marks on my skin.

Feeling the blood pump in my veins. Not quite human blood, but tasty enough for Dru to drink diluted, for Spike to lick and suck and kiss. He sat down on the bed, his back to me. That's okay. I like to look at that too.

"Why won't you go with me?" he asked at last.

Oh, that one. "Can't." It's a bit early for that exchange, but if I know it's coming, I can remember the words.

He sighed. Dammit, he sounded old. Spike doesn't get old. He's twenty-seven forever, just like me. "Yeah, pet, I know you can't." He turned to me, and I was twenty again, standing on the porch outside the house we all shared, seeing the smarmy, high-cheekboned face I thought I knew become someone else, someone I loved.

"You do?" I asked, tentatively, taking his hand, playing with his cold fingers. Wasn't feeling terribly strong, but I thought I could manage that.

He touched my cheek with his other hand. So damn gentle, he can be, when he wants, and rough as a bear, and wild as the demon that he is. "Dru. She says you can't leave, but you can't tell anybody. She thinks it's the best riddle she's ever heard." He laughed painfully. "Then again, her favorite before that was ' What goes up a chimney down, but can't go down a chimney up?' "

"A brolly!" said Dru from the doorway, proudly. Her face was streaked with my blood, and her hair was in her eyes. "Spike, may I have some ice cream, please?"

"Yes, love, it's in the freezer. That's the big white box with the pictures of monkeys on the front," he answered gently, never looking away from me. He knows there's always ice cream. She didn't leave, though. She came closer to the bed, and looked at me, head tilted.

The last time I'd really seen Drusilla, she was in love with me, just like the entire female population of Sunnydale. Wouldn't those spellbound girls, then, be pissed, now, to know the only person who got Xander Harris' ass was a smart-mouthed dead Englishman with a severe attitude problem. Then again, most of them were dead themselves. The next time Dru got near me, she was kicking major ass in the Sunnydale High School Library, and killing Kendra, but some happy vampire or other had thankfully knocked me out before I had to see that.

So, once, long ago, she'd been the Enemy. So had Spike. Things change. People die, other people live. Dead people, too. If she was there, Spike had a reason for bringing her there. It'd been fifty-some years. Yeah, vamps can hold a grudge for a long time, but I wasn't a vampire.

"He tastes good," she said to Spike. Spike grinned softly, but it didn't reach his eyes.

"That he does, love," and I knew he wasn't just talking about blood.

"Why can't you tell me?" he asked me.

"Can't." And my throat closed up. Drusilla smiled like somebody'd just given her a new dolly.

"See? It's delicious!"

"No, it's not, Dru." Spike's voice was hard. "It's delicious when it's somebody else. When it's somebody I love, it's not delicious. It bloody hurts. Go eat ice cream. NOW. And don't eat any people." She backed away, still looking at the two of us.

"Why didn't you ask me to stay? Really ask me to stay." Spike was all questions, now, wasn't he.

I coughed, experimentally. Maybe the PTB's would let me answer this one. "I wouldn't...keep you in a cage. You're not an animal. They put a chip in your head like a damn...stray dog, but you're not an animal." More than I was usually able to say this early on a post-bathtub Morning After. I could still hear Spike singing, off in the bathroom, rockin' out with the pseudo Sex Pistols.

"Oh, I am. I'm just the dangerous kind that walks on two legs." He whacked the back of his head. " This soddin' chip kept you safe long enough for me to fall in love with you. Hurrah for Riley Finn and his Cowboy Commandos." He stroked my hair. I live for this shit, when he's not around. Just Spike, touching me. However he wants to. Riley Finn. A name I hadn't heard in years. Old home week around here.

"Why..." I had to ask, had to ask, had to ask, because I'm a pathetic tenth-grade loser who has to know these things, "why didn't you stay? Anyway?" He looked down.

"Thought you didn't love me enough to come with me, didn't I? At first." He was quiet. "That'd be the first time you tried to kill yourself, yeah? When you actually thought it might work? And me in a shithole bar in little TJ that night, gettin' soused and arsing about to anyone who'd listen about the black-eyed boy I'd left behind me. God, but I'm a fucking moron."

No. My Spike may be an idiot at times, but not a moron. That's reserved for me. "You didn't know."

"Should've. Should've bloody well known. I have eyes, I have ears, I love you, and I should've bloody well known! Then... later, when I came back... I knew it was more than that. You wanted me. I could see as well as the next blind gobsmacked dumbfuck. So I thought...maybe he's serious. About this Hellmouth thing. Maybe it's a cause, something I just don't fuckin' get, 'cos I'm a dead guy with no soul."

"But rhythm. Plenty of rhythm." I interjected, thinking of Spike doing the Time Warp. He shushed me.

"So I stayed. As long as I could, tryin' to understand. I get the yours, mine, an' ours bit. No killing Willow, the Slayer, the Watcher. Never really wanted to kill the Poof anyway, just torture 'im a bit. But I couldn't understand why you stayed. Not when the Slayer moved on. Thought I'd got it wrong again. Ran, 'cos I was scared there was too much in you that you'd never see in me. And when you wouldn't come with, well, there it was again. You wanted this two-shilling shithole more than you wanted me."

"No." My throat was starting to tighten. Fuck you guys. Haven't spoken to me in fifty-six years, you stay out of my conversations with my vampire. "Never about you. Never loved anything more than you. Ever."

"Yeah, well I said I was a fuckin' moron, didn't I. Later...I had to come back, had to stay as long as I could, had to be with you, more'n anything, and I had to try to figure out what the hell was goin' on in your head. But you'd get...antsy. Scared. Watch me like a kicked dog. I couldn't tell if I was hurtin' you more by staying or going. I had to go. Had to. Couldn't look at you like that. 'Til next time."

I'd driven him away? By being afraid he'd leave. I couldn't follow that one. I thought of my head on Willow's lap, dry-sobbing while she held me, pulling my hair away from my face. Maybe I could. I can scare the living shit out of people who love me, when I'm being an utter dickhead. I tried smiling, found it didn't make my face ache too much.

"And between the next times, you're fillin' great bloody novels with the hows and how-nots of killin' yourself. What's most painful, if you like that sort of thing. "

"I'd have to go with traditional Vlad-type impalement on that one, or crucifixion, not that I tried either," I offered. "For your actual first-hand experience, I'd say it's a tie between slow suffocation and repeated blunt trauma to the head. Knives are good, too, if you're careful. You can make a lot of little cuts without losing much blood, 'til you're ready."

Shit. Here's me, going on about being a dickhead, as I tell my lover all the wonderful ways I found to hurt myself while he was away. The look on his face was enough to shut me up. I never want to see that look again, as long as I don't live. He grabbed my wrists. Which itched a bit, as the skin was already fusing together. Healing.

"Promise me you'll never do this again, Xander." My turn to look down. At the bloody sheets, in the American sense of the word.

"I promise," I lied. He tightened his grip, then let go, dropping my wrists to the sheets.

"No, love, don't lie to me." He helped me sit up, back against the pillows. "If I stay, will you promise?"

I nodded, lying with my head instead of my mouth. I couldn't promise. I'd always fear that he would leave, that he couldn't stay in the Hellburg forever. I'd always fear that there'd be a next time out the window, asking me to come along.

He saw through that too. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Liar." He moved to lie next to me, as Willow had done so many times, once she'd found out. A different sort of comfort, having Spike there. He put his arms around me, and I could be warm, for a while. Even though he's cold. It never did make any sense.

"Dru says..." he said softly. "Dru says there's a way around this. That it was always there, and we were just too stupid to see it."

"Has Dru regressed to the stage where she thinks boys have cooties?" I asked innocently. I knew he wouldn't smack me, even in fun, when I was looking that fragile. I also couldn't stand hearing Dru's idea, if it was one of the thousands I thought up and discarded along the way.

"No, she's still shimmying up to anything with horns and a tail. She's got three of 'em now, Hrontak demons, all at her beck and call, pissing on trees to see who gets to grovel at the foot of her bed each night."

"But she came here, for you, to tell me what to do about..." tightening in the throat, yeah, I get the point..."guarding the Hellmouth." His arms tightened around me.

"No, she told me that in Xpeelstin. On the way to which I had to fight my way through a bleeding haunted wishing well, an army of Japanese ghosts, and a dimensional portal with fuckin' teeth, before I could even get to 'er."

"She was where? Is that a real place?" It sounded like the plot of an anime film.

"Not in this dimension, it isn't."

That's why he'd been gone for seven fucking years? He'd been chasing down Dru in some extradimensional Disney movie? I began to see why I hadn't asked him where he'd been or what he'd been doing all those times.

"I just...had a feeling she knew. That she was the last bloody person who'd care, so she obviously had to have the answer."

"So she came back here...what, 'cause she was bored?"

Spike laughed, but it sounded caught in his throat like a fishbone. "Well, yeah, probably. She usually is. Attention-span shorter than mine. She came back..." he was silent.

"Yeah?" I prompted, wrapping my hands around his forearms.

"To turn you, if I can't," he finished. And didn't say another word. And my heart broke, just another little bit more. You probably couldn't notice it, by that time. Not after fifty-six years. Twenty-two years old, and I'd asked him, shyly, if he wanted to, and he'd told me he loved me too much to want something that looked like me and acted like Angelus.

"Well, it's one way to kill me." I ventured. Or I could just say yes, I'll leave with you, and we could drive toward that city limit sign, and see what happens. What do you want from me, Spike? What have I got left to give? Have we changed that much? Seventy-five years old, and you're ready to trade me in on the model with the demonic engine?

"No. Dru says no."

I thought he was answering the questions in my mind, and realized after a few seconds that he was talking about my sarcastic little offering. Dru says no? No what?

My bed. My vampire. Here, for the moment, it was my place, my power, unless I was stupid enough to try to talk about why I couldn't leave. I wouldn't ask. I'd turn to him, and I'd put my hands on his body, covered in my own blood, and I'd kiss him, and I'd touch him, and I'd make him mine again, until next time.

But I didn't. I live on hope. I'm a big dope that way. It's one of my more endearing qualities, along with my dress sense.

"Dru says no, what?"

He pulled me around to face him. "Dru says no, we can let you keep your soul. No, it was bloody there all along, and we're too buggerfucking stupid to see it."

I pulled away. "We've got a spell. We've had a spell since nineteen fucking ninety-eight. There's a little clause attached, Spike. About losing it again if you have even one moment of true happiness. How long..." I laughed, in spite of myself..."how long do you think I'd keep my soul, with you in the room? Two minutes? Five?"

"It's not attached," said Willow, from the doorway. I looked at her. She was the same age as me, and unlike me, she looked every year of it. Every unbelievable, shitty, wonderful, loyal, loving year of it. She'd stayed on the Hellmouth for me. No other reason. She and Jonathan could have gone anywhere. Not as if the place had great emotional connotations for either of them. But she'd stayed, so he'd stayed. She'd outstayed him by five years. The most beautiful seventy-five year old woman I've ever seen, before or since. And she was tired. Not tired of being alive, not my Wills, but tired of fighting that body, as it aged, tired of fighting me, too, probably, as I slid from one self-destructive game to another.

She looked at me. Don't know what she saw, aside from a twenty-seven year old guy with dark hair and eyes, lying naked on the bed with his fully-clothed vampire lover, streaked in the blood of last-night's half-hearted suicide attempt. I had no body pride around Willow anymore. I'd known her for too long, loved her for too long. She'd picked me up off the floor, with her hands or her mind, too many mornings, from too many unbelievably undignified positions.

Drusilla was standing behind her, making biting faces. Spike twisted to face them, and raised a warning hand, but Willow had already stopped the vampiress in her tracks with a cross, without even looking back.

"Leave off, Dru. I said no eating people. Especially Willow," Spike said patiently.

Dru pouted. "Oh, but she smells so sweet. She would've made a beautiful princess, when she was young."

"She did." I called out. Beautiful, and sexy, and completely insane, the vampire version of Willow that Anya had conjured up. "Leave her alone, Dru. Go drink some bath water. " Dru disappeared, presumably to do just that. If nothing else, I suppose we could've marketed Xander-blood as a new vampire soft drink. An endless supply, bottled in Sunnydale.

"It's not attached." Willow repeated, not distracted for a minute. "We all thought it was. Assumed it was, because Angel was still cursed. Well, not that Buffy and Angel tested it out, but we figured, and then there was that time when the actress slipped him that drug that made Angelus come out..."

"Willow," Spike and I chanted in unison, after a lifetime of practice, "you're babbling."

"Oh. Yeah, I guess I am. It's important, which is when I usually babble. We all assumed it was part of the ritual of the undead, the soul restoration spell. It wasn't. I've been playing with it for a long time, now, translating and retranslating it. The soul-losing bit isn't in there. It's something the Kalderash attached to Angel, not part of the original spell. It's the part that wasn't on the paper, that somebody spoke through me, when we gave Angel his soul back."

I slid back to lie flat in the bed and stare at the ceiling. It had been there all along? No. No, it was too fucking easy. That would mean all of this, all these years guarding the fucking Hellmouth-- from what, since the number of white-hats that came through here to help was ridiculous--were wasted. Spike could have turned me when I was twenty-two. Well, could've gotten Angel to do it. Except--those years alive, with Spike, before I couldn't leave Sunnydale, were the happiest seven years of my life. Almost. Unless you added up every moment of first seeing Spike when he came back from wherever. Every moment of touching Spike, or watching him shave, or licking whipped cream off the tip of his nose...

"And you just figured this out now? Isn't that a bit too convenient? A bit too "Passions" even for Spike's love life?" I asked bitterly. Yeah, I could still be a mean bastard to Willow. It's part of the Harris charm.

"No," she answered in a very small voice. "I've known since before Giles died. He gave me the translation of the codex that finally made me believe it, for Beltaine, ten years ago."

Ten years ago. When Spike was still here, three years before his last and longest walkabout. When we could've been out there, in Reno, in Borneo, in fucking Xpeelstin, wherever that is. What the hell. Okay, not as convenient as I thought, apparently.

"And you didn't tell us because..." I let the words hang in the air, not condemning her. She was Willow. She had to have a reason.

"Because none of us thought it would work. You're not human, Xander. Everything anybody knew said that only a human can be turned. You're..." she trailed off.

Right, we don't know what I am, but I'm not human. Not anymore. Got it during the first seventy-five suicide attempts, thanks.

"We didn't want to tell you that you could, if you'd only not gotten yourself killed fifty-six years ago. That seemed like a bit of a shitty birthday present, somehow. The most we thought might happen would be that you'd die. Really die. So sorry we didn't let you try it," she finally added, a bit more bravely. "Sorry if I sound like the evil bitch-monster of death, Xander, but have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up about it. People love you. Dead people love you. Cope and deal."

Leave it to Willow to make me feel about twelve years old and six inches tall. Lying naked in a bed with the sexiest vampire on the planet, bar bleedin' none, as said vampire would say, and all I can think of is, oops, I pissed off the witch again. Sorry I've been such a weaselly little Xander of a dork, can I please crawl in a hole and die now?

Drusilla returned to the doorway with a bowl of ice cream, covered in what I was pretty sure wasn't strawberry syrup. Yum. To each her own, I guess.

"Okay, I refuse to believe I'm at a disadvantage here, but I do happen to be the only naked person around. Could somebody either give me a blanket that isn't covered with blood, or start taking off some clothes?" Spike looked like he was having a tough time making the decision, but at last he pulled a clean blanket from the top of the hamper next to the bed, and spread it over me. My freakin' hero.

"Thank you. Now, am I getting this straight? You say you can do the soul-restoration spell, without the oops-I'm-a-psycho-again clause, Willow? " She nodded. "And you, Dru, say Spike can turn me?" Loony-girl sucked on a spoonful of ice cream, as if she had something far more pleasant in her mouth. "Drusilla?"

"Mmmm. I think so. If not, I will, and you can be my little boy."   Oh, no, I don't think so. If anybody was sucking all my blood out, it would be Spike. Aside from which, I wanted to keep what little sanity I had left, and I don't think Dru would make a very good mommy. Somehow.

"So this is..." I gestured around at the roomful of people who had been witness to my continued idiocy, some for decades at a time.

"Call it an intervention." Willow said, pulling a little glass ball from her pocket.

"Hey, now, what if I don't want to be a vampire?" I asked, scooting back against the headboard. Playing for time, because if this did kill me, it would be the last time I'd see Spike's face. Which was looking at me like I'd just flipped my lid, okay, but...

"Shut up," he said succinctly, and pushed me down to the mattress.

"Well, what about guarding the Hellmouth?" Long-delayed guilt over that little item popped into my brain.

"Fuck it. You're not workin' off some penance, Xander. You've been a goody-good guy all your life. The bleedin' Hellmouth took you away from me in the first place, it can damn well let you go now. Fuck it."

Straight to the point, gotta give Spike that. Or anything else he wants.

"There's two Slayers. One can roam the world, one can guard the Hellmouth. That's probably why it happened in the first place," Willow babbled. "Somebody got greedy when they made you permanent zookeeper, Xander, not that we're complaining, but...'

"Willow!" Spike cut her off. "Make with the mojo, already."

"Um, I think you have to make with the biting, first." she said, and I swear she was blushing, although I thought she was long past that.

"Er, right. Could you lot fuck off for a mo?" Spike asked eloquently.

And they did, and we did. Nobody ever said being turned had to be a bad experience. Well, nobody who ever met Spike did, anyway.

*******

And sometime that evening, we stuffed Drusilla in the back seat of the DeSoto with a gallon of Rocky Road and a last-chance cooler of Xander-blood. Which ain't bad on top of Rocky Road. Spike had put new glass in, thank God. Y'know, mirror-shaded UV-tinted you-can-see-out-but-the-sun-can't-see-in stuff? I'd been hoping the black spray paint would explain his driving, but no such fuckin' luck. Like a ferret on speed. In a burlap sack. With Spike's Party Mix, all Spike covering the Sex Pistols, all the time, in the CD player. And we crossed the city limit sign. Literally. Three times, once in reverse, just to make sure he hadn't missed it. Crunch.

You want a damn list of deaths and who's who, I know, but I'm not tying up loose ends for you. Go visit the bloody Hellmouth yourself, if you want to know who's doing cleanup duty there now. Dru... we returned her to her little castle, and I was right. Disney on crack, with three massively-hung demonoids dancing attendance on the princess. Not that I was jealous. Well, not for myself, anyway. Which didn't come out right. I don't need three Schwarzeneggars with horns, when I've got one Spike, with a mouth like a drunken British truck driver and the sweetest ass in any dimension. That better?

Sometimes I think about it. Sunnydale. Willow, who died a few years ago. It's what you do. You stay young, you watch your friends grow old, and die. I used to think that was the curse of any kind of immortality. But it's not. I've met vampires, ghosts, demons, things we don't even have an English word for, and we kept spending so much time being afraid of death, in the middle of all this twisted evidence that it's not the end. I'm here, with Spike in my arms. Something loves us.

We did go back to Sunnydale, for another damn funeral. Willow's. Cleaning out her apartment, we found an empty rat cage, and a dark-haired seventeen year old girl sleeping on the bed. How's that for a loose end? Of course, the conversation where I tried to convince her that A) it was sixty years or so since she'd last seen the sun, B) I'm a vampire, which isn't actually why I look so much like the Xander Harris she knew in high school, but it'll do, and C) I have no particular desire to suck her blood, and she probably shouldn't keep pointing stakes at me...that was fun. Didn't help that Spike kept making grr-faces at her and commenting pointedly about how he'd liked her better as a rat.

Spike and I live on the road. In Madrid. In Barcelona. In Torquay. Occasionally, in Reno. We see Dru now and again, now that we know how to find her. I never asked, if he still loves her. I get the yours, mine, ours thing now too.

I don't try to kill myself anymore. Not a lot of point in that. Not when I have a vampire next to me who's threatened to feed me my balls on shish-kebab skewers if I try it again. Not that he would, he likes them right where they are, but I get the point. No fun near-death games for Xander, when there's so many fun undead ones to be played.

We keep an ear in to the Hellmouth. Professional curiosity, I suppose, plus Amy's the closest thing I have to a contemporary, besides Spike, who's got a century or so on me. And his leg, at the moment, which I'm not about to move. She found herself a guy who doesn't seem to care that she spent the early part of the twenty-first century munching yogurt drops and squeaking. No, it's not Buffy's great-grandson or any hokey shit like that. He's just a guy. A reasonably nice, normal guy living on the Hellmouth with a witch for a wife. She's pregnant though, and I'm taking bets it's Willow. Don't give me any crap about how convenient that is. If anyone's coming back, it's my Wills, and Amy owes her. Big time. Sixty years of back rent and habi-trail cleaning.

I'm still a tenth grade loser, and I still get scared. In the morning, when the sun's coming up outside and we're going to sleep, or at least to bed, I still pull Spike's arms tight around me, and wonder if he'll be there come nightfall. "Staying?" I'll ask, and he'll kiss me, and say "Thought I might do, yeah." "Forever?" I have to ask, because I'm me, and after all this time, Spike's finally figured out the right answer. "Yeah. Shut up. Git." He never asks me if I'm coming. First, because he knows what the answer is, and second, I'm pretty loud about it. Sorry, was that a bit too blunt?




The End



Spike drabble - Epilogue

Been blind, all this time. Maybe I wanted not to see, smell, taste what he did to himself every time I left. Was it feeling trapped, or coming too close to his truth, that made me run? Did I smell blood in the flat, and pretend it was mine? See rope burns on his throat, or had they faded already? Can see them now, every invisible scar, as he lies sleeping, head on Dru's lap. Mine forever, now, but how can I make it up to him, with just this stone-blind love of mine, to give? Is forever long enough?





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