Sequel to Civilized Conversations

Xander goes back to meet William, William falls for a mysterious one-eyed stranger and one hundred and twenty-four years later, Spike starts to remember someone he'd thought long dead...




And Afterwards Remember

by
Melissa

Part 1 Part 2


PROLOGUE - Xander

Thursday 24th June, 2004. 9:30 am

 

Xander squirmed and fingered the collar that was currently doing its level best to cut off all oxygen to his brain.

"Christ, Will, did they actually wear this shit?" he moaned irritably. His not-so-best-friend-at-the-moment looked up and smiled brightly from where she was carefully arranging his hair into, in his opinion, exactly the same style it had been ten minutes ago.

"It'd be better if you stopped fiddling with it, Xan. Stand still, I'm just about finished."

He sighed heavily, but obediently stopped moving. A moment later, she stepped aside and turned him around to face the full length mirror behind him.

She peered intently over his shoulder, running her eyes up and down his body. "So, what do you think? Authentic?"

He examined the clothing critically. "I look like a freaking idiot, Will," he complained once again, just for good measure.

She just grinned at his discomfort. "But authentic. An idiot among idiots. No one will be able to tell." She nodded decisively, looking supremely pleased with herself.

Xander examined the figure in the mirror distastefully. He looked like some sort of Halloween reject. Not even a cool Halloween reject, like a pirate or a really scary demon. No, he looked like the person who'd forgotten about the party until the very last moment, then had to go to the costume store and hire out the very last, dorkiest outfit that no one else had wanted to wear. The fact that this suit had been specially designed by a professional in no way made up for it, as far as Xander was concerned.

The whole thing was a nondescript light brown. The pants weren't so bad, even if they did have specially pressed creases. And who the hell deliberately creased their clothes anyway? But he'd gotten used to wearing things slightly resembling them for client meetings and funerals. He fingered the collar again. It was currently the source of most of his discomfort. Because this wasn't just any collar. Oh, no. This thing was starched to within an inch of becoming a piece of curvy slate. And it was standing up around his neck, so that if he'd had anything more in the way of a chin it would be leaving marks from where it dug into his flesh. Still, he could have handled a white shirt, even if the collar was hellishly uncomfortable, and he knew from hell, but still, it wouldn't have been so bad. But then Willow had brought out the waistcoat, complete with gold pocket watch, and the high-button jacket that finished at his waist, then swept out and down to a double curved tail around the back of his knees. And that was doing almost as much to asphyxiate him as the goddamn shirt.

Still, he had to reluctantly admit that he did look pretty authentic, if all those old movies were anything to go by. He was even standing up straighter. Though the waistcoat was so tight he didn't have much of a choice there.

He sighed once again. "Yeah, fine, I guess it looks okay," he conceded.

Willow smiled again, this time looking at him reassuringly. "You'll be fine, Xander. It's only for one day." He knew she wasn't talking about the clothes. At least, not just about the clothes.

He nodded, giving her a wry smile. "Yeah, I know. But Spike's so gonna owe me for this." Which actually made him feel a little better. His face relaxed into a more natural smile.

He straightened his eye patch - they'd decided not to go for a glass eye in the end, figuring Spike had known two-eyed Xander before he'd known one-eyed Xander, and so would be less likely to have recognized him five years ago - carefully placed the ridiculous bowler hat on his head and picked up the cane he would be carrying with him. With one last grin at Willow, he squared his shoulders, carefully schooled his features into what he felt was an appropriately old-fashioned expression and said, "Well, bring them on in."

Willow nodded, her eyes gleaming, and went to open the door. Buffy and Dawn immediately burst into the room, grinning, followed more sedately by Giles, although Xander could see a smirk lurking around his eyes as well. With an internal grin, Xander deliberately sunk himself into the nineteenth century persona they'd been drumming into him for nearly two weeks now. Distantly, he had to admit the clothes made all the difference.

They all stopped when they saw him, their eyes widening, and he allowed a small smile to curve his lips. Buffy was the first to break the silence. "Jesus, Xan," she whistled, "you look hot." She grinned delightedly and moved over to him. Smirking inwardly, he took off his hat with one hand and extended the other to her. She took it automatically, and he brought it to his lips as he bent slightly at the waist. She laughed, dropping into the small curtsey they'd spent days practicing.

"Why thank you, Miss Summers," he said placidly, his one eye laughing. Then he turned to Dawn, bowing again in her direction. "Miss Dawn," then nodding to Giles, "Mr Giles." Giles automatically nodded back, then cleared his throat and looked embarrassed as he realised what he'd done. Dawn just grinned and copied the curtsey Buffy had given.

Giles moved forward, eyeing him critically. "Yes, well, bravo Xander. You look very much the part. You should have no trouble at all fitting into eighteen eighty for a day. So long as you continue to concentrate, I'm sure you'll do fine." He looked at him concernedly for a moment. "Are you sure you're ready for this? We'll put it off until next year if we have to."

Buffy frowned and nodded. "Giles is right, Xander. Spike might have to be a ghost for a little longer, but we don't want anything to happen to you. "

Xander felt himself relax a little as four pairs of worried eyes regarded him. Truth was, he was scared shitless, but he also knew why he'd agreed to do this. Almost six months ago, Angel had called them in London, to tell them that Spike was back, as some sort of a ghost. Then, Xander had been somewhat surprised to discover just how concerned that made him feel. But he and Spike had become almost-friends those last few weeks before the apocalypse, when the vampire had given his life to save the world. And it honestly troubled him to think of Spike like that. Incorporeal, cut off from everyone around him. Alone. So when Angel had called to ask Willow if she could lend any magical assistance, he had been happy to offer any help he could, even if it was just research.

Of course, if he'd known then that he was going to be roped into travelling back in time to get original blood and tissue samples, he might not have been quite so eager. It was just like Spike, he thought with a sort of irritated fondness. Still dead, and still getting Xander into trouble. But the fact remained, bleeding heart that he was, he just couldn't leave Spike to live like that for any longer than he had to.

So he waved away their concerns, studiously ignoring the gnawing fear in his gut. If Sunnydale had taught him anything, it was how to studiously ignore fear, or at least how to work around it. "Nah, like you said, I'll be fine. I think we'd all rather the bleached menace was nice and solid and thus easier to keep out of trouble." Willow glanced at him knowingly, but he just smiled and shrugged a little.

Giles nodded, a small smile playing over his own lips. "Very well, then. We'll perform the spell tomorrow just before dawn, which means you've got less than a day to go over everything you need to know. Then we all need to get some rest, especially you, Willow. We're only going to get one shot at this."


 

Nineteen hours, thirty-four minutes later, Xander was back to wondering what the hell he was thinking.

"Okay. Okay, I can do this. Okay, why the hell am I doing this?" Fuck, he couldn't ever remember feeling this nervous. Demons, monsters, end of the world. Walk in the fucking park, as far as he was concerned. What the hell was he thinking? What if he got stuck in the past? He'd be alone, forever! What if he died in the past? None of his friends would ever know. What if Willow's spell went wrong and he was torn molecule from molecule to spend the rest of eternity floating around as particles in time? What if he said something wrong and changed the entire course of history? What if when he came back the world was like Russian, or ruled by monkeys, or something? Hell, he could cease to freaking exist! Ohhh, he couldn't do this. It was such a bad idea. Such a monumentally idiotic, fucking stupid idea.

"I'm gonna be sick," he said, quite calmly, he thought. He'd gone so far beyond butterflies in his stomach. The butterflies had been eaten by the spiders, which had been eaten by the snakes, which had gone down to the frickin' great bears currently making themselves at home in his gut!

They had gathered a couple of hours ago in this old house in Bloomsbury. Xander had no idea how Giles had managed to talk the owners into allowing them to use it for their spell, but they'd been met at the door with friendly smiles followed by offers to help themselves to anything in the fridge while they were there, then the young couple had wished them the best, picked up a small carry bag each and said they'd be back later that night. Everyone but Giles had watched with some bemusement as they hopped into their car and drove away.

Now, he and Buffy were pressed against the wall of a small downstairs dining room, trying to stay out of the way. He really wanted to sit down, but he wasn't sure that he could move his legs. Giles, Willow and Dawn had been drawing stuff on the floor in chalk, sprinkling sand and salt around, since they'd gotten here. Any other time, he might have been paying more attention.

He jumped when Buffy slipped a hand into his own and squeezed gently. She looked worried. "We can still call this off, Xan," she said quietly.

He grimaced. He didn't want to hear that. He wanted her to tell him he had no choice, he was doing it whether he liked it or not, so he could turn on the righteous indignation and storm out of there. "Not helping, Buffy." He glared at her half-heartedly. She gave him a lop-sided smile of apology and squeezed his hand again. "It's just, you know. Never been done before! I mean, even after everything I've seen the past seven years, I can't help thinking there should be some point at which reality really does become science fiction. I mean, time travel, Buff! One of these days, I really want to be able to say, 'Pshaw, there's no such thing!' and be frickin' right!"

He glanced down at her, still irritated, when she didn't say anything for a moment. She was trying not to smile. "What!" he snapped, feeling a grin trying to worm its way up from his own chest. He conscientiously ignored it. He was pissed off, goddamn it!

"You want to say 'pshaw'?" She coughed to cover the giggle that tried to escape. "Pshaw!" she said it again, this time with accompanying hand waving.

"Buffy, I'm serious." He tried to sound stern. Wasn't too sure that it worked.

But her face cleared, and she looked up at him. "You know Willow wouldn't be doing this if she didn't know she could bring you back, Xan. You're going to be fine. As long as you don't give away any big future secrets." She looked down for a moment. "And, it's for Spike, you know? I don't… I don't like to think of him like that. I'd go myself, you know I would, but I have to agree with Giles, you really are the best person to do this."

They'd gone over the reasoning a thousand times. Dawn, obviously, couldn't go, even if they hadn't needed her blood to open the portal. Buffy had wanted to, but Giles had pointed out that a woman might have a harder time, especially with what they knew of Spike. And Willow was the only one with enough power to do the spell. So it had come down to Giles and Xander. In the end, Giles had argued that a) Xander was a better age to connect with Spike, and b) he could pass off any faux pas as being young and American. It hadn't occurred to any of them to get anyone else in to help. This was about the Scoobies. Fringe Scoobies, maybe, but they took care of their own.

"Aren't you even a little excited?" Buffy asked curiously. "I mean, talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. You know that Giles is so jealous." She grinned at him.

He sighed and shrugged. "Yeah, I mean, under the mind-numbing terror, there's whole bucketfuls of thrills." He smiled a little. "I'm just scared I'm gonna screw this up, Buff," he said quietly.

Her eyes showed understanding when she smiled at him. "Oh, pshaw," she said seriously. Then, when he rolled his eyes at her, she burst into giggles, drawing glances from the other people in the room.

"Buffy." He elbowed her in the ribs. She ignored him. "Buffy!" This time she drew a deep breath, calming down, then glanced at his glaring face and lost control all over again. He heard a whispered 'pshaw' as she slapped a hand over her mouth. It was his undoing. He smiled, then snorted, then they were leaning against each other giggling helplessly. They straightened up when Giles cleared his throat officiously. He felt better, calmer. They were right, he could do this. It was just Spike, for god's sake, and an extremely wussy Spike if Angel's account was to be trusted. He'd go in there, knock the man unconscious, mop up a bit of his blood, and be back here twelve hours from now, no problem.

Giles was smirking long-sufferingly. "If you two have quite finished, we need Xander in the middle of the circle, and Buffy over here." He pointed to the curve of the circle opposite where he was sitting, in between Dawn and Willow. "We've got about five minutes before we need to start. Xander, do you have everything you need? Money, maps, first aid, syringe? You know your story?"

Xander took a deep breath and picked up his hat and cane, moving to stand inside the circle. "Check. Got a head full of dates and places. As well as matches, string, plastic bags, cell phone, extra handkerchiefs, pen, paper, little vial of chloroform and a brief guide to the history of twentieth century American football."

Giles' eyes had widened. "Right, well, yes then. That should cover it." Then he frowned. "Wait a moment, Xander, you cannot take your cell phone. For one thing, there will be no communications satellites-"

Xander exchanged an amused glance with the girls and interrupted, "Giles, chill. It was a joke. You know, a joke, not true, meant to be funny. I haven't got that guide either, though I reckon Spike might find it useful."

Giles glared. "This is hardly the time for jokes, Xander. But if you're ready, we'll begin."

"Good luck, Xan," Willow said with a slightly distracted smile. "You'll do fine. Don't forget, the spell lasts until sunset, so you'll have about twelve hours. Try to make it back here, if you can. If you can't, the portal will still just appear where ever you are and pull you in. You got a bit of modern change to call us if you need to?"

"Yup. You sure I can't just take my phone?" he asked.

"I want to know everything there is to know about human Spike, Xan," Dawn grinned at him. "At least enough blackmail material to get me through college."

He grinned back. "Oh you'd better believe it, Dawnster. No way is Spike's reputation coming out of this unscathed." Then he straightened his shoulders and slipped his hat onto his head. "Ok, then, lets do this. I'll guess I'll see you all in twelve hours."

Then he just stood as Dawn drew a sharp knife over both her palms and they all joined hands around him. He didn't pay much attention to the chanting, but he could feel the magic filling the room. And then the air before him started to shimmer and pull at his skin. Behind it, he could see a different room, empty, thank god, and with one final prayer, stepped through one hundred and twenty three years of history.

He had a dead man to raise.


 

Part One


Part 1 - William

Friday, 25th June, 1880. 7:30 am

William opened his eyes and yawned as Martin knocked on his door, entering a moment later to cross the room and draw back the curtains. He was sorely tempted to close them again when he remembered that he had the whole day off. His next court appearance wasn't until ten tomorrow morning, and he'd already done all the preparation he was planning on doing. Today he was going to relax. He had just one client to visit this morning with some papers that needed signing but then he had the entire day to himself. He was going to spend some time with Mother, do some reading, maybe visit the Museum. He sat up with a stretch. He was not, however, going to waste it lying around in bed.

An hour and a half later, he stepped out into the morning sunshine, grinning as he slipped his bowler onto his head. It was a truly beautiful day to be in London. The rain last night had washed the streets clean and the air was fresh with a slight westerly breeze. This was the sort of summer day poets wrote about.

So busy was he coming up with descriptive words for the quality of the light and the air, he completely failed to notice the young man walking towards him, perhaps lost in similar meanderings. They collided with a thump, but a strong hand shot out to grasp his shoulder before he could do more than sway backwards slightly. This was almost more startling than running into the gentleman, and his leather case slipped from fingers nerveless from surprise. He ignored it for the moment and raised his eyes to his partner in mishap.

The first thing he noticed was the eye-patch and he almost stepped away as fear assaulted him. This man was a pirate! A scourge of the seven seas! He had probably lost his eye when he and his blackguard crew had been apprehended by Her Majesty's Royal Navy. Then he noticed the concern filling the young man's face, the remaining eye narrowing to study him intently.

"Hey," the man said carefully, "you okay?" He had a completely nondescript voice. Certainly not gravely with years spent yelling at his felonious shipmates and breathing the salty sea air. It was, however, tinged with a decidedly odd accent. American, William would bet his life on it. The hand on his shoulder moved slightly. "Sir?" Focussing, he took in the tailored, expensive clothes, the air of absent authority. He mentally rolled his eyes at his overactive imagination. The man was clearly not a pirate.

An embarrassed smile crept its way onto his face. "I do apologise, sir. I fear I was not watching where I was going. Are you uninjured?" The gentleman blinked once and seemed surprised at his remark, but a moment later the expression vanished and William watched curiously as the man in front of him suddenly relaxed. He hadn't even noticed how tense he had been.

A wide grin spread over the man's face and the hand dropped from his shoulder. His remaining eye lit up with amusement. For once William felt that it was not directed at him, but to him, and found himself almost unconsciously responding. Here, he imagined, was a man with a great many friends. He couldn't recall ever seeing such a genuinely welcoming smile. Certainly not from the people he associated with and never directed at him.

The man shrugged easily. "Not your fault. I should've been paying more attention. Sorry about that. You would've thought I'd've grown out of my clumsy phase by now. I'm starting to believe it's never going to happen. 'Course, it doesn't help having only one eye. I know, I know, that's not really any excuse, but it certainly doesn't help with the natural ineptitude." He grinned again. "Let me get that for you." He bent over and swept up the case that was still lying on the ground.

"Ah, thank you," William said, slightly bemused. The man was now studying him with an odd sort of intensity, as though he was expecting William to say something. William floundered. "But really, I'm sure it was my fault. As you said, you have only one eye, you can't be expected to… um, not that it's necessarily a disability. I'm sure you're still perfectly able… oh dear. I'm so sorry…" He trailed off helplessly, the heat rising in his cheeks.

The young man was regarding him with a fond sort of amusement, which some part of William regarded as oddly familiar, given they had only just met. Oh well, he thought resignedly, at least he didn't appear to have offended him. The gentleman may not have been a pirate, but he was still a great deal larger than William. Instead he was treated to a wry version of that smile. "Oh, don't worry, I'm intimately familiar with that particular brand of foot-in-mouth disease." William wasn't entirely sure he understood that, but decided not to address it.

"Let's start again, shall we? Alexander Harris, at your service." William automatically took the hand that was extended to him, still a little off balance. Some corner of his mind frowned as it perceived the scars and calluses covering the surprisingly strong hand that grasped his own, and wondered if he ought to rethink the pirate theory. His own palm felt soft, almost womanish in comparison. It was shaken twice, then dropped.

Somewhat belatedly, he responded. "William Watson." He couldn't help the small smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. This was quite possibly the strangest introduction he had ever had. What's more, he just couldn't quite bring himself to care. The gentleman, Mr Harris, was clearly respectable, and it wasn't as though any of his friends really cared about him one way or the other. Besides, perhaps this was how they did things in America now. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr Harris."

The other man grinned at him, and he felt his own smile widen in response. "Alexander, or Alex." William almost frowned at this, but was interrupted. "Please. Humour me. Think of it as an American thing."

He hesitated for a moment. It was terribly improper. They'd known each other for less than five minutes. But there was something so open about this man… He gave a mental shrug. "Alexander, then."

"There you go." Then he was stepping away, still smiling.

Suddenly it occurred to William that he was due in Flagstaff Street with those papers in less than ten minutes. Ignoring the sharp disappointment in his chest, he gave Alexander an apologetic smile. "I'm afraid I have to be running. I've an appointment I really can't miss. Once again, please forgive my clumsiness. Although it's certainly a novel way to meet people. Perhaps we shall see each other again, Mr Harris." He smiled at the look on the other man's face. "Alexander."

"It was nice running into you, Mr. Watson." That oddly intent expression flashed through Alexander's eye again. But before William could examine it properly, the man was tipping his hat with a small bow and moving out of the way. "Good luck with your meeting." Then, with a final nod, he strode away up the street.


 

William suspected it was fortuitous that he required only a signature for some random pieces of paper pertaining the to licence petition he was scheduled to present tomorrow. He was quite certain that he hadn't imagined the somewhat offended expression as he was ushered out the front door after only fifteen minutes. Some part of him was mortified at his behaviour, ignoring questions, giving curt answers. He had done his level best to avoid even conversation about the court appearance tomorrow. Although, it wasn't as though they hadn't spent countless hours already going over everything. He was sure he knew Kingsley's finances even better than the man himself. And he was as sure as he could be that obtaining a drinking and music licence would be the work of mere minutes before the London County Council.

The fact was, he remained curiously distracted by his encounter earlier that morning. He didn't think he'd ever met an American before. Well, there had been that cousin of Theodore Buckley, who'd visited a few years ago, but they had never actually been introduced. He could not honestly even recall the man's name. Although, he would have ventured the man might have had a similarly relaxed bearing. Perhaps that really was an American trait.

Truth be told, however, he was intrigued by more than the man's nationality. He had never met such a singular individual. The circles he travelled in were full of clever, cutting people, interested mainly in desperately trying to stay ahead of fashions and trends and looking down on anyone who didn't quite meet with their standards or wasn't strong enough to stand up to their barbs. William sighed silently to himself. He was aware of his bitterness. Was just as aware that it would do him no good, had never done him any good, to worry about it. For the first time in a long time, however, he had looked into eyes, or one eye, at least, that held nothing of arrogance, had not judged him as not quite worthy even before having had the chance to know him.

There had been something there, though. Something oddly… focussed. As though Alexander had known something about him that no one else did… and liked him for it. Respected him even.

That had been the strangest thing. He had always had to work for respect. He was aware that he was by no means the best barrister he could have been. Honestly, he did not have the same ambition that so many of the young men his age seemed to show. He had no desire to be the most famous litigator in the kingdom. Had better things to do with his spare moments than spend them practicing taunts and insults and witty comebacks. He lacked the killer instinct that all the best seemed to possess, which was in part why he had applied for his special pleaders licence. He was just as necessary to the system as the next man, but his peers saw only that he was soft and shunned him accordingly. He allowed it because he didn't want to be like that. If that was the price of poetry and beauty, then as much as it occasionally hurt, he paid it.

He tried to shake himself out of his musings. He not only had no reason to truly suppose Alexander would be any different to any of the others once he got to know him, he also had not the smallest reason to think he would ever see the gentleman again. He had neglected even to give him a card. Besides, he knew better than to read too much into situations such as that. At least, he should know better. If they ever met again, he would reassess the situation before making a fool of himself, and that was all there was to it.

William nodded once, squaring his shoulders decisively. Looking up, he found he had walked in the direction of the river. Emerging from Middle Temple Lane, he waited beneath the tall oaks that lined both sides of the carriageway while the road cleared, then made his way over to the footway bordering the river. The Embankment had been completed a mere ten years earlier and was considered by many to be one of the best government expenditures in a good long while. William had to admit he was one of them. A relatively short walk from the Inns of Court, he had spent many pleasant hours under these trees over the past couple of years.

Both roads were crowded this fine morning; the sharp clatter of wheels over the cobblestones was undercut by the pleasant murmur of mid-morning pedestrians and the ever-present hum of the city behind him. As he took a moment to stand by the barrier listening to the gentle lapping of the water against the high stone wall and gazing out along the river, his thoughts wandering inexorably back to one Alexander Harris.

So when he felt someone move up to stand beside him, it was something of a shock to turn and see the subject of his thoughts suddenly made manifest. He jumped, one hand going to cover his suddenly racing heart. Alexander was leaning against the railing, his back to the river, arms crossed over his chest, but his hand shot out to grasp William's shoulder when he swayed backwards. He grinned, his one eye sparkling.

"Watch it," he said mildly. "Don't want to fall in the river." He glanced distastefully over the side. "Doesn't look too healthy down there."

William continued to look at him in shock. When the young man turned back and waggled his eyebrows, still smiling, he felt a slightly incredulous grin make its way onto his face.

"We've got to stop meeting like this. You okay?" Alexander asked, genuine concern apparent under the smirk.

"I'm sorry? Oh! Yes, yes, I'm fine, thank you. You just startled me. I fear that once again I was not paying attention," he said wryly, starting to relax. An odd look seemed to pass through Alexander's eyes at that, but he didn't know the man well enough to determine what it could mean.

"Preoccupied, huh? Well, I get that. It's a beautiful day, from what I've seen of this country." He glanced over. "Sort of day people write poems about, right?" William's heart sank. Alexander had heard of him, after all. His peers would have told him all he needed to know about William the Bloody Awful Poet. He sighed inwardly and straightened his shoulders resignedly. They might not be friends, but he had no desire to stay here and listen to the taunts. He looked up, prepared to take his leave, and caught the end of yet another odd expression passing over Alexander's face. Like confusion, or surprise, as though something had happened that he hadn't been expecting, but was not happy about. Then his face cleared. "I've got a… friend," he seemed to hesitate over the word, "who's a poet, back home. Granted, he's cr… ah, really bad, but we don't hold it against him. Generally," he added with a grin. "Personally, I haven't got a single creative bone in my body." He shrugged, "But even I can appreciate a beautiful day."

Now William was confused. Perhaps it had been a purely innocent comment. Alexander still didn't appear to be mocking. His smile was perfectly open…

Inwardly wincing a little, he decided to take a chance. "Indeed, it is a beautiful day. I'll admit I have written the occasional verse about such things, myself. Not well, but, well…"

"-sometimes you've just got to express yourself," Alexander finished with a relieved smile. Again, William was confused. The young man was acting almost as though he was worried about having caused offence. But if he knew nothing of the ridicule that was heaped on his poetic compositions by his peers, what would he care?

He had to swallow down the almost desperate urge to lie to this man. Because he knew that he could not hide himself, he had never been able to do so . Although it did now occur to him that, perhaps, he had been so ready to open himself to those people precisely because in his heart he truly didn't care what they thought of him. Right now, though, he could tell Alexander anything that he wanted the young man to believe, even if he were ultimately to learn the truth. He could be anyone he wanted to be. Someone Alexander could admire, would want to be friends with. If he'd had any hope of maintaining the disguise, he might have been tempted. But there was something inside him that refused to be anything but what he was, that part of himself that refused to change into someone who would fit seamlessly and silently into society, the part that could not lie to this young man, whom he had known less than ten minutes altogether, but whom he already liked and respected more than almost anyone else he knew.

"Indeed. Although if you stay, you will find that many of my peers are not so understanding. I'm afraid I have something of a reputation. You will not get far with them if they know you are friends with me." He said it mildly enough - it was nothing more than the truth, after all - and inwardly tried to steel himself for Alexander's reaction.

Who did not even seemed to have noticed his ultimatum, to judge by the smile on his face.

"Try to imagine my distress," he said sardonically. "I could've said the same about myself, actually, a couple of years ago." And William watched in some astonishment as he shook his head wryly, his eye distant and a little sad. He couldn't imagine Alexander not surrounded by friends. "But," he said suddenly, the grin reappearing, "that's neither here nor there, 'cause I'm leaving in exactly," he pulled out his watch and glanced at it, "nine hours and thirty-seven minutes, give or take, and I don't plan on spending my time meeting a bunch of boring guys who don't give a rat's ass about me."

William was starting to learn that Alexander was not a typical young man. He wondered in a vague way if he would ever stop being surprised by him. Was this a positive comment or not? he wondered. "I, ah, see," he started.

"Unless they're your friends, of course," Alexander interrupted with a small smile.

Positive, then, he felt he could safely assume. Then he belatedly registered the rest of what had been said. "Wait a moment, you have only until this evening? Are you leaving, then?" William wasn't entirely sure he managed to keep all the disappointment out of his voice, especially when Alexander looked at him with that odd, intense, slightly confused expression.

"Yeah, I am, actually. At sunset. I've got to keep myself amused 'till then." William was still a little off balance. To learn that Alexander would only be here for one day hit harder than he would have expected. He wasn't sure he'd realised just how much he was looking forward to getting to know him. Glancing at Alexander's face, he thought he saw a flicker of apology and a similar disappointment. But he couldn't ignore the hopeful smile, or the open invitation of his last statement. And he acknowledged that he didn't really want to pass up this opportunity, even if it was only for one day. He almost smiled to think that he really could have pretended to be someone else, and Alexander would never have known.

Relaxing fully, he smiled at Alexander. "Have you visited London before?" he asked.

Alexander shook his head. "Not really. I've been here a couple of days, but I haven't been anywhere. I kinda reckon I should play tourist a little before I go back home." He grinned suddenly. "I don't suppose you've got the day off?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you'd planned all this, Alexander." The name sounded odd on his tongue, and he realised this was only the second time he had uttered it. The thought made him smile. "I have no other appointments today, in fact. I could show you around, if you'd like?" He took a moment to wonder dazedly who was this stranger using his mouth. When had he become so forward?

Alexander smiled an honestly delighted smile. "Yeah? I'd like. Thanks. This is so much better than my original plan." He bounced away from the railing, suddenly all energy, and William chuckled slightly, infected by his good humour.

"It's my pleasure. You seem like an unusual individual, Alexander. I'm looking forward to it."

The young man paused and shot him an amused look. "Always with the honesty, huh? Well, that makes two of us. I expect to know everything there is to know about you by the time we're done. So, where're we starting?"

"Well, I should probably stop in at home, first. Then I suppose it's really up to you. Is there anything in particular you wanted to visit?"

"Nope. Take me wherever you like to go. I've got a friend back home. He's something of a scholar, I guess you'd say. He's going to kill me for not taking advantage of my time here to find out everything there is to know about this London, but… well, what can I say? It's not like I'm on a school excursion." He grinned and shrugged. William had not missed the curious way Alexander had referred to the city but didn't feel it would be polite to enquire as to what he had meant. It was undoubtedly a simple slip of the tongue.

With a mental shrug, he merely added it to the growing list of curious things about Alexander to dwell on at some later date. He had much more to think on at the moment. He had, after all, just offered to play guide to a gentleman he had known a very short time indeed. It struck him somewhat belatedly that that may not have been a particularly wise thing to do. But for once in his life, he felt this was a risk he was willing to take anyway. Besides, he was generally a fairly good judge of character. He would be very surprised if Alexander tried to hurt him or take advantage of him. He firmly ignored the niggling little voice that always cried caution, which he listened to more often than he might like, even in defiance of reason.

He hadn't been aware of the slight frown that marred his face until Alexander spoke. "You're just now wondering what you've agreed to, aren't you?" He didn't sound offended. His face was understanding, and a small smile played around his lips. William allowed a soft puff of laughter to escape, even as the blood rushed to his cheeks. "If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to stab you in the back and leave you in an alley." He grinned, but William knew with a flash of clarity that despite his manner, this young man was no stranger to violence. The scars on his hands, the tight control he maintained over his bearing, his very air. To his admittedly uneducated eye, it spoke of military training. Again, his thoughts must have been reflected in his eyes, for Alexander sobered suddenly. "I would never hurt you, William." That seemed like such an odd thing to say to another man, but William felt the truth of the words, in some way he could not explain.

He ducked his head somewhat self-consciously, but smiled wryly. "Of course. Forgive me. I confess I can be over-cautious."

Alexander smirked. "Hey, just 'cause you're paranoid don't mean they ain't out to get you. I'm a great believer in paranoia. One of those things that keeps you alive. But I promise you are safe."

Shaking his head a little, William glanced down at his watch. "Shall we walk then? I live not far from here."

He stepped away from the barrier, and was immediately knocked back by one of a group of young aristocrats rushing carelessly down the Embankment. He stumbled, falling into another of their number, and was rudely shoved back. "Get out of the way," one of them barked. Grimacing, he attempted to move back. He wished he could learn not to make so easy a target of himself. If his peers discovered that he had incurred the wrath of these rich young nobles, they would certainly make his life even more miserable than they contrived to do already. But a strong hand on his shoulder prevented him, and he spun around to see Alexander standing directly behind him, staring at the other four men.

Although this did not appear to be the Alexander he knew. Of the easy smile and relaxed posture there was no sign. The hand on his shoulder quietly urged him to the side, and he found himself complying almost against his will. "Perhaps you should watch where you're going." The voice was quiet, but it was enough to shift the attention away from himself. These young men were belligerent, sure of their stature and their greater numbers, but William watched them visibly blanch as they looked at Alexander's face. Following their gaze, he was forcibly reminded once again of his first reaction to the young man. Then, his easy smile and friendly countenance had quickly put to lie his foolish notions of piracy, but these men were given no such assurance. William realised Alexander must have been slouching against the railing, for now he had pulled himself up straight, his shoulders still, set, and obviously stronger than any of the young gentry.

Alexander's face was devoid of expression, his single eye was cold, hard, and his entire mien spoke of tightly controlled violence. William momentarily had to suppress his own urge to step away from this unexpected person. But even as he did so, some part of him was wondering what Alexander must have endured in his short life, that had resulted in such a duality of character.

When the four young men did nothing for a moment, Alexander took a step forward, his right fist clenching and unclenching, as though it felt it should be holding something. This seemed to shock them out of their stupor, and after a moment's hesitation, the leader, his eyes frightened, sneered dismissively, and they turned as one and strolled deliberately away.

William turned away from them only when he heard Alexander snort. The young man was looking after them, a derisive smirk playing around his mouth. "People just don't change, do they?"

William spoke without thinking. "I rather think some people change a great deal."

Alexander seemed startled, looked over to him quickly. William was once again treated to that intense stare, that seemed to know him far better than it should, that searched for things that William wasn't entirely sure were there. "You're right about that," he said thoughtfully after a moment.

Suddenly uncomfortable, William glanced in the direction the four young men had walked. "Was that wise, do you think?" he asked, somewhat more harshly than he had intended.

Alexander followed his gaze, confused. "What are you talking about? They just walked away. Probably figured we weren't worth their time."

"They will remember you for what you did," William warned, thinking they would probably remember him as well. Although if he was lucky they had been too focussed on Alexander to have taken serious note of him. After all, Alexander was leaving this evening. He had to live here.

"Me? I didn't do anything." He was frowning, and William realised the young man was honestly baffled. Was he expected to believe Alexander had no idea of the figure he presented when riled? Looking into his face, he understood he was expected to believe exactly that.

He was momentarily devoid of words. To cover his astonishment, he indicated they should resume walking. They had crossed back into Middle Temple Lane before William spoke again. "You terrified them," he said carefully, unsure of the reaction this would receive.

Alexander laughed, stopping only when William raised an eyebrow at him. Then his eyes widened. "What, seriously? How? I didn't do anything," he protested again.

William shot his new friend an amused smile. "You didn't have to, Alexander. You present an imposing figure. To be perfectly honest, it looked like you were ready to fight all of them at once. And it did not look like you were planning to lose. Which tells me you are either very confident or very foolish. You did notice that there were four of them?" William softened his words with a smile.

Alexander glanced downwards, an embarrassed smile playing around his mouth. "Well they were being wankers, what did you expect me to do, let them push you around? Besides, they were only human." William narrowed his eyes in confusion at this odd turn of phrase. "We could have taken them." Alexander's mouth set stubbornly, despite the contrite look in his eye.

"We? I only hope they didn't recognise me." Honestly, William was becoming less and less concerned about that. Alexander had acted to protect him. He knew he was not wrong about this young man. When had anyone, even anyone claiming to be his friend, so actively proved their sentiments? Even as the disappointment that Alexander was leaving so soon rooted more deeply, so too did his affection for the young man grow. He found himself wanting to smile.

But Alexander had stopped and was looking at him, apparently mortified. "Shit, William, I'm so sorry. I didn't even think… God, I've probably made your life hell, haven't I? I can't even stay to make up for it. Do you want to find them? I'll explain, I promise…" William was caught off guard by the sudden gush of words, but after a moment raised a hand in protest.

"Alexander. It's fine, really," he said as reassuringly as he could.

"But, those guys-"

"Will continue to ignore me just as they have always done. I'm sorry if I exaggerated the importance of this encounter. They startled me, and seeing you face them like that unsettled me. You must not imagine your actions will hurt me in any way. Quite the contrary, in fact. No one has ever shown such concern for my well being." Alexander glanced up sharply at that quiet statement and the pain that William had not entirely been able to hide. William offered him a small smile, trying to convey the truth of his words with his eyes. After a moment, Alexander sighed and ran a hand over his chin, wryly looking up at him from under lowered lashes.

"If you're sure," he said, his gaze intent. William was almost becoming used to the expression.

"Of course." Almost unconsciously, William reached out and placed a hand on Alexander's shoulder. He could feel the tension in the muscles even under layers of cloth, and tightened his grip reassuringly. Alexander seemed to shiver for a moment under the hot summer sun, and he blinked. William let his hand fall away and Alexander grinned. William could not be sure he knew the young man well enough to judge but that smile seemed a little too deliberately casual. He wondered what to make of it.

"Well, okay then. I'll take you at your word. So, now that I've managed to not completely screw up your life," he nodded in the direction they'd been walking, "shall we? The clock's ticking and I wanna meet your mom."


 

It was too loud for serious conversation as they walked through the busy streets back towards his home, but William contrived to maintain a commentary on some of the more memorable buildings they passed. Alexander had been especially interested to hear about the Inns of Court, where William had spent a great deal of the last five years. William could only assume that the legal system was very different in America, as the young man seemed to know very little of even the basics of the Inquisitorial system of government. But he seemed happy enough to learn and William, somewhat taken by his rapt audience, was more than happy to teach.

Thirty minutes later, they were slowly making their way up one of the steeper hills in London. Neither of them was struggling but it had grown considerably hotter as the sun made its way towards noon. Even the taller buildings were offering little shade this close to midday.

William had not spoken for a couple of minutes when he heard Alexander mutter, "Jeez, Wil, I thought you said it wasn't far. Couldn't we have taken the train?"

He couldn't quite explain the sensation he felt at hearing his name uttered like that. Not even his mother called him Wil. He'd had a cousin when he had been younger who had. They had been great friends for a while, but Edward had moved away with his family nearly twenty years ago, and they had stopped visiting after his father had died.

Perhaps the strangest thing was that it didn't sound strange at all coming from Alexander. Whether it was simply because the young man had used it so casually, he couldn't say. But he did know that he would not correct him. In fact, nothing on earth could have induced him to do so, and he found himself wishing Alexander would find reason to use it again.

William remembered suddenly that Alexander had invited him to call him Alex. For a moment he wished he had the courage to do so, wondered how the young man would react to hearing the name from his lips, how the word would feel as he spoke it. But how could he, now?

He belatedly realised that Alexander had asked a question and smiled over at his companion. "We're nearly there. And we haven't been walking for very long, you know. Taking the rail would not have been faster."

Alexander grimaced, but William could tell he wasn't really upset. "But it's hot. Did you know today's the longest day of the year? Which makes this the very middle of summer. Maybe we should just stay in. You can tell me about all the interesting bits of London."

William smiled. "I thought you said you were from California. I was under the impression they had very hot summers. Shouldn't you be used to this?"

Alexander rolled his eyes and muttered, "Maybe if I wasn't wearing so many clothes."

William ran his eye appraisingly over his companion and, for an instant, it seemed that his perspective was altered, as though he was looking at Alexander from somewhere outside of himself. And if he had been closer to himself, he thought he might be reacting to that statement, although could not explain why or how.

But then he stumbled, and suddenly everything was just as it had been and he was left wondering what had caused such a strange reaction for that brief moment.

Making an attempt to shake off the odd mood he said, "We are almost there. Perhaps you didn't walk this way this morning, but my street is just around the corner."

Sure enough, Alexander made a noise of recognition a few moments later and grinned as their steps quickened towards his home.

William found himself unaccountably nervous, although he could not decide if he was more concerned about Alexander's reaction to his home and his family, or if he was more worried about what his mother would think of his new friend. He was certain she could not help but like him, and in any case would say nothing against Alexander once she understood how much the man was coming to mean to William. He was prepared to admit that it could be merely his native insecurity but he preferred to think that he desired her approval because she was the most important person in his life and her opinion mattered to him.

As such, he could similarly not imagine that Alexander would not immediately take to his mother but he was honest enough to be able to admit his partiality. Acknowledging that once again his fear was attempting to overcome his reason, he shook his head, firmly dispelling his reservations. The simple fact was that he wanted them to meet each other; as such, he would do everything he could to make that happen, even in spite of himself, if necessary.

They found Mother in the south-facing parlour, going over plans for the luncheon she was hosting on Saturday. William was pleased by how well she was looking. When he'd left her after breakfast she had been a little paler than he would have liked but now there was colour in her cheeks, and she smiled easily when she looked up to find him in the doorway.

His mouth fell naturally into a tender smile, and he crossed quickly to her, taking her hand and leaning down to give her a soft peck on the cheek. "William!" she exclaimed gently. "We were not expecting you until luncheon. Is everything alright? I felt sure you would be ensconced in the museum all morning." She smiled again and patted his hand. He ducked his head and chuckled quietly. It would not be the first time he had spent a morning such, as she well knew.

"I'm afraid I was waylaid, Mother." He stepped aside, still smiling, to reveal Alexander standing quietly in the doorway. William was surprised to see his friend had shrunk back into the shadows, appearing smaller, somehow, than when it had been just the two of them. Alexander had been watching them. He looked puzzled, William thought, maybe even a little sad, as he glanced between the two of them. William was once again struck by the sensation that Alexander was looking for something in him that time and again he was failing to find. What he could not discern was whether Alexander considered the deficit a good or a bad thing.

But as Mother glanced around, the expression melted into a smile. It was not an expression William had witnessed on Alexander before. The young man had a cheerful grin that he displayed with abandon, but this was different, this gentle curve of lips that seemed to hold a depth of feeling and a tinge, still, of sadness, that William might have thought out of place in a meeting between two perfect strangers. But this was his mother and, at this stage, he was starting to think that only a typical reaction from Alexander would surprise him.

Alexander stepped quickly forward, the smile never leaving his face, his eyes never leaving Mother. "Mother, this is Alexander Harris. Alexander, this is my mother, Anne Watson."

She smiled. Alexander bowed briefly. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs Watson, really," he said.

"And you, Mr Harris," she replied. "Welcome to our home." William was ridiculously happy to hear the pleasure in her voice as she spoke to Alexander. She was always polite to guests, whether they deserved her civility or not, but William recognised the light in her eyes and the genuine smile on her face that denoted that here was someone she was honestly pleased to meet. He felt a little foolish for worrying so needlessly. "Would you sit, have tea?"

He had not let go of her hand, and squeezed it slightly to gain her attention. When he could look her in the eye he said, "I'm afraid we only stopped in for a moment, mother. Alexander has only this one day in London, before he has to leave for America again."

She glanced back to the young man, who was looking more regretful by the moment. "I am truly sorry to hear it, Mr Harris."

"That makes two of us, ma'am," Alexander said with a rueful smile. "If I'd known… your son was going to run me over this morning… I didn't realise how much there was to learn here." He shook his head, the sadness in his eyes clearly apparent for just a moment. But he gathered himself and raised one side of his mouth in a lop-sided smile. "I wish that I could change my schedule, but there really isn't any way."

She nodded her understanding, the regret plain on her face. "William has offered to show you the city?" she asked.

Alexander grinned and flicked him a look. William ducked his head at the memory, but couldn't stop the smile that spread over his face. Although he thought the heat in his cheeks might have more to do with his pleasure at the conspiratorial wink Alexander had directed to him. "Yep, he has. I hope you don't mind?" He frowned suddenly as his gaze swung back to Mother. "Did you have plans?"

But Mother shook her head fondly and glanced up at her son with that loving smile she seemed to reserve just for him, before turning back to Alexander. "Of course I don't mind, my dear. I would have been disappointed had he not offered to accompany you. You have only this one day, after all."

Oddly, Alexander did not seem at all reassured by this. Quite the contrary, his frown had deepened and he was visibly torn. William could not understand it. Why would Alexander be so anxious for him to spend time with his mother? Come to that, his reactions toward her were even more inexplicable than William had come to expect. Then he glanced sharply at Alexander as something struck him. It seemed to him that Alexander was acting like this because something must have happened to his own mother, something he had not truly managed to recover from. Obviously, the young man was simply projecting his own suffering. He could not help but wonder if that had anything to do with the violent persona Alexander had shown down at the Embankment. But more than that he could not help the wave of pity and understanding, or the increasingly fervent wish that he had the time to get to know this man.

Mother narrowed her eyes in worry at his expression and William decided to step in. "Alexander, it is just the one day. You will have me back here before sunset," he said quietly, trying to reassure the young man - though of what, he was not entirely sure.

But Alexander appeared to realise, suddenly, where he was because he nodded and visibly relaxed. It was only because he was looking so closely that William saw the tension around his mouth or the quiet despair in his eyes, overshadowed by reluctant resignation. "Right, sorry," he said. "It's just, family's important. Especially now. I wouldn't want…" He shook his head abruptly and smiled ruefully, running one hand through his hair. "Um, so, yeah, sunset, which means we've only got, what, seven, eight hours? Is there anywhere you think William should take me Mrs Watson? I told him he should show me all the places he likes."

Mother smiled and laughed easily, although William could still see the worry clouding her eyes. "Well, Mr Harris, then I suspect you will be going to the Museum. I do believe my dear boy spends very little of his free time anywhere else."

Alexander's face seemed to lighten a little at this change of topic, and he was grinning slightly as he said, "Museum, huh? The British Museum, I take it? There's not many people I'd brave that for, but I did ask to see his favourite spots. I don't suppose any of the other ones are outside?"

William knew he should be taking offence. From anyone else, the words would have been derogatory and condescending, he knew that. The Museum with its Reading Room was one of his favourite places and some part of him was deeply disappointed that Alexander would not be as taken with it as he himself was. But he did not honestly believe that the young man was laughing at him or his interests. And he thought he detected sincere curiosity behind the joking façade. "I promise I will not keep you inside all day, Alexander," he said with a small smile of his own.

"You can take me anywhere, Wil."

It was such a careless statement, said, William was sure, in complete innocence. Why, then, did it feel as though someone had suddenly stolen all the air from out of his lungs? He lowered his head as the blood rushed to his cheeks. He didn't understand what was making him feel this way, dizzy, light-headed, and just for a moment, strangely euphoric. It was almost like the first time Cecily had smiled at him, when his heart had started thundering in his chest and rational thought had all but left his head.

With an effort, he shook the odd sensation off; it was not the first time he had reacted oddly towards Alexander and could only assume that his desire to befriend this man went deep indeed, to be affecting him so.

"Shall we go then?"

"Whenever you're ready." Alexander smiled. "Mrs Watson, I really wish we had more time."

Mother rose and nodded graciously, her eyes warm. "Do come visit us if you're ever in London again, Mr Harris."

He nodded, but it was simply polite. "Take care of yourself."

William stepped in and dropped a light kiss on Mother's cheek, giving the hand he held a light squeeze. "I'll see you this evening, Mother."

"Have a good day, my dear," she said softly. He released her and moved towards the door, waiting for Alexander. "And have a safe journey back to your home, Alexander. Do remember you are always welcome here. I know my William would regret it if we were not to see you again, as I would."

William watched as Alexander seemed to hesitate, then his eyes widened in shock as the young man stepped forward and took one of Mother's small hands in both his own. He could not see the young man's face, but he wondered at it when Mother's own eyes softened. Even knowing he shouldn't, William strained to hear what Alexander murmured to her, but he was too far away. It was only later, as he and mother discussed the strange young man who had dropped so unexpectedly into their lives did he learn what had been spoken. Mother told him that with pain in his eye and a smile on his face Alexander had said, "I can see why he loves you so much. You're lucky to have each other. I can't tell you when, but I can promise you that I will see him again, one day." Then he quickly leaned in and pecked her on the cheek, even as William himself had done, before giving her a last smile and preceding William out the door.

***

The ten minute walk to the museum was conducted mainly in silence. Alexander walked with his head lowered, a faint frown upon his brow, and William watched him anxiously out of the corner of his eye, letting his feet make their own way through the streets instinctively. He could feel his heart aching for this man who had so obviously suffered such pain in his short life, even as his chest tightened with a strange fondness he was not sure he had ever felt before.

Alexander did not appear to be aware of the scrutiny, but as the Ionic columns supporting the portico loomed up before them he sighed and raised his head, glancing to his right. And in doing so caught William staring at him. William immediately looked away, the heat rising in his face, but Alexander let out a soft breath of laughter and bumped into his side lightly. William shivered at the brief contact, but turned to face the smiling man.

"Shit, I was brooding, wasn't I? Sorry 'bout that, Wil. Feel free to slap me if it happens again." He shook his head with a wry smile.

Ignoring the tone, William stepped closer and looked into his face intently. "Is there anything I can do?" he asked quietly.

Alexander's eye widened slightly, and for a second looked suspiciously bright. For a long moment he said nothing, and William could read the struggle in the narrowing of his deep brown eye and the twitch of muscles around his lips. "I don't..." He stopped, closed his eye, and seemed to come to a decision. "Your mom's nice."

William simply nodded. "Yes, she is. I'm very lucky to have her."

A pained smile flitted across the other man's face, but when he raised his eyes William almost gasped to see the hopelessness reflected there. "She loves you. Don't... just... promise me you won't forget to tell her. You never know when something might happen."

William had to force his hand to remain by his side with an act of will he had not been aware he possessed. The urge to smooth away the pain in that face was almost unbearable. In his mind he could feel the rough slide of skin against skin as he reached to smooth lines from a face that was far too young to carry them. His hand was halfway to Alexander's body before he caught himself.

So instead he attempted to convey with his eyes the sympathy in his heart. "She knows, just as I do. Not everything has to be said out loud for it to be understood. We are all we have, now. But if it means so much to you, I promise I will not forget." Taking a deep breath, he rushed on before he could convince himself to simply leave well enough alone. "Do you... I mean... can you tell me what happened? To you?" When the young man didn't say anything for a moment, William cursed himself for a fool. Of course Alexander would not wish to talk about his past with a man he had only just met. And now he would be thought a prying, inconsiderate meddler. The colour once again flaring in his cheeks, he glanced down, even as he prepared to step back. "I'm sorry. Of course it's none of my affair. Please, forget-"

"No!" Alexander interrupted sharply. William looked up, surprised. "I mean, yes. I mean, I don't know if I should tell you..." Alexander pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and cast uncertain eyes at him.

And for the very first time since they'd met, William realised with no small surprise that he must be older that Alexander, by a good few years, if he was any judge.

Alexander was strong, loyal, courageous, had seen more than William could probably ever hope to, if his eye was any indication, but in some small way, this man was still a boy, still wanted to share his pain, still held at his core a spark of innocence that remained untouched by the darkness that surrounded him and still needed to be held, cared for.

He might barely know him, but William could see that much, and god but he wanted to hold him.

So it was with a strange sense of fear and power and need that he overrode his insecurity and asked, "Why not?" Didn't nod his head at the obvious rebuttal, or give in to the diffidence that urged him to leave be. He wanted to know. He wanted to know what had hurt Alexander and with a surge of anger that he had not felt since Father had been killed, he realised that he wanted to hurt it back.

"Why not? Come on, Wil, as much as I might like to think I'm the centre of the universe, not everyone has to hear about my problems. Why would you even want to know?"

This should have been enough. The part of him that was desperate not to alienate this man, the part of him that suffered the barbs and taunts of his peers, the small, hurt corner of his heart that felt only the rejection of yet another potential friend; they were all urging him to drop it.

But then there was the anger, that fiery ache that burned at the thought that something had hurt someone he cared about. And there was the lonely, isolated young man who knew what it was like to have no one to talk to, that recognised the self-deprecating humour and acknowledged the bitterness behind it.

And it was that part of him that cast aside propriety with barely a thought, even while some corner of his mind wondered what on earth he thought he was doing. That raised a hand and rested it by Alexander's neck, so close that the tip of one finger brushed softly against the smooth skin under his ear. That looked into one shocked eye and spoke honestly, "I confess I'm not entirely sure. But something hurt you, I can see that." His face hardened, his hand moving to grip the other man's shoulder. "And I hate to think of it, Alexander. If it were in my power I'd make it pay."

Alexander stared at him for a brief moment, then a grin started to make its way over his face. William flushed hard when he realised what he'd just done, and quickly dropped his hand from Alexander's shoulder, taking a step back. But even then he could not condemn his actions entirely, for even as he looked into Alexander's face, the bitter hopelessness was fading, and he felt a surge of satisfaction that he had been able to diffuse it with his words.

"Geez, S-sorry, Wil," Alexander said, smirking just a little. William was struck with the sudden thought that whatever the young man had been looking for in him, each time he searched so intently with his one eye, he had found. "When you put it like that... I didn't mean I don't want to tell you," he continued with a small smile. "But not here. We've still got a museum to see. Think you can contain yourself 'till lunchtime?"

Naturally enough, his strange confidence chose that moment to desert him. But he managed to clutch at one last shred of dignity long enough to answer, "Oh, of course, whenever you choose." Then swiftly changed the subject before descending into blushing apologies and protestations. "We won't be able to see a great deal of the museum before then, but perhaps you will be interested enough to consider coming back."

"Count on it," Alexander grinned.


 

William was almost shocked at how at home Alexander seemed in the museum. "Not that I thought you uneducated, of course," he found himself saying. "But I had not supposed anyone so physically strong would know so much of languages and history... That is to say, you have so many other strengths that... you don't seem like the sort to..." It was at this point he had trailed off, blushing furiously and wishing desperately that the floor would open up and swallow him whole. Inwardly he was panicking, terrified that Alexander would take offence, as he had every right to do, and leave him here alone.

When he had dared to raise his head, however, Alexander was merely smirking at him. "So, what you're trying to say is that I'm smarter than I look, but that I look like an idiot."

William's eyes widened as he shook his head vigorously, causing his hair to fall into his face. "No! No, of course not. I would never... You look brilliant... I mean... Oh dear..." He cast his eyes at the other man, silently pleading for understanding, almost in tears at the thought that he would not receive it. Why did this always happen?! God, how he wished that he could learn to hold his tongue like all normal people, rather than going around simply telling everyone the truth of what he thought.

Alexander, however, was by now looking slightly mystified. "William, Wil, relax, buddy," he said reassuringly. "No harm in telling the truth. You're not wrong. I'm no scholar. I was just in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place, depending on how you look at it. My friend, I told you about him, I used to help him with research and stuff. He's into all sorts of ancient things. I had to pick up a bit of Latin, Greek, German, Arabic, few native languages. It might sound impressive, but I really don't know much."

William relaxed slightly at the obvious lack of censure from the other man, but knew that he needed to apologise. "Be that as it may, I shouldn't have said... I'm sorry, I just... sometimes my mouth runs away with me."

"Hey, truth hurts," Alexander said jokingly. William frowned at this. Hurt? He'd hurt Alexander? Oh, heavens! He was the worst sort of hypocrite, wanting to protect the man from harm, then immediately inflicting pain of his own. He opened his mouth, heartfelt apologies on the very tip of his tongue, but Alexander interrupted, holding up a hand to stall him. "You're just being you, Wil," he shrugged, watching him closely. "Honesty's important. I'd suggest you work on your tact," he grinned, "but I'm not sure there's much point."

William considered this as they continued to make their way through the museum to the reading room, then back out into the street and down towards Haymarket. Honesty. Mother had always told him he should speak the truth, just as Father had done before his death. His mind flashed to Cecily. Should he be honest with her? Tell her all of what he felt for her? The thought did not fill him with the terror he had been expecting. But as much as he might be wary of speaking his mind to others, he could always be honest with himself. And honestly, right at this moment, for reasons that eluded him, the thought of Cecily, the love of his life, did not send his heart fluttering with the speed and passion to which he was accustomed. It was almost as though the presence of Alexander was enough to eclipse even her radiance.

It was well past lunchtime when they finally crossed Pall Mall, but many of the better establishments were still open for business. William looked over to see Alexander taking in the vast array of cafés and shellfish shops with unrestrained delight. He turned to William with a grin. "Lunch is on me. I've got a whole lot of money to spend before I go home, and I can't think of a better way to do that than on food."

William frowned, even as his heart lifted at the smile on the other man's face. "Alexander, no, I couldn't allow it. You're my guest, after all-"

"Actually," Alexander interrupted, "you're my friend. That you only met me this morning is completely beside the point." He grinned engagingly, his one dark eye going soft and pleading. "Wil, buddy, pal, whaddaya say we just pretend we've already had this argument, I won, and we go eat. I'm practically starving here!" William could feel himself caving before that oddly endearing look, smiling in spite of himself, but hesitated nonetheless. Alexander apparently noticed, for he continued, "Look, next time dinner is on you, I swear." He turned up the smile a degree and held out his hand. "Deal?"

William shook his head and chuckled. "As you say. Deal." He reached out and grasped Alexander's hand tightly, shaking it once. Then had to clear his throat as the hold went on longer than either of them had intended, barely noticing Alexander's blushing face as he ducked his head and turned away with a tiny smile. Then, picking a cafe he had a passing acquaintance with, William ushered Alexander inside.

Over that meal and for the next few hours as they walked through St James's Park, past the Palace to Hyde Park corner and back up to Oxford Street, William learned something of Alexander, came to understand more of the pain that lurked in the depths of his eye and to appreciate the humour and joy with which he nonetheless lived his life.

And he in turn related something of his own life from, when he was no more than eight, his father's death at the hands of drunken brawlers to his struggles with law, his love of language and, for perhaps the first time ever, he told someone of how it felt to be belittled and scorned by his peers. How he wished he were strong enough to stand up to them, or at least be not so weak that their barbs wounded quite so deeply. As much as he loved his mother - and he truly did, for all that she did for him, for believing in him so completely - it was for that very same reason that he could not express these things to her. He would be strong for her, do what was best for her, always and forever.

By the time the streets started filling up with carriages and pedestrians on their way to parties and dinners and the noise from brightly lit, ostentatious restaurants and the small, dim, but cheery eateries they passed started spilling out into the streets, it was clear to William that although Alexander was certainly enjoying himself, he was growing weary from the heat of the day and the distance they had walked. So, unwilling as he was to see an end to this encounter, William invited his friend back to his home for dinner with Mother and himself. He knew they were not expected, but he was certain that Mother would not object to the intrusion and an extra mouth to feed should pose no real difficulty to the kitchen. He was enormously gratified by the speed and the pleasure with which Alexander gave his thanks and accepted.

Even with company, dinner turned out to be an informal affair. In fact, as the meal progressed, William had to admit with a sort of fond amusement that Alexander's behaviour would have precluded formality at even the most prestigious of events. Although neither Mother nor his friend neglected him, William found himself falling silent and merely watching Alexander. He found himself lingering time and again on that brilliantly bright smile that seemed never to leave his face, taking note of the way his eye crinkled with laughter or softened with pleasure and occasionally darkened momentarily with pain. Alexander seemed to take especial pleasure in causing Mother to smile, with stories of his family and friends back home that William knew must surely be exaggerated. He wondered, vaguely, how one man could seem so young, grinning and winking mischievously, and at the same time so old, looking with a distant sort of longing as Mother ducked her head to hide her laughter.

It was with some surprise that he felt the tiniest prickling of jealousy as he observed one of these exchanges with his customary smile. He knew he had no reason to doubt Mother's affections. Indeed, he was thrilled by the warmth she showed Alexander. Rather, he discovered to his consternation that he was just the smallest bit envious of the attention Alexander lavished on her. He wanted to be looked at like that.

He realised with a start he'd fallen silent and glanced up to find Alexander staring at him, his mouth smiling at whatever Mother was saying and his eye fixed on William with a dark, focussed intensity that had his heart racing. It was only for the briefest second, before Alexander turned his head so he could see Mother, his face becoming once again merely friendly.

And though William shook the sensation off, tried to participate properly in the conversation, for the rest of the meal he felt that gaze on him. Even when Alexander was looking away it rolled through his head like a repeating note, echoing within his imagination and playing unexpected and frankly baffling games with his heart.

The sky was rich with the soft colours of sunset as they retired into Father's library, a room he still had not managed to make fully his own. Indeed, it was really the only place he still felt his father's presence in the house, memories of a stern, unforgiving man with a touch so soft he sometimes wondered if it were there at all. He often found Mother in here, although his own feelings made him uncomfortable more often than not. It was a whim that caused him to choose it. Or perhaps it was because the windows looked west.

He could not help but notice that the colours had grown darker even in the time it had taken them to move through the house. Turning, he found Alexander watching the view with a similarly intense expression. From this position at his right hand side, only the thin black strap of the eye patch marred the beauty of his face. And it was beautiful. Handsome, surely, but so much more than that. He felt caught. Held motionless by the soft, wry turn of his lips, the rough line of his chin, the dying light that glinted and reflected in the depths of his eye.

Then he sighed, and William blinked. "I guess this is it," Alexander said, turning to face him.

He looked as disappointed as William felt. "Do you have to go?" he blurted out.

Alexander just smiled sadly. "'Fraid so, buddy. Still got one last thing to do, though." William noticed absently that Alexander seemed to be holding something in his left hand, twisting it in his fingers nervously.

"Will I see you again?" he asked, aware of the desolation in his voice even as he was unable to control it.

Alexander grinned suddenly. "Oh, yeah. I can personally guarantee that." The young man seemed abruptly to relax. "Tell you what, if you're ever in the States, look me up. You got a pen?" William was momentarily flustered by both the request and the mischievous smile that Alexander sent his way. "Wil?"

"Oh, um, ye-yes, of course," he stammered, the hand Alexander placed on his shoulder breaking him out of his stupor. He nodded them towards the desk.

Picking up pen and paper he waited patiently. "Okay, so bear in mind I kinda move around a lot, so if I'm not there when you go there, just, you know, come back next year. Los Angeles, California, is where you want to be. The Waterside Hotel, by the beach. You shouldn't have too much trouble finding it. When I'm in the city, I stay there, in the Watchers' Council suites." William dutifully scribbled down the details. A part of him was wondering why he should bother. He would never travel to America. Such things were for souls braver than his. But another part of him was suddenly determined that time would one day see him on those shores.

The thought sent a thrill of satisfaction through him, and he stood up with a smile on his face. Only to find Alexander watching him, an indefinably deep look in his eyes and a smile that seemed to enfold him in it's warmth. Once again he found himself captivated, but this time he was not looking from afar, unknown and unnoticed. This time there was no hiding, no safe distance and the thought terrified him. What else would make his breath catch in his throat like this, his eyes widen and his gut twist?

He could see Alexander take in these reactions, in the slight tilt of his head, the narrowing of his eye, the parting of those lips. And he was watching when that eye changed, when the affection faded, was eclipsed as the moon by the sun and became something deeper, darker and altogether more intense than William had ever seen or could hope to understand.

Alexander stepped forward. William blinked behind his glasses but remained rooted to the spot. Alexander stopped, seemed about to say something, and William knew what was coming. Could not put it into words, could barely wrap his mind around the idea. But he saw it in Alexander's eye, the intent. It had been there all day, he thought, although he had not understood it, did not really understand it now. But he did know that he wouldn't stop it. Couldn't. As much as some part of him was screaming to be let out of here, that this was wrong, improper, sinful, he could not deny his heart. Alexander had said honesty was important and maybe he couldn't put this desire into words, but neither would he stand in its way. He didn't have that inside of him.

"Wil..." Alexander hesitated.

"Yes, Alex." It was the best he could do. All he could bring himself to say.

Apparently it was enough. The last thing he saw as his eyes drifted shut was Alexander stepping closer and then there were lips on his own. Warm, soft lips, pressing gently, a hand on his throat, tilting his head. And he fell into it: let the world spiral away, retreated from the dark place where fears and questions circled in search of resolution and just let go. He felt a distant pain in his arm and gasped, his eyes slitting open to stare sightlessly. But before he could do more than wonder at the sensation, there was a tongue in his mouth, warm air filling his lungs, and his eyes were once again fluttering closed. He had no idea how long they stood like that, his blood rushing in his ears, setting every inch of his body on fire, throbbing in time to his racing heart. All he could feel was the chin beneath his palm, the skin beneath his lips, the warmth between his lips.

And after a second or a lifetime, when Alexander pulled away only far enough to whisper, "Happy Birthday, Wil. Don't forget about me," all he could do was endure the shudder that rippled through his frame and the whimper that caught in the back of his throat.

He felt Alexander step away from him. Drew in a deep breath and was suddenly terrified. How could he confront Alexander now? Still, opened his eyes, prepared for the worst.

And discovered it was too late. There would be no worst.

Alexander was already gone.



 

Part Two


Part 2 - Spike

Friday, 25th June, 2004. 5:00 am

Spike stood at one of the east-facing, vampire-safe, sunlight-proof windows of the bloody fabulous Wolfram and Hart building. He had no idea whose office he was violating, and to be perfectly honest, he really couldn't give a shit. He was waiting for the sun to rise. For the first time in a very long time he was looking forward to seeing the back end of night. There was very little to be said for this fucking ghost gig, but being able to watch the sunrise was one guilty pleasure he was going to be sorry to give up. Not that he'd admit that to anyone.

Nor would he ever admit that part of his anxiousness for the coming day was the fact that he wouldn't have to be alone in this fucking creepy building for very much longer. Not that Wolfram and Hart was ever really closed. There were way too many clients of the demon variety for that to be an option. But he had no interest in getting to know all the faceless cronies, making friends and whatnot.

He was content to make do with Angel and his band of not-so-merry do-gooders, and Harmony, if he got desperate. But none of them were around tonight. Angel was out, doing something heroic no doubt. Wesley and Gunn had gone home hours ago, as they always did, and he'd even talked Fred into getting herself out of the lab for a few hours of rest. She slept there more often than not. When she was busy working on her latest project. But her latest project was him, so he felt justified in taking an interest: he wouldn't want her to get distracted when she was in the middle of working out how to make him solid. The less mistakes the better, as far as he was concerned. She'd be back after dawn though and the building would start to fill up, wouldn't feel so empty. And he could go back to believing that he didn't care either way in any case.

He watched the sky lighten to pale blue, then yellow, before the sun appeared orange through the smog and the clouds. He gazed at it until it had risen far enough to glint off the windows of the eighteenth floor, where he was standing, and waited until it had reached to illuminate the tenth floor before he casually dropped through the floor and made his way to the lab.

The corridors were full of people, and Fred was back in the lab, talking animatedly with another one of the white-coats and grinning madly. She broke off when he stepped though the door and rushed over to him. The white-coat was left looking kind of bewildered and after a moment's hesitation he turned and left. Spike smirked inwardly.

"Spike!" she exclaimed. "There you are! I've got the most wonderful news! It arrived this morning! Willow sent it express, so now we've got everything we need and we've just gotta check a few of the calculations. We can't be too careful, after all. But we can synthesise the biological material today and set up the mystical circle by this evening, just as soon as Wesley gets in to organise it, 'cause he knows more about that sorta thing than me, but I know this is goin' to work and then you'll not have ta be incorporeal anymore, and that'll be so wonderful, won't it?"

She paused to draw breath and Spike, who had seen her like this a couple of times, now, stepped in with a quick, "Fred." Inwardly he shook his head fondly. He'd never imagined there could be more than one person in the world like this, but this chit matched and occasionally outstripped Willow when it came it incomprehensible babble. Personally, he thought they were perfect for each other, but this one seemed to have a thing for the big strong black guy. Not that he could really blame her on that score, either. Then he realised what most of her babble had actually been about. His eyes widened and he pinned her with a sudden glare.

She smiled brightly at him and pushed her glasses up on her nose a bit. "You tryin' to tell me I'll be solid by the end of the day, luv?" Her smile widened. His stomach felt strange, like he'd eaten too much blood, twisting uncomfortably, and there was a weird prickly sensation working its way up the back of his neck. He could feel a grin spreading over his own face.

"Well, by the end of tomorrow, anyway. I've got a few things to do, and then we can get started."

Shit! He was gonna be able to eat again? Sleep? Wouldn't have to concentrate on not falling through the fucking floor? God, he could go kill something! Or at least beat it up. His fingers were tingling at the very thought at curling into a fist and plunging into some vampire's gut with that oh-so-satisfying thud. How pissed off would Angel be if he socked him a good one to the jaw? He might have come to terms with his sorry excuse for a sire, but hitting each other was what they did! He was sure Angel'd jump at the chance to go a couple of rounds with him.

Bloody hell, there were so many things he wanted to do. He hadn't been this idle and all-round useless since he'd been alive. Not that he was so concerned about making himself a valuable member of the team, but ever since the soul he'd gained a bloody irritating compulsion to help people, so being incorporeal was doing not a whole lot for his peace of mind. But most of all he fucking hated not being bale to touch anything. Whether it was wanting to use his fists to beat the shit out of something, or wanting to smother this gorgeous creature in front of him with hugs, he was getting damn sick of having to suppress the urge. Sick of being alone.

"What are we standing around here for then, pet? Let's get this show on the road! Sooner I'm solid, sooner we can get Peaches to take us all out for tacos." Her eyes brightened at this, and he knew his smile was now mirroring her own.

"Oh! And there was a message for you with the package. Willow said to tell you Alexander is comin' to visit." She kept talking as she made her way into the inner chamber. She started scribbling on the whiteboard and fiddling with the equipment, but for once, distracted as he was, Spike wasn't paying attention to the details. "It'll be nice to see him again, I think. I mean, I only met him the once, and that was nearly a year ago now. He probably doesn't even recall me, but he seemed like a nice young man. Although the first time I saw him you know what he reminded me of? I thought he looked like a pirate. All dark and glowery and rumpled, stalkin' around with that eye patch. I thought he was gonna be real scary, but he was just hurtin'. Even then I could see he was a kind soul, underneath it all."

Spike was surprised. He hadn't seen Xander since that day under the school. They'd all been in L.A. for a while, apparently, but they'd been gone for months when he popped out of his amulet. Buffy had come back when Angel called them a few months ago, but she'd been alone, and she hadn't stayed long. That had been a fairly uncomfortable experience for all concerned. For all that had happened, nothing had really changed. Still, he could honestly say he was looking forward to seeing Harris. They'd been almost mates there at the end. Hell, Spike had kissed him. Only once, granted, but he figured you could hardly stamp them worst enemies any more.

Suddenly Spike frowned as something seemed to tug at the back of his mind. For a moment he thought a face seemed to flash across his mind. A memory, although it was little more than an impression. From his life, though, he was sure. He'd been remembering his life more and more this past year and before that, even, living in Buffy's basement trying to wrestle a conscience he hadn't had to deal with in over a century. And there was so much here to remind him of that life, from Angel and the law firm, to less tangible things like being invisible, ignored, weak, useless and caring more than he knew he should. And, like all vampires, he'd never had to worry about decaying brain cells and whatnot, so could remember his life as well today as he had the day he'd been turned, if he could be bothered.

Alexander, eye patch, pirate. Something told him he wanted to remember why that sounded so familiar. That it was important.

But Spike shook his head irritably. Right now he had better things to do.

"Spike?" he heard Fred say. "Are you okay?" She sounded concerned. He looked over. She had paused, pen in mid-air, and was staring at him, a small line between her eyes.

He grimaced a little. "Fine, luv. Just, when you described Harris… You reminded me of something, someone I knew when I was alive, I think."

She tilted her head and seemed about to say something, but before she could do more than open her mouth, Wesley walked in with a couple of the company wizards, or whatever they were, carrying one of those large, dusty, hide-bound books that always seemed to feature in these sorts of things. After their arrival Spike didn't have much time to think about anything, as he was scanned and chanted over and occasionally told to go and sit in a corner as the final preparations were made for, as the ex-watcher had taken to calling it, the realisation of his re-corporality.


 

Thirty-six hours later, Spike stepped out of the mystic circle to a room full of grinning faces, most of them tinged with exhaustion, but smiling nonetheless.

He let out a short bark of exultant laughter and swept Fred into an enormous hug, before turning and doing the same to the ex-watcher, who returned it with much less enthusiasm. Then he turned to Angel's smirking face and with barely a thought swung back his left hand and let fly. The poofter was too surprised to duck, but he hadn't really put any force behind it, at least not enough to do more than knock him back a little. Still, the sound his fist made as it connected was bloody music to his ears. He laughed again at the shock Angel's face and treated him to the same crushing embrace he'd given the others.

"Bloody hell, Peaches. It's fucking good to be back." He swung back around to Fred and planted a kiss on the top of her head. "You, luv, are a wonder. Thank you."

She smiled tiredly. "Our pleasure, Spike."

Wesley cleared his throat and smirked. "We do, of course, expect you will be much too grateful to cause any trouble for a good long while."

Angel snorted. "Trouble? Spike? What on earth makes you think Spike'd be any trouble?"

"Oi! You're goin' the right way for another punch in the face, mate." Sure, he meant it, but he got the feeling the idiotic grin on his face was probably lessening the impact. Truth was, nothing was going to be able to ruin this good mood, not until he'd gotten shit-faced, beaten something up, and possibly gotten laid, although he'd just have to hope his goddamn soul wouldn't object to 'taking advantage' of someone that way.

Angel just smirked. "Maybe some other time. Now, why don't we let these people get some rest, and you, my boy, can come with me. I've got a surprise for you, then we can go find something to kill."

Proper thanks were promptly forgotten at the prospect of something to kill. "That's what I like to hear, Peaches! Okay kiddies, off to bed." He started shoving them out the door, barely noticing the amused looks and occasional complaint. He'd be sure to thank them all again tomorrow, probably, but right now, he'd been promised violence. He hoped that his surprise involved alcohol. Or smokes! God, he'd kill for a smoke.

Angel rolled his eyes and grabbed his arm, dragging him out the door. "Spike, leave them alone."

Spike just grinned at him. "Well then, lets get to the killing, mate!"

Angel continued to walk calmly to his office and Spike was practically bouncing off the walls by the time they finally got there. "Come on, Peaches, hurry it up, would you. This had better be one fucking fantastic surprise." He stopped short as he stepped into the room. "Harris! What the bloody hell are you doing here?!"

"Surprise," the kid smirked. Xander was sitting on the edge of Angel's desk, his arms crossed over his chest, one foot flat on the floor, the other planted unceremoniously on one of the chairs provided for clients. He got up as Spike moved into the room and a grin stretched over his face.

The kid looked good. A whole hellava lot better than the last time he'd seen him, that was for sure. Apparently not saving the world every five seconds agreed with him. He'd lost weight for one thing. His face was thinner, which made it look younger, especially all clean shaven. And he'd gotten himself a glass eye, which actually took a moment to register. After all, he'd been looking at the kid with two eyes for a whole lot longer than with one and an eye-patch. It looked weird, though, kinda flat, as though it wasn't really looking at you. Which it isn't, you twat, he told himself.

He looked fit, though, and he'd obviously handed control of his wardrobe over to Buffy, 'cause his clothes weren't hideous, and neither was his hair. He was looking a little pale, but it was pretty obvious that life in the motherland was agreeing with him.

Xander continued to look at him for a moment, running amused eyes up from his feet 'till they met his own eyes. "Spike," he said. He sounded weirdly satisfied.

"You we're expecting someone else, perhaps?" He raised an eyebrow and smirked.

Xander shook his head, his eyes sparkling. Then he stuck a hand out. "Let's start again, shall we?" He raised an eyebrow when Spike just stood there, and waited. With a roll of his eyes, Spike reached out and grasped the proffered palm, then used it to yank the boy into his arms. Xander just chuckled and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, patting him once on the back before they both drew away. "You look good, Spike. All solid and everything."

"Beats the hell out of being dead, mate," Spike said with a smirk.

"As long as you've got something to live for, right?" Spike's face softened suddenly as he remembered one of the very last things had said to him and he looked deeply into Xander's eyes. He also remembered where that conversation had gone. He thought about it more than he was comfortable with most of time. Not just the feel of Xander's lips under his own, but the feeling of possibility that had infused the kiss. Over the past few months he'd tried to think about Buffy, about how much he loved her, missed her, the feel of her body under his fingers. And while he couldn't deny that he still felt something for her, mostly it felt… finished. It could have ended differently, he supposed. If she'd wanted something else they might even now be living happily together, but she'd made her choice, and he wasn't sure he was ready or willing to wait around for her to maybe change her mind.

Xander though… They'd known each other for nearly four years, but it was only on the very night before he'd died that they'd started something new, for them. An end to the stubborn dislike, and the faint stirring of friendship. And one short kiss. He'd thought at the time that he wanted to know where it might lead, and that hadn't changed.

"Right," he said quietly, a genuine smile settling in his eyes.

Xander's own smirk faded at the softly spoken word. "It's good to see you again, Spike. When I heard what you'd done…" Spike watched in some astonishment the pain that momentarily passed over the boy's face. It was too close to the expression he'd worn that last night for Spike's peace of mind. Then Xander shook his head, and a slightly sad smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "Well, I'm glad you're not dead," he finished lamely, shifting his feet uncomfortably.

Unsure what, exactly, had gotten into him, Spike placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "It's good to see you too, Xander." A little uncomfortable with the mood, he dropped his hand from the boy's shoulder and grinned a little. He was also suddenly aware that Angel was still standing just inside the door watching them, the confusion practically dripping off him. "You've made some changes, I see."

Xander seemed to find this unaccountably amusing. "I've changed? Man, you have no idea how much I've learned about change." He shook his head, grinning. "I'll tell you later, promise. But right now, Angel tells me we're going to find things to kill."

Right! He'd almost forgotten about that! But god, now that Xander mentioned it, his palms started itching again and a grin started spreading over his face. Curiosity could wait. Xander'd still be here in the morning; they could talk then. He could still feel the desire to talk niggling in the back of his mind, but right now it was swamped by the need for action, to fee again. And to get outside this fucking building. "Too right, mate. You coming?"

Xander grinned. "Wouldn't miss it."

Angel suddenly spoke up. "Are you sure that's the best idea?" he frowned.

"Oh give it a rest, Peaches. Harris'll be fine." The poofter didn't look pleased, but he backed down. Probably figured between the two of them they could protect the boy well enough. Which was true, but Spike knew they wouldn't have to. Sure, Xander was no vampire, but he could hold his own when he wanted to. Besides, he'd finally developed a sense of self preservation and learned when to back off and let someone else handle it when he couldn't.

They grabbed a few weapons and made their way down to the sewer access. Just before they dropped through, Spike glanced behind him at Xander and asked casually, "So, mate, what's this little visit for? The slayer got a mission for you, or were you just hankering for a little of that Southern California sunshine." He was already thinking about the coming hunt. It was just an offhand comment almost drowned out by the anticipation.

So he was already walking away down the tunnels when Xander's reply registered. One corner of his mouth had lifted, and he had quietly said, "You."


 

Patrol, as far as Spike was concerned, was a rousing success. Xander had managed to live up to his demon magnet reputation and led them straight into a nest of vampires that had been holed up in the sewers quite happily for years. It was only blind, dumb luck they'd found it. Spike snickered. Dumb half-blind luck, in any case.

"What are you giggling at, Blondie?" Xander glanced over at him, smirking.

"Nothing," he answered, firmly quashing the little corner of his soul that wanted to apologise for calling Xander dumb. It's not like he was going to say it out loud, was he?

Xander raised an eyebrow, but probably assumed, rightly, that he didn't want to know.

They were making their way to the old Hyperion hotel, to the suite of rooms that Angel had oh-so generously allowed Spike to use 'till he could find a place of his own. Xander said he had a room somewhere, but they still hadn't actually managed to get around to talking about anything yet, so Spike had suggested they come back here. Turned out alcohol was part of the surprise, too. Apparently there was a stash of booze in Angel's old desk, that the poofter had not only told them about, but said they could drink. Which Spike had actually thought was pretty stupid. What else were they going to do with it? Just leave it there because Angel asked them to?

The booze was there, just as promised. The hotel, on the other hand, was completely deserted, but they found a lounge on the first floor and brushed some of the dust off the furniture. They took a seat beside each other on a long, garishly coloured couch that looked almost as old as the building itself and pulled the coffee table into easy range.

With a grin, Spike uncapped a bottle of fifty year old Scotch whisky and they got down to business. He sat back with a sigh as the liquid ran smoothly down his throat. Better than blood. Certainly better than any blood he could expect to be drinking. Although, there was a thought; with all his fancy new connections, Angel could probably get them some pretty sweet stuff, compared to the butcher's rubbish he'd been living off the past few years.

He let his eyes drift shut as he tipped back the glass and savoured the sensations of the whisky as it slid down his throat and settled in his stomach, sending a warm glow all over his body. This was exactly what he needed. First the fight, now this. It made him feel alive, convinced him that this wasn't just a particularly good fantasy.

Opening his eyes lazily, he saw Xander watching him with an amused smile. "You want me to leave you two alone?" the boy smirked.

He had the insane urge to stick out his tongue, but was in way too good a mood to bother taking offence. He smiled slowly and raised an eyebrow. "Better than sex, this stuff, mate," he drawled.

Xander continued to look amused. "Which, coming from you, is saying something." Xander took a small sip of his own drink, before going back to cradling it between his palms. The boy had never been a big drinker, Spike remembered. Which just meant more for him.

He refilled his glass and relaxed back into the couch beside the boy. He slouched down so his head was resting on the back of the couch then turned it so he could see Xander out of one eye. The boy was wedged sideways, up against the arm, one leg resting bent on the seat, the other planted on the floor, so he could look at Spike directly.

He seemed to be waiting, so Spike said, "So, what are you doing here? In the States," he clarified when Xander looked a little confused.

Understanding lit the boy's face, but he hesitated before saying, "I already told you that."

Spike's eyes widened. So he had, hadn't he? "You did, at that," he said curiously. "You said you were here because of me."

Xander took a sip of his drink and nodded casually. "Yup."

Spike rolled his eyes, but with no real irritation, when Xander didn't go on. "And…?" he encouraged, downing another glass of whisky.

Xander shrugged. "And nothing. You came back from the dead, Spike. I wanted to see you. We ended up friends, I think, so why wouldn't I?"

Spike turned his head so he could look at Xander directly, then shifted up in his seat a little. Xander looked him the eye, his face open, honest, and Spike felt a tightening in his chest that he hadn't felt in nearly a year. Friends. They had been friends at the end. For about a day, but still, it had meant something, still meant something. And it had very nearly been more than friendship. He watched as Xander smiled at him, just for him, and remembered the hope he'd felt that night, the light that had suddenly illuminated a darkened world.

And just for a moment, an older memory echoed through his head, a pirate with a smile like laughter… like light. His forehead creased as the memory shredded like cobwebs in his mind. But he shook his head and focussed back on Xander.

"So, why now then?" he asked.

The boy shrugged again, and glanced down with a small smile. "I wanted to come with Buffy six months ago, but I didn't really have the time or the money. And… there's an appointment I'd like to keep." This time he was certain Xander was keeping something from him, but figured it was none of his business if the boy had some sort of secret rendezvous planned.

Although… did that mean the boy was seeing someone? He frowned at the flash of unreasonable jealousy that flared at the thought of Xander with someone else. Christ, they'd had one kiss almost a year ago. What, did he think Xander had somehow managed to fall in love with him in the space of sixty fucking seconds, then decided to wait for him on the off-chance he came back from the dead? He had no claim on the boy. They were friends, and even that just barely. Which meant Xander could go 'round having secret meetings with whomever he bloody well chose. He'd just have to keep telling himself that.

Which didn't explain why he found himself snapping, "You? Managed to find yourself a date? Another hot young demon keen to chew you up and spit you out?"

He waited for the anger eagerly, just itching for an excuse to put his fist through something. Xander narrowed his eyes and glared at him, but didn't open his mouth, and after a moment even the expression around his eyes softened. Then he was just being studied. Xander cocked his head, his eyes intent, as though he was looking for something Spike wasn't entirely sure was there. And for a moment it was the strangest feeling of deja vu…

Then Xander seemed to consciously relax. "Something like that, Spike," he said with a small, tight smile.

The tone brought him up short, the anger, or whatever it was, draining out of him. Made him feel just a little sad, because he thought it meant maybe, just maybe, he'd lost his chance. And fuck, but he wanted to kiss him. Wanted to feel those lips moving under his own again, that warm, talented tongue tasting his mouth, sending sparks down his spine. And in some deep, dark corner of his soul he wanted more than that. Wanted Xander, but mostly wanted something real, something mutual, for once in his unnaturally long existence.

"Uh, right, well, maybe it'll go better this time, yeah?" he said, attempting to sound encouraging, or some such shit. Trying not to sound jealous and uncomfortable anyway. "I, ah, I heard about Anya, by the way. You doing alright, then?"

Xander's expression became distant for a moment, but there was a genuine smile on his face. "Yeah, I'm fine, I guess. I wasn't, but we all knew the risks. She didn't have to stick around. And... she died how she would have wanted to. After everything she'd done to men over the years, however much they might have deserved it... she might not have gone all brood-master like Angel, but she did feel it. In the end, I guess I'd like to think it's easier for her this way. She saved the world." He glanced up suddenly. "Do you regret it? Did you?" he asked.

Spike tilted his head, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth. His 'life' had been closer to hell the past couple of months than it had ever been. He'd been lost, alone, with no-one to trust and until Fred came along, no hope of ever finding a way out of this half-existence. And for what? Buffy? Who would never want him? A world that would never even know it had come this close to dying? "Never," he said softly. For this. For friendship, the future. For all of them. Because sometimes, because of some people, the world was worth saving.

Xander smiled sadly and nodded. "What about you?" he asked after a moment. "I might have lost you and Anya, but you died. I can see this hasn't exactly been a walk in the park for you." Spike was a little uncomfortable at the depth of the compassion he saw in the other man's face.

"Nah, I'm alright. Wasn't pleasant or anything, but being a ghost didn't have nothing going for it."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Oh come on Spike, I've been back for less than a day, and even I can see how much it must have been tearing you apart."

Spike just shrugged. He'd gotten used to not talking about it. It's not like any of them would have understood anyway, even if he had felt like crying on some virtual stranger's shoulder. He might have talked to Angel, but he just couldn't quite bring himself to open up that completely to the man he'd spent so long trying to live up to, in one way or another.

Xander's expression melted into real concern when he didn't answer. "Spike?"

He looked into the boy's eyes for a long moment. "It was fucking terrifying, Xander," he eventually admitted softly, once again unable to resist the thought that someone actually cared about him, just him. He glanced down, somehow not at all surprised when he felt a hand on his shoulder. "I've never felt so alone. Not when Dru left, not when I was insane down in the basement, not even when I was alive. They couldn't see me. I could see them, but half the time they never even knew I was there. I couldn't do anything. You're right, I knew I'd probably die, and I don't regret it. But this... I only knew this wasn't hell because every now and again I could feel the real thing pulling at me, pulling me down with promises of pain and torment. And every time, it made me remember just how much I deserve to be there."

He looked up to a rueful smile. "You saved the world, Spike," Xander said frankly. "I don't think you deserve to be in hell. And maybe you hadn't noticed, but hello? Resurrected? Last person that happened to was, well, Buffy. But then there was the whole Son of God time. You don't think these things happen to just every evil monster, do you?" Xander gave him a lopsided smile.

Spike couldn't help the wry smirk that took the edge off of the despair on his face. "Maybe. I'll admit I hadn't thought of it like that, mate."

The hand on his shoulder squeezed once before dropping away. "And you said it wasn't all bad, right?"

Spike's grin solidified. "Sure. Got to walk through walls and everything. Angel didn't appreciate that much."

"Ah, blackmail. The only sure investment for the future." They shared a smirk. "You must've gotten to see the sun, too," Xander said quietly, watching him intently. "Must've been nice, after all this time."

"I did at that," he said, surprised that Xander would know him well enough to know what that had meant to him. Not even Angel had mentioned it. Then he surprised himself by saying, "I'll miss it."

Xander smiled, but didn't answer. They relaxed back into the couch, Spike downing the rest of his shot while Xander continued to sip from his glass. The silence was unbroken for a few minutes, but it wasn't uncomfortable and Spike took the time just to soak up the feelings. It wasn't so long ago, really, that he'd wanted all the sensations to just stop. But he didn't have to imagine what it would be like to be dead anymore and it wasn't anything he really wanted to experience again.

Eventually he felt composed enough to glance over and say, "So, tell me all the news. The poofter never bothers to ask any questions when he talks to you lot."

Xander grinned. "He's not so much with the gossip, is he? We can tell who among us didn't grow up with a whole bunch of girls as friends. No worries. I have news and photos, letters from Dawnie. And Andrew, if you can believe it, and I promised I'd make you ring them when you were, you know, solid."

He jumped up and retrieved the backpack he'd dropped by the door, dumping it on the table before sitting back down next to Spike, who pushed himself up, a grin of anticipation forming on his face.

They spent the next couple of hours catching up, going through the contents of the pack. Spike was more than relived to hear just how well everyone was doing.

Dying to save the world would have meant fuck all if they had just gone back to being trapped and miserable. This was what it had all been about. The future. Saving them.


 

The sky was starting to lighten through the glass doors that led out to the small balcony when Spike heard the faint sound of the hotel doors banging shut.

He cocked his head and fell silent, listening. Xander glanced over curiously. "What's up?"

"Someone here," Spike said absently.

Xander grimaced and rolled his eyes. "Please tell me it's not someone we have to kill, 'cause I'm really not in the mood."

Spike was just starting to smile when a shouted, "Spike!" echoed up from the lobby.

"Fred," he answered Xander's curious expression, his own alight with pleasure.

The boy's face cleared, although Spike didn't miss the considering look that flashed through his eyes. "Sure, I think I met her last year. She's the one who made all this possible, right? You two must be pretty close."

Spike answered as he jumped up and strode down the hall, Xander close on his heels. "She's the sweetest thing you're ever likely to meet, and she's one of the only things that kept me sane the past couple of months. Be nice to her."

Xander didn't have time to answer, because a moment later they were down the stairs and faced with a grinning Fred.

"Spike! There you are! I mean, I knew you'd be here, 'cause Angel told me, and see, he was right, o'course. Didja have fun killin' things? Angel said you found a whole big nest a' vampires in the sewers. I was sorry I couldn't come, except for I'm not so good at killin' things and I don't really like it, but we were all pretty tired, 'cept you, I s'pose, bein' you're all new and all. I guess it's kinda like your birthday, really, isn't it? When's your normal birthday? Or your vampire birthday? Wow! That means you've got three, which is pretty neat, really. But yeah, I didn't get to see you so much last night, and then I fell right asleep, and when I woke up this mornin' Angel told me you'd come here to talk with Alexander, and seein' as you're like my big project for the moment and you're all finished I thought I come see how you're doin' and say hi. So, hi!"

Spike barely waited for this speech to finish before he had his arms around her. She laughed and patted him on the back. He released her with a grin, but left his hand on her shoulders as he placed a lingering kiss on her forehead. "Oh, ah-" she blushed and stammered, but didn't look displeased.

He heard an amused voice behind him. "I think that means thank you. Either that or he's madly in love with you, but he just got finished telling me what a godsend you've been the past couple of months and how much he appreciates everything you've done, so I'd go with the former."

Spike glared back at Xander, without much heat, but his eyes were soft when he turned back to Fred. "What he said, luv. Thank you." He didn't think he'd ever meant that quite as much as he did at that moment.

She smiled again. "That's okay. It was pretty easy one we got what we needed from Willow. I'm just glad we could make you solid again. I don't think it can've been very nice for you, bein' all insubstantial." She looked over his shoulder and smiled, and Spike suddenly remembered Xander. "Hi there! You must be Alexander, right?"

Spike moved to the side and let Xander move up beside him. "Harris, Fred. Fred, Harris."

Xander rolled his eyes and shot him an amused glare. "Allow me."

Then Spike watched in shock as he picked up Fred's right hand in his and bowed over it, bringing it to his lips in a perfect Victorian greeting. "Alexander Harris, at your service. Call me Xander." More startling, perhaps, was Fred's almost complete lack of surprise.

Rather, she gave a delighted grin and said, "Pleased to meet you again, Alexander. Sorry, Xander. That was really neat. I couldn't hardly tell at all you weren't from Spike's time!"

"What the bloody hell was that, mate?!" he eventually couldn't help exclaiming. Fred seemed about to say something, and Spike was so distracted he almost missed the subtle head-shake Xander directed at her. She looked surprised, but subsided.

"They're called manners, Spike," he said, his eyes twinkling. "You told me to be nice."

Actually, he was finding himself having to fight back another wave of completely irrational jealousy. Not to mention the bloody poncy grumbling that Xander hadn't greeted him that way. This little visit was going to get old pretty damn fast if he was always trying to stop himself from wanting to kiss the bloke.

"Not any more they're damn well not," he declared, still unnerved.

Xander just smirked. "Brings back memories, huh, Spike? I take it you prefer the twenty-first century."

Spike shuddered. "Mate, you have no idea how lucky you are you weren't born into that stuffy, pretentious world."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't know." Something intent flashed through Xander's eyes, but it was gone even as he noticed it. "You were and I like you. Most of the time. Then again," he grinned, "so was Angel, so maybe you are right."

Spike snorted. "You only like the new me, mate." Not that he cared, but he couldn't help but wonder what Xander would have thought of William the utter git or Spike the complete bastard.

Xander watched him for just a beat to long. Then he shrugged, a secretive smile lurking around his eyes. "If you say so." Puzzled, Spike didn't say anything as the boy turned back to Fred and gave her a companionable smile. "So, Fred, you sticking around? Will sent over pictures which I've been instructed you simply have to see, and I figure if you're Spike's new best friend we should get to know each other. I've got plenty of dirt I'm more than happy to dish."

She giggled. "I'll just bet you do. And sure, o'course I can stay. That's one of the neat things about being the boss an' all, you get to take time off whenever you want it. It's been so long since I've seen y'all, but I feel like it hasn't, you know, what with how often I've been talkin' to Willow the past couple'a weeks. She said she'd send pictures and things when I talked to her last week, but then when I got the package I figured she'd forgotten, seein' as there wasn't anything there, but then she said you were comin', which is so much better anyway. You probably don't even remember the first time we met. I mean, why would you?"

"Oh, no. I remember. I mean, I don't remember much about that week, but I remember seeing you with Angel. I was pretty out of it. We all were, I guess. Anya, Spike, all those girls, Tara, Joyce, my whole life... I was still having a hard time dealing with the fact that everything was gone." His eyelids lowered as he looked down to the floor.

Fred seemed older suddenly as the smile fell from her face. Her eyes looked at something the rest of them couldn't see for a moment. "Sure, I know what it's like to lose everything you ever loved." She cocked her head as Xander looked up at her. "You're doin' pretty well. It made me insane."

"But Angel saved you." His eyes lightened as he said, "I don't think I could live with the humiliation if Deadboy had to save me."

She smiled, but she said seriously, "He's not what really saved me."

"What then?" Xander cocked his head.

"Family," Spike murmured. All of them. Having someone take you in, accept you, care about you.

Fred glanced at him sharply and nodded.

They all jumped when a shrill ring interrupted the sombre mood. Fred reached into her back pocket and pulled out a cell-phone, glancing at the numbers on the screen. Shooting them a small apologetic smile she said, "It's the office. I'll just tell them I won't be in for a few hours. I'll be right back." She hurried into Angel's old office.

Spike turned back to Xander whose head was bowed so Spike couldn't see his expression. But when he spoke, his voice was subdued, almost... empty. "You're right, you know. Family. I've still got that. It just... doesn't it ever seem a little unfair that we have to lose so much. So much... I mean, aren't we supposed to be the good guys? It's not like we get much back, but we're always the ones who pay. Why is that fair? Am I supposed to be grateful that the Powers deigned to leave me with a couple of friends after everything we've given up for them? But you know what? I am." Bitterness crept into his voice. "Of course I am."

"So am I," Spike murmured honestly. Without thinking, he reached out to run his finger's over Xander's jaw, urging the boy to raise his head. A moment later, he almost wished he hadn't, as he was once again confronted with shades of an expression that held too much of hopelessness, of grief and pain and resignation. He'd once wanted to make that expression disappear. But he knew now that he couldn't. Really, he'd known it then, too. It would always be there, hiding under the surface. No matter what he did, no matter if Xander never fought another demon again, never had to face another apocalypse, or lost anyone he loved. Those eyes would never be young. Not anymore. But they didn't have to look like that, either.

That was when he did something he'd promised himself he wouldn't. He didn't want to confuse they boy, or make things awkward, but there was only so much he could take. He couldn't help it if he was a sucker for soulful eyes. Boy had no-one to blame but himself...

Then lips, and wide open eyes as he tilted his head and pressed ever so slightly into Xander's mouth. Fingers tracing warm cheekbones, a large bronzed hand fluttering helplessly in the still-wide space between them. Then the boy was pressing back and there was movement, sliding, warm against cool, slipping in through a door he'd almost forgotten existed, and-

'That's better, then,' Spike thought with a private, satisfied smile as he let his fingers drift down and away before he stepped back.

Xander's eyes had widened with a distinct lack of overwhelming despair and Spike was once again having to suppress the almost overwhelming urge to smile that was bubbling up in his chest. He had to admit, kissing Buffy had never made him feel this... happy.

"The future's not something I want to miss out on," Spike continued quietly, smiling just the smallest bit. "Any of it."

There was silence for a moment, then a smile started to tug at the corners of Xander's mouth and spread up to sparkle gently in at least one of his eyes. If he'd had breath, Spike suspected that it would have caught in his chest at that moment.He heard a noise and glanced over to see Fred smiling at him knowingly. He had to clear his throat before he could speak. "So, um-"

"Photos," she interrupted, walking over and tugging on Xander's arm to get him to move towards the stairway. The boy seemed to snap out of his stupor at that, but spared a long, measuring glance for Spike before he turned with a smile to follow her. "And you gotta tell me all about Spike," she grinned.

He shot her a conspiratorial sort of smirk. "Well, for one thing I can tell you all three of his birthdays. And of course you'll want to hear everything I know about William Watson." Spike just rolled his eyes as he followed them up the stairs. Even if Buffy had told the boy everything he'd told her about his past, there wasn't all that much he could know. However, his eyes widened as Xander glanced over his shoulder with his own patented bad-ass smirk. "You'd be amazed how much insane babbling went on in my spare room year before last. I'm pretty sure he even wrote a poem or two." The wink Xander shot him didn't do a whole hellava lot to reassure him, but he consoled himself with the though that it was just Fred. He didn't have anything to hide from her.

She grinned, but glanced at Xander nervously a moment later, as they walked back into their lounge. "Then maybe, you know… if you don't mind… y'all could tell me somethin' about Sunnydale." She sounded a little uncertain. "I mean, I'll understand if it's too painful an' all, but the way Spike and Willow sometimes talk about it. I just... I kinda wish it wasn't gone."

But Xander just nodded. "Yeah, I'd like that," he said softly, smiling.


 

Spike woke slowly, his mind still caught in the strands of memory that had woven through his dreams. He tried to hold the image in his mind; tall, strong, dark hair, dark eye, wide, smiling mouth… "Alexander," he said softly as he opened his eyes. He still didn't really understand why the thought of a man he'd known so briefly over a hundred years ago was bothering him so much.

Or why it kept coming back to Xander.

'Course, if he was being honest, he knew exactly why it kept coming back to his friend, but he'd be damned if was gonna admit that, even to himself.

He was startled out his thoughts when Xander shifted on the couch, drawing in a deep breath as he stretched his body out, then opened his eyes as he relaxed. "Yeah?" he said sleepily, squinting over at Spike.

Spike just looked at him, confused. His head had started pounding, and his neck was killing him from where he'd slept sitting up. "What?"

Xander shot him a weird look as he hauled himself upright, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck. "What do you mean, 'what'? You said my name. Didn't you?" He looked unsure suddenly.

"I said 'Alexander'," he said.

"Right," Xander replied, still looking like he was expecting something else.

Spike shook his head suddenly, then immediately regretted it. He wisely resisted the urge to roll his eyes at himself. It was obviously way too early for this. "Right, which would be your name. Sorry, forgot. Wasn't talking to you, actually."

Xander regarded him for a moment, then shrugged. "Fair enough. You're old, I guess I can forgive you. Bathroom, then kitchen" He watched as Xander stood up easily, his one eye bright, his step light. He disappeared out the door and Spike lay his head back against the head-rest, closing his eyes. Boy obviously hadn't had nearly enough to drink last night, Spike thought. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember topping up Xander's glass more than a couple of times. Which didn't mean a whole hellava lot, actually. Still, he reckoned most of that booze had found it's way into his own system. He smiled at the thought.

They'd spent the night with Angel, Xander's 'goddamnit, do I have to' faces notwithstanding. It was kinda funny, actually. When he'd mentioned it to the poofter, he'd gotten much the same reaction, 'till he told him it'd all been Xander's idea, which it hadn't, but he wasn't above a few little untruths, so long as they got him what he wanted. And what he'd wanted was the two of them in the same room, although he still wasn't sure why he'd thought that'd be such a great idea. Just... Angel was the closest thing he had to family these days and God knew why but he'd wanted him and Xander to get along.

It was a week since Xander had shown up in Angel's office, a week of being blissfully solid and a week of watching the two of them make an art form out of avoiding someone else. The truce of that first day, or whatever it had been had obviously not been strong enough to stand up to the strain of more than one excursion, because Xander hadn't shown up at the office once, nor had he offered to come on any of the 'patrols' that he and Angel went on. He had come to the hotel a few times, even stayed while he called to talk to Dawn and Buffy, which he'd been absurdly grateful for, but never when Angel was there. In fact, Xander had been kinda... weird, the whole week, like he was waiting for something, or something. And he hadn't mentioned that kiss in the lobby, which had been disconcerting, then disheartening, and was finally starting to become just plain annoying. It seemed fucking unfair that he should have to do all the work. Wasn't it enough that, for some reason he hadn't yet worked out but was undoubtedly his bloody soul making him feel so uncomfortable, he hadn't gone out and gotten laid once, the whole week?

Xander had seemed to relax last night, though, and finding something hard to kill had taken Spike's mind off things. Angel had actually been fairly civil the whole evening; T there hadn't been any violence anyway, at least, not any violence they didn't go looking for. Apparently they'd gone and bonded over their long-standing dislike of him and had spent the rest of the night, after coming back to the hotel, swapping Spike and William stories, which Xander seemed to have more of than he should have, but by that time Spike was too shit-faced to give it much notice.

"Spike!" Xander shouted through the door.

Shit! He was out of the chair and halfway to the door without a thought before he saw the startled expression on the other man's face, which turned amused when he stopped suddenly.

"You coming?" Xander asked innocently, grinning.

Spike thought about taking loud exception to that, but his head hurt too much, so he just glared at a completely unrepentant Xander. Firmly quashing the insistent urge he had to smile, he stalked out past the boy and led the way to the kitchen. Xander followed with a chuckle.

He was half way through a mug of blood and feeling much more himself when Xander said, "So, who's Alexander then?" He glanced up from the huge pile of peanut butter on toast he'd prepared for himself, bread being the only thing they'd found in the freezer. Spike looked over at him, surprised at the question, but not as much as the tone it'd been asked in. Xander was the picture of studied indifference, but there was a tension in his shoulders and around his eyes. Like Xander had more invested in Spike's answer than he could understand. It made Spike think of how he'd reacted last week when he'd mentioned he had someone to meet. Like he was hiding something.

Xander glanced down nervously when Spike just looked at him, but looked up again a moment later, obviously expecting an answer.

Curious at the odd behaviour, but figuring he had no reason not to the tell the boy, Spike shrugged and took another sip of blood. "Old friend."

Xander raised one corner of his mouth, looking amused. "Yeah? How old we talking here? You are over a hundred and fifty, after all."

Spike smirked back. "Woulda been... hundred and twenty four years ago I met him."

"Just before you died, then."

"Coupla months, yeah." He used a finger to wipe up some of the blood coating the side of his mug, then wandered over to the sink.

He was aware of the way Xander watched him, looking for something again. It was starting to piss him off just the smallest bit. "How well do you... I mean, can you even remember back that far?"

He was sure he wasn't imagining the tension in the kid's voice, he just couldn't figure out what the hell he was supposed to make of it. He turned around and leant against the bench, crossing his arms over his chest, pinning Xander with his eyes. "'Course. Woulda been clearer if it'd happened after I was turned, and I only met him a couple of times anyway, but yeah, I remember. Why?" he asked, curious.

Xander shrugged, turning back to his toast. "Why not? I'm interested, is all."

Spike regarded him closely for a moment, but this time Xander refused to give anything away. Eventually he tilted his head and relaxed, shrugging inwardly. Xander was right, after all. They were friends now. He had nothing to hide. "You should probably thank him for my being here today, come to that," he said casually.

Xander looked up sharply, his eyes wide. "What?! Why! I mean... I thought... You said you met him months before you died," he finished weakly. Spike looked at him closely. What the hell was the boy about? Why did he even care? This was all ancient history to him, to both of them really. So why was he getting the urge to hide all the weapons? And again, why did it look like Xander had a whole lot more riding on this than he wanted to admit?

"You gotta understand, mate, I wasn't the most... outgoing bloke in London at the time. I was crap at my job, I spent all my spare time reading and writing poetry, I rarely even bothered to keep up with current affairs, my so-called 'friends' walked all over me and the one girl I actually noticed I couldn't even work up the nerve to speak to. So then along comes this bloke. Appears out of nowhere one morning, runs me over in the street, and proceeds to treat me better than anyone had to date." He stopped, a distant smile on his face, trying to dredge up the faint memories of that meeting. He shook his head fondly. "He was nothing like me. He was nothing like anyone I'd ever met. Strong, confident, didn't give a fuck what anyone else thought of him. And he told me that sometimes you've gotta take a chance to get what you want. So I did. Next time I saw Cecily I told her how I felt. She then ripped out my heart and ground it to a bloody pulp under her delicate little heels, I ran out, Dru found me crying in an alley and next thing you know I'm a vampire."

He studied Xander from beneath lowered lashes. The boy seemed to have completely forgotten his food, and if the queasy look on his face was anything to go by he wouldn't be going back to it any time soon. "Shit Spike, I'm so sorry."

See now, that wasn't what he'd been expecting at all. He narrowed his eyes. "For what? You not happy I'm here?"

The boy's eyes widened comically. "Um, no! No, I didn't mean that. I just meant, you know, sorry you had to go through that to... you know... get here. So," he said hurriedly, "ah, this Alexander sounds like a nice guy. What else do you remember about him?"

Fragments flashed though his mind and he couldn't help closing his eyes or the small smile that turned up the corners of his mouth... A young man slouching with arms crossed, smirking at him, a clenched fist and a cold eye, a conspiratorial wink and a smile like light... And for the first time in over a hundred years he thought about the hooded, intense look that he'd seen flashes of when Alexander had concentrated on him, the way that dark eye had occasionally flashed to his lips. He hadn't reacted to them at the time, or if he had he hadn't understood his reactions. But he did now.

And then Alexander had kissed him. He did remember that. Hadn't been able to forget it for a long time. Even as his mind had shied away from the act and the implications and focussed itself with desperate fervour on Cecily, some part of him hadn't been able to forget it. Like everything about Alexander, it had been nothing like he'd ever experienced before. The warm breath that had ghosted over his wet lips, filled his lungs as his mouth had opened under gentle but insistent pressure. Rough fingers had traced a path down his neck and he could remember the shudder as his eyes dropped closed and the whimper that formed in the back of his throat...

And that was the last he ever saw of Alexander. The man had pulled away, and when Spike had managed to drag his eyelids open, he had been gone. He'd run for the front door, found Martin closing it even as he burst into the foyer, responding to his frantic queries that the young man had just this instant stepped out the door. But when he'd opened it there had been nothing, no one to see on the lamp-lit street. And even though his mother asked about him occasionally, there was really nothing to show he'd ever been there in the first place. Nothing except the remembered pressure of strong lips on his own, and that was such a bizarre recollection that eventually Spike had started to wonder if had ever happened at all.

"I remember all of it. I remember that I knew him less than a day and he was still the best friend I'd ever had. Shit, if it hadn't been the nineteenth century I probably would have been falling in love with the man. Been able to admit it anyway." Spike smirked at the memory of whom he'd been, the repressed little Victorian. So scared to just do things for himself. He couldn't honestly say he regretted that about becoming a vampire. Even if Alexander hadn't disappeared, his own misguided sense of propriety would have stopped anything happening between them. Blood was just blood when it came right down to it. Male, female, after a while you started to wonder why you'd ever cared about that sort of thing in the first place.

"Love?" Xander choked out, looking both horrified and weirdly pleased. "You were in love with m-him?"

Spike was pulled out of his pleasant recollections by the tone. This was getting beyond a joke! What, he was supposed to believe that Xander had a problem with him and another man? The boy sure as hell hadn't voiced many objections last week, or last year, come to that. Spike stood upright and stalked over to the table opposite the boy. Placing his hands flat on the surface he leaned forward, glaring. "Alright Harris, what the hell is this all about?"

"All what?" he asked nervously, turning back to his toast deliberately.

He didn't even bother to stop the growl at that, and experienced a certain savage satisfaction when Xander tensed a little. "This! Why are you acting like this?"

Xander grimaced a little and just looked at him for a long moment. "You sure you don't know?"

"Know what!" Spike exclaimed, throwing his hands up. "Why the bleedin' hell are you so interested in a bloke who died a hundred years before you were even born?"

Xander closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay, okay. Right. I can tell you. I just... I thought you'd remember. I mean, obviously you didn't remember anything before. Or at least you never said anything, but I didn't know there was anything to remember then, but you obviously do remember, just not everything, or you'd have put it together, and with what you just said maybe I shouldn't say anything-"

"Harris," he interrupted menacingly.

The boy didn't react to the tone, which was disappointing, but he did actually start saying something. "Right, sorry. Okay, bear with me for a moment here then. So, am I right in thinking that your Alexander was what, six-one, dark hair, had one brown eye and one missing eye that he covered with a black eye patch? He ran you over outside your house in the morning as you were leaving for a meeting, showed up again a couple of hours later, then spent the whole day with you. You introduced him to your mother, took him to the museum, the gardens, walked around the city visiting all the touristy spots. Then he walked you home and just before he disappeared he kissed you. Am I right?"

Spike just stared at him. He was starting to have an impossible and not entirely pleasant thought in the back of his mind. It had to do with blood. "Fuck, Xander, what the hell is going on? How the bloody hell do you know any of that?"

Xander just shrugged, a wry smile making it's way onto his face. "And lest we forget, your Alexander's last name would be Harris."

"Are you trying to say you're related to the bloke?" Spike asked incredulously.

Xander seemed to be relaxing in the face of Spike's increasing stress. He smirked a little. "Come on Spike. I know you're not this stupid. Stop thinking conservatively. Surely Fred told you what she needed for the spell?"

She hadn't, actually. She'd just said Willow was trying to get it. But he'd hung around the lab too often to not hear things. And he remembered what they'd said, what they'd talked about... Blood. She'd needed blood. He'd figured it must be pretty special blood if they'd had to get the most powerful wicca in the country to assist, but hadn't given it much more thought than that.

But they hadn't just needed blood. They'd needed his blood.

"I don't believe it," he said, sitting down heavily. "It's impossible!"

"That's what I said," Xander murmured ruefully.

Spike barely heard him. "There is no freakin' way! I was... He was..."

"Me." It was said quietly, but Spike's eyes snapped up. Xander shrugged and smiled apologetically.

"You."

One hundred and twenty four years ago he'd been well on his way to falling in love with... Xander Harris? What the fucking hell was that supposed to mean? Did it even have to mean anything? It wasn't like he was still in love with him.

Except... it wasn't really that long, was it? His soul, the part of him that had loved the man in the first place, that remembered him, remembered how it had felt to be cared for without reservation, protected without ulterior motives. To be held in a smile, in a gaze, that knew nothing of manipulation or arrogance, that was nothing more than joy at friendship and love shared... That part hadn't had over a century to forget. And with Alexander sitting right there, reminding him of that day, the feelings were stronger than he would have expected.

Xander got up suddenly, and Spike looked over to find him looking unsure and not a little uncomfortable. "This is probably pretty weird, huh? I'll, uh, I'll just get out of your hair for a little while. You can, you know, think, or whatever. I've got to check in with Buffy anyway, and I've got... errands, and stuff to run. So, yeah, I'll be at the hotel if you need me, or if you want to call you've got the number and my cell is on." He'd sidled his way over to the door by this time. Before Spike could do more than stand up and reach out a restraining hand, the boy had opened the door and stepped into the late afternoon sunlight. With an obvious effort, he looked Spike in the eyes and grinned brightly. "Right, so. I'll uh, see you... later, then."

Then the door was closed and Spike's murmured, "Xander," went unheard.


 

So.

Spike stared at the door.

So, this was unexpected.

He sat down and stared at the table.

Alexander... Xander... Harris... Alex... Xan... The words circled aimlessly in his head. Names. Different feelings, images attached to each, but in the end it all came back to the man who had just walked out his front door.

A part of him wanted to ignore this rather startling revelation. He didn't feel that way about Xander. A little bit of snogging was one thing, even the occasional shag, but love? Knock down, painful, passionate, blissful, falling into forever kind of love? The way he'd felt about Cecily, like the world was spinning off its axis and the only way to make it stop was to lose himself in her eyes? He remembered how Alexander had made him feel. And he had lost himself in the other man just as surely as he had lost himself in Cecily.

'Course, he'd been a damn fool back then. Young, naïve, not to mention firmly convinced he was in love with another woman. There hadn't been enough time for it to grow into anything more, but William had seen enough of the world, or too little of kindness in his own life, not to be immediately taken by someone like Xander.

It was the same light Spike had seen in the boy last year. One hundred and twenty-four years ago a young wounded man had appeared out of nowhere and showed him that even when the world battered and beat you down, left you hard and alone, it didn't have to defeat you. He'd looked at Alexander and seen so much more than any of the young men and women he associated with could ever hope to be. He'd seen things Spike realised he'd never taken the time to notice, or dismissed as unimportant if he had, until the very night before he'd died. The things William had stood in awe of; Alexander's strength, physically, but also his ability to live so carelessly around his disability, to share so much joy when he'd obviously been through so much himself, to stand up for a virtual stranger, helping not because he had to, but because he could and because he wanted to. Things Spike had seen time and again over the past seven years, but had dismissed. Courage and loyalty were just stupidity, carelessness. Light and laughter was blindness, humour inappropriate, and his strength was nothing to his own or Buffy's.

A hundred years ago it had taken him one day to see Xander. Less than that even, to know how much he could come to care for him, given the chance. How much Alexander had honestly cared for him, even if he hadn't understood why at the time.

It was a measure of how much he'd changed in the intervening century that it had taken him nearly six years, one soul and the knowledge of impending doom to see it again.

He wasn't William any more. He couldn't ever feel that way about Xander again. He could never feel anything with that much thoughtless innocence again. He'd had over a hundred years to make damn sure of that.

But he could feel more. Even leaving aside everything that had happened so long ago, he couldn't deny he did have feelings for the boy. And if they were more complex, then why did that have to be a bad thing? They'd run the gamut of hate, fear, tolerance, tentative friendship, and mutual understanding again and again. For the past few years they'd shared life and death and, whatever else it might mean, he thought he could say with utter confidence that he knew Xander, as William had never known Alexander.

So, the question was, what did he want now? He knew that he wanted him, and he knew that Xander wasn't entirely opposed to the idea, if the kiss last week had been anything to go by. On the other hand, the boy hadn't tried anything the past couple of days, so maybe he was wrong. But yeah, he was attracted to the man. Hadn't always been, but then he hadn't always been able to spend more than ten minutes in his presence without wanting to break something either. A year ago he hadn't given it much more thought than that. He'd kissed him because of circumstances. World's about to end, suddenly he discovers the boy isn't quite the non-entity he'd always assumed, it had just felt like the thing to do at the time. He hadn't known about all... this.

Just like he hadn't known about it every time this past year he'd thought about that kiss again. Thought about what it was like for something to be... easy. He might have loved Buffy. Shit, some part of him still did. But it had never been easy. Love never had been, for him. It chewed him up and spat him out time and again, 'till he was left wondering what was the fucking point. And so 'love' had never come into the equation with Xander, or so he'd thought. He'd fantasised, imagined what it would be like to have the boy laid out underneath him, if he would arch and writhe into every caress, or take it with the same focussed intensity as when they'd kissed. And maybe he'd started because it was easier to think of Xander than to think of Buffy, but he was honest enough to admit that somewhere along the way it had become genuine curiosity, desire even.

And when Buffy had come and gone, months after he first appeared, he'd thought about Xander again. But this time he'd thought about everything else that happened that night. What it had been like to have a friend. Maybe he'd been fooling himself that the boy would have wanted to hear about his problems, about how helpless, how superfluous seeing Buffy again had made him feel. But he'd remembered, and he'd hoped, and then in those fantasies that he used to drive away the loneliness Xander had started to stay.

Then the boy had shown up. Just opened a door and there he was, large as life and looking almost nothing like he remembered. And for a moment he'd started to worry that he'd built Xander up into some perfect ideal, that the boy would never want him as a friend, let alone a lover.

But he had. And then Spike had kissed him, because how could he not? It wasn't love, it was easy.

So. He wanted to get to know him, and he wanted to fuck him. Obviously, he snickered, they just had to start dating. Next question was; what did Xander want? Which would have been easier to find out if the boy hadn't just run out of here like he expected Spike to lose his soul and indulge in some good old-fashioned violent rampaging.

And suddenly something occurred to him. Something so fucking obvious he had to roll his eyes at his goddamn stupidity.

One hundred and twenty-four years ago Alexander had kissed him. Shit, now that he was looking for it, he had to wonder what sort of a blind fool he'd been a century ago that he'd managed to miss it. The way the man had shivered when he touched him, had held his gaze just a little too long, had protected him without a second thought, had touched him, talked to him, tried to make sure he'd be happy... And smiled at him, like there was nothing that would make him happier than to stand looking into him forever.

There was friendship, but Spike had known Xander for a long time now and he knew there were very few people the boy looked at that way. Anya, Willow. Not even Buffy and Dawn got that look and, before last year, neither had he.

But the thing was, it hadn't happened that long ago at all. He might have a hard time remembering it, but that whole day was anything but ancient history. When he thought about it, it had all happened less than ten days ago for Xander. And that had to mean he hadn't lost his chance.

He remembered suddenly that Xander had mentioned an appointment he wanted to keep. His eyes narrowed, his head tilted and snapped up. A distant corner of his brain noticed with satisfaction that it was getting dark out. And as his eye caught the calendar a slow smile curved his lips.

It was the fourth of June.

He hadn't lost anything.


 

Spike pulled up outside the Waterfront Hotel just after nine o'clock. He was feeling sort of strange, jittery. He'd gone through an entire packet of fags on the drive over, lighting them taking one or two absent drags and dropping them out the window, another appearing in his hand a few minutes later without any conscious thought on his part.

It had taken him a while to remember the name of this place. A week, a whole fucking week, and he hadn't even noticed that Xander had never once actually told him where he was staying. He knew why, of course. He just couldn't decide whether to be pissed off because this was some sort of test, or grateful because Xander must have known he was going to need something, some tangible reason to believe all this shit. Yes, he believed it already! He bloody well knew he believed it already! But he had to see it... Because, if this worked, if Xander was really in there, in a suite of rooms reserved for Watchers' Council representatives, it would somehow change... something...

Oh, fuck. None of this made any sense anyway, he figured there was no reason for him to start breaking with tradition now.

Giving himself a sneer and a mental slap on the back of his head, he stepped out of the car, slammed the door with enough force to make him not feel at all guilty for possibly damaging Angel's car and stalked up the steps into the lobby.

He took his time studying the furnishings as we wandered over to reception, then turned and leant on the desk as he waited for the young lass to finish whatever it was she was doing. He was tense, buzzing, so focussed he felt it the second she tuned around and fixed her eyes on him. He didn't move. He wished the phone would ring, then cursed himself for a bloody cowardly wanker and deliberately turned around.

She smiled. "How can I help you, sir?"

He didn't smile back. "Looking for Alexander Harris, luv. Should be in the Watchers' Council suite. Think you could point the way?" He did smile then, but only because he could practically feel her reticence. Hardly surprising, really, not like he was the sort of nancy-boy squeaky-clean do-gooder you'd want to bring home to meet your parents. Except o'course he was, but at least he didn't look the part. Any more, anyway. It had the desired effect and she was smiling and browsing her computer without another word.

He waited in a little bubble of forced calm, studiously ignoring the ambiguous feelings clamouring for attention. Six hours later, she looked up. "Room 517, sir," she said. "Shall I let Mr Harris know you're coming?"

He barely heard her. "Uh, yeah, sure luv." He was here. The man he'd been in love with one hundred and twenty-four years ago was here in this very building, just as he'd promised to be. He used to dream about this. For months after Alexander had left he'd imagined how one day he would step off a boat, fresh from adventures, full of stories, the man he'd always wanted to be. And Alexander would be here. He would walk up to him and they would know each other instantly, embrace like old friends and everything would be perfect. It had given him hope. Even though he knew most of that would never happen, he had known in his soul that Alexander would not forget him, that he had a friend out there somewhere and someday they might meet again.

Even after everything had changed he thought of it. It hadn't been the same. Everything had been so new, the world laid out at his feet, a woman to love, a new family to be a part of. He'd killed so many of his 'friends', but he hadn't killed Cecily and he knew that he wouldn't have killed Alexander. But he'd thought about meeting him again, how he could show off what he had become, the power, the strength that he commanded. Still, it was only in an abstract way. Alexander had just been one loose end and not even a very important one. Eventually he'd forgotten about him. It was almost ninety years before he ever made it to America, longer before he saw Los Angeles, California. And if he had spared a brief thought for the one friend he'd ever had, he'd just assumed the young man was dead by now anyway.

He blinked and found himself inside the elevator. He punched the number five and way too few moments later found himself standing outside room 516.

He was in there. He could feel him. Why the hell was this so hard? Nothing had changed. It was still Xander for fuck's sake. If anything, he should feel better about the whole friends things and while he'd never been strictly opposed to having a quick shag with someone, being... in love...

Oh, fuck.

He jumped when the door opened. Xander was standing there, looking surprised. Then his eyes widened and suddenly he was looking almost as nervous as Spike felt.

"Spike! You're here!"

Spike just cocked his head. "And so are you."

The man swallowed, his eyes shifting. "How, um, how did you know where I was? Did Angel tell you?"

Spike moved forward, suddenly feeling a whole lot more in control. "No. You did," he said softly.

Xander's eyes snapped up. "You, I mean, you..."

"Remembered? Yeah, I did."

Xander seemed to flinch slightly and he stepped back the slightest bit. Spike followed. "Spike, listen, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but I didn't know if you'd remember, and I figured you wouldn't believe me if I just came out and told you, which, see I was right, you didn't, not that I can really blame you, it is pretty fucking unbelievable, but if you remembered on your own and came here, or even brought it up, I figured that would be okay. And I didn't know how you'd feel about it anyway. I mean, you didn't seem to mind telling Buffy about what you were like when you were human, but I'm hardly Buffy and then there was that thing that happened, but then it happened again, even though you didn't seem to remember the last time, or the first time for you, and I mean once is a fluke, but I still didn't know what to think..."

Spike rolled his eyes and smiled wryly. This was what he wanted? His soul really must be insane. He firmly quashed the day-time soap opera in his brain that was telling him to just step in and kiss the bloke, if it would make him shut up. Although he couldn't disagree with either of those two notions in principle... but he held up a hand,

"Xander, Mate..."

Spike rolled his eyes and smiled wryly. This was what he wanted? His soul really must be insane. He firmly quashed the day-time soap opera in his brain that was telling him to just step in and kiss the bloke, if it would make him shut up. Although he couldn't disagree with either of those two notions in principle...

But he held up a hand. "Xander, mate, you're babbling," he smirked.

Xander glared. "No, I'm not."

Spike raised an eyebrow and lent casually against the doorframe.

"Well, okay, so maybe I was babbling," he admitted, a self-deprecating smirk appearing on his face. "It's a thing I do when I'm nervous. And you, turning up here like this? Equals the nervousness of me. So cut me some slack, Bleachboy." He stepped back suddenly. "You want to come in? Or are we going to do this out here in the corridor?"

Spike straightened and moved into the room, closing the door behind him. "Ta, Mate. Wouldn't want to give all those good people a free show, now would we?" He looked around. He was impressed. The Watchers apparently weren't stinting on the expenses. It really was a suite. Main sitting room, complete with TV, DVD, stereo, bar fridge, balcony, small dining table and a couple of nice looking leather couches; bed and bathroom through separate doors on the left side of the room. Sure as hell explained why the kid hadn't been spending all his time at Angel's shoddy little hotel.

Xander snorted as he moved over to the couches. "Nah, be too hard to collect the money." Spike followed, but took the other couch. He saw Xander notice this but the boy didn't say anything about it; instead, "So," he said brightly, "um, nice weather we've been having."

Spike just stared at him in shock for a moment, then snorted and dropped his head. "Point taken, Mate," he said, moving to sit beside Alexander. Shit. The smile dropped from his face and his eyes widened. "Alexander," he said wonderingly.

Xander lifted the corner of his mouth in understanding. "Yep. Pretty freaky, huh? So, what do you want to know, Spike? I think we can safely assume you believe that really was me. And you know, I just can't get my head around the fact that for you it happened over one hundred years ago." He shook his head. "So, yeah: how; why; how many people did I tell and how much money are you going to have to pay me not to tell any one else? You name it; I am here to answer all your time-travel-related questions."

Spike tried to gather his thoughts. All he really wanted to know was whether or not he could kiss the bloke but he figured he could work up to that. "Well, I figure with Red involved it had to be a spell, using the power of the summer solstice -"

"- And Dawn's blood," Xander interrupted, adding hastily, "Only a little bit. She offered, she's fine, calm down."

He let his glare linger for a moment, but subsided. "To open a portal, which deposited you outside my front door at dawn and sucked you back in at dusk, which is why you were nowhere to be found after you disappeared out my front door. That about the gist of it?"

Xander nodded. "That's about the long and the short of it."

"The 'why' I'm having a little more trouble with. Why you, why then, why at all? Why did you even offer to go? You had no idea what might happen."

"Ah, right." Xander looked away and started fiddling with the hem of his T-shirt. Spike had to resist the urge to reach over and still the nervous twitching. "Well, they apparently needed blood samples and they weren't sure if your vampire blood would be the same as your normal human blood, or something, like it might be tainted, what with all the other blood you drink. And if we were going to do it, we figured we might as well get it right the first time. As for why me, well I guess I just seemed like the best choice at the time. You bought it, after all." He grinned, fairly unconvincingly Spike thought.

"Uh-huh. So, I guess the next big question is, why did you kiss me?"

Xander's eyes widened at the query and his mouth hung open for a moment. It was disturbingly endearing. But his jaw snapped shut and he turned a glare on Spike. "I reckon I could ask you the same question, buddy. Besides, you kissed me back."

Spike nodded agreeably, but his expression didn't change. "So I did; which doesn't answer my question."

"Why did I kiss you? Hell, I don't know, Spike. I thought, last year... We talked, you kissed me, I thought things were going to change. I wanted things to change. You looked like you were starting to get over Buffy, I was starting to get over Anya and, lo-and-behold, all of a sudden I discover you're actually pretty good company when the snark lets up for an hour or two. There was all this... possibility and I thought we could have been, I don't know, good, I guess. Then you died and it was..." He looked up suddenly, his hands calming. Spike couldn't have looked away if his life had depended upon it. "It was almost worse than losing Anya. She and I were finished, and I don't mean I wanted her to die or anything, but there was no sense of a future I knew I'd never get to see, not really. I missed you," he shrugged. "And then, I don't know, seeing you. You, but not, you know? Seeing the way you looked at me... and I'd wanted to for so long. I didn't think you'd mind."

Spike sighed. "Don't mind, as such. But, Xan, you do understand that wasn't me, right? I'm not William any more."

Xander looked at him knowingly. "Yeah, you are, Spike. You're just... you're not just William any more. When I kissed him, I kissed you. I know you've changed; believe me, I know you've changed but he is still in there. I think you were almost more William-y before you got the soul but looking back on last year, this past week, he's not gone; trust me on this. I knew it ten days ago, or one hundred and twenty-five years ago if you'd prefer, and I know it now. And just in case you're wondering, I really did like you back then, but-" He stopped suddenly and Spike finished the sentence in his head. But he wanted to hear it. God, he needed to hear it.

"But what, Xander?" He kept his face clear, but it was an effort. But Xander looked up at him curiously and he knew he'd been away from the boy too long. He'd forgotten his disconcerting tendency to hear all the things he didn't want to feel anyway.

"But I like this you better," he finished simply.

Spike sat back, oddly moved. "Is that a fact?"

Xander grinned. "What can I say? I think we've covered my partiality for assholes. The new you really is much more my type than the old you."

Type, huh? Well, that was good enough for him. Certainly seemed to answer the question of what Xander wanted.

He stood up abruptly, a genuine smile forming on his face. Xander looked up at him in confusion. "Come on then," he held out a hand for the man and nodded his head towards the door.

Xander raised his eyebrows, but grasped his hand and stood up obediently. "We going somewhere?"

"I owe you dinner, mate. I'm pretty sure I saw a restaurant downstairs, it any good?" He used the hand he was holding to pull Xander towards the door.

Xander grabbed his wallet as they passed the hall table and Spike paused long enough for him to lock the door. "Uh, yeah, it's good. Got great salmon. Why... Spike, since when do you owe me dinner?" he protested as they stepped into the elevator.

Spike shrugged as he watched the numbers change on the little panel beside the door. "That was the deal. You buy me lunch, I buy you dinner." He still hadn't let go his hand.

Xander was silent for a moment and Spike grinned inwardly as he watched the wheels turning out of the corner of his eye. "Spike," Xander said after a moment.

"Hmmm?"

"Spike," repeated with amusement and mock irritation.

"What, Mate?" He glanced over finally, only to see Xander obviously trying to hold in his laughter. It took every hour of his hundred-odd years of bad-ass training to keep his face straight.

"Dare I suggest that this seems awfully like a date?"

"Date?" he scoffed. "'Course it's not a date. I don't date. Just tyring to get into your pants. And seein' as I'm not a complete Philistine, that means dinner." He glanced surreptitiously at Xander again. The man was smirking at him.

"Oh, well then. Far be it for me to pass up a free meal." The door opened with a quiet 'ping and they stepped in'. "Although I'm really not all that hungry."

Spike turned around to face him, taking a step backwards out of the elevator. "I am." He grinned wickedly.

Xander's eye darkened beautifully and Spike had to suppress a shudder at the speculative gaze that travelled over his body. The doors started to close, but almost faster than Spike could follow, Xander's hand shot through the opening, halting the progress of the doors and grabbing a fistful of his duster. Then he was being yanked back into the cabin as the doors slid smoothly shut behind him. "I've just had the sudden, uncontrollable urge to order room service."

Ignoring the hand that was probably creasing and staining his brand new, re-materialised coat, Spike insinuated himself into Xander's personal space. "See, you really are smarter than you look," he murmured, one hand coming up to trace the lines of the boy's chest through his shirt.

He was close enough now to hear the heartbeat under his hand speed up, to feel the rise and fall of that delicious chest grow ragged. He imagined Xander could probably feel his heart beating in his throat pushing his blood closer and closer to the surface. With one last challenging look into Xander's eyes he lowered his head to the man's throat, determined to feel that siren pulse for himself. Xander tensed and he felt the hand gripping his lapels tighten slightly in warning. But he wasn't pushed away and there was no fear, just arousal, warm and heady… and fuck but he needed to get laid. With a wicked glint in his eyes he licked a slow path from under the boy's chin to behind his ear, the slight stubble rasping over his tongue turning to smooth, white skin, the blood burning and rushing and filling his nose and his lungs 'till it was almost like being on fire again.

He felt the breath of hot air across his scalp as Xander gasped. Felt the body shake as one hand was slammed against the wall while the other grasped at his chest. And he could neither see nor feel the grin, with his eyes closed and his tongue tracing the soft, blazing hot flesh of the boy's ear. Or maybe he could, because he knew it was there. And sure enough, as he moved his head back, Xander was looking at him through heavy eyes and grinning. He grinned back and made a move to step still closer, but the hand on his chest stopped him.

He frowned down at it, but Xander nodded at the camera in the ceiling. He didn't turn to look at it, but the man was right. If they weren't getting paid for it, there wasn't much point in putting on a show. Although apparently the hand tracing fleeting patterns over his chest and going goddamn absolutely bloody nowhere near his waist didn't count.

"Admit it, you always have had a thing for my figure," Xander smirked as the door once again opened on the fifth-floor corridor.

Spike sighed in heartfelt relief and grabbed a hand to pull Xander towards the room. "Sure, absolutely. One hell of a figure. Always wanted you. Now can we hurry up and get this damn door open so we can move along to the having of said figure."

Xander chuckled as the door swung open and wandered into the room, depositing his wallet and his key before turning to face Spike. "Shouldn't we order room service first? I mean, the whole date thing... mmrgh..." Xander didn't get any further than that, because Spike decided then and there that the boy was obviously not nearly affected enough by this whole thing if he was still talking. After a moment, he decided the soap opera in his brain had obviously had the right idea all along.

Eventually he let Xander come up for air. "I'll take that as a no, shall I? So, tomorrow, then? There's a great place... ohhhh..." This time Spike pushed them in the direction of the bedroom while he was busy mapping out the inside of Xander's mouth with his tongue. He had to admit he was a little astonished that the boy still had the capacity to talk. He was pretty sure all his own blood was so far from his brain he couldn't have put together a coherent sentence unless his dick magically grew vocal chords.

Xander was panting this time as Spike left his mouth and proceeded to lick his way down the man's neck. "I'm starting to sense a pattern here," he gasped, even as his fingers fumbled at the buttons of Spike's shirt. Spike wondered vaguely if he was supposed to understand that statement but then there were fiery hands touching cool skin and he decided that if the boy wanted to babble then he could just go right on babbling, so long as he was doing... oh, that... at the same time.

But it turned out there must have been some blood left in his brain after all, because something about that thought bothered him. He was pretty sure it was no longer an issue, 'cause Xander had turned them around and tossed him on the bed. And Jesus, it had to be a crime to put clothes on that body. He groaned as the hands that had just chucked that fucking felony of a shirt across the room went to the top button of his jeans. He shivered with Xander when first his fingers and then his jeans scraped over the bulge that Spike was suddenly desperate to get his hands on.

But... "Xan." He cleared his throat and tried again. "Xander." Was pleased that it emerged as less of a croak and more of a moan. Well, it was something.

Xander raised an eyebrow and moved closer. "Scootch up," he said - way too articulately, Spike was irritated to notice - nodding towards the head-board. He obeyed without thinking.

"You..." And then Xander was kissing him, pushing him back and down and laying siege to his mouth, roving hand over his chest and his arms and tugging at the roots of his hair and then laying down beside him, the soft silk of his boxers and the stiff evidence of his arousal against Spike's jeans. And everywhere he touched, the heat was burning him up and he loved it, arched up into it, needed to feel more of it.

He needed to ask something, needed... oh, needed Xander. But fuck if the soul wasn't going to let him off the hook. And because he was a vampire, after all, he used his one brief moment of clarity to easily manhandle Xander onto his back and pin him there with hands and legs and the fact that he could now feel the man's erection resting against his own was not going to distract him.

Xander raised an eyebrow at this new position, but seemed just as happy here as he had been on top. Spike growled. "Xander," he ground out. Not moving his hips.

Thankfully the boy seemed finally to realise that he had something to say and kept still. Yes, thankfully, damn it! "Yes, Spike?"

"You were babbling. Before." Hah! An articulate sentence if ever he'd heard one.

Xander looked confused and a little hard-put to force the blood back to his own brain. "Um, I was? Sorry?"

Spike growled again. This was taking much too long. "Yes, you were. So, are you okay with this?"

Xander just stared at him incredulously for so long Spike was about to give up and get off him. Then he snorted and said blandly, "No, Spike. Please don't make me have sex with you. Can't you feel how much I'm not enjoying myself?" Then he thrust up and Spike arched into the sensation in spite of himself, moaning deep in his throat.

His "You're sure?" was really more for show than any real plans for stopping, but it apparently got Xander's attention.

The man tugged one hand free from where Spike had been pinning it down and traced his fingertips over Spike's cheek. His eyes were soft as for a moment they just looked at each other and abruptly Spike was incredibly grateful that he'd asked.

"See?" Xander murmured, "William. Told you he was still there. Yeah, Spike. I want you."

Suddenly it was too much. The realisation was like lightning; electricity and fire were burning him up inside. Apart from that one time under the school, he had never felt his soul so strongly. And maybe he'd changed in the intervening century but Xander hadn't. Alexander hadn't. The man he'd loved for decades; had wanted even when he didn't understand why or how. And the man he'd wanted for months and whom, he could admit in the privacy of his own head, he maybe was starting to love a little too.

And they were here and they were his and they were fragments coming together in his mind until the centuries bled together and there was just one smile, one face, one man: Xander and Alexander. His.

He needed to feel.... Faster than thought his jeans were undone and flying across to join Xander's shirt, and Xander's boxers were gone and he didn't care how because he needed to feel.


Xander flailed out with his right hand toward the bed-side table and Spike paused long enough in his assault to look up at his face. "Top drawer," Xander gasped out. "Lube."

Spike raised an eyebrow but obediently leant over and pulled out a small, mostly full tube. "Well, aren't you the regular little Boy Scout," he smirked.

Xander's eyes sparkled with dark amusement. "You should see me with knots," he murmured. Spike shuddered. That was one kink they would _

definitely have to explore farther at some point.

For the moment, however, he straddled Xander's waist and opened the little tube in his hands. "You got a preference, Xan?"

"Um... no, I guess not." Spike turned away from squeezing the sticky jelly onto his fingers at the tone. He tilted his head curiously. Xander looked kind of... nervous, although he also looked like he was trying to hide it. Spike's head was suddenly very clear.

"Xander, have you done this before?" he asked pointedly, narrowing his eyes.

Xander shot him an irritated look. "I'm hardly a virgin, and do you think we could discuss this later, Spike?"

He thrust up then and it was almost enough to make Spike forget what he was thinking about. He grit his teeth and lay down on Xander's chest, shuddering when his nipples slid against warm, slick skin. "That wasn't a 'yes', Mate," he growled into Xander's ear.

Xander arched against him in retaliation, scratching fingers down his spine, turning his head to leave long, lingering licks down the side of his face and taking his earlobe between blunt teeth. If it had gone on one half-bloody-second longer Spike would have capitulated and just gotten the hell on with it. But Xander sighed and said, "No, if we're going to get pedantic about it. I haven't exactly done this before. But, yes, I'm perfectly well aware of how it works."

Spike thought about this for a moment as he buried his head in Xander's shoulder, raising the blood to the surface with his blunt teeth, then lathing the red, heated skin with his tongue.

"Top, then," he said eventually and with no further warning reached down and smothered Xander's cock in the cool liquid, which produced a very gratifying moan and an even more gratifying leap of said cock. Then, in another faster-than-conscious-thought move - and god but it was times like this he loved being a vampire - Spike was on his back, Xander was leaning over him and he had one leg hooked over the man's shoulder.

He grinned wolfishly up into wide eyes. And watched as they narrowed and glinted and a small smile appeared that seemed to say he was in for one hell of a pounding. He just smiled wider. "Okay, then," Xander answered.

Rational thought was pretty much left for dead after that as Spike yanked Xander's head down to fuck his mouth with his tongue even as slick fingers breached his entrance and stroked and circled and prodded and fuck he cried into Xander's mouth. Two, three, god yes, more and there was no more kissing, there was no more reason, there was just Xander, staring at him, inching into him, filling him.

"Xander," he heard himself moan. "Alexander," when the shadows covered half his face and it was okay, because he was both, one and the same and he couldn't remember if he was William or Spike or if they were the same and how many people were in this bed?

He knew he was shouting, could feel his fingers digging into corded muscle, hear the grunts as Xander continued to slam into him, feel fingers around his dick and breath against his face and little tiny shocks every time he heard 'Spike' and shudders when it changed to 'Wil', because no-one had ever called him that, not like this. And for a split second everything was crystal, clear and shimmering and he could feel it, he could feel all of it, everything he was, everything he could be refracted through this one moment. Then Spike's eyes slipped shut at the last moment as waves of pleasure crashed through him and the world shattered around him.

The living, the dead, the past, the future. Spike... William... They were gone, they were nothing, he was nothing, and he didn't have to exist anywhere but here and now.

A hand touched his face, then, and his eyes fluttered open to see Xander's eyes glazed, heavy... smiling.

And the world didn't come crashing back down. He didn't remember his name and all the guilt and the remorse that wet along with it. His heart didn't harden, his mind didn't shy away from consequences and possibilities. And something in his soul unfurled, relaxed, looked up into one warm, caring eye and found itself. Found itself free.

He smiled then. Not much of a smile, what with the whole recovering from mind-blowing sex, but a real one. Just because he could.

He could see the relief when Xander smiled back. He was a little surprised to realise that Xander had collapsed on top of him, now that the man lifted himself on shaking arms and rolled to the side. They both groaned when Xander slid out of him and Spike noticed in an apathetic sort of way the liquid seeping down his thighs. He'd do something about it just as soon as the tingling stopped.

He smiled at the ceiling and wished vaguely for a pack of cigarettes. The boy was one hell of a shag. Not that he'd expected it to be bad... and it had been just as intense as he'd always imagined. He guessed he hadn't really known what to expect. Still didn't know what to expect. Like most of his plans, this one had sort of petered out somewhere around 'get him into bed'. He found, though, despite that whole nightmare first time with Buffy, he really wasn't worried.

Xander's eyes drifted shut as they lay there. Spike listened to his heart as it slowed down, wanted to reach over and feel it, but didn't. Eventually his breathing evened out and Spike assumed he must have drifted off, so he was startled when Xander spoke suddenly.

"You okay?" He sounded concerned, but not overly so, more interested. Spike was surprised, though; he hadn't expected the question, hadn't thought up an answer but figured if he owed him nothing else, he owed this man an honest answer.

"Yeah, I think so. Better than a trip to Disneyland, that," he said softly to the ceiling.

There was silence from beside him. He noticed the waterstain on the cornice by the window. Then movement and the warm heat that was Xander was gone. He did look over then, to see Xander sitting beside him, looking at him and the light from the other room threw half of him into shadow so he could see one shoulder, one arm, one hand reaching out to hover over his body and one living, feeling eye shining with more than just reflected illumination.

And once again he was caught. Held motionless by the soft, wry turn of his lips, the rough line of his chin, the faint light that glinted and reflected in the depths of that eye.

It was everything he had ever wanted to see.

He sat up, leaned forward until he was close enough to feel the air as it was stirred when Xander blinked. Then the only thing left to do was move in and kiss away the tiny bead of moisture that had thought to slip unnoticed down the boy's cheek. He smiled when Xander did, let himself rest against the face that he loved when Xander's eye slipped shut and moved away when he felt the laughter, the joy, because that was something he needed to see.

He was beautiful, he was so beautiful, with his hair going in a million different directions, his body playing with the shadows so that every time he looked there was something else to see and the whole of him wearing nothing but a smile. "Thank you, Spike," he said. He reached out to twine their hands together and in the half light Spike couldn't tell where one of them started and the other finished.

"You helped me find myself," Spike murmured as he stared at that little knot of both of them. "Again"

Then listened to what he'd just said and snorted, rolling his eyes and raising his brows in apology as he glanced up at Xander.

Xander just smirked at him, obviously prepared to forgive the sentimentality in light of recent events. "I have something for you," he said unexpectedly.

Spike mentally shook his head as his thoughts changed gears. He leered. "Something else? Xander, I'm touched. Oh, no, wait, we already did that, didn't we?"

"Something else, oh you of the one-track-mind." He received a sharp nudge in the thigh and a quick grin. Xander leant over and took something out of the bed-side draw. He hesitated, looking at Spike uncertainly for a long moment, then handed him a flat piece of paper.

Curious, Spike moved into a beam of light and looked down into three faces he hadn't seen in over a hundred years. "How... When...?"

He glanced sharply up at Xander, who had looked away and was fidgeting with the sheet wrapped around his waist. This time he didn't reign in the urge to still the movement. At his touch Xander turned to him with a wry smile. "Your mom gave it to me. After dinner when you went to the door. I told her I wanted something to remember you by, both of you, so she gave me this." He shrugged. "This is a copy of it, anyway. I've got the original in my bag. It was Will's idea to do a little computer magic and put me in. I didn't even know you could do that sort of thing. What do you think?"

Spike looked at the photo again. Mother, exactly as he remembered her. Soft smile, loving eyes, pale, lined face... beautiful. Himself; evidence of everything he'd spent a hundred and twenty years trying not to be and failing miserably time and time again. And Alexander; who held a piece of his past, his present, and his future. Honestly? He wasn't sure he knew what to think.

A pale finger appeared to trace the line of Mother's face, then tapped against the paper. Spike looked up. "It's a reminder, I guess," Xander said thoughtfully, gazing at the photograph. "Of who you are."

"I know who I am. One of those things that's kinda hard to forget."

Xander grinned then. "And I know who you were. Don't forget that either. I'm probably the only person on the planet who does."

Spike frowned. "Is that a threat, mate?" It didn't feel like a threat, but...

"No. That's the point. What have I got to threaten you with?"

William. His past... was just another part of him.

He grinned then too, lying back and pulling Xander on top of him. "Well, there's that fact that I had sex with you." He shuddered. "Certainly don't want that gettin' around."

Xander's eyes lit up. "Aha. So, note to self, buy video camera next time I seduce Spike. Of course, next time will probably be easier if I work on weakening your defences now..." He ground his pelvis against Spike's, who bit back a moan.

"I'd like to see you try it. And what's all this about you seducing me? I..."

"Ah ah, Spike, save the confessions for the camera. Wouldn't want perfectly good blackmail material going to waste."

Spike chuckled. "I'll show you blackmail material, love..."

Xander grinned. "Oh, yeah, this is gonna be fun..."

 



The End





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