Civilized Conversations


Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Chapter One - The Living

Breaking The Mould

Spike was pretending to be dead.

It was proving harder than he would have expected.

He could do the whole not breathing, having no heartbeat thing alright. It was the feeling he was having a problem with.

He could feel the hard, slightly lumpy mattress he was lying on pressing against his hip-bones. The blanket was scratchy under his forearms and he kept consciously having to remind himself not to move his palms against the material. He was fairly certain that if he was dead he wouldn't be able to feel the weight of his legs, crossed at the ankle, the rough press of his jeans or the smooth slide of his t-shirt over his skin. He knew he didn't want to look up and see the cracked off-white ceiling of yet another dingy basement, to hear the movement of all the other bodies shifting in their sleep, or pacing around trying to work up the courage to risk sleeping. He certainly didn't want to think about what a certain slayer might be dreaming: whether she had found a rare moment of peace or whether she was lying awake, pressed down by the weight of too much responsibility, too much grief.

He had to resist the urge to sigh, which told him just how well his pretending-to-be-dead thing was working. Pointless, really, trying not to think, when you had to keep reminding yourself to do it. Even after months of having a soul, he wasn't getting any better at it. Maybe, if the world didn't end, he'd take up meditation, or something.

Or not.

The whole soul thing had been a shitty idea from the get-go. If he was gonna be honest, he wasn't sure he wanted to make it through the fight, only to be left alone. With no Buffy and an eternity before him. He'd never really thought about eternity before. It was enough just to live for the moment: for the current scheme; fight; kill; drop of blood; whatever. Now… well, now it was almost a relief to know that the chances were high that eternity wasn't anything he was going to have to worry about.

And now he was getting all existential again. Brooding, one might even say. With a mental sigh, he gave up on playing dead and opened his eyes.

He could hear someone moving around in the kitchen at the top of the stairs, opening the fridge, closing it again. Not enough time for them to have taken anything out. The porch door swinging open, unlocked as always, a slight knock as it was caught before it could swing shut with a thud. A sigh, then the footsteps paced over to the basement door. It was probably Andrew, maybe Xander. The steps were too heavy for one of the girls, and Giles almost never came down to his basement without Buffy anymore.

Sure enough, Xander's feet appeared moments later, padding with exaggerated care down the stairs. Spike didn't move, but neither did he close his eyes against the intrusion. Xander looked uncomfortable, hesitant. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and just looked in Spike's direction for a moment, obviously unable to tell if the vampire was awake or not. He took another small step forward before stopping. Spike watched through slitted eyes as resignation flashed over Xander's face, wondering just exactly what the man was doing down here. Then, with a self-disgusted roll of his eye, Xander shook his head and turned around to leave.

Without really thinking about it, Spike sat up, swinging his feet off the bed and planting them on the floor. Xander spun around at the sound, his eye widening comically as he took in Spike's new position. He took a few steps into the room.

"Xander." Spike tilted his head slightly.

"Spike." Xander's tone was bland, maybe slightly amused, but mostly empty.

He just kept standing there, fidgeting with the hem of his plain white T-shirt. Eventually, Spike lifted one corner of his mouth in a slightly mocking smirk, "Come into my parlour." Said the spider to the fly.

Xander looked startled for a moment, then amused as he flicked him a derisive smirk and let go the hem of his shirt. Spike just raised an eyebrow, his smile widening slightly.

Xander shook his head and moved over to sit on a box near the cot. "So… can't sleep?"

Spike shrugged. "Not with you clodhopping about upstairs."

Xander grimaced. "Sorry, didn't mean to wake you." Spike was surprised. Wasn't often he warranted an apology from Harris.

"'S no problem. Creature of the night and all that." Xander nodded absently, his glance darting around the basement before coming to rest on Spike. He opened his mouth once but closed it again, letting the silence lengthen.

Eyeing the boy curiously, Spike fished out a packet of cigarettes, pulling one out and toying with it but not lighting up. Buffy didn't like him to smoke in the house. "You come down here for a reason, mate? Or didja just feel like staring at me?"

Xander rolled his eye at this. "Yeah, that's it Spike, 'cause you're so interesting and good-looking, my day's just not complete without a good stare."

"Hey, you said it, not me. At least you've got taste, I'll give you that."

Xander snorted and Spike grinned.

"Actually, I, ah, wanted to ask you a favour."

"Is that right? And why would you think I'd want to do you a favour?"

Xander quirked an eyebrow and widened his eye innocently. "Why, out of the goodness of your soul, naturally."

Spike shot him a sour look and he grinned. "What is it, then?"

Xander shrugged uncomfortably and looked away, one hand rising unconsciously to run over the edge of his eye patch. "I just… wanted to get out of the house for a while, you know? I dunno, go for a walk or something."

"What's that got to do with me?"

"Well, I can't exactly go out alone, now can I?" He didn't seem very pleased about this. "Bringers, vampires, assorted demons of the hellmouth, the First. Any of this ringing a bell? And me with only one eye. I was kinda hoping to save myself for when going down fighting might actually make a difference. Hence the me coming downstairs to ask for a favour."

"So you want me to babysit, is that right? Can't you get one of your actual friends to go with you?" Spike cursed the bitterness he hadn't been able to keep from his voice, and winced inwardly when Xander went suddenly still, even as a wide, empty grin flashed over his face.

"Right, sure. Lovely talking with you Spike, as always. I'll just let you get back to playing dead." With that, he spun around and stomped back up the stairs.

Spike determinedly didn't move. He had no desire to wander around in the middle of the night just because the boy was feeling a little claustrophobic. He could just go back to his room and tough it out with the rest of them. He wouldn't go anywhere on his own. Even Xander had more sense than that.

Spike listened, but didn't hear footsteps going up the stairs.

He did hear the front door opened and shut quietly.

"Fuck," he murmured angrily, jumping to his feet. What the hell did the wanker think he was doing going out by himself? Buffy would be seriously pissed if anything happened to her precious carpenter. Although given the way they'd all treated her recently, he couldn't manage to work up much in the way of sympathy himself. He thought momentarily about leaving Xander to what was sure to be his fate. Then the fucking conscience kicked in and he stalked up the stairs. He consoled himself with the thought that he was only doing this for Buffy. He had absolutely no concern for the boy's welfare. None at all. Oh, fuck off, he told himself resentfully.

He wrenched open the front door, only just remembering to close it quietly, fully prepared to find Xander and knock some sense into him, assuming some demon hadn't got to him first. Possibly even then.

So it was something of a surprise to see the man leaning up against the very tree he, himself, had spent so much of his time under; back hunched, hands in his pockets, obviously not going anywhere, staring out at the night with an unguarded expression Spike didn't think he'd ever seen before.

Xander looked old. Older than he had any right to. That much grief, hopelessness and weary resignation had no place on a face that young. He looked like a man who had given up, had seen everything life had to offer and still found it wanting. Spike had seen his fair share of death; he knew what it took to get people to this point. The point where there was nothing left but acceptance and, maybe, a little relief. Angelus had always hated to see that in the eyes of his victims. It meant he hadn't broken them, not entirely. That there was a part of them he couldn't reach and, even if it allowed them nothing else, they would die with dignity, no matter how humiliating he made the act.

Spike wondered in that moment if he'd ever actually seen Xander Harris, if any of them had.

He was distantly pleased to note that Xander looked up quickly as his boots hit the decking of the front veranda, one hand bringing up an axe he hadn't noticed resting against the tree. When Xander saw who it was, he relaxed, but didn’t put down the weapon. "Spike." He sounded surprised but Spike wasn't really paying attention.

He looked seriously at Xander's face as he paced over the lawn. The expression had disappeared the second Xander had noticed him, falling automatically back to the half-mocking half-serious expression he usually wore. The one that didn't show any of what the last seven years had really done to him. And it was so natural, so familiar, that Spike started to doubt that v he'd actually seen anything else.

Spike stared at him, searching, but couldn't see anything. Xander frowned, his face becoming defensive. "I wasn't going to do anything stupid. You don't have to worry about me getting hurt and Buffy getting angry." Spike almost missed the bitter undercurrents to that speech.

He narrowed his eyes and came to a decision. "Let's go then." He jerked his head towards the road and turned to wait for Xander. The boy gazed at him searchingly before, apparently, finding whatever he was looking for and pushing himself off the tree with a grateful, if guarded, expression.

Spike let Xander lead, although he made sure to stay close to his side. They didn't chat. Xander didn't say anything, give any indication where they were going, if they were doing anything more than just wandering around. But Spike wasn't all that surprised when they stopped outside a fairly generic looking two-story suburban house about fifteen minutes from the Summers place. It was dark, empty, like just about every other house in town, but Xander was gazing at this one with a small smile on his face.

It looked vaguely familiar, but it took Spike a moment to place it. Willow's house. He hadn't been here more than once or twice.

Without looking at him, Xander made his way around the side of the house and slipped into the back yard. Spike followed curiously. He found Xander gazing wryly at the carefully sculpted garden beds, perfectly kept lawn, stylish wooden deck. It was one of the most non-child-friendly gardens Spike had ever seen. Not that he made a habit of noticing these things, but still…

"Hasn't changed a bit," Xander said with a quiet snort and an amused expression. He shook his head and looked around for a moment, clearly lost in pleasant memories. He pointed to a stylish stone retaining wall. "Fell off that wall when I was six. Damn thing's only three feet high. Most kids would have been lucky to come away with a couple of bruises. I broke my wrist. First time I'd ever broken anything." It said something that remembering that would make the boy wistful.

"Ever the klutz, huh?" Spike commented quietly, going for superior disdain and failing miserably.

Xander just laughed. "You know it. Was worth it though. Willow and Jesse practically lived at my house for two weeks. Willow played doctor. Looked after me better than my mom even. And she made Jesse fetch and carry for her the entire time. He felt so guilty for knocking me, making me lose my balance in the first place…" He trailed off, the easy smile becoming pained. "Yeah, well." He shrugged uncomfortably, not meeting Spike's eye, then turned and made his way back out to the street.

"So, who's this Jesse bloke then," Spike asked once they'd started walking again.

Spike didn't miss the cynical look that immediately appeared on Xander's face. He hadn't really expected them to be able to hold a civilised conversation anyway, but something in him had wanted to try. But Xander surprised him yet again, closing his mouth and glancing at Spike curiously for a moment. Looked like this little stroll down memory lane had put the boy in a good mood.

"An old friend," he answered simply. "My best friend, along with Willow. We met him when we were six, and for the next ten years it was just the three of us. We had lots in common. We all had parents who ignored us. Mine because they were too busy shouting at one and other, Willow's because they were too focussed on their work and Jesse's parents were too wrapped up in each other to even notice they had a kid most of the time. And we were all only-children, so we had each other."

"So where is he now?"

"Gone," Xander said shortly. Spike shot him a look, but the boy's face had shut down.

The next place they stopped at Spike was all too familiar with. He glared at the house, grimacing. He was so lost in unpleasant memories that when Xander chuckled he turned on him resentfully. But Xander just smirked at the murderous look on his face.

"Good times, huh?" The weird thing was that he looked like he meant it.

Spike shook his head in disbelief. "Oh, sure, I love thinking about being tied to a chair in your dank, smelly basement."

"Oh, come on. I only tied you up once, and we both know you could have broken those ropes the second I fell asleep. Besides, you were an evil vampire. I think, all things considered, I was a very good host." His smirk hadn't faded the whole time he'd been speaking, and Spike was having to work at not smiling himself.

"Well, it's the principle of the thing, innit? There I was, in pain, not able to kill anyone at all, but do I get any sympathy? No, I get tied to a chair."

Xander was looking at him knowingly. "Poor baby. I was sympathetic on the inside, I promise. Why d'you think I tied you to that chair?"

He raised his eyebrows and Spike looked at him suspiciously. Then his eyes widened. "Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell me you weren't really afraid of me? You were just trying to make me feel better?" he exclaimed, rather put out.

"Would I do something like that?" Xander asked blandly, his eye laughing.


"Well there you go then."

"You know what? Yeah, you would. It's just the sort of thing you would have done. Can't stand to see a person in pain, that's you. And now I don't know if I'm s'posed to be pissed off or not," he groused, glaring. Actually, as much as he despaired to think how low that damn chip had brought him, he was kind of stuck on the thought that this boy, even back then, had somehow seen what he was going through and tried to make it easier; even if it was by tying him to a chair.

In fact, Xander had always treated him as friend of sorts. Sure, every time he did something particularly evil he was cut off, at least once almost literally. But for some reason, Xander'd always forgiven, or forgotten, or something, eventually. He was probably just incapable of holding a grudge. And he did have a point about the basement. Whatever else it was, life had been less complicated back then. He might have liked some of the Scoobies occasionally, but he'd still hated them. Maybe they were good times, he thought wryly.

Xander grinned. "Whatever's less likely to get me killed. I'm gonna assume you don't want to visit my dank, smelly basement again?" Spike just looked at him. "Ok, then. I'll take that as a 'Fuck, no'. I just wanted to make sure the 'rents were gone, anyway. Away we go." He turned to face Spike expectantly.

"You're not going inside?" He was surprised again. He'd figured they were doing a little down memory lane thing.

But Xander shook his head. "Nah, there's not much in there I want to remember. Except Willow and Anya, and yourself of course." This said with a slightly mocking grin that held confusing serious overtones.

Spike shook them off, though, and turned back to the street. Xander fell in step beside him, and they started walking. "Why'd you even care about them? Your folks are wankers. Speaking from personal experience."

Xander didn't seem to know whether to agree or be offended. "Wankers they may be, but just because I don't like them doesn't mean I want them to die." He smirked. "I don't like you, but I don't want you to die either."

Spike raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Since when? You've always had a 'Stake Spike' campaign going."

"Well, yeah, but that's just 'cause I didn't like you, not because I wanted you to die. I've saved you at least three times."

"And personally come after with me axe at least once." Xander was silent for a while, and Spike realised he probably shouldn't have brought that up.

"That was different. And you're right, I would have killed you then. I would have done the same after I found out what you did to Buffy, if you hadn't left. Before that… You're a vampire, if you did something evil, that's just you. I thought you'd changed. To be honest, I think you did. Neither of those things was about you being a demon, they were about you being in pain. I can't… I don't have any right to hate you for that." He raised his head at the end of this speech, meeting Spike's eyes briefly, before turning away and hurrying down the street.

Spike let him stay a few steps ahead, thoughts swirling around his head. It felt like Xander was offering him… what? Apology? Forgiveness? He'd never asked for either, let alone expected to receive them. Partly because of himself but more because it never would have occurred to him that Xander would stoop to offering them. He shook his head. How had he managed to miss all of this, miss Xander, so completely? He didn't understand why but he felt something in his chest constrict.

He ran a hand over his chin, levelling a final considering glance at the man in front of him, before taking a couple of quick strides and falling into step beside him. Xander glanced over and Spike sent him a faint smile. Xander responded with one of his own and they both allowed themselves to relax a little. Whatever had just happened, Spike knew it was new, for them. And he found himself unexpectedly curious to find out what it meant.

Chapter Two - The Dead

Formerly, Completely, Currently, Potentially, Imminently, etc

They seemed to be heading towards the school, and Spike was about to say something when they suddenly veered off into one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. "Ah, the cemetery; playground of those in serious need of a real life, I think Buffy and Willow would agree. You know what's disturbing? That the thought that so many good times were had in this place or one like it is so totally not disturbing at all any more. I think I'm jaded." He shook his head sadly, grinning.

"Jaded, insane, pathetic, whatever floats your boat," Spike muttered, smirking.

Xander elbowed him lightly. He shoved back, rocking Xander sideways a bit. "And what does that make you then, he-who-lives-in-a-crypt?"

Spike arched a haughty eyebrow. "Dead, mate."

"Yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses." Xander grinned and Spike bit back a smile of his own.

Any and all amusement fled when they stopped by Buffy's grave. The headstone was still there. Spike had no idea why they hadn't taken it down when she came back. He'd avoided it even before then, and had given it a lot of thought after, but hadn't been able to bring himself to come back. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing down tears that threatened to form and turned away. This was a damning reminder of a past he didn't want to remember and a very real future he wasn't sure he had any way of preventing.

He turned to Xander, meaning to drag him away, but the small smile on the man's face as he gazed at the headstone brought him up short, sending a cold frission down his spine. When the man spoke, it was as though he were merely re-living a pleasant memory.

"We were supposed to die together. Willow and I decided, way back in high school. Prob'ly around the time you showed up. We made a pact. She wasn't gonna die as long as we were still around to protect her and if she went down fighting, we'd be there beside her." He laughed easily. Spike stared at him, appalled, but fascinated. He forgot, sometimes, just how much history those three had together, before he ever had any claim on Buffy. "We used to read all the epitaphs and try to come up with cool things to put on ours after we died. That was Buffy's favourite. 'She saved the world. A lot.'" He grinned. "Willow's was going to say 'She helped to save the world.' I wanted mine to be 'He brought coffee. And donuts.' Of course, the Buffster and Wills, being the girls they are, vetoed that. Maybe we'll get to use them this time. Although personally, I reckon we could come up with something a little more interesting. I'll have to ask them." He shook his head, grinning down at the grave.

Spike felt a little sick. Maybe it was just the soul, but the thought of those three kids wandering through the cemetery, thinking up things to write on their headstones, not just in a vague fifty years down the track way but with the complete understanding that it could happen at any time… And then they'd actually used it. God, it was more than just wrong. And how could Xander just stand there and calmly talk about what they were going to put on Buffy's headstone? Didn't the wanker realise they were going to be dead? Chances were no-one would ever even find their bodies, let alone give them a proper burial.

"This isn't a game you know, Xander," Spike said angrily. The man looked up at him in surprise. "Once the pieces go down, you don't get to pick them up and try again. People are going to die, quite probably all of us and there's not enough magic in the world to bring them back, even if you are still around to try it. Don't you reckon it's about time you started taking that seriously?"

He received a cold smile in reply. "You think that'd make a difference, Spike?"

"Well it might show you actually felt something about all this. You're all the same you know? Buffy, Willow, even Dawn. Act like you don't fucking care. You're not fooling anyone but yourselves."

Xander gazed at him for a moment, then the icy expression started to melt. "Well, sure, that's the point." He quirked his lips fondly and continued before Spike could interrupt. "Let me tell you what Buffy wanted to put on my grave, Spike." He frowned a little. "I've never told anyone this."

"What's that then?"

Xander looked Spike directly in the eye and for a second he thought he caught a glimpse of that expression he'd seen under the tree in the Summerses' front yard. "'He made the world worth saving.' We know, Spike. We'll always know. That's all that matters. Just because you haven't been paying attention, doesn't mean there's nothing there."

"You say that now. But not two days ago you were all for getting rid of Buffy and replacing her with someone else." He was aware of the anger that coloured his voice. They'd had no right to treat her that way. Everything she'd done, she'd done for them and they sent her away because they weren't entirely comfortable with her methods. "Do you have any idea how much that hurt her?"

He saw the pain flash across Xander's face and was savagely pleased by the reaction. But Xander shook his head and answered calmly. "We could barely feel her, Willow, Giles and me. She'd locked herself away, forgotten what she was fighting for. Everyone else might have thought it was because she was being rash, making bad decisions, but that's really why we let her go. Nothing we'd done so far had helped. It was all we had left to try."

"What the hell are you talking about, Harris? She fights because some gits somewhere decided it was her destiny to save the world. She never once forgot her responsibility, and she's done everything she can to make sure we're ready."

"Sure. But she lost sight of why. Why she started, why she kept going. It's not about strength, or responsibility. It's about love. When it comes right down to it, that's all it's ever about. You'll fight because you love Buffy. She'll never admit it, but Anya fights because she loves people, all of them, for all their faults, and she doesn't want there to be a world without them. Willow's the same, trying to look out for the whole world. Me, I couldn't really give a shit about the rest of the world, but there is no way in hell I'll not be beside Buffy, Willow, Giles, Anya and Dawn when all this goes down. Buffy cares about the rest of the world, too, but for her the fight has always been about family. She lost sight of us. She would never have had a chance without her heart. She needed to remember that."

Buffy had once called Xander her heart. That no matter how much it hurt, he would always tell her the truth and that no matter what she did, he would always love her. She'd said he was a good person and a constant reminder of what she was fighting for. Spike had scoffed, naturally, pointing out what a useless waste of space the boy was, for which she had bloodied his nose, but she'd never brought it up again. 'He made the world worth saving'. He wondered if Xander knew just how much Buffy meant that and felt a momentary pang of jealousy. She would never say the same about him.

"So you want me to believe that was all just for her own good?"

"It was for all of us." He shrugged. "And it worked. You brought her back to us. She's ready now. We can feel her again."

Spike didn't have anything to say to that, and after a moment, Xander jerked his head towards the far side of the graveyard. "Come on," he said shortly.

"Is that why you're here?" he asked as they made their way across the graves. "Are you looking for something to fight for?"

Xander smiled a little sadly and shook his head. "Nah, I told you, I've got my reasons. This is just me reminiscing. The fact that I'm doing it in a graveyard is simply a deeply depressing testimony to my life so far."

The stopped in front of a wall covered in plaques. "Missing, presumed dead," Xander explained briefly. There had to be hundreds of them. "There's one in each cemetery. Naturally, most of them really are dead, vampires who didn't get buried by their families before they rose. Then they're staked, or they take off. People might not know exactly what goes on around here. But no-one holds out much hope for missing persons. Most of these go up after just a couple of years."

"Thought it was five years for missing to be presumed dead," Spike commented.

"It is."

"You know many of them?"

"Yeah, a few."

Xander propped his axe against the wall then fished a picture out of his wallet and handed it to Spike. Willow, Xander, both smiling, both looking criminally young, and another boy, "Jesse," Xander said. "Taken a couple of days before we met Buffy."

He didn't look familiar. "He bought it, did he?" He blanched suddenly. "It wasn't-" He stopped himself. He couldn't think about the fact that he'd probably killed quite a few of the boy's friends. There was nothing he could do about it now and even if he had, he didn't need to justify himself. He was a vampire. He killed people to survive. Still…he'd also never had to deal with the human fallout of his actions. He didn't know if he could deal with being the one to have put that pain in the boy's face.

But Xander, with that startling insight he displayed occasionally, answered anyway. "No, you didn't kill him." His voice was distant, pained. "It was a game at first, you know. Vampires, monsters, our new friend the superhero. Even going to the library was suddenly fun." He turned to the wall and tapped a small plaque in the top right-hand corner of the wall. Spike turned to look. 'Jesse Brian Taylor 1981-1996 We Live In Hope'. Spike frowned. That was before Buffy had come to Sunnydale, wasn't it?

"What happened?" he asked, almost despite himself. He didn't really care about Xander's childhood traumas. Except he thought maybe he did. He'd never given Xander a lot of thought. They'd spent a lot of time together without ever having really made an effort to get to know each other, which had been fine by him. Xander hadn't really been worth his time anyway. But he was starting to realise there was more to this man than he would have thought.

"I couldn't protect him. The first of many people I couldn't protect, really. Darla got him, and because he knew the slayer, she used him as bait. She turned him." He glanced over at Spike, one corner of his mouth twitching upwards. "Does that make the two of you related?"

Spike shrugged uncomfortably. "Nah, not really. He's probably just a minion. I would've known if there was another childe in the line of Aurelius. Where did he go?"

Xander looked surprised. "Go?"

"Well, yeah, the slayer wouldn't have staked one've your friends. Didn't she give him a chance to leave?"

Spike got the feeling he'd just said the wrong thing. Xander's face clouded, shock and grief warring for a moment, before he shook his head and closed his eye. "She never got the chance. I killed him. The first vampire I ever killed. Less than a week after Buffy first arrived. Didn't feel so much like a game after that. I never told his family what'd happened. I didn't know how. They put this up just before they moved away three years ago."

Well, that explained why Xander'd hated him and Angel so much. Easier to believe that he'd done the right thing, that he hadn't murdered his friend if he could believe that all vampires were evil. It said something about his strength that he'd been able to get past it.

"It wasn't your friend," he said. Xander turned to him curiously. Spike closed his eyes briefly and continued. "I… when I was first turned, I turned my mother." He had no idea why he was telling Xander this, except he knew the man wouldn't use it against him. And maybe he needed to say it as much as Xander needed to hear it. "She was dying, but I… I made her a monster. Then I staked her. Dru, she made me different, but I couldn't do whatever it was she did."

"Yeah, I know. But… thank you." He gave Spike an only-slightly wavery grin. "My resentment may have occasionally gotten the better of me." Spike snorted and the grin solidified. "I repeat, occasionally. And you can't deny that you are an asshole. But it was pretty obvious even to me that you were never just the same as all the other vampires."

Spike smirked at Xander. "I'm not entirely sure how to take that, mate."

Xander grinned as he tucked the photo back into his wallet, then slung his arm around Spike's shoulder, picked up his axe, and turned them towards the exit. "Oh, feel free to take it as an insult. It's been months at least since I've mentioned how much I dislike you."

"Hasn't occurred to you?"

He grinned. "I must be slipping."

Spike smirked. "Nah, you just don't wanna admit you like me."

"Hey, I'm not stupid. I do something like that and you'll never let me live it down, will you?"

"Damn straight."Xander shot him a genuine smile and he felt that something tighten in his chest again. Maybe he wasn't ready to face eternity but, for the first time in a long time, the thought of living through the battle wasn't so terrifying. There was promise here. Friendship offered. And he discovered that he wouldn't mind finding out where it might lead. Even if Buffy died, or decided she didn't want him, maybe there were other things worth fighting for, worth living for.

He smiled back, and saw the pleasure and the understanding in Xander's face.

Chapter Three - The Past

Common ground; reasons shared

They started walking again. "You know, Dru almost turned me once," Xander commented, glancing at Spike out of the corner of his eye.

"What, when?"

Xander smirked at his shocked expression. "Few years back, just after Valentine's Day."

"Why the hell did she want to do that? For that matter, how'd you manage to stop her?"

The boy's grin widened. "She said my face was like a poem. Asked me how I felt about eternity. Just think, you and me, we could have been together forever. What, we would have been like, brothers, or something, right?"

Spike shuddered, managing to look suitably disgusted, although this didn't seem to faze Xander. "Eternity? I would have staked you in a matter of days," he sneered. "And Dru might've called us brothers, but the things she'd have us doing together would have been anything but fraternal, Pet." He swept his eyes over Xander's body suggestively, and chuckled when his face scrunched up in an 'eeww' expression.

"Ok, and so much more than I needed to know, and oh so very grateful I got saved." But his eye was laughing.

"You'd have made a terrible vampire, anyway, Mate," he smirked, patting Xander on the back consolingly.

Xander glanced at him, and Spike could tell he was about to be told something unexpected. "Actually, Anya tells me I made quite a good vampire. Willow and I were apparently the Master's favourites. Very evil."

Spike just raised an eyebrow. "Alternate universe?"

Xander grinned and shook his head. "Jaded, I tell you. That should so not have been your first thought."

Spike snorted. "Thought that was pretty conservative, actually."

"Exactly," Xander said wryly. "Wishverse, actually, which created an alternate universe, or tapped into one, or something. I don’t know how it all works, really."

"Someone wished you were a vampire?"

"Cordelia. And she supposedly wished that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. Me being a vamp was just a side effect."

Spike thought about that for a moment. "Nasty." Especially with the soul, he meant it.

"Yeah, you woulda loved it." Xander flicked him a considering glance. "The old you, anyway."

Spike just shrugged. Old, new. Most of the time he felt exactly the same. He supposed he was probably making different choices than he would have and whatnot. Especially when he looked back at some of the things he'd done, he was horrified at how he had acted, although generally whatever he'd done had seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. But it wasn't like his soul was whispering in one ear while his demon corrupted him from the other.

"Still can't see it, but then Dru did have a fondness for turning utter gits." He was proof enough of that.

Xander shot him a knowing glance. "She was under a love spell that I'd had Amy cast. It was supposed to make Cordelia fall in love with me. Which it naturally didn't, because she was already in love with me. Which is ever so much easier to see in retrospect. It did, however, make every other woman in Sunnydale fall madly in love with me. Take a moment to picture it," he smirked self-deprecatingly. "Buffy wanted to have sex with me, before Amy turned her into a rat. I think you can appreciate just how hard turning her down was. Every girl in the school, the teachers, the lunch lady – and you really had to know the lunch lady for the full horror of that to register – Willow, Joyce, all chasing me around town trying to kill me because if they couldn't have me, no-one could."

Xander was chuckling, and Spike shot him a look verging on fondness. Xander had never really told him anything about his life, although he'd picked up some of the highlights here and there. "Wait a minute, Buffy wanted to sleep with you, and you said no?"

Xander looked amused. "Of course. She wasn't herself. I'd never take advantage of her."

Spike shook his head in disgust. "Bleedin' white hat. Don't know what you're missing."

Xander raised a cool eyebrow, but said mildly, "Don't talk about Buffy like that. I'm still working on repressing the knowledge that you slept with her. And I do have some idea, you know."

What? He knew Xander'd been in love with Buffy at one stage, but she'd said nothing had ever happened between them. "Trust me mate, your demon bird just doesn't compare." Even a blind and witless human would have picked up the sudden tension radiating from the other man. Spike winced. He was really going to have to start learning to hold his tongue. He wasn't used to saying whatever was on his mind, then feeling bad about it. "Um, sorry. I didn't mean to… you know, bring that up… or – do it – in the first place…" He trailed off uncomfortably, running one hand over his cheekbone. Xander stopped and turned to face him.

After a moment, Spike darted his eyes to the other man's face. Xander looked… well, he didn't look like he was planning on doing anything with the axe, which Spike figured was a step in the right direction. If anything he looked kind of… puzzled. Then he relaxed and shrugged, giving Spike a wry smile. For a moment, Spike was confused. Then he was even more confused as he realised that his apology had been accepted, that Xander had forgiven him and had moved on. He'd thought he'd seen something like that earlier, but it was still unexpected. He was… grateful, he thought. For once, the tight feeling in his chest wasn't balanced by pain or loss, like it always was with Buffy. This was just… good.

"Actually, I wasn't talking about Anya," Xander was saying. "Buffy's not the only slayer in the world, after all." Spike's eyebrow shot up at that and Xander smirked. The boy had bagged a slayer? But Xander rushed on before he could comment. "Besides, you know you'd do exactly the same thing. You haven't taken advantage of Buffy once since you moved in."

He opened his mouth to argue but Xander was right. Still, it was completely different. Buffy hadn't once indicated she wanted to sleep with him. And last night? he thought to himself. She'd invited him into her bed. But not to have sex with, he argued. And if she had been tired and hurt and had turned to him to forget for a while? Would he have done it? Ignore what she needed and give her what they both wanted? Probably not, he sighed. It was almost certainly the soul, interfering with his decision-making process again. But he didn't really want her like that any more. Not that didn't want her, he did. But he wanted her to want him, love him, and that just wasn't likely to happen any time in the near future, as far as he could tell.

He felt Xander glance at his pensive expression and tried to pull himself together. "That's not a bad thing, Spike," he said quietly.

"Yeah. Right. I know. But it's not really a me thing, either, now is it?"

"That would seem to depend entirely on which you we were talking about," Xander said blandly. Spike just grimaced. He really wasn't in the mood for dealing with insightful comments from the glorified bricklayer of the group, however much he might be re-evaluating his impressions of the boy.

"Well then, perhaps not talking about it would be a better solution," he said harshly.

"Ignoring it isn't going to make it any less confusing."

Spike sighed. "Tell you what, if we're all still alive next week, you can go back to deconstructing me then."

Xander shrugged, smirking wryly. "Point."

They had made their way back out onto the street. Xander turned and carefully closed the cemetery gates behind him. A couple of blocks to the left they could see the faint lights of the high-school. Xander didn't seem inclined to walk that way, not that Spike would have let him, but they both stood there for a while, gazing at the place that was either going to see their triumphant saving of the world or their gruesome deaths, possibly both.

Spike had not been thinking about what was going happen tomorrow, but after Xander had brought Buffy up, his thoughts started flitting back there. He was so scared that he wouldn't be able to save her. People were going to die and he didn't want them to. It was such a new sensation. He didn't really care about them but he didn't want them to die, and he didn't know how to save them. He'd been desperately trying not to think about it when Xander came down into his basement.

The walk had helped, although stopping at Buffy's grave certainly hadn't, and Xander's stories had distracted him. But standing here, it all seemed just so inevitable. He could still feel the pull of the hellmouth, not strong enough to control him but always there, in the back of his mind, reminding him that no matter what he did, how hard he tried, he was still evil, would always be essentially evil. He wondered in passing if Xander could feel it. If Buffy or Giles could. What did it take? What did you have to do for the darkness to be able to take hold, call like to like?

Xander seemed so unaware sometimes, like nothing he did touched him. Like the darkness he lived with, fought with, that used him and hurt him and took away all the things he loved didn't seep into his soul. He'd seen Buffy, Willow and Giles dragged under more than once, but never Xander. Perhaps his very powerlessness protected him. Even if he did lose it, what was the worst he could do?

Even as he thought it, Spike knew how stupid that was. You didn't need to have super powers to hurt someone. He'd been told how Warren had killed Tara, almost killed Buffy, with something as innocuous as a gun. Hell, Xander still had a rocket launcher stashed away somewhere. When it came to anger, to hate, there were no guarantees.

Still, as much as the boy had every reason to be as fucked up as the rest of them, Spike couldn't help but think of him as innocent. Untainted. He thought back to the expression he'd seen Xander wearing outside the Summers house not even an hour ago and knew that in a way he was wrong. Xander had given up - but he'd not given in. He was covered in darkness, surrounded by it, but Spike had seen in his gaze that he wouldn't relinquish himself completely. For whatever reason, Xander would never be able to give up that last piece of light, of hope, even for a moment. Which was, of course, part of why he'd make such a crappy vampire.

Consumed by such morose thoughts, he was startled when Xander let out a breath of laughter. He felt momentarily offended. Here he'd been contemplating the nature of the boy's soul and Xander was laughing at him. "What?" he demanded. When Xander smirked and raised his eyebrows he prepared himself for all sorts of denigrating comments about brooding and comparisons with Angel.

But Xander said, "Do you remember the first time we met?" Spike was temporarily derailed by this non-sequitur and didn't answer. "After all the times I happened to be with Buffy when you were stalking her," Xander added after a moment.

"The first time we met? What is this about? And I wasn't stalking her, I was gathering information," he added.

Xander cocked his head. "You're the one who didn't want to talk seriously. First time we met. At the school. And stalking is stalking, Spike," he said with a grin.

Spike snorted, but figured this was better than contemplating death, pain and the nature of evil, which was, he could admit, not nearly as much fun as it used to be. He thought back. "Face to face meeting, right? That would be, what, four years ago? When I came back after Dru dumped me. Clocked you on the head with a microscope when you got in the way of me kidnapping Red." He still felt a little guilty about that, but he was pleased to note that thinking about Dru, or knocking the kid unconscious, didn't leave him wanting to brood for a good few hours. He grinned a little. "Sorry 'bout that too, by the way."

Xander smirked at him. "Gee thanks. Although it would have meant more if you'd said it twelve months ago. But that wasn't the first time." He wandered over to the low retaining wall that surrounded the cemetery and pulled himself up so he was sitting cross-legged, still facing the school. Spike leant beside him and fished out a cigarette.

Lighting up, he took a moment to think about it. Then he shook his head. "Only other time I was at the school was the year before, when Dru was still sick. First instance of the slayer kicking my arse." He couldn't work up much resentment any more. "That what you're talking about?" He glanced over and Xander nodded, a small smile on his face. Spike frowned. "There were kids all over the place. Can't expect me to remember all of them. Where were you, then?"

Xander's smile widened. "You remember when Angel came in, tried to convince you he was still Angelus? He gave you some kid's neck to feed on, then you punched him in the face, called him your… Yoda, was it?"

Spike's eyes narrowed as he thought about Angel. The bastard had really thought he could fool him with that act. They'd been together for nearly thirty years, for fuck's sake, slaughtering all over Europe. "Yeah, I remember it. Wait! That was you?"

Xander smirked. "In the flesh."

"I could have killed you! It never ceases to amaze me just what a complete wanker you really are. Why the hell did you agree to do that?"

Xander's smirk turned wry. "Oh, believe me. That little act was in no way mutual. He just grabbed me around the neck and hauled me inside. I was fully convinced he was just gonna let you kill me, or do it himself. I take it you didn't recognise me?"

"Well, I was a little distracted, and you were just food." Spike shook his head and smiled a little. He could remember the whole thing perfectly. One of the benefits to being a vampire, but he hadn't really been paying attention to anything other than Angel. Although, in retrospect, it was blatantly obvious that it was Xander. If nothing else, then the fact that even as he had been offered as a meal to an evil vampire he had still been talking should have tipped Spike off.

"And that is just one of the many and varied reasons why Angel is so not my favourite vampire. Bastard never even apologised, you know."

"That, I have no trouble whatsoever believing. He always was a self-centred git."

Xander grunted in agreement. "I will never understand what Buffy saw in him. With his whole Captain Mysterioso, oh look at me, I'm all brooding and tortured act."

Spike smirked. "I don't think she was looking at his insides, mate."

Xander frowned and shook his head. "You see now, I don't get that either. That whole hulking wall of muscle thing. At least Riley was a nice guy, to go along with the linebacker physique."

Spike rolled his eyes and spoke without thinking. "Oh, come on. That wanker had about as much personality as a piece of cardboard." Xander narrowed his eye and opened his mouth. But, surprising even himself, Spike raised a hand to forestall what was sure to become their latest shouting match. "Yeah, right, sorry. But I reckon I'm allowed to not like him."

Xander subsided, nodding reluctantly. "He shouldn't have left the way he did."

Which was the least of it, as far as Spike was concerned, but he let the subject drop. "So, you don't think I'm Buffy's type, huh?" he asked, in an attempt to regain some of the levity they'd been sharing.

Xander snorted in amusement and ran his eye over Spike appraisingly. "If you had a little less in the way of a Y chromosome, you'd be Buffy, Spike. Or possibly Anya."

Spike couldn't suppress the bark of astonished laughter that escaped at that. "I'm sorry? Did you want to get left here for the vampires to munch on?"

Xander waggled his eyebrows, his eye sparkling mischievously. "Face it, Spike, if I ever decide to go ahead with the gay thing, you'd be my type."

He raised an incredulous eyebrow. "You coming on to me, Harris?"

"If, Spike, if. And I'm not taking into consideration the fact that you're an asshole."

"And that's not your type how?" he smirked.

Xander opened his mouth, then paused, his face thoughtful. "Point." Then he grinned. "So, I should call you, is that what you're saying?"

"Not before you lose some weight, get a fashion sense, and fix the hair," he shot back. "Vamp's gotta have some standards, you know."

"And yet you slept with Harmony." Xander didn't seem to have taken offence. But then, Spike recognised that recently his digs at the boy had been more out of habit, than any real animosity. "But the fact remains, except for the whole vamp-with-a-soul thing, you are nothing like Angel."

Spike nodded decisively and made a noise of complete agreement. "That's what I've been saying." They shared a brief glower at the complete wankeryness that was Angel before Spike turned a calculating glance on Xander, an amused glint in his eyes. "So, Angel gave you to me, huh? It means something when your sire gives you something, you know?"

He suppressed a smirk as Xander just raised an eyebrow. "Is that right?"

"Well, sure. And Angelus didn't give me things very often. I'm really almost obligated to eat you," he said seriously.

Xander continued to look dubious, although Spike could see the corners of his mouth twitching. "Uh huh. 'Cause we all know how much you value Angel's good opinion of you. Wouldn't want to piss him off."

"Do I detect a note of sarcasm? It's the principle of the thing, innit?"

"And how many times have you protested that you wouldn't bother to drink me even if I was the last person on the face of the earth? Besides," he added with a smile, "even if you don't want to piss Angel off, I'm all for it. Even if it means not getting bitten by you, I think that's a sacrifice I might just be willing to make."

Spike nodded thoughtfully. "You're probably right. You'd taste all greasy anyway." He glanced pointedly at Xander's stomach. Xander punched him in the shoulder with an affronted expression. He just grinned.

"Hey, we're gonna die, I'm gonna eat all the goddamned twinkies I want."

"Whatever happened to leaving a beautiful corpse?"

Xander waved his hand airily. "I'll be dead. It won't really worry me."

There was a comfortable silence as Spike finished his cigarette. Xander jumped off the wall as he crushed the butt under his boot-heel. He shrugged more comfortably into his duster and glanced at the other man from under lowered lashes. "Xander," he said, drawing the other man's attention. "Do you really expect to die tomorrow? Is that what this is about?"

Xander looked thoughtfully at him for a moment. "I don't know. I mean, some part of me always expects to die. But… it hasn't happened so many times that it's hard to hold onto that. But then, I'd never been seriously injured before either," He reached up to finger his eye patch. "I do know it's never been this bad before. I don't want to die but, if does happen, I want to be ready for it this time. And I want something of Sunnydale to hold onto. I know it's just a place, but it's my home and it's been full of people I've loved. It's worth dying for. And even if I don't die, nothing is ever going to be the same." He broke off and shrugged uncomfortably. "You know?"

Spike wasn't entirely sure that he did but looked into Xander's eye for a moment. The expression was back, but this time Spike could see beyond it. And there was strength and truth and love. So he nodded and they turned away from the school and started walking.


Chapter Four - The Future

The first night of the rest of your life

They made their way unmolested back through Sunnydale, pausing occasionally as Xander reminisced. Mostly Spike just listened, although he took great delight in disgusting Xander with intermittent anecdotes. The stories of Xander's various love interests, from the preying-mantis lady to his ill-fated trip to Oxnard, practically had Spike in hysterics. He had something to say about nearly every place they passed, and filled the spaces in between with stories of Willow, Buffy and himself at high school. At one point, Spike asked, "Do you know everyone who lived in this place?" To which Xander had casually replied, "Well, not all of them, not personally anyway, but a lot of them, yeah. It's a small town, I've lived here all my life, and people tend to remember you when you save them from being eaten. How'd you think we got the town evacuated so fast?"

Even though the streets remained deserted, Xander's memories injected life into the town, made it real.

But more than that they made Buffy real. Right from the very beginning, she'd been The Slayer to him. Later, he'd loved her, but he'd never really known her, even when they were sleeping together. And then she'd been a strong but tortured woman he only wanted to protect. Xander described the three of them, and it was like fragments coalescing in his mind. He could see them laughing, fighting, loving. Young. And free.

He looked over and saw the sparkle in the young man's eye, the smile that played over his lips, and understood something. This was his light, the hope that he held onto in the face of all this darkness. Not that they'd be young again, but that even after everything they'd been through, they might be free again.

And that was worth fighting for.

Even with the threat of the First hanging over their heads, Spike found he was honestly enjoying himself. They'd always managed to maintain an easy camaraderie, whether it was hanging out at The Bronze, or in the basement, but it felt different now. Spike hadn't had a friend, just a friend, in a very long time. It was something he thought he could get used to.

It was still a couple of hours to sunrise when they made it back to Revello Drive. Curiously reluctant to go back inside, Spike leaned up against the tree in the front yard. There were lights on in the house. He could see Buffy moving about in her room, and the pang in his heart wasn't as painful as he'd expected. He didn't know how many nights he'd spent much like this over the past couple of years, but right now all that seemed so far away. Turning away, he found Xander watching him seriously.

"Just like old times, huh?"

Spike snorted, hung his head. "No, actually." Xander had no way of knowing, but the soul had drawn him further away from his human self than the demon ever had. Gazing up at lighted windows and wishing from afar had been such a quintessentially William thing to do. Granted a lot of the other things he'd done hadn't been, but he'd never before realised just how much of human him had survived when he became a vampire.

He didn't know exactly what had been done to him, couldn't feel anything inside that he could separate and point to as this thing that was his soul. He knew it had to be there. The demon who'd given it to him had said it, Anya had told him she could see it. But really, all he knew was that suddenly there were dimensions and perspective, considerations and feelings that hadn't been there before. It was only for lack of a better word that he called them his soul. Even then, though the feelings were stronger now, he couldn't honestly say that they were completely new. It was like he'd told Xander, Dru had made him different. The fact was, behind all the unfocused rage and the nebulous hatred some part of him had wanted to become something better, had wanted it enough to seek out the one thing that every vampire feared.

Whatever else it might have done, he could acknowledge that his soul had changed the way he looked at Buffy. Now, when he looked at her, he saw her, not himself, not what he wanted her to be, or what he wanted them to be together. So standing under her window, he could feel remorse but not regret, not really. But more than that he couldn't feel anger, hate, obsession, even need. There was still love, desire, but honestly, he couldn't imagine how things could be any more different. He raised his head and smirked half-heartedly at Xander's curious expression. "Got a lot of old times to compare to, but I gotta say, this – these past few months really – they've not been like any of them."

Xander let out a quiet huff of laughter. "A whole new you, huh? So you weren't like this when you were alive?" Xander looked around for a moment, then folded himself down onto the ground to lean his back against the tree, beside Spike's legs. After a moment's hesitation, Spike followed suit. He could feel his skin warming even through layers of material where their arms were touching.

Xander glanced over and Spike realised he was waiting for an answer. He shrugged. "Don't think so. 'S a long time ago, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Xander said, a strange note in his voice. "You know, you don't act so much like someone who's celebrated a centenary and a half. Anya was the same, most of the time."

He shrugged again. Xander was right. "Vampires don't tend to count the years. Not really a need when you're going to remain the same for eternity." Although he'd been thinking more and more about the future these days, and the soul inevitably had him contemplating the past. He glanced at Xander and grinned a little. "Do keep track though. I woulda been one hundred and fifty this year, if that sorta thing counted for anything."

Xander's eye widened, and he gave a gently mocking grin that lit up his face. "Seriously? From, what, the day you were born? That is so freaky. When's your birthday?"

He frowned. "June. Definitely June. The… fourth, I think. Haven't thought about that in a while. Usually I count from the day I died."

"Spike! That's in, like, a couple of weeks!" The boy looked honestly delighted, and Spike had to stop himself shaking his head. Didn't take much to distract this one. Just like that, all the pain seemed to have been forgotten in favour of more pleasant tidings. It was completely inappropriate and entirely in line with Xander's character. Worse, he could feel a smile of his own starting deep in his chest, and had to look away before he made a complete fool of himself. But glancing at Xander, he once again got the rather uncomfortable impression that the boy understood all the things he wouldn't let himself feel anyway.

"That calls for celebration, my ancient and decrepit friend. We can have a joint party, for you and me, and I can rub your nose in your old age."

Spike shrugged, but there was a small smirk on his face. "'S long as there's plenty of booze, and assuming we're still alive, we can do whatever you want."

"But of course. Both are an integral part of any celebration." He grinned and seemed to lean into Spike's side a little. Spike didn't mention it.

"So how far into middle age have you made it then?" He glanced at Xander's waist with another pointed smirk

He looked kind of affronted. "You seem to be strangely fascinated with my figure, Spike. You sure there's not something you want to tell me?" He raised an eyebrow. Spike smiled at him slowly, chuckling inwardly at the blush creeping up the boy's neck. It turned into a genuine grin at the elbow he received to the ribs. Xander turned away with a wry smile. "Twenty-three. It was last week, actually. Always seems to happen in the middle of apocalyptic goings-on. We usually end up doing something at the end of summer."

Spike glanced at Xander and frowned. He was surprised, and he wasn't sure, but he thought he felt… bad for the boy. Not that Xander seemed at all bothered, but he was fairly sure that no one had remembered, quite apart from the fact that he'd had his eye gouged out last week.

Xander sighed suddenly, and Spike looked over. "Seems like longer, you know? Not long enough, but longer."

Spike nodded slowly. "It's never enough, as long as you've got something to live for," he said quietly. He'd thought for a while that he'd lost that, but he was starting to see that he'd just lost sight of it. All the things he'd thought were the reason for his existence were gone. He was a vampire who had no particular desire to be a vampire, and he hadn't really understood how to fit himself into the world. He couldn't change that but the fact was that even if he wasn't human, he was the next best thing. As a human, as a man, there were other things he knew were worth dying for. And anything that was worth dying for was worth living for, if he had the courage to do so.

Xander was silent, so Spike glanced over. For a second it was back, that soul deep weariness, and suddenly Spike didn't want to see it. More than that, he wanted to get rid of it. He felt, for a moment, a longing so profound it was almost visceral, soul deep. But Xander squeezed his eye shut, and when he opened it there was once again nothing to see. Then he smiled, and Spike understood something else. Watching the play of emotions he understood that the cheerful expression was more than just a shield. That the smile was just as real as the pain, in the same way the hope was just as real as the despair. That was simply Xander. It always had been.

"So, let's assume we really are all going to die tomorrow, or later today. What's the one thing you'd regret not doing?" Xander asked curiously.

Spike cocked his head thoughtfully. "Got plenty of regrets but they're mostly for things that I did do, not things I didn't."

"So there's nothing? You've seen the world, done everything you want to do, been everywhere you want to go, seen as much of history as you're interested in? There's no one else you want to meet, nothing else you'd want to learn, do with your life?"

Spike frowned. "Well, when you put it like that, I s'pose there's always something else, but they're all just things. I might regret not doing them but if I don't get to it's not the end of the world."

Xander gave an amused snort. "I wouldn't count on it, but lets hope not."

Spike smirked. "I know what you mean though, I guess. There are a million things I still want to do, but it's mainly just 'cause they're there." Staring absently out into the night, he spoke softly, "It's the people you regret, I never really understood that. All the changes I'd never get to see. Demons don't do that, generally. Change, I mean."

He heard Xander sigh beside him. "Mmmm. You know, I think there's really only one thing I want. I want to take us all to Disneyland." Spike glanced at him, a slightly incredulous smirk appearing on his face. Xander chuckled and ducked his head. "Well, maybe not Disneyland. I suppose it'd have to be somewhere inside, come to think of it. You'd get pretty crispy if we tried to cart you around an outdoor theme park. Maybe we could go ice skating. Buffy would like that."

"Your biggest regret would be not taking everybody ice skating?" Spike asked, furiously suppressing a smile.

Xander shot him a wry sideways smirk. "One day. I want one day when all any of us have to do is smile. When there's nothing to kill, no one trying to end the world. Just one day when Buffy could forget about anything but being happy, Willow didn't have to think about what she's done, keeping her power in check. Giles wouldn't have to be a watcher, Dawnie could remember what it means to be teenager. Faith, Anya, you… I can't change what's happened, can't make any of it go away. But… one day isn't so much to ask for."

Spike stared at him. Part of him was disgusted by the naivety that could honestly expect something like that ever to be possible. Such a simple thing. The sort most groups of twenty-somethings probably did on a regular basis without a second thought. Not so much to ask for, really. And at the same time the most difficult thing he could have thought of. In what world would any of them ever be able to let go of their past for that long, to forget about their responsibility, their guilt, and just have fun?

And yet… as Xander spoke, he thought he could see it. Buffy smiling just because she was happy. All of them. Not young but, "Free," he murmured. If there was one thing worth living for, worth dying to ensure… Xander was right. That was it.

Xander quirked the corner of his mouth up sadly but didn't say anything, and Spike understood that the man wasn't being naive. He was just being Xander. Holding onto this sliver of light in a darkened world because he couldn't bring himself to do anything else.

It was beautiful.

They sat there for a little while, not talking but more comfortable with each other than Spike could ever remember. Eventually, though, Xander drew in a deep breath and rolled his shoulders, glancing over at Spike with a small smile.

"We should probably get inside."

Firmly quashing the niggle of disappointment that immediately appeared, Spike grunted his agreement, pulling himself up easily a moment later, when Xander didn't seem inclined to move. Then, looking down at Xander's upturned face, he held his hand out in silent invitation. With a curious smile, Xander reached out and took it. Spike was a little disturbed by how much of his brain seemed to be stuck on soaking up the warmth emanating from that hand, cataloguing the calluses, comparing the smooth skin of the wrist to the roughness of the fingertips.

So when he pulled Xander to his feet, he jerked a little too hard, and Xander ended up closer than he'd expected. He was left staring close-quarters into one deep brown eye that had somehow managed to open him up to a whole new world of strength and meaning. That had shown him more of Xander than he had ever thought to know, and a future unexpectedly filled with possibilities. He wondered for a moment if Xander had any concept of what he'd given him.

He couldn't look away, had no idea what Xander saw reflected in his face. But when he dropped his eyes to the other man's lips, asking permission, telegraphing his intention, he wasn't sure himself, a line appeared between the man's eyes, but they weren't saying no.

And when he leaned in those few inches and sealed his lips to Xander's the man didn't push him away, didn't keep his eye open and his lips closed. Didn't object at all to the gentle play of tongues or the hand that Spike couldn't keep from the side his neck.

It was nothing like kissing Buffy. Some distant part of his brain noted that he and Xander were almost exactly the same height. He could go on kissing him forever and never have to worry about getting a crick in his neck, which right at that moment didn't seem like such a bad thing. His eyes slipped partway shut as his mind focussed on more important things, like the feel of Xander's chin rasping softly under his thumb and tickling the corners of his mouth, the warmth of his mouth, his tongue, as it slipped past his lips and sent shivers racing across the back of his neck.

Everything about Xander was focussed. Buffy had always been passionate, overflowing with violent energy as she moved under his hands. Xander was so still, in comparison, but Spike knew what he was capable of, could feel the strength and the excitement bubbling just below the surface. He took a moment to wonder what it would take to break that control, and was a little shocked by just how much he wanted to find out.

And when, despite his acute reluctance, Spike pulled away, Xander didn't do anything but smile. A slightly bemused smile, but then Spike supposed that was understandable. He was feeling more than a little dazed himself. "Ok, and starting to see what Buffy saw in you," Xander said absently, licking his lips.

Spike felt another smile bubbling up in his chest, and this time he couldn’t stop it, even knowing it would be reflected, sparkling, in his eyes. And he could hear it in his voice when he said, "You're not so bad yourself, mate."

Xander flicked him an amused look and raised an eyebrow that clearly said, 'and you expected what?'. "So, you going to tell me what that was for?"

Spike shrugged, still not able, or willing, to let the smile leave his face. He couldn't really even explain it to himself. All he knew was that it had felt like… the future. Possibilities. "Happy Birthday?" he said eventually with a wry smirk.

Xander seemed to relax at that and gave him a genuine grin. "Should I be taking notes?"

"I wouldn't say no," Spike raised an eyebrow suggestively, smiling.

"You're a fickle vampire, my friend." He shook his head mock seriously. "Although, I'm thinking I should have the girls talk to you about presents for our party."

Spike just smirked.

They made their way back inside, but Xander stopped Spike before he could make his way back down to the basement.

He reached out to grasp Spike's shoulder, squeezing gently before letting go. "Thanks, Spike. For everything."

He looked at Xander and just smiled again. The answering grin lit up Xander's face and Spike felt that tightening in his chest again. It felt good. "No problem, mate. 'M glad I came along," he said softly.

"Me, too, Spike. We should try to get some sleep. The hoards will be waking up soon." Spike nodded, and Xander turned to go.

"Xander," he called out quietly. Xander stopped and turned back, eyebrows raised. "I won't only fight for Buffy."

Xander just nodded. "Yeah. Me neither. The future's not something I want to miss. Any of it. 'Night, Spike." He smiled one last time and disappeared up the stairs.

Spike looked after him for a moment. Then he turned and made his way back to his basement. And smiled.

The End

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