Seeing Beyond Imperfections


Part Two

In which Xander convinces Buffy and Dawn that he really isn't mad and Spike really isn't gone

The second Xander walked into the kitchen, the girls were all over him. He was planning on going for cool, calm and collected, but apparently you just couldn't fool the slayer. Or he couldn't, in any case. Or perhaps he just couldn't fool two of the three people who knew him better than anyone in the whole damn world, his parents most definitely included.

They took one look at what he had thought was a pretty convincing smile and immediately ushered him over to a chair at the dining room table, taking seats beside him, to demand what was wrong. So much for the suave approach. He had the distinct feeling that if he could see him right now, Spike would be smirking at him. He tried to quash the urge to check, but quickly gave in, and let himself go fuzzy for a moment. Sure enough, Spike was shaking his head and chuckling. The blond man looked at him, and he stuck his tongue out briefly before phasing back.

All of which had done nothing for the ladies' peace of mind. They were starting to look truly alarmed. Feeling slightly guilty, Xander rushed to reassure them.

'Buffy, Dawn, don't worry, nothing's wrong. I'm fine, everything is fine.'

They were still frowning. 'What was that, Xander? You went all visiony for a second, but that wasn't long enough for a vision. Is something wrong with the spell? Should we call Willow?' Dawn managed a semblance of calm, but he saw the panicked glance that she and Buffy exchanged.

'No! No, it's nothing like that. Do you remember when Willow said that she thought I might be able to control the shift? Well, I figured out how. It's nothing to worry about. I've been like that most of the night, and there don't seem to be any side effects.'

They looked slightly mollified, so to prevent further discussion, and because he really couldn't wait to tell them, Xander jumped right into the topic of the hour. 'But speaking of last night, something happened that I have to tell you about.' He was grinning, he couldn't help it. He felt like a kid with a really big secret he was just bursting to tell everyone.

Buffy and Dawn were smiling despite themselves. 'Well, I think we can safely assume it's not the end of the world again,' Buffy said wryly to her sister.

Dawn nodded sagely. 'Yeah, that's just not as fun as it used to be, is it? Well, what happened then?' she asked Xander impatiently.

'It's about Spike.'

They looked surprised. 'Spike? Did you see him again?' Buffy asked. 'This is just getting too weird. I know Willow says it's just a memory, but still...'

'Yeah, I saw him again, but he's not just a memory, he's Spike. I talked to him all night. He's here now, too.' The smile faded when he saw how they were looking at him. Concerned, worried. Ok, he guessed it was a little hard to believe.

'Xander,' Dawn said nervously, 'what are you talking about? There's no one here but us. And Spike, Spike's dead, how could he be here?'

Xander looked at her sternly. 'Dawnie, you know better than that. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.'

Buffy wasn't in the least bit convinced. 'That may be true, Xander, and I'm even willing to believe that you can see things that we can't, but how do you know what this thing really is? It could be anything. Just because it looks like someone you know doesn't mean it isn't out to kill you. Have you forgotten the First?' she said a little harshly.

He blanched a little at that. He hadn't even considered the possibility that this could be the re-emergence of the First. But he shook his head. He just didn't get any evil vibes from Spike, and since he'd been connected to the Powers, he'd gotten pretty good at that sort of thing. But more than that, it was pure gut instinct that told him that Spike was for real. 'No, Buffy, this isn't like that. I've been seeing glimpses of Spike for the past two weeks, and he's never doing anything to hurt anyone. From what I've gathered, he can't. Besides, the only reason I can see him now is because Willow did that spell. If it hadn't been for that we would never have even known that he was here. I know you're going to say that it's just some demon taking advantage of the situation, but it's not. He's not evil, I'd be able to feel it. And you haven't seen him. It's Spike. Yeah, he's not exactly the same, but I just know... it's Spike.' He trailed off, realizing just how lame his reasoning sounded.

Buffy sighed and looked down for a moment. 'Xander, you know I trust your judgment, but you have to understand our concerns...'

Dawn nodded, but her eyes were sparkling when she spoke up a moment later. 'Obviously, you just need to prove that it's really Spike that you're seeing. We'll have to do a whole 'Ghost' scene. You know, tell me something that only Spike and I would know.'

Buffy seemed to take this suggestion seriously, although when Xander looked closely he could see that the humor of the situation was not lost on her. 'Yeah, I guess that might work,' she admitted grudgingly. 'Are you sure this thing can't hurt us?'

'Yeah, I'm pretty sure. He can't even touch me when I'm not phased, like this.'

She took a deep breath and nodded. 'Ok, but we're calling Willow. Either way, we need to be sure. So, how is this going to work?'

'Well, assuming he's still here, I have to phase out in order to see him and talk to him. It'll be just like when I'm having a vision. Other than that, I dunno. I guess we'll just play it by ear. Spike hasn't changed all that much, so he's probably going to be difficult.' He had added that last mainly for said blonde's benefit, certain it would irritate him. Sure enough, when he phased a moment later, Spike was glaring at him from the other side of the table.

'Difficult, am I?' he muttered. 'Show you difficult, I will.'

Xander grinned at him. 'Come on, Spike, play nice. We'll get to the heartfelt conversations soon enough, I promise. Now, make like Patrick Swayze and tell me something I don't know.'

Oh, dear, was Xander's only thought as he watched the positively evil smile creep over Spike's face. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe he should disappear now while he still had the chance. He glanced desperately over to Buffy. 'Buff, I don't know that this was such a good idea,' he whispered urgently.

'What? Why?' she asked, startled.

'Because this is Spike! You've just given Spike permission to tell me all your deepest darkest secrets.'

Her eyes grew suddenly wide, but he had to admit he was impressed that she didn't back down. 'Well,' she cleared her throat, 'we don't know that it's Spike, and even if it is, he wouldn't say anything too embarrassing... would he?' She groaned as she realized what she had just said. Xander glanced over at Spike, who was looking like the cat that had swallowed the proverbial canary.

'Well, if he does, I promise I won't repeat it.' He sent him a glare that tried to convey the fact that if he were forced to listen to anything too disgusting, he would have no compunction about phasing out and not talking to him for a week. Spike seemed to get the message, as he just folded his hands and tried to look innocent. Xander didn't believe it for a moment, but it was obviously the best he was going to get. Sending him another glare for good measure, he got down to business. 'All right then, Spike, let's have it. Something that only you and Buffy know.'

Spike didn't actually plan on telling the man any of the things that had happened between himself and Buffy. It was too intimate, and still far too painful for him to remember, let alone talk about. There had been very little in their affair that had been about anything other than pain and abuse. It wouldn't do him any good to bring it up now. He knew that they would have to talk about it in the end, but that was for another time, when he'd had time to think up what he was going to say, and Buffy actually believed that he was who Xander said he was. Still, the look on their faces had been too much to resist. He wasn't evil any more, but he could still be a bastard when he felt like it.

He tried to think of something innocuous to tell them, that Xander wouldn't already know. 'All right, I got one. One night we were out patrolling, woulda been sometime after the hell bitch showed up, just the two of us, going after a gang of vampires with, like, mystical tattoos on the backs of their necks, or something. Think they called themselves the Sect of Galvis.'

'I don't remember that,' Xander interrupted with a frown.

'That's the point, innit?' Spike responded irritably.

'Remember what?' Buffy asked at the same time.

Xander shook his head. 'Sorry, something about a Sect of Galvis, tattoos on the back of their necks, he hasn't finished. Go on.'

'Wait,' Buffy interrupted, 'Sect of Galvis? I remember that, we went after them...' A look of understanding came over her face and Spike grinned. 'Oh, no, he's not telling you that story. Tell him he's not telling you that story.'

'Why,' Dawn asked, 'what happened?'

Buffy just looked from her sister to Xander for a moment, then her shoulders slumped in defeat. 'Fine,' she sighed, 'we have to know. I guess it could have been worse. Lets get it over with. But Spike,' she glared at the invisible air, 'just so you know, if you are in any way alive, I will kill you for this.' Spike just snickered, turning back to Xander, who was looking extremely confused.

'Didn't know it was a sect at the time, just a bunch of vampires we came across in an abandoned building. Turned out they'd been there for years, but they weren't just any sect, they were a sect with a very specific purpose.' He glanced over at Buffy, who was looking fearfully at Xander, who was still just looking puzzled.

'Well,' he asked impatiently when Spike didn't go on immediately, 'who were they then?'

'They were a Buffy appreciation society,' he chuckled at the memory.

Xander's eyes widened comically, and Spike could see that he was trying to contain a laugh. 'What? Seriously?' He just nodded, grinning. Buffy groaned, but he could see the reluctant smirk on her face as she lowered her head into her hands.

'Had a whole little shrine and everything, framed portraits, photographs, really, really bad poetry. Even had a larger than life sculpture, done in a... classical style.'

Xander's grin slipped a little as he tried to figure this out. 'Classical? What, you mean, like...oh!' Spike chuckled as Xander's head whipped around to look at Buffy, who seemed to be trying to disappear under the table without leaving her seat. 'Now, that would have been something to see.'

'Oh, yeah. All that draping gauze... Left nothing to the imagination. And I, personally, never got to see that look on the girl's face.' He sighed happily at the picture in his head. 'Pure sex, that thing was.'

'Please tell me you went back with a camera,' Xander asked fervently, chuckling at the still cowering Buffy.

'Nah, bloody bint took a sledgehammer to it. By the time she was done all that was left was a big pile of white marble dust. Bleedin' tragedy, that. Told me that if I ever told anyone about it she would, and I quote 'chain me to a wall and spend weeks cutting off all my body parts, starting with the most important ones, one at a time, with a very blunt knife, until they stopped growing back and I became lots of very small piles of dust. With, I might add, a cd of the Backstreet Boys on continuous replay while she wasn't there.''

'Oh, Buffy,' Xander gasped, 'the Backstreet Boys? Cutting off unmentionables with a blunt knife I guess I could understand - although, can I just wince for the entire male population of the world? - but that takes torment to entirely new levels.'

Buffy perked up a little at this. 'Yeah, that was a good one, wasn't it?' she said wistfully. 'I suppose it won't work now, will it?'

Dawn was looking highly amused at Buffy's behavior. 'All right, I want to know what you're all talking about. What can have been so bad that you had to threaten to cut off Spike's balls and make him listen to boy bands?' she said sternly.

'No, no! That's fine!' Buffy was quick to interject. 'I think I've, er, heard enough to convince me the person you're talking to was there for that particular... encounter.'

Dawn looked like she really wanted to object, but Spike knew she would probably corner her sister in private and get the story out of her, now that she knew about it. 'Are you and Spike the only two who know about it? Did you ever tell Giles or Willow, or was there anyone else there?' she asked sensibly.

'I sure as hell know I never told anyone about that. I think we can be fairly sure Spike didn't either, seeing as the entire world doesn't know. What does your ghost say about the other people who were there?' she asked Xander.

Spike chuckled, amused that she still felt the need to test him, but answered obligingly. 'There were about a dozen vampires all up. They didn't put up much of a fight, stars in their eyes and all that, but she dusted every damn one of them, then set fire to their little shrine.'

'He says that you killed them all, about a dozen, even though they were overwhelmed by your presence, and put their shrine to the torch.'

'Damn right I did. Uppity little vampires,' she muttered. She shrugged after a moment, still looking a little uncertain, but said, 'Well, it certainly could be Spike. If it isn't, they've sure as hell done their homework. Unless it was digging through my mind?' she looked over at Dawn.

Dawn, however, shook her head resolutely. 'There are only one or two demons that can do that, but none of the ones I know of can become invisible or exist only on a higher plane. There are more demons that can read the surface of your mind. Were you thinking about this story of yours before Xander said anything about the sect?' Buffy shook her head. 'Then chances are, either the story came from Spike, or this is Spike.' Her eyes fairly sparkled at this prospect, and Spike felt something tighten in his chest. Dawn was the only one who had ever looked that excited just at the thought of seeing him. He had forgotten how much he had missed it.

As their breakfast slowly congealed in the kitchen, Xander explained what he knew of Spike's situation.

'That's... incredible,' Buffy said softly as he finished.

Dawn nodded her head slowly. 'That he was here the whole time... watching over us.'

Buffy frowned, looking a little disturbed. 'It's weird. I kinda think I should be more squicked out by that. But...'

'Who was he going to tell?' Dawn finished quietly.

'Yeah,' Buffy said shaking her head in confusion.

Dawn was looking around the room, but brought her eyes deliberately back to Xander. 'It must have been so lonely for him. Where is he now?' she asked him quietly.

Xander looked at her for a moment, before taking her hand and leading her over to the seat on the opposite side of the table, where Spike had been sitting the whole time they had been talking. He had half expected Spike to end up leaving, or at least start pacing around the room, but he had remained oddly still the whole time, watching Buffy and Dawn as he spoke to them. Spike turned to look at him a little strangely as he stood behind him, and Xander sent him a reassuring smile, turning back to look at Dawn.

He had known that this would hit Dawn the hardest. 'He's sitting right here, he's looking at you.' He reached out and placed his hand on Spike's shoulder. He stiffened, but didn't move away, relaxing into the touch after a moment. 'I've got my hand on his shoulder.' Dawn reached out a hand tentatively, passing it through Spike's chest.

'I can't feel anything,' she whispered brokenly. 'He's not there.' Faster than Xander could follow, Buffy was around the table and holding her sister in her arms.

Xander was astonished to notice that there were tears in the ex-vampire's eyes as he pulled him out of the chair and stood him beside the table. 'Dawnie, give me your hand,' he said gently. She looked a little confused, but disentangled herself from Buffy and complied. Xander carefully placed her right hand over his right hand, both their palms facing downward. He wasn't sure this would work, but he knew that Dawn needed something more to prove to her that Spike was really here. He knew how often she had wished for him those first couple of years, and she still spoke more about him more than any of the rest of them. He had never really understood their relationship, but he knew that Spike would do anything to protect her, and she in turn had made him part of her family. 'He's standing right in front of us, now. If I reached out I would be able to touch him,' he said, waiting for her to get the picture. Her eyes widened slightly, as did Spike's, he was amused to notice, and she glanced over at him. He smiled slightly and nodded, raising his right hand, Dawn's still balanced on top, so that his palm was inches away from Spike's chest. There, however, he stopped, relaxing his arm completely. Dawn had to do the rest. 'Go on,' he encouraged her.

She took a deep breath and pushed Xander's hand forward, gasping when it's progress was abruptly halted by seemingly empty air. Xander had his hand directly over Spike's heart, and although the body felt warm through the soft layer of his shirt, he couldn't feel a heartbeat. Dawn pushed a little harder, and Spike rocked slightly. 'Careful, Dawnie, you'll push him over,' he chuckled.

Dawn started moving his hand over Spike's chest, keeping up a steady pressure. She was starting to grin. 'He's really there, isn't he?' she asked excitedly. She glanced over at Buffy, who was looking wary, but curious. 'Buffy, this is amazing.'

'You'll have to let me try it,' she agreed.

Xander, however, suddenly had his mind on other things. Spike was starting to squirm. 'Uh, Dawnie, let's try to keep it above the waist, shall we. It is my hand you're using, let's not forget,' he said as he quickly moved his hand away from where Dawn had been taking it. He shrugged an apology at Spike, who just grinned at him. It looked like the blond was actually quite enjoying himself.

Dawn grinned unrepentantly at Xander. 'Sorry.' She let her hand trail over the body in front of her for a while longer, mapping out where it started and finished, before stepping away and pushing Buffy over to Xander. 'Your turn.'

Buffy looked at the air in front of her for a long moment before turning to look at Xander. He could see the old pain reflected in her eyes, the memory of the all the times she had touched the vampire in anger, in need, so very rarely in love. She didn't need to run her hands over him now, but he knew she needed proof. Xander nodded silently and she stepped into the circle of his arms, placing her hands on each of his. He looked at Spike, but he was staring at Buffy, so he raised his hands to hover them on either side of Spike's face. When he stopped, Buffy pushed his hands forward, closing her eyes as they met resistance. A tiny smile twisted her lips as she raised her eyes to about where Spike's were. 'We missed you, Spike,' was all she said. Then she carefully placed a kiss on Xander's fingertips, before guiding them back to Spike's cheek. Dawn stepped over and did the same with Xander's other hand, her eyes brimming with emotion.

Spike, himself, looked like he was trying desperately to remember how to be the Big Bad and failing miserably. Xander could tell that he was floored by what had happened. He let his fingers move gently over Spike's cheek for just a moment before turning to grin at the girls. 'All right, you've successfully reduced the Big Bad to a little puddle of emotional goo. I think it's time we move on. Besides, it may look to you like I'm running my hands over thin air, but to me it looks like I've been fondling Spike, and that's just too weird for me to dwell on for very much longer.'

Dawn grinned back, but they both removed their hands. Buffy smiled mischievously at him. 'I don't know Xander. If Spike looks the same as I remember, running your hands all over him shouldn't be any great hardship.'

Dawn nodded sagely, her eyes dancing. 'She's right, Xander, when was the last time you got to fondle a chest that good looking? Or has our favorite ex-vampire been letting himself go?'

Xander let his eye's rake over Spike's body, starting at the bottom, lingering around the middle and ending at a pair of outraged eyes that were fighting a losing battle with shock. 'Got yourselves a point guys. It may be Spike, but that's certainly a chest to write home about. Did it always look that good?' he asked curiously, inwardly grinning at the expression on the other man's face.

'Oh, yeah,' they both said fervently. ''Course,' Buffy continued, 'it's got nothing on Angel's.'

'Oi!' This broke into Spike's stupor.

Xander finally grinned. 'That's got him. What more proof do you need?' Xander laughed at him. 'It's ok, Spike, Buffy's just biased. Dawn and I both think your chest is much nicer than Angel's. Isn't that right Dawn?'

'Absolutely,' Dawn laughed.

Finally catching on, Spike allowed a reluctant smirk to escape. 'Soddin' wankers,' he grumbled.

'Spike thanks us for the compliment, Dawn,' he grinned.

'I'll just bet he does.' She grinned happily. 'This is so unbelievable, you know. I mean, Spike's back, or here, or whatever. I can't wait to call Willow and Giles. I just know I'm never going to get any work done today.' She stopped abruptly, looking down at her watch. 'Oh my god. It's nearly nine thirty. I've got a conference call starting in a matter of minutes and we haven't even eaten yet,' she groaned. Then she perked up a bit. 'On the other hand, I am the boss. I could just blow off all today's meetings...' She trailed off at the stern look on Buffy's face. 'Yeah, yeah, I know. It was just a thought,' she grumbled. Looking in Spike's general direction, she said, 'I wish I could see you, Spike. Still, don't disappear on Xander. I'm not going to lose you again,' she stated firmly.

'M'not going anywhere, little bit,' Spike said fondly, his fingers reaching out to hover near her face.

'He says he's not going anywhere, little bit,' Xander repeated. Dawn's breath hitched a little at the moniker, and she flashed him a dazzling, if slightly watery smile.

Buffy smiled gently at her. 'We'll continue this over dinner. Now, go, run. We'll heat up your breakfast and bring it up in a little while.'

Dawn sighed but nodded. 'Dinner, I'll hold you to that. You make sure you keep your eye on him, Xander.' She gave them both a hug and another giddy smile before visibly collecting herself and leaving them alone.

As Xander and Buffy wandered over to the kitchen to reheat their food, Jesse, Marina and Nicola walked into the dining room, followed a few minutes later by the rest of the resident slayers. Their day didn't officially start until ten thirty, given the late hours they were forced to keep. After their family breakfast, Dawn would get to work, Buffy would head down to the gym or the oval to set up for the morning's training, and Xander would stumble upstairs to bed. Usually, they were gone before any of the girls came in to breakfast. Since the spell, however, Xander had found he had a lot more energy, and this morning he was positively wired.

They swung around at the surprised, 'Xander, Buffy,' from the doorway and Xander frowned when he discovered that he still couldn't quite distinguish the girls through the light surrounding them. He had found with Buffy and Dawn that after a little while he had been able to see through the glow a little, enough to make eye contact at least, although it helped that Dawn, unlike anyone else he had seen so far, glowed a faint green. 'Xan, you're lookin' all visiony 'n see through, but your eyes're normal,' Jesse, he knew from the voice, frowned. 'What gives? Is something wrong?'

'No, I'm good, just a second.' He turned towards Spike, who was lounging against the wall, a question in his eyes.

'Yeah, off you go. Should really get going anyways. Got people to protect and all that. I'll be around.' He forestalled Xander before he could even open his mouth. 'And, yes, I'll be back for your dinner, although I don't mind saying I reckon it's bloody unfair of you to make me watch you all eat.' He paused, the irritation fading from his face to be replaced with a tiny, slightly dazed smile. He reached out a hand to touch Xander's shoulder. 'Fucking unbelievable,' he said softly, wondrously. Looking up into Xander's knowing face the smile turned self-deprecating, and he poked a sharp fingernail into the shoulder, making Xander rock back slightly. 'Shut the hell up, you.' The words were said without menace.

Xander just chuckled quietly. 'Good to have you back, blondie.' Then he phased out and the man disappeared.

Two B

In which Spike contemplates Xander and is forced to confront some of the memories that have been tormenting him

Spike, however, didn't leave immediately. He watched absently as they sat around the table chatting for a little while, Xander assuring the girls that the side effects of the spell were nothing for them to worry about. He had to smile at the way Xander treated the slayers, the way he just automatically made them a part of his family. Marina, the newest slayer, had arrived from Japan with Willow the night Xander had died. Spike had arrived to see her standing in the middle of the room, confused and obviously frightened. Like him, she had watched from the other room, seen the blood all over Xander's face, although she had turned away when Willow started the spell. She may have been new to the slaying business, but even she must have been able to feel the power building in the room. She had still been there afterwards, trying not to listen to the conversation between the four of them. Spike knew it could have been awkward between Xander and the girl, but the man had made a concerted effort to draw her out of her shell, even putting to use the smattering of Japanese that Willow's language spell made mostly unnecessary. She, like almost every slayer before her, had been unable to resist the devastating smile that Xander reserved just for his girls. Spike had seen many a confused, scared or belligerent girl cave before that huge, happy and just slightly self-effacing grin that went all the way to his bi-colored eyes. It didn't help them a whit that Xander found out all about them from Willow before they arrived, was actually interested in getting to know them, and didn't treat them like slayers, just like girls who were a long way from home and needed, more than anything, to see a friendly face.

Spike smirked a little. Of course, the fact that he was really in very good shape had nothing to do with it. He had felt the muscles in the man's body as he had held him briefly the night before. He had always been fit, what with the demands that slaying and construction had placed on him, but he was slimmer now than he used to be. Spike had a feeling that was because the pain from the visions had kept him from eating the way he used to, but in a way they had done him a favor. And Spike had seen him training with Buffy. He was no slayer, but he could hold his own against the newer recruits, his lean, wiry build and innate confidence giving him an edge and appeal that he had conspicuously lacked as a youth.

All of which brought back the memory of Xander running his hands over Spike's body. He wasn't entirely sure how to feel about that. Extenuating circumstances there may have been, but it was still Xander Harris, who had feared him, hated him, treated him like dirt, and who may have come to tolerate him, but had never gone so far as to like him.

On the other hand, it wasn't, not really, not anymore. Xander hadn't been one of his charges after the destruction of Sunnydale, not until the Powers gave him the visions, and although he had protected the boy on occasion, he had never really spent much time around him when he wasn't with Buffy or Dawn. After he had received the visions, he had started paying more attention, but by then Xander hadn't really needed protecting, at least not from anything physical.

So although he had been peripherally aware of the boy growing up, the changes in the man's attitude towards him were taking him by surprise. Most especially, how comfortable he was being physically. The old Xander had almost never touched him, unless it was in anger. This one was treating him like a friend, hugging him, touching his face. Although, Spike smirked, he suspected he had never run his hands over any of his friends' chests in quite that manner. Not that he hadn't liked it. It probably should have made him uncomfortable, but every time the man touched him it made him a little giddy, the thought that he was actually able to touch someone again after so long. He knew he shouldn't get used to it. No matter what Xander said, magic was uncertain at the best of times, and even if it turned out that the spell really couldn't be reversed, Xander still had the power to cut him off from the world again, if he decided to. He honestly didn't think the man would do that, but the lack of control was frustrating to say the least.

He was suddenly distracted by Buffy's laughter and his eyes were drawn inexorably to her face, his hand going unconsciously to where her kiss had touched his cheek. That was perhaps the best gift he had been given today, or possibly ever. He had long ago resigned himself to the fact that he would never be able to feel Buffy or Dawn again, and Xander's actions had been entirely unexpected. It hadn't even occurred to him to try something like that. Closing his eyes, it had almost felt like being alive again. He knew that his soul had never really loved her, but the only time the demon had ever really been at peace was when it held her in its arms, and for a moment the screams had been drowned out by the love and acceptance he saw in the three pairs of eyes before him.

He had never really understood before how the Powers expected him to find happiness in the cold, inhuman world in which they had placed him, but for the first time in years, he allowed himself to hope that he might. He closed his eyes and curled his fingers over his cheek again, relishing the memory of a smooth palm with rough calluses flitting over his skin. Even though, on some level, he was slightly disturbed by how safe, cared for, that memory made him feel, he didn't stop the smile that ghosted over his lips.

Buffy and Xander leaving jolted him from his thoughts. He really did have work to do. He'd already blown off half the night and a good part of the morning. He hadn't felt the tug that told him one of his charges was facing imminent death, but that didn't mean he shouldn't check on them anyway. With a shake of his head, he threw off his musings and disappeared.


Two days later, Xander received a worried phone call from Willow. Knowing that any phone call from Dawn was sure to be more then just a little confusing, he had sent her an e-mail detailing everything that had happened to him over the past week or so, and everything he knew about what had happened to Spike. She was in Australia at the moment, where the latest slayer had been called. Willow was in charge of finding and bringing all the new slayers to America for their year of training. Generally, she spent about a month with each of the girls and their families, gently introducing them to the idea that their little girl was essentially a superhero. Some took it better than others, but all of them had come in the end. But then, they did offer as many incentives as possible. The council was actually officially a private, very selective school, and they did their best to teach each of the girls whatever they were missing out on, so they could easily slip back into the curriculum when they went home. Willow would occasionally accompany the slayers back to Ohio, but more often than not she would just go straight to the next destination, keeping in touch by phone and e-mail.

For the second time in a row, however, Willow promised to come home when her latest charge was ready. Xander was fairly sure there was nothing to worry about, but he couldn't bring himself to protest all that much. He was always happy to see Willow, whatever the reason.

Xander was surprised to find that, once they got all the really deep and meaningful stuff out of the way, Spike was actually a lot of fun to have around. He was getting used to having to mediate between him and the girls, and increasingly looked forward to one or two am, when Spike would appear to keep him company after coming in from patrolling. It was getting harder and harder for him to remember that the man wasn't real, although every time he walked through the coffee table, or just appeared out of nowhere, it was brought back to him. He couldn't really explain to himself the deep disappointment he felt every time that happened. Why it felt like more than just regret for the fact that Spike had had to die.

They spent a lot of their time discussing demons and visions, but in between, Spike would fill him in on how he had spent the last fifteen years, and Xander discovered that Spike actually knew very little about him, since he hadn't needed much protection after the visions and hadn't been touched by the Powers before. He also found that just sitting, watching TV, listening to the radio, whatever, and not talking was just as enjoyable, but more than that it was comfortable, like the past and the pain were forgotten and they could just be.

Spike, too, was getting used to the new arrangement. In a practical sense, very little had actually changed for him. Xander was the only one who could see him, and the man didn't spend a lot of his time around Buffy or Dawn anyway. Still, it felt like a lot more than that. For a couple of hours each day he could pretend that he wasn't invisible to the people he cared about the most. Buffy and Dawn both made a concerted effort to include him in their conversations, and he was becoming more comfortable relying on Xander to relay his replies, although there were a lot of things the man simply refused to repeat. Which, he had to admit, was half the reason he said them. Watching Xander try to contain his laughter at Spike's snide comments, while the girls demanded to know exactly what was so funny was more entertaining than it should have been for a one hundred and fifty year old ex-vampire higher being. Actually, just watching Xander was more enjoyable than it should have been, but he'd gotten good at ignoring emotions like that, and this was no exception.

They were sitting together nearly three weeks later, some time after two in the morning, talking about the vision Spike had just helped out with, when Xander brought up something they hadn't discussed since that first night. Spike was sitting close beside Xander, leaning slightly to the side so that their shoulders were touching. He'd started doing that weeks ago, without even realizing it. When Xander had shifted beside him, he had jerked away, but the man hadn't called him on it, just given him that gentle smile and taken his hand before going back to work. So he had allowed himself to settle back in and by now the position was almost second nature. Xander still took his hand occasionally, although he knew it was just because the man knew how much he craved the contact.

Just as he was doing now, flexing his hand so Spike could feel the changes in pressure. By now, the movement was involuntary, and Spike looked over with a smile to see Xander relaxed back into the couch, his eyes closed.

'What do you remember about being a demon, Spike?' The words were said calmly, quietly, with just a hint of curiosity. Spike felt like he'd been punched in the gut. When he tried to jerk away, however, his hand was suddenly held in a vice-like grip and two deep eyes opened to stare at him, holding him even more firmly than the hand on his wrist. 'Why do its memories bother you so much that you aren't able to forgive yourself for someone else's actions?'

He didn't want to talk about this. Talking about it would mean having to think about it, and ignoring it had been getting so much easier over the past couple of weeks. His eyes skittered around the room, searching for something, anything, that would mean he didn't have to have this conversation. Xander wasn't moving, wasn't speaking, but his hand started tracing soft patterns on Spike's skin, drawing his gaze.

Then he was looking into eyes that showed nothing, no judgment, no pity and no fear, just calm acceptance. Even as his mind shouted, screamed, tried desperately to stop this, looking into those eyes, Spike found himself replying.

'They weren't.'

Xander cocked his head slightly, but his expression didn't change. 'They weren't someone else's actions?'

Spike was lost in those eyes. Looking into the blue eye he felt like he was spiraling upwards, into light, into peace. At the same time, the deep brown eye was like a window to the man's soul, pulling him down into a lifetime's worth of pain and compassion. Focused on those eyes, he felt distant, separate from himself. He felt like he should be falling apart, or coming together. And maybe he was, because again, he replied.

'I was there.'

'You remember being there, but your soul wasn't. You aren't responsible for the actions of the demon.' It felt like Xander was speaking straight into his mind, his voice deep, soft, calming. In some distant corner, he was wondering what the hell was going on, but he couldn't look away. All he could see were those eyes, like two pools of color, light and dark, black and white, looking at him, through him, into him.

Spike shook his head slowly, the answer drawn from his lips. 'You don't understand. It wasn't just the demon. I lost my soul when I died, but I didn't lose my mind. That's why I remember. How could I remember if I hadn't been there at all, if it was just the demon?'

The voice became deeper, more distant. 'The heart controls the mind, Spike, not the other way around. When you gained a demon, you lost your heart, the part of you that chose to be a good person. The demon controlled your mind in the same way that it controlled your body. You wonder how, if you were there, you could have allowed the demon to do those things, but that isn't how it works. Without a soul, a conscience, your mind is just a tool, able to be used, just like anything else.' A part of him wondered; how would the man know that? How could he know anything about this? But a bigger part of him recognized the certainty in the voice, the power in the eyes.

'Pr'haps, but does that really change anything?'

Something changed, then he was falling, or flying, and the world was coming together again, the power fading. 'I don't know. Maybe not. But it's something to think about. You'll have to deal with it eventually.'

He knew that this was true. 'I killed more people in my day... How can I just forget that?'

'You probably shouldn't. But that's not really the point, is it?' The voice reached his ears from the man in front of him.

Spike blinked, and all of a sudden, he was just looking at Xander, his eyes colored, looking slightly amused, but otherwise completely normal. They were still holding hands, hadn't moved at all as far as Spike could tell. He glanced around the room quickly. The clock on the TV said only a few minutes had passed. He could remember the conversation vividly, like it was etched into his brain. 'Ahh... what the bloody hell just happened here?'

Xander sighed, his eyes becoming serious. 'I know you don't want to talk about your past, Spike. But you have to at least start thinking about it. Obviously, the Powers agree. That wouldn't have worked, otherwise.'

Spike was having a hard time pulling his thoughts together. What had Xander done to him? And what did the bloody Powers That Be have to do with it? He hadn't meant to say any of that. It was hard enough repressing all that crap without having to talk about it. He calmed down considerably, however, when he discovered that he wasn't being overwhelmed by memories. Usually, talk of his relationship with his demon did that, had him huddled in a corner, screaming or crying. Now, however, he still felt... separate. Not objective, exactly, just... distant. He frowned. As nice as it was, he didn't appreciate having things done to him, especially when he didn't understand them.

'What did you do to me, Harris? I feel different.'

He was irritated to note that Xander was back to being amused. 'Cool, huh? It's the eye, the new, well new-er, one. Don't really know how it works, but I don't think it was always mine. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. This eye? Window to something else entirely. I've never looked into my own eye, naturally, but I've been told it's a seriously wiggy experience when it goes all higher being-y.'

Spike had to laugh a little at that. 'Yeah. Wiggy. One way to describe it, I guess. But I've looked you in the eye before, mate, and I can say with certainty that that has never happened.'

Xander shrugged. 'Yeah, well, I can't really control it. I mean I can, to an extent, but it doesn't always co-operate. I have to specifically want someone to tell me the truth. Wasn't sure it'd work on you, to tell the truth. I dunno how it happens, really. It's kind of like I'm... channeling someone, or something. Possibly the thing that last had the eye, but I try not to think about that too much, 'cause there is a seriously creepy thought.' He paused and looked over at Spike. 'Are you ok? I mean, you said you feel different. Anything I should worry about?'

Spike gave this some serious thought. He tentatively brought forward a random memory, waiting for the screaming to start, and it did, but it was further away, easier to manage. In fact, as he studied the man he had killed, took note of his appearance, his face, remembered his name, his family, the pain seemed to lessen. Disturbed and not a little confused, he dragged his mind back to the present. 'No, nothing to worry about,' he replied distantly.

Xander frowned. 'You sure? You want to talk about it?'

Spike shook his head and determined to contemplate what had happened later, in private. 'No,' he said firmly. 'Not yet.' He smiled reassuringly when Xander continued to look concerned. 'Really. Although, you wanna warn me the next time you try something like that?'

Xander grinned. 'No. So, you looking forward to seeing Willow?'

Spike grimaced, but let the other man change the subject. Not much he could do about it anyway, was there? 'Saw her this afternoon. She was getting on a plane in Sydney. New slayer's quite a looker. A natural fighter, too, from what I've seen.'

'Yeah, Willow says she's got a lot of potential.' Spike rolled his eyes at the exceptionally bad pun. Xander grinned. 'She's bringing her older sister as well, apparently, to train as a watcher or a witch, or both I guess.'

Spike started to relax again, although the memory of what had happened was never far from his mind, as their conversation played out along less traumatic lines. He supposed that was one thing about Xander, the man never pushed him too far, always seemed to know when to back off. Yet another bonus to go along with the visions, he supposed. The man certainly hadn't ever known when to shut his mouth when he was younger. Neither of them brought it up again, and the night disappeared with visions and comfortable conversation.

Two C

In which Xander thinks about Spike, Dawn thinks about Xander, Willow gets magical and Spike does something we've all been waiting for...

Xander yawned as he plopped down into one of the padded benches decorating the wide front porch of their house. It was nearly eleven thirty, but as tired as he was, he was waiting for Buffy to get back from picking Willow and Rachel up from the airport. He'd had breakfast with the slayers after Dawn had left for a meeting, but Buffy was expecting to find them hard at work on the oval, working on their archery skills, and she was due back any minute. Jesse had challenged him to a match, so he'd joined them for a little while, astonishing them all by winning two out of three matches. He hadn't used a bow and arrow in some time, and although he was no lightweight, he didn't have the upper body strength of a slayer, but stake vampires for long enough, and you learned how to aim.

He leaned his head back onto the cool brick wall, stretching his legs out and folding his hands over his stomach. With the sun warming his face, he let his eyes drift slowly shut, a smile spreading over his face. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this peaceful. Sitting here like this, he could almost forget about the monsters and the danger, and pretend that the world was a good place to be. He could hear the girls faintly, laughing and shouting at each other. Inside, he could hear the murmur of voices from the classroom, as the watchers-in-training laughingly worked their way through this week's tutorial in Fyarl.

His smile widened as he thought of seeing Willow again, and they would have to get Giles up for another visit; all the Scoobies together, including one they had never thought to see again.

His mind drifted towards thoughts of Spike, as he found them doing with disconcerting frequency these days. He knew that the ex-vampire was a good part of his current contented mood. Having him back was like being able to reclaim a part of his childhood. But more than that, he was the first real friend Xander had made in a long time. He was becoming addicted to being able to have some one to talk to, to joke with, to help him with research or just to sit and be with. Someone who shared his need to protect the innocent, and who understood some of the pain in his heart. Even the knowledge that Spike wasn't really real was ceasing to bother him. He'd known a lot of different creatures over the years, and the fact the Spike was a ghost, or a guardian, or whatever he wanted to call himself just wasn't as important as it once might have been.

He was constantly surprising himself with just how relaxed he found himself around Spike. When he'd resolved to physically touch the other man as much as he was comfortable with, he'd thought it was going to he difficult for him, embarrassing even. But, whether it was the fact that it was just between friends, or it was the grateful and surprised look that Spike still got every time he did so, Xander had found himself becoming addicted to that as well. And although there was a great deal of the vampire he remembered in Spike, there was also a whole new level to the man that made it that much easier.

He didn't react as he heard someone open the front door and walked over to where he was sitting. He did smile when, a moment later, he felt a warm body curl up beside him, and he moved a hand to run his fingers through a head of soft, shoulder-length hair. He cracked open one eye at the contented sigh that this produced, one corner of his mouth twitching up at the sight of Dawn curled up like a cat beside him. 'Gonna get your suit all rumpled,' he said lazily.

She smiled a little. 'Yeah, probably. Buff just called, they'll be here in a couple of minutes.' She giggled softly as Xander yawned again, stretching before pushing himself up to sit straight. He just nodded, smiling, and put his arm around her shoulder.

Dawn looked at her friend as he continued to sit, smiling peacefully out at nothing in particular. He looked so young at the moment - almost the teenager she had first met as Buffy's new best friend. She knew how hard the past ten years had been on him. As the rest of them had slowly learned to relax, to just live again, he had taken on the responsibility of the visions, cutting himself off from any chance of a normal life. She understood his reasons, god knew she'd wished often enough when she was younger that she could do more to help in the fight against evil, that she could have a purpose.

So she had argued less than all the others against his decision. She had managed to find her place in the world, as a watcher, and she understood that Xander had wanted that same sort of security. She had also had some idea of just how good he would be at the job, although he had managed to exceed even her expectations. Like her, he had never been as directly involved in the action as the rest of them, and she knew he already saw so much more than they tended to give him credit for. He would never have made a really good watcher, but this had almost seemed like a natural progression.

But she also saw how hard it was for him, that they couldn't really understand the pain the visions caused him, physically certainly, but more mentally and emotionally. They had known how close he had come to the edge those first few weeks, but had been at a loss as to how to help him. It had come as a great relief when he started eating again, but he had been all but silent for months, just handing over his reports, speaking only when spoken to. They had eventually managed to draw him out of his shell, and in time he had started laughing and joking with them again, but he had never been quite the same.

These last few weeks, though, she had seen him more contented than he had been in a long time. She knew that it was because of Spike. Even though she and Buffy couldn't see him, it was like this was a reward, like they were getting something back after all they had sacrificed. It was all kind of weird, actually. Xander had told them that Spike looked almost exactly the same as the last time that had seen him, minus the leather duster and the ability to go into game face, and she could imagine just how he would look, but sometimes it was so hard to believe that he was actually there. Spike had been part of her family, and losing him had almost been too much for her. All the loss and the pain of the last seven years had come crashing down, symbolized in that one final straw. She knew that it had to be Spike, the things he knew, the way he spoke, but she wished desperately that she could see him. Grateful as she was, she had to admit she had been jealous of Xander, that he, who had never loved the vampire as she, or even Buffy had, should be the only one able to see him. But now, seeing what the last couple of weeks had done for him, she couldn't find it in her heart to begrudge her friend the first thing that had managed to put that look on his face in more than ten years.

'What? Have I got something on my face?' Dawn started a little at the amused voice beside her.

'Yep.' She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. He looked surprised, but pleased.

'What was that for?'

She shook her head. 'Nothing. It's just... I'm happy, that you're happy. It's been too long, and I've missed seeing that look on your face. I know it won't last forever, but... I don't know. It feels like the old days. I just missed him so much and... you brought him back, and now it feels like when I got Buffy back, but even better, 'cause everything's better... you know?'

'Yeah, I do,' he said, smiling softly, gazing out at the sunlit countryside.

She didn't really want to break the peaceful silence, but there was something she had wanted to know for a while now. 'Xander, is Spike ok, really?'

His face became pensive as he turned to look at her. 'I don't know Dawnie. I did the eye thing on him last night. He's still in a lot of pain and he's got loads of issues to deal with. He doesn't like to talk about it, but I am worried about him. I just wish there was more I could do to help.'

Dawn covered her surprise. She had suspected that Spike would still be tormented by memories of his past. Hell, Angel had had a soul for decades and still hadn't managed to deal. What she hadn't expected was the depth of emotion in Xander's voice. She knew that the two were becoming friends, or at least Xander was, but hearing his concern for the other man, she wondered if that was all there was to it. Xander had never had much luck with relationships, but at least in the past his partners had all been visible. And Spike was dead. Granted, he'd been dead when he and Buffy had been together, but surely this was different. Mentally shaking her head, Dawn decided she would have to talk about this with Willow, they just didn't know enough about what Spike was, and so far it seemed innocent enough. Besides, she could be wrong.

Setting aside her concerns for the moment, she said, 'Buffy and I both want to help, Xander. If there's ever anything we can do...'

'I think just being able to talk to you two again helps him, Dawnie,' he said with a smile.

They were interrupted by the sound of a car coming down the gravel driveway, and they both stood up and made their way to the small set of steps leading down to the yard. The car pulled up, and Xander leapt down the steps to open the passenger side door, a massive grin on his face. The second that Willow stepped out, he swept her up into a huge hug, planting a sweet kiss on her forehead before setting her down. Her protesting 'Xander's' would have been a whole lot more convincing were it not for the grin that was plastered all over her own face.

'Hey, Wills, long time no see.'

She tried to frown through her grin. 'Alexander Harris, what have you got yourself into this time?'

He held up his hands defensively, laughing. 'Hey, don't blame me, it was your spell.'

She lowered her voice, mindful of the new slayer and her sister. 'Buffy and Dawn both tell me they're convinced it is actually him, not that I don't plan to run a few tests myself, mind, so where is the bleached menace? Is he here?'

'He left after breakfast, but he promised to be back for when you got here. I haven't looked for him yet, thought it could wait 'till we got inside.' When Willow nodded, he grinned at her again, turning towards the two newest members of their household.

The girls had moved away from the car, and were gazing up at the mansion in awe. They were obviously sisters, with the same dark brown hair, green eyes and full, smiling mouths. Even after nearly twenty hours travel, the younger of the two was bouncing on the balls of her feet, looking around excitedly at her new home. The enviable product of slayer physiology and being fifteen, Xander supposed wryly. The elder sister looked much more subdued, although no less curious. He strode over and tapped them on the shoulder, giving them his most welcoming smile.

'Hi there, you must be Rachel and Fiona. It's great to finally meet you. Willow's told me so much about you.' He held out a hand to each of them. 'I'm Xander.'

'Oh, hey, Willow told us about you! You're like vision-boy or something, right?' the younger, Rachel, exclaimed.

'That's me.'

'The seer,' Fiona said curiously, looking into his eyes, blushing when she caught him smiling at her.

'Hey, I love your eyes!' Rachel said, leaning in to get a better look. 'Are they real? Were you born like that?'

He chuckled a little, looking over their heads to where Willow was smirking at him. He flicked a sympathetic look towards Buffy, who was shaking her head, her eyes sparkling; this one would be a handful. 'They are indeed real, but alas I wasn't born like this. Fifteen years ago I lost my eye in a fight against evil, but the Powers That Be decided to reward me by giving me a new one.' He tapped his cheek under his left eye, grinning a little. He knew he was hamming it up, although it was essentially the truth. 'We think that this eye once belonged to a higher being, an angel, if you will. That's why it's a different color. The brown one is the eye that I was born with.'

Fiona seemed a little dubious, but looked at her sister in amusement as Rachel continued to stare into his face. 'Cool, an angel-eye. It's very pretty. Although I gotta say, I think I like the other one better, wouldn't you say, Fi? All deep and soulful.' She turned around to look demandingly at her sister. The eyes in question widened slightly and Fiona dutifully looked back into his face again. She flicked him an apologetic but resigned glance. Obviously she'd done this before. Xander grinned at her and shrugged.

'Absolutely, Rache.'

Rachel nodded thoughtfully and Xander couldn't help laughing. 'Oh, I like you two. Come on, you've got things to do and people to meet.' He led them over to Dawn and Buffy. 'Buffy you've met. This is her sister Dawn, she's the head of the Slayers Council and she takes care of all the watchers.' They shook her hand politely. He grinned and gestured up at the house. 'And this is the headquarters for the Council in America. What do you think?'

'It's incredible,' Rachel enthused. 'Is this really where we're going to be living?'

'Yup, home, sweet, home.


Spike watched as Xander and Willow sat down on the floor of the man's office. The two hadn't said much after taking their leave of Buffy and Dawn, but Spike got the distinct impression they were communicating nonetheless. Willow reached into the small bag she had brought with her after dropping off the rest of her luggage and brought out a large white candle and a stick of incense.

The silence from the two figures was starting to get to him. Spike wished he could ask just what the hell they were planning on doing, since no one seemed inclined to say anything out loud. As if on cue, Xander finally smiled and said, 'Ok, Wills, you know I trust you, but what is this going to involve, exactly.'

She took a deep breath. 'Well, essentially, I'll put my mind in your body for a little while. You remember after Glory took Dawn and I had to go into Buffy's mind to get her out? It'll be kind of like that.'

Xander frowned. 'And what happens to my mind? I'm not comatose.'

'No, I know, your mind will still be there, too. It'll even be in control most of the time. What I'm hoping will happen is that when you phase, I'll be able to follow you. I'll be able to see and hear everything that you can. I should still be able to work most magics in the higher plane, but only if you let me. That's where the trust comes in.' She looked a little worried. 'If I want to cast any spells, you'll have to lend me your mouth and your body. I wouldn't be able to do anything you don't want me to, Xander. Not that I would, of course, and I know it's a lot to ask, but I can't think of any other way for this to work, other than casting the phase spell on myself, which I don't really want to do, seeing as I don't get visions, or anything, and I would never do anything to hurt you, but I'll try to find something else if you don't want me inside your head-'

Spike shook his head a little in amazement. The witch was worse than the seer. 'Willow,' Xander was saying, his own mouth curving just a bit, 'I told you, I trust you. What do you want me to do?'

'Oh, right. Sorry. Well, find out if Spike is here first.' Xander nodded and became solid. He looked around to where Spike was sitting in the window seat. Xander gave him a warm smile that he found himself responding to almost in spite of himself. Xander winked at him before turning back to Willow.

'He's here.'

She looked around curiously, but took him at his word. 'Ok, Spike, I need you to come and sit over here with us.' She patted the floor to the left of them, in between where she and Xander were sitting. With a glance at Xander, who just shrugged, he got up and took himself over to where she indicated, folding himself gracefully down onto the floor. He shivered a little when Xander's hand came to rest on his knee, quickly looking up into reassuring eyes. He didn't miss the speculative look that Willow flashed Xander, and for just a moment, it occurred to him what they must look like, casually touching all the time. In an instant, his world twisted, his eyes looked on Xander in a completely different light. Could this have been more than just compassion and friendship? Then it twisted back. No, that couldn't be right. He was dead, practically a ghost, and Xander had never said anything to make him think the man saw him as anything other than a friend. Still...

Xander brought him back to himself. 'He's there. What do you want him to do?'

'Nothing for the moment.' She placed the candle in the middle of the circle they made, lighting it and the incense with a thought. She took one of Xander's hands in her own. 'Xander, you'll have to phase back for a moment.' The man complied, and suddenly his hand passed straight through Spike's body. He knew the startled look on Xander's face mirrored his own. But Willow was pushing on. 'I just need you to look into the candle and clear your mind. Let me do everything else.'

A few minutes later, Xander phased back and took his hand. He didn't seem to be any different, and so he was surprised when the man opened his mouth and began chanting. He felt the energy growing in the room, pressing in around him. He tried to wrench his hand away when he felt some of that energy directed towards him, but found that he couldn't move. His eyes flicked desperately up to Xander's, and they caught him. Willow may have been using his mouth, but Spike knew those eyes, and the reassurance in them was all Xander. He stilled, letting them focus him. Xander would never let Willow do anything to harm him; she just needed to find out for herself that he was real. To be honest, he knew Willow wouldn't do anything to hurt him either. She would test him, but as long as she believed there was a chance he was who he said he was, she would be careful.

For nearly half an hour she poked and prodded him with her magic, asking technical questions about his plane, his essence and his body that he'd never really considered in the past. Eventually, however, he demanded to know if she was satisfied for the moment, and if so, then Xander really needed to get some rest. This immediately put a stop to the inquisition, and a second later Willow opened her own eyes. 'Xander, I'm so sorry. I lost track of the time,' she said worriedly, looking not a little guilty.

Xander, naturally, waved it off. 'Don't stress, Wills. You find out what you needed?'

A hint of excitement crept into her voice. 'It was amazing, Xander. I might have to run a few more tests, and there are some things I'll have to look up, oh! and I should give Cordy a ring, but I think I know what's going on. It's definitely Spike, or at least a part of him, and I'm fairly sure he's not out to hurt you, or any of us for that matter.'

Xander nodded, smiling, but his eyes were starting to look a little glazed and Spike could see that even sitting on the floor, he was swaying slightly. Willow apparently noticed this too, because she suddenly got to her feet, tugging on Xander's arm in an attempt to get him to his feet. 'Come on, mister, you have to get up. I can't carry you to bed.'

Xander groaned. 'I could just sleep on the floor. You could bring me a pillow,' he said hopefully. Spike rolled his eyes and wrapped his arm around Xander's torso, hauling him to his feet. He laughed a little at the startled expression on Willow's face.

'C'mon, mate. Little effort on your part.' Xander dutifully snaked an arm around his waist, his fingers tickling a little as they ghosted over his back. Hoping that Xander wouldn't decide to phase out between here and the bedroom, he walked Xander into the other room, laying him down on the bed. Xander immediately closed his eyes.

Willow poked him in the ribs from the other side of the bed. 'Xander! Don't you want to get changed?' He squirmed a little, but didn't open his eyes.

''Ll do 't later,' he mumbled. Willow looked at him with a kind of fond exasperation.

She chewed her lip for a moment, glancing around furtively, before sighing and looking back to Xander. 'I really shouldn't do this,' she muttered. 'Spike, don't look.' Knowing Willow would never do anything to hurt Xander, Spike watched this display curiously, and was still watching a moment later when all of the man's clothes disappeared, only to be replaced just as suddenly by a pair of sweats and a lose t-shirt. He blinked once as his brain tried to process what it had just seen. ''Night, Xander. I'll see you in the evening,' Willow said quietly, kissing him on the forehead. Xander opened his eyes a slit.

'G'night, Wills, love you.' She smiled at him affectionately, before carefully drawing the blackout curtains and leaving the room.

Spike was about to do the same when he heard a mumbled, 'Spike.' He turned around to see Xander propped up on one elbow, looking bleary, but serious. ''M glad that you're you, Spike. Always knew you were, o'course, but I'm glad.' He reached out a hand, and Spike took it, allowing himself to be tugged down to sit on the side of the bed. Xander was looking at him so openly, weariness having lowered all his emotional shields. And still, all Spike could see was affection, friendship, understanding, trust. When was the last time someone had looked at him like that? Dawn, his mother, they had loved him, but they had been a part of his family. Buffy had never quite been able to let go of herself enough to put that much faith in him. He felt the world twist again, leaving him breathlessly aware of the man in front of him. He knew that Xander didn't love him, hell, he barely knew him. But he didn't need or want flowery declarations or lifetime commitments. Even forgetting for the moment that he was dead, he didn't know if Xander would even consider feeling that way about another man.

Still, looking down into those trusting eyes, he knew that he did want... something. To express his gratitude, his friendship, perhaps even hope. And for the first time in a long time, he was free to act on what he was feeling. So, ignoring for the moment inconvenient thoughts of consequences and complications, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Xander's. He let them linger for only a split second, before pulling away. It was nothing really, a kiss between friends, but the sensation was incredible. Xander's lips were smooth and hard, and he closed his eyes as he felt little tingles of electricity shiver through his body. God, he knew that had been a bad idea. How was he supposed to stop himself from doing it again? It had made him feel almost... happy.

He shied away from that thought, and opened his eyes when he heard Xander chuckle lightly. 'I take it back. Who are you?' He shook his head once, smiling fondly at Xander.

'Go to sleep, mate, I'll see you later.'

Xander had already flopped back down, his eyes drifting shut, although the smile didn't leave his face. ''Night, Spike.'

''Night, luv.'

Part Two D

In which Willow explains exactly what Spike is all about.

Willow had the dining room table covered in books, papers, her laptop, the phone and various spell-type accoutrements when Xander came downstairs that evening. He only had time to grin a little at the way she was bouncing around the room before all three women zoomed in on him. He knew he was really late. The first vision for the evening had actually pulled him from sleep, making him wonder for a moment if he was still dreaming. But it was a simple vampires-on-the-hellmouth type vision, so instead of making them wait any longer, he had thrown on some clothes, and brought his notebook downstairs with him.

'Xander, there you are! We were starting to get worried!'

'Sorry, Wills,' he grinned at her, 'but that's what happens when you have a beautiful young thing keep you up most of the night. Or day in my case.'

She looked immediately contrite, but smiled beatifically when she took in the compliment. Just as quickly, the smile turned into an excited grin. He chuckled inwardly. And people thought he was one with the mood-swings. 'Morning, guys.' He wandered over to the table, giving Buffy and Dawn an absent kiss on the cheek while searching fruitlessly for a clear corner of workspace.

'Hey, Xan,' Dawn said with a smile.

'You're up late,' Buffy commented, snaking an arm around his waist. 'You sleep through your first vision again?' she grinned.

'Nearly,' he grinned back at her. 'So...?' He waved his hand at the table, looking over at Willow.

Dawn rolled her eyes, smiling ruefully at Buffy. 'Willow wanted to look a few things up.' The three of them shared a smirk, while said witch put her hands on her hips and tried not to look amused.

'So I see. I don't s'pose you could clear me a corner, could you Wills?' He glanced down at the book open in front of him, skimming a few lines. 'Although I'll understand if you feel the mating habits of dryads are relevant in this case. Not a subject I'm well versed in, but I guess it could have something to do with vampires becoming higher beings and me being able to see them.' He grinned at her, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

She glared at him, but moved the book obligingly. Sitting down, he started writing - waiting while the three of them did the same. 'So, what's the verdict? Oh, wait!' he said suddenly. He hadn't noticed Spike before his vision started, or when he had glanced around for him afterwards. He had figured this was where the man was most likely to be. Phasing out, then, he was unsurprised to see Spike leaning up against the wall behind Willow and Dawn, exactly where he had glimpsed him for only the second time, all those weeks ago. 'Evening, Casper.' Willow and Dawn looked around, and Buffy smiled in the direction Xander was looking.

'So he is here. I never know if I should say anything just in case. And I'm not going to start talking to myself on the off chance you're around to hear, either, Spike.' She softened the words with a grin.

'The way you talk to yourself when you're in the shower, luv?' Spike said with a lascivious grin. Xander's eyes widened. He wouldn't. Would he? No, this was Spike with a soul. On the other hand, he was in love with Buffy, or at least he had been. Xander frowned a little. Spike must have noticed, because he rolled his eyes and said, 'Relax, mate, I wouldn't do that. Not any more anyway.' He smiled disarmingly, and Xander found himself responding in spite of himself. Still, he couldn't help but worry about the state of affairs between the ex-vampire and the slayer.

He had simply assumed that Spike was still in love with Buffy. No matter how much he had tried to deny it in that last year, Xander had been able to see the way the vampire had looked at her, much the same way the way he had gazed at her just a few weeks ago, when she had stood in the circle of Xander's arms and used his hands to touch Spike's face. He had seen the longing, the affection in the other man's eyes. Still, they had never talked about it. In fact, Spike seemed to speak about Buffy in exactly the same he spoke about Dawn or Willow. Like she was family. Someone he loved, but someone he wanted to protect, to see happy, not to make happy.

The same way he himself thought about Spike. Although... his mind flashed back to the kiss last night. He had been close enough to sleep at the time to dismiss the brief fluttering he had felt in his gut. He wanted to lie to himself, pretend he didn't know what that feeling meant, to deny any attraction to the other man. Because he knew that nothing would, could, ever come of it. Even if Spike wasn't in love with his best friend, the man wasn't even real. And he wasn't fool enough to ruin the best friendship he'd had in years, not counting his girls, to indulge in a purely physical, unrequited attraction.

Subdued, now, he offered Spike a small smile. 'I just wanted to make sure that you were here. I'm afraid you'll just have to listen for a while. I'll write up my report and phase back in a few minutes. That ok?'

Spike was looking at him oddly, but replied, 'Sure, mate. Take your time.'

Xander just nodded, phasing back and picking up his pen again. 'Sorry, Wills, go on.'

'Ok, well, like I said last night, it definitely is Spike. Not exactly the same Spike, without the vampire and with a new body, but I'd know that soul anywhere. What you said about the Powers offering him a reward for his sacrifice is believable. There have been cases of similar things happening throughout history. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward. Like your eye, Xander. You sacrificed a normal future to be a messenger for them, so they gave you back your eye, and a nifty truth-detecting power to go along with it. Spike sacrificed not only his life, but also, from what he's said, any chance he might have had to find peace. And he did it out of love, to save the world from hell. That's a big sacrifice. Now, I don't know why they didn't make him human again, or whatever is supposed to happen to Angel. Maybe it's because he didn't have an actual physical body for them to work with. From everything I've read, the Powers can change a body from one thing to something else, but they very rarely make a new one, fully formed, from scratch. If you know what I mean?'

She waited for them to nod. Xander noticed there were tears in Dawn's eyes, although she looked proud. Willow took a deep breath and started again. 'Right, so they made him a higher being. Not a higher being like Cordelia was for a little while, lesser than that, but higher than us. Cordy told me that when they made her part demon, she had a guide, Skip, that only she could see. I think that's kind of what Spike is, although he calls himself a guardian, not a guide.'

Dawn interrupted. 'So how come only Xander can see him?'

Willow nodded. 'That's got to do with the nature of the plane. Obviously, to us, it's a metaphysical plane. Things exist there in essence. Which means that everything that exists here also exists there, but not physically.' She grimaced, frustrated. 'I'm not explaining this right... Ok, take this table.' She knocked once on the wooden surface. 'Perfectly solid. Now, to Spike, it would be intangible. He'd be able to walk straight through it. That's right, isn't it Xander?' She looked at him expectantly. He nodded, glancing up from his page.

'Yeah, he can walk through just about anything. Although, he can also sit down, lean against the wall, that sort of thing. How is that supposed to work?'

Willow frowned, sighing. 'I don't really know. The table doesn't have a soul or anything like that, but like everything it has an essence, an energy. That's what exists in the other plane. I guess, being a part of that plane, Spike might be able to manipulate that energy. I'd have to run some more tests. Anyway, it doesn't really matter. Ok, then. Now, people are a little different. Generally speaking, we have souls, which are made up of a very special type of energy. That energy is intangible on this plane, but it can exist physically on higher planes.'

Xander looked up again. 'So, Spike is just a soul?'

Willow seemed startled at this. 'Oh, no, Spike's body is perfectly real. Like I said before, the Powers didn't create him a new physical body on this plane, but they did give him a body. It's just made up of more energy than matter.' Xander frowned again. For all that he was able to touch him, he'd unconsciously been thinking of Spike as a kind of ghost, not really real. The fact that he existed in a more tangible sense seemed to make things different somehow.

'I don't get it Wills, how can he have a physical body, when we clearly can't see it?'

'The entire plane is out of phase with ours, Xander. Do you remember when we created that demon by bringing Buffy back? It was only slightly out of phase with this reality. That's why we could kind of see it. When Tara and I gave it form, all we did was pull it's physical body from Spike's plane into our plane. We didn't create life, or anything like that. If it hadn't already existed physically in some sense, that spell wouldn't have worked.'

Xander pondered this for a while, his report momentarily forgotten. 'Alright, then. So, why do I exist there physically when I shift?'

Willow grinned, once again back on solid ground. 'Now this, I know. Remember I said souls could exist physically there? Well, for most people, their soul is locked tightly inside their body. That body prevents the soul from existing fully in the other plane. When we die, our soul is released. Spike told me that he's been able to touch people right after they've died, when their soul passes through his plane on to wherever it goes next. Most of the time, a soul can't remain on that plane without a body, I guess they have more important things they have to be doing, which is why the Powers had to create one for Spike. But, to answer your question, Xander, you can exist physically there because your soul can move outside your body. Instead of being trapped inside, when you phase it sort of leaks out, becomes like a second skin. But it's still firmly connected to you. That's probably why Spike can feel your physical body as well. Does that make any sense?'

Xander couldn't help smirking a little at that. Glancing over he saw Buffy quickly wipe a similar amused look from her face. He caught her eye and they both suppressed another grin. Willow looked so earnest, however, that they both nodded encouragingly. Dawn actually seemed to know exactly what Willow was talking about. And Xander had gotten the gist of it. Besides, as long as someone understood it, and Willow assured him there weren't going to be any unpleasant side effects, he was more than prepared to live with ignorance.

Dawn started asking intelligent questions. 'His soul is on the outside of his body? Will that leave it susceptible to attack? You know Xander hasn't had the best record with that sort of thing to begin with.' She grimaced an apology at him. He shrugged. Couldn't argue with the facts.

As Willow explained that she could put warding spells around him, but that it shouldn't be too much of a problem anyway, considering he would now be able to actually see a great many of the things that tried to attack him psychically, he signed off on his report, and phased back to look for Spike. He was slightly startled to find him sitting right beside him. He punched him lightly in the arm, provoking an innocent grin. 'So, turns out you're a real boy after all, huh, Blondie?' he whispered, not wanting to interrupt Willow and Dawn, who had moved on from stuff that he could mostly understand to the properties of matter and energy and other such gibberish.

'Imagine that. You know,' he said, sounding slightly aggrieved, 'most people, they live, they die, and that's it. Me, I've been more bloody things in my time... Getting right confusing it is.'

Buffy leaned over at his grin, resting her chin on his shoulder. 'What's up?' she murmured.

'Spike's complaining about how unfair his life is,' he told her with a twinkle.

She raised an eyebrow, smiling slightly. 'Oh, I don't know. There aren't all that many people who get the chance to be a human, a vampire, a vampire with a soul and a higher being all in the space of one existence. Could be considered a good thing. Although, there is Cordy. And she's only thirty-five, who knows what else could happen. And I've still got him beat on the number of times I've died. Besides,' her face fell a bit, her voice becoming wistful, 'at least he's still here. That's got to be worth something.'

Xander put an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. 'He is here. And,' he paused for dramatic effect, continuing in a whisper, 'he's even managed to learn to be slightly less irritating than he used to be.' He paused, giving Spike the eye. 'Well, 'slightly' might be a little strong. And 'less', come to think of it.'

Spike was looking amused. 'You better watch yourself, Harris. I might just have to dig deep and find that part of me again.'

Xander grinned, turning back to Buffy. 'Now he's threatening me. You've got no idea what I have to put up with.'

'Oh, gee, let me think. Spike being irritating, threatening and complaining. No, no, I've got no idea what that might be like.'

'You know, you were all much nicer to me when you thought I was dead.' He was obviously going for put upon. Xander just grinned at him, reaching over to put a hand on his shoulder.

'What can I say, Spike? You just bring it out in people.' Not giving Spike a chance to respond, he pushed back his chair and turned to Willow and Dawn. 'Guys? I'm just gonna run this upstairs.' He waved around the piece of paper. He turned to Buffy. 'You wanna order pizza or something? Wills hasn't been here for one of our infamous Friday movie-interrupted-by-visions nights for ages. Spike can come, too.' Willow lit up and Dawn grinned, nodding enthusiastically, their conversation forgotten for the moment.

Buffy responded, 'Sure thing, Xander. Say half an hour? We'll meet you upstairs.'

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