Pairings: Spike/Xander. Also, Xander/OMC, Dawn/OMC, Buffy/OMC, Wesley/Gunn.
I read Hellmouth Liberty, by nasty_shrew, and fell in love with the darker, more cynical, somewhat asshole-ish Xander that she portrayed. And this story idea popped fully formed into my head, begging me to write it. So here it is.
Spike liked it in the cemetery at night. Not for your obvious reasons, either- like him being a vampire, and it being filled with dead people and frequently stupid coeds that even though he no longer got to eat, he could still laugh at them for being there in the first place.
He even liked the cemetery for more than just the fact that it was the easiest spot to find something to kill. There was something quiet about cemeteries, something peaceful in a morbid sort of way. It suited the odd mood that had been plaguing him for weeks, now- a sort of restlessness that he didn’t know how to quell.
Tonight he was after some sort of horned demon that liked to sacrifice virgins, or some such. He didn’t know what it was, as he hadn’t been paying attention when Giles had told him about it, but they knew him well enough by now to know that if he needed any special information to kill the damn thing, they damn well better make sure he was paying attention. Rupert didn’t like him, but neither did he ever try to get him killed, and they’d developed an odd sort of comradeship over the past year or so. Ever since Buffy had crawled back out of her grave.
He shouldered the thought aside, and concentrated on tracking the demon he was after. The scents that reached his nose when he inhaled were definitely not human, but neither were they demonic, precisely. The confusion over what they were, and what the odd spiced smell that flavored them was, sent him off across the oddly smooth lawn, following his nose.
He found the source near a crypt, but it took him a while to realize what it was. Two men, one pressing the other against the wall of the crypt, and the both of them kissing like they were trying to climb into each other’s throats, rubbing against each other like cats in heat. From what he could see they were both human, but not only could he smell otherwise, his- Spider Sense- god he was spending too much time with teenagers- was tingling. These two were not human, and with this town sitting right on top of a Hellmouth, that usually meant trouble.
He closed the distance between him and them and tapped the larger one on the shoulder. “Sorry, mate, but I want to-“
His voice died in his throat when the one he’d touched whirled around to glare at him, leaving the smaller one leaning against the crypt wall. This man was beautiful, in a feral sort of way, but there was something that he almost recognized about him…
“Fuck off, Spike. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
He knew that voice. He knew that tone of disgust and rage and anger. And now, he knew the face, though it was very, very different than the one he remembered.
“Harris? Xander Harris?”
“Yeah, whatever,” said the man who’d been missing for three years straight with nary a word to anyone. “You got my attention, what do you want?”
“What the hell are you doing here? And where the hell have you been?”
Both seemed like valid questions to Spike, but Xander sneered at him, an expression that Spike remembered quite well, even after three years. The scar bisecting the upper lip was new, though.
“What the fuck business is it of yours, Spike?”
“When a bloke who’s been missing for three years shows up on the Hellmouth smelling not-so-very-human, I make it my business!”
“While you’re asking questions, aren’t you gonna ask what I am?” Xander said, switching tacks abruptly and smiling now, with lazy, sardonic amusement. This was… not at all the man that Spike remembered. No puppy eyes, no kick-me looks. This Xander was… a predator.
“Fine, then. What the hell are you?”
“None of your business,” Xander said, and even Spike could see how much he enjoyed being able to say that. “Well, you’ll figure it out eventually. But why should I ruin the fun of watching you chase your tail in circles till you catch on?”
Through all of this, the bloke that Xander had been snogging was leaning against the wall, watching with interest. At Xander’s words, though, he straightened away from the wall and came padding over- the only word Spike could think to describe his movement- to stand by Xander’s side.
“You shouldn’t bait him, Xan,” the boy said, because Spike could see that he really was a boy- not much older than seventeen. Cute little punk kid, too, with his hair spiked out everywhere in a rainbow of colors and wearing faded, ripped clothes. He wondered where Xander had picked this one up, and when the man had started playing for the other team.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Xander said. “I gotta get my amusements where I can.”
“You know we’re going to need him eventually,” the boy pointed out. “You don’t want to alienate him.”
“Oh, I do,” Xander said, and while they stood there talking about him like he wasn’t even there, Spike took the time to actually look at Xander, catalogue the changes three years had made.
Where once he’d dressed in castoff clothing with colors bright enough to sear the eyes, he now wore unrelieved black. Heavy black boots to give him an extra inch or two in height, worn black leather trousers, and a high-necked black t-shirt tight enough that Spike could see very clearly the twin rings piercing his nipples. His face was the same but leaner, harder, and his skin was much paler than Spike remembered, as if he spent most of his time in the dark rather than the light. A silver stud with matte black balls decorated the corner of his left eyebrow, and when Xander talked, an identical piercing flashed between his teeth. The clothes were tight enough that Spike was able to easily count the weapons he was carrying- two knives strapped to his thighs, probably accessed by a slit in the trouser pockets, a stake in his back pocket, and another, much larger knife hung on a sheath from his black leather belt next to a gun large enough that it looked like it could get the job done, no matter what the job happened to be.
Spike had seen people like him before. Worn down to the essentials, surviving more than living, and more dangerous than a rabid wolf when crossed. People with little to lose rarely cared overmuch for personal safety. What Spike didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, was how, and why, Xander had joined their ranks.
“We will need him,” the boy was still insisting softly, and when Spike turned his attention back to the conversation he saw Xander sigh and fold.
“You’re right,” he admitted. “We will need him.”
“Need me for what?” Spike demanded, since he’d never been one to tolerate someone talking about him like he wasn’t always there. Xander turned to face him, his face all silver and shadows in the light of the half-moon, and for a moment Spike thought that he looked even less human than he smelled.
“Apocalypse,” Xander said succinctly. “The usual. You don’t think I’m in Sunnydale for a social call, do you?”
“Xander,” the boy said, a very quiet scold in his voice, and for some reason Spike was reminded irresistibly of Tara. The boy had the same quiet strength that the witch did, and it seemed to work just as well on this new and different Xander as Tara’s did on a troublesome Dawn or an arguing Spike and Buffy.
Xander sighed, and turned very slightly towards Spike without actually looking at him. “Fine. I’ll be polite. Spike, this is Kelsey Ba’thalion. Kels, this is Spike. Kel’s a shifter. Wolf, to be specific. Spike’s a vampire, as you damn well know. Now that I’ve gotten the introductions out of the way, can we get the hell out of here? Spike pretty much shot the mood all to hell anyway, so we might as well head home.”
“You can’t just fucking run off like that!” Spike growled. “Why are you here, after all this time? What apocalypse? And why the hell don’t you smell demon?”
“So many questions,” Xander mocked. “Such complicated answers. Suffice to say, I’m here because I was called, no other reason. The apocalypse can wait, as you have time. And I don’t smell human because I’m not. Which is a long story, and not something I care to explain for now.”
“For now,” Xander repeated. “Take a message to Buffy. Tell her that I’ll be at the Magic Box at sunset tomorrow. I’ll explain everything then.”
“She’s not going to be happy,” Spike warned. “With the way you ran off three years ago, and everything. In fact, she’s gonna be pissed something royal. The rest of them, too.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Xander said, dismissing the emotions of his oldest and best friends as if they were nothing. “Just tell them.”
Spike shook his head. “What the hell happened to you, Harris?”
“More than you could possibly understand. Even you. But I’ll explain it. Tomorrow.”
Xander turned to go, Kel right on his heels, and Spike called out to him. “What should I do if I need to get in contact with you?”
“We’re gonna be at the old mansion on Crawford Street,” Xander said. “I’m sure you still remember the way.”
Spike wanted to call out, to keep him there, but Xander had started moving again, running now, and in a few seconds even the echo of his footsteps was gone. Whatever Xander had become, he had power to spare, as did his little shifter- Spike wasn’t sure that even he could move that fast.
Spike started walking slowly back in the direction he’d come. His fairly routine evening had turned up a surprise that he had no doubt was gonna turn his life upside down, and he had no clue what the hell to do about it.
Tell Buffy, he supposed. Go to the meeting tomorrow. Find out what Xander had to say.
The boy had changed. And it wasn’t just a surface change, or even a change of species. Something had happened to Xander, something that he hadn’t been able to control, and it had twisted something so fundamental inside the boy that he had become something much closer to a wild animal. Kel might be half wolf, but Spike had no doubt that when the moon was full, Xander would be the one with instincts he couldn’t control.
And Spike found that he was oddly driven to know what they were. More than just simple curiosity. More even that concern for the home and family he’d managed to build throughout the last couple of years.
He wanted to know what had happened to Xander because he wanted Xander. It was as simple, and surprising, as that. There was something more than a little untamed about the man that Spike had just met in the cemetery, and Spike found himself wanting to know what all that pale skin felt like under his hands, and how the spice of arousal that Spike had scented would taste like if Spike drank his blood.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, as he had long ago gotten used to wanting one person, and one person alone. But Buffy would never look at him that way, and he had resigned himself to the friendship he’d built with her, that in the long run, he almost treasured more.
Xander was nothing like the golden Slayer, but he was a great deal like Drusilla. Perhaps Spike’s demon side was showing more than he’d expected, and it was starting to seem like he’d gotten over Buffy a bit more than he’d thought.
But Spike was born to adore, born to worship, and at the end of one love Xander had appeared, feral and angry and a predator to the bone. Spike knew that when he fell, he fell hard, instantly and without reason. It was starting to look like Xander had replaced Buffy in his affections the way Buffy had replaced Dru. And if it was true, then it seemed like Spike was heading back towards his roots with a man that was more dangerous than his Dark Princess ever was.
The question was: what was he going to do about it?
It was easier not to care when you had no one to care about. Xander had learned that the hard way.
It was no longer the lesson he lived by, however. That first hellish year... he didn’t like to think about it. But he had people now. He had people who cared about him, people that he could care about in return, even if he couldn’t feel as much for them as he wished.
Kel, of course, his partner, his lover, his keeper. The tamer of the beast. Xander knew that he could not have survived the past two years without Kel by his side, and he was grateful for it. He tried to show Kel just how grateful, but even when he could never find the right words, the right actions, Kel understood.
Angel, his ally, and the only person who could understand what it meant to have a calling. Wesley, who truly understood the mission better than even Angel, who lived for the mission and had taught Xander how to do the same.
The coven that had guided him, because without them he would have long ago been lost.
Blake, his contact in the Watcher’s council, who had a smile and a ready wit and a way of getting himself and others out of many a tight spot.
No, Xander couldn’t have made it this far without letting people into his life, and, to the extent he could, into his heart.
But he had never fallen in love.
He doubted he could. Not anymore. Not after what had happened to him. Not after what he had become. He could care about people, and sometimes with Kel he thought he might love him, but he had never fallen in love. He had never given his heart, or even had it truly touched.
But tonight, when he had turned to see Spike, looking exactly the same as when he had left, he had felt something inside of him move.
“Hey you,” he heard Kel say softly beside him where he was sitting on the floor, and then there were two cool hands on his shoulders. “You look worked up. Something wrong?”
“You mean besides coming back to the place I never wanted to see again and running into the person I used to hate more than words can describe? You mean besides the fact that being on the Hellmouth makes it worse? No, nothing.”
“It?” Kel began to knead at his shoulders, a futile attempt at clearing away the tension that knotted the muscles permanently, now.
“Yeah, that it. Not the hating Spike part. Hell, why bother hating Spike these days? He’s a better person than I am.”
“You know he’s not.” Soft conviction in Kel’s voice, and closed his eyes.
“Okay, so he’s not a better person than I am. But the demon inside of him is nothing to what I have inside of me.”
“And you’re controlling it,” Kel said. “You always have. I know you, Xan. You’ve got a will of steel. You can do this.” Kel sat down on the couch behind him, his hands still working their magic.
“Can I? The moment I crossed the Sunnydale limits, it perked up and said, ‘Well, hell-lo.’ It hurts. What if I can’t control it?”
“Then we leave.” Steel tone. Kel could be stubborn.
“We can’t. We have to be here.” Pause. “You still carry it, don’t you?”
“You know I do, Xan.”
“Just... you might need to use it.”
“But you might. I’m telling you, it’s worse than it’s ever been. One of these days I might lose control. You have to be ready.”
“I love you, Xan.” Nothing but sweet, giving friendship there, and for what had to be the millionth time, Xander blessed the day that Kel had come into his life.
“I know you do. But you have to be ready.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“You promised me, Kel. If you can’t do it, then I find someone who will.”
“What if we all love you too much?”
“Then I end it myself before I go a step further. I’m not going to hurt anyone, Kel. I can’t. I won’t.”
“Alright,” Kel said soothingly. He ran his fingers through Xander’s hair, and Xander sighed and leaned back against him.
“Will you sleep with me tonight? Human-you, I mean. I know you prefer to sleep shifted, but-“
“Of course I will,” Kel said. “You didn’t even have to ask. I was going to do it anyway.”
Xander rubbed his cheek against one jeans-clad thigh. “I love you too, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.”
They sat in silence for a long time, and despite the reassuring touch of the one man he cared for beyond all others, Xander couldn’t stop thinking about Spike.
The conversations had been going around and around ever since Spike had come in this morning through the tunnel into Buffy’s basement and had broken the news.
Xander was back blah wasn’t human blah apocalypse blah blah blah.
Dawn was tired of it. Everyone was meeting in the Magic Box, supposedly an hour before sunset so they’d have time to have a final talk before Xander and his boytoy (Buffy’s words, not hers) got there. She’d gotten here on time, unlike a certain someone (cough Buffy cough), and then she, along with the Anya, Giles, and the Witches, had had to wait.
She’d gotten tired of waiting half an hour ago. Fifteen minutes ago, Anya had finally gotten fed up with her jitters and had set her to shelving stock, saying that if she was going to have so much extra energy, then she might as well put it to good use.
But it was only two minutes ago that the boy had walked into the Magic Box, and for a reason she couldn’t name, Dawn couldn’t help but watch him out of the corner of her eye.
He was nothing like anyone she’d seen before, not since she’d moved from LA, anyway. In Sunnydale you might have witches and vampires and other Hellmouthy creatures, but you never saw anyone who looked out of the ordinary. You would never see a boy with the tips of his black hair dyed into a rainbow of colors, with a pierced lip and ears three times each. You’d never see a boy with a tattoo around his throat, a collar of lacy vines done in dark green ink. You’d never see a boy with a black t-shirt ripped across his midriff, and loose black jeans worn to holes that were patched with safety pins. And she’d never seen anyone but Spike wearing Doc Martens.
So this boy was different, and that should have been reason enough for her to have this embarrassing tendency to stare. But it was something more than that, and she knew it, but she couldn’t quite figure out what the something more was, precisely.
The box of miscellaneous mystical statuary that she was trying to lift onto the top shelf proved to be heavier than she’d expected, and she found herself fighting to heft it high enough. Just before she was sure to drop it, there were hands over hers, supporting the box and lifting it easily onto the high shelf.
She turned to see the punk boy she’d been watching, standing behind her with his hands already back at his sides. He offered her a little smile. “It looked like you were having trouble.”
“Man, you must be really strong. You’re not much bigger than I am, and you lifted that thing like-“ She paused. “Like you’re not human. Damn it. You’re some kind of demon, aren’t you?”
“A wolf shifter, actually,” he said. “I’m here with Xander.”
Oh. “Oh,” she said. “Spike said something about you.”
“How much about me?” No alarm in the boy’s voice, just simple curiosity.
“That you’re a wolf shifter, and that you and Xander are... involved.” She hated pale skin- it was hard to hide the blush.
He grinned at her and tucked his hands (chipped metallic green nail polish, she noticed) into his pockets. “Yeah. Notsomuch like you’re thinking, though.”
“Spike said he found the two of you kissing.”
“I never said I wasn’t sleeping with him. But we’re more partners than anything. Like Batman and Robin.” Another grin. “I, of course, would be Robin.”
“Batman and Robin weren’t gay,” she said automatically, then focused on the more important part of metaphor. “So you’re all... good-guy-ish? And Xander’s a superhero?”
“Yeah, we’re good guys. And yeah, Xander fights the good fight. Notsomuch a superhero.”
“Then what is he?”
“A question I think we all want answered,” Buffy said as she came in through the front door to the Magic Box. Dawn rolled her eyes- Buffy never could resist making an entrance- and ignored her sister when she gave the boy her patented Angry!Slayer!glare™. “And who are you?”
“Kelsey Ba’thalion,” he said politely. “You’d be Buffy, I take it?”
“How’d you know?” she demanded.
“Because Xander told me that if I ran into a tiny blonde that scares the hell out of me, then I’d know that I’d met Buffy Summers.”
Buffy’s glare lessened a little bit, as she debated whether or not she was going to take that as a compliment or not. Apparently unable to make up her mind, she just shook it away and changed the subject- a well-known Buffy tactic.
“You’re Xander’s friend.”
“Yeah,” Kel said. “We’ve been partners for two years, give or take.”
Dawn could see Buffy wanting to ask if Kel meant partners, partners, or just partners. Was it that obvious, or did she just know her sister that well? Nevermind, that was totally not the point.
What Buffy said instead was, “I thought he was going to meet us here at sunset.”
“It’s sunset. So where’s Xander?”
“Here,” said a familiar voice from the back doorway, the one that led to the training room. Xander stood there, looking dark and unsmiling and- well, really freakin’ hot, actually, not that that was the point- with Spike appearing behind him. “I’m here,” he repeated, and everything fell silent.
Spike found Xander leaning against the wall beside the back door, waiting for him. Spike couldn’t control the surge of pleasure he felt, but he could and did keep his face blank as he closed the distance between them.
“Hey,” Xander said, when he was close enough. Spike stopped and looked at him, noticing the collar tattooed on his throat that had been hidden by the high collar of his shirt the night before. It was similar to the one that he’d noticed on the wolfling, but Xander’s was done in dark blue ink instead of green, and the art was heavy Celtic knot work instead of lacy vines. Spike stared at it, and wondered how long it had been since he’d last felt butterflies in his stomach.
Xander rolled his shoulders and looked uncomfortable. “Wanted a chance to apologize for last night,” he said.
Whatever Spike had been expecting, that wasn’t it. “Now I know there’s gonna be an apocalypse,” he quipped. “If you’re apologizing to me.”
Xander straightened up, something ugly creeping into his eyes, and instinctively Spike shrank back a step. Whatever was wrong with Xander, it has just come home to roost with a vengeance at Spike’s joke, and Spike, demon though he was, couldn’t help but be a little afraid.
Humanity bled back into Xander’s eyes at Spike’s movement, leaving only self-directed fear and disgust. He whirled around and slammed both fists into the brick wall, causing a spider web of cracks to appear in the masonry.
“Sorry.” The word was hoarse.
“No need to be, mate.” Greatly daring, Spike reached out and touched Xander’s rigid back. “Any blind fool could see that there’s something ridin’ you. I don’t know what it is, but it can’t be easy to live with.”
“It’s not.” Xander turned and slumped against the wall. “Worse, here.”
“Hellmouth does tend to bring out the demon in you,” Spike agreed. “Anything I can do to help?”
Xander let out a helpless sort of laugh. “Yes. No.” Pause. “Can I make up my mind later?”
“Sure. Make more sense if I knew what was goin’ on, though.”
Xander shook his head. “Not up to telling this more than once.”
“Then we’d better get inside,” Spike said. “That was the reason we met tonight, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it was.” Spike waited patiently as Xander sighed, fidgeted, and finally straightened away from the wall. “Okay.” He visibly steeled himself, then opened the door and went in. Spike followed him as he silently crossed the training room, getting close enough to the open door to the shop to hear the tail end of Buffy’s question.
“Here,” he said, stepping into the doorway with Spike right behind him. “I’m here.”
It took a while for everyone to stop milling around and talking over each other. Eventually, it was only Giles’ watcher-glare and everyone’s mutual curiosity that got them to shut up and settle down in their usual spots, with Kel sitting at Xander’s feet- a very canine habit that looked odd for a human boy.
“It was several days after Adam that I started having dreams,” Xander began. “Not the dreams from the First Slayer. Dreams from something else entirely.
“It was a few days after that when I started hearing the voice. Calling me, I thought, and after a week, I found out I was right. I gave in, wrote a goodbye note, packed my things, and followed the voice out of Sunnydale. It didn’t leave my head until I found myself in a white chamber somewhere like underneath an LA post office.
“A... being is the best way to describe it... spoke to me. Same voice that had been calling me. It told me that I’d been chosen, that the spell to defeat Adam had opened me up and drawn their attention to me. That I’d been given a gift.
“They gave me power. As much power as I had the will to control.”
He paused, and everyone leaned forward a little, rapt with attention. Everyone but Spike, who was staring at him with a peculiar expression on his face, as if he was being told that a fairy tale was true by Snow White herself.
“What I didn’t know then was that the power they gave me was demonic in origin. Dark power, you could say, and it was. Dark, I mean. It’s... hard to control, sometimes. Much, much worse here in Sunnydale, which is one of the reasons I never came back here. There’s only so much that I can take. Given a choice, I’d be at the other end of the world from here right now.” There was a long pause.
“But I can’t,” he said finally. “I was sent to help here. And I will. That’s all there is to it.”
A long silence followed his words, interrupted only by the sounds of rustling clothes and soft breathing. Finally Giles spoke, asking the question that they were all thinking.
“But Xander,” he said carefully, “what, exactly, are you?”
A flat voice answered him- not Xander, but Spike, sitting up on the stepladder and looking shell shocked.
Giles sent Spike a frowning glance. “Spike, that’s a myth.”
“What’s a myth?” Dawn wanted to know. “The Hellbound thing?”
“Yes, exactly,” Giles said. “There’ve been rumors of such creatures, but no one has ever found any proof to substantiate it.”
“We’re not creatures,” Xander said quietly, and Giles turned to look at him.
“You mean to tell me that Spike is right?”
“Now I know the world is ending,” Buffy muttered. Everyone else ignored her.
“Xander, do you honestly expect me to believe that you are actually one of the people known as Hellbound? Because I can honestly say that the Council-“
“Has its head up its ass,” Xander interrupted. “And you know it. The only Council member who knows about me has too much common sense to share with the class. Don’t bother asking his name,” he added when Giles opened his mouth again. “He’s helped me out too much for me to betray him. Even to you.”
“Giles?” Buffy asked. “I don’t suppose that you could maybe, possibly, tell us what’s going on?”
Giles shook his head. “I don’t know enough about it. Until today, I believed that Hellbounds was a legend, a piece of creative fiction dreamed up by the demon community.”
“It’s not fiction,” Spike said. “Until Xander I’d never actually met one before, but I’ve heard some. They’re rare, but dangerous. Some of them are more demon than the ones they kill.”
“We’re rare because we die early and often,” Xander said. “And there aren’t many of us who can actually channel the power they dump into us without our bodies overloading. Those of us that survive the change die within six or seven years, though, at the outside. If we’re lucky, we go out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing ourselves for the cause. If we don’t, if we survive past the seven year limit, then we become overwhelmed by a berserk rage that will cause our brains to implode. It’s not a pretty ending, but in the meantime, we get the job done.”
“I don’t understand.” This was from Willow. “Giles always said that Slayers were the champions, the ones chosen to fight evil. So what’s with the Hellbound?”
Xander shook his head. “You think Slayers are the only ones that fight evil? One girl, in all the world? You can’t be everywhere. So do you really think that across the globe in places you can’t be, everyone just sits back and let innocents be slaughtered? Not hardly. The world is filled with Champions. I’m just one of them.”
“You, a Champion?” Buffy was not taking this well. “Gimme a break.”
“You think you’re so special because you’re the Chosen one,” Xander said, and his voice somehow got lower, angry, sneering. “You have it easy, Summers. You live a normal life, and then one day you’re something more. You never paid any real price for all your power, no matter how much you whined about being different. You don’t have a demon in you. You never have trouble sleeping at night because you can all but taste the blood of the people you have to stop yourself from killing. You’re mortal. In San Francisco I met a pair of men who can literally never die. My contact in the Council is a wet works agent who’s fully human, but that doesn’t stop him from fighting and killing almost as many demons as you do. Even your one true love down in LA has his own price to pay for who he is. You may be a Champion, Slayer, but you’re a Champion by default. The rest of us actually have to work at it.”
Spike had been observing this silently from the steps, but after Xander’s angry speech he figured that it would be a good time to get involved. “You still haven’t told us exactly why you’re here, Harris,” he said, and made sure to use the old method of address rather than calling him the more affectionate “Xan” that almost slipped out. But his voice was softer than usual, since he didn’t want to make Xander feel worse than he already was, and Xander, glancing up at him, let him know with a glance that he knew what Spike was doing and was grateful for it.
“Yeah,” chipped in Dawn. “Why are you here?”
“Apocalypse,” he said shortly.
“You’ve said that already,” Buffy said, sounding exasperated. “Around here, you need to be a little more specific.” Pause for effect. “Or have you been gone so long you’ve forgotten?”
Even Spike winced at the digging cut of the rusty knife in her voice. Seems Buffy was harboring some abandonment anger, even now, knowing the circumstances.
Xander ignored her anger as beneath his notice- and maybe it was. Bloke’s got as many problems as Xander and maybe an angry Slayer just wasn’t important anymore. “You’ve all been seeing phantoms, visions that talk to you. All of dead people.” He gestured to the piles of books on the table. “You’ve been researching them, but you can’t find any one entity that can manifest in so many different ways.”
“You know what it is, I take it?” Buffy challenged.
“I do,” Xander said. “It’s the First.”
Silence. Dead silence. Deader than Spike. And then Buffy, in a very small voice with no trace of her earlier combativeness, asked, “Are you sure?”
Xander nodded. “It’s mobilizing. You don’t have long before the Bringers descend on Sunnydale. Right now you’re safe, because they’re chasing down Potentials all across the world, but pretty soon they’re going to be coming here because all of the Potentials are going to be sent here.”
“That’s impossible,” Giles said. “The Council would never allow the Potentials to converge on one place like that, and they certainly wouldn’t bring them here.” He sent an apologetic look at Buffy. “They don’t think very highly of the current Slayer.”
“They’re not left with much of a choice,” Xander said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. The First hasn’t truly mobilized in millennia, as I’m sure you know. And now it’s specifically targeting the Slayer line. Faith has been warned, and a Council operative has been assigned to work on getting her free and able to fight. She’ll be staying in LA with Angel and Wes, and taking in Potentials there. For now, though, all we can do is wait.”
Up until then, Dawn, Willow, Tara, and even Anya had remained relatively silent, but at this point Anya, unable to contain herself any longer, finally burst out with the question that everyone else was wondering.
“Can someone please explain what the hell is going on?”
“I second that,” Willow said firmly, and Tara nodded along with her. “We’re a little in the dark here, guys.”
Buffy glanced at Giles for permission. “You mind if I field this one?”
He waved one hand in permission. “Feel free.”
“The First,” Buffy said and took a deep breath. “It’s the First Evil. It appeared back in our senior year of high school- tried to get Angel to take me and lose his soul, and failing that, to kill himself. I managed to convince him otherwise and the First withdrew, I thought permanently. I did some research- with Giles’ help- and discovered that the First Evil was supposed to be just that- the First Evil. Not too much on it, but I guessed that it meant the first true demon, or something like that.”
“Far worse than that,” Xander said. “The First Evil isn’t just the first evil thing, Buffy. It’s literally the first evil. It’s the darkness that spawned the first demons. The Powers that Be- the ones we serve and answer to- are the children of its twin, its light mirror. Or, to simplify things, the First Good.”
“I have never heard of such a thing,” Giles said.
“And you say that as if it makes it true,” Xander said, not unkindly. “Though in one way, you’re correct. The First Good isn’t an entity the way the First Evil is; it’s more of a concept. We don’t worship Good the way that some worship Evil, and so the First Evil has been able to personify itself. And throughout the last several thousand years, it has been amassing its armies for a full-scale attack. And apparently, the time for that attack is now.”
“Why now?” Willow asked. “If it’s been waiting all this time, then why did it choose now as its moment?”
At this Xander shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said.
“But you know all this other stuff,” Dawn objected. “How can you not know that?”
“I just don’t,” he said. “Source is pretty tapped dry at the moment, and I don’t know why now. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Which brings up the thing I wanted to ask next, Xander,” Giles said, taking off his glasses and starting to polish them. Spike, from his perch, saw an odd look pass briefly through Xander’s eyes, and wondered if Xander wasn’t feeling homesick, for lack of a better word. Or nostalgic, perhaps. If Spike had to pick one thing that reminded him of Rupert, it was glasses-cleaning. It was possible that Xander held the same association. If that look meant what Spike thought it meant, then Xander wasn’t quite as uncaring about his old friends as he was pretending to be.
“I’d like to know what, exactly, your source of information is,” Giles said.
Xander hesitated, then glanced down at Kel, still settled comfortably at Xander’s feet in a half-kneeling, half-sprawled position. He looked almost like he was asking the wolfling for permission, which seemed odd to Spike. Then Kel nodded, and at Xander’s next words Spike understood.
“Kel. He has... visions. From the Powers.”
“I thought Cordy was the only one who got those,” Dawn said. Everyone glanced at her. “What, I can’t keep up with old friends? Jeez.”
Buffy opened her mouth, clearly wanting to point out that Dawn had never been friends with Cordelia Chase, but apparently decided against it and just shook her head before listening to what Xander had to say.
“Kel’s are different. Cordelia gets visions of specific events, and those usually related to one person or group of people in trouble. For me, they send information to Kel, more of a Knowing than an actual vision. Or at least that’s how he’s described it to me.”
“And that’s what you meant when you said you were sent here,” Giles said, in tones of understanding. “Kel was given the knowledge of the First and its intentions toward the Slayer line, and so you came here.”
“Actually, if it were just the knowledge of the First we would have gone to LA and worked from there, most likely,” Xander answered bluntly. “Since The Change-“ and everyone in the room could hear the capital letters there, “-Angel has been a closer ally than most, so I probably would have turned to him and his group. But we were also told of the intentions the Council has for Sunnydale and Buffy, so I’m here. I-“ His voice broke a little, and he leaned against the wall, looking shaken.
“Are you quite alright?” Giles asked, concerned. Xander shook his head.
“No. Gotta get out of here. Sorry, but the shop- too close to the high school. The mansion’s further away. I just gotta- go.” He glanced down at Kel. “You coming?”
Kel rose to his feet with a movement too graceful to be human, but shook his head at Xander. “I’ll stay here, answer all the questions I can,” he said quietly. “They need to know everything we’ve got.”
Xander cupped his cheek in one hand. “Yeah, I know.” It was such an intimate pose that for a second everyone held their collective breath, thinking that Xander was going to kiss him, but Xander just smiled at him and turned, his hand dropping away as he disappeared through the back door.
Everyone turned to Kel, and in the rapid-fire questions that followed, no one noticed Spike slipping out the door after Xander.
Xander sat in front of the fireplace, staring into the flames, uncaring of the fact that any mortal human would have been feverish from the heat of the fire in the heat of California’s early fall weather. He was stripped down to jeans, the silver of his nipple rings glinting against the fire-lit glow of his pale skin. He sat in a simple cross-legged pose, hands palm-upwards on his knees, and he stared into the fire, letting the dancing light sink into him and calm the roiling upset in his body that being this near the Hellmouth caused.
Flames were his preferred method of meditation, though he had learned to use others. A fragmented crystal would work if he was desperate, or a pool of water if it was moving, stirred by a fountain usually. Flames, however, were inherently soothing to him, perhaps because of their very nature- light and shadow always intertwined together in an endless dance.
He heard the footsteps approaching the mansion long before they reached the front door, and he listened with an almost-smile on his face as Spike hesitated, then came right in without knocking.
“In some ways, you’ve changed less than I expected,” he said, never looking away from the fire. He heard Spike react behind him, a hiss of indrawn breath, and continued. “And in others, you’ve changed more than I could possibly imagine.”
“How’d you know? About the changes. You said that you expected some, which means that you know some of what’s happened to me in the past few years. So how’d you know? Did the wolfling get a vision of me, or somesuch?”
Xander shook his head and finally twisted his body away from the fire to face Spike, who looked, as always, so much larger than life, pale skin and hair dramatic against the black and red of his clothing and pacing and filled with that impatient intensity that Xander remembered well.
“Nothing so complicated. I told you that I’m fairly close to Angel. I got my news about you the old-fashioned way: word of mouth.”
Spike stilled and stared at him. “You’re closer to more people than you let on.”
Xander shook his head, reading something turbulent in Spike’s expression and guessing fairly accurately at what it was. “It’s not quite the way you think,” he said. “Angel and the rest in LA are more like comrades, or brothers-in-arms, something like that. Kel’s the only one I’m really close to, and it’s more because I trust him than anything else.” Like love, he wanted to add, but didn’t. That was not a word he planned to use lightly in Spike’s presence.
“Trust,” Spike said musingly. “Trust him for what? I know you mean something other than just as your little partner in anti-crime.”
Another thing that Xander had forgotten- how fucking insightful Spike could be, when he wanted to. “You heard what I said, earlier tonight, about how all Hellbound end up?” Spike nodded. “I trust him to kill me before it comes to that.”
Spike stared at him, taking a couple steps closer as if not quite under his own will. “You live a hell of a life, don’t you?” he said, almost wonderingly. “And I don’t mean that as a figure of speech.”
“Yeah, Spike,” Xander said. “We’re called Hellbound for a reason.”
“What happens?” Spike said. “You said a little, back there, about what it was like. What happens to you, that makes it so hard?”
“Anger,” Xander said promptly. “That’s the worst part. Anger and bloodlust. Every time I fight there’s the temptation to just let go and keep killing until I’m gone. And then there’s-“ He hesitated, searched Spike’s face, but saw nothing but curiosity and something he didn’t dare put a name to. “Nightmares,” he finished in a rush. “When I sleep alone. Sometimes even when there’s someone there.”
“You’ve had nightmares before,” Spike said, and they both knew that he was referring to the days that Spike had stayed in Xander’s basement, and Spike had watched silently from his chair while Xander had thrashed and cried out in his sleep from some unnamed horror. “They worse now?”
“More frequent,” Xander said. “More real. And that’s the problem. Sometimes, they are real. Only, I can never tell which ones are true dreams until it’s too late.” He rubbed his hands across his eyes, knowing that the gesture was childish and not caring. He was so damned tired.
Spike hesitated, then closed the distance between them and laid a cool, comforting hand on his shoulder. “I came here to tell you that Kel’s out with the Bit,” he said softly. “He’s going hunting after that. Said he wouldn’t be back till dawn.”
Xander had leaned into Spike’s touch, couldn’t help himself, but at Spike’s words he had to fight the urge to curl up in a little ball. What was he supposed to do now? He couldn’t sleep alone, not tonight, not in Sunnydale. And he was so tired.
“I can see you’re worn thin,” Spike said, still softly. “If you want, I’ll stay the night with you.”
Xander looked up at him, searching for any trace of mockery, and found only sincerity. If he said yes, then Spike would crawl into bed with him and hold him while he slept. It was staggering, and more than Xander was sure that he could quite handle. Spike made him feel too much.
He licked his lips nervously, opened his mouth to say no, and-
He was running. He was always running. Something pursued him, something dark and angry and powerful, and he knew that it wanted to consume him. It wanted to obliterate him, and if he didn’t run, didn’t get away, he wouldn’t exist anymore.
He raced up the stairway, feeling hot, sulfurous breath singing the heels of his bare feet. The doorway was right in front of him, and he knew that if he could just reach it, he’d be free.
He burst through the open doorway, coming out onto the roof. But still the creature pursued.
He ran across the roof, silent on the hot, melting tar that burned the bottoms of his feet, but he was oblivious to agony. Nothing mattered but the thing behind him.
After moments that seemed like an eternity, he reached the edge of the roof and stopped. It was a long, long way down. There was no way out but back the way he came.
It took everything he had, but he turned to face the thing behind him.
The other Xander grinned at him and tucked his hands into the pocket of his black jeans. “It’s not so bad, you know. Giving in, I mean. It’s a lot easier from this side. You should try it.”
The soles of Xander’s feet started to melt, and through the agony he realized that the building was burning, and the roof along with it. Flames were starting to lick up around the other Xander, who just stood there, casually grinning, rocking back and forth on his heels, waiting for an answer. Xander tried to open his mouth, tried to give him one, but nothing came out. He had no voice.
“C’mon,” the other Xander coaxed, and his voice was cool like lemonade on a hot day, tempting like original sin. Sweet and carnal and Xander leaned towards him unconsciously, wanting to do what the other him asked. Wanting to give in. It had to be easier than this. Anything had to be easier than this.
“I promise you, the pain will stop,” the other Xander said, and almost against his will Xander took a step towards him, the pain falling away at the action. There was a flash of triumph in the other Xander’s eyes, and it looked like the fires of hell itself in those dark eyes.
Abruptly, Xander turned away from him, took a step up onto the cement wall that edged the roof. There was a roar of fury behind him, but Xander paid it no heed- just smiled a sweet smile at the night sky above him, and stepped off into space.
Xander woke to Spike’s cool hands on his bare shoulders, shaking him back into consciousness. Spike halted the motion when he saw Xander was awake, but didn’t take his intent gaze off of Xander’s face.
“Xan? You okay?”
Xander was perhaps too dazed to notice Spike calling him by the nickname, but Spike was sure he’d remember it in the morning. Spike didn’t care.
“Bad one,” Xander said, still a little dazed. “Monster at my heels. Flames. Almost gave in, but I didn’t. Took the leap. Leap of faith.” He giggled, almost drunkenly, and there was a flash of very real fear at the nightmare that had clearly not lost its hold that caused a pang in Spike’s heart.
Spike pulled Xander close against his chest, holding him tightly against his slightly smaller frame. “Spike’s got you now, love. Go to sleep. I’ve got you.”
“I trust you,” was Xander’s sleepy response, and he was asleep in moments, leaving Spike fighting off the urge to actually cry from the gift he had been given.
Holding Xander tightly, he swore to himself that he wouldn’t waste it.
Kel smiled at Dawn, who was walking beside him, thumbs hooked comfortably through her belt loops. He noticed with approval the stake tucked into her back pocket, and thought ruefully that he was dealing with a whole new breed of girl- a child of the Hellmouth.
They’d both wanted to see the same movie, and Buffy, distracted by the pending apocalypse, had given her permission to go as long as she had someone with her. The movie was over now, and they were walking back towards the Summers house, talking every now and then when the whim took them.
“So what’s up with you and Xander, anyway?” she asked, and he could tell that she’d been dying to know since she’d heard about them. “One moment it seems like you’re lovers, and then the next it’s like you’re just good friends.”
“That’s because we’re both,” he said. “Friends mostly. There is no one on this earth I respect more than him, and he needs me. It’s a rare thing to be truly needed.”
He paused, tucked his hands into his pockets. “As to the physical side of things, well...” He trailed off, then turned to look at her. “Solace isn’t just a word.”
With so many people, he would have had to explain himself, but Dawn just nodded as if she understood it perfectly well. “I get it,” she said, and even though it was astonishing to Kel, she did. Hell, if he’d known that they raised girls like this on the Hellmouth, he would have figured out some way to get Xander back here years ago.
“It’s-“ he started, and was interrupted by a rush of knowledge into his brain. He stopped walking, suddenly deaf and blind, and had to lean against a wall that his skin did not register the texture of.
Gradually it faded, and he became aware of Dawn standing next to him, anxiously asking, “What is it? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he managed. “But I’ve got to tell Xander.”
“Tell Xander what?” Understanding hit. “You had a vision, didn’t you?”
“Something just happened,” he said. “The Council. Things are moving faster now. But I know the answer.”
“Answer?” she prompted, when he didn’t continue.
“The answer to the question, Why now? I know the answer.”
“What is it?” she demanded, and he looked at the wall he was leaning on rather than her face as he told her.
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