Alternate Reality Bites


by
Whichclothes



Part Seven

The crash and clatter came from the aisle with the bulk nails and screws. It was louder than the usual noises that occurred when the children of inattentive parents decided to play, or when a customer unaccountably decided that the thing just out of reach needed to be in their hands right that second. Xander took off running, grateful that at least it wasn’t the lightbulb aisle, but already dreading having to re-sort the tiny little pieces of metal.

What he found was a man lying on the ground, looking more than a little dazed. Thousands of bolts were scattered around him, and maybe that’s why nobody in the small gathered crowd had tried to approach him. The guy looked kind of shady, Xander thought, with nuclear-colored hair and a long leather duster. Probably he was drunk or stoned. But his eyes sharpened when Xander cautiously approached him.

“Xander!” he said.

Xander glanced down at his name tag. “Yep, that’s my name. Are you okay? Do you want me to call 911?”

With some difficulty, the guy struggled to his knees and then to his feet. He took an unsteady step towards Xander, and Xander took a step away. But then the man froze. His mouth fell open and he held a hand against his own chest. “It’s beating,” he said.

“Yeah, well, that’s generally considered a good thing. Look, maybe you’d better sit down. I can bring you a chair—”

The man shook his head. “No. I…I didn’t expect to be alive.” He had an English accent.

“Well, you took a nasty fall, but it doesn’t look like you really hurt yourself.”

The man spun around and looked past the other end of the aisle, out through the exit doors. “I could go outside.”

“Sure you can. But you should rest a little first. We have paperwork, incident reports, that kind of thing. Besides, you’ll want this documented for later, when you sue us for ten million dollars.”

Most of the bystanders began to drift away, probably disappointed that there hadn’t been gore and mayhem. The man in black took a few deep breaths and squared his shoulders. “Don’t you know me, Xander?”

Great. More craziness. What was he, a lunatic magnet? Except when he looked at the man, really looked at him, there was something familiar about him. But he couldn’t place him at all. “Sorry,” Xander said.

The man seemed to shrink a little. “Right, then. Well, you’ve heard of me, anyhow. Name’s Spike.”

Xander felt so dizzy he had to reach out to one of the building's support pillars to keep from falling. “Spike? You mean as in va—” He stopped and looked around at the few remaining gawkers and at Todd, that asshole who worked in the paint department and who was watching with his mouth hanging open. “Spike as in, um, the Spike who knows Wesley?”

“Yeah. Where is he?”

Xander glanced at his watch. “Probably on the way to pick me up. I’m supposed to clock out in ten minutes.” He had about a million questions to ask, but not in front of an audience. He was beginning to seriously doubt his own sanity—he didn’t intend to make that a spectator sport. “Let’s go talk, okay?”

Spike nodded.

Xander left Todd to clean up the mess and told his boss that there was an emergency and he had to leave a little early. His boss looked at Spike skeptically and said, “Okay.”

Spike seemed hesitant to step out into the bright sunshine, but once he was outside, he looked up at the blue sky in amazement. “Bloody hell,” he murmured.

They stood at the curb, waiting. After Spike finished admiring the sun, he took to staring at Xander instead. It made Xander really uncomfortable. “Are you…did you come from…where Wes is from?” Xander said.

“Yeah.”

“How?”

“Long story. I’ll explain later.”

“Are you really a vampire? With the fangs and all that?”

“Not here, but yeah, ordinarily.”

“Can you turn into a bat or a wolf?”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Bloody Stoker. I can’t turn into anything but myself with sharper teeth. You’re the one who becomes a wolf.”

“Huh?”

“Watcher didn’t tell you that bit, did he? Well, I don’t expect he knows. It was after his time.”

“What bit?”

“You—well, not you. My Xander is a werewolf.” He said it proudly, the way a parent might brag about his child being an honor student.

“A werewolf?” And then he caught something else as well. “You said your Xander. Are the two of you, um, a couple? ‘Cause Wes dreamed of you kissing, but….” He felt his face grow red.

“Xander Harris is the love of my bloody unlife. And right now he’s in your noggin, listening, probably going all smug about me getting all nancy-boy in the middle of a car park.”

“He’s in my head?”

“Like I said. Long story.”

Xander was saved from more astonishing revelations as Wes’s Ford came clanking across the lot. But then Wes must have caught sight of Spike, because his mouth fell open and he almost ran them both over.

“Oi, Percy! ‘M alive here. Don’t fancy getting splatted by your car.”

Wes managed to stop the car without killing them. He pushed his door open with a squeal of metal and leapt out with the engine still running. “Spike!” He grabbed Spike by the shoulders and damned if he didn’t have tears in his eyes. “Is it really you?”

“In the flesh. The living, breathing flesh, as a matter of fact.”

“Good Lord! How did you get here?”

Spike sighed. “I think the tale will be easier with a few pints down, yeah?”

Xander ended up climbing in the back of the car with Spike, who stared at him the whole way home. Xander had rarely been under such close scrutiny, and knowing this man was his alter ego’s lover made him feel very odd, even as a tiny part of him almost thrummed with the urge to reach out and touch Spike.

It seemed like a very long drive home.

At long last, though, the three of them were seated around Xander’s table, which was kind of an event anyway because he’d never had two guests in his place at once. They each had a bottle of beer in front of them, although Xander was wishing he had something stronger, and he had the idea the other two were wishing the same.

Xander had never been attracted to men, at least not that he’d been aware of. But sitting under his bug-spotted fluorescent light, watching Spike pick at the label of his Killian’s Red, Xander realized that the man was beautiful. Vampires and werewolves aside, how could someone like that fall for someone like him?

Spike told them a story. It involved the Watchers’ Council, which Wesley had mentioned to Xander, and some people Xander had never heard of before. And of course it involved the other Xander too, and he was, as Spike had said, apparently in Xander’s head right now, listening in, or maybe he was a part of Xander; Xander was a little confused by the whole concept. Either way, it was pretty creepy.

Wesley seemed fairly shocked by some of what Spike had to say: “Rupert Giles and Lindsey McDonald?!” Other parts saddened him, like the news of Charles Gunn’s death, and his face tightened when Spike said they never heard from Illyria again after the battle. But he was clearly relieved to learn that Angel had survived, and he was even happier when Spike described how they eventually managed—with the other Xander’s help!—to destroy the law firm once and for all. And, finally, he was touched that his friends were trying to save him.

“Thank you,” Wes said very softly when Spike was finished speaking.

“Thank my boy. He’s the one who’s been dragging back and forth between dimensions.”

It took Xander a moment to realize that “my boy” meant him, or at least the other Xander. He’d never belonged to anyone before. He looked down at the table and swallowed hard, only managing a nod when Wesley repeated his thanks.

Spike stood and walked to the fridge. He came back with fresh bottles for all three of them. But it was very late by then and Xander was exhausted. “How are you guys getting back, anyway?” He was happy for Wes, and yet not really looking forward to being alone again.

Spike bit at his lip. “’T’s not very nice, actually.”

Xander and Wesley looked at him expectantly.

“See, the Watcher and his lawyer will have a nice new body all waiting for you on the other side, good as new. But a bloke can’t cross dimensions if he’s alive in both, or else the world ends. So—”

“So you have to kill me.”

Spike arched his eyebrows and nodded.

“Kill? No, wait!” Xander was willing to accept this shared lunacy to a point, but that did not include homicide. “You can’t kill him!”

“Why not, pet? I’ve offed thousands before, and with considerably less excuse.”

Oh, yeah. Vampire. Serial murderer. “But…but you can’t just—”

Wes put his hand on Xander’s arm. “It’s quite all right. He’s correct about my not being able to pass otherwise, and remember, I’ve already died once.”

“Pfft,” said Spike. “Amateur.”

“Isn’t there some other way?” asked Xander.

Spike reached up and almost touched the cheek under Xander’s missing eye, then let his hand drop. “There isn’t. ‘M sorry pet. But don’t worry, I’ve some mojo that will make the corpse disappear, so you won’t have the police coming after you. I fancy you’d be locked up pretty quickly if you tried to tell them this story.” He stood. “Let’s get this sorted, yeah? My Xan’s been asleep a long time now, and the others will be anxious to see you, Wes.”

“Now?” Xander squeaked.

“Now, pet.” Spike did touch him this time, briefly ruffling Xander’s still-bristly hair in a familiar fashion that filled Xander’s heart with longing.

Wes stood, too, very tall and straight. “Yes, let’s get this over with. Is there any special way you must do it?”

“I’d rather hoped I could drain you. It’d be lovely for me, and it’s not a hard way to go. But I expect that’s out of the question, seeing as I’m temporarily incapacitated.” Spike thought for a moment. “Don’t want to do anything too bloody—wouldn’t want Xander to have a mess to explain. How about a broken neck? I should be able to manage that even without vampire strength, and it’s nice and quick.”

“Yes, all right.”

Xander couldn’t believe they were having this discussion as matter-of-factly as a couple of guys deciding where to go for dinner. But Spike closed the few feet between him and Wes and they stood there a little awkwardly. Then Wes put up a hand. “Just a moment, please.”

Without even noticing he was doing it, Xander had managed to stand and back away until he was pressed against the wall, as far from the other two as possible. But Wes walked up to him and rested one hand on Xander’s shoulder. “Thank you, Xander.” He chuckled a little. “Xanders, I mean. But I’m specifically addressing the one from this world right now. You listened to my lunatic story when nobody else would, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your help. And your friendship.”

“I’m…uh…you’re welcome. Good luck.” Wesley was his only friend, Xander realized, the first he’d had in a very long time. He looked over at Spike, who was waiting patiently. “Can I go, too? I mean…this world kinda sucks, at least for me. Maybe in yours….” His voice trailed away and he looked down at his shoes.

He looked up again when Spike gently pushed Wes aside. “I’m sorry. Can’t. Can’t have two of you in one universe.” He grinned. “Which is probably just as well, for the universe’s sake.”

Xander started to move away, but Spike caught him and held him firmly against the wall by his shoulders. “Listen to me, pet. I know you. In my world, we’ve been together for some time; we spent several years fighting against each other, but more years fighting side-by-side after that. I know you. You don’t have much confidence in yourself. We can blame those bloody tossers who gave birth to you for that. But you’re brave and strong, and you’re a good man, Xander. The best I’ve known.”

“That’s the other Xander, not me,” Xander said bitterly.

“The other Xander is you. He’s had a few opportunities you didn’t, made some better choices now and then. He had friends at his side when you didn’t. But you’re the same person.”

“He’s a werewolf.”

“But he was a hero long before that. Saved the world once without a single superpower. Just by being true to his friend. Saved me when he didn’t even like me. He’s a brilliant carpenter as well. You’ve been willing to believe the rest of what we told you, so now believe this: you are an extraordinary man. Stop drinking and trust yourself. Allow yourself to become who you really are. You don’t need magic for that.”

Those blue eyes were looking at him so earnestly. Spike clearly believed every word he’d just said. Deep inside Xander’s head a tiny whisper encouraged him to believe. He could be someone better. Someone happy.

For the first time that Xander could remember, he felt hopeful.

Spike startled him by gathering him in a fierce embrace and loudly kissing his cheek. “That’s my boy,” Spike said.

A few moments later, Spike was standing with his elbow crooked around Wesley’s neck, mumbling something or other to himself. Wes had his eyes shut, but he appeared calm and ready.

Xander heard a loud and sickening crack, saw Wesley collapse in Spike’s grip like a puppet with its strings cut. Spike said something else that Xander couldn’t catch—it wasn’t in English—and then there was a crash like a clap of thunder.

And Spike and Wesley were just…gone.

Xander was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to hear anything but the ringing in his ears for a while. He walked on unsteady legs towards the spot where the two men had disappeared. There was no sign of them.

“Shit,” he said.

He needed a drink.

He went to the fridge and pulled it open. A thick white envelope lay on the top shelf. He removed it and saw that his name was written on it in curiously ornate, old-fashioned handwriting. “What the hell?” he said, as if mystery envelopes were the strangest thing that had happened to him that day. When he opened it he found a thick sheaf of green papers. Hundred dollar bills. A lot of them. They were held together by a rubber band, which also anchored a small piece of white paper. Xander set the money down on the counter, closed the fridge, and removed the bit of paper.

Dear Xander,
I hope alternate universe dosh is good in your world. Use this for a new car or a new flat or maybe a nice, long holiday. Use it for whatever you want. I know money can’t buy happiness, but it’s a nice start, isn’t it?

S

Xander stared at the money. There was probably enough there to renew his contractor’s license, buy some tools, maybe even get a decent used pickup truck.

He smiled.

And then he went to the fridge and took out the last few bottles of beer. He popped off the tops and poured the contents down the drain.


~*~*~*~*~


Before Xander could even ask, Spike was there, smoothing the hair from Xander’s face. “You made it back,” Xander said.

“Seems that way.”

“And Wes?”

“Off nattering with the rest of them.”

Xander looked around, then, and realized he was in his own bed. Spike must have carried him upstairs. “You think Wes’ll stay? I’ll have to build him a suite, too.”

“Rest first, love. You can pound nails and other things later.”

“You have a one-track mind.”

“Yeah, but it’s a good track, innit?” Spike smirked.

Xander sat up and wrapped his arms around Spike’s strong and comforting body. “God, I’m so lucky to have you.” Then he pulled away a little. “What was the deal with the money?”

Spike looked very pleased with himself. “Found that, did he? Nicked it from the old man. I wasn’t certain it would cross universes with me, though.”

“It was a nice thing to do.”

Spike smiled shyly for a moment. “Do you think he’ll listen to what I said? You’re such a stubborn git.”

“Yeah. I think he might.” He sighed. “Have they disconnected me from him yet?”

“Rupert said they’d do it tonight. Oh, and you’re to ring the Scoobies and tell them you’re all right.”

Xander yawned. “Okay. But right now I think I need a nap of the regular magic-free kind. And then maybe are you up for a run? Maybe even a hunt?”

“I’m always up for you, pet.”

Xander pulled Spike back into his arms and then down, so that they were scrunched comfortably together. Spike sighed contentedly and latched his soft lips onto Xander’s neck. Xander closed his eye and thought about whether they might go back to that beach tonight. He was imagining the feel of sand beneath his paws when he fell asleep.





Epilogue

“It’s beautiful, Xander. You do wonderful work.”

Xander smiled at Wesley. “Thanks. I enjoy it. It’s rewarding, you know?”

Wes ran a hand over the desk Xander had built him. It was mahogany, with a few more exotic woods inlaid in a pattern around the edges because Xander had been in the mood to experiment with veneers. Wes used the library downstairs, of course, but Xander had thought he’d appreciate a private study space in his suite as well. “It feels like home,” Wes said.

“Good. That’s the idea. Tonight I’ll finish installing the bathroom fixtures. I got the new kind of toilet seat; it just sort of twists on and off without any tools. Which was probably more than you wanted to know, but hey, it’s exciting if you’re Home Improvement Guy.”

Wes’s mouth twitched into a small grin. “Thank you for sharing, Xander.”

“No problem. You ever want to talk plumbing trivia, I’m your guy. But I’m thinking that an impatient vampire’s gonna come bursting through your door any minute now to heckle me in British. I think I’ll go head him off.”

“You do that. Thank you, Xander.”

Xander unbuckled his tool belt and laid it on the floor. When he left the room, Wes was still standing there, smiling down at his new furniture.

Spike was, indeed, on his way down. His duster was swirling and his mouth was set in what he probably thought was a fierce frown, but what Xander thought more closely resembled a pout. Spike stomped to a halt in front of him. “Oi! You were meant to be upstairs hours ago.”

“Sorry. I was almost finished and I got carried away.”

“Carried away, huh?” With vampire-quick speed, Spike swept Xander into his arms and flipped him over his shoulder. He swatted Xander’s ass very firmly and carried him upstairs. Xander decided not to fight the indignity. Besides, his position left Spike’s own ass within reach, although it was, sadly, obscured by the coat. Xander patted it anyway.

As they went up, they passed Lindsey on his way down. He wasn’t exactly flying down the stairs, but he was walking, brace-free and using only one hand on the banister for balance. He snorted in laughter at Xander and muttered, “Should’ve had Rupe carry me around like that.”

In their room, Spike dumped him on the bed and quickly and efficiently stripped off all Xander’s clothing and then his own. “Let’s see if we can make the pouf complain about the noise again,” he said.

Xander reached up towards his vampire. “Sounds like an excellent plan.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander dreamed. It was probably just an ordinary dream, because the Council had long ago cut him off from the other world. But still, it was very vivid, very lucid.

In the dream, Xander set a two-by-four in place and then held it steady while Chelsea nailed it down. When she was done, she turned and grinned at him. It was a breezy day and her short curls ruffled a little around her face. “If we keep working this fast we’re gonna make the rest of the crew look bad,” she said.

“If we keep working this fast maybe we can knock off work early and we’ll have time to shower before dinner.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Was that a proposition, Xander Harris?”

He smiled wolfishly at her. “Do you want it to be, Chelsea Perez?”

She smiled, which made her warm brown eyes crinkle at the corners. “Tell you what. We finish up here, we shower—separately, in our own homes—and then I’ll pick you up and we can go to that seafood place over on 9th Street. I was on the crew that built that building, you know.”

“Well then, I guess I can feel assured the ceiling won’t fall on us while we eat.” He reached over for the next piece of wood and put it in place. “I could pick you up instead.”

“In that POS Chevy? No way. I’ve got a shiny new Tacoma. Wanna show it off a little.”

“Yeah, okay. I could stand to be chauffeured, I guess.”

When they finished, less than an hour later, they cleaned up the site together. Chelsea grabbed his shoulders and looked up at him—not far; she was almost as tall as he was—and gave him a little peck on the cheek. “See ya at six, Xan.”

He practically skipped to his truck. It was kind of a POS, but it ran and he owned it outright, and if he got that promotion Mr. Martin had been talking about, soon he’d be able to afford something flashier himself. He set his toolbox into the truck's bed and then climbed into the cab. Before he backed out of the lot, he caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror. The patch was there, slightly sweaty and dusty at the moment. And his face around the patch was still kind of…dented. Lately he’d been thinking that even when he could afford it, maybe he wouldn’t get it fixed. Chelsea said she thought it made his face interesting, intriguing. Like he was a guy with interesting stories to tell. Maybe she was just being nice. But for the first time he could remember, when Xander looked in the mirror, he liked the man he saw looking back at him.




The End




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