Awakenings


by
Beetle





Part Five


Spike lays his head against the shower door.

Despite the hot, punishing spray of water, he can still smell Harris all over him, still feel the warm, solid body in his arms, shaking and pushing back on his hand.

He'd been so bloody close to just taking the git, hang all his own blather about not wanting.

Another one of William-the-Bloody-Thief’s sense-memories grips him like a fever and Spike knows how Harris feels underneath him, the sounds he makes when he’s being fucked just right, the way his body arches up just so when he’s about to come--

He also knows whose name is on Harris’s lips when he does.

Spike nearly puts his fist through the door--stops his hand a millimeter away from the glass and unclenches his fist slowly. “‘M not jealous. Not of him and not over Harris,” he tells his ghostly reflection, and turns into the spray, reaching for the shower rack. It’s jam-packed with shampoos and conditioners, a bar of Ivory soap and--

Body-wash. At least three different kinds. And one of those foofy, ridiculous thingamajigs bints sometimes use instead of washcloths.

“Bloody poof,” he mutters, grabbing the thingamajig and a peachy-colored bottle of body-wash, then--God, even Harris wouldn’t use something this poncy-smelling; it has to be William’s--puts it back, choosing a greyish-green bottle, this time.

This one’s not nearly as girly: herbal, soothing . . . puts him in mind of poor Glinda, which makes it a bit of not bad.

Like everything else in William’s stolen life seems to be.

“No. Not everything. Playing house with Harris is an abomination. It’s his fault I took a six year siesta instead of a two year nap,” Spike reminds himself, lathering up efficiently, angrily. “Harris and his bloody Will!”

They stole years from him--would’ve stolen his entire life, all to keep their comfortable little romance and their comfortable little world.

Not wanted, a poofy, prissy, Victorian voice whispers in his head. They preferred me so much more that they kept me. And why wouldn’t they? You may have been an impressive demon, but as a man, Spike . . . can you blame them--him for wanting me more? Can you?

“I bloody well can and do blame them--Harris especially! They stole my shanshu! My reward!”

Oh, really? A wry, condescending laugh echoes so loudly throughout his being, he looks around, half expecting to find his double standing behind him. Nothing there but sea-green tile.

And what would you have done with a human life, Spike? Drink and smoke your way through to an early death? Fuck around until you caught something incurable and/or terminal? Waste your life pining away for women who don’t love you--will never love you way they love your Sire?

“Shut. Up,” Spike warns The Voice. The Voice seems very unimpressed.

You’ve been human for less than a day and you’ve practically raped the one person you know loves you--

“Wasn't rape . . . and he loves you, Billy-boy, not me.”

Yes . . . because we’re two completely different people who just happen to share a body? Bullshit.

“He loves you, not me.”

And he certainly won’t love you now, will he? It took you six minutes to destroy what it took me six years to build. Good show . . . William.

“Fuck you, you don’t know anything!” Spike rinses away the damn body-wash, debates using some shampoo and decides against it. He already smells poofy enough. “You never did.”

I know everything about you, Spike . . . I am you. A better you than you ever were. You should’ve stayed gone--

“Shut up!”

--and left your humanity to an actual human being.

“Bastard! Thieving, hateful bastard!” Spike rips the shower rack off the wall. Shampoo, conditioner, body-wash and a bar of soap all land on his feet--

“Bloody hell!”

--just as the water turns ice cold.

Spike’s screech is blood-curdling, but manly.

Once he’s safely out of the shower, he grabs a towel and quickly dries off. He’s about to drop the towel on the floor and hunt up some less poncy clothes than the ones he’d woken up wearing, when he notices the fogged up mirror.

Following an impulse he doesn’t quite understand, he wipes down the mirror and confronts his reflection.

A pale face, slightly too thin, under curling, impeccably cut sandy hair. At some point, probably within the past year, Will had freckled spectacularly across his nose and cheeks. That coupled with the smiles lines bracketing his mouth and fanning gently outward from his eyes make him look too damn . . . happy. Soft.

But the eyes--they’re the same. The only thing that is, really. The rest of him is a total stranger. Despite not seeing his own reflection in over one hundred years, he instinctively knows that this face is not his own.

Spike shudders and closes his eyes, wondering if he is the imposter in this life, after all.

Do the right thing . . . petition the PTB and ask them to put you back to sleep. Then I can get on with the business of living this life. . . .

“I don’t think so, William.”

Spike sneers, opens his eyes, and sees . . . himself. Peering from behind the smile-lines and from underneath the freckles, he catches a glimpse of a face he’s never seen, but that he recognizes instantly.

He sees Spike.

Tossing the towel in the general direction of the hamper, Spike marches into Harris and William’s bedroom. He avoids looking at pictures on the walls, dresser and night-tables. The last thing he wants reminders of is how bloody happy he was, once upon a fever-dream.

He goes straight to the closet and opens the sliding doors.

On Harris’s side of the closet is the expected mix of jeans, plaids, sweats and t-shirts--not to mention some unexpected Armani-wear Spike is sure William picked out.

But William’s side looks like Barney’s and Brooks Bros chucked up in it. The man obviously doesn’t know what casual wear is. The closest to it that Himself seems to own are a couple pairs of khakis and more Dockers like the ones Spike’d woken up in.

Almost all of his variation-on-tan-or-grey shirts are button down.

“Suffering Christ,” Spike mutters, eyeing this travesty with something approaching real horror. “It’s worse than I thought. I’m gonna have to walk out of here naked, ‘cause I wouldn’t be caught undead or alive in this horrible stuff!”

On the closet floor, there’s a pair of new-ish sneakers that are so huge they have to be Harris’, the same for a pair of shiny dress shoes. There are several other pairs of shoes in descending levels of fancy that are obviously William’s.

Behind the shoes and next to a pair of new workboots, is a medium-sized brown box. Looking at it makes Spike’s mouth go dry, and before he can rationalize the impulse away, he’s given in to it.

This box is his, he knows that. Not William’s, but his.

Knocking aside the shoes, Spike tugs the box out into the bedroom. It’s not heavy and not sealed. One of the flaps is open enough for him to see in, but even before he does, a sorely-missed scent hits him: leather, cigarettes and old blood.

Then he’s laughing and hugging his duster to himself like the old friend it is.

He stares down at Nikki’s pretty, dead face almost regretfully. She’s been the best he’s ever fought--could probably take on Angelus and walk away, if not win. He pulls on her nice leather duster reverently; it smells of sweat and perfume and child . . . but he reckons it won’t once he’s had it for awhile, and he plans on keeping this trophy, no mistake. . . .

Spike sighs, stroking one sleeve--immersed in a memory that doesn’t come weighted with any guilt or baggage.

Nakedness totally forgotten, he pulls it on a few minutes later, shivering at the cool, sensual slither of leather across his still-damp skin.

Bloody lovely.

“Let’s see what else’s hidin’ in William’s closet.” Spike pushes the flaps open again and sees clean, neatly-mended black jeans, a black t-shirt and under them . . . battered Doc Martens that he’d know anywhere.

And it must be his mortality making him so damn womanish, but there are tears running down his face. The happy kind, not the just-got-tortured-by-a-HellGod kind. Opening this box is the first real sense of self and home he’s had since waking up.

--tight around his fingers like a glove, so warm, so right--the only thing righter would be to replace his fingers with his cock and let Xander’s orgasm force his own from him, erase the awful things he’s said and done . . . things that are wringing tears from Xander, not pleasure--

Spike forces the memory away. “No . . . that’s William’s home, not mine. Never mine; I’ve made sure of that.”

He means for it to come out defiant and angry. It just sounds petulant and regretful.

Scowling, Spike reluctantly sheds the duster, stands up and pulls on the jeans; they’re noticeably looser than when he’d first stolen them. He’s not skin and bones, but he’s not nearly as muscular as he used to be. The shirt is also disappointingly loose.

The Docs, however, fit the same, though he supposes if it was possible for feet to get feeble and small, William would’ve found a way just to spite him.

At last, he holds up the duster--”. . . it’s like a second skin!” he remembers yelling at Angel that time they went haring off to Rome--and puts it on again, trying to remember what it was to be a Master.

Instead Spike remembers a broad back, bent over a counter, muscular arms straining as his fingers twist and thrust and--

“Easy, there, William,” Spike says; patting himself down for lighter and cigarettes is still as instinctive as breathing now is. “You’ve no longer got a lovin’ carpenter to shag. Saw to that, didn’t I? Give it a rest, already.”

No luck on the lighter, or the cigarettes, though he hadn’t really expected to find either.

But he does find something in one of the inner pockets: a folded sheet of ponce-quality paper with his name written on it in a sprawling, carelessly elegant hand he recognizes all too well.

I don’t have to open this, Spike thinks as he does just that. I could tear it into little pieces and throw it away. There’s nothing William has to say to me that I need to hear.

And then the paper is unfolded, filled from top to bottom with narrow, neat, Copperplate hand.

“Very good, my darling,” she says, a smile in her voice. She leans over him, her hand warm and reassuring on his shoulder as he painstakingly makes the twenty-sixth letter of the alphabet.

He’s four; far too young for a tutor, and he’s never had a nurse. It’s always just been him and
her, and the gentle scent of violets. . . .

“Now, take some more ink--very good--and let us begin your numbers. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. You must always take care to be precise. . . .”


“Stop it.” Spike refolds the note and lifts a shaking hand to his temple as memories cascade behind his eyes like a movie-of-the-week. “Please, stop?”

His brain cycles through one more memory from his life--his mother’s pale eyes opening and flashing gold . . . the scent of faded flowers, silk and blood--the scent of the death. This memory drives him to his knees, forces more tears out of his eyes. The note flutters to the floor as Spike cover his ears then his eyes.

But she’s in his head and can’t be stopped--won’t be stopped. . . .

”If I were a carpenter/And you were a lady/Would you marry me anyway?”

Startled, Spike looks around for the source of one of Country’s goldenest oldies and finds it almost immediately: Harris’s clock-radio--which is apparently set for noon--is spewing Cash and Carter like there’s no tomorrow.

Another William-ish impulse stands Spike up and walks him over to Harris’s night-table. As he pushes the snooze button, a fond smile tries to curve his lips.

Back off, Billy.

When the fuzzy feelings pass, Spike smirks and turns his back on radio and bed.

If this is how it is before six years of extra memories, who knows how it’ll be after? To be constantly swamped with memories of a life with Xander-bloody-Harris would be--

Bloody terrible . . . of course.


Spike goes back to the box and picks up the note again, shaking his head at that familiar scrawl. He steels himself and opens it:

Dear Spike--

Welcome back, old man! Welcome to our life!


"Right, then. That was unexpected," Spike says, then goes back to the letter.

If you’re reading this, that means you’ve woken up, so to speak, and I have gone to sleep.

I do hope this finds you--us, rather--in good health, and dearest Xander in better spirits than I would dare to hope. I only wish I was there to comfort him.

Though I don’t expect you to laud my choice of mate, I do expect you to act as my proxy in this trying time: comfort him, be kind to him. Be patient with him, for he loves us.

Now, before you sneer or smirk or make any of those charming facial expressions I’m told you’re famous for, please understand that Alexander Harris is the center of our Universe. Without him, we would have been adrift in world we were ill-equipped to handle. He is our saviour and our Love, and I cannot stress to you enough that above all else he must not be hurt. . . at least no more than this situation has already hurt him--


Spike balls the letter up, more shocked than angry at the man’s cheek; but not before one phrase near the bottom of the page catches his eye:

--that you haven’t, in the time between your awakening and the finding of this letter, managed to do some irremissible hurt to Xander--

“Already done it, Billy-boy.”

He drops the crumpled letter in the box and goes over to the dresser. Next to a copy of The Stranger, is a wallet. The driver’s license says it belongs to William Kent.

Spike wonders who gave William the spiffy, new last name . . . if it was Harris, or one of the other Scoobies, or if William chose it, himself. Wonders why he even cares.

Then he decides he doesn’t, and stashes the wallet in an inner pocket.

He stalks out of the over-done bedroom and clomps down the hallway as noisily as possible.

Probably nothing in that letter but guilt trips and mind-games and more waxings poetical about dearest Xander.

And talk of the Devil, or perhaps one of the Devil’s least effectual imps--


He pauses as he passes the kitchen. . . .

No sounds, but Harris is still in there, Spike knows it. Still in there, hunched over the counter, folded in on himself and shaking with--grief? Shame? Anger? All of the above?

Spike reaches out and rests his hand on the cool wood of the door. A little effort and it’ll swing right open. A little more effort and Harris’ll be in his arms, still crying, probably calling him every name in the book and a few that aren’t . . . but maybe not-letting-go as hard as Spike’d be not-letting-go.

Only it wouldn’t be Spike Harris was not-letting-go of.

Serves you right, doesn’t it, tosser? Lucky I didn’t put one of those Ginsus in your heart after what all you’ve taken from me, Spike thinks, though he’s not even convincing himself. Has to in fact restrain himself from going in there and--well, how can he make right what he did to Harris? Wasn’t rape, but it wasn’t a romantic romp in a field of daisies, either.

That bridge is well and truly burned. There’s no choice but to move forward and get his life back.

His real life, one that doesn’t include monocular ex-Watchers.

Reluctantly removing his hand, Spike slinks out of the apartment, slamming the door on the way out.

As acts of rejection go, it’s pretty pathetic.

Except for the bit where he’s pretty sure it breaks what’s left of Harris’s heart.








Nothing’s changed about Los Angeles, which should be comforting, but is just disappointing.

Not that he expected everyone to be riding around in flying cars and all the buildings to be on mile-high stilts, but he’d thought the future, even the near future, would be more--future-y

Instead, it feels as if no time has passed. The only thing that’s different is . . . walking around on an aggressively sunny afternoon and not bursting into flames.

Oh, Spike’d done it once back in Sunnyhole, with the Ring of Amarra, but that’d been different. There’d been magic involved, and as little as Spike cared for magic, it’d been an easier thing to put his faith in an ensorceled item then, than it is to place it in the hands of the PTB, now.

He doesn’t have much of a choice, though, unless he wants to go back to the apartment and wait there for Red to show up.

With Harris.

Spike’s stomach growls, reminding him that he needs to eat. Yes, breakfast is the first order of business . . . well, lunch, considering the time.

He stops at a likely-looking greasy spoon--the Moonstruck Diner--about eight blocks from the apartment.

As he’s about to cross the threshold, into the welcoming smells of grilled meat and over-cooked fries, he gets one of those weird pangs of familiarity that he’s felt since he woke up this morning.

Down at the other end of the diner, a pretty, redheaded waitress has noticed him and waves, calling: “Hey, Will!”

Spike turns and walks away. He’s not quite as hungry as he thought.








All afternoon, Spike walks.

Till his feet get tired, the duster gets unbearable and his McBreakfast is but a McMemory. He stops at a Dunkin’ Donuts and fuels up on krullers and iced coffee beverages, chatting with a homeless bloke about aliens, till he’s itching to hit the streets again.

It’s the sky that draws him out. It’s turned a soft, faded overcast blue, the clouds a pearl-grey. Probably going to rain around midnight, but for now, it’s perfect. Glorious.

He spends more time gazing at the heavens above than all the useless sturm und drang below.

By early evening, Spike’s standing on the corner of Third and Louisiana, finishing up a chili dog with everything on it and zoning out. Occasionally, passersby jostle him and glare. Some even call him names that would’ve gotten them a railroad spike in the shin for their troubles . . . once upon a century.

Spike, however, doesn’t even notice.

He’s watching clouds.

He has yet to spot one that actually looks like an animal, but it’s only a matter of time. And he’s surely got a good day or two to kill before Red flies into town on her broomstick, or jet, or whatever.

Plenty of time until he has to begin the considerable task of facing William’s memories . . . before repressing them altogeth--

“‘Scuse me?”

Annoyed, Spike looks down from the sky, ready to growl at whoever interrupted him. He’s faced with a pale, dark-haired man, about his own height. His clothing is drab, synthetic and threadbare, but he’s holding a sleek, fancy-looking black cellphone in one pale palm.

Well, one of those things just doesn’t belong there, Spike thinks wryly, sizing the man up. His face is square, his smile friendly--not at all a bad looking bloke, if you like ‘em small and scrappy.

“Hate to interrupt ya,” the man says, in a faint Irish lilt. “But I think you dropped this.”

“Sorry, mate--that ain’t mine.” Spike’s already looking back at the sky again--hey! that one’s a turtle . . . or maybe a rhinoceros--by the time he finishes speaking. So he’s surprised when a hand touches his shoulder.

“Oi! Look, don’t touch, Paddy!” He shrugs the hand off. The Irishman grins, shrugs and holds out the damn phone again.

“I’m pretty sure this doohickey’s yours, pal, just--give it a look-see. If it’s not yours, just drop it in the garbage, okay? That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

Yeah, it is, so fuck off, Spike’s about to snarl, but he finds himself reaching out to take the phone, a polite smile on his face. “Not at all. Thank you,” he says. As he takes the phone, his fingers brush the stranger’s palm briefly and he gets a static shock.

He looks up into the stranger’s clear, green eyes and sees--

--kindness. Nothing more, nothing less.

Spike shakes his head like someone just waking up from a half-remembered dream and the stranger turns away. “Hey--do I know you, mate?”

“Nope!” The man calls without looking back. In seconds, he’s disappeared into the madding crowd. Spike bobs up on his toes a couple times, but can’t spot a single milk-pale complexion in a sea of California tans.

“Bog-trottin’ weirdo,” he mutters, turning the schnazzy phone this way and that before flipping it open. Worse comes to worse, he can maybe pawn it, or trade it for something semi-useful, like a gun--or some stakes.

The display lights up and Spike gasps.

“Bloody hell . . . this really is my phone. . . .”

There, in living color, is a screensaver of Harris, laying sprawled in bed, shirtless and smiling at the picture-taker. The smile--which promises dirty, dirty things--coupled with the eyepatch makes Harris look dangerous and sexy in ways even a blind man could appreciate. And that’s the only reason Spike’s starting to get hard.

The only reason.

Spike scans the small crowd waiting to cross the street, certain he’ll see the Irishman--or even Harris watching him, laughing--but there’re no familiar faces in the crowds. No way the stranger could’ve gotten hold of William’s phone, no way this could be William’s phone--

--except for the bit where it is.

The phone suddenly starts to vibrate in Spike’s hand, playing ABBA. Take A Chance On Me, if he hasn’t missed his guess. The screensaver fades out to be replaced with Red’s smiling face, frozen in a nervous, but friendly smile.

Gee, I wonder who’s calling, he thinks, glancing around again before answering and putting the phone to his ear.

“Hullo?”

“Will? Thank the Goddess!”

Spike smirks and joins the crowd waiting to cross the street.

“Well . . . hello, love.”

“--got this really strange message from Xander, and he asked about the memory spell--”

“Is that so?” The light changes and Spike lets himself be carried across the street by the crowd. Winks at a leggy blonde giving him the old hairy eyeball and nearly trips over the curb.

“--sounded strange and hoarse, like he was losing his voice. I tried to call both you guys back a bunch of times, but no one answered till you picked up just now and I’m really, really worried! What’s going on?”

Spike glances up at the at up at the sky, wondering if Harris is still at the apartment, staring out the window, waiting for him to come back.

“Will?”

Probably not. Not even Harris is that puppy-loyal. Certainly not after the way Spike had said good-bye.

“Hello? Will, are you still there?”

“‘M still here, Red . . . but I’m not William.”

Her indrawn breath is loud and almost whistling.

“Spike? But how-- oh, boy!”

“Just--woke up last night, no memories of the past six years,” Spike cuts to the chase with no preamble. “I shanshued in that alley, and then I was sitting at a kitchen table with Harris yammerin’ away at me about Oscar Wilde and that kid from American Pie.”

If he’d thought Red thinking was loud when she was younger, now, it’s silent. And heavy.

“Hmm,” she says finally. Then: “That’s really weird.”

Spike’s reached another corner. He ducks into a Payless and finds an uncomfortable chair to sit in. Glares at the helpful salesponce who offers to assist him.

“Right. Not exactly the kind of brilliant explanation I’ve come to expect from you, but. . . .”

“Did Xander tell you about the spell we found, one that can make what was forgotten remembered?”

“Yep.” Spike closes his eyes and sees Harris’s weary, too-calm face as he admits to being in love with William. “Told me he and Billy-boy decided not to do it.”

Red snorts. “Yeah, well, with the lethal side-effects, you can hardly blame them for being a little avoid-y.”

“Lethal. . . ? Side-effects. . . ?”

“And even if there was a way around the whole exploding head-factor, there was still no guarantee the spell would actually work. On a human, anyway. But Will really wanted your memories back, and he begged me to help him get them, so--”

“Tell me you didn’t, Red.”

A long, long silence. Spike opens his eyes again. Now two salesponces and a salesponcette are hovering at a not-so-discrete distance, ready to see him shod. He amuses himself by leering at them, then realizes the silence is drawing out for far too long.

“Red . . . what did you do?”

“See, that’s the thing, Spike. I didn’t . . . you did.”





Part Six

The first order of the worst day of Xander’s life is to call Willow.

Wonder of wonders, he actually knows where the cordless is. Normally, it’s MIA, but today, it’s sitting on the kitchen table, where he’d left it the night before (God, had Spike only been back for less than a day?) The little recharge light is beeping fitfully, but it should still have enough juice to make one measly call.

One measly call that’s at best, gonna result in Spike hating him even more, and at worst gonna result in Spike and Will dying.

Why didn’t I say something when I had the chance? Xander asks himself. But he already knows why. Better to be damned by silence than by his own, awful words . . . his own awful truth.

Short of outright murder, Xander would’ve done anything--including actively cheat Spike out of his shanshu, had that been necessary--to ensure that Will was always with him

Always loved him. . . .

“Casting the spell would be really simple,” Willow says when they’ve finished brunch, but she’s not wearing her smiley-face. That can’t be good. “A ten year old with an eye for details and fluency in Middle K’strrl could cast it.”

“So--bring on the ten year old and let’s get this show on the road!” Xander’s enthusiasm is fake, and probably fooling no one.

Now Willow smiles, but it’s pained, like she’s on the verge of tears. Xander hasn’t seen her smile like that since--since before the First was defeated. “Guys, there are . . . complications.”

“Complications?” Will’s voice quavers slightly. “But you just said this was a
simple spell.”

“I-it is. Easy-peasy! But the side-effects aren’t so simple.”

Xander’s stomach is churning, as it always does, when Spike’s possible return is brought up. But this time, there’s a cold dread that creeping through him, as well. “How not-simple are we talking? Laymen terms, Wills.”

Willow looks down at the remains of brunch and gathers her thoughts. The translation from Wicca to American takes a few minutes.

“Well,” she says finally. “The spell would make every memory stored in your brain--from birth, to death, to unlife, to shanshu to now--come rushing back at all once, wh-which would kinda make your head sorta explode a little.”

Just a little?” Will murmurs, poking at his last few bites of fruit salad. All the color’s drained out of his face. Xander takes his other hand and squeezes it.

“I mean, I
might be able bring to the probability of . . . head explosion down to a--well, not to a minimum, but to somewhat less of a maximum--”

“I can’t tell you how comforting that is, Wills. Mostly ‘cause it’s not.”

Xander.” There’s a rare flash of Spike-ish warning in Will’s voice and eyes that makes Xander subside. Will clears his throat and returns his attention to a very uncomfortable-looking Willow. “How much of a maximum?”

“Um . . . eighty-seven point nine nine three percent--but I think that with some tinkering and tweaking, I can bring it down to seventy-five percent.”

Everyone’s silent for a few minutes, mulling that over. Then Xander plasters a big, fake grin on his face. “Wow! I, for one, can’t wait to climb on board the crazy memory-train, how ‘bout you, babe?”

“Dearest, you’re not helping. . . .” Will quietly sing-songs. For a moment, Xander’s reminded of the fights his parents used to have. His father would say something boorish and horrible in front of company, and his mother would use the same tone Will just used to try and keep him civil.

It didn’t work, then and it’s not working, now.

Xander scrapes his chair back and jumps up, pacing around Willow’s earth-tones kitchen angrily, before leaning on the sink. “I mean--what’s a little ol’
exploding head factor when there’s some really great memories of being a psychotic, murdering asshole just waitin’ to be had, huh?”

He can feel Willow’s discomfort and uncertainty, feel Will watching him, willing him to sit back down and at least pretend to be a mature adult . . . put on his company-manners. But where Will’s safety, or reversion to Spike is concerned, Xander turns into cave!carpenter.

“Supposing I survive this spell, will I finally have all my memories back?” Will asks when no more outbursts are forthcoming. “Will I be . . . whole?”

“The spell was created for certain kinds of demons and higher beings, Will. Not humans.” Willow sighs miserably. “I’m not sure even a vamp’d have the psychic and physiological strength to withstand the spell. My research indicates that if you were to come through the spell alive, you’d probably be in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of your life.”

Xander turns to face them again. He hopes he looks more in control than he feels. “Are those Vegas-odds?”

“These odds make Vegas-odds look like a back-alley crapshoot.” Willow shakes her head, smiling that pain-y smile. “The other spells and potions we tried didn’t work and by all means they
should have. There’s no explanation for the memory loss. None--not physiological, mental, psychic, emotional--no clear cause for this effect. So that says to me . . . that Someone doesn’t want you to remember.”

Will’s eyes narrow in understanding. “Someone like the PTB?”

“That’d be my guess.” Willow shrugs apologetically. “The amnesia may be some weird mystical proviso of the shanshu. In any case, I strongly recommend we not mess with your memory anymore.”

“Do you really think they’d intervene if it looked like I would survive this spell with body
and mind intact?”

“They don’t strike me as the kind of folks who like interference with their plans,” Willow says, thankfully leaving it at that.

“I see.” Will runs a hand through his hair--a nervous habit picked up from Xander--and tries to smile. Not only does he fail, but Xander doesn’t like the the defeated slump of his shoulders at all.

“Willow, could you give us a few minutes?”

“No problem--I’ll just be in the livingroom!” Her fork clatters into her plate and Willow makes tracks, obviously glad to get out of her kitchen and away from their drama. Xander watches until the door swings shut behind her, then goes to Will.

“Baby,
please, tell me you’re not gonna do this?” He kneels next to Will’s chair and turns it to face him . . . brushes away the tears rolling down Will’s cheeks. “I know how badly you wanna remember--and I agree that Spike doesn’t deserve to miss out on his shanshu, but the risk. . . .”

“You deserve a whole man, Xander.”

“Damnit, we’ve talked about this--you
are a whole man. You’re the wholest man I know.” Will laughs a little, and Xander smiles. “I mean it, Will. You’re perfect to me.”

“Not to me.” Will hangs his head. “And I’m
glad I can’t remember killing people, and fighting and--all the horrible things I’ve done. Yet I can’t help but think that I’m--diminished. Less than what you want, or need, or deserve.”

“How can I convince you that’s the farthest thing from the truth?” Xander stands, pulling Will up with him. Tears still run down his pale face, too fast for Xander’s words or fingers. “What can I say, or do to prove that to you?”

The look in Will’s wet, miserable eyes clearly says:
nothing. But Xander says the words, anyway. Will keep saying them till he’s believed.

“You are
everything I want, and need, and much, much more than I deserve. And as awful as it sounds--if not doing the spell means I get to spend the rest of my life telling you that--”

Will gasps, his eyes widening in pleasure and surprise like some cartoon character. It’s the kind of look a man could get used to. “Xan, love--”

“If,” Xander goes on, for the moment ignoring Will’s shock and his own. “Not doing the spell means I get to spend the rest of my life telling you that, retrieving Spike’s memories is just aren’t my number one priority.”

Something flickers behind Will’s eyes. Xander doesn’t dare to hope it might be the beginnings of belief. At least until a small, shy smile curves Will’s lips just a little. ”Choose for me, Alexander.”

“What?”

Will leans into the gentle touch still catching his tears. “Whatever you decide, I’ll abide by. It’s up to you, love.”

The absolute trust in Will’s eyes is addictive--has been since the moment he woke up in the hospital, polite and frightened and frighteningly lovely. Xander’s hooked through the bag--can’t imagine that look, that trust winking out . . . gone forever. Can’t imagine a memorial service, a funeral, a life without Will.

Definitely can’t imagine Spike smirking at him, and the love in Will’s eyes turning to disgust.

”I don’t wanna lose you, Will,” he says, ignoring a twinge of guilt. Were the risk to Will negligible, would he choose differently? Does it even matter? “It’s not worth it. No spell.”

“Are you sure?” The relief in Will’s eyes isn’t obvious, unless you happen to know him very well. And Xander knows him very well, indeed.

“Damn sure,” he murmurs, touching their foreheads, so Will’s eyes are his whole universe. “One hundred ten percent sure. No spell.”

“No spell,” Will agrees.

Xander pulls him close and holds him so tight, it must hurt. But Will doesn’t complain. He’s shaking, and his tears are as warm as blood on Xander’s shoulder.

“I love you, Xander.”

”I love you, too, William.”

The first time either of them have said it out loud. Xander’s heart is immeasurably lightened, and pleasantly weighted down. Even though the timing isn’t so great, he laughs. He’s been in love with Will for a lot longer than the year they’ve been together.

For his whole life, it feels like.

He’s sure down to the bottom of his soul that it’s the forever kind of love, too. Instead of freaking him out, it makes everything amazingly clear.

“Do you?” Will whispers shakily, his hands sweeping tentatively up Xander’s back. The timid hope in his voice is instantly sobering. “Love
me, I mean?”

“I do. Always,” Xander promises. In a moment, he’ll call Wills in to tell her the spell is a no-go. In a moment. . . .


Xander smiles, tears in his own eyes, now, as he takes the phone into the bedroom and flops on the bed. A forever-love, is how he’s always thought of his and Will’s relationship. As if forever would’ve been long enough.

He holds the phone close to his face and tries to remember Willow’s phone number. He can’t, but he does remember the next best thing: she’s one on their speed dial.

In seconds, he’s listening to her voice-mail schpiel:

”Hey! This is Willow’s voice-mail! Please leave a message and I’ll call you back when I can!

*beep*


He starts talking automatically. “Wills, hey, it’s . . . it’s me. How’s it goin’? How’s Oz? Hey, tell him Will said thanks for the mix cds, they were really awesome. He just--he loved ‘em.

“So, um, yeah. I wanted to know--I’m calling about that memory spell . . . um, you know the one. Please call me as soon as possible, Wills, it’s really important. Thanks. Love ya. Bye.”

Xander puts the phone on his night-table. He did what Spike wanted--which in no way makes up for what he took, but maybe. . . .

“Maybe nothing. Will’s gone. Even if Spike gets all Will’s memories--he’ll just be Spike with Will’s memories. He won’t be Will. The man I love is gone,” Xander tells himself, laying down and curling up into a ball. “Gone.”

It’s a tiring thought, and Xander’s already tired . . . so tired. The only thing he wants is to sleep until the world makes sense again. Or till Willow calls, whichever happens first. . . .


~*~*~*~*~


”A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.”

Xander looks up--from the mess of spreadsheets, scrap paper and two calculators spread all over the diningroom table--and into the livingroom. Will’s sprawled on the couch on his stomach, bare feet in the air and grinning like a kid.

“That’s pretty. Did you write it?”

“Goodness,
no! I haven’t a poetic bone in my body, you know that!” Will blushes, and Xander fights a smile. “That was Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet and mystic.”

“Huh.” That warm glow Xander’s currently feeling? Pride, of course. His boyfriend is smart
and cultured. Not to mention hot. “Is there anything you haven’t read?”

“Hmm . . . haven’t gotten ‘round to those
Star Trek novels you fancy so much. Probably never will,” Will admits with a chuckle.

“It’s
Star Wars, my stubborn padawan, and you’re missin’ out.”

“I shall somehow resign myself to an unenlightened, Force-less life.”

Xander laughs and goes back to his quarterly budget report. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Marisa to be accurate down to the half-cent, it’s just that
Harris Handcraft is his baby, and no matter who looks after her from time to time, he’s her primary care-giver. He’s the one who’s ultimately responsible for her well-being.

But the slow-build tension headache waiting behind his eyes says that math? Is
so not his strong-suit. Either that, or maybe he needs glasses.

You know . . . the kind that give people the ability to see through lead and budget reports.

Why didn’t I pay more attention in algebra? Oh, yeah, ‘cause it was really boring and made my head ache. . . .

Xander sighs, taps both clear buttons with his pencil and watches the evil numbers go bye-bye. He’s fully prepared to keep feeding figures them to the damn calculators till they spit out some less evil numbers; but warm, distracting arms slide around his neck.

“It’s almost midnight. Come to bed, love.”

“I will, I just gotta finish this up.”

“They make software that can struggle with that for you, you know?” Will murmurs, kissing Xander’s hair. “In fact, I seem to remember buying said software for our PC not
three months ago, when you insisted on going over the budget after Marisa.”

“The buck’s gotta stop somewhere. And since I’m the owner. . . .”

“Darling, Marisa is a CPA. She makes an excellent living planning budgets so civilians don’t have to.”

Xander tilts his head back till he’s looking into Will’s eyes. “Is my numbers-crunching disturbing your gold-bricking, light of my life?”

“Hmm, not so much the numbers-crunching, as the teeth-grinding, pencil-chewing and muttered imprecations against math in general . . . you’re stressing, love.”

“I’m not stressing,” Xander lies. Will gives him a dubious look, then brushes his finger down Xander’s right temple.

“This throbbing vein indicates otherwise.”

“I’ve got Clint Eastwood-vein already?” Will nods with false gravity and Xander groans. “It’d go a lot faster if you pitched in, Brainiac.”

“You
must think I’m mad!”

“Mad? Nope. Pretty? Yep!”

“Oh, no, love. I fell for that last quarter--checked and
double-checked the figures for you, and what did you do afterwards?”

Xander blushes and looks back down at his calculators. Yet again, they provide him with no useful answers. “Well--”

“What did you do, Xander?”

“I--did the budget.”

“You stayed up
all night making yourself crazy, doing the budget, when you could’ve stayed up all night doing me. It was nearly dawn when you finally got to bed, and in the morning, you were monosyllabic and snappish.” Will pouts, then puts on his resolve-face, which is almost as resolve-y as Willow’s. “Now, I accept your obsessive compulsive need to micro-manage every aspect of the business, but not when that micro-management keeps you away from me needlessly.”

Xander puts down his Ticonderoga, a weary gunslinger laying down the tool of his trade. “Will, you know I’d much rather be doing you than doing math, but--”

“Then
do me, love.” Will says in that husky, Spike-voice that does it for Xander every time. “I’m ever so much more fun than the budget. . . .”

Of course . . . the hand snaking into his sweatpants does it for him every time, as well.

“Baby, I
can’t--”

“This does not feel like can’t to me, Xander.”

Sweetie. . . .”

Will tilts Xander’s face back up and kisses him, one of those upside-down kisses, like in
Spiderman 2, one of Xander’s all-time favorite movies.

It’s dirty pool, and Will’s a shark.

“Come to bed, Alexander.”

In that
voice Xander will never tell Will he didn’t invent. He’s on his feet and pulling Will into his arms before he realizes he’s lost this particular battle.

Or won, he thinks, brushing Will’s hair back off his forehead, looking into his super-blue eyes. “You need a haircut.”

“I need something else a
lot more.” Will unerringly backs toward the bedroom, tugging Xander along.

(Xander thinks that if he’d been doing the backing, he’d have already sustained a concussion and possibly a broken ankle.)

The bedroom is dimly-lit, the floor lamp on the lowest setting. Will’s eyes are dark and glowing . . . beautiful. He takes off his t-shirt--Xander’s t-shirt; Will often wears Xander’s cast-offs around the house--and it flutters to the floor. The skin revealed is creamy-pale and touchable.

Xander’s stupid brain tries to rally, make one last stand--
if the business fails, we’ll be homeless! Homeless! it shrieks, despite the very generous pension he receives from the New Council--at industriousness and the pursuit of not getting laid.

“What about the budget?”

Will pushes down his sweatpants--yet another cast-off of Xander’s, that he has to wear with the drawstring hanging practically to his knees--and sits on their bed expectantly, letting Xander look his fill before saying:

“Fuck me, Xander.”

“‘Kay.”

Will kicks off the sweats and scoots back towards the headboard, crooking his finger and grinning wickedly. “This way, Mr. Harris.”

Mr. Harris makes a new land-speed record getting naked and into bed. He kisses and licks his way up Will’s body, till they’re looking into each others’ eyes.

“Hi,” Xander says. What he means is:
You are far too sweet and lovely--far too wonderful to be mine. But you are mine, and I love you more than I have the words to say.

Or something like that.

“My darling.” Will brushes his thumb against Xander’s lower lip, sighing happily when Xander opens his mouth and bites down gently. “My love.”

“How is it you can talk me out of, and into--anything?”

Will smiles; the big, pretty smile that always floors Xander.
“You are in love with me,” he says, wrapping his legs around Xander’s waist and kissing him tenderly. “I shall make you perplexed.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander stretches and rolls over, reaching for Will.

Nowhere to go and someone to do, he thinks. Saturday rocks.

But Will’s spot is empty. Not so unusual that Will’s up and about--his idea of sleeping in is waking up at 8:00 a.m on a Saturday (8:30 on a Sunday)--but because he’s almost always back in bed when Xander wakes up.

“Will. . . ? Good-morning sex waits for no man,” Xander calls out sleepily, which is a lie. At least this morning, because he’s not feeling especially horny.

”--stole from me, Harris--”

Xander sits up so fast, the room spins.

He’s alone and the drapes are closed. The bedroom is hot and dim and stuffy--he’s covered in sweat and his clothes cling disgustingly to his skin.

“The hell?” He groans, covering his face with his hands. “Will?”

“Didn’t wanna lose your little boyfriend, eh, Harris?”

“No, it had to be some kinda nightmare.” Xander talks to cover the stuttering, rabbit-fast beating of his heart and the thudding in his head. “Spike didn’t just come back and--and--”

”I am not your lover, your partner, or your friend.”

“Oh, God.” Xander closes his eyes against sudden nausea, and lays back down, curling back into a fetal ball.

”I never will be.”

It was real. All of it. Will’s gone and Spike . . . Spike really, really hates him. With good reason, it can and has been argued. Now, Spike’s dead-set on going through with a memory spell that has a higher kill-ratio than tobacco. Even if he could be convinced that the spell was really dangerous, Spike’s just stubborn enough to risk it, anyway.

And if Spike comes through the memory spell with flying colors, what are the odds that Will’s love would win out over Spike’s hatred?

Xander’s no math whiz, but he’s guessing it ain’t even OTB good.

He rolls over, meaning to go back to sleep--back to happier times--when the box catches his eye.

Spike’s box.

About six months ago, Will had called Giles and asked him to mail Spike’s old clothes to them. The clothes had arrived one day later, wrapped in vacuum-sealed plastic--the same plastic it’d been in for over five years.

Xander had come home that evening to Will sitting tailor-style on their bed and patiently sewing up holes like somebody’s mother--

Like he expected Spike to just--come back, and wanna wear his fucking clothes.

“He’ll--we’ll need the comfort of something from our old--er, unlife.” Will’s voice is distracted, matter-of-fact.

“Yeah, well, Spike’s clothes were always raggedy and sometimes hole-y--I should know, I used to do his laundry,” Xander grouses, watching Will patiently tackle a large rip in the thigh of Spike’s jeans. “Maybe you should leave them the way they are.”

Will glances up at Xander; he’s squinting because he doesn’t have his contacts in.

Xander loves him desperately.

“Xan . . . we may not have been a fashion-plate, but I’m certain we appreciated nicely-mended clothing as much as the next person--er, thing.”

We? What’s this we, Kemosabe?” Yes, Xander knows he’s being a jerk, knows it’s childish and unattractive, but can’t seem to stop it. Spike comes up more now, than he had when getting those memories back had actually been an option. “Will, where’s this coming from and why now? It’s been five years--why now?

Will smiles, putting the jeans aside and patting the bed next to him. Xander sits sulkily, feeling like the worlds biggest five year old.

“He was a champion, and--the world tends to have need of those, more often than it doesn’t.” He takes Xander’s hand, holds it in both his own. “Spike
will come back, someday. And when he does, maybe--maybe I won’t be here to smooth the transition from his old life to this new one--”

“Don’t say that.” Xander pulls his hand out of Will’s. “Just don’t.”

“Love, you must accept the possibility that--”

“Look, can we not do this tonight?” Xander stands up, digging in his pockets for his eyepatch. “I need to get some new blades for my jigsaw--I’m gonna hit
Home Depot before it closes.”

“Don’t run out, please, Xander--” Will’s soft, reasonable words follow Xander into the hall and to the front door. He’s never once walked out on Will angry, or while they still disagreed about something that mattered; but walking out is better than staying in. Better, by far, than listening to Will plan his own funeral in that calm, fearless voice. And since
Home Depot is open till 1:30 a.m., Xander plans on hanging out there till close.

Which is long after Will’s usually asleep.

But instead of lingering at the handyman’s Shangri-La, Xander gets the blades, as well as some other things--he resists
Home Depot sales the way Cordelia resisted Neiman Marcus sales, which is to say not at all--then spends hours parked in the Hollywood Hills, gazing down at Los Angeles and not thinking.

When he gets back, their apartment is dark, but for soft, yellow light coming from under their bedroom door.

Of course Will is waiting up.

He’s a good boyfriend. A much better boyfriend than the boyfriend he’s got.

Xander drops his bags near the door and hangs his jacket on the coat-rack. The walk to the bedroom is the longest walk ever. The door is slightly ajar, but he hesitates before pushing it open.

I love you so much, I can’t even consider the possibility that you won’t always be here, Xander thinks, blinking back tears. Talking about Spike is talking up trouble--why can’t you see that?

Will’s sitting up in bed, not even pretending to read the novel open on his lap. The relief and welcome evident in his face and body makes Xander feel like a creep.

He shrugs off his flannel shirt and hangs it in the closet. “Heyya, sweetie.”

“Hello, love. Did you find what you needed?”

Xander winces and unbuckles his belt. “And then some. Won’t need to get new blades for any of my saws for the next year. Or drill bits. Or washers. Or 3/4 inch bolts--”

“Xan. . . .”

“Please.” Xander toes off his sneakers and kicks off his jeans; it’s tough to keep his voice so even, but not looking at Will helps. “Let’s not talk about it now, ‘kay?”

Will sighs, but nods when Xander finally looks at him, and pushes back the coverlet. Xander climbs into bed, laying on his side and Will puts an arm around his waist, spooning up behind him. His breath and lips are warm on Xander’s neck.

“We
will talk about this, Xander”

“Yeah, we will, just--not now.”

“Soon.”

“Soon,” Xander lies, closing his eyes.

The next morning they don’t talk about it, but there’s a box at the back of the closet. When Xander asks what’s in it, Will only looks at him.

Xander drops it--never brings it up again. Whenever Will broaches the subject of Spike’s possible return, Xander remembers pressing matters at
Home Depot, or Lowe’s.

Eventually Will gives up, and Xander can relax again. Though he has a sneaking suspicion Will is terribly disappointed in him.

The box itself stays out of the way; a small white elephant at the back of their closet.


Spike’s fucking box.

“You suck,” he tells it, tells Spike. He sits up and tries to stand. The room’s still kind of unsteady and he crashes to his knees.

“Ow,” he moans belatedly. Perhaps because of his previous comment, the box is totally unsympathetic.

When pulling it to him with the power of his mind doesn’t seem to be working, Xander crawls to the offending box, meaning to tear it into pieces. The balled-up piece of paper rolling around inside stops him.

He reaches for it. It’s a good quality--the kind Will uses for correspondence, or for his very recent hobby of writing Xander poetry.

I’ll never find another poem waiting on my pillow when I get home, or in my pocket when I’m waiting on line at Costco . . . never again, Xander realizes. Hurt eats away at his heart like acid.

He smooths the paper out it carefully, tenderly, wondering if Spike had crumpled and left Will’s poetry like a piece of garbage out of spite. Despair and pain swim around in his head like poisonous fish, but he pushes them aside, as well as any thoughts of Spike. If he’s going to read Will’s last poem, he doesn’t want that reading . . . tainted.

But the page is filled, margin to margin, top to bottom, in Will’s super-neat handwriting.

This isn’t a poem, it’s a letter. A letter to Spike . . . why would Will write a letter to Spike?

There’s only one way to find out, and by the time Xander has--three times over--the despair and pain have been eclipsed by rage.





Part Seven

“I’m sorry, say again?” Spike says through numb lips and a sudden painful throb behind his eyes.

“I said you were the one who did the doing,” Red says, slowly and loudly. “Not me. You’re back because you got yourself back.”

“Think you have your wires crossed, Red,” Spike scoffs, ignoring the feeling in his head and the pit of his stomach. It’s just the chili-dog and all the lattes. “I haven’t been in a position to do sod-all for six years. Amnesia, remember?”

And the strange looks he gets from Paylessemployees and customers alike serve to remind him: this is not the kind of conversation one has in a discount shoe store.

Right.

Throwing a last few a glares back at the salesponces, Spike stalks out into the balmy evening again. Not exactly fresh air, but it’s the best he’s gonna get in L.A.

He can already see the difference sunset has brought. Now that the worst heat of the day has passed, the crowds have gotten thicker. For a moment, he’s totally disoriented, wondering who he is and what he’s doing in this place. . . .

”--have no memory of who I am . . . I believe I’m suffering from--”

Then Red’s voice brings him back.

“. . . Will-you, not you-you. And nothing you--he hasn’t been doing on and off for the past five years.”

“And that would be--?”

“Trying to get an audience with the PTB.”

Spike stops spang in the middle of a crowded cross-walk. It earns him a few love-shoves and two one-fingered salutes.

Huh. The ponce didn’t lack for brass knackers, I’ll give him that. But he’d have been better off taking our chances with the exploding-head spell, than with that lot.

“Not that he hadn’t already tried to get an audience with them, but you can petition them for an audience, like, a million times, and that doesn’t mean you’re ever gonna get one.”

A shove from behind gets Spike’s legs walking on automatic, carrying him to the other side of the street, just as traffic starts moving. “So you’re saying the same bastards who put me to sleep are the ones who woke me back up? At William’s request?”

“Yes. Finally. Only a bit differently than any of us expected. They took away your memories of being Will.”

”. . . beg your pardon--?”

Spike shakes the William-voice--none of your tricks, Billy-boy, I said give it a rest--out of his head. He wishes he could shake loose the migraine building behind his eyes and threatening to break across his consciousness. “No Billy? Fringe benefit, if you ask me.”

“Spike!”

“He’s not a real person, Red, he’s nothing, he’s--Harris’s imaginary boy-toy.”

“We both know you can be, and have been worse.”

Ouch. Not because Red scored a point, but because of the impending migraine.

Obviously.

“Yeah? Well, if Billy’s so bloody real, and I’m so bloody awful”--all the horrible things I’ve done--”why was he tryin’ so hard to get me back?”

“Uh, hello? Because he’s a good person who wanted to give the man he loves all of himself. Even the parts that’re you.” Double-ouch, damn that migraine. “Anyway, the PTB are the only ones who could’ve brought you back. They made sure of that.”

--tired, gaunt, covered in stubble and yes, somewhat piratical--smiles and is suddenly familiar. The only familiar thing, it would seem. Especially his warm, good-natured smile; like sunrise on the best day any man could ever hope to wake up to.

Spike massages his left temple with one shaking hand. “I see . . . and from whom did William learn how to petition the PTB?”

“I showed him.”

Spike’s gobstruck non-reply is reply enough to make Red start babbling.

“Look--there are ways and there are ways to get an audience with the Powers--some more dangerous and costly than others. I thought it’d be better to teach him the safer ones, than to leave him to try any old spell he finds--and believe me, Will was really good at mystical research. He’d have found a way.”

Mini-lectures and huffy justifications. Same old Red. Spike doesn’t know if he’s angry, amused or incredulous. The flare of red-tinged pain behind his eyeballs decides him.

“Can’t imagine Harris took too well to the idea of his boyfriend playin' Harry Potter, or to you playin' Professor McGonagall.”

Red’s silence is hesitant . . . guilt-ridden.

“Right, so you two kept Harris in the dark about the whole mess--what? So he wouldn’t worry?” More guilty silence and Spike snorts. “You white hats are so bloody predictable. So bloody stupid. What if the PTB changed him, took something from him in exchange for gettin’ me back? Sodding hell--you know more than anyone that just because you’re callin’ on the PTB doesn’t mean any old demon, god, higher being or lower being can’t pick up and then piggyback its way to this plane of existence!”

“Hey, don’t you lecture me on the mystical side of magic, bub!" Spike can imagine the hectic, indignant roses blooming in Red's pale cheeks. It almost makes him smile. "You think I didn’t take all of that into consideration? I redesigned those spells specifically for Will’s use--”

“Did you, now?” Spike sneers at--well, not so much at that little old lady, but in her general direction. Not his fault the old bird gets in sneer’s way, is it? “And your magic is so bloody reliable, is that it?”

“Yes. It is,” Red says in a voice that’s as cold as it is soft and low. Spike shudders, ’cause is it just him, or did the air around him get--charged. Must be just him, since no one else’s hair seems to be standing on end, nor does anyone else seem to have broken out in gooseflesh.

However far away the pissed off uber-witch is, she's still six galazies too close for Spike's comfort. Time for serious back-pedaling.

“Take it easy, Red, didn’t mean--”

“Do you think I’d risk Will’s life and soul--or yours--by letting him cast a spell that wasn’t completely safe? My best friend’s boyfriend and one of my closest friends, and you think I wouldn't put every protection ward invented on it--then invent a few more just to be safe?!”

Spike grits his teeth and wishes for patience. For a head that isn't increasingly feeling like it's about to split open and spill his brains on the sidewalk. “That’s just it, Red, magic is never safe, you know that. If it’s dangerous and addictive for someone with your power and experience, think of how much trouble William could've--”

“Spike.” She takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. “You’ve been gone a long time. You don’t know anything about me or my magic.”

”. . . mystical proviso of your shanshu. In any case, I strongly recommend we not--”

“Not my fault I was gone, is it? I didn’t ask for any of this!”

“No, you didn’t, but--sheesh, quit whining and get over it! Is that all you’ve done since you got back? Whine and recriminate? You must be driving Xander nuts!”

And doesn't Spike's migraine just love that name?

“We will talk about this, Xander.”

“Oh, yes, poor Harris--lost his love and has to put up with second-rate Spike, who just so happens to have lover-boy’s face--poor Xander, boo-bloody-hoo!” Spike is aware that he’s practically shouting; aware that he’s clutching the phone nearly hard enough to break it. Aware that his wild gesturing is making pedestrians steer cautiously around him. He just can't stop himself. “What about what I lost?!”

“What about what you’ve gained?”

That quietly reasonable tone--eerily like the William-voice in his head--is the last thing Spike expects, the last thing he has a defense for. It makes him remember Harris’s lips parting tentatively against his own, soft and warm and so damn familiar. So right.

But that’s no longer an option, is it?

“Oh, yes,” Spike says as nastily as he can. Nothing puts Red on the defensive like insulting her nearest and dearest; if she’s on the defensive, maybe she’ll stop making sense. “I've gained a donut-boy’s undying devotion. Good thing I didn’t sleep through that! But in case you weren’t paying attention--it’s William that Harris loves, not me.”

“Spike, Will, whatever you call yourself, Xander loves you. Not the superficial things, like the way you dress, the color of your hair or the way you talk. He loves you. And you love him, whether you remember it, or not!”

“Don’t be too sure about that, pet. If I don’t know you anymore, you damn sure don’t know me, either.”

The ensuing silence, punctuated by the pounding in his head, says Spike struck a nerve. It occurs to him that Red and Billy probably got on like a house on fire. How must she feel about his absence? Not as broken up as Harris, surely, but probably not happy with William’s substitute.

What a perfect punishment this is, Spike thinks. Spent my whole unlife playing second fiddle to Angelus, now I’ll spend the rest of my life playing second fiddle to myself . . . bloody priceless.

“You don’t know me,” he says again, not at all regretfully. “Neither does Harris.”

“We know Will. You and Will are just different facets of the same person--you two are more alike than you are different!”

“Oi! No need to be insultin’!”

“It’s those similarities that Xander fell in love with," Red finishes doggedly, as if Spike hadn't spoken. "I’m not saying he won’t have to get used to the differences, but you’re still the man that he fell in love with!”

Spike laughs long and loud and jaggedly, yet again alarming the pedestrians nearest him. “Is that so?” What’s a little ol’ explodin’ head-factor when there’s some really great memories of being a psychotic, murdering asshole just waitin’ to be had? Those were his exact words, weren’t they? Maybe he wasn’t trying to keep me gone, but don’t lie and say he wasn’t happy to write me off as a loss.”

“So you think he just threw up his hands and said ‘oh, well, screw Spike, I’ve got Will and I’m keepin’ him’?”

Boom-boom-boom, goes the all-drum marching band behind Spike’s eyes; it keeps perfect time with each stalking step he takes . . . with each labored beat of his heart. “You tellin’ me he didn’t?”

“Do you know how afraid Xander was-- how afraid they both were that once they brought you back, you wouldn’t want to be with him? And how hard they tried, anyway?”

“A man’ll do a lot of things he doesn’t necessarily want to. Harris tried to bring me back because he’s a white hat and that’s what you people do; it’s his nature to do the right thing. Doesn’t mean he wanted me back.”

And when did I start sounding this pathetic and needy? Starting to sound like you-know-who. . . . must be this bloody migraine. I forgot how awful these things were--feels like my brain’s bein’ split in two! I hate bein’ human!

“Have you even given him a chance to want you? I mean--you haven’t even been back a whole day, right? That’s not long enough for him to decide how he feels about you!”

“Xander-bloody-Harris strokin’ me off . . . now what sort of cruel and extra-crispy hell have the PTB landed me in?”

Spike rolls onto his back, but not before he sees the flash of hurt and disappointment in Harris’s eye. That look is wrong for two reasons. One, Harris never had any expectations of him, so it’s sill for him to equate Spike with disappointment. It’s not like Harris is Drusilla, or . . . Buffy.

Two--Harris’s hurt? Hurts
Spike. And aside from a bit of preacher-induced eye-loss, Spike's never felt much empathy for Xander Harris. Never expected to.

But then, he never expected to wake up to a heartbeat and a Harris-handjob, either. . . .


“I think it’s plenty long enough, Red,” Spike mutters over a rousing rendition of every drum-solo ever made. "He hates me, and he's got good reason. I saw to that."

“Not even you could totally alienate someone who's hopelessly in love with you, in less than a--okay, what did you say, Spike?”

“I’d have to be a few patients shy of a bloody asylum to want you, Harris.”

“Nothing. . . .” Spike lies, and badly. His vision throbs in time to the migraine. The orange light of sunset, which is almost completely gone, makes his eyes ache and tear. Or maybe that's the migraine, too.

Maybe he came back just in time for brain cancer. Wouldn't that be ironic?

“What did you do, Spike?” When Spike’s reply is a guilty silence, she goes on, only barely hiding her concern and anger. “Look, I don’t know what you did, or said when you found out about you and--Will and Xander, but--they never forgot about you. And if Xander wasn’t exactly jumping for joy to see you back, it’s not because he hates you and wants to cheat you out of your life--”

“Stop.” He's not sure if he means Red or his damned head; either or both would be bloody lovely.

“Xander wasn’t afraid that if you came back that he wouldn’t be able to love and accept Spike-you. He was afraid that Spike-you wouldn’t be able to love and accept him. At all. He never hated you, or wished you ill, he just--wanted to hold on to the part of you that loves him.”

“Don’t--

“But if he thought that you--whole-you, with all of your memories--could love him back, even just a little, do you know how happy that’d make him? How happy he could and has made you? Has anyone else in any of your lives loved you even half as much?”

Spike finally shoulders his way out of foot-traffic, and under the awning of a closed motorcycle repair shop. He desperately needs a breather. Too much caffeine and too much junk-food do not a happy body make. "No. No one. And no one ever will. Not now--" the pain in his head suddenly cranks up to nigh unbearable. To shut out the last of the orangey-red glare, he--

--opens his eyes to blurry surroundings and closes them again, yawning and stretching. He feels as if he's been asleep for ages.

What a strange and horrible dream, he thinks, meaning to examine it before it slips away, but when opens his eyes again, he sees a pirate. That drives the dream straight from his head.

He smiles, and squints this rather interesting character into better focus. Not a pirate, it seems, just a weather-beaten young man with an eyepatch and, apparently, no parrot. “Oh . . . hello.”

“Uh . . . hi?”

No . . . definitely not a pirate.

The young man--tired, gaunt, covered in stubble and yes, somewhat piratical--smiles and is suddenly familiar. The
only familiar thing, it would seem. Especially his warm, good-natured smile; like sunrise on the best day any man could ever hope to wake up to.

He glances around the (his?) bedroom. Takes in drab-green everything, the elevated television and complete lack of personal affects. Unless this is an exceedingly strange sort of bedroom--and he is an exceedingly strange sort of man--this must be a hospital room.

And why would I be in a hospital room? I don’t feel ill--don’t remember falling ill--or--or anything else, for that matter. Well, I remember my name, of course, it’s--it’s . . . oh, dear. . . .

He looks at--Mr. Pirate, for lack of a proper name, and can’t help smiling again, in spite of the panic nibbling away at the edges of his mind. “I beg your pardon, but where am I?”

“You’re in the hospital. You’ve been unconscious for three days,” Mr. Pirate says in a rasping whisper, as if he’s either been speaking too much, or not speaking at all for far too long. “Since you
shanshued.”

Perhaps the meaning of
shanshu is one of those things he cannot yet recall, like his own name, or Mr. Pirate’s name. And he can’t extrapolate what it might mean from the little information he’s gotten since awakening.

There’s to be no brazening his way through social interactions until memory returns, it would appear. “Since I
what, now?”

“You know.” Mr. Pirate rolls his eyes in annoyance. “Since your little heart-problem cleared up.”

“Ah . . . I see,” he says. It’s a lie, but a discrete one. Either way, this
shanshu heart-worry has obviously already passed, is no longer a threat. In the mean-time, his--the pirate looks ready for a nice long collapse. “Well, I suppose that’s good news for me, but--are you quite well? You look to be more in need of this bed than I, if you’ll forgive me saying so.”

You look as if you’ve been through the wars, sir, he thinks, noting the dark circles under the other man’s eyes, the pallor underneath darkly tanned skin, the wan, starry look in his eye. Your broken heart weighs upon you heavily, and your grief hangs from your shoulders like a shroud.

As if seeing these thoughts in his eyes, Mr. Pirate shakes his head, his smile turning colder, and bitter. “It’s good to see that the whole shanshu-thing isn’t keeping you from being an asswipe, ‘cause I was worried, for a minute, there.”

Despite the spreading feelings of familiarity and safety he feels in this man’s presence, he wonders if he should keep his disorientation to himself. Every word he utters seems to annoy or push away, and he finds that--rather upsetting.

Well, of course. This man is the first person I’ve ever met, so to speak. For all I know, my life may rest in his hands. I may be alienating my brother, or--no, he’s not old enough to be my father. I’m a man, a grown man. And he’s not my brother. I don’t want him to be my brother. . . .

“I--have I offended you?” He doesn’t mean to ask, but it slips out, almost taking tears with it. Why he should shed tears over the distaste of a man he does not remember is puzzling.

“Not recently,” Mr. Pirate says tersely, shrugging. Then he sighs, his face relaxing a bit. “No, you haven’t offended me--why are you acting so weird, Bleachy?”

Bleachy? Could that be my name? No, of course not. What sort of name is that? A nick-name, perhaps, but not a given name.Am I behaving strangely?”

Mr. Pirate smiles again. It’s small, but genuine and lifts more of the bitter grief from his face. “A little, yeah. You’re all--polite and nice and non-insulting. For you, that’s pretty strange behavior. Not that I’m complaining.”

“Ah.” He realizes he has no choice but to lay the truth out plainly. If he can’t trust the pirate sitting vigil by his sick-bed, whom can he trust? “May I ask you a favor, then?”

“How much?” Mr. Pirate makes a face and pulls out his wallet, but there’s a flicker of humor in his eyes and his mouth is twitching at the corners.

He laughs, even though this may be a disturbing bit of insight into his forgotten character. He looks at the Pirate’s large, rough hands, then down at his own. They’re pale, soft--not the hands of one used to manual labor. He is, perhaps a rich man, or maybe a bureaucrat. But he doesn’t know--will never know unless he admits that he
doesn’t know.

So he takes a deep breath and looks up again, catching a look of relaxed amusement that transforms the grief-ravaged pirate into a boyishly handsome man.

I certainly hope we are not, in fact, brothers, he thinks, immediately recognizing his attraction to this man. But even stronger than that is the total trust he feels.

He knows that this is a man who will never hurt him.

Before he can third-guess his feeling, he’s placing his life in the hands of a familiar, but total stranger.

“Could you please tell me--who you are, sir, and . . . who
I am?”

“. . . okay? Spike? Spike?”

Red sounds so worried, it's hard to stay angry at her. And anyway, anger doesn't seem to be helping him catch his breath or get his shit together. “I’m here, I was just--woolgatherin’.” Remembering? No--Harris told me this bit earlier. Just my mind playing tricks, trying to make me want things I really don’t. “Got a lot goin’ on in my head, today, and I--”

"--guess this is where we part ways,” Xander says, covering his uncertainty with a laugh.

It's movie night, and they're, at last, all alone on the porch of Will and Andrew'd apartment building.

The night is crisp and clear--a night perfect for walking with the man one loves and talking about nothing in particular. A night for holding and being held under lamp-posts. For stolen kisses that sizzle in the cold January air. . . .

Xander’s shifting around nervously, not meeting Will’s eyes. He looks half-ready to bolt off the porch and run screaming into the night. If Will has any doubts as to whether his feelings are returned, this shuffling discomfort allays them.

But the
intensity with which he wants this man startles and scares him--cannot possibly be returned in kind. For Will is a man obsessed; has been since the moment he recognized his attraction for what it is.

Love. The strongest, purest largest emotion he’s ever felt; even pre-amnesia, he’s certain. It lifts him up and wraps him ‘round in golden chains. It burns him and exalts him and makes him feel as if he can do anything.

It is unmistakable and undeniable, not that he ever could or would.

I want you, Alexander . . . I think it would frighten you, if you knew just how much. . . .

It frightens
Will. . . and makes him incredibly bold.

He steps closr and slips shaking hands under Xander's coat and sweater, untucking his t-shirt to caress the warm, firm flesh underneath. Then he slides his hands around to sweep up and down Xander's back gently, restraining himself from doing more till he receives some small sign. . . .

“Oh,” Xander exhales and shivers, his breath pluming white in the winter air. He smiles wonderingly, blinking as if he’s seeing Will for the first time.

“It--it doesn’t have to be, Xander,” Will tells him. His voice is unsteady, but his smile feels as if it stretches from ear to ear.

Xander’s reply is to pull Will against him, and--when Will turns his face upward expectantly--lean down to bring their lips together softly, feather-light. . . .


“--you get it?” Red asks again. She sounds weary and desperate. Spike knows the feeling. “I understand that it’s hard, and weird and scary for you, Spike. That maybe you didn’t get back here as quick as you would’ve liked, but you are back. There’s a life waiting for you--a good one. So instead of being a poop-head, why don’t you go put your arms around your boyfriend, apologize for whatever mean things you said, and stop playing the blame-game?”

Still shaking with the force of that--memory?--Spike watches the passersby and sees only blobs of color. Hears only William's plaintive, insistent din as it drowns out rationaly thought. He’s still breathless--an faintly nauseas, but the migraine has receded, ever-so-slightly.

"Xander loves you."

So much for receding.

“Don’t tell me that, Red, please. It’s too late.”

“What do you mean, it’s too late?” There goes that hair-on-end, gooseflesh prickle, again. When she speaks, her voice is too calm, too even, too non-threatening. “Spike, did you hurt Xander?”

“I didn’t know, I thought--” I thought he just wanted to keep me gone . . . God, could I even blame him? Would Billy have hate-fucked someone, then left them to drown in grief and shame?

Probably not.

Apparently Billy’s a swell guy.

“Spike? What have you done?”

"I'll give you what you need one last time."

“Somethin’ stupid, of course . . . but non-lethal.” Spike laughs, hanging his head heavily. The headache cranks up again . . . just that one notch that takes it back into the land of unbearable. “Somethin’ I probably can’t take back. I thought he and William were trying to steal my shanshu and I . . . may have mentioned that to Harris at a . . . delicate moment--”

“Delicate moment--? What--Oh, my God! You haven’t changed at all! I mean, you may not be all psychotic and murder-y, but you’re still a raging assho--wait a minute. How did you know?”

Such an abrupt change in mood and tone is dizzying and unexpected. It does nothing for Spike's head or the growing sense of guilt nagging the bloody soul. “Know what?”

“How did you know what Xander said about you?” Red’s voice is soft and low again, but excited, rather than cold. “The day I told them about that last memory spell, Xander called you a psychotic, murdering asshole--”

“Yes, such lovely endearments--made m' heart go pitty-pat--”

“--more than four years ago! The only reason I remember that's what he said, is because you just quoted him word-for-word.”

“I'm assuming there's a point at the end of all this. . . ?”

“Spike--four years ago, you were Will-you.”

Oh.

"Oh."

And oh, and this isn't good. Red’s voice seems to be coming from far away, fading in and out. Odd, because up till this point, it’s been crystal clear, and as close as his conscience. Spike leans against the still-warm brick facade of the shop, and closes his eyes against pain and a moment of mental and physical vertigo.

“Yeah, oh.. Unless Xander repeated that conversation to you verbatim--and I doubt he did--there’s no way you could know what you know. Which means you’re getting your memories back!" Red whoops happily. "Do you remember anything else, yet? God, I think I know why Will--”

”--iam Aurelius Kent?”

Xander winces and looks from the Ohio driver’s license--that’d arrived in the mail, along with a passport, birth certificate and green card, all with that same name--to Will. “William.
Aurelius. Kent?”

“Mmhmm. I
love it when you say my name, baby.” Will grins and winks.

“Wiseass.” Xander blushes and glances at the license again, shaking his head. He looks bemused and dismayed and bloody irresistible. “The Aurelius I get--at least in the sense that I know where you picked the name from, you weirdo. But
Kent? Why Kent?”

Will reaches over and takes his brand new license from Xander. Aside from his pallor and wide, startled eyes, the picture came out much better than he’d expected. Thank goodness he’d had the sense to dye his hair back to what he's been told is its original color.

“Well . . . I was--sort of, if one ignores the blood-drinking and murder--like Superman. Faster than whatever and taller than whatever-else. Powerful and bullet-proof.” Will turns to his livingroom window, which looks out on a trashy, undeveloped lot. “Now, all that lovely
super has been stripped away, and there’s just the pathetic, one-dimensional alter-ego left: the Clark Kent, if you will.”

He shrugs and turns away from the question in Xander’s eye. It’d seemed a rather witty joke several weeks ago, when choosing the name to go on his fake ids and documents. Now, it just feels. . . .

Like he’s the empty shell that’s left behind, now that the special is gone.

“Hey . . . I think it’s a cool name. Okay, not the Aurelius part, but the rest of it is cool.” Xander’s arms slip around his shoulders in a loose hug, his breath stirring Will’s hair. “William A. Kent . . . a great name for a great guy.”

“Xander, you’re”
beautiful, wonderful, amazing ”too kind for saying that.”

“I’m not being kind, I’m being honest.” Xander’s arms tighten around Will. “You’re not pathetic, or one-dimensional. You’re not Spike’s alter-ego. You’re your own man. A good man, who I not only like and respect, but also--”

“Also--?” Will asks breathlessly, when Xander falls silent.

“Also care a great deal for.” Xander clears his throat and loosens his embrace. “Clark Kent was an ordinary guy, but--I happen to think ordinary guys are the best guys there are.”

“Oh.” Will shivers and leans back against Xander, wanting more than anything for those strong arms to hold him just a
little tighter again, to never let him go. . . .

"--had to be gone to get all his memories back! I know what the PTB did!” Red’s practically squealing, now, so of course her voice is loud and clear, once more. Penetrating and unrelenting, like a power-drill right into his temple. Add to that the sun's last rays, itching and tingling and--burning, scorching his face and straining lungs like fire.

And the memories are pounding down the doors of his conscious mind, battering and breaking to make themselves known. To save his sanity, Spike closes his eyes, throws open the doors and sees--



--that his bedroom has been replaced by a small atrium, which looks onto . . . a misty sort of nothingness.

The grey Nothing between and behind All Things, Will thinks, shuddering. Willow had told him to expect this, should he ever make it this far. But in all the years he's been trying, he's never gotten further than the protective pentagram drawn on his bedroom floor . . . and never really expected to.

Will is quickly discovering that expecting and experiencing are two different beasts.

He turns his back on Nothing--which used to be the armoire and the bedroom's south-facing wall--and that leaves him facing a small marble temple. Its denuded walls are crawling with some vaguely unpleasant weed, and supported by crumbling columns. At the entrance to this fabulous structure, are two Beings of mutable form and crushing presence.

The urge to kneel is
literally crushing Will.

He fights it for as long as he can; William Aurelius Kent kneels for no one . . . save one divine carpenter, who is currently visiting his Uncle Rory in Reseda.

Their forms continue to flicker and shift--sometimes human, sometimes not; sometimes flesh, sometimes not--colors and light flash so intensely from them, that Will bows his head and closes his eyes.

In seconds, sweat is running down his face and soaking his shirt; his legs are starting to wobble.

In less than a minute, he crashes to his knees with a pained and startled cry.

But it’s when he’s on his stomach--hugging the chill stone floor and cooling the wet, angry heat of his face--that They speak at last. Their voices are the loudest of whispers, a muffled maelstrom audible only within the fragile, imperfect walls of his skull:

vampire

vampire

why

do you continue to bother us?





Part Eight

Will tries to sit up, to look them in whatever insane kaliedescope passes for their eyes, but the weight on his body and soul makes him groan, and kiss the eroded stone of the courtyard.

*Bother you?* His incredulous snort sends dust straight into his wind pipe, causing him to choke and sputter. *This is the first time I’ve ever made it this far!*

vampire

you

have squandered

our gift

our benediction

your reward

yet you continue

to bother us with foolish questions


*No! When I shanshued--*

as promised

as prophesied

the champion

the vampire

with a soul

was made human

you were given reward

yet seek reversion


*Because you took my memories away!* Will tries to lift his head, look upon his so-called benefactors, but Their presence is unrelentingly
heavy. Even breathing is a strain in an atmosphere so tainted by magic, and mysteries beyond time and mortal comprehension. *You didn’t reward me, you erased me!*

we

gave you life

vampire


*And you took away my memories, my identity! Is that the price of my humanity? Complete loss of self?*

amusing

truly

it thinks that a beating heart

and mortality

erase what it is

what it
truly is

vampire

you are

amusing

ignorant

yes

yes

too ignorant to comprehend

the magnitude

of the gift that has been granted

the boon

amusing


Will blinks away tears and glares at slate-gray stone; the very faint breeze in this place stirs stone-dust, carrying it toward his face and once more down his throat. *Ignorance, yes, I’ll admit to that freely. Whatever your game, it has rules I cannot comprehend, let alone follow. But the shanshu
did erase who I really am--it took away my memories and without his recollection of past experiences . . . a man is not whole. Is nothing.*

you

speak of your demon

and its exploits

as if that is the core

of who

what

you are

william

the bloody

is in your nature

but does not comprise it

this audience--


*I was a demon for over a century! Those experiences are such a large part of who I was that without it--I’m a shadow! A pale remnant of what I was--* Sensing that appealing to their softer sides is getting him nowhere, thus far, Will changes tack. *It was prophesied that the vampire with a soul was to play a pivotal part in the apocalypse.*

yes

yes


*Yes, and Spike played his role. He was your champion, he fought for you, sacrificed for you. By erasing his memories, you erased him, stole his reward from him. Stole his
life--*

vampire

you

are alive

mortal

only

because we will it so

we

submerged your demon

we

made it sleep

we

made you mortal

we

made you
human

and we

made you happy

though happiness was neither prophesied

nor promised

nor appreciated

we

healed your wounds

before the life we gave

bled away into the mud

we

gave you the life

you would so quickly cast aside

we also

gave you a champion

whom you would cast aside

you

take these gifts

give nothing in return

and demand more of us

vampire

vampire

an apt description

after all

this audience


*
Wait!* The force of Will’s desire jerks his head up off the stones, high enough for him to see two pairs of sandals;

which become two pairs of taloned feet;

which become two pairs of barnacle-green pincers;

which become innumerable clusters of tentacles;

and then one sterile ray of intense white light before he is again weighed down by his own awe of these Beings. This time, he must close his eyes to collect his thoughts. *I need to remember! I need to be
whole*

the vampire

makes demands of us

still

amusing

but becoming less so

as the audience progresses


*Please--I have nothing that is of value to you but my life! I offer it in your service--gladly!
Please--*

your life

is no longer of value

to us

is not yours to give

by your own words

but is your demon’s

you cannot pledge

what is not yours

you have nothing of value


*Then I throw myself on your mercy!* Melodramatic, yes, but his last, desperate hope. *
Spike and I throw ourselves on your mercy! He was your champion--this life that I have lived was his reward. He’s already missed six years of it, don’t take away any more!*

The terrible weight of their presence, their attention is momentarily lessened; enough so that Will can open his eyes. The breeze has picked up and the dust is stirring in irritating eddies.

shall we

return what was taken

renew

what was lost

and send it hence

reforged?


Please, Will thinks, but knows enough not to say. Having earned their consideration, he is wise enough to accept the it graciously, and silently.

shall we

give it this last gift

this curse

that it may

at last

trouble us

no more?


At some point Will had stopped breathing, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Life and death don’t matter in this place, neither does time. He is no more or less ephemeral than the dust coating his throat, and the wind that eternally drives it across the stones he lays upon.

Time does not pass here, but it most certainly is passing everywhere else, Will thinks with something too slow to be panic and too fast to be objectivity. I shall be like Rip Van Winkle, waking up long after all that I know and love has died . . . oh, Xander. . . .

Slow tears run down his cheeks and weighs down the flying courtyard dust, turns it into grey mud. And Their terrible attention returns, heavier than ever, pressing Will against the stone and into it.

the champion

must be reforged

a life

for a life

vampire

the sleeper

must awaken


Visions of David Lynch films dancing in his head, Will manages another brief glimpse of furry, prehensile, eight-toed feet before he’s once more kissing the courtyard. *I don’t underst--*

this is the covenant:

what was taken

will be returned

the sleeper

will awaken

life

must be sacrificed

for life

that is given

that is the covenant

live

live

or die

by your choice

by your will

abide

or

revert


I don’t understand! Will means to say, once again, but that would be a lie. In the depths of him, where his instinct is, he understands and chooses before his conscious mind can confuse matters.

accepted

done

this audience

is over

vampire

trouble us no more.


Their attention shifts, is gone in less than an instant. Weightless, now, Will is flung, flailing and screaming into the void.



~*~*~*~*~


Someone’s smacking him in the face.

“Yo? Hey, dude--wake up!”

Hard.

“I think he hit his head!” An elderly woman with a thick New Yawk accent squawks loud enough to make his headache think of returning. A nasally, male version of her voice doesn’t help matters when it calls:

“Hey, you--kid with the two-tone hair and piercings? Call 9-1-1--”

And still the hand is smacking.

“Oi, quit it! I’m awake!” Spike grumbles, trying to open his eyes and sit up, ignoring the gentle hands trying to keep him still. But vertigo makes him groan and flop right backdown to the (courtyard?) ground. “What’s goin’ on?”

“You maybe wanna lie still for a bit, boychick,” the elderly male voice says. “You hit the cee-ment like a Hefty-bag fulla doorknobs! I nevah seen anything like that before!”

“You fainted dead away!” The female voice exclaims.

“Been out for nearly a minute,” the first voice, young and male adds.

“You maybe hit your head a little.”

For a moment the vertigo increases past the point of nausea and disorientation, to outright pain . . . then it’s gone before Spike can scream, gone like it’d never been. In its wake, he’s left gazing up at three blurry people. He doesn’t recognize any of them, nor can he recall his name, where he is or why he hit the cee-ment like a Hefty-bag fulla doorknobs.

Then it’s all rushing back, with the force, mass and velocity of an asteroid.

Oh. God.

He blinks up into the concerned and avid faces of his small crowd of gawkers--a little old man and a littler old lady in loud, tourist-y colors, and a gangly, pizza-faced skater--and gets his legs under him.

“Dude, I think that guy called an ambulance. You should chill out till it gets here,” the skater says, rubbing at his scabby left elbow.

“I said I’m fine.” Bloody stupid, but fine.

“You don’t looks fine, sonny.”

The world only heaves a little as Spike stands up. And once he’s been up for a few seconds, it stops heaving altogether. He towers over the old people and the kid, six-foot-one if he’s an inch, towers over him.

A quick look around tells him the sun’s set completely. Thank goodness. All that bloody orange light had done nothing to help that screaming bitch of a headache.

“You’re very pale and clammy,” the little old lady notes. “Like ya got the food-poisonin’. D’ya think ya got the food-poisonin’?”

No.” Though he has been eating suspect fast-food all afternoon . . . Spike shakes his head. “No, I don’t have the food-poisonin’. I feel better than I have in ages.”

“This is how kids today look when they feel better? Oy vey,” the old lady says. Her husband nods sadly.

“Whatever.” The kid shrugs and walks off, slouches off. The old couple, however, seem content to stand there and stare at him.

Fighting the urge to scream piss off!, Spike smiles politely--second time today, too--and turns away, adjusting his duster. The pat down reveals no lighter, no cigs and one wallet. As for the phone--

Lo, and behold, there it is; laying on the ground at his feet, miraculously unbroken--miraculously unstolen.

Spike picks it up, dusts it off and starts walking.

The display lights up and the world’s most gorgeous screensaver appears, promising lovely, dirty things with nothing more than a look and a smile.

My darling Xander, he thinks, smiling. The smile doesn’t last long.

“Not darling and not mine at all, are you?” Spike asks screensaver!Harris. Damned if the little bastard isn’t leering at him . . . damned if he isn’t bloody irresistible.

Stop that, he thinks automatically, but there’s something off. The feeling of William--the feeling of a school-teacher looking over one’s shoulder disapprovingly, as if despairing of their charge--is strangely absent. It’s been with him since he woke up this morning and now. . . .

Now it’s gone.

“This is the covenant,” Spike murmurs, understanding coming swiftly on the heels of memory. “A life sacrificed for a life given . . . the sleeper will awaken.”

Life or death.

Abide or revert.

“Jesus, Billy . . . no one likes a bloody martyr.” Spike wipes his eyes--they’re still irritated from that technicolor dream-coat of a sunset, that’s all--and closes the phone. He’s about to shove it into one of the inner pockets of the duster when it jumps in his hands, startling him so that he very nearly drops it again.

If you’re all alone/ When the pretty birds have flown/ Honey, I’m still free/ Take a chance on--

Spike rolls his eyes and flips the phone back open; the ABBA stops and the screensaver disappears to be replaced with the picture ID of his caller.

“‘Lo, Red.”

“What happened?!” Willow screeches into his ear. “You gasped and then there was a loud thunk and then the line went dead! What happened?”

“Had a bit of a lie-down.”

“What?”

“I passed out.”

Passed out?! Did you hit your head? Are you okay?”

abide

or revert


“I’m fine, Red. More importantly, I remember.”

“That’s great! How much do you remember?”

Gone seven hours--seven hours, supposedly, since he assumed a full-lotus and started chanting. Seven hours since he scattered dried and consecrated herbs over a flame that burned greener than a demons eyes.

He should be stiff and achey, but he’s not. He should be tired, tight and lethargic, but he’s not. He’s energized, loose, jittery--scrambling to hide the magical paraphanelia, clean up the pentagram and air out the smell of incense before Xander gets home.

When he finally hurries into the bathroom to shower, a glance in the mirror shows a grey and dusty, tear-streaked face, dominated by wide, starry eyes. There’s gritty mud all down his drying shirt and dust all over his pants.

The clothes go into the hamper, and under some of Xander’s work-clothes.

When the spray is as hot as he can stand it, he steps into the shower, letting it rinse the dust and age of that
place off of him. He gargles it out of his mouth.

It’s only then that he allows himself to remember, to realize what he’s done.

What he’s given up.

He sags against the wall and slides to the floor dry-heaving and weeping. He stays that way until Xander--darling, wonderful, Xander--finds him there, huddled under the ice cold spray. . . .


Spike sighs and starts walking toward Xander. Toward home.

“I remember everything,” he says, and hangs up.


~*~*~*~*~


”What was that?”

Will’s sprawled on his back in a limp, post-coital heap, staring up at the ceiling.

“What was what, love?” He drawls, thinking, for the first time ever, that he could
really use a cigarette.

That. . . .” Xander snuggles against Will’s side, running his hand up and down Will’s chest. “I mean, jeez, I’m gonna be walkin’ funny for the next two days! Not that I’m in any way complaining. . . .”

“Better not be,” Will murmurs, rolling on top of Xander and kissing him, touching every bit of lover that he can get his hands on. “I love you.”

“Not as much as I love you.”

"
Ten times as much as you love me."

The kissing and fondling turns into heavy petting and groping and soon, Will's hard again. For the fourth time that night.

“What are you, a machine?” Xander asks between kisses, wrapping his legs around Will's waist. Will's immediate reply is an affirmative that leaves Xander gasping, and reaching backwards to grip the headboard.

As always, that first thrust into Xander’s body is a sweet, unbearable shock, even after five years. The way his body yearns prettily so and yields so completely is a constant revelation. A treasure that he knows he could never give up.

How will I ever let you go? Will thinks, trying to accept with his conscious mind what his heart has known since the day his long-sought audience was finally granted. I know that I must, but how? I cannot break the covenant, and yet I doubt I’ll be able to hold up my end of it. . . .

But this isn't the time for such thoughts. Xander feels like heaven under him and around him; best to savor this while he can, and leave philosphy for later.

“Oh, Jesus, Spike. . . .” Xander moans, biting his lip. Not the first time
that’s slipped out mid-coitus. Once upon a time it’d bothered Will, made him not only doubt that he’d ever be enough for Xander, but doubt Xander’s love entirely.

But at some point, within the past few years, he’d learned to take this rare Freudian slip as a positive. Will’s seen photos of his former self. It’s a given that Xander’s fantasized. And no doubt fantasy!Spike had amazing skill and stamina.

Ergo, if Xander’s calling out Spike’s name . . . Will must be doing something right.

Very right from the way the headboard is starting to creak and the thin trickle of blood running from Xander’s bitten lip down to his chin. Some perverse impulse makes Will lean down and lick the trickle away, then kiss Xander hard, chasing down every last trace of salt and copper with his teeth and tongue. It’s the first time he’s tasted blood that isn’t his own.

The intimacy that goes with tasting--
finally--Xander’s blood, and Xander’s needy, breathy moans only makes Will harder, more desperate to be in so deep, he can never be got free. To love and fuck a permanent imprint of himself in Xander’s heart and body, a reminder that will be there long after Will himself is gone. . . .

Xander whimpers--whether from pain or pleasure, Will can’t tell--and the spell is broken; will comes back to himself--back to the present. Xander seems to be unable to catch his breath, and his eye is squinched shut so tight, tears are leaking out.

“Love, I’m--I’m sorry! Dunno what’s gotten into me.” Will stammers, reaching for some kind of control and, for his customary tenderness. He brushes away tears with gentle, shaking fingers. “Was I--did I hurt you?”

Xander blinks up at him, as if trying to place his face, or puzzle out his words. Then he grins, brightly, beautifully. “Yeah, baby . . . hurt me harder,” he orders, drumming his left heel on Will’s back impatiently.

Will rolls his eyes and fake-sighs. “As master commands.”

I love you . . . I will always love you. Please don’t hate me for what I’ve done. . . .


~*~*~*~*~


“Harr--er, Xander? I'm back!”

Spike closes the front door behind him and locks it. He knows Xander’s here. He can feel it.

He walks quietly down the hall, glancing into the empty livingroom and diningroom as he passes them. He’s tempted to go check the master and guest bedrooms, but he know that isn’t where Xander is.

In the kitchen . . . waiting.

Guilt that’s got nothing to do with William spreads through Spike, like a fever.

He puts his hand on the cool wood of the kitchen door and remembers doing the same thing hours earlier, and thinking how easily it would open, and how Xander might curse him but might hold him, too.

The door still swings open easily enough, he discovers.

Xander’s sitting at the kitchen table, his head bowed slightly and his hands clasped around a folded piece of paper that Spike instantly places. William’s guilt joins his own in a poncy, pathetic chorus and he briefly considers just walking away. Anything’d be less painful than this is shaping up to be.

“Hello, Spike,” Xander says softly, neutrally. He looks as if he’s been sitting, gazing at his hands for hours, but his clothes are different and his hair is damp. Spike steps into the kitchen proper and approaches the table slowly.

“Hello, Xander.”

“Willow called. She said you remember.”

Bloody interfering witch. Spike takes another few steps closer. He suddenly wants to feel Xander’s arms around him. When Xander’s arms are around him, everything is right, nothing is hopeless and everything is fixable. At least according to William. “That’s right. I remember everything.”

“I see.” Xander nods and still doesn’t look up.

“Do you really?” Spike ventures, and Xander’s head whips up. Then his face and eye turn bland and apathetic. A Xander-mask hiding the turmoil and rage underneath.

“Why are you here, then? You got your revenge, and you got back what was stolen from you.” Xander smiles absently and stands up. Forgotten, the folded letter drops to the table. “There’s nothing left for you, here.”

Spike flinches and looks away. The hurt is distant, almost ghostly, but there. Deep in the core of him.

“Xander--”

“That’s what you said you were gonna do. Get your memories back and make tracks, but--” Xander shakes his head and that awful cold smile gets a bit wider. “You’re still here.”

"Yes, I am." Ask me why. . . .

"Guess that makes you a liar."

"Xander--"

"Or maybe just too stupid and half-assed to make a decent exit."

Snark, with edges that cut and jab. “It doesn’t have to be like this, love.”

“Don’t call me that.” Anger passes over the Xander-mask like a cloud across the face of the moon. “In fact, don’t call me anything at all. Just get out.”

No, a faint voice whispers in Spike's head, too soft and small for him to tell if it’s his own or William’s.

“No, Xander, I’m not leaving.” Spike closes the last few feet between them, till bare inches separate them. Xander backs away, and Spike matches him step for step until Xander hits the counter.

“What happened this morning is never gonna happen again, Spike.” His voice is cold and eerily calm. “Back off.”

The resentment in Xander’s voice and his own guilt backs Spike up a few steps.

“I’m sorry. I was angry, and--and stupid.” Spike sighs, letting his guilt carry him back a few steps. “I probably don’t deserve forgiveness, but I’m askin’ you for it. For a chance to make things right between us.”

Genuine surprise makes Xander laugh. It’s alarming, and a pale shadow of the laughter Will remembers.

“There’s nothing between us, Spike . . . wrong, right or otherwise.”

“There’s everything between us, pet. William--”

“Is dead.” Forbidding tone and cracks in the mask that let white-hot anger peer out.

“Not dead.” Spike taps his own temple. “He’s in here. And here.” Spike puts his hand over his heart and steps closer again. “So are you. Couldn’t shake you loose if I wanted to.”

Xander looks down at the diminishing space between them. “And this is my problem--how?”

“Damnit, he’s in here, Harris!” Spike grabs Xander’s hand, pulls it to his chest and holds it there. “Everything he felt for you, every memory, everything he was is still in here and it still loves you! I love you! I love you, you stupid sod, and it’s not stopping just because the memories aren’t mine.”

A flicker of something in Xander’s eye, but it’s gone too fast to interpret and Xander’s pulling his hand away. Spike tries to hold on, but all it earns him is an aching wrist and a scornful glare.

“A lot’s changed in six years, big bad. I could’ve broken your wrist before you finished taking your next breath.”

“But you didn’t. And you’re not gonna.” Spike steps closer and puts his hand over Xander’s heart. The beat is strong and slightly too fast. “Not gonna, ‘cause I’m in there. Me and William . . . in so deep that you can’t get us out.”

There goes that flicker again, and again, it’s qucikly iced over. Xander shrugs. “I’ve got another fifty, sixty years left to try.”

“Stubborn whelp.” Spike’s hand drifts down to Xander’s side and around his back, where’s it’s quickly joined by the other hand. Under the t-shirt, a warm, familiar expanse of back waits to be stroked and kneaded. Spike’s more than happy to oblige.

“You’ve got me on the ropes, love. You want me to beg? You got it.“ Xander shivers and Spike steps closer, till his boots bump Xander’s sneakers and he can smell that herbal-cinnamon-clean scent of soap, skin and fabric softener. It's so familiar and intoxicating; Spike is getting hard, even though sex is probably the worst thing that could happen at this point.

Is the only thing that could make matters worse.

“Want me on my knees? You got it.” Spike leans in till he can feel Xander's breath on his lips; Xander looks startled enough to jerk away. . . but he doesn’t. “Want me on my stomach, as penance? Got that, too. Whatever you need me to do, or say, or feel--whatever proof or demonstrations you need are yours, pet. . . .”

He brushes Xander's lips with his own, then presses them firmly, convincing them to part with brief flicks of his tongue.

Yes, the small voice whispers happily, and Spike couldn't agree more. The taste of Xander's mouth, the click when their teeth occasionally clash, the rasp and tease of tongues . . . all so familiar and new and lovely.

Spike rests his hands on Xander's hips, urging him closer, and Xander finally pushes him away.

“Don’t,” he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “The only thing I need from you is your absence, hint-hint. So, sayonara, have a nice rest of your life, be sure not to write--”

No!” Spike grabs Xander’s arms and shoves him back against the counter impatiently. “I won’t let you dismiss me, like I’m some--”

Spike only has a moment to register the complete disintegration of the Xander-mask--bloody hell, he’s angry!--before pain of the most agonizingly ironic kind explodes in his groin.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike looks completely stunned for a moment before collapsing to the kitchen floor with a choked-off groan.

He blearily struggles to sit up, before he giving up and curling into fetal position, clutching himself and moaning.

Almost as stunned as Spike, at first Xander can do nothing but lean on the counter, horrified. Then a memory--welcome, this time--pushes away the horror, leaving an almost detached sense of satisfaction and poetic justice.

“You are not my lover,” he says, stepping over the moaning, rocking figure on the floor. “You are not my partner and you are not my friend. You never will be. Now get out.”




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