Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is trademark 20th Century Fox. The world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the characters within are derivative of works copyright © 20th Century Fox, 1997-2004. No copyright infringement is intended.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse: http://mysticmuse.net
Nothing Like the Sun: S/X – http://www.nothinglikethesun.com/SX/
Feedback: Yes, please.
Spoilers: Post-everything.
Author's Notes: Okay, first of all, Xander never went to Africa. In the ATS episode "The Girl in Question," Andrew only told Angel and Spike that he had for one (or perhaps all) of the following reasons:
1. Andrew is a compulsive liar.
2. Andrew could have told them the truth, but then he'd have to kill them.
3. Without the Big Board to guide him, Andrew forgot where Xander was, and so spontaneously made up a colorful story involving exotic locales.
4. Xander had insisted that no one ever tell Angel where he was ("because he's an occasionally-evil dickhead"), and so Andrew was slavishly following Xander's commands.
5. Andrew simply likes to fantasize about Xander with his shirt off, all tanned and bare-chested, his pectoral muscles glistening with sweat beneath the harsh desert sun. *ahem*
Also? Xander didn't lose an eye, because I just wrote a fic all about that whole issue and I don't feel like immediately dealing with it again in this story. So Xander's eyes are both fine and dandy (though they are NOT under any circumstances to be thought of as "chocolatey orbs") and neither one got damaged in Season 7. Caleb just…missed…or something.
In case anyone becomes confused, this fic is not AU. It's set about 2 years post-Chosen, and hence about 1 year post-NFA, and other than the two differences noted above (no Africa, no patch), everything happened pretty much as seen in canon up until the point when each show ended. If there are other minor bits of straying here and there, put it down to poetic license. Or…uh…the fact that my memory sucks.
Pairing: Xander/Spike
Summary: Xander runs into Spike in San Francisco and is mightily confused, since Spike's supposed to be dead.

Through the Looking Glass

Kimberly A

Xander pushed his hair out of his face – way past due for a haircut and it was driving him crazy – and tried to avoid screaming like a maniac. He would never get used to cell phones. They were too freakishly tiny. He felt like André the Giant with a cell phone in his hand, and it wasn't a particularly pleasant sensation. He was always afraid he would fumble it or crush it or something else non- suave. The buttons were smaller than the tips of his fingers and they were way too close together, which made dialing an adventure. He didn't make many calls. The phone was mostly for work, anyway.

"Gary?" he shouted into the mouthpiece. The freakishly small mouthpiece, which was really just a few holes in the shiny silver surface of the foldable phone. And that was another thing: phones were just not meant to be foldable, except in James Bond movies. Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone wouldn't look like André the Giant. He'd look like…well…Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone.

Even in his dark suit, Xander did not, unfortunately, look like Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone. He was fairly certain of this fact as he strode along the crowded sidewalk, heading toward Market Street to catch the bus home. He could have walked home – it wasn't that far – but the dress shoes pinched and he was tired from a long meeting and feeling decidedly grumpy. A pleasant stroll up and down the steep hills of San Francisco was not on his immediate agenda.

"Gary?" Why was it necessary to always shout into cell phones? The things obviously weren't very efficient at conducting sound, because Gary only ever seemed to hear half of what he said. Around him in the crowd, Xander heard various other loud conversations, some being conducted through the earpieces that were even more freakish than foldable cell phones.

He remembered the old rotary dial telephone his parents had when he was growing up, and he felt an odd sort of nostalgia for the big plastic yellow handset and the long spiral cord. That was a phone that knew its place in the world.

Back then, you could walk down the street without your boss being able to call you and nag you about the zoning meeting. Because the phone was at home. And you weren't. So your boss was out of luck.

Except, of course, that Xander had been a kid back then, and so he didn't have a boss.

But kids now had cell phones, too, of course.

The world had gone crazy.

Miniature communication devices were all fine and good, as long as they were attached to the chest of a lycra uniform. This…this was just wrong.

"Gary?" he shouted into the phone, but the connection was really bad and he gave up in disgust. The exciting details of the zoning meeting would have to wait.

He didn't think about Sunnydale very often anymore.

Most people would probably consider San Francisco an eccentric city, full of freaks, but in comparison it made Sunnydale seem like some kind of bizarre dream from which he'd finally awakened into adulthood.

This was finally something like a real life.

Sure, San Francisco had taken some getting used to. Everyone was so much more open, less afraid to let their own personal weirdnesses show. In Sunnydale, everyone had always been too busy differentiating themselves from the Hellmouthy weirdness around them. Even Willow – and you'd think a lesbian witch would be a bit unusual – had always had a pleasantly friendly suburban normalness about her.

But San Francisco was a city of weirdos.

Xander had always been "the normal one," but in two years of living in the city by the bay, he'd realized that "normal" was a very relative term. Okay, so maybe he was "normal" compared to Slayers, Watchers, witches, an ex-vengeance-demon, an inter-dimensional key made of green energy in the form of a teenage girl, and random vampires with chips and souls and gypsy curses and various combinations thereof…but, hey, who wouldn't be? It was hard not to feel "normal" in that company. "Boring," even.

But once he got out of Sunnydale, he realized that he didn't have to always hover in the background while the more interesting people took center stage.

He realized he could be interesting, too. It was sort of surprising, actually.

So he really wasn't in contact with everybody very much anymore. He had a new life now, and the others were off leading new lives, too. The Scooby Gang just wasn't really a gang anymore. And Xander sometimes felt a little guilty about the fact that he didn't miss it.

He just didn't think about it much anymore.

That's why it was so strange when he saw a familiar face in the crowd outside the main branch of the public library. Xander had shoved the phone into his jacket pocket and was nearing Market Street, loosening his tie, on his way out to catch the bus back home to North Beach, still running over zoning ordinances in his head, still thinking about the issues that had been raised in the meeting he'd just left. Cars were blaring their horns, and men and women in business attire dodged scabby punk bike messengers. The sun had set already, though the sky wasn't quite dark yet. Winter in San Francisco was a bit different from Sunnydale. Less…sunny. Shorter days. It had taken some getting used to.

So Xander was weaving his way through the steadily streaming foot traffic, grumbling to himself about unrealistic architects and vaguely pondering what to have for dinner, when he saw a shock of platinum blonde hair in the rush-hour sidewalk crowd. It wasn't the hair color that caught his eye – San Francisco as a city had a hair sense quite similar to Oz's, after all, and nothing was too extreme – it was something else. The tilt of the head, maybe? The curve of the neck?

His phone suddenly rang again and Xander jumped, pulling it out of his pocket. "Harris." When he looked up again the blonde head was gone.

Gary still wanted to hear about the zoning meeting, and so Xander filled him in as he walked. While he waited for the bus, they went over some plans for tomorrow's meeting with the contractors. By the time Xander hung up the phone, the bus was there, so he squeezed his way in, holding on to the metal bar over his head and trying not to step on anyone's feet or bash anybody with his briefcase. Maybe the walk would have been more relaxing, after all.

A very pretty Latina teenager sitting nearby was smiling at him. She couldn't have been more than 16 – she was wearing the sparkly pink lip gloss to prove it – but apparently she had a thing for very tired dark- haired men in rumpled suits. Now, if only girls like that had looked at him when he was that age…well, that would have been an entirely different thing.

Flattered, he smiled at her briefly, and then pointedly turned to look out the window. These are not the droids you're looking for. Move along.

It wasn't just fear of a future career in prison on a statutory rape charge that made him look away. He hadn't actually dated much since he'd moved to San Francisco. Not that he hadn't had opportunities. He had. With attractive members of both genders…and he wasn't quite sure how he felt about that one yet.

So, yeah, he'd been on some dates, but nothing serious.

His friends were very understanding. They didn't tease, and they didn't try to set him up on blind dates. He knew they whispered amongst themselves about how tragic it was, how his fiancée had been killed in that massive freak earthquake down south a couple years ago.

He wasn't sure if Anya really was the reason he'd been single so long, but she was definitely part of it. Mostly just because of how badly he'd messed that whole thing up. "Good relationship having" was not on his resume in the "Skills" section.

So he looked away from his teeny-bopper admirer in her platform shoes and her sparkly lip gloss, but it wasn't really a conscious decision. He forgot about her almost as soon as he'd turned, because that's what he always did. He didn't give out his number. He didn't ask for numbers. He smiled politely and went back to contemplating…

…Market Street beneath a darkening sky, streetlights glowing golden. Rush-hour traffic, cars in the street and pedestrians on the sidewalk, bicycles darting here and there, everyone pushing and shoving and trying to get home five seconds earlier. Squashed in the bus, Xander felt remarkably stationary. All that frantic activity outside, and he could barely move an inch.

He didn't see any shock of pale blonde hair out there in the crowd. Of course not. Why would he? Well, really, lots of people had hair that color, right?

It obviously hadn't been Spike. Obviously. Spike was dead.

Xander gazed out the window as the bus slowly made its way through downtown. Lip gloss girl got off somewhere along the way with a last flirtatious glance in his direction, but Xander didn't even notice.

Xander'd only been inside his apartment for a few minutes when he heard a knock at the door. Luba had probably heard him come in.

He opened the door. Yep. Plump, dark-haired, olive-skinned Luba from upstairs. She was wearing sweats with a massive t-shirt, and had her hair up in a sloppy ponytail. She looked beautiful, as always…it was something about her smile…or her smart-ass attitude.

"Wow!" she marveled, looking him up and down. "Pretty snazzy outfit!"

Xander kicked his dress shoes off and sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Meetings," he explained. "All day. I can't wait to get on site again." He tossed his tie onto the couch.

"You sound beat. Come upstairs and let Frank feed you."

Xander hesitated. He'd really been looking forward to just collapsing in front of the TV with a beer and a slice of cold pizza.

"He's making chile relleno," she crooned temptingly. "With polenta and his special spicy rice and truly bad-for-you refried beans…and fresh sopapillas for dessert. With chocolate sauce."

Xander held up his hands, defeated. "Okay okay! I'm convinced! Just let me change into some jeans."

Luba bounced happily.

Officially, Frank and Luba were his landlords, since Frank did in fact own the duplex, but they didn't act very landlordy. They were more like upstairs housemates. It helped that they were all about the same age.

"I'm so lucky," Luba beamed as Xander came through the open door into their apartment. She held Frank's face in her hand and gave him a big kiss as he stood with a pot-holder in each hand, humoring her. "I think everyone should marry a man who cooks this well."

Xander put on his innocent face. "Even me?"

Luba grinned at him. "Oh, we'll find the right man for you yet!"

Xander shook his head, laughing. "Not really looking for a someone of the manly persuasion, thanks."

Luba cocked her head. "You don't seem to be looking for anyone of the womanly persuasion, either."

"Yep. Pretty much just not looking." Xander shrugged.

Luba nodded. "Okey-dokey. I'm not going to be nosy." At Xander's arch look, she chuckled. "So…do you want to stay for movies? We've got Empire Records and High Fidelity."

Xander nodded seriously. "Ah. I see our theme this evening is record stores."

Luba scoffed, "No points for guessing one that easy. Now, when we did the all-day 'Movies With Frogs' marathon, now that was a good one. The Muppet Movie, Magnolia, Spirited Away, Jurassic Park, and E.T. That was a brilliant Sunday marathon."

Frank called from the kitchen, "Any ideas for this weekend?"

Frank continued moving things around in the kitchen. He knew what he was doing in there, so Xander left him to it. Despite his imposing height and eye-catching bright orange hair, Frank was a pretty quiet guy. Luba talked enough for both of them. It worked, somehow. They were relaxed together, and they'd whole-heartedly welcomed Xander into their lives.

They were his best friends, and somewhere along the way, this had come to feel like home.

Xander said, "How about movies with people finding their way home?"

Luba put her hands on her hips and scowled. "I am not watching The Incredible Journey or anything involving Lassie."

"How about E.T. again? Or Starman? Apollo 13" suggested Xander.

Luba warmed to the subject. "Maybe Casablanca or Empire of the Sun. Or Spirited Away. Maybe The Wizard of Oz or even Big Fish."

"Or Free Willy," Xander suggested with a carefully straight face, making Luba snicker.

Frank called from the kitchen. "We'd have to do Chocolat. And I could bake some appropriate movie-watching theme food."

Xander and Luba looked at each other, and grinned. "Oh yeah," said Xander. "I think that one's a definite plan.

Dinner was delicious, as always. Halfway through a truly sublime sopapilla, Xander turned to Frank and said seriously, "Luba may be right. I may have to find myself a nice Irish boy and settle down. But only if he cooks like you."

Frank and Luba both laughed. Then Luba smirked, "He does have a brother…" She winked.

Xander shook his head, chuckling.

Just as they were finishing dinner, the phone rang. Luba answered it and began speaking in a different language. It sounded sort of like Arabic, but Xander knew – only because she had told him previously – that it was Farsi. This always meant it was her mother or her sister.

She put a hand over the mouthpiece and said apologetically, "It's my mom. I'll be right back." And then she took the phone back into the bedroom.

Frank and Xander began quietly clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, and just generally cleaning up. Out of the blue, Frank said, "You seem distracted tonight. Is something wrong?"

Xander looked at him. "Distracted? I'm not distracted. Why would I be? I just had a most excellent dinner with most excellent company after a craptastic day of meetings and suits and pinchy shoes."

Frank peered at him with intense blue eyes, then said, "You just don't seem like yourself."

Xander put a plate into the dishwasher and thought about that. "Okay, maybe I'm a little distracted. I just had something sort of weird happen today."

Frank didn't say anything. He just wiped down counters and stacked dirty dishes for Xander to put into the dishwasher.

Eventually, Xander continued, "Down by Civic Center, on the street, I thought I saw somebody from back home. I mean, I know it wasn't him. But for a minute it was weird."

Luba came into the kitchen and hung up the phone. "What was weird?"

Frank looked at Xander. Xander shrugged. Frank explained, "Xander thought he saw someone he knew today."

Xander insisted, "Just some guy who looked like him. I barely even saw his face."

Luba asked, "So this is somebody you know from before you moved here? Before the quake?"

Xander just nodded.

Luba continued, "An old friend of yours?"

Xander flinched slightly. "Look, it wasn't even him. It just sort of weirded me out a little bit."

Frank asked simply, "Why?"

This wasn't going to be easy to explain, so Xander stopped to consider before answering. Then he sighed. "Because he's dead."

A few minutes later, they were all sitting in the living room, arranged around the fireplace. Frank had built a fire, and it was crackling cheerfully. He and Luba were quiet, obviously waiting for Xander to explain.

"It's kind of complicated."

Frank and Luba just waited expectantly. They were his best friends. He should be able to talk to them, right? Just…very carefully.

"Okay. So. We sort of worked together."

Luba nodded. "In construction?"

But Xander shook his head. "No, not really. Really not." Spike was more of a DE-struction kind of guy.

Luba nodded again. "So he worked with you in the Neighborhood Watch program?"

"Uh…yeah. For a while. But he didn't really want to work with us. He was a pretty rough character. Violent. Rude. Just…a real asshole. Not somebody you'd want to have around."

Luba looked confused. "But he volunteered in the Neighborhood Watch program? That doesn't sound like he was such a bad guy. Am I missing something?"

"Well, he sort of…he got himself into some trouble…pretty bad trouble, actually…and it was like…what do you call it…it was like court-ordered community service. He wasn't happy to be there."

On the couch, Luba curled up against Frank and he put his arm around her. Xander often envied them. They seemed really happy together, and he'd never really had that, even with Anya.

Luba asked, "So did he take off when the community service ended?"

"Actually, that's kind of weird. Because he didn't. He just kept hanging around and helping us out. It was kind of complicated. There was a girl involved."

Frank smiled. "The savage beast tamed by the love of a beautiful woman? It sounds like a fairy tale."

Xander shook his head. "It wasn't like that. Or…not totally like that. Or…hell…maybe it was like that. But he was still a jerk. And there really wasn't much love involved, actually."

Luba and Frank both looked a bit skeptical.

"All right," Xander sighed. "So maybe there was some love involved, but only sort of freaky stalker love, and only on his side."

Luba asked gently, "You said he was dead. What happened?"

Hesitant to explain that Spike had actually died a few times and that he was technically undead, he stuck with the final death. "After the earthquake, we all just scattered. I moved up here. Spike sort of eventually ended up in L.A."

Frank asked, "Spike? That's his name?"

Xander chuckled. "Well, it's what he calls himself, but I doubt it's the name on his birth certificate." Did they even have birth certificates in the 19th century? Xander wasn't sure.

Luba interrupted his thoughts. "So Spike ended up in L.A. Is that where he died?"

"Yeah. He'd sort of ended up working for this company of private investigators. Real hero types. They went up against organized crime. At least, that's what I heard through the grapevine, from mutual friends."

Luba was cautious now when she asked, "Organized crime? Like the mafia?"


Frank and Luba were both quiet for a long moment, soaking this in. Eventually, Frank asked quietly, "So that's how he died?"

Xander hesitated. "Well, I only know what other people have told me. Reliable other people. People who know a lot about this kind of stuff." He considered actually mentioning Giles, but this was already complicated enough.

"So…uh…they were fighting this big organized crime organization, and…they all sort of…died."

"The criminals?"

"No. The P.I. folks. Including Spike. I mean, they…some of the…bodies…some of the people were…identifiable. But a couple of them…there just wasn't enough left. Just dust…like ashes."

Luba's face was pale. "So these mob guys, they actually burned them to death?"

"Something like that. So…everybody knows they're dead. There were so many bodies, and the bad guys weren't the type to let anybody get away."

Luba said quietly, "This is why you were so disconcerted? Because you thought you saw him on the street?"

Xander just nodded.

"Is there any chance it actually was him?"

Xander shook his head.

Frank asked, "Could he have survived and then gone underground to avoid this organized crime ring? Get a new identity and start over?"

"You know, I never really liked Spike. Couldn't stand him, actually. But I have to admit that he never seemed like the kind of guy to run and hide."

"Maybe you didn't know him as well as you thought."

Xander thought about that one, that possibility. Would Spike have run off like that? He wasn't sure.

That night, he had trouble falling asleep, remembering that glimpse of pale hair in the crowd. Could it really have been Spike? And if so…how?

In the last few moments before sleep, he resolved to find out.

Xander'd gotten lucky with the job. He knew that. It was one of those "know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody" deals, and his old boss from Sunnydale had recruited him. Apparently, people thought he was good at the whole building stuff gig. He'd been with Overaa Construction for two years now, and he'd already been promoted to Project Manager…which was why he had to attend all these boring meetings. The perils of career advancement.

But they didn't need him to attend most of the rest of the meetings for this project – thank god – and so he was going to have some free time until they could actually start work on the site. Once all the zoning issues and budgeting issues and scheduling issues had been negotiated, Xander would be pretty much in charge of implementing all that stuff on-site. But that would probably take another couple weeks, and so he was going to have to find ways to keep busy or he'd go insane. Too much Domino's pizza and "Star Trek" re-runs while wearing a bathrobe just wasn't as enticing as it had once been.

So he planned to do some work on the house. Frank and Luba had expressed interest in having a window seat built into their bay window, and Xander wanted to try to fix the creaking stairs. It sort of made up for the ridiculously low rent they charged him. Sure, Frank and Luba didn't need the money – Frank had retired at 23 after making millions as a programmer for a start-up before the Dot Com Crash – but Xander still felt a little guilty. Heck, he wasn't paying all that much more than his parents had charged for the smelly basement. Given the usual exorbitant rents in San Francisco, it was ridiculous. So he'd set up a workshop in his spare bedroom, and he did work on the house when he had the time.

He'd gotten lucky with the apartment, too, of course. Another perk from knowing people at work. Frank's uncle was one of the engineers at Overaa, and he'd been the one to give Xander Frank's phone number. You need a place to stay, my nephew's got a duplex, he won't charge much rent 'cause you're a good kid, yaddah yaddah yaddah…

In Sunnydale, it all would have seemed like a suspicious coincidence. He would have started wondering if there were demons involved. Maybe a wish. Or a spell. Good things just didn't happen without evil strings attached, right? So when things were going this well, he couldn't help waiting for the evil shoe to drop.

It took him a while to accept the fact that it might actually just be good luck and nice people. That whole "good luck" thing was pretty unfamiliar, so it took some getting used to. It was starting to look like people who didn't live on a Hellmouth and didn't hang out with vampire slayers had relatively happy lives. Less exciting, maybe, but less traumatic, too. He was reasonably certain that when Luba and Frank got married – if they ever got married – no vision-giving demons would show up to ruin the proceedings. And Josie at work was unlikely to have her eyes go black while she flayed the skin off of contractors who pissed her off. And Gary's teenage daughter was unlikely to get kidnapped by angry gods wanting to use her as a key to access alternate dimensions.

And random blonde men on the street outside the public library were unlikely to be vampires.

As he often did when he had something on his mind, he started taking nightly walks. Long walks, sometimes. Not patrolling, just walking. But now he carried a stake in his coat pocket, for the first time in more than a year.

He'd stopped even thinking about vampires, after a while. In fact, he hadn't seen a single vamp since he moved to San Francisco. He figured it was probably because the city wasn't built on a Hellmouth…as far as he knew, anyway. But it probably also had a lot to do with the fact that there weren't any real cemeteries in San Francisco. Instead, dozens of them were clustered together several miles away in a town called Colma, like huddled exiles banished from a city vibrating with life.

So. No Hellmouth. No cemeteries. It made sense that there wouldn't be fledges popping up all over the place. So Xander had gotten lazy. He'd started believing in this cozy little life he was leading now, and he started forgetting or ignoring everything that might lurk in the shadows.

That changed, though, after he saw that blonde head in the rush-hour crowd. Of course it wasn't Spike, but it was like a jolt to Xander's Sunnydale-honed instincts, a visceral rush that screamed, "Vampire!"

And so he'd started carrying a stake again, tucked into the inside pocket of his coat, when he went out at night.

His neighborhood, North Beach, had started out as a tight-knit Italian community, and there were some hints of that past still – a lot of Italian restaurants and pastry shops, old men playing bocce in the public park on Sunday afternoons, Italian street names – but the neighborhood was more mixed now. Chinatown was only a few blocks away, tourists flocked to both areas day and night, and the blinding flashing neon signs of the dozens of strip clubs on Broadway attracted a rather different sort of visitor.

Frank and Luba's duplex was uphill on a relatively quiet side- street, but when Xander walked down into the less residential areas, North Beach was buzzing at all hours with drunken frat boys and excited tourists who'd never seen such a big city.

Okay, so he'd been pretty wide-eyed, himself, when he first arrived. But now he was old and jaded and the tourists just made him impatient when they stood gawking on the sidewalk.

He wasn't sure why he felt this restless need to get out and walk in the dark so often. Old habit, maybe. Maybe even some kind of unconscious need to check out his surroundings and make sure everything was safe. But now that he was carrying a stake again, he felt wrong somehow, out of place, like a return to an earlier time in his life.

The fog was rolling in, so he pushed his hands into the pockets of his coat and hunched his shoulders a bit against the cold. A bunch of college kids staggered past him on the sidewalk, laughing too loudly.

Without even realizing it, he wandered in the direction of Civic Center.

It wasn't stalking. Really. It was just…loitering. With a cup of coffee. Near the public library. Every day at sunset.

There weren't any benches – the several rag-tag men who played chess every day on the widened sidewalk nearby always brought their own folding chairs and tables – so Xander just sort of…leaned. Casually. Not stalking. Just…leaning. He tried not to think about what substances might be on the wall he leaned against, because this was definitely not the high-class part of town. His trusty sheepskin-lined denim jacket would protect him from wall-induced germs.

He sipped his coffee and watched the library. Thinking back, he wasn't sure if not-Spike had been coming out of the library, walking past the library, going into the library, or what. But he did definitely remember libraryness being involved. So he hung out across the street from the library and watched.

Really, it was silly to wait until sunset. Since this guy definitely wasn't Spike, he could show up during the day. But Xander had spotted him the first time after sunset, when the sky was growing dark enough for…well…for vampires to come out and play. So every day he showed up around the same time, and waited.

He stood around like an idiot three nights in a row, and then suddenly on the fourth night there he was. Not-Spike. Right there, coming out of the main branch of the public library, glass doors swinging closed behind him. It was 6 o'clock, and the sky was definitely dark enough for vamps, but that didn't matter of course. Because it wasn't Spike. This was just some guy.

Some guy wearing…glasses.

Xander blinked. Obviously not Spike, then, because Spike wouldn't be caught dead – no pun intended – wearing glasses. Xander had occasionally seen four-eyed vamps, but Spike definitely wasn't the type. Not unless he was pulling some kind of nefarious scam that involved making himself look like a math nerd.

But, even from across the street, the guy really did look a lot like Spike. There was something in his walk, in the set of his shoulders. But he was pretty far away, and the growing darkness and the bustling crowd and not-Spike's own movement, his face often turning away…it all made absolute certainty impossible. Xander would have to see the guy closer up in order to be sure.

So Xander followed him, from a discreet distance, of course. Not stalking. Just…following.

The guy either realized he was being followed or was just congenitally paranoid, because he furtively glanced behind him before ducking into a narrow alley. Xander scurried to catch up, but only got to the corner in time to see a flash of blonde hair disappearing behind a giant green dumpster. Out on the main street, you could still see that the sky was an electric blue, but in the alley, tall buildings on either side made the shadows dark and deep. It was a bit daunting.

Xander waited a few minutes and then cautiously approached the dumpster. On the other side, a large window was boarded up. Walking backward a bit to get a better look, Xander realized that the entire building was pretty sorry-looking, with boarded up doors and windows and plastic sheeting wafting through holes here and there. The window behind the dumpster must be a make-shift entrance or something.

Xander was tempted to push at the boarded up window to test his theory, but he really didn't want to go crashing into some random blonde guy's crack den meth lab full of gun-running gang-bangers. So he backed away, hands in the pockets of his coat, shoulders hunched nervously, and wondered if he was being watched. He eyed the boarded-up windows, wondering if there were eye-holes, wondering if not-Spike and his gang of thieves were up there plotting mayhem, wondering if he was being paranoid, wondering if this not-Spike was actually some kind of mass murderer. Um…sort of like actual-Spike.

The whole Spike or not-Spike question was still unresolved, and now that Xander had tailed the probably-not-Spike to his shabby lair – or meth lab or whatever – he wasn't going to give up that easily. In a dark corner beside a different dumpster, he found a plastic milk crate. He turned it over and sat down, hidden as well as he could, and watched the spot where not-Spike had entered the building.

Xander pulled his coat around himself firmly, glad that his hair had gotten long enough to protect his neck and ears from the wind, and stubbornly hunkered down for a long wait.

Sitting on a milk crate in a dark alley that smells not-so-vaguely of piss and garbage and which emits occasionally scurrying, squeaking sounds from within and around the dumpsters gives a guy a lot of time for reflection.

Mostly reflection on the subject, "What the hell am I doing here?"

Why the hell did it matter so much whether this guy was Spike or not? Of course he wasn't Spike. Spike was dead. Spike was, to be more precise, dust. So why was Xander so obsessed?

Sitting on the milk crate in the dark as an hour passed…and then two hours…he gradually started to think maybe he was figuring it out. It was because he bought it. Xander, that is. He'd finally bought the redemption thing.

For a long time, he'd thought he had Spike pegged. He was a narcissistic, selfish, arrogant, amoral, sadistic, manipulative, lying, cheating, mercenary, psychotic, demonic bastard who would stab you in the back – or drain you dry – for five bucks and a beer. And laugh while he did it.

Spike wasn't just a jerk. He was evil.

Except that…once Xander got a bit of physical and metaphorical distance from the whole thing, he was able to see Spike in a bit of context. Like comparing him to Angelus.

Angelus was evil. In fact, as far as Xander was concerned, even Angel was evil, disguised with a broody face and a pity-me guilt trip. There was something cold and ruthless and scary as hell behind that supposedly "angelic" face. Xander had never thought he looked particularly "angelic," anyway. More like "cave man." But when they were handing out vampire nicknames, apparently "cave man" had already been chosen, and so he got stuck with "angelic." Maybe it was just meant to be ironic, since the guy was such an incredibly evil prick.

In comparison with Angelus, even unchipped Spike was a tiny yapping dog that snapped at your ankles. Annoying as hell – you might even want to kick it across the room – but not exactly evil. Chipped, he was even less evil. And as he kept helping out, even after Buffy died, it just got harder and harder to think of him as evil, and easier and easier to think of him as just a jerk.

And then…in the battle with The First…Xander wasn't completely out of the loop. Buffy had told them about Spike. About how it had been Spike who was the true hero of the fight. About how he had stayed, let himself be burned to death in order to defeat The First's army and destroy the Hellmouth. The rest of them had helped…of course they'd helped…Anya had died helping…but in the end, it was Spike who had closed the deal. He could have run. He could have left. He could have said, "Fuck this shit," and skipped town. But he didn't. He stayed – even after Buffy asked him to leave, even after Buffy and everyone else had left – and he fought, and he died.

Xander didn't believe it for a while. Well, he believed the words, intellectually. But none of it fit with his mental image of Spike. His definition of Spikishness.

But there was no denying that the Hellmouth was gone.

And so was Spike.

And then a few months later Xander had heard through the Scooby grapevine that Spike had been somehow brought back as a ghost…and that he was stuck with Angel.

And that was when Xander really let go some of that Spike hatred. Because Spike? Probably the only person on the planet who hated Angel as much as Xander did. So the thought of Spike being somehow stuck with Angel made Xander wince and think, "Aw man. Poor guy!"

But then – and this was almost impossible to believe – Spike had stuck with the good-guy fight in Angel's camp, as well. And when they went up against some major inter-dimensional baddies and it was pretty certain they were all going to buy the farm…well…Spike stuck it out again. And once again got killed for his troubles.

Xander had a rule. Die saving the world twice and you deserve props.

Spike and Buffy were the only two people he knew who had done it. Angel didn't count, since getting stabbed with a giant sword and then shoved into a world-destroying hell-dimension portal which you yourself had purposely created really didn't count as voluntary world-saving, as far as Xander was concerned.

So…Xander didn't think about Sunnydale all that much anymore – until this week – and he'd only talked to Willow or Giles on the phone once or twice in the past year…but when he did think back, there was an uncomfortable sensation of having been wrong. Of having been wrong about Spike, and having treated him wrong. Of maybe having been a jerk. Not only a jerk, but a less-heroic jerk constantly putting down a more- heroic jerk. And that was just…pathetic. He didn't like feeling pathetic.

Xander had never thought of himself as a hero. But to have Spike outdo him on that score was just…a little humiliating.

So, really, if the absolute complete honest truth were told, the reason he was here, the reason he was stalking mysterious blonde men, the reason his ass was falling asleep on a plastic milk crate in a dark alley next to a dumpster, the reason this was all so important to him…was because some secret shameful part of him was hoping that this guy was Spike, so Xander would be able to jump up and say, "Ah HA! I knew it! It was all a scam. He did run away from a fight! That whole hero thing, that whole redemption thing, that's all a crock of shit. I was right! I was right all along!"

He was interrupted in his thoughts by a movement in the dark, over near the other dumpster. And then, clearly visible even in the shadows, a short crop of pale blonde hair. The target was on the move. Xander stood slowly and stretched his legs, wiggled his butt, cracked his back, and tried to do it all without alerting the blonde prey to his presence.

Not-Spike walked quickly down the alley in the opposite direction, and Xander tried to saunter casually after him without being noticed. When he got to the end of the alley, Not-Spike was nowhere to be seen. And then…blonde. Xander hurried to keep that hair in sight. His butt still felt half-asleep, so he was probably walking like an idiot, but he was not going to have sat in that alley so long for nothing. He was going to see where Not-Spike was going, and he was going to get a good look at the guy's face to set his mind at rest. He was going to verify that this guy was truly NOT Spike, and then he could go home and just not have to think about it anymore.

The guy opened a door and slipped inside, leaving Xander free to jog to catch up, since there was no longer any chance of being noticed. But when he got there, he froze, looking up at the brightly-lit sign over the door.

BOY TOY PEEPWORLD Live All-Male Peep Shows! Adult Bookstore! XXX Videos!

The large photos on either side of the door showed attractive men in various nude poses, little red stars covering the naughty bits with the words "HOT!" and "CUM AND SEE!"

Xander hesitated a long moment, then glanced around him on the street. This part of town wasn't very crowded, even at 8 or 9 pm. A few homeless people. Guys asking for spare change. Stragglers on their way to somewhere else.

Remembering all that time sitting in the alley, flexing his left butt-cheek to see that yes, in fact, it was still half-asleep, Xander wasn't about to get scared off by a gay porn shop. He girded his metaphorical loins, opened the door, and stepped inside.

Xander nervously glanced around the store, but the other shifty-eyed customers seemed engrossed in their own stealthy shopping, and Not- Spike seemed to have disappeared. A fairly normal-looking goateed black guy behind the cash register could probably tell Xander where the blonde guy had gone, but walking up to ask him seemed so…well…stalkery.

Xander stalled.

He had been in a sex shop before, of course. More than once. Anya had boundless sexual enthusiasm and absolutely no shame, so she'd dragged him along to Sunnydale's one and only "adult merchandise" establishment, resulting in several very enjoyable experimentations, some of which he'd really have preferred she never mentioned in front of his friends. But the store in Sunnydale had been relatively tidy and non-threatening. It wouldn't be wise to frighten the suburban natives, after all. And, anyway, that store had also quite obviously been aimed at a purely heterosexual clientele.

This was different. A lot.

One wall was entirely magazines facing out to show their strikingly lurid covers: but these weren't the mainstream magazines like Playboy and Penthouse. Along with what looked like relatively tasteful and mainstream gay magazines, there were what looked like amateur "zines" and a wide variety of specialty mags with titles like Cascade Wet Sex Magazine (with a cover photo of a man standing over another man in a pose that seemed to imply the imminent exchange of rather unconventional bodily fluids), Bear Magazine (which featured extremely hairy overweight men on the cover), and South Fur Lands (which, based on the cover photo, seemed aimed at men attracted to other men who wore animal costumes). Some of the magazine covers weren't even in English.

The opposite wall was lined with VHS tapes and DVDs, all spine-out, presumably in order to fit as many movies as possible into the relatively small space. Xander caught titles like Twinkalicious and Slurpin' Jizz and Dr. Penis Erectus. He tried not to snicker too loudly, lest the other shoppers – and/or employee – take offense.

He wandered aimlessly. He wasn't really paying much attention to the merchandise…he was just trying to work up his nerve to go talk to the cashier. There were several doors along the back wall of the store, and Not-Spike obviously must have disappeared into one of them. It was all very mysterious, but Xander wasn't quite ready to reveal his simultaneous ignorance and stalkeryness, so he perused the several freestanding shelves in the center of the room, which displayed various dildos, books with explicit covers, blow-up dolls, cock rings, glow-in- the-dark condoms, and…this one was weird…on one shelf, there were even little anatomically correct plastic G.I. Joe-type action figures, with tiny appendages and orifices in all the expected places. Actually, those were kind of cool, in a sly "Heh heh" kind of way.

Xander glanced over at the cashier. Apparently Goatee Man had noticed these repeated glances, because he came out from behind the counter and walked across the floor.

"Can I help you find something?" the guy asked in a perfectly normal tone of voice. He had the blandly uninterested tone of any salesperson at the grocery store or Wal-Mart.

Xander looked down at the anatomically correct action figures in his hands and practically tossed them back on the shelf, barely restraining himself from shouting, "Gah!"

Goatee Man just smiled slightly, but didn't leave.

"Actually," Xander began, hesitating. "Actually, I was looking for this guy…uh…he's got short blonde hair…um…"

But he didn't have to finish the disjointed thought, because Goatee Man interrupted him. "You're looking for Byron. Thin guy? British accent?"

Xander nodded numbly, paralyzed by the realization that if Not-Spike had a British accent, then it was actually becoming possible that Not- Spike might, in fact, be Spike. But…"Byron"?

"Door number 3," Goatee Man said helpfully. Xander stared at him as if he had spoken Urdu. "Door number 3," the guy repeated, gesturing to the doors along the back wall. "When the sign lights up, he's ready and you can go in."

Xander frowned, looking at the back wall more closely. Four of the doors had electronic white signs above them. The door behind the cash register didn't have a sign, except the one in the center of the door that said, "Employees Only."

Suddenly, the white sign above one of the doors blinked on, shining brightly with a black number "3" in the center.

Goatee Man shrugged, "He's ready now," and went back behind the cash register counter.

Xander hesitated, then he walked toward door number 3 and gingerly opened the door. Inside, he found a dimly-lit room, only about 4 feet square, with a metal chair in the center.

He'd seen the sign outside the store, and he wasn't a complete idiot. He'd never been to a peepshow, but he did have some idea of what was involved. Hell, he and Anya had even played a bit of a game along those lines once, though they'd participated in performer/customer contact that probably wasn't usually involved in most professional shows of this nature.

But, sure, he'd thought about it. Even without Anya. It was a little exciting, this idea of forbidden, dirty, sleezy paying-to-watch. This knowledge that you wouldn't want anybody to know. So, yeah, he'd noticed the neon-lit storefronts. And he'd even had some fantasies. To be honest, the performers in the fantasies had always been female, but Xander'd been living in San Francisco long enough to consider himself pretty open-minded about that sort of thing – had even had a few fantasies along those lines as well, usually after he'd caught some particularly hot guy blatantly checking him out in the supermarket – but…Spike? That was where things seemed to start spiraling further and further into the bizarre.

Suddenly, Xander realized that he was still standing in the open doorway. He glanced behind him, nervous that other people in the store were staring at the pervert lingering at the peepshow booth. He went inside and closed the door, if only to avoid prying eyes and give himself a private chance to decide what to do.

Once inside, he stood with his back pressed against the door, not committed to actually staying and actually feeling a strong urge to flee. Following Not-Spike around was one thing – and disturbingly creepy in its own way – but following him into a gay peepshow was a whole 'nother level of creepitude.

But. He still hadn't gotten a good look at the guy, and Goatee Man's comment about the accent seemed to imply that maybe this actually was Spike. Dead Spike. Spike who everyone thought was dead, but who might in fact just be jerking them all around, the evil bastard.

So Xander straightened his shoulders a bit, like a nervous soldier headed into war, and walked over to sit in the chair. Not sure what to do, he looked around and saw that the wall to his right sported a sign with large, hand-written block letters that warned:


Beside the sign was a rectangular metal box with something white in the center. Upon closer inspection, Xander found that it was an industrial-style tissue dispenser. He shuddered.

In the corner of the tiny room was a small, phallic-shaped metal wastebasket with a swinging lid. Presumably for disposal of the tissues after they'd been…used. Xander shuddered again. Ew. It all seemed so sordid and…seedy. He was surprised to see that the room seemed relatively clean, though. Goatee Man must keep busy.

In the front of the room was a large square of glass, but it looked as if something was blocking it from the other side. Below the window, strange metal shapes glinted feebly in the dim lighting. Apparently, this was how customers paid for the show. A small sign – this one printed rather than hand-lettered – said:

25¢ = 15 seconds

Below the sign was a coin slot ("QUARTERS ONLY") and another slot for inserting bills. Beside those was a larger slot – more like a small rectangular hole in the wall – above which was a small sign that read, "TIPS."

Xander took a deep breath. Presumably, Not-Spike – possibly Actual- Spike (the lying, hiding, not-dead vampire asshole) – was behind that glass. And if Xander put coins in the slot, there'd be no turning back. He'd know for sure. And if it actually was Spike, there'd be the inevitable angry confrontation full of accusations, and then Xander would have to call everyone and tell them, and he hadn't spoken to everybody in a while and so that would be weird, but certainly not weirder than Spike not being dead.

Taking another deep, calming – well, not really calming, but it was a valiant attempt – breath, Xander put his hands in his coat pockets and searched for change.

Lots of nickels and dimes, even more pennies, but only two quarters.

Well, he wouldn't need more than 15 seconds to verify whether or not it was actually Spike, so he wouldn't even need the second quarter. He put it back in his pocket.

It seemed like his hand was moving in slow motion toward the coin slot. And then there was the clinking sound of metal on metal, the coin traveling its path through the inner workings of the money machine. The noise seemed loud in the tiny room.

The noise of something metal sliding out of place was even louder. Whatever had blocked the window slid upward, and light suddenly filled the booth.

And there was Spike.

Spike. Slouching comfortably in a round, cushiony chair.

Xander froze.

There was no doubt about it. Xander had spent enough time with the guy…he knew that face. It was undeniably Spike, though he looked ridiculous. His hair was a mass of tight blonde curls and he was wearing nothing but black silk boxer shorts and a black silk robe that was open enough to show his flat belly.

A million things ran through Xander's mind, almost simultaneously. He started – rather inarticulately – at "What the fuck?", then traveled through "Why aren't you dead?", paused briefly at "What's the deal with the Justin Timberlake hair, dorkman?", barreled quickly through "Holy macaroni, look at those abs!", and ended up – rather ironically – at "What the fuck?"

"Hello, pet," Spike said amiably, sitting up with a subtle shimmy that set his robe sliding off his shoulders, showing a bit more skin but still a tease that hid more than it revealed. Spike smirked and set his book aside.

Xander stared. From a distance it had been easy to pretend, but now it was obvious. It was Spike. Seriously. Definitely. Right down to the scar in his eyebrow and the smooth, accented voice. He waited for Spike to recognize him, to jerk back and frown and start blustering lame excuses…but nothing. No reaction.

Spike tilted his head slightly and raised that scarred eyebrow, still smirking. "Looking for a bit of a look, are you? Wantin' anything in particular?" He stroked a finger along the smooth length of his chest and over black silk to toy idly with the growing bulge beneath, his eyelids lowering seductively as he stared straight at Xander in blatant invitation.

Xander frowned in confusion, then waved his hand at the window between their faces. No reaction from Spike. Apparently it was one-way glass or something. So he could see Spike, but Spike couldn't see him. Maybe perverts liked privacy while they watched the show. It sort of made sense, actually.

Abruptly, the metal sheet slid down to cover the window. The 15 seconds must have been up.

Xander sat, numb, dazed. It had been Spike. It was Spike. Spike wasn't dead. It seemed unreal. What happened to the whole hero thing? Spike was supposed to be this big reformed, redeemed, almost saintly hero guy who'd died saving the world…twice.

And, instead, he was hiding out in San Francisco, working in a gay peepshow booth?

Angrily, Xander wrenched the other quarter out of his coat pocket and punched it into the slot. He hit his thumb against the wall as he did so, and the momentary jar of pain only made him angrier.

The window cover slid up again, and again the room filled with light.

"Welcome back," Spike smiled lazily and stood up, letting the robe fall to reveal more of that pale skin, allowing the black silk to slide to a shimmering pool on the floor at his feet. Those pale hands continued stroking the black silk of the boxer shorts, stretching the fabric tight over the thick hardness beneath.

"Tell me what you want," Spike purred, gazing out, seemingly looking directly into Xander's eyes. His eyes were incredibly blue against the paleness of his skin. Spike licked his lips slowly, then tilted his head with a bit of a smirk. "Do you want to see more? More of this?" Spike's left hand strayed to rub directly over the hidden bulge. Xander groaned.

He'd always been aware that Spike was attractive. Anyone with eyes could tell that. Or maybe even anyone with just ears, since it was partly the voice. He'd noticed the face, the compact muscles, the incredible way Spike's body moved, even when he was just walking or lighting a cigarette. But Xander had always quickly quashed any brief forays into inappropriate thoughts.

That was a bit harder now.

No pun intended.

He realized that Spike was chuckling, a low, rumbling sound that made Xander shiver just a tiny bit. "So there is someone out there," Spike teased. He'd obviously heard the sound Xander had made, the first noise from the booth since Xander had entered.

The window cover suddenly slid down with a click.

Xander sat in the dimly-lit room, horrifyingly aware of the action happening in his pants.

Horrifyingly aware that he actually wanted to keep watching.

This wasn't why he'd come here, and it wasn't even why he'd used that second quarter. He was here to find out if this was Spike, and he'd accomplished that, and he should leave.

He definitely should leave.

Right now.

He searched his coat pockets again. Nickels, pennies, and dimes. He stood up and searched his jeans pockets, but found only lint and a bus transfer. He pulled out his wallet, only to discover that he had nothing smaller than a 5.

He held the 5-dollar bill in his hand a moment, hesitating, then slowly put his wallet away.

He slid the bill into the slot, and light filled the booth again, and there was Spike.

"Five minutes," Spike commented with a wry smirk. "Ambitious. Most of my customers don't last near that long."

"I didn't have anything smaller," Xander explained defensively.

"It's all right, pet. I've never been much fond of the smaller ones, anyway."

Xander didn't know what to say to that, didn't know how to exchange sexual innuendo with Spike. With Spike who didn't even know it was Xander he was talking to. With Spike who couldn't even see him. With Spike who wasn't dead like he was supposed to be!

"Didn't come prepared, then. An impulse shopper. So tell me what you want, luv. Tell me what you like." He was still stroking himself through the silk, but while the window was dark he'd removed the boxer shorts, and he was now stretching the silk over his cock, encasing it with black shining smoothness, holding the fabric around himself with one hand at the base, allowing the other hand to stroke slowly up and down the shimmering fabric. Xander knew it would be cool and sleek, satin over that hardness, and his hands almost itched to touch. He rubbed his palms vigorously against the roughness of his denimed thighs.

He bit his lip, then asked determinedly, "So…you call yourself Byron?" This was a fact-finding mission. That's all.

Spike just shrugged, a graceful movement of shoulder muscle which Xander couldn't help following with his eyes. "A stage name. Because of the accent, you know." His hands never stopped working, his whole body subtly arching and flexing with his slow rhythm.

"So what's your real name?" Xander asked desperately.

But Spike just smiled and shook his head slightly. "That wouldn't be part of the game, now would it? I'll be Byron and you'll be…what do you want me to call you, pet?"

Xander stilled, surprised, because he hadn't expected Spike to ask his name. He couldn't think of a single name. Not a single one. And then one popped into his head. "Frank," he replied suddenly, sending up a silent apology to Frank and Luba both.

"All right, Frank," crooned Spike, and he let that last scrap of black silk fall to the floor.

Xander's mouth went dry, while the action in his pants became suddenly more urgent. The situation was becoming distinctly uncomfortable.

Spike's gaze was intent, his eyes sharp and bright as he let his left hand roam down to take hold of his now naked cock. He squeezed gently, his eyelids fluttering slightly on a soft moan, and then he was looking at Xander again.

"Tell me what you want," he demanded again, his voice low and husky.

Xander could only stare, trying desperately to control the desire to unzip his pants and release his own painfully confined cock. Because unzipping the jeans would be crossing another barrier, another thing he would never have thought he would do, another thing he did not come here for, another thing he would never want anyone to know…including Spike.

And it was that very forbiddenness that pushed him past the point of resistance. He unzipped his pants and pushed his boxers out of the way, took his hard cock into his hand and squeezed tight. He never took his eyes off Spike, who had smiled slightly at the sound of Xander's zipper.

"How 'bout I do what I like," Spike suggested smoothly, "and you speak up anytime you want. Tell me anything you want me to do. How's that sound?"

"Yeah, okay," Xander rasped, still squeezing his cock in a slow rhythm that matched Spike's strokes.

Never stopping that lazy rhythm, Spike walked to the round cushioned chair and sat down. He settled himself with graceful shifts of his limbs, spreading his legs wide so that Xander could clearly see his balls and even a glimpse of the subtle curve of his buttocks beneath him.

"Since I'm not cut," Spike murmured, "I don't really need lube. But I like that slippery slide. Don't you, Frank?" Spike reached behind him and pulled a small bottle from somewhere Xander couldn't see. He poured some liquid into his palm and then returned to his stroking, his cock now glistening in the light.

Xander quickly spit into his hand, as much as he could, and began to stroke himself, still mirroring Spike's rhythm. It wasn't as good as lube or lotion, but it would do. The added friction was even exciting, in its own way, especially in this situation.

"Do you like to watch me, Frank?" Spike lifted his right hand to pinch one nipple, then lazily trailed over to pinch the other. "Do you like to watch me touch myself?"

Xander couldn't speak.

"We've got lots of time on the meter, Frank. Want to watch what I really like to do? Want to watch me put a finger in my ass while I jack my cock?"

Xander groaned wordlessly again.

Spike smiled, his lips so pink and smooth, and poured more lube into his palm, rubbing it between his hands, wetting his fingers. And then he arched his body, bracing his feet against the edges of the chair so that he could lift his hips slightly.

Xander's breathing was fast now, and when Spike's hand returned to stroking his cock, Xander's strokes were faster than his.

Spike slid his right hand down between his legs, keeping his palm out of the way so that Xander could clearly see the middle finger slowly circle the tiny pucker there. Spike's soft moan of pleasure made Xander's cock throb dangerously. He hadn't gotten laid in…well, a pretty long time. This was completely different, obviously, but it was a hell of a lot more intense than porn.

And it was Spike.

And, for some reason, that was making a really big difference.

Still keeping his hand carefully situation to give Xander the best view possible, Spike slowly slipped his middle finger into his ass, his body writhing subtly at the sensation while his other hand continued its pulls on his cock.

"Do you wish this was you, Frank? Do you want to push inside me and fuck me?"

And the unspoken answer to that, suddenly was, "Yeah," and that scared Xander nearly to death. Even that fear only seemed to heighten the sensation. He clenched his teeth and stroked faster.

Spike's finger was moving slowly in and out of his body now, and soon he added another finger. He was breathing audibly, occasionally interspersed with quiet moans. "Oh yeah," he panted. "It feels good inside me, fucking myself like this." He added a third finger and groaned a drawn-out sound. "Oh fuck yeah." He was licking his lips and panting softly, occasionally casting intense glances in Xander's direction.

It had been a long time since Xander had shared his orgasm with anyone but his hand. He could feel the pressure building, and he really didn't want to come alone.

Xander stammered suddenly, "Do you usually…do you…come…?"

Spike smiled, still stroking in a steady rhythm, his fingers still sliding lazily in and out. "Can't pop my cork for every customer, can I? Make the champagne lose some of its fizz."

"So you never…"

"Depends on the customer. Depends on the tips."

"You mean…? How much…?"

Spike arched his back slightly, letting his head fall back in a graceful arch, his head resting against the pillows. He licked his lips slowly, then left them parted as if ready for kissing. With his left hand still stroking, fingers still in his ass, he slid his thumb up to slide in a caress across the skin of his balls, closing his eyes briefly at the sensation, then slanting a glance toward Xander again. "Depends how badly you want to watch me come, now doesn't it?"

Xander fumbled through his wallet with shaky hands. Losing patience, he just pulled out a twenty and shoved his wallet back into his pocket. He slid the twenty through the rectangular "TIPS" slot.

Spike's eyes followed the bill as it fell into the tips box. He looked up to smile at Xander, sultry and wicked. "Oh, that'll do it, Frank." Both his hands sped up slightly, his strokes growing suddenly more aggressive, rougher, the fingers in his ass sliding smooth in a matching rhythm. "You gonna come with me, pet?" His eyes were lazy and inviting, but the arch of his body had grown tense. Muscles stood out in clear relief. His hands were moving fast now.

Xander gasped, "Oh yeah," his right hand working quickly, his left hand clutching several tissues to prevent a mess.

Suddenly, Spike's eyes fell shut, his mouth fell open, and his body arched off the pillows. "Oh fuck!" he groaned loudly, his left hand continuing to stroke firmly as white liquid spattered his pale belly and chest.

It was the sight of Spike's face, even more so than his body writhing in orgasm, that made Xander lose it. He'd meant to hold the tissues carefully in place, for everything to be as tidy and dignified as was possible in the degrading setting, but in the moment of watching Spike come, he forgot all that. His left hand with the tissues gripped the window frame as he leaned forward with his right hand stroked hard and fast, tearing an orgasm out of him that made him jerk, made his knee knock wildly against the wall, made him spray spunk who-knows- where in the dark booth, maybe even on his jeans. He was blind to it. Blind to everything except that pale body.

Slowly, Spike slid his fingers free, let his body relax limply into the cushions of the chair, his left hand still holding his softening cock. He looked utterly debauched. He raised his right hand to trail a finger lazily in the glistening droplets spattered across the pale skin of his belly and chest. He turned his head to look out at Xander. His voice was slow and sated, "Still got some time on the meter, luv. Anything else you want?"

Xander was still clutching the window frame, still leaning forward awkwardly, still holding his limp cock, still in shock from the intensity of what had just happened…and the wrongness of it. "No," he choked out. "Uh…I'm good."

Spike chuckled low. "Wouldn't be half as much fun if you were, pet." He seemed relaxed and friendly now, like they were sharing some kind of post-coital cuddle. It was weird, and Xander kind of didn't like it…and kind of did. It was definitely disturbing.

He tried to clean himself up as best he could, then tossed the tissues into the phallic garbage can. When he was done, he wasn't sure what to do. He should probably say something, rather than just leaving.

"Uh…I'm gonna go now."

Spike smiled, and this time the smile seemed almost to make it into his eyes. Almost. "Come back anytime. I'm here every night, 9 to 12."

Xander nodded – crazy, because Spike couldn't see him – and fled.

Behind the cash register, the tall, goateed black man watched Xander's departure with expressionless eyes which had seen a hundred such ashamed voyages from booth to street. The checking of the zipper, the straightening of the shirt collar, the patting of the pockets, the smoothing of the hair, the preparation to face "the real world" again, the careful assumption of the outside persona, the rapid shift into pretending that Boy Toy Peepworld didn't exist.

He saw it every day.

And back in the small mirrored room the performers called "the fishbowl," Spike flicked the switch that extinguished the light outside his booth and went to take a short shower and clean up for the rest of his shift.

Two weeks later, Xander was still deeply enmired in the land of stubborn denial.

He hadn't gone back to the Boy Toy Peepshow. He hadn't gone back to lurk outside the library or spy on Spike in any way. In fact, he'd pretty much avoided the Civic Center area entirely and hoped to do so for a very long long time.

He also hadn't told anyone. He hadn't phoned Giles or Buffy or even Willow with the news that Spike was here. He hadn't even told Frank and Luba, who he saw every couple days.

The bureaucratic red tape had finally cleared, and work had begun on the new site. The beginning of a new project always took a huge amount of energy, because Xander had to not only pull his crew together effectively, but also think about the entire process ahead of them, so that they didn't do anything in the early stages that might cause problems later on. Once you've poured the concrete, it's hard to go back.

Luckily, his crew on this project consisted mostly of guys he'd worked with before. They knew he was a good boss – hell, he'd had enough shitty bosses and shitty jobs to know what not to do – so they would probably form an effective working unit pretty easily, and the new guys seemed promising. The project looked good.

The problem was the nightmares.

He was having nightmares about Spike, about…doing horrible things to Spike, degrading him and hurting him and telling him he was a piece of shit and watching those pink lips groan with pain instead of pleasure.

He was having nightmares about raping Spike. Pretty much every night.

And he woke up every time with an erection and the urge to vomit, both at the same time.

So he wasn't getting much sleep. If he woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night, he got up and turned on some lights, turned on the TV, grabbed a bag of Cheet-Ohs and ate a few with heavy-lidded eyes, desperately refusing to go back to bed.

Because the nightmare might pick up right where it left off.

It got pretty bad. The day he realized that he was turning into such a sleep-deprived zombie that it might start actually endangering people on the site – it was only by luck that Nat hadn't been hit by that girder – Xander went upstairs when he got home from work and asked Frank if he wanted to go out and get a beer.

Xander was staring into his half-empty glass when he realized that the conversational chit-chat had petered out somewhere along the way. He looked up to see Frank watching him.

"So, what's up?" Frank's voice was casual. He took a drink from his glass.

Xander felt himself tense. "What? We go out for beer all the time! Well, not all the time, but, you know, often enough that it isn't weird or anything. Why should anything be up?"

Frank just took another long swig of his beer and watched Xander expectantly.

Some guys were playing darts nearby, and Xander let himself be distracted by that for a little while. Then he contemplated ordering some buffalo wings, just for the irony of it. Then the words were out of his mouth before he'd even decided to say them. "It's that guy."

Frank looked a little confused now. "What guy?"

"The guy from back home."

Frank's face cleared. "The guy you thought you saw on the street."


"The guy who's supposed to be dead."

"Yeah." Xander took a long drink that finished off his glass. He raised a hand to signal to the waitress.

"You saw him again."

"Yeppp." Xander's lips made an exaggerated popping noise on the "p" sound.

"So he's not dead," Frank verified patiently.

"Nopppe." Same exaggerated popping noise.

"Did you talk to him?"

Xander watched the guys playing darts. One of them wasn't half bad.

Xander was halfway through his second beer when the silence broke. "Well," Frank said slowly. "I know what Luba would say."

Xander smirked weakly at him. "You going to be a shrink now, too?"

But Frank just shrugged. "You live with somebody long enough, you know how they think."

"So what would Luba say?"

Frank looked him in the eye. "She'd say go talk to him."

Xander looked down at the table. His fingernails were suddenly very interesting. One of them had a bit of dirt beneath it, despite the fact that he'd washed his hands thoroughly after work. The plunk plunk of the darts was comforting. He heard Frank shift in his chair. When he looked up, Frank was calmly lifting his beer to take a drink, his freckled face placid.

Xander sighed and let his head fall back in frustration. He looked up at the ceiling. White tiles with little holes in them. Pretty standard cheap acoustical ceiling tiles, a lot like the ones he'd so often impaled with pencils, back in high school. Back in Sunnydale.

When he looked at Frank again, Xander's face was set in grim lines.

It was quarter past midnight when Spike emerged from the Boy Toy with two other men, talking and laughing. Xander had been working up his courage for more than an hour.


All three men turned to look at him, bland curiosity on their faces. Spike looked as if he were wearing an expressionless mask.

Xander stared right at Spike and walked closer, pointing an accusing finger. "Don't try to pretend you don't know me. You're caught, Spike. Don't make a fool of yourself trying to deny it."

The other two guys looked at Spike, who shrugged dismissively, though shadows had seeped into his eyes. "I seem to have gotten myself another stalker," he drawled casually. "It happens. One of the occupational hazards. When you're as bloody gorgeous as I am, one glimpse of paradise is never enough. I've got myself a string of lovesick poofs following me everywhere I go."

The three men laughed, then turned to leave again, but the dismissal pissed Xander off enough that he darted forward and took hold of Spike's arm.

That got the other men's attention. Spike turned around with a cold forbidding expression that almost made Xander shiver. The other two men stepped forward as if to protect their friend. "Go on," Spike said grimly, not looking away from Xander's face. "I can handle this tosser." Goatee Man and his buddy hesitated, but at Spike's continued silence, they nodded and walked on, glancing back several times as they got further and further down the street.

"Take your fucking hand off me." Spike's voice was an obvious threat, a hissed warning. Xander instinctively removed his hand. "Now piss off."

Xander's jaw dropped. "You're really trying to pull off this new identity deal? Even when you've been found out?"

Spike's face was suddenly very near, his eyes boring into Xander's. "Look, mate. I don't know you. You don't know me. I'm not this 'Spike' you're looking for, so just fuck off and don't come back." He turned and began to walk away with a quick, tense stride.

"Spike…hell, Spike, we all thought you were dead! And now I find out you just…just skipped town and changed your name? Because that is so you, Spike. That is so you."

Spike had turned back and was glaring at him from a slight distance. But Xander was on a roll, all that pent up resentment and disbelief finally getting its outlet.

"God! To think Buffy cried when she heard. And Dawn…Dawn didn't leave her room for a week. She still hurts for you, still misses you. Everybody was so sure you were really gone this time…really dead. And it turns out that actually you just couldn't be bothered to leave a forwarding address? What…just because you're off in L.A. for a year, you think you can just blow us off? Well fuck you, Spike. I guess none of us ever were your friends, if you could just do that and not look back. Just let everybody who cared about you grieve and hurt and cry, while you run off to start fresh without even a fucking phone call."

Spike's face was still a blank mask, but the blue eyes were troubled. Xander could see it even in the dim streetlight. Xander hoped it meant the vampire was suffering, feeling guilty for the crap he'd pulled, because this was one of the most shining examples of Spike's asshole behavior.

Shaking his head in depressingly unsurprised disbelief, Xander repeated loudly, "Fuck you, Spike." He hoped that wasn't defeat in his voice. Disappointment. Abruptly, he turned around and walked away, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his coat.

He couldn't get away fast enough.

It was a pretty normal night. He was going out for a drink with Frank and Luba when it happened. They were just walking along the crowded sidewalk when suddenly, out of nowhere, there was Spike, standing rigid, staring at Xander with wide blue eyes, his lips parted in obvious surprise.

"Spike!" It popped out before Xander could stop it. "What are you doing here?"

Spike didn't answer for a moment, then seemed to take a moment to collect himself. "There was…um…at the bookstore…a reading." He gesture back toward City Lights.

Xander didn't know what to say next. He put his hands in his pockets and looked over at the windows of the bookstore and nodded vaguely. An image from his nightmares entered his mind and he quickly dismissed it, cursing himself for being a pervert.

But then he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and Spike was moving closer, leaning in to say quietly, "I didn't know how to find you again." Then he pulled away, looking anxious.

Xander frowned, flummoxed by this turn of events. He felt a vague sense of shame over all his sleuthing, now that he knew Spike had wanted to find him, but at the same time he felt suspicious and resentful, wondering what new scam Spike was trying to pull.

"Spike?" Luba's voice came from behind him, and Xander turned. He'd forgotten his friends completely. "You must be Xander's friend from home." She smiled, charming as always.

Spike glanced at Xander, and Xander sighed. "Spike, these are my friends Frank and Luba. Frank and Luba, this is…Spike."

Spike smiled shyly and said, "Luba. That's Russian for 'love'."

Luba raised her eyebrows in surprise. Then she said something Xander couldn't understand. Russian, presumably. Spike replied.

"Your Russian is very good," Luba remarked. "Have you spent time in Russia?"

Spike looked at Xander again. Growing impatient with being the translator from vampire history to believable history, Xander hedged, "Spike's very well-traveled. He's been to…um…well, England, obviously. And China. I know he was in China." He glanced caustically at Spike, but those blue eyes only watched him, giving nothing away. Scourge of Europe, he thought to himself. "And I think he sort of did the whole European tour." He shot Spike another sardonic look.

They all stood there for an awkward moment as people streamed around them on the sidewalk. Frank and Luba looked at Xander expectantly. They obviously expected him to be friendly with his supposed friend. Long- lost thought-he-was-dead friend, even. And Spike looked so nervous…and he'd wanted to find Xander again for some reason. Suddenly, Xander found himself curious about that reason.

"We were on our way to the bar around the corner. You want a beer?"

Spike watched him warily, hesitating.

Xander rolled his eyes and then smiled at Spike for the first time since this whole thing had started. "They've even got buffalo wings."

Spike's lips dropped open, his eyes lit with something that looked almost like fear, and then it was all wiped away as if it had never been there. A bland mask of a face said, "Yeah. All right."

Not long afterward, the four of them were sitting at a table at the window, watching the tourists outside while they sipped bottles of beer and shared a plate of buffalo wings. Xander took a swig of his beer – some extra liquid courage never hurt – and addressed the issue head- on.

"You were kind of a prick the last time I saw you," he accused bluntly. "What changed your mind?" He watched Spike, waiting. He took another drink of his beer.

Spike glanced uncertainly at Frank and Luba, then looked at Xander and said, "You knew I was in L.A."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Well, duh. Everybody knew, Spike. It's not like it was a big secret. I mean, Angel does use the phone occasionally, even if it's usually only when he wants something, and – hell! – Andrew saw you, in L.A. and in Rome. And Buffy heard you'd been there, too, you and Angel both. So if you were trying for stealth mode, you were really sucking at it."

Spike poked absently at the food on his plate. Xander noticed the lack of black nail polish, and it was vaguely disappointing.

Spike mumbled something, and Xander rolled his eyes again. "If you're talking to the buffalo wings, Spike, I think even for them you might need to speak up."

Spike looked out the window. "I don't know any of those people."

Xander followed his gaze out the window, confused. "What people?"

Spike looked down at the plate again, picked up a buffalo wing as if considering it, and then put it back down. "The people you just talked about." His shoulders hunched a bit, as if he were curling in on himself defensively. "I don't know those people."

Then, without moving his head, Spike looked up through his lashes at Xander and said quietly, "I don't know you, either."

They all just sat there for a confused moment.

Frank glanced at Xander's face, then at Spike's, then back again. Luba took a breath to say something, but Frank put a hand on her arm. She closed her mouth. "I'd guess you two have a lot to talk about," Frank said slowly. He stood up, and Luba reluctantly joined him, her eyes shining with frustrated curiosity. "We'll leave you to it." Xander stared up at them, panicked.

"No!" Xander exclaimed quickly. "I mean, yes. Yeah. Lots to talk about. Of course. Duh. But…not alone talking. You guys should stay. Because…uh…" He cast wildly through his mind, searching for a reason other than, "I'm totally freaked," but nothing came to him. "You guys should stay," he repeated lamely.

Frank nodded slowly and Luba smiled. They took their seats. Frank looked uncertain whether they were doing the right thing, but Xander felt like hugging them for not abandoning him in his hour of really awkward need.

Another silence descended upon the table.

Xander's mind reeled. What was he supposed to say to an amnesiac vampire…with his vamp-clueless friends listening? It was sort of a new experience.

"Uh…" he stammered awkwardly, gesturing to his empty bottle, "…anybody need another beer?"

Xander didn't know where to start, but he knew where he wanted to. Questions. Did Spike still have the soul? Was he killing again? Xander sort of doubted it for some reason. But why did Spike come out of the library at sunset every day? Was there an entrance to underground tunnels, or did he live in some kind of basement?

But he couldn't ask those kinds of questions, because Luba and Frank were there.

The silence stretched on far too long. Spike was jiggling his leg, making the table shake slightly. Xander stared into his beer.

Eventually, Luba jumped in, bless her heart. "So what do you remember, Spike? Oh, and do you want to be called 'Spike', or have you been using some other name you'd rather…"

Spike shrugged. "Spike'll do as well as anything else, I suppose." He frowned. "As for what I remember, well…woke up in a dirty alley, all banged up. Starkers. Don't remember anything before that."

Luba tilted her head in curiosity. "You were in Los Angeles?"

"Yeah. Got put in the hospital. My right arm was broken in three places. A couple ribs. A good knock on the head."

But Xander was staring at Spike now, his eyes narrowed. "You went to the hospital?"

Spike nodded, glancing at Luba for some clue as to why Xander was asking the question.

Xander continued, leaning forward, "You went to the hospital. Weren't you afraid they'd…I mean, didn't they find out…"

Spike was frowning more deeply now. "Did I do something that should've made me shy of the police?"

Xander laughed a short disbelieving sound, shaking his head and staring at Spike. His spidey sense was tingling, and he was pretty freaked out by what it seemed to be telling him. "Oh, you've done plenty," he replied in his distraction, and then asked, "So you went to the hospital, and they didn't find anything…wrong with you?" Like that pesky lack of heartbeat?

Spike peered at him in confusion. "Knock on the head," he repeated slowly, as if Xander were mentally challenged. "Broken arm. Broken ribs. You happen to know how they got that way?"

But Xander was just staring at Spike in horror now, in unavoidable comprehension. "No, Spike. No, I think I can definitively state that I have no idea how you got 'that way'."

Xander was frozen for a long moment, just staring at Spike. He was tempted to run for the door, but he knew he was stuck.

Spike was human.

What the fuck was he supposed to say to an amnesiac former vampire – most likely vamp-clueless – with his vamp- clueless friends also listening?

Well, there was a hell of a lot he couldn't say, and a hell of a lot he didn't want to say, and a hell of a lot Spike probably wouldn't believe, and a hell of a lot Spike probably wouldn't want to know. How do you tell someone they reveled in a hundred years of serial killing? Xander frantically searched his mind for the few things he could safely say in his shell-shocked state.

"Uh…the last time I saw you, you were working for a law firm in L.A. I'm not sure what you did there." Spike was looking down at the table now, obviously trying to imagine himself at a law firm, taking this new information in and trying to make sense of it. Good luck.

"Before that, we sort of worked together. Not in L.A., but in a smaller town nearby, called Sunnydale. It was…well…a kind of 'neighborhood watch' kind of deal. There were a few of us who all went out together and…uh…tried to keep the town safe." Xander nervously took a sip of his beer.

Spike glanced up. "So I was a do-gooder type?"

Xander coughed, narrowly avoiding spraying beer across the table. "Um…I don't know if I'd go that far. You were kind of…surly. You mostly just stuck around because you had a thing for Buffy."

Spike's eyebrows rose. "'Buffy'? 'Buffy'? I had a powerful yen for someone named 'Buffy'?"

Xander frowned. "Hey! The Buffster is a close friend of mine, and you don't get to mock her, Amnesia Man! She saved your ass more times than you deserve."

Spike raised his hands in placation. "Okay, okay. Whatever you say, sport. So I fought the baddies by the side of my beautiful lady love, Buffy," he choked as if suppressing a guffaw.

"It wasn't like that. We all fought together. Buffy didn't…" he paused a moment, "…Buffy didn't…uh…feel that way about you."

This time, Spike just raised an eyebrow in obvious disbelief. Of course he'd be surprised, Xander thought. And suddenly, he had a clear vision of Spike behind the glass, in his booth, with his body, and his skin, and his face, and his…

This was so very very not the time for a stroll down Perverted Memory Lane!

Luba had been looking back and forth between them, while Frank calmly sipped his beer and watched the people walking by outside. Xander glanced at Luba, trying to communicate "Help me" with his eyes. He was drowning here, and he had no idea how to continue. He once again fought the impulse to flee.

He took a healthy gulp of beer. Mmmmm. Beer.

Spike took a long drink of his beer, as well.

Luba once again came to the rescue.

"So how did you end up in San Francisco, then, Spike? If you were in the hospital in Los Angeles…"

"Yeah, well, they weren't exactly thrilled to extend their hospitality to a bloke with no memory, no money, and a fancy accent. Not a lot of profit in taking in strays. So they kept me in hospital quite some time, posted notices in all the newspapers, showed my face on all the news on the telly. Some sent in anonymous donations to pay the hospital bills, but no one came forward, to say that they recognized me." Spike's face seemed haunted, as if that period of loneliness had left a lasting mark.

"When the cast came off my arm, I started hearing them talking in the halls, talking about institutions, deportation, and the like. Well, that wasn't a route I wanted to go, so I made a runner when I got my chance. Skipped town. Figured I'd be safer further away, so I hitched a ride up here. Nice big city to get lost in, you know? Safe from prying eyes that might want to lock me up or ship me off."

It was Luba who was frowning now. "So you don't have any legal I.D. or anything? I work in the housing and homeless section of the city's Department of Human Services. I can help, if you want."

Spike's back stiffened, his head coming up more proudly. "I have a place to live. And a job. I do just fine for myself, thanks all the same."

Xander listened and remembered Spike climbing through the boarded up window into an abandoned building. That counted as "a place to live"? And the job…well…surely Spike could be doing something besides…that.

Luba nodded, smiling gently. "I didn't mean to overstep. I just wanted to offer, and the offer is open. If you ever decide you could use somebody on your side, here's where you can find me." And she handed Spike her card.

Spike looked thoughtful, struck by her wording. Somebody on your side. He hadn't had that in…he didn't know how long. At least since he woke up in that alley. He wondered if he'd ever had it before that, but it wasn't something he felt comfortable asking Xander.

Luba seemed to feel that she'd made a slight gaffe, and that it might be best if she and Frank left. They made their apologies and wended their way through the crowd, leaving Spike and Xander to drink in silence. Their only conversation was stilted and awkward. Xander didn't really have much more information to impart about Sunnydale – at least, not information it would be a good idea to impart – and Spike didn't seem to want to talk about his own life in San Francisco. It was all made more uncomfortable by the fact that Xander actually already knew quite a bit about Spike's life…because he'd been Spike's pathetic stalker. Not to mention his…customer. It was so sordid and embarrassing.

But as they gradually became more and more drunk, their defenses slipped considerably and they stopped guarding their words so closely. Xander grew more blunt, while Spike seemed to grow more…well…prissy. It was weird.

"Okay, I've just gotta ask: What's up with the hair?"

Spike frowned, one hand reaching up to touch the blond curls. "What do you mean?"

"Did you get falling down drunk and stumble into a barbershop to ask for the Justin Timberlake Special?"

Spike was frowning harder now, looking down at the table. Then he looked up again to meet Xander's eyes, obviously frustrated. "My hair didn't look like this before?"

Xander laughed. He just didn't even know what to say to that.

But Spike was still staring at him intently. "This is what my hair looked like when I woke up in the hospital. But you're saying that this…Spike…this guy you knew didn't have hair like this?"

Xander stopped laughing. It was his turn to frown. Oh, right. "Actually, I guess you did. You just always wore it slicked back with about a gallon of some really heavy-duty petroleum product. I never even knew your hair was curly."

Spike was touching his hair absently, probably unconsciously. "So I used to wear a product to change the appearance of my hair? Aside from the dye, that is?"

Xander nodded.

"Why was I so intent on changing my appearance?"

Xander was a bit taken aback. He'd never really thought about that before. He'd never really considered why a guy who couldn't even see his own reflection was so obsessive about dyeing his hair and slicking it back just so.

He shrugged, not sure what to say. "I guess you had an image to uphold, you know?"

Spike nodded slowly. "An image to uphold." His eyes shifted so that he was looking out the window at the people walking past outside. "Well, I seem to have lost that along with everything else. I suppose I can now wear my hair however I like."

"Why'd you keep dyeing it now, anyway, if you didn't care?"

Spike glanced back at Xander's face, then looked away again. He shifted slightly in his seat and didn't say anything. Just when Xander was opening his mouth to ask the question again, Spike said quietly, "If I'd changed the appearance of my hair, it would have been more difficult for anyone to find me. Anyone…anyone who knew who I was. Anyone from…before."

Xander watched him, and something unexpectedly soft and protective seemed to blossom inside his chest. "You wanted to be found? You wanted us to find you?"

Spike shot him a haughty glance, but his eyes were shadowed and vulnerable.

Not even thinking, Xander spontaneously reached across the table and took hold of Spike's hand. "Well, you're found now. Whatever happened, you aren't alone anymore."

Spike's hand was still and warm beneath Xander's, and then it jerked away, slid away to hide somewhere in the dark safety beneath the table.

Xander blushed and hastened to explain, "I wasn't…I didn't mean…" but Spike just nodded, his face filled with uncertainty and hope like a child's.

The nightmares were gone. It was hard to hang on to the old familiar hatred and disgust toward Spike when this Spike was completely unaware that he'd once been an unrepentant serial killer. This Spike was just a pretty normal guy…well…a normal guy who also happened to work at a gay peep show.

But if he couldn't hang on to his hatred of Spike, it was sort of hard for Xander to hang on to all his hatred of himself for getting off in that damn peep show booth. Sure, some remained, but not the angry part of it. The hatred part of it.

So the nightmares had disappeared along with his rage, and he was left confused and a oddly resentful. It was easier to stick with what he'd felt all along than it was to figure out something new.

Leaving the bar had been awkward. They didn't exchange phone numbers, didn't even mention the possibility, because it seemed too intimate, and anyway neither of them had paper or pen.

"You know where to find me," Spike had smirked when they were standing on the sidewalk among the tourists and drunken passersby. Xander just looked confused. "The Boy Toy," Spike reminded him, referring to that first night when Xander had accosted him in front of the store.

Xander blushed and looked at the ground, hands in his pockets. Then he looked away. "Right," he muttered. "I'll just stop by to say hello."

Spike chuckled a very Spike-like chuckle – chock full of smart-ass – and shrugged. He was deep into his self-confident persona now, no trace of the wide-eyed requests for tales of his life. But then it probably made sense. He was probably on his way to "work"…or something.

Xander made some kind of vague goodbye gesture and Spike casually remarked, "Thanks for all that," and for a moment Xander caught the glimmer of something more in his eyes, and then Spike was gone, lost in the stream of foot traffic.

And, since then, the nightmares were gone.

They were planning a trip to the marina. The weather was good, and they wanted to take advantage of it, so Frank was going to cook up some picnic food, and even Luba was going to make her world-famous piroshki…the only thing she knew how to cook.

The plan was to leave in the afternoon of the next day, but Luba was already packing a bag with sunscreen, bottled water, Frisbees, and various other picnic necessities. She looked up from her task, smiling at Xander who was sitting on the couch crunching on a carrot stick. He waved it at her. "Don't you people have any self-respecting junk food around here?"

She just laughed. "I think you've got that covered at your own place." She grinned at him. "So…do you think Spike might want to come along tomorrow?"

Xander blinked repeatedly. Spike? Picnicking? He almost burst out loud laughing. "I don't think it's Spike's sort of thing."

Luba pouted, asking, "How do you know? Have you asked him?"

Xander looked away toward the kitchen, where Frank was happily puttering around. He didn't say anything.

"I think you should invite him. Let him decide if it's 'his sort of thing.' I mean, imagine what it's like for him, being all alone in the city, not even knowing anything about his own life…"

"Okay, okay!" Xander gave in, raising his hands in surrender. "You win." He couldn't help smiling when she leapt up and ran over to hug him in response.

That was how he found himself once again loitering in front of the infamous Boy Toy at what he once called "the witching hour" until Willow kicked his ass for saying it.

Spike emerged with Goatee Man, talking and gesturing animatedly. Goatee Man was laughing. When Spike saw Xander shuffling his feet near the bus stop, he stopped and said goodnight to his friend. Goatee Man checked Xander out again, just as he had last time, but this time he seemed to accept that the Spike-Xander thing was mutual. Not that there was a "thing," of course. Just…talking. The talking was mutual. Right.

The street lamps were bright on Market Street, illuminating Spike's face with harsh shadows, his cheek bones sharp and pronounced, his eyes deep.

"Popping by for a cuppa?" Spike sounded sarcastic, but there was an undercurrent there, too. Something surprised and pleased and maybe uncertain.

Xander couldn't stop looking at him – he wasn't sure why. "Actually, I came to offer you a 'cuppa'," Xander replied, but then shook his head. "I mean, not a 'cuppa,' whatever that is – I assume it's some British thing – but a…well…a picnic." God, he felt stupid saying that word to Spike, of all people.

Spike's eyebrows rose. His voice was carefully bland, "A picnic."

Xander rushed to explain. "Frank and Luba and me, we're going to the marina tomorrow, and we're bringing food, and Luba thought…I mean I thought…well, we thought you might want to come along. We're leaving at noon."

Spike seemed to think about it forever, but maybe Xander was just nervous. Eventually, Spike smiled and said, "Free food? I'm in." Xander rolled his eyes, but smiled in return.

Xander had provided cans of soda (and bottles of juice for the more healthily inclined) and potato chips. His usual low-effort fare. Spike hadn't brought anything to contribute to the picnic, but Xander really wasn't surprised. He was still Spike, after all, and probably still a giant mooch. And, anyway, what does someone who lives in an abandoned building bring to a potluck?

They spread out a big blanket on the grass and sat down with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the expanse of the bay. Giant container ships passed to and fro, hauling huge rectangular containers of televisions and cars and who knows what else, heading for the port of Oakland. As was always the case in nice weather, the bay was peppered with sailboats taking advantage of the breeze coming through the Golden Gate. The sun was warm and the sky was blue and it was a perfect day for a picnic.

"Anybody need sunscreen?" asked Luba, waving the blue tube in the air. "Rhetorical question, of course. When you take an Irish boy and an English boy into the sunshine, prepare for the blinding whiteness." She grinned at Frank, who leaned forward to kiss her. She giggled afterward, then waggled her eyebrows. "Want me to put lotion on your back?" Frank enthusiastically removed his t-shirt.

Spike removed his black t-shirt as well, then turned to Xander with wide doe eyes. "What about me? Will you put lotion on my back, Xander?"

Xander blushed for about the millionth time since he'd first seen Spike on that sidewalk in the Civic Center. "I don't think so. Ask Luba."

Spike pouted and began applying lotion slowly to his arms. When Luba was done with Frank's back, she let him continue with his legs and chest, then turned to Spike and continued working, this time on Spike's back. If the bliss on Spike's face was any indication, she was also adding a bit of massage along the way. Xander hadn't noticed if Frank had the same reaction…his eyes had been discreetly trained on Spike too much of the time.

Watching those pleasured expressions on Spike's face, Xander noticed his dick begin to stir. Bad timing! Very very bad timing! So he closed his eyes and began silently reciting dialogue from The Waterboy. By the time he found himself chuckling, he had things under control.

When he opened his eyes, he saw Spike watching him, a knowing smirk on his face.

By the time Luba had finished Spike's back, Frank was fully sunscreened and suggested that he and Luba take a short walk together. They smiled and promised to be right back and left hand-in-hand.

Spike was putting lotion on his chest now, using lazy circular motions that were raising Xander's blood pressure, among other things. Not again! Spike looked at him and licked his lips, slow and deliberate.

"Wish I could take my trousers off, as well," he remarked casually. "Get a proper tan, all toasty brown all over."

Xander's voice was choked when he replied, "Spike, you're English. English people don't tan."

Spike smiled slightly. "I'm sure I could if I lay about in the sun long enough."

Xander shook his head. "Right. Well, next time I'm at the store, I'll look for some SPF 3 million, just for you."

Spike just continued applying lotion to his chest. It had to be thoroughly coated by now, but he kept drawing his hand against that pale skin over and over again, occasionally pausing at a nipple.

Xander cleared his throat. "And, anyway, there are some body parts that just aren't meant to get a tan. I mean…ow!" The thought of such body parts was distracting, but Xander forged ahead. "And a public park is strictly PG-13, anyway."

Spike grinned. "PG-13, eh? Guess enthusiastic snogging's not out of the question, then." He waggled his eyebrows just as Luba had earlier.

Xander looked away and shifted position slightly, carefully keeping his eyes trained on the men and women walking on the sidewalk behind them. "If you see somebody you feel like 'snogging,' go right ahead. I doubt anyone would mind."

Spike looked a bit disappointed in Xander's refusal to rise to the bait, but moved on to lotioning his neck and face as if nothing had happened.

The rest of the time that Luba and Frank were gone, Xander talked about the Scoobies, telling Spike about his former "friends." Xander glossed over the tensions between Spike and the group and focused instead on describing each person in detail. When Luba and Frank returned, they didn't interrupt, just sitting down to listen with great interest.

Giles became simply an eccentric school librarian, Willow a nerdy computer whiz, Dawn a normal teenage girl, Tara a spiritual herbalist, Buffy an athletic black-belt, Angel an older guy with a pervy obsession with high school girls, and Anya an outspoken girl with a troubled past, looking to start fresh.

They sat and lay on the blanket, people-watching and boat-watching, occasionally playing Frisbee, talking and relaxing and eventually eating a tasty lunch of chicken strips marinated in a tamarind, plum, and ginger sauce; Luba's beef, potato, and mushroom piroshki; spinach salad with walnuts, blue cheese, and sliced pears; spicy green beans sautéed in sesame, garlic, and red pepper;…and Xander's potato chips.

The only awkward moment was when Luba talked about her work with the homeless. She seemed earnestly concerned about Spike's situation, certain that he couldn't be having an easy time in the city with no official identity and no one to help him make his way. "I really could help you if you like," she insisted. "At least find you somewhere good to live. Where are you living now?"

Everyone was silent for a moment, then Spike politely excused himself, saying he wanted to take a walk, and left for at least half an hour.

When they'd all returned to the duplex to clean up and watch the usual weekend movie marathon, Spike went with Xander to his apartment first. When the door closed behind them, Xander almost immediately began, "I'm sorry if Luba embarrassed you when she asked about where you li…"

Spike interrupted sharply, "You wanna know where I live, Xander? Fine. Come with me." Xander just stared. He didn't jump in to repeat that Luba had been the one to ask the question, not him. And maybe it was because he really did want to see where Spike lived…from the inside. Whatever the reason, he agreed. They abandoned Frank and Luba and walked out the front door.

They didn't say a word to each other during the entire 15-minute walk. Spike's strides were long and angry and fast. If Xander hadn't had a slight height advantage, he would have been scurrying to keep up.

When they got there, Spike led him through the broken, boarded-up window into darkness marred only here and there by small shafts of light streaming through holes in the boards that blocked the windows.

Spike flicked a lighter and walked to a candle barely visible in the dim lighting. He lit it, and the room was a bit more brightly illuminated. He continued to walk around the room, and the darkness slowly lifted as more and more candles flickered to life in all corners. Dozens of candles soon illuminated a shabby mattress in one corner of the room, wooden and plastic crates scattered here and there with candles and books upon them, and a doorless closet with more crates inside, holding a stack of poorly-folded clothing.

Spike stood in the center of the candle-lit room and spread his arms wide, turning theatrically. "Welcome to my humble abode," he boomed.

This wasn't old Sunnydale vamp Spike. This was a lost, lonely, confused Spike who was human and struggling to put a brave face on the situation.

The words were out of Xander's mouth before he could even form a thought. "You should come live with me."

Spike tilted his head, mouth a tight line. "Now, why would I want to do that?"

"Hot and cold running water? Windows that aren't boarded up? Cable?"

Spike's voice was like ice when he replied, "Don't need your pity, mate."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Oh please. We lived together before, you know. And I like you better this time around, so why not?"

Spike peered at him suspiciously, and at length, with eyes filled with caution, he nodded slowly. His voice was quiet when he said, "Let me get my things."

"How'd you know to find me at the Boy Toy that first night?"

They were just sitting on the couch, watching "Battlestar Galactica," when the question suddenly came up. Spike had only been staying with him a couple of days.

Xander blushed furiously, eyes desperately glued to the television.

"Ahhh," Spike smiled wickedly. "A satisfied customer." Spike had been pretty frank about his job at the Boy Toy – without going into detail – which made things easier, since Xander didn't have to pretend not to know.

"No!" Xander turned to look at him and nearly shouted. "No! I was just…I saw you coming out, and I recognized you, and so I…"

"Just happened to be passing by, did you? In that neighborhood? At that hour?"

Xander tried to think of an excuse, but then mulishly muttered, "Since when do I have to explain myself to you?"

Spike grinned cheekily. "So, got a lot of things you're not explaining, then?" Xander looked away. But Spike's face gradually became more serious, his eyes more intent. He didn't say anything right away, but then, "There something you're not telling me, Xander?"

Xander just looked confused.

"We lived together, yeah?" Xander nodded. Spike gestured from himself to Xander and back again. "But we weren't…"

Xander frowned, then his eyes widened. "What? No! Of course not! You and me? No!"

Spike slouched down in his chair, disgruntled. "Don't have to sound so disgusted about it." He stared at the television, looking for all the world like a sulking child. But a change slowly overcame him, his back straightening, his expression hardening as if a mask were sliding into place.

And then Spike had an oh-so-familiar predatory look on his face. This was the Spike Xander had known back in Sunnydale – pre-bonzo-in- the-brainpan – not the vulnerable Spike who had asked for help remembering the past. This was the Spike he'd seen behind the glass at the peep show. This was Spike.

"The lads at the Boy Toy don't seem to mind," he drawled, heavy- lidded. "I'm a bit old for the work, obviously, but I'm cut where it counts" – Spike's fingers stroked his abdomen through the fabric of his black t-shirt – "and uncut where it counts" – his fingers strayed provocatively lower – "and I'm still pretty, so the gay boys seem to like me fine."

"'Gay boys'?" Xander choked incredulously. "Jeez. Homophobic much?"

"It's hard to be homophobic in my line of work, luv."

"No, I'll bet it's pretty darn easy to be homophobic in your line of work. All you see are the lonely perverts who pay to jerk off while watching some naked guy who's counting the minutes 'til quitting time." Hearing his own words, Xander blushed again, averting his eyes guiltily.

"Takin' this a bit personal, aren't you?" Spike eyed him speculatively. "You a shirt-lifter?"

Xander winced and his eyes flew back up to meet Spike's, defensive. "The only shirt I lift is my own, mister, when I'm getting dressed in the morning. So don't you worry about me. You worry about your own damn shirt." Xander frowned slightly, a bit tangled up in what he'd said, but he didn't try to sort it out.

Spike just smirked as if he knew something Xander didn't.

Things were oddly normal once Spike moved in. The single unexpected weekend of sunshine faded back into the foggy chill of a San Francisco winter, and the office building job in Oakland had finally gotten underway, so Xander was busy on-site on weekdays.

Spike actually hadn't changed much since Xander'd lived with him before. He still left dirty clothes lying around and didn't wash his dishes. He still liked his food spicy, still smoked – albeit outside, because Xander insisted – still drank Jack Daniels, and even still watched "Passions," though Xander didn't know about that part, because he was at work in the afternoons. But he did wear those metal-framed glasses sometimes, which freaked Xander out. It just looked wrong. But he didn't say anything, because he didn't want to make Spike self-conscious.

How weird was that? Worrying about making Spike self-conscious? Inviting him to live in his apartment, hanging out with him on picnics. The world had tilted on its access.

But it was kind of nice, too. And that was the weirdest part of all.

Spike's face was getting a bit of color, which led Xander to think he was probably lying out in the occasional bit of sun while he was out on the building site. There was a nice park in the center of North Beach where a lot of people sunned when the weather permitted. And the weeks after the picnic had continued to show brief glimmers of sunshine here and there. Weather in San Francisco was never particularly predictable.

But somehow it made sense that Spike would love the sun.

They didn't spend all that much time together. Xander was generally out of the house from early in the morning until around 6:30, and Spike usually strolled in around the same time. Of course, Spike left again a couple hours later, but Xander tried not to think about where he was going. He didn't come back until after Xander was asleep, but Xander had returned to taking his nightly walks, still carrying a stake in his jacket pocket, though the stake was mostly just out of old habit. Now that Spike was staying with him, the apartment seemed really quiet when he was gone, and Xander didn't like to sit around at home imagining what Spike was doing at "work."

That was weird, too. Because he was actually feeling jealous. Maybe even possessive. And he hadn't felt that way since Anya. But Anya had liked it. Spike didn't even know, and almost certainly would be offended. Or disgusted. So Xander was stuck in a rotten position of unrequited…something. Not love. But lust, maybe.

Once or twice, Spike asked about what exactly had happened to him to cause him to lose his memory and why no one had stepped forward to recognize him, but Xander dodged, saying that he didn't know. Of course, he'd heard the stories, Hellmouthy stories about dragons and giant scorpions and all kinds of other big bad baddies. No one had survived – or so they thought – but Giles had read about the likely events in one of his dusty books. Apparently the evil law firm was mentioned in a lot of prophecies. Xander hadn't cared to know much, but Giles had told him enough for him to get the basic idea.

So every time Spike brought it up, Xander gave a vague answer and felt guilty about it. Spike deserved to know what had happened to him, but there was no way to explain. And he knew he should call Giles in England and tell him about Spike.

But he didn't.

It was only three weeks after Spike moved in that they had the inevitable uncomfortable talk. Spike had been pushing the issue from the very beginning.

"So," Spike began blandly while they sat in front of the television watching Survivor, making fun of the contestants. "Not gay, then?"

Xander very nearly growled in frustration. "Why are you so interested?"

"Don't like being lied to."

Xander's eyes narrowed, but Spike still hadn't turned to look at him. He just put his hand in the bag of Doritos and lifted a few to his mouth. Xander noticed in some kind of surreal attention shift that Spike's fingers were bright orange.

"Uh…" Xander began nervously.

"Right," interrupted Spike, finally turning to look at him and putting the bag of Doritos down on the coffee table. "Did I know, when we lived together before? Did we ever…"

Xander rolled his eyes in annoyance. "No! I told you no! And, anyway, I didn't…" He sighed heavily. "When I moved to San Francisco…people are just…nobody cares, you know? And guys were looking at me and coming up to me and…I just started to realize after a while…"

Spike watched him with an expression that was difficult to read. Maybe amusement mixed with relief? Xander couldn't tell. "Not planning to grope my ass in the shower?"

Xander blinked. "I hadn't really thought about it." Liar! Liar!

But Spike just wouldn't let it go. "So…you weren't gay when we lived together before?"

"I don't know. I mean, do you just turn gay?" God, this was getting far too honest. Spike was going to mock him forever.

Spike just waited. He was licking his orange Dorito fingers now, occasionally sliding one into his mouth to suck the cheesy dust off.

Xander's eyes were determinedly not looking at Spike's mouth as he explained distractedly, "I had a girlfriend back then. I told you about her: Anya. So I don't know. Maybe I was – am – bi?"

Pausing in the cleaning of his fingers, Spike continued doggedly, "So you weren't gay."

Xander sighed in frustration and ran his hands through his hair.

"What about me?"

Now that was surprising. Xander just stammered in confusion, "Huh?"

"Was I gay, back then, when you knew me before?"

Xander looked at Spike, unsure if this was an honest question or the beginning of the afore-mentioned mocking. But Spike just looked interested. Curious, even. His fingers were clean now, so that at least made thinking a bit less of a challenge.

Xander frowned in thought. "Uh…I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, you didn't act gay."

Spike simply raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, that was stupid. But you were with one…uh…girlfriend…really long-term. And then you were, you know, obsessed with Buffy."

Spike groaned at hearing the embarrassing name again. "Please. Don't remind me."

"What made you think…" Xander couldn't help asking.

"Nothing in particular. Just wondering, since we were talking about it and all."

Xander nodded, but felt dubious. Maybe Spike enjoyed his job a little too much. Xander had thought the…the fingers in the ass thing…he'd thought that was just for show. And lots of guys liked that, without being gay. Right? But maybe it was more than that. During the…whatever it was…the peepshow – god that sounded sordid – Spike had asked if Xander wanted to fuck him. Did he actually think about that sort of thing while he was…at "work." With his customers?

Suddenly, Xander hated Spike's job even more than he had a moment ago.

They were watching an episode of CSI in which a murderess insisted on speaking only French when Spike suddenly said, "They translated that wrong."

Xander frowned, confused. "Huh?"

"In the subtitles. They translated that wrong. That wasn't what she said."

"Oh, right, you speak French."

Spike looked at him in surprise. "I speak French. Well, I also speak and read German, Spanish, and Middle English. So tell me, Mr. I Know Your Past: what other languages do I know?"

Xander was thrown off balance. "Uh…Latin and Greek? You helped us with those pretty often." Oops. He didn't want to explain what a neighborhood watch group was doing with Latin and Greek, so he continued talking quickly. "Also a bunch of" – demon – "obscure dialects."

Spike was nodding slowly. "How'd I learn 'em all?"

Xander's brain stopped working for a second, but then he replied with relief, "I told you you traveled a lot, you know? And you were…uh…I guess you studied some of them before I met you."

Spike was still nodding, his eyes fixed in the distance. "That would explain it. I wondered. It's come in handy at the library."

"At the library?" Xander asked.

"Yeah. I volunteer there on afternoons, at the reference desk. The languages came in handy. I'll have to tell them about the Latin and Greek."

Xander couldn't control his excitement and exclaimed without thinking, "So that's why you were leaving the library every day!"

Spike frowned. His head tilted. He said slowly, "What did you just say?"

Xander froze.

"How did you know I was leaving the library every day?"

"Well, uh, I didn't know it was every day, but I saw you one day when I just happened to be…"

"You just happened to be there, did you? And you just happened to be outside the Boy Toy? That's a lot of 'happening', isn't it?" Spike looked ready to wring someone's neck. Correction: he looked ready to wring Xander's neck, in particular.

Spike waited. Xander stared fixedly at the toes of his boots.

A minute passed, and neither moved.

Finally, Xander couldn't take the silence anymore. "I saw you, okay? I saw you on the street, but I wasn't sure it was you, so I…I followed you."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "You followed me?"

"It wasn't as creepy as it sounds. Really."

"Did you follow me once, or was it more?"

Xander's voice was barely audible when he said, "More."

"Right." Spike's voice was tight and angry. Like if he didn't keep himself on a tight leash, he'd explode.

The silence stretched again. But finally Spike stood up, put on his coat – not the old duster, which always surprised Xander – and ran a possibly nervous hand through the curls of his hair.

He was staring at the front door and his voice was still tightly contained when he said, "I'm going out. I trust I don't have to watch behind me, checking behind every bush and postbox."

A miserable Xander shook his head. With a flourish, Spike was gone and the door swung shut behind him.

Xander sat down on the couch and turned on the television and tried to pretend that he didn't feel like a complete asshole.

"Well, you did the same thing!"

Xander had been holding back the big guns, but if Spike was going to continue to be such a prick about the stalker issue, even after more than a week had passed, then fine. Time to blast away with the biggest of the big guns. Well, except for the vampire gun. Because that was a gun Xander was not yet willing to fire.

Spike just narrowed his eyes suspiciously in response to Xander's first salvo.

"With Buffy," Xander continued in righteous indignation. "You hid behind a tree in her front yard and watched through the windows. Don't think we didn't see you! And you showed up at the door uninvited, showed up to parties uninvited, showed up at the Magic Box…"

"Hold up then. Magic Box?"

Xander backpedaled. "Uh. Yeah. Magic. You know, like gag stuff."

"And I went there." Spike sounded dubious.

"Anya and Giles owned it, so we were all there a lot."

"I thought 'Giles' was the high school librarian…"

"Well, yeah, but…wait! We were talking about the fact that you were a stalker, and so being pissed at me is hypocrisy. You are a hypocrite, mister! A hypocrite!"

"How can I be a hypocrite if I don't even remember the damn thing?"

"Because you still did it! You were a stalker. So quit giving me shit about it."

Spike just shrugged, one shoulder rising and falling gracefully. "Fine."

Xander looked at him in shock. "Fine?"

Spike shrugged again. "Fine."

"Okay. That was easier than I thought it would be."

"Wouldn't want to be a hypocrite, now would I?" Spike was smirking, just a little, and Xander knew he was off the hook.

They sat in silence for a minute or two, making sure the argument was over, and then Xander picked up the remote and turned on the television.

They'd been watching infomercials for almost half an hour when Spike said suddenly, "Uninvited?"

Xander turned to look at him, confused. "What?"

"You said I showed up every place uninvited. That I was a stalker, just following Buffy" – he winced slightly – "around. Sounds like I wasn't such great mates with you lot, after all."

Xander didn't know what to say. Spike's voice was carefully casual, which probably meant that he'd hurt his feelings. At least, that's what it would mean if Xander sounded that way. But Spike deserved to know the truth.

Or part of it, anyway.

"Um…okay…so I may have exaggerated a little bit."

Spike nodded slowly. "I see."

"But you really did live with me."

"Uninvited?" Spike's eyes were dark and vulnerable.

Xander looked away as he half-truthed, "Uh…no…I definitely invited you in."

"Right." Spike sounded resentful and defensive now. Damn.

Xander moved to sit on the couch next to Spike. Not too close, but close enough to get Spike's attention. "Look. That doesn't matter, okay? So you were kind of a jerk. I am, too, sometimes. Okay, so maybe you were more of a jerk than me…" Spike raised an eyebrow and Xander realized he was getting off-track. "The point is who you are now. It's like you're getting to…I don't know…start over or something. So it doesn't matter if you were a stalkery asshole back then. What matters is what you do with your life now."

During the final bit of this little impassioned speech, Spike had been watching Xander's eyes closely, and Xander had made himself not look away. He wanted Spike to know that he meant what he was saying, that it was the truth and there wasn't some kind of lingering hatred or anything. Because, oddly enough, there wasn't.

And then their faces were unexpectedly closer than he'd realized, and then Spike's lips were on Xander's lips and they were kissing and Spike's hand moved up to wrap around the nape of Xander's neck to pull him closer.

Xander couldn't help responding, his lips and – oh! – tongue sliding slowly against Spike's, his hands coming up to rest on Spike's shoulders as they leaned in toward each other on the couch.

When he remembered reality, remembered where he was and who he was and who Spike was and everything, he pulled away abruptly and Spike's hand slid down from the back of his neck. Spike's eyes were heavy- lidded, his lips wet and pink. Xander fought an irrational urge to dive right back in and grab him for a far more aggressive kiss. Maybe press him back on the couch.

But that would be taking advantage. Good guys don't bend amnesiacs over the arm of the couch to grind against them, especially if there are all kinds of half-truths and outright lies in the way. Especially if the whole thing is probably happening just because the amnesiac doesn't have anyone else and he's just grateful or something.

"So," Xander said, not finding any other words in his brain.

Spike raised an eyebrow, not leaning forward anymore, sitting back casually as if nothing had happened. He ran a hand through his hair, barely disturbing the tight blonde curls.

Xander was feeling horrendously guilty. He'd been lying about everything, and now Spike kissed him?

Hell. Maybe it was time to bring out the biggest gun, after all.

In the two weeks afterward, Spike didn't attempt to kiss him again, and Xander didn't have the nerve to make a move of his own.

Sure, once or twice they passed each other in the narrow hallway and Spike's gaze flickered down to Xander's lips and then quickly back up to meet his eyes, but they always sprang apart almost immediately to go their separate ways.

On Spike's nights off, when they were both home, Spike often spent the evening reading in the guest room – now his room – instead of watching television or otherwise interacting with Xander. He was almost like a ghost, insubstantial and evasive. Xander didn't know if he was hurt or embarrassed or – god forbid! – angry about what had happened…and about what had not happened but which Xander had wanted to happen.

As time went on, the guilt grew and built until it formed an unbearable mass inside Xander's chest. He was exhausted by the lies and the secrets, and he'd come to honestly like this new Spike and didn't want to be dishonest with him. It felt like crap.

As long as he was being this dishonest, he didn't feel right about the kissing. And he wanted more of the kissing.

And so it was guilt – and kissing – that landed them on a field trip to Colma in the middle of the night.

"What the hell are we doing here, Xander?"

"What…you don't enjoy the scenery?" Xander could hear a slight tremor in his voice. God he was nervous. And scared. Not scared of any fledges they might meet…scared of telling Spike the truth.

"It's a cemetery, Xander. In the dark. What scenery am I meant to be enjoying?"

"Look. This shouldn't take long. At least, I don't think it will…"

"What are you rattling on about? And why did you give me this stick?" Spike twirled the wooden stake in his hand.

"I just…you need to see…" Xander didn't know what to say that wouldn't sound stupid. Spike needed to see it for himself if he was going to understand. And even then he might still not understand. It was pretty freaky stuff.

The moon was full and bright, and the headstones and crypts and monuments were clearly visible. No vamps yet, though. Xander just hoped he wasn't about to get them both killed. It wasn't as if they had Buffy to back them up if things got hairy.

Spike sighed with annoyance and stopped walking. "Is this some kind of joke?"

Xander looked him in the eye and said, "No. I swear. I'm completely serious."

Spike held his gaze a long moment and then nodded slightly. Trusting him. As if compelled, Spike took a hesitant step forward, and in the next second Xander was leaning forward, reaching out to cup the back of Spike's head and pull him into another blazing kiss, much more passionate than the first had been.

So of course that was the moment that a fledge decided to make an appearance. "How sweet," he lisped through his new fangs.

Xander turned to face the vamp, wielding his stake warily. Behind him, Spike said, "Piss off, mate." The vamp only bared his teeth and laughed. Spike froze in confusion.

"It's a vampire," Xander hissed quietly without turning his head, keeping his eyes always on the fledge.

"No such thing as vampires," insisted Spike, though his voice sounded less certain than he probably would have liked.

The vamp grinned. "No such thing as vampires. That's rich." And then he flipped through the air to stand behind them, nearer to Spike. Both Spike and Xander turned around quickly to face him. Spike was looking a bit green now, because that flying leap was difficult to explain away as human. And the fledge was baring his teeth again. "Let me show you how real I am." And he reached forward quickly to grab Spike, but Xander darted in front and pushed Spike behind him, waving his stake at the fledge.

"I've got a stake and I know how to use it!" he warned.

The vamp rolled his eyes. "Pathetic humans. You think you can do anything to me with that twig?"

And with that, his hands moved almost faster than could be seen, and the next thing Xander knew he was in the vampire's grasp and fangs were sinking into the side of his neck from behind. No Buffy to bail him out this time, and he couldn't get his stake around to do anything effective with it. All he could do was cry, "Ow!" and struggle in vain.

But a moment later, the pain disappeared and Xander was abruptly showered with a fine dust. He turned to look, and Spike stood behind him, his face pale in the moonlight, the stake held tightly in his extended hand. He didn't say anything, and the raised arm was trembling visibly.

Xander watched him, worrying. Spike didn't look well at all, and Xander couldn't really remember exactly how he'd felt when he'd first learned vampires were real. It was so long ago. But from Spike's expression, he was having a tough time of it.

Add to that the fact that he'd just saved Xander's life, and the whole situation was even more intense. His instincts had pressed the stake home on the first thrust, though he probably couldn't remember how or why.

After a moment had passed with the two of them watching each other in the moonlight, Xander realized that they were easy prey for another vamp, and so he said gruffly, "Let's get out of here." And Spike walked – docile, silent – beside him until they were safely out of the cemetery and on their way home.

And even then he didn't speak.

Xander was blotting the two puncture marks with hydrogen peroxide when Spike walked into the bathroom.

"What happened out there?" he asked, uncertainty in his voice.

Xander turned away from the mirror to look at Spike earnestly, hoping that he could somehow radiate truth after so many lies. "A vampire grabbed me. You saved my life."

Spike nodded absently as if he hadn't really heard or understood. "A vampire."

Xander nodded. "A vampire."

"And you knew that there would be a vampire."

"Well, I guessed. I mean, it's a cemetery. And it was dark. Past experience seems to indicate that cemetery plus dark equals vampires."

Spike was nodding vaguely again. "Why?"

Xander frowned, confused. "Why? Well, because vamps get buried in cemeteries and so when they wake up hungry, they…"

Spike shook his head. "Why did you take me out there if you thought there would be…vampires." He looked like he was still having trouble believing any of this.

Xander looked into Spike's eyes. "Because you needed to see it for yourself."

"Why? There's no such thing as vampires. It was all a joke."

Xander took the washcloth away from the side of his neck and gestured to the two bleeding, bubbling injuries. "Then what did this to my neck, Spike? You saw that guy. You saw what happened to him when you pushed that stake into his heart. There are vampires, Spike."

Spike's arms were crossed now as if he were cold, though the apartment was warm. "Why should I care?"

Xander frowned and ran a hand through his hair. The wounds on his neck were still bubbling with hydrogen peroxide, but he threw the wash cloth into the sink. He turned to look at Spike and put everything he had into his gaze. All the honesty he had held back for too long.

"Okay, the thing is," Xander paused to lick his lips nervously, "…uh…when I knew you before…back in Sunnydale…you were…you were a vampire."

This time, Spike didn't come home for a week. This storming out and not coming back was getting a little old, but Xander couldn't really feel too offended when it kept being things he'd done that pissed Spike off and drove him away.

And Xander was worried enough to consider stopping by the Boy Toy or – less embarrassing – the library, just to make sure Spike wasn't dead in a ditch somewhere, but the previous conversations about stalking kept him from doing it.

Eventually, Spike just turned up again, acting as if nothing had happened…except for the silent treatment he was giving Xander. Now when they passed in the hall, Spike's lips tightened and he averted his eyes, moving past as quickly as possible. There wasn't any television together, or talking over dinner, or anything else that remotely resembled friendship. Spike was gone a lot, and when he was home he stayed in his room. It was just like last time, except worse.

And so one morning Xander was tightening his tie, getting ready to head in to work for a meeting with Gary to prepare for the afternoon's meeting with the Senior Vice-President of Overaa, when he saw Spike sitting on the couch. In the dark.

This was weird.

"So you think you can just lie to me about everything?" Spike asked without turning his head. The dam was finally breaking, the silent treatment coming to an end. But Xander really couldn't be late to this meeting. Damn!

"Spike, while I appreciate this effort to initiate a discussion about how much of a prick I am, I really don't have time right now. I have to get to work."

Spike turned to look at him, though his eyes were shadowed in the darkness of the living room. The light from the hall didn't reach that far, stretching in long shadows as if trying to touch Spike, unsuccessfully.

"Well, then, just explain why you lied and then be on your merry way." Spike was still watching him out of the darkness.

Xander ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He stayed standing in the brightly lit hallway, not sure if Spike would bolt if approached, and said, "I didn't think you'd believe…"

But Spike obviously wasn't listening, despite his demand, because he interrupted, "Did you really think I'd buy that? And why did you drag me all the way out to that cemetery, anyway?"

Xander was frowning now, confused. He loosened his tie. "I thought…you needed to see…so you'd understand…so you'd believe…And when that fledge…"

Spike interrupted again, "Fledge?"

Xander glanced hopelessly at the front door, then back at Spike. "Yeah. A young vampire. One that hasn't been vamped very long." It was like Vampire 101 For Amnesiacs.

"And was I a 'fledge'?" Spike asked, apparently not noticing that he wasn't arguing the point anymore.

Xander blinked, and then walked into the living room and tentatively sat on the edge of his favorite chair. Gary was going to have to wait, even if he was the boss. He'd understand. Or something. Not about fledges, but about lateness. Xander was always on time, and everyone was late once in a while. Right?

He took a deep breath.

"No. You weren't a fledge, Spike."

"So how old was – am – I, then? Supposedly."

"I'm not sure. The books, I guess, said you were vamped in the 1800s."

Spike's eyebrows went up. Xander's eyes had adjusted to the darkness now, and he could see Spike's obvious disbelief and denial. "Books? You're trying to say there are books about me?"

"Well, not entirely about you, but about some of the older vamps."

"So I was supposedly one of these 'older' vampires?"

"I guess so. There were – are – lots older, though."

Spike's head tilted in annoyance. "Well, let's see one of these books, then."

Xander scratched his head nervously. "Um…I don't have any. Giles has…"

"'Giles'? The school librarian?"

"Well, yeah…" Xander suddenly realized how absurd this all sounded. Was there any chance Spike was going to believe any of it? Maybe he really remembered something, bashing around in that blonde head? Maybe he would just magically decide that Xander was telling the truth, and they could dispense with the torturous grilling?

Spike's voice was nearly dripping with disbelief as he said, "So the school librarian believes in vampires."

"Yeah. We all do. The Scoobies, I mean. Vampires killed my best friend. The 'neighborhood watch' group…we were fighting vampires."

"And I was fighting vampires, too. Despite being a vampire."

"Yeah. I mean, not at first. You were a pretty scary-ass vamp when we first met you – you were trying to kill Buffy – but at the end there, yeah, you were fighting the good fight. And then you got your soul…" Xander trailed off, knowing he was giving too much information and just making things sound even more like some kind of monster movie or TV show.

Spike was silent a long time, but then he said, "For argument's sake, let's say you're right. And I'm not saying that, not by a long shot, because I think you've gone completely crackers. But let's just say you're right. Let's say I was a vampire." He paused, and then continued in obvious confusion, "Then why am I not a vampire now?"

Xander watched Spike's face in the dim light. He looked lost. "I don't know," Xander admitted apologetically, wishing he had some kind of answer to give. "I'm sorry, Spike, but I just don't know."

Maybe Giles would have some answers. Maybe it was time to call him.

But somehow Xander couldn't make himself do it.

They didn't talk about the subject again, and the tension between them was palpable. The apartment was chock full of awkwardness and silence for a few weeks. But there's only so long that can continue when you're living in close quarters, and eventually they started to relax around each other again, doing small things like going out for a beer or simply watching "Charmed," which was one of their favorite ridiculously mockable shows. Second only to "Passions," in Spike's unspoken opinion.

Xander, of course, never commented on the fact that one of the reasons the show was ridiculous was because he happened to know that magic didn't work that way. He didn't think Spike was in a mood to hear about the fact that the nerdy computer whiz also happened to be a powerful witch. The high school librarian being a vampire expert had been quite enough, he figured.

Plus, he didn't want to bring the whole subject up again and send Spike storming out of the house for days on end.

Sometimes Spike even read his books – he was reading something gigantic in Russian right now – sitting on the couch in the living room, which Xander found somehow extremely cozy. He didn't pull out his comic books, because reading Shazam! next to Spike's Russian novels just felt embarrassing, but he still liked it, as if Spike was really making himself at home. It felt good.

They watched movie marathons every weekend with Frank and Luba…and sometimes Xander pretended to himself that it was a double-date. He knew he was in trouble, that he was obsessed and that Spike most likely didn't feel the same way, especially now, but he liked how Spike filled a void in his life. It had been so long since he'd really cared about someone…he'd forgotten what it was like.

This particular movie marathon was on the theme of werewolves, and Xander was once again forcefully holding his tongue – almost literally, once or twice – lest he make a fool of himself and cause awkwardness with Spike. Of course, he hadn't told Spike about Oz, but still. All "monsters" seemed like taboo.

Luba was popping Jiffy Pop over the stove – she was "an old- fashioned girl," she explained – while Frank was composing a plate of steamed dumplings, when Luba yelled from the kitchen, "So, how're the housemates? You guys have been living together for a few months now. How's it working out? You seem happy."

Spike and Xander exchanged a look and then both inexplicably burst out laughing. Trying to explain how complicated everything had been – and continued to be – was ludicrous to both of them.

"We're fine," Spike yelled back, making Xander look at him in curious surprise. "The flat is quite comfortable."

Luba came in with the popcorn in a big bowl and smiled. "That's good to know. I hope you get along with your landlords." She grinned.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Oh, they're so annoying! Always feeding us and showing us movies. Can't get rid of 'em!"

At that point, Frank entered the room and Xander exclaimed excitedly, "Oooh! Barbecue pork buns!", making Spike and Luba laugh.

They all sat together on Frank and Luba's large couch to start with An American Werewolf in London, and Xander noticed that his thigh was pressed up against Spike's. He didn't know if Spike noticed, but it was very distracting.

He didn't know how to recapture the easy camaraderie that they'd had before the vampire incident, but he wanted it. Badly.

He was going to have to figure out something or go insane.

They liked to go to O'Malley's on the corner to play pool. The pool table was in a quiet back room where there wasn't much traffic because there weren't any tables, so they didn't have to worry about people getting in the way to mess up their shots. It was a nice change from places like The Bronze.

Out of old habit, Xander had ordered spicy chicken wings, and Spike looked very impressed after taking a bite. "We'll have to get more of these," he mumbled around a mouthful.

Xander grinned. "Yeah, well, you always did like them."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Vampires eat normal food, then?" Somewhere along the way, he'd relaxed about the vampire thing, primarily on the evidence in the cemetery, though he still often expressed his suspicion of Xander's assertion that Spike had been a vampire himself. He'd at least stopped the annoyingly insistent use of "supposedly" in every sentence on the topic.

Xander glanced around to see if anyone was listening – Spike wasn't exactly being discreet – but no one was paying them any attention. "Most vamps don't, as far as I know, but you always did. You mooched from me all the time when you lived in my basem…apartment."

Spike was nodding thoughtfully. "Can vampires live that way? On food?"

Xander shook his head. "Nope. They still need to…uh…"

"Kill people."

"Drink blood."

"So before this whole thing started, I went around killing people." Spike didn't usually get this direct and personal about the issue, so Xander was surprised. True to form, he couldn't help but start babbling.

"Well, you got this government chip in your head, so you couldn't hurt people anymore. And then you got your soul back. Of course, when you got your soul back, you went kind of crazy – guilt, I guess – and The First Evil brainwashed you. Got you to kill even more people."

Spike didn't even seem to have heard the confusing first part of what Xander said, he was so fixated on the killing. "Even more people," he repeated doggedly.

"Well, yeah, but you didn't mean to do it."

"How many people you figure I meant to kill, all told?"

Xander flinched. Talking with this Spike about murder just seemed wrong. "You mean…"

Spike's face was grimly determined. "How many innocent people do you think I killed? Total. Come on…I really want to know."

"Hell, Spike! How am I supposed to know?"

Spike just waited.

Xander sighed. "Well, you were a vamp for at least 100 years before we met you, so…I don't know…lots?"

"I'm thinking thousands."

The silence was uncomfortable.

"Quite a prolific serial killer, don't you think?"

Xander didn't reply, having no idea what Spike wanted him to say.

Spike continued doggedly, "So that sent me 'round the twist, first time around, eh?"

Again, only awkward silence.

Gesturing, his face tense, his eyes dark, Spike demanded, "Why would I want to remember all that again? Maybe that's why my memory's gone, so I don't have all those horrors in my head. Maybe I don't want to remember."

Xander frowned. "So you're saying you don't…"

Spike slumped, defeated, looking away. "I don't know. I want to remember what happened to me…who I am…but if what you've told me is true, it doesn't sound like I'm anyone I'd want to remember."

They were just leaving the pub when Spike unexpectedly pulled him into the alley that ran alongside the building. It was narrow and dark and smelled rather pungently of the contents of two large garbage dumpsters. The fog was dense and wet around them.

But a moment later, Xander was pushed up against the wall and Spike was kissing him with a desperation that spoke of strong emotion redirected. Xander couldn't help but think this was really about the conversation they'd had in the bar, and so he reluctantly pulled away to look Spike in the face.

He looked frustrated. And really really hot, despite the lingering scent of wet garbage.

"Spike, I think this might be just because we were talking about…"

Spike silenced him with another long, deep kiss, complete with a bit of grinding him against the wall, their hips working against each other in slow thrusts and circles. Xander couldn't help grinding right back…and he forgot all about the garbage.

But he pulled away again, worried. Not wanting to take advantage. Not wanting to do something that would have Spike storming out of the apartment again tomorrow, not coming back until who knows when.

"Spike, we should probably talk…"

"I don't want to talk, Xander." And then Spike's hand was cupping him through his jeans and Xander lost all interest in pulling away or having heart-to-heart talks. His eyes closed and he breathed out a husky sigh of pleasure as Spike's hand moved, stroking him through thick denim. And then nimble fingers were at the snap, at the zipper, and then a hand was sliding inside for a more intimate caress.

Xander opened his eyes at that, looking at Spike again. His face was intent, his eyes watching Xander as if soaking in every expression, every movement, every trembling response. Xander looked him in the eyes and slipped his hands inside Spike's coat, stroking his hands slowly down Spike's chest through the soft cotton of his t-shirt. He could feel the hard peaks of Spike's nipples, and so he pinched them lightly, and then – at Spike's encouraging noises – harder. Spike bucked against him, pressing him tighter against the brick wall, his hand pressed between them, his fingers tightening around Xander's cock, causing Xander to groan.

A moment later, Spike's jeans were open as well and they had pushed each other's underwear out of the way sufficiently to get skin on skin. Xander didn't care that they were in an alleyway or that Spike might be emotionally vulnerable because of their earlier conversation. All rational thought had been swept away on a tide of long-denied lust. Too many movie marathons with knees bumping, too many glimpses of Spike disheveled and shirtless in the morning, too many nights watching Spike bend over that damn pool table…he couldn't fight it now.

He stroked Spike's cock with a tight grip, feeling the foreskin move over the thick hardness, reminding him of how Spike had looked doing the same thing in the peepshow booth. The thought should have made him ashamed, but it only increased his excitement, feeding his current arousal with memories of that unforgettable night. Just touching Spike was almost enough to make him come, especially with the images playing in his mind, the memories of all the nasty things Spike had said and done. Xander stroked faster.

Spike was breathing heavily now, and his hand on Xander's cock was tight and quick, almost painful but not quite. It seemed that he, too, was looking for quick release, for whatever reason. He leaned in for a hard, thrusting kiss, his lips almost biting in their intensity. Xander gave as good as he got, and the kiss grew increasingly heated as their hands continued to move between them. Xander's free hand snuck up to clutch the back of Spike's head as if to keep him from escaping, as if to pull him impossibly closer than they were already pressed together. Spike's hair was damp from the fog, and at the touch he moaned into Xander's mouth and his hand sped up even more.

It was all Xander could take, and he found himself pressed flat against the wall, his head flying back to connect with the bricks in a way that would probably hurt later, but right now all he could feel was the orgasm tearing through his body as Spike's hand continued to stroke him.

As he slowly recovered, he realized that his own hand had stopped moving, but that Spike's cock was still hard in his grasp. Determined to return the favor, he resumed his stroking, whispering hoarsely, "I want to make you come just like that. So hard you can't see straight."

Spike moaned, "Yeah. Make me come. Like that. Faster."

And so Xander sped up his strokes, feeling Spike's body begin to tremble slightly, hearing his breathing become increasingly uneven. He leaned in for another prolonged kiss, never stopping the movement of his hand, and Spike stiffened. His cock began throbbing heavily in Xander's hand, and then he came, pulling away from their kiss in order to groan loudly. When his orgasm had finished, he slumped forward, his forehead coming to rest against Xander's shoulder. The moment of weakness was brief, though, and soon he was upright again, and they were pulling their hands out of each other's pants, tucking their cocks away, and looking for something to wipe their hands on. They both ended up having to settle for their shirts.

Spike was having trouble meeting Xander's eyes, which suddenly made Xander even more certain that this had been a bad idea, and that Spike was most likely regretting the whole thing and planning to leave the apartment for days – if not weeks – on end.

But then Spike stepped forward, keeping his hands at his sides, and kissed Xander slowly. When he pulled away, Xander smiled at him, relieved, and stepped forward himself to slide his hands back inside Spike's coat to enjoy his warmth and the feel of his muscles beneath soft cloth. He initiated a languorous post-orgasmic kiss that sent subtle shivers all through his body.

When he pulled away this time, Spike was smiling, too.

"All right, then," he said smugly.

And then they walked home.

They were lying on the lush grass at the park after weeks of the unrelenting drizzling fog, lying out in a brief afternoon of sunshine, when Xander finally asked something that had been nagging at him. They weren't talking, just lying there gazing up at a brilliant summer-like sky, so the question sort of came, literally, out of the blue.

"Why do you work there?"

Spike turned to look at him, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, his hair almost white in the sunlight. "What…the library?" he asked innocently.

Xander could feel his face burning as he grumbled, "No. The other one."

"My, aren't we coy? 'The other one,' eh? Well, I've gotta earn money somehow, put Cheet-ohs on the table and whatnot."

"But why that?"

Spike shrugged. "Not a lot of jobs'll hire blokes without the proper paperwork, all official-like. Best I've got's a fake I.D., and that won't get you far."

"So…wait…oh…you don't have a social security number or anything, do you?"

Spike touched his nose and pointed at Xander. "Got it in one."

"That's why you work there?"

Spike puffed up his chest a bit. "That and I'm good at the work."

Xander looked away, hoping to hide a guilty expression that might betray his knowledge of how very true that statement was.

Xander took a deep breath and let it out. It was time to do something he'd been dreading. He looked at Spike again.

"What if I knew somebody who could help out with the paperwork thing?"

Spike looked at him, then lowered the sunglasses to peer over the rim. "You offering to make up some unlawful identification materials, good little Xander?"

Xander frowned. "Well, it's just…I know somebody…"

Spike grinned and shrugged. "I'm in." Then he settled his sunglasses back on the bridge of his nose and lay back on the grass again, gazing up at the sunny blue sky.


Giles sighed but did not even attempt to reprimand Xander for using the hated nickname. He'd long since given up. "Xander, it is good to hear your voice. It's been far too long."

Xander felt ashamed. He'd pretty much ditched them all when he moved to San Francisco. Not very friend-ish of him. "Yeah, sorry about that. This is going to sound cheesy, calling out of nowhere, but I sort of need your help."

"What can I do for you from here? You know I'll help if I can," Giles said, referring to the physical distance between them.

"Well, the thing is…Spike is sort of here."


"Yeah. Spike."

Giles didn't answer immediately, but after a pause he replied, "The oracles prophesied that all of the warriors would perish in a final great battle against the forces raised by Wolfram & Hart, and we've heard nothing of them since. Spike is gone, Xander. I do not know who has been speaking to you, but Spike died with Angel and their associates in that battle."

"Okay, well, sort of yes and sort of no."

"Xander, please do cease all this mystery. What are you trying to say?"

"I guess Spike died or something, got dusted or whatever, but he's back." Xander sighed heavily, mentally preparing himself for Giles' impending reaction. "Spike is human."

There was silence on the other end of the line. A long silence. Then Giles replied patiently, "You well know that such a thing is impossible, Xander."

"Impossible or not, I've got a human Spike sleeping in my guest room every night – well, except when he's pissed off at me, because then he doesn't come home for days at a time, which happens way too often, I might add."

And then Xander told the whole story, except for the sex-type parts, because Giles really didn't need to know that sort of thing. But he told him about Spike's amnesia and about how Xander had eventually realized that he was human. Giles was dubious.

"How can you know that this man is who you think he is, Xander? He could be a confidence man taking advantage of your trusting nature…or simply a confused amnesiac onto whom you are projecting memories of your prior…friend…due to a physical resemblance."

Xander shook his head firmly, though Giles couldn't see him. "That's the thing. Why would I 'project' Spike? I mean, I couldn't stand the guy! I didn't want to ever see him again. But there he was. And he's almost the same, give or take a few Russian novels and a pair of glasses."

This time Giles was the one who sighed. "I'm afraid I'm far too busy to leave for the States at this juncture, but I could perhaps send Willow. She could take a brief hiatus from her studies."

"No!" Xander exclaimed quickly. "He just needs all the legal mumbo- jumbo so he can get a job. The Watchers Council can do that, right? But he doesn't want to see you. Either of you. Any of you. He just wants to be left alone. With me. Except…uh…not the way that sounded."

Xander knew that if Spike saw any of them – if Spike regained his memories or made any other connection to his past – things would change, and that was something he definitely didn't want to see happen.

But he was desperately afraid it was going to, whether he liked it or not.

Despite his protestations about being too busy to get away, Giles was on a plane from London within the week. Spike wasn't particularly pleased that a stranger was coming to pick him apart and decide whether he was himself or not, especially when he wasn't so sure himself about certain parts of the story. Xander tried to be reassuring, but he wasn't precisely sure what was going to happen, so his own nervousness no doubt showed. He'd never been much of a one for subtlety.

When Xander picked Giles up from the airport, he expected a thorough grilling, but Giles simply talked about the activities of the Watchers Council, Willow's studies, and the familiarity of the San Francisco fog. It was, apparently, something like London. Xander didn't know how to react to the casual conversation. Where were the questions about Spike? Where were the well-worded arguments and oh-so-logical explanations?

But Giles was calm and friendly, as if simply visiting a friend he hadn't seen in some time. When they arrived at the apartment, they found Spike sitting anxiously on the living room couch, not even watching television. He stood up and turned toward them, wiping his hands on his jeans. He extended his right hand toward Giles, and Giles took it, shaking it warmly.

"I'm Rupert Giles, an old friend of Xander's." He smiled. "I hear that you have no memory of your past. Is this correct?" Well, that went right to the point.

Spike simply nodded.

"What do you prefer that I call you, then?"

Spike glanced at Xander for guidance, but Xander just shrugged. Then he walked so that he stood nearer to Spike than to Giles, wanting to make his alliances clear in this situation.

"'Spike' is fine. Unless you object."

Giles shook his head. "'Spike' will be acceptable for the moment. But I do wish to speak with you about a number of matters on the subject of your identity."

Spike nodded again and sat back down on the couch. Xander sat beside him – not too close, because they weren't exactly like that, despite the night outside O'Malley's – and gestured to the chair for Giles. But Giles calmly shook his head, remaining standing.

"I need to speak with him alone." Then Giles peered at Spike, showing some curiosity at last, and turned to walked into the guest room, followed by a nervous Spike who glanced back at Xander.

Xander made a shooing motion and tried to look reassuring. Inside, he was nervous as hell.

When the door opened again, Spike came to the door and said quietly, "He wants to talk to you now." It was difficult to read his mood. His eyes were cast downward and there was a tension to the set of his shoulders, a tightness around his mouth…but what it meant was impossible to interpret.

Xander walked to the doorway, stopping Spike's leaving. Looking into the guest room, Xander said firmly, "Anything you want to say to me, Spike has a right to hear, too. I'm not going to hide things about him from him."

"Very well, Xander." Giles stood and returned to the living room, where Spike and Xander resumed their seats on the couch and Giles sat in the overstuffed chair.

"It is my opinion that this is, in fact, Spike, though somewhat different, of course, than the vampire we knew in Sunnydale. I did not tell you over the telephone, but there is an ancient prophecy which was always assumed to refer to Angel, but which may instead refer to this situation, a prophecy about a vampire with a soul who, after great battles for the forces of good, after saving the world on more than one occasion, would have his human life returned to him. It is referred to as the 'shanshu' prophecy, and it may explain how Spike stands before us as a living human man."

"So you knew about this prophecy thing, but you didn't think it was worth mentioning?"

"May I interrupt a mite?" Spike said. Giles and Xander both nodded in surprise. "So…I was a vampire?"

Giles leaned forward slightly to reply, "It must seem very strange to learn such a thing in your situation, but yes, it is indeed true. You were a vampire from the year of 1880 until your apparent demise – or disappearance – one year ago."

"I killed people."

"Yes, a great many people. But that was before your…resurrection, as it were."

"Still the same person, though." Spike sounded deeply disturbed, as if only now was the true depth of his past evil becoming apparent to him.

"Spike, you must realize that the powers that returned your humanity chose to do so as a reward – or so the prophecy seems to indicate – for the good you had done. It was quite remarkable for a vampire to work with the forces of good, quite incredible for a vampire to even possess a soul, but you, Spike…you willingly turned away from evil and made a conscious choice to seek to have your soul returned to you. In all the records of the Watchers Council, such a thing has never before been witnessed or even considered possible. The prophecies mention no other such occurrence in the past or future. Yes, you were a vampire, Spike, but in your final years as such you performed feats of emotional strength and fortitude that amazed us all."

Xander felt ashamed, knowing that he hadn't been amazed in the slightest. He'd been dismissive and uninterested, too wrapped up in his own life to even notice that the person he had once hated had changed.

Spike leaned forward, his head in his hands.

"If you wish," Giles continued, "I will investigate what methods might make it possible to recover your past memories. If magic resulted in your current state, magic may also allow us to make such changes."

"No," Xander replied quickly, causing Spike to look at him. "Spike doesn't want to remember all that stuff."

"Is this true, Spike? If you do not wish to remember your previous life, it would be perfectly understandable. Most likely, the powers chose to return you this way to save you the pain of your past actions."

Spike said softly, "I'm still the same person, whether I remember it or not."

Giles nodded. "You needn't make a decision today, or even before my departure. I will need time to speak with the coven and to consult my library. I do not yet know if the act is even possible."

Spike rubbed his hands over his face and then through his hair. "All right, then. Do your looking about, and I'll do my thinking on whether I want to know."

Xander frowned, realizing that he had lost all control of what was going on. If Spike got his memories back, he'd remember how much he loved Buffy, how much he hated Xander, how much he wanted to be anywhere but here. He'd be on a plane to Italy, looking for Buffy, before the day was out.

But there wasn't anything he could do about that…except maybe try to convince Spike that he really didn't want to get his memories back. It felt sort of slimy, but he didn't know what else to do.

Living with Spike was strange. Sometimes he seemed like the same old Spike, brash and confident and smirky, but sometimes he seemed softer, more like he was when he was first asking about his past, his eyes big and blue and vulnerable. It was disconcerting, never knowing what he was going to be like, how he was going to respond.

And Xander wasn't sure which Spike he liked more.

Sometimes Spike accompanied Xander on his nightly walks, and that was how the argument started.

They were walking down Broadway, past the long stretch of strip joints and peepshows. Spike pointed at one and said, "I should pop in. See if they're hiring."

Xander stopped walking. "You're joking, right?"

Spike shook his head, still completely relaxed. "The places up here pay better, especially if you're on the up-and-up. It's the tourist trade that does it. Better tips, too."

Xander couldn't believe it. "Why would you want to keep working like that? You could do anything, and you choose that?"

Spike just shrugged. "I'm good at the work, and what else am I gonna do, anyway?"

"You could…I don't know…get a job at the library!" Xander's voice was raised now in disbelief and – yes – jealousy.

"Librarians have college degrees, Xander. Your friend willing to dummy up one of those for me, as well?" Spike sounded frustrated and offended.

"Jesus, Spike! Don't you have any self-respect?"

Spike noticed that people on the street were staring, listening to the argument with curious interest. "I'm not having this conversation," he said firmly, and then walked away, heading back toward home.

Xander trotted to catch up with him, then walked beside him in silence the entire way. When they got back to the apartment, Spike went into his room and slammed the door.

Xander didn't see him again for two days. It was easy to dodge each other with their different schedules. But then on Thursday he got home from work and Spike was standing in the kitchen near the microwave. As Xander walked in, it beeped, but Spike didn't open it. He crossed his arms and looked directly at Xander.

"You gonna give me some more career advice?"

Xander was beaten down by the days of missing Spike, feeling guilty. "No," he said softly. "I'm sorry for that whole thing."

Spike looked confused, not exactly accepting Xander's apology yet. "What's it to you, anyway, Xander? What do you care what I do?"

Xander couldn't help it. His guard was down and he blurted out, "I just don't want you doing that, okay?"

But Spike just looked even more confused than before. "Again I ask, 'What's it to you?'"

"It's disgusting, okay? I can't understand why you would do that to yourself."

Spike stiffened. "Disgusting, eh? You have no idea what the work is like, so where do you get off judging me?"

Xander could feel his blood racing. "I know exactly what the work is like, and I don't think you should be doing it!"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "You know exactly what the work is like, do you? Well, now, how did you get that little tidbit of information?"

Xander was blushing now, but not answering.

"Hmm. That night…outside the Boy Toy. You saw more than just the store front, now didn't you? Had a bit of a peek, did you?"

"Shut up," Xander said nonsensically, blushing even more brightly.

"I see. And you said you were following me about, now didn't you? Following me about. Now that raises some interesting questions. Follow me to work, did you?" Spike was grinning evilly now, watching the pink spread from Xander's face down his neck.

"No shame in it," he said smoothly, sounding almost like he had in the peepshow booth, all persuasive and sexy.

He came closer until his body was almost touching Xander's. Xander couldn't move. Spike leaned forward and said into his ear, "Did you like it?" He pulled back slightly so Xander could see his smirking face.

Xander really hoped he was reading Spike right.

Because he leaned in and kissed him.

And Spike kissed back.

Well, that was worth a more enthusiastic response, so Xander grabbed Spike by the hips and backed him into the kitchen counter, sort of surprised when Spike didn't struggle, and pressed their bodies against each other as he dove in for a far deeper kiss. Spike kissed back just as fiercely, and it was just like that night outside of O'Malley's, except without the beer and chicken wings on their breath and without the smell of garbage.

When Spike pulled away, he said wryly, "O'Malley's wasn't a fluke, eh?"

"Not a fluke. So not a fluke. Not even remotely fluke- like."

"Interesting." And then they were kissing again, even harder this time, and Xander was grinding against him, hands still tight on his hips, and he wanted to move to the bedroom but didn't know how to ask or whether Spike would turn him down.

"Bedroom?" Spike suggested, and Xander wondered briefly whether vampires could read minds, and was frightened at the thought. But Spike was looking at him, and the voice had been old-Spike, but there was a bit of new-Spike in his eyes, and that was thrilling in its own way.

They shuffled to the bedroom, groping along the way, and managed to fall on the bed. Spike was on top of him in a second, thighs on either side of his hips as he sat up and looked down at Xander lying flat on his back.

His fingers tweaked Xander's nipples sharply as he asked, "So what did you like the best?"

Xander tried to arch up at the feeling of Spike's hands on his chest, but Spike's weight on top of him anchored him down. His brain wasn't working all that well, so he just said, "Huh?"

Spike leaned down again to whisper in his ear. His breath was hot against Xander's skin, making him shiver. "At the Boy Toy," Spike explained huskily. "What did you like best?" He pulled away – causing Xander to moan his disappointment – and stood by the bed, where he began slowly removing his clothes. As if hypnotized, Xander just lay there, watching, taking in the sight of Spike undressing for him.

Once he was naked, Spike just stood there, giving Xander a good long look. "Was it when you watched me tossing off for you?" He stroked himself – oh, he was so hard! – just a bit, just down and up and down. He licked his lips and walked toward the bed again, where he pulled at Xander' shirt until Xander lifted up to allow him to take it off. Their hands met at the button on his jeans, but Spike pushed Xander's fingers away to do the job himself. As he slid the jeans off, he murmured, "Or was it when I fingered myself?" At the words, Xander closed his eyes tight and clenched his hands into fists, overwhelmed by the memory. But Spike was still working, sliding Xander's briefs and socks off until Xander was completely naked. He straddled Xander's body again, naked flesh making the experience completely different, and leaned over to whisper again. "Or was it when I asked you if you wanted to fuck me?"

In some part of his mind, Xander realized that Spike obviously had a set act he did for everyone at the Boy Toy, but it didn't matter. Because there wasn't a glass window between them now. There was just bare skin and the promise of things Xander had only imagined.

Spike's hands were stroking Xander's chest now, exploring lazily, as he looked down at him. He looked into Xander's eyes and repeated, "Want to fuck me, Xander?"

Xander's hands came up at last and touched Spike's chest hesitantly, afraid to do or say the wrong thing in this game Spike was playing.

Spike slid his hands down, down, down, teasing Xander's lower belly, stopping where he sat, his weight almost painful on Xander's hard cock. "Do you, Xander? Do you want to fuck me? Say yes."

As if on a string, Xander's head bobbed. "Yes," he rasped obediently, wanting Spike to do something, move, touch him. He continued stroking Spike's chest, exploring his shoulders and arms along the way. Muscles.

Spike wiggled slightly and Xander groaned. "You been wanting to fuck me ever since you watched me at the Boy Toy?" His grin was smug. "Tell the truth, Xander."

Xander's head bobbed again. "Yeah," he admitted, able to think about nothing but Spike's weight on him, Spike's hard cock right there, right where he could reach but was afraid to venture.

"'Yeah' what?" Spike asked with a sly smile and wiggled again, making Xander thrust his hips upward in pleasure and impatience. He lifted up off the bed a few inches, but Spike's ass stayed comfortably seated.

Xander hesitated, but he had a sneaking feeling that Spike was going to get up off him and walk away if he didn't play this game just right, so he answered. And, anyway, the answer was true. "Yeah, I've been wanting to fuck you since then."

"Good boy," Spike purred, and he leaned down to kiss Xander hard, tongue ravaging his mouth, his body lying almost flat against Xander's so that their chests slid against each other, their hard cocks rubbing in a way that made Xander almost crazy.

He trailed his hands down and squeezed Spike's hips as he'd done in the kitchen, his hands spanning them easily. They were so narrow. So different from a girl's. He'd never squeezed a man's hips before Spike, and it was dizzying.

"I've never done this before," he said softly. He didn't know what made him say it, except that it was the truth.

Spike replied smoothly, "Neither have I."

Xander was confused. "But you…at the Boy Toy…"

"Just a show. A tease. I'm not a whore, Xander." Spike was looking offended now and his muscles were tensing as if he was going to get up and leave.

"No, I know that," Xander answered quickly. "But I just meant…you just seemed…confident."

Spike grinned. "It's a talent." Then he raised an eyebrow and said, "Let's get a glimpse of your talents now."

Xander gulped. Talents? He knew he was okay in the man-woman department – Anya had told him often enough, and she should know – but his man-man experience was pretty darn limited. A grope in an alley hadn't really prepared him for this.

But Spike was waiting, so Xander rummaged through the bedside table in search of the little bottle of lube he'd bought in a hopeful moment after that night outside O'Malley's. When he found it, he turned to look at Spike, unsure of what to do next.

"Do you want me to…" He knew he looked lost, because that's how he was feeling.

But Spike just got onto his hands and knees and said, "Just take it slow, yeah?"

Xander nodded, nervous, and crawled toward him on the bed. He crouched behind Spike and leaned up to run his hands along the length of Spike's back, feeling the defined muscles, the bumps of his spine, the curves of his buttocks. He reached a hand underneath and squeezed Spike's cock, which was – thank god – hard and hot and waiting for him. He gave Spike's cock a few strokes, making Spike raise his ass a bit, bumping into Xander as if urging him to act.

Xander leaned forward to whisper into Spike's ear, "Are you ready?"

"Bloody hell, Xander," Spike replied, frustrated. "Yes. I'm bloody well ready."

Chastised, Xander withdrew a bit, embarrassed that he hadn't been reading the situation well enough and Spike had gotten annoyed with him. But then Spike was resting his forehead on his arms folded on the bed, raising his ass a bit higher, and saying, "I want you to fuck me, Xander. Fuck me. Now."

And Xander could only gulp and comply, so he applied some lube to his dick and lined himself up at Spike's hole. The first bit slipped in easily, so easily that he was surprised, but then the tightness took over. Spike moaned at the first breach, and Xander froze. "Does it hurt?" he asked nervously.

Spike shook his head. "Keep going. Just take it easy. But keep going."

Xander took hold of Spike's hips again – it was becoming his favorite place to put his hands – and slowly pushed further in. The feeling was incredibly, tighter than anything he'd ever experienced, and hot, hotter than he'd ever felt. Maybe it was just Spike, but the feeling was almost enough to make him come without even pushing all the way inside.

Spike was pushing back at him, which Xander took as encouragement to keep going. He slipped inside a bit more, and Spike moaned softly. Trusting Spike to tell him to stop if things got to be too much, Xander slowly, carefully, slid the rest of the way inside, and then held still, sheathed completely in Spike's body.

Spike's body was tense, so Xander waited, stroking Spike's pale back, feeling the taut muscles beneath the skin, feeling him tremble slightly. He wanted to ask if Spike was okay, but he figured he'd just get another annoyed "Just go slow!" He still trusted Spike to speak up if something was wrong, so he just kept running his hands slowly over Spike's back, lightly tracing the bumps of his spine, sliding up to caress the back of his neck.

When he felt Spike relax, he slowly pulled out and then pushed back in, and Spike didn't tense this time. Relieved, Xander stopped worrying so much and started noticing how good it felt. He pushed in a little harder, and Spike moaned. Xander asked uncertainly, "Was that a good moan?"

Spike chuckled and pushed back onto Xander's dick. Xander gasped and muttered, "I guess so."

He set up a steady rhythm of thrusting, not too hard or too fast, but definitely drawing him toward orgasm. Spike was moving with him, thrusting back in a way that made Xander want to just drive into him until he came so hard he passed out, but Spike had said…

"Remember what I said about taking it easy?" Spike asked, doing that mind-reading thing again. "Forget it." And then Spike pushed backward so hard he almost knocked Xander over. "Just fuck me."

Xander paused a second, making sure he'd understood correctly, and then grabbed Spike's hips tightly and thrust in hard and fast. Spike wiggled slightly and braced himself with his arms on the bed.

Now Xander set up a rhythm that was rough and fast and pushing him quickly toward orgasm. He reached one arm beneath Spike's body to grasp his cock, and it was hard and hot. He began stroking Spike in rhythm with his thrusts, and Spike groaned and began talking.

"Yeah. Like that. Fuck me. Fuck me harder! Oh, oh Jesus yeah. Fuck yeah!" And then his words became unintelligible moans as he thrust back harder and harder, fucking Xander's hand on one side and Xander's cock on the other until suddenly he froze and his muscles tensed again as he came, his cock throbbing in Xander's hand as he cried out.

Xander was close, so he brought his hand back around so that he was holding both sides of Spike's hips, holding them tight, keeping them still for his thrusts, his hard, fast thrusts, driving himself toward an orgasm that ran through him only moments later, taking his breath and his coordination as he thrust one two three last times and held still, feeling his body throb with pleasure and release.

And then he collapsed on top of Spike.

A minute or so later, Spike struggled slightly beneath his weight, and Xander rolled over to lie by his side, a bit embarrassed that he'd been so rude. But he couldn't feel too embarrassed, because he was busy feeling near dead from a post-orgasmic high. He couldn't move, and Spike lay limp on his stomach beside him, probably lying in an impressive wet spot.

Xander was nearly asleep when he said, "You aren't going to work at that peepshow anymore, are you?"

Spike's voice was equally sleepy when he murmured, "You find me another job, and I'll think about it."

It wasn't like they were a couple. They hadn't even had sex more than that once. In the morning, Spike just got out of bed and acted like nothing had happened.

So they didn't hug or hold hands or exchange Eskimo kisses. It just wasn't like that.

But things were still different. They looked at each other a little more often, maybe. Made more eye contact. Smiled a little more, smiled at things other people just didn't get. Maybe didn't lean quite so far away from each other on the couch.

It was like those secret times with Willow in high school, except not.

Still, there was an illicit thrill to having something going on that nobody else knew about.

"So…you and Spike, huh?" Luba grinned at him.

Xander literally jumped. "What? Spike? No! What?"

Luba just rolled her eyes. "Come on, Xander! You thought I wouldn't notice? Like I don't know you by now?"

Xander didn't know what to say. He'd been so sure they were being discreet. And there wasn't anything going on to be discreet about, anyway.

Luba nudged his shoulder and grinned again. "Oh, come on! I'm just glad you found somebody! And I love Spike. It's nice to see you happy."

"I'm not happy," Xander insisted, then backed up. "I mean, not happy like that. Not because of that. Because there is no that. Nothing to be happy about."

Luba heaved a heavy sigh and looked very put-upon.

"Fine," Xander hissed. "But don't say anything, because it's still kind of weird."

Luba nodded understandingly, then offered, "Maybe things will be easier once he's recovered his memory."

Xander wasn't so enthusiastic about the memory idea, especially since Giles had been increasingly encouraging about a magical cure. He took every opportunity to urge Spike against Giles's offer.

On their walks in the city at night: "Believe me – most of your past is really really terrible. You really don't want to even hear about it, let alone remember it."

At the pool table in O'Malley's: "Your life is pretty good now, right? Why would you want to change everything all of a sudden?"

On the couch in front of the TV: "If some powers brought you back to life, then don't you think they knew what they were doing? If they thought you shouldn't have those memories, then they were probably right, right?

At Frank and Luba's on movie marathon night: "Most people wish they could forget the bad stuff in their past. Why would you purposely try to remember it?"

But Luba interrupted, "I think Spike should do whatever makes him comfortable. I imagine it doesn't feel very good to know less about yourself than other people do."

Chastened, Xander sat down on the couch and pouted. Spike sat down beside him but didn't say a word.

Xander got home from work one day to find Spike sitting on the couch with the TV off. Usually not a good sign.

"Hey. What's up?"

Spike looked at him and held up a piece of paper. "Luba found me a job."

Xander ran in and plopped down on the couch, excitedly grabbing for the piece of paper. "What is it?" he asked before he'd had a chance to read anything.

"Translator. Some publishing company downtown."

Xander didn't notice Spike's lack of enthusiasm, because he had enough for both of them. "That's amazing! It's perfect for you! When do you start?"

"I don't," Spike replied simply.

Xander just looked at him in confusion.

"I'm going to London. Your friend Giles is going to try to fix me up."

Xander's hands fell limp into his lap, still holding the now- irrelevant paper, and he stared at Spike in disbelief. "You're going to Giles? In England? You…you want to get your memories back? After everything we talked about?" He was feeling utterly betrayed, even if it didn't make much sense even to him.

Spike explained hesitantly, "Him and his…'coven'…they think they've found a way to make things right…"

"No no no! That's not making things 'right'! Things are 'right' right now! You don't need them to…"

Now there was no hesitation at all. "I'm going, Xander. It's what I want."

Xander slumped at those words. He set the job information paper on the coffee table and let his body sink into the couch. This was what Spike wanted. Not Xander. Not San Francisco. Not this new life he'd been living. He wanted to be the old Spike. He didn't even know who that was, but he would soon enough. Giles wouldn't have told him to come all the way to England if he wasn't sure he knew what he was doing.

He didn't say anything else, and finally Spike got up and left the room.

Xander was the one who told Frank and Luba. Spike wanted to say goodbye himself, of course, but Xander was the one who told them the bare outlines of the news.

"Spike's going away for a while. He decided he wants to try to get his memories back, and I sort of know this guy in England who might be able to help."

"That's wonderful, Xander!"

"Yeah." Xander didn't sound so excited. "The thing is, though, that knowing Spike's past, I think he's gonna have a rough time. Some of the stuff is going to be pretty traumatic."

Frank reached out a hand to grasp Xander's shoulder supportively. "He's our friend, too, Xander. You know we'll do anything we can to help."

"Just knowing you guys are there will probably help a lot. If he comes back."

Luba frowned, obviously worried for him. "Do you have any reason to think he won't?"

"One-way ticket," Xander replied tightly. "He bought a one-way ticket."

The apartment seemed to echo with his absence, and three-person movie nights had never seemed so lonely.

Giles said the process went so smoothly that it seemed almost as if the memories had been only superficially hidden by the original spell, as if they'd actually been intended to be recovered.

Perhaps, he speculated, the shanshu would not have been awarded to a vampire who would choose to shun responsibility for his past sins. Perhaps Spike's decision to recover his own memories – however painful – had been foreseen and rewarded.

And now Spike was ready to come back to San Francisco…and he needed someone to pick him up at the airport.

Just like that.

The tension in the car was excruciating.

"So…it worked?"

"Yeah. I remember everything about Sunnydale now…and the…rest." Spike was so distant.

Xander panicked inside. Spike remembered Sunnydale. His love for Buffy. Xander being a prick to him for years. Spike remembered now.

"So why'd you come back?"

Hurt flashed across Spike's face, but then was quickly hidden behind a cool mask.

"Didn't particularly have anywhere else to go."

"What about Italy?"

Spike looked confused for a moment, then seemed to figure it out. "Buffy's made a new life for herself. Doesn't need me mucking it up."

Xander nodded, not really understanding. Spike had loved her so much…why wouldn't he at least try?

Neither of them said anything for a bit. Then Xander said nervously, "So…no crazy this time?"

Spike ran a hand through his hair. It was still loose and curly, no gel. Just like the new Spike…except he wasn't anymore. He remembered now, knew who he was, knew what he felt about everyone…about Xander.

Spike replied slowly, "Worked through that last time, didn't I." It wasn't a question. "Wasn't off my rocker those last few weeks in Sunnydale, or didn't you notice? I'm not gonna say it's easy, but I can manage. Don't have to worry about me going off and murdering the populace."

"That's not what I meant!"

The silence returned. Then Spike said calmly, "Gonna be looking for my own place now."

Xander nodded, a jerky movement that he hoped didn't communicate the pain he felt inside at those words. Spike was leaving. Of course he was leaving. Of course. Why would he want to stay? "Of course," he choked out. "Right." He tried to get a hold of himself. Tried to remember he was supposed to at least be Spike's friend, even if Spike didn't want anything more now. His voice was husky when he continued, "Luba can probably help. That's pretty much her job."

Spike nodded but didn't say anything.

Sometimes they saw each other at Luba and Frank's apartment, because they'd stayed friends with him. He showed up for movie marathons once in a while. Sometimes for dinner. Frank and Luba always invited Xander, too, but conversation was usually stilted.

Xander didn't know what to say. It made sense, what had happened. Spike didn't know anyone else, and so he'd fallen into a friendship – and into bed – with Xander. It was just because he didn't remember. He'd never do that now. Now that he remembered.

"So…you have a job now?"

"Yeah. That translating gig Luba found for me. Not the same job, but they had another opening."

"Good. That's…that's good." Xander didn't know what else to say. "Do you like it?"

"It's all right." Spike was looking around, looking for Luba or Frank, probably. He didn't even want to talk to Xander, and it was obvious.

Xander didn't say anything else, just let him be.

They all went to O'Malley's one night, and somehow Xander and Spike ended up back at the pool table, playing a game. It was probably Luba's fault. She made sad eyes every time she saw them together.

Somehow, Xander ended up asking, "You dating anyone?" He didn't know what possessed him. Perhaps literally. The words just came out of his mouth without his permission. He'd been wondering for weeks, obviously, but he hadn't planned to ask.

Spike gave him an odd look. "What's it to you, Harris?"

Xander decided to just go for it. Clear the air. Let Spike take a few shots at him and maybe things would be less awkward. Okay, so Xander would be humiliated, but what's new. He'd spent most of high school that way. He could do it again. And then maybe they could at least figure out how to be friends again. This silence was killing him.

"Well, we…you know…we…when you were living with me and that one night…"

Spike shrugged casually. "Look. It was just a bit of fun. You saw me at the Boy Toy, figured I'd be up for it. No harm, no foul."

Xander was shocked. That's what Spike thought? "It wasn't like that!"

"Then how was it, Xander?" Spike's head was cocked to one side, his expression rebellious and angry. It was the most emotion he'd shown toward Xander since he got back.

Xander couldn't let him think that, couldn't let him think Xander had used him like that. No wonder Spike didn't want to have any kind of friendship with him, if that's what he thought. It all made sense now, and it was time for some serious honesty if he was going to clear everything up. He knew it was going to make Spike uncomfortable, but uncomfortable was better than this, right?

So Xander took a deep breath and said, "I was in love with you, okay? I know you didn't…don't feel the same way…that's why I never said anything. I didn't want to fuck everything up. And now everything's fucked up anyway so it doesn't even matter." He turned away, swallowing heavily around the lump in his throat, waiting for the mockery or the gentle apologies. You thought I'd actually care? or I'm flattered, really. Was this going to be old Spike or new Spike? Or did new Spike even exist anymore?

Spike didn't say anything for a long time, and Xander fought the urge to run away as quickly as he knew how, and that was pretty fast. He had a lot of experience with running away.

Finally, Spike said quietly, "Is that true?" Not what Xander had been expecting. He nodded, still facing away. Spike continued, "When?"

Xander looked down. The floor was dirty. Spilled beer and mud from people's shoes. "I don't know. A long time before…that night."

"I didn't know," Spike replied. Xander prepared himself for the gentle let-down, since that's where this seemed to be going. But Spike continued, "I would have done everything different."

Xander frowned and turned to look back at Spike over his shoulder before turning around to face him. "What do you mean?"

But Frank came into the room and said he and Luba wanted to leave. It was getting late. Did Xander and Spike want to come over for some hot chocolate before heading home?

Not sure what to say, Xander looked at Spike. Spike nodded, and they all left the bar together, huddling in their coats against the cold. Luba chattered in her usual way, but Spike and Xander didn't say anything. Luba didn't even notice. It was what they'd been doing for weeks now.

They were back at home and the conversation was awkward again, but not for the same reasons. Xander's mind was racing. What would Spike have done differently? Were they going to finish the conversation, or had Spike nodded because he'd said all he planned to say?

Luba glanced between them as they sipped their hot chocolate. Only minutes after Frank had brought the mugs out, she yawned widely. She covered her mouth and apologized, "I'm so sorry. I'm just really tired." She smiled.

She wasn't usually so rude, but Spike and Xander took the hint and said their goodbyes. They walked down the stairs together.

When they arrived at Xander's door, they looked at each other. Xander was thinking, Is there more to talk about? Do you want to come in? What's going on? But he didn't speak any of it out loud.

Spike frowned slightly, looking at the floor, and then looked up into Xander's eyes. "I thought we could talk…if you aren't too…"

"No," Xander interrupted. "That would be good. I mean, come in. Of course, come in." And he unlocked the door and held it open for Spike.

Spike walked in slowly and looked around. Nothing had changed. The same couch, the same chair, the same TV in the same place. The guest room door was closed, but inside that was the same, too, except there weren't any sheets on the bed, and Spike's stuff wasn't scattered around.

"It looks the same," Spike said.

"Yeah, well…" Xander didn't know what to say to that. It was the same. Why would Spike expect it to be different? It was just his place. It'd been Spike's place for a while, too. But that seemed like a really long time ago. "You can sit down if you want."

Spike sat on the couch, the same spot where he used to sit when they watched TV. Xander sat beside him in his old spot. Not too close together. Just like always.

Spike looked down at his hands. Xander wanted to ask a thousand questions, but somehow it seemed better to wait until Spike talked on his own.

"I didn't know," Spike repeated softly. He looked up at the blank TV screen. He glanced uncertainly at Xander. "Are you sure?"

"Oh yeah," Xander replied ruefully. "I'm sure."

Spike nodded in a stuttering movement. Xander wasn't sure what that meant. "I would have come back sooner," Spike said quietly, "if I'd known."

"You would?"

Spike nodded again. "Yeah."

Xander frowned in confusion. "What does that mean?"

Spike just watched him for a moment, then said quietly, "Me too."

"You too what?"

"I felt that way, too. But I thought…"

"You thought I was just using you? For sex? What, are you an idiot?" Xander was smiling, though, hardly believing what Spike was saying.

Spike shrugged. "It made sense."

Xander grinned at him now and said, "I thought you…just because you didn't know anybody else."

"What, are you an idiot?" Spike repeated, a slight smile beginning to appear on his lips.

Xander didn't know what to do next, just staring at Spike in disbelief. If Spike was a girl, he'd probably pull him into a hug, kiss him, hold his hand and squeeze it happily. But they'd never been like that, and he just looked at him helplessly.

The silence stretched again, so unlike the other silences when they'd watched each other in these past horrible weeks. But, a moment later, when he led Xander into the bedroom, Spike took his hand and squeezed it gently.

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

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