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Carpe Noctem


by
Sorrel



Part Four
Jealousy



Xander leaned against a tree and sighed. This was... not one of his best days, frankly. He’d failed at least one test, gotten in the middle of yet another parental fight, and now he was patrolling through the graveyard, for no other reason than that he was bored and didn’t want to stay in, because staying in meant time to think.

Buffy was still not speaking to him, which, while it didn’t surprise him, also sent a particular pang through his heart. She’d been one of his best friends, and his biggest crush ever, before this whole mess had started.

He sighed again, and straightened back up. Might as well keep going, see if he could meet a fun new demon to test himself against. Giles had been training him during his spare time, and he was pleasantly surprised by his success. He’d quickly reached the limits of Giles’ endurance, and so that was reason number three for patrolling tonight- to find something with more-than-human strength, to see if he could beat it.

His sensitive ears caught the sound of voices before he actually caught sight of the couple, and for that he was grateful. He didn’t particularly want to stumble into the middle of an argument between Angel and Buffy, especially since, from what he could hear, they were arguing about him.

So, in the interests of self-preservation, he hid behind a bush. And eavesdropped.

“What would you have had me do, Buffy? Let him die?”

“Yes- No, of course not. But you had sex with him, Angel. That’s not exactly good boyfriend behavior.”

“Yeah, and I’m sorry about that, and I’ve said I’m sorry about that. But I’m surprised you even care- the way you were acting when you showed up at the Bronze that night, you weren’t exactly wanting to start up where we’d left off.”

“I was just doing that to make you crazy!”

“Well, congratulations. You were practically fucking Xander yourself out there on the dance floor for no better reason that to ‘make me crazy’, and you’re pissed at me for fucking him to save his life?”

“That was different!”

“Yeah? And how, exactly, was it different?”

“It was-“ She was interrupted by a snarl from the vampire that had just risen behind her. “We’re not done yet,” she promised him, and then turned to swiftly fight and then dust the vampire. “It was different!” she exclaimed as she tucked the stake back into her waistband. “That was just one little dance, and we had all our clothes on. It wasn’t like-“ She stopped suddenly, and sighed. “Okay, so you’re right. I wouldn’t want you to have let Xander die. Just... there wasn’t any other way?”

“There really wasn’t,” Angel said. “Believe me, I would have found one.” He paused, then seemed to just go ahead and say it. “Buffy, neither of us exactly wanted to. I only want you. You should know that. And Xander... well, Xander pretty much only wants you too.”

“I know,” she said, and drooped. “I just... I can’t get my mind around it, you know? I look at him, and all I can see is the guy who had sex with the guy that I consider ‘mine,’ you know? And it doesn’t help that he feels more like a demon than a human to my Slayer sense. It’s like... not only is it my dear friend Xander who had sex with you, it’s not even Xander in there anymore. Does that make any sense at all?”

“It makes plenty of sense,” Angel assured her. “But this is really something you should be telling him, not me. You two need to talk, you know.”

“I know.” She sighed. “Well, it looks like I’m going home now. I’ll... see you later, I guess.”

“Yeah, later,” he said, and watched her as she walked away. “I know you’re there,” he said as soon as she was out of earshot. “I can smell you.”

Xander shrugged as he emerged from his hiding place. “I figured,” he said. “That was... illuminating. I’m glad you two are getting along now, at least.”

Angel snorted. “Were you listening to the same conversation that I was? If that’s your definition of getting along, well, I’d like to see what you consider an argument.”

“Well, it did sound a little... bitter,” Xander said delicately. He sighed and leaned back against a nearby tree, then slid down to sit at the base. “Hell. What are we going to do?”

“What, about Buffy?”

“No, about us,” Xander said. Angel remained silent, and Xander smiled mirthlessly. “What, cat got your tongue?”

“There is no us, Xander. We both know that.”

“Oh, I know it,” Xander said. “That doesn’t prevent this... thing between us to make us incredibly uncomfortable in each other’s presence.”

Angel sighed, then came over and sat next to Xander. “You’re right. But I haven’t turned anyone- so to speak- since before I got my soul back, and sex is slightly less awkward when you’re evil.”

“You mean there’s no ugly morning-after’s?” Xander said. “Damn, sign me up.”

Angel half-smiled. “Yeah. It’s just... This is always going to be between us. It’s partly a Sire-Childe thing, and partly...”

“Partly the fact that I remember what it’s like to have you inside me? Yeah, I know.”

Angel closed his eyes. “Yeah. That. It’s not exactly comfortable for me. When Buffy was dancing with you, all I wanted to do was tear you two away from each other, and I was having trouble deciding whether I was trying to get you away from her... or to get her away from you.”

“Christ, tell me about it,” Xander sighed. “When you two were doing the comforting embrace thing after her smashing up the Master, well, let’s just say I had the same reaction. Still attracted to Buffy- nothing wrong with my eyesight, that’s for sure- but it seems like I’m attracted to you too.” Xander shrugged and eyed Angel’s faintly panicked expression with tired amusement. “Don’t get all wiggy. I’m not gonna go panting after you. I’m just saying it, because it seems like it’s better to just get it out there rather than dance around it.”

“So, it’s said,” Angel said. “Now what?”

“Now we both go home, and pretend we didn’t say it,” Xander said, and gave him a lopsided smile. “Relax. This doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. We’ll deal, and you’ll get the girl, and I’ll hang back and be Funny Xander. It’s how it works.”

“What about you?” Angel wanted to know.

“Me? Well, maybe Buffy and I’ll patch things up, and maybe we won’t. Either way, the world will go on.”

“No, I mean... will you find someone?”

“Maybe.” Xander shrugged. “I’m not thinking about it right now, you know. I’m just trying to get through one day and night at a time. It’s a simple way to live.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Angel said, and stood up, brushing off the seat of his pants before offering a hand to Xander. “You going home?”

“Yeah,” Xander said, and let Angel pull him up. “Was looking for a fight tonight, but I think I’ve tapped all my energy with this lovely little heart-to-heart. You?”
“I think I’m going to look for the fight you’re giving up,” Angel admitted. “Kinda in the mood, you know?”

“Oh, I know,” Xander said. “Guess I’ll be seeing you aro-“

The rest of the word was cut off when he fell into the open grave in front of him. Angel’s head was immediately visible over the lip of the hole. “Are you hurt?”

“Only my pride,” Xander said wryly, and pulled himself neatly out. “Another vampire?”

“Not vampire,” Angel said distractedly. “Look at that. The body was dragged out of here.”

Xander stared at the tracks. “Well, that’s new and different.”

“That’s one word for it.”

“Two words, actually.”

“Whatever.”






Xander finished telling Giles what he’d found the night before with a sighed, “Can you tell Buffy for me? I somehow doubt she wants to hear it from me.”

“Hear what?” Buffy said from the doorway. Xander looked up sharply, then took a deep breath and decided to just keep it professional instead of dancing around with joy over her speaking to him at all.

“I was in the cemetery last night, and I found an open grave. Tracks indicate that the body was dragged from it, rather than walking away on its own power.”

“Ew,” she said succinctly. “Even by Hellmouth standards, that’s creepy. Any lead on who did it?”

He shrugged. “You and Angel pretty much trampled all over the scent tracks. I doubt I’d even recognize the guys if I got near them.”

She blinked. “Scent tracks... right, vampire sense. I forgot.” Her expression said that she’d have been happier without the reminder.

He shrugged again. “I just got done telling Giles. Hadn’t gotten to the theories part yet. Giles, contributions?”

“Well, it could the work of a demon that eats only the flesh of the dead. It could also be the work of a voodoo practitioner.”

“Zombies?” This came from Willow.

“Yes, exactly.”

“It could be a garden-variety human psychopath,” Xander pointed out. “I’m sure that we could manage to get those, even on the Hellmouth.”

“Yes, that was absolutely the most encouraging thing you could have said,” Buffy pointed out snidely.

Xander held up his hands, palms out, in a defensive gesture. “Just a suggestion.” He glanced over at Willow and Giles, then said, “Well, I’m done. I’ll just head off to class. You lot can do the Slayer thing.”

He was almost out of the library when Buffy caught up to him and grabbed his elbow. “Xander, I... I need to talk to you.”

He took a deep breath, prayed to whatever deity would listen, and turned to face her. “Of course. Now, or do you want to wait?”

“I think putting it off would be of the bad,” she said tightly. “Can we just...” She gestured toward the door.

“Sure.” He left the library and headed for a classroom he knew was empty this block, knowing by the near-silent footsteps behind him that she was following.

He shut the door behind her, then leaned against it. “Shoot.”

“I just wanted to say... Well, I... I’m glad that you’re not dead.”

He was silent for a moment. “So am I?” he offered. “Buffy, what do you want from me here?”

She sighed and sat on top of the nearest desk. “I don’t know. It drives me crazy to think that you’ve had sex with Angel when I’ve never done anything more than kiss him and I’m pretty sure I’m in love with him, but I also wouldn’t want you to be dead.”

“It can’t help that I’m not entirely human anymore,” Xander added, drawing on what he’d learned from eavesdropping the night before to help him now.

“No, it really doesn’t,” she agreed, then shook her head. “What am I saying? It’s awesome that you’re more than human. It keeps you safer, and could even make things easier for me. I should be overjoyed.”

“But you can’t convince your instincts that I’m totally Xander anymore, and my non-human-ness is what led to the whole mess with Angel.”

She flinched, and he sighed. “Am I not supposed to say his name? Are we dancing around the subject again?”

“No, we’re not, it’s just... it hurts, you know?”

He smiled lopsidedly. “I know. But if it helps any to hear it, it didn’t mean anything. There’s something between us, yeah, but it’s not... it’s not like I think you’re worried it is. Angel loves you. Actually, Angel loves you more than he loves anything on this Earth or beyond it. And if you don’t know that, then you’re a fool.” He finished his little monologue with a much harsher tone than he had meant to, but decided not to apologize for it.

Silence reigned for a moment. “I know. I don’t always think about it, and definitely don’t talk about it, but I do know that he loves me. It’s just... you said you had a thing between you. What sort of thing?”

“Not sex,” he reassured her. “I am possibly starting to think about guys in a way I hadn’t previously, but not about Angel. We’re just... friends, sort of. It’s complicated. I never liked him that much-“ He stopped and smiled when she gave a snort of laughter. “Yeah, I wasn’t exactly subtle about it, was I? Anyway, I never liked him that much, but now he’s my Sire, as far as that goes, and so there’s a bond there. A very reluctant bond,” he added, “but a bond nevertheless. And even that bond of blood is nothing compared to the bonds that tie you to him.”

She stared at him in silence for a minute, then abruptly closed the distance between them in a few strides and wrapped her arms around him. He hugged her back and rested his chin on the top of her head, smiling a little mistily.

“I missed you,” she said into his chest. “It’s not the same without you there, making witty comments about everything.”

“That’s me, Funny Xander,” he said, and felt a little pang at the unconscious echo of his conversation with Angel. “I missed you, too.”

They stood there for a minute before she finally pulled away to kiss him on the cheek. He smiled down at her, and returned the kiss, on her forehead.

“Are we okay now?”

“We’re okay,” she said.

“Good. Wanna go deal with grave robbers?”

“Yeah, I think I do.”

“Cool,” he grinned, and with one arm around her shoulders, he opened the door and guided her back towards the library.






Another night in the cemetery, another conversation that Xander was just as glad to have been able to avoid stumbling into. Was this déjà vu, or what?

“Sounds like he took it too far to me,” Angel was saying, as he and Buffy strolled through the graveyard.

“Love makes you do the whacky.”

“What?”

“Er, crazy stuff.”

“What, like a vampire with more than two centuries under his belt getting tied into knots over a single dance?”

“Yeah, and a girl who should know better getting wiggy over her boyfriend saving her friend’s life?” Buffy smiled and sighed. “We’ve both had our share of bad moments the last few days. Me more than you, I think.”

“I don’t know. I think we’re pretty evenly tied, as these things go.”

Buffy shook her head. “I went crazy. I can see that now. Xander told me about you two, and I just... flipped. Didn’t get over it, not really, until I talked to him yesterday. He made me see that there’s nothing to be jealous of. That you two belong to each other in some weird way, but that it doesn’t necessarily have to get between the two of us.”

Angel made some sort of affirmative noise, and Buffy glanced sideways at him. “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. He’s been more mature about this than either of us, hasn’t he? The boy who couldn’t even stand to hear me say your name just did his best to make sure that things between you and me were as smooth as possible. Makes me feel a little stupid, truth be told.”

Angel smiled and her and hitched one shoulder in a half-shrug. “He’s growing up. Doesn’t mean that you’re not. You listened to him, didn’t you? That means that you’ve got a fair share of maturity under your belt.”

Buffy gifted him with a brilliant smile. “I did, didn’t I? Good for me.” She stopped, and looked around the cemetery. “Okay, this place is dead, no pun intended. I think I’m going to go home and get caught up on my beauty sleep.”
“I could... walk you home?” Angel offered. She smiled at him again, this one shy.

“Okay,” she said, and clasped her hand in his when he held it out. They started to walk together, but Angel paused and stared hard at the spot in the bushes where Xander was hiding.

Xander gave him a thumbs-up, and Angel smiled back at him. “What is it?” Buffy asked. “Did you hear something?”

“It’s nothing,” he said, and smiled down at her. “Just saw a shadow or something.”

Xander watched the two of them walk off together, and ignored the pain he felt in his heart. It didn’t matter than he loved them both, albeit in different ways. They were meant to be together, and nothing could change that, not even him.

No matter how much he might wish otherwise.





Part Five
Spike



Xander sighed and tilted his chair back till his head rested against the wall. “Remind me why I’m here again?”
“Because Giles is in full-on research mode, and you told me just this morning that you were bored out of your mind?” Buffy suggested.

He glared at her. “Research not exactly helping the boredom factor, Buff. In fact, I think I can feel it getting worse as we speak. What I meant when I said I was bored and wanted something to do was more along the lines of a good fight, or something interesting for a change. You have to admit, things have been pretty dead for the past week or two.”

She glared at him. “You had to say that. You had to wish for trouble, just when I need Sunnydale to be trouble-free. Parent-teacher night, remember? Pending expulsion? Snyder’s got a bug up his butt about me again, and this is his newest hoop for me to jump through.”

Xander winced. “Er, sorry. Though if something does happen, I’ll kill, and you’ll make punch.”

Buffy sighed. “Xander, I know you’re stronger now and everything, but you’re still human.”

“Not really,” he said. “Buffy, I broke the chain on the punching bag last week. And that was when I wasn’t trying very hard. I can handle myself pretty well.”

“Can you really? You haven’t exactly been in any major battles yet. You haven’t even fought a single demon.”

He arched an eyebrow. “What, you and Angel don’t count?”

She sneered. “No, we don’t count, because we’re not really trying to kill you. A fight is entirely different when it’s in an actual life-or-death situation, rather than just training.”

“Hey Giles!” Xander called. “Did you catch that? I think Buffy had actually been listening to you. Some of those words sounded suspiciously like yours, only minus the stuffy accent.”

“Yes, thank you, Xander,” Giles said, emerging from the stacks. “While it’s always reassuring to know that Buffy is listening to me, could you have possibly phrased that in a slightly less insulting manner?”

“No, he couldn’t,” Buffy said with a little glare for Xander. “He’s witty if it kills him.”

“Which is hasn’t, yet,” Xander said, and neatly brought the conversation back to its original point. “And isn’t likely to any time soon, since I can hold my own pretty well. Or are you going to tell me that you were pulling your punches?”

“No, I wasn’t,” she said with asperity, then sighed. “Okay, fine. You can hold your own. Can you not go rushing off into major battle any time soon, though? I like you Xander-shaped, instead of in little itty bitty pieces.”

Xander shrugged easily, and ignored the irritation that came from her continued protectiveness of him since she really was just worried about him, and anyway he’d gotten the concession he wanted from her. “Sure, Buffy. When have you ever known me to be rash and impulsive?”

He favored her with a charming don’t-you-trust-me smile, and Buffy groaned and buried her face in her arms.






The Bronze was jumping, in the very best way. Xander had discovered, to his delight, that dancing came easier to him now. Willow also claimed that his dress sense was improving, but he took that with a grain of salt, since she could just be trying to make him feel better about his new wardrobe. He’d started buying darker and better-fitting clothes, which were more suitable for the time he was spending out and about after dark, and Willow had been known to lie through her teeth about how good or not his clothes looked.
He liked the band, and when a new song started he decided that it was time to round up the girls for a little group dancing. Buffy objected for all of... three seconds, and between the two of them they managed to drag Willow out to the dance floor.

They were soon interrupted by necessary slayage, though, and so all three of them went rushing out back to save the day. Buffy started pummeling tall, dark, and ugly, and when she called out for a stake Xander immediately started scanning the area for something suitable.

“Spike, help!” the guy demanded, but Xander didn’t have time to look around for “Spike,” because he was busy breaking off a slat from an already shattered wooden crate and tossing it to Buffy. She quickly dusted the vamp, and then all three of them were startled by the sudden clapping from the shadows.

A man emerged, still clapping slowly, and Xander stared at him for a moment. Lean body, lots of muscle, and... vamp face, right. Xander immediately stopped checking him out, and took to examining more towards “bad guy” criteria rather than “hottie” criteria. His nostrils flared as he caught the scent. This Spike smelled like... Angel, somehow. Not much, but enough that Xander wanted to know what the hell was going on.

He was so caught up in wondering what this vamp’s connection to Angel was that he missed the little menacing byplay between the vamp and Buffy. Spike vanished off somewhere, and Buffy was staring, caught up, at the spot where he’d been standing seconds before.

“Go talk to Giles?” Willow suggested, and Buffy nodded her wordless agreement. Xander said casually, “I think I’m going to go home. I’ll catch up on everything tomorrow, okay?”

“You need a walk home?” Buffy asked absently, then flushed when he gave her an unamused look. “Okay, sorry, you can take care of yourself, blah blah blibbity blah. Go home, catch up on beauty sleep. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ll have you know that I’m plenty beautiful as it is,” Xander said grandly, then ducked as she threw something at him. “I’m going, I’m going. See you tomorrow.”

He waited till he was around the corner, and out of their eyesight, before changing direction to head for Angel’s place.






“It’s the funniest thing,” Xander said the moment Angel opened his door. “There’s this vampire that threatened to kill Buffy tonight. He calls himself Spike, and he smells like you. Care to explain?”
“Yes, Xander, come in,” Angel said dryly, and shut the door behind him with a sigh as soon as he entered. “He’s... not my Childe, but he was turned by one of my Childer.”

“Well, that explains that, at least. Did you know he was in town?”

“Not until now,” Angel said with a shrug. “I’m not exactly tied in very well to the demon world’s gossip hotline.”

“Yeah, I get that. What’s he like?”

“Persistent to the point of terror,” Angel said bluntly. “Once he decides that he wants something, he’ll go after it until he’s either dust or has eliminated everything in his path.”

“That’s... somehow less than encouraging. Anything else you want to share?”

“He’s gone up against two Slayers in his time. He’s killed both of them. Don’t underestimate him. Other than that, Giles probably has more information that I do. We haven’t exactly been in touch over the last... century or so. Tell him to look up William the Bloody- that’s what he went by before he decided to change his name, for reasons I still don’t understand.”

“Right. William the Bloody, one dangerous bastard. And he’s after Buffy? Not good.”

“Not good at all,” Angel agreed soberly.






“Buffy, relax,” Xander said, then wondered why he was bothering to say it at all. There was no way she was going to relax. There was too much at stake, on this night of all nights.
“I can’t relax!” she wailed. “The parents are going to get here any minute, and I can’t get rid of the feeling that says that I’ve forgotten something.”

“Um, banner, lounge, snacks, punch...”

“Punch!” she exclaimed. “I’ve forgotten punch!”

“Relax. You get the punch, and I’ll finish the veggies.”

She gave him a dubious look. “You, cook?”

He sighed. “It’s not cooking,” he explained patiently. “I’m just chopping and arranging. I think I can handle it. Would you rather me try to make punch?”

“Right, you’re on veggie duty.” She glanced around the rest of the library, where Giles and Willow were buried in books and Cordelia was unenthusiastically sharpening a stake.

“We’ll be fine, Buffy,” Willow said absently. “Go do the punch thing.”

“Right, I’m punchbound,” she said, and made her way out of the library. Xander waited till he heard her steps retreating out of earshot before he turned to Giles.

“So? Spill.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, tell me everything you’ve learned about William the Bloody. Angel was, shall we say, less than forthcoming.”

“Oh, right. Well, this particular vampire seems to be known as a cut above the rest. More vicious than most, and he seems to be the type to actively seek out trouble.”

“Such as Slayers,” Xander said. “Yeah, that fits. And the feast of St. Vigeous is his night to strike?”

“It seems so, yes,” Giles said. “Why are you so curious?”

Xander hunched one shoulder in a shrug as he went back to chopping vegetables. “No reason.”






Xander was in less than a good mood. The evening had been going fairly well, by all accounts. Willow had stalled Mrs. Summers rather brilliantly for most of the night, but things had started going downhill when Snyder had finally managed to get ahold of her. And then...
And then there was Spike.

So here was Xander, knocking on Angel’s door for the second time in as many days, and praying as hard as he could that no one that he cared about would be killed in his absence. He would have prayed for no deaths at all, but after hearing what he had about Spike and seeing the size of the group of minions he’d brought with him, well, he figured that no deaths was a bit too much to hope for.

Angel opened the door, wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants and gleaming with sweat. “Xander, what’s wrong?”

“Spike, minions, school. They’ve got everyone pinned down in a couple of rooms. I got out through the stacks to get you. I don’t know what the death toll is, but Buffy looked like she got most everyone in one of the classrooms with her. What were you doing?”

“Huh?”

“Half-dressed, covered in sweat. What were you doing?”

“Oh, that,” Angel said, looking like he was having trouble switching his train of thought. “Tai Chi.”

“You do Tai Chi? Cool. Get dressed, will you? It’s a bit of a life-or-death thing at the moment.”

“Yeah, hold on a minute,” Angel said, and vanished in his room to find a shirt and shoes.

Less than a minute later, they were on their way to the school, as fast as they could run. Xander was pleased to see that it was pretty damn fast, and that he was keeping up with Angel without any apparent trouble.

Trouble showed itself when they hit school grounds, and saw the group of vampires that was guarding the way in and out. Xander let out a yip of joy and dove into the fray, distantly aware that Angel was right on his heels.

Oh god, this was what he’d been looking for. This was what his body was meant to do. This was heat, and speed, and the smell of blood and dust on the air as he and his Sire worked their way quickly through the too-few number of guards Spike had set.

Xander grinned at Angel, unaware that the look in his eyes was wild and feral and less than sane at the moment. “Oh god, that’s incredible,” he said. “What a rush.”

“Xander, focus, will you? We’ve got more problems.”

Xander shook his head when Angel’s words sunk in. “Sorry. Sorry. Okay. We still have to deal with Spike, right? Do you have a plan?”

“I do.”

“Mind filling me in?”

“I’m evil. You’re my Consort. I’m handing you over to Spike as a goodwill gift. Hit him very hard, preferably in the face. Then we fight. Any questions?”

“Yeah. What’s a Consort?”

“It’s complicated, and I’ll explain the whole thing to you later, but for right now- it’s a human who’s had vampire blood, which you have. You’re going to smell like my Consort to him anyway, so we might as well go with that rather than trying to pretend you’re a meal, which he’d never believe in a million years. So can we go?”

“Sure,” Xander said, and they grinned at each other as they sauntered through the open doorway.






Spike was in the hallway with one of his minions, poking at the ceiling tiles with a long metal pole. He turned when he saw Angel, and a grin spread over his face, displaying his fangs even more prominently.
“Angelus! I’ll be damned.” He dropped the pole and strode over, wrapping Angel in a hug. “Haven’t seen you for decades, mate.”

Angel, also in game face, hugged him back and then stepped back, putting a proprietary arm around Xander’s shoulders. “Feels like longer.”

Spike gave Xander a measuring look. “Seems like some things have changed. It’s not like you to keep a Consort, Angelus. Usually you just kill them, or turn them if you like them enough.”

Angel smirked and pulled Xander closer to his body. “Have you ever had a Consort’s blood, Spike? It’s a rush. Besides, there’s all sorts of things he can do for me in the daylight, where I can’t go.”

Spike clucked his tongue. “Gotta admit, that’s useful. Just... the Slayer’s boy? You used to have better taste.”

“What can I say? Keeps her off my back. She thinks I’m sweet on her boy here, and so she’s never coming after me when I feed.”

Spike shook his head admiringly. “That’s you, always thinking ahead. But I have to ask- why are you here, anyway?”

“Well, much as I like my boy, I’ve got bigger plans. Say, the Slayer?”

“You’ve got stones, mate. I’ll grant you that. Bit of a problem with that, though. I’m killing her, tonight. Don’t plan on leaving much for you to play with.”

“Spike, Spike, always stuck in the here-and-now. Why not just catch her and... keep her, for a while? No reason we couldn’t share.”

“What do I get out of this deal?” Spike asked warily.

“Besides the pleasure of the Slayer’s sweet body?”

“Besides that, yeah.”

“Him.” Angel nodded down at Xander.

Spike arched an eyebrow, and this time his slow up-and-down perusal of Xander was a lot more thorough. Somehow Xander managed to keep from blushing, though it took a bit of effort.

“Well, can’t say as I object to the thought of the tender mouthful here, but why?”

“Do I need any more reason than getting my hands on the Slayer?”

“No, not really,” Spike said, looking thoughtful. “Alright, then. We take the Slayer together, and you hand the boy over.”

“Of course,” Angel said, and gave Xander a tiny nudge.

Xander took a step forward, already curling his hand into a fist to clock Spike with, but Spike beat him to it and landed a truly sweet one, right between Angel’s yellow eyes. “Did you think you could fool me?” Spike raged, and whirled away to pace back and forth across the room, waving his arms. “You were my Sire, man, my friggin’ Yoda!”

“Can I still hit him?” Xander muttered to Angel.

“Be my guest.”

Xander strode forward, grabbed Spike’s shoulder, and punched him in the face.

Of course, Spike punched right back, and his minions charged forward, intent on slaughtering them both. Xander glanced at them, glanced at Angel, and then bolted out the door, Angel hot on his heels.

The minions charged after them, and were dusted in short order. Spike, however, was still back in the school. As soon as the dust settled, so to speak, they could hear voices, and then the sound of fighting.

They glanced at each other, and then both ran back for the doors.






Buffy didn’t seem to be having too much trouble. She was more than a match for Spike, to all appearances, anyway. And then Spike pulled out the board, and clocked her with it.
“But not as much as this will,” he grinned, lifting the board over his head, and they both leaped forward, ready to stop him, if only they could get there in time...

And then Spike went flying, knocked sideways from the blow that Joyce Summers had dealt him with an axe to the back of the head. “You get the hell away from my daughter,” she said, and Xander took the chance to grab Angel’s shoulder and pull him outside, out of sight, before Joyce could spot him and wonder what the hell he was doing at the school.

Buffy jumped to her feet and stood next to her mother, glaring at him. “Women,” Spike snarled, and threw the board aside, diving through the window.

He paused to glare at Angel and Xander. “I’ll be seeing you,” he said, threat clear in his voice, and it wasn’t clear whether he was talking to Angel, or to Xander.






“Well, that was exciting,” Xander said. He was walking home with Angel at his side, since his place was more or less on the way and Angel couldn’t exactly go check on Buffy since Joyce was with her. “Sunnydale does Parent-Teacher Night: the Hellmouth strikes again.”
“I think I want to feel surprised that Spike wasted the night of St. Vigeous by attacking tonight instead, but I really can’t,” Angel said thoughtfully. “Spike’s always been... rash.”

Xander snorted. “Understatement, thy name is Angel.”

Angel sort of smiled, and they walked a while more in silence. “Okay, I have to ask. You said that Spike wasn’t your Childe, but had been turned by one of your Childer. So what was up with the ‘you were my Sire, you were my Yoda’ crap?”

Angel sighed heavily. “Drusilla- his Sire- was, well, one of the worst things I’ve ever done. I killed everyone she ever loved, drove her insane, and then turned her. Her insanity carried over into her unlife, and she was... not fit to train a new fledge, especially not one as headstrong as Spike turned out to be. It fell to me to watch over him, and make sure that he didn’t get himself and the rest of us killed. It could be said that I was his Sire in most ways that count.”

Xander shrugged. “Makes sense to me.” He paused, and looked up at his door. “This is my stop. I’ll see you around?”

“Yeah, sure,” Angel said, and to Xander’s surprise clasped him in a quick hug. Xander hugged him back, then stepped away with a grin on his face.

“Sweet dreams,” he said, and went into the house, locking the door behind him.

Angel stared at the door for a moment, then shook his head and continued on down the sidewalk, not glancing over to the other side of the road. If he had, he would have seen a shadowy figure, leaning against a tree and smoking.

Spike watched the light in Xander’s bedroom go on, and smirked when he saw Xander in front of the window, undressing. “Yeah, pet,” he said around a mouthful of smoke. “I’ll be seeing you.”





Part Six
Kissing Cousins



“I want to go,” Buffy pouted. “Dance. Music. Fun. Giles, do you remember fun?”

Giles rolled his eyes. “Buffy, that’s not the point.”

“Then what is the point?” She took her anger with Giles out on Xander, landing several punishing punches on the bag he was holding. He winced reflexively, though with the heavy padding he was holding, it didn’t really hurt.

“The point is that you have a secret that you have to keep. A very important secret.”

“Yeah, yeah, saving the world from the forces of evil, blah blah blah. Anything new, Giles, or are you going to repeat yourself at me all day?”

“Buffy, it’s going to be hard enough hiding your secret identity as it is, with someone living with you.”

“Then I should be going to the dance like a normal girl, so no one can suspect.”

“Buffy, you need to be alert. You need to stay sharp. You need to-“

“Be as stuffy as my Watcher?”

Xander, tired of being pounded, abruptly took a step back and tossed the padding to Giles. “I’m taking a break. Giles, your turn to get beaten on.”

Xander crossed the room to sit on the counter. He watched, kicking his feet idly as Buffy pounded on Giles for a change. “I. Want. To. Go. To. The. Dance.”

He winced as each punch or kick drove Giles a step further back. Giles didn’t look happy with it, either. Buffy stopped to correct her stance, and wheedled, “Come on, Giles, budge. No one likes a non-budger.”

He frowned at her, and she shifted to kick again, which prompted him to drop the bag and hold up his hands in surrender. “Alright, you may go to this dance. Just... be careful.”

He winced his way back into his office, and Buffy bounced over to Xander. “So. Dance. What are your plans for the night?”

“Taking my mom’s car, so I’ve got wheels for the night. Picking up Willow- can I give you a ride, too?”

“Well, you said you’re taking Willow-“

“Not taking. Just, you know, in the sense of taking her there. Not taking her there with me. Three is safe. I don’t want her to-“

“Get the wrong idea. Yeah, I know.” Buffy said cross-legged on the table and sighed. “Oh come on, Xander, don’t you ever think about her that way?”

“Not really,” he said. “She’s my best friend. And also? Recently I’ve been more for thinking about guys that way, Buff. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know that. Still, you also told me that you weren’t sure. I mean, you did say that you were attracted to girls, too, right?”

“Right,” he said, but he felt far from sure. “I’m still the girl-loving Xan-man.” He heard the little voice at the back of his head that told him that he was fooling himself, but he told it firmly to just shut the hell up and let him live in denial if he wanted to.

“Hey guys,” Willow said. Xander turned around and smiled at her.

“Hey Wills. We were just discussing my pathetic love life. Want to take a stab or two?”

“Um, no thanks.” She looked upset about something, and Xander frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, it’s Rodney. He’s missing.”

“Missing? As in, not in school? Color me shocked.”

“Xander, I think it’s more than that,” Buffy said. “I didn’t see him on the bus yesterday, coming home from the museum.”

“Huh, me either,” Willow said. “I hope he didn’t get in trouble at the museum.”

“What, like waking the mummy or something? Never happen.”

They all stopped, and looked at each other, then at Giles.

“Er,” the Watcher said. “Perhaps we should check?”

~*~

“I don’t think I liked that guy,” Xander said thoughtfully as they made their way back into the library. “He seemed just a tad bit unfriendly.”

“Knife-happy is perhaps a better description for it,” Buffy corrected. “I wonder who he is.”

“More importantly,” Willow pointed out, “what does he have to do with the mummy? And how did Rodney get all mummified, anyway?”

“Valid questions, all,” Xander said. “But the most important one is this: Where on earth did he get his clothes?”

The other three glared at him, and he held up his hands defensively. “Joke, but it’s still a valid point. Not exactly high fashion in this era, you know?”

Giles sighed. “Yes, Xander, it is indeed a valid point. However, we don’t know the answer to any of those questions, and I’m not sure where to start looking. It’s not exactly my area of expertise.”

“Well, whatever the answer is, I think we can be sure that it’s locked in that,” Buffy said, and nodded at the seal.

“Again, not my area of expertise,” Giles said ruefully. “It could take me weeks to get an accurate translation of these pictograms.”

“Yeah, you should probably get right on- Impata!”

Xander blinked. “Was I the only one who just got an unhappy image there?”

“Pervert,” Buffy said. “And also? Ew. But that’s not what I meant. I meant, I was supposed to pick him up there twenty minutes ago. I’m seriously late.”

Willow smiled at her. “I’ll tag along, if you don’t mind? I’m kinda curious to meet this Impata.”

Buffy shrugged. “Sure, no problem.” She glanced over at Xander. “Xan? Coming along?”

He shook his head. “Heading home, if you two lovely ladies don’t mind. Feel kinda tired.”

“Okay then. Will? You ready?”

“Yep,” Willow said. She looked over at Giles. “You’re research guy tonight?”

“As always,” Giles said wryly. “You two go ahead. It wouldn’t do for you to be too much later at picking up your guest.”






“So,” Buffy asked, as they make their way down the darkened street toward the bus depot. “How much of my conversation with Xander did you actually catch?”

“Pretty much all of it,” Willow admitted.

“And are you upset?”

“About Xander not feeling that way about me? No, not really. Well, maybe a little. But I already knew that he didn’t want me- not like that, anyway- and he did tell me a while ago about the liking guys things, so it wasn’t like there were any great surprises. I just... wish that things were different, sometimes, you know? But they aren’t, so there’s no point moping about it.”

“That’s the spirit,” Buffy said. “Take it from the lips of experience: moping only leads to bad things, like abandoning your friends and violently crushing bones with a sledgehammer.”

“I don’t think I’m in much danger of the sledgehammer thing,” Willow pointed out. “But Buffy, you know that none of us are upset about that. You’d had a hard summer, with the nightmares of the Master and everything, and then the whole thing with Angel and Xander... well, no one’s exactly blaming you for not taking it that well.”

“I blame me,” Buffy said, then sighed. “Okay, this is share time. Don’t tell Xander this, okay?”

“My lips are sealed,” Willow said.

“Well, when Xander first told me what had happened, I didn’t believe him. I mean... this had to be a joke, right? Even my life couldn’t get that screwed up. And then I saw the look on his face, and I believed it. It happened. And then... it was like I couldn’t think. Total mental meltdown. All I wanted to do was tear him into little bitty pieces, and Angel too, and then curl up in a corner and cry.”

She sort-of smiled when Willow made sympathetic noises. “And then I started to get over it. It wasn’t like Xander was trying to cut in on my turf, or anything- Angel was saving his life, after all. Then I talked with Angel- argued is possibly more accurate- and then I talked with Xander, and then I talked with Angel again, and it was okay. But- and here’s the part that we’re not sharing with the class, okay?”

“Okay,” Willow said, looking encouraging.

“After I calmed down about the whole thing, I started to think about it. You know, with rational thought processes rather than homicidal rage. And then I had this dream.”

“A Slayer dream?”

“No, just your average hormonal teenager dream.”

Willow was silent for a minute, then said a very quiet, “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.” Buffy was blushing. “I can kinda picture the two of them... you know... and it’s... not that bad of a picture, if you know what I mean. There’s hotness potential there. Definite wig potential, but when I suppress the thought of it being my boyfriend and my best friend, there’s the hotness.”

Willow smiled, though she, too, was blushing. “I can kinda see what you mean. Especially since Xander’s all different now.”

“Yeah, he dresses way better, and did you see him dance?”

“And that one time I was watching you two sparring...”

Buffy pretended to fan herself, then grinned at Willow. “Okay, horny teenager time definitely over. We have an exchange student to pick up, and I don’t want to creep him out by giggling at the weirdest times.”

Willow grinned back at her. “You know that I’m gonna start laughing as soon as I see him, don’t you?”

“You better not,” Buffy scolded, then called out, “Impata? Impata Gutierrez?”

There was no answer, and Willow turned to shrug at Buffy. “Maybe he went somewhere else?”

“Maybe,” Buffy said doubtfully, and called again, “Impata? Are you here?”

“I am here,” a low, accented female voice said. They both looked up to see an incredibly beautiful woman emerge from between two buses. “I am Impata.”







Xander hummed to himself as he bounced down the sidewalk. Buffy had her houseguest coming tonight, and there was the whole mummy thing going on, so what the hell. He wasn’t going to be a bored Xander any time soon, which pretty much meant that he was a happy Xander.

“You’re looking good, pet. Surprised that Angel’s letting you out on your own.”

Xander whirled to face the owner of the voice. “Spike. You haven’t managed to impale yourself on Buffy’s stake yet. Color me amazed.” He stopped, as if considering his words. “What is the color of amazement, anyway? A nice blue, maybe?” He shrugged. “Not important.”

Spike gave him an odd look. “You think of the strangest things, pet.”

Xander snorted. “This from the guy who thought it would be a good idea to attack the Slayer two days before the night when you’d be at your highest strength. Can we say bad planning, anyone?”

“You’d have a sight more trouble saying it with your tongue ripped out,” Spike growled. Xander just laughed, casual and carefree, and slipped one hand into his jacket pocket, where he carried a stake.

“Try it,” he invited.

“Think you could take me?” Spike sounded amused at the thought.

Xander shook his head. “No, but at least you’ll remember me when I’m dead.”

Spike smirked and took one sauntering step closer. “Oh, pet, I already can’t get you out of my head.”

Xander took a reflexive step back at that. “What? What are you talking about?”

“You’re just so luscious,” Spike purred. “Dark eyes a man could fall into, a mouth that begs to be kissed, and the sweetest arse this side of the Atlantic. Pretty unforgettable.”

Xander just stood there and blinked at him. “Have you gone insane?” he wanted to know. “Taken some quality drugs, perhaps?”

Spike leered and took another step closer. “Just you,” he whispered. “You’re intoxicating.”

“Okay, whoa. Brakes.” Xander pressed his hand to Spike’s chest and shoved, ignoring the feel of cool muscle under his palm. “If you’re going to kill me, please do,” he said after Spike had stumbled back a step. “But get it over with. Don’t make me crazy with lame-ass come-ons. That’s just rude.”

Spike straightened up, looking offended. Xander valiantly ignored how good offended looked on a face like Spike’s. “Lame? I’ll have you know that those have worked-“

“On thousands of lucky lads and ladies, I’m sure,” Xander interrupted. “But not me. I’m going home now. Good night.”

He turned on his heel and marched off, blocking out the low chuckle that followed him down the street.






“I have the coolest costume,” Willow gushed. “I spent forever working on it, and it looks awesome.”

Xander grinned at her. “Good for you.”

“Do you know what you’re wearing yet?” she wanted to know. When he shook his head, she smacked him on the arm. “Xander Harris, the dance is tonight, and you don’t even know what you’re wearing? Bad Xander!”

He shrugged helplessly. “I’ve been a bit distracted by the evil mummy thing, what can I say?”

“Even Buffy’s already planning what she’s wearing,” Willow scolded. “And she’s got Impata to show around.”

“Speaking of Impata, how’d that go last night? Is he nice, or someone that I have to be manly and threaten?”

“Um, about that,” she started, then stopped when Xander did, which was when he caught sight of Buffy walking up the steps, Impata in tow.

A very female Impata.

He turned slowly and looked at his friend. “Something you forgot to mention, Wills?”

“Um, oops?” When he continued to stare at her, she sighed. “It turns out there was a mix-up of some sort, and Impata is, in fact, not a guy. And they’re coming over here, so you might as well hear everything from Buffy, anyway.”

“Right,” he told her, then smiled cheerfully as Buffy waved and towed the apparently-not-male Impata towards them.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m Xander.”

“Xander, this is Impata,” Buffy said, waving one hand towards the girl. “She got here last night.”

“Good to meet you,” he said with a friendly nod. “How was the trip here?”

“Interesting,” she said with a smile. “Buffy told me a lot about you last night.”

He smiled back at her. “Good things, I hope.”

“All good,” she reassured him.

“Hey, Buff, didn’t Giles say he wanted to meet Impata?” Willow said.

“Yeah, he did,” Buffy said. “Impata, you’ve gotta meet Giles. He’ll love you.”






Buffy stared at Xander and Impata’s retreating back. “Is it just me, or was that just a little bit weird?”

“That was definitely weird,” Willow agreed. “He was all polite and everything on the way in here, but he didn’t seem to be, you know, attracted to her or anything. He didn’t seem that interested in her at all, really, except for the fact that she was a girl rather than a guy, like he was expecting.”

“And then all of a sudden he offers to take her around for the day, and he’s being all touchy-feely, with one hand on her back and leaning close and stuff,” Buffy finished. “Definitely weird. Especially after that little heart-to-heart yesterday.”

Willow gave her a slightly panicked look. “You mean...”

Buffy shook her head quickly. “No, not that heart-to-heart, Wills. The one me and Xander had. About liking guys more than girls, remember?”

“Ah yes,” Giles said, looking up from the seal. “I, well, overheard most of that. It does seem a little odd, in light of his confession, especially if his behavior toward her earlier was as you said.”

Willow looked from Buffy to Giles. “He’s not possessed, or anything, is he? Under a spell, maybe?”

Buffy was staring at the door that the two of them had disappeared through. “I don’t think it’s anything quite so paranormal, Wills,” she said quietly. “Though I think you’ll have to ask Xander to find out exactly what’s up.”







Buffy pulled Xander away from everyone else, ignoring his protests that Impata was upset after the attack from the knife-happy freak. “I have to talk to you,” she said firmly, and dragged him into Giles’ office, shutting the door to make sure that they weren’t overheard.

She turned and glared at him. “Okay, what gives?”

He gave her the confused look. “What gives what?”

“With you and Impata, dufus.”

“Well, it was like I told you. We were eating lunch, and then the guy jumped down and waved his knife around and-“

“Not that, Xander,” she said, and crap, that was the Resolve Face. When had she learned that from Willow?

“What, then?” he stalled.

“Why were you all cool and distant when you were first introduced, then suddenly Mr. Lover? It was a little weird.”

He shrugged uncomfortably. “I was just surprised at first, was all. You know, I was expecting a guy, and there was a girl. An extremely beautiful girl, who I’m incredibly attracted to,” he lied.

“Well, I was kinda wondering, after what you said yesterday about liking guys and everything. It was a little odd.”

He shrugged, and gave her the patented, everything’s-okay lopsided Xander Harris smile. “Sorry if I worried you or something. It’s really not that complicated, though. Xander see pretty girl. Xander like pretty girl. Xander wants to take pretty girl to dance.”

Buffy smiled at him. “So ask her,” she said. “Willow won’t mind.”

Xander cocked his head. “Are you sure?”

She nodded. “I’ll get Mom to give her a ride with me. Take the pretty girl to the dance, Xander. She looks like she really likes you. Be happy.”

He smiled and hugged her. “Sure, Buff. I’m a happy guy.”

He kept smiling when he walked out of the office, and he wondered when he’d become such a good liar.






He was rethinking his plan later that night, swaying on the dance floor at the Bronze with Impata in his arms. It wasn’t one of his better ideas, he had to admit. So what if he’d been thinking about a certain bleached blonde too much? Taking a girl to the dance just to prove to himself that he still wanted to wasn’t fair to himself, and it certainly wasn’t fair to her.

Especially since he didn’t particularly want to be here with her. He stared into her eyes and pretended to be starstruck, when all he could think was that things would have been better if he’d let Buffy take Impata to the dance and he’d been the one hunting mummies with Giles.

She was staring back at him, and she looked almost as lovestruck as he was pretending to be. Not a brilliant idea, Harris, he jeered at himself, and, filled with disgust, he glanced away from Impata’s adoring eyes.

And looked right into the smirking face of one William the Bloody.

What the hell? He sure as hell wasn’t supposed to be here. Why was he here?

Stalking him, of course. Stupid question.

He looked down at Impata. “I need to go,” he said. “I’m really sorry, but there’s someone that I need to talk to, and I need to talk to him now. Go sit with Willow- I swear I’ll be back in a minute.”

She frowned at him, but nodded. “Alright.”

“Thanks,” he said gratefully, and then disappeared into the crowd in the general direction of where he’d seen Spike standing.

Spike wasn’t there, of course. That would be too easy. Sighing, he started scanning the crowd, only to stop when he saw a flash of leather near one of the exits.

Bingo.

He followed, going right out into the alley since he knew that that’s where Spike would be waiting for him. And sure enough, there he was, leaning against the wall with a smirk on his face and a cigarette between his lips.

“Alright, Blondie, you got my attention. What do you want?”

Spike took a drag on the cigarette and then tossed it away before leering at him. “Obvious, innit? I want you. You’re so bloody tempting, it’s a wonder some other nasty hasn’t snatched you up by now.”

Xander grinned at him, and it wasn’t a pleasant grin. “One or two have tried,” he said easily. “They didn’t succeed.”

“That’s right. You’re a Consort. Angel’s Consort, and isn’t that just... delicious. Angelus taking a Consort, well, it’s unthinkable. Or was until you came along.”

Xander shook his head. “There was a poison. Only cure was an exchange of blood with a vampire.” He stopped. “Why am I telling you this?”

“Because you can’t resist me?” Spike suggested. When Xander didn’t dignify that with an answer, the vampire continued, “Maybe because you recognize something in me that you’re not finding with your other friends.”

“Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

“Darkness,” Spike answered simply. “The Slayer, well, she’s the same sort of thing, really, but the other side of the coin, you might say. But me, well, you’ve got part of the essence of what makes us more in your veins.”

“I’m not like you, Spike. I’ve got the strength, and the senses sometimes, but I’m not like you. I’m not a vampire.”

“Vampires, Consorts- they’re kissing cousins, pet. Close as makes no nevermind. The only difference is your pulse, and my lack of one.”

“And my soul, and your lack of one,” Xander pointed out. “Pretty big difference.”

“Not so big,” Spike said with a shrug. “It’s not keeping us apart right now.”

“Right, so what is keeping us apart then?”

“Your willpower,” Spike said. “Which, I’m guessing, is less than strong when it comes to me. So if I want to kiss you, all I have to do is take two steps forward, and just... do it.” He suited action to word, and somehow, even with all his strength and speed, Xander couldn’t find it in him to stop it.

It was amazing. Cool and wet, Spike’s tongue slipping into his mouth to twine around his own and invite it to play. And for some reason, his tongue took him up on it, and slipped into Spike’s mouth to tickle gently against the roof of his mouth.

Spike pulled back after a moment, sucking gently on his lower lip before releasing it with a loud pop. “Be seeing you around, pet,” he whispered, then turned and stalked off, his duster flaring behind him.

Xander leaned against the wall, totally dazed, before remembering that he had left his date inside with Willow. He shook it off, did his best to put it to the back of his mind, and went inside.

~*~

Buffy grabbed him as soon as he came through the doorway. “Xander! Where have you been? Are you okay?”

He nodded, wondering if he looked as confused as he felt. “Yeah, Buff, I’m fine. What’s wrong?”

“It’s Impata. She’s the mummy. I was hoping to get here before she could suck the life out of you or something.”

“Well, you succeeded. Where is she, anyway?”

Buffy’s eyes widened. “You mean she wasn’t with you? Shit! Willow said she ran off a minute ago.”

Xander shook his head. “No, she wasn’t with me. I was just... checking something out.”

“Whatever.” Buffy shook that off as unimportant. “But if she wasn’t with you, then...”

“Then she’s with some other schmuck, sucking the life out of him,” Xander finished for her. “We’ve got to find her.”






Xander sighed and hunched his shoulders. “Buffy, do we have to talk about this?”

“Yes.” She gave him her stern-face. “You’ve been acting weird, and I want to know why.”

“I dated a life-sucking mummy?” Xander tried.

“I think this doesn’t really have anything to do with Impata,” Buffy said gently. “Will you at least give me a hint about what’s up with you?”

Xander sighed. “There’s this... guy,” he started, and was interrupted by her squeal.

“Ohmigod, Xander, why didn’t you tell me about this before now? Who is he? What does he look like? Is he yummy?”

“Buffy, do you mind?” he snapped, then sighed again when she pouted at him. “Sorry. It’s just... I’m not entirely comfortable with the whole guy thing, you know? And I picked a real doozy to be attracted to, that’s for sure.”

Buffy made a sympathetic voice. “Not exactly an upstanding citizen, huh?”

He gave a little bark of bitter laughter. “That’s a bit of an understatement, there, Buffy. I can’t figure out if he means it, or if he’s just messing with my head for kicks.”

“One of those, huh?” She wrapped her free arm around his waist in a half-hug. “I sensed a ‘but’ in there, somewhere.”

“But I can’t stop thinking about him,” Xander admitted. “It’s insane and possibly suicidal- definitely self-destructive- but I just can’t get him out of my head. Does that make me fucked-up?”

“No more than the rest of us,” Buffy said with an eye-roll. “Dating the undead here, remember?”

“Yeah, but Angel loves you. He wouldn’t ever hurt you.”

“And I’m sure this guy won’t hurt you either,” Buffy told him. She stopped, and grabbed his head, forcing him to turn back towards her. “Xander, you’re one of the best people I know,” she said. “One of the bravest, and certainly one of the most loyal and the most caring. There’s no way that anyone could know you, and still want to hurt you.”

He smiled down at her. “Thanks, Buff,” he said. “I’m sure you’re right, and there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Damn straight,” she told him, and started pulling him along towards the door. “Now come on, we’ve got classes.”

“Right. Class. School.” He knew he sounded inane, but he couldn’t help it. What was Spike playing at? Because no matter what Buffy said, she didn’t know. Spike was just as likely to kill him as fuck him, and Xander wasn’t sure what he was doing, letting Spike mess with his head like this.

But he’d been telling Buffy the truth. He couldn’t stop thinking about him. The main question now was this:

What was he going to do about it?





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