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Carpe Noctem


Part Ten
The End of the World

“-And it turns out that Ted was a psychopath, but he was a serial-killing robot that was made by the original Ted, who was such a sickly loser that his wife left him, and so the robot Ted kept marrying her and killing her, over and over again.”

“Even for me that sounds incredibly depressing,” Spike said. “And pathetic.”

“Not getting any argument from me. Willow’s in awe over the robot, though. Says that Ted- the original Ted- must have been a genius. Can’t say as I argue- I didn’t even smell a whiff of metal on the guy, and I was around him for hours. Is there a way to simulate scent?”

“If someone has enough time to create and program a ‘bot like that, I’m sure he could figure out a way,” Spike pointed out. “If he’s as genius as Red says.”

Xander laughed suddenly. “I called Willow that recently.”

“What, Red?”

“Yeah, she gave me the weirdest look.”

“Just imagine what she’d look like if she knew where you got the name from, then,” Spike said with a laugh. “Bug-eyes? Steam from her ears?”

“You watch too much tv,” Xander said. “Definitely too many cartoons.”

“Hey!” Spike said. “’S’not my fault that I watch the bloody things, is it?”

“Whose fault is it, then?” Xander challenged.

“Dru’s, of course.”

Xander paused to consider that. “Okay, that I’ll give you. Cartoons are probably right up her alley.”

“Too right they are. She stays up Sunday mornings, when any sensible vamp would be asleep. She’s addicted to the bloody things.”

“They probably even make sense to her.”

Spike got an arrested look on his face suddenly, and glanced over at Xander. “We’re having a conversation.”

Xander looked confused. “Yeah?”

Spike looked pointedly around the cemetery- they were leaning against the wall of a crypt. “We’re together, in a public place, and we’re having a conversation.”

Xander shrugged. “It’s not the first time.” He paused. “Is it?”

Spike nodded solemnly. “That it is, pet. Usually you’re paranoid that the Slayer’s gonna show and kick my shiny white bum.”

Xander snorted. “Like she needs more reasons for that?” More seriously, he added, “She’s with her mom. We’re fine.”

“Oh, well, in that case,” Spike said, and hauled Xander over to kiss the hell out of him. Xander made a pleased noise at the back of his throat and kissed him back, gripping a double handful of Spike’s t-shirt in his fists.

Spike pulled back, his eyes pleasurably unfocused. “My place or yours?”

“Yours. It’s closer.”

Angel was just relaxing into his chair with a good book when he heard the knock on his door.

Sighing, he marked his place and got up to answer it, wondering who the hell was coming to his apartment at- he checked the clock on the wall- three thirty-two in the morning.

It was Buffy, he discovered when he opened the door. She was looking a little frazzled, and considering the most recent turn of events with her mother and Ted, he didn’t really blame her.

“Buffy,” he said. “What is it?”

She shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep, is all. Thought about patrolling, but, well, Xander’s covering it. You mind?”

“That you came here? Of course not.” He stepped back and gestured towards his chair with the book propped on the arm. “I wasn’t doing much of anything anyway.”

She smiled at him, and settled down on the couch. He took one look at the very short couch, and opted to sit in his chair.

She sighed and slumped in her seat, sliding downwards till she could roll her head back and rest it on the back of the couch. She closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. “Long day, you know? What with Willow going on and on about Ted the genius because he built Ted the robot, and mom still freaked out.”

“Can you blame her?” Angel asked gently.

She opened one eye. “Are you kidding? Of course I don’t blame her. I know that he’s melted down into bits- well, the bits that Willow didn’t keep, anyway- and I’m still freaked. She thinks he’s out roaming loose. I’d have to be on medication, in her place.”

Angel half-shrugged, lifting one shoulder and giving her a little smile. “Lucky you aren’t in her place, then.”

She smiled back at him. “Yeah. Besides, my boyfriend’s way less psycho. I have nothing to fear.”

He stared at her for a moment, caught by the word “boyfriend.” Of course, he’d known that they were together, but she’d never said it, not where he could hear, anyway.

“Angel? What is it?”

“Just- boyfriend. You hadn’t said it, before.”

She paused, then pulled herself up from the couch and crossed the room to him. Seconds later she was curled up in his lap, looking up into his eyes.

“I love you. You know that. I’m sorry I never said it before, but I do. I love you. And you are very definitely my boyfriend.”

He let his head fall forward, so that his forehead was pressed gently against hers. “I love you, Buffy,” he whispered, and she smiled her brightest smile and kissed him.

“Ohmigod, you said it! Oh wow, oh wow! You mean- you said the words? Out loud and everything? And he said them back?”

“Breathe, Wills,” Buffy said, laughing a little. “Yeah, I said the words, and he said the words. I love him, he loves me.”

“You sound so blasé about it,” Willow said. “Aren’t you a little stoked?”

“Well, I already knew and everything, and... and oh god yes, I’m stoked! It’s the most amazing feeling in the world. I love him! And he loves me! There’s not enough adjectives in the English language to describe how good I feel right now.”

Willow grinned at her, and leaned over to give her a big hug. “I’m so happy for you!”

“But what about you?” Buffy said. “Is there anyone in the Willow love-horizon?”

“I think you mixed your metaphors there, but, well, kinda.”

“Ooo, who is he? Do tell.”

“Well, you remember Oz?”

“The cute guitar player who saved your life?”

“Yeah. Well, I think I’m interested, and I think he’s interested, but I’m not really sure.”

“Well, we’ll get to him in a minute, but let’s start with you. You think about him a lot?”

Willow bit her lower lip, blushed, and nodded. “Yeah. He has nice hands.”
Buffy grinned at her. “Attention to insignificant detail- that’s a big ole check in the ‘Willow is interested’ column.”

“But what about him?” Willow said anxiously. “How do I know if he’s interested? You know, as more than just friends, and everything.”

“Well, that’s a no-brainer. Ask him.”

Willow gaped at her. “You’re joking, right? Please tell me you’re joking.”

“No, I’m not.” Buffy put on her stern face. “Wills, just go up and ask him out. If he says yes, then he wants to be with you. It’s not that complicated.”

“Yes it is! It means that I have to... ask him, and stuff! What if he says no? I’m left there looking like a fool while he pats me on the head and feels sorry for me.”

“He’s not going to say no. Look- he’s sitting over there on the table, and he’s watching you. He’s definitely interested. Now all you have to do is ask him.”

Willow pouted. “Do I have to?”

Buffy smiled, and gave her a one-armed hug. “Yes, you do. Now- go!”

Trying out one last, pathetic pout, Willow went.

“So how is the life of Xander?”

Xander looked up from the book in front of him. “Hey, Buff. Pretty good, actually. How’s the world-saving business going?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” She settled down in the seat across the table from him. “Since you were on patrol last night, and everything?”

“Oh, that. Didn’t see any nasties to be killed, which was a welcome change. How was your mom night?”

Buffy sighed. “A little tense, but otherwise okay. She’s still wigged about Ted coming back, and I can’t really tell her that he won’t, because she’ll ask me how I know. I just make agreeable noises and nod and pat her arm. Then I couldn’t sleep last night, so I hightailed it to Angel’s.”

“Ah, late-night boyfriend visits,” Xander said. “Not that I would know anything about that, of course.”

Buffy snorted. “Right, about that. I officially renounce pretending that I don’t know what’s going on.”

He gave her a panicked look. “Uh, what?”

“You and this mystery guy? We know you hooked up. It’s been all over you for weeks. You might as well have walked around with a neon sign that said, ‘Xander got laid.’”

He blinked. “Oh, that. Um, yeah, we’re together.”

“So? Dish.”

“Well, he’s a hottie. We’re together. Smile and be a happy Buffy, because that’s more than you knew before.”

She pouted at him. “C’mon, Xander, who loves you? Who stands by your side when things get tough?”

“Who’s a nosy little so-and-so?” Xander rejoined. “Maybe you’ll meet him. Someday. A day that is very far from now.”

Her pout grew in intensity. “Xan-derrr,” she whined. “I wanna know about your boyfriend. You know all about my boyfriend.”

“Yes, I do. And believe me, when you two first hooked up, I didn’t want to.”

“Fine. I know about Willow’s soon-to-be boyfriend, then, and I won’t tell me unless you give me the lowdown on this hunk you’re dating.”

He looked torn for a moment, then smiled at something behind Buffy’s head. “She’s coming this way, and she’s bouncing, so believe you me, you won’t have to tell me anything, because she’s about to spill it all.”

“Ohmigod! He said yes! Buffy, can you believe it, he actually said yes!”

“Who said yes to what, Willow?” Xander asked, smirking at Buffy.

“Oz, you know, the guitar player? I asked him out for a date, and he said yes!”

“Where are you going, Will?” Buffy said, glaring back at Xander.

“The Bronze, of course. Oo! You can bring Angel, and it’ll be a double-date!”

“Great idea! And Xander can bring his snuggle-bunny so we can inspect him and decide if he’s good enough for our Xan.”

Willow looked from Buffy to Xander. “We’re not pretending anymore?” Buffy shook her head. “Cool! Xander, bring him! We want to meet him!”

“And to that I say, a world of no.”

“Why not?” Willow pouted. “Are we not good enough for him or something?”

“Not that at all. Buffy, you’d kill him seconds after meeting him.”

“He’s evil?” Buffy demanded. “Xander, are you dating someone evil?”

“He’s that annoying,” Xander said evasively.

“Then why are you dating him?” she demanded, smacking him on the arm. He winced, rubbed his arm, and offered, “The sex?”

“Ew!” Buffy said, and smacked him again.

“I second that ew, and raise you a ‘bad Xander!’” Willow said, and smacked him on the other arm. That one didn’t really hurt, but he winced again and rubbed it anyway, to make her feel better.

“What? You two knew we were doing it, apparently, so what are you smacking me for now?”

“That was when we thought that you had a deep and meaningful relationship that wasn’t just about the sex!” Buffy said. “Xander, how could you?”

He stared at her. “Buffy, I am a seventeen year old male. My dream relationship is one where it’s all about sex.”

She turned her back on him and stuck her nose in the air. “I don’t think we want to meet this guy anyway.”

“Good, then I’ll just skip the Bronze group date tonight!” Xander said. “Thanks, Buff. I knew you’d understand.” He scooped up his bag, gave Willow a kiss on the cheek, and was gone before she could reply.

Xander sighed as he settled back against the pillows. Spike hadn’t shown up yet, and Xander was both relieved and disappointed at the thought that he might not come tonight.

Relieved, because Spike was an incredibly exhausting and evil person, and disappointed, because Spike was an incredibly exhausting and evil person that he’d grown attached to.

Well, that and the sex.

But thinking about sex was counterproductive to actually catching up on his sleep, which was what he was currently trying to do. Patrolling for the Slayer, training with Buffy and with Angel, fairly frequent research parties and school on top of regular sex with Spike didn’t leave a lot of time for sleep. Which is why he took every opportunity to do so, after his pre-relationship fiasco with Spike obsession.

Not that he was any better now, if his current state was anything to go by. He and Spike had settled into a pattern of Xander finding Spike when he was out on patrol and Spike coming to his house when he wasn’t, and that meant that it was Spike’s turn to show up. One or the other of them was often busy for some reason, so it wasn’t that big a deal if they missed each other for a night or two. Life rolled on, and sex could always be had the next time they met.

Which worked fairly well for Xander, actually. Casual sex and some laughs- it was any guy’s dream relationship, just like he’d told Buffy. And most of the time he could even ignore the squishy emotional stuff.

It was when he was alone that it hit him. Unfortunately, alone time for Xander was usually naptime, and it was interfering with his beauty sleep, which was not okay.

Finally giving up, he climbed out of bed and crossed the room. He looked guiltily at the window, as if making sure that no evil vampire was going to show up and mock, and then pulled open the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers.

Inside, balled up at the back, was a shirt he’d stolen of Spike’s when his own had been ripped to shreds in one of their more... passionate encounters. Spike had seemed to have forgotten that he’d lent it to Xander, and Xander wasn’t about to remind him.

He pulled out the shirt and smoothed it out with gentle hands. Then, very carefully, he pulled it around his shoulders and held it closed across his chest.

Wrapped in Spike’s shirt, he crawled back into bed and settled down again, with a contended sigh. Then, surrounded by Spike’s scent, he was finally able to fall asleep.

It was an even sunnier than usual morning in Sunnydale the next day, and Xander felt somewhat blinded when stepped out into the sunshine. Privately, he thought he was spending just a little bit too much time in the dark, but that was a thought for another day.

He made his way to the library for the usual morning check-in, and waved cheerfully to Willow when he came in. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, Xander has entered the building.”

Willow, and Buffy, along with Giles, Cordelia, and Ms. Calendar, all of whom he’d just now spotted, all turned to him with disquietingly sober expressions. He stopped in his tracks. “What happened?”

“Spike and Drusilla managed to put the Judge back together,” Willow explained quietly.

“And the Judge would be?”

“Big, scary demon,” Buffy said. “Can’t be killed by any weapon. Giles will fill you in on the rest.”

She turned on her heel and stalked off into Giles’ office. Giles cleared his throat. “Ah, yes. The Judge is an ancient demon, who, well, to shorten it, he burns humanity. It’s said that he can’t be killed by any weapon ever forged. An army was sent against him, and most of them fell, but eventually they succeeded in chopping him into pieces. They locked the pieces in separate boxes and the boxes were hidden at the farthest corners of the Earth. Buffy got the last box away from them last night, but she and Angel were attacked, and they now have all the pieces.”

“How do we know?”

“Buffy and Angel tracked them to the factory, where Spike and Drusilla are staying. We had thought them out of town by now, of course, since we haven’t seen hide nor hair of them for weeks, but apparently we were wrong. They reassembled the Judge, and Buffy and Angel were almost killed by him.”

“You said that the Judge burns humanity. What happens if he isn’t stopped?”

“He will probably need another day or two to gather his strength, but after that, well, he will go forth, and incinerate the human race.”

“He needs to be stopped, then. And fast.”

“Yes, quite.”

“What do you need me to do?”

Giles pointed at the books, which Willow and Cordy and Ms. Calendar had gone back to reading. “Research, I’m afraid. There isn’t much, but we need every scrap of information that we can find.”

“I’m on it.”

Xander settled down at the books, turned his chair away from the others, and let go of the leash he’d been holding on his rage. So that’s what Spike had been doing the night before. No wonder he hadn’t bothered to show up at Xander’s place.

He’d been brewing up an apocalypse.

Spike stared at the back of the Judge’s head, and wondered why he was doing this.

It wasn’t his idea. On that point he was firm. It was Drusilla’s, of course, because his sweet Dru was just mad enough to be enthralled by the idea of ending the world. He, on the other hand, was a bit more concerned about their food supply, and how vampires like them were supposed to survive when all the humans were ash.

He was wondering if there was a way to actually get rid of the Judge without hacking him up into little tiny pieces when he heard a very familiar voice behind him.

“You know, you really should learn to watch your back.”

“And why should I bother,” Spike said without turning around to face Angel, “when I’ve got my very own watchdog?”

He turned around and jerked his thumb towards the Judge, who was slowly rising out of his kneeling position. “It’s not like I’m real worried about what a Caped Crusader like yourself is going to do to me.”

Angel just stood there and smirked. And said nothing. Which, really, for Angel, in any incarnation, was odd. He was all about the taunt, the witty and mocking comment. He never just stood there like the big useless lump he was, which was unfortunate, but at the moment it was making Spike wonder what the hell was going on and what Angel was planning.

The Lump didn’t even move when the Judge came right up to him and pressed a gauntleted hand to his chest. Spike leaned back against the wall, anticipating with great pleasure the sight of Angel burning to ash, but there was just... nothing.

“What are you doing, you twit? Burn him!”

“Gee,” Angel said. “Maybe he’s broken.”

The Judge dropped his hand and shook his head. “I cannot burn this one. He is clean.” When Spike stared incredulously at him, the Judge added, “There is no humanity in him.”

The Judge wandered off, seeming somewhat disgusted with the whole thing, and still Spike just sat there and gaped. Angel- what? It couldn’t be.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Angel said, with a little quirk of his lips as he shrugged his shoulders and tugged on his coat to straighten it. Spike heard a little gasp from behind him, and knew without looking that Dru had entered the room.

“Angel?” she said in a tiny, hopeful voice.

“Yeah, baby,” Angel said, and yeah, there was that sneer that Spike remembered all too well. “I’m back.”

Well, bugger, Spike thought. How am I supposed to stop the Judge from burning up my food supply with this wanker running amuck?

Time for Plan B.

Xander checked to make sure that Buffy was in the office and safely out of earshot before turning to Willow and whispering, “What’s up with Buffy? Besides the apocalypse thing, I mean.”

“She’s all wigged about Angel disappearing,” Willow whispered back. “We’re all worried that the Judge might have gotten him or something.”

“You mean we don’t know where he is? I thought Buffy said that they got out of the factory okay.”

“They did. Apparently they went back to his place, and he disappeared sometime this morning. Buffy thinks that he maybe went after the Judge on his own.”

“He’s not that foolish, Wills,” Xander said, but he had a very bad feeling. Something had happened to Angel.

On the heels of that thought, he heard a voice say his name. He spun around in his seat and then, after blinking for a moment, he ensured that he wasn’t hallucinating, and it was, indeed, Spike who was standing in front of the doorway to the library.

Buffy came rushing out of the office, stake in hand, but Xander caught her wrist before she could throw it. “Spike. Why are you here.”

“We have a problem.”

We?” Buffy demanded. “Xander, why’d you stop me from killing him?”

“What kind of problem?” Xander asked. He didn’t let go of Buffy’s wrist, and he didn’t take his eyes off Spike’s face. Something there clued him in. “It’s Angel, isn’t it?”

“’Fraid so, pet. He’s turned. I dunno how, but he did it.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Spike?” Buffy angrily wrenched her wrist free of Xander’s grip, and glared at her friend. “Why are you talking to him, anyway?”

“Because I think he’s about to save our asses, Buff,” Xander said quietly. “Angel’s turned. As in, he no longer has a soul. He’s evil.”

“What? That’s stupid. He’s missing, not evil. You’re not taking Spike’s word on this, are you? He’s probably just trying to cause trouble again.”

“I wish I was, Slayer,” Spike said. “Believe me, there’s nothing I like more than trouble. Unfortunately, it’s the truth. The brooding poofter has left the building, and in his place is Angelus the blood-happy psycho. So to speak.”

“You’re talking like me,” Xander said, when Buffy refused to respond. “Stop it.”

“I had you saying ‘wanker’ last week, remember? Turnabout’s only fair play.”

Willow stood up. “You two know each other? As in, you know, know? Speaking to each other, not trying to kill each other?”

“Something like that,” Xander said quietly. “It’s complicated.”

“No,” Buffy said fiercely. “It’s not. Spike’s evil. You kill him. There’s nothing complicated about that.”

“And what if Angel’s evil, Buffy. Let’s just say, for example, that it’s true. You think you’d be able to kill him?”

“That’s different! I love Ang-“ She stopped, and went ashen. “Oh, god. Don’t tell me. Please don’t tell me.”

“Fine,” he said. “I won’t. I don’t have to. You’ve already guessed it.”

Willow came up to stand beside Buffy, who looked like she wanted to collapse. “Xander? You and Spike are... involved?”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Spike said, seeming not to realize that speaking up now was not the brightest idea he’d ever had. Xander smacked him on the back of the head to silence him and Spike growled at him, but did nothing else but rub the back of his head.

Unfortunately, the little byplay just emphasized the intimacy between them, and Willow was getting paler, now, too. “Oh god. The guy. The guy you said you were with. It’s Spike. Oh my god. You’ve been having sex with Spike!”

Xander winced, but nodded. “Yeah. I have. For weeks now. Since the night with Eyghon.”

“You’ve lied to me.” That was from Buffy. “You’ve lied to all of us. For weeks. You lied right to our faces, and we believed you.”

Xander nodded again, his face solemn. “Yes, I did. And yes, you did. You had every reason to. Now you know better. And while I’m sure that there’s nothing you’d rather be doing than hating me, you’ve got bigger problems. Namely, your boyfriend. Something happened to Angel- I knew that before Spike walked in the door.”

“And why should we believe you?” Willow said. Her expression was closed off, but her eyes were bitter and cold, and Xander wondered, inwardly, if his life would ever be put back together.

“Because I don’t want any of you hurt.”

“Spike does,” Buffy snapped.

“Yeah, well, he’s evil. And according to him, so’s your boyfriend.”

“I don’t believe you,” Buffy said. “I don’t believe Spike. I don’t trust you, and I certainly don’t trust Spike. I want him out of here before I kill him, and Xander? How about you do the same.”

He stared at her for a long moment. “You’re making a mistake,” he said.

“I don’t think I am.”

“Then we’re all doomed,” Xander said, and walked out of the library. Spike glanced around at the rest of the Scoobies, shrugged, and flipped them a merry two-fingered salute before following Xander.

Xander waited until they were in the sewers before he said anything. “We have to do something,” he said. Then he looked at Spike as if he was remembering who he was talking to. “Well, I have to do something. Unless- why are you here, Spike? Helping?”

“Want the Judge gone, pet,” Spike said. “He’s out to get rid of humanity, right? If you hadn’t noticed, humans are pretty much what we eat. We’d starve, turn on each other, kill each other off, and just generally suffer. Not a pretty vision of my future, pet, and one I’d rather not experience for myself.”

“So why did you put the Judge together in the first place?”

Spike shrugged. “Because I can’t say no to Dru?”

Xander stared at him for a minute. “You need counseling.”

Spike just shrugged again, and Xander started to pace after a minute. “We have to stop the Judge. That’s the first priority. Stopping Angel is the second priority, preferably without killing him. Putting his soul back? Do we even know how to do that?”

“I don’t know how to put the soul back,” Spike said. “Personally, I’d just as soon dust the wanker, but if you want him alive, we keep him alive. I do know Olde Rumanian, though, so if you can get a written copy of the curse, then we’re in business.”

Xander smiled at him- a tired smile, but Spike was just grateful that Xander was with him, instead of ignoring him, denying everything, and staying back with his friends in the library. “Okay, so we’ve got the second part done, if we can find a copy of the curse. Right. We can find that eventually- we’ll have to immobilize Angel first, though, and that means that we’d have to catch him. But that’s for later. Right now, the Judge. Any ideas?”

Spike shook his head, and Xander went back to pacing. “No weapon forged,” he muttered to himself. “So a sword or an arrow wouldn’t pierce his heart. But he could be cut up into little pieces, so he’s not totally invulnerable.” He paused, his eyes widening for a moment as he got an idea. “Wait. Oh. That might work.”

Spike waited a second, and when Xander didn’t say anything more, he grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. “What might work?”

“Well, they said that no weapon forged could kill him. But that was centuries ago, right? Weapons are so much more advanced now. We’ve got, say... rocket launchers.”

Spike was absolutely still for one long moment. “Pet, I knew there was a reason I spent time with you.”

Xander grinned at him. “You mean it wasn’t because of my devastating wit and blinding charm? No, don’t answer that. There’s a military base nearby, right?” When Spike nodded, Xander said, “Could you break us in?”

Spike grinned back at him, pleased as always at the promise of mayhem. “Of course.”

Buffy wondered if this was what it felt like when your heart was breaking.

She’d thought her heart had broken before. When she found out that Angel was a vampire. When she found out that he wasn’t evil, only to hear that he wasn’t going to hang around. When she’d thought she was going to die. When she’d found out that Angel had had sex with her best friend. But this... this was so much worse than any of those times.

She felt like she was bleeding on the inside, and she wasn’t sure she was ever going to stop crying. She’d gone back to his place, to look for him and because Spike’s warnings had scared her more than she’d admit, and he was there. But it wasn’t him. She could see that now.

The things he said... He’d been so hurtful. Deliberately so. And try as she could to deny it, she knew that Spike had been right. That somehow, Angel had lost his soul. And she knew that somehow, she had done it.

Her feet were barely lifting off the beige tile of the school floor. She didn’t have the energy to move any faster. Everything in her felt like she was dying, and it was all she could do to keep herself from collapsing into a ball and bawling her heart out. But there was an apocalypse to stop, somehow, because there was always an apocalypse, somehow. And she wasn’t sure that this one could be stopped.

Merely pushing open the swinging doors to the library took all the strength she had. All her friends- minus one that she wasn’t going to think about now- looked up from something they’d been clustered around on the table.

“Buffy!” She didn’t think she’d ever seen Giles so relieved. “Buffy, are you alright?”

“Yes,” she said, and even to her own ears her voice sounded funny. Weak. Hoarse. “Spike was right. Angel lost his soul.”

Giles took a deep, shocked breath, and Willow rushed to her side. “Buffy, are you okay?”

“No,” she said. “No, I’m not okay. But I’ll live. What have we got on the Judge?”

“Well,” Willow said. “Um, you should look at this first.”

She drew Buffy over to the table where a long wooden crate sat. Willow glanced at her to make sure she was watching, then opened the lid.

Inside sat a rocket launcher, two and a half feet of gleaming metal and death. And on top of it sat a note.

“Hey Buff- thought you might be needing this. If the Judge can be cut up, he can damn sure be blown up. We’ve also got some ideas about Angel- if you can get a copy of the curse, Spike can translate it. Don’t ask where he learned to read Olde Rumanian, because he won’t tell me. I know you probably don’t want my help, and you damn sure don’t want Spike’s. But if you do need us, we’re here. I’m here.

Beyond that, the best I can give you is this- tomorrow night is when it’s going down. Spike says the Judge will be at full strength by then. He’ll hit somewhere populated, where he can get a lot of people at once- I’ll leave it up to you to figure out where. And Buffy? Don’t let any one of you go off by yourselves. Angel will be looking to take out anyone he knows you care about, just to weaken you. Be careful.


And written underneath the signature was his cell phone number.

She took a deep breath, it catching in the back of her throat on a choked sob. Willow immediately put an arm around her shoulders, and Buffy looked up at Giles, tears shining in her eyes.

“I need to use the phone.”

“Hey,” Xander’s voice said in her ear, and Buffy sighed out his name.


“Guess you got my birthday present. Like the color?”

He surprised a laugh out of her. He always could. “It’s perfect. You said that you would help, and, um, Spike too? He’s actually helping?”

She heard his laugh, warm against her ear, and she felt some of the deadness inside her clear out again. “Yeah. He doesn’t want to kill all the humans.”

“This is Spike we’re talking about, right?”

“He doesn’t want to have nothing to eat,” Xander said dryly. “You need us?”

“Yeah. Where are you?”

“Nearer than you think,” he said, and it took her a split second to realize that his voice had come from behind her, rather than the phone. She turned, and there he was, standing in the doorway with Spike standing slightly behind him.

She took a deep breath, then ran across the space between them and hugged him as hard as she could. Instead of gasping, as most people seemed to do when she hugged them, he hugged her back just as hard.

“Don’t go away again,” she told him, and he murmured back, “Not even if you tell me to.”

She smiled against his chest, then decided that emotional time was over, and it was time to get down to business. “Okay,” she said, pulling away and walking resolutely towards the table. “Time for the plan of action. We need to figure out where the Judge will hit, and we need to make sure that we get there before he can. We have to find a copy of the gypsy curse, because Angel is our greatest threat, after the Judge. Spike, you can translate Olde Rumanian?”

“Er, yeah,” Spike said, obviously surprised that she’d spoken to him directly. “Not well, mind you, but I can in a pinch.”

“This qualifies as a pinch,” she said. “Giles, do you know where we could start looking for the curse?”

Giles shook his head, but to Buffy’s surprise, Ms. Calendar slowly raised her hand. “I do,” she said quietly. When they all turned to gape at her, she repeated, “I have it. I took it with me when I left my tribe to come here.”

“Tribe?” Buffy demanded. “You can’t mean...”

“Gypsies. Yes. It was my people who cursed him. Gypsies have a finely-honed sense of vengeance, and I was sent here to watch over him, and to make sure that the curse still held.”

“Then you know how it was broken,” Buffy said desperately. “How did he lose his soul?”

“A moment of perfect happiness, no matter how short, is all it takes to end his punishment.”

Buffy absorbed this blow and turned away from everyone, wrapping her arms around her middle. “It was my fault, then.”

“How could it be your- Oh.” Willow stopped. “That.”

Shocked silence fell heavily after her words, interrupted by, of all people, Spike. “Well, this is lovely an’ all, but I didn’t come here to laugh at the Slayer. It’s mostly just a side benefit.”

Xander smacked him on the back of the head again, hard enough to send him staggering forward. “Spike, you’re an asshole,” he said, but it came out almost fondly, as if he’d said it so many times that he couldn’t even inject any real venom into it anymore.

“He’s right, though,” Giles said. Everyone turned to look at him, and he flushed and added, “Not about the side benefit, about needing to work on the plan.”

“I didn’t say anything about a plan!”

“It was implied,” Xander informed him, and then looked at Buffy. “Buff? What is the plan? You’re the general of our motley little army.”

Buffy took a deep breath and turned back to face them all. “Alright. Ms. Calendar, we need a copy of the curse. How quickly can you get it?” Her voice sounded like it wanted to waver, but she managed to hold it steady.

Ms. Calendar pointed at the computer. “I scanned it.”

“Great. Spike, you’re translating. Any materials we need, we’re going to have to get them tomorrow.” She glanced down at her watch. “Today, rather. We need to figure out where the Judge is going to hit, and we need to formulate a plan of attack to prevent him from mass barbeque. We need to figure out how to incapacitate Angel so that we can return his soul. And we need to keep together while we do all this, so that Angel can’t pick any of us off.” She took another deep breath and looked at Giles. “How am I doing?”

“Wonderful,” he said supportively. “I can’t think of anything to add, myself.”

“I know where the Judge is going to hit,” Willow said, speaking for only the second time since Xander had walked into the room. She looked remote and closed off, not like her usual Willow self, and she was very carefully not looking at Xander.

“You do?” Buffy said. “Where?”

“The mall,” Willow said. “Where else are there that many people in one place in Sunnydale?”

Buffy smiled at her, wondering if she looked as frayed around the edges as she felt. “That’s great, Wills. At least we have a place to start.”

“The curse looks simple enough,” Spike said from behind the computer. Xander was leaning against the back of his chair, one hand resting casually on Spike’s shoulder. “Some herbs, some chanting, and an Orb of Thessula. That might be a bit hard to find- don’t carry many of those these days.”

“The magic shop three blocks over has one,” Giles said. “We can send someone tomorrow to purchase it and the necessary herbs.”

“I’ll go,” Willow said. “When the sun’s up.”

Buffy frowned at her. “Wills, even in the daylight, it’s not really safe...”

“I’ll go with her,” Xander said. Willow shook her head quickly, but Xander just stared at her. “I’ll keep you safe,” he said with quiet intensity. “You can trust me that far, at least.”

After a long, silent pause, she nodded.

“What do you want me to say?” Xander asked, hours later as he and Willow made their way to the Magic Box in very bright daylight.

“There’s nothing you can say, except to tell me that it was all a hideous dream, and I know that that’s not going to happen.”

Yeah, she sounded bitter, alright. And hurt, which was far, far worse.

“No, that’s not going to happen. I can apologize for lying to you, if it helps.”

“No, it doesn’t!” She stopped walking and whirled to face him. “Xander, you lied to me. You’ve never in your life lied to me, but this time you did.”

“I lied to everyone, not just you.”

“Is that supposed to make it better?” She shook her head. “Look. I don’t get why you’re with Spike. I don’t want to get why you’re with Spike, if we’re being honest about it, which would be a nice change for you, so don’t try to explain. I don’t forgive you, and we’re not okay. But I’m setting it aside for the moment, because we have bigger things to deal with right now, like an impending apocalypse. So I’d appreciate it if you’d just shut up and walk faster.”

Xander stared hard at her for a moment, then shut up, and walked faster.

It was a good plan. Xander knew it was a good plan. Buffy showed signs of being a truly brilliant strategist, and while there was always something that could go wrong with any plan, this one was relatively lacking in holes.

That didn’t make it any easier to wait down one of the side corridors with Spike, trying to ignore the shoppers milling around them and trying not to think about what was going to happen in the food court.

He knew that Angel was bringing the Judge and a bunch of minions through the main entrance, because Angel’s ego was big enough that he’d have to come through the main one, instead of through one of the department stores. He also knew that Buffy was waiting for them with a rocket launcher.

Giles was with her, of course, and Cordelia and Oz, who Xander recognized from the couple times his band had played at the Bronze. They were backup in case the vampires didn’t get blown up too, and also to pick up any Judge-pieces that might be lying around. Ms. Calendar was back at the library with Willow, trying frantically to prepare for the upcoming rensoulment spell they were going to have to do, which was as simple as Spike had said, but not exactly a cakewalk for a casual magic user.

And Xander was waiting in the side hall with Spike, waiting for Angel to come running through. Buffy was a good enough shot that she could aim it away from him, and if Angel didn’t get blown up in the rocket blast, it was a sure thing that he’d get away from the scene of his defeat as quickly as possible. And there was only one main passage out of the food court, as Buffy had been delighted about when she’d remembered, so it was an easy matter for Xander and Spike to stand there and wait for Angel.

It did, in fact, turn out to be that easy. They both winced at the loud explosion from the rocket, which hopefully had exploded the Judge into tiny pieces. And sure enough, less than thirty seconds later they saw him, running like the hounds of hell were at his heels and completely oblivious to the chains in Spike’s hands and the tranquilizer gun that Xander held in his arms.

One shot, and Angel was down, lying sprawled on the floor and getting stepped on by fleeing shoppers. Xander moved into the fray and pulled him to the side, where Spike gleefully wrapped chains around his wrists and ankles, perhaps a bit tighter than they needed to be. Xander opened his mouth, then closed it, since it wasn’t worth the energy of protesting.

Buffy came running around the corner, and she skidded to an abrupt halt when she saw Angel chained on the floor. “You got him,” she said unnecessarily, but Xander nodded anyway.

“The Judge?”

“All blown up. Giles and the rest are picking up the pieces now.”

Spike perked up at that. “Pieces? There’s pieces?” He turned to grin at Xander. “Think I’m gonna go take a look, pet. Wanna come with?”

Xander glanced over at Buffy’s strained expression as the girl stared down at the unconscious and thoroughly chained love of her life. “I think I’ll help Buffy get Angel out to the car. I’ll find you later, okay?”

Spike shrugged and sprinted off, delighted at the thought of the carnage and destruction that something as big as a rocket could inflict. Xander glanced at Buffy and shrugged. They shared a tired smile before grabbing Angel by his shoulders and feet and starting to carry him out of the building.

An unearthly howl stopped them. Xander dropped Angel’s feet and took off in the direction of the noise, knowing that it was Spike, not knowing how he knew, and not particularly caring.

He found Spike up on the landing where the Judge must have been standing, due to the amount of smoke and the large hole that was blown in the floor. Spike was crouched off to the side, heedless of the water that was just starting to pour out of the sprinklers, clutching something to his chest and rocking back and forth.

Xander made a beeline for him, and crouched down next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders. A gentle hand managed to pry apart Spike’s death grip on what he was holding, and Xander saw that it was a doll.

One of Drusilla’s dolls, as a matter of fact, and there was a small pile of dust on the ground by Spike’s feet, quickly being washed away by the downpour from the ceiling.

Xander drew in a shocked breath. Drusilla had been here? Of course she’d been here. The whole thing was her idea. And apparently she didn’t have sense enough to get out of the way of a rocket, or maybe she’d just been standing too close to the Judge. Either way, she’d clearly caught fire, and staggered to the side before dropping her doll, and burning to ash.

Xander looked at Spike’s face, and didn’t even try to deny the stabbing pain in his chest at seeing the tears streaming down the vampire’s cheeks. His face was contorted in an agony of grief, and all Xander wanted to do was make it go away, to care for Spike like Spike had cared for him that night that everything had started before them. All he wanted was to make him feel better, to ease some of the pain, and he knew that he couldn’t.

So he just pulled Spike closer, and held him tight against his chest as he sobbed.

Part Eleven
Love You Forever

Warnings: a very slight amount of bloodplay.

It was a solemn group who trudged back into the library that night. Well, Cordelia was smugly victorious, but everyone else’s cheer was depressed by the sight of someone they’d all trusted and depended on being carried into the room, unconscious and wrapped in chains.

Xander, for his part, was far too distracted by Spike to even notice Angel. The younger vampire was long finished with his crying jag, and instead had retreated into some place that only he could see, leaving a quietly lost man in place of the Big Bad that Xander was used to.

Willow and Mrs. Calendar ran to meet them when they pushed their way through the library doors, Oz and Cordy in the lead, Buffy and Giles following carrying Angel, and Xander, with his arm wrapped around Spike’s shoulders, trailing behind. Angel was deposited on the hastily-cleared-off table while Xander guided Spike into Giles’ office and sat him down.

He didn’t come back out of the office, guessing rightly that he wasn’t needed for the spellcasting, and instead focused on Spike. It made his chest hurt to see his usually badass lover so blank and empty, staring into space like he wasn’t ever going to wake up and make some smartass comment about Angel’s hair or Buffy’s short skirts. He sat on the floor at Spike’s feet, leaning his head against the vampire’s thigh, and wondered if he’d ever feel okay again.

“C’mon, Spike,” he whispered. “You’re stronger than this. You’re gonna come back. I know you are. You can’t make fun of Angel if you don’t come back, you know that?” No answer, of course. “Spike, I need you to come back. How am I supposed to keep going without you?”

Spike stayed perfectly still, staring off into space, and Xander gave up. He let himself drift, indulging in depression and a little blankness of his own, listening with half an ear to the building chant of Latin in the main room. The smell of burning herbs was almost overwhelming when it finally made its way under the closed door, and his nose twitched.

He felt an answering twitch behind him, and spun around so fast his back almost cracked. And sure enough, Spike was blinking and opening his eyes, the smell of the herbs having apparently woken him out of whatever place he’d gone to.


Spike’s gaze slowly focused on the boy sitting at his feet. “Xander?”

“Yeah, Spike. It’s me. Are you okay?”

Spike’s confused expression quickly crumpled into grief as memory hit him. “Dru?”

“She’s gone,” Xander confirmed, softly because he knew how much of a blow it was. Spike stared at him silently out of lost blue eyes, and Xander reached up to gently touch his cheek. “Are you going to be alright?”

“I dunno,” Spike said. “I feel all... empty. Cold. So fucking cold.”

*Shock*, Xander thought, and found that he wasn’t that surprised that vampire bodies could even go into shock. Xander quickly stood up and scooped Spike into his arms, making handy use of his vampire-strength, and settled back into the chair, with Spike in his lap and wrapped in his arms and simple body heat.

Spike buried his face in Xander’s shoulder, and Xander knew that when Spike was back to normal he’d be kicking and screaming at the thought that he’d behaved like this, but at the moment all he could do was hold him and revel in the feel of Spike in his arms again, when just a minute ago he thought he might have lost him forever.

The door opened a few minutes later, and Willow stood there, looking first shocked and then closed off to see Spike wrapped around Xander like he was the last unlife-line that the vampire had to hold on to. Upon reflection, Xander realized that it was probably true.

“The spell?” he asked, when it looked like Willow wasn’t going to say anything.

“It worked,” she said, and Xander noticed how drained she looked. Her skin was ashen, and it looked like she was holding onto the doorframe to keep upright. “Buffy is taking Angel back to her house to keep an eye on him. Giles is going with her, to explain to her mom what’s going on.”

“Finally decided that her mom should be let in on the whole Slayer thing?” Xander asked. Willow nodded.

“She’s not going to take it well.”

“Understatement,” Xander said, then looked away from Willow’s tight expression and down at the vampire in his arms. “I think I’ll be taking Spike home, too. Seems we’re done here for the night, and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to sleep all tomorrow.”

Willow just nodded once, and left the room without saying anything else. Xander winced. Looks like Will really wasn’t going to forgive him any time soon, if ever.

“Gonna take me home, pet?” Spike asked, looking up at him with the blue eyes that had always been able to get whatever he wanted out of Xander.

“Yeah, I’m taking you home.”

“Where’s home?”

Xander began to wonder if there wasn’t something seriously wrong with Spike, more than just simple grief. “The factory, Spike. Don’t you remember?”

“That’s not home anymore,” Spike muttered, burying his face against Xander’s shoulder. “It’s empty. No one home but me. Don’t wanna go back there. Don’t make me go back there. Please, pet. I don’t wanna go home alone.”

“Shh, it’s okay,” Xander murmured, stroking one hand over Spike’s stiffly gelled hair. “I’ll take you back to my place, okay? We can stay there for a while, until you’re all better. That sound okay?”

Spike nodded silently, his face still pressed to Xander’s shoulder, and Xander stood up, still cradling the vampire in his arms. He thought about setting Spike down and letting him walk on his own, and then on second reflection decided that it was far more enjoyable for him, as well as being safer, to just carry him.

He nodded to Willow, who was gathering her stuff up to walk home, but she didn’t nod back. Deciding that there was nothing he could do about it now, Xander just gave a mental shrug and left.


Cordelia Chase was not happy. She’d let herself get dragged into saving-the-world schemes, *again.* Sure, she hadn’t done anything more than pick up pieces and wave around stinky herbs, but she could have been spending the night at home, getting her much-needed beauty sleep. Bags under the eyes were just so unattractive.

And it wasn’t like any of them had actually bothered to thank her. Everyone had just left, not even bothering to even look at her, much less acknowledge all the hard work she’d done at *their* request. She couldn’t believe them. How could they be so self-centered?

She saw Xander the next morning, though, looking pale and heavy-eyed and as exhausted as she was pretending not to be. She felt a brief surge of completely unwelcome sympathy, but before she could quash it down to nothingness, she found herself moving over to intercept him.

“Hey,” he said quietly when he spotted her. “All rested up from your world-saving duties?”

Well, maybe the sympathy wasn’t so unwelcome. His priorities might have been sadly confused the night before, but they were clearly back in the proper order- with her first- this morning, so perhaps it was acceptable to be the slightest bit worried about him after all.

“Better than you are, that’s for sure,” she said with some asperity. “Did you get any sleep at all last night?”

He flashed her a brief smile, and she was suddenly, forcibly reminded of the boy he’d been so many years ago. She quickly squished the memory, because mental-kiddie-Xander was way too cute for her peace of mind. Also, the Xander that stood before her bore about as much resemblance to the grinning five-year-old of her memory as he did to the grinning sixteen-year-old of just a few months ago. Not a whole hell of a lot.

He’d changed.

“Not really,” he said. “Mentally disturbed vampires do not make for a well-rested Xan-man.”

Right. Spike. Xander was gay now. What was that she’d been thinking about changes? “How is our resident evil?”

“Sleeping, I hope,” Xander said with a shrug. “Maybe he’ll be a little bit more stable if he gets some sleep.”

“You could use some, too,” she pointed out. “You look like death warmed over.”

“That’s what class is for,” he said cheerfully, but with only a shadow of his usual energy. She frowned at him, and grabbed his arm.

“You can skip class for a little bit. Go see Giles. If nothing else, he can write you a note and let you sleep in his office.”

He gave her an intense, steady look that was not at all like him. “You’re not as heartless as you pretend, are you?” When she sputtered with insult, he grinned at her, leaned over, and kissed her on the forehead. “Queen C.”

Then he turned and walked away in the direction of the library, leaving her staring after him, stupefied and maybe just a little bit in love with him.


Giles, Xander decided, looked no better than Xander felt. “Did any of us get any sleep last night?” he asked. “Or do we all look like ‘death warmed over,’ as Cordy so kindly informed me.”

Giles looked up from the book he was reading. “Oh, Xander. Hello. No, I didn’t get any sleep last night. I spent most of the wee hours trying to explain to Mrs. Summers what, exactly, being a Slayer entails, trying to keep her from hitting me over the head with the bottle of whiskey she was gulping from, and trying to make her understand that her daughter couldn’t just quit being the Slayer.”

“And Buff? How’s she doing?”

A shadow crossed Giles’ tired features. “As well as can be expected. She’s still at home, looking after Angel, who is doing somewhat less well. He’s consumed with guilt over the actions he carried out, and those he didn’t succeed at, while he was without his soul. Buffy is terrified that he’ll attempt suicide if she doesn’t stay by him.”

“Two deranged vampires in Sunnydale,” Xander said dryly. “I miss life when it was boring.”

Giles looked at him sharply. “You’re looking after Spike?”

Xander shrugged. “He’s asleep now, as far as I know. There’s not much he can get up to in our house even if he isn’t- it’s full daylight and there’s no sewer access, so the worst thing he could do is kill my parents, which, hey, no great loss.” Giles stared at him, but Xander turned his head, avoiding meeting his eyes. “He’s barely able to function right now, anyway. I’ll deal with him when he’s back to normal. Until then, leave off.”

Xander’s voice was as harsh as Giles had ever heard it. “You’ve determined that he’s to live, have you?”

“I determined that a long time ago,” Xander said. “That’s not likely to change.”

“Even if he kills again?”

Xander stared at him for so long that Giles started to feel uncomfortable. There was power in those dark eyes, power that had been there since summer, but he’d never turned it towards any of his friends, and as such Giles was feeling the full effects of it for the first time. This was no boy in front of him, ready to be scolded- this was a predator.

“I did some reading after the incident with Eyghon,” Xander said slowly. “I found some interesting things about you and a certain Chaos mage. I also notice that he’s gotten away twice now, right from under your nose. I wouldn’t be so quick to cast stones, Giles. You of all people should know what it’s like to love the wrong person.”

He turned on his heel and stalked out of the library after his last little bombshell, leaving Giles standing, staring mutely at his retreating back. The boy had certainly developed a skill for a dramatic exit, Giles had to give him that much. And apparently he’d honed his research skills, if he’d found as much as he said he had about Ethan and himself.

It wasn’t the same thing, he reassured himself. It wasn’t the same thing at all. Ethan was a nuisance, but he wasn’t usually truly dangerous. Spike, on the other hand, was a vicious killer, and no amount of grief or trauma would change that fact.

But Xander’s words echoed in his head, and the seed of doubt was planted. No matter how many times he told himself that the two situations were not the same, he couldn’t be sure that if the time came, he would be able to kill Spike, knowing that Xander, the closest thing he had to a son, loved the creature.


Xander decided not to go back to class. He wasn’t in any shape to deal with school, anyway, so he’d be more useful checking on Buffy and Angel.

Mrs. Summers opened the door and let him in without a word, leaving the door open and going straight back to the living room, where she promptly poured another generous shot of whiskey. Xander closed the door behind him and made his way quietly up the steps, heading for Buffy’s room, where he could hear her murmuring to Angel.

He halted in the doorway, leaning against the doorframe and just looking at her. The windows had been covered by heavy blackout curtains, and lit candles were scattered around the room, for a softer light than the bright one the lamps provided. The flickering light played over her bent head, picking out red strands in her pale hair, and painting a golden glow over the hand that was stroking Angel’s cheek.

“Hey,” he said softly. “How’re you holding up?”

She looked up, unsurprised to see him there. “I’m okay,” she said, her tired tone belying her words.

“And what about him?” Xander nodded towards Angel.

“He’s... not really okay,” Buffy said. “He’s consumed with guilt for everything he’s done, both in the last couple days, as well as from before, hitting him all over again. He’s asleep now, though.”

Xander smiled sadly at her. “You want me to spell you for a while?”

She smiled back at him. “I’ll be fine,” she said softly. “I want to be the one he sees when he wakes up, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.” He stood in silence for a minute. “You’re going to have to talk to your mom again soon, you know.”

“I know. She’s still drinking?”

“Slugging it back for all she’s worth,” Xander admitted. “She’ll come to terms with it. Eventually.”

“It’s the ‘eventually’ I’m worried about,” Buffy said with a sigh. “How do your parents deal with it?”

He snorted. “Oh please. Those two don’t notice me coming in at odd hours, much less that I’m not exactly Joe Normal anymore. Hell, they didn’t even notice me frigging carrying Spike in last night, and I walked past them. Hellmouth denial at its best, liberally assisted by large quantities of cheap alcohol.”

“I’m sorry,” Buffy said.

“Don’t be,” Xander said, shaking his head. “I got used to it a long time ago, and it’s actually easier for me now. Besides,” and he smiled a little, “I’ve got a different family. You, Angel, Giles, Willow when she stops hating me, even Spike.”

Buffy glanced at him, startled. “Spike? He’s your family?”

“Well, only sort of, because otherwise it would be incest,” Xander said dryly. “But yeah.”

“He means that much to you?”

“He does,” Xander said, completely seriously. “He really does.”

She smiled at him, a tiny smile, but there nonetheless, and real. “Then he’s a lucky guy,” she said. “Go to him. I know you want to.”

He hesitated. “You’re sure you don’t-“

“I’m okay by myself,” she assured him. “I can keep Angel from doing anything stupid, and you have more than enough on your mind, with your own vampire to take care of. I’ll call you when Angel wakes up, if you’re that worried.”

“I am,” he said seriously. “And please do. I worry about both of you, you know.”

“We’re fine,” she said. Then she glanced down at Angel’s sleeping face, and a shadow crossed her features. “Well, as fine as we can be, considering the circumstances. Go ahead, okay? Spike needs you more than either of us does, I bet.”

“Thanks for caring,” Xander said, and it should have sounded sarcastic, but didn’t, because Buffy could tell that he meant it. “It’s more than I could have asked for. I’d been expecting something along the lines of everlasting hatred and a speedy staking.”

“He means something to you, so by extension he means something to me,” Buffy said. “I don’t necessarily like it, but he did help, and he obviously makes you happy, so maybe he has some redeeming qualities after all.”

“He really does,” Xander said, giving her a slightly silly grin, and she laughed in spite of herself, feeling better than she had for the last couple days.

“Just go, alright? Play with the crazy vampire, and I’ll call if anything happens.”

He smiled at her, and it felt almost like a hug, for all that he was standing clear across the room. “Take care,” he said, and disappeared from view. She heard his footsteps fading away down the hall, and looked down at Angel, sleeping on the bed beside her.

She loved him more than anything. How could she stand to lose him?


Spike wasn’t asleep when Xander home, which made him glad that he’d decided to skip school that day. It wasn’t even noon yet, and despite the fact that Spike hadn’t fallen asleep till well after dawn, he was already wide awake and crouched in a corner, shivering and looking lost.

Xander shut the door behind him with a quiet click to make sure that his parents didn’t wander in at an inopportune moment, then swiftly crossed the room and scooped Spike up in his arms. He carried Spike over to his bed and held him, as much for the pleasure of the rare chance to cuddle with the Big Bad as to reassure him.

“Hey, I thought you were gonna get some sleep. You were already snoring when I left.”

“Don’t snore.” The protest was weak, quiet, but it gave Xander hope.

“Sorry to burst your bubble, but you definitely snore. Unlive with the fact. Why’d you wake up, then?”

“Quiet,” Spike said. “Alone. You went away. Everyone goes away in the end.”

“I just went to school, Spike. And I came back, see? I’ll always come back.”

“Why?” Spike asked. “Dru didn’t mean to leave, either. And now she’s gone.”

“Because I belong to you,” Xander said seriously. “I’m yours. It doesn’t matter how much I pretend otherwise ‘cause it’s true. I’ll always be yours. Till dust do us part and afterwards. Got it?”

“Will you wear my name?”

Xander glanced down at him quizzically. “Huh?”

“If I belong to you, will you wear my name?”

“A nice black dog collar okay for you?” Xander joked. “They make them in zebra-stripe patterns now, did you know that?”

Spike slowly uncoiled himself out of Xander’s lap and stood a few inches away, looking steadily into Xander’s dark eyes. “Not a collar, pet.”

“Then what?” Xander asked, when Spike didn’t elaborate.

“Do you trust me?” Spike said, instead of answering. Xander locked gazes with him and just stared at him, silently, for a long, tense moment.

“Yes,” he said finally. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done.

Spike bent down, and pulled a short, delicate knife out of his boot. He held it up and Xander couldn’t seem to pull his eyes away from the blade, gleaming just a little in light filtered through the curtains.

“Then take off your shirt, and turn around.”


It was the most intense experience of his life. More than Angel’s blood, more than the first real fight with his new and improved body. More even than the incredible rush that sex with Spike always gave him. It was so all-consuming that he couldn’t even see out of open, tear-brightened eyes. All he could do was clench his fists on the bedspread and stare blindly at the wall, panting out of a half-opened mouth while every muscle in his body clenched against the white-hot invasion on his back.

He could feel it, ever tiny millimeter of it, stroking oh-so-slowly in Spike’s steady hand, and he knew without looking that the letters were square and angular, very different the elegant Victorian handwriting he’d seen on the odd occasion that Spike had left him a note somewhere or other, due to the medium of blade rather than pen. The whole area felt inflamed, swollen, red-hot, with the letters icy lines of fire tracing his ownership through the burn. Blood trickled down, tickling and soaking into the hem of his jeans but he didn’t move, just held himself so very, very still while he let himself flow into the pain and eventually closed his unseeing eyes against the rush of a lifetime.

And when it was over, Spike gently cleaned and bandaged the wounds, and wrapped his arms around him, holding him like he was never going to let go. Xander’s last thought, before losing himself in sleep, was that he wasn’t sure anymore who was the comforter, and who was the comforted.


A ringing phone awoke them both. Spike flinched but didn’t roll away from the sudden noise, as Xander had half-expected he would. Instead he cuddled closer to the heat of Xander’s body, almost purring when Xander stroked one calloused hand down his spine while reaching for the phone with the other.

“Xander here. Yeah. There was a *what* attack? Christ. Aren’t those just legend or something? Yeah, I know vampires are supposed to be too, but Giles never said anything about these, that’s for damned sure. Oh, so *you* don’t know anything about them either. Oh, that’s just great. No, I was asleep. What time is it, anyway? Right. Fine, we’ll be there in a few. Yes, we. Fine. You don’t want to know. No, you really don’t want to know. I said we’ll be there in a few. We have to get dressed first, okay? I told you that you didn’t want to know, but did you listen to me? No. Fine. Just let me hang up the damn phone, would you? Great. Bye.”

Xander stretched out one arm and dropped the phone back in the cradle. “Cordelia,” he explained unnecessarily, since Spike had been able to hear every word. “We have werewolves in Sunnydale, apparently. Or one werewolf, at least. And we’re to meet at the library. Nowish.”

Spike just nodded, and crawled out of bed. Xander regarded him with astonishment as the vampire found his jeans and started to get dressed.

“You’re actually going to help? Without arguing about it?”

Spike glared at him. “Don’t get too used to it. I just don’t like werewolves. Give me the creeps, they do. Plus they smell all wonky.”

Xander stared at him for a second longer, and then a huge grin spread across his face. He crossed the space between him and Spike in a flash, and wrapped a hug around Spike that would have choked anyone who actually needed to breathe.

“Here now, what’s that about?”

Xander pulled back just far enough to grin into Spike’s startled eyes. “You’re back!”

Spike looked at him as if he’d lost his wits. “Are you daft? I didn’t bloody well go anywhere!”

“Well, okay, you didn’t go anywhere, but you’re Spike again! The Big Bad, William the Bloody, and boy can I say that I’m glad to see you.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t rub it in,” Spike muttered, but he didn’t protest when Xander kissed him. “Let’s go hunt the werewolf, yeah?” he said, when they separated again. “Before the Watcher hunts you down and scolds you.”

“Heaven forbid I get scolded,” Xander said, rolling his eyes, “but you’re right. Off to the library we go.”

“This should be great fun,” Spike muttered under his breath, and Xander obligingly pretended not to hear him.

“Next time you bring me along,” Spike was growling at Xander when they pushed through the doors to the library, “can you get dressed faster so we don’t almost have to take the tunnels?”

“I doubt I could have gotten dressed that fast, since the sun was already up when the phone rang,” Xander retorted. “Besides, whose fault is it that I took too long dressing, hmmm?”

Giles cleared his throat before Spike could answer. “Please, spare us all our sanity and leave that unanswered, Spike. Xander, I’m glad you’re here. We have a bit of a problem.”

“A werewolf, yeah, Cordy told me.”

“Well, there’s a good chance that the werewolf is actually a student here. It would be useful to identify it before tonight, because then we won’t have to hunt it tonight.”

“Hunt with what? If it’s a normal person the rest of the month, we don’t want to kill it, right?”

“Tranquilizer gun,” Willow said, very carefully not looking in Xander’s direction.

“Excellent idea, Willow. That will incapacitate the beast until he or she turns back into their regular selves. With a bit of care, whoever it is can be sure to avoid any unfortunate incidents in the future.”

“And that’s really great,” Xander said, “but how are we supposed to find whoever it is without actually watching them turn into a werewolf?”

This interview wasn’t going as well as Xander had hoped. He’d hoped that he’d be able to smell the werewolf on Larry, but a few minutes in his presence was enough to prove that either werewolf wasn’t something you could smell on a person, or Larry wasn’t it.

And less than two minutes later, Xander got to be on the other end of a Heartfelt Confession, and he became sure that whoever the werewolf was, Larry was not it.

“Look,” he said. “Being gay is not the end of your life. Plenty of girls think the whole gay thing is too cute for words, and so you’re not going to lose your fan club just because you like the male meat.”

Larry winced at his phrasing. “It’s not that fuckin’ simple, man. I’m not worried about what the girls will think. Who the hell cares about them? I’m worried about the way people will look at me. The way my friends will look at me. They’ll never talk to me again.”

“At least three guys on the football team are bi, at the very least,” Xander said. “Not everyone will hate you. Trust me on this.”

“How do you know?” Larry demanded.

“All three of them have hit on me in the last month or so,” Xander said. “You’re in good company.”

Larry scowled at him. “So how did they know that you were gay? Did you just come out and tell them, or is there a sign over your head or something?”

“They caught me kissing another guy,” Xander said dryly. “It wasn’t hard to put two and two together to get sixty-nine.” When Larry gaped at him, Xander sighed. “Spike. You’ll probably meet the bleached menace sometime or other. In the meantime, I really have to go. Glad we could have this little heart-to-heart.”

Well that was a waste, he thought to himself as he made his way back to the library. Always nice to have a little bonding moment with someone who beat you up for years, but he still had no clue who the werewolf was.

Sticking his head into the library, Xander found Spike sitting at a table, reading some large and dusty tome that was undoubtedly about werewolves, a thoroughly rebellious look on his face. Xander wondered how Giles had made him do it, and then wondered if this was going to be enough to convince Giles that Spike wasn’t going to kill anyone. If Spike had been going to start killing again, he would have started with Giles for this.

Spike looked up as soon as he heard the door opened, and grinned to see Xander there. “Luv! I knew you’d come and rescue me.”

“Larry isn’t the werewolf,” Xander told Giles. “It’s back to square one.”

“You’re sure?” Giles said. “You and Willow were fairly certain that he was the one.”

“I’m sure,” Xander said, skirting around the table to lean against the back of Spike’s chair. “We had a lovely little heart-to-heart, and I’m very, very sure that he’s not the werewolf.”

Spike leaned back against Xander’s arms, crossed over the back of the chair. “So, Rupes. Where does that leave us?”

“Don’t call me that,” Giles snapped at Spike, and there was an edge in his voice that told Xander that it wasn’t the first time he’d given Spike that order. “I’m not sure, exactly. We may just have to wait till the sun sets, and make sure to capture the beast before he can harm anyone.”

“Great, the stalk and snatch,” Xander said, and sighed. His hand was reflexively smoothing over Spike’s stiffly gelled hair, and Spike had leaned back into the touch, his eyes closed. Giles looked at them both sharply, but as far as he could tell Xander wasn’t even aware of what he was doing. “Do I call Buffy, or am I enough for the werewolf-hunt?”

“I’d prefer that Buffy do it,” Giles said somewhat distantly, still distracted by Xander’s absent-minded petting of Spike, and Spike’s unabashedly pleased response. At the moment Spike looked like nothing so much as an overgrown cat, enjoying his chosen person’s attention. “Which isn’t to say that I don’t trust your skills, Xander. I just think that the Slayer is better suited to this particular task.”

“Sure thing,” Xander said easily. “She needs to get out of that house for a little while, anyway. I can watch over Angel for her while she’s out a-hunting.”

“It’s a plan, then,” Spike broke in, before Giles could answer. “Xan, we heading home till sunset, then?”

“Can’t,” Xander said. “Classes that need to be attended and passed. I’ve skipped enough the past few days as it is. Oh, don’t give me that look.”

Spike was, indeed, giving him That Look- a slowly forming pout that should be categorized as a lethal weapon in its own right. “But we could-“

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Giles said sharply. “For my sanity, please just stop talking. Take this discussion somewhere else. Anywhere else, in fact, except this library.”

Spike opened his mouth to protest, but Xander grabbed his arm and hauled his arm out of the chair. “C’mon, Bleachboy. Let’s continue this elsewhere, alright? We don’t want Giles mad at us, remember?”

Xander’s voice was particularly intense and it caused Spike to shoot a quick, cautious glance towards Giles. “Right. I’ll just be heading home, then, and you can meet me after you’re done babysitting the Souled One. I can wait.”

Giles realized that he was gaping at Spike, but he wasn’t particularly able to control his reaction. Spike? Being altruistic? Or obeying Xander’s implicit orders, at least. This was strange indeed.

“Thanks,” Xander said softly, and Spike shrugged one shoulder in reluctant acknowledgement. Xander snagged his arm in a strong grip and reeled him in for a soft kiss, which caused Spike to soften the tense lines of his shoulders and back.

The two of them walked out of the library, side by side, without saying anything further to Giles. He leaned back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to ward off an oncoming headache, and wondered what he was supposed to do now. He’d learned, only yesterday, that Xander was in love with the vampire. But now he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Spike loved Xander in return. What was he supposed to do with this knowledge? Was there even anything he could do?

Nothing, he decided. Nothing he could do except sit and wait. And watch the two of them very, very closely.

Angel was awake. Buffy knew he was awake, because the muscles in his back were completely knotted up under her hand when she stroked it soothingly down his back. Angel was determined to pretend that he was asleep, however, so she just sat there and watched him pretend.

God, this hurt so much. How could he want to kill himself? She got the guilt thing, really she did, but she loved him. She wanted him to live; wasn’t that enough?

Apparently not. The only reason he hadn’t killed himself yet was because she hadn’t left his side for a second. She was starving and exhausted, and when her mom had come out of her drunken stupor long enough to come up and demand answers she’d been so shocked at Buffy’s appearance that she’d left without saying a word.

She still smelled like cordite, herbs and burnt flesh, since she hadn’t had a chance to shower since the night they’d destroyed the Judge.

She’d been watching over him for almost two full days, now. She needed sleep, and she needed food. She knew that. But more than both of those things, she needed Angel to stop pretending that he was asleep, sit up, and tell her that everything was alright again. That he wouldn’t kill himself. That they were going to be okay, and he wasn’t going to go away again.

That he loved her.

He did still love her, right? He’d promised her that he would love her forever, till the world ended and the stars fell from the sky. And sure, maybe all guys told that to girls, but when Angel had said it, she’d believed it. She’d believed him, because he’d looked at her, and his gaze had been so tender that she almost lost her breath...

But maybe things were different now. Maybe he blamed her because she’d been the trigger that caused him to lose his soul. Maybe he didn’t love her anymore, because he was going through all this agony of guilt, and it was all her fault.

The phone rang, interrupting her unpleasant train of thought. She picked it up without looking to see who it was, guessing rightly that it would be someone calling about the werewolf problem they were all working on.

“Hey Buff. No lead on who the werewolf is, but the sun’s almost down, so we need you to do your Slayer thing.” Xander sounded cheerful, and she could hear voices in the background.

“Xander, I can’t leave Angel.”

“I know, Giles told me that he wants to kill himself.” Xander’s voice was impossibly sympathetic. “I’ll come over and watch over him while you hunt he-who-howls-at-moons with Giles’ pretty little tranq gun.” Buffy didn’t say anything, and Xander added, more seriously, “Buffy, you can trust me to keep him in one piece, okay? I won’t let him dust himself. Or anything else happen to him, for that matter. We need you to go after the werewolf. I’m strong, you know that, but I’m no match for you, and for this we need the Slayer.”

“Alright,” she acceded. “You’ll come right over?” She couldn’t help the anxious tone of her voice.

“Be there as soon as I can.”

Xander was a little irritated. Buffy had met him at the door, and it had taken everything he had to smile and nod and act like she didn’t look half-dead. Exhaustion from watching over Angel, no doubt. That and the strained lines around her eyes and mouth could be laid at the vampire’s door. And would be, just as soon as Xander got upstairs to give the bastard a piece of his mind.

Angel ignored his entrance, of course, but Xander hadn’t spent all this time with Spike for nothing. He had more patience than anyone, by this point, and he was sure as hell more stubborn than Angel. Angel might be the Grim Brooder- one of Spike’s pet nicknames for him- but Xander could control Spike, when need be, and Angel was as nothing to the skills of the Xan-man.

“I know you’re awake,” Xander said, leaning on the doorframe. He figured that it was safer to stay away from the bed, because if he got too close to Angel and remembered the look on Buffy’s face he might just hit him. “And unlike Buffy, I’m not here for a little Tender Loving Care. I will feel no guilt about kicking your ass if you don’t open your eyes and look at me in the next five seconds.”

He’d counted to four before Angel opened his eyes. Damn.

“What do you want, Xander?” Angel’s voice was harsh and rough, most likely from grief and lack of use. Despite himself, Xander felt a twinge of sympathy, but he ruthlessly suppressed it.

“I want to kick your ass, but you opened your eyes, so I’m waiting for a new excuse. No, wait a minute, I don’t need one. I got a good look at Buffy on her way out the door. Okay, I can kick your ass now.”

Despite his words he didn’t move from the doorway, just stood there and gauged the effect of his words on Angel. There was a fresh surge of guilt, he’d expected that, but there wasn’t any of the true remorse that he was waiting for. Well, he’d just gotten started.

“She looked like someone ripped her heart out and stomped on it. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Angel remained silent. “See, what I’m thinking is this. I’m thinking that some guy broke her heart once, maybe more than once. And I know you know something about that.”

“Love her,” Angel said hoarsely. He very deliberately didn’t look at Xander. “Hurt her. Can’t make up for that.”

“Sure you can,” Xander said. “You could talk to her, apologize for something that, by the way, wasn’t really under your control since it wasn’t you, it was your evil twin, and tell her that you love her. Of course, you could always do what you’ve been doing, and wallow in your guilt, threaten to kill yourself, and generally break her heart even worse. Your choice.”

“She can’t want me. Not after what I did to her.”

This time Xander did move from the doorway; he crossed the room to grab Angel’s shoulders and shake him. Which would have been harder if he didn’t have more-than-human strength, even with Angel’s complete and total lack of resistance.

“Angel. Listen to me. She loves you. She wants you. She hasn’t been sitting here beside you for the last two days because she thinks you’re not worth it. She wants you to be better, and if I know her at all, which I do, she’s wondering what she did wrong, and if you even love her anymore.”

“Of course I love her. How could I not?” Angel sounded truly puzzled, and Xander called on all the gods he could think of for patience. Jesus Christ, Angel made a lump of granite look wishy-washy.

“Yeah, I get that. But she doesn’t, and you haven’t exactly been giving her the impression that you care, these past two days. Too wrapped up in your own problems to even realize that the girl you’re guilting over is being torn apart because you’ve got your head up your ass.”

Angel looked at him then, really looked at him, and- Praise Jesus!- there was the understanding that Xander had been waiting for. “I’m hurting her?”

“Hell yeah, you’re hurting her. What did you think you were doing, making things better?

“I didn’t think, really,” Angel admitted. “I was so sure that she wouldn’t want me. I never thought that I’d be hurting her. I never, ever meant to hurt her.”

“Well, it’s a bit late for that, but you can fix things.”

Angel fixed those huge brown eyes on Xander’s face, and Xander was reminded why he’d been just a little bit in love with the guy, all those months ago. Pun alert, but his eyes were just so frickin’ soulful that you could almost fall into them. He was like a puppy dog with those eyes, the kind of puppy that you never could resist petting.

Thinking of Spike and the way he could almost purr if you treated him right, Xander smiled inwardly. Good thing he was a cat person these days.

“How do I fix things, then?”

“Easy,” Xander said. “She’ll be back in a while, after she’s finished hunting werewolves. Then I’m going to leave, and you and her are going to have a nice long talk. And you’re going to apologize for being an asshole, and you’re going to tell her that you love her. Anything else is window dressing. She wants to be with you, even though you’ve been a moron, because all those things you said to her, after you lost your soul? They weren’t you, and she knows that. They came out of your mouth, and it was your face that smirked at her, but it wasn’t the same person, and you’d know that too if you just thought about it for a second. She doesn’t care about the things you said right now. She cares that you’ve been suffering, and you won’t let her help you. She’s putting her own pain aside to try and deal with yours, and you haven’t been making it easy on her because you haven’t been letting anyone deal with it, much less yourself.”

Angel stared at him for a long moment, then nodded. “I can do that.”

“Well good.” Xander grinned at him and sat down on the side of the bed. “Now that that’s out of the way, you’re going to love hearing about what happened recently. Especially with Spike.”

“Spike?” He had a vague memory, running away from the explosion behind him, and seeing Spike and Xander standing side by side in front of the Old Navy store before the tranq dart hit him and blackness overtook him. Xander grinned wider, and Angel suddenly realized that the smell all over Xander was an interesting combination of sex and Spike. “You and Spike-“

Xander nodded. “Did you know he helped us save the world?”

Angel set aside the extremely confusing thought of Spike and Xander together, and traded it for the even more confusing one of Spike doing something helpful. “What? How?”

“He was the one who translated the gypsy curse for you to get your soul back, and helped us with the Judge.”

“Spike helped?”

“Even more than that, he’s been researching.”

The mind boggled. Spike, with books? Spike reading? Voluntarily? “You’re kidding.”

Xander shook his head gleefully. “Giles managed to press him into werewolf-research today.”

“And Giles is still alive?”


Angel stared at him. “I think you should start at the beginning.”

“Well, you remember when Impata the mummy girl made her appearance? Right around then, he started stalking me, and-“

Xander was waiting for her with a smile on his face when Buffy trudged up the steps. “Did you get the werewolf?”

“Yeah,” she said. “He’s locked up in the cage in the library. Giles and Willow are watching over him right now.”

“Do you know who he is?”

“He changed right in front of Willow,” Buffy said. “She went to Oz’s house to talk to him, and-”

“Oz?” Xander interrupted her. “Man. If I’d pegged anyone for being the least likely to be a werewolf, it would be Oz.”

“Guess it just goes to show that personality has nothing to do with getting bitten, huh?” Buffy glanced at the half-open door to her bedroom. “How is he?”

“Go in and see for yourself,” Xander said. “But give me a hug first?”

She was baffled, but she gave him a half-hearted hug. She gave an undignified squeak of surprise when he scooped her off her feet and spun her around, holding her much tighter than she’d held him.

“What was that for?” she said breathlessly when he set her down.

He gave her a satisfied little grin. “My hug was because I deserved it. Your hug was because you looked like you needed one. Now go talk to Angel. I’m heading home.”

He brushed past her and made his way silently down the steps without another word, and she stared after him, mouth just a little agape. Was it just her, or was he getting weirder?

Figuring that it wasn’t going to get any easier if she put it off, she turned and opened the door to see how Angel was doing.

And stopped dead when she saw him sitting up, eyes open, and looking at her a little uncertainly.

“You’re... awake,” she said, and winced as soon as it was out of her mouth. Jeez, Buffy, you can do better than that.

“Yeah,” he said.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, because it was her next thought, and was surprised by the tiny smile he gave her. He smiled.

“I guess Xander was right.”

Was it just her brain that was unable to keep up, or was this conversation, such as it was, really making no sense? “You talked to Xander?”

“Yeah. He said that I had my head up my ass.”

Right. Making no sense. And she’d have to kill Xander later. “Why did he say that?” she asked, keeping her voice nice and calm.

“Because I haven’t told you how much I love you.”

Okay. Now she had to sit down. She half-collapsed on the bed, and blinked a few times, just to make sure that she was really awake, and not delirious from exhaustion. “Ah... did Xander have any other pearls of wisdom to share?”

“He told me that I was just hurting you more. That you were worried about me. That I was wrong to think that you didn’t want to be with me, and that you were worried that I didn’t want you, didn’t love you. Was he right?”

“Yeah,” she said dazedly. Then her mind caught up with the rest of her, and she blurted out, “How could you think that I wouldn’t want to be with you anymore?”

“All the things I said to you,” Angel said seriously. “I never meant them. It wasn’t me. But I said them. I wanted you off-balance, distracted, so I could end the world. I couldn’t understand how you could forgive me for that.” He paused. “How could you think that I didn’t love you anymore?”

“I- I was the one who caused you to lose your soul. If we hadn’t done the things we did, you never would have had to suffer all the guilt that you did. It was my fault. I thought you’d hate me for it.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Buffy,” Angel said, shocked. “It wasn’t your fault at all. Neither of us could have known what would have happened. I could never hate you. There’s nothing in the world I can’t forgive you for.” She glanced away, and he reached out and touched her chin, making sure that she looked at him. “I love you more than life itself, Buffy. You were wrong to think that I didn’t want you. I’ll want you when I’m dust in the wind, when the world goes up in flames around us. I’ll want you forever.”

She looked at him with a tremulous smile and curled her hands around his larger one. “Then it looks like we were both wrong,” she said shakily. “Because I love you. I want to be with you. Nothing else matters.”

“Nothing,” he agreed, and tugged carefully on her hands until she came to him. He wrapped his arms around her, and held her against him as if he would never hold her again. “We’re forever.”

“Forever,” she said, and laid her head against his chest.

Spike was waiting for him when he got home, like he’d promised. He paused in the doorway and just basked in the sight of Spike, sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed, wearing only a pair of jeans, with a genuine smile on his face.

This was a welcome that he could get used to.

And wasn’t that just the problem? He could get used to it. So easily. And though he knew that he belonged to Spike, he had no hopes that he’d be able to hold Spike for long.

“Buffy bagged the werewolf,” Xander said finally, in response to Spike’s unspoken question. “And I gave Angel a little talking-to. I think he and Buff are on the mend again.”

“And what about you, luv?” Spike asked. “You look all worn out.”

“I’m not that tired,” Xander protested, but he didn’t put up a fight when Spike uncoiled his lean body from the bed and grabbed his wrist, pulling him over to the bed. “I’d just like a little down time, you know? Time to settle a little bit, without some fresh crisis getting in the middle of things.”

“Know what you mean, pet,” Spike said, as he pulled off Xander’s boots and started on the buttons of his shirt. “If it’s not one thing with you lot, it’s another.”

Shirt off, Xander acceded to Spike’s nudges and stretched out on the bed in his jeans. “That’s the truth,” he said with a sigh. “Cost of living on the Hellmouth, I suppose.”

“Things are a bit livelier here than they are elsewhere,” Spike agreed. “Here now, roll over.”

“Why?” Xander said, but he rolled over anyway.

“Want to check your back, see how it’s healing.”

Xander stretched a little, to feel how the cuts tightened his skin. “Feel like they’ve closed over.”

“Have. Should be healed proper in a day or two.”

“They’ll scar, right?”

“Should,” Spike said, and nudged his shoulder till he rolled back over onto his side, facing Spike. “Though you know a bit more about it than me, I suspect, with it being your body and all.”

“Probably will scar,” Xander agreed, his eyes drifting closed despite his desire for them to remain open, so he could look at Spike. “You can always do it again if it starts to fade.”

Xander felt the sudden and total tension in the body next to his and cursed inwardly as he opened his eyes again. “Sorry,” he blurted, when he saw Spike studying him with a blank expression. “I didn’t mean to expect that you’d be hanging around or anything. Just a figure of speech.”

“Oh, I’ll be around,” Spike said grimly. “You really want it to scar?”

Ah. So that was why Spike was all Tension Man. “Yeah,” Xander said cautiously. “I’m yours. I told you that already, and I meant it. I want to wear your name. I still think a nice dog collar would be cute, but I like this. It’s you all over. And this way anyone who sees it will know that I belong to you.”

Spike made a low sound in his throat and almost crushed Xander with his grip. “Fucking right you’re mine,” Spike said fiercely. “Always gonna be mine. Rest of your life and you’ll belong to no one but me.”

“Even when you’re gone,” Xander agreed, then paused when he felt tension invade Spike’s frame again. “What did I say this time?”

“Gone?” Spike asked. “You think I’m going somewhere?”

Xander twitched one shoulder in a shrug. “Can’t imagine how you’d stay around,” he said, carefully keeping his voice level. “Got nothing to hold you here.”

“You’re sodding wrong about that,” Spike snapped, and his eyes shot fire at Xander. “I’ve got you. Christ. I thought you’d’ve gotten that by now. I stayed with Dru for well over a century, till the day she was dust, in fact. What makes you think that I’m going to be leaving you any sooner?”

Xander stared at him. “You mean it,” he said wonderingly. “You really mean to stay.”

“Bloody right I mean to stay. Think I’ll take off and let you and your bloody Scoobies get yourselves killed? Not fucking likely.”

Xander leaned in and kissed him, slow and soft and so unlike anything that had ever been between them that Spike stilled. “I love you,” Xander said softly. “I can’t imagine how things are going to work between us, what with you being evil and my best friend being the Slayer, but I love you.”

“We’ll work things out,” Spike said. “I think she’s a stupid bint who needs to have her arse kicked, but you like her with her intestines where they are, so I’ll leave off.”

Xander huffed a laugh. “Plus you know she’ll kick your ass,” he said with a grin.

“Bloody well would not!”

“As you say,” Xander said, clearly placating him, and Spike glared at him for a moment. Then he sighed.

“I know it’s not gonna be easy for you with your mates, luv,” he said. “That’s why I’m going to stop killing.”

“You- what?” Xander wasn’t sure he’d heard that right. “You’re going to stop killing? But- you’re a vampire. Killing is what you do. And you love it. You used to torture people with railroad spikes and stuff, and-“

“You’re babbling, love,” Spike cut him off with a grin. “Yeah. I love it, and it’s what I do, but it’s not the only way to unlive. The Poof gets on well enough with pig’s blood, and I imagine I can survive. I want you. And I know I can’t have you unless I’m not killing, ‘cause your mate the Slayer will introduce me to a sharp piece of wood otherwise.”

Xander could only gape. This was... huge. He wasn’t even sure he could get his mind around it. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Because, hey, that’s great, and I’d kinda hoped you’d say that because even though I’d love you even if you got dusted I would hate to have live without the sex and everything, but I wasn’t going to ask because, well, it’s a hell of a lot to ask.”

“Yeah it is, but yeah, I’m sure,” Spike said, and kissed him. “Now shut up, and go to sleep.”

Xander pushed himself up on one elbow and grinned down into Spike’s face. “Oh, I think I can think of something more important than sleeping,” he said, and kissed him.

Part Twelve
With All My Soul

It was just another night at the Shady Rest Cemetery in Sunnydale, California. It was dark, and peaceful, and the quiet was broken only by the sound of two teenage voices.

“So your mom still isn’t dealing well with the whole Slayer thing?”

“It’s been two weeks! She finally accepted that I am the Slayer, and that I can’t get away from that, but she gives me this look every time I leave the house at night. I tried going out the window like I used to, but she came up to my room when I was out and freaked out about that when I got home. She tries to be with me every moment of the day, and looks horribly hurt when I’m not interested in mom-time. I love her, but she’s smothering me!”

“Is she still drinking?”

“No. Thankfully, she stopped that, at least. But Xander, what am I supposed to do about her? I don’t want to hurt her or anything, but lately it seems like I’m doing anything but.”

“It seems to me like it’s just one of those things that will only resolve itself with time,” Xander said. “Besides, why are you coming to me for advice about your mom? I don’t even talk to mine.”

“Well, I would talk to Willow, but she’s still pissed at you, and so is determinedly spending all her time with Oz. Giles said the same thing you did. And Angel, well, he’s not exactly a go-to guy for problems right now.”

“You took him off of suicide watch, though, didn’t you? He told me that you finally let him leave the house and go back to his apartment.”

“Yeah, I trust him not to kill himself now. Mind you, he’s not always happy and healthy, but he won’t walk into the sunlight or something.”

“And if he tries, Spike can always kick his ass. He’ll even enjoy it.”


Xander glanced over at her. “You hadn’t heard? Angel went back to his apartment, freaked out, and decided that he couldn’t live there anymore. He’s moving into that old abandoned mansion on Crawford Street that Spike claimed for his own. Spike threw a hissy fit about it, but he gave in and Angel’s moving in tonight.”

“I was wondering why your lesser half wasn’t here tonight. Usually he’s here to make sure that I, the evil Slayer, don’t get you killed even though you can handle yourself perfectly well.” Pause. “Hissy fit? Spike throws hissy fits?”

“In his own Spikey way, yeah. There was lots of cursing, plenty of drinking, and eventually sex.” Xander grinned. “I like it when Spike throws a hissy fit.”

She snorted. “Oh please. Like you don’t get laid more than is at all fair.” Another pause. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me any of the really good details, will you?”


“Well, it’s not like I’m getting any,” she said with a pout. “Not only is Angel seriously avoiding me when I let him- which is never, in case you’re wondering- but I can’t sleep with him or he turns evil. Wreaks hell on a girl’s love life, you know?”

“I’m not telling you any juicy details,” he said firmly. Then, after a moment, he grinned wickedly and said, “You can imagine perfectly well for yourself, I bet.”

She stuck her tongue out at him, and they walked for a while in silence. Finally Buffy said, “How are things between you and Spike, anyway?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. I’m starting to miss the halcyon days when we were just fucking.”

“Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad. You love him. You told me you do.”

“Oh, I know I love him. That part is... well, not easy, but easier. It’s the rest of it that’s complicated.”

“The part where he’s an evil, bloodsucking fiend?”

“Yeah. That part. He’s promised not to kill anymore, and so far he’s kept his word, but how can I trust him? He doesn’t have a conscience. All he has is an idea of what I don’t like. And while I know he meant it when he promised, I can’t be sure that he won’t slip sometime in the heat of the moment and be apologetic afterwards. If he doesn’t just hide the body and lie.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow as she looked over at him. “And I thought my love life was complicated.”

“Yeah, but at least I get to have sex,” he retorted, and in retaliation she smacked him on the shoulder, hard enough to make him stagger.

“Jesus! Watch the Slayer strength, will you?”

“You’re all super-Xander, you can take it.”

“Yeah, but it hurts,” he complained, cupping one hand protectively over his shoulder where she hit him. “You really pack a punch there, Buff.”

She shrugged and tried to look guilty. “You’ll survive.”

He was about to say something- or possibly hit her on the shoulder to see how she liked it- but just then he saw a shadowy figure pop out from behind a tree and approach them, grinning through his fangs. Xander tapped Buffy’s shoulder to get her attention and pointed. “Hey Buff- vamp alert.”

“Damn, and here I thought I’d actually be able to go home without dusting one tonight,” she said with a sigh. Xander leaned against a nearby headstone, arms crossed over his chest, and watched critically as she ducked the vampire’s first clumsy swing, then pummeled him for a couple of minutes before finally staking him.

Buffy came back over to him, not even out of breath, already tucking her stake back into the back pocket of her jeans. “I think I’m done for the night,” she told him. “You wanna head home?”

“Sure,” he said easily. “See you tomorrow?”

“You know it,” she said, and slapped him on the shoulder again, more gently this time, before wandering off towards the South entrance. Xander made his way towards the North entrance and his house, whistling tunelessly to himself, thinking about Buffy’s mom and if there was anything that he could do to ease the situation.

In the shadows, just far enough that Xander couldn’t sense his presence, Spike watched him walk away and growled a little to himself. Xander shouldn’t be going to that... place, with those people. Those vicious fucks that he called parents. He should be coming home with Spike.

But he wasn’t, and nothing Spike could say would change his mind. He’d moved into the mansion a couple days after making his promise to Xander, and had spent the last week and a half trying to convince his lover to move in with him, with absolutely no luck. Xander refused to budge, and wouldn’t even tell him why.

Tonight he’d gotten here just in time to know that his boy had been talking to the Slayer about him, but not in time to hear what was said. So, unless he wanted to swallow his pride and go to the Slayer for help- and Hell would freeze over first- he’d just have to figure it out on his own.

Feeling better now that he’d decided on a plan of action, he started walking out of the cemetery. Maybe he could go up into Angel’s rooms and bother his Sire- the sod had moved into his home, which, in Spike’s eyes, gave him the right to annoy Angel every chance he got. Not that he didn’t do that anyway.

Whistling much as Xander had, he headed for home.

It was an average morning in Sunnydale- bright and sunny, with birds singing, and students shouting cheerfully as they poured out of buses and cars and into the school. Xander lurked in the shadows near the front doors, waiting for Buffy to show up and feeling very glad that he’d finally surrendered to his abused eyes and bought a pair of sunglasses. Xander was very much a nocturnal person these days, and his eyes had adjusted accordingly.

It was just a minute or so later when he saw Buffy walking up the steps- accompanied by Willow. They were talking- or rather Willow was talking, very fast and intense, and Buffy was listening, her face set in an unreadable expression. Xander got ready to duck away and leave them to it, but then he saw Willow glance up, see him there- and very deliberately turn away, saying something that was probably a goodbye to Buffy and walking away, angling off across the grass so she wouldn’t have to pass anywhere near him to enter the school.

Buffy sighed, heavily enough that Xander could see it from twenty feet away, and closed the distance between them. “I’m guessing you didn’t miss that little byplay.”

“Nope,” he said. “She still hates me, I take it?”

“Not so much hate as...“ Buffy trailed off, searching for a different word.

“Hate,” Xander supplied. “Not that I blame her. I did lie to her.”

“I know, but you’d think she’d get over it,” Buffy said. “If I can deal, she can deal. Spike was my mortal enemy, after all.”

“She’s afraid,” Xander said. Buffy looked at him sharply. “I’m not the same person I was, and now she knows it. Before, she could look at me going toe-to-toe with you or Angel and pretend that I’m just stronger, but still the same Xander. Now she knows that I’m not the same person at all, and she’s afraid of who I am now. In addition, she trusts Spike about as far as she can throw him, and she’ll always be afraid of him, and his hold on me.”

Buffy was silent for a minute before saying, “That’s amazingly insightful for someone who hasn’t even spoken to her since the last apocalypse.”

He shrugged. “I know Willow,” he said. “We’ve been friends since birth, practically. I don’t have to talk to her to know what she’s thinking.”

Buffy sighed and leaned against the wall next to her. “Nothing’s ever simple, is it?”

“Oh hell no. Think how boring life would be if it was.”

“I think I can live with a little boring,” she said with a smile. “In fact, I could live with a whole hell of a lot of normal.”

“Yeah, you got a point there.” Xander tilted his head towards the door. “We should probably head in.”

Buffy nodded an agreement, so they both grabbed their bags and went inside. Xander folded up his shades and tucked them away as soon as they were out of the bright California sunshine, and Buffy smirked at him.

“You’re such a hottie with those shades on, you know. Lounging there against the wall, dressed all in black, looking like every girl’s wet dream...”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Why do I talk to you?” he asked rhetorically. Buffy ignored him.

“I mean, if it weren’t for the fact that the whole school knows that you’re gay, you’d have girls swarming all over you.” She paused, considered. “Actually, now that I think about it, why don’t you have boys swarming all over you?”

“They know I’m taken,” Xander said. “The swarming happened last week- you know, when you were out for a couple days for mom-time? I was joking about it to Spike, and the very next day he came to school through the sewers, and by the end of the day the whole school knew that I had a boyfriend.” Xander shrugged. “So now I am swarm-free.”

“You sound less than sorry,” Buffy said. “I take it you didn’t like the attention?”

“I wasn’t interested in any of them, because c’mon, how could they measure up to Spike? So after a little bit it was annoying. It’s nice to have some quiet for a change.”

“Look at Xander, jaded from all the attention from cute boys,” Buffy teased. “It’s really funny sometimes, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.” He sent her a wry glance. “Trust me, I surprise myself every time I look in the mirror. Even now. It takes getting used to, when your life is suddenly different.”

“Now that is a topic I know really well,” she said. “Getting your life turned upside down? I’m practically an expert on it.”

“Well, I’m catching up with you there.” He paused in front of the door to the library. “Hey, I’m gonna go in and check up with Giles. See you in English?”

“You know it,” she said, and waved to him and she sauntered off down the hall.

Xander pushed the door open to the library, only to see Mrs. Calendar pulling away from a blushing Giles. Xander ducked his chin to hide his smirk, and pointedly looked at the ceiling while Giles stuttered out a goodbye, and Mrs. Calendar left the library.

“So,” Xander said as soon as he knew she was out of earshot. “You two made up, I take it?”

“Yes,” Giles muttered, still embarrassed. “We settled our differences.”

“I could see that,” Xander teased, but he was smiling. “Over the whole thing with Angel’s soul and her not telling anyone till she had to?”

“Yes, that,” Giles said with some asperity, and Xander sighed, because Giles was back to normal. “We argued, and then we-“

“Were kissing madly? There’s a lot of that going around,” Xander said. “Don’t worry. You’re in good company.”

Giles sent him an odd sideways glance. “I assume you’re referring to your- vampire.”

Xander didn’t miss the disapproval in Giles’ tone, but he did ignore it. “Spike, yeah. Whoever knew that arguing could be foreplay?” Giles winced as expected at the thought of sex and Spike combined, and Xander laughed, his goal accomplished. “Sorry. I’m done, I promise. I actually came in here to see if anything-“

A teacher, dressed in long skirts and a neat blouse, hair done up in- what was the style? Something fifties, sixties? A student, wearing khakis and a letterman jacket. Talking to each other, nose-to-nose, intense. A kiss. A hungry embrace-

“-weird was going on. Holy shit, did you see that?”

“See what, exactly?” Giles was giving him that look, the one he gave you when you did something incomprehensible to him, and he wasn’t sure if you were in your right mind or not.

“The scene changed. Just switched, right while I was talking, and there were two people here- a student and a teacher. By the clothes and the hair, I’m guessing fifties. They were talking, and then they were kissing, and then it was back in this time and place and I was finishing my sentence. So, weird?”

“Definitely odd, yes,” Giles said, and he already sounded distracted, like he was going through a mental filing index as he spoke. “It sounds like a type of ghostly manifestation. Perhaps it’s- Good Lord!”

“It’s Good Lord? Not quite what I was expecting.”

Giles gave him an impatient glance. “Last night I was working late, and interrupted a passionate argument between a teacher and a janitor. They seemed to be having a lover’s quarrel of some sort, and just as I arrived on the scene the janitor pulled out a gun and aimed it at the teacher. I knocked it out of his hand, of course, but the odd thing is that as soon as it left his hand, it disappeared. In addition to that, when I turned and asked him what in God’s name he was thinking, he didn’t remember a moment of it, and when I told him what he’d said and almost done, both he and the teacher vehemently denied any sort of romantic liaison. Do you think that perhaps-“

“They could be the couple I saw in my vision, or whatever it was? Yeah, it feels right. The question now is, who are they, and what do they want?”

Hours later, Buffy poked her head into the library, looking for Xander. “Xan, you missed English, so I was wondering what-“ She stopped when she spotted Xander sitting at the table, surrounded by heaps of Gilesian tomes, newspapers yellowed with age, and what looked like yearbooks. “Hell. Is it something I need to slay?”

“Ghosts, Buff,” Xander said absently, turning the pages of one of the tomes. “We figured out the who, and possibly the why, but we’re having issues with the how.”

Buffy sighed and slumped down into the seat across the table from him, letting her bag slide to the floor. “You’re going to have to explain it a little better than that for the Slayer who’s been out of the loop.”

Xander looked up from the book. “Two ghosts are manifesting, and not in a harmless way, either. A teacher was almost killed last night.”

“And still that tells me next to nothing useful.”

“I’m getting there. We figured out that they’re the ghosts of two lovers- a teacher and her student from the fifties. I found here-“ he lifted up one of the newspapers, “-that the student, James, got into a fight with his lover when she tried to leave him, and shot her. Then, in remorse, he went into the music room and shot himself. Big scandal, big tragedy.”

“Yikes,” she said. “So which one is it? Or is it both of them?”

“It’s James, as far as we can tell. He’s trying to right the wrongs he did forty years ago. Or maybe just be forgiven. Who knows? Either way, it’s not exactly working out, and people are going to get killed if we don’t stop him. I’m currently looking for exorcisms, but there’s surprisingly few that deal with a ghost with this sort of power. Most are for routine hauntings. It might be easier said than done to get rid of a ghost of this caliber.”

“Not good,” Buffy said. “So what do you want me to do?”

“Can you use the computer? It’s usually Willow’s job, but-“

“But she’s not exactly in the Scooby mode,” Buffy finished. “Yeah, sure. Anything’s gotta be better than books.” She went over to the computer and sat down.

“Just don’t go googling for hot boys,” Xander called over to her, and she flipped him off cheerfully before settling down to work.

Xander trudged home, exhaustion in every line of his body. They’d finally found a spell that Giles thought would work, and the three of them, along with Mrs. Calendar for her mad techno pagan skills and Cordelia because she was there, had tried to perform the exorcism at midnight. Only the ghost hadn’t exactly appreciated it, and had lashed out badly enough that they were now completely blocked out of the school by a massive swarm of buzzing bees. So by Xander’s count, they had not only failed, they’d crashed and burned. Ghost: 1, Scoobies: 0.

He caught a brief flash of white hair in the shadows to his left and came to a halt, sighing to himself. He didn’t have the energy for this tonight. He guessed that Spike wanted to have a talk instead of sex- Spike had become less and less subtle over the past couple of weeks about trying to get Xander to move in with him, and Xander had so far refused. He’d also refused to explain why, and he suspected that Spike had finally run through his limited supply of patience and was about to demand that Xander tell him what was going on.

“Xan? I need to talk to you.”

Could he call it or what?

“Yeah, I figured.” He left the road and crossed the grassy lawn till he joined Spike under the tree near the gate to the cemetery. “Shoot.”

“Why won’t you move? In with me, I mean. You keep saying no and you won’t even tell me why so we can’t even argue about it.”

There was a pout in Spike’s voice, and as always Xander felt himself wanting to melt a little inside. He resisted, though.

“Do we have to do this tonight? It’s been a long day.”

“Yes, we fucking well do,” Spike said with a burst of anger. “I think I deserve the soddin’ truth, Xan. You owe me that much, if nothing else.”

Oh, lovely. A guilt trip. Who knew that vampires without souls knew how to do them?

“You want the truth? Fine, I’ll tell you why. It’s because I can’t trust you.”

Silence stretched taut between them, broken by Spike’s deadly soft whisper. “What was that?”

“You heard me. I said it’s because I can’t trust you.” Xander knew it was useless to get mad. But he couldn’t seem to help it.

“You can’t trust me? Fuck you, Xan. I gave up killing for you, and this is what you hit me with? You can’t trust me? I thought you loved me.”

“I do. The two emotions don’t necessarily go hand in hand.” Pause. “And you promised to give up killing, yeah. How do I know you’ll keep your word? You don’t have anything to hold you to it.”

“I have you, you fucking git! As if I’d ever do anything to hurt you!” Spike paused, as if realizing something. “Oh, I know what you’re talking about now. I don’t have a soul. That’s what it all boils down to, isn’t it? I’m not good enough because I don’t have a soul. Like I can’t love you without one.”

“You’ve never gone out of your way to actually, you know, tell me that you love me,” Xander snapped. “How the hell am I supposed to know? I don’t fucking well read minds! And yeah, while we’re at it, it’s because you don’t have a soul. You don’t have a conscience. You don’t understand the difference between right and wrong. You might intend to keep your word, and you might be sorry afterwards if you slip up, but that won’t make the people any less dead. The very fact that you can’t even understand why I feel this way just proves my point!”

“It doesn’t prove a fucking thing! You’ve just got this wild hair up your ass, and now you’re acting like some hysterical chit!”

“Fuck you, Spike! And the horse you rode in on!”

“That’d be you, pet, or had you forgotten already?”

Xander let out a wordless noise of frustration that Spike would later liken to the sound of a teakettle with steam escaping, and clenched his fists. “I don’t know why I fucking bothered,” he said venomously. “The first time we have any sort of problem, you turn right back into Spike, the Big Bad, destroyer of mankind and kicker of puppies. Fuck, if you understood me half as well as you think you do, you’d know why I’m upset. But you don’t. And that’s why I can’t trust you. So you know what, Spike? Fuck off. I don’t need this tonight.”

“Maybe I don’t need you,” Spike shot at him. “Hell, I’m not sure I even want you. Fuck you, I’m outta here. Don’t know why I bothered with you in the first place.”

And while Xander stood there, staring in shock, Spike whirled on his heels and stormed out off into the night.

“Can you believe him?” Xander demanded to Buffy. “He just walked off. Didn’t stay and fight it out, just... walked off. Can you believe that bastard?”

“Not really,” Buffy said frankly. “It’s kind of hard to take Spike seriously, truth be told. C’mon, Xander, he was just being an asshole. You know he’s gonna track you down tomorrow to finish duking it out and then you’ll have wild monkey sex. Isn’t that what you two do?”

“Yeah, but he was being... I dunno. It was different tonight, Buff. I can tell the difference between arguing for the sake of argument and arguing because you mean it. We meant it. He meant it.” Xander slumped dejectedly back on the couch.

He’d gone straight to Buffy’s after his little scene with Spike, and found her there alone with her mom. More mom-time, he presumed, but knowing the way Buffy felt about it, he felt little guilt for barging in to rant about Spike. From the relieved look on Buffy’s face, he guessed that she felt much the same.

The phone started ringing, but Buffy made no move to answer it. “C’mon, Xan, you know it’ll work out. He really cares about you. Hell, even Angel says so.”

“Really?” Xander said, perking up a little bit.

“Really,” she said, then cursed when the phone kept ringing. “Hold on, let me get that.” She went off to the kitchen, muttering, “Guess mom doesn’t think answering the phone is a big deal anymore.”

Xander slumped back into the couch cushions again, and tried to empty his brain. It didn’t work. He couldn’t stop thinking about Spike.

And then there was a voice calling him, and the only thing he could think to do was follow.

Buffy came back into the living room a few minutes later, saying, “That was Giles. He thinks he found something about-“

But Xander was gone.

“Can you believe him?” Spike demanded to Angel. “I gave up everything for him, and now he’s rabbitting on about me not having a soul so he can’t trust me or some shit.”

Angel, who was sitting on the couch in the living room, patiently listening as Spike paced back and forth furiously and ranted, personally thought that Xander had a point, but knew better than to actually say so when Spike was in this sort of mood.

Spike stopped and threw his hands up in frustration. “He’s just so- fucking- something, I don’t know. I love the little bastard and he throws shit like that in my face. Not like it’s my damn fault that I don’t have a soul.”

Angel, since he liked his hide intact, remained silent.

Spike resumed pacing again. “I want to be with him. But if he’s going to be acting like this then-“

He paused, and the pause stretched on long enough that Angel felt it safe to say, “Then?”

Spike’s face looked like he’d found religion. “Then nothing,” Spike said wonderingly. “I want to be with him anyway. Despite this shit. Despite everything.” His expression was one that Angel had honestly never seen before- a slow, sweet smile that was more innocent than any vampire had the right to be. “In fact, I think I’ll go tell him that.”

Angel opened his mouth to say something- agree, disagree, anything- but Spike was already gone.

He’d walked into the school, and the wasps had parted before him like Moses and the Red Sea. The buzzing mass closed up again behind him, but what did he care of such things, when someone was calling him, someone he had to go to.

James’ voice whispered loud in his ears, in his mind, and without thought he made his way through the halls his feet had trod a thousand times before until he was there. There, the place where it had happened, and all he needed, all that James needed, was his love. Miss Newman.

The woman that he'd killed.

It was an easy matter to track Xander. He’d started from the Summers house, and just followed his nose right up to the high school.

It was equally easy to get inside. Wasps didn’t like the undead, and parted for him as easily as they must have parted for Xander. And then it was just a few more halls, a few more moments until he turned a corner and saw Xander, standing with his back to Spike, absolutely still.

“If you thought wasps were gonna keep me away from you, you’ve got another think comin’,” Spike growled. “I found you, now let’s finish our fight.”

“You’re the only one,” Xander murmured. “The only person I can talk to.”

Spike cocked his head, confused. “Not exactly the response I was expecting, but okay.”

Xander whirled around, and there was something slightly hysterical in his face, in his eyes. “You can’t make me disappear just because you say it’s over!”

“What? Never wanted you to fucking disappear, Xan. And you should’ve known I didn’t mean it back there. I’m here, aren’t I?” He took several steps closer, till they were just inches apart. And then it changed.

“I just want you to be able to have some kind of a normal life,” said Spike/Miss Newman. “We can never have that, don’t you see?”

“I don’t give a damn about a normal life! I’m goin’ crazy not seein you. I think about you every minute.”

Spike reached out, cupped one hand over James’/Xander’s jaw. “I know,” he whispered. Xander’s hand came up to cover his, and then he was sliding his hand away, and walking away. “But it’s over. It has to be.”

Xander raced after him, grabbed his arms and turned him around. “Come back here! We’re not finished.” Xander shook him, once, hard. “You don’t care anymore, is that it?”

“It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what I feel,” Spike choked out.

Another hard shake. “Then tell me you don’t love me!” And another. “Say it!”

“Is that what you need to hear?” Spike asked softly, between sobbing breaths. “Would that help?” He shook his head helplessly. “I don’t. Now let me go.”

“No.” Xander’s voice was choked, and his eyes were fever-bright with tears and rage and grief. “A person doesn’t just wake up and stop loving somebody!” He reached behind him and pulled out a gun, childishly gleeful at the shock in Spike’s eyes when he leveled it at Spike’s forehead with a shaking hand.

“Love,” he said, “is forever.”

The moment was frozen, and Spike took a cautious half step back, and the gun shook a little more as Xander said, “I’m not afraid to use it, I swear! If I can’t be with you-”

“Oh my god,” Spike said, and turned and ran, short, hitching steps that were nothing like his usual loping gait.

“Don’t walk away from me, bitch!” Xander screamed, but Spike kept running, down the hall and out the door as Xander chased after him, yelling, “Stop it!” and again, “Stop it, don’t make me!” as Spike came to a halt at the balcony, Xander behind him with the gun still pointed, waveringly, at his back.

Spike turned, slowly, hands held up in defense and supplication. “Alright,” he said. “Just- you know you don’t want to do this. Let’s both just- calm down. Now give me the gun.”

“Don’t,” Xander snarled, gesturing with the barrel of the gun for emphasis. “Don’t. Don’t do that, damn it! Don’t talk to me like I’m some stupid k-“

And the gun went off.

Spike looked down at his chest, and one hand came up to press against the bleeding hole. He looked up at Xander, who had slowly lowered the gun, and stared at him with wide, shocked eyes. “James,” he whispered, and then fell.

The next few moments were a blur to Xander. He walked back into the school, and then into the music room. An old record player was there, with a record already on, and with careful, shaking hands he turned it on and lifted the needle into the first groove.

“My love must be a kind of blindness,” drifted out of the speakers, and Xander stared into the mirror, seeing James’ wide, wet eyes and tear-streaked cheeks instead of his own. “I can’t see anyone but you.”

Slowly, he lifted the gun towards his temple.

And then there was a hand on his own, stopping his movement, and he whirled around to see Spike standing there, his hair and skin so brilliantly pale in the soft moonlight coming in from the windows. “Grace?” he whispered, and Spike gripped his hand tighter.

“Don’t do this,” Spike whispered, and Xander let his breath out on a sob.

“But I killed you.”

“It was an accident,” Spike said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Xander looked up into Spike’s eyes and said, breathlessly, sobbing, “It is my fault, how could I-“

Spike’s fingers on his lips silenced him. “Shh,” Spike said. “I’m the one who should be sorry, James. You thought I stopped loving you, but I never did. I loved you with my last breath.” Another sob exploded from Xander’s lungs, and Spike lifted a gentle hand to cup his wet cheek. “Shh,” he said again. “No more tears.”

And then they were kissing.

It was so good, just as it always was. This was one thing they had never had problems with, and it was a kiss filled with the passion of two lovers denied each other for four decades.

Unnoticed by either of them, light began to gather around them, streaming upwards. The light swirled together into a burst of light, and then was gone.

Both of them were slow to pull away, and when they did they just leaned into each other for a moment, resting their foreheads together. “Spike?” Xander whispered finally. “Are you-“

“I came here for you, pet,” Spike said, equally softly. “Ranted a bit to Angel, and realized that there wasn’t anyone I wanted more than you. Anything I wouldn’t do to keep you. I love you, Xander Lavelle Harris, and if a soul is what it takes to get you to trust me, then a soul I’ll get.”

Xander pulled away completely at that. He stared at Spike, a sort of shocked wonder in his eyes. “Love me?” he said faintly. “You do?”

“Yeah, pet,” Spike said, and pulled him back, not liking any sort of distance between then just then. “I love you.” Pause. “And did you miss the bit about the soul?”

Xander grinned at him and kissed him on the forehead. “Oh hell no,” he said. “But- are you sure? I mean, I wouldn’t want you to-“

“I’m sure,” Spike said, before he could finish the sentence. “I’m very damned sure. More sure than sure can be, even. Can you do it?”

Xander thought about it for a minute. “We’d have to find another Orb of Thessula,” he said, considering. “And we’d have to get Willow to do the spell itself.” A little smirking grin appeared at the corners of his mouth. “Save her right for being such a bitch about you.”

“Always knew I liked you, pet,” Spike said, and pulled him close. Spike buried his face in Xander’s neck, inhaling the warm, spicy Xander-smell that was so familiar and dear to him, and Xander laid his cheek against stiffly gelled hair and just... breathed.

They were gonna be okay.

Buffy leaned against Angel’s side and watched as Xander paced nervously back and forth across the living room floor of Spike’s place. “He looks like an expectant father in the waiting room,” she whispered, and felt Angel’s body shake with silent laughter.

They could all see through the open door to Spike’s room, where Spike was on the bed, lying with his arms tucked behind his head and looking supremely bored as Cordelia and Oz waved herbs, Willow chanted, and Giles hovered in the background. Buffy found herself wanting to laugh, too- the whole scene was just so... so Spike.

The Orb began to glow, then, and suddenly any urge to laugh left her. She tensed up, felt Angel do the same, and saw Xander do the same, only to a much greater degree.

Willow’s chant built up to a shouted finish, and the Orb disappeared in a flash of light that was echoed in Spike’s eyes. He arched up off the bed, and Xander was in there in a flash, sitting by his side on the bed and pressing his body flat with one hand.

Spike went suddenly boneless, and everyone held their breath. Slowly, Spike opened his eyes.

“Spike?” Xander said in a low voice, the tension in his body palpable. “Spike, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Spike said, and suddenly grinned. “You gonna move in with me now?”

Xander shouted with laughter and flung himself onto the vampire. Buffy saw Giles and Willow (mostly Willow, who had agreed to ensoul Spike because she couldn’t figure out a reason why she shouldn’t, but still hated the thought of him with Xander) grimace with distaste, but Buffy, who had seen far more graphic displays over patrol the past two weeks, just smiled and settled closer to Angel’s side.

“Love you,” Angel said, too low for anyone to hear but her, and she basked in the glow of that as Xander finally peeled himself away from Spike to say, “Yes. I will definitely move in with you.”

Buffy grinned to herself. So what if Giles was hesitant and Willow hated it? Her best friend had finally found love, and, she reminded herself as she rested her cheek against Angel’s chest, so had she.

They were all gonna be alright.

The End


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