Author's Note: This fic was originally held off the site because it needs to be re-edited and re-written in parts, but due to *cough* popular demand *cough* (and the fact that, at this rate, I'll never get the re-edits done), I'm putting it up without those changes. You've been warned. *g* Also, it is incomplete.

Pairing: Spike/Xander (William/Xander); mention of Gunn/Fred and Angel/Cordy
Rating: NC17/Slash
Length: 85,500 words
Spoilers: Through BtVS season 7 (series finale 'Chosen') and Ats season 4.
Summary: It’s September, 2003; Xander is in LA and he runs into someone familiar. Xander’s POV.
Notes: Angel is Spike's sire.
Feedback: Would be appreciated.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Thanks: To Tammy for the beta and to Pat for the medical information.
Written: May through November, 2003





Reaping the Reward


by
Spikedluv



Part One

It was 2:30 on a cool Thursday morning, and Xander was just getting off work. He was tired after putting in ten plus hours, and so hungry he could eat a horse. He pulled his lightweight jacket on over his gray t-shirt and navy dockers, and walked out of the bar with Paulie, the night manager. Paulie locked the door and Xander walked him to his car. Paulie offered him a ride, as he did every night they worked together, and Xander declined.

After being stuck behind the bar for ten hours, he needed the exercise. Besides, he liked to stop at the all-night diner he passed on the way home for something to eat before showering and hitting the sack. Not that the cheap motel he stayed in was much of a home, but it was okay for now. Much better than the basement. And better than the lonely apartment after Anya moved out, or after Spike moved in, he thought with a wry grin and a shake of his head.

Spike. He hadn’t thought about him in, well, hours. Sometimes he could go for quite a stretch - days, weeks even - without thinking about the battle to close the Hellmouth and destroy the First Evil. But lately - he didn’t know why, it had been on his mind more; as if there was something in the air. It felt good, knowing they had kicked evil’s butt, but he couldn’t help remembering their losses. The young potentials, Anya, Spike...his left eye.

He self-consciously reached up to adjust the patch over his empty eye socket, and then automatically pushed his bangs back out of his face. He hadn’t cut his hair since they left Sunnydale. Or what was left of Sunnydale. The long hair falling in his eyes - er, eye - and curling around his ears and neck was not really a fashion statement; he just couldn’t be bothered. There were more important things to be considered. And right now, that included food.

The patch and longish hair actually helped him out at the bar. Made him look rakish Paulie told him; Xander blushed at the thought. Got him some pretty good tips. Never did get that parrot he and Willow had talked about, though. Or the peg leg. The diner came into view and he relaxed. He wasn’t afraid of being out after dark, even though he knew all about what went bump in the night, but it was nice to know he could relax his vigilance in a moment and enjoy some good food and friendly conversation.

Also, after the troubles LA had seen, and the closing of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, demons had been pretty quiet. Not that he took any chances. He still carried a stake and a holy water gun in his jacket pockets. He also had a taser now, just in case he was attacked by something holy water didn’t have much of an affect on.

He had other weapons in his motel room, but they were too big to carry on his person. Not many places you could hide a crossbow or a sword. He had a dagger that he could wear tucked against his lower back, but he hadn’t perfected the art of drawing it out of its sheath, so he figured it was best to leave that one at home, too.

He walked into the diner with a smile on his face and a ready greeting for Sally, the waitress, and Ben, the homeless guy who was there every night. Sally and Jim, the cook, were kindhearted, and would give Ben a meal and some coffee to warm him up. And because it wasn’t usually busy, allowed him to stay inside the warmth of the diner reading discarded newspapers and magazines.

“Hey, Sally!” Xander called to the petite, strawberry-blonde who always had a smile for him, no matter how much her feet hurt. He wasn’t sure if he liked her because she was so nice, or because she sort of reminded him of Willow when they were younger.

Sally glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Alex! Figured we’d see you soon,” she said with a smile. “Need a menu, hon?”

“Nope. I’ll have the usual,” Xander said, and headed for a seat at the counter. “Hey, there, Ben,” he called to the weathered old man who looked to be in his 70's, but Xander knew from talking to him was only 57. Living on the streets, like living on the Hellmouth, will do that to a person. Well, actually, sometimes living on the Hellmouth didn’t age you so much as steal your life.

“Alex,” Ben replied shyly in his gravelly voice, and then turned back to his magazine.

As Xander turned away from Ben, he saw a man sitting in the back booth. Xander didn’t recognize him, but he seemed familiar. Changing direction on a whim, Xander headed towards the back of the diner. The man was sitting with his head bowed, his hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. He had light brown, curly hair with blond tips, and was wearing a worn brown leather bomber jacket over a navy blue t-shirt. Xander glanced under the table to see blue jeans and a pair of hiking boots.

The man must have sensed Xander’s scrutiny, because he looked up, staring Xander right in the eye. Most people looked away nervously when they encountered the eye patch, at least for the first time, but not this fellow. Xander didn’t even notice; his attention captured by bright blue eyes and chiseled cheek bones.

“Spike?” he gasped in shock, as he pointed a shaking finger at the apparition.

The other man just tilted his head in confusion. “Sorry, no,” he said, in an English accent.

“Spike?” Xander repeated, and heard his voice go up a notch.

“Again, sorry. You’ve got the wrong guy,” the stranger said.

Xander knew his mouth was hanging open, and his hand was wavering in the air, his finger still pointing at Spike, er, not Spike.

“I’m sorry, you look... What, um, what is your name? I-if you don’t mind my asking, that is,” Xander said.

The other man hesitated, looking Xander over carefully, as if deciding whether to trust the crazy man with his name. Apparently he decided Xander was harmless, and finally said, “William.”

Xander felt his throat close off. Shit, he couldn’t breathe! He grabbed for his throat, trying to gasp in air. Spike, er, William jumped out of the booth, his face a mask of concern.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m just...” Xander panted, as he was finally able to fill his lungs with air. “Can I...?” he gestured towards the booth.

“Of course!” William replied solicitously, as Xander dropped onto the seat. “Can I get you anything? Water?”

“No. Um, yes. Water. Would be good,” Xander babbled. Oh, God, what a moron, he thought, slapping his forehead in disgust as he watched William walk over to the counter.

Spike was dead. This was not Spike. It couldn’t be Spike. He hadn’t actually seen Spike die, but Buffy had left him in the Hellmouth with an amulet full of sunshine. Spike had wielded the weapon that had defeated the uber vamps and closed the Hellmouth - sunshine - and had died in the doing. Or so they had all assumed.

But...there was no way he could have gotten out. Not out of the Hellmouth, once it started to collapse, to close. Nor out of Sunnydale. Hell, they’d been in a bus and had barely made it to the outskirts of town before Sunnydale became a big old crater in the earth. Would probably fill in with water and be a lake one day, and no one would be able to explain where it came from. But he digressed, as usual.

Xander jumped at the hand on his shoulder, looked up into warm blue eyes that made him want to cry for some reason, and then took the proffered glass of water. “Thanks,” he mumbled, after drinking the water down in three large swallows. “Thanks.”

“‘S all right,” William said, as he reseated himself across the table from Xander.

“Sorry,” Xander said, “about being so...freakish.” He turned his head to look out the window...and saw William’s reflection. His breath caught, and he closed his eyes and willed himself to breathe slowly. He opened his eyes; the reflection was still there.

“What do you see?” William asked, turning his own head to look out the window.

“Nothing,” Xander replied, “I was just...” He made a vague gesture with his hand. “My name is Xander,” he said.

“Here you go, Alex,” Sally said, setting his order down in front of him. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, and a large glass of milk. “Let me know if you want anything else,” she said before turning to William. “Can I heat that up for you?” she asked, indicating his coffee.

“No, thank you,” William said with a smile as he shook his head ‘no’, and Sally walked back over to the counter.

Xander was acutely aware of the blush suffusing his face. He felt as if he’d been caught in a lie, though he hadn’t. “Alexander, actually,” he explained. “I used to go by Xander. Still think of myself that way. But I use Alex now. Or try to. Sounds more mature. And could I sound more pathetic?” he finished his babble. “Willow never finds out about this,” he muttered, as he looked down at his plate.

“Look, I, uh, I don’t have to stay here. I could...” He waved his hand towards the counter.

“That’s all right,” William said with a slight smirk that he hid by taking a sip of cooling coffee. Xander just stared at him. It had to be Spike, but... He looked at the reflection in the window again. When he looked back, William was staring at him in obvious amusement.

“Uh, thanks,” Xander said, and started eating. He was famished, so it didn’t take long to demolish the food on his plate. “So,” he questioned William, as he pushed his plate back, “have you been in LA long?”

“Just came in on the bus,” William said. “Decided to get something to eat and wait for the paper to hit the streets. Need to find a job.”

“You, uh, you like, um, daytime jobs?” Xander asked.

“I’ve had ‘em,” William said, “but for some reason, I prefer working nights.”

“Ahh,” Xander squeaked. “You, um, er, where did you say you came from?”

“I didn’t,” William replied knowingly, as Xander fished for information. “I’m from a little town south of here. Been working odd jobs and heading north. Had an urge to see LA. How long have you been here?” he asked, turning the interrogation around on Xander.

“Oh, um, just five months now,” he answered. “Came in with some friends. They left. I stayed.”

They were silent as Sally came over and removed the plate and empty glass. “Coffee, hon?” she asked. Xander shook his head ‘no’, but William slid his cup over for a refill.

After she left them alone again, William asked, “What happened to your eye?”

Xander swallowed hard. He wasn’t used to people being so matter-of-fact about it. “Lost it in a fight,” he said. “But you should see the other guy.” He grinned, imagining Caleb split in two, right across the middle. He’d asked Buffy to tell that story again and again.

William grinned with him, and Xander found himself studying the other man’s face. He reached out slowly, and placed his fingertips against the back of William’s hand. The flesh was warm. He drew his hand back, and leaned back against the booth.

“Sorry,” he said, staring at the table. “I just...still can’t believe you’re not Spike.”

“Friend of yours?” William asked, and Xander snorted.

“Oddly enough, no,” he said, shaking his head. “Acquaintances. Worked together sometimes...,” he trailed off.

“Ah,” William nodded. “Doing what?”

“Hmm?” Xander asked, having not been paying much attention, his thoughts on Spike.

“What did you do?” William repeated the question.

“Oh, uh, I was in construction,” Xander replied.

“And this Spike fellow was, too?”

“Oh, uh, no!” Xander said. “He, um, well, we actually...battled the forces of evil together,” he said in a rush. William just looked at him, and Xander could tell he was trying hard not to smile. “Go ahead, laugh,” Xander muttered. “I know it sounds stupid to normal people, who weren’t raised on the Hellmouth.”

“Hellmouth?” William asked curiously.

Xander knew William probably thought he was nutters, but he looked so much like Spike it was difficult to not tell him these things. “Mouth of Hell,” Xander explained. “Attracted a lot of demons like, you know, vampires.” He stared at William for a hint of recognition. Instead he saw disbelief.

“Vampires?” William asked.

Xander gave a snort of laughter. “Yeah. You know, I should get going. Been a long night. Time for all crazy people to be in bed,” he said, trying to make light of his comments.

“That’s all right.” William smiled at Xander as he pushed out of the booth.

Xander pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and drew out several bills, and then stuffed it back in. “Listen, it was, uh, nice meeting you,” he said. “Sorry about the...mistaken identity thing.” Xander walked over to the counter to pay Sally.

“No worries, mate,” William said, leaning back in his seat.

Xander froze, and turned back to look at the other man. He handed the money to Sally without looking at her, and then walked back over to the booth. “Where are you from in England?” he asked.

It was William’s turn to look gobsmacked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Don’t remember much, actually, ‘cept my name.”

Xander fell into the booth. “Why not?” he asked.

William shrugged. “Amnesia,” he said.

“Amnesia?” Xander repeated stupidly. “How...”

“Don’t know that either,” William admitted. “Woke up in hospital about four months ago. Said I’d been in a coma for over four weeks. They weren’t sure I was gonna come out of it. When I did, I remembered things like, driving on the right side of the road, and that chocolate chunk ice cream is better than plain chocolate, but nothing about my life. ‘Cept my name, o’ course. I remembered my name right off.”

Xander just stared at him. He felt a tear well up in his eye, and it wasn’t for Spike, exactly, but for himself. Someone they had lost in the fight might not be lost after all. If he’d been given his choice, he might have chosen Anya, but the thought that Spike could still be alive, hidden inside this...this human body, was stunning, shocking. Xander felt the room spin.

“You all right, mate?” William asked in concern.

“No...yes...do you have a place to stay?” Xander asked, suddenly afraid of walking out the door and losing this - this link.

“Not yet,” William replied with a grin. “Just got in.”

“Right,” Xander said. “Well, I...after you get done searching for a job...I work at a bar near, well, not really near, here, and, uh, if you want...you could...you know...”

“Stop by for a drink?” William finished for him.

“Exactly!” Xander said with relief. “We’re short, so I work from dinner to closing... Hey, you ever bartended?” he asked.

“Not in the last four months,” William replied with a smirk.

“Huh, right again.” Xander nodded. “Well, it’s called ‘O’Reilly’s Pub’. It’s in a nicer part of town than this. Though this is okay, don’t get me wrong. I mean, I live here. Anyway, they serve good burgers and stuff, too, if you want, uh, more than just a drink. Speaking of drinks, ever had the urge for, uh, blood?” Xander asked.

At William’s raised eyebrow, Xander back peddled. “Never mind. Crazy question.” He wondered what would happen if he tasered himself. “I’ll just... How did you get that scar?” He pointed at the familiar scar, noticing it for the first time.

William raised his hand and brushed a finger over his left eyebrow. “Don’t remember.”

“Right! I keep forgetting that,” Xander said, staring at the jumping pulse in William’s neck. “Listen, don’t leave town on account of the crazy person, okay?” he asked, hoping he hadn’t scared William off. If he lost him again...not he, they - if they lost him again...

“I won’t,” William said.

“You’re not just humoring the wacko, are you?” Xander asked.

William raised both eyebrows.

“You are!” Xander accused, pointing his finger at William. “You’re just humoring the wacko!”

“I am not just humoring the wacko...wacko,” William replied.

“Hey!” Xander protested. “There are people out there way wackier than me,” he defended himself. “Uh, what I mean is, this town is...a really great place to live,” Xander said, realizing that he’d just been giving William yet another reason to leave town on the next bus.

“Listen.” He wiped his hand over his face. “I really need some sleep. I’m usually not this...you know, with the running of the mouth, and...it’s just, I’m beat, and seeing you was a real shock, and...”

“Why?” William asked.

“Uh, why what?” Xander responded.

“Why was seeing me such a shock?” William clarified his question.

“Oh, well, uh...,” Xander stammered. “You know that fight that took my eye?” he asked, and William nodded. “It also took Spike. Seeing you was like...seeing a ghost. Hence, babbling idiot,” he said, indicating himself.

“I’m sorry,” William said. “That I wasn’t your friend,” he added, at Xander’s quizzical look.

“Oh, no big deal,” Xander said, getting a bit choked up, and wondering why. “I didn’t like him anyway.”

“I can see that,” William replied with an understanding smile.

“Yeah, well, I guess I’ll be going,” Xander said, standing for the second time. “Good luck with your job hunt.”

“Thanks,” William said sincerely.

“I, uh, maybe I’ll see you tonight,” Xander said, taking a step away from the table. “If you know, you want. Well...goodbye.” Xander waved.

“‘Bye,” William responded, and Xander turned and practically ran out of the diner.





Part Two

God, what an idiot! Could he have sounded more crazy and pathetic? Or acted like more of a dork? William would surely be out of town on the next bus. Or would never come near this part of town again. LA was big enough that he could stay and Xander might never find him again. He hoped that didn’t happen. Even if it turned out he wasn’t Spike, there was just something about him...

He needed to call Willow. He did a quick count on his fingers; given the time difference, she’d be at work now. He reached for the cell phone on his belt, and then hesitated. He should wait until he got back to his room. For the privacy, but he also needed to kick his shoes off and stretch out on the bed. He was exhausted, and still a little shaken from his encounter with Spike, er, William. William, who looked and sounded like Spike, but didn’t act like Spike.

Xander made it back to his room safely. He locked the door and moved the desk chair beneath the handle, and then took off his jacket and hung it up. Since moving into one room, he’d learned to pick up after himself, because there weren’t many places to lay things. Not that he’d come to town with very much anyway. Everyone had been allowed a duffel bag in which to pack their most precious belongings. Everything else was buried at the bottom of the new Sunnydale crater.

Xander removed the phone from his belt and flopped down on the bed. He rested his head against the pillows and thought about closing his eye, but then had a flash of William’s deep blue eyes. He dialed the phone and held it to his ears, listening to it ring. You could always tell when an international call was being made, it just sounded different.

After the Hellmouth was destroyed, and Sunnydale along with it, the bus they were on brought them to the Hyperion. Everything was chaotic for about a month, as wounds healed and everyone wondered what they were going to do next. Giles wanted to rebuild the Watchers. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of Slayers out there, and no one to guide them, teach them. He and Wesley spent hours discussing it, though in the end, Wesley declined to return to England with Giles, but agreed to be his liaison here in the States.

One month after they arrived in LA, Giles, Willow, and Kennedy went to England to do what they could to rebuild the Watcher organization. Buffy and Dawn moved to New Orleans. Dawn attended summer school to finish her sophomore year, and Buffy found a part-time job and signed up for classes at a community college in hopes that she could eventually apply to a four-year college or university and complete her degree.

Faith and the other Slayers stayed at the Hyperion so that Faith and Angel could train with them. After six weeks, Faith took her ‘baby’ Slayers to Cleveland, where they were enrolled in the local high school for the fall semester, and patrolled the Hellmouth. Xander stayed in LA. Not because he really liked it there, but because he couldn’t think of anywhere better to go.

Both Buffy and Willow had asked him to go with them, but he knew he’d just feel like a third wheel. Willow would always be his best friend, but they had grown up, and inevitably, grown apart. Also, what would he do in England? And didn’t they make something called blood pudding? Xander shuddered at the thought. Buffy and Dawn - they were a family, and though he loved them dearly, Xander wasn’t a part of that. Besides, they needed some time alone together, to get to know each other, and remember how to be sisters.

After Buffy and Willow left LA, Xander found himself at loose ends. Out walking one day, he saw a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window of O’Reilly’s Pub. He went inside to check the place out, and applied for a job bartending. Paulie interviewed him, had commented on the ‘rakish’ patch, and hired him on the spot, despite Xander’s limited bartending experience. For the first two weeks, he memorized drink names and ingredients, and got used to his diminished depth perception when he reached for the bottles, and then consistently screwed the drink orders up. But the clientele at O’Reilly’s were a tolerant bunch, though they were sure to never let him forget his first couple of weeks, suggesting that he name and market some of his ‘mistakes’.

When Faith and the other Slayers moved to Cleveland, Xander moved out of the Hyperion. Yeah, there was plenty of room, and no one told him he had to leave, but he had never been comfortable around Angel, and apparently still wasn’t. He’d gotten friendly with Gunn when he lived at the hotel, though, and the two of them had started training a couple times a week, so Xander could stay in shape and learn how to fight with his impaired vision.

After he moved out, Xander and Gunn would still meet at the hotel for their sparring sessions. Since he was no longer patrolling or working construction, Xander was beginning to feel too sedentary, and needed to keep up with the workouts. He had also renewed his friendship with Cordy, who had revived from a coma just before the extended Scooby gang had descended on the Hyperion. Other than those two, even when he’d lived at the hotel, Xander hadn’t seen much of the AI gang. Seems they now ran the formerly-evil LA branch of Wolfram and Hart, which Xander found difficult to understand.

He was drawn out of his own thoughts as the line was picked up on the other end. “Watcher’s Council,” a young female voice answered.

“Kennedy?” Xander asked. “It’s Xander. How are you?” he asked politely.

“Xander!” Kennedy responded, seemingly happy to hear from him. “I’m fine. How are you? Geez, what time is it over there?” she asked.

“Early,” he replied, with a short laugh. “And I’m doing fine. Listen, I need to speak with Willow. Is she there?”

“She’s in a meeting with Giles and some other bigwigs,” Kennedy told him. Xander groaned. “I can interrupt, if it’s important,” Kennedy offered.

“It is,” Xander said. “Thanks.”

Moments later, Willow was on the telephone. “Xander?”

“Wills!” Xander called, a smile creasing his face despite his exhaustion. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”

“Yours too,” Willow said. “What’s up?” She got right down to business. “Kennedy said it was important.”

“It is,” Xander said. “Look, Wills, I have a question to ask you, and I need you to really think about it before you answer me, okay?”

“Xander, you’re scaring me,” Willow said worriedly.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Xander rushed to assure her. “I just...you know me, something freaky happened, and I need to know if I’m going crazy.”

“What is it, Xander?” Willow asked.

“Could Spike have survived the closing of the Hellmouth?” Xander asked quickly.

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then, “What?” Willow asked.

“Could Spike have survived the closing of the Hellmouth?” Xander repeated, more slowly this time.

“Xander, I...”

Think about it, Willow,” Xander warned. “I need to know.”

“Xander, it is so highly unlikely. I mean, even if he got out of the school, we barely made it out of Sunnydale before the whole town was buried.”

“I know, Willow,” Xander said. “I know that. I do. But...I met someone tonight, spitting image of Spike, except for his hair. And his clothes. Said his name was William,” Xander explained. “He had a reflection, and a heartbeat, and he was warm, but he looked like Spike. He didn’t recognize me, or react when I mentioned vampires, but I swear... Could he have?” Xander asked again.

“Xander, are you sure?” Willow asked.

“Look, Wills, I know I’ve only got one eye, but it still works, and Spike’s not a guy you’d forget, you know?” Xander defended himself.

“I know, Xander, but...it’s just incredible to imagine that... Well, I don’t know what to imagine. If Spike did survive, how’d he become William?” Willow asked. “How did he become human?”

Xander related William’s story, as much as he knew of it, to Willow. “That’s quite a coincidence,” Willow muttered.

“I thought so, too,” Xander replied. “I mean, I can easily explain the amnesia away with being hit on the head,” he added, “but how do you explain the human body? Is it some freaky-Hellmouth thing?”

Willow promised to look into it, and Xander told her that if he found out anything more about the situation from William, if he ever saw William again, he’d let her know. They said their goodbyes and Xander hung up the receiver. He was so tired, and thought about skipping his shower so he could stay right where he was, but knew he smelled like cigarette smoke from the bar.

With a groan, Xander pushed himself up and kicked his shoes off. He padded over to the bathroom and started the shower, and then removed his clothes, dropping them into a pile on the floor beside the door. He removed his eye patch and set it on the sink, and then stepped beneath the steaming spray. He quickly washed his hair with the lavender and jasmine scented shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one that he thought smelled too girly, but which Willow had sent him from England. She told him that it would help him relax, so he used it and thought of her.

As he lathered and rinsed, he briefly considered getting his hair cut so it wouldn’t take so long to rinse out the shampoo, and then remembered the tips his ‘look’ helped bring in. He soaped up the washcloth with, yep, lavender scented soap, and quickly scrubbed his face and body. When he was done, he dried off, and then used the damp towel on his hair. After brushing his teeth, Xander hung the towel over the shower and stuffed his clothes into his laundry bag.

He ambled back into the bedroom, pulled on a pair of clean boxers, and slipped between the sheets. His last thought before sleep claimed him, was whether William would show up at O’Reilly’s that evening.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander’s alarm went off at one o’clock. He groaned and slapped at it, knocking it to the floor where it continued to buzz. With an audible groan, he pushed himself up and rubbed his hands over his face, as he tried to ignore the loud drone of the alarm. When he felt like he could do so without falling, he bent over and picked up the alarm clock, flicking the annoying alarm off. He set the clock on the bedside table and stood, then stumbled to the bathroom to relieve himself.

He splashed his face with cold water to speed the waking-up process, brushed his teeth, and then wiped wet fingers through his hair. He dressed in a pair of gray sweat pants, a green t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers. He pulled his hair back into a small ponytail and wrapped an elastic around it, and then put his eye patch on.

Xander stuffed his wallet, keys, and taser in a fanny pack, and then attached it around his waist. It wasn’t dark outside, but he had learned that not all demons waited until nighttime to appear. He pulled a gray hooded, zip-up sweatshirt on, and then headed out. He needed to stop at the bank and cash his paycheck. It was minimal, tips making up most of his wages, but it would pay for another week at the motel. He checked his watch. He’d have to hurry if he was going to meet Gunn at two o’clock for training.

By the time they’d finished their hour of training, Xander was hot, sweaty, battered, and bruised. He’d been thinking about William, and had only managed to block about a quarter of Gunn’s attacks.

“What’s up with you, man?” Gunn asked, as they both toweled sweat off their face and neck. “Your head wasn’t in this today.”

“Sorry,” Xander apologized, knowing that his less than stellar performance hadn’t given Gunn much of a workout. “I had something on my mind. I met someone last night, and...”

“A girl?” Gunn asked excitedly. “You dawg, you!” He slapped Xander on the back, knocking him forward a step.

“No!” Xander denied hotly. “It’s not like that!”

“Whatever you say, man,” Gunn said, as he headed for the stairs, obviously not swayed.

“Gunn, I’m telling you...” Xander followed Gunn up the stairs to the lobby, fruitlessly pleading his case.

On the way back to the motel, Xander stopped at the corner market. He picked up a six-pack of water, because the water at the motel tasted like chlorine, granola breakfast cereal, milk, orange juice, and some fruit. He didn’t eat many meals at the motel, usually getting supper at the bar and breakfast at the diner, but he did like to keep emergency supplies and snacks on hand.

Ever since he’d lost his eye and started training with Gunn, Xander had cut back on the soda and chips; hence the purchase of fruit and granola cereal. He wanted to stay in trim, fighting condition more than he craved the sugar and salt, and needed every advantage he could find to offset the loss of his eye.

Xander stopped at the motel office before returning to his room, to pay for another week’s stay and obtain a receipt. Once back in his room, he put the milk, orange juice, and water in the small refrigerator he had purchased, and set the cereal on top, beside the cool whip™ container he used for a bowl and the plastic spoon. He carefully transferred the fruit to another cool whip™ container and threw the grocery bags in the garbage.

He checked his watch, and then quickly stripped out of his sweats and sweaty t-shirt, socks, and boxers, stuffing them into the laundry bag with almost all of the rest of his clothes. Xander shook his head and sighed deeply. He hated going to the laundromat, but it looked like it was almost time - again. He showered and dressed for work, this time a pair of khaki-colored dockers - there was a sale, and a soft baby-blue chambray shirt. He slipped his shoes on, transferred his wallet to his back pocket, keys to front pocket, and taser to jacket pocket, pulled the jacket on, and headed to work.

After Xander made sure the bar was stocked for the evening, the first couple of hours were slow. Some people stopped in for the happy-hour specials, and some for an early supper, but the crush didn’t usually start until about eight o’clock. Xander took a moment to look around the room. The bar itself was L-shaped, with an opening at the left end for him to enter and a small area for the waitresses to place their bar orders.

An open doorway to the right of the bar led to the restrooms; a short hallway behind the bar hid the double doors to the kitchen; and a closed and locked door in the side wall to the left of the bar led to the manager’s office and storeroom. Beside that door stood a jukebox, and in front of the jukebox were two pool tables. Wooden booths lined the walls, and small and medium-sized round wooden tables filled the floor. Some nights were rowdier than others, but all-in-all, it was a homey, fun place to work.

For the first couple of hours, every time the door opened, Xander found himself looking up, hoping it might be William. It never was. Once the place filled up, he was kept busy filling orders for his customers at the bar, and for the waitresses. Before he knew it, it was midnight. Xander automatically refilled drink orders and made change, and moved to the person who had just seated himself at the bar.

“William!” he said, startled, his voice squeaking in surprise. “I, uh, I wasn’t sure you’d make it.” The other man was leaning on his elbows, the sleeves of his navy Henley, top button undone, pushed up his forearms.

William just smiled at him, and shrugged apologetically. “Fell asleep,” he said.

“That’s...all right,” Xander said. “I mean, I didn’t mean you were late, I just, figured you’d think better about associating with the nut you met on your first day in LA,” he explained. “But since you’re here, can I get you something to drink?”

“I’ll take a beer,” William said. “Got anything on tap that’s not American?” he asked.

“Oh, sure,” Xander nodded. “Killian’s Red, Heineken, Corona, Molson, Becks, Amstel, Fosters, Guiness...,” he rattled off the list.

“Killian’s,” William ordered.

“Never fails,” Xander muttered good-naturedly. “I go through the whole list and they always go for the first one!” He grabbed a glass and expertly filled it from the tap. He placed it on a cardboard coaster and set it in front of William. “I got this one,” he said, as William reached for his money.

“You don’t have to...,” William began to protest.

“I know,” Xander said with a smile, relieved and pleased that William had shown up. “I want to.”

Xander was soon busy again, and he moved up and down the bar filling orders. When he had a couple of minutes free, he stopped in front of William, leaned against the bar, and chatted with him.

“Oh, hey!” Xander waved his hand in a completely Xander-ish move. “How’d your job hunting go?”

William tilted his head and shrugged in a maneuver that Xander was beginning to find familiar. “Went all right. Filled out some applications; was told to come back in for interviews at a couple places.” He grinned modestly. “We’ll see.”

“Well, good luck on those interviews,” Xander said. “Be right back,” he added, as Molly, one of the waitresses, appeared at the bar with a drink order. After Xander filled the order and set the drinks she’d requested on her tray, he was kept busy refilling drinks at the bar. At quarter to two, Xander rang the bell for last call. He slid a fresh beer in front of William, and then served a round to the rest of the customers still in the bar.

When he had a minute, Xander stopped before William again. “I usually stop at the diner after work for something to eat,” he said. “Interested in keeping me company?” William studied him out of intelligent blue eyes, and Xander shivered. When William finally nodded his agreement, Xander smiled and sighed silently in relief. For some reason, he didn’t want the night to end yet. He was really enjoying William’s company, though they hadn’t had a chance to talk very much, since he was working.

At two o’clock, all of the customers except William were ushered out the door. Xander cleaned up behind the bar, while Paulie helped Molly and Cheryl clear and wipe off the tables. Molly and Cheryl left together, and Paulie locked the door after them. The kitchen crew and other wait staff had left just after midnight, when the kitchen closed. Xander drew two more beers, and he and Paulie joined William, who declined having his topped off, in a drink.

After they’d finished their beers, the three men left the bar. Paulie locked the door, and Xander and William walked him to his car. He offered the two men a ride, and Xander declined. After Paulie drove off, Xander stuck his hands in his pockets and turned towards the diner. “Ready?” he asked, and began to walk.

William silently fell into step beside him. “That’s a nice place,” he said after a couple of steps. Xander looked up expectantly. “The Pub,” William clarified.

Xander smiled and nodded. “Yes, it is. I really enjoy working there. Paulie’s great, and the customers are friendly.”

“That one girl...Molly? She was nice,” William commented.

Xander glanced at William through lowered lashes. “Yeah,” he agreed, wondering why the thought of William liking Molly disturbed him. He should be glad that there was something that would keep the other man in LA while they figured out what had happened to him. Or rather, what had happened to Spike.

“Well, look what we have here,” an ominously deep voice said from the shadows.

Xander was startled. Because he’d been walking and talking with William, he hadn’t been paying as close attention as usual to his surroundings, and had been caught off-guard. And now they were in trouble. Muggers...or worse. Two figures stepped out of the shadows, and Xander swore silently as he saw their ridged foreheads.

“Dinner,” the second figure growled.





Part Three

“Oh...crap,” Xander muttered. “Stay back.” He grabbed William’s arm and pushed the other man behind him, and then reached into his jacket pockets for the stake and water gun he carried. He held his hands down at his sides, not advertising the fact that he had weapons.

One of the vampires laughed. “Yeah, you do that,” it mocked.

“It’s been so quiet,” Xander said. “I thought you guys left town.”

“We got hungry,” the other vampire growled menacingly.

“Well, come and get it,” Xander replied resignedly.

The vampires split up; one ran at Xander, and the other for William. Xander knew he couldn’t help William until he took care of the vampire that had its sights on him, and so he tried to block his concern for the other man, and concentrate on his vamp. Luckily, the vampire attacking him was either stupid, or cocky. It didn’t realize that Xander not only knew about vampires, but was armed.

The vampire reached out and grabbed Xander around the neck. Instead of struggling or panicking, Xander calmly raised the water gun and shot a stream of burning holy water into the vamp’s face. The vampire screamed, letting go of Xander to grab at its sizzling and hissing flesh. Xander brought his other hand up and staked the vampire. Before it had even burst into dust, Xander turned around.

The other vampire was standing behind a futilely struggling William, one arm around his chest to hold him in place, the other hand tilting his head at an awkward angle. It was just lowering its own head for the bite, when the scream of its buddy caught its attention. It looked Xander over, and grinned maniacally.

“Gonna stake me, little boy?” it asked, from safely behind William.

“Yes,” Xander said. “I am.” He held the stake up threateningly, as he walked towards William and the vampire.

The vampire laughed. “You’re gonna have to go through him to do it,” it taunted, indicating William.

“I don’t think so,” Xander said. He spared a quick glance for the other man. “Close your eyes,” he said, “and be ready.” Xander raised the arm holding the water gun, and squirted the holy water into the vampire’s unprotected face, splattering William. The vampire screamed, and its hold on William slackened.

William ripped himself out of the vampire’s loosened grip, and threw himself to the ground. The vampire grabbed for him, but Xander shot another stream of holy water at its face and neck. It turned to run, however Xander anticipated that move, and quickly staked it in the back. The vampire exploded into dust. Xander carefully surveyed their surroundings; better late than never, he thought. He saw no indication that any other vampires were in the vicinity, so pocketed the stake and water gun as he moved over to William and helped him to his feet.

“Are you all right?” he asked worriedly, checking the other man’s neck to make sure he hadn’t been bitten.

“I-I’m fine,” William stammered, wiping himself off. “Wh-what was that?” he asked breathlessly, running his hand nervously through his hair.

Xander sighed. “That,” he said, “was a vampire.”

William laughed. Xander looked at him in concern. William glanced at Xander’s face, and laughed harder, bending over and grabbing his legs for support. “Whew,” he gasped, as he stood up and wiped the tears off his face. “You weren’t kidding, were you?” he asked.

“About what?” Xander asked.

“Fighting evil,” William replied, still breathless from his nearly hysterical laughter. “Vampires.”

“No,” Xander said, shaking his head. “Not kidding.”

“Oh, God, Xander...” William’s knees gave out and he almost went down. Xander reached out and grabbed him around the waist to hold him up.

“William, you okay?” he asked anxiously.

“Yeah,” William said, wrapping an arm around Xander’s shoulders. “Just for a minute there...my knees...”

“It’s all right,” Xander said. “I’ve got you.”

“What was he trying to do to me?” William asked, as he let Xander support him.

“Why don’t we get to the diner?” Xander suggested. “It’ll be a bit safer indoors, and I’ll tell you everything there. Okay?”

“All right,” William agreed, shakily.


~*~*~*~*~


At the diner, Xander greeted Sally and Ben as usual, and then indicated that he and William would be sitting at a booth. Xander led them to the back of the diner, and sat facing the door, with his back to the wall. William sank gratefully onto the bench seat across from him. Sally brought menus and two glasses of water to the table. Neither man wanted anything to drink, so she left them alone to look at the menus.

Xander watched as William lifted the glass with an unsteady hand, and sipped the water in an attempt to calm his nerves, while the fingers of his other hand drummed against the tabletop. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Just a little shaky,” William admitted. “I’ll be fine. Right?” he asked in concern.

“Yeah.” Xander reached across the table and touched the back of William’s hand in a gesture of comfort. “You will be.”

“All right,” William said, setting the glass of water down, and folding his hands together. “You were going to tell me about vampires.”

Xander shot a glance towards the counter where Sally was talking to another early morning diner. “Why don’t we order first?” he suggested.

“I’m not sure I can eat anything,” William said. “My stomach’s still a little...”

“Woozy?” Xander supplied.

William nodded.

“Okay, then, just let me order.” He raised his hand and got Sally’s attention.

“What would you like, hon?” she asked, as she slipped from behind the counter and walked down the aisle towards their booth. “Usual?”

“Not today, Sally,” Xander said. “I need meat and lots of grease. Give me a cheeseburger with everything, a large order of fries, and a cola,” Xander said, folding the menu up and handing it to her.

“And for you?” she asked William.

“Nothing for me,” William replied, swallowing hard.

“Something to drink?” Sally asked.

“No, nothing. Thank you,” William said.

“Okay. Be right back with your order, Alex,” Sally said, picking up William’s menu and carrying both of them back to the counter with her.

“All right,” William said, looking directly into Xander’s eyes. “Vampires.”

Xander took a deep breath, and began. “I’ll give you a quick overview, and then we can do details if you want, okay?”

William nodded his assent.

“Vampires and other demons are real. I found out about them seven years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school, when Buffy, who is the, or was the, but is now a vampire Slayer, moved to my town. Sunnydale. Heard of it?” he asked.

William shook his head ‘no’. Xander nodded his head and continued.

“Sunnydale is, or was, on a Hellmouth, which is just what it sounds like. The mouth of Hell. Gives off all kinds of evil vibes, attracts demons. Buffy and Giles, her Watcher, told us about demons, and we helped her with research, and sometimes with the fighting. Eye,” Xander said, pointing at his patch. “Anyway, in the last battle, we defeated the First Evil and closed the Hellmouth. In the process, we turned Sunnydale into a big hole in the earth, and lost some friends.”

By the time Xander had gotten that far, Sally was approaching with his order. He stopped talking and waited for her. She set the plate and glass down in front of him, and asked if they needed anything else. They didn’t, and so she left them alone.

“Any questions?” Xander asked, as he squirted ketchup on his burger and beside his fries.

William shook his head slowly, his brow furrowed as he concentrated on what Xander had just revealed to him. “So,” he finally said. “Vampires are real?”

Xander grinned around a mouthful of burger. “Yeah, vampires are real.”

“And not just in L.A.?” William asked.

“Nope,” Xander replied, shaking his head.

“What’s a slayer?” William asked.

“The one girl in all the world,” Xander said, and then added, “blah, blah, blah. I don’t really know the spiel. Sure wish Giles was here to tell it to you. The Slayer,” he began again, “exists to kill vampires and other demons. The Slayer is always a girl, and when one dies, another is ‘called’.” Xander made finger quotes.

“Vampires and demons and such are really strong, so the Slayer has enhanced abilities to help her fight; strength, agility...superpowers. Her identity is supposed to be a secret.” Xander shrugged and rolled his eye. “Didn’t work with Buffy,” he said with a smile, as he snagged some fries. “We, that is, me and Willow, found out about vampires when our best friend was kidnapped by vampires. He was turned into a vampire, and I ended up killing him. Once we knew that the monsters under the bed were real, we couldn’t not help her. Willow was a computer whiz, so she was research girl. Then she started to study Wicca, and became our resident witch.” Xander stopped talking and took another bite of burger.

“Witch,” William repeated thoughtfully. “And what did you do?” he asked, stealing a fry.

“Told jokes, got in the way.” Xander shrugged again.

William studied him intently, and Xander began to feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He began to squirm.

“I don’t believe that,” William finally said.

Xander laughed out loud. “Maybe you really aren’t Spike,” he said. “He’d be the first one in line to tell me what a screw-up I was.”

“I don’t think I really like this Spike,” William said.

Xander laughed again, mostly in relief after the adrenaline rush of the fight. “Not many people did,” he admitted.

“Why not?” William asked.

“You know,” Xander said, carefully digging through his fries, “I’ve thought about that a lot, since he died. I think it was because he didn’t let us, didn’t want us to. Oh.” Xander looked up. “I’m not saying we were willing to, even if he did let us, but he never gave us a reason to want to like him, you know?” Xander asked. “I wonder now,” he mused, “if he pushed us away before we could push him away.”

“What was he like?” William asked.

“A tough,” Xander said. “Your typical bad-boy-type; all with wearing black and leather. But he had a soft spot for Buffy. And Dawn. He’d have done anything for them.”

“Who’s Dawn?” William asked.

“Buffy’s sister,” Xander replied.

William just nodded. “Who’s Giles?” he asked after a bit.

“Giles is, was, Buffy’s Watcher,” Xander explained. “The Watcher trains and guides the Slayer, helping her in her fight against the baddies.”

“Was? Did he die, too?” William asked.

“No,” Xander said. “Giles is still a Watcher, for whatever that’s worth, but Buffy isn’t the Slayer anymore, so he’s not her Watcher.”

“Did Buffy die?” William asked.

“No.” Xander shook his head. “She retired.”

“Retired?” William asked. “I don’t understand. How can she retire? I mean, there are still vampires out there!” He pointed towards the windows and the darkness beyond.

“She didn’t leave the world unprotected,” Xander assured him. “This is really a complicated story.” He shook his head again. “All right. At any one time, there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of potential slayers. When the current Slayer is killed, one of the potentials is...activated. Well, when we fought the First Evil, we needed more than two slayers and a bunch of potentials, so Buffy had Willow do a spell to activate all the potentials. So now there are vampire slayers all over the place. And Buffy, who’s been a slayer longer than any other, retired. She and Dawn, her sister, moved away from all this madness so they could...reconnect,” Xander finished his explanation.

“Potentials?” William asked.

“You know, I think that’s a discussion for another time,” Xander said. “I mean, if you want...there to be...another time,” he stammered out. “Anyway, just remember, being out alone after dark is not a good idea, unless you have weapons and are prepared to use them.”

“What did you use tonight?” William asked.

Xander pulled the water gun and stake out of his jacket pocket. “Holy water,” he said, pointing to the plastic gun, “and wooden stake.” He re-pocketed them before anyone else in the diner could spot them. “The holy water burns, and a wooden stake through the heart will turn them to dust,” he explained.

“Is that the only way?” William asked.

Xander flashed back to a conversation he’d had with Buffy in the tunnels below Sunnydale when they were going to rescue Jesse. “Direct sunlight and decapitation will also kill them, crosses will burn them.” Xander pulled the cross he wore around his neck out of his shirt and showed it to William. “And garlic...well, I don’t really know what garlic does, but they don’t like it. It repels them, I guess.”

“What did you mean when you said you thought they’d left town?” William asked.

“Well, after Angel defeated Jasmine - another story!” he said when William looked like he was going to interrupt. “Anyway, after Angel defeated Jasmine and we defeated the First Evil, demons took a holiday and got out of Dodge, so-to-speak. Things have been pretty quiet lately, but it looks like they’re going to heat up.”

“So...what was...that thing...going to do to me?” William asked.

“He was going to kill you,” Xander said softly. “He would have bitten into your neck, drank your blood, and killed you.”

William swallowed hard, absently rubbing his neck. “I thought they were just muggers. You know...at first. Until I saw their faces.”

“I know,” Xander said soothingly. “It’s pretty scary the first time. Actually,” he added, “it’s pretty scary the hundredth time, too.”

“You didn’t act scared,” William said.

Xander laughed. “Trust me, I was scared,” he said.

Sally came over then to clear the table. When neither man wanted anything else, she set the bill down and carried the dirty dishes to the kitchen. Xander pulled his wallet out to pay the bill.

“Where are you staying?” he asked William. “I’ll walk you home.”

“You don’t have...”

Xander just raised his eyebrows and William trailed off.

“Okay,” he agreed, making Xander smile.

Xander slid out of the booth and led the way to the front of the diner. He laid the bill and cash on the counter, said goodnight to Sally, Jim, and Ben, and walked out of the diner, holding the door for William.

“So, where to?” he asked again.

William gave him the name of his motel, and Xander walked him home.

“Listen,” he said, as they walked to the motel, both keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings this time, “I can set you up with a neat plastic water pistol and a wooden stake all of your very own if you want. They’re not foolproof, if you don’t know how to use them, but you might be able to distract or wound a vamp enough to get away.”

“I’m not sure if I could do what you did tonight,” William said, as they stood at the door to his motel room.

“You could if you had to,” Xander replied.




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