Spoilers: Through Season 7
Warnings: Sex, smut, naughtiness, man-love, a little bloodplay, violence, bad language, sarcasm and gratuitous singing in the car.
Long Time Gone
Xander Harris looked down at the two platinum bands on his left ring finger.
He wound them around and around his finger unconsciously. The sun was setting,
and he really needed to get out of the car. He gave the rings a final twist
and then settled them into the slight groove they had formed in his skin.
He clutched both hands on the steering wheel and looked straight ahead.
His car was sitting in the driveway of a large, beautifully restored Victorian
house located in a residential section of Sunnydale, California. The house
was white with dark gray trim, and a black wrought-iron fence surrounded
it. The ornate gate was directly in front of his bumper. Inside the gate
was an immaculately landscaped yard. A short path led up to the house’s
front porch, which held several wicker rocking chairs.
Xander stepped out of his car and into the gathering twilight. He walked
to the gate and gave it an experimental push. It opened silently, and he
stepped through it, his fingers lingering for a moment on the letter “S”
that was worked into the gate’s design. He walked up the path and climbed
the steps. He trailed his fingers over the back of one of the rocking chairs
and hesitated, looking at the door before him. He drew in a deep breath
and let it out in a long, controlled exhalation. He touched the two rings
on his left hand lightly with his right index finger, and then raised his
right hand to knock on the door. Before he could touch it, the door opened
silently, and Xander found himself pinned by the direct gaze of two icy
“What do you want?” the voice was a low growl, and Xander caught himself
before he could step back reflexively. His brown eyes met the steely blue
“Spike. It’s me. Xander.” He waited.
Xander was completely unprepared to see the spark of – was it joy? Happiness?
– that flared in the other man’s eyes. Then a long, pale hand snaked out
of the house and snatched him inside.
Xander was startled by his quick entry into the house. He was even more
startled when Spike immediately started looking him over, even touching
his shoulder to turn him around. After finishing the inspection, Spike’s
eyes met Xander’s again, and Xander noted that the shuttered look he remembered
so well was back, and he missed that little spark he had seen before. Xander
couldn’t help but grin at the vampire before him. Spike looked almost exactly
the same. His hair was still white-blond and gelled into submission, his
scarred eyebrow raised in a “typical Spike” sardonic expression. The two
men looked at each other for a moment, then both burst out laughing as they
realized they were dressed almost exactly the same. They were both wearing
black jeans and black tee shirts, though Xander had on black tennis shoes
and Spike’s feet were bare. They laughed easily together for a moment. The
moment passed, and Xander knew he needed to try to talk past the lump that
had suddenly appeared in his throat. He was just getting ready to try and
force words out when Spike spoke.
“You want a beer?”
Xander nodded gratefully and followed the blond man as he turned to go further
into the house. As he followed Spike, Xander looked around the house curiously.
Despite its fussy exterior, the inside of the house was comfortably decorated.
The layout was open, with large, airy rooms. The large living room was painted
in several shades of taupe and brown, and the furniture arrayed in front
of the fireplace looked very comfortable. He noticed a small door under
the sweeping staircase and assumed it concealed a bathroom. On the way to
the kitchen they passed a large dining room; Xander got the impression of
big, dark furniture and the glint of a crystal chandelier.
The kitchen itself proved to be a revelation. It looked like it had been
transported from the set of a show on the Food Network. The appliances were
all stainless steel, and a huge pot rack, overflowing with polished copper
pans, hung above a butcher-block island. The kitchen also had a fireplace,
which was fronted by two leather club chairs and a low table. Spike waved
Xander to one of the chairs and walked to the fridge.
Xander sank into the soft chair and relaxed for the first time in days.
Spike wasn’t going to question him or make him talk until he was ready.
The feeling that washed over him at this easy acceptance very nearly brought
tears to his eyes. He looked down at his hands and twisted the two rings
for a moment until he regained his composure. Xander heard the sound of
a bottle cap being popped and looked up. Spike stepped in front of him and
handed him an icy bottle.
Spike nodded and slipped into the other leather chair and took a sip of
his own beer. His blue eyes watched Xander expectantly with an unreadable
“It’s … it’s good to see you, Spike.” Xander stammered a little as he spoke.
“How have you been?”
Spike hesitated, and then spoke quietly, “It’s to be small talk, then?”
His mouth quirked at Xander in a small grin. “Well, why not?” He took a
long pull of his beer and then turned again to his guest. “Who do you want
to know about? Willow, Dawn, Angel, Buffy, Clem, the Watcher, Demon girl?”
Blue eyes searched brown in the ensuing silence. Spike drained his beer
and set the bottle on the table in front of him. “Me. Ooooooookay. Well,
I have a house.” He gestured to the room around them. “I live here. I’m
still the new and improved ‘all soul – no chip’ Spike that I was when you
left.” He hesitated and looked at the human for a long moment. “Funny thing,
that. ‘Til I had a soul I didn’t have a good grasp on the concept of guilt.
But, I figured it out well enough to make Angel pony up part of that big
pile of cash he’s been sitting on for a century or so. That takes care of
the blood money, and lets me annoy Angel pretty frequently.” The two men
shared a smile; Spike well remembered Xander’s animosity toward his grand-sire.
Xander nodded. “Still fighting the good fight?”
Spike nodded ruefully. “Y’know, Buffy moved to LA with Angel a few years
ago? Dawn’s still here – she runs all the little Slayer-wannabes, well,
the ones who survived. Buffy rotates them in and out to various places to
keep the peace. Dawn’s sort of the Hellmouth logistics department. They
call me out when they get into something particularly nasty. It keeps the
killer in me happy. You keep up with anyone?”
Xander looked down at his hands, not surprised to find himself twirling
the rings unconsciously. “No, not really. Until recently, it was a clean
break. I talked to Willow for the first time in eight years about three
days ago.” He lapsed into silence. “Spike, are Buffy and Dawn happy?”
Spike fingered the bottle in front of him, tearing at the label. “They are”,
he said in a measured tone. “Well, Buffy’s with the Poof, so it’s changeable
from minute to minute. But, yeah, she’s happy. Little Bit – she’s great.”
Spike smiled broadly, the smile even reaching his eyes. “She married a nice
guy five years ago – he’s a local, so he knew the score. They have a little
girl who’s 2. I call her the Littlest Bit. Her real name’s Sara.” Spike
smiled to himself, and then looked back up at Xander. The smile dropped
off of his face as he saw tears fill stricken brown eyes, just before Xander
jumped out of his chair and fled the room.
Spike sank back into his chair with a sigh. Brilliant, he chastised himself,
so much for the small talk, wanker. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around
Xander-fucking-Harris showing up on his doorstep after eight years. He laughed
at himself for still being able to feel surprise after a hundred and thirty-odd
years. Though he really was surprised. The man who had stood before him
was only Xander in name. Almost every trace of the boy he had been was gone.
Spike had truly not recognized him as he stood in his doorway. Xander’s
face was thinner and much more angular, and his eyes were almost dead. The
boy he remembered had eyes that snapped and sparked with humor and life
– this man had eyes full of pain. This man also had much better fashion
sense. Spike smiled as he remembered their shared laugh over the matching
wardrobes. The body had been very different, too. The Xander who had left
town had been beefy, this man was whipcord strong, and didn’t appear to
have an ounce of extra fat on him anywhere.
Spike thought back to the feeling that had washed over him when Xander had
said he wanted to know about him before all the others. He knew that feeling.
The demon had roared in triumph, just before Spike had brought it back to
heel. In the years since the gift of his soul Spike had worked hard to reconcile
the soul and the demon, to keep them in balance as best he could. Most of
the time, he felt like a single entity, but on occasion, the demon part
pushed itself to the forefront. In a fight or whenever someone threatened
those he loved, the demon would wrest control and tell the soul to sod off
for a bit. Eventually, the balance would return, along with Spike’s iron
control. Spike had forgotten, or repressed, the way his demon part felt
about the boy. With Xander gone for so long, it just hadn’t come up – and
the demon wasn’t the broody type. But one sniff of that scent unique to
the boy, the smell of cinnamon and sunshine, and Spike had felt the demon
stir. That little bit of extra attention had made it roar.
Spike grabbed the empty beer bottle and carried it to the trashcan. He knew
the sun was fully down now, so he opened the heavy blinds on the kitchen
window. The streetlights had come on, and the world looked peaceful. He
could see the dark sedan in his driveway, so he knew Xander hadn’t left.
He decided to fall back on old habits. The Xander of old had been an eating
machine, so maybe some dinner would restore equilibrium. Spike opened another
beer for himself and started pulling ingredients out of the huge refrigerator.
Xander stared at himself in the mirror. He had found the small bathroom
under the staircase and had managed to wrestle his emotions into submission
before he could give in to the urge to collapse on the floor and cry like
a brokenhearted child. He ran some cold water in the sink and splashed his
face. As his hands rubbed over the stubble, he realized that he must look
like shit. He looked into the mirror again, this time actually seeing himself.
Yes, he looked like shit. His hair was rumpled, his face was drawn and unshaven,
and he had enormous dark circles under his eyes. No wonder Spike hadn’t
recognized him. He dried his face on the plain white towel and left the
bathroom. As he entered the living room, he realized that Spike had stayed
in the kitchen to give him some space. Feeling edgy and out of sorts, he
stripped off his shoes and socks and sank down to the floor in a cross-legged
position, resting his hands on his knees.
Xander closed his eyes and fell into the familiar meditative breathing pattern.
His five years of martial arts training allowed him to achieve a meditative
state within three deep breaths. His mind quieted as he began a familiar
exercise. Xander inhaled, drawing air into his lungs at a slow pace. He
measured the breath by his heartbeat, pulling air in for six beats, releasing
it for six beats. He felt the air flow in through his nose, fill his lungs,
expand his diaphragm and settle in his abdomen. Without holding the breath,
he began releasing it, the air flowing up, reversing its path and exiting
his mouth. He could feel his whole body relax as he established the pattern.
The only sound he could hear was his own breathing.
After a few minutes, he began the second part of the exercise. He concentrated
on the inside of the center of his forehead and began gathering his chi,
or life force. It was like gathering a small ball of light and heat to the
specific point he had chosen. It felt like small sparks of electricity running
up his limbs, converging on the spot. His breathing never faltered and his
posture never changed. He envisioned the energy as a small, strong yellow
glow and held it at his forehead for a cycle of breaths.
Once he had it stable, he started to move the ball of chi down to the center
of his chest. He imagined that it left a warm path as it passed down the
center of his body. He centered the ball at his chest and held it steady.
After another breathing cycle, he moved it again. This time he forced the
ball lower, to his lower abdomen and the point called the dan tien. This
was more difficult, and his perception of the ball wavered slightly as he
moved it. Eventually, he got it centered. He felt his control slipping,
so he released the ball, allowing it to move back to his chest and then
to his forehead. Once it reached its origin point, he allowed it to dissipate,
letting the energy flow back into his limbs and the rest of his body. He
took one last measured breath and let it out. He let his head hang low against
his chest for a moment and took a regular breath. He smelled the smell that
was uniquely Spike. It permeated the house. The smell was like rain and
smoke, and Xander had always associated both of those scents with Spike.
He sniffed experimentally. He also smelled food: something spicy and rich.
Xander lifted his head and opened his eyes to find Spike crouched in front
of him several feet away. Spike was staring at him with a completely gob
smacked look on his face. Xander smiled at him, and the blond man relaxed
slightly. His wary crouch settled into a more casual sitting posture on
the floor, and he rested his elbow on his knee and dropped his sharp chin
into his upturned palm. The scarred eyebrow rose. “What was that?” he asked.
Xander shook his head. “No, not magic. Chi Kung. It’s a martial arts thing
– manipulating your life force. It helps me get a grip when I’ve freaked
out and made an ass of myself.”
“I could feel it from the kitchen.” Spike spoke quietly.
“You could feel that I made an ass of myself from the kitchen?” Xander grinned.
“No, you git. I could feel the energy, the force or whatever. Supernatural,
here – y’know.” He gestured toward his own chest. ”It felt like being in
the house when the girls were casting, back in the old days. Like magic.”
His voice held something like wonder.
“I’m surprised you don’t know about Chi Kung – you were always busting out
the Kung Fu on the Sunnydale demon squads.” Xander rose lightly to his feet
and held a hand out to the vampire. The hand was accepted and he easily
tugged the smaller man to his feet. They stood face to face for a moment.
Xander dropped the hand he was still holding and broke the eye contact.
Spike took a short step back, out of the human’s personal space. “Nope –
never much cared about the non-ass kicking martial arts. Besides, no life
– no chi.”
Xander nodded. “Makes sense. Do I smell food?”
The two men sat across the small wooden table from each other, enjoying
their dinner. Xander was twirling a huge ball of pasta around a fork, and
Spike watched in awe as he shoved the entire thing into his mouth and chewed.
He pushed the open beer closer to Xander in preparation. Xander grabbed
it and started trying to drink around the huge mouthful, also trying to
say things like “Ow!” and “Hot!” Spike placed a smaller bite in his own
mouth and chewed to disguise his smirk. He looked up as a crumpled napkin
bounced off his forehead. Xander was glaring at him.
Spike widened his eyes at his tablemate. “What?”
“You could have told me it had lava in it.” Xander mock-huffed.
Spike snorted. “I told ya it was fra diavlo. What do you expect from the
devil’s pasta? Hugs and puppies?”
“I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I was so taken aback by the Big Bad
cooking.” There was no heat in the comment, and Spike rather liked the teasing
tone. He decided to play along.
“I have lots of hidden talents – cooking is merely the tip of the iceberg.
I also knit and scrapbook.” He said loftily.
Xander stared across the table, open-mouthed.
“I’m kidding, twit. What, d’ya think I turned into the undead Martha Stewart?”
“I thought Martha Stewart was the undead Martha Stewart.” Xander deadpanned.
They shared a smile and went back to eating. A few moments later Xander
gestured to the mug of blood Spike was enjoying with his food.
“Still bagging it? He asked.
Spike grimaced slightly. “It’s a soul thing. I did switch to human, though.
I’ve got a good connection in town. I get way better stuff than Angel, anyway.”
He laughed ruefully. “It’s not very ‘Big Bad’, but it keeps me from having
unnecessary conversations with myself.”
Xander nodded. He wanted to ask more about the soul/ demon relationship,
but didn’t want to do anything to change the light conversational tone.
He looked up at Spike’s quiet question.
“Do you have a place to stay while you’re in town?”
Xander shook his head. “I guess I need to see to that pretty soon.”
“No, you don’t,” Spike replied matter-of-factly. “I’ve got three extra bedrooms
here, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you choose.” He held up a hand
as Xander’s mouth opened. “No arguments, whelp.” Xander grinned at the old
insult. He smiled at Spike and briefly laid his left hand on top of Spike’s
right as it rested on the table.
Spike smiled at the warmth and looked down at their hands … and saw the
The demon roared. It roared a single word: MINE! Spike gripped the sides
of the kitchen sink and fought the raging beast within. As soon as he’d
seen the platinum bands, one thick, and one thin, encircling Xander’s tanned
finger, the demon had shrieked. It had taken every bit of Spike’s strength
to smash the demon down and smile nicely at Xander. Still holding the demon
tightly, he had cleared the dinner dishes and sent Xander out to the car
for his belongings. Without releasing that desperate hold, he had shown
the other man to the guest room at the head of the stairs and left him to
get settled. He’d walked slowly out of the room and down the stairs and
into the kitchen. Grabbing the sink, he had released his hold, and the demon
sprang free. Spike had felt his face change into the demon visage, his fangs
dropping and the ridges appearing on his forehead. The rational part of
his brain decided to just let it go for a few minutes, so he tried only
to keep the noise down as the beast raged. The rings – a claim! Someone
had claimed his boy!
As soon as the rage started winding down, Spike slowly reasserted his control
over the demon. He panted harshly as he mentally pushed the demon down,
into the background, away. The beast went reluctantly, still wanting to
howl out its rage. When Spike heard Xander’s footsteps on the stairs he
straightened up and shook his head to change his face back to normal. By
the time Xander entered the kitchen, Spike was pulling two more beers out
of the fridge. Turning, he held one out to Xander.
Xander took it gratefully and stood, shifting his weight from one foot to
the other, nervously. Spike noticed that he’d changed out of his jeans and
into a pair of soft cotton sleep pants that were a deep burgundy in color.
He still wore his black tee shirt, and his long, tanned feet were still
bare. Spike closed the distance between them and laid a hand on the darker
“Xan, you don’t have to explain yourself to me, you know. You’re welcome
here.” Blue and brown eyes met, and Spike saw relief flood Xander’s expression.
“Thank you,” Xander sighed. He held Spike’s gaze. “I want to tell you the
whole story, but I just don’t think I can start it without finishing it.
And I don’t have the strength to even start it tonight.”
Xander looked so miserable that Spike knew he had to give his friend – and
yes, he thought to himself, this man is my friend – a break. He pushed the
tense shoulder under his hand in a friendly gesture and asked, “Movie, bed,
or go out and kill something?”
Xander’s eyes lit up and then his expression hardened. “Kill something”
he gritted out. “Definitely kill something.”
“Well, OK then!” Spike’s exultant shout caused Xander to start. Spike turned
and pushed the other man toward the stairs. “Go get changed and I’ll call
Dawn and see where she needs a patrol tonight.”
Xander hesitated. “Um, Spike …. It’s all right if you tell Dawnie I’m here,
but can we save the big reunion scene until tomorrow night? I’d really just
like to kill something, take a shower and crash tonight, OK?”
Spike pushed him toward the stairs again and said, “You got it, mate,” as
he headed for the phone.
At 2:00 in the morning, the two men stumbled into the house, exhausted,
happy and completely covered in thin, brown, sticky demon slime that smelled
like a sewer. Every time they looked at one another they broke out into
hysterics. Spike’s hair was completely flat on one side and standing up
in individual slime-coated, hardened strands on the other. Xander
had taken a huge wad of slime to the back of the head, so his dark locks
stood out around his face like a lion’s mane.
Spike had led Xander around to the back of the house so they could enter
through a conveniently placed laundry room. They stripped off their shoes,
socks, jeans and tee shirts, throwing them directly into the washer. Spike
started the machine and poured soap in, hoping that the demon slime wouldn’t
invade the appliance and make it reek forever. He handed Xander a towel
and began mopping his own face with another. They leaned weakly against
the washer side by side to catch their breath. Spike looked at Xander as
the other man tried to rub demon slime out of his hair. His observations
earlier had been correct. Xander had changed a lot. Every muscle in his
arms stood out in sharp relief as he rubbed at his hair. His chest was sculptured,
with flat pecs that led down to defined abs. The center of his chest was
covered with an arrow of dark hair that trailed downward in a silky line.
A pair of black boxer briefs rode low on his hips, exposing the hollows
where the oblique muscles curved below their waistband. Spike tore his eyes
away and mentally shook himself.
Wouldn’t do to get caught staring at the boy like a starving wolf, now would
it? He wondered if the demon was breaking through. As a vampire, Spike wasn’t
burdened with any human compunction about the gender, or even species, really,
of those he found attractive. He just went with the feelings – he’d had
both male and female lovers in the past. However, the Xander he’d previously
known was fairly aggressively hetero, despite a one-time plea for Willow
to “gay him up” so he’d stop attracting demon women. And the ring. If Spike
wasn’t mistaken, it was a wedding ring, and the soul was in no way willing
to let the demon poach. Spike raised a towel to his own head and tried to
remove some of the slime coating his hair.
Xander lowered his towel to work on cleaning off his arms, and took the
opportunity to look at Spike. His body looked exactly the same. He still
stood in pale perfection – his body was like a marble statue. Each muscle
was as sculptured as Xander remembered, and his skin still had that beautiful,
translucent sheen that invited a touch to see if it felt as smooth as it
looked. Hesitantly, Xander ran his eyes down Spike’s body. He remembered
the vampire’s proclivity for eschewing underwear, and wasn’t sure if he
was ready for the Naked Spike Experience. Thankfully, he noted that Spike
was wearing a pair of white boxer briefs similar to his own, though they
were skin-tight and didn’t leave much to the imagination. Xander averted
his eyes, feeling his face flush. He hoped the stink of the slime would
cover the smell of the sharp stab of arousal he felt.
Xander admitted to himself that he had always admired Spike’s body. After
he had left the Hellmouth and moved away, Xander had tried pretty much everything.
He had found that there were several things he disliked: hard liquor, cocaine,
homelessness, getting his ass kicked, and jobs that required either a hairnet
or a nametag. Along the way, he had also found several things he did like:
good beer, sushi, the occasional joint, a comfortable bed, a good job, computers,
martial arts training, and both girls and boys. When he’d lived in Phoenix
for a year he’d even had a stormy relationship with another man for a while.
After that, he’d been able to recognize the feelings he’d always had about
Spike. The feelings of attraction he’d felt for the blond vampire had been
quickly sublimated into anger and sarcasm at the time, because he had been
way too tight-assed to see what they really were.
Spike missed the faint smell of arousal coming from Xander, but he couldn’t
miss the huge surge of self-loathing, shock and despair that followed it.
He dropped his towel and turned to face Xander, who was shaking like a leaf.
Spike reached out to him, but stopped when he saw the other man flinch instinctively.
He turned the reach into a gesture toward the door to the kitchen.
“There’s a bathroom across from your room, if you want to get a shower.
Towels are in there.” Spike watched silently as Xander bolted for the door.
Xander stood under the pounding hot water and scrubbed his hair yet again.
The demon slime had started to dissolve after the third application of shampoo,
and the fifth round seemed to be the charm. Once he was completely clean,
he allowed his thoughts to finally come to the surface. He thought about
the feelings that had overtaken him in the laundry room. He had been standing
there thinking about Spike’s body and how attractive it was. He’d felt aroused.
And then he’d felt awful. How could he feel that way for someone, anyone?
How could his mind and body betray Shari’s memory like that? The threatening
tears welled up in his eyes, and he ducked his head under the spray. He
braced his arms on the walls of the shower and sobbed into the water pouring
down his face.
Eventually, the storm passed, and his breathing returned to normal. This
was not the first time he’d broken down since his wife’s death, but it was
the first time for this particular reason. He’d done the therapy, and he’d
been warned that the first time he was attracted to anyone would be traumatic.
He had totally convinced himself that it wouldn’t be a problem – because
he’d never be attracted to anyone new again, anyway. Well, he hadn’t counted
on the someone new being someone old. Sighing, he grabbed the soap and washed
his face, grimacing at the feel of the prickly stubble.
The water had started to cool, so Xander stepped out of the shower and wrapped
his body in another one of Spike’s fluffy, white towels. He rummaged in
the small leather kit he’d brought in earlier, and smiled when he came up
with a razor.
Spike stood under the pounding hot water in his own shower and also completed
the fifth shampooing of his hair. He scrubbed his body and then cocked his
head to listen. There it was; he’d been wondering how long Xander would
last before the dam of emotions broke. He could hear the broken sobbing.
He turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, figuring the least
he could do was to try and allow the other man enough hot water to last
until the end of his crying jag.
Padding naked into his bedroom, he slipped on a pair of black sweatpants
and a cream-colored long-sleeved tee shirt. He ran a hand through his towel-dried
hair and considered going back to the bathroom for hair gel. He decided
against it and slipped out the door. He walked to the head of the stairs
and paused in front of the bathroom door, placing his hand against the wooden
surface. He could hear Xander’s sobs tapering off. With a sharp nod, he
continued downstairs to the kitchen.
By the time Xander entered the kitchen, Spike had the fire lit and a mug
of hot chocolate waiting on the low table. The fire was the only light,
and Spike was sitting far back in one of the club chairs, sipping from his
own mug. Xander crouched in front of Spike’s chair and looked directly into
his friend’s eyes. The blue eyes widened slightly as the vampire noticed
that Xander had shaved. He stifled his immediate impulse to lay his hand
flat on the sharp planes of the tanned, gaunt cheek. Xander spoke quietly.
“I know you’ve guessed that things are not right with me, Spike. I just
want to say thank you for giving me the time and space that I need. Back
…. home ….everyone wants me to talk about it endlessly, and I couldn’t take
it anymore.” He paused, and Spike set his mug down on the table.
Xander stayed in his crouch and rested his forearm on the armrest of Spike’s
chair, enjoying the heat from the flames at his back. He closed his eyes
briefly, and then opened them again, staring into Spike’s eyes. He seemed
to find something he needed there, and he nodded his head slightly and took
a quick, shuddering breath.
“After the First went down, I was done with the good fight. I was exhausted
and miserable, and I didn’t really care if I lived or died. I was beyond
worthless, because I was so messed up. The night I left, I didn’t even tell
anyone – not even Willow.” He looked down at his hands, and Spike could
see the remorse he felt. “I just left. I did call her later, and tell her
I was going away for a while. She was so good about it; said she understood.
I went, well, I went everywhere. I bounced around from place to place for
a while. I worked a series of shitty jobs, got in a fair amount of trouble.”
He grinned at Spike, who returned the grin with a sardonic look. “About
five years ago, I wound up in Atlanta. I put myself through tech school.
I’m a professional computer geek now – isn’t that funny? I followed in Willow’s
footsteps. I found a decent job and I made a few friends. I was in terrible
shape physically, so I decided to take up martial arts.” He paused, and
closed his eyes again. “That was kind of because of you.” His eyes opened
and met Spike’s again. Spike gave him a small smile.
“You always looked so cool when you were kicking the shit out of something
– I wondered if I could do that. And you know what? I could.” Xander’s smile
was brilliant. On his now thinner face, the smile looked different from
the shy half-smiles Spike had seen on him in years past. This smile was
full of pride and confidence, and it made Spike take in an unneeded breath.
“I never felt so good about myself, less like the Zeppo or the Doughnut-Boy.
It was so incredible. I had found a new home, with people who only knew
me as Xander, the guy with a good job and a nice place and a cool car who
was a dedicated student – not the Slayer’s pet or the demon magnet.” He
took another measured breath and let it out slowly.
“And that’s when I met Shari.” Spike could feel the pain as the name slipped
past his lips. “She was an instructor, and she whipped my ass. I thought
I knew how to fight, and she mopped up the floor with me every time. She
was incredibly polite while she did it – she was always teaching. She was
always learning, too. She wanted to know everything, whether it was about
fighting, or philosophy or meditation or literature or food or wine or …
“I still can’t believe she married me.” Xander’s voice dropped, and he lowered
his head to his forearm, his other hand coming up to twist the two platinum
bands. In a voice so low that Spike picked it up only by virtue of his vampire
hearing he said, “I still can’t believe she died.”
Spike placed his hand on the back of Xander’s neck and lowered his own forehead
to rest against the top of the bowed head before him. As he heard Spike
say softly, “Let it out, Xan,” the younger man fell forward on his knees,
buried his head in his friend’s lap and cried like the world was ending.
Eventually, his emotions spent, Xander shifted to sit on the floor at Spike’s
feet. Spike passed him a napkin from the stack on the table. Xander wiped
his eyes and blew his nose, still marveling at the kindness the vampire
was showing him. Throughout the long bout of tears, Spike’s hand had never
left his hair, stroking him lightly. Spike’s other hand had alternately
patted his shoulder or rubbed soothing circles on his back, the vampire
murmured comforting nonsense phrases all the while. Xander really didn’t
feel like getting up off the floor. He felt secure leaning against Spike’s
hard legs, with his cool hand gently carding through his hair while they
both stared into the fire. There seemed to be no pressing need for either
of them to move.
Xander was awakened by a shake to the shoulder and Spike’s knees shifting
slightly under him. He had fallen asleep and instinctively turned and nestled
his head into the vampire’s lap again, wrapping his arms around Spike’s
legs. Spike was afraid the hard floor and the demon fight were going to
combine to cripple Xander by morning, or he would have gladly let the man
remain asleep curled around his legs.
Xander groaned and shifted on the floor. Spike gently disengaged the strong
arms holding his legs and pulled them both upright. Xander was no more than
half awake as the smaller man walked him out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
The dark, tousled head rested against the equally tousled blond one as they
slowly moved through the house. Spike knew dawn was not far away. He walked
his charge into the guest bedroom and pulled back the blankets. He sat Xander
down on the bed and started manhandling him into a lying-down position.
The larger man wouldn’t cooperate. He stopped Spike’s ministrations with
a warm hand on his arm. His bleary eyes opened slightly, and he crooked
a finger to bring Spike closer. Xander’s fingers closed on the curve his
friend’s jaw, and he brought their foreheads to rest against one another.
They held the pose silently for a moment, and then Xander’s finger traced
Spike’s jaw and then brushed his cheekbone. His lips opened and he whispered,
“Thank you, Spike.”
Spike collapsed in his own bed and let out the unneeded breath he’d been
holding ever since Xander’s warm fingers had touched his face. It had taken
every ounce of control he possessed to break the boy’s touch and put him
to bed. He’d wanted desperately to climb in beside him and hold him while
Spike was tactile by nature – he craved physical affection. Dawn understood
it, and tried to accommodate his need – as long as her husband didn’t get
too jealous. Spike and Dawn and Sara would curl up on the couch and watch
movies, and Dawn was wont to hold his hand anytime she wound up sitting
next to him, but for Spike it wasn’t really enough. He appreciated it, but
longed for more. He had forgotten that Xander was much the same – drawing
comfort from touching and being touched by others. Spike could remember
several screaming fights Xander and Anya, the demon bitch, had had about
Xander wanting to cuddle instead of supplying her with more orgasms.
Early on, Willow and Xander’s friendship had included physical closeness,
but after the incident where Spike had kidnapped them and they’d shared
an illicit kiss, and been caught by their respective steadies, that part
of their relationship had ended. Spike found himself hoping that Xander’s
Shari had fulfilled that need for him. He puzzled a bit and realized that
the demon wasn’t howling about this woman. He thought about it some more
and realized that, for the demon, the problem was resolved. Shari was dead,
therefore another did not claim his boy, and therefore no problem existed.
Spike envied the demon its simple outlook sometimes.
Rolling over in his big, empty bed, Spike brought to his nose the hand that
had spent hours in Xander’s hair that night. He fell asleep breathing in
Xander’s cinnamon and sunshine scent.
Someone was tugging on his toes. Xander shook his foot to make the annoying contact
stop, but it came right back. He drew his foot up and under the covers. As he
slowly came awake, he realized that he was lying in a strange bed. It was a really
nice strange bed, though. The linens were soft and warm, and he was wrapped in
a fluffy down comforter. The room was very dim. He pulled the covers away from
his head and finally opened his eyes to look up at the strange ceiling. He probed
with his foot, looking for whatever had touched his toes earlier. His toes encountered
a leg, and in one swift motion, he swept his foot up Spike’s body and dug his
toes into the surprised vampire’s ribs, tickling him mercilessly. Spike gave a
very unmanly shriek and tried to escape off the end of the bed. Xander settled
for one last dig in the ribs and let him go, throwing his long body back into
a vertebrae-popping stretch.
He jackknifed into a sitting position and looked at the indignant blond vampire
seething at the end of the bed, fists planted on his narrow hips. Both men burst
out laughing, each raising a hand to their own hair.
“So, I’m guessing we both look like haystacks, huh?” Xander asked, trying to smooth
his rumpled hair. He couldn’t help but think how cute Spike looked, with his bleached
locks falling in soft waves over his forehead. He shook his head at the odd juxtaposition
of “cute” and “vampire” in the same thought as he gave up and just ran both hands
through his own messy mop.
“Nope,” Spike replied, “You look like a lion. You want breakfast?”
Xander consulted his stomach, which voted in favor of food. “What time is it?”
he asked. “It’s 5:30.” Spike responded. “PM.” He added the second response before
the question could be asked.
“Huh.” Xander snorted. “One day back in Sunnydale and I’m on vampire time again.
Xander climbed out of the bed and stretched some more. Spike preceded him out
of the bedroom. Xander turned into the bathroom, waving the other man to the stairs.
Spike walked down the stairs and to the kitchen in the gloom of the well-shuttered
and curtained house. He started cooking breakfast and thought about what had just
occurred. After awakening, Spike had knocked at the guest room door, not terribly
surprised when Xander hadn’t answered. The boy had always been a heavy sleeper,
plus Spike was sure that the emotions of the previous day had taken their toll.
Realizing that knocking wasn’t going to work, Spike had entered the room. He was
happy to see Xander sleeping peacefully, the bed showing no evidence of tossing
and turning. Only tufts of hair and one foot were outside the covers, so Spike
had tugged the tanned toes. He had first spent a good five minutes just looking
at the still form on the bed, wondering at the myriad feelings running through
him. Then, realizing that he was brooding, he had shaken it off and woken the
boy. The attack had been a surprise, but the laughter and goofing had been a much
better way to begin the day than the embarrassment Spike had feared Xander would
feel, so he counted himself lucky.
By the time Xander appeared in the kitchen, still in his sleepwear but with his
face washed and teeth brushed, Spike was finishing placing omelets and crisp bacon
on the table. Xander bounded over to the refrigerator and poured himself a glass
of juice, checking to see if Spike already had a mug of blood in the microwave,
which he did. As he passed Spike on his way to the table, he playfully kicked
the vampire in the back of the knee. Spike’s knee buckled slightly before he regained
his footing, and he twisted his body to lightly butt his shoulder against the
larger man’s side. Xander absorbed the blow and dropped into his chair. As Spike
moved to slide into his own chair, Xander pushed it away from under the table
with his foot. Spike caught the chair easily and slid into it, flinging a piece
of toast at Xander in a smooth move. Xander fielded the toast and took a bite
out of it. The two men looked at each other across the table and each raised one
Spike took a deep drink of his blood. “Looks like someone is feeling cocky after
wasting six Horta demons last night.” He observed. “That, or you finally got some
Xander grinned, and Spike was relieved to see some life in his brown eyes. “That’s
the best I’ve slept in a while,” he admitted. “And, though workouts and sparring
are good, I’d forgotten how therapeutic a good fight to the death could be.” He
smirked. “And it was seven – you killed six.”
“Oh, no whelp – that last one was a joint effort – you aren’t taking all the credit
for him … her … it just because you wound up holding the larger piece.”
“Oh, OK,” Xander conceded with a sigh. “Six and a half each then.”
Spike grunted in reply and began eating. After a few bites, he looked across the
table, waiting until Xander met his eyes. He cleared his throat, and then began
“OK, Dawn knows you’re here. She wants to see you. We can go there, or she and
Jase and Sara can come here.” Spike hesitated, watching for Xander’s reaction
when he said Sara’s name. He noted that the other man flinched but did not drop
the eye contact. “All she knows is that you are here. You can tell her whatever
you want and I’ll back you up.”
Xander looked down at his plate, and both men finished their breakfast in silence.
Xander drained his juice glass and pushed himself away from the table. He sighed
and looked at Spike. “Let’s have Dawn and her family here tonight – we can get
pizza and hang out and swap stories. Before that, I need to work out – is there
any clear floor space around that I can use?”
Spike nodded. “Yeah – go get your workout gear on and I’ll show you the basement.”
Xander picked up their plates and placed them in the sink, adding his juice glass
and Spike’s mug. He glanced at the back of Spike’s head as the other man remained
at the table and bit back the urge to thank him yet again as he turned and left
Spike stepped aside and let Xander precede him into the large open basement as
he flicked the lights on. Xander let out a low whistle as he took in the layout
of the space. The walls were painted black, the floor carpeted in steel grey.
One corner held a heavy bag, a speed bag and a complete set of free weights. Part
of one long wall was covered with shelves and racks that held boxing gloves, jump
ropes, sparring pads and assorted martial arts weapons. With a clatter, Xander
dropped the long black bag he had carried in from the car and walked quickly to
the weapons. He had changed into loose black drawstring pants and a black tank,
his feet still bare. He looked around the well-appointed room and tried to put
his finger on what was missing. He laughed when he realized that it was the expected
wall of mirrors.
As he looked around, Spike told Xander about outfitting this space, as well as
the complete gym located in Angel’s hotel. Spike proudly explained to Xander how
he’d assisted Angel in picking out all of the equipment along with Buffy’s help.
As he reached the far corner of the room, Xander reached out to lift a long weapon
from where it leaned in the corner rack. Before his hand closed on it, he looked
back at Spike and asked, “May I?” Spike nodded, and watched as Xander lifted the
long staff that had a wicked looking curved vertical axe-head attached to one
end. Spike’s smile broadened as the other man stepped to the center of the floor
and began twirling the weapon in an intricate pattern. He enjoyed the show, watching
Xander’s back and shoulders ripple as he swung the weapon in arcs in front of
and behind his body. He was amazed that this lithe, graceful man before him could
be the doughnut-boy of old. He moved like a jungle cat, prowling forward and back,
thrusting and parrying with an imaginary opponent. Xander ended his form with
a quick downward thrust of the weapon that brought him to one knee. He bounced
back onto his feet and carried the weapon back to Spike, who was still waiting
at the door.
Spike couldn’t help but return the grin Xander turned on him. “That was nice.”
He said. “You know Kwan Dao” he named the long weapon.
Xander nodded toward the bag on the floor, “Get mine out of there and we’ll play.”
Spike dropped to his knees and unzipped the long bag. It was full of weapons.
He sifted through them carefully, noting a straight sword, a broadsword, a pair
of sai, a pair of hand axes, several daggers, a bo, a triple jointed fighting
stick and several things he didn’t recognize before his hand closed on the smooth
handle of Xander’s Kwan Dao. A zippered, padded sheath covered the axe head, and
the staff itself was highly polished. It was completely smooth except for three
Chinese ideograms carved near the center balance point. Spike rubbed his fingertips
over the carving and looked up, questioningly.
Xander touched each character as he named them. “Strength. Balance. Violence.
It’s our unofficial school motto.” He removed the cover from the weapon and exchanged
the one he held for his own, dropping the cover on the floor. As he turned back
toward the practice floor he said over his shoulder, “I’d let you use mine, Spike,
but it was made for my height and you’re so much shorter …” He spun around and
caught the expected thrust against the handle of his Kwan Dao and the battle was
Metal rang on metal as the two whirled and struggled across the floor. Xander
was pleased to see that he was holding his own with the vampire; though he knew
Spike was not exploiting his superior strength. The two men snarled, grimaced
and laughed out loud at each other as they crossed and recrossed the floor, each
taking and losing the advantage numerous times.
Xander lost himself in the fight, in the primal joy of taking on a new opponent.
He’d sparred with everyone in his own school so many times that the bouts had
become predictable, but Spike was something completely different. Spike felt no
need to conform to the dictates of the martial arts form, so he mixed in street
fighting moves, low blows and outright cheats. Finally, with a burst of preternatural
speed, the vampire pinned the larger man to the wall, the Kwan Dao’s blade pressed
against his throat. Their eyes locked as Spike grinned triumphantly. “Ha!” he
crowed, “I win.”
Xander grinned back at him and gave a little whistle as he tapped the blade of
his own Kwan Dao where it rested just below the blond’s crotch. They both looked
down and then back up at each other. Spike’s grin faltered and he said in a small
voice, “Draw?” Laughing, they both sank to the floor and set the weapons aside.
An hour later, they had fought with the Kwan Daos again, bo staffs, broadswords
and had each logged a little time with the heavy bag. Xander had taken a
hard shot to the arm from Spike’s bo, and was bruising nicely. Spike’s cut lip
and black eye were already healing as they put the weapons away and peeled the
tape off of their knuckles. Spike noted with satisfaction that Xander did not
return his weapons to the bag, but placed them next to Spike’s own on the shelves
and in the racks, tossing his folded weapons bag onto a low shelf.
Trudging upstairs, Xander walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Standing
in the blast of cool air, he peeled off his sweat-soaked tank and wiped his face
with it. Draping the garment over one shoulder, he pulled an unopened beer out
and applied it to his bruised arm. He looked up to see Spike standing in the doorway
with his back to him, pulling his tee shirt off over his head, leaving him clad
in only his drenched, low hanging sweat pants. Taking a long look at the pale
muscled back in front of him; Xander immediately stuck his head back into the
refrigerator to cover up his surprise at having rediscovered his inner babble,
which he thought he had silenced years ago.
<OK, not having the hots for Spike here, really not. Good guy, good friend,
but no hots. Doesn’t matter that he’s gorgeous. Doesn’t matter that he’s kind
and understanding and didn’t rag me about crying on him or falling asleep with
my head in his lap. Head in his lap! No, not going there. Changing direction here.
Really, I am. I just admire his fighting ability – he’s tough, manly, likes chicks
and everything. Have to stop this. OK, I’ll do the one thing I know will work.
One word. Shari ….. Shit. Shari would have LIKED him like this, would have loved
to see me with a real friend, someone I was a hundred percent comfortable with.
She probably wouldn’t have appreciated the hots thing though. This isn’t working.
Need to bang head on refrigerator.>
Xander was distracted from his inner monologue by Spike’s voice. It took him a
moment to realize Spike was on the phone.
“Yeah, Bit – in about an hour. We just got through working out and we need to
clean up.” He paused, and then grinned at Xander. “Yes, half-naked and sweaty.
No, you can’t come over now.” He paused again and Xander could practically hear
Dawn whining. “Bit ….. Bit….. Dawn! Knock it off; you’re being a bad example for
Sara.” Spike held the phone away from his ear and Xander really could hear Dawn’s
raised voice. He choked on a laugh as Spike frowned at the phone and waited for
it to fall silent before returning it to his ear. “Dawn, could you cut the vampire
hearing some slack, here? OK. Thank you. An hour. What do you want on your pizza?
That’s disgusting. Bye.” He hung the phone up and shared a glance with Xander.
“She’s pretty excited about seeing you.”
Xander grabbed another beer and tossed it to Spike as he closed the refrigerator
door. He popped the top off of his own beer and drank a little. “You know what,
Spike, I’m excited about seeing her, too. “ He drank a third of his beer in one
long swallow. “I’m gonna go clean up.”
The door flew open and Xander found himself the recipient of a lap full of smiling,
shrieking, babbling, crying Dawn. He wrapped his arms tightly around her slight
frame and buried his face in her shiny brown hair. After several long minutes
she began to struggle, so he let her go. She sat up on his knees and braced her
feet on either side of his legs on the couch. Her hands came up to caress his
face, her thumbs wiping the few tears from his cheeks. She leaned forward and
planted a hard kiss on his lips, then sat back and blushed furiously as he smiled
“OK, so I swore to myself that if I ever saw you again I’d kiss you, so what?”
She ducked her head and returned to exploring Xander’s face with her fingers.
“Look at you! You’re so …. hot! When did this all happen? How have you been? Where
have you been? Where’s Spike?”
Xander took her hands in his and ignored the stream of questions. “It’s good to
see you Dawn. I missed you. Stand up – let me get a look at you as an adult.”
She obediently hopped off of his knees and he stood in front of her. She was still
thin and coltish, but she’d matured and gotten a little curvier. Her face was
still dominated by her big eyes and even bigger smile. Her hair was shaped into
a shoulder-length bob, the front held back with a little clip. She was wearing
a tee shirt and jeans and had sandals on her feet. She didn’t look a day over
eighteen to Xander.
They both turned as they heard a commotion at the door. Xander smiled and stepped
forward as a young man entered the house, leading a little girl by the hand. The
child was asking questions in a steady stream, and the man was trying to answer
them as fast as possible. He flashed Dawn a look of relief as she stepped forward
and swept the little girl up in a hug, carrying her over to Xander. Shifting her
daughter to one hip, Dawn introduced them. “Sara, this is Xander – he’s an old
friend of Mommy’s. Xander, this is Sara.” Xander could hear the happiness and
pride in Dawn’s voice as she presented her child.
The little girl had her mother’s dark hair, broad smile and big eyes, except hers
were as crystal blue as Spike’s, instead of being dark blue like her mother’s.
Xander reached out to Sara as if to shake hands and was gratified when she gingerly
grasped one of his fingers in her tiny hand and said, “Bander” at him. Dawn giggled.
The little girl looked across the room and dropped Xander’s finger as she raised
both arms in the air and shrieked, “Uncle Will!” at Spike, who was just coming
out of the kitchen. Dawn placed the struggling girl on the ground and Xander watched
open-mouthed as she ran into Spike’s outstretched arms as he knelt on the floor.
The vampire pulled the tiny girl up to sit on his knee, and she showered his face
with kisses. “Hey there, Littlest, how are you today?” He stood up, holding the
child easily as he closed the distance between himself and Dawn, giving her a
one armed hug. He turned to the door. “Come on in, Jase – don’t mind the family
reunion.” He gestured at the young man, bringing him into the small group. Dawn
linked her arm through his and introduced him to Xander as her husband.
Xander shook hands with Jase and really looked at him for the first time. The
younger man was slight in build. He had a shy smile, sandy hair that fell in loose
waves around his face, and startling blue eyes behind gold wire-rimmed glasses.
Xander’s smile brightened even further as he made a quick observation and filed
it away for later reflection. The two men exchanged small talk as Dawn and Spike
got Sara settled on the floor with some toys and then rejoined the group.
“I ordered pizza, we’ve got beer and wine and soda and juice, and there’s a chocolate
cake for later. I’ve got a Disney DVD for the Bitty to watch and then some old
favorites for us for later,” Spike announced. He punched Xander on the arm as
the other man mouthed “Martha,” at him. Xander hissed as Spike’s fist connected
with his bruise from earlier. Dawn turned quickly toward him and rolled up the
sleeve of his black silk tee shirt, exposing the bruise.
“Um, wow,” she breathed.
“Is it bad?” Xander twisted his neck to try and see the damage.
Dawn blushed. “Um, no … I was wowing at the arm; the bruise is nothing special.”
Xander flexed his arm and Dawn squeaked. She quickly rolled his sleeve back down
and let go, glancing guiltily at her husband, who surprised them all by laughing
“OK,” Jase said ruefully, “I guess it’s time to get Will to whip me into shape
so Dawn can squeak at me like that.” They all laughed companionably.
After they polished off three large pizzas, including the pineapple and ham monstrosity
that Dawn had insisted on, the four adults lay sprawled out comfortably in the
living room. Jase was on the floor, his head resting on a couch pillow, drifting
in and out of a post-dinner nap. Spike was draped bonelessly over an easy chair
with Sara draped equally bonelessly across his chest, fast asleep. Xander and
Dawn shared the couch, each propped at an end with their legs mingling in the
middle. The Disney DVD was finishing up. Xander pushed Dawn with a foot to make
sure she was awake and gestured to the pizza boxes and crumpled napkins when she
raised an eyebrow at him. She nodded, and they untangled themselves and began
clearing the debris.
In the kitchen they bagged everything up and stepped outside to place the bags
in the trash can. Xander put the lid back on the receptacle and sat down next
to Dawn on the back step. Hoping he was out of the range of vampire hearing, he
turned to Dawn.
“Why do Jase and Sara call Spike Will?” he asked.
She looked at him for a moment and then replied. “Yeah, it was after you left.
He started going by Will again after he started getting used to the soul. You
knew that his name was William when he was alive, right?” When Xander nodded,
she continued. “That’s how he kept the two personalities separate. Will was the
soul and Spike was the demon. He had a lot of trouble getting the two sides balanced.
Once he did, he realized that Spike wasn’t the demon; Spike was the “real” him
– the combination of the two. The demon doesn’t really need its own name – not
like it cares. So, those of us who knew him before call him Spike, and people
who met him in the “Will” phase call him Will. We thought that Sara screaming
“Uncle Spike” would be too strange, so she calls him Will. He answers to either.”
She hesitated. “My turn. Why did you leave?”
Xander leaned his head down on her shoulder, and she raised a hand to brush through
his hair. He felt her smile against his head when he made a happy noise and leaned
into the contact. “I forgot how much you like to be petted.” She giggled. “You
and Spike are alike that way – all touchy-feely. Like big cats. It’s nice.” She
hesitated again. “Xander …..”
“I was exhausted. I didn’t have any more fight left in me. I thought there was
nothing for me here, and I was miserable.” He drew in a deep breath. “Can you
forgive me for leaving like that, Dawnie?”
She continued to pet him, twining her fingers through his hair. “I already did,
Xander – a long time ago. We all understood. You couldn’t be anything here. You
were always going to be the one to fix the broken window or go get stuff for Buffy
if you stayed, and you needed to find your own life. Even I understood that and
I was practically a child.”
They sat silently for a while, and Xander put his arm around Dawn’s slender waist,
snuggling in closer. “I missed you. I missed all of you,” he said quietly. “You’ve
changed so much. Spike, too.”
Dawn laughed. “Did you notice his accent?” Xander thought for a moment and then
shook his head. She continued, “Over the last few years he’s lost that tough-guy
accent, and he sounds way more like Giles than he used to. He also stopped calling
everyone ‘luv’ and ‘mate.’” He mostly calls people by their actual names now,
except for Sara and me. He’s also so much steadier than he used to be. It’s nice.”
Xander lifted his head and looked at Dawn. “He’s been great to me since I got
here. I could hardly believe it. Well, except for the bruise.”
“Spike hit you?” she asked incredulously.
Xander laughed. “We sparred this afternoon, it’s no big deal.”
“What were you doing sparring with him – he’s super strong. You’re lucky all you
got was a bruise!” her eyes flashed at him.
Xander ducked his head. “Give me some credit, Dawn, I actually managed to give
him a black eye and bust his lip. Already healed though.”
Dawn’s eyes widened. “Oh, so those muscles aren’t just for show, then? I guess
you’ll have to help Spike train Jase, too!”
Xander smiled. “Jase is great – so’s Sara. You have a beautiful family.”
She nodded, “I never thought I’d be so lucky.”
They were still smiling at each other when the door opened behind them and Jase
stepped out onto the porch. He dropped a hand to the top of his wife’s head. “Will
went to put Sara down – he says we should come in and have cake.”
Before the last word was out of his mouth the dark haired man and woman were on
their feet, heading for the door. Jase laughed and followed.
Sara was sleeping peacefully upstairs and cake and cocoa had been consumed. Spike,
Dawn and Jase all sat around the kitchen table, looking at Xander. He stood nervously
in front of them, clutching a medium-sized black book. Spike pushed the fourth
chair toward him with his foot, and he sank into it gratefully. He laid the book
on the table in front of Dawn, who sat in the middle. He cleared his throat.
“OK. This book sort of answers the million-dollar question: What has Xander been
doing for the past eight years? You guys ready for this?” He looked around the
table and into two sets of ice blue eyes and one set of navy ones. Seeing nothing
but support and curiosity, he opened the book. All three laughed out loud. The
first page was an enlarged picture of a mug shot.
“Ah, yes,” Xander began “My short-lived life of crime. A bar brawl in Albuquerque.
I’d been out of Sunnydale for a month. I guess I’d gotten used to fighting. I
got the living crap beaten out of me in jail.”
The next page showed the “Welcome To …” signs of various small towns across the
West. Xander continued with his narration. “I traveled the world, or at least
the parts that weren’t too terribly far. I slung many exotic kinds of hash and
built many substandard structures.”
The next pages showed Xander with other people. In most of the pictures he looked
drawn and haunted, but in one he was actually smiling. In the photo he was sitting
at what looked like a restaurant table between two other young men. The one on
his left had curly red hair and a huge grin, but was looking at something outside
the frame. The man on Xander’s right had close-cropped dark hair and a goatee.
His green eyes stood out in the photo. He had his arm around Xander’s shoulders
and they were both smiling widely at the camera. Dawn reached out to touch the
photo and said, “You look happy here.”
Xander looked down at the photo, and his finger joined Dawn’s on the photo, his
touching the green-eyed young man. He swallowed.
“That’s Danny. We … dated, for a while. We had a lot of fun, but the relationship
was stormy at best. He left me for Julian.” Xander’s finger moved across the photo
to point at the redhead. Dawn met Xander’s eyes and smiled at him sympathetically.
“That stinks,” she said. “It’s OK,” Xander replied. “I broke them up in the first
Dawn snorted. Xander couldn’t bring himself to meet Spike’s eyes. He knew that
he could have skipped over the story of Danny, or just said they were buddies.
He also knew himself well enough to know that he’d told the story for a reason,
and that the reason had something to do with Spike.
The next few pages of the book showed scenery shots. Xander explained that he’d
taken them on the cross-country drive that had landed him in Atlanta. A page of
photos showed a bright, clean-looking city under a sunny blue sky. There was one
photo of Xander, sitting on the hood of his crappy car looking exhausted. Dawn
frowned when she saw this one.
“You can say it.” Xander spoke quietly. “I looked like Hell. I call that the ‘rock
bottom picture’. I had a drug problem, I was broke, and I couldn’t sleep without
having nightmares about demons. I hated my life and myself. I was even more miserable
than when I left Sunnydale. You can turn the page – it gets better from there.”
He smiled at Dawn encouragingly, and she flipped the page. Again, all three of
his audience members burst out laughing. The next page was a photo of Xander in
a white martial arts uniform, sprawled on the floor looking pissed. A tiny Japanese
woman stood over him with an inscrutable expression on her face, one hand reaching
down to help him up. Xander swallowed audibly. “That’s Shari.”
Xander sat with his head bowed for a moment, and he felt a light touch as Spike’s
hand brushed over his own, which rested on his knee under the table. On impulse,
he captured Spike’s hand and clasped it hard, fighting to remain in control. Spike’s
cool hand squeezed his back strongly, his attention never leaving the photo album
In a measured tone, using the photos, he told the story of how he and Shari had
met at the martial arts school. He explained how they had become friends, teacher
and student, and then lovers. How Shari had encouraged him to go to school and
get a good job. There were pictures of his graduation, their first apartment,
their first “good” car, Shari receiving her black belt, and Xander doing the same.
There was an engagement photo, with Xander looking absolutely dumbstruck at the
tiny woman at his side. His fingers brushed the photo.
“I couldn’t believe she wanted to marry me. Hell, I couldn’t believe she wanted
to date me. She was so incredible.” He clutched Spike’s hand even harder; glad
that there was no way he could hurt the vampire.
Dawn turned the page and said “Wow”. The left page showed Xander, barefoot and
shirtless, wearing a pair of black drawstring pants. Shari stood in front of him
in a black sports bra and similar pants. They were both holding a stylized pose
with their arms stretched above their heads and intertwined. Shari’s eyes were
closed, her head tilted back. Xander was looking down at her with a breathtaking
expression of love and longing on his face. Dawn drew her finger down the black
and white portrait. “This is awesome,” she said.
The right-hand page was another posed portrait, this one of Xander alone. He faced
the camera at an angle. He was holding the handle of a jointed metal strand that
flowed across his bare shoulders. The handle had yellow and red silk scarves tied
to it that trailed down his side. His muscles stood out in sharp relief, and he
stared out of the frame.
Spike spoke for the first time since they had settled at the table. He traced
his fingers across the weapon in the picture and asked, “What’s that?”
Xander chuckled and replied, “It’s a chain whip – I’ll show you sometime. It’s
incredibly destructive; you’ll love it.” They shared a smile and Xander felt Spike’s
hand tighten on his. Reluctantly, Xander released Spike’s cool hand from his sweaty
one and turned the next page of the book himself. As the others took in the image,
Xander started twisting the two platinum bands on his left ring finger. It was
his and Shari’s wedding portrait. In the photo, she stood directly in front of
him. She was wearing a long, white silk sheath with delicate straps. Her black
hair spilled out from under a pure white veil that was attached to her hair with
tiny white roses. She carried a bouquet of white calla lilies. Xander’s arms were
around her tiny waist, and he towered over her as she was tucked neatly under
his chin. His black tuxedo and gleaming white shirt emphasized his dark coloring
and deep tan. They looked ecstatically happy.
The next few pages showed typical wedding shots, the last one was of their hands
crossed over Shari’s bouquet, emphasizing their rings. Shari wore a diamond solitaire
and platinum band that matched the thick one on Xander’s hand. Spike wondered
for a moment about the thinner band that Xander also wore. He looked up and realized
that Xander had removed both bands from his hand and was holding them out to him.
Meeting Xander’s eyes with a questioning look, he took the two rings and turned
them over in his hands. They were both engraved on the inside. The thicker one
said “Shari”, the thinner one “Lex”. As Dawn turned the page, all three voices
asked as one “Who’s Lex?”
Xander touched the photo on the last page of the book. It was a 3-D sonogram photo.
Under the picture was scrawled the name Lex. Three pairs of blue eyes searched
for brown ones, but Xander chose to look deeply into Spike’s.
“Lex was my son,” he said quietly. “He was never born. When Shari was murdered
he died with her.”