Rating: NC-17, eventually. (Yes, ‘eventually’ IS one of my favourite words. LOL)
Disclaimer: Joss said they were mine… no really. Uh… crap. No he didn’t. *grumps*
A/N: My brain is a place which is both scary AND weird. Just in case you guys hadn’t figured that out yet. *snerk* Set early in season 7 (Buffy); quickly goes AU. In like paragraph one… or maybe two.
Hearts in the Balance
Xander was sleeping face down in the book he was supposed to be using for research. Of course, that wasn’t exactly a new thing, considering the kind of hours he’d been putting in at the new job site… the job site of which he was the foreman, meaning anything that went wrong was his fault. He’d definitely been taking the position seriously, and they all knew it. Understood it, even.
So no, the fact that Xander Harris—onetime doughnut-fetcher, former fiance to the once again non-vengeance-y Anya, and all around funny guy—was nodding off wasn’t exactly surprising. In fact, they’d more or less come to expect it over the last few months.
Buffy stifled a giggle at the odd mutters her friend was making, though she made a mental note to ask him later whether the ‘bad puppy’ he kept mumbling annoyed-sounding threats towards was housebroken.
“What are we looking for again,” she whispered to Willow, doing her best to let Xander enjoy his nap.
The redhead frowned slightly and turned a few more pages in the truly enormous tome she was searching. “Um, I can’t be sure, but… anything related to a… thumbolwaithe racheticon…?” She bit her lip and sighed. “It’s hopeless, Buffy. We’ve been looking for days, and none of us have even found the tiniest little thing that sounds even remotely like what Giles said, and I’m starting to think that Xan has the right idea, because… sleep? SO wants to be my friend right now.” Not to mention the little fact that when she was sleeping she didn’t feel the urge to open herself to the energies flowing around her and use them in ways that might possibly be… wrong.
Dawn snorted. “Yeah? Try being fifteen and having Sister-Slayer forcing you to do Geometry instead of reading the cool demon-y books, Wills, cuz I’m pretty sure I win in the ‘this is so pointless’ sweepstakes.”
Buffy was a mere second away from lying to her little sister again and telling her that she really would need Geometry and Algebra when she was older, but fortunately the front door of the Magic Box flew open just then with a loud bang.
“Right,” the just-arrived platinum blond announced with a tiny smirk at having made them all jump, “checked about. No word at all on the tumbelty thingy Watcher’s got us looking for.”
Xander blinked and forced himself upright. “What’d I miss?” He looked around and frowned grumpily, rubbing his forehead. “Thumbelty thingy, Spike?”
The vampire shrugged. “Ya know… the whatever we’re supposed ta be looking inta?”
Brown eyes danced, even as Xander’s lips twitched into a sweet smile. “You mean the Thaemba’al Wraith Rac’etscia’an, baby? Of course you didn’t find it. It’s pure energy. No shape or form to find.”
Buffy blinked. “Huh?”
Willow blinked. “Wha’… but, Xander, how…?”
Dawn blinked. “That’s what it’s called?”
Spike blinked, too. “Did…” He looked at the girls. “Did droopy here just call me baby?”
Xander rolled his eyes and laughed. “In order… Buffy- what we’re looking for is a being of energy. It can exist in more than one place… even in more than one time, for that matter. So looking for it physically isn’t really gonna do much good.” He grinned. “Willow- ‘how’ what? It’s right here in the book. Says so. And okay, it says it in Protheriant Lascopitet, but it still says it.”
He ignored the completely confused look on his two friends’ faces and scratched the itchy spot just beyond his hairline. Some reaction to the ink in the book, he thought, and it wouldn’t be the first time.
“Yes, Dawn, that’s what it’s called. The glottal stops can be a bi… uh, a female dog… until you get used to them, so I get why you might not have remembered. And Spike…?”
He turned his soft, deep eyes to the still and shocked form near the door. “Of course I called you baby. The girls might not like it when we get all touchy-feely in public, but they’ve never minded our little nicknames.” He looked again at the girls in question and frowned slightly at the wide-eyed stares they were giving him. “Or has something changed?”
The others didn’t know what to say, except of course for Willow, whose response was exactly what could be expected of her.
“And how the heck is it that you can read Protheriant Lascopitet?” she demanded almost jealously. The language had been giving her trouble for close to three years, after all.
The interesting thing to Spike was that even after the emergency call to the Summers’ home had brought Giles running like the good dog he was, Harris was the only one not casting thinly veiled accusatory looks at Red. Hell, the boy looked as confused as the rest of them, although clearly for different reasons.
“I swear, Giles,” the redhead was saying yet again, as though repetition would force the suspicious look from the Watcher’s face, “I didn’t even think anything like… whatever’s going on! I mean, come on! Why would I want Xander to think he was involved with Spike of all… people? And… and he can read Protheriant Lascopitet! If I was gonna make someone be able to do that—even without meaning to—it would be me, and I can’t, so…”
“Hey,” the boy said, his brow still creased, “Why is everybody ganging up on Willow? She didn’t do anything! She wouldn’t do anything! Gods, she’s been the High Priestess of the Sunnydale Coven for like… five years now, right? I mean, she’s only twenty-two and she’s got pagans from all over the world coming here to study with her. The last thing she’d ever do is misuse her Gods-given abilities!”
And again Spike found himself blinking, though this time it was in a silence so loud, it echoed.
“Right, then. All those in favor of living in Harris’s fantasy, raise your hand. Those who want ta stay here on planet Earth, don’t move.” He looked around and smirked at the way Willow’s hand was twitching, then turned to the boy again.
“That’s no votes for your side, pet. Meaning zero. ‘Your side’ being the world where Red’s in control of her powers and I’m somehow—fuck knows why—your snuggle-bunny.”
It had to be the soul that was making him regret putting the stunned and nearly destroyed look on the boy’s face, but even it knew the truth.
He was not—never had been—anything more to Xander Harris than just another bloodsucking fiend.
Even living with the boy had only made Harris more civil, but never friendly as such, and definitely nothing that would even suggest any stronger interest.
No, the boy was clearly delusional.
“Off his rocker, he is,” Spike announced as though that put an end to it, and maybe it did, except…
The whelp could suddenly read whatever the hell language it was; Watcher had confirmed it. And if that was so, then… how?
Even while deep in thought, he’d clearly been following the conversation—which was more of a free for all if he were going to be honest—because when he finally turned his attention back to the rest of the group, the boy was speaking on exactly that subject.
“You guys do realize,” Harris was saying, “that this is so not funny, right? Okay, I fell asleep during research again, but trying to completely freak me out? Not cool. But fine.” He sighed and scratched his head. “I’ll play along.”
“I was still working at Dog on a Stick, remember? Oh, wait. Of course you don’t. ‘cause I’ve been living in a fantasy, right?” The boy glared at them all. “You,” he sharpened the look, directing it solely at Buffy, “kept trying to stake Spike, even though you knew how I felt about him.”
The Slayer smirked then shrugged. “Vampire. Kinda my job, Xan.”
“Uh-huh… except when it came to Angel, right?” Xander’s brown eyes became as smug as the look on his face. “Anyway, Spike thought it might help if I learned some of the languages we were struggling with in research sessions. I guess he figured it would help win you all over.”
Willow blinked and shot a glance at the vampire and Spike shrugged.
“Might be something I’d do,” he admitted. “You know, if I was actually involved with the boy and wanted ta cozy up ta you lot. Better strategy than trying ta keep him from spending time with you, anyway, which would likely have me meeting the pointy end of a sharp stick sooner rather than later, yeah?”
Giles frowned yet again and polished his glasses for possibly the twentieth time in as many minutes. If he kept it up, Spike figured the lenses would last maybe another hour at best.
“Turned out, I’m good with languages,” Xander went on, smiling sheepishly. “Or at least the non-human kind. I had Lamboscan, Rashpthitinam, Bustingla and Harshethian down in like… three months. That’s when you,” he looked at Giles, “started me on Protheriant Lascopitet.”
Xander laughed quietly. “Man, I felt like a moron for the first few months. I mean, the word structure alone! And let’s not get into the sentences… or should I say the skip-diagramming of them!” He shook his head. “Gods, it took me close to a year to get it straight! But I was lucky. Spike helped me more than I ever thought he would. It was like… as soon as he knew it really mattered to me, he was on board. Well, as long as it didn’t cut into our shagging time too much.”
What the vampire found fascinating was that the boy didn’t blush until after the assembled ‘ewwwwww’-s from the girls and the Watcher’s disturbed throat-clearing. It was like Harris hadn’t even thought about the words before the reaction to them, and that meant…
Whoever had done this to the boy, they’d done a bloody good job of it. Harris truly believed that he and Spike had been involved since before the chip, and that being so…
“Wait,” Spike ordered. “What about your demon-chit? Are you trying ta tell me you picked me over her?”
Xander blinked, confusion clear on his face as he finally pulled his fingers from his hair. “Demon-chit? What demon-chit? Come on, baby, you know there’s never been anyone else for me. I mean, ever since Buffy’s boyfriend tried to give me to you as a snack, I’ve known I’m gay. And so have you!” He growled. “This game is really getting fucking old! I’m done!”
Spike’s eyes widened as Harris jumped up in a very uncharacteristic way, with enough force that the chair he’d been sitting in skidded a few feet across the floor before toppling over in a clatter of wood on wood.
“I fell asleep,” the brunette snarled angrily. “I’m sorry! But this whole ‘make Xander think he’s crazy’ routine is way out of line! I’m out of here… and fuck you all! Fuck you very much!”
Spike shrugged at the looks that were suddenly cast his way. “What? I don’t know what bug’s crawled into his brain and made him all ‘Spike’s my bloke’ either, do I?”
He growled softly when Red pouted, quickly followed by Dawn. Then Buffy arched one brow in that ‘I’m demanding that you do something about this, but since I’m not saying it out loud it doesn’t count’ way of hers and he growled again.
“Fine!” he snapped, “but if he makes a pass at me, I’m gonna hit him, got it?”
Giles cleaned his glasses yet again, finally placing them back on his nose as the door closed behind Spike. “Well. That was…”
“If you say ‘interesting’, I’m gonna sneak in here tomorrow and mix up all the cards in your catalogue,” Dawn threatened suddenly. “That was not ‘interesting’. That was…”
“Freaky,” Willow finished when Dawn seemed lost for words.
“Ohhhhh, yeah,” Buffy added, “a mega-dose of wiggins, here.”
Willow ducked her head and gave them all a skittish glance. “Um, you guys know I didn’t… do anything, right? I mean, ‘cause I wouldn’t! Didn’t! I’ve been all no-magic-girl for ages now, and…”
Giles sighed, then frowned, then nodded. “Yes. I do believe you, Willow. I should not have simply assumed… but you must admit that in the past…”
The redhead blushed deeply. “I’m better now.”
And as that was more or less true, they all settled down to spend still more time researching, although this time it was into what sort of creatures could enter a sleeping mind and change the memories it contained.
Sadly, none of them thought to check the text Xander had been sleeping on… and even if they had, none of them were familiar enough with it to have noticed that one glyph—which had been written in the margin of the page he’d napped on—was missing.
“Hey! Bloody hell,” Spike growled, “Cool your bloody jets, mate! You forget it’s bleeding midnight? All manner of creepy-crawlies about in the dark on the sodding Hellmouth that would love ta get their… bits… inta you!”
Xander frowned and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets, though he slowed his rapid strides just a bit. “So what?” he mumbled back, hoping he didn’t sound as dejected as he felt. “You… all of you!... don’t mind making me think I’m nuts, but you don’t want me to end my misery by becoming a midnight morsel for some peckish Promerat?”
The vampire arched his scarred brow as he reached the boy and fell into step beside him. “And who’s been telling you ‘bout Promerati, mate? Didn’t think Watcher knew of them…”
The brunette snorted. “You told me, Spike! Gods, we’d only been together for like… three days when you warned me about them!”
Blue eyes narrowed under a suddenly furrowed brow. “Yah…? What’d I say, then?” Because he’d be damned if he’d ever even considered telling Buffy about the Promerati, and he loved her! Didn’t he…?
Xander sighed, tired of going along with the game his friends had somehow managed to rope his lover into joining. “You know what you told me,” he almost whispered, sounding defeated. “They look like humans, act like humans, even seem to age like humans. But they feed on emotions, and if they can manage to get you to run through a series of emotions, they can pretty much suck the humanity out of you.” He sighed. “Usually, they’ll try to do that by making you think they like you, then that they need you… even love you. And once you believe that, even in the short-term, they tear you down to nothing. Only they do it faster than, say… your friends and your vampire lover playing some stupid game with you… and when the Promerati are finished with you, you don’t feel anything ever again. You’re just a shell, going through the… motions.” He swallowed hard. “Fuck! Why can’t I find one?”
And somehow the idea of the boy—no matter how annoying Spike sometimes found him—becoming a shadow of himself was just… wrong. Besides which, Harris—Xander—seemed so sincere. The whole time in the shop, he’d been oozing truth and confusion and finally despair and fear. Even the fury at the end had been liberally laced with terror.
When Spike added all of that to the fact that what the boy had just said was pretty much exactly the way he would have described the demons in question, had he been going to describe them to anyone, he came to one inescapable conclusion.
Xander Harris was insane, yes.
But he’d been made that way in less than a few hours, from what Buffy and Red had said, so that meant… ‘Dru’, he thought.
But why would his ex want to make Harris nuts? To get his attention, maybe?
No. That didn’t make any sense. At all.
If Drusilla were going to use her skills to make anyone loopy, it would have been Buffy, because it was Buffy that he loved. So what the hell was wrong with Harris?
Whatever it was, there was something inside of him that had both demon and soul objecting to the notion of the boy being emotionless. Cold. Heartless.
“Can’t find one because you’re being escorted by a vampire, mate,” he finally said, answering the rhetorical question deliberately, “And you’re gonna keep bein’ escorted thus until I find out what the bloody fuck is going on!”
Xander jumped a bit then shifted away when he felt one well-remembered hand at the small of his back. “Don’t… touch me,” he gritted out. “Not until you admit that you’re fucking playing me… and say you’re sorry. Or more to the point, prove you’re sorry!”
The blond sighed and shook his head. “Right, then. Hard way, it is.” He grabbed Harris by the back of his shirt and literally dragged him down the street to the small park-like area in the middle of the traffic circle off of Main Street.
He snarled at Sunnydale’s three homeless people, then gave in to the soul’s badgering and threw them a twenty before tossing the boy onto the bench and settling down beside him.
Xander’s eyes widened at suddenly finding himself on the bench, then he glared at the vampire. “No fair! We agreed you wouldn’t use your ‘special skills’ outside the bedroom! Or not against me, anyway!” He scratched his head violently with one hand, the other caught in the vampire’s cool grasp.
The fact that he was holding thick, strong, warm fingers in a laced grip was irrelevant, Spike figured. In fact, if he chose to see it as his method of keeping the boy there, then who would doubt it? Bloke wasn’t going to run off without his hand, after all.
“That’s just the thing, mate,” he murmured after a moment in which he found and held sable eyes with his own. “I never agreed ta that.” Spike frowned. “Know you think me and your mates are having one on, yah? But we’re not, Harris. Something’s wrong with you and you just don’t see it!” He chose to ignore the ‘bedroom’ comment, even though he was suddenly picturing just what he could make the boy want, what with his ‘special skills’ and all.
The human’s eyes softened, then softened more, until Spike thought they might melt entirely and leak out of their sockets.
“Y-you… really m-mean that, d-don’t you?” Xander whispered. He’d never seen Spike look like this, after all. Not even when they’d had their very serious talk about claiming and mating and consorts and what it all meant. “Y-you… don’t have any i-d-dea of wh-h-h-at I’m t-talking ab-b-bou-out…”
And oh, fuck… suddenly he wished he really was Xander’s lover. If only so he could say ‘psyche!’ and snog the bloke into smiling again. But he wasn’t, so…
“Sorry, mate,” he said softly, shifting just a few inches closer on the park bench, “I really don’t. My world…? Yeah, the great poof offered you ta me that time. But nothing came of it. Made a deal with Slayer, took Dru and left so Buffy could send Angelus… Angel… to Hell. Came back and kidnapped you and Red so Red’d do a spell ta get my Dru back for me. You were involved with that Cordelia chit at the time.”
Spike almost laughed at the look of combined horror, amazement, fascination and disgust that got him.
“Me and Cordelia? Like… Cordelia Chase?” Xander yelped, “Oh, my Gods! I am so not a glutton for punishment!” He blushed. “Um… well. Uh. Not that kind, anyway…”
Well, well… boy was like an onion. Layer upon layer. But he’d think about that later. For now…
“Left again. Came back for a ring, I did.” And if vampires could have blushed, Spike would have then. That had definitely been his most embarrassing debacle ever.
Xander couldn’t help smiling. “The Gem of Amarra! I remember that. You wanted to come to that stupid picnic with me.” He laughed. “I told you I didn’t mind missing it, but off you went to find that damned ring!”
Tanned skin grew slightly pinkish. “I didn’t see you for almost a week and I was so sure you’d hooked up with some vamp or other… but there I was at the Harris family picnic, trying to keep from being flattened by one passing-out relative or another, and when Uncle Jimmy threw up in the potato salad I looked away, and… there you were.”
He ducked his head, brown locks flopping over his eyes. “Even my Dad sobered up enough to admit that you were fucking gorgeous… of course, he also asked how much I was paying you to be seen in public with me…”
He laughed softly at the angry growl he heard.
“The rest of the picnic was amazing,” Xander admitted quietly. “Everyone wanted to impress you. Then you made that comment about not being attracted to ‘pickled people’ and…” his fingers squeezed lightly at the cooler ones his own were tangled with, forgetting for the moment that Spike didn’t remember their past, “I think that was the first time ever that the ‘clan’ didn’t drain all the kegs.”
He turned to give Spike a kiss, only to stop short at the stunned look on the vampire’s face.
“Didn’t lose the ring ta Buffy in your fantasyland, then?” Spike whispered, only realizing that he’d fucked things up when the hand in his tried to tug away—violently. “Stop… stop it, mate!” He held tighter. “Didn’t say it wasn’t a good fantasy, did I?”
Xander struggled a bit more, though he knew it was pointless. He’d had years to get used to the idea that when Spike wanted him to stay, he would ‘bloody well stay’, after all. “Fine. Stopped. But you don’t believe me, so what now?”
Spike frowned and sidled just a wee bit closer again. “ ‘s not that I don’t believe you, mate. Know you believe everything you’re saying, don’t I? Can sense a lie, I can.” His brow furrowed. “Figure it has ta be you… or else it’s all the rest of us, yah?”
And while Xander truly wanted to shake his head and walk away, he just… couldn’t.
“Fine,” he ground out, “What’ll it take, Spike? How do I convince you? Because I’m starting to think maybe I should just… go. Away.” And it was true. His lover didn’t remember their life! Didn’t remember everything they’d…
He swallowed hard. “I can’t live like this,” he whispered, scratching the itchy spot in his hair again.
Spike cocked his head, ignoring the deep-seated need to keep the boy right where he was. “Tell me…” he began, then shook his head.
“If I told you about the Promerati after three days, mate,” he said, starting again, “then you must know other things that I’ve never told anyone, yah? Things that even bleeding Angel wouldn’t know…”
Xander considered that, then nodded. “Okay… um, there’s this spot on the back of your left knee that makes you…” He frowned when Spike shook his head. “You used to have your nipples pierced because Dru… fuck. Dru knew, so… no secret from anyone who knows how to interpret what she uses as English…”
The vampire sighed but squeezed the long, warm fingers.
Brown eyes dropped for a good minute or two and Spike was sure he’d made the boy see reason, but then Xander’s head rose again and wide, sparkling eyes met his triumphantly.
“You have a scar on your right inner thigh,” Xander announced, “and you’ve always said it was from a mugging when you were like twenty-three. But it’s really from when you were ten years old and your cousin John sicced his dog on you. You said you’d never told anyone else the truth about that!”
Spike blinked. “I… I told you that…?”
It was inconceivable that the whelp could know that from anywhere other than his own lips. It wasn’t in the Watcher’s Chronicles, wasn’t even in the Aurelius Histories. He’d never told anyone how he’d really gotten that scar—not Angelus, not Dru, not… anyone—and that meant… what?
Xander shivered slightly as Spike went silent, but then he rallied. If Spike didn’t know him the way he remembered them, then maybe he’d want to hide the shame of Xander knowing the truth, and… and clearly this wasn’t his Spike, because his Spike would have had him ass up and begging by then, just for bringing up that story, and…
“Uh, or maybe I’m just crazy, like you said. Yeah, that’s it… crazy Xander… I guess I’d better go home and get me an appointment with a Doctor with lots of drugs. Yeah. Many drugs to keep me from being so insane…”
Spike shook his head slowly, giving the panicking young man an appraising gaze. “No, mate… sorry. Can’t let you go away. Not when you know that.”
Xander paled, caught in those wicked blue eyes. “Wh-what are y-you g-g-gonna d-do…?” he whispered, unable to speak any louder.
Spike’s head spun, even as he lost himself in wide brown eyes.
‘I love Buffy…’ he heard himself thinking, ‘but she’ll never love me… even with this soul, I’m not good enough, not pure enough… and he does love me! I can see it. Feel it! And he knows things he shouldn’t know… things he didn’t know this time yesterday, and none of them are simple things, and maybe it’s…’
“Maybe it’s not you, pet,” Spike whispered, unsurprised to find his lips a mere inch from the boy’s. “Maybe it’s the rest of us who’ve been magicked… made to know something that isn’t…” He gasped and shook his head at a sharp pain in what had once been his heart, then shook it off and met those hopeful eyes again.
“Let’s get you home,” was what Spike finally said, though Xander was almost entirely sure that he meant ‘us’. ‘Let’s get us home.’
“Y-yeah,” he answered, wishing the blond had actually kissed him, considering how close their lips had been.
The books had brought them no clue as to what in the hell was wrong with Xander. In fact, they’d discovered absolutely nothing that could even lead them in the right direction aside from a few very vague references to a mythical demon dimension. Mythical because there was no actual record of it ever being accessed; demon dimension because the solitary whispers that had been heard over the course of recorded history implied just that.
“This is useless!” Buffy said grumpily for approximately the fifteenth time in as many minutes. “And… and pointless! And… can’t we just pick something for me to kill and hope for the best?”
Willow sighed, catching the blonde girl’s quick glance from the corner of her eye and closed her own book. “It’s okay, Buffy. I know you’re just trying to cheer me up with the whole ‘ditzy blonde’ thing, but it’s not really gonna work. We had classes together, remember?”
The Slayer pouted, then shrugged. “Fine. Whatever. But this really is pointless, Wills. We don’t even know what we’re looking for.”
Giles frowned, even as he came out of his small office with tea for them all. “Perhaps…” his brow furrowed as he sat down at the table and flipped a few pages, scanning what he’d already read one more time. “Perhaps we’re looking for the wrong thing. It says… this demon dimension.”
“But nobody goes there or comes from there and I don’t think there’s anything that ever said that they send out random… memory thingies… to screw with good guys like Xander, and I don’t see why they would, either, so what about it…?”
Buffy blinked, trying not to laugh. “Way to kick that nasty breathing addiction, Wills!”
Willow frowned. “Pffft… I’m just saying, there’s nothing to support…”
Tired fingers removed his glasses and pinched his nose as Giles heaved a long, deep sigh. “Yes, Willow, you’re quite right. However, if you had allowed me to finish…”
The redhead ‘eeep’-ed. “S-sorry, Giles.”
Another sigh. “Yes. Well.” Giles rubbed his eyes, wondering just how many more grey hairs he was acquiring due to this latest bizarre happenstance. “I was merely going to suggest that… the mention of this demon dimension brought something to mind. Actually, I’m surprised that neither of you has thought of it. It’s quite… obvious, really.”
The two girls exchanged an annoyed look—Willow because she wasn’t used to missing things, especially obvious ones, and Buffy because Giles wasn’t getting to the point.
“It’s simple,” Giles went on, polishing his glasses quickly. “Do you girls remember the Vampire version of Willow that was drawn here from another dimension? And Anya’s theory of a world without shrimp, as well?”
Willow bounced. “It’s not our Xan! It’s some other Xander and he’s here by accident!” Her excitement faded as swiftly as it had appeared. “But that can’t be it, Giles. He was right here. Right here in front of us! He fell asleep and then… poof! Different guy when he woke up! No… extra Xander or anything!”
Giles suddenly found himself frowning, as well. “Sod all.”
Buffy sighed and shrugged. “It was a good idea, Giles. But it’s just his mind that’s all… messed up. Too bad that dimension-thingy is a full-body thing. ‘Cause if it was just his brain, then…”
The bespectacled man and the young redhead blinked, then Willow grabbed her blonde friend and hugged her hard. “That’s it! Buffy, you figured it out! I knew you were smart! Told you, even! But did you believe me? Pfffffffftttt! Of course not! But you’ll have to now!”
The Watcher released one more put-upon sigh. “Yes, we are all in agreement that Buffy is much brighter than she gives herself credit for. That said, perhaps we might begin to look into who or what might have reason, means, and opportunity to effect such a thing, and upon Xander, of all people.”
Willow nodded, still bouncing. “I’ll get the psyche-topical texts from upstairs.”
“Are you sure there isn’t something I can go out and kill?” Buffy asked hopefully, only to fall back into her chair with a disappointed grunt. “Fine… I’ll read. Hey, maybe we should get Xander to help us! He reads all those freaky demon languages now, right?”
Giles closed his eyes and truly wished he could bang his head against the table without worrying the girls. As he couldn’t, though, he merely forced himself to take a sip of his tea.
“It is going to be a very long night,” he murmured, even though it was already close to one in the morning.
Xander turned around slowly in the living room of the small but somewhat nice apartment that was apparently his, baffled by the fact that he recognized his couch, his favorite lamp… his chest against the wall. Baffled because… “I don’t live here,” he said yet again, just as he’d been saying since Spike had first directed him down Twin Oaks Drive and away from the University, rather than taking him to Sherwood Street and towards the campus.
Spike growled softly, looking around the boy’s flat. “You do, mate. Have for more than a year now. Got this place because demon-girl…” he frowned. “Because Anya liked it. Was this whole thing where you got split apart and… bloody hell. Never mind.”
Brown eyes stared hard at the obviously cheap knock-off of an Oriental rug under the coffee table. “If we were… split up… this Anya and I, I mean… then why did we get back together?”
The vampire growled again. “Not you and Anya, you enormous twit. You.” He sighed silently, hating the fact that he was treating the bloke this way, but… during the walk to the flat, Spike had come to some unpleasant conclusions.
First was that… whatever was wrong—whether it was with the boy or with the rest of them—eventually it would be fixed. And if it was Xander who was… off, he’d be likely to hate Spike if he took advantage, no matter how much he might want to.
Secondly, if it wasn’t the bloke who was skewed from true, then Spike couldn’t be entirely sure of who he really was. How would he—his soul—feel later, if he did something that violated whatever relationship he and the boy had? What if he took things too far… or not far enough? What if he misjudged what the bloke wanted… needed?
And finally, Spike had a plan.
It wasn’t a good plan, but it was a plan, none the less.
He would wait and see what happened. And if Xander ended up going back to the boy Spike remembered, there would be nothing but goodwill on the other man’s end… for not taking advantage, and for not making fun.
And then… then Spike could woo the boy, and when Xander finally gave in? It would be the human’s own decision, while of sound mind.
It was the fact that Spike knew how well he followed his own plans that made ‘THE plan’ not good. Still, he was going to do his best to follow it.
“Look,’ he went on, “there was thing… with a demon in the dump. Had a stick. Split you in two. Red fixed it, so stop gaping like a fish.”
Xander swallowed hard. “I… look, S-spike. I’m kind of lost, okay?” He glanced at his lover, then away. “Th-this… I… this isn’t… what the hell happened? How can I remember my whole life and know it’s real when you… you’re not…” He swallowed a sob, but his voice was still thick with it when he spoke again. “You’re not… mine…?”
Bloody fuck. That tone was almost enough to have him pulling the boy close and ‘reassuring’ him until he passed out. Then again, Spike reminded himself, he’d always been a sucker for being needed.
Drusilla had needed him and he’d existed entirely for her for more than a hundred years.
Buffy had needed him to help her feel, and he’d belonged entirely to her for…
“Bloody hell,” he whispered, only then realizing that deep inside, he knew… he had belonged to her. Had! Not did, but had! And he’d never noticed, had missed the moment when ‘belonging’ had passed to ‘once belonged to’… had even missed the momentous instant when ‘I love’ had shifted to ‘I love… but I’m not in love with’.
It was a stunning and shattering moment, regardless of having known she would never—could never— love him.
“I… what?” Spike managed to grunt, “I… missed that, mate.”
He could feel his eyes tearing, feel his heart… breaking. But one thing Alexander Lavelle Harris had never been was pathetic. Or not for the last few years, anyway, and there was fuck-all chance that he was going to start again now, so he just turned away from the vampire and shook his head. “Nothing. It… wasn’t important. I just don’t understand how I could live… here. It’s so… not me.”
The blond forced himself to grunt and assume a somewhat normal tone of voice—for him. “What? Too clean? Not enough mold and mildew?” He slapped on a half-hearted smirk and looked around. “Not quite like the basement of Casa de Drunken Harris, is it? Happy ta say I minded staying here less than there. Then again, you didn’t tie me ta a chair in this place.”
Xander blinked, unable to keep himself from looking at his… the vampire. “I tied you to a chair? And… when did I live in a basement? Because Dad sold the house after Mom and I left him.” He frowned, then sighed deeply at the look on Spike’s face. “But you don’t think I did, right? Even though you lived with me and Mom while she was making up with her family, and even though you ended up calling her ‘Jess-Mum’, and she always called you ‘son’. Or did I stay with Dad in this bizarre fantasy of yours…” he blinked as the full reality suddenly swarmed over him, “of everyone’s?” And it was obviously everyone’s.
Xander frowned again. “I… I’m crazy, aren’t I?”
It was the defeated tone to his boy’s voice that had Spike finally moving to his side and wrapping long, slender arms around him. “Hush… hush, mate,” the vampire whispered, rocking the young man slightly. “Didn’t say that. Just… didn’t happen for me, yeah?” He let loose a wistful sigh. “Sounds like a bloody lovely world, though.”
As much as Xander wanted to relax into the so-familiar hold on him… as much as he wanted to let himself drown in that comfort, he just couldn’t. Spike… wasn’t Spike, or wasn’t the Spike he remembered, and… he wanted his Spike, damn it!
And so he stood, stiff and unyielding within the arms he knew and loved. “It is,” he agreed, the words emerging through gritted teeth. “Unfortunately, it’s not this world, so I really need for you to let me go now, ba… Spike.”
“No,” the vampire murmured, throwing the ‘plan’ fully out the window. “Seems I don’t care if you’re bug-shagging crazy, mate. Been there myself, haven’t I? But you’re about a minute away from breaking. Can smell it, yeah?” And that was true enough. The boy reeked of despair and loss. “Not letting you run me off so you can break alone.”
And those were possibly the worst words Xander had heard since he’d woken up to find things… wrong. He couldn’t afford the hope those words made him feel, after all.
Spike smirked as he barreled into the Magic Box, his entry earning the usual jumps from those assembled.
“Right, then,” he said with a false grin, “what’d we find out about Chubs and his magically un-licious memory problem?”
Willow and Buffy exchanged glances before turning back to their books. “Uh, maybe you should talk to Giles,” the redhead whispered, sure Spike would hear her, “Because it’s probably not Xander at all… or not our Xander…”
Buffy glared at her friend, not even remotely fooled when the girl lowered her head further towards the dusty pages. “Willow!”
Pale blue eyes rolled as Spike pushed his equally pale self away from the chair he’d been leaning against. “Fine. Not like I have any right to know what’s up with the git I spent the last twelve hours being pawed by.”
He gave Willow a short, thankful look. “Nice to see one of you gives a rat’s ass about the boy, anyway. Thanks, Red.”
Both girls stared after the blond, wide-eyed.
“Did he just say…” Buffy said slowly.
“Pawed by? Pawed?” Willow added, blinking wildly, “Oh, we are so right! Not our Xander! Our Xander likes girls! ‘Cause, you know…”
“Uh-huh,” Buffy finished, “but… aside from Faith and Cordy, kinda all demons, so…”
They fell into silence, pretending to themselves that they were researching when all the while they were actually staring at the door to Giles’ office, which had been closed ever since the vampire had stalked through it and shut it too quietly behind him.
“You’re gonna what?” Spike growled, his eyes wide and golden as the Watcher repeated his words. “You can’t! Do you have any sodding idea of how bloody dangerous that’d be? Not just for Xan but for… bloody hell, for everyone!”
The sad part, Giles would realize later, was that if it had been anyone other than Spike asking him those questions, he would have given them more serious consideration, right from the start. As it was, however, he merely gave the vampire a sharp gaze before responding.
“Really, Spike, I understand your concerns, but quite frankly I don’t understand why you believe this to be any of your business.” He gave the blond a short and very fake smile. “Xander has obviously had his conscious mind scrambled with that of a different Xander, and as the one he is now seems convinced that you are his… what did you call it? Snuggle-bunny?... I’d think you’d be just as anxious as the rest of us to reverse the process. It’s not as though you have any love for the boy.” Giles chuckled. “Or even liking. Simply allow us to do our job and you’ll be relieved of the… groping advances we were all witness to last night.” Exaggeration or not, Giles figured that would make the vampire see reason.
It took an enormous effort, but Spike finally managed to unclench his fists and let his hands hang loose at his sides. “Can’t say I’d be sorry to see those go,” he lied, “but what if you’re wrong, Watcher? What if you do your bloody spell and the Xander we’ve got isn’t from somewhere else? What if he’s just… delusional, yeah? Hit his head, got hit by a bad mix of demon juice… whatever.” He frowned. “What happens then? What’ll your bloody spell do ta him?”
Giles frowned. “I… well, honestly! We’d know if Xander had been injured recently. Granted, he works in construction, but he would surely have said something if…”
“If he’d had an accident that made him even less useful to you lot than you usually make him feel?” The vampire snorted. “Yeah, I’m betting he’d be running in, shouting about how he got hit on the head by a… whatever they have at those bloody sites. Wouldn’t be at all concerned that he’d be left out and such.”
The frown on Giles’ face grew deeper as he admitted silently that Spike was right.
It wasn’t entirely unheard of for a strong blow to the head to cause delusions… and Xander had been sleeping rather a lot, which was often another sign of head trauma.
“I…” Giles began, swallowing hard at the thought of what actually could happen if the spell was performed and Xander wasn’t actually… some other Xander. “Perhaps we should wait. We’ll take him to hospital and see whether there has been some damage we’ve not been made aware of.”
Spike found himself relaxing just a bit at the words, though he made a point of growling more. “Bloody right you will. And who’s going to look after the git for the week or so before you can get a sodding appointment?” He smirked at Giles’ stunned glance. “What? Boy’s not bleeding, not a danger to himself or others, aside from his determination to grab my ass. Take him in to the ER and they’ll bloody well laugh at you.” He smirked more. “I vote he stays with you, Ripper! Not like you couldn’t use his handy delusional demon-language skills, after all… and with any luck, he’ll start to think you’re his fantasy lover,” he added when it looked like the man might take him up on it.
Glasses were removed and polished with care as Giles considered the pros and cons of Spike’s suggestion. The boy wasn’t unattractive, after all, but as Buffy and Willow had pointed out, Xander wasn’t gay, and… regardless of whether it was an alternate Xander or their Xander with some sort of amnesia, he couldn’t bear it if the boy looked at him with horror once he was his proper self again.
Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably, even as he shifted behind his desk to provide himself more… leg room.
“No… perhaps you might consider… that is, I will require you to look after him, Spike. And before you ask, there is a hundred dollars a day in it for you. Just… keep him out of trouble.”
The vampire smirked and held out his hand. “Payable in advance, Watcher. If I’m going to have to fend off his bloody horrendous advances for a week, I want the cash up front!”
The older looking but in truth much younger man sighed and gave the blond a look. “Turn around. I’m not so much of a fool as to open the safe while you’re watching.”
He waited until Spike was definitely looking the other way, then turned and manipulated what appeared to be a stack of books behind him, darting glances over his shoulder the entire time.
Spike was grinning when he turned back around at Rupert’s announcement of being finished and held out his hand, letting the Watcher count seven hundred dollars into it without comment. It was only after he’d put the money in his pocket that he spoke.
“Guess this means you’ll be taking my place on patrol, mate… since I’m goin’ ta be watching over the whelp…” He grinned even more. “Don’t envy you the task.”
Giles sat up straighter and looked a bit put out. “I assure you that I am more than capable of assisting the children in whatever you might be able to…”
Spike snorted softly. “Right, then. I’ll just take Chubs up the coast or something until you lot know what’s wrong with him.”
“That’s fine,” the human said, his mind still running in circles over what they’d almost done to Xander… if it was Xander. “Just don’t take him too far. If we find proof that he’s not really him, the spell has a limited area. Perhaps… a hundred miles or so.”
It was then that Buffy’s voice rang through the shop, easily loud enough to be heard in the office. “Giles… Robin’s here! Tell Spike it’s time to patrol!”
One scarred brow rose and Spike smirked as he sauntered out into the main room. “Sorry, ducks,” he told the impatient Slayer, “but I’ve been put on whelp-watch. Guess you’ll have to muddle through with him and old Rupes.”
He tossed them a smirk as he left the store, then dashed as quickly as he could to a pay phone on the next block.
He dialed the number frantically, body vibrating as it rang once… twice… three times…
“Xander!” he gasped when it was finally answered, “Luv, I don’t have time to explain, yeah? Just… pack a bag. I’m heading to the house to do the same. I’ll be at your place in an hour. Be ready to go or you won’t like what happens.”
He slammed the receiver into its cradle without waiting for a reply and focused entirely upon getting to Buffy’s house and the basement, grabbing the few things that mattered to him—the head he’d torn from Dru’s first Miss Edith, the ribbon he’d managed to claw from Angelus’ hair after one of their more… tender encounters… his clothes, the journal he’d started keeping again after the chip, and even more after the soul.
He spent a bare moment looking at the space and marveling at how very little he owned that he actually cared about; then he left, darting up the stairs without a backward glance.
It was only when he was ready to walk out of the house that he thought of the Bit.
How could he just ditch her, abandon her, leave her with nothing?
The soul answered the question very quickly with a ‘can’t’, while the demon grumbled but agreed.
He took a good ten minutes to write her a note that quickly turned into an actual letter, and then he ran up the stairs to slide it under her pillow with just one tiny edge poking out. She’d see it, he knew, especially with as hyper-aware as she was these days with all the bloody potentials in the house.
He just thanked every God that would listen to him for the fact that they were all out. There wasn’t a one of them that liked him, and he was happy to say that the feeling was mutual.
His few bags were left in the cab he’d called and Spike walked jauntily up to the door of the Magic Box, smirking as he grasped the knob and by all appearances simply turned it and entered, when in actuality, he’d broken the lock and the deadbolt.
He turned and gave the cabby a smile before raising one hand, fingers spread and mouthing ‘five minutes’.
Of course, it didn’t take him anything close to that long. He’d been listening as the foolishly silent Watcher had spun the dial on the safe.
Three minutes later, the vampire strolled from the shop and pulled the door flush.
He climbed back into the cab and gave an address a few blocks away from Xander’s apartment.
His fingers danced slowly over the dark-colored tote which held close to fifty thousand dollars in cash and he wondered why exactly Rupert had been making his own Slayer struggle when he’d had so much of the ready.
Still, that wasn’t his problem, though it made him sad for the Slayer who’d put so much trust in her Watcher, and he made a mental note to wire most of that cash to Buffy once he and Xander had gotten somewhere… safe for the boy.
If not for her sake, then for Dawn’s, and… well, for both of them… but that was something to think of later because right then he was at Xander’s building, and…
“C’mon, mate,” he growled as he slammed through the door, “time ta go!”
Xander looked up from his spot on the couch and shook his head. “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”
Spike flashed vamp-face.
Spike gave the begging eyes.
Xander almost caved.
And finally, Spike told Xander what Giles and the others had been planning, and Xander…
“Would… would it be so bad?” he asked softly, “I mean, what if they’re right? I could just… go back to my world and…”
The vampire snarled and dragged the boy from the couch, pulling him tightly against him. “I don’t believe that and neither do you! Now, c’mon, pet… need ta get you a good hundred miles from here before Ripper knows we’ve gone that far, yah? And that’ll be sooner, rather than later.”
He ignored the boy’s questions as he grabbed Xander’s bag and dragged him from the apartment, pushing him to the car and into the passenger seat before dashing quickly to the driver’s side and getting in. “Buckle up,” he ordered, “It’s th’ law!” And with that, Spike started the car and peeled off down the street like he was being chased by the very fires of Hell.
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