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So this is the first part of my CoSoRanOb (Color, Sound and Random Object) Ficathon entry. Of course, I should be posting a complete fic, but I'll spare you the lame excuses. Suffice to say that my spring break just started and it is my goal to finish this thing before school starts up again on the 14th.

Title: Waking Up (1/?)
Pairing: S/X
Rating: R (I think)
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters or settings. Otherwise, I'd be far more famous.
Warnings: None spring to mind.
Summary: A Season 4 Xander keeps waking up to some serious changes.
Author's Note: This is for [info]xandervampsgirl specifically and for the fabulous [info]darkhavens and her fabulous community [info]bloodclaim in the more general sense. I have been and will eternally be grateful to the members of this community for the support they've given me as a writer.

Like everything else on the Hellmouth, mornings, when they go wrong, go very, very wrong.

Waking Up

Savoy Truffle

Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Part One

The Hellmouth has a knack for supersizing the wrong in any situation. But in this situation, it’s not just the wrongness of Monday morning that is supersized, it’s Xander’s feet and hands and, well, his whole body really. His whole body is bigger and scalier and quite a bit purpler than usual. A deep shade of eggplant, really, though there are two reasons that Xander would not call the face he sees in the mirror eggplant: (1) because, since they aren’t sold in the frozen food section and cannot be ordered for delivery in thirty minutes or less, Xander has never encountered an eggplant before; and (2) because straight men don’t talk about shades of purple. In fact, straight men don’t talk about purple at all, if they know what’s good for them. Black, white, red, blue, maybe green—these are straight-man colors.

Oh, and a third reason Xander isn’t thinking about the shade of his skin as he looks in the mirror? He’s far too busy freaking the fuck out.

In short, it’s Monday morning on the Hellmouth and Xander just woke up as a demon.

It’s the kind of morning that calls for a really strong coffee—or maybe six. But coffee-making calls for dexterity and dexterity calls for slender fingers and opposable thumbs and Xander calls out to the universe for help, but no one can hear him from his parents’ basement. He would call for help on the telephone, but that too calls for the dexterity of slender fingers and opposable thumbs and this whole thing is getting damn old damn fast.

Xander needs the Scoobies, which means going out, which normally means getting dressed, but supersizedness is an obstacle in this arena as well. He tries to pull on a olive green tee shirt, which he in no way notices would compliment his new skin tone, but it rips under the strain of his new bulk and falls off his chest in tatters. And, damn it, he liked that shirt.

Xander looks down at this strange new body of his and tries to determine if he has any naughty bits in need of coverage in the name of decency. No offenders of decency make themselves apparent, but Xander yanks the sheet off the sofa just in case and ties it around his waist in what he hopes is a kilt-y, rather than a skirt-y or diaper-y, fashion.

He heads for the door and is working on turning the handle, which is definitely not cooperating, when it occurs to him that it’s broad daylight. The basement may not let in a whole lot of that light, but there are definitely a few autumn sunbeams bullying their way in through the thick dust covering the high, short windows, which means that, should he step outside, his new body will be quite visible to the larger Sunnydale population.

Better to wait for nightfall, Xander thinks. No point compounding the disaster. And that’s gotta be a sign that he’s matured over the last few months? Too bad, any claims of progress are contradicted by the fact that he’s just agreed to live in his parents’ basement… and to pay rent for the privilege.

Which reminds him—he’ll need to get a job just as soon as he once again inhabits an employable form. Because the wad of cash for which he traded his pride and modesty last week is only going to go so far. And why did he come back here again?

Rather than consider the question, Xander wanders back into the room and tries not to break anything as he eases his supersized body down in front of the half-functional TV. He manages to pick up the remote, but his new fingers—or claws or talons or whatever—are too big for the buttons and though he manages to get the thing turned on, he crushes the remote before being able to select a channel.

He lucks out with The Price is Right and copes with The Young and the Restless, but by As the World Turns, he’s getting fed up, and Guiding Light makes him want to stick his demony fist straight through the screen. And the local news? Actually worse. Nothing at all about why one might have woken up this morning as a demon, but plenty of tips on dog-walking etiquette and the moving tale of a fifth grader and her fight to save the classroom’s goldfish, Sparkles. Little Christie—a community hero. Xander wonders if demons can vomit.

Then dark, blessed dark at last. Xander re-secures his sheet-y kilt and fumbles with the doorknob for about ten seconds before just busting the door open. He really needs out of the basement.

As Xander slips through town in the direction of UC Sunnydale, sticking to alleys and shadows and the more deserted streets, he finds himself actually looking forward to seeing Buffy and Willow again. Yeah, this whole eggpl— purple demon thing kinda blows, but at least it gives him an excuse to pay them a visit. He’d been back in Sunnydale for almost 48 hours before this and hadn’t worked up the courage to go by their dorms.

He really hadn’t intended this—not to write, not to call. No more than he’d intended his coming of age road trip to arrest its development in Oxnard of all places. But it had. And why bother calling home just to announce that you’ve relocated your pathetic existence to even more pathetic surroundings?

And now he’d been gone too long, or possibly not long enough. It’s hard to tell. All he knows is that one day one of the guys from work told him about an apartment opening up—decent and cheap and walking distance from work—and it seemed silly to pay by the week for a shitty motel room, but there was a lease involved and suddenly it was first and last month’s rent or car repairs. A choice.

And now here he is. Back just over two days and already the butt of the perpetual existential joke that is the Hellmouth. (And yes, Xander knows what existential means… he thinks. Casey from work, who was a philosophy grad student by day, had rubbed off.)

In any case, Xander is beginning to suspect that this is the universe’s way of informing him that he’s made the wrong choice.

Aches. Bone deep. Radiating. Desire to vomit. Except that vomiting would require movement and movement seems like a really bad idea right now.

Back in Oxnard, Xander learned for the first time what it was to be hung over… then proceeded to conduct a quite a few experiments on the subject. You know—in the name of science. Thanks to those experiments, Xander is now able to hypothesize that, based on how he currently feels, the night before was spent drinking an entire bottle of tequila without one ounce of water… and then tossing himself down a flight of stairs. Yes, that must be it.

Xander musters the strength to raise a single eyelid and is instantly blinded by the white. He slams the eyelid shut, squeezes it tight… until it his head starts throbbing at him to stop. He eases off, tries to think.

The white and the bright are wrong, Xander feels certain of this. His surroundings should be off-white and dim and kind of dingy, with the brown and orange tones that are the revenge of the seventies on all subsequent decades. He vaguely remembers that he isn’t supposed to be in the motel room anymore, but what he just saw definitely isn’t the Harris basement, which, besides looking pretty much like the cheap motel room also smelled like mold and mildew. But there’s no smell here, nothing besides a disturbing sort of body odor.

He opens an eye once more and immediately remembers why it was such an awful idea, but suffers the glare for long enough to look down his body and see purple scales. And now it’s all starting to come back to him.

He’s back in Sunnydale. He’s trapped in the all-too-pungent body of a demon. And the best friends he was counting on to help him? They’d beaten him up instead.

Okay, so technically, Willow wasn’t part of the beating up process—that was all The Buffy Summers Show—but Willow had definitely been the studio audience. And what hurts so much more than the bruises from the blows Buffy rained upon him, is the memory of how, the whole time, his cries of “Stop,” “Just listen to me for a second,” and “It’s me, Xander” had fallen on deaf ears.

Of course, Xander isn’t stupid. He realizes that he must not have been speaking English. Even though it certainly sounded like English in his head and he sure as hell doesn’t speak any other languages—unless you count the three phrases he remembers his two semesters of Spanish or “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”

But he knows he must have been speaking Demon, and it’s Buffy’s job to kill demons and he knows that, but it sucks when you’re just an innocent guy looking for a little help from your friends and all you get is a Slayer-powered roundhouse or two and the feeling of pride deep inside that comes from running away crying like a baby.

But none of that explains the bright white light out there, waiting to assail his aching head if he dares to open his eyes again. Unless it’s the light he’s supposed to walk toward that will lead him into a merciful death, but he can’t be that lucky. And, come to think of it, there’s still no explanation for why he feels as if he’s been run over by a semi, because Buffy didn’t get in that many—

Hey, what’s that doing in here? Don’t the ops guys know this is the vampire ward?

The demon wards are full. Apparently, we’re the only one with any empty cells right now.

Well, as long as Walsh doesn’t expect us to work on it…

Don’t worry, one of the demon guys will come over here to do the workups.

Xander doesn’t know what to make of the voices, but he knows he can’t make anything good. No making of chocolate chip cookies here. This is dried-out meatloaf with a side of soggy Brussels sprouts. At best.

Xander drifts out. And back in again. Out and in. Minutes pass that feel like hours. Or maybe it’s hours passing that feel like minutes that feel like hours. Or maybe it’s… not worth wasting energy thinking about. Whatever the timeframe, Xander’s demon body is beginning to recover from what he finally remembers was an electric shock. He also remembers a glimpse camouflage and combat boots.

And as pain seeps out, fear seeps in—just as deep, just as immobilizing.

So Xander lies there on the cold white floor and the drifting continues until muttering from what sounds like the next—cell?—snaps Xander to full wakefulness, eyes open and everything.

Mingy wankers. Gonna drug the blood, least you could do is give a bloke enough of this pig’s shite to live on. An’ warm it up a bit, too. Tossers.

Xander’s eyes widen, then blink. And blink again.


Part Two

The name doesn’t come out loudly or clearly, since he’s still weak and his throat is dry and he hasn’t spoken since UC Sunnydale, but those obstacles prove no match for vampire hearing.

“Wot? Who’s there? Do I know you?”

“It’s me, Xander,” Xander says.

After a few moments of silence, it occurs to Xander that Spike may not have bothered to learn Xander’s name during his various attempts to end Xander’s life.

“Sorry, mate. Pretty sure I don’t know any Tchilalok demons named… Xander, was it?”

“What? No. I’m not a Chilli-whatever demon.”

“Why’re ya speaking Tchilalok, then?”

“I am?” Then it occurs to Xander. “Hey! You can understand what I’m saying.”

Another pause and Xander can perfectly envision Spike’s eyeroll.

“Right. That’s how we’re managing this little thing they call a conversation. Which, by the way, let’s not have anymore.”

Xander doesn’t respond at first… then he panics. “Wait, no! You have to talk to me.”

“Why’s that, then?”

“Because you’re the only person who can understand me.”

“And that’s my problem why?”

“Cause you know me. You…” Xander searches for a reason, clings to the only one he finds. “You tried to kill me! More than once!”

“Tried to kill lots of people. If I called them all my mates, I… well, I’d have a lot of bloody annoying people hanging about, wouldn’t I?”

Xander doesn’t have a good argument on that point… but that doesn’t stop him for long.

“We have something in common, you know.”

For a very long minute, Xander doesn’t think Spike is going to answer, but apparently the vampire has a curious nature… or he’s just really bored.

“What’s that, then? ’Sides being neighbors in Hades?”

“We’ve both been beaten up by Buffy.”

“Buffy? The Slayer? Well then. Not that I’m gonna talk to you or anything, but any enemy of the Slayer is a mate of mine. Or at least someone I might think twice before killing.”

“Well, actually she’s supposed to be a friend of mine…” And why the hell was he telling Spike this again?

“Slayer has friends that’re demons? How’s she manage that? Chats ’em up in between blows, does she?” A pause. “Come to think of it, bint does tend to blather on during a scuffle…”

“Yeah, Buff’s definitely into the talky slayage. But she’s never tried to slay me before today. I wasn’t a demon until this morning. I was… I am human.”

“Human?” Another pause. “Xander… Oh, you’re the Slayer’s boy.”

“Hey! Whadaya me—”

“The one that’s always hanging around, panting after Her Blondness.”

“I don’t… I mean, not since Junior year…”

“Dark hair, puppy eyes, bloody awful shirts, decent body, nice scent.”

There are so many things wrong with that list, Xander doesn’t even know where to object, can’t decide if he’s insulted or disturbed or something else entirely.

But at least he’s not alone anymore. Exhausted, Xander passes back out.

Over the next few days, Xander learns a lot about his new demon body, though not in the most pleasant of ways. The men in the white coats test his vision, his hearing, his smell, his strength, his speed. They have syringes and thermometers and shiny, cold metal instruments. They have printouts and clipboards where they write eagerly on special charts.

On the whole, they seem unimpressed by Demon Xander. Par for Xander’s life. Even as a demon, he lacks skills.

As a human, babble was Xander’s gift. Never being at a loss for words, however inappropriate, in any situation—that was his skill.

But there isn’t much use for that skill when Xander is locked away in a cell and no one can understand a thing he says.

Except for Spike.

… locked in that stupid basement and we’d already been having trouble keeping our hands off each other and we thought you were gonna kill us so we kissed and my soon to be ex-girlfriend—who was really hot and a great kisser by the way, you bastard—walks in and almost dies and never forgives…

So Xander talks to Spike.

… go everywhere—just me and the car. I was gonna see things. New things, different things. I was gonna find myself, you know? Stop fighting for my life every night, have time to actually think. It’s not like I was gonna go to college, you know, and I’m obviously destined for the world of food service, but I thought maybe I could get out before…

Talks and talks and Spike doesn’t exactly participate, but he doesn’t tell Xander to shut up anymore either… at least not very often.

… out to the front on my breaks and sit at the bar and talk to the dancers, who were actually pretty cool, so it didn’t really bother me that they earned their living letting women stuff dollar bills down their…

But while Xander bores the men in white coats, they seem to find Spike quite fascinating. They take him away a lot and he doesn’t always look so good when he gets back. Xander hates watching the guards drag Spike back to the ward, hates seeing Spike slumped between them, but can never tear his eyes away. He hates it even more when Spike passes out of sight, behind the wall that separates them, where Xander can’t give him anything but words.

But Xander always gives him those words—whether Spike wants them or not—until one time when they drag Spike back looking worse, more beaten, emptier than Xander’s ever seen him and Xander suddenly realizes words aren’t enough, are foolish and flimsy and futile. He slides down the cell wall and sits, silent. Helpless.

Then he hears them. Words. Soft and broken.

“Oi, mate. Were… were gonna tell me ’bout the… the time that dancer got sick, yeah?”

Xander swallows around a supersized lump in his supersized throat.

“Yeah. It was Joel and he was supposed to be on stage in fifteen minutes when he threw up… on my feet…”

Part Three

It’s nighttime again. The ward is as bright and white as ever, but Xander can tell the time by the changing of the shifts. The night shift technicians move just a bit more slowly, as if the air is a bit thicker, offers greater resistance. They drink more coffee, cup after cup. The circles under their eyes are more pronounced, never seem to fade.

And there’s something else, something behind those eyes that seems not quite certain if the world before them is reality or a dream.

Xander wonders if it’s easier for the night technicians. He wonders if it’s easier to face all the creatures you never wanted to believe existed if you can hold out hope of one day waking up again to the innocent world you used to know. He wonders if it’s easier to experiment on those creatures if you don’t quite have to believe they’re real, if you don’t even have to believe you’re real, not really.

He’s seen his own charts. They don’t bother to hide the words from someone—something—they know can’t understand them.

Some ability to reason.
Appears to communicate with Hostile 17 in its own language.
Sensitivity to pain.

How do you know that about something—someone—and not question whether you really have the right to continue your experiments, to continue to cause that pain?

Except if it’s war. Xander remembers his soldier training. War isn’t about rights, it’s about right and wrong. And you’re right and they’re wrong and that’s all you need to know.

All you need to know.

It’s nighttime again. Xander likes keeping track of the time of day. It’s not like he has classes to go to or a job, with breaks and a lunch hour. It’s not like there’s a television on which to watch the Star Trek Voyager reruns that come on at midnight or a Scooby meeting to attend at whatever location they’re now being held.

It’s not as though the men in white coats come for either him or Spike at regular intervals, or that Xander would even want to be able to anticipate their visits. And Xander isn’t counting his days in captivity. He doesn’t want to know if it seems longer than it’s been. He doesn’t want to know if it’s been longer than it seems.

He doesn’t want to know.

He only wants to know the time of day. Because it’s the kind of thing that people know. Normally.

It’s nighttime again and Xander’s thoughts are going bad places, so he starts to talk.

“I don’t even know why I came back. I mean, Sunnydale? Not exactly the land of opportunity. Unless you’re looking for the opportunity to have an obituary that reads: Died of blood loss after falling mysteriously on a barbeque fork in a dark alley late last night.

“I mean, I guess it’s different if you’re a vampire. Although, not really. ‘Cause then you’re really just giving yourself the opportunity to get slayed—slain?—by the Slayer, you know? And there’s only one—or, you know, two sometimes—so it’s not like it’d be all that hard to go somewhere Slayer-free where it’d be one big 24-hour all-you-can-eat blood buffet. And, ew, I can’t believe I just said that, but still, why did you come back here anyway?”

Xander gets no answer from the other side of the wall, but that’s not unusual, so he presses on, soliloquy-style. He’s a regular Hamlet.

“To leave or not to leave. That was the question. Whether ‘tis—or, I mean, ‘twas—nobler… in the… mind… to…. You know what? Screw it. I really wasn’t paying that much attention in Senior English. Basically, the question was whether I wanted to be a working-class loser in Oxnard or here in Sunnydale. And I guess I chose Sunnydale. Or maybe I was just choosing not-Oxnard. I don’t really know. I mean, obviously I hadn’t really factored in the whole becoming-a-demon thing, but I guess I thought if I came back here I might at least be able to be a part of something… or something. Whatever.

“Anyway, I still needed a little extra cash to get back here and Joel was taking a week off and the tips had been really good the last time, so I—”

“Hey, listen to that thing. It keeps going on and on and it doesn’t even realize that its buddy, Hostile 17, can’t even hear it.”

Xander looks up at the sound of the voice and sees the two technicians on duty heading for Spike’s cell. He listens to the door open and watches as they drag Spike’s limp body from the cell and lift it onto a waiting gurney.

“Hey, what’s wrong with him?” Xander asks, forgetting that the technicians won’t understand and probably wouldn’t answer even if they did. But the noise alone draws their attention and they both glance his way.

And suddenly Spike is alive and awake and on the offensive.

“Sorry, mate,” Spike says as he grabs one technician by the throat and tosses him over the gurney. “Can control my fingers. Can control my brain. Don’t wanna be sedated.”

Xander has never noticed how graceful Spike can be when he fights. Hasn’t ever watched Spike deal sweeping kicks and swift blows when he wasn’t fearing for his own life or those of his friends. Hasn’t ever looked straight at a vampire holding a shaking, whimpering human off the ground by his collar and thought: Yes, yes. Do it. Drain him.

And he must have said that out loud because Spike turns to look at Xander and then looks back at the technician. “Boy says I should drain you. What d’you think?”

The technician whimpers. Spike snorts and shakes his head in disgust, then clocks the guy, knocking him out cold.

To Xander’s surprise, Spike then pulls the key card from the technician’s pocket and uses it to open Xander’s cell. Xander doesn’t move at first, doesn’t speak. Just stares at Spike in shock.

Spike rolls his eyes. “Provided a handy distraction now, didn’t you? C’mon, then.”

Spike goes for the door and Xander doesn’t know what to do but follow. Alarms are blaring now as they race down the hall past startled men in white, darting under the security door as it locks down. Xander looks up and freezes as his eyes fall on the men in camouflage with big weapons emerging from an elevator.

“Run, you git!” Spike pushes Xander toward the exit, then grabs a pair of startled men in white, one in each fist. He throws them into the oncoming soldiers and bolts after Xander.

They make it to a ladder—climb up, up, up until they burst through a manhole to the surface, breathing in heavy gulps of the fresh, free air. Xander glances over at Spike, who is crouched on the ground, clutching his head.

“Shit, Spike. Did they get you?”

“Nah. Just a headache is all. Be fine in a mo.”

And Xander knows they need to run, knows they won’t be running in the same direction, knows they don’t have a second to spare. He also knows Spike probably doesn’t care, but still, he pushes the words out between panting breaths.

“Thank you.”

Spike looks up into clear green demon eyes and nods, pushes himself to his feet.

“S’pose we’d better return you to the Slayer, then. Lead the way.”

Part Four

“I’ll get it!”

Buffy jumps to her feet at the sound of Giles’ doorbell. She’ll do anything to avoid having to read even one more sentence of From Kpalikpa to Slolikpa: A Comparative Genealogy of Third Order Anthselar Demons, which has to be the densest, driest thing she’s tried to read since… well, since last night’s research session, but it still sucks.

As Buffy opens Giles’ front door, her smile turns to a scowl.

“Spike. What an unpleasant surprise. And here I thought that after I took your pretty little ring you’d decided you didn’t want to play with me anymore.”

“Slayer,” Spike growls.

Buffy sighs and tries to figure out if this is a step up or down from the Comparative Genealogy. She determines it’s a lateral move. “I’m really not up for your games right now, Spike…. Unless you’ve come here to let me stake you. Cause I’m always up for that.”

Buffy flips her hair, crosses her arms over her chest and smiles.

“You done yet?” Spike asks.

Buffy bristles at his bored tone, cold smile dropping from her face. “What are you doing here?”

“If you shut up for a second, maybe I’ll tell you.”

Buffy watches as Spike makes a gesture and a demon steps out from the shadows.

“What, you wanted to introduce me to your new friend? Surprise, Spike, I don’t really care.”

“Actually, the boy here is yours.”

“Boy?” Buffy asks. She frowns as the demon grunts and gesticulates.

“I’ll call you ‘boy’ if I bloody well please,” Spike tells it. “And you are hers. Aren’t mine, at least…. Get over it. Who’s helping who here?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Buffy says, but Spike ignores her and continues with the demon.

“Yes, I’m going to tell them about the soddin’ Snoopy dance, but if you don’t mind, I’m a bit busy trying to keep Her Blondness from staking me with anything sharper and more painful than her rapier wit.”

“Wait a second,” Buffy says, because that sounded like an insult. And who is she kidding? It’s Spike. Of course it’s an insult. She glares at Spike, but he isn’t paying attention, is still talking to the demon.

“I am not. She’s aggravating me.”

More grunts and gestures from the demon.

“Oh, like you’re a paragon of maturity…. Paragon. A model of excellence or perfection of a kind…. It’s English. Learn it.”

“Hello!” Buffy calls, giving a little wave. “Still here. Still waiting for a reason not to stake you.”

Spike keeps looking at the demon. “Well, if Xander here would shut…”

“Xander?” Buffy says.

Xander?” Willow comes racing to the door, halts when she sees Spike. “That’s Spike. Where’s Xander? I don’t see Xander.”

The demon resumes grunting and gesticulating in earnest.

“He says, ‘Snoopy dance, Snoopy dance.’” Spike releases a long-suffering sigh. “Christ, I feel like Whoopi Goldberg.”

“Snoopy dance?” Willow’s brown furrows for a moment, then her eyes widen. She steps out the door toward the demon. “Xander? Is that you?”

Buffy yanks Willow back through the doorway. “Willow! Threshold? Vampire?”

“But, Buffy, that’s Xander.”

“No, Willow, it isn’t. Xander left, remember? He’s gone. It’s been over four months. He’s never written, he’s never called…”

The demon grunts. Spike translates. Or pretends to translate, Buffy insists.

“He says you left once, too.”

“That was different,” Buffy says.

“How?” Willow asks.

Buffy turns betrayed eyes on her supposed best friend. “I came back.”

Willow points to the demon. “Well, so did he.”

Buffy wants to shake her supposed best friend. “Willow, that can’t be Xander. That is a demon.”

The demon starts grunting again at the same time that Willow says: “Right. Of course not. Cause weird things like that never happen here in Sunnydale.”

Spike smirks and points to the demon, then to Willow. “He said what she said.”

Buffy sighs and tries not to look like she’s conceding. “Alright, so it’s possible. But we’re going to need more proof to know that you’re not trying to pull something on us, Spike.”

All eyes turn to the demon, which begins to grunt a mile a minute. Buffy has to admit, the demon does appear to do Xander-babble. After about twenty seconds, Spike starts laughing so hard he can barely talk.

“No, really… a giant praying mantis?”

The demon keeps grunting.

“Well, why’d she pick…. Were you, now? How precious. Are you still? … You shagged Buffy?”

“What? No, he didn’t!” Buffy cries.

The demon grunts and gestures wildly.

“Oh, the other slayer! Well, that’s alright, then. Would’ve had to question your taste there…”

“Hey,” Buffy says. “Less commentary, more proof.”

Spike waits while the demon grunts some more, nods and turns to Buffy and Willow.

“Right, so: praying mantis, hyena, Incan mummy girl, saving your life when Deadboy couldn’t—the bloody poof—the swim team, the bad love spell, shagging the rogue slayer…”

Spike pauses to take in a few more grunts.

“He says if that’s not enough for you, he can move on to highlight your most embarrassing moments, instead of just his…”

Buffy and Willow exchange a glance and answer in unison. “We’re convinced.”

“Come in, Spike,” Willow says and Buffy steps out of the doorway to let them pass.


Part Five

Spike looks like he could use a cigarette... or ten. Jonesing—that’s the word. Not like it can be the nicotine, but Spike is clearly jonesin’ for a fixation. Something to do with his twitching fingers, somewhere to rest his darting glance.

He stands almost perfectly still for a long moment… has crossed eight feet to a new corner before Xander even saw a sign that he was about to move. His back to the juncture of walls, ever wary, Spike turns his head this way and that, his hands curl into fists and uncurl, he pats down his duster for cigarettes and comes up empty. And just when Xander thinks Spike’s body is about to jump out of its own skin, that body and skin freeze again in an eerie wax-museum tableau—and, yes, that’s a corpse standing in the corner.

A few moments of stillness, with only the sound of human breath and turning pages, and the muscles between Xander’s demon shoulders start to unclench… but then Spike is on the move once more, crossing to a new corner and Xander is wound so tight again he’s about to snap.

But he’s not the first to go.

“Bloody hell, Spike, you’re driving us all mad! Sit down before I nail your arse to the chair.” One look at Giles and Spike apparently opts not to argue, takes the nearest seat. Giles walks over and hands Spike a heavy leather book. “And as you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful. I believe I recall reading a description of a Tchilalok ritual somewhere in the footnotes of this volume.”

Ladies and gentlemen, from stuffy British watcher to Ripper and back again in 3.6 seconds. Marvel at the spectacle.

Xander slumps into the couch. He’d be researching, but he can’t turn the pages. And he’s tired. Very tired. He can’t remember when he last slept for more than an hour or two at a time. And it’s strange to be here, in Giles’ apartment, where he’s only been a couple times before, with people he doesn’t know how to talk to anymore, both literally and… whatever the opposite of literally is.

He focuses on Spike, who hasn’t actually stopped moving. Spike skims a few pages, gets up, paces a bit, sits back down. Lather, rinse, repeat. Xander doubts Spike even realizes that he’s not just sitting still.

Suddenly, Spike is still, focused, eyes inches from the page, following his finger as it slides quickly over the print. A couple minutes like this, then Spike stands, carries the book across the room and drops it in front of Giles.

“Ritual body switch. Instantiation ceremony. Interdimensional talisman. I’m outta here.”

Spike is halfway across the room before the words register. Xander stands but doesn’t know what to say. Willow speaks.

“Wait. You’re leaving? Just like that?”

“Done my good deed for the decade. Time for me to run along, ’fore I get staked. ’Sides, been drinking cold animal blood for days. Think it’s about time I found myself something a bit… fresher.”

Willow chooses to ignore the last bit. “You saved Xander. Buffy would never…”

The clack of wood against wood and heads turn to find Buffy digging stakes out of the weapons chest. Buffy looks up at Spike and smiles.

“I won’t stake you here, but I see you out there tonight, Spike, all bets are off.”

“Buffy! He brought Xander back.”

“Willow! He’s still evil. Aren’t you, Spike?”

Spike nods. “She’s got a point, Red. Still evil, here. As soon drain you as look at you, yeah?”

Buffy shoots Willow a familiar stern, smug look that Xander has always hated, but now wants to slap off her tiny blond face. “See?”

“But… but…”

Before Willow can finish the thought, Giles steps in.

“Evil or not, Buffy, the fact remains that Spike is the only one who can understand Xander and serve as his interpreter.”

“Which he’s done,” Buffy says. “And now you’ve got a book that tells you what did this and you’re going to tell me and I’ll going to slay it and we’ll get Xander back. End of story. No Spike required.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple…”

“Then we’ll make it simple.”

“Buffy! Listen to me. As much as it pains me to admit it, we need Spike. He cannot leave.”

“I bloody well can,” Spike says.

“He bloody well can,” Buffy echoes.

Giles sighs. “You’re not helping.”

Buffy whines. “He’s not helping.”

“Go patrol.”

Buffy crosses her arms over her chest. “You’re not my watcher. You can’t order me around.”

It’s a low blow and Xander can almost detect a flinch behind his eyes, but Giles holds his ground, crossing his own arms over his own chest. “Go patrol.

Buffy gathers her stakes and starts for the door. “I’m going because I want to go. And if I see him out there, he’s dust.”

“In your dreams, Slayer.”

“My dreams have a way of coming true, Spike.”

The glasses are off and the handkerchief is out and Giles is frantically rubbing, but Xander suspects those fingers would rather be squeezing around a certain neck.

“Buffy. Go.” Buffy goes and silence follows. Spike starts for the door. “Spike. Stay.”

“Out of the kindness of my heart, Rupert? Not likely.”

“Please, Spike…” Willow begins, her lip quivering in a pout that Xander doubts works on the evil undead.

A pout that apparently Giles wants none of. “Willow, that’s quite enough. We will pay you, Spike.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” Spike continues toward the door.

“One hundred dollars.”

Spike is still moving and Xander’s demon heart starts racing.

“Two hundred,” Giles says.

“Please don’t go,” Xander says.

Spike stops with his hand on the doorknob. “Cash up front.”

Giles snorts. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Fine.” Xander expects Spike to open the door and walk out, but instead his hand drops from the doorknob and he walks back into the room. “But I want blood, cigarettes and a glass of scotch. The good stuff, mind. I know you’ve got it.”

Giles heads for the liquor cabinet and pours two tumblers, over three fingers each. He turns and hands one to Spike.


Xander watches them drink on it, before giving in to his exhaustion and passing out on the couch. When he wakes up a few hours later, it’s quiet and dark and he’s alone and he can’t remember where he is and he starts to panic. He rolls to his side and his eyes fall on Spike, asleep on the floor beside the couch.

Not alone. The panic recedes and Xander is asleep again in minutes.

Part Six

Xander hopes that Spike had the good sense to renegotiate his contract before they left. Because the research days? Pretty cushy. But the three days and counting in this dimension? Definitely hazard pay material.

Of course, it all sounded easy back in Sunnydale. Just find the talisman, zip over to the other dimension, locate the palace, sneak up on Xander’s body and wait for the switch, destroy the talisman and voila! Back in Sunnydale with a human Xander—complete with opposable thumbs and all-American babble.

Easy, right? Except research didn’t show that it…

“Had to be a soddin’ swamp dimension, didn’t it? Couldn’t be desert dimension. Or even a bloody ice dimension. Or a world without shrimp. No, no. Had to be a soddin’ swamp.”

“Could be worse,” Xander points out.


“Could be an eternally sunny dimension. Or a volcano dimension. Your ashes would blend right in. Besides, I think the swampage is temporary.”

“We’ve been slogging in and out of bogs for three bleedin’ days. Not what I’d call temporary, mate.”

“I admit, we didn’t land in the most ideal location…”

“We landed hip deep in sludge,” Spike says. “We are still hip deep in sludge.”

“That’s so not my fault.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”

“You’re getting paid to be here.”

“And if my duster can’t be cleaned, I’m bloody well holding you responsible.”

“I’m sure your duster will be fine. And look on the bright side—at least the cheese wasn’t damaged. That’s what counts.”

“For the last time, that shite is not cheese.”

“Fine. At least the Kraft American Singles weren’t damaged. That better?”

And yes, only the interdimensional talisman of one Xander Harris could ever come in the form of individually-wrapped processed dairy products. When Willow’s little magic detecting ball finally stopped flitting around Xander’s basement apartment only to settle on Kraft singles in Xander’s refridgerator, Xander wasn’t even surprised. It was absurd.

It fit.

And now the cheese is safely tucked away along with the duster in the backpack full of blood and food that Spike is carrying over his head. Because, yes, they are still hip deep in sludge, but…

“I just don’t think it’s gonna last.”

“The so-called cheese? Probably molding as we speak. If shite that processed’s even capable of mold.”

Xander considers. “Doubtful, but that’s not what I meant. I meant the swamp. I don’t think it’ll go on forever.”

“And why shouldn’t it? Because you and I couldn’t possibly be that unlucky?”

“This body. It’s from this dimension but it’s not adapted to swampness. So I figure the city’s got to be on drier, more solid ground.”

“Huh.” Spike nods with something almost like admiration. “You’re smarter than you look.”

“I’m a large, scaly purple demon without opposable thumbs. That’s not really saying much.”

“Meant the way you looked before.”

“And yet that so doesn’t make it even a little better.”

Spike sighs. “Look, it’s like this. When I would see you before, you were always following Her Blondness around like a puppy. The kind of puppy that never stops yapping and gets kicked a lot and wears bleedin’ awful shirts. So I wrote you off…”

“Gee, I bet you give great pep talks.”

“And maybe I shouldn’t have, okay?” Xander looks over at that, but Spike looks away. “Now shut up and keep walking.”

As it turns out, Xander is right and they reach solid ground within the hour. Half a mile away stands the palace—large and brown and appearing to be made entirely of mud. And Xander never thought of mud as beautiful before, but the design takes Xander’s breath away and he develops an all new respect for the race of demons to which he belongs—despite high hopes of un-belonging very soon. He gazes in wonder.

“How did they do that?”

“They didn’t,” Spike says.

“They didn’t?”

“Weren’t you listening to the watcher’s little lecture?”

Xander looks down at his demon feet. “I may have… um… drifted off a bit in the middle.”

“For Christ’s sake…”

“He talked for, like, forty-five minutes straight. And, besides, you were listening.”

“So, what?” Spike scoffs. “You trusted me to get all the details?”

Xander shrugs. “Well… yeah.”

Xander glances up in time to catch a look he can’t quite decipher before Spike turns and heads toward a small stream. “Better get cleaned up. Get the job done and get outta here.”

They rinse the mud off in the clear water and Spike slides back into the duster, slipping the cheese slices in the left pocket. In the right pocket goes another talisman—this one designed by Willow to make Spike appear to the Tchilalok as one of their own. Willow joked about enchanting a package of bologna, but chose a smooth black stone in the end.

Xander watches the movement of Spike’s hand in the duster pocket, turning the stone over and over between his fingers, as they start in the direction of the palace.

“Human hands built that,” Spike explains, voice low as they pass among dozens of Tchilalok going about their daily business. As far as Xander can tell, that daily business doesn’t amount to much more than walking into, out of or around the palace. There are no other buildings. “That’s why they do the body switch three times a year. To keep a steady supply of human hands about to build and repair the palaces and temples.”

“And here I was hoping I’d been chosen for my dark good looks. Turns out I’m just day labor. Figures.”

“Ole Rupert says the ones with the human bodies are revered for their skills. Like monks, yeah?”

“What? They don’t get to have sex?”

“No, you git. They’re supposed to be closer to the gods and all that. When they create the buildings, it’s like the gods speaking through them.”

“Huh. Too bad they didn’t realize they were stealing the body of a klutz. The only thing the gods will be saying this building season is ‘whoops!’”

If Spike has an answer, it’s lost as they reach the palace gate and demon hands usher them inside to the main hall. “Go, brothers, go. Go and gaze upon him,” numerous voices implore. The instantiation ceremony, it seems, is still in progress. Of course, this is not such a great feat of timing… given that the ceremony lasts forty-two days.

Forty-two days (and nights) of oohing and aahing over Xander’s body—if Giles’ books can be believed. It’s a novel concept and kind of cool… except for a little wiggins.

Then Xander sees his body standing on a platform at the front of the hall. And did he say a little? Make that major wiggins.

And some relief.

But mostly wiggins.

Due in no small part to the extremely wiggins-worthy lime green ensemble his body is sporting. Green pants, green tunic, green shoes, green cape and a little green hat. And sure Xander’s always been a fan of the eye-catching colors, but he’s never been big on the monochromatic. There is such a thing as fashion overkill.

There is also such a thing as stealthy-undercover-body-retrieval-mission overkill.

When, for example, your mission partner gets impatient with the fact that you can’t close enough to your body for the switch and decides to leap onto the platform and tackle your body to the ground in front of you and the crowd is in uproar and your mission partner…

Starts clutching his head and screaming in pain? What the fuck?

Xander grabs for his body to pull it off the screaming Spike, but his first contact with the body is like a finger in an electric socket and he can’t control his demon limbs and it feels like he’s vibrating out of his skin…

And then he is out of his skin. Or in his skin, rather. Out of the demon and back in the Xander, and there’s no time to celebrate because Spike is still shaking underneath him and an angry demon mob is descending upon them and Xander can’t tell what they’re saying because he doesn’t speak Tchilalok anymore, but he’s pretty sure it isn’t “Yay, you’re back in your body and we all want to give you a big hug.”

And they need to get out of there, like, five minutes ago, and he knows that he knows the way to do that and that way is to… to… to destroy the talisman!

Xander reaches into Spike’s duster pocket and grabs the un-cheese and…

How the hell do you destroy Kraft Singles?

They don’t exactly break. Xander considers eating them, but fears some sort of wonky side effect—besides which, it would take him forever to unwrap each individually wrapped slice. And they don’t have forever. They have roughly twenty seconds at best.

That’s when Xander spots the flaming urn. He doesn’t think, just throws.

The Kraft Singles seem to move in slow motion, arcing through the air toward the fire. And Xander knows he’s going to miss and be torn limb from limb by the encroaching demon horde and he wraps his body around Spike’s and braces himself…

But somehow he doesn’t miss and the smell of burning plastic mingles with the smell of burning dairy product and then disappears altogether, along with the roar of the crowd.

Xander looks up and they’re alone in the quiet dark of Giles’ living room. He looks down and Spike is still beneath him, only not shaking anymore, just looking up at him with shaken blue eyes and Xander means to ask Spike what the hell happened and if he’s okay…

But he kisses Spike instead.

Click here if you want to see what I had in mind for the palace. Scroll all the way down. The best picture is at the bottom of the page.

Part Seven

He can feel the morning sun pressing against his closed eyelids, but before opening them, Xander takes a moment. A moment to run exploratory hands over his body—fingers brushing over his eyes and nose, palms sliding across his jaw.

Damn, it’s good to feel human features.

The hands continue over his chest and down his stomach and down again to…

Yes, I think I missed you most of all.

Xander gives his morning wood a little welcome home party because… well, because he can, damn it. And because his mind is wandering its way back to last night and lips of Spike. With lips of Xander. And tongues of Spike and Xander, because lips parted and Spike kissed him back.

Spike kissed him.


And, yeah, he’s overemphasizing here, but lots of emphasis is called for because he’s not the Scooby with a thing for vampires. Other than a stake, that is.

Mean but hot brunettes? Possibly a Xander thing. The evil bleached-blond undead? Definitely a new. And possibly not a thing. Possibly just Spike.

Though, come to think of it, rushing headlong into something with exactly the wrong person? Definitely a Xander thing.

And not a thing he’s planning on changing now.

Because last night was a thing. A sparky thing. A sparkly thing. A shiny thing. A how-can-something-that-feels-so-right-really-be-wrong thing. A this-wood-isn’t-so-much-a-morning-thing-anymore thing. A bet-over-a-hundred-years-of-experience-really…


Xander’s hand freezes at the clearing of the throat. He bolts upright and opens his eyes and sees…


Giles, who seems to be too busy cleaning his glasses to make eye contact.

Thank god.

“Um… I was just… um…”

Giles clears his throat again. “Xander, there is no need to explain anything to me as, when I walked into my living room just now, I most certainly did not see you doing anything but sleeping. Right?”

“Um… right.”

Giles nods and replaces his glasses. “Right, then. Welcome back, Xander. It’s good to see—and talk to—you again. Would you care for some breakfast?”

“Sure.” Xander gets up off the couch and walks over to the counter between the kitchen and dining room, taking a seat on a stool. “Actually, I think I’m kinda starving.”

“Are waffles all right?”

Xander grins. “Waffles? Man, I should get body snatched more often. You don’t happen to have whipped cream, do you?”

Giles grins back and Xander thinks he should smile more often. It’s nice. “You’ll have to make do with maple syrup, I’m afraid.”

As Giles begins to move around the tiny kitchen, Xander looks around the apartment—the empty apartment.

“Hey, where’s Spike?”

“Spike?” Giles measures oil into the mixing bowl. “He took his money and left. I called the girls. They had a class, but they should be here in an hour or so. Hmm, perhaps I should make some extra waffles.”

Xander’s heart pounds. “What?”

“Extra waffles. I imagine Buffy and Willow don’t always find time for breakfast before class.”

Xander shakes his head. The waffles have pretty much dropped right off his current list of concerns. “No, I mean Spike. He just… left?”

“Yes, well, the sun was about to come up and I had the money ready. I don’t imagine he was too eager to spend another day trapped here with all of us. Would you like some coffee?”

“Where did he go?”

Giles looks up and frowns. “Spike? He didn’t actually say. Off to wreak havoc somewhere, I would imagine. Hopefully, he’ll have the good grace to wreak it somewhere else for a bit. Though that may be asking a lot.”


When Xander doesn’t continue, Giles looks up again from his mixing bowl. “Yes?”

“He helped me.”

Giles nods and continues to mix. “He did at that. Quite remarkable, really. Though I suppose we made it worth his while.”

And suddenly Xander doesn’t want to talk about this anymore. Doesn’t want to be there anymore. Doesn’t want to eat waffles. Doesn’t want to see the girls.

But, of course, he’s trapped.

So he eats his waffles, which taste like sand. He endures a brief flurry of cooing and fawning (and cringing at his outfit) from the girls, all of which occurs at a frequency only dogs can hear. He tells the story of his re-embodiment, which seems to have lost its luster the morning after.

And when all that is done, he yawns and stretches and begs off that night’s Scooby meeting, pleading exhaustion. And when he gets back to the basement, he finds that he is exhausted and passes out on his still unmade bed.

Xander walks into the Scooby meeting, takes one look at the couch and walks back out.

“Xander, wait!” Willow catches him in the courtyard with a hand on his arm. “Just give him a chance, will you?”

Xander turns to face her. “Hmm, let me think about that… After what he put me through?” He pretends to consider for a second. “Um, that’d be a ‘no.’ And I think I’ve made myself pretty clear on the subject. So I’d appreciate it if you guys would stop ambushing me.”

“He doesn’t know, Xander. He’s a nice guy. I swear. He’s just—”

“I swear to God, Willow, if you say, ‘He’s just following orders’…”

“Xander, I know you think that Buffy’s all gung-ho go Initiative girl, but she’s really not. She just thinks it’s smart to keep an eye on them. You know, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Xander raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, well, if she gets any further into his lap, they’re going to have to be surgically separated. So excuse me for doubting that Buffy is really objective strategy girl when it comes to Special Agent Riley Finn.”

“Maybe not, but that’s no reason for you to stop coming to meetings. He doesn’t even know that you…”

Xander shakes his head. “I can’t do it, Wills. I just can’t.”

“Xander, what’s going on? Talk to me. I don’t think you even want to come to meetings anymore. You haven’t been on a regular patrol for over a week, and the last time you did come, you left early. If Buffy’s inviting Riley, it’s only because…”

“She thinks he makes a more valuable member of the Scooby team,” Xander says. “And she’s not wrong. He’s stronger and smarter and probably needs rescuing a lot less than I did.”


“And lately, Wills, I’ve been feeling a lot more like a ‘them’ than an ‘us’… you know?”

“But you are an ‘us.’ You’re part of the original ‘us.’”

And Willow is giving him hurty puppy eyes, but it’s not going to change Xander’s mind.

“Look, Wills, it’s a good thing, okay? I have to be on site at six and I’m all hell of a lot less likely to be a danger to myself and others if I get to bed before eleven.”

“Six? In the morning? And you say you like this job?”

“I love this job. And it’s only been a few weeks, but I think I’m kinda good at it. It’s like I almost wanna go back and thank the Tchilalok for seeing my potential. I never would have thought about construction if it weren’t for…. Anyway, maybe things work out, you know?”

Some things, at least. But Xander tries not to let his thoughts wander in the direction of other things. The other thing. The one that didn’t work out. It’s been almost a month and there’s been no word, no sign, not even some signature mayhem. Xander tries not to let his thoughts wander, but he usually fails.

He focuses back on Willow, who still looks all weepy-pouty. He reaches out to slide a hand up and down her arm.

“You’d better get back in there and keep an eye on Riley for me, ‘kay?”

“Okay. He really does tell us useful stuff. Like before you got there he was telling us that they don’t just study vampires. Sometimes they put these behavior modification chips in their heads.”

“They what?”

“Yeah, so when the vamps go all grrr and try to hurt someone, the chip shocks them and they…”

Xander flashes back to the palace. “They scream and clutch at their heads.”

Willow frowns. “Well, I don’t know. Riley didn’t get that—”

Fuck. Will, if you hear anything else like that, call me, okay? I gotta go.”

Before Willow can respond, Xander is gone.

Part Eight

It takes all night. All night, a big cross, a couple of stakes, a squirt gun of holy water, sixty dollars cash (twenty in blood and forty in bribes), and his favorite pair of jeans.

It takes all night, but Xander finds Spike. Finds him just before dawn, down in the sewers, which is where his favorite jeans sustain their fatal injury.

Oh, he attempts heroic lifesaving measures, but after six consecutive washings using every stain remover in his extensive arsenal, the jeans are a mere shell of their former selves and he calls it. Time of death: Thursday, 2:18 p.m. It’s euthanasia.

There’s no witness to the mercy killing. Spike is passed out in his bed, stuffed with blood—the twenty dollars of human and twenty more of cheaper pig’s blood.

Xander has taken a personal day and every time Spike stirs, Xander makes him drink as much as he can stand. He needs to see the flush it gives Spike’s skin.

Never again.

Xander never wants to see Spike as gaunt and pale as he was in that sewer. Xander never wants to see such a stupidly grateful look on Spike’s face. Xander never wants to see Spike accept his (or anyone’s) help to walk—to drink—without bitching and snarking and generally making himself a pain in the ass.

Never again.

It isn’t right.

Spike stirs again just after five and Xander pushes start on the microwave. By the time Spike opens his eyes, Xander is standing in front of him holding a mug.

“Buggering hell, mate. Lay off. One more mug and I’ll burst.” Spike’s smirk isn’t quite up to par, but it’s nearly there. “You really wanna play nursemaid, how about a nice sponge bath?”

“Only if you drink this all down like a good vamp.”

“Fuck you,” Spike mutters. He takes the mug from Xander’s hand, drinks it all in one long swallow and hands it back.

Xander smiles as he walks back to the kitchen.

And if images of the movement of Spike’s lips and throat linger in his mind, he’s sure the interest in purely therapeutic.

Eight days later, blood and rest have done their work, Spike looks as good as he ever has, and Xander’s interest in Spike’s restored form is anything but therapeutic.

Xander takes care of that interest every morning in the shower. And sometimes in the evenings, like half an hour ago.

But the evenings are better than the mornings, because every morning when Xander steps out of the shower he sees Spike, drowsy eyed and settling into the warm spot on the bed like he belongs there, a sight that always raises Xander’s interest yet again.

Spike in Xander’s bed.

Fuck. It makes him crazy. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle and Xander can only be grateful for their opposing sleep schedules. Because, god help him, if he ever has to share a bed with Spike, Xander won’t be held responsible for his actions.

There’s only so much a man can take.

Only so many nights together in front of the TV, only so much brushing of fingers on the way to the chips or the popcorn, only so much banter, only so many sexual innuendos, only so many post-shower trips across the apartment in nothing but a towel before….

“Jesus Christ, Spike. Would it kill you to put on some jeans?”

“Oi.” Spike looks over at the couch in surprise. “Just wanted to grab a spot of blood first. What the hell’s your problem?

“My problem is that I doubt you left enough hot water for me to take another shower. Then again, cold might—”

“You just took a bloody shower. Why the hell would you need to take anoth— Oh.” Spike stands stops in his tracks and blinks at Xander.

“Yeah, oh.” Xander looks away. “So could you just put on some pants?”

The silence rings.

“Well, I could do that…” All of a sudden Spike is standing right in front of Xander, leaning over and Xander is looking up into blue eyes that... “But then I’d have to wait even longer to do this.”

This turns out to be lips. Cool lips moving, burning over his.

“And I’m bloody well sick of waiting.”

The lips are talking and moving away and that’s bad. Too soon. Xander’s lips don’t like the moving so they chase after, close the gap until there’s another kiss. A better kiss. A longer kiss. A kiss that lasts until Xander’s brain catches up with the proceedings.

“Wait,” Xander says. Spike is straddling his lap and he’s got his hands on Spike’s hips and the towel is slipping and it’s hard to concentrate. “Wait. Waiting? You’ve been waiting? There’s been waiting?”

Another silence and suddenly they’re talking over each other.

“Well, wasn’t sure you were…”

“What? Gay? Interested? I kissed you, remember? You took off. I didn’t think you…”

“Didn’t know what was happenin’ to me, did I? Didn’t…”

“You could have said…”

“Figured a white hat like you…”

“You figured wrong.”

Spike studies Xander’s face for a moment, then nods. “Look, think we could…?”

“Talk about this later?”



And then they’re back to the kissing, which beats the hell out of the talking, because there’s always time for the talking, but if he doesn’t get more of the kissing pretty much right now, Xander may die of sexual frustration. They tell you in high school health class that you can’t, but Xander’s fairly certain they’re wrong.

He needs more of the kissing. He needs more than the kissing. And did he mention the more part?

More contact, for example. Definitely feeling the need for more feeling, Xander turns and stretches back along the couch, taking Spike with him. And now they’re pressed together, lips to hips, legs entangled, and Xander runs a hand over the back of Spike’s neck, traces the spine down, down, down to where the towel… isn’t.

“Think one of us is overdressed here,” Spike says.

Xander agrees and suspects it’s him.

Fortunately, Spike’s hands are on the job, sliding up Xander’s sides and taking his tee shirt with them. And Xander’s arms are happy to help, to stretch over his head so that Spike can shove the material up and off. And Xander’s heart is beating so hard he swears he can hear the pounding in his chest.

Bang, bang, bang.

Loud and insistent and… not his heart at all. The door.


“Fuck,” Spike says.

“Ignore it,” Xander whispers. “They’ll go away.”

Spike get straight on the ignoring thing, buries his face in Xander’s neck—starts licking, nipping and sucking—and Xander decides a vampire neck fetish is something he can get behind. Can stay behind. Or underneath. Underneath is good.

“God, don’t stop,” Xander says. And Spike doesn’t, but neither does the pounding on the door and, god damn it, why won’t they just… “Go away!”

And fuck, Xander really didn’t mean to say that out loud, because now whoever it is will know he’s home and they probably won’t go away. Whoever it is will probably start…

“Xander! Are you in there? It’s Willow. Please let us in. We need your help. It’s the Initiative. They tried to kill Buffy.”

Part Nine

Xander’s eyes drop closed and he sighs. He tries to think of a way to explain to Spike that he has to answer the door, but Spike is already lifting himself off Xander and off the couch.

“Just gonna find my jeans, yeah?”


“I’m coming!” Xander picks up his shirt and slips it over his head, looks over at Spike, doing the same. Instead of going for the door, Xander takes a few steps toward Spike, reaches out for his hand. “C’mere.”

Spike’s fingers thread through his and Xander tugs, bringing their bodies flush. He plants a quick kiss on Spike’s lips.

“I’ll get rid of them as fast as I can.”

Spike glances at the door, then back at Xander—gives a half smile.

“Yeah, so I’ll just…” Spike gestures toward the closet with his head, then tries to take a step in that direction, but Xander’s hand tightens around his and yanks him back.

“C’mon.” Xander pulls him toward the door.


They both jump at the sound and drop hands. Spike moves slightly behind Xander as Xander reaches out and unlocks and opens the door…

To Willow, who immediately starts talking a mile a minute.

“Xander, thank god you’re here. You won’t believe what happened. Maggie Walsh sent Buffy on a suicide mission. There were these demons in the sewers and she sent Buffy alone and the weapon didn’t work and… What’s Spike doing here?”

“Staying,” Xander says.

“But he’s…”

“Staying,” Xander says.

“Xander.” Giles appears behind Willow. “Perhaps we could speak to you alone for a moment.”

“No,” Xander says.

Giles sighs. “Xander, please try to understand. It may not simply be Buffy the Initiative is after. We may all be in danger.”

“Believe it or not, Giles, I kinda get that. No urge to underestimate the Initiative here. We are all in danger and I want us all to be safe.”

“Apart from Riley, none of them know of your connection to Buffy, nor do they know where you live.”

Fuck. So much for getting rid of them. “Then I guess you should stay here.”

“Right. We had rather counted on doing so. But… that is, I know that he helped you, but Spike…”

“Can be trusted,” Xander says.

“You cannot be cer—”

“Wait.” Willow is making connections. “He… he has one of those chip things, doesn’t he? That’s why you—”

“Spike stays.” Xander steps to the side, unblocking the doorway. “In or out?”

A moment, and in they come. Willow, then Giles, then…

Buffy pauses at the threshold, looking up at Xander. “Go ahead. You should say it.”

“I told you so,” Xander says. “Now come inside and we’ll get this slumber party started. Hey Giles, ever had microwave S’mores?”

Giles seems to take the question for rhetorical and Xander lets his hand brush Spike’s arm as he turns to follow Buffy over to the kitchen area. Spike turns on the TV while Giles and Willow discuss possible sleeping arrangements.

For a long moment, Xander and Buffy assemble S’mores in silence. When it comes, Buffy’s voice is soft and a little sad.

“You’ve changed, Xander.”

“You’re just now noticing?”

“Well, I’ve hardly seen you since…”

“Since Spike saved my life?”

Since you left for your road trip. And I know it’s partly my fault… and, okay, lately, maybe mostly my fault, but the new you hasn’t clocked much Scooby time lately either.”

Xander’s tone shows frustration, but his volume stays low. “I told you why.”

“You don’t even know him, Xander,” Buffy whispers back. “He’s a good guy, just trying to fight the good fight. That used to be you. And it’s still me—except for the guy part. I kill demons and vampires, remember?”

“Key word: kill. Slayer versus vamps and demons. It’s the natural—or you know, supernatural—order. I get that. It’s the part where the Initiative plays God that I have a problem with. It’s not about survival with them, Buff. It’s all about power and control… and punishment.”

Buffy goes quiet for a second, studies a graham cracker. She looks up. “They put one of those behavior modification chips in Spike, didn’t they? That’s why you’re letting him stay here.”

“I’m letting him stay because he’s… a good guy, just trying to fight the good fight. Or, you know, a bad guy just trying to fight the evil fight—but that’s the way he was made. You don’t like it, fine. Kill him. But don’t make him starve himself to death.”

Buffy takes a deep breath, then nods. “I hate to say it because, hello, Spike—he of the bad Billy Idol impression and the multiple attempts on my life—but you’re not wrong. The Initiative isn’t on our side, and I’m gonna take care of it.”

Xander looks Buffy in the eye. “We’re gonna take care of it.”

Their gazes hold and Buffy nods again.

Xander turns to yell toward the couch. “So, who wants S’mores?”

The first night is easy.

There’s junk food and a late night Bollywood classic and witty repartee on the impending doom and disaster. It feels like the good old days and, for a moment, Xander feels like a Scooby again, in all the good old ways.

The following day is hard.

A little boy is found dissected and Xander should be—is—sick to his stomach. But he also can’t keep his mind—or his eyes—off Spike. He can barely keep his hands off, either. Dozens of little caresses, fleeting brushes—tickling, tingling touches that make him think thoughts that do not belong alongside grief and righteous determination. He feels like a big perv.

The second night is torture.

Between Riley and the dissecting demon, Buffy has been in and out of the basement all day and most of the night, but has never once returned with good news. Every time Xander closes his eyes, it’s a crazy combination of wet dreams and nightmares and, in the wee small hours of the morning, he finally gives up on sleep and goes for some air.

He finds Spike out on the basement steps, smoking. He’s tempted to ask for a cigarette.

He’s more tempted to steal a kiss. Or a quick grope.

But before lips or hands reach their much desired target, hinges creak and they both jerk back. A second later, Giles appears, taking a seat beside them, turning to Spike and asking for a fag. Xander is disturbed and confused until Spike pulls a cigarette from his pack and hands it to Giles—at which point Xander becomes even more disturbed and confused.

“You’ve just tainted the memories of my youth, you know.”

“I suspect the memories of your youth are rather too dark to be further tainted,” Giles says.

Xander shrugs. “Point.”

But for all his dry bravado, when they spot Buffy approaching the house, Giles fumbles to extinguish the cigarette, tosses the butt in Spike’s direction, and starts waving the smoke away from his face.

“Need a breath mint, G-man?”

“Do you have one?”

Xander rolls his eyes.

Buffy walks up and sits down just as Willow emerges from the basement and the five of them stay there, talking in low voices and watching Spike chainsmoke until just before dawn.

Another long day and by the third night, the whole gang is suffering severe cabin fever. Even with the lights out and everyone tucked up in his or her blanket pretending to sleep, the air crackles with nervous tension.

Xander is ready to resort to the sexual equivalent of gnawing off his own arm to satisfy his hunger.

Except that he’s not sure what the sexual equivalent of arm-gnawing is. Masturbation—and there’s a feat with three guests in a single-room dwelling—just isn’t cutting it. In fact, it’s probably making things worse. Because every time he steps out of the bathroom having taken care of his problem, there’s Spike, giving him a look that says Spike knows exactly what he’s been doing—and would like to do it for him. And one look like that tends to unresolve the problem pretty much instantly.

Getting dressed has come to include tying a sweatshirt around his waist.

The rain starts to fall just before midnight, tap-tap-tapping against the window, waking Xander from his half-sleep state and keeping him there—tired and tense and wide awake with his thoughts of Spike. He imagines he can hear Spike breathing, sleeping so damn peacefully just five feet away.

Other than the apparently irresistible urge to tease and torment Xander—with steamy looks, subtle innuendos, and the occasional provocative pose—Spike seems unaffected by the restrictions of their houseguests. He’s been the usual cool and snarky, with an extra dose of calm that’s really annoying except for the fact that it’s totally fucking hot.

Thank god it’s Monday, Xander thinks for the first time in his life. At least going to work will get him the hell out of the basement. His alarm isn’t set to go off for another 38 minutes, but he really doesn’t care. The shower is his friend.

He runs the water as hot as he can stand—because even not-sleeping all night in a bean bag chair will make you stiff—strips and steps under the spray. He closes his eyes and lets the water fall straight onto his face for a moment, then turns around, opens his eyes and… swallows a scream.

Which, he must admit, might not have been the most manly scream—though Xander has often insisted that a scream can be manly—had it not been swallowed. Good thing it was swallowed, though, since Spike is standing right there.

A not-so-calm, not-so-unaffected Spike.

A naked Spike.

In the shower. With him.

It’s a good time to be manly. And a good time to be…

“Quiet,” Spike says, just before taking—yes, taking—Xander’s lips in a rough, wet, needy kiss.

It’s a kiss that steals his breath and Xander has to break it far too soon, but holds Spike in place by the shoulders while he sucks air into his lungs.

“Fuck,” Xander says, just before pressing Spike’s shoulders into the shower wall and taking Spike’s lips this time—starting just as rough, just as desperate, before slowing, easing into a more thorough exploration, sipping in breaths between forays.

A minute or two later, Xander’s attention starts to wander from Spike’s lips to the other Spike things clamoring for his notice. Things like the feel of Spike’s wet skin sliding over his.

Like Spike’s tight, hard body beneath his fingertips.

Like the hardest part of Spike’s body pressing against his thigh.

Like Spike’s legs coming up to wrap around his hips.

Xander’s mind tries to tell him that Spike is supposed to be the toppiest of tops, but there seems to be a sensory overload in progress, so instinct takes over.

Instinct points out that Xander has been hard for days and that he has a water-warmed and willing guy wrapped around him.

Instinct doesn’t mention lube, but a hand that must be Spike’s nudges his open and squirts something that must be conditioner into it, and instinct does know what to do from there.

Instinct knows exactly where to put his slick fingers and exactly how to move them. And instinct tells him that Spike likes it. Plus, the moans are a pretty good indication.

Instinct also knows when the time for fingers has passed. And thank god for instinct, because it’s so good—so tight—that Xander forgets his own name, but instinct doesn’t forget to move.

Doesn’t forget to kiss and bite and grope and thrust and thrust and thrust.

But instinct does forget to be quiet. And so does Spike.

So when the water turns cold and kicks Xander’s mind back into gear, it occurs to Xander that the gig might be up.

“Sort of forgot about that whole quiet thing,” Xander says as he and Spike dry off and put on their clothes. Not that he’s so much with the caring. There’s enough instinct still at work to tell him that it was all very worth it.

“Yeah.” Spike hangs back as Xander cracks the bathroom door and peeks around it.

Sure enough, three pairs of wide eyes are staring back.

Xander lets the bathroom door swing open to reveal Spike.

The silence gets more silent as the staring continues. Xander smiles because—well, because he just had sex.

“Good morning,” he says. He means it.

Buffy is the first member of their live studio audience to regain her powers of speech.

“Xander, what the hell is going on?”

“Well, Buff, sometimes when two adults have certain feelings for each other…”


“Okay, okay.” Xander takes a deep breath. “Spike and I are… well, we’re… I mean, we… See? This is why I didn’t want to bring this up with you guys…”

“Wait,” Spike says. “That’s why you didn’t want them to know?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, do you know how hard it sucks to introduce a guy like, ‘Hey, this is my boyfriend’ and have him be all ‘Actually, I was his casual fuck but will now proceed to run from him like the plague’? Been there. Don’t need a second visit.”

“Wait,” Willow says. “You’ve been there?”

Xander shrugs. “Oxnard.”

“Wait,” Spike says. “Boyfriend?”

Xander squirms. “Well… I mean, not if… that is, unless… ’cause I, um… I wouldn’t exactly be opposed…”

Spike spares them all the awkward soul-baring by starting to kiss Xander.

And not stopping.

“Ew,” Buffy says.

“Aw,” Willow says.

Giles says nothing. Xander figures he’s busy cleaning his glasses.

The End

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The Spander Files