Consciousness knocked at the door to Xander’s brain and politely asked to be let in. Or maybe to be let out. Or maybe just that everybody in there wake up and get moving. But once the door was cracked open and consciousness got a peek inside, consciousness seriously considered shutting the door and walking away—just letting Xander sleep it off.
The problem was, judging by the hints of daylight seeping through Xander’s eyelids, he’d been sleeping it off for awhile already—and missing work in the process. Shit. Xander cracked open one of those eyelids, but quickly discovered that light was not his friend. And if light wasn’t his friend, chances were he didn’t want to schedule a playdate with sound either, which meant it was time to call work and promise Andy his first born child for the privilege of being rescheduled for whatever weekend or holiday no one else wanted to work.
Eyes still squeezed shut, Xander reached for his cell phone on the nightstand… and almost fell out of bed when his hand encountered nothing but air.
The mattress (and his stomach) shifted as he regained his equilibrium—or at least that portion of his equilibrium that had survived the previous night’s intemperance.
The mattress shifted again.
Only this time, Xander hadn’t moved. Meaning he wasn’t alone.
Fuck. As in, he must have last night and with god only knows whom.
Shit. As in, time to see how deep it was.
Cracking open another eyelid, Xander turned his head toward the other side for a peek. This time, he actually fell out of bed.
Jesus fucking Christ, Xander thought as he hit the floor, hard. No way. No fucking way I was that drunk last night.
He looked heavenward for help, but his view was blocked by the blondish head peering down at him.
“Xander, what are you doing down there?” the blond asked in an oddly inflected parody of curiosity. “Get back up here. I would like some more orgasms, but I have no intention of lying on that dirty floor to get them.”
“Uh… I… uh…”
Xander crab-walked away from the bed, eyes searching desperately for clothing. He spotted a pair of jeans and stood up to yank them on. They seemed a little baggy, but they fit, so he decided to go with it. Same with the too-loud shirt he found lying next to them. Fuck fashion. He just needed to get the hell out of there. He slid his feet into a pair of sneakers.
“Look, I… I mean, it’s not that I don’t respect you as a woman, because I do. Really, I do. It’s just that I’m… I mean, I’m sorry, but I just… I really have to get out of here now.” Xander crossed the room to the door, turned back with his hand on the knob and managed a twisting of the lips that almost passed for a smile. “Um… thanks?”
Out the door and up a couple of stairs and Xander found himself standing on a lawn, staring out onto an oddly familiar street. A street on which his car was not parked. He patted himself down. Make that the car that he wouldn’t be able to drive even if it were here because he didn’t have his keys. Or his wallet, for that matter. Damn it, he was going to have to go back in.
Xander turned and was about to go back down the stairs when he noticed the house above the basement he’d just fled. His eyes widened and he stared. He blinked and stared some more. No wonder the street had looked so familiar. Still, he couldn’t quite believe it… until he heard those voices, always loud enough to entertain the neighbors.
“Get off your lazy ass, Jessica, and get me the goddamned paper.”
“Get it your own damn self.”
Xander’s heart began to pound in his chest, echoing the footsteps he knew were moving through the house, headed for the front door. Getting closer. Closer and closer. And any second now the door would open and…
Xander stopped thinking and ran.
When he finally stopped to catch his breath and looked around, Xander was at the high school. Or what should have been the high school.
Hands resting on his knees, Xander sucked in air as he studied the surroundings again. Yep, the empty lot before him really should have been the high school. But nada. Nothing but gaping space. Apparently, they’d decided to rebuild. Which was weird. Big project like that in town—shouldn’t he have heard?
Xander straightened up and treated himself to a little more oxygen. Slower now. Slow, deep breaths.
Forget about the high school, or lack thereof. He had bigger fish to fry. His brain was trying its best to pound its way out of his skull—and Xander sympathized, he really did—but it was just going to have to wait. He needed his brain. He needed a plan. A plan that didn’t involve going back for his wallet or his keys or his cell phone. Or his car, wherever the hell that car might be. And yeah, those were big limitations on the whole plan plan, but there had to be something.
He would walk to work. It would take him a bit, sure, but Kevin would be there and Kevin had his spare keys. Plus, he could explain the situation to Andy. Okay, he couldn’t exactly explain the situation to Andy, seeing as he couldn’t actually explain it to himself, but he could at least explain the part where Jesse had called and the part with the drinking and the part where he woke up next to a woman. And sure there would be head shaking and finger wagging and blustering tough love, but there probably wouldn’t be firing and he’d probably be given the rest of the day to get his act together. And he’d have his keys. And those were definitely all steps in the right direction.
Twenty minutes later, Xander arrived at what should have been work, but was in fact a Doublemeat Palace. Xander squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. Still a Doublemeat Palace.
Xander circled the building. The smell from the back vents turned his stomach and Xander angled his mouth away from his shoes, sure he was about to vomit up the contents of his stomach, which he suspected consisted only of stomach acid. Fortunately, the need passed. Unfortunately, when he straightened and looked at the building, it was still a Doublemeat Palace.
So much for the fucking plan.
There were other places Xander could go—numbers he could call, collect—but he didn’t. Was afraid to, really. So he wandered downtown instead. Wandered and wandered and wondered if he’d gone crazy.
Of course, if he was lucky, it was all a very, very weird dream and if he just kept pinching himself every sixty seconds, he would eventually wake up. It was possible. He did remember drinking a lot the night before.
Unless that had been a dream, too. And how did you know? How could you tell what was real and what was a dream and when you were sleeping and when you were awake? Sure, you thought you woke up, but who was to say you didn’t just dream waking up? And other than the fact that nothing seemed to make sense, there were no dream signs. No public nudity. No Chocolate Hurricane bars that weren’t actually made anymore. No clowns, thank god. No fish playing little tiny band instruments.
But if it wasn’t a dream, then what? How could you tell when you were crazy? If he was asking if he was crazy, shouldn’t that mean he wasn’t? Did crazy people wonder if they were crazy? Or did they just think it was the rest of the world that had gone off the deep end? Of course, Xander was beginning to think that the rest of the world had gone off the deep end. Did that prove that he actually was crazy?
Xander suspected that even if he wasn’t crazy right at this moment, the questions bouncing around in his head would drive him there soon. Very soon.
Unless he was dreaming. If you went crazy in a dream, were you still crazy when you woke up?
Xander pressed the heels of his hands against his forehead—still throbbing, though he suspected that had less to do with the hangover at this point and more to do with the crazy. He really needed to stop thinking.
His stomach growled. He also really needed to eat. A wallet would have been handy.
He looked up and found himself staring through the windows of The Espresso Pump—one of the half of the businesses on Main Street that he actually recognized. Xander felt a spark of hope. With any luck—though why he should be expecting any luck at this point was a mystery—that barista that always flirted with him would be there and, for the price of a smile, Xander could score one of the half-priced muffins from yesterday’s batch. Xander glanced down at himself and grimaced. The clothes wouldn’t be doing him any favors, but it was still worth a try.
Xander plastered on a smile, stepped inside… and immediately forgot all about the barista when he spotted a flash of red hair.
“Willow!” Heads turned, but Xander didn’t care as he rushed to Willow’s table, all but ignoring the petite woman with shiny blond hair sitting with her. “Oh, thank god you’re here. Except… what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at college? Except, I don’t care because thank god you’re here because you won’t believe the day I’ve had and you’re gonna have to tell me if I’m crazy—okay?—cuz it turns out it’s really hard to figure out that kind thing on your own.”
Xander’s lungs ran out of air and Willow took the opportunity to reassure.
“Relax, Xander. All things considered, I think the chances of it being you are pretty small. Just tell us what happened.”
Xander took a deep breath and jumped on in. “Okay, so I went to The Bronze last night and I was drinking. A lot. You can probably guess why, but anyway, I don’t remember exactly what happened, but when I woke up this morning, I was in my parents’ basement and there was some woman there and… and I think I slept with her.”
With that dramatic pronouncement, Xander paused and waited for Willow’s reaction… which was a little underwhelming. In fact, she seemed to be waiting for the punchline. Xander repeated the punchline, adding head nods and eyebrow raises for emphasis.
“I was in my parents’ basement. With a woman.”
Another underwhelming silence.
“Anya,” the shiny blond finally said.
Xander jumped, having forgotten she was there. He turned and smiled apologetically as he extended his hand across the table. “I’m sorry. I’m didn’t mean to be rude, I’m just kinda freakin’ out here. It’s nice to meet you, Anya. I’m Xander.”
Anya didn’t take Xander’s hand. She just stared at him, blinking repeatedly.
“I’m Buffy,” the woman formerly known as Anya said. “And we’ve met.”
“Buffy,” Xander repeated, tilting his head to study her. “Oh, right, from high school.”
“High school,” Buffy repeated. The look on her face definitely made Xander feel crazy, but he pressed on.
“But if you’re Buffy, then who’s Anya?”
“The woman you slept with,” Buffy said.
“Really? How do you know?”
Buffy was still giving him that I’m-only-humoring-you-because-you-kinda-frighten-me-crazy-man look. “Shortish, blondish hair? Odd inflection? Really blunt?”
Xander nodded. “Yeah, but how…?”
“Xander,” Willow said, “you’ve been… involved with Anya for awhile now.”
“That’s not possible.” Xander was shaking his head. “Willow, you know that’s not possible.” His eyes pleaded with hers, begging her to see reason.
Willow gave a sympathetic shrug. “Well, I admit that I’ve never really understood the attraction, but…”
“I swear I never saw her before this morning,” Xander insisted. “I mean, I guess I must have seen her last night, but I don’t remember it at all. And… and there’s other stuff, too. Like… like the high school.”
“What about the high school?” Buffy asked. She looked very concerned.
“It wasn’t there.”
And again with the underwhelming response.
“Shit. I really am crazy, aren’t I?”
Willow quickly shook her head. “Of course not.” She laid a hand over Xander’s on the table and patted. “I’m sure it’s just magic.”
Buffy nodded. “Have you run across any strange demons in the last twenty-four hours?”
Willow looked into Xander’s puzzled face and something seemed to click. “Oh crap.”
“You can say that again,” Xander said.
Willow and Buffy exchanged looks and stood.
“C’mon,” Willow said. “We’d better go see Giles.”
“Giles?” Xander asked as he followed them out of the coffee shop. “I’m crazy and we’re going to see the creepy librarian from high school?”
“I already told you you’re probably not crazy,” Willow scolded.
“And Giles isn’t creepy,” Buffy added. “Well, at least not all the time.”
Two hours later, Xander was firmly convinced that he wasn’t the crazy one. The jury was still out on Giles.
“So let me get this straight. What you’re saying is that Sunnydale—well, really, Sunnydale high—is built on a… hellmouth. And a hellmouth is happy-playground-slash-source-of-major-evil-energy for all kinds of demons and vampires and zombies, which all really exist and which it’s the job of the Slayer—and that would be Buffy the cheerleader here—to kill.”
Three heads nodded at him.
“And you’re saying that I should actually know all this because for the last three-odd years, I’ve been hanging out with you people and killing-slash-dating most of these freaky things.”
Another chorus of nods.
“So that—and please, correct me if I’m wrong here—the two most probable explanations are that I’ve either experienced a psychotic break that’s caused me to believe demons and vampires are not real and that I’m not a loser living in his dysfunctional family’s basement… or that I actually belong in an alternate universe.”
Nods all around. Xander considered for a moment.
“And which option should I be rooting for again?”
But before Xander could get an answer, they were interrupted by the entrance of a pale man in black and red with platinum-blond hair and—holy hell—cheekbones to die for.
“Oi, Watcher,” the man said, strolling down the stairs like he owned the place, “I’m starving. Where’s the blood? I swear I could eat a family.”
The words barely registered as Xander did a double—make that triple—take.
“Wait a second. I know you.” The man—Spike, he thought—paused on his way to the kitchen and looked at Xander like he was crazy. Nothing new there, so Xander continued. “We… we met at The Bronze last night. We—”
“Hey!” Willow said suddenly—Xander turned and could practically see the lightbulb blinking on over her head. “If you woke up in our Xander’s bed this morning, I wonder if our Xander woke up in yours…”
An alarm clock was going off inside Xander’s head.
Or possibly just somewhere near Xander’s head, but it all amounted to the same thing. Pain, pain, pain. Throbbing pain. Throbbing in time with the beep, beep, beep of the fuck, fuck, fucking alarm clock.
And what the hell was the beeping about anyway? Didn’t he have a clock radio?
A clock radio that he never bothered to set since he didn’t have to be at work until 2:00 p.m. Or was it 6:00? Or possibly 3:45. Where was he working this week again? Oh yeah—pizza. Just the thought of the smell of the stuff turned his stomach. Just say no, boys and girls. To binge drinking, not to pizza. Say yes to pizza, and don’t forget to tip your delivery boy. And for the love of god, why didn’t somebody just shut off that fucking alarm clock?
Silence and Xander could think again. Could think about the fact that somebody had just shut off the alarm clock. Somebody who wasn’t him.
Xander started to panic, then relaxed. Anya. It was Anya. He’d been drunk and she’d been there. She was there a lot lately. And maybe it was Anya’s alarm clock. Maybe she had to be somewhere this morning. Maybe it was somewhere important. He wasn’t quite clear on what she did with her time. Anyway, he shouldn’t let her sleep. He should…
Xander summoned every feeble ounce of energy in his body and rolled over to face her, opened one eye… and suddenly found the energy to hurl himself backward several feet, right off the edge of the bed.
Xander didn’t even feel himself hit the floor, all sensation drowned out by the omigodomigodomigod in his head. That, and the sound of his own breath. He thought he might be hyperventilating. Omigodomigodomigod.
Dream. Dream! His brain found the thought and clung to it, clutched it, cradled it close. This was all a dream. And not one of those Freudian dreams, either. A meaningless dream. No, a nightmare. One big meaningless nightmare.
Now all he had to do was be brave and open his eyes and he’d see it wasn’t really…
Spike, leaning over the edge of the bed and looking down on him, all blue eyes and blond hair and bare shoulder and… bare shoulder?!
“Dear God, please tell me you’re not naked up there.” And okay, he knew it was wishful thinking, but…
“Naked as you are, luv.”
Xander looked down his own body and discovered just how naked he was. Omigodomigodomigod. He grabbed the edge of a sheet and yanked it off the bed to cover himself, scrambled to his feet and wrapped it around his waist, clutching the fabric in a death grip and staring at Spike.
Spike, sprawled out naked on the sheetless bed, fingertips tracing paths along his own muscled torso, smirking up at Xander without shame, without remorse. “Fancy another go?”
Hypnotized by eyes fingertips, it took a couple more seconds for Xander to register the words… and what he was staring at. “What?” His head turned away so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash. He looked anywhere but at Spike. “Go? No. No. No go. No. Go. I’m just… I’m gonna… I’ve gotta… go. Gotta go.”
Xander spotted a pair of jeans on the floor and began to try to slip them on under the sheet.
Spike got up—still very naked and Xander wasn’t looking, wasn’t looking, wasn’t looking—and crossed the room to his duster, which was draped over a chair. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a Zippo and lit up, watching Xander in amusement.
Except that Xander didn’t know that Spike was watching, because Xander was not looking—except for his shirt. Xander was looking for his shirt.
“So what?” Spike asked, climbing back into bed and smoking as he continued to watch Xander’s fumbling attempts at dressing. “This a religious thing? You freak out every time you have The Big Bad Gay Sex? Or am I special somehow?”
Xander had to open and close his mouth a few times before words came out. “Okay, first of all? I do not have The Gay Sex. That is not something that I do.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
“And second of all, if I did have The Gay Sex—which I don’t do—I would not have it with you. Not only are you a guy—with whom I do not have sex—but you’re also a vampire… and evil and annoying… and… and we hate each other. Hate, hate, hate. And not in one of those thin-line-between-love-and sort of ways.”
Spike took a drag and considered the rant. He nodded. “So you’re actually crazy, then? That’s alright. I do crazy.”
“God damn it, Spike…”
“Bit curious ’bout how you knew I was a vamp, though. Not too bright to take me home and invite me in for a shag, considering.”
“I did not take you home.”
“And yet, here I am.”
“I don’t live here.”
“You had the keys.”
“Look, Spike, I don’t know what kind of fucked up mind game you’re trying to pull here, but it’s not gonna work. You and I both know this isn’t my apartment.”
“Don’t know anything, luv, just came for the shag. The crazy’s a bonus. You are in those pictures, though.”
Xander followed Spike’s gesture to a pair of framed photographs sitting on a dresser. He stepped closer. Spike was right, there he was—in kodachrome. Except that he didn’t remember the pictures—didn’t remember the moments. One was with Willow, the other with Jesse—a Jesse he would have sworn looked older, at least eighteen, but that… wasn’t possible.
Heart pounding, skin crawling with wiggins, Xander turned his back on the pictures and wandered away, wandered around the studio apartment. The studio apartment that wasn’t his… except that it was. The clothes in the closet were less colorful than they should have been, but all the right size. The mostly sci-fi video collection under the television included most of the movies he owned and quite a few that he’d always wanted. Same went for the CDs piled next to the stereo—a little bit country, a little bit rock’n’roll.
Twinkies in the cupboard, pizza and waffles in the freezer and almost nothing beyond condiments in the fridge and, yeah, that seemed about right.
“You’re right—I think I do live here,” Xander said. “Except that I don’t.”
“Uh huh,” said Spike’s lips. His tone said, I’ll agree with whatever you say, just stay away from sharp objects.
“I’m not crazy.” Xander turned to glare at Spike—still smoking, still naked, on a bed that might just be Xander’s. Seemed about right? No, nothing about this situation was right. It was all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong and…. “Would it kill you to put on some pants?”
“Already dead,” Spike muttered, but he did pick his jeans up off the floor and slipped them on before settling back on the bed, still grumbling. “Just ’cause you’re crazy, ’s no reason to be mean…”
“I’m not crazy, okay? I just woke up in an alternate universe.”
“Bugger,” Spike said, with what sounded like genuine feeling. “I hate it when that happens.”
Xander stood for a few minutes, looking around the apartment, letting his own words sink in. He was in an alternate universe. In his own apartment in an alternate universe. In his own apartment in an alternate universe in which he had slept with Spike. He was in an alternate universe that he needed to get out of. Fast.
Too bad he had no idea how to do that.
As a Scooby of over three years, Xander felt he really ought to be better prepared for this. They should have little handbooks. Something you’d carry with you at all times, like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Something that said “Don’t panic!” in nice big letters on the front. Xander resisted the brief urge to locate a towel.
Or drills. They should have drills. And handy little three-part sayings that you never forget. Like “Stop, drop and roll,” or “Stop, stay where you are, whistle,” or “Lather, rinse, repeat.” ’Cause, see, in a shampooing emergency, where the directions had worn off the bottle, he’d still know exactly what to do.
Yes, shampooing he had under control. Alternate universes, not so much. How was he supposed to know what to do when he didn’t even really know where he was? Didn’t know anything about this universe except that he was in it, and that the he that was in it had an apartment. Which made him kinda proud of his apartment-having self.
Of course, this apartment-having self was also a gay-sex-having self. And that gay-sex-having self had apparently chosen to have the gay sex with Spike. And there was no pride there. No parade, no rainbow flag, no “I love my gay vampire” tee shirts.
And somewhere in that babble—which seemed to be on an oh-my-god-sex-with-Spike! loop—there had been a useful thought. Rewind and playback. Sex with Spike… towel… drills… shampoo… how was he supposed to know… Yes, that was it—know. He needed more information about this place. The whos, the whats, the whys, the hows.
“So, um, do we do this often?” And, hey there, mouth! That was so not the first question Xander had intended to ask.
“Nah, this was the first time.” Spike exhaled thoughtfully, eyes following the smoke as it drifted toward the ceiling. “And the second, and the third… and, oh yeah, the fourth.”
Pride tried to rear its big head, but Xander beat it back and focused on keeping the conversation on track. “So we met…?”
“Last night. At The Bronze. You took one look at me and—”
“That’s good, thanks. Next question. You… you really are a vampire?”
“Thought we’d been over that.”
“Just making sure. I mean, the other you—”
“Yeah, mate, what about this other me? Can’t stand the bloke, that it?”
Suddenly, knowing this Spike wasn’t Spike, Xander found himself reluctant to…
“Tell me. Is he really, really evil?” Spike’s eyes were bright with the thought. “Wicked? Ruthless? As soon eat you as look at you?”
Xander hesitated. “Evil as they come,” he said at last. He didn’t have the heart to say anything else. “He tried to kill me and my friends… a lot.”
“A lot? What, wanker couldn’t get the job done?”
“Well, you know, there were… extenuating circumstances. But we were always very, very scared.”
Spike’s brow furrowed. “Are you humoring me?”
“Of course not. Believe me when I say that I hated you, Spike, from the bottom of my heart.”
Spike smiled. “Aw, you’re just saying that.”
“No really, this one time you threatened both me and my best friend and then nearly killed my girlfriend and made her break up with me.”
“Well, there is the possibility that maybe some of my own actions might have had a little something to do with some of it… but I’ve always chosen to blame you.”
Spike nodded solemnly. “I appreciate that.”
“Anytime. So, just to clarify: This is Sunnydale, right? And it’s still on a hellmouth.”
“That it is.”
“Good.” Xander thought about that. “I mean, not good. But, you know, kinda good.”
“Better the devil you know than one you—” Spike was interrupted by a muffled electronic ringing coming from somewhere on the floor. Xander looked puzzled. “Think that’s your cell phone, mate.”
“I don’t have a— Oh, yeah, right.”
Xander managed to find the thing under a discarded shirt—Spike’s by the look of it—and pushed the button that looked most likely to answer instead of hanging up.
“Hello?” he said, bringing the phone to his ear as he tossed the shirt in Spike’s general direction with the vague hope that Spike might deign to don it.
“I need to see you.”
Xander probably wouldn’t even have registered the voice if not for the picture he’d just seen. Still, he couldn’t quite… “Jesse?”
“Please don’t hang up.”
“Jesse? You’re… I mean… I can’t…”
“Look, I know I said I wasn’t going to call again for awhile, but we really need to talk.”
“Talk?” It occurred to Xander that answering phones in alternate universes wasn’t always the brightest idea. And holy shit, this was Jesse. “About what?”
“Don’t be like that, Xander. I know you said there was nothing more to talk about, but you’re wrong. I’m not… It’s just… I’m confused.”
“Yes! Confused. Can’t you understand that? I mean, I know you think it’s all supposed to be so fucking simple, but it’s not. It’s just not, okay? And I’ve tried really hard to be honest with you about everything…”
“Look, I already said I was sorry for not telling you sooner, okay? I just…. I didn’t know how to say it, you know. I didn’t even know what it was. I still don’t know. That’s why I need to see you.”
The me that isn’t the me you know and has no idea what the hell you’re talking about, Xander thought, a little hysterically. He should hang up. He should just hang up. But, God, the chance to see Jesse again…
“Jess, I’m not sure that’s such a good…”
“Don’t say no, Xan. I’m getting in my car right now, okay? I’ll be there in two hours. Just say you’ll let me in.”
“Just say you’ll let me in.”
Xander bit his lip, took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. He’d never been able to resist that voice. “I’ll let you in.”
Two hours. The connection had cut, but still Xander stood there, holding the phone to his ear. Two hours. The snick of a lighter broke the spell and Xander lowered the phone, turned to find Spike watching him.
“You’re still here,” Xander said. He wasn’t sure what he meant by it.
Spike shrugged. “Sun’s up.”
Part Three - Canon-verse
Xander wasn’t sure which idea wigged him more. The idea that he was stuck in a life where he—or some version of him—fought monsters, lived in his parents’ basement, had sex with female ex-demons… or the idea that the version of him who’d managed to create this winning life had most likely been set loose in his.
As it turned out, the wiggiest option was actually behind door number three, where last night’s one night stand appeared with a mouthful of fangs, a brow full of ridges and a mug full of blood.
Jesus Christ, Xander thought, I slept with a vampire. Though not this particular vampire. Or at least not this particular version of this particular vampire. Which really didn’t make it any better.
No, not at all.
But there was a lesson to be learned here, somewhere. Something like: ‘Never pick up a trick whose look is so very stuck in the seventies, even if he is the hottest guy in the room and his accent makes your spine tingle.’ Or more generally: ‘Never make any potentially dangerous decisions any time after your eighth beer.’ Or possibly just: ‘Never take a call from your lying bastard of an ex when there’s no alcohol left in the apartment.’
Yes, Xander thought. That was good. Blame it all on Jesse. Now, if only Jesse were around to be blamed…
“Wait a second,” Xander said aloud. “Where’s Jesse?”
They all turned to look at him—this group of mostly virtual strangers—and he wasn’t really liking what he saw on their faces. They all looked to Willow, who had the worst face of all.
“Jesse?” she repeated.
“Yeah,” Xander said slowly. “You’re here. I’m here. So where—?”
Willow’s eyes became shiny and she opened her mouth but no words came out. She moved toward him, but Xander backed away, shaking his head.
The words came from Giles. Words that seemed to travel underwater—slowed, muted, unreal.
“Jesse… That is, this Jesse is dead.”
And Willow was hanging on him now, pressed against his chest and dampening his godawful shirt, but Xander’s eyes were still dry and his head was still shaking.
“No, he’s… he’s away at college… and… and he’s a lying bastard and I… I just talked to him last night… and I told… I told him not to bother calling again until he grew a fucking spine… and he said ‘fine’ and hung… hung up.”
“Xander,” said the underwater voice, “the Jesse you know, that Jesse is still alive. But this Jesse, the Jesse who was here was killed. By vampires.”
This Jesse. That Jesse. It didn’t make any sense to Xander. Not really.
“When?” he asked.
“Three years ago,” Giles said. He took a step forward, Buffy at his side. “Please do try to realize, Xander, that you didn’t know this boy. The boy that you know is most likely—ouch.”
“Is just fine,” Buffy finished. “He’ll be there when you get back.”
Xander wrapped his arms around Willow and tried to wrap his mind around the concept. A world with him, but without Jesse. It didn’t make sense. And what if…
“What if I never get back?” he asked.
And no one seemed to have an answer for that, but Willow had a question. She lifted her head out of his shirt.
“Will you tell me about him? Your Jesse?”
He focused on the high school years. The good times. The fond memories that tasted bittersweet on his lips. The smile on Willow’s face made it worth it.
Plus, it was a needed distraction and by the time Xander looked up from the quiet corner where he and Willow had been talking, there was no light coming in through the windows. Hadn’t been for a while, he guessed.
Still leaning over a heavy leather-bound book, Giles had taken off his glasses and was rubbing at his eyes. Buffy had dozed off on top her own heavy volume. Spike was painting his nails.
Willow offered him a final, almost shy grin and stood. “I guess I should get Buffy back to the dorms. Giles hates it when she drools on the books. We’ll do a quick sweep on the way.”
The last was directed at Giles, who nodded.
Xander yawned and stretched as he stood—felt the residual tension that had pooled in his jaw and limbs.
“And I suppose I should get back to… my parents’ basement.” He couldn’t have said ‘the dumpster behind the Doublemeat Palace’ with less enthusiasm. “You don’t suppose that that… um… Anya girl will still be there, do you?”
“Oh no,” Willow said, reaching out to rouse Buffy. “I’m sure she’ll have gone home by now,”
Xander couldn’t decide if that reassured him or just more left him more… uneasy.
Giles stood. “Yes, er, speaking of… Willow, Buffy, it seems I need to ask you a favor. I… you see, my friend Olivia is stopping in for a… visit tomorrow and I would…” Giles shot a look at Spike, who was applying a second coat. “That is, I’d prefer not to have an additional houseguest. I realize the dorms are not the most… convenient environment and I had intended to ask Xander to look after him, but given the circumstances, I could hardly—”
Xander stepped forward. “I’ll take him. I have to—what? Feed him twice a day and keep him out of the sunlight? I think I can handle that. Does he bite?”
Spike growled. “Not a bloody puppy, y’know.”
“Sorry,” Xander and Giles said.
Buffy smirked. “At this point, he’s pretty much down to snarling and barking.”
Giles went on to explain about some sort of government microchip in Spike’s head that kept him from hurting people and about how they were keeping him around and feeding him in exchange for information on some super-secret military operation. Xander was confused, but when it came right down to it, it wasn’t that much weirder than anything else he’d heard that evening, so he just took the bags of blood Giles handed him and went with the flow.
The flow started to feel less flow-y the closer he got to “home.” He knew the way so easily, but to walk it felt eerie and itchy and wrong.
He and Spike hadn’t talked since… well, they hadn’t really talked at all. But the best opening Xander’s exhausted brain could come up with at this point was, ‘So… vampire?” So he opted to keep his mouth shut.
Spike pulled a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his leather duster, shook one out and placed it between his lips. Before he could replace the pack, Xander reached out.
Spike relinquished the pack and lit his cigarette, then extended the Zippo to light Xander’s. Xander took a deep drag, hoping to calm his nerves.
And took another.
They walked on. And now they weren’t two guys not talking. They were two guys smoking. Together. It was good.
They arrived at the house and crushed out their cigarettes in the driveway. Xander stared at the basement door for a moment, took a deep breath then tested the doorknob. It was open, thank god. When he’d run from the basement that morning in shock and abject horror, he hadn’t thought to take the keys.
Another deep breath and he pushed the door open, strode all the way into the middle of the room in one defiant motion. He paused there and surveyed. “Make yourself at home,” he said. “You know the place about as well as I do.”
When he got no answer, Xander turned around to find Spike still standing on the other side of the door.
Spike reached up and pressed his fingers into an invisible barrier. “Have to be invited in, mate.”
“Oh, sorry, guess I’m not all up on my vampire protocol. Come on in.”
Spike stepped into the room and looked around while Xander put the blood in the fridge.
“Like I said, mi casa, su casa. Only not so much with the mi.”
“Su enough for the invite, mate.”
Xander wasn’t sure quite what that meant, cosmically speaking, but it felt like a bad thing.
“Kind of a dump,” Spike said. It was more an observation than an insult.
Xander gave the place another once over, his eyes skittering over the stairs that led to the upper floor. “Tell me about it.”
Spike took off his jacket and tossed it over a chair.
“You’re scared of me.” Another neutral observation.
Xander frowned. “Not really. Should I be?”
“Not real—” Spike cut himself off. “I mean, yeah. Bloody well right, you should. Still evil here and I… Bugger it. I can hear your heartbeat, mate. It’s racing.”
“Oh.” Xander looked down at his chest, then up at Spike. “Well, that’s… kinda creepy. But anyway, it’s not you.”
Spike stared for a moment, nodded, and didn’t answer.
Xander wandered over to the blinking light of an answering machine and pushed play.
“Xander? Why did you run away before we could have sex this morning? Are we breaking up? I’ve gotten very used to orgasms and I think it’s unfair of you to revoke them like this. Call me.”
“Harris, you’re late. Get your lazy ass out of bed, get down here and start doing your job before you don’t have one anymore. The people of Sunnydale want their pizza.”
“More like the vampires of Sunnydale want their pizza boys,” Spike muttered.
“It’s past seven-thirty, Harris, and Johnson hasn’t called in from his last delivery. If you’re not down here by eight, I don’t care if your grandma and your grandpa fell on a barbecue forks and slipped into comas—you’ll still be fired.”
“Xander? You still haven’t called. Fortunately, I have discovered that women can have orgasms on their own. Did you know that? It’s very handy. Quite frankly, I don’t know why women spend so much time doing anything else. Especially with all the helpful products available on the internet. You can still call me, though. There’s this thing called a strap-on that I’d like to try.”
“Xander? Have you ever used a double-headed dildo?”
“Consider yourself fired, Harris. Don’t come back here. Your last check’s in the mail.”
Beep. “End of messages.”
“Thank god.” Xander promptly pressed the erase button.
There was silence.
It seemed even snarky, bite-less British vampires disdained that easy a target.
Xander kicked off his shoes and wandered into the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and washed his face, stared at himself in the mirror for a few minutes, and wandered back out again. Spike hadn’t moved.
“So, um… I guess you can sleep wherever.” Xander motioned around him, grimacing at the hideous orange lounger he recalled vividly from his youth. “You can take the bed if you want.”
“Not going to tie me up?”
Xander’s head snapped up with a frown. Then he caught Spike’s eye and just… relaxed. He tilted head and let his mouth quirk up at the corner.
“Why? You into that?”
And Spike laughed and settled onto the lounger, folding his arms behind his head and crossing his ankles. He smirked over at Xander, who had taken a seat on the bed.
“So, luv, care to tell me about last night?”
Xander thought back for a moment. “Well, I know we met at The Bronze and started talking, but I’d been drinking and it’s all a little hazy, to tell you the truth. But I do remember this really amazing blow job. I mean, maybe I was just imagining it, but it was almost like you—I mean he…”
“Vampires don’t have to breathe, luv.”
“Huh. Wasn’t making that up, then…. That’s a real nice skill. I mean, you guys ever decide to do some sort of ‘Vampire’s aren’t so bad’ PR campaign, I’d focus on that.”
Spike was still smirking—just like the other Spike had, right before he dropped to his knees. Xander got lost in the memory for a moment, then remembered the question, nodded.
“Yeah, that’s a definite selling point.”
Part Four - Alternate Universe
Xander was still holding the cell phone about sixty seconds later, when it rang again. It startled him and he fumbled, almost dropping it, then managed to hit “talk,” get it up to his ear and say “hello”—all before remembering that answering phones in alternate universes was dicey at best.
“Um… hey, Andy.”
Silence. Xander tried again.
“So, um, how’s it going… man?”
Andy spoke slowly, as if to a small child. “I’m good, Xander. How are you?”
It felt like a trick question. “Um… fine?”
And that seemed to be the wrong answer. “Fine-ish?”
“Where are you?”
“Um… my apartment?”
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“There’s been sort of a lack of certainty today.”
“Ooh-kay. Guess you’re not going to make it in to work today, huh?”
Work? Crap! But considering he had no idea where work was or even what it was, and given that those were not the kind of questions bosses liked to hear from their absentee employees… “Um… no. Kinda not. Am I fired?”
“Should you be?”
Xander decided not to give the honest answer. “Um… no?”
“You don’t sound too sure about that, either. Are we expecting more certainty tomorrow, Xan? Because if you’ve got something to work out, fine. But I don’t want you coming in if people are going to get hurt.”
The hurt thing was probably a clue to the what question—being out of it while delivering pizza really wasn’t gonna hurt anyone but himself—but now was not the time to decipher it. Now was the time to think fast. Well, the beginning of the conversation had probably been the real time to think fast, but now was definitely looking like the last chance for fastness of thinking to prevent fastness of fire-age.
He looked at Spike. Spike the vampire. Spike the amused eavesdropping vampire who was lighting up another cigarette and Xander doubted that any version of himself would be down with this much smoking in his real live apartment… but that was so not the point. The point was vampires. Vampires. Sunnydale. Hellmouth. He could do this.
“Andy, can I… tell you something?”
“Of course, Xan.” Andy sounded worried now. Good.
“Well, see, it’s kinda weird. I mean, I was walking home last night and I, uh… I sort of got jumped by this guy and he was like… really strong—I think he might have been on drugs or something—and his face was all messed up and I swear it was like he… he bit me or something.” Xander paused for effect. “That’s crazy, huh?”
“Not… crazy, but I’m sure it all just happened so fast that you got, you know…”
“Confused. Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. Because I guess I lost some blood, you know? And passed out. And when I came to, there was this girl. She must have scared him off or something, and then she helped me home. So I think it’s just the blood loss, you know? Making me remember freaky stuff. So I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
And suddenly Andy couldn’t seem to get off the phone fast enough—his Sunnydale denial instincts already hard at work. “Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. Don’t worry about it, Xan. I’m just glad you’re okay. Get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Xander hung up the phone and smiled. Xand-man, one. Alternate universe, zero.
And, sure, in the overall score the alternate universe was probably still kicking his ass, but Xander Harris—three time apocalypse survivor—wasn’t about to go down without a fight. He smiled again.
Xander turned toward Spike’s voice and waited for the snarky dig to that should have followed… but it didn’t come. Spike didn’t say anything more—just lay there on the bed, puffing away.
The smoke and its smell permeated the room and Xander opened his mouth to say something, then closed it with a mental shrug. What did he care? Wasn’t really his apartment, anyway. He opened a couple of windows and went to take a shower.
A long, hot shower was always good. Good after a long, greasy day in the food service industry. Good after a long, bruising night of patrol. Good for a small slice of comfort in those long, strange hours leading up to the latest apocalypse.
And just as good for those wacky times when you woke up somewhere unexpected—almost, but not quite, yourself.
When Xander stepped out of the shower, he felt better. Ready to take action.
He wrapped a towel around his waist and walked out of the bathroom, over to the kitchenette. He snagged a Twinkie, popped it in his mouth and started looking for breakfast foods. He found leftover pizza hiding in foil in the fridge, smelled it and started munching as he dug out Pop Tarts and Eggo waffles. He put one of each in the toaster, pressed the lever and looked over at Spike.
“Pop Tart? Eggo?” Oh, yeah, he was calm. He was cool. He was collected. And he didn’t even mind that Spike was obviously checking him out in his towel.
“Not that kind of hungry, pet.”
Okay, maybe he minded a little.
“Sorry, fresh out of blood,” Xander said, voice light, though he was pretty sure that wasn’t what Spike had meant.
He hurried over to the closet and put on the loosest jeans and tee shirt that he could find. The toaster popped.
“Last chance for sugary and syrupy goodness,” Xander warned.
Spike didn’t answer, so Xander plucked the Eggo from the toaster with his fingers and tried not to let it burn them as he swirled syrup on top and consumed it in four slightly scalding bites. He licked his fingers.
“So,” he asked, reaching for the Pop Tart, “you do this often?”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “This?”
“You know,” Xander said through his mouthful of pastry and frosting, “have sex with humans—manly humans, even—and not, like, eat them?”
Spike shrugged. “Humans are warm. Blokes like it rougher.” He leered. “And who says I don’t eat them?”
Xander almost spit out his Pop Tart. “Ew! You know that’s not what I meant.”
There was a knock at the door. Xander jumped.
Xander swallowed and wiped frosting crumbs from his face. Xander all but ran for the door, then stopped in front of it and stared. Xander took a deep breath, brushed the frosting crumbs off his tee shirt and opened the door.
Xander stared some more.
He was taller, Xander thought. Taller and tanner and buffer and wearing more earrings than Xander remembered, but it was still…
“Jesse.” The name was barely audible and maybe a little choked, like his throat was getting tight, and Xander obviously hung out with girls too much, but he didn’t care. Their eyes met and when Jesse took a small step forward, Xander threw open his arms and met him halfway.
They stood like that for long moments, arms wrapped around each other, and there was no thumping of the back or anything else to make the hug manly and Xander didn’t mind a bit.
But when one of Jesse’s hands started to wander up to the back of his neck and brush at the soft hair there, Xander started to mind just a little.
Xander released his hold and Jesse started to withdraw a little.
Then Jesse was withdrawing a lot and was staring at something behind Xander and the expression on his face wasn’t looking so good.
And Xander followed the direction of Jesse’s gaze and found Spike, who was smirking as he watched the reunion.
“Who the hell are you?” Jesse was asking from somewhere behind him.
“Spike,” Spike said. And Jesse didn’t seem to like that.
“Spike?” And Jesse was rounding on him. “Spike? You fucked a guy named Spike and then just… just kept him here when you knew I was coming?”
Things were moving a bit too fast for Xander. “Um… he kinda can’t leave. It’s a… thing.”
Oddly, the explanation didn’t seem to soothe Jesse.
“What the fuck, Xan? Is this like… payback?”
“I came here to talk. To be honest, you know? Because I thought it was worth trying. But, obviously, you don’t feel the same way.”
Jesse glared and Xander floundered.
“Jesse, don’t… I mean, I can exp—Well, I can’t really explain, actually, but it’s not what you think. Really not. So not. Can pretty much guarantee that whatever you’re thinking is not what this is. At all. Not even—”
Jesse threw up his hands. “You know what? Whatever. I don’t have to stay here and deal with this shit. I’m going to my parents’. If you decide you want to stop playing games and actually talk to me, you know where to find me.”
Jesse turned. Another step and he would be out the door. Xander reached out his hand.
Jesse turned. “Just one more thing…”
And then Jesse’s hand shot out, fingers curling into the front of Xander’s tee shirt, and Xander was stumbling forward and there were lips, lips of Jesse, pressing hard against lips of Xander. And Xander was opening his mouth to say something—something intelligent, like oof! or gah! or… holy shit, tongue of Jesse. Tongue of Jesse in mouth of Xander and things were getting softer now. Softer, and maybe not all bad because… um, Jesse. This was Jesse.
And then, without warning, it wasn’t Jesse. It was cold air on wet lips and a voice asking, “Does it feel over?”
And Xander didn’t have an answer. He didn’t even have the question. He had bruised lips and a pounding heart and…
“You know where to find me.”
And a slamming door.
Xander stared at that door and waited for thoughts to reappear.
It took awhile.
And they didn’t give him much to go on.
He heard the snick of a lighter and turned. He could swear Spike hadn’t move an inch.
“Should I go after him?”
Xander blinked. He hadn’t planned the question. He’d just opened his mouth and out it had come.
Spike took a drag off his cigarette and exhaled slowly. “He shagged a bint.”
Xander blinked again. “What?”
“Your boyfriend,” Spike said. “He’s got a girlfriend.”
“And again I say: What?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “That bloke you were just snogging? Jesse?”
“He was your boyfriend, but then he went off to university and you stayed here, and he started shagging some co-ed. Mindy or Mandy or Missy or somesuch.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, what do you need? Bloody shadowpuppets?” Spike began to offer obscene hand gestures instead.
“Okay, okay, I get it. So, Jesse like… cheated on me—I mean, the other me—with some girl?”
Spike dragged, nodded, exhaled.
“And you know all this, how?”
“Got pretty pissed last night, didn’t you?”
“I was mad? At Jesse? Over this girl thing?”
“You were drunk. And angry. Bitter, really. It was charming.”
“Whatever. You came home with me. I mean, with him.”
“And you—I mean he—made it very worth my while.”
Spike’s smirk was smug and Xander shook his head as if to shake it—all of it—off.
“I have got to get out of this life.”
Xander knocked on the door and waited, holding his breath and shifting his weight and listening for the sound of footsteps inside.
“Please be home,” he chanted. “Please actually live here.”
Then he heard the footsteps and the click of the lock and the door was opening and it was…
A strange Wesley. A Wesley with damp, tousled hair, a cooly curious expression, a soft looking sweater, even softer looking jeans and bare feet. Xander slid his gaze back upward. It was a very normal looking Wesley, actually, which was what made it so strange.
“Can I help you?”
Xander frowned. “What happened to the suits? And the… Britishness?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Xander smiled. “Ah, there it is.”
Wesley tilted his head. “Have we met? I can’t say that I recall…”
“Oh my god.” Xander’s smile disappeared as a thought occurred to him. “You’re not…? I mean, he didn’t just leave and let you take over, did he? Or… oh god, what if they just sent you in the first place? What if…?”
Wesley didn’t say a word, just kept a steady eye on Xander as if he were crazy and unpredictable—which, okay, fair enough—and adjusted his stance so as to better block the entrance to the condo.
Xander took a deep breath and tried to look a little more sane. “No, you know what? It’s okay. I can do this. So, um, do you happen to know a girl named—”
Xander was interrupted by a voice drifting down the stairs. “Wes, darling, who is it?”
“Rupert?” Wesley called—without taking his eyes off the crazy man. “I think you’d better come down here.”
Xander’s own eyes flew to the staircase, where Giles—thank all that was holy—appeared. Xander started breathing again as Giles came up behind Wesley, placed a hand on Wesley’s shoulder, and peered out at Xander without recognition.
“Who is it, luv?”
Xander just stared at them and shook his head. “Jesus, is everybody in this universe gay?”
Part Five - Canon-verse
Xander widened his stance, pressed his hands harder into the wall and moaned, tried to keep his hips from slamming forward, Oh god, so good, so good…
He moaned again, louder, panting for breath as he looked down on the platinum-blond head attached to his dick, its hot mouth scorching him, fucking swallowing him whole.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, baby, don’t stop.”
“You like that?” Spike somehow managed to ask without pausing in what he was doing. “You like having your cock sucked?”
“Yeah,” Xander groaned. “Don’t stop. Suck me like a whore.”
“As good as you remembered?” And somehow Spike was looking at him and smirking at him and still deepthroating him.
“Yeah… yeah,” Xander said. “Better. Oh god. Jesse never… Jesse never…”
Spike pulled his head back and looked up at Xander from his knees. “Don’t you know it’s not polite to talk about an ex-boyfriend when another guy is sucking your brains out your dick?”
“He’s not my ex-boyfriend,” Xander said. “I mean, he’s not my boyfriend. I mean, I wasn’t talking about him. I mean… I think he’s dead.”
“Well, that’s all right, then.” Spike was still looking up as he spoke and Xander could see sharp, pointy canine teeth. Fangs. Spike titled his head back down and opened his mouth…
“Wait!” Xander said. “I don’t think we should be doing this.”
“Yes you do,” Spike said. He started sucking again.
And there was no sharp, pointy pain—just deep, tingly pleasure—and, yes, Xander realized, he did think they should be doing this.
He was getting close. He looked over at the digital alarm clock by his bed, but he couldn’t read the numbers. But he felt like he should be going to work.
“You’re thinking about him again,” Spike said.
“No, I wasn’t. I was thinking about work.”
“Is he dead or isn’t he?”
“You’re not supposed to care,” Xander said. “You were a one-night stand.”
“I’m leaving.” Spike was dressed and standing by the door. He was carrying a briefcase.
“No, I was supposed to be leaving,” Xander said. “I have to go to work, remember?”
“Fine.” Spike put down the briefcase and picked up his leather duster. “We’ll go together.”
“Okay.” Xander picked up a yellow hardhat, put it on his head and looked back at his apartment. He saw his car keys and picked them up, too. He handed them to Spike. “Here, you can drive. I know how much you like it.”
They were walking down the middle of the street. Xander tried only to step on the yellow lines.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Spike said. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Xander looked up at the bright sun, then back at Spike. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be a vampire?”
Spike shrugged. “Not really. Only sometimes. It’s a lifestyle choice, you know. I want to suck blood and give a good blowjob, I’m a vampire and I go hang out at vampire clubs and stuff. I want a burger and fries and a nice walk in the sun, I’m a human and I go to the bowling alley. More social acceptance that way anyway. They don’t let vampires join the bowling leagues. They won’t even rent them the shoes.”
“But… but it doesn’t work like that,” Xander said.
“Sure it does.” Spike stuck his thumb and index finger into his mouth and slid out a pair of plastic vampire teeth, then smiled. “Look, mum, no fangs.”
“You can’t do that,” Xander said.
“I just did.”
“But you can’t.”
Spike shrugged. “She said: In the days when you were hopelessly poor, I just liked you more…”
“Wait,” Xander said. “Who said that?”
“I said that.”
“I don’t want to do a Laurel and Hardy routine.” Xander took off his hardhat and waved it. “I just want to go to work.”
“You can’t always get what you want.”
“Wait,” Xander said. “I know that one. That’s… that’s…”
“That’s what I said.”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Xander said. He cuffed Spike in the head. “Stop that.”
They were standing on a lawn in front of a house. His parents’ house. The sprinkler was running.
“No, wait,” Xander said. “I didn’t want to come here.”
But Spike was headed for the front door. The sprinkler hit him, but he didn’t get wet.
“Spike, don’t.” Xander took two steps forward after him, but stopped just out of reach of the water. “They won’t like your hair.”
Spike laughed back at him from the front porch. “Everybody likes my hair.” He reached up and rang the doorbell.
Xander tried to step back, but his foot wouldn’t go. He stepped forward. It was fine. He tried to step back to where he had just been. No go. Water slapped over his toes. He tried to turn and run, but there he still was, standing on the lawn, staring at the front door. The hem of his jeans was getting damp.
They waited, but nothing happened. No one answered.
“Well, that’s okay,” Spike said. “I was hoping your mother and I could sit down and have one of those flavored international coffees and celebrate the moments of our lives...” He shrugged. “But I guess we’ll just get the lounger and go.”
“I don’t want to go in,” Xander said.
“But it’s only the basement.”
“I don’t like the basement.”
“But you have the keys.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t live here, I don’t visit here, I don’t have…”
“Check your back pocket.”
Xander reached in and pulled out… “The keys.”
“You first,” Spike said.
“No, you first,” Xander said. “You brought this here.”
“It’s your house.”
“It’s your house.”
“You don’t understand,” Xander said. “I’ve been gone for, like, two years.”
“It’s your house.”
“You don’t understand. I said I’d never come back. They said fine.”
“It’s your house,” Spike said. “You have to go first. You have to invite me in.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t live here.”
Xander stepped through the doorway and watched as Spike pulled his vampire teeth from his pocket, slid them into his mouth and glided over the threshold. “See?”
Jesse was lying on the orange lounger. “This is my chair,” Jesse said.
“You’re dead,” Xander said.
Jesse shook his head. “No, that’s the other me. It’s easy to get confused.”
Xander looked around for a light switch and flipped it. The room stayed dark.
“You can’t give him my chair,” Jesse said.
Xander was lying on the chair and Jesse was on top of him, kissing him.
And it felt good.
He lost track of everything—for minutes, maybe hours—lost track of everything but the warm glide of Jesse’s lips and tongue, the firm press of Jesse’s hips over his. Natural. Familiar.
There was a sound from upstairs.
Xander started and tried to pushed Jesse away by the shoulders. “We have to stop. They can’t find you here.”
Jesse smiled. “It’s okay. I’ll just tell them about Maddie. They liked me before I was gay.”
Jesse stared unbuttoning Xander’s shirt.
“It’s too late,” Xander said. “It’s too late to change your mind.”
Jesse shoved the shirt off his shoulders. “They liked me better than you.”
Xander frowned. “You’re not supposed to say that.”
“I’m reformed,” Jesse said. He started to pull off his own tee shirt. “I’ve seen the light.”
The lights came on again, blindingly bright, and Jesse started kissing him again, but Xander kept his eyes open. He saw Spike in the corner, smirking at him. He had forgotten about Spike. He waved his arm, motioning for Spike to leave, but Spike just stood and smirked.
“Jesse, I think…”
The sound from upstairs was of footsteps now, footsteps nearing the top of the stairs.
“They’re coming, they’re coming.” Xander shoved at Jesse, hard, but Jesse wouldn’t move. “They’re coming, Jesse. Don’t you remember? You have to go.”
“But I want to tell them about Maddie.”
Xander kept shoving. He could still hear the footsteps.
“Fuck Maddie. They don’t care about Maddie. You have to go. Don’t you remember? If they see you here, they’ll kick me out and he’ll…”
“I thought you didn’t live here,” Spike said.
Xander’s heart was pounding, faster than the footsteps that were still approaching, and he couldn’t breathe. “I don’t, but it doesn’t matter anymore, he’ll… You have to go.”
“Don’t you love me anymore, Xan?”
He shoved harder at Jesse, but Jesse didn’t budge. “Of course I do, Jess. Don’t you get it? Why don’t you remember? Please.You have to go.”
“Is he really all that?” Jesse asked, looking at Spike. “I mean, I like the hair, but…”
And then Jesse and Spike were on the bed, making out, and Xander was standing over them, staring at them, then yelling at them—“You have to go. You have to go!”—but they weren’t moving, and the footsteps were moving, and they were right there.
And the doorknob was rattling, shaking, and Xander was shaking, and his shoulder was shaking…
No, wait… someone was shaking his shoulder.
Xander opened his eyes.
He saw Spike hovering over him. And Jesse was gone and the room was dim again, just a few hints of early dawn peeking through the high windows. And he sat perfectly still and listened, but he didn’t hear footsteps or doorknobs, and it was all a dream.
It had all been a bad dream.
Spike didn’t say anything, just stared at him, studying his face, looking worried, and Xander managed to quirk his lips a bit into something meant to say, I’ll be okay.
And Spike sat back a bit but didn’t look reassured, so Xander swallowed and offered him words.
“I’m okay,” Xander said. “It was just a bad dream.”
But Xander’s throat must have been drier than he thought because his lips had moved, but no sound had come out. He tried again.
It was just a bad…
It was just a…
Xander started pinching himself. Once, twice, harder, harder. His breathe grew ragged—the harsh, uneven gasps and pants of panic—and he could hear that, could hear the air fighting it’s way in and out of his throat…
But he couldn’t hear the words he knew his lips were forming…
I have to wake up. I have to wake up. I have to wake up.
And Spike was holding him, gripping his shoulders and shaking gently, trying to get his attention.
Xander stopped thrashing his head and raised it, bringing his gaze to Spike’s face. Spike’s lips were moving. Spike was saying something. Repeating something. Over and Over. Slow and steady.
And Xander watched those lips and the rhythm started to calm him just a bit and then he could read them.
You are awake, they said. You are awake.
Xander saw the words, but shook his head.
How is that possible?
He asked the question with his eyes and not with his lips, but Spike tried to answer with his lips and Xander tried to follow, but after a few seconds he gave up and shook his head again.
Too much. Too fast.
So Spike pressed once with his hands on Xander’s shoulders to tell Xander to stay calm, and then stood and searched the room until he found pen and paper. He sat back down on the bed—beside Xander this time—and started to write.
Not just you. Can’t speak either. Saw you having nightmare. Tried to wake you but had no voice. Shook you out of it. Over now. Not dreaming anymore.
Xander stared at the words for a long minute, then took the pen from Spike’s hand. It shook between his fingers as he wrote.
What’s this then?
Spike took the pen back.
Part Six - AU
Xander just stared at them and shook his head. “Jesus, is everybody in this universe gay?”
“I beg your pardon?” Giles said.
Xander shook his head. “Right. Sorry. So, okay, um, how should I put this?”
“Quickly?” Wesley suggested.
Xander nodded. “Right. Okay, um… do the words ‘Buffy the vampire slayer’ mean anything to you?”
Wesley and Giles exchanged a look, but said nothing.
Xander frowned. “Okay, so that was like a how-does-he-know-that-now-we’re-suspicious look, right? Not a what-the-hell-is-this-kid-talking-about look?”
“We’re still listening,” Giles said.
Xander sighed. “Do they train you guys to be this cryptic?”
“Fine, can I at least come in and explain?”
The possibly-Watchers exchanged another look and Xander realized his mistake.
“Okay, right. Sorry. What I meant was ‘do you think you could step out of the doorway so that I may cross your threshold without invitation?’”
One final look was exchanged and Giles and Wesley stepped apart, leaving space for Xander to enter between them. Xander did. The possibly-Watchers seemed to relax.
“Would you like some tea?” Wesley asked.
“Um… not really,” Xander said. “Got anything stronger?”
Giles started brewing the coffee while Wesley made the tea. Xander waited until the drinks were poured and brought to the coffee table before speaking.
“So… I think I woke up in an alternate universe this morning.”
Giles stood, crossed to the liquor cart, picked up a bottle of scotch, topped off all three glasses, returned the bottle to the cart and sat down again. “Yes, of course. Please continue,” he said.
Xander took a sip of his fortified coffee and began his story. When he had finished, Wesley and Giles exchanged a look. They seemed to do a lot of that. It wigged Xander.
Wesley stood and cleared the cups. “Shall we call an Angels meeting, Charlie?”
“Angel?” Xander said. The wig doubled.
“Yes, I suppose we should,” Giles said. “And I do wish you would stop calling me that.”
The last bit was more flirty than annoyed and Xander was up to a triple wig now.
It wasn’t so much men flirting thing that did it. It was whole ‘old and stuffy British Watcher men named Wesley and Giles who were obviously having lots of The Gay Sex’ flirting thing that really sparked the ‘ew’ factor.
Xander tried to open his mind.
“You’re just jealous because you don’t get to be Bosley,” Wesley said.
“It is quite clear, based on a number of factors, that I would be the obvious…” Giles trailed off and smiled sweetly. “But of course, being Bosley, I suppose it falls to you to contact the Angels and insist that they leave the… What did Buffy call it again?”
Wesley sighed. “I believe it was ‘The single most critical party of, like, the entire social year and if you don’t let us go you might as well just shoot us now because otherwise we’ll die alone and with too many cats.’”
“Right, that was it. So if you wouldn’t mind making the call…”
Wesley glanced at the phone, then quickly away. “Perhaps some preliminary research would be in order before we—”
The front door banged open.
“Oh. My. God. That was the single most lame party of, like, the entire social year. You might as well just shoot us now because we’re gonna die alone and with too many cats.” Buffy came to a stop, tossed her hair and crossed her arms over her chest. “I mean the music? Major suckage.”
“And the beer?” Xander’s head snapped to Faith as she breezed through the door. “I mean, my standards are low, but damn.”
“Not to mention the utter lack of attractive and upwardly mobile guys.” Cordelia entered and shut the door behind her. “I mean, they call that a fraternity?”
“Yo, even the downwardly mobile guys were ugly,” Faith said.
“There were cute guys in the brochure, you know. It was all, ‘Come to UC Sunnydale and expand your mind while sunbathing on the quad surrounded by hotties.’ I mean, I want my tuition back. It’s been months and I’m still looking for a…” Buffy trailed off as her eyes landed on Xander. She flashed him a toothpaste-ad smile and added a shampoo-ad hair toss for good measure. “And, hellllooo, cute guy.”
Xander barely resisted the urge to look behind himself for the “cute guy” as all three girls turned to stare at him. He flushed as the staring continued.
He felt like a meaningless sex object.
He figured he could get used to it.
Then Cordelia frowned. “Wait a minute. That’s not a cute guy. That’s Xander Harris.”
Good thing he hadn’t gotten used to it.
“You know him?” Buffy asked.
“He went to our high school,” Cordelia said. “You just didn’t notice him because… well, loser.”
Faith gave Xander another once over. “I don’t know. He seems to have turned out okay to me.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I sure wouldn’t date him. Now or then.”
Xander finally found his voice. “Well, actually…”
“And besides,” Cordelia said, “aren’t you gay?”
Buffy sighed. “Figures.”
“No!” Xander said.
Cordelia raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, well kinda…. But only the this-world me. Not the me-me. I mean, I’m totally… Okay, well this afternoon, but that doesn’t really… It’s a long story.”
A long story which Xander proceeded to tell for the second time that night.
He left out the part about crushing on Buffy, lingered on the part about dating Cordelia, and glossed over the part about their breakup.
He steered clear of the Faith topic all together.
For a couple of reasons.
But the details of that life didn’t matter much anyway. And they couldn’t tell him anything about the Xander whose life he was currently living. He just hoped they could find a way to send him home.
After story time, the books came out. And when the books came out, Faith and Buffy went out, grabbing some stakes and heading for the nearest cemetery.
Cordelia, it seemed, was the Angels’ primary researcher.
Xander nearly abandoned all hope right then.
But then he remembered Wesley. Thank god for Wesley. Wesley who, after less than an hour of research, slapped his hand down on the book he was reading and leapt up.
Xander expected him to shout “Eureka!”
“Rupert, I think I’ve got something here,” Wesley said instead. He turned to Xander. “If this lead bears out, we ought to be able to have you home by tomorrow.”
“That was meant to be good news,” Wesley said.
And that’s when Xander realized he was frowning. Which was weird, right? Because home was good.
“Yeah… good,” he said. But suddenly tomorrow just seemed so… sudden. He looked at Wesley, then at Giles. “I, um… I know I should be staying and helping and stuff… but there’s… there’s someone I kinda need to see.”
His eyes darted to Cordelia, who looked put out, but Giles was already nodding. “Yes, of course. Go right ahead. You’ll return in the morning?”
Xander started to nod, then thought again. “Actually, I think I kinda need to go to work tomorrow. If I can figure out where work is. They called me—I mean him—today and it just sorta seems uncool to get my other self fired, you know?”
Giles nodded again. “Indeed. Tomorrow afternoon, then?”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Xander stood and headed for the door. Cordelia’s voice stopped him.
When he turned she was holding out a cross and a stake. Xander stared at them for a moment, then smiled—surprised.
“Aw, thanks, Cordy. I’m touched.”
But she was already turning back to her book.
The tree outside Jesse’s bedroom window was harder to climb than he remembered, but it was past midnight already and Jesse’s was the only light on in the house. He finally made it up to the appropriate branch and even managed not to fall as he stretched out to tap on the window.
Jesse looked up, did a double take, then hurried to the window and pushed it open.
“Jesus, Xan, what the hell are you doing?”
“I, um, sorta remembered this being easier.” The corners of Xander’s mouth twitched. “Can I, uh, come in?”
Xander could see Jesse trying not to smile and Xander watched him fail. God, he’d missed that grin.
“Come on.” Jesse held out his hand. Xander grabbed it and let himself be pulled him in.
He landed on his head.
He stood and brushed himself off and threw Jesse a teasing glare. “You did that on purpose.”
Jesse shrugged. “Maybe.”
And then there were half smiles that faded into awkward silence.
“So, what’s up, Xan?”
Xander looked down at his feet. “I was wondering if maybe we could, you know… talk.”
“About this afternoon?”
Xander shook his head. “No, not about that. Just… talk. Like we used to, I mean. Like friends. Can we do that?”
Xander looked up and Jesse met his eyes. “I don’t know. Can we?”
And there was another silence and Xander wondered what the hell he thought he was doing. He wondered whether he could climb back out the window without breaking his leg. He wondered if Spike was still in his apartment and if…
“So remember that time in the sixth grade when you ripped your pants trying to climb up here and I had to sneak the sewing kit from the closet and we tried to fix the hole but ended up sewing the pant leg shut?”
Xander laughed because he did remember. “Oh god, and I couldn’t go home that night, so I had to wear your pants to school the next day and they so didn’t fit.”
Jesse smiled and sat down on the floor leaning against the side of the bed. “Whatever. They were totally sexy, we were just too young to realize it.”
“Yeah, right. I think pants that tight pretty much went out with John Travolta. And I was in no position to bring them back.” Xander dropped to the floor and settled a few feet from Jesse. “But let’s talk about that time in seventh grade in the cafeteria when you…”
And they spent almost an hour that way, each recalling the other’s most embarrassing moments, before Jesse brought up something from sophomore year that Xander didn’t remember.
And that’s when it occurred to Xander that he shouldn’t necessarily be able to remember any of the same things Jesse did. But he could.
It all seemed the same through most of Junior High and he’d have to remember to tell Giles because that seemed important.
He let Jesse finish the sophomore year story and laughed and grimaced at the right places. And was glad he hadn’t been there.
Not that his own sophomore had been humiliation and embarrassment free…
On second thought, maybe he wished he had been there.
And why hadn’t he been? What moment had happened differently? What had he said or done or decided that had made this world instead of the other one? What had he said or done or decided that had saved Jesse’s life?
And did he really want to go there?
He really didn’t.
So instead he went back to the time in fifth grade when he and Jesse had stolen one of his mom’s cigarettes and smoked it behind the garage and thrown up all over the lawnmower. Good times.
And then they started telling Willow stories, and neither of them had to be embarrassed about those, so they kept going and going until they were both laughing their asses off.
And Xander was on his back on the floor with tears in his eyes and he rubbed at them with his fingers and when he opened them again, Jesse was there, leaning over him and smiling. And he smiled back, and then suddenly there was less smiling and more staring and it was all different.
And Xander saw the look in Jesse’s eyes and the tilt of Jesse’s head and the way the distance was closing between them.
Xander saw it all.
Then Xander closed his eyes.
Part Seven - Canon-verse
Xander didn’t sing in the shower.
Okay, he’d been known to sing in the shower on occasion. But it wasn’t like he did it all the time. So the fact that the only sound in the shower was the water slapping his skin and sluicing down his body and into the drain shouldn’t have been so creepy.
But it was.
It was a forced silence, a fake silence. A silence that made all the little non-voice sounds of the world ring and sting in his ears.
A silence that suddenly made the sound of the water unbearably loud. Xander fumbled with the taps, needing—desperate—to make it stop.
Then there were drips.
And the sound of his breath.
And the silence.
Xander wrapped a towel around his waist and stumbled, still dripping, out of the bathroom, not stopping until he saw Spike. Spike was calm. Spike was reclining on the lounger and smoking a cigarette.
Xander started to breathe again.
Keeping Spike visible out of the corner of his eye, Xander dried off and got dressed in the first things he found that smelled clean and didn’t make his eyes bleed.
The walk from the basement to Giles’ apartment was… surreal didn’t even begin to cover it.
Xander had taken up Spike’s chainsmoking, while Spike struggled to keep from smoking at all—darting from one patch of shade to another, his head, face and arms covered by the heaviest blanket he’d been able to find.
But the sight of a chainsmoking man who jumped every time he heard the click of his lighter and his skittish, blanket-covered companion didn’t even merit a second glance in the midst of the silent, but surging panic that had consumed the streets of Sunnydale.
At least it didn’t until Spike darted a bit too close to a man in a dark suit, carrying a briefcase and all but running between his front door and a car parked on the street. It was only a near collision—both Spike and the man looking up and spotting each other just in time—but the man threw his briefcase down and leapt at Spike, tore at the blanket. Spike batted the man’s hand away but then recoiled, blanket still gripped tightly in his fists as he stumbled and clutched at his head.
It was the sizzling sound and the smell, the sight of smoke coming from Spike’s elbow that snapped Xander out of his staring and into action. He dropped his still burning cigarette and threw himself between the man and Spike.
But the man’s eyes had widened and Xander could practically see the man’s brain changing its directive from “fight” to “flight” and then he was gone. A car door slammed, an engine revved and tires peeled.
Xander looked back at Spike, who peeked up from under the blanket to meet his eyes. Their gazes held for a second… then they both started to run.
They stumbled to a stop outside Giles’ door and Spike pressed up into the meager shade of the wall to the sound of Xander’s panting and the pounding of knuckles against wood.
The door opened and they staggered inside. Xander opened his mouth and tried to rant about their crazy awful morning before remembering exactly why the morning had been so awful. Xander’s lips stopped moving and again the silence echoed.
Spike shed his blanket and wandered off to look for blood. Xander stayed in the middle of the room, catching the breath lost in the run to the apartment and the futile attempt at words.
Suddenly, there was a body flying toward him. Reflexes kicked in and Xander opened his arms and widened his stance, braced himself and absorbed the impact. He looked down at the top of a blond head. It was the woman he’d woken up next to the morning before—Anya. She was clinging to him and he only hesitated a second before wrapping his arms around her.
It wasn’t the kind of day to withheld comfort.
They stood like that for a long minute. Then Anya stepped back, looked up into his eyes… and slapped him across the face.
Ow! Xander mouthed.
Why didn’t you call me? Anya’s lips weren’t hard to read.
Xander shot Giles a look. You couldn’t have explained things to her? it accused.
Giles shrugged, looked sorry and gestured vaguely to his mouth and the mouths of others.
Xander released a soundless sigh and looked around for pen and paper. I’m not your Xander, he wrote. It’s a long story. He handed her the pad.
Anya read it, tilted her head and considered for a second. You’re from an alternate universe? she wrote back.
Surprised, Xander nodded.
Anya smiled, wrote something else and handed him the pad.
Would you like to have sex with me anyway? Xander read. He shook his head.
I’m gay, he scribbled. Sorry.
Anya shrugged and went to sit on the couch.
Xander released a breath of relief and took a seat on a bar stool in front of the kitchen counter. The microwave dinged and Xander watched as the door clicked open and shut and Spike removed a mug, which said “Kiss the Librarian.” Xander watched Spike’s face shift as he brought the mug to his lips and began to drink.
The sharp fangs, the yellow eyes, the bumps and ridges.
Xander didn’t even realize he was staring until those yellow eyes met his over the mug. Then the eyes were blue and the face was smooth and the mug was lowered. A tongue licked over blunt teeth to chase away drops of blood. Spike looked… sorry?
Xander shook his head no, no—then waved a hand around his own face and nodded.
Spike stared at him for a second, then shifted again, keeping a careful yellow eye on Xander’s reaction as he resumed drinking.
Xander smiled and made certain not to look away. It was harder not to stare—he was fascinated.
As soon as Spike finished and set the mug down, the face smoothed again. Spike looked up and Xander waved him over, around the counter. Spike stood in front of him and Xander took a minute to study Spike’s human face, then nodded, waving a hand around his own face once more.
Another slight pause and the fangs dropped and the eyes yellowed and the bumps reappeared and Xander couldn’t resist reaching out to touch this strange and fierce face, running his fingertips over the ridged forehead, then smoothing a thumb along one slick, pointed tooth.
Brown eyes stared deep into yellow ones and Xander could feel Spike’s sharp cheekbone pressing into his palm and…
The front door burst open. Buffy and Willow rushed in, breathless and wide-eyed, little white message boards hanging around their necks.
Buffy waved to Xander, then took off her message board and scribbled something on it. She showed it to Giles but Giles shook his head.
Willow stepped toward Xander and took off her own board. Hey Xander, she wrote.
Xander smiled and pulled her close for a hug. He released her a few seconds later and took the board. He wiped her words away with the side of his hand and replaced them with, This is a weird world you’ve got here.
Willow just pressed her lips together and nodded.
At the sound of snapping fingers, their heads all turned in the direction of the television, which Anya was leaning forward to turn up. The sound of the newscaster’s voice was a shock—like a sudden burst of English in a foreign film when you’d gotten used to the subtitles—and they all moved in closer to listen to the miraculous words.
But the report turned out to be useless. An epidemic of laryngitis, they said, and even Xander wasn’t buying that one at this point.
Buffy left soon after to go keep order in the streets and Xander couldn’t quite get over one tiny blond girl going out to do the job of the National Guard. Then again, something about the look on her face as she left told Xander that Buffy could kick the National Guard’s ass any day of the week—and twice on Sundays.
Giles and Willow went straight into research mode, scouring the apartment’s bookshelves and dolling out dusty volumes to Xander, Anya and Olivia. After about half an hour of studied indifference, even Spike sat down next to Xander and cracked a book.
But Xander found the volumes strange and difficult to navigate. He had to stop and reread every other paragraph—either to figure out what the words were actually saying or to convince himself that what the words were saying might actually be true. An hour passed and all that Xander managed to do was ask Giles and Willow a bunch of annoying questions without giving a single answer—or even possible answer—in return. Glancing across the table at Olivia, he knew she felt just as useless.
Another hour passed and Olivia stood, yawned, pointed toward the stairs and then disappeared up them. Xander yawned, too, but kept staring at the page in front of him and tried to read the same sentence for the twelfth time. On the fourteenth try, he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up.
Go home, Giles mouthed, gesturing toward the door.
And he’d wanted to help—really, he had—but thank fucking God. Xander stood and looked at Spike. Only when Spike stood as well did Xander move for the door.
The walk back to the basement was without incident—unless you counted the freaky run-in with the mute poodle, but Xander was trying to block that from his mind. Xander unlocked the door and stepped inside. His eyes went automatically to the stairs leading to the main house. He tilted his head listened for a minute, but didn’t hear so much as a footfall.
He looked over at Spike, who raised an eyebrow. Xander tilted his head back and mimed pouring something down his throat, then closed his eyes and let his head fall to the side.
There were only two steps in the Harris Family Emergency Action Plan. The second one was passing out.
Xander thought about step one, but he’d tried that two nights ago. And waking up from step two had been a real bitch. He went to the bathroom to brush his teeth instead.
He lingered over the task for several minutes. His dentist would have been proud. He spit and rinsed and stood there, the water still running, staring into the mirror. Who are you? he mouthed at his reflection. It didn’t answer.
He wondered who the face belonged to—him or this world’s Xander? He was living somebody else’s life—was he doing it in somebody else’s skin?
Xander reached his right arm across his chest and watched his own fingers run slowly over the skin of his left bicep.
He felt cool fingers close over his own and jumped, looking down to see a pale hand with fingernails covered in chipped black nail polish resting on his arm.
He looked back in the mirror. Nothing but his arm and own hand.
He looked down at his arm. A second hand.
It started to pull away, but he caught the hand and brought it back to rest against his arm, this time his fingers settled on top. He looked in the mirror again. His fingers seemed to hover over his own skin. He stroked the non-existent hand, felt the roughness of the non-existent knuckles.
Xander kept his eyes on the mirror, even when he felt another invisible touch. This one began on his right shoulder, slid along his upper arm, then eased down over his back and came to rest on his hip, an invisible thumb working its way between the hem of his tee shirt and the waistband of his jeans to stroke bare skin.
Xander shifted back until he made contact from shoulder blade to hamstring, a gentle pressure all the way down the left side of his body. He stood like that for a long minute. The only sound in the tiny bathroom was his breath—growing louder, uneven.
Xander reached down with crossed arms and grasped the hem of his tee shirt. The invisible presence behind him stepped back as Xander pulled the shirt off over his head. There was a second rustling, and when the invisible chest returned to press against his bare back, the contact was skin to skin.
And the skin felt like his skin now. He was in it.
The invisible hands landed just above his hipbones this time and Xander placed his own hands over them as they glided up over his abdomen, thumbs stretching to tease at his nipples.
Xander felt lips at his neck and his breath turned to panting as the invisible hands worked their way back down to the waistband of his jeans. He watched in the mirror as the button came open and the zipper inched southward. His boxers bunched with the waistband of his jeans and the two slid down together, over his hips.
And there was his cock, jutting forward as if begging for the invisible touch. And then he felt it.
Fingers, then a palm. Wrapping. Squeezing. A thumb, sweeping over the head.
Xander watched his chest rise and fall, saw his skin flush and his body shiver.
But it wasn’t enough. He needed to see more. He needed not to see that he wasn’t alone.
The fingers released him as he turned—turned into Spike’s body, Spike’s face. With one hand, Xander reached low, down to the small of Spike’s back, to pull Spike against him. With the other hand, he cupped Spike’s jaw, sliding fingers into stiff, prickly hair to tilt Spike’s head to just the right angle for a deep, wet kiss.
There were words in Xander’s brain. Words like “god” and “please” and “need this” and “need you.” Words in search of a voice.
But when he drew back and looked into Spike’s eyes, he knew they didn’t need voices.
They let their bodies do the talking.
Part Eight - AU
The bed shifted and Xander stirred. He kept his eyes shut, but felt and listened as the body next to him rose from the bed and left the room.
Xander drifted in and out of wakefulness as he sorted his thoughts. Second morning in an alternate universe… and he’d once again woken up in bed with a man.
Or man-like creature. Same diff.
It was a disturbing trend.
But at least he hadn’t slept with this one. Or rather, had only slept with this one. That is, there had only been sleeping. Well, not only sleeping. There had been kissing and groping and—what did you call it? Frottage?—yeah, that too. But after that, just the sleeping.
As opposed to the sex.
The Gay Sex. The Scary Gay Butt Sex.
Which somehow wasn’t seeming so scary anymore.
Which was scary.
Much like the circuitous trajectory of his thoughts, which someone really needed to stop him from thinking.
But Jesse hadn’t come back yet. And what was taking him so long anyway? Xander glanced at the clock and did a double take. It wasn’t even seven o’clock. Only very strange and freakish people had reasons to get up before seven o’clock. Well, strange, freakish people and high school students.
But he was no longer a high school student and even if murder, mayhem and apocalypses kept you out late, they almost always had the good grace to let you sleep in. Being awake at this hour was downright unnatural. Xander squeezed his eyes shut and vowed to fall back asleep.
But when the bedroom door creaked open, Xander’s eyes peeked open and there was Jesse—all damp hair and toweled hips. And he looked… good.
Xander tried on a smile and it fit. He opened his eyes a bit wider. “Hey,” he said.
Jesse glanced over at him, but the eyes didn’t rest. They skittered off toward the dresser. A folded towel was tossed in Xander’s direction and Xander saw it land at the edge of his vision, but his eyes followed Jesse. Jesse crossed to the dresser, removed a pair of boxers and tossed those at Xander as well.
That’s when Xander realized that his own boxers were a bit... sticky and remembered something else about last night. There had been orgasms. After the frottage and before the sleeping—orgasms. The kind that left you boneless and brainless and feeling… connected.
Xander felt another smile coming on and he pushed himself up to a sitting position and opened his mouth to say something, but Jesse was already speaking.
“Go ahead and shower. My parents aren’t up yet.” Jesse was speaking to the closet. “I’ve gotta get back to campus. I’ve got class at ten and they’ll be traffic on the highway at this time of morning. But I can give you a ride to work. It’s on the way. If you hurry, you won’t be late.”
Xander didn’t know what else to do, so he did as he was told—crossed the hall to the bathroom and stepped under the shower’s spray and tried to think things over. The ride to work was a good thing. Jesse seemed to know where work was, which was a lot more than Xander could say.
But other than that, things felt weird.
Xander stepped out of the shower and cleared a circle in the steamed up mirror. He stared at himself.
He really wasn’t sure. He didn’t look any different. He wondered whose face he was looking at—his or the other Xander’s?
Maybe it was the other Xander’s body that was drawn to Jesse. But then the mind had to be his—and there was all kinds of crazy new stuff going on in there. He stood and stared for another minute or two, not ready to leave the bathroom.
Not ready to return to the bedroom.
But he did. He slipped on the clean boxers and walked back across the hall and into the bedroom.
It was empty.
So he picked yesterday’s clothes up off the floor and pulled them on, checked his jacket pocket for things like wallet and keys and—hey, that’s right—cell phone. He found Jesse downstairs, downing the last of a glass of orange juice. Jesse didn’t offer him any, just tossed him a cereal bar, muttered “Don’t want to be late,” and headed out the door.
Xander didn’t know what else to do, so he followed.
Work, it turned out, was a construction site. Jesse pulled up in front of it and kept the motor running.
Xander paused with his hand on the door handle. Didn’t he have to say something? “Uh, thanks for the ride. I guess I’ll, um… talk to you later?”
Jesse nodded. “Yeah, I’ll, uh… call you.”
Xander stepped out of the car and decided to ignore the problem about to drive away from him, so he could focus on the problem now in front of him—the construction site he was supposed to know how to work at. He took a deep breath. He could do this. It was just like going undercover for Buffy.
’Cause, yeah, he’d always been great at that.
Another car had pulled up at the same time as Jesse’s and that guy was kissing his wife or girlfriend goodbye through the driver’s side window. Xander drifted slowly in that direction. The guy stood up.
“Hey, Harris!” the guy said. Bingo.
“Hey… you.” Xander fell into step beside the guy, who seemed to be headed for a trailer.
“So, what’s up? You and Jesse back together now?”
Xander blinked. He was… out? At work?
The guy was still looking at him and Xander realized he was waiting for an answer to the question.
“Um, I think kinda no,” Xander said.
The guy shrugged. “Well, his loss, you know?”
And Xander felt oddly… supported.
The rest of the day passed quickly. And not too badly, all things considered. People seemed to be looking out for him—whether it was because they’d heard the story of his supposed attack or about the Jesse thing, he didn’t know.
Or maybe it was just because they didn’t want him to do anything stupid that would set the whole crew back a day’s work. In any case, they were nice about it.
A guy named Kevin offered him a ride home and Xander directed him to Giles’ instead. Besides a “left here” and a “take the next right,” the ride passed in silence. When they pulled up to the curb, however, Kevin turned his head and spoke softly.
“Don’t let him fuck you up, Xan.”
Xander unbuckled his seat belt and opened the car door. “Thanks for the ride.”
It was just Giles and Wesley at the apartment—Giles, Wesley, multiple empty tea cups and stacks of open books. Xander stopped trying to figure out what to make of Kevin’s words and put on a happy face.
“So, oh watcherly ones, what’s the what?”
Giles and Wesley sighed in unison. They removed their glasses in unison. They removed handkerchiefs from their pockets and cleaned those glasses in unison.
“Do you guys know you’re this creepy?” Xander asked.
They looked up in unison. “Hmm?”
Xander shook his head. “Nevermind.”
Two pairs of glasses slid back into place.
“Yes, well it seems…” Giles began.
“…that I was a bit hasty in my assessment of the…” Wesley continued.
“…ease with which the necessary counterspell might be…”
They paused and waited for his reaction.
“So you’re saying it’s going to be harder to get me back than you thought?” Xander snorted. “Shocker.” He looked from one watcher to the other. “So, seriously, nobody’s had a little talk with you two about toning down the creepy?”
They both frowned at him.
“Nevermind.” Xander said. “So, what’s the hold up?”
“We simply don’t have the… magical force necessary to execute this type of spell,” Wesley said.
“Even with Wesley and I casting together, the spell would not be powerful enough for us to ensure the desired result. We would most certainly be able to send you somewhere, but your exact destination would be… unpredictable, to say the least.”
“Anywhere but here,” Xander muttered.
“Nevermind. So, are there options?”
“Well,” Wesley said, “if we could somehow locate a natural witch or wizard—one, of course, who is not evil and not one of Rupert’s former—”
“Oh, please, as if there were a long list of wizards who I—”
“Wait!” Xander’s hands flew up and he bounced forward on his toes. “I think I can help with this one. I just have to figure out where…”
Xander thought for a second, then reached for the cell phone in his jacket pocket. He pushed a few buttons, started to scroll and then… “Aha!”
Xander pushed another button and held the phone to his ear. It rang three times and then…
God, was it good to hear her voice. “Hey, Will. It’s Xander.”
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Um… okay. Look, where are you?”
“My dorm room.”
So, she was at a college. Somewhere. “And your dorm room would be…?”
There was a pause. “Um… kinda on the small side and really messy? I’m telling you, I really need a new roommate. Yesterday, she—”
“Hey, Will? Not that I don’t want to hear about it, but I’m kinda short on talk time here. Um, how long does it take for you to get from… where you are to—”
“About four hours if the traffic’s not too— Oh god, this is about Jesse, isn’t it?”
“What? No, no, it’s—”
“Did he call you? I thought you told him not to call you. Do you want me to call him and tell him not to call you? ’Cause I can do that. And what were you thinking, picking up the phone?”
“I… I didn’t realize—”
“Well, what did he say?”
Xander tried to regain control of the conversation. “Look, that’s not why I—”
“Xander. What did he say?”
“He said needed to see me. That he wanted to talk.”
“See you? He was there? You let him come and see you?”
“Well, what was I supposed to—”
“Say ‘no.’ You were supposed to say ‘no.’ You know how it is when you see him.”
“Is he gone?”
“Yeah, he left this morning.”
“This morning? Oh my god. You slept with him again, didn’t you? Tell me you didn’t sleep with him.”
“I didn’t… well, only in the literal—”
“That’s it. I’m coming down there. I can leave after class tomorrow afternoon and stay for the weekend. I’ll be there by seven at the latest. We’re having dinner. And ice cream. And if he calls between now and then, don’t even think about picking up the phone.”
“I mean it. You pick up that phone and you are in big trouble, mister.” Her voice softened. “I know you still care about him, okay? And he’s my friend, too. But what he’s doing to you… Nevermind. We’ll talk about it when I get there. Look, I should go. I should get started on my reading for this weekend. But I’ll see you tomorrow night, okay? And no phone calls between now and then.”
“Bye.” Xander hung up the phone and looked at the Watchers. “Well, I didn’t exactly get to bring up the whole magic thing, but she is coming. Tomorrow night.”
“And this friend of yours is a natural witch?” Giles asked.
“Well, she certainly seemed to be in my world. And if not her, then there’s this girl, Amy. Of course, I’m not sure where to find her and she might be a rat, but it’s, you know, a possibility.”
Half an hour later, Xander started for home. The sun was barely down, but after a couple of blocks his Sunnydale sense started tingling. He spun around and saw…
“Spike? What are you doing out here?”
Spike stepped clear of the tree Xander suspected he was just about to duck behind and took the time to light a cigarette before evading the question.
“Wandering the streets alone? For someone who knows about vampires, you’re not too bloody bright.”
Xander wasn’t fooled. “Have you been following me?”
Spike’s eyes shifted about and he shoved his hands into his duster pockets. “No,” he said.
Xander considered that for a second, then decided he didn’t care. He started walking again. Spike fell into step beside him. After a couple of minutes, they reached a crossroads—straight ahead for his apartment, left for the Bronze.
“Wanna get a beer?” Xander asked.
Xander pulled out his wallet and looked inside—was pleasantly surprised. “You order. I’ll pay.”
Spike threw a hand over his chest and feigned indignation. “You sayin’ I look old?”
“Old enough,” Xander said. “Deal?’
They turned left.
Part Nine - Canon-verse
Most mornings after had words.
Particular words. Words like “hey” and “want some breakfast?” and “this was great, but I’ve got an early meeting” and “I’ll call you” and “have you seen my pants?”
Awkward words, a small step up from awkward silences.
Tones to give the meanings to the words. Meanings like “we should do this again sometime” or “we should do this all the time” or “we probably shouldn’t have done this at all” or “Jesus Christ, did I really drink that much last night?”
But this morning after had no words.
Nothing but a whole lot of silence.
And then a look from Spike.
A non-avoidy look. A look that said, I knew what I was doing. I know what I did. And I’d bloody well do it again in a heartbeat. Yours, not mine. Even Spike’s look spoke with that sexy mockney accent and Xander was afraid his look might babble, so he went for a touch instead.
A light, but steady touch. A touch that said, You didn’t wig me last night. And you don’t wig me this morning. And in case Spike didn’t get it, Xander got up and fixed Spike breakfast. Red blood in a blue coffee mug. Microwaved.
Xander even tested the temperature with his finger.
He held up his blood-tipped finger to keep it from dripping and held out the coffee mug for Spike to take. Spike stepped forward, took the coffee mug… and set it down on the nearest available surface. Then he took Xander’s finger and slowly sucked it clean.
The pop as Spike slid his lips of the finger echoed in the silence.
Xander looked at Spike for a moment, then reached down and dipped another finger in the mug.
It wasn’t until each of the five fingers on Xander’s right hand had been thoroughly sucked that Xander realized the whole thing, while incredibly hot, was also sorta gross.
He kissed Spike’s coppery lips—kinda sexy, kinda wrong—and went to take a shower.
When Xander stepped out of the bathroom with a towel around his hips, there was a librarian sitting on his beanbag chair. After a quick glance at the state of the bed, Xander decided the librarian had made the right choice. After a quick glance down his own half-naked body, Xander grabbed some clothes and ducked back into the bathroom.
He ducked out again a few minutes later and Giles stood. Well, Giles tried to stand anyway. It took a few awkward moments and some less than dignified thrusting of the hips before Giles succeeded in levering himself up and out of the beanbag. Xander struggled to conceal a smile. Spike didn’t even try. Giles glared at them both and turned to leave, obviously expecting to be followed out.
Xander followed as far as the door, then realized he was the only one following. He turned back. Spike was sitting on the edge of the bed lighting a cigarette. Xander frowned at him, but Spike didn’t move. Xander marched back into the room, picked up the blanket Spike had covered himself with the day before and threw it over Spike.
There was a brief—and very un-Spike-like—flurry of fumbling as Spike tried to keep the blanket from catching fire. With a slight glare that somehow didn’t reach his eyes, Spike put away the cigarettes, adjusted the blanket, then followed Xander outside and into Giles’ ancient European motor car where Anya was waiting.
Giles took them to the university, rounded up Willow and Buffy, and led them to a lecture hall. It was empty. By universal understanding—unspoken, of course—classes were not in session.
Though a series of drawings that looked like pieces of a serial killer’s psychological evaluation, Giles presented the results of his research. The Gentlemen—creepy, floaty, voice-stealing, heart-seeking fairytale men in suits.
Only not so much with the men part.
Fairytale monsters in suits. Gentlemen. Gentle monsters. Monsters who would smile as they gently cut out your heart. Monsters who could only be killed by the screams the people of Sunnydale could no longer make.
Xander shuddered, reviewed it all in his mind, and shuddered again for good measure. He looked over at the chair next to him where Spike was sprawled.
Spike looked calm.
Of course, why shouldn’t he? The Gentlemen were looking for beating hearts. But still…
Xander’s hand drifted over until the backs of his fingers brushed Spike’s thigh, just above the knee. The fingers pressed slightly and felt… power. Spike may have been sprawled and he may have been calm, but he wasn’t relaxed. He was alert. He was ready.
The meeting adjourned. Buffy went on patrol, Willow went back to her room, and Anya, Spike and Xander followed Giles back to his car.
Xander never left Spike’s side.
Giles didn’t bother dropping anyone off anywhere. He took them all back to his place. No one objected.
There was research at first—much scouring of books and exchanging of frowns and blurring of vision as they struggled to decipher old, cramped print.
Olivia gave up early—didn’t start really, never having set down the tumbler of scotch she’d been holding when they walked in and spending more time during her hour at the research table drinking and refilling that tumbler than actually reading. Finally, she got up, refilled the tumbler, thought for a moment, picked up the nearly empty bottle, and went upstairs.
It seemed you didn’t have to be a member of the Harris family to adhere to the Harris Family Emergency Action Plan.
In any case, they hadn’t found much new information. The pictures presented at the university—while bleak and kinda badly drawn—seemed to pretty much cover it. Still, Giles went to dig yet more books out of yet another box in yet one more of his condo’s seemingly endless supply of closets. Spike found a pack of cards and started to teach Xander and Anya five-card stud.
Despite a total lack of poker face, Anya showed real beginners’ luck and, after winning several practice rounds, went in search of poker chips. When she came back empty handed, Xander caught Spike’s eye and tugged slightly at the hem of his own shirt, suggesting a way to bet at poker that didn’t involve chips at all.
Of course, strip poker was out of the question. If not because Anya wouldn’t be into it—because even though he’d only known her for a couple of days, Xander suspected Anya would be all too into it—then simply because they were in the apartment of his high school librarian. No matter how old you got—or what universe you were in—certain lines were to be respected.
For example, bending Spike over the back of Giles’ couch and fucking him blind—since dumb would be redundant and deaf would be moot—would be way out of line… though nine rounds of poker later, Xander was on the verge of doing just that.
Spike had picked up on Xander’s suggestion and, while he hadn’t actually started stripping, for each round Spike lost, he would run casual fingertips over a different piece of clothing, showing Xander exactly what he would no longer have been wearing.
Round one went to Anya. Spike reached up, placed a hand on the back of his own neck and slid it slowly down, tracing the collar of the duster.
Round three went to Xander. Spike reached down to wipe an imaginary smudge of his Doc Martens.
Anya took rounds four and five. Spike fingered the buttons on his red shirt. Spike scratched his black fingernails over the black cotton stretched tight across his chest.
Xander shifted on the couch as his pants stretched a little tighter across other parts of his anatomy, then dealt another hand.
Spike didn’t lose again until round nine. He set down his cards leaned back in his chair, letting his legs splay. He looked at Xander, then wiped his palms slowly down his inseams.
Xander got up and went to the bathroom.
Unfortunately, jerking off in the bathroom of the apartment of your high school librarian also fell on the wrong side of those certain lines, but there was nothing wrong with a few deep breaths and a splash of cold water to the face.
Xander returned to the main room just in time to hear the microwave ding. Spike opened the microwave door, removed a mug of blood and, looking straight at Xander, tested the temperature with his finger.
Before the finger even made it to Spike’s lips, Xander had taken the mug from Spike’s hand, had found a travel mug, had transferred the contents and was headed out the front door, mug in hand.
Spike all but ran out after him.
They made it back to the basement by walking quickly… and looking straight ahead. They made it through the door by force—a shove from Spike and a broken lock. They made it to the bed by some sort of miracle.
Then they just made it.
Made it fast and hot and hard.
And they were naked and they were panting—one by necessity and the other by instinct—and the sound of it echoed in the room and Xander hooked his ankle over Spike’s back and Spike pressed his way inside until he couldn’t go any deeper and then he started to move and Xander clutched at his shoulders and cried, “Don’t stop.”
“You stopped,” Xander said.
Spike just stared at him. “Git,” he said. “You’re talking. We’re talking.”
Xander blinked. “We are?” The sound of his own voice confirmed it. “Shit, you’re right.” He smiled… and then frowned. “We get our voices back and the first thing you do is call me a ‘git’? What’s up with that?”
Spike shrugged. “Force of habit.”
They stared at each other for a moment in silence.
“So…” Xander said.
“So…” Spike echoed.
They stared again.
“You know,” Xander said, “you could just keep fucking me and we could talk later.”
A grin that redefined wicked spread over Spike’s face. “Best idea I’ve heard all day.”
Xander had to agree.
Part Ten - AU
Was there such a thing as common-law homosexuality? If so, Xander figured he was legally gay in the eyes of the State of California by now. He’d woken up next to a man—or man-shaped vampire—three mornings in a row now. Three.
Three strikes and you’re out.
Of the closet.
He only hoped there was no such thing as common-law necrophilia. A man should only have to deal with one major lifestyle change at a time.
Not that he’d slept with the corpse in his bed..
Not in the sex-having way, anyway. He had slept with Spike in the not-sex-having way. But not in the not-sex-having way that he’d slept with Jesse. No, he’d slept with Spike purely in the not-sex-having, not-kissing, not-groping, not-orgasming way.
Unless you counted the wet dream.
But Xander figured you didn’t have to count the wet dream as long as you woke up and slipped out of bed and got in the shower before the person you’d slept with in the not-orgasming way noticed that only one of you hadn’t orgasmed.
If a man orgasmed in a forest and there was no one there to hear it, it definitely didn’t make a sound.
Or something like that.
Xander decided showers were bad for his thinking process and got out. Besides, he didn’t want to be late for work.
When Xander returned home that afternoon, Spike had gone. And as he stood in the middle of the room and looked around, Xander realized he’d never actually spent time in this apartment—this strange apartment, this stranger’s apartment—without Spike.
Without Spike, it felt stranger somehow.
Xander looked around some more. Looked for a place to sit, to stand, to be. Looked for something to do. When he started to feel stupid standing in the middle of the room, he grabbed a bag of potato chips and settled down in front of the TV.
TV - the old standby. The great constant. A couple hundred channels of crap.
In any dimension.
He only had a couple hours to kill and then Willow would arrive. And then what? Just say ‘Hey, Will, it’s good to see you. I need to tell you a few things. Demons and vampires exist and like to hang out in Sunnydale. Alternate universes exist and I’m from one. Oh, and there’s magic and there’re witches and you happen to be one of them’?
At least he had a couple of hours to come up with a better plan.
“Hey, Will, it’s good to see you. I need to tell you a few things. Demons and vampires exist and like to hang out in Sunnydale. Alternate universes exist and I’m from one. Oh, and there’s magic and there’re witches and you happen to be one of them.”
Willow stared in at him from the other side of the doorway. He really should have come up with that better plan.
“It’s good to see you too,” Willow said at last. She stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug, then stepped back. “Can we talk about the rest of this at the restaurant? Traffic sucked like a big sucking thing and I’m starving.”
Xander let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and grabbed his wallet and keys. “Lead the way.”
“Who’s driving?” Willow asked as they stepped out of the building together.
“Wait. You mean I have a car?”
Willow studied him for a second then shook her head, brandishing her keys. “Nevermind. I’ll drive.”
“Buffy Summers, this Faith girl and Cordelia Chase?” Willow asked for the third time.
Xander nodded - for the third time. He waited.
She had changed the inflection, but that still didn’t make it not true. Xander nodded again.
“You’re telling me that Cordelia Chase…?”
Willow paused and Xander nodded.
“... of the We Hate Cordelia Chase Club…?”
“Well, she wasn’t actually a member…”
“… has saved the town of Sunnydale from multiple apocal— apoca— What’s the plural of apocalypse?”
“Apocalypses. And she had some help, you know. Slayers. Watchers…”
Willow didn’t stop frowning. “Still, I mean… it’s just… Cordelia. I mean... it’s crazy.”
“Granted,” Xander said. “But do you think we could roll on through the ‘I can’t believe Cordelia saves the world’ phase and move on to the slightly more relevant ‘I can’t believe I’m a witch’ phase?”
Willow looked across the table at him. “Oh no,” she said, “I can totally believe I’m a witch. Now, the Cordelia thing…”
“If I give you my fortune cookie, will you drop it?”
Willow smiled and Xander held out the little plastic tray. Willow scooped up both cookies. “Consider it dropped.”
Xander took some cash from his wallet and laid it on the table. “Ready to go?” he asked. “In my experience, Watchers don’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Right…” Willow said.
“…because then they’d be called ‘waiters,’” they finished at the same time. They looked at each other and laughed.
As she stood up, Willow cracked open the first cookie and read the fortune. “Oh, this one is obviously mine: Versatility is one of your outstanding traits.”
“In bed,” Xander added.
She said it with confidence, but Xander caught a small blush. He smiled and slung an arm over her shoulder as they walked toward the door. “What’s mine?”
Willow cracked open the other cookie and pulled out the slip. “Behind every good man is another good man,” she read. She smirked and opened her mouth to add…
“Don’t even think about it.” Xander pushed open the door and held it for Willow. “I swear,” he muttered, “it’s a fucking conspiracy.”
Xander sat on the Watchers’ couch and stared at the books surrounding him, willing them to transform themselves into a television, preferably one with cable. The small television that sat in Giles’ living room in Xander’s home reality was absent. Living with Wesley must have kept Giles from becoming shallow. Or just given him better ways to spend his leisure time.
And, damn it, shouldn’t he be able to go more than an hour without thinking about The Gay Sex? Was that really too much to ask?
Xander kept staring at the books, but they didn’t so much as twitch. It seemed the force of his will just wasn’t all that strong. Which explained why he couldn’t just click his heels together three times and say: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
And damned if that wasn’t his gayest interior monologue yet. But that’s what Willow was for.
For getting him home, not for the gay internal monologue.
Right. So, Willow.
Willow, who hadn’t said a word to Xander in hours. The instant they’d walked in the door, it was like a family reunion.
Only with less fighting, drinking and potato salad. And fewer screaming children running around.
Okay, so not so much a family reunion as maybe a Star Trek convention.
Only with nerds instead of geeks—because, yes, there was a difference—and without the funny costumes.
Okay, so his analogies needed work. Point was, before Xander could blink, the Watchers had recognized Willow as one of their own, escorted her in and revved up the intellectual chatter. And by the time Xander had blinked he’d been blinking away the dust he’d been left in.
Much hmm-ing and nodding and pointing out of things in books had ensued, interspersed with various incomprehensible explanations that were met with ‘yes, that makes perfect sense’ or ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that?’ or ‘indeed, but have you considered…?’ and followed by more book pointing.
All of which were good signs.
Great signs, really.
But about as entertaining as televised chess.
When the Angels arrived, Xander almost cried with relief.
“Hey, it’s cute alternate universe guy!” Buffy said.
“Gay alternate universe guy,” Faith reminded her.
“Oh, right.” Buffy’s smile turned upside down as she flopped into a chair in front of the absence of TV.
“Hey, I’m not the version who’s—” Xander started to protest, but a squeal from Cordelia cut him off. Which was just as well. ’Cause the evidence? So not in his favor.
“Oh my god. Willow Rosenberg. What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you in… in…” Cordelia tilted her head. “How long has it been?”
“Six months,” Willow said.
“Is that all? Well, it feels like longer.” Cordelia lifted her arms, then paused. “Wait a minute, do we hug?”
Willow shook her head. “No, usually you just make fun of me and then ask me to do your homework.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Cordelia dropped her arms and thought for a moment, then smiled. “How are you with psychology?”
“Xander? We’re ready to attempt the casting now.”
It took a moment for Wesley’s voice to break through the Star Trek episode Xander had been playing in his head in an effort to drown out the in-depth debate the Angels had been having on sorority life. Xander pushed the mental pause button and blinked a couple of times as the room came back into focus around him.
He stood up and turned to Wesley. “What do I have to do?”
“Not a thing, really. Come here.” Xander stepped around the couch and into Wesley’s reach. Wesley dipped his index finger into a small bowl of rust-colored something and used it to paint symbols onto Xander’s forehead and cheeks. “There. Now you just sit in that circle and look pretty.”
Xander stepped into a circle of unlit candles. “Wesley?” he said as he lowered himself to the floor and sat cross-legged in the center.
“Don’t call me pretty.”
“Right.” Wesley cleared his throat and turned to Giles. “Shall we begin the casting now?”
“Certainly,” Giles said. “If you’re quite through flirting with boys half your age.”
“Half your age, Rupert,” Wesley pointed out. “Nearly two thirds mine.”
Giles glared. “And your point would be?”
“Boys?” The boys of all ages turned to look at Willow. “Casting?”
“Right,” said the Watchers. Xander rolled his eyes.
“Xander, it may help if you try to focus on your own reality as we chant,” Giles said, leaning over to light the candles around the circle.
Xander nodded. “Beats focusing on this one,” he muttered.
He closed his eyes and the chanting began. Xander felt himself becoming less substantial—more mind and less body, floating in the darkness. He didn’t so much open his eyes—since it didn’t feel like he had any anymore—as will himself to be able to see.
And suddenly he could.
He saw the wall of the basement in front of him. The wall behind the sofa bed. He wanted to smile his relief, but couldn’t.
His lips wouldn’t curve.
He tried to turn his head from side to side, but it didn’t move either.
And then it did.
But not side to side like he’d wanted it to. It tilted down, out of his control, and then he wasn’t looking at the wall anymore. He was looking at Spike.
Spike, who was looking back at him with burning blue eyes, lips parted and face taut with…
And all of a sudden it was if someone had unpressed a mute button somewhere and there was sound.
The sound of breath—short, fast, jagged.
And Xander figured out what it all meant just before the sensation arrived to confirm it.
The sensation of tight and full and thrust and oh my god, yes, right there, yes.
And then it was gone.
No basement. No Spike. No sensation.
Just two British voices and one Willow one saying, “Xander?”
He looked up into expectant faces. “Still me,” he whispered, finding himself short of breath. “The wrong me.”
“What happened?” Willow reached down and gave Xander a hand up out of the circle. “It seemed like something was happening there.”
Xander stood and swallowed. “I, uh… I think I may have been inside the other me’s head.”
Wesley took a step forward. “Fascinating. What was the other you doing?”
Xander looked down and found a spot on the hem of his shirt worthy of intense study. “Nothing,” he said.
“Well, you know, he was… uh, sleeping.”
“Really?” Wesley seemed even more intrigued. “You were conscious, but he was not? Remarkable. How did you—?”
“No,” Xander said quickly. “I meant… he was in bed… but not sleeping. But not, you know… doing anything else… either. It was really boring. Not fascinating. Not fascinating at all.”
“Well,” Giles said, “this gives us quite a lot to think about for our second attempt, but I believe such an attempt will have to wait until tomorrow night.” He looked at both Xander and Willow. “You’d both best go home and get some rest.”
Xander was quiet as Willow drove him back at the apartment, but Willow was too busy raving a mile a minute about the thrill of witchcraft to notice. He was glad. He thanked her for her help as he got out of the car. She drove off with a smile on her face.
Xander should have been surprised to open the apartment door, flip on the light and find Spike lying on his bed… but it was late and he couldn’t summon the energy.
“Had the invite,” Spike said. “Picked the lock.”
And Xander should have resented that and tried to kick Spike out, because this was in danger of becoming a habit and Xander was in danger of liking it… but resenting and kicking out would have required twice the energy he’d already failed to muster for surprise.
And he just didn’t have it in him.
So Xander turned off the light, stripped down to his boxers and climbed into his side of the bed.
“Goodnight,” he said.
Part Eleven - Canon-verse
There was something about a Saturday morning. Something in the air. Something that surrounded Xander even before he opened his eyes.
A feel, a sound maybe, or a smell.
Xander lay in bed with his eyes closed and let it wash over him.
If it was a sound, the sound was a lack—the silence of the alarm clock, the absence of rushhour bustle drifting in through the windows. If it was a smell, the smell was potential—the wafting steam of coffee that could be lingered over, the grease of a breakfast that would take all afternoon to digest.
And if it was a feel—the feel was of freedom. Of nowhere to be, and of nothing to do.
Of a beautiful man in his bed.
Of course, not every Saturday morning had a beautiful man.
Very few, lately.
None, if you didn’t count strangers.
And strangers really didn’t count. Xander didn’t make big greasy breakfasts for strangers. Strangers didn’t linger over their coffee. He never spent the day with strangers.
Of course, the first Saturday morning with a beautiful man had been an accident, like so many of the best moments were.
An accident and a revelation—waking up next to Jesse. He was supposed to have gone home the night before.
The apartment—the new apartment, the first apartment—had been a wreck. But a cheap wreck and Xander’s wreck, the kind you have to take “as is” and when the lease had been signed and the keys handed over, they’d taken to its cleaning with a work ethic unheard of among teenage boys—even if one of those boys already had a fulltime job.
Then Willow and her mother had arrived with the boxes and a few spare pieces of furniture, including the bed from the Rosenberg basement on which Xander had been sleeping for months. They had hauled it all up five flights of stairs in the July heat and afterwards Mrs. Rosenberg had offered Jesse a ride home, but Jesse had said he’d stay just a little longer to help Xander unpack a few things.
But they’d only made it through two boxes before they decided to rest—just for a minute—worn out by hard labor and euphoria, and the only things to sit on were the bed and the floor, so they’d lain down beside each other and closed their eyes.
When Xander had opened his eyes eight hours later, Jesse had still been asleep and Xander had turned his head to stare at the boy beside him.
They’d been having sex for almost a year, but they’d never spent the night together, never woken up in the same bed. And Xander had found it fitting that the first time should be his first night in his first apartment and he’d considered leaning over and kissing Jesse awake so they could christen the new apartment, but had changed his mind at the last minute and snuck out the door and down the street to the corner market.
He’d had twenty dollars to his name until payday and had used over half of it buying eggs and frozen sausages and frozen hashbrowns along with two cups of coffee, which he’d carried back to the rundown building and up the five flights of stairs wearing a stupid grin on his face every step of the way.
And half an hour later, Jesse had woken to the smell of burning sausage and burning hashbrowns, but not the smell of burning eggs—no, the eggs had been runny.
But they’d eaten it all anyway and had drunk the coffee lukewarm before falling back into bed and christening the apartment after all.
The first of many Saturday mornings in that apartment, and even though Xander’s breakfasts had improved greatly over time, that first morning had remained the most perfect.
Xander opened his eyes and turned his head, studied the pale face and the white-blond hair on the pillow next to him, smiled. The taste of that memory had been bittersweet lately, but today it was a little less bitter and Xander decided to make breakfast.
Of course, Xander wasn’t sure Spike would be interested in a breakfast that came on a plate and didn’t include platelets, but that was beside the point. The making of Saturday morning breakfast—of this Saturday morning breakfast—was a matter of principle.
Xander got out of bed, marched across the room to the mini-fridge and opened the door. He frowned. Sadly, all the principle in the world was not going to make eggs, hashbrowns, sausage or bacon magically appear in the otherwise empty fridge.
Xander thought back on the last three days.
Magical appearances? No longer out of the question.
But standing around staring at the fridge waiting for food to appear? Still probably not the best plan.
He fished around in yesterday’s jeans for his wallet, opened it. As empty as the fridge. So much for the trip to the store.
Xander contemplated the tiny skillet and forlorn hot plate sitting on top of the fridge. The visions of Saturday morning breakfast that had been dancing in his head slumped in defeat as someone pulled the plug on their stereo.
Xander sighed a silent sigh. If he couldn’t have breakfast, maybe he could at least have sex—which, granted, was actually better than breakfast, but not as good as breakfast and sex. He was turning back toward the bed when his eyes caught on the stairs.
There was probably food up there. Not a lot of food—no way could this universe be that different—but likely something that could be thrown together into a breakfast.
He eyes darted to the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock next to the bed, then back to the stairs. It was still early. Unless their weekend habits had changed, chances of encountering his parents were low, especially since the kitchen was just on the other side of the basement door. He could run up, raid the fridge and be back to safety within minutes. With breakfast.
He inched closer to the stairway, gazing up at the door. His heart was pounding loud enough to wake the dead, and he glanced over at Spike, but the dead was still dead asleep. Taking a deep breath and holding it, Xander crept up the stairs—one soft step for every deafening heartbeat.
The stairs hadn’t hardly creaked, but the door did.
Xander’s pounding heart froze in his chest. His body froze in the open doorway.
After a long moment, he started breathing again, stepped into the kitchen and began a furtive search. He found eggs, unspoiled milk and—aha!—a box of Bisquick. Pancakes it was.
Xander had gathered his stolen ingredients and was about to head back to the basement when he recalled the forlorn hotplate and tiny skillet sitting on top of the mini-fridge. Not exactly pancake-making material. No mixing bowl or measuring spoons or whisk. Hell, not even a countertop to work on, unless...
Xander stilled and listened again.
Still not so much as a rustle or a peep.
Putting his senses on highest alert, he set to work.
The footsteps were so light he almost didn’t hear them over the slow hiss of pancakes in the skillet and the steady drip of coffee into the carafe. But he did hear them—heard them while they were still further from the kitchen than he was from the basement door, and his pulse began to race—stuttering out the question fight or flight?—but the footsteps were light, and deep inside he’d been waiting for this since the moment he’d set foot on the stairs.
So he stayed put and when he turned around, the air felt thick around him, like syrup. And when he spoke, his voice was little more than a whisper and it creaked—from disuse.
Over a year and another world, but she looked just the same—the fraying bathrobe, the dark un-dyed roots of her hair, the lines etched at the corners of her mouth and around her eyes, where she rubbed the sleep away with her fingers.
“Xander?” Her voice was as soft as his—creakier. “What are you doing up here, honey? What time is it?”
“It’s early, Mom. I’m sorry if the noise…” Xander’s eyes darted past her to the door. “Shit, Dad isn’t…?”
“He’s still sleeping,” she said. She pulled her robe tighter around her body. “He had a hard week.”
Xander bit his lip and nodded. The familiar words didn’t hurt any less than they used to, but somehow they hurt differently. “You want some coffee?”
She murmured something like a yes and he turned to pull a mug from the cupboard. One, two, three drips sizzled against the warming plate as he filled the mug. He replaced the carafe and turned back and she was standing right there. He held out the mug and her fingers closed over it, over his fingers, and he brought his other hand up to her temple to brush the hair away from her face.
She felt smaller like that, up close.
The pancakes were burning.
“The pancakes are burning,” he said and she stepped back and he stepped away.
He placed the overdone pancakes with the others warming in the oven and poured the last of the batter into the skillet. She sat down at the kitchen table and picked up the bottle of generic Irish cream liquor sitting there and tipped a splash into her coffee cup. Xander pretended not to see, staring at the last pancakes until they turned golden brown.
He took the rest from the oven, piled the last ones on top, flipped off the coffee maker and pulled out the carafe. He looked over at his mother and tilted his head toward the basement door. “I have a… friend downstairs.”
“That pretty Anya girl?”
She smiled at him and there was a part of him that wanted so much to answer yes….
“No,” Xander said, “his name is Spike.”
And their eyes held for a long moment and just as Xander was about to turn away, Jessica Harris nodded once. She took another drink of her coffee. “Don’t forget the syrup,” she said.
Spike, as it turned out, did eat pancakes. He did not, however, use syrup.
And sure, it made perfect sense, but that didn’t stop Xander from trying to bleach the image of blood over pancakes from his brain—because, damn it, he liked pancakes and hoped to be able to eat them again someday.
Apparently, Spike also watched Saturday morning cartoons. And not just that morning, either. Oh, he grumbled and groaned and pretended to try to steal the remote, but from the familiar way he snarked at the characters on screen, Xander knew it wasn’t his first time.
They followed up the cartoons with porn. Or tried to anyway. But the basement-dwelling Xander’s porn collection kinda sucked.
And not in a good way.
Oh no, it sucked in a very straight way.
In a hairy men, silicone implants and bottle blondes way.
Not that there was anything wrong with platinum blond hair.
Particularly not when that hair was in your lap, sliding between your fingers as your dick slid in and out between cool, firm lips and a nimble tongue accomplished feats the man being sucked onscreen could only dream about.
And if Spike kept that up, watching Thighs Wide Open 2 was well on its way to becoming the most amazing experience of Xander’s young life—although it probably didn’t count as watching once your eyes rolled back into your head…
But who the fuck cared?
“Oh god, Spike… fuck… yeah… please… please… just…. Stop.”
Xander’s eyes rolled back to the front of his head. He blinked. Twice.
He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. “What?” he asked—as if the word in question hadn’t just come from his own mouth.
Spike had stopped sucking and was looking up at him, confused.
“What?” he echoed. Only it sounded more like mwha? since his mouth was still kinda full.
Xander stared down at Spike, feeling just as confused. More, really.
“Okay—I did not mean to say that. I mean, I’d have to be crazy to have said that, right? Ignore me, please. Well, you know, except for my dick.” Spike smiled around said dick and flicked his tongue and Xander groaned. “Nguh… See? Ob-obviously, I… I meant to ssssay… Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.”
Spike pulled all the way off this time and sat back on his heels, looking offended, but Xander hardly noticed. Xander was too busy clamping both his hands over his mouth and looking around frantically for some sort of ventriloquist because....
What the fuck?
He had not meant to say that. He had so not meant to say that. He hadn’t even been thinking that…
At least not until he had.
The whole thing made no sense. It had been all yes, yes, god, yes, this is the best blowjob of my life and then, out of nowhere, came the stop, stop, stop.
But now it was gone again.
And did he mention what the fuck?
But then his thinking about his thinking was somehow pushed to the side and there were other thoughts—thoughts that his brain was telling him to write down, write down, write down—and he stumbled over to the phone with his fly still gaping open and grabbed the pen and pad of paper sitting there and started writing down the thoughts that were writing themselves across his brain again and again like All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy in Jack Nicholson’s manuscript in The Shining.
And then the thoughts vanished again, freeing his brain and his hand and making room for other thoughts, the first of which was: Holy fuck, am I possessed?
Which he must have asked out loud, because Spike was standing next to him and looking at the paper and saying, “Not that possessions can’t be great fun, but they don’t usually involve reading recommendations.”
Xander looked down at the paper.
Spell: Quid autem propinquius meipso mihi? Books: Spacio-Temporal Disturbances and Alterations and Cross-Dimensional Coexistence and Coincidence, vol. 4 Saturday, 9pm
“Okay, that? Was freaky.” Xander looked up again and Spike was holding out the phone. Xander’s hand automatically closed around it.
“Better call the Watcher, then. I’d wager you just gave yourself a clue.”
Part Twelve - AU
Some people might have said that Xander fled the Watchers’ apartment.
Those people might, for example, have remarked on the fact that Xander stood up so quickly after the end of the spell that, still light-headed, he stumbled, knocking over several lit candles and nearly setting a rather valuable Persian rug aflame.
Those people might also have noted the utter lack of coherence in the explanation(s)—it was not clear whether he was offering one or many—that Xander provided for his departure after assuring the anxious Watchers and witch that the mission had been accomplished and the message transmitted.
The same people could then have pointed to the way Xander seemed not to hear Willow’s offer of a ride home and ended up walking the two miles back to his apartment—though they might have acknowledged the possibility that Willow just didn’t offer very loudly, secretly preferring to stay with the Watchers and indulge in post-spell analysis. But, in any case, the agitated, almost frenetic pace at which Xander took those two miles on foot would not have gone unnoticed.
And thus some people might have concluded that one Xander Harris had, in fact, fled the residence of Messrs. Rupert Giles and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.
They wouldn’t have been wrong.
One Xander Harris would readily admit that fleeing had happened.
Hell, fleeing had been called for—the order of the day, the blue light special. Fleeing had been the thing to do.
And the right thing to do, too, because by the time the fleeing had been done, Xander felt better. When he reached his apartment, he was calm, he was cool, he was collected. He had accepted. He had moved on. He was at peace.
He opened the door.
“How’d it go?” Spike called from the couch.
And Xander’s peace just flew away—like a little white dove on methamphetamines.
He stepped inside and slammed the door. “What the fuck?”
The corner of Spike’s mouth twitched. “That well, eh?”
“Seriously, what the fuck?”
Spike sat still as a statue, offering but a single raised eyebrow.
Xander paced and threw his arms around. “He’s been there, what? Four days?”
Spike didn’t answer. Xander took it for confirmation.
“I mean, that’s slutty, isn’t it? Don’t you think that’s slutty?”
Spike’s smirk suggested either that he didn’t find it slutty… or that Xander might be a hypocrite. Xander rushed to his own defense.
“Okay, so I slept with Jesse. Or, you know, not slept with slept with… but you know, there was stuff. Potentially slutty stuff. But that was different. I mean, it was Jesse. And there was no giving of blowjobs. And no watching of porn. And… and… and I didn’t mean to. He obviously meant to.”
Spike didn’t look convinced.
“Oh, he so obviously meant to. I mean, you don’t have that much sex on accident. I mean, unless it’s with Anya. But Anya’s weird. And kinda pushy. And I’m nineteen…. And, okay, he’s nineteen, too, but he’s not even trying not to have sex with you. I mean, the other you. But I mean, come on—a little restraint. Is that too much to ask? I mean, it can’t be that good.”
Spike raised another eyebrow—high.
“Okay, fine, it was that good. Obviously, it was that good. I mean, I was only there for a few seconds yesterday, but um… holy shit. I mean, I didn’t even know there were places in my body that could feel like that. And today? I mean, I don’t know if it’s the man thing or the vampire thing, but… ngyuh guh-huh.”
The eyebrow threatened to leap off Spike’s forehead.
“Okay, but see, that is not the point. I don’t care how good it is, I—”
“Be happy to show you exactly how good… if you like.”
Xander froze mid-rant. Mid-pace. Mid-sweeping of a dramatic hand through the air.
He stared at Spike.
He rewound and replayed.
He gave way too little consideration to a “no, thanks.”
He gave way too much consideration to a “hell, yeah!”
He settled on: “Can I take a rain check?”
Spike smirked and Xander retired his rant to sit down next to Spike on the couch. He picked up the remote and turned up the TV, and neither mentioned the fact that after that night Xander probably wouldn’t be around to collect.
Willow came to collect him after sunset. She buzzed and Spike was still there on the couch and it was a long story, so Xander just told her he’d be down in a second.
Which he was.
It didn’t take any time to say goodbye to Spike because he didn’t know how to say goodbye to Spike so he didn’t say anything at all. Just held those blue eyes for a moment, then turned and walked out the door.
Walked out the door and down the stairs and out of the building and into Willow’s arms. It was just a hello hug, but Xander hugged back hard and held, and the world seemed to right itself beneath his feet. He stepped back feeling steadier.
That was—had always been—the magic of Willow.
And it had nothing to do with witchcraft.
“So,” Willow asked as they headed for her car, “ready for the big spell?”
They climbed in and fastened their seatbelts. Willow turned the key and the engine hummed. Willow hummed, too, vibrated with the same energy Xander remembered from before science fairs or the SAT. Willow was summoning her resources, rising to a challenge. She pulled onto the street.
“What happened between me and Jesse?”
Willow’s eyes slipped from the road and onto Xander. They blinked.
Xander’s lip quirked in apology. “Sorry, there was supposed to be a segue there, but it seems to have missed its cue.”
Willow kept staring at him.
“Hey, um… road?”
Willow looked back at the road. “Right. So, um, you and Jesse. Why do you…? I mean… Wait. Oh my god—you and Jesse…” Willow looked back at Xander, eyes wide. “I mean, you and Jesse. When I called you, you… but I totally forgot. But, I mean, you and Jesse? You…?”
Willow looked back at the road again, steered the car back between the lines, waited.
Xander took a deep breath. “Yes, me and Jesse. But I didn’t exactly know… I mean, I still don’t exactly know… And he had no idea that I wasn’t…”
Willow’s eyes snapped back to the passenger seat. “Oh my god, Xander is going to be so mad…”
“Well you know what?” Xander said. “Xander doesn’t exactly have room to talk. But could you at least tell me what happened with them? And do you think you could you pull over, first? I’d like to make it back to my dimension alive.”
Willow didn’t pull over right away. She drove another mile and pulled into a Baskin-Robbins.
“That bad, huh?”
Willow’s smile was a nice try, but weak. “Only near the end…”
The bell jangled as they pushed open the door.
Willow considered. “Two scoops,” she said, “but you’d better make them both chocolate.”
They took their cones and sat down. They licked in silence for a second, then Xander looked across the table and nodded. “Hit me,” he said.
“Well, we were all friends, you know, like, since forever. You, me and Jesse. And then the summer before sophomore year, you and Jesse started spending a lot more time together. You know, alone. I didn’t really get it at first—I thought it was just some guy thing—but then I came over to your house one day and your mom told me you and Jesse were in your room and I went and opened the door and, um, major face suckage. And, okay, I was kinda wigged because, you know, crush, but Jesse really freaked. He jumped up and made me swear not to tell anyone like five times and then took off.
“But once he was gone, you couldn’t stop talking—about how great he was, about how great it was being with him, about how it explained everything you never felt about girls even though you were supposed to. And it hurt a little to hear it, but it was kinda okay, you know? Because I could tell myself it wasn’t just me, it was all girls and that if you had liked girls, you totally would’ve chosen me.”
Xander looked down at the table, but Willow put a hand over his.
“No, it’s okay. Just don’t tell me who you actually chose. I don’t need to know. But I guess we’re probably meant to be just friends… in all dimensions.”
Xander looked up and smiled. “Maybe not all, but probably all the ones worth living in.”
Willow smiled back. “Anyway, I guess you convinced Jesse it was okay for me to know or something, because you guys didn’t really hide around me after that. But when school started again, Jesse made a big show of chasing Cordelia all the time and talking about girls non-stop. And you told him that you understood why he was doing it and that you knew it didn’t mean anything, but you told me that it hurt.”
Xander looked down at his rapidly shrinking cone. “Are you sure this isn’t a three-scoop thing? Because not feeling so great here…”
“No, no, it gets better.”
“You mean before it gets worse.”
“Well, yeah, but still… Anyway, a couple months later, a new girl—well, Buffy, I guess—came to school and Jesse was pretending to drool over her and you just… got up and wandered off. And I guess Jesse just finally got it that it wasn’t fair to treat you that way and that he needed to get his act together and make a choice.”
“Jesse just figured that out?”
Willow studied the edge of her cone. “Well,.. yeah.”
“On his own?”
“You didn’t, for example, pull him aside, give him resolve face and tell him that if he didn’t get his act together and make a choice you were going to beat him with a shovel?”
“Well… someone had to! And Xander never knew.”
Xander laughed. “He probably knew. But anyway, it worked?”
“Yeah. He chose you. He went to your house that night and told you you were the only one he wanted and that he was going to start acting like it.”
“Really? Wow…” Something clicked in Xander’s head. “Wait. That night? As in the night after Buffy’s first day at Sunnydale?”
“And he came over to my house? And we…?”
“I didn’t really ask for the details, but I’m pretty sure you stayed in.”
“We stayed in,” Xander repeated. He rolled the words around in his brain and tried them again. “We stayed in.”
Willow was frowning at him, but Xander shook it off. “Nevermind. Go on.”
“Well, um, things were good after that. You were happy. You were both happy. Until your dad caught you. In your basement, I think. He was really mad… and probably kinda drunk. You told me that he called you both names—terrible names—and that you thought he was going to hit Jesse.”
Xander tensed, pressing two words through tight lips. “Did he?”
Willow shook her head. “No. You stepped in front of him. You told Jesse to go. He didn’t want to, but he said you were yelling at him, so he went and ran to my house and told me we had to go back and get you. So I got my mom and we did.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. I told my mom you were gay and she immediately concluded that you were oppressed and marginalized and needed a safe space. Your dad didn’t want you there and you didn’t want to stay. It was really easy.”
“And when you showed up…? I mean, was I…? Had he…?”
Willow couldn’t look at him. “Not on your face. Mom couldn’t see and you asked me not to say anything, so I didn’t.”
A moment passed and Xander nodded. “Then what?”
“You stayed with us for the rest of the school year—that was junior year. And you and Jesse were pretty much out at school. I mean, not out out, but people knew and you knew people knew and people knew that you knew that they knew—you know? And it was okay. And when summer came, you got this construction job and it paid pretty well and you liked it. You were good at it, too. And liked your boss, Andy. He was really nice to you. He looked out for you. So then you got your own place—which was a total dump, but you loved it—and you and Jesse spent like all your free time that summer holed up in there, even though your air conditioning almost never worked. I was lucky if I could get you to come to watch a video with me once in a while. You guys were so close.”
“What about school? How did I work and go to school?”
“You didn’t. You didn’t go back.”
“Yeah, and I was so mad. I was convinced that dropping out of school would be the end of your life. I mean, it was school. But you stood up to me and it turned out to be good. You were happier. And you got your GED—though only because I harassed you and then tutored you, thank you very much.”
Xander grinned. He could picture it perfectly and knew he’d been grateful—at least when it was over.
“Anyway, things seemed to be going great senior year. And then out of nowhere Jesse announced that he was going to school in LA. Like it was nothing. And it’s not like it was the worst thing in the world, you know—I mean, it was only two hours away—but it was kind of a surprise. I just assumed it was going to be UC Sunnydale. And so did you. I don’t think he even told you he’d applied. Of course, typical Jesse, he pretty much refused to even admit that he’d done anything and it was ‘no big deal’ and ‘didn’t mean anything’ and so on. Sometimes I think he was jealous of you or something. I think he knows you’re stronger. You always have been.”
“Not in my universe,” Xander muttered.
Willow looked up and frowned at him, but continued. “So, anyway, what could you say? You weren’t going to beg him to stay, though you thought about moving to LA at some point, but you didn’t tell him that. So he left for school and you stayed here and you were supposed to be doing the long distance thing, but a month or so ago, you found out—”
“That he was sleeping with some girl.”
Willow looked up. “Wait, how did you…?”
“Um, the morning I first woke up in this universe, I, uh… didn’t exactly wake up alone.”
“You didn’t…?” The light came on. “Oh…” Willow blinked. “Oh dear. That must have been… awkward.”
Xander snorted and shook his head with a small smile. “Believe me, you have no idea.”
Part Thirteen - Canon-verse
Contrary to certain… appearances, Xander did not have a “thing” for inappropriate sex.
Inappropriate time, inappropriate place—these things did not turn Xander on.
They did not make him hot enough to melt steel.
They did not made him hard enough to pound nails.
They did not make his fingers clutch and release and dig through cotton into firm flesh. They did not tear whimpers and moans from primal places deep beneath his chest.
And if any or all of these things happened to be happening as Spike pressed Xander deeper into the shadowy corner of Giles’ courtyard, which wasn’t so shadowy that anyone couldn’t catch them simply by following the sounds of sucking lips and harsh breath… well, just because they were happening didn’t mean it was cause and effect.
No, it was definitely coincidence.
And Xander absolutely meant it when he gasped, “Spike, we can’t do this, they’re going to start the spell soon,” with what little breath he could summon.
It was not something Xander said merely for effect.
And when Spike answered, “Can’t start the spell without you, luv,” and added, “Might come looking for us, though,” it was in no way any sort of foreplay and it did not make Xander shiver and squirm against Spike’s fingers.
After all, how could it be foreplay when they were obviously way past foreplay since Xander’s jeans were gaping open and Spike had two fingers up his ass?
And not the hottest sex of Xander’s young life either—not even if the words hot, hotter, hottest hadn’t completely lost their meaning since the day he met Spike.
Never mind the fact that Xander’s “Wait… stop… we shouldn’t…” was sounding a lot more like “Harder… faster… more…” It wasn’t like Spike was listening anyway. If anything, he was slowing down, holding back, teasing, tormenting, being…
“Such a fucking bastard.”
Xander’s voice was a whimper, a whine, a moan. He felt more than heard Spike’s answering snicker. Teeth nipped at his earlobe and words tickled his ear.
“Give you something to remember me by, yeah?”
Xander shivered again. “As if I—”
“Xander?” The voice cut through the night air and shadows and they froze, Xander struggling to catch enough breath to answer Giles.
He thought he might have managed to sound almost normal. But something in the answering tone told him—not normal enough.
“You’ve five minutes to finish your… cigarette and then we must begin the spell.” The tone was knowing, and it occurred to Xander that not only did his former high school librarian fight demons and cast spells, but he’d also probably had sex. He wasn’t sure which thought was more disturbing. “If you wish to be returned tonight,” Giles continued from the doorway, “timing is of the essence.”
If you wish to be returned tonight…
The words echoed in Xander’s head. Strange and unsettling.
If you wish…
He hadn’t thought about wishes. As if he could wish otherwise. As if there was a choice. As if a person could just change lives overnight.
Just like that.
If you wish…
And then the door swung closed behind Giles with a thump and a click, and Spike’s fingers were sliding out and Xander’s legs were being lifted and wrapped and held and the fingers were being replaced by so much more and Xander wasn’t thinking about anything but the fullness and the need.
The need for harder… faster… more… and he was getting them now because they only had five minutes and Spike knew how to make the most of limited time.
He also knew how not to make a mess. When Xander came—exactly four and a half minutes later—it was down Spike’s throat.
Xander straightened his jeans and zipped his fly, enjoying the general ache… and ignoring the general squishiness. He reached down to help Spike up off his knees.
“I can’t stay,” Xander said.
Spike looked down as he buttoned his own fly. “I never asked you to.”
Xander pushed off the wall and walked across the courtyard to the apartment door, giving Spike his back so Spike wouldn’t see his face. The words were true… the words were right… so why should they feel so…?
“Hey.” Spike’s voice stopped Xander with his hand on the doorknob, but he didn’t turn. “You’ve got it easy, you know. You get back, check around a couple of bars, bat those brown eyes at him and he’ll follow you anywhere. We’ve never been able to resist brown eyes. Me? I’m gonna have to seduce Closet Case Harris. And let me tell you, it won’t be easy. It’ll be all ‘but I don’t like blokes’ and ‘but you’re evil, Spike, while I am pure and good.’ Boy probably won’t even stop nattering when we shag. Gonna have to buy a bloody pair of earplugs.”
Spike heaved a dramatic sigh of disgust and Xander smiled at the door. He wanted to laugh, but couldn’t.
He wanted to turn around.
Xander could hear Giles’ footsteps approaching the other side of the door. Xander’s hand twitched around the doorknob. “You coming in?” he asked.
Behind him, there was silence. He heard the snick of the Zippo and the sound of smoke being inhaled and exhaled. He took them for a ‘no.’
The footsteps were close. Xander needed to go inside. “It won’t be the same,” he said.
Another inhale, another exhale. Xander felt the knob being turned beneath his fingers. He heard the sound of boots against brick—moving away, not toward—and soft words floated back to him through the night air.
“It never is.”
Xander stepped into the apartment, his eyes drawn straight to the circle of candles and symbols arranged on the floor. He glanced at the others and then back to the circle.
“I’m guessing that’s my seat,” he said, trying to keep the quiver in his body out of his voice.
There was no reason to be wigged, Xander told himself. Hell, on a scale of waking up in another dimension to having his voice stolen, this spell probably wouldn’t even register. From what Giles and Willow had said, it seemed the information channeled through Xander by his other self had been pretty straightforward. A few choice books, a couple hours of research and a trip to the local magic shop and they’d been ready to go with about fifteen minutes to spare.
Fifteen minutes Spike had made sure Xander would never forget, even if he never…
“Alright, if you could just hold still a moment…”
Xander blinked as he realized Giles was standing right in front of him holding a bowl of rust-colored liquid. He felt a gentle finger on his face, tracing designs onto his forehead and closed his eyes.
The finger moved over one cheek and then the other, then lingered for a second on the curve of his jaw. Xander felt a blip on his gaydar.
He opened his eyes and looked into Giles’ face. Ding, ding, ding—target identified.
Xander smiled slightly and Giles’ eyes widened. Giles dropped the finger from Xander’s face, blushing, and took several steps back. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the liquid from his finger, then set about cleaning his glasses.
“You can… um… go sit in the circle now,” he said.
Xander chuckled under his breath and stepped into the circle, lowering himself to the floor. He glanced up at Willow and the friend she had brought from UC Sunnydale to help with the spell—Tara. Willow was holding a piece of paper and she and Tara were bent over it, heads almost touching.
Speaking of gaydar…
Tara Maclay. Xander filed the name away in his brain. His own Willow had seemed a little lonely lately. Could be she’d been looking for love in the wrong places…
“Willow, could you light the candles, please?”
Willow stepped forward and bent down to do as Giles asked.
“It was nice to meet you,” she told Xander softly. “Thanks for talking to me about Jesse.”
Xander smiled. “No problem.” He lowered his voice. “Good luck with that, by the way.”
“Good luck with wh—?” She followed Xander’s eyes to Tara, got it, and blushed. “Um… thanks. It’s new.”
Then the candles were lit and she straightened and stepped back.
“Ready?” Giles asked. He looked to the girls, who nodded.
He looked to Xander, who took a deep breath and said, “Fire away.”
“Just try to think about your reality,” Giles said.
And then three voices began to chant and Xander let his eyes close as he tried to picture his apartment and his car and his job and Kevin and Andy and the face he couldn’t have kept from his mind if he’d tried—Jesse.
As the chanting continued, Xander felt his body become lighter and more distant until he was nothing more than a floating set of thoughts, and then there were two sets of voices chanting…
And then there was a second set of thoughts.
It was a crazy jumble at first, two confused collections of mismatched memories… and then some things started to come clear.
“Oh my god, you slept with Jesse.” Xander didn’t speak it so much as think it, aiming it in the general direction of the other half of the thoughts.
“Me? You slept with Spike,” the other half of the thoughts thought back at him.
“Hey, Spike is hot.”
“Jesse is hot.”
“No, Jesse is a jerk.”
“Well how was I supposed to know that? He’s your boyfriend.”
“Whatever. And besides, Spike is evil.”
“Better evil than a jerk.”
“In what universe is that supposed to make sense?”
“You know what I mean.”
“But it was Spike. You slept with Spike.”
“What do you care? It’s not like you slept with Spike…. Oh my god, you totally want to sleep with Spike.”
“I do not.”
“You do, too.”
“I’m not gay.”
“Except for the part where you think Jesse is hot and you want to sleep with Spike.”
“Jesse is a jerk and I do not.”
“That doesn’t make you straight and you do too.”
“Uh huh. Sure. You do realize that I can read all your thoughts right now?”
“Well, stop. The thoughts you’re reading are bad thoughts. They’re the reject thoughts. The thoughts that no one picks to be on their kickball team. Stop reading them.”
“Trust me—the closet thing? So not worth it.”
“I am not in the closet, okay? I’m just…. Oh my god, you came out to my mom.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry about that. It was a moment.”
“You. Came out. To my mom.”
“But she was really cool about it. Think of it as me saving you the trouble.”
“Fuck, it’s like I have to be gay now. You suck.”
“I do. And now that you have to be gay, you should try it sometime. I’ve been told we have a natural aptitude.”
“Ew, don’t you ever stop thinking about sex?”
“Point taken…. So what’s going on here? Are we switching or what?”
“Can’t tell. I think the chanting’s stopped, though.”
“You’re right. I think I can feel my body again. Should we open our eyes?”
“I guess so. On the count of three?”
As one mind, they counted—one… two… three.
Xander opened his eyes and looked around. Nothing had changed. Giles, Willow and Tara were looking back at him, which meant they hadn’t switched.
What if this was the Giles, Willow and Tara of his world? How was he supposed to tell?
“Xander?” Willow asked.
Which was pretty much a stupid question. Because yeah, he was Xander. But was he the right him? And were they the right them?
Wait a second…
“Who did I date in high school?” Xander asked.
“Cordelia,” Willow said.
Xander blinked. “Cordelia Chase? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I know. I never got it either,” Willow said. Then her face fell as she recognized the implications. “You didn’t switch back, did you?”
Xander sighed and stood up, dusting himself off as he stepped out of the circle. “Apparently not.”
“Welcome back, Harris. How’d it go? Tell me, were you as pathetic a tosser in the other reality as you are in this one?”
Xander stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and turned, following the voice to a tree, against which Spike was leaning… and leering. Leering and resting a strategic hand on his hip designed to draw the eye to certain… assets.
“Relax, Spike, it’s still me. The spell didn’t take.”
“Oh.” Spike dropped the leer and the hand and pushed off the tree, falling into step with Xander on the route to his parents’ basement.
“So what? That was supposed to be flirting?”
“Well, you know, can’t be too direct at first. Don’t want to scare him off.”
“Right. ’Cause practically drawing an arrow to your crotch is subtle.”
Spike shrugged and lit another cigarette.
Xander glanced at his watch. Ten-thirty. He glanced at Spike. “So it took you, what? About ninety minutes to get over me and be ready to move on?”
“Nah.” Spike shrugged again and took a drag of his cigarette. “Just figured I should start early is all. Gonna take time to wear Harris down, you know.”
Xander laughed. “Oh yeah, about that…”
“Not so much.”
Part Fourteen - AU
When Xander left Giles’ and Wesley’s place, he decided to take the long way back to the apartment. Alone. His head was swimming. Or maybe his head was the pool.
Not just any pool, either. If his head was a pool, it was the public pool over—the outdoor one over on Cedar—and it was the middle of the summer when half the neighborhood had broken air conditioning and the repairman was overworked and overbooked and some people, like Xander’s parents, didn’t have the money to pay him to come anyway. If his head was a pool, it was that pool—where too many children laughed and screamed and crawled all over each other, heating up while they tried to stay cool, and where it was a miracle that no one ever drowned.
And, okay, it was a weird metaphor, but it was a fucking weird night, so he was allowed.
He was allowed to think of the things running through his head as screaming children. In fact, the things—his own thoughts, instructions from the watchers, pseudo-foreign memories and revelations from another mind that was still his own—felt exactly like that, all crowded together, pushing and shoving and jockeying for position.
Then there were the half-formed questions, weaving and wobbling their way through the masses, tugging at a pant leg and begging to be picked up. Not to mention the half-formed feelings popping up out of nowhere, crying out, splashing and crashing into each other before slipping back beneath the surface—good, bad, grateful, sad and everything in between.
It’d been a long night, so he was allowed some slightly fucked-up mental imagery.
He was allowed to hire a lifeguard or two for his brain. And he was allowed to picture the two lifeguards as Giles and Wesley.
He was not, however, allowed to picture them barefoot in tight shorts and with no shirts.
Bad brain! Bad!
With reluctant sighs, lifeguard Giles and lifeguard Wesley pulled on white polo shirts before blowing their whistles.
The children stopped screaming.
The silence echoed.
Focus, Giles and Wesley said.
Which was exactly what they’d told him half an hour ago, after the failed switch: That the spell needed focus and that it was Xander who needed to focus it—to focus on the key moments and figure them out.
Two moments were key, they’d said—the moment when his and the other Xander’s paths had diverged and the moment when they’d switched—and Xander still wasn’t sure what had happened in the second moment, but he could now pinpoint the first.
It was all there in his head—lingering traces of the other Xander’s memories lining up against his own, perfectly matched through years and years like walking down a hall lined with mirrors. But there at the end of the hall, he could see it—Jesse and him, sitting in front of the TV in Jesse’s room playing video games.
And it was summer and they’d been doing this every day for weeks and they were tossing insults at each other and laughing and jabbing each other with their elbows and for some reason they turned to look at each other.
And the world froze.
And then there were two rooms, side by side. And in one, they blinked at each other—once, twice—and the world unfroze and Xander made a face and Jesse punched him in the arm and they started a new round.
But in the other room, they didn’t blink and the world crept forward like a glacier as they leaned in and let their lips touch for the first time. And Xander didn’t make a face and Jesse didn’t punch him in the arm and when they turned back to the game their hearts were pounding and they were thinking they might try that again tomorrow.
Xander shook his head and the rooms disappeared.
One short, dry-lipped kiss.
That changed the whole world.
Thinking about alternate universes was sticky and tricky and shaped like a circle.
Or maybe shaped like a city block. Like the block that Xander’s apartment—the other Xander’s apartment, the apartment—was on. The block that Xander had been circling for the last half an hour.
Because even when you knew the moment things had changed, you still didn’t know why one thing and not the other. It wasn’t like he’d sat there in that world-frozen moment and stared at Jesse and thought to himself, I do not want to be gay and therefore I will not kiss you—let alone, I do not want to be gay and therefore I will not kiss you, but will let you die this year and will still be living in my parents’ basement after I get out of high school.
He couldn’t really remember having thought anything at all. The moment had just been there and then it had been gone and who knew if it was him or Jesse who’d blinked first and broken the spell?
And even if you could know exactly why one thing and not the other, how were you supposed to deal with both? Because both had happened, and one Xander had become two, and how come he was this Xander and not the other one?
How many chances had he had to live an entirely different life? Or had he ever had any chances at all? Out of all the Xanders in all the worlds, was he fated to be this one?
And if he could go back right now and choose this world—this Jesse-world, job-world, apartment-world—would he? And if he couldn’t have chosen this world, if this world had never been an option for him at all, was he supposed to feel trapped… or relieved?
Or what if he never switched back and stayed in this world forever? How was he supposed to feel then?
And weren’t long walks supposed to be guaranteed to clear a person’s head? Because if so, this particular long walk needed to be returned for a full refund because as far as Xander could tell, things were only getting more murky and you could only circle the same block so many times before somebody called the police.
Or before you got eaten.
But then there wasn’t much danger of being eaten, what with Spike following him.
Around and around.
Xander wondered if Spike was getting dizzy.
Fuck the long walk. “I’m going in now,” he called over his shoulder. “You coming?”
Xander moved towards the door, not looking behind him, listening as booted footsteps closed in, bringing with them the scent of leather and tobacco.
A scent, he realized suddenly, that he now associated with lying in bed, eyes closed, just before drifting off to sleep—and wasn’t that an interesting little development that he was gonna go ahead and not ponder?
“Spell didn’t take, then?”
The words came from over his right shoulder, so close that he could feel the little puffs of air brushing past his ear. Shivers tingled down Xander’s spine as he turned the key and opened the door to the building, and he shook his head in response to Spike’s question, not bothering to ask how Spike had known he was still him and not the other him.
It was Spike, and somehow that was explanation enough.
They walked up the stairs.
“It’s just so freaky,” Xander said, breaking the silence.
“Wasn’t following you,” Spike said. “Just happened to be passing through the neighborhood.”
Xander blinked. “Huh? What are you—?”
He turned around to face Spike, whose expression seemed to be trying for something between innocence and apathy, but was mostly coming off as busted.
“Oh! Oh, no. I mean, okay—the just-in-the-neighborhood thing? Um, yeah right. But it’s cool. I don’t mind. I mean, that’s not what I was calling freaky. I mean, I guess maybe I should be calling it freaky, because even though I feel like I know you, I don’t really know this you and you don’t really know this me and you barely knew the other me—I mean, except in the biblical sense, though I don’t think the bible promotes sex with vampires or with men, for that matter, although I haven’t actually read it, or even really been to church much, or at all, so, I mean, who knows? But you follow me around and show up in my apartment and have this strange tendency to sleep in my bed, so I guess that makes you kind of a stalker—or, you know, kind of a major, hardcore stalker, really—but I don’t know, I mean, as far as stalking goes, I guess I find it kind of… comforting…”
And somewhere in Xander’s brain one of the little men riding the runaway babble train leapt up and made a desperate grab for the emergency stop cord—
“… and sort of cute.”
With that, the train ground to halt—four words too late. Xander’s face turned a toasty read and he spun around to open the door to the apartment, turning the key in the lock and letting his head drop against the wood with a thud.
“I so did not just say that.”
“Damn right you didn’t. Not bloody cute. Now shove over.” Spike pushed him aside and opened the door, strolled into the apartment and headed straight to the refrigerator. “What’s ‘so freaky,’ then? Scared you won’t get back?”
Xander followed Spike into the apartment, walked over to the bed and sat down with a sigh. “No… Yes… I don’t know.” He glanced up as Spike approached. “We have beer?”
Spike turned around and went back to the fridge, pulled out another bottle of beer, walked back to the bed and handed Xander the beer, sat down next to him.
“Wanna try that again?”
Xander took a drink, swallowed. “The spell’ll probably work, eventually. It seemed close tonight. I mean, during, me and the other me, we were in the same space. We could read each other’s thoughts. We could talk to each other. Kinda got in a fight, actually. But in the end, we just didn’t switch. Giles and Wesley say the spell has enough power now, it just needs focus. I just need to know when the other Xander and I split in the first place and when we switched worlds.”
“And do you?”
“I’m one for two right now.”
“Halfway there, then.” Spike lifted her beer bottle and clinked it against Xander’s. “Should be celebrating, yeah?”
Xander frowned. “When did you get all glass half full?”
“For all you know, this version of me always has been.”
“And again, I say: yeah, right.”
“Fine, then. Not too excited about going back, I take it?”
“No, that’s not… I mean, I guess I sorta… well, I don’t know.”
“Like to cover all your bases, don’t you?”
“It’s just… of course I want to go back. I mean, that’s my life and this just… isn’t. But I look at some of the stuff he has here and I can’t help thinking that I’ve been messing it all up, you know? Like I’ve been making all the wrong choices.”
Xander felt Spike’s hand on his shoulder—light, almost awkward, but nice. He shook his head.
“But you know what? That’s not even it. I haven’t been making the wrong choices. It’s like I haven’t even been making choices at all. I mean, who chooses to work a different crappy, low-paying job every week? Who chooses to live in their parents’ basement when they can’t even stand their parents and they fucking have to pay rent? I mean, fuck, I didn’t even choose my fucking sex life? And doesn’t that make me sound pathetic? I mean, I just wonder—oh my god…”
Xander stopped, his mouth hanging open. His eyes widened. He blinked.
Spike was staring at him. “What?”
“That’s what I was thinking before the switch. I was drunk and Anya was there and we’d just had sex. And we were lying there on the bed and she was curled up to me and I was looking around the basement and I was thinking about how I had to deliver pizza the next night and how I was probably going to get eaten and I thought, ‘How did this happen? Like, what would my life would be like if I actually got to choose the stuff in it?’”
Spike didn’t say anything for a moment, then: “You think that’s what this is, then? The life where you chose?”
Xander considered for a long second, nodded. “Yeah. I mean, that’s where it all started. He chose to kiss Jesse that day and I just sat there—I didn’t choose not to, I didn’t choose anything. I just sat there. Just that one little kiss would’ve changed my whole world. But I didn’t do it.”
The hand on Xander’s shoulder tightened. “You can’t think like that, mate. Can’t live if you spend all your time thinking about regrets. Surefire way to drive yourself bug-shagging crazy. Trust me.”
Xander turned to look at Spike. “You’re right. I guess I just need to go back and start making choices.”
Spike nodded and Xander kept looking at Spike, studying Spike—the scar over his left eyebrow, his eyelashes, his sharp curve of his cheekbones, his lips.
“Or…” Xander said.
Xander kept looking at Spike—leaned closer. “Or I could start making choices right now.”
Spike blinked at him and Xander stopped looking at Spike.
He kissed him instead.
The world changed.
“So Harris fancies me, does he?”
They continued walking toward the basement and Spike was smirking around his cigarette. Xander looked at him, wanted to slide the cigarette from between Spike’s lips, to wipe—or, you know, kiss—the smirk right off Spike’s face.
“He doesn’t fancy you ,” Xander said, “he fancies the other Spike.”
But the smirk didn’t falter.
“All the same, innit?” A hand wandered back to the waistband, framing. “Same package, same goods.”
Spike threw his head back and blew smoke at the night sky. “You love it. Hell, you both love it.”
Xander’s swinging hand brushed against Spike’s hip. He rolled his eyes and laughed. “You’re not all that, you know…”
But just the look on Spike’s face when he raised his eyebrow to that comment—and the way it made Xander want to rip his clothes off right there in the street—proved that Spike was, in fact, all that.
All that and a bag of chips.
All that and a ten-pack of Twinkies.
That he was so ready to unwrap.
And, yes, in Xander’s mind that was a very sexy metaphor.
“Okay, fine, you are all that.” He grabbed Spike’s hand and tugged. “Happy? Now, let’s have a little less gloating, a little more hurrying the hell home.”
The smirk flickered. “Got plans for me, eh?”
Xander licked his lips. Gonna suck out your creamy filling, he thought.
It wasn’t until Spike stopped moving that Xander realized he’d said that out loud.
The blood rushed to his face, but he didn’t look back, just shook his head and started tugging again. “Don’t ask.”
By the time they reached the basement and Xander had unlocked the door, Spike was almost halfway through a new cigarette, so it was with great satisfaction that Xander turned around and, moving in slow motion as he held Spike’s gaze, reached up to slide the still-burning cigarette out from between Spike’s lips.
The moment stretched and then lurched into fast forward as Xander tossed the cigarette onto the concrete and yanked Spike through the door by the collar of his duster, shoving him up against the other side, then stepping forward to pin Spike in place with his body while he bit, licked and sucked every last trace of the smirk from Spike’s lips.
When it came right down to it, Xander hadn’t done much of the shoving in this relationship—not the shoving against, not the shoving in—which had been perfectly, one-hundred-percent okay right up until the moment that he pulled back from Spike’s lips and opened his eyes and saw that Spike’s arms were lifted over his own head and crossed at the wrists in a gesture of perfect capitulation.
After that moment, nothing that wasn’t over-on-top-of-and-inside-Spike-right-the-hell-now was in any way okay.
“Bed. Naked. Now.”
And Xander barely recognized his own voice, but Spike sure seemed to.
“As you wish,” Spike said, with a smile and tone that somehow managed to be both sly and submissive, and to send a bolt of need straight through Xander’s gut to his cock.
A bolt that had nothing to do with images of blond stable boys or pirates dressed all in black or the fact that once, when he was twelve, Willow had forced him watch The Princess Bride thirteen times in one week.
Nothing at all.
And by the time Xander was done denying Willow’s influence on the hardwiring of his adolescent libido, Spike was already naked and on the bed and holding a tube of lube in one hand as he shoved two fingers of the other hand up inside himself.
In other words, Xander was way behind.
And way overdressed.
And way the hell past caring that, by the time he was kneeling over Spike on the bed, he’d only managed to get his jacket and shoes off, his fly open and his dick out.
He couldn’t wait.
Fucked Spike for the first time with his jeans still on.
“Sorry,” Xander said afterwards, sitting on the edge of the bed and peeling off his sticky shirt and jeans.
Spike snorted. “Don’t be a berk. First of all, you shouldn’t be. Second, you’re not.”
And, okay, Spike had a point there. Xander wasn’t sorry so much as sated, satisfied and a little sleepy. Naked at last, he rolled back onto the bed and threw an arm and a leg over Spike.
Mine, he thought in a reckless and dangerous bout of post-orgasm reasoning.
“So what do you think the other us is doing right now?” Spike asked.
And Xander knew that Spike was smart to ask that, that that was the right kind of thinking—the don’t-get-to-used-to-this-it-isn’t-going-to-last-forever kind of thinking—so he tried to think about it.
“I’m thinking… not this.”
“No? Thought you said Harris wanted me.”
“The other you,” Xander corrected automatically, but then that was the wrong kind of thinking again, so he re-corrected. “You. Yeah, he wants you. But that doesn’t mean he’s just gonna take you.”
“What? Doesn’t want to rush into things, needs to woo me first?”
“Yeah, someone should really tell him you’re easy, huh? No, that’s not exactly it. I just think he’s more of a… stumbler than a rusher…” Xander snorted. “Unless, of course, it’s my ex-boyfriend, then it’s all pull up the anchors, full speed ahead. And, okay, I mean it seems like that might have been a little bit stumbly, too, when you really look at it, but still, it’s not like it took him long. I mean, Christ, Jesse bats his fucking eyelashes and he falls at his fucking feet.”
“Care to translate that, mate?”
Xander looked over at Spike and his raised eyebrow, craned his neck to kiss that eyebrow, then flopped back down on the pillow. “The other me slept with my ex-boyfriend, Jesse.”
“Well, bloody hell,” Spike said.
“I know—” Xander started, but Spike’s dramatic sigh cut him off.
“And here I thought I’d get to be the first,” Spike said.
“Yeah, you know, thought I’d get to pop his cherry, steal his virtue, break his hot, tight virgin arse…”
Xander kicked Spike with the leg that wasn’t wrapped around him. “Pig.”
Spike’s expression showed no remorse. “So Harris slept with your ex and now you’re all jealous because…”
“Well, he didn’t actually sleep with him sleep with him, they just kinda fooled around…” Spike opened his mouth at that, but Xander clamped a hand over it. “Don’t even start with that virgin ass stuff again. And, no, I’m not jealous.”
“What are you, then?”
“I’m… I don’t know. Angry? Disappointed? I mean, what the hell was he thinking, falling for Jesse’s shit? Jesse doesn’t know what he wants. He’s never known what he wants, not really. I mean, fuck, how many times is he gonna convince himself that if he just gives Jesse one more chance, Jesse’s really gonna change this time, when obviously Jesse isn’t ready to change at all and it’s fucking stupid to wait around hoping it’ll suddenly just happen? I mean, how could he not see that by now and he’s only been there a couple of days and I’m so not talking about him anymore, am I?”
Spike’s silence spoke volumes.
Xander dropped his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes—breathed in, exhaled. “I would have done exactly the same thing,” he said quietly. “If I’d woken up in my apartment that morning with the other you and Jesse had called and come over, I would have let him in, too. Hell, if he’d have stormed out on me, I probably would have run after him right away. I wouldn’t even have waited until that night. And then he’d have spent the night at my place and it would’ve felt great and when we woke up the next morning, he would’ve left me again. He wouldn’t even have to have bothered to drive me to work.”
“I mean, the night that I hooked up with the other you, he had called and we fought and then I went to The Bronze and I was so fucking mad and so fucking drunk and I was wishing that I’d never even started with Jesse, you know? I mean, never even kissed him that first time—which is dumb because it was good once, I mean we used to be so… but now I just can’t move on, you know?”
“And you know what? That’s the worst part. The worst part is that if I were there, even after all that, even after he left me in the morning without even being able to look me in the eye, I’d probably still be waiting around to see if he’d change his mind.”
“I’m such a fucking idiot.”
“Xander.” Spike’s voice was sharp, finally broke through.
“First off, never make wishes on a Hellmouth. Second, you’re not there.”
Xander blinked. “Huh?”
“You’re not there. You didn’t do that. Any of it. Doesn’t matter what you would have done. ’Cause you didn’t. Question is—when you go back, what’re you going to do?”
Xander went still, but his heart pounded. Spike was right—that was the question.
He thought about it, looked inside, took his time, told the truth.
“I’m going to call him,” he said at last. “I’m gonna call him and tell him that he meant—means, will always mean—a lot to me. I’m gonna tell him that I hope we can be friends someday, but that it’s not going to be today. And then… I’m gonna say goodbye.”
For a second after he finished there was only the sound of Xander’s own breathing—the sound of his relief. Then:
“What about the part where you find the other me and shag him senseless to celebrate?”
Xander propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at Spike, smiled. “Right. That’s third on the list.”
“Yeah, calling Jesse is second.”
“Yeah? What’s first, then?”
Xander reached out and stroked a hand along Spike’s jaw, rubbed a thumb over his lip. “First is saying thank you,” he said.
But the words didn’t quite do it, so he dropped his head and said it with a kiss instead.
And everything fell into place.
Everything except for Xander’s stomach, that is—which just sort of fell.
And not in a good way. It was more a gah! than a guh! Not so much top-of-the-ferris-wheel as bottom-of-Space-Mountain.
Xander broke the kiss and opened his eyes and tried not to hurl.
Meanwhile, several important details were clamoring for his attention. For example, he was no longer laying naked in bed on top of Spike—he was sitting, clothed, on a couch. Also, there was a couch—and not just the fold out kind. There were windows, too, and a kitchenette, and they were all very familiar.
Xander was back in his own apartment.
It was all very exciting for a moment… until he looked at Spike. Spike, who was sitting next to him on the couch. Spike, whose side was pressed up against his own. Spike, whose face was inches away and whose eyes were staring at him and whose lips tilted downward in confusion.
Spike, who looked like Spike and smelled like Spike…
But wasn’t Spike at all.
“We… I…” He tried to speak, but his throat had gone dry. He swallowed and tried again. “We switched… back. I’m… I’m not the same Xander that was here before. You… I mean… he’s gone.”
Xander wasn’t quite sure he was making any sense—wasn’t even sure he had all the ingredients called for in the recipe—but Spike wasn’t looking at him anymore anyway. Spike was looking around the room, like he’d never seen it before.
He looked back at Xander. “Where are we?”
Xander was never going to kiss girls again. Kissing Spike was that good.
It was where-have-you-been-all-my-life good. Hell, it was where-have-I-been-all-my-life good.
Until it went bad.
Big-ugly-demon-punch-to-the-stomach bad and he pulled his lips from Spike’s and tried not to lose his dinner.
He needed to lie down.
But when he went to lie down, he noticed that he was already lying down.
And not alone.
Three facts that might have caused him to jump out of bed and start freaking out—except that he was pretty sure his stomach wouldn’t be able to handle it. He turned his head. “Spike,” he said.
And Spike he saw. He saw a lot of Spike. There was a lot of Spike to see—what with the lack of clothes.
He looked away.
He looked back.
He looked away again. Looked at the ceiling. Stared at the ceiling. The basement ceiling. His ceiling.
“Oh my god—a kiss? That’s what it took? A kiss. What are we in some kind of Disney movie?”
“I think they frown on nudity,” Spike said. Spike, who had propped himself up on an elbow and was leaning over Xander. Spike, who was still with the lack of clothes. Spike, who was leaning in and…
“Wait! You… I… I’m not the same Xander you were just—”
Spike’s lips cut him off and he meant not to return the kiss because he was supposed to be explaining, but… well… kiss good.
After a minute, Spike pulled away and nodded. “Yes, you are.”
“You are the same Xander.”
“What? No. I switched. I’m back.”
Spike glanced around and nodded again. “Looks like. But guess I must have switched with you, because you’re the same Xander.”
“Wait. What? How do you know?”
“Kissed you both, haven’t I?”
“Wait. There’s a difference?”
“Yeah,” Spike said, but it sounded like duh.
“So you can…? Just from…?” Xander was still putting it all together. “We don’t…? Wait a minute—who’s better? Him or me?”
Spike considered for a moment. “You’ll learn,” he said.
“What?” That was so not the right answer and Xander tried to wriggle away, but Spike’s arm came down to hold him in place. It was a strong arm.
“I’ll teach you,” Spike said, in a voice that was low and full of promise.
And Xander wanted to pout, he really did, but Spike’s lips were getting closer.
“I should really call Giles,” Xander said.
“And tomorrow I need to get a new job.”
“And a real place to live.”
“And, oh my god, Spike, I haven’t even asked you if… I mean, do you want to switch back?”
Xander could feel the cool air from the words brushing against his face and the lips were so close and he just wanted to… “But, I mean, are you sure?”
“’Cause, I mean, I’d totally understand if you did, even though I don’t really want you to want to…”
“Shut up now.”
And he would have done it anyway—really—but as it turned out, Spike didn’t give him a choice.
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