Through the Looking Glass by Kimberly


Okay, first of all, Xander never went to Africa. In the ATS episode "The Girl in Question," Andrew only told Angel and Spike that he had for one (or perhaps all) of the following reasons:
1. Andrew is a compulsive liar.
2. Andrew could have told them the truth, but then he'd have to kill them.
3. Without the Big Board to guide him, Andrew forgot where Xander was, and so spontaneously made up a colorful story involving exotic locales.
4. Xander had insisted that no one ever tell Angel where he was ("because he's an occasionally-evil dickhead"), and so Andrew was slavishly following Xander's commands.
5. Andrew simply likes to fantasize about Xander with his shirt off, all tanned and bare-chested, his pectoral muscles glistening with sweat beneath the harsh desert sun. *ahem*

Also? Xander didn't lose an eye, because I just wrote a fic all about that whole issue and I don't feel like immediately dealing with it again in this story. So Xander's eyes are both fine and dandy (though they are NOT under any circumstances to be thought of as "chocolatey orbs") and neither one got damaged in Season 7. Caleb just ... missed ... or something.

In case anyone becomes confused, this fic is not AU. It's set about 2 years post-Chosen, and hence about 1 year post-NFA, and other than the two differences noted above (no Africa, no patch), everything happened pretty much as seen in canon up until the point when each show ended. If there are other minor bits of straying here and there, put it down to poetic license. Or ... uh ... the fact that my memory sucks.

AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: My Spike -- being a vampire -- does not age. As a result, he still looks the same as he did when he first appeared on BTVS at the beginning of Season 2. James Marsters may be old as dirt (though, admittedly, very attractive dirt), and JM may have aged visibly over the past several years, but my fictional Spike still looks to be mid-twenties. This youthful appearance is somewhat necessary for my purposes in this story, as you will see. Some jobs just don't get offered to folks over 40 (or even 30).

Also, I tend to do a lot of research for my fics, so I can tell you with authority that not only peepshows (both gay and straight) but also all of the magazine titles and movie titles mentioned in this chapter -- no matter how ridiculous or gross -- actually exist in real life. I haven't read or watched them, but I did find them listed online. (And there are much much weirder ones out there, too. The world is a very scary diverse place.)

Author's Note 3: As far as I'm concerned, the Watchers Council reformed after the huge explosion at the end of BTVS season 7. Former Watchers, like Giles, with their own personal libraries, as well as Watchers-in-Training would have survived and would have banded together to keep the tradition going. After all, there are a hell of a lot of Slayers in need of Watchers nowadays; somebody has to make at least some attempt to help out.

Oh, one last note: There's a moment in Chapter 5 that was slightly inspired by a moment in the movie Risky Business, and which I therefore personally find humorous because of the homage. Initially, I mentioned Risky Business in the actual story, but it didn't work well, so I've deleted it. Just thought I'd give credit where credit is due.


Xander pushed his hair out of his face -- way past due for a haircut and it was driving him crazy -- and tried to avoid screaming like a maniac. He would never get used to cell phones. They were too freakishly tiny. He felt like André the Giant with a cell phone in his hand, and it wasn't a particularly pleasant sensation. He was always afraid he would fumble it or crush it or something else non-suave. The buttons were smaller than the tips of his fingers and they were way too close together, which made dialing an adventure. He didn't make many calls. The phone was mostly for work, anyway.

"Gary?" he shouted into the mouthpiece. The freakishly small mouthpiece, which was really just a few holes in the shiny silver surface of the foldable phone. And that was another thing: phones were just not meant to be foldable, except in James Bond movies. Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone wouldn't look like André the Giant. He'd look like ... well ... Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone.

Even in his dark suit, Xander did not, unfortunately, look like Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone. He was fairly certain of this fact as he strode along the crowded sidewalk, heading toward Market Street to catch the bus home. He could have walked home -- it wasn't that far -- but the dress shoes pinched and he was tired from a long meeting and feeling decidedly grumpy. A pleasant stroll up and down the steep hills of San Francisco was not on his immediate agenda.

"Gary?" Why was it necessary to always shout into cell phones? The things obviously weren't very efficient at conducting sound, because Gary only ever seemed to hear half of what he said. Around him in the crowd, Xander heard various other loud conversations, some being conducted through the earpieces that were even more freakish than foldable cell phones.

He remembered the old rotary dial telephone his parents had when he was growing up, and he felt an odd sort of nostalgia for the big plastic yellow handset and the long spiral cord. That was a phone that knew its place in the world.

Back then, you could walk down the street without your boss being able to call you and nag you about the zoning meeting. Because the phone was at home. And you weren't. So your boss was out of luck.

Except, of course, that Xander had been a kid back then, and so he didn't have a boss.

But kids now had cell phones, too, of course.

The world had gone crazy.

Miniature communication devices were all fine and good, as long as they were attached to the chest of a lycra uniform. This ... this was just wrong.

"Gary?" he shouted into the phone, but the connection was really bad and he gave up in disgust. The exciting details of the zoning meeting would have to wait.

* * *

He didn't think about Sunnydale very often anymore.

Most people would probably consider San Francisco an eccentric city, full of freaks, but in comparison it made Sunnydale seem like some kind of bizarre dream from which he'd finally awakened into adulthood.

This was finally something like a real life.

Sure, San Francisco had taken some getting used to. Everyone was so much more open, less afraid to let their own personal weirdnesses show. In Sunnydale, everyone had always been too busy differentiating themselves from the Hellmouthy weirdness around them. Even Willow -- and you'd think a lesbian witch would be a bit unusual -- had always had a pleasantly friendly suburban normalness about her.

But San Francisco was a city of weirdos.

Xander had always been "the normal one," but in two years of living in the city by the bay, he'd realized that "normal" was a very relative term. Okay, so maybe he was "normal" compared to Slayers, Watchers, witches, an ex-vengeance-demon, an inter-dimensional key made of green energy in the form of a teenage girl, and random vampires with chips and souls and gypsy curses and various combinations thereof ... but, hey, who wouldn't be? It was hard not to feel "normal" in that company. "Boring," even.

But once he got out of Sunnydale, he realized that he didn't have to always hover in the background while the more interesting people took center stage.

He realized he could be interesting, too. It was sort of surprising, actually.

So he really wasn't in contact with everybody very much anymore. He had a new life now, and the others were off leading new lives, too. The Scooby Gang just wasn't really a gang anymore. And Xander sometimes felt a little guilty about the fact that he didn't miss it.

He just didn't think about it much anymore.

* * *

That's why it was so strange when he saw a familiar face in the crowd outside the main branch of the public library. Xander had shoved the phone into his jacket pocket and was nearing Market Street, loosening his tie, on his way out to catch the bus back home to North Beach, still running over zoning ordinances in his head, still thinking about the issues that had been raised in the meeting he'd just left. Cars were blaring their horns, and men and women in business attire dodged scabby punk bike messengers. The sun had set already, though the sky wasn't quite dark yet. Winter in San Francisco was a bit different from Sunnydale. Less ... sunny. Shorter days. It had taken some getting used to.

So Xander was weaving his way through the steadily streaming foot traffic, grumbling to himself about unrealistic architects and vaguely pondering what to have for dinner, when he saw a shock of platinum blonde hair in the rush-hour sidewalk crowd. It wasn't the hair color that caught his eye -- San Francisco as a city had a hair sense quite similar to Oz's, after all, and nothing was too extreme -- it was something else. The tilt of the head, maybe? The curve of the neck?

His phone suddenly rang again and Xander jumped, pulling it out of his pocket. "Harris." When he looked up again the blonde head was gone.

Gary still wanted to hear about the zoning meeting, and so Xander filled him in as he walked. While he waited for the bus, they went over some plans for tomorrow's meeting with the contractors. By the time Xander hung up the phone, the bus was there, so he squeezed his way in, holding on to the metal bar over his head and trying not to step on anyone's feet or bash anybody with his briefcase. Maybe the walk would have been more relaxing, after all.

A very pretty Latina teenager sitting nearby was smiling at him. She couldn't have been more than 16 -- she was wearing the sparkly pink lip gloss to prove it -- but apparently she had a thing for very tired dark-haired men in rumpled suits. Now, if only girls like that had looked at him when he was that age ... well, that would have been an entirely different thing.

Flattered, he smiled at her briefly, and then pointedly turned to look out the window. These are not the droids you're looking for. Move along.

It wasn't just fear of a future career in prison on a statutory rape charge that made him look away. He hadn't actually dated much since he'd moved to San Francisco. Not that he hadn't had opportunities. He had. With attractive members of both genders ... and he wasn't quite sure how he felt about that one yet.

So, yeah, he'd been on some dates, but nothing serious.

His friends were very understanding. They didn't tease, and they didn't try to set him up on blind dates. He knew they whispered amongst themselves about how tragic it was, how his fiancée had been killed in that massive freak earthquake down south a couple years ago.

He wasn't sure if Anya really was the reason he'd been single so long, but she was definitely part of it. Mostly just because of how badly he'd messed that whole thing up. "Good relationship having" was not on his resumé in the "Skills" section.

So he looked away from his teeny-bopper admirer in her platform shoes and her sparkly lip gloss, but it wasn't really a conscious decision. He forgot about her almost as soon as he'd turned, because that's what he always did. He didn't give out his number. He didn't ask for numbers. He smiled politely and went back to contemplating...

... Market Street beneath a darkening sky, streetlamps glowing golden. Rush-hour traffic, cars in the street and pedestrians on the sidewalk, bicycles darting here and there, everyone pushing and shoving and trying to get home five seconds earlier. Squashed in the bus, Xander felt remarkably stationary. All that frantic activity outside, and he could barely move an inch.

He didn't see any shock of pale blonde hair out there in the crowd. Of course not. Why would he? Well, really, lots of people had hair that color, right?

It obviously hadn't been Spike. Obviously. Spike was dead.

Xander gazed out the window as the bus slowly made its way through downtown. Lip gloss girl got off somewhere along the way with a last flirtatious glance in his direction, but Xander didn't even notice.


Xander'd only been inside his apartment for a few minutes when he heard a knock at the door. Luba had probably heard him come in.

He opened the door. Yep. Plump, dark-haired, olive-skinned Luba from upstairs. She was wearing sweats with a massive t-shirt, and had her hair up in a sloppy ponytail. She looked beautiful, as always ... it was something about her smile ... or her smart-ass attitude.

"Wow!" she marvelled, looking him up and down. "Pretty snazzy outfit!"

Xander kicked his dress shoes off and sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Meetings," he explained. "All day. I can't wait to get on site again." He tossed his tie onto the couch.

"You sound beat. Come upstairs and let Frank feed you."

Xander hesitated. He'd really been looking forward to just collapsing in front of the tv with a beer and a slice of cold pizza.

"He's making chile relleno," she crooned temptingly. "With polenta and his special spicy rice and truly bad-for-you refried beans ... and fresh sopapillas for dessert. With chocolate sauce."

Xander held up his hands, defeated. "Okay okay! I'm convinced! Just let me change into some jeans."

Luba bounced happily.

* * *

Officially, Frank and Luba were his landlords, since Frank did in fact own the duplex, but they didn't act very landlordy. They were more like upstairs housemates. It helped that they were all about the same age.

"I'm so lucky," Luba beamed as Xander came through the open door into their apartment. She held Frank's face in her hand and gave him a big kiss as he stood with a pot-holder in each hand, humoring her. "I think everyone should marry a man who cooks this well."

Xander put on his innocent face. "Even me?"

Luba grinned at him. "Oh, we'll find the right man for you yet!"

Xander shook his head, laughing. "Not really looking for a someone of the manly persuasion, thanks."

Luba cocked her head. "You don't seem to be looking for anyone of the womanly persuasion, either."

"Yep. Pretty much just not looking." Xander shrugged.

Luba nodded. "Okey-dokey. I'm not going to be nosy." At Xander's arch look, she chuckled. "So ... do you want to stay for movies? We've got Empire Records and High Fidelity."

Xander nodded seriously. "Ah. I see our theme this evening is record stores."

Luba scoffed, "No points for guessing one that easy. Now, when we did the all-day 'Movies With Frogs' marathon, now that was a good one. The Muppet Movie, Magnolia, Spirited Away, Jurassic Park, and E.T. That was a brilliant Sunday marathon."

Frank called from the kitchen, "Any ideas for this weekend?"

Frank continued moving things around in the kitchen. He knew what he was doing in there, so Xander left him to it. Despite his imposing height and eye-catching bright orange hair, Frank was a pretty quiet guy. Luba talked enough for both of them. It worked, somehow. They were relaxed together, and they'd whole-heartedly welcomed Xander into their lives.

They were his best friends, and somewhere along the way, this had come to feel like home.

Xander said, "How about movies with people finding their way home?"

Luba put her hands on her hips and scowled. "I am not watching The Incredible Journey or anything involving Lassie."

"How about E.T. again? Or Starman? Or Apollo 13!" suggested Xander.

Luba warmed to the subject. "Maybe Casablanca or Empire of the Sun. Or Spirited Away. Maybe The Wizard of Oz or even Big Fish."

"Or Free Willy," Xander suggested with a carefully straight face, making Luba snicker.

Frank called from the kitchen. "We'd have to do Chocolat. And I could bake some appropriate movie-watching theme food."

Xander and Luba looked at each other, and grinned. "Oh yeah," said Xander. "I think that one's a definite plan.

* * *

Dinner was delicious, as always. Halfway through a truly sublime sopapilla, Xander turned to Frank and said seriously, "Luba may be right. I may have to find myself a nice Irish boy and settle down. But only if he cooks like you."

Frank and Luba both laughed. Then Luba smirked, "He does have a brother..." She winked.

Xander shook his head, chuckling.

Just as they were finishing dinner, the phone rang. Luba answered it and began speaking in a different language. It sounded sort of like Arabic, but Xander knew -- only because she had told him previously -- that it was Farsi. This always meant it was her mother or her sister.

She put a hand over the mouthpiece and said apologetically, "It's my mom. I'll be right back." And then she took the phone back into the bedroom.

Frank and Xander began quietly clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, and just generally cleaning up. Out of the blue, Frank said, "You seem distracted tonight. Is something wrong?"

Xander looked at him. "Distracted? I'm not distracted. Why would I be? I just had a most excellent dinner with most excellent company after a craptastic day of meetings and suits and pinchy shoes."

Frank peered at him with intense blue eyes, then said, "You just don't seem like yourself."

Xander put a plate into the dishwasher and thought about that. "Okay, maybe I'm a little distracted. I just had something sort of weird happen today."

Frank didn't say anything. He just wiped down counters and stacked dirty dishes for Xander to put into the dishwasher.

Eventually, Xander continued, "Down by Civic Center, on the street, I thought I saw somebody from back home. I mean, I know it wasn't him. But for a minute it was weird."

Luba came into the kitchen and hung up the phone. "What was weird?"

Frank looked at Xander. Xander shrugged. Frank explained, "Xander thought he saw someone he knew today."

Xander insisted, "Just some guy who looked like him. I barely even saw his face."

Luba asked, "So this is somebody you know from before you moved here? Before the quake?"

Xander just nodded.

Luba continued, "An old friend of yours?"

Xander flinched slightly. "Look, it wasn't even him. It just sort of weirded me out a little bit."

Frank asked simply, "Why?"

This wasn't going to be easy to explain, so Xander stopped to consider before answering. Then he sighed. "Because he's dead."

* * *

A few minutes later, they were all sitting in the living room, arranged around the fireplace. Frank had built a fire, and it was crackling cheerfully. He and Luba were quiet, obviously waiting for Xander to explain.

"It's kind of complicated."

Frank and Luba just waited expectantly. They were his best friends. He should be able to talk to them, right? Just ... very carefully.

"Okay. So. We sort of worked together."

Luba nodded. "In construction?"

But Xander shook his head. "No, not really. Really not." Spike was more of a DE-struction kind of guy.

Luba nodded again. "So he worked with you in the Neighborhood Watch program?"

"Uh ... yeah. For a while. But he didn't really want to work with us. He was a pretty rough character. Violent. Rude. Just ... a real asshole. Not somebody you'd want to have around."

Luba looked confused. "But he volunteered in the Neighborhood Watch program? That doesn't sound like he was such a bad guy. Am I missing something?"

"Well, he sort of ... he got himself into some trouble ... pretty bad trouble, actually ... and it was like ... what do you call it ... it was like court-ordered community service. He wasn't happy to be there."

On the couch, Luba curled up against Frank and he put his arm around her. Xander often envied them. They seemed really happy together, and he'd never really had that, even with Anya.

Luba asked, "So did he take off when the community service ended?"

"Actually, that's kind of weird. Because he didn't. He just kept hanging around and helping us out. It was kind of complicated. There was a girl involved."

Frank smiled. "The savage beast tamed by the love of a beautiful woman? It sounds like a fairy tale."

Xander shook his head. "It wasn't like that. Or ... not totally like that. Or ... hell ... maybe it was like that. But he was still a jerk. And there really wasn't much love involved, actually."

Luba and Frank both looked a bit skeptical.

"All right," Xander sighed. "So maybe there was some love involved, but only sort of freaky stalker love, and only on his side."

Luba asked gently, "You said he was dead. What happened?"

Hesitant to explain that Spike had actually died a few times and that he was technically undead, he stuck with the final death. "After the earthquake, we all just scattered. I moved up here. Spike sort of eventually ended up in L.A."

Frank asked, "Spike? That's his name?"

Xander chuckled. "Well, it's what he calls himself, but I doubt it's the name on his birth certificate." Did they even have birth certificates in the 19th century? Xander wasn't sure.

Luba interrupted his thoughts. "So Spike ended up in L.A. Is that where he died?"

"Yeah. He'd sort of ended up working for this company of private investigators. Real hero types. They went up against organized crime. At least, that's what I heard through the grapevine, from mutual friends."

Luba was cautious now when she asked, "Organized crime? Like the mafia?"


Frank and Luba were both quiet for a long moment, soaking this in. Eventually, Frank asked quietly, "So that's how he died?"

Xander hesitated. "Well, I only know what other people have told me. Reliable other people. People who know a lot about this kind of stuff." He considered actually mentioning Giles, but this was already complicated enough.

"So ... uh ... they were fighting this big organized crime organization, and ... they all sort of ... died."

"The criminals?"

"No. The P.I. folks. Including Spike. I mean, they ... some of the ... bodies ... some of the people were ... identifiable. But a couple of them ... there just wasn't enough left. Just dust ... like ashes."

Luba's face was pale. "So these mob guys, they actually burned them to death?"

"Something like that. So ... everybody knows they're dead. There were so many bodies, and the bad guys weren't the type to let anybody get away."

Luba said quietly, "This is why you were so disconcerted? Because you thought you saw him on the street?"

Xander just nodded.

"Is there any chance it actually was him?"

Xander shook his head.

Frank asked, "Could he have survived and then gone underground to avoid this organized crime ring? Get a new identiy and start over?"

"You know, I never really liked Spike. Couldn't stand him, actually. But I have to admit that he never seemed like the kind of guy to run and hide."

"Maybe you didn't know him as well as you thought."

Xander thought about that one, that possibility. Would Spike have run off like that? He wasn't sure.

* * *

That night, he had trouble falling asleep, remembering that glimpse of pale hair in the crowd. Could it really have been Spike? And if so ... how?

In the last few moments before sleep, he resolved to find out.


Xander'd gotten lucky with the job. He knew that. It was one of those "know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody" deals, and his old boss from Sunnydale had recruited him. Apparently, people thought he was good at the whole building stuff gig. He'd been with Overaa Construction for two years now, and he'd already been promoted to Project Manager ... which was why he had to attend all these boring meetings. The perils of career advancement.

But they didn't need him to attend most of the rest of the meetings for this project -- thank god -- and so he was going to have some free time until they could actually start work on the site. Once all the zoning issues and budgeting issues and scheduling issues had been negotiated, Xander would be pretty much in charge of implementing all that stuff on-site. But that would probably take another couple weeks, and so he was going to have to find ways to keep busy or he'd go insane. Too much Domino's pizza and "Star Trek" re-runs while wearing a bathrobe just wasn't as enticing as it had once been.

So he planned to do some work on the house. Frank and Luba had expressed interest in having a window seat built into their bay window, and Xander wanted to try to fix the creaking stairs. It sort of made up for the ridiculously low rent they charged him. Sure, Frank and Luba didn't need the money -- Frank had retired at 23 after making millions as a programmer for a start-up before the Dot Com Crash -- but Xander still felt a little guilty. Heck, he wasn't paying all that much more than his parents had charged for the smelly basement. Given the usual exorbitant rents in San Francisco, it was ridiculous. So he'd set up a workshop in his spare bedroom, and he did work on the house when he had the time.

He'd gotten lucky with the apartment, too, of course. Another perk from knowing people at work. Frank's uncle was one of the engineers at Overaa, and he'd been the one to give Xander Frank's phone number. You need a place to stay, my nephew's got a duplex, he won't charge much rent 'cause you're a good kid, yaddah yaddah yaddah...

In Sunnydale, it all would have seemed like a suspicious coincidence. He would have started wondering if there were demons involved. Maybe a wish. Or a spell. Good things just didn't happen without evil strings attached, right? So when things were going this well, he couldn't help waiting for the evil shoe to drop.

It took him a while to accept the fact that it might actually just be good luck and nice people. That whole "good luck" thing was pretty unfamiliar, so it took some getting used to. It was starting to look like people who didn't live on a Hellmouth and didn't hang out with vampire slayers had relatively happy lives. Less exciting, maybe, but less traumatic, too. He was reasonably certain that when Luba and Frank got married -- if they ever got married -- no vision-giving demons would show up to ruin the proceedings. And Josie at work was unlikely to have her eyes go black while she flayed the skin off of contractors who pissed her off. And Gary's teenage daughter was unlikely to get kidnapped by angry gods wanting to use her as a key to access alternate dimensions.

And random blonde men on the street outside the public library were unlikely to be vampires.

* * *

As he often did when he had something on his mind, he started taking nightly walks. Long walks, sometimes. Not patrolling, just walking. But now he carried a stake in his coat pocket, for the first time in more than a year.

He'd stopped even thinking about vampires, after a while. In fact, he hadn't seen a single vamp since he moved to San Francisco. He figured it was probably because the city wasn't built on a Hellmouth ... as far as he knew, anyway. But it probably also had a lot to do with the fact that there weren't any real cemeteries in San Francisco. Instead, dozens of them were clustered together several miles away in a town called Colma, like huddled exiles banished from a city vibrating with life.

So. No Hellmouth. No cemeteries. It made sense that there wouldn't be fledges popping up all over the place. So Xander had gotten lazy. He'd started believing in this cozy little life he was leading now, and he started forgetting or ignoring everything that might lurk in the shadows.

That changed, though, after he saw that blonde head in the rush-hour crowd. Of course it wasn't Spike, but it was like a jolt to Xander's Sunnydale-honed instincts, a visceral rush that screamed, "Vampire!"

And so he'd started carrying a stake again, tucked into the inside pocket of his coat, when he went out at night.

His neighborhood, North Beach, had started out as a tight-knit Italian community, and there were some hints of that past still -- a lot of Italian restaurants and pastry shops, old men playing bocce in the public park on Sunday afternoons, Italian street names -- but the neighborhood was more mixed now. Chinatown was only a few blocks away, tourists flocked to both areas day and night, and the blinding flashing neon signs of the dozens of strip clubs on Broadway attracted a rather different sort of visitor.

Frank and Luba's duplex was uphill on a relatively quiet side-street, but when Xander walked down into the less residential areas, North Beach was buzzing at all hours with drunken frat boys and excited tourists who'd never seen such a big city.

Okay, so he'd been pretty wide-eyed, himself, when he first arrived. But now he was old and jaded and the tourists just made him impatient when they stood gawking on the sidewalk.

He wasn't sure why he felt this restless need to get out and walk in the dark so often. Old habit, maybe. Maybe even some kind of unconscious need to check out his surroundings and make sure everything was safe. But now that he was carrying a stake again, he felt wrong somehow, out of place, like a return to an earlier time in his life.

The fog was rolling in, so he pushed his hands into the pockets of his coat and hunched his shoulders a bit against the cold. A bunch of college kids staggered past him on the sidewalk, laughing too loudly.

Without even realizing it, he wandered in the direction of Civic Center.

* * *

It wasn't stalking. Really. It was just ... loitering. With a cup of coffee. Near the public library. Every day at sunset.

There weren't any benches -- the several rag-tag men who played chess every day on the widened sidewalk nearby always brought their own folding chairs and tables -- so Xander just sort of ... leaned. Casually. Not stalking. Just ... leaning. He tried not to think about what substances might be on the wall he leaned against, because this was definitely not the high-class part of town. His trusty sheepskin-lined denim jacket would protect him from wall-induced germs.

He sipped his coffee and watched the library. Thinking back, he wasn't sure if not-Spike had been coming out of the library, walking past the library, going into the library, or what. But he did definitely remember libraryness being involved. So he hung out across the street from the library and watched.

Really, it was silly to wait until sunset. Since this guy definitely wasn't Spike, he could show up during the day. But Xander had spotted him the first time after sunset, when the sky was growing dark enough for ... well ... for vampires to come out and play. So every day he showed up around the same time, and waited.

He stood around like an idiot three nights in a row, and then suddenly on the fourth night there he was. Not-Spike. Right there, coming out of the main branch of the public library, glass doors swinging closed behind him. It was 6 o'clock, and the sky was definitely dark enough for vamps, but that didn't matter of course. Because it wasn't Spike. This was just some guy.

Some guy wearing ... glasses.

Xander blinked. Obviously not Spike, then, because Spike wouldn't be caught dead -- no pun intended -- wearing glasses. Xander had occasionally seen four-eyed vamps, but Spike definitely wasn't the type. Not unless he was pulling some kind of nefarious scam that involved making himself look like a math nerd.

But, even from across the street, the guy really did look a lot like Spike. There was something in his walk, in the set of his shoulders. But he was pretty far away, and the growing darkness and the bustling crowd and not-Spike's own movement, his face often turning away ... it all made absolute certainty impossible. Xander would have to see the guy closer up in order to be sure.

So Xander followed him, from a discreet distance, of course. Not stalking. Just ... following.

The guy either realized he was being followed or was just congenitally paranoid, because he furtively glanced behind him before ducking into a narrow alley. Xander scurried to catch up, but only got to the corner in time to see a flash of blonde hair disappearing behind a giant green dumpster. Out on the main street, you could still see that the sky was an electric blue, but in the alley, tall buildings on either side made the shadows dark and deep. It was a bit daunting.

Xander waited a few minutes and then cautiously approached the dumpster. On the other side, a large window was boarded up. Walking backward a bit to get a better look, Xander realized that the entire building was pretty sorry-looking, with boarded up doors and windows and plastic sheeting wafting through holes here and there. The window behind the dumpster must be a make-shift entrance or something.

Xander was tempted to push at the boarded up window to test his theory, but he really didn't want to go crashing into some random blonde guy's crack den meth lab full of gun-running gang-bangers. So he backed away, hands in the pockets of his coat, shoulders hunched nervously, and wondered if he was being watched. He eyed the boarded-up windows, wondering if there were eye-holes, wondering if not-Spike and his gang of thieves were up there plotting mayhem, wondering if he was being paranoid, wondering if this not-Spike was actually some kind of mass murderer. Um ... sort of like actual-Spike.

The whole Spike or not-Spike question was still unresolved, and now that Xander had tailed the probably-not-Spike to his shabby lair -- or meth lab or whatever -- he wasn't going to give up that easily. In a dark corner beside a different dumpster, he found a plastic milk crate. He turned it over and sat down, hidden as well as he could, and watched the spot where not-Spike had entered the building.

Xander pulled his coat around himself firmly, glad that his hair had gotten long enough to protect his neck and ears from the wind, and stubbornly hunkered down for a long wait.

Index     Next