Manifestation by Lazuli Kat



Chapter 3 My Own

Xander found Simone and Henry, and made uneasy introductions.  The reception for Spike was understandably cool, but he was charming in front of Xander, predictably smug behind his back when he caught the waves of animosity from the Colbergs.  Spike enjoyed playing the ‘Isn’t he adorable and he’s mine,’ game, complete with coy glances and perfectly timed almost-touches, knowing how disconcerting it had to be to those closest to Xander.

Xander’s worries over the evening session, especially after the previous night’s debacle, added a tension to the man that could be misconstrued as having many questionable roots.  Assessing looks darted from Xander to Spike and back as Simone and Henry groped for their bearings, Spike stirring their concerns with malicious delight, and Xander not helping by being preoccupied and oblivious to the entire performance.

Eventually Xander sent Spike away, needing some time to meditate, compose himself, and build a strong link between himself and his spirit guide; before he went, Spike once again promised that, at a single dismissive gesture from Xander, he’d leave the building and even its proximity.

The voices that crowded in once the vampire had gone shook Xander, leaving him jumpy and disorientated for the first ten minutes.  He’d lived with this for years – How? was a question that sprang to mind – but a few hours in the relative quietude of Spike’s company and the torrent felt unnervingly foreign to him.

“You think it’s possible to forget how to do this?” he asked Simone as she bustled about, making sure he had his blanket and a flask of hot coffee ready for when he left the stage.

“No,” she smiled.  “Although…  If you simply choose not to…”  The smiled faded.  “That’s another matter altogether.”

“I have no plans to stop, I’m just feeling…”  That stumped Xander.  There was no way to explain the vampire’s effect, not in a way that would make any sense, and without that equation, the buckling under the noise was pretty nonsensical too.  “I got some sleep, and I don’t think I’m properly awake yet,” Xander settled for.

“You slept!  That’s excellent.”

“I know you don’t like Spike on principle, but he gave me the chance to talk myself into a coma, so…”

“While we’re on the subject of not liking Spike on principle, will you let me put some makeup on that bruise?”

Xander moved to the mirror to study his face.  The bruise reminded him of his Sunnydale days and he tried not to grin like an idiot.

“You think it will bother people?”

“I think it might.”

Xander sighed.  Still, disguising physical damage was pretty Sunnydale too.

“’Kay, whatever,” and he sat patiently as Simone dabbed concealer onto his face.

“So, you and Spike…?”

“Old acquaintance.  We didn’t use to get along, then we did for a while, and didn’t and did, and now we seem to which feels better than not but I can see us not, very easily.”

“Was the hitting you…”

“I told you, I gave him a shock and…he reacted in a very honest, very Spike way.  You can’t write him off because of it.”

“I don’t mean to judge him, I’m just…overly cautious…”


“Slightly.  Slightly overprotective.”

“Slightly,” Xander giggled and got a prod for his trouble.

“You don’t talk about your past, I’ve never met a single old friend, and now…Spike.”

“Which should help the rest make more sense.”

“And he’s so…so…  Unlikely.”

“You have no idea,” Xander grinned.

“And he did hit you.”

“I hit him back, that make you feel any better?”

“Oh, Xander,” Simone reprimanded as she assessed and approved the camouflaged chin and tidied her makeup away.  “That’s completely irresponsible.”

“He deserved it.”

“I’m not about to condone any form of violence,” Simone insisted as she marched out of the room, and Xander barely caught the, “Even if he did deserve it,” as she disappeared along the corridor.

As focused as he was likely to get, and dreading the stadium of victims although his spirit guide had managed to divert most of them, Xander took to the stage.  He felt the immediate rise in expectancy from the audience, the tingle of anticipation, and it calmed rather than added pressure to him, knowing that these good people trusted him.

He fixed the microphone to the neck of his t-shirt, swung away from the auditorium to have one last satisfying scratch under and around the hated eyepatch, then took a deep breath and turned back to meet the many familiar faces, noticing a handful of new, seeing Spike at the rear of the seating area and allowing himself an unguarded Vampire!  Vampire!  What the fuck! moment.

“Hi, I’m Xander,” was met with the usual smattering of returned hellos and enthusiastic applause, and the response, as ever, dragged the biggest smile from him.  “You want the spiel, or do we get the show on the road?”  More applause, and Xander began to listen more closely to the first clear voice that his guide brought forward from the spiritual hubbub.  Not a vampire victim, Xander felt immediately, and he began to relax.  “I’m connecting to a woman, she…  She would have been in her early forties when she passed, and she’s showing me…  It looks like a stable, wooden construction, or barn – tall so maybe a barn – and…  There’s a reference to…  It’s some kind of…agricultural work.  I’m…”  Xander picked out an clutch of audience members and gestured between them.  “…here.  Can anybody…”

A young woman awkwardly stood, took the mic that was passed along to her.

“That could be my mom,” she managed on the second attempt.

“It’s…  I want to say Elizabeth but it’s not, is it?  It’s…uh…  Lisbet?”  The girl nodded.  “Lisbet.  Lisbet.  And she passed very suddenly, she…”  Xander felt the pain and flexed his shoulders to shift it.  “She broke her back, it was a fall.  She fell…oh, yeah, now I see, a barn, and she fell from the hay loft.”  More nods, the beginning of tears, and Xander paused, listening, and letting the girl become accustomed to the surprise of contact.  “Okay, yes, thank you.  She knows how scared you are, and she remembers feeling exactly the same, but…”  Xander smiled.  “Look how you turned out.”  The girl dropped the mic and sobbed into her hands; Xander’s brow creased in concern.  “I can stop anytime, you want me to stop?”

“No,” Xander saw rather than heard as the tear-stained face tilted up, and the people around the young woman handed back the mic along with a clutch of tissues.  “No-one knows,” she managed to croak.  “No-one at all.”

“Well…your mom definitely knows, but I guess that’s moms for you.”  Nods and gentle laughter, not just from the girl.  “She wants you to tell your dad so you don’t face this alone, and…expect some fireworks, but know – know – he’ll take care of you, and the baby.  And…  Your mom says to remind him that there were a couple of close calls before they got married.”  Xander listened.  “She loves you very much, and she knows your pop does too, but you have to help him show it.  He’s…  Since she’s been gone, he’s seemed closed off, he’s…not coping.  No, he’s not coping, but she says…this will bring him back to you.”  Xander watched as the girl fell into her seat and was comforted by the friend alongside her.  “I’m going to stop there, okay?  Just take her love, and…your mom is so proud of you, remember that.  She’s with you, and she’s so proud of you.”

Xander moved upstage, took a swig of water from the bottle of water that was offered to him by an anonymous hand, and covered the mic to exchange a few words before returning to the front of the stage.

“You okay, Sweetie?” he asked quietly, and the girl nodded frantically and incongruously happily amid the continuing tears.  Xander gave her a smile, stepped back, and listened, fingers flicking.

Spike had also let himself relax after the first few minutes of contact, relieved not to be faced by one of the multitude he’d slaughtered, or to have his progress with Xander screwed by another wrecked meeting.  But the relief was premature, and it was with a distinct feeling of déjà vu that Spike saw Xander begin to stutter and tremble with the stress of whatever he was being told or shown or – Spike fervently hoped not – made to experience.

On his feet in seconds, Spike moved into the aisle, ready to make a quick exit, but Xander’s eye sought and met his, and Spike’s hand-signalled ‘me, go’ was met with a rapid shake of the head.  Spike was immediately moving in the medium’s direction, breaking into a run as Xander ripped off the mic and staggered backwards to fall against the cyclorama wall, covering his head with his arms.  Henry had chosen to man the curtains after the previous night’s problems, and he was quick to activate them; Spike sprang onto the stage and ducked through just before they closed, in time to see Xander slide down the cyc into a distressed heap on the floor, whispering so fast that the words were indiscernible.  Astounded that no-one was going to his aid, Spike took a step forward, only to have his arm caught by Simone.

“He’ll let us know when he wants help.”

Spike jerked his arm away.

“Look at him!  If that isn’t needing help…”

Despite the protestation, Spike was reluctant to barge in, not understanding enough of what was happening to be able to convince himself he was doing the right thing.

“I know it’s hard to see,” Simone said, “but I promise you he’ll let us…”

“No, no, no!” Xander hollered, making them all jump, and he was up and running, Spike in swift pursuit.

Xander bolted through the building, mindlessly trying to outrun the spirit that was growling and hissing into his ear, into his mind, threatening and tormenting, showing him pictures that were a million nightmares in the making.  He hurtled through the back doors and kept going, out into the parking lot, the open air, leaving grazes on his face from his nails as he ripped off the patch that felt like it was chewing its way into his skin.

Into the small copse that grew at the rear of the hall and he was forced to stop at the mesh fence that ran through it, crashing into it and turning, around then around again: nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.


The soft tone brought a sob from the distraught man, and as Spike took a step forward, Xander took a desperate one back.

“You can’t…  No-one can stop this – I – I…  Oh, God.  Oh, God.”

“Xander, talk to Saul,”  Henry, now at Spike’s side, urged.  “Let Saul help you.”

“I can’t hear him anymore, I can only hear…  I don’t know what this is, it’s…  It says…it’s gonna be here, always, with me, always, it’s…  Can’t you smell it, the stench of it, the evil, it’s…  Use me, it says it will use me, and I’ll never be able to stop it, I can’t…”

The terrified, broken voice was too much.  Spike strode purposefully forward, ignoring Xander’s attempts to avoid him and pulling the man to him exactly as the Colberg’s wouldn’t; in a move that was instinctively and unquestionably ‘vampire comforting favoured childe’, Spike’s hand went to the back of Xander’s head, roughly bringing his face to the vampire’s neck, getting him as close as possible, staking a claim and letting these actions scream of his own worth when compared to the humans that now teetered on the edge of panic.

“It’s all right,” Spike assured Xander, enfolding him in a protective embrace and tightening the hold until Xander could barely breathe but couldn’t fail to feel safer.  “We’ll see it off, it can’t have you.”

“Such evil.”

“Better not be me you’re talking about.”  Spike heard a tearful chuckle before he felt Xander’s arms tentatively creep around his waist and hold him back.  “Is it still here?”

“You…  There’s something about you.  Keeps them away.  Fucking hell, Spike, please keep it away.  Please.”

“I keep them away?  And there I was hoping you’d snuggled up to me to sleep because you fancied me.”

“It isn’t a joke.  I wish it was.  I wish…”

Xander shuddered and Spike flexed his muscles to remind Xander of the strength protectively surrounding him.

“No joke.  Got that.”  Another shudder, and Spike opted for temperature over fear.  “Want to get back inside?  Bloody cold out here and you’re not dressed for it.  Fat lot of good you’ll be for me if you catch your death.”

Spike felt the hesitation before Xander shifted slightly, and Spike relaxed his grip enough for Xander to move a few inches away.  The young man’s face was chalk-white with shock, he was still quivering from head to toes, and the drum-roll heartbeat didn’t seem about to slow down any time soon.

“This is so humiliating,” Xander managed through chattering teeth.  “Had to be you.  Why did it have to be you?”

Happy to be the unwanted focus of Xander’s attention, Spike grinned cheekily and began to coax Xander back toward the building.  The moment he got more than a foot away Xander’s hand fisted in his coat and pulled him back.

“Is it still around?”

“I don’t want to find out.”

Simone came to Xander’s free side and took his arm, rubbing it briskly to try and work up a little heat.

“Is this in any way similar to what happened last night?” she asked in her best post-meeting soothing tone.

“No.  Last night I was overwhelmed, tonight…”  Xander’s eye welled and he finally braved letting go of Spike in order to be cuddled by Simone, risking the entity’s presence for the sake of a little, more acceptable, comfort.

Only seconds later she was hissing a warning and Henry rushed to her, only to be brushed aside as Spike effortlessly slung Xander’s unconscious form over his shoulder.

Wrapped in his goat hair blanket, sipping his coffee, Xander gradually, silently, recovered.  Once reassured that a colleague had taken over the meeting, Xander had worked himself away from the understandable fright and concentrated on trying to interpret the entity’s unusual nature.  A private word to Spike and the vampire had reluctantly left the vicinity long enough for Xander to successfully re-establish firm contact with his spirit guide, who was unable to enlighten Xander about the being that had overwhelmed them both.

“It said it would use me.”  Xander broke his silence and Simone and Henry turned to him, waiting for more.  “Not harm me, but use me to harm others, and it showed me…”  Xander swallowed hard and shook his head.  “You don’t need to know how.”

“You wouldn’t be responsible for your actions.”

A lengthy minute studying Henry before Xander was able to speak.

“It’s possible then?”

“Most mediums have certain…defences, but…”

“Not me.  I can’t shut it out, I can’t…hang up the phone.”  His voice dropped to nothing.  “It can do what it said.”

“Xander…” Simone began cautiously.  “Your problems seemed to start when Spike arrived, you don’t think…”

“He’s just here to ask for a favour, he’s not about to piss me off by…”

“The timing, though, may be too close to be coincidental.”


“It may not be something he’s even conscious of.  When we were outside you told him he kept the spirits away, perhaps he has latent abilities and…”

“Spike may be a little…different, but I don’t think this is about him.  Although…” Xander continued quickly as Simone drew breath.  “I admit the timing looks bad.”

“Talk to him.”


They all looked over as ‘him’ stepped into the open doorway.

“There’s a bloke here who says he wants to help you.”

“Who?” Xander asked anxiously, sitting up in his chair.  A tall, balding man, thin enough to make Spike look overweight, was finally allowed access by the glowering vampire, and Xander smiled a relieved welcome.  The man immediately came to Xander and took his hand.  “Spike, this is Douglas, he’s the medium who took over tonight, he’s probably the best here.”

Spike grunted an unimpressed acknowledgement.

“Are you okay, Xander?  I’ve been hearing some disturbing rumours.”

“Can I tell you?”

Douglas immediately agreed, bringing a chair over so he could sit in close proximity to the younger medium, resting his hand on Xander’s forearm in an understated gesture of support as he listened carefully to a stilted, edited to exclude the worst of the entity’s threats, account of everything that had occurred.  The man nodded encouragingly where appropriate, asked a few pertinent questions, and remained in thought for several minutes after Xander had finished his account.

“Would you like me to see if I can make contact with this spirit?”

“If that’ll help us figure this out.”

“We’ll do our best.”  He patted Xander’s arm.  “Where?  Your choice.”

“The auditorium should be empty by now.”

“Why the auditorium?” Spike asked Xander sharply, thinking more space, less control.

“Because if this goes wrong I’m more likely to panic in here because it’s so claustrophobic.”

“And I’d appreciate some distance between Xander and me,” Douglas added.  “If this entity makes contact, there’s a better chance that I’ll be able to keep it focused on me and away from Xander.”

“I’ll look after Xander.”

“Thank you, I’m sure we all appreciate that.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not doing it for we all.”


Spike glared at Xander but bit back the next comment, playing at agreeable despite resenting Xander’s usefulness for making it necessary, and Douglas for being so fucking nice.


When Douglas, Simone and Henry left for the main hall, Xander caught Spike’s arm and pulled him back into the room, shutting the door and leaning against it.

“What?” Spike demanded.

“Tell me this is a coincidence.  You being here and…”

“Yeah, I know, I heard the old cow…”

“Hey!  You don’t talk about my friends that way.”

“Why?  What are you going to do about it?  Cry?  Beg me not to leave you?”

“You should have left before we got to this,” Xander sniped back.  “But Spike wants his mommy and only Xander…”

Spike was across the room in a second, hands slapping with a resounding bang onto the door, either side of Xander’s head.  The human froze as blue eyes momentarily flickered yellow.

“Talking of Mummy,”  Spike growled, “we need to have a little chat about how she apparently spoke to you when we were inches apart, seeing as the spirits keep their gobs shut in my presence.”

Xander knew the answer, and he built the anticipatory pause very nicely.

“Because…  She doesn’t register the demon.  Her connection is with William and she only sees William.  Her beloved William.”

Spike blinked rapidly a few times, unable to retain eye contact, and stared past Xander at where his whitened fingertips pressed against the darkly stained wood of the door.  Xander’s hands came to his chest and gently pushed; Spike backed up.

“Xander?” came from a distance, followed by swiftly approaching footsteps.  “Xander?”

“On my way,” Xander called over his shoulder; the footsteps hesitated, then retreated.  Xander turned his attention to where Spike stood, rigidly still, gazing unseeingly at the floor.  “Coincidence, Spike?”

“I d’know.  Hell of a one, though.”

“Jesus, every time you give me a straight answer you scare the wits outta me.”

“Coincidence, maybe.  Nothing deliberate.”

“This could be about you, about what you came to ask me to do.”

“I don’t know.”

“Scare you off?  Me off?  Haunt me for the rest of my life?  Put me on Death Row, ‘cause the stuff it was promising…”

“I don’t know.”

“You have to know something about something!  Or, if Angel’s the brains of the outfit, you get on the phone and ask him what the fuck is happening.”


“I’ve got a presence threatening to usurp my hold on this body and use it to split kids in two, and as I’m terrified that it might be possible, I can’t afford for you to be too damn egotistical to call the boss.”

“He’s not…”

“Stick to the fucking point!”

“Right now,” Spike said evenly, “I think you’ll find the fucking point is in the auditorium waiting to be made.”

Xander took a breath for the continuing tirade, but mid-gulp considered that Spike might just be right.  With a last withering look, he left the room, slamming the door behind him.


Simone was waiting at the end of the corridor.


“If it’s a coincidence it’s…coincidental.  Spike is coincidental.  Spike’s…  He doesn’t know, and I don’t know, and…if Doug can’t help, I’m screwed.”

Simone watched Xander gloomily head off to the auditorium, and was still in place when Spike prowled along the corridor in sullen pursuit.

“And are you okay?” she asked as Spike determined to walk past without so much as a glance.

“You give a toss…why exactly?”

“Needing an answer doesn’t necessarily mean I ‘give a toss’, it simply means that I need an answer.”

Spike appreciated her candour but it didn’t make him like her any better.

“How okay do I have to be to get you off my back?”

“Xander being okay gets me off your back; you being okay simply means Xander having support should he need it.”

“Don’t like that, do you?” Spike grinned meanly, sidling closer.  “Tell me…  When our boy rejects being clasped to your sagging bosom, what sensitive little places does it tweak when he clings to me?”

“Places…” Simone coolly answered after the briefest moment of consideration, “of apprehension.  I fear that someone I’m very fond of is keeping company with the biggest mistake of his life.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Now, why doesn’t that surprise me?”

Spike laughed to himself and continued after Xander, cheerfully adding Simone to the hit list that existed within his often-lived, bloodthirsty daydream of no chip, no soul.

Strolling onto the stage, Spike ignored Douglas and Henry and scanned the vacated hall, taking less than a second to spot Xander at the rear, hunched against the frame of the fire exit – rather appropriately, Spike thought, beneath the illuminated sign that featured a running man.  Knowing from her perfume that Simone was right behind him, Spike didn’t waste any time in getting to the tense young man, back to his games and taking satisfaction from Simone’s guaranteed dissatisfaction as he invaded Xander’s personal space to check him out, deliberately bestowing a few gentle, concerned touches and feeling the body beneath his hand tighten guardedly.

“Why the nice?” Xander asked, full of suspicion.

“I remembered your face,” Spike told him with an apologetic smile that Xander didn’t appear to question.  “Outside.  And I feel a proper bastard for throwing what happened back at you.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I’m sorry too.  What I said.”

“All square then?  Or do you want to punch me again for good measure?”

“Spike…”  Spike could hear, could feel the strain.  Serious now, he waited for Xander to continue.  “Spike…  If, somehow, that entity gets to me, proves it can…use…this body…  Don’t let it hurt anyone, will you?  Whatever you have to do.”

“Won’t come to that.”

“Promise me.”

“Yeah, but…”

“You might be the only one strong enough to stop it.  Stop me.”


“I’ll take that as a yes.  And I’ll take that as your word.”

Games forgotten, Spike moved alongside Xander, grimly shoulder to shoulder as they stared at the man on the stage who looked far too fragile to be any kind of defensive line.

“Good, is he?”

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to do this.  Doug is…  He’s pretty special.”

Spike glanced at Xander, eyebrow rising in curiosity at the tone.

“How special?”

“Let’s just say you’re not the only person I’ve begged for help since I became a freak.”

Spike looked back to Douglas with fresh scrutiny.

“What did he do?”

“Taught me to find the calm place.  Relatively calm.  Taught me to meditate.  Taught me to accept help honestly.”

“Like mine?”

“Like yours.  He listened to me, understood me, he…  Took away the patch.”

“What did you give him in return?”

Xander shrugged.

“Nothing, I guess.  But we’re all friends here.  Friends don’t always need something in return.”

“When I said you could take a swing I didn’t mean verbally.”

“That would imply that we’re friends.”

“I’ve been called worse,” Spike said huffily.  “But, obviously you still think I’m not good enough for…”

“I can’t believe you give a damn—  This is you taking my mind off what’s about to happen.”

“This is me trying to take your mind off what’s about to happen.”

“Too late.”  Xander met Douglas’ enquiring eyes across the auditorium and gave a quick nod.  “It’s happening.”

Douglas’ lips moved; Spike alone could hear the whispered blessing that encompassed everyone attending this happening, and it was as if the soul and demon both stirred within him, embracing or rejecting the sentiments; overall though, he felt included, and he shared this entreaty for guidance and protection.  Included.  Which was…novel.

Douglas listened, closed his eyes and concentrated, and Spike turned his head to whisper directly into Xander’s ear.

“What if he gets the stadium of victims?”

“He’s not like me, he can be selective.”

“But if…”

“He’s searching for a massive presence, something evil, those victims are not evil.”

“You feel anything?”

“No.  Not this close to you.”

Xander heard what he’d said, gave a quiet, despairing groan at the implication of need in his words, and would have been appalled to know just how much Spike enjoyed this admission of dependency, however unwillingly it was shared, or how temporary it would prove to be.

Their full attention snapped back to the stage as a low, oppressive rumble rolled around the auditorium; Xander unconsciously pressed closer to Spike.

“That’s how it felt.  Inside.”

“But it’s out here.”

Spike was peripherally aware of Xander’s hand fumbling at the neck of his t-shirt, and when he saw the man’s fist clench around something, and the fine gold chain escaping from between his fingers, guessed that Xander was holding a cross or some other symbol of his faith.  Strange to not care, yet not like that, both at the same time.

“I should be with Doug.”

“Take one step and I’ll break your legs.”

Douglas’ head tilted, swung, tilted further at a seemingly impossible angle, before being flung back, jaw gaping, and the most horrendous, inhuman screech emerged, causing everyone listening to slap hands protectively over ears.  Xander twitched forward, Spike jabbed him back with a sharp elbow.  As abruptly as it had started, the noise stopped, and Douglas’ head jerked upright, eyelids opening to expose uninterrupted, bloodshot white, lips pulling back in a feral snarl.

As their hands left their ears, they became aware of a hissing sound, a swirl of indecipherable words that reminded Spike of what was emerging from Xander after his earlier encounter with the entity, but this was – he struggled to find a word to describe it to himself – slicker?  Like freezing oil running down his spine.  A viscous sound that crept and infiltrated and…  If Xander got any closer he’d be on the other side of him, but Spike never forgot for a moment how stupidly courageous Xander was and waited on tenterhooks for him to make the break.

“This,” was spat from the midst of the verbal slime.  “This.  Is.  Not.  Mine,” Douglas carefully enunciated in a voice that was nails being scraped down a blackboard.  “Fragile.  Fraaagile.”

The man’s arm rose and they saw the pain and terror in suddenly green, indisputably human eyes as it shattered mid-forearm and the hand flapped loosely down.

“Not.  Mine.  Expendable,” was announced, and that was all it took for Xander’s outrage to outweigh sense and self-preservation.  Evading Spike’s lunge he charged toward the stage, screaming in wordless fury, ignoring the… “My.  Own.” …that whipped around him and should have sent him racing back to the vampire for protection.

The being controlling Douglas gave a crude, slithering laugh before releasing the man and letting him slump, unconscious, to the floor.  Its attention turned toward Xander, and with the bone-shaking rumble, its essence began the invasion just as Spike tackled him, knocking him to the ground and holding him down with some difficulty.  Xander bucked ferociously beneath him, but the unnaturally enhanced strength seeped away in seconds, and Xander slumped, head rolling sideways; Spike slipped a hand beneath Xander’s cheek and gently turned the lolling head back so he could study Xander’s face.

After an interminably long three seconds the right eye fluttered open.  Another three seconds and Spike saw recognition in the depths of the brown.

“Where’d it go?”



“No, Spike,” the vampire frowned.

Xander was Xander enough to look highly unimpressed.

“Is Doug okay?”

Simone was tending to the injured man and Henry was phoning for an ambulance.

“Can’t quite see.”

“Maybe I could if I didn’t have a vampire pinning me to the floor,” Xander told him tersely.

Spike glanced back down as if only just noticing their situation.

“Think you’re safer here,” he said with a grin, but let himself be shoved away, Xander being quite determined to get to the older medium’s side.

On the stage, Xander knelt alongside a groggy, but thankfully conscious Douglas, seizing on the offer of a hand to hold and awkwardly turning to lay on his side, bringing himself and his friend eye to eye.

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Xander.”

“That – that…thing.  It isn’t just a normal spirit, is it?”

“I’ve never felt anything quite like it.  Not in this type of situation, at least.”

“Someplace else?”

“Some reputed hauntings have entities of that power, that…degree of evil.”

“How would it have got here?  Latched onto me?”  Douglas weakly shook his head, eyes drooping shut.  Doug.”  The eyelids took their time opening again.  “You okay?  Please be okay.”

“Sore.  Tired.”  He glanced around with some difficulty as Spike dropped lightly to his knees at his back.  “Hi, Spike.”

“All right, mate?”

“Will be.”  Xander watched Douglas’ face as the Spike effect took hold.  “That’s…interesting,” he said to Xander with a smile.  Xander simply nodded, and hoped there wouldn’t be unanswerable questions, but Douglas’ fingers simply tightened on his.  “Spike can keep you safe?  Keep it away from you?  Until there’s a way to figure this out?”

“Yeah, Spike can,” came from behind him.  “Spike will.  But Spike needs Xander to come away from all this, step out of the spotlight.”

“What if I go and it stays?  It could do this to someone else because it can’t get at me.”

“I think Spike has a plan,” Douglas’ voice faded to nothing, and the eyes once again drifted shut.

“Let him rest,” Henry advised.

“I think I hear the ambulance,” Simone said as she hurried toward the nearest fire doors to check.

Xander leaned forward and rested his cheek against Douglas’ temple for a moment, then forced himself away.

“Do you think I should go, H?”

“I have no idea.  But if Douglas thinks you should…”  Henry sighed and shrugged and looked hopefully at Spike.  “You’ll take care of Xander?”

“I can take care of myself.”

“He can take care of himself,” Spike agreed, purely for Xander’s benefit.  “I’ll just keep him company until this beastie that’s got the hots for him loses interest, or we find a way to nuke the bastard thing.  I have…contacts who may be able to help.”

“And Xander will be safe?”

“If anything gets to him it will be over my dead body,” Spike promised, and smiled when he heard the huff from Xander that indicated he’d got and not appreciated the bad humour.

Then there was a bustle of people and hefting of equipment and the suggestion of safety and healing for friends and Spike had Xander’s arm and was guiding him back to that dark little haven behind the stage.


Xander picked up his blanket and, deep in thought and mired in regret, rubbed his thumb over the brightly coloured material before slowly beginning to fold it.  He felt Spike watching him from the corridor, and fluke or not, he couldn’t have changed that much because the temptation to hit his guardian-to-be was almost overwhelming.

“I don’t think I can go.”  With you.  The final words were unspoken but Spike caught them, loud and clear.

“You’re convinced this is my fault?”

“You said it yourself: hell of a coincidence.”

“So…  What d’you think?”  Spike strolled into the room and sat on the edge of the table.  “This…spirit, entity, whatever is carrying out reconnaissance for the powers that intend to wage war on this planet.  Suffering under the delusion that it had dealt successfully with Dead Guy, it tracked down the bloke who interpreted the prophecy and was shocked to find there was a Plan B.  The prophecy led to Angel, Angel led to me, I led to you, and…?”


“Course it’s possible.  Christ, Harris, we know just about anything’s possible.  How many times do I have to die to prove that?”

“And it’s also possible that if you go away, this goes away.”

“Endless, aren’t they?  Possibilities?  What if it is a coincidence?  What if your past is catching up and this would’ve happened whether I was here or not?”

“My past?  There’s nothing…”

“That you’re aware of.  This could be the result of some little trick you played with the witch, and for all the intervening years this vindictive bugger’s been gathering up momentum, layering hatred over hatred, seeking you out and…”


“What if the real coincidence is me being here at the right time to help you?”

“No, this is…  This doesn’t happen.”

“Suit yourself.  But one thing we are sure of?  I can protect you.”

“You can…shield me.  But the only real protection is discovering everything we can about this entity, and finding a way to destroy it or send it back where it came from.  I need Willow, I need Giles, I probably need a pile of books ten feet high.  I don’t need you.”

“I can protect you,” Spike reiterated firmly.

“You think?  If we were somehow kept apart, if – if…  If I was in sunlight.  There would be nothing you could do to help me.  And unless it affects me, influences me, or it gives a performance like the one with Doug, you don’t even know it’s there, you can’t see it, you can’t hear it.  How do you fight something you can’t in any way sense?”

“All right.  The people you – let’s be honest here – don’t need but want are on the other side of the world.  You going to hop on a plane and hope that entity doesn’t nab you mid-flight, use your body to pop outside for a breath of fresh air and bring the whole thing crashing…”

“Don’t say that!”

Possibilities.  I can give you dozens and every one’s a bastard.”

“You have to leave here.  Maybe it will realise I’m not involved and go with you.”

“Look, I’m ready and willing to do whatever I can to keep you safe.”

“Providing I do what you want in return.”  Spike said nothing, showed nothing.  “You know what this is, you brought it here.”

“Not.  Intentionally,” was spelled out once again.

“You brought it here to frighten me into helping you.”

If it followed me here, it’s to scare you off, not the other way around.”

“Well, it worked!  I’m fucking terrified!  Now, if you go…”

“But there’s the possibility…”

“Will you shut the fuck up about possibilities!”

“It said it’s going to stay with you.  Always.  It called you, ‘My own.’  That doesn’t sound like anything I brought along.”

“Yeah, but…” Xander said weakly.  “It’s so much easier to blame you.”

Spike got that, and he gave Xander an infuriating smile.

“Blame me.  Go on, not a problem.”

“Blame you.  Okay.  Would it be overly dramatic for me to accuse you of ruining my life?  Again.”

“Again?  Don’t flatter yourself.  Nothing’s ever been about you.  If I’ve ever hurt you – really hurt you – it’s been a simple case of the bystander getting caught in the crossfire.”

“I thought my blaming you wasn’t a problem.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  You’re right.  Overly dramatic for you to accuse me…” Spike recapped for himself.  “Not overly.  And it wouldn’t be the first time.”

They paused.  They stared.  It was simply a case of who had more to lose.

“If I’m not prepared to take chances,” Xander began slowly, “and I want my life back, I have to talk to Dead Guy for you.  Just say yes or no.”

“I am actually sorry it’s happened like this.”

“Yes or no?” Xander demanded through clenched teeth.

“I wanted you to do this because it was right, and worthwhile, and what you do.”

“It isn’t what I do!”

“So you’ve said.”


Xander sank into a chair and picked at the blanket he was still clinging to.

“Oh…fuck.  It is what I do.  The minute that entity hurt Doug it became what I do, ‘cause nothing hurts the people I care about and gets away with it.”  Xander smiled, a self-deprecating, humourless smile.  “In my imagination at least.”

“Is the promise of revenge better motivation than saving the world?”

“Revenge is one of your multitude of possibilities?”

“Only one way to find out.  C’mon, Xander, up and at it, time to put that headless chicken act of yours to good use.”

“My…!  You’re gonna be dust before we’re done.  Is there anyone else I can deal with?  Someone…human, maybe?”

“Me or Angel.  That’s your choice.”

“No, that’s the anti-choice.”

“It says something like…  ‘The mortal that speaks for the dead will deal with the dead’.”



“How about…  Doesn’t Buffy count?  No clauses to cover the occasionally dead?”

“Me or Angel.”


Xander rested his head back and closed his eye.  Anything but up and at it.

“Will you go find out how Doug is?” he asked after a few minute’s unhappy contemplation.  Spike gave an unseen nod and left.  “Hey!” Xander called after him.  “If this entity isn’t to do with your war, you’re still going to help me, right?”

“Right.  First consideration.  The minute you’re done dragging mankind’s arse out of the inter-dimensional fire.”

“Yeah,” Xander said, to himself now.  “Let’s just hope that’s before I’ve managed to start my own freakin’ Armageddon.”

There went Spike and here came the voices, now a welcome return to a noisy normality, a normality he was about to lose.  He couldn’t even face saying a proper goodbye to his friends, doubted that he’d be able to leave if he so much as tried.  From now on…  Him and Spike.  Him and…

No Spike.  Beyond the company of these benign spirits, he was alone.

He felt a tingle of alarm at the thought of being accessible to the entity that had petrified him and injured Douglas, and had to literally bite his lip to stop himself from panicking and calling Spike back.

He could settle for being a freak, but he drew a line at the headless chicken.





Chapter 4 Communication

They were walking back to Xander’s, just reaching the point of short way versus long way, when Spike ensured it was the protracted walk, suspecting he was shoving his foot in his mouth yet again as he asked…

“Do you get to talk to people you’ve lost?  Have you been able to talk to…”  He attempted a nonchalant shrug. “I d’know…  Anya?”

Xander swallowed audibly hard.

“No.  Like I said, I can’t bring individuals to me.  But at least this way I know she’s okay.”

“Okay?  You think?”

“I know.”

“She get to heaven then?”

“Why shouldn’t she?” Xander challenged, feeling intense protectiveness for his deceased ex and trying not to let his hands curl into fists.

“She was a demon for a long time, indisputably killed more people than I did.”

“But she died a human, a souled human; she was repentant and she died helping to save mankind.  It counts.”

“Does that mean I’m not automatically damned?”

Xander stopped them to stare at Spike, deeply and without expression.  Until he gave a brief, cynical smile.

“You’re repentant?”

“No choice with this bloody soul.”

“Well…  I’m no expert, but at a guess…  Until you’re repentant without the bloody soul forcing you into it, you’re probably in trouble.”

“Ah.  Cheers.”

“Your choice.”

They walked.

“You spoken to anyone you knew from before?”

“I have someone with me, not my spirit guide, but an old friend who’s around when I need him: he acts as an enabler and – that’s a spirit that helps others communicate with me – and that’s about it.”

“Saul, is it?”

“He’s my guide.”

“Then it has to be Jesse.”


“I’ve heard you talking to him.”

“Who is it you want to know about?”

Spike looked away, almost shyly.

“Joyce,” he quietly confessed.  “I know it’s a long time ago now, but The First kept playing around with her, and I’ve found myself wondering if that…”

“Her image, Spike, it wasn’t her.  The First didn’t hurt her, I don’t think it could.”

“You know that from what you do?”

“I know that because I figured it out at the time.  If The First had been able to hurt the people we’d lost, it would have used that against us.  Can you imagine how much Buffy would have suffered if she couldn’t have prevented the torture of her mom’s immortal soul?  The distraction alone would have made her weaker and…”

“You figured that out, did you?  All that time back.  And you didn’t feel like sharing?”

Xander gave a sarcastic laugh.

“What could this lackbrain possibly know that the mighty William the Bloody couldn’t figure out for himself?”

Spike hesitated in his reply; Xander hoped  - but doubted – it was because he felt guilty about the thousand-and-one insults he’d called the human back in Sunnydale.  Then again…pots and kettles.

“Wasn’t thinking too clearly,” Spike eventually mumbled.  “What with the soul, The First in my head…”

“Don’t expect me to feel sorry for you.  I’m not magically a better person because of what I do.”

“Still hate me then?  I thought we were getting on rather well.  For us.”

“I…”  Xander sighed.  “I didn’t hate you at the end of Sunnydale, Spike, and that’s much too extreme to describe how I feel now, but…there’s a long way to go until I forget some stuff I really need to forget if we’re working together.”  Spike chuckled; Xander’s fingers knotted and tightened.  “What?” Xander demanded.  “The forgetting stuff isn’t funny, I promise you.”

“I know that.  It’s this.  Us.  Working together.  Not chasing around after the slayer, but…us.  You and me, Harris.  Working together.”

“Do you respect what I do?”

Another hesitation.

“Are you asking if I respect you?” Spike attempted to clarify.

“Am I a fake?”

“No.  No, course you’re not.”

“Think about it.”

“You’re not.”

Spike was quite adamant and Xander was pleasantly reassured, if a little surprised at how much an affirmative answer had mattered to him.

“Okay, not a fake.  A freak?” Xander smiled.

The vampire rocked his hand in a gesture of indecisiveness and Xander couldn’t stop a laugh at that.  Spike smiled and dropped the hand.

“What you do…is special,” he conceded, albeit grudgingly.  “S’pose you’d take offence if I smacked that grin off your face.”

“Yeah, s’pose I would,” Xander grinned.  Wider.  “And I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to do you any favours.”


Spike gave one of his infamous drama queen sighs before making an unexpected dash up the road.  Xander glanced around himself: an element of wariness, rather more confusion as he tried to figure out what had brought that on, but his attention was soon sidetracked.  The voices crept in, crept and then surged, messages for the people in the houses he passed, the cars that passed him, rows of voices for rows of houses, a trickle of voices for the trickle of traffic.  Slowing to a stroll, Xander muttered his comments to those surrounding him, trying to convey the inaccessibility of those they wanted to contact, accustomed to this and untroubled by the few spirits that began to materialise in proximity to him.  One was a child, and the children always affected Xander deeply, even the carefree ones that came to share cheeky stories and happy thoughts.  He stopped two feet short of this one and hoped she could see him.

“Hi, Honey, who do you belong to?”  No response from the child but Xander felt Saul leading his mind away, far away.  “Can’t help you right now, I’m sorry, you should be miles west.”  Xander knelt on one knee, coming eye to eye with the spirit, convinced she barely registered him.  “Someone’s going to take you to where you need to be.  You’ll be okay.”  Xander watched as the apparition faded, and he warmed as he felt Jesse, experienced the scents of childhood that always accompanied this momentary closeness.

“Is it still around?” Spike’s voice echoed down the street.  “Your uber-nasty?”

“No.  This is normal,” Xander said as he straightened up.

“What was that?  You were just talking to?”

“None of your business.”

A new voice whispered to Xander and he fell perfectly still; he listened.  One moment he was a spectator, the next…


Damp air.  Age.  Dark.  Water lapping.  Decay.  Filth, wet filth.  Polluted river, Xander quickly figured.  Age, feeling of the past.  Heels clicking on paveme…no, cobbles.  Age.  Dark, sensation of dark, and…not being alone in the dark.  Not alone in the dark, and Xander felt the icy slide of fear travel down his spine.  This man, this other, this victim.  Who doesn’t know.  But…  Water lapping, wet filth, click, click, click on cobbles.  Not alone in the dark.  Glancing back over his shoulder…  What’s there?  What’s following?  Nothing.  Something.  Home want home want home want…  Speeding up now, turning, facing front, facing front to find…  The golden eyes of a devil, and this other is unable to prevent himself shrieking with terror as a meanly grinning mouth opened and fangs…


The images, voices, manifestations dispersed at Spike’s concerned approach, and Xander reached out to grab and pound the startled vampire, wanting revenge, wanting to reciprocate, cause the pain that…  Wasn’t his.  Xander stepped back, hands flat, fingers spreading, not wanting fists, not this time.  A vessel of communication, not judge and jury, not an instrument of retribution.  A mere witness.

“Docks.  I think…I think…  London,” he stuttered.  “You.”  Xander rubbed at his neck, at the latest wound that wasn’t there.  “You.”

At first Spike was stuck for words, his expressive face a picture of shame and regret.

“Long time ago,” he ventured when several minutes had passed.

“Yes,” with no apparent emotion at all from Xander.

That seemed to be that.  Nothing more to say.  They began to walk, and when Xander weaved across the pavement Spike caught his arm and held it firmly until Xander shook him off.  To be expected, Spike was reasoning with himself, when Xander’s hand shocked him by sliding into the crook of Spike’s elbow…  ‘Taught me to accept help honestly.’  …merely making itself more comfortable when Spike bent his arm to make a cradle for it, and there it remained as they slowly and silently, reflectively, made their way to Xander’s home.

It didn’t take Xander long to gather his possessions together: beyond his clothes and toiletries there was a small collection of photographs, a couple of books and notepads, a tiny personal stereo that Spike’s fingers itched to steal, settling instead for showing a feigned casual interest and scrolling through the thousand or so song titles as Xander checked the house to see if he’d forgotten anything he needed.

“I’m not big on ownership,” Xander said as he went, not caring whether Spike could hear him or not.  “I’ve lost so much stuff over the years.  First Sunnydale, then in Africa.  Coming home, I was barely off the boat before I got mugged.”

“You didn’t bring your blanket though.  I thought you liked that.”

“No, I…”  Xander dropped his voice; he thought the bedroom was far enough away from Spike so the vampire wouldn’t hear.  “Thought if I left that at the hall it was a sign I’d be coming back for it.”

Spike heard perfectly well, but he knew the tone.  Xander was due that scrap of privacy.


Ten more minutes of pointless checking and Xander came and sat opposite Spike, staring at nothing, looking completely shell-shocked by the turn his life had taken, from peace to turmoil in two days.

“I must be crazy,” he muttered to himself.  Spike ignored him, simply got on with surreptitiously erasing any tracks on the player that he’d rather combust than hear Xander sing along with.  “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Now that Spike paid attention to.

“Which part of this?”

“The leaving.”

“You’ll be back.  Probably sooner than you think.”

“And you can guarantee me that?”


“And there you go again with the honesty.  Have you learned nothing about dealing with the promise of a horrible end?  Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

“Where did the horrible end come from?”

“What I…”  Xander shuddered as he recalled the thoughts that the entity had pushed into his mind.  “I hope this isn’t coincidence, I hope this is you.”  Spike looked the question.  “Deal with Dead Guy, this…thing takes a spiritual hike, and…  The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“I meant what I said.  We’ll help you.”

“You can speak for Angel?”

“Whatever you think of him – we think of him – you know he wouldn’t let you suffer if there was anything he could do to stop it.”  Xander nodded, patently unconvinced.  “Buffy’d make his life misery if he didn’t,” Spike tried, and the slight smile that thought raised would have to be enough.

“Why do we have to leave right now?  The entity…”

“The people who killed Dead Guy might have tabs on us.  Now you’re on the anti-apocalypse team I don’t want you to be Dead Guy Two.”

“This just gets better and better.”

“If you’re ready I’ll give Angel a call, get him to send us a car.”

“I’ve got a car.”

“You’ve…what?” Spike demanded stiffly.

“I’ve got a car.  It’s in the garage.”

“In the garage as in in the workshop, being fixed?”

“In the garage as in in the garage, the one attached to the house.”

“So why are we walking everywhere?”

“Hardly everywhere.  The hall is about five minutes away.”

“It’s never taken five minutes yet!”

“Because I keep taking us the long way so we can talk.”

“Whatever happened to the comfort of sitting in a nice warm motor for a natter?” Spike all but ranted.  “Anyone else would have shown a little consideration, but no, you have to drag me through the streets like a stray on a bit of string.  Technology is totally wasted on a bloody oik like you.”

“I wouldn’t say that.  Someone handed me a tazer right now I’d happily use it.”

“Charming.  I’m going to save your life and…”

“Should I remind you that my life didn’t need saving until you showed up?”

“Stop changing the subject.”

“That is the subject, and since when was this about saving my life?  I thought…”

“We were talking about the car, yes, that’s right, try to keep up.  Where are the keys?”

“No way, you’re not driving.”

“You’re in no fit state.”

“I’m perfectly capable.”

“What if the uber-nasty reappears?”

“Isn’t that the point of having to keep your tedious – sorry, Freudian slip - illustrious company?”

Spike rose abruptly

“Shall I just go then?  Leave you to your mangled-limbed, kiddie-splitting future?”

“Sure, fine, missing you already, just…”  Xander went to Spike and, despite the protestations, burrowed in his pocket, taking back the stereo.  “If you can manage it without stealing any of my meagre possessions it would be appreciated.”

Spike looked from Xander’s thoroughly pissed off face to the player, and back to Xander.  Then he grinned.

“Like old times, innit?”

“You’re going,” Xander prompted.

“Yes.  With you, to the car.  Now…  Where did you say the keys were?”

It was a Mustang Convertible in Screaming Yellow, hardly the most appropriate car for an inconspicuous tour of the back of beyond, and although Spike took an immediate liking to the thing he griped the necessary gripe about…well, everything, but practically hopped from foot to foot in his impatience for Xander to hand over the keys and let him drive.  Which Xander naturally refused to do, hoping to retain a little of the so-far non-discernible balance of this partnership.

Spike got to navigate, and an hour before dawn they drove into a small motel, Spike not bothering to ask Xander about what kind of arrangements he wanted before booking a twin room for them, then it was a visit to the diner before they were prevented by daylight.  As they sat waiting for their steak and fries, Xander stared unseeingly out of the window and, quite simply, regretted.

“I should have said goodbye properly.  I should have at least left them a note.  Will I be able to call them?”

“No.  It’s safer for them if they know nothing.”  Xander nodded, leaned his elbows on the table and head in his hands.  Spike nudged his shin with a booted toe when it looked as if he might be dropping off.


“You know what you were saying earlier?  About Anya having a soul, and repenting?”

“What about it?”

“Do you think that if something has a soul it should be assumed to be good, and if not it should be assumed to be bad?”

“God, no.  Once maybe, when I was younger and dumber, but I grew out of that.  Besides, I’m pretty sure that the most evil creature we ever came across had a soul.”

“Really?  Some kind of…mutated demon, was it?”

“That may have been the answer, but…  No.  No excuses, human through and through and…wow, evil like you’ve never known.”

“Have I heard of him?  Her?”

“Him.  And…  Even the name, even now.”  Xander shuddered and Spike waited, all big-eyed interest.  Xander sat forward and dropped his voice; Spike automatically mirrored the lean.  “Snyder,” Xander said in a low, troubled voice.  “Snyder.”

Spike’s face was grim.


“Yeah.  Was.”

“Want me to kill him for you?”

“Too late.  He got eaten when Sunnydale’s mayor turned into a giant snake.”

“Anyone else and I’d think it was a load of bollocks, but…you have the history, mate.”

“And Spike…  You’re probably not supposed to be offering to kill people for me.”

“I fight evil.”

“You’re a murderer.  On a whim – and this time it would be on my whim – and…  Did that sound as pervy to you?”

“Isn’t it a romantic human notion?  Having someone prepared to kill for you?  Destroy your enemies?”


“Was in my day.”

“Notion, maybe.  Reality…  Twenty-five to life.”

“So…  Anya killed and maimed, relentlessly, for a thousand years, but you still think she got her place in heaven?”


“And you said I could too, if I freely repented my actions, no soul forcing me into it.”

“That’s what I believe.  But not if you start killing off people ‘cause they gave me a hard time at sc…in the past.”

“If I sacrificed myself saving you, mankind, whole kit and caboodle, think that’d do the trick?”

“Is it going to come to that?”

“Oh.  No.  Don’t panic.  Hypothetical all the way.  Though I did do it, didn’t I?  End of Sunnydale.”

“Yes, you did, and…  There’s something important you have to understand here: I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I don’t even know why you’re listening to me.  I’m no expert, no philosopher, I just believe what I need to believe to get me through, okay?”

“Ah.  She could be sizzling in hell as we speak then?  You just choose not to believe it?”  Xander stared angrily and Spike nodded in acknowledgement that he’d said a little too much.  “So…”

“No, no more ‘so’.  Shut up now before I dump you here and go home.”

“Why yellow?”


“The car?  You don’t strike me as Screaming Yellow.  Or, maybe…”  The glare was back, although there was the possibility it had never gone away.  “Nice though.  Nice car,” Spike added genially.

“It was a gift.”

“A gift?  Who did you do to earn that?”

“One of the people I held private sittings for died.  Her husband gave me her car.”

“She must’ve liked you.”

Xander readied the evil eye, but Spike’s tone was conciliatory, and when Xander looked the vampire’s expression had softened.

“It was mutual.”

“Was he jealous?  The husband?”

“Yeah, he hated my guts, that’s why he gave me her car.”

“How’d she die?”

Xander’s body bunched, and Spike watched the emotion rise to the surface and be pressed back down with some difficulty.

“Cancer.  I helped her through the last months, I helped her beat her fears about death being the end.”


“Sometimes…”  Xander’s voice became a whisper.  “What I do is hard.”

“Yes,” Spike agreed kindly.  “I know the feeling.”


The food arrived; Xander thanked the waitress and they ate in silence until someone switched on the jukebox and Willie Nelson joined them.

“Surely…  The demon has to be pretty much damned,” Xander said once they’d finished eating, “but I can’t believe the soul will be unless it deserves that kind of punishment.  Being murdered doesn’t send someone to hell.”

“I could go to heaven as William?”

“I guess.  It wouldn’t be fair to punish the soul, if the soul is…untainted.  Maybe it’s all about how you live your life from now on.”

“Do you think…  If we take punishment on Earth, can we avoid…”

Xander waved Spike quiet as the waitress came to top up their coffee.

“Why would the demon want to avoid hell?” Xander asked the moment they were alone again.  “Isn’t that like…”  He shrugged.  “Going home?  Being recalled to HQ?”

“Nothing in its right mind wants hell.”

“That side of you is screwed then, huh?”

“There has been punishment, and I took it, didn’t question whether it was deserving or not.  For example…  I had some crazy would-be slayer cut my hands off.”  Xander grimaced, eye darting to Spike’s bare arms, looking for scars.  “You can’t see where, not now,” Spike explained, but he stretched his arms across the table and traced the amputation line on his right wrist.  Xander ran his fingertips over the perfectly healed flesh.

“If I’d been able to go to the people who helped you when I lost my eye, could it have been replaced?”

“You’d want that?”

“How can you even ask?”

“You might not have this, what you do.  The feeling worthwhile, the completely at peace with yourself.  Have you forgotten that?”

“No.  But once the ability came out, being helped – being healed – wouldn’t have affected it.  And…I’d like to be able to see properly, how obvious is that?  I’d like not to panic when I get eye strain because I’m terrified of something going wrong with the eye I have left and ending up blind.  I’d like to meet someone new and not have to ignore the fact that the first thing they see is the damage.  I stopped wearing the patch because I was sick of people being curious about what was underneath, and now I just get sick of people asking what happened, and – and it’s insulting that they try to be delicate when I know they’re really just looking for a cheap thrill from my horror story.”

“I thought you said it was Douglas that took away the patch.”

“Yeah, after he’d listened to me complain about this stuff for months.”

“You’ll go to heaven, won’t you?”

“I damn-well better or I want answers!”

Spike chuckled at that, tried to suppress it, which only made it worse.  Xander shook his head and joined in.

“I can’t answer your questions, Spike, I wish I could.  Even the whole heaven and hell thing is subjective, particular to the…”

“I’m on the right side now.  Tell me that gives me a fighting chance.”

Xander’s smile stayed; academic plaudits may have eluded him but he could have earned a diploma in mindless reassurance ten times over.

“You have a chance.”

“That I earned for myself.”

“Yup, you did.  Odds are rising in your favour as we speak.”

“Now you’re humouring me.”

“I certainly am.”

Spike laughed again, and Xander excused himself, heading to the restroom.


Using the time while Xander was gone to phone Angel, Spike reported that he’d secured the medium’s help, then listened to an update on the questionable prophecy and its equally questionable translation.  Spike was just putting his point, rather forcefully, to a thoroughly bemused Angel that he didn’t want Xander put at unnecessary risk because heaven might depend on it, when he spotted Xander returning.

He watched, suspicious of everyone within a radius of, say, two-hundred miles, as Xander paused at the jukebox, feeding it with a few coins and choosing a selection that just about dragged the diner into the present century.  He also saw the reaction when the waitress who had been serving them stopped close by: Xander’s head twitched around to listen to a voice, and he unconsciously leaned toward the apparent source, giving a few shallow nods.

“Gotta go.”

Spike cut the connection as Angel was midway through a sentence, and coughed loudly to catch Xander’s attention.  It worked, Xander immediately glanced in his direction, but he didn’t take so much as a step toward the vampire, obviously paying close attention to the spirit; Spike hoped to the point of prayer that it wasn’t another of his victims, because how long could he keep Xander on side if the man was confronted with his murderous past twenty-four/seven?

Another of Xander’s unconscious gestures – the patting of air that seemed to signify that the spirit should slow down, back off, wait, something like that – Spike knew he’d learn to read them all eventually, and Xander was returning to their table.

“What’s wrong?” Spike asked immediately.

“I’m…  I’m really bad at judging whether to pass on messages.  Like I shouldn’t have told you about your mom…”

“Yes, you should.”

“Not like I did, that was way too hard on you, I’m not surprised at how you reacted.”  Before Spike could voice his shock at Xander’s unexpected show of sensitivity, the man was pressing on, leaning forward to talk confidentially.  “Her child died, her boy.”

“The waitress?”

“Yeah.  And I have a message, but do I tell her?  It’s…”  Xander sagged in his seat.  “It’s too important not to.”

“You’re not at work now.”

“That’s a stupid argument, like this is nine-to-five.”  Xander took his eyepatch from his pocket and begrudgingly pulled it on, a quick automatic action.  “If she comes over will you make yourself scarce for a few?”

“How am I supposed to keep you low profile if you start advertising your presence by holding bloody séances in restaurants?”

The waitress was making her way to them, and without another word from Xander, Spike sighed irritably before giving her a forced smile and wandering off to the jukebox.


“Er…hi.  Can I tell you something?”

“Was there a problem with the food?”

“No, the food was great, thank you, I…”  Xander glanced at her nametag.  “Chrissie.  You mind if I call you Chrissie?”

“I’m married,” she said with a forced smile.

“Oh, God, no, I’m not hitting on you, I just have a message for you.  Can you sit down?  For a couple of minutes?”

“Not while I’m working.  What’s this about?”  The woman now wore a concerned frown, and Xander could’ve kicked himself for worrying her after all she’d been through.

“Do you have any strong opinions about spiritualism?”

She looked rather stunned for a moment, then considered.

“I like to think I’m pretty open-minded.”

“’Cause….umm…that message I have for you…  It’s from your son.  Your youngest.”

The colour drained from Chrissie’s face and she virtually fell into the seat beside Xander.

“My son?  Oh dear God.”

Her hand came up to cover her mouth and tears flooded her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to upset you, but I couldn’t not say.”  Chrissie nodded, speechless with emotion.  “You want me to tell you?”  Chrissie shook her head.  “That a no, or a not here?”

“Not here,” she choked.

She scribbled her address on the back of an order slip and slid it across the table to Xander.

“I have no way to reassure you that I’m not trying to con you, maybe your home isn’t a great idea until you…”

“I get off in an hour.  Can you follow me home?”

“How about I come out later?  I need to get some sleep, I’ll be more use to you then.”

“You can…you can see him?”

“Hear him.  He’s okay now, he’s really okay.”  More speechless nodding from the woman, and the tears began to fall.  “I’m so sorry to upset you.”

“No.  I’m…I’m…  I have to go.”

“I’ll come see you later.”

She nodded again, stood with a wobble, ignored Xander’s helping hand, and hurried away to her duties.


Spike strolled back and sat down, tipping his coffee cup toward him.

“No fresh.  I take it you told her.”

“Like you didn’t listen to every word.”

“What the fuck are you playing at?” Spike demanded through clenched teeth.

“Her boy…”  Xander changed seats, moving close to Spike but still dropping his voice until it was inaudible to non-demonic ears.  “Her little boy died and…there’s something not right about it.”

“We’re not here for that, it doesn’t matter.”

“How can you say that?  It’s terrible, of course it matters.”

“You’re supposed to be keeping a low profile.”

“We’re beyond the middle of nowhere.”

“Low.  Profile.”

“I don’t care.  I have to help her.  It’s up to you whether you come along or not, but I’m going to visit her tonight.”

“Show some sense, will you?”

“This is my brand of sense so you better get used to it.”

“What happens if you’re tied up here when you’re supposed to be saving the world?”

“She’s exactly the kind of person I’m saving the world for.  I have to do this.  Otherwise…  I may as well go home now.”

“You irritating, stubborn…  Buggering hell, all right!”

Spike sank back in his seat; it was impossible to see where the pout ended and the scowl began.

“Who do you want to be then?” Xander asked with a sudden grin.  “Batman or Robin?”

The vampire’s eyes narrowed to mean slits and Xander brought his hands up, fingers in V-signs making a mask, as he danced the Batusi in his seat.

“Fucking idiot,” Spike muttered.  “Wait…  You mean…  You’re intending to look into what happened to her boy?”

“Yeah,” Xander replied earnestly, smile disappearing to be replaced by a look of grim determination.  “I am.  We are.”

Spike sank forward and rested his head on the table.

“Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.”

They made their way to their room just before the sun rose; Xander stood in the open doorway and watched the sky suffuse with colour, aware of Spike’s concerns, his grumbling, his restless pacing, refusing to let it ruin the moment.

“You could stand back there and see this,” he said over his shoulder.  “It’s beautiful.”

“Just get in here, will you?  You look fit to drop.”

Xander gave it a few more minutes then shut the door and flicked the catch on the lock, turning to look around and feeling suitably disheartened by their surroundings.

“This is depressing.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

Spike came and stood alongside Xander, looking as Xander had looked and almost sympathising at the sight of their colourless, characterless surroundings.

“Can I whine?  Like a kid?  I wanna go hoooome,” Xander proceeded to whine.

“Which bed do you want?”

“The one at hoooome.”

“Shut up and choose.”

“Don’t care.”  Spike started toward the bed furthest from the window.  “That one,” Xander automatically said.  With a slow turn on his heel, Spike took a step toward the second bed.  “No, that one.”

“Put it another way: which one would you like to be murdered in your sleep in?”

“You pick,” Xander said with a massive yawn.  “I’m going to take a shower.”

“Later, eh?  Just get some sleep.  You’re going to need it now you’re adding to the itinerary.”

Taking off the eyepatch and throwing into onto the dresser, Xander scratched his face then his scalp and groaned pleasurably.

“Bed.  Yes.  Typical guy.  You never phone, you never write, but the minute we meet up you’re trying to get me between the sheets.”  Xander crawled onto the nearest bed and collapsed onto his front, burying his face in the pillow.  “Wake me for Christmas,” he mumbled, and was instantly asleep.

Spike studied him for a few minutes before crossing and gently persuading him onto his side, more considerate of the average human’s inconvenient need to breathe than the man himself appeared to be.  A quick grope and he found something he intended to hang onto from now on, and he slipped a hand into Xander’s jeans to remove the car keys.

“Can’t begin to tell you how much fun that was, being driven in bad light by a half-blind man who was passing out from exhaustion.  Maybe give it another go when you can guarantee it’s heaven when you kill us both.”

Standing and pocketing the keys, Spike checked the locks on the door and windows.  He paused at the door and thought about nipping out to kill a little local wildlife, although the hunt would be more about working off excess energy than needing the blood: Angel would undoubtedly have a delivery made before Spike was suffering any serious pangs.  Mid-deliberation, muttering from Xander caught his attention: it seemed like the moment Spike had moved away the spirits had grabbed the opportunity to talk.  Several times Xander swiped his hand past his head as if trying to brush off an insect that was buzzing in his ear, then the hand dropped and he began to stir, features tightening in resignation.

Spike began to get a better idea of what it was like to suffer with the permanent connection Xander had spoken of, and the fact that the voices could disturb Xander when he’d been tired enough to virtually fall asleep on his feet told of the strength and persistence of these contacts.  Both curious and uselessly angry about the disturbance, Spike approached the bed, hoping he could get rid of the invisible pests before Xander was fully woken, and…there it was, the point where they backed off in the presence of the demon, betrayed by the slightest changes in Xander’s body language.  Closer still and the tension subsided almost instantly.

Right alongside the bed and Xander was asleep, completely asleep again, too weary to stay near the surface of consciousness when the vampire’s proximity gave him a little peace.  Spike hmmed and took a look at their situation, leaving Xander’s side for just long enough to move a cabinet out of the way and push the two beds together, then flopping down beside the medium who was already back to waving the spiritual bugs away.

“Quiet,” Xander murmured as Spike silenced the voices, followed by a moan of pleasure.  “Quiet.”

Xander unconsciously shuffled a little closer to Spike, who guessed the encroachment would continue much as it had when they were dozing on the sofa, so he turned away from Xander, thinking how nice it would be to have a human’s heat pressed to the back of his whole body.

He didn’t have to wait long to find out he was right.