Hero Chapter 8

Hero Chapter 8 (8/8)

Xander was crying in his sleep and Will just sat there for a minute, watching him.  Moonlight cold and pale over his face and shoulder, the tears like molten silver in tracks over his face and beaded in his eyelashes.

*Fuck.  Gotta wake him up...*   Will was tired - the clock said it was after four - and for a moment he wondered if Xander would calm by himself.  *What the fuck is WRONG with me?  That's just - that sucks!  You bastard.*   Disgusted with himself, he slid a little closer and put his hand on Xander's shoulder, shaking him gently.

"Xan - honey - wake up.  Nightmare, love, wake up.  Xander?"  He shook him again, and stroked his hair back from his face, and after a moment Xander moved - twisted, so he was on his back and looking up at Will.  He dragged in a huge, hitching breath and then reached up and pulled Will down into a fierce embrace, whispering something over and over.  It took Will a moment to understand what he was saying, and when he did he felt a chill.

"Spike - you're alive, you're alive...god, you're alive -"  He wouldn't let go and Will finally just lay half-over him, holding him, listening to that tear-choked voice murmur over and over until Xander fell asleep again.

*God.  Spike?  I thought that was over, I thought...  What are we gonna do?* 


When Will woke a few hours later, Xander's side of the bed was empty and he felt a moment's panic.   He rolled out of bed and grabbed his robe, hurrying down the hall.  He almost fell over trying to stop himself when he heard music and realized Oz was there, and everything was fine.  He stopped and actually tied his robe shut, pushed his hands back through his hair and then he stepped out into the main room. 

They were in their own place now, for almost a year.   A year since the 'other' Sunnydale had been sucked into hell.  A good year, really.  One in which Xander had improved in leaps and bounds.  He hadn't had any slips for over eight months.  No times - awake at least - where he went into the other world.  He still had nightmares, but they were going away.  Everything had seemed so good.  Until last night.

*Spike.  I can almost fucking hate the guy.  He's back?  Alive?  What does that mean?  Glad Oz is here...*   Will walked slowly over to the kitchen area, watching the other two, who hadn't noticed him yet.  Oz was playing his guitar, singing softly, and Xander was writing in his journal.  He'd started it the day after the quake and wrote faithfully every day - said it helped, when he could go back and see what had really happened, day by day.  Will had even started keeping one on his computer, and Xander had gotten interested in learning how to use it, lately.  He was preparing to go back to school, and knew he'd have to learn eventually.  He said he'd rather sit naked with Will in the computer chair to learn than in a class full of kids who already knew half of the stuff they were being taught, and Will couldn't find anything wrong with that plan.

Oz glanced up at him and smiled but didn't stop playing, and the panic twisted in Will's gut again.  Music - was still the way Xander calmed himself. 

*Guess he remembers...*   Will had been half-hoping that Xander would forget his nighttime declaration, but apparently not.   Oz took a breath and sang the last bit of the song, one Will recognized from a CD somewhere in the van.


                "I hear the music and the songs of the spheres

                I hear the muses whisper into my ear...

                Storms are clearing the old

                On the wings of a tear...


                Roll me through the clouds, it's time to fly

                I have so much to do, I'll never die..."


"Good morning, love," Will said, coming around the table so Xander could see him, and Xander started slightly, looking up at him and then smiling.  That smile, open and happy, and Will grinned back, bending to kiss him, to run his fingers through the silken, earth-brown hair.

"Hey, Will.  We didn't wake you up, did we?" Xander asked, his fingers going out to cup Will's cheek, and Will leaned a little into the caress.

"Course not, love."  Will kissed him again and then straightened and moved to the stove.  He shook the kettle - it was full - and turned the burner on, then got out a mug and the tea.  He packed the small tea-ball full and put it ready in the mug, then went back over to the table and settled into the seat next to Xander.

Oz was idly plucking the guitar, tuning it, and Will watched him, his foot jittering on the worn boards of the floor.   Their flat was the top floor in an old warehouse - a part of the 'Revitalize Downtown Sunnydale!' project.  The floors were all wide oak planks, silvery-grey and soft with age.  The walls were brick, except for the dividing wall that made their bathroom and bedroom separate, and held up the platform that made the loft Oz and Devon used sometimes.

Oz watched him - watched his foot for a moment.  Will rolled his eyes and consciously tried to stop his knee from bouncing up and down, but he couldn't.  After a moment Xander stopped writing and looked over at him as well.

"I guess I woke you up last night, huh," he said, and his voice was so low - his expression so woebegone - that Will immediately let his fear and his anger and his - irritation?  yes, irritation - go.  Xander was obviously just as unhappy as he was.

"Yeah - you did."  Will leaned forward, arms on the table, and stretched his hand out.  Xander took it and held on, rubbing his fingertips over and over Will's knuckles.  "Love, it's all right.  It was just a nightmare, yeah?  Nothing to worry about."  Xander smiled crookedly at him, but then he looked down, and sighed, and Will felt his stomach drop.

*God, what - WHAT?  Jesus, what is wrong with me?*   "Xan?  Tell me, okay?"  Xander squeezed his hand tighter and then looked back up, and he looked - so lost.

"Remember - the earthquake?  And I said Sunnydale was gone and - Spike was dead?"  Will nodded, and he went on.  "I - he - that other me...he was really fucked up after that.  I could feel it.  I kept dreaming about him.  He wanted to die.  He - tried to."

"He tried to kill himself?"  Will asked, and Xander nodded - winced a little as the purring kettle began to whistle.  Oz held up his hand and got up - set his guitar in his seat and went to turn off the stove - pour boiling water.    "Thanks, Oz," Will murmured when Oz set the mug down.  Oz just nodded - picked up his guitar and resumed his seat and his idle plinking.

"He tried, and I don't know - what happened.  I didn't dream about him - about any of it - any more.  I didn't...see...anything. Well, I did but mostly it was - old stuff.  Like, I was seeing his...dreams?  Or his memories - I don't know.  But last night...  It was just like before.  It was real and Spike was there and he was so...happy."  Xander rubbed his free hand back through his hair - looked down at this journal and touched the pages lightly with his fingers.

"I don't want it to start again, Will.  I don't want to dream about and I don't want to see it...  This is real, and this is where I am and I - I can't - do it again, I can't, I can't -"   Xander's hand was crushing his and Will got up and pulled Xander up - into his arms.  Held him as tightly as he could, and Xander was shaking.

*God, I can't either.  Do anything, love...*   "Honey, shhh...  It's okay, it's okay.  We'll figure it out.  We won't let it start again, I promise, love."  Xander nodded into his shoulder, shivering, on the verge of tears but not letting them go, and they just stood there for a long moment, holding on.  Oz started playing again, and Will listened, and tried to think. 



Xander had started working at the Treehouse, counseling runaways and generally just helping out.   He was going in that evening and Will tagged along, wanting to talk to Willow.  Wanting to know what, exactly, was wrong with him.  The late -evening sky was a deep scarlet, the clouds edged in saffron, their bellies shading towards bruise-blue.  Lighting flared silently, all along the western horizon, and the breeze had a decided edge to it.  Storm coming.  The Treehouse would be crowded with kids trying to find shelter, and Willow would be running around making sure there were candles and torches, in case the power went out.  Xander held his hand, head down and silent, and for once Will didn't know what to say.

*Just scared, maybe.  Just...  I LOVE him, fuck I love him...don't ever want to be without him.  Why am I so...angry?*  Will slipped his hand free of Xander's and pulled the taller man into a hard one-armed hug, and Xander lifted his head and smiled at him.  Sweet, trusting, loving smile, and Will smiled back.

"Don't know what I'd do without out you, pet," he said, and Xander kissed him.

"Probably be a big rock star," he joked, and Will smiled.

"Yeah, that's me, the next Mick Jagger," Will joked back, swiveling his hips and Xander laughed.  Will kissed him back and then they were at the Treehouse, ducking inside just as the wind gusted sharply, bringing the first drops of rain.



"Hey, Will, you want some coffee?" Willow asked, and Will shook his head.

"No, thanks.  I was wondering if I could talk to you.  Kind of - on a professional level?"  Willow's face immediately took on a concerned look and she glanced around, looking for Xander.  He was across the room playing air-hockey with a skinny boy with a sling holding up his left arm.

"Is everything okay?" she asked, sitting down next to Will on the couch, and Will shrugged.

"I - don't really know.   Xander had a - a dream.  Last night.  About Spike."

"Oh..."  Willow nibbled her lip, her head a little to one side.  Her rich auburn hair was done up in two braids, lending her a girlish air despite serious manner.   "But - he seems okay.  Is that what's bothering you or is it something else?"

"Something else."  Will sighed and leaned his head back on the couch, staring at the ceiling, tracking the cracks and the water-stain from when the upstairs heater had burst.  "It's...  Last night, when he had the dream?  He was crying and it woke me up.  And - for a minute I just...  I wanted to just turn over and go back to sleep, Willow.  I didn't want to - deal with it."  He glanced over at her and saw a tiny smile quirking the corner of her mouth and he sat up angrily.

"Bloody hell, Willow, it's not a joke!"  A couple of kids watching the TV glanced over and Will lowered his voice.  "I mean - what the fuck is wrong with me?  Thinking that?  I love him - I want to help him, I want -"

"You want a break.  It's okay, Will."  She patted his knee and he slumped back, staring at her.  "You've been taking care of Xander almost all alone for a year and a half -"

"No, that's not right," Will interrupted, angry again.  "You help, and dad does, Oz - everybody does!  I'm not....alone -"

"Will, hey - peace, okay?"  Willow held up her hand and Will searched in his pockets for his cigarettes - lit up with a trembling hand and smoked furiously for a minute.

"You're not alone alone, okay?  But - you're the one that loves him.  You're the one that hurts the most when he hurts.  You're the one that cries when he cries, you know?  It - wears you out.  It's okay to want a break, Will.  It really is."

"That's just stupid," Will grumbled, pulling an ashtray over closer so he could tap his cigarette into it - so he could avoid looking at Willow.  "That's - he's not dying, it's not like he's -"

"Will.  Listen to me."  Willow squeezed his leg and Will finally looked up at her.  "Lots of caregivers feel this way.  You get burned out, and it's okay.  It you need to be cared for, sometimes."

"But there's nothing wrong with me, Willow!  And there's not really anything wrong with him, either.  Not anymore.  That's why -"   He stopped then, realization flooding him, and Willow smiled softly.

"That's why when he had this dream, you kind of - freaked?  You didn't want to - start all over."

"Yeah.  Yeah, that's...  God, that's so fucked."  Will stabbed out the cigarette and watched Xander for a minute.  He was playing easy, letting the hurt boy get in some shots, joking around and acting goofy and the kid - who looked like a walking bruise - was laughing - was grinning from ear to ear.

"Look at him, Willow.  He's so much better, and he's so bloody happy and...    I don't want it to all start up again, you know?  I don't, and he doesn't.  It scared him.  Scared us both."

"Yeah.  It's gonna be okay, Will.  We won't let it start up.  Okay?  Just - you're not alone, in this.  We're all here for you."  Will looked at her for a long moment and then leaned over and hugged her, hard. 

"Yeah, okay.  I'll - fuck.  I'll try not to feel like a complete fuckin' bastard and you tell me it's okay 'bout ten times a day and I'll be all right."

"Deal, sport-o," Willow said, and then she noticed a couple of kids coming in, soaking wet, and she jumped up to get towels and dry clothes, leaving Will on the couch.

*Okay.  I get what she's saying, even though it really doesn't make me feel like less of a...fuck-up.  He's fighting, and so am I, and we'll be okay.  More than okay.*  Xander glanced over at him, laughing, and Will had to smile back - got up to join him, determined to be happy.



Around midnight they left for home.  The storm was raging overhead, thunder and lightning and rain like cold, slanting knives and they stood on the front porch and looked out with dismay.

"Hey - it's Angel's birthday party at the Bronze tonight - wanna go?  Get some free wings and stuff and tell that broody bastard congratulations?"

Xander's expression lightened as he remembered the party.  "Sure - free food sounds good.  And Oz'll probably be there and we can get a ride home."

"That too," Will said, grinning.  The both closed their jackets and hunched down into their collars.  Holding hands tightly they leapt off the porch and ran like hell, shouting and laughing.  At one corner the storm drain had backed up and they plunged without warning into ice-cold water that was up to their knees.  Skidding and shouting, splashing like ducks, they waded out and ran on.

Will flinched as lightning earthed itself somewhere nearby, and the thunder that followed actually hurt, booming so loud he cried out.  The air seemed to vibrate - to press in closely all around them and Will shuddered.  It was uncomfortable - unnatural.   Beside him, Xander was wide-eyed and Will was suddenly as scared as Xander looked.


"Let's get the fuck out of here, Will - run," Xander shouted.   Will didn't argue - he wanted out of there.  They pelted up the street, the wind blowing hard straight into their faces, the rain cold and stinging, half-blinding them.   Another claw of lighting crashed down, making Will stumble and he could see the Bronze's sign up ahead - he could see a car pulling up and two figures, silhouetted in the glare of headlights and coming closer and he faltered.

"Will, I don't - I don't think I want to -"   Xander was slowing - stopping - pulling on Will's hand and suddenly Will didn't want to get any closer to those people, either.  But they were nearer still - coming on fast, and one had on a long coat that billowed around his legs, and the other was slightly taller and darker and Xander was suddenly jerking his hand hard, yanking him off balance and he fell to one knee.

"Will, let's go now, gotta go now!" Xander screamed over the storm.  Will wanted to say yes - wanted to get up and run - but he couldn't, he couldn't, and the two others were right there and one was holding out a hand - long and white, black-painted nails and the cuff of a leather coat.  And his face, his eyes, staring back at him, one black eyebrow *Scar, dear fucking CHRIST there's a scar, right through his eyebrow-*  raised in sardonic amusement.

"Bloody hell," the other said, and shot an amused glance at his companion.  "Look a right mess, don't I?"

"Not happening, not happening," Xander was mumbling, and Will finally gathered his wits and his nerves and pushed himself to his feet - pulled Xander in close and held him.  The storm seemed to have died down momentarily and they stood there, the rain hissing down all around, faint sounds of music from the Bronze drifting up the street.

"Who the fuck are you and what do you want!" Will snarled, and the other - *Oh fuck, LOOK at him, he's XANDER but...patch over his eye, fucking hell -*   held up both hands in a calming gesture.

"Hey, it's okay!  We're not going to hurt you.  We just - listen, can we go inside?   I'm getting cold, and Spike hates being wet." 

Will stared at him, shaking.  *His voice, his voice...god...  And SPIKE, oh fuck...what are we gonna do?  This is -*    "Go inside here?" Will asked, and the other rolled his eyes.

"Well, yeah.  Where else?"

"No," Xander said, straightening suddenly, and Will looked over at him.  "No, not in there.  Everybody's in there.  Angel and Tara and - everybody."   Xander's double flinched at that - cast one longing look over his shoulder.

"Tara?  God..."  Spike touched his shoulder, his expression almost as forlorn.

"Won't be our Glinda-witch, love.  Let's just skip it, yeah?"  The double sighed - smiled slightly. 

"Yeah, you're right."  He looked over at Will and Xander - took a step forward.  "Look.  I'm - I'm Alex.  We just - want to talk, okay?  Just want to...talk."   Will stared at him - at the shorter hair that curled around Alex's ears, at the patch, at the hard-worn clothes and bulky Army surplus jacket.  Glanced at Spike, who was watching him intently.

"Fuck...yeah, okay.  Xan, that okay?"  Xander shivered under his arm, then straightened, taking a deep breath.

"Yeah.  The - the IHOP's always open.  C'mon."  They turned and walked away, and the others followed silently behind, nightmares come to life.



There were only a clutch of teenagers and a couple of policemen at the restaurant, and they stood by the door for a moment, Xander wringing out his hair and his shirt, Will drying his face a little with some napkins.  Dry under the coat he wore and *It's the same damn coat, same fuckin' leather coat only I didn't KILL somebody to get mine...CHRIST he's a fuckin' VAMPIRE...*  Spike just shook himself and lit a cigarette with a muttered 'finally', and Alex had his own leather, that had repelled most of the water.    They slid into a booth at the back, Will and Spike automatically taking the outside seats and then smirking at each other.  Xander was quiet, fiddling with the little bowl of sugar packets until Will reached over and gently laid his hand on Xander's wrist.  He sighed and dropped the packages, then looked up at Alex.

"I spent three years, give or take, living - your life.  Seeing it and not being able to see anything...real.  Was - was it the same for you?"  Alex pushed his fingers through his wet hair and glanced at Spike, who looked back blandly.

"No.  It wasn't.  I - dreamed about you.  I know - it was really hard...harder than what..."  Alex stopped, looking troubled, and Spike reached over and brushed his cheek with his knuckles.

"It's all right, love.  Not your fault," he said softly, and Alex gave a strangled sort of laugh.

"Doesn't make it better.  Those fuckin' dreams - god, Xander. I'm sorry - I'm so sorry..."  Xander just stared at him, and after a moment he shook his head, heaving a sigh.

"Not your fault.  But somebody's fault.  How did I get here?"  Spike frowned at that, and Alex looked bewildered.

"You don't remember, mate?  What do you remember?"  Xander opened his mouth to answer and just then the waitress came up.  Will and Xander both got hot chocolate, and Alex coffee.  Spike made a face and ordered tea, muttering under his breath about teabags.  When the woman walked away, Xander leaned forward on the table.  Underneath, his knee and thigh were pressed hard into Will's.

"I remember we were...trying to figure out the Mayor - how to kill him.  And there was this girl...  She was kind of - strange.  And..."  Xander shook his head, shooting an almost pleading look at Alex.  "I just don't remember!  It's all so mixed up, that first year especially.  I mean - I walked into walls that shouldn’t have been there and talked to people that weren't there...  It hurt, getting here.  I remember that."

"Yeah," Alex muttered, looking less than happy, and Spike touched his cheek again.

"Never said that before, love."

"I was trying to forget," Alex murmured back, and he turned his head enough so that he could kiss Spike's fingers.  There was a moment of silence and then Will spoke.

"Do you know how he got here?  How you two - switched?  Why?"  Alex nodded, his mouth in a grim line.

"Yeah, we know.  Giles and Willow figured it out, finally.  That girl - her name was Anya.  A Vengeance demon.  Well, ex...  Do you remember her?"  Xander looked thoughtful, then finally shrugged.

"I think.  She was - awkward.  Kind of - confused?"

"She was human after a thousand years of being a demon.  She was more than confused," Spike said, and the waitress came up to the table, offloading their drinks and putting the check down.  Alex started emptying sugar packets into his cup and Spike sniffed delicately at his - made a face.  "Soddin' Americans can't make tea to save their bloody lives," he grumbled.   Xander just stared at him and then snorted helpless laughter.

"Th-that's what Will says," he sputtered, and Spike shot a hard look at Will.

"Is it now?  And what else -"

"Don't, love," Alex said, stirring vigorously, and Spike subsided, stubbing out his cigarette and lighting another.  Will dug his own pack out and lit up as well, suddenly aware of everything he did.

*Jesus.  Would this be ME if I were - if I were a vampire?  Or...fuck, this is too fuckin' weird.*    "So how did it all happen?" he asked, and Alex took a tentative sip of his coffee.

"Anya was trying to get her power back.  A necklace.  So she did this - time spell.  To find it before she lost it.  It didn't work, though - she pulled in an alternate Willow from a - from a really fucked up universe.  After Xander and everybody sent that Willow back, she tried again and - Xander tried to stop her.  He got - pulled in, and for some reason instead of just dumping him here like it did that other Willow it - switched us.  It was something to do with Anya's spell - they never really figured it out."  Alex took another drink and Will idly stirred the whipped cream that floated on his chocolate into a pale swirl, watching Xander - watching Alex, who was - older, it seemed.   The patch - a scar on his jaw, on his cheek - made him seem older.  He looked at Xander, and the scar down the side of his face from the beer-bottle.

*Both of them fighting and trying to save everyone else...even when they were lost - so far from home...  Heroes, both of them...*   Will blinked, not wanting to lose it right there, and he glanced up in surprise at a fleeting touch on his hand from Spike's fingers.   *Fuck - he's so cold...*

"They're amazing, aren't they?  Our boys," he said, and Will gazed back at himself and agreed.

"Yeah.  Wouldn't trade my Xan for anything...  You're not - you're not going to try and take him back, are you?"  Will felt a sudden panic and beside him Xander stiffened.

"No - hey, no way!  I'm not going anywhere, Will!  Don't even -"

"No!  No.  We're not - we couldn't, even if we wanted to.  It - doesn't work that way.  Willow could only get us about an hour."

"Is she - is she all right?  How is everybody?" Xander asked, so quietly, and Alex closed his eyes for a long moment.

"They're fine.  They're all - fine.  Buffy and Dawn are in Italy, and Giles and Willow are getting a new Watcher's Council organized.  When Spike came back, he was in L.A. - with Angel and...  Well, we left.  Gonna just - try our hand and doing the Lone Ranger thing.  Only, you know, not alone."  He smiled over at Spike and Spike grinned back.  After a moment they looked back at Xander and Will, and Alex pulled something out of his inner pocket - a flat envelope about the size of a small greeting card.  He looked at it, and then he looked up at Xander and his eye was wet with unshed tears.

"Xander?  How is - how's my dad?  Robin?"  His voice was thick with emotion and Will saw Spike take his hand under the table, silent support.

"I just - saw him.  A couple days ago.  He's great, he's - he really...loved you.   He really missed you - tried to find you when - when this happened and I...lost it."  Xander looked miserably down at his drink and sniffed.  "I'm s-sorry, Alex...he calls me 'son'..."

"Do you remember him?  Like I remember - Willow and the crayon and - sleeping out in the yard at Christmas?  Do you remember - what he did for me?"  Alex's voice was strained - hoarse with tears, and Will wanted to do something - wanted to hold him - make it all right.   Xander looked up at Alex, his eyes wide and wet and solemn.

"Yeah.  I do. I remember...everything."

"Good," Alex said.  He turned abruptly away and put his face down on Spike's shoulder, and Spike just held him, stroking his hair, whispering to him.  Will took Xander's hand in his and just held on, and long moments passed in silence while Alex got himself under control again.  When he finally sat up and faced them again, his face was streaked with tear-tracks, but he seemed calmer.

"Willow says us remembering each other's lives - it's a side effect of the spell, or - it's the different places trying to...fit us in.  If you remember him then - you treat him right, okay Xander?  Make him happy, because...he saved me, he...was the only real father I ever had."

"I will.  Promise, Alex.  Would you - tell everyone...  Tell them I love them, and I hope they're happy...tell them I am, okay?  I'm happy, and I'm...loved."

"Yeah,"   Alex said, and he wiped gingerly under his patch with a napkin - downed the last bit of his coffee.  "Here - they sent this."  He pushed the envelope across the table and Xander took it carefully - tucked it away.

"Time, love," Spike said, and Alex nodded.

"We gotta go."  Alex held out his hand and Xander took it - held it tightly.    "I'm sorry that - that it was so hard for you.   But you - found people I never would have. You found a family and...I found what I wanted, too.  Take care of yourself, okay?  And - dad."

"Promise."  They slowly let go, and Xander looked consideringly at Alex for a moment.   "Why did you come here, Alex?"  Alex shrugged, looking away, and it was Spike who answered.

"He was fretting something awful.  Thought he'd driven you 'round the bend.  And after - everything - when he wasn't dreaming about you anymore - he thought you'd tried what he had.  He had to come and see."

"I'm glad you did - I'm glad the both of you did," Xander whispered, and Spike slid out of the booth, lithe as a cat.  A few moments later they were on the sidewalk and the rain had slowed to almost nothing - to a drizzle that was more mist than anything.   Alex and Spike were ready to go, back to where they'd come in near the Bronze.  Xander suddenly pulled Alex into a hug and after a moment's shock Alex hugged him back.  Xander let go slowly, and then turned to Spike.

"Thanks for taking care of everybody, Spike.  Thanks for watching out for...my friends."  Spike looked uncomfortable and shrugged, reaching out to snag Alex by the sleeve and pull him close.

"Did it for my boy, Harris.   He's all that matters," Spike said, but he was grinning, and Will knew he'd done for more reasons than that.  As they turned to go, Will reached out and touched Spike's shoulder.

"Hey - Spike.  Would you - would you show me - our other face?"  Spike stared at him and then his eyebrow went up and he smirked.  He glanced at Alex, who was smiling at him, and then he - changed.  The familiar lines and planes of Will's face shifted and bulged - became almost feline, and utterly alien.  Spike grinned, showing gleaming fangs, and golden eyes danced with glee.   Then the vampire-face smoothed out and was gone, and Will was left staring, breathless, at himself.

"Jesus.  That's - so fucking cool," Will said, and Spike laughed out loud.

"Not what I usually get.  Let's go, love - time's almost up," he said, and Alex nodded.

"Take care of yourselves.  Don't forget, Xander -"

"I won't!  I won't.  Tell Willow - I said thanks.  Tell them -"

"Yeah.  I will."  Alex looked at Xander - at Will - for one more moment and then they both turned and began to jog away down the street.  Will and Xander just stood and watched, waiting, and about five minutes later they saw lightning again, dazzling-bright, and knew they were gone.

Will reached out to Xander - took his hand and then pulled him close.  Xander was shivering in his still-damp shirt and jacket, and Will felt chilled to the bone.

"Let's go home, pet, all right?" 

"Yeah," Xander said faintly, and they started up the street, arms around each other, as close as they could get.  As they walked, Will tried once and then twice to say something, and finally Xander stopped, making Will turn and face him.

"What is it, Will?  Tell me what's wrong."  Will sighed, looking at him, and then looking down, at where Xander's arms were around his waist, and his around Xander's.

"It's just...it was all real, love - the Hellmouth and demons - were real.  Is real.  And - your real friends - your family...is out there somewhere.  Did you - do you really want to just - give up on them?"

"Oh," Xander said, and his voice sounded hurt and small, and Will cursed himself.  "Will, I...  Listen, my real family is hereYou are my real family.   I don't - I would never go back, Will - never!  I couldn't leave you.  Couldn't leave Giles and....and Oz - couldn't leave any of you."  Xander took in a shaking breath and suddenly pulled Will into a kiss.  Hard, frenzied - trembling lips and clutching hands, and Will let him do what he wanted - let him pull his head over and hold him and just kiss him, until they were both gasping.

"I love you Will!  Love you forever.  I'm glad - I wasn't crazy.  I'm glad it was real because it means that - that I'm not nuts.  But I'm here - my life is here, and I'll never, ever want to leave it."

"God, Xan - I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I just...  I just want you to be happy, love - just want you to be happy."

"Happy with you.  Always happy with you," Xander whispered, and they stood, forehead to forehead, arms tight around each other for long moments, until the rain began to patter down harder and harder all around them, and they were both shivering so hard it hurt.

"Lets get you warm, honey - warm and dry and in bed, yeah?  Come on."  They jogged the rest of the way, and sighed in relief as they closed the flat door behind them.  They stripped out of their wet clothes and wrapped themselves up in their robes and Will got the bath going, hot as they could stand.  Xander shoved the wet, muddy clothes into the laundry basket and when he turned around he was holding the envelope in his hands - the one Alex had given him.

"What did he give you, love?"  Xander glanced up at him and laughed, a little shrill. 

"I'm afraid to look!  But..."  He carefully pulled the flap open and spilled the contents out into his hand, and Will pulled him close when he started to cry.  Xander's hand was full of bright squares, and Will took them - looked at the pictures that Alex had left.   A strikingly pretty blonde woman, arm around a brunette woman, both smiling. 

*Is that Buffy?  Looks familiar, like that girl from the school...*   And then - *Oh god.  Fuck, it's Willow, it's HER, but...*   The same face - the vulpine hair.  But this Willow was older, somehow - this Willow had buried her dead and had seen pain, and she was straight and still - calm.   Faint smile, eyes as fathomless and as bottomless as the sea.   He shuffled to the next picture and almost dropped it.  His father - in a library, near a table.  But older - grayer.  More careworn.  A smile that was tired, but steady and warm as a flame.  And a sword resting easily in his hand, obviously familiar, obviously used.

*God, god...dad...  No, that's his Giles, that's - that's THEM, that's...*   "Xan, love - are you okay?  Xander?"  Xander lifted his head from where he'd buried it in Spike's shoulder.  His face was tear-streaked but he was smiling.

"That's them.  That's - my family, that's - my past.  And you're my future, Will.  You are.  I love you...so much."

Will laid the pictures down on the sink and the faces smiled up at him - people who had taken in a familiar stranger.  People who had been the foundation of the man he loved.  People he would be grateful to for the rest of his life.  "Love you too, Xander.  Love you too."


Lyrics are from November Storm by Dreamtrybe