Okay, sorry, this is long. Let's see if I can figure out how cutaway tags work....
i. The City's Features Were Reborn
He looked like a dyke, thought Buffy. He--God, *she*--was rangy and lean, with a squarish jaw, a tousled head of dark hair, and familiar eyes under long lashes. Pretty, though, in a very disturbing way. Like, super-model bone structure, matched with muscles that Buffy could see even under the loose plaid flannel shirt and ratty grey tee. Not big muscles. Girl muscles. Just like Buffy's own. And now she was pacing back and forth in the magic shop, wired up as if she needed to hit something, her shoulders hunched. She caught Buffy's eye and stopped mid-pace, staring back clear-eyed with a little crooked half-smile, so recognizable, and yet so insanely not right that it hurt Buffy's head to hold her gaze. Xander's.
"Sorry," Xander said. "I just...you don't even know. I'd finally gotten used to this whole losing-the-penis thing, and let me tell you that was no picnic, big identity crisis, lots of bottled therapy, and now I've lost my whole freakin' universe." She kicked a chair and it toppled over with a bang. Everyone jumped a bit, and Willow tensed further. There was a heartsick bewilderment in Willow's eyes that Buffy hoped wasn't mirrored in her own.
Giles came around the corner with a book. His face was lined with that special shade of grim Buffy knew too well, and his glasses glinted as he looked up from the text. "I'm afraid it doesn't look promising. There are no records of the Dysra's helix being reversed." He hesitated, closing the book slowly, hands lowering. Seriousness and regret were mingled in his tone. "Apparently it's designed for a single transversal only. Even if another helix could be somehow devised, the effect cannot be duplicated."
"A one-way trip," Willow said, rather shockily.
"I had a job, a life," Xander said, jaw tightening. She was staring into space as if looking into some imagined future. "I can't do the parents thing again. No way. Once was too much. They never really bought the whole year-in-Sweden story." Then she looked up, turning to Buffy. "What did you say my job is?"
She swallowed. "You're in construction."
"Just call me 'Butch.'" A wry look, brittle voice. Utterly Xander. She ran her hands through her hair--trying to brush loose distracting considerations, Buffy thought. But how could you possibly adjust to this? It wasn't like you could go into work Monday morning and say, hey guys, tripped and fell in a spell this weekend, don't mind the breasts. And oh, by the way, who are you and what do I do here?
"This isn't going to work," Xander said, jittering. "I can't think straight." Everyone looked at each other helplessly, and then Xander stilled and asked as if were the most natural thing in the world: "Where's Spike?"
Giles blinked and shifted, struck for a loss. "Spike? I suppose he's probably in his crypt--"
"We blew that up," Buffy put in quietly.
"Oh, of course." But she could see him assimilating this news with a blank, confused frown. He'd been in England at the time, and even now some pieces of information didn't seem to stick.
"Spike's more of a basement guy these days," Tara said, sounding apologetic, as if she had anything to do with the matter. "But he shows up to help, sometimes."
On cue, the bells over the door rang and Spike swept in like a ragged blackbird, his once-sharp coat hanging off him, its leather scored with knife marks and stained with substances that would have been better left on the insides of demons. His cheeks were gaunt, his hair stuck up all over like a dirty dandelion, and his eyes had that haunted, shadowed look Buffy had learned to pity. He stopped short when he saw them all gathered, brows creasing to a knife-point of confusion.
"Meeting was called then. Thought I heard the ringing." He touched the side of his head, tilting it slightly and wincing in pain. "Came as soon as I could. Told them to shut up. Bells, bells. Can't get any sleep when--" He broke off as Xander stepped closer, a horrified look on her face. "I know you," Spike said haltingly. "Cat in the bag, cat in the...no." He trailed off as Xander came even closer, cringing away slightly as if he expected to be hit.
"Spike." Xander said it like a breath, and reached up as if to caress the vampire's face, hand ghosting along one cheek without quite touching. "Oh my god. What happened to you?" And then her hand connected, sliding around the back of Spike's neck to draw him into a crushing embrace. Spike's arms raised instinctively to return the gesture, despite his obvious surprise.
ii. Let Us Create, You
The cat wound around his legs as he stood at the counter, making him jerk within his skin and come awake. He'd been standing in a sleepy haze of steam. The milk was boiling now, and he reached to stir in some chocolate, and then some blood. The dark red swirled into the brown, blending almost instantly, like warm paint.
He shifted and felt a presence behind him, all along the back of his body. Prickles against his skin, a kind of comprehension. Like a wall of electricity, a cool blanket hanging in the air. The pad of bare feet on the floorboards, a pair of arms sliding around him. He was wearing jeans, but the presence came naked.
"What's that?" asked a muzzy voice.
"Nightcap. I was going to bring it to you in bed."
There was inhalation, a cataloguing of scents. Chocolate, milk, and blood. "You're too good to me," Spike said, draping himself bonelessly across Xander's body, like a leather coat hung on a mannequin. His arms matched Xander's arms, bone playing across bone, a bow across a fret of strings. He was all cool deadness and music, like the low strains coming from the stereo across the room.
"I'm always good to those who are naked," Xander mentioned.
"Mmm. Can't argue there."
The loft's darkness had a companionable, middle-of-the-night feel to it. The kitchen smelled of hot chocolate and oranges and sex. Spike's bracelet rubbed Xander's wrist. They were so close it was hard to tell where he left off and Spike began. Even their temperatures bled together after a while, the heat sink of Spike's body cooling him, his own body warming Spike.
Standing with his head slightly bowed over the saucepan, he could see the web of old scars on his chest and abdomen, remnants of another life, and Spike's fingers were sliding across them now, black-tipped, well-bitten nails tracing messages on his flesh, pausing just above the waist of his frayed and faded jeans, where the top button was undone.
He poured the chocolate into a mug and added a sprinkle of marshmallows, then turned and slid it into Spike's hand just as Spike's hand sought the warmth.
The vampire's sightless eyes seemed to look into his own for a moment, then the lashes dipped as he drank. Hair spilled forward across his bare shoulders, a golden lion's tangle, striated and sex-messy and carrying the faint whiff of cigarette smoke. The scars written down the length of his body mirrored Xander's own, and he still had an alien sun's burnish on his skin.
"I sharpened your sword," Xander said absently, unable to keep his hands from wandering north, south, east, and west. All the compass points of love.
"Good of you." A head tilt.
"I'm not really that good."
"I'm a bad, bad man."
"So you are."
Xander paused, the silence stretching between them with a familiar elasticity. "Do you think we should get Cat neutered?"
"Bite your tongue! Cut off a bloke's balls? Where's your loyalty?"
"My loyalty to his balls?"
"Loyalty to your sex, man!"
"I'm not sure gender loyalty crosses species."
A blind glare nailed Xander. "Remember you said that when some giant Hrak demon is nippin' off your testicles to make a necklace."
Xander winced, and felt definite shrinkage. "Let's leave my own testes out of this, shall we? I'm not spraying the walls."
"Not for lack of trying." Spike smirked.
"Yeah, okay." The clock ticked, the refrigerator kicked into an audible hum, light reflected off all the surfaces of the room, unseen by his lover. Xander's hands cupped Spike and drew him closer. "Speaking of which..."
Dipping his head in, Xander scented smoke and oil and salt, and his own breath came back to him like wind off a winter lake. He worked his lips grazingly up Spike's neck, to where sound was captured. "I'd never sleep," he whispered, "if I couldn't dream of this."
iii. In the Colors of Dusk and Contradiction
They'd made it across the plains and into the valley before the snows fell. Their horses plodded resentfully down the merchant road, but picked up speed when they sensed a resting place and apples ahead.
The bowl of land was broken on one side, a crack running down its surface to reveal the sea beyond, shining with a distant dazzling light.
When Xander looked over, Spike was awake again, eyes gazing out across the green hills that lay ahead of them. He seemed unaware of anything but the view of freedom. Sunlight painted his profile, gilded his cheeks, and his hair whipped gently around his cloaked shoulders, as if the sun were tossing itself at him instead of the wind. One negligent hand lay across the reins; he looked as if he might slip off Tracker at any moment, but he never would. Never did.
Smoke was rising from the valley, thin streams from the thatched rooftops.
"There'll be demons here," Spike said, breaking the silence unexpectedly. He was squinting now. "Racta. Brenillion."
"Good." Xander's voice carried relief. The lands of men had been left behind.
iv. Impossible Listeners to Leaves Falling
"That was very pleasurable," Anya said, propping herself up on one arm and looking down at Spike. "I had several more orgasms than usual."
"Thanks, Anya. Please, do share more details about my sexual inadequacy with the undead hooker." Xander glared at her across Spike's sprawled form, sarcasm ticking off his words. "And next week we can go on Sally Jessie and tell eighty million more people." The vampire, one arm tucked casually behind his head, looked back and forth between them with cool, detached interest.
"Oh, please." Anya sat up and drew on her dressing gown with jerky movements. "Don't start now. That was the first decent sex I've had in weeks, and you want to go and spoil it with your big fat ego." Her mellow, satisfied tone of moments earlier had turned cold and snippy.
Xander closed his eyes and counted to three, but somehow when three arrived he was saying, "You know, I'm not always the one who has a problem getting the motor running."
"No, you just refuse to carry the gas can."
"What the hell does *that* mean? I never refuse to--" He paused, tripping up on the metaphor. "Fill your tank," he finished awkwardly, feeling baffled and wondering if he made any sense. He hated riffing on her terms.
The vampire spoke up. "Listen, why don't I--"
"Oh? Well, I'm not sure the price of gas is worth the trip any more," Anya said as she got up from the bed and strode off. The bathroom door banged behind her, and a moment later came the sound of the shower running.
"Feisty little minx," Spike remarked.
"Shut up." Xander swung himself to the side of the bed and grabbed his wallet. "How much?"
"That's what she promised."
Smarting at the insult to his manhood and his wallet, Xander counted out the bills and tossed them at the demon. "Here. Get out." Flinging the wallet back onto the bedside table, Xander grabbed his pants and began to dress, then felt an unnaturally strong hand grip his wrist, forcing him to leave the job undone. Angrily, he turned and found the whore staring interestedly at him, up close and way too personal.
"You know, you shouldn't ought to take that from her. Undermining your manhood like that. Of course, that's the problem, innit?"
Xander's face tightened. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You, mate." The vamp smiled, rather slyly, tipping his head as he considered Xander. "Not so uninterested as you made out. Don't think I didn't notice." His hand suddenly grasped Xander in a very fine and private place, stroking his aching, unfulfilled flesh. "Might be you want to think about switching teams."
"Is that...so?" Xander's breath struggled to rise. Other parts of him weren't so challenged.
"Well," the vamp stepped closer, "the one you're playing on? Seems you keep striking out."
Apparently Xander's sex life was junker cars and amateur baseball. Well, that seemed about right. He tried to remember what he'd been doing a moment ago, but things were beginning to slip away in a haze of heat and blood. Tongue thickening, he said, "I can't...you don't know what you're talking about."
Letting him go, the vampire stepped back, and Xander's head gave a little *snap* of shock at the loss. Spike shrugged. "'S all the same to me." He scooped up his money and his blue jeans, somehow managing to reassemble himself with his clothes before Xander could form a reply. "You ever change your mind, ring me up. In the book." Cigarette wedged in his mouth, Spike saluted him jauntily and left.
The water of the shower stopped.
In the book, Xander thought.
But of course, no.
Anya billowed out from the steam in two pink towels, one wrapped around her body, the other around her head. "Oh, did he leave? That's too bad. I wanted to give him a bonus."