Sandy Places in the Mind

~ Warning: Things are not always as they seem. Keep reading.

Xander was lying on Spike's bed, chin resting on one curled fist at the very edge of the mattress. There was a textbook lying open on the floor, too far away to really focus on. Xander didn't mind -- it gave him an excuse to not actually study, while giving the appearance of making the effort to do so.

Finals were coming up soon, and Xander was finding it hard to worry. He'd been acing half of his classes all semester, and the two he wasn't acing didn't have finals until the very end of finals week.

At the moment he was 'studying' mostly because he'd promised himself he would do so for at least an hour before he gave in and let himself go play. It was a strategy he'd been forced to implement a month into the second semester in order to get his grades back up -- though to be fair, his poor performance on his finals last semester had been due as much to Doyle's death as anything else. Between dealing with Doyle dying, and dealing with Angel's not dealing with Doyle dying, Xander had pretty much had his hands full.

He'd made respectable grades, and Giles certainly hadn't said anything about improving them. But Xander knew he could do better, if given the chance to actually do his work and concentrate on his exams. Once he'd got back into the swing of classwork for the second semester, Xander had found he'd had to lay down some rules.

Mostly they had to deal with making sure he did his homework, and actually studied - which meant heavy bribes for Spike to prevent him from being a distraction. He had also had to cut back on the spontaneous trips to and visits from Sunnydale.

Those had been the hardest part. Even now Xander found himself thinking more about rolling over towards the phone and calling home than he was about Calculus I. It had been a month since he'd seen Giles and even the week of spring break spent at home hadn't felt like enough. But there was something about calling Giles from Spike's place -- even if Giles "knew" about "Bork." Xander told himself he'd call from his own apartment, tomorrow.

Really, he wanted the semester to be over so he could go back home for the summer. He sighed and frowned at his textbook. He wasn't getting anywhere -- big surprise. He ought just close the book and concede defeat.

"Maths too hard?" Spike asked, landing on the bed beside him, making Xander bounce in the air.

The heart-attack had been avoided only because Xander had sighed out loud intentionally in order to draw his boyfriend over to interrupt him. Xander hadn't been distracted from his studying for a few hours and he figured he was due a break. Xander looked over, though, giving Spike a stern frown. "No. And it's 'math'. One math. Not two."

Spike frowned back. "What are you on about now?"

Xander just shook his head and rolled onto his back, somehow managing to telegraph the action to Spike as 'please lie on top of me'. Again, completely intentional, but he did try to act innocent -- just in case his conscience asked him how he hoped to get a decent grade on his Calc final if he kept goofing off. "Why do you call it 'maths'?" he asked Spike.

"Er, because it is?" Spike gave him a look Xander was all too familiar with. He'd tried telling Spike he wasn't insane, but Spike generally retorted with some honest facts from Xander's life or life-style which argued the point.

"If you're not going to help," Xander began, skipping the entire middle of the conversation where he asked for Spike to either help or stop impeding.

"Can I start eating you now?" Spike interrupted with a lascivious smile.

"Er...yes?" Xander wasn't sure his brain hadn't just broken, because he couldn't tell if that was the right answer. Must be, if Spike's expression was anything to go by.

Xander realised that was a good reason to think it was the wrong answer. But it didn't matter because Spike was already undoing Xander's jeans and tugging at the waistband of his underwear, and bits of Xander were showing much more interest in this than in Calculus.

"Spike," Xander said, wanting to at least attempt a show of caution.

"Want me to just suck you, or shall I flip you over and shag you proper?"

Xander blinked. "We can't do both?"

A slow, evil smile spread across Spike's face. "I love it when you say things like that."

"Fair's fair. I love it when you do things like that. Want me to get the lube, or I-ie-a-eeip!" Spike had already engulfed his cock. Xander gasped and thrust his head back, discovering he was still at the edge of the bed as his head fell farther than he'd expected. Clinging to the bedspread, Xander tried to pull himself towards the middle of the bed without dislodging Spike. Then his eyeballs rolled back in his head as Spike swallowed him to the hilt.

"Muruugaaa...." Xander had, once upon a time, believed in foreplay. Sometimes Spike believed in foreplay.

More often Spike believed in 'keep Xander off-balance and make his eyes roll back into his skull and come so hard he forgets to inhale.' Usually Xander approved of this -- in fact, he suspected that if he could talk, he would voice his approval of the plan even now.

But Spike's mouth was doing things to him, and his cock kept getting surrounded by Spike's mouth, then laved with a tongue, then sucked again and engulfed. Xander couldn't talk, wasn't sure he'd be breathing much longer. He was making loud noises, though, which sounded like verb conjugation in Mruthurin. Hopefully he was saying something crude which Spike would find encouraging.

He whimpered as Spike continued, showing no signs of letting up -- ever. Xander began writhing on the bed, Spike staying latched on with his mouth firmly in place and his hands on Xander's hips. The realisation that Spike wouldn't let go until he was done made his hips jut up and his cock jump, only to be answered by a tongue and a hard suck and suddenly Xander was screaming.

He only realised he was losing his jeans when Spike had them down to his ankles. He tried to hold his feet up, but Spike didn't seem to need or appreciate his assistance. At least that's what he guessed the swat to the bottom of his foot was for, as well as the dirty look.

"Bastard," Xander muttered.

"Git," Spike responded easily. His fingers were trailing up Xander's bare leg and Xander shivered again.

"You're not naked," Xander complained, despite wanting to just roll over and get on with it. "Aaaaah!" Xander gasped again, arching his back and belatedly lifting his legs out of the way.

"I'm sorry, do I need to be?" Spike asked. Two of his fingers wriggled inside Xander's ass.

"Yes, ye-- no, you do-- aaaah! Spiiiiiiike!" Xander tried to pull himself closer to Spike, scooting on the bed and bringing his legs up to prop them on Spike's shoulders. But Spike would move his fingers every time Xander tried to move his body and soon Xander just grabbed his knees and held his legs, and decided Spike might as well do whatever he wanted.

Spike was grinning at him, though the evil mischief in his expression toned down when he pressed his lips to the inside of Xander's leg. Xander just whimpered, because Spike was still wriggling his fingers.

Xander tried rocking back and forth, hoping to fuck himself onto Spike's fingers. Spike was being an evil bastard, though, and moved his hand in time with Xander's movement, so that all Xander could feel was the pressure of two fingers inside him, spreading him without spreading him wide, and fucking him without fucking him hard.

He tried to think of an appropriate way to beg Spike for more; not sure exactly what sort of mood the vampire was in; it was hard to gauge what would work the fastest. 'Teasing Xander' fit in with any number of moods, and in the few minutes between Spike entering the bedroom and Spike entering Xander, there hadn't been much by way of clues.

The other problem was it was hard to think when Spike was fucking him like this, and all Xander wanted to do was hold his legs out of the way and moan.

"Like that, do you?" Spike asked softly, and Xander nodded fast. There was no mood where it was a bad idea to admit how much he loved what Spike was doing. "What do you want?" Spike asked.

"You...said you..." Xander was amased he could talk at all, though he was panting hard. Spike was still moving his fingers, wiggling them and sliding them in and out. "Fuck me. Were going to flip me...fuck me," Xander gasped, then groaned as the two fingers slid in all the way. "Yes, yes, please...Spike," he begged.

"I said I would flip you over and fuck you, right?" Spike nodded, and Xander nodded with him.

"Yes. Yes!" He tried to hold back screaming 'yes' again at the top of his lungs.

"You think that'd be better'n this?" As Spike asked, he put a third finger inside Xander.

Xander cried out, not even trying for words. There was no right answer, because, god, now he was being stretched out, and Spike was still looking at him like that, and Xander just wanted him to keep fucking him, in any way, shape or form.

"You like this?" Spike asked, and Xander knew it was the 'trick question' game. He hated the trick question game, because he never got what he asked for, but had never figured out how to not ask for what he did want. It was like any answer was automatically the wrong one.

Xander almost blinked at the epiphany and would have been amazed at having the braincells to have epiphanies, had Spike not shoved his fingers hard, in Xander's ass. Xander moaned again, and didn't answer Spike's question. Spike responded by moving his fingers around, and asking again.

"Ohhh, god, Spike," Xander said, rolling his head from side to side.

"Like this better?" he asked, encouragingly. "Want me just to fuck you here?"

Xander moaned, and didn't reply.

"Xan?" Spike kissed the inside of Xander's knee. Xander tried not to grin as he realised he had figured out Spike's game. As Spike pulled his fingers out and slid them in, fast, Xander bucked and gasped. Whispering seductively, Spike asked, "Is this what you want?"

Keeping his grip tight, Xander just held his legs and forced himself not to move. Much as he wanted to push himself down onto Spike's fingers, he wanted Spike to fuck him. Wanted Spike to lose his patience and flip him over and take him.

Spike moved his fingers again. Or he could keep doing what he was doing. Xander whimpered and tried to hold still. He felt Spike kiss his leg again, then Spike licked, slowly, up his thigh. It took all Xander's will to hold still and not spread his legs wider.

Then suddenly he was on his knees and shoulders, face down on the bed, and Spike was doing something -- something that involved not touching him anymore. The fingers were gone and Spike wasn't even on the bed; Xander grinned into the sheets. He didn't even bother rearranging himself, because Spike was already climbing back onto the bed, and then naked legs touched his and a cock was pressed against his asshole.

Xander took a deep breath and let himself relax; then Spike was inside him, all the way, and Xander shouted rudely in Latin. Clutching at the sheets again, Xander held still. There was hardly any need for him to move, much less the room -- Spike was fully inside him, and not moving. Neither of them moved for a second, then Spike snarled something, and pulled out then slammed back in.

All Xander had to do was lay there and let Spike take him. His own cock was as hard again as though he'd hadn't come once already, but Xander couldn't get the leverage to get his hand down to grab it. Nor could he lower his hips to rub on the bed; which meant he was left to Spike and Spike's cock, which was ramming into him with steady, aching rhythm. Spike was the one moaning, now, already caught up in his own thrusts; Xander smiled and tried to hang on and listen to him.

Spike's hands were on his back, now, and with each thrust forward his thighs hit Xander's. Each hard fuck brought another soft groan from Spike's lips, and his fingers dug into Xander's skin a little harder. Xander wanted to hold him, wished he'd been on his back so he could see Spike's face. Instead all he had was Spike's voice, and the touch of his cock inside Xander's body. It was enough, and as Spike kept fucking and kept moaning, Xander knew he was gonna come again. He moaned, and Spike moaned in echo, fucking him harder.

Xander moaned again, needing more, and again Spike echoed him. Spike kept fucking him until finally Spike was the one gasping breathlessly and moving hard and fast and out of control. Xander braced himself as Spike nearly fucked him literally through the mattress. He managed to keep his hands under his head so he could breathe, but otherwise could only lie there and be fucked. When Spike howled, Xander's cock jumped, and he felt himself starting to come as Spike reached orgasm.

He cried out as his orgasm hit and Spike kept thrusting into him, slamming into him as they both screamed. Xander began moving then, pushing back onto Spike as Spike moved forward. He knew it wouldn't last, but he wanted everything he could get, every last second of Spike inside him. Even as he thought it, Spike stopped, and slipped out.

Xander turned over quickly and caught Spike as he fell forward onto him. Xander wrapped his arms around Spike and held him, kissing his cheek as he snuggled close. He opened his mouth to ask Spike if he wanted to scoot over, towards the pillows, but Spike was already closing his eyes.

"Old man," Xander teased.

"Hmm?" Spike didn't open his eyes.

"Come once, and it's naptime?"

Spike just raised his hand, holding up two fingers.

"Does that mean you're gonna fuck me again?"

"Rmph. Yes. Later. Shut up." Spike held onto him tightly, then stopped moving all together.

Xander grinned. He closed his eyes, and thought seriously about studying more. Later. Much later.

After Spike fucked him again.

****************

Xander got back to his apartment the next afternoon. He'd slept at Spike's place, then had a hell of a time fending off his vampiric, lazy-ass boyfriend who wanted to stay in and shag. Xander had managed to only be ten minutes late to his morning class.

When he got home, he found Spike on the sofa, abusing Xander's cable. Xander gave him a two-finger salute and dropped his backpack on the floor. "Should I ask how long you've been here?"

"Half an hour," Spike said, protesting barely at all, which meant he was probably telling the truth. "And I haven't touched your saved game." He nodded towards the computer.

Xander glared at him, moving quickly. "Spike, if you--" He woke up the computer and found "Resident Evil II" saved at level five. "Spike, you-- fuck, how did you get past the zombies in the storage room?"

"Pure charm."

Xander threw a book at Spike's head. Spike, naturally, ducked and continued staring at the television. Xander suddenly realised it wasn't just his game that had been in danger, and quickly opened up his email program.

Nothing obvious. Either Spike had started deleting his 'sent' mail, or he hadn't bothered messing about with it. This time. Giving Spike another glare, which bounced off unnoticed, Xander went over to the answering machine. "Tell me why I gave you a key?"

"So I could sneak in and suck you off while you're asleep?"

"Er, yeah. Besides that." He looked down; three messages. He hit the 'playback' button. The first one was from yesterday evening.

"Hello, Xander," Giles' voice said. "Just thought I'd...check in. See how things were going."

He recognised this sort of call. Giles sounded distracted, like he was only calling to make it sound like everything was perfectly normal. Which meant they were about to go out and avert monsters, or an apocalypse, or some such normal crisis and he didn't want Xander to worry. He made a mental note to call Giles right away; too bad it wasn't early enough in the day that he could call and wake Giles up as revenge for trying to protect him from the fact Sunnydale had monsters that had to be slayed occasionally.

Giles' message continued. "So, I suppose you're out. I'll ring you tomorrow, or..or..this weekend. Love you."

Xander scowled and his stomach was starting to do a funny little flipping thing. He paused the playback and picked up the phone and dialed Giles' number. He got an operator saying, "We're sorry, this call cannot be completed. Please check your number and dial again."

Blinking, Xander stared at the phone. He'd hit speed dial; there was nothing to check. Just to be sure, though, he dialed the number manually.

"We're sorry--"

He hung up. The answering machine still had two messages on it. One, or both of them, might be from Giles explaining how the demons had torn the phone cord out of the wall. Again.

He hit 'playback.' The second call was from last evening as well, only thirty minutes after Giles' call.

"Hey, Xander." Angel's voice. Serious.

Xander sat down.

"Cordy and I.. are heading up to Sunnydale. It-- I'm sure it's nothing. She had a vision but... I'm sure it's nothing. You know how her visions are. What looks like a dead body turns out to be a doll, or a demon frog or something harmless. I'm sure Buffy and Giles and everyone are all fine. When you get this, give me a call or call Cordy on her cellphone. I might be in the middle of.. well, sometimes I forget to turn on my cell. You know. I.... we'll be back soon as we can."

Xander stared at the machine as it began to play the third message. From this morning, almost exactly the same time he'd been pulling into a parking spot at school and leaping out to run for class.

"It's Wesley."

He sounded tired. Xander tried to remember where Wes and Kendra were. Wales? Newport? Hawaii?

"Kendra's dead."

Xander was suddenly aware that Spike was behind him. He reached out and found Spike's hand, not sure if Spike were the one holding him upright. He'd liked Kendra. She and Wes had made a great team. They'd been due to swing through L.A. in a couple of months.

"I'm sorry," Wesley's voice continued. "We got here too late last night. We came as soon as we got Rupert's message, but we were too late."

"No, no, no--" Xander shook his head. He didn't want to listen. Didn't want to hear this.

"Everyone is, they're all dead. I saw...I'm sorry, Xander. Kendra went in. I don't-- This.. I don't know what it is. A cyborg demon. It's killed... oh dear god. I--"

There was a dial tone.

Xander didn't move. He was dimly aware that Spike had his arms wrapped around Xander's waist, but Xander waited for the voice to come back. To say that no, never mind, false alarm. Just a tree frog making everyone hallucinate.

Spike moved away, and Xander turned to watch. Spike picked up the remote and flipped the channel. Xander stood up and saw the local news.

The newsanchorwoman was sitting at her desk, looking calm. "We're still getting conflicting reports about what is taking place in Sunnydale. We've been unable to verify or rule out any of the rumors. Authorities have yet to indicate what they believe is going on, nor have they offered any explanation for some reports that "monsters" have attacked the town.

"What we do know is that someone has attacked several areas of Sunnydale with some kind of army ordinance. Large numbers of attackers, possibly a gang of hoodlums, maybe even terrorists, have been moving throughout the Sunnydale area. We have no confirmed death toll at this time, though from the amount of carnage seen from the air makes it likely that there are several dozen deaths. Maybe even hundreds." Her face grew grave, not quite hiding fear.

"The footage we're airing now was from the News 24 helicopter, broadcast before it was shot down."

They sat and watched the tape loop through twice before the newswoman spoke again.

"The governor has declared that an Army Reserve unit is being sent in to handle the problem. Meanwhile, he urges everyone to remain calm. The rumors of a so-called 'demonic army' are not true, nor are they moving beyond the Sunnydale area. There is no cause for alarm. We will remain live, bringing you the news as it happens."

Xander jumped as the tv turned off. He spun on Spike. "What the hell--" Demonic army, yeah. Xander had no doubt that's exactly what it was. Cyborg demons.

Who had killed a Slayer. Maybe-- no. Xander shook his head. They were still fighting. They just couldn't call him and say so.

They had to be.

"Come on." Spike was heading for Xander's bedroom. Xander realised he was right. They had to grab weapons, had to get up there. They had to find Buffy and Giles, and everyone else. Kendra.. was probably dead, Xander told himself. Wesley wouldn't have called and said so, if he wasn't sure. As for everything else...

He stopped, suddenly, and went back to the phone. Dialed Cordy's cellphone.

No answer. Called Buffy's cell, then Willow's, then Angel and even dug out Wesley's number and called it. No answer on any of them.

Xander swallowed. Never mind. They'd deal with it when they got to Sunnydale. They'd find everyone, figure out what had happened. 'Everyone else' was not dead.

He found Spike dragging Xander's duffel bag out. Xander went to the wooden chest he kept in the corner. "What do you want?" He began pulling out axes, and stakes. Cyborg? Maybe the stakes wouldn't be necessary.

"What? Anything, don't care. You want to haul any books around?" Spike asked.

"Books?" Xander looked over. "Why do we-- Spike, why are you packing clothes?"

"We're going to Brazil."

Xander stared at him. "Spike, if this is a sick joke, I'm not laughing."

Spike was suddenly right there in front of him, holding onto his shirt. Spike looked nothing at all like he was joking as he said, "That thing killed two Slayers and you want us to go fight it? Not a chance. We're going to Brazil and let the demons and the army have it out among themselves."

Xander knocked Spike's hand away. "We are not going anywhere. Except to Sunnydale to find out what happened. To kill that thing and find-- find out where everyone is. Find out--"

He couldn't say it. He grabbed the duffel bag and took it over to the weapons chest and began stuffing as many weapons inside it as he could.

Spike pulled him around. "You're not going up there to get yourself killed."

"I'm not running away."

"Fine!" Spike shouted. "Then at least don't...go charging up there with an ax. God, Xander, don't you think they'd have tried slicing its head off? And shooting it and stabbing it and burning it and casting spells?"

Xander shouted back, "Then what do you suggest we do?"

Spike raised a hand, stopped, and looked like he was fighting between actually thinking of an answer, and yelling again about running to Brazil. Xander went back to packing weapons. Anything else left him thinking about things he wasn't thinking about until they got to Sunnydale and found out for sure.

"Why don't we go ask someone who knows?" Spike finally said, sounding very subdued.

"Huh?" Xander paused and looked over. "Who knows what?"

"Those blokes what gave Cordy and Doyle their visions. They know everything, so Angel said. They can tell us how to kill this thing."

"You know where they are?"

Spike nodded. "Angel told me, once. Well, he was drunk off his arse and whining, but amounts to the same thing. Know where they are."

"Fine. So let's go."

He followed Spike out, down to the parking garage and to Xander's truck. Spike pulled a blanket out from behind the seat and covered himself up, and gave Xander directions.

Neither of them said anything else.

***********************

The Oracles, Xander thought, were creepy precisely because they were too serene.

He and Spike had walked in and found themselves standing in a big marble room facing two people that looked like a cross between Greek god and kabuki theater. There had been a moment where Xander had had to fight down the urge to say something completely inappropriate and ruin their chances of getting any decent help. Then the Lady Oracle had said, "We know why you are here."

Things had just gotten weird after that. The Oracles had answered his questions, which, according to Spike, was reason enough to think something odd was going on. But... they had answered his questions.

And now he had a plan.

"This is insane," Spike said quietly.

"Yeah."

Xander kept packing his backpack. He still didn't know precisely what to take. The Oracles had told him he could take one small bag. Take a few items he'd need, both to create the potions he would need, and to... well, they couldn't refuse him some momentos of his life.

Since he was going to have to give it all up.

He placed a small book into the backpack and looked around. A few photos, maybe? Dangerous, but he could easily keep them well hidden. It wasn't like he was going to pull them out of his wallet and show everyone.

He picked up the framed picture he kept on his dresser. Stared at it -- himself, Giles, and his grandparents all standing together. Smiling.

Should he call them? No, the Oracles had said... well, if this worked there'd be no reason to call. Everyone would be alive again.

And they....

Xander took the picture out of the frame and put it inside the spellbook he was taking. He slipped the book in the bag with Jesse, the stuffed wolf he'd refused to stop sleeping with even when his pet vampire had teased him about it.

He caught sight of his wrist, and realised he had to take his bracelet off -- the bracelet that had a named etched on it that would no longer be his. He removed it and put it in the bag as well. It reminded him of something else, and he went and got two CDs out of the CD changer. Found their cases, and packed them all as well.

"Xan--"

He looked up. Spike was watching, frowning. But he didn't say anything.

Xander shrugged. "I know. All this stuff.. it'll give me away. But I...I'm not leaving everything behind. I can't."

"Right. OK, just...you know that if you...the whole idea is to--"

"I know! Spike, god, I know! If I mess this up, if anyone finds out too soon, it'll all come undone and they'll all still be dead! I know!"

Spike put a hand on his chest. "Right. I just had to be sure." Then Spike moved forward and gave him a kiss.

Xander felt like the world was slipping out from underneath him. Well, it had started doing that yesterday, when he'd first got the message from Wesley. Wesley, who was, according to the Oracles, also dead.

They were all dead. Wesley, Kendra, Angel. Willow and Buffy and--

Xander shoved that thought aside. He was going to save them. There was no need to dwell on who was dead, because none of them were going to stay that way.

He was going to save them.

"Xan," Spike said again, and this time Xander stopped what he was doing and looked over. "When this.... I'm not--"

Xander put down his bag and went over to Spike. "I know." He put his hand on Spike's cheek.

"I'm not leaving you," Spike said, not meeting Xander's eyes.

"I know."

"But I won't...."

"I won't, either," Xander said. He'd argued with the Oracles. Asked a dozen questions, trying to find a way around it.

But the only way to save them was to undo what had been done. And that meant giving everything up. Everything. His whole life.

Everyone he loved.

"I can't promise I'll be nice to you," Spike said, looking away. "Don't mean it-- well, I will. But.. I won't, really."

Xander leaned over and kissed him.

They'd argued about this, as well. But Spike had declared that there was no way he was going to let Xander leave alone. Spike was going with him and no one was going to stop him.

Besides, he'd pointed out, if he stayed it wasn't like he'd be better off. Xander had finally agreed to that bit of logic, so now they were both going. He didn't know what, if anything, Spike would really be able to do. But he wasn't going to argue with him about staying behind.

There was no guarantee they'd ever be together again, but at least they'd have...whatever it was this would give them. A few extra seconds? The knowledge that, maybe someday, they could look back at this and know what they'd done?

Xander could, at least. As a vampire, Spike could stand up to having his memory totally suppressed. Xander would have to make a potion to suppress his. He was going to have to take it regularly, making the potion again every time it wore off. He'd agreed with the Oracles that it was necessary -- he knew too much to risk.

Finally, Xander closed his backpack and looked at Spike. "I guess...I'm ready."

Spike nodded. "Right, then. This is it."

Xander and Spike reached for each other simultaneously. Grabbed on, and gave each other a long, hard kiss. Xander knew what he wanted to say -- they'd see each other again. They'd remember each other.

But they were going back, undoing what had happened. Allowing events to lead up to the spell which would defeat the cyborg, and allow his father and friends to survive. The Oracles had been clear on just how that could be done. Go back, and redo it.

Go back to the night it all changed.

Xander put his backpack over his shoulder. "Love you," he said, knowing that soon enough those words wouldn't matter.

"Love you, too." Spike looked not quite as embarrassed as Xander felt. Spike took his hand briefly, then let it go.

"We're ready," Xander said.

And the world vanished.

********************************

He wasn't going to stop. Xander wasn't sure what brought the thought into his head, but he didn't doubt it once he thought it. Arms over his head, backpack banging into his side, he turned away as best he could, knowing his father wasn't going to get bored or satisfied and walk away.

He remembered trying, once, to knock his father's hand away, and had received double the blow for his trouble. Not sure what it had been, something solid and hard and not his father's hand. Maybe fighting vampires was a bad thing, then, giving him courage to do what he very obviously oughtn't to have done.

Xander felt a rising rage inside him, and lifted his hand. Stopped himself from delivering a blow that would knock his father back, and settled for an open-handed slap, pushing his father's fist away.

His father -- his real one, the biological shithead who had driven Xander out of the house years ago, and been killed by a vengeful, protective vampire for his trouble -- gaped at him.

"Why you--" He drew back his fist again, and Xander just stood up and faced him.

His father hesitated.

"Go on. Hit me again," Xander said quietly. God, he wanted to throw up. It had worked. He was back, four years into the past. Ready to relive his life until he reached the point where Adam would try to overthrow the world, starting with Sunnydale.

The Oracles had been insistent that this was the point to which Xander had to return. Return, stay in his parents' house, and be in the right place at the right time to help Buffy defeat the demon.

But they hadn't said he had to let this asshole keep hitting him.

Xander stood there and waited. His father lowered his hand. "Get the fuck upstairs. And don't let me catch you getting home late again!"

"Yeah, because you care." Xander moved past him, heading up to his old bedroom.

He felt sick, being here again. But the weight on his back told him that soon enough he wouldn't remember why. He'd hide his memories safely away, so he wouldn't change anything except the one thing he'd come here to change.

Save his father's -- Giles' -- life. Save Buffy and Willow and Angel and Cordy and Wesley and Kendra. Save most of the residents of Sunnydale, too, not to mention California -- if the Oracles were to be believed, and that nothing less than this would stop Adam's rampage.

But Xander could save the world. Come back to the place he hated, give up letting Giles become his new family. Give up his grandparents who loved him, his goals and dreams of being a chemist. Give up Spike, who had returned with him but wouldn't remember a thing about him. Spike was out there, somewhere, just another evil undead vampire who would as soon kill him as steal his jacket.

Xander went into his bedroom and closed the door behind him. Went over to the bed and pulled out a box that was hidden underneath. He'd need a second one, he realised. This one wasn't big enough for everything. For now, he'd keep his backpack hidden under there with everything inside it.

Everything he'd brought back from the life that would now never exist.

He pulled the bottles out for the memory potion and looked at them.

Was he ready to give everything up completely? Temporarily, he told himself. It would wear off in a month or so, and he'd remember again. And take the potion again, every couple of months for the next four years.

He was due at school tomorrow. He didn't remember exactly was was happening, what demon they'd be fighting that weekend. What tests he'd be flunking, and what homework he'd fail to hand in.

He's see Giles and Buffy and Willow tomorrow. They'd be alive.

Xander put the potions away, under the bed. Tomorrow night would be soon enough. For now, he wanted to remember.

He had to know.

***************

High school was hell. Xander got through his morning classes by following Willow around and letting her tell him things like "shouldn't you be in Mrs Masterson's English class right now?" He could barely remember his schedule, where his locker was, and hadn't had a clue about his locker combination.

He could get away with not remembering anything they were studying because as far as his teachers were concerned, he never knew what they were studying. They didn't know anything about the pupil he'd turned into after moving in with Giles so they never even called on him, never blinked when he didn't hand in his assignments like everyone else.

It was like a nightmare, except thank god he wasn't in his underwear in front of the class.

But Willow was there, and she was just a kid again. All smiles and perky and innocent, grinning when she saw him and scowling cutely when she worried about his lack of homework. He'd hugged her that morning, making her frown at him before she went to buy junk food out of the snack machine and gave it to him for breakfast.

He remembered that she'd done that a lot when she thought he wasn't being fed properly at home. How Doritos and Snickers bars meant he was eating well, he didn't know. But he ate what she gave him and managed to get through classes until finally he and Willow met up with Buffy in the library.

Buffy told them all about Angel staying overnight in her room. It took Xander a couple of tries to fake being shocked. When Giles started in about 'The Three', Xander remembered what was going on. What monsters were 'The Three'? He reminded himself that they didn't know Angel was a vampire, yet, but that Buffy was going to find out soon. He reminded himself to act surprised when she told them. Of course, if he took his potion like he was supposed to, he would be.

As they talked about The Three, Xander cracked a couple jokes, but Giles didn't smile. When the class bell rang, Giles turned back to his books, not giving any of them a goodbye. Xander hesitated at the door.

Once upon a time, he'd spent last night on Giles' couch. The first step towards Giles smiling at him, hugging him, encouraging him. Saying things no one else said to him and believing in him.

He wasn't going to hear it anymore.

That evening, Xander made his first memory potion.

*****************

Sunnydale hadn't changed much in one summer. Xander sat in his car and looked at the town from its edge. One summer away hadn't changed it much.

But four years of accumulated memories had.

Right after graduation and the destruction of the mayor -- and the high school -- Xander had told his friends he was leaving town to see the country and find himself. Jack Kerouac was going to be his guide. What he hadn't told them was that he was spending his summer away from home and the people he knew so he could sort through two sets of memories and somehow make sense of it all.

His potions had ended right after graduation. He'd taken them more or less faithfully as instructed until the summer began. The Oracles had told him only that it would be sometime during this year that he would have to act. He'd need to know everything, in order not to miss it.

He'd asked them why it would safe to remember now, when it hadn't been for the last three years. They'd just said that this year no one would notice, that nothing he could say or do would prevent him from changing what needed to be changed.

They hadn't told him how he'd change things, or exactly when. Xander hadn't been too heartened when they'd told him; he still wasn't heartened, but at least now -- finally, after all he'd been through -- he felt like it was worth it. He understood why he'd spent the last three years living with a dull ache in his chest, even when he hadn't remembered who he'd lost. It still ached, but...it was worth it. His friends were alive, and they were going to stay that way.

Even if things weren't completely changed for the better.

Things had gone so wrong, so much had happened differently. Angel had turned back into Angelus. He'd killed Jenny and tortured Giles. Spike had never shown any sign of even knowing Xander's name, the one time they'd even been in the same room together.

They'd known what they were losing, going into this. Xander couldn't regret it... too much.

He put his car back into gear, and drove into Sunnydale.

*****************************************

Xander watched as Giles took the spellbook off the shelf. He'd seen the book on Giles' shelf months ago and had recognised it as the same book he'd once read at his grandparents-- at Giles' parents house. He hadn't realised its significance until now, when Giles picked it up in response to Xander's comment about making a Combo-Buffy to defeat Adam.

His heart was pounding and he knew this was it. As soon as they'd discovered the name of their foe, Xander had felt like he'd been pressed into high gear. Everything around him had moved so slowly that he'd been half-afraid he'd miss his chance simply because he couldn't concentrate. But just as the Oracle had promised, he'd been able to come up with the solution just by being in the right place at the right time.

All those years and it had come down to knowing about an esoteric transmorgification spell.

Giles read off the ingredients for the spell and Xander had to stop himself from making any comments. He'd had to try very hard this year to hide what he knew -- there had been times he'd thought he should resume the memory potions to help hide his knowledge from his friends. But he hadn't known when exactly the moment would come for him to save their lives.

He wasn't going to risk losing them just because it was difficult to pretend he didn't know anything about demons or spell-casting.

Xander held his tongue as they gathered up what they needed and headed out towards the Initiative compound. There was a thought he'd been ignoring rather successfully for months that he was now beginning to worry about. After they defeated Adam -- what then?

Where would he go? Would he stay here, would he vanish into the future? Only this was his future, or rather, it was almost the day he'd gone back in time. Would anything happen at all?

Would Spike finally remember him?

Xander worried, and was grateful that no one asked him what was wrong. The others no doubt guessed an obvious -- and incorrect -- answer. As they began their incursion into the underground base, Xander was able to push the questions aside, concentrating on just trying to stay alive.

That worked until he found himself sitting in a circle with Giles and Willow, casting a spell to meld them all together. Then he found himself aware of a million things at once:

The sound of his mum's (grandmum's) laughter as he came running into the house. The taste of strawberry lip gloss. The sight of Oz, smiling. The feeling of triumph as he won a fencing bout/flipped over a gravestone/hacked into the city morgue/spoke his first spell in Latin/won a spot on the cheerleading squad/wrestled his dolls away from the cute little boy in the playground/drank his friend under the table at a very respectable pub/found the most perfect pair of sandals for the summer/got an A on the history exam that everyone else got Cs on.

There was the sensation of fighting. He could see Adam, could feel his/her/their arm raise and they spoke words that tumbled out of their minds and birds flew by. He could feel the power and he/she/they walked towards the cyborg that had killed his friends/threatened to kill his friends and they fought, and he reached inside and pulled Adam's power core out.

They watched him die, and the dizzying rush ended with Xander, sitting alone in his body, with Giles and Willow staring at him in shock.

Xander jumped as Spike burst in and offered to get them free. He didn't question it when Giles and Willow looked at him for the answer. There was no way he could stake Spike, regardless of if the vampire knew who he was or was, indeed, just saving them to preserve his own unlife.

His legs shook as he stood up, and Giles' hand caught him under the arm. Xander glanced over and saw things in the other man's eyes that-- He looked down at the bag Willow was stuffing the spell ingredients into. He took it from her, slinging it over his shoulder and resolutely not looking at Giles as they ran out of the room.

***************************

Outside, away from the compound, Xander could smell burning corpses and wood, and hear the distant shouts of the dying monsters. Men in army fatigues moved in the distance, no doubt cleaning up the stragglers and making plans to hide and deny everything come morning.

Xander faced his friends and said nothing.

Buffy, Giles, and Willow all stood in a semi-circle and stared at him. Xander tried to stare back, but jumbles of memories kept cascading. Seeing himself -- Willow -- in the mirror, modeling her dress for the first day of first grade. Seeing himself throw a stake at a vampire. Reading books in a language he'd never learned.

"So," Giles said, softly, but startling them all as he broke the silence. He looked nervous, touched his glasses in a gesture Xander knew well. Trying to hide that he wanted to remove them, clean them, to keep his hands busy.

"You..." Willow said, looking confused. She moved her hands, her arms, like she was holding herself back from grabbing onto him and hugging him.

Buffy dropped her jaw. "Spike?" She reached forward, and smacked his arm -- lightly.

"OW! Watch it, super Slayer." Xander rubbed his arm, despite the fact it had barely hurt.

"You came back," Willow said, sounding amazed. Or possibly in shock.

Xander shrugged. "Had to." He tried not to remember the phone calls. All his friends, dead and gone.

Giles cleared his throat, then said, "Xander." He looked...pained. Then he focused suddenly and Xander felt exactly the same as all the times Giles had ever caught him doing something wrong. He half expected Giles to ground him for two weeks.

Instead Giles reached over and yanked him in, hugging him, hard. Xander moved into the embrace smoothly, like he hadn't forgotten what it felt like at all. He closed his eyes and rested his head on Giles' shoulder, wanting to explain, apologize, babble about nothing and everything and ask if he could borrow some of Giles' books.

Without letting him go, Giles said in his sternest tone, "I think you and I need to have a little talk about this 'Bork'." He leaned back, and looked at Xander. Xander grinned sheepishly.

But then Giles just touched his shoulder, brushed his cheek before hugging him once more.

"Welcome home, Xander," he whispered.

Xander thought that maybe it was good to be home.