Xander stood staring out the window in his empty apartment. He kept the lights turned off; the way the moonlight streamed in through the open blinds was comforting to his thoughts. It added a poetry he was certain his thoughts wouldn't provide to the situation.
In one hand was a cup of coffee. He was a working man now. He had to drink too much coffee. It was a stereotype that couldn't be ignored. He really did love the stuff, though. Sometimes, when he wanted a drink, he had coffee instead. Unfortunately, tonight's coffee was more of an after rather than an instead.
In the other hand was the photograph, unframed since the break-up. The moonlight fell softly across the photo. She was laughing in the picture, curled up on the sofa and wearing one of Xander's shirts, nothing else. It fit her like a dress. She always wore them better than he did, anyway. It was his favourite picture of her; it illuminated who she was so perfectly. He kept the picture in the drawer of the table beside his bed, under all the documents and plans for elaborate buildings that he planned to keep secret for many years until his reputation was more established. It was a sacred photo; he only took it out when he needed a very clear reminder that his life wasn't all demons and evil. He had her.
He had had her.
He wished like hell that breaking it off hadn't been the right thing to do.
"At least we're on speaking terms now," he said to himself and knocked back the rest of his coffee.
"Are we?" said a vaguely familiar voice behind him. "It seems like ages since we talked last, Xand."
Xander whipped around and stared at the tall, lanky figure in front of him. "Whoa, whoa," he managed after blinking a half dozen times. "Okay, you're dead."
Jesse made a face and placed both hands over his heart. "Oof. Ouch, Xand. Ouch." Then he smiled and spread his arms out wide. "Is that really how you greet an old friend?"
"Friend? Don't think so. If you're actually here in front of me, you have to be an immortal of some kind. Here I am four years after high school with a bit of a flab on me. I mean, you were always thin, but this is ridiculous."
Jesse shrugged and kept smiling that same old crooked grin that Xander suddenly remembered with perfect clarity. "Maybe I just never filled out. Cut a guy some slack."
Xander stared. "What are you?"
Jesse's expression became serious. He stepped forward. "It's just me, Xander. Jesse. You remember me."
"Won't ever forget. But you've been dead a long time, Jesse. Six years, if we want to be precise about it. You're not here. Either I've been inhaling too many fumes at the job site, or you're some kind of big bad here to give me a scare."
Jesse didn't acknowledge Xander's speech. Instead he nodded at the photo Xander was still holding. "She's a hottie. I can't believe you got a girl like that. Makes Cordelia look… well, still really hot, but…"
"Cordelia didn't come close to what Anya is to me."
"You… Xander, you didn't…" Jesse's face expressed shock as Xander didn't deny the charges. "Come on, man! Cordelia was my conquest! Mine! You don't just steal a man's conquest."
"You died, and it was years ago. Get over it."
Jesse shook his head in disbelief. "You've changed, man. There once was a time when you wouldn't dream of taking Cordelia from me."
"Don't flatter yourself. You were never on her radar."
"I so was."
"Really? When was that again?"
"When I was a vam—"
Xander smiled as Jesse trailed off. "Now you get to explain what the hell you're doing here."
Jesse smiled again, and this time it wasn't a jovial smile. "I'm issuing a warning."
"A warning that my dead best friend is coming to pay me a visit? Might be a bit late on that one."
"You're not going to win this time."
"Really? Sounds like I'm winning," Xander said boredly.
"Not the argument, dumbass, the battle. Buffy's not going to kick ass like she always does. She'll try, but she will fail. She will die, along with her whole army, which, sorry bud, includes you."
"Right, because that doesn't get older each time I hear it."
"I mean it, Xand. Why else would I come to you?"
"Call me skeptical, but I'm still not convinced that you're you."
"Is that what the problem is? Okay, go ahead, ask me anything." Jesse waited while Xander stared. "Go on, anything. Isn't there some personal question only you and I know the answer to that will prove that I'm me?"
"What did I say to you the day before you died?" Xander tried after a pause. He suddenly didn't seem as skeptical anymore.
Jesse smiled. "I remember a few things, but I get the feeling you're looking for something significant here. So, I'll try this… you held up the stake Buffy dropped on the floor and stared at it for a minute. Then you smiled, tossed the stake in the air, and said, 'Maybe she's the one'. Then you saw her and Willow sitting together, and bee-lined toward them before you had any chance to elaborate."
Xander stared. Jesse had, evidently, given the correct answer. He cleared his throat and eventually managed, "What battle?"
"Not for me to tell. I don't actually know. I've just gotta tell you, bud, to get the hell out of dodge. Something big's coming. I get the impression it's a 'From beneath you it devours' kind of deal."
Xander raised his head. He'd heard that phrase thrown around a lot over the past few weeks. Jesse continued on. "I think you know that something's going down, and that it's different from the rest. You're the one who sees everything; it makes sense that you would know. Come on, Xander, you're not of real use to this battle. It's probably best to get out of town before…" Jesse looked away. "Of course, there's no guarantee that getting out of town will save you, but it can't hurt."
"Uh-uh," Xander said suddenly, seemingly coming to his senses. "No way. I don't leave Buffy. There have been battles before, and we've muddled through." Xander stopped and shook his head. "Besides, if this really is the end, I'll want to be there. We've been through too much for me to just…"
Jesse smiled. "Well, isn't that interesting," he said. "Maybe you should be holding a photo of a different blonde. 'Maybe she's the one', right?"
Xander, startled, looked down at the photo of Anya in hand. When he looked up again, he saw that Jesse's smile turned very sad. "All I can do is warn, bud. But it looks like things are going well for you. Take your girl and make a new start for yourself on the other side of the world. Start an architecture company or whatever it is you do. Save both your lives." Jesse took a single step forward, but kept his weight on his front foot. "You've been Buffy's sidekick for too long. Time for you to decide what you really want." Jesse grinned his crooked grin again, and began walking backwards. "And hey, if you don't break away, maybe I'll see you again soon, yeah?"
Xander came slowly after Jesse. "Jess…" he started, but stopped short when he realized that his old best friend had disappeared into the shadows. Xander glanced down again at the picture of Anya, and stood where he was for a very long time to process what had happened. Finally, he walked jerkily into his room and replaced the photo in its proper place.
The next thing he was aware of was a sharp pounding, both at the front door and in his head, and the funny feeling at the back of his spine that suggested that a certain blonde was on the other side of the door.