Chapter Six:

The first day of November is a rainy day. The sky is pouring down hard; it's like watching waterfalls and it's been that way the whole day. I'm spread out on the couch, my head leaning against the window glass, my dull eyes staring as the rain drops splattering against the window, some managing to slide down gingerly without being attacked by the downpour. I can hear the clicking of plates in the kitchen; Willow and Tara are making homemade burgers while gossiping about some wannabe witches in college. Dawn is upstairs, studying for a math test, so The Whole Nine Yards will have to wait for tomorrow.

Still staring at the rain, I reflect back on my life in the past two months. I've been slacking off in a few fast food joints or reading new releases of comic books in libraries –I always get caught in comic book stores, so while the library's comic book collection is limited, it's still the best second thing. I always spend the five dollar allowance I take from either Willow or Giles on Twinkies and Mountain Dews. I try to avoid their pointed stares about the importance of getting a job. I've tried to work as pizza-delivery guy but I ended up sneaking those pizzas home and eating them with Dawn while watching movies. I got fired the second day. I pretended I got a job as a waiter in a steak and grill restaurant, returned home late at night, and found everybody waiting for me with sulky faces. They had gone to that restaurant to surprise me only to be told there was no waiter with the name Xander Harris. Giles had forced me to work with him at the Magic Box, but after selling an old woman something that caused her an allergic reaction Anya had nagged Giles to have me 'pink-slipped'. She was so proud she learned that word from an online dictionary website.

It wasn't all bad though. For most of my nights, I get to have rocking-socks sex with Spike while hitting filthy bars and getting in touch with my alcoholic side. Obviously I've inherited my booze streak from the folks because I can't manage to have a day pass by without drinking some liquor. Once, Spike and I had drunken our asses off and stopped by my parents' house. The disappointed stares I got kind of shocked me - you'd think a couple of John Barleycorn fanatics would yell hooray seeing their only son following in their footsteps.

Spike had also taught me how to ride his motorcycle and I can proudly say that I've done it without wearing the helmet once. Spike had shaken his head in disgust at my glee but Dawn's squeals were enough for my growing ego. Speaking of Dawn, she had given me valuable lessons in shoplifting. She said she'd been doing it since Joyce died and that I wouldn't believe the things she'd stolen from me. When I used to work at the Magic Box, I had snuck her into the basement a few times. She'd steal some charms and herbs and we'd pretend to be lesbian witches in her room. Silly, but fun, especially when I get to imitate Tara, which offends Dawn because she likes her for some weird reason.

The sudden blaze of the lightening brings me back to the now, I brush my fingers on the watch I had stolen from some cheap store, my eyes starting to well with tears. Nights like this one, when I'm sitting alone and gazing at nothing are always the worse, because then I'll be forced to think. And when I think, I realize it's been months and my memories are still lost, and then I lose interest and start looking for Spike to get some action; mostly mind-blowing shags. They help me forget and be sane again. Sometimes when I remember, I can't help but grab Dawn and head to the nearest grocery store and swipe whatever we want. The five dollars I'm getting from Willow –Giles deciding I'm not worth it- are about forty dollars now, all thanks to my pretty, leggy, shiny-hair merry gentlewoman. She taught this Oliver well.

I rub my thumb on my eye when I feel a tear sliding down. I'm drowning, I'm aware of it, I'm losing my grip. I just can't bring myself to care. I know the demon is out there, I know some day we're going to find it, and I think that's why I'm not bothering. Some day my memories will be back and then everything is going to be all right.

When thunder roars, I notice a shadow of a man standing behind the fence, fierce blue eyes staring right at me. The flashes of the lightening paint his face white, showing off his serious expression. I jump to the door in an instant and the second I open it, Spike is right there, dripping from head to toe. My eyes are caught by a small drop of water on his eyelash.

I open the door more, stepping aside, but he doesn't walk in. He blinks his eye and the raindrop slides down his cheekbone and stops on his lips. I watch them stir, but I don't hear his voice, I just read them in my stunned state.

"I found the demon."

The rain has stopped when we reach the cave. We handed our wet umbrellas to Tara and she placed them behind a tree. Everybody managed to be here, even Anya, who probably thinks getting back my memories will restore our dead relationship. We wait outside for Spike, who went in to wake the demon up from its winter's nap and kick its fangs out of its cave and right into my skin. Dawn, huddled in her reddish jacket, starts humming low in her throat. Willow and Tara had insisted she should stay home and keep studying, but like the pro she is, she used her mom and Buffy's deaths to get out of it.

My senses jerk when I hear Spike snarl a curse and then a gigantic demon flies out of the cave.

"Well done, Spike," Giles exclaims. "Now, Xander, go stand... Xander?" He turns left and right looking for me until he spots me hiding behind Willow.

I cling to her like a child clings to his mother on his first day in kindergarten –and I'm not talking about myself here. I went into that kindergarten with my head up high… until Billy the bully smacked it down to the mud. "You didn't tell me this thing is so mammoth-sized," I whine, feeling myself being yanked by Anya and pushed directly at the demon.

It growls at me and I fall on my butt.

It looms over me, showing off different dangling bits similar to testicles, and then it launches at me. I snap my eyes shut, waiting for the pain, but instead of feeling it, I hear shouts and curses. I open my eyes and notice Buffybot spinning and lashing out at the demon with a kick. She pounds him hard. "Don't," kick, "you," kick, "dare," kick, "touch," kick, "Xander!"

I jump to my feet and wave at her. "No, Buffybot, it's okay, he can touch me! Let him touch me!"

"I'll take issue with that," Spike comments next to me.

"This isn't the time, Spike!"

Hearing a loud crunching of metal, I note Spike's eyes going horror-stricken wide. We both whip our heads toward the sound; Buffybot had thrown the demon directly at Spike's motorcycle.

"My bike!" Spike roars, already pouncing at the demon.

I grab onto his duster as tightly as possible. "You can steal another one later," I grit my teeth, finally pushing him to the ground. "That demon is my only chance to…"

"No!" Willow's sudden shout makes me turn my eyes to the demon. Heart leaping, I see Buffybot stabbing it everywhere.

"Die, demon, die!" she hollers, bringing the blade into the demon's flesh.

"No, no, no, no, no," all of us yell as we race toward her, attempting to stop her from stabbing it to death.

Too late. Forming a circle around the still corpse of the demon, we stare down at it with wide eyes.

"She killed it," I squeak.

"Can't say that I'm sorry," Spike grunts.

I shoot him daggers, and then turn my furious eyes at Willow and Giles. "Who gave her the sword?"

"Uh… we thought it's better for her to have the freedom of choice," Willow stammers.

"Builds character," Giles adds.

"Robots don't have character, it's in the definition."

"Xander, don't be a robotist," Dawn tsks at me.

"Guys, don't you get it? The demon is dead!" I snap at them.

"Thanks to me," Buffybot chimes proudly.

Faster than a wink, Spike wraps his arms around my waist to keep me in place while the others pull Buffybot away from my reach.

Giles shakes his head. "Honestly, Xander, it's not the end of the world."

"What do you know? You're not the one with a four years memory gap."

Anya sighs. "And I thought this would be our chance to get back together."

"Yes, you are the issue here!" The anxiety is apparent in my tone, which even I realize is verging into snappish.

"As well as your memories," Buffybot points out.

Spike tries his best to keep a strong hold on my fired up body. "Take it easy, mate. As much as I hate agreeing with Watcher Boy here, it's not the end of the sodding world."

I turn my frustrated gaze at him, upset he doesn't get it as well. "Spike, I was counting on this. In the past couple of months, all I think about is 'life sucks, but the second I get those memories back it'll be great again.' But, now…" I trail off, looking at the dead demon, willing him with my desperate gaze to rise up alive again.

I feel Spike's hands loosening their tight grip on my waist and I turn sad eyes at him. "I don't wanna spend the rest of my life drinking myself silly in bars, it was supposed to be temporary, a way to cope." I take off the watch and toss it toward Dawn. "I wanna be able to buy the stuff, not steal them. I wanna be that respectable guy again. I wanna be me."

Tara casts her wide, shocked eyes at Dawn. "You're stealing?"

"Bigger problems at hand, Tara." Dawn slips the watch into her pocket, pointing at me. "Xander lost his memories for good."

I stare at their faces, something clenching at my throat. "You guys will never understand."

"Xander," Spike says.

I jerk his hand away and start storming off. "Leave me alone!"

It's a cold night, like every night in November, especially after a heavy rain. A cool breeze blows deftly through the tree, moving its leaves and branches in an even rhythm. Beneath the shadows cast by moonlight on the bushes, I notice a dirty dog shivering in the cold, trying to get as much warmth as possible by gluing itself against the tree. Alone, frozen, numb, a few seconds from freezing to death.

I shift slightly when hit by a sudden flow of wind, not bothering to go inside and fetch for another coat. Preferring to sit on the back steps and stare at the abandoned dog; glad that none of them is back home yet. It leaves me free for my thoughts.

Now, thoughts, what thoughts, mopey thoughts. I'm officially lost forever. There's no way to make me remember again. Four years of my life went like a flash, filled with so many changes I can't comprehend. Old faces left and new faces appeared, some even mystically. Missing four years is hard enough in a regular life, but it's twice harder in mine. My best friend used to be this nervous, shy girl with net addiction. Now, she's some powerful witch, in love with another witch, barely uses her own laptop – I'd call it Dawn's to be honest – and she lost her timidity, developing a strong, confident persona. I don't mind. Actually, I'm glad Willow is more confident now; just wish I was present through all of her changes.

Then you have Giles, who's decided to pack his bags and fly back to dear homeland. Buffy is dead and replaced by the robot that wrecked my only chance of ever being happy again.

"Hey," the quiet voice comes from the right side of the house. Tara is peering through the corner with a warm smile, not warm enough to melt the ice inside me. I'm not in the mood, so I don't greet back or acknowledge her. My eyes are on Tony the dog –yes, called it Tony, 'cause I hate both Dad and my former boss.

She sits next to me on the steps, bringing up her knees and wrapping her arms around them. She says nothing, just sitting there. Getting a little uncomfortable, I venture a glance at her to find she's staring up at the stars, a content smile on her lips. Silence overtakes us and I might have forgotten she's sitting next to me if it isn't for her hip pressing against mine.

"Next week is my birthday," she says in hushed tones, finally breaking the quiet.

My insides scream at how rude that sounded under the circumstances, but my mouth remains shut. I'm afraid if I talk, she'll stay longer.

"I'm excited about it this year."

I say nothing, hoping she'll take the hint and leave.

"Last year, I was dreading it. I was told that every woman in my family has evil inside of her, but only when she turns twenty the true face of the demon appears. I was really scared of how you guys would react when you saw what I really am. Then my dad showed up with my brother and cousin, demanding to take me home before I cause any damage."

I'm not sure if Tony managed to sleep or not, I'm not looking at him anymore. I'm not looking at Tara either, but I'm listening to her.

"My brother threatened to beat me down if I don't come with them, and then you…"

She pauses. I turn my eyes to her; she has a genuine smile on her face. "You swore on his beard you'd break something in him if he tried to hurt me. You made him back off like a real brother would do."

Her brother has a beard? Uh, not the point, dim-wit.

"I was really touched. All of you just accepted me as part of you, defended me against my blood kin. Even when you thought I was a demon, you still came through for me."

"Thought?" I utter my first word since she came. "You mean you're not…"

Tara gives a lopsided smile. "Turns out it was only a lie the men in my family created to keep the women in line."

I shake my head, looking at her sympathetically. Between my drunken dad, Buffy's divorcé dad, and Willow's absent dad, Tara's is by far the worst.

She lets go of her knees, and shifts her body until she's facing me. A serious look covers her face. "Xander, you may not know us well, but we love you. If you want us to fill you in on everything that had happened in the last four years, then that's what we're gonna do." The warm smile is back and this time, the ice gradually melts. "I'm ready to skip classes. That's how much I love you."

I feel a lump in my throat, trying my hardest not to wail in front of her. "I was so horrible to you," I admit tightly, a muscle in my jaw working.

"You were desperate for things to remain the same. I get that. I'm not holding any grudges." She reaches with hesitant fingers and touches my shoulder tenderly. "Besides, Xander-with-memories liked me just fine. You guys are the same person."

I scoff. "That guy also hated Spike's guts."

"And you're in love with him."

Her serious expression makes me burst laughing. "Let's not jump the gun here."

I catch affection in her eyes, and she smiles faintly. "I can tell, it's in your aura."

"You're a hippie, too?"

The hand caressing my shoulder starts to squeeze. "Spike is a good guy."

"He's teaching me how to smoke. And he's making me cheat at kitten poker."

"I didn't say he's a perfect guy."

"Besides, he's got the whole soulless vampire thing going for him. What does it say about me? Being involved with someone like that?"

She shrugs. "Lucky?"

I stare at her without blinking.

"You're obviously happy with him. Dating a normal guy or girl isn't really the essence to happiness."

Biggest example is my parents. Others are Cordelia and Anya, post-amnesia for Anya. Guess I'm meant to date freaks of nature.

Just as I think that, Spike is standing outside the fence, just like when I caught him before the disappointing demon hunt. Eyes locked, grim expressions meeting each other.

I'm not blind. Spike has been such a bad influence on me lately, but he was also the guy who appeared to care the most. He doesn't seem like a guy who gives a crap about anyone: he only seems to like Dawn, others be damned. Then came me, waltzing in with my memory loss and desperation for a buddy. Desperation for platonic buddiness turns into bunny humping in a matter of days.

A small smile forms on my lips, and instead of smiling back, Spike turns away and scuffs a, "Ponce," under his breath. My smile grows bigger.

The bronze is crowded as usual. Only this time, it's mostly crowded with Tara's friends celebrating her twenty-first birthday. Apparently, we had her birthday here last year; it's the only decent club in town, Tara said. The whole place is decorated with paper lanterns and streamers. Colored balloons are in every corner, party hats on every head.

Except Spike's.

I grin as he makes his entrance, striding with his head thrusting forward and his duster flapping behind him. He gives Dawn a nod as she drags her friend to show her the goodness that is Spike. Her friend ducks her head bashfully, and I can see Spike going for the sexy smirk, he still likes that he has a good effect on the ladies. I'm not sure I do, though.

"Spike!" I call on the top of my lungs.

He grins when he sees me but gives me the 'wait' hand gesture.

I tap a foot impatiently on the floor, watching him make that poor girl more uncomfortable with his British accent and shameless flirting. Dawn catches my gaze and I narrow my eyes at her threateningly. She pretends she didn't notice me by looking elsewhere, her finger rubbing her upper lip.

Eventually, Spike gives her his trademark smile and stalks towards me, of course twirling his duster for extra sexy points. He detects my displeased expression once he reaches me. "Why the long face?" he asks, not at all hiding his amusement.

"Must you corrupt little girls?" I ask, totally hiding my annoyance.

"Mentally, you're a year older than them. Does that make you a little boy?"

"Piss off!"

"Oooh, bad me, little boy picked up a bad word."

The best solution is to ignore him, but I'm too childish to do so. So, I give him an angry, strong punch on the shoulder. He laughs. I'm more pissed.

My party hat slips a little and I push it back to place. I indicate at Spike's head. "Where's your hat?"

"Got an image to keep." He glances at the glasses in the table next to us. "Hate it here. They only serve beer."

"It's a teen club, Spike, where no teen can drink."

"Then it's time to grow up. This bloody party should've been in a basement, bunch of drinking and getting snockered, I'm thinking large quantities of Everclear Jell-O shots."

"Just get a beer." I turn away from the pastry counter carrying a soda. With an annoyed sigh, Spike follows and we start threading our way toward an open table.

We sit on the opposite side of each other. "Glad you came," I say. "All these Wiccans and college smarties, I'm starting to feel like an outcast here." I swallow some of my refreshing soda then smack my lips together.

"Rather get shagged instead." He gives a suggestive leer.

Tempting, but so unlikely; Willow had put her heart and soul into this party. If I leave, it'll be me and coal black eyes facing each other all night long. I can't risk it. I put the bottle down, and something springs to my mind at the mention of sex. "Hey, I never asked you about this. Remember our first time, the me-too-drunk one? Since you weren't so out of it that night, care to tell me how we started jazzing?"

Spike grabs my soda and takes a sip, his face congests with disgust, and he returns it to me. I lift up my eyebrows, waiting for his answer; he stares at me with a dumb expression for seconds, and then, "Oh. Yeah, you came on to me."

I glare. "Liar."

"I'm not. Actually, you were throwing yourself at me, and I say that literally. I thought you were trying to kill me, 'til I realized it was you jumping my bones."

I give him my best mystified face before I shake my head. "No, no, no, you're doing the lying thing again, you took advantage of me in my wasted state. Now that I can believe."

Spike rolls his eyes. "Really, mate, would I make a move on you?"

I point a finger, about to say something. I stop, considering what he said, and then slump back to my chair, head downcast. "Point."

"You're not much of a looker," Spike elaborates. "You're big-mouthed, you're gauche, and the way you fight…"

"I get it, Spike, I'm a loser."

"But, that night, you were on fire," Spike goes on as if I hadn't interrupted him. He stares at space with a dreamy look. "Saw you in a new light."

My lips are set in a thin line, my fingertips pressed to the table. "What do you know, Anya did have a point. Sex is everything."

Enthusiastic, Spike gets up, pulls his chair and places it next to mine. He's too excited he almost jammed the foot of the chair on my toe; I snap my legs back, successfully averting a painful accident. Spike sits on the chair, and my eyes at still staring with dread at the place where my foot was. "Let's go to my crypt, get you pissed, I'm in a mood for something wild."

I glance at Willow and Tara laughing with a bunch of their college friends. "I can't leave Tara's party."

"Why not? You done with the whole song and cake bit, right?" he asks, I hesitantly nod. "That's the highlight of the evening. Nothing else happens."

"It's not about what happens next, Spike. It's about being there for a friend."

Spike purses his lips and sits back, dissatisfied. "Said Xander the Uptight." He looks with disgust at teens grouped in a booth, chatting with excitement. "And I thought the blackout would make you more loosened up."

"I've loosened up enough for my own good," I say pointedly.

"Not enough."

"What's next? Smoking heaps of weed?" I shake my head, bringing the soda to my lips.

"Not what I meant." He leans forwards again and snatches the soda from my hands. "And you only went crazy on liquor because of the depression."

"I didn't have depression," I protest.

"Right," Spike drawls. "Anyway, it wasn't about loosening up. Wasn't about fun. Just self-pity bollocks."

I pout. "I'm not uptight."

"Then act up. For once in your pathetic life do something crazy."

I turn away from him, my eyes on the teens and young adults dancing together, laughing, happy. Bodies moving to the music, pressed up against each other, like a Rickey Martin video. Nothing on their minds but having fun and chilling out, reminds me of the last time I went to the Bronze as a teenager. Buffy, Willow and I dancing together, Buffy moving lithely, Willow timidly, and I was just shaking and swaying with the music, getting into the rhythm. It never mattered how goofily I danced, all that mattered was being with my friends, joking, feeling content with myself.

My fingers entwined Spike's, eyes still on the dancers. "Let's dance."

Spike frees his hand from my hold. "That's not what I meant."

I ignore him and head straight to the dance floor. Taking a deep breath, I bob my head to the beat and start shifting my weight between my legs. Soon, I throw my hands in the air, losing myself into the music. I spin twice until I'm facing Spike, his mouth and eyes wide open with horror. "What's the deal, Spike?" I shout, jerking my arms left and right, head banging all the way.

Spike, paralyzed in place, is knocked off by a couple dancing as fast as I am. "Hey, watch it," the boy snaps at Spike. "People are dancing here. Go sit in a booth of something."

I stride towards the curly haired jerk and poke him on the shoulder. "Hey, nobody sits Baby in the booth!"

We stare at each other before cracking up. Even his girlfriend is bursting into laughter. Spike narrows his eyes at me and then stalks off. I catch up with him before he leaves the dance floor and swirl him around until we're face to face, his eyes speaking volumes.

"Hey, when did you become sensitive?" I ask, stifling a giggle. "C'mon, show me your dance moves." I pull him back to the center, and I start dancing.

His bored eyes are following my moves, which I can proudly state are similar to Carlton's from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

"C'mon, Spike!"

"You look dumb."

"But I feel great!" My hands fly to the right while I kick a leg to the left, doing the opposite inelegantly.

"You almost kicked that bloke."

"I don't care. I can do whatever I want. I'm free." I spin as much as possible, until I start swaying dizzily. Spike grabs my shoulders to steadies me. "No fiancées, no rent to pay, no job to wake up to, nothing," I breathe out the words with a dopey smile plastered on my face.

A flash of concern crosses Spike's eyes. "Xander."

I release myself from his grip, shrug, and then return back to dancing. "It's perfect. I'm exactly right where I left off, the same high school loser with nothing to look forward to. Except I'm older and my friends are way, way ahead of me." I spin again, more than once, more than twice. Hearing the beat of drums, I kick a foot up in the air. Feeling a cramp in my thigh, as well as the banging headache in my head, I sink to the ground.

With a weary sigh, Spike flings me on his shoulder, walking to our table. He drops me on my chair and pushes the soda into my mouth. After a few swallows, he takes it away and sets it on the table. "What's up?" he asks, one elbow on the table and the other on the back of his chair.

I drop my gaze, my fist shaking on the table. "What's the point?" I nod to Willow and Tara talking to their friends. "Look at them. College studs, knowing where they're heading. Less than two months from now I'm gonna turn twenty-one, and I'm at zilch. I've got no job, I'm living off my friend's money, I'm living in my friends' home, and I don't pay rent. I've gotten so incompetent at everything."

"Yet you bugger like a minx."

I smack my fist on the table, my angry eyes boring Spike's impassive face. "Will you take this seriously? My only chance to get my memories back is gone! Those four years will be a blank for the rest of my life."

"I say hooray," Spike spits out, unmoved by my rant. I stare at him in shock, not believing that he just said that. He stands bolt up, walking in a frustrated circle before looking down at me. "I'm not gonna sit here and pretend to be sad for your sodding memories. What if you got them back and returned to being that same ponce you once were?"

My emotions blunted, I regard him like I expected nothing else from him.

"Besides, what will those memories serve anyway?" He grabs my soda and drinks from it again, and then spits it distastefully, making 'blah' faces. He returns the bottle to the table and pushes it my way, expression still grossed out. I open my mouth about to comment, but then he holds a hand up. "You said it," he says in a choked voice, looking like he's about vomit. "You lost everything that made you that bloke, how about starting new memories? Starting with what you know best?"

I give him a bleak look. "My skills in bed?"

"After zillions glasses of beer." He gags, pointing at the soda. "And none of this."

I look at the ceiling irately. "Great, even sex I can't do perfectly on my own."

"How about whining? You got that down to the beat."

I switch my glare from the ceiling to him.

He tilts his head, purses his lips, appearing deep in thought. Eventually he sighs, looking at me gravely, like he's going to reveal the world's biggest secret. "When the wankers put this bloody chip in my head, I literally lost it all. Lost my bite, everybody's respect, lowlifes started tossing me out of bars just for the kick of it. I was on top, and then…"

"You became nothing," I interrupt in hushed tones.

Spike grabs my shoulder tightly, forcing me to look him in the eyes. "But I never let it get to me. Tried to make the best of it." He sits back on his chair. "And that's what you're going to do."

My eyes are locked with his, and the heavy ball inside softens. I give a simple smile. "Well, so far, getting laid is the best thing that ever happened to me since the amnesia."

Spike slaps his palm on the table. "Finally, some sense into that thick head of yours."

I stare at him for a while, reflecting on the last few months we spent together. The great amounts of alcohol, the great number of sex, the poker cheating –and getting caught that one time- I realize deep down that Spike wasn't just being a bad influence on me. We were in it together, and Spike needed to lose himself as much as I did. We were both drowning and we found each other. It never ceased to amaze me how much Spike loved Buffy.

"Do you have beer?" I ask in a low voice.

"Always," he replies with an attractive smirk, pushing his chair back, grabbing my hand and pulling me up.

"Spike…" I say, stopping him from dragging me to the exit. "I'm…"

"You can save the mush for the bed."

"No mush, just… I'm glad to find someone who understands."

His blue eyes bores into me, and I can see it all, old pain, betrayals, abandonment. So familiar, draws me to him even more.

"Me too, mate," he replies in a voice as low as mine.

I have a job. I started my first day today. I'm back to the working field. No more mooching off Willow's five dollars a day anymore. Or maybe I will, because the pay isn't much. Combining my salary with Willow's five dollars will make for a good enough cash. Unless, Willow cuts me off. She's still got that whole responsible mother thing going on, and she's been practicing it on me more than Dawn lately. She said that boys need more supervising because they tend to act stupid more often than girls. Sexism works both ways, Will!

I heave a sigh, glancing up at the huge board with 'Doublemeat Place' glittering in all its glory.

I hang my head in shame. From a respectful head of a construction crew to a guy wearing a cow hat servicing junk-food addicts, I'm not sure if I can ever recover from this fall. According to Willow, that's how I started: from one stupid job to another until I found my calling, which apparently isn't teenage Xander's calling.

I drag my legs to the Summers' house, holding on to my jacket that covered the top half of my humiliating work uniform. I promised Spike I'm going to see him tonight, but there's no way I'm going to let him see me in this. My ego is bruised enough already.

I hear some clicking in the alley close by, and my hand automatically searches for a stake, patting repeatedly on my side. I didn't bring a stake, I was afraid of giving an impression at my first day. Getting fired from the Doublemeat Palace would be the final kick.

I tiptoe silently, heart racing with nerves, and peer down the alley. There's a washed up, homeless guy surrounded by dumpsters; he's sitting unevenly on top of a box, failing to light a cigarette.

I stare closely, trying to make out if this guy is a vampire, and then think a better plan is to just get the hell out of here.

"Hey," the guy calls the second I turned away.

I look at him, his face is very familiar but I don't step into the alley. "What?"

He holds up his lighter. "Would you give me a hand?" he slurs, apparently too drunk. It's probably a trick: he's pretending to be helpless and the whole heavy breathing is an act, too. Spike tends to breathe heavily during sex, says it makes him sexy, I agree.

"Please," the guy sounds desperate. He tries to move, but ends up falling on the ground.

A voice inside tells me he's human. I decide to trust that voice, so I move closer to him. I help him stand up, we're not exactly a similar height, but his face is clearer now that the shadows around it ceased to exist. I let a sharp gasp. "Jimmy Blaisdell. You're Larry's brother."

He keeps on swaying as he tries to speak, "My brother… yes, I remember him."

I wince, recalling when Willow filled me in of the details of our graduation ceremony. "Sorry you lost your brother. I heard he went down fighting."

"Yeah, that high school was shit. Good riddance." He flutters with his lighter again. I can see an end of a bruise from under his sleeve and can't ignore his worn out state any longer.

"What happened to you?"

"Changed courses. Didn't work out. I'm flunking college."

"You're still in college?" I sneer. Yeah, well, he'd ratted me out to his brother and he was with the bunch who laughed at me at that frat party. I add a scoff just for good major.

"It's not working out." His cigarette falls down and he tries to get out another one from the packet. "Saw Tackle Carter in the newspaper today."

I stare with fascinated glee at the cigarette stick dancing between his fingers before it bounced off. "Who's Tackle Carter?" I ask, not hiding my snicker.

"He's becoming a successful businessman." A bitter laugh breaks away. "Guy gets bailed out of jail and gets to be a big shot. Small people like us live decently and end up smoking nicotine on a dumpster," his voice caught at the last part, he looks up, tears rimming his eyes.

Something squeezes in my chest; I feel his bitterness as I glance at my visible red pants. "I'm sorry," I mumble under my breath, not sure if I'm apologizing for acting like a jerk or for our similar situation.

"Yeah." He shakes his head sullenly, still looking at me. His eyes narrow slightly. "Do I know you?"

I force a smile. "Xander Harris. You probably never heard of me…"

"Xander," he breathes out my name in awe, eyes widening with appreciation. "You're the guy who helped Larry come out."

"Larry is gay?" Willow forgot to mention that. God, now I wish I could go back in time and throw it in his face –not that I disrespect gays or think they're worth mocking, but everything is fair game when dealing with a homosexual homophobic bully. Besides, I'm gay, too. I think. I still find girls attractive. But find Spike more appealing. It's complicated, the way my life always is.

Jimmy gives me an affectionate smile. "He talked about you all the time."

"Larry talked about me all the time," I repeat, incredulous.

He smiles in confirmation, which I find spooky. I remember Jimmy when we were in high school. He's three years older than me and he used to be as much of a bully as his brother. The fact that we're having a nice chat puts creepy on a whole new level. Suddenly, his smile turns into a burst of giggles, which creeps me even more. He points at me, swaying in his drunken condition. "Hey, you're that high school nerd in the frat party. With the bra." His gale of giggles increase and I regret my earlier moment of compassion.

"Yeah, I remember, Jimmy," I say flatly.

He sighs, rubbing his eyes. "Must eat you up, about Tackle?"

Again with Tackle, who the hell is this guy and why would it...

Thoughts pause. Eyes widen. "Wait, Tackle was one of those Delta Zeta Kappa guys?"

"He's the one who made you wear the wig."

"I knew it!" I smack the dumpster with my fist. I shake my stinging hand. "Ouch!" Watching the scratches on my knuckles, I realize how unfair life can be. I blow on my knuckles to ease the pain, and then look away. "Those guys will always win."

"Want a smoke." Jimmy, already seated on his box, holds up a cigarette for me.

"No." I wave it off with my good hand. "But I'll be getting drunk soon."

Pissed off, I start towards the street, but then remember that I promised to light Jimmy his cigarette. I turn around and take the lighter from his fumbling hands. He smiles up at me and then holds up his cigarette.

The second I flick the lighter, I'm hit by a weird feeling, like I've seen this before. It's like a vague feeling of déjà vu. I stare at the small flame coming from the lighter, hearing a soft "thanks" that sounds nothing like Jimmy. Jimmy's bandaged hands holding the cigarette reminding me why I'm standing in a dark alley with a lighter in my hands.

I hesitantly move the flame closer to the butt of his cigarette, disturbed by the weird feeling capturing me. My eyes dart up to his face and in a blink of an eye I see Spike, just for a small second. I close my eyes shut, and then open them, but it's Jimmy in front of me.

My eyes snap down at his hands, they're not bandaged.

My hands tremble slightly, losing their grip on the lighter. My breath caught in my throat, I close my eyes shut, forcing my brain to bring that flash back. Spike appeared different, so worn out, bruised –I've never seen him like that before. I try to concentrate, fingers pressed on my temple, when were Spike's hands bandaged? Some time before the amnesia, some place we've been to together, some adventure we've went through.

My mind keeps repeating the soft whispered "thanks," over and over, desperately trying not to forget it.

It's a memory. So short, so small, but I have it.

I remembered.

I let out a sharp gasp, inhaling Jimmy's smoke into my lungs, my heart calling for Spike. "God." I blink at Jimmy's content face, too busy smoking to notice me. "I… I gotta go."

I stumble out of the alley, my feet running without control of me. My mind races, repeating the "thanks" again and again, the way it was softly spoken, filled with courtesy and appreciation. I keep running at blinding speed, passing the houses, streets, straight to the cemetery. I jump a tombstone, fall on my face, but it doesn't stop me. I crawl a little on the grass before I push myself up and keep running.

I push the metal doors open. I push the wooden door open.

"Spike!" I shout, my breath coming in great gulps. He's smoking on his chair, I grab his shoulders, standing him up, and staring into his amused eyes. "Spike, I lit your cigarette. It was you, I lit your cigarette!"

He blinks, stares down at the cigarette between his fingers, looks back at me with a frown. "Thought we solved this mystery yesterday. On bed, my hands handcuffed, you lighting my fag."

I slap the back of his head. "No, fang-face, I'm talking about before the memory loss. Your hands were patched up. You couldn't light it. I helped. I remember." I find myself hopping from foot to foot, unable to stop, my eyes wide with excitement.


I stop hopping. "Huh?"

"That's all you remember?"

"Yes," I say carefully, my spirits falling all of a sudden. With furrowed eyebrows, I slap the back of his head again. "Hey, don't ruin the moment. It's a huge deal. Who knows what I'll remember next."

Spike rubs his head, stepping away from me. "At least you remembered a good moment."

I wipe the sweat from my forehead. "Yes, right, good moment. And I thought all we had in the past was bloodshed."

"We had some good moments." He takes another cigarette, crocks his head and lights it. "There was that Star Trek marathon. Uh... we shared a bowl of onion rings. We played pool. You won."

I fold my arms, studying him as he takes a drag from his cigarette. "I used the Star Trek marathon to torture you, didn't I?"

His lips part slightly, releasing a long line of smoke. "Uh…"

"And that list is not accurate. I know I hate onion rings."

He shrugs, tossing his cigarette to the floor and stepping on it. Suddenly, his face lights up.

"Almost forgot." He grabs my shoulders and seats me on the chair. "Sit here. Close your eyes."

I'm about to protest, but he palms my mouth and gives me one of his scary looks, which intimidates me even with that chip in his head. He'd probably play some prank with those drinks and I'm not taking any chances. I close my eyes obediently, wondering what he's got prepared for me. Is he going to strip naked with a red rose caught between his teeth? Dawn once mentioned it was sexy and it gave Spike ideas, which I didn't mind, except for the one of using the rose to stretch me up. I won't like it if the thorns embedded my hole.

"No peeking."

Gotta be something else. Naked Spike is most likely, but it won't be just that. He's going to do something else, something thrilling and embarrassing at the same time. I won't put it past Spike, to this day I never let him tie me to bed, I know he's going to leave me there for hours after sex is over. Maybe get Willow here and make us both feel awkward and avoid each other for days.

"Now open them."

I snap my eyes open and look at an orange and white cake with 'Doublemeat Medley' written with frosting cream. A sloppy picture of a cow on top of the writing with a couple of candles; one is number one the other is number two arranged to form twenty-one. "Who told you?" I hiss, my cheeks filled with blood. "It's Dawn, isn't it?"

"Take off that coat," Spike orders with a mischievous smirk.

I hold on to my coat, covering myself even more. "No."

"Let me see it."

"No, and my birthday is in late December. Way late. Five weeks later."

"We're celebrating in advance. On the real one, we're off to Vegas."

"Will there be strippers?" I ask with interest.

"Yours truly," he says with a charming smile.

"I think I'd prefer the stripper galore."

Spike places the cake on the table and approaches me, leering at me. "Now since you're officially over-age." I roll my eyes. "We're starting off by getting you legally drunk." He gently cups my cheek, his other hand moving slyly to my back and grabbing my backpack. He quickly stuffs his hand in it and gets out my work hat. "And you get to wear this hat."

"No!" I scream, trying to snatch the hat out of his hands. He dodges my attack, spinning until he's behind me, shoving the hat on my head and swiftly slipping my coat off me. I twirl around, wincing at the look on his face. I obviously look ridiculous with my bright red pants and the red-and-white striped shirt. The stuffed cow head on top of my hat is the most humiliating part, though.

Spike holds his chin with his fingers, whistling as he examines me. "Quite the vision."

Angry, I toss away the hat and start taking off my shirt. "Tomorrow, I'm gonna take a picture of you in one of my old Hawaiian shirts and I'll make sure Jacob, Clem and the rest of the fellows get copies of it."

Spike makes a face. "Not wearing that again."

My mouth drops. "Again?" A grin blossoms in my lips when Spike curses under his breath. "Wow, you wearing my shirt? The signs were there all along."

He pouts, looking funny doing it. "You let me sleep on a chair."

"You probably pissed me off."

"You tied me up."

"Another sign," I point out, and then start imitating Cordelia, "We're SO meant to be."

Spike raises a finger and a thumb forming an L on his forehead, the legitimate 'loser' sign. "Duh!"

I'm still grinning over the revelation. "God, I'm picturing you wearing the Hawaiian shirt right now. Was it orange?"






I squeeze my eyes shut and press my fingers on my temples as if I'm massaging my head from a sharp headache. I try my hardest to concentrate, but the harder I try, the dizzier I get, especially after a long day of flipping burgers I'm not allowed to eat. I picture Spike, naked, and paste a picture of my blue Hawaiian shirt on his chest, but instead of willing my memories to rush back, I find myself focusing on what's uncovered under the shirt.

Strong hands grab mine and force them down to my sides. I'm face to face with a very fed up Spike. "Xander, one memory a day."

A dopey smile spreads of my face. "I remembered."

He lets go of me with an eye roll. "Let's get drinking."

I watch him bring over the bottles he'd arranged for the night, but my mind isn't anywhere near alcohol. I'm still excited over the fact that I remembered, even if it was just a fragment of a moment. "Maybe if I tried harder, I'll remember something else."

"Great. Think about it tomorrow when you're bored at work."

"No, Spike, this is important."

"Sex is more important." He arranges the bottles on the table before he starts opening them.

I ignore him and try to focus again. "Let's see, I was lighting your cigarette because your hands were bandaged. And we were in a dark place. What were we doing there?"

"Shagging the lives out of each other."

"No, seriously."

Spike sits back on his butt, legs crossed, his lips twisting in boredom. "We were running away from Glory."

I frown. "Why would we run away from glory?"

"The God."

"Oh. With Dawn being the green key thing, yeah, that story gives me so many headaches."

Spike grins. "Not as much as this vodka would." He holds up a large bottle to my vision.

"You got vodka?" I ask with a laugh.

He pours me a glass. "All thanks to Jacob."

Taking the glass, I raise it up in acknowledgment. "To birds."

Headache alarm. I'm starting to get used to it, seems to come hand in hand with the amnesia. I press my head against Spike's naked chest, trying to lessen the serration of the headache. I didn't drink as much as Spike wanted me to, figured it won't do me good going to work with my head spinning. So, I did that wild seduction thing that seems to turn him on and it worked. We ended up doing it three times in three different locations, bed was the last.

Spike shifts faintly under me. I knew he was awake when I smelt the stench of his cigarette. I feel lazy touches on my upper arm from his cold fingers, so I take hold of his hand, rubbing my thumb on his knuckles, drinking in the white skin. I gaze at his hand for a while, almost drifting off again.

Suddenly, Spike snatches his hand away of mine. I look up at him, my chin resting on his chest. He regards me with shrewd blue eyes. "You're picturing them bandaged, weren't you?"

I smile sheepishly. Spike tips his head back against the headboard, staring at the ceiling like he's asking it why he's bothering with me.

I relax my head back on his chest, rubbing my nose slightly against his nipple. "Do you think I'll ever be successful again? Another respectable job, another huge apartment, another car."

His fingers come to my head, caressing my short hair. "Only if you stop obsessing about those memories."

I kiss his nipple and smile. "You really think that?"

"I know that. Been there, remember? If I kept fixating on getting this chip out, I won't go anywhere."

I close my eyes, pressing my cheek more against his chest. "And where are you now?"

He doesn't answer right away; the increase of stinking smoke in the air tells me he just exhaled. "Home," he says quietly.

I raise my head, a mock touched expression on my face. "Aww."

He gives my face a gentle slap, squirming out from underneath me. "Nothing to do with you. I'm talking about the crypt." He takes a drag, blows in the air, eyes frowning at me. "And you don't live here."

"It's so far from work. And you don't have a bathroom." I roll onto my side and prop my head up on my elbow. "Do you think about the losses?"

He stares into my eyes, noting how serious I am, and then looks down at the cigarette between his fingers. "Sometimes," he whispers. I didn't expect the sincere admission, thought I'd be getting another lecture about moving on and adaptation. I'm relieved and glad he chose to open up to me instead of pretending to be strong; the super alpha thing he's got going on is getting tiresome. I'm starting to dislike it more than the old silent, broody Angel act in the beginning. I like the new side, the unsure one, makes it easier to get along with him and understand him better.

"You?" Spike asks after blowing small puffs of smoke, probably trying to blow smoke rings, but failing. "Still crying about the perfect life?"

I drop my head on the pillow, gazing at the ceiling, arms spread out. I turn my head towards him, a lopsided smile on my lips. "Perfect is so overrated."

Spike smirks, stubbing out his cigarette on the wall, tossing it behind him. He leans down and locks his lips with mine.

I smile through the kiss. Nothing gets better than this.

The End