Alex Hill finishes telling the waitress what he wants to eat, even though he really isn’t that hungry. In fact, he feels like he’s going to throw up.
When the waitress goes away, Alex looks down at his hands. Staring at his hands is better than looking at Spike, so it’s better if he keeps his head down.
It’s been almost three hours since Spike stormed out of the motel room, and Spike hasn’t said a word to Alex. Not when Alex got in the car, not in the entire drive to wherever they are now, not even when Spike pulled up in front of this diner. Not. One. Word.
Alex was too scared about making Spike even madder at him than Spike already was, so he hadn’t said anything either. Now that Spike has threatened to leave him behind and let him get eaten by monsters, Alex doesn’t know what to do. He knows that Spike can keep him safe from the monsters, but what good is it if Spike is willing to leave him behind just because Alex says something Spike doesn’t like?
Alex thinks that Rupert probably said something to Spike before Alex woke up and heard Spike yelling about kittens. Rupert probably asked why Spike was protecting Alex when Spike probably had more important things to do, like fight monsters or something.
Alex feels really, really alone. All he can do is try to be good, and hope that Spike stays to protect him, even though Rupert probably told Spike to just dump Alex and let Alex take care of himself. Alex has already tried taking care of himself. That’s why he started drinking and that’s how he lost his eye and that’s why he ended up in the shelter. He can’t take care of himself. He knows that. Right now, Spike is the only one who can help him.
And Spike doesn’t even like him anymore, probably because of something Rupert said and because Alex said stuff that made Spike mad.
Spike clears his throat.
Alex hunches his shoulders and lowers his head. Spike’s going to say something bad to him. He just knows it.
“I, unh, yeah…about back there. At Chez Dump. Before we left.” Spike sounds really uncomfortable. “Got a bit of bad news, which you probably overheard. Or heard my part of the conversation, at any rate. Well, actually, I got a lot of bad news. I took that out on you, and…well, didn’t mean to. You were a convenient target is all and…what I mean is that I won’t leave you behind, if that’s what’s eating you. It was an empty threat, see? If you didn’t show, I would’ve marched right back in that room, grabbed you by your hair, and dragged you out to the car m’self.”
Alex looks up and peeks at Spike through his bangs.
Spike looks miserable.
Alex lifts his head a little more. Even though it’s not very nice to feel better while Spike looks so down, Alex feels better anyway. Spike really wasn’t going to leave him behind. Or maybe Alex just wants to believe that Spike wasn’t really going to leave him behind. Either way it doesn’t matter. Spike is sorry now, and that’s all that counts.
Spike glances at him before turning to stare out the window. “Wanted to kick a puppy I ’spose, and you were the next best thing. Old habits are hard to break, and all that nasty business.”
The waitress swishes by their table. As she passes, she puts a Coke in front of Alex and a cup of coffee in front of Spike.
“It’s okay, Spike,” Alex says. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I won’t do it again. I promise.”
Spike leans forward with his elbows on the table while he makes a face. “Alex,” Spike says.
Alex waits, but Spike doesn’t say anything. Instead, Spike keeps making this face like he tastes something really nasty.
Alex’s stomach starts to flutter. He was right. Spike’s about to say something bad to him. That has to be it, otherwise Spike wouldn’t make a face like that. Still, Spike did say that he wouldn’t leave Alex to the monsters, so whatever is wrong it’s not that. Alex puts his hands in his lap so Spike can’t see that he’s shaking.
Spike scrunches up his face so tight that his eyes almost disappear while his mouth spreads across his face. He looks a little bit like a frog. “Alex,” Spike says, “it turns out you were dead on. What we have here is a case of mistaken identity.”
Alex blinks. He didn’t know what he expected, but he definitely didn’t expect something like that.
Spike looks up and licks his lips. “I thought you were Xander, but your name is really Alex Hill. That’s who you are. Alex Hill.”
Alex can’t help it. He smiles with relief. Finally, Spike knows he’s not Zander. He’d like to know why Spike thought he was Zander, and he opens his mouth to ask, but Spike holds up a hand to stop him.
“Your name is Alex Hill, not Xander Harris, as I said,” Spike says again.
“That’s right,” Alex nods. He doesn’t say “I told you so,” even though he kind of wants to.
Spike rolls his eyes. “It’s enough to make you sick.”
The waitress comes back. She puts a plate of onion rings in front of Spike, and a burger with fries in front of Alex. Spike shakes his head, probably because he doesn’t want Alex to talk in front of the waitress. So Alex doesn’t say anything until the waitress leaves.
“Why did you think I was Zander?” Alex asks.
“Unbelievable.” Spike slouches over his onion rings. “Can practically hear the ‘Z’ in your voice when you say Xander. It’s giving me a nasty headache.”
Alex picks up his burger. Suddenly he feels very, very hungry, but Spike’s weird statement makes him pause. “Hunh?” he asks.
“Nothin’,” Spike grumbles as he picks at his onion rings. “Well…Alex...I s’pose you want to know what’s what, startin’ with how we got in this sticky wicket.”
“Unh-hunh,” Alex says around a mouthful of food. He nods so that Spike is sure to see that he really wants to know.
“See, it’s like this.” Spike clears his throat. “Xander, that would be, unh, the bloke you’re most certainly not on account of the fact that you’re really Alex Hill, was on an undercover mission. Follow?”
“Unh-hunh,” Alex nods while he chews. He doesn’t really care about Zander at all, but he doesn’t want to interrupt Spike. Spike said he’d tell him everything, so Alex figures he should just listen to the Zander stuff until Spike gets to the part where everyone thought he was Zander.
“The reason why everyone thought you, unh, Alex Hill, was Xander was because…unh…what I mean is…well…you’re a dead ringer for him. Same hair. Same build. Same face. Same…eyepatch. Over the left eye even.” Spike picks up an onion ring, makes a face, and drops it back into his plate. “’S like you’re a twin. It’s uncanny. Really.”
Alex swallows his food. Since Spike likes him again, Alex feels brave enough to say, “But I told you that I wasn’t him. Okay, maybe I didn’t tell you, tell you. But I said I didn’t know who he was the first time you asked me if I knew someone named Zander. So why didn’t you believe me?”
“Well, see, it’s like this…” Spike closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Right. I started backwards. My fault, really. Best if I start at the beginning, yeah?”
“Okay,” Alex says as he reaches for the ketchup bottle. He can’t have french fries without ketchup.
“You know how there are monsters?” Spike asks.
Alex pauses in slapping the bottom of the ketchup bottle so that the ketchup with flow out onto the plate. “Yeah,” he slowly answers.
“Well, as it turns out, there are some people who fight monsters.” Spike leans over his plate of onion rings. “Now, they’re called—” He stops and shakes his head. “Wait. Maybe not a good name to use.”
Alex rolls his eye. “Stop treating me like I’m a little kid, because I’m not. Just tell me the name.”
Spike suddenly grins. “That’s it!” He coughs. “What I mean is, if I told you, you’d think I was treatin’ you like a kid, which is why I’m hesitating.”
Spike leans forward even more and gestures Alex to lean forward too. Alex puts down the ketchup bottle, pushes his plate of food out of the way, and does what Spike wants him to do.
When they’re almost nose-to-nose, Spike says in a whisper, “They’re called superheroes.”
Alex can feel his eye get big. “Really?”
Spike looks around, like he’s making sure that no one can hear him. “No other name for ’em really. They’re faster, and they’re stronger, they heal really fast, and they fight monsters. So what d’you call someone like that?”
Alex doesn’t know what to think. Spike just said that superheroes are real. Only little kids believe in superheroes, because all grown-ups know that superheroes aren’t real.
Except that in the past few days, Alex has seen monsters and vampires. So it makes sense that there are people who fight monsters. And because he knows just how scary the monsters and vampires are, it also makes sense that the people who fight monsters are stronger and faster than normal people. So, superheroes have to be real.
Then Alex realizes something: Spike is really, really strong. And sometimes Spike can be really, really fast. And he’s seen Spike fight monsters more than once.
Alex can feel himself get excited as he leans forward even more. “Hey, Spike? Are you a superhero?” he asks in a whisper.
Spike looks very surprised.
“It’s just that I noticed that you’re really fast, and you’re really strong. And you fight monsters,” Alex says. He has to fight to keep his voice down. “So, I guess you’re a superhero, too, hunh?”
Spike suddenly smiles in a way that lights up his whole face. It’s like he’s really, really happy that Alex figured it out all by himself. “Well, I’ll be damned. Again,” Spike says.
“I knew it,” Alex says in an excited whisper.
Spike’s still smiling when he taps the side of his nose. “Mum’s the word, eh? Don’t want it gettin’ around, do we?”
“You can count on me,” Alex says. “I know how to keep a secret.”
“That you do.” Spike waves his hand to let Alex know that it’s okay to sit normally again. Alex is still getting settled in his seat, when Spike adds, “Now the thing about superheroes is that most of ’em, well almost all of ’em, are birds.”
Alex pauses in reaching for his plate. “Birds. That’s girls, right?”
“Right,” Spike nods.
Alex makes a face. “Girls? Really?”
“Well, why not?” Spike asks. “Plenty of superheroes are girls, aren’t they? There’s that Wonder Woman. And Batgirl. And Supergirl, right? They’re all girls.”
“But they’re not real,” Alex points out.
“There’s that,” Spike agrees, “but the fact is, an’ I’m speakin’ from personal experience here, almost all superheroes in real life are girls.”
Alex centers his plate right in front of him. “But why?”
“It’s just the way it is,” Spike says. “I suppose there’s a reason, but I never heard one that made any sort of sense. Anyway, you might say I’m a rarity. One of the few that’s, well, not a girl.”
Alex can’t take his eye off Spike even though he’s reaching for his hamburger. If Spike says it’s true, then it’s probably true. Spike’s the one who knows about monsters, and Spike’s the superhero. So if Spike says most superheroes are girls, then most superheroes are girls.
“Well, there’s this one superhero called Buffy, an’ she was responsible for protecting this entire town. Now as it so happens, this town had a lot of monsters in it, follow?” Spike asks.
The burger’s halfway to Alex’s mouth, but he pauses long enough to say, “Buffy. Superhero. Town. Monsters. Unh-hunh.” He takes a bite and nods, to show Spike that he really wants to hear more.
“Now Buffy has friends. Sort of like, unh, King Arthur and his knights, yeah?” Spike says. “You know about King Arthur, right?”
Alex holds up a finger to let Spike know he needs to finish chewing and swallowing his mouthful of burger. When he does, he says, “Sword in the stone?”
“Unh, okay,” Spike nods. “Was thinking more of the Round Table, if you know what that—”
“I know what it is,” Alex excitedly interrupts.
“Good, good.” Spike rubs his hands. “Now we’ve got the basic concept, I can go on ahead.”
“Okay,” Alex says just before he takes another bite out of his burger.
“Now, this particular Round Table had, lemme see, lots of members over the years, I suppose. But the important ones to remember are Buffy. She’s the superhero. Then there’s Buffy’s little sister, Dawn. She can translate any language that ever existed. Doesn’t matter if it’s human or de— I mean, monster. If it exists, she can read it,” Spike says.
“Unh-hunh,” Alex mumbles around his food.
“Then there’s Red. She’s a witch,” Spike says.
“A witch?” Alex yelps with a mouthful of food.
“A good one, not one of the nasty ones. An’ the most powerful witch in the world besides, so all the bad witches are dead afraid of her,” Spike quickly says. “And then there’s Rupert. He’s, oh, lemme see…” Spike brightens. “Smart. The smartest man in the world, in fact.”
Alex swallows his food. “Rupert. Isn’t that the man you were talking to?”
Spike winces. “Ah. That’s right. You were listening in. Yeah, one and the same.”
“So if he’s the smartest man in the world, why were you arguing with him?” Alex suspiciously asks.
Spike stares at him a little bit before he answers. “’Cause I felt like it?”
“Oh. Okay.” Alex nods. “I sometimes do that, too.”
“Color me shocked.” Spike shakes his head. “Right. The other important ones. There’s m’self, of course. But I joined the Round Table a little bit later. Obvious the reason why, yeah? One superhero helpin’ out another superhero because, unh, that’s just what superheroes do.”
“Anyone else?” Alex asks as he picks up a french fry. He can’t help twirling it in his fingers a little. Hearing Spike talk about real superheroes has Alex so nervous and excited that he can barely stay in his seat. The only reason why he’s even remembers he has food in front of him is because he’s really, really hungry.
“Well, there was another superhero, an’ I use the term very loosely here. He was a member b’fore I joined. Was already forming his own Round Table in L.A. when I came along. His name is…his name…” Spike suddenly grins. “His name is Sir Wanks-A-Lot.”
“Sir Wanksalot,” Alex repeats. “Is that like Sir Lancelot?”
Spike snorts. “Unlike Sir Lancelot, Sir Wanks-A-Lot is a git, who just happens to be a screaming bender who wanks a lot because all the other benders have good taste and brains and won’t play with him. And he has stupid hair. And a hair gel addiction. ’S tragic, really.”
Alex doesn’t understand most of what Spike just said, but he’s pretty sure he can guess Spike’s meaning. “You don’t like him?”
“Was afraid I was being a bit too subtle there,” Spike says.
“What’s a screaming bender?” Alex asks.
“You want to hear this story or not?” Spike asks.
“Right. There’s one more member of the Round Table, and that’s Xander. Xander Harris,” Spike says.
Alex makes a face. He doesn’t actually want to know about Zander, but since everyone except Spike and probably Rupert seems to think he is Zander, he should probably find out more. “What does he do?” Alex asks.
“Well, he…well, he does…and he did…what I mean is…ummmm.” Spike scrunches his face very hard, like he’s trying to think of something. “He’s a normal bloke. Yeah. And he, unh, helps. That’s what he does.” Spike nods. “That’s it. Right there. In a nutshell.”
“So he doesn’t do anything,” Alex says. Great. It’s bad enough that the monsters think he’s Zander. Now he knows that Zander is totally lame.
“He does plenty of things,” Spike says.
“Like what?” Alex asks.
“He, unh, well he fights monsters for a start. When they’re not shovin’ him out of the way to get to a superhero.” Spike nods. “And he helps, unh, with research. Sometimes. If the books have pictures. Really, really big pictures. And small words. That’s important. The small words part. And he fixes stuff. Lots of stuff. After they get smashed up in a fight. Very important skill, that. And he…unh…he puts up superheroes who are maybe not doin’ so well for themselves. Offers a spare closet where they can sleep, or, unh, a chair they can get tied to. Important contribution, there. And I know whereof I speak. Oh! Right! He talks to people. Y’know, when they’re not feeling top notch, he cheers them up. With jokes. Stupid ones. But I s’pose they’re jokes in some hell dimension, right? And pep talks. He lets superheroes know they can, ummm, fight another day and all that rot when they’re feeling a bit pony. Plus, there’s donuts. And coffee. Yeah. That’s the ticket. When people need donuts and coffee, he goes and gets it. Pays for it, too. Usually.”
Alex just stares at Spike. Zander is sounding lamer and lamer. “Why did they let him even join the Round Table? He’s not a superhero. He doesn’t even do anything.”
“He does plenty,” Spike says. “I just listed ’em off.”
“Yeah, but it’s all stupid stuff,” Alex sniffs.
Spike leans forward, plants an elbow on the table, and points at Alex. “Now you listen here. D’you know what normal people do when they see monsters? They blink, that’s what. An’ if they survive…well, usually they don’t, but if they do, they just go on their merry way and pretend it never happened. And even when they know monsters really exist they don’t lift a finger to help superheroes, even when those superheroes are fightin’ right under their noses.”
“Just because some people are too scared to help, doesn’t mean that Zander’s all that great,” Alex insists. “He’s still kinda lame.”
“You’re missin’ my point here,” Spike says. “The thing about Harris is when he came face-to-face with monsters, he didn’t blink. In fact, he not only didn’t blink, he picked up a bleedin’ stake and used it. He helped. An’ he’s still helpin’. An’ that’s a damn sight more ’n what almost everyone else does.”
When Spike is done talking, he looks really surprised. It’s almost like he didn’t expect to say what he just did. But Alex knows that Spike meant to say it, otherwise Spike wouldn’t have said it. Maybe Spike’s surprised because Alex didn’t see (and honestly, Alex still can’t see) why Zander is part of the Round Table.
“Guess you two are friends, hunh?” Alex asks.
Spike starts laughing. “Friends?” he manages to squeeze out of his mouth in between ha-has.
“Well, yeah,” Alex says.
“Friends. Right. ‘Friends,’ he says.” Spike looks at Alex and suddenly he stops laughing. Spike’s face gets really serious as he holds up a hand, crosses his fingers, and says, “We’re like this, really.”
“So if you’re such good friends, how come you thought I was Zander?” Alex suspiciously asks.
Spike shrugs. “Well, ’s been a few years since I’ve seen him, on account of the fact we’ve all been off havin’ our own adventures. So, he looks a bit different now. And the picture in m’head is, unh, a bit out of date. And like I said, you’re a dead ringer for ’im. It really is uncanny. You’re like twins. If I had a picture, I’d show you m’self.”
Alex knows he looks kind of doubtful, mostly because he feels kind of doubtful.
Spike leans forward and rests his elbows on the table. He looks a little sad.
“I know it doesn’t look like Harris is much, but here’s some hard facts. An’ truth to tell, it’s not something I much think about. Maybe if I did, we wouldn’t be in the straits we’re in now,” Spike says with a grimace. “When things get broken, someone’s got to clean up the bloody mess. It’s an unpleasant reality, and it’s one that every superhero tends to forget. But when it’s all over but the shoutin’, you need that one person who’s willing to roll up the shirt sleeves and fix it. Not too many people want to do it. Fewer actually can, and that’s even if they’re willin’ to give it a shot. But there are times when the people who are willin’ to mop up the blood and can fix whatever’s broken are the most important people on any Round Table. And then there are times, like these times we’re livin’ through ’ere, when they’re the only people in the world worth a damn. That’s when you go through seven kinds of hell, nine kinds of holy water, and scale every sacred mountaintop to make sure they stay safe. All because they’re not only willin’ to put it right, they’re the only ones who can.”
Because of the way Spike is talking, Alex knows that this is Important.
Spike turns his head to look out the window. “Fact is, we made a bloody bollocks of things. And right about now, Harris is the only one who can fix it.” Spike snorts. “Goes to show, donnit? Once a glorified bricklayer, always a glorified bricklayer. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to smarten yourself up and try to escape fate.”
“I don’t understand,” Alex says.
Spike turns around with a frown. Instead of looking at Alex, though, he looks down at the tabletop.
“There was this big battle, see? That was in Buffy’s home town, the one she had to protect,” Spike begins. “We won, of course. I think. Pretty sure we did, anyway. The monsters are gone from there at any rate, so that’s somethin’ I suppose. But in that battle I had to do something. Something where everyone thought I, unh, burned to a crisp and was now fertilizin’ the daisies. Except that didn’t happen. I ended up in L.A. instead. Long story short, I wound up workin’ with Sir Wanks-A-Lot an’ his Round Table.”
“People thought you died?” Alex asks.
“Why?” Alex asks.
“Because of the way I did my bit. Lots of flashy lights, lots of screamin’, but not much by way of shaking off this immortal coil.” Spike shrugs. “’S not important why people thought I was gone for good, anyhow. Well, not for this story. As for Buffy’s Round Table, well, they all went their separate ways after. They were still workin’ together, but, y’know, they had to have their own adventures. It’s the way it always goes. Was necessary for ’em to split up. There was a lot of work to do, lots of monsters to fight, and new superheroes to find and to train up right.”
Alex nods. “Oh. Okay. That part makes sense.”
“Now, Rupert — that’s the world’s smartest man, remember — he was working on a system to help superheroes get better training and help them get over the rough spots.” Spike waggles a hand. “Was a bit slapdash before that, so re-organizin’ was necessary.”
Alex is very surprised to hear that. In the comics, there’s always a Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, or a Legion of Superheroes, or a Teen Titans Headquarters that does that kind of thing. But, Spike had told him that most superheroes are girls, and that’s not something he’s ever seen in comic books. Maybe it’s just one of those other things that aren’t like comic books, either.
“Red was busy workin’ ’round the world. She’d pop in wherever there was trouble that only the world’s most powerful Glinda could solve,” Spike continues. “Buffy and Dawn, well, turns out they were on a…on a…treasure hunt. Yeah, that’s the phrase. They were in Rome hunting down buried treasure. In this case books, magical items, bank accounts. You know, things superheroes need if they’re gonna fight monsters, yeah? Anyway, turns out they were workin’ with this rake who calls himself the Immortal. There was no romance involved, even if I was led to believe it at the time.” Spike slaps a fist into an open palm. “Let Andrew have it when I found out the truth behind that li’l lie. Caused us no end of trouble, that did. I had scorch marks on my skin for weeks after that misadventure, and—”
“What misadventure?” Alex interrupts.
Spike winces. “Nothin’. Just a misunderstanding, all caused by a bald-faced lie. Came to nothing in the end. Or, rather, wouldn’t have changed anythin’ if we knew the truth of it.”
Alex stomach grumbles to remind him that he’s still hungry, so he picks up a fry and stuffs it in his mouth. He really wants to know about the misadventure Spike mentioned, but he can tell that Spike doesn’t want to talk about it right now. He hopes that Spike will tell him about it after Spike’s done with this story.
“And then there was Harris. That’d be Xander. He headed off to Africa,” Spike says.
Alex swallows his fry and asks, “Africa? Why?”
“Well, his job was to find new superheroes livin’ there, let them know they were superheroes, and then find a way to get ’em trained up,” Spike answers.
“Like Professor Xavier,” Alex says with a nod. “Only without the telepathy.”
Spike frowns at him. “I…guess. What do y’know about telepathy?”
Alex drops his head. “What I read from comic books,” he admits. He feels a little bit ashamed to admit it, because it makes him sound like a little kid.
“Well, you got the concept,” Spike says. “Good to know. I won’t have to explain it.”
Alex looks up and sees that Spike is serious.
“So, anyway, there it is. Me in L.A. with Sir Wanks-A-Lot, Buffy and Dawn in Rome, Rupert in London, Red wherever she was needed, and Harris in Africa.” Spike winces. “Unh, I need to backtrack a bit here. Just to explain somethin’. In that last battle where everyone thought I was dust in the wind, Harris’s bird — I mean, lady-love — well, she died for real.”
“Is that important?” Alex asks.
Spike shrugs. “Not really sure. Not sure if it would’ve changed anything. Not sure it would’ve made a difference. But the point is it might’ve. Okay, it’s a slim-to-none chance it would’ve changed a bloody thing. But there’s that chance, see? If only because I’m fairly certain Harris would’ve been on the first plane to L.A. with axe in hand. Maybe if one of them saw with their own eyes… Well, it doesn’t matter now, I suppose. But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that it might’ve changed somethin’.”
Alex scrunches his face up because now he’s really confused. What does Zander’s dead lady-love have to do with anything? He opens his mouth to ask, but Spike’s already moved on to the next part of the story.
“Well, while everyone was off on their own adventures, a little bit of distrust formed between Buffy and her Round Table and Sir Wanks-A-Lot an’ his Round Table,” Spike says.
“Why?” Alex asks. “How could something like that happen if—”
“A lot of things, really,” Spike interrupts. “See, Buffy and her people thought that maybe Sir Wanks-A-Lot had gone evil. Wasn’t true, but I can see how someone from the outside might think so.”
“But why would—”
“Let’s just say that some things Sir Wanks-A-Lot decided to do looked a bit dodgy,” Spike interrupts again. “Mostly because he was bein’ a bonehead of the first order. Anyway, Buffy’s people soon found out that I was still walkin’ about, too. From their point of view, I had signed on with Sir Wanks-A-Lot, so I wasn’t exactly in their good graces anymore.”
Alex makes a face and decides to try again and ask the question that Spike won’t let him finish asking. “But if Sir Wanksalot and you were friends with Buffy and her friends, why didn’t someone just call and ask you? I mean, it doesn’t make any sense that one day you’re superheroes and the next day you’re supervillains.”
Spike drums his fingers on the table. “They didn’t think they needed to ask.”
“That’s just stupid,” Alex says.
“Well, yeah, but people aren’t always smart about things. Not even superheroes,” Spike says. “And we’re gettin’ away from my point. Buffy an’ all her friends knew about me not fertilizing the daisies, and they had their suspicions about Sir Wanks-A-Lot. All of ’em, that is, except one.”
“Who?” Alex asks.
“Harris,” Spike says.
“So he was on your side?” Alex asks.
“Actually, he didn’t know there was a side.”
“Hunh?” Alex asks.
“It all goes back to that lady-love of his that died,” Spike says. “See, no one wanted to tell ’im that I was still kicking about, even though his bird was still dead. And because no one wanted to let slip that little secret, they didn’t tell him about Sir Wanks-A-Lot either. He was running around Africa, see? So it was easy to hide it from him.”
“But I don’t understand,” Alex interrupts. “If you were his friend, wouldn’t he be happy that you were alive?”
Spike winces as begins, “Well…”
“Oh! Wait!” Alex waves his hands, because he finally understands why Spike mentioned Zander’s dead lady-love. “You said that if he knew you were okay he’d be on the first plane to L.A. to see you.”
“That’s not exactly—”
“You said that he’d even bring you an axe and everything and that if he saw the truth about you and Sir Wanksalot for himself it might’ve changed everything.” Alex suddenly frowns. “But that doesn’t explain why no one told him you were alive, so—”
Spike starts rubbing his face with his hands. “You’re gettin’ a bit ahead of me here.”
“S’alright. Let me just…right. Got it.” Spike drops his hands and explains, “It’s like this. You can be happy that a mate of yours that you thought was dead really was alive, but still be bloody furious that your lady-love is dead and gonna remain that way. It’d make the best of men bitter. Well, who can blame them, hunh? No one wanted to open that can of hurt on Harris.”
“It’s still mean that they didn’t tell him,” Alex says.
“I guess they were looking for the right time and place to do it,” Spike says. “Let a little time pass, let a few wounds heal. Then kind of work up to it. Y’know, ease him into the loop, so to speak.”
“It’s still mean,” Alex mumbles as he reaches for his Coke.
“Be that as it may,” Spike says, “time just marched on. Now, eventually, Sir Wanks-A-Lot, m’self, an’ the rest of his Round Table had to fight a battle. A big one. In L.A. There were monsters upon monsters. There was even a great, big bloody dragon, which Sir Wanks-A-Lot called bagsies on, the tosser.”
“A dragon? Really?” Alex excitedly asks between slurps of his Coke.
“A dragon. Really,” Spike nods.
Alex swallows his Coke. “Wow. A real dragon.”
“Yeah.” Spike suddenly looks very sad. “We won in the end. At least that battle we did. Beat ’em back. Took out a lot of monsters and bad guys we needed to take out. It’s something, but not enough, really. We lost a lot of people, so I can’t call it a clean victory.”
Alex looks down into his glass. He feels kind of stupid. Here he was all excited that Spike had seen a real dragon. He didn’t think that maybe some of Spike’s friends were hurt or killed. He wants to say something, but he doesn’t know what to say. He’s afraid that if he says anything, he’ll just make it worse. So he doesn’t say anything at all.
“In fact, not sure I can even call it a victory, when all’s said an’ done,” Spike says. “See, there was a wee bit of a problem. We left quite a mess after we were done.”
Alex looks up at Spike. He can feel something in his stomach get really tight. He doesn’t know why, but he’s suddenly very nervous. He doesn’t want to know what happens next, but if he doesn’t hear what happens next, then he’ll never know what’s going on.
Alex knows that he has to ask, even though he really, really doesn’t want to.
“Wh-Wh-What kind of mess?” Alex hates that he’s stuttering a little.
Spike taps the tabletop and looks like he’s thinking very hard. “Okay. I think I have it.”
“Have what?” Alex asks.
“Before I explain,” Spike points at him, “you’re to promise me something.”
“What?” Alex asks.
“You’re to never tell anyone that I used Star Trek as an example.” Spike crosses his arms. “In fact, you’re to never, ever admit that I even know what Star Trek is, let alone that I’ve actually seen the silly thing.”
Alex crosses his heart.
Spike nods. “Okay. You know how in Star Trek there are these, well, dimensions right? An’ in one dimension, everyone’s good, but in the other dimension everyone’s evil? I seem to remember there was a beard on some character or other.”
“Spock with a beard,” Alex explains. “Yeah, I remember that episode. That was a good episode.”
“Good. Good. It’s the same concept,” Spike says. He looks a little relieved. “Anyway, during the battle we, I mean Sir Wanks-A-Lot an’ I…well, we caused this little tear. Between dimensions.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it?” Alex asks.
“Very,” Spike nods. “See, in this other dimension, everyone’s evil. And they have monsters. Lots and lots of monsters. Normally, they can’t get into our dimension. But the thing is, we caused a tear between their dimension and ours right over L.A. And it’s getting bigger even as we speak. Soon, it’ll be big enough for all those nasty bastards to invade. When that happens,” Spike slaps his palms down on the table, which causes Alex to jump, “nothing’ll be left. This whole world is dead and gone.”
Alex stops breathing. He doesn’t know what to think. Spike looks very serious, so it must be true. But he doesn’t want to believe it’s true, because if it’s true that means that everyone’s going to die. If it’s true, it doesn’t matter that the monsters are chasing him and want to kill him, because he’s going to die even if he escapes from the monsters.
“When?” Alex chokes. “When is this—”
“A week. Two at the outside,” Spike quietly interrupts.
Alex wants to scream. He scrambles to get out of his seat. He’s not sure where he’s going to go because there’s nowhere to go, unless he has a rocket ship, which he doesn’t. All he knows is that he can’t stay here.
Spike reaches out and grabs Alex’s hand just as he gets out of the booth. He won’t let go. “Sit,” Spike says.
“But what are we going to do?” Alex asks. “Where are we going to go? Everyone’s going to die and—”
Everyone in the diner stops what they’re doing and they stare at Alex. He can tell they all think he’s crazy. That’s okay. He feels crazy. This can’t be true. He won’t let it be true.
Spike’s trying to trick him. That has to be it. Spike wants him to do something, so Spike’s trying to scare him into doing it by telling lies, lies, lies, lies…
“There’s a plan to stop it,” Spike says.
Alex tries to tug his hand out of Spike’s, but Spike is holding on with his superstrength. “Let me go!” Alex yells.
“We’ve got a plan! It’s not going to happen!” Spike yells.
“Just…just sit down. Lemme explain,” Spike says.
Alex swallows hard. He wants to believe Spike. He doesn’t want to believe Spike. He wants to leave, but he’s too afraid to go anywhere. He doesn’t know what to do.
“Please,” Spike says.
Alex slowly slides back into the booth. Spike said there was a plan, which is a whole lot more than what Alex has got. Maybe Spike knows how they can stay safe if the monsters invade.
Spike gets up a little bit, twists around, and tells everyone in the diner. “Sorry. False alarm. Bit of a row over Star Trek. Got a bit heated there.”
Alex starts to shake and he wraps his arms around himself.
“Sorry ’bout that fib,” Spike says quietly. “No point in starting a panic now, is there?”
Alex looks down and bites his lip. He’s not going to cry. He’s not. He feels so stupid. Here he was worrying about Spike having a gun and wanting to kill him, when really Spike wasn’t a threat at all. The real threat was something he didn’t even know about. It doesn’t make him feel any better that Spike says there’s a plan to stop the Bad Thing from happening. What if the plan doesn’t work? If the plan doesn’t work, he’s going to die along with everyone else in the world.
“C’mon. Breathe deep. Jus’ calm down. It’ll be okay,” Spike says in a low voice.
“Can I help you with something?” a female voice asks.
Alex’s head shoots up. It’s the waitress. She’s staring at Alex like she’s afraid he’s going to go crazier than crazy and start throwing things around the diner and attacking people.
“Glass of water for my friend, here,” Spike says. He looks at Alex. “You want a twist of lemon in that? Lime?”
Alex shakes his head.
“Right. Water. On the rocks,” Spike says. “And give me what he’s havin’.”
The waitress keeps giving Alex nervous looks. It’s almost like she didn’t even hear Spike.
Spike reaches up snaps his fingers right under her chin. “Oi! Water!”
The waitress jumps. “Two waters. Right.” She scurries away, but she keeps looking over her shoulder at Alex.
“Don’t worry ’bout her,” Spike says. “You’re worth two of her. A dozen. No. Two dozen. More, even.”
Alex lowers his head and hugs himself harder. “She thinks I’m crazy.”
“If she heard me talk, she’d call me crazy, too,” Spike says. He reaches across the table to tap Alex on the arm. “Look at me.”
Alex does what Spike asks.
Spike holds up a finger. “Just remember. You’ve seen monsters, and you didn’t blink.”
Alex’s arms drop so he’s not hugging himself anymore and he’s staring at Spike.
Spike shakes his finger at Alex. “That’s important, you know. It’s the most important thing of all. You’ve seen the worst of it. Heard the worst of it. And. You. Didn’t. Blink.”
“Maybe a little,” Alex admits.
Spike smiles at him. “That’s not the point. The point is that you didn’t go off an’ close your eyes after you blinked.”
Alex lowers his head again. Spike’s being too nice to him. He’s not a superhero. He’s not a hero. He’s not even stupid Zander. He’s only here because people got confused and thought that he was someone else.
Alex hears two thunks on the table, and then he hears Spike thank the waitress.
“Hold on a mo’,” Spike says.
There’s a sound of some ice cubes clinking against a glass. Alex figures Spike is probably taking a drink of his water.
Next thing he knows, Spike is sliding a glass of water under his nose.
“Take a sip. It’ll help you calm down,” Spike says.
Alex looks up and slowly reaches for the glass.
Spike nods. “Small sips. But before we go, I want to see that glass empty just the same.”
Alex pulls the glass to him and sips some water through the straw. He doesn’t take his eye off Spike.
Spike is smiling now while he nods and stirs the ice water in his own glass with a straw. “See? That’s better, yeah?”
Not really, but Alex doesn’t want to disappoint Spike, especially since Spike seems to think that a little water is going to fix everything.
So, Alex lies. “A little.”
“Good,” Spike says.
Alex swallows hard. He’s afraid to ask the question, but he really needs to know the answer. “So what’s the plan? How are you going to stop…to stop…”
“The dimensional tear from openin’ all the way?” Spike finishes for him.
“Yeah. That. What you said.”
Spike folds his hands in front of him and looks down at them, like he doesn’t want to look Alex in the eye. Alex can’t think of why that’s the case, unless Spike was lying about there being a plan to stop the Bad Thing from happening and all the monsters invading and killing everyone.
“While me ’n Sir Wanks-A-Lot and this go— I mean this other superhero, Illyria, were high-fivin’ each other about how clever-clever we were, Buffy’s lot figured out that we had left a bit of a mess behind. Since we were in hiding, they couldn’t find us to tell us that we buggered everything up,” Spike says.
That’s when Alex realizes that Spike’s actually ashamed.
“Anyway, books were cracked, research was done, and lo and behold, a spell was found that could fix it,” Spike says. “Except, there were a few problems with the spell.”
Alex can feel his heart pick up a panicked beat. “They’re not sure it’s going to work, are they?”
Spike’s head shoots up. “What? No. No, nothin’ like that. It’ll work fine, providin’ it’s used at the proper time. Other problems.”
“Like what?” Alex asks.
Spike holds up a finger. “One, the spell can only be used just when that dimensional tear is about to blow wide open. Can’t be used before, ’cause then it won’t do anyone any good.” Spike holds up a second finger. “Two, there’s only one copy of the spell. All the other copies, well, they were destroyed what with one thing or another. So, if the book the spell’s in goes missin’, that’s it. We’re done for.”
That’s when everything clicks together in Alex’s head. “So that’s why all the monsters are looking for Zander. He’s got the book and everyone’s looking for it.”
Spike winces. “Not exactly.”
“Then who has the book?” Alex asks.
Spike just looks at him.
“Unless it’s a big secret and you can’t tell me where it is in case the monsters catch us,” Alex babbles. “So you don’t have to tell me, because I completely understand if—”
“You’re misunderstanding me,” Spike interrupts. “The book’s not important. It’s the spell. The spell’s important. Xander’s got the spell.” Spike taps the side of his head with one finger. “They hid the spell in his brain so none of the monsters could find it.”
Spike takes a sip of his water. “There’s a way to plant a spell inside someone’s brain. Of course if you do that, the written version of the spell completely disappears. All that’s left behind is a blank page. Perfect way to hide a spell from someone who might steal it and use it for their own nefarious purposes. Follow?”
Alex doesn’t exactly understand what Spike’s saying, but he can sort of figure it out. Zander memorized the spell (that must be what Spike means when he says that a spell can be “planted inside someone’s brain”), and then the written version was somehow erased so none of the monsters could get a copy of it.
Alex nods. Spike seems happy when Alex does.
“There’s one other problem, of course. The real tripping point, if you will,” Spike continues. “The spell is the blackest of black magic.”
“So it’s evil?” Alex asks.
Alex frowns at Spike. “But how can a spell that’s going to fix everything be evil?”
“Let’s just say it’s been known to happen and leave it at that, yeah?” Spike says. “It’s not really important anyhow. What’s important is that anyone who carries around this spell in their head for any length of time…well, it’s going to have consequences.”
Alex closes his eye. “You mean the person with the spell in their head becomes evil.”
Alex opens his eye and looks at Spike. Spike looks very serious.
“What it means is, well, unh, it leaves a bit of a scar. On the soul,” Spike says. “It’s not gonna turn a person’s head and make them evil straight off, but it might grey ’em up a bit. Get some dirt on that white hat of theirs. And they’ll have to watch themselves, ’cause they might be tempted by things they weren’t before. Like power. Or riches. Things that might make ’em think it’s a good idea to chuck it all and just become evil. It doesn’t mean they will become evil, just that they might feel more of a pull towards evil.”
“But it goes away, right?” Alex asks.
Spike shakes his head.
“Oh.” Alex doesn’t know why the whole scar-on-the-soul thing makes him feel sad, but it kind of does. It doesn’t seem fair. Anyone who was willing to memorize the spell and use it to stop the monsters from invading the world and killing everyone gets punished for doing it. There should be a reward, not punishment. Except there is no reward at all. Just a whole lot of worry that someone might become evil all because that person was trying to do the right thing.
“Of course, it isn’t enough to plant the spell in a person’s brain,” Spike says. “They have to hide that person, too. Believe it or not, ’s fairly easy to do. It’s a big ol’ world, innit? Tryin’ to find one bloke when you’ve got a whole planet to search an’ one year to do it in? Not bloody likely you‘re gonna find ’em, is it?”
Alex can’t seem to shake the sad feeling, so he almost missed what Spike just said. “No, I guess not.”
“Still, there’s always a chance, and that’s the problem.” Spike’s talking like he didn’t even hear Alex. “So it’s not enough to make someone go undercover and live a life that’s not even theirs. The person who’s going undercover has to think it’s real.”
Spike leans forward. “See, it’s like this. Some monsters can read minds. And if this person knew who they were, and that they had this spell in their head, well, any telepathic monster with any range at all would pick that right up. Say, if the telepathic monster and our undercover man just happened to be in the same city, f’instance, the telepathic monster would know about it right quick and with no effort at all. If that happened, well, our undercover man would be hunted down, the spell’d be ripped out of his head, and then he’d be killed for good measure.”
Alex frowns in thought. “So they have to give that person amnesia. To make sure that no one can find him or the spell.” Alex looks at Spike. “Is that right?”
Spike nods. “Spot on. So, the plan was to plant the spell in a person’s head, then cast another spell to completely change ’em. They’d get a new name, a new personality, a new job, a new home, a new everything that goes with it. But the key ’ere is that they wouldn’t know who they were or that they had this spell in their head until the day came it needed to be used.”
Alex nods back at Spike. This is a lot like that movie My Blue Heaven, where Steve Martin has to pretend to be someone else, because if he doesn’t the mobsters will kill him. The only difference is that if My Blue Heaven were real, Steve Martin wouldn’t just be pretending to be someone else; he wouldn’t even know that he was. He’d just think that his fake life was real and he wouldn’t even miss his old life because he wouldn’t know anything about it.
Alex is very proud that he’s able to understand everything that Spike is telling him.
Spike’s grinning at him. “I can see the lights are on.”
“Hunh?” Alex asks.
Spike taps his head again. “What I mean is, you’re following me.”
Alex grins and he nods. He is following Spike. He really, really is.
Spike clears his throat. “This is where Harris comes in.”
“Because he’s the one who has the spell. In his head,” Alex says.
“See, because the spell is such powerful and dark magic, they couldn’t put it in a witch’s head,” Spike says. “A witch, even a witch who doesn’t know she’s a witch, would sense it. It’s instinct, y’see. She’d feel the magic and would dig around until she worked it loose. So that left Red out of the running.”
Alex nods. He can understand this part, too.
“Dawn couldn’t do it either, because she used to be the K—” Spike shakes his head. “What I mean is, she’s been touched by magic, which you can tell on account of the fact that she can read any language livin’ or dead. So she couldn’t carry the spell, either.”
The reason why Dawn couldn’t do it is a lot less clear, but Alex is willing to believe Spike when he says that she couldn’t.
“And you couldn’t plant it in the head of a superhero, could you?” Spike asks. “Well, think about all the trouble there’d be. Put the spell in, make ’em forget they’re a superhero, and then — ooops! — next thing y’know, they’ve accidentally ripped someone’s arms off because they didn’t know they could do somethin’ like that.”
Alex giggles because he can sooooo see that happening.
“Which pretty much means that Buffy and every other superhero on the planet couldn’t carry the spell,” Spike continues. “As for Rupert, well, he’s the smartest man in the world, innit he? He’s got to pull all the levers and push all the buttons and make all the plans. He can’t go undercover. He’s too, watchyamacallit, important, on account of the fact that he’s in charge.”
“That makes sense,” Alex agrees.
“Well, that means they’d have to put the spell in the head of a normal person, then make ’em forget who they were or that they knew this spell,” Spike says. “They had a list of people. A short list, because not too many normal people are willing to fight monsters. Then Buffy asked the fatal question.”
“What was the question?” Alex asks.
“Buffy asked, ‘Who on this list would you trust with your soul?’” Spike shakes his head. “Well, I don’t have to tell you that the very short list became a list with just one name on it, do I?”
“Guess not,” Alex says.
“Of course, while all this was goin’ on, Harris was doin’ his bit for the good fight in Africa. He had no idea that ’is friends were scrambling about.” Spike held up a hand to stop Alex from speaking or asking a question. “Now, mind, they didn’t mean to not tell him. It’s just that finding out about the dimensional tear, findin’ the spell, and then coming up with a plan happened so fast that not even a week went by. There was just no time to tell him.”
“Less than a week? That’s fast,” Alex says.
“Very fast,” Spike agrees. “Anyway, as soon as the plan was settled, they got in touch with Harris and told him to come to London straight away. London is where the superhero headquarters is, in case you’re wondering.”
“Cooooool,” Alex says. He means it, too.
“Harris barely steps foot off the plane when they’ve got to tell him everything all at once,” Spike says. “They tell him that I wasn’t quite as gone as they thought. That, yes, near as they can tell, his lady-love is still dead. Then they tell him about the battle in L.A. and the dimensional tear. Then, to top it all off, they tell ’im the plan to fix it.”
Alex leans forward. “What did he do?”
“The way I hear it, he was bloody furious. No. Not furious. Volcanic. There was an explosion the likes no one has ever seen from man nor beast nor even monster.” Spike leans forward with a grin. “From what I understand, there are parts of the castle where you can go and still hear the echoes of him yelling at the lot of them.”
Alex frowns. “But didn’t he want to save the world?”
“’S not the point, isn’t it?” Spike says with a wave of his hand. “He had no idea what was happening, did he? No one breathed a word about anythin’ for a whole year, and when they finally told ’im the whole truth it was only because they had to. Then they follow that up by saying they had to plant dark magic in his head and turn him into a whole new person. Bloody hell. Can you blame a man for picking up a few statues of a few gods and throwing them at people while givin’ them a piece of what’s left of his mind?”
“Throwing statues?” Alex asks.
Spike holds his hands very far apart. “Big statues. Heavy, too. I saw this one gouge in a wall, a stone wall mind you, caused by Harris throwin’ a statue.”
“Don’t be too impressed,” Spike says. “He was aiming for Buffy’s head.”
“Yikes,” Alex says with a shiver. “That’s really mad.”
Spike shrugs. “The end was never in doubt, really. Harris finally calmed down. Well, I wouldn’t say calmed down, exactly. More like begrudgingly accepted that his friends were idiots. Which he felt free to tell them. Frequently. But, most important of all, he agreed to the plan.”
“So where is he now?” Alex asks.
Spike looks down at the tabletop and starts tapping it.
“Spike?” Alex asks. “He’s not…not…” Alex gulps. “He’s not dead is he?”
Spike quickly looks up. “No! No, of course not. Harris, unh, well, he’s in L.A. That’s right. He’s safe an’ sound in L.A., ready to cast that spell and close that dimensional tear and stop all those monsters from comin’ through and killin’ the lot of us.”
Alex shakes his head. Now he’s really confused. “Wait. I don’t understand. We’re going to L.A. where all the bad things are going to happen.”
“Well, that’s because, unh, that’s because…” Spike suddenly grins. “’Cause right now, that’s where all the superheroes are, yeah? They’re all guardin’ Harris, but since all the monsters think you’re Harris, they feel obliged to protect you, too. So, that’s where we’re goin’. To keep you safe. From the monsters.”
“I guess that makes sense.” Alex frowns. “Just wish I knew why the monsters think I’m Zander. I mean, I can kind of understand why you did, but the monsters? All of them?”
“Ahh, about that,” Spike says. “I, unh, I actually can tell you why that is.”
Spike licks his lips. “It’s like this. You’re a dead ringer for him, which I said. But it’s also your bad luck that Harris was hiding in Philadelphia. On your block, in fact.”
Alex’s mouth drops open.
“And, well,” Spike pauses to scratch a cheek, “as it so happens, the personality they gave him happened to be a lot like yours. Not sure exactly how to explain it, but this caused some kind of feedback. Is that the word? Dunno. Anyway, what it boils down to is that he’d have these dreams about his old life while he was asleep. For whatever reason you picked up on those dreams like you were a radio antennae. When the monsters were sniffin’ around after Harris, they sensed you dreamin’ his dreams and ended up on your doorstep, instead of the doorstep they really wanted.”
Alex can feel his heart sink. “So my bad dreams aren’t even mine?”
Spike shakes his head no.
“And because I was having bad dreams that weren’t even mine everyone thinks I’m Zander?” Alex wants to scream. This is even worse than when he was a little kid and would sometimes get blamed for things he didn’t even do. “That’s it? That’s why everyone wants to kill me? Because I had dreams that don’t even belong to me?”
“And coincidence,” Spike adds. “Can’t forget that. And bad luck. Lots of bad luck.”
Alex stares down at the tabletop. He can’t believe it. His entire life is completely wrecked because Zander lived on the same block as he did and somehow beamed his dreams into Alex’s head. It’s not fair. He was just living his life. Heck with that. He was just getting his life back after losing it for so long while he was drunk. Now he’s completely lost his life again, and he didn’t even do anything wrong.
He can’t ever go back home. He doesn’t have a job. And there might be monsters waiting for him if he goes back. Because the monsters think he’s Zander, they’ll kill him dead if they see him.
Even if Spike gets him safely to L.A., he’s still left with nothing. So what’s the point of going to L.A. so he can be protected by superheroes if he’s left with no home, no job, no Ms. Smythe, no chance to make friends, and a whole lot of monsters who want to kill him when it’s over?
“Now don’t you fret,” Spike says. “When we’re done sortin’ this mess out, we’re going to set things right for you. You wait an’ see. We’ll get you settled in a new place. We’ll even get you a new job.”
Alex looks up at Spike.
“Hey, maybe you’ll get a job workin’ with us.” Spike smiles at him. “You’d like that I bet.”
“Stop trying to make me feel better,” Alex mumbles as he looks down at his water.
“’M not,” Spike protests. “I mean, think about it. How many normal people out there can look a monster in the eye and not blink? ’S a rare quality, that.”
Alex looks at Spike. “You mean that?”
Spike picks up his coffee (Alex thinks it must be cold by now) and looks at Alex over the rim of his cup. “Wouldn’t say it if I didn’t.”