The last thing Xander remembered was Willow’s face turned towards him, horror and grief etched deep, as the mystic flames reached out to all of them. Then there was a push deep in his gut, and the eternal black of nowhere.
What followed was an endless instant of time as his body was destroyed and reformed innumerable times, until he was finally regurgitated in an alley, thankfully clothed, and holding a locker key. He looked up, and found a dingy door with a sign for locker storage peeling off. The door was unlocked, so he entered, and found the locker, and opened it, finding a bag, and an envelope addressed to him in an achingly familiar handwriting. Hesitating, he opened the letter, and read his best friends last words.
I’m afraid I only have the chance to do this once, and I choose you to survive. More than anyone, I know you will carry the rest of us in your heart as you begin your new life. This last apocalypse was it, end of not only the world, but our whole reality. We have all gone, now, and you are the only one left. I know this is a heavy burden for you, but I also know you can handle it. I needed someone to survive, and I know you’re the right one.
As to this new reality I’ve sent you to, know that while it is no more dangerous than ours, neither is it really any less dangerous. Demons won’t be there, not really, but vampires are there, and are widely known; they even have legal rights. Werewolves are there, too, but don’t really have much in the way of rights, which stinks. They aren’t the only weres, either. There’s all kinds, which is fascinating. I think that’s why I chose this reality.
Anyway, I’ve set it up so that you really do exist here. You have a home, a job (construction, which I know you loved) and everything else you need. You can have a normal life, if you want. If you really do want to do something else, well, you’ll have to work at it. You don’t have any more power here than you did at home, but you do have the same mind you always did, though I did tidy up your body for you. You should have noticed by now that you have both eyes, and I repaired all the other problems that were creeping up on you. Because we all know that demon fighting is very hard on a body.
Well, I need to sign off now. My power, while great, is still finite. The bag has your wallet, keys, and phone, as well as a few other bits and pieces. There’s a book there which goes over all the legal things that are different here. Can you believe it? You can’t stake a vampire without a proper federal warrant! Anyway, it’s all in there, so you need to read it, mister. Just remember that we always loved you, and we respected you so much for everything that you did for us. You gave up so much for us, and this is my way to (hopefully) make it up to you.
So go, live. Remember us, mourn us, but do not allow yourself to be tied to us. We’re gone now, and you are all that remains. Be happy, knowing that we are all happy.
We love you,
Xander folded the letter carefully, and put it back in its envelope. He pulled the bag out of the locker, and opened it, finding the wallet, keys and phone that Willow had mentioned in her letter. He carefully placed her letter in the bag with the book, and what appeared to be a large photo album. He resolutely refused to even consider the album until he was somewhere private. He secreted the keys, wallet and phone in his pockets, closed the bag, and slung it over his shoulder before heading to the shop counter. He handed over the key, and received the deposit back, which he put in his wallet. Nodding absently at the clerk, he walked out the door, and into his new life.
Xander stayed in the quiet little town of Santa Barbara for three months. It was disturbingly like Sunnydale even as it was at the same time so very unlike his one-time home. So many of the streets and buildings were the same, and yet they had maybe a quarter of the cemeteries. They still had the magic shops that Sunnydale had, and witches were known here like the rest of the supernatural – sorry, preternatural – and yet, again, everything was different.
Willow had set him up in the same apartment he’d had with Anya, given him the same car he’d had, and essentially the same job. She’d de-aged him and, just like she’d said, fixed a lot of the problems he’d become plagued with after two decades fighting by first Buffy’s, then other slayers’ sides. She’d removed most of the scars (and there had been a lot of scars) but the most important scars remained, including the ones she’d given him back on Kingman’s Bluff.
Those scars had become as important to him as the photo album she’d left in the backpack. They were the touchstones he used to keep him sane in the not-Sunnydale she’d dropped him into. Some days it was all he could do to put one foot in front of another, but he kept on, because that’s what they wanted. He’d had their photos displayed around the apartment, and would wander around, some nights, touching faces irrevocably gone. Some nights he’d weep bitter tears, almost cursing Willow for this gift of life, but he would never end it. She had wanted him to continue, and so he would.
But not in Sunnydale. Sorry: Santa Barbara.
So, after three months, he’d walked up to his foreman, explained that he was leaving Santa Barbara to do the Great American Tour that he’d never gotten around to after high school, and handed in his notice. He’d gotten a letter of recommendation, contact details for future employers to get references, and worked out his notice period. He sold his furniture, packed his car with the essentials, and drove out of Sunnydale, sorry, Santa Barbara, and never looked back. He didn’t know where he was going, or what he was going to do, but he knew he was never coming back here ever again.
He’d ended up in St Louis, Missouri after a number of months wandering, and finally felt like he’d come home. There was a power here that vaguely reminded him of Sunnydale while lacking the deep darkness of the Hellmouth. He’d found an apartment close to The District, closer than most plain humans liked to live, and felt very much at home among the vampires and lycanthropes that roamed the streets after dark. He’d had to train himself to not look vampires in the eye after reading about their thralling powers (they called it ‘rolling’ here) in Willow’s book, and it was now instinct to look everyone in the chin at first meeting.
He’d gotten a job on a construction crew – all human, because he apparently couldn’t keep up with a shifter crew, or so he was told. He personally had no problems working with shifters, but he seemed to be in the minority, and wasn’t really in a position to contest anything. Living where he did, he met quite a few lycanthropes, and found himself making friends among the shifters more than among the humans. The shifters were amused, while the humans began to look at him like he was some kind of sympathiser. He simply felt more at home among the shifters, if only because it seemed to reflect his old life of being the least physically powerful person in just about any group he was part of.
Another thing that kept him going was the way so many of them acted like glimpses of people from his old life. Glimpses of Faith’s brash and overt sexiness were reflected in Jason, while Nathaniel seemed to sometimes channel Tara’s shy submissiveness without the stutter. Each of his friends seemed to peek out at him from time to time, sometimes from the most unexpected sources. He was sure Giles had glared at him from the face of the wererat doctor when Jason had dragged him to the clinic to fix a door, and he would have hugged the woman except for the fact that shifter plus doctor spelled very bad things for his anatomy.
He’d even begun to look for glimpses of Spike and Angel, loathe though he was to admit it, but he hadn’t quite gotten to the point of making friends with any vamps. Meeting Jason’s Ulfric, though, seemed to give Xander a taste of Angel’s ‘woe is me’ brooding. Not that he’d call the other man on that, but there was definite brooding there about his ‘beast’. Xander got that the man had never wanted to be a wolf, had even gone so far as to get the vaccine, which is how he was now in this predicament, but Oz hadn’t wanted to be a werewolf, either, so that didn’t really cut it for him. If it came down to it, some days Xander would rather be dead with Willow and the others, but shit happened, and you get over it: one foot in front of the other, you just keep walking.
Xander’s firm avoidance of vampires ended the day Jason and Nathaniel dragged him to the circus, or, rather, The Circus of the Damned. Complete with demonic/vampiric clowns on the front hoarding. Xander was suddenly glad he’d been drawn into Billy’s nightmares back in high school; clowns had never had quite the hold over him after that. He’d been quite clear, though, about the sheer wrongness that was vampire clowns.
Jason and the other shifters had thought his disgust hilarious. He knew it was a holdover from his past life, but celebrating vampires still squicked him, while public zombie raisings were just a step too far. All that, however, went out the window when Xander saw him.
Xander had never really been attracted to a man before, for all that he had been able to see men as attractive in general. He was pretty sure he’d made comments about just about all the men in Buffy’s life, enough so that the girls would look at him, from time to time, as if they were just waiting for him to come out to them. Prior to seeing this man, though, Xander had never actually considered doing anything with a man. They were all simply abstractly attractive. Easy on the eye, but, like a dog chasing a car, not something he’d know what to do anything with if he’d caught one. This man, though, he’d be willing to learn for.
It should surely be illegal to be that damned attractive. Even at this distance, he was spectacularly drool-worthy. So much so that Xander just stopped in the middle of the floor, gaping at the beautiful, golden-haired man. Jason didn’t even realise he’d stopped until he was some twenty feet ahead, still talking to Xander about what was on offer for the night. When he didn’t get an appropriately scandalised response to something he’d had said, he stopped and turned to find Xander transfixed.
There were apparently many reasons the man, or rather the vampire, was not a good idea. Firstly, of course, was the fact that he was a vampire. Secondly was the fact that he was so intricately entwined in the lives of the Master of St Louis and his Human Servant. Finally was the delicately mentioned fact that he was horribly mauled. Xander frowned, confused, at that last difficulty. The man was obscenely beautiful: what could possibly be construed as an imperfection?
Jason had shrugged, and dragged an embarrassed Xander over to meet the blond vampire. Not unnaturally, the vampire, Asher, had been uninterested in the ordinary human. There were far too many of them around, and there was nothing special about yet another one of them, even if he did tend to spend his time with shifters more than his own kind. Jean-Claude, the Master of the City, was mildly curious about Xander, but not enough to do anything about it.
Neither vampire reacted the next time he turned up with Jason, nor the third time. When Asher realised the mere human was more than usually attracted to him, he flirted with Xander, drawing him closer and ever closer, though Xander still never looked him in the eye. Asher refused to treat him as an equal, though, but more something to toy with. When he was finally sure of Xander’s desire for him, he decided to scare him off once and for all, and stepped out into the light, flicking his hair back away from his face.
Asher didn’t think he’d ever been so surprised. The ordinary human before him was only mildly startled by his appearance. There was no disgust in his face, but, rather, understanding. He then reached out and cuffed Jason soundly across the back of the head, and called him a moron. When he turned back to Asher, he gave a slight smile, shrugged and said they weren’t exactly the first scars he’d ever seen. He then lifted a hesitant hand to Asher’s face, meeting his eyes for the first time to silently ask permission. Asher nodded once, and let his eyes drift closed to the gentle touch of fingertips on his face. Lips followed fingertips, and Asher let the ordinary human seduce him for once.
Years later, and Asher was very happy with his exceptional Human Servant. The man he’d once thought to be simple and ordinary had defied prediction too many times to remain ordinary. From nearly the beginning, when Xander had shrugged off the appearance of his defiling scars, to his predilection to teasing the Jean-Claude, Anita and Richard, singly and en masse. There were times he had had to physically remove his human from their presence, if only to save his life. Jean-Claude tolerated Xander simply for the fact he’d single-handedly brought Asher back into the light. He still tended to let his hair drift over his scars, but no one important minded them, so he didn’t worry so much.
Added to Xander’s ability to ignore Asher’s scars was his almost brutal tendency to enter a fight if it could save a life, especially of someone he cared about. As his Master, this frightened Asher at times. Xander had willingly run into a fire to pull out a shifter friend of his, sustaining injuries of his own, thankfully minor, and which had healed without much scarring. At other times, he had backed Anita up in a gun battle until he and Jean-Claude had been able to rescue them. Xander now went nowhere unarmed, much as Anita did, but where Anita wore her fierceness as an armour, Xander hid his dangerous mind and skills behind a light-hearted demeanour, often as not bumping shoulders with Jason as they joked easily among themselves.
Over time, Xander had opened up about his past, how this wasn’t his world, how his had died a fiery death even as his best friend had thrust him into a new life in this reality. How Asher’s scars meant so little to him, having lost his eye and gained many scars of his own in his former life. Photos had gone up in their apartment under the Circus, with explanations of who was who. New photos had been added, of the various members of their extended family. Asher liked ones where Xander was laughing, while Xander liked ones where Asher was ‘seducing’ him. Not that it ever took much to seduce Xander; Asher complained sometimes that the human had never been susceptible to his powers. Xander would laugh at that, and agree, saying that it was Asher’s body he’d always been susceptible to.
One step in front of the other was how it had started, Xander’s life in this new reality. One foot in front of the other had been the only way he could survive. All the things that made up his identity, his self-image had been destroyed in an instant, it seemed, and he’d been dumped in a new life, empty and needing a new anchor. The only thing that had stopped him from lying down and giving up had been Willow’s insistence that he keep going, that he remember them. Photos in an album and scars on his body had been his links to his lost life.
Step by step, he had arrived in St Louis, had made friends with members of the preternatural community, and had eventually come across the golden beauty that was Asher. Step by step, he had come closer to the damaged vampire, eventually overcoming Asher’s barriers, and becoming his lover. Step by step, mark by mark, he’d become Asher’s Human Servant, giving and receiving strength in a way he’d never suspected possible. A new identity had been formed, a life that augmented but didn’t replace the life he’d had in Sunnydale and beyond. He had a new scar to add to his collection. Actually, he had a number of new scars to add to his collection, but Asher’s bite was the important one. Asher’s bite, the sign of his Third Mark, sat at the junction of shoulder and neck, a permanent reminder of their relationship. It became Xander’s touchstone, replacing the three diagonal lines across his chest left over from his first life, a positive reminder for the negative one.
Step by step, day by day, Xander marched into the future. With him he brought a new family that he had formed out of the ashes of his old life. No longer an ordinary human (though Asher doubted he’d ever been that) Xander felt he’d fulfilled Willow’s wish to carry on. He kept memories of his first family alive even as he made new memories with his new family. And occasionally he’d feel a brush across his cheek like a kiss, and he’d smile.
Life goes on.