SQUARE ROOT OF TWO
Something big was coming. Something... bad. He didn't know what, didn't know how, didn't even really know when, but the phone rang and the chills he'd had since the night before worsened.
This. Is. Not. Good.
"Angel Investigations, we help the-"
"Angel?" The voice on the line was thin, wavery, and just this side of desperate.
"Xander? What's wrong?"
"Xander?" Angel's acute hearing picked up the sounds of forced breath on the other end of the line.
"Angel, he's. You've got to. I need you. Please, come here." Xander's voice broke on the last two words. "Help me."
"Don't move. I'm on my way." The phone was back in the cradle and Angel was out the door before he even thought about what could possibly be so bad that *Xander* had called him for help.
He stood in the hallway, looking at the door to Xander's apartment. Not good not good not good. The one and only thought he'd had since hanging up and leaving L. A. repeated in his head. He raised his hand and knocked.
"Come in." The muffled voice came from behind the door. Xander's, although Xander probably hadn't sounded like that since he was five.
Angel slowly pushed the door open. "Xander, you know better than to-"
"Knew it was you. Smelled you." Xander was on the floor, phone still in his hand, curled around himself. Angel could hear the signal and knew he hadn't hung up since talking to him a few hours ago.
"Xander, hang up the phone."
"Huh? Oh, right." Xander replaced the phone and stood. "You told me not to move."
"Xander, what's going on?" Angel closed the door behind him and could smell... things. Things that didn't belong together. Like Xander and Spike. Sex and misery. And Xander and Spike and sex and misery. And the faint smell of a claim. "Was Spike living here?"
"Yes. With me. Yes, *with me*, with me." Xander broke eye contact with Angel and stared at some point over his head. "With me with me me me."
"Where is he?" Angel was afraid he already knew the answer, and that the timing of Spike's final demise had coincided with the beginnings of the prickly chills he'd gotten the night before.
Xander sank back to the floor. "Gone. Gone gone gone." Angel did not like the familiar sing-song quality to his voice.
"Gone where? What happened?"
"Oh, you know. Last night." Xander looked up at him then and Angel barely recognized the boy he once knew. "Hellmouth, demons, patrol, attack, concussion, rescue, tree, branch, dust."
It took Angel a minute to sort it all out, but finally he spoke. "There was an attack?"
"And you got hurt."
"Bloody demon magnet, you are." Xander's eyes were unfocused; he was somewhere else, using Spike's cadence and almost capturing his accent.
"Xander. Come back here." Xander returned his attention to Angel. "Good, now, Spike saved you?"
"Mmm-hmm. Got thrown into a tree. I should write a letter to the city. They need to hire better landscapers who don't leave low branches hacked away and sticking out. Dangerous, that. Someone could get hurt." The accent was back, and Xander jumped up and found a pen. He didn't seem to have any paper, so he bent to start writing on his arm. The shirt, unusually baggy even for Xander, slipped and Angel saw the mark.
"He bit you."
Xander moved with a speed that impressed even him, pressed
full length against the vampire. "Claimed.
Angel backed up slowly, speaking softly. "Of course. He claimed you." He was trying to placate Xander, had to calm him down to find out what the hell was going on here.
"His." Xander followed.
"Yes. You're his." Angel backed up a step.
"His." Again he followed.
"Yes." Another step.
The ferocity was gone now, as suddenly as it appeared. "But he's gone now, and I'm supposed to follow him. Can't be dust, though. Don't know how to make it go away." Xander was clawing at his skin, leaving bright red trails where his fingernails cut deep enough.
"That's enough." Angel used his Sire voice, afraid that touching him would only make it worse. But still Xander tore at his arm. "Xander! Enough. Spike doesn't let you get hurt, right?" Xander cringed, instantly contrite.
"No. Protects me. Bloody well need someone to protect you." He was gone again, walking around the room aimlessly and looking for something. Or someone.
Angel led Xander into the bathroom and sat Xander down on the closed toilet lid. His wounds were healed almost before they began, but Angel took the time to tenderly cleanse the area, just as the boy's bonded mate would have done. This was his place now, although to what extent he was still unsure.
"When did this happen?"
"Just now, Deadboy." The tinge of madness was gone from Xander's voice. For now.
"No, the claiming." Angel stepped back to lean against the wall across from Xander. He was already exhausted, and he had yet to really begin.
"Two weeks ago. Anniversary. Stupid romantic pillock. Knew it'd mean something to you." Xander fumbled in his pocket for something, but drew his hand back out, empty. He looked down, but it didn't hide the tears that came slowly out of his eyes.
"Did he tell you what would happen...if this happened?"
"I'm supposed to die, too. We were supposed to be permanent, one can't be without the other. Why aren't I dead, Angel? Need him, supposed to follow him. Can't leave his side, ever. Need him. Mine mine minemineminemine."
Angel slapped him lightly and Xander blinked. "What?"
"Come back here."
"Do you want my help or not?" Angel knew he was being harsh, but this was Xander! Xander who never much liked him and whom he never much liked back. He didn't need this. He tried to tell himself that he was not supposed to be responsible for his childe's insane lovers, ever, but he knew it was a lie. He made them, was responsible for them, and custom, no *instinct*, made what was theirs, his. He tried again, tried to reign in his frustration. "You have to tell me what's going on. What do you want me to do?"
"Shouldn't have loved him. My fault." Xander was crying, steady, silent tears that hurt more than the violent sobs of one who had just lost their lover, because Xander had lost his own life.
"No." Angel pulled him closer then, not quite in a hug, but not too far away, either. Xander stepped out of the small room and curled into a ball on the couch, next to the end table with the ashtray and television remote. Angel sat on the opposite side. "He loved you. He wouldn't have asked this of you if he didn't."
Xander nodded, chewing his thumbnail. "I asked for it. Asked him to do it. You should have seen his face. I asked him, after and we were in bed, and he was still panting that way he did. It was so good then, like we had all the time in the world. Cause we did, didn't we? I asked him why he wanted me. And he said I was his soul. And then he bit me, and I bit him, and I could feel it, feel him and I *was* his soul. I could see it."
"What? Oh, this?" Xander reached up to touch his mark, but Angel stopped him.
"Shouldn't touch it. Not now." Not ever if he didn't want to become a complete raving lunatic again, but Angel didn't think there was much difference anymore.
Xander continued to pull against his hand to get to his own throat.
"Xander. How often?" Angel released him and Xander's hand fell limply back to his lap.
"Before, not too often, once or twice a week. Since then, every day. Want a strong link with you, I do. Need to feel you with me, always."
Xander had slipped again, but Angel could barely bring himself to notice. "Every day?" Every week was bad enough, but every day? That was a bit much, even for a Consort. But that was Spike, never one to think about the consequences. He saw something he wanted and took it, vowing stubbornly to make it better than anyone.
"Every time he drank, you did too?"
"Yes." Xander seemed exasperated now, that he had to continuously explain things to Angel when he could be swaying to silence and repeating himself randomly.
"Why *aren't* you dead?" Angel was astounded, really, but it wasn't so important now.
"That's what I said."
"He told you to call me? If this...something happened to him?" It was strangely difficult to say the words. He'd never thought he'd have much feeling when he found out Spike was dead for good. A tinge of regret, maybe, but never the throat closing lump he felt now that it was really true.
"He said I'd have to get to you fast, that I'd need you. Don't need you. Need him." Xander came closer to him, then, nuzzling into his neck. "You smell alike, you know that?"
"Xander, don't." Angel tried to push him away, but Xander was persistent and stronger than Angel would have guessed.
"You're more soapy-clean, but I can smell him, too." Xander licked his neck then and Angel pushed him away hard.
"No, Xander-" He wanted to explain. He was not going to comfort Xander that way. Xander jumped up from the couch though, preventing Angel from speaking.
"Not enough. Fading fading fading and then it's all gone, and I'm still here." He stopped pacing to look at Angel beseechingly. "Not supposed to be here. Why am I still here?"
"It hasn't been long enough since the bond was formed to kill you, Xander. Not quickly."
"So what, I'm just going to be all crazy and pathetic and *then* I'm going to die?"
"Yes." Angel saw no reason to sugar coat it.
"He said I'd be his forever."
"Angel? Are the stars going to start talking to me?"
"I don't know. This isn't something I have a lot of experience with."
"Funny, seems you'd know all about the insane."
Angel looked both guilty and mad at the same time.
Before he could chastise him, Xander was apologizing. "Sorry, that was uncalled for."
"Yes. It was. I didn't do this to you."
"I know. It's just," Xander turned towards him again and closed his eyes, swaying slightly as he spoke. "I can hear them whispering to me and they all have his voice. They tell me things that he used to say. So nice, to hear him. I can almost feel him again. But sometimes they twist his words, twist them all up and dance with them, and I feel like dancing, too, and what is it with insane people and dancing? And then the words are wrong. All wrong and he says mean things to me. And he hurts me, but he said he'd never hurt me, and never did, but it sounds just like him and I can *hear* him."
Angel should have know insane Xander would babble. It was worse than when he wasn't crazy. "Xander, stop."
"Hey, did you know about the fish in your belly?"
"What?" He'd forgotten how difficult it was, the switch from sane to insane, nonsense to... well, Xander. There wasn't even the promise of visions to make the impending migraine worth it. Just a shattered boy, lost and alone when he was never supposed to be either of those things again.
"I can see them. They're not very happy with you. They're on fire and you won't put them out."
Xander," Angel had to get this over with. Xander was pitiable, yes, but his patience was wearing thin.
"Swim swim swim, little fishies. I was a going to be a fishy once. Not now, though. Why aren't I dead? I know how to make the fishies quiet. Drink and they'll be happy. When I die will you flush me down the toilet, like I was a fish? How long?" Xander's abrupt change in subject and tone broke into his headache induced silence.
"How long will it take before I die?"
"Naturally, about a year. But you'll be long gone before then."
"Well, then, mind if I smoke?" Xander pulled a battered pack and a lighter from his pants pocket. Spike's lighter.
"You don't-" Xander's look stopped him.
"Right. Why do you have the lighter?"
"Took it. Liked to play hide the lighter. He was fun that way. So much fun. Ticklish, too. You know that, though. And the laugh, the real one. Miss it. Miss him. His."
Angel stopped him from touching the scar again. "Don't."
"Can't do this. So empty. Screaming and screaming and he's gone and there's nothing inside so it echoes and it won't stop." Xander buried his head in Angel's chest. Angel let him, the earlier reluctance gone now.
"Xander, do your friends know?"
"Any of this."
"They know we're together. They know he claimed me. They don't know he's dead. They don't know I'm talking to stars. They don't know you're here. I don't want them to."
"They'd blame him. Can't let that happen. Have to keep him safe. But I didn't. Nope, dust and ash and on the ground and he looked at me when it happened. Saw his face and then poof. Don't tell him I called him a poof. Can't. Can't tell him, he's gone. Gone gone gone. And then He looked and I felt it. Right here." Xander tapped his chest.
Angel didn't have to look to know there was a bruise under the shirt. "I know."
"Felt it and thought I got staked, too." Xander looked at him then. "And I thought, good, we're still together. But I didn't. Still here and no Spike. No Spike and I'm crazy. Crazy and now I'm going to die and he's alone anyway."
"He hated being alone."
"That's why I did this. I didn't want him to be alone. He wanted me forever. Me and him always always always and now gone gone gone."
"It's very wrong."
"Yes. It is."
"Are you happy?"
"He's gone. You didn't like him. Are you happy?"
"I wasn't happy when you were dead. Thought I would be. But I wasn't. Not cause I like you, though. I don't. Only reason you're here is because you smell like him. But not as good. Nothing smells as good as my Spike. His. His Xander. All leather and clean dirt. Not dirty, but earthy. Like a mushroom. Oh, don't tell him that, either. Wait. Did we do this already?"
"Why are you here?"
"You called me."
"Right. I remember that now."
"Good." Angel was still holding Xander, loosely, but the small contact seemed to help calm him a little. He was still going off like a loon most of the time, but at least the frantic movement had stopped, and the anguish dissipated into a calmer sort of despair.
"He only told me to call you, get you here if this happened. I didn't want him to talk about it, but he said that you didn't live as long as he did thinking you'd live as long as he did."
"He was very smart."
"He always was."
"He told me he wasn't, but he was. When he was talking, really going on about something he loved, you could see it. Don't give me that look, Xander. I am *not* rhyming. He wrote me a poem. Lots of limericks. Did you know how many things rhyme with-"
"Yeah. And if he couldn't think of one he'd just use-"
"So, are you going to kill me?" Xander looked up at him and Angel could see Spike's soul there, too. He could see the torment and the madness creeping closer to Xander, the fate of a bonded Consort who had lost his mate. A year had been a generous estimate.
"Do you want me to?"
"I don't want to see people's belly fish for the next year. But that's why he told me to call you, isn't it. You call Angel, and he'll take care of you. I knew he meant it, cause he said your name. So?"
Angel sighed. "It'd be best." He was resigned, he had to do what was best for his Childe, and his Childe's mate. This wouldn't be murder, and it wouldn't be sympathy, and it wouldn't even be mercy, really. There was no fixing this. There was no cure, no rehabilitation and no help for Xander now. He was dead, and his soul was waiting for his mind and body to catch up.
"You don't have to. Don't want you to have any more guilt."
"It's not about the guilt."
"Oh. But I'm his. He's gone, so I'm Dru's. Dru's nuttier than I am, so I'm yours."
Angel looked at him wide eyed. Xander continued. "I don't want to be yours. I'm his, and you will not take me from him."
"Of course not."
"No. But I'm still yours, right?"
"And you'll help me? For him?"
Angel paused. "Yes."
"Drain you. It's the proper way to... take care of things."
"Never let insanity come before etiquette."
And that phrase, that sarcasm familiar from years ago almost changed Angel's mind. Almost until he looked in those eyes again and saw...nothing. This was the only way, and it had to be done. Spike trusted him, after everything, to take care of Xander. "Ready?"
"Please." Angel leant in close, bracing himself to taste his childe and his chosen mate, and not. To. Feel. Anything.
Xander pulled back, looked him straight in the eye, and seemed calm and ready. "Just, use the other side, okay? This one's his."
"Of course." Angel repeated words he'd heard when it was his death coming for him. "Close your eyes."