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Comforting the Dead

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Xander starts seeing John when he’s sleeping. 

The first time it happened Xander didn’t react well, remembering what happened just a month or so ago with Wilbur, so he knows that this can’t be a good thing. When he wakes up the next morning he throws himself into work for days upon days, refusing to stop and rest until his body was unable to handle it anymore and he passed out due to exhaustion. 

The second his eyes were closed, John was there, almost as if he was waiting for Xander.

     “Don’t do this to yourself Xander. Just because I’m not there to pull you from your work when you get too involved doesn't mean you should hurt yourself like this.” John's voice was hoarse, but was still clearly him. He reached out to place a hand on Xander’s cheek, but the other man moved away, turning his back on John. 

     “You’re not real. You’re just-” he took a deep breath to steady himself and ignored the tell tale pricking feeling in his eyes. “Best case scenario you’re a figment of my imagination dreamt up because I miss you. Worse case, you’re Wilbur or Wiggly trying to trick me again.” 

     “Xander, look at me.” He heastantly does. John looks better than he had the last time Xander had seen him. The cuts on his face were healed, leaving just a few scabs. He was also standing straighter and didn’t seem to be having as much trouble breathing. Xander wanted so badly for this to really be John, which is why he felt certain that it wasn’t.

     “Take my hand.” John held his hand out, clearly offering it to Xander. Xander hesitated for a moment before deciding he had nothing to lose. He took the offered hand and was expecting his own to go through it, but was instead surprised when he touched not only something solid, but warm and familiar. 

     “Ok, so you’re not my imagination.” Xander pulled his hand out of the other man’s grip. “So that means that your probably another trick to get me to open the portal. I’m telling you right now that I won’t do it.”

     “Xander, it’s not a trick this time. It is me. I… something has changed over here. Something has changed in me. I was able to hear something, almost as if someone was calling for me. When I followed it, it led me to you. I can only talk to you when you’re dreaming, but…” John trailed off, not knowing how to finish that sentence. 

Xander shook his head. “I don’t buy it. ‘Something changed in you’? How would something change so majorly that you would be able to do something like this?” Xander sat down in a chair that he was just now noticing. In fact as he looked around what he thought to just be a large white space seemed to be slowly fading into a recreation of his quarters. John didn’t notice the change, or if he did, he didn’t acknowledge it. He was rubbing a hand almost absent mindedly across his forehead. 

     “I have a few theories on how it happened.” John wasn’t looking at Xander, but rather he was staring pointedly away from Xander, towards the corner of the room. Xander waited for him to continue, but after a few seconds it became clear that he was planning on leaving it there. Xander was not going to accept that.

     “Do you perhaps feel like sharing any of your theories?” He didn’t mean for his words to come out as sharp as they did, but he was getting frustrated. He was believing more and more that this was a trick. John sighed and moved over to the edge of their- no Xander’s bed, and sat down heavily, burying his head in his hands for a few seconds before looking up at Xander.

     “It’s not a pretty story Xander. I… are you sure you want to hear it?” John sounded exhausted, but that didn’t deter Xander, who just stared at him with one eyebrow raised. John sighed once more. 

     “After I ruined Wilbur and Wiggly’s plan they were extremely angry at me. I was already pretty weak from the mental toll it cost for me to reach you and from Wilbur's… integration methods, so I had no way to get away from them. Even if I could have, there is no place in the Black and White that I could have hidden. Naturally Wiggly’s powers are much stronger in the Black and White than they ever were on earth. I… he was able to invade my mind. He- I don’t even know how to describe it. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. It felt like he was ripping my mind apart over and over again, day after day for the past month. I’m… he broke me Xander. I would have told him anything that he wanted to know to get him to stop. But he didn’t want to know anything, he just wanted to hurt me.” John was shaking a little as he told the story and Xander’s heart broke and he couldn’t help but move to sit on the bed next to him. He put his hand on John’s shoulder, heart breaking even more as John flinched away from him. He swallowed heavily before continuing. 

     “It was awful, the worst part was that at the end of each day he would put my mind back together. He didn’t want to break his new “toy”” John spit out the word toy like it was a vulgar word. “One day, about a week ago, when he was done for the day and he was putting me back together he, I guess he did too good of a job. It was almost like a switch that I didn’t even know was there was flipped. I could feel your mind. It was like you were calling to me. At first I honestly thought that it was a hallucination, that my mind was truly broken, but honestly I didn’t really care. So I reached out and, to my surprise, I was able to visit you in your sleep, but I didn’t think about how you might react. I’m sorry for that.” John looked up at Xander, who was able to see all the hurt lingering in John’s eyes. John hesitantly reached an arm out and wiped away one of the tears that Xander didn’t notice running down his face. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Xander couldn’t respond. He just shook his head and pulled John into a tight hug, the other man hugging him back just as tightly. He felt John shaking and heard him start sobbing softly, causing Xander to tighten his hold on him. The two men sat there, clinging to each other. 

     “What can I do to help you? There has to be something I can do.” Xander’s voice was soft and pleading . He felt John shake his head and pull back out of Xander’s hold. 

     “There’s not anything you can do. Just... I can come visit you while you’re sleeping? If you’d rather I didn’t that’s fine. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or anything.” 

     “John. Of course you can. You don’t have to ask. Anything you need.” Xander pressed his forehead against John’s. John smiled and leaned his head forward and captured Xander’s mouth with his own. When John kissed him, it felt like coming home. “Come on.”

Xander scooted up on the bed so that he was sitting with his back against the headboard and held his arm out, clearly inviting John to join him. The other man quickly did so resting his head against Xanders chest, right over his heart. Xander wrapped his arms around the other man and the two of them laid there for the rest of the night, idly talking about nothing and enjoying being together. 

However all good things must come to an end and the room started to slowly fade away. John sat up and looked up at Xander. “Looks like you’re going to be waking up soon”

Xander stood up and walked along the side of the bed.  “Are you going to be ok John? I’m really worried about you.” 

     "Hey.” John reached out and grabbed Xander’s hands. “Don’t worry about me.” 

     “Of course I’m going to worry about you. I love you and you’re hurting and I… I can’t do anything to help.” John smiled sadly, giving Xander’s hands a kiss.  

     “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” John faded away as Xander slowly woke up. Once his eyes were open Xander sat up. He felt more rested than he had for the past six months or so. He quickly got ready for the day, taking a shower and brushing his teeth. He spit the toothpaste in the sink and looked at himself in the mirror.

He looked tired, the large bags underneath his eyes drawing attention. One night of good sleep wasn’t going to fix that. But… if John was going to be visiting him nightly now, he’ll definitely be getting more sleep. He hurried off to continue his work from the day before. He was sure to go to sleep at a reasonable time that night.  

Every night for the next three weeks John would reach out to Xander at night. His mind came up with different locations for the two of them to enjoy each night. Most of them were places that the two of them had visited on various dates. His favorite was an open field at night where they were able to just look up at the stars. John’s voice was always slightly hoarse, but Xander didn’t ask anything about it. In fact Xander and John’s conversation always stayed light, talking about things that didn’t really matter, just loving being able to spend time with each other. 

But one night when John showed up, he looked even worse than he did during the incident with Wilbur. He was sluggishly bleeding from multiple lacerations across his face , littered with bruises, left eye swollen shut, and three fingers on his right hand looked crooked and extremely painful.

     “Oh my god! John!” Xander rushed over to him, helping him sit down on a chair a few steps away. Xander barely noticed that his mind recreated the infirmary, just focusing on making John as comfortable as possible. “What happened?” 

John grunted as he sat, his breathing was shallow and shaky. Xander reached out to wipe some of the blood off of John’s face, but John flinched away. “Wiggly got bored today and gave Wilbur a turn in taking out his frustrations on me.” John’s voice sounded slightly less hoarse than the night before, but that did nothing to calm Xander.

     “Jesus Christ.” Xander breathed out, hustling around to gather things that he could use to patch John up. The other man watched him run around with his one good eye. As Xander passed by closely, John reached out with his left hand and grabbed Xander’s arm, stopping him in place.

     “Hey, don’t worry about me. This-” he gestured vaguely at himself “is nothing. I can handle this. Compared to what Wiggly does this is nothing.”

Xander stared at him, shocked that John would say something like that. Xander shook his head. “That doesn't make it better. If anything that makes it worse.” Xander went to move again, but was stopped when John tightened his grip on Xander's arm.

     “Xander, don’t-” John was cut off by Xander pulling his arm out of John’s grip. 

     “Just let me do this John. Please.” He wasn’t looking at John, but rather off to the side of his head, jaw clenched. John, surprised about how much this seemed to matter to Xander, relented. He held up his hands in surrender and nodded his head at Xander.

Xander finished gathering his needed supplies before returning to John. He decided to start with John’s fingers. He grabbed his right wrist and softly pulled the injured hand towards him. He  bandaged the fingers as gently as he could while making sure that the bandages were tight enough. He had to bite his lip and try hard not to react to John’s quiet grunts and quick breaths of pain. Feeling bad about the pain he was causing John, even if it was unavoidable in this situation. He pulled John’s hand a little closer to him and gently placed a kiss on the palm of his hand as a silent apology.

Xander released John’s injured hand and turned his back to John, grabbing some antiseptic wipes to clean the cuts the he was covered in. In the half a second he was looking away something happened. He heard John let out a scream that made Xander’s blood run cold and heard a thud. Xander whipped his head around and saw John on his knees in front of the chair hands pressed tight to his temples and clearly biting back another scream. Xander dropped to his knees next to John hands hovering near him as if to touch him, but not knowing if it would cause more pain.

     “John! What’s happening? What’s going on? John? John!” The other man seemed to not be able to hear Xander’s frantic questions. 

     “Well that would be me, Xander Lee.” The room was suddenly filled with a erie green light and a voice that seemed to echo from the walls. 

     “Wiggly.” Xander growled out, glaring at the ceiling. “Whatever it is that you’re doing you need to stop it. Now.” 

Wiggly laughed his bone chilling laugh. “Now why would I want to do that? John here is my favorite toy. He makes the best noises, wouldn’t you agree?” Almost as if on cue John let out another agonized scream. Xander couldn’t help it, he reached forward and pulled John against his chest. He could feel the other man trembling and breathing heavily. 

     “What do you want Wiggly?” Xander held John tightly, as if he could prevent whatever Wiggly was doing by hiding John. 

     “I need you to do me a wittle favwor Xander.” He had a feeling that he knew what Wiggly was going to ask of him, but hoped that he was wrong. “I need you to open that lovely portal for me.” 

Xander looked down at his trembling husband in his arms. He had heard John talk about what Wiggly would do when John visited him for the first time. Xander never asked about it after that first day but he was never able to forget the way John described the pain and the haunted and scared look in his eyes. But seeing it, it seemed so much worse. 

  Xander was faced with an impossible choice. He could either do nothing and let John continue to tortured like this, and feel complicit in the torture. Or he could open the portal and let Wiggly run free on earth. Xander had tears streaming down his face.

     “I…” he trailed off, unable to make a decision like this. Wiggly seemed to sense Xander’s hesitation and seconds later John screamed once again longer this time and the scream was slightly muffled into John’s chest. Instinctively Xander tightened his arm, but all that seemed to do was irritate John’s physical wounds. 

     “OK!” Xander yelled over John’s scream. The scream ended abruptly cut off, John’s breathing extremely heavy. Xander could feel him shaking his head against Xander’s chest, but Xander ignored him. “Ok. I will open the portal. But you have to leave John alone. No more hurting him, not physically and not mentally.”

     “Xander, no” John whispered into his chest and Xander glanced down at John for a moment. The sight of him in that state just strengthened Xander’s resolve in his decision. 

     “At the end of the day tomorrow I will open the portal. It’s been dismantled and it will take me a day to fix. In the meantime you will not hurt John anymore.”  Xander was angry and his voice was scarily cold. “Well? Do we have a deal?”

     “Sounds like a deal to me.” Wiggly’s voice was gleeful. “I’ll let the two of you enjoy the rest of your evening. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Xander Lee.” Wigglys voice faded away as he spoke and by the time he was done speaking the green light was gone. 

John slumped against Xander’s chest, all the tension that was keeping him up was gone. Xander looked down at him and moved back slightly so he could move from kneeling to sitting so John could lean against him more comfortably. 

     “Xander…” John was breathing heavily “you shouldn’t have…” Xander cut him off. 

     “I had to. You were being tortured right in front of me. I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing.” John reached up with his bandaged hand and put it around the back of Xander’s neck, gently pulling Xanders head down to his so that their foreheads are touching. 

     “Xander, I need you to do something for me.” John didn’t even wait for Xander to answer, the words tumbling out of his mouth as if he was afraid that he would be cut off. “Find a girl named Lex Foster. She lives in Hatchetfeild and has a connection with the Black and White, she helped in the first fight against Wiggly, she should be able to help now.” 

     “Lex Foster, got it.” Xander moved his hands so that one was cupped on either side of John’s face. “I’m going to save you from this John, just one more day and you’ll be out of there.” Xander’s voice was filled with a grim determination. 

     “I know you will.” John couldn’t help but smile despite the situation. He knew that Xander could do anything when he got in this mindset. Xander kissed John softly, not wanting to hurt him. 

     “I love you so much.”  Xander knew that he had to get going soon, he had a lot to do and not nearly enough time to do it all in.

     “I love you too. Now go, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Xander took a moment to arrange John so that he was leaning against a wall. Xander pulled back slowly, squeezing John’s arm once before letting go and standing up. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, forcing himself into consciousness.

Xander sat up quickly in his bed, wasting no time in getting up and hurrying out of his room.

He had work to do.