A Life Less Ordinary
New York City, 1977
Endless rain poured down from the night sky as they fought. Predator and prey, although it was hard to sometimes tell which was which.
Nikki Wood kicked viciously and the vampire fell to the ground as he lost his footing. He sprang up a split second later, grinning wildly around his fangs. “Well, all right. Got the moves, don't you? I'm gonna ride you hard before I put you away, luv.”
“You sure about that?” she asked. “You actually look a little wet and limp to me. And I ain't your ‘luv.’”
Huge brown eyes watched the exchange from between the slats of a park bench. Robin shivered. It was cold and wet, but he knew he couldn’t leave his mamma. Time and again, Mr. Crowley had told him that, even though he was only seven, he was the man of the house now. So instead of running away, he pulled his coat tighter against the wind and watched the fight.
Robin gasped when the vampire grabbed his mom’s arm, twisting it and pulling her back until its fangs were inches from her neck. Without thinking, he stood up, knocking over the trashcan beside him. It fell to the ground with a clatter.
The vampire turned, staring at him with merciless amber eyes. Using the distraction to her advantage, his mom jerked her head back, ramming the vampire in the nose and breaking free from his grasp. Robin scurried back behind the bench, his eyes glued to the fight.
They traded blows back and forth; neither one managing to get the upper hand, until Nikki elbowed the vamp in the chest hard, knocking him down. She slipped a stake out of her pocket and as soon as the vamp got to his feet, she threw it at his heart.
Robin’s jaw dropped when the vampire caught it between his palms, less than an inch in front of his chest. He was grinning wildly as he said, “I spent a long time trying to track you down. Don't want the dance to end so soon, do you, Nikki? The music's just starting, isn't it?”
He tossed the stake towards her, but his mom didn’t bother to try to catch it and it landed with a wet smack on the pavement. The vamp started to walk away but then swung around on a lamp post. He grinned impishly and added, “By the way...love the coat,” before jumping down and melting into the night.
When he was certain the vampire had gone, Robin called, “Mamma!”
His mom squatted down next to him, looking him in the eye like she always did when she was telling him something serious. “You did a good job, baby boy. You stayed down just like mamma told you.”
“Can we go home now?” he asked, hopefully.
His mom shook her head. “Uh-uh. It's not safe there anymore. How 'bout I leave you over at Crowley's house and you can play with those spooky doodads that you like?”
“No, I wanna stay with you.”
"Yeah, I know you do, baby." Nikki looked back over her shoulder, past the lamp post, into the night where the vampire had disappeared, before turning back to him. “But remember, Robin, honey, what we talked about. Always got to work the mission.”
Robin looked down at his hands, ashamed. How many times had he heard her say the exact same thing?
“Look at me.”
Robin lifted his head.
His mom’s eyes bored into him. “You know I love you, but I got a job to do. The mission is what matters...right?
Slowly, Robin nodded and was rewarded by a proud smile.
“That's my boy. Come on.”
His mom stood and took his hand and began walking toward the subway entrance. Robin pulled away suddenly as he remembered something. He ran back to the scene of the fight and picked up the stake that the vampire had dropped.
“What about him?” he asked.
His mom waved her hand, dismissively. “Don’t you worry about him. I got his scrawny English butt covered.”
The vampire came around the far side of the crypt, just like Mr. Giles had said he would. Spike - the demon who had stalked his nightmares for more than two decades. His hair was still moon white, although it was softer now that it wasn’t punked up into harsh porcupine spines. He was wearing an achingly familiar, long, black leather coat that draped his slim frame from shoulder to ankle. Yet another thing the vamp had stolen from him. As soon as he saw Robin, he stopped sort.
“Hello, Spike,” Robin said cordially.
Spike tensed at the unexpected greeting. He spent a long moment studying Robin before speaking. “Right then. I suppose this isn’t a chance meeting.”
“Rupert set this up, did he?” Spike intuited, and then snorted, “Figures. A clan of Mutara demons outside my old crypt seemed a bit too convenient.”
“Don’t blame him, I had something he wanted.” Robin smiled coldly. “And he had something I wanted. Think of it as a trade.”
Spike looked at him levelly. “Not much of the bartering type.”
“You probably don’t remember me,” Robin continued conversationally, keeping his tone calm and even. No point in tipping the vamp off about what was coming. “But you killed my mother.”
“I killed a lot of people,” Spike replied with a shrug. His expression was cold and unreadable.
“Yeah, I don’t doubt it.” Casually, Robin slid his hand into the pocket of his coat. His fingers closed around cool metal. “I think you’d remember this one. She was a slayer.”
He hadn’t been entirely honest with Mr. Giles, deadly accurate aim was something he had inherited from his mother. He never missed his mark and tonight would be no different.
Understanding dawned in Spike’s eyes half a second too late. Robin whipped his hand out of his pocket. The metal bracelet flew through the air, tinkling lightly against its chain, ring snapping around Spike’s wrist, effectively handcuffing him.
Robin held up his wrist, wearing the matching cuff. A ten foot chain joined them. “Sorry about this, but I’ve waited too long for this moment, to risk you getting away.”
“You’re gonna regret this, mate.” Spike said through gritted teeth. With a flick of his wrist, he wrapped a length of the chain around the wide part of his hand.
“Don’t bother trying to snap it, it’s enchanted,” Robin informed him smugly. “Unbreakable to vampires and I’ve got the only key.”
“Who said anything about trying to break it?”
Spike grinned ferrally and yanked, the East End’s biggest kid playing tug of war. Robin dropped to the ground in a crouch, to keep from losing his footing. Taking advantage of his position, he slipped his dagger from an ankle sheath.
“That’s not gonna kill me.” Spike scoffed.
“No.” Robin agreed, as he sprang up in a smooth motion, holding out the knife. “But it’ll make you bleed.”
“So will these.” Spike’s face rippled and Robin finally saw the monster he’d been searching for all these years. “Let’s dance.”
Buffy sprinted across Sunnydale as fast as she could. Anger, guilt and betrayal pounded in time with her heart.
She couldn’t believe Giles had…Buffy cut that train of thought off abruptly. She needed to focus. Restfield was still several blocks away.
“Hang in there, Spike,” she panted to herself.
Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to run faster. The streets flew by in a blur of lights and color.
By the time she’d scaled the cemetery walls and traversed the endless plots and mausoleums to reach Spike’s crypt, there was nothing but silence. Buffy rounded a corner, terrified that she was too late.
Spike had Robin pinned to the wall of his crypt, the vampire’s face buried in the crook of Robin’s throat.
She didn’t need to hear the sucking sounds to know what was going on. Buffy wondered, absently, if this was a scenario that Giles had entertained, when he and Robin colluded to set her and Spike up tonight. She was afraid Spike was going to kill Wood, and more afraid she wasn’t going to stop him.
Junior-year, finding-out-her-watcher’s-girlfriend-neglected-to-mention-crucial-curse-breaking-info kind of rage filled her. Giles had deliberately sent her on a wild goose chase to give a psycho the chance to dispose of Spike. And not just any psycho - her boss. Who, conveniently, was the son of one of the slayers Spike had killed. It was like a Greek tragedy, only less funny.
Before she could speak, Spike drew back, dropping Wood. The principal crumpled to the ground in a heap. She panicked for half a second, certain he was dead, but then Robin let out a low moan and his hand rose to his neck, probing the fresh puncture marks.
Amber fire blazed in Spike’s eyes, although the rest of his face had changed back to human. Blood stained his lips and he stared at her defiantly. His shirt was torn and through the gaps, she could see he was still bleeding from several wounds across his chest. Something glittered in the darkness, and she realized that there was a silver chain linking the two men.
Spike followed her gaze, and growled. Gripping the chain, Spike pulled it taut and tugged, but it didn’t break. “Fucking anti-vamp mojo.”
Silently, Buffy joined him. She took the cuff around his wrist in her hands and snapped it in half, easily.
Spike kicked Wood viciously and then stepped back. He glared at Buffy, daring her to say something.
Buffy raised her eyebrows. “You okay?”
Spike nodded curtly, but he dropped some of the defiance. “Take more’n him to finish me off.”
“Let’s hope so,” she replied, seriously.
The vampire’s eyes finally shifted back to a cold, hard blue. “I let him live, on account I killed his mum. Next time I see him, I’ll kill him.”
Without waiting for a response, Spike strode past her, coat billowing behind him.
Wood was sitting on the ground looking woozy. The punctures in his neck were still oozing slightly. Buffy held out a hand to help him up.
“Thanks,” he said, sounding grateful. She didn’t see him slide a small vial into his pocket.
Buffy shook her head. “Don’t mention it.”
“You saved my life.”
“No, really - don’t mention it,” Buffy repeated coldly. “I’m fighting a war. If you’re gonna sit on the sidelines and not choose a side, that’s fine. Just stay out of my way.”
“This wasn’t about –” Wood began.
“I don’t care what this was about,” she replied sharply, cutting him off. “I’m fighting for my life here. Spike is the strongest warrior we have. We’re not going to win this fight without him. And from where I’m standing, a vampire with a soul trumps a guy with a chip on his shoulder, because his mom died.
“If you ever pull a stunt like this again, Spike will kill you. And more importantly, I won’t stop him. Do you understand?”
Wood held her gaze for a few moments, and then nodded. “Yes.”
“Good.” She drew back her fist and punched him. Hard. “Consider this my resignation.”
Wood continued to clutch his nose while Buffy walked away, full of righteous indignation.
“I got what I needed, anyway,” he murmured dropping his hands as soon as she was out of sight. The punch had hurt, but instead of wallowing in it, he let it fuel his determination.
He slid his hand into his pocket to retrieve a tiny vial. The small amount of vampire blood he’d stolen from Spike glittered darkly underneath the security lighting. The final piece to the puzzle.
“You did good, baby,” his mother said proudly, appearing beside him.
Wood snorted. “I didn’t do it for you.”
“I know, I know. It’s the mission. Still,” the First shrugged. “If you win, I win.”
Anya frowned as Xander came in. His expression was blank and he looked sick, his face an unsightly shade of gray. That changed as soon as the door clicked shut behind him. Rage twisted his features until he was almost unrecognizable. His lip curled into a snarl and he clenched his fist.
“Xander, are you alright?”
Instead of replying, he turned and slammed his fist into the wall next to the coat rack, plowing through the sheetrock.
Anger and indignation filled her. “Knees. Now!”
Xander froze and then dropped like a stone, wincing slightly at the sharp pain in his knees.
“Tell me what happened.” Her tone brooked no argument.
“Giles, Wood. They tried to kill…” Xander’s voice faltered, as if the words were stuck in his throat. He continued in a whisper, “They tried to kill Spike.”
“Is he okay?”
Xander nodded, but his voice was still strained. “Yes. He bit Wood, but that’s all.”
Anya understood his rage now. She knew something powerful was forming between Xander and Spike, but Xander was still afraid to admit it. It made his emotions run high where the vampire was concerned.
“That does not excuse your behavior. Go to the playroom. I want you naked and kneeling properly while you wait. You will fix the wall tomorrow.”
“Yes, Mistress. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she stroked his hair gently. He was still so mixed up and needy. “Go.”
He tried to rise, but she pushed him down. “On your knees, Xander.”
His sharp intake of breath was all the confirmation she needed that she’d read him correctly.
Once he was in the play room, Anya opened her cell and quickly found the number she was looking for. It rang quite a few times and she nervously wondered if Spike was going to ignore her.
Thankfully, he picked up. Once the call connected, she heard loud music in the background. “What?” he barked.
“He needs you,” Anya said simply.
“I’m not your vamp Friday. His either.”
She rolled her eyes at his dramatic declaration, but kept her tone even. “I know what happened tonight.”
“You don’t know shit,” Spike snapped.
Anya scowled. Xander obviously wasn’t the only one who had issues in this dynamic. “You know, it wasn’t that long ago that Buffy was shoving a sword through my chest,” she huffed.
Spike was quiet for a few long moments - smoking furiously, judging by the heavy inhales and exhales. “Forgot about that,” he conceded.
Wearily she rubbed her forehead. Playing matchmaker between those two was really not how she’d planned to spend the evening. “Xander needs you, and I believe that you need him, too.”
“Not gonna be stepping on any toes?” Spike asked.
“I wouldn’t have called if you were,” Anya retorted. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah, be there in a few.”
“Boy did this for me?” Spike asked wonderingly, fingering the fist-sized hole in the drywall. He hadn’t been quite sure what he'd expected when he arrived, but this wasn’t it.
Anya nodded. “He’ll be fixing it in the morning.”
Spike gestured toward the playroom. “He waiting, then?”
“Yes,” Anya confirmed with a brief nod.
Before heading to the room, Spike slipped off his duster and tossed it over the back of the couch. He frowned when he realized Anya hadn’t moved. “You coming?”
“No. Not tonight.” Anya shook her head. “Bring him to our room when you’re finished.”
“You got it, ducks.”
“Kneel up,” Spike barked.
Xander did as he was ordered, but was unable to hide his surprise that Spike was the one who issued the order.
“Was a bloody stupid thing you did,” Spike admonished. “You could have broken something.”
“I’m sorry, Master.”
Spike looked at him speculatively. Xander’s dick, which had only been half hard when Spike entered the room, was now jutting proudly from between the boy’s legs. “Are you?”
“I –” Xander paused, and Spike was pleased to see that he was thinking things over, choosing his words carefully. “I’m sorry that I put a hole in the wall. I’m not sorry that I got so upset. He – they could have killed you.”
“Was a time when you’d have been cheering them on.”
Xander couldn’t quite meet his eyes as he whispered, “I don’t feel that way anymore.”
Spike wasn’t sure he believed him, but after the night he’d had, he needed to know where the two of them stood – if what they did was just playtime, or something more.
“Think we’re gonna do something different tonight.” Spike ran a finger over the scar on the boy’s shoulder, a fierce wave of possession rushing through him. “You’re mine, as well as hers, and I don’t take kindly to anyone damaging my property.”
Spike’s face shifted and the vampire caught the unmistakable scent of fear. “Give me your hand.”
Xander lifted his bruised and bleeding hand, offering it to Spike for inspection. His eyes were downcast and the scent of fear increased.
Seemed that Spike had his answer. Pity. He’d hoped…well, no matter. He was about to release the boy’s hand when Xander spoke. “Just because I’m afraid, doesn’t mean I don’t trust you, Master.” His voice was low, but firm. “I’ve seen a lot of what vampires can do. Sometimes I can’t help but fear what you are, but I’m not afraid of who you are.”
“Look at me,” Spike commanded.
Amber eyes met brown. Without releasing the boy’s gaze, Spike bent his head, bringing his lips to the torn and bruised knuckles. He shifted the bones this way and that, confirming for himself that nothing was amiss.
Slowly, Spike dragged the flat of his tongue across the wounds. Xander shuddered, but didn’t move. Spike took his time laving cuts and scrapes until they were clean. It had been years since he'd acted like a real vamp, taking what was his without asking. The closest he’d gotten was with Buffy. All it took was a stiff arse kicking and a trip to a hell cave in Africa for him to realize that she’d never been his. Xander was made for him in a way Buffy hadn’t been. The boy wanted to be taken, owned. So much so that he answered to two masters.
Gently, Spike released Xander’s hand and the boy let it drop to his side. The stink of fear had receded, replaced by the lovely scent of heady arousal.
“Gonna mark you tonight, I think.” Spike whispered huskily as he traced Xander’s cheek, loving how the human leaned into his touch. “Remind you of your place.”
His boy was a thing of beauty, crawling across the floor toward Anya’s room. His cock hung heavy and full between his muscled thighs, and every inch of skin was liberally striped where Spike had marked him with either come or a lash.
The vampire had lost count of the number of times he’d spent, everything was a blur: stroking off in the cleft of his boy’s no longer virgin arse; rutting long and hard into the crook of his thigh, spilling over Xander’s swollen cock; shooting his cream across his tanned face.
Spike almost wished he could follow and watch Anya put Xander through his paces, but he held back. He was getting in deeper than he’d like with Xander, with both of them really. Tonight proved it – he’d been surprised by the rush of pride he’d felt when he’d seen proof of Xander’s reaction to the watcher’s deceit.
He dressed as swiftly as he could, intending to go out, get a beer and be back by first light. Maybe crash on the couch; Anya’d tacked up some thick blinds for him, so his days were less restricted.
Xander was almost at the bedroom door when it swung open. Anya leaned against the door frame, eyeing them both. She studied Xander for a moment.
Xander complied immediately.
Her fingers hovered a micron over his face as she traced one of the paths that crossed Xander’s cheek. “How do you feel?” she asked the boy softly.
“Marked. Owned,” Xander replied without hesitation.
She smiled and nodded. “Good. You are. Go lie on the bed.”
Spike was just shrugging on his duster when her eyes met his. “Come to bed, Spike.”
Spike shook his head. “Not tonight, pet. You have your time. I’ll be back by morning.”
“That wasn’t a request,” Anya said coolly. “Come. To. Bed.”
“You think that tone is gonna work with me?” Spike asked, a small smile tugging at his lips.
“Yes,” she replied archly.
Without a word, Spike shed his kit and walked to the room. He didn’t look at Anya as he passed by, although it wasn’t out of any sense of modesty; they’d seen each other naked more times than he could count. At the last moment, he brushed his fingers against hers as light as a butterfly kiss and whispered “Thanks,” just as softly.
Orange light flickered over the earthen walls, and the sound of chanting echoed dully. Robin barely heard it. Years of effort crystallized into a single moment. This single moment.
The bowl in front of him smoldered darkly and the herby scent of magic washed over him. It was time to reclaim his legacy, just as he and Crowley had planned.
He opened the first vial and murmured, “The blood of the chosen,” just before tipping the contents in. The Bringers’ chant shifted, picking up his words and weaving them into the tapestry of the spell. Blood of the chosen, Blood of the chosen, Blood of the chosen.
His hand found the second vial and his lips pulled back in a bone-chilling grin, devoid of mirth. “The blood of the damned, stalker of night. He who became a slayer of light.”
A puff of acrid smoke issued from the bowl when Spike’s blood was added. The Bringers chanting had reached a deafening crescendo.
“Blood of the son, who’s birthright was stolen!” he shouted, picking up a dagger from the table. It was the one he’d used on Amanda. The steel sliced deeply into his palm, but he was beyond pain. Deep scarlet blood flowed easily from the wound into the bowl.
There was a flash, and then thick ropes of smoke rose through the air, winding around him like a tornado. He staggered inside the smoky cocoon, coughing and choking as it thickened and forced its way into his body through his nose and mouth. When he could fight it no longer he collapsed, the dense cloud clinging to him like a shroud.
Tara was leaning against the post on the front porch, looking down the street. The door shut softly behind Xander as he joined her and took up sentry duty at the other post.
Willow had been called urgently to LA to take care of a sudden case of Angelus. She got major bonus points for pulling off the ensouling without a hitch. Wesley, on the other hand, was zero-for-two: freeing a psychotic vampire and a felon in one week had to be a record. But his mistakes were the Scoobies’ gain; their numbers were growing by two: a fully reformed slayer and a half-pint werewolf, who happened to be on his way through LA when the sky began to rain fire.
“Willow just called,” he told Tara. “They’re maybe twenty minutes outside of town. Shouldn’t be too long now.”
Tara nodded, looking relieved. “Thanks.”
“So…are you doing okay?” Xander asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Tara smiled tightly. “Everything’s fine.”
“I used to say the same thing, whenever anyone asked me about the wedding. But it was a lie and I kept waiting for someone to…I don’t know…see me, and call me on it.” Xander shoved his hands into his pockets. “So this is me seeing and calling.”
Studying her hands, guiltily, Tara gave a small, frustrated sigh. “I just… Willow’s doing magic. Ensouling magic. That’s a big thing. And we still don’t know how the First can become me…”
“And then there’s Oz,” Xander prodded. The look on Tara’s face confirmed that he’d hit the mark. Score one for the Xand-man.
“He tried to kill me, the last time I saw him. Because he knew I’d been with Willow,” Tara replied softly. “I know we need the help, and I’m happy he’s coming, but I’m also afraid. I can’t help it.”
“Believe it or not, I understand that. I’ve got the same feelings about Faith heading up here.”
“She tried to kill you?” Tara asked, surprised.
“Yeah, back in high school. Not one of my stellar moments. I wouldn’t be here if Angel hadn’t stopped her.” Xander gave Tara a small smile. “Note, that this is not me admitting that Angel saved my life.”
Tara bit her lip, trying to hide a smirk. “Of course not.”
The door slammed behind them as Buffy flew out of the house, pulling on her coat. “Willow just called. There’s a girl…she’s hurt…they think she might be a potential. Bringers were swarming the area. They’re taking her to the hospital.”
“Can I come?” Tara asked anxiously.
Buffy nodded. “Willow’s pretty shaken up. Apparently she almost ran over the girl with the car.”
“I’ll get my coat.” Xander turned toward the front door.
Buffy placed a hand on his arm, stopping him. “Listen, would you mind staying? I hate leaving them alone.”
Xander stomach clenched, but six years had taught him well. He slapped a wide smile onto his face. “Okay, I’ll hold down the fort.”
“You sure?” Buffy looked guiltily grateful.
He waved away her concern. “No problem.”
Buffy jogged down the steps and was already halfway down the walk before she looked back over her shoulder and called out, “Come on, Tara.”
Tara lingered on the top step. “Are you sure it’s okay?”
“I’m fine.” Xander nodded. “Go. See Willow.”
Tara studied him as if she were deciding whether or not to say something else. Her voice was low when she finally spoke. “I see, too, you know. You can talk to me, if you need to. About stuff. With Spike and Anya, I mean. I won’t say anything to anyone. I-I haven’t.”
Whoa. So not what he was expecting her to say. Xander held her gaze and nodded, a thick lump forming in his throat. “You better get going,” he whispered. “Buffy’s waiting.”
“Yeah.” Tara turned and dashed after Buffy.
Bedraggled, the troop returned from the hospital, hours later. Willow still looked shaken, staying close to Tara.
The girl, Emily, was definitely a potential. On the run from the Bringers, she’d been stabbed and pushed into the street. The doctors had told Buffy that she was going to pull through. The police were guarding her room, so she was safe for now.
Xander caught Oz as he was making his way to the kitchen. “Hey. Good to see you. Glad to have you here.”
Oz gave him a little wave in return. “Thanks man, good to be here.”
The werewolf frowned suddenly and his eyes flicked to Anya and Spike before returning to Xander.
Xander felt his face get hot. “Look, man. I…”
Oz shook his head, cutting off Xander’s potentially even more embarrassing babble. “Not my business. Do I need to keep it quiet?”
Mortification at being caught flooded Xander, but he nodded anyway. “Yeah. Most everyone probably knows about Anya…but...” he trailed off, his eyes drawn uneasily to Spike.
The vampire’s shoulders tensed, and Xander had a sinking feeling that he was paying rapt attention to their conversation.
“No, I understand,” Oz said. “I won’t say anything.”
When Oz stepped away to join the others, Xander grabbed his arm and said softly. “Look, thanks. I’m not embarrassed. About Spike, I mean. He and Buffy had a thing last year. I…she doesn’t need this right now. And I don’t even know how to begin to explain it to Willow.”
Oz nodded and Xander released his arm. Spike hadn’t turned or looked his way, he was smiling and joking with Dawn and Faith. Xander wondered if his earlier feeling that Spike had been listening to every word had been wrong.
He found out an hour later.
Xander finished going to the bathroom and was washing his hands when he was suddenly pinned to the counter by a cool, solid weight against his back. He’d been so lost in thought that he hadn’t even heard the door open. Nervous excitement flooded him.
“Heard you talking to the wolf, boy,” Spike whispered in his ear.
“He knew,” Xander replied.
Blunt teeth nipped at his neck, causing Xander to shiver. “Knew what?”
“He knew about…us, Master,” Xander breathed. “All of us.”
“And yet you didn’t try to hide.”
“I’m not ashamed,” Xander said, before adding hastily, “Master.” Realization that this was the truth, washed over him. He truly didn’t mind other people knowing, he just hated being blindsided by demons and their super-smelly senses. “I don’t think the others would understand, yet. But I’m not ashamed.”
“And if I ordered you to tell them what you get up to with us,” Spike whispered huskily against his neck. “Trussed up and beaten and begging for more.”
Xander closed his eyes, both excited by the scene Spike described and terrified of his friends finding this out about him. He wasn’t sure if he could bear seeing disapproval in their eyes, any more than he could bear continuing to lie to them. It was Catch-22 and he wasn’t the pitcher. Spike was. “I would tell them, Master. If you ordered it.”
“Hmmm, perhaps I’ll let you buy your silence. At least for today. On your knees.” And the cool weight was gone.
Xander turned and dropped to the ground as he’d been ordered. The tile was cold and hard against his knees, but the excited knot of fear and arousal in his belly almost dampened the discomfort.
He didn’t use his hands to open Spike’s jeans. His Master loved watching him struggle to undo the buttons with his teeth.
Licking, sucking and teasing Spike’s cock, Xander knew exactly what he liked the most.
Finally, Spike held him in place and fucked Xander’s face, using him. Xander struggled for breath, his heart pounding in his ears, his cock throbbing, trapped in suddenly too-tight jeans. He loved it when Spike was rough with him. It was something that Anya wasn’t always able to give him.
When he came, Xander swallowed every drop.
Spike ruffled his hair before he left the bathroom. “Guess you earned another day's reprieve.”
Xander slumped back onto his heels. His cock ached and throbbed with denied release. He didn’t have a clue if he’d get to come that day. It wasn’t up to him, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oz shut the door to the room he’d been given, balancing the pile of towels Dawn had shoved at him.
“Look at you.”
He turned, slowly. Veruca was standing there.
“Huh. That’s neat.” Oz tossed the towels onto the bed.
“I see you’re still domesticated.” She looked disdainfully at the talisman he wore anchored around his wrist and looped over his fingers.
Stroking the familiar beads, Oz replied dryly, “People tend to not end up dead that way.”
“How did it feel tearing my throat out? Did you like the taste of fresh hot blood filling your belly, making you stronger?”
“I don’t remember,” he said, allowing the lie rolling off his tongue.
Veruca snorted in disbelief. “You don’t forget your first real kill. Do your friends know that? Does your mousy little girlfriend?”
“Willow’s not my girlfriend.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Veruca’s face brightened, as if she’d just remembered this little tidbit of information. “You left her and it traumatized her so much, she jumped ship and started batting for the other team.”
Oz shook his head, but he felt the growl rise in his chest. “It wasn’t like that.”
Veruca’s eyes gleamed with triumph. She circled him, leaning forward to whisper in his ear. “There are places, you know, where you can be yourself.”
“I am myself.” Oz stroked the talisman on his wrist again, trying to find his center.
“Keep telling yourself that. You never let it out, don’t you think I know that it eats at you.” Veruca snapped her teeth.
Fangs began to sprout in his mouth as his control began to slip. “Get out,” he spat, his voice thick and rough.
Veruca laughed. “See you later, lover”
He slammed his fist into the wall, causing a picture frame to crash to the floor.
The door flew open and Xander barreled in but then stopped short. “You okay, man?” he asked.
The reflection of his grey complexion in the mirror on the far side of the room said it all, but Oz tried to shrug it off. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine. You look like you saw a ghost.” The confusion on Xander’s face gave way to understanding. “Guess you got to meet the First.”
“It was a real blast from the past,” he admitted shakily.
“On the fun scale, it’s right up there with boil-lancing, or a fun-filled trip to the dentist.”
“Minus the anesthesia,” Oz agreed, bending to pick up the picture frame that had fallen. “I got this.”
“You gonna be alright?”
“I’ll be good, thanks.”
Xander nodded. “We got a lead on the Bringers. Willow’s been hacking into the police computers, and someone reported chanting at what’s supposed to be an abandoned winery. We’re heading over there…it’d be great if you could come.”
“Sure. I’ll be down in a minute.”
Robin Wood pushed himself carefully up from the floor. He realized, with some satisfaction, that his aches and pains were diminishing by the second.
The Bringers had stopped chanting and were milling around.
The First appeared, wearing the concerned countenance of his mother. “How you feeling, baby?”
Wood whirled and struck the nearest Bringer square in the chest with the heel of his hand. The monk flew across the room, like a demented pin-wheel. With a nasty smacking sound, his body struck the far cavern wall and fell into a motionless heap.
He looked down at his hand, noticing that the wound in his palm had closed. Robin smiled. “Good. I feel good.”
“Does a momma proud, seeing her boy with so much power,” Nikki Wood purred. “Now we got a lot of work to do. That skinny blonde do-gooder is on her way.”
As their meager army prepared for the raid on the vineyard, Xander knelt at the weapons chest filling the bag Buffy had handed him with anything and everything that would fit. This wasn’t going to be a recon mission, but a fontal assault. Only Anya, Willow and Tara would be left behind, because they were researching protection spells for the house.
He would have felt better if Dawn was staying behind as well, but at least she was going to be away from the main fighting and he could keep an eye on her. No matter how tonight turned out for him, he wanted his girls to be safe.
Spike crouched next to him and began rooting through the trunk for a weapon. As always when he was in close proximity to the vampire, his stomach did a little flip.
“Guess you brought that out of retirement,” Xander observed softly. Spike’s battered leather coat was covered with dust and streaks of something that looked suspiciously like blood. He wondered if it was Spike’s or Wood’s. He fervently hoped it was Wood’s.
“Think it’s past time for me to suit up again,” Spike admitted. “I notice you didn’t ask where I found it.”
“I know where it was,” Xander confessed quietly. He didn’t feel guilty for stuffing it away, precisely, but something was niggling in his belly.
A small smile curled Spike’s lips. “Had a feeling it was you. Surprised you didn’t burn it.”
“That was plan B,” Xander admitted. “Look, I’m sor-”
Spike cut him off with a terse shake of his head. “Don’t apologize. I know what we were to each other. That’s over.”
“Is it?” Xander desperately wanted to believe those words and allow bygones to be bygones.
“Yes, it is.” Spike withdrew a short sword, pressing it into Xander’s hand. “You and Dawn are gonna be cut off from the rest of us. You be careful in there.”
As Xander’s fingers curled around the hilt, he felt a small thrill of excitement. Spike hadn’t been searching for a weapon for himself. “Aren’t I always?” he asked with a smile.
“No,” Spike snorted, with good-natured affection, before his expression turned serious. “I mean it. There’s trouble you can’t handle, go the other way.”
“You keep talking like that and I’m going to start thinking you care about me.” Xander kept his tone light, but his heart was pounding heavily in his chest. He wanted to look away, but found it impossible.
Xander felt something pass between them. This wasn’t a game; Spike was serious. “Oh.”
Spike leaned in, drawing so close his lips almost brushed Xander's cheek. “You mind what I said,” he instructed in a low voice. “I don’t fancy picking up pieces.”
Swallowing thickly, Xander realized that Spike didn’t just mean if his insides got rearranged on his outside. “I will,” he promised.
He so wanted to reach out and touch Spike, but was hyperconscious of the people milling around. Instead, he made a small, frustrated sound and his fingers tightened uselessly around the sword hilt.
Spike seemed to feel the same thing, because he drew back, putting distance between them. Longing flashed in his blue eyes. “Won’t always be like this between us,” Spike murmured. “We get past all this and I’m not hiding anymore.”
Xander’s mouth went dry. “Okay.”
“Spike, Xander!” Buffy called impatiently from the kitchen. “Hurry up, we don’t have all night!”
The sound of chanting hung in the air like a fog as they approached the cluster of buildings at the edge of the vineyard.
“The cellar,” Buffy whispered as she pushed aside the branch obscuring her view, “Why am I not surprised that they’re underground?”
“Least it’s not the graveyard. All them funky statues staring at you,” Faith said with a theatrical shudder.
Buffy hated dragging everyone into this fight because, deep down, she knew not everyone was going to make it. That’s why it was so damn hard to bond with the potentials, every fray they entered could cost them their lives, and every death would be her fault. But she also knew, in her gut, that this was what needed to be done. The First’s power had to be coming from somewhere, even though Giles and his books disagreed. So, she reasoned, if the monks were holed up here, maybe the power source was here, too.
The tone of the chanting began to shift, taking on a different timbre. Buffy instinctively knew that the time had come. Rising from her crouch, she moved swiftly toward the entrance, confident that everyone would follow.
She kicked the heavy wooden doors open, finding a stairway immediately beyond. “From beneath you it devours,” she muttered. “Joy.”
Not allowing herself to reconsider the stupidity of charging down the stairs into an unknown and very hostile situation, she did just that. The thundering footsteps of the others echoed in the stairwell, temporarily dampening the creepy chanting.
The underground cavern at the bottom wasn’t filled with rows of bottles like she’d expected. Dozens of enormous casks lined the walls, instead. The gross, fruity-yeasty smell of the ghost of fermentations past, lingered in the air. Row’s of Bringers stood before her, rocking in unison. Plunge and move on, she thought, randomly.
She felt, rather than heard, everyone gather around her. Fifty pairs of mutilated eyes fixed upon the group and then the Bringers fell abruptly silent.
“That is probably not a good sign,” Oz observed wryly.
Not at all, Buffy thought.
The sea parted, and Robin Wood walked out of the shadows.
“I guess this means you chose a side,” Buffy seethed as he stepped into the light.
Sweaty hands and sword grips did not go well together. Neither did chanting and breaking and entering. Xander quickly transferred the sword to his left hand so he could wipe his slick palm on his jeans. He couldn’t do anything about the chanting. “This is so stupid.”
Buffy’s grand plan was a two-pronged attack. She and the potentials would distract the Bringers with a full frontal assault, while Dawn and Xander were supposed to sneak into the building from the other side to see if they could find something that could be the source of the First’s power.
Dawn nodded absently and whispered, “I know.”
He was starting to feel like a bug on a wedding cake, out in the open like this. At least Buffy’s side of the building had cover. This side faced a courtyard and all the other outbuildings. If the fountain in the center had still been running, it might have afforded them some auditory cover, but it was rusted, full of dirt and probably hadn’t worked since the vineyard was abandoned.
What was strange, and kind of disturbing, was that someone was still paying PG&E. At least two-thirds of the fixtures in the courtyard were working, including the one to the right of the door Dawn was crouching in front of.
He leaned forward to see how she was doing. “How’s it going?”
Her hand slipped and Xander pretended not to hear the soft curse she uttered. “You’re blocking the light.”
“Oh, sorry.” Xander stepped back, out of the meager glow. “They’re teaching lock picking at school now?” The light, teasing banter filled the nerve-wracking silence around them, just as well as it had in high school, making this feel just like old times.
“Yep,” Dawn replied with a smirk. “It’s right after math and before study hall.”
Xander shook his head, pretending disapproval, wrapping the familiarity of being clueless guy around him like an old familiar cloak. “It was Spike, wasn’t it?” he chided, staying in the game. “Please tell me he waited until you were fifteen.”
Dawn’s answering chuckle was enough to crush those hopes. A few more turns with the tools and the door popped open. “Voila!”
“You’re like a scary JD girl scout. When did that happen?” Xander peered into the dark. “I hope you brought a flashlight.”
She slid a small black cylinder out of her pocket. “Spike’s a good teacher.”
Yes, he is, Xander thought and flushed a little. He cleared his throat. “Let’s go.”
Ominously, the second they crossed the threshold, the chanting stopped. The door swung shut behind them, plunging them into complete darkness. It took a couple of seconds for Xander to realize that the two things weren’t connected. It took a couple of more seconds for his heart to migrate from his throat back to his chest.
The wooden floor beneath their feet creaked gently. “Lucy, I have a baaaad feeling about this,” Xander said in a low stage whisper.
“Me, too. I hope Buffy’s okay.”
“I thought this was supposed to be an observation deck, to look down on the cellar.” Dawn whispered. “Because I think they missed the point of what observy means.”
Which is probably good for us, Xander thought. “Willow said there was a set of stairs somewhere around here.”
There was a small click as Dawn thumbed on the light. She swept the beam back and forth over the dusty floorboards and walls. “I don’t see it.”
“Maybe we got turned around and this isn’t the right building.” Xander suggested, which was stupid, because he could hear sounds below. This had to be the place. Willow’s napkin sketch was obviously not to scale. “The stairs should be to the right.”
Dawn swung the light in that direction. Instead of the beam revealing stairs, he caught the flash of two pairs of eyes in the darkness. His heart jumped to his throat again. “Dawnie look out! To the left,” he hissed, pointing his sword.
Jerkily, she swept the flashlight back. “What?”
Two hazy figures stood opposite them in the pitch black. One of them had a sword, while the other had a…
“Wait a minute…” Dawn said as she approached the figures. She gave a nervous laugh. “It’s a reflection. See? It looks like they boarded up this window from the other side.” She passed the light over the dusty glass. “It‘s like a mirror.”
Feeling stupid, Xander gave a sigh of relief. He didn’t lower his sword.
The beam swept across the window, met the seam of the wall and continued on until it finally revealed the stairwell. There wasn’t a door, just a gaping black hole, like a missing tooth, in the wall.
“I’ll take Rickety Stairs of Death for a thousand, Alex,” he murmured.
Dawn snorted, but their mirth was cut short by a sharp cry. A thud rattled the window in its frame. The fight had begun.
“We should hurry.” Xander said, anxiously.
The staircase was narrow and steep, making Xander feel claustrophobic as they headed below ground. The claustrophobia eased somewhat as they reached the landing and the space opened up around them.
Dawn shone the light down the corridor. It was long, running the length of the building from the end of the staircase to the door at the far end. In between there wasn’t much, just a rusty water fountain and a single, swinging door that led to a unisex bathroom.
The plaque affixed to the wall next to the door at the end of the corridor read Chief Vintner.
“This is the place,” Dawn whispered, and she tried the handle. It turned smoothly in her hand, which made Xander even more nervous.
“Should we try the light?” Dawn asked, pointing the beam at the switch on the wall.
Xander peered around, using the ambient light to do a quick check of the room. Boxes and file cabinets haphazardly lining the walls, interspersed with dusty, out-of-date furniture. There was a door in the far left corner. He had been afraid that there might be a set of windows so the Vintner guy could watch what was going on in the cellar, but it didn’t look like there were any.
“Go for it.”
The light worked, casting a paltry glow over the room, and Dawn turned off the flashlight. ‘Full of junk’ was a phrase that didn’t quite do justice to the large office. The first section, where they were now, looked like it had once been a large sitting area. A couch and a couple of end tables lined one side, guarded by a low coffee table. Opposite that, there was a bank of file cabinets and shelves. Everything was overflowing with junk, now, though. It was as if the winery closed slowly and the room was used as storage, as well as work, as people vacated their offices. Boxes of papers and file folders littered the room in concentric circles and he imagined that they contained things that the remaining employees might need access to.
The second half of the room must have been where the Chief Vintner did his work. The wide side of the desk faced the door, and had two chairs parked in front of it. Two long, low file cabinets filled in the corner behind the desk. The one closest to them held a battered and dusty pot containing a shabby stick that might have been a plant, sometime around when Carter was president. Atop the other, a discarded phone was sitting catawampus on a stack of yellowing papers, with its cord wound tightly around it, looking like a modern mummy.
The desk and the chairs around it were strangely clean, though. As if they’d been cleared recently.
The battle was much closer now. He could hear fighting clearly. The office shared its west wall with the cellar proper. Two and two suddenly became four and he realized with horror where the door on their left likely led. Sweat popped up on his brow. “What are we looking for?” he whispered.
Oblivious to his panic, Dawn replied, “I don’t know. Something magical.” She held up a pale crystal with a white spark in its center. “Willow said this would glow bright blue if we found something.”
“This is such a bad plan,” he murmured, looking around the cluttered office at everything and nothing. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.
“It’s the only one we’ve got,” Dawn replied as she began to move the crystal slowly over all the items in the office in a controlled, methodical way. It reminded him of a movie he’d once seen where a group of oceanographers had been searching for a lost or downed ship. They defined a search grid in the water and traveled along it, using radar as they went, so they didn’t miss a section.
Muted voices from the other room traveled thorough the wall. Buffy and someone else were trading banter. Xander was fairly certain that it wasn’t the First, because the slayer sounded like she was trading blows as well as barbs, but the voice sounded familiar.
Dawn walked the room slowly, passing the crystal over every object she encountered, but the light inside didn’t waver or change at all.
Xander scoped out the door, noting with alarm that it was unlocked. He pressed his ear to it, confirming that no one was milling around directly outside, then twisted the deadbolt. That should keep them a little safer. Assuming, of course, the First didn’t pop in here and then back out to warn its minions. Shit, Xander wished that thought hadn’t occurred to him.
“Xander,” Dawn whispered as she approached the ancient desk. The light from the crystal began to grow and deepen to a blazing blue.
“I think this is it.” She slipped the crystal into her pocket and opened a drawer.
Xander joined her at the desk, pushing the dusty office chair behind them so they could both could fit comfortably. He winced as it squeaked. They were standing in front of the desk, directly in front of the knee well. The door into the cellar was to their right.
Dawn placed a loosely tied leather bundle on the top of the desk and struggled to unwrap it with one hand. Xander set his sword next to it. Taking the flashlight from her, he whispered, “Here, I got that.”
“Thanks,” she replied gratefully, as he tucked it into his back pocket. It was like stuffing a five pound hand weight into his shaving kit. It fit. Barely.
Carefully, she unwrapped the bundle, revealing a thick ream of parchment. Her eyes grew huge as she gently spread the scrolls flat. “These are so old,” she marveled.
And so not in English, he thought. “Can you read what they say?”
Dawn nodded. “Yeah, most of it.”
She ran her finger along the rows and columns of text, lips moving silently, making Xander incredibly self conscious. He hadn’t been able to master French in high school, while Dawn was obviously fluent in Ancient whatever. He was the village idiot; Cletus the slack jawed yokel.
“Oh my god! This can’t be right.” She flipped to the second page and then the third. Her excited tone broke through his wall of self pity.
“This is a history of the first slayers. There’s other stuff too. Spells and things, and this one…” Dawn flipped through the pages, “has a bunch of stuff about the Watchers.”
“Is it another way to bring the First Slayer back? ‘Cause after she ripped out my heart, I’m really thinking I’ll pass,” Xander asked.
“No, you don’t understand.” Dawn shifted back to the first scroll and pointed to a word that looked suspiciously like a stain from a jelly donut. “Slayers. There was more than one.”
He was puzzled for a moment. Why would that be such a big deal? Everyone knew that once one girl died, the next slayer was called. It was like a grotesque chain letter that was started at the beginning of time, broken only when Buffy had come back, freshmen year. Everybody had freaked when Kendra had appeared, because the one girl in all the world, was suddenly two. And then he made the connection. “You mean, at the same time?”
Dawn nodded fervently.
The sounds of fighting, behind the wall, escalated and they both turned.
Okay, the big reveal could wait. They needed to jet. Now.
“We gotta get out of here,” they said in unison.
Dawn began rolling the ancient parchment. Xander stilled her hand as she reached for the thick piece of protective leather.
“Wait.” Before she could ask what he was doing, he set the flashlight along one edge and began wrapping it into a bundle.
She frowned for a few moments and then understanding dawned in her eyes. “You’re making a decoy.”
He nodded. There was a good chance that they might get caught or have to split-up. “Might buy us some time. If you keep the crystal with the scrolls, you can use it to light your way.”
Dawn tightened her roll of parchment into a dense tube before slipping her hand into her pocket to retrieve the crystal. “Got it.”
He grabbed her wrist. “If we get separated, you run. Get these to Giles.”
“I won’t leave you.”
He flashed suddenly to his conversation with Spike. This time the stomach flips and mirth was missing. “I’m not kidding, Dawn.”
“Neither am I.” Determination flared in her eyes and he knew, suddenly, that there was no way she was gonna run if things got hairy. Crap.
They had to bolt, now.
But, it was too late.
There was a sharp cry, a thick smack and then the wall exploded inward as something, Buffy, crashed through the wall in a cloud of dust and rubble. She fell to the ground in a heap and the office debris rained down on her.
Without thinking, Xander gripped Dawn’s shoulder and pushed her to her knees, using his legs to shove her into the hole under the desk.
“Hey! Ouch,” she cried, but he ignored her and concentrated on keeping her stuffed into the small space.
“Stay down.” He ordered, hoping she’d listen. They only had a moment. If he could hide her, he could keep her safe.
“Xander.” she hissed, trying to push her way past his legs. The desk canted, then righted itself at an off kilter angle, as she squirmed, but Xander kept himself pressed to the opening, blocking her in. When she realized that he wouldn’t budge, she pounded the desk in frustration.
His sword fell to the floor with a clatter. He glanced at the heap that covered Buffy. It wasn’t moving. Then he turned toward the hole in the wall. Dust still hovered thickly in the air, but he could just make out the battle melee beyond. He fancied that he caught split second glimpse of white-blond hair before the view was blocked. A figure parted the dust cloud and strode through the hole.
It was Robin Wood. That was the voice Xander hadn’t been able to place, earlier. “Mr. Harris. I was wondering where you were.”
Anger formed in the pit of his belly, but he had to push it aside. Keep Dawn safe…Get the scrolls to Giles. He picked up the decoy bundle. Let the games begin.
“Looky what I found,” Xander waved the bundle. “Someone’s been playing around with black magic. So not good. Wait until the PTA finds out about this. You’ll be wishing a ginormous snake ate you.”
Buffy moaned behind him and he heard the unmistakable sound of junk shifting around as she dug herself out. It took everything he had not to run to help her, but he couldn’t leave Dawn. He took comfort in the fact that her slayer healing would kick in at any moment. At least, he desperately hoped it would.
All thoughts of Buffy and Dawn left his head when Wood darted forward, vampire fast. His strong, brown fingers closed around Xander’s throat in a Darth Vader grip, lifting him until his feet barely touched the floor. “I think you’ll want to put that down,” he sneered malevolently.
“Funny, I was gonna say the same thing,” Spike drawled as he stepped though the hole in the wall.
“Spike,” Xander wheezed, imploringly as he struggled to keep his footing, hold onto the bundle and not choke to death. His lover’s eyes darted down to beneath the desk, and then across to Buffy, who was making her way around the desk to join the vampire, hopefully so the two of them could launch a two-pronged attack anytime now. She was covered in dust and holding herself stiffly, she looked like she’d gone ten rounds with Evander Holyvamp, but her eyes were focused and intent. She was still in the game.
“Give that back.” Wood growled. His eyes flicked to both Buffy and Spike, but then moved back to Xander’s.
“Afraid we’re gonna find out your secrets,” Xander goaded in a hoarse voice. It was so hard to talk, but near death situations always brought out the babble in him. “Like about the slayer lines.”
Buffy eyes darted around the room frantically. They stilled immediately when they got to his knees, and her shoulders tensed. Then her gaze rose and held his. There was cold, calculating determination in her stare, and he knew that she’d seen Dawn and that she understood fully what was going on.
Wood’s anger coalesced. “I had no idea that a glorified carpenter could read Babylonian.”
And like on Kingman's Bluff, he knew with terrified certainty that he was going to die. Flashing to a bumper sticker he’d once seen, Xander babbled, “Yeah, well, Jesus was a carpenter.”
Without examining what he was doing, only hoping that he could buy Dawn some time, Xander tossed the leather bundle toward Buffy.
She caught it easily, frowning as she tested the weight, then her eyes shifted back down to Dawn before widening with understanding. “Spike, get these to Giles,” she said and passed the decoy to him.
Spike’s slim fingers tightened around the bundle so tightly Xander swore he could hear the flashlight’s plastic casing crack. Anger swiftly flared in Spike’s eyes as he, too, realized the subterfuge. “I’m not leaving him,” he said stubbornly.
This was so not the time for Spike to be noble. “You have to go,” Xander pleaded.
“Spike, I can take care of this.” Buffy’s eyebrows lifted. “Go.”
“Please” Xander begged one more time. “Giles needs to see those.”
It seemed to take an eternity, but Spike finally complied. His jaw tensed and he clutched the bundle to his chest. “Fine,” he growled. Then he pivoted on one foot, toward the hole in the wall before sprinting out. Xander blinked and he was out of sight.
“Nooo!” Wood screamed and then was gone.
Xander’s feet hit the ground and his knees buckled. His hands shot out, grabbing the lip of the desk just in time to keep himself upright.
“Are you okay?” Buffy whispered.
He tried to nod, but that just made the room spin. “Just tell me he’s gone.”
Instead of a response, there was a bellow of rage, and a dark blur shot into the room, knocking Buffy down. Xander screamed in pain as his back was bent ninety degrees in the wrong direction. Wood pinned him to the desk by the shoulders. His eyes crackled with furious insanity.
Sadly, Xander recognized that look: mean, spiteful and piggish. It was the one that the Larry’s of the world gave you just because you dared say ‘excuse me’ to a girl they wanted to impress. The look that said: ‘I’m going to thump you just because I can,’ and ‘you don’t matter anyway.’ Except this time, the look belonged not just to a deranged bully, but to a wicked strong ,very evil, man.
“He’s not going to get far. But before I track him down like the dog he is, Mr. Harris, ” Wood whispered maliciously, “I owe you a little payback. An eye for a eye, so to speak.”
And before Xander could puzzle out what the crazy man was saying, white hot fire blossomed in his eye and he screamed
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