The Highwayman


Part One

There's a storm coming tonight, and he can't help but laugh a little at that as he pulls the curtains apart to peek out through them into the black velvet evening. It's the weather his lover loves, and it's the time-honored tradition to start a love story with. Clouds everywhere, just once in a while allowing the full moon to peek through. The winds tossing the skimpy trees, planted in an effort to "make California beautiful" once they'd torn up Paradise and put in a parking lot outside his apartment complex.

He pulls open the balcony doors and steps out. The wind's cold; he rubs his arms, bare to the elbow, aware of the sudden flood of goosebumps riddling his skin. Just anyone wouldn't get him to come outside on a night like this, but they have to be careful. Have to make sure there aren't any Army guys waiting down in the bushes. They're after his lover, both of them know it, even if they try to be casual about it and pretend they aren't. After Riley left Buffy, they didn't have any reason to pretend loyalty to the

Maybe Riley's even leading them. They don't know. He doesn't know.

He can just barely see the road from his balcony, lit up like a silvery ribbon amidst more of those damned fool trees, and it's empty as the Mary Celeste when they found her. He'd never heard that story until Spike told him about it, and it gave him cold chills. Where did those people go? Why?

"Mystery of the ages, love," Spike had said, rolling over and lighting a cigarette despite Xander's gentle nudge of reminder that he didn't want the vampire smoking inside. "If we knew, no one would give a toss."

He'd rolled over and balanced his chin on his crossed arms. "It's the mystery that matters," he'd said wisely. "S'why I love you. You're never going to make sense to me, Harris. Everyone else is an open book. They think your pages are blank, they do, but they're written in cuneiform. If only they'd take the time to look... really look..."

And Xander had caressed his lover's cheek, and leaned in for a kiss, lips smiling even as they brushed over Spike's, because he knew and knows he'll never figure the vampire out either. Because he's right, the mystery is the most fun of it all. The mystery of discovering him body and - he can't say soul - but what passes for it.

He wishes Spike would hurry.

And even as he wishes, he sees the dimness of headlights off in the far distance; hears the burr-r-r-r-r-r of an engine. Where Spike got the vehicle from he doesn't know, and doesn't think he wants to know. He's just glad that he did. It brings him to Xander faster, especially on nights like this, when he's wanted most.

Xander slips back inside and closes the balcony doors. He can't be seen welcoming Spike in. Not if they're being watched. All he can do is watch to see that Spike gets in the building safely.

And he does. All the way up, as far as he can, and waits with his heart in his throat until he hears the familiar thump-thump on his door.

** II **

Spike cleaned up for tonight, Xander can tell. His coat is rich and soft-looking as velvet, the leather cleaned and polished to softness beyond belief. Underneath it there's no black T-shirt or red button-down like everyone else sees, but a soft sweater of the blue that Xander likes best because it matches his lover's eyes. Jeans, of course, but they too are blue, not black. Nothing will ever get him to change his DM's.

But he is wearing the ring that Xander gave him. The slim silver band around the third finger of his right hand. It matches Xander's own. People cock their head to a side and wonder, sometimes aloud, when they see the rings, but either no one's made the connection (Buffy) or doesn't want to (Dawn) or is too polite to say (Willow and Tara).

There's the bulge of a pistol strapped to both shoulders. Xander knows there's a knife under the sweater, strapped to Spike's back like a short sword, where he can reach back and grab it if need be. He's got
'traitor' tattooed across his forehead as far as the demon community is concerned, and if he can't hurt a human without pain, if they threaten Xander he'll risk the migraine gladly.

Because he loves him.

He said so.

And Xander believes him.

Because he loves the vampire back, you see.

** III **

They play "pretend" every time. Pretend that it's the first time. Make the suspense good; make it last.

Spike leans against the door to Xander's apartment and taps at an invisible, long-vanished barrier to the inside. "Invite me in, love," he drawls around the cigarette that he lights.

"Not on your unlife," Xander sneers. "And put out that cigarette. You might not be getting in, but your secondhand sure is."

"Touchy, touchy." Spike lazily draws in and exhales, aiming for Xander's face. He dodges in time. "I'll put out the fire if you let me in."

"Little pig, little pig, let me in," he mocks.

"You gonna argue with that?" The scarred eyebrow goes up in an arch. "Put on some weight, you have, since your glory days on swim team-"

"It's all muscle, mouth-boy, and you know it."

Spike laughs derisively. "Sure it is. I believe you."

Xander's mouth always goes dry at this point. "What, you want me to prove it?"

Spike's eyes darken. "Step outside or let me in, and I'll take you up on that bet," he warns.

Xander laughs. "Then come on in, Spike. I'll show you."

He's already skinning off his shirt as the vampire steps across his threshold, a little wary, as if doubting that there's no barrier there any more. He takes another long drag on his smoke and then flips it into the ashtray across the room that Xander put there just for him, an Art Deco monstrosity that stands at just the right height and angle for this dramatic gesture to be effective and not set the place on fire.

He examines the picture that Xander makes, standing defiantly with his hands on his hips, black hair blood-red in the back-light from the kitchen, muscles in stark relief (even if he does have a little Twinkie-cola belly there too). "Lovely, you are," he says at last, his hands twitching just a bit. "A regular picture."

Xander swallows around his dry throat. "And you," he says hoarsely, not reaching for Spike.

Not yet.

But that part comes soon.

** IV **

And outside in the bushes, hidden where Xander couldn't see them from the balcony, and masked in scents so that Spike couldn't detect them when he pulled up, Graham and Riley lie in wait. They're patient. They can afford to be.

They know that tonight is the night.

Tonight, they get their revenge.

Graham could never forget that, however indirectly, Hostile 17 was part of why Maggie Walsh's plan failed, why Adam went mad and terrorized the town, why he had to be destroyed, why the Initiative failed. In time, he has convinced Riley of this too. When Riley finally came back to the fold, he knew he had succeeded and that the creature called "Spike" would soon get his reward.

He watches and waits, with a glad heart. Tonight is the night he's been yearning for.

Beside him, Riley shifts on his haunches as his hands automatically glide over the high-tech rifle he holds, not needing to look at it, each part as familiar as his own body. However indirectly, Hostile 17 was part of why he lost Buffy. He can't understand why or how, but he knows it's the truth. He wants to see "Spike" get his reward. And it'll be tonight.

He watches and waits with an eager heart. Tonight is the night he's been burning for.

Why tonight? Because they finally managed to catch Xander away long enough. They bugged the apartment, so cleverly that neither vampire senses or a dull human's knowledge of his home would be able to tell what they'd done. They can hear every word that the two speak to each other, and it's becoming clearer and clearer to them that this pair are lovers.

But they already knew that.

Still, it disgusts them. Graham spits softly into the grass to show his disdain of the unholy, ungodly couple. Riley shifts again, this time to ease his unwanted erection as the soft sound of a kiss filters through their earpieces. He tells himself that the vampire whores meant nothing, especially the male ones.

And he believes it.

** V **

Spike walks toward him, slow and stealthy as a panther, dimming the lights of the apartment with one casual flick of the wall switch. He eases his way to Xander, smiling that smile that makes the human ache for his lover.

"Not much time tonight," he says - purrs - with the hint of a laugh in his voice. "Got to go out on a special patrol. Watcher reckons he's found a huge nest of K'kthar demons on the far side of town, here for a full
moon sacrifice."

"There's time for you to stay a-"

Hesitation, then a yearning shake of the ice-blond head. "Can't do, love. It's full moon tonight. Shouldn't have stopped here in the first place, only I knew you'd worry."

Swallow over a dry throat. "I would have," Xander admits. "I'm glad you-"

"Ssssh, love," Spike says, kissing a finger and putting it over the human's lips. "Wasting time with words, you are. There's better things to be doing with that mouth."

A thrill shoots through Xander's spine. Will he ever get tired of that? He hopes not. "I thought you said there wasn't time."

"There's always time for a bit of-"

And this time it's Xander who cuts him off, closing the distance between them and stopping Spike's mouth with a gentle, chaste kiss. It lasts for a moment before they both tilt their heads to deepen it, to let tongues merge and mingle, to let the heat build between them. It's always like this and it's always like the first time, this yearning and wanting that bursts into an unexpected, welcome fire that they can warm themselves at.

"Gold," Spike's murmuring against his mouth, and this is different. "That's why I care about going instead of staying here. K'kthar demons hoard mountains of gold, pet. We can get you out of here. I can get out of here. We can start new lives somewhere that no one's ever heard of either of us. I'm after a prize tonight."

"You're the prize," Xander mumbles back, not caring at all about gold. He's content to stay, but he knows that Spike yearns to get away and be free of any past. To go where his name is still held in respect, and where he and his human can start fresh together.

"Nah. S'you that's the prize." Spike pulls away reluctantly. "Got to go. But I want you not to worry, got it? If I'm not back by daybreak, I'll come tomorrow night. Understand me?"

His human, lips kiss-swollen, attempts to understand, and nods his head reluctantly. But Xander still doesn't care about the gold. He reaches out with arms made strong from building, hammering, and sawing, and pulls his slighter lover close enough to feel the heat and hardness he radiates, and the cool, hard bulge in Spike's jeans. "Just a little longer," he begs, grinding them gently together. "Stay just a little longer."

"Bloody hell, Xander," Spike groans, and he is lost.

** VI **

Xander slowly sinks to his knees, opening Spike's shirt one... button... at... a... time... so slowly that the vampire almost shakes him from frustration. He would, if the boy weren't leaving sharp silver kisses,
teeth and tongue and lips, below the spot where each button had rested before.

He reaches the button of Spike's jeans, and lays his cheek against it, rolling against the hard coolness beneath. He's so hot, Xander is, and Spike, the temperature of the air-chilled room, is so cool beneath his warm flesh that he has to stop and luxuriate in the sensation. The knowledge that his vampire's about to burst open his zipper and it's because of him, the useless human, who's found a usefulness that he loves at last.

He mouthes the bulge of Spike's erection through the tough denim of the jeans, earning himself a choked cry and a hand shoved through his hair, careful not to pull or hurt. "So you like that?" he asks softly. He bites, ever so gently, then increases the pressure of his teeth. Spike doesn't need to breathe, but he begins to with the onslaught of this sweet torture.

"You know I do," comes the strained reply. "Get me out of these."

"Thought you had to hurry," Xander says, before snapping his teeth at the hard, so hard length straining to escape the vampire's jeans.

"I do. And so do you, before I embarrass myself like a mortal and come in my pants." Spike changes tactics and strokes Xander's scalp, fingers now running through the hair, now rubbing the skin in an imitation of what he's done before on different parts of the boy's body. "You don't want that, I'd wager. You'd rather have your mouth on me, myself. I'd rather be in you, feeling how hot your lips are taking me in, that lovely pressure when you swallow-"

Xander snaps again, this time catching the zipper in his teeth. He draws it down and then slithers up the length of his lover's body to catch the taut erection in his hand, to let Spike undo the belt and zipper of his own jeans. They join in a kiss that becomes almost frantic as they first fumble with each other's body, then find the sweet rhythm that matches the living man's heartbeat. It speeds as the friction becomes almost too much to bear, as they thrust against each other heedless of noises that they make or the words each one is groaning; such things don't matter when there's two bodies coming together.

They forget who is who as one uses the other's first salty drops to slick himself and encourages that one to lie down and allow him to slide onto his lover, let his lover in, to become one. Together, the same person almost, they come together again and again and again until there is an explosion of light and sound, and neither knows anything for what seems like blissful forever...

It's always as good as the first time for them.

Because they always know that it could be the last time, too.

But not yet, Xander hopes/prays/begs whatever might be out there.

Not the last time yet.


** VII **

Xander lies in the bed that he and his lover shared so brief a time ago. He is still nude, not having bothered to get up and put and clothes on. No - not having wanted to. He wants to stay put and drink in the scent that is uniquely Spike, cigarettes and leather and something ancient and indefinable, for as long as it lasts.

Smelling that, he can still hear the soft grunts and loud groans they made together as they celebrated their peculiar union. He laughs a little as he thinks of how horrified he would have been at the thought only a little while ago. Stupid. How much they missed, for so long.

He stretches his arms out, far as they will go, and draws them down the rumpled sheets, making angels. He thinks that perhaps they are like two angels, one fallen, one falling hard and fast.

Time passes; he's not sure how long. It doesn't matter. Idly, he draws pictures he doesn't look at in the cooling semen on his belly, and tastes it when he thinks to. Salt-sweet. Bitter sugar. Mixed and mingled
together. It's beautiful, just as it should be.

He laughs again, softly.

Already he's growing hard again. He doesn't have the recovery time his vampire lover has, and he's not as young as he once was (Giles would hoot to hear that - he would be one to take the news of their relationship better than most; Xander had always, somehow, wondered about Giles, and though he's still not privy to any old secrets, he thinks they must involve Ethan). But give him time, and he's ready again. And he wants again. He wants Spike back in his bed and his arms, arms made strong from hard work, a worthy match for the unliving one's whipcord musculature.

Spike has been gone now for what seems like an eternity to one not yet drunk on love, thirsting for more.

But wait - he thinks he hears footsteps outside, the slow and steady thump-thump-thump of footfall climbing the stairs to his apartment. His heartbeat quickens in time with it. Spike, it must be Spike, no one else would come at this time of night, they'd all be tucked in their beds or researching at the Magic Box, grinning indulgently at his obvious absence -

The door rattles, and a key slips into the lock. He closes his eyes in anticipation of bliss to come. It is Spike. Only he has the spare key.

He's too heady and lazy to get up and play their game. Instead, he lies still on the rumpled sheets, air conditioning playing over his bared body, and calls out: "What took you so long?"

"Same question I've been wondering," an entirely new - no, old, familiar - voice replies grimly, and Xander shoots up from the bed -

But it's too late by then.

** VIII **

They won't talk to Xander; they won't say how or what or most importantly, why they're doing this.

It's just Riley and ropes and a not-quite-stranger, a face that looks just familiar enough that it occupies Xander's mind in a bizarre way while the commandos tie him up, using the foot of the bed sanctified to him and Spike as a post.

They'd broken the one that he and Anya used, he remembers hazily, so Spike had chosen this one for its sturdy posts. "All the better for fun and games, love," he'd said with a broad wink, thoroughly humiliating the salesclerk to their secret, wicked delight. It had been a thing of beauty. Now it's ugly, used for something wrong, and Xander wonders if he'll ever be able to use it again.

Riley's face, made ugly with camoflauge paint, juts itself into Xander's view while he ties a gag around the man's mouth. "Cat got your tongue?" he asks almost jovially, not bothering to be quiet. "Sorry, forgot. A
vampire had it first."

Xander flashes him a glare, then sweeps his eyes over the man's body in disdain, over all the old scars that Riley picked up in the brothels, that he tried to hide with the green-and-gray paint and a heavy sweater. Xander still sees them. He bets that Riley blushes under his war cosmetics. "Things were different back then," the soldier says gruffly. "You all twisted the way I thought."

"His head's on straight now, though," the other soldier puts in. He cocks his rifle and lays it upright against the bed, against Xander, and comes to peer at him with an ugly grin. "Not yours." He shakes his head almost mournfully. "You know, I saw you in action when we cleared the Initiative. Dumbest thing I ever did, going along with your crazy plan. ADAM was off-track, but we could have fixed him. We could have carried on Walsh's dream, but your guys had to turn it into a bloodbath."

"Still," he says, calm as if they're talking about the news, "you showed a lot of promise. I could have almost thought you were one of us, the way you kept it together and cleared the place. Yeah..." his voice trails off. "You had a lot going for you. Then you fucked a vampire. A boy vampire. A wanted 'man'. Tsk, Harris, that's just wrong."

Xander closes his eyes. He had hoped it was just him, that they didn't really know all that much about Spike and his relationship, but now he understands too much. He's not the object in their game. He's just bait.

"See?" the other soldier asks Riley. "He's a smart one. Look at how he made the connection just then. I could see it in his face. He knows we're after the vampire."

Riley narrows his eyes. "Hostile 17."

"The goal: neutralize." The soldier's grinning, almost getting off on this, and Xander feels ill.

"Neutralize all the way to dust." Riley snorts. "How do you like that, Xander? As soon as he comes back here from his little raid on wherever, he's ours. And we plan on making him pay for what he's done." For showing Buffy what you'd been up to. For making you stop your little games. For being there for all of us when none of us appreciated - wanted - you around. For that, you'll kill him, Xander thinks, nauseated.
He'd vomit if it weren't for the gag, but instead chokes the bile back down.

"Graham! You second that?"

So now Xander has a name, for all the good it does him.

"Ohhhhh, yeah." Graham drags the exhalation out obscenely long, savoring the sound, the taste of it. Killing a vampire's almost got him hard, Xander can tell. Bastard. Sick bastard! He tries to glare out his threats, and all it gets him is a slap to the face.

"Watch it," Graham threatens. "You're just as good bait alive or dead."

And Xander can tell that he means it.

** IX **

Xander can't hold it in anymore; his stomach rebels against his will and the remnants of dinner come flooding up. Riley jerks the gag out just in time to stop him from choking to death on his own vomit, then shoves it back in.

The oversized soldier wrinkles his nose. "Yeah, I'd be sick too if I were you." He drags a finger through the past evidence of lovemaking on Xander's stomach, sullied now by bile and worse. "Think we should clean him up? He stinks, and he's going to get sticky."

"You planning on touching him much?"

"Not likely, Graham. Just wondered." Riley stands and moves sharply away.

Time passes.

Xander's been tied up for what seems like hours. He knows it's probably only been minutes. But listening to Graham and Riley joke and laugh about what they'll do to the vampire, knowing it'll all come down to just a simple stake through the heart when he tries to rescue his lover, it seems like forever.

He stares wildly, almost blindly, in front of him, mind working at a frantic pace. He has to warn Spike. There has to be a way. How?

Then he realizes he can just barely see the road that Spike will drive up from his position at the foot of the bed. Just barely see it.He struggles to keep the flash of hope from his eyes. If he can see Spike coming... maybe... just maybe...

Then he sinks in despair. Hope is hopeless. There's nothing he can do to warn his lover away from the danger.

He sags a little further... and the very tip of his hand brushes against Graham's rifle.

His head lifts. His eyes flare. Maybe there is a way, after all.

Part Two

** X **
There is no thought now in Xander's mind except for warning Spike. He has forgotten about escape - as if that were a possibility - and has become fixated on his sole purpose.

To his side, he vaguely hears Riley and Graham laughing and joking just as if they're at a party. He supposes that this is a party for them; a grand celebration. Give the vampire's nancy boy a good humiliating and give the vampire a grand dusting.

They don't matter anymore, except that they're irritating his ears. He doesn't care about his own life. Just saving Spike's.

He twists his hands inside the ropes that bind him. He turns his wrists this way and that, ignoring the harsh bite of the raw hemp that chafes him; ignores the blood that wells up first in blots, then in rivulets. The rope turns rusty-red, but he doesn't notice. He doesn't care about his own pain. Just about saving Spike.

He stretches and strains his wrists.

He bites at the gag until his teeth ache with white-hot fierceness.

No luck.


The rifle is still just within his reach, just close enough to touch, too far away to do anything with. Within his mind there had sprung up wild ideas of breaking his ropes, snatching the rifle, and putting a bullet through each one of the soldiers. He was possessed by a military man once, and underneath this stress he can feel that part of himself fighting its way to the surface. He would know how to aim, how to fire, just exactly right.

But he can't reach it.

Hours crawl by like years. Riley and Graham stop laughing and joking and start getting irritated that the vampire is taking so long. Two hours... three... four... and still Xander struggles. Why don't they notice? He realizes after a while that they are so confident in their own success that he's beneath their recognition now. You don't worry about the worm wriggling on the hook; he's not going to slip off and wiggle home.

Xander's hands are slick now with blood. It's almost midnight. He keeps struggling against the pain, against the crimson soaking the rope, against the thought that he won't be able to do anything, that Riley will win after all and that his beloved will be dust.



Just as he hears the clock strike midnight...

He touches it -

Just the tip -

But it's enough -

Just the tip of the trigger -

The rifle's trigger -

And a thought enters his mind -

** XI **

Xander stops his struggle with the cold metal of the trigger under his fingertip.

Oh, gods.

But it's the only way. The knots are too good for him to aim the rifle - anywhere else -

And he doesn't matter in his mind. Just Spike. Saving Spike's life is worth...

He won't do this like a coward. He stands up as straight and tall as he can with their bindings weighing him down. Riley glances his way, just a little suspiciously, but he can't see well in the darkness and, satisfied that Xander is still bound, looks back away toward the window. Towards the road that Spike will drive.

He stands still as he can. He won't risk drawing their attention again now that victory is so close at hand. Instead, he closes his eyes for just a moment and allows himself to think back, to remember other places and times...

Angel's offering him to Spike as a snack; the first time they met. Even then, the fear he felt was laced with a frisson of want, and he hadn't fought hard as he usually would. There was something about the blond
vampire that...

Lying to himself so successfully that he convinced himself he hated Spike. For years. Years on years. Until the vampire was forced to move into Xander's own living quarters, until he stayed so close every night that the human first became familiar with Spike's scent - and found himself missing it when it wasn't there, yearning for it instead of Anya's sweetly floral perfumes and body lotions, thinking of it when he came inside her soft, newly human body. Knowing he didn't want soft anymore; he wanted hard...

Hating himself so much after Dracula. Bug-eating wasn't the only thing that bastard had him do. Hating him until Spike came to him and showed him that he didn't have to; more important, that he didn't have to hate himself... that he still had a heart to love with... and a blond vampire with pleading blue eyes to absorb all the love that he had to give...

Their first night together, unplanned, unexpected - before then he would have said unwanted - but so perfect in its own way. There was doubt and fear and a little pain, but so much love that it washed the badness away on a tidal wave of healing when their bodies met as one.

The first time he had felt what it was like to have another man's full erection touch his own, leaking drops of clear, salty pre-come...

The first time he had taken that member into his mouth and found for himself that it was salty, salty and sweet and so good...

The first time he had slid into Spike and heard his hoarse yells and groans as a reward, and known that this, this was where he belonged, for as long as the both of them lived...

He straightens. It has been a good life he's had in the past few months, and an even better love. He won't betray that by being a coward. Anything that he can do to warn Spike - he will do.

He will not count the cost to himself.

All he has to do now is wait.

Wait until -

** XII **

He hears it.

He hears it.

The sound of Spike's car.

So far in the distance.

It could be just any car. But it's not. Xander knows every knock and groan of that ancient engine.

He steals a glance at Riley and Graham. They look bored. Can it be that they don't hear it? How can they not hear it?

The car draws closer. Spike is inside, he knows, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he drives with one hand, the other one busy holding and lighting another smoke. If he were a human he'd be cancer-riddled, but vampire healing must keep his lungs pink and pure regardless, Xander finds himself thinking absurdly, with strange clarity.

The car draws closer. Now, now Graham and Riley hear it. Xander senses the sudden tension in their muscles as much as he sees them exchange a quick glance and stand, one to face the door, one to open the window and face the parking lot. Both have rifles in one hand and a stake in the other. It will soon be over for Spike, Xander thinks, unless he has the courage of his own convictions.

He closes his eyes for a moment and takes in a lusty breath.

He can do this.

For Spike... he can do this.

And he will.

And he --

** XIII **

For Spike he can do this.

He can.

And he does.

He leans against the spare rifle so dangerously close to his side. Riley's at the window with a gun, Graham's at the door with a stake. Either way. It's over.


Now -

The rifle's angled just right. One bullet. That's all he'll need.


Now -

His finger's on the trigger. One bullet. It'll be quick.


Now -

Because he hears the groan-squeak of Spike's car door opening.

He shuts his eyes.

Mouthes the words, I love you.


Now -

He yells wordlessly with all the strength he has left. Hopes he'll be heard outside. Hopes that Riley and Graham can't react fast enough. Yells to Spike a wordless warning.

Then it's all over.

Now -

And the sound of the rifle going off shatters the night.

** XIV **

And so Spike runs. Common sense tells him to stay, so on a level he doesn't know why he runs. 'Cept maybe because he heard Xander's yell, and sensed the warning in it. They've been up against things before that took more than he and the human to defeat, and it seems clear to him that this must be one of them.

His mind spins fast as his car's tires as he drives frantically. Xander has a gun, left-over from Anya's time. He must have shot at the - whatever - and stopped it for long enough to warn Spike not to come in.

He knows not to doubt his lover. There are things out there bad enough that a vampire shouldn't face them. It took Xander many stern lectures, often ending in laughter and sex, to teach Spike that even he had his limits. Sunshine lamps. Fire. Even stakes, if he's not aware. And around Xander, his head clouds; he's near soppy as the poet he used to be.

He heads for the dormitories, for Glinda and Red, because they're the closest to his Xander's apartment building. Not the Slayer. They're not on terms for that. Xander's working on their reconciliation, but it's just not happened yet.

He doesn't phone, doesn't think to. All he can think of is bringing out the cavalry fast as he can.

But when he gets there...

From outside he can see the bursts of magickal light and the explosions as they hit - something. But whatever it is, there aren't any shouts warning him away.

So he's out of the car like the bat from Hell that he is and up the Stevenson stairs - almost laughing at himself - off to the rescue. Because. Because they're his Xander's friends, and thus he owes them fealty. Or some such shite.

He doesn't expect what he finds.

Red is tearing around the room on a rampage. Her eyes have gone dark with the magick she's using in some fit of grief and rage, and they're swollen with tears that keep on coming, sliding down her cheeks in a salt torrent. The room stinks of unripe strawberries, the scent of Red's power, almost choking even him who doesn't have to breathe.

That's bad enough. What's worse is that Glinda's crying too, in her weary, quiet way, making ineffectual grabs at Red as she flings wild, impotent handfuls of magick fire that should make the world explode but - don't.

Red sees him and screams, a shriek from the heart that almost turns him into dust where he stands. "You," she seems to be saying amidst her sobs, "Should've been you! You they wanted. You, you, you-"

She pulls back her arm, ready to hurl something at Spike, but gentle Glinda jumps between them. "No, sweetie, don't, don't," she soothes, wrestling Red's hands down. Red bursts into fresh tears and collapses on the other witch's shoulder. "Don't. Xander wouldn't have wanted this. Please, for me, calm down."

That's the words that set ice to churning in him. "Xander," he says, voice dangerous. "What's gone wrong with Xander?"

Glinda looks up - hesitates - then sags against her sobbing lover. Her lover that's intact in her arms.

And she tells him.

** XV **

He's destroying his car as he tears up the miles between the university and Xander's apartment. He doesn't care. Losing Cecily wasn't like this. Losing Dru wasn't anything like this.

Least he knew they were still alive.

But now -

It's all over, now.

He leans out the car window, shrieking curses at the sky, at the night, at the Initiative, at what he thinks right now is an unseeing, unforgiving, unloving god who took his Xander away from him. He turned his back on that god in trade for his own unlife, and now he rages against him for not protecting one that was still his own.

Daft bastard! He pounds the steering wheel as fresh gouts of tears catch him off guard, near to shredding his chest with choking on them. Daft bastard... why'd you have to... should have been me! Why?

He's there before he knows it, and he crashes his car deliberately into the front of the building. Wakes up the neighbors, them that haven't been roused by the ambulance sirens or the frantic superintendent, or the reporters and cops already gathering like flies. Snickering or looking sick, depends on how jaded they are.

He knows who must have been behind this, and he hopes they've got the Initiative assholes cuffed away in the back of one of those Black Marias.

No, he hopes they don't. He wants his own revenge.

He soars from the car, a dark angel, fallen and falling, ready to exact that revenge -

- and then -

- the sound of a string twanging, a crossbow string -

- there's a soft _shush_ through the air -

- only one second of pain -

** XVI **

They can't rent that apartment any more. Haunted, the tenants say, usually on their hurried way out, hauling suitcases and half-done packing boxes behind them. One of the spirits is gentle and doesn't seem to mind them being there, so much, but they can't bear the sounds of his panicked breathing as midnight draws close. And if they stay beyond that, the second spirit begins to curse at some. Some have seen things fly across the room, then, as if he's in a jealous rage at their presence in the room.

And then there are the times when you hear the two voices together, murmuring, moaning, gasping, as if they're making love. Prudes and homophobes can only hear that they are two men's voices, not the love therein, and they leave too.

Eventually Willow takes the apartment, and Tara moves in with her, natural as breathing. The voices calm with the presence of the familiar, although they don't stop their routine altogether, and it gives both women an odd sense of comfort to listen to them as they work via e-mail and satellite with Angel to bring the Initiative down once and for all.

One day, they'll succeed.

But often, until then, Willow goes outside and stands on the balcony. If she closes her eyes, she can see a car powering its way up the drive, and smell the cigarette smoke. The voices swirl about her head, loving and true.

Spike's voice. Xander's voice.

She'll get vengeance for them.

Some day. Soon.

And until then, she listens to the highwayman and his own true love, meeting yet. She listens to true love, and hopes that they will find peace.

She thinks they will.

Some day.


The End

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