The rising sun woke Spike. He wasn’t sure how it happened but every morning and evening, like the World Clock at Greenwich, Spike’s internal alarm went off and told him that the world indeed had turned on its axis and exposed or hidden the constant sun.
Normally, though, sun exposure meant sleep. He wriggled further into the hot nest and pressed his nose into the warm pillow before he remembered that today, sunrise meant battle. He growled and banged his face in protest against the pillow.
“Ow,” said a voice about six inches from his ear. “Your nose is pointy.”
Every nerve in Spike’s body flicked on as if he were a string of lights. “Huh,” he said into what he now realized was the poly of Xander’s shirt and the warm, musky muscle of Xander’s shoulder. His awareness flew down his body, checking each point in the series as if he were a Vegas sign. Where were his hands, he thought crazily, and his legs? Calmly he drew his palms, which seemed safely full of material and nothing else, towards his own body. One knee, he could tell by how cold it was, was pressed into the mattress. The other knee; Spike rocked slightly backwards and felt his kneecap hit something hard, like bone. His other knee was wedged between Harris’ legs. He froze.
“Rrhaaaerrrr,” yawned Xander hugely, stretching his arms over his head and shaking his legs free of Spike. He appeared not to notice his companion desperately scrambling away from him and off the bed. Xander sat up in the dark, rubbing the hair back and forth on the top of his head and smacking his gummy lips. “Cold. Thirsty. Gotta pee. Wow, its like perpetual camping isn’t it?” He rolled and slid sideways to the floor, found his feet and stood swaying and scratching. “Used to like camping a lot, took James and …” Xander stopped as if struck.
Spike was lighting the fire. “Yer shoes are by the door, Harris,” he said helpfully. He turned and saw Xander standing in an apparent daze in the middle of the floor. “Go on, go on, go do yer disgustin’ human functions and I’ll get the place warmed up for you.” He waited a second. “Harris?”
Xander sat down hard again on the palette bed. “James.”
“Ah.” Spike didn’t know what to do. Angel had spoken about Connor, of course. At length. And Spike had watched humans and their children for centuries now. He understood the significance of the relationship. But he couldn’t feel it. He may have once, in that other time before he was turned, had vague romanticized thoughts about fatherhood, but those memories had entirely faded. And he had never had a creation of his own body to protect and nurture. So he just didn’t feel it.
“I guess,” said Xander slowly, “of course you think they will go on after you and of course he did…” He exhaled in an almost laugh. “Except somehow it doesn’t seem like it, since I’m here. And he isn’t.”
Spike wished he could think of something to say.
“I wonder how he… Oh. Fuck.” Xander sat, hands clasped between knees, head bowed.
“Harris?” Spike approached him slowly.
“I’m okay, Spike,” said Xander, head still bowed. He sighed. “Just … just give me a minute to adjust, alright?”
Spike nodded and watched the mortal steering around this new emotional orange cone. The fire was cranking up in the stove and he slipped on a mitt and tried to close the door silently.
“He was a good kid,” said Xander after a while. He still gazed at a place off in space. “He was gonna be a great dad. My grandson…” He stilled and Spike watched as the vehicle took out the next cone and skidded to a stop.
Xander flailed in the dark. Yes, he was seated solidly on a hard palette, his fingers wrapped around the edges, gripping, his feet planted on the cold floor, but he felt himself like a spectral sheet suspended in space, jerking madly at each corner.
And then the arms were around him, silky, cool, vampire arms again. And the memory of their comfort turned him thoughtlessly into the embrace.
“There, there,” said Spike, awkwardly patting Xander’s back with the flat of his hand. Xander clung to him, his whole body stiff as if caught in a permanent gasp. He shuddered all over, then stiffened again. Shuddered all over. Spike hugged him harder, patted. What did one do with them when they came apart like this? He had never known.
He wished that, when the Powers delivered them, they would slip in a little envelope of instructions. The Care and Use of Humans or some such. He patted and was relieved when the shuddering became more constant and he once again smelled the tears. Xander rolled his cheek against his shoulder and Spike lay his head instinctively against the side of Xander’s, still murmuring ‘there, there’ and patting.
Time in the tent melted into nothing. Xander’s sobs eventually abated, but he still lay against Spike’s shoulder. Spike stopped patting or even speaking, kept rocking, and occasionally still squeezing the now relaxing body. Rolling his cheek against the warm silky hair, he turned his mouth into it, slid down.
It was instinctive. Spike was in comfort mode. Holding a body. Suddenly soft wet lips so near his mouth. He merely pressed his lips chastely to them and Xander shot straight up in the air, legs and arms and a well-aimed foot catching Spike hard in the shin.
“Hey,” yelped Spike, as Xander’s fist clipped his chin. He grabbed the offending fist, held it fast. “Hey!” snatching Xander’s other fist from the air as it arced towards him. “What the fuck, mate?”
“You kissed me!”
“I did not!” Spike stared. Blinked. Remembered lips. “Not really,” he amended. He noticed he was still gripping both Xander’s wrists as the furious human attempted to both pull free and kick him in the crotch. He shoved him away. Pointedly wiped his lips with his sleeve. “That wasn’t a kiss, you idiot.”
“Your lips were on my mouth!” Xander said, still bouncing with agitation. Pointing at the offending lips.
Spike made a derisive noise. “Not a kiss.”
“Lips and mouth, Spike,” yelled Xander, dancing about.
Spike stilled. “Not,” he said. He considered Xander for a minute, strode forward, grabbed his arms again.
“And not…not…” Xander pulled at him, tried that trick with his knee again, but Spike merely took advantage of his superior strength, clasped the helpless boy firmly against him, wrapped the fingers of his other hand around the back of Xander’s neck, pulled his face forward and kissed him, soundly, wetly, and with as much tongue as he could. Then jumped back, grinning.
“That was a kiss, whelp,” said Spike, bouncing on his toes, grinning at the staring boy. He puckered his lips at Xander. And smooched the air. “Wanna ‘nother?” he teased.
Xander’s eyes widened further, then narrowed to slits of black, he advanced on Spike, pointedly brushed right past him, swooped sideways to grab his shoes and pushed violently out through the tent door.
Spike danced on his toes, still grinning. He touched his mouth, and stilled. His brows lowered. Angel came marching into the tent, looking off to his left as he came in. “What’s with him, now?” He took in Spike in one sweeping look. “You’re not ready.”
“Had ta sort out the brat,” said Spike, dropping his fingers from his mouth and looking thoughtful.
Angel sighed. “Get your gear, Spike. We still have to take Xander down to the village and we’re running late.”
Spike snatched up his shirt and began dressing hurriedly. “Down to the village?”
“He can’t stay here alone. And in case… well, he needs something.”
In case we don’t come back. In case the demons attack and there is no defense available. At least the kid wouldn’t die alone. Spike nodded solemnly. “Yeah, in case he needs somethin’.” He grabbed the weapons harness Angel had carried in for him, slung it over his shoulders and cinched it tight. Strode over to the tent flap, flung it open. “Harris!” he bellowed into the chill, wet air.
“How do you say, ‘thank you’ again?” Xander trotted behind Spike and Angel down the path. He was desperately combing his fingers through his matted, stringy hair. Tucking in his shirt and repeating the phrases to himself.
“I told ya, whelp, ‘Denke’.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Denke, Dia Dao, Blumenta,” Xander enumerated to himself. “Er, blumenta or blumeen?” He caught up closer to Spike. “Which was it, Spike?”
“I suggest hand signals,” Angel put in dryly. “Easier to remember.”
Xander trotted behind them for a few minutes, sulking. Then, “Okay, except, how do you say ‘I gotta use the facilities’?” And at Spike’s amused and questioning look, “Well, I don’t want to have to use hand signals for that!”
Angel had stopped, now, outside a residence just next to the town gates. “Dahla knows a bit of Ancient English,” he said. “Her accent may sound odd, but I’m sure you’ll be able to indicate your basic needs.”
“Dahla?” Xander jittered nervously, as Angel knocked on the plate of fiberglass like material that appeared to be the door.
“She’s the doctor I told you about, Xan,” said Spike. He looked around the village. Curious eyes were peeking out here and there. The kid was in for a major group grope while they were gone. “Just remember the taboos,” he couldn’t resist it. Xander looked so completely flummoxed and Spike was still twisting a bit that the kid was so angry about his little slip. “Don’t kiss anybody.” He stuck his tongue between his teeth and grinned at Xander wickedly.
Xander didn’t appear to take the bait. He looked at Spike with some solemnity. Those tactile eyes of his stepped over Spike’s face thoughtfully. He opened his mouth. But Spike never heard what Xander had been about to say because the door swung open and the doctor was standing there. Xander turned. “Oh,” he breathed. “Dia Dao,” he said.
Great green eyes, long black lashes, a tiny woman with very, very white skin, like the stem of one of those plants that grows on the floor of a deep forest. Her thick black hair plaited in complex braids and beads all over her head. A very thin complicated swirling tattoo traveled from just behind one ear, down her neck, disappearing beneath the neckline of a glittering white polyester silk top. “*welcome*” she said.
Dahla had eyes like Xander’s, seeming almost to touch the things they rested on, but hers were filled with a kind of wisdom. One saw the thought following the touch. And the thought always seemed to lead to sadness. Her eyes took in Xander as his took in her and she smiled gently. Stepped back for them to enter.
Angel, apparently, did not need an invitation. Xander followed in a trance. Spike hung outside, leaning in the doorway, hands in pockets. He had been inside the doctor’s house many times but he suddenly felt disinclined to enter. A mysterious irritability and eagerness to move suffused him. “Hurry up, now, Angel,” he said.
Dahla bent to pull a chair closer to the fire and Xander leapt to help her. Spike twisted his face away and looked up and down the street again. “It’s gettin’ late,” he announced to the room behind him.
He heard Angel coming back towards the door, pushed off and headed down the path without looking back. Dahla and Angel exchanging the farewell words and then Xander’s voice.
Spike turned, eyebrows arched in affected surprise. The boy was leaning out the doorway, hair falling into his face. He raised a palm to his mouth, kissed it and blew the kiss, dark eyes dancing, in Spike’s direction. “Good luck,” called Xander, waving his fingers in an effeminate manner. He rested against the doorjamb and folded his arms across his chest. His face became ineffably solemn. “Come back soon,” he said.
Spike grinned, nodded, turned, hopped forward a little on the path, and settled his pack firmly again to the center of his back. He found himself still grinning and shook his head as Angel fell into step beside him. “Idiot boy,” he said.
Angel smiled to himself.
Xander had seen a painting once of The Lady of Shalott. A tragic Arthurian heroine, Willow had explained, who died of love for Lancelot. In the picture, she lay in white damask in a boat, her blond hair trailing, with her hand in the water as she drifted down a river. Her face was very pale and very sad. She was actually an elfin queen in the older stories, Willow had told him. A faeirie who died because she had dared to love a mortal.
Dahla reminded Xander of the lady of Shalott. She wasn’t blonde, but she was pale and fragile. The long white dress was clinging and shiny, not rich damask, but it wrapped around her elegantly and the sleeves draped over the arms of the bizarre, carved stone chair she sat in, like a medieval lady’s sleeves.
Xander thought he should be sitting at her feet playing a lute. It made him, therefore, feel twice as clumsy and stupid. Dahla indicated an earthen looking stool and Xander perched on it, hands clasped uncomfortably between his knees. She sat back and regarded him. He smiled nervously, looking round the room.
The light in the room was a cool blue, as if from a fluorescent bulb. It shone on walls hung with a gauzy material, covered in patterns of color. A low row of shelves along one wall held very delicate looking vases and bowls. There were no photographs, no paintings or pictures. No books that he could see. Dahla rose and lifted one vase from the shelf, she rotated it gently with one hand and poured the contents into the palm of her hand. Small, pearly beads. She lifted a bowl and placed the beads into it. Smoke whisped up, and the air was filled with the scent of vanilla.
“Oh,” said Xander, nervously. “Incense, huh? That’s nice.”
They sat there for some time. The scent made Xander think of his grandmother’s kitchen. An easy, uncomplicated feeling seeped into him.
After a while Dahla stood again and approached him. One slim hand reached out and gently touched the raw vampire bite on his throat. Xander flamed red and looked away. But Dahla captured his chin in her hand and turned his face back. She pulled at the collar of her dress, turning her head strangely until Xander looked closely and saw the telltale white scar.
“Oh,” he said. The hand on his face was warm, Dahla was breathing. Not a vampire then. “You were attacked?” She looked at him quizzically. He frowned thinking. Made a growly face with bared teeth and claws. Then indicated her throat again.
Her eyes rested on him in wonder, then she laughed. A silvery bell-like laugh. She shook her head. “Naya,” she said, still laughing. “Es Angela,” she smiled. Pressed both hands to her heart. “Angela,” she said in that musical voice.
Oh, you have got to be kidding me, thought Xander.
“D’ya think the whelp will be alright?” Spike mulled out loud.
He and Angel had reached the thickest part of the wood and were slowly pulling apart the wet black branches that blocked their path. The trees were so damp, that their branches felt like roots, clinging and sticky. Spike swiped his hands distastefully across his trousers for the hundredth time.
“Those people will seem so strange to him, you don’t think he’ll do a runner again, do ya?”
“Dahla will make sure he stays calm,” said Angel distractedly, tearing two small branches free of each other.
“What?” Spike straightened and looked hard at Angel. “She gonna do one of those elven magics on him, ‘cuz I don’t think he’ll appreciate that much.”
“Dahla isn’t elven,” said Angel automatically.
“What you say, but I can’t help but wonder,” muttered Spike. A branch had wrapped itself around his trousered calf. It stuck as if it were attached by tiny tentacles. He stopped and bent to work it free.
Angel waited patiently for him. “I’d know if she were not human,” he said in a sad voice.
Spike shook his head in exasperation, still plucking away at the sticky branchlet. “Just ‘cuz they taste human doesn’t make it so, Angel. I still think it’s a mite odd them showing up like they did. This one little group of humans.”
“I’m telling you, Spike, I’d know.”
Spike straightened and studied his hand just to avoid meeting Angel’s eye. There were subjects that the years had taught them to avoid. He shrugged, dropping it, and pushed forward.
“What do you care what Dahla does to Harris, anyway?” Angel pushed along beside him, tramping the branches down with his feet. “Personally, I’m rather enjoying seeing Xander Harris out of his depth.”
“Bet you are,” said Spike. He tore loose a branch and tossed it to the ground, close enough to Angel that it bounced and landed on his foot. “Bet you enjoyed it…” he stopped, a wave of anger surprising him. He turned slowly, there in the damp muggy wood, and faced Angel in a confrontational posture he hadn’t assumed in over a hundred years.
Even after the last apocalypse, finding themselves possibly alone together in the remains of a world of ash and darkness, Spike and Angel had still had their rivalry, their long-standing jealousy. So many issues; the lost shanshu, love, revenge.
Where had they been? That last day of the earth? Ireland, Spike thought vaguely. He believed they had been in Ireland. He remembered as through a veil of impressions, like a patient coming out of the anesthesia, standing on a burial mound glaring down at Angel’s dark wet head, the older vampire howling with grief. And Spike just wishing to pick up the great cap stone and throw it down onto the suffering hero. Just to finally shut him up.
And of course it had been Spike, who took the first steps towards reconciliation. Angel was too far gone, too buried in that place he hid when suffering. Spike, loud and demonstrative and shouting into the teeth of the storm, broke through the pain and found himself shoulder to shoulder with a broken hero.
He looked at the remains of that hero now. Standing in the lowering dusk of, perhaps, the last days of mankind. Angel was speaking to himself in Italian again, quoting that weird old poet of his. “You thirsted after blood; with blood I fill you,” Angel said a bit louder. He turned back towards Spike and he had a touch of the vision madness in his eyes.
Sometimes, thought Spike irritably, he thought Angel knew exactly how his weakness affected Spike. How it dissuaded Spike from disagreeing with him or resisting his wants. He narrowed his eyes. “Angel, you know what that did to him? He was ready to…” Spike paused. Perhaps Angel was only confused, or perhaps he was truly enjoying his little game with Xander, but Spike suddenly felt disinclined to tell Angel how violently his bite had affected Harris. His anger dissipated like smoke. “Just leave him alone now, Angel,” he finished lamely.
“What?” Angel straightened a bit. “Maybe, next time, he should come to you.” Spike felt the unfamiliar anger surge up again.
“What are you talking about? What… what are we sharing him like some…” Blank desire, overwhelming in its power, washed through Spike’s brain at the thought of biting Harris. He shook physically as if he could shake off the confusion this caused as well. He stomped and glared at Angel. “Next time?” a flurry of thoughts, emotions, a reaction that if it had stood alone and slowed down Spike would have recognized as jealousy. “No! No more of that Angel. It was a mistake. It’s not.. not what he’s here for.”
“We don’t know what he’s here for,” pointed out Angel, suddenly reasonable. He turned, pushing down the last of the obstructing branches, and looked out over the dark plain that now was spread before them. Spike distastefully tossed aside the remaining clinging branches and stepped up beside Angel, scoping out their pending battlefield.
"Con tanta sospeccion fa irmi novella visãon ch'a sé mi piega,sì ch'io non posso dal pensar partirmi." said Angel, sounding so lost and alone that Spike instinctively put a hand on his shoulder. *1
Across a damp, Moorish plain, bits of mossy green pricking out highlights on the dark mud, the unnatural glow of the demon camp reached towards their vantage point.
Across the sky, the grayish turbulent undersides of clouds could be seen rolling and boiling as the puny light of the rising sun temporarily spread from the horizon. Spike and Angel stepped back unhurriedly behind the trees as the light surged weakly once in the sky, then winked out.
Across the field, movement around the various small structures. In the brief death of sunrise, Angel and Spike had been able to see a cliff’s edge somewhat beyond the demons’ camp. Now long bolts of sunlight, almost white in their purity, could be seen poking through the masses of clouds that hung over the valley beyond.
“Fingers of God,” whispered Angel.
“Holy Shit,” said Spike reverently.
“Yes, pretty much. Dahla told me about them.”
“Dahla did?” Spike glanced sideways at his Sire, opened his mouth with the immediate question. Closed it. Saw in his mind’s eye Xander’s besotted face as he followed the small woman into her house. Felt a surge of the new blood rise uncharacteristically to his cheeks. “So you and her still havin’ those private meetings?” he growled, switching his gaze to the sodden ground.
“Dahla and I are in love,” said Angel pompously to the person with whom he regularly had sex.
“Right.” Spike ground his teeth and looked across the field, a great weariness settling in his chest. He watched the activities afield for a scant moment and was distracted once again from his personal issues
“’s that fire they have there?”
“Doesn’t seem to be,” said Angel uneasily.
“Don’t fancy trying out any demonic sunlight, Angel.”
Angel didn’t answer, he pulled the ultraviolet deterrent hood of his shirt up over his head. Spike did the same. Then slouched unhappily. “Powers didn’t say nothin’ about this?”
“No.” Angel began finding his way stealthily around the periphery of the forest, edging towards the encampment. “And I’m sure I would have been told if there was immediate danger.”
“Right,” said Spike. “Same time they told you why we need to bring these humans here. Same time they told you what the fuck…” He stopped, stared intently at the encampment once more. “They’re movin’ about Angel. I think it’s started.”
Angel raised his hand in an imperious demand for silence, and stopped, listening.
Spike mumbled one more quiet protestation, as a matter of form. He wouldn’t have been able to say when it had become clear that Angel was the Captain and leader of their little centuries’ long adventure in world saving, and Spike his first mate. Or when he had begun to acquiesce so easily to many of Angel’s decisions. But he felt protest necessary on occasion, just to be clear. This was a choice for him, he didn’t have to do this.
Angel looked back over his shoulder. His eyes beneath the crackling, metallic hood were alert. He waved a hand expressively, with an odd twist of the fingers that was part of the silent code he and Spike had developed.
“You go that way, I’ll come around the rear,” said Angel’s fingers. Spike looked in the direction in which he was being sent. The weird light was spanning back and forth across the ground there, occasionally lifting to reach in an arcing, all-encompassing flare illuminating an expanse of the forest beyond. He shook his head vigorously.
“Bugger off,” said his fingers very clearly. It was an old symbol and one they hadn’t needed to invent.
Angel dropped his arm and glared his irritation at Spike. Spike folded his arms and glared back his determination at Angel.
“So what do you think we should do?” said Angel’s fingers with an exasperated snappishness to them.
Angel had been watching the camp muster as they had been speaking and was already moving off towards the left, pulling a bizarrely rigged crossbow from the pack across his back. Spike followed him.
The light that the demons trained across the field was apparently not ultraviolet in nature, as several noticeably vampiric soldiers could be seen standing directly in front of a huge spot, conversing and pointing at the brackish forest beyond.
Spike thought it might be nice, if they survived, to bring one of those spotlights back to Xander. Let him figure out how it worked, maybe.
He fell in behind Angel as the elder vampire circled carefully behind the camp and slipped below the rim of the cliff behind. A large and very alert guard snapped to a straighter stance and whirled to face them, but Angel took him out with a swift punch before he could raise a cry. Spike slid ahead of him and broke open the skulls of two additional sentries even as they had just registered the odd sound of feet scrabbling behind them. He and Angel quickly shoved the unconscious demons over the cliff and looked about them. There seemed no other rear guard.
Creeping very very quietly up to the edge of a steep path, and peering towards the back of the camp, they utilized their sign language again to discuss the battle plan.
“They are going to go up the right face,” commented Angel, waving towards a small group gathering gear to the right of the camp. From their vantage point they could see the tall cliffs that led to the beginning of the human’s realm. It was steep clay and coal and difficult to climb, especially if defended from above, so there was undoubtedly a plan to dispense with the early warning sentries. What the demons didn’t know was that the Powers that Be had already warned them and that the sentries crouched behind their camp, watching their movements.
“We should let them go, finish them last,” signed Angel.
Spike waved his fingers to indicate disagreement. “If it takes us too long, they’ll head straight for the town.”
“Dahla has prepared the village,” said Angel calmly.
Spike watched the small group as they shared out rope and grappling hooks. A group of about thirty or more, consisting of vampires and Vespat demons. The Vespat demons were eight foot tall, at the shortest, heavily muscled, with skin like thick rubber tires. “There must be another way,” his fingers pleaded.
“We’ll just have to be quick,” signed Angel with that dispassionate expression of his.
Spike set his jaw, adjusted his pack and checked the crossbow he carried. “Okay then,” he signed at Angel. “Let’s go for it then.”
They waited, as only creatures who have lived centuries can. Unmoving, crouched in the silting gray darkness, until the group across the field had risen on the cliff to the side that was out of site of the camp.
Spike imagined that the group had some sort of signal they would dispense when their objective had been reached. He figured that the camp would muster and move out when the signal went off.
He signed this opinion to Angel who nodded. If they waited until then, they would have a better chance of taking the disorganized and stretched apart demons out one at a time. But that would close the window of time between their attack and their ability to rush behind the fore guard and destroy them before they approached the village.
“We’ll wait,” signed Angel finally. Spike nodded unhappily. It was the best plan. He found that Xander’s face as he leant out the doorway, solemnly bidding him goodbye, rose in his mind’s eye. It made him feel a kind of base level anger and determination. Something he could dig his toes into and propel himself forward from. It gave him a reason to fight these bastards. He bounced infinitesimally on the balls of his feet. Lack of circulation was a blessing when one had to crouch unmoving in the cold for this long. Angel glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. Spike had that battle glow in his eye, that eager hunger flickering over his face. It was something he hadn’t seen in the other vampire for many years. He wondered what had engendered it.
Finally, the camp disassembled, the troops milling, a comet of the same nature as the spotlights flew through the air. The camp immediately jumped alive and spread across the field before them, heading for the far cliffs.
Angel and Spike sprang to their feet and ran to the left and the right, crossbows firing into the center of the camp.
They had counted on the confusion that their attack would cause. And it worked. Spike had counted at least twenty fallen demons, before their companions began to register an attack. He had reloaded the machine-gun like band of bolts into his weapon and shot another twenty before any kind of rallying cry was heard in the camp. To his right, an answering shout and he glanced that way long enough to see that Angel had cut a swath between the dispersed troops and those still remaining encamped. He was plowing his way though those demons. Obviously those that remained were meant for Spike. The counter in Spike’s head told him the odds were about fifty to one. That he had another four rounds of bolts wrapped around his shoulders. That the fifty now armed and screaming as they attacked demons did not look at all happy.
He shot off the last round into the approaching throng. Took out another ten. Turned and ran, spun, ran back and shot right past the front line of attack, pulling his double headed axe out as he ran. He spun about again and began attacking from the center of the group.
Angel and Spike were the oldest demons still walking the earth. And it did seem there was a certain magic to aging amongst vampires. Or maybe it was just the weakening of the blood that the newer vamps took. Spike had the advantage of strength and speed over the other vamps and was quite able to destroy them with little effort.
Those that survived the initial onslaught withdrew quickly and headed for a tent. The counter in Spike’s mind told him to watch out for crossbolts in about two minutes. That gave him two minutes to take out the remaining twenty or so Vespat demons.
He whirled and sliced, running and turning back, using his smaller, more agile and faster body to confuse them as he darted forward and back delivering what he hoped were lethal blows with the whistling battle axe.
Distantly he heard demons screaming. The sound was filled with pain and rage. He couldn’t spare a second to glance in Angel’s direction, but he knew that if he heard a shout of victory, he would be alone in this battle.
Sudden vicious pain ripped up his left leg and pierced his abdomen and chest. He looked down as he fell and saw the row of crossbolts there. He forced himself beyond the pain, a skill he had honed over centuries, and rolled as his traitor leg would not hold his weight.
He forced himself to his feet, the short sword from his belt now in his hand, holding the encroaching eight remaining Vespat demons at bay. He spared the time to look around desperately for the position of the owner of the crossbow. Happily, wood was so scarce that bolts were not plentiful and the shooter would most likely find a better position before he shot again, to save precious ammunition.
But, surrounded by unfamiliar structures, and feeling quite assuredly herded in a particular direction by the surrounding enemy, he imagined the shooter would be in an optimum position very shortly. He used a mental technique Angel had taught him. Controlled the muscles in his injured leg fiercely, crouched and sprang over the encircling demons, hit the ground, rolled and found cover behind a polyester and tubing type structure.
The anger and dismay in the voices that followed told him the surprised demons had not seen where he had gone.
More silent than air, his feet ran the circumference of the structure he hid behind. He peered out and saw the Vespat, and the small group of vampires, standing flummoxed. Their silhouettes clear in the glare of one of the spots. The odds were now about thirteen to one. He reached behind his right shoulder, dropped the crossbow into his left arm, released its safety and began firing with a practiced, silent ease. The visible vampires fell while the Vespat demons whirled in shock.
But Spike had already run behind another structure. He quickly approached the spotlight. Its glare was blinding. Running up behind it, he fired his remaining ammunition into the light-blinded faces of the Vespat. Some of them were so thick skinned the bolts just bounced off. They stumbled blindly and bravely towards the spotlight. Spike took advantage of their light induced slowness, and drew two long knives from the belt across his chest. Each found its mark, buried deep in the throat of a Vespat demon. Six to one, said the now cocky counter in Spike’s mind. And he heard a crossbolt trigger engage behind him.
It was the sound Spike had always imagined would be the last one he ever heard. Oddly, though, he was still standing there thinking half a second after he heard it. He turned slowly and looked into the pleased face of the vampire that held the crossbow.
He and Angel were probably fairly famous, thought Spike oddly, waiting to become dust. The demon’s face was pleased and arrogant but also somewhat awed. He was about to destroy the famous whatever-the-heck they called Spike. It was a weird thought to have just before being sent to Hell. And then, even more oddly, Spike saw once again Xander’s face. And he felt strangely sorry.
The arrogance in front of him burst into a shower of dust. The dust cascaded down to reveal a bloody, muddy Angel with an equally arrogant expression on his face, and a crossbow in his arms. Spike reflected that hubris seemed to be a standard in demons, whether they fought for the light or the dark. The two who fought for the light stood regarding one another for a minute, as silence settled around them.
Spike was very surprised to find himself glad to be alive. Or still undead. He grinned and smeared mud across his filthy face with his sleeved arm. “’Bout time, old man,” he said softly.
“Oh, I thought I’d watch for a while. See if you were getting any better at all this. Sadly, you are just as sloppy as ever, Spike.” Angel was grinning. Spike noted the thick blood oozing from his throat. He gestured.
“You up for the next phase?”
Angel felt at his wound. Shrugged and tore off a bit of sleeve with a claw. Tied it around his throat. Spike grinned. Angel now looked like the ghost of a man garroted for some crime.
Xander imagined he felt a bit like Dorothy might have in the Land of Oz. Dahla had led him to a larger building. Literally led, he might add, as he simply could not adjust to the absolute darkness in this place and had had to stumble behind her, gripping her small, cool hand.
As they entered the building, the light in the place almost blinded him. Squinting his bedazzled eyes he made out the group of small folk standing in utter silence gazing at him. He waved a hand. They gazed back. Dahla pronounced something weird in that rapid musical language of hers and the tiny pale folk bowed.
Xander stood flummoxed for a second, glanced at Dahla for guidance. Then bowed back. A murmur rippled through the little group. Xander glanced again at Dahla and saw her eyes tilted up with a kind of sad amusement.
One of the persons approached him and hesitantly held out a white hand. Xander looked down at him. He was taller than the rest, but still a bit smaller than Xander. His small boned, gaunt face and translucently white skin in stark contrast to the shining black hair that swung below his ears. His eyes were enormous and gray and very serious. A tattoo similar to the one Dahla sported stood out in high relief from his jaw, swirling across his neck and dipping into the v-neck of the loose overblouse he wore. His grip was firm but very cold.
Xander squeezed back with as much friendliness as he could put into a handshake. He saw the strength of his grip register a kind of amusement in the expressive gray eyes, and loosened it somewhat with a shrug of apology.
“Berynn” pronounced the man, a tiny smile tipping the corner of his mouth. Xander bowed again, and saw the surprise in the man’s eyes. Maybe bowing was out, he thought, desperately wishing for the handbook. He glanced again at Dahla. She was still only watching him.
“Uh, Dia Dao?” he tried. And the man murmured the greeting back. A woman approached. She was so much like the man in coloring and body structure, she could have been his twin. She held her hand out also.
“Ta fal,” she said in a low sweet voice.
Xander took her hand and shook it as he had Berynn’s. Spike had said there were taboos. And he saw a difference in the manner of dress and hair, but he wasn’t sure that a distinction in manner of greeting for men and women would go down very well. Though the impulse to bend knee and kiss the hands of these elegant and medieval looking women was overwhelming.
“Deahel,” he said, amazed that he could remember the words. “”Kahd is am?”
“Pleetla,” said the woman, smiling, and Xander wondered at the perfection of her teeth. This thought led to wonder at the perfection of all of them. His eyes scanned the group of people as they surged infinitesimally towards him. Pasty skinned and gaunt, they nevertheless seemed almost exquisitely perfect. No scars, unsightly features, signs of illness.
They closed in on him, gray, blue and green eyes gazing up at him, hands reaching forward to shake his. Some lingering to touch his arm, and he saw their wonder and curiosity. He was the only one with brown eyes, he realized with a start. The only one with a tan, with barber styled hair, with no tattoos. His eyes sought and found Dahla once again.
She was watching him with an almost clinical expression. It made Xander suddenly cold and very aware that he was now hemmed in by these people. They reached towards him, like the aliens in the Spielberg movie had reached towards the human man, and led him gently towards a long low table on which many bowls of the now familiar rolled tortilla like food were spread.
He sat down obediently. Discovered he was not at all hungry, though he had not yet eaten that day. Discovered a kind of clammy apprehension stirring in his belly. He looked around the room beyond the crowd of folk and saw that the walls of the room were lined with weapons.
Mostly crossbows, he noted, though a good share of short swords and axes. He saw no guns, no bow and arrows. He wondered what sort of things these people battled. He wondered a great many things in rapid order and looked around again for Dahla, who had disappeared. Berynn sat down next to him instead, a friendly hand on his shoulder. And Xander wondered idly about the taboos. And the proclivities of the men in this tribe. For some reason this thought led to the memory of Spike’s face, taunting and flashing with insult as Xander had pushed past him in the tent this morning.
Berynn put a plate of food before him and Xander regarded it with a kind of nausea. The ribbons of reaction and emotion over which he bravely stepped minute to minute, surged up in him and overwhelmed him again for a moment. He felt he was in mourning, in a way, for the world and the life he had left behind. He had been dead, so it wasn’t as if he wouldn't have lost those things anyway, but he still felt bereft.
And the foreignness of the environment. That bleak sense of the age of man in decline. The utter hopeless feeling and the darkness. The isolation of being an alien in this. He rubbed his face uncomfortably and wished he could just go somewhere quiet for a few minutes where at least the foreign language, as beautiful as it was, wouldn’t be adding to the confusion in his chest.
Berynn had stood. He touched Xander’s shoulder and pointed meaningfully towards a small curtained door. Xander stared up at him, hoping this wasn’t a proposition, not really knowing what to do if it were. He shook his head, ‘no’. Beryinn frowned, looked frustrated, touched Xander’s shoulder again, then let his hand slide up to Xander’s neck. Xander flinched away.
“Hold on now, pal,” he said gruffly. And would have moved away completely except a sudden feeling of peace washed through him. He gazed into those huge gray eyes again. Saw something there without malice. And let himself be raised and led to the small room.
It was a little alcove. With a chair, a narrow palette, a table and not much else. Berynn led him inside. Placed his bowl of food on the table and left with a swish of the curtain. Xander heaved a huge, relieved sigh, sat down on the palette, then let himself tip over to rest on his side, staring at the curtained doorway for quite some time.
He was feeling that syrupy shock that came and went. Here he was in a completely unknown land, with people whose names he had only just heard and already could not remember; his closest connection to sense and reality, two demons he had hated almost all of his mortal life. And he was worried that they wouldn’t return.
He imagined himself adrift alone in this place of no light, no warmth, no sense of history or self. He fought against that nothingness with all the muscle of his will and his heart, even as exhaustion took him and he closed his eyes.
“James, you should lie down and rest.” Jennifer’s hand passed across the back of his head in a familiar gesture. Her fingers lifting and sliding through the thick, soft, black hair. His father’s hair, thought James, his eyes traveling over the freckled skin of his father’s scalp where hair had once grown.
Jennifer rested her hand over his where it lay in his father’s. “Honey…”
The monitors bipped weakly overhead, a metronome counting out the seconds of a man’s life. And yet they went on; long after the doctors had predicted, his father hung on. His mind most assuredly gone, his frail old body barely breathing, his father hung on. “He is the strongest man I ever knew,” said James.
Xander woke from his nap to find Dahla standing in the doorway watching him. Her sleek shiny gown wrapped against her slim body with something that looked like an ammunition belt. She held a cross bow in either hand.
“Kum,” she gestured. She hefted one of the crossbows towards Xander. He rose and took it, gazing at her questioningly. She waved him out of the alcove by way of answer. Outside, the people he had met that evening stood in the room now emptied of table, chairs and meal, they were armed, man and woman, to the teeth.
“Vampeer Kum,” said Dahla melodically. Xander felt another rush of the shock that was his constant companion. The vampires were coming? Did that mean, he felt a staggering blow inside and became dizzy enough that Dahla caught his arm in concern.
“Spike and Angel?” breathed Xander, desperately reading her face.
She smiled and shook her head, and he closed his eyes as the relief almost blinded him. But then he was being urged out the door. Feeling large and clumsy and incredibly conspicuous, he pounded behind the lithe shadowy people with whom he was apparently going to fight vampires.
Berynn, thank God thought Xander, appeared beside him suddenly. He pulled on Xander’s arm and Xander no longer cared what Berynn’s intentions were. They found cover behind some damp black fabric and hunkered down. Ostensibly watching the grove of weirdly elastic looking vegetation across a small clearing. As they crouched there, Berynn’s small agile fingers quickly pointed out the crossbow mechanisms to Xander. He handed Xander a long fabric pinned with rows of small well-used looking wood. Counted them, then held his ten fingers up twice to Xander. Cocked a meaningful eyebrow and looked at him seriously.
“Ah, I get it,” said Xander. “I’ve got the twenty shots and then I’m dinner, huh?” He looked off towards the fibrous mud puddle that comprised the wood across from him. “Or worse,” he muttered. Berynn busily readied his weapon and Xander followed suit. When they were done, the villager reached beneath his shirt and drew forth a stake. He offered it to Xander, with some sense of ceremony. Xander took it from him slowly, studying his face. “Dahank,” he managed cautiously. He studied the stake. It was very old and heavy. Like solid oak. Its surface was cool and slippery. It was practically petrified with age. Some kind of family heirloom he imagined. He settled it carefully in the deep pocket sewn into the inside of his shirt. Hoping he wouldn’t get close enough to need it.
They were there for some time. Xander wondered again at the silence. No birds, crickets or overhead jets broke time into bits, gave a sense of its passing. His own heart beat seemed excessively loud and labored. The silence so profound that the push of air through the vegetation and buildings acquired a strange, almost musical sound to his ear. As if the air of earth were being blown through a large primitive flute. He wondered whose fingers pressed the stops and ran his thumb nervously across the trigger of his crossbow.
Once the ear became attuned to the wind’s music, it was easy to hear the demon’s approach. Not noticeable in origin, the sound nevertheless didn’t belong there and as Xander became alert, he saw Berynn simultaneously slide into a ready posture. They pointed their crossbows at the space across the grove.
Xander’s first bolt was wasted. He had aimed directly at his target, not accounting for distance and air friction, and the bolt dropped uselessly to the muddy ground. He grit his teeth, mentally subtracted one from twenty, and raised his sight and calculated trajectory as he might when playing basketball.
This time the bolt found its way into the demons shoulder. A cry of pain and the eyes of the vampire sought and held Xander’s, marking his target and advancing towards him.
Xander took a deep breath, called forth the courage of ancient Sunnyhell and let fly another bolt. The demon stopped stunned and exploded in the air. Xander shakily lowered his weapon. He now noticed the horde advancing across the grove as a whole picture. The air thick with cross bolts and some very bizarre looking long spears, thin ropes attached. Vampires exploded here and there and now a phalange of young men, running as quickly as Olympic sprinters, surged onto the field, weaving harmlessly between the vampires. After a minute Xander realized they were retrieving fallen crossbolts.
One runner was caught by a quick demon, and Xander saw two bolts hit the body of the demon before a third apparently found its mark and the vampire burst to dust. Too late for the young villager, though. Another vampire had caught hold of him.
Some irrational rage surged in Xander and he leapt up, crossbow left on the ground and stake in hand and sprinted the few yards to the vampire, coming up on his left rear flank, he plunged the stake in. He hadn’t had the pleasure of feeling a vampire die by his own hand in some time. He paused a scant second to savor the rush.
He grabbed the stunned young man’s hand and dragged him back to the spot he and Berrynn occupied.
All around them chaos was exploding. A phalange of about five vamps had managed to breach the village boundary and Xander heard one scream cut off. Berynn dropped his crossbow and clutched his head and Xander stopped his shooting long enough to lean over his companion, checking for injury. The man was staring, his pupils pinpricks, his face bright red. He was shaking all over.
“What? Where is it? Where are you hurt?” said Xander desperately feeling the man over for the location of his wound. The man shook and collapsed into his arms. As if having a seizure. There was no blood, no apparent injury. He lay the man carefully down and continued to defend their position as best he could. When he ran out of crossbolts, he took up Berynn’s gun and emptied it into the throng. When that was gone, he once more hefted the stake. He couldn’t carry the man and he couldn’t leave him here. So this was where he would have to make his stand, he thought, staring quickly around their surroundings, watching for encroaching vampires.
But the young man he had rescued, who had skittered away, was suddenly back. He lifted Berynn’s feet and gestured for Xander to grab his shoulder. Xander stuck the stake handily into the waistband of his pants and complied with relief. They dragged the still unconscious man into a tent. The other villager gestured to Xander that he was going to go off again and that Xander should remain with Berynn.
Feeling only a little bit safer, Xander nodded and took out his stake. Berynn was no longer crying in pain, now, but was still unconscious, his eyelids flinching and bulging with REM’s. Xander found a pile of clothing and blankets in the corner and piled them messily over the young man's slender body, under his head, trying to warm him. Then he crouched there, stake ready, trying to listen to the battle.
It was still mostly silent outside. The walls of the tent billowed and their sound practically overwhelmed the occasional screech of an enraged demon, the pounding of feet.
After what seemed an interminable time, even those sounds ceased. Xander braced himself in front of Berynn’s now apparently sleeping torso, when the tent door opened. But it was only one of the villagers. He dipped in something like a curtsey in Xander’s general direction, skirting him shyly, nodding his head and gesturing at Berynn. Xander moved away, allowing the boy to attend to his patient. He pushed his way out of the tent as the young man began lifting the blankets from Berynn.
All around, villagers hurried back and forth busily. There were no sign of demons. The dead, he supposed, would have dusted. He allowed himself, once more, to wonder about his particular demons. The he heard a familiar voice.
“Harris,” bellowed Spike’s dulcet tones. “Where the bleedin’ hell have you got to?”
Xander scrabbled around a corner. Spike stood in the midst of a chaotic mass of villagers. A demon was bound between them and being led off. Spike stood, bloody, torn and leaning heavily on one leg, covered with mud, looking around the area in a state of high dungeon. “Why can’t anyone tell me where they’ve stashed the whelp?” he was bellowing.
Xander found himself running forward. “Spike!” He was warmed at the look of relief on Spike’s face. For an instant he was so relieved himself to see the vampire, he almost wanted to embrace him. He settled, instead, for a big grin and a friendly wack at a seemingly uninjured shoulder.
“’Bout time you showed up, buddy. We had to fight the war without you.”
Spike’s insides relaxed at that huge smile and he shook his head happily as Xander manhandled him and pushed him towards one of the buildings where it appeared injured villagers were being housed. “Glad to see you hidin’ away from it. Angel told Dahla to keep you safe…”
“What? I’ll have you know…” a young woman ran up and went berserk when she saw Spike. A half dozen villagers were summoned and Spike was dragged dramatically away.
Xander followed feeling so many degrees of relief and a kind of static electric excitement, his skin was buzzing with it. He also felt suddenly hungry.
A cold strong hand on his arm and, amazingly, the bite on his neck throbbed. He jumped a foot and yelled.
“Sorry,” said Angel, his dark eyes seeming anything but. “Just wanted to be sure you’re alright.”
For some reason Angel’s concern for Xander’s safety did not give him the same warm feeling as had Spike’s. He jerked his arm from Angel’s grasp, seeing Angel relinquish control only after a second during which he told Xander with a steady look that he only did so out of choice. Xander spun away and stomped off looking for Spike. His bite itched.
1)"What makes me move with such misgiving is a new vision: it has so beguiled me that I cannot relinquish thoughts of it." Dante, from Purgatorio
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