Apocalypse Laterish


by
Metaforgirl



9


**WARNING, THIS CHAPTER HAS A MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH.**

Lying helpless and in pain was the worst way to die, thought Xander, pacing up and down in Dahla’s parlor. They had carried Angel in here. He had been screaming, when he wasn’t unconscious or delirious with the pain. He had been begging them to kill him.

His neck was broken, but not completely. The nerves still reported the deterioration and failure of his body to him. His smashed vertebrae and punctured organs. Angel could feel it all. He could feel his kidneys and intestines leaking the poison into his body, burning his tissues internally like battery acid. He could feel the bones of his back grinding into each other, squeezing the vertebrae and the nerves between them tighter and tighter. He could feel his flesh, desperate for blood to cleanse itself, desperate for air, suffocating, poisoned and dying. But he couldn’t move.

He had been begging them to kill him there, on the muddy ground. But the small child he had been defending from the demons would not let anyone near him.

Hope stood, barefoot and in her sleeping gown, hissing, her hair flying out as if with static, all around her. Spike had run to Angel and she had thrown him back. Literally picked him up and thrown him.

Spike bounced from the fall, and came at her again. But Xander managed, simply by wrapping himself around Spike’s body, to dissuade him, until Dahla could talk Hope into letting someone close to Angel.

Spike was almost as insane and animalistic as Hope. He howled and tore at his hair, rubbing the black demon blood and his own blood over his face, like someone gone mad. He dragged his clawed hands over his gameface, scaring every last villager who hadn’t already run from Hope.

Angel screamed in mortal pain and Spike became more frenzied. Dahla finally managed, her face streaming with tears, to get Angel’s focus, to calm him somewhat. He gazed up at her, his brown eyes milky and out of focus. The villagers approached warily, watching the insane vampire and little were-girl all the while, and found a way to lift Angel to a stretcher. They carried him into the house, Spike agonizing thirty steps behind.

Calmed, Angel then began demanding Spike.

It was like calling for Death, and everyone there knew it. Dahla began to cry again. Berynn, and a couple of other villagers, turned to embrace each other, grieving already. Xander instinctively reached to hug Spike with one arm, but was shrugged away. Spike stared at the door, as if it were his own death he was facing.

“I can’t do it,” said Spike, finally.

“Then don’t,” said Xander immediately. “You shouldn’t have to. No one would expect you to.”

Spike turned his shocky gaze on him. “You don’t know anything,” he said.

“Spike, please, Spike, for the love of God,” came Angel’s voice. Spike made a creaking noise, like an old chair bending under a great weight.

The door swung open and Hope stood there. Her white gown and hair were smeared and sodden with mud and demon blood. The pupils in her pale blue eyes were pinpricks. She was weaving slightly on her feet, beckoning Spike with one tiny hand.

Dahla rushed past her, and Hope did not stop her. She stood waiting for Spike.

And Spike seemed to bend towards her, acquiescing to some tremendous power. He took the few steps to the door.

“No,” said Xander, coming after him.

Spike reached out and he and Hope took each other’s hands. A ripple seemed to pass over Spike’s skin. “Oh,” he said. He laughed shortly. “Of course.”

The little girl’s face tilted up in a mature and vaguely familiar gesture. Her eyes flickered at Spike, something knowing, even arrogant.

“He was always going to be yours, wasn’t he,” whispered Spike. He almost stumbled as she led him through the doorway.

“Spike,” said Xander, knowing Spike was heedless. “Spike, you don’t have to do this.”

He saw Dahla leaning over Angel’s body, Spike and Hope moving towards him, then the door was shut and he was standing outside.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike walked slowly towards the bed on which Angel lay and oddly saw, in his mind’s eye, a dying king laid out on his pyre. Angel saw Spike and the pleading need in his eyes was very like the way he sometimes looked at him when he wanted sex. So Spike approached Angel as he would his lord and his lover and knelt by the bed.

“Thank God, you’ve come, Spike,” said Angel. “Hope,” he called her over, his voice pinched with the strain of not screaming “Take care of Dahla for me.”

The child stepped forward, kissed Angel solemnly. She lay her perfect pale hands on his forhead for a moment, gazing at him intensely, then receded to a dark corner. “Dahla,” said Angel. “It’s time to leave.” She was a brave woman, thought Spike, watching her rise, in a steady graceful move, from Angel’s side, kiss him once, whisper something sweet, then walk away without looking back. Spike waited until he heard the door close behind her.

He reached up, took Angel’s senseless hand, lay it on his head for him.

“Forgive me,” said the executioner.

“Spike,” said Angel, his voice frightened, “I can’t see you.”

Something was shaking apart inside of Spike, like a slow, deep earthquake starting so far within the core that he could only begin to sense its rumbling. He clung to the ritual. Climbed carefully up onto the bed, looked into Angel’s pain glazed eyes.

“I am the wound that heals,” he recited.

“Spike,” gasped Angel. “I have so much to tell you.” His whole body shook, the sweat of his agony glowed on his skin.

“Tasting of eternity, you repay every debt,” said Spike, the words rattling out of his mouth by rote, inside caves collapsing, rock shattering.

“I never told you how grateful I was for you,” said Angel. Tears streamed from the corners of his eyes, down his face into his ears. Spike madly worried that the tears would bother Angel, and gently swept them away. “I love you, Spike,” said Angel.

Foundations collapsed. His own self, a webbed construct of mind and dream and magic began flying away, like a spider’s vanity torn apart by a wind. Spike bit hard on his own tongue, felt the blood gush into the bottom of his mouth. It helped to remind him what he was. Why he was here. “Death has come,” wept Spike, struggling to keep his voice normal. He had to stop and lean his head on Angel’s chest. Heard the weak heartbeat, the sluggish pump of blood, smelt the strangeness of this creature who looked so much like Angel, yet was not. It helped him continue to remember that. “But in dying,” continued Spike with determination, “you turn your death to life.” He leant to Angel’s throat.

The old scar, as magical scars will, had lasted centuries since Darla’s passing. Spike fit his fangs over it tenderly.

“Spike,” said Angel. “Please tell me…”

Spike had to stop.

“Did you ever care for me?” asked Angel.

The earthquake reached the surface, fissures breaking the crust tearing the earth apart. “Angel,” sobbed Spike against Angel’s throat. “Angel, you know I have loved you. You were my death, my unlife, my…” he sobbed, opened mouth, that silent wracking sob of the overcome.

“Thank you, Spike,” said Angel, peace coming through the pain. “Do it, Spike.”

Spike was still sobbing.

“Do it now, I ask you. Break the membrane of our sweet union.” Angel continued the ritual words.

Spike rolled his head, slid his fangs up against Angel’s skin. Angel couldn’t move his head, so Spike had to do it for him, sliding his hand into the familiar hair, over the skull he knew like his own, pulling the head so gently back, mindful of the crushed spine.

Angel didn’t make a sound.

Spike slid his fangs into the nectar from which he had sprung. Like the river of Styx, it was his legend, his mythology, and he drank Angel’s blood as if he were drinking down the history of the world.

Angel lay still, his soft human breath ruffling the hairs at the back of Spike’s neck. His heartbeat slowing, his pain… Spike looked up into the eyes, going dull, the skin white. “Is it better now, Sire?” he pleaded.

Angel looked into the face of his own death and he couldn’t help the fear. Spike violently shook off the visage of his demon. “Angel?”

“I forgive you,” whispered Angel, his eyes closing. Spike bent to his throat, re-entered the wounds. The last drops seemed to take forever. He imagined them somehow carrying the thickest, most redolent essence of the demon itself, as the heaviest gold would sift to the bottom, the oldest vestiges of the Aurelius clan still lay in the last drops of Angel’s blood.

A chill swept over Spike’s neck. The halting breath no longer warming him. The heart no longer beating. A chill took hold of Spike’s body. He raised his head from the throat of his maker.


~*~*~*~*~


After Dahla came out of the room and ran down the hall to another, private area of the house, pushing away anyone who tried to follow her with comfort, Xander found himself back in the parlor with Berynn and two of the young patrol men.

He sat on a stool and tried to collect his thoughts. In the other room, Angel was dying. It was a bit much for Xander Harris to take in. He had always thought of Angel as somehow eternal. The boogeyman, his personal nemesis. Always a threat to the ones he cared for, no matter how many times they planted that soul back into him. Always the spool the thread wound back to when something wicked happened. Angel the death card. Angel would soon be dead.

And Spike would need him now. The dazed creature who had stumbled into Angel’s room to perform his duty as mercy killer needed compassion and caring in the same measure as he had shown to Xander, when he had first been brought to this place.

He doesn’t need me having perverted fantasies about him, Xander told himself angrily, not recalling Spike in game face shrieking at the demons earlier, because that sent the peculiar spiral to his balls again. He’s a guy, my friend, who needs help.

The doorway to Angel’s bedroom opened, Hope appearing in it. Behind her Xander and the others could hear a sound like a twister, or a dog baying, or… Dahla looked at Xander meaningfully and he leapt to his feet and ran to help Spike.

Angel’s lay white and straight and utterly still on the bed. After over a month of waking up next to a corpse, Xander would’ve thought his ability to distinguish between a vampire sleeping and a dead human was nil, but he felt how dead Angel was. His body, his bed, the linens on it, were clean.

The rest of the room was covered with gore.

In the corner Spike was a tiny ball of loud, endless moaning. Fully vampire, he had torn off his clothes and shivered naked in his own blood. As Xander approached, Spike looked up. He appeared to recognize him.

“Stay back,” he hissed through his fangs. “It’s still hungry.”

“What’s still hungry, Spike?” said Xander, taking one crouching step forward. Spike was rhythmically tearing at his chest with his claws, rivers of blood running down it to pool around his hips and feet as he crouched on the floor.

Spike made a noise like a cougar and Xander froze. He had never heard that sound coming out of Spike before. “Angelus,” said Spike. He giggled. “He’s heeeere,” he said in an eerie voice, tapping his head with one finger. His hands came down, swiping playfully in the blood on his chest. He held out his gory fingers. “There he is, the old poof.” And he started to laugh. High-pitched, hysterically, gradually devolving and deepening until he was sobbing and rocking and moaning, curled into a ball, hands buried in his gory hair.

Xander crawled forward slowly, and when Spike didn’t respond, gently touched his shoulder. Still no response, so Xander wrapped his arms around Spike and hugged.

“It’s okay, Spike,” he said softly. “It’s…”

His head cracked against the floor and a claw jabbed painfully into his arm as Spike pinned him flat on his back, growled like a cat again and yelled. “Spike’s not here! I told you, stupid human! He wasn’t strong enough. Bloody soul…” Spike’s grip let up a bit as he raised up over Xander’s torso, rocking slightly, his voice going sing-song. “Bloooody soooul.”

Xander made a small move to free himself but the demon quickly caught hold of him again, shoved him back down. He shifted his weight and looked into Xander’s eyes, his head cocked to one side, studying him, as if he wasn’t sure what Xander was. He lowered his head, sniffing his neck. He mewed appreciatively, his hips beginning a subtle grind against Xander’s pelvis, his cold, hard tongue drawing a line up Xander’s neck and over the bite that had Xander’s entire body shivering with hot and cold sparks.

“Angelus always wanted to taste you,” Spike hissed into Xander’s ear. And bit. The fangs incised the old bite with a fast, expert precision, a flash of icy pain that only elicited a tiny cry from Xander. But that small sound may have been what saved his life. Because when Hope came bounding back into the room, he was no longer resisting. His hips were pumping upwards, matching Spike’s grinding movements, his head tilted up and back to give the vampire greater access. And Spike was showing no signs of pulling away from his feed.

Hope grabbed Spike by the hair and threw him against the wall.

There was a crack, and then a kind of confused clattering slither as Spike’s bloody body slid in the gore on the floor. Some kind of clarity returned to the yellow eyes. Spike shuddered horribly and his human face appeared. “Xander?”

Wobbly and weak, Xander struggled to his feet and crawled across the mess towards Spike.

“Hey buddy, you back with us?”

Spike’s head was buried in his hands again, but the sounds that were coming from him were normal. “He’s… he’s…”

“Let’s get out of this room, Spike,” said Xander reasonably. He reached his friend and gently pulled him upright. Spike sagged against him. “C’mon, we need to bathe.”

“No!” said Spike violently, pulling away. “You can’t just wash… you can’t…”

Xander held Spike. He lowered his forehead to his shoulder helplessly. “You can’t not bathe, Spike.”

“There’s a ritual,” said Spike, his patience in explaining this obviously paining him. “There’s a holy room. I…I need to do it that way, Harris.”

“Okay, Spike,” said Xander. “We’ll do whatever you need us to do. Okay, buddy? You just tell me what you need and we’ll get it.”


~*~*~*~*~


There was something so right about an old Irish wake, thought James. His mother had been Irish and his dad had always been enthusiastic about the proper way they celebrated and honored family. Weddings were soap operas of drama and drinking and tears. Christenings were beautiful rituals of religion and innocence and drinking and tears. Funerals were for reminiscences and stories and drinking and tears.

“Dad would have loved this,” said James, standing after another guest had told a story of his boss, Mr. Harris, giving the odd jobs to the homeless guys they had found sleeping on a job site. “He loved stories and he loved being a character in them. He said, ‘Life should be an angsty drama with a happy ending. Otherwise it’s just bad reality television.’ He had so many stories,” James laughed. “And, of course, they were all true.” Several of the people in the room laughed.

“But Dad’s favorite stories,” said James warmly, “were about vampires.” He shook his head and looked around the room. He saw the warm smiles and imagined they had all been privileged with his father’s vampire stories. “There was so much detail in those stories,” said James wonderingly. “I would ask questions, and he always had an answer, always had some story to explain his answer. About vampires and souls and love. About evil and blood. Weird thing about evil,” said James, smiling to himself. “In my dad’s stories, the evil guys were the ones that saved the world. Cuz, you know, everybody has that potential.” James looked at his hands, seemed to get lost in his own thoughts. Jennifer touched his arm and he looked up at her, as if surprised to find her there. “I remember everything he taught me,” he told her solemnly. She nodded, keeping the worry from her face.

“A soulless demon can’t love,” he said to her. “Not really. But a vampire’s soul can be restored to them. With an orb of Thesulah. He had one, he said.” He was studying her, his eyes, so much like his father’s, wandering in puzzlement over her face. “I found it.”

“Sweetie,” said Jennifer, gently guiding her husband to a nearby chair and easily slipping the scotch from his hand. “I think some other guests would like to speak.”

“Sure,” said James. He seemed deep in thought, then suddenly, ghoulishly, he laughed. “I should record it,” he said. “That would just crack him up.”

Oddly, Jennifer found herself borrowing her coping mechanisms from her father in law. Wacky situations called for wacky solutions. “I’ll go up front and find one, honey, okay?”

James looked up at her and smiled genuinely for the first time in days. “Thank you.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander rolled the bedding up carefully, and stuffed it into the bag of laundry he would drag down to the village later in the day. Spike had, in the past week, developed an extreme intolerance of odors. Xander needed to strip the bed every morning. And most of their clothes and the boxed food had to be kept in the other tent.

Spike absolutely refused to enter the other tent. He even skirted wide around it when he passed it. Like a small child might give generous berth to the purported ‘witches’ haunted house.

He bathed frequently and obsessively. Just now, he was in the huge tub that they used for that purpose, it was pulled up close to the roaring stove. The heat filling the tent with such intensity that Xander’s clothes clung to his sweaty skin uncomfortably. He dragged the bundle to the door and stood wearily, gazing at the quiet vampire soaking in the warm bath. He felt the sweat trickle from his armpits down his side. It would be just a matter of minutes before…

Spike sniffed, looked irritable. “Harris,” he growled, “you need a bath.”

“I know, Spike,” said Xander, trying not to be annoyed or insulted. “I’m hot. I’m human. I sweat.”

Spike wrinkled his nose distastefully and raised a sponge to his face, pointedly blocking out Xander’s odor. “Humans smell like meat and blood,” he told the sponge privately, “and death. They smell like death. They smell like…”

“Spike!” said Xander, thinking fast. Repetition of phrases was a very bad sign. “Where do you want to hunt today?”

They called it hunting now, the patrolling. It was one of the few things that seemed to still make Spike happy. Certainly, Xander didn’t make him happy. He could barely stand to be even a few feet away from him. And slept on a monkish pile of rags in the corner. Which Xander had to launder daily.

Thank God for Berynn and the patrolmen’s help. If the young men didn’t come up here regularly, returning and replenishing the supplies, water, laundry, Xander could never have managed the care of the demanding, unstable vampire by himself.

“I thought we’d go up that eastern cliff face. Fancy I saw some trail the other day,” said Spike, successfully distracted. He stood from his bath, dripping, rosy from the heat of the water. Xander’s eyes ran uncontrollably over the glowing muscles of Spike’s abdomen, thighs, that ass that Xander had learned to adore. He tried not to look at the penis arching half erect from the glistening wet brown curls between Spike’s thighs.

“Yeah,” he jerked his eyes away. “Okay, let’s do that,” he said.

“Bring me a towel, Harris, then?” said Spike.

And Xander bent to retrieve one of the freshly laundered towels. He had to step closer to Spike to hand it to him. Self-conscious about his own body odor, which Spike mentioned constantly, about his own arousal, which Spike would undoubtedly scent as well. He tried not to look at Spike at all as he pressed the towel into his hands.

Spike whipped the towel away and rubbed himself dry briskly. Xander turned his back and tried not to think about it. He heard Spike searching through the pile of clean clothes.

“I’m going out to get more water,” announced Xander, speeding out the door before he had to endure anymore of Spike marching around naked.

Outside, the colder brisk air. The soothing blackness of it all. Xander leaned against a tree. It felt good, the tree against his back. His back was lonely. His arms were lonely. Xander’s entire body was empty and lonely. He ached.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander stretched his cramped arm up over his head. He grabbed his elbow with his other hand and tugged a little, pulling out the muscle. Then he adjusted his posture in the uncomfortably small and rigid chair and shifted the drawing board to his other knee.

On the other side of the transparent wall, Giles orated. The same speech over and over. To the same invisible audience.

Xander watched him, his drawing tool tracing a particular arching shape unevenly over the surface of the pad. He grimaced, his face scrunching with the effort. And tried to make the lines a little more even. Then he looked up at Giles again. Shook his head with frustration.

“I’m trying, Giles,” he said.

The door snicked behind him and Xander didn’t even turn around. Giles’ physician stood in the room, arms crossed, watching his patient and Xander with that absorbed expression of his.

This was his daily routine now. To come, listen to Giles, and try to remember. The doctor seemed fascinated and had taken to accompanying Xander during his visits. Rarely, he would comment. The silent listening type, apparently, thought Xander wryly. It had made him uncomfortable and self-conscious at first, but now he was accustomed to it, it was actually rather comforting. Especially today.

“Not much luck, today,” said Xander, shaking his head and gesturing towards his drawing pad. “*bad*” he said. The doctor peered over his shoulder at the odd glyphs Xander had drawn there. He raised his eyebrows noncommittally, as if to say he saw potential for Xander in some artistic field.

Xander grinned. “Okay, Picasso I am not, but this one…” he tapped a particular glyph with the tip of his writing tool, “this one is almost right. And I saw it three times. Probably,” he laughed. “probably just a demonic ‘and’ but hey.”

Giles, on the other side of the wall, had just finished his phone call to Buffy and come back to the table to exclaim over Xander’s eradication of the marks in his book.

Xander sighed and shook his head. “Well, it’s not happening today, I guess.” He stood. Handed the pad to the doctor, who took it without comment. This was their routine. “I’ve gotta go hunt with a crazy vampire,” said Xander. “Me and my shattered ego will be back tomorrow.”


~*~*~*~*~


He wandered over to the Town Hall, feeling more worn and less hopeful than he had in the week since Angel’s death. Spike was there already, behaving, thank god, like Spike. He was demonstrating a particularly effective throw. Letting the men, one by one, practice by throwing him. He acknowledged Xander when he walked up. His eyes clear and rational, if cool.

“You ready, whelp?”

And then they hunted. Spike led the patrol on a fast-paced, endless and grueling march up the east cliff. He had been remorseless and intense about this task every day since Angel’s death. Driven by a demonic adrenalin, that no human could possibly follow, he would circle back admonishing his struggling, exhausted ‘minions’. The patrolmen bravely tried their best and Xander found himself coming to love these warm, compassionate people with their huge hearts and sense of comraderie. He approved.

Today, Spike seemed even more obsessed than usual, and long after the men had finally admitted defeat and collapsed in various stages of exhaustion against a string of trees outside the village, Spike was still prowling, lecturing, restless. Xander, happily hyperactive in his seventeen-year-old body, decided it was time to take him from the group and let him run. Let off some steam, so to speak.

“Let’s go to the West cliff,” he suggested to Spike. “See if there are any new tracks.”

They headed off without incident and were halfway through a grove of sticky, weirdly snarly rooted trees, peeling them meticulously from around their legs, when Spike started quoting Angel’s books again.

He stood suddenly and stared off into space. “In the middle of the journey of my life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost,” he said suddenly. And didn’t move.

“Spike?” Xander worked the branches free from his arm and moved closer to his friend’s side.

“I think that’s how it went,” said Spike. He looked puzzled. “Angel,” he said suddenly, “is that right?” he turned back. Saw Xander. A look of panic came over his face. “I haven’t got it right,” Spike said. “I’ve forgotten it.”

“Sounds right to me,” said Xander.

Spike looked disgusted. “You don’t know.”

Xander felt immensely tired. “I know. I don’t know anything.” He forced himself to shake it off, the crushing feeling of despair. There would be time for that later. Circling carefully around Spike to keep his ‘human’ smell upwind, he said as soothingly as he could, “You remember everything he taught you, Spike. You remembered all the lessons.”

Spike shook his head, nervous. “No, I’ve forgotten.” He worriedly enumerated on his fingers. Xander stood patiently, emotionally exhausted, while Spike spelled out all the lessons he had learned from his Sire. He hesitated and the sheer panic on his face broke Xander’s heart.

Spike sat down in the middle of the damp, slippery wood. And stopped talking.

“Spike?” Xander looked around the eerily still wood. This didn’t seem like a good place for Spike to completely withdraw, as he had a few days ago. He didn’t think he could carry the 180-pound man back and he couldn’t leave him here. And this wasn’t someplace in which Xander wanted to spend an entire evening.

“Spike, uh, let’s get going, okay? West cliff? You know? Looking for demon tracks?”

Spike was biting his lip and silently counting on his fingers.

Xander completely forgot about the proximity to human smell problem and squatted down in front of Spike. “Hey, buddy,” he said, “let’s get going?”

Spike looked up at him, and he seemed for a moment to Xander to be sinking away from him, as into a hole in the forest’s floor. “What’s it like?”

“Uh, it?” said Xander, wanting to pull Spike up physically if need be.

“Heaven?” said Spike.

Xander stared. “It’s great,” he said.

Spike nodded, looked at him expectantly. He leaned forward. “Tell me about it.”

“Sure,” said Xander. He looked around them. “Uh, Spike? Flesh and blood here. I gotta get out of this wood first.”

“Oh,” said Spike, shrugging. “Okay.” He stood and began working his way back through the trees. “You can tell me when we get back to camp.”


~*~*~*~*~


If Xander had thought Spike would forget about Heaven and move on to new distractions by the time they had made their way back to camp, he was sadly disappointed. As soon as they entered the tent and started up the stove, Spike plunked down on the bed, legs folded, hands on his knees, leaning forward, excited and enthralled like a small boy at a camp story circle. “So, tell me about it,” he said immediately.

“Uh…”

“Heaven,” prompted Spike. “I know I didn’t ask much before, but ya know, I was kinda jealous. But seein’ as Angel is there now, well, I guess…” His eyes narrowed suspiciously at Xander. “What?”

“N…nothing!” Said Xander, thinking fast. “Just, not sure…not sure we are allowed to tell.”

“Oh.” Spike looked crestfallen.

“It’s great,” said Xander immediately. Spike looked up again, his face lively.

“Yeah?”

“Uh, yeah. And everybody is young,” Xander gestured at himself, “like me.”

Spike made a dismissive noise. “Angel wouldn’t care about that. He was young for an eternity nearly.”

“Well, yes, but there’s no sickness, no disease.”

Spike shrugged, unimpressed.

“Huh, uhmmmm,” Xander tried to think of something about his purported Heaven that would be better than the life of an immortal demon. “Everyone you’ve ever known is there.”

Spike looked worried. “Everyone?”

“Well, sure,” said Xander, thinking he’d gotten this part right. “He’ll see everyone he knew in life…”

“Angel knew an awful lot of Happy Meals,” said Spike worriedly.

“Oh!” Xander regrouped quickly. “Uh, no! You see, Spike, everything is forgiven in Heaven, everybody loves everybody.”

Spike looked utterly amazed. “Angel will meet everyone he killed and they’ll forgive him?”

Xander doubted this with all his heart, but “Sure!” he said. “For instance,” the juices were flowing now, and even without Spike’s prompting Xander wouldn’t have been able to stop, “When I was in Heaven I saw this guy I knew in High School. He was such a nerd and, well, so was I but he was worse.” Xander stopped, took a big breath. “Anyway, he uh, had some issues and well I was a jerk. It doesn’t matter…” he brushed off that story, impatiently, “anyway in Heaven it was like we totally got what the other guy had been going through and it wasn’t like we forgot or anything, but we just knew and,” he smiled at Spike, “it was okay.”

Spike looked perplexed. “Kinda hard to explain a demon…”

“See, that was the thing.” Xander scooched closer to Spike excitedly. “I didn’t have to explain anything. Neither did he. We just knew.”

“Huh,” said Spike in wonder. He thought for a minute. “I wonder if he’ll see her.”

Xander didn’t have to ask who ‘her’ was. “Sure,” he said uncomfortably, finding the sliver still buried there in his heart. “They’ll see each other.”

“Wonder if she’ll still…” Spike frowned, looking down.

Xander found himself working past something he hadn’t even known still existed. “Yeah, but, you know, it’s Heaven. And I’ll bet,” he dared to poke Spike softly in the arm. “I’ll bet all they talk about is you.”

Spike smiled to himself. He played with the blanket near his knee. “Almost as good as being there.”

Xander had a sudden overwhelming desire to weep. “Sure,” he said.

Spike caught the change in Xander’s voice. He looked up sharply. “Thanks, Harris.”

Xander shrugged.

Spike sat up straighter, stretched and yawned. “Well, time fer bed, I guess. Sun’s rising.” He hopped off the bed and wandered over to his pile of rags, stripping as he went. “Sleep well, Harris.”

Xander had had a week of not looking at Spike, not thinking about Spike, not letting himself hope for Spike. He stood and disrobed and slid under the blankets quickly. “Sleep well,” he said.


~*~*~*~*~


There was never any night or day noise here, just the dip and swell of the wind. So when the little sounds of feet and knees on the floor came, Xander woke immediately. He felt the blankets lifting, the give of the mattress behind him. His skin prickled with expectation and his poor neglected libido leapt to attention, as he recognized the soft words spoken as Spike’s when he slipped in behind Xander in the bed.

“You asleep?” murmured Spike, so close behind him, Xander swore he felt, impossibly, breath on his ear. A cool hand cupped Xander’s hipbone.

Xander shook his head. Afraid to speak and break the spell. The cool hand slid over his abdomen, sensitive finger pads tracing every cell of skin as they swept down. And hesitated. Xander reached up, tentatively wrapped his hands around the stalled fingers, carefully moved them southwards to his cock, which was already aching and arching to meet his abdomen.

He heard Spike hiss behind him and strong cold fingers slid into his pubic hairs then wrapped quickly and tightly around his cock. Xander gasped. “P…please,” he begged in a breathy whisper.

“Oh…” said Spike, his mouth coming up to Xander’s shoulder and mouthing the skin. “Oh, God, Angel…”

It was like being flayed, Xander would decide afterwards. The pleasure rippling over his skin suddenly turning to something sharp and cruel. “No!” he said, pushing Spike’s hand away roughly and struggling to rise from the bed.

Spike grabbed at him. “Angel? I’m sorry…” he sounded completely horrified. Xander spun around and grabbed him and shook him.

“Spike, it’s me,” he said, the soft skin under his hands, the erection jutting into his thigh. But not for him, for Angel. Not for him.

Spike leant towards him, still, apparently, in his delusion or dream. “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” He seemed near tears.

“It’s okay, Spike,” said Xander. His hands uncontrollably squeezing and sliding down over the wonderful biceps, over the pectorals, sliding over Spike’s abdomen. “Oh,” said Xander, beside himself. “Oh, God, Spike. Please…please, I need…”

His hand closed around the cock, marvelously hard and leaking. He ran his fist up it. Leant into Spike.

“Xander?” said Spike, and shuddered all over. Xander immediately let go of him.

“Yeah,” he said, the bitterness rising, sour and evil and feeling thick in his throat. “Yeah, it’s me.”

“Bloody Hell, I’m sorry, Harris,” said Spike.

Xander didn’t care anymore. He didn’t care if he was pushed away, embarrassed. He didn’t care about anything but … “Please, Spike,” Xander caught one of Spike’s hands and raised it to touch his chest, his neck, his mouth. “God…”

Spike pulled his hand away. “I can’t…”

Xander took in a huge breath and heaved his body over so that his back was to Spike. He clenched his teeth until the sounds building in his chest were in no danger of erupting. Then said tightly, “Sure. No problem.” He sat up abruptly. “Not tired anyway.” And he jumped out of bed, blindly reaching for any old slacks and pulling them on violently. “I’m going to… going to…”

“Harris, don’t be daft, where are you going at this hour?”

“Fuck off, Spike,” said Xander. He grabbed a shirt from the chair and flung it on. “I’m going down to the hospital to visit Giles.”

He managed to get his feet into boots and charged, boots untied, shirt flapping open, out of the tent and down the hill. Half of his mind expected Spike to follow. A week ago, Spike would have followed. Concerned, annoyed, yelling at the stupid human boy to get his sorry ass back up to the tent. But Spike didn’t follow.

Xander went.


~*~*~*~*~


This time, when Xander let himself into Giles’ room, he didn’t even look at his old friend.

He threw himself into the rattly plastic chair, lay his arms on his knees, his head on his arms and allowed himself to voice all the rage and frustration and sorrow he was feeling. He sobbed and yelled at Spike and the universe for some time before he felt himself being watched.

He looked up and saw Giles’ physician standing by the wall, regarding him with concern.

“Sorry,” said Xander. He sniffled.

The man looked grim-faced. Xander guessed he had seen a lot of hysterics in his time.

“I’m just having a really bad day,” Xander said.

The small round man with the pasty skin came over and stared at Xander for another minute with those eerily pale eyes. “*You are very angry*” he said. “Angry,” he clarified in English, pointing at Xander.

“*I’m tired, *” said Xander.

The man’s pale eyes looked unimpressed.

“I have to go,” said Xander suddenly. He rose awkwardly and walked with jerky steps from the room.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander spent the rest of the day sitting outside waiting for the sunset service. He knew that, when it was over, Berynn would come up and spend time talking with him. And he was looking forward to and needing that more than he was willing to admit.

Berynn had been an emotional touchstone for him. For the past week, and really even before, he had been there whenever Xander was looking for a friend. And somehow Berynn had understood that the evenings, just after the sunset ritual, were the worst.

During Spike’s illness, he had taken up the job of teaching Xander the language. And he was bothering to learn English, as well. Or ‘bloody American’ as grouchy Spike would have called it.

This evening, Xander spotted the dark head, amongst all the others, easily. And felt a huge relief and anticipation as he saw the slender figure approaching him.

“Are you well?” asked Berynn formally, sitting down in his regular spot.

Xander moved aside to make room for the man on the bench. He accepted the shoulder squeeze and the pat on the arm gratefully. Contact; God, he needed the contact so badly.

“Yes,” said Xander. He laughed. “No.”

Berynn looked at him, the slender eyebrows raised in sympathy. “Is Spike well?”

“We had a bad day,” said Xander shortly. Saying it out loud made it more real and he was unable to keep the emotion from his voice. “I just feel tired, I guess…I’m sorry…I…”

Berynn wrapped an arm around Xander’s shoulder. The warm slim body pressed against his side. “*You need not speak if you cannot*” he said. A phrase so often repeated by the people of the village, Xander knew it by heart. It was a phrase particularly authentic coming from Berynn. He could feel Xander’s exhaustion, his tiredness, his loneliness and need…

With his other hand, Berynn took up Xander’s. He looked up at him, the gray of his eyes going a dark mossy color, as the iris expanded. Thick black lashes, that always seemed to tremble with their own weight, flickered over those translucent eyes, as he studied Xander’s face. “I like you Xander,” he enunciated carefully.

Xander nodded, grateful. “Yeah, thanks,” he said. “*Thank you*” he repeated. He smiled into those beautiful, kind eyes, leaned a little more into the comfort of the smaller man’s embrace. Berynn’s hand touched his jaw and Xander knew he should pay attention to this. He knew he should wonder at this, but it felt so good, the caress. Berynn’s hand sliding around his neck, touching the muscles there with a soothing pressure.

None of the seductive endorphins were exuding from Berynn, this time. It was as if he had purposely turned them off. This comfort, these gentle touches, were wholly human. Berynn’s hand pulled Xander’s head down to his level and suddenly his lips were on Xander’s.

This was wrong, this was so wrong, thought Xander, sobbing needfully against the soft, warm mouth. Feeling the arms wrapping around him, clasping the smaller body to his own almost violently.

Berynn’s lips barely moved, but they opened and Xander plunged his tongue in. Seeking the answering pressure, the heat and connection. He ran his hands up and down the shivering back and turned his chin, bending Berynn against him. The young man’s entire body responding to his with a malleable eagerness.

Berynn lips separated from Xander’s barely as he pulled away for air. He looked up at Xander with wonder and awe and adoration in his face and Xander’s brain caught up with and sharply jerked the reins back on his body. He dropped his arms, so quickly the startled villager almost fell. Xander grabbed Berynn’s shoulder to steady him, then quickly dropped his hand and moved an inch back on the bench. “I’m..I’m.. s…sorry,” he stammered.

Hurt. Shame. The dark lashes dropped and hid the rest of Berynn’s emotions from Xander. His skin flamed a bright red.

Xander’s brain now delighted in reporting everything it had been unable, because of Xander’s willfulness, to report before. The hesitancy of the mouth that had kissed him, the unknowing movements. The open, innocent trust in those eyes. He thought of the bizarre and rigid taboos of these people and realized it was entirely possible that Berynn had never even kissed anyone before.

“God,” said Xander, dropping his head into his hands and pulling at his own hair in anger. “I’m such a fucking pig.”

He felt Berynn’s hand patting his shoulder and looked up at him from the corner of his eye. Berynn smiled, his face was still pink, a new touch of bitter humor turned up one corner of his mouth. ‘I put that there,’ thought Xander miserably. ‘I taught him bitterness.’ He felt like a plague.

“*I understand*” said Berynn, the flush on his skin deepening again. “Spike,” he said wisely. “*Sherleen said it was so, *” He kept to his own language, insecure again.

“Sherleen did?” Xander asked miserably, feeling another flood of guilt.

Berynn nodded sagely. His eyes sad, but not angry. “*You love him*” he said.

Xander didn’t move. He thought hard about the words he had just heard. He didn’t hear that word very often, so perhaps he hadn’t understood it?

“What did you say?”

Berynn’s brows came down, his eyes narrowed. “You love Spike,” he said quite clearly, in English. With a California accent.

Thoughtlessly, instinctively, Xander shook his head. “Nope.”

Berynn drew back, surprised.

“That’s impossible,” said Xander. He folded his arms across his chest. “That’s not what’s going on with Spike and me,” he said. Berynn was looking at him with those great, sad eyes and that bitter little smile and suddenly Xander felt like some sort of explanation was needed.

“This is not your average situation,” he said earnestly. “Spike and I, we have a history. A not so good history, actually. But, you know, I kind of get the guy and he gets me because of that history. So of course there’s…” he squeezed his arms tighter around his chest, trying to think past some things that had happened recently. “of course there’s … um, sympathy.” He looked up at Berynn, imagined he saw some kind of disbelief there. “Okay, so its more than sympathy,” Xander ceded with a sigh. “There’s, um, the groiny stuff. But that could have happened with anybody. I guess it’s always been there a little bit. It’s just it was me ‘n Spike because…” He had been going to say because there was no one else, but he somehow felt that wasn’t entirely true.

“Fuck,” said Xander. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”

He stood, took a few stiff paces, and turned towards Berynn urgently. “But love is something else, you know? I loved my wife, my son, my grandson. I…I loved Willow.” He stopped, the feelings spinning about on the oil slick he had been ignoring all week. “I loved people. In my life,” said Xander. “This is… this is different. I can’t. I… he’s a vampire. He’s not even alive! How can you love a corpse.”

Berynn watched Xander with those great empathetic eyes, then his glance flicked to something behind him. Xander spun about.

“’S true,” said Spike, standing in the door of the tent. “You can’t love a corpse, can you? Can’t love a dead man. I told him. I said, ‘don’t be an old poof’ I said ‘don’t…’” he looked at Xander with suddenly terrified eyes. “He asked me… he said…Xander?”

And Xander rushed to gather the disintegrating Spike into his arms. He shushed him, he rocked him.

Spike didn’t push him away or tell him that he smelled. He buried his face in Xander’s chest. “He said it and then I killed him. I’m a demon, you know. ‘S what I do…I …kill them…” said Spike, as if reciting a lesson

“It’s okay, Spike, it’s okay,” Xander said tearfully into Spike’s hair. Whispering reassurance into his scalp. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

“He said it,” whimpered Spike. “How could he do that? It’s not… it’s not done. and now he’s … he’s dead, Xander. Angel is dead. But it can’t be true. Cuz you can’t, can you? Can’t love a dead man. Can’t…” The denials devolved into sobbing.

Berynn stood and walked away. He looked back once, and Xander tried to thank him with his eyes, as he held his lover and rocked him and hugged him tightly and pressed kisses into his hair. His hands and arms full of him.

“I’m here, Spike,” said Xander. “It’s going to be okay.”He carefully guided Spike back into the tent. Lay him down on their bed. Wrapped his arms and legs around him and held him as Spike cried. After a very long while, he thought Spike had fallen into sleep and slowly released him, rising up to pull a blanket over him.

Spike’s hand closed gently around his wrist. “Wait,” he said softly.

Xander stilled.

“Don’t …don’t leave yet?” asked Spike.

“Okay,” said Xander. Schooling himself not to expect anything, he lay back down, pulling the blanket over their shoulders.

Spike rolled over. He lay, cheek on pillow, gazing at Xander. Xander could feel his own breathing, out of control, his heart thumping. Spike slowly raised a hand and touched Xander’s face with the pad of one finger.

Xander panted and felt the weeping rising in his throat again. He closed his eyes as that hesitant finger traced his cheekbone, slid down his nose, barely brushed his lip. The finger hovered there for a very long time.

Then the hand dropped away and Xander opened his eyes. Spike lay before him, his face relaxed, eyes closed, mouth opened. He was asleep.


~*~*~*~*~


Later. Much later. With the sensitivity of one who lived in perpetual darkness, Xander could feel the change in the wind that indicated the sun’s location in the west. He lay on his back, eyes closed, wondering what had woken him , when he felt Spike’s hand on his chest.

Moving slowly, as it had the night before, slipping easily under the unbuttoned shirt and sliding over an immediately erect nipple. Every limb on Xander’s body rippled to instant attention. He tried not to breathe.

Spike’s hand slithered down.

“Wait,” said Xander. Always honorable, always morally correct.

Spike’s hard lean body rolled up against him, his erection pressed into Xander’s thigh and the new yearning Xander was feeling for that erection to be inside him, to touch him, leapt like fire across his body and he rolled towards Spike, hungrily seeking his mouth in the dark.

Fuck it, he thought.

Not for him, Xander thought despairingly, guilty and hating himself for it, but clutching at the hard ass, rubbing himself against that bone hard erection, his mouth open wide, his tongue eagerly pressed into Spike’s. Spike moaned and Xander thought, he's moaning for Angel. Spike rolled him over, fingers pulling apart flies, freeing all the heat and sticky hardness and Xander thought, God, he’s feeling Angel.

He writhed into Spike and they slid against each other in a frenzy. Spike was gasping and crying out with little helpless sounds. He kissed and sucked on Xander’s mouth in small pecks. Rolling his hips now, sensuous waves of movement.

Xander rolled in the surf of it. Angel, Spike was with Angel and Xander suddenly knew what Spike was seeking, what he was needing. He forcibly rolled Spike onto his back, tumbling with him, pushing down the open pants, his hands seeking something they had never sought before, running up and down behind a man’s sac until they tripped over a little wrinkled lump of …

“Oooohhhh,” moaned Spike. His knees drew up infinitesimally.

“Okay,” breathed Xander, his heart hammering, his hands popping out in sweat, as he eased Spike’s thighs up. He adjusted himself on the mattress and lifted his cock, feeling with it for that small opening. Spike rocked eagerly towards him. Wanting Angel, seeking Angel.

Because he had been wanting Spike inside of him. Because it was what he had dreamed of all week, and maybe had been dreaming of all along, Xander knew that Spike needed Angel to enter him. He pressed forward gently. The small opening resisted him, and he shoved, his cock like a battering ram, he slammed against that opening harder.

Spike grunted and shoved back. Xander felt the little hole seemingly grab hold of his cock, and he was in. He was inside of Spike.

Except it wasn’t him, it was Angel. It was Angel making Spike rear up and whine piteously, rocking and clawing at his head and shoulders. Begging.

It was Angel pushing up inside the cool, tight tunnel that clenched and heaved and suddenly relaxed again, swallowing him deeper, dragging him inside.

Xander gave a hiccupped breath and put his head on Spike’s chest and shoved into him hard, responding to the eager thrust of Spike’s hips, the clutching of his channel. He wanted it to be him, but it was Angel.

Spike was wailing and mewling and writhing beneath him, and Xander reached between them and grasped the drooling, hard cock, began pumping hard, trying to make it strong and dominant and demanding, trying to make it Angel and it seemed to work because Spike’s voice rose, he rocked feverishly and then every muscle bunched and froze and he arched and Xander felt his cum shooting out.

Spike was cumming for Angel, thought Xander, pumping now, out of control, into such tightness he couldn’t stop, driven like a piston run on high octane fuel he couldn’t stop even though it wasn’t him, it was Angel, he couldn’t stop, his breath ragged and hot in his chest, sweat, horrible smelly human sweat flying off his head, his hair, he raggedly cried out and came inside of Spike.

Xander collapsed and sobbed against Spike’s chest. The cool, strong hands came round his head and carded his damp hair for a minute, then fell away as Spike slept again.

Xander withdrew carefully. Curled up again beside Spike. He felt empty. He ached.

Angel. It was always Angel.




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