As he and Berynn entered the town hall, Giles leapt forward and held the door open. Berynn tipped him a curious look as he walked through the door and Giles felt, for the thousandth time in the past hour, like an enormous fool.
He had no idea what he was doing. Or rather, he had an idea, but he chose not to look too directly at his idea. Instead he sidled up to it, loving the feel of it, the silky, staticy magnetism of it. Afraid that if he studied it too closely it would turn into the grotesque and terribly wrong thing that it was. He hesitated in the doorway and Berynn turned to look back at him. Berynn’s eyes were concerned, intimate, warm, and they froze Giles where he stood.
In his life, Giles hadn’t had many close friends. He was naturally reticent and had been raised, as well, to hold his emotions back. And then, his occupation, like that of a spy, didn’t allow for many close relationships. The members of the Council, with whom he could at least be open about his occupation, were a stiffly competitive and suspicious group of people. So he was unaccustomed to intimacy, to relaxing in another’s company and sharing himself.
There had been someone once. While Giles was still in school. Robert and he had been the closest of friends. Sharing everything between them, victories and sorrows alike. It had been a time that Giles remembered as idyllic because of that friendship. But they had grown up. And Giles’ father had been right. There was a proper time and place for every type of association. Schoolboy attachments, though indulgently understood while one was young, were unacceptable and possibly grotesque in a grown man making his way in the world.
So, after matriculation, he hadn’t returned Robert’s messages. The many notes and letters. He had tried not to hear the desperation, or the hurt accusations in those last missives.
The emptiness and sorrow and feeling of loss he attributed to leaving childhood. It was, he suspected, how most adults were meant to feel.
And he had blamed this weakness in himself, the bruised ache in his soul where his feelings for Robert had lived, for Ethan Rayne’s mysterious and immediate hold over him when they first had met.
Ethan had taught him the evil those feelings could lead to. Giles had thanked God repeatedly that he had managed to break their hold on him.
But he had thought of so many things during his long last illness. Childhood memories, distorted nightmares, all a jumble in his drug smoothed mind. He recalled Robert. The heartfelt letters, the phone calls. And then the silence. Until, finally, on his deathbed, Rupert Giles had recognized a love long lost and mourned.
He yearned for Berynn and he was terrified of him. How old was the boy? 15? 16? Obviously pure. Giles now understood why so few of Berynn’s compatriots actually touched him. They didn’t want the empath to know their innermost feelings. Giles, certainly, could not imagine the boy’s reaction if he knew the ideas that Giles was entertaining about him. Or, rather, desperately trying not to entertain. If he knew the way Berynn’s touch affected him, Berynn’s smile…
He was so caught up now in his thoughts, standing at the side of the hall as the resident patrollers gathered their gear, that he didn’t notice Berynn until the young man had stepped up near him. The carbonation of feeling that flowed up his neck and down his spine from Berynn’s presence made Giles nervously step away.
Berynn sighed. He looked down and the dark lashes fanned a shadow across his cheeks. Like the wings of a raven, they swept and when he looked back up Giles was suddenly flown to the moors above a small private boys’ school in Northumberland. Mist and rain mixing and falling into the gravelly drive. The green of new spring growth on the trees bleeding into the colors of the air around him. A pale open face, light green eyes…
“You remind me so much of someone I knew,” said Giles impulsively.
Berynn studied him, as his mind slowly translated the English words. “*A friend*?”
“*Yes, a friend. Of course a friend,*” said Giles. Berynn nodded and smiled. And then, suddenly, as if it were so easy, so natural, he caught Giles’ hand. Turned it in his own smaller ones, raised it and simply placed a kiss into Giles’ open palm.
Giles gasped. Berynn lowered Giles’ hand and seemed to frown down at it. Giles could feel his own skin suddenly damp with nervous sweat, his heart pounding at the inside of his ribcage. Berynn could feel what he was feeling of course. Berynn could tell, Berynn knew, Giles thought, in a panic.
“*You are my friend, also,*” said Berynn simply. “Friend,” he pronounced, carefully, in English. And he retained his hold on Giles hand.
“Berynn,” said Giles desperately. “*I’m sorry. I can’t help how I…*”
Berynn shrugged. He looked away. He kept holding Giles hand, playing gently with it, kneading and rocking it side to side before him. “*Men are men,*” he said. “*They feel things.*” He slid his long cool fingers between Giles and lowered their clasped hands between them. “*There is no shame in it,*” said Berynn simply. He looked up at Giles and suddenly before Giles was a small boy, unsure, simply asking. “*Is there?*”
“*No, of course not,*” said Giles impulsively. He tightened his grip on Berynn’s hand, as if to assure him.
And Berynn seemed to need the assurance. He stood studying Giles for another full minute. “*I have something to give you,*” he said finally. “*In my rooms*” Berynn pulled Giles along behind him and Giles followed helplessly.
It was leather, in a world where leather was more precious than gold. Stitched with symbols that seemed ridiculously familiar, but that Giles could not place. Because Berynn knew that an unknown demonic language was, to Giles, more beautiful than any inlay of precious jewels. Giles held the sheath in shaking hands and wondered at what the gift meant. He had read about the giving of gifts in this culture. Something would be expected. He wished he knew what.
“*I thank you*” he whispered in the most formal phrasing he knew in the language. He looked at the boy, standing, turned slightly away from him, head bowed and frowning, and desperately knew he was doing something wrong.
“I…” Giles wracked his memory, a lifetime of research on demonic and alien cultures, helping him not at all as he tried to think of the words or the actions that would heal the wrong he had undoubtedly committed.
“*I’m sorry,*” he finally said baldly. “*I haven’t anything to give you in return*” And Berynn looked up at him, his eyes so full of tears that the black lashes clung to the skin, and the corners tightened as they tried to hold them back. Nevertheless, one dribble escaped and the Berynn twisted his face away quickly.
It broke Giles’ heart and he forgot propriety or the rules of social interaction.. He forgot that he was a middle-aged man inappropriately attracted to a teenage boy. He forgot everything except the hurt of his friend.
“Come here,” he said gently, and opened his arms.
And Berynn rushed into them, thrusting his head against his chest, the smooth hair rubbing up against Giles’ clenching throat. His strong arms grabbing and pulling Giles to him. The lithe muscular body pressed so tightly against him that Giles could feel that Berynn, too, had … feelings.
He dared to raise one hand to stroke the back of Berynn’s head. Berynn turned his face into him, and his warm, wet mouth pressed into the V of skin revealed by Giles’ shirt.
They were both breathing hard. Giles’ mind was filled with blindness and at the same time terribly aware.
“*What do we do now?*” said Berynn against his chest, his hands on Giles’ back, stroking, moving down. Giles felt the small, hard hips rock against him. The long, hard indication of Berynn’s arousal rubbing against his thigh.
“*I don’t know.*” Giles held the body against him. Giles’ hands caressed the smooth silk across Berynn’s back. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to do.”
“I like how this feels,” said Berynn, rising and bumping his pelvis into Giles’ again. Giles wanted to cry, overwhelmed with desire and shame, but Berynn was staring up at him and Giles saw nothing in those eyes but surprised pleasure. Giles bent forward and his lips traveled, as if under a spell, across Berynn’s forehead, to the bridge of Berynn’s nose and he felt the boy tilt back his face to meet him.
“Yes,” hissed Giles, and pulled that mouth towards his own. Strong soft hands wrapped across the back of his neck and held him there. Berynn made small sounds into his mouth. His body quivered and Giles gathered the round, perfect globes of his ass in both hands and pulled him tight against him. They both moaned into the kiss.
And Berynn pushed away. Giles gaped and stumbled a bit, his mind already reaching for apologies. But Berynn backed towards the bed, pulling feverishly at the ties of his shirt, then jerking if off over his head. He reached for the fastenings of his slacks and, watching Giles with wild eyes, let them fall to the floor.
Giles followed, his clothes coming off beneath his hands, either normally or torn he didn’t notice. He followed Berynn as the boy crawled back onto the bed, beckoning Giles. Berynn was shaking all over and breathing through his mouth and when Giles lay down next to him and boldly ran one hand over his chest and slowly down the expanse of white silky skin, Berynn arched against the touch and groaned.
And then it overcame him. Giles rolled so that he lay atop the boy, pushing apart the white muscled thighs, his hands fondling and kneading and stroking. Berynn’s chin raised, his mouth open as he gasped and said words in his own language. Little sounds, his hands found Giles face, his mouth. Giles took those fingers into his mouth and sucked them avidly. He lowered his pelvis over Berynn’s and bore down, rubbing and thrusting against the boy’s smooth skin. He lowered his mouth and kissed the white chest. Freckles arched in a lazy graffiti across one pectoral muscle and Giles followed them, eagerly, to a red nipple. He chewed and was rewarded when the boy cried out with surprise and buried his long fingers in Giles’ hair.
“Rupert,” said Berynn with his odd accent and he arched upwards again. His movements were frenetic and desperate as he arched up over and over, obviously seeking more friction. Giles suddenly knew what to do and slithered downwards, found the hard, white, uncut member of the boy and wrapped his fist around it. His hand looked so large and rough, he thought wildly, wrapped around the innocent untouched boy. A bubble of precum dribbled out from Berynn’s slit as he moaned again at the feel of Giles gripping his cock and Giles felt it was the most natural thing in the world to lean down and lap it up.
Berynn cried out again and twisted on the sheets. Feeling wise beyond any reason, Giles held the boy’s hips down and took more of his cock between his lips. He suckled and was rewarded with more cries. A hand grabbed wildly at his head. He tried to push his mouth further downwards, but soon found himself gagging against the intrusion, so instead sucked harder, lapping at the underside of the soft head, and rapidly stroking the lower half of Berynn’s cock with his fist as he suckled.
He was just beginning to think he had the hang of it when the boy froze, arched in space, a vibration moved over his belly and up his thighs and cool, salty liquid appeared in Giles’ mouth. His first instinct was to jerk away, but Giles vaguely recalled the few blowjobs he had received and remembered what bliss it had been to stay inside the warm cavern until he was completed. So he remained, gently suckling, swallowing manfully. His one hand stroking the shaking inside of Berynn’s thigh, his other hand rising to find Berynn’s fingers and intertwine with them.
When Berynn was finished Giles withdrew, and looked up at him.
Berynn’s chest heaved up and down. His face still stared at the ceiling. He tightened his grip around Giles’ fingers and tugged. Giles obediently clambered up. Surprised and chagrined to find his own cock completely sated as he lifted it from the large wet puddle on the sheets.
But Berynn’s face was a wonder, Berynn’s eyes the eyes of a child beholding magic. Giles kissed the dark, soft mouth and whispered. “Hello, my boy.”
“Rupert,” whispered Berynn lyrically. His fingers came up to trace Giles’ face. Giles kissed their tips. One at a time. Tenderly.
“Thank you,” said Giles devoutly. To Berynn, to the gods, to his own broken, brave heart. “Thank you.” And Berynn smiled into his eyes.
“Oh, oh stop,” moaned Xander in a voice that begged the exact opposite. “I’ll be good…”
Spike’s hips jerked forward, drew back slowly, jerked forward again.
Xander hiccupped breath in with the force of every thrust. The capture of his hands had been transferred to a handy table leg, someone’s shirtsleeves used as a rope. His behind was now a nice rosey red and so were his upper thighs front and back. His skin had a lovely sheen of sweat on it and his cock swung heavy and dripping before him. Spike had his hips raised from the mattress and was holding the base of Xander’s cock in a tight grip. He pulled back slowly, slammed against Xander’s prostate.
“P…please,” Xander gasped. Spike drew back slowly, changed his angle slightly. Slammed in again.
Xander made a low mewling noise, half-laugh half-sob. “Please, Sire,” he panted. “Please let me cum…”
“Naughty. Naughty. Naughty,” growled Spike, shoving against Xander’s spot with every repetition. Grinding against the beautiful hot skin of Xander’s bottom. He was more overcome than his lover, really. Losing control in a manner that was an embarrassment to demons everywhere. His speed picked up and his tight fist began moving slightly up and down Xander’s cock.
“Gaaaaahd!” wailed Xander, hopelessly jerking against the restraints, trying to thrust his hips faster into Spike’s hand.
Grunts and animal growls and the slap of flesh on flesh. Spike forgot the game entirely and merely pumped into Xander, his hand now flying up and down the leaking, hard cock until Xander’s entire torso shuddered under him and they both came, jerking and yelling.
“Wow,” said Xander from the heights of whatever stratosphere he was drifting in.
Spike sighed his agreement. He licked the sweat from Xander’s back. Long circling loops.
“Is that how it would be?” Xander asked dreamily.
“How what would be, pet?” Spike was nibbling with his fangs at the round, still-pink globes of Xander’s ass when the boy’s released hand came around and swatted at him.
“Ow,” said Xander mildly. “You stuck me, Mr. Pointy tooth. Is that how it would be if you turned me?”
Spike became very still.
“Spike?” Xander tried to turn to see Spike’s face behind him.
“’S not a game, Xan,” said Spike finally. He wriggled his arms around Xander’s lower torso, cradling him. “It’s death, kid. And death ain’t fun.”
“I know,” said Xander softly. “I died, remember?”
Spike lowered his forehead to the small of Xander’s back and squeezed him tightly.
“But is that how it would have been if… if that night…?”
“No,” said Spike. “No, maybe with Angelus but not with us, Xander. With us it would have been…” He lay his now fully human cheek on Xander’s back and gazed into the dark of the tent with a faraway look. “It would have been different.”
“Sure.” Spike crawled up Xander’s body so he lay across him, his head bent to whisper next to his ear. “I woulda kept you some place safe, Xan. Someplace warm and quiet until you rose. No buryin’ in the ground for you. And when you woke.” Spike’s mouth circled the rim of Xander’s ear, his tongue following with little butterfly licks. “When you woke I’d have a pretty young thing for your breakfast. Leather and silk for you to wear. Music. It would be beautiful.”
Xander smiled. “You’d take care of me.”
“Yer my Childe, course I’d take care of you.”
Xander was quiet. Chin rested on the mattress. One hand still reaching back to rest on Spike. “Sounds nice…”
“Mmmm,” said Spike. Then, “No. Not nice.” He pushed back, rolled and sat up at the edge of the mattress. Xander turned and looked at him.
“Why do you freak out whenever I mention that?”
“What? Freak Out?” said Spike, exaggerating Xander’s accent when he pronounced the words.
“Yeah,” said Xander, not distracted by the mockery. “You have a wiggins every time I mention turning.”
Spike made a great show of looking around for his shirt.
“What?” persisted Xander. “Is it some kind of vampire psychological trauma? Is it like a womb issue or something?”
Spike’s face expressed his opinion of Xander’s sanity.
“Well then, what is it? Is it just your issue… some,” Xander’s eyes widened, “some commitment thing, like you were saying? Some…” His voice stilled and that wounded puppy look appeared on his face.
Spike jumped up from the bed. “Where’s my boots anyway, Harris? You threw them someplace…”
“You don’t want to commit to me,” said Xander, his lower lip in full pout mode, his voice rising. “ It’s like I’m talking about an engagement or something and you… you wig out because you don’t want…” Xander rolled over and planted his chin back on the mattress. “Forget it,” he said.
“No no, I get it.” Xander’s voice had that light, brittle sound that Spike had learned to associate with the beginnings of a major argument. Like the first spits of smoke before the volcano erupted. “You did that claimey thing, but this is different. This is forever, it’s not like you really want me…”
“Course not, Xan” Spike said quickly. “I mean, course I do. Want you.”
“But you wouldn’t want to turn me,” said Xander. His voice odd as he spoke with his chin still on the mattress.
“Course I would,” Spike spat. “You think I wouldn’t want that? Be able to care for you, protect you.. You’d be mine and no one could take you… be able to keep you always safe always with me… “ he drifted off. Turned his head away.
He studied the wall of the tent and counted Xander’s inhales and exhales. One quick inhale a long enlightened sigh. Another long inhale.
“I’d like that,” said Xander. “I’d belong to you. You’d be… mine.”
“No,” said Spike harshly. “You’d be dead.”
“We could get Giles to do the soul thingie,” said Xander excitedly.
“What are you talking about?” yelled Spike. “Soul thingie? Are you daft?”
“The orb of whatsit. They must still have…”
“Xander Harris, have you gone completely off the bloomin’ track?” Spike threw up his hands, noted they shook somewhat, clenched his fists to gain control and whacked the mattress hard to establish that. “We aren’t discussin’ this.”
“What if I want to?”
“You do not want to!” yelled Spike. He jumped up, stomped across the tent. Put as many feet as possible between himself and the devil of temptation. “You …” he thrust a finger at Xander, “are not discussing this any more.”
Xander’s mouth closed, the lips pressed together. His whole face relaxed and he got that steady look in his eye that Harris got sometimes, when he knew he was right and he was going to speak his piece. Spike looked around the room quickly for an escape route.
“Listen, Spike,” Xander said carefully. He stood up, put one big hand on a slim muscled hip. Spike thought about how entirely unfair it was that Xander looked so appealing when he was about to give Spike hell.
“I have every right to discuss this. It involves me. It involves US.”
Spike fussed over the ties of the pants he had found. He made a big business of pulling them on and avoided looking at his angry lover. “Involves killing you,” he muttered.
“Maybe. But I still have a right to discuss it.”
Spike found a boot that had been flung across the room. He pulled it out and began trying to put it on without sitting down.
“Obviously it’s something you want.”
“Hey!” Spike waved his hand while jumping up and down with the boot in the other. “Hey, I never said that!”
“Sure you did,” said Xander cleverly. “Keep me safe, keep me yours,” he bowed his head, rubbed the back of his neck, drawing Spike’s eyes again to the slightly reddened claim mark. Xander shifted to the other foot. His skin was dark and sweaty and covered with spunk and a little splatter of rust that was probably Spike’s blood. He had become half-erect again and Spike considered simply falling to his knees and applying a blow job to the situation. Distract Xander that way. The Devil only knew, Xander was distracting Spike, the way he stood there, hips cantilevered, muscled calves at right angles, his upper thighs still mottled from the spankings…
“I said how long have you been thinking about it?”
Spike gaped and dropped his boot. “What?”
“Geez, Mr. A.D.D., pay attention would you? How long have you been thinking of turning me?”
Spike’s mouth opened and closed like a drowning trout.
Distantly the alarm in the village went off. It was their own version of reveille. Xander got a look of total exasperation on his face and waved an open palm in the direction of the sound, as if somehow it proved some point he had been making about Spike. “Great,” he said.
He whirled, grabbed clothes, and began dressing even as he headed for the tent door. “This isn’t over, Spike,” he called back as he strode out. “After this war, we’re gonna have a nice long talk.”
Spike found he feared that talk more than a horde of demons.
Every available member of the village was there. At the top of a ridge, hidden in part by the trees and in part by the smoke and fog hanging in the air just off the cliff’s edge. They were strung out above the demon’s camp, preparing to attack.
There was frost on the ground and Xander found himself momentarily distracted by questions of seasons and how cold did it actually get in this place? He glanced up at Spike where he stood, some twenty paces off, at the top of a rise, having an intense conversation with Tybor.
Later, after the war. And after their ‘talk’, he’d get Spike to answer these more mundane questions.
A hand rested on his shoulder and he turned to see a very pale and serious looking Berynn standing next to him.
“Rupert,” Berynn pointed. “*Wants to speak to you.*”
Rupert, huh? Xander gave Berynn the once over. His friend was white as a ghost everywhere but his beard-burned cheeks. He visibly shook with exhaustion yet seemed almost ethereal with glowing, happy eyes. He indicated the direction in which Xander should walk to find Giles and Xander saw the shirt beneath the light chainmail vest gape to reveal three small bright red love bites.
He dutifully followed Berynn to Giles and noted the expression that pulsed over Giles’ face when he and Berynn’s eyes met.
Xander wondered if anyone had slept the day before.
“So, what’s up G-man?” he asked, smiling and looking around casually when Giles reacted to the old nickname.
“Ah, yes, Xander. I’d like you to do something in particular for me.”
Giles gave Berynn a look, apologetic but stern. Berynn dipped his head and turned, trotting off towards a more distant location. Giles sighed, watching him go. “It’s a personal favor, Xander, and you don’t have to do it.”
Xander grinned. “Anything you want, Giles,” he said, “except, no, you can’t borrow our lube. That stuff is not easy to get…” he watched the color slowly saturate Giles’ entire face, from the neck up, like a t-bag steeping in hot water.
Giles opened his mouth, had to close it again as nothing came out. He tried again and managed to croak out, “Uh, no. I wanted to ask something…oh lord, Xander what am I doing?” the last came out as a tiny wail.
“I know how you feel Giles,” said Xander. “Believe me. And then some.” He chuckled, “You know, I owe you a lot of ribbing, right?” He laughed at the defenseless look on Giles face. “Just relax and go with it,” he suggested kindly
“I don’t do that,” said Giles.
“Yeah, I know. But maybe it’s time to learn, Giles. Listen,” said Xander reasonably. “As long as you’re both happy. And no one is getting hurt…”
“How can I be sure of that?” Giles said.
Xander sighed. “Berynn looks… “ he searched for the word. “Blissful,” he said.
“Geez, Giles, the guy looks like he could float.” Or pass out, Xander thought wryly.
Giles raised a hand that held a noticeable tremor and carefully straightened his glasses. “Thank you, Xander,” he said.
“Right. So. What was the favor?”
Giles eyes sought out the small figure standing at the edge of the clearing, talking to some other patrollers. “Watch out for him?” he asked softly.
“I’ll watch out for all the guys,” said Xander cautiously.
“But Berynn isn’t suited to this, he’s …”
“Berynn’s great, Giles,” said Xander coolly. “I’ve been on patrol with the guy. Hell, I’ve been in battle with him.” He took a moment before he made his next statement. “It’s not fair to ask that, Giles. Everybody here has someone they care about. Everyone has someone to lose.”
Giles flamed red. “Of course,” he said. His voice crisp, embarrassed. “Of course how selfish of me. I shouldn’t have even said…”
“I understand,” said Xander gently. “Besides, I kinda get it with Berynn. He is different.”
“He is affected by things others are not. So sensitive. He’s…he’s special,” said Giles. “And that is not just the opinion of someone who…who…” he stopped. Closed his mouth and looked so pained, Xander thought for a minute that Giles was ill.
“Who knows him, huh, G-man?” said Xander softly. He remembered the last battle, how Berynn had collapsed when others were injured. And the incident when the village had been attacked. “Maybe you're right,” said Xander. “Maybe he shouldn’t be fighting, Giles.”
“He insists,” said Giles. He looked slightly aggravated.
Ooh. Lovers spat? Xander smiled and nodded. “Yeah, he would. Okay, listen I’ll try to stay close to him but Giles? You have to do a favor for me then.”
“If I can’t be there to get his back, I want your word that Spike isn’t a sacrifice, okay? Whatever your battle plan, my boyfriend is not the expendable Monster of the Week, got it?”
Giles paused long enough that Xander was sure that sacrificing Spike had been one of Giles acceptable alternatives. “Got it,” said Giles with a sigh.
“Yes, Berynn, I believe we are through,” Giles added to the empty space over his shoulder.
Xander looked around, thinking the empath had come up behind him or something.
“Uh, who are you talking to?” he asked.
“Why…” Giles turned around, saw the small figure still standing at a distance. “Odd.” he said. He stood for a moment, his back to Xander.
“Er, Giles, I…” Xander stopped when Giles held up a quelling hand.
Across the field, Berynn’s head came up, and the white face could be seen turning to look at them. Then he came trotting across the field.
“I have another idea,” said Giles, his back still to Xander.
Berynn jogged up to them and stopped. He and Giles stood looking at each other. It was so sappy Xander found it a bit embarrassing. “Hey, guys,” he said uncomfortably.
A big smile spread across Berynn’s face. He nodded. Giles laughed. He turned to face Xander. “I have a slight revision to the plan, Xander. It involves a certain empath…”
Xander mounted the crest of the hill. Spike stood there, geared up for battle, discussing something with two of the patrollers that would be in his group.
“Hey Buddy, anybody ever tell you how hot you look all dressed up for carnage?” Xander called clearly, and Spike spun around to greet him. The men he had been speaking with stepped away, trotting back to the group that held Dahla. In it, Xander could see the small shining head of Hope occasionally peaking through.
Spike pushed back the heavy cloak and adjusted a belt that held so much metal, Xander thought it could have sunk a small boat. Only Spike could carry that much weight and still fight.
The cloak was thick and long and would be shed before battle. His legs were clad in a tight dark material that gave absolutely no purchase to would be attackers. The thin swine’s skin laces held knee high dark boots against his thighs. His hair had grown a bit, but not enough for the ponytail, so he had trimmed it again. In soft wheat colored spikes all over his head.
He grinned at Xander and Xander felt the swell of battle lust as if it were a new men’s perfume. Eau’ de’violence, he thought. Spike’s gameface rippled continuously below the surface, his fangs already glimpsing at the corners of his smile. Through the tight black slacks, his hard on was clearly evident. He bounced on his toes.
“Looking good yerself, Harris,” growled Spike, and his tongue played at one sharp tooth. “You come to get the best seats?”
Spike gestured. They stood on the highest promontory above the demon camps. From this point one could see across the plain to the lower plateaus where the weird ‘fingers of god’ like heavenly spotlights scanned and crossed. Below, the demon camp was discernable from between the clouds of atmosphere.
All around were men in battle gear. Villagers carrying bizarre objects which were probably the ingredients for a huge arsenal of magic Dahla had created.
“You love this,” said Xander. “Don’t you?”
“Nah,” said Spike. He spun about on one heel, taking in the scene. He spread his arms wide and took a big breath. “Smells like fear and danger and …” he glanced at Xander. His eyes slowly, very slowly, ran up his legs and contemplated Xander’s also obvious reaction to the pending battle.
“Nuh uh,” Xander waggled a finger. “I’ve already got my orders.” He stepped into Spike’s space and grabbed all that wiry hyperactive demonic energy around the waste. Pulled him in hard. “Can’t keep an eye on you, buddy. You gonna be alright on your own?”
Spike’s hip did a little dip and wriggle and his mouth hovered an inch from Xander’s own. “Keep that hot little body safe, you wanker,” he breathed.
“Same to you, bloodbreath.”
Their lips came together softly.
“Spike,” said Xander. And it came rushing over him, like the wings of some prehistoric monster, that sense of doom. “God, Spike, don’t do anything stupid…”
“Hey, I never do, Harris,” said Spike, grinning. He sobered a bit and grabbed Xander’s chin in an uncharacteristically gentle gesture, tilted it up. Kissed him again softly.
“I can’t do this without… god, Spike, I can’t do this place without…”
“Tut, pet,” said Spike. He frowned when he didn’t get the customary slap for that. “Harris, don’t go all soft on me, now. I gotta know you’re gonna be a warrior today, okay kid?”
“Yeah, Spike.” Xander shook off his weird premonitions and forced a smile. “Can’t wait to try out my new skills.” He patted the broadsword at his hip.
Spike got a very serious look on his face. “Hope your don’t get that close,” he said. “Use yer ax, Harris. You throw like some kinda demon.”
“Yeah, sure. Ever since..” Spike stopped. He had been going to tell Xander how much stronger the kid had become since the claim, but he was afraid of opening that subject up again. Not here. Not now. “You’ve been practicin’,” Spike did an expert save. “It shows.”
“Bet I get more than you.”
“Not bloody likely!” said Spike with a touch of his old fire. He grabbed Xander and kissed him. This time hard, thorough, and full of hunger. “Love you, brat. Gonna show you just as soon as we’re done here.”
“Promise,” Xander demanded.
“Sure.” Said Spike, feeling uncomfortably superstitious all of a sudden. “I promise, Xan.” He pushed him away then, casually, playfully. “Off with you now.” Keeping that grin firmly in place until Xander had spun about and trotted safely out of sight.
“Humans,” said Spike. His eyes dark and full of fear. “Can’t live with ‘em. But sure as hell don’t wanna have an unlife without ‘em.”
He turned and strode towards Dahla’s troop.
It began quietly.
In all the movies about Wars that Xander had ever seen, there had been a moment when the troops had coming roaring down from the mountains, hillside, western plateau, making a hell of a lot of noise screaming their war cries.
Which was all very cool in the movies, sitting safely in one of those bucket seats in the theater. Tub of buttered popcorn and giant soda safely at his elbow. When it was his own heiney on the line, though, he somehow felt a little safer, sliding in and out of shadows. His half of the attack squad had been assigned the partially emptied camp itself and they creeped up on it by increments. As if the entire troop were a giant slithering snake. They wrapped themselves insidiously around it’s periphery and waited.
Puffs of fuchsia smoke appeared silently overhead like airborne flowers and that was the signal.
Patrollers around the periphery padded forward in that fast silent way of theirs and took out the sentries. Except a couple of the boys didn’t make it and Xander heard the alarm go off. Which meant that they’d already lost at least one of their friends. He looked worriedly over at Berynn, who stood next to him. The empath was pale, and his eyes had that hard bruised look, but he was standing steady and Xander guessed that was good enough for now.
“Ready?” he whispered, pulling back some obstructive branches and rising to a crouch.
And they ran forward, straight towards the main group of tents in the demon camp.
Tybor had a deadly eye with a crossbolt. Spike watched the third demon go down, as he himself took off ones head, and decided that the little flame haired patroller was definitely someone he wanted on his side in the next war.
His brother seemed more the run and stab sort. Making up for any lack of finesse with a fury to match a denizen of Hell.
Both had tempers to match their hair. Slightly larger than the other villagers, with mean as Satan eyes and skin that went bright red with a heady mixture of testosterone and adrenalin. They could strike fear in any demon. Even unarmed and just coming at them with one of those unholy yells of theirs.
Spike leapt easily to the side as Tyren went screaming past him, his battle cry and a large sword splitting the head of another unfortunate demon.
Spike himself was just getting warmed up. Like a machine, his legs and arms worked easily through the thickest throng of bodies. Not even really noting the type or skills, as he mowed a row of carnage down the middle of the attack phalange.
Tybor, Tyren, and the other stongest fighters came in a wedge of flying steel behind him. Further back yet, Dahla and her apprentices (and wasn’t that the scariest lookin’ group of faeries Spike had ever seen?) came steadily forward. Chanting, with bright puffs of fuchsia and chartreuse, smoke flying forward in little cannonballs of debilitating magic.
Spike had a prickly fear of friendly fire that would not go away, even though Dahla had assured them that the magic was demon-specific. He felt too much of a demon to be comfortable with demon-annihilating magic.
Tybor screamed and Spike whirled around to find that only he and the patroller had managed to advance and they were closed off, at least temporarily, surrounded by the enemy. The patrollers response was to attack with more zeal, a reaction Spike could fully appreciate, but reason told him that it was energy wasted and that they should circle around and… “Over here, Red 1,” he yelled over the crash of arms and the damp and spitting yells of demons. Tybor responded automatically, thrashing out with fury at a demon that pursued him. Spike snapped his hard heel across two fleshy faces and followed with a punch that broke right through another demon’s skull. Breaking a small hole in their demonic prison. He grabbed the patroller by a hard muscled fore arm and yanked… and was hit smack in the chest by a ball of puke green energy.
Hope sat in the middle of the circle of ridiculously weak men and sulked. She could feel the demons out there. The ones that had killed Angel. For weeks now no one had listened to her, no one had even tried to understand that she need revenge. She needed to kill them all. A tall silly boy with long flopping brown hair lent over to probably move her further away from the fighting.
Hope felt his hands closing over her upper arm and that pit of fire in her brain, the one that Angel had told her she must always contain, never release, exploded through her body.
There were only two men left in her wake, and she told herself comfortingly, that broken bones mend. Usually.
The demons literally didn’t see her coming. She was tiny and thin and really more of a bug to them than a force to notice. Until their numbers began falling around them.
Like a pit of fire in their midst, the tiny white heat of Hope began swallowing and devouring demons. Some of them ran, many of them stood and tried to fight. But she was nuclear in her strength and fury and melting through their ranks with ease. When a spray of green magic, like napalm, fell down around them all.
Giles and Dahla, from their higher vantage point, watched the battle freeze.
“*Is that yours?*” asked Giles watching the magic dust settle and still every warrior it contacted. The expression on Dahla usually placid face gave him a chill. She shook her head, rapidly. “*No,*” she said, and her eyes darted around, as if something fearful might leap any moment from the forest around them.
Giles felt the chill move down his spine. He closed his eyes.
“Hey,” hissed Xander as he tripped over Berynn. He recovered without making much noise in the underbrush and gripped the other man’s shoulder. Put his mouth right next to the cool ear. “You okay?” he whispered tightly.
Berynn was staring off into the darkness to their right. Xander looked but saw nothing in that general direction. Nevertheless, he opened the holster that carried his ax. Off to their left the tents that were their objective glowed with internal light and billowed very slightly in the evening wind. Xander shook Berynn’s shoulder again. They were to creep around those tents, find out what they could and report back to Giles. Via special messenger.
But Berynn was immobile. Xander crouched down closer to him, concerned. The man finally focused back on the present, turned his head to look at Xander and raised his hand in one of the code gestures the patrollers had taught to him. One word. Wizard.
The battlefield was completely silent. The magics seemed to have even stilled the stiff hot wind that blew over the plateaus at this hour. Flags hung limp. Warrior slumped over, frozen in space. It looked like a charmed kingdom from some animated movie. About Princesses and Dragons and evil Sorcerers. Giles stepped warily from the bubble of protection in which he and Dahla had stood.
Around him, the wounded seemed frozen also. Their agony suspended. It seemed to Giles, though, that they were still alert. A thousand frozen eyes followed him as he picked his way across the field. He scanned the plain looking for something external and internal that would point him towards the source of this spell.
Berynn was a skinny black asp with a bubble butt, thought Xander as he tried to keep up with the patroller sliding across the ground before him. Xander’s frame just wasn’t suited to slithering, and Berynn was widening the distance between them rapidly. Heading straight for one of the tents. He had basically signed his intent to Xander and taken off without pause.
They reached the edge of the clearing, the tent directly in front of them made a taut flapping canvas sound as if in greeting. Berynn’s head came up and he stared for a minute, then the voice of wisdom in his head informed him of something, and he quickly veered to the left, working his way with such stealth around the periphery of the tent he looked to Xander like no more than an undulating black line.
There was the sound of canvas again, and Berynn was gone.
Xander lay panting in the dark, adrenalin pumping through his system so hard it made him want to vomit. His own breath so loud he felt sure it would give him away. All around him an eerie unnatural stillness seemed to have descended. He felt sure his own fear and confusion had engendered that.
But his job was to protect the empath, and he couldn’t do that if he couldn’t see him. Xander forced himself to wiggle forward, lay his head on the wet mud and peaked through a quarter inch slit under the tent. He could see dark movement in there. Like swells before the lights. But he couldn’t tell if they were Berynn or some other.
Then a cool touch glided over his thumb where it held the tent material and he knew it was safe to wriggle under the flap as well.
It was odd. But the scene ached with familiarity. More than deja vu. Giles could swear he had been here before.
“My dear,” said a voice that had never really completely deserted him, no matter how far he had run from it. “Whoever invited you to our party?”
Giles heard the pulse of his heart beat twice, hard, in his head before he turned very slowly to his right.
Slim, with an unearthly pallor, hair longish and hanging about his shoulders. The black long sleeved tunic and slacks, as he stood there in the shadows, only served to frame the gaunt white face, the high cheekbones and mocking eyes.
“Really,” said Ethan Rayne, taking one precise step forward. “I was assured we had a very exclusive guest list.”
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