Apocalypse Laterish


by
Metaforgirl



17

In Orange County, California, the price of real estate was influenced directly by the supposed quality of the public schools and the proximity of the community to the beach. James and Patricia had opted for location over size, when figuring how much home they could afford. The house was a minuscule nine hundred square feet with two bedrooms and one inadequate bath.

But its market value had already risen thirty thousand dollars in the past three years, and they were planning improvements. This house was all about the future. Theirs and their sons. Somewhere in the file cabinet handily stored under the tiny home office, was the ten-year plan James and Patricia had drawn up. His job at the studio paid well but was as reliable as the wind. Her job was steady, and had long term potential, but it would be quite some time before she brought in an income even closely equitable to James’s.

Taking time off, although legally supported, was risky. Despite his distraction, James knew the chances he was taking in remaining absent, allowing his office to lay empty and exposed to marauding hordes of ambitious studio assistants. So he struggled at home to keep his hand in. Sending script synopsis and proposals for show ideas in at least twice a week.

When Tara and a slightly pale Patricia found him, he was just hitting ‘send’ on the email of his latest idea.

“There, you vultures,” he said to the monitor wearily. “Tear that to bits for a while.”

He looked up and saw Tara. “Oh,” he said. His hands came down off the keyboard and fell into his lap.

“Hi, James.”

James sighed and shook his head. “I’m … I’m sorry I didn’t speak to you at the… the,” he said, frowning at the small Formica desktop. Tara made him uncomfortable. Through no fault of her own, of course. It was just that her mother and then she, had not been welcome in their house for so many years. James always felt a bit guilty around her, as if he were somehow betraying his mother’s memory. But Patricia and she had become close friends over the years, and the thought warmed him somewhat. ‘I was preoccupied,” he said lamely.

“I understand,” said Tara. And she did. It had been hard for her, also, all those years ago, when she had first met the son of her mother’s former best friend. She had been raised with her mother’s heartache over Xander, as James had been raised with his mother’s jealousy and anger. It was a hard chasm to reach over. In the end they had, if only for the friendship between Patricia and Tara. An odd bond, two outsiders, in a way, trying to find a connection that had been allowed to die.

James seemed disinclined to encourage conversation, still looking down at his hands, and Tara looked around helplessly until Patricia leapt forward to drag one of the kitchen chairs across the room so that Tara and James could sit side by side. She went off for drinks and left them there, uncomfortably avoiding each other’s eyes.

“So,” said Tara finally. “Patricia said you’ve been interested in your father’s vampire stories lately.”

Jame’s face remained closed. He toyed with some of the objects on his desk. Tara noted the jars of Xanex and Valium and felt a little thrill of alarm. She had been raised in a Wiccan home with an herbalist as a mother. She always thought pharmaceuticals were evil.

“Dad’s stories…” James said vaguely. “Your mom told ‘em too, right?”

Tara regarded the cautious man sitting before her. She made a decision. “They weren’t stories, James.”

James laughed once.

“And my mother was not just a Wiccan by religious choice. Her magic was real.”

The glance James gave her was cynical and tired, but, she suspected, also a little hopeful. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“No. Its all real, James. Every word of it.”

James suddenly looked truly terrified. “Patricia?” and his wife was at his side immediately.

James laughed oddly. His eyes rolled to find his wife’s. “She says its all true.”

“I know sweetie. She told me too.”

“No wonder…” said James. And the fear in his eyes hardened into something like anger. “No wonder mom wouldn’t let her in the house.”

“James!” Patricia said, mortified at his rudeness at guests more than anything.

Tara just sat and waited. Willow had often said how strange it was that her daughter, whose DNA was a mixture of Rosenberg and a gay man named Wallace, should sometimes so resemble her namesake. But maybe it was the magic. That look of impossible wisdom in the young eyes. That made Tara so resemble the young woman her mother had loved.

Patricia kept her hands on her husband’s shoulders and James hands rose to clasp them. He stared at Tara, his eyes a little like a suspicious wild animals. “He said once,” he said suddenly, the statement more like a question, “Dad said there was a vampire with a soul who wasn’t evil.”

“There were two, actually,” said Tara. Still patient.

“He said it took a spell.”

Tara nodded. Waiting for it.

The wild fear in James eyes was settling, the hope showing through now. “Do you know how to do it?”

“It isn’t just a spell,” said Tara calmly.

“An orb,” said James. He released Patricia’s hands and seemed to lean a little towards Tara. “He had one.”

Tara nodded. “Yes, my mother said. They found them and each of them kept one. An orb of Thesula.”

Patricia was pleased that there was a chair under her when she suddenly had to sit. “The snow globe?”

“He has it.” James swallowed hard. “I left it with him.”

Tara nodded thoughtfully. “That was probably a good idea. I don’t think I need proximity to do the spell.”

“When?” said James. And Patricia was not quite prepared for his eagerness, his quick agreement to this… craziness.

“We should do it tonight. I don’t know when he will rise.” Tara said.

“Whoa. Whoa now. Wait. A. Minute,” said Patricia suddenly. She made herself stand again. It was one thing to invite Tara over here to talk to James about old times and their parents. The fantastic stories with which they had grown up. It was one thing for Tara to listen and be sympathetic and supportive. It was a whole other thing for Tara to encourage James in his delusion. To tell her that the stories were valid. Were plausible. Because they weren’t. The whole thing was crazy.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she said to Tara angrily.

James turned towards her, stung. “But we don’t know when he’ll rise…”

“James your father is not a vampire!”

James looked as if she had slapped him. “But the marks…”

Patricia was a patient woman. She seldom lost her temper. So instead of flying off the handle she merely shot Tara a venomous look and stepped close enough to her husband to slip one gentle arm around his waste.

“The doctor said that was just normal bruising, sweetie. Remember? Nothing hurt him. Nothing bit him,” she said, shooting Tara another dark look.

James was shaking his head like a confused old bear. “Didn’t look like bruises.”

“It can’t hurt to try,” said Tara in a chipper voice.

Patricia glared at her soon-to-be-former-friend. “Of course it can hurt.” She jerked her eyes meaningfully at her husband, and glared some more. “You can’t do this.”

“Please,” said James, behind her.

“Tara needs to leave now, James,” said Patricia. “She’s late for something.”

“But … but she said she knows…”

“I do have to leave,” said Tara quickly. She stood up and reached down for her bag. “I … I can do it from anywhere,” she said nodding at James, smiling helpfully.

He nodded eagerly. “Right.”

Patricia didn’t even walk her to the door. She was so angry. When she heard the gentle click of the front door latch, she turned to her husband. James looked relaxed for the first time in weeks.

“I’m glad you called her,” he said.

Patricia thought maybe that had been the biggest mistake of her life. “Do you want to go to bed now, James?” she asked, keeping her face neutral, not letting her husband see her fear.

“Yeah, I think I can sleep now.”

If James could sleep without the pills, then maybe it hadn’t been such a huge error in judgment, thought Patricia.


~*~*~*~*~


The sun had barely set. It’s pink glow still lighting the sky and creating a soft backdrop for the still silhouette posed at the edge of the cliff. Xander stopped as he reached the crest of the hill and just watched Spike looking out over the fertile plain beyond.

“Thanks for letting me sleep, pet,” said Spike without turning, his voice carrying back on the cool light breeze rising from the valley floor below.

Xander trotted up. He lay a hand on Spike’s arm and looked out over the valley with him. In the distance, the small temporary shelters were dark brown lumps following the natural curve of a river.

“They all moved, then?”

“Yeah,” said Xander. “Man, you don’t know how much junk people have until they move, do you?” He squeezed Spike’s bicep a little. “Coulda used the superstrength guy, you know.”

Spike seemed still absorbed in his study of the distant village.

“Course nobody expected you to…with the sunlight and all,” said Xander. “I mean, no one thought you were shirking. Or…” Xander babbled on, wondering at Spike’s stillness. “Wow,” he said, looking around, “I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that there weren’t people on the ridge at this hour.”

“First time in centuries,” said Spike, low.

“Centuries?” Xander gazed up at the crack crazed greenhouse windows. “How soon they forget, huh?”

“Dahla was here.”

The breeze coming up over the cliffs edge was definitely nippy. Xander wrapped his arms around himself and shivered. “Yeah?”

“She came to say…” Spike looked down at his boots. Xander waited but Spike didn’t seem about to finish his sentence.

“The guys asked about you,” Xander volunteered, nervously trying to read his lover’s expression in its silhouette. “Told me to say ‘hi’. And Berynn and Giles invited us down after sunset,” he added eagerly. “Berynn has some ideas about a new ritual…”

Spike shrugged. Xander shivered hard. The breeze coming from the valley was definitely nippy now, and slick hoar frost slid crunched under his feet where he stood. Spike pulled himself from his own reverie and spared a glance at Xander.

“You’re cold,” he observed. “You must be tired.”

“Man, I’m wrecked,” agreed Xander, yawning hugely and stretching his arms above his aching shoulders. “Starved, too.”

“I’ll make your dinner,” said Spike, whirling and moving towards the tent at speed.

The slow slide and click of the lock in the mechanism sounded in Xander’s weary brain. “Hey!” He trotted behind Spike, followed him into the tent. “Hey, what’s up with you?”

Spike gave him a studiously blank stare. “Nothing.”

“You’re thinking about something again,” declared Xander.

Spike shook his head with a kind of superior disgust. He began preparing food.

Xander sighed and came up to him, wrapped his arms around him and leant his chin on his shoulder. “Talk to me, lover,” he said in a husky voice. He planted a kiss on Spike’s cool neck.

Spike stopped moving. He carefully placed the tortilla in his hand down on the counter and covered Xander’s hands with his own.

Xander let his lips press a line down Spike’s neck and nuzzle beneath the fabric of his collar. He slid his tongue out and played with the little goosebumps that formed there. “You know,” he said, rocking Spike back and forth, “they say communication is the key to a good relationship.”

Spike chuckled. “You callin’ yer excessive babble communication, Xander?”

Xander smiled and nipped at a bit of skin. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothin’” sighed Spike again. “Everything is right as rain. Laughin’ teacakes. The bad guys are beaten. The humans got their planet back. Or at least half of it.”

“And the vampire with a soul?” whispered Xander, rubbing his nose at that little place behind Spike’s ear.

Spike shivered again. “He’s okay,” he said slowly. “Maybe thinkin’ about moving himself, too. Someplace darker, I’m thinkin’. Now that he’s not needed.”

Xander lifted his head from Spike’s neck. “Not needed?”

“Well, you know, it’s done. Demons are defeated.”

“I’m sure there are more demons out there, Spike. The human race seems to come equipped with them.”

Spike nodded and Xander felt the stiffening in his back, the impatient little twitches as Spike sought to deal with some uncomfortable thought.

“Thinkin’ maybe I’ll just go find them then.”

Xander let go of Spike and stepped back from him. “You want to leave?”

Spike just stood with his arms hanging by his sides, back to Xander.

“Yeah. Thinking that might be best.”

“But…” Xander felt a little angry. “But, what if I don’t want to leave? This isn’t a decision you can make on your own, Spike!”

“Doesn’t concern you really, does it?”

“Fuck you, Spike!” That brought Spike’s head around at least. He studied Xander from beneath lowered brows, eyes narrowed and defensive. “Fuck you, it doesn’t. What, are we back to square one, here? Do I have to fight my way through this every week?”

Spike dipped his head. “You belong with them,” he shrugged towards the general direction of the village.

“I belong with you.”

“Listen Xan,” said Spike. He gestured towards the cliff on the other side of the tent wall. “There’s a clear line our there. The light and the dark. You,” he punched a forefinger at Xander. “belong in the light. I belong in the dark.”

“I belong with you.”

“You’re a human.”

“Not for long.”

Spike gaped. He grit his teeth. He stomped and circled and waved his hands. “Damn idiot.”

“We agreed, Spike. We just need to speak with Giles.”

“We did NOT agree, whelp. I did NOT agree. I was… distracted.” Spike ran a hand through his hair.

“You’re just coming up with another reason why we should do it. If you have to fight demons on your own…”

“Damn it, Xander…”

“I want it, Spike,” said Xander quietly. “More than anything.”

“Why?”

“Don’t know,” Xander rubbed at one arm, thoughtfully. “It feels like unfinished business, you know. Like something that might have happened but didn’t. Not that I wanted it to. But somehow … somehow now it's what I need. An empty space in the puzzle, you know?”

Spike shook his head.

“I love you,” said Xander.

Spike pushed both his hands into his hair and tugged.

“I need you,” said Xander.

Spike squeezed his eyes closed. Xander came up to him. Wrapped the helplessly responsive torso in his arms and leant in to Spike’s lips. He rocked his pelvis into Spike’s gently, so that his boyfriend could feel the length hardening against his thigh. “I need you,” whispered Xander against his jaw.

Spike growled and twisted quickly to capture Xander’s mouth.

“Mmmmm,” hummed Xander happily kneading and massaging, his tongue plunging into Spike’s mouth.

But Spike pulled back. Hard. Pushed Xander away. “No.” he said. “You aren’t gonna do that again, kid. I’m … I’m not gonna fall for it.”

Xander gave him The Look.

Spike’s eyes widened. “You have no shame,” he accused.

Xander grinned.

“Evil bastard,” commented Spike roughly. He pushed a hand through his thoroughly mussed hair. “Listen, let’s talk to yer watcher. See what he says. Then we’ll see.”

Xander bounced, Spike could have sworn, like a kid promised a party.

“Okay, we’ll see them tonight. Giles and Berynn’s hut is close to the bridge. We’ll have plenty of time and still make it back here by morning.”

“God. Morning,” said the disgusted creature of the night.


~*~*~*~*~


To Xander’s eyes, the village at night seemed just as it always had, though in a different location. They had moved every building, lamppost, fence and sign as if Xeroxed onto the sunny grass-filled plain. At night, the solar lights still flared on. The windowless buildings still issued their thin streams of coal-powered smoke.

To Spike, however, everything seemed changed. The buildings themselves glowed with the heat of the sun that had warmed them all day. The dampish mossy texture of everything was gone. The fence railing he ran his hand over still warm, and dry and silky smooth like baked wood. Underfoot, hard packed ground. No mud puddles, no slime.

He wondered how long until they began to dig wells, run irrigation pipes and ditches to make water retrieval more convenient. How long until they cut windows into the solid walls that faced the streets.

He looked up and could not count the stars that sprayed across the sky. There seemed more than he remembered.

Xander’s fingers wrapped around his own and tugged. Spike brought his gaze down from the infinite heavens to the twin stars dancing in Xander’s dark eyes.

“Hey, where’d you go?” asked Xander, smiling. He tugged Spike closer and they slid together in that liquid way that old lovers do. He pressed his mouth to Spike’s and whispered against his lips. “Berynn’s going to show you the new ritual building.”

Spike glanced around Xander’s head as his mouth was kissed again, and saw Berynn standing apart, waiting.

“Don’t need any ritual…” Spike began the old protest.

“I’m going to talk to Giles,” said Xander. “Alone, Spike. Okay?”

Spike blinked. “Okay.” He felt so out of kilter here. So without a place or purpose. He followed Berynn.


~*~*~*~*~


“Its been coming to this, Giles,” said Xander calmly. “You said so yourself.”

They sat in what passed as a front room in Giles temporary shelter. Xander had noted that this was the same building Berynn had emerged from. He saw the smaller sized shoes by the door, two sets of vests slung over a chair back. He made a mental note.

Giles poured a white liquid into his tea and frowned. He was actually mildly surprised that Xander’s request hadn’t disturbed him more. Perhaps the events of the past week had altered his point of view somewhat. “Are you certain you feel quite well, Xander? Do you feel that you are yourself, I mean?” Giles eyes, that could seems so vague, were piercing now, studying him intensely.

“Not in thrall. Not in some kind of trance. Believe me,” Xander chuckled. “I remember that. Not easy to forget. This isn’t the same. I’m just in love.”

“To the point where you wish to die?”

“C’mon, Giles. We’re just two old guys here. Dying really isn’t the bogey man they make it out to be, is it?”

“It’s a huge irrevocable decision, Xander. I somehow find it difficult to even contemplate.”

“Lots of things are huge, Giles. Marriage, having kids, deciding which flavor to pick at the Baskin Robbins…”

“You know very well there is more to it than that,” said Giles feelingly. “You are choosing to become evil, Xander!”

“Maybe,” said Xander nodding as they came to the next point. “You remember how to do that soul thing?”

“I have never done ‘that soul thing’ as you call it, Xander. My interest was slaying demons, not twaddling about with their destinies.”

Giles sounded a bit testy, thought Xander. He had expected that, of course. He figured he could work past it. He always had.

“So, its not in one of the books?”

“No! Well,” Giles pursed his lips and got that distracted expression. His eyes wandered thoughtfully to the stacks of scrolls in the corner. “There was that reference I came across in those latter day chronicles of…”

“See, I know you can figure it out, Giles,” said Xander cheerfully.

Giles gave him a very distrustful look. “Your confidence is heartening, Xander.”

“You’re the man, Giles,” said Xander, sipping his tea.

“If Spike turned you you would not be yourself Xander.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that, but Spike remembers being turned. He remembers what came before. So did Angel.” Xander looked momentarily angry. “Guess you Watcher’s didn’t have that ‘this is not your friend, this is the creature that killed him’ thing one hundred percent right, did you?”

“Xander, it would be a mistake to romanticize this.”

Xander sighed with frustration and looked around the room. Giles had managed, somehow, to amass a small arsenal of scrolls and books. Xander wondered where those had come from. In the tiny temporary hut, Giles and Berynn’s clothes were folded in shining stacks in a standing open wardrobe. Berynn’s patrol equipment, the broadsword, crossbow and impact resistant chest-protecting vest, all hung neatly against a wall.

“Looks like you guys are living together,” Xander observed.

Giles nodded, gazing around the room, his expression somewhat stunned. “It would appear so.”

Xander chuckled. Time for the big guns. “So,” he said, leaning forward and stirring his tea. “How old is Berynn?”

Giles blushed. “Xander. Berynn’s people don’t understand the concept of aging.”

“He looks about fifteen,” muttered Xander. “But, hey, I’m no one to talk.”

Giles frowned uncomfortably.

“What do his parents think?”

“You know, of course, that Berynn’s parents have both passed on.”

“Huh. So there’s no one to stop you. No one to take him aside and lecture him about how foolish he’s being.”

“I love him, Xander,” said Giles. “I would never hurt him.”

“He loves you, too.” Said Xander. “I can see that. And,” he sighed, “If its what you both want. If it makes you both happy…” he shrugged.

“This is not even close to the same issue, Xander.”

“Okay, G-man.”

They sipped their tea.

“Spike wants to leave,” said Xander in an off-handed way. “Wants me to stay.”

Giles set down his teacup. “Oh,” he said.

“Thinks I belong in the sunlight.”

Giles nodded.

“Well, I don’t,” said Xander firmly. “I belong with him.” When Giles opened his mouth to speak, Xander held up his hand, palm out. “I KNOW this Giles. It’s why I’m here. I just know it. I can’t…” for just a second, Xander allowed himself to think what would happen if this little mission failed. If Giles wouldn’t let him do this. If Spike left. “I can’t do this place without him, Giles.”

“But, Xander…” Giles sighed. How many times would he give this trite speech? “Don’t you want a normal life?”

“I HAD a normal life, Giles, don’t you get that? And it was great. The best. I don’t want to do all that again. It just wouldn’t be the same the second time. It’d be all same ol’ same ol’…”

Giles nodded. “Yes, well you might find immortality becomes a bit humdrum as well, Xander.”

“Somehow,” and a fond smile tugged at one corner of Xander’s mouth. “I don’t think life with Spike could ever be ‘humdrum’.”

Giles laughed. “No, I don’t suppose it would.”

“So you’ll do it?”

“Xander, I did not say that. Besides, I can’t. I don’t know how.”

“You could figure it out.”

“I’m not so sure that I could. I’m not so sure that I’d want to.”

“Please Giles.”

“Xander…” Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and prayed for patience. He felt Berynn pressing close to his awareness just then, that sense of being loved as soothing and comforting as a hand on his back. It centered him. And yes, there was quite a bit worth giving up to have this, he realized. Quite a bit worth sacrificing to feel this intimacy, this safety and warmth.

“I can’t promise anything,” said Giles with a sigh.

Xander bounced to his feet. “Thanks Giles.”


~*~*~*~*~


It was hot. Really really hot. Xander sprawled across the huge baked clay bench, his arms and legs turned out to expose their softest parts to the sunlight and felt like a plucked rotisserie chicken just broiling away. He could swear he heard his own body fat sizzling.

“Your skin is turning red.” Berynn’s voice was amused. Xander slit one eye open and turned his head enough so that he could see his friend regarding him from beneath the huge square umbrella he carried. The villagers had fashioned the awkward plastic pipe and polyester objects to protect themselves from sunburn.

Xander laughed and sat up to peel the sleeveless tank from his upper body. “I’m trying to get a tan.”

“Tan?” asked Berynn, tilting his head.

“Get my skin nice and brown.”

“Why?”

“’Cuz it looks sexy,” said Xander facetiously.

Berynn didn’t answer, but Xander heard and felt him sitting on the bench beside him.

“Rupert says,” said Berynn, beginning his sentence as he did half his sentences these days, “*that the sun will prematurely age your skin and can even cause growths that carry sickness.*”

Xander didn’t understand the entire sentence, but he got the gist of it. He snorted. “Giles is just jealous because all he does is burn.”

“He burns?” asked Berynn, obviously startled by this information.

Xander chuckled and sat up, opening his eyes. “No, no, not like Spike burns. Giles just turns red and his skin blisters and peels.” There was a look of absolute horror on Berynn’s face.

“Never mind,” said Xander, leaning back again.

They sat in silence like that for a few moments, while Berynn, Xander imagined, got past the horrible mental image of Giles with blistered peeling skin, and Xander’s skin baked.

“Spike watches you,” said Berynn suddenly, in hushed tones.

“I know.” Xander raised his eyelids a fraction and saw the shadows moving rhythmically beneath the distant grove of trees. One shadow did not move.

“He can not come to you here,” said Berynn, his tone slightly disapproving.

“We aren’t bound at the hip,” said Xander. He twitched uncomfortably. “Not exactly,” he amended. “I wanted to lay out in the sun. Think about stuff…”

“Oh,” said Berynn wisely. Xander heard the soft scuff of his sandaled feet move in the dust. The sigh of cloth as the young man rose. “I’ll leave you, then. To think.” Xander heard him move off.

He lay there and tried to think.

Xander had had to convince Spike and Giles and even Berynn, really, that becoming a vampire was a natural and desirable progression for him. He had had to behave in a confident and easy manner about the whole issue, just to bring his friends in line.

He hadn’t let anyone see his doubts. Regrets. Fears.

“Oh, God, Willow,” he said so softly that even the vampire hovering in the distant trees could not guess what words he spoke.

If Xander regretted anything in his long life, he regretted Willow. If things had been only a little bit different, Xander suspected that he and Willow would have probably married eventually. He could see that in retrospect. Could see his wife’s natural fear and suspicion of their relationship. It had done no good to point out Willow’s gender preferences. Jennifer had seen the love and had drawn her own conclusions. And she had been right, thought Xander. He sat up and pulled his shirt on again. The whitest skin on his chest was going to be damaged if he didn’t cover up soon.

Jennifer had been right to suspect love. Gender had nothing to do with anything. Xander’s eyes sought and easily found the still black shadow that waited behind a distant oak tree. Case in point.

Maybe if Xander had acknowledged Jennifer’s suspicions, they could have talked their way past all that. Maybe if Xander had been able to acknowledge his own bisexuality he would have been able to accept his friend’s. He would have been able to be honest with Jenn and perhaps that would have alleviated her suspicions. Maybe then she wouldn’t have been so upset about Willow and he could have kept his wife and his best friend.

Denial is an evil thing, thought Xander sadly.

So, what would Willow have said? Xander reached for the small bottle of oil that Giles had given him. A sort of UV protection in the vitamin e rich lotion, he’d been told. He rubbed it into his cheeks and tried to imagine the advice Willow would have given him.

“How do you feel, Xander?” He could see her eyes, concerned, full of warmth, studying him as he thought how to answer her. Her mind, always quicker than his, already leaping ahead to the answers he had yet to discover.

“When I’m with him? Well, besides the natural irritation and … err, you know, horniness?” he smiled when he imagined Willow’s blush. “I feel calm. Like … well, like no matter what happens we can handle it.”

Willow was nodding, watching and listening.

“I feel.” He shook his head, laughing, and imagined Willow taking his hands in hers. Giving them that little supportive squeeze. “I feel like … like I’ve found something at the bottom of a box in the attic. Something I packed away and forgot and I’ve been missing it all my life….”

Willow laughed. “I felt that way when I came out, Xander.”

“Yeah? But this isn’t about sex, Willow.”

She inclined her head. “Identity.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Who I am.” Xander mulled over that for a minute. “Uh, somehow, I don’t think I’ve been the male consort of a vampire all my life, Wills…”

“No, but you haven’t been an average guy, either,” said Willow.

“Sure I have. I’m Mr. Average,” said Xander immediately. He blinked at Willow, she smiled back gently. “Or… not.”

The phantom of Willow watched him, the heat curled over his skin, the distant shadow of Spike fretted beneath the trees.

“Okay, then,” said Xander. “Guess I get it.”

“Xander!” Xander sat up, startled to be addressed by a live person, and not a phantom.

“Giles?” The Watcher was approaching across the village square, one of those square lopsided umbrellas completely shielding his body from the sun. He wore the long light colored cotton and rayon robes that the villagers had adapted for the heat and looked, to Xander, like something from an old movie he had once seen. “Lawrence of Arabia,” he thought it had been called.

“Xander,” said Giles, looking somehow excited and troubled simultaneously. “I believe I’ve found a solution.”


~*~*~*~*~


“So, as long as there is an orb out there somewhere, the effects could be the same?”

“Well, not just any orb…” Giles calloused finger ran down the edge of the fragile scroll, reading the bizarre glyphs again. “An orb that specifically belongs to the person, err.. the uh, creature.”

“Creature,” said Xander woodenly.

“Yes, err, vampire I suppose.” Giles sighed and his hands stilled atop the scroll. The doubt that kept rising between them appeared again, practically visible in its shimmering terror.

“Great,” Xander swept his hand through the air. Imagined the doubt dissipating at his motion. “I had one in my home.”

“This is still supposition Xander.”

“It’ll work, Giles. I know it.” Xander rose to his feet, leaning on the table.

Giles gazed up at him. There was something about Xander. The way he stood there, so very real and very sure. He looked … momentous. And Giles quite suddenly believed it as well. Believed they could make this thing work. He nodded.

“I’ll go tell Spike,” said Xander.


~*~*~*~*~


“What is it like?”

Xander and Spike were sitting outside the tents, on one of the benches, watching the sunset over the new village. It was Spike’s latest fascination. Watching the distant goings on and pattern of light over his humans, like they were caught in a tiny terrarium.

Spike appeared to not hear Xander’s question. Which, of course, was impossible. And he knew Xander knew it, so with an uncomfortable little roll of his shoulders, as if he could somehow slide out from under the question, he tried instead to bat it aside.

“What are you talkin’ about, Xan?”

“What’s it like? Not breathing, not feeling a heartbeat…”

“It’s not the lack of somethin’ it’s the presence of somethin’ else,” Spike heard how snappish his voice was, but he couldn’t help it.

“Bloodlust?” Xander grinned. “Because, you know? I really get that.” He slid the hand that rested on the back of the bench just behind Spike’s head, lightly touching the back of Spike’s neck and ran his thumb up and down, an inch away from the latest marks.

Spike shivered and leaned into the touch despite himself “No. It’s not hungering for blood, Xander. It’s the demon. I’m a demon. I’m not the man I was.”

“Neither am I,” said Xander.

Spike sighed in exasperation and looked away from his beautiful, luscious warm human out over the plain below. “Not what I meant,” he said after a pause.

“Yeah it is, Spike. I know I won’t be the same, but hey! Dead guy here. And gay. I’ve changed a lot already.”

Spike shrugged.

“So what’s the problem?” Xander cautiously moved a little closer to Spike on the bench. His partner had been touchy and edgy and difficult for the past few days. Avoiding closeness, avoiding this conversation.

“When are we going to set the date?” Xander asked.

“Set the date?”

“We could do it tomorrow, except, you know, I kind of want to make it special. Maybe invite friends to a party afterwards…”

Spike whacked the bench seat once with the palm of his hand and jumped to his feet. “Need a walk,” he said, and strode off.

And that is how this conversation generally went, thought Xander, frustrated. After awhile, Spike would come back from wherever he had gone off too. He would be affectionate and needy and the sex would be fantastic, but they wouldn’t discuss it. Wouldn’t come up with a definitive plan.

But the sex would be fantastic and Xander would let it go.

Well, not this time. He marked the direction Spike had gone and only dove for a moment into their tent to grab his vest before following.


~*~*~*~*~


“Set the date, he says, like this is a feckin’ betrothment!” Spike absently stroked the fiberglass dome of Angel’s gravemarker and frowned at the grey dampish wood that stood around them. Already, the mildewy, steamy smell and texture was drying out. Affected by the nearby sun. The woods felt older now, less real, like they were sliding into memory.

“Remember how it was?” Spike asked Angel’s grave marker worriedly. “I hated you, you bastard,” he whispered. “Wanted you and hated you and …”

He poked at the ground with his thumb, yanked on the grass that grew now amongst the mosses. “What if he doesn’t feel…?” He whispered just to Angel, because Angel wouldn’t tell anyone Spike’s deepest fears. “What if the demon doesn’t care the way the boy did? What if the soul doesn’t?” What if a vampire Xander didn’t love him?

If he stayed, though, he knew the turning was inevitable. Every time they made love, every time Xander touched him even, the claim would pull at him. He wanted to crawl inside the boy on every level. Take him completely. And Xander wanted it too. He could see it in his eyes, feel it in his body, the way he responded to Spike. The way he cried his name during climax.

He heard the boy’s feet padding over the new grass, before he even felt the prodding inquiry of the claim in his mind. Xander’s step was sure, stealthy. He walked more like a hunter than he ever had, and Spike allowed himself a little fantasy of a fully turned Xander and just how powerful a predator he would be.

“Can hear you on the next bloody continent,” he shouted into the brush.

Xander emerged from a darkened copse. Ducking his head in embarrassment. “I thought I was being so quiet.”

Spike snorted.

“You’ll have to train me,” said Xander, huskily, a suggestive dip and sway in his walk as he approached Spike. “Teach me discipline.”

Spike grinned to himself and waited for the kid to pounce.

“Oh,” said Xander. And he halted. Spike saw Xander looking around, noticing where they were. His eyes came to Angel’s marker and stopped. “Oh,” he said. “I’ll leave you two alone,” he said coolly, spinning and striding away.

Bugger. “Wait, Xan!” Spike leapt to his feet and was at Xander’s side in two long bounds. He grabbed his arm. “Wait.”

Xander turned. Chin down, eyes squinted as if to deflect painful truths.

“It helps me think,” said Spike. “That’s all.”

“Sure,” said Xander. “Cuz you can talk to him. Tell him what you’re thinking. Not like me, who you can only fuck”

“Hell, Xan, you know it isn’t like that!”

“You guys had a bond,” said Xander.

“Sure we did.”

“I want… don’t you see, Spike? That’s what I want with you?”

Oh. Well. That made sense, didn’t it? Spike felt as if a gushing well of emotion suddenly erupted from some unknown source deep inside him. “Okay,” he managed to choke out over the wave.

“Can we talk about it now?”

“Yeah,” said Spike hoarsely. “Yeah. I guess we should do that.”


~*~*~*~*~


“I wish there were lilies,” said Xander suddenly. “I remember a painting I saw once. A girl in a bed, reaching for an Angel. There were lilies,” he said softly.

They were inside one of the huts where the villagers had ritualistically offered blood. Preparing it for the ‘ceremony’ as Spike kept referring to it.

“Ain’t no angel,” Spike chastised gently, his hand rising to catch and twist a silky dark lock of hair at Xander’s temple. “But I’ll find you lilies if you want them.”

Xander knew that Spike wanted the ritual to assure himself so that it wouldn’t seem like what it truly was. The massacre of the man Spike cared for. To assure himself that he wasn’t just a ravenous animal that would kill indiscriminately. Xander let him think it was for him. Let him fuss over the robes, the flowers, the words of the ceremony.

Spike drew the long velvety maroon robe from the box and held it up to Xander’s bronzed skin. Xander extended his arms and together they slid the heavy garment over his head. He tugged the voluminous black satin lined hood up and turned to Spike with his arms out and his face wanting a critique.

Spike was very glad he didn’t have to breathe. “Gorgeous,” he said reverently.

Xander grinned and dipped his head and the impression of a Master in ceremonial robes was immediately shattered. “Try on yours, Spike,” he urged.

“Nope, not till the ceremony,” said Spike. “’S bad luck innit?”

Xander laughed. “That’s for the bride.” He held his arm out and turned his wrist carefully, watching the thin leather wrist bands fall away. “I wonder how long I’ll keep my tan,” he said wistfully.

Spike set down the linen cloth he had been handling. “Xander…” he said.

“No, don’t start that again, Spike.” Xander came up behind him quickly and wrapped himself around Spike’s body. “This is going to be great. And I want it.”

“Don’t know what you want, I’m thinkin’” said Spike.

“I want to be with you,” Xander whispered against Spike’s hair, his lips finding an ear and nibbling.

“Nobody’s sayin’ we can’t be together, Xan. For a while. Just… this is more than that. You’ll be a demon. Not yerself anymore. Can’t you see that?”

“It’s my choice,” said Xander. “You said it was my choice…”

“Not sure I kin do it, whelp.”

“Spike!” Xander held Spike away from him. Struck to the core. “You don’t want to … you don’t want…”

“Love you, Xan. Don’t wanna kill you.”

“I won’t be dead, Spike. Just transformed.”

“You so sure the Watcher can pull this off then?”

Xander came up again and enclosed Spike once more in velvet and warmth. His musky breath caressed Spike’s chin and then his neck as his mouth descended and he whispered. “I’ve got a lot of faith, Spike.”

“In Rupert?” gasped Spike, closing his eyes as sparks spiraled from the bite into his brain.

“Nah, Giles will do his best, but I’ve got faith in the Powers that brought me here.” Said Xander confidently. “And in love, Spike. I’ve got a lot of faith in love.”


~*~*~*~*~


James was sitting on the tiny front porch of their two bedroom bungalow. The traffic on the 405 like a distant surf. The sky with its perpetual twilight still showing some stars. The old Walnut in the front yard occasionally fluttered its leaves in the light oceanic breeze.

“I love you, Dad,” James said to the shadows of the night. The shadows shifted slightly but did not respond. The screen door behind him creaked open.

“Honey?”

“Stay inside, Pat,” said James without turning. He lay his hand on the small pile of objects lying beside his left thigh. “No matter what I tell you, stay inside and keep Joshua in there with you.”

“James,” said Patricia after a very long silence. “I’m going to call Dr. Paulson.”

“Okay,” said James. He turned and looked up at his wife. Gave her a peaceful smile. “But wait until morning, okay?”

“She has an exchange.”

James shook his head. He didn’t like his therapist, but he didn’t want to be responsible for any harm that might come to her either. “Just wait until morning. Please.”

“I love you, James,” said Patricia tearfully.

James nodded. “I know. That’s why I can do this.”


~*~*~*~*~


“You don’t have to do this, Xander.”

Giles and Xander were standing outside the ritual tents. Xander, arms buried in his robe, lost in thought. Giles wondered if he was having doubts.

Xander smiled to himself remembering the day James had married. How frightened his son had looked, how young and vulnerable. And Xander had said the same words to him that Giles had just uttered.

“I can go in there now and break it up,” Xander had said to James in as jovial a manner as possible. “Mention the open bar, have a getaway car here at the front…”

James laughed and leant in to hug his father hard. “Thanks dad, I can always count on you. But this is it for me,” he squared his shoulders.

Xander thought about how this was it for him, too. Until dust does us part, he thought, and it really didn’t seem that amusing anymore. Because the only thing he was afraid of now was losing Spike.

“I remember the first time I saw this,” said Xander. “I punched Spike in the jaw.” He shook his head, wonderingly. “Maybe I knew even then.”

Giles shivered involuntarily and almost immediately Berynn was there, slim fingers wrapped around his arm.

“Xander?” asked Giles, leaning against Berynn and clutching his magical tools. “Are you sure about this?” Xander thought how young Giles looked suddenly, clutching his little bag like a stuffed animal. And he thought how Giles had been almost forced to leave his childhood behind. Forced and then at the last allowed this little bit to make up for it.

And he thought about what he had denied himself in his life.

“I’m sure, Giles,” said Xander. “I… I don’t know how to explain this, but I feel like this was meant to be a long time ago. I want this. Go,” he said then, making it light, his hands shooing them off. “Go do your mojo.” He turned and faced the tent. “And Giles?” he called over his shoulder. “In case this doesn’t work? I love you.”

He squared off and stared at the door of the tent. At this threshold. And barely heard Giles and Berynn echoing his declaration behind him.




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