Warnings: Dark themes
Summary: AU. What if Angel hadn't found out how to defeat Jasmine? Xander and Spike live in a different world, one in worship of a demon.
It was a church, once. Before dead flesh and bloodlust swarmed through the spires and danced in the confessionals, it was a place of solemnity. The twirl of bodies thrown against one another are echoes of whirling dervishes, of men consumed by religious fervour spiking beneath their heels.
These unholy creatures know what worship is but their faith rests in a different deity. A divine being whose ghastly face is imprinted on every flag, whose vast influence has spread through towns as they rose into cities built in Her name; whose name has wound around the mountains being carved in Her image.
“You are the gifts. I give you to my vampires for their loyal service in my name,” Jasmine tells them softly.
“Thank you for this honour,” Willow squeals, unable to contain her excitement. She clutches Buffy’s hand as she hears the vampires scream their approval through walls.
“I’m worthy,” Xander whispers, peace creaking through his bones as the doors slide open.
“Are you awake?”
A voice he doesn’t recognise punctures his cocoon of sleep.
“Hey … hey, are you awake?” the voice persists, spindly fingers snatching at his skin. Xander grabs its wrist, yanks hard so it falls across his chest with a squeak. He couldn’t see. God, he couldn’t see.
“Why can’t I see?” he asks. The thing says nothing, just struggles and squawks. “Why can’t I see?” he repeats, tightening his grasp.
“Lemme go! Help! Spike! Angel!”
Angel? Angelus the Traitor, the Divine’s enemy. So that’s what’s happening! He’s being held captive by the Unbelievers. He has to escape. He sits up sharply, lifts his hand to his face and feels a blindfold pinch at his skin.
A sharp sting in his arm startles him and then all is darkness.
“Wake up,” a different voice from before, one that brushes at the margin of his memory.
“Spike?” he croaks. “What …” his words choke in his throat as a knife is drawn across his chest and cool fingers press, smearing something across the wound.
“Traitor! Jasmine will stamp you out like the cockroaches you are!” Xander screams.
“Let go! I have to go back to her! I’m worthy!”
Silence as realisation dawns and the illusion shattered.
It’s not real, none of it. Jasmine, the shimmering light, humankind’s reward … she’s a monster. He’s meat to her. Pulsing meat with no use but one.
“Oh, God,” he whispers as fingers peel off the blindfold. He blinks, feels tears running down his face as Spike comes into focus. “Or … not God. No God at all,” he says. Panic pulls at his mind and he allows himself to be smothered by it, laughing himself hollow.
Spike sits on the edge of the bed and says nothing for a long time. He offers Xander a cigarette when he’s calmed and helps him sit up.
“Where’s Buffy and Willow?” Xander asks when he’s sure he can control his voice.
“Sacrificed,” Spike says. He doesn’t move when Xander stumbles to his feet, doesn’t touch him when he slides to the corner of the dingy little room and throws up onto the dirty tiles. He just lights up another cigarette and sneers at the mirror that lines the wall. He knows Angel is standing behind the glass, arms folded with that disapproving look of his, the one that tells Spike he should be comforting Xander and helping the poor fragile human get over the death of his family.
Fuck Angel. They had been Spike’s family, too.
“It was her blood that you … that you put in me,” Xander says later, no question in the statement, just a shudder of disgust. It may be days or it may be hours after he’d woken but he can’t tell. There are no clocks that work in the station (good old LAPD had abandoned the place months ago) and the days bleed into one another behind the heavy curtains that cover the windows. Spike pauses, mid-step. He’s busy helping Angel organise the rabble, teaching them how to fight so they’ll be prepared to fight … well, everybody on the face of the fucking earth.
“Had to. Her blood is the only way to break the spell. Fred managed to drain Jasmine’s mother and she stored it all neatly in little plastic baggies,” before they tore her limb from limb, “and we’ve got some people working on cloning the stuff as we speak.”
Angel went funny when Fred told him about it. Turns out he’d been in love with the bint they had to drain. Stupid wanker always fell for the doomed ones. Mind, Spike knows he isn’t exactly in a position to judge.
“How many …”
“We’ve Woken about 200 people so far. You only need a tiny drop. They done the same to me,” Spike says, yanking his shirt up to reveal an ugly red scar just above his hip.
“Does it go away?” Xander asks a little desperately, nodding to his own scar.
“No. Tried carving it out but it keeps coming back,” Spike replies, dropping his shirt. Xander’s jaw clicks in the silence and he realises he’s grinding his teeth together.
“If that’s all …” Spike says, turning on his heel.
Xander wants to say no, that isn’t all, that he has questions and things to scream about. To hell with Spike and the rest of the goddamn ‘heroes’, he hadn’t asked to be Woken. He hated this, didn’t want to face this nightmare of a world only to find that he was as useless to stopping the latest demon as he always had been.
But Spike is already walking away. He doesn’t have time for Xander’s hysterics. Let the women deal with him.
“How can I help?” Xander asks on the fifth day of winter, two weeks after his attempt to off himself. It’s the first time they’ve spoken since Spike spat on Cordelia’s grave since Xander slammed Spike’s face into the granite.
“Took your bleeding time, didn’t you?” Spike mutters, throwing Xander a knife. The boy can’t catch it, hands fumbling along the blade until it clatters to the floor. Bloody pathetic.
“I’m rusty,” Xander shrugs.
“Bollocks. You’re a crap fighter,” Spike snaps, looking away, back to sharpening an axe.
“I survived, though, didn’t I?” Xander says over the shick of metal, uncharacteristically reasonable.
“Sheer dumb luck,” Spike says derisively, and he isn’t being spiteful - alright, maybe a little - but it’s the truth all the same. He has no time for this child, this snivelling wretch of a man who’d skulked around headquarters getting under everyone’s feet.
“If luck is all I have then I’ll take what I can get. You can teach me the rest.”
“I’m not a miracle worker,” Spike says with a snort. He glances up. Xander stares back at him, challenge recognised, black eyes narrowed and muscles twitching. He’d love to walk over and punch Spike square in the mouth, that much is obvious. He doesn’t do it, though. Clever lad.
“Buffy was a better fighter than both of us and look what happened to her. Don’t pretend this is all about skill. You couldn’t even save her, you could only save me,” he says. He barely has a moment to blink before he’s slammed up against the wall, sneakers dangling above the ground as he gasps for air.
“Don’t …” Spike hisses, and he doesn’t know what else to say so he squeezes a little harder. Xander punches him in the chest and he feels something crunch beneath his shirt. Spike drops him, kicks him as he hits the floor. “Lesson one. Break one of my ribs and I’ll break two of yours. You’re more expendable than me in this war.”
It’s a bit of a joke really, calling it a war. They’re horribly outnumbered and ridiculously weak. Still. This is his game now, his rules apply.
“Right then, children. This is Harris. I’m training him to be my second in command. Failing that, he’ll be my squishy pink shield,” Spike says pleasantly. Xander glares, silent as he shoves his hands in his pockets and lets his gaze drift over the worn faces, battered men and women who look as though a strong wind could blow them all away. Christ.
“Ain’t he the one who survived Devil’s Parish?” one asks, a black woman with bleached hair and bloodshot eyes.
“Yes, I am,” Xander says. He doesn’t like them talking about him as though he isn’t in the same room.
“He’s the only one,” Spike said, a bite of resentment to his tone. Xander cracks his neck, tries not to react.
“Like Harry Potter, huh?” a boy asks, absentmindedly twirling a knife in his fingers. He can’t be older than 13. Jesus.
“Harris Potter,” Spike corrects. Xander winces.
“Bad jokes are my area of expertise, Draco.”
Spike gives him a blank look and makes everyone do an extra lap when those who’d read the book start laughing. Things are lighter that afternoon than they have been for months.
“Feign an injury to your right,” Spike orders, his legs folded beneath him as he watches Xander mutter obscenities at a makeshift punch bag. Xander staggers to the side with an exaggerated groan. Spike resists the urge to slam his head into a door. “What the bloody hell was that?”
“Show me how, then,” Xander growls, fists clenched by his sides. Spike climbs off the desk, stands behind the taller man.
“Roll your right shoulder back,” he says, putting his hands on Xander’s waist to move him, “bend your right knee,” he adds, kicking Xander’s instep so his stance is widened.
“Like this?” Xander asks, shifting his weight.
Spike moves away, nods shortly.
“Then throw all your weight forward in your punch when the other bloke goes for that side,” he says, walking back to the desk.
“I’ve seen you do this. You’re good at feigning,” Xander observes, trying the move again. Spike smiles wryly, makes an observation of his own.
“You’re not as stupid as you look.”
“Why are we still alive?” Xander asks over breakfast. Spike blinks sluggishly as he stirs blood into his coffee.
“You’re a bleeding ray of sunshine this morning,” he mumbles, ignoring the question. It’s one he’s asked himself more times than he’d care to think about.
“No, I mean …” Xander pauses, searches for the words. He doesn’t have many. Not nearly enough to name the feelings he’s been plagued with, to try and express all the questions that crash through his head. “Why hasn’t she killed us? I mean, it’s not as though we’re ready for her. The ‘army’ is hopeless.”
He’s right about that but Spike takes offence anyway. It’s easier to be angry.
“You try training a bunch of shivering wrecks to battle the forces of the entire world,” he snarls, throwing the spoon into the sink. It’s a tawdry attempt at rage but he’s far too tired to be aggressive.
“It makes no sense,” Xander mutters, raking a hand through his hair. Spike pauses. Pulls a flask from a pocket and tips some of its contents into his cup.
“Wes reckons she’s waiting for us to grow in number so she can crush us in a biblical battle that they can sing about,” he says eventually. Xander’s neck and shoulders clench as he grips the edge of the table.
“That sucks. Kind of a morale damper, too,” he says. Spike pretends he doesn’t notice Xander’s voice shaking.
“So don’t tell the troops, Captain Harris,” he says, throwing the flask at Xander’s head.
He catches it.
“What the fuck!?” Xander yells eloquently, palms plastered to his ears. Spike shrugs, turns the music up a little louder because he’s like that. “Turn it down!!” Xander shouts hoarsely, nodding to the stereo blasting unidentifiable screams of music. Spike doesn’t budge. Xander bares his teeth but walks away, slamming the door behind him. He’s learnt to pick his fights.
Hours later, an age later, Spike emerges and they’re once again plunged into quiet. Xander tells his soldiers to take five and asks Spike why he thought it’d be a good idea to make their ears bleed.
“I can hear them singing,” he replies, fiddling with his necklace. They ran out of cigarettes a few weeks back and Spike doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands.
“Who?” Xander asks, impatience fraying the edges of his words.
“Them. Her lot. They sing prayers every morning, at the border to our block of the city. You can’t hear ‘em, human hearing is shite, but I can hear clear as a bell. I thought … if I listen to that again, hear their voices telling me that they’d forgive my sins, asking me to ‘find the light’, I’ll lose it. Rip somebody’s fucking throat out,” he whispers raggedly. Xander sees then, if only for a moment, how truly exhausted Spike is. Sees his skin, stretched over bone, veins almost visible in the moonlight; his eyes dull and watery with lack of sleep no rest for the wicked.
“What band was that?” Xander asks, looking away. When he looks back, Spike is himself again, head cocked and a nasty grin.
“I still say this game is better with kittens,” Spike grumbles, glaring at his pile of toothpicks.
“Not happening, Spike,” Xander deadpans. You can only sound horrified so many times before it gets wearing. Spike draws an unnecessary sigh as he shuffles the cards. “How about … how about we make a bet. Loser has to march in front of the winner’s platoon in a dress,” Xander offers, not looking up from his matchstick pile. Spike has a tendency to steal them when he does. Spike snorts.
“Why Harris,” he says, fluttering his eyelashes, “I had no idea you were into that sort of thing.”
Xander can’t help himself. He looks up, if only to scowl. “What’s your great idea, then?”
“If we’re talking about humiliation then I’d wear a frock before I’d go near any of your ensembles,” Spike sneers with a pointed stare at the orange shirt that’s a few sizes too big.
“It’s Frank’s,” Xander snaps defensively. “He gave it to me because he accidentally ripped my work shirt.”
“The puce one?” Spike asks, mocking and familiar. An idea dawns. “How about we play for it?”
“The shirt?” Xander asks, waiting for the punch line.
“Clothes, all of ‘em. Strip poker,” Spike says, laughter in his eyes though he looks utterly serious. Xander narrows his eyes. Rises to a challenge that he knew had been issued.
“Sure, sounds good,” he says. He takes a swig from his cup. He intends on getting shit faced on expensive whiskey – Angel’s, Spike raided his store – that he won’t appreciate.
“Rough night?” Carla asks kindly when she finds Xander hugging a toilet bowl as though it’s his anchor to the world. She reminds him of Willow, with her kind gaze and bumbling concern. Xander shuts his eyes.
They’re doubled up laughing, leaning on each other for support as their bodies shake and shudder at a joke neither of them can remember. They stop eventually, laughter dissolving into the occasional snigger, but they don’t move away. Xander’s skin is feverishly hot against Spike’s and he suddenly remembers that they both lost their shirts somewhere between shot 6 and shot 9.
Xander’s not sure who moves first but it’s only a fraction of an inch to the left and his forehead leans against Spike’s, his lips brushing over cool skin. It’s like exploding. And like being perfectly still.
“None of that, now,” Spike says, moving to his feet so quickly that Xander falls into the space where he sat.
“Yeah,” Xander tells her, swallowing the bile rising in his throat, “rough night.”
“The big push will have to be in the next two months. We haven’t the supplies to last us any longer than that,” Wesley says grimly, folding his hands on a pile of papers. The ink blossoms beneath his sweaty palms.
“We need six, at least,” Xander murmurs, shaking his head incredulously. Angel taps his pen on his notepad, looks across the table.
Spike looks at his papers, considering. “We have about two thousand in America, but a third of them don’t give a fairy fuck about fighting. They’re bloody furious we Woke them. Then there are the ones hiding out in South America … about three thousand of them. Well armed and well trained but we can’t depend on them to come. Leaders change quickly out in the middle of nowhere – power plays make them unreliable. All in all, I’d say we’d be pushing it if we tried to start anything sooner than …” a glance at Xander, though his expression is unreadable, “four months.”
Wesley looks as though he’s about to argue but Spike cuts him off. “We can be stricter about rationing ‘til then.”
The meeting goes on for the rest of the night.
Spike doesn’t look at Xander again.
“What’re they doing?” Xander asks when the fourth plane goes by, dropping hundreds of pink flyers. “Trying to kill us with paper cuts?”
“No,” Spike says by his shoulder, “they’re trying to lead us to the light,” he gestures to the bold print on the A4 sheets, to the articles and pictures describing the elation of being Embraced.
“We’re talking now? When did that happen?” Xander asks bitterly, watching the pink paper stutter across the dirt, twirl into mud.
“During lunch. You wouldn’t know because you skipped. Very rude, you know. Not proper decorum for a captain,” Spike says. He wraps his arms around Xander’s waist and presses a kiss to the nape of his neck. This is him, apologising.
Xander’s new motto is ‘take what you can get’.
“I should follow your shining example. Tell me, is it proper decorum to tell your superior to pull his head out his ass because the fumes were driving him batshit?”
A smile tugged at Spike’s lips, but he frowned to avert it.
“Angel’s not my superior.”
“It looks like we’re burning people,” Xander says later, watching the flames lick into a dirtied sky, curl about the papers and consume them entirely.
“We’re burning thin pink things that are easy to tear,” Spike replies, dark spit of humour in his words. “We might as well be.”
“Knew you’d prove yourself useful eventually,” Spike teases, feet resting on the table top as Xander snarls at a particularly stubborn plank of wood.
“Shut up, Spike,” he says, more through habit than anything else. He’s almost finished re-boarding up the window in Spike’s bedroom, but it’s taking hours to do without any tools. He’s using an unloaded gun as a hammer and he spent most of his time prying spare nails out of other pieces of furniture. The abandoned police station they’d made their home wasn’t exactly useful when searching for decent hardware.
“Why don’t you get one of your minions to do it for you?” he asks when Xander’s hand slips and the wood screeches. Xander stills.
“Because I could do it before. I … have to still be able to do this,” he says. They’re not the right words, not the right ones at all, because they just don’t cover it.
“I used to write poetry,” Spike announces. Xander blinks.
“Reams of it. Page after page of drivel. Can’t do it now, though. Can’t raise the words - forgotten most of them.”
Xander sits on the edge of the table as he tries to catch his breath. “I never had them in the first place,” he laughs, though it isn’t really funny. Spike stands, solves the problem the best way he knows. Elegant hands undo Xander’s belt and Spike drags a kiss down his neck as his hands slip lower. Xander’s breath hitches.
He’ll ask Frank to finish the job tomorrow.
Xander is on guard duty, leaning against brick as he settles the rifle in his arms. That’s when he sees it. A blue light, cast from behind him. He swings, gun raised, but the light is coming from inside the station.
No, he thinks. Not here.
He’s running so fast it feels as though his feet barely touch the ground. Inside there’s shouting, confusion, men and women in varying stages of undress with their weapons at the ready, adrenaline slamming through their weariness.
“Davis!” he bellows, “Where is it coming from?”
Davis points at the door to Angel’s office. It’s only then that Xander realises the shouting is coming from within. “Stand back,” he tells them, “and shoot intruders on sight”.
He kicks the door open and the hinges scream in protest.
A slice in the air, blue and shivering, growing smaller by the second. Xander came just in time to watch Spike throw himself into it.
“Why wasn’t I told?! I’ve been trying to convince these people I could lead them into battle and you made me look like an ass out there!” Xander shouts. He isn’t sure which words are pouring from his lips and which remain spinning in his head, all he can see is rage. It colours his thoughts.
“If this works you won’t have to lead them into battle,” Wesley replies, infuriatingly calm. “Angel was supposed to be the one going but he went to search for Connor and hasn’t been back. The international broadcast is tomorrow - we couldn’t wait any longer. Spike instructed me not to tell you until after he had left.”
Xander feels as though he can’t breathe, as though he’s taken a punch to the kidney. He blinks, straightens.
“I’m on guard duty,” he manages. He walks blindly back to his post, his hands shaking around his gun. He orders everyone to go back to bed, his voice oddly flat. They don’t ask questions. He’s glad. He doesn’t have answers to give them, anyway.
It happens on the third day of spring. They’re sat gathered around one television, Mikey standing on the arm of the couch holding the antenna because he drew the short straw.
“Quiet!” Wesley snaps. The room falls silent as she walks down the stairs of her palace, barefoot and smiling. Xander’s stomach lurches as he watches maggots fall from a hole in her jaw. The crowd of millions stare up in wonder. They don’t see. But they will.
“Our Mother Earth,” the man at the microphone announced, eyes shining with unshed tears.
“Mother fucker, more like,” Frank mutters to Xander’s left, prompting weak chuckles from the others. Xander only realises then that he’s holding his breath.
“My children,” Jasmine says, spreading her arms wide. The rotting flesh hangs from her bones. They’ll see. Please let them see. “In this new era, this new dawn, there have been struggles with those who hold on to their fear. Their hate.”
“That’s us! She’s talking about …”
“Shut up, Mikey! And hold still!”
It’s not happening. They’re not seeing her true face. The crowd continue gaze adoringly, a sea of awed faces.
“And we have extended our love to them. We have sung for them, prayed for them, tried to educate them about our love but …”
“Oh shit. Oh shit,” Frank whispers.
“They have resisted. Their fear has grown destructive. Grown evil.”
No epiphany within the crowd and no scream of betrayal and fear. Just smiles morphing into frowns. But their anger is not for her. It’s for him. For those sitting around him, hugging their knees with their eyes glued to the TV set.
“We need to cull them, sterilise them of their hate,” she says. Xander flinches. Someone starts to weep, but he doesn’t know who because he can’t look away. It’s not going to happen. They’re going to die here and the world won’t ever care.
“I call upon you, my loyal children …”
In the top right hand corner of the screen. Blue lightening, stretching and bending, pulling outwards. Spike falls out the sky, lands on his feet. He has an orb in one hand, a severed head in the other.
Jasmine turns and opens her mouth to scream. The crowd surges forwards, ready to tear Spike apart for threatening her, for scaring their precious Goddess.
Spike draws a knife over the mouth of the severed head.
Her true name sweeps across the world on the breath of the dead and humankind Wakes.
“The world is in tatters. Riots, suicides, the whole bloody shebang,” Spike says from behind the newspaper.
“Good to hear things are getting back to normal. All those happy people were freaking me out,” Xander replies, unfolding a few blankets. Neither of them have anywhere to go, so they’re squatting in a warehouse. Spike expresses his disdain for the place, talks about how he could have had a four poster bed and a full eighty piece orchestra in a warehouse back in Sunnydale. Xander’s a little less fussy.
“All in a day’s work, being a hero and all that,” Spike shrugs. He’s been needling Angel for weeks, making sure to leave on the television whenever he was around as the clip of Spike saving mankind is practically on a loop on every station.
It doesn’t take long for Spike to slide under the cover beside Xander, pulling him closer and talking about things that don’t matter as his lips brush against Xander’s skin. Xander falls asleep on concrete with a thin blanket and a suspicious stain on the floor only a few feet away from his head.
He sleeps more peacefully then than he has in a year.
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