Written for CoSoRanOb: The Colour, Sound and Random Object Spander Ficathon.

To [info]darkhavens: Many Happy Returns of the Day! I'm sorry this is so late, bay-bee... It's still your birthday here!

I hope you like it - did my best!
Here are the prompts:

Written for: Darkhavens
Preferred rating and genre: NC-17, and adventure/quest *g*
Your Colour: purple
Your Sound: the sound of a galloping horse
Your Random Object: a golden wren
Two things you'd like included: an actual 'magic box', a pair of thumbcuffs
Two things you don't want included: Xander feeling like he's not a useful
member of the Scoobie gang, and the chip - unless it's mentioned as a past
event *or* you use this fic to get rid of it. ;o)


Enjoy, sweetie! *smooch*



The Golden Wren


by
Tabaqui


"So, what is it?" Buffy asked, leaning over the back of Xander's chair, her hair swinging down and brushing against his ear. He swatted at her and she swatted back, grinning, and then Giles cleared his throat, ruffling the pages of his book rather loudly. Soft snort of laughter from the stairs and Xander shot Spike a look from under his eyelashes.

"Sorry, Giles. Go ahead." Buffy flicked her hair back and stood up, settling with one hip on the couch back instead. Over at the other end of the table, Willow and Tara were talking in low voices, looking at something on Willow's laptop. The table was heaped with books and papers and the long, ornate scroll that had started the whole mess they were currently trying to unravel.

Hellmouth mess. Of course. Xander eyed the scroll sourly. Just another book run - just another pick-up for Giles but the scroll hadn't seemed right, so Xander had called Giles - SOP. And then - Blewy! or maybe Zap! Xander mulled the various options that spelled 'smacked between the eyes by unknown magic'. It had felt more like 'oh shit'. Spike had actually said 'oh shit'. Hanging over his shoulder and caught in the same blast, blinking in dismay at him while the shop-owner scurried around, squeaking. 'Like a rat.'

"Yes, well - in essence, the scroll contains a quest. And the seal that you broke, Xander, contained a spell. A sort of - compulsion. You can't not complete the quest."

Xander flailed at the scroll, almost knocking over a stack of leather-bound Encyclopedia Demonica on the edge of the table. "I can't read the quest! How am I supposed to do it?"

"Oh, we've translated it for you, Xander!" Willow said brightly, and Spike made a small groaning noise, fiddling with a cigarette and about one minute from lighting up despite Giles' repeated warnings and death-glares.

"Sodding hell. Is it right? Not tellin' him to go to East Sudbury or some such, are you? Got better things to do, me, than wander round half the bloody planet looking for -"

"Who said you were going to be doing this quest thing?" Buffy sounded peeved and Spike raised an eyebrow at her. Xander sighed and scooted a little lower in his chair.

"Well, stands to reason, don'it? You -" and he leveled two fingers and an unlit cigarette at Buffy - "have got classes and the Niblet and your mum. The witches have got classes and, let's face it, just enough magic to get you somewhere but probably not enough to get you back. And Rupert - well - he's a Watcher, not a bloody Girl Guide. Get lost in his own backyard, he would. No," Spike sighed heavily and lit his cigarette with a flourish - plumed smoke towards the ceiling, thereby missing Giles' glare. "It's all down to me, the one you lot always turn to for the dirty jobs - the one who's always stuck playin' guard-dog to the demon magnet over there -"

"Hey!" Xander sat up straighter and tossed a wad of balled-up paper at Spike, who fielded it with a neat flick of his hand, like a cat. "You're not complaining about me being a demon-magnet when it gets you three fights in one night!"

"That's different, that's not some bloody quest for the right testicle of a Hradik demon taken when the moon is full!"

"Ewww!" Buffy jumped up from the couch and went to stand behind Willow and Tara, who were both looking a little grossed out. "He doesn't have to cut off - I mean, that's not what the quest is about, is it? So not going on a quest to do that."

"No, no, for heaven's sake! Spike, really -" While Giles scolded and Buffy, Willow, and Tara pored over the translation, Xander sat and grinned at Spike, and Spike smirked back at him.



Xander watched idly as Spike played with a vamp - some jean-clad Easy Rider wannabe with a fringed jacket that looked like it had been buried with him. The vamp ducked and dodged and lunged - Spike spun and weaved, and Xander admired the flaring skirts of Spike's duster and wondered if he should maybe get a thigh-length leather coat. Not quite the same effect but then, Xander wasn't sure he could pull off a longer coat.

The hippie-vamp did some sort of backwards spin thing and got Spike in the jaw. "Whoa! Good one, Spike - didn't see that one comin' at all."

Spike shot him a filthy look. "Shut up, Harris! Don't need any back-chat from you!" Spike ducked hippie-vamp's next punch and came up from beneath. Crunching blow to the nose, and when the vamp staggered backwards: six inches of solid maple to the heart. Spike brushed disdainfully at vamp-dust and tucked the weapon away - lit up with a flourish and sauntered over to where Xander was perched on a cracked head-stone. "Didn't even break a sweat on that one," he said, and Xander raised his hands, wincing just a little.

"Okay, still the baddest ass in Sunnydale," he said, perfectly straight-faced, and the smirk was halfway there before Spike growled.

"Git."

"Poser."

"Bricklayer."

"Poet."

"Ooh, now, jumpin' the gun a little, there." Spike squinted at Xander through the thin curtain of smoke and Xander slumped a little.

"Yeah, okay. Heart's not in it. It's this whole scroll thing. I mean - what the hell are we gonna have to do? Fight some huge, evil...mean demon or - or go to Tibet or something?" Xander shifted uncomfortably and stretched his neck, rubbing at the juncture of neck and shoulder, frowning.

'Oh, look at that. Damnit, can't ever keep yourself in working order, can you, Harris? Good thing you've got someone around to fix you when you need it...' "Well, probably nothin' as dire as all that," Spike muttered. "Here, hold this." He handed his cigarette to Xander who took it automatically. Spike moved around behind him and put one hand on Xander's left shoulder and one high on his right shoulder blade, pressing slowly, rubbing in a slow circle.

"You fucked your shoulder up again, didn't you," he stated, eyes gazing blankly into space as he manipulated bone and muscle and tendon.

Xander sighed, his eyes drooping closed, the cigarette held out to one side. "Remy was putting up drywall and needed some help and half-way up the scaffold he slips and jabs the damn thing into my belly trying to save himself and I twisted all wrong trying to save myself... Should'a just stayed on the ground today."

"Yes, you should have," Spike said, but his fingers moved, deft and gentle and just right and Xander groaned softly, feeling muscles slowly unlock. The cigarette burned steadily to ash and finally Spike gave a last, slow rub of the muscles and stopped, his hands gliding lower to wrap around Xander's ribs. Xander leaned back into him, and Spike bent his neck and planted a line of slow kisses up the sweep of Xander's exposed neck. The pose was eloquent of mutual trust - mutual affection. Spike kissed Xander's temple and leaned his bright head against the dark one. 'I've got you, you know. You git. Won't let you fall.'

"Let's head home, yeah?"

"Can't," Xander said, sudden realization in his voice. "Anya's on a date tonight, she said come home after midnight."

"After. Bloody hell. All right. Bronze it is. Pool and wings and an onion."

"Pool and wings and cheese sticks," Xander objected, letting Spike haul him bodily to his feet. He was feeling no pain - was feeling as limp as a rag doll, in fact. Spike-massages were the best. 'Thank god for Spike-massage. Thank god for Spike. Always there...' They strode out of the cemetery, shoulders and hands just brushing.

"Bloody cheese sticks taste like feet. Calamari."

"Fried rubber bands. Potato skins."

"Boats-o-grease. Chili-cheese fries."

"Spinach-avocado dip with those all-natural red-corn tortilla chips." They both stopped and stared at one another, wide-eyed, and then spoke in unison.

"Chili-cheese fries."



Coming into the apartment around one a.m., Xander banged his leg into the couch and cursed, then giggled. He'd had some beer - well, really only three - and was feeling pleasantly buzzed. Just - lighter. The worries of the evening mostly forgotten. He clumsily stripped off his jacket and tossed it in the general direction of the coat-tree. He missed.

"Not gonna go on a testicle-hunting quest, though," he said as Spike slung his duster over the couch and grabbed him, steering him towards the bedrooms.

"Would you just forget about the testicle-thing now? And forget about the quest, too. It's gonna be fine."

"Yeah, fine. Until I have to sacrifice my test -" Spike jerked Xander around in a half-circle and shut him up with a kiss, but not before Anya's door creaked open.

"Lucky for you guys I wasn't asleep yet. He's not drunk, is he?"

"No, not drunk," Spike sighed, breaking the kiss and Xander leaned against him, warm and hard in all the right places, his hair sticking up untidily from Spike's hands. Anya stood there in a long, silky kimono, shower-damp hair curling around her face and the dull pinkish glow of her bed-side table lining her from behind. Moody Blues was playing - 'Nights in White Satin' - and Spike smirked.

"Not drunk enough - I'm really gonna miss my testicle."

"What? Xander, did you piss somebody off? Was there - somebody - down at the Bronze?" Anya stepped forward fast, her hand going out to Xander's arm and stroking gently. She looked ready to extract some vengeance herself on whatever unsuspecting demon had dared mess with her best friend but Spike waved a hand, slumping against the wall and pulling Xander with him, hand creeping up under Xander's shirt to stroke his ribs.

"No - there was nobody. He's just got a bloody stupid idea in his head about that whole mess with the scroll. I keep telling him - no body parts! But he won't listen. Git," Spike added, brushing his chin over Xander's skull and Xander responded with a head-butt worthy of Miss Kitty, eyes closed. Spike didn't bother to mention that he had actually planted the seed of the idea. No point in going there. 'Not if I don't want an Anya-lecture and the highlights of every time she's taken a goolie in the name of Vengeance.'

"It's always somethin'. This is the Hellmouth. Won't be nice," Xander muttered, leaning more heavily onto Spike, taking full advantage of vampiric strength and Spike's willingness to be a trellis to his clinging-vine act.

Anya patted his shoulder and then leaned back into her door-jamb, arms crossed. "Don't be silly, Xander. While we were showering, Rupert assured me - uh -" Anya stopped, a funny look coming over her face and Spike laughed, digging his fingertips into Xander's ribs a little, making him twitch.

"Your date tonight was with the Watcher? Bloody hell, ducks, why didn't you say?"

"Because you'd have come home early with some excuse about how you 'forgot' -" Anya made little air-quotes with her fingers, "and tried to embarrass him or make fun of him! It's taken me weeks to get him to unbend enough to have sex here, where I'm comfortable and have all my things. I didn't want you two ruining it!" She pushed her hair back off her face and eyed the two of them while Xander finally caught on and giggled into Spike's neck, snorting. "When he's not tense, Rupert has an amazing eye for detail that makes orgasms with him more than satisfactory. He's not quite a Viking, but experience and imagination can make up quite well for youthful stamina and enthusiasm."

"Basically you're sayin' he goes down on you a lot," Spike snarked.

"It's wonderful," Anya sighed, a dreamy little smile crossing her face. "Anyway, my point was that Rupert assured me the quest doesn't require anything terrible and - and that he's really very sorry, Xander."

"Yeah, I know." Abruptly, Xander wanted a shower and he hauled himself off of Spike and grabbed the vampire's shirt - leaned over to kiss Anya's cheek and then dragged Spike down the hall. "'Night, Anya."

"'Night, guys," Anya said, and retreated to her room.

"Thank god for master bathrooms," Spike muttered, tripping over a discarded towel and swinging Xander into the wall accidentally. He had no desire to shower in the left-over pheromones from the Watcher. Xander just slumped against the wall, staring at his feet, and Spike sighed and did his own trellis act.

"Xaaan-derrr...C'mon, pet - don't be all gloomy, yeah? Rupert siccing that spell on you gives us weeks of guilt to work with. No telling what we'll get out of him."

Xander heaved a huge sigh and looked up at Spike, his dark eyes glinting in a bar of white light from the street-light coming through the window. "Sorry, Spike. I'm just... Things are really good, you know? Things are - fucking perfect..." His fingers came up and traced slowly over Spike's face - over his eyebrow and the scar, over a cheekbone and the line of his nose - the fullness of his bottom lip. "And then the Hellmouth strikes again..." 'Hellmouth always strikes again. Don't want it to strike here. Not this, not...us. Best thing...'

Spike did his own little sigh - straightened up and started undoing the buttons on Xander's shirt. "I know, love. Seems like there's always something, isn't there? But I'll be right with you. Won't let anything happen to you, Xander." He pushed the shirt back off Xander's shoulders, his fingertips lingering over the scars on Xander's right shoulder. Courtesy of the Hellmouth, just like the ones that raked across his ribs and the twisty one that snaked down his left thigh. Xander had a reason for his pessimism - it was carved into his skin. But he'd always come through. He'd always survived, and now - with Spike to help watch out for him - his survival would be assured. 'Promise you that. Always keep my promises, me.'

"I know, Spike." Xander brushed his hands back and forth over Spike's chest, seemingly fascinated by the shush of his palms over the soft t-shirt. "I know. Fuck this. C'mon and take a shower with me?"

"Anytime, pet," Spike murmured, and they both finished undressing in silence. Spike started the shower - Xander brushed his teeth - and Spike hung over his shoulder, stroking his ribs and nibbling at his neck.

'Foreplay with fresh, minty flavor,' Xander thought, grinning a foamy grin at himself in the mirror - watching his hair ruffling seemingly all by itself. Now that looked weird.

"Stop that loony grinning and get in the shower, Harris," Spike muttered, kissing Xander's cheek and grabbing his own toothbrush. He liked to get messy, so brushing while showering kept tooth-paste splatters to a minimum.

Spike got into the shower - listened to Xander doing his human thing and whipped around the edge of the shower curtain at the last second. "Don't! For fuck's sake, Xander."

Xander snatched his hand away from the lever on the toilet tank. "Oops! Close one." Xander climbed in and pushed Spike out of the spray. "What? You're brushing," he said, all innocent at Spike's half-hearted growl. He rubbed the soap over himself, eyes closing, while Spike vamped and attacked his fangs with more Green People organic toothpaste. Tara had recommended it. Somehow, the most obnoxious vampire on the planet and the shyest girl in Sunnydale - had connected. 'Bonding over toothpaste. Right. Should I be jealous? After all, he's using it right here in the shower, in front of me!' "Are you having an affair with Tara?" Xander asked, squirting out some shampoo.

Spike sputtered citrus toothpaste everywhere and gaped at Xander, wiping his mouth. "Bloody hell! What? Xander - you've gone barkin', love." Spike stuck his head under the shower spray and gargled and rinsed and spat while Xander shifted around, muttering.

"I've got shampoo in my eye, will you hurry up? Jesus -" Spike dragged him under the spray and started rinsing his hair, leaning heavily into Xander who put his hands on Spike's hips to steady himself. "I mean - you're all over that toothpaste she picked out for you. Is that some sort of secret love-thing?"

"That's it exactly, Xander. Every night when I brush the blood of Sunnydale citizenry out of my teeth, I'm thinkin' 'bout Glinda-witch and our secret, non-sexual love affair." 'Git. Isn't a girl in the world holds a candle to you, love...'

"Mmmm...thought so. And the organic tea is your...eternal pledge of non-sexual...bonding and...mmmm...can't think when you do that."

"S'the point, innit?" Spike whispered, hips moving in a steady roll, hands leaving Xander's hair and stroking down his back, now - rubbing over his ass. Kneading and pushing and pulling, mouth finding the sensitive spots all along Xander's neck and shoulder - jaw. Mouth to mouth and tongues in a lazy glide against each other - cocks hard and soap-slippery and Spike's hand - Xander's. Bump and glide against each other - breathe into each other and thrust into each other and... 'God, so good...so good, my Xander...'

"Don't want this messed up," Xander whispered, arms tight around Spike, forehead to forehead, blissed-out and half asleep in the warm, artificial rain. "Don't want another fucking disaster." 'Can't lose you - won't think it. God...'

"Nothing's gonna happen, love. We'll be fine." No desire on Spike's part to move, and only cooling water drove them out and into bed. Slide of cool cotton, weight of the blanket and quilt. Two bodies fitting together, no spaces in between.



"So the quest is...what?" Spike was sitting halfway up the steps to the loft in the Magic Box, idly sharpening a knife, the whetstone making a soft suss as he stropped the blade over it. Xander was two steps below, wrestling with a huge, rather outdated map of the greater Los Angeles area and starting to lose his temper with it.

"It's very simple. You need to find the 'Keeper of the Soul' and return it to...to its rightful owner who, when you are in possession of the 'Keeper', you can call with this simple charm." Giles flourished the scroll, and Xander glared at it. 'Getting damn sick of that fucking scroll. Jesus. Of course the damn thing's in L.A. - where else would it be?'

"Fascinating, really," Giles muttered, and Xander rolled his eyes - tried to fold the map and tore it along one well-worn crease. "It says that you will know the Keeper by...troglodytidae... Ah! That is the family of wrens...well." Giles stared into space, a book hanging from his hand and his glasses sliding down his nose. "Yes, of course. Wrens were the King of Birds in several mythologies and often carried messages from the gods - and a soul being a sort of...message..." Giles' voice trailed off again as he bent to the book and Anya patted him fondly on the shoulder on her way to the table opposite the register.

"See? I told you, Xander - nothing to it. A nice trip to L.A., a visit with your old friend Cordelia, and you're done! It'll probably only take you a couple of hours." She smiled at Xander, who was methodically crunching the map up in his hands. "And you know -"

"We're not goin' on a supply-run, Anya, an' that's final," Spike said, dabbing a few drops of oil on a cloth and carefully wiping the knife down, squinting along its diamond-bright edge. Anya frowned.

"I don't see why you wouldn't. The supplier is practically around the corner from Angel's office and it would be a nice little - outing. A break from the quest!" She added brightly, as if she'd just thought of that angle.

"Pickin' through bins of cut-rate mandrake and chicken's feet while some Turgak demon hangs over your shoulder breathin' cow-brain-breath on you, tryin' to sell you the Shroud of Turin, the last dragon egg and three Vestal virgins is not -" Spike pointed the dagger at Anya - "a 'nice little outing'." Anya opened her mouth to say something and Spike held the dagger up in a 'shushing' gesture.

"There are really Vestal virgins?" Xander asked, compacting the map further and Spike kicked him lightly in the back.

"Not the point, Harris. A 'nice outing' would be seein' Alice Cooper at The Whiskey or maybe hittin' a strip club or two."

"But it's really a very short list -" Anya said with a touch of desperation, and Spike started gathering rags, whetstone, oil, and steel wool into the box labeled 'Edged Weapons: Care and Cleaning'. Anya had seen a show about a professional organizer and taken the suggestion of clear, labeled boxes for essential supplies to heart. Currently, even the spare toilet paper had its own storage box.

"Short list, long list, doesn't matter. There will be no shopping. No magical supplies stores. No poking into dusty curio shops for obscure books -" Giles made a sort of annoyed huffing sound, and Xander sniggered, tossing the map from hand to hand. "And no - I repeat, no handing out of flyers. We talked about this, Anya," Spike added, getting up and coming down the stairs, deliberately bumping into Xander, who reached up and smacked him on the ass.

"What if I - what if I got you a room? A suite? At the Four Seasons?" Anya said, and Spike stopped his deliberate march to the training room and pivoted slowly on one foot.

"A suite. King bed, private balcony - rooftop pool - unlimited room service?"

"Have you been there?" Xander asked, getting up and going over to him and Spike nodded, watching Anya. Anya was chewing her bottom lip and looking - pensive. Xander tossed the balled-up map in the direction of the trash can and missed.

"You'd have to get my supplies and Giles' book and do the flyer thing. Before the quest thing since, let's face it, you might not survive the quest thing."

"Anya, for heaven's sake -" Giles sputtered, but Spike was looking thoughtful.

"Right - and a little folding cash for the trip - gonna need smokes and road-trip snacks and suchlike..."

"Done!" Anya said, smiling - bouncing - going over to Spike and giving him a hug.

"Yeah, all right, make up your list. You found out where this thing is exactly, Watcher?"

"Ah." Giles scrabbled in a pile of papers and squinted at one. "Yes. It's right...here..." He opened a Rand-McNally road atlas and peered down at a map of Los Angeles. "It is...hrmmmm...ah. The All Souls Cemetery in...ah - Long Beach."

"Cemetery? It's in a cemetery? No. No way, Giles!" Xander knew his voice had gotten loud but he didn't care. A cemetery! Where there would be - dead things, and dead things that walked and were probably pissed off at them being there, and not-dead things that should be dead and would probably want him dead. Or Spike. Or him and Spike. Beside him, Spike dropped the box of supplies to the ground and slid his arms around Xander's waist and Xander stood rigid for one moment. And then gave in, relaxed, and let Spike hold him. 'God damnit. A cemetery. And probably demons or spells to dodge or... Fuck, fuck, fuck.' Spike's chin rested on his shoulder and Xander let his head rest on Spike's, taking a deep breath and trying to relax.

"I'm sorry, Xander, but that's...where it is. We'll do a locator spell before you go tonight - pinpoint it exactly. I'm sure it's just laying in some...some mausoleum somewhere -"

"Guarded by ghosts or something. Fuck," Xander muttered, and Giles looked down at the atlas and sighed.

"Well, best get started on the locator spell and...and I'm sure you two have things you need to arrange before you go..."

"Right. Things to do. C'mon, Harris, no point in hangin' round here." Spike tugged and Xander let himself be led away - out the back and home by the ways Spike moved during the day. Some of it underground, and Xander was deep into a gloomy depression by the time they made it home.

"Should make Giles come along on this. Let him go poking around in crypts and tombs and...cemeteries. Let him get knocked into a wall or two..." He was sulking. He knew he was sulking. He couldn't help it.

Spike slung duster and boots into the corner - grabbed Xander and pulled him down onto the couch, wiggling happily as Xander lay over him, face in Spike's neck. "Now, can't be so bad, love. Nothing in a cemetery I can't handle, yeah? And we'll get this thing and call the owner and give it to 'em and that'll be that! Easy as pie, yeah? 'Sides, we don't wanna share our suite with Rupert." Spike ran his hands slowly up and down Xander's back - got up under his shirt and scratched lightly - rubbed and kneaded and pushed and pulled until Xander was a boneless heap, practically purring on top of him. Well - nearly boneless.

"I hate this," Xander muttered, and Spike kissed his temple - made him lift his head and kissed his mouth.

"No more fretting, yeah? We do it, it's done, we'll come home. That's all. Two nights at the Four Seasons, compliments of Anya's Platinum Visa! You'll love it, pet."

"Two nights?" Xander mumbled, finding the particularly nice spot on Spike's neck - the one that made him arch and groan and start pulling at his clothes.

"Maybe three. Getting supplies takes a while - all those shops - oh, yeah - right there -"

"Maybe three," Xander mused, and popped the buttons on Spike's jeans.



"Well, that went...pretty good, actually," Xander said, opening the DeSoto's passenger door and sliding in. The map Wesley had printed out for them of All Souls crinkled in his pocket. Spike slid in behind the wheel, flicking his cigarette butt away and putting the key into the ignition.

"Things generally do when BatVamp's not around," he said. They pulled away from the curb and headed west, toward the Four Seasons and their suite. Xander was hungry and Spike just wanted to feed him and fuck him, in that order. Get rid of some of the tension that had built up on the drive down. 'Just want you, love, and some quiet time before we have to go grave-robbing.'

"I can't believe Angel fired them all and is just - running around after Darla! I mean - what about the soul, and the Powers and the - the visions? Some champion."

"Love's a funny thing," Spike said absently, diving across three lanes of traffic and making a hard right. Xander clutched at the door - at the dash - and glared at Spike.

"I'd like to get there in one piece. And without hurling all over the place. Okay?"

"Sorry, pet." Spike lifted his foot off the gas but a minute later tromped down again, flying through a red light, oblivious to honking horns and the screech of brakes.

"And what if we get pulled over? You don't have a driver's license - they'll put you in jail!" Xander braced his feet on the dash and ignored Spike's irritated glare.

"Nah. If Officer Poncherello stops us, I'll just eat 'im. Could do with a bite, anyway." Spike concentrated on slipping between a limo and a souped-up Trans-Am, ignoring the lane designations entirely. Adam had had a lot of stuff lying around in his lair - and even more stuff was left behind the night the Initiative went down. Spike had found some papers - done a little research - and broken into Sunnydale Hospital to lie for five minutes in the MRI machine. Chip effectively nullified.

"You can't leave a trail of police officers behind just because you drive like a - like a demon." Xander was grinning, though, knowing it was an empty threat. Spike was, for now, keeping his feeding on the populace to the more criminal element and doing his best not to make too many corpses. Considering his habits of 120-plus years, Xander thought he was doing great. "God, are we almost there?" he added, groaning a little. He was starting to feel a bit...sea-sick. Or land-sick. Or whatever it was you called it when someone made a car swoop and dive like a hawk after a pigeon. 'Must be the driver next time...oooh, god...'

"Nearly there - ten more minutes." Spike glanced over at Xander and shook his head. "Roll the window down, Xander, and hang your head out. Not pukin' in my car."

"Then don't drive like a damn -" Xander gulped and closed his eyes - opened them again rapidly as that made things worse. "Like a damn suicide!" Spike snorted, making another hair-raising - or rather, gorge-rising maneuver - and Xander clenched his jaw shut and held on. 'Suicide. Funny. That's why we're here, after all...'

Spike's attempt to dust himself had been the beginning of the end of Xander's extreme hatred for him. Xander had lived through his mother's three suicide attempts - lived through the rancorous divorce that had followed the final one. He'd been chin-deep in everything that drove someone to want to end their life, and he hadn't been able to hold onto his enmity after seeing a century-old vampire brought so low.

Then the long winter and spring fighting Glory had clinched his growing feelings, and by the time the Hell-Goddess was locked up tight in a tricky little pocket dimension that Giles and Wesley had cooked up, he and Spike had been lovers - in love. 'And this fucking quest had better not...not -'

"You're fretting again, love," Spike said softly, reaching out and taking Xander's hand - lacing their fingers together. Squeezing gently, his expression one of sorrow and resignation.

"I know - I know. I'm sorry. I'm stopping. I just start thinking and then...it all just seems to spiral down on me and..."

"Yeah. It'll be all right, Xander."

"I just need a distraction," Xander muttered, squeezing back, staring broodingly out the window and totally missing the expression of pure evil that crossed Spike's face.



"Oh - god....god! Spike - Jesus -" Xander arched hard off the bed, arms straining against the length of cotton rope that bound his wrists and was anchored to the bed-frame. Spike moved with him, only penetrating a couple of inches - gliding the head of his cock over and over that sweet spot inside Xander.

"Just tryin' to distract you, love," Spike murmured, his hands on Xander's hips, his mouth moving over Xander's body - leaving livid suck-marks dappled over his torso and finger-marks on his hip-bones. Inch forward, inch back, and Xander bit at Spike's shoulder - at his neck - making Spike drop his human fašade and burrow his face into Xander's neck.

Tasting the salty flesh - lapping at it - moving a little harder now, a little faster - going deeper, and Xander was crying out now - soft, gasping moans that shot a lightning-bolt of pure lust straight through Spike's body to his cock.

"Xaaan...derrr...love it when you do that..." Spike was thrusting hard now - pushing Xander's thighs up higher - pushing his knees back and Xander's heels were in his shoulder-blades, pulling - demanding

"Spike...Spike...Spike..." Breathless chant, and Spike's fangs slipping slowly, so slowly, through sweet-succulent flesh and Xander shuddered, his orgasm making every muscle lock tight, his back arching and his body clenching hard around Spike.

Spike took a mouthful of blood hot and spiced with love and lust and want. Felt Xander's orgasm ripple through his body and Spike's own rhythm went frantic and stuttery as he tried for more, and deeper, and harder. As the orgasm sank to hitching breaths and trembling aftershocks, Spike lay over Xander, his face in Xander's neck. Just holding on. Xander wrapped his legs around Spike's waist and panted.

"Jesus...fuck," Xander mumbled, five minutes later when they were both still lying there in a sweaty, sticky heap. "Once again, marathon vampire sex saves the day." They'd checked in right before seven - Spike had ordered a huge platter of appetizers and enough steak to choke a bear, then wrestled him to the bed. Xander squinted at the bedside clock. Just after midnight. "Think the pool's still open?"

"I think you'd drown." Spike squirmed up Xander's body and carefully picked the knots in the rope out - tossed it aside and began to methodically massage the deep score-marks left behind. The TV was on and there was some sort of cavalry charge going on - multiple horse-hooves galloped in staccato rhythm, interspersed with war-cries and the clang of weaponry.

"Would not." Xander let his legs splay out on the bed, boneless - sighing a little under Spike's weight. Spike carefully fitted them, hip to hip, and licked up a few stray blood-drops from the bite.

"Might. There's a hot-tub up there, though. An hour in hot, bubbly water -"

"And I'll be so limp you'll be able to bend me like a pretzel." There was a long moment of silence and Xander lifted his head, blinking down at Spike. "Actually, not -"

"Seeing the bad," Spike finished, smirking, and bounced up - hauled Xander bodily off the bed.

"Christ - I look like a leopard or something," Xander said, pausing for a minute in front of the mirror to examine the dapples of red-purple-blue bruises and love-bites all over his shoulders, chest and belly.

"They look good on you, love." Spike snagged a cold chunk of steak and popped it into his mouth - grabbed the hotel robes off the back of the bathroom door and bundled Xander into one. "C'mon, let's go make you all...bendy. Got an idea for those thumb-cuffs of mine an' that couch -" Xander shoved the key-card into his pocket and wrapped his arm around Spike's waist.

"Lead on, Macduff."

"It's actually 'Lay on -"

"Don't harsh my bliss."



"So - this is it. The last resting place. The end. X marks the spot and all that. The hidden burial mound of the -"

"You're babbling, Xander," Spike said, lighting a cigarette and squinting through the smoke at the listing mausoleum that Wesley had pinpointed for them. Brambles had grown up over the entire southern wall and what looked like an ash tree seemed to be pushing through the roof. Somewhere was the chuckling of water and Spike could hear it, echoing and tumbling through stone. An underground stream, which would explain the sink-hole look of the whole affair.



"About a half-mile south-south west of the main gate. The name on it is 'Varley', which actually has Nordic origins and -"

"Not to interrupt but - I really need to interrupt. What kind of demony goodness are we gonna find there, and how do we kill it?"


Wesley hadn't had anything specific to tell them - he and Cordelia and Gunn had huddled around the desk in their tiny, cramped office, sifting books and papers and doing their best to be encouraging.

"We've been keeping an eye on things since Angel went all creepy stalker guy," Cordy said, pushing her hair back out of her face and handing Wesley a book. "All Souls is kind of..."

"It's not too big on the demon-vamp radar. Seems like the L.A. night-life is more attractive than crypts and tombstones." Gunn had leaned next to Wesley, hip or shoulder or elbow brushing, and Wesley had brushed back and Spike had rolled his eyes.

"Right, then. We're off. Got things to do, boys to shag, money to spend -"

"You're going shopping?" Cordelia had perked right away and Xander had laughed and pulled her into a brief hug.

"Don't ever change, Cordy."




"Right. Let's go, pet. Get this over with, get you back to the hotel. Packed a couple of surprises for you..." Spike made a suggestive sort of leer and then strode forward, kicking the sagging wooden doors open while Xander scrambled to catch up, thankful for the nearly-full moon that illuminated the tussocks of un-trimmed grass and listing headstones. This corner of the cemetery seemed utterly forgotten.

"No fair making me think of sex when I'm supposed to be concentrating on not getting squashed," Xander hissed, clicking on his flashlight and following Spike inside.

A tomb stood in the middle of the circular stone building, cracked marble stained green with moss and age. Spikey iron brackets that looked as if they might have held lamps or candles bled rust down the walls and one corner had crumbled into a low spot in the ground. A tree had sprouted there, pushing more stone aside and curving around the inner walls. Dark leaves hung motionless against the stone.

"Okay - are we gonna slide into some sort of underground...tunnel complex or cave or...bottomless pit if we go any further?" Xander asked, clinging to the lintel and flicking the flashlight beam here, there, and everywhere.

"Stop skippin' that light everywhere, you're makin' my eyes hurt. Now just - let me go first. I can tell if the floor's solid, I reckon." Spike took a last drag and flicked the butt away toward the wall - took a careful step toward the niche they could both see in the far corner. Wesley had said that, as part of the geas hidden things would be made visible to them, and that was why they would be able to find the 'Keeper of the Soul'. And why it wouldn't have been looted years ago.

"Jesus, Spike - be careful," Xander said, his voice a little harsher than he intended as Spike skipped back from a dip in the floor, the stone crumbling under his boot.

"S'all right, Xander," Spike replied softly, and Xander sighed.

"Yeah. Sorry. Just a little jumpy. I can see - something. Is that it?" Xander shone the flashlight beam into the niche and Spike walked carefully the last few feet - reached out and plucked the object from the shallow stone shelf. It was a box. Carefully, he retreated across the cracked floor and he and Xander both stepped outside.

"Got it. Now - where's the charm?" Xander pulled a piece of note-book paper from his pocket and unfolded it while Spike examined the box. It was some kind of wood, dark with age and carved all over with shells and acorns, leaves and fish - an odd mixture. A corroding brass lock held it shut. On the top was a bird, done in inlay fashion with lighter woods, the details picked out in gold.

"Look, pet - a wren, like the Watcher said." Xander ran a finger over the wren and then shined the flashlight beam on the paper.

"Okay. Here we go... 'Woden's herald, future-singer, King of all feathered things. Sing your keeper back' Xander and Spike both stared at the box - looked around them, waiting. They both jumped, and Spike nearly dropped the box when the wren on the lid suddenly moved - sprang up and perched lightly on Spike's shoulder. They both froze.

The tiny body of gold and golden wood had become tawny feathers, and bead-bright eyes peered at them. The wren cocked its head from side to side and then opened its beak. Song poured out - light, trilling - beautiful. Then it waited.

"Is that - it then?"

"Dunno. What's it doing?" Spike asked, trying to look at the wren without dislodging it. He'd vamped when it had flown off of the box and the wren seemed intrigued by his fangs - by the golden eyes that were staring at it. It chirruped and flicked its tail. And then something...rumbled. Xander fumbled the flashlight - snatched it back up and turned it off. 'That's good - first lesson, don't call attention by being the one holding the light.'

"Oh - shit," Xander muttered. The rumbling was coming from inside the mausoleum and as they backed hastily away, they saw the branches of the ash tree shivering - watched stone crack and crumble, pattering to the ground. There was a groaning, tearing sort of noise and the sound of running water got louder. And there were splashes - and then the slap-slap of wet feet - and something stood in the doorway. Grey and ghastly, rail-thin, a tangled shroud of knee-length, cobweb hair and tattered cloth. Skeletal fingers lifted and the fallen lips hissed, showing a maw of wet, blackened teeth. The sunken eyes burned with a sickly greenish light. It was filthy and stank of brackish water and stale earth, and Spike snarled softly.

"Give it me," the thing whispered, and Xander took another step back - stopped himself.

"Uh - how can we - I mean, give you what? What if that's not the real owner?" he added, less-than-subtle whisper to Spike. Spike shrugged.

"Dunno how we can tell one way or the other, pet." The wren trilled softly - stretched its wings and suddenly launched itself from Spike's shoulder, darting straight across to the thing in the doorway. It landed on one stooped shoulder, chirping softly, hopping and flicking its wings out, and the thing...smiled.

"I'd say - that's proof enough for me. Let's - uh -" Spike nodded and held the box out, and Xander curled his hand around one side and they walked slowly forward until they were about two feet from the figure. They both stretched their hands out and the things gnarled hands came up - took the box from them, cradling it gently.

"Now - you've got your box back and we're free of the quest, yeah? So - we're off."

"Wait," it whispered. It lifted a finger - stroked a curved and blackened nail over the breast of the wren, who flicked its tail. Then it put its mouth to the lock, and blew a gentle breath into the key-hole. There was a soft click and the lock sprang open. Delicately, the lid was lifted and the thing stared down into the box.

"Return to me what was taken from me..." It shut the box, and they waited. A moment later, a soft purple glow began to pulse from the keyhole - to creep and cover the entire box like a sort of sentient fog. Spike and Xander both took a step back, Xander's hand going out and taking Spikes, mindless reflex. As the purple fog thinned they could both see that the box was - different. It looked new, now, and the hinges winked at them, brightly polished brass in the moonlight.

The figure was grinning now, a stretched grimace, and carefully lifted the lid of the box. The wren chirruped again, fluttering its wings and the thing reached inside - lifted out a mote of pale-purple light. And swallowed it.

The lavender radiance seemed to glow through its skin and then - the same magic worked on the figure as had on the box, and Spike and Xander watched, fascinated, as the twisted body straightened and filled out - as the hair flowed smoothly from the delicate skull and the crabbed, filthy features transformed into those of a young and lovely woman. Pollen-gold hair now flowed over her shoulders, and a drift of green-blue cloth - light as mist - hung from white shoulders. Her eyes were like motes of the sun and long, narrow hands carefully closed the lid of the box. The wren fluttered down and trilled a snatch of song and then it was flattening out - turning back into inlay and gold. The woman was smiling at them and Xander felt himself sway forward, one step and then two. She held up a ringed hand, shaking her head.

"Stay where you stand. You have fulfilled the quest - you have returned to me what was mine. I am what I was, and ever shall be. You have my gratitude."

"Not a nice trick, that scroll," Spike said, squeezing Xander's hand tightly. He had stepped forward as well and Xander could feel the tension shivering through him. 'Hates the mojo. Let's get this done.'

"But we - we're glad to have helped and - and good luck and....and we'll just be going now, okay? Okay. Great. Umm - good night!" Xander tugged at Spike's hand, backing away, and the woman laughed. It sounded like the wren's song.

"Don't you want your reward? Aren't you curious what you have done?"

"Uh - no, no - not at all, things to do -"

"What was in the box?" Spike asked, and felt Xander roll his eyes. But he had to know. 'Always was too curious for my own good. But - hasn't killed me yet. Still got a few lives left...'

"Nothing was in the box. It was empty," the woman said. She smiled at their disbelieving looks. "This box does one thing. It returns things that were lost. I...had lost my soul. Had it taken from me." For a moment her eyes flashed fire, and Xander twitched back with a small gasp.

"But now it is returned, and with it, all my powers. I have listened, for many hundreds of years, for the wren's song. I have hidden in the roots of the world-tree, and now - I may follow its branches to the sky." She stroked the box - plucked something from its lid. Two slender bars of golden light, that shimmered and became feathers - gold-brown wren feathers.

"Your reward is this. Take these to a place of water - quick-running water in a green forest. Let them go on the tide. And wish. One wish, for the both of you. Think hard, think long - do not mistake your intent." She held the feathers out and Xander felt Spike's hand tighten on his. Then they both stepped forward and carefully, carefully plucked the feathers from her outstretched fingers. Her fingertips brushed theirs and Xander shivered at the touch - hot and cold, a tingle like electricity.

"You're one of them. The Sidhe," Spike said softly, tucking the feathers carefully away into a dented cigarette case that he had in a deep pocket.

She tilted her head, still smiling, and Xander was reminded of the wren. "I am that. One of the others. Like yourself. Not of this place."

"Our kind don't have souls," Spike said, and the woman laughed.

"Think you? What is a soul, but the essence of a being? The energy that keeps one living and the thing that makes you yourself. We all have souls, little brother." Behind her, the ash tree was shivering - blooming - putting out new leaves and growing before their eyes - spreading and swelling and taking the mausoleum down. The ground creaked and the crumbling stones fell and slithered and disappeared, leaving a strange sort of sink-hole with the ash-tree's roots humped and tangled all across the bottom.

"Now I will go. Remember your wish - remember this night. For both of you - good hunting!" She turned, and the cloth around her swayed and floated - her hair swung forward - and Xander saw that her back was hollow. She stepped up to the tree and lifted her hand, the lavender light suffusing her again - glowing brighter and brighter until they both had to shield their eyes. When they could see again, she was gone.

"Wow. Okay. She was - was she -?"

"Hollow. Yeah. A Huldra. A...wood-nymph, you might call her." Spike tugged Xander closer - wrapped his arms around him and kissed him. Hard kiss, tinged a little with desperation.

"What was that about," Xander asked softly when Spike finally pulled back a little, face buried in Xander's neck and his arms still holding tight.

"It's done an' you're safe, thank fuck, and I bloody well want to get out of here. No more magic or quests for us, pet. From now on it's just vamps and demons and all the sex two horny men can stand."

"Sound like a plan," Xander said, hugging Spike back just as hard - turning with him and starting the walk back to the DeSoto. 'Yeah. Made it through this and now...we've got a wish. I wonder...' "What about that wish? What do you think we should wish for?"

"Only thing I want is you, love," Spike said. He looked at Xander, and Xander looked back, grinning.

"We'll ask Giles to help with the wording."

"Think he will? Bloody Watcher, pet, he might not agree."

"He'll like that better than you turning me. C'mon, my one-and-only, I've got plans for our victory celebration."

"Oh you do, do you?" Spike snugged him close - kissed his mouth and his cheek and rubbed his own cheek across Xander's hair. "Love you, Xander."

"Love you too, Spike," Xander said, and they walked out of the cemetery and back to the car, wren-song echoing softly behind them.










The End





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