Happily Ever After

by
Whichclothes

Part Five

The shop was tucked away in an alley, almost hidden between a dead-end passageway and a store that sold musical instruments. Normally, Spike would have walked on by—he didn’t like mojo, didn’t trust it. But now, as soon as he realized what sort of shop it was, he flung the door open and marched inside. The shopkeeper looked up at him and Drusilla with surprise and slight alarm.

“Puedo ayudarse?” said the shopkeeper. He was middle-aged, his dark hair streaked with gray, and he was thin apart from a little potbelly.

“English, mate.” Spike could manage Spanish if necessary, but given the importance of the matter at hand, wanted to avoid miscommunication.

“Oh, of course, señor. How may I help you?”

While Dru wandered the aisles, running her finger over talismans and worn books and muttering at statuettes, Spike marched over to the proprietor. “ ’M not meant to be here. ’T’s an enchantment, I expect.”

The man blinked. “Where are you supposed to be?”

“I … I’m not sure. Somewhere else. There’s this bloke, you see. Xander. And he’s mine. I keep finding him in castles and so on, but then I move on, and in any case none of it is real. At least, I don’t think so.”

The shopkeeper looked deeply puzzled, and Spike realized he sounded barmier than Dru ever did. He briefly wondered if she were as certain about her delusions as he was about his own ravings. He took a deep breath and tried again. “We were going to see a wizard, Xan and I were. He was going to explain what’s happening. Why I keep having these dreams that aren’t dreams. But before we could get to him I woke up again, see, and now I’m here. No wizard.”

“So … you believe you are … from another place, yes? Another reality?”

“Yes! Or … I dunno. ’T’s all muddled up in here.” He tapped the side of his head. “But I think it’s to do with fairy tales.”

The shopkeeper shook his head. “I am afraid I know nothing of these matters. But I know someone who might. He is quite knowledgeable about the arcane.”

“Lovely. Where is he?”

“Several miles from the city. Here, I will write directions to find him.”

Spike waited impatiently while the man scribbled on a scrap of brown paper. In the meantime, Dru came swaying over, something clutched in her hand. “I fancy a pressie, my Spike. Will you give me one? You haven’t for ever so long.”

“Two nights ago, love. That cat you wanted so badly.”

She hissed. “Nasty thing. It bit me and ran away. I don’t think I like cats. Only kittens.”

“I’ll find you a kitten then,” he said with a sigh.

“No, I want this.” She held up the object, which turned out to be a hand mirror with an ornate silver frame. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“ ’T’s lovely, pet. But, erm, perhaps not very useful.” He gave the shopkeeper a sidelong glance, but the man was still writing.

“I want it,” Dru said with a pout.

“Then it shall be yours, my princess.” Spike took the mirror from her and set it on the counter. The man handed him the scrap of paper, which Spike tucked in his pocket for later. “How much?” Spike asked. He could have simply killed the shopkeeper and taken whatever he wanted, but he wasn’t especially hungry, and for some reason the idea of murder made him suddenly uneasy.

“Eight thousand pesetas.”

It seemed a bloody lot of money for a useless mirror, but a small price to keep Dru momentarily content. Spike handed over some bills, Dru snatched up the mirror, and they left the shop.

Spike meant to set off right away in search of the bloke who knew about magics, but Dru was in one of her clingy moods, hanging on his arm and nattering about her usual nonsense. So instead they wandered down to the waterfront, and stood there for ages watching the waves while Dru had conversations with invisible fishes. It was nearly dawn before they returned to their stolen flat, a tiny place near a park. Dru had chosen the flat—and eaten its owner—but Spike quite liked it as well because it was filled with books. So when they got home he grabbed a stack of volumes more or less at random and collapsed into an armchair.

Dru spun and danced about the room, admiring her nonexistent reflection in the mirror.

***

For once, it was Drusilla who woke up first, well before the sun set. When Spike opened his eyes, she was sitting on a little chair beside the bed, glaring at him. She held the mirror in one hand.

“What’s the matter, princess?” asked Spike, standing and stretching. Sometimes if he moved his muscles just right, showing off his body in the lamplight, he could charm Dru out of a foul mood and into bed. He didn’t especially want to shag her at the moment, but he also didn’t want to waste time placating her. But his efforts were in vain, because the more he preened, the darker her face grew.

“Am I not pretty?” she asked him.

“Of course you are. Thy eternal summer shall not fade.” He found a pair of clean trousers and pulled them on.

“But am I beautiful, Spike?”

“As beautiful and precious as the rarest jewel.”

She shot across the room, stopping inches in front of him. “Am I not the most beautiful demon in the land?”

“In any land, my love.”

She thrust the mirror between then. “My mirror says I am not.”

“Then it’s lying.”

Her eyes narrowed. “My mirror says that I am fair, but another is fairer.”

“Who, then?” he asked wearily. “Tell me who your rival is and I’ll tear off her face.”

“You!” Drusilla screamed. “My mirror says that you are the most beautiful demon.”

He didn’t like the look on her face—it was devoid of love and reason. He backed away, grabbing a shirt as he did. “You must have misunderstood it, pet.”

“It spoke to me clearly, it did. You are fairer and you love another.” Her eyes narrowed to slits and she lifted her chin. “I think I shall make myself a new prince. An ugly one who will love me best.”

At one time, her words would have broken his undead heart. But she had been unfaithful before, and in any case, it was now Xander who was the center of Spike’s world. Xander whom he’d only met in those strange undreams.

“If that’s what you want,” Spike said. He sidled past her and grabbed his coat off the back of a chair in the front room.

She came up behind him as he was slipping on his shoes. She slammed her hands into his back, sending him sprawling onto the floor. As quickly as he could roll over, she was on top of him, fangs glistening as she snarled. “You were meant to be mine!”

“Dru—”

She slashed four furrows in his cheek with her sharp nails. “I was to be the beautiful princess and you were my dark knight. That is how the story went. It’s not fair to change the ending!”

“Dru, I can’t … I don’t … something’s wrong, love—”

She clawed his other cheek. “Don’t call me that!” She bent over, striking at his neck with her fangs. He shoved hard at her and was able to scramble free, but she grabbed him before he could escape out the door. “I shall have your untrue heart for supper!”

He hit her, hard. Hard enough that she loosened her grip on him, and then he wrapped his hands around her neck and bashed her head into the doorframe. The wood cracked and split, and Dru collapsed to the floor, unconscious. “Not tonight, pet. Sorry.”

He kept to the shadows until it was dark enough to be safe. Then he nicked a car and drove it out of the city, down a dark and bumpy road past green fields and finally into a woods. Of course. Always a fucking woods. If the shopkeeper’s directions were accurate, this wizardy bloke lived down a dirt track that was too much for the Fiat to manage. Spike abandoned the car by the wayside and walked into the trees.

There were no brambles here. That was good. But owls called to each other overhead and Spike felt as if he were being watched.

The pathway narrowed and turned a bend, and then he was in a clearing. A small cottage stood in the center, windows cheerily lit, smoke puffing from the chimney. “Oi!” Spike shouted, but nobody answered. He warily moved closer and peered in through one of the windows. The cottage was cozy inside, crammed with comfortable, worn furniture and piles of books and various little knickknacks. There was no sign of any people, however, and of course Spike couldn’t enter, so he sat on a tree stump near the door and waited.

He waited a long time—over two hours—and he was in a foul mood when he heard voices. A group of seven people entered the clearing, but then stopped abruptly when they caught sight of him.

“Quien es?” demanded one of them, a tall, middle-aged man.

“Name’s Spike. And— Buffy?”

The petite blonde stepped forward, her hands on her hips. “How did you know my name?”

“I … There was the prince and … Bloody hell! Fairy godmother! Radislav?”

The others looked at one another in confusion, until the man walked up to Spike. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Spike shook his head to clear it. “Told you—’m Spike. Looking for someone called Giles.”

“Then you’ve found him.”

“Good. I need advice on … something mystical.”

Giles looked at him skeptically, and then one of the others came over to stare as well. “Your skin is very white,” she said. She touched his hand for a moment and yanked her hand away. “And you’re cold. Like snow.”

He took a deep breath. “I’m a vampire.”

Before he knew it, he was flat on his back, trying to breathe through a broken nose. Buffy sat astride him, digging a stake into his chest. That’s when he realized what he would have before, if he hadn’t been confused by enchantments: she was a Slayer. He tried to keep his voice calm and reasonable. “Look, I didn’t come to make trouble, did I? Wouldn’t have announced myself like that if I had.”

“You didn’t come to bake cookies either, I bet,” Buffy snapped.

“Please! I only want … I want to get home. Back to my boy. That’s all.”

Buffy looked as if she meant to dust him anyway, but then one of the others knelt beside them. “B-Buffy? I-I think he’s telling the truth. Maybe we c-could at least hear him out?”

Which is how Spike ended up tied tightly to a wooden chair in the middle of the cottage’s front room, seven humans circled about him. They introduced themselves: aside from Giles and Buffy, there was the girl who’d been willing to listen to him, who was called Tara. The young one was Dawn, and the fairy godmother was Willow. The big bloke went by Riley instead of Radislav. And the one who’d commented on the paleness of his skin, that was Anyanka. He startled when he heard her name. “The demon who cursed Xander!”

She frowned. “I’m retired now. And I have never cursed Xander, not even when he broke up with me.”

“Xander! You know Xander! Where is he?” He strained at his ropes, as if he might leap up and find his boy in the next room.

Buffy folded her arms over her chest. “What do you know about Xander?”

Explanations followed. At first they accused him of lying, but then Tara pointed out that he had no cause to do so, and that he seemed genuinely distressed over the situation. She even smiled at him. He liked that girl. Then Giles polished his eyeglasses and asked questions, and the others paced restlessly and ate, until finally the hour grew very late and Spike was knackered.

“Please,” he finally begged. “Xander. Where is he?”

Anyanka was the one to answer. “Africa. Maybe.”

“Africa?”

“Yes. He used to patrol with us—we hunt for evil demons—but then he had some sort of mental crisis and he broke up with me and left. He’s sent us some postcards.” She walked over to a table and held up a rectangle of cardboard with a photo of pyramids.

Spike slumped in his bonds. “I need … I need to see him.”

Buffy made a face. “Xander and a vampire. Ew.”

“I bloody love him!” Spike roared.

Giles had been staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. “We won’t solve this problem tonight. I propose that we secure the vam—Spike somewhere a bit more … solid. We can research this tomorrow.”

There was some general grumbling, and Spike protested that he didn’t bloody need to be secured anywhere, but in the end he was chained up in Giles’ bathtub. At least Tara brought him a pillow and a blanket. He made himself as comfortable as he could and tried to sleep.

***

“You are William the Bloody,” Giles said.

Spike stretched his cramped neck and sighed. “Yeah.”

“And you expect us to believe that William the Bloody has come in peace, and that he has a … relationship with Xander.”

“ ’T’s the truth.”

“That seems highly unlikely.” Now it was Giles’ turn to sigh. “But according to the Watchers’ Dairies, you’ve rarely been one for subtle schemes, and Tara says we ought to believe you.”

Spike tried to appear appreciative; he didn’t have much practice at it. “Ta.”

Giles unfastened the chains and stepped back as Spike stepped out of the bathtub and stretched. Spike could see Giles’ hand hovering near his pocket, where, no doubt, a stake was tucked away.

“Follow me,” Giles ordered. “I want to ask you some questions. But I’ll warn you, if you try anything, erm, violent …”

“Dust. Yeah, got it.”

Spike sat in one of Giles’ comfortable chairs and ignored his empty belly. Giles sat opposite him, balancing a notepad on his knee. “If your description last night was accurate, I believe you’re under some sort of enchantment,” Giles said.

“Hardly takes expertise in magics to suss that out. But what sort of enchantment and how do I break it?”

“I don’t know yet. Now, you’ve had several of these … these dreams, correct?”

“They’re not really dreams, but yeah.”

“And what were their common elements?”

“Xander,” Spike replied immediately.

Giles nodded and scribbled something on his paper. “Yes, Xander. Has he always been the same?”

“Sometimes he’s been a prince and sometimes not. But he always loves me. He’s always missing his eye—”

“He lost it in a battle some years ago.”

“In the not-dreams as well. And, erm, sometimes he’s a werewolf.”

Giles’ eyebrows flew up. “Xander—our Xander—was bitten by a werewolf a few years ago. We were able to cure him of the infection, however.”

“My Xander doesn’t want to be cured,” Spike replied, unsure how he could be so certain of this.

Giles made a few more notes, then looked at him. “Anything else?”

“My boy and I shag.”

“Apart from the sex, Spike.”

Spike shrugged. “They’re all children’s stories, aren’t they? Princes and fairies and all that rot.”

“A literary spell, then?”

“Yes!” Spike exclaimed as a realization hit him. “Books! They’ve been everywhere—in William’s grandmother’s house, in that room in the palace—under Xander’s back, actually.”

“Fascinating!” Giles was writing furiously. “Anything else?”

Spike thought for a few moments. “ ’M not .. not myself, am I?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m a bloody vampire! You said it yourself—William the Bloody. I’ve earned that nickname.”

Giles scowled at him. “I know. I was reading up on you this morning.”

“Then you know I should be rampaging through the city with Dru at my side, fucking and fighting and bathing in blood.”

“Thank you for the lovely imagery.”

“I should be feasting on you and your sorry lot. I offed a Slayer before, you know. Can still taste her, like fireworks on my tongue.”

Giles rolled his eyes. “You do realize you’re not making a very strong case for assistance, don’t you?”

Spike leapt to his feet and began to pace. “But I’m not killing anyone, am I? And the bloody strange thing is that I don’t sodding want to. I’m hungry right now and I should be draining you dry, but all I can do is tell myself That would be wrong and Xander would be devastated. Where’s the sense in that? Where’s the sense in any of this?” With a roar of frustration, he collapsed back into his chair and buried his head in his hands.

He heard Giles stand up, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Giles walk over to a particularly overstuffed bookshelf and begin to peruse the books’ spines. “I shall see if I can find any records of similar enchantments. In the meantime, please refrain from massacres; Tara and Willow promised they would visit the butcher’s before they come here tonight.”

“Animal blood,” Spike said with disgust.

“Animal blood will suffice.” Giles tugged a large book off the shelf, blew away the dust, and carried it over to a table. He had to move piles of papers and pamphlets and scrolls out of the way before he could set the book down. “I’ve another concern as well. You said Drusilla was … quite put out with you last night.”

“Threatened to eat my heart,” said Spike morosely.

“Will she come searching for you here?”

Spike frowned. Honestly, he had barely thought of Dru since he’d escaped her. “Dunno. She’s a bit unpredictable, my Dru. Sometimes she gets a notion and it’s fleeting as the wind. Other times she clamps her jaws onto an idea like a crocodile.”

“And could she find you here, if she had a mind to?”

“Perhaps. Didn’t tell her where I was going, but she sees things, sometimes. She’s never had trouble finding me before.”

“Then I suggest you stay inside, where she cannot enter without an invitation.”

Spike nodded unhappily. Stuck in a cottage with this righteous berk and his band of do-gooders. Angelus himself could hardly have invented a worse form of torture.

***

Spike was bored. Nearly two weeks had passed, and although Giles claimed to have found a few promising leads in his research, he was really not any closer to solving Spike’s mystery. Cold pigs’ blood was a poor substitute for fresh human. And his housemates got on his nerves, all except sweet Tara and young Dawn—the girl enjoyed listening to some of the gorier tales from Spike’s past, even when the others objected.

Out of desperation, Spike did housework. He tidied and swept. He cooked. He rearranged Giles’ books, first by subject and then again by author. He read through the Diary entries on himself and made corrections. He almost went out of his mind.

Worse than the confinement and boredom, worse than Buffy’s caustic comments or Riley’s evil looks, worse than anything was his separation from Xander. More than once he was ready to take off for the Dark Continent himself, and then Tara or Dawn would remind him that Xander could be anywhere, that the climate and conditions there weren’t very appropriate for a white-skinned vampire, and that he could wake up anytime to find himself in another fairy tale, no closer to getting back home. Wherever home was.

Giles and his lot went out monster-hunting most nights. Spike was willing to join them, even to lend a helping fang. But Buffy didn’t trust him, and he wasn’t certain he wouldn’t end up a victim of friendly fire, so he stayed in the cottage night after night and rather mindlessly puttered about. Finally, one afternoon as Spike lay sleeping in Giles’ cupboard—they had stopped chaining him in the bathtub, at least—Giles came running into the bedroom to wake him up. “I think I’ve found something!” he exclaimed.

Spike uncurled himself and rubbed his eyes and tried to kick-start his brain. “Yeah? What?” He shuffled out of the bedroom and to the kitchen, pulling a jar of pig's blood from the fridge. He couldn’t help grimacing as he swallowed it down.

Giles had followed at his heels. “I was reading through Gailen’s Chronicles, the unabridged edition of course, and— I do wish you would rinse your glass when you are finished.”

“Get on with it.”

“Yes. The Chronicles. According to Gailen, several decades ago there was a failed author, an Englishman named Farthing.”

“Stupid bloody name.”

“Yes, Spike. This Farthing was quite well-to-do, but couldn’t make a penny from his writing. So he contracted with a wizard, a rather disreputable sort who was down on his luck, and the wizard cast an enchantment over Farthing’s books. It was a sort of a glamour, you see, and it was meant to draw the reader into the tale, to trap him so that he would be somewhat compelled to continue reading. Gailen also claims that all Farthing’s volumes were destroyed in the Purge of ’21, but perhaps one or two managed to escape. Or perhaps another author learned the same trick.”

“So this Farthing tosser pulled me into a book?”

“I don’t know. By all accounts, his spell was mild. It wouldn’t physically place the reader in the story, but only, well, capture his interest.”

Spike waved a hand, indicating his body as a whole. “This is more than my interest, mate.”

“I know. Perhaps you were caught by a similar enchantment, but stronger. Or perhaps something intensified your reaction.”

“Mushroom,” Spike muttered.

“Sorry?”

Spike shook his head. “Dunno. I … almost had something, I think. Right then. How do we break the spell?”

“I don’t know. Normally, the enchantment would end when the reader finished the story. But you seemed to have got past the happily ever after bit—”

“You mean the bit where Xan and I shag.”

“—and then you simply enter a new tale. I shall have to continue my research.”

Spike sighed. And then he frowned as a thought struck him. “If you’re correct, Rupert, then aren’t you simply a fictional character?”

Giles blinked, then drew himself to his full height and glared. “I assure you, Spike. I am as real as you are.”

Deciding that the philosophical and metaphysical implications of the situation would only give him a headache, Spike wandered off to take a bath.

***

When the knock sounded at the door, Spike knew who it had to be. Giles and his lot were out hunting demons, and nobody else ever came to the cottage—certainly not in the wee hours of the night. After considering his options for a few moments, Spike decided he wasn’t a sodding coward and answered the door.

“My prince!” Drusilla exclaimed. She tried to throw her arms around him but he stepped back and she bounced against the invisible barrier at the threshold. “Oh, naughty boy! Turning away from your beloved sire.”

“You tried to dust me, Dru.”

“Tsk. Such a fuss about nothing.” She smiled coquettishly at him. “Come out and play, my William. There’s a Slayer about. Do you remember the last one? Let’s find her, let’s.”

Spike wanted to do no such thing. But if he simply refused and slammed the door in Dru’s face, she was likely to wait, and then she’d be there when Buffy and the others arrived. Spike didn’t want Dru dusted and, oddly enough, didn’t want any of these odd humans killed either.

“Let’s go back to the city, Dru. I’ll find you something nice to eat there. You haven’t had a baby in ages, have you? And perhaps we can get you a new dress, one that swirls when you spin.” Or, Spike thought to himself, I can find you a big, stupid demon to run off with, and you can forget about me. Something with horns—his Dru had a kink for those.

Drusilla chewed thoughtfully on a fingernail and then smiled. “And a doll, Spike? Will you get me a doll? Miss Edith is ever so lonely.”

“I’ll get you a houseful of dolls.”

She clapped her hands and then held them out to him. Spike stepped outside and took her arm. He didn’t know if his stolen Fiat was still in the area, but if they made their way to the main road perhaps he could nick a new car. So he set off in that direction, Dru skipping merrily at his side.

But as they left the clearing and entered the woods, she stopped, dragging him to a halt. She tilted her head and looked at him as if she were a particularly intelligent bird of prey. And then she smiled again—wickedly—and slammed a long wooden shaft into his chest.

“Bad dog!” she said as he fell. “Telling me stories. Pretending you still love me.”

“What have you done?” he rasped. He was sprawled awkwardly on his back, barely able to move even his lips.

She knelt beside him and, with a quick snap of her wrist, broke off the end of the small spear. He could still feel it piercing his body, but his skin closed over the wound so that nobody would know it was there. “Sleep tight, my prince. See if your nasty human boy wants you like this. Maybe he’ll jiggle you and wiggle you, and my magic splinter will travel right to your heart.” She laughed delightedly, stood, and walked away.

Spike couldn’t move at all, not even to call out to her. He didn’t know what he’d say anyway. Beg for mercy from a demon? Curse her with his last breaths? And the darkness of the woods at night became even blacker, as if someone were dropping a blanket over the world, and the small forest sounds began to fade, and Spike slipped away.

***

“Sweetheart? Baby? Oh God, please wake up, Spike. Wake up.”

Spike told his eyelids to open but they wouldn’t obey. He could taste, though—his boy’s familiar flavor was on his lips. And he could feel calloused hands stroking his arms, smoothing over his chest and belly. It was lovely. If only he could move his mouth to say so.

But he couldn’t move; he could only lie there helplessly, smelling the salt of tears, as Xander petted and crooned to him. “I’m sorry, Spike. I didn’t know. Christ, how could I? But we’re … I’m … I don’t understand. We can fix this, though, right? But you gotta wake up.”

Spike couldn’t even manage a sigh as Xander settled his body alongside him. Xander was naked, his skin almost hot, and Spike expected he must be lovely and brown from the African sun. His cheeks were rough with stubble where they brushed against Spike’s. “I was so far away,” he whispered in Spike’s ear. “Sometimes the land and the sky just stretch on forever there, and it’s so bright and hot you can’t even think. And the smells and the tastes and the sounds. They have colors there that only exist in Africa, I think.” He kissed Spike’s cheek tenderly, then did it again.

“I was all by myself there, Spike, but I couldn’t find … couldn’t find me. I was so goddamn lonely.”

Yes, Spike thought, lonely. He knew that feeling. Incomplete, unfinished, forlorn.

Xander kissed him again, soft lips against Spike’s neck, and a hand heavy atop Spike’s chest. “And I had these weird fucking dreams. I thought it was a fever—I was kinda sick for a while. You were in them, and I knew you, even though we’d never met. I knew you. As soon as I could travel again, I knew I had to come back here. And here you are, only I can’t wake you up.” Xander made a sound that was like a sob.

Spike decided he would rather be paralyzed beside his boy than fully active without him. If only he had some way to tell Xander that, to let his boy know that Spike could hear and feel him.

Xander moved a bit, and for a moment Spike was afraid he’d leave. But instead, Xander simply traced his lips over Spike’s other cheek. He kissed the tip of Spike’s nose, the point of his chin, his Adam’s apple and the tiny scars from a bite in a London alley long ago. He kissed both of Spike’s shoulders and the length of both collarbones.

Spike cursed silently because although he desired Xander with every cell in his body, his cock remained soft and his lungs silent.

“You taste good, baby,” Xander said, flicking his tongue delicately at the hollow in Spike’s throat. “You feel good. Smooth. Cool. There’s something about your hair, though. Not sure why—I keep picturing it blond, like Marilyn Monroe.” He chuckled. “My pin-up vamp.”

Xander shifted again, now lapping and nibbling at Spike’s right nipple, teasing the nub of flesh a bit with the edges of his teeth. His hand was rubbing at Spike’s hip, a long, steady stroke that made Spike feel like a large cat. Then Xander leaned over him to lavish attention on the other nipple, and his hand moved to Spike’s groin. He cradled Spike’s balls gently, weighing them in his big palm, then tickled his fingertips through the hairs at the base of Spike’s cock. Spike wanted to arch into the caresses.

“You’re so perfect,” Xander said against his chest. “So goddamn perfect except you won’t wake up. Please wake up, Spike.” And he kissed once more, this time just over Spike’s heart.

Agony shot through Spike’s body and he screamed. But midway through the scream and even through the pain he realized that he was making noise, he was breathing, and that meant he could bloody well move. He pried his eyes open in time to see Xander scrambling away from him, mouth gaping with shock. Spike tried to sit up and only managed to fall off the bed, but at least he could grasp the wooden shard that had erupted from his chest, and he could yank it out of his body and fling it far away. And when Xander collapsed to his knees beside him, Spike could reach over and grab him in his arms and vow never, ever to let him go.





Part Six

“Fucking hell!” With a scream of rage, Spike threw himself against the stone wall. It didn’t do any good. The wall remained undamaged and indifferent, and the only casualty was Spike’s shoulder. Another frantic circuit of the round room told him only what he already knew: smooth stone walls, stone ceiling perhaps 20 feet overhead. No door, no furniture, nothing at all except his naked self. And a single glassless window that revealed his location high in a tower, overlooking a deep forest. The base of the tower was ringed with thorn bushes. The window was warded somehow, like the traditional protection from vampires, only reversed—humans could enter but Spike couldn’t leave.

Humans did enter, every several days. Nasty soldier types with stun guns and chains and sharp, pointy objects. And the scientists came with them, measuring and prodding and driving him mad with their clinical eyes. They didn’t speak to him, apart from barking orders and peppering him with questions meant to test Christ knew what. If Spike put up a fight, if he failed to cooperate, they’d activate the chip in his skull until he begged for mercy. And when they were finished with him, they’d leave a few packets of semi-congealed animal blood and they’d climb back out the window.

At least, that’s what one part of his brain told him. That bit also informed him that he’d been in the tower for years and years, that he would nearly freeze in the winter, that he had no way to occupy his time apart from staring outside. He couldn’t even burn himself; the wards kept the sun’s rays out of his reach.

But although his memories of pain and maltreatment and loneliness were sharp and clear, he knew they were false. Xander was real, Xander and the enchantment. And somehow Spike had to find a way to track down Xander and the book so they could return to where they belonged. But there were no books in the tower and Xander could be anywhere—perhaps he was in an enchanted sleep; those seemed very popular—and Spike was trapped.

He bashed into the walls again until he felt a bone snap, and then he simply slumped on the floor, which was also stone and bloody uncomfortable.

An eternity later, he heard the soldiers and scientists climbing the ladder on the outside of the tower. They swore at one another and complained about the effort it took. He never had understood why they hadn’t stuffed him somewhere more convenient for them to access; when he’d asked them that, long ago, they’d answered only with impatient impositions of pain.

They tumbled in through his window—three bulky men in camouflage and a man and a woman in white coats. The woman seemed to be in charge, and Spike couldn’t help but cower when he saw her. She was a cruel bitch. She claimed her treatment of Spike was all in the name of research, but he was pretty certain she got off on at least some of it.

“Restrain it,” she ordered.

The soldiers dutifully tromped over and cuffed Spike’s wrists behind his back. They tethered his ankles with a short hobble and then pushed him to the floor. The usual followed: they pricked him with needles to draw samples of various fluids, they stuck electrodes on his scalp and watched lines squiggle on a small computer. They rammed a thermometer up his arse, which was bloody pointless—he was always room temperature. And then, most humiliating, they bent him over and stimulated his prostate with a vibrating rod until he climaxed; they collected his spend in a little glass vial.

Then came the questioning bit. “What is your name? Who is the President? What year were you turned? What’s twenty times three?” And on and on. When they’d first captured him he had deliberately given wrong answers, babbling nonsense or snatches of poetry or responding in various demon tongues. But they had punished him for it, and eventually he had decided that the small rebellion wasn’t worth the agony that followed.

This day, though, when the scientists paused to take some notes, Spike smiled grimly. “You’re not real,” he said.

The woman snapped her eyes to him. “What did it say?”

“I said, you’re not real, none of you are. You’re … stock characters. The Evil Scientist. The Sadistic Soldier. Nothing original about you, even.”

She stepped closer to him and looked down at him as if he were an exotic insect. “What makes you think that?”

“ ’T’s true, innit? You’re nothing. Only I’m real. And Xander, he’s real as well.”

“How do you know you’re real?”

He barked out a laugh. “Cogito ergo sum, twat.”

The pejorative earned him a small correction from the chip. It would have been a larger zap, but the woman held up her hand to the soldier with the controller. “And who is this … Xander, was it?”

“He’s a bloody hero, he is. A wolf and a prince and my one true love. You’re just a sodding scribble, the lot of you. Bad writing by a bad author.”

She signaled to the soldier, and Spike shrieked and tried to curl in on himself as the pain washed through his skull. It took several moments before he could hear the humans’ conversation again. “—mental state has deteriorated more than I thought,” the woman was saying to her minion. “Maybe we can terminate this experiment soon.”

“Will we terminate the subject?” the other scientist asked.

She didn’t even glance at him. “No, I think not. There are other uses for it. Come on, let’s get back to the lab.”

Spike didn’t move as the soldiers unchained him, and it was hours later before he had the strength to drink the horrible blood they’d left him. He refused to consider the possibility that he truly had gone mad, and that the bits about Xander and the enchantment were nothing but a wild delusion.

***

“Oh, Christ! Spike!”

Spike woke with a start and scrambled to his feet. There was a face at his window. A familiar, beloved face, with stubbled cheeks and, surprisingly, two warm eyes.

Spike ran to the window, but of course he couldn't go out, and it appeared that Xander couldn’t come in. “You found me,” Spike said hoarsely.

“Of course. I’ve been looking for a while. I’m sorry, Spike. I had no idea where you were, and—”

“Don’t. You came, and that’s what matters, innit?”

Xander nodded. “I heard rumors that these black helicopter types were doing stuff to demons and that one was locked in a tower. I hoped it was you.”

“My hero,” Spike said with a small smile. “Have you the book?”

“No. I was kinda hoping you had it.”

Spike indicated his empty cell. “Not much of a library here, pet.”

“They couldn’t even give you some goddamn clothes! I’m gonna make them pay, Spike, I’m gonna rip them to shreds.”

“They’re not real, remember?”

“Maybe not, but you’re still miserable. How long has it been?”

“Dunno.”

Xander sighed and then grinned slightly. “I knew you were supposed to have blond hair. Only … I didn’t picture it so long.”

Spike ran fingers through his tangled curls. If he were able to brush them out, they would likely reach halfway down his back.

“Do you know how I can get in there?” asked Xander. “Or pull you out?”

“No. The others … they just climb on in.”

“Fuck. I really hate magic, Spike.”

“Can’t say I disagree.”

They put their palms up so that only the invisible barrier separated them. The pain of not quite touching was worse than anything the soldiers had done to him.

Finally, Xander nodded. “Okay. You stay here. Um, obviously. I’m gonna go find my friend Willow and see if she can give me a hand. It’s gonna take a few days, though, okay?”

“Hurry,” Spike said. “And mind the thorns below.”

Xander blew him a kiss and climbed back down the ladder.

Spike waited anxiously, pacing the length of his prison until he was too exhausted to move. Then he curled up on the hard floor and had strange, disjointed dreams about robots and unicorns and lawyers. The following day brought more waiting. More staring out his window at the uneven carpet of green. More walking back and forth and back and forth until he nearly expected the stone beneath his feet to wear away.

And then, just after sunset, he heard voices.

Not Xander. Spike swore and backed as far from the window as he could, expecting another round of testing. But this time only soldiers—six in all—climbed in through the opening; no scientists. That was alarming, and Spike decided to put up as much of a fight as he could, chip or not.

He never got a chance. One of the soldiers shot him with a dart that lodged in Spike’s shoulder, and although Spike pulled the dart out at once, he was too late. He felt suddenly weak and groggy, and he collapsed to the floor.

Spike was only dimly aware of the rough hands that grabbed him and twisted him about. He couldn’t move a muscle in protest as he was hogtied. And when he was finally lowered out the window on a rope—finally escaping that room after years and years—he was in no condition to enjoy his relative freedom. He swung dizzyingly as they eased him down the length of the tower. Sometimes he bashed into the wall and then bounced off, but the soldiers didn’t seem to care. They didn’t mind either, that the thorn bushes tore at his unprotected skin, leaving long, bloody scratches across his face and body. Two of the men heaved him onto their shoulders and carried him for a short distance, and then he was tossed into the back of a lorry and chained in place.

The lorry bounced and jostled for what felt like ages, but he was too drugged to accurately judge the passage of time. He wanted to mourn his lost opportunity to reunite with Xander, but the drugs gave a strange sort of distance to everything, as if all this weren’t really happening to him. It was as if he were reading about someone in a book, actually, and that thought almost made him laugh. Or cry. He was too muddled to tell.

By the time the vehicle came to a halt, he was nearly clear-headed again. But the chains that bound him were strong and he couldn’t break them. He remained helpless as the soldiers carried him out of the lorry, across a car park, and into a hulking, windowless building. They took him down a short hallway, unchained him, and threw him into a dark cell. Then they went away again.

He had loads of time to think. To wonder what that bitch had planned for him now. To speculate about what would happen if he and Xander never did find one another again. Would Spike eventually find his way into another story anyway, or would he simply remain in this grim reality? He tried to remember who he really was, what his true life was like, but nothing came to him except tantalizing bits. Xander repairing something in what appeared to be a hotel lobby. A shameful act involving Buffy, and then some horrible trials afterwards. Angelus an ally instead of a tormenter. But Spike couldn’t make sense of them, and wasn’t even certain that they were real memories instead of bits of other tales.

He slept and woke. Packets of blood were shoved into the cell through a small slot. He slept and woke again, and again. Only the growing pile of empty blood packets marked the passage of time, but he wasn’t sure how often he was fed, or whether it was on a regular schedule.

He waited for his mind to snap completely.

And then there were sounds. Distant, muted noises of shouting and running and, he thought, gunshots as well. Spike stood near the door, poised in readiness, his fangs extended.

But still he startled when the door burst open.

“Buffy!” Spike exclaimed.

The blonde had a stake in one hand and a sword in the other. “What’s your name?” she asked suspiciously.

“Spike. I’m Spike. Christ, is Xander—”

“Xan! I found him!”

His ears were still ringing from her deafening shout when Xander appeared. His hair was mussed and his face was scarred. He was wearing the eye patch. He was the most beautiful thing Spike had ever seen.

“Spike!” Xander cried, and gathered him in his arms. Spike squeezed him so tightly that Xander made a small choking noise and the chip fired briefly.

“Xander, what’s—”

“Can’t explain now, baby. Let’s get the hell out of here first.”

Spike nodded. Buffy led and Xander held his hand as they ran through the corridor. There were still screams and sounds of fighting, and Buffy paused to throw herself at a pair of soldiers, but Xander and Spike kept running until they were outside, where an oversize SUV was parked with its engine running. Xander dragged Spike into the vehicle. “Here,” Xander grinned, and wrapped a blanket about Spike before holding him tight again. Then several other people came running and crowding into the truck, and Spike didn’t even have the chance to see who they were before they sped away.

“That went well,” said a slight young man with spiky red hair.

“We got Spike and none of us died,” Xander retorted. “That’s all that matters.”

A brunette who smelled like a Slayer turned around and glared at Xander. “Speak for yourself, loverboy. I got a wicked gash in my side. I hate it when I scar.”

But Xander was obliviously nuzzling at Spike’s neck, and Spike was so stunned at the sudden turn of events that he couldn’t say a word, nor could he follow the conversations of the humans around him.

“You okay?” Xander whispered to him after a while.

“Yeah. Just … it’s a bit much all at once, innit?”

“Sorry, Spike. It took us a while to track you down, and then we had to figure out how the hell to break into that place, and—”

“Don’t apologize, love.” Spike reached up to stroke his boy’s face. “What happened?”

“I went back to the tower to get you, but you weren’t there. And I kind of freaked out and wasn’t very careful when I climbed down.”

“The bloody thorns.”

“Yeah. It’s pretty ugly, huh?”

“No, pet. You’re gorgeous.” Spike kissed him lightly to emphasize his point. A few of the other people in the car made shocked noises, but the brunette laughed and leered at them.

It was a very long drive, and Spike eventually fell asleep, sprawled against Xander. When they finally arrived at a small, neat bungalow the sun had risen; Spike had to drape the blanket over his head and run to avoid combustion. Xander invited Spike inside the house and shooed all the others away. “Later,” he promised them. “Go get patched up and sleep or whatever. I think Spike needs some quiet right now.”

And he was right, because all this rapid change after such eternal monotony was overwhelming and Spike’s head was spinning. Spike was very grateful when Xander took him into a tiny bedroom that was almost entirely filled with a big bed, and then tucked Spike in before stripping and climbing in beside him.

Xander yawned. “I haven’t found the book yet. We’ve been looking, but, well, big world, small book.”

“But you found me, pet. Twice.”

“Yeah. And if we don’t get out of here this time—”

“We’ll keep on trying. I trust you—you always rescue me.”

Xander turned off the light and snuggled against him. “Except when you rescue me. Which of us is the brave knight and which is the damsel in distress, do you think?”

“No damsels here, love,” Spike chuckled, and stroked Xander’s soft cock.