Six Thousand Miles

by
Whichclothes



Part One


Venice, Italy, 2011

Pethosithanthaxis wouldn't have left his watery environment, except that he had a pressing need to petition Venezia's ministro dei demoni. Little had the sleek, scaly creature known that il ministro was so startlingly ugly. He had a pelt of thick dark fur atop his head, his face was flat except for the pointy part in the middle (which contained two disturbing holes), and he had only two eyes, sort of a muddy color with a little row of hairs lining the loose skin that kept opening and shutting over the irises. And his mouth! It was circled by puffy pinkish stuff that looked much too soft, and his tongue was fat and pink as well. His teeth were white, very straight and flat. Pethosithanthaxis wondered how the creature managed to eat with a mouth like that.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Peth— uh … sir? Um, and I really hope you speak English ’cause my interpreter’s out of town and the Rosetta Stone lessons have been going really slowly.”

Pethosithanthaxis flicked his tongue out to taste the air. Il ministro might have been hideous, but he smelled pleasant. Sweet, with an undertone of warm spice. Quite pleasant, actually. “I speak English very well,” the demon said.

“Glad to hear it. Really glad. So. What’s up?” As he spoke, il ministro toyed absently with the mobile phone laying on the desk in front of him. He didn’t look at it though; he kept his gaze on Pethosithanthaxis.

“I have lived in this city for many years. The climate suits me.”

“Um,  yeah.” Il ministro glanced at the magnificently gleaming scales on the demon’s torso. Pethosithanthaxis was very proud of his scales; they were the shiniest and most colorful in the nest. “It’s nice and … damp here,” said il ministro.

“Precisely. I have lived here with my mates and our spawn, and we have been very happy. We contribute to the local economy as well: my people are among the finest repairers of boats in the entire region. Customers come to us from Trieste, from Ancona … some even cross the water from Croatia, just to hire us.”

Il ministro nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’ve heard you guys are the best. In fact, we’re in the middle of buying a place with a boat garage and when the deal goes through—and when I fix the zillion and one things that need fixing pronto—we’re gonna get our own boat. And we were planning on hiring you guys to make sure it’s in tip-top shape.”

Pethosithanthaxis puffed out his chest a little. Il ministro knew of his reputation. The man was ugly, but clearly very perceptive. Excellent.

Il ministro snuck a quick glance at his phone, then looked at his guest again. “So did you come by just to chat, or was there something specific you wanted? Not that I want to hurry you or anything, but there’s kind of a line waiting outside.”

“Problems accumulated during the time of your predecessor.”

“I know,” il ministro said with a sigh. “That ass—that jerk made a real mess of things. I’m really trying to get them straightened out. So if you could tell me what’s up with you, that’d be a good start.”

“Very well. Perhaps you are aware of the existence here of Flegundi demons? Nasty, hairy little things—no offense—who scurry around in the shadows.”

“Flegundi … Oh, right! Those guys that look a little like Ewoks on acid. Sure, I’m aware of them.”

“Yes.” Pethosithanthaxis nodded. “Generally we have nothing to do with them. They are scavengers, you know, feeding off crumbs and rubbish. And they hate getting wet, the ridiculous creatures. But just recently—”

The phone on the desk began to play a song. They’re telling us they’re gonna make a fuss about the two of us. I want you around …  Il ministro grinned and grabbed the phone. “Um, I’m sorry. Gotta take this. Excuse me.” He stood and strode across the room.

Pethosithanthaxis didn’t intend to eavesdrop. Even humans deserved some privacy, after all. But the room wasn’t that large, and his species possessed excellent hearing.

“Spike! Hey! Is everything all right? … No, I’m fine. Busy. Da Ponte screwed just about everyone over and things are pretty complicated. … Thanks. But how’s things there?  These vamps, are they dangerous? … Yeah, Spike, I know all vamps are dangerous. But are we talking red zone or just orange? … Okay, okay. Just be careful, okay? I know you’ve got super angel healing powers at your disposal there, but I bet even Caron can’t heal a pile of dust. … Yeah. Me too. It’s lonely here. How long do you think it’ll take? …  All right. Me too. Give Willow and Caron hugs for me, okay? And hurry up. … Love you too.”

With a heavy sigh, il ministro ended the call and returned to his chair. “Sorry about that. It’s … my partner. He had to go to the States and … and you don’t care. Sorry.”

“But I do care. I understand. There are times when I have been briefly separated from my mates and it has been very distressing.”

“Thanks. But your problem with the Flegundi?”

“Yes. You see …” Pethosithanthaxis spent the next ten minutes outlining the situation with the care and detail for which he was well known. Il ministro took notes and asked a few questions. When the situation was fully explained, the demon sat back in his chair, hopeful that this human would find a solution.

Il ministro looked over his notes for a few moments and then nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I can see why you’re pissed at these guys. But before I can do anything I need to hear their side of the story. It’s only fair. Tell you what. How about I invite their, um, spokesdemon here for a meeting.” He glanced at the calendar on his desk. “Next Tuesday at three? No, got something then. Three-thirty. You come too. I’ll hear them out and we’ll see if we can’t reach some kind of compromise.”

Pethosithanthaxis was nothing if not fair, and the proposal sounded reasonable enough. Besides, a human who could love a vampire as much as this one clearly did—everyone in the city had seen the two of them strolling the campos and bridges, arm in arm—would surely know how to handle those bothersome Flegundi. “Next Tuesday,” the demon confirmed.

After scribbling a note on his calendar, il ministro stood and extended his hand. Pethosithanthaxis had to suppress a shudder when he touched the soft, dry thing, but he took the hand in one of his own appendages and they shook briefly. “It was nice to meet you,” il ministro said, sounding as if he meant it.

“Likewise. I shall look forward to Tuesday. And … Mr. Harris?” It was difficult for the demon to wrap his tongue around the impossible human name.

“Yes?”

“I hope your mate returns to you soon.”

Il ministro gave him a tired smile. “Thanks. Me too.”



Lucerne, California

He distrusted trees. There weren’t many of them in his homeland, and those that did exist were spaced far apart, offering friendly shade to travelers. These, however, were clustered close together and choked with underbrush so thick that it would have been difficult for him to proceed if there hadn’t been a road. All kinds of enemies might be hidden among the trunks, or perhaps poised to leap onto him from above. Even the greenery itself was potentially combative; he’d learned about the hazards of blackberry brambles and poison oak the hard way.

He had no choice but to traverse the dismal forest, for he had a purpose which could be achieved only in this place. He had crossed many miles to come here, making use of those noisy and noisome beasts known as Greyhound Buses and, for the last several leagues, walking. Although he had once sojourned for eleven days and eleven nights amongst a herd of Bur Beasts, now he was weary, footsore and famished.

It was with considerable relief, then, that he caught the faint sound of activity. The thudding of hammers, perhaps, and the buzz of some motored device. He increased his speed, hurrying in the darkness over the rutted pavement, always keeping alert for possible attacks.

He was brought to a sudden halt when he spied a man. The man leaned against a tree trunk a few feet from the edge of the road. He would have been hard to see in the night, for his raiment was all black, but his hair glowed a wondrous color, like unto the moon itself.  The man did not seem alarmed at his sudden visitor; he simply took a long draw from his cigarette, blew out a cloud of toxins, and said, “What are you, then?”

“I am Groosalugg, the brave and undefeated, the deposed monarch of Pylea.”

The man raised a scarred eyebrow. “Lovely. ’M Spike, the bored and frustrated. Formerly William the Bloody.” Then he cocked his head. “Wait a mo’ … Pylea. Wasn’t that where Peaches found Fred?”

“I know not of this Peaches of whom you speak, but there once was a human slave named Fred. She was able to escape to her home. Pylea no longer enslaves humans.”

“Good on you.” Spike peeled himself away from the tree and stood in the center of the road, looking Groosalugg up and down. This allowed Groosalugg to get a better look at him as well, and when he did so, he noticed the unnatural paleness of the man’s skin, the slightly feral glint in his eyes.

“You are a vampire!” Groosalugg exclaimed, instantly adopting a defensive posture.

“Two points. Guess you’re sharper than you look.”

“I warn you, denizen of the night. My fighting prowess is considerable. You will not defeat me.”

Spike looked more amused than alarmed. “Can’t we all just get along?” he asked, taking another puff of his cigarette.

That confused Groosalugg. His experience with vampires had been limited, but getting along was generally not very high on their list of priorities. They seemed to prefer biting and killing. Except one, of course. “Are you like the vampire Angel, perhaps?”

“Oi! ’M nothing like that wanker. Except the bloody soul.”

Groosalugg relaxed and held out one hand. “Of course! You have a soul as well.”

The vampire did not shake his hand. “If you’re looking for Peach—for Angel, he’s not here. He’s … gone.”

“No, I am not seeking Angel. I have arrived on a different quest.”

Spike lifted both eyebrows this time.

Groosalugg determined that a brief explanation was in order. “When I was deposed I traveled to this world in search of the lovely Cordelia, in hopes that she would take me as her mate. But although we did com-shuck, she ultimately chose to return to Angel instead.” The grief of it was still heavy on his heart, undimmed even after he had learned that Cordelia had died.

“Never understood what birds saw in the great brooding bastard,” said Spike.

“He is very strong. And he fights evil. Surely these are attractive traits.”

“Yeah, mate. But your quest?”

“After Cordelia and I parted I was … at a loss. Unsure of my destiny. I have performed some small feats—my official title was Security Guard—but I have long sought something greater, something more meaningful. And then I heard of this Sanctuary and I thought perhaps I could serve some use here.” He didn’t tell the vampire the other part: he was lonely, and tired of the company of humans from whom his true identity needed to be concealed.

Spike seemed to consider for a few moments longer, and then he nodded. “Right then. I expect you’ll fit in with everyone here on the Isle of Misfit Toys.”

“I beg your pardon?”

With a shake of his head, Spike tossed the cigarette onto the road and ground it out under his heel. “I expect the wards will hold if our suitors show up again. Follow me.” And then he muttered a brief incantation and gestured at Groosalugg.

They had traveled only a few yards when music began to play. Groosalugg was startled at first, but when the vampire reached into his coat, Groo realized that the sounds were coming from one of those cell devices. Groo didn’t trust their magic but humans certainly seemed fond of them. And vampires as well, it appeared.

Spike spoke into his phone as they walked. “It’s seven in the morning for you, love. Why are you awake? … Bugger the bloody rubbish, Xan. You need your sleep. How many demons did you meet with yesterday? … Far too many. You can’t sort it all out in one go, love. Took da Ponte ages to fuck things up. Give yourself some time. … I don’t know. Soon. These vamps claim they want to unlive peacefully in the Sanctuary. They claim they want Red to give them souls. As if souls were bloody door prizes. … I will. You be careful too. Our Caron’s not there to mend you and we haven’t any idea how indestructible he’s left you. … Me too. God, nothing tastes as good as you and my bed’s bloody cold. … Night, love.”

By the time the vampire finished his call they were within sight of a large clearing. Small structures were scattered around the clearing, many of them half-built and most of them of questionable quality. Some demons of a species he didn’t recognize were working on one of these structures, cutting boards and hammering them in place. At the center of the clearing was a house. It was a cheery-looking place, Groosalugg thought, with lights in the windows and the sounds of music drifting through the open door.

It was to the house that Spike led him. But the vampire's footsteps were slow, his shoulders bent.

“Was the call a troubling communication?” Groosalugg asked.

Spike shrugged. “Nah. ’T’s only … Xander. My boy.”

“Your mate?”

“Yeah. And he’s six thousand miles away.”

“Why are you separated from him by so much distance?”

Spike jerked his chin towards the house. “Business to sort here. And he has business there.”

“I hope you will be reunited soon.”

“You and me both, mate.”

There was a woman inside the kitchen of the house, a very comely woman with fiery hair. She was sitting at a table when they entered, and her eyes went very wide. “Oh! Who’s this?” she asked.

Spike pointed at Groosalugg. “Brave and Undefeated, meet Scary as Hell When You Cross Her.” Groosalugg and the woman looked at one another in confusion, and Spike sighed. “Groosalugg, Willow. Willow, Groosalugg. You can do the rest of the intros yourself. I’m off to watch the road again.” And he left.

“Um … hi,” said the woman. Willow. “Sorry about Spike. He flunked vampire charm school. Do you want some tea or something?”

“I do not suppose you have any bltgrgok juice.”

“Uh, no. Sorry.”

“Do not be distressed. I was not very hopeful. I have not found bltgrgok juice since I left my homeland.”

She gave him a tentative smile. “I’ve got guava-banana. And um, Red Bull.”

He chose the Red Bull. She bade him sit across from her at the table and he looked around the room. It was very pleasant. Cozy. He sipped at his drink. “The vampire Spike is sad.”

“Yeah,” she replied with a nod. “He’s away from his honey and it’s making him grumpy. They’re still sort of newlyweds. But it’s okay. Pretty soon he’ll straighten stuff out here and then he can head back to Italy. But why are you here?”

He began to tell her his tale. She was an excellent audience, and it turned out that she was also acquainted with Angel and Fred and Cordelia, and she was sympathetic over Groosalugg’s situation. He was just about to ask her if he might stay at the Sanctuary, if perhaps he might be of some use there, when another man appeared in the doorway that led to the adjacent room.

The man was magnificent. He was taller than Groo and more muscular, with long flowing hair and bright green eyes. He had a pair of wings, beautiful wings with black and white feathers, and they were so large that they filled the doorway completely. He wore nothing except a glass pendant that hung on a golden chain around his neck.

“Hello,” the winged man said.

Willow frowned slightly at him. “Didn’t we have a talk about nudity in front of guests?”

The man hung his head like a chastened child. “Sorry. I didn’t know we had a guest. I was taking a nap.”

Groosalugg stood. “Please. Do not worry on my account. I am not disturbed and truly, such splendor ought not to be covered up.”

The winged man looked up again and smiled at him. His smile was very wide and it did odd things to Groosalugg’s heart.

Willow was looking back and forth between them. She began to smile as well, a strange and knowing smile that Groosalugg did not understand. “It’s okay, sweetie,” she said to the man. Then she turned to Groo. “Groosalugg, meet Caron, our very own in-house angel.”

An angel! Groosalugg was awestruck. But Caron squeezed into the room and strode toward him. Rarely had Groosalugg met a man who so dwarfed him in size, but he didn’t feel at all threatened. Instead, he took the angel’s large hand in his and shook it enthusiastically. “It is a great honor to meet you.”

“Oh. I’m not … I’m not a very good angel. I’m sort of … fallen, I guess.”

“And I am deposed. But surely that does not mean that we are without honor or without value.” Their hands were still clasped, and Groosalugg noticed that something smelled delicious. Like that confection, cinnamon toast.

“Thank you,” Caron said. He had a dimple in one cheek.

Willow came over and clapped both of them on the shoulders. “Caron, how about if you give Groo a little tour of the place? Then we can help him settle in.”

“Okay. The room next to mine is vacant,” said Caron with a grin.

Groosalugg grinned back and allowed the angel to tow him by the hand over to the cupboards, where various foodstuffs were pointed out to him, including something called Nutella. Caron seemed to hold this substance in great reverence. When they had seen the entire kitchen, it was time to go outside. Caron took him across the grass, naming various residents of the Sanctuary and describing some of their activities. But truly, Groosalugg missed most of what the angel was saying. He would ask for more explanations on the morrow. For now, he was content with the knowledge that his decision to come to the Sanctuary had been a good one.





Part Two


Venice, Italy

“Gelato, Signor il Ministro?”

“You know the answer, Paolo. And c’mon. I’m still Xander, okay?”

Paolo grinned and spooned one scoop of fragola and one of malaga onto a cone, which he handed to Xander. Xander tried to give him some Euros, but Paolo refused to take them. “No! This is a gift for my favorite human,” he said.

He was rewarded with a grin. “Thanks.” Xander took a big lick. “Man, that’s good. I swear, you have the best gelato in town.”

“I can tell the peoples that il ministro endorses it. I will become very rich.”

“I’m not sure I’m popular enough to be a spokesman yet,” Xander said with a laugh.

As Xander ate his treat, Paolo leaned on his cart and looked around Piazza San Marco. It was busy as always, with tourists gawking and snapping photos and shouting at each other in many languages. It was a sunny day and business had been good, but right now there was a brief lull as people went in search of dinner. Xander leaned against the cart as well. He looked exhausted, Paolo thought. There were dark circles under his eyes and he hadn’t shaved for a day or two.

“You are finally able to take some time off?” Paolo asked.

“Sort of. I’m playing hooky, actually. I rescheduled a group of Jeelees and pushed back … um, these guys with pink antennae. God, if I had to spend another five minutes in that office I was gonna go nuts.”

“So you chose to spend your brief time with me and my gelato. I am honored.”

Xander grinned at him. “There are very few things in this world I value more than your gelato, pal.”

A trio of Henioma demons strolled by. They looked surprised to see Xander at Paolo’s cart, but they waved, and Xander waved back. “Nice guys,” Xander commented when they were gone. “They brought me a bottle of wine after I helped them clear up this succession issue they were having. None of them wanted to be the next leader of the gang and I had to pick someone. I guess they were happy with my choice.”

“From what I have heard, almost all the peoples is happy with your work here.”

“That’s good to know.” Xander took a crunchy bite from his cone. “I’m really trying to do a good job.” He looked at his wristwatch and sighed. “I guess I better get back.”

“You should not work so hard. Venezia is a beautiful city. Take time to enjoy it.”

“Yeah, but I can’t really enjoy it now anyway. Not without …” His voice trailed away.

“Not without your vampire.”

Xander finished his cone and wiped his hands on his trousers. “Yeah. I know I’m being a big baby. He’s only been gone a week. Hell, I managed thirty years without him. But now …”

“Yes. Your xtxtfgxtnxtfgkk is pale without him,” Paolo confirmed.

“My— Oh. That aura thing. Yeah. With him gone it’s like I’m hungry all the time, only not for food.  It’s like I’ve lost a piece of myself again.” He wiggled his right thumb.

Paolo looked at him, then reached into his cart again. He placed a scoop of malaga on another cone. “Here, Xander. One for the road, yes? It won’t feed your true hunger, but it will have to do.”

Xander took the ice cream. “Thanks. At least maybe the sugar will help get me through the next couple hours.”

Paolo watched as Xander wound his way slowly back through the crowd.





Lucerne, California

There was too much sadness in the room. It was making Caron’s stomach feel queasy. Spike was sad because he missed his Xander. The problem with the strange vampires had dragged on longer than expected, and Caron’s own vampire was frustrated and lonely and wanted to go home. Caron comforted him as best as he could, putting his head in Spike’s lap and letting Spike pet his hair, but of course that wasn’t enough. Spike used his free hand to play with the glass devil he wore around his neck.

And their guest was sad too. He seemed to like the Sanctuary and he had spent the last two days helping demons build things. But now it was late afternoon, when the day creatures were resting and the night creatures were not yet active, and Groo slumped in a chair in the living room, frowning at his feet.

Caron was sad because they were sad, and because he was wearing pants. He didn’t like wearing clothes—so restrictive—but Willow had strange rules about nudity in front of visitors. Groo said he didn’t mind, but later Willow had pulled Caron aside and said that maybe Groo was just being polite. So Caron put on a pair of pants because he didn’t want to be rude. But he wasn’t happy about it. At least he didn’t have to wear shoes.

Finally, Caron couldn’t stand it any longer. He sat up and scooted down the couch until he was closer to Groo. “Are you also separated from your soul-mate, like Spike?” Caron asked him.

Groo shook his head. “No. I thought once that I had found such a soul-mate, but she loved another. I have not com-shucked since.”

“That was years ago, wasn’t it?” Spike asked. “That’s rough.”

“It is bearable. A warrior can wait until he meets the one who is truly meant for him.” Groo sighed. “Sometimes I fear I will be waiting still when I die. But it is of little consequence. Glory and bravery are more important than com-shuck.”

“Speak for yourself,” Spike muttered.

Caron wasn’t sure what com-shuck meant, but he suspected it had something to do with sex. He patted Groo’s knee. “Even if you don’t have a partner, you can spank your monkey. Maybe it’s not as good, but it’s fun. You can use lotion if you want to. I do it a lot. But not in public. Willow and Xander have rules about that.”

Groo gave him a very nice smile. “Thank you. I will keep your advice in mind.”

But Spike shook his head. “I expect it’s more than not getting his end away that’s bothering Conan, pet.”

Caron didn’t know who Conan was, but then he often didn’t understand what Spike and Xander were saying. At first he’d felt stupid about it, but they had reassured him, telling him that it was only because he’d spent most of his time on earth as a statue. That was true. Very few people spoke to statues and he’d seen so little of the world. Willow said asking questions was good and would help him learn more. So now he asked Groo, “What is it, then? Why are you sad?”

“Even here at the Sanctuary I fear I do not truly belong. I miss my homeland and I can never go back.”

Groo’s words made Caron’s heart ache. For so many centuries he had missed his own home, and he too had known that even if he were made flesh once again and healed, his kind would consider him corrupted and would not permit him to return. “Xander said this is called homesickness. It hurts but it’s not fatal. And after a while the ache fades. Now I’m very happy to be here. Maybe because I’ve found good friends.” Caron smiled at Spike.

Their guest had listened very carefully to Caron’s words, and now he smiled too. He was very handsome, Caron thought, wondering what shampoo he used on his beautiful hair. Groo had pretty eyes as well. Impulsively, Caron reached over and took one of Groo’s hands in both of his. “I’d be very happy to be your friend, if you want,” he said.

Groo blinked those pretty eyes in surprise, then slid off the chair and onto his knees, his hand still clutched in Caron’s. “You do me great honor,” Groo said.

They looked at each other for a while. Caron found himself thinking about the time the succubus had kissed him. He hadn’t especially enjoyed that, but he had the sudden conviction that if Groo were to kiss him, that would be very enjoyable indeed. Probably for Groo as well; he most likely wouldn’t suffer the same side effects that the succubus had. Maybe Groo was thinking about kisses also; he licked his bottom lip slightly and he was breathing very fast.

“Oh, for Christ sake,” Spike said loudly, jumping to his feet. “Get a room.” He stomped away, and it occurred to Caron that maybe Spike needed more comforting. But Caron couldn’t tear his eyes away from Groo. Later, he decided. He could comfort Spike later. Right now it was Groo’s turn.





Venice, Italy

Xander stood and stretched. His ass hurt from too much sitting and although his office was actually kind of nice, he felt as if he’d been locked in a prison cell. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been in solitary confinement; instead he’d had a steady flow of demonic visitors. Some of them had been waiting for him when he arrived in the morning and now here it was, after dark, and he’d finally pushed the last of them out the door. It had been the same every single day since he’d opened shop. The work had been bearable when Spike had been there to translate and advise, and to massage him and lick him when they got home. But for now Xander faced the demon hordes alone, and all he had waiting for him at home was leftover pizza.

Maybe he ought to hire a secretary, he thought, and then grinned despite his exhaustion. He’d never expected to need a secretary. Then his grin faded as he remembered his father telling him over and over that he’d never amount to anything. Well, screw Tony Harris. Xander had amounted to something: he was an important and respected official, and a beautiful and heroic vampire loved him. That was amounting to a hell of a lot more than just something.

He stretched once more and then hurried out of the building before more demons could show up. For a moment he considered detouring by San Marco to see if Paolo and his gelato cart were still there. But then Xander decided that if he didn’t cut back on the ice cream, Spike was going to come home to find his lover bigger than the succubus after she kissed Caron. Somewhat reluctantly then, he wandered home.

The flat was as empty as he’d feared, his footsteps seeming very loud on the stone floor. He decided he was more tired than hungry and he skipped the pizza, opting instead to guzzle some orange juice then strip and climb into bed. He was just fussing with the pillows—he couldn’t sleep comfortably alone anymore, it seemed—when his phone began to play the Ramones. Instantly, his weariness was replaced with relief.

“Spike!” he said into the phone. “Tell me you’re boarding a plane right this minute.”

“Sorry, love. Still lost in the woods.”

Xander sighed and fell back on the pillows. “What’s the deal? Can’t you just dust these assholes and be done with it?”

“ ’T’s not so simple. I told you—they claim they want to live here in peace. Your witch won’t let me stake them in case they’re being sincere.”

“Sincere vampires.” Xander snorted.

“Oi!”

“Present company excepted. C’mon, Spike. Even before the soul you were a vamp in a million. Most of ’em are strictly bite first, ask questions later.”

Thousands of miles away, Spike sighed. “I know. But there are a few. That tosser Dracula, for instance.”

“He made me eat bugs.”

“Yeah, and he’s a ponce and a cheat and an arsehole besides. But he also gets on quite well with some humans, like the ruddy Gypsies who cursed ’Gelus. Feeds mostly off the willing.”

“Fine, fine. So these guys are the saints of demondom.” The truth was, Xander was willing to believe that his wasn’t the only non-lethal vampire in existence. After all, he’d often theorized that a vampire’s character owed a lot to what kind of person that human had been. If a basically decent person got turned, he might even turn into a friendlyish vampire. But none of that mattered right now. He just wanted Spike back home.

Spike’s chuckle was sexy even over the phone. “Doubt they’re saints, love. But it’s a bit of a delicate process, sorting out whether they’re truly waving the white flag or whether they mean to slaughter everyone here once they’re granted entry. We’re parleying.”

“Can’t someone else parley?”

“Who’s better suited than me?”

Xander huffed, because he knew that too. They’d been through this several times already. The best person to judge a vampire’s intentions was undoubtedly another vampire, and Spike was the sole candidate for that job.

“We’ll finish this soon, pet. I promise. God, don’t know how much longer I can go without you. I lie in bed here every day and you’re not there. No pizza crusts on the counters, no science fiction on the telly, no horrible music blaring when I’m trying to sleep.”

Xander smiled. “No blood-crusted coffee mugs, no weird British name-calling, no icy feet in my bed.” And then a thought occurred to him. “Spike? You don’t suppose this is Caron’s fault, do you?”

“What is?”

“This… It’s like I’m addicted to you. I’ve never felt this way about anyone. Maybe when he put the love-whammy on us this was a part of it: not only do we fall for each other, but we’re … we’re stuck to each other.”

Spike was silent a few moments. Then he said, “Would it matter to you if it were Caron’s doing?”

“No,” Xander replied. “It wouldn’t. I want to want you.”

“Same here.”

More silence passed between them, each of them aching for the other’s touch. Finally, Spike cleared his throat. “I reckon our angel’s occupied now with a love interest of his own.”

“Really?” Xander sat up in bed. “Who?”

“That bloke I told you about. Groosalugg. They haven’t done much yet aside from holding hands and making cow-eyes at one another, but I expect they’ll come along eventually.”

“Caron’s special, Spike. Is this guy good enough for him?”

“Don’t know if I’m the best judge of these things, but yeah, I reckon so. Red’s all atwitter over the two of them.”

It was a little strange to think of Caron in love with someone. Xander felt an odd sort of jealousy, not because he felt romantic about Caron but because, well, Caron was his. His and Spike’s.

Maybe Spike read his mind, because he chuckled again. “Don’t worry, Xan. You’re not losing an angel. You’re gaining a flowing-haired bloke from another dimension.”

Xander laughed back and snuggled back down in bed. “Okay. But I wanna meet this guy. Tell him who he’s up against if he doesn’t treat Caron well.”

“Wish I was up against you right now, love.”

Xander grinned and snaked his free hand beneath the waist of his boxers. “Yeah? And why don’t you tell me what you’d do if you were. In detail.”





Part Three

Spike sat at the kitchen table, nursing a mug of blood that was rapidly cooling as he waited for the sun to set. His left hand kept reaching up to touch the devil pendant at his neck. Willow was fussing with something at the stove that smelled like boiled shoes, and she periodically shot him sympathetic looks over her shoulder. When he sighed for perhaps the thousandth time, she leaned back against the counter and crossed her arms. “You know, you’re immortal and it sounds like Xander’s not gonna wither away any time soon. You two could have centuries ahead of you. You can spare a few more days apart.”

“And every day feels like a century.”

“Buffy and Luka were apart for almost six months while she was setting up that Slayer training center in Gaborone.”

“Good on them.” Spike dabbed his finger at a bit of blood that had spilled on the table, then licked his finger. “But I can’t … I’ve become used to Xander. I can’t go back to … to …”

“To being alone,” she finished for him.

“Yeah.”

“But you’re not alone. It’s a small world, Spike. And if Xander’s awake right now, I bet he’s mooning just as much after you.”

“I know.” It didn’t make him happier to know that his boy was as miserable as he was. If Xander was unhappy, Spike was meant to comfort him. Not just talk dirty to him on the telephone. If only those sodding vampires would find some way to convince him that their request was for real—or to fail enough that he’d be able to finally stake them.

Laughter broke the silence and Caron and Groosalugg entered the kitchen. By the sound of it, Groo was in the midst of describing one of his battles in Pylea. As usual, Caron was hanging on every word. Caron was naked again, although Spike was fairly certain they hadn’t yet shagged. Apparently Willow had given up trying to get the angel to don trousers.

Caron pulled out the chair to Spike’s right and folded himself into it. Groo did the same on Spike’s left. The vampire felt very small between the two of them. “Hello, Spike,” they said in unison.

He mumbled a reply. He was glad that Caron had found a bloke who made him happy—maybe the partner he yearned for so deeply—but their relentless and puppyish pursuit of one another in the face of Spike’s own solitude made him sullen.

Willow rolled her eyes and turned her back to them, continuing to stir the big pot. Caron glanced at her to make sure she wasn’t looking, grabbed the pot of jam that was in the center of the table, and shoveled a spoonful into his mouth. Then he quickly replaced the pot, grinning like a naughty schoolboy.

Which reminded Spike of Xander as well. Naughty schoolboy was one of their favorite games and Xander made a surprisingly good headmaster. Spike sighed again.

“Are you going to meet with those vampires again tonight?” Caron asked him.

“I expect so.”

“Can we come with?”

Spike looked at him, puzzled. “Why?”

“Maybe we can help.”

“I don’t think—” Spike began, but Groo patted his arm.

“Friend, the angel and I are both powerful warriors. Allies at one’s back are always good in battle.”

Spike stood and shook his head. “I don’t want Caron fighting. He already— An angel shouldn’t be killing. Not unless there’s no other option, and even then…”

“Don’t you believe that Caron himself is the best judge of that?”

Caron stood as well and put his arm across Spike’s shoulders. “I don’t want to kill either. But maybe if I just look scary that will be enough.”

Spike was going to remind him that, as a vampire, he could look plenty frightening on his own. But then Caron was looking hopeful, and in any case Caron and Groo were intimidating, both of them rippling with muscles and Caron with his huge wings. Whether these vamps were hostile or not, Spike would appear even more imposing if he were flanked by these two. The message would be clear: Spike had powerful beings at his call, not just sniveling minions.

“Right then,” Spike said.

Caron grinned and kissed the top of his head before scampering off to put on trousers.

As soon as the sun was fully set, Spike and his assistants walked down the road. Willow had deliberately left the wards just a bit weaker in this area so as to attract potential trespassers to one location. Her strategy made it easier to patrol the perimeter of the Sanctuary. These vamps had already attempted entrance four or five times, so they knew the road was their best chance.

Spike wore his usual—black jeans, black tee, black duster—with the little glass devil dancing comfortingly over his pectorals. Both Groo and Caron were bare-chested, although Groo sported a nice sword belt. He’d also produced from somewhere a pair of short, tight leather trousers and tall boots, which made him look all the more like the cover of one of those stupid fantasy novels Xander pretended he didn’t fancy. Caron, on the other hand, simply wore a pair of blue jeans and his own necklace. His feet were bare and his wings quivered slightly with excitement.

It was a bit chilly that evening; autumn would descend soon in full force. Spike didn’t mind because he looked forward to the long nights of winter, when he was less a prisoner of the sun. As they walked, crickets chirped, frogs croaked from one of the Sanctuary’s several little ponds, and an owl called from somewhere far away. Groo and Caron were side by side, and although they were behind him, it didn’t escape Spike’s notice that they intentionally bumped shoulders now and then. He had to suppress a grin. If someone had tortured him with hot pokers he might have admitted that the two of them were adorable.

The road was silent and empty at the edge of the wards, tall trees on either side like sentries. Spike and his companions waited, Spike smoking cigarettes and kicking at fallen pinecones, the other two speaking quietly to one another. Spike was the first to hear the hum of an approaching engine.

The vampires arrived in a minivan. A Honda Odyssey to be exact, and Spike snorted to himself over the ridiculousness of it. Perhaps the vehicle choice was part of their attempt to seem inoffensive. When the van was a short distance from the wards it came to a stop and the engine cut off. There was a substantial pause before the doors opened and the vampires got out.

There were four of them, two males and two females. The leader was one of the females, a short woman who always looked as if she had just stepped out of a PTA meeting. Spike half-expected her to offer them cupcakes and lemonade. She was accompanied by a slim boy who looked barely out of his teens and who favored eyeliner and black hair dye, an attractive brunette with big tits, and a sad-eyed bloke who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. The four of them approached the barrier of the wards, and Spike took a last puff of his fag before grinding it out beneath his boot.

The vampires glanced at Caron and Groo but didn’t say anything to them. Their leader took a half step in front of her colleagues. “Good evening, Spike.”

He nodded curtly at her. “Jocelyn.”

“I see you’ve brought … friends.”

“Some residents of the Sanctuary. They were curious to see vegetarian vamps.”

She smiled slightly. “I don’t really think we’re all that interesting, but if you let us in they can stare all they want. We’ll make friendly neighbors, I promise.”

“You keep saying that. I’m not convinced.”

She spread her arms. “But how can we convince you? We’ve explained that we mean no harm. We just want to live in peace. We can even be helpful, I bet. Darryl was an electrician.” She pointed at the older-looking of the males. “And take a whiff, Spike. We’ve all been feeding on animal blood.”

“Just because you’re off human for a bit doesn’t mean you mean to stay that way. Or perhaps you’ve a taste for something exotic, like some of the local demons.”

She sighed at almost the same time he did. They had been through this already, several times. He crossed his arms on his chest. “Look, I’ve better places to be. Last chance. Give me some proof or we’ll dust the lot of you tonight.”

The four vampires exchanged unhappy glances. Spike balled his hands into fists and tensed his muscles, prepared to shift to gameface. He shot a warning look behind him to let his colleagues know they should be ready for a fight as well.

But then Jocelyn nodded and so did her friends. She gave Spike a nervous smile. “We … do have proof. But—”

“Well, give it over then,” he huffed. “My boy’s waiting for me.”

She cocked her head at him. “Your boy?”

“My man,” he amended. “Xander Harris. Venice’s ministro dei demoni and the light of my fucking unlife.”

“But … isn’t the minister supposed to be a human?”

“Of course he’s a bloody human. Now this proof?”

But she and the other three vampires suddenly looked enormously relieved, exchanging smiles and nods with one another. Jocelyn’s smile was the biggest of all. “We have proof. Just … we have to go get it. It’ll take about a half hour or so. We have to go back into town to get it. Will you wait? Please?”

He didn’t want to wait. But before he could say so, Caron piped up. “Of course we can wait.”

Spike glared at the angel but it was too late to do much, because the vampires were scurrying back to their minivan. “We’ll be right back!” Jocelyn called.

“Thirty sodding minutes. One more and I’ll rip your heads off myself.”

The van’s engine gunned, the vehicle did a three-point turn and zoomed back down the road.

“I’m sorry,” Caron said, although he clearly wasn’t.

“I’m meant to be in charge here! It’s been long enough already and Xander—”

Caron put a huge hand on Spike’s shoulder. “Xander will wait for you, Spike. He always will. Besides, it’s too late to get a plane tonight, and I’m pretty sure that lady was sincere. She felt like it.”

Spike gave the angel a considering look. “You can feel her intentions?” He should have had Caron step in long ago.

“Not … not exactly. But I can get a sense of what she’s feeling, and I don’t think she’s lying to you.”

Spike sighed and rubbed at his temples. “Right then. But her proof better be bloody convincing.”

Twenty-seven minutes later the van returned, rushing down the road so fast that Spike suspected a crash would be the solution to his vamp problem. The vehicle came to a screeching halt in front of him, however, and the doors flew open. Again, Spike tensed, prepared to do battle. But the four vampires simply stepped out, each looking very anxious.

“Well?” Spike demanded when Jocelyn stood in front of him. She paused a moment, then turned and made a beckoning motion at the van.

To Spike’s surprise and consternation, three more figures emerged slowly from the vehicle. He could tell at once that they were human: their hearts were beating quickly and they smelled of nervous sweat. One of them was a thin woman with very dark skin and a close-cropped head of hair. She walked over and stood next to Jocelyn. The second was a goth girl with tattoos on her neck. She held hands with the skinny male vamp. Finally, a handsome man in his thirties took his place next to the brunette. He put his arm around her shoulders and she smiled up at him.

“Oh!” Caron exclaimed softly behind Spike. He didn’t sound frightened or concerned; just surprised and perhaps a bit overwhelmed.

Spike eyed the newcomers and then turned to Jocelyn. “What’s this then?”

“Our proof.”  She looked at the woman next to her, then back at Spike. “This is why we want sanctuary. This is why we’re willing to live in peace.”

“You love them,” Caron said.

“We do. This is Lily. I fell for her and, well, she made me promise not to hunt.” She shrugged. “I don’t really care what I eat as long as I get to be with her. My friends feel the same way. Maybe the same way you feel about your human.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” Spike demanded.

“Because … you know how most of our kind feel about humans. They’re okay as … as pets, but not as lovers. Not as equals. I know you have a soul but I thought you might feel the same as they do.” She suddenly looked uncertain. “Or maybe you think only a vampire with a soul could love a human, could even be good for the sake of their beloved.”

Spike squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then opened them. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t believe that’s true.”

“Then you do see! And it’s not safe for us to live in the outside world. There are other demons who hate us because of what we are, what we do. They would attack us and our loves.” She glanced at Darryl, the only vampire who stood alone. “They have attacked our loves.”

Caron stepped forward, through the wards, and stopped in front of Darryl. The vampire tensed a bit when Caron set a hand on his shoulder. “You’re so sad,” Caron said softly.

The vampire slumped a bit. “She was my wife. We wanted to have a bunch of kids, take them to Disneyland every year… Then I screwed up and got myself turned into a monster. But she stuck by me. Can you imagine that, a girl like her staying with a corpse? And she got older and she wouldn’t let me turn her and then…” His voice broke into a sob and Spike thought the bloke was going to break down completely, but then he regained control and took a deep breath. “They killed her. It was a message to me. My fault again.”

“I’m sorry,” said Caron.

Darryl looked past Caron, meeting Spike’s eyes. “She’s gone and I doubt I’ll ever feel like that about anyone again. But I still love her, and that’s why I don’t murder humans. Can you understand that? Loving someone so much that even when you’ve lost her you keep acting the way you know would have pleased her?”

“Yeah,” Spike replied. “I expect I can.”

Caron patted the bloke’s shoulder once more, then returned to the safe side of the wards. He paused to give Spike a brief hug and to plant a kiss on the side of Spike’s head. Then he rejoined Groo.

For several long minutes Spike looked at the seven demons and humans before him. He remembered Xander’s theory that a decent human might become a decent vampire. He thought of what he had done for love, even when he was soulless, and what he would do now. Anything. He would do anything in the world for his Xander.

Spike mumbled the words that temporarily lifted the wards.

Jocelyn and her girl were the first to cross the invisible line, then the others followed. Hesitantly, but with broad smiles on their faces. In their eagerness to see the Sanctuary they abandoned their stupid minivan, but that was all right. They could fetch it later. Caron shook hands with each one of them as they passed him.

Darryl was the last to cross. He paused in front of Spike. “Thank you,” he said.

“If any of you even think of hurting anyone at the Sanctuary—”

“We won’t. I promise. Every time I look at a human I see my Cheryl’s face, imagine how she’d react if she knew I’d harmed someone.”

Spike believed him.

The vampire began to follow his friends. But then he stopped and looked back at Spike. “You and your … Xander, right?”

“Right.”

Darryl nodded. “Take care of him. Hold him close.”

With a glance at Spike, Caron and Groo loped ahead, no doubt meaning to introduce the new residents to Willow. But Spike stayed behind. He pulled out his mobile phone and poked a few buttons, not caring about time differences. The fingers of his free hand stroked his little glass devil.

A sleepy voice answered after only two rings. “Spike? Everything okay? God, I miss you.”

It was only as a comforting warmth spread through his chest that Spike realized he’d been cold ever since he left Venice. But now something inside seemed to melt, and he knew that in a day or so he’d be enveloped in heat as intense as flames but much more welcome. “Hello, love,” he purred. “I’m coming home.”



The End