A Life Less Ordinary


by
C. Woodhaven



Part Ten

The solid red light on the answering machine read 1. Robin wiped his face with a towel and depressed the button.

You have… one…old message. The mechanical voice chimed, and then the machine beeped.

“Hello. Mr. Wood, this is Rupert Giles. I believe we have some things we need to discuss.”

The mechanical voice returned, informing him:  Message received…seven…days ago. Robin’s finger hovered over the delete button for several moments before he withdrew his hand.

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid to face him?” an amused voice asked.

Robin turned around.  A handsome young woman with creamy chocolate skin and a modest afro was standing in his living room, wearing a long black coat. “What do you want?”
“I’m disappointed with you, baby.” She crossed her arms in disapproval. “Is that any way to talk to your mother?”

Raising his eyebrows, Robin replied coolly, “My mother is dead. You’re just borrowing her face – don’t expect me to get all choked up about it.”

The woman just shook her head in mock disbelief. “My, my, my, aren’t we testy today?”

Draping the white towel over his shoulders, Wood asked dryly, “Is there anything you want? I just finished working out and I’d like to take a shower.”

“Does that mean you’re avoiding the question?”

“Am I afraid of the watcher?” Wood gestured to the answering machine. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no.”

“Then why haven’t you called?” his mother asked insistently, all pretense of good humor gone.

“Here, I thought you were the embodiment of evil on Earth,” Robin said scornfully. “Turns out you’re just Hell’s message service.”

Her expression softened. “Baby, don’t be like that. I just want you to be able to get to the truth.”

“Uh huh.” Robin replied, disbelievingly.  

She stepped closer until her nose almost touched his.  If she’d been alive, her breath would have caressed his face, but Wood held his ground. There wasn’t anything the First could do to him.

“You know that one little thing?” she whispered softly.  “That question that’s burned into your soul?”

Robin’s mouth was suddenly bone dry. “Why are you offering to help me with this?”

His mother smirked. “You give Mr. Rupert Giles a call. He’ll tell you exactly what you need to know. What you’ve always wanted to know.”

“See, now, you could do that yourself,” Robin pointed out.

Shaking her head, his mother replied, “Oh, no baby. Doesn’t work like that.”  

“Why am I not surprised?” Wood asked rhetorically, and then capitulated. “I’ll call him.”

“Good boy. See, that wasn’t so hard.” The thing wearing his mother grinned evilly.  “Say thank you.”

Wood rolled his eyes and stepped through the apparition, toward the open bathroom door beyond. “Thank you.”


~*~*~*~*~


Giles leaned against the cold metal strut, listening to the chains clinking in the light breeze. During daylight hours, the small park was cheerful and bright, but once night descended, the landscape became eerie and uninviting.

The breeze died down and Giles heard the footsteps of someone approaching. He turned, studying the shadows toward the road.

“I heard it was much easier to get carryout in this town.” A pale face appeared out of the darkness with a contemptuous grin and cold, cruel eyes.  “I didn’t expect it to be this easy.”

The vampire morphed and Giles tensed. As merciless amber eyes found his, Giles withdrew a stake from his pocket. “I think you’ll find that I’m not your usual hapless victim.”

Grinning cruelly, the vampire replied. “That’s fine. Nothing like a workout, for building up an appetite.”

Stake at the ready, Giles lunged forward, going for the element of surprise. He knew he had no hope of out-maneuvering or out-running the vampire.  

The vampire ducked, dropping his left shoulder down and darting forward. Giles grunted in pain as he was sacked. His stake flew out of his hand, lost immediately in the darkness. Absently, he wondered if the vampire had been a football player in life.  The line of thought was quickly cut off as his head struck the ground, and the air rushed from his lungs.

Feeling rather like an upended beetle, Giles tried in vain to wriggle away.  The vampire chuckled. “That’s it. I like it when you squirm.”

Giles stilled at once, and immediately regretted it as he felt the hard press of something that was very likely not a stake pressed against his upper thigh. It was bad enough that he was possibly going to die, but for the vampire to be aroused by it, was beyond the pale.  

He scraped his hands blindly against the ground, trying to find something to use as a weapon.  His fingers closed around cool stone and Giles brought the rock up, striking a hard blow to the vampire’s temple.  

Rage colored amber eyes, and then turned into surprised shock as the vampire disintegrated in a cloud of ash and smoke.  

Nonplussed, Giles looked at the rock in his hand briefly, until a face entered his field of vision.

“Mr. Giles?” The dark skin of man’s face caught the weak light of the moon and his countenance, complete with shadowed eyes, mustache and goatee, might have looked sinister, except for the small smile that tugged at his lips. “At least I hope you’re Mr. Giles and not the other guy.”  

“I am,” Giles confirmed, trying to catch his breath.

“Let me help you up.”

Giles accepted the proffered hand as he pushed himself off the ground. “Robin Wood, I presume? You look like your mother.”

Wood smiled and asked with amusement, “Why, because I’m black?”

Shaking his head, Giles replied, “No, I meant around your eyes.”

Looking surprised, Wood asked, “Did you know her?”

“I met her once,” Giles confirmed. “I was eighteen and it was my first trip abroad. Nikki Wood was something of a legend.”

Robin looked at him somberly. “But that wasn’t enough to save her, in the end.”

“I’m afraid nothing could do that. Slayers don’t have very long lifespans, and she lived longer than most,” Giles agreed, and then asked, suddenly curious, “Tell me, did you inherit any of her skills or abilities?”

“Other than a rabid hatred of vampires? No,” Wood replied, with a small smile. “I’m just an ordinary guy with an interesting night life.”

“As well as interesting artifacts,” Giles replied, and pointed to the bag resting near Wood’s feet. “The council thought that was lost.”

“Bernard didn’t exactly have a lot of faith in the council.” Wood replied. “He raised me after Mom died, taught me to fight.”

“Crowley was a good man and an excellent watcher.” Giles agreed. “I was sorry to hear that he’d passed away.”

“Yes, he was.”

“Tell me, Mr. Wood, why did you phone? After a week, I had begun to give up hope that you wished to discuss anything with me.”

Wood looked off into the distance, as if he were gathering his thoughts.  When his dark gaze returned and met Giles’, his expression was inscrutable.  “Let’s just say a little birdie told me you might have some information for me.”

Giles’ tone hardened. “And I gather, that how I respond to your inquiry will directly influence my receipt of the item in that bag.”

“I knew you were a smart man.”

“Whose side are you on, Mr. Wood?” Giles asked, shrewdly.

Wood shook his head. “I’m not committing to join the fray, just yet.  I’m sure you can understand, with my family’s history.”

Giles studied him for a long beat. Certainly, part of him understood the man’s reluctance to do battle against evil; he’d lost so much.  Both his mother and father had been killed by demons, leaving him to be raised by a virtual stranger.

“What would you like to know?” Giles asked uneasily.

As Wood named his price, Giles breathed a sigh of relief.  He had no intention of compromising Buffy or the potentials, but this was a simple request.  

“I’m surprised you don’t already know. Nikki Wood was killed by a vampire named Spike.”

A spark of something flared in Wood’s eyes, but Giles couldn’t pinpoint what.  “And do you happen to know where this Spike is now?” he asked.

“Yes, he’s here, in fact - in Sunnydale.” Giles replied coolly. “However, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that he has a soul now. He’s no longer the same vampire who killed your mother.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Wood’s tone was inscrutable as he bent and retrieved the bag, handing it to the former watcher. “Thank you.”

Giles was filled with a sense of awe as the item shifted inside the bag, much heavier than its size indicted.

“And Giles…I’d like to keep this a secret from Buffy, if you don’t mind.” Robin added, looking almost embarrassed. “Since she works for me, it could get a little… awkward.”

“Oh yes, of course.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander leaned against the wall, trembling and trying to get himself under control.  He hadn’t been with Anya since he’d left her apartment on Sunday, but that didn’t mean his Mistress hadn’t proven her ownership of him, over and over again.

Buffy’s call on Friday had been about her needing her carpenter-shaped friend, as soon as he could fit it into his schedule.   The house was overflowing and the potentials were complaining about sleeping on the floor.  Not that he could blame them; he’d fallen asleep on the floor of the Summer’s house more than once in high school – and he had the twinges in his back to prove it. The carpet felt like it was laid over rocks instead of padding. Consequently, he’d spent most of the last four evenings building racks of bunks in the basement to help house the girls.

Anya seemed to know instinctively that he’d needed a break from their nightly sessions, after such an intense weekend.  What she did instead was torment him.

Tonight, for example, she’d knelt before him and sucked his cock until he was about to explode. Then she pulled away and told him that she expected him to be at her apartment on Saturday night and he wasn’t allowed to come between now and then.

He’d nodded, unable to speak, as she left the basement and then slumped against the wall, panting and clenching his fists.  Hissing as he handled his swollen, sensitive cock, Xander barely managed to tuck himself back in and zip up, without creaming in his hand.

Suddenly, the basement door slammed open. “Xander!” Dawn shouted.

Panicked, Xander almost tripped over his feet in his haste to get to the bottom of the stairs. “Yeah?” he called, hoping that his voice seemed normal. His pulse was still pounding in his ears and he couldn’t tell.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, apologetically, “but Giles is here. He’s got this box thing that he thinks is going to help Buffy.”

“Hey, that’s great.” Xander ascended the stairs and followed her into the house.

The living room was full when they entered, unsurprising as the basement war room was more like a war zone these days. Everyone was going to be packed into the living room like sardines for Giles’ briefing.  

At least it wasn’t as full as it could have been; Spike had taken the younger potentials out for some much needed training.  Most of them had never seen a vampire, before arriving in Sunnydale.  Kennedy was here, of course. She was never very far from Willow. Rona sat off to the side, with her usual surly, bored expression. Ever since the botched double date, she’d acquired a chip on her shoulder.   Vi and Molly huddled together on the sofa, next to Anya.  

With something like relief,  Xander realized there was only one free seat. Deliberately he lingered, allowing Dawn to take the opening.

Hoping that he looked casual, and without looking at her, Xander sat at his Mistress’ feet. The tips of his ears burned as he felt the gentle, warm press of her foot against his thigh. To anyone else, the contact might have appeared accidental, but he got the message. Mine.

Willow scooted over on the ottoman, patting the cushion next to her.  “Xander, you don’t need to sit on the floor.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said, giving her a bright, goofy smile. “If I get too comfortable, I’m never going to be able to finish up tonight.”

She looked at him strangely for a moment, but then Giles cleared his throat. Xander was reminded so much of high school when she guiltily turned and faced the watcher mumbling, “Sorry.”

“So…Giles. What’s in the bag?” Buffy asked, impatiently.

His hand rested on it, almost reverently.  “In times of greatest need, slayers of the past have been able to call upon their shared heritage.”

He unzipped the bag and removed a metal box and a large book. “The item inside this box has the ability to make slayers stronger. Assuming we can make it work…” Giles tipped his head, indicating the ancient tome.

“Where did you get it?” Buffy asked suspiciously, and Xander was surprised by her cool tone.

Giles looked stung. “Buffy, do you sincerely think I would put you in harms way?”

Buffy shook her head. “Sorry, Giles. With these dreams, I’m not getting a lot of sleep.  Every night, instead of dreaming about Jude Law, I get to see hundreds of thousands of Uber-vamps flooding out of the Hellmouth.”  

“That’s understandable,” Giles replied, sounding much less ruffled. “I don’t know much about this, either. The box has been lost for decades.”

“So where did you find it?” Xander asked.

“Bernard Crowley…he was a watcher. Before he passed away last year, he made arrangements for it to be sent here, to me.”

“It took over a year to get here?” Xander asked, incredulous. “This guy should have used Fed-Ex.”

Giles sighed, his patience obviously at an end. “A mystical object of such magnitude has to be transported carefully.”

“In a gym bag?”

“Maybe it’s a magic gym bag?” Dawn suggested excitedly. “You know, like – ”

“Can we get to the mystical object inside the distinctly non-magical gym bag?” Giles snapped.

And while Dawn immediately shut up and Vi paled, Willow didn’t even blink. “Come on, Giles, you’re just cranky because we stole your thunder.”  

“This is serious!” Giles snapped, scowling at her.  

“We get it. We’ll figure it out,” Buffy replied, and plucked the book out of his hands, tossing it to Dawn. “Get started on the translation, kiddo. Giles, tell us what you do know…”





Part Eleven

Anya was abnormally quiet as they walked along the darkened streets of Sunnydale. Her silence was starting to unnerve Spike. She was usually nattering on and on about something or other.

She was fidgeting, too, which meant she wanted something. Compared to the mini-Slayers, Anya was a bit of all right and Spike was positive, whatever she had brewing in that head of hers would come out soon enough. He still liked that she was forthright.

Spike grinned when she stopped walking suddenly. It looked like she was ready to spill.

“You know, the only thing worse than being human, is being trapped inside a house full of humans,” she said, as if this had just occurred to her.

Spike snorted, there wasn’t much of a truer statement. “Preaching to the choir, luv.”

“I mean, it's like we have to work at slayer central. If Buffy rooms or boards one more of the potential girls, we should call a health-inspector.”

Spike shook his head. “I like my plan better. Get up, get out, get drunk. Repeat as needed. It's just more elegant.”

He and the demon girl had both been granted a blessedly potential-free evening; they were few and far between these days. Buffy and the rest were back at the house, busy trying to open Giles’ mystery box.

“Sooo, that’s working for you?” Anya asked, apparently trying to appear casual.

“So far, yeah. Why?”

“No reason,” Anya replied swiftly.

Spike raised his eyebrows skeptically. “Uh huh.”

Anya continued, “Well, look, what if I had a way to make you feel like a demon again.”

“Still a demon.” Spike bristled.

She eyed him critically. “You still feel that way?”

Spike sighed. “Not most days, no,” he admitted.

“I have…Xander and I have an…arrangement. You could be part of it…” she paused and then amended, “for one night.”

Spike snorted. “Not interested in a kinky threesome with you two, thanks for asking.”

“No, it’s not like that,” Anya explained. “Well, it is… but not really.”

She looked down the street and pointed toward the bar at the far end. “Do you want a drink?”

He eyed her suspiciously. “Don’t think that’s a good idea. You remember what happened the last time we were drinking together.”

Anya rolled hers eyes. “Chicken?”

Spike snorted again. “It’s your dime.”


~*~*~*~*~


“Dawn…you’re sure this is right?” Buffy asked, pushing the irregularly shaped bits of metal around the dining room table. She’d snapped the lock on the heavy box with ease, but was unsure of what to do with the nearly fifty pieces that had tumbled out.

“Yes…it said here.” Dawn ran her finger over the text. “Join the pieces in a line…”

“You know, you’re getting scary good at translating Sumerian,” Buffy said in wonder.

“So the ultimate evil is afraid of a puzzle?” Xander asked. “’Cause I got a closet full of them at home."

“Not any puzzle, just this one.” Dawn pointed to the scattered pile of metal. “It tells a story - or maybe a dirty limerick. The translation wasn't that clear. We have to put it together to find out.”

“Okay then.”  Xander studied the chaos for a moment and then selected two parts, rotating them into the correct orientation before pushing them together. They snapped together with ridiculous ease and then fused into a single, solid, piece. “Whoa.”

The newly created piece glowed briefly, and then words magically appeared across the surface as if they were being written by a ghostly hand.

“That’s some serious magick,” Willow whispered in a low voice. “My skin’s tingling from here.”

“It’s a Mereubian cipher plate.” Giles said with wonder. “I thought they were a myth. I had no idea that the council harbored one for so long.”

Buffy frowned. “So what’s this ruby strife plate supposed to do?”

“Cipher plate," Giles corrected absently, "and I’m not certain. The stories I’ve read only hint that they are very powerful and not of this plane."

“And dangerous, I bet.” Buffy finished.

“Well, yes,” Giles agreed. “But in this case, I believe we are safe. This box, until it was lost, has been used to enhance the natural power of a slayer for centuries. The council wouldn’t have kept it around otherwise.”

“Are you forgetting the whole locking me up with a vamp while I was helpless?” Buffy asked. “Cause from here, the council hasn’t always acted in my best interest.”

Giles rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Buffy, we have no choice. We’re at an impasse with the First Evil.”

“I know, I know. I just wouldn’t trust the council to walk my dog.” Buffy agreed, and then sighed. “Let’s get started.”

As the potentials looked on, the Scoobies worked swiftly to assemble the puzzle. The pieces were slightly magnetic, sliding easily together when a match was made.

“Guy’s? Last one…” Willow said, holding the final piece.

They gazed uneasily at the nearly completed puzzle on the table in front of them. The thin disc was about the size of a large dinner plate.  Etched into the surface were the unfamiliar loops and swirls of ancient text.

“That is definitely not Sumarian,” Dawn muttered, sounding a little put out.

“No, it’s much older,” Giles agreed solemnly. “It looks like one of the lesser Demotic languages.”

Buffy’s head shot up. “Demonic?”

“De-mot-ic,” Giles enunciated. “It predates what is considered ‘known’ history.”

Willow leaned forward to slide the final piece home, when Buffy stilled her.

“Will, better let me,” Buffy replied gently taking the piece from her hand. “We don’t have a clue what this thing says or does. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Be careful,” Willow said, apprehensively.

Xander seconded that emotion. “Yeah, Buff. You don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

“Here goes nothing.” Buffy rotated the piece into the right position and slid it into place. Once it fused to the plate, there was a huge flash. Bright white light and smoke poured from the disc, blinding everyone in the room.

The light faded immediately, but the thick smoke lingered.

“I think I’m blind,” Xander croaked, rubbing his eyes and coughing, adding a pained, “Ow!” when Willow and Dawn both hit him, as they tried to wave the smoke away. Someone opened the front door and the smoke thinned at once.

“That’s better,” Giles said, relieved. “Buffy, did you receive a vision, or something similar.”

There was silence.

“Buffy?” Dawn called, panic creeping into her voice.

Everyone turned toward the space Buffy had occupied, moments before, but the slayer was gone.


~*~*~*~*~


Anya took a swallow of her beer, and looked at him anxiously.

Spike sighed. “Look, ducks, I’m here. Spill. What’s this all about?”

“Power. You feeling like a demon again. Me getting what I want,” Anya replied.

“And the boy? He won’t mind me being with you? Cause, after the last time, I don’t see that happening.” Spike toyed with his unlit smoke, taunting the barman. The fat git looked apoplectic at the thought he might light up. Sad that he’d been reduced to such cheap thrills.

Anya, who was in the middle of swallowing, nearly choked on her beer. “No! I want you to be with Xander.”

Then it was Spike’s turn to choke. “No bloody way!” he shouted, crushing the Marlboro.

Anya held up her hand. “Hear me out first.”

“This better be good,” Spike replied, shaking the tobacco dust from his fingers.

“He looks up with these big brown eyes…and he gives it back,” Anya breathed rapturously.

“What?”

“The power. That feeling that we’re on the top of the food chain.” Anya’s eyes sparkled.

“No one’s that good a sub.” Spike shook his head, but he felt a spark of interest.

“He is,” Anya assured him.

Spike took a long swallow of his beer. “Even if I believed you, no way Harris would let me…what exactly are you asking me to do to him?”

“Nothing that would truly damage him, but he has a high tolerance for pain. And sex. There would have to be sex.”

“Can’t see him spreading for me, love,” Spike tried to brush her off casually, because, while he was very interested, Xander definitely wouldn’t be and he was tired of unwilling partners. The promise of sex wasn’t worth the reality of rejection.  

“It’s not his choice,” Anya replied steadily. “It’s mine, and I picked you.”

And wasn’t that an interesting turn of events. “So he was okay being with a bloke...he just wanted you to pick?” Spike clarified.

Anya nodded. “Yes.”

Spike couldn’t will away the picture in his mind of Xander, with those expressive brown eyes, kneeling before him and taking him in his mouth, or Spike taking Xander's arse. “When were you thinking of having this tête-à-tête?”

“Tomorrow night,” Anya replied, and then asked anxiously, “So you’ll come?”

Spike leered. “Guess that depends on if your boy is as good as you say he is.”


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy picked herself up off the ground and brushed off her jeans as she looked around. “Guess I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

The dry and dusty landscape surrounding her didn’t offer many clues as to where she was. It looked like it was once some sort of arena, but now it was crumbled and decaying with age.

“Hello, Miss Summers.”

Buffy whipped around, astonished to find Quinton Travers standing beside her. He looked as stuffy and aloof as ever in his fussy suit.

“You’re dead.”

“Am I?” Travers replied. “How disappointing. Nonetheless, I’m here to guide you in your quest.”

Shaking her head, Buffy replied. “Sorry, but dealing with the First has made me a little leery of dead folks walking around.”

A cold hand gripped her arm and Buffy gasped. “I think you’ll find that I’m neither evil, nor incorporeal.”

“Least you got one of those right,” Buffy murmured. “So, is this like the vision quest thingy Giles sent me on?”

“As the head of the Watchers Council, part of my duty was to lend my form to the guardian of this place. To give the slayers a familiar face to guide them.”

“Can we just cut to the chase? The book that came with the box thing said that this was a way for me to get more power.”

“That’s not quite true. This place does exist so that slayers can acquire more power, but you have to earn it.”

The ground started to shake beneath her feet and a loud rumbling sound tore the air.

“Good luck, Miss Summers,” Travers said, and then vanished.

Buffy tensed as she watched a hole open up in the ground before her and a platform rose from the bowels of the earth.

While she didn’t know quite what to expect, the First Slayer lunging toward her, tethered to the platform with chains, wasn’t it. She growled angrily at Buffy, more animal than human.

“What am I supposed to do now?” Buffy muttered.

Travers' voice traveled along the breeze. “Haven’t you figured it out, Miss Summers? Death is your gift.”

“Been there, done that,” Buffy replied, shaking her head. “I’m not fighting her.”

“Then you’ll die, and another will be called. Death is the only way out of here,” Travers' disembodied voice informed her coolly. “It makes no difference to me if it’s yours.”

Buffy’s eyes widened as the chains dropped away.


~*~*~*~*~


“Doesn’t your big, thick book say anything about this?” Xander asked for the third time. He knew he was repeating himself, but he couldn’t help it. The not knowing was crazy-making.

“No!” Dawn nearly yelled in frustration. “It said to put the things together and the truth would be revealed.”

“Guys, calm down.” Willow piped in. “We’ll figure this out.”

“So what do we know?” Xander asked, unable to squelch the hysterical edge in his voice. He was jumpy and irritable with worry. Absently, he ran his thumb across the ring on his finger. It was starting to feel less strange and more a part of him every day.  

“Perhaps the truth can only be revealed to the slayer,” Giles offered, but Xander could hear the strain in the watcher’s voice.

“Too bad we can’t read the stupid puzzle,” Xander said angrily, slapping the table loudly with his palm, not noticing that his fingertips briefly brushed the cool metal. “It might actually tell us something.”

“Wait…look,” Dawn said suddenly, staring at the solid piece of metal in front of them. The text wavered for a few seconds and then smoothed out. “It’s in English, now.”

Everyone stared at Xander and he held up his hands. “I didn’t do anything! I swear.”

“What does it say?” one of the potentials asked from the back of the room.

Giles cleared his throat and read aloud :

The door has opened, the fight begun,

Both shall meet under burning sun.

Power shifts from two to one,

By Death’s hand, or else by none.

All the color drained out of Giles’ face. “Oh dear lord. What have I done?”


~*~*~*~*~


Crude weapons were strewn around the dusty floor, bleached by the sun until they were almost perfectly camouflaged. Her opponent was fond of a rough hewn axe, while Buffy had selected a long spear. It increased her range and the shaft worked well as both a staff and makeshift shield.

Buffy was panting, tired. She couldn’t remember fighting so hard in her life. The Turok Han had been a field day compared to this.

The primitive slayer matched her, countering move for move with wicked accuracy. They were mirror images of each other. It was terrifying.

What kept her going was the knowledge that if she lost this battle – if she gave a single inch – the ramifications in the real world would be unacceptable. The First Evil would take over and chaos would reign.

And so Buffy fought though the aches, bruises and broken bones. Because she had no choice.

She twisted right, to block, and over compensated, giving her opponent an opening. In the blink of an eye, the slayer darted forward like a cobra and delivered a stunning blow.  

Buffy gasped.


~*~*~*~*~


“Pizza’s here.” Dawn’s dull voice echoed through the house. Buffy had been gone for hours, but no one wanted to leave.

Xander was tapped to carry the stack of pepperoni into the kitchen. He was grateful that he had something to do. He hated sitting and waiting – even research would be preferable to this. But the book yielded no answers.

He set his parcels on the island and stepped out of the way quickly, lest he get trampled by the swarm of potentials.

Frowning, he realized that Kennedy wasn’t joining in the feeding frenzy. She was leaning against the kitchen sink, pale as a ghost. Sweat popped up on her brow and upper lip.

“You okay?” Xander asked, joining her.

The potential looked like she had been in the middle of getting a drink of water. The tap was running and she had a tight grip on the glass in her hand. The only problem was, the glass was six inches to the left of the stream.

“Sure,” came her whispered reply, but she didn’t look at him. In fact, her eyes looked slightly out of focus. Xander slowly turned the faucet off before trying to catch Willow’s eye.

The redhead realized something was amiss and joined them immediately. “Kennedy, honey, if you’re not feeling well, maybe you should lie down.”

“I’m fine.” Kennedy gripped the glass tighter and it shattered like a bomb.

“Whoa!” Xander shouted. “Everybody okay?”

“Maybe I don’t feel so well,” Kennedy mumbled, and then her eyes rolled back into her head.

Xander sprang forward to catch her, just as she fainted. He pushed his way through the kitchen and up the stairs into the first bedroom he found. Willow followed behind.

Touching Kennedy's forehead, Xander thought she felt a little warm, but he wasn’t positive. Her skin had gone from waxy pale to slightly flushed and he hoped that was a good sign.

“Here.”

He took the proffered washcloth and laid it on her forehead. “You think she’ll be okay?” he asked.

Willow looked at him uneasily. “I hope so.”

“I’ve never seen anyone do that thing with the glass, except for – ”

“Buffy,” Willow whispered, and then her eyes grew wide. “Power shifts from two to one, By Death’s hand, or else by none. You don’t think she’s…”

They both looked at Kennedy with new eyes.

“Did Buffy ever tell you what happened when she got activated?” Willow asked quietly.

Xander shook his head. “No. Don’t even think that. Buffy’s not dead.”

“But Xander...”

“No!” Something was niggling at the back of his head. “Wait. Isn’t Faith the slayer-on-call? She should be the one next up in the rotation.” Willow looked at him quizzically. “I mean, when Buffy died, nobody new popped up, right?”

Understanding dawned in Willow’s eyes. “But that could still mean…”

“The Bringers got Faith,” Xander whispered in horror.

“I’ll call Wesley.” Willow turned toward the phone on the nightstand, but before she could pick up the handset, Dawn called urgently .

“Guys…come down here. Something’s changing on the plate.”

With trepidation, Willow and Xander headed down the stairs


~*~*~*~*~


Pain exploded across her left side and Buffy swore she heard the cracking of bones. “That does it! I’m tired and dirty and I want to go home,” she panted.

She whirled around and caught the other slayer directly in the midsection with the shaft of her spear. The girl flew across the arena, landing heavily on the platform in the center.

Buffy sprinted over, ignoring the pain in her side. Although she was loathe to drop her weapon, she had no choice. The moment it left her palm, she swiftly swept up one of the chains that lay abandoned in the dusty earth.

The primal slayer roared with rage as she struggled to her feet.

“No you don’t.” Buffy twirled the chain over her head. “Just call me Anne Oakley.”

She let loose with the chain, knowing as it left her hands that her aim was true. The heavy manacle struck her opponent in the head, sending her crashing back to the ground, dazed.

Buffy’s side ached dully as she bent to retrieve her spear. It was time to finish this.

The First Slayer was just coming to when Buffy reached her, standing over the first slayer, spear poised for the kill.

“Good show, Miss Summers,” Travers said, materializing by her side. “I wasn’t quite sure you had it in you. Finish the job and you can get what you came for.”

Buffy looked down uneasily at her opponent. There was no fear in her eyes, no depth of self-awareness, only a feral rage. She grunted and tried to pull away, but Buffy pressed the point of her spear down. A small rivulet of blood ran down the slayer’s dirty throat and she grimaced but remained silent.

It would be such a small thing to push forward, taking less strength than slaying a vamp. There weren’t any bones to get in the way, just the soft tissue of her throat. And then the world would be safe.

Xander’s voice echoed in her head. I mean, I know he’s an innocent, but, you know, not like Dawn innocent. We could kill a. . . regular guy.

The muscles in her shoulders tensed and she gripped the spear tighter. The first slayer growled and snapped her teeth.

This was wrong. Every fiber of her being screamed out that this was wrong, and she knew better than to ignore that voice. “No.” Buffy shook her head. “No amount of power is worth this.”

“It is your birthright,” Travers hissed, his eyes glittering feverishly, “the final step in your evolution.”

Understanding dawned on Buffy, followed swiftly by revulsion. “That’s what this whole stupid test is about. You want me to lose my humanity.”

“It is her duty, her purpose,” Travers gestured toward the first slayer. “She is the embodiment of the power of the slayer line; protecting that of which she could never be a part.”

And today must be two-for-one epiphanies. “She’s not human.”

Travers’ tone turned snide. “Neither are you. Surely you’ve figured that out.”

Revulsion of a different kind washed over her. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you see?” Spike’s sneering voice this time. “You came back wrong…Came back a little less human than you were.”

God, had he known? Buffy thought with horror. Had Spike always known she wasn’t human?

“You wanted more power, Miss Summers,” Travers intoned. “Then you must be willing to pay the price.”

“It doesn’t matter how noble you want to make it sound,” Buffy countered. “It’s still murder.”

“She died long ago. Her strength lives on in this place, waiting for those of her line who are in great peril,” Travers informed her dismissively. He looked almost bored with the conversation. “As barbaric as it may seem to your modern sensibilities, the fact remains that death is the only way out of here, Miss Summers.”

A smile tugged at her lips. When were people going to learn not to underestimate her? “Oh, I think I’ve just about got that covered. You see, Travers - or whatever you are - death isn’t just my gift. It’s hers.”

Buffy lifted her spear and darted to the right, past Travers. The First Slayer growled in fury and lunged upward, not toward Buffy, but toward the guardian wearing Travers’ face. In the blink of an eye, she twisted the thing’s neck, snapping it.

The guardian sighed as he was dropped to the ground unceremoniously. “I hate when she does that.”

As the arena faded out, Buffy whispered, “I’m sure it won’t be the last time.”


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy dropped the last of the pieces of the cipher disc into the box. She was thankful that all her injuries disappeared once she’d been returned to the house, or even that simple task would have been daunting.

“Do not open until…ever,” she murmured and snapped the new lock into place. “That does it.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Giles apologized for the hundredth time. “I thought that this would make you stronger.”

Buffy looked at him steadily. “It did. It showed me the one thing I have that the First doesn’t - humanity. It’s what kept me going when I was fighting and it’s what’s gonna help us win this war.”

Giles took the box and placed it inside the gym bag. “I’ll dispose of this.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it.” Buffy picked up the bag and tossed it onto the dining room table. “Xander said he’d get someone to weld it shut tomorrow and then drop it into the first batch of wet cement he could find.”

“Oh.” The watcher looked stung for a moment.

Buffy hated seeing the dejected slump in his shoulders. “How’s Kennedy?” she asked gently.

“Doing well. She seems to have the flu, nothing more,” Giles replied. “And Wesley’s sources inside the prison have confirmed that Faith’s alive and well.”

Placing a hand on his arm, Buffy said confidently, “We’re going to win, Giles.”

“I don’t see how, Buffy,” the watcher admitted.

Buffy held her chin high. “We’ll find a way.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was shaking on the inside. He was bound too tightly to shake on the outside. This week had been a rollercoaster of emotion, but all of it had fallen away the minute he’d entered Anya’s apartment.

His Mistress had called him, after Buffy returned, and told him what to expect tonight, so he wouldn’t be completely unprepared. Her words echoed in his head. I have everything arranged for tomorrow night.

Now he was on an emotional rollercoaster of a different kind, but he could admit, if only to himself and Anya, that he liked the feeling.

Part of him couldn’t believe that he was going to have sex with a man. Worse, it was a stranger Anya had found. He couldn’t begin to imagine how she’d propositioned someone.

The door to the playroom opened and then shut, and Xander’s heart pounded heavily in his chest. This was it.

Anya reached out and stroked his hair, calming him somewhat. “I have him all ready for you,” she said to whomever walked in, sounding proud.

The tips of his ears heated painfully. Sweat pooled between his chest and the padded black leather beneath it and he was very conscious of how he must look. The waist-high bench he was tied to was specifically designed to immobilize him and spread him open. Once his knees had slipped into the contoured wells, Anya had buckled soft strips of leather to bind his legs at the thigh and calf. His wrists had been next. She gently folded his arms across his back and latched his cuffs together. Two more soft strips of leather were buckled tightly around him, binding him to the bench, one across his upper arms, and the other at his waist. The gag wasn’t unexpected, but when she’d clipped small chains onto the d-rings to immobilize his head, he’d panicked. Instead of chastising him, she ran her fingers through his hair, murmuring to him until he calmed. The plug Anya had worked into him was huge, he was stretched so wide around it. Completing the picture was his swollen and bound cock, hanging heavy between his spread thighs.

Freezing cold hands stroked the skin of his naked butt and Xander suddenly realized who was in the room with them. “So very pretty, love. You didn’t lie about that.”

Xander tried to voice his unhappiness, and even though the sound was muffled by the gag, Anya was instantly crouched in front of him, looking concerned.

“Are you all right?” she asked. “Are your bonds too tight?”

No! He made another sound, and tried to look back at Spike. He wished he could shake his head.

Anya reached out, grasping his fingers, her knuckles brushing against the bare skin of his back. “Is it because Spike is the one I selected?”

Xander squeezed her hand once. Yes.

She eyed him critically. “This was my choice Xander. You agreed to be with whoever I chose.”

Two squeezes. No.

Anya frowned at this.

“Look, I can leave.” Spike said. “’s obvious that the boy doesn’t want me.”

One squeeze. Yes.

And Anya’s expression hardened. “No.” she said to Spike.” She held Xander’s gaze. “Are you using your safe word, Xander?”

Safe was three squeezes in response to a direct question. He hated her in that one second, for making him choose.

“Xander?” she prompted again.

One squeeze, then another, and then he stopped. No, he wasn’t using his safe word. He looked away from her, ashamed and embarrassed that he was going to let a vampire he couldn’t stand take him. His first encounter with a man was going to be with Spike. But this was what Anya wanted and he wasn’t going to turn his back on his word to her, not again. He wouldn’t risk losing her forever by refusing, and if part of him was aroused that it was Spike, he wasn’t going to admit it.

She stroked his cheek above the gag. “It will be fine, Xander. I promise.”

The cool hands returned, familiarizing themselves with his flesh. A flash of white hot stinging pain radiated from his ass as Spike struck him. The sound registered in his ears after the strike. Xander couldn’t help himself, he moaned. It was so much harder than Anya had ever done, even with the paddle.

Spike’s voice was low and seductive. “Your girl says you like pain, Xander. Let’s see how much you can take.”

Xander was relieved that Anya remained in his line of sight. Her eyes never left him for more than a few seconds. He was also thankful for the gag, because he would have been unable to hold back his curses. His ass was on fire when Spike finished.

Long fingers, now warm from the spanking, tracing random patterns on any bare patch of skin he could find. Xander would have gasped if he hadn’t been gagged, but instead he made a humming sound and then flushed when he saw Spike for the first time. The vampire was naked. And hard. Very, very hard.

He had no idea why that thought hadn’t filtered up to his brain, but he’d just assumed that the vampire was fully clothed while he was spanking him.

“Can I?” Spike turned to Anya, but his fingers rested on the buckle of Xander’s gag.

His pulse pounded loudly in his ears and Xander’s eyes widened. He stared up at Anya, wondering what her response was going to be.

Anya held Xander’s gaze. “Yes.”

Shit. Terror flooded Xander as first the clips and then the buckle was undone. Spike’s fingers, cool once again, traced his lips.

“This your first time, Xander?” Spike asked, and Xander was surprised at his gentle tone.

Xander barely managed to squelch the disbelieving titter that welled up. Had he ever what? Sucked a man’s dick? Or just been orally involved with a vampire. A very male vampire?

“I…yes,” he managed to stammer. Another surge of fear coursed through him, as he realized he didn’t know what to call Spike. “M-master.”

Thankfully, the vampire didn’t object to the title. “I’ll go slow, then.”

Anya pressed a cool spongy ball into Xander’s hand.

“If he drops this,” she said to Spike, warningly.

Spike nodded. “I’ll stop.”

Heat suffused Xander’s face and the tips of his ears felt like they were on fire. He was really going to give Spike head. He’d told Anya that he didn’t know if he could do this, but now that he was faced with the prospect, he didn’t think he could call red. His Mistress obviously wanted him to do this, and he’d try his best.

Xander was unable to look away as Spike took his hard, pale cock in hand and guided it to Xander’s mouth.

“Open up, pet.”

Xander opened his mouth, his heart pounding furiously in his chest.

“Such a good lad,” Spike murmured and pressed forward slightly. “Take me in.”

The first thought that fluttered through Xander’s mind was that it wasn’t like the penis gag Anya used with him. Spike’s cock was cool, but definitely alive. His mouth closed around it and he tentatively suckled the head.

Spike sucked in a sharp breath and rested his hands in Xander’s hair.

Praying that his Mistress wouldn’t have a problem with it, Xander closed his eyes. He couldn’t do this and look at Spike. It was definitely too much.

There wasn’t much technique involved in what he was doing, but Spike seemed okay with that. The vampire set up a gentle rhythm, fucking his face and Xander did the best he could. His stomach did crazy flips every time that Spike praised him, or made a grunt of pleasure, convincing him that he truly was a sick bastard.

Xander groaned as he felt the plug being removed and being replaced swiftly by the blunt head of a dildo.

The fake cock pushed inside his ass as Spike’s cock filled his mouth, spearing him on both ends. Then Anya’s hips pulled flush with the burning, hypersensitive skin of his backside and he realized she was wearing the harness.

He’d never been so thankful for a cock ring, because he thought he might come on the spot.

All thought left his head as he was fucked by both Spike and Anya. He just…let everything go, allowing himself to be used as an instrument of their pleasure.

Time stopped as he was filled, over and over again, by his lovers, and the only rational thought in his head was to clench his fist tighter so he wouldn’t drop the ball in his hand. He never wanted this sensation to end.

Anya’s thrusts became more erratic and Xander wished he could move, could push back and deepen her pleasure. Instead, the only thing he could do was suck more vigorously on the cock in his mouth.

Xander felt Anya’s body shudder, and heard her cry out as she came. Then Spike’s fingers were laced in his hair and the vampire was fucking his face hard.

“Oh, yes! That’s it, pet,” Spike panted. “So good.”

Cool semen flooded his mouth. Xander didn’t have time to catalog the taste as he swallowed reflexively.

“Such a good boy,” Spike whispered, and Xander felt a shiver of arousal shoot through him with those words.

He thought Spike would be finished, but the vampire didn’t pull away. Instead he seemed content to lazily thrust his hips as he stroked Xander’s hair.

Xander’s jaw ached, and other than occasionally suckling at the softening flesh in his mouth, he simply concentrated on trying to get his breathing under control. His swollen dick ached and he wondered if he’d be allowed to come at all tonight.

Suddenly, he realized the soft cock in his mouth wasn’t so soft anymore.

“Time for round two,” Spike said huskily, and then chuckled at Xander’s small muffled sound of surprise.

Spike’s cock slipped out of his mouth and Xander opened his eyes and looked up, straining to see Spike’s face.

“Want me to fuck you, boy?” the vampire asked. His eyes were hooded and he ran his tongue lightly along his blunt teeth. “Want to feel my cock split you open?”

He wanted to ask if he had a choice, but he knew the answer to that. One word and Anya would put a stop to this. Or he just had to drop the ball. But he didn’t want to.

Xander’s face burned as he whispered the truth, “Yes, Master.”

Heat flared in Spike’s eyes at his words, and a gentle hand stroked his cheek. “Say it, boy.”

Unable to look away, Xander’s mouth was dry as he tried to form the words.

“Are you all right, Xander?” Anya’s asked immediately, somewhere off to his right. He could hear the concern in her voice.

“Yes, Mistress,” Xander whispered, and then forced himself to say the words Spike wanted to hear. “I want you to fuck me. Master.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander heard the snick of the tube of lube and tensed slightly. He kept his eyes on Anya. She was sitting in a chair, watching him. Her eyes shone darkly with arousal and then Xander felt the now-slippery, blunt head of Spike’s cock at his entrance.

His hole was still loose, but he couldn’t contain his gasp when Spike thrust all the way inside him, in one smooth stroke.

“Bloody hell, yes!” Spike hissed and that was all the warning Xander got before the vampire gripped his hips harshly and began pounding into him.

The muscles in Xander’s thighs strained as he tried to thrust back, but he was bound too tightly. He was forced to remain still and helpless as the vampire struck his prostate on every single thrust.

One of Spike’s hands left his hip and Xander screamed as the ring was removed. Spike’s slick hand slipped up and down his aching shaft, stroking him firmly. Xander wished he could rock his hips and work his cock into the wonderful cool tunnel of Spike’s fist. He was babbling incoherently, unable to stop.

Apparently, he must have strung together the right combination of words because Spike’s hand began stroking him at a frenzied pace. “That’s it, pet. Come for me.”

Spike had barely finished his directive when Xander’s eyes fluttered shut and he finally let go. His orgasm went on forever; it felt like he pumped oceans of semen into Spike’s hand.

Still flying high from his release, Xander barely registered the cool fluid bathing his insides as Spike came as well.

He was still panting when he finally managed to pry his eyes open. Anya was already undoing his bonds.

“I’m so proud of you, Xander,” Anya said, stroking his cheek. He slipped unsteadily off the bench. His limbs didn’t want to co-operate very well, but there was one last thing he needed to do.

As soon as he felt able, Xander rose to his knees next to Anya. Spike’s cool seed trickled down his thighs. Shivering slightly, he leaned his head against her thigh in both supplication and support. “Thank you, Mistress,” he said, his voice rough with emotion.

Soft fingers curled in his hair and Xander felt a rush of pride as she replied, “You did so well.”

Xander shifted to look at Spike. “Thank you…Master.”

Spike held his gaze, as if to judge his sincerity. Finally, he nodded. “My pleasure, boy.”





Part Twelve

Xander was sitting on the back porch, looking out into the night. He was deliberately not-thinking, and doing his level best to elevate it to a fine art form.

He heard the light squeak of the spring on the screen door and his heart leapt into a tap dance in his chest when a cold, frosty bottle was floated in front of his face and a male voice said, “Here.”

A cold, frosty bottle was floating in front of his face, long, pale fingers wrapped around the neck.

Xander hesitated.

“Take it,” Spike said, firmly.

Xander’s stomach flipped a little at the tone but he took the bottle. “Thanks.” The first sip stuck thickly in his throat, but the second went down much smoother.

Spike casually leaned against the post, taking a sip of his own beer, before gesturing out into the night. “See anything?”

Xander shook his head. There wasn’t a Bringer in sight. He’d actually come out here so he could have some time to think alone. About Spike.

“You avoiding me?” Spike asked, cutting right to the chase.

Sighing, Xander nodded and replied, “Yeah.”

“No need. ‘M not gonna say anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I’m not,” Xander said. “Worried. About you saying anything, I mean.”

“What is it then?”

Xander didn’t know if he could answer. His ass still hurt, both from the spanking and the…intrusion, and honestly neither one was a genuinely unpleasant sensation.  He’d wigged about the whole guy-guy thing before last night, and during, but now those wiggins had left, only to be replaced by their more confusing cousins. “Why’d you do it?” he asked, finally.

Spike eyed him critically for a moment, and Xander got the distinct impression that he was trying to decide whether to tell him the truth or not. When the vampire came to some sort of decision, he spoke. “At first, I was curious. Wanted to see if what Anya said was true; that you were pretty when you begged. She was right.”

Xander’s face burned at the thought of Spike and Anya discussing him like that.  “And that’s why you stayed.” He barely managed to force the words out.

“No. You made me feel like a demon again.” Spike sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m tired, Xander, of not being man enough, not being demon enough, for Buffy.  I thought the soul would make the difference, and it has, but not the way I wanted. She sees me for who I am, now, but it was never the man she wanted.”

“She’s always going to be chasing Angel,” Xander said softly.

“Yeah, well…” Spike shrugged, and Xander wished he hadn’t said anything.  

“If you and Anya…talk…” Xander said, before he lost his nerve. “I’m not…I wouldn’t, say no…” he paused and then said in a rush, “You can come back. I-if you want.”

Spike’s nostrils flared, and his lips turned up slightly. “Oh, I definitely want.”

Me, too. And Xander had just about worked up the courage to speak the words when the back door slammed open.  “Spike! You out here?” The moment was broken.

Spike turned to face Buffy. “Yeah?”

“Oh, am I interrupting something?” She frowned, puzzled.

Xander waited for Spike to say No, but the vampire just looked at her expectantly. “What do you need?”

“Please come with me on patrol,” she asked, looking at him pleadingly. “If I go alone, I’m likely to kill one or two of them.”

“And you expect me to stop you?” Spike snorted, incredulous.

Grinning, Buffy replied, “Yes.”

Xander felt a sick feeling in his belly as an affectionate look passed between them.

Buffy focused her attention on Xander. “Are you okay? Maybe you should come into the house…”

Xander used a wide smile to hide his hurt over her belief that he couldn’t take care of himself. “I’m fine.” He hoped that she wouldn’t notice that it was insincere.    “I’ll keep an eye out.” He gestured to the backyard with his now almost empty beer bottle.

“Xander,” Buffy sighed.

Barely refraining from gritting his teeth, Xander was about to reply when Spike cut in. “Boy’ll be fine, Buffy. Let’s go.”

The vampire took a final pull from his beer and headed toward the screen door without looking back. Buffy grumbled, but followed. While his emotions did the tango, Xander watched them walk back into the house.


~*~*~*~*~


“There you are,” Willow said when Xander entered the kitchen.  “It’s almost time.”

Xander frowned as he dropped his empty beer bottle into the recycle bin. “Time for what?”

It was Willow’s turn to frown. “Didn’t Buffy tell you?” she asked, sounding confused. “The coven called, there’s a potential slayer living in Sunnydale. We need to find her, before the Bringers do.”

“Huh. She didn’t say anything.”

“She’s been distract-o girl lately. I have the spell, but I need four to complete it.” Willow grinned suddenly, joking, “It’s not a party until everyone gets to call an elemental.”

“I’m surprised G-man didn’t stick around.”

“He said he had something to do. And Kennedy offered, but…” Willow shrugged. “We couldn’t have a real potential messing up the spell.

Xander was unable to let an opening like that pass. “How are things with you guys?”

Willow sighed, all lightness gone. “Confusing.”

“You can talk to me, if you want.”

“There are definitely butterflies. Oceans of butterflies,” Willow admitted. “But…”

“She’s not Tara.” Xander filled in.

Ashamed, Willow nodded. “I try so hard not to compare them. I do! It’s just…”

“Different isn’t always bad, Will,” Xander said softly. “You never would have found Tara, if you were looking to replace Oz.”

The anguished lines etched into Willow’s face smoothed at once as she digested this information. “I never thought of it that way,” she said, sounding almost relieved.

Even though he was glad he’d been able to offer her some kind of comfort, Xander figured it was a good time to change the subject before the manly union took away the last of his guy creds. He clapped his hands together. “Let’s call those wacky elementals! Can I be fire this time?”

“Uh uh. No way, buster. Not after last time.” She looked at him with mock reproach. “That was one of my favorite spell books.”

“Willow, are you planning on actually doing this spell tonight?”  Anya called from the living room.  “Or is this one of those times where we discuss things endlessly and don’t really do anything.”

Xander grinned at Anya’s impatience and followed Willow out of the kitchen, muttering, “And that was like, eleventh grade. I said I was sorry.”


~*~*~*~*~


To light the aura of the new, skin of snake and chrysalis too.

To indicate the fresh reborn, tumbleweed and rosebush thorn.

An egg that means the life to come.

Take this, oh spirit, and my spell is done.

Xander shifted uncomfortably between Anya and Dawn.  He’d been assigned to represent wind. He hoped that wasn’t a reflection on the burritos he’d had for lunch.

Just as Willow finished chanting, a big blob of orange something wafted out of the fireplace. Then the smell hit. Nausea flooded him. “Oh, good God, what is that smell?”

Anya covered her nose with her hand “I'm fairly sure that's the smell of a hardboiled egg being thrown into a fire.”

“Uh-huh.” Dawn nodded in agreement.

Willow had also covered her mouth and nose with her hand, making her voice muffled, but audible. “The smell will lead us to the potential.”

“Or some poor soul who ate too many chimichangas,” Xander offered glibly.

Willow glared at him, but continued, “She'll also be lit with a brilliant aura.”

The glowing mass of light pooled in the center of the loose circle they had formed, pulsing sickly.

“Is it supposed to be shimmying all over like that?” Dawn asked. As she spoke, the light shifted towards her. Concerned, she pulled away, and it briefly followed before returning once again to the center.  

Willow bit her lip. “I don't know. I don't think so.”

“So you messed up the spell again,” Anya sighed. “At least it smells, you know, other-worldly.”

Xander felt horrible about the hurt look Willow shot her.  

As if it had heard her, the circle of light elongated, beginning to resemble an amoeba. One of its appendages shifted toward Anya.  “Oh, look, pretty.” She smiled, pointing at it in an obvious attempt to change the subject. Xander stared at it uneasily, wondering if he needed to tell her to get out of the way, but finally it retreated back to the middle.

Willow looked dejected. “I suck. I'm sorry, you guys, I- Maybe we could figure something out on the computer?”

Dawn looked relieved. “Good call. I'm gonna open the door and let this place air out.”

She waved her hand in front of her face and moved to the front door.

Xander wrapped his arm around Willow. “Don't worry, Will. It's really no big.”

Willow sighed. “I just-I was sure that it was gonna work.”

The mass of light shifted suddenly, looking less hazy and more like a laser, shot across the room, heading straight for…

“Dawn!” Willow shrieked in panic.

But it was too late. The light smashed into Dawn, picking her up and pinning her to the door. She dropped to the floor like a rock, her chest still glowing orange. Xander and Willow sprinted to her side.

Dazed Dawn looked up at them, her eyes wide. “Guys? What happened?”

Willow stared at Dawn, whispering, “I think it worked.”


~*~*~*~*~


Dawn lifted the lid off the can and dropped the garbage bag into the stinky void. Usually, she hated taking out the trash, but tonight it gave her time to think. She was a potential.  She could be the slayer someday.

She’d always looked up to Buffy and admired her strength. Well at least when her sister wasn’t being a complete bonehead about things. But Dawn had never realized the crushing responsibility that went with being chosen. It was so huge she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. If Faith died, she could be called.

Dawn stopped short, her heart pounding as the truth hit home. Someone had died for Buffy to be called. How could she have never asked Giles, or even wondered about the girl who had died before Buffy?  Was that going to be her lot in life? To get called, fight for the world and then die, only to be forgotten.

Thoughts churned in her head as she walked up the path to the front door.  It was quicker than going back the way she’d come.

She was startled out of her disturbing reverie when Bringers poured across the front yard. Chill bumps broke out along her arms as she realized that they’d been lying in wait the whole time she’d been outside.

They formed an ominous line, blocking her way to the house.

“Xander!” she screamed, and almost immediately heard the front door bang against the siding in response, as Xander sprinted out onto the porch. He froze at the sight of the Bringers on the lawn.

“Oh my god!” Xander exclaimed.  “Run, Dawnie!  Toward the school. We’ll try to stop them.”

He ducked back into the house, not waiting for Dawn to respond, “Will, we need weapons. Now!”

Dawn sprinted off toward Sunnydale High and the Bringers gave chase. She wished fervently that she’d brought her cell phone, so she could call Buffy.

Breath coming in harsh pants as she pushed herself to the limit, Dawn pulled ahead of her pursuers. She was definitely faster than they were, and absently she wondered if that was a slayer thing, or just because she was running for her life.

She made it several blocks before she risked a look behind her.  Keeping up her pace as best she could, she studied the shadows over her shoulder. The wind was blowing, and there wasn’t much light, so she couldn’t be sure if she’d outrun them, or they were just being super-stealthy. They’d frightened her badly with their camouflage skills in her yard.  

Suddenly a startled voice cried, “Hey, watch out!”

Dawn tried to stop, but it was too late. Momentum carried her forward and she slammed into the girl. They both tumbled to the ground in a big heap.

“Great!” the girl muttered grumpily, “That’s twice tonight.”

“I’m so sorry,” Dawn apologized, as she pushed herself off the ground. She held out a hand, offering to help the other girl up, and in so doing, realized the thin, willowy girl wasn’t  a stranger, after all. “You’re Amanda, right? From math class? I’m Dawn.”

“Yeah.” Amanda nodded and began to pick leaves out of her long brown hair. “Ms. Waterston. You sit in the back, with Kit. I think your sister is my guidance councilor.”

“Yeah…I’m sorry about that.” Dawn apologized reflexively. No one she knew liked visiting Buffy. It was embarrassing to have to go to school where she worked.  

Before Amanda could reply, an angry cry tore across the night. The Bringers were here.

Dawn grabbed Amanda’s arm. “Come on!”

“Who are those guys?”

“They’re…it’s hard to explain.” Dawn said urgently. “But we have to go.”

“Could this night get any weirder?” Amanda complained, but she followed Dawn.


~*~*~*~*~


They were both winded when they reached the school, but they’d gained quite a bit of ground on the Bringers.

Dawn pried open a window to the science lab and they were both able to squeeze in through the crack.

“We just have to find a place to hide, until Xander and everybody gets here.” Dawn tried to reassure Amanda as she carefully navigated between the desks, making her way to the door.

The other girl looked at her with annoyed confusion. “Who’s Xander?” Instead of responding, Dawn slipped out into the empty hall. Amanda scowled and reluctantly followed behind.

Suddenly the double doors at the end of the hall burst open and Bringers poured in.

“Great!” Amanda snapped. “The doors were open. You led us into a trap, genius.”

They sprinted down the hall until they reached the T-juncture at the end. Dawn moved to the right, toward the gym, thinking that they might be able to find some weapons there: a bat, or a bow and arrow – something.

Amanda took off in the other direction, running left toward administration and the front of the school.

“No, this way,” Dawn hissed after her.

Shaking her head, Amanda replied petulantly, “No way! If they’re after you, I’m not going that way.”

“Amanda,” Dawn, pleaded, but Amanda ignored her, continuing the opposite way down the hall.

Dawn changed tracks, running after the taller girl.  Even if she wasn’t a full fledged slayer, it was her job to keep Amanda safe. That’s what Buffy would do. Before she could reach the other girl, Bringers flooded the juncture, separating them and instinctively, Dawn backed away.  

They swiveled, looking between her and Amanda. Dawn panicked.  

Before she could think about what she was doing, She took a deep breath and began waving her arms, shouting, “Here, I’m here!”

The monks turned as one to face her, their creepy, blank, eyeless stares falling on her. One drew a knife, its curved blade glittering dully in the low light.  


~*~*~*~*~


Amanda looked behind her. She could hear a commotion but no one seemed to be following her. She stopped short when she ran into someone. Startled she looked up, expecting to see one of the scarred monk guys, but then relaxed. “Principal Wood. What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Amanda.”

“It’s been a crazy night,” she replied, relieved to have found someone sane. “I went to Miss Summer’s house earlier; I got a phone call that she wanted to see me. A big orange light hit me and almost knocked me out. And then I ran into her nutty sister, who was being chased by these weirdo monks.”

Wood smiled. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Turning to look down the hall, Amanda said, concerned, “We should probably call the police or something, though. Dawn’s here and they were chasing her.”

She gasped as white hot fire filled her belly. Her eyes widened as she looked down at the blade in her stomach. Tracing the curved handle of the knife, she realized with horror that it was growing slick with her own blood. “What?”

Grinning, Principal Wood replied, “You could say, I’m choosing a side, but really, there wasn’t much of a choice.”

As Amanda fell to the ground, she tried to scream for Dawn, for anyone, but her throat wouldn’t work.  

“Don’t bother calling for help,” Principal Wood explained causally. “The knife is coated with a toxin that causes paralysis. You’ll stop breathing before you bleed to death.”

He crouched over her. Pain exploded again in her stomach as he rotated the knife cruelly.  

Amanda stared at him, unable to blink or look away. He held a small glass vial up to the light, and she realized that it was filled with her blood. “I’m sure you won’t mind if I take a little of this.  Technically, it’s my birthright.”

Darkness over took her vision as her lungs screamed, burning for air, but it was impossible to inhale.

“I’ll make sure we have a moment of silence for you tomorrow. After homeroom.”


~*~*~*~*~


“Hey, Dawnie,” Xander said, sitting down on the bed. “How’re you doing?”

“Terrible,” Dawn replied, leaning into his embrace. “It was like, for a minute, I had all this power.  And then, when the monks stopped chasing me, I knew…”

“It was her.”

“I tried to stop them, but it was too late.” Dawn scrubbed the fresh tears from her cheeks with angry swipes. “I can’t get the sight of her out of my head. She looked so scared.”

“You did the best you could,” Xander replied. “We should have been there. I never should have sent you to the school. I just…it was the first vampire-free place I could think of.”

“I don’t know how they moved so fast. One minute they were chasing me, and then next, they were hovering over her like demented vultures.”

He placed a comforting kiss on her hair. God, how had she grown up so fast? “It’s late; you should try to get some sleep.”

“She was dead, Xander.” Dawn looked up at him mournfully. “That could have been me.”  

Xander gave a silent prayer of thanks for that small miracle. He felt sorry for Amanda and her family, but thankful that his family was all still here. “But it wasn’t. You’re here, and you’re safe.”

“Am I?” she asked. “Are any of us?”

Xander looked at her uneasily, unable to reply.





Interlude

Xander made a beeline from the door to his bedroom, after work, with a swiftly mumbled “Hey, Spike.”  

Every night for a week, Xander had arrived home later and later. At five he urgently recalled paperwork he needed to complete, or remembered something he absolutely had to do at Buffy’s, any excuse to stay out past dusk and reduce the likelihood that Spike would be at the apartment.

Tonight, his maneuvering hadn’t worked. Spike was nestled on the couch, beer in hand, watching something that had him shouting at the TV.

Xander hovered in his room, uncertain, pacing apprehensively, trying to figure out what to do tonight. He couldn’t go to the Summer’s house – Buffy was having a potential-only pow-wow in the cramped basement.   Willow and Dawn were off Bronzing and he wasn’t supposed to see Anya until Friday night.  

Stuck in his room for the evening, what else could he do but sleep? Which wasn’t really a hardship, because sleep deprivation and his life went together like peanut butter and bananas.  He was still grimy from the site, though, so he should probably grab a quick shower before bed.  A smarmy voice in the back of his head that pointed out that, wonder of wonders, he could go to the shower and back again, without actually coming into contact with Spike, but he refused to give it any credence.

Quickly, he shucked off his work clothes, tossing them in the hamper before slipping into a pair of sweats and a tee shirt. He did his best to walk casually down the hall into the bathroom and shut the door.

He was just patting himself on the back for his performance, when he stopped short. There was a pile of wet towels in the center of the bathroom floor.

He’d asked, enjoined, cajoled, demanded, that his roommate stop leaving the damn things on the floor. They mildewed almost immediately and who got stuck with the extra load of laundry? Certainly not Spike.

Xander saw red; all the tension that had been building between him and Spike for the last week, spilled over.  He swooped down, picking up the sodden mess and stormed out of the bathroom.

“I’m not gonna tell you again. Pick your damned towels up!” Without thinking, Xander threw the bundle at the vampire.

Spike managed to swat the damp terrycloth away before it hit him, and then glared at Xander, as if he’d grown two heads. “What’s your problem?”

“Wet. Fucking. Towels!” Xander shouted. “I thought you had a soul. Doesn’t that mean anything?”

“Means something, yeah. Just not that I’m your bloody pool boy,” Spike replied, just as hotly, rising from the couch.

“You’re insane. I can’t believe I let you….” Xander broke off suddenly, unable to believe what he almost said.

Spike growled and launched himself at Xander. Their chests touched and the vampire pushed him against the wall. “I don’t recall you having a say in the matter, boy.”

Shit.

Suddenly the vampire’s lips were on his, kissing him possessively. Xander’s will crumbled and he didn’t struggle against Spike’s passionate onslaught. He opened his mouth, deepening the kiss.

When Spike pulled away, they were both panting. “That what you want, Xander? Why you’ve been snarking and tiptoeing around me all week?”

It was so like Spike to cut to the chase and not allow him to hide from feelings he didn’t know he had. Xander wanted, desperately, to say no, but couldn’t get the lie past his lips.

“Yes,” he whispered, admitting the truth to himself, as much as to Spike.

Desire flashed in Spike’s eyes, and he leaned in for another kiss. Xander barely managed to pull back, out of the way.  He made a strangled frustrated sound, before whispering. “I can’t.”

Spike’s eyes narrowed.

“Anya,” Xander replied and held up his hand, willing the vampire to make the connection.  

Light glinted off of his ring and understanding dawned in Spike’s eyes.  “That’s not just for show, is it?”

Shaking his head, Xander whispered, “No. I belong to Anya.”

Xander’s heart beat heavily with disappointment when Spike moved away. He laid his head against the wall, trying to get his breathing and his dick back under control.

“Call her.”

At the terse, command, his eyes flew to Spike’s. The vampire held up Xander’s cell phone. Xander looked at it owlishly, trying to figure out what the vampire meant. “Huh?”

Spike raised his eyebrows and repeated firmly, “Call. Her.”

Pulse pounding heavily in his ears, Xander scrolled through the address book and selected Anya’s number.

As it rang, Xander racked his brain for what to say. Anya, I think Spike wants to fuck me, is that okay? Or better yet …. Is it cheating if I get busy with the vampire you picked to do naughty things to me?

It seemed to take an eternity in between rings, which didn’t help Xander’s panic in the least. Part of him hoped fervently that the answering machine would pick up.

No such luck.

Anya’s bored voice answered the phone. “If this is a solicitation, forget it.”

Xander’s mouth went dry.  “Hi, uh..Ahn…Mistress?” he floundered.

“Yes, Xander?” He could hear the shift in her tone immediately, from Anya to Mistress.

Xander plunged ahead, saying the first words that popped into his mind before he lost the little nerve he had. “Mistress…I…um…Do I have permission to…be…with Spike?”

There was silence on the other end of the line and Xander’s stomach dropped somewhere around his knees.

“Is he there?” Anya asked, and Xander couldn’t read anything in her tone.  

He looked at Spike, startled to find the vampire studying him intently.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Let me speak with him.”

Xander swallowed thickly. “Yes, Mistress.”  He handed Spike the phone. “She wants to talk to you.”

“’lo.”  Spike drawled with a slight grin. His grin widened as he listened and Xander’s heart began to pound loudly once again. “You got it, ducks.”

Spike thumbed the power switch and tossed the phone carelessly over his shoulder.  The blazing look he gave Xander made his heart skip a beat.

“Looks like you’re mine tonight.”

“Yours?” Xander squeaked, unsure he’d heard correctly.

Spike pressed his chest to Xander’s once again. This time, however, his hand slid between Xander’s legs and cupped his swollen sex. “Yeah. Mine.”

Xander gulped.

“So what I think I want is you, naked, on your bed,” Spike whispered huskily. He squeezed his hand and Xander gave another undignified squeak. “Now.”





~*~



Spike stalled a bit, giving Xander time to get ready. Before heading in there himself, he made sure to thumb the latch on the front door, unlocking it.

The thought of seducing the boy was a heady thing. He’d been afraid that Anya wouldn’t want to share her toy anymore, but Xander had been too tempting to pass up.

He should have known better. She’d been uncharacteristically silent when she’d gotten on the phone, and then uttered only four words.

It had taken everything he had not to chuckle, because Xander would definitely have been put out.

“I want to watch.”

Xander looked beautiful, lying on the bed. Nervous as a virgin bride, he also thrummed with excitement. His cock lay heavy and straight on his belly, the purpled head slick and shiny.

Spike undressed slowly, watching Xander’s eyes widen, almost comically, as each piece of clothing was shed. As soon as he’d tossed his jeans aside, he crawled onto the bed, lying next to the boy.

“The other night was your first time with a bloke, yeah?” Spike asked softly, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,” Xander replied, and then flushed. “Um…I don’t know what to call you.”

“Tonight, Spike’s fine.”  Spike saw the boy’s eyes widen even further at the implication that there might be more nights.

“I want to touch you, Xander,” Spike whispered, grinning at the boy’s sharp intake of breath. “Show you what fun it is to be with a man, without the overhead of being Master and servant.”

He picked up Xander’s hand, bringing it to his burgeoning erection. “Want you to touch me, too.”  

“Okay,” Xander breathed.

Spike began his gentle exploration by tracing the boy’s throat. Pity that they didn’t have a collar; something in black leather would look striking. The scent of Xander’s arousal doubled.

“You smell so good, Xander. All hot and bothered.  You like being close this to me? Having me touch you? Hmmm?”

Xander made a strangled sound and Spike chuckled softly.

“Was just thinking you’d look lovely in a collar.” Spike nuzzled his neck and murmured, “You thinking about that, too?”

The hand stroking his cock stuttered briefly before continuing. “Y-Yes,” was the breathless response.

Spike smiled and rewarded him with a kiss.  “Such a good lad.”

He didn’t comment on the scars, but he didn’t avoid them either, as he traced the warm skin with his lips and fingers.   Once upon a time, that expanse of flesh would have been tan, kissed lovingly by the sun, but not anymore. Didn’t make the boy any less lovely, though. He was so pretty, stretched out before Spike, all willing and needy.

Softly, the bedroom door opened, and Xander froze as Anya walked in.

Spike didn’t bother turning around, he’d heard her, the second she’d entered the apartment. “Take a seat.”

She moved to a chair opposite the bed, swiftly clearing it of whatever debris Harris had accumulated there. “Don’t stop on my account.”

The boy looked between the two of them, almost fearfully.  Humans could be so squeamish about things. Spike cupped Xander’s cheek, drawing the boy’s gaze.  “Your lady wants a show and we’re going to give it to her. But as far as you’re concerned, tonight, it’s just us.  No looking to her for approval. She’s given it. Understand?”

Xander struggled for a moment with this directive. Understandable, since she was his Domme, but finally he capitulated. “I….yes, Master. Spike.”

“Good boy.” Spike captured his lips in a punishing kiss, not letting up until the boy relaxed beneath him.

When he pulled back, he was pleased to see the boy’s dazed eyes following his.  “Let’s make this good.”



~*~



Xander was still a little shaky. His insides and outsides felt like they’d been rearranged. Not like he was wearing an entrail suit, or anything, but the world had just gone upside down.

He and Spike had had sex. Not just sex, but SEX. In front of Anya.  His lips still tingled from the last kiss the vampire had given him, before he left to take a shower.

Anya sat down on the bed next to him. “That was amazing, Xander.”

Her face was flushed and her hair disheveled. Xander had heard her moans of pleasure as she touched herself while she watched the two of them.  He didn’t know if he was ashamed, or excited, to know that she was so aroused.

Pushing a strand of sweaty hair from his face, Anya asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” Xander nodded. “Thank you…for permission.”

She smiled gently. “This is something you need to explore, Xander.”

“I’m glad you were here, though,”  he admitted. “I’m still a little weirded out by the whole thing.”

Placing a kiss on his forehead, her fingers brushed over the ring she’d given him. “You trusted me to take care of you. And I will.” She rose.  “I’ll see you on Friday.”

“You don’t have to go,” Xander said softly. He almost reached out to take her hand, but stopped himself.

Studying him with a cautious expression, Anya asked, “Are you asking me to stay?”

“Only if you want to, Ahn,” he whispered, and then continued on in a rush, “I’m sorry, that was stupid. Forget I said anything.”

“Xander.” Anya touched his cheek. “Why is it so hard to tell me how you feel?”

“I just…I know you don’t want me that way.” He sighed

“What way?” Anya probed.

“Holding you. Touching you…sleeping with you. Really sleeping.” Xander looked away again. “It’s stupid, but I miss that.”

“Xander,” Anya said, looking at him pointedly. “Did I ever do, or say, anything to indicate that I would prohibit you from asking.”

“I thought that we weren’t dating. You said I was just your sub,” Xander replied. “I didn’t think it was my place.”

Anya frowned. “Everything about this relationship is your place, Xander.”

“Will you stay with me tonight, Anya?” he asked, in a low voice, fearful that he’d be rebuffed.  

“Yes.”

Xander felt like a huge weight was lifted from his shoulders.





~*~



The next morning, Anya wandered out of the boy’s room, wearing one of his shirts, several hours after Xander left for work. She looked surprised to see Spike leaning against the kitchen counter.

“I didn’t think you’d be up.”

“I was waiting for you.” Spike replied. He poured a cup of coffee and pushed it to her as she sat at the breakfast bar.  “Here.”

“Thank you.” Anya took a sip and then, without preamble, said, “We’ll need to set up some ground rules, I suppose.”

“Figured.” Spike didn’t bother protesting. This was the reason he’d waited up for her. Humans might be shy, talking about relationships of this sort, but they were demons. There was no reason to dance around.  “You sure you’re not gonna be jealous?”

She paused, taking another sip of her coffee. “No. He needs this. You give him something that I can’t.”

That intrigued him. “What?”

“Freedom to explore something he’s denied himself for a very long time. But,” she cautioned, “you have to be very careful with him. He’ll push himself too far, in order to please you.”

Spike nodded. That didn’t surprise him with Harris.

She outlined the rest of the rules and regs while she finished the pot of coffee and he  downed last two bags of the house red.  It was when she got up to go and get dressed that Spike finally asked the question he'd been mulling over for the last hour. “So, you gonna tell him you love him?”

Anya sighed unhappily and shook her head. “No. He wouldn’t believe me.”<




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