A Life Less Ordinary


by
C. Woodhaven



Part Nineteen

“Where is it?” Anya cried in frustration, slamming the drawer shut. Heedless of the fact that it rebounded slightly, she moved on to another location.

Spike leaned on the doorframe, looking over the disarray of the bedroom. “What you looking for, ducks?”

Anya just shook her head and continued her manic circuit of the room. Spike’s initial bemusement swiftly shifted to consternation, as she opened drawers, pawed through the contents and then slammed them shut again.

“I’m guessing it’s smaller than a breadbox,” he drawled when she lifted the lid of her jewelry box.

“Yes,” she hissed tersely, without looking at him.

Spike felt his temper rise. “You want me to leave? Just say the word.”

Anya whirled around, eyes blazing. “You were supposed to protect him!”

Guilt gnawed at his soul with rat-like teeth. It was the bloody tower all over again. “Know that. Know I failed.”

“How could you!” she demanded. “I trusted you.”

“He was protecting Dawn,” Spike defended. “There was no way I could get him out. She’d have died.”

“Then you should have let her die,” she replied coldly. She crossed her arms in front of her chest defiantly.

“It’s not what he wanted.” This had to be proof then that he truly had a soul, because it was being swallowed by anguish “You didn’t see him. He thought he was gonna die and still begged me to leave.”

And all at once, Anya’s defiance crumpled. Tears welled in her eyes.

Without thinking, Spike crossed the room and curled her into his arms. “I’m so sorry. I wish - ” Anya tensed and Spike swiftly amended his words. “Never wanted this to happen.”

“I don’t know what to do.” Anya sobbed. “I don’t know what to say. How to talk to him.”

There was a time and a place for mourning, but it had passed. What happened was over and Anya needed to learn to keep her grief to herself. Xander was due to be released tonight and Anya had to push past this. In less than the span of one of her heartbeats, Spike weighed and calculated what would sting enough to knock her out of this rut before it truly began. “I shoulda known you were the one to cut and run when things got difficult.”

“What?” Anya pulled away sharply, looking stunned and angry. Good.

“Or is it that you’re afraid he’s gonna be too disgusting to shag?” he asked nastily.

“How dare you!” Anya reared back and slapped him across the face.

Spike didn’t flinch.

“I love him. I don’t care how he looks!” Her eyes clouded with anger once again and she lifted her hand to strike him a second time. Spike easily blocked the blow, holding her wrist tightly.

“Feel that – the passion that burns under your skin for him? You remember it and hold it close to you, because Xander doesn’t need our pity,” Spike told her, his voice low. “He needs us to be strong for him.”

Understanding dawned on her face and Anya whispered, “He’s going to be devastated.”

“Not if we don’t let him. He gave up a huge thing so the Niblet could live. We owe him our respect.”

His message made it through. Anya straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin high. “It’s our job to take care of him.”

“Yeah, it is.” Spike withdrew the small piece of fabric from his pocket and pressed it into her palm, gently closing her fingers over it.

Anya glanced down at her closed fist. Small patches of black poked out from beneath her curled fingers. Her relief was palpable.

Spike tipped his head toward the shambles of their room. “Go get him; bring him home. I’ll clean this bit up.”

“Thank you,” she whispered.



~*~



The moon was just beginning to rise, peeking its head through the trees, when Giles joined Buffy on the porch.

He carefully sat down on the back step, next to her, and handed her a cup of coffee.

“Thanks,” she replied curtly. She wasn’t worried about the caffeine this late at night; she and sleep were no longer on speaking terms.

Taking a grateful sip, she steeled herself for the conversation she didn’t want to have.

“You can’t blame yourself, Buffy,” Giles advised. “About Xander.”

As if he needed to clarify what he was talking about. Anger rolled through her, threatening to boil over. “I don’t.”

Looking slightly taken aback, Giles replied, “Oh…well, that’s good.”

“I blame you,” Buffy said coldly.

Giles paled. “What?”

Plowing on, finally giving voice to the rage that was consuming her, Buffy replied, “For months you kept Wood’s identity from me. What happened out there is as much your fault as mine.

“You wanted to be my watcher, my mentor again. You wanted to have all the information and lord it over me.”

“I never…” Giles tried to defend himself, but Buffy continued on.

“You didn’t trust my judgment about Spike and withheld crucial information from me.” Buffy railed angrily. “You betrayed any trust I ever had in you.”

“You can’t believe that I would ever hurt you, or Xander,” Giles whispered indignantly.

Buffy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No. And that’s the only reason I’m allowing you to stay.”

The truth appeared to finally sink in and Giles looked stunned that she might send him away.

Buffy’s monumental anger and betrayal finally receded. “If you cross me again, you’re not welcome here.”

“What I did, I did for you,” Giles defended.

Buffy held his gaze. “Try explaining that to Xander.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander kept his remaining eye focused straight ahead as his fingers worked the buttons into their slots. He had to look forward, or a ripple of nausea tore through him. They said that there would be a problem with depth perception. What the fuck did they know? That was like saying Spike had a minor overbite problem.

Taking care to move slowly, Xander turned toward the door of the hospital room. Nausea of a different sort took up residence in his gut as Anya walked in.

“Hello, Xander,” she said with one of her over-bright, forced smiles.

Joy! The boundless false cheerfulness he was able to foist on Willow and Tara had finally found its bounds. “What are you doing here?”

“I brought this...I thought that you might want it.” Anya held out her hand.

Bonus that he managed to grab it on the first try. It made him sick that he actually counted that as a win.

He unraveled the string. It was an eye patch, either his old one, or one just like it. The tips of his ears burned with shame and he turned away mumbling, “Thanks.”

“Xander?” she said, and he realized he hadn’t heard that apprehensive tone in her voice in forever. Not since they’d made their arrangement, a lifetime ago.

He slipped off the temporary paper patch the hospital had provided, replacing it with the cloth one. Xander Harris the one-eyed freak; his look was complete. He didn’t turn around. Part of him hoped she’d just leave. No such luck.

“Xander?” she asked again.

Go away, he wanted to scream. Instead, he walked to the bed, intending to pick up his jacket and walking papers.

“Xander!” This time her tone was sharp…and it wasn’t Anya, it was his Mistress.

He turned around immediately, paperwork forgotten. Even though his feet stopped, the room made several more revolutions and his stomach lurched.

Anya was there in an instant, holding his arm so he didn’t lose his balance.

As soon as the nausea subsided, he whispered “Thank you, Mistress.”

She looked at him critically. “Tell me why you’re behaving his way?”

“How can you ask me that?” Xander replied with a bitter laugh. This was like the year he turned into his Halloween costume, without the possibility of parole.

Anya didn’t flinch at his harsh tone. “Because instead of talking to me you’re pushing me away. I’m here to take you home.”

Xander felt tears prick his good eye, the socket of his other one tightened painfully. “How could you –” he broke off, swallowing the rest of the words. He was so pathetic.

She gently lifted her hand, cupping his cheek. Her thumb stroked the patch lightly. “If you recall, I find you very attractive like this. I gave you many orgasms the last time you wore it.”

He couldn’t help it, Xander laughed again. This time it sounded only slightly deranged

Anya rose up on her toes and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “Come home, Xander.”

Where else did he have to go?


~*~*~*~*~


The trip to the apartment was an exercise in frustration. Stairs were difficult to navigate; even stepping over the curb was a chore, especially if it wasn’t a contrasting color with the pavement beyond. Regardless of what the doctors had told him, Xander was filled with the sick certainty that he was never going to adjust. He found himself closing his eye when it became too much, letting Anya guide him.

Thankfully, they rode the elevator up to her floor. There was no way he’d manage eight flights of stairs.

He felt marginally safer once the door closed behind them and Anya flicked the light switch, illuminating the foyer and casting deep shadows into the room beyond. Anya took his jacket as soon as he’d shrugged it off his shoulders and he was grateful. The same act would have probably taken him three attempts. She also took his paperwork and set it on the kitchen counter, sparing him the effort of navigating there as well.

Xander’s heart skipped as Spike stepped out of the darkness of the living room. The vampire rested a hand on his shoulder and he barely suppressed a flinch.

“Welcome home, Xander.” Spike’s cool blue eyes fixed on him, studying his face almost clinically. “You look rakish.”

He felt nervous laughter well up and threaten to spill over. Then Spike’s thumb pressed on his mark and the false mirth died just as swiftly.

Pale, cool lips brushed his before Spike whispered, “Strip.”

“What?” Xander asked, incredulous. His stomach plunged to his knees. Spike had to be kidding.

Anya was suddenly at his back, her hands firmly on his hips. “You heard him, Xander,” she said. Her tone was kind, but it brooked no argument. She pressed a kiss to his shoulder blade and stepped away.

Even though he ached for something, anything…to ground him, this wasn’t it. Xander desperately wanted to refuse and equally felt compelled to obey.

He felt his one good eye prick with tears as an overwhelming sense of helplessness set in, but he did as he was ordered. He tried to fold his shirt after he removed it, but his hands were shaking badly.

“Leave it.” Spike took his fabric from him and tossed it across the room. “Finish.”

Xander’s pants joined his shirt, and then his underwear, until he stood before Spike, naked. Except for the patch. Shame flooded him and he hung his head

“Posture,” Anya reminded him.

Even though he couldn’t see her, the sharp rebuke made him jerk his head up. There were so many emotions roiling inside, he thought they would begin clawing their way out of his throat any minute.

“I’m trying…” he whispered, embarrassed that his voice shook. He looked down again, his gaze skirting his flaccid cock before coming to rest on his bare feet.

Spike brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead. “Know that, brave boy. Just a little harder, yeah? You can do that for me. For us.”

If his words had been hard or cold, Xander would have refused. Instead, they were spoken in a low, sexy tone, with gentle persuasiveness. As disgusted as he was by his own appearance, it took everything he had to whisper, “Yes, Master, Mistress.”

Xander’s head weighed a thousand pounds as he lifted it. It took an eternity to square his shoulders; the muscles were concrete. He was thankful that he wasn’t required to lift his gaze. As it was, his jaw was clenched so tightly he was afraid his teeth would begin to crack any minute.

Spike ran a finger down his arm, tapping the fist Xander hadn’t realized he’d made. A small strangled sound escaped his lips. It was so hard to release it, but he was finally able to unfurl his fingers.

He felt Spike’s cool lips press to his shoulder, over his mark. “Good boy.”

Xander’s skin prickled and flushed with a strange, shameful pride, at the praise.

Spike stepped away as Anya’s warm and gentle fingers brushed over the tense muscles of his belly, skimming the trail of fine hair. Her breath tickled the skin of his bare back. He suddenly wished he could see her. See. The brutal truth crept in once again and made his stomach lurch. Anya stilled at once, shifting her position so she could study his face.

His cheeks burned under her scrutiny and he tightened his jaw further, hearing it creak. His pulse beat heavily in his ears.

“Look at me, Xander.”

He couldn’t do it and he couldn’t not. A war raged within him. He wanted to scream, protest, to tell them to leave him alone. He didn’t want to be obligated to comply; he wanted to leave, to find a small corner to lick his wounds, so to speak. Except he didn’t.

It took every ounce of strength to meet Anya’s gaze. Slowly she knelt before him, her lips level with his soft cock. He felt the flutter of something that surely wasn’t arousal low in his belly.

“I love you,” she whispered, placing a gentle kiss on his limp dick.

He felt the flicker of arousal grow at her words and then dampen once again. “How can you still w-want me?”

“I love you,” she repeated plaintively.

How can you love a freak like me? The words of denial died on his lips as she gently began bathing his cock with soft, kitten-like licks. “Oh god.”

Her warm mouth engulfed him. Xander shuddered as she started suckling him and he found it impossible not to respond to her ministrations. Part of him wanted this, needed this, to feel alive. Briefly he was reminded of when Buffy had died. He and Anya wound up in bed nearly every day for a month after, in a shamefully grateful celebration of life.

A cool tongue traveled up his neck. Spike.

“No holding back tonight, Xander,” the vampire whispered in his ear and that shameful, grateful feeling was back. He felt alive and was suddenly hard, so damn hard.

There was nothing tentative about his touch as he threaded his fingers into Anya’s hair, holding her to him. He knew he wasn’t supposed to and would probably be punished later, but he didn't care. The silky not-quite-red strands tickled the backs of his hands and Xander couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched her like this.

The distinct sound of crunching bone behind him did nothing to dampen his almost giddy arousal. In fact, it spurred him on. Xander tried not to thrust too deeply into Anya’s mouth because he didn’t want to choke her.

Sharp fangs drew slowly down his throat and Xander could feel the tingle of the scratches they left behind. The needlelike ivory rested directly over Spike’s mark.

Xander stiffened when Anya’s delicate fingers brushed his tight ball sac and began stroking the sensitive skin beyond. The whisper soft movements made Xander gasp.

The sound deepened into a moan as Spike’s fangs pierced his shoulder excruciatingly slowly. The pain was exquisite, as muscle parted under the vampire’s pleasurable assault. As soon as the sharp sting reached a dizzying apex, Spike retracted his fangs and began to feed. It was nothing like the last time he’d been bitten, but instinctively Xander knew that Spike wasn't trying to drain him.

Shuddering, Xander abandoned all care. His grip tightened in Anya’s hair as he fucked her face recklessly. His orgasm was a living thing, hatching in the base of his spine before growing outward and consuming every fiber of his being.

The sensation of both of his lovers drawing from him redoubled his pleasure, turning his limbs to jell-o. Spike’s grip tightened, keeping him upright effortlessly.

I love you, he thought, almost incoherently, unsure if he meant Anya, Spike or both.

A sudden, blissful blackness rushed toward him and Xander welcomed it.

And then… there was nothing.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander woke with a start. There was half a moment of panic when he thought he was still in the hospital but it subsided quickly when he heard the soft chuffing of Anya’s gentle snores. The soft in and out was comforting.

His shoulder ached and throbbed where Spike had sunk his fangs into the muscle, much more than the last time the vampire bit him. In a crazy way, though, it detracted from the dull ache in his eye, so, bonus.

Spike had fed from him, and not just a little - enough to make him pass out. Of course, the monumental orgasm the vampire and Anya had wrenched from him probably had something to do with the blacking out.

I wonder if this is how Riley felt - tired, content and kinda dopey? That thought was a little alarming. He remembered feeling disgusted and bit superior when he’d found out about Riley’s extracurricular activities. Paying vamps to suck your blood was major wiggins making.

But now? Just the thought of Spike biting him was enough to rouse Xander’s dick to half mast. Did that mean he was addicted to it? Xander poked at the feeling, trying to ascertain if he was, in fact, somehow addicted to Spike’s bite.

There was no way he could shy away from the fact that he liked being hurt during sex. He couldn’t put into words what it was like and honestly didn’t want to try. It didn’t matter that it was weird and twisted, or that people wouldn’t understand. Anya understood, and so did Spike, and that was finally enough.

That still didn’t cover the bite thing. What he was feeling was nothing like the bug eating hypnosis thing Dracula had put him under, thank god. And he didn’t have an itchy feeling or a need to be bitten.

At least he didn’t think so. But the thought of it made him a little crazy. A lot crazy, he amended as his cock twitched at the thought of ivory fangs.

Spike wasn’t in bed. That wasn’t a surprise. It was still dark out – vampy daytime. Even though the TV was silent, Xander had a feeling that he was out in the living room.

Carefully, Xander scooted to the edge of the bed and sat up. He waited a moment for the room to stop spinning before self-consciously smoothing his eye patch, making sure it was on straight. He was thankful that Spike and Anya had left the scrap of fabric in place when they’d put him to bed. Feeling a sick stab of discomfort, he slipped on a pair of boxers before heading toward the door.

A single lamp burned in the living room. Spike was naked, leaning next to the open picture window. The shade was bunched up and pushed to the side and he was smoking furiously, blowing the fumes out of the crack.

He turned, looking surprised when Xander walked in. “Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” he apologized softly. “Was trying to be quiet.”

“You were.” Xander replied, and then added with a shrug, “Your side of the bed was cold.”

Flicking the butt end of his smoke out of the window, Spike gave a final exhale before closing it. He smiled slightly. “My side of the bed’s always cold.”

Xander almost looked down in embarrassment, stopping just in time. He didn’t need the ripple of nausea. “I don’t really notice,” he mumbled.

“Hope you don’t mind that we left that on.” Spike gestured vaguely. He meant the eye patch.

And even though he could feel that it was in place, Xander touched it briefly, anyway, to make certain it was there. “No, thanks. I…” he shrugged as words abandoned him. “Thanks.”

“Can’t say I wasn’t interested in taking a look,” Spike admitted softly.

Xander’s heart started to pound, thoughts of asking about addiction and vampire bites driven completely out of his mind. “That’s not funny.”

“Wasn’t meant to be.”

Any lingering arousal Xander had felt was now gone. “You have a sudden desire to lose your lunch?”

“I’ve seen much worse,” Spike said, and then amended, “Been the cause of most of it.”

Xander felt his lips twist up in revulsion. “It’s disgusting.”

“It is, or you are?” Spike prodded.

“Same difference.”

Xander blinked with his good eye and Spike was suddenly there, inside his personal bubble. It was disorienting and he felt a flash of resentment as he struggled against losing his balance.

“That what really drove you out of bed, Xander?” Spike was so close that, if he’d had breath, it would have tickled Xander’s lips. Cool hands rested on his hips, thumbs teasing the elastic of his boxers.

The heavy thud of his heart pounded in his ears. “No. I thought….I mean, you bit me.”

Heat flared in Spike’s eyes, and suddenly Xander’s arousal was back. “Yeah, I did.”

“Does it mean…am I like Riley?”

Spike dipped his head, and Xander shivered as his tongue bathed the fresh wounds.

“Why, cause you liked it?”

Shame and excitement warred within him. “Yes.

“Bet you touch this, when you’re alone: in the shower or getting dressed,” Spike murmured against his bruised skin. “You think of just any vamp when you do that?”

His eye slipped shut. “No, only you.”

The vampire grinned, lips curving against Xander’s hyper-sensitive skin. “And if I never bit you again, you think you’d offer yourself, body and soul, to just any of the fanged and wrinkly brigade you stumbled on?”

Xander carefully shook his head. The thought of another vamp biting him terrified him in an I-don’t-want-to-die way, unlike when he thought of Spike, which was so much closer to take-me-I’m-yours.

As if Spike had read his mind, he whispered huskily, “You like the bite because it means you’re mine.”

“Yes,” Xander affirmed.

Spike’s hands left his hips. Xander knew what was coming, even before the cool fingers brushed his face. The skin around his damaged eye tightened as cool air bathed the wound.

“Look at me, Xander?” Spike asked plaintively. His voice was calm and it was very clearly not an order. “Please.”

Xander couldn’t force his good eye open.

“What are you so afraid of?” Spike’s voice was still calm.

Fear clawed at his throat, but he forced himself to answer. “That you won’t want me anymore.”

“Can’t promise I’ll be with you forever, but it’s gonna take more than a bloody bit of skin to make me leave.”

“There’s pus, too,” Xander whispered weakly. “I know there’s pus.”

Spike took Xander’s hand and wrapped it around his cool, hard cock. “Does it feel like I don’t want you?”

The velvet steel beneath his palm went a long way toward making him feel less apprehensive. Slowly, Xander forced his good eye open.

Blue eyes studied his face for a long moment. Xander felt his cheeks flush, but he kept his gaze focused on Spike.

“Believe me when I tell you, it’s not bad, Xander.”

Xander’s throat tightened at Spike’s obviously heartfelt words, and he withdrew his hand.

Spike looked disappointed but didn’t try to stop him. “Does it bother you that ‘m still aroused?”

“Yes. No.” Xander ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know anymore, Spike.”

“What if I told you I could make it a bit better? Speed the healing along. Would you let me?”

Xander froze. “What do you mean, better?”

For the first time the shadow of sadness passed through Spike’s eyes. “Not what you’re hoping, but could smooth the rough edges. Do in minutes what could take a couple of weeks.”

Even though his mouth went dry, Xander tried to joke. “It doesn’t involve licking, does it?”

Spike shook his head. Slowly, deliberately, the vampire ran his thumbnail across his chest, leaving a scarlet wake.

Xander ignored the fissure of fear that zinged through his belly and pressed his lips to the wound. The first tang reminded him of sucking on a paper cut, trying to get it to stop bleeding.

“Can’t just taste, pet,” Spike whispered. “Got to drink from me.”

Xander deliberately drew from the wound and a heavy copper taste flooded his mouth. He forced himself to swallow. It was an odd sensation, feeling the ruined skin on his face begin to knit together. He took another mouthful and then a third.

The wound on Spike’s chest was closing now, and without thinking about it Xander prodded it with his tongue.

Spike sucked in a breath. “God, yeah. That’s it, love.”

This time the zing was something other than fear. Images flooded his mind, too many to catalog. Lust, power, need, want, desire, came through loud and clear from the blood.

Xander pulled back. His lips tingled and felt stained. Automatically, his tongue darted out to cleanse the last remnants of Spike’s blood away.

The vampire’s eyes tracked his movements and Xander’s nerves screamed predator. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, that wasn’t a turn-off at all.

Xander hooked his hand around the back of Spike’s neck, pulling him in for a punishing kiss. His emotions were going haywire; all he knew was that he needed Spike. Now.

Any semblance of control gone, Xander dragged Spike to the couch. The bedroom was too far. Spike went down first, pulling Xander on top of him. Warm hands traced cool flesh anywhere and everywhere they could. Slipping out of his boxers, Xander groaned as their bare cocks touched. He ground himself down, rocking against Spike.

Suddenly, Xander froze, the reality of what he was doing crashed down around him. He pulled back panting, the word Master on his lips. But he didn’t want to speak it.

Spike’s voice was husky when he spoke. “Don’t pull away, love. I like feeling you against me.”

“Do you?” Xander asked, warily. This was uncharted territory between them.

Arching his hips up, Spike whispered, “Yeah.” It was accompanied by a needy, breathless sound.

Tentatively, Xander ran his hand down Spike’s pale thigh. His fingers slipped further down and brushed against Spike's puckered entrance. “Is this okay?” he whispered.

“More than.” Spike reached under the couch cushion and handed Xander a tube of lube.

Hand’s shaking, Xander quickly applied the slick gel to his fingers and began stretching Spike.

The vampire’s legs parted wantonly as he pressed down onto Xander’s fingers, hissing, “Yesss...”

Xander had worked three fingers into the Spike’s tight passage when he heard the bedroom door open.

Anya sat down in the chair opposite them. The same one where she’d grilled him with her clipboard a lifetime ago. She didn’t speak. She didn’t have to. Slowly, deliberately, she untied the belt at her waist. Her silken robe parted.

Trembling, Xander turned away and squirted more of the gel into his hand. He nervously spread it up and down his cock. His pulse pounded loudly in his ears, and he kept expecting one of them to tell him to stop what he was doing, that this wasn’t his place.

Suddenly, Anya’s words came back to him full force. Everything about this relationship is your place, Xander.

He felt the last vestiges of tension leave him, as he realized neither one of his masters was going to punish him for this.

Carefully lining himself up, Xander pressed his cock to Spike’s prepared hole. This was something he never thought he’d do in a million years. He desperately wanted it to last, but he was so worked up, that was impossible.

Spike’s groans and curses spurred him on, as did the soft sighs from Anya. He wrapped his still slick hand around Spike’s shaft as he fucked him.

Xander had to close his eye because the room began to swim. He heard an inhuman growl, and the distinct crunch of bone. The thought that Spike might bite him again nearly sent him over the edge. “Spike, I can’t,” he panted. He worked his hand faster and faster, driving Spike toward release.

Impossibly strong legs wrapped around his hips, pulling him in deeper. “Don’t hold back. Want to feel you fill me up with your spunk.”

The words sent him over the edge. Anya too, if her sharp cry was any indication.

“Oh, god.” Xander shuddered, pouring his orgasm into Spike. He pumped wave after wave of bliss into his lover, and with it went the feelings of being unwanted and unworthy.

Moments later, the vampire stiffened beneath him. And as ribbons of Spike’s release coated Xander’s hand and belly, he felt even more of the despondence left in the wake of Wood's attack slip away. He was wanted and cared for. Anya and Spike had proven that many times over tonight.

Emotionally and physically exhausted, Xander slumped forward. He pressed a soft kiss to the vampire’s now warm chest. “See, not cold.”

“Git,” Spike chuckled softly, but his gentle hands traced comforting paths up and down Xander’s back.

“Laugh it up,” Xander replied wearily. “You’re the one who’s gonna have to carry me to bed. Again.”

Xander didn’t realize that he’d left the patch in the living room until well into the next morning, when he found it sitting, abandoned on a small end table.<





Part Twenty

Xander slipped quietly through the front door, feeling like a thief in the night because he was trying to sneak in. Spike and Anya had walked him to Buffy's house because Sunnydale wasn’t safe anymore. It was like the clueless population had finally bought a vowel. They were leaving the city in droves. Once they’d arrived, though, Spike had insisted on paying homage to the Marlboro man and Anya volunteered to be his backup. He appreciated them letting him enter the house under his own steam. It seemed, he’d used up all his fortitude going through the front door.

Here we go, Xander thought and shoved his hands into his pockets to stop them from shaking. He plastered a wide grin on his face. “Good to be seen.”

Willow bounded over to him. “I saved you a cookie. In the kitchen.”

“Nothing says love like Mrs. Fields,” he said with a grin. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Willow beamed.

Xander made his way to the kitchen. He really needed his pain meds. Spike’s blood had healed the outside wound, but the headaches remained as his one eye tried to compensate for its missing mate. That was slowly getting better, but the trek across town had roused a thumping big dragon in his skull.

So lost in thought, Xander didn’t notice the ease with which he selected a glass from the kitchen cupboard, something that would have been difficult just a day before. He got some water from the tap and shook two of the small white pills into his hand.

“You okay?”

He turned and smiled at Buffy. “Yeah. Sure. Just about to bask in the wonders of modern medicine.”

Buffy’s solemn gaze moved between his cupped hand and his patch. He saw a thin film of tears form in her eyes. “Xander, I – ”

“Please don’t,” he said, cutting her off. Whatever she was going to say was going to sound like an apology and he couldn’t take it. “Just tell me we got information on how to stop Wood and the First.”

She blinked rapidly to clear her tears before nodding. “Yeah, we did. Dawn’s been frantically translating and showing new and scary levels of organizational skills that somehow never make it into her schoolwork.”

“Watcher in training. Giles must be proud.” A shadowed expression that Xander couldn’t quite place crossed Buffy’s face. “What?”

“Nothing. Forget it.” Buffy waved her hand dismissively and then pointedly changed the subject, “I think Dawn’s done setting up her charts and graphs. I’ll save you a chair.”

Xander could have probed, but his head was still pounding from the headache. “You sure you can wrestle one away from the potentials?”

“No problem. I haven’t taught them all of my moves yet.”


~*~*~*~*~


Everyone was gathered around the table in concentric rings, or at least, in concentric ovals. Scoobies new and old were seated closest to Dawn, the potentials were next, while Spike, Anya and Giles formed an uneasy alliance apart from everyone, weirdly like a trio of chaperones.

True to her word, Buffy had not only cleared a chair for him, but it was the one next to Willow.

“I think I’m digging the whole Jack Sparrow thing.” Willow grinned as he flopped into his chair as casually as he dared.

“Thanks,” Xander smirked. “I’m thinking of getting dred-locks and a pirate hat.”

“No way, dude. You got to go with the parrot and a peg leg.” Oz chimed in. “That’s classic.”

“That’s what I told him,” Anya called out from the cheap seats. God, he loved her.

“She says that now.” Xander lifted his brows and deadpanned. “Note how the tune would change if I brought a parrot to the apartment.”

Spike snorted. “You two squawk enough during the day. Don’t need a bird to add to the din, thanks.”

“Looks like somebody’s grouchy about losing his beauty sleep,” Faith chimed in.

As the banter continued, Xander felt himself relax. Things were starting to feel normal again, something he'd thought would never happen. Watching Dawn fidget with the scrolls and her notes, he was reminded of Willow back in high school when she took over for Ms. Calendar.

“I-is everybody ready to get started,” Dawn asked, her voice shaking a little as her eyes darted around the room nervously.

“Hey kiddo. Chill.” Faith said with a grin. “We’re here. We’re listening.”

Dawn gave her a grateful look. “Okay…these are the scrolls we took from the office at the vineyard. There’s a ton of information in them, and Willow and I finally got them sorted into some kind of order. We think they are like an early version of the Watcher Diaries, put together by someone named L’Duun.”

Giles tensed. “What did you say?”

Dawn traced her finger down a column. “L’Duun,” she read slowly. “At least I think I’m pronouncing it right: La Doone?”

“Maybe it’s like Cher,” Tara offered. “Or Madonna.”

“The Scrolls of L’Duun.” Giles said with wonder. “I thought those were a myth, much like the holy grail. Except, of course, the grail actually existed. However instead of holding the blood of Christ…”

“Can we stay on topic, Giles?” Buffy asked, and Xander couldn’t miss the edge of irritation in her voice.

Giles paled slightly, looking stung. “Nuris L’Duun. She was referred to as the Great Chronicler. Much of what we know about the early slayers was penned by her. The scrolls were said to have taken her a lifetime to complete and are the oldest written record of the slayer line. They were lost more than a thousand years ago. Only a single fragment remained, which the council used in rituals determining where the next slayer had awakened.”

Dawn shifted through the pile. She slid a tattered piece of parchment to the top. “Probably the rest of this one. It’s full of spells.”

Xander noticed her eyes skittered over the large, very old looking, rust colored splotch across the diagonal tear. His stomach flipped as he realized it was blood. “I’m guessing she didn’t give it to the council willingly.”

“No. There are rumors that she had a falling out with the council, but they are based on speculation, rather than fact. L’Duun simply disappeared. Overnight, she vanished, her abode was ransacked and the scrolls were lost.”

“So, what’s in these loony scrolls?” Buffy asked, impatiently.

“At the vineyard, Xander said something about Slayer lines,” Spike chimed in. “Meaning more than one. How about we start with that?”

Dawn suddenly looked uneasy. “The scrolls do mention multiple lines. The more demon activity there was, the more slayers were called. She suggested that the power was inherited somehow. Multiple girls in the same family being called – like two cousins around the same age.”

“Don’t know why this is a surprise to you lot,” Spike said. “World’s a big place, there’s lots of evil in it. Didn’t you ever wonder why there was only one?”

The potentials all looked uneasily at one another. “What about you?” Vi asked, in a timid sort of challenge. “Didn’t you ever wonder?”

“Course I did,” Spike said, cold blue eyes focused on her. “But it makes them bloody hard to track down, don’t it? Rumors floating here and there, but by the time you ferret them out, they’ve died and the next one’s risen. Look at the one Dru bagged…she was called what? A year? Less? You could spend your whole unlife tracking them across the globe like breadcrumbs. I thought it was a defensive thing.”

“So what happened to them?” Oz asked, his expression somber.

“They…died out,” Dawn mumbled vaguely, looking away.

“Like they all came down with a case of slayer pox at the same time?” Rona asked sarcastically, “That’s just great. Let’s hope the First doesn’t get his hands on that.”

Faith ignored the potential, looking at Dawn. “What aren’t you telling us Gidget?”

“The Watchers…” Dawn looked uneasily toward Giles. “They killed them.”

“What?” The question echoed around the room in half a dozen voices.

Dawn continued staring at the scrolls. Xander got the distinct impression she wasn’t translating so much as avoiding everyone’s eyes. “They captured and slaughtered every potential slayer in each line, before eliminating she who had been chosen. They bound her powers immediately before killing her to ensure the line died with her.”

The room exploded, everyone shouting and talking at once. Xander felt like the wind had been knocked out of him.

“That’s what’s going on now, isn’t it?” he said when things calmed down. “We thought it was the First all along…but it wasn’t. It was Wood. He planned all of this from the beginning.”

Willow looked briefly at Dawn, before admitting, “Yeah. We’re pretty sure he did. There’s even a super-strength spell in here, for summoning the power of a slayer. All you need is the blood of a slayer, and…a vampire.”

“We think Amanda was the slayer,” Dawn added solemnly. “Potential blood might have counted. Or…she could have been the next one that was going to be called.”

Spike crossed his arms and shot a defiant look at Giles. “And it wasn’t just any vampire, was it?”

Reluctantly, Dawn shook her head. “No. It had to be one that killed a slayer.”

Xander almost felt bad for Giles. Buffy didn’t even turn to look at the watcher…which was even worse. Xander could feel the cold front of her anger from where he sat and watched helplessly as Giles’ head dropped with shame. “Enough with the bad news. Is there anything in there about how to defeat Wood, or the First?”

Dawn shook her head. “No.”

“Why?” Tara asked softly.

“It wasn’t from lack of trying,” Dawn defended herself. “It’s just not here! There’s a whole section missing…maybe it’s in there.”

Tara didn’t flinch at Dawn’s outburst. She continued on in the same concerned tone of voice, “I meant, why did they kill the slayers? Do the scrolls say?”

Dawn flushed guiltily. “Sorry. It’s been a long couple of days. It says here that the council found it too difficult to manage multiple lines. Slayers were proliferating at an unmanageable rate, so they systematically eliminated every single line…until there was only one left.”

“One girl in all the world,” Giles recited bitterly. “I had no idea.”

Xander, it’s time. Willow’s voice spoke in his head. Subtle, she was not, but this was too big to leave to chance,.

“We have to find that missing section. It’s the key,” Buffy said. “It’s got to be at the vineyard. Wood had to have moved it there, once the high school closed. We have to go back and get it.”

Rona snorted in disbelief. “Are you crazy?”

“Excuse me?” Buffy asked coldly. “I wasn’t asking for opinions.”

“That’s the trouble with you, B. You never ask for opinions,” Faith said angrily. “You just barrel ahead.”

“Do you have a better idea?” Buffy challenged.

“Yeah. Let’s talk this over. Or have Red do a spell to find it,” Faith offered.

Rona gestured triumphantly toward Faith. “See? Now that makes sense.”

“I’ve already done one. It’s shielded.” Willow said quietly. “I could try another one.”

“No.” Buffy shook her head. “It’s there. I know it. This is not a democracy. It's a hard truth, but there has to be a single voice. You need someone to issue orders and be reckless sometimes, and not take your feelings into account. You need someone to lead you.

Anya calmly apprised her. “And it's automatically you. You really do think you're better than we are.”

Buffy shook her head. “No, I – ”

Ignoring her protest, Anya continued on. “But we don't know. We don't know if you're actually better. I mean, you came into the world with certain advantages, sure. That's the legacy.”

“I –” Buffy interjected again, but Anya cut her off.

“But you didn't earn it,” Anya challenged. “You didn't work for it. You've never had anybody come up to you and say you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn't make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us.”

“I've gotten us this far.” Buffy protested.

Guilt ate at his soul and Xander deliberately kept his gaze from Spike. “But not without a price.”

Buffy looked like she’d been punched in the gut. “Xander –”

“I'm trying to see your point here, Buff...but I guess it must be a little bit to my left...” he shook his head. “'cause I just don't.”

“Look, I'm willing to talk strategy,” Buffy offered. “ I'll hear suggestions on how to break this down, but this is the plan. We have to be together on this or we will fail again.”

Giles finally spoke up. “We are clearly demonstrating that we are not together on this!”

All pretense of civility was gone. Buffy replied angrily, “Which is why you have to fall in line! I'm still in charge here.”

“Why is that, exactly?” Rona asked suddenly.

“Because she’s the slayer,” Spike replied coldly.

Rona snorted. “But isn't Faith a slayer, too?”

Faith looked caught off guard, “What? Whoa, whoa, whoa. So not what I meant. I'm not in-charge chick. I think B here needs to just...chill out for a little bit, take a siesta or something. But I'm not the one you want.”

“We’re not arguing about this,” Buffy replied.

Dawn took a deep breath and looked at Xander and then to Buffy. “You’re right. We’re not. You need to leave.”

There were several surprised gasps and then the room grew as silent as death. Buffy’s eyes widened with a combination of shock and disbelief. “What?”

“We do all have to be together, Buffy. And if you’re not with us…you need to leave.” Dawn replied. “This is my house, too.”

“Bit, you’re making a big mistake,” Spike warned.

Dawn looked away, but didn’t back down.

Tears glazed Buffy’s eyes but didn’t fall. Silently, she pushed her chair away from the table. The potentials parted like the Red Sea, clearing a path for her.

As the door closed behind Buffy, Spike’s gaze turned to him. “Xander?” he asked, half in anger and half in disbelief.

Xander couldn’t take the scrutiny either. He looked uncomfortably away. “I’m sorry, Spike.”

“Got that right.” Spike glared at him and then his eyes swept the rest of the room. “Some friends you lot turned out to be.”

Xander felt a not-quite unexpected stab of jealously as Spike turned on his heel and swept out of the room after Buffy.

Unsurprisingly, Anya was suddenly behind him, resting her hand on his shoulder, deliberately placing it over Spike’s mark. The play within the play within the play. Xander was getting dizzy trying to keep up with all the subterfuge he was supposed to subterfuging. “It will be all right,” she said.

“No, it won’t,” Xander replied softly, because while his words and actions had been manufactured, he knew that Spike’s weren’t.





Part Twenty-One

“Ding Dong the witch is dead.” Rona crowed as the door closed behind Buffy and Spike.

“Shut up!” Dawn shouted.

“Dawn,” Xander said softly, putting his hand on her arm. He was relieved and disappointed that Anya stepped away. Necessary for the charade, but he liked the comfort of her touch.

Angrily Dawn glared at Rona and whispered, “Bitch.”

Xander squeezed her hand briefly. “It’s gonna be okay, Dawnie”

“She’s gone.” Dawn put her hands to her face, sobbing. Susan Lucci had nothing on the Summers girls. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

Rona snorted. “I say we’re better off.

Honest anger flared in his chest at the whispered ripple of agreement that went though the group of potentials and he wanted to scream. “Do we really need the color commentary from you?” he asked.

“Is that a black thing?” Rona retorted hotly.

“No, it’s a respect thing,” Xander replied. “If you’d drop the chip on your shoulder long enough, you’d see that.”

“Guys, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” Oz said quietly.

“I agree,” Giles said. “We still need to determine the appropriate course of action. Willow, what type of location spell did you perform?”

“I ran standard ones and a couple that were more tricky. I even tried using a piece of the scroll…” she broke off at Giles’ scandalized expression. “It was a tiny piece. Like a speck! You’d never know it was missing.”

Faith interceded, “Calm down, Red. Whatever you had to do was what we needed right?”

Willow looked relieved. “Yeah.”

“So if the spells don’t work what else is there?”

“We could try an ethereal translocation spell,” Tara offered softly.

Xander screwed his face into one of confusion, which he realized wasn’t quite so easy with the patch. “For those of us who don’t speak witch-ese I say: huh?”

“You walk the ethereal plane, looking for an object,” Tara explained, “When you find it, you touch it, leaving an imprint of your aura behind…to use as a beacon.”

“A little magic glow in the dark paint. I like it,” he said, nodding with approval. He was happy to see that quite a few of the potentials were nodding with him.

Willow pulled her pained expression, and Xander wondered how much of her reluctance was real and how much was feigned. “Honey. I don’t think I’m ready for that. I could get lost…or evil.”

“Great, the Wicca who won’t-a,” Rona muttered nastily. “What good is it having a witch if she’s afraid of doing spells?”

Tara looked at the girl sharply. “I wasn’t thinking of Willow. I was going to do it.”

Willow shook her head. “It’s too dangerous. If you get lost…”

“You’ll be here to ground me.” Tara replied confidently, slipping her hand into Willow’s.

Looking both blissful and apprehensive, Willow began, “I’m –”

Faith cut her off. “Look, it sounds like we’re out of options. You wanted me to lead, so I’m leading. Tara, whatever you need to do, do it. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“Let’s get to work.” Dawn said, and Xander was pleased that she pulled herself together. “What do you guys need?”


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy moved as quickly as she could though the woods. Part of her was reminded of her cross-town sprint to catch Riley so long ago. She hoped desperately that her journey tonight ended better.

“How am I gonna find this thing?” Buffy asked for the fifteenth time.

“You’ll find it,” Willow assured her patiently.
Again.

Dawn pointed to the scroll. “This verse says: When the time is right, the veil will be lifted for the Chosen One.”

“That could mean anyone,” Buffy argued. “Besides, I’ve been there dozens of times. There’s nothing but an empty field. Vamps don’t even hang out there.”

Sighing in frustration, Dawn shook her head. “We’ve been over this. It’s you.”

Buffy capitulated. “All right. You win. Are you gonna tell Xander?”

Willow nodded. “Yeah, I got him covered. And Faith and Oz.”

“I can tell Spike,” Dawn offered, as she began rolling up the scrolls.

Buffy grabbed her sister’s wrist and shook her head. “No.” Both Willow and Dawn looked at her, surprised. “Just trust me on this. We can’t tell Spike.”



~*~*~*~*~


The screen of trees finally came to an end. Buffy slowed and approached the clearing cautiously. No matter how careful they’d been, Wood or the First still could have figured out their plan.

She slipped behind a great oak tree and paused, listening.

It didn’t take long to hear the distinct sound of branches cracking as someone made their way through the forest. At least it wasn't the First.

She waited tensely as the sounds drew closer. A stick snapped directly behind her. She whirled around, striking whoever it was square in the nose.

“Owww!” Spike shouted, his hands flying to his face. “What the hell was that for?”

He began rolling the bridge of his nose between his fingertips, looking for a break.

“Spike…” Buffy hissed. “What are you doing here?”

The pained look on his face changed to confusion. He dropped his hands to his sides and replied defensively, “I thought you’d need a shoulder to cry on - and a hand fighting the good fight. My mistake.”

Buffy sighed, she really didn’t need this right now. “I’m fine, really. Thanks.”

His eyes narrowed, becoming wary and full of suspicion. “What’s going on? And why the hell are you here? The vineyard is on the other side of town.”

Glancing guiltily around for a long moment, she finally dragged her eyes up to meet his. “I can’t tell you,” she admitted.

“Don’t play the martyr, Buffy. You need a friend and I’m the only one you got left.”

“Spike, believe me when I say I need you gone. Now,” Buffy urged. Spike looked incensed, and she really didn’t blame him, but he was just gonna have to get over it. “I don’t have a lot of time.”

Without waiting for his answer, Buffy turned, peering around the trunk of the nearest tree, scanning the open field beyond. “Now, if I were a temple, where would I hide?” she murmured.

Buffy froze as a pyramid materialized in the center of the field. The entrance was open, flanked by two torches with flames flickering merrily.

“What the bloody hell is that?” Spike asked.

“I think it’s what I’m looking for.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander watched as Tara set up the fake spell. Actually, for all he knew, it was a real spell. Willow had been sketchy on the details; they really hadn’t had much time to talk. His job was to follow the leader to make it look like everyone was turning on Buffy. He’d been allowed to tell Anya, but not Spike. Willow had been very clear on the why, but it still sucked.

Trying to take his mind off of the tense knot in his belly, Xander studied Rona. The rest of the potentials were grouped together, huddled at the far side of the room, but she was several feet to his right, standing alone. Her arms crossed and she was watching the spell proceedings intently.

Suddenly, she turned and looked at him sharply. “You got a problem?”

Xander shook his head. “Nope.”

She studied him closely for a few moments, before saying, “I gotta run to the ladies. Excuse me.”

Willow caught his eye and he heard the frantic Now echo in his head.

“I think someone’s in there. You may have to knock.” Xander offered, raising his voice deliberately. Right on cue, Tara’s chanting stopped and all eyes turned to toward them. “That won’t be a problem, will it?”

Without waiting for a response, he balled up his hand into a fist and punched her directly in the chest. Instead of striking the solid wall of her breast bone, his fist plunged effortlessly through the nothingness of her chest and out the other side. “Oops.”

The First’s drew away, its eyes narrowing, which turned Rona’s expression into something cold and nasty. “How’d you know?”

“Wasn’t hard, with the corpse and all,” Faith snorted.

And just like Buffy had predicted, Rona’s features bled swiftly into Spike’s. He saw a flicker of understanding flash across the First’s face as it accessed his lover’s most current memories.

“This isn’t over, boy,” Spike snarled angrily, eyes flashing for a brief moment before vanishing.

In its wake, there was a swell of surprised questions and angry tears from the remaining potentials. Giles looked stunned. Dawn and Oz moved into action, trying to calm everyone down. “Yes, yes. We’ll explain everything.”

“That went well,” Willow said wryly.

“I thought so,” Xander agreed. He forced himself to keep his tone light, even though his stomach was rolling. He had no idea how things were going to play out when he finally caught up with Spike, but not good was campaigning to be at the top of the list.


~*~*~*~*~


“You’re not going in there alone,” Spike admonished, following Buffy as she left the safety of the wood and approached the temple.

“Yeah, I am,” she replied. “I have to. We need answers.”

Spike grabbed her arm, pulling her around to face him. “No, you’re not. Least not until you tell me what the hell’s going on. Feel like I joined a play half way thought the second act.”

“That’s because you did.” Buffy pulled her arm away but then rolled her eyes, finally giving in. “They killed Rona at the vineyard. The First’s been using her to spy on us.”

“So you lot cut me out. Easy as that?” he asked coldly, feeling a cold bright spark of anger flare in his chest.

“No, it wasn’t easy. But we had to,” she shook her head and sighed in that way she had when she’d decided to finally give up information that she’d kept close to the vest. “The First becomes you, Spike. With your thoughts and memories, everything. This was too big to risk. Whatever’s here, in this temple, is going to help us win.”

The spark of anger began to kindle into something larger. No wonder Xander hadn’t stood up for her. He’d been in on the ruse. Spike forced himself pushed down the feelings of being left out and concentrated on the now. He'd deal with the boy later. “What’s to stop the First from popping in there after you?”

Buffy glanced at the temple. “Just a feeling.”

“I suppose you want me to toddle off back to the house and wait?” Spike asked, unable to keep the resentment out of his tone.

“Or you could stand guard,” Buffy suggested, a grin tugging at her lips.

At least she wasn’t treating him like he was totally useless. “Yeah, I could do that.”

He thought she’d make a beeline toward the entrance, but instead she surprised him by putting her hand on his arm. “And, Spike. Thanks. For coming after me.”

She gave him a rare, genuine smile. The one she reserved for her friends. “Xander said you would, but I wasn’t so sure.”

Gobsmacked, he stammered, “I, yeah. ‘Course. I would.” And didn’t that sting. His lover not only expected to be cast aside for Buffy, Xander also had more faith in him than the Slayer had.


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy passed through the opening and down the short flight of steps into a wide room. It was illuminated by dozens of sconces and lamps. Toward the back, there was a shrine set into the wall and series of columns evenly dispersed throughout the space.

An old woman stepped out from behind one of the far columns. Her long robes swept the floor and she wore a pleased smile. “You’ve arrived.”

“Looks like,” Buffy agreed, warily. “Who’re you?”

“Forgive me, I assumed you knew.” The woman bowed deeply in formal greeting. “Welcome Slayer, I am Nuris L’Duun.”<




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