Lost in the Dark, Cleansed in the Flame


by
Margie



Part Seventeen
Alive Again

Xander stood at the top of the stairs and inhaled a deep, fortifying breath. Spike was asleep in bed, the emotional tsunami having finally died down within his lover. Xander's body was still sore from their lovemaking, but they'd both needed it desperately. And Xander knew that being with Spike, having Spike, was one of the few things that would ease the hollow ache of missing that place. Wherever it was that he'd been. Wherever it was that had made him feel so... so peaceful.

He took a step down and felt almost battered with the thrum of emotional energy coming from the group of people he knew were huddled together and waiting in the living room. He still felt the echoes of Spike's own grief, both for his death and the necessity of his resurrection. He steeled himself for the onslaught of volatile emotion he knew he'd meet downstairs.

The moment he stepped off the last stair, Dawn was in his arms.

"Xander!"

"Hey, Dawnie."

Xander felt the hot splash of her tears on his neck. They burned; small pinpricks of pain stinging his flesh. Xander wondered if he'd always feel like this, raw and sensitive to the touch. If this were a consequence, a trade off for his renewed life, or if it would fade over time.

They stood together for long minutes. Xander could hear the others milling restlessly around them. Knew that each wanted their turn with him. Wanted to see for themselves that he was back with the living. Dawn didn't say a word; she just held him and shook in his arms. Xander soothed away her tears, and kissed her cheek before letting her go.

Tara stepped forward then. She didn't say a word, only hugged him shyly and then stepped back.

Giles was next, their hug was full of quiet emotion and hardy slaps to the back. Giles gave Xander's shoulder one final squeeze before stepping back for his Slayer.

Then Buffy was standing in front of Xander, tears bright in her eyes. She smiled at him and waited. And when Xander finally opened his arms to her, she flew forward throwing all the slight weight of her body against him.

"It's okay, Buff. I'm here. I'm back." He couldn't help reassuring her, though his voice was raw and rough. Xander knew that part of Buffy's distress had to do with the fact that he'd been hurt doing what she'd always taken as her own responsibility; saving the world, keeping everyone safe.

"I know. God. God, I'm sorry, Xander. I'm so sorry." Buffy's words were muffled against his shoulder.

"Shhh. It's not your fault, Buffy." Xander rubbed soothing circles along her back. "It's no ones fault. Okay? I volunteered, remember?"

It took a lot longer to reassure Buffy than it had Dawn, but Xander was patient. Finally, he turned toward Willow. Her green eyes were large, the tears making them seem almost luminescent.

"Hey, Wills."

Then Willow was in his arms, her tiny body wracked with sobs. "Xander, thank God! You're back! Thank God!" Willow kept repeating the words, and clinging to him. Xander hugged her back and found himself spouting even more reassurances.

A part of him wanted to lash out at them. To ask why he had to be the one to offer all the reassurances, all the inspirational quotes. Of course he was glad to know they'd missed him, that they'd been devastated at his loss. But the other part, the selfish part, wondered why of all the people who claimed to love him, Spike was the only one who'd apologized. The only one who'd understood what Xander had lost by being resurrected.

At last Willow released him and Xander sank down onto the sofa. Giles studied him with concern, reaching out to place a warm hand on Xander's shoulder. "How are you feeling, Xander?"

"Tired." Xander pinched the bridge of his nose, the beginnings of a headache coming on. "Hungry."

"Oh! There's left over pizza." Dawn offered, jumping up from her seat on the floor.

"That'd be great, Dawnie, thanks." Xander watched her hurry out of the room, amused despite himself, at her anxiousness to please him. "Huh. Wonder what would happen if I stopped eating?"

"Pardon?" Giles asked, pulling at his glasses and producing a handkerchief from his pocket.

"You know, since I'm immortal. What would happen if I don't eat? Would I get sick? Or would I just be hungry all the time?"

"Well . . . I'm not sure." Giles pondered the question. "I suppose you could be feeling hungry because psychologically your body doesn't understand that it no longer needs to eat; then again, just because you're immortal doesn't mean you can't grow weak or contract an illness. Fasting would probably cause you're body to weaken, you could possibly end up bedridden."

"Yuck." Xander made a face. "I think I'd rather just keep eating."

"Good idea, luv." At the sound of his lover's voice, Xander glanced up to find Spike coming down the stairs. "You know, Xan, you're the only bloke I know who's main concern after being brought back from the dead would be food." Spike took a seat beside Xander his arm automatically reaching to pull Xander to his side.

"You okay, Spike?" Xander whispered, staring into his lover's eyes.

Spike nodded. "Headache, luv?" Spike noted the lines of tension creasing his mate's forehead. When Xander nodded Spike pressed cool fingers against Xander's temple and began a slow massage.

"Thanks," Xander moaned, and closed his eyes.

Dawn came back in then, a plate of re-heated pizza in her hands. "Here, Xan, it's pepperoni."

"Mmmm, thanks, Dawn." Xander took the plate and stuffed a slice into his mouth. "God, I'm starving."

"Well, t-technically you haven't eaten for almost three days." Tara piped in.

Xander laughed. "I guess you're right."

"Well, now that you've been fed, shall we get down to business?" Giles asked.

"Sure, G-man." Xander answered, soothing Spike's scowl with a soft kiss. "Might as well get it over with."

"Xander, the sword that was brought back from the Hall of the Mountain King, was the Flaming Sword. That is, the sword that was once used to guard the path to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden." Giles informed him.

"Holy guacamole, Batman!"

"Yes, well, it's quite obvious that only an immortal can even touch the hilt. The Flame burns anyone else who tries to go near it. It's quite possible that the sword was forged as a weapon for one or more of God's archangels. So was never meant for a mortal hand."

"Wow, so it's a demon and a newly immortalled regular Joe who get to use the sword instead of an angel? Somehow that doesn't strike me as an even exchange." Xander joked.

"As the prophecy states, you'll both be more than adequate for the job." Giles assured.

"Okay, so do we know where this Raven is going to be attacking?" Spike broke in.

"Yes, Travers' team figured that out before he'd even begun his 'project'." Giles hissed the last word. "That was one of the deciding factors in his decision to involve the Initiative, in fact. The Raven will be heading here, to the hell mouth, of course. She needs to draw energy from it in order to complete her plans."

"And do we know the when?" Xander asked.

"Full moon, of course," Willow answered.

"Yes, traditionally that's when the mystical energies are at their height." Tara added.

"That only gives us a little over a week, then." Spike noted.

"Willow will be working on deciphering more of the prophecy, to see if there are any more details we can glean in the actual defeating of the Raven." Giles told them. "In the meantime, I suggest that you both practice your swordsmanship this week."





Part Eighteen
Ready or Not

Steel clashed against steel and Xander's arm vibrated with the strength of it. Giles had dug up a couple of swords for them to practice with and they'd all thought it was a good idea if Spike and Xander practiced with Buffy as the Raven. They'd been at it practically night and day since Xander had returned to the living. And even when they weren't practicing with Buffy, Xander had been encouraged to work on his sword play with Angel. He was tired and sore and cursing both Buffy and Spike for hardly even breaking a sweat.

Apparently becoming immortal didn't come with cool superpowers. Damn it.

He still had his consort abilities though. He was stronger and faster than most humans, at least. And he and Spike could still communicate with just a thought. Xander didn't know what he would have done if he'd woken without that ability. They'd been connected for so long Xander was sure it would have been like losing a limb or something. He was glad that he didn't have to worry about it.

Spike finally got Buffy disarmed and they all called a truce. This time Xander was still holding onto his own sword, which was good because the last two times they'd fought he'd lost it. Though the first time he'd gotten in a lucky shot and he'd been the one to disarm Buffy.

He sighed. Xander had a feeling that that was exactly what they were going to need against the Raven. Luck. They still didn't know exactly how to defeat her. Only that the sword and he and Spike were the only ones who could.

"Go on and have yourself a shower, luv." Spike gave Xander a quick kiss and urged him back into the house after Buffy's retreating form.

"Aren't you going to join me?" Xander asked, looking a little hopeful.

Spike could already feel his body responding to the look in Xander's eyes, but pushed the boy ahead of him. "Give me a mo', luv. Want to talk to the Watcher first." He waited until Xander disappeared down the hall before heading back toward the kitchen and the others.

It seemed almost ridiculous but now that Xander had become immortal, Spike found himself even more afraid of losing him. He knew, logically, that it would take a lot -- hell, he didn't even know if it were possible -- to kill Xander now. But... having lost him so recently, knowing the clawing, painful emptiness that Xander's death had left him with...

The fact that they still hadn't figured out the prophecy, that they still didn't know exactly how Spike and Xander were supposed to defeat this bloody Raven, left Spike on edge.

"Anything new, Rupert?" Spike glanced meaningfully from the Watcher to the two witches.

"I'm afraid not." Giles sighed.

"We did come up with another protection spell, though," Tara offered. "It might help."

"I'm sure it will, pet," Spike agreed, though he was still tense and worried when he turned back to Giles. "So, you've still no idea how exactly we're supposed to off the bitch? Decapitation? Sword through the heart? Nothing?"

"We're hoping any of those would work," Giles answered, but shook his head. "But, no, you're right. We don't know exactly."

"It can't be that easy," Spike murmured as he exited and headed up to the bathroom to join Xander. If all they needed was the sword, why would both he and Xander have to fight the Raven together? They were missing something.

***

Xander stood under the warm spray of the showerhead and let the water sluice over him. A few days ago and he'd still been too sensitive to use the shower, the water hitting him like needles all over his skin and scalp. He'd screamed and Spike had been right there, dragging him out. Now, it seemed like his body was reverting to normal. He was glad, though he hadn't really minded the long baths he'd had to take with Spike instead.

"Hey," Spike's voice whispered into his ear, his arms wrapping around Xander's middle.

But this, having Spike, being with him, was just as intense, if not more so, than ever. "Hey." Xander leaned back into the embrace and let Spike surround him.

"Feel better, luv?" Spike asked. Xander murmured a yes, pressing his ass back against Spike's groin and making the vampire laugh "I guess you are." Spike started to move against him, rubbing himself sensuously against Xander's backside.

Xander let himself enjoy the moment. He always wanted Spike, like a low fire burning in his belly. Sometimes the fire banked down to the coals, but then in an instant the flames would burn white hot again. Right now he relaxed into the soft warmth of Spike's arms.

"It'll be all right, Xan." Spike's hold tightened minutely and Xander had the feeling that Spike was trying to convince himself as well.

"Yeah, just another day at the office for us, huh?" Xander laughed weakly at his own joke. "You know, I thought becoming immortal would sort of make things easier. I don't know. I guess I thought I'd be braver, or something. That I wouldn't be afraid anymore," he said quietly.

"Not gonna let anything happen to you, luv," Spike said with conviction. "Not gonna lose you again."

Somehow, Spike's earnestness only made Xander's fear elevate. "Don't do anything stupid, okay?" He stiffened and turned to meet Spike's gaze. "I'm immortal. We don't even know if anything can kill me. But you..." Xander shook Spike a little in his need to make Spike understand. "You can still be dusted."

Spike shook his head. "Not thinking it through, Xan. Not losing you means not leaving either. Gonna be together for a long time yet."

"Forever." Xander said the word as a statement and a question all rolled into one.

"Forever," Spike repeated more firmly, kissing Xander until the water ran cold and they stepped out together.





Part Nineteen
Blood and Flames

"Fuck!" Xander was nearly blind, but he caught the flash of a sword in time to duck out of the way. When they'd said that the Raven wanted to blanket the earth in night, they hadn't been kidding. Her arrival managed to dim even the pitch-black of midnight. And of course, she hadn't arrived alone.

Giles had warned them that that would probably be the case. What god traveled without a few followers, after all? But they hadn't been prepared for this. They'd sneaked into the ruins of Sunnydale High and made their way to the library. Xander had been staring up at the cracks in the ceiling, searching for a star or two to wish them luck on, when suddenly the stars had winked out, almost one by one. Then they'd been rushed by over two dozen minions, and Xander didn't have time to worry about luck anymore.

Spike had the sword, the bright blue flames arcing through the blackness with each strike he made. Xander and the others were busy trying to distract the Raven's followers while Spike tried to get closer to the demon-goddess herself. They were all hoping that if either Spike or Xander were able to strike her with the sword it would be enough to defeat her.

Willow and Tara had prepared several spells, both defensive and offensive, for tonight. "Down!" Willow cried out and Xander had just enough time to shut his eyes and duck his head before there was a bright flash. When he opened his eyes it looked like someone had set off a fireworks show to light up the sky. He glanced around trying to orient himself to the others.

Buffy was only a few yards behind Spike, but she was currently engaged with three minions at once. Xander watched as she flipped one minion over her shoulder and sliced the other across the thigh. He turned, worried about the girls, even as he tried to keep an eye on Spike who was now only one minion away from the Raven herself. Xander breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Angel and Giles were both guarding Willow and Tara while they invoked spell after spell.

Xander turned just in time to parry a sword thrust from one of the followers. Not all of them had swords, but Xander's arm was already weakening. He twisted, jabbing the palm of his left hand into the minion's nose, putting all his weight behind the blow. The demon howled, grabbed his nose and dropped the sword. Xander thrust hard, burying his own sword into the minion's chest, then watched as he fell. It was a little discomfiting since most of the demon horde looked human, even though Xander knew they weren't.

The Raven hissed and her black eyes swirled hypnotically beneath naked lids. Xander shuddered at the image she made, even as he pulled his sword from the dead minion's chest. She was more shadow than anything. Darkness in a humanoid shape. Her long black arm flew out toward the fire in the sky and snuffed it out like a candle.

His night vision, despite being enhanced by his consort abilities, was even worse now that he had to readjust to the blackness again. Xander blinked furiously as he swiped at the nearest minion, grunting triumphantly when he made a lucky strike and felt him fall. His sword was covered in slime from all the minions he'd killed so far. It didn't feel like blood, and how weird was it that he could tell? He hoped whatever ichor was flowing from the minions' veins wasn't something that would hurt him.

"Spike!" Xander cried out as he saw the sword go flying. Except it wasn't flying. Spike was. The Raven had wrapped a long rope of, well, Xander supposed it was her hair around Spike and pulled. {Spike! Are you okay?} Xander fought harder, more intent now on reaching Spike, watching as the vampire struggled to hack the sword against the tentacle-like strands holding him hostage. "Willow!" Xander shouted glancing frantically back at the girls for help. Both Willow and Tara turned at once, their expressions eerily focused, as if they had no trouble ignoring the screams and sounds of battle. And then suddenly every minion within a 20-yard radius of Xander's body went flying.

{No! Stay back!} Spike warned Xander away, his mind-voice sounding panicked. He'd finally made contact with the sword and it hadn't done a bloody thing! He hadn't even nicked the fucking thing. {Sword's not bloody working!}

"Shit." Xander paused only for a second, calling out in the general direction he'd last seen Buffy fighting in. "Buff! Hurry! Spike needs help!" he yelled, hoping that Buffy would hear and be able to get to Spike sooner. She'd been closer to the Raven than Xander before the lights had gone out.

{We'll get Buffy to distract her, then get you loose.} But even before he could complete the thought he watched in horror as another slithering tentacle of the Raven's hair, high above his head, whipped out and caught the sword. It was like she was some freaking gigantic black octopus. And holy guacamole, they hadn't even considered the possibility that she'd be able to use the weapon, too. They'd all assumed the sword itself was poisonous to her somehow.

And then within the blink of an eye the freakish strand of hair had plunged the sword straight into Spike's body.

"NO!" There was a searing explosion of pain in his belly that made Xander want to drop to the ground and retch. {Spike!} Oh, god. If it was this bad for him, what was Spike feeling? Blessedly, his body grew completely numb as Xander watched Spike fall lifelessly to the ground, the sword still impaling him. The flames suddenly burned a bright blue before simmering back down to their previous red-gold. Xander wasn't sure what happened then. He didn't remember reaching Spike, or pulling the sword from his belly. He didn't remember attacking the Raven. But suddenly he found himself with Spike's blood on his hands and the flaming sword arcing over and over again as he hacked at the demoness' flailing tentacles. He was going for something more vital, a killing blow, but those damn tentacles wouldn't let him get near enough.

He could hear Buffy somewhere to his right. She was calling out to Spike, obviously not knowing that it was too late to offer the aid Xander had requested earlier. Xander kept seeing Spike falling again and again. Could feel an echo of the pain that had been ten times worse for Spike. Rage infused every move he made, every blow he dealt the Raven. Unfortunately the intensity of his emotions made him clumsy and it wasn't long before Xander was disarmed as well.

He dodged just in time, turning the skewering he would've gotten into a slicing instead, the sword opening an enormous gash in his side. Xander felt covered in blood. Spike's. His. Pain engulfed him as he tried to keep himself upright.

There was a blur of movement to his right, just as the Raven brought the sword down for another attack. Buffy parried the strike, and sent the sword flying, shouting for Xander to retreat. "Go, go, go!" she screamed as she attempted to keep the Raven too busy to bother with the others.

Xander turned, gasping at the flare of light that exploded from the sword. Bright white flames shot out from its blade as Spike stood, bloodied and bruised, grasping the hilt. Xander didn't have words for the intensity of what went through him at the sight. Spike stood there like some kind of avenging angel, the light from the sword illuminating all the sharp angles of his face.

Then Spike ran forward with a burst of speed that would've been impossible for anyone else in his condition, and leaped, ramming the sword straight between the Raven's eyes.

She screamed, an almost unholy sound that made them all, humans and demons alike, drop to the ground on their knees. Xander tried to cover his ears with his hands. It didn't help. The scream went on for what felt like forever, Xander's heart nearly giving out as the remaining minions burst into a million tiny shards of obsidian darkness. Then it was as if someone had turned the volume knob down, the Raven's screams lessening suddenly. Xander looked up to see the Raven melting, for lack of a better word. The inky blackness of her body spread itself thin, and dissolved into the night.

And suddenly the stars were back.





Part Twenty
Immortality Always

Spike woke to Xander's worried face and Tara's skillful hands. She was bandaging his belly while Xander held his hand. "I'm all right, luv."

"You have a hole in your stomach. You're not all right," Xander scolded.

Tara smiled her soft smile at them both. "He'll be okay, Xan."

Xander still couldn't quite believe it, so he just held onto Spike's hand. He wasn't dust, and that's really all that mattered.

"Spike?" Giles voice sounded distant to Xander's ears, though he was only a few feet away at the dining table. "How did you know the sword would work that way?"

"Blood," Spike answered wearily. "It always comes down to the blood."

"Speaking of which," Angel stepped forward at the same time Rupert said, "Blood?" Angel vamped and tore open his wrist, holding it up to Spike's mouth. Spike glanced about, but Xander squeezed his hand in reassurance. The others knew that Spike and Xander occasionally drank from each other, but they usually refrained from doing it in front of them. But with Spike so injured, he supposed the others would understand his need to take in blood.

Spike drank greedily, already feeling the magic of Sire's blood healing him. Drinking his fill, he gave Angel a look of thanks, but nothing more before returning to the Watcher's question.

"I felt the mojo when she stuck me." Spike suddenly tugged Xander to him. "She got you, too, luv." Spike's hands were all over Xander's side, touching the tight bandage and reassuring himself that Xander hadn't been badly hurt.

"I'm okay." Xander smiled, but gave in to Spike's inspection. That more than anything else convinced Xander that Spike was all right.

"So the mixture of your blood and Xander's made the sword effective?" Rupert scribbled something on the paper in front of him. "Fascinating."

"Yeah, it's bloody brilliant," Spike added sarcastically.

"No, you're bloody brilliant." Xander said smartly, trying out his bad British accent. Then he kissed him. "Jesus, I thought we were all dead."

"Told you, Xan. Not letting you go again," Spike said softly, taking Xander's hand again and squeezing.

Buffy stood abruptly. "Well, I'm beat. We should head to bed." Buffy gave Dawn a significantly look. Dawn returned it with a scowl. But she stood and made her way over to Xander for a hug and gave Spike a kiss on the cheek. "I'm glad you're both okay." Then she flounced up the stairs after Buffy.

Tara stood, too. "You'll be fine, Spike. Keep the bandages on for at least twenty-four hours." She smiled then turned to Willow. "Ready, sweetie?"

Willow nodded, coming to stand by them all and grabbing Xander's free hand. "You, mister, have to stop scaring me. No more dying for you!"

Xander laughed. "I... wow. I guess that might not actually be possible anymore."

"Good." Willow waved goodbye to Spike and grabbed Tara's hand. "Okay, ready."

"I suppose that's our cue as well." Giles gathered his papers and gestured to Angel to precede him. "I'll drop you girls at the dormitory on my way. And I believe Angel's car is still at the Magic Shop." He nodded toward the pair on the couch. "We'll discuss the details further when you're both feeling better."

And then they were alone.

"So, we defeated the Raven." Xander exhaled slowly. "What do we do now?" Then he laughed. "Should I plan a trip to Disneyland?"

"Loony git," Spike said with affection.

The smiled slid off Xander's face as he fingered the bandages around Spike's stomach. "You scared me."

"I know. 'M sorry, luv."

"Does it hurt to move? Can you stand?" Spike nodded and Xander helped him up. Buffy had told them they could stay there for the night since Spike needed some time to heal. And since it would be difficult to get him up the stairs without further pain, they decided to just pull out the sofa bed instead.

Xander fixed the bed, smoothing out the sheets before helping Spike back in. Then he slid in beside him.

"God, it feels like months since this started, but has it even been a week?" Xander wondered.

Spike shook his head. "Felt like years, luv. Without you." Spike looked away.

"I'm sorry, Spike. But you know, if I had to make the choice again I would." Xander would gladly give his life for Spike, if it came down to that again.

"I know." Spike's voice was hoarse. "That's what scares me." Even knowing that Xander was immortal, somehow didn't take the fear away.

"Well, just don't try to get yourself dusted again," Xander said lightly.

It was funny and somehow not, that in order to keep Xander safe Spike had to worry about his own safety even more. He knew Xander would wade in every time to save him if he had to. Not that these unique circumstances would ever be duplicated again. He shook his head.

"Christ, luv, what am I going to do with you?"

Xander quirked a brow at him. "I can think of a few things," he said, nuzzling Spike's neck.

Spike laughed at Xander's cheek, letting the warmth of his kisses spread through him. Neither of them was up for anything more than a few heated kisses and a long restful lie-down. He pulled Xander close, and held on, letting the events of the past week sink in. Xander was immortal. Spike would never have to watch his lover die.

"Go to sleep, luv. We'll be healed soon enough." Spike dropped a kiss in Xander's hair.

"Mmm," Xander murmured, snuggling closer. "Love you."

"Yeah," Spike answered, his embrace tightening briefly. "Love you, too, Xan." Xander drifted off to sleep, and Spike watched as his chest rose and fell with each breath. Christ. Xander was alive and they were together. Spike had the rest of eternity to worry about everything else. He tightened his arms around Xander and finally let himself relax into sleep.




The End




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