Okay, thought Xander, here’s a special dream. Tied to some kind of army cot, apparently. Two Mad Max type vampires gazing down at him. Angel and Spike, he was fairly certain, both with long hair, Spike’s much darker. Both wearing some sort of clinging, shiny material. He wondered if this was going to be a nightmare or one of those other, interesting dreams. He jerked again at the restraints. Discovered his feet, too, were tied. Discovered a fear of being bound (you’re never too old for a new phobia). Began to pant.
“Let me go,” he demanded of his nightmare/sexually explicit dream. “I need to … let me go.”
“Do you think he remembers us?” asked Angel.
Spike glanced at his Sire. Angel sounded amused? “Dunno,” he shrugged. He turned and looked again at the struggling boy on the cot, crossed his arms and affected a contemplative air. “Hmm, mebbee we need to remind him?”
They shifted into gameface simultaneously. The effect was less entertaining than Spike had hoped. Xander merely stared at Angel with those big liquid eyes of his, pulling hopelessly at his restraints. “Heh, yeah,” he said. “Okay, now’s when you untie me, right? Because I know this is a dream and everything, but I’ve still gotta pee. And the last time I had a dream where I really had to pee…”
“This isn’t a dream, Xander,” said Angel.
Spike moved forward to release Xander’s restraints. He jumped back quickly as soon as Xander was free, watching the boy for some kind of retaliation or escape attempt. Xander just lay there, breathing, clutching the blanket to him. He looked down dazedly at his covered torso, back at Angel. “I’m naked,” he stated ridiculously.
“Yeah, well we couldn’t dress your fat ass while you were out, could we?” said Spike. He grabbed the pile of clothes readied near the bed and tossed them carelessly onto Xander’s lap. Xander looked at the clothes. His mouth was open.
“I could wake up now,” he suggested. He wiggled his toes. He shivered. “It’s cold,” he said. He sounded confused. He looked up at Angel again and this time real fear shone in his eyes. “Why can’t I wake up?”
“You aren’t asleep, Xander,” said Angel patiently. Spike tsked at the barely veiled pleasure in Angel’s voice and tried not to smile himself. Wouldn’t do to scare the boy too much, as fun as it would be.
“This isn’t a dream, Xander,” said Angel. “You’ve been called back from the dead by The Powers that Be for some purpose.”
Spike shook his head in disgust. Way to break it to him gently, Poof, he thought. He squinted suspiciously at the dark, implacable face. Angel was loving this a bit too much for an evil demon on a path of redemption. In his opinion.
Xander blinked. “Yeah. Right,” and then he grinned. A big jaw cracking Harris original smile and Spike was surprised to recall how white and broad that smile could be. “They told me about these.”
Xander shifted to a sitting position, reaching down to finger the clothing. “Delusions of Grandeur,” said Xander, rubbing the material between his fingers. That fearful look came over his face again and Spike began to worry that they were going to have another one crack. “This… feels so real,” said Xander.
“We’ll leave you to dress,” said Angel. He nodded at Spike to accompany him and exited through the canvas flap. Xander’s eyes followed him, then came back to Spike, seeming to notice him for the first time. “What are you doing here, fangless,” he said. The nature of his words completely belied the confusion and fear in his eyes. Spike felt the annoying prick of conscience. He stomped on it.
“Get dressed, git,” he said. And swept with Angel out of the tent.
In James Harris’ house, in Vista, California, the phone rang for quite some time before Jennifer was able to snatch it off the hook.
“Yes?” she said breathlessly. She glared at the dripping toilet brush in her hand. She imagined she had just left a trail of filthy blue toilet cleaner down the hallway. But as she listened to the call, the brush fell unheeded from her hand and her face creased in pain. She let the phone drop to her side and looked down the hallway. “James,” she called, when her voice could finally reach past the emotion. “James, it’s the Home. Your father has had another stroke…”
Xander ran his thumb wonderingly over the material in his hand. Usually in a dream, sensory impressions came in little pushes of thought. They didn’t have this steady, consistent presence. The stuff in his hands, he pushed off the covers and shook out the slacks, studying them, didn’t feel like anything natural. They had that weird, electrical staticy feeling of rayon or polyester. He pulled the pants up over his hips, standing on the frozen floor. His feet arched achingly away from the chill and he had a terrible thought. A thought so enormous in its terror he had to sit down. What if this were real?
What if… and he glanced again at the door through which the two vampires had exited… what if this weren’t a dream? Angel had said…Xander grabbed the shining overshirt and yanked it over his head hurriedly, not bothering to wonder if it was frontwards or backwards. He found something like canvas boots, jerked them over his feet, allowing the long ties to hang about his ankles and he ran to the door of the tent. He looked out. It was pitch black and two demons, dressed in clothes similar to the ones he had just put on, were standing a few feet away, staring back at him.
“Am I really in Hell?” asked Xander.
James sat beside his father’s bed, numbly watching the breathing apparatus pump air in and out of his lungs, the heart monitor bipping weakly, the brain scan barely above a flat line. He heard the doctor’s voice, the meaning of the words tracking slowly behind their sound. “Severe blood loss to the brain, very little probability of recovery, order to not resuscitate…Mr. Harris?”
Someone, thought James, was addressing his father but his father wasn’t answering. He reached for the cold, dry hand that lay beside his father’s body. Realized that he was the one being addressed, and looked up helplessly.
“You said…” Xander nodded at Spike seriously. “You said I’m in Hell. Well,” he looked worriedly around the pitch black plateau, “does anybody tell me why or…”
“You aren’t in Hell, mate,” said Spike, grinning. “May seem that way is all.”
“You’ve been brought into the future, Xander,” said Angel.
Xander nodded again. For the time being it seemed the smartest thing to do. Just go along with the madness. After all, it wasn’t like he and the madness hadn’t met before. Heck, he and the madness had such a longstanding relationship they were practically a common law couple. I, Xander Harris, take thee, madness…
“Okay,” he said. He shivered.
Angel moved forward with some concern. “You should stay inside, stay warm.” He looked at Spike.
Spike sighed and walked back towards the tent, raised an eyebrow when Harris backed quickly away from him, and let him in. “Relax, Harris, ain’t gonna bite ya.”
Xander found he had backed into the cot behind him. “Right,” he said, nervously searching for pockets in the loose trousers he wore and happily finding many. He stuck his hands into two of them. “The soul.”
“Nah, just got better taste than that,” said Spike waspishly. He pulled an odd looking arrangement in the corner open and revealed something very like an adobe stove. It was filled with blackened rocks. Spike lit the stones and seemed to work the small brazier with some expertise for a while. In a matter of minutes it was glowing and the heat soaked the air around Xander. He moved towards it infinitesimally. Spike looked up, tisked and backed away from the stove. “Come sit, whelp, get yer arse warmed up. Me’n Angel’ll go get you somethin’ t’ eat.”
Xander nodded and sat obediently on a small earthen stool near the stove. Spike observed the complacent obedience with a frown, then shook his head and left.
“’Welcome to Hell’, Spike?” said Angel as they made their way down the dark hillside. “I thought we were going to try to minimize the shock.”
“I was inspired.” Spike swept his hand absently over the lip of the altars that lined their path. He saw again those wide, shocked brown eyes, and felt once more that twinge of guilt. “Maybe it wasn’t the best idea.”
“He’ll be all right,” said Angel calmly.
Spike absently touched the tops of the terra cotta jars that had been placed on the altars. “I dunno, Angel. He’s awfully quiet. The Xander Harris I remember wouldn’t shut up.”
“He just needs time to adjust.”
“Hell, Angel…” Spike lifted and tipped a jar. A small blossom fell out and he caught it quickly in his hand, studying it with wonder. It wasn’t edible but he still marveled that these people would leave such valuable gifts for them. “I’ve been here all along, and I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet. I don’t know if Harris can hack it.”
“I don’t know who could,” sighed Angel. They had stopped outside the main gate and were looking down the gloomy streets. At this time of day, most of the residents were still indoors, conserving their energy and meager lighting resources for the warmer, more habitable evenings. “But the Xander Harris I knew had an annoying habit of surviving almost anything.”
The two vampires strode silently down the street.
Xander sat hunched in front of the intense orange heat and grappled with the weirdness. He fingered the significantly present fabric that encased his legs, its static pulling at the hairs on his thighs in a slightly unpleasant, subliminally ticklish way that did not go away even when he stopped thinking about it. The room around him had more detail than any dream he had ever had. On a scale of 1 to 10 he figured the weirdness factor here was hovering near the 89 mark.
What if he were really dead? Xander tried to remember where he had been before the dream. A hospital, the monitors and … with heart clenching fear Xander realized he might really be dead. He might really be… he looked around the room. That was all he could remember. Old, in a hospital bed, slowly dying of arterial failure and then … this.
There had been something … the machines’ alarms? Or had it been a dream? Had he died? Xander tried to get past the natural fear of death, and realized there had been nothing after until he had woken here. No tunnel, no light, no reunion with friends. Willow, he thought, with overwhelming sorrow and the renewed feeling of loss he associated with her memory. No Valhalla for Xander Harris. No Heaven.
“That’s it?” he whispered to himself or the gods that apparently did not, after all, exist. “Just… nothing?” He sat for a minute, his hands loose in the lap of his rayon/poly/Buster-fucking-Keaton space age pants and shook his head in disbelieving outrage at the adobe stove. “Aw man, that blows!”
As they ascended the last few feet to their tents, Spike could see Angel’s steps beginning to lag, the broad shoulders seeming to shrink. More and more of late, he felt Angel’s exhaustion, his fragility. It was a new and disturbing quality that had crept up on his Sire, like the old age the two vampires frequently witnessed but had never experienced.
In body Angel was a twenty-seven year old, robust undead man. In his mind, however, he seemed ancient and very, very tired. Spike jumped forward and easily slipped the bundle from Angel’s shoulder, pulled it over his own.
“We should talk to him, calm him down.”
“Yeah.” Spike studied the door to the tent in which they had left Xander, glancing surreptitiously at his Sire, trying to judge his exhaustion. “Listen, Angel, you go ahead and lie down for a mo, yeah? I’ll talk to the whelp.”
Angel gave Spike a look. “Spike…”
“Fer fuck’s sake, Angel, I’m not gonna do anything stupid!” Spike shifted the sacks on his shoulder a bit and tried to sulk. “It’s almost sunset,” he said reasonably. “Get some rest and talk to the boy after the ritual.”
Angel looked at the tent flap before them. Some wisp of relief blew over his features. “All right, then.”
“Right then. Go on.” Spike watched Angel until the older vampire had disappeared into the other tent, then pushed the flap open with no greeting and heaved his packages inside.
And was hit over the head by something large and hard.
Leather was almost impossible to come by and all of it was very old, so Spike had been quite proud when he had managed to devise the half suede/ half rayon handcuffs with which they had bound Xander’s resurrected body and by which he was now, apparently, hogtied in the middle of the floor. A distastefully old rag cut into the corners of his mouth.
He glared at the untied boots on the floor before him, followed the legs up and glared into Xander Harris’ face.
“If you yell when I take the gag off, I’m just going to bash you over the head again,” said Xander reasonably, demonstrating this intention by hefting the iron scroll over his head which he had apparently used the first time on Spike. “Will you keep it down?”
Spike glared and nodded. Payback could come later.
Xander’s fingers, as they roughly loosened his gag, were obviously shaking and Spike’s anger was tempered somewhat by the annoying compassion that had been plaguing him all evening. He spat when the gag was free. “Damn it, whelp. If these bindings were damaged I’ll…”
“Shut up, Spike,” said Xander. He hefted his iron scroll meaningfully. “I have some questions.”
“Circulation is being cut off,” growled Spike, ignoring the threat.
“You don’t have circulation.”
“Lot you know, how d’ya think I get it up?”
Xander’s pupils swelled wider. “That is definitely not one of my questions, fangless.”
“Ain’t fangless any more either, pet,” spat Spike.
“Hence the tying up,” said Xander reasonably.
“I could break these, you know. Just, I might need them later.”
“I don’t mind limiting your practice of tying up humans, Spike.”
Xander blinked. “After I’m dead?”
Spike could have kicked himself.
“I…I thought you said I’m already dead,” said Xander, those dark eyes huge and reading Spike’s face. He let the iron scroll drop a bit. “I thought you said I was brought here…”
“The Powers that Be,” supplied Spike.
“Yeah. Them,” said Xander. “Why am I here, Spike?”
“Don’t know,” said Spike. He wriggled his shoulder against the hard floor uncomfortably. “Look, Xan. Luv. Let me up, then, won’t you?”
“You don’t know?” Xander set the scroll down on the low cot on which he sat and stared at Spike with a darkening expression. He was starting to breathe quickly again and from his angle on the floor Spike thought this time it was less panic and more anger. Fuck it. He was going to have to break these bindings wasn’t he? Damned boy was as big a nuisance as ever…
“How can you not know? I mean, what is this place? You’re … you’re all living like some ‘Beyond Thunderdome’ post apocalyptic army with the tents and the bleakness and the cliff with the dead trees…”
“You went outside?” Spike couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of this. All their other humans had remained in the tent in a panic. “You… you shouldn’t have done that Harris. There’s demons out there.”
Xander snorted. “Yeah? You think? Like maybe vampires?”
Spike tisked and found the movement brought wet dirt into his mouth. He spat again angrily. “Bloody idiot child, we shoulda known this was a mistake. Look, Harris. I’m not the bad guy, here. We brought ya food. Untie me and let me give ya somethin’ ta eat, yeah?”
Xander regarded him for another long moment. He looked over towards the bundles Spike had dropped when Xander knocked him unconscious. Looked again at the man bound at his feet. “Okay,” he said finally. He knelt on the floor and reached for the bindings. Hesitated. “So. Uh, no hard feelings, right Spike? Just…” he yanked the bindings free and sat back. “Just a little dis o… ooof!” He was laying flat on his back with an incensed and gamefaced vampire sitting on his chest and snarling into his face.
“Liar,” spat Xander.
“Moron,” answered Spike. He slid back into human face. Sat back and finally rose from Xander’s chest, offering a hand up as he stepped away.
Xander ignored the hand and struggled painfully to his feet. He could feel the bruise already where his elbow had slammed the hard-packed earth. He’d never bruised himself in dreams before, announced the counter in his mind that was still tracking the events set before him. He had never felt this hungry in a dream before, either, he realized as he watched Spike dragging odd-looking objects out of his sack.
“What is that?” Xander edged towards the low table near the stove, on which Spike was setting out small rolled objects.
“Mostly vegetarian diet around here,” said Spike, expertly unrolling and pushing the ingredients of each roll together in a bowl. “Don’t know the names of everything, actually. We haven’t found anythin’ like salt yet so the spice might seem foreign.”
“Haven’t found salt?” Xander sat down on the low stool by the fire.
“No reason t’ believe it isn’t still out there. But it would have to be harvested from underground and Christ knows we haven’t got that kinda manpower.”
“Spike,” said Xander wearily. “You really have to start at the beginning, I think. I’m kind of having trouble keeping up.”
Spike mixed the ingredients carefully in the bowl, turned them out and began kneading them, like a tortilla, over a small square burnished surface that seemed reserved for that activity. “Yeah, ‘s a long story. I’ll take ya on a tour once you’ve eaten. Easier to show than tell, I reckon.”
“Maybe wait till daylight?” suggested Xander. “Don’t have the cool night vision, you know. I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet from the tents…”
Spike cast a quick look at Xander. “That why you’re still here?”
“This is daylight, whelp,” said Spike. He watched that news trickle into Xander’s brain. Boy was taking this well, he thought. Slow, of course. Harris wasn’t any genius. But maybe that was for the best in this circumstance. The Watcher had snapped in less than eight hours.
“Kinda dark.” Xander stated the obvious. “Sort of defies the definition of daylight. There being none. Light that is.”
“Not much sun, any more.”
“It go the same place as the salt?”
Spike’s eyebrows went up. Whelp was joking? He pressed his small tortillas into a container and put the whole thing in the stove, shut the grate and turned. “Okay, eat somethin’ and I’ll give you the short version, ‘kay?”
“So basically what you’re saying is the world burned down?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Oversimplistic. But, yeah.”
“And there’s some race of Ubervamp like demons running amock on the planet?”
“And you and Angel are working for these Powers that Be to stop them?”
“Or whatever you call them,” amended Spike. “Yer probably more familiar with them than we are, Harris. Same blokes running Heaven I expect.”
Xander was silent. Then, “Yeah,” he said. “Heaven. So, uh, what did the Powers that Be drag me out of Heaven for? What am I supposed to do?” He grinned. “Stake a couple of vampires and then,” he snapped his finger, “poof back to Heaven. Or… is it some,” he wonderingly looked down at his own young, strong hands, turned them over, “some kind of test, maybe?”
Spike didn’t notice his tone of voice, absorbed in his own confused feelings. “Sorry ‘bout that, Harris,” he managed to choke out.
Xander’s eyes slid sideways to take in the morose vampire sitting beside him. “Of all the myriad and dastardly things you have to feel sorry about, Spike. And I’m only talking about the ones, I, personally, know about, which specifically are you apologizing for?”
“Draggin you out of Heaven.”
“Ah.” Xander curled the fingers up on his palm. “That.”
Spike stared into the stove’s glowing grate. “She was never the same, really,” he said as if to himself.
Oh, thought Xander. “Geez, Spike,” he sighed, “Can’t you leave her alone finally?”
“Fuck you, arsehole,” said Spike mildly. He couldn’t believe how easily they were falling into their old roles. A role he, Spike, hadn’t played in centuries. Xander was silent again, and that was disturbing. These long silences were not normal.
“So what was it like?” asked Spike.
“Heaven,” said Spike. “White fluffy clouds and halos? Or ya know, that sublime white room? Did you…” He paused and took a breath because he hadn’t realized the thought would make him ache until he had thought it. “Did you see everyone you knew there? Were they all happy?” he added softly.
“Geez, Spike, what are you, five? That’s not Heaven.”
Spike played with his hands and was silent.
“So where are all the people?” Xander asked, to change the subject.
“They come up at sunset.”
“To see the sun.” Spike waved a hand. “We stay inside, they see the sun, have a service, you know, and then they leave.”
“Sounds like a party,” said Xander. “Well, should I introduce myself or will you?”
Spike laughed. “Harris, those people out there, they’ve evolved somewhat you know?” He shook his head. “They don’t speak anything resembling English. Even that disgusting hybrid of it you yanks used ta speak.”
“Oh,” said Xander, a chill feeling sweeping over him. “So the only person who will know what I’m saying is you, technically NOT a person, and … and”
“Fuck!” Xander started having his fiftieth or so panic attack of the past three hours. Talking was what he did. It was his little sword, his fail-safe.
“I might be able to teach you some phrases,” suggested Spike.
“Great,” said Xander. “How do you say, ‘I’ve been kidnapped by vampires and taken to another time, please save me.’?”
Spike dipped his head to hide his smile.
“What?” said Xander.
“Yer takin’ this better than most,” said Spike.
“Better than… better than who else?” asked Xander, suddenly getting and latching onto this piece of information.
The tent door opened with a great flapping of material and Angel walked in. He stopped and stared at Xander and Spike, saw Xander’s whole body tense up, his jaw clench, eyes wide and alert.
“It’s starting,” said Angel.
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