Apocalypse Laterish


by
Metaforgirl



8

Xander carried the heavy tray to Dahla’s table. The pot in the center, which he chose to think of as a tea pot, and china cups and saucers rattled alarmingly, but he managed to get the whole thing there without breakage. Dahla followed with a plate covered with something that looked like tiny cakes. Xander thought the little treats might be nice to have at their party.

“*What are those called,*” he asked slowly, in her language.

“Platzcaken” said Dahla. She put one on a plate and handed it to him. Put another on a plate and offered it to the pacing vampire.

“Spike, sit down,” commanded Xander.

Spike was chewing his thumb and scowling, but he came obediently to Xander’s side and sat. Their hands intertwined automatically.

“Why does he sleep so much?” Spike groused to himself.

“The illness hurt him a lot,” said Xander. “Dahla says…”

“I can understand the bloody language better than you, whelp. I know what she said.” Spike snapped, tensing. Then he relented and squeezed Xander’s hand apologetically.

The child came padding back into the room. Xander noticed Spike tensing again. “Kid’s back,” said Spike, watching her as a grown cat might watch a puppy.

The little girl, tiny and so blonde her hair seemed almost white, walked through the room with a grace that seemed unnatural in one so young. She circled, watching Spike with the same fixedness with which he watched her.

“Dahla,” she said in that sweet lisping way of hers. “Angela,” she pointed down the hallway.

Spike jumped up, took a few long steps towards Angel’s bedroom. Stopped, spun around, came striding back to Xander. Xander stood and calmly followed Dahla and the child down the hallway, an agitated Spike noisily behind him.


~*~*~*~*~


Angel was sitting up in bed. The little girl scampered across the room and clambered up onto him, as if she spent a lot of time there. She put one tiny hand on his chest, protectively, and watched Spike.

The room was very warm. Kept that way by the stoked stove in the corner. The bed in the center of the room was massive and heaped with blankets. In the center of it, seeming smaller by contrast, was Spike’s former Sire.

Angel was haggard and tired looking. His skin had a yellow tinge to it and his chin was grey with beard stubble. He smiled and lines crinkled up around the corners of his eyes. His loose, shoulder-length hair looked thin and tangled on the pillow.

“Hi,” he said, wheezing a bit. He expended what seemed to be an exhausting effort, and heaved himself into a sitting position. Dahla arranged the pillows behind him and he smiled up at her. He looked almost like her father, not her lover.

Xander could feel Spike hovering precariously at the doorway, as if any moment he might flee. He reached over and took his hand. Angel’s eyes, still as keen and shrewd as ever, though living in the tired face, took in the gesture. He looked from Spike to Xander.

“Harris,” he said, somehow managing to put menace into that weak voice.

Xander nodded. He kept hold of Spike’s hand and even stepped a bit closer to him. “Deadboy,” he said. And smiled. It was the smile he had used on employees who were lying to him about what had happened to company equipment. It was the smile he had used on competitors when he saw them at public functions. “Oh,” said Xander, still smiling. “I guess that would be not-yet Deadboy.”

“Geez, Angel,” said Spike suddenly. “You look like hell.” He dropped Xander’s hand and came into the room. The little girl by Angel’s side sat up, alert. Spike’s eyes went from his ill Sire to the little girl in his bed. His nostrils flared as if at a bad smell. “What is that, Angel?”

Angel looked surprised. One hand came up and stroked the little girl’s head with affection. “This is Hope, Spike. The child I rescued from the cave.”

“Hope?” said Spike. “Some bloody fairy named their kid Hope?”

“She hasn’t got any parents, Spike. That we can find. And she doesn’t speak their language. I named her.”

Spike absorbed this information. Chewed it over, looking from Angel to Hope. “Okay,” he said finally, and walked over to Angel’s bed. Watching Hope with steady, unblinking eyes, he sat down, not a foot away from her. Reached over and took Angel’s hand.

The child came up on her knees and punched Spike in the head.

Spike fell off the bed, holding his head and howling in surprise. Angel laughed. “No, no, Hope. You can’t hit people. Even Spike.”

“Ow,” said Spike from the floor.

“Say you’re sorry, Hope,” instructed Angel indulgently.

“Sorry,” lisped the little girl obediently. She glared at Spike as he rose from the floor.

Angel laughed again. There was color in his cheeks now. He pushed at Hope gently. “Go on,” he urged. “Go with Dahla. Spike is my friend. I want to talk to him.” The little girl watched Spike for another moment, then slid off the bed. She padded on those graceful feet from the room, casting one more suspicious look back before she left.

Spike was rubbing his temple where the child had slugged him.

Angel laughed again. “Spike, you are great with children. I never would have guessed.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Spike, watching the empty doorway. “What the hell are you talkin’ about Angel?” he demanded, turning back.

“Pretending that she’d hurt you,” said Angel. “Children love that.”

“I wasn’t pretending, Angel,” said Spike.

Angel laughed again.

“That is not a normal child,” said Spike.

Angel shook his head, smiling. His gaze went to Xander, who still stood near the doorway. His smile went stiff and hard. “I’d like to talk to you, Spike. Alone.”

“Sure, Angel,” said Spike easily. He looked over at Xander, who was returning Angel’s hostile smile tooth for tooth. “Xander?” Xander’s gaze came over to Spike, and his whole face softened. “You wanna leave us alone for a bit?”

“Sure,” said Xander. He came across the room, bent down, and to Spike’s enormous surprise, then pleasure, than blushing chagrin, kissed him firmly on the mouth. “See you,” he whispered, before straightening. He cast a tight smile at Angel before he exited.

There was a burning hot, embarrassing silence. Spike kept his head turned away from Angel, even after Xander had departed and shut the door.

“Xander Harris,” said Angel.

“Fuck off, Angel.”

“Unbelievable,” said Angel.

Spike ground his teeth angrily. He wanted to spit out something spiteful and witty that would strike Angel to the core. Something about finally being treated like a creature with feelings. Something about happiness and laughter and not always having to be so bloody sad. But he turned to his worn out, pale and wasted Sire and just shrugged.

“Yeah,” he said. And shrugged again.

Angel shook his head. He sighed. “Well, whatever, Spike. I wanted to talk to you about more important things.”

Spike waited.

“Our mission,” said Angel.

“OUR mission?” said Spike. “Uh, Angel, I think you are retired now.”

“Maybe from battle, but not from the war, Spike. Maybe I’ll just direct from afar.” His eyes went distant. “Like a general.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Sure, poof.”

“It’s important, Spike. You are going to have to focus.”

Spike prickled. “I’m focused.”

“You don’t have me to keep you in line, now. It’s time to be responsible.”

Spike glared.

“Without the visions, we won’t know when demons might be planning an attack.”

“Hold on, Angel,” said Spike. “You don’t have the visions any more?”

Angel shook his head.

“You sure?” asked Spike, urgently. “I mean, maybe cuz you were sick…”

“I’m sure, Spike. Dahla has assured me as well. They are gone.”

“Bloody Hell,” said Spike, appalled.

“You are going to have to patrol, Spike. Watch the borders. We will need a more regimented sentry system in the village. Maybe a warning alarm?”

Spike was still trying to take it in. “What the fuck were the Powers thinkin’, Angel?”

“Maybe they thought you were ready to handle it on your own.”

Spike swallowed.

Angel smiled and sat up. He clasped Spike’s arm and through his alarm, Spike registered the weakness of Angel’s grip. “You are ready, Spike,” said Angel kindly. “You know everything I know, and more. You’ve always been a better fighter…”

“Angel…” said Spike, terrified by these words.

“I’ve always trusted you to win, Spike. When you were at my back, I always knew that I was safe.”

No amount of insults or admonishments from Angel could have caused the terror and sense of urgency in Spike that these words of praise were causing. “Angel, stop it,” he begged.

“We are all counting on you now, Spike,” Angel said. He leaned back against his pillows, looking exhausted. “Could you ask Dahla to come in for a minute, Spike,” he asked. “I need to pee.”

Spike ran from the room.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander sat on the other side of the plastic glass and watched Giles.

“*Does he ever recognize real people*” he asked the psychologist in his halting way.

The doctor, more robust than most the villagers, if even paler, turned his eerily light blue eyes on Xander and studied him for a long moment before answering.

Xander squirmed under the scrutiny. He felt like every word he uttered was being analyzed. Thank God he didn’t know enough of the language to babble, he thought. Or he’d be spilling everything right now. Childhood issues with his mother, secret Oedipal problems, a fixation with vampire bites… Yeah it was a very good thing that he didn’t know their language well enough to hang himself.

“*He sometimes asks for very specific items,*” answered the doctor very slowly, so that Xander could follow. He gestured, trying to be clear. “*He asked for the books,*” he said.

“*So he knew that you would bring him books? He knew, and asked, and then went back to reading the … blank pages?*” Xander said, more or less. He imagined he had left out half the prepositions.

The doctor nodded. Apparently as exhausted as Xander by the slow and confusing communication. They sat in silence for bit. Xander watched Giles.

“*What is he looking for?*” he muttered to himself, in the alien tongue.

“*Brethxin’s Text’*” said the doctor immediately.

Xander looked at him. He looked back at Giles.

The Watcher stood from his table. He turned towards the bookcase and brought down one of the façade books. Opened it, nodding excitedly. He began to talk to someone across the room.

Xander stood slowly. “That’s exactly what he did the last time.”

Giles was explaining to his imaginary companion. “a ridiculous theory about the bones of dead men turning to grass and air full of blood and…

“That’s what he was saying last time,” said Xander. He turned to the doctor. Pointed at Giles. “*He says the same thing over and over?*”

The doctor nodded. Apparently this was not so unusual amongst the mentally ill.

“*What does he say?*” asked Xander, watching Giles.

The doctor frowned, seemed to ponder the question. Then he gestured to the side of the room. He opened a small box hanging against the wall and drew out a little gelled looking oval. He turned the oval slightly and placed it on top of the box. The gel shivered once, and sound began coming out of it.

“You recorded it,” said Xander amazed.

Giles voice came out of the wall, clear British precision making every word intelligible.

“Ah, yes, here is the passage. Well, it appears Buffy has been held up again, but Xander, perhaps you will be entertained by this. I have always found it amusing.” Giles peered over his glasses at an empty chair at the table.

“He’s talking to me,” said Xander, a lump in his throat.

Bethzqin was the Nostradamus of the demon world,” Giles orated happily. He ran his finger down the page. “His predictions began for the decade after his death,” Giles squinted at the page, “about 440 AD, until a good thousand years beyond our current time.” Giles nodded, scanning the huge pages, he found something at the top of the second, “Ah, here it is, just listen to the poetry of this Xander, And there will be mountains of ash, the sky will be a sea of blood and ash, the sun will have forgotten humanity. And there will be an increase in the fortunes of our war, a sea of blood and… hmmm…” The phone hadn’t rung, but Giles put the book down on the table and went towards it. “I really do wish Buffy would join us.” He looked back at the phantasm to which he had been speaking. “Xander, don’t touch that text! The inscriptions there are very fragile!” He came back to the table and threw his arms up in despair.

“I remember something,” said Xander.

The doctor carefully lifted the gelled oval and made as if to replace it in the box. Xander gently stayed his arm.

“No, wait. Let me hear it again,” he said.


~*~*~*~*~


When Xander returned to Dahla’s house, he found Spike and the shaman in the curtained alcove where he had first met her, deep in discussion. Dahla was sitting back on her carved stone ‘throne’ while Spike paced. When Xander entered the room, Spike paused, waved him in, and then continued with his dialogue.

“Xander, here, knows a bit about patrollin’,” Spike informed Dahla in English and then in her language.

“Huh?” said Xander. “Listen, Spike, I saw Giles and I think…”

Dahla interrupted with a question. Xander understood half of it: “*How many…?*”

“*I don’t know,*” Spike answered her. He turned to Xander. “How many villagers d’ya think it’d take to watch the area?”

“Watch it for what?” asked Xander, feeling stupid.

Spike tisked. “Vampires, Harris.”

Xander did the double take blink. “I don’t know?”

“C’mon, kid, how did you Scoobies protect Sunnydale in the day?”

“Er, not very well?” suggested Xander. “Remember? The Hellmouth swallowed it?”

Spike waved that off. “Before that.”

“Well, would have to be,” said Xander.

Spike stomped his foot slightly. “This is serious, Harris. You gotta focus.”

A small smile tipped the corner of Xander’s mouth. “Right, Mr. ADD. You are telling me to focus.”

This statement seemed to be something of a last straw for Spike. He flew into a temper, punching a column so hard the wall shook and a few vases on the shelves rocked dangerously. Dahla stood, concerned. Spike whirled around, shouting.

“Bloody ridiculous… surrounded by idiots… Angel is the General right sure, sleepin’ like an old fool with that faerie wrapped around him… feckin’ insane powers that smoke crack… like to get my hands on…”

“Alright, alright, Spike,” said Xander, daring the maelstrom to step up to Spike and catch his arms. “Alright, I’m focused. Look,” he stared into Spike’s face with steady serious eyes. “Focused. Now tell me what’s going on.”

Spike leaned needfully into Xander’s grip. “Angel’s not got the visions anymore.” He looked into Xander’s face, trying to see if the kid got the import of this information. “We don’t know when the demons are comin’ now. He was our warning system.”

“Oh,” said Xander. A bad tingle starting at the top of his head and running like an icy cold droplet between his shoulder blades. He glanced behind himself instinctively. He looked back at Spike, saw something there, some need. It was the sort of thing that made Xander Harris rally. He smiled. It was the smile he had used when the newly poured foundation collapsed and they had forty eight hours to replace it. It was the smile he had used when his girlfriend was dead, his home sucked into a hole in the ground, and he had nothing but a school bus to live in.

“Piece of cake,” he said. He grinned. Straightened. Turned to Dahla. “Let’s get some people down here and have a patrolling class.” He clapped Spike on the back. “It’ll be like Old Times.”


~*~*~*~*~


Old Times are never as great as you remember them, thought Xander, shivering in a dripping grove of slimy, gray barked trees before a small line of nervous young men. They had chosen twelve of the fastest. On the unspoken theory that if they could do nothing else, they could get away and warn the village.

Each man held a crossbow, the bolts slung like ammunition on belts around their hips and shoulders. Each also carried a few of the precious wooden stakes.

A huge splat of something cold, slimy, and possibly with legs, fell out of the tree and slipped under Xander’s collar to slide down his back. He slapped hopelessly at the sensation. “Okay,” he said. The men looked at him with great pale eyes. Did these guys ever blink, wondered Xander, shivering again but not from the cold. “Okay, the trick is to keep your ears open and watch the areas where they tend to congregate.” Xander looked around the Hansel and Gretel forest. “Which would be just about anywhere…” he muttered.

Spike translated rapidly, eyeing those crossbows at all times. He left out the last sentence. “They come from the West usually,” he told Xander. Repeating this information to the little group of men. Their eyes all, simultaneously, looked West.

Xander shivered again. He stood closer to Spike and put an arm over his shoulders. The plastic chain-mail he had fashioned for the vampire squeaked weirdly at the touch. “And Spike can hear them before we can,” he said. Giving the shoulders a little squeeze. “So if he says so, we run, got it?” The men all nodded in unison.

“Okay,” said Xander, slapping his hands together and getting that awful feeling he always got when he had to decide on assignments. “We need to break up into groups.” He eyed the men, pointed out groups of two, trying to put obvious buddies together, trying to put the relatively larger with the definitely smaller. He pointed out their various directions. Two men for each compass point. It left he and Spike to cover the most dangerous point, the direct West.

The men evaporated into the dark so quickly and with such an eerie swat team professionalism, Xander found himself thinking he should be taking instruction from them.

Xander looked around them. “Boy, this is ‘the Tulgey wood’ if anything ever was,” he said.

Spike raised an eyebrow as he rolled into a walk. “What are you on about?”

“It’s from my son’s favorite poem,” said Xander. He turned towards Spike. “Well, great, looks like I’m stuck with you again,” he groused, good-naturedly. The words had an echo on them, as if they reverberated down the stony walls of time.

Spike felt a prickle up his neck. “We’re off then,” he said, glancing at Xander oddly.

Xander hefted his stake. “Better not get in my way, fangless,” he teased. He didn’t see Spike react, marching away, oblivious. “Here’s hoping the little beasties are all nestled away in their little beastie beds, tonight.”

They walked in silence for some time. The habits of many lifetimes had intervened, but Spike and Xander quickly fell into a pattern they had established centuries before. Spike kept to the periphery, moving faster than Xander, like a scout. He kept circling back towards the boy, who kept his eyes on any area Spike was not investigating. They worked their way deeper into the damp forest.

A mist rose around their feet. They broke out of the thicket to a little treeless hill, and began climbing it. And for a sliver of time, Xander felt he was back in an old, Sunnydale graveyard. The dew-slick grass, the rocks like headstones. He looked up at Spike. The vampire was a wraith in the drifting mist and fog. As he swiveled, surveying the area, Xander saw that he had gone into gameface. He was standing in a haunted place with the monster of a million bad horror films. Xander felt… not afraid, but excited, anticipatory. A crack of sound in the distance and the monster’s head came up, eyes yellow and alert.

“What?” whispered Xander.

Spike held up a hand for silence, he prowled forward on absolutely soundless feet and Xander didn’t move. Afraid his stumbling awkwardness would betray them.

Suddenly, noise and a clot of color and movement broke through the dark spot in a nearby grove of trees. Spike took off at a run, Xander after a stunned instant, sprinting behind him. He grappled awkwardly for the horn slung over his back, bringing it to his lips while running, trying to spit sound into the mouthpiece.

Spike jumped, kicked with both feet, hitting a demon square in the chest. He spun mid-air as the stunned monster fell, and back-handed another demon so hard Xander heard his neck crack from ten yards away.

Spike landed and spun, facing off two more demons. Xander flung the horn back over his shoulder and ran up. Shoulder to shoulder they stood.

“Dibs,” said Xander.

“Get the fuck back, whelp,” hissed Spike from the side of his mouth.

They took two sideways steps in unison, the demons circled accordingly. Xander slid an axe from the holster at his waist. Spike caught the movement from the corner of his eyes. “I said to stand back, Harris,” he growled.

Xander laughed. Well, he giggled nervously, but in retrospect he would think of it as laughing. Laughing loudly in the face of danger. Bwahaha, slimy green toad creature demons, he laughed, his mind would say.

And then the demons jumped. Xander had always been remarkably uncoordinated in the face of danger, and his DNA didn’t fail him this time, either. He stepped back, to give himself room to swing, and tripped over his own feet.

“Blah…” he yelped as his ass hit the ground and slid. Happily, one of the demons had been in mid leap as Xander fell, and was flying straight over him. All Xander had to do, still flailing, was thrust his ax holding arm up into the air and … A horrible slicing and ripping sound then the burp and gush as slimy green toad guts spilled out over him.

Xander had the sense to roll away. You never know what demon guts will do. So he only caught a little juice and possible kidney bits. He struggled to his knees in time to see Spike planting a short sword through the other demon’s skull. It made a sound like a jack-o-lantern on Halloween hitting the sidewalk. Spike pulled the sword out and kicked the demon over. Then he just stood there, glaring down at the body.

“Something weird?” asked Xander, limping a little as he approached him.

“Shut yer trap,” snapped Spike. He shook hard back into human visage. He still looked angry.

“Geez, Spike, it was a simple question.”

“I TOLD you to stand off, Harris.”

Xander snorted lightly. “I did all right.”

Spike made a disgusted noise.

“I killed my guy, right?” Xander gestured at the mess that still lay on the ground behind him. “Held up my end?”

“The PLAN was, I fight the two hundred and fifty pound demons, you blow the feckin’ horn, Harris. Remember the plan? I didn’t hear any horn blowin’.”

Xander mumbled.

“What, Harris? I couldn’t hear your witty retort,” said Spike angrily.

“I said, I couldn’t get it to work,” said Xander. He struggled to stuff his gore-coated ax back into the holster, muttering ostensibly to himself but loud enough for any vampire in a ten-mile radius to hear him, “Thank you very much for your help, Xander. Oh no problem, Mr. Has-to-be-the-big-guy-and-kill-all-the-demons-himself.”

Spike glared. “Clean yer weapon before holstering it, Harris.”

Xander flushed and yanked the ax back out, pointedly wiped the blade on his trousers, glaring back at Spike.

Spike turned away. “Next time I’m goin’ by myself.”

“What? No way!”

“You can’t take bloody orders, Harris.”

“Orders? Orders?” Xander repeated in outrage. “Since when am I taking orders from you?”

“Oh fer…” Spike took off the way they had come, shaking his head in frustration.

“Nice, Spike. Make your little statement then march off. Very grown-up,” shouted Xander, running to catch up with him. “Very mature.”

“Shut yer GOB, Harris!” yelled Spike, whirling once more to confront him.

They stood, huffing breath into the misty cold air. Or at least Xander huffed breath. Spike exuded an attitude of breath huffing.

“You are the most stubborn, annoying human it has ever been my misfortune to meet. And not drain,” screamed Spike.

“Yeah, well, so are you,” yelled Xander. “Except, you know, for the not human part and uh, substitute staking for the draining part.”

Spike shook his head so hard Xander could have sworn he heard an animated cowbell. “Huh?”

“You piss me off, too!” yelled Xander.

“You know what, Harris?” Spike marched up to him and jabbed him once in the chest with a hard forefinger. “You know what I’ve always wanted to do to you?”

“Go ahead and tell me, Spike!” screamed Xander. He snatched at Spike’s hand, pushed it away.

Spike stared at him. “I’ve always wanted to teach you a lesson. Teach you to…” his gaze wandered over Xander’s face, “to…to…”

Xander was breathing hard, his mouth open. “Yeah, well I always wanted to see you try, Spike.” He pushed at Spike. Pushed him again. Started to push him again but Spike snatched his hand.

“Harris,” said Spike in a strained voice.

“Huh.” Xander stared at his captured fingers as if dazed.

“I wanna fuck you so bad right now.”

“Yeah,” said Xander. “Me too.”

Xander felt the impact and the ooze of wet against the back of his head as he and Spike fell into the mud, devouring each other’s mouths. Spike tore Xander’s pants down with such impatience, Xander heard them rip. “Oh God,” Xander begged against Spike’s mouth, “hurry.”

The hands that moved over him were frantic, the mouth that sucked on his neck, biting, was hungry. Spike’s hands were between his thighs, successfully rearranging his brain by what they were doing there and Xander made noises intended to spur those hands on.

Obediently strong cool fingers grasped his thigh and heaved his leg upward.

“Wait,” panted Xander, some trickle of sense permeating the ooze in his brain. “Wait, we need…aahhh. No.” The face against his neck growled and rose up to glare in his eyes. Xander felt the cold blunt head of Spike’s cock against his hole, registered that it was a demon’s face inches from his own, yellow eyes naked with desire, mouth open, dangerous teeth so close….

Xander reared up and kissed the sharp mouth. Spike thrust into him, forcing himself into Xander’s dry hole, his grunts of effort vibrating in their mouths. Precum lubricated them both very quickly and on the third or fourth thrust, the violent penis was allowed access. Xander yelped into the sharp mouth as Spike shoved in. He wanted to protest this… this invasion, but his brain wrapped itself around the pain gladly and his traitorous hips thrust back, wriggling in a frenzy.

Spike drew back, howling like an animal, and Xander cried out with need and urgent want of more, something more…he fought Spike’s grip just to feel himself held still by the taloned, hard hands, reached up and ran his own hands hungrily over the bony demonic brow, his fingers painting the distorted nose, the hard lips, touching the teeth.

Xander was keening as Spike pumped into him with an impossible urgency, groaning in loud, painful vowels, like a dying thing in the forest.

“Oh yeah, God yeah,” Xander cried and yelled and whimpered. “Now, God now Spike, do it now…” not even knowing what he was asking for just that he needed it and wanted it now.

An odd expression twisted the demonic brow. He curved over, the wet sound of the mud as the ground was hit by their shared weight, his hands tightening, pinching the skin of Xander’s hip his thigh. The demon dove down and Xander didn’t even have time to react. Didn’t have time to think. Heat rose in surges from his balls through his cock, the wash of cold in his bowels, deeper than he had ever felt it, and he cried out in the extremes of satisfied need as the vampire buried his face in his throat and bit.


~*~*~*~*~


The spotlight stood at the center of the cliff, colored lights strung out from it like a carnival tent. Angel’s tent had been transformed into a caterer’s dream, with long tables swathed with glittering rayon cloth, holding porcelain bowls of sauces and cakes and staple tortilla wraps. Xander carefully inserted the little spigot into the huge pottery crock of some mysterious beverage that Spike had dubbed ominously as “Grog with a kick”, and forbidden him to drink.

“You’re still weak, Xan,” he said, ruffling the silky, lengthening hair with the familiarity of ownership. His hand lingered and trailed to barely brush the bite on Xander’s neck. Xander shuddered and Spike felt a surge of guilt and something else he felt too guilty to admit. “Does it hurt?” he asked.

“No,” said Xander in that odd voice he had whenever they referred to that. “But please don’t touch it again, Spike.”

Spike drew his fingers back regretfully. “I’m sorry, Xander,” he said for the millionth time.

“Yeah,” said Xander gruffly. He stood, dusting his hands. “You said that.”

“But you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you, Spike,” said Xander. He surveyed the tent with a critical eye. “People will be coming soon.” He headed for the door.

Spike watched him go. In the two weeks since the incident Xander had been polite, but distant. Kind, but cold. He hadn’t argued, criticized, belittled or joked with Spike. It was horrible. He also had managed to avoid the vampire’s bed. No mean trick when they slept in the same tent and on the same palette. He just never seemed to be tired when Spike was. Or crawled into bed long after the vampire had drifted off. He allowed, even initiated, the touching and occasionally the kissing, but then quickly pulled away.

If Spike had known human men as well as he knew demons, he would have thought Xander was suffering from commitment anxiety. But Spike didn’t understand human men. He hadn’t understood them when he was one, and he didn’t understand them now. He thought Xander was upset and possibly frightened by the bite.

It had only been a little sip. A hungry taste of Xander’s blood, rich with hormone and adrenaline and endorphin, as both men writhed in the ecstasy of their shared orgasm. It had been not even a half a pint and Spike had had the control born of all these years of feeding from the willing villagers and stopped himself.

But Xander had had tears and blood and mud on his face and been practically unconscious. Pale, breathing in thin, shallow gasps, it had scared Spike half to death. He had picked the young man up and carried him back to camp. Even when Xander had come back to a sense of reality and struggled to regain his feet, Spike had not allowed it. He had carried him back here. Tucked him in. Bathed the wound. Forced him to take food and liquids. All the while pitifully begging for forgiveness.

And Xander had forgiven him. Calmly, seriously, looking him in the eye.

“I’m sorry, Xander.”

“I know you’re sorry, Spike. I know you weren’t trying to hurt me.”

But Spike felt the coolness. He felt the distance. He had enjoyed a brief moment in the circle of Xander’s affection. And he felt his cold and solitude even more, now that that warmth was withheld.

Outside, voices of people arriving. The first Spike recognized immediately. Berynn and his pretty little sister, Sherleen. They had been up here for the past two days helping set up everything. Helping Xander with the formality of invitations and RSVP’s. A complicated and forbidding series of necessary steps to assure that everyone was invited and no one was insulted. There were party favors to be sorted. Too dear and too easily acquired both an insult. It was a complicated and difficult thing and Xander would never have managed it without Sherleen’s help.

It was a small pleasure for the boy. One Spike would never have thought to deny him. Especially after the incident. And the girl had been proper. No flirtatious and overt sexual moves for these young women! But Spike didn’t have to like it.

He pushed out of the tent and saw Xander engaged in conversation with the brother and sister, his arm slung easily over Berynn’s shoulder. And Spike felt another irritating twinge as he noted the flash of admiration and adulation in the young man’s gray eyes. His hand came up to Xander’s shoulder and he saw the way Xander’s head tilted towards him, the happy flush that bloomed in his cheeks. Those bloody empaths, thought Spike irritably. They knew just what buttons to push, just what you were happy to hear.

He stomped over to another part of the party area. Trying not to see the illogic of his suspicions. Glaring balefully across the brightly lit square at the two innocents.

“Spike!” Xander waved him over. “We are the receiving line! Sherleen says. Come on.”

Grumbling to himself, hands buried deep in the new brightly colored vest Xander had made him wear for the occasion, Spike took his place by Xander’s side. Stuck out his hand. “Pleased ta meetchya,” he grumbled to Berynn. The young man’s eyebrows went up in surprise and he laughed and took Spike’s hand.

Spike felt the comfort and calm and gawked at the child in surprise, yanked his hand away. “Don’t … you bloody devil!” Berynn had a positively imp-like expression on his face. Spike was completely taken aback at the insolence. In all his years up here none of these people had dared to try any of their magics on him or Angel.

“Whole Bloody System is breakin’ down,” he groused.

Xander laughed. The sound rippled over Spike’s skin pleasantly. Then Xander wrapped his arm around Spike’s shoulders and Spike could feel the party spirit starting to infect him. He looked down the hill and saw the bobbing faerie lights of the approaching guests. Distantly, tambours and drums could be heard. Spike bounced a bit on the balls of his feet.

Xander laughed again. “This is going to be fun,” he said.


~*~*~*~*~


It was fun. After the initial stiff formality of greetings, everyone seemed to relax. The musicians settled into a corner of the plateau and, like a party back in Xander’s day, young people congregated in front of them, dancing.

Spike had meant to retreat into the shadows, but was unable. Their small group of patrollers in training found him and he soon was the center of his own little clique. The young men had apparently bonded and considered Spike one of their number. He looked up from the long, low bench they had set up at one end of the patio. A boy, Tyren, and his brother, whose name Spike hadn’t caught, were excitedly telling the story of some monster they imagined they had seen, with horns sticking out of its face and a long nose that was flat and pink at the end, when Spike’s internal sensor alerted him, and he looked up towards the reception area.

Angel and Dahla stood there, looking around.

“Hold on, fellas,” said Spike, rising quickly.

“Angel!” called Xander, as Spike approached the couple. He came up behind Spike and put one large, warm hand on Spike’s shoulder, extending the other towards Angel. “*Greetings*” said Xander formally.

Angel took Xander’s hand, looking at Spike. “Greetings” he said in English. “Spike,” said Angel, and his smile was fond. “It’s good to see you.”

Spike felt something inside himself liquefying. He reached forward and took Angel’s familiar, yet wholly unknown, hand. This was the man who had made him what he was. The man whose history Spike had made his own, whose opinions and points of view Spike had either adopted or lived as an open rebellion against.

Angel’s hand was warm, but not as warm as many humans. The skin against Spike’s palm was dry and felt loose. As if Angel had dropped a lot of weight. His face was drawn and still pale and he leant on Dahla.

“Can we sit down somewhere?” Angel asked, laughing shakily. “The walk up that hill …”

It made Spike want to cry and rage at the indecency of it. He did neither. Awkwardly, the gesture wholly foreign, he offered Angel his arm. Slowly he led him to an empty bench.

Xander followed. “*How is he?*” he asked Dahla, low enough so only Spike could hear.

“*His heart is injured,*” said Dahla sadly. “*But he is becoming stronger.*”

Of course Angel’s heart was injured, thought Spike, adjusting a blanket over Angel’s shoulders. It always had been.

Spike could feel Xander standing over them, like a looming thunderhead.

“We are glad you could make it,” said Xander in his formal, adult voice.

Angel’s eyes studied Spike. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I…” he looked around the plateau, as if noticing things for the first time, “I love what you’ve done with the place, Spike.”

“Still kept yer tent up,” said Spike gruffly, fingering the fringe of Angel’s blanket. “Case you wanted to use it.”

“That was thoughtful of you.”

Spike found himself searching for words. After all these centuries, he discovered, he didn’t know how to talk to Angel. He couldn’t say what popped into his head. And the casual platitudes seemed so false.

“Xander,” said Angel casually, not looking at the man. “Would you please get me a drink?”

Xander didn’t move. Spike looked back at him and took in the narrow, dark way Harris was glaring at Angel. It suddenly irritated him to the extreme that Xander would avoid him like a disease, and then suddenly become the jealous husband when Angel was present. “Get Angel somethin’, whelp,” he said coolly.

Xander’s hostility flashed from Angel to Spike. “Sure,” he said crisply, spun on his heel and marched off.

There was an ominous pause. Angel took Spike’s hand and bent over it thoughtfully. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you, Spike,” he said.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander stood in the refreshment tent, blindly staring at the precariously stacked cups and the punch bowl next to them. His thoughts, as they had throughout the entire past week, skated wildly over an oiled surface.

He raised his hand slowly, and allowed himself to run his fingers over the bite. A thrill ran down his neck and seemed to wiggle through his esophagus and stomach into his balls. For the past two weeks, all he had to do was touch it, and he was hard.

A vampire bite was not an erotic thrill, said the Scooby in Xander’s mind. He remembered what he had been told about Riley. The addiction, all the psychological problems that led to it. Dangerous, crazy, wanting the bite was just plain nuts.

Xander had been through enough of life to have gained a little self-awareness. He couldn’t blame Spike for the biting, he knew he had been the one who wanted it. And the endless, uncontrollable fantasies that Xander was having, reliving the experience in the woods, the bite. Imagining that face overpowering him, taking him. It was all about the kink.

And Xander wasn’t a guy who used someone to indulge a kink. He knew Spike had been used in the past. Used because of what he was not who he was. He remembered one drunken night, a remorseful Buffy spilling the whole story. But Spike was not just a cool new sex toy. He had been a friend, a caring compassionate companion, through all this madness. He owed him more than that, Xander told himself fiercely.

Xander needed to decide what he wanted, and to stand by it.

But the way Angel had looked at Spike… Xander suddenly reanimated, went to the drink table and quickly slopped liquid into a couple of cups. He couldn’t leave Spike alone with him.


~*~*~*~*~


“Dahla said Xander had been down, to deliver clothes and my books? But you hadn’t been with him…” Angel had taken his hand and seemed to be trying to read him. “Have you been alright?”

Spike nodded, panicking.

“I sent messages? Maybe you didn’t get them…”

“I got them,” said Spike quickly. “I…I … We’ve been busy, Angel,” said Spike, purposely changing the pronoun. “Dahla said you needed rest. And we’ve got the village in top shape, security wise. Figured you could be left in peace…”

“I’ve missed you, Spike.”

Every dead organ in Spike’s body seemed to chill. “I…I…” he said.

“Dahla is everything I could ever want in a woman, Spike.” said Angel slowly. “But I’ve only known her for a decade. I’ve known you for centuries. You’re my best friend.”

Spike wanted to draw his hand away from Angel’s. He wanted to stand and run from this. But he couldn’t. He turned his head away, the colored lights overhead blurred and blended together as he looked at them.

“You’re my Childe,” said Angel. “My blood.”

The stranger with the cold dry hands and the erratically beating heart, saying things that Spike had longed to hear for over a century, but no longer wanted, touched the back of Spike’s neck with two fingers.

“Consider that this day ne'er dawns again,” quoted Angel softly. “I needed to tell you, Spike, how I feel…”

Spike shook his head, pushing this away. “I…I…” he whispered.

There was distant and distinct horn blast. From the direction of the village. Spike jumped to his feet.

“What was that?”

“The alarm?” Angel also turned his head to peer into the darkness.

“Demons,” said Spike, taking off towards the dark hillside at a run.

Behind him, the little troupe of vampire hunters rallied and raced to follow. Xander emerged from the tent, dropped his drinks to the ground and took off after them. The music stopped and voices around them rose in a panic. Dahla looked towards the bench where Angel had been sitting with Spike.

And saw him running down the hillside as well.


~*~*~*~*~


The chattering stopped as James rose with a drink in his hand. The entire room of mourners turned respectfully to face him.

He smiled around at them. Some of the faces were old and almost unknown to him. Former employees, the children of friends. Even old pals that laughed meaningfully and nudged each other when they spoke of his father and ‘owing’ him something. A lot of friends.

“My dad,” said James slowly. “loved this world.” He thought for a moment. “He used to say, it was a place where anything good or bad might happen, a guy just had to decide where he stood and then help it along.” A couple of heads in the room nodded.

“So, you know, we did a lot of charity work and,” James laughed reminiscently, “we had a lot of stray dogs.” He took a sip of his drink. “But my dad loved the worlds in his head a lot too. The earliest things I can remember are him telling his stories.” He saw a lot of heads nodding along. “Yeah,” said James. “We all know dad’s stories.”

“But they were all the same story really,” said James slowly. “They seemed like monster tales. But they were really love stories. Because it was all about commitment to the people you cared about, no matter what.” He looked at his wife, and Jennifer came to stand with him again. “He taught me that,” said James, his voice failing.

A few hands raised drinks in toast. James nodded, unable to speak, and toasted back at them.


~*~*~*~*~


“Spike!” called Xander, hurtling down the black hillside, his own shadow, cast by the bright lights of their party, obscuring the ground before his feet. “Spike, you undead idiot, wait for me!”

There was a lot of noise up ahead. Some of the patrol boys were yelling back and forth. Xander heard smashing. A howl.

“Spike!” he ran hard towards the howl. Came around a clump of trees and found Spike facing off what seemed to be a crowd of demons. They had backed him into a wall. He was covered with dark, black blood, and was howling and snarling. A gash ran down one side of his face, the black demon blood smoking wherever it touched his skin.

“Demon blood equals ‘bad’” said Xander’s brain to himself as he circled around looking for a way to help Spike. It was actually easy. Every demon in the group seemed to sense him at once, they turned and advanced, forgetting Spike.

“Harris you bloody moron, get out of here!” He heard Spike’s peeved voice from beyond the towering wall of demons.

Xander, backing rapidly away, looking quickly behind himself to notice that the demons had encircled him from the back, nevertheless rolled his eyes. “Quit giving me orders, Spike!” he yelled back.

A big hand grabbed his elbow. He jerked away, only to be whirled about by a hand on his shoulder. Somewhere on his person, Xander had a hunting knife. It had become standard gear, along with the stake, as soon as he began patrolling regularly. He slid it from its sheath and stabbed blindly.

Something was hit, it yelled, its blood splattered across Xander’s arm, stinging like hot grease and everybody leapt back from Xander.

The happy sound of cracking spines, and Xander saw two demon heads go down at the back of the group. He looked at the faces turned menacingly towards him, once again, and pointed towards their fallen comrades. They weren’t the brightest big uglies, thought Xander randomly, as they all turned in unison and looked behind him. When the demons were looking at Spike, Xander leapt forward and stabbed again.

The demon he had hit screamed and actually went down on one knee, and its companions spun about towards Xander again. He saw a fist, a dark blond head appear then another agonized noise. Three demon heads went down. The group spun about en masse in confusion.

Xander’s mouth twisted in a grin. The demons were so rattled by the attacks that always seemed to come from behind them, they obviously were beginning to think they were outnumbered or that their adversaries had some special powers. They began backing off.

Spike trotted up to Xander. He turned his fanged, bloody face up to the sky and shrieked like a possessed werewolf. The demons cut and ran.

Xander started laughing. Spike turned on him and Xander thought they were going to have another argument, when a loud human scream, abruptly cut off, came through the dark.

They both took off in the direction from which it had come, rounding a corner, and discovering the source of the scream almost immediately. Just outside the village, near the hacked and still steaming bodies of two demons, the patrol boys were crowded around a kneeling Dahla. Before her, on the ground, his eyes open and staring in agony, his head twisted at a sickening angle, lay Angel.




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