After Xander had first lost his eye, all those decades ago, he had had a good ten years of waking in the morning feeling as if he had slipped sideways from himself. It wasn’t so much the lack of peripheral vision, although that had probably been what started it, but more the feeling that he was not quite inside his own lines. Like a cartoon with the colored part animating outside itself.
The loss of Sunnydale, and Anya’s death, had pushed him even more askew.
But adulthood is a series of slides West from one’s true North anyway, and in time Xander had become so accustomed to not being himself that he had accepted the strangeness as natural. The missing eye merely part of the new person in whom he dwelt, and who he came to identify as himself.
And during his life there had been moments when he had known somehow that this was the way it was meant to be. The day he and his wife had decided to marry. The day they had brought his son home from the hospital. Xander could still remember sitting on the sofa the next morning, Patricia still in bed, James a tiny warm ball tucked into his arm, thanking the powers that be, despite all the loss, regret and sorrow, thanking them sincerely and profusely and from the bottom of his heart. For his life.
And if, over the years, he sometimes had still found himself, as if coming to from a dream, standing on an overpass in Los Angeles, or staring out the window of a skyscraper, and wondered who the hell he was and how he had come to be there, Xander had stepped past that sensation with no thought whatsoever. There were obligations, responsibilities. People were waiting for him. He was a man outside his own lines, perhaps, but it no longer worried him.
When he had first woken in this strange new world, his restored dual vision had barely fazed him.
This morning though, as he became conscious of himself, Xander had finally felt the jerk and settle of coming into focus. No longer atilt or blurred. For the first time in decades, Xander felt fully himself.
Himself in bed with a vampire-lover, he remembered, somehow accepting that as part of the clarity. What had happened last night? His whole emotional being, like a heat seeking missile, had found its target and burst over him in a shower of whatever this feeling was. Spike and he were together somehow. And not just in a ‘two guys having sex’ kind of way, either. “Spike?” he whispered, flopping his arm sideways to wake him. His arm bounced against the cold, empty mattress.
He turned his head sideways and found Spike not there.
Xander sat up. “Spike?” He rolled out of bed and staggered around. He felt a little high, so it took a few moments to realize that Spike was actually not there. The tent seemed not just vacant, but emptied. He could almost scent the missing vampire.
He rubbed at his neck, habitually scratching the healing bite, and found his fingers fumbling instead over an old scar. His bite was completely healed.
A vampire bite is not a normal wound. Xander had explained all this to James on many a story telling night, as they whispered under the quilt with a flashlight, giggling like a couple of boys. Xander had explained to James that a vampire bite doesn’t just scab over and heal in a week, like a scrape you get on your knee.
It’s a puncture wound to a primary artery. Two thick holes in your neck. It aches and it itches and even if the vein wall has healed enough so that it isn’t still seeping into the hole, it feels tender. The demon has fangs to feed; once its food is drained, there is no purpose in healing. One isn’t supposed to survive the bites, and they are ugly wounds, ragged and tissue destructive, not like a suture or a surgeon’s knife. If one does survive a vampire bite, as Xander had now thrice, one is careful not to move one’s head around too much. Not a lot of violent neck twisting. The ache and the itch become an ongoing continuous presence. Swallowing is a conscious act. Speaking vibrates against it.
Spike had buried his fangs deep in his neck last night, Xander remembered with a weird little thrill. So he was stunned to feel under his palm not even dried blood or skin. And there was no pain or tenderness in his neck at all.
Where the bite had been, he felt instead two cool lumps, with the wrinkled soft tissue of scars. His hands flew over his face. He felt something similar under one lip. Each earlobe had the tiny, soft fleshy mark. Overnight the bites had healed.
He began searching around the debris of the tent, shaking his head at the mess. The place looked like a college dorm room. Xander kept poking through the piles of discarded clothing, bizarrely looking for a mirror. Of course there were none. A reflective surface? In the round brass sides of the tub, Xander squinted and twisted his face, trying to see his scars.
Under his lip, perfectly centered, one tiny, white, star-like mark. Matching marks on both earlobes. He couldn’t see the wounds on his neck properly. They didn’t seem completely closed, though, his fingers found weird indentations in both, like a navel. Touching them, of course, made his morning woody leap against his leg. But that was nothing compared to the sensations washing over the rest of him. Every hair on his body seemed to be breathing. He could feel the air around him, its temperature, its moisture. He could hear the silence. He felt more alert than he ever had in his entire life. Beyond the adrenalin-before-the-battle alert. Beyond the important-business-meeting alert. He swore he could hear the earth itself, the ground groaning, the trees stretching in the gloom outside. He started breathing faster and he could almost see the heat of his breath, like a scientific photograph, writhing through the cool air.
“SPIKE?” called Xander. Then he remembered the battle. The Plan.
He only hesitated long enough to grab appropriate clothing.
The patrolmen, to prepare for the battle the next day, had slept in the Town Hall. They had made their own ritual of it. An exciting and almost illicit seeming act in this society of strict and ancient traditions, to make a new one. But they were young and heady with the excitement of so many new things happening during their time.
Most of them had never spent the night anywhere but in their own homes, with their own families. Even Tyren and Tybal felt wild and free surrounded by strangers instead of their five sisters.
They made a sort of pact. Gave each other new names. Exchanged a few exaggerated stories between themselves of recent exploits while on patrol and then, their beds laid out in a little circle in the middle of the hall, they grouped closer and told vampire tales.
‘The Old Ones’ they called them. The ‘Masters’. And in their tales, their vampires were the two angels of the dark world who pitied the race of man and defied their own gods to help the people of Earth. Brought them wisdom. Brought them light. Protected them from the jealous gods. There were a lot of creation stories about their vampires. How they had come from the circle of stones. The larger, darker one, mad and raving, speaking with the Gods in his mind. The smaller, facile with languages though always wayward in his grammar and accent, friendly, sensual, hedonistic and passionate.
They had obviously been of the Gods. Their strength and battle skills were incredible. They had brought the first people food from the far off lakes. And coal for warmth. They had brought the old solar panels from some Land.
The stories said that the Old Ones had starved and almost died, because they would not drink from the peoples of Earth, but a sect of priests had sacrificed their own blood to keep them living. Since then, the ceremony of sacrifice, when one became a true adult of the clan, was when one offered blood to the Old Ones. The mark was one of adulthood and honor.
Berynn’s fingers slid habitually over his old mark. He looked down at his arm and really studied it for the first time since he had received it quite some time ago. It had been Spike who delivered it, he remembered. And then, oddly, he remembered Xander’s lips on his mouth.
The Old Ones battled the demon hordes. And there were also ancient prophecies, set down by the first sect of priests, that there would be someday, a time of light. A time after the Old Ones. There were also prophecies about others outcast by the Gods. Heroes and villains sent to aid the Old Ones. Stories of their roles, the signs of their coming, and the last battles.
Most of the men thought Xander was one outcast by the Gods. His stature, the unnatural size and strength of him. His coppery brown skin, obviously spoke of some alien land, some non-human derivation. They hypothesized about what kind of creature he might be.
Berynn reflected that he had a poor opinion of a God who would cast away someone like Xander. And he was fairly certain that Xander was completely human. Because Xander was afraid most of the time. Confused. He was lonely, and that might have been the state of an exile, but the sensation was familiar, one Berynn knew too well. It seemed like every human being he knew felt that way most of the time.
Sometimes he ached with all of their shared loneliness. Not tonight though. Tonight they were together in a shared adventure. The sensation was delicious. It was great being an empath in a room full of happy, excited people.
Now one of the men was describing an incident with a magical beast while on patrol. “His eyes were red and tiny. Not like the ‘Masters’. This was a hungry stupid look. His nose quivered with rage and he shook his shaggy brown head. His neck was so thick, it seemed part of his torso…”
One of the men interrupted at this point to accuse his companion of fabrication. But the man’s patrol buddy confirmed the story.
Now they were all joining in, laughing, adding details.
Berynn sat on his little bed, arms wrapped around raised knees and smiled happily. Tyren came and sat beside him, resting his arm over his shoulder. He touched, teasingly, the bright pink tip of Berynn’s nose.
Tybal plunked down on the other side of Berynn, and his arm joined his brother’s, woven together around Berynn’s back. He rested the red mop of his head happily sideways on Berynn’s smooth dark cap of hair.
When Xander burst through the doors of the Hall sometime later, he found them curled around each other on their shared blankets, like Siamese cats in a nest, their slim white limbs overlapping.
Berynn raised his tousled and confused head from the hollow of Tybal’s shoulder and then stiffened, jerked to a seated position, adrenalized by the palpable panic coming off of Xander. He started shaking his companions, his voice adding to the alarm.
“Stupid undead bastard always going off to be the hero…” ranted Xander, tossing crossbows and scabbards and stakes at all and sundry. “…I find him and I’m killing him… again…he is so dead…or…deader…or…” he flung a cross-bolt belt over his shoulder and strapped his lucky ax to his hip while all around him patrolmen rushed to dress and arm themselves. Xander ranted, “… damn vampire. Thinks being evil is some kind of get out of jail free card … ”
Berynn gave his shoulder a hard steadying squeeze as he passed.
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” said Xander. Spinning on one foot, he followed the patrolmen out of the room.
Spike was halfway down the West cliff face when he heard them. He was in an unfortunate position as it happened. Spread eagle on a narrow ledge, his back pressed to the sheer face of the cliff, edging along sideways. He and Angel had come this way many times before, and Spike could do the corner with his eyes closed.
But it was a Hell of a place to be caught.
He froze and listened to the approaching voices. Amazed that he hadn’t heard them sooner. His mind immediately began sorting through the available plans. With despair he realized that his repertoire of plans, devised over centuries, all required two vampires to carry out.
The heavy footsteps and whispered demonic words were getting closer. Spike thought that if he dared to inhale, he’d be able to smell them by now.
He began very slowly sliding back the way he had come. There was an indentation in the cliff face about twenty paces back. If he could make it there without them discovering him…
A heavy damp hand came down on Spike’s shoulder. “Plsxts,” said a deep nasally voice. Spike didn’t know the language, but the satisfaction in the voice was clear. He had to crane his neck to look up into the creature’s face. A delighted fleshy smile and rheumy green eyes gazed into his own, the hand on his shoulder tightened.
Spike managed a cheeky grin. “*That’s all right, Angel,*” he yelled to a place above and beyond the demon’s left shoulder. “*I can take these two little uns…*”
And there was darkness.
As Xander and the patrolmen rounded the top of the ridge, part of Xander still expected Spike to be there waiting for them. An obnoxious grin on his face, probably picking his teeth with a bit of demon bone. Xander was already planning exactly how he was going to tell Spike off when he saw him.
It wasn’t until they arrived and found Spike not there that Xander really began to react. The adrenalin surging into his heart muscle, until it pounded like a fist against his ribs. Breathing hard, he looked around himself. The patrollers seemed at a loss, wandering around the pre-arranged meeting place, looking behind rocks and around the periphery of the clearing as if they expected Spike to suddenly pop out. Xander reflected briefly that these people had lost too much too often. They were giving in to that feeling of failure. Well, Xander Harris had worked himself beyond that feeling of failure a long time ago. He jumped up onto a largish boulder, waving his arms.
It was kind of cool when all the guys' heads turned expectantly. Like he knew what he was doing.
“*Listen, he’s been caught,*” he stated.
He noticed Berynn’s expression. He seemed to think Xander was being overly optimistic.
“No,” said Xander. “If he were dust, I’d know.”
Berynn’s eyes evaded his, unhappily. But Xander knew he was right. Something had happened between him and Spike last night. Or maybe it had been happening all along. But if Spike were dust, Xander was sure he would feel it.
“*We’ll need Dahla’s help,*” he announced. “*And volunteers.*”
Spike loved it when life turned poetic. And normally, he would have been enjoying the irony of his situation. He twisted his wrists in the manacles that held him aloft. If he ignored the pain and arched his wrists back, he could grab hold of the suspending chain and twist his body infinitesimally towards the cave entrance. At least this way, he’d see it coming. Spike hated the idea of death catching him from behind.
He could see the outline of the guards, like large soft boulders, resting at the caves entrance. One of them glanced up at his movement and grinned malevolently. “*Not long now*” he promised Spike in an eerily spot on pronunciation of the villagers’ dialect. He grinned again, his grayed shark-like teeth protruding from thick lips.
“*If he’s bored, we can play again*” said the other guard without turning, nodding at the clubs leaning against the wall of the cave near where they sat. The clubs were covered, already, with a certain vampire’s blood. A great deal more of the blood was clotted in Spike’s hair and drying it streaks down his naked torso.
“*Thanks, mate,*” said Spike, hoping the villagers’ word for ‘mate’ sounded suitably sarcastic. He ran his tongue around the inside of his lower lip and spat the blood he gathered there as far across the room as he could, towards his tormentors. He twisted again.
He wasn’t sure how long he had been out, but he knew that by now the villagers, and Xander would have found him missing. The irony was, Spike had purposely pursued this action to keep Xander safe. And now the damned whelp would be coming for him. Probably butting that stubborn, dark head right into one of those ugly clubs. And there wasn’t a damned thing Spike could do to stop him.
Xander, Berynn, Tybor and Tyren poked their heads cautiously above the moss-covered hillock and peered through the darkness at a distant light source flickering across the ground between them. Illuminating the boiling night sky.
Tybor nudged Berynn and he nodded and looked an inquiry at Xander.
‘And how bad off are we when I’m the guy that knows the answers?’ thought Xander nervously. “Fire,” he said, in a tight tiny whisper. The light of it shifted over the awed faces of the twins. Xander allowed himself a small smile and noticed Berynn watching his mouth fixedly.
While Xander struggled with the quandary of guilt, remorse and friendship, Berynn lifted a hand and touched his lower lip. Xander flinched back.
That bitter wisdom tilted up the corner of Berynn’s mouth again, and Xander figured he didn’t have to say much else. But Berynn didn’t seem to get the message. He touched Xander’s lip again. Or, actually, that little wound Spike had made just below Xander’s lip. It tingled. Berynn’s gaze traveled from the wound to Xander’s eyes, his expression awed.
“Oh, yeah,” Xander mouthed the words, and felt himself flushing, his tongue automatically moving to brush the wound where it opened inside his lip. And how many times had he repeated that action today, he wondered, the sensation of peace buzzing through him every time he touched it.
Berynn said a word in hushed tones in his own language that Xander had never learnt. Tybor nudged Berynn again, hard, and gestured towards the firelit campsite. The demons were moving about with some sense of purpose.
Per their previously discussed plan, the four men rose and ran at a crouch around the back of the campsite. Tybor and Tyren dropped off halfway round and Berynn and Xander went on another forty yards before securing themselves behind some boulders. They peered through the thickening smoke. It smelled, oddly, like pine trees, thought Xander.
The good news was, thought Spike through the haze of pain, trying not to pass out again, the good news was that he and Angel’s reputations were still secure. The demons had beaten him for some time, despite his being bound, before they had seemed convinced that he was safe. Some of the blows to the head would have killed a mortal. The bad news was, Spike was having trouble staying conscious. He ground his teeth and twisted his wrists again, the pain forcing a kind of clarity, and tried to think.
The manacles were enchanted. He couldn’t even bend the weird metallic material from which they had been constructed. And his feet, hanging bound but free, were held in some kind of enchantment as well. When he had struggled against the blows the last time, he hadn’t been able to raise them to defend himself.
So the demons had a wizard. Or access to some kind of magic and the intellect to use it.
Spike thought of that bewitched cloaking device they had found up in the woods and the Bad Feeling he had been having since he saw it only mounted. Demons with a wizard, and the mind and determination to learn the local dialect. There was more to this plan than bash, eat and dash, obviously. These demons were planning something larger.
“*So, mate,*” said Spike as casually as he could past a broken lip, “*since I’m gonna be dust soon, mind tellin’ me what the plan is?*”
The grinning demon only grinned some more and shook his head. “*What do you care?*” He nodded towards some horizon which Spike could not see. “*In an hour, the sun will set, right through this doorway*”
“*You should be wondering how things are in Hell,*” added the other guard with a nasally laugh.
“*Yer no one to talk, you slimy toothed cretin,*” spat Spike. “*’spect I’ll be seein’ you there soon enough*”.
“*I’m not going to Hell,*” said the creature, confidently. “*I am serving the True Lord, and I will be rewarded with The Kingdom*”
What the Bloody Hell?
“*Glad to hear it, mate,” said Spike, thinking fast. “Cuz Angel should be comin’ through the bushes any time now.”
The first guard cast a look back at him, and raised a lumpy, stubbled eyebrow at his partner. The guard who was confident of salvation, covered with a contemptuous look. “*Never heard of any Angel*” he said. Spike wasn’t fooled.
“*Didn’t think I’d be stupid enough ta come down here alone, didya mate?*”
The guards smirked with a little less confidence, and glanced outside nervously.
“*Nah, I’m just a distraction.*” Spike made himself chuckle with apparent glee. The vibrations rattled his broken skull and he thought soon he’d pass out again. “*Yep, he’ll be comin’ straight towards me,*” he managed to murmur before a wave of grayness rose and swooped over his mind. Spike gave into it.
The guards regarded the hanging, unconscious vampire in silence.
“*Bluffing,*” said the one to the other in their own tongue.
The other demon nodded. But he watched the bushes outside more attentively.
A good fifteen minutes of cautiously searching around the periphery of the campsite, and the four men had met back at their hiding spot empty handed. Xander peered out at the chaotic camp, then fell back from his observation point in despair. He ran his hand desperately through his hair, as Berynn crawled over and hunched down next to him. “I just know we have to find him soon,” Xander said in an intense whisper. Sunset was coming; Xander could feel it down his spine. He had the worst kind of feeling about the sunlight today.
Berynn studied him and reached towards the mark on his lip again. Xander ducked away a little. He wasn’t sure what Berynn’s fascination with that spot was.
“Heh. Yeah, always wanted a tattoo,” he said, feeling the warmth in his cheeks. Berynn shook his head and pressed forward, insistently putting his fingers on Xander’s mark. Xander backed up towards the tree behind him a bit. “Uh, hey, man. That’s sort of a personal thing. I don’t know what you want…”
“Hey,” he said, as Berynn’s fingers pressed firmly into his chin and his other hand came up and held Xander’s head steady. The endorphins rushed over him, a stronger wave than Berynn had ever thrown at him. Xander felt literally chloroformed by them.
“I don’t want…” he weakly protested the violation. And then he felt something else. Berynn’s head was down, as in concentration. His fingers delicately positioned over Xander’s bite, which sang with a sensation. As if electricity were passing through it.
Xander huffed in breath and kept himself motionless, a wave of heady, rich endorphin prickling over his head so palpably he imagined his hair rising as if brushed through. The electrical sensation smoothed out into a humming feeling, Berynn’s hands almost playing Xander’s lip. As if Xander were an instrument.
Berynn looked up at him and his eyes were so weird Xander flinched away despite the headiness of the hormones seducing him. The iris completely gone, filled with the darkened pupil. He could have sworn he saw a yellow, demonic color rise in their center. Berynn’s normally gentle countenance suddenly twisted into a cynical and bitter sneer.
“Whelp,” he hissed in an altered and definitely British voice. “Get yer sorry arse back to camp before I kick it for you.”
“Spike!” squawked Xander, almost falling over. Berynn jerked back. And collapsed against him. “Hey, you okay?” Xander looked around, shook Berynn gently.
“Fuck,” said Xander. “Don’t have a seizure here, Berynn.”
The heavy lashes fluttered and lifted to reveal Berynn’s normal eyes. “*I know where he is*,” he communicated. Patting Xander. He struggled to his feet, waving urgently. And ran off through the trees.
“This never gets less weird,” thought Xander, running in the dark as hard as he could after a possessed empath. Berynn’s lithe form flickered in and out of the dark silhouettes of trees, like an evasive memory. Xander felt as if he were chasing a very old dream.
Spike was struggling to pull himself up from unconsciousness again, when one of the guards grunted and gestured towards something outside. Spike watched through one eye, the other closed with his own sticky blood, straining to hear beyond the ringing in his ears.
“Hey guys!” the clear American accent sailed through the air like the alien thing it was. “Is this a private party, or can anybody … oof.”
Damned foolish boy and his heroic impulses.
That had gone well, reflected Xander, twisting on the floor awkwardly. He assessed the damage and found his wrists bound, his head with the nauseating ache. He wiggled his toes and fingers and found nothing broken. Not dead, yet. Which was always a good sign. He rolled onto his back and looked around the place he had been stashed. A dark stinky damp cave. Yep. Standard. There was the intimidating demon bulkage blocking the doorway, the requisite large scary weapons. And, you know, the fear.
The gorgeous vampire, hanging in the moonlight, dripping with blood. Madder than a wet cat.
“Harris, get the fuck out of here,” Spike hissed, twisting his bloody wrists in the manacles.
Oh, yeah, this was exactly as he remembered it.
He grinned around his gag at his furious boyfriend.
Spike glared, twisted, spat blood and said something in another language that Xander was very grateful he could not understand.
Xander wriggled his butt on the floor until, with relief, he felt the uncomfortable package he had stashed up his ass. As he had hoped, the demons had neglected to search his body cavities. Guess they didn’t have terrorists highjacking airplanes in this epoch.
He rolled onto his side, arched his back, slid his bound hands down and wriggling and gasping with the discomfort, drew the carefully wrapped package from his ass.
Above him he heard a snort and a chuckle and a hushed British voice mutter. “Remind me ta check before I stick anythin’ in there next time.”
Now came the manual dexterity part. Xander fiddled by touch with the wrapping until he was able to poke one finger through. The curved end of the little folded knife slid into his hand. He flicked it open, managing to not prick himself and flipped it carefully around to apply to the ropes around his wrists.
He heard Spike hiss appreciatively. The ropes fell away and he reached up and dragged the gag free of his mouth. “Ta da,” he whispered, rolling to see Spike’s reaction. Spike decided that Harris looked altogether too proud of himself. Despite the pounding in his head, Spike managed to raise an unimpressed eyebrow, trying to stretch his swollen lips into a snear.
This didn’t faze the whelp one wit. That crooked grin widened as he rolled to his feet, and raised a secretive finger to his lips, grinning like the devil himself. Xander inched his way into the shadows by the wall. There was a loud clunk outside and one of the guards left the entrance.
“Hey!” yelped the fool child loudly. And the other guard spun around.
The next few moments seemed to Spike like one of those old black and white films he had seen hundreds of years ago. His stuttering conciousness added the cinematic flicker. All the scene needed was a wild player piano in the background.
The remaining guard charged through the door towards Xander, who scampered as fast as he could around Spike’s hanging body. In the smallish area where Spike had been hung, the kid had a minor advantage over the larger demon, he kept barely one jump ahead of the dangerous club. Spike jerked uselessly at his manacles and spat helpful curses at all and sundry.
He could swear he heard the kid giggling.
And as Harris and the lumbering guard played a ludicrous game of ring-around-the-bloody-vampire, that little empathy fairy came sprinting through the door, a small sack held aloft. Excitedly throwing some kind of powder around as he ran, like Tinkerbell in a damned burlesque show. A good quantity of the powder was hurled in Spike’s general direction and he felt the tingle and sting of magic over his hands and feet.
“Fucking Hell, I hate magic,” he said, just before the manacles released and he fell in a heap to the floor.
He got to his feet painfully, struggling to find his balance. Harris was already screaming, of course. “Little help here,” his voice several octaves higher than usual. Spike grit his teeth, spun and kicked. Five centuries of experience count for something. He instinctively caught the guard in the jaw. And fell to the ground in time to see a hollering Xander bringing the lost club down on the guards head with a disgusting crunching noise.
Berynn and Xander were grinning at each other like the two fools they were, they leapt towards each other and slapped hands in a mutual high five.
“Can’t believe that rock trick worked,” said Xander breathlessly, loping over to his collapsed boyfriend. He raised Spike carefully to his feet. “Haven’t any of these guys ever seen a John Wayne movie?”
“Rock trick,” repeated Spike. The cave walls were heaving ominously. He gripped Xander and ground his teeth, trying to stay conscious.
“Berynn drew the other guard away by throwing a rock,” Xander explained. “Geez, Spike, we’ve got to get you…”
“You mean he ain’t dead?” Spike blinked furiously against the blood in his eyes. “Geez,” he expostulated. “These bastards mean business, you idiots. Get yer sorry arses out of here!”
Berynn yelped and ran for the door, and was brought up short by six feet and two hundred pounds of hard gray flesh. With a club in its hand.
He bounced right off the meaty hide of the guard, and that is probably why he survived the encounter. He literally flew backwards, landing on his ass with a squeak, and sliding another two yards backward, flailing. Xander thoughtlessly leapt between the guard and Berynn.
The demon raised his club and swung and Xander ducked. Two seconds later, Xander noted with surprise that he had ducked successfully and was still standing, slightly to the demon’s right, with his brains not bashed in. His hand went to his skull, as if surprised to find it still there.
There was a shout and Spike’s white and blood-black torso shot across the air behind the first guard. A sickening crunch and the wet splatter of something that looked like a demons lunch flew out from around the guard who halted in his approach towards Xander and spun around to face Spike.
Over the demon’s bent shoulder, Xander saw Spike standing unsteadily. Blinking hard and swaying, as if he were confused. Hoping to distract the guard, Xander ran at the back of the demon. Berynn seemed to have regained his feet and joined him. They threw themselves jointly at the bulky back, and the combined force of their bodies shoved the great hulk forwards, slightly off balance.
Spike swung sloppily, but made enough contact to snap the guard’s head sideways. Everyone stood for a moment in shock. Then the demon roared, spinning on the two humans, Spike screamed and kicked, weakly, but he made contact. Xander threw a punch that would leave him nursing his knuckles for a week, and Berynn jumped a bit and forced the fingers of one hand into the demon’s eyes. The guard roared with rage and spun about again. He raised his club.
Xander managed at this point to find his ax where it had been tossed against the wall. He swung it around without hitting Berynn or himself and planted it with a solid wet sound, in the demon’s behind. The guard roared and took a punch in his snaggled teeth from Spike. He dropped his club and Berynn ran forward speedily and fetched it away.
The swarm of locusts technique seemed to be working and they kept up their assault, gradually beating the monster down until Spike, weaving on his feet and blinking hard, his mouth wide as he attempted to focus, reached down and, crying out with pain at the effort, snapped the unwieldy neck.
They all stood, panting and staring.
Berynn was the first to react. He whooped and ran out of the cave, like a boy chased from a haunted house. Xander followed, dragging a confused and stumbling Spike behind him.
They were well into the woods before they stopped running.
Berynn fell against a tree, his breath coming in sharp, high-pitched gasps. He looked back at Xander and Spike, his face a white moon with an open dark mouth. Xander still had hold of Spike. He stumbled to a stop and and Spike fell into him. Xander righted him carefully.
“You okay?” he hissed, his hands stroking and patting the cool, bloodied body.
Spike nodded, shaking his head and blinking away blood. “Yeah, wouldn’t mind restin’ a bit, though,” he whispered.
Xander looked over at Berynn, who scanned the terrain with more than his eyes, apparently, then nodded cautiously.
Spike’s whole face was black with blood. The stripes of it, where it had run down over him, carved his torso into long rectangular strips of white marble. He leaned over to one side, gripping Xander’s shoulder hard, and Xander let himself finally pull Spike into a fierce hug, burying his face in his neck. He could feel Spike’s body trembling. His hand brushed against a bit of broken bone above Spike’s ear.
“You fucking asshole,” said Xander fervently into Spike’s bloody throat.
Spike chuckled and let himself enjoy the hug. “Sorry, Xan.”
“No you aren’t,” Xander said, nuzzling Spike. He raised his head slowly, rubbing his cheek, his chin, his mouth, against Spike’s injured face. “God, look what they did to you, look at…” an odd instinct was taking hold of him. He lay his tongue on Spike’s skin and licked hard across a bloody cheekbone. Spike’s blood, dried and dirty as it was, seemed to revive in his mouth. Like carbonation, it fizzed, and he forgot that they had a witness. He forgot that they were in a slimy wet wood. All he felt was Spike’s injury, his need, the precariously close loss of him. Xander found himself clutching Spike close against him and licking him, open mouthed, finally ending at Spike’s lips where he remained, kissing him hungrily for a full minute before the stunned vampire pulled away.
“Xander!” said Spike, all prudish Victorian. Xander reached for him. “Wait,” Spike batted away his hands. “Wait, you don’t wanna…”
“You need me,” said Xander, holding the slender, bloodied body close to his. “You need blood.”
“What?” Spike struggled away from him. Xander nuzzled him, rubbing his head against him. When Xander arched his chin, exposing his neck to him, Spike groaned. He cast a panicked look over at Berynn who was staring, open mouthed.
“Xander,” hissed Spike, unaccountably embarrassed. He couldn’t believe he was forcing a horny hot body away from his own, but he was. “Let’s get back to camp, ‘kay, pet?”
“Spiiike,” said Xander, ignoring the hated endearment. He licked Spike’s neck again, his tongue seeking more of that blood, his hands seeking and finding Spike’s more tender bits. He fondled Spike’s cock with one insistent hand, rubbing up and down over his ass cheeks with the other.
Spike’s body was responding with an enthusiasm he wouldn’t have thought possible given his injuries. Xander’s mouth was becoming his whole focus. His eyes strayed, dazed over Xander’s shoulder and he saw the villager still leaning against the tree, watching them. Berynn’s eyes were wide-open green spheres of amazement.
“Yer scarin’ the boy,” Spike hissed into Xander’s ear. Xander drew back, licking his lower lip lasciviously.
“Okay, Spike,” he said. Something in the slowness of his voice, its thickness, drew Spike’s gaze from Berynn back to Xander. He looked up and saw nothing in those eyes but fog and darkness. “Okay, I’ll wait,” said the were-Xander creature.
Spike could feel another wave of pain and blackness rising up in him. He gripped Xander and perhaps that's what shook the boy from his fugue. He caught Spike as he slithered to the ground. The last thing Spike heard was Xander calling out to Berynn for assistance.
“They must have a wizard,” said Spike to Dahla. He was laid across the big bed, his head covered with gauze, so that only one blue eye peeked through. His countenance had a liquid quality to it; he kept sliding in and out of gameface as the pain came and went.
Dahla paced the room, looking grim. The presence of magic constituted a serious enough weapon to warrant a re-assessment of their plan.
Xander perched beside Spike on the mattress. He dabbed carefully at the dirt and blood on Spike’s arm with a wet cloth. Schooling himself to not look at the bare-chested young man sitting at Spike’s other side.
Despite himself, the boy’s white arm kept appearing in his peripheral vision. Poreless, flawless white skin, blue veins delicately laced below the surface. Xander slid his cloth over a spot of dirt and looked up at Spike from beneath his brows.
Spike didn’t appear to be openly lusting after the treat sitting next to him. He watched Dahla, his expression serious. Xander dipped his head and focused again on his task. The language flowed over him like a rough wind. Recognizable words poking out as the vampire and the shaman spoke at a rapid pace.
Xander removed his cloth from Spike’s arm. A dribble of blood, released from a cleansed scab, trickled over the contours of Spike’s chest. Xander watched the crimson stream, entranced.
Spike’s sharp voice and a tug on his arm, and he looked up, startled.
Spike frowned. “Was tellin’ the witch ‘bout the cave, Harris. You remember anythin’ else?”
Xander shook his head dumbly.
Spike regarded him intently, his sharp perception seeming to hone in on something in Xander, when a flare rose in his eyes again. His pupils flashed gold and he grit his teeth.
Dahla murmured in a concerned voice. Xander leant forward, watching for any sign of something that might ease Spike’s suffering. From the corner of his eye, he saw the young man move closer to Spike on the mattress.
After a moment Spike’s pain seemed to pass. He exhaled and re-opened eyes once again blue. “Bugger this,” he said harshly. “Don’t have time fer healin’ and such…”
Xander saw Dahla and the young man exchange a look. He clutched at Spike’s arm. “Wait,” he said.
Spike turned his gaze on him and waited. Xander kept his hold on Spike’s arms, desperately searching his eyes for something. “Spike, I can do it…” Xander shrugged towards the man who waited patiently to give Spike his blood. He avoided, still, looking at him. “I can…” he whispered. He watched Spike’s eyes and saw something flicker there, some understanding.
“It’s too soon, Xander,” said Spike carefully.
Xander shook his head in rough denial.
“Harris, I can’t…” Spike’s eyes went briefly from the stranger to Dahla and came back to Xander. He lowered his voice a bit more. “Can’t live off you, whelp,” he said, very low.
Xander dipped his head, flushing, and glared at the mattress. He wanted to shove Spike away. Shout at him that he was full of himself, some kind of crazy demon. Why would Xander want that? Why would he want?… In his mind he saw that white arm, those blue veins pulsing. He fought an overwhelming urge to plant his fist in the young man’s face.
“You’d die, Harris,” persisted Spike softly. He shook Xander’s arm gently and Xander could see the tremor in Spike’s muscles. And he felt a surge of guilt as he realized how hard Spike was holding back his signs of pain. Trying to make this easier for Xander.
Xander stood quickly, spun around before he had to look at the villager. “I’ll be outside,” he said, striding for the door.
He didn’t hear Spike’s reply.
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