Rides a Pale Horse


by
Rayne Jelly



Part Ten

Spike was acting strange. Xander knew that he was hardly an arbiter of sanity, but he had his expectations, and Spike was acting strange. The bean and bacon soup Spike had fed him for dinner was sitting heavily in his stomach; the vampire had very carefully spooned each rich mouthful into Xander until he had to protest. It hurt. Food hurt, it weighed too much, it made him heavy and slow, and it was so hard, after eating, to keep his eyes from drifting shut, so Xander watched Spike.

The vampire’s layers shifted tirelessly under his skin, like television, constantly alive with movement. He saw new things now, and he wasn’t sure why. He didn’t know how he saw under Spike’s skin, or the Master’s, or any of his many toys. The pictures lived and breathed and melted together and made Xander’s head ache with the seeing; it was too much at once. The dark helped. The quiet helped. He was paying attention to Spike’s layers, trying to separate them, make them neat where there was no neatness to be had. Xander didn’t remember the last time his thoughts had come in clear lines; he suspected it was the food – he couldn’t remember the last time he had suspicions either – and the warmth taking the edges away from the upset. A step closer to sanity, a step closer to the day it all fell down. Xander watched Spike for signs of recidivism.

The vampire was acting strangely; he could not be still. Spike tried to talk to him while he ate; he said, “Harris, what do you know about Dracula?”

“Master,” Xander corrected, and watched the vampire turn to stone. He was green and angry and bristling, and their conversation was over. Xander watched a gentle face potter around, making noise, clumsily rinsing dishes beneath the cold cleaning water, but the green was still there, still rumbling in its confines. He wanted to help; he wanted to make Spike better, calmer, the man he was before he said Master’s name. Spike hadn’t liked it when he tried earlier to touch and thank him; Xander was too afraid to try again.

Spike wasn’t Master, he reminded himself for the umpteenth time. Master did not like it when he spoke, but Spike was not Master. Logic in lines – it had to be the food. Xander made the decision – food again – to try. “Spike?”

“Yeah, pet.” Xander was fascinated to watch Spike cringe and hurriedly correct himself, “Xander. Sorry, Xander. What is it?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just waiting on sundown.” Spike said tensely, the line of his shoulders was stiff and hunched, his demon poised as if to spring. Xander watched him try to affect nonchalance, “Just a bit bored, is all.”

“Can I help?” Xander knew better than to move. The overture itself was subtle enough, but then Xander followed it with the bald truth, “Master likes me to suck him when he is bored. He says I am passable.”

“No!” Spike recoiled as if struck, then approached at speed. Xander could feel himself flinch, but Spike merely took him by the shoulders, “No, Xander.” The gentleness was surprising; he could almost see fury boiling in the layers, but the touch on his arms was feather light. “I told you, I’m not going to do anything to hurt you. And when I get my hands on that sodding cunt, he’s going to beg me to die, but I will. Not. Hurt you.”

“Master?” Panic began to eat at him, slow at first, until the implications of what Spike claimed sank in; his heart began to pound. “You can’t kill Master!”

“Xander, I know you probably want to protect him right now,” Xander didn’t. He didn’t know what he felt towards his master, but it wasn’t the thought of Master’s death that caused him pain. Spike didn’t understand, couldn’t. “But when it’s over, you’ll see. I promise.”

Xander didn’t hear him, couldn’t listen over the roar of blood in his ears, the noise of his lungs sucking in hard breath, “No. No, Spike. Please. You can’t. Who will you send me back to?”

“I’m not sending you back to anyone!”

Xander wanted to cry. He wanted to take back the words, for Spike not to have said them. He was Spike’s now, he supposed, as much as he had been Master’s. He would rather go back, to have hope be a place to remember; he wanted Spike to be able to keep his promises. “Oh.”

Slowly, his breathing evened out. The vampire sat beside him and ran his hand rhythmically across the blanket on Xander’s back while Xander absorbed this information. His heartbeat steadied and slowed, becoming quieter, softer with acceptance. “I want to help you, Xander,” Spike was saying, calm soothing words in a calm soothing voice that Xander did not trust. He wondered if Spike even knew he was lying. “I want you to be better, okay?”

Xander lied back, “Okay.”

Spike held on to him for a long time. The gentle caress stopped, and the vampire’s hand rested against his elbow, reassuring and solid but without intent. It was comfortable, tucked up against Spike’s shoulder, wrapped in warmth and stillness; he found he liked it. Xander didn’t know what to do with this new thing; he didn’t know how to feel about the stillness that had come into his life the past two days, and he didn’t know how to give thanks, so he did nothing. Absorbed. Memory was a slippery thing. The pictures in his head seemed to fade and dance away, but he hoped he would remember this, at least for a little while. Eventually, Spike sighed and shifted to face him again. “What do you say we take a look at fixing your hands?”

Xander’s hands were tucked inside his blanket. He didn’t like looking at them or thinking about them. Sometimes they were useful; sometimes he used them to stay awake. He wished that didn’t matter. “Can you?”

“I can try,” Spike said carefully, making no promises. He was learning. “I can at least try to get them cleaned up for you.”

Slowly, trying not to jar them too badly, Xander pulled his hands out of his blanket and revealed them to Spike. Even the air hurt. Any pressure, any movement was a sharp lurch of pain and clenching in the pit of his stomach; the thought of letting someone touch them, even someone as gentle and deliberate as this Spike had been, filled him with apprehensive nausea. Rationally though, he knew that this needed to happen. Rationally. Rational had flown out of the window when he woke up in a casket, and now his instinct was to protect and shield himself. Holding his hands out to Spike was like giving him a secret.

One of the muscles in Spike’s jaw twitched.

For the first time in what felt like years, Xander contemplated the state of his fists. They were swollen and bruised looking, a grapefruit of sausages tangled on the ends of his wrists, and nearly immobile. They hadn’t always been, he recalled. At first it was splinters and a broken knuckle and skin that tore away in strips. The master had liked them; he liked Xander to be helpless for him. It was Master who squeezed his thumb into breaking; a short sharp snap and Xander recalled screaming, though he wasn’t sure why because Master knew what he needed. It was Master who took Xander’s hands in his own and pressed so tightly on the middle joints they popped – broken or dislocated, Xander didn’t know and couldn’t fix it either way. It was Master who buried him. Xander thought he remembered waking to the thud of dirt on the lid of his house; breaking out a second time had been much harder. Something deep in his left hand had crumpled, and there was a flash of bone on his ring-finger where a chunk of pine board had ripped away his flesh. It still wept blood and puss, wet, sticky, and cold, when he moved. There was still dirt caught in his palms.

Spike favored him with a solemn look. “Xander, I’m going to drug you,” he said hollowly, and Xander knew better than to protest. “It’s non-negotiable.” Spike was learning.

“No, no. Please. I can be quiet.”

“I don’t give a shit if you’re quiet, pet.” They both flinched, Spike sighed. Routines. “I don’t care if you scream the roof down. But this is going to hurt, and it’s going to be the kind of hurt that you can’t keep a lid on. If you aren’t drugged, I can’t help you.”

“Choices,” He said aloud, staring at his hands.

“Not much,” Spike replied, Xander was interested to see a frown of consternation on his face. “You can take them willingly, or I can hold you down and shove them down your throat. Your hands need fixing, I won’t do it unless you’re drugged out of your mind, and you’re not in much of a position to fight me.”

When Xander smiled at him, Spike looked startled, then disgusted, then ashamed. It was an odd blend of expressions to see on a damned creature, but Xander didn’t question it, just watched curiously until the vampire’s face resumed something approaching neutrality. Even in neutral, Spike always looked angry; Xander liked it. “Thank you.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Spike said suddenly, backing away, but not before Xander thought he caught a glimpse of the man he thought he used to remember: mischievous and sardonic, “but you’re kindof twisted.”

Xander laughed grimly, and the vampire took the opportunity to pop a handful of pills into his mouth with a quirk of his eyebrow that suggested if Xander didn’t swallow them, Spike would shove them up his ass. Xander swallowed and didn’t bother to ask what he’d just imbibed.

For a long moment, Spike did nothing. It may have been days, or hours slipping by like molasses ice-flows while the vampire just watched him intently, resuming his crouch on the floor beside Xander’s knees. He seemed to be listening to something, like music Xander couldn’t hear, which was only fair. Eventually, slowly and patiently as he’d done everything else, Spike reached for Xander’s wrists. It took everything he had not to jerk his hand away.

The vampire’s touch was cool and calm, just cradling his wrist, inspecting the damage without touching. Xander felt his stomach twist, and fought to swallow the bile that was rising in his throat, waiting for Spike’s strong hands to break him into something new. He tried to breathe slowly because pain was inevitable, shock and vomit didn’t have to be. He felt his heart beat. Slow. Huge and slow and the universe was moving. Spike watched him – eyes gray like a storm, but he couldn’t look for long because the storm churned and tried to swallow him up. The air turned to water, washing him back and forth. Xander rocked as he chased bubbles and the gray seeped under his skin and drank him alive. His skin started to hum. “Just relax, Xander. You’ll be all right” the voice boomed and crashed over his head, and he fell further away into the thrumming dark. “Finally.”


~*~*~*~*~


Spike strapped on his armor. He scrubbed the blood off his hands, shimmied into his clothes, stomped into his boots, slicked back his hair, and contemplatively scraped some of the polish off a thumb with his tooth. It was the uniform, and it was good. It settled against his skin like magic, made him taller, stronger, lengthened his stride and steadied his hands; Spike became the man he was before the world turned upside down, and right now he needed that. He knew where he stood with the uniform. Once he slung his duster across his shoulders he would be, for the first time all week, William the Bloody. Spike made no move to do so. Not yet.

He watched Harris sleep, drugged out of his mind on some of Spike’s best stuff, but still wearing a crease of pain or frustration between his eyebrows. Spike had painstakingly put his hands back together. It had been a job and a half of re-breaking, pulling, setting, cleaning, stitching, and splinting where necessary; he’d drawn long splinters from the soft flesh of his palms, and squeezed puss out of infected gashes. The boy couldn’t have made worse hash if he’d pushed them both into a whirling blender. The job was less than perfect – a practiced surgeon with real tools and decent lighting would have been better suited to the task – but Spike had enough experience straightening his own busted fingers that he was satisfied. The boy may never be able to tackle buttons again, but he would probably be able to handle a knife and fork. Through it all Xander moaned and twitched, not completely insensate to the pain but not likely to remember it either. It took hours, and all the while Spike was worried about poisoned blood and dead flesh and terrible infection, but nothing smelled terribly off, so he pressed on; Spike didn’t want to resort to amputation, and if the boy died… well, he was the only one who’d know. The vampire had never enjoyed hurting someone less.

Spike would have to leave soon. He doubted he would ever have a better opportunity. With the boy drugged out of his gourd and not likely to wake up for hours, Spike had a score to settle. He wanted to be back before Harris woke, but couldn’t bring himself to leave. Instead, he gently tucked the boy in, trying to make him as comfortable as possible in spite of the cracked ribs, lacerations, and his mangled hands. He checked the sutures, running his hands over what felt like acres of warm, soft skin, made smooth and elastic by the water the boy had taken on board. When he came to the bite mark above Xander’s heart, Spike had the insane urge to sink his teeth in, to obscure that mark and everything else that suggested the boy was anyone’s but his. For a moment, just a moment, Spike entertained the thought, wondered what he would feel like, taste like, healthy and happy and absolutely his, but he didn’t let his mind stay there long. It wasn’t possible, and he wasn’t about to fall prey to proximity and that too-appealing, god-awful stubborn vulnerability. Instead he brought sheets and blankets up to warm the boy, to keep him safe and comfortable. Spike wanted to keep him.

He didn’t bother to analyze where the feeling came from. Spike had been subject to his whims for long enough to know that when he started to think about them, it all started to go wrong. He didn’t want to analyze it because he was afraid of what he might find if he did. Spike carefully pushed his fingers through Xander’s thick hair, smoothing the boy’s frown away with a thumb, before dropping a quick kiss on Xander’s forehead the way he kissed Dawn, and standing. It was just gone midnight; Spike slung his duster around his shoulders and tried to think like Dracula. He had hunting to do.

When he stepped outside the crypt, he opened his senses to the night. If he were a pretentious, fame-seeking wanker, he would live in a pretentious fame-seeking castle. It would be gaudy and opulent and unnecessarily large, and probably, because Dracula was a vampire of certain, very recognizable, habits, it wouldn’t fit at all with the surrounding architecture. He started with the boy’s grave. That made a twisted sort of sense because Xander was the kind of victim who was convenient, not sought out.

The witch was there with a bundle full of hothouse flowers and tears in her eyes. She was kneeling on the earth and just barely trailing her fingers in the grass when Spike came around the hill. She looked expectant, and he kept his distance. It had occurred to him that she might be responsible for this mess, that Xander’s presence in his crypt might be her doing; she certainly had the power. That treacle-thick magic under her skin was enough to break the world; her girl had it too. One day he would ask, one day it would be important enough to worry about, but the fact of it was, what was done was done, and it wouldn’t matter until it started to stink. He gave her a wide berth, not at all afraid for her safety out here in the dark; the slayer had made it abundantly clear in the last few months that nothing was allowed to touch her toys.

He crept around the wooded edge of Hillside, listening intently for trouble, but not terribly concerned with the scuffling or scraping noises he could hear several yards into the woods, even when it was punctuated by broken moaning. Spike felt nothing more than a twinge of jealously; something was getting lucky, feeding, fucking, maybe both, and it wasn’t him. He was hunting, though, and after days cooped up and walking on eggshells it felt good to let his teeth down, to sniff the air like a predator and let the scents of grass and sweat and prey swirl over his tongue. Normally at this time of night, Spike would be outside a club or a frat party, scaring drunken little wastrels out of their cash and booze. On the whole, he decided, this was better. Much better.

Overlooking “scenic” Breaker’s Woods were a string of mansions separated by sprawling gardens, decorative walls, and the occasional bit of statuary but never anything so gauche as a fence. He had inhabited one of these with Angelus for a time; Dru had loved to dance with the jasmine, and if Dracula were anywhere, it would be here. Predictably epicurean and ostentatious, quite like his sire. Spike ducked and wove in the shadows and through backyards, dismissing out of hand the nouveau riche and the art-deco constructions that seemed so popular in this part of California. Framed against the bluffs which dropped onto the beach was the place Spike was looking for. It gave him a headache to look at. Not-quite-there, and not-quite-real, it’s foundations wriggled at the edges from granite to sandstone and back, fighting for solidity. He gave up on stealth and marched up the long, gravel drive.

Spike didn’t knock, and he had seen no one, but the door creaked open when he was less than three feet away. An invisible butler spell, Spike had seen it before and was not impressed. If he’d had any doubts about this being a vampire’s residence, they would have vanished the moment he stepped over the threshold and into a large and indecorously appointed antechamber; the barometric pressure fell through the floor, and Spike knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was somewhere else entirely. It would be like Dracula to travel the world without ever leaving the comforts of his castle, the cunt.

The room was lined with mirrors, reflecting each other in an endless arc of empty gilt. It was a room designed to impress and to intimidate, and it immediately put Spike in a foul mood. The room was empty, but he could feel presences in the corners and behind carefully concealed doorways; he was being watched, which wasn’t a problem because Spike had always been something of a showman. He marched to the back of the room, having to skirt the long-table, a symbol of times long gone. He imagined it was for parties now, orgiastic feasts where bodies lay stretched across its surface for any pagan uses the master of the house cared to name; Spike tried not to picture Xander chained there like a buffet.

His fingertips trailed across the polished cherry wood inlays, and he very briefly considered the duster, hardly daring to pause. In a brawl it was an asset, distracting for his opponents; it made him hard to keep track of. But one on one the beloved thing could be as much a hindrance as a help, something easy to grab at or pin him with. Spike was going to need every advantage for this, so off it came, and he slung the duster over a chair-back as he seated himself at the table’s head. In Dracula’s throne. He slapped his boots on the tabletop, and regretted that they weren’t muddy. “Is this any way to treat a guest?”

“You are quite right, I’ve been remiss.” Dracula had to emerge from the large double-doors behind him, a small victory for Spike, who wasn’t interested in playing at court manners. He could smell Harris here, blood and spice on the tapestries, and by the time Dracula made it around his own sodding chair, Spike was in game face.

“Nice place,” he said conversationally, pretending to take in the decorative tables and their little baubles, “Bit of a step up from the ancestral heap, wouldn’t you agree, Vlad?”

Dracula’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he leaned casually against the long-table, delicately crossing his ankles and giving Spike the warmest smile he could muster, which wasn’t saying much. Disappointing but Spike had other means of attack. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from William the Bloody? And tell me, is your charming paramour with you this evening?”

Spike ignored both questions, “Where are we, exactly? It’s not California…”

“Ah, yes. It’s quite good, isn’t it?” Spike hated him. “Just a little spell. The building itself is in Hungary, of course, but the homeland can grow so tiresome. The hellmouth is… a recent acquisition.”

“An acquisition?” Spike allowed his eyebrow to kink speculatively.

“Yes, ah…” there was an awkward moment where Dracula appeared to war with his veneer of gentility while Spike stared him down contemptuously. “I see, this is why you’ve come to speak with me, yes? Yvonne, my darling, let’s bring our friend a drink. Cognac?”

Spike was approached by a brunette in a slinky sequined evening gown; it hugged her curves and swayed seductively around her ankles; she looked like Jessica Rabbit. Spike wondered if some vampires ever got tired of living the cliché as she pressed admittedly magnificent breasts against his shoulder under the pretense of handing him a glass. “Mmm, Master” she said, breathing a lusty sigh against him and delicately running her claws around the shell of Spike’s ear. He didn’t so much as spare her a glance, keeping his eyes locked on his hated rival. “He smells like our boy. He smells like rue and clover… can I keep him?”

Spike ripped her heart out.

The muscle fluttered against his fingertips when they punched through her ribs. She barely had time for a stunned whimper before she was dissolving in a cloud around him, spilling ashes in his drink. He drank it anyway.

Dracula blinked a few times, trying to conceal the pain of losing his trollop, and Spike couldn’t keep the satisfied smirk off his face. “Was that really necessary?” he managed at last, apparently resigned to the fact that he would have to pick up another buxom brunette. “I doubt Drusilla would have minded that much.”

“You’re out of touch, mate.” Spike didn’t give him the benefit of an explanation for this, he wasn’t planning on letting Dracula live long enough for the news to reach him. “That boy she mentioned…”

“Ah, yes. He was such a pleasant surprise. If he’s still alive, I’d quite like him back; he was… entertaining.” The bastard smiled, pale teeth gleaming with fond remembrance.

Spike wanted to gut him, but he also wanted to hear what the man had to say. Wanted to know everything about his time here that Xander was afraid to tell him. “How’s that?”

“He saw the most… interesting things, knew the most unusual things. I had to thrall him, of course, but even as a bug eater he was quite charming,” Dracula said after a moment of consideration. Spike was giving him the opportunity to brag, he took it. “And so noble, so desperate not to let any of the stock die, he would do anything to keep them alive. Our Anna, you won’t have the opportunity to dust her, I’m afraid, particularly enjoyed that game.” Spike quirked an eyebrow, silent and still and waiting. He was surprised by his own patience, but not when the pale twat chuckled, and he wasn’t surprised with what came next, forced himself to listen to it. “She would bring something young and pretty home to play with, and he would beg to eat her cunt, beg her to ride and bite him if it would just save one measly human. Such a willing victim, he knew, of course, that we always killed them in the end – Anna liked to make him come as she killed them, says it made him taste sweeter, silly girl – but he did love to try.”

Spike kept his face carefully blank, trying not to let this revolt him. And, horribly, it didn’t. If it were anyone but Xander, anyone but Dracula, if he and Dru had played that game with a faceless boy with thick hair and a clever mouth, it would simply have been fun. But it had been Xander, noble, stubborn, vulnerable Xander, and Spike had no doubts that Dracula had done worse. He forced himself to ask, “Why’d you toss such a treat away, then?”

“He was a toy,” said Dracula with a shrug that made Spike want to melt his eyes with cigarettes, “toys break. I wanted something a little sturdier, so I turned him. It’s hardly my fault the foolish boy rose early and crawled away.”

This was news to Spike, who’d been beating in time with Xander’s heart for the past three days. He actually laughed, “Fucked that up, didn’t ‘ya?” In a flash, he was out of Dracula’s throne, still leaning possessively, still undermining the pillock’s command, but prepared now, no longer vulnerable to an attack. He ground his boots in the ashes of the late Yvonne: the time for pleasantries was over. “I always knew you were an idiot, but incapable of making a fledge, mate? That’s just pathetic.”

“Pardon me?” beneath the cool exterior raged a beast that was getting angry. Spike had struck a nerve.

“He’s not dead, tosser. Not in any sense of the word. And you’re fucking lucky for that because I’m not willing to leave him for a week to take it out of your hide.” Spike swung high and fast, forcing the other vampire to duck and stumble on his own crossed legs.

“Come now, William, be reasonable! This is about a boy? A human boy?”

Dracula danced out of the way of Spike’s unarmed fists, having recovered his balance. He was taller, older, and probably better fed than Spike, convinced he was going to come away from this laughing until Spike caught him in the nose with his boot. “He is mine.

“How was I to know? You hadn’t marked him!” Petulant whinging, Spike had expected so much more from a man who used to be a dragon.

Of course Spike hadn’t marked Xander; he couldn’t and hadn’t thought he needed to as the boy was stone dead, but it was the arrogance that galled him. Swooping into Spike’s territory and stealing what was his without so much as a “by your leave,” Dracula had this coming. He honestly wished he could be angrier about that because it was, as a vampire, truly what deserved vengeance, but it was Xander he was fighting for, Xander who suffered, and who was hurting, frightened, and mad. Xander, who was his. “Should’ve asked!”

Dracula stopped cowering on the defensive, his hand came whistling from Spike’s right and caught his shoulder, ripping a gash in him from shoulder blade to elbow, but after a year of systematically pummeling whatever the hellmouth threw at him, this was merely an inconvenience. Spike pulled him closer by his own damned claws and butted their faces together until he felt something crunch beneath his forehead and saw that it was one of Dracula’s irritatingly perfect teeth. His head was pounding.

The older vampire tried to diffuse into mist, summoning up whatever gypsy illusory trick he could command with Spike there, pounding his guts to sauce. For a moment, Dracula slipped sideways and nearly away, slick with magic and blood, but Spike twisted his wrist up fiercely and bit off his thumb. “That shit doesn’t work on me!” he roared, spitting out the digit. “I see what’s there!”

“Then see this!” Dracula hit him with a chair.

Spike was knocked ass over tea-kettle. It was a heavy chair, but he managed to make the roll absorb most of the impact and came back grinning. His head was spinning; Dracula tried the wolf – denser magic, a true transformation – while Spike was still caught in a crouch, but that only made him smaller, more manageable when he sprang forward. Dracula clawed at his back, ripping lines of fire across his kidneys, and Spike twisted, rolled, and brought his knee up, exposing his belly, but risking it to neatly dislocate Dracula’s elbow. Spike had his teeth in now, ripping, tearing, and clawing for the bastard’s eyes until the wolf whimpered and fled, leaving just the man, dazed and struggling to stand.

Exhaustion was starting to creep into the corners of his eyes. Too long on a diet of pig and violence had taken its toll on Spike’s stamina, and the blood dripping down his back was making his jeans chafe. He had to end this quickly.

He tried not to give the other vampire time to recover. Magic was stupid in a battle where speed was everything, it left its users drained and disoriented, Spike took whatever advantage he could. Spike pried himself off the floor, boots slipping in the blood and marble, and planted a foot squarely on Dracula’s back, pinning him face-down, and then he pressed. It took some time, while the man squirmed and wriggled under the pressure, his thumb-less hand desperately grappling and failing to find friction. Spike felt two of his ribs crumple inward, giving way against the polished floor, and he pushed down harder, thigh straining. With a final undignified hop, Spike managed the desired effect and heard Dracula’s spine crack under his foot.

“Fucker…” he said contemptuously, rolling the injured vampire over with an indelicate kick and stretching a kink out of his injured shoulder. Dracula was lucky, Spike considered, moaning piteously and trying to pull himself away by his elbows, at least he wasn’t buried under a burning pipe organ. “Playing with gypsy tricks when you should’ve been using your teeth.”

Two hours later, he let the bastard dust.

The house began to fade, images of craggy Hungarian mountain peaks briefly flickering in the mirrors. Spike could feel the spell pulling up roots around him, and knew he had to get out or plan an unexpected trip to Transylvania, but he took the time to pocket a few knickknacks on his way out, whistling cheerfully and licking Dracula’s blood from his fingertips. He’d begged, in the end. Asked if this was revenge for Dru, and… Spike would be lying if he said he hadn’t enjoyed it immensely for a number of reasons. He’d wanted to take his time, wanted to get truly creative, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of Xander awake and waiting, wondering where he’d gone, so he stuck with what worked. It worked well, and so ended the legend.

An exquisite Faberge egg made its way into the duster’s pocket, one of the ones lost during the revolution; Spike and Dru had had their fair share of fun there, taking advantage of the violence, chaos, and impoverished new proletariat, but they had better things to do with their time than collect baubles. Dru had wanted to taste the little princess. A few more trinkets dropped into his pockets, little pieces of jade, a necklace that had to be worth a small fortune, marched down the gravel drive with some swagger in his step. His back sang with pain where new skin had yet to grow, and his head ached – Dracula had come to deeply regret the chair – but he felt better than he had in a long time. Powerful. Alive.

The illusory mansion vanished behind him in a quiet susurrus as he stepped into the Sunnydale air. It was one of those sunless, dove gray November mornings that wouldn’t burn away until noon, and Spike smiled. It was going to be a good day.





Part Eleven

A curl of blood darting through golden syrup, then back in, and he felt his whole body relax. Slide down into the blue twilight calm he’d been carefully cultivating for years. His muscles slipped free, surrounding him with the warm rush of his own urine; he hadn’t eaten in days. The blue got deeper as his heart slowed, thump. Thump. Restful, he could just sleep, for hours or days, numb and calm and away from everything… darker still. The bottom fell out of the world, crimson and silent and swallowing him whole, and his heart struggled feebly against the endless blackness, and for the first time, lost.

Xander’s head was pounding when he woke up and still half-caught in his dream. Heroin. Cut with dimethocaine, he felt like it was still crawling through his system, and he thought it had been a pleasant way to die. Much preferable to… right now, for example. His head felt like there was a hatchet stuck in the back of it, letting the world in too close. Xander pressed a wrist against his aching temple, trying to press some of the pain out, and found gauze there, cocooning his hands. Fascinated, he held his arms out to each side, feeling the stretch of taut sutures across his side, and the fierce ache of his ribs. He felt like a giant Q-tip, each end covered in cotton fluff, and slumped back down again against the now-chilly sheets.

Whatever Spike had given him to knock him out and dull the pain had evidently worked. Waking up was like coming up from the bottom of a lake, and his head was full of muck. He lay there, trying to ignore the throb in his skull, trying to breathe himself awake, but the lids of his eyes were heavy and a tingle was spreading in the back of his mind, dragging him down again, and Xander slipped back under the surface.

It wasn’t so bad now that the stillness had come. She watched her sister go yesterday, finally, her soul escaping in the heave and thrash of one last convulsion. The long brown arm of her sister’s body still stretched before her, but she was weak. Too weak to tend her sister’s shell, too weak to tend her own. Someone would find them eventually. The doctors had not been here in months, there was no use, and she had come to accept it, but it was not so bad now. The chills, and the pain in her joints; she ached with every movement, days of agony and weakness, hunger and vomiting, and then the seizures. Every muscle screaming tightness and pain at her as her body betrayed her, thrashing and cramping and dying by increments. But it was over now, better now, or not so bad. She had gone for water, pushing herself away from the broken mattress, but the convulsion had taken her and she lay on the floor, breathing dirt and dust and her sister’s arm as her mind floated away. Floated, and it wasn’t so bad now.

Xander opened his eyes for the second time that day, too drained, for once, to make much of a production of it. The word “malaria” tasted unfamiliar in his mouth, but no matter how many times he spat it out it came rushing back, carrying him away on dark wings. It could have been worse, had been worse, and he did not question that these things were real. The first time he’d felt Master’s fangs sinking into his neck by proxy, the first time he’d felt himself die in a car wreck, sudden and crushing and full of fear… those were worse. There were worse things, but he lived them less often. “That’s enough of that,” he muttered aloud, and made the herculean effort of pushing himself upright.

Spike had left a candle burning for him. He hadn’t noticed the first time he was awake, too concerned with the pounding in his head to register much of anything, but now that he was conscious and determined to stay that way, he was appreciative. Xander clung to that fat little pillar in the dark space, watching it flicker gently in the crypt’s air currents, breathing in the heavy tallow, creamier and not quite as dark as the ones in Master’s castle. He tried not to see the shadows that danced on the walls; he tried not to anticipate the faces slipping through the gloom outside its comforting corona. But the faces never manifested, never slid in and out of the shadows to press their despairing souls against his skin, looking for a way home. Xander didn’t know what to make of this development. It was worrying. He had grown accustomed to them, accustomed to his madness and its quirks – change was troubling. He wanted Master to take the change away, would rather go back there than see what happened next. Spike had been uncharacteristically kind, too kind to be real, and change was coming. Xander wanted Master. He focused on the candle.

A hot streak slipped away from the flame, collapsing the paper-thin edge and dribbling down the side, translucent and perfect, and Xander realized he had to pee. The water he’d been drinking, the food he’d been eating. It was amazing how readily bodily functions were forgotten until they weren’t. He had never imagined a need for toilets in hell, but perhaps the alternative lacked realism; maybe hell was really needing to pee and not being able.

It was some distance to the hole in the floor from where Xander sat. Miles of bed to swim through and about fifteen feet of cavern floor that stretched out like the Magadikgadi, but now that he’d noticed it, he felt like his bladder was going to explode. Master hadn’t cared where he’d gone, hadn’t noticed one way or the other if Xander was hydrated enough to urinate; sometimes Xander snuck draughts out of the fountain and pissed in the potted ficus; or on the marble floors, too crazy and too beaten to care. He wouldn’t do that to Spike, though. Not yet. So he made an effort and crawled away from the luxurious bed.

Walking was tricky. Xander had learned to move carefully, like walking on one roller skate, each step a careful balancing act as he gingerly placed his weight on his injured leg and heaved himself forward before the ankle collapsed under him. He could scuttle with some speed if pressed, but took his time in the gloom of the crypt, desperate not to stumble and fall, spend the morning lying in a heap and his own urine. Spike would be so upset. Slow and careful. He was happy in this small victory. Happier still when he discovered that he could lean comfortably against the rough-hewn wall of the crypt, fumbling, a little urgently now, to aim himself away from his own feet and trying to keep the fresh gauze on his hands dry. Pissing felt so good it hurt, a low ache that radiated through his bladder and kidneys as he let everything go.

He stood there for a moment, wondering if he dared to brush his teeth again, if he dared to fiddle with the tap. But Spike had turned it on with a wrench, and Xander had no illusions about his ability to manage that for himself. He would have to wait. Wait for Spike to come back if Spike came back at all, wait for the opportunity to ask. He hoped Spike would come back, and hoped he’d stay away, and hoped for a million other things besides that he didn’t dare to name. Xander was good at waiting. Things were changing. He wondered if this wouldn’t become some new torment, and tried not to speculate as he made his way back to his spot.

About five feet from the bed, the pain hit him. Something went snap inside his head, and what had been merely persistently and exquisitely painful became genuinely intolerable. The leg he was standing on, the throbbing mangled state of his hands, shot suddenly beyond the consistent ache and were a white-hot tearing pain that ate, in one howling mouthful, his ability to think, to breathe, to be anything but a searing nerve. It burnt the edges of the world to gray and the bottom dropped out of his stomach, and Xander collapsed in a heap on the floor, trying to breathe and seconds from fainting.

Pain that he hadn’t realized was at a remove, distant enough to be analyzed, processed, put to the side, was now so much a part of him that it swallowed his mind. Excruciating, from the Latin excruciatus – to torture – that was Giles in his memory, something he’d been told once, and his memory was lit up like fireworks, his life before Spike choking him with details he would rather have forgotten. He hadn’t forgotten because forgetting was impossible, but he hadn’t minded. And now he was swamped with caring, stomach heaving trying to eject the bugs and filth and nightmare.

It took a while to calm himself down. Laying in the darkness, heaving and panting was doing him no good, and he knew it more clearly now than he’d managed all week. Remembered everything with a clarity that was nauseating. Something had changed. Something had peeled a layer of haze and grease away from his mind and everything was coming in perfect and sharp like ice. Too much sensation at once as the barriers came away. He was screaming.

Master. It was Master. The presence that hovered in his mind, a way of thinking so deeply engrained in his every action that he lived and breathed it, was gone. Gone and it raked open a hole in Xander’s head that filled with pain and blackness and the smell of bile. It was Master who had made the barrier; Master who protected Xander from the howling pit of anguish that was his many wounds, even as he was inflicting them. And now he was gone. Was Xander grateful? Grateful that he’d never been allowed to pass out, grateful that the pain was distant enough to contemplate, distant enough to keep from sending him into the electric gray arms of shock, but nevertheless oh-so-intimate? Yes. In that moment, Christ with his blood on fire, in that moment he was grateful, would have given anything to have Master back with him.

But he resented too. Felt, for the first time. Resented the necessity, hated Master and his women and his beautiful cruelty and the things they had done to him. Things that he could remember, could feel; things he knew, now Master had abandoned him, were wrong. He didn’t understand how he’d earned this, and he supposed it didn’t matter because the world was swimming and there were bigger fish-shaped questions.

Eventually, his mind built its own defenses. Ancient self-preservation mechanisms pushed back the swallowing gray. He breathed slowly, carefully, weight on his knees and his elbows, and he tried not to move as the world shifted through crimson and tried to settle around him. It hurt. By god it hurt, and for a while he could only pant as his heart came back out of his throat and into to something like a rhythm, and his mind began to process linear thoughts – how to get from the floor to the bed in sixteen easy steps, guaranteed to hurt or your money back. He pushed himself up to his knees and elbows, swamped again by waves of nausea as the pain threaded through him, slick and cold and too fucking much. He was unbelievably grateful to Spike for patching him up before this happened. The aftershocks were enough.

Slowly and laboriously, fighting back bile and the cold of shock, he crawled to the bed, dragging his weight on hands and elbows, pulling himself forward. Xander felt himself break into a cold sweat, but he pushed himself up on his good leg, bracing his elbows against the sheer cliff of Spike’s bed and flopping forward onto the mattress in a way that made every hurt shriek. The three-day-old ribs groaned and creaked, the shredded muscles in his calf rattled and the gray came swooping back, threatening to suck the air out of the room. Xander lay there, huffing and puffing with the exertion and the effort of not screaming, but screaming did no good. Crying did no good, and he could only lay there, feeling for the first time that not only the pain belonged to him, but the damage as well; his body, not his Master’s body of work.

He tried not to breathe too deeply, tried not to move, tried desperately not to let his mind wander into its own dusty corners. He couldn’t bear to think, couldn’t bear to remember, so he let himself be lulled into the rhythm of his own heart, striving for something like an equilibrium. His mind was on fire but refused to melt back into complacent oblivion. He watched the candle, flame and tallow and cotton wick, and let it burn for him. It was more than an inch lower before Spike came back.

Xander heard movement in the crypt above him and froze, thinking it was a demon having smelled dinner when he was at his most exposed. The thought was almost absurd, and just then he would have welcomed a demon. Welcomed the novelty and the sudden uncomplicated brutality. Xander couldn’t remember the last time he’d had his brutality without complication, and found himself longing for it; maybe it would kill him. He tried hard not to be disappointed when it was Spike. Spike would help him if he asked.

Xander considered pretending to be asleep. He hadn’t been able to think in straight lines in a long time, and he wanted to give the vampire a few minutes before inflicting his madness on him, thought it would be nice for both of them. But he hadn’t been much good at that when he was alive, and now he was sure Spike would hear the difference anyway. So when the vampire slid down the ladder, a little clumsily with a disposable cup in each hand and a white paper bag clenched in his teeth, Xander greeted him with casual warmth, “Hey. Thanks for the candle.”

“Brought breakfast.” Spike said shortly, the words muffled behind the bag. He plunked the cups on the table near the candle and let it fall out of his teeth, “Had a good night, and I thought you might like something you could chew for a change.”

It was easier, with someone else in the room, not to succumb to the yawning chasm that tried to open up under him whenever he moved, so Xander slowly and painfully rolled over and made himself sit up. His leg throbbed angrily at him, but he was surprised to note that the rest… it hurt, but perhaps not as badly as it had before. Spike was beaming at him and wriggling out of his duster, cursing a bit as some of his shirt came away and took his skin with it. “You’re hurt.” Xander said stupidly, stunned by the possibility. The hurting was for him. “Your skin…”

The grin was wolfish, and gruesome as Spike stripped out of the remains of his t-shirt, leaving a long streak of blood across his belly. “Toldja, I had a good night.” Xander didn’t even think to look away as the vampire kicked off his boots and started working on his jeans, “Tell you what? I need a shower, then we’ll eat breakfast, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Xander husked back, throat dry and tight feeling. He could smell warm ham and coffee from across the room and felt like a monster. The candle’s light didn’t penetrate that far into the room, but he heard Spike crank the pipe open and step into the spray with a soft curse about the cold. Xander remembered, or thought he could remember because that life had been so long ago and the details blurred under water, bringing Spike breakfast once or twice. Pigs’ blood from the butchers, or a choice packet of human that Giles managed to obtain, Xander had never asked, and never cared. He’d never brought it with a smile. Had never, for that matter, seen Spike smile at him or for him the way he had been this week; he didn’t deserve this. Didn’t deserve what he thought he knew would be coming next either.

“You should’ve seen it, Harris!” Spike called out from the darkness, making him jump. The voice was pure pride and visceral enjoyment, “It was bloody brilliant! Some things I couldn’t do cause the fucker couldn’t feel ‘em, but… when I used a safety pin to dig out his eyes, he started howling and crying… it was brilliant! Haven’t felt this good in years!”

The wrench squeaked, the roar of the water tapered off into nothing, and Spike came out of the shadows, toweling his hair into chaotic dandelion tufts. He was so excited, so very much the confident, young monster Xander had first known, but he found himself hesitantly enjoying it because Spike was happy and there was too little of that here. He smiled softly as he watched Spike pace around the crypt, first for trousers, then to light a few candles around the room so the air glowed. Finally, Spike snagged the bag and coffees off the table and joined Xander on the bed, moving carefully so he didn’t tip him over.

Xander didn’t completely manage to keep the pained wince off his face, “Sorry, pet – Xander! Did I hurt you?”

“No,” he covered, because it had passed now anyway. Spike very gently slid a latte in the cradle of his palms, considerately turning it so Xander could drink from the hole in the lid. “You’re still oozing.” This was true too, Spike still had score marks in his shoulder, gently trickling blood down his chest. Xander watched the trail with something like sympathy.

“Oh. Right.” It should have disturbed him to watch Spike swipe up his own blood with a finger and pop the digit in his mouth. Much of this week should have disturbed him, but it was funny how priorities changed. Spike wiggled his eyebrows wickedly, and dug around in the bag, first bringing out a steaming parcel wrapped in white paper, followed by a dark bottle. “Hope you don’t mind if your breakfast and mine were keeping each other warm.”

Xander shook his head and drank his coffee. It was good, milky, and sugar free the way he liked it. He was surprised how well it settled in his stomach, aroma and flavor and the warmth seeping through the bandages on his hands thoroughly relaxing him. He watched as Spike uncorked his own bottle and swigged from it. The contents were almost black in the candle light, really too dark to see and too subtle to smell, but Spike rippled towards his true face and back, clearly enjoying it. As Xander watched, some of the damage criss-crossing Spike’s hip bone sealed and faded. “Fhreulelean blood.” Spike said casually as a sigh, dropping the bottle into the bag and setting it on the floor. “Not cheap, but in small doses it works better than human, and I… I bloody deserved it.”

“You could have had some of mine,” Xander said plainly, hoping this wouldn’t inspire the same reaction that some of his other offers had. He meant it honestly, more honestly than he knew he was still capable of. “If you’d needed…”

Spike twitched. “S’all right, love. S’my job to feed you.” Xander didn’t know what to make of that, so he let it pass while Spike unwrapped a warm bagel loaded with egg, sausage, and cheese. The vampire broke off a piece and held it up to him, but backed off, suddenly looking sheepish. “I know you’d probably prefer to feed yourself…” he said apologetically, nodding towards Xander’s hands. He’d needed both of them just to hold a cup of coffee. “But we don’t want to get your bandages greasy, do we?”

“It’s okay. Thank you,” Xander said because it always paid to be polite, and when Spike nudged the bit of bread and cheese against his lips again, opened his mouth to accept it without shame.

It took some time. Xander had to keep fighting down swells of nausea as his stomach tried to accommodate something more substantial than liquid, but Spike was patient. He refused to break off another piece of the sandwich until the piece in Xander’s mouth had been good and swallowed. By the time the bagel was gone, the dregs of his coffee were stone cold, and Xander was full and heavy feeling, like he’d been swallowing lead. He said “thank you” anyway, again and again until it was gone and Spike was trailing assessing fingers over his stitches.

“These are looking better,” the vampire murmured softly, words brushing Xander’s skin into waves of goosebumps as he peered closer. “Ready to come out in no time.”

“What…” Xander had been treading water in a sea of anxiety since he’d found Spike. The feeling had been steadily swelling since his fall, and now crested and broke, apprehension washing up against his ankles, as he asked, “what does that mean, exactly?”

“You’re healing, Xander.” It wasn’t exactly the answer he’d been looking for, and he caught himself frowning with irritation. Spike had said it like Xander was precious and fragile, like he couldn’t be expected to know what was happening, and Xander supposed that had been the case only hours ago. But Spike wasn’t to know because knowing might change him, so Xander watched him carefully over the curve of his own shoulder, trying to trust him as implicitly as he had while the vampire prodded at his leg. “You’re getting better.”

“Does that…” Xander didn’t want to finish the question, but he was going to make himself. This had been nice. But nice didn’t last, and his head was so much clearer now. There was no part of him that wanted this to end, but he knew it would. Better to rip the band-aid off now, when he was expecting it. “Are you going to break me again?”

Spike backed off fast. Respectful, patient Spike. Xander was crazy, he knew that, but he would have to be completely stupid to think that was going to last long. Maybe it was a refining process and Spike was the next stage in the mill. Maybe eventually he would lose so many pieces he no longer minded. “No, Xander. I told you…”

“Master said I would be remade.” He interrupted insistently, convinced and frustrated and wanting to know. Xander’s eyes stung and overflowed, and Spike would not touch him. “He put me in a box. And he told me I would be new. And he buried me. Again.” A whooping breath to drag himself back under control, and his voice held a hidden knife, “I think it’s a reasonable question.”

“Dracula’s dead,” Spike told him evenly, miles away. “You never have to worry about him again. I killed him. For you.”

“I know. I felt it. Thank you.”

Spike frowned, “What do you mean you felt it?”

Xander considered this for a long moment, digging into a memory that he hadn’t wanted to touch. Pretending that it was a word he’d unearthed in a Gilesean book, “Thrall?” he managed tightly, the shape of the thing pointed and stuck in the back of his throat. The words came carefully, like drawing out splinters of glass; it had been like glass in his mind, and now it was broken. Xander tried to tell him so, “He explained it to me once. He told me that he took me from myself. That he locked my will away in a box in his stomach. And he liked to watch me fight it; it made him feel alive.”

Dark rage and a swell of green, “That…”

“Everything was so far away. I couldn’t… think. I felt, and I… I knew, but I couldn’t think. And the faces… and I don’t like to sleep…. And he took me away from myself, Spike. He took me, and now I’m back.”

Crying in earnest now, he couldn’t stop, couldn’t breathe, and now Spike touched him, cared. There was cool, and calm, and a peace he’d never known under Spike’s hands, gentle as they were across his shoulders. It felt like a confession; it felt like the last confession, and Spike pulled him forward gently, pressed Xander’s cheek against the new and pink flesh of his shoulder, and let him cry, whispering reassuring nothings against his hair. Things like “It’s all right. Let it out. I’ve got you, it’s okay.”

“Thank you.” Xander said at last, emotions fragile at best, but calmer now, and breathing into Spike’s skin. It was beautiful, shifting in the candle light; everything he had ever been. “I don’t need to… fight… I think. I don’t have to fight to think, but it’s all… wrong. So wrong, Spike. I can’t…. Thank you for killing M-Dracula.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Would you kill me next? You can. I know you can.”

“What?” Spike surged away, stunned, then angry, then crushed. Despairing. Spike was one of his faces now. “Xander… The thrall’s gone. You’re never going back there, love; you don’t… need to…”

“Prove to me that I can. Please?” His voice cracked. He never imagined that the vampire would refuse; assumed, perhaps that Spike would take his time over it, but never imagined that he would have the patience to keep Xander alive for long. “I spend a lot of time waking up, Spike. I don’t want to wake up anymore.”

“I thought you were in hell.” Spike tried to fight back with cleverness. Xander thought he might love him for it, always clever, always fighting. “What good would killing you do?”

“I’m willing to risk it.” A brief chuckle, damp with irony, “And if I’m right, if this is hell… maybe I’ll go somewhere where… I won’t mind when they have to start hurting me. But not you. Please not you. You’ve been so kind.”

The vampire stared at him, aghast. Xander abruptly felt guilty for ruining his good night; he had been so happy, so young. “I told you,” Spike said finally, voice thick and wary. Xander didn’t want to watch anybody hurt anymore. “I told you, I won’t hurt you.”

“That’s wrong!”

“Yeah. Maybe…. Christ.” Spike shot him a look so full of frustration and bafflement that Xander laughed. “S’not right, a vampire who doesn’t want to kill, but I don’t. This isn’t hell, and I don’t want to hurt you.”

Things were beginning to fray. Spike wasn’t supposed to cling, wasn’t supposed to hold him here, and maybe there could be no escaping. Maybe Spike would if he could, maybe they were both trapped here, destined to play the thing out to its bitter end, when all Xander wanted was to walk out of the movie. He was mixing his metaphors, his whole brain had been molested and now he knew it and he just wanted out. That Spike had wants too, incompatible wants, was shattering. “What do you want?”

“I want to help you. Wish you’d tell me what was wrong so I could fix it, yeah?”

“What’s wrong? It’s all wrong. Everything is wrong, everything is broken, and it can’t be put back together,” Xander said at a fast and desperate rattle. He couldn’t explain it, had to. There was only one way for Spike to fix this, and now Xander had to explain. “I see things that… can’t possibly be real, Spike. But they are. So real, too real. I see people dying all the time. How, and when, and I feel what they’ll feel when I touch them. Master… Dracula, the bastard, thought it was so clever… and over and over again. And always hurting, but I never get to be dead.”

“That’s…” Spike’s face painted him pictures that his mouth would never describe. Angry even in neutral, but he looked stunned, and he looked scared. Xander didn’t want him to be scared, but things were beginning to fray. It had to be now, it had to be soon, because Xander didn’t know how long he could wait. Was desperate not to have himself anymore. “We can make it better. You can be better, I promise.”

I am insane!” he shouted, then was guilty about it, tried to make amends. Softly, “All I see… I am insane. There is no getting better.”

“I’m prepared to deal with insane, Xander.”

“I’m not.” The tone was frank, “Spike, when I look at you… you’re beautiful.”

“That makes you insane, does it?”

Xander’s grin burst forth on the breath of a guffaw, ironic and self-aware but meant, and he reached up and pressed the inside of his wrist against Spike’s chest. He wanted the contact, wanted for all the world to press his hand there, wanted Spike to feel the truth and to feel the truth of him. “Did you know that vampires are green? Somewhere – wherever you’re from, you’re green. And I can see your ashes. And I can see the man you were, and he was luminous. And when I touch you…. You went so willingly. You gave yourself with love, and peace, and I can feel it. I love to look at you, and I want to touch you because you’re beautiful.” Spike was utterly taken aback. The words were perfect, the words were unspeakably perfect, but Xander’s face, that smile… was seconds from screaming, torn and so very wrong. And his voice, when it reemerged, was broken and soft, “When I look at anyone else… all I can see are expiration dates.”

“Xander…”

“I’m dead, Spike. I’m dead. And it’s… wrong that I should be not dead.”

“Xander… can we think on it for a while? Can you give me… a few days to prove you’re wrong? That you can be well again?”

“Please Spike?” The soft smile hadn’t yet left Xander’s face; he knew he had won, that he would be getting his way, the rest was just quibbling over details. “I could probably do it myself, but… I would prefer if you did.”

“It’s still suicide, even if I assist,” Spike tried to snarl, but it emerged mulish and empty. “Or did you assume I would enjoy it?”

“I trust you.” Xander said, and let his whole bodyweight sag against the vampire’s, and Spike’s arms came up automatically to encircle bony shoulders. “I trust you to get it right. Prove to me this isn’t hell… Let me out.”

It was all the argument he had needed. Spike’s hands came up to cradle Xander’s head, framing his ears, feeling the contours of his skull. “I’m gonna miss you,” the vampire said, honest, and sad, and hoping – for once – that this was the right thing. “Don’t know why I let myself get so bloody attached…”

Xander was beaming. Spike dropped a kiss on his forehead, soft and patient, willing himself to move. “Thank you.”

Crack

And Xander’s heart beat-beat-beat from momentum, then stopped.

It was a long time before Spike was willing to let him drop.




End of Book 1



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