Chapter 23 Life and Death
They drove the route they’d taken into Lestor until daybreak, barely making it back to their room before the sun rose. Now Xander sat with his head in his hands, almost weeping with the frustration of not being able to find the landmark that Paige Willis had placed in his mind.
Spike had been angry when they’d set out, for all the usual reasons: Xander’s foolhardiness, his own inability to say no and mean it, the growing feeling that he’d rather humour Xander and let the world go, literally, to hell.
But he was no longer angry, he was…unsettled. Seeing Xander so upset, hearing him blame himself for not being good enough, brought out Spike’s fiercest protective urges, and the one that unsettled him most was the one insisting that he remove his charge from the cause of his despair. It unsettled him because he knew the right intentions would have absolutely the wrong result: Xander would drop him like a hot coal if he tried to take him out of this stressful and undermining environment and, out of sheer belligerence alone, he’d refuse to see why Spike was correct to do so.
Via the bathroom, quickly wetting and gelling his hair in a bid to look less Baaaaa and more Guardian, Spike crossed and crouched in front of Xander, prising the man’s hands away from his face, hanging onto them and squeezing the fingers to make Xander look at him. Seeing concern rather than irritation broke apart the last of Xander’s fragile control, and the first of the tears brimmed and wavered before streaking down his face.
“She’s gonna die,” he managed to choke out. “I’m not good enough and she…”
“No, Love. Sometimes the first pieces of the puzzle are the hardest to find. Whether you’re a cop or an investigator or, it seems, a medium.” Xander, unable to force a word out, simply shook his head. “If you were on your own patch you’d know what you were being shown, agreed?” Nod. “So, if it’s a completely alien environment it’s going to take a little longer. Can you draw what you saw? If we show that to Randall maybe it will give him the clue he needs to find this bloke.”
“It’s…” Xander cleared his throat and tried again. “It’s hazy now. I think I’d know it the moment I saw it, but I can’t be accurate enough on paper to give it to Randall, I might send him in the wrong direction. I… I… Why me? How selfish is that? Why me?”
Spike moved onto his knees, pulling Xander to the edge of the seat and wrapping him a hug.
“Why you? ‘Cause she trusts you, you said it yourself.”
“She’s wrong to, and I hate that, I hate being so…”
Surprisingly the shushing seemed to help – that, the zone, and the constant stroking to Xander’s back – and after a few more tears he recovered a little.
“Know what else I hate? The damage this is doing to us. Maybe that shouldn’t matter as much as it does ‘cause this – we’re – only short term, but I hate that we fight over what I do. When we’re good it – it… You make me… When we’re good I feel like everything can be okay, that I can be better than I am. You make me believe that I can save the world.”
The rhythmic touches to Xander’s back momentarily faltered. And resumed.
“Shall I tell you why that is? It’s because I’m a mirror. You look at me and I reflect what you know you’re capable of. Deep inside you know how good you can be, and I simply assure you that you’re right.”
“If that were true, wouldn’t I know?”
“You might have once, but this life has knocked the stuffing out of the old you, hasn’t it?”
Xander’s head shook no.
“Simpler than that. Good sidekick, crap hero. I always knew, and I never cared, not really. Spotlight’s not for me, Spike.”
“Say what you like, I think you’ll find you’re the star of this spectacle.”
Xander wriggled in Spike’s grasp, hand coming up to grab a fistful of damp, sticky hair to bring Spike’s face around, and Xander kissed him quite urgently.
“Promise me,” he gasped between kisses, “that this won’t ruin what we have. I need you, Spike. I need you.”
Spike tilted his head back to examine the flushed face, coming to a swift decision.
“Tell you what, Petal… Seeing as we both know the score, how about I never again remind you about staying safe? No more nagging, threatening…”
“Are you sure? I may not recognise you.”
“If you’re going to get us into trouble at every turn, let’s stop fretting about it, eh? You don’t need pressure from me along with the rest.”
“You really mean it?”
“We’re both sick of me being the company man, aren’t we?”
“Not sick, no,” Xander diplomatically lied despite wanting to scream a resounding YES! at the top of his voice. “I understand that you’ve got a job to do.”
“I’m still going to take care of you, but it would be a darn sight easier all round if I concentrated on the little picture rather than the big one.”
“Always worked in the past,” Spike said cheerfully, warming to this idea.
“Always— Oh, God, we’re so gonna die,” Xander laughed tearfully.
Spike rose and drew Xander to his feet, to the bed, completely smug that, if he looked at this moment from a particularly skewed angle, he was no longer saving Xander so that the medium, in turn, could save the world, he was simply saving Xander…for himself.
The rather lovely shag hadn’t done the trick, Spike noted with regret as Xander fidgeted his way out of the embrace that usually brought him peace and comfort, muttering incomprehensibly as he only just managed to stay asleep. Daft to think that sex could solve Xander’s problems, Spike conceded, when the man was haunted by a situation he shouldn’t be burdened with; however irate Spike got about it, he had to remind himself about Xander’s pain in the arse argument and adjust it slightly: no sense in taking up with a man you know to be decent and honourable and then expect him not to be decent and honourable.
Jerking awake, fleeing a particularly nasty dream, Xander was out of the bed in less than a second; he dragged on his boxers and t-shirt and stumbled his way to the room’s tiny fridge for a bottle of water. Spike considered pretending to be asleep and letting Xander have some space, but not for long: he sat up and switched the lamp on; Xander seemed to be expecting it.
“Go back to sleep.”
“Thought I’d keep you company.”
“I’m fine. You sleep.”
“Better me than the other nasties.” Xander sent him a sharp, concerned look. “The ones in your head,” Spike clarified.
“It’s not a big deal.” Spike smiled and threw back the covers, swivelling to sit on the edge of the mattress. “Really, Spike, I don’t want company. Please, just go to sleep.”
“Come back to bed then. I’ll hold you, make it quiet. Might even find a few ways to distract you.”
Xander dropped wearily onto the nearest chair, giving an uncomfortably bitter laugh.
“I’m starting to miss the early days. Wondering why the hell I was sleeping in the same bed as you.”
“Really?” Spike asked lightly, but his stomach did a slow roll.
“When it was about you offering me some peace. When there was no ulterior motive.”
“Sorry to break it to you, Love, but after the first time we got off, there was always an ulterior motive.”
Xander closed his eye and took a deep breath.
“I should never have let that happen.”
“You want me,” Spike reminded him with wavering arrogance but growing indignation. “You could have put a stop to this, you’re strong enough.”
“Oh, sure. With you wearing me down…”
“Don’t give me that bollocks, you’re not some damsel in distress, you’re tough as old boots and if you hadn’t wanted me – if you didn’t, even now – then…”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Insufficient animosity for that to be truly insulting; Spike rose, stalking over to Xander and straddling his lap.
“No. I’m not the one who fucks me, that’s your privilege.”
Suddenly there seemed to be nowhere for Xander to put his hands or even look without coming into contact with highly distracting bare flesh.
“You’re…umm… You’re very…naked.”
“I do seem to be.”
“I’ve never known anyone be quite so naked as you are when you have no clothes on.”
“It is something I do particularly well.”
“Is it on your résumé?”
“Just beneath ‘Piss-takes to an Olympic standard’.”
Xander dropped the water bottle and picked up Spike’s hands, unexpectedly bringing them to be kissed.
“I’m starting to feel crazy.”
Spike reciprocated Xander’s show of affection with nuzzling kisses to the man’s temple.
“I know it’s not been easy for you.”
“That is such an understatement. Nothing’s ever easy. I remember myself at fourteen, fifteen, lying in bed at night and thinking about the future, being excited and a little scared, making impossible plans. If I’d have known that before I was thirty I’d’ve killed Jesse, almost been strangled by my first sexual partner, seen Willow flay a man, lost an eye, found my head filled with the voices of dead people, had a vampire’s dick up my ass…” Xander came to a resentful halt and pressed into the kisses that moved from his temple to his brow. “I miss my home,” he whispered sadly. “I miss my garden and the birds that visit, and I keep wondering if they’re hungry ‘cause I’m not putting out food for them. I miss the chapel, my chapel, and the people – the friends – that come to my readings. I miss the walk to work, and I miss the Mustang even if I hardly ever drive it. I miss H giving me tea when I pass out. Simone smelling like a storybook mom and holding me when I’m down. I miss…Willow and Buffy and Dawn and Giles.”
“When this is done you’ll see them all, and you’ll go home, get your life back…”
“And take years to settle down again.”
“It’s very decent of you to tell me how I feel, thanks.”
“No, I mean… Before, you were…searching. This time, it’ll be…going back to what you found.”
“I’m almost guilty for feeling so bad when you’re trying this hard to make me feel better.”
“Is it working?”
“Hmm, didn’t think so.”
“Go back to bed, huh?”
“Some sleep. Look at you, you’re exhausted, you can’t do this if you’re flying on fumes. If you’re going to be fit for anything…”
“You said you wouldn’t nag me.”
“That was professionally. I’m now nagging on a personal level.”
“And that makes all the difference,” Xander grumbled, but went with the flow as Spike climbed off his lap, tugged at his hands, and manoeuvred him back to bed.
They got comfortable in their usual position, but it was only minutes before Xander was fidgeting out of Spike’s embrace, turning himself and then the vampire, cuddling up to Spike’s back and holding on tightly.
“This ‘cause you don’t trust me not to try anything?”
“No,” Xander snapped scornfully.
Okay. Spike took a mental step back and played with various ideas, from subconscious mistrust to…the obvious. Xander was in protective mode, and this was his mind’s way of playing it out, trying to find a little comfort by holding and shielding the available body because he couldn’t hold and shield Tania. Very touching, but it was still something that Xander needed distracting from, and desperate times yadda, yadda, yadda.
“Ask me a question.”
“Is that the best you can manage?”
“I’m trying to sleep.”
“No, you’re trying to not be awake and you don’t do that too well by yourself, do you?”
Xander didn’t bother to argue that one.
“And you’ll answer it, even if you hate it?”
“That’s crafty. Always your own rules.”
“Ask me. Then I’ll ask you.”
“There’s nothing left for you to ask about me.”
Xander thought, but this was a far healthier thinking than dwelling on abduction and torture and a potential lost life, and eventually he decided on a question that Spike would no doubt choose not to answer.
“Okay,” he said with firm resolution, before a tell-tale hesitation.
“C’mon, Love, I won’t bite your head off, whatever you ask.”
“This could be a once in a lifetime offer and you’re…”
“Okay, okay.” Another pause, and Spike could almost be heard rolling his eyes in the darkness. “Tell me what happened to you to make you think so much about heaven. You said near misses.”
Now Spike hesitated, but he’d started this and was determined to finish it, just as long as it kept Xander’s mind occupied.
“You know about the dragon,” he began quietly, “and I realise that was a while ago now but I think that’s where it started. Close call: almost didn’t get out alive.” Xander propped his head up on his hand as he listened, leaning in to kiss Spike's shoulder. “Then there was this business, year or so ago. It was a single case that stretched out in all directions, and it was one bizarre situation after another, and each of them a death trap. Last one was the kind of near miss that left me watching my skin grow back for a month. Not a good look on me, a tan.”
“How close did you get?” Xander asked in a horrified voice.
“To being dust?” Spike stopped to consider, pretending he hadn’t gone over this a thousand times in his mind. Xander’s hand lovingly caressing the once-destroyed skin made it so much easier to confront. “Seconds. If it hadn’t been for Zooza the magician stepping in…”
“Wait, what, who?”
“Bloke who works for us. Name as long as your arm but he’ll answer to Zooza.”
“Zooza? Zooza the magician?”
“Zooza the magician.”
“Pleasepleaseplease tell me he fights evil by making balloon animals.”
“That’s precisely it,” Spike smiled. “When it looked like all was lost he turned up and squeaked his way through a giraffe, a poodle, and a duck-billed platypus. While our criminal mastermind was preoccupied with choosing a colour for his monkey-up-a-pole, Angel took the opportunity to julienne him with a chainsaw.”
“Nah. He killed twenty-six people before we finally got him.”
“But you did though. Get him.”
“He was human.”
Xander huffed a cynical laugh.
“No surprises there.”
“Have you prised enough of an answer out of me? Or are you planning to tear out my entrails too?”
“I—” Xander stopped himself from pursuing this, despite wanting to hear more, made aware of how distressing it was for Spike by the way the vampire’s entire body had stiffened in anxiety. “That depends on what you’re about to ask me if I’m done.”
“I’m going to ask you…”
Shifting onto his back, Spike peered thoughtfully at Xander.
“C’mon, Spike, just ask, I know it’s going to humiliating or painful or…”
“I want to know…what song makes you think of us.”
“Humiliating and painful. You truly are a master of your mean art.”
Spike shrugged, looking suspiciously above suspicion.
“Just a song.”
“I have to think about this.”
“You knew the moment I asked, you lying little toe-rag.”
“No. But…yeah. I mean, it’s just ‘cause it’s the song you were listening to on my player when I took it back from you. Or that’s how it started out. Since then, some of it…creepily accurate.”
“I don’t remember what it was.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing. But… It’s actually pretty funny too.”
“Funny? Song or context?”
“Tell you what: you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
“You have a song? An us song? Damn, I have to tell you mine now, just so I get to hear you sing Ghostbusters.”
“Are you going to sing, or do I get to listen?”
“There goes the other shoe. Innocently asking about us songs but wanting to get your thieving hands on my player. Well, nuh-uh, Baby.”
“I’ll find it one day.”
“No, you won’t.”
“What’s the song?” Xander began to tap an intro on Spike’s stomach. “You going to get to the verse before I bring up my dinner?”
“‘Every breath you take.
Spike was grinning at the humour in context before Xander was a line in.
“Okay, you now,” Xander insisted, encouragingly singing, “‘Who you gonna call?’”
“Uh… ‘If there's something strange, in your…’”
“The other one.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be showing me yours?”
Xander sighed and muttered his way through the first verse to get to the second.
“‘Every single day.
Knowing what came next, Xander stalled, but Spike was quick to continue.
“‘Oh, can’t you see,
And Xander was forced to shut him up with a kiss that Spike laughed all the way through.
“How many songs do you know?” Xander asked.
“Twenty-seven-thousand-and-eight,” Spike convincingly pulled a number out of the air, and Xander grinned and kissed him again.
Spike positioned himself lying nose-to-nose with Xander. A soft smile, and then he sang in an even softer, almost mournful voice:
“‘Ne me quitte pas,
Xander stared for a moment, completely transfixed.
“Holy. Fuck. Now, that’s what I call oral sex.”
“It’s about… Do you care?”
“Of course I do, tell me.”
“It’s about forgetting what should be forgotten. Forgetting the times when we didn’t understand one another. Forgetting the times that made us unhappy.”
“Until we get to the verse where you’re the queen of my domain. Which is, from my perspective, fairly accurate, but I know you’ll be bound to object.”
“This is me objecting. Pretend it’s loudly and strenuously.”
“Usually you hear one verse of French and then it skips to all-gender-encompassing English.”
“And I’d know the English version, yeah? That’s why the tune is familiar?”
“Not now. It’s too depressing for words and I’m trying to cheer you up.”
“You have done.”
“Temporary fix, I know, but maybe you’ll get some sleep now.”
Xander pushed Spike onto his back and snuggled up, creaking in his throat as he pressed his face into Spike’s neck. Spike hugged him tightly and he creaked again.
“Tell me it’ll be okay.”
“It’ll be okay.”
A little after sundown and they sat in the motel’s diner, Xander not eating his food and Spike closely watching him not eat. Any cheerfulness that he’d managed to instil in the man had been sucked out by a phone call from John Randall shortly after they’d woken. Spike was heartily pissed off about the call, which he’d felt was not only pointless, but badly disruptive to Xander’s fragile peace of mind. Hardly a progress call when there was none, it was a further understated plea for help that left Xander frazzled and fearing his inadequacy more with every moment that passed.
Throwing some money on the table, Spike reached across and grabbed Xander’s hand, relieving it of the fork and keeping a firm hold as he led him from the building and to the car.
“Right, what the girl showed you: you said it’s something you’ve seen.”
“Yes, but we’ve looked…”
“You assumed it was when we were driving here.”
“It can’t be, or we’d’ve found it. We’re going to take a drive along every stretch of road we’ve been on since we got here and, I promise you, if it’s there to be found…”
Xander tugged Spike into a relieved and grateful embrace.
“Thank you. Thank you.”
“C’mon, let’s get going, you know if you stay this close for more than fifteen seconds I need to shag you.”
Reluctantly letting go, Xander stood back and just looked at Spike for a moment. He’d lost count of how many times he’d done this in the last few weeks, staring at the vampire and trying to figure out if this had always been Spike and if he’d just never known - never wanted to know, if he were honest with himself.
“Were you always like this?” he finally asked.
Spike took a moment to consider and gestured at Xander.
“No more than you were this one.”
Yes, they were works in progress, Xander appreciated that. And more.
“I’m really glad I got to know this you,” he said with a sincerity that left Spike speechless.
A quick nod of acceptance and Spike was climbing into the driver’s seat; Xander followed, feeling far more optimistic now that Spike was actively on side.
“Chapel first,” Spike announced, “that’s the obvious route.”
“How did it look when she showed you?”
“It was quick, kinda…snapshotty, if you…”
“Yep, know what you mean. Don’t concentrate too hard then.”
“How can I not?”
“Keep looking around, not just staring out of your window.”
“What if I miss it?”
“Miss it the first time and we’ll drive every road a dozen times until you see it.”
“Anything seems familiar to you, we’ll park up so you can get away from me and listen for the girl again.”
For what felt like a long time the endeavour seemed pointless. Although some of the landscape seemed vaguely similar to what Xander was looking for, nothing quite matched the picture that Paige had placed, fleetingly, in his mind.
“This is hopeless.”
“It’s not even been two hours, Love.”
“Really? Seems like we’ve been looking all night. And there aren’t that many roads to try, we’ve done every one of them…how many times?”
“Try to stay positive.”
“The news reports said that this whole area had been searched, from Lestor all the way back to Woodbury, for miles in every direction; we’re wasting our time, why the hell did you ever listen to me?”
“I didn’t listen.”
“I looked. At your face.” Xander sent a curious glance in Spike’s direction. “I don’t like to see it miserable.”
“Yeah. I remember. Not so pretty.” Xander lurched violently in his seat as Spike slammed on the brakes. “What?” he demanded anxiously.
The car was still shuddering as Spike turned and grabbed the collar of Xander’s coat, pulling him close and peppering his face with kisses.
“I lied.” Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss. “You’re always pretty.”
By the time Spike let Xander go the man was happier, if not happy, and permitted the brief, playful interlude in the midst of the crushing gloom to re-invigorate him.
“’Kay, one more time. One more circuit and we go back to the motel so I can get away from you and wait for more information.”
“Fancy a beer along the way?”
“No, I… Yeah, what the hell. Make it several.”
“Am I allowed to get you drunk and do a runner with you?”
“To…anything that has a scrap of sense involved.”
“Hmm,” Spike acknowledged as he started the car. “Good call.”
A third of one beer, that was all, and Xander’s face was showing the guilt for having stopped the search. He leant against the bar and drew precise lines in the condensation on his glass.
“That shows the state of your mind, you know that?”
“Look. It’s like you’re drawing prison bars.”
“I’ve always done it.”
“Didn’t say the state of mind was new, did I?"
Xander stared at the glass. Then Xander stared at Spike. Back to the glass.
“If Willow were here, she’d be able to find Tania,” he said unexpectedly.
“She’s not here.”
“I should have paid more attention when I had the chance, should have learned…stuff. A locator spell. That’s all it would take and…”
“I think you need something special inside you for that to work properly.”
“Yeah. Or every thirteen-year-old girl would be a bloody nightmare with their love spells, eh?”
“Not just the thirteen-year-old girls.”
“You going to drink that?”
Pushing the glass away, Xander sighed.
“No. Sorry. No drunken sex for you tonight.”
“How about we nip upstairs then? Maple pecan slices, or an hour of brain-blending music, up to you.”
“Think we’ll run into Tyrone?” Xander asked with the slightest hint of a smile. “That’d be…”
“…fucking awesome,” they finished together.
Spike closed the gap between them, shoulder to shoulder and he nudged until Xander turned to look at him. A further tilt and their lips barely met before…
“Not here, boys,” the woman behind the bar warned them as she passed by; Spike immediately pulled away.
“You’re actually listening to someone?” Xander asked, bemused.
“She’s four-hundred if she’s a day, and I’m not here to cause trouble.”
“She’s – she’s…”
Spike gave the woman a friendly wave and guided Xander from the bar and into the complex’s main thoroughfare.
“A vampire, yes.”
“A Master. This is obviously her patch, so we play nicely.”
Xander leaned into the doorway for another look, squeaking as Spike not-so-gently yanked him back outside.
“What’s it to be then?”
“Shouldn’t we leave?”
“No,” Spike frowned. “Not because of her. She’s not going to screw up a cushy little number like this by starting fights with passing demons, is she?”
Xander followed Spike to the elevator and they rode up to the level that housed the café and entrance to the club. Spike wasn’t fooling himself about a night out, and he went to the café to buy a few of the pastries that Xander had enjoyed so much on their previous visit. An urgent call of his name swung him back in Xander’s direction, and he sped through the drifts of people to where Xander was leaning on the plate glass window he’d been staring out of prior to entering the club on Sunday night. Xander’s hands were spread out on the glass as if he were trying to touch something beyond it.
“That’s it,” he said, wide-eyed and mesmerized, as Spike arrived at his side. “There.” Spike stared out into the murk and could make out the distinct shape of a wooded ridge in the landscape about a mile from the complex. “That’s it,” Xander repeated.
“We’d never have seen that from the road.”
“Oh, yeah. Beer receives absolution.”
“You think Paige was taken from here? Was Tania?”
“Maybe. But more importantly Paige knows where she was taken to, and this, to her, is the familiar view of it.”
“Want to check around? In case he did get Tania here. See if you pick anything up?”
“No, I don’t want to waste time.”
“Want to call Randall?”
“No.” An excited glance at one another… “Let’s go find Tania.” …and they rushed back to the elevator.
Once again the rock formation proved impossible to spot from the road and it was only Spike’s ability to gauge distance and perspective that allowed them to find the general area, then it was out of the Cadillac and on foot, Spike taking the lead and Xander cautiously following, trying his best to manage in the intermittently bright moonlight, rather than take a chance on alerting the kidnapper by using a flashlight.
Xander soon fell behind, but it was intent rather than inability to see. Spike paused and turned back, watching as Xander listened, fingers impatiently twitching.
“Okay, I can see that in my mind, can’t see it from the ground. You’ll have to— … Okay. Okay. Thank you, Saul.”
Xander gestured for Spike to keep going in the same direction, and they moved into deeper scrub, naturally darker as it was overshadowed by the rock formation that had proved so distinctive. Xander grabbed the tail of Spike’s duster and let himself be led, still trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Eventually he gave a sharp yank and Spike came to a halt.
“Oi, I’m not your little pony.”
“Shh.” Xander moved close and whispered. “There’s a kind of…of…vertical fold in the rocks, it looks like a solid piece of stone, but there’s a way in, there’s a cave.”
Xander backed up.
Spike closed the gap between them.
“You want to wait here and listen to the girl while I look around?”
“I don’t think you’ll recognise it if you see it. And it’s very overgrown.”
“Then there must be disturbance in the vegetation: I’ll spot that.”
“The police have searched here, and they never did.”
“There’s a reason why my pay is five times higher than John Randall’s.”
“Try then. But come back for me if you find anything.”
“Yeah, and you be ready to scream your head off if you need me, sod the circumstances.”
“And no wandering off.”
With a last squeeze to Xander’s hand, Spike silently disappeared into the gloom.
It was hard to dismiss the immediate sensation of vulnerability but, Xander reasoned, that was neither unexpected nor original. The cavalry was now a frightened guy with a dead girl in his head rather than a rock in his hand, but what else was new? He scanned the ground, picked up a fairly hefty piece of stone and grinned to himself.
More pictures flooded his mind and he peered into the darkness, trying to match the images inside and outside of his head, walking slowly in the direction that Spike had taken as he was lured by the unfolding detail within the residual energy. Stumbling once too often, he tossed the stone away and reached for the flashlight in his pocket, smothering most of the lens with his hand and allowing himself a rapid examination of the ground lay-out and nearest rock face before switching the light off again. Further mental pictures in a rapid-fire series, Paige’s presence strongly felt, Paige and…allegedly there were two further victims, but Xander knew from what he was experiencing that this place had witnessed more brutality, more deaths that had not been attributed to this evil individual.
Xander simply went with what he was reading, following where the information led as he trod in the dragged footsteps of multiple young victims, tensing as he felt their terror and the chilling sensation that represented the cruelty of the man who had held them captive.
Flashlight back in his pocket, Xander took a short yet convoluted path that led through the brush, noticing that this route disturbed none of the surrounding vegetation and realising with a shiver that Spike would have overshot this area and, with his speed, could be quite a distance away. No time – well, not much – to worry about that; Xander held both hands out before him and laid them on the cold rock, feeling his way along until his senses were completely at odds, hands following a recess that his eye refused to see, even this close up.
Even in spirit Paige’s fear was devastating, and Xander was forced to ask Saul to intervene to ensure he wasn’t overwhelmed. A return to the familiar hum of massed voices, not enough of a distraction under these circumstances to prevent Xander from focusing on the residual energy and, with a final glance back and the wish that Spike would magically appear – which, naturally, he didn’t – Xander pressed on.
Complete darkness as Xander groped his way along a narrow passage in the rock face, and he hated that he was trembling, with the residue of Paige’s fear, with his own that he wouldn’t be able to find Tania, or it would be too late and she would have suffered the same horrible fate as the others, fear that he wouldn’t live through this to say goodbye to his friends, or to save the world, which was growing increasingly unlikely anyway as the apocalypse seemed to be taking, as Spike would put it, a bugger of a time arriving, or…
The passage began to widen and there was the faintest glimmer of yellow a short distance away. A cave, this was the mouth of a cave, and the scents that hung in the air of this contained space were nauseating: rotting food and human waste, some kind of gas that Xander guessed was heating and lighting the place. Beyond the voices in his head there was silence, and Xander considered returning to where he’d been left in the hope that Spike would show up sooner rather than later, but now he was so potentially close to ending this he was frightened to leave and chance losing what could be vital minutes for Tania.
Xander was only vaguely concerned about the presence of the kidnapper: it wasn’t as if he was some defenceless teenage girl, he had a man’s strength and, post-Sunnydale, an ingrained knowledge of self-defence, however rudimentary. Spike would fuss, he knew that. Actually Spike was going to be so furious that he’d ‘wandered off’ that getting into a fight with a serial killer would simply be the icing on a highly unpalatable cake.
Xander inched forward, pausing to listen carefully with every cautious step. The light was brighter as he approached the dogleg bend that stood between him and whatever next, and turning that blind corner was going to be about as stressful as taking on the average mad god; a few deep breaths, and Xander slowly, slowly sneaked to where he could see something of what was around the bend. Which proved to be very little. Two more steps and he could see a wooden work bench, cluttered with various items that Xander didn’t want to think too closely about, bearing in mind the kidnapper’s penchant for torture; a third step and he could see an armchair, empty food packaging, chains, rope, a reel of wire; a fourth step and Xander held his breath when he saw a mattress pushed up against the cave wall, and on that mattress was a single person. The Please be alive mantra in his head picked up to double speed.
Despite the urge to rush to help, Xander took his time surveying the remainder of the cave before establishing it was deserted. With a heaved breath of relief, he ran the last few steps to the mattress, kneeling beside it and examining the frail body through the thin and filthy blanket, checking for a pulse and having to press hard to feel a faint flutter beneath his fingers. The girl’s face, when Xander found the courage to turn it toward him, was a mass of grazes and bruises, and there was a pattern surrounding her eyes, picked out in cigarette burns. Xander’s stomach rolled and he turned away from Tania in the pretence of looking for her clothes, but there was nothing to be found; Xander walked a little further onto the cave, gagging as he skirted the stinking container that was half-full of human waste, and barely stopped himself tumbling down a shaft in the rocks. Shining the flashlight down the channel he discovered what he assumed were the girl’s clothes on the top of a pile of material, food remnants, other objects that he couldn’t discern and probably didn’t want to.
Pulling off his coat as he returned to Tania, he did his best to keep her covered as he dressed her in it, hoping that she was so deeply unconscious that she wouldn’t experience any pain from what he was convinced was a broken arm, awkwardly using the blanket to bind it to her and prevent it from moving about too much.
“Hey, Tania,” he whispered, “I don’t know if you can hear me, Honey, I’m Xander, and I’m one of the good guys. That bastard isn’t going to hurt you again, I promise. But…I might as I move you, so…sorry. Be worth it to be safe, huh?”
Xander charily lifted Tania into his arms, concerned by the weak moan she gave and hesitating to see if she would wake; when it became clear that she was still fully unconscious Xander bundled her closer and hurriedly turned toward the exit, feeling the shock from head to toe as he came face-to-face with a thirty-something man who might have been considered unremarkable if he hadn’t been shaking with fury and wielding a large wrench.
There was a moment’s stand-off as they stared at one another, Xander’s apparent composure masking his consternation that he had unwittingly placed Tania between them, and his grip tightened further when the man’s gaze dropped to her inert form.
“Put it down,” he demanded with unexpected restraint. “Put. It. Down.”
“No,” Xander replied as pseudo-calmly. “Tania is going home.”
The arm holding the wrench flexed.
“You need to accept that this is over. You think I’m here alone? You think you’re going to get anything more out of this now, other than an injection, courtesy of the state?”
Time for a little of the screaming Spike had prescribed, and Xander managed to yell the vampire’s name before the man lurched forward; Xander jerked back, already starting to turn in a bid to protect Tania, barely seeing the wrench swiping in his direction but feeling it skid across his shoulder as he ducked away, bracing himself for the next strike as he lowered Tania to the mattress as gently but as quickly as possible so he’d be free to protect them.
The strike never came; there was a shuffling sound that lasted seconds, a strange, muted cry that was cut short, and then…nothing. Even before he looked Xander knew Spike had intervened, knew that the situation had been dealt with as quickly and efficiently as one would expect from a Master vampire. There was a surge of relief when Xander swivelled around to find Spike with the kidnapper locked in a firm grasp, but it was soon joined by a trickle of anxiety because of the peculiarly blank look on Spike’s face.
“Spike?” Their eyes met and Spike frowned. “Spike? What…?” Spike relaxed his hold and the man slumped heavily to the ground. Xander watched in stunned silence as Spike poked a limp hand with his foot. “Is he…?”
“Yes.” Spike looked back to Xander with that same curious lack of emotion. “I seem to have…killed him.”
Chapter 24 Death and Life
Several long minutes of inactivity passed as Spike’s statement began to sink in, and then, as if by unspoken agreement, it was back to business, Xander turning to pick up Tania once again but being prevented from leaving the cave by the inconvenience of a dead body blocking the way.
Meanwhile Spike had quickly checked out their surroundings, and once he’d discovered the shaft that the kidnapper had been using for refuse, he couldn’t think of a more appropriate resting place for the recently departed.
“What are you doing?” Xander asked as Spike grabbed a wrist and began dragging the carcass to the rear of the cave.
“What does it look like?”
“You’re gonna… You can’t do that.”
“Think he deserves any better?”
“No. But other people deserve our consideration. John Randall, the girls’ families, they need to know this guy is dead, John needs to know it’s over.”
“Then you better start figuring out a good way to tell him without dropping us both in it.”
“John will want an identity, he’ll want to see the body.”
“Spike, you can’t—” Spike released the dead man and booted him down the shaft with suitable contempt. “Oh, okay, you can, obviously. Great. What happens when the body is found? How guilty do we look then?”
“No-one’s ever going to find the body. Search parties must have walked within feet of this cave time and again. They couldn’t find it when it really mattered, no-one’s going to find it now.”
“You going to keep whingeing until she dies in your arms?”
Xander immediately started toward the passage that led out through the rocks, only pausing when he remembered how difficult it had been to traverse the first time around. Although he hated to be parted from Tania now, he knew what made sense, and Spike was there and taking the girl from him before he had to say a word.
Xander took the flashlight from his pocket and switched it on before hurrying back to turn off the gas bottle that was supplying the heat and light, then he led them through the passage and back to the real world. The air outside was icy and still, and Xander inhaled deeply, unconsciously trying to cleanse himself of the putrid atmosphere he’d been breathing.
“Passing out?” Spike asked.
As they found their way to the Cadillac, Xander called John Randall and asked him to meet them in the chapel’s parking lot, and to bring an ambulance, refusing to go into detail but asking him to be as discreet as possible, and assuring the man that Tania was alive.
Cradling Tania, Xander sat in the back of the car as Spike drove.
“That blanket,” Spike said vaguely.
“It’s disgusting, I should…”
“It’s covered in DNA. If that bloke is in the system, and I’ll lay money on it, that blanket will give Randall his identity.”
“What do we tell him about how we found her? We can’t tell him the truth now.”
“You can, about how. Where…” Spike pondered.
“No, no wait, it’s obvious, from the other cases. The – the…bodies were left out in the open to be found. Maybe he did the same to Tania but was disturbed before he could…he could…”
“Or maybe she got away from him and collapsed there…”
“Yeah, either, we don’t know, and I’m not quite sure I can say exactly where ‘cause…dark, led by spirits not by a map…”
“Which leaves me to invent whatever I want to about the location…”
“…and if I don’t know anything I can’t contradict you.”
“Good. Vague is good. Polished testimony is always suspicious.”
“So, while we were at the complex, I got a message from Paige…”
“…which led us to an area of brush where we found Tania.”
“Is that vague enough?”
“Should be. And it’s also good to use the truth as far as possible. The old biddy in the bar will confirm we were there, and once a piece of the story is verified the rest appears more credible.”
The car fell silent apart from a nearly-not-there muttering from Xander. Spike listened hard but couldn’t catch more than the occasional word, and it took several minutes before he realised that the murmurs constituted a prayer for healing. Shifting slightly, he managed to see Xander in the rear-view mirror: the man’s brow was kinked in a concentrative frown, his eye was closed tight, and his cheek was pressed against Tania’s forehead as he gently rocked her unconscious form.
He finally heard, quite distinctly and repeatedly, a heartfelt plea for ‘the great unseen healing force’ to intervene and restore the girl; the trust and conviction in Xander’s simple words made Spike feel very small about how he’d reacted to the question of belief, and how much he’d resented Xander for holding on to what he’d cynically dismissed as little more than a deluded man’s crutch.
The handover at the chapel was smoothly carried out, and Xander was relieved to place the damaged young woman in the hands of professionals; with a little manoeuvring he even managed to retrieve his coat, despite knowing it should be passed on for examination for trace evidence. Despite, or because? No way he wanted anyone to be led to that cave.
He’d expected to talk to John Randall but the cop had insisted on accompanying Tania to the hospital in the hope she would be able to give him information when she regained consciousness. Xander appreciated that: the quest for tangible evidence. He wouldn’t want to be Randall presenting the sheriff with information about this case, purely based on the word of someone the sheriff would automatically dismiss as a screwball. So, a brief exchange as Randall waited to follow the ambulance to the hospital, and an agreement that the undersheriff would get in touch as soon as possible, then Xander and Spike were left alone to share an oppressive silence that took a massive effort on Xander’s part to end.
“That was…” He shrugged.
“Yeah,” Spike flatly agreed, staring into the inky sky. Into the heavens.
The flood of guilt was quite sickening: Xander could no longer suppress the knowledge of what had occurred that night, the implications where Spike was concerned. But the vampire’s face showed nothing. Really nothing. It was completely void of any hint of emotion, and that was horribly disturbing.
“Spike?” Pause. “Spike? Are you okay?”
Spike looked at Xander and, after a few blank seconds, gave him an empty smile.
“Course I am.”
Xander quickly closed the gap between them and pulled Spike into a hug, but it was like embracing a statue, and Xander suspected that it took everything Spike had not to shove him away.
“Let’s get back to the motel, and then we can talk.”
“I’m not in the mood for talking.”
Xander pulled back just far enough to see Spike’s face, reaching up to brush his cheek with the back of his fingers. Spike jerked away, leaving Xander groping at thin air.
“Just lay off, will you? You want nice and I don’t feel like being nice.”
“That’s okay, I don’t expect…”
“I don’t need your fucking permission, all right? Stop patronising me.”
Xander considered his actions.
“I’m sorry if it feels that way; it’s not intentional.” Spike glared, patently unconvinced, but even that was better than the nothingness of minutes before. “You want me to drive?” Xander asked, eager to be away from this place and hoping he could instil a little of that feeling in Spike.
The glare got glarier and Xander was beginning to feel quite intimidated by the time Spike strolled to the driver’s side of the car and slid inside with his usual grace. Taking a deep breath, Xander steeled himself for the journey to the motel, and joined the vampire.
Spike hated feeling insecure. It automatically instigated a backlash that left him raging inside, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the rage was kept under wraps. He didn’t want Xander to be on the receiving end of the potentially violent overreaction, knowing that the inner voice presently forcing blame upon the man for every definable and non-definable grievance in his life was irrational and inaccurate.
But Spike felt insecure and he didn’t know any other way to cope with it than drinking and fighting and fucking it out of his system, using and abusing and coming until he centred his world around those basics – however inadequate they had proved in recent years – and until he felt back in control.
Xander, he knew, was going to try to talk him through this but he had never, in his long existence, found any words that could take the place of his fists dismantling a face or his prick reaming any number of orifices. Words were useless, and there was no way that Xander was going to be pummelled and buggered to restore Spike’s self-esteem, no way that Spike would lose the friendship, the hints of more, that he’d worked so hard to win.
Once at the motel, he escorted Xander to their room but barely stepped inside.
“You’ll be all right by yourself a while?”
Halfway through divesting himself of a favourite coat he wasn’t sure he’d ever want to wear again, Xander spun to face him.
“I need to get out.”
“No. No, you don’t do that.”
Spike visibly bridled.
“I don’t, eh?”
“Where were you thinking of?”
“Club, bar, haven’t decided.”
“Okay. I’ll come with you.”
“I don’t want you with me.”
“Why not? Together is safe, you’ve drummed that into me.”
With a humourless laugh, Spike shook his head.
“Smart. But no.”
One foot outside the door and Spike was seized and dragged back into the room, Xander forcing him face-to-face.
“Stay. Please, Spike. Please.”
“Why? What are you going to do?” Spike sneered. “Counsel me?”
“Maybe I can. If you want me to, maybe I can help you.”
“I’ll tell you what I want: a bottle of Jack, a fight for my life, and a mind-numbing fuck. Up for it? Any of it?” Spike saw in Xander’s eye that he was trying to find the courage to say yes, and that simply made him madder. “Don’t be stupid enough to agree.”
“I don’t want you to walk away.”
“That’s fucking tough, isn’t it? And why should I be any more obliging than you? What part of ‘Don’t go wandering off’ didn’t you understand?”
“Ah, c’mon, Spike, you never realistically expected me to hold back if I had a lead.”
“You could have waited for me.”
“But maybe Tania couldn’t.”
“He was about to cave your head in with a wrench. Who would that have helped?”
“Thirty seconds from dead.” Xander opened his mouth to argue but, confronted by the sudden pain in Spike’s eyes, nothing emerged. “Thirty seconds from dead,” Spike repeated pointedly.
The sensible thing for Xander to do would be back off and give Spike some room, so naturally he did the opposite, pulling him closer and nuzzling his cheek.
“I don’t care if you get drunk. I don’t care if you fight. I do care if you fuck someone else; I don’t want you to do that.”
“Would it hurt?”
“Think I care?”
Xander paused momentarily before returning to his nuzzling, dipping to kiss Spike’s neck.
“Right now? You’re wrong.”
“Am I? And you think…what? That I’m simply going to let you walk out of here and then cry myself to sleep?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Xander forced his fingers into Spike’s hair, grabbing handfuls and keeping the vampire’s head still as the kisses moved to his mouth.
“I’m possessive too, remember?” he whispered against the unmoving lips. “You go out and I’m coming with you. You make a pass at someone else and I’m going to screw it up for you, big time. That’s a promise.”
“And what if I decide we’re over before it’s over? End it – us – right now, this minute. You’ll do the job, won’t you? Even if you’re dumped?”
Xander smoothed Spike’s hair and leaned back to smile reassuringly at him.
“No?” Spike couldn’t help returning the smile at this brilliant show of selfishness. “Can’t fuck me so you fuck the world instead.”
“Want to take a chance on that?”
“You little bastard. You gorgeous little bastard.”
Spike snatched a kiss, having progressed from disliking himself to disliking the pair of them, wanting to hurt Xander, but physically now, not emotionally, wanting to fuck the man raw and punish him for…everything. He finally shoved Xander away and crossed to the fridge, retrieving a can of beer and downing it in one long draught.
“Can we talk now?” Xander asked, having set the bunny-boiler persona aside and seemingly back to his usual self.
Spike crunched the can before throwing it hard in Xander’s direction; Xander didn’t even attempt to avoid it, and it hit his chest and fell to the floor with a dull clatter.
“I’m done talking. I’m—” Spike paused, seething. “We’re going out.”
“I just have to wait to talk to John and—”
The vampire was back before Xander saw him move, snatching up fistfuls of shirt and bashing Xander into the wall, pinning him in place as the private seething became public.
“No. No.” Xander’s hands shakily rose and stiltedly stroked Spike’s back, stopping abruptly as a snarl emerged along with the golden eyes. “Tell you what happens now, shall I? You put me first. Just for once you put me first.”
The final words were all but screamed, and Xander wanted so much to comply with everything Spike was asking for, but…
“I have to talk to John. And…and…you have to.”
Trembling with rage, Spike forced it down and pressed his body hard against Xander’s.
“Tell me, Love,” Spike ground out. “Words of one syllable. Putting Spike first is impossible because…?”
“Because…” The answer was there immediately. “He’s strong enough not to need it.”
Spike groaned, and leaned a little more heavily, leaned until Xander felt like he was being used as a prop.
“How do you know? For all your freak show sensitivity, how can you possibly know what goes on inside me?”
The words hurt Xander. Not the freak show jibe, that meant nothing, but the fact that he’d obviously missed so much, the unpleasant realisation that he’d assumed more than he’d learnt about Spike. Unwanted affection, he knew, but his arms came up to embrace the vampire. Unwanted affection, but the golden eyes returned to blue.
“If I’ve been wrong, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I want to know how you feel. I also know…you won’t tell me without a fight.”
“Put me first.”
“You… Emotionally you are first,” Xander uncomfortably admitted, adding quickly, “I think you already know that. Intellectually…I accept that we have to speak to John before…” Xander grunted in discomfort as Spike pushed away from him, using his chest as a brace, and if Spike hadn’t been headed for the door he would have allowed himself a few seconds in sulkdom at the heavy-handed treatment. But Spike was headed for the door and Xander was in rapid pursuit. “Please, Spike…”
“Why do I have to stay?” Spike swung back to demand. “To make you feel better about securing my place in hell when this existence is over?”
“This isn’t about me. I don’t want you leaving and feeling…”
“Feeling what? Eh? C’mon, prove to me for once and for all that you’re not fucking clueless.”
“I…umm…” Xander shrugged. “Am. I guess. Fucking clueless. And upset that I don’t seem to know you at all. I really thought you were strong enough…”
Xander huffed a brief laugh at the absolute absurdity of this conversation, just prior to giving up on it and crossing to their bed, sitting on the edge and turning his head away so he wouldn’t see Spike leave. He was right to: under the circumstances, hearing Spike go was bad enough.
John Randall arrived about two hours later; Xander had spent the time alone very deliberately not thinking about Spike and working intensively with Saul, picking over what they already knew and trying to establish other facts that he could pass on to the undersheriff.
Randall looked around curiously, apparently surprised that Spike was nowhere to be seen.
“He needed some space,” Xander offered, and Randall nodded his understanding.
Randall sat in the armchair and talked to Xander as he made coffee, assuring him that Tania was going to be fine – in body at least: neither man wanted to dwell on the psychological consequences of her ordeal – and proceeding to talk about the case as a whole, stretching back over the past few years. Randall haltingly confided that one of his nieces had walked out of her home eighteen months ago after a furious row with her parents and hadn’t been heard from since. His very obvious fear was that the killer had made off with her.
“I may be able to help you,” Xander said as he handed over the coffee before sitting opposite Randall.
“You may?” Randall asked warily, not entirely sure whether he should be happy about that.
“By discounting her.”
“I think that between us, my spirit guide and I have found all the girls he took.”
The colour drained from the cop’s face, and he had to put his mug down before his shaking hands spilled his coffee.
“Don’t tell me. Let me give you what I’ve got.”
Xander fetched his notebook, and both men jumped, startled, as the door noisily opened and Spike strolled in.
“Have I missed much?”
Xander stared at him for a moment, wondering what lay beneath the nonchalant surface, but remembering that Randall knew about their so-called ‘relationship’, and not wanting to show any signs of a rift, he forced a smile for Spike and delicately explained Randall’s situation before settling on the bed and flicking his pad open to the relevant page.
“Okay…” Xander sighed. “It’s been impossible to work out a time frame, but I think you can do that better than me. I haven’t included the girls you already know about, so…” Spike dropped down beside him and Xander gave him a prod. “Move away. If there’s still information to come I don’t want to miss it.” He turned back to Randall and explained about the Spike zone, but it was plain that the man was too preoccupied to listen to much beyond the crucial list of names. Once Spike was as far away as possible while still in the room, Xander began to read. “The earliest victim on my list seems to be Melissa Mor. Then, not necessarily in this order… Carmella Goodner. Allie Mitchum. MaryLou Dano. Katy Liverman. Annabelle Kinter.”
“That’s it?” Randall asked in a choked whisper, and at Xander’s nod he leant forward, face in hands, for a long moment. Xander waited patiently and eventually Randall looked up, wiping his face and giving a feeble smile. “If I ever catch up with my niece I’m going to kill her,” he weakly joked.
“Just ‘cause this one didn’t get her doesn’t mean to say no-one else…”
“Well…don’t.” Xander was relieved to see that there was still a smile on Randall’s face that only faltered when Xander handed over the list of victims, but the evident distress was quickly covered by the cop’s well-worn mask of professionalism.
“Okay, boys. How about you tell me what happened tonight.”
Xander told his side of the story, and Randall produced his own notebook to jot down the account, asking several questions but accepting the medium’s semi-vagueness without comment. Handing over to this somewhat unpredictable Spike made for a tense moment, but the vampire’s account was a measured blend of precision and beautifully played embarrassment when the professional investigator could only offer less than specific information.
New voices in Xander’s head made him tune out the living in favour of the dead, and it was with a chill that he interrupted the ongoing conversation about the blanket and recoverable DNA.
“There’s a name… This seems to be from…Allie, Allie Mitchum. Something… … C’mon, Honey, just a little clearer. … Co…Co…Cougar? No. … Help her, please. … Co… No, I’m being shown…” Xander drew a K in the air with his finger. “It’s…Koga. Koga,” he concluded with satisfaction, continuing to pay close attention to the rest of the incoming account. “She knew him, Allie knew him, and she’d seen him spying on one of the girls that went missing, and… Oh, Sweetheart, you were so brave. … She confronted him and…and…he felt he had no choice but to take her too, and…”
Xander flinched as he received a rush of sensation from the girl.
“Xander?” Spike said softly, taking a cautious step forward.
“No, it’s okay, I’m okay.” Xander paused, the connection with Allie lost, but, having done exactly what Spike had suggested, he carried on with the fabrication that would, hopefully, give Randall his peace of mind. He deliberately gave Randall such a wary look that the man was instantly on his guard.
“What? What were you told?”
“I can’t… Ah, shit.” Xander twitched away and back, staring at Randall and apparently fighting his own conscience. Randall played straight into his hands, offering up a weary but kindly, undeniably persuasive smile. “This is…” Xander took an undisturbed moment, and chose his words carefully as he looked directly into Randall’s eyes. “The spirits won’t predict the future for me, but sometimes…they give me clues. Koga…” Xander took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. “Koga is…expected. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I feel you have a right to know.”
“When you say ‘expected’…?”
“No more victims, John. It’s over. Koga will be dead before he can hurt anyone else.”
“Dead? You know how? Where?”
“I don’t know anything that pertains to this side of life, I only know he’s expected in spirit and soon.”
“That’s, umm…” Randall, having crept to the edge of his seat, sat heavily back in it as Xander’s information sank in. “That’s good.”
“It is good. He won’t hurt anyone else and he’ll be somewhere he can be helped. Although I guess that’s hard for any of us to care about, considering what he’s done.”
There was a long pause. Xander watched and patiently waited.
“I feel cheated,” Randall admitted.
“I understand that.”
“But…good.” Randall turned a speculative gaze on Xander. “You think you’ll know when?”
“I may do. My guide may be able to tell me when Koga’s in spirit. If he does, I promise I’ll let you know. In return…is there any way that you can keep us out of this? If the sheriff is as prejudiced as you say I’m more likely to end up in an asylum than on the stand.”
“It’s not going to be easy.”
“Might be easier than presenting the sheriff with a completely non-credible witness. As easy as…the two hikers who found Tania not understanding their civic duty and taking off while you were at the hospital,” Spike suggested. “They didn’t know you’d need formal statements, or they simply didn’t want to get involved; maybe not hikers, maybe a horny couple who were somewhere they shouldn’t be for reasons that we can all easily guess. They could be bashful heroes who didn’t want credit for saving the girl, or a courting couple whose respective spouses wouldn’t be too pleased to see them together on local TV. Keeping us out of this doesn’t have to be about suspicious loose ends.”
Randall didn’t look entirely convinced but he was starting a slow nod as he got to his feet.
“I’ll deal with this. It’s the least I can do. Right now, I have to get back to the hospital.”
He held his hand out and Xander took it, the cop putting so much emotion into that touch that Xander felt quite moved, and was certainly lost for words. Randall went on to thank Spike and, as before, Spike walked him out to his car.
The silence beyond the white noise of voices was, for some unknown reason, disturbing; Xander crossed to the table and booted up the laptop, turning the media player on and selecting the playlist he’d loaded from his stereo. Music played but he didn’t listen, he just allowed it to fill a little of the emptiness as he stared at his abandoned coat and let his heart ache.
The door clicked shut behind Spike and Xander deliberately didn’t look, didn’t acknowledge him in any way. He barely reacted when Spike’s arms looped around his waist and a hard body pressed against his back.
“Was that true?” Spike asked as he rubbed his face in Xander’s hair. “The spirits expecting that bloke?” Xander shook his head. “Nicely played. John believed it, believed everything I think. Then again he was so glad to get the girl back alive…”
“Where did you go?” Xander asked in a tense voice.
“Get what you want?”
The audible smirk in Spike’s voice was too much. Xander tore himself out of Spike’s grasp, elbowing the vampire in the face as he fought to free himself. Across the room and fuming as he glared at Spike.
“Keep away from me.”
Spike rubbed his cheek and studied Xander, pleasantly intrigued by a level of jealousy he often thought only he was capable of. It was…hot.
“If I tell you the truth will you let me near you?”
Xander suppressed the incipient rant: Spike’s words implied that the truth would defuse rather than inflame the situation, and that was something Xander positively yearned for. Calmer would mean closer, it would mean not feeling alone in this. It would mean comfort. Too easy, and far too difficult.
“How do I know you won’t be saying whatever you think will get you what you want?”
“And what is it that I want?”
“What you always want, I guess.” Spike raised a questioning eyebrow. “Your own way.”
“That’s a laugh.”
“Didn’t say you got it, did I?”
There was a thoughtful pause before Spike took a single step forward.
“Never left the car park. Sat out there and…” Shrug. “…hated me, hated you, cursed the situation, cursed the whole bloody world that needs saving, felt…sorry for myself.” Another shrug. “There you have it: no booze, no brawl, no getting my end away.” A further step. “Know something else? I can see on your face that you believe me, so can I…”
“No-one gets over being that mad so fast.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Consider this…a hiatus. You needed me to talk to John and I wasn’t about to let you down. Looking at you, I think you need me, full stop.”
“We have to talk.”
“Let’s leave the post-mortem till later.”
“C’mere, Love, I want you now.”
“Gimme a break here!”
“Suppressing what happened…”
“I am not suppressing anything other than the desire to jump you.”
“Sex isn’t going to solve anything.”
“Sometimes,” Spike sighed, “you’re so…human.”
“Yeah, and I’m kinda proud of it. Despite the Kogas of this world.”
And the mention of that name, a ripple of tension ran visibly through Spike; his eyes flashed gold. So much for the hiatus. Xander turned to the laptop and reached to switch off the music, planning on goading, cajoling or blackmailing Spike into talking; he hit the wrong key but before he could correct his mistake, he was wrapped in vampire and brought about to be fervently kissed as determined hands tugged at his clothes.
‘Take me now, Baby, here as I am…’
Great, just the message he didn’t want to send. He wrenched his mouth away from Spike’s; the kisses transferred to any scrap of skin that Spike could reach.
‘Pull me close, try and understand…’
“Spike! Will you—!”
‘Desire is hunger, is the fire I breathe…’
“I haven’t started. I…”
‘Love is a banquet on which we feed.’
Xander’s shirt was gone in record time, his t-shirt well on the way to following it, and his patience gave way at the same time as the cotton. He struggled to push Spike off, not wanting the only jeans that fitted him well to be shredded too, but every twist and turn was easily countered and Xander accepted that demonic strength and speed were always going to defy him. Which left reasoning with Spike. Oh. Joy.
“For fuck’s sake, I don’t want—”
Xander didn’t have a chance to finish that. Spike, assuming the sentence ended ‘you’ rather than ‘my pants ruined’ and desperate not to be rejected, took the easiest, albeit least honourable, route: his mouth fastened onto the scar he’d left on Xander’s neck, blunt teeth scraping the surface. With a stunted cry and a full-body shudder, Xander’s knees collapsed with the intensity of the erotic sensations that exploded throughout his body from that vulnerable spot.
‘Because the night belongs to
Somewhere inside that crippling rush Xander knew that this wasn’t right, and it was Spike himself who had made him understand why this wasn’t right, why no-one should want this. Xander knew.
Because the night belongs to
But there wasn’t an iota of objection or fight in him. Not as Spike lifted him and laid him on the bed, not as the rest of his clothes were stripped away, not as Spike kissed and touched him, teased the scar to keep him compliant, assiduously prepared him, slid inside his body and fucked like a wild thing despite the sweet words of need and desire and of Xander being his damnation and his saviour.
‘Love is an angel disguised as
Arousal thrummed through Xander, ripple after hormonal ripple, and the mere sight of Spike above him made him as horny as he’d ever been, but… He couldn’t come. It wouldn’t happen. Spike fucked and fussed and played with him, impatiently pulled at his cock, talked so dirty that Xander began to think he’d need therapy when this was done, but…no release.
‘Come on now, try and
Xander became aware of
Spike staring at the scar, knowing that he could use it one last time to tip
Xander into orgasm; despite the glorious sensations that manipulating the
damaged flesh could induce, and despite the heady power it gave Spike, the
thought of exploiting it was more appalling than sexy, to either of them.
Xander became aware of Spike staring at the scar, knowing that he could use it one last time to tip Xander into orgasm; despite the glorious sensations that manipulating the damaged flesh could induce, and despite the heady power it gave Spike, the thought of exploiting it was more appalling than sexy, to either of them.Their eyes met, and Xander saw more sorrow than lust in Spike’s.
“Baby,” Xander whispered, only able to manage a single word and choosing that one, with its implications, and its associations, and trying to fill his tone with what he needed to happen here.
Spike’s expression scrunched in upset but he buried his face in the unscarred side of Xander’s neck and shuddered with rawer emotions than pleasure as he pumped his climax into the man beneath him.
‘With love we sleep; with doubt
the vicious circle turns and turns.
The song played on and
on, stuck on repeat and scoring into Xander’s mind; he’d never hear it again
without being transported to another place and time.
The song played on and on, stuck on repeat and scoring into Xander’s mind; he’d never hear it again without being transported to another place and time.Not, though, somewhere that reminded him of being overwhelmed and powerless. The opposite, in fact: a place and time of empowerment, when he’d finally understood how needed he was. When saving the world for mankind became secondary to saving Spike from himself, from being the screwed-up would-be human who lay quivering against the lover he imagined he’d now irreparably alienated.
‘Because the night belongs to
Xander would never hear that song again without becoming unbearably
Xander would never hear that song again without becoming unbearably aroused.
‘Because the night belongs to
Xander recovered in Spike’s absence, dozing and wondering where the vampire had disappeared to so suddenly, enjoying the languid stretches as his body gradually became his own once again. He was also quite content with getting his fascination over the scar out of his system, however that had come about. No doubt Spike would be moody and difficult over this encounter, finding blame to heap upon himself. Fucking soul. Xander sighed and mentally rolled both eyes because, mentally, he still could.
He was roused from his nap by rain. Not the sound of it from outside the room, but the dripping on his body from inside. Puzzled, he forced his eye open, and he smiled at the source of the wet: Spike, leaning over him, face turned away but offering his freshly washed, un-gelled hair. About to touch, to make the most of this treat, a hint of a tremor from Spike made Xander hesitate. It made him realise that not every drop of water falling onto his skin was from the vampire’s hair.
Xander’s hands detoured from hair to shoulders, pulling at Spike.
“Hey, c’mon, Baby.” A bigger shudder and Spike let himself be manoeuvred into a cuddleable position and fussed over. “It’s okay. It will all be okay.”
“Did I ever mention how nothing your sweet nothings can be?”
“Love,” Spike croaked, voice thick with emotion.
“Better.” Xander pressed a kiss into Spike’s damp hair. “We need to talk about what happened with that guy, and once we have…”
“You think the tears are for that scum?”
Xander hesitated, already experiencing an inkling of where they were headed and dreading it.
“You tell me.”
“Us. Me, you. You.”
“Listen to me, we are not revisiting your post-LA…”
“But this time I did—” Spike’s voice cracked but he made himself speak. “I think the world of you and this is how I treat you.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“How about… ‘Spike, you made me a victim. Are you proud of that, you utter cu…”
“Can’t say that if I don’t feel it.”
“I take someone as strong as you, that I care about this much, and…and…”
More tears and Xander hugged Spike closer, letting him cry out a little of his frustration and anger, all the while attempting to formulate some sort of ongoing strategy to deal with a demon who misguidedly thought he should be better than a human.
Here came a plan. Okay. Ooookay. Not too nice – positively crass in the face of Spike’s distress – and with plenty of scope for backfiring. It was probably…perfect.
“Spike,” Xander began slowly, dragging his fingers through the loose waves on the rear of Spike’s head. “Baby.”
“I know my timing is lousy, but with you being so close, and I didn’t get off, and I’m kinda…” A little pressure to Spike’s shoulder, pushing him away and down Xander’s body, before all of Xander’s fingers clenched in Spike’s hair and guided him to his groin. Spike opened his mouth to speak but Xander was faster to interrupt. “Not a word, huh? Just for once, just…”
The words dissolved into an entirely non-manufactured groan as Spike’s mouth closed around Xander’s rapidly swelling cock and the simmering lust that had been created and left unsatisfied re-emerged with a vengeance. A gentle undulation of the hips and Xander was thrilling to the low, rumbling growl of contentment that emerged from Spike as his mouth was leisurely fucked.
“Oh. Yeah. That’s good,” Xander gruffly commented when he finally found his voice, continuing to ramble appreciatively about Spike’s abilities as he enjoyed the talented mouth, the freedom to wind his fingers through the hair that was drying in corkscrews, the never-ending novelty of the Spike zone that ensured silence in the wake of Koga’s victims and Patti Smith’s melodic brainwashing.
Ten minutes of pure selfishness, and then Spike altering his position alerted Xander to what he couldn’t resist watching, pushing himself onto his elbows to observe Spike’s hand roughly working his own cock.
“Do it. Do it, Baby, let me see you,” Xander breathlessly encouraged, fighting for self-control as Spike’s head bobbed in time with his strokes, swiping tongue or thumb over sensitive glans’ and causing both men to shudder with the effort of restraint. “Let me see you,” Xander groaned again, more urgently now, and Spike’s hand sped up, his suction increased, and with a precision that could only be credited to the horny thrill of the other’s release, they came within a second of one another.
Xander flopped down, panting, as Spike crawled up his body, mindlessly smearing semen from his recently busy hand over Xander’s skin. Xander registered where every speck was left, and grinned at himself for the stirrings of excitement such a non-exciting occurrence could provoke. There was unexpected acceptance, willingness even, when he realised he was going to be kissed and he was going to taste his come in Spike’s mouth; what had so recently repelled him now seemed such a natural part of this and them, the repulsion was rejected as ludicrous, and Xander welcomed Spike’s mouth, regardless of its unfamiliar flavour.
The kisses were hard and restless, the ongoing effect of a cause Spike would refuse to discuss until he was either good and ready, or ingeniously coerced. Good and ready felt a long way off, and Xander was feeling less than ingenious and not inclined toward coercion.
“Tell me to stop,” Spike growled, surprising Xander because the vampire’s manner suggested that stopping was the last thing he wanted to do.
“I’ll have to.”
“How about if it’s just long enough for me to make a point?”
“Thinking. Too much bloody thinking.”
The kisses resumed, and Spike pushed his thighs between Xander’s, spreading their legs and wriggling to position himself until he could rub his predictably re-erecting cock in the crease of Xander’s buttocks.
“Not yet, I—”
Spike froze for a moment before warily meeting Xander’s eye.
“Did I hurt you? Before.”
“Aside from the care you’re conveniently forgetting you took getting me ready, and aside from the gallon of lube, I think it’s safe to say I was fairly relaxed, so…”
“I will never, never do that again.”
“Never the sex!” Xander exclaimed in faux consternation. “Never again? You are so dumped.” Spike drew breath to speak, glared, and moved to Xander’s side. Xander gave him a moment before asking, softly, “Are we talking?”
“Can’t stop you, can I? Like…” Irritation gave way to guilt. “Like you couldn’t stop me.”
“You need to chew on that before we get to the main course?”
Spike rolled, turning his back on Xander, clutching his arms tightly to himself.
“What is wrong with me?” he whispered miserably, probably rhetorically, but Xander wasn’t about to let that stop him.
“Same that’s wrong with me, I guess.”
“You would never…”
“I just did.” Xander watched Spike fall completely still as he took that on board. “I wanted a blow job, and I didn’t ask, I just took.”
“But I didn’t mind.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I could have stopped you. That only works one way.”
“You think? Maybe I don’t know you as well as I’d like to, but I know some of the buttons to push. It would go… ‘Blow me, Spike.’ ‘No, Xander, I don’t want to.’ ‘But you hurt me and I need you to make me feel better.’ You’re sucking my dick before I get to the end of that sentence, whether you want to or not.”
Perfectly true, but Spike admitted nothing, refusing to take an easy way out.
“It isn’t the same.”
“Why not? I didn’t give you a choice, but you didn’t mind. And although you…”
“Are you seriously expecting me to believe you didn’t mind either?”
“Do I seem angry or upset? No, ‘cause I’m not. But…using the scar… Never again or I’ll be mad as hell. Once was okay: despite what you told me, I feel like I needed to go there and figure it out for myself. I did: scar - horny – but not so nice.”
“It doesn’t change the main issue, does it? I have a soul, and I’m no better than I ever was as pure demon. I have no excuses any more. What does this say about me as a person?”
“That you’re as impetuous as you and as fallible as me.”
“The man I once was…”
“C’mon, you can’t force William’s Victorian sensibilities into a twenty-first century relationship.”
“Respect should be timeless. Once I’d’ve taken no for an answer and…I fought to be that man again.”
“You’re this man, in this world, in these circumstances. The kind of relationship we have allows certain…liberties. And, Spike… There wasn’t a no.”
“There was. You were saying no and I couldn’t accept that.”
“You said you didn’t want me.”
“I didn’t get a chance to finish! I didn’t want you to ruin my clothes. I was trying to tell you not to rip my clothes, my favourite jeans, and – by the way, did you rip my jeans? I bet you ripped my jeans. I am totally going to kick your ass.”
“How would you feel if I went and raped someone and used all the excuses you’re giving me to make myself think it was acceptable?”
“Because you’re really that ignorant, huh? You think us, here, now is comparable to…”
“So why are we even discussing it? In fact… I’m not. I’m not going there, it’s pointless. How about I say…that you probably shouldn’t have done what you did…but I don’t actually mind that you did it. And although I understand why and how it happened, it was a little disrespectful so I don’t want you to do it again.”
Spike finally un-scrunched his body and rolled back to Xander’s side, still not touching but close enough to feel the contact.
“That’s better,” he conceded. “A bit.”
“Only a bit? Doesn’t quite hit the mark? If that isn’t enough you’re screwed because it’s as far as I’m prepared to go.”
Xander waited patiently for Spike’s response, shuffling around to face him and running his hand over the vampire’s shoulder and upper arm. It was plain to see how torn Spike was, so when Xander finally received a barely audible…
…it was with some degree of relief.
Spike let their fingers be linked, and didn’t offer any objections to his arm being led to rest around Xander’s waist, the man edging closer still for a better fit. Spike simply closed his eyes and silently appreciated the warmth, both physical and emotional.
“Hey,” Xander whispered as he rubbed his nose over Spike’s. “You think we can…”
“No, not talking. You think we can move on? Or does John need us to stay here for…whatever?”
“I told him we’d be leaving.”
A faint smile lightened Spike’s features.
“Don’t think he was entirely happy about it, but as long as he doesn’t want anyone knowing he went to a medium for help, what can he say?”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stay one more day.” Spike shrugged. “That an ‘okay’ shrug?” Spike shrugged. “Okay.” Kiss. “You think this is going to work out?”
“I hope you’re right. I really don’t want to be in the middle of the sheriff’s witch-hunt. In the middle of any of this.”
“About bloody time.”
“Officially in the middle.”
“Still about bloody time.”
“Hey, time, yes.”
Xander peered past Spike to check the time, and seeing they were only minutes into the latest scheduled news report, he quickly turned and grabbed the remote off the bedside cabinet, switching on the TV and flicking to the local channel to find the delighted newsreader barely able to keep a professionally straight face as she reiterated that Tania Varley had been found, and that she was alive. Further information was expected shortly, the sheriff being due to make an official statement within the next thirty minutes.
There was Tania’s picture, once again smiling at them and, for the first time since seeing that face, Xander wasn’t dragged down by despair at the sight of it, but lifted by hope. He groped behind him and grabbed at Spike, catching a wrist and tugging until the vampire was pressed against his back; as far as Xander was concerned the move was about Spike watching the TV with him, but Spike was more preoccupied with the wonderfully distracting body that gave him a little respite from his troubling thoughts.
“We did it, Spike, we did it.”
“You did,” Spike corrected as he rested his mouth on the nape of Xander’s neck.
“I couldn’t have done it without you. You ended up saving me and Tania.”
“Xander… Very little of this was about saving Tania.”
“Don’t say that.”
“What shall I say then?” Spike gently bit down on the soft curve where Xander’s neck met his shoulder, causing a violent shiver. “That I want you? Want to be in you? Need the peace you give me?”
“Don’t,” Xander unconvincingly protested, trying his best to defy the hand that snaked around him to tease his nipples.
“You love it,” Spike growled.
“Oh, gee, you noticed. Okay, but right now I want to concentrate…”
Spike changed tactics, now focusing on the one part of Xander he knew to be as smitten as he was, but his fingers barely had the chance to brush over the man’s stiffening member before his hand was, once again, fended off. Undeterred it veered from groin to thigh, gripping and lifting and opening Xander to Spike’s next offensive. Shockingly, a muted…
…was all it took to silence the impending objections.
The vampire’s slow penetration of his body seemed wholly inexorable, and Xander groaned with sensation, with need, with inwardly-directed should-be outrage at being taken so easily and not giving a damn.
“There, Petal,” Spike crooned as his hips began to move in a smooth and restrained rhythm. “I’ll make it good for you, have you coming in no time.”
Despite the confidence of his actions, the surety in Spike’s voice was wavering; Xander was quick to reassure him.
“Uh…no. Don’t stop. Permanently. Maybe… Temporarily. I want to…”
Suitably encouraged, Spike prised the remote away from Xander and switched off the TV before throwing the unwanted object to the far side of the room.
“I will stop,” Spike promised sweetly. “Just after I’ve finished fucking you so full of my spunk that you slosh when you walk.”
“Shit, that should be vile, why isn’t…”
“You want it, don’t you? Want it all.”
Holding on tightly and taking Xander with him, Spike laid flat on the bed, Xander helplessly on top of him like a turtle trapped on its back, legs forced apart by Spike’s bent knees, body still impaled and being leisurely and continually fucked. Now Spike’s hands were given free reign as they teased nipples and cock, fingers slippery with Xander’s pre-come, Spike enjoying the array of grunts and whimpers that accompanied every milking stroke, every playful tickle or persuasive squeeze of the swollen glans.
“I love to fuck,” Spike stated the obvious with absolute relish, “and I love to fuck you, Xander.”
Xander gave a breathy, horny chuckle.
“Never would have guessed.”
“And you don’t mind.”
“Nuh. Would like to…”
Xander’s head struggled to rise so he could see the vampire’s hands on him, falling back after mere seconds and turning in an unfocused attempt to find Spike’s mouth. Spike was waiting, poised to supply the kisses Xander craved, remaining thrilled by this simple yet dangerously intimate contact, aware that the mounting emotional content of each sexual encounter was outweighed tenfold by the connections being forged with every single kiss.
The upward thrusts became a little more deliberate, causing libidinous shudders as Xander’s prostate took hit after hit, and Xander was struggling to find a way to move against Spike to make it better still but pressure on his hip soon stopped his actions.
“Just let me fuck you,” Spike told him.
Xander snatched up the hand on his hip and squeezed the fingers.
“So close.” The hand was transferred to his erection. “Please.”
Spike’s thumb slithered in the slick fluid that, at the lightest touch, pulsed from the swollen tip; desperate for release, Xander vainly attempted to work his cock in the too loose grip.
“I’ll get you there, don’t worry.”
“Do you like this?” Spike took his time with several long strokes, letting Xander feel every inch of his cock as it penetrated, withdrew, penetrated. “Like me in you?”
“You feel me when I come in you?”
“’S kinda funny. Cold.”
“That’s right. And I feel the heat when you come in me. It’s special.”
“Yeah. Such a turn on. Special.”
“Special to us. Won’t get that anywhere else and we’d miss it, wouldn’t we?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Xander said as he shook his head against Spike’s shoulder.
“It doesn’t?” Spike asked, perplexed that his version of brainwashing had apparently missed its mark.
“Just us. Don’t want anyone else.”
Or perhaps it was simply less necessary than Spike had thought. His fist flexed around Xander’s erection and the resultant murmur of pleasure sparked his desire for a more vociferous reaction, and he fucked and teased until Xander was gorgeously loud and demanding, and his hand was gripping Spike’s forearm so tightly that if there’d been a blood supply for the vampire to worry about he’d’ve been worried about it. A further grind and a gasp and a shudder and Spike knew it was out of his control, Xander suddenly teeth-clenched and silent as he arched against the body beneath him and came, stripping away the last of Spike’s control and back to groaning as the vampire jerked his cock deep into the heat and emptied his balls.
Two attempts to right himself and Xander was left weakly giggling at his incapacity before Spike tipped them onto their sides and rubbed a hand over Xander’s belly and chest, working the spray of semen into the skin.
“Wow,” Xander eloquently stated as he gave up any ridiculous intentions of leaping back into action. Instead… “Spike… Wanna fetch the remote?”
“All right, just…shut up.”
Spike carefully withdrew from Xander’s body and rose, grouchily stomping across to where he’d thrown the remote and returning it to Xander.
More grouchy stomping as Spike fetched a bottle of water from the fridge.
Xander switched the TV on, expecting the usual update on Tania but being surprised to find mundane coverage of the President’s trip to Japan. He flicked around a few channels before finding the end of a piece on the kidnapping, most of which Xander didn’t catch because he was shrieking and squirming to get away from the ice cold bottle that Spike had meanly and deliberately pressed against his side.
By the time peace had broken out the sheriff was ending his statement and, on behalf of the family, thanking the public for their prayers and support during this ordeal. Xander turned the TV off and, once again, Spike took the remote from him and tossed it away.
“Tania’s old news,” Xander said with a degree of shock. “Just like that, she’s old news.”
“Yep,” Spike agreed as he settled down to stare at the ceiling. “Life goes on.”
Xander mulled that over, understanding that he needed to take a mental step back now rather than remaining caught up in the world of Koga and his victims. Spike would need some objective – okay, he wasn’t fooling himself, make that semi-objective – help in the very near future, and Xander whining over the fickleness of journalism wasn’t going to benefit anyone.
Water drunk and bedclothes rearranged, Xander took a deep breath and tried to get back to that wonderful post-orgasmic place he’d so casually discarded in favour of a TV remote. He waited expectantly for Spike to cuddle up and hoped it wasn’t the start of their occasionally contented little world falling apart when Spike didn’t come anywhere near him.
Time passed; still no Spike. Much needed sleep was strangely elusive without the reassuring contact that Xander now felt he had no right to actively pursue. With a nauseating sinking feeling that he tried very hard to ignore, Xander experienced an ominous inkling of exactly how bad ‘over when it’s over’ was going to be.