Twilight Time by Shadow

Chapter 25

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Xander grumbled. He tugged at the very, very tight black jeans he'd spent several minutes struggling into.

Spike smirked. He liked the jeans just fine. They were so snug that he could have counted the change in Xander's pocket – if, in fact, Xander could have fit any change in his pocket. The equally snug black tank shirt showed off Xander's mark, not to mention his muscles, to fine effect. Xander's newly-pierced left ear, miraculously healed seconds after piercing, now sported a tiny ruby stud as brilliant as a single perfect drop of blood.

His Consort made a truly toothsome picture.

"So tell me again why I'm done up like a rent boy," Xander said uncomfortably, pulling at the jeans again. "Especially when you say we're going to see someone."

Spike snickered.

"Multipurpose," he said. "First off, I'm about to establish your reputation as my Consort; that'll help protect you once word gets around Sunnyhell. Second, I'm going to kill any rumors about me and that bloody chip and remind a few people who's the Big Bad around these parts. Third, I'm gonna maybe – maybe – take some of the heat off your friends tomorrow night when our witches do their spell. Fourth, I might be able to pick up a few tidbits of information about this Ravyadha git and where he might be. And fifth, I'm gonna fence some of our loot."

"Wow." Xander swallowed. "That's multipurpose, all right. And, um, still doesn't explain why the rent boy getup."

Spike grinned.

"'Cause I'm gonna show you off," he said simply. Then, more seriously, "Listen, Pet. Whatever happens, you just play along with me, all right? Things may get a bit, hmmmm, intense, but trust me, right?"

Xander shivered, but he nodded.

"You know I do," he said. "So . . . where are we going?"

"Told Weckman we'd meet 'em at that crypt," Spike said. "The one where I found you that first night. Would've been easier to have 'em here, looked better, too, but then I'd have had to have the witches do the uninvite thing after and I didn't like explaining why. Anyway, just as well not to let the likes of Weckman and his people have a look at our place. C'mon, we'll take the bike."

The heavy cases fit neatly into the saddlebags; hearing the growl of the motorcycle, Xander's firm heat pressed against Spike's back, oh, yeah, he was the Big Bad again, wasn't he? King of Sunnyhell, whatever the Slayer thought, and he was going to have a good time setting a few people straight on the issue, wasn't he? Cool wind in his hair, warm arms firmly around his waist, yes, life was mighty fine.

That was the great thing about the motorcycle – he could just drive it on up to the crypt, have it close by in case there was any kind of set-to and he and his Consort had to make an undignifiedly hasty retreat. Besides, no point in carrying the goodies any further than they had to. Prolonged strolls through the cemetery were nice when Spike was hungry for mindless violence or fresh rations, but tonight he had other business.

He shut off the bike, sniffed the air and listened, grinning. Oh, yes, Weckman had been listening to the rumors, hadn't he? He'd surrounded himself with human toadies, hired muscle or renfields or both, figured he'd have Spike dead to rights.
This was going to be too much fun.

"Grab the bags, there's a good pet," Spike said offhandedly, sliding off the bike and striding purposefully to the crypt door. Xander hesitated for just a fraction of a second, then pulled the cases out of the saddlebags and followed.

Weckman wasn't inside; Spike had known the other vampire would want to make him wait, want to push the envelope. Weckman was nearby, watching to see what Spike would do. All part of the game. And Spike was going to enjoy showing Weckman who the top player really was. Still and all, gave Spike time to set up things how he liked them.

He checked his exits, checked the weapons he'd concealed at strategic locations. He pushed the two bags behind a stone bench and sat down; when Xander would have sat down beside him, however, Spike shook his head, pointing to the floor at his feet.

"You gotta be kidding!" Xander protested.

"Not a bit of it, Pet," Spike said. He pulled Xander in for a brief hot kiss, just hard enough and long enough to leave his Consort flushed and swollen-lipped. "Remember what I said. Trust me. Everything's for a reason."

Xander shivered and sat down on the floor.

"All right, but you so owe me," Xander grumbled.

Spike wound his fingers into Xander's hair, wrenched his head back and stole another hot kiss.

"Tonight," he promised. "See if I don't make it worth your while." He licked a wet trail up the side of Xander's throat, then whispered in his ear. "Think we'll trot out those leather cuffs and get up to no good with 'em." He released Xander abruptly, smiling at the glazed expression in his Consort's eyes.

Xander swallowed heavily, shivered.

"Uh, okay, guess I can do the rent boy routine for a little while," he said hoarsely.

"Good, 'cause here come the other players," Spike murmured. He pulled Xander over slightly so the young man was leaning against his leg as the crypt door opened.

Weckman wasn't so much to look at as a vampire; he could have passed for a pale, long-haired Anthony Perkins. He'd been an accountant in life, and he looked it. His retinue was a mixed bag – a couple of fledgling vampires, two Kayorn demons, a fellow who looked like he might be half ogre, and a handful of humans. Large retinue for a vampire who didn't even qualify as a master vampire yet. Of course, Weckman was making a statement. See all my followers. I command respect. What've you got to show for yourself?

"Master Spike," Weckman said smoothly. "It's good to see you again. You're – looking well." That last was said with the faintest hint of surprise, which Spike readily understood. If Spike was living off animal blood and the like, he should look like shit.

"You're late," Spike said without preamble; he'd never been one for pleasantries. He pulled Xander's wrist up and consulted his watch. "Five minutes, actually."

"I beg your pardon," Weckman said calmly, although Spike saw a flash of irritation in his eyes. "The cemetery's not as safe as it once was. The Slayer has become a rather frequent – and annoying – presence . . . as I'm sure you know." He glanced at Xander and frowned. "Isn't that one of her hangers-on?"

Spike smiled politely.

"Is, ainnit?" he said. He ran his fingers through Xander's hair. "Pet, take the bags over, will you?"

He had to give Xander credit; the boy never hesitated, just stood, picked up the bags and walked over, setting them down at Weckman's feet. This time Weckman didn't conceal his surprise, followed rapidly by unease.

"You've marked him," Weckman muttered, apparently forgetting the bags at his feet. "And I can smell Angelus on him as well." There was a good deal less certainty in his expression as he looked back at Spike. "I'd had word that you'd taken a Consort, but then . . . "

As soon as Xander straightened, one of the human men snorted and smacked him on the bottom.

"Pretty little piece, isn't he?" he smirked.

Outraged, Xander glanced at Spike; ever so slightly Spike shook his head. Xander glowered for just an instant, pasted his calm face back on and walked back over to Spike.

"But then you can't put too much stock in rumors, can you?" Spike purred. When Xander was close enough, he grabbed the boy's hand, pulled him down to the bench beside Spike, but half across Spike's lap. Spike leaned down and licked a long trail up the side of Xander's throat, smiling as his Consort shivered.

"Nasty thing, rumors," Spike continued. "Why, if you listened to rumors, you might think Angelus and I were on the outs. You might think some military gits had stuck hardware in my head. You might even think – " Spike nuzzled Xander's throat, then abruptly bit down, taking just a brief wonderful taste of Xander's blood before he withdrew. " – that I couldn't hurt humans," he finished, licking his lips.

Weckman wore a rather sickly expression now; he glanced at his retinue uneasily. The humans in the group looked more nervous than the vampire, particularly the one who'd smacked Xander's ass.

"But rumor also has it that you've allied yourself with the Slayer," Weckman pointed out. "My own minions have seen you helping her. You've even killed a few of them," he added, rather sourly.

Spike shrugged.

"So?" he said indifferently. "Weren't my minions, were they?" He smiled, his nastiest smile. "And you think I've been helping the Slayer?"

"You've been seen," Weckman repeated, less confidently now. "Seen working with the Slayer. You certainly haven't killed her."

Spike smirked.

"That's why you've got far to go before you become a master vampire," he said tolerantly. "Haven't learned to think around corners." He stroked Xander's chest, teasing his nipples erect through the tank shirt, then pinching one sharply. Xander gasped but held still. He was trembling, not to mention hard as a rock.

"I've done something no vampire ever has," Spike said. "I've got the Slayer herself working for me. Of course she thinks I'm helping her; that's the beauty of it. Oh, yeah, poor little helpless Spike, at least he's useful. He can point the Slayer to this nest of revenants, that pack of ghouls, this werewolf lair, that vampire safe house . . . and all the while, the Slayer is cleaning up this town for me, getting rid of the riffraff . . . or whoever else I like," Spike said, gazing pointedly at Weckman. "All I have to do is point the finger. Name me another vampire who's ever managed to keep a Slayer as his own pet enforcer, and get a Watcher and two powerful witches in the bargain, too. Why should I kill her or any of 'em? Arrangement suits me just fine. Slayer does the work of a whole pack of minions, and she don't need looking out for. When I don't have a use for her anymore, then we'll see. In the meantime, not only does the Slayer leave me alone, she's working for me, and she doesn't even know it. And she's done me the service of providing me the sweetest Consort any vampire's ever tasted."

Spike shrugged.

"Now, you want to keep on with the history lesson, or you want to do the business we both come here for?"

Weckman looked truly sick now.

"Ah – yes, of course, Master Spike." He glanced at one of his human retinue impatiently. The fellow hurriedly opened the bags, exposing the contents. There were several loud gasps, mostly from the humans – nightsiders were rarely impressed by money – but even Weckman looked startled.

"Plenty more where that come from," Spike said negligently. "Here's how it goes. Want all this crap liquidated – there's no rush, so get the best rate you can – and after your commission, the rest goes between three accounts." He held out a slip of paper; when a human lackey started to come forward, Spike bared his teeth. Reluctantly, Weckman took the paper himself.

"Ten percent each to the Sunnydale and London accounts," Spike said. "The rest to a Swiss account you'll set up for me, held jointly by William Barstow and Xander Harris. Once I've seen what a job you do with this lot, I'll bring more."

Weckman tucked the paper into a pocket inside of his vest.

"That will pose no difficulty, Master Spike," he said smoothly. "My commission, of course, is twenty-five percent, so after – "
"Fifteen," Spike said coldly.

Weckman blinked. Swallowed.

"Well, Master Spike, for you of course, I think twenty – "

"Twelve," Spike said.

"Or perhaps even eighteen – "

"Ten." In a lightninglike move, Spike threw the stake he'd concealed beneath the edge of his duster, striking the Kayorn demon standing next to Weckman in its only vulnerable spot – the small breathing hole between its eyes. The Kayorn dropped without so much as a twitch.

"Ten," Weckman agreed.

"And as long as you do good work for me, the Slayer won't hear about that cushy little lair you've got under the courthouse," Spike said smoothly. "Or your emergency bolt-hole down by the docks. And I'll throw in a bonus – might want to pull your people out of the cemetery tomorrow night, the Slayer and her lot will be patrolling there, and Summers is in a dusting mood. Must be that PMS thing."

Weckman looked slightly taken aback, but slightly less flustered.

"Thank you, Master Spike. I'll put the word out."

"I'd keep it to your own people," Spike shrugged. "Slayer doesn't find anything to kill in the cemetery, she's likely to change plans and go looking elsewhere. And you can expect lots more patrols, more raids for a while. Slayer's got the blood hunger for some rakshasa git named Ravyadha, so till she gets 'im, it's hard fucking times for all the nightsiders in Sunnydale."
Weckman briefly flashed his game face.

"I've heard some mention of such an entity," he said. "The portals he's opening – and what comes through them – are ruining the hunting in Sunnydale. Chasing off the food, or eating it themselves. Not to mention, of course, drawing Slayer attention."
"Inconvenient, ainnit?" Spike commiserated.

"Indeed." Weckman snapped his fingers, and one of his fledglings picked up the bags. "I'll get to work on this immediately, Master Spike."

"Not just yet," Spike said. "Bit more accounting to do."

Instantly he was beside Weckman, a stake pressed against the younger vampire's heart. Weckman froze.

"Just hold this for me, will you, Pet?" he said casually.

Xander swallowed hard, moving around behind Weckman and getting the vampire in a sturdy headlock so that if he tried to get loose, he'd most likely impale himself on the stake pressed tight in Xander's other hand.

"Uh . . . got him," Xander said.

"Master Spike, this is an outrage . . . " Weckman croaked. His retinue stood similarly frozen, glancing confusedly from Weckman to Spike.

Spike grabbed Weckman's right hand and nonchalantly broke his pinkie finger, then his ring finger, smiling as the vampire screamed. Weckman's fledglings stood poised . . . but the stake . . .

"Five minutes late," he said, breaking Weckman's middle finger. "Not very professional, is it?" Two more snaps and he broke the last two fingers on the younger vampire's right hand. "Might try to be a bit more punctual in the future."

"Yes, Master Spike," Weckman croaked.

"And as for your choice of retinue." Lightning fast, Spike seized one of the humans, the one who had smacked Xander, and wrenched his arm around violently, breaking wrist and elbow and dislocating the shoulder. The man shrieked, then passed out.

"Really got to watch who you hire," Spike said conversationally, dropping the unconscious man. "Too much riffraff still hereabouts. Oh, and one more thing."

He grabbed another of the humans, squeezing the man's right hand in his own until the bones mashed to a pulp. He reached inside the screaming man's jacket, withdrawing a ruby bracelet.

"I don't tolerate being cheated," Spike said. He casually pushed the human into the wall hard enough to knock him unconscious, then tucked the bracelet into Weckman's vest pocket. "See to that, won't you?"

"Yes, Master Spike," Weckman rasped.

Spike pulled one of the mini-crossbows from its hiding place by the fireplace and sat back down on the bench, training the crossbow on Weckman.

"Let him go, Pet," he said.

This was the dangerous moment. If the fledglings had been any older or cannier, or if Weckman didn't have five broken fingers to contend with, Spike wouldn't have taken the chance of one of them grabbing Xander to use as a shield. Xander knew, too – the instant he took the stake away from Weckman's heart, he dropped and rolled out of the field of fire, coming up well away from the others. He walked more casually to Spike and resumed his place at Spike's feet, but Spike could feel him trembling.
"Now get out of here," Spike said.

Weckman and his retinue . . . got.

When Weckman was gone, Spike sighed and pulled Xander back up to the bench beside him.

"What's the matter?" Xander asked. He absently wiped away a trace of blood that had dribbled down his throat; then, without thinking, he licked his fingers. "I thought that went pretty well, didn't it? I mean, I suppose, in relative vampire terms, although you kind of took me by surprise with the finger-breaking stuff, and, yeah, it got kind of tense, but, I mean, goals were pretty much accomplished, right? Consort- establishing, reputation-restoring, gold-fencing, cemetery-clearing . . . pretty much all boxes checked, right?"

"Yeah, but I hoped for more about this Tiger in Red," Spike admitted.

"Weckman seemed pretty put out about him," Xander said puzzledly. "So what's bad?"

"He's put out, all right," Spike said wryly. "But just the fact that he's that hot about it and didn't give me anything – not a hint, even a rumor – either means he doesn't know nothing to tell, or that he's more scared of this Ravyadha than he is desperate to have 'im gone."

"Oh." Xander sighed. "So . . . what happens now? With Weckman, I mean."

"Oh, he sets up the account the way I like it," Spike shrugged. "He sells off the goods, then fudges the books a bit to see if he can get away with skimming a little more for himself. I call him on it and dust a couple of his more prized fledglings, and after that, why, we're home free."

Xander wrinkled his nose.

"What about all those humans he had working for him?"

Spike chuckled.

"I'll wager most of 'em are dead within the hour, or turned," he said. "Now that Weckman knows humans aren't any special protection for 'im, he's got no use for 'em, apart from a renfield or two – even as brand- new minions, they'll be stronger and faster and more useful. It's those demons, though, that worry me."

"Why?" Xander frowned. "You killed the one easily enough."

Spike rolled his eyes.

"'Cause I got the drop on it," he said. "Nothing easy about killing a Kayorn. Not the point, though. A vampire working with Kayorn demons? That's new, and new's not good. Alliances like that come along when there's a threat big enough to necessitate 'em. In the years since Buffy came to Sunnydale, there's only been a couple real temporary alliances like that. So what's that tell you, eh?"

Xander swallowed.

"That vampires and demons think this Rav yadha is a whole lot more dangerous than the Slayer," he said.

"Got it in one," Spike said. He shrugged, patting Xander's knee. "Don't take on, though. The vampires hereabouts thought the same of their whelp of an Anointed One, and Dru and I got him out of the way quick and easy enough. Everybody thought that Mayor of yours was gonna end up on top of the world, too. Hell, most of 'em run just as scared when Angelus was around, and you lot handled him. At least we already know how to kill this Ravyadha git, which is more'n you know most times about some new demon or such that shows up. Right?"

"Uh, right." Xander looked marginally less worried. "So . . . why didn't you want Weckman to warn everybody away from the cemetery, not just his own vampires?"

Spike chuckled.

"Pet, it'll get 'round to everybody. Weckman'll tell everybody except a few he'd like to see get the stake. That other Kayorn demon'll tell a bunch of others just to spite me for offing his buddy. That half-ogre'll probably spill it to anybody the others forgot. But it would've made 'em suspicious if it looked like I gave a damn about any of 'em – and I don't, truth is, but it's handier to have 'em out of the way, and this was the easy way to do it."

Xander grinned slowly.

"Man, that's sharp," he said. "So, then, there won't be anybody in the cemetery – "

"'Cept whatever comes out of one of those portals," Spike agreed. "And seeing as we want to catch one of those anyway, that works out just fine. See, Pet, might as well get some use out of those wankers like Weckman. Only good thing about 'em is most of Sunnydale's residents have more or less worked out their territories, they don't like newcomers busting in on their turf and their prey. So whether or not they'll give us anything on this Ravyadha, they got no loyalty to anything that comes portal-hopping through from one of the nether planes." He shrugged. "Better'n nothing."

"A lot better." Xander frowned darkly. "Buffy doesn't know just how much she owes you."

"I'm not doing it for Buffy," Spike said, rather more sharply than he'd intended.

Xander laid his hand on Spike's arm, and the warm brown eyes gazed at Spike apologetically.

"I know," Xander said softly. "I know why you're doing it, okay? And I do appreciate it. And when we get back home, I'm going to do my best to show you just how much."

"Oh, yeah?" Spike grabbed Xander and pulled him down again, across Spike's lap. "What if I don't feel like waiting?"

Xander shivered.

"Then . . . could you at least close the door?" he whispered. "And if we're going to do anything that needs lube, I sure hope you brought some, 'cause I couldn't have fit a postage stamp in these pockets. These jeans are about to do me, like, permanent injury."

Spike considered. He had lube, in fact, in his duster pocket; having a Consort like his Xander made spontaneity its own reward. And there was a lot to be said for immediate gratification. On the other hand, stone floors and musty crypts were no novelty for him; he'd more or less had his fill of them over the decades, in fact. Hell, fucking on a soft bed with clean sheets, a nice warm bath after, and a comfy snuggle with a sated, sweaty Xander were the real novelties to Spike.

Turning into a fucking romantic nancy boy, Spike thought, but not without a hint of amusement. Next you know, I'll be poncing around like Angel, getting all moral and broody.

He shivered. That thought demanded immediate preventative measures.

"C'mon, Pet," he said, bending his head down to lick delicately at the puncture wounds on Xander's neck. "I think we'll take this home. Think I'll have out the camera, seeing as you look so juicy like that."

Xander swallowed, shivering again.

"Oh, yeah?" he said weakly.

"Oh, yeah," Spike purred. "Think I'm gonna cuff you to the bed and cut those clothes off you, bit by bit. With that special knife you bought."

Xander swallowed again. The smell of his arousal filled the crypt.


"And get lots of pictures while I'm doing it," Spike chuckled. "Ought to get one of those movie machines, camcorders, and make our very own porn, eh?"

"Ug," Xander whimpered.

"And then guess what I'm going to do, when I've got you all naked?" Spike purred. "Going to take that knife and cut you, Pet, just a little, here and there. Tiny little cuts, little tastes of your blood. Then you know what I'm gonna do?"

Xander shook his head, apparently beyond vocalization at all now.

"Then I'm gonna lick you," Spike whispered in Xander's ear. "Lick you alllllllllll over."

Xander shivered violently, and for a moment Spike thought he'd come in his jeans – which would've been a pity; Spike had a fancy for making the whelp ride home behind him, hot hard cock trapped in those tight jeans and rubbing against Spike all the way home. But Xander didn't come, just buried his face in Spike's chest, breathing in little aroused gasps.

"Think you'd fancy that?" Spike said casually, grinning widely.

Xander raised his head, his eyes dilated almost completely with arousal.

"Is that, like, a trick question?" he croaked.

Then he damn near wrenched Spike's arm out of its socket dragging him back to the motorcycle at nearly vampiric speed.
Yeah, who's the Big Bad? Spike thought, the motorcycle growling between his legs, night wind in his hair, his Consort's hot body pressed against his back, warm hands dipping teasingly low as Spike navigated the streets of Sunnydale. One of Weckman's fledglings, probably left to keep an eye on Spike, scuttled hurriedly out of the way, fear in his eyes. King of Sunnydale, hell!

King of the world, more like.

Chapter 26

Spike tightened his grip on the squirming megrib, grimacing. He wished the witches would bloody well hurry it up. The scaly little creature he was holding was damn near boneless and hard to keep a grip on, and it had plenty of teeth, most of which it was using to try to chew Spike’s thumb off.

But the megrib was a good catch. The creatures were fairly stupid, and it wouldn’t realize it had a magical tracing spell on it. They weren’t exceptionally fast, so it wouldn’t be too hard to keep up with it. Better yet, they were hive creatures and had a strong instinct to return to their nest, so this one was likely to scamper straight off back to its portal as soon as it was released.

The others were ready, carrying enough weaponry to deal with just about anything. The Tooth was locked in a box at the moment, lying just outside the circle inside which Willow and Tara chanted. The box and the girls were being guarded by Xander, Giles, and an uncomfortable-looking Buffy who was paying rather more attention to the group’s latest and most surprising addition – Angel.

Angel had shown up on Spike and Xander’s doorstep a few hours after sunset the night before – and with rotten timing, Spike thought. He and Xander had finished supper, and Xander had had the bright idea of banana splits for dessert. He’d then driven Spike into a near frenzy by licking chocolate syrup off his spoon, sucking whipped cream off his fingers, and nibbling away at the banana in a lascivious way that had Spike in game face and damned near creaming in his trousers. He’d barely shown enough restraint to let Xander finish his ice cream – well, all right, most of his ice cream – before clearing the table with a sweep of one arm and tossing his Consort on top of it, intent on reminding both of them just what else Xander’s hot mouth – and his ass – was good for, when a firm knock on the door had interrupted them. A knock that had turned out to be Angel, suitcases in hand.

“Sorry,” Angel had shrugged, grinning as he took in Xander’s flush, Spike’s game face, and their obvious arousal – not to mention the mess on the kitchen floor. “Cordy had a vision that you and Xander would be needing me here.”

“Couldn’t have stayed somewhere else?” Spike had grumbled, but his heart hadn’t been in the complaint. Inwardly, he’d been both astonished and alarmed – astonished and gratified that Angel had come for him and Xander, not for Buffy; alarmed because the guarded expression on Angel’s face told Spike that Angel wasn’t telling exactly what the vision was. Not yet, at any rate.

“Pretty bold question for somebody who’s living in my building,” Angel had said mildly, and Spike really couldn’t argue with that; besides, Angel had been decent enough when they’d showed up in LA, after all.

So Spike had grudgingly cleared out his old room, which had been Angel’s to begin with, and he and Xander stayed in “Xander’s” room with the waterbed, which was where they generally slept anyway. A call to Giles had prompted an emergency meeting of the Scoobies, and the tracking spell timetable had been set for tonight. And Angel had been remarkably unforthcoming about whatever Cordelia had seen, which made Spike distinctly suspicious. ‘A bad fight’ was, to Spike’s way of thinking, vague even for a prophecy.

He’d gotten even more suspicious tonight before they’d come to the park. He’d offered Angel some of his cemetery-harvest blood supply to tank up, and Angel, to Spike’s vast surprise, had accepted, even though some of the blood was human. Angel had even agreed that securely packing the remaining bottles in a carrying sack, just in case this fight was “the big one” might be a good precaution. But even stranger was what had come next.

Spike and Xander had made it a habit of exchanging blood before going out on patrols. It gave both of them a fighting edge, and if either of them were hurt, they’d heal faster. But when Spike had leaned in toward Xander’s throat, Angel had stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Best wait,” the older vampire advised. “We’re going to be sitting around the cemetery for a while with the spell. The blood will do both of you more good closer to when things might get gritty.”

Well, that was true, but it was pretty strange for Angel to be pointing it out – and even stranger for him to suggest Spike and Xander exchanging blood anywhere in Buffy’s vicinity. Spike hadn’t said anything, but it was on his mind. And Angel was on edge, that was plain enough to see.

“Bloody hell,” Spike growled, switching the megrib to his other hand and shaking his sore thumb. Couldn’t the bloody witches chant any faster?

Then they stopped, and Willow pointed to the megrib in Spike’s grasp. The creature yelped and glowed briefly, then went back to trying to chew Spike’s hand off.

“Okay, that should do it,” Willow said, stepping carefully out of the circle. “Tara and I can track it magically as long as we’re on the same plane. So we’ll have to stay close, because once it goes through a portal, we’ll stop getting any location sense from it.”

“Then it’s best to be prepared and move quickly,” Giles said. He indicated the weapons laid out on a blanket. “We have no way of knowing what manner of beings we may encounter as we follow, or what their vulnerabilities are. Therefore I recommend that each of us carry a variety of defenses.”

“Don’t half agree with that,” Spike mumbled sourly.

“Except for Willow, of course,” Giles added hastily. “As she’ll be wielding the Tooth of Ryla, she should stay out of other battles and prepare for the main conflict.”

Spike shrugged, grabbing a couple of weapons from the blanket, awkwardly with only one hand. Besides the mace, axe and gold-plated sword he was picking up, he had several daggers of various metals already hidden about his person, a few wooden stakes and a couple of his trademark railroad spikes. Between metal, wood and vampiric strength, he was as well prepared as he was going to get. He noticed that Angel picked up a pretty good load of hardware himself. He made sure Xander had a good assortment, as well as the barricade potion Leng Chi had given them – a strategic move on Spike’s part. If Xander was sticking close to Willow, ready to use the potion, then he wouldn’t be in the thick of any combat. He’d far rather Xander had stayed home to guard Dawn, who had been universally forbidden to accompany them – her fighting skills were so far behind the others that she’d more of a liability than otherwise – but if Spike couldn’t keep Xander out of it entirely, at least he could keep his Consort out of the worst of it.

Spike was about to turn away when Angel caught his eye. The older vampire gave Spike a significant look, then tilted his head at Xander.

Right, then. Well, now was as good a time as any, while the others were distracted picking out weapons. Spike shoved the megrib into Angel’s hands, then pulled Xander behind a crypt.

“Fancy a taste of the red, luv?” he whispered in Xander’s ear.

Xander nodded tersely.

“Spike . . . what’s going on?” he whispered back. “Angel knows something, doesn’t he?”

“Looks like it,” Spike admitted. “I’ll hang back a bit with him, see if I can’t pry a few more details out of him. Meanwhile – “ He cupped Xander’s cheek, tracing the full lower lip with the tip of his thumb. “C’mere, Pet.”

Xander came willingly, jamming the heel of his hand into his mouth to stifle his moan when Spike’s fangs sank into his skin. Spike drank as much as he dared, then bit into his own wrist, pressing it to Xander’s lips even as he used the small amount his own blood on his tongue to close and heal the bite marks on Xander’s throat. Xander drank for a moment, then kissed Spike fiercely, both of them shuddering at the taste of their mingled blood.

“God,” Xander gasped. “Can we stay here and fuck like weasels while the rest of them settle this Tiger in Red guy?”

Spike sighed, knowing Xander didn’t mean it, more was the pity.

“Wish we could, luv,” he whispered. He chuckled and wiped a red smear from the corner of Xander’s mouth. “Sloppy eater.”

“Hey, the best things in life are messy.” Then Xander’s amusement faded. “Spike . . . if something goes wrong, you know . . . “

“If something goes wrong,” Spike said flatly, “I’m turning you, and Red will stick your soul on tight. Don’t bother arguing, it’s all ready. Checked when we got here, she’s got that orb thing with her, she’s got the spell down pat and we’ve got a backpack full of blood if we need it.” He cupped Xander’s cheek in one hand. “Either way, you’re waking up in my arms tomorrow. Only question is whether your morning cuppa will be Kenya Black or Sunnydale Red. You’re mine, not giving you up. Got that?”

Xander smiled faintly.

“Got it,” he said.

“Right, then.” Spike led Xander back to the others, reluctantly stepping slightly apart. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it – “

Buffy snorted.

“Spike, Tom Cruise he’s not.”

Spike fought down the urge to snarl. Barely. But he did smirk when Angel turned a distinctly disapproving frown on Buffy.

“Your mission,” Spike repeated, “is to hang back and make damned sure Red gets to do her thing with the Tooth of Ryla. If we run into this rakshasa git, first priority’s to use that potion, lay a barrier around her and you – “

“Why me?” Xander frowned.

“Because your second priority will be fighting off anything else that gets past us,” Angel said. “Hopefully nothing will, but if anything does, it’ll be close fighting. You want to be able to concentrate on what you’re doing – protecting Willow – not trying to dodge Ravyadha or any magic he can throw at the same time.”

“Point,” Xander agreed.

“Spike, Buffy and I are the front line,” Angel said. “No offense, Xander, but we’re the fastest and the strongest, best able to take the brunt of the fighting.”

Spike elbowed Xander sharply before the whelp could make some argument. No point in mentioning Xander’s speed and strength to the others until they had to.

“But your job is still the important one,” Angel continued. “Making sure that Willow gets her shot off with the Tooth when it’s time. Giles and Tara will be at the back too, helping with any magic that’s appropriate, but – “

“And I,” a new voice said, “will fill in as rather a second line of defense, I would think.”

Spike turned to look, then grinned. Last he’d seen Wesley Wyndham-Price, he’d been a thin, tweed-jacketed toff with a tendency to whine and snipe. This fellow dressed in black leather, a crossbow slung at one shoulder and several stakes in his belt, had some wiry muscle and a determined air, and moved like somebody who could give a demon some trouble in a fight.

“Wesley!” Angel scowled. “What the hell – how did you find us, anyway?”

“Cordelia had another vision,” Wesley said. He glanced at Spike and Xander, then back to Angel. “And Dawn, who is quite irritated with the lot of you, I might add, kindly gave me directions. Angel, might I have a word?”

Now Spike was very uneasy as Angel and Wesley moved aside, speaking in hushed tones that Spike couldn’t quite make out despite his best efforts. Wesley started to hand Angel a small bundle, but Angel shook his head, speaking more loudly.

“No, you keep it, it’ll be safer with you if there’s any real fighting going on,” he said. “Stay out of the thick of it, will you? Please?”

Wesley muttered something impatiently, but Spike was more interested in the look on Angel’s face, and that tone. Hmmm. So Peaches had a bit of a fancy for the ex-Watcher! Well, couldn’t blame him, Wyndham-Price was looking a good deal more shaggable these days. Not that Angel would ever do it, curse and all, but still. Could get amusing.

“Are we leaving yet?” Buffy said impatiently. “Any important vision-type info to relay, or are we chasing this nasty little scaly thing sometime tonight?”

“Sorry,” Angel said, walking back to the group with Wesley. “Cordelia saw us chasing a Nasperus demon through a tunnel.”

Spike grimaced. Nasperus demons were no fun at all – strong and fast, yes, but not that hard to kill otherwise, no special invulnerabilities. Problem was, their blood was the foulest-smelling stuff in existence, the scent lingered damn near forever, and it was easy to get splattered during a fight.

“Um, I don’t know if this will help,” Xander said. “But I’ve got a bunch of those disposable plastic rain ponchos in my trunk. I keep them around in case I’m on a job site and it starts to rain. They might help, you know, keep the splatter off.”

Spike shook his head, grinning.

“Bloody brilliant,” he said softly.

“Whatever,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “Leaving soon?”

“Well, guess Her Buffyness doesn’t want one,” Spike said. “But I do.”

Xander fetched the little plastic squares and handed them out to everyone. Buffy shoved hers in a pocket, and Willow and Tara decided to keep theirs folded until they needed them, lest the poncho interfere with spellcasting, but everyone else put theirs on as a precaution, and to Buffy’s great satisfaction, Angel released the megrib, which scuttled directly for one of the crypts.

No one was surprised to find a passage in the crypt that led down into a tunnel under the cemetery.

“Bloody place is riddled,” Spike grumbled, although he’d had plenty of opportunities to be grateful for Sunnydale’s subterranean tunnel system.

“Sometimes it seems there’s more traffic under Sunnydale’s streets than on them,” Giles agreed. He gave Spike a wary glance. “I suppose you and Angel are taking the lead?”

“And me,” Buffy said firmly.

“Actually, it makes rather more sense for Spike and Angel to act as scouts and range slightly ahead,” Wesley said. “Considering that they can move more quietly than we, and the advantage of their vision in the dark will be lost if they’re back here in range of our lights, which you also require, Buffy.”

Buffy scowled, but Angel ignored her, giving Spike a brief nod and moving to the front of the group. Spike gave Xander a last glance, then moved up to join his Sire. Right now there was no difficulty following the megrib; its scuttling could be plainly heard, and besides, the tunnel was straight right now, no forks or intersections.

Spike set a fast pace, glancing at Angel to make sure the older vampire kept up. When they were well ahead of the others, Spike murmured, “Well, out with it, then.”

Angel glanced at him warily.

“Out with what?”

“The prom queen’s bra size, what d’you think?” Spike snarled. “The vision, that’s what. It’s got something to do with me an’ Xan, and I want to know what it is.”

Angel hesitated.

“Spike, it was a vision,” he said. “These visions are vague, confusing – and what Cordelia does see is filtered through her perceptions, her interpretations. Most of them make no sense to her or to us. At best, they’re a warning, a pointing device, a hint.”

“That’s no answer,” Spike growled.

"It wasn’t meant to be,” Angel said, a slight edge to his hushed voice. “Spike . . . anything that Cordelia saw that I felt would be of any benefit to you, I’ve told you. Sometimes partial knowledge is worse than none. I need you to trust me on this.”

Spike swallowed, forcing the words of his question out.

“Just answer me one question – Sire,” he said pointedly. “Is Xander going to die? Or me?”

Angel stopped and gazed into Spike’s eyes.

“Will, Cordy’s vision didn’t tell me that anyone would die,” he said. “It did tell me that you’re in danger, both of you – all of you. Based on that vision, I chose to be here. Leave it at that, Will, and trust me.”

Spike scowled, but he didn’t know what argument he could make – or, in fact, if he should make one. Angel was right in that visions were tricky things, clouded by perceptions, skewed by their vagueness, most often understandable only after the fact. He’d certainly had enough experience with Dru’s ramblings to know that it wasn’t often a Seer got much more than a chaotic jumble of pictures and a sense of warning. If Angel knew anything more – and Spike still had the uneasy feeling that he did – what he told Spike would be even less reliable, having passed through the warping lens of not only Cordelia Chase’s interpretations, but Angel’s own. She hadn’t seen Xander’s death, or Spike’s; that was the important thing.

In the silence of the tunnel, the footsteps of the approaching Scoobies might as well have been the clamor of a pack of Dolthars in rut, and Spike realized he could barely hear the megrib now, far ahead of him. With a last growl, he turned and strode ahead, sensing rather than hearing Angel moving along rapidly beside him. Knowing that Angel was holding out on him, desperate for a distraction, Spike spoke again, barely in a whisper but loud enough for vampiric hearing.

“So . . . what’s the story with you and the Watcher, eh?”

A brief startled pause.

“He’s not a Watcher anymore,” Angel whispered back.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Word games again,” he retorted. “Bloke might think you were trying not to answer a simple question.”

Soft sigh.

“Then here’s a simple answer: Nothing,” Angel said patiently.

Spike snorted.

“’Nothing’,” he mocked. “Could smell his pheromones from yards away. He know you’ve got feelings for him?”

Angel gave Spike an icy glance.

“Will, this is none of your concern,” he said flatly.

“It is,” Spike growled back. “Same reason as Xander’s yours.”

Angel walked on in silence for several moments, then said in a low voice, “He knows.”

Spike raised his eyebrows. “And?”

Angel scowled at him.

“There’s the small matter of the curse,” he said. “Or had that slipped your mind?”

Spike sighed.

“Sucks,” he admitted. “Ever tempted to risk it?”

“Not at all,” Angel said flatly. “If I lost my soul again, you know the first person Angelus would go after.”

Spike nodded, feeling an unwilling pang of sympathy.

“The ones you – Angel, with soul – cared about the most,” he said. He shook his head. “Got to look into that curse next, I guess.”

“Leave it alone, Will,” Angel said flatly. “There’s nothing you can do.”

“Might surprise you,” Spike said lightly, then moved close, barely whispering. “Xander’s got the Push. Wanted you to know, just in case anything happens to me.”

Angel stopped again, staring at Spike.

“My God,” he whispered. “Are you sure?”

Spike nodded.

“Red knows too, and she’d keep an eye on him – but you, I know you’d protect him,” Spike said awkwardly.

“My God,” Angels said again, shaking his head slowly. “Maybe that’s . . . “ His voice trailed off.

“That’s what?” Spike pressed.

“What I felt when I tasted his blood,” Angel said quickly, but Spike thought that wasn’t what he’d originally started to say, and that gave him a very, very bad feeling.

Immediately Angel started ahead again.

“We’re going to lose the megrib,” he said shortly.

“Right,” Spike said, turning his attention back to the tunnel ahead of them. Angel obviously wasn’t going to tell him whatever else Cordy had seen, which left Spike two options – stop here and now and make a scene trying to get it out of him, losing the megrib and aborting the chase and gambling that that choice wouldn’t only make things worse, or trust him and go on. Either choice could mean disaster. But that was the trouble with visions – a little incomplete knowledge could steer you wrong as easily as it could steer you right.

But he knew which Xander would choose, and in the end that was what kept Spike silent, moving stealthily along beside Angel.

From the air currents, Spike could feel that the tunnel branched ahead, and he glanced at Angel and got a terse nod in return. They moved more cautiously, all their senses expanded.

The tunnel split into four smaller branches. Spike and Angel didn’t hesitate, tracking the megrib’s movement through the northward tunnel. Spike hung back just long enough to signal the others which direction to take, then sped ahead to rejoin Angel. They moved quickly now, but a faint humming sound from ahead, just within the range of Spike’s hearing, brought them both to a halt.

“Portal,” Angel whispered.

Spike nodded and listened. No movement except the megrib, not even the breath or heartbeats of rats or other small tunnel dwellers. Something else had been feeding down here.

Something hungry.

Spike more than half expected an ambush nonetheless, but there was none. The tunnel ended in a dead end, a pile of collapsed rock. And, of course, the portal. It hung there in the air, shimmering, humming faintly. Spike and Angel came into view of it just as the megrib squirmed over the edge of it and vanished.

“Bloody hell,” Spike said, both relieved and somehow frustrated at the same time. No ambush, no battle, no Ravyadha, nothing. Just this left-behind portal.

“That’s all right,” Willow said as the rest of the group approached. “We didn’t really expect Ravyadha to open a portal to let things out, and then just stand there beside it forever. This works just fine.”

“Like to know how,” Spike said disgustedly.

“This is the terminus of the portal, not its origination,” Giles said. “The etheric emanations are coming from the portal, not being drawn into it.”

“Whatever,” Spike said irritably. “Want to put that in English?”

“What Giles is saying,” Angel said, “is that this portal was cast from the other side.”

“So this Ravyadha guy’s on the other side of the portal?” Xander said nervously, patting his pockets, checking his weapons.

“Highly doubtful,” Wesley said, shaking his head. “As Willow said, if Ravyadha is casting this portal merely to allow creatures from the nether planes to emerge into Sunnydale, there is obviously no reason for him to remain once he’s opened the portal. Right now we’re rather close to the Hellmouth, which is probably what’s powering this portal. That way he can set it and leave it open so all manner of demons can come through as they please.”

“So what good does getting this far do us, then?” Buffy said impatiently. “All this fuss for nothing!”

“It’s not that bad,” Tara said softly. “Now that we have a portal actually cast by Ravyadha – if we assume he cast it – then we have his magical signature. We can track that, sort of the same way we tracked the megrib.”

Xander wrinkled his nose, looking, Spike thought, endearingly puzzled.

“But there’s nothing to follow,” he said.

“The portals,” Wesley said, nodding. “Ravyadha created a portal from the megrib’s home plane to here; therefore he had to have traveled there. From the other side of the portal, it should be possible to track, by the magical signature, the location of the portal he used to go there, and if that portal is still open – “

“That’s a lot of ifs,” Angel said, shaking his head.

“Yeah, and here’s another one,” Spike said sourly. “What if we pop nicely through this portal, and even if the plane on the other side is even habitable for us, and if something doesn’t bite our heads off the second we go through, and if it’s not just a trap, what if that portal we’re looking for isn’t open anymore, and while we’re poncing about over there this one closes while we’re over there and we’re stranded? Hmmmm?”

Willow stepped forward and ran her hands around the portal edge, almost touching it.

“The portal spell is still strong,” she said. “It hasn’t degraded much since it was cast. I don’t think it’s going to collapse anytime soon. I mean, it’s been open long enough for the megrib to come out, to be chased around and caught by us, for Tara and me to cast our spell, and for us all to get here. If the Hellmouth is powering it, it should maintain itself for at least a several hours more.”

“And megribs require a similar atmosphere to our own,” Wesley said. “However, as a precaution, I would suggest sending Spike or Angel through first, since they are not only more tolerant of a hostile environment, but our strongest fighters in case there is danger on the other side.”

Spike snorted.

“Right, good ol’ Spike, best cannon fodder the Scoobies ever had,” he said bitingly. “Toss him in and see what bites, eh?”

“At least you’d be of some use for a change,” Buffy snarled. “Look, never mind them. I’ll go through.” She would have, too, but for Angel’s firm grip on her arm.

“Thanks, Buffy,” Angel said rather coolly. “But I think I’m better with Spike for this.
One of us will come back to tell you what’s on the other side.”

Angel’s words did what no amount of Watcher logic could. Spike felt a brief glow of pride. His Sire needed him, wanted him to fight by his side.

That was good enough. Almost.

Spike stepped forward with Angel, but glanced back over his shoulder.

“All right, all right,” he snarled. “I’m going. But you owe me, Watcher, and don’t you forget it.”

If he’d needed to breathe, he’d have held his breath as he stepped through the portal.

It wasn’t Spike’s first portal, but he’d never enjoyed passing through one before, and this one was no exception. His stomach gave a big lurch, his ears rang and his sense of balance skewed; it took a moment for his reflexes and his vision to catch up. He stumbled, flailed and grabbed a handful of Angel’s leather coat, then steadied, relieved at the strong grip that clasped his shoulder.

“Are you all right?”

Angel was shouting, and for a minute, Spike didn’t understand why; then his ears registered the howling wind an instant before Spike’s eyes filled with flying grit.

“Bloody fucking hell,” Spike swore, knuckling his eyes. “How the hell are we supposed to find anything in a fucking windstorm?” He got most of the grit out, not that it was much help; beyond sandy soil under his feet and a few scrubby plants nearby, he couldn’t see anything else through the gritty wind.

“We’ll need Willow and Tara’s spell to track anything through this,” Angel shouted, nearly in Spike’s ear. “Step back through and get the others. I’ll guard the portal from this side.”

Spike stepped back through eagerly, then belatedly remembered the effects of the portal. He steadied himself on the wall on the other side, fighting for a moment to hold down the last thing he’d swallowed – Xander’s blood, and that was too precious to lose. After a couple seconds he won the battle with his stomach and looked up at the waiting humans.

“Safe enough,” he said briefly. “Bloody sandstorm on the other side, though, so if you’ve got a kerchief, better tie it over your nose and mouth. And you witches, better have your spell ready. Won’t be no pentagrams and runes on the ground over there.”

A hurried consultation, a brief chant, and Willow and Tara created a vial of some liquid which, hopefully, would serve as a sort of compass to other portals cast by the same magician on a sort of ‘warmer, colder’ basis – the best they could do under the circumstances. Spike was already getting edgy – he didn’t like leaving Angel over there alone, but he joined with Giles in vetoing Buffy passing through to guard the portal with the older vampire. Spike had very little doubt that she’d merely go charging off into the storm looking for something to kill, and while he wouldn’t have minded Buffy getting lost or killed on some nether plane, Xander would probably get hurt when he insisted on stumbling around looking for her. At last Spike couldn’t wait; he tied his pocket handkerchief over his lower face and hopped back through the portal, glad of the chance to recover his equilibrium before the others, especially Buffy, came through. He stepped into the sandstorm –

-- and into battle.

As Spike pulled out his axe, he spared a disgusted thought for his own stupidity.

Megrib. Hive creatures. Homing instinct. All very nice for tracking.

Until you tracked right into their hive.

One megrib was nothing. They were stupid creatures, not too fast, not that hard to kill. One megrib was nothing.

Ten or twelve dozen, on the other hand, were rather more of a problem.

Angel was already nearly covered with the scaly creatures despite vampiric speed in plucking them away and vampiric strength in crushing them and flinging them aside. Spike swung his axe for a while, then abandoned it for Angel’s approach – two hands were definitely better than one for this job.

Then there was shouting around him, and someone plucked a megrib away just as it was about to crawl down the neck of Spike’s shirt. Spike spun around and met the twinkling eyes of a kerchief-masked Xander, who had seized the nasty little creature in the jaws of an unexpected but effective weapon – a large pair of pliers. Human hands weren’t strong enough to hold the squirmy creatures, but the pliers worked nicely.

“Ta, luv,” Spike shouted over the wind, grabbing a megrib which was crawling up Xander’s legs. “Bloody brilliant, that!”

“What’s a builder without his tools?” Xander yelled back, and then he whirled around, whacking the selfsame pliers down on a megrib crawling toward Willow.

For several minutes there was nothing but grit, and wind, and megribs, and trying to hit the little demons instead of each other; then Willow was shouting something and striding off into the wind, and the others were following, and Spike shrugged, squashed a last megrib under his boot, and fell in too. He hoped Willow’s glowing vial worked, but either way, wasn’t much point in staying where they were. He only hoped that if they needed to, they could find their way back. He didn’t fancy getting stuck in the nether planes, especially this one.

On the other hand, Spike thought, walking close behind Xander, there were worse things than a nice brisk fight and a stint following that arse . . .

Chapter 27

"No more," Spike groaned, leaning against the damp wall and clutching his head. "No bloody more portals!"

Xander mumbled something that might have been agreement, slumping down against the wall next to Spike. Giles didn’t even bother to speak, just closed his eyes wearily. Buffy was the liveliest looking of the lot, and at the moment, that wasn’t saying much.

They’d passed through almost a dozen portals already – and Spike and Angel, as official Scooby portal scouts, had taken the brunt of whatever waited on the other side of each one. The megribs had been a mere appetizer. Spike had fought ghouls, lagworms, Brenith demons, Arckra demons, ogres, and an especially memorable G’gnath slime devil. Everyone in the group was battered, bruised, scratched, and spattered with ichor, blood and other less definable substances. Spike was profoundly grateful for the cheap plastic poncho, and he knew the others were too – except for Buffy, whose poncho had fallen out of her pocket at some point along the way. Spike felt no inclination whatsoever to offer his, and to his vast satisfaction, even Angel apparently felt a similar lack of chivalrous obligation. Although Spike would admit, under considerable pressure, that Buffy had held up her end of the fighting.

So, to Spike’s great pride, had Xander. It was nothing new to see the whelp fling himself headlong into battle, but these days he did so with a good bit more skill – not to mention speed and strength. He’d made a fair mince out of an Arckra demon, and they were tough fighters, more than a match for a human and a hell of a good fight even for Buffy. In fact, Xander had dispatched the warty creature with such promptness as to occasion a few very sharp looks from Giles, and an even more suspicious glance from Wesley.

But now, like the rest of them, Xander was nearing the end of his resources. What surprised Spike was that Angel looked almost as bad. Well, no wonder, if he thought about it. The older vampire had been living on whatever bit of bottled animal blood he’d been allowing himself, and nothing else. The bottled blood tonight, such as it was, had probably been the best meal Angel had had in a long time, and a vampire just couldn’t keep fighting on such poor fare, not the kind of sustained effort they were having tonight. Hell, Spike himself was starting to wear down.

And there was a solution, too – Spike just wasn’t sure Xander would go for it. Well, without asking, he’d never know. Just ahead, the tunnel split into two smaller tunnels. Spike caught Xander’s eye, then Angel’s, and jerked his head slightly toward one of the passages.

Xander pushed himself wearily to his feet, then cleared his throat.

"Well . . . after all that, I need to take care of some business," he said uncomfortably. He gestured toward the tunnel Spike had indicated. "We’ll just call that the little boys’ cave, all right?"

"You shouldn’t go alone," Giles murmured wearily, although he made no move to get

"I’ll go with him," Spike said, following Xander.

"I don’t trust you out of our sight," Buffy growled.

"I’ll go along too," Angel said quietly, and there wasn’t much Buffy could say to that.

Glancing back at the others, Spike led them far enough down the new tunnel that he was sure they wouldn’t be disturbed, then wrapped his arms around Xander.

"How’re you holding up, luv?" he said softly.

"Hey, I’m fine," Xander said, grinning gamely. "Just a little tired and bashed around, that’s all, but what else is new."

Spike grinned and gave the side of Xander’s throat a quick kiss.

"Think you could use a bit of a pickup, though," he said. He pulled back slightly, meeting Xander’s eyes. "We all could, maybe."

Puzzlement gave way to realization in Xander’s eyes; he flushed and glanced uncertainly at Angel. Then he took a deep breath and nodded.

"Okay," he said.

It took Angel a moment longer to realize what Spike was saying; then for a moment he looked marvelously gobsmacked. Spike wished dearly he could have got a picture just then.

"You can’t be serious," Angel said hoarsely, even as he licked his lips involuntarily. Oh, yeah, he was in a bad way, no doubt of it.

"You need it," Spike said bluntly. "Hell, Peaches, I’m getting worn out and I’m eating regular. Besides." He met Angel’s eyes. "Both our blood’s a better protection for him than just mine." He reached into his backpack and fished out the last remaining bottle of blood – he’d drank one two portals ago, and the others had been broken in the fighting. "If you’re worried about your control, take the edge off first."

Another long moment while Angel glanced from Spike to Xander and back again. At last he nodded slowly, taking the bottle from Spike.

"All right, then," he said. "But make it fast, before they get worried and come looking for us." He opened the bottle and drank fast, joylessly.

Spike pulled Xander close, biting into his own wrist quickly and offering it to his Consort even as he leaned in to Xander’s throat.

"Won’t let him hurt you, luv," he whispered softly. "Trust us." Then, oh, God, the glorious sensation of Xander’s flesh yielding to his fangs, the incredible taste of Xander’s sweet hot life filling his mouth. He took only a few swallows, feeling the bond flare as he and Xander both drank, then reluctantly withdrew – as always, Xander was aroused by the exchange, and Spike would have liked nothing more than a bit more private time for other types of fluid exchange. He sighed, glanced at Angel, then moved aside.

"I’m watching you," he warned the older vampire.

Angel nodded gravely.

"I won’t hurt him, Will," he promised. He turned to Xander, bit into his own wrist and offered it. "I won’t hurt you," he repeated.

To Spike’s great pride, Xander never even hesitated, just stepped forward into Angel’s arms, sealing his lips against Angel’s wrist. He moaned softly as Angel bit, wavering on his feet from pleasure rather than weakness, and sucked more strongly at Angel’s wrist. Then Angel released Xander, all but staggering backwards, reaching for the wall to support himself.

"My God," Angel gasped hoarsely. "You didn’t tell me – " He shook his head. "I’ve never taken a Consort. I can’t believe how powerful his blood’s become."

Spike smiled and pulled Xander into a hug, taking the opportunity to examine the bite marks on Xander’s throat. They were closed already, and no wonder, with the blood of two Master vampires running in his veins.

"We’d better get back," Xander said reluctantly. "I mean, I know Giles and Wesley wouldn’t want to come looking for me if they think I’m down here taking a dump, but we’d better not push our luck."

"You’re right," Angel said, nodding. Spike stifled a sigh. Angel looked noticeably . . . healthier. He actually had some color for a change. Somebody was sure to notice.

Spike was right, and it didn’t take long. It was, in fact, Wesley, not Buffy, who gave Angel a long, narrow look.

"You’re looking very chipper all of a sudden," he said warily.

Angel gestured at Spike’s backpack and his own.

"Spike brought along all the blood packets Giles he had, just in case," he said. "He let me have some of it."

Wesley’s eyes narrowed.

"How very kind of him to . . . share," Wesley said, and Spike grinned to himself. That was jealousy in Wyndham-Price’s tone, and no two ways about it. "Angel, after this is over . . . I believe we need to talk."

Spike chuckled; Angel looked distinctly guilty. Well, he pitied the poor bugger and his curse, but it was his mess to sort out – at least for now, although Spike reflected that, yes indeed, when this was all over, it might be time to do a bit more research into this curse.

"Well, if everyone has attended to their – necessities," Giles said, standing up wearily, "I suppose we should be moving along. Willow, have you any idea where we are?"

Willow shook her head tiredly, brushing bedraggled red hair out of her face.

"We’ve gone through too many portals," she said. "I’m sorry, I just – we could be anywhere."

Spike shook his head.

"We’re under Sunnydale again," he said, and Angel nodded in agreement.

"How can you tell?" Buffy asked suspiciously.

Spike shrugged.

"It’s a feel," he said. "Every plane’s got its own scents and sounds, its own feel. Don’t know where we are in particular, but we’re back on Earth, and I can feel the Hellmouth. Just a bit, it’s far off now, but I can feel it. Somewhere under downtown, I’d guess."

Tara nodded.

"He’s right," she said softly. "I can feel it too."

Buffy jumped to her feet.

"You mean all that fighting, all that tracking, and we’ve just come around in one big circle? All that, and we’re right back where we started?"

"More or less," Spike agreed. "Which is good news, actually."

"How is that supposed to be good?" Buffy demanded. "We haven’t gotten anywhere!"

Xander pulled a can of soda out of his pack and popped the top, holding the shaken can out to let it foam over.

"Well, for one thing," he said patiently, "it’s good, Buff, because if we’re on some weird alternate world or nether plane, we’ve got no guarantee that we’re going to get back to this one and not end up stranded. And for another, we know this Tiger in Red guy is working here, so if we’ve tracked him this far, then we must be getting closer. Does that make any sense? Are any of the ol’ mental light bulbs lighting up now?"

Buffy scowled fiercely at Xander.

"You know, you should never have moved in with Spike," she said. "You’re getting all rude and weird like him." She turned back to Giles. "So – going on?"

"I don’t know." Giles polished his glasses tiredly, frowning as he only rubbed new streaks on them. "Having got this far, I wonder if it might not be wiser to find out where we are, then begin again at this point after some rest."

"But the portals," Tara pointed out. "We don’t know they’ll still be there later."

"I don’t know which is more dangerous," Wesley said. "Risking losing the trail, or risking a battle when we’re no longer at our peak."

"Well, I say – " Buffy began.

"Hush," Angel said, listening. "Do you hear it?"

Spike listened, and despite the inevitable chorus of "Hear what?", he did, indeed – footsteps approaching, and from more than one direction. And they weren’t human footsteps.

"Something’s coming," Spike said. "A whole lot of somethings, and I suggest we don’t want to be here to meet them."

Everyone was on their feet then, weapons in hand.

"Which way, then?" Tara asked, clutching the case holding the Tooth of Ryla tightly.

Angel listened sharply, then nodded at the tunnel he, Spike and Xander had used.

"That way," he said. "I don’t hear anything from that direction."

Willow raised her vial, nodding when the small ball of light in the liquid drifted in that same direction.

"That’s the way to the next portal," she said.

"Then I suggest we proceed with all due haste," Giles said.

Angel and Spike took the lead again, but with a threat so close behind them, they didn’t dare draw too far ahead of the others, in case they might be needed. That meant that the lights carried by the humans negated most of the advantage of their keen night vision, and the noise of the group didn’t help their sharp hearing, either.

Which is most likely why the group was taken totally unawares when the tunnel abruptly widened into a small cavern inhabited by approximately three dozen Nasperus demons.

If Spike and Angel had been following their noses, they would have had plenty of warning.

Nasperus demons weren’t especially impressive fighters – stronger and faster than a human, but easy enough to dispatch. Angel and Spike waded in with battle axes, plowing a path through the nest for the rest of the group to advance, refraining from breathing as the incredibly foul-smelling Nasperus blood flew. Wesley, smart bloke, kept his distance and plugged away with his crossbow, but Buffy, who’d taken only hand-to-hand weapons, was in the thick of it. Xander, too, kept his distance, staying back by Willow and Tara and carefully picking off demons with, of all things, a pistol.

The Nasperus population in the cavern was rapidly decreasing, and Spike, caught up in the joy of battle, would have happily fought on to the last stinking creature, but Willow cried out, "There’s one leaving! Follow it!"

Instantly Spike seized the Nasperus he’d been fighting, lifted it and flung it into the three trying to get close enough to attack, then lit out after the fleeing demon, Angel close behind him. He heard the others finishing off whatever they were fighting and join in; a glance over his shoulder showed Spike that Xander had taken the rear, pistol drawn, covering their backs lest any of the Nasperus come after them. A smart gesture, but Spike knew there was precious little danger of that. They’d routed the Nasperus good and proper; the few that were left would stay behind to lick their wounds and eat their dead.

Meaning that the one fleeing the scene was on its way to warn someone.

Spike worried that the humans wouldn’t be able to keep up – Nasperus were fast, and Spike was pushing himself just to stay with his target, much less close the distance between them – but the problem turned out to be academic. Spike rounded a turn in the tunnel just in time to see the Nasperus leap through a large portal.

Well, no time to stop and strategize this time. They had to stop that Nasperus before it sounded the alarm and brought who knew what down on them from all directions. Without hesitation, Spike leaped through the portal, Angel right beside him.

Spike hit a soft surface and rolled, coming up on his feet. Traveling by portal hadn’t gotten any easier, and for a moment he was completely disoriented while his senses adjusted. Dimly, he heard the others come through the portal – yes, they were all there, that was good. Spike had a vague sense that they were in a large cavern, but the floor seemed too regular for that – no, it was a room. A large room. Carpeted, that was the softness he’d landed on. And somewhere nearby was that stinky Nasperus demon; he could hear it.

But his senses had to be totally scrambled, because why in hell was he smelling soy sauce and ginger?

Oh, bloody fucking Hell.

"Welcome, noble guests," a familiar voice said. "I am so very sorry to see you here."

Blinking to clear his eyes, Spike turned to stare at Ravyadha. As far as evil demonic sorcerors went, the Tiger in Red was actually something of a disappointment. He certainly didn’t look like a tiger, although there was a certain feline cast to his features; he could almost have passed for human, in a dark alley, maybe. At least the robe he wore was red. His eyes were solid red, with no pupils. He didn’t move, just surveyed them calmly. He fairly radiated power. Behind him was a small army of assorted demons, vampires and the like.

And beside him was Leng Chi.


In the adventure movies Xander loved, when the hero finally confronted the villain, the villain usually made some length speech, gloated about capturing the hero, outlined his evil plan, attempted to seduce the hero to his side. It was Spike’s experience that in real life, the demon, monster, sorceror, et cetera, was far more likely to take full advantage of the element of surprise and flatten the hero instantly with whatever they had to throw. Which was why Spike wasn’t really all that surprised to find himself diving to one side, dodging the fireball hurtling toward him.

What surprised him was that it had been flung by Leng Chi.

No time to ponder these mysteries, not when half a dozen Genesh demons were bearing down on him and a glowing green globe was flying toward the group. Spike was on his feet again instantly, spikes in hand – Genesh demons, hunt in total darkness, only vulnerable to iron, wood or glass, vulnerable spot’s the lower torso, right behind the thorax, don’t breathe, they spray a paralyzing gas – fighting with a cool deliberation, but a small part of his attention trained on the group behind him. Good, Xander remembered the plan, he was pouring the potion, forming the circle. Willow and Tara were already chanting, raising protections, Giles joining in. Angel was wreaking havoc on a group of fledglings who fought with more enthusiasm than skill. Buffy looked almost out of her depth, fighting alone against a six-armed Meshrin overlord, and she wasn’t going to get far with that curved sword in her right hand – Meshrin were immune to steel – but thankfully she had a stake in her left hand, and it was always possible that she might actually get close enough to use it. Wesley was firing away carefully with his crossbow, but he was nearly out of bolts.

And speaking of bolts, Spike had to duck and roll again to avoid a sizzling finger of lightning that took out two of the Genesh in front of him – that one had come from Ravyadha. Dodging was reflex; Spike spun one of the Genesh around and used it as a living shield against the claw-swipes of another. The Genesh he was holding screamed as its guts spilled out over its feet.

"The first priority," Giles had said in their last briefing, "is to protect Willow so she can get ready to use the Tooth when the opportunity arises. The second priority is to keep Ravyadha busy, off balance, too occupied to launch an organized attack or to cast a gate to escape."

Right now, however, Spike’s first priority was maintaining a dust-free state of being. He wondered, almost idly, if the Watcher had had any idea of how badly they’d be outnumbered.

A pack of ghouls leaped into the battle. Distracted by the Genesh, Spike dodged an instant too late and felt teeth sink into his arm almost to the bone. He pulled away and snapped the ghoul’s neck with a single twist, but now his left hand was nearly useless; it would take precious moments to heal, even with Xander’s blood fresh inside him. Then the Genesh were on him again and he knew he couldn’t hold them off –

A brilliant flash of light dazzled Spike but did far more damage to the Genesh – they fell back, howling in agony, paws futilely covering their already blinded eyes. Spike didn’t bother finishing them – they wouldn’t be any further threat – and turned on the ghouls, scattering them with savage efficiency. He glanced over at Willow and Tara and nodded his thanks for the flash spell; Willow, already chanting again, gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement. Xander, Spike was glad to note, was staying within the circle as he’d been told, using his pistol and a crossbow to carefully pick off from a distance attackers who were vulnerable to such things. Two crossbow bolts, in fact, piercing the Meshrin’s throat and belly, had apparently distracted it sufficiently that Buffy was beginning to make some headway with the thing.

Another lightning bolt knocked Spike’s feet out from under him – he rolled out of the way, wondering why the hell Willow was still casting, not flinging that bloody spear as she was meant to do. A quick assessment of the room answered him. There was too much fighting going on between the witches and Ravyadha. There was no way she could get a clear shot, not until the rest of the Scoobies either thinned out their attackers or drew the brunt of it off to the side somehow. Even at the best, it was going to be one hell of a long throw for the witch, but there was no way to get her any closer. Hell, as worn out and outnumbered as they were, just keeping everyone alive was going to be quite an accomplishment.

For the moment, Spike actually had a little space around him, and he was catching his breath, metaphorically speaking, when Angel yelled, "Will!"

Spike looked over. Angel was fighting three demons Spike couldn’t even identify, but although he was pretty well occupied, he seemed to be doing okay. Then Spike caught the direction of Angel’s frantic glance. It was Wesley – he’d exhausted his crossbow bolts and was fighting hard with a mace in one hand and a sort of short sword in the other, but the K’kth demon he was fighting had at least three hundred pounds on him, didn’t seem the least bit impressed by the weaponry, and already had Wesley backed up almost to the wall.

Fuck. K’kth demons – hell, nothing but fire, sunlight – oh, right, then, copper! Spike mentally reviewed the weapons he was carrying. Fuck. No copper.

Well, no time to fret about it. Spike headed for the ex-Watcher at a dead run, leaping on the K’kth’s back. The surprise distracted the demon momentarily, allowing Wesley to get a good whack at the demon’s left knee. Vulnerability or not, balance was balance, and the K’kth stumbled and fell to one knee, in turn giving Spike enough distraction to drive one of his knives into the demon’s eye to the hilt. An idea occurred to him.

"Got any pence?" he yelled at Wesley.

For a moment the ex-Watcher merely looked confused; then he dug in his pocket. Spike ground the knife about, trying to keep the eye from healing even as he fended off the K’kth’s agonized flailing. The sight of Wyndham-Price sorting through his pocket change in the midst of combat might have been amusing under other circumstances. Then Wesley held up a sparse handful of pennies.

"What now?" he cried.

"Mouth," Spike grunted, shoving the knife in hard. As he’d hoped, the K’kth howled in absolute agony, throwing its head back – fanged mouth open wide. Wesley darted in and, at considerable risk to life and fingers, jammed the pennies down the K’kth’s throat and darted away again. As soon as Wesley was out of reach, Spike pulled out his dagger and leaped away, already braced for a counterattack.

He might as well not have bothered. The K’kth pawed at its rapidly healing eye for a moment before it even noticed the pennies it had just swallowed – then it froze, with an almost comical expression of puzzlement on its warty face. Then it let out a wet, gurgling shriek as noxious fluid spewed from mouth and nose as the copper dissolved it from the inside out. Spike ducked as it exploded, once again glad for the cheap poncho – he’d never get this mess off his duster otherwise. Then he was too busy fighting off two werewolves to worry about the mess.

Abruptly one werewolf howled and dropped, then the other. Spike glanced up and met Xander’s worried gaze as he lowered his pistol.

"Silver," Xander mouthed, although Spike couldn’t actually hear him through all the din. Spike grinned and gave Xander a thumbs up before jumping back in to help Angel mop up the unidentified demons he was fighting.

A few moments later, demons taken care of – salt did the trick nicely – Spike sized up the situation. The demonic army in the huge room seemed to have thinned out just a bit, enough that given a break, Red might actually be able to get a clear shot at Ravyadha. If they could clear a path for her, that is.

That was the good news, such as it was. The bad news is that the already-weary Scoobies were looking downright ragged now. Buffy was covered in gore and favoring her right leg, and there was a wicked gash on her left forearm. Angel looked like he’d been chewed on liberally, but was still on his feet. Giles’ glasses were broken and he looked more or less like somebody had used his head for an anvil; he’d retreated to the magic circle and was huddled on the ground, looking dazed. Wesley was still fighting and more or less intact, but he looked like he was exhausted and was definintely slowing down. Same with the witches – they looked like they were on the dregs of their magic, and the charred and fractured floor around the circle testified as to just how hard they’d been fighting in their own way. Only Xander was still reasonably fresh, but he’d apparently exhausted his pistol and crossbow ammunition, and was down to guarding the girls with an axe. Three dead ghouls on the floor, and a couple piles of dust that probably used to be fledglings, testified that he’d been far from idle.

Well, this was it. They had to clear a way for Red to make her throw; they weren’t going to last much longer otherwise. Spike worked his way back over to Angel, grabbing a charging Phelket demon and throwing it to knock down the two Yargai Angel was fighting. Angel turned and sized up the situation just as Spike had, giving Spike a nod.

"Start working your way toward Buffy," Angel said. "I’ll get Wesley, we’ll try to draw them that way."

Spike nodded back, but took the opportunity to glance over at Ravyadha. The Rakshasa was still concentrating his efforts on Willow and Tara inside the circle – possibly because he could see the Tooth of Ryla in its opened case at their feet – and just from the ripples his spell was causing, Spike thought the barrier wouldn’t hold much longer. Surprisingly, however, Leng Chi wasn’t casting anything – in fact, the elderly Risza demon was looking pretty damned ragged himself. Then Spike realized that after that initial fireball, he wasn’t aware of any magic Leng Chi had thrown.

And suddenly –

Their path will eventually lead them to my door.

I cannot tell you how to find your foe. Couldn’t tell them. Not that he hadn’t known.

But I can tell you how he may be defeated.

-- it all became very clear.

Spike grabbed Angel, shouting in his ear to be heard.

"It’s Leng Chi!" he yelled. "He’s Ravyadha’s bloody focus!"

He could see the sudden understanding in Angel’s eyes. Ravyadha was biplanar, only partially existing in this world. That made him only partially vulnerable to magics and weapons of Earth, but it also kept him from fully realizing his magical power here. He needed a potent magical source to draw upon. The Hellmouth, yes, but the Hellmouth was closed. He could use the smaller amount of power emanating from it, yes – if he was close enough, and if he planned and placed his magics carefully to draw upon that power, like the portals. But he couldn’t stay near the Hellmouth; that area was too busy, drew too much attention for a Rakshasa. So he needed another power source, another focus that he could draw upon for emergencies.

And Leng Chi appeared to be his backup battery.

"Get the others," Spike said, right in Angel’s ear. "Clear the way for Red. I’ve got a promise to keep."

It wasn’t so hard, really, to work his way around the edges of the fighting. The demons were focused on trying to reach Willow and Tara, not prevent one lone vampire from slipping around them. Spike had to dust a half dozen fledglings, but most of the rest of the force was moving to engage Angel, Wesley and Buffy, now united off to one side.

Willow had her clear shot.

Spike was nearly there when Leng Chi spotted him. The filmed old eyes sparkled
cunningly. Ravyadha spotted Spike almost at the same time. The demon raised his hand, conjuring a ball of swirling red light –

Just as Willow raised the Tooth of Ryla.

Immediately Ravyadha shifted his attention to the greater threat. He snapped out a single command in some demonic dialect Spike didn’t understand, but apparently the Leng Chi did, because the Risza raised one hand, gesturing.

Willow threw the spear, hard and straight, screaming with the effort, and Spike, running full out toward the demonic sorcerors, thought, wonderingly, Damned good throw, Red!

Just before the Tooth froze in midair, halfway across the room, then dropped to the floor.

Ravyadha raised his hand again, Leng Chi mechanically mirroring the gesture. A beam of blood-colored energy shot out from between them, striking the barrier of the circle solidly. The wall became visible, blue-green energy slowly becoming tainted with the reddish glow.

Spike drew the gold-plated sword and raised it. Leng Chi saw the movement and turned his head, gazing at Spike.

The elderly Risza smiled.

Ravyadha saw the motion too, and turned to look, but too late. Spike swung the sword with every remaining bit of his strength. It was damnably sharp; he barely felt the blade bite as it struck its mark.

Leng Chi was still smiling, his eyes sparkling with wicked mirth, as his head tumbled to the floor.

The beam of red light faltered and broke just as the magical barrier fell. But whatever power Ravya had drawn from Leng Chi was apparently not yet exhausted; Ravyadha raised his hands and chanted, and a shimmering disturbed the air as a portal began to form in front of him.

A scream from Willow – "Xander! No!" and Spike turned to see Xander charging across the room. It took a precious, irretrievable moment before Spike realized Xander’s goal.

"No!" Spike howled –

-- just as Xander seized the Tooth of Ryla and picked it up, and even as he screamed in sudden agony, threw it with every bit of his strength.

Dimly Spike heard Ravyadha howl as the Tooth struck, impaling him solidly. Dimly Spike saw the forming portal collapse, sucking the disintegrating Ravyadha and several other nearby demons into it. Spike didn’t care. He was too busy fighting his way to the convulsing body of his Consort; his ears were too full of Xander’s screams. He scooped up Xander and raced toward the witches and Giles, who had apparently shaken off his stupor. Carefully Spike deposited Xander on the floor, barely noticing Willow and Tara raising some kind of wards around the circle.

"He did it," Giles said blankly, smoothing back Xander’s hair with one trembling hand. "My God – "

"Fuck that," Spike roared. "Help him!"

"But we don’t know what the curse is," Willow said, squatting down beside them. Tears were running down her face, and she sobbed as Xander convulsed, screaming hoarsely – his throat was already raw. "Oh, God, Giles, we’ve got to do something."

"I don’t know," Giles said helplessly. "Some kind of generic healing spell, perhaps – "

But Spike had caught something else – the faint scent of blood, Xander’s blood. And another scent, one that seemed vaguely familiar. He seized Xander’s tight-clenched hand, forcing the fingers apart. There in the center of his palm was a tiny puncture, the smallest bead of blood. Despite Willow’s shocked cry and Giles’ gasp, Spike raised Xander’s hand to his lips, sniffing, then tasting the drop of blood.

Recognition set in, and he gave a short bark of laughter, to Willow, Tara and Giles’ astonishment.

"Curse my bloody arse!" Spike snorted. "Wasn’t never no curse. Was a bloody trap, that’s all – a needle poisoned with hydra venom."

"Hydra venom!" Willow’s voice wailed. "But there’s no cure – "

"There’s one," Spike growled. He bit hard into his wrist, tearing the flesh deeply so it wouldn’t heal too fast, then pressed the wound to Xander’s mouth. "Hold his mouth open."

Willow gave a soft gasp of realization, and Tara was already moving, pressing Xander’s jaws firmly apart even as Willow moved to hold Xander down with her own weight.

"My God, you can’t!" Giles gasped, pushing weakly, futilely at Spike. "That quantity of vampiric blood, the shock alone will kill him – "

Giles froze, staring at Spike, who hadn’t budged.

"Unless," the Watcher whispered, "he’s already accustomed – my God. I should have seen it, the way he’s been fighting. How long?"

"Long enough," Spike said flatly.

Giles turned to Willow.

"You knew?"

Willow nodded, blushing guiltily.

"Giles – " She didn’t look at the Watcher; she was stroking Xander’s throat, forcing him to swallow reflexively. "He’s been . . . happy. It was his choice. He deserves to be happy. To be – loved."

Giles stared at Spike a long moment, then sighed, removing his hand from Spike’s arm.

"I suppose it’s too late to protest now," he said resignedly.

Xander gave one last heartwrenching groan, then subsided, blessedly unconscious. Spike took his wrist away, absently rubbing it as the wound closed.

"There you are, luv," he whispered, stroking Xander’s cheek, his dead heart almost leaping with relief as he saw the lines of pain smooth out of the mortal’s forehead. "That should put you right in a few minutes."

Giles straightened, propping his broken glasses on his nose.

"Xander will be safe inside the wards," he said. "We’ve still got work to finish here, and the others need our help." Wearily he picked up an axe and stumbled out of the circle.

Spike looked up, realizing Giles was right. The others were almost out of it, battered and exhausted. Buffy had sustained another gash across one cheek; she was retreating to the wards herself, leaving Angel and Wesley fighting on alone. There weren’t many of the demonic army left, most dead or fled when their master fell, but those that were left appeared willing to fight it out to the last.

"Right," Spike said, pushing himself to his feet. He glanced at Willow and Tara. "Got any mojo left to keep the wards up?"

"We’ll manage something," Willow promised, helping Tara up, reaching for their bags.

Pressing a brief kiss to Xander’s brow, Spike grabbed his axe and a couple of stakes and waded back into battle, sheer relief lending strength to his weary limbs.

He’d just dusted half a dozen fledglings when he tripped over something, almost falling. Glancing down, he realized he’d stumbled over Leng Chi’s head. He felt a brief pang of grief – he’d liked the wicked old lizard.

Then Leng Chi’s eyes snapped open, fixing their gaze solidly on Spike.

"Fucking hell!" Spike swore, freezing briefly and almost getting beheaded by Angel, who was swinging an axe at the Benlith he was fighting.

Those serpentine eyes held Spike’s.

Keep your promise. Return my body to Leng Mei.

Then the scaly eyelids closed.

"Fucking hell," Spike breathed again, this time ducking before Angel’s backstroke could split his skull. He joined the attack, and between the two of them, they hacked the Benlith open, both of them sighing with relief as the creature collapsed, dying. Across the room, he saw Giles and Wesley dust the last fledgling, and the room settled into silence.

Then a horribly recognizable snap echoed across the room, and Spike whirled to see Xander lying still, so still, as Buffy, tears streaming down her face, gently lowered Xander’s lolling head to the floor.

Chapter 28

"Oh, God, no," Angel said, falling to his knees beside Xander. "Buffy, what have you done?"

"I heard Willow," Buffy said, still crying. "She said it was hydra venom – there’s no cure, I couldn’t let him suffer like that – "

"I’ll tell you what you’ve done, you bloody stupid bint," Spike roared, pushing Angel and Buffy out of the way. "You’ve just probably fucking turned him!"

"What?" Buffy shook her head uncomprehendingly, eyes wide.

"He’s Spike’s Consort," Willow babbled. "Spike just gave him a whole lot of his
blood to cure the poison, oh, God, he’ll turn – Tara, get the orb, we’ve got to start the spell – "

"Orb? Spell?" Buffy demanded. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Spike ignored them all, bending down over Xander. He could still hear the faint thrum of Xander’s heart. He’d had a good quantity of vampire blood today, and his body was fighting valiantly to hang on.

Immediately Spike bit into his wrist again, pressing the wound to Xander’s mouth.

"Hang on, luv, please," he begged, not caring who heard him. "Drink up, luv, I need you to drink, need you to live . . . "

"Oh, God, no," Spike heard, and glanced up. Willow was staring into her bag.

"What?" Spike snapped impatiently. "Get your spell going, Red, stick his soul on tight, I could lose him here!"

Willow looked up, her eyes wide, her face gone dead white.

"It’s broken," she whispered. "The orb, it’s broken. It must have happened during one of the fights – I didn’t even know – "

Spike fought down terror, despair. He could lose his Xander, lose him forever.

"You’re not staking him," he said desperately. "I don’t care, you’re not – "

"There’s no need," Angel said quickly. "We’ve got another orb. Wesley brought it." He clasped Spike’s shoulder. "Just in case. And we’ll all pray it’s not needed."

Spike let out an unneeded breath of relief, closing his eyes. He was getting weak, dizzy – he’d already given Xander so much blood. Soon he’d have no more to give, and Xander’s heartbeat was still weak and thready.

Then he smelled blood and opened his eyes, gaping as Angel offered his bleeding wrist.

"Hang on, Will," Angel said softly. "We’ll save him."

Spike drank, gratefully, shuddering as the power of his Sire’s blood flowed through him and into Xander. But Angel was weak from poor feeding and from battle, and Spike could already feel the flow slowing, far too soon. Reluctantly, he released Angel’s wrist.

"Willow, what are you doing?" he heard Buffy gasp, and Spike stared at the wrist dripping hot mortal blood, thrust in his face.

"Save him," Willow begged, pushing her wrist against his mouth. "Please save him."

Spike fought for self-control – he knew Willow couldn’t spare much, but out of the corner of his eye he could see Tara picking up the knife Willow had dropped, cutting carefully into the fatty part of her forearm. On the other side of Xander, Giles was similarly using his pocketknife; after a brief glance at Angel, Wesley was unwinding the hasty bandage he’d applied to a slash on his hand.

"I can’t believe this!" Buffy shouted. "Are you all crazy? What the hell do you think you’re doing?"

Angel gave her an impatient glare.

"Hopefully we’re saving Xander’s life," he said icily. "What about you? Or is killing and hurting all you’re good for?"

Spike ignored them. One after another, fighting for control, he drank as deeply as he dared, then forced himself to stop, knowing that Xander would never forgive him if he saved Xander’s life at the cost of one of his friends. He could hear that Xander’s heartbeat was a little stronger now, a little more steady . . . but it was also slowing.

Fuck, no, he’s turning –

Then another bleeding arm was thrust in front of him, and Spike blinked disbelievingly up at Buffy.

"Slayer blood," Buffy said impatiently. "And you’d better hope that does the trick, because if I have to stake him, you’re next."

Spike had tasted Slayer blood before – of course, he’d killed two Slayers in his time – but never freely given, never offered by a Slayer who’d lived long enough to amass such power. It burned through Spike like sunlight, like holy water, and he bore that burning as long as he could before pulling away, reluctantly withdrawing his wrist from Xander’s mouth.

"If that don’t do it, nothing will," Spike murmured, all his senses trained on that still-slowing heartbeat. "Be ready, Red, I don’t know . . . "

Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub.


Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.


Lub. Dub. Lub. Dub.

Then Xander wheezed in a breath. Another. Another. Slowly, slowly, color washed back into his cheeks. Another breath. Another. Still so slow, his heartbeat was steadying, settling into a rhythm.

Xander moaned softly. It was the most wonderful sound Spike had ever heard in his life.

"He’s going to make it," Spike whispered, feeling cold tears tracking down his cheeks and not caring. "He’s changed some, all that blood, no wonder, but he’s going to make it. I can’t believe he’s going to make it."

Angel’s arm slid around his shoulder, and Spike turned, burying his face in Angel’s chest, permitting himself that one moment of weakness, letting Angel be his strength for just that instant before Spike must be strong again for Xander. Healing notwithstanding, Xander had a long recovery before him.

Spike straightened hastily, realizing Buffy must have seen his weakness, but the Slayer was still staring at Xander, worry and guilt warring in her expression.

"Will he be all right?" she asked, looking at Angel. "He’s different, I can feel it . . . I mean, I can feel him, like I’d feel a demon or a – " She glanced at Spike.

"He’ll be all right," Angel told her firmly. "He’s changed, yes. That quantity of blood from a Master vampire – of course it has to change him." He took Buffy’s hand and pressed it firmly to Xander’s chest. "Feel his heart beating. He’s still alive. He still has his soul. It’s still Xander, Buffy."

"But it’s so slow," Buffy said softly.

"It’s beating, that’s what matters," Giles said quietly. "Although I don’t know why. It shouldn’t have worked, you know. Even as Spike’s . . . Consort, even being accustomed to Spike’s blood . . . he should have turned. I don’t know why he didn’t."

"I may have some idea," Wesley said, just as quietly, lifting Xander’s left hand. "Can anyone tell me how in the world he came by a Frisian bonding ring?"

Spike glanced at the ring on Xander’s finger, had a brief mental debate with himself, then decided.

"It was in a bit of treasure we found," he said. "In Dorissant’s tomb, in fact."

He expected outrage, protests that he’d found treasure and kept it for himself, remonstrations for not telling the others. He didn’t expect Wesley Wyndham-Price, ex-Watcher, damn good demon fighter, to all but collapse in hysterical laughter.

"I don’t think this is very funny," Willow protested weakly. She was pale, and Spike suspected he’d drunk a bit too much from her.

"Sorry, sorry," Wesley gasped. "It’s just – " He hesitated. "I need to look up a few things, but we really should get out of here, you know. Something might come back, after all."

Well, that made sense. They rigged up a sort of stretcher for Xander, transferring him carefully after bracing his head and neck. Judging from the aromas Spike had smelled earlier, he knew they were somewhere under, or at least near, the Hong Kong Noodle House, so somewhere there must be a tunnel or stairway leading out.

Reluctantly he let the others carry Xander; he had one last errand to do himself. He wrapped Leng Chi’s body and head in a rug and slung it over his shoulder, following the others out one of the doors. They wound through corridors and up stairs, and suddenly Spike smelled the aroma of incense and recognized where he was.

"You take Xander on up," he told Angel. "Up two more flights of stairs, then a door on the right, that takes you out the back of the noodle shop. I’ll be along straight away."

He opened the door. The room was the same as the last time he’d seen it, with the translucent curtain still dividing the room. Incense burned in the corners.

"Have you brought him?" a voice asked quietly, and Spike nodded at Leng Mei’s silhouette behind the curtain. He saw the changes in her profile and understood.

"He’s here," Spike said briefly, dropping the body to the floor. "It was quick, if that matters."

A brief pause; then Leng Mei spoke very softly.

"He died well?"

Spike hesitated. He remembered the twinkle in Leng Chi’s eye, the smile. Well, he had a lot to smile about, the old lizard.

"Yeah," he said. "Very well."

"I thank you, Master Spike," Leng Mei said quietly. "There is a debt between us that I will repay in time. Now leave me with my father, please."

Well, Spike hadn’t exactly expected Leng Mei to overflow with gratitude for him killing her father, but neither had he expected quite such a quick brushoff. Then he glanced at Leng Mei’s silhouette again and grinned. He supposed it was only to be expected that she might be a bit . . . cranky.

Besides, it wasn’t as if he had time for chitchat. Xander needed him, and that thought was enough to make him exit the room with considerable haste.

After all, a group of seven bloody, battered and beslimed people carrying a teenager across town in a makeshift stretcher was going to be a bit much, even in Sunnydale.

In the end, Willow, Tara, Buffy, and Spike had to carry Xander into an alley and wait there while Giles, Angel and Wesley took a cab back to the cemetery to pick up Xander’s Expedition, the only vehicle that would possibly accommodate Xander’s stretcher, and Wesley’s car to hold those who wouldn’t fit in the SUV with the stretcher. Angel took his own car, and would stop by Willy’s to pick up some blood for the two very depleted vampires. Spike expected a fuss from Buffy at the latter, but the Slayer looked pretty, ahem, drained herself and only nodded dully, hunkering down in the alley beside the stretcher.

Spike insisted on him and Xander being returned to their house, despite Giles’ strenuous objections – he wanted Xander at his house, or failing that, the Magic Box, where he could look up some things in his books. Spike prevailed, however, with the provision that Giles and Wesley would take Wesley’s car to the Magic Box and pick up Dawn plus whatever books they wanted, then join the others at Spike and Xander’s house.

By the time Spike, Willow, Tara and Buffy had Xander settled, not in the waterbed but on Spike’s nice firm mattress – Spike could feel that the whelp’s neck had healed, but no sense in taking any chances – Xander was starting to wake, his eyelids fluttering. Spike pushed the others aside and carefully sat down beside Xander, remembering what Leng Chi had said: "When your Consort sleeps a sleep from which you fear his waking, let him wake to the sight of your face, and you will know that all is well." Spike had never really dared allow himself to doubt, but even so, when Xander’s eyes opened and Spike saw the confusion in those beautiful chocolate eyes fade into relief and love, Spike’s own relief was so great that he thought he might make a total ponce of himself and break down crying again.

"Hey, luv," he whispered, stroking Xander’s cheek. "Good to see you."

Xander swallowed, licking his dry lips.

"You too, Bleachboy," he joked. "So . . . did we get the bad guy?"

"You did," Spike corrected. "Nailed him hard and dead center with the Tooth. As pretty a throw as ever I’ve seen, I admit, even though I’m more’n half tempted to kick your arse for doing it."

Xander’s eyes clouded.

"I remember – God, when I picked it up, it hurt so bad – " His eyes went wide. "Spike, did I – did you – I mean, am I – my arms and legs are all tingling, did you have to – "

Spike shook his head.

"You’re still alive, luv," he said. "Although how is gonna make one hell of a story." He took Xander’s hand. "Squeeze my fingers, can you?"

A brief hesitation; then Xander’s fingers closed weakly around his.

"God, I can hardly move," Xander said worriedly.

"’S all right, luv, you’re gonna be fine," Spike soothed. "All just aftereffects, some rest and a bit more blood when you need it, you’ll be right as rain."

"Blood – " Xander’s eyes jumped to Buffy, then back to Spike. Spike chuckled.

"’Fraid we’re ‘out’ now, luv," he said. "I’ll tell you the whole story in a bit."

"And Buffy hasn’t dusted you?" Xander chuckled weakly. "This I’ve got to hear."

But by the time Giles, Wesley and Angel returned, Xander was already asleep again.
It was almost dawn, and despite the Giles and Wesley’s best intentions, everyone was simply too exhausted for research or conversation. They took turns at the shower, and between the waterbed, the recliners, the couch, and Xander’s patched air bed, there were enough horizontal surfaces for everyone to get a little rest. Spike and Angel wearily guzzled down several bottles of blood without bothering to heat it, and when Spike carefully curled up beside Xander, Angel dragged the airbed in, closed the door, and collapsed without a word.

Fourteen hours, a call to Xander’s job to report his severe bout of the "flu", eight more pints of bottled blood, four extra-large pizzas (And every single slightly-anemic human voted for Meat Lover’s this time, extra ground beef, hold the garlic), a reassuring call to Cordelia, and a bed bath and another hefty dose for Xander of Eau de Spike later, Xander was able to sit propped up on a mound of pillows, surrounded by Scoobies, ancient books and pizza crust crumbs while everyone filled in the blanks for everyone else. Buffy was far less than pleased to learn just what a Consort was and how long Xander had been one.

"I can’t believe you’d do – " She blushed. "Things like that with a vampire."

Xander snickered.

"Uh, Buff? Not the first person in this room to do ‘things’ with a vampire."

Buffy scowled. "That’s different."

"It is?" Angel raised his eyebrows. "Trust me, Buffy, the parts work about the same way for vampires, with or without souls."

"Ooooh, so did not need to hear that," Willow said, blushing.

"Well, I didn’t let Angel bite me," Buffy said hotly.

"You didn’t?" Angel said. "Faith, poisoned arrow? Does that bring back any memories?"

"Well, that was different," Buffy repeated. "That was to save your life."

"Yeah, and tonight the fact that I’m Spike’s Consort saved mine," Xander said. "Your point being?"

Apparently stymied by that logic, Buffy turned to Giles for support.

"Surely you’re not going along with this," she said.

Giles sighed.

"I can’t say I’m delighted by this development," he admitted. "But, Buffy, there’s very little to be done about it now."

"I could still stake Spike," Buffy muttered darkly.

"You mean you could be kicked out of our house," Xander said coldly. "Last warning, Buffy. No more of this crap."

"And you will leave Spike be," Angel said flatly, meeting Buffy’s eyes squarely. "I’m serious, Buffy. No harm, no threats."

"He’s right," Tara said, startling everyone. "We’re all tired of it. Spike is one of us. He really helped us tonight, and he saved Xander’s life. He deserves some respect."

Buffy looked wonderfully gobsmacked by, of all people, timid Tara and Angel standing up for Spike against her, and Spike fought down a chuckle. This was better than an episode of Passions.

"In any event, Buffy," Giles said practically, "the damage, as it were, is done. Besides, Xander is well over the age of consent, and however unwise we may deem it, he’s capable of making his own choice in this matter and apparently has done so. It’s obviously done him no harm, and whatever we think of it, as his friends, it’s our place to accept and respect that choice."

"Hey, I gave blood with everyone else," Buffy protested. She scowled. "It doesn’t mean I have to like it, though."

"Nope, sure doesn’t," Xander agreed. "And Spike and I don’t have to like you, so we’re even. You deal, we’ll deal."

Buffy opened her mouth, probably to launch into another attack, but Willow interrupted her, turning to Wesley.

"You said you’d tell us about the ring," she said. "What did it have to do with Xander not turning? I don’t see how it could do anything, I checked the treasure from Dorissant’s tomb for magic, and that ring wasn’t one of the pieces – " Her eyes widened and she clapped her hand over her mouth, glancing at Spike apologetically.

"Don’t fret it, Red," Spike said resignedly. They already knew about the treasure, and he wasn’t under any obligation to tell them how much there had been. "Think you missed the ring, though. I found it under the sofa later. I left it sitting out. Xander found it – " Spike glanced at Xander, grinning apologetically. "He thought I’d left it for him, as a gift, and he put it on."

"He put it on himself?" Wesley asked, chuckling and shaking his head. "Well, I suppose that explains it."

"Not to us, it doesn’t," Xander said, giving Spike a forgiving smile. "Want to give us the cliffnotes version?"

Wesley was still laughing quietly; at last he got himself settled down.

"There are very few Frisian females born," he said. "So Frisian males have something of a custom of taking mates of other species, sometimes human. The bonding rings were one of their inventions. When a Frisian gave the ring to a mortal lover, he bound his own life energies to the mortal’s, thus conferring his own immortality on the mortal – immortality, you understand, in the sense that the mortal would stop aging and would never die of natural causes. The price of that bond, however, was that the Frisian’s life was also bound to the mortal’s, so if the mortal would ever be killed, the Frisian would die as well. When I first saw the ring on Xander’s hand, I assumed that that was what had happened – that Spike had placed the ring on him to grant Xander vampiric immortality."

Spike froze, staring at Xander. Xander stared back, a flush rising to his cheeks.

Immortality. Right there on Xander’s hand. And he’s had it all this time –

"But that wouldn’t have kept Xander from turning if he was killed," Wesley continued. "So I didn’t understand, nor did the books I consulted shed any light on it. But then you told me that Xander had put the ring on himself, so instead of binding Xander to Spike – "

Willow gasped, her eyes going wide.

"He bound Xander to Xander," she said softly.

"Indeed," Wesley agreed. "Basically, he bound his soul into his body and – "

Everyone froze. Almost as one, they turned to stare at Angel.

"He bound his soul into his body," Wesley repeated, almost in a whisper.

Xander took a deep breath and pulled the ring off his finger, holding it out to Angel.

"I think you need this more than I do," he said.

"No!" Spike and Angel said at the same time.

Angel reached out and gently closed Xander’s fingers around the ring.

"Xander, think for a moment," he said gently. "That ring came from Dorissant’s tomb. Spike, you had Willow check the treasure for magic? But that one ring wasn’t detected."

"It rolled under the couch, like I said," Spike said, although he began to see what Angel was getting at.

"So this one piece of magic just happened to get passed over," Angel said quietly. "Spike found the ring later. He could have put it away, he could have had Willow come back to check it, but he happened to leave it where you found it, Xander. Or he could have chosen to give the ring to you and put it on you himself. But he didn’t. You put it on yourself. You, the one person in this group who could be cured of the hydra venom on the trap that none of us knew about -- the one person who was able to throw the Tooth when the time came. The one person who needed that ring in exactly the way you’d put it on."

Giles shook his head wonderingly.

"The chain of coincidence is – well, astounding," he said slowly. "It would seem – "

" – that the Powers want that ring right where it is," Angel said firmly. "And since the only thing that saved you, Xander, is your relationship with Spike, I’d go so far as to say that maybe the Powers had some hand in that too. You played a role in this that no one else could – who’s to say that there’s not some other purpose in this, someday in the future." He glanced at Spike, acknowledging the secret between them.

Wesley looked bereft, but he quickly smoothed his expression.

"Yes, well, I’d never heard of a Frisian bonding ring being used in that application," he said hurriedly. "But now that we know, perhaps one day we’ll find another."

"Maybe someday," Angel said, and the look in his eyes was all for Wesley.

"Well, there’s still one thing I want to know," Spike said levelly. "You brought that orb, ‘just in case’ you said. For you or for Xander? What was it that Cordelia saw, Angel?"

Angel met his eyes squarely.

"She saw Xander lying on the ground, us gathered around, you giving him your blood," he said quietly. "She also saw the case for the Tooth lying empty." Angel held up a hand to stop Spike’s protest. "She also saw the case for the Tooth lying empty. That meant the battle was over, Spike, and everyone was alive. There was no way to tell whether you were turning Xander, or giving him blood to heal him, but since Cordelia saw the others there, not interfering, I thought it must be the latter. Still, even if you had to turn Xander, he could be saved, his soul anchored. Which is why Wesley brought the orb.

"If I’d told you everything Cordelia saw," Angel continued gently, "you would have somehow kept Xander out of it, and things would have gone very differently. In retrospect, I believe we’d have lost the battle. At the very least, some of us would have died."

Spike was shaking, he was so furious.

"I trusted you," he growled.

"And I trusted you," Angel said, his eyes never leaving Spike’s. "I trusted the strength of your love for Xander, and the strength of his love for you, to save him."

"His love is stronger than any evil." God, the fucking old lizard. He knew it all along, didn’t he? Wish his head had lived long enough for me to shove it up his arse, him and his games. Spike had to chuckle a little in admiration. Well, can’t say he didn’t warn me. I just didn’t know how to listen. But that’s always the way of it, I guess.

"So you say Leng Chi was kind of a backup battery for Ravyadha?" Xander said, as if he’d followed Spike’s thoughts, and possibly he had – Spike imagined Xander had probably picked up a brief image of the Risza from him, their bond was that strong now. "But he gave us all that information, pointed us in the right direction – "

"So I’d do exactly what he wanted," Spike agreed.

"What, kill him?" Xander said, frowning. "That doesn’t make any sense."

Spike chuckled.

"It would if you’d seen Leng Mei when I brought Leng Chi’s body to her," he said.

Angel raised his eyebrows.

"You mean she’s – "

"Yup," Spike said. He made an illustrative gesture in front of his belly. "Out to there. Any day, I’d say."

"She’s pregnant?" Xander said blankly. "But she wasn’t just a little while back when – "

"He probably done her around then," Spike agreed. "Don’t take long for Risza."

"’He’ who?" Xander said, then looked queasy. "You don’t mean – "

"Yup, Leng Chi," Spike said, nodding.

"But he’s her father," Xander said, grimacing.

"That’s how Risza demons manage it," Wesley said, shrugging sympathetically. "They breed only in family lines, and for a specific reason. They mate only when the male is near death, because when the male dies, the female consumes the body. They believe – and as far as I know, it may be true – that when the female bears her child, which will be male, that the baby will be the old mate, reborn in the new body."

I may get my chance to kick your arse for that game yet someday, you crazy old lizard, Spike thought fondly, grinning.

"What happens when the female dies?" Willow asked curiously.

"When her time is near, the female will mate again, this time with her son," Giles said. "She will bear a female offspring, but when the baby is ready to be born, it will kill the mother, eating its way out, and again, the new infant will be the mother reborn in the younger body."

"Ick," Buffy said, grimacing. "More than I ever wanted to know about demon mating habits. All I want to know is, is this Tiger guy really, really dead, and what about all those portals?"

"Ravyadha’s dead," Spike said shortly. "Tooth hit him dead center. Saw him melting down as he fell into the portal. And you saw yourself that the portal he cast collapsed, so likely the others will too, now that he’s dead. We can check a few, make sure they’re gone, since the witches have that detection thingy anyway, but my guess is they’re closed, or fading out." He brightened. "Bit of fighting, probably, cleaning up whatever’s left that came through ‘em, though."

Tara, Willow and Xander groaned. Even Buffy didn’t look enthusiastic.

"Yes, well, I believe a little recovery time is in order first," Giles said drily. "Some of us can’t replenish our blood supply from bottles, and Xander is not the only one of us with injuries. So I propose that we adjourn to our respective homes to recuperate, and unless some emergency appears, meet in perhaps two days – "

"Three," Spike said firmly. It would take him that long to get Xander up and walking, and even though there wasn’t a chance in hell that Xander would be up for patrolling sooner than a week or so, Spike knew he’d insist on attending the meeting anyway.

" – three, then," Giles said after a brief hesitation, "and we’ll discuss the matter then."

"Works for me," Buffy said tiredly. "Much sleeping to do. And more bathing." She wrinkled her nose. "I don’t think I’ll ever get this smell off me."

"Shoulda worn the poncho, eh?" Spike snickered despite Buffy’s glare. Well, hell, he was evil, he wasn’t going to miss his chance to say ‘I told you so’.

"Spike, I swear, I’m gonna – " Buffy began.

" – walk with us out to the car and go home," Dawn said, steering Buffy firmly out of the room. "Call us, okay, Spike? Let us all know how Xander’s doing?"

"Hey, nothing stopping the Xan-man from dialing the phone myself," Xander protested.

"Nothing except Spike keeping you chained to the bed," Willow said, then blushed. "Ooooh, so did not need that image. Never mind, not speculating on gay vampire bondage, shutting up now, bye, Xander, Spike!"

Giles gave Xander a last resigned look, then followed the girls from the room. Angel stood, but Spike interrupted before he could speak.

"Long drive back to LA when you’re this knackered," Spike said. "Stay the night and the day, there’s room enough. ‘Sides, I need to run some errands, pick up more blood and suchlike, and I’ll feel better with someone here with the whelp, in case he needs a bedpan or the like."

"Spike!" Xander protested, his face flaming. "I can go to the toilet!"

"Yeah, if you could levitate," Spike teased. "Sorry, Pet, it’s the bedpan or somebody carrying you to the loo and holding you up on it. Just consider yourself chained to the bed like Red said."

"Yeah, without the fun part," Xander chuckled, then blushed, horrified, covering his face with his hands. "Oh, God, tell me that wasn’t my out loud voice with Angel and Wesley in the room."

Spike snickered.

"Sorry, Pet," he said. "Want to go for the lot, trot out the photo album and show off the family pictures?"

"Spiiiiiiiiike – "

"And on that note," Wesley chuckled, "I believe I’ll look through the cupboards, see what I can muster up for dinner for mortals."

"And I’ll watch Xander, including bedpan duty if necessary," Angel said, following Spike from the room, "if you’ll pick me up some more blood, and some real shampoo, thank you very much, while you’re out."

Spike snickered.

"Done," he said. "Shouldn’t be more than a couple hours, not long after midnight, I’d guess." He hesitated. "You can have the air mattress in there with us, unless you and Wyndham-Price – "

"I’ll take the air mattress," Angel said quietly.

"Right, then." Spike shrugged, grabbed his keys and opened the door.

"Oh, Spike?"

Spike turned back.


"Where did you say you kept this album?"


"Mmmmmmm," Xander purred as Spike’s hands worked slowly down his back, massaging deep into the muscles. "That feels sooooooo good."

"Sure does, luv," Spike grinned, loving the firm, warm buttocks between his thighs, the warmth of his Consort’s skin under his hands, the glorious strong beat of his Consort’s heart. Slow, yeah, and that wasn’t all the changes – Xander’s skin and hair were so fine and soft, fairly glowing with vitality, there was an even greater firmness to his muscles, a greater solidity to his bones, and oooohhhh, something in his eyes, something hot and wild. And he was healing fast, faster than even Spike would have credited. Only two days since Ravyadha had been defeated, and he was walking already, getting to the bathroom and back under his own power. Sure, his gait wasn’t steady, and his grip still lacked its former strength, but he was still mending fast, and Spike was willing to bet his last bottle of stout that in three more days Xander would be completely recovered.

Angel had been impressed, too. He’d offered Xander a last drink of his own powerful blood to speed the healing process, and seemed both surprised and flattered when Xander actually took him up on it.

On the way out, Angel had stopped, hesitated just a moment, then embraced Spike warmly; Spike had surprised himself by hugging back.

"Take good care of him," Angel said quietly. "And yourself. You’re both very special." He nipped the side of Spike’s throat lightly, barely scratching the skin. "And you’re my family."

Spike swallowed hard around the lump in his throat.

"Yeah, well, you look out for your Watcher," he said. "You two should get on – both poncy, broody gits, you are." He grinned. "And you both don’t look half bad in black leather."

"Thanks. I think," Angel added wryly. He clasped Spike’s shoulder. "Come visit, Will. Don’t be a stranger."

"And you." Spike took a small box out of his pocket and pushed it into Angel’s hand. "Open it when you get home. And don’t say I never gave you nothing."

Angel glanced at the box, then looked up at Spike with startled eyes.

"Spike – "

"Ah, get out, you great bleedin’ pouf," Spike said, cheerfully pushing Angel out the door and locking it behind him and chuckling. He’d cashed in the debt he was owed, and Leng Mei, big as a hippo now, had come through – Frisian bonding rings weren’t easy to come by, but he’d known if anyone had one lying about, it was the Risza. Spike laughed to himself – Angel actually would wait till he got home to open it, unlike Spike, who’d have had the box open by the time he reached the car, just in time to shag his lover in the back seat.

But finally now Spike was alone with his beautiful, living Xander, and he found he didn’t really give a toss what Angel and his ex-Watcher were doing right now. He was much more interested in what he suspected he was going to be doing pretty damned soon.

"Feeling better, luv?" Spike asked hopefully, working the stiffness out of Xander’s lower back.

Xander flipped over abruptly, almost dislodging Spike, but he grabbed Spike’s hips, steadying the vampire on top of him. Xander was grinning wickedly, and his erection was hard as steel against Spike’s buttocks.

"All kinds of better," Xander said huskily. "Too much better, actually. I mean, I may actually be sitting comfortably at the meeting tomorrow night."

"Oops, can’t have that, can we?" Spike chuckled. "Suppose I ought to do something about that, maybe shag you so hard you’ll be feeling it all day."

"That would do it," Xander agreed. "Only thing is, there’s one small problem . . . "

Spike frowned.

"What problem?"

Xander held up his hand, his eyes on Spike’s, and slowly drew the ring off his finger.

"Problem is," he said softly, "I need some help putting my ring on. Think you’re up to it?" He held the ring out.

Spike swallowed, his dead heart flipping over. He took the ring and slowly slid it down over Xander’s finger.

"Mine," he whispered. "Forever."

Xander’s eyes were shining, almost glowing.

"Yours," he promised. "Forever."

And as suddenly as that, the hunger surged through Spike, hot and powerful, overwhelming, and he realized with a dim amazement that the hunger was not his alone. Without transition, Spike went to game face, feeling Xander’s blood calling him, hot and powerful and alive.

"Want you," he rasped. "Want you so fucking bad."

Xander wrapped his arms around Spike and pulled him down, lips hot against Spike’s, warm wet tongue sliding briefly over his fangs.

"Want you too," Xander growled. "Want you hot and hard and fast and now."

The briefest pause, brown eyes staring into gold, and then they were both grabbing for the lube at the same time. Xander with his longer reach grabbed it first, and he thrust the tube into Spike’s hand, pulling his knees up and back.

The sight of his Consort wide open for him, eyes hot and begging, was almost more than Spike could take. He gave Xander a cursory preparation, made up for it by way too much lubricant smeared over them both, and sheathed himself in his Consort’s tight heat with one strong push.

They howled together, the bond flaring wide open between them until Spike could no longer tell whether he was taking or taken. Someone clawed at someone’s back; someone thrust hard and deep. Fangs and blunt mortal teeth broke skin, completing the circle in flesh and blood, pain and pleasure, hot fluid flowing between them as the pleasure exploded fast and hard and glorious, a fire that burned them both to ash and embers.

A moment or an eternity later, Spike drowsily licked the sweaty shoulder under him, folded his hands over the firm chest and propped his chin up.

"So, luv," he said. "You said we’d go on a trip when there was time in between saving the world. Guess we’ve about earned a vacation, hmmm?"

Xander chuckled breathlessly.

"I guess we have," he said. "Got anywhere in mind?"

"Dunno," Spike shrugged. "Maybe London." Then he grinned. "But LA first. Got an invite to visit, we did."

Xander raised his eyebrows.

"I don’t think Angel meant right away," he said. "I mean, I imagine he and Wesley might like some, uh, private time. Kind of like a honeymoon."

"Sure they would," Spike said cheerfully. "Can’t let them get by with that, can we? Besides, it’ll burn the Slayer something fierce, us going, hmmm?"

Xander laughed.

"Spike, you’re a bad, bad vampire," he said. He squirmed slightly under Spike, letting Spike feel his returning erection.

"That’s right, luv," Spike purred, thanking the Powers for hormonal teenagers. "I’m the Big Bad. Just the way you love it."

"Forever," Xander smiled, and kissed him.