~~~~~~~He woke, only inches away from the most incredible blue eyes. He was riveted. He couldn't blink - couldn't look away. Dimly he was aware of the other strangers asking who everyone was and how they'd gotten here. All he knew - knew for certain - was that this blue-eyed creature was the most important thing in the world.~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~Brown eyes surrounded by obscenely long lashes swallowed all coherent thought. He could hear the man's heart beat, smell his blood. The heat coming from this broad-shouldered young god spoke of comfort and grounded him in his confusion. Whoever he was - who ever they were - whatever became of this, just being near this young man soothed him and told him that everything would be all right.~~~~~~~
So far, they had established names - of a sort - and were discussing going to a hospital when the monsters arrived. Joan wanted to take Randal with her while the others left the shop through the tunnels.
"What? You can't use him as bait! You may be a superhero but you don't even have a plan." Nothing stirred in Alexander Harris' memory, but some inner warrior who would only feel safe when the enemy was contained or annihilated flood his brain with scenarios and counterassaults.
"And who are you, Alex? Do you have a better plan?" Joan said, obviously not the patient type.
"I'm the one who reconned the store. There's a room full of weapons in the back and the loft is packed with books - they just might tell us how to handle these monsters. We're outnumbered and we don't know the terrain. Running into battle at this stage is reckless. You're the strongest here. Are you willing to let your sister come with us unescorted when we don't know where the tunnels lead or if there're more monsters down there?" Alex paced as he spoke, eyeing the front window and keeping himself between Joan and Randal.
Rupert and Anya looked at each other and wordlessly went to the back room, probably to get weapons. Dawn, Willow and Tara started to peruse the book titles. Alex crossed to Joan, who looked confused, as if she hadn't bothered to consider any of this, and said in a hushed voice, "For all we know, we're the last non-vampires in the world. There might be no hospitals - and you want to have fun beating up the undead? We need to secure this place." He raised his voice. "Willow, did that computer in the office have a modem?"
"I'll see what I can find out." She left Dawn and Tara paging through the magic books and headed to the office.
Alex pulled out his wallet and started pulling out receipts and cash. "I think...I think I'm military."
"What's that?" Randal peered around Alex shoulder.
"Carpenter's union card. I'm a carpenter. Why don't I think like a carpenter?" Alex asked.
"Maybe it's your cover." Randal's accent twisted Alex's thoughts off track and he was once again lost in that cerulean gaze.
Joan crossed her arms and tapped a foot, "Listen, you two obviously want to be alone, but I need something to do. I don't think I wait well."
"Check out the back room. Spar with the others; see if anyone else is as strong or as fast as you are. Maybe we all fight these things," he said, without looking away from Randal.
When Joan left with Tara and Dawn, Randal whispered, "Oooh, aren't you manly." Alex closed the distance between himself and the blonde. He traced the line of Randal's sculpted cheekbone and brushed that bitable bottom lip with a reverent kiss. "Got a plan, Pet?"
"Not a clue. Think anyone noticed?" Alex whispered back while placing his hands on the slim, tweed-covered hips and pulling Randal closer.
"I think I must have liked you, before this all happened," Randal leered.
"You know, for all we know, can't stand each other...or we're best friends." Alex looked down, blushing.
"Maybe we're more than that," Randal said softly.
"You stay close, I don't like how much attention they," Alex nodded to the unruly crowd of vampires in front of the store "are paying to you. It almost seems like it's personal."
Just as Alex kissed him again, Randal's step-mum-to-be came in towing his father. After an uncomfortable moment they hugged their 'son'. Rupert followed Alex's example and turned out his pockets. He and Anya started to argue when he found a one-way ticket to England.
Alex and Randal left them to argue in private and headed into the back room. Tara and Joan were watching attentively as Dawn threw knives at a target - badly. "I think the superhero gene is recessive." The teenager said while frowning at her sister.
"Come on, Alex." Joan tossed him a staff. "Show me what you got."
The staff wasn't Alex's weapon. Most of the weapons weren't. The hand to hand would have gone well if Joan moved at human speeds but she quickly swept his legs and had him on his ass. Randal held out a hand and pulled Alex to his feet. Dawn snickered when they were again mesmerized by each other's eyes.
"My turn?" Randal took off his suit coat and began to roll up his sleeves. Joan threw a punch just as he looked up and amazingly he ducked. He bobbed and wove at an unreal speed. She couldn't lay a hand on him.
"Well? Hit me," Joan said.
"Don't seem right you being such a little bit," Randal said and nodded to his father as the rest of the group came into the weapons room. Anya and Rupert seemed to have resolved their argument amicably.
"The whole purpose is to see if you're any use in a fight," Joan said with exasperation.
Alex stepped up and said, "Try against, me."
Dawn giggled and said, "Go Randal! Smack down...Whoa, where did that come from?"
Joan rolled her eyes and watched as Randal took Alex down with the same leg sweep Joan had used. With a scream of pain Randal dropped to the floor with both hands clutching his head and swore a blue streak. In an instant, Alex had him cradled to his chest. As Alex crooned out soothing words, Randal's father came to his son's aid. Randal raised his head and Alex was caught not by the stunning blue but the glowing gold of his eyes. Rupert leaped back, keeping himself between the girls and the vampire. Alex was so snared that he hardly registered the stunned gasps of the others or noticed the ridges on Randal's forehead. At least until Joan grabbed one of the wooden spikes that seemed to be everywhere and brandished it like she knew what to do with it.
"Hey, stand down, Xena." Alex pulled Randal close, curling his body around the confused man...er, vampire.
"He's one of them." Joan said pushing Dawn behind her. Willow and Tara backed further away and Rupert put himself between Anya and his 'son', but looked on with great interest and some concern.
"He's one of us!" Alex countered and stroked the bleach hair. Once he was sure Joan wouldn't attack he turned to the stunned man.
Randal whispered, "I'm not a vampire," as if he desperately wanted to convince himself.
Alex caressed the ridged brow and smiled sadly.
Rupert said, "Er... he could be prevaracating, trying to lull us into letting our guard down."
Before the hurt look could flash fully into view on Randal's instantly human features, Alex hissed back, "Or he could be your son - one of the good guys - and after he became a vampire you used some sort of magic to restore his soul."
Randal swallowed hard and cleared his throat, "Right. So, I'm a vampire. I can't seem to hit anyone, so I won't be much use against that lot out there."
"They haven't lit the fire they were threatening us with earlier," Anya said. "I still think we should try one of the spells in the books."
Giles ushered the women into the front of the store. Joan was to use the weapons to keep any more vampires from getting though the hastily blocked window while the others helped him look though the stock and the books. Alex helped Randal to his feet. "What happened? When you tried to hit me, you just dropped screaming."
"Felt like my skull was exploding - I honestly thought if I didn't hold them in my eyeballs would drop out." Randal still held Alex's hand. Instead of letting go he leaned in and chastely kiss the dark-haired man. "Thanks - for sticking up for me, Pet."
Alex lifted his free hand and stroked
Randal's cheek, marveling at his inhuman beauty. "We're
friends. Right?" At Randal's wordless nod, Alex returned
a not-so-chaste kiss. His hand drifted down along the whipcord
Randal buried a snicker in the crook of Alex's neck. Drinking in the heady scent of blood and arousal, he sucked on the flesh covering Alex's pulse point.
"Are you coming?" Anya popped back around the corner then stopped a moment as the two men pulled away from each other and straightened their clothes. "Oh, that would be a humorously inappropriate question given that you seem to be licking each other's tonsils, right? If you're not going to actually have sex while we're under attack, Joan wants some help. She said the natives are getting restless, although I don't know how she would know if the vampires are native or not."
The others were comparing the contents of their pockets. Willow placed a dark crystal on the table and picked up Alex's wallet. She removed the contents, checking each slitted compartment in the leather. It contained forty dollars, his driver's license the union card and a small photo of a stunning brunette with a million dollar smile, with 'Love, Cordy' scrawled on the back. "She's beautiful." Willow said.
Alex smiled shyly. "She could be my sister." He held up the photo beside his face and asked Randal, "What do you think?"
"Tasty bit, Pet. Maybe you're shagging her." Randal leered.
"But Willow was wearing my jacket." Alex considered the picture with a puzzled look as he placed it next to the crystal.
"Guess you're gallant, Pet - `cause I don't think either you or Red lean that way, if you catch my drift." Randal softened his words with a tentative touch on the arm and Alex blushed and gave a slight nod of agreement.
Tara picked up the crystal and said, "There's something funny about this."
"Funny?" Rupert leaned into look closer earning him a jealous poke from his fiancee. "Funny how?" he said after straightening and stepping back.
"I don't know...it just feels off." Tara set it back down and seemed unaware that she was wiping the hand that had held it on her skirt.
Glass breaking jarred everyone's attention back to the vampires. Tara grabbed Dawn's arm and dragged her back to the office, before pushing her in and shutting the door. She came forward ready to help but was grabbed and thrown into Willow and they both crashed into the table scattering its contents.
Two vampires grabbed Randal and
made to move him toward the door. Alex grabbed one of the fallen
chairs and swung it in a wide, overhead arc, shattering it on
one of the vampires who dropped - if not unconscious - at least
out of the action. The other released Randal and charged the
obviously insane human. Alex was pinned against the counter by
the dead weight of the corpse but slammed his knee into his opponent
repeatedly to no avail. Randal risked the pain and grabbed Alex's
attacker by his neck and twisted his head
In almost no time they were all that remained standing and undusted beside the shark-headed demon, who held his palms forward and said, "Mr. Spike, I've been remiss." He backed toward the door of the shop. "A man of your reputation, take all the time you need to settle the bet." He dashed into the darkness before anyone could think clearly enough to ask any questions.
"Spike?" Joan asked, and gave him a once over that ended with her smirking at his tweed clad crotch. "I'm so sure." She went to retrieve her sister, while Willow helped Tara stand.
"Oh, Rupert." Anya said, surveying the damage to their shop.
"There, there, dear, I'm sure it's insured." Rupert tucked the blonde under his arm and stroked her hair in a soothing manner.
"That's not it. I could have lost you. This place is too dangerous. I want to stay with you. It doesn't matter, whatever we fought about doesn't matter...just...take me with you." She turned tear-filled eyes on the flustered man.
"Of course," he murmured. "We'll work it out."
Once they made sure no one was hurt the eight of them went about setting the store to rights. Alex knelt to reach under a display case for the fragments of the chair he had broken. As he placed one foot flat on the floor to stand he heard a crunch. It had been like this before, with the hyena and the soldier; in one instant his entire perception of reality changed. He was Xander - Xander Harris. His fiancee was in Giles' arms looking shocked and guilty. Tara forcibly push Willow away from her and back against the counter with a shocked look of emotional turmoil. Buffy was white-lipped with anger and Dawn started to cry. Xander sensed Spike standing silent and still next to him but couldn't bring himself to look. Spike, who he had kissed. Spike, who - God help him - had made him feel deeper and more passionate emotions than either Cordy or Anya. Spike, who was most likely going to kill him - more so than he had probably intended to do before - after tonight.
He was distracted from contemplating
the impending disaster on the Spikefront as Tara started to cry
and give voice to her pain. "How could you? I can't believe
you did this. After I told you how violated it made me
Getting Buffy away was probably
for the best. Xander loved Willow - had loved her for almost
as much of his life as he could remember. But right now, all
he could do was wonder if this was the first time she had done
this to them. Would they remember if she had? Did he love her
because he loved her, or had she made him love her? He didn't
like questioning his own motives, or hers. In the space of a
few moments, as he knelt regarding the sparkling dust of the
crystal fragments scattered among the remains of their attackers,
Xander replayed their lives since magic had come into Willow's
life: Oz suddenly noticing and then falling in love with Willow;
the kiss that broke up he and Cordelia; Faith turning to the
dark side; his coming back to Sunnydale when he had never intended
to return again after graduation; Anya suddenly morphing from
being hell-bent on getting her necklace back to wanting to interlock
parts; Buffy and Riley - with nothing
Anya took off her ring and walked over to Xander. He hadn't managed to ask her on his knee but apparently he was being jilted that way - only in the life of Xander Harris. Oddly enough, instead of diatribing about unfaithful manlike behavior, Anya just shook her head and didn't even glance in Spike's direction. She glanced once over her shoulder at Giles and then turned her tear-filled eyes back toward Xander and handed him the ring. She tried to speak but no words came and she rushed to the back room.
Giles cleared his throat and looked
sadly at Xander then he looked at Willow. She had slid slowly
down the front of the counter and sat on the floor sobbing softly.
Xander would have bet that she was in for the Giles'
"Xander?" Spike's whisper-light voice drifted down, tickling Xander senses and brought the hair on the back of his neck to attention. He didn't sound like he was going to kill him - didn't sound angry at all, just... concerned. Spike? Concerned? For him? It really had been a long night.
Xander looked up slowly. Spike in tweed. He almost laughed out loud. Which would have been inappropriate. Right - not the sharpest knife in the drawer but he was sure laughing right now would be bad. But apparently he hadn't managed to keep the laughter out of his eyes judging by the questioning amusement on Spike's face. "Sorry," he said, taking Spike's offered hand up, "just flashed on you buying a Father's Day card for the G-Man."
Spike smiled and didn't step away, or release Xander's hand. Instead he put his other slim, strong hand on the other side of that hand. "Sorry about your bird," he said in that tender baritone voice, using the same tone Randal had used for Alex. Alex - rather, Xander - was caught again by those clear blue eyes and the naked emotions behind it.
Speaking of the bird, Anya finished securing the store and turned out the lights. The room was dimly lit by only the light of the street lamp in front of the store. Anya came out of the back carrying her sweater. She walked right over to Willow. "Get up." When Willow didn't respond she nudged her with the toe of her shoe. "Get up. You're going to take me back to the Summer's home with you. With Giles gone I'll make do with the couch until I can find another place of my own. Stand up, I want to leave as soon as I finish talking to Xander." Willow began to wipe her face, Anya's blunt unsympathetic ways being better than the reactions of her more diplomatic friends. When Anya turned to Xander, Spike surprised him by stepping between them as if to protect the young man from his ex.
"I'm not angry at him," Anya said, cocking her head in that endearing way that said she was trying so hard to puzzle out someone's behavior given the sketchy guidelines for social interaction Xander had patiently instilled in her. She placed a hand on Spike's chest to dismiss him, pushing until he took a step back, then she ignored him in favor of the stunned young man.
"You're not?" Xander asked, looking down at the girl he had built so many dreams around.
"Xander...this was...I realized tonight just how lucky I was when I picked you. I did pick you, you know. That day in the courtyard when I asked you to prom, you really weren't like the other males...not in a bad way, but in that...when I looked at you - looked in your eyes I could see you wouldn't hurt me. You really are a good boyfriend - you're a good friend. I tried being human alone. When I ran, before graduation, I tried to make a life - to be safe. I tried...everyone I met, man or woman, good or bad, none of them saw me...they all had this idea of who I was or who I should be and they tried to turn me into that. Sort of like what Willow did to Tara." Willow started to sob again and Anya rolled her eyes and refocused on Xander. "You took care of me, helped me figure out the life thing - which is so much easier when you win pink little children and get more money by spinning a wheel - but you would explain the consequences of different choices and still let me choose. You never said, 'Anya, you have to be nice to people', you said, 'Anya, if you aren't nice to people they won't come back and spend more money.' See, I got to choose which I wanted. What I'm trying to say is I do love you - but tonight, I loved Giles - not in the orgasm sense because, well, no time - but I built a life and a future around him in my head the same way I did with you...so I...I don't know if I wanted to marry you for the right reasons. Is any of this making sense?"
Xander looked at the tiny ring in his hand. He had had cold feet but he dismissed it as a normal guy thing. He put it in his pocket and looked into Anya's frank eyes. "Yeah." He cleared his throat when he realized his voice was strained with the effort not to cry. "It makes sense. I...I do love you, like I love Buffy and Dawn and Will when she's not doing the whole black magic thing." Willow made a strangled sound and hid her face in her hands. "I think I wanted to marry you for the wrong reason." Anya cocked her head again, and since the thing he had loved best about her was her blunt honesty - okay second best - he continued, "I...I asked you because I couldn't imagine my life without you being part of it, not because I wanted to build a new life with you - I just didn't want to lose you...and, well, the sex too."
Anya smiled, "You won't lose me. I'll be right here." She gestured to the store and said, "I'm going to need a friend," she frowned at the destruction still present and added, "and a carpenter."
"I'm your man." Xander said.
"No you're not, not any more, but you are my friend. I'd like to be as good a friend to you as you have been to me. You can't know what it meant, you letting me into your life, sharing your friends - oh, and all the orgasms. Wait, now that we're not having sex, will I have to pay you to fix all this?" She asked.
Xander could see her calculating the cost and laughed. "No, but a few home cooked meals would be nice."
As the four of them left the store, Willow tried to apologize to Xander. He held up a palm and said, "Just...give me some time, okay?" She gave him a sad nod and as she and Anya went one way and Spike and Xander walked the other he turned back and saw her pale, drawn face peeking over her shoulder at him just before they turned a corner.
The men walked in silence and stopped, still silent, when they reached the crossroad that would take Spike left toward the cemetery and Xander straight toward his apartment. Xander looked up from contemplating his shoes and asked, "The suit - did you used to dress like that?"
Spike snorted and rolled his eyes. "Piss off."
"Hey, lighten up, Randal." Xander snarked back. And, then in a soft concerned voice asked, "Are you...are you all right?"
"Are you? I mean... you just got dumped, and I've never seen you angry at Red before." Spike tilted his head, hair gleaming in the light of the street lamp and eyes, even in the dim, still so blue.
"Unlike when she blinded Giles, hooked you and the Buffmeister up and had me attracting every demon on the mouth of hell like a bitch in heat," Xander eyed his shoe, the one which had broke the spell, and scuffed the toe on the sidewalk.
"Yeah, she gave you chocolate biscuits and you gave her a hug - all was right in whoville again." Spike reached over slowly and lifted that stubborn chin with his index finger.
"When the will-be-done spell was over, I stopped being a demon magnet." Since he couldn't lower his head, Xander lowered his long, dark and suspiciously damp lashes.
"And now?" Spike whispered as he stepped close.
Xander lifted his lashes and reached over to touch the ethereal beauty that was Spike. When he caressed the translucent skin over the high cheekbone the touch was far more tentative than Alex's lustful explorations, and when they kissed it was a cautious testing - a feint and strike. Xander wasn't sure what Spike would get out of all of this. He wasn't sure if this was part of Spike's mind games or if the vampire was just looking for a shag and Xander happened to be convenient. As the two men stood under the street lamp, holding onto each other, all Xander was sure of was that his entire perception of reality had changed once again.