Hellraiser: The Angels Beneath
He’d spent so long thinking about it, sensing it and just feeling it. There was power beneath its ancient, sculptured surface and it called to him, every day.
For the first six months after he’d found it in some random war-torn village, he’d been terrified of it. He’d kept it hidden away in the back of a dark, dusty cupboard, wrapped in a dirty, bloodstained shirt. He wasn’t even sure why he’d taken it.
Riley’s unit had stormed the tiny village on the southern coast of Crete. Tralor demons had been in occupation for over a month, fighting and persecuting the resident humans and the peaceful demon Piklia tribe. Riley and his team had been sent to eliminate and cleanse all that wasn’t human. And if a human got in the way? Well, that was war. Population expendable.
The ‘war’ had been won in just a few hours. All demons, good and bad, were purged and destroyed. And any humans that might have survived had fled. The village was as Earth’s first day. Desolate.
Riley had wandered around the tiny streets and deserted buildings, looking for any signs of demon survivors to finish off. He’d climbed a steep road on the west side of the village and had found himself standing outside what was probably once some kind of bar or coffee shop. The building was burnt out; nothing could have survived. What made him enter, he would never quite know.
That was when he’d found it. A small coppery coloured box, adorned with a golden pattern, sat on a shelf just inside the building. It had been a trinket amongst trinkets. The floor was littered with broken ornaments, headless dolls and shattered glass. Only one ornament had survived the fight. The box. It sat alone on the shelf and it reached out to him, calling and drawing him in. He’d taken it immediately, feeling that somehow it belonged to him. His missing link. This small object had the power to give him everything. He’d stashed it in his backpack, not caring that he was stealing from someone who had nothing. Not that it really mattered. The owner of this battered establishment was probably dead anyhow. Riley’s unit had cleansed pretty well.
It wasn’t until he arrived back at base camp that his whole body had begun to shake, fear coursing through him like a fiery missile. He’d excused himself and retired to his bunk, flinging his backpack into the corner. He could hardly bear to look at it. Just the thought of touching the box again made his stomach heave. What had he done? Why had he taken it?
Because it was his.
He knew that he couldn’t get rid of it. He couldn’t throw it away any more than he could cut off his leg and throw that away. He was overwhelmed with the feeling that the box was a part of him now and would be forever. The feeling made him feel sick inside and out.
The box thrummed away in the corner, calling, crawling, screaming and clawing at him, begging him to open it up and bathe in its divine pleasures. He tried to block it out, god knows he did, but it was useless. The box wanted to be touched, wanted Riley’s hands to caress and explore it. It wanted him to see, feel, experience and swim in its black depths.
It had taken three quarters of a bottle of white rum before Riley had got up the courage to touch his precious find. There was no way that he could leave it where it was. He had to shut it up before it drove him to edge of his sanity. He ripped open the backpack and tore the box from its hiding place. He quickly wrapped it in the shirt he’d worn in the battle and sighed with relief. The deafening voices and white noise in his head had died down to a dull murmur. It was as if the fabric was keeping hell at bay, the blood of the innocent and the guilty securing the box in an encapsulating barrier. It was still enough to drive him crazy, but at least he wasn’t about to slit his wrists open. He stared down at the bundle he held with madly shaking hands and wondered how he was supposed to carry on. His life had altered in a matter of seconds. A choice faced him: take the box and experience the Divine or walk away and continue with his life. That wasn’t really a choice. The box wouldn’t let him have the luxury of deciding. He’d had to take it and now he had to keep it with him. It was his. It belonged to him. He would guard it and protect it with his life.
And that was how the box had stayed for six months, wrapped in the evidence of pain and conflict and stuffed in a boot at the back of a cupboard. Out of sight but never out of mind. Then, he’d had a revelation, a way to get his floundering life back on track. So he moved back to Sunnydale. His head told him over and over that he wanted Buffy back in his life, to leave the corps and fight the good fight with the Slayer by his side. The box told him that it wanted to go home.
So here he was, a year and a half after finding the box. He had a nice life, a few good friends, a nice apartment that he shared with his wonderful girlfriend and a comfy job with the Sunnydale Police Department. It should have felt good. But it didn’t. The box stayed always in his mind, always there, always chatting to him, screaming and spitting at him. Never letting him leave its clutches and always promising a paradise of eternal damnation. Some days his curiosity was almost too much. It battled with him and nearly tore him in two. The only thing that kept his sanity from slipping completely away was the almost constant flow of liquor. Even then the urge to rip the box from its dark hiding place was painful beyond his own comprehension.
So, in the dark it stayed. Riley was trapped in an endless cycle of burning desire and rigid terror. He re-lived his wonder of how to carry on every day. But at the same time he wondered how he could carry on without the box. Each long day that passed, life seemed more and more drab, his very existence covered in a grey shadow. Nothing could get through, not Buffy, not his friends, nothing, nothing except the box that burned so brightly into his eyes and burrowed into his skull.
It would come. One day. He knew it. He would face it and know its dark delights. The thought terrified him, yet filled him with joy. It would be soon. He felt it. His walls were crumbling, his sanity waning. One look, that was all it would take.
Riley prayed that he would never have to look at the box again. And he hoped that he would wake and find it waiting on his pillow.
He wanted it. He hated it. He couldn’t live without it.
“I don’t see why I have to go,” Spike complained. What with Passions being cancelled in place of some stupid ‘news flash’, he’d already had a gutful for one day.
“Because it’s Buffy’s birthday and we’ve both been invited.”
“I still don’t see…”
“Because it’s a happy occasion, we are all friends and I *know* that you want to see Buffy’s face when she opens our present.”
“Look, you know I like Buffy. I don’t have a problem, you know that. But you also know that Riley gets right up my nose.”
“Riley’s a friend,” Xander protested.
“Riley’s a drunk.”
Spike let it go. Xander always saw only the good in people and proving him wrong was like poking a dolphin in the eye. Riley *was* a drunk. Everybody knew it, but nobody wanted to accept it. But Spike had accepted it a long time ago. He smelled it on his breath, on his clothes, even on Buffy. And the stench grew stronger with each passing day. Spike hated being around him and, more than that, he hated Xander being around him, almost fearing his lover would be somehow tainted by Riley’s pungent proximity.
And the only thing worse than being in Riley’s presence was being in Riley’s apartment. He couldn’t place what it was, he just felt chilled to the bone and that was saying something for Spike. The walls seemed to close in on him and Spike would feel almost suffocated.
Spike hid his aversion well, using the excuse of his previous disagreements with the soldier. There was a long history there. A history of hatred, jealousy and the love of a Slayer. Of course, all that was long since past. Spike held no flame for Buffy now. Hell, he didn’t even hold a damp match for her. He’d moved on a long time ago. It hadn’t been love. It had been pain, obsession and the desire to be hurt. Spike had been in a bad place back then, still coming to terms with the chip in his head and his new place among the living. It hadn’t been easy, living around humans. It had been like trying to walk again. Buffy had been a way to distance himself, to still be the Big Bad, to corrupt a Slayer and turn her to his dark corner of life. It had never been love. He'd realised that when he’d stumbled across the real thing. Xander was his all, his everything, his life. He loved him until his un-beating heart sang. This wasn’t a love that hurt or scraped away at his innards until there was nothing left. This was true love. Xander was his truth.
Spike smiled at his frowning lover and flung an arm around his shoulders. If Xander wanted to go to a birthday party that would probably end in tears, then so be it. Spike would attend without further complaint and make sure that Xander wasn’t the one doing the crying.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!” Xander bellowed as Buffy opened the front door.
“Hey, Xand, Spike. Come in. The party’s already started.” Buffy’s lips spoke with joy and excitement, but her eyes gave her away. They seemed almost dead, unseeing, her gaze flowing right through them.
Xander gave Spike a slightly worried look before stepping inside and keeping up the pretence of ‘happy, happy’.
“Hey, guys!” he chirped at Willow and Tara. The two witches sat together on the couch, paper plates, loaded with nibbles, lying on their laps.
“Xander!” Willow called with a panicked wave and a mouthful of pig in blanket.
Xander turned to Spike before he joined her. “Be a good vampire, *please.* Try not to steal or break anything.”
Spike gave him his most innocent look before making a bee-line for the buffet table.
Xander sat next to his best friend and stole a sausage from her plate. “So, Wills, why the wide eyes? Were you waiting for the Xan-man to come and kick-start this party?” he asked, his voice full of humour.
“Um, actually, yes.”
“Oh. I was joking…”
“Xander, this party is a disaster. Buffy is flying around the room like a mad person and Riley is nowhere to be seen.”
“Buffy’s flying?! Wills, did you do a bad spell again?” Xander asked, ready to waggle his finger at his witchy friend.
“No! I didn’t mean literally! She’s…she’s…”
“She’s fussing and acting like nothing is wrong when something obviously is.” Tara finished.
“I see. And you’re both expecting me to…” Xander searched for a word to describe what he was supposed to do and gave up.
“Just liven things up. Do your thing. Go, Xan-man, go.”
Spike approached just in time to hear Willow's last sentence. “Go where, pet? Home? Good. I’ll come with you.”
“Willow wants me to liven up the party.”
Spike thought about it. “You could strip.”
“Well, you need to do something radical. I reckon this party died before it started.”
“Shhh!” Xander urged as Buffy came into view.
“What was that?” she asked, completely oblivious.
“Erm, Spike was just asking where the G-man was.”
“Hm? Oh, Giles. He called to say…to say…” Buffy looked distractedly behind her, towards the stairs. “He called to say that he was going to be late…Would you all excuse me?”
Xander and Spike watched as Buffy walked up the stairs.
“What’s wrong with Buffy?” Xander asked.
“I think it's Riley,” Tara replied. “He hasn’t come down all evening and we heard them arguing earlier.”
“Typical. Asshole can’t even play nice on his bird’s birthday.”
Before Xander could properly chide his love for his insensitivity, a loud crash resounded from the floor above and muffled shouts were thrown back and forth. A moment later, Riley appeared at the top of the stairs. His hair was greasy and unwashed and a beard of at least a week covered his chin and jaw. He was a mess.
Silence descended and Riley looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.
Xander drew in a shaky breath as he took in his friend’s appearance. Riley looked like he hadn’t slept in a month.
Riley shifted uncomfortably, hating the stares from his so-called friends. Couldn’t they understand that he just wanted to be left alone? Why couldn’t Buffy understand? Why did she push him *every time*?
“Riley, hon, why don’t you get something to eat? I’ve laid lots on.”
“I already told you, I’m not hungry,” Riley snapped.
Buffy looked crestfallen, her eyes dropping to the floor. “I’m sorry, I thought…”
“Well, you thought wrong.”
Willow and Tara looked pleadingly at Xander. There weren’t many choices left. It was either cheer the place up a bit or leave. And there was only one person in the entire universe that could cheer up a room as cold as this.
Xander mouthed a bewildered ‘What?’ to his friends. What the hell did they expect him to do? There was obviously a situation playing out here. What could he do except open his mouth wide and insert one size thirteen?
“Say sommit daft, pet,” Spike whispered helpfully. “Take the focus off Captain Cardboard.”
“I dunno. You’re the expert.”
Xander was torn between hitting his lover and kissing him passionately. Even though Spike really didn’t like Riley, he still felt for him. It proved that Spike didn’t need a soul to be compassionate.
Xander smiled and Spike looked confused. He’d expected a slap.
With the decision made, Xander moved across the room and prepared to say something stupid.
“Did anyone see that documentary on peanuts last night? I don’t know where we’d be without them. They put them in everything. ‘Course, that’s a real stinker for anyone that’s allergic.”
Tara raised her hand. “I’m allergic,” she said.
“See? My point exactly.”
Everyone was confused.
“Did you know that I hated peanut butter when I was a kid? I ate a whole jar once and was sick *everywhere.* I couldn’t look another jar in the face after that. Well, not for a few years, anyway. Now? Love the stuff…in moderation. Really good for smearing on…I might just shut up now.”
Riley finally managed a small laugh and moved to stand next to his babbling friend. “No. Don’t shut up. Don’t ever shut up. Put some music on, Xander, and I’ll get us some beers.”
“Great! Got any nuts?”
Boring, middle of the road music played softly on the stereo and the conversation was somewhat strained. Giles had turned up at some point in the evening, but Xander barely noticed. He was far too busy watching Riley. His normally happy and healthy friend had deteriorated so much since coming back to Sunnydale a year ago. At first the changes were small, barely noticeable. His absence at a few Scooby meetings. The occasional bouts of biting Buffy’s head off. But as time went on, things became more apparent. Riley wouldn’t show his face for weeks at a time and when he did he was drawn and uninterested. It was like he was folding in on himself, curling up into a tiny ball that no-one would be able to see.
When finally Xander thought that he’d used up every scrap of subject matter required for polite conversation, Spike came over. His lover slipped an arm around his waist and addressed Riley.
“Soooo, how’s the job going?”
Riley snapped. He’d been enjoying a peaceful time with Xander, allowing the younger man to lull his senses with pointless prattle. It was just what he needed. Life was so harsh, so demanding. Pressures at work, Buffy nagging and just fucking *demanding* all the time.
Why don’t you get out of bed? Isn’t it too early for a drink? No, Riley, please don’t, please don’t do that to me. Bitch.
Talking with Xander had been nice. His friend had spoken of the weather, athletics, the regularity of the garbage collection. It allowed him to drift to a place where he had no worries, no fears and NO. FUCKING. BOX. And now, here was that son-of-a-bitch vampire getting in his face and spoiling it all.
“Fuck off, Spike. I don’t know what you think your game is, but I’m not in the mood.”
“Whoa, Riley, cool down, yeah? He was just making conversation.”
“Yeah. Making conversation,” Spike confirmed. “What’s your problem, soldier?”
“Don’t call me soldier. I am not a soldier.”
“Oh yeah. Forgot. You never did tell us why you left. Threw your sorry, unstable arse out, did they?”
Riley lunged at the smirking vampire. “I’ll kill you!”
“No, no! No killing of any kind will be had!” Xander shouted, jumping between the two men and holding Riley back. “Why don’t we all return to our corners and get refreshments? Round one is *over*.”
Riley shrugged Xander off and headed for the stairs. “Just get out,” he whispered wearily.
“Riley…” Buffy started, intent on giving her lover a mouthful for starting trouble with her friends.
“No, don’t, Buff. Leave it. It’s okay,” Xander pleaded.
“It isn’t okay. None of this is okay.”
“What do you want us to do? We can stay, or we’ll all go if that’s what you want,” Willow asked.
“Sorry, guys. It’s probably best that you all go. Riley hasn’t been well lately. I’d better go take care of him.”
“You sure, Buffster? It is your birthday. You wanna come party at our place? Spike bought a cocktail shaker!”
“Sorry. Well? You wanna?”
“Thanks, Xand. I’d better not. Riley needs me.”
Xander nodded his understanding. If it was Spike that was behaving so wiggy, he’d stay with him until he sorted out whatever the problem was. But by the looks of things, Riley was seriously messed up and he was going to take a lot of sorting out. He didn’t envy Buffy one little bit.
The evening turned to night and the television displayed a random made for T.V movie. Spike and Xander sat in silence in front of it, occasionally glancing at the screen, not really watching or caring what was on but lost in their own separate thoughts. They both had other things firmly on their minds.
Spike had been eyeing up his lover all the way home and it took every ounce of self control not to jump him right there and then in the middle of the street. But on this one occasion it probably wouldn’t have been appreciated. Xander was tense from the fight with Riley.
Spike was tempted to feel guilty. It had been him that had set Riley off. But he hadn’t meant to. Sort of. He’d asked a perfectly innocent question about Riley’s job. That was all. Except that he had to admit that he’d used his best snarky voice, but still, the question had been innocent enough. ‘How’s the job going?’ What could be more innocent? Okay, so he’d meant to get on Riley’s nerves, but he hadn’t meant for him to completely flip out.
So now Xander sat rigid with tension, pretending to watch some stupid cheesy movie staring David Schwimmer with enormously big hair.
“Mmm, feels nice,” he said as Spike worked cool hands over his shoulders.
“Yeah? How ‘bout we rid you of this shirt?” Spike suggested as he reached around to pop the buttons.
“Something’s not right,” Xander said, suddenly.
“What? Want the telly off? Couple of candles?”
“No, I mean Riley.”
“I knew what you meant, pet.”
“So you agree?”
“What do you think isn’t right?”
Xander turned around in Spike’s arms, pushing him back and laying them both on the couch. He trailed a finger around and around Spike’s navel, earning him the usual patented purr. Xander smiled at the expected noise and pillowed his head on Spike’s chest so he could listen closer.
“I’m just worried.”
“You don’t say, pet,” Spike said as he stroked a hand down his lover’s back. “Tell me what’s going around that fat head of yours?”
“Riley. He’s changing. He used to be so happy. We used to be great friends. Now we barely speak. I don’t understand why.”
“Mm. He’s been acting off since he moved back.”
“Do you think it has something to do with Buffy?”
“Dunno. But whatever it is, it’s definitely affecting her.”
Xander frowned and sat up.
“I’m going to talk to Riley.”
“Don’t try to stop me, uber-protective vamp. Something is really wrong. Maybe it’s depression? Jeez, if anyone knows about that it’s me. My mom was depressed every day of her life. The only day that she wasn’t depressed was the day she died and that was only because she was unconscious.”
Spike pulled Xander closer and let him continue. Xander would go for months at a time without mentioning either of his parents. So when he did, although it would usually be a mocking, off-the-cuff remark, it was something to sit up and take notice of. He wrapped his arms tighter around Xander’s body and stayed silent in case Xander had more to say about his mother.
“I always wondered if things would have been different for her if she’d had a friend to talk to. If Riley and Buffy are having problems, then the least I can do is let them know that I’m here to talk.”
“Makes sense, luv. Want me to come with?” Spike asked.
Xander gave him a look.
“I’ll take that as a no, then.”
“I’m sorry, Spike. You’ll only aggravate the situation.”
“Me? Aggravate?” Spike asked with his best innocent look.
Xander ignored him. “I’ll go by myself, tomorrow. You can wait here, naked, with chocolate.”
Spike pretended to think.
“Sounds like a good plan, babe. But how about some naked goodness now?” he asked, trailing a hand down to cup Xander groin.
Xander resisted a moan and tried to fix Spike with glare. “Is that all you think about?” he asked as a smile broke out on the last word.
“No. I think about lots of stuff.”
“That comes under the same category.”
“Oh, okay. How about…you naked.”
“Same category,” Xander insisted.
“Okay, then I think about you fucking me.”
“Is that so? Don’t really care. Just want you to fuck me.”
Spike moved so fast that Xander barely registered it. He grabbed Xander’s wrists, rolled him off the couch and pinned him to the floor.
“Up for it, my boy?”
Xander answered by fastening his lips to Spike’s for a heated kiss. He pulled his wrists lightly against Spike’s grasp, enjoying the tight, almost painful grip.
“So my boy wants to play?”
Xander tried to answer by reaching for another kiss, but Spike pulled away and tugged Xander’s wrists above his head.
“Answer me, boy. Do you want to play?”
Brown eyes glazed over with passion and trust. This was Spike’s favourite game and Xander loved it. He loved feeling the strength and power of his lover; loved being pinned and restrained; loved to serve and please. He’d never played like this with any one else. He’d never trusted them enough. But he trusted Spike. His lover would never hurt him any more than he wanted to be hurt. This was only one of a thousand games. They rotated them often, but always came back to this one. Spike taking control; Xander losing it. It was a refreshing change from everyday life.
Under the eternal observation of a Slayer and her Watcher and a human lover, Spike was pretty much under the thumb. As much as he would love to drain a human dry, he couldn’t. Not because of the chip, which had long ago failed, or the presence of a Slayer. But because of Xander. Spike couldn’t kill a human, not if he wanted to keep Xander’s love. His boy would never tolerate indiscriminate killing. Even feeding on scumbags wasn’t allowed. Who were they to judge who deserved to live and who deserved to die? That was fine with Spike; he could still feed from Xander. His boy tasted a million times better than some random victim.
So to take control once in a while, to demand and command, was a wonderful treat and Spike treasured it.
For Xander, the chance to submit to Spike’s demands was almost a relief. His job as a construction foreman was stressful at times, everyone asking his advice, his permission, his word. Although Xander was more than good at his job, he sometimes wished that he could just sit back and follow someone else’s lead once in a while. It didn’t help that he was also doing a Slayer's job. Sure, Buffy showed her face and went through certain motions, but her spark and her zest for the job had long disappeared. It was Xander who took up the slack, dragging his tired body out into the night with his vampire in tow to face and slaughter any evil force that dared lurk. Xander the Vampire Slayer. He quite liked the title that Spike had given him.
So to give up control for just a short while was blissful. No worries except doing as he was told and pleasing his lover.
“Strip,” Spike commanded. “That’s it…Get on your knees, boy. Spread your legs wider. Wider. You’re not listening to me, boy. Spread them wider or you’ll feel my belt.”
Xander held his kneeled position, deliberately disobeying and knowing that his beating would be a small one. Spike would never intentionally hurt him. It would be a light whipping, but a beautiful one.
Spike quickly slid his belt from the loops of his jeans and approached his lover.
“You disobeyed me, boy.”
“I know. I’m so bad, Master. Please punish me. Please.”
“Good boy. You have done right to admit your disobedience. You will be rewarded. But first, I must punish your bad behaviour. You understand that, pet, don’t you?”
“Yes, Master. I understand Ma-”
Xander grunted as the belt connected with his buttocks. “Gods, Master, yes. Punish me, please.”
Spike struck over and over until Xander’s backside was glowing red.
“Good boy. All done now. Won’t disobey again, will you?”
“No, Master. Never.”
“Good. Now come here and take my clothes off.”
Xander quickly complied, almost ripping the clothes from Spike’s body.
“Good pet,” Spike crooned as he caressed Xander’s reddened buttocks. “Prepare me.”
Xander coated his fingers with lube and pressed them into Spike’s entrance. In this game Spike liked it rough and rough was exactly what he was going to get. Xander pushed, pulled and twisted his fingers, stretching just enough to allow him to penetrate quick, fast and hard.
“That’s it now, boy,” Spike said as he slid to his knees and bent over onto all fours. “Now fuck me. Ram your cock into me and fuck me hard. Want to feel you inside me. Want to feel you fucking me raw.”
Xander knelt behind Spike and positioned his shaft at Spike’s opening.
“Tell me, my pet. Tell me how much you want this.”
“I want this. I want to bury my cock deep inside. I want to make my Master scream…”
Xander pushed himself all the way inside Spike in one hard movement.
“Christ, pet, yes. More. Fuck me and tell me.”
“I want to fuck you,” Xander said with another hard thrust.
“I need my cock inside you.” Another thrust.
“Want to be inside you.” Another thrust.
“Want to come inside you.” Another thrust.
“Want you to come with me.” Xander reached around Spike’s body and grabbed his lover’s cock, pumping it in time with his now furious thrusts.
“Want…gods, want you, Spike. Love you.”
“Yes, Xander. Fuck, yes. Love you too.”
That was the way it always went, the game never quite reaching the end before they needed to revert back to loving reassurance.
Spike came, screaming his lover’s name, his body tensing as he pumped his seed over Xander’s hand.
Xander cried out as Spike’s body constricted around his cock, milking him of every drop of come. They collapsed in a sweaty heap on the floor, Spike turning over and pulling his lover close.
“Fucking fantastic, luv.”
“Out of breath.”
“I suppose that means that I have to go make the after-sex munchies?”
“It’s only fair, lover. I served you, now you can serve me.”
“Good point, pet. Mini-pizza?”
Xander walked down the poorly lit street towards Buffy's and Riley’s apartment. He’d managed to ditch the patrol group after half a night of not much happening, telling them that he was tired and that he wanted an early night. What he really wanted was to talk to Riley alone. He knew that his friend would be at the apartment, skulking and brooding and with Buffy still on patrol with Spike and the others, it was a perfect opportunity.
Something behind him ‘clinked,’ but Xander ignored it. He’d learnt long ago to tell the difference between human out for a walk, cat out for a strut, stray dog looking for a bone and bloodsucking vampire. Spike had taught him well. Taught him to be aware, taught him how to fight and when to run. Xander had a stake in his pocket, a knife in his boot and a sharp pointy cross in his jacket. He was taking no chances. If he ever got himself killed because he hadn’t been properly armed, Spike would murder him.
Xander reached the door to the apartment and waited, wondering if he was doing the right thing. Maybe Buffy and Riley wouldn’t appreciate him butting in. Well, he wasn’t going to give them a choice. He was their friend, therefore it was his job. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Xander waited for what seemed like an age. There were no sounds from within the apartment and Xander was about to give up when the locks on the door clicked and it slowly opened.
The smell of alcohol hit him first. Jack Daniels. Spike’s mouth often tasted and smelled of JD, but it was a deep, sweet smell, mixed with the aroma of cigarettes and soap. This smell was putrid, stale and mixed with a pungent stink of old sweat. Xander noted that Riley was still wearing yesterday’s clothes.
“Hey! Only me. I was just passing…on my way to, uh, on my way to the, erm, place. And I thought I would drop by.”
Shit. he thought. Should have rehearsed that.
Riley opened the door and eyed up the cans dangling from Xander’s left hand. Okay, so bringing beer to a potential alcoholic probably wasn’t the most marvellous plan in the world, but it was a sure way to get in the door.
“You brought beer.”
“Um, yeah. That was where I was going. To the beer place,” Xander said with a cheesy grin. “Is it okay to come in? You’re not busy or anything, are you?”
Riley stared, his drunken brain trying to register the question and the situation.
“Yes, I mean no. Come in, Xander. Please.”
The talk started well. General conversation and exchanges of work stories kept things going for a good hour. Riley drank down four of the beers to Xander’s two and had since retrieved a sizable bottle of vodka for dessert.
Xander nursed his drink, sipping slowly and trying to stay completely sober for his task. A drunken Xander was never a tactful one. The conversation stayed entirely pleasant until Xander made his fatal mistake. Buffy.
“All she does is nag and whine and sometimes I get so sick of it. That girl is so self involved.”
Here it comes. Xander Harris flushes the chance of a calm conversation straight down the toilet.
“I don’t think that’s fair. She’s only trying to help you…”
“Help me? Fucking help me?! I don’t need any fucking help!”
“I didn’t say that you did, I…”
“Screw you, Harris. I know exactly what you’re thinking, that I’m a fuck up, a loser. You think I deserve everything I get.”
“No way! Why would I think that?”
“Because I’m scum and you all know it.”
“No, Riley. No one thinks that.”
“They do, they do, they do. They tell me. Fucking…constantly, in my fucking face, in my fucking head! Round and round. They tell me.”
“Riley, we’re your friends. We can help you.”
“No! I know what you want! You want to take it from me!”
“I don’t understand…”
“Liar! You want the box. But it’s mine, all fucking mine. I keep it. I bear it. It’s inside me. I’ll kill you before I let you take it from me.”
“Box? Riley, I don’t want anything from you, please believe me. I just want you to talk to me.”
“No, no, no. I know you, Xander. You’re sick. You fuck a vampire, for Christ’s sake. You’re a fucking twisted pervert. I know you want it, just like me. Well, you can’t have it!”
Riley made a lunge at Xander and swung his fist at his jaw. The blow caught Xander by surprise, his brain never quite registering that his friend would even consider hitting him. He staggered back and clutched at his stinging face. It certainly wasn’t the hardest punch Riley could have delivered but it hurt like hell anyway.
“Ah, shit, Riley! What the hell…?”
Riley sank to his knees, his eyes shutting as drunken unconsciousness pulled him in. “You…I…It’s time. I have to open the box. God help me, Xander, I have to open it.”
With the decision made, Riley slumped forwards on the floor and surrendered to darkness.
“Xan, don’t be so stupid,” Spike reasoned.
“I’m not being stupid. I’m going. I have to find out what’s going on.”
“He’s gone round the bloody twist, that’s what’s going on. Wait ‘til the sun sets and I’ll go. I’ll fucking teach him to hit one of his friends.”
“Gods, Spike, please don’t get all growly again. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ve gotten a lot worse.”
“Ain’t the point…”
“No, the point is that he is my friend and he’s in trouble. You didn’t hear him, Spike. He sounded so…”
“Fucked? Crazy? Off his nut?!”
Xander glared and slid his jacket on. “Desperate. I’m really worried. I *know* there’s something going on and I’m going to turn that house upside down until I find it.”
“Well, then, at least wait ‘til I can come with you.”
“It will be too late by then. Riley and Buffy are at work. I have to do this now.”
“What, you gonna just break in?”
“Nope. Stole the spare key.”
“Oh well, that’s okay then,” Spike said, sarcastically. “You sure they’re gonna be out?”
“Positive. Buffy called while you were sleeping. She told me.”
“She fucking apologise for her wanker of a boyfriend, too?”
“I don’t think she knows. Spike, Riley was so wasted; I doubt he remembers a thing.”
“Alright, alright, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Go then. But be bloody careful. Don’t let that fucking waste of space catch you rummaging. For his sake, don’t let him catch you, because I’m telling you, if he touches you again, the old Spike is gonna make an appearance and even you won’t be able to stop me.”
Spike’s expression said that he was deadly serious and Xander knew better than to challenge him. Spike was no longer a cold blooded killer, but he was still a killer. If Riley hurt him again, he had no doubt that Spike would fuck Riley up good and proper.
Xander stepped forward and gave Spike a tender kiss, allowing his love and thanks to show in a wordless communication.
“I will be careful. You have my word.”
Spike nodded and watched his lover leave. He really couldn’t give a fuck about Riley, but Buffy was his friend. He hoped Xander would find something to help her.
Xander let himself inside the house and started to look around. He tried to remember the things Riley had shouted at him the night before, anything that could tell him what to look for. Riley had been frightened that Xander was going to take something from him. The box? What box? Xander shrugged to himself and started the search. He would look for a box, any box. It was a start, at least. He started in the living room, carefully rummaging through drawers and cupboards, mindful to leave everything just as he’d found it. The search turned up nothing, literally. Now that Xander was really looking, he realised how empty the apartment was. It wasn’t a home, it was an empty space. Furniture all virtually brand new, nothing old or treasured, no ornaments or pictures on the wall. There were no photos in frames adorning the walls and surfaces. There was no nothing. Even the drawers and cupboards were nearly empty, with only neatly piled bills and receipts inside.
Xander climbed the stairs and entered the next most likely room, a guest bedroom that had been converted into a study for Riley. Xander repeated his search pattern, checking surfaces and all visible areas first. Nothing. Drawers and cupboards, nothing. He walked behind the desk, sat on the chair and sighed. Maybe he wasn’t going to find anything. He had only the main bedroom, bathroom and kitchen left to search. Maybe the bathroom would at least reveal medication that Riley might be on. Could you get drugs for being a delusional, drink obsessed prick? Xander cursed at himself. That wasn’t a nice thing to think. Riley hadn’t always been this way. It wasn’t his fault.
Xander got up to search the bedroom when something suddenly caught his eye. The edge of a small piece of paper was sticking out from just under the desk. There was another drawer. It was slim and almost hidden, fitting just below the desk’s surface. Xander pulled on the tiny latch, but the drawer was locked. He considered forcing it with a blade, but decided against it. It would only leave evidence that it had been tampered with and that, of course, meant that Buffy would get the blame. And besides, the only box inside could be a matchbox, the drawer was so small.
Still, there was always that little bit of paper that was sticking out. It was awfully tempting. After all, he could always just slip it back in afterwards if it was nothing. Xander gripped the tip of the paper and slowly pulled it out, his hand starting to shake for a reason unknown. He turned the paper over and drew in an amazed breath at what he saw. It was a sketch. A beautiful, intricate, pencil-drawn sketch of a box. Xander skimmed two shaking fingers over the drawing. It was like nothing he’d ever seen. He had no idea what it was or what it meant, but something told him that it was significant.
His cell phone suddenly rang and Xander nearly jumped out of his skin. He glanced at the display before he answered it and saw that it was Spike.
“Hey, what’s up? ... She is? … When? … Now?! … Yeah, I’ll leave … Yes, right now … Um, maybe. I’m not sure. I’ll show you when I get back … You too, bye.”
Xander pocketed his cell phone and folded up the sketch. Making sure everything was as he'd found it, Xander made a quick exit before Buffy returned. He’d found something. He just knew it.
“Took your sweet time,” Spike grumbled as Xander came through the door.
Xander ignored him. He knew that Spike was just worried. In Spike’s world, a grumble was as good as a warm embrace.
“Yeah, well, I ran into Buffy on the way. She was quicker than I thought.”
“'Course not. Why would she?”
Spike shrugged and sat back on the couch. “Women. They know bloody everything. So, what did you find out?”
“I’m not sure that I actually found out anything. Maybe…I don’t know. I don’t even know why I took it. I should have just left it.”
“Turning into a klepto, eh? I’m delighted,” Spike teased.
Xander sat down heavily next to Spike and took the drawing out of his pocket. He carefully unfolded it and handed it over. “I found this. When Riley started to freak out last night, he was shouting about a box. He thought I wanted to take it from him. Do you think this might be it? …Spike? …Spike, are you listening?”
Spike stared at the picture, a thousand thoughts rushing through his brain at breakneck speed. Xander had found something, alright. A terrible thought crossed Spike’s mind and he grabbed Xander’s arm, pulling him closer.
“Did you touch it?!”
“What?! Of course I did. How else would I have got it home?”
Xander stared back at his lover. Spike looked absolutely enraged. His face held its demon form and Xander felt himself trying to shrink away.
“You brought it home? You brought it here?!” Logic should have told Spike that Xander had brought nothing back but the picture, but his fear had taken over and he couldn’t hear anything except the worst. He gripped Xander’s arms painfully tight, fixing him with a burning gold glare. “Where is it?! What happened? Fuck sake, Xander, tell me you didn’t open it. Please, fuck, tell me!”
“Ow! Let up, Spike. Please calm down. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I thought you meant the picture. I didn’t bring anything else back.”
Spike relaxed slightly before growling and gripping tighter than ever. “But did you see it?!”
“Spike, please let go. I didn’t see anything. Only the picture. Spike..?!”
“Are you sure you didn’t see it?! Did you fucking touch it?!”
“THE FUCKING BOX!”
“NO! I DIDN’T TOUCH THE FUCKING BOX! I DIDN’T OPEN THE FUCKING BOX. THERE. WASN’T. ANY. FUCKING. BOX.! SO, GET THE FUCK OFF ME!”
Spike let go and paced over to the kitchen. He leant on the counter and silently placed his head in his hands.
“Spike? What’s going on?”
Spike looked up at his lover. Xander stood in the same spot, rubbing his abused arms. His voice had turned from angry to hurt. Spike cursed himself. Of course Xander didn’t understand. Why would he? “Come here,” he said.
Xander stared back dubiously. “Why? What are you going to do?”
“Nothing, pet. Swear it. Just come here.”
Xander nodded and walked forward, Spike coming half way to meet him in the middle of the room.
“I just have to be sure, luv. You didn’t see the box, the box in the picture?”
Xander shook his head. “No. What’s going on?”
Spike didn’t answer. He needed more than just words to express his remorse for his behaviour. If Xander had taken that box, if he’d opened it… It didn’t bear thinking about. He placed his hands on Xander’s jaw and took his lips in a kiss that was pure passion, pure love and pure adoration.
Xander barely had time to moan into the kiss before he felt his shirt being tugged off. He opened his eyes and saw that Spike was back in gameface, his eyes burning with desire instead of anger. Xander gripped the hem of Spike’s t-shirt and yanked it up and over his head.
Spike growled and pushed Xander back on the couch, soon ridding his human lover of his boots and socks. He crawled up his Xander’s body and ripped at the fastenings of his pants. Pulling them down as much as he could with one tug, he gripped Xander’s shaft and kissed him fast and hard, fisting the large cock with a mind to bringing Xander to completion at an almost painful pace.
Spike cried out with surprise and pleasure as he felt Xander’s hand curl around his aching length. He stroked Xander harder and faster, enjoying the wild body bucking helplessly beneath him.
Xander gripped tightly to soft blond curls, keeping Spike lips firmly in place at his mouth. He panted loudly into the kiss, moaning and nipping, his hips desperately thrusting up to increase the pace further.
Spike growled again. Picking up pre-cum with his other hand, he quickly reached around Xander’s body and breached his tight hole with two fingers. Xander sucked in a quick breath against the painful intrusion, crying out as the fingers twisted and pushed inside him. With a snarl, Spike pushed Xander’s hand away from his cock and Xander felt his pants being dragged the rest of the way off. His legs were lifted onto Spike’s shoulders and the blunt head of a straining erection was positioned at his ass. With a grunt from both men, Spike slammed himself inside, taking Xander’s shaft in his hand again and stroking it hard in time with his thrusts.
Xander moaned and pushed back onto Spike’s cock, his need to come so strong that he would have killed for it. He gripped the pale hand that held his length and pumped himself faster and harder, pushing his ass back to take Spike as deeply as he could. Spike bared gleaming white fangs, his breath barely in control as he twisted and slammed himself into Xander’s welcoming body. With a cry that echoed around the house, Xander came over Spike’s hand, his ass clenching tightly around Spike’s cock. Spike thrust one last time, breaking through the clenched muscle and coming deep inside Xander’s body. As his seed spilled into Xander’s channel, he fell forward, releasing Xander’s legs and burying his fangs into his lover’s neck.
Xander gasped again, fresh pain assaulting a different part of his body as Spike’s fangs slid beneath his skin. He wrapped his arms and legs around his love and allowed the pull of his blood to lull him into a pleasant unconsciousness.
Spike propped himself up on one elbow and ran his other hand over Xander’s chest. “Alright, pet?”
“Mmm, good. I love it when we fight,” Xander replied through a sleepy mist.
Spike laughed for only a moment before he turned a serious expression on his dazed lover. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Shhh, Spike, don’t…”
“I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. I hurt you.”
“Stop, Spike. You didn’t hurt me. I…”
Spike ran his hand over a darkening bruise on Xander arm. “What’s that, then? I did that.”
“Yeah, you did. But you didn’t do that to deliberately hurt me. You were just freaking out…”
“Like Riley did? There’s me threatening to use one of his legs for a cricket bat and I go and do the same thing.”
Xander sat up and pulled Spike to his side, wrapping his arms around the smaller man. “That wasn’t the same. Riley was drunk and he took a swing at me. You were angry and worried and you so didn’t hit me. You didn’t even try. I know you wouldn’t. You just have to remember sometimes that I’m human. Breakable, here. Don’t squeeze so tight, next time.”
Spike nodded and pressed his face into Xander’s neck, breathing in the scent of the person he loved more than any other.
“Now, why don’t you tell me what got you so worked up? I’ve kinda caught on that it’s something to do with this weirdo box, but I think you need to fill me in on the rest.”
Spike nodded again and pulled away, standing and offering his hand to help Xander do the same. “I think we’d better shower and dress first.”
“Because there’s someone we need to go see.”
“Ah, Xander, Spike. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Xander shrugged and stepped through the door, Spike following close behind with a more than serious look on his face. “Dunno, G-man. Better ask the secretive one, here.”
Giles looked to Spike and raised his eyebrows in anticipation. “Spike?”
“Reckon we might have a problem.”
“Really? Can’t say I’m surprised. What’s happened?”
Spike unfolded the sketch and held it out for Giles to take.
“What’s this?” Giles asked as he adjusted his glasses and focused on the drawing. “Fuck.”
“Giles!” Xander exclaimed. It was very rare for Giles to swear. In fact, the first and only other time Xander had heard him properly curse was when the Watcher had dropped a copy of the Demon Index on his foot.
“I apologise, Xander, but…Spike? Where did you find this? Is the box here, in Sunnydale?”
“I think so,” Spike answered. “I intend to bloody well find out, though.”
“Not so fast, Spike. I think we’d better do some research. I know enough to recognise this for what it is and I know that the consequences of opening it are dire, but I think we should read up as much as we can. Plus, I want to know everything about this drawing. Wherever did you find it?”
Spike motioned with his head. “Xan found it.”
“Good Lord!” Giles rushed forward and grabbed Xander’s arm. “Did you see any sign of the actual box?!”
“Hey!” Xander cried, wrenching his arm away and backing up. “What is it with you people? Can you not ask a question from a distance?! Jeez!”
“I apologise, Xander. That was terribly rude. I just need to know where you found this drawing. It’s very important.”
“Yeah, so I gathered already. I’ll tell you all about that,” Xander said, motioning to the drawing, “after you tell me what the hell is going on. What’s the big deal with a stupid box?”
Giles folded the drawing back up and sighed. “It opens a doorway to Hell.”
Giles returned from upstairs with a large, serious looking tome. He walked to the couch and placed the open book onto Xander’s lap.
“Hey, that’s the box. What is it? I mean, you mentioned Hell, but…how?”
“It’s called the Lament Configuration. It’s a puzzle box of sorts.”
Xander held the book closer and examined the picture. Although the drawing he’d found at Riley’s was well done, this picture was even more detailed and in colour. It showed the box from all six of its sides and also showed other puzzle type objects that were similar in design, but held different shapes. “What are these?” he asked, pointing at one of the objects.
“They are all the same thing.”
“The box?” Xander was confused and Spike cut in.
“Think of it like a Rubik’s cube. You turn it and it moves.”
“And you can make it change shape?”
“Yeah, if you’re unlucky.”
“And then what? You get Hell? Why would you do that?”
Spike looked at Giles. “Time for a complete rundown, Ripper.”
Giles scowled at the name, but sat in the chair opposite to tell the story as he knew it. “The box was fashioned in 1740 by an architect, artist and designer by the name of Philip Lemarchand. He was a man driven to madness by his own repeated failures, trapped in his own personal hell as he tried time and time again to recreate his bizarre visions. Unfortunately for the world, his prayers for success were finally answered when he found himself in possession of strange material, said to be the perfect substance to create his most desired work of art.”
“To make the box?” Xander asked.
“Yes. But it wasn’t as straightforward as that. The substance had to be turned into a different state in order for it to be usable, for it to be twisted and carved into the box. This process involved boiling the unknown material in a vat of human fat.”
“Should I ask where he got the fat from?”
“Probably not, Xander, but I’ll tell you anyway. His unfortunate assistant was the first ‘sacrifice’ to Lemarchand’s cause. Of course, it took many attempts before the ‘nutty professor’ perfected his methods. His alchemy skills had improved tenfold by his fifth kill. One day, many, many murders later, his efforts were finally successful and he produced his first puzzle box. The Lament Configuration.”
“And did nobody realise that people were being murdered left, right and centre?” Xander asked with puzzled frown.
“Oh, people noticed the disappearances, certainly, but Lemarchand was a very clever man. He covered his tracks well.”
“So there are more?”
“*Many* more. Lemarchand travelled the world, achieving fame and glory from his creations. He started by creating more of his original design and eventually moved on to make other boxes -- The Jeremiad Enigma, The Triumph of Judas and The Hollow Heart to name just a few, all bastard offspring of the original and all made to do virtually the same horrific deed.”
“To damn the opener to an eternity of hell. As you know, Xander, there are many different hells. The Lament Configuration opens a gateway to Hell's Corridors, the home of Leviathan. But the box can also open doors to other hells, too.”
“And how does it do all this?”
“I have no idea of how it physically works, but the basic premise is that you solve the puzzle to open the gates. Each different configuration that you see there opens a different gate. ”
Xander stared down at the illustrations. “How would you know where to start? It looks so complicated. Rubik’s cube, my ass.”
“Thank the gods it is more than complicated, otherwise people would be constantly opening it. It seems to work on a mechanism. You push certain pieces, turn others. Some pieces need no more than a simple touch. It’s almost as if the pull and promise of the box leads the way to solving it.”
“Okay, so I’ve lived on a Hellmouth all my life. Shouldn’t I at least have heard of it?”
Giles shook his head. “Be glad that you haven’t, Xander. It is usually only scholars and a few unfortunates who know about it.”
Xander looked at Spike. “How do you know about it?”
Spike shrugged. “I know everything.”
“Have you seen it?”
Giles leant forward. “How fascinating.”
“It weren’t bloody fascinating. It was sodding terrifying!”
“What happened?” Xander asked.
“Mate of mine. Picked the box up when we were in Turkey. We did a bit of research, found out what it was. I didn’t want to touch it. Didn’t want none of that shit. But Laslo, he wanted it, wanted what was inside. He always was a perverted bastard. So he spent months trying to figure out how to open it. One night, he did it. Never seen anything fucking like it. Never want to see it again.”
“What did you see?”
“Pain. The worst kind. You know me, luv, I like a bit of torture, but that was…I don’t know what that was.”
“Spike, how did you get away?” Giles asked.
“Easy, opening the box calls them. I didn’t open it, therefore I didn’t call them. They weren’t interested in me.”
“So, did your friend know what he was getting into?” Xander asked.
Xander’s eyes widened. “Then why did he do it?”
“The box promises extreme pleasure and pain,” Giles explained. “Some people find themselves drawn to that. Many take it too far, as I’m sure Spike’s friend did. He was taken in by the chance to taste pleasures beyond the normal realm of sensation.”
Xander looked to Spike for a translation.
“He wanted better jollies.”
“Oh, I think I get that, kinda. So did he…enjoy what happened?”
Spike looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure. Laslo was into pain in a big way, but I reckon even he got more than he bargained for.”
“And, I’m sorry but I have to ask, what did they do? And who are they?”
“Question is, what didn’t they do? Just picture lots of chains, spikes, hooks and soul taking. And they are called the Cenobites. The Angels of Suffering. My mate, Laslo, became one of them. Like I said, he was a perverted bastard, even by my standards. Greedy fucker spent his life killing and raping. For a demon with a soul, he was pretty evil. So when he opened the gate to Hell's Corridors, the Cenobites took him over to their side, showed him the most fantastic pleasure he could ever know, then they turned him into one of them. They gutted him and sewed his eyes shut. The poor fucker had the memory of what pure pleasure could be, but he was forced to live his existence in servitude to Leviathan, in perpetual pain and suffering.”
Giles crossed the room and turned a few pages of the book on Xander’s lap. “That is a Cenobite.”
Xander screwed up his nose. “I assume this isn’t Laslo, being that his eyes aren’t sewn shut.”
“No,” Giles answered. “This is, or should I say was, Captain Elliot Spencer. He opened the box sometime shortly after the First World War. The war fulfilled many of his fantasies; bloodshed, killing, torturing the enemy. So when the war ended he sought out his fantasies elsewhere. That was when he found the box, somewhere in the Middle East. He paid a great deal for it and spent many months afterwards trying to open it. When he did, he discovered the Corridors of Hell. Leviathan was so impressed by Captain Spencer’s eagerness and tolerance for pain that he made him into his Lord of the Damned, The Dark Prince of Pain. He ruled the Corridors from that day. His nickname is Pinhead.”
“You don’t say,” Xander remarked, looking at the picture.
Spike looked over Xander’s shoulder. “That’s Laslo,” he said, pointing to a picture of a large misshapen creature with sunglasses on.
“Great. You’ll have a good rapport if we bump into them.”
Giles snatched the book back. “We’ll look more into this later. For now, I want to know where you got this drawing, Xander.”
Xander looked quickly at Spike before he answered. “Riley’s. I found it at Riley’s. I went there to see if I could find out why he was acting so weird and he kinda went off the handle. He kept shouting about a box. He was frightened that I would take it. He said he would kill me if I did. Then I went back today. I let myself in and went through their stuff. I found the drawing in Riley’s desk.”
Giles stared out the window, taking in everything that Xander was saying. There was almost no doubt. The box was home.
Riley closed the apartment door and headed straight for the stairs. He could hear Buffy, already home, clinking about in the kitchen and he was in no mood to deal with her. He’d had a day that was way beyond shit and the last thing he needed was his clingy girlfriend nattering and nagging him to death.
The bedroom was as he had left it, a tip. There were washed and unwashed clothes strewn about and the furniture proudly displayed a thick layer of dust. Buffy had tried to clean it regularly at the start, but after Riley had screamed at her until she cried, she hadn’t bothered.
Riley sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the closet. He closed his eyes and let the thrum of the box lull him into a daze. It felt good; terrifying, but good. Like a slowly building orgasm, it coursed through his veins and smothered his senses. For so long he had resisted the box’s pull, fighting his urges every step of the way while his real life world turned grey and bland. But not anymore. He’d done his research. He knew what the box promised. He would not resist it. He couldn’t.
It was time.
Buffy busied herself in the kitchen, her hands submerged in a bowl of washing up. She paused only briefly at the click of the apartment door before continuing her task. For the first time she just wished that Riley was gone. The fighting, the screaming, the hitting; it was all too much now. It couldn’t continue. She loved Riley to the ends of the earth, but at the same time she wished he’d never come back to Sunnydale.
Of all the ways her life could have gone, she had never even considered this as an option. She could have had a happy life with Angel, if only she hadn’t sent him to hell. That was her one true regret in her life. When Angel’s soul had returned, she’d kissed him and sent him into an eternal unlife of hell with the plunge of a sword.
Maybe there could have been another way. Maybe she could have saved him. Not a day had passed when she didn’t think about what had become of her first true love. Did he even still exist? Was he in pain? What a fuck up. Why couldn’t her life be simple?
Next there had been Spike. He had shown her that life wasn’t as it seemed. It was darkness and light, up and down, heaven and hell. He tried to show her real affection, but she’d thrown it back in his face, hurt him, abused and humiliated him. It hadn’t surprised her when he finally moved on. It hurt, but it wasn’t surprising. What had been surprising was Spike’s new flavour. Xander. Of all the people that Buffy thought Spike could possibly end up with, Xander was a real shock. To put it bluntly, Buffy had freaked out and she had told Xander exactly what had happened between her and his new lover, hoping to make her friend see sense. She hadn’t expected the response. Xander had known everything and he explained calmly that things with him and Spike were totally different, that they had something special, something that no-one could break. There were no raised voices, no tears, no accusations, just pure understanding. Understanding of Buffy’s concerns and understanding that she would be hurt and would need to vent her frustration. Spike and Xander had stood before her, solid as a rock, and had not budged an inch. They were strong. They were together. It still sometimes made her sick with jealousy.
And now there was Riley. His return to Sunnydale had been a fantastic distraction from her pain and a chance to prove she too could have and keep the real thing. It hadn’t taken long for her and Riley to get together; a few drinks and a hasty night. She hadn’t loved him, not the way she’d loved Angel, but she had learnt.
Riley was her world now. And it was crumbling to pieces.
The phone rang and Buffy quickly removed her rubber gloves and snatched up the handset. A ringing telephone was never appreciated when Riley was tired.
“Damn it! Still busy.” Xander slammed down the phone in frustration and grabbed his jacket. “Let’s just get over there. Spike, you can hold him down while we search the rest of the house.”
Giles grabbed his car keys from the bookcase and started towards the door. “I think that would be wise. From what we know, it is quite likely that Riley has the box. He could open it at anytime. We have no idea of what the consequences could be if it’s opened on top of a Hellmouth.”
Spike stepped in front of the two men. “Listen. Gotta make something clear. If we’re too late…then we let it play out, let them take him…”
“Spike, we can’t…”
“Yes, we can. We have to. The Cenobites will take him, no matter what. We can’t stop them. We don’t know how. If Riley calls them, they will hunt him to the ends of the bloody earth. They. Won’t. Stop.”
“Xander, Spike is quite right. We can’t interfere. We just have to pray he hasn’t yet opened the box.”
“What if I don’t agree?” Xander argued.
“Then I knock you out cold, right here, right now. Ain’t gonna risk you. No fucking way. You try and play the hero at any point and I’ll have you out flat.”
Xander frowned; he knew Spike was being completely serious. If Riley opened the box, he was dead. And nothing they could do would save him. However reluctantly, Xander had to agree.
“Fine. Can we hurry up, then? Stop this thing before it starts?”
Spike stood aside and let his lover pass. Spike disliked Riley with a passion. It was no secret. But this? He wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
This was it.
This was the moment.
Riley laughed. Why had it taken him so long to realise? This world wasn’t enough. It couldn’t offer what he needed anymore. Blood. Sweet pain and blood. His time in the Corps had served its purpose, like methadone to a heroin user. The killing had sated the cravings, allowing him to seek and fulfill lesser fantasies by murdering the filthy demons that crossed his path, but even then it hadn’t been enough. And now? The craving was like an itch at the part of his back that he just couldn’t reach. The few humans that he’d raped and tortured did nothing to ease his torment. It just wasn’t enough. The need grew by the day and only the promise of the box was keeping him from tearing apart his lover and all her friends.
Riley stripped to his boxers and sat cross-legged on the floor, the box held tightly in hands that had stopped shaking for the first time in eighteen months. The question of how the box opened was not one that he needed to ask. Although his months of intense research had turned up nothing on the mechanism of the box, Riley found that he needed no instruction. His thumbs caressed the golden curves, searching for the path to his desire. The familiar thrum grew strong inside his head and it pounded as his fingers found the answer. Riley trailed a thumb around a golden circle, his cock swelling as electrical energy shot through his fingers and tantalised his body.
A twisted lullaby played sweetly from the box. It was mesmerizing, almost hypnotizing and Riley had no trouble registering what he had to do next. He pressed down on the circle, jumping slightly at the audible click. The centre of the box started to rise, taking with it shards that resembled rays from a sun. Riley stared, transfixed as the new part slowly rose, turned and stopped. This was it. This last touch would complete the puzzle and end his torment. Riley laughed. He was so stupid. Why had he wasted so many months, when he could have just accepted the promise of the box and fulfilled his every fantasy? With eager hands, Riley pushed down the last part, sighing contentedly as it clicked into place.
Buffy hung up the phone and glanced over at the washing up. The water had gone cold. Fuck it. Tough shit. It could wait now. She left the kitchen and went to grab her coat. Just Riley’s presence was enough to churn her stomach. She could feel him upstairs and there was no way that she could bear another moment of waiting, waiting for him to scream at her, waiting for his fist to hit her, waiting for him to show how much he hated her. Oh, she could always shout, punch him in his miserable face, tell him how much she hated him back, but did that solve anything? Did that erase all the pain?
Why had Riley even bothered coming back? He wasn’t happy. He never had been. Fine. He could stay up there. He could stay up there forever, for all she cared.
She wished he’d never come back.
She wished she’d never met Riley Finn.
She wished he was dead.
That was when the screaming started.
As the box clicked into place, a blue flash bolted into his body, spreading through his arms and surging towards his groin. Riley moaned. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever felt. It was like an orgasm that started with his cock and spread through his entire body. How had he lived without this? What was the point of living without this? His entire existence before it had been meaningless.
Beautiful. Thrumming. Deep inside.
The box crackled and fizzed, and Riley jumped again at the sudden noise. He frowned slightly and looked down at his treasure.
A chain, long and thin and tipped with a sharp hook, soared from the box and hooked into his neck.
Riley screamed, his cock twitching as the hook latched onto his skin and tugged. The box dropped from his grasp and Riley was pulled to the floor by the shortening chain.
The room darkened, the walls fading to black and the floor shaking. A second chain appeared from the ceiling, hooking into his back and stretching him back up. Riley screamed again as a third chain appeared from the floor and sank deeply into his belly.
The dark walls rumbled and formed shaded boards, opening like slats on a window.
Two more chains soared from an unseen place and hooked into the flesh of Riley’s buttocks.
Riley tried desperately to get up, to escape the chains and run screaming into the night. His hands and feet scrabbled ineffectually at the floor like a dog on a slippery surface. More chains, too many to count, snared him and burrowed into his skin. Riley threw back his head and howled. “OH GOD!!”
A shadowed figure stepped from the darkness and spoke with a voice that was deep with evil, yet was flowered with amusement.
Riley looked up and squinted through tears of pain. Before him stood a creature that had once been a man. Tall and clothed in a priest-like leather dress, the man-creature stood with his hands pressed together in a gesture that was sickeningly holy. A white face adorned with tiny spikes smiled and it held its pale hands out to welcome its new guest.
“WELCOME. TO HELL.”
“No, no, no, no…”
“RILEY. WE HAVE BEEN WAITING.”
The chains clinked and shifted, pulling Riley upright and suspending him by a dozen more hooks in his flesh
Riley gasped and vomited over himself. He was still hard as a rock, his heart pounding harder with every pull against his flesh. One part of him was scared beyond comprehension, wishing that he’d never given in to the box’s coaxing, but another part was overwhelmed by the paradise he knew he’d found.
“RILEY. YOU RESISTED US FOR SO LONG. WHY?”
Another creature stepped from the darkness. A Female. She was dressed in the same oddly religious attire. Her neck was cut open and from it grew an impressive, arched piece of metal that stretched up and burrowed into her jaw.
“YOU WERE UNWILLING TO ADMIT YOUR DREAMS?” she suggested.
Riley nodded as much as he could.
“UNDERSTANDABLE,” the Female continued, “BUT THERE WILL BE NONE OF THAT NOW.”
The first creature, Pinhead, walked forward and placed a hand against Riley’s cheek.
“YOU BELONG IN HELL. YOU WERE BORN TO JOIN US. ACCEPT YOUR FATE, FOR IT IS POINTLESS TO DENY.”
The cold, pale hand crept slowly down Riley’s body, carefully avoiding the hooks and finally wrapping around a straining erection.
“OURS NOW. OURS FOREVER.” Pinhead fastened his lips over Riley’s, thrusting in a tongue that was unbearably hot.
Riley screamed into the kiss, tasting his own blood as a hundred spikes pierced his face. His tongue fizzled and turned black as Pinhead’s saliva cremated the sensitive flesh.
“WE KNOW YOUR DESIRES,” Pinhead announced as he pulled away. “WE KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO THOSE WOMEN. OH, HOW YOU LOVED TO PLUNDER, TASTE AND FILL THOSE MOUTHS. IT WAS MOST…CREATIVE. AND NOW YOU WILL SUFFER AN ETERNITY OF A FATE THAT YOU MADE.”
Riley felt his tongue swell into a blackened ball in his mouth. He knew what this creature meant. Riley had raped and killed five women over the course of his life and on each occasion he had stuffed and filled their mouths with whatever he could lay his hands on. Mud, clothing, the contents of a handbag; he had filled their mouths and throats until his victims had vomited and choked to death.
Riley’s tongue swelled further, forcing his mouth to open into a wide tunnel. He tried to force air into his throat and lungs and gagged as his tongue filled every available space. He turned frightened eyes onto his Lord and Saviour and silently pleaded for salvation.
“OH, NO, RILEY. THERE IS NO NEED FOR BEGGING. COME. THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING.”
A chain and hook, much larger than the others, shot from the floor with an audible whoosh and plunged deep into Riley’s ass. Where there should have been a desperate scream, there was just a rumbling gurgle and an almost sigh. It was everything he'd hoped for. The hook drove deeper, pulling the chain into his body and burrowing through his very soul.
As the chain passed through his gut, behind his ribcage and into his heart, Riley thought one more time about the life he was leaving behind. Good riddance. He let his eyes pass silent thanks to his new Master and, with a last shuddering attempt to breathe, he died.
Before they could even make it to the apartment, they knew they were too late. Riley’s screams echoed down the street and Xander couldn’t help but notice that beneath the scream of terror, there was something close to desire.
Xander ran to the door, his hand reaching toward the lock with his spare key.
Xander turned around briefly at the urgent call. “What?”
“It’s started. You can’t save him.” Spike’s hand rested on the back of Xander neck, a threat of violence apparent in his twitching fingers if Xander decided to play hero.
Xander nodded. “I know. But…Buffy.”
Spike dropped his hand, satisfied that Xander knew better. “Open the bloody door, then.”
Xander nodded again and quickly shoved the key into the lock, opening the door with a desperate push. “Upstairs!” he shouted above the screaming and the unearthly rumble that had filled the small house.
Giles reached the top of the stairs first. Finding Buffy collapsed on her knees, he quickly swooped down to wrap her in a tight embrace. “Buffy? Buffy, can you hear me?”
“Buffy? You have to listen to me. Think hard. Where is Riley?”
Buffy turned confused eyes to Giles and then turned slowly towards the wall. She pointed. “It’s gone.”
“What’s gone? Riley?”
She pointed again. “It’s gone.”
Xander noticed first. “It has gone!”
“What has?” Spike asked.
“The door,” Xander replied, running his hands over the wall and then pressing his ear against it. Inside the blocked-off room he could hear a deep voice. The voice was evil, no doubt about that, but there was also something welcoming about it. Xander pressed his ear harder against the wall. The screams of his friend were audible enough, but something close to morbid curiosity drew him closer. He heard the voice say something about women. Mouths? His brain worked on the rest and he pulled back sharply.
“Stay back, pet. You don’t wanna hear.”
“A bit late for that now. Can we go?”
Spike narrowed his eyes, suspiciously. He’d expected Xander to go back on his word and fight to save Riley. He knew exactly what his lover was like. Okay, so Riley was on the other side of a wall, but that normally wouldn’t stop Xander from at least trying to cave it in and help a friend, even if that meant sacrificing his own life.
“Yeah…yeah, we’re gone. Watcher, stand aside.” Spike elbowed Giles out of the way and hauled Buffy to her feet. “Come on, Slayer. Time to go.”
“What?! No! I have to stay. I have to help Riley.”
“No can do.”
“NO! Riley!” Buffy screamed.
Spike tightened his grip around Buffy’s waist and motioned for Giles and Xander to go down the stairs first. Following after them, Spike dragged Buffy along with him.
Buffy kicked and punched at Spike’s body. How could they do this? How could they leave Riley like this?
When the screaming had started, Buffy had lost all thoughts of her growing hatred for the man she loved. She’d raced to the top of the stairs and collapsed. The bedroom door had disappeared. She’d crawled on her knees and pushed uselessly at the seamless wall. Her lover screamed in agony just a few feet away from her, but there was nothing that she could do. The feeling had torn at her guts. She was the Slayer. There was nothing that she couldn’t do. She felt…ordinary.
“Please, Spike! Please, we have to go back! Please, oh god, you have to help him. PLEASE!”
Spike pulled Buffy outside and let her collapse bonelessly into his arms. The screaming from Riley had stopped and Spike could feel that the gate was closed and the Cenobites were gone. That meant only one thing. Riley was dead and the box was gone.
“Why, Spike? Why couldn’t I help him?”
Giles approached and placed a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “You couldn’t get to him. It wasn’t your fault.”
It wasn’t what she’d meant and both Spike and Xander knew it.
“I don’t understand what just happened, but…I should have done something.”
“Riley was into something. He kept it a secret. You weren’t to know. None of us knew,” Xander said.
“Is he dead?”
Buffy pulled out of Spike’s arms and straightened herself out, brushing herself down, fixing her clothes and retying her ponytail.
Her friends watched the well-known ritual in silence. Buffy often needed just those few seconds to sort out her brain, close off any emotion and harden herself to whatever had just happened.
When Buffy had collected herself enough to speak without a quiver in her voice, she turned back to her friends. “His body...”
“You won’t find it,” Giles said without any further explanation.
“I think someone needs to explain a few things to me.”
Giles nodded and motioned to the car. “Let’s go back to my apartment. There are some things that you need to see.”
Xander hung back and caught hold of Spike’s duster as he went to follow to the car. “What about the box?” he whispered.
Spike looked up at the upstairs window. “It’s gone. They’re gone.”
Xander looked dubious. “Are you sure?”
“That’s how it works.”
“So the box is in hell? What about the Hellmouth? Are we safe?”
“The box is with Riley, so yeah, it’s in hell alright. Don’t think the Hellmouth was affected, luv. I reckon the Watcher was overreacting with that. Come on. Let’s get in the car. Get this explanation over with.”
Xander hesitantly looked back up at the window. “He’s really gone,” Xander said, his face darkening as he remembered what the voice had said.
Spike stepped in and pulled Xander back around to face him. “What did you hear?”
“…I might have misheard.”
“What did you hear?” Spike patiently repeated.
“I heard this voice. He said something about hurting women, that they knew what he’d done. They said he would suffer an eternity of a fate of his own making. Spike…I think that Riley…was some kind of rapist.”
A hopeful look sprang onto Xander's face, an expression that begged Spike to contradict him, tell him that he was wrong, prove that his friend was not a monster. Maybe it was an illusion? It couldn’t have been real. He must have heard wrong. Not Riley. Not the man that he’d hung out with, laughed with, worked with. Riley would never rape someone.
Spike nodded slowly, acknowledging and digesting what Xander had said.
“Do you think…?” Xander started, not able to finish.
“Do I think he’s raped people?”
Spike shrugged. “He might ‘ave. Sounds like it.”
“But… he can’t have. We’d have known.”
Spike stepped closer, resting his forehead against Xander’s and smiling fondly despite the circumstances. “These people don’t have flashing neon signs on their heads and they don’t have a special dress code. You couldn’t have known. None of us could have.”
“But what about Buffy? Do you think he hurt her too?”
“Don’t know, pet.”
“If it’s true, what he did, then I’m glad he’s in hell. He deserved it. I hope he suffers.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem. Come on, Watcher’s getting impatient. Let’s get this over with.”
“What do we tell Buffy?”
“The facts. Come on.”
Xander resisted Spike’s tug. “What about…what I heard?”
“If it’s relevant, tell her.”
“How can I?”
“Just see how it goes. You’ll soon know if you need to tell.”
“You just will. Trust me.”
“Always, Spike. Always.”
Blackness. Suffocating. A hand over his mouth.
Xander struggled against the heavy weight, his body bucking helplessly to free himself from an eternal grip.
No, no, no, no, no.
Twisting. Breaking. Turning. Pushing. A sharp pain and a grunt of agony.
Iron hands held him and Xander fought, knowing that it was useless. A hundred times before and it was always useless.
Faster. Slamming. Building. Coming. The hand released Xander’s mouth and he screamed for mercy.
“Whoa, Xan! Wake up! *Wake up!*”
Xander struggled against a vice-like grip and kept his eyes closed against the torment.
“Xander, come on, luv. It’s me. It’s Spike. You’re dreaming, Xan. Please wake up. Love you, darling. Please.”
Xander’s eyes shot open and he gasped as his dream spun away and reality took its place. He panted breathlessly and stared up at his lover, his protector, his soul-mate, his Spike. He closed his eyes again and let the air slowly escape his lungs. “Spike.”
“Yeah, luv. It’s me. How you doing?”
“Was it the same one?”
Xander nodded, his eyes still closed.
“Want to tell me about it?”
Xander shook his head. “No. It was just a dream. I…It was just a dream.”
Spike settled back down beside Xander and stroked a calming hand over his chest. “You can tell me, you know. I’ll listen.”
Xander pulled back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed, knocking Spike’s hand aside. The nightmare had continued to plague him every night in the weeks since Riley’s death. The dream was always the same. He was back in his parent’s basement and he was being raped. It was so real. The pain, the suffocating, the helplessness. Even when he woke up he could still feel his wrists throbbing and his ass aching. In the dream, Xander had learned to keep his eyes closed, not wanting to see who was taking and abusing him. The few times, at the beginning, that he had looked up to see the face of his abuser, his heart had nearly stopped. He would rather suffer a thousand more rapes than have to look into those faces again. Once it had been Willow. The body and strength of a man but the face was clearly hers. It was not something that he ever wanted to see again. He had never told Spike about the nightmares.
“I’m fine. Just groggy.”
“Xan, just tell…”
“Spike!” Xander shouted angrily, his nerves and patience in tatters. “I don’t want to talk about it! It’s just a stupid nightmare and I can’t remember half of it anyway.”
Spike chanced a small guess. “Is it them? The Cenobites? Is that what you dream about?”
Xander turned at the concern and regret in Spike’s voice. His expression softened and he leant over to brush his hand down Spike’s face. “Yeah, it’s them,” he lied. “Look, I gotta go get ready. I so can’t be late today. Big inspection day on the site.”
Spike forced a smile and nodded. Xander was lying. He’d lived with him long enough to know the signs. He also knew him well enough to know that Xander was not ready to face his fear. Spike leant back against the pillows and playfully waved his lover away. “Go on, then. Hurry up and shower. You can make me a cuppa before you head out.”
Xander laughed. “Oh, can I? What did your last slave die of?”
“You really want an answer to that, pet?” Spike answered in a tone that was edged in humour.
“Um, maybe not. Spike?”
“Wanna be my slave?”
Spike’s eyes widened and his cock grew suddenly heavy. “Fuck, yes.”
“Good. Then you can clear this place up while I’m at work.”
Xander trudged into his house and threw his car keys onto the kitchen table. He made a bee-line for the couch and flopped into it with a heavy sigh. He carded his hand through his hair and slouched back into the comfortable cushions. He closed his eyes for a second and felt himself drifting. Work had been hard. Long and hard and completely demoralising. The inspection had not gone well. Someone higher up had fucked up big time and much of the already completed construction work would have to be completely re-built. Xander wouldn’t have minded so much -- it meant over-time, after all -- but what really pissed him off was that he’d pointed out the potential problem to his boss and had been completely ignored. Fucking typical, and it wasn’t like he could put his hand up and tell tales, not if he wanted to keep his job. So instead he was having to keep his mouth shut and play along like the dumb construction worker that he was expected to be.
Tiredness took its toll and Xander’s thoughts drifted from construction to blurry nothingness, a sure sign that sleep was creeping in. His eyes popped open in panic and he abruptly sat up. There was no way he was going to sleep without Spike. The nightmares came like clockwork, every night, every time he closed his eyes and it was always Spike that pulled him out, woke him up and ended the ordeal. Without Spike, Xander felt like he would be stuck in the nightmare forever.
Xander shuffled forward on the couch and leant his elbows on his knees. Talking of Spike, where was his more-beautiful-than-a-god vampire?
Xander lifted his heavy body from the couch and checked the refrigerator for messages. Sure enough, a small piece of pink paper was tacked to the fridge with a magnet. Xander took the note-paper and switched on the kettle. He squinted at Spike’s elaborate scrawl and made out two words. Call Me.
Xander grabbed an old chipped mug from the cupboard and with an absent mind he spooned far too much coffee into the receptacle. A tired hand grabbed at the phone and brought it to an ear that really didn’t really want to hear. A small sigh and tapping-of-feet later and Xander took the phone away from his ear and pushed at some buttons. Dialling really was a neat trick when you were trying to call someone.
The phone rang twice before the call connected and a soft British voice purred into Xander’s ear.
“Hey, you. Yeah, work was okay…well, actually it was all a big fuck-up…” Xander answered. “No, it’s no big deal, really. I’m just tired and I got a bit worked up over it earlier. How are you, sweetheart? Good day?”
The voice on the phone tensed up and Xander felt himself stiffen in response.
“Really?” he said in response to Spike’s information. “Are we sure that’s wise…well, I guess it is her decision…but…Spike, when are you coming home?”
The voice softened in concern.
“No, I’m fine. Do you need me…? Are you sure? I don’t have a problem with being there. Okay, then. How’s Joyce? That’s good. Yeah. Spike? You won’t be too late? No, no, it’s just that there’s that movie on.” Xander smiled at Spike’s promise to be home within the hour. He said a reluctant goodbye and hung up the phone.
Within the hour. That was good. Real good. Xander yawned and rubbed at his eyes. He looked back down at his, no, Spike’s favourite mug and decided it needed more coffee granules. Mmmm, caffeine.
“I don’t bloody believe I’m hearing this!”
“Butt out, Spike. This has nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe not, but it does have a lot to do with Dawn, doesn’t it?”
“Once again, Not. Your. Business.”
“Well, someone’s got to look out for the Bit and it clearly ain't gonna be you.”
“How dare you, Spike! You don’t know anything about what’s happening.”
“Don’t I? Well, let’s see, shall we? I know that your Mum’s sick. I know that she’s sicker than you lead us all to believe. I know that she might not make it. I know that she might never see the outside of that hospital again. And I fucking know that Dawn doesn’t need to be dragged out of her home, where she really needs to be, and be fucking forced to live in this house of fucking horrors.”
“Dawn doesn’t know what happened here.”
“No? So you still haven’t told her that Riley is dead?”
“No! Of course not! She doesn’t need to hear that right now.”
“And what is she going to think when he never comes back? What the fuck are you going to tell her?”
“I can’t think about that, Spike. Not now. I don’t want to think about Riley.”
“Why not? You can’t hide from it, Buffy. It’ll never go away. It’ll fucking haunt you. Talk about it. Get it out in the open. Deal with it.”
“I am dealing with it. In my own way.”
“Your own way? And your own way consists of dragging your little sister here when it should be you staying with her? Not good, Buffy. You should be fucking ashamed of yourself. Nibblet needs you strong. She needs you at home. Moving her and disrupting her fucking life to bring her to this shit-hole ain’t fucking right and you know it.”
Buffy threw down the cardboard box she was carrying and stalked towards Spike. “My life, Spike. Mine. I’ll do what I think is best. And if you get in my way, I’ll crush you. *This* is my home. *My* home. *Riley’s* home. It’s where I belong. And it’s where Dawn belongs. I’m moving back in here whether you like it or not and Dawn *is* coming with me.”
“You’re taking her out of her home? Your mother isn’t even dead yet!!”
Buffy pulled back her arm and threw a slap that could have been heard three blocks away. Spike stumbled backwards and hit the wall. He rubbed gently at his throbbing cheek and quickly checked for signs of bleeding. None. An evil smile spread across his face and Spike moved forward until he was nose to nose with Buffy. “Truth hurts more than a slap, bitch. Just make sure you look after your sister, ‘cos I’m fucking watching.”
“Want some matchsticks to go in those eyes?”
Xander jumped and finally registered that Spike was standing beside him. “Geez, Spike. It’s not nice to sneak up on people.”
“Wasn’t sneaking, pet,” Spike replied. He looked thoughtfully at Xander and sat down next to him. “You look fucking exhausted, luv. Why didn’t you just go to bed?”
“Um, I just wanted to catch the end of this movie. I thought you said you’d only be an hour. Was starting to worry, here.”
Spike slung his arm around Xander’s shoulders and pulled him closer. “Sorry, luv. Walked about for a while. Needed to think.”
Xander nodded. “How’s Buffy?”
Spike stared forwards and thought about lying. No, there was enough lying going on already. He wasn’t going to add more to the mix. “She says she’s fine, but…”
“She’s not,” Xander guessed.
“No, she isn’t.”
“I can’t believe she wants to move back to that apartment, especially with Joyce so sick. Who’s taking care of Dawn? Willow?”
Spike shook his head. “No. She’s moving Dawn into the house.”
“What!? You're kidding?”
“’fraid not, pet.”
“But…what about Joyce? She’ll be home soon. Who’s gonna take care of her?”
Spike swallowed hard and turned Xander around in his arms. “Pet…”
“What? What is it?” Xander voice shook and his eyes filled with tears. Something was coming and he knew it.
“I…I don’t think she’ll make it. She ain’t got long. I don’t think she’ll be coming out of hospital.”
“What..? But…Buffy said…”
“I know what Buffy said, but it ain’t true. Joyce is dying.”
“How do you know? She can’t be. Buffy would have said.”
“Buffy doesn’t know what she’s saying right now. She’s not herself, luv. But, I know Joyce is dying.”
Tears spilled freely down Xander’s face and his expression pleaded with Spike to be wrong. “It’s not true,” he said.
“It is. That hospital room reeks of death. I can smell it a mile off. She ain’t got long, luv. I’m sorry.”
Xander nodded and wiped his eyes. “Who else knows?”
“No-one. Not even sure if the doctors know. But I know and somehow Buffy does too.”
“Oh, gods, Dawn. She…that’s her mother and…How can Buffy not tell her? How can she take her away from her home? What are we gonna do?”
Spike rested his head against Xander’s and let his own tears slip free. This was Joyce. Their adopted mother, their friend, their family and the thought that she would soon be gone ripped through both men like a raging fire.
“We’re going to be strong. For Buffy. For Dawn. Say it, luv,” Spike coaxed. “For Buffy. For Dawn.”
Xander lifted his head and they kissed with trembling lips.
Xander promised. “For Buffy. For Dawn.”
Spike opened his eyes and squinted at the figure beside him. “Hey, luv.”
“What time is it?” Spike asked, rolling onto his side and pulling his lover closer.
“About three o’clock. Sorry I woke you.”
“Don’t fret, luv. Three o’clock is prime time for us cold-blooded creatures of the night.”
“Is that so? So what are you doing in bed with me, then?”
Spike nuzzled at Xander’s throat. He smiled against the warm flesh as Xander tipped his head back and sighed.
“What am I doing in bed with you? Well, let me see. I reckon I’m about to give my human the best blow job of his young life.”
“Oh, okay. Glad we got that…cleared up,” Xander gasped as Spike slid down his body and swirled a cool tongue in and around his navel.
Spike took a moment to look up at Xander’s rapidly flushing face before he slipped further down the bed until he was in line with Xander’s groin.
Xander pushed himself up on his elbows. The need to see Spike sucking on his cock was just as important as the sensation of feeling it. He watched as Spike took his heavy shaft in his hand and he fought the urge to thrust upwards as Spike’s lips covered and suckled on the purpling cock-head. Spike’s tongue swirled around and around the tip, lapping up the small spurts of pre-cum and teasing with an uneven rhythm.
Xander reached out and grabbed a clump of curly blond hair, urging Spike to suck deeper, longer and harder.
Spike finally allowed Xander to take control. His head was pushed down and Xander’s hard cock pushed up and filled Spike’s throat. He swallowed around the welcome intrusion, loving the feeling of Xander quivering beneath him.
Xander’s body began arching from the bed, his free hand clenching at the sheets and his breath leaving his body in short, rapid pants. He was close, so close. He called out his lover’s name in warning and in response Spike brought his hand down between his own legs and pumped hard at his own unattended erection.
Spike felt his own orgasm threatening and he tugged harder and faster at his cock until he was groaning for release, his mouth humming around Xander’s shaft.
Xander unclenched his hand from the bed sheet and used both hands to keep Spike’s head and mouth exactly where he needed it. He thrust his hips up with as much power and speed as he could and when he felt his balls draw up and his orgasm beginning, he screamed his approaching release up into the ceiling. His body tensed and shuddered and he stroked his hands all over Spike’s face and head as he spilled his hot seed into the waiting mouth.
Xander watched with wide eyes as Spike swallowed every drop of cum. Spike’s body was softly jerking and Xander longed to watch Spike complete his own orgasm.
“I want to see.”
Spike nodded and moved to straddle Xander’s hips. He gripped his aching cock again and began a slow, agonising rhythm.
“Spike, so beautiful.” Xander ran his hands over Spike’s thighs, his hands resting to fondle and massage two sensitive balls.
Spike groaned and quickened his pace and Xander leant up to crush his mouth against Spike’s in a gesture that was meant to be possessive as much as passionate. He knocked Spike’s hand away and placed his own hand on Spike’s aching cock, teasing it with light, feather touches. He smiled into the kiss as he felt Spike’s growl vibrating against his lips.
The growl grew louder and Spike’s face shifted into its demon form. Xander looked into his golden eyes and his cock instantly hardened.
Xander gasped as razor sharp fangs scraped over the flesh at his throat and he thought he would come just from that sensation alone. He took both their cocks in his hand and began a strong and steady pace, his fist easily sliding over cocks that were wet with saliva and cum.
Spike growled and snarled into Xander’s neck, his demon demanding to taste the blood of its companion and mate. He placed his lips firmly over the warm flesh at Xander’s throat and sucked firmly.
Xander fisted their swollen cocks faster, the sensation at his neck spurring the quick approach of another orgasm. He held tightly to Spike’s back and dipped his head to a pale shoulder, biting into the flesh with almost brutal force. Spicy blood spurted into his mouth and Xander felt his balls drawing up again for release.
Spike placed his hand over Xander’s, pumping their cocks at a furious and frantic rate. His fangs descended and with a roar and he bit deeply into Xander’s neck.
Spike’s orgasm tore through him at the moment Xander’s sweet blood hit the back of his throat. He pumped their hands faster and he felt Xander tense against him, his boy’s cum shooting between them in long jets and streams.
Xander swallowed Spike’s blood and released his shoulder. He wrapped two strong arms around his lover and basked in the feeling that only two orgasms and a vampire lover, sucking your blood, could bring.
Spike glanced at his watch for the tenth time. “This is bloody stupid. Where the hell is she?”
Xander looked up and turned to Giles for an answer. The Watcher sighed and frowned at the ground. “I have no idea.”
“Well, ain’t that just bloody great.”
“Just wait a minute, Spike…”
“Wait a minute! Wait a bloody minute!!! There’s a nest of vamps just in there begging for a dusting and there’s no Slayer to be seen!”
Xander reached in his pocket for his cell phone. “Okay, guys, okay. Let’s not argue. I’ll call her and see what’s up.”
Spike nodded and watched his tired lover wander away with his cell. This was all so wrong. This was the Slayer’s responsibility. A dozen or more vampires were partying just twenty feet away and Spike was not pleased that they would probably have to take them on without the Slayer. Xander was tired. Very tired. Weeks of sleepless and broken nights, a heavy workload and night after night of slaying was clearly taking its toll.
Spike understood that Buffy had just been through a terrible ordeal, an ordeal that had probably started when Riley had returned to Sunnydale. And with Joyce so sick, Buffy was spiralling into a pit of despair and depression. But what about the rest of them? Was Dawn supposed to suffer because her big sister couldn’t hold herself together? Was Xander supposed to suffer because his friend cared more about her own grief than making sure that he was safe to walk the streets of Sunnydale? Did she even care that Xander was nearly killing himself to make sure that their home town wasn’t flooded with the walking dead?
Perhaps he was being unfair. He couldn’t blame all these problems on Buffy. It had been Riley who had infected her with his darkness and hate. And now he was gone and Buffy was left to pick up the pieces of her broken life. Spike couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, but he also couldn’t help but feel bitterness. An unreasonable part of his brain was telling him that Buffy was just being her usual, egotistical self. Look at me! Look at me! I’m the Slayer! I’m full of darkness! Feel sorry for me! Love me! Let me use you!
Xander wandered back and shoved the phone back in his pocket. “She isn’t coming,” he said.
Spike rolled his eyes and pushed himself off the gravestone he’d been leaning on. “Right. Nice of her to tell us.”
See? This was just the kind of thing that wound Spike up. So she wasn’t coming. She was letting them down yet again. But did she even think to call? Couldn’t she have just picked up the phone and said, hey, don’t really feel like it tonight, so please don’t waste your own evening waiting around?
“What’s her excuse this time?”
“Um, she’s tired.”
“Right. Tired. Right. Well, we’re all bloody tired, aren’t we?!” Spike snapped.
“Spike, please calm down.” Giles asked.
“Yeah, it’s no problem. We can take these guys out.”
Spike looked at Xander incredulously. “Eh?! The three of us? We ain’t even got the witches for back-up!”
“Xander, Spike is quite right. We can’t risk it.”
“And what happens in the meantime? Those vamps are going to leave soon and they’ll be snacking on the population!”
“Don’t ‘pet’ me. And don’t fucking patronise me. We can do this.” Xander held up a large crossbow. “You go and flush them out,” Xander said, pointing to the gas can on the ground, “and I’ll get them on their way out.”
Spike nodded reluctantly into Xander’s determined face. Any more protests were likely to result in a row. He grabbed hold of Xander’s crossbow and quickly checked it over.
“It’s ready to go. I already checked it,” Xander said in a tone that was much lighter.
The ritualistic checking of Xander’s weapons was something that he’d gotten used to a long time ago. This wasn’t something that made him feel like he was being patronised. It was something that made him feel warm and safe and loved.
Spike carefully checked over the crossbow, despite Xander’s half hearted protest. You never could be too careful. This particular weapon was still fairly new and, although they had tested it a few times, Xander had never used it in battle. It was a pretty impressive piece of weaponry, even if Spike did say so himself. He’d had it custom made specifically for Xander. It was just the right weight for him, featured a totally silent arrow rest, an eight arrow quiver and a whole collection of lightweight wooden bolts, the sort that could fly through the air and strike it’s target from a *very* long way away.
Through many years of necessary training, Xander had become quite the archer and this weapon was like an extension of his own arm. He accepted the crossbow back from Spike’s thorough check and cocked the first bolt into position, watching out of the corner of his eye as Spike continued to observe him. Again, this wasn’t Spike trying to belittle him and it wasn’t that Spike didn’t trust him. Everyone made mistakes, even a Slayer, a Watcher and a Master Vampire. It never hurt to take care of each other.
“Ready?” Spike asked when Xander had tested his aim.
“Ready,” Xander confirmed. “Giles?”
Giles swung his own crossbow into firing position, frowned at its inadequate appearance compared to Xander’s and nodded. “Ready.”
“Right. Time to flush those wankers out, then.” Spike bent down to the ground and scooped up an empty soda bottle. He poured some of the gasoline inside and scrunched up part of his newspaper, stuffing it inside the glass bottle.
Xander and Giles separated, Xander covering the left side of the old crypt and Giles somewhere on the right.
Spike lit the newspaper, casually approached the crypt door and banged loudly. The door opened with a creak and a cheerful head poked out. “Yeah?” the fledge asked.
Spike held up the bottle. “Delivery.”
The fledge opened the door wider and stepped closer to examine the bottle. “What is it?”
“Go lookey.” Spike threw the bottle over the fledge's head and watched with a satisfied smile as it landed in the middle of the room, engulfing the floor with flames and setting three of the fledges on fire.
The fledge at the door turned back to Spike with wide, confused eyes. “That was the delivery? It sucks. I’d rather have some DVDs.”
Spike was unsure if the fledge really was that dumb or if he actually had a wicked sense of humour. He decided it didn’t matter and he quickly staked the vampire before he could answer the question one way or another.
The stampede began. Spike stepped well away from the crypt and out of Xander's and Giles’ firing line. Standing well back, he watched his lover take aim and hit every single one of his targets. Two fledges circled around the crypt and Spike watched with glee as one attempted to creep up behind Giles. Stupid idiot. Spike ran straight for the fledge, catching it in its windpipe with the crook of his arm. He punched it in the ribs and Spike grinned from ear to ear at the sound of crunching bones. He stamped hard on the vampire’s face and, with a certain amount of regret that he couldn’t draw the fight out any longer, he staked him.
Spike stood and walked over to Giles. “Alright?”
“Erm, yes. But I seem to have run out of arrows.”
“No matter. We got ‘em all.”
“Spike! There are two over there. My goodness, they’re heading straight for Xander!”
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist. They’re good as dead.”
Two bolts shot in succession from Xander’s crossbow and, one after another, both vampires turned to dust.
“See?” Spike said
Giles frowned and hissed into Spike’s ear. “I find your lack of concern most disturbing, Spike. Xander could have been…”
“Xander is fine. He always was. You think I haven’t been watching him like a fucking hawk? If I thought for a moment that Xander was in any danger, I would have been by his side and not yours. You’re the fucking liability.”
“Now, Spike. There is no need…”
“Um, guys?” Xander called from the other side of the crypt. “Are you arguing again?”
“No,” said two innocent voices.
Xander sighed and started to walk away, muttering under his breath. “Stupid British people. Can’t do anything without getting in a hoo-ha about it.”
Spike and Giles frowned at each other.
Giles took a deep breath. “I apologise, Spike. I’m just feeling a little on edge, what with recent events. I really am very sorry,” he said. Giles stepped back and waited for the obligatory apology in return.
Spike smiled. “Cheers, mate. Yeah, you have been ratty recently. I accept your apology.”
Spike hurried after Xander’s retreating back and Giles was left standing indignantly in the middle of the graveyard. “That damn vampire.”
Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
Dawn dropped the phone and staggered back, reaching blindly for anything that could prevent her from hitting the floor. The back of the couch touched her wandering hand first and she grabbed at it for support.
Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
For a moment nothing but death registered in Dawn’s mind. There was nothing. An endless black void filled her pink teenage brain and she laughed bitterly that one single phone call had just taken away her childhood. She was in the real world now, a world full of grown-ups, politics, money worries and death. She wasn’t growing up; she was edging one step closer to her own natural demise. Or maybe an artificial one if the Hellmouth ever got the better of her.
Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
Dawn’s stomach lurched and she bent over to vomit over her own bare feet. Standing up straight, she looked around at her surroundings. Not a home, a house. Her heart sank. She wanted to go home, to curl up on the couch her mom had bought, cuddle and hide her tears in the cushions that her mom had bought, run up to her room and throw herself onto the bed her mom had bought. But she couldn’t. Her thoughts turned to her sister. How was she going to tell Buffy?
This was all so wrong. Buffy was the adult. It should have been her that had answered the phone, her that had to wake Dawn and tell her…tell her…
Dawn sank to her knees.
Over. It was all over.
The devastation washed over her in a violent wave and Dawn wondered how she was would be able to carry on without her mother. Who would she talk too? Who would she gossip with? Who would she share her day with? Who would always be there for her?
Dawn wasn’t sure.
With the greatest amount of effort that she had ever felt in her life, Dawn got to her feet and began climbing the stairs. Each step brought her that much closer to her new life, a life without her best friend, her mother. Once she reached the top, once she entered Buffy’s room and woke her sister, once she had told Buffy that their mother was dead…that would be it.
Over. It would be all over. It would be real.
The fourth step was climbed and Dawn froze. She couldn’t do it. How could she do it? She was a child. She shouldn’t have to do this. It should be Buffy.
Dawn made a decision. She turned around and climbed back down the stairs. She picked up the phone and dialled a familiar number. She couldn’t do this by herself.
Spike and Xander stood outside Buffy’s house.
When Dawn had called, it had felt like the world had come crashing down on them all. Xander had calmed his friend and promised to be there in minutes. He’d put down the phone and turned around to find Spike already dressed and ready to go.
Spike nodded. “I know. I heard.”
“We have to tell Buffy.”
They looked at each other. Blue eyes shining with tears that refused to fall, yet. Dawn needed them.
Xander looked away and spoke to himself. “She’s gone,” he repeated. “Why?”
Spike shrugged, a little lost for what to say. “I don’t know.”
Xander nodded again and started pulling clothes from the dresser.
“I’m okay. I’m strong, remember? For Buffy. For Dawn.”
Spike knocked quietly on the door. He exchanged a comforting glance with Xander and waited for the light pad of feet to reach the door.
Dawn wrenched it open and threw herself into Spike’s arms.
Spike whispered quiet words of comfort and simply held her. He walked Dawn back into the house and sat her down on the couch. Dawn sobbed into his chest. She was broken. Her world had ended.
Xander stepped into the house and quietly closed the door. He watched Spike comforting Dawn and a memory of his own mother rushed at him. Her face appeared in his mind and his own sanity threatened to tip over the edge. His heart clenched and unclenched and he felt happy that Dawn could grieve so easily, that she had someone who would let her grieve and be the child that she still was. A chance that he had never been given.
The words of his friends and family boomed in his ears: It’s for the best. She’s in a better place. She was never really happy. She never really loved you like a mother should. Now you’re free.
Spike held Dawn close to his chest, his fingers constantly moving through her hair. He looked over at Xander’s pale face and reluctantly gave him a nudge. “Xan; Buffy.”
Xander nodded and straightened himself out. They had already decided that he was to be the one to break the news to Buffy. He walked up the stairs, feeling like he was walking the green mile, and softly knocked on Buffy’s bedroom door. He turned the handle and peered into the room. Buffy was wrapped tightly in her covers, sleeping like a child.
Xander hated himself. He was about to destroy her.
His words repeated and echoed.
Dead. She’s dead. I’m so sorry. She’s dead. She’s dead. I’m so sorry, Buff. Sorry. She’s dead.
Xander was talking. Dawn was downstairs crying. Spike was shushing. So many sounds but none that could penetrate Buffy’s thoughts. This was hell. Earth was hell. One torment after another.
“You did this to me,” she whispered.
“I don’t understand.”
“I do. You pulled me out of heaven, and for what? This?”
Xander stood and covered his face with his hands. So many emotions swirled inside him, a train wreck of sadness, disbelief, horror, regret and love. “Oh, god…”
Buffy laughed and got up from the bed. “Want to know if there is a god? I know the answer to that. I also know something else. Do you want to hear it?”
“Buffy, please, this isn’t the time. Dawn…”
Buffy carried on, regardless of Xander’s protest. “Well, I don’t think you’re gonna want to hear it, but hey, I didn’t want to be pulled out of heaven but you damn well did it anyway, didn’t you?”
“Buffy, we didn’t know…”
“Shut. Up.” Buffy wandered around the bed and opened the wardrobe door. She stared into the full length mirror and touched shaking fingers against the glass. “Nights are so dark. Days are so dark. Goodbye, mom. I know you’ve gone to heaven. I think you’ll like it. So bright.”
Xander shifted uncomfortably, his hands suddenly feeling spare with nowhere to put them. He caught Buffy’s eye and she turned sharply to look at him with a hateful glare.
“A brightness you’ll never know. You’re going to hell, Xander.”
Xander straightened up, taking the comment firmly on the chin. “This isn’t about me. This is about you and Dawn. And about Dawn needing her sister strong.”
Buffy ignored him. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Answer me. Just give me that. Answer me and tell me if you believe me.”
“I don’t know, I…I don’t even think I believe in heaven and hell.”
Buffy laughed. “I always thought you were lacking in the smarts, but really? Xander? Hello? We live on a Hellmouth?”
“I know that. I just mean I don’t know if I believe in a heaven and hell when you die.”
“I was in heaven. Are you calling me a liar?”
“No! It’s different for you. You’re…special. And the way you died, it wasn’t exactly normal.”
Buffy circled her friend before standing in front of him and taking his face gently in her hands. “You sleep with a vampire that once tried to rape me. You defied all natural laws by pulling me from heaven. You cheated on Anya with another man.. You didn’t even turn up to your own mother’s funeral. You. Are. Going. To. Hell.”
Xander wrenched Buffy’s hands from his face. “Why are you being like this? Why are you doing this to me?”
“Oh, it’s always about you, Xander…”
“No! No fucking way. It’s never about me. And just for the record, you don’t have a clue about me and my mother. This is about you. You, fucking, you. Your mother just died, Buffy, and your sister is waiting downstairs for you to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart. But no, here you are ripping seven shades of shit out of me instead. Easier, isn’t it?
Pick apart someone else’s life instead of facing up to your own. Riley is dead. He’s gone and it’s over; deal. He got involved with something sick and…”
Buffy’s voice rose to a hysterical level. “He was not involved with anything. He made a mistake, that’s all. He didn’t know what that box was, what it did. It took him over and made him do those things.”
“What things?! What did he do to you?!”
“He was a good man. He was.”
“HE WAS A RAPIST!”
Xander knew he should stop. The timing could not be any worse if he tried. But something inside him had snapped and he needed Buffy to know, needed to make her see, needed to jolt her out of herself and back into the real world.
“Yes,” he said firmly. “I heard one of the Cenobites through the wall. I heard what he said. Riley, he’d done things, awful things. He was a rapist, Buffy. If anyone deserves to be in hell, then it’s him. He was evil. He got what he deserved.”
Buffy moved fast and Xander didn’t even see her coming. Her fist pounded into his face and Xander felt himself falling backwards. He covered his face ineffectually with his arms and prayed that she wouldn’t go too far.
Dark blotches danced before his eyes and Xander tried to distance himself and leave his body while Buffy’s fists rained down on him blow after blow. His mind flashed with old, forgotten memories yet again and his vision was filled with the sight of his mother.
Screaming. Drinking. Screaming. Hitting.
Raping. She’s being raped.
Xander gasped at the new memory and he choked on the blood that was filling his mouth. Desperate voices rang out around him and Xander felt the harsh collisions of a fist turn to a soft caress from a hesitant hand.
“…ander? …to me…luv?...hold on…long…Xan…?”
Xander tried to smile. Spike was here. Spike makes it stop.
Xander winced as his body was lifted from the floor. He felt comfort in the arms of his lover and he let himself enjoy the childish feeling of being coddled.
Cool air hit him and he realised they were outside. Dawn’s voice sobbed and he felt her touching his hair. In the distance he could hear Buffy. Her voice was caught between fury and remorse.
“He…did it…pushed me…Spike!...leave me…don’t…me, please!”
The room remembered. He remembered. This was where it had happened. This was the room where he had died. He hadn’t been ready. He had been misled. Hell was not as promised and he wanted out.
Three weeks since his wishes had been granted. Three weeks that were really three long centuries if you were on the warmer side of hell.
Riley smelled Xander’s blood even before it hit the floor and, as the precious liquid flowed, Riley waited.
From the other side, he laughed. Good old Buffy. The old bitch fucks herself again.
The three voices dimmed and Riley seized his chance. Xander’s blood slowly seeped down into the floorboards, taken, consumed and used by a once friend, now demon.
The floorboards rattled and twisted and piece by piece, bone by bone, Riley lived.
Xander prised his eyes open and stared up at a stark white ceiling. The pounding in his head was immediate and Xander groaned and tried to move it.
“Spike?” Xander croaked.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Am I…? Did you bring me to the hospital?”
“’S okay. Will I live?”
Spike smiled and smoothed his hand through Xander’s hair. “Course. Got a bloody hard head, you have.”
Xander closed his eyes and gave a weak laugh. “Yeah, made in Taiwan. It came with a lifetime guarantee. Spike…Buffy?”
“What about her?”
“What…? Did you…? Where…?”
“I assume Buffy is where we fucking left her. On her knees on the doorstep.”
“Is fine,” Spike finished. “She’s off getting a sandwich with Red.”
“But…Oh, gods, Spike. This is all such a mess. I’m so sorry I made it worse.”
“Hush, pet. Not your fault. Slayer’s got a screw loose.”
“We have to help her.”
“The fuck we do.”
“Spike! This isn’t her fault. It was Riley. Riley did this. And now with Joyce…It’s just too much for her. She feels so alone…”
“She might not feel so bloody alone if she didn’t beat up her friends.”
“My fault,” Xander whispered.
“Yes. Yes, it was. I told her, Spike. I told her what I heard. I didn’t mean to and I know I shouldn’t have done it…”
Spike leaned over the bed and shushed Xander with soft, careful kisses over his face. “Sssh. Don’t. It’s done now. It’s over.”
Spike looked up and nodded an acknowledgement.
“We’d like to take Alexander to the ward, now.”
“Yeah, pet. They need to keep you in. Just overnight. Concussion, luv.”
“I don’t have a concussion! I’m fine.”
“Really? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Um, can’t tell.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I can’t open my eyes,” Xander admitted, sleepily.
“Exactly. Now let the doctors do their thing and I’ll see you later.”
“You’re not coming?”
“Sun’s nearly up. Gotta get back.”
“What about Dawn?”
“Red’ll take care of her. Don’t worry. Just get some rest, yeah?”
Xander nodded slowly. “Spike? Go easy on Buffy.”
Spike paused at the door and nearly laughed. Yeah, easy. Right.
“So I was right. Here you are.”
Buffy lifted her head from her knees and looked up. “Spike. You came back.”
“Of course I did. Got unfinished business, haven’t we?”
Buffy stood and wiped the dirt from the back of her pyjama bottoms. “How is he?”
“Like you fucking care.”
“I do care. I…he pushed me. I just snapped. I’m going through a lot here and…”
“Fucking save it for someone that gives a shit.”
“Shut it. Listen, for once in your life. We’re your friends, Buffy. Some of us more than others, admittedly, but Xander, he’s one of your *best* friends. And you think that your mother dying gives you some sort of licence to beat the shit out of him?”
“That’s just it. My mother just died! Riley’s dead, my mother is dead! Who next?! What next?! My life is shit. Why couldn’t they have left me alone? Why did they take me away? It was so peaceful.”
“Yeah, yeah, blah fucking blah. Such a sob story. My heart *bleeds* for you. You need comfort? Fine, we can be there for you. You want to take out your anger on my lover? Not. Fucking. Acceptable.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him. He was just in the wrong place at the…”
Spike’s fist connected hard with Buffy’s face. “Enough.”
Another fist. “Enough!”
Buffy crawled away. “What do you want me to say?!”
“Sorry! Say fucking sorry!”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him. My mother…”
“You can’t do it, can you? Can’t even say one simple fucking word.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“I’m not doing anything to you. You’re doing it to yourself. You wallow in your own self pity and you don’t give a flying fuck about anyone but yourself. You have no bloody regard for Dawn’s feelings, or Red’s or Xander’s.”
“That isn’t fair! I love them! It’s just so hard!”
“Hard? Fucking hard?! Is it hard to just be there for your sister, show her some affection, to just spend time with her? Is it hard to be in the same room as your friends and not kick the shit out of one of them? So you were pulled from heaven. Lah-di fucking da. Change the record. Life throws shit and it throws it at everyone. You’re nothing special. Deal. With. It.”
“You don’t understand what I’m going through.”
Spike grabbed Buffy’s arms and pulled her to her feet, slamming her back into the wall of the house.
“You think I don’t know pain? I killed my own fucking mother! You think I don’t live with that every day?! And Xander? He was sixteen when his mother died. Sixteen with a dead mother, a loser older brother that couldn’t give a toss and a father that was more familiar with the bottom of a bottle than the life of his own sons. Don’t you think we’re angry about those things? Don’t you think we’d like to vent our anger on the nearest person?”
“THEN WHY DON’T YOU?!”
“Because there is a line. A line that you don’t cross. You crossed it, Buffy. You went too fucking far. Everybody hurts. It ain’t just you.”
“Get the fuck off me!”
“Not until you listen.”
“I’ve listened enough.”
“NO. There’s more. I’m giving you a break, not because I think you deserve it, but because your sister and your friends deserve it. We’ll be round tomorrow. We’ll start again. *I’ll* forget this ever happened and *you’ll* do the right thing and look after your sister.”
Spike released Buffy’s arms and, with a sob, she slid to the ground.
“Oh, and one more thing? Touch Xander again and I’ll kill you. Promise.”
Buffy watched Spike walk away. The man that claimed to once love her was turning his back and betraying her.
They were all betraying her.
Buffy looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She was a mess. Weeks of sleepless nights and a Spike Special had twisted her normal features until she looked more like one of the demons that she was supposed to slay than the Slayer herself.
Reaching under the flow of warm water from the tap, Buffy splashed her face and let her head hang over the sink. What was happening to her? Why couldn’t she just grieve like a normal person? Because she wasn’t allowed. She wasn’t allowed to be a normal person with normal feelings. She was the Slayer and therefore expected to be stronger, better, infallible. And now that she was proving to be a weak link, they were turning against her.
Buffy grabbed a towel and roughly dried her face, enjoying the sharp twangs of pain from purpling bruises and open cuts. She took one last look in the mirror before she smashed it into a million pieces. A trembling and bloody hand reached for a shard of glass that had fallen into the sink. Buffy pressed the shard against her wrist and considered. Would this be easier? For everyone?
The shard dropped to the floor and Buffy ran to the doorway, pausing to lean her weight on the frame and catch breath that had suddenly spiralled out of control.
“Riley?” she whispered in disbelief.
“Buffy. Help me.”
Buffy edged her way along the wall, part of her wanting to reach the voice and hold her lover, and part of her wanting to grab a weapon and destroy whatever was in that room using Riley’s voice. Buffy’s Slayer senses tingled all over her body. There was a demon in that room, no doubt about it. But was Riley the demon?
“Riley?” Buffy opened the bedroom door and stepped inside. The room was as dark as it was outside, but the moonlight drifted through curtains that were only half drawn, illuminating the figure sitting in the corner.
“Oh, no. Oh, Riley. What have they done to you?”
Riley turned away and put his hand in front of his face. “Don’t look at me.”
Buffy really saw for the first time and she retreated until her back hit the wall. There it was, the voice of Riley and a body that was vaguely humanoid. But there was no skin. Bones, muscles and organs were all visible and the body reeked of vomit, shit and urine. “Are you…? Who are you?”
“I said, don’t look!”
Buffy turned into the wall and shut her eyes as tightly as she could. This couldn’t really be Riley, not this thing, not this monster.
“It’s me. Help me, Buffy.”
“No, no. It can’t be.”
“It is me. It’s Riley.”
“Xander’s blood, on the floor. It brought me back.”
“Does it matter? I’m here. I’m back. Please, god, you have to help me.”
Buffy nodded and wiped away hysterical tears. “What can I do?”
“Xander’s blood brought me this far. I’ll need more.”
“More blood? No, not Xander, please, no.”
“I’m not asking for Xander. Anyone will do. You have to heal me! I love you, Buffy. Make me whole again.”
“I…I don’t know if I can…I…”
“I can take you away, Buffy, from all this pain and darkness. We can be together.”
Buffy shook her head. “You never loved me, Riley.”
“I did. I did. God, I did. But I was taken in and I was misled and fooled. The box, it tricked me. It made me see things. It made me do things.”
“Xander said that…”
“Fuck Xander. This has nothing to do with him. He doesn’t know anything. I love you, Buffy. I’d never do anything to hurt you. Do you want me to be hurt?”
“Then you have to help me. Bring me people. Bring me blood…”
“I could get you human blood, in a bag, like Spike…”
“No! It won’t be fresh enough. I need to heal fast. They’ll be coming for me. Once they’ve noticed my escape, they’ll come. I need to be ready.” Riley looked at the box that he’d placed on the bedside table. “They’ll come,” he repeated. “Don’t let them take me again.”
Buffy sunk to her knees and crawled towards her lover. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it,” she sobbed. “I won’t let them take you away again. I’ll save you, Riley. I’ll do it.”
Riley stroked his hand down Buffy’s face, leaving a trail of blood in its wake. “Thank you, my darling. Thank you.”
Midday came and went and Xander got the feeling that he was being ignored. Well, perhaps he wasn’t being exactly ignored, but nurses had come and gone and promises of an unseen doctor were given. As yet, Xander had seen no sign of anybody that could grant his release.
The smell of the hospital was driving him mad; too many bad memories, too many dead people, too many sick and dying people. Xander felt his stomach lurch at the thought of how many people would die under this roof just today.
This was the trouble with living with a vampire. It made you see your own mortality far too clearly. Before Spike, Xander had thought that ninety would be a pretty good age to live, all things considered. But now, with centuries of life left for his immortal, ninety didn’t seem quite so peachy.
Death, it seemed, was just a stone’s throw away and it could come even quicker than that. Death could be waiting on the next patrol or the next apocalypse or driving down the freeway. Or maybe death was waiting to corner him in a freak household accident. Oh, Xander had seen Final Destination and, yes, he was very scared.
Okay that’s it. Not sitting around here all day. Not getting any younger, here.
Xander pulled back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. He bent down to open the bedside cabinet and winced as bruised ribs screamed in protest. Xander ignored the pain and took his clothes from the cupboard.
A little bloody, but not to worry. I’ve gone home in worse.
A small struggle, and an argument with a pair of pants that just would not behave, later and Xander was dressed and ready to go. He checked his pockets. Nothing. That meant either having to walk home or calling for Giles or one of the girls to come and get him.
Walking it is, then.
Xander discharged himself and began the long walk home. He was pretty sure that Spike was going to give him a firm telling off for this, but he also knew that Spike would be glad that he was home. Neither one of them was particularly fond of being apart from the other.
Xander took a short cut through the park and circled around the back of Revello Drive. He stopped and spared a few thoughts for the woman he loved like family, real family. She would be turning in her grave if she… Xander bit back a sob. Joyce was barely cold and her daughters’ lives were fast veering off the track. He had to make it right. He had to do something.
With his decision made, Xander changed direction and headed straight for Buffy’s house.
Spike huffed, paced and waited for Willow to pick up the phone. “’Bout bloody time! What are you lot doing? …How is she?...Yeah? …Always was a strong little Nibblet…Oh, yeah, erm, need a favour… Well, that’s just it…I just called the hospital and he ain’t there…I don’t know! He just discharged himself. They said they thought he was okay, but the doctor didn’t see him…I’m not panicking!...yeah, I know…He’s probably on his way home, right? …Well, he hasn’t got any money on him, so the nit-wit is probably trying to walk home…Would you? Just have a drive-about, see if you can pick him up on his way. Fucking long walk…Cheers, Red.”
Spike hung up and inspected the contents of the fridge. His boy was probably starving. Spike chose cheese, ham and eggs and decided that a toasted sandwich, times three, was certainly in order. He lit the grill and got to work. Xander would be home any minute.
Xander stopped dead in his tracks, his thoughts of making peace with Buffy suddenly on hiatus. There she was, the Slayer herself, laughing, joking and generally looking a million dollars. And who was jaunting along by her side, looking just as chipper and full of the joys of life? Anya. Fucking Anya.
So, Xander’s supposed best friend had beaten him black and blue, not bothered to visit him at the hospital and was now apparently playing at being best friends with his ex.
Xander’s break-up with Anya had been messy, to say the least. Their relationship had been under strain for a good couple of months before Xander worked out what the problem was. He was gay. At least, he thought he was. He’d not had much experience with being gay, but if the bulge in his pants every time he saw a hot guy was anything to go by, he was definitely swinging towards the masculine sex.
Had he always been gay? Yup. Had he always wanted to admit it? Nope. So instead he’d pointed himself in the direction of heterosexuality and had just gone with it. Anya had been fun. She was sexy, humorous and…different. She had been a far cry from his previous lovers. Anya cared. And Xander had cared right back at her. She’d been the first to show him genuine love and affection. His first time with Anya had been like losing his virginity all over again. She had been so tender, so responsive and so wanting. It had made Xander feel like he was special. She’d made him feel whole.
But throughout the up and down relationship, Xander had always known that something was missing. And one day, that something had finally smacked him right between his eyes.
Xander and Spike had enjoyed quite a snarky relationship before the fateful night at The Magic Box. Insults had regularly been traded and both men made it their mission to wind each other up at every opportunity. If either of them had pigtails, they would have been well and truly tugged and pulled by the other.
And then it had happened.
After a big fight over something as stupid as Xander getting home late from work and not calling, Xander had stormed away and had ended up at The Magic Box. Spike had turned up with a full bottle of vodka, and a rather surreal, drunken fumble had proceeded. Somewhere within that drink-induced cocktail of wandering hands, shifting hips and sloppy kisses, something changed. The game changed. Hands gripped and ripped apart unwanted clothes, hair was pulled and necks exposed. Hips collided and flesh slipped and slid, wet with desire and the need to be touched.
Xander had lost his virginity, again, on top of a table in the middle of The Magic Box. Not the most romantic of settings, but need had taken over. Both Spike and Xander still reflected back on occasion and wondered if they would have still taken each other if they’d known about the cameras.
Yes. Yes was the answer. Every time. Something had clicked. Something had changed. That something grew so powerful that they would have fucked until they saw stars even if the building had been on fire.
There had been one regret. Anya. From the comfort of 1630 Revello Drive, Anya, Buffy and Willow had seen it all. Anya had seen it and she’d been devastated by it. It still wracked Xander with guilt. But if they had to do it all again? He would still do it the same, even knowing that Anya was watching. It had been the beginning of him and Spike. It had been perfect.
It had also been the end of him and Anya. Over, in the blink of an eye. Xander hadn’t gotten away lightly. The dental work had been costly.
And now? Xander and Anya barely spoke. There was nothing to say. Xander had apologised a thousand times over and Anya had never listened. Despite what the others had said, Anya had always loved Xander. He was her key to humanity and she loved him to the ends of the earth.
Trouble was, he was Spike’s key, too. And the love? It went both ways.
Anya had distanced herself from the entire Scooby gang, quitting her job at The Magic Box and moving out of Xander’s apartment. She’d fallen out with Buffy exactly one month after the break-up. Anya had turned back to her vengeance roots and had been plotting a way to exact revenge on her ex. This had led to a major confrontation and a firm but fair warning from Buffy for Anya to stay out of Sunnydale and away from Xander.
Xander drifted back to present and glared, unseen, at his two former friends as they entered Buffy’s house. The message was loud and clear. Buffy didn’t want to know. He’d overstepped the mark and so had she. Apparently there was a Xander-hating club in session. He debated whether he should go and knock on Buffy’s door and have it out with her, and Anya if necessary.
No. He would just leave them to it. The way he was feeling right now, he would only make things worse.
Xander jumped, startled that he hadn’t even heard the car pull up beside him.
“Willow. I-I didn’t see you.”
“Clearly. Spike said you’d made the great escape. Come on. Get in, I’ll take you home”
Xander smiled gratefully and got in the car.
“Were you going to see Buffy?”
“I was. Changed my mind. Thought I’d better head home before Spike finds out I’ve gone AWOL.”
“He’s already found out. Why do you think I’m still in my pyjamas?”
“Actually, I’m not sure, I gotta say.”
“Spike is quite calm about you going walkabout. Give him another ten minutes, though, and he’ll be climbing the walls. It was definitely a situation that required fast action and no dressing,”
Xander grinned. “You do the sweetest things, Wills. Love you.”
Willow looked round in surprise. “A declaration of love? You only usually do that if you’re either drunk or the world is about to end.”
“It isn’t, is it? About to end?”
Xander laughed again. “No…well, not that I know of. It’s just that, you’ve always been there for me. Always. I love you, Willow Rosenberg, and don’t you ever forget it.”
“Auuw, I love you too!” Willow let go of the wheel and turned to hug her friend.
“Whoa! Road! Steering wheel! About to die a fiery death!”
“Oh! Ooopsie,” Willow said, turning back to the wheel and swerving to avoid the sidewalk.
“And Spike thought I’d be safer with you driving me home? He really needs to get in a car with you one time.”
“Hey! I’m a good driver, especially when you consider that I’ve only just passed my test.”
“Well then, as a new driver, you should be aware that you actually need to drive the car at all times. You can’t just drop the wheel and turn around. You’re not Michael Knight, you know, and this car is certainly no KITT…Although that would be cool. Really cool.”
“My car is cool!”
“It so isn’t. Why don’t you trade it in? Perhaps for something a little more…zippy? You can barely see over the wheel of this tin can.”
“Well, I like my car, Xander Harris. It’s pretty.”
Spike laughed at Willow’s Eeyore pyjamas and said goodbye. As much as he appreciated his witchy friend for returning his lover to him safely, he just wanted Xander to himself. Some serious coddling was definitely in order.
He served up three spectacular toasted sandwiches and watched contentedly as Xander proceeded to slay them with endless enthusiasm.
“You must have been hungry.”
“Call me next time, yeah?”
Xander nodded slowly and chanced a smile. “Sorry. Why are you being all calm? I thought you’d be mad.”
“I am mad. Very mad. But throwing a paddy won’t do either of us any good.”
“Mm, definitely. Shouting very bad for the sore head.”
Spike touched his hand gently to the said head. “Headache?”
“Like a bitch.”
“I’ll get you some painkillers.”
Spike rummaged around in a nearby drawer until he found some extra strength, quick release headache tablets. He threw them roughly in Xander’s direction and went over to the kitchen to re-fill Xander’s water glass. “What’s up, luv?”
“Shouldn’t that be ‘What’s up, doc?’”
“Ha, bloody ha. What’s wrong? I know there’s something.”
“Just last night stuff, that’s all.”
“That’s all? It’s enough. No, there’s something more. Don’t lie to me, pet. You’re not too old to go over my knee, you know.”
“Really? You know I’d like that, right?”
“Bloody hell, just tell me or…I won’t let you watch Star Trek for a month.”
Xander sighed and relented. “It’s Buffy. I saw her.”
Spike was careful to keep his face as neutral as possible. He wanted to break something, particularly Buffy’s neck. “Yeah? She come to the hospital?”
Xander laughed bitterly. “No. She didn’t. I saw her when I was walking home. I was going to go see her.”
“Was that a good idea, all recent events considered?”
“Probably not. I just couldn’t leave it…”
“I dealt with it, Xan.”
“So I saw. Nice bruising in and around the face area. Put me and Buffy together and we’d be a matching pair.”
“That was the idea.”
“That I guessed. Anyway, I couldn’t do it. She…she was with someone.”
“Yeah, ah. And you know what? They were chatting and giggling and Buffy was acting just like she hadn’t nearly beaten me to death last night. It hurt. And Anya? Why Anya? They hate each other. Buffy deserted me for someone she hates?”
Spike moved closer and draped a comforting arm around Xander’s shoulders. “Don’t take it to heart too much, pet. Buffy’s in a strange place and Anya…well, god only knows what’s going on there.”
“It just feels like another kick in the teeth.”
Spike nuzzled his face into Xander’s hair. “Still got me.”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed, leaning further into Spike’s embrace. “Got each other.”
Spike leant them both back into the couch, stroking Xander’s hair until he could hear his lover’s heartbeat slow down. He held his sleeping boy and wondered what the fuck Buffy was up to with Anya.
He had a funny feeling, one of those peculiar nagging ones that wouldn’t go away. It didn’t feel good.
Buffy hurriedly stripped off her clothes and stuffed them into a carrier bag. She turned on the shower tap with shaking hands and stood underneath the freezing spray, closing her eyes against the memory of what she had just done.
Blood diluted and streamed from Buffy’s skin as the life-force of her once-friend was washed down the drain forever.
Buffy chewed her fingers and stared at the television. Three women were pregnant and they had absolutely no idea who the father was. Sluts. And where exactly did these women shop? Goodwill much? Euw. The audience were hissing and one pregnant girl got up and shouted bleeps at someone beyond the camera’s range. She was young, no older than Buffy. And she had the softest looking skin that Buffy had ever seen; milky white and no imperfections.
Buffy had imperfections. Her eyes were too close together and she was fat.
It was definitely time to diet. And maybe she just needed to change her eye make-up? Riley didn’t like all the black. He didn’t like the natural look either.
Buffy chewed harder on her fingers, barely noticing as the skin split and spots of blood trickled. She needed to throw out her blue pants. Riley said they looked like pyjama bottoms. That wouldn’t do.
The pregnant women were back. They were trying to bitch slap each other.
How had she let herself get like this? Why did she look like such a mess? She ran a hand over a stomach that was firm and taut.
So dumb. So very dumb. That was the real reason that she’d dropped out of college. She hadn’t been able to hack it. She hadn’t been smart enough. A dumb blonde with a bit of muscle and a flair for weaponry, that’s all she was. And that was all she’d ever be. Without Riley.
A small clink and a shuffle from upstairs and Buffy curled into a tighter ball on the couch. Revulsion coursed through her and she swallowed bile and thrust a finger back between her teeth.
One more, that’s what he said. Just one more. Maybe two. And then he would be healed. Then she would have the real Riley back. He knew what the box was now, and he’d vowed not to swim in its depths again. Things would go back to normal. He was different now. Different to the man that hit her, humiliated her, degraded her, fucking *broke* her night after night. This man was – would be - like the Riley that she’d met on her first day of college.
He just needed to heal. One or two more bodies and he would be all fixed up, good as new. The only reason that he’d done those things to her last night was because he wasn’t yet healed. Oh, he was a vast improvement on the animated skeleton that had first graced her bedroom. The new version had skin; glossy, vein filled, translucent skin.
Buffy had raided her first aid box and found enough bandages to wrap Riley up like an Egyptian mummy. He hurt. He hurt so much that even after he’d sucked Anya dry, he’d cried in agony and misery. She’d given him a whole box of pain pills and a glass of whisky to ease his suffering. That had been a mistake. The pills sat undigested like little bullets in his broken gut and the whisky had poured straight through him and out the other end. It seemed that all the pipes weren’t quite as healed as he'd thought. Buffy had re-bandaged him and then obliged him with one more favour before exhaustion took its toll.
Even without a cock to get hard, Riley had gotten his pleasure. The look of revulsion, shock and disgust on Buffy’s face was enough to get him off.
As he’d twisted his bloody fingers inside her he’d whispered words of comfort and love. She’d smiled.
His fingers had become sore after a while so he’d used a can of hairspray.
Another noise from upstairs and Buffy reluctantly got up. School was about to finish and Dawn could be home any minute. If she was coming home.
Riley had to be quiet. And she had to bear this just a while longer. One more body, maybe two, and everything would be back to normal.
Everything would be right again.
“Soooo, just you and me, Dawnie.”
Dawn nodded and hugged Xander carefully but securely.
“What was that for?”
“Nothing much. Just for, you know, being here. And for being you. Just you.”
Xander looked very touched. And slightly confused. He guessed that maybe Dawn just needed some stability in her life. Things had changed so fast for her. Riley had ‘left’. Her mom had died. Buffy was…a little crazy.
Xander had always been the solid one; the one you could trust your darkest secrets to, the one that would stand by you no matter what, and the one that could take away your pain and make you laugh in under five minutes on a bad day, two minutes on a good day.
“I won’t let her do it again, Xander. I won’t let her hurt you.”
“Dawnie, it’s okay. Your sister and I, well, we just have some issues to sort…”
“No. I don’t care what either of you say, I won’t let her do it again.”
Xander stared at his friend, and for a split second he could see the spitting image of Buffy. Or rather the spitting image of Buffy when she was a sweet sixteen, teenage beauty; fiery will and infinite goodness.
“I know, Dawnie. Thanks. So, who exactly is babysitting who tonight?” Xander asked, attempting to steer the conversation away from Buffy and onto much more pleasant things.
“Well, Willow said that ‘officially’ you’re babysitting me, but it’s actually the other way around,” Dawn grinned.
“I see. Strange. I got exactly the same speech. They really know how to play us, huh?”
“Yeah, but you’ve got to admit, it’s much better to watch TV in here than be out there slaying vampires. It’s going to rain.”
“Rain? Really? Well, that changes everything entirely. They’re the suckers and we’re the smart ones.”
“Exactly. So, what’s the plan?”
“Well, I was thinking, pizza, popcorn, movie marathon, pyjamas, duvet on the sofa. Oh, and all drinks, snacks and anything else that we could possibly need all within easy reach so we don’t have to get up.”
“Unless we need to pee.”
“Unless we need to pee,” Xander confirmed.
Xander ordered the pizza and took his sweats into the bathroom to change. He would do it quickly. The more time he spent with other people, the less time he had to spend in his own head. He didn’t want to think about the nightmares. He didn’t want to remember his mother. He didn’t want to think about how much Buffy had changed.
He didn’t want to think.
Xander quickly pulled off his jeans and t-shirt and caught his reflection in the mirror. His body was scattered with fading bruises and healing cuts. Buffy had done this to him. One of his best friend’s had done this to him. No, that was a lie. Spike was his best friend. Buffy had never been in the running. Or was that just bitterness talking now?
Turning away from the mirror in disgust at his own reflection, Xander quickly pulled on his sweat pants and shirt and went to face Dawn with a happy smile.
And he was happy. The movies were fun, total riot if the truth be told. The popcorn was so rubbery that it bounced and made a very interesting game of ricochet. And the pizza was so good that Xander ordered them another one.
For just one evening everything seemed normal.
“What’s going to happen to me?”
Xander turned slowly and faced Dawn with a comforting smile. He considered for a moment just lying or playing down the truth, but he dismissed it in favour of honesty and respect. Dawn was a bright kid, brighter than he’d been at that age. She’d see through any attempt to gloss from a mile away. And besides, Xander knew what it felt like to be lied to, especially when you were a kid. It wasn’t a nice feeling.
“I don’t know. Buffy’s in a weird place right now. I really hope we can pull her out of it.”
“But if you can’t. If Buffy stays like she is now…they’ll take me away. Won’t they?”
“No!” Xander’s voice was loud and fierce and it echoed around the otherwise silent room.
“No,” he said more quietly. “There’s no way. You’ve got me. And Spike. And then there’s Willow and Tara. Hey, there’s even Giles, if you can put up with his books tripping you up everywhere.”
Dawn laughed through tears that she was still holding on to. “Someone should tell him they’re a fire hazard.”
“I’m sure I’ve mentioned it a few times.”
Xander ran his fingers down the complete length of Dawn’s hair and smiled. “What?”
“Why did your mom die?”
His fingers dropped and his smile faded.
“Oh, god, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. Sorry, I…”
“Don’t be sorry,” Xander said, the attempt at pulling the smile back to his face an obvious effort. “I’m just not used to talking about it.”
“You don’t have to.”
“No, it’s okay. You asked and…sometimes it helps to share.”
Dawn nodded and twisted herself around on the sofa. If it hadn’t been for the grief etched over her face she would have looked like a child getting read for a bedtime fairy story.
“Um, okay. My mom killed herself.”
Dawn’s eyes went wide. “Xander. I had no idea. Do the others know?”
Xander shrugged. “I’ve always assumed so. But…I’ve never talked about it, so I wouldn’t really know. Willow knows, she was…there. And Giles would probably know if he’d ever looked at my records. And Spike knows because, well, he weaselled every single piece of information about my life by our third date. Actually, I don’t really know if you could call it a date, unless you count dates that take place in the shower…” Xander stopped and realised who he was talking to. “Anyway, to sum up,” he said with a slightly embarrassed smile. “Yeah, everybody *probably* knows.”
“I didn’t know. Nobody ever tells me anything.”
“Ahh, the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. I remember it well. If you want information and general gossip, then you have to either bribe, blackmail, eavesdrop, or ask me.”
“You know lots of gossip?”
“Just call me one of the girls.”
“Really? Can I?” Dawn asked with a Spike smirk. Someone had obviously been taking lessons.
“Well, not literally. Just think of me as a woman in your head; a woman without breasts, but with a…ah, I’m going too far again, aren’t I?”
Dawn put her thumb and index finger together. “Only a little.”
“Gobstopper?” Xander offered.
“No, thanks. I think you need them more than I do,” Dawn scoffed. “Um, so, why?”
“Because I tend to speak without thinking, I guess? Spike says I’ve got a third brain that operates on another level. You know, like a third eye.”
Dawn thought about this. “Where’s your second brain?”
Xander opened his mouth to give the truthful automatic answer. And thought better of it. “So, back to my dead mother,” he finally said with a cheerful smile and then a wince.
“You’re so weird,” Dawn said with a laugh and a small kiss to Xander’s cheek.
“It’s a rare and wonderful talent. I’ll teach you if you want.”
“I want. Um, not meaning to back track here, but why did she kill herself? Your mom.”
Xander sighed and leant his head against the back of the couch. He really needed to talk to Spike about smoking indoors. The ceiling was starting to turn yellow.
“You don’t have to…” Dawn continued.
“I know. It’s okay. My mom, she suffered from depression. I don’t remember when it started. But I remember that she had it for a long time. I don’t remember her not depressed. She drank a lot, she cried a lot, threw stuff.”
“Why? Why was she like that?”
Xander shrugged. He didn’t really know. He’d never known. He’d spent his childhood only knowing his mother as a depressed and often hateful person. It cut him deep to remember how she was, how she’d treated him. He’d longed to be held by her and he’d relished every kind act that she’d displayed. His memory didn’t hold too many of those kind acts. It was strange how the human brain fixed on the nasty stuff and just wouldn’t move on, wouldn’t leave it be; just kept remembering and remembering and twisting and distorting.
There was one memory that he knew would never fade, a stupid memory that didn’t really count for much in the great scheme of things. But it never left him. He never forgot.
Him, a tiny child, just learning the art of running and bumping into things. Except normally he bumped into the couch and went flat on his ass on the carpet; definitely worth a giggle or two.
But this time had been different. He’d made the mistake of running outside and had tripped over what could only have been his own feet. He’d scraped his knees across the concrete and had gone face down in a flower bed. After choking and spluttering on dirt he’d looked down at his throbbing knees and seen blood.
Blood was bad. Grown-ups on the TV bled. And then they sometimes died. Mommy bled once and they’d taken her away for ages. Blood was not good.
After the realisation that he was quite possibly at death’s door, he’d screamed.
And he hadn’t stopped.
Nothing could stop him. Not the rough cloth that was scrubbed in his face. Not the evil smelly stuff that was splashed over his knees. Not the shouting. Not the plates smashing. Not the cries to be quiet, to be silent, to be somewhere else. Not the tugging. Not the dragging.
He’d cried until he’d been sick. And he’d been sick until he passed out from exhaustion.
And that had been one of the nights that his brother had held him, one of the few.
“Sorry. I don’t really know. She was just kinda crazy, I guess.” This was one of those rare occasions where internal Xander was more than happy to be quiet. His nightmares of late had shown a possible reason for her ‘quirky’ behaviour. He just wasn’t quite ready to believe that his father was that evil.
“Stop being sorry. You don’t ever have to be sorry. Unless you’ve finished all the peppered jerky. Then you can just run for your life.”
Dawn laughed and hugged him, smiling as she felt his arms close around her.
“You haven’t, have you?” Xander asked. “Oh my god, you have!”
“Is this how much I mean to you?”
“Is this how much you claim to love me?”
“I do love you, Riley. I do.”
“Then why do you see me suffer? It’s been a day and you promised me, Buffy.”
Buffy had promised. Another body, by today. But so far she’d only made it as far as the mailbox and back, part of her wanting to hide away and not face the reality of ‘outside.’ And part of her wanting to hide in the beast's arms, to hide behind him and deny that she was the real monster.
“Really? And I’m disappointed. I guess that makes us equal.”
“This isn’t easy, you know. I had to…I had to kill one of my friends.”
Riley laughed. “Friend? You hated Anya.”
“No! No. We had our differences. Big differences. She turned back to vengeance; I had no choice but to drive her out.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “What?”
“Just…no, never mind.”
“What?” she asked, more firmly.
Riley shrugged casually. “It just strikes me as odd that you’d choose Anya over a complete stranger.”
“Surely it would have been easier to just pick a random victim? Why Anya?”
“Well, I…” Buffy paused and desperately searched her brain for the answer to that question. “I…don’t…”
“Shhh.” Riley pushed himself up from the bed and wrapped his bandaged arms around Buffy’s suddenly trembling form. “Shhh, it’s okay. I know why you chose her. It’s because she deserved it.”
Buffy struggled against her lover’s grip, shocked by his strength despite his emaciated appearance. “No.”
“Yes, of course she did. You could never have let her live, not knowing what she was. She never promised, did she? She never promised that she’d stop. All you did was move her on. Now, I know that you could never have let her go on as Vengeance demon, not as The Slayer. She had to die.”
Buffy nodded. “She tried to hurt Xander.”
“That’s right. I remember. She swore vengeance on him. Even when you drove her out and made her stay away from him, you could still see the murder in her eyes. I mean, come on, he cheated on a Vengeance demon. She would have killed him eventually. You could never have let that happen.”
“No, I couldn’t. She had to die. There was no other way.”
“Exactly. You’re The Slayer. You had to…slay,” Riley said with a light chuckle.
Buffy turned in his arms and smiled up at him. “You’re right. You’re so right. Just because I tolerated her once means nothing at all. I couldn’t allow her to go on hurting and killing innocent people. I was just doing my job.”
“Of course! That’s my girl. But…” Riley shook his head.
“What? But what?”
“There are some that might not see it that way.” Or some that might have the knowledge and power to send him back.
“Yes. I don’t think he’d approve. Well, not that he approves of anything you do these days.”
“That’s not true.”
Riley smiled. “Of course it is, dear. When was the last time he told you that you’d done a good job?”
“I…I don’t remember.”
“Did he come and see you when he found out about your mother.”
“Well, no. But, it was difficult, because I… Xander. I…”
“It shouldn’t matter what happened between you and Xander. Giles should have come to you. He didn’t even call, did he?”
“No,” Buffy whispered.
“I guess he must approve of what Spike did to you. Hm. Didn’t he hate Spike once?”
“Huh. And he never approved of your…relationship with him?”
“Yet he approves of Spike and Xander?”
“Huh. Well, I wouldn’t take it personally. I think the Watcher has another agenda.”
Buffy pulled back. “You do? What agenda?”
“I’m not sure,” Riley said with another shrug. “But he’s awfully close with Spike, don’t you think?” His voice grew serious. “Giles is up to something, Buffy. I can feel it. And…”
“I heard whispers, when I was in the corridors. The whispers filled my head but one voice was strong. I was sure it was a message. A message meant for you.”
“Who was it from? What did it say?”
“From Leviathan himself. Giles is a great danger to us all. He’ll turn back to the magic of Chaos. And he’ll kill us all. He’ll bring about the next apocalypse, Buffy. You have to end it before it starts.”
Riley wasn’t *entirely* lying. He had heard the whisper of the name Rupert Giles in the Corridors of Hell. And he’d also heard the name of another – Ethan Rayne. And yes, these names had been spoken by the Ancient one – Leviathan – himself. These were the names of two powerful sons of god, two powerful Chaos mages that could destroy the harmony of the corridors and spread the disease of Chaos through Leviathan’s flesh and into all the dark worlds beneath.
To claim to have killed one of them? Well, wouldn’t that just put Riley in favour with Leviathan if the Cenobites, the Angels Beneath, ever caught up with him? Maybe Leviathan would even reward him?
“He’s hurt you, Buffy. And he’ll hurt me if he finds me. And one day…he’ll kill us all.”
Buffy pulled herself out of Riley’s arms. She straightened out her clothes and looked determinedly into Riley’s eyes. “Then he dies. Tonight.”
“Good.” Riley smiled and ran a finger down her jaw. “Oh, and Buffy? You might as well bring him to me. Waste not want not.”
Xander squinted at the clock and decided it would soon be time for contact lenses. Or maybe glasses. Would Spike still love him even with a pair of spectacles on the end of his nose? Of course. Xander stifled a laugh at the vision of himself looking exactly like Giles, starting with the glasses and ending with the tweed and braces.
Shaking off the image, Xander pulled back the duvet and heaved himself up from the couch. He lowered the duvet back down and checked that Dawn was still sound asleep. She was.
After they’d talked about Xander’s mother and how he coped, or rather didn’t cope, and then talked about how Dawn would survive without her mother, they’d put on another movie and had fallen asleep halfway though. Dustin Hoffman had a tendency to do that to you, if you weren’t careful.
And now it was late.
Xander tiptoed across the room and switched on the corner lamp. The small and near enough ancient blue lampshade filtered a dim sapphire glow around the corner of the room, illuminating a chair, a bookcase, a phone and the clock.
There was nothing that was comforting in knowing that. Xander grabbed the phone and took it to the bathroom. Shutting the door carefully and quietly behind him, he sat down on the cool tile and leant his back against the wall.
“Where are you?”
The voice on the other end was tense and hurried and Xander wished himself there to see for himself rather than be here in the darkness of an unlit bathroom.
“Do you need my…? Okay, sure? Coming home soon?...Yeah, I know…‘kay. Love you.”
Xander hung up the phone and stood up to turn the light on. He wasn’t sure why he’d sat down with it off. Maybe it was so that he could picture Spike’s face more easily when he heard his voice.
He was tired. Very tired. But by what Spike had said, his lover was going to be at least another hour, maybe more. He’d been stupid to fall asleep. What if he’d had another nightmare? What if he’d woken Dawn up with his screaming and cries for help?
Xander glanced down at himself and realised that he needed to change. Sleep clothes just put him in the mindset of going to sleep. What he needed was a good old fashioned pair of snug jeans and a nice shirt to go with them. And maybe a shower? Yeah, that would work. Then maybe he’d read for a bit. He hadn’t enjoyed a good comic for a while. Maybe he’d dig out some of his classics.
“Urgh, Christ. The next time you come across a nest of these slimy fuckers, do me a favour? Don’t bloody call. Look at my duster. Absolutely sodding covered. Shit.”
“Yes, well, I’m inclined to agree.”
“Not a drop on us,” Willow boasted with a big grin.
Tara beamed at her and then smiled back at Spike and Giles.
“That’s the beauty of magic,” Willow pointed out. “Convenient. And often long range. And really good for lazy people that don’t want to get splatted.”
“Yeah? How about a spell for us lazy gits that need demon slime removing from their leather?”
“S-sorry. Still working on that one. We’ll l-let you know.”
“Yeah, would you? Obliged and all that.”
Giles looked over at the pile of decapitated, eviscerated, and just generally mangled demon bodies. They were starting to melt and they stank. “Right. As our work here appears to be more than done, I suggest that we all head to our respective homes for the night.”
Spike glanced at his watch. “For the morning, you mean. Bloody sun’ll be up in a minute.”
“Goodness! You’d better hurry!” Willow squawked.
“Really? Ya think?” Spike retorted with his best impersonation of Xander. It was quite accurate.
Spike made his way to his car and, again, cursed Buffy. And then felt guilty. And then felt angry. So he kicked a defenceless, empty soda can and unlocked the car.
This was one of those times [when Spike wished his life had a remote control. Fast forward would be lovely just about now. Skip past the pain, the death and the darkness and get ready to pause at a moment with no tears and no nightmares. Just him and Xander, that’s all he wanted. Him, Xander and a moment of precious time that no-one could spoil.
Spike gave himself a mental growl and turned on the engine. He needed to concentrate on what was real, what was actually possible. Despite the smiles, laughter and confidence of his friends, he knew - they all knew - that something was crumbling. Their lives were slipping away. And it wouldn’t do. He was not about to let it happen.
Strength was of all importance now. Strength to go on. Strength to hold up the other person. And strength to believe.
And when she finally grew impatient, her sanity threatening to come back to haunt her and show her what she was doing, she kicked in the door and waited inside.
The apartment had never changed in all the years that she’d known Giles. Same simple decoration…illuminated by the moonlight streaming through the open window. Tut, tut. Careless. And the same cluttered chic that only a bookish, British person could get away with without it being called untidy.
It felt comfortable, cosy, maybe even homely. The smell of family in the air, the scent of trust and friendship; it was overwhelming – disgusting.
Buffy drew the knife from her jacket and sat down on the couch. She twirled the blade around and around in her fingers and stared, mesmerised as the blade sparkled and reflected in the fading moonlight.
Strong as steel, that was what she needed to be now. A Slayer that was as deadly as the dagger she held. Giles had turned against her, there was no doubt it. He hadn’t called, hadn’t come to see her to offer his help or even his pitiful words of comfort.
He’d taken Xander’s side. Bastard. How could he do that? It had just been a silly little argument between two friends. She hadn’t done anything wrong.
No, Giles was using this as an excuse to sever contact with her. He didn’t want to know. In fact, Riley was right, it had been so long since Giles had been her friend. For months now all he’d been doing was criticizing and nagging and just getting at her all the live-long day.
He’d claimed to love her once, love her like a father should love his daughter.
Another fucking lie!
Well, she knew the truth now. Giles didn’t love her any more than he loved the noisy dog in the next apartment. None of them loved her. They weren’t turning away from her anymore; they’d already turned and walked away a long time ago. Stupid dumb blond. She’d blinked and missed it.
What was the point anymore? What was the point in carrying on like this? She would do this last act for Riley. She would heal him and see him happy.
Then it was time to leave.
Heaven would let her back in. She was The Slayer.
Giles stood in the open doorway of his apartment, his gaze flicking rapidly from Slayer to broken door, his brain trying to work out a quick explanation for the presence of both those things.
“Buffy?” he tried again. “What are you doing here? What…what’s going on? Are you hurt?”
A short, sharp laugh and Buffy stood and stared at the opposite wall. “What's going on? Why don’t you tell me, Giles? What is going on with you?”
Giles cautiously took two steps into the apartment and stopped. Something didn’t feel right. Something was terribly wrong.
“You’ve betrayed me, Giles. I won’t be selfish and go on about what you’ve done to me. But I won’t stand by and watch you destroy everybody else.”
The corners of Giles’ lips twitched upwards in a gesture of complete bemusement. “This is a joke, yes?”
“No. I know what you’re up to. You and Ethan. I won’t let it continue.”
“Ethan? How did you…?” Giles paused as Buffy turned to him with wide, fierce eyes. She laughed.
“So I’m right.”
“Yes, you are right that I’ve been in contact with him, although god only knows how you’ve found out about it. But I’ve merely communicated to him our problems with the box. I can assure you that there is nothing untoward about it.”
Buffy didn’t hear a word. “I’ll kill you before I let you hurt my friends,” she said.
Giles stepped further into the apartment, anger pushing him forward to confront his wayward Slayer. “Don’t be so damn ridiculous. Just what do you think I am?”
“A murderer!” Buffy screamed. Her tears flowed in thick streams and she started to pant harshly, unevenly. “You think I’d let you…I know you…You…I…This is all wrong!”
“Yes, yes it is.” Giles took yet another step forward. He’d been well aware that Buffy was not herself, that grief had made her rash and volatile. She’d beaten up Xander, for a start. And made some hasty decisions about Dawn before their mother had even died. Thoughts of Joyce drifted through his brain and Giles found himself regretting not having spent more time with the woman. She’d been good and pure, a wonderful mother and friend to all. For her sake, he should have come to Buffy sooner. He should have gotten her some help.
But Buffy had been slowly sinking for so long, sinking alongside Riley. But Riley’s demise had been much more apparent, much more dramatic. He had been the real worry. Buffy’s state of mind had come a clear second. His relief, everybody’s relief at Riley’s final death had overshadowed everything else, including Buffy.
Then Joyce died.
Then everyone argued over Dawn.
Then Xander got hurt.
Had anyone stopped to see how Buffy was right at the centre of it all and was not simply depressed? She was out of her mind.
With accumulating horror, Giles knew he was too late. If only he’d come to this conclusion yesterday, or the day before, or an hour ago, or anytime before stepping, alone, into his apartment to face a crazed Slayer.
The knife flashed as it slowly moved and Giles knew he would fight, knew he would try to live though this. He just knew that somehow…he would not survive.
Buffy lunged to the right and Giles had no choice but to duck and throw himself further into the apartment.
The fight was on.
Giles tuned in, concentrating on everything he’d ever taught his Slayer, every move he’d watched her perfect and every move that caused her to falter. That was all he needed, the slim chance of just one wrong move, one foot out of place, one overconfident sweep of leg or arm.
The room was a whirlwind. Books, papers and ornament flying and crashing, floating and spinning; the scrape and shattering of table and chairs as they were shoved and crashed out of the way. Book shelves flew and crashed and cushions expelled fluffy feathers as the knife lunged and slashed.
Blood splattered and stained the walls and skin purpled and split from brutal blows that aimed to kill.
But Giles stayed on his feet. Backed up to the farthest end of the apartment, he had no place left to go, nowhere to run. He was open, exposed and standing mere feet away from a killing machine that he himself had trained to never stop, to never give in, to never roll over in defeat.
He closed his eyes for just a moment, a moment to enjoy a last breath of air and to collect himself to die with dignity. She would not make him scream.
He felt himself change and he fixed her with a look that could only have come from Ripper. He could feel the evil that had crawled inside her and it pulled at his insides and rotted his heart.
He bared his teeth and charged.
Fists pounded and the knife flew out of sight. Flesh ripped and Giles fought for all he was worth - for himself, for his friends, for his only family.
A kick of legs and a scramble and Buffy was across the room. She stood and reached out. From the floor, soaked in his own and Buffy’s blood, Giles watched the gleam of the knife. It was beautiful.
The rising sun took the moon’s place at the window and the room was suddenly bathed in a rich orange glow. Buffy stretched and basked, almost drowning her blood coated body in a sea of pure light. She smiled at her friend and for just a moment Giles could see the girl beneath the monster.
“I love you, Giles. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Please help me.”
Giles reached out, Ripper gone now and the kindly Watcher back in his place. “Buff…”
Buffy calmly walked to her friend and knelt beside him. She kissed his forehead and stroked his hair with the gentle touch of a mother. “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she said again.
She raised the knife above her head, and screamed.
Screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming. She was screaming.
He pounded into her and she screamed as he split her, violated and broke her.
Screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming. She was screaming.
He held her face into the pillow and the screams became muffled murmurs of pain and suffering.
Alexander blinked and gripped tighter to his bear. “Mommy?”
Dawn stood back and raised shaking hands to cover her mouth. She watched through a downpour of tears as Spike wrestled Xander out of the chair and onto the floor.
She’d been having a beautiful dream, one filled with roses, chocolate and her mother in a flowing white dress, until the screaming started. At first it was the roses that screamed at her, cried for her to stop and cried for their own mother. Then she was wrenched from her dream state by the screams from her friend. Xander, slipping down in the chair, screaming and fitting as though he was in the grip of a terrible monster that was tearing at his heart.
She’d been scared. She’d hadn’t known what to do. So she stood and prayed that someone would come and help him.
And her prayers had been answered. A blur of black leather with a white halo had swooped passed her and cried out Xander’s name.
Xander writhed and struggled beneath Spike’s heavy grip. He screamed again as the nightmare replayed and replayed and, as he struggled to draw breath against his cries for help, his body jerked and fought with itself and against Spike.
Xander’s name was a mantra, and Spike repeated it over and over again. He chanted it and soothed with it, held tightly and whispered it.
“Come back to me, Xander. Xander, come on. Wake up, baby. Wake up, Xander. It’s me. It’s Spike. Come on, Xander. Xan. Come on, baby. Wake up for me. Wake up, Xander.”
Xander gasped and grabbed hold of Spike’s arms. His eyes blasted open as the dream whirled away and the reality of his home and his lover took its place. “Oh, god.” He closed his eyes again and felt the pressure as Spike pressed their bodies together and held him tightly.
“Spike. Spike…I…I remember.”
What had she done? What had she been thinking?
The lifeless eyes of Rupert Giles stared up at her and accused.
“I know! I know! Don’t look at me!”
Buffy stood and wiped her face with her sleeve. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. This had been a mistake. Giles wasn’t supposed to be dead.
Riley was going to be so mad.
He needed fresh blood. Living blood. The blood of the dead would simply not do.
She’d fucked up again.
Wound him! Knock him out! Slice open his belly and drag him to the fucking car! Don’t plunge the knife straight into his heart, rip him to pieces, and expect Riley to be happy!
No, she wasn’t going to fail again. Riley wanted Giles out of the way? Well, he'd got his wish. Riley wanted fresh blood? She’d go and damn well get him some. She was The Slayer. She could do anything she wanted and there was no-one to stop her.
Buffy glanced down at Giles again. Her love for him, her compassion and guilt stayed hidden behind a tidal wave of dark rage and insanity. She kicked him and spat.
She kicked him again and left. As fast as she could.
A curious black eyebrow rose in surprise as the blur of pink material and blood red adornment sped past. A hand on her shoulder instructed her to stay back, to stay out of sight.
They made their way to the apartment, already feeling and knowing that they weren’t going to like what they found, that they were too late.
"Well, well. Looks like the lovely B finally went 'round the twist. Ten points for the slaughter. Didn't think she had it in her."
Faith shrugged. "Sorry, Wes. Just saying. You all thought I was the crazy one."
"Yes, well, clearly not." Wesley took a deep breath. "I'll…I'll start making the phone calls; the Watchers council, police. Do you…? Do you call an ambulance for a dead…" Wesley's voice caught in his throat and he had to turn away.
"I guess so. Go on, go sit. I'll take care of him."
Wesley nodded and did as he was asked. He righted a fallen chair, sat, and reached for the phone. And which one of the Scooby gang would he contact? The first point of call had always been Giles and then perhaps Buffy. But with the other Watcher dead, most likely at the hands of Buffy herself, the selection of 'responsible' adults was dwindling by the second.
After a shaky start a few years ago, Giles and Wesley had become firm friends; firm friends that argued and disagreed as long as the world still turned, admittedly, but friends nonetheless.
And Faith was now the Slayer and guardian of the Cleveland Hellmouth with Wesley as her much put upon Watcher. Time had changed both of them.
Faith was as fiery and brutal as ever, but now she was focused, hell-bent on fighting the good fight and protecting the world from total demon domination. What a rush. The feeling of power it gave her made her head spin. She was needed. They all needed her. The world needed her.
And Wesley, he was barely recognizable as the lanky man that first showed up in his old fashioned suit with his nervous stutter. Rougher around the edges now, Wesley was a man that made you think twice before you spoke to him, made you take a step backwards if his expression darkened and his lip curled.
He glanced over at his Slayer and his heart lifted just slightly as he watched her carefully drape a soft, dark throw over Giles' body. She had come a long way over the years. She was still rash and impulsive, yes, but underneath that steely and cocky exterior was a heart that beat with compassion.
"Who do we tell, boss? Or do you want me to just hunt her down and ask questions later?"
"I…I think a phone call to someone would be in order, Faith. It's just a matter of…who."
"I think maybe Spike would be a better idea. Those children grew up with…I'll call Spike."
Faith nodded and looked back down at the body. Yeah, call Spike. Call Spike and start the hunt.
Slayer against Slayer. Again. Should be fun.
Spike said goodbye to Tara and thanked her for coming so quickly. He felt guilty that he was having to ship Dawn out, but this was suddenly no place for her to be. Not that she minded. She was more concerned for Xander. The episode had scared her. She hadn't been expecting it and she didn't understand what was happening. The look of sheer relief on her face when she realised that Xander was having a nightmare and was not about to die made Spike's heart ache. That was something she shouldn't have seen.
"Take care of Xand?"
"'Course, Nibblet. And you go get yourself some sleep."
"But it's day."
"Like you've actually been asleep all night?"
"Well…no." Dawn smiled mischievously and for a second Spike could see Xander in her expression; that same bright exterior that switched on when things were cracking up on the inside.
"Then go sleep some, brat."
Spike closed the door before Dawn could protest further. He paused at the kitchen to make a quick coffee and quickly moved to the bedroom where he'd guided Xander earlier.
"Hey, luv. You okay?"
Xander sat up from his curled-up position on the bed. He smiled and held out his still shaking hands for the coffee.
"There you go. Get it while it's hot."
Xander nodded and swallowed a mouthful of the scorching liquid, enjoying the painful burn on his tongue and throat and using it to ground him and remind him that he was outside of the dream world now.
"Gonna talk to me?"
Another silent nod and Spike was climbing over the bed to pull Xander backwards into his arms. "Then talk. Tell me, luv. Tell me what you dream about."
"It started with…I dreamt that someone was raping me."
Spike tightened his arms.
"It was so real. I could feel everything, the fear, the…pain. And…it was every night. Always the same, but…each time I dreamt that it was a different person that was hurting me, someone that I knew."
"Was it ever…me? Did I…?"
Xander turned quickly in Spike's arms and clutched tighter. "No! No, never you. Never."
"It could be anyone," Xander said with a shrug. "Someone at work or maybe someone that I'd seen that day in the supermarket. Once it was…it was Willow."
Spike rubbed his cheek against Xander's hair. "And this was every night, luv?"
"It felt so real," Xander said in response to the question. "And then I just started seeing the one face. It was my dad. And then I realised that…it was real. It was a memory."
Spike growled deep in his throat and he felt his features straining to shift into their demon form. "Your dad? Your dad…did this to you?"
"No! It wasn't me, Spike."
"No, no, all kinds of no. It was a memory, but it wasn't me. It was a memory of something I saw. It wasn't me, Spike. I swear it."
Spike relaxed and realised that he'd been just about to cut Xander's circulation off. "Sorry, pet. Sorry." Some of the tension eased out and he felt Xander smoothing his hands over his back in soothing circles. "Oi, I'm supposed to be comforting you." He felt Xander smile against his shirt.
Xander laughed lightly. "Why is it that everything is okay when you're holding me?"
"'Cause I'm sodding marvellous."
"Come on, pet. Tell me what you remember."
Xander took a large, deep breath. "I was a kid. I couldn't sleep. I wandered into my parents' bedroom, like I did if I couldn't sleep or if I was scared. But this time, I saw…um, I saw my dad raping my mom."
"Alright. Don't take this the wrong way, pet, but…you sure? If you were just a kiddie, maybe you saw something you didn't understand and…"
"No. I know what I saw. I mean, I didn't realise at the time exactly what was going on, but I remember her screaming and I remember him holding her down. And now every night I see it over and over. I know what he did to her.
So now I know; now I know why she was…why she was the way she was. No wonder she killed herself."
Xander's voice turned strained and bitter. "I hated her so much," he finally whispered.
"Not your fault, pet. Not your fault. No matter what happened between her and your dad, they should have looked after you. They should have loved you."
"I'm not sure they ever did."
"I love you, baby. Always love you."
"Make the nightmares stop, Spike. I don't wanna see." There was an edge of desperation to Xander's voice, so Spike held tighter and tried to reassure his lover with just his love and presence.
The phone rang and Xander couldn't help but laugh again. "If that's someone with more bad news, apocalypsy or otherwise, tell them we're not home. In fact, tell them that we moved to another state. Closed for business."
Spike allowed Xander to wiggle from his grasp and lay down on the bed.
"Oh, right. I'm getting it, am I?"
"Unless you want it to ring and ring."
"I'll get it."
Spike picked up the phone and smiled faintly as Xander curled around a pillow and closed his eyes.
"This had better be good," he said into the handset.
Spike listened to the voice. And he felt his heart plummeting.
Oh, god. How was he going to tell Xander?
Xander pulled himself straighter and squared his shoulders. "I'm alright. I'm coming. Who else is gonna put you out when the blanket catches fire?"
"You're bloody not alright. And no, you're not coming."
"You need to rest, luv. Not having you running about when you should be..."
"Spike, you've just told me that somebody else I love is dead. I can't stay here alone. I...I don't want to think about... I don't want to be alone. I want to help. And besides, do you really think it's a good idea for me to be here alone while Buffy's out there picking out her next victim?"
Spike growled. "Fuck." Well, there goes life again, kicking you right in the balls. He reached out and stroked Xander's cheek. "I'll make it better. I'll..."
"I know, Spike. I love you. But let’s just...Lets just sort this out. Let’s just... I want to see Giles. I need to see him. I can't believe that...I just need this."
Spike nodded and took Xander's hand, squeezing tightly in reassurance.
Despite Spike being unwilling to admit that he was ever wrong, he really did have to admit that Xander shouldn't be alone with a crazed Slayer on the loose. Add to that the fact that Xander had been attacked and beaten bloody by said Slayer just two nights ago and you had yourself a little horror story.
Spike had to relent. For Xander's safety he had to agree to let him tag along. But that didn't mean that he had to like it. What with Joyce's death, the beating, and now this, Xander's own sanity threatened to take a drastic nose dive - and possibly a loop the loop.
Spike nodded and started for the door, sighing as he felt Xander following silently and calmly behind him.
Calm before the storm? Spike had never been surer of anything in his life.
She searched. She walked the streets and she searched. It almost felt like she was a kid again, choosing a box of chocolates for her mother. She wanted the perfect one. The one that would make Riley happy.
And finally, after searching for an hour which felt like a day, she found the one. Male, of course. No more women for Riley to touch up while he sucked and drank.
Hmmm, and there was a pattern emerging here. Someone else she knew. Maybe it was just that she knew everybody? Or maybe it was just easier than luring a total stranger into your house for a soda or a coffee.
He was easy to lure. He was easy to deceive. Some people were just natural mugs, so easily led by another. So desperate for friendship and attention that they’d do anything you asked.
She even led him by the hand.
He was a sweet boy, really. She’d seen him around, seen him with Xander and another friend from her school days.
She even took pity and let him sit in her kitchen and drink his promised soda. And eat some cookies, too.
“Do you want to come upstairs?”
His eyes widened and his fingers twitched.
Buffy smiled. Like there was any doubt that he’d say yes.
Very, very sad. She was doing him a favor.
“Oh, I don’t know. A surprise?”
“I…I like surprises.”
“Come on, then.”
She held out her hand and he took it. Sweet, naive little boy. Maybe she’d give him a small taste before he died.
They arrived just as the ambulance was taking the body away.
Sealed up in a black body bag and strapped to a stretcher, Giles was being loaded into the back of an ambulance.
They watched from the car as the paramedics idly chatted, almost complacent in their duty and unconcerned that a person had just died.
To them, it was another death in a town that saw demise and decay in every shadow and in every corner. They saw it every day and every night. This was nothing special. In fact, this call out had been a nice surprise.
No limbs missing completely, no weird slime to get stuck all over your uniform, and, best of all, no twin puncture marks that meant that your cadaver might wake up and try to bite you in the ass on the way to the mortuary. So, to sum up, the paramedics were in good spirits.
"Buffy did this? Buffy did this. Did she?"
Spike placed a hand on Xander's back. "It looks like it. We'll talk to Wes, yeah? See what he's got to say."
"But she did this? She murdered Giles. He's gone and she...I have to see."
"No! I have to see what she did. I need to see!" Spike's hand clamped tightly over Xander's shoulder and held him in place. "Spike, let go. I have to see!"
Spike gripped tighter and Xander struggled to free himself. The tears threatened to fall and Xander managed to twist around in Spike’s grasp to face him. "Please, Spike. Please," he whispered. "It's my last chance. Please, just to say goodbye."
The eyes were big and pleading, rendering Spike completely helpless against their power. He nodded and released his lover, watching as Xander almost flew out of the car and across the road to the ambulance.
The paramedics protested and blocked Xander's path for no more than a few seconds. Spike approached, wrapped in a black blanket that looked more like a cape. His snarl of warning and flash of teeth were enough to have the paramedics backing away with their hands in the air.
Xander grabbed at the body bag, desperately seeking out and finding the fastening. He stopped for a second and took a deep breath. It couldn’t be that bad. It couldn't be. A broken neck? A dagger to the heart? A sword to the stomach? Xander had seen it all in his time on the Hellmouth, and there wasn't much that could squick him anymore.
It couldn't be that bad.
The fastening was suddenly wrenched and the bag was ripped open.
Xander lost his mind.
Buffy hit. That hammer sure was a good investment.
Riley drank, sucked his blood and milked his life force from his body.
Bones knitted. Flesh grew and covered. Hair sprouted. But it wasn’t enough. He needed more.
He sent her out.
One more. Just one and he’d be done. He’d be free to roam, free to escape, free to once again enjoy the simple pleasures of an everyday man.
One more and he’d be free.
Just one more.
He couldn’t stop staring. Was that blood patch still spreading?
The police had taken statements. Yes, they were friends. No, they didn’t see anything. Yes, they would go down to the station a week next Thursday to make a statement.
The police didn’t care. They were too busy with shoplifters and domestics. Slaughtered, mangled people came under the category of ‘Don’t ask questions; stay alive longer.’ It would have angered Xander if he’d thought they were wrong.
This wasn’t a town for asking questions. And Xander was sure that after years of slaying, fighting and just generally acting suspiciously, they were all marked by the police. Don’t go near. Don’t ask questions. Don’t get involved. And for fuck's sake, don’t upset the blond guy.
He felt the arm around his waist tighten; Spike’s way of comforting when a thousand words could never reach him.
Voices murmured. Were they raised? Who knew? Xander couldn’t hear one single clear word. His brain had fogged over and his eyes only saw blood. The only recognisable sound was that of his barely controlled breathing and the deep hammering of his heart in his chest.
How could it be true? How could Giles no longer be here? How could it be that they would never again see him smile, or frown, or roll his eyes? They would never again hear his anger or his joy.
They would never again be able to just touch.
Xander slowly looked over to a pile of fallen papers. Blood was congealing and it glimmered ever so slightly under the stray sunbeam that Spike had carefully avoided.
Giles was gone.
Giles didn't exist anymore.
But how could that be? How can someone not exist? What is it like to be nothing? How can you not feel something? Anything?
Xander closed his eyes and tried to feel what nothing would be like. It couldn’t be done. There must be a heaven. There must be a place to go when you die, a place to exist and a place to be.
Was Giles watching them now? Or was he still on the escalator upwards?
But what if he wasn’t? What if Buffy had sent him into a black void? Maybe that void was hell, the human variation, anyway. What could be worse for a person to endure than an eternity of nothing?
Xander caught sight of a newspaper. The crossword was done. It was always done.
It could only be hell if you could feel the nothing. But death is nothing. You can’t feel it, touch it or taste it. But nothing is something. So how come you can’t feel it? It’s right there! Death is real and when it comes it’s right fucking there! How can you not feel that?
There has to be something.
Xander’s head swam. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get his head around it. All he could think was that Buffy had taken Giles away. Whatever kind of nothing Giles was now coping with, Xander had no idea.
But he knew one thing. Giles was gone and it made him feel sick.
His head swam again and so did the room. The arm around his waist tightened again and he felt himself moving; down a little at first and then the room swung sideways; down again and he was staring at the carpet, his head somewhere between his knees. A hand moved through his hair and over his back and Xander realised that he was crying; tears for himself, for Willow, Tara, Dawn and Spike.
And he cried tears for Giles, because he wasn’t here to cry them for himself.
A nod and a grateful but forced twitch of lips and Xander was left to his thoughts again.
Spike was arguing. He was maybe five feet away, but Xander felt like he wanted to tug him back and hold on for dear life. He scrunched his hands into fists and squeezed. He could feel panic setting in.
The odd word broke through the numb haze and penetrated into his brain.
Xander looked up and watched his friends. They stood in a huddle, as if to shield him from words that even a deaf person could hear if he was actually listening.
What if she killed Willow? Or Tara? Or Dawn? Oh, god, what if she went after Spike?
No. No fucking way.
Xander stood on shaky legs. He tried to keep his heart from racing and his breath from spiralling. He willed all the gods in the Universe to let him leave unnoticed.
He had to stop this. He had to stop her.
Spike was looking at the ground, pain etched over every inch of his face. How would he look if Buffy forced him to be alone again?
Not going to happen. Together forever, somehow. She was not going to hurt them. She was not going to hurt anyone, not anymore.
However he had to do it, he’d do it. He’d stop her.
He was running now, his heart tripping crazily and his breath panting frantically. All his strength and anger had welled up into a tight ball and he could feel it bulging and swelling, the fury pushing to explode and devour him and anyone near.
The Gods had been kind. He was pounding down the street and he was alone.
He needed to ask why. From one friend to another, he needed to know why.
And then he’d wipe her from the face of the planet.
Somewhere along the way, Buffy lost her purpose. Her mind spun with thoughts, accusations, missions, idle gossip and rage.
She’d forgotten one very important thing. Stupid, dumb blond.
She’d forgotten Dawn. Her beloved sister was staying with god-knows who. That couldn’t go on. Think of the consequences!
Dawn could not be allowed to have contact with Spike. A vampire without a soul? Disgusting.
Dawn could not be allowed to have contact with Xander. A man that couldn’t even attend the funeral of his own mother? Disgusting.
Dawn could not be allowed to have contact with Willow. A good Jewish girl turning to the black arts? Disgusting.
Dawn could not be allowed to have contact with Tara. A stuttering lesbian freak? Disgusting.
Dawn should be with her, at home. And when Buffy decided that heaven was calling again, she’d leave Dawn to lie in Riley’s arms; good, pure, beautiful Riley.
The last victim would have to wait. She had a sister to collect.
Spike ran. His hands shook as they held the blanket around him. He threw open the door and got in.
How had Xander gotten out without him seeing, noticing? How long had he been gone? What the fuck were the chances that he hadn’t seen him, hadn’t heard him, hadn’t fucking felt his beating heart as it sped with just the exertion of standing?
Spike turned on the engine and put his foot to the floor. The car sped away, leaving Faith and Wesley still running to their vehicle.
It was obvious where he’d gone. It was obvious why. Spike screamed at the windshield and swerved as the steering wheel buckled under his grip.
I’ll fucking kill him, Spike thought with a loud hysterical laugh.
He’s still alive, was Spike’s next thought. He had to be. He was sure of it. He hadn’t found Buffy. He would know if Xander was…
The steering wheel buckled again and Spike let up before he snapped it off completely.
The world, his life, Xander’s life; it was all spinning out of control. Purpose had been lost and suddenly all that was left was a desperate struggle to take control, fight for survival and scrape up and hoard all that was left before someone else took it and desecrated it.
The car sped down the quiet streets. It knew where it was going and it would stop for no-one. Winning was the ultimate prize, and this car, old and battered as it was, took on a new life and raced for the trophy – for Xander.
The car approached a corner and smoothly veered around it.
He wouldn’t be too late. He wouldn’t be too late.
Lightning cracked across the sky and suddenly Spike struggled to control the car as the engine cut out and the steering locked. The car kept going and another corner sped towards him.
The light from the sun began to dissipate and, as the inevitable crash came, Spike glanced up and watched a total eclipse take hold and plunge the world into total darkness.
Xander crept into the house and looked around. No-one downstairs. He heard movement from upstairs and his expression darkened further.
She was here. The bitch was here.
He quickly grabbed an axe from the wooden chest by the door; the wooden chest that he’d crafted, with help from Spike, for Buffy’s birthday. He was surprised it was still there, surprised that Buffy hadn’t wrecked it along with the rest of his life.
As he quietly climbed the stairs he heard more movement. It was coming from the bedroom. He hoisted the axe into an attack position and climbed further.
The need for explanations had fled and all that remained was a primal urge to rip and tear. Buffy had the Slayer strength and advantage but he didn’t care. He was not going to allow her to kill again. She’d brought this on herself and she was going to pay the price.
He flung open the door with enough rage to rip it from its hinges and entered the room.
He dropped the axe and stared, transfixed and hypnotised by the sight before him.
“Not quite. It’s me. You remember me?”
Xander stared at the thing before him. It was Riley. The body was bloody and twisted, its skull protruding through virgin skin and its heart thumping and making its chest twitch and heave. “Where’s Buffy?”
Riley shrugged. “Why? Come to kill her? I wouldn’t blame you, not after what she’s put you through.”
Xander nodded, his body beginning to shake as Riley edged towards him.
“Why don’t you come closer, Xander? Let me help you.”
Xander tried to step back, but it was like he was standing in a block of rock hard cement.
“Let me help you, Xander. You look tired. Come sit with me.”
The voice was kind and there was something in the tone and in Riley’s innocent, bloodshot eyes that spoke of trust and safety. Despite himself, Xander took a step forward.
“That’s it, Xander. Come to Daddy.”
Xander swallowed and started to shake his head. He looked quickly around the room for a reason that he wasn’t quite sure of. Escape route? Weapon? His gaze caught on a dried up lump of something on the floor. Bile started to ease up his throat as he realised that the lump had legs. He couldn’t help but keep looking, forgetting the immediate threat in front of him.
Eyes that bulged in death stared at him and begged for recognition. See Me. Know me. Miss me.
The body was small, almost like a child, wasted and twisted and naked except for a pair of bright red sneakers. He recognised them.
A present brought in celebration of a birthday passed a month ago.
The body opened its mouth and expelled air like a deflating tire. Xander blinked and wrapped his arms around himself in self-comfort.
“They do that,” Riley explained. “Or so I’ve noticed.”
Xander nodded again. “Why?” he whispered after a long silence.
“I needed to heal. He served his purpose. Much like Anya.”
Xander looked up. The world crashed in on him and he started to back away. “You? You killed…? Oh, my god, no.”
“Come on, Xander. You didn’t love her. What do you care?”
“You killed her! You’re a fucking murderer!”
Riley shrugged. “Just like you.”
“You’re here to murder Buffy.” It was not a question.
“Shhh. I know, Xander. I know. Come on. Come to me. I’ll take your pain away. I know you can’t live now, with all your friends dead. Because they are, you know. Or will be by the time she gets back. No family. No friends. And you know that Spike will leave, don’t you? You aren’t enough for him. He settled.”
Xander looked back down at the floor.
“Buffy told me all about your parents. They couldn’t love you either, could they? If they couldn’t love you, how do you expect Spike to? He’s been around for over a century. He’s seen it all and done it all. What have you done, Xander? He’ll tire of you. Oh, I know he won’t kill you. I do believe that he cares for you. But he will leave. One day. And then what will you have? Hmm? Come on, now. Come to me. I’ll make it all go away. I’ll chase away your demons.”
Xander looked up. “No,” he said, firmly. “Is this how you convinced Buffy to kill her friends?”
Riley’s smile faltered.
“Is this how you twisted and used her? Fuck, what did you do to her?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Xanderrrr. Come.” Riley stretched out his hand and Xander flinched backwards.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Or?” Riley began slowly advancing, trying to back Xander into the corner. “What will you do? What can you do? Come on, let me help you.”
“No. No, no, this isn’t happening.”
“I used to tell myself that. Used to try and pretend I was dreaming all the pain. But why kid yourself? Some things have to be endured. Take it from me. And that makes the pleasures so much sweeter...” Riley finally backed Xander into the corner. He stroked a bloody and pus soaked hand down his cheek and leaned in to kiss him.
“NO!” Xander lunged forward and wrapped his hands around Riley’s neck. His fingers sunk into the new flesh and, in a flash of inspiration, Xander curled his fingers and tore into Riley’s throat.
Riley screamed and stumbled back towards the door, blocking Xander’s escape.
Xander cursed and backed up towards the window. He had to get past Riley. He scanned the room for a weapon and his gaze fell upon The Box. Fucking Box!
The last of Xander’s available brain space was filled up with new fury. That Box was the cause of it all. That Box had killed Giles and Anya and Andrew.
Xander picked up the Box and held it up to throw it. FUCKING BOX!
Riley stopped screaming. His eyes went wide and he suddenly pointed to The Box. “Give that to me.”
Xander took a few deep breaths before he answered. Riley looked rattled and Xander realised that he may have found his escape. “No.”
“One last time. Give me The Box.”
Xander held The Box in front of him. “You want it?”
Riley licked his lips and looked rapidly from The Box, to Xander, and back to The Box.
“FUCKING HAVE IT!” Xander shouted. He turned, drew back his salvation and threw it at the window. He allowed himself a split second to enjoy Riley’s torment as his precious Box sailed through the air and smashed through the glass.
The moment that Riley made a lunge for the window, whining and near crying, Xander made his escape. He was unnoticed as he fled the room, ran down the stairs and bolted out the front door. He stopped at the end of drive and picked up the fallen Box. Looking back up at the window at Riley’s distressed face, Xander proudly and smugly spun The Box in his hand, turned, and ran as fast as he could towards home.
By the time he'd stopped running, his lungs burning and the muscles in his legs aching like he'd sprinted a marathon, Xander was lost. His smugness at his escape and his amusement at Riley's distress were swept away and in their wake was a feeling of total and utter panic.
His ability to formulate rational thoughts was no longer in existence and Xander's breath spiralled out of control. The air grew thin and Xander felt like four invisible walls were closing in and crushing him.
Where to go?
What to do?
Where was Buffy?
Where was Spike?
Riley? Had he run from the house, after all? Was he just around the corner, waiting to pounce, tear and drink?
Voices of children rang out in the distance, playful laughter and overjoyed screeching filling the avenue. But Xander only heard the roar and cackling of devils. He spun around, trying desperately to work out where they would attack him from.
A sob escaped and Xander wiped at his eyes with his sleeve. He noticed The Box in his hand. He'd forgotten it was there.
The Box thrummed. It murmured and whispered and Xander felt comfort seeping from it.
Like a mystical treasure, The Box shone and radiated its power. It called to him and Xander wondered idly how it opened. Giles had said it was difficult and Xander could see why.
The Box was a mass of ornate carvings, no opening visible and no solution to be found. Xander turned it around and around in his hands, the thrum lulling him into a further sense of safety.
It was beautiful, so divine. A master had carved it and Xander wondered how long it would have taken to perfect, how many versions were deemed imperfect only to be discarded.
He needed to touch its beauty.
Xander stilled The Box in his hands and traced his fingers around the carvings on one side. The noises around him were gone now, the panic inside him at bay and the invisible walls pushed back.
As his thumb traced a small carved circle, a tiny bolt of blue lightning streaked around The Box and sizzled at his fingers. Xander jumped and smiled at the beauty. His thumb traced the circle again and as he pressed down; The Box clicked and began a sickly sweet lullaby.
Xander started to shake as The Box started to come apart and shift in his hands.
No, no, no, no, no, no.
He grabbed at the rotating shards, desperately trying to force them back, to stop his terrible mistake.
But The Box continued to shift. It was unstoppable. Xander was sure that even Spike's strength could not have stopped it.
The light from the sun dimmed and Xander heard deep laughter.
No, no, no. What have I done?
The panic returned. He hadn't meant to do it. He hadn't wanted to open the box.
They were coming. He could see their outlines in the utter darkness. They were approaching and there was no way out. They surrounded him from all sides and Xander wondered what he'd ever done to deserve his life.
Why was he being punished?
The Cenobites stopped and smiled.
Spike pulled himself out the car and leant against it. His head was spinning around and around and for a moment he forgot where he was and why he was there.
Darkness wrapped around him and Spike closed his eyes and welcomed the peace it offered him. He concentrated on the pain in his gut, willing it to sink into the pit of blackness and leave him alone forever. He felt blood trickling down his cheek and he reached for it, gathering up the liquid and tasting. The flavour burst open on his tongue, the rich taste suddenly awaking him with the essence of himself and his lover.
Spike took off down the street. He ignored the agony of broken ribs and a shattered elbow and focused on finding his love.
And sure enough, the screams came, Xander's sweet voice distorted with fear and pain.
He looked up at the sky as he ran and with dawning horror he recognized the purple lightning that streaked around the blackened sun.
The Box. It was open and it was angry.
Spike remembered what he'd warned his lover those weeks ago.
Once they come, they can't be stopped.
Interfere and you die.
Spike didn't care. Life without Xander would be more painful than any agony in hell.
He would interfere. He would stop them and hold Xander in his arms again.
Or he would die trying.
As a distant bell tolled, the creatures stood unmoving and silent. They stared at their new toy and waited for the inevitable questions, denials and the final panic before the toy knew nothing but sweet pain and torment.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Xander asked. His voice was shaking and unsteady, his brain unwilling to accept what he was seeing.
“CENOBITES. EXPLORERS OF THE FURTHER REGIONS. DEMONS TO SOME. ANGELS TO OTHERS. YOU CALLED US.”
“No. I-I didn’t.”
“THE BOX – IT IS A MEANS TO SUMMON US. YOU OPENED IT. WE CAME.”
Xander shook his head. “No, I didn't mean to summon you. You can just go back to wherever you came from.”
The female Cenobite circled. She fingered the metal that pierced her neck and smiled. “NOT ALONE, WE CAN’T.”
“This isn’t real.”
Pinhead laced his fingers together and tilted his head. “I CAN ASSURE YOU, IT IS. YOU SOLVED THE PUZZLE BOX. NOW YOU MUST COME WITH US AND TASTE OUR PLEASURES.”
“Please, no, no, no.”
A Cenobite grabbed Xander’s neck as he tried to run. He pulled Xander across the tarmac and pressed his back to his leather covered chest, squeezing his throat in an iron grip. A huge, gaping, rectangular mouth filled with pointed teeth chattered and cackled like a hyena into his neck.
“No,” Xander sobbed. “Please, no.”
Pinhead laughed. “NO TEARS PLEASE, CHILD. IT IS A WASTE OF GOOD SUFFERING.”
A chain soared from the darkness and latched onto Xander’s leg. Another and another and another from all directions and Xander was screaming. He was pulled to the floor and out of Chatterbox’s grip. As the chains snaked into his body, Xander tried to crawl away. He knew it was useless, but he had to try to survive.
He owed it to Spike to try.
Wires whipped through the air like telephone cables in a storm. They wrapped around his wrists and tugged his arms behind his back. Another chain plunged into his chest and pulled him forward until his face was pressed into the ground.
“WE KNOW WHAT YOU DREAM ABOUT. WE KNOW YOU.”
The voice was familiar but Xander barely noticed. More wires whipped through the air and lashed at his back.
“DON’T WORRY, SWEET. I’M POSITIVE SHE ENJOYED IT. WE KNOW YOU DID, TOO,” the familiar voice mocked. “IT HAS GIVEN YOU A TASTE THAT YOU’VE NOT YET ENJOYED. MAYBE IF YOU’D ASKED YOUR DADDY NICELY, HE’D HAVE FUCKED YOU, TOO.”
The chains and wires left his body and retreated. Xander lay panting on the ground, all his strength sucked dry by fear and immense pain. He watched as a pair of polished leather boots walked around him and, without warning, he was lifted and pressed against a hard body.
“IT’S TIME, XANDER. I ALWAYS WANTED YOU.”
Xander lifted his head and pushed himself far enough away from his captor to look at his face. His pulse raced faster and the world tilted and darkened further. “Angel.”
“ANGELUS,” the Cenobite corrected.
“THEY TOOK ME IN. THEY SHOWED ME THE ERROR OF MY WAYS. MY IDEA OF PAIN AND TORTURE WAS INADEQUATE. BUT THEY SAW MY POTENTIAL. XANDER, I CAN SHOW YOU SO MUCH.”
Angelus smiled, revealing his gleaming fangs. They were the only part of him that was even vaguely the same. His brow was swollen to twice its normal size and it bulged between wires that cut deep into his skin. His lips were contorted into a permanent sneer and his hair stood up in wild black spikes.
But his eyes… They were still impossibly beautiful. Large, deep, emotion-filled; they stared into Xander’s soul and begged him to enjoy the ride.
Xander was pressed further into Angelus’ body. He clawed at the leather-clad chest and arms, but it was useless. His strength was no match even against the normal Angelus, but this new and improved version was made of steel. As Xander kicked, punched, scratched and even bit, Angelus stood solid and unmoving.
Finally, when he’d grown tired of the pathetic struggling, Angelus clamped his hands to each side of Xander’s head and pulled him forward. He sealed his lips over Xander’s and kissed him.
Fangs grew longer and pierced his lips and Xander choked and struggled to breathe as Angelus’ tongue snaked out and entered his throat.
When the tongue retreated from his mouth and moved to lick his throat, Xander had a sudden burst of inspiration, an idea that, if he was right, could save him.
“Wait!” he shouted.
“NO TIME FOR ARGUMENT.”
Xander looked around at the larger Cenobite. He was wearing sunglasses and Xander recognised him as Lazlo, Spike’s once-friend.
“Y-you’ve done this before, right?”
Xander whipped his head around to try and face the voice. Pinhead.
“To a man named Riley Finn?”
“He escaped you.”
“I swear it’s true. He’s alive. He’s back. I’ve seen him.”
Pinhead hesitated; the sky crackled and purple lighting streaked around the sun. “SUPPOSE HE HAS SLIPPED US. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT?!”
“I could lead him to you. You could take him back to Hell instead of me.”
All the Cenobites looked at each other.
“SUPPOSE WE WANT YOU,” Angelus said, licking at Xander’s throat before sinking his teeth just under the surface of his skin.
“WAIT, ANGELUS,” Pinhead commanded. “I WANT TO SEE RILEY FINN FOR MYSELF. THEN, MAYBE…MAYBE.”
“BUT IF YOU CHEAT US, YOUR SUFFERING WILL BE LEGENDARY, EVEN IN HELL,” the female warned.
Pinhead stepped forward. “CHEAT US AND WE’LL TEAR YOUR SOUL APART!!!”
Xander was released from Angelus’ embrace. The Cenobites stepped back and one by one they started to smile.
“SHOW ME FINN. I WANT TO HEAR HIM CONFESS. YOU HAVE ONE HOUR.”
Xander started at Spike’s desperate cry. The Cenobites vanished, pleased that they would have the chance to catch up with an old friend, and Xander cried fresh tears of desperation.
Just let this be over, please.
As he sank to the ground, Xander felt the cool arms of his lover wrap around him.
“Luv? Fuck, Xan. Talk to me, pet. Come on, darlin’. Fuck, look at you. What did they do? What did they fucking do to you?”
“I’m sorry,” Xander whispered.
Spike hugged him tighter. “Don’t be.”
“No, I am. I didn’t mean to, Spike. I didn’t mean to open The Box.”
Spike nodded and ran his hands over Xander’s back. When he’d seen Xander in the distance, held brutally and surrounded by Cenobites, his heart had cracked and split.
Too many of them.
No way out.
His brain had done a flip and for a split second he had considered killing Xander himself, ending his lover’s life so that he would rest in death instead of suffering in Hell. “Why did you, baby?”
“I don’t know,” Xander sobbed. “Spike, I’m so sorry.”
“Shhh, it’s okay, luv. It’s alright now.”
“No, it isn’t. It won’t be okay until it’s over.”
Spike brushed the hair from Xander’s eyes. He heard, rather than saw, Wesley approach from behind them, but he ignored it and focused on Xander. Of course it wasn’t over. The Cenobites wouldn’t just disappear.
“What happened, luv?”
Xander closed his eyes and burrowed further into Spike’s embrace. Just a few seconds to ignore, forget and pretend that Hell didn’t exist.
Buffy didn’t wait for an invitation. She kicked down the door and stormed inside. She didn’t have far to look.
Tara and Willow stood up from the couch and blocked Buffy’s route to Dawn.
“Buffy, what are you…?!”
One glance at Buffy’s furious and psychotic face was all they needed to determine that this would not be a happy visit.
“Give me Dawn.”
“Buffy…” Willow tried.
“Give her to me.”
“No,” Tara said, her voice concrete and determined.
Buffy faltered, her eyes flicking rapidly between Willow and Tara. “What?”
“I think you heard me.” There was no stutter and no hesitation.
“I’m not your property!” Dawn wailed from behind her friends.
“Dawn!” Willow chided. She turned back to Buffy and spoke in a tone that she hoped was reasonable and not in the slightest bit threatening. “Dawn stays here. You’re not…you’re not in any fit state to take care of her.”
“Don’t make me do this, Willow. She’s my Sister and I want her.”
“You can’t have her, Buffy.”
“Why?” The question sounded more like the whine of a child than a query from an adult Slayer.
“Because we don’t know if we can trust you, not after what you did to Xander,” Willow answered.
Buffy laughed and pulled the blood stained knife from her pocket. “That was nothing.”
Three heartbeats boomed. So much blood.
“Oh, god, Buffy, what have you done?”
“Now isn’t that the question of the day?”
Buffy spun to face Faith.
“Go,” Faith commanded to the Witches and Dawn. She pulled back her fist and slammed it into Buffy’s face. “Getting slow, B,” she observed as the punch connected and Buffy stumbled back.
Buffy smiled again and lunged, the knife held out to plunge and rip as she’d done to Giles.
Faith spun out of the way, twirling her body and grabbing Buffy’s shoulder as she went. She pulled the other Slayer off balance and kicked her legs out from underneath her. “Go!” She shouted again.
Willow nodded, even though she knew that Faith was too preoccupied with the fight to notice. She grasped Dawn’s hand and tugged her across the room, Tara following close behind.
The plan was simple; get Dawn out of the house first. And then come back.
Dawn glanced over her shoulder and watched as Buffy rolled from Faith’s fists and kicked hard enough to send her enemy across the room.
She was torn.
This was her sister and she loved her with all her heart. But one look at Buffy’s crazed expression, her face red with fury and her mouth dripping drool like a rabid dog and Dawn just knew it wasn’t Buffy anymore. Something had crept in and infected. Something had taken root and spread like a deadly virus that poisoned and rotted.
A tug at her arm and Dawn let herself be dragged from the house.
The darkness of the outside shocked her. She’d seen the faltering of daylight from the window, but being outside and underneath the darkened sun felt so different, so real, so utterly desolate.
“Take the car. Take Dawn away, anywhere. I have to go back and help Faith.”
“No, Willow, please don’t back in there,” Dawn pleaded. “Did you see the knife? Did you see it? You can’t go back! You’ll die!”
“No! She’s killed Xander, I know it! Don’t go back.”
Willow’s expression darkened. She’d thought the same thing, but hearing it out loud devastated her and filled her with unprecedented rage.
Willow turned away and walked back to the house. Her movement was strong, flowing, determined and angry. She could hear the fight inside and she was eager to join. She only wanted one thing – to hear Buffy confess to Xander’s murder – before she tore her skin from her body.
Every blow countered, every block outmanoeuvred.
Faith spun, kicked, head butted and twisted, throwing everything she had at Buffy and more. And finally Buffy began to weaken. Her timing was a split second off and Faith used this to pound mercilessly with brutal blows from her fists and from any object that was within her reach.
Buffy panicked. She knew she was weak. Giles had seen to that. She had to give him extra credit for effort and sheer determination. He’d certainly given her a run for her money. She would never admit it, but she had been more afraid of the hatred she’d seen in his eyes than of any demon she’d ever fought and conquered.
Buffy looked up from where she struggled on the floor with Faith, and caught the fury-filled eyes of Willow. Her friend stood in the door way and just watched.
Faith saw the opening, the hesitation, and went for the kill. She placed her hands around Buffy’s neck and…stopped. She glanced down and stared stupidly at the knife embedded in her gut.
Faith looked up and sneered in Buffy’s face. “Bitch.” Her pulse slowed, her eyes rolled up and disappeared and, with one last shuddering breath, she died.
“Willow, I didn’t want to do this. Please believe me.” Buffy got up from the floor and cautiously approached. Willow’s face had paled to ivory and her eyes shimmered from red to black.
“I said, shut up.”
Buffy crept forward, cowering from a wrath that she knew she was powerless against. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Kill Xander? Your best friend? Then what did you mean?”
Buffy straightened up and took a chance by edging forward. “I didn’t kill Xander.”
“Don’t lie to me! I want to hear you say it!”
“I didn’t kill him! I would never! You have to believe me!”
“That wasn’t Xander’s blood. I swear it, Wills. I know I hurt him and I’m so sorry for that. But I didn’t kill him. I haven’t even been near him.”
Willows eyes returned to their normal colour and she fought to hold onto the slim hope that maybe she was wrong.
“Whose blood is it?”
Buffy shrugged. “Demon,” she lied. “It got in my way. I just wanted my sister back.”
Willow tried to believe. She wanted to believe. She wanted Xander to be alive more than she wanted her own existence. “You’re lying.”
“No. I’m not. Look at me, Wills. I’ve never been able to lie to you. I’d never kill Xander, never. The three of us -- friends forever, remember?”
And part of Buffy truly believed that. No matter what was in her head, no matter what was eating away her soul, she still loved Willow and Xander. And she still loved Giles, in life and in death.
A single tear slipped down Willow’s face and she reached out to her friend. How she wished she could turn back the clock and experience again the innocence of childhood, experience again the feeling that she’d got every time she’d opened her eyes to a sunny morning of school, friends and sleepovers. “Buffy, what’s happening to you?”
Buffy took her hand and smiled through her own tears. “I love you, Willow. I always have. No matter what happens, you’ll always be in my heart.”
Willow smiled back and squeezed Buffy’s hand. “I love you, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said as she pulled her hand from Willow’s. “I love you but…I have to get my sister. I’m so sorry.”
Willow never heard the second apology. A white strike of pain flashed through her skull and her eyes shuttered as the room closed in and her body failed.
Buffy watched her fall and she cried harsh tears of sorrow and regret. She put down the ornament and knelt to kiss her friend.
“I really am sorry.”
Tara stared out the windscreen and gripped the wheel.
“Who is that?” Dawn asked.
“I don’t know.”
The man was sweating, panting with exhaustion and with relief that the car had stopped before it hit him. He’d had his doubts that he wouldn’t end up wrapped around a tire or two, present circumstances as they were.
“Hey,” he said, raising his hand in a seemingly friendly gesture.
Tara shook her head and crashed back to reality. Oh, god, she’d nearly hit him.
“No, no, don’t get out,” the man said as he rushed around to the driver's side of the car. “There isn’t time.”
“Time? Time for…?”
“Just time. Look, I know this is going to sound completely bizarre and you’re gonna think I’m some kind of crackpot, but…your friends are in trouble. We have to help them before it’s too late. You see, there are these creatures after them.
And there’s a man that wants to kill them. And a Slayer; I saw a Slayer. Your friend? Dark haired guy with funny looking cupid bow mouth? He’s gonna die. They’re gonna take him.”
The man shrugged. “Don’t have names this time, only pictures.”
“Look, we don’t have time for this. In a nutshell, I get visions. I see things. And I saw your friends die. Cenobites, man. Not good.”
Tara debated for only a second. She’d already read the guy’s aura and she could detect no evil or malice. “Get in. Which way?”
“Keep going straight. I’ve already seen the house.”
Dawn turned around in her seat. “Who are you?”
They stood outside the house and Xander looked up at the window as if he expected to still see Riley’s face still pressed against it. He checked behind him and was unsurprised to see the five Cenobites in the distance. They lingered expectantly in a line, five demons without souls, watching, biding, anticipating and waiting for the result of their bargain.
“You don’t have to do this,” Xander said to Wesley. “You’re not involved.”
“I want to do this. The legend of The Order of The Gash, the Cenobites to a lay person, is quite clear that they will only take the one that opened the box. I’m quite safe.”
“Not from Riley, you’re not.”
Wesley straightened his shoulders. “I can handle myself, thank you very much.”
“Geez, chill, Wes. I was only sayin’.”
Spike allowed himself to feel a little pride. Xander was beaten, broken, wracked with grief and fear, yet he still carried on without even a consideration of stopping. It was true that time was not his friend on this occasion, but a lesser man would have crumbled in defeat and curled up to die.
But not Xander.
Life continued to screw him but he still held on, still fought for all he was worth.
“So, Riley confesses that he escaped and the Cenobites take him instead of you. That was the deal, yeah?”
Xander swallowed and nodded. “Yeah.”
Spike checked over his shoulder. The Cenobites looked impatient. “Then let’s get this the fuck over with.”
Xander felt an arm slip around his waist and urge him forward. He let Spike take most of his weight and together, with Wesley by their side, they entered the house.
The Cenobites followed.
They crept closer. The darkness proved to be no obstacle as terror and fear alone drove them to their destination. Up the stairs and into the room. Upstairs and into an ending.
An ending for Xander?
For all of them?
They glanced over their shoulders as they crept, watching and checking on the proximity of the Cenobites. They were close enough to watch with curiosity and anticipation, but far enough away to give their toys the illusion of possible freedom and escape.
The toys stopped just before the bedroom door and waited patiently while the younger one collected himself by drawing a pointless deep breath.
“Ready?” Spike whispered.
Xander nodded and Spike directed the question silently to Wesley with a raised eyebrow.
Wesley swallowed and nodded.
“Right.” Spike wasted no more time. They had a confession to get out of Riley. He marched forward with all the confidence and arrogance of a rock star, and strode into the room. “Riley Finn. What a fucking surprise.”
Buffy ran. It was all falling apart. Giles was dead. Faith. Anya. Willow. Andrew; well, he didn’t really count. She’d hurt Xander. And to top it all off, Dawn was afraid of her.
She’d lost her sister.
How had this happened? How had she come to this? This rage, this hate, this urge to kill and hurt; it had crept in from somewhere and hadn’t left.
Was it her? Was it Riley? Was it The Box? What was it that had leaked out and poisoned her with such hatred and fury?
She ran towards home. She had to see Riley, take comfort in his arms and hear the words that would reassure and calm her, make her see who the dark ones were.
Because she was the innocent one. She was the victim, the beaten and abused victim that never had any choice. She was the Chosen One, the one Slayer in all the world, burdened with saving the world from evil and darkness. She’d fought and she’d given away her life for the cause, for the good fight, but still it wasn’t good enough, apparently. No, the powers had obviously considered her a failure. That was the real reason that Faith had been called.
So now Faith was gone. At least that was one wrong that had been set to right. Faith was careless, heartless, all acid mouth and burning rage. She was a liability. The world was safer without her.
No, Faith was a dark one, not her. And Spike; he was poison. He’d used and abused her at her most vulnerable time. And when he was bored with that he thought he would try something new.
So he’d tried out Xander for size. And he’d fitted. So, what did that tell you? A soulless demon and his useless, crappy sidekick? That was so wrong it was untrue. Xander’s soul had to be tainted for him to be with such a creature. She’d been right when she’d said that Xander was going to hell. He deserved it…
No, he didn’t.
Buffy stopped and screamed. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!!” She grabbed at her hair and pulled, long, stringy strands coming away in great tufts. “SHUT UP!!!”
Have to make them stop. Have to make them stop. Have to make them stop.
That was it. That was the answer. Kill them all and stop the voices. Kill them all and blessed silence would be her final gift to herself.
Kill them all.
She ran again, her goal now to seek approval from her love. Then, she would hunt them down. One by one, they would be punished and they would know the hell that they’d created for themselves.
Evil never wins.
Xander and Wesley stood back and waited. This was Spike’s moment, something that he had to do, something to help give him at least some closure.
He rained brutal blows onto Riley’s body, slamming punch after punch into his face, his gut and his back. He kicked and he tore and he ripped. He grabbed at delicate flesh and pulled until it peeled away from muscle and bone.
Riley alternated between screaming, crying and laughing. The pain, it was unbelievable. To have your body ripped apart was a major ouchie. He dimly wondered if Spike would actually stop. Not that it really mattered. Even if he was reduced to a pile of innards and a single bone, he would one day regenerate. Just a few splashes of blood was all he needed to kick start the process. A patient man would eventually get his reward.
Riley fell back against the far wall, a sudden coolness attacking his chest. He looked down and saw bones again. Damn, that hurt like a bitch.
Spike looked down at the tattered flesh in his hands. He pulled a face of disgust and flapped his hands to get rid of the sodden skin. “What the fuck are you?”
Riley laughed. “So much more than you.”
“Really? What, you’re better than me? Immortal, are you?”
“Yes. You can tear me to pieces, but I’ll always come back. You can’t ever win. I’ll regenerate and I’ll kill you all.” Riley’s voice was slurred and his one eyelid was half shut in near unconsciousness. “I’ll…killyouall.”
Spike resisted a smile. “Well, don’t want that, do we?” he asked, throwing a glance over his shoulder at Xander and Wesley. Two heads obediently shook.
“Nope, don’t want that. Tell you what, consider the beating my way of payback for you being such a prick for your entire life, and for scaring my Xan half to death. Now, perhaps if there is anything that we can do for you? Something to make us truly even?”
Xander stepped forward and kept The Box in plain view at his side. As predicted, Riley noticed.
“The Box! Give it to me!”
“What, this?” Xander asked. “What’s so special about this?” He waved it about and tossed it up and down. Wesley snatched it.
“It’s what made me what I am,” Riley explained. “You must know what it is, Watcher?”
“Yes, indeed. But I must confess to being rather confused. I assume by your immortal state that have indeed solved The Box. And if that is true, what are you doing here?”
Riley smiled and both Xander and Wesley tried to avoid taking noticeable, deep breaths. “I escaped them.”
Spike held on to Xander’s hand and closed his eyes. “Thank you.”
The room darkened further and light streamed in through newly made slats in the walls. The sweet tinkle of a twisted lullaby played softly from The Box and, in the distance, a bell tolled in sombre celebration.
Riley pushed himself up from the floor, grimacing as the skin from his back stayed on the carpet. “What…? What…? No, no, what have…?”
The Cenobites walked into the room, ghostly spectres that fully materialised only as they turned and stared.
“RILEY,” greeted Pinhead.
“WE HAD TO HEAR IT FROM YOUR OWN LIPS,” the female explained. “NOW WE CAN CLAIM YOU BACK.”
Riley turned hateful eyes to Spike. “You set me up!”
“Yep. That I did. Nothing you didn’t deserve, mate.”
The Cenobites moved closer and Spike backed away, pulling Wesley and Xander with him.
Pinhead turned again and faced Xander with an unreadable expression. “THIS IS NOT FOR YOUR EYES.”
Xander nodded and backed up faster.
But Riley was not going to give up without a fight. He’d escaped the Cenobites and now, armed with a full knowledge of pain and torture, he was ready to pass on his teachings and preach his new religion to the world.
In a way, he was grateful to Xander. It had been his blood that had brought him back. Before that, Riley had been waiting on the edge of the corridors, just out of sight of Leviathan. He’d waited, just behind the wall, watching Buffy sleep and dress herself and cry herself into a sickly state. And all that time he’d bided his time and waited for the doorway to open and let him back in. It was Xander that had eventually done that for him. And Riley was eternally grateful.
But now? Now the pathetic loser had run to Spike and the Cenobites to tell tales on him. He would pay.
Riley roared and charged, easily bypassing The Female, Chatterbox, Pinhead and Lazlo, who were happy to let him try his hardest. Bless him. It was fun to watch the toys believe that they had choices.
Xander braced himself and he felt Spike bouncing beside him, more than ready to take Riley down and throw him back to The Angels Beneath.
But Riley never made it. As if caught by an invisible barrier, he stopped in his tracks at the door. Frozen like a statue, he was pulled back into the arms of Angelus.
“I DON’T THINK SO, RILEY.” Angelus looked up into Spike’s face. “WILLIAM.”
“Fuck, Angelus. What…? Jesus.”
Angelus grinned and tore into Riley’s throat with grossly elongated fangs. He kept the eye contact, mesmerising Spike with a stare that was full of passion, hate, memories and wishes.
“Spike, we should go. Please let's go.”
Spike looked down at the hand tugging on his arm and he shook his head to release himself from his hypnosis. Thoughts about Angelus would have to wait. There was so much more at stake here.
“The infamous Angelus,” Wesley noted. “Well, he certainly doesn’t look anything like I'd imagined. Is that really him?”
Xander nodded. “In the flesh. Can we talk about this later? I really don’t…” Xander trailed off and his whole body slumped slightly in defeat as he noticed the figure at the top of the stairs. “Buffy.”
Buffy pointed at the open door. “Angel?” she asked.
Spike felt Xander tensing beside him and he held to him tighter in case his lover decided that throwing himself headfirst at the Slayer was a good idea. Spike had one goal on his mind now; get out, get away and escape the Cenobites. Buffy? Hopefully she would be taken and shown what pain was really about. And if not? There would be time later to give her a beginner’s lesson.
Spike shrugged at Buffy’s question. “Better go look, eh? See for yourself.”
Buffy nodded and entered the room.
By the time the screaming started, they were out the house and halfway down the road. Buffy’s cries were constant, ear splitting and horrifying.
Wesley stumbled and held his hands to his ears. “God, make it stop. Make it stop.”
Spike stopped them and held tightly to Wesley’s shoulder. “Won’t be long, mate. Not for us. She’ll be screaming forever, but we won’t hear it.”
Xander looked back towards the house. He clamped his jaw shut tight and tried to stop all the awful thoughts that were spiralling around his brain.
She deserves it. She asked for it. She killed Giles. She killed Anya. She killed Andrew. I’m glad. I’m glad. I hope she rots with Riley. And Angel. They all deserve each other.
One last scream filled the air, a cry of pure agony, misery and ecstasy. It echoed down the darkened street and bounced off the firmly closed and silent houses.
Then, she was gone.
Angelus threw Riley aside, barely noticing as his victim was ensnared by hooks and chains.
“Oh, my god. What have they done to you?”
“NOTHING I DIDN’T WANT.”
Buffy looked down and finally registered Riley’s suffering. “Oh, no, no, no. Riley, Riley, no.” She knelt by his side and hovered her hands over his body, not quite knowing where to touch without knocking a hook or brushing a bone. Euuww.
“Please…leave him alone. Hasn’t he suffered enough!?”
Pinhead laughed. “THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE FOR HIM TO KNOW.”
“Why, why, why…”
“BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT WE DO. HE CALLED US AND WE CAME. HE ASKED US AND WE SHOWED HIM.”
“Please, just leave him alone. Take…take me. Take me instead. Please.”
Pinhead laughed again. “OH, CHILD. WE FULLY INTEND TO TAKE YOU; BOTH OF YOU.”
Buffy was yanked up from the ground and lifted into the air. “YOU SENT ME TO THIS, BUFFY. YOU SENT ME TO HELL.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“SHHH,” Angelus comforted, pulling her close and running his fingers through her hair. “I’VE ENJOYED MY TIME HERE. I WANT TO THANK YOU.”
“Y-You’ll let me go?”
“OF COURSE…NOT,” Angelus said with a mighty laugh. “MY GIFT TO YOU IS PAIN AND SUFFERING, PLEASURE AND NEED. FEEL IT, BUFFY. FEEL IT START.”
And Buffy did. She felt her senses flood with smell. The rot from Riley’s skin. The leather that was sewn tightly into the Cenobites’ bodies. She smelt her own perfume like she’d fallen into a vat of it, and the stench from Riley’s emptied bowels made her heave and choke.
The sounds around her grew, her own harsh breath slamming into her ears and the clink of chains that sounded like an express train was hammering past her. Just as she was about to clamp her hands to her ears, she felt the trickle between her legs. Sweet pleasure crept through her and she could not help but touch. It throbbed, her whole body thrumming as her senses burned and tortured. She rubbed frantically at herself, wanting to release and expel the overwhelming pleasure and pain.
She screamed. The orgasm took over and it jerked and racked her body. But where it should have ended, it grew and grew, escalating until it consumed her, keeping her on that very edge until all that remained was the feeling of total need.
She rubbed harder, her fingernails scraping at her clit to rid herself of the greatest pleasure yet the greatest pain that she’d ever felt.
Buffy fell to her knees and ignored the blood that flowed, ignored that she’d scratched off lips and clit, yet somehow the painful orgasm still remained.
“FOEREVER,” the female whispered.
Riley moaned, his underdeveloped cock somehow painfully hard inside his pants. He longed to touch, longed to feel what Buffy felt. But the chains stretched him further, pulling what was left of his skin and muscles to their very limits.
He watched and listened intently as Buffy clawed at herself, reaching to touch and rip at breasts and plunging her fingers inside herself to scoop out the pain. But it was the half smile on her face that accompanied her screaming that sent Riley over the edge. As he came, without even the need to touch, the chains yanked once more and he was pulled apart.
Then, from the other side, he waited.
Buffy screamed louder as she was coated in her lover. Blood, bile, piss, shit; it covered her from head to toe.
The smell was putrid, there was no doubt about that, but to her it was overwhelming and she vomited as still her orgasm reigned over her.
Angelus pulled her up and held her wrists. “FEEL GOOD?”
Her instinct was to say no. Her instinct was to turn around and mourn Riley. But the feeling in her body and the feeling of Angelus licking at her neck and inserting his cock into her made her moan instead. Suddenly, she felt more complete that she had ever done since she’d given her innocence to Angel.
Yes, she felt good. Yes, she wanted this. She wanted eternity surrounded by these angels.
Angelus plunged faster and faster, his length growing inside her with every push. Her back hit the wall and she wrapped her legs tighter around Angelus’ hips, as he slammed into her and sank his teeth into her offered flesh.
His fangs sank deeper and his cock thrust harder, both threatening to meet somewhere in the middle. Buffy felt her blood draining away and she rocked her hips harder, seeking release before she knew no more.
And finally, with a scream that echoed into another dimension, Buffy felt Angelus come in her, spurting burning, hot poison into her body.
It was beautiful.
It was Angel.
Buffy and Angel forever.
As the poison quickly worked its way through her system and, organ by organ, it shut down her body, Buffy sighed.
It was all over now.
Tara swerved as Dawn screamed. She stopped the car and shot a worried look to Doyle before she tried to place a concerned hand on Dawn’s shoulder. “Dawnie?”
Dawn screamed once more and then let her body relax. She felt a sudden power coursing through her body and instinct told her exactly what it was.
She looked out the windscreen and could see Spike, Xander and Wesley in the distance. Behind them were six Cenobites, closing in. She looked closely at the demons’ faces, studying and observing them.
One face made her draw a sharp breath: Angelus.
But another made her heart nearly stop: Buffy. Her hair was gone and instead of hands she had long metal stakes. Buffy was smiling, her face permanently contorted into a painful and magnificent look of pure pleasure; an undying expression of being right on the edge of something wonderful, but not quite able to tip over into it.
She could clearly see the fear in her friends' eyes. And she could feel Tara and Doyle shaking next to her.
They needed her help. She was the Chosen One now and she had a job to do.
With little effort, Dawn kicked open her door and started towards the Cenobites.
They would not hurt her friends.
Two bodies. One Witch; one Slayer.
They lay still, unmoving, one in death and one in blackness.
Her eyes popped open and all they saw was rage. She could feel the evil in the air now. She’d been blind to it before. She could feel the space where Giles, Andrew, Faith and Anya should be. She could feel the calling of Dawn, the total demise of Riley and the change of Buffy; Slayer to Cenobite.
But mostly, she could feel the Cenobites and the disease of fear that they spread around them.
She sat up and felt herself charging up, her body filling with dark magic and power and her rage stilling from blind fury to controlled knowledge that she could stop it all and save her friends.
Willow tucked silky, black hair behind her ears and carefully draped a coat over Faith’s lifeless body. She couldn’t help but chuckle fondly at the look of disgust and displeasure on her face. She’d always joked that Faith would die wearing that look.
Without a glance back, Willow stepped out of the house and followed the stench of death and decay.
The Cenobites wouldn’t be hard to find.
The female Cenobite held out her hand to Xander in a seemingly friendly gesture. “LEAVING SO SOON?”
“Stay the fuck away from me.”
“BUT WE HAVE SUCH SIGHTS TO SHOW YOU,” Pinhead said with an awed expression.
“Nope. No way. Not interested.”
“YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. WE WILL HAVE ALL OF YOU.”
“I do. I have lots of choices. And I choose not to go to hell.” Xander was surprised that he managed to keep his voice so steady and confident. Just the very sight of Buffy was making him feel sick to his stomach. They’d taken her, tortured her and turned her into one of them, into a Cenobite. And now she stood before them, waiting, watching and quivering with pleasure and pain.
“Erm, actually, I think you’ll find that you’re wrong,” Wesley said, stepping forward and raising a confident finger in the air.
“IS THAT SO?”
“Yes, yes it is, as a matter of fact. I happen to know all about your little Order, and I also know that you can only take either a person who has opened The Box or a person in your presence who agrees to be taken. Therefore, theoretically, Xander is the only one here that is eligible…”
“Oh, thanks for that, Wes.”
“Hush, now. I’m not finished. But, you have made a bargain with my young friend here, and now you must return, alone, from whence you came - immediately.”
The Cenobites were silent. But not for long.
“WE ARE THE ORDER OF THE GASH. WE DO NOT ABIDE BY ANY SUCH RULES!” Pinhead bellowed. “WE WILL TAKE YOU ALL AND WE WILL TAKE YOU NOW!”
“That’s just great, Wes. Way to anger the pain inducing demons.”
“Yeah, mate. Thanks ever so."
The three of them started to back away as the Cenobites moved slowly towards them.
“I was merely trying to appeal to their better natures.”
“I’ll give you ‘better natures’ in a minute, you bloody idiot!”
“COME. THERE IS NO NEED FOR CHILDISH SQUABBLING. YOU CAN ALL HAVE A TURN.” The Female held out her hand to Xander again. “COME. YOU FIRST.”
“YOU FIRST,” the other Cenobites repeated, all in unison.
Spike yanked Xander further back. “No fucking way. You don’t fucking touch him!”
“REALLY?” Angelus asked. “WHAT IF HE WANTS TO BE TOUCHED? AND I THINK HE DOES.”
Xander shook his head. “No. Definitely not.”
“YOU FORGET, CHILD. WE KNOW YOU,” Pinhead pointed out. “WE KNOW YOUR DREAMS. WE KNOW YOUR DESIRES.”
“You don’t know anything about me! Anything!”
“HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU WATCH HIM TAKE YOUR MOTHER? I KNOW YOU REMEMBER. HOW MANY TIMES, XANDER?”
Xander shook his head again. “I didn’t. I didn’t understand…I…”
“Xan, luv, don’t listen to them. They’re just trying to get inside your head. Just don’t listen.”
“HOW MANY TIMES, ALEXANDER? WOULD YOU LIKE US TO REMIND YOU? WOULD YOU LIKE US TO REMIND YOU JUST HOW MUCH YOU ENJOYED IT?”
Xander screamed as the memories flooded him. Yes, he had watched, many, many times.
Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god, oh, god.
He sank to the ground and clutched at his head as he tried to push the memories away.
He hadn’t enjoyed it, he hadn’t. So why had he kept going back, night after night?
So had he enjoyed it?
“COME WITH US AND WE’LL SHOW YOU TRUE PAIN. COME WITH US AND WE’LL HOLD YOU DOWN AND GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED.”
“Xan, no. Whatever it is you’re thinking, whatever it is that they’re making you think, it ain’t true, luv. They’re messing with you.”
“No, Spike. I-I watched her. I watched and…”
“You didn’t enjoy it, pet. I know that’s what they want you to think, but it ain’t true. I swear it, Xan.”
Xander flinched from Spike’s outraged shout. He stilled as he felt Spike latch onto his arms and grip him tightly.
“Remember the nightmare, pet.”
“DREAMS,” Buffy corrected.
Spike gritted his teeth and held Xander tighter. “Remember the nightmare,” he repeated. “Remember how upset you were. Remember how much you cried. You didn’t enjoy it. You didn’t want it. And you don’t want what these twits are offering. Remember, luv. Please.”
“REMEMBER YOUR PLEASURE AT HER PAIN. REMEMBER WISHING THAT YOU WERE HER.”
“NO!!” Xander levered himself up with help from Spike and he stood on heavy, unsteady legs. “NO!” he shouted again. “I didn’t enjoy it! I didn’t like it! I hated it!” He quashed the urge to shout, ‘and I hate you!’.
Xander twisted in Spike’s arms and snatched The Box back from Wesley. “Give that thing to me. How does this work? There has to be a way to send these assholes back.” Xander gripped The Box and used all his strength to turn a piece of it back to where it had come from.
“DON’T DO THAT!” Pinhead commanded.
The piece clicked into place and orange lighting fizzled around The Box and struck Lazlo. His form shimmered and the Cenobite howled with rage as he was banished back to his own dimension.
“GIVE ME THE BOX!”
Xander clicked the next piece back into place and aimed The Box at the Cenobite that was advancing on him. “Go to hell!”
The lightning surrounded the box again, struck out, and engulfed Chatterbox, banishing him back to The Corridors of Hell with an almighty shriek.
Xander worked on the next piece. He was almost positive of where it had to go, but he couldn’t be a hundred percent. He tried both ways. He pushed, he pulled, he twisted and shook The Box. “Shit, shit, shit! I can’t do it!”
“Give it to me, Xan. Which way?!”
“Turn it that way! Or, or maybe the other way! I don’t know!”
Spike grappled with The Box, swearing and cursing at it when it steadfastly refused to budge even an inch. “Fuck!”
The Female drifted closer, her arms reaching out towards Spike.
“Quickly!” Xander shouted.
“I’m bloody trying!”
The Female was close now, her fingers a bare inch away from Spike’s neck.
“YOU ARE A VERY NAUGHTY VAMPI…”
A flash of bright light and The Female was thrown to the ground. A wind suddenly surged around them and the Cenobites were pushed back and away.
Spike paused to turn around and see where the flash had come from. He wasn’t sure if he was surprised or not to see Tara standing behind him, her hair and eyes blackened with dark magic.
“Oh, god. Tara. Where’s Willow? Spike?! Where’s Willow?!”
“Don’t know, luv.”
“She’s not…She can’t be…? Spike?”
Spike ignored the unspoken question and turned back to The Box. He felt the piece give in to his efforts, and finally it clicked back into place. He held out The Box at arm’s length and watched with satisfaction as The Female screamed with disgust and frustration, and disappeared from reality.
Chains whipped through the air and one by one they attached themselves to sensitive flesh. Wesley was pulled to the floor first, followed by Xander, and finally Spike.
“GIVE ME THE BOX!” Pinhead commanded.
Spike turned away as much as he could and tried to hide it away.
“Spike, Spike,” Wesley called. “It’s alright. He can’t take it. It has to be given.”
“Right, right. Which bit next, Xan?”
Xander looked at The Box and then up at Spike with a stricken expression. “I have no idea. I-I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”
The chains dropped from Xander’s body and he was pulled up and held by Pinhead. He felt a sharp sting on his cheek and his head rocked back from the force of a blow that he hadn’t even seen coming. A colder than ice hand slipped around his neck and squeezed.
“GIVE ME THE BOX.”
Spike hesitated. Would throwing The Box to Pinhead actually do any good? Wasn’t he likely to kill Xander and then them all anyway?
Pinhead squeezed tighter. “GIVE ME THE BOX!”
Another flash of light and Xander felt himself dropped to the floor. He heard the clinking of chains in the distance and his vision began to clear as Spike appeared in front of him. The Box was placed in his hand and a kiss placed to his head and Spike was off into the distance, tackling Pinhead with furious fists.
A gentle but firm hand on his arm pulled him to his feet and Xander turned to face a man that he didn’t recognise. A blur ran past and Xander stumbled backwards and tried to work out what he was seeing.
“Come on!” the man shouted above the soaring wind. “We have to get back!”
Xander let himself be dragged, his grip firm on The Box and his eyes trying to focus around him. The chains waggled uselessly on the ground, held back by an unseen force. He looked over his shoulder and finally made out Spike fighting Pinhead and Dawn fighting both Angelus and Buffy.
He felt Wesley supporting his other side and he was led away more quickly.
Dawn was fighting Angelus and Buffy? Dawn?
“Easy now. Looks like we got a new Slayer in town.”
“But…” Xander stared at the vision before him, the Cenobites faltering at the hands of a combined Scooby effort, and for the first time since he’d opened The Box, he believed they could win.
Tara’s magic floated around them and Pinhead started to get the feeling that he was in trouble. The vampire was strong, very strong. And he was also extremely pissed off.
He knew what they were trying to do: hold them back while the boy fiddled with The Box until he found a way to close it.
Pinhead stumbled back and then crumpled from a hard kick to his stomach. A fist soared towards his head and then he was on his back, the sprightly vampire straddling him, holding him down and firing vicious blows to his face.
Pinhead growled and gathered all his remaining strength. It wasn’t much, the Witch was seeing to that. Who allowed all this magic to roam Earth? He was going to have words with Leviathan when they next spoke. He growled again and pushed up with both hands, sending Spike flying backwards.
It was Spike’s turn to growl. He quickly got to a squatting position and looked up at Pinhead. “Who the fuck do you think you are, tosser?”
“ME? I’M BIGGER THAN GOD.”
“Oh, right. Well, why didn’t you say so? Praise be and all that rot. Wanna know a secret?” Spike asked as he crept closer.
“I always thought God was a wanker. That must make you an even bigger one, eh?”
Pinhead roared and lunged.
Dawn kicked and bounced as Angelus reeled back from the blow. It was Buffy’s turn next and Dawn squealed as her fist connected solidly with her face. With their strength depleted by Tara’s magic, the Cenobites were no match for a Slayer’s strength. Well, one on one, they were no match. Two? Was proving a little tricky.
Dawn tried not to think about her sister. She tried not to acknowledge that the thing in front of her was Buffy. Or rather, had been Buffy. It wasn’t her anymore. She’d been twisted by these creatures – and probably by Riley, too. No-one had said anything, but she had major suspicions that Riley was, indeed, a complete and total dick.
No, this wasn’t Buffy. This was a demon and it was her duty to dispatch it or at the very least stop it from spreading its vile disease to the residents of Sunnydale. She could grieve later, but right now she had a job to do. Her maiden voyage as the new Slayer was going to be a perfect one.
She felt Angelus grab her from behind and Dawn quickly side-stepped him and flung her arm across his neck. Buffy came at her again and Dawn lifted her leg and kicked out her foot. The blow connected and Buffy crashed sideways.
Angelus’ turn again and he opted for attack rather than capture. It threw Dawn off balance and she stumbled back from three punches to her face.
She lifted her hand to her mouth and was surprised to find no blood at all. In fact, it hadn’t even really hurt. “Cool!”
“No, no, turn it that way. No!” Wesley cried.
“Wait, I think I got it…no, that’s not it.” Xander shook The Box in frustration.
“No, I meant the other way. For heaven's sake, give it here!”
“I got it, no problem, just…it won’t turn.”
“Turn it to the left.”
“I tried that! I think it’s this bit sticking up. I reckon if I could just turn it counter clock…” Xander stopped and stared off into the distance.
“Willow,” Xander breathed. There she was, alive; alive and full to the brim with darkness and power. Relief was dominant in Xander’s mind, but a part of his brain twitched with panic. What had turned her back to the darkness? Who was dead now? Xander glanced over at Tara; her face was contorted with the effort of projecting so much power.
Who would stop Willow if she got out of control? This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that she’d lost herself in the magic. Xander remembered the carnage as Willow had raged until buildings burned and victims screamed.
When Tara had been hurt, attacked and bled almost dry by an ancient demon, Willow had lost her mind. She’d changed and nothing could stop her desperate wrath. Only the sight of her beloved with moving lips and blinking eyes calmed her soul enough for reason and the real Willow to creep back in.
“Willow,” Xander repeated.
“Oh, dear. Oh dear me.”
The wind died and Tara dropped to the ground, exhausted and drained. The air went suddenly silent and stagnant, a sign that another power had taken over and was about to laugh in the face of hell.
Pinhead felt his power return as Tara fell and he turned and smiled at Spike. “I WILL TEAR YOUR SOUL APAAAAAART!!!!”
“Erm, hate to burst your bubble, mate, but I ain’t got a soul.”
Pinhead bared his teeth and shrieked in complete and utter fury. No-one, no-one spoke to him like…
The air crackled and the dark became darker still as magic floated towards the Cenobites and engulfed them in a cocoon of invisible fire.
Heat burned where once there had been wind. It flew through the air and within seconds it started to sizzle at Spike’s skin. “Dawn!” he shouted. “Get the fuck away!”
Dawn nodded and they both sprinted to the side, Slayer and vampire speed a definite advantage over the Cenobites who, it seemed, never ran anywhere. It was obviously damaging to their creepy persona.
Just as Spike and Dawn ducked out of the way, the heat turned up and Willow threw a veil of blue fire over the Cenobites, drawing out magic and power from every source within her reach: the earth, the sky, the heavens, hell itself. Her eyes flashed from angelic white to a devil’s black and, as she started to smile, the fire turned white hot and finally started to cook the Cenobites where they stood.
“Will it kill them?” Dawn asked as she ran to her friends and watched Xander still struggling with The Box.
Wesley shook his head. “They cannot be killed. But they can be banished.”
“Yeah, by closing a box that won’t damn well close!!” Xander shouted.
“There must be a way to close it,” Wesley insisted.
“Wait, there’s another way.”
“And just who might you be?”
“Name's Doyle. Don’t ask for details; we don’t have time. But I think there is another way.”
“Okay, so spill already!”
Spike put a calming hand on Xander’s shoulder. “Tell us. And you’d better bloody well be on to something.”
“The Box isn’t just a box; it’s a gateway, yeah?”
Everybody looked at Wesley. “Yes, that’s correct.”
“So, if we destroy The Box, we destroy the gateway.”
Wesley looked thoughtful.
“Hang on, but if we destroy the gate, won’t those wankers be stuck here for all eternity?” Spike asked.
Wesley waggled a thoughtful finger. “I think Doyle here might be on to something! Yes…yes, I remember reading about it in a text at the Council, years ago. The Box is made from the flesh of Leviathan himself. If we can destroy it, it will actually destroy a part of Leviathan. Yes! This in turn will pull back the Cenobites into their own dimension. And by the time Leviathan has healed himself, the Cenobites won’t be able to come back through because The Box – their gateway to our world – will have been destroyed. Of course, all this is conjecture and theory.”
Spike rolled his eyes and snatched The Box from Xander. “We’ll try it – if only to shut you the fuck up.”
“How do we destroy it?” Xander asked. The Box was pretty strong and Xander was doubtful that it could be destroyed so easily.
“Give it to me!” Dawn squealed. “I’ll stomp on it.”
“No, no, no,” Wesley said with an insistent shake of his head. “It will take far more than that.”
“But I’m a Slayer! I’m strong!”
“Of that I have no doubt. But what I mean is, that it would take more than just strength to destroy such a thing.”
“What would it take?” Tara asked. Her eyes were drooping shut and she was soaked with sweat.
“Magic, maybe. Powerful magic.”
Tara turned and pointed to the blanket of white fire that Willow was projecting at the struggling Cenobites. “Is that powerful enough?” Without waiting for the answer, Tara took The Box from Spike and hurled it into the magical cascade.
Blue, purple and orange sparks erupted from The Box, and, as it floated and bobbed through the fire, it shook with the force of Willow’s magic.
Tara raised her arms and chanted. Her hair blackened again and she trembled as she forced her tired body to project as much dark magic as she dared.
As the magics united, and hellish, red fire met white, Willow turned and smiled at her lover. “For our friends.”
They turned back to The Box, and screamed as their combined magic surged and The Box exploded into a million pieces.
The air was filled with howls of rage and the sounds of promised vengeance. The orange lighting crackled one last time and Pinhead, Angelus and Buffy were smothered and pulled back into The Corridors of Hell.
Their cries for the arms of their Almighty Father, Leviathan, lingered in the sudden stillness and the echo of their demonic voices floated and threatened until finally the Sun’s eclipse began to fail and light slowly filtered down to the world below.
It was over.
They sat in silence around the fledgling plants, six roses to represent six souls taken and lost to the darkness.
Giles. Anya. Faith. Andrew. Joyce. And even one for Buffy. Six beloved friends that they’d cherished and loved and would forever more. Four hearts murdered and snatched away, one heart taken by the evil of cancer, and one heart that had been suffocated, manipulated and twisted by life, circumstance, the love of a beast and the darkness of Hell itself.
They sat and they remembered, good times and bad, funny times and serious. They engraved the memories on their hearts, and promised to never forget and always remember.
Giles, a man with a heart of gold and courage of steel. The father, the son and the brother to all that knew him. Endless determination and conviction.
Anya, a demon that loved and cried, sang and laughed. A woman that always tried, even when she faced her greatest fears.
Faith, a Slayer that fought with herself and came through to see the light and fight the forces of evil. A woman of great courage and strength.
Andrew, a man that was still a boy. Playful and light. Brave and valiant.
Joyce, a devoted mother and friend. Grounded and firm. Loving and tender.
Buffy, once so good and pure. Dedicated to her fellow man. She loved her friends and the sacrifice of her own life for them, her sister, and the world itself was always inevitable. Darkness had taken her and the angel beneath her skin and inside her heart had withered and died.
And for Riley, the bringer of The Box and the horrors of its infection - a fire burned on the hill and cursed him to an eternity of suffering.
It took days for Willow to even utter a word, a week more to shed the feeling of darkness from inside her. She’d latched on to all the evil and power that she could to try to defeat the Cenobites and destroy The Box, and that evil tried it’s best to crawl further inside her and stay forever. Willow had nearly lost herself, suffocating in dark urges and wicked thoughts, but Tara had pulled her free, coaxed her back to herself with loving touches and tender kisses.
Spike’s run for shelter had been a quick one. A stranger’s house, the closest one possible, had housed him until his car had been fetched and he’d been bundled into it. From there on, everything had taken on a surreal quality. Silence had reigned, only broken by tears of realisation and discovery.
For weeks, physical contact had been the new communication, a fierce need to feel and touch each other in the hope of certainty taking over from pointless words.
And now that acceptance dominated; they grieved, remembered, and knew that it was time to live again, their friends forever carried with them.
The nightmares still came, and sometimes Xander wondered if they would ever stop. Dreams of his mother, dreams of Giles, the Cenobites and dreams of rape and pain occupied his sleeping thoughts, and only the arms of his lover had the power to push them back and leave him with blissful nothingness, a welcomed, temporary death that would allow him peace while he slept.
But they were getting better; fewer and less intense. Spike soothed them away and somehow the nightmares were learning that a certain vampire would foil them every time. And as each night passed and the dreams lessened, Xander still clung to Spike as if hell was about to try to claim him again. Even when the nightmares eventually stopped, Xander knew that he would cling as tightly as that first night, every moment savoured and adored, just as a precious gift deserved.
And Spike would always cling back just as tightly.
“Am I disturbing you?”
Xander jolted from his daydream and looked up from where he lay in Spike’s arms. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Doyle motioned to the roses with his head. “Nice. They’d have liked it.”
“Faith would have wanted a black one,” Dawn pointed out. “Can you get black ones?”
Willow sat up and smiled gently. “We never got around to thanking you before, for all your help.”
“Ah, well. Not necessary. I thought it best to disappear for a while, leave you guys to yourselves.”
“Thanks, mate. And cheers for what you did, really. We might not have made it without you.” Spike circled his arms around Xander’s waist and clutched tightly. He placed a kiss to the dark head of hair and nuzzled. Lost in his own moment, he drifted until he heard Dawn’s laugh of delight.
“Wow! That’s so cool!” Dawn twirled the weapon in her hand. “What is it?”
Doyle laughed back. “It’s a type of club. Polynesian or something, I think.”
“Can I keep it?”
“Of course. It’s a gift, to celebrate your new found Slayer status.”
“Welcome.” Doyle shifted from foot to foot, decidedly uncomfortable at the pleased and grateful stares that were boring into him.
“So, um, you have visions?” Xander asked - just to break the silence.
“And you had one about me and the Cenobites? Wow. Lucky you were close by.”
“Actually, I was heading here anyway.”
“Yeah? Why’s that, mate?” Spike asked.
“I’ve been sent – by the Powers That Be.”
“The powers that be what?”
Doyle rolled his eyes. “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, I’d be a rich man indeed. Look, I’m honestly not sure. They don’t speak to me direct. I get – visions, which is to say, great, splitting migraines that come with pictures. A name – a face. I don’t know who sends them. I just know that whoever sends them is more powerful than me or you, and they’re just trying to make things right.”
“And they sent you here? To Sunnydale?”
“Why?” Tara asked with a puzzled expression.
“To find the next Champion – A vampire named Spike. Looks like I found him.”
“Yeah, you, Blondie. Well, all of you, actually.”
Xander sat up and eyed Doyle suspiciously. “All of us?”
“You bet. You’re all needed. California is a big place, man. Lots of evil to take down.”
Everybody took turns to look at everybody else. Spike was stunned into silence. Almost. “Well, bugger me. So what do this ‘Champion’ and his trusty colleagues have to do?”
“Right now? Head over to Wal-Mart.”
“To buy what, exactly?” Wesley asked curiously.
Doyle pulled a tub of pills from his pocket and shook three out into his hand. He popped them in his mouth and quickly swallowed. “Nothing. Had a vision about twenty minutes ago. Zombies attacking. Flesh eating ones. It’s gonna be like Dawn of The Dead over there, except it’s night. Coming?”
“Zombies, eh? Huh.”
“Zombies could be interesting,” Willow said with a falsely disinterested shrug.
Wesley pondered. “Hmmm, well, zombies are not something that I’ve personally dealt with before. I suppose it could be a learning experience. Dawn, do you feel ready to face…”
“Will their heads fall off if I kick them?”
“Maybe,” Tara answered. "If they’re old and decayed. And if you actually kick them in the head."
“Cool?” Xander finished. “You know, zombies are really dangerous. They steal and - and they try to blow up schools.” Everybody except Spike gave him a quizzical look. “Anyhoo. Moving quickly on. Shall we up and at it? Move on out? Lock and load? Show those zombie-freaks the true meaning of the Evil Dead?” Xander finally suggested as he hooked his thumb at Spike. “Yeah?”
Everybody nodded and got up from the ground, almost gleeful that life was returning to normal so quickly. Sort of. They spared one last look and one last goodbye to the six roses before they turned and left to fight the forces of darkness once more.
“I wanna knock their heads off, too.”
Spike laughed. “I’ll buy you all the chocolate you can eat if you get five in row.”
Feed the Author