The Dark Cavalier


By Saber ShadowKitten


Part Five





Spike couldn't believe his eyes.

It wasn't the fact that he could see supposed-to-be-dead Xander Harris casually leaning against an alley wall, with one foot propped behind him on the crumbling beige brick, paring his fingernails with a wicked-looking eight-inch knife. And it wasn't the fact that, further down the alley, a vampire was making a meal of a screaming coed.

It was the fact that Xander wasn't doing anything to stop the vampire making a meal of the screaming coed less than a half-dozen feet from him.

Spike stared incredulously at the lounging brunette. How could Xander not be White Knighting the damsel obviously in distress?, the vampire thought. Last night, Xander had saved Buffy, so why not this chit?

Spike cautiously crept closer, hiding himself partially behind a telephone pole in order to watch the unbelievable events unfold.



*****



Xander wielded the knife in his hand with expertise and watched as another fingernail trimming fell to the ground. Down the alley, Sally Ann Markovitz continued to scream her annoying blond head off as what was evidently a fledgling vampire tried to munch on her. Xander pretty much ignored them both, although he wished the vampire would speed it up a bit. Sally Ann was only one of five humans left on the list to be Collected.

Xander had shoved deep the fact that he was a cold bastard when it came to taking mortals' lives. Instead, he concentrated on puzzling out who wanted him to fail.

At the top of his list was Anthony Hodgkins. They had been at each other's throats since they met, and Xander wouldn't be surprised if their continual rivalry had caused Xander to be assigned to the hellmouth.

Anthony seemed to think that he was in competition with Xander. The raven-haired Collector had requested to take a second tour on Bavariash -- the realm of children -- to try and prove how much better he was than the Dark Cavalier, although Anthony never blatantly said that was the reason why.

Xander would have to ask his closest friend, Samuel, what he thought. Samuel was still good friends with Anthony, despite Xander's antagonism with the other man, because Samuel had been Anthony's roommate for the twenty years of Academy training. Xander had a suspicion that the two shared more than just a room, but he never asked.

A few other Collectors came to Xander's mind when considering who might have it against him. Jason Toddy, a muscular Maldivian with a chip on his shoulder the size of a Buick. He had lost to Xander each time the brunette participated in the hand-to-hand event of the Collectors Olympics. The Olympics were a series of games that occurred every fifty years to keep Collectors sharp and stave off the boredom that came with the constant repetition of the job.

Glancy LaPorte, a dog-like Gremyanan, wasn't too fond of Xander, either. Glancy had lost a high-stakes poker bet to Xander and had had to shave the hair off of his entire body. He'd gone from looking like a sheepdog to a Chihuahua, an embarrassment that he'd not gotten over despite the number of years that had passed.

Xander wasn't too concerned that whomever wanted him to fail would succeed -- he was the unfeeling Dark Cavalier, after all -- but it would be nice to know who it was that despised him that much. Collectors, on the whole, were a friendly bunch, sort of like a fraternity. Sure, some of them didn't get along as well as others did, but, normally, no one would set up another to fail.

Although, if Xander remembered his history lessons correctly, two Collectors had once gotten into a huge fight that ended in bloodshed. Simply because apprentices of Death were immortal didn't mean they couldn't be hurt. The two Collectors Xander was thinking about had become so grievously injured during their fight with one another that they became immortal vegetables.

The sound of Sally Ann's body hitting the pavement pulled Xander from his thoughts. He glanced down the alley and rolled his eyes. The male fledgling was crouched beside the corpse of the blond, digging through her purse.

Xander pushed off the wall and sauntered towards the vampire. He crouched on the opposite side of the body, checked for the girl's aura to make sure she was dead, and then physically materialized.

The fledge gasped and stared at Xander with eyes as round as saucers. Xander tapped the flat edge of the eight-inch knife against his chin and asked, "Looking for a tampon?"

"Gahh!" The vampire dropped the purse and launched forward to tackle Xander, but the brunette was faster than him. Xander used his legs like a frog would and leapt over the vampire, landing on the other side of Sally Ann without his boots making a sound on the pavement.

Xander glanced over his shoulder at the vampire sprawled on the ground. He chuckled softly. He knew he couldn't dust the vampire -- Emilio Rodriguez's mortal demon wasn't on the list -- but that didn't mean he couldn't play. Sometimes it was fun to mess with others' minds.

Emilio scrambled to his feet and faced Xander. Xander was still in a crouch as he'd landed, knife in one hand, his back to the vampire and the corpse, looking over his shoulder at Emilio.

The Dark Cavalier batted his eyelashes and kissed the air. Emilio growled and jumped towards Xander, but again the brunette was too fast. Xander leapt straight in the air, using a bit of magick to propel him higher, and he landed in a crouch on the railing of a rusted fire escape.

He spun as he straightened, balancing with ease on the thin rail. Emilio stared up at Xander with fear twisting his already twisted features.

"Gahh!" the vampire cried out again. Then he bolted from the alley at full speed.

Xander's laugh bounced off the beige brick alley walls. He stepped forward, dropped to the ground and landed lightly on his feet. He began tossing the knife in the air, catching it by its hilt on each decent, as he dematerialized.

"Damn, that felt good," he commented to himself as he stepped over the corpse of Sally Ann Markovitz on his way out of the alley.

The knife blade was illuminated by the street light, gleaming in the night with each end-over-end toss into the air. Xander started to cross the empty street when a flash of white-blond caught his eye.

Spike stiffened when Xander stopped walking and seemed to look right at him. He thought he was hidden pretty well in the shadows behind the telephone pole. He held his metaphorical breath, willing the oddity that resembled Xander -- but could no way in hell be the whelp -- to move on.

"Bloody hell!" Spike exclaimed, jumping back when the knife the brunette had been playing with suddenly imbedded itself into the telephone pole. He pressed a hand over his heart and swore he could feel it pounding.

A hand curled around the black hilt of the knife and Spike started in surprise again. "Gahh!" he exclaimed, jumping a second time. He hadn't seen or heard Xander move.

"What is it with vampires and 'gahh' tonight?" Xander said, pulling the blade free. He turned to Spike and leaned one shoulder against the thick wooden pole. "Is it some kind of vampire code for 'oh shit, I just crapped my shorts?'"

Spike's ridges appeared and his fangs elongated as he dropped into a fighting stance. "I don't know who the soddin' hell you are, but you're not gettin' me without losing a limb or three."

One of Xander's brows arched skyward. "What are you talking about, Spike?"

"Come on!" Spike bounced slightly on his toes. "Let's see how you are against a Master Vampire!"

"You want me to fight you?" Xander snorted.

"Oi! Stop your laughin' and put 'em up!"

Xander shook his head and started to lightly flip the knife in his hand. "Spike, I'm not going to fight you."

Spike focused on the knife being deftly caught over and over. Knives couldn't kill him, but they hurt like a bugger, especially imbedded in his chest or throat. He had to knock the eight-inch blade out of the brunette's hand in order to even up the fight.

"Sheesh, Spike, it's just a knife," Xander said with an exasperated sigh. On the next toss, the knife abruptly disappeared.

Spike blinked. The knife had disappeared! Just like the stick-thingy the previous night!

The blond vampire looked at Xander's smirking face and took a step backwards. If this Xander-creature knew magick, Spike was up a creek sans paddle. He couldn't fight magick, and he liked his body parts exactly where they were. "Er, listen here, you... uh... you Xander-shaped thing," he began. "What do you want? Money?"

Xander frowned. Xander-shaped thing? What the heck was Spike-- ah. Duh. "Spike, it's really me. Xander Harris."

"Whatever you say." Spike calculated the distance between himself, Xander and the nearest escape route. The thing wouldn't try to skin him in public. Would it?

"You know what, I was right about you all along," Xander said, pushing off the telephone pole. "You're not an evil, scary vampire with biting problems. You're a chipped Chicken Little."

Spike gaped as Xander strolled away. "I am not a little chicken!" he exclaimed, hurrying after the brunette.

"That's Chicken Little," Xander corrected. He gestured towards the night sky. "You know: 'The sky is falling! The sky is falling!'"

Spike looked up and frowned. "It is not falling."

Xander shook his head and whistled. "Boy, you're sorry. Has your chip been leaking battery acid and rotting your brain?"

Spike narrowed his eyes. "How do you know about my chip?"

"Duh! Spike, it's me. Xander. I think I already covered that," Xander said exasperately.

"Xander's dead," Spike enunciated slowly.

"Can't argue with you there," Xander said with a shrug.

Spike grabbed Xander's arm and pulled him to a stop. Then, Spike punched him.

Xander glared at Spike as he rotated his jaw. "What'd you do that for?"

"What you should be asking yourself is:," Spike punched him again, "is he going to do it again?"

"Hey!" Xander caught Spike's fist with his hand on the vampire's rapid follow-up punch. "Quit it, you undead moron!"

"No," Spike said conversationally as he kicked Xander.

Xander released Spike's fist and hopped back on one leg, rubbing the other now-bruised calf. "Ow!"

"I am not Chicken Tiny!" Spike exclaimed like a battle cry. He threw himself at Xander, but the brunette side-stepped, caught the back of Spike's duster and propelled him across the street. The vampire hit a parked car with a crunch of glass and fell to the street.

"It's Chicken Little, bird-droppings for brains!" Xander yelled.

Spike climbed to his feet, shook the glass out of his hair, and put up his fists. "You're gonna pay for that one."

Xander threw his hands in the air. "What is with you?! Is my being a dead man walking such a bad thing?!"

"In a word: yes!" Spike darted across the street and slid into Xander like a baseball player sliding home.

Xander was surprised and crashed down on top of the vampire. Spike's knee came up between Xander's legs and the world went hazy for a brief second. Then, there was only pain.

"You bastard," Xander whimpered, rolling off of Spike. He cupped his genitals and curled into a ball. "You dirty shit."

Spike rose to his feet and stood over the prone brunette. "I don't give a flying rat's arse what you are, but you'd best take off Xander's face before I rip it off you."

Xander heard the growl on a subsonic level and he pried open his eyes. He didn't look up at Spike, however.

Three blocks away and closing rapidly, a wolf-like beast was coming right for them. The beast was dark-skinned, hairless, with pointed ears and a thick muzzle. Its large paws, with unextended sharp claws, silently ate up the distance like nothing. Its glowing red eyes were focused on Xander and the brunette could see its four-inch canines dripping with saliva.

A Choata. A death-hunter.

"Move!" Xander exclaimed, scrambling to his feet.

Spike was set to strike again, but Xander took off running across the street. The vampire frowned. Did he just win?

Xander glanced behind him and saw that Spike was still standing in the middle of the street. The Choata hadn't veered off to chase after the brunette. It was still heading straight for Spike.

And Spike hadn't a clue.

"Spike!" Xander yelled, changing coarse mid-stride. He lost precious time by trying to gain purchase on the rock-strewn pavement.

Spike put up his hands again in a defensive position. "Guess I didn't win."

The Choata was half a block away and coming fast. Its black nostrils flared and it growled again.

Spike heard a very low sound, like the rumble of a fright train at a distance. He glanced over his shoulder and froze as fear took on a new meaning.

Xander practically plowed into Spike as he came to a quick stop in front of the vampire. Spike didn't even flinch; he was petrified by the Choata.

Xander narrowed his eyes at the death-hunter, latched onto Spike's arm and started running again. He practically dragged the vampire the first several yards before Spike's feet got the idea of fleeing.

An oak tree loomed up ahead, just past the sidewalk behind a waist-high wood fence. Its green leaves shook and fluttered down from the branches as Xander's anger caused the wind to whip.

The Choata roared as it closed the distance to its prey. The otherworldly sound filled up the night with its deafening loudness.

"Spike! Jump!" Xander shouted the order as they came upon the fence. He vaulted over the waist-high structure with ease, but lost hold of Spike's arm. The oak tree was three feet away.

Spike stumbled, the tail of his duster caught on a nail sticking up from the fence. He shrugged out of the coat, his yellow eyes wild with fear. He could hear the hound behind him, almost on top of him.

And Xander had vanished.

Spike sucked in a harsh gulp of air and blood rushed in his ears. His arms came free of the coat and he spun to face the threat. He back-stepped quickly, sweat running down his temples. The hound was at the sidewalk.

The bark of the tree scraped Spike's neck as he backed into it. His unlife flashed before his eyes.

The hound snorted and made its final leap, its sharp claws extended.

Spike squeezed his eyes shut.

Two hands shot out, clamped onto Spike's shoulders and pulled him back into the tree.

The Choata's claws sank deep into the oak, its prey having vanished. The huge hound scraped at the bark, sniffed around the tree, then sat on its haunches and let out a long eerie howl.

Elsewhere, there was an echoing howl.





Part Six





Xander let loose a string of curses that came close to making Spike blush.

They were standing in what looked to be a never-ending hallway lined with matching doors. Spike watched with fear still pumping through his veins as Xander slammed his fist into the short wall between two of the doors. The plaster gave under Xander's hit, leaving long cracks up and down the wall.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spike could see others who were walking in the hallway had stopped to observe Xander's rant. Some were human, some were most definitely not.

Xander must have seen them, too, because his gaze whipped back and forth and he snarled, "Enjoying the show?"

And suddenly everyone in the hall had someplace else to be.

Xander turned around, leaned back against the dented wall, closed his eyes and rapped the back of his head against the cracked surface three times. He reopened his eyes and focused on Spike. "You okay?"

"What," Spike squeaked. Swallowed. Tried again. "What was that thing?"

"A Choata," Xander replied, his fists clenching. "A goddamned fucking death-hunter."

Spike pressed his lips together. Shifted. Hoped he wasn't feeling what he thought he was feeling in his trousers. "So... right."

"Come on," Xander said, abruptly grabbing Spike's wrist and starting up the hallway at a fast walk.

Spike let himself be dragged along, hoping that he hadn't gone from the frying pan into the fire. Not that he wasn't happy he hadn't become kibble. But now that he was coming down from his fear-induced adrenaline high -- and he wouldn't lie, he had been scared shitless -- he was able to recognize the fact that he most certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore.

The hall of doors seemed like it went on forever, and Spike was starting to think they were going around in circles when all of a sudden they were standing at an archway that led outside to a sunny day. A short distance away, across a grassy stretch of land, was a sprawling red brick mansion, with large windows and ivy growing up the walls.

Spike yanked his wrist from Xander's grasp when the brunette didn't stop. "What are you, loony?" he said, speaking for the first time since they started walking. He gestured to the bright outside from the shadows of the archway. "I didn't survive being eaten by an oversized mongrel to be fried by the effin' sun."

Xander looked outside and frowned. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh," Spike grumbled, rubbing his wrist where Xander had held it. Right strong grip the boy had.

"Not a problem," Xander said. He put one fist over the other in front of his body, as if he were holding a golf club. Then, slowly, he pulled his fists apart as he raised his arms.

Spike's jaw dropped when, out of nowhere, an extremely large black umbrella appeared in Xander's hands. The brunette's hand movements opened the umbrella as it materialized. It was big enough to shade an elephant from the sun.

"There," Xander said, holding it above them both. "Now, let's go."

Spike could only nod and follow. He reminded himself to pitch the blood bags he had at home in the rubbish when he got back from his trip down the rabbit hole.

The double-wide golden oak doors of the mansion opened easily under Xander's hand. The umbrella vanished as they crossed the threshold -- Spike absently noted he hadn't needed to be invited in -- and entered a massive white tiled foyer.

"MASTER!" Xander's voice reverberated off the gilded decor and caused the teardrop crystals on the giant chandelier to shake. "MASTER!!!"

"There's no need to shout like a common street hustler, Xander."

Spike's gaze traveled up a navy blue carpeted curving staircase to a man slowly descending them. He was dressed entirely in black -- a man after Spike's own taste -- but, surprisingly, considering the chandelier, the man's head was bathed in shadows.

"Sorry," Xander apologized, heading to meet the man at the bottom of the stairs. "But I'm pissed off to the billionth power."

Xander went to continue on, but the man interrupted him. "Darling Boy, I know you want to share, but that's no reason to be rude," he said. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"

"Who?" The man pointed and Xander glanced back at Spike. "Oh. Sorry. Master, Spike. Spike, meet Death," Xander introduced quickly, then turned his attention back to Death. "Now, we have a serious problem."

"Spike?" Death said, ignoring the rest of Xander's statement. "As in, your mortal bondmate Spike?"

Xander blew a sharp breath of air upwards, ruffling the hair hanging over his eyes. "Yes, that Spike."

Death -- cool name, Spike thought -- bypassed Xander and stopped in front of him. Spike looked up at the tall, thin man and frowned. He still couldn't make out the man's features.

Death moved again, circling the vampire. "He's cute."

Xander sent a disbelieving snort in the pair's direction. "He's not...," he trailed off as he looked Spike up and down. "Okay, so he is. But who cares--"

"Oi, I might care," Spike interrupted, crossing his arms over his chest. He wished he still had his duster. He was used to being the appraiser, not the piece of meat on display. "And stop looking at me like that."

"He's feisty, too," Death said, coming around the vampire. "Mind if I play with him?"

"Now see here, you faceless nonce," Spike growled, poking the black-clad man in the chest. "If anyone's gonna be playing with me it's me." Wait, that didn't sound right.

Xander made a noise between a sigh and a growl. "No one is going to play with Spike until we deal with the Choata!"

"A Choata," Death repeated, half-turning to Xander. "Are you certain?"

"As certain as your boner," Xander replied.

Spike gaze immediately dropped to Death's crotch. Boner. Right. He took a step back out of reach.

"Xander, don't be crass," Death scolded. "And your mortal bondmate still cannot see my features. If you'd please be so kind as to fix that problem."

Xander's brows arched. "That's weird," he paused, then shrugged, "but easily fixed."

The brunette traced an invisible symbol in the air with one finger and ended pointing at Spike. "See what I see," he said in a firm voice.

Spike blinked rapidly as his vision blurred. When his focus cleared, he found Death standing directly in front of him, an amused expression on the face Spike could now see.

"Better?" Death asked.

"Uh, yeah," Spike replied. "Thanks."

Death nodded once before turning to Xander. "Tell me about the Choata."

Xander began to sum up what happened. Spike felt a faint breeze on his arms and glanced behind him, wondering if the doors were still open. They were not.

The breeze grew to a nippy speed as Xander gesticulated angrily as he spoke. Spike looked up when he heard tinkling and saw the teardrop crystals swinging and hitting each other. He dropped his gaze back to Xander at the same time a strong gust caused the peroxide blond's hair to ruffle, despite its gelled state.

"My sweet Boy," Spike barely heard Death say over the noise from the chandelier. Death captured Xander's hands and held them still. "I think it's best if you head outdoors while I think on our new problem."

Xander nodded and Death released his hands. He immediately strode past Spike and out the front door.

The odd wind stopped the instant he was gone.

"Ah, much better," Death commented. He clapped his hands together. "Well, shall we adjourn to the study?"

Spike warily agreed and followed the other man to the study. The room was like a hundred other studies the vampire had seen over time. Painted in dark colors accented with rich woods, the study held a mini-bar in one corner, several leather chairs, an ornate cigar ashtray, and had the smell of wealth and power.

Death walked right up to a plate glass window and looked outside. His expression was thoughtful. "How much have you seen?"

"Of what?" Spike asked. Curiosity brought Spike close enough to the window to see outside without standing in the small patch of sunlight that entered the room. He could see Xander stalking across the lawn towards a double-high barn-like structure. "Xander?"

"Other than the spell to see my features, have you witnessed anything unusual that Xander has done?" Death said.

"I've seen him kill a demon like a pro, but not save some chit from a vampire's fangs," Spike found himself answering without hesitation.

Outside, Xander stopped in front of the structure, bent his knees and leapt straight in the air. He landed on the sloped edge of the roof, turned around and sat with his legs dangling off the side. Spike shook his head in amazement. "And I've seen him do something like that, too."

Death studied Spike for a moment. "You don't believe the Dark Cavalier and Xander Harris are one and the same."

"Who?" Spike asked.

Death gestured with his head towards the window. "That man that you see out there. You don't believe he is truly the one you know as Xander Harris."

"Xander is dead," Spike said tonelessly, but his eyes were hard.

"This is true," Death acquiesced. "But not in the way you define death."

He crossed the room to the mini-bar, removed two glasses and a bottle of black amber whiskey. "The mortal Xander Harris is Gone," he continued. "Who you see out there is the immortal Xander. And you are his mortal bondmate."

"Stop calling me that," Spike scowled. "I'm not mortal, and I'm not some ghost's bond-anything."

Death returned to the window and handed a filled glass to Spike. "Ah-ah, my dear vampire, you are quite mortal; and you are, most certainly, the Dark Cavalier's bondmate."

"And you are, most certainly, off your bloody rocker," Spike said, raising his glass in toast.

The tall man laughed. "I like you."

"Joy." Spike turned back to the window after tossing back his drink. Xander was strolling back towards the mansion at a lackadaisical pace.

"How would you like to become immortal?"

"Uh, vampire here," Spike reminded Death.

"Anything that can die is considered mortal," Death said in return. "You, demon, are long-lived, but not immortal."

"I'll pass," Spike said, setting his glass down on a small table beside the window.

Death looked at him for a moment, then shrugged. "Your choice. Don't say I never offered."

He picked up Spike's glass and returned to the mini-bar. Spike patted his pockets, searching for his smokes, and cursed softly. They were in his duster, which was in Sunnydale, probably being used as a doggie chew toy.

Xander moseyed into the study a few minutes later, his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face. "Hey."

"Feeling better, Darkling?" Death asked.

"Much," Xander replied. "I'm going to head back. Is it okay if Spike stays?"

"Of course," Death said with a nod.

"Hello? In the room, people," Spike said. "I'm not staying here."

Xander barely glanced at Spike. "Yes, you are." He returned his attention to Death. "I have four left."

"What will you do about the Choata?" Death asked.

"I am not," Spike growled, stalking over to the brunette.

Xander gave Spike a strange look, but continued to speak to Death. "I'm going to do an in-and-out. Car accident. The last four are close to the same age, high school girls, so I'm betting they're all at the Bronze. Shouldn't be too hard to get them together."

"Did you hear me?" Spike said. "I'm not staying here."

"Yes, you are," Xander repeated with a short, hard glare at the vampire. He side-stepped Spike and walked over to the mini-bar, addressing Death again. "What are you going to do about the Choata?"

"Check the pens," Death replied. "If the keeper reports it escaped, then it's probably just a bad coincidence it turned up in Sunnydale."

"And if it was stolen?"

"Stop bloody ignoring me!" Spike exclaimed angrily. "I'm not staying here!!"

Xander held up a finger to Death. "Hold that thought."

Death nodded, a smile playing on his mouth.

Xander was in front of Spike in three long strides. He invaded the vampire's personal space, getting almost nose to nose with him. The brunette's voice was like sandpaper against concrete when he spoke.

"I don't give a fuck what you want."

That said, Xander took a single step back and turned to Death. "Go on."

"Let me worry about the Choata," Death said. "You just do what you're best at."

"Will do." Xander touched two fingers to his brow and saluted. "Laters."

"Watch yourself," Death called to him as he sauntered towards the door.

"Always."

After he heard the front door close, Death poured himself another drink, picked it up, and headed out of the room. "You can close your mouth now, Spike."

Spike's gaping mouth snapped shut.





Part Seven



Spike sat cross-legged on Xander's bed, elbow on his thigh and his chin cupped in his hand, staring out the window. The room faced north, which meant Spike didn't need to worry about the sun coming through the window -- which was a good thing, since the sun didn't look like it would ever set.

The vampire had been very surprised by the emptiness of Xander's room. He had expected it to be as rich and elegant as the rest of the mansion. When he'd commented about it to Death, who had escorted Spike to the room to wait for Xander, Death had explained that Xander cared little about anything.

"Material things?" Spike had asked as he'd glanced around the bare room.

"No," Death had corrected. "Anything."

That response had puzzled Spike. The Xander Harris Spike remembered had lived in a basement cluttered with stuff. Comic books, baseball cards, empty liquor mini-bottles and other junk had been scattered about the basement during the short time Spike had lived with the brunette.

Snooping through Xander's current domicile had only produced a green fuzzy ball, a set of dice, a deck of cards, a few articles of clothing, a trash can and a box. Spike had thought he'd hit paydirt when he'd found the box on a shelf in the closet. He'd eagerly taken it out and sat on the hardwood floor to look through it.

That had been a couple hours ago, if Spike's internal clock was correct, and he still couldn't figure out what the contents of the box meant.

The box had been filled with identical blue-covered notebooks. The ones nearer to the top had white pages, while the ones at the bottom were yellowed. Every page in every single one of the notebooks had a list of names with a single line through them and a notation beside each one. None of the names were the same. However, many of the notations were.

In the trash can, Spike had found a handful of tiny scrolls. The scrolls, like the notebooks, held lists of names. It hadn't taken the blond vampire long to see that the names on the scrolls matched the names in the notebooks. What he hadn't been able to figure out was why.

His temporary host hadn't been any help in answering that question. Death had dropped him in Xander's room and then disappeared. Spike hadn't ventured out of the bedroom to search for anyone because he didn't want to chance getting lost in the monstrous mansion and miss the boy's return. The sooner he reconnected with Xander, the sooner he'd be home, where the sun actually went down.

"See anything interesting?"

Spike started at the voice, his head whipping around to see Xander walk nonchalantly into the bedroom. The vampire hadn't heard Xander at all, until he spoke. Not even footsteps on the hardwood floors.

"'Bout time you got back," Spike grumbled to cover the fact that he had been startled. "I've been sitting here for hours."

"You sound like a nagging fishwife," Xander commented as he pulled his white tee-shirt over his head.

"Sod off."

The tee-shirt was balled and tossed towards the open closet door. Spike blinked several times at the muscular expanse of lightly tanned skin that was exposed. He didn't remember Xander looking like that.

The vampire watched the play of muscles as Xander propped each foot up on the edge of the bed to unlace his workboots. The brunette's biceps flexed and bulged with his movements.

Spike felt something else bulging and he shifted on the bed. He couldn't believe he was getting aroused watching Xander. It was Xander, for chrissake. Spike really needed to go home.

"So, mate, can I go now?" Spike said with a slight edge to his voice.

"No," Xander replied simply as he toed off his unlaced boots.

"And why the bloody hell--" Xander undid the fastenings of his jeans with a flick of his wrist and pushed them down. Spike's voice cracked on the last word. "--no-ot?"

The brunette stepped out of his jeans and socks and bent to pick them up. Spike swallowed heavily and dug his nails into the bedding as his arousal grew. What the hell was wrong with him?

"The Choata's still in Sunnydale, and you have my touch all over you," Xander answered. He straightened and walked over to the closet with his clothes.

Spike stared. Aside from the broad shoulders, the slightly tapered waist and the luscious ass that tightened and flexed with every step, Xander had a tattoo between his shoulderblades. And it was mesmerizing.

A black crow in flight was etched into Xander's skin. Solidly colored, the crow's wings stretched over Xander's shoulderblades, making it seem as though the bird was flapping its wings as the brunette moved. The crow's beak ended at the nape of Xander's neck, its tail feathers fanning slightly on Xander's middle back.

"Touch?" Spike said faintly, not really paying attention to the conversation anymore.

"Yeah," Xander dropped the clothes on top of the tee-shirt and turned to face Spike, "my touch. The Choata is a death-hunter and death -- meaning me -- touched you while we were fighting."

There was a silver hoop at the tip of Xander's dick, Spike's brain informed him.

Want sex now, Spike's body chimed in.

"Strip," Xander said.

Spike blinked. Blinked again. Thought he heard the material of his jeans begin to tear at his crotch. "Pardon?"

"I said strip," Xander repeated as he started for the open door of the bedroom. He paused in the doorway and glanced at the still unmoving Spike. "You coming?"

Hopefully soon, Spike thought as he scrambled off the bed and stripped in record time. Xander had turned his artfully adorned back to the vampire and had bent over to pick something up off the hall floor. Spike almost tripped over his clothes in his hurry to get to that round, muscular ass.

"Huh," Xander said, straightening. He held a tiny dark blue ribbon between his fingers. "Wonder where this came from?"

Spike pinched his very erect cock to stave off making a fool of himself as he stood slightly behind Xander. "A really small chit," he suggested.

Xander glanced back at him, shrugged, and started down the hallway. He dropped the ribbon on a hall table as he passed it. "Maybe. Although I don't know anyone that little."

The brunette entered another open door on the left partway down the hall, with Spike right behind him. Xander flipped on the lights and crossed the tiled floor to a set of switches on the pale blue wall.

Spike gaped at the enormous sunken whirlpool tub that took up most of the room. It started to bubble invitingly.

"Aahhh," Xander breathed happily as he lowered himself into the water. "Come on in, Spike. The water is hot and wonderful."

Spike didn't have to be asked twice. He crossed the room, his hard length merrily bouncing with his quick steps, and dropped into the whirlpool tub. His body tingled as the water heated his cool skin.

Xander's arms were outstretched along the rim of the tub, his head was tipped back and his eyes were closed. Spike took a seat beside the lounging brunette, not quite touching him but close enough.

"I wonder if Death's found anything out about the Choata," Xander said, more to himself than to anyone.

Spike replied anyway. "Don't know, pet. I haven't seen him since he dropped me in your room."

Xander's eyes cracked open and he turned his head towards the vampire. His brow went up when he saw how close Spike was sitting. "Is there a reason you're almost on top of me?"

Spike put his hand on Xander's thigh beneath the bubbling water. "Because we're gonna shag, and soon, before I soddin' burst."

Xander was the one who burst -- out laughing. Spike snatched his hand back, his straining cock deflating, and he glared at the brunette. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Xander replied between chortles.

Spike moved away from Xander and crossed his arms. Humiliation burned his cheeks. "Right. Nothing."

"I'm sorry," Xander said, his laughter trailing off into a widely amused smile. "I just didn't expect to be propositioned by you."

"You came on to me," Spike said in a tone of voice that was a cross between anger and sullenness.

"When?" Xander asked.

"In the bedroom, you daft twit," Spike grumbled.

"Spike, Spike, Spike," Xander chuckled, "I guess I'm not used to the way mortals think anymore."

"So you weren't coming on to me?"

"If I'd been coming on to you there'd be no mistake about it," Xander replied. He dropped his head back and closed his eyes. "Besides, I have to get permission to take you as a lover, and Death's nowhere around."

Spike was starting to get used to staring dumfounded at Xander. "Permission?"

"Yep," Xander said. "If you're still interested later, I'll get it and we'll have a quick tumble before I have to go back to work."

Spike didn't know whether to laugh or stake himself. He knew it was going to be a bad day when he'd woken up to find Buffy glaring down at him, a question from Giles on her lips.

The vampire decided to do neither, settled back against the tub wall and shut his eyes. After a few minutes, the pulsing jets and hot water relaxed him into a contented daze. Perhaps later he would take Xander up on his offer of a quickie before the brunette returned to work. Work?

"Work?" Spike repeated the question aloud. He opened his eyes and peered across the water at Xander. "What work?"

"My work," Xander answered.

Spike ground his teeth together, his tension returning. "Your work doing what?" he clarified.

Xander raised his head and opened his eyes. "My work as Death's apprentice, what else?"

"Doing what?" Spike repeated, his jaw clenched tight.

A frown settled between Xander's brows. "What do you mean, 'doing what?' I work for Death."

"I know that," Spike ground out. He tried a different tactic. "And what does Death do?"

Xander's frown grew. "He's Death. What do you think he does?"

"For the love of all that's evil, will you quit with the bloody cryptic-boy routine!" Spike exclaimed.

Understanding flashed across Xander's face and a half-smirk appeared on his lips. "You think 'Death' is just Death's name."

"And your name is Xander and my name is About To Kill Xander," Spike responded.

"Well no wonder you couldn't see Death's face," Xander said with a chuckle.

Spike blew out an irritated puff of air. He really needed his cigarettes. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Spike," Xander began. "Death is really Death. The Last Lover. The Master of Time. The Grim Reaper. The Guy with the Scythe. The Man Who Comes to End Your Mortal Life."

"Uh-huh," Spike didn't believe a word, "right."

"He is," Xander insisted with a smile. He raised his hand and made a quick design with his finger in the air. His smile widened as he lowered his hand. "You'll see."

"He'll see what?"

Spike glowered at the newcomer. The shadows once again clouded Death's face, but Spike recognized the voice. If the man was really Death, why was he wearing jeans and not robes?

The vampire's eyes widened as the shadow-faced man's clothing changed before his eyes. Holy crap!, Spike thought, his eyes darting to Xander before returning to Death. Had Xander been telling the truth? Or was this another magick trick?

The now-robed figure's face shifted and morphed into an intimately familiar countenance that had Spike shooting to his feet and his own face twisting into its vampiric ridges. "Angel, what the hell are you doing here?"

Xander laughed. "I knew it!"

"Darkling, what are you giggling about?" Angel-faced Death said, crouching beside the whirlpool.

"Spike didn't believe that you are really the Master of Mortals," Xander explained, still laughing. "I removed the See Me spell and ever-so-successfully convinced him who you are." He chortled. "I just can't believe he sees Angel when he pictures Death."

"Make it go away," Spike said abruptly, alternating glaring between Death and Xander. "Now."

Xander stifled his mirth, made a sign in the air and said, "See what I see."

Spike watched as Angel dissolved into the square-jawed, hazel-eyed blond he'd first met as Death. The vampire nodded once. "Better."

"You're welcome," Xander said.

Spike ignored him and sat again. He suddenly felt very naked.

"If you're done playing," Death said pointedly. "I have news."

Xander focused instantly. "The Choata?"

Death nodded. "Two of them were stolen from the pens. The keeper found them missing when he returned the one on assignment to its stall."

"Assignment?" Xander said. "Who?"

"Thurston Pready," Death replied. "Did you know him?"

"He was in my class during my teaching tour. Nice kid," Xander replied. "Too bad."

Spike heard the indifference in Xander's tone and he was reminded of what Death had said earlier about Xander not caring about anything. If Death was really Death, did that mean what he'd said was true?

"Yes, a pity," Death agreed with Xander. "There's nothing left of him except for his head. I had Mommuni put him with the others at the Graveyard."

"I still think you should put the immortal corpses on display at the Academy," Xander said. "It'd be a great deterrent."

Death chuckled. "That's positively morbid, my Dark Cavalier. I like it."

Spike's curiosity peaked. "Immortal corpses?"

"Yeah. You'd probably get a kick out of 'em, Spike," Xander said, grinning at the blond vampire. "Immortals can't die, but we don't heal from everything. Most of the Graveyard is filled with chewed up apprentices that were hunted by the Choata for some reason or another."

"They're still alive, though?" Spike asked incredulously.

Xander nodded. "Eternal punishment at its cruelest. Neat, huh?"

Spike felt a chill run down his spine. It was grotesque, morbid, and the thought of being an ever-living head without a body attached freaked him. It was great! "I might have to see this Graveyard."

"It's a date," Xander said with a wink. "Speaking of dates and things to do on them," he glanced up at Death, "may I have sex with Spike?"

Here's that dumbfounded gaping again, Spike thought, his mouth hanging open as he stared at Xander in shock. Under the swirling water, Spike Number Two stirred back to life.

"Yes, you may," Death granted. "Remember, he's mortal. He'll need to sleep sometime."

Xander's lips curved into a wicked smile, his dark eyes dancing with mischief. "But not anytime soon."

Oh bugger, was the whirlpool water hot, Spike thought, unable to break eye-contact with Xander.

"I'll leave you two to your fun," Death said, rising from his crouch. "Xander, don't forget about the two Choata when you return to Sunnydale. I don't know how fast I can gather a hunting party to retrieve them."

"Okay," Xander said, his gaze still locked on Spike. "And thanks, Master."

"You're quite welcome," Death said, then quietly left the room.

"So," Xander said.

"So," Spike echoed.

They sat in there in the bubbling water in silence, neither of them moving an inch.


Continued