The Dark Cavalier


By Saber ShadowKitten






Part Eight





Xander watched through half-lidded eyes as Spike shifted uncomfortably, the silence having stretched on to that point. And the vampire should be uncomfortable, considering Xander could end his life with a flick of a wrist. That thought sent a perverse thrill through the Dark Cavalier and he hardened beneath the water.

Damn, this should be good, Xander thought, his lips twitching as Spike cleared his throat. He hadn't had a mortal lover in a long time. He'd forgotten how impatient they were. Of course, that came with the territory of having a limited amount of Time to live. All Xander had on his hands was Time.

Well, that, and he'd shortly have his hands on Spike.

"Hey Spike," Xander said casually. "Wanna have sex?"

For a moment, Spike stared in shock, then a corner of his mouth quirked. "Not one for subtlety, eh?"

Xander grinned as he stood. "Told ya you'd know if I was coming on to you."

Spike laughed, and the uncomfortable atmosphere disappeared. Xander shook his head in amusement and climbed out of the whirlpool. "Come on," he said, heading over to a stack of fluffy blue towels piled on a white whicker shelving unit. "The bed beckons."

"Seems like an awfully long way to walk," Spike commented. "Why don't we just shag here?"

"Because it takes two minutes to change the sheets and two hours to change the tub water," Xander answered. He threw a towel at Spike's head and chuckled when the vampire scowled at him after barely catching it. "Let's go, mortal. I'm horny, and you're easy."

"Am not," Spike grumbled. Xander watched appreciatively as the water cascaded down the blond's lean body as he climbed out of the tub. Very nice.

"Mm, yeah," Xander purred. The towel around his waist began to tent. "Death was right. You are cute."

"I am not cute." Spike glared at the brunette. "Bunnies are cute. The Witches holding hands are cute. Babies are... sick, disgusting little things. Bad example."

Xander laughed again and started back to the bedroom. "I take it back. You're adorable." The brunette heard a choking sputter behind him and laughed harder. Oh man, he hadn't laughed this much in a long time.

Which meant, of course, his merriment had to be woefully interrupted. Xander halted, both in step and laughter, the moment he crossed the threshold to his bedroom. His relaxed posture straightened and his playful tone of voice was replaced by a no-nonsense one. "What are you guys doing here?"

Seated on the bed, Samuel and Anthony both smiled at him. Samuel's smile was friendly. Anthony's was cruel. The raven-haired man looked pointedly at Xander's crotch. "That... deflates one rumor."

"How amusing," Xander said dryly. He further entered the room, scooped up Spike's jeans and turned to the door.

Spike was standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, navy towel riding low on his hips. His face was a cool mask, and he asked blandly, "Aren't you going to introduce us, pet?"

"Spike, this is Samuel and Anthony, my oldest friends," Xander said, walking over to the vampire to hand him his jeans. "Guys, meet Spike, my... oldester friend."

"Hi, Spike," Samuel said cheerfully, his round face lighting up with actual pleasure to meet the blond.

"It's a pleasure," Anthony drawled. "However, contrary to the Dark Cavalier's introduction, I am not his friend."

The word "friend" dripped with disdain and Xander shot him an unamused look. The brunette went to his closet and, keeping his back to the room, dropped the towel and slipped into a clean pair of black jeans. It wasn't a problem to zip them up, his erection had most definitely disappeared.

"Again, what are you guys doing here?" Xander asked, not bothering to put a shirt on. He grabbed a clean pair of socks and his boots and moved to sit on the windowsill to put them on.

"We heard about the Choata," Samuel replied. Concern replaced the friendly smile. "We came to see if you were okay."

"Which it looks as though you are," Anthony added. "Pity."

Xander had the unsurprising urge to choke the man. "Sorry, Anthony, I'm still immortal and killing."

"I guess this means you won't be working until the Choata are caught," Samuel said. "I hope the Collections Board takes the death-hunters into account when the Collections aren't made. I'd hate for you to be disciplined--"

"I'm still working," Xander interrupted.

"But Xander, it's dangerous!" Samuel exclaimed. "You're probably under enough stress working in Sunnydale, where you spent your mortal life. Adding the Choata--"

"Wait," Xander interrupted again, wearing a frown. "How do you know where my tour is? And how do you know Sunnydale was my mortal homeplace?"

"Everyone's assignments are posted at the Academy, dimwit," Anthony said. "Oh, that's right, you wouldn't know that, would you? Deathboy didn't have to attend the Academy like the rest of us lowly peons."

"Anthony, hush," Samuel scolded. Anthony smirked nastily, but hushed.

Xander glared daggers at the gaunt man. Why did Samuel insist on hanging around with that asshole? "That doesn't explain how you know I'm from Sunnydale."

"You told us, Xander," Samuel replied, ducking his head. "Don't you remember? It was the first day after the MCE's...?"

Xander ran a hand through his shaggy hair and relaxed slightly. "Sorry, Samuel. Seven-hundred-some years was a hell of a long time ago."

Spike cleared his throat and all eyes shot to him. Shit, Xander thought. He'd forgotten the mortal was there.

The jeans-clad vampire's scarred brow was arched as he looked questioningly at Xander. "Ducks, last time I checked, you were only twenty. Well, twenty-two now, I guess, since you're not dead."

Xander mentally groaned as Anthony and Samuel latched onto what Spike said. No one in Death's realm outside of the Academy was twenty, every immortal knew that. This just wasn't his day. "Spike, the mortal Xander is dead."

The second brow joined the first up in Spike's hairline. "Unless you're a vamp, you make a pretty sexy corpse."

It was neither the time, nor place, but... "You think I'm sexy?"

Spike scowled, and Xander could swear that the vampire was blushing. "As toe fungus," the blond grumped.

Ego stroked, Xander almost forgot that Spike's commentary had created a mess. He was unhappily reminded when Samuel started sputtering.

"You- you- you brought a mortal here?!?" Samuel looked aghast.

Anthony, however, looked evilly delighted. "How I cannot wait to spread the news: the infallible Dark Cavalier breaks one of the Cardinal Rules. Simply marvelous."

Xander dropped his head and rubbed his temples. First the assignment in Sunnydale, then Spike being able to see him, then the Choata, then missing out on getting laid, and now this. Wah. "I didn't have much choice."

"Xander, please explain," Samuel whispered in a horrified tone.

Xander's head snapped up and he gave Samuel and Anthony dark looks. Damn it, he didn't have to explain himself to anybody except Death! Who did they think they were, his... friends?

Dear hell, he really was an unfeeling bastard. He didn't even recognize the fact that others cared about him. Well, at least, Samuel cared. Anthony was just a prick who was always with the rotund Collector.

Still, Xander was a bit snippy when he answered. "Remember that Choata you were so worried about a few minutes ago? It was going to munch on Spike's gizzard if I didn't do something."

"He's a mortal," Anthony said scornfully. "Mortals are supposed to die."

"And so will you, when I rip your intestines out through your bloody beak," Spike growled.

"Xander, I still don't understand," Samuel said. "Why was the Choata after the mortal? I thought they only went after Collectors..."

Anthony laughed at Spike. "I'd like to see you try."

"It'll be my pleasure," Spike snarled dangerously. Anthony laughed harder.

"ENOUGH!" Xander's voice reverberated against the empty, white walls as he shot to his feet. A sharp wind flicked through the air, seeming to slap the others' cheeks. His dark eyes glittered with otherworldly sparks of light. When he spoke again, his tone was as hard as granite.

"I was the one assigned to Sunnydale. I was the one the Choata was after. My touch was on Spike and the Choata went after him, and it was my decision to bring him here." His angry gaze pierced Anthony. "If you want to tell the universe about it, be my guest. But get one thing straight before you do: He wasn't on the list."

Silence. Xander sucked in a slow breath and the wind died down. He unclenched his fists, ignoring the little shoots of pain from where his fingernails had cut into his palms.

"Why didn't you just say he was an innocent?" Samuel ventured tentatively.

Xander dropped his chin and half-laughed in defeat.

"Innocent?!" Spike said. "I'm about as innocent as--"

"Spike, shut up," Xander interrupted wearily. "Just shut up."

"Don't tell me to bloody shut up, you dead nonce," Spike snapped. "You have no control over m--"

The sounds coming out of Spike's mouth suddenly stopped as Xander put his finger to his lips in the universal sign for quiet. Spike kept speaking, however, and the brunette lip-read a couple of interesting curses, but at least it was silent again. Magick good, Spike-induced headache bad.

"Samuel, I appreciate your concern," Xander began, ignoring both the now-pouting vampire and Anthony. "No worries, though. Death is forming a hunting party for the Choata and he's okay'd Spike's being here. If there's a problem with the Collections Board, Death will remind them that I was assigned to my mortal homeplace for this tour of duty, which, I gather, is a big No-No. That should keep me out of the disciplinarians' grasp."

Something flashed across Samuel's face -- anger? Nah. -- before the rotund man's brow furrowed with uneasiness. "I'm sure the Collections Board will allow you time off until the Choata are captured..."

Xander gave him a half-grin. "That's okay, Samuel. I'll be fine."

"All right." Samuel stood, as did his dog, Anthony -- ooh, snarky Xander -- and turned to Spike. "It was a pleasure, Spike. I'm certain I'll see you again."

Spike tried to speak, found that no sound came out, and pursed his lips in anger. He waved his fingers in a mockery of a child's goodbye.

"Bye, Xander," Samuel said as he started out of the room.

"Yes, goodbye, Deathboy," Anthony chimed. "I wish you bad luck with the Choata."

"Come on, Anthony." Samuel grabbed the tall, gaunt man's arm, smiled at Xander, then dragged Anthony out of the bedroom.

Xander dropped his head back and let out a low, "Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah."

A tap on his bare chest brought his eyes down to meet Spike's glinting blue ones. The vampire's lips were twisted in the cutest little snarl, and Xander didn't fight his grin. The blue eyes flashed gold before resuming their icy glare.

"Oh, all right, you can speak again," Xander said with mock exasperation.

"If--" Spike was startled by the sound of his voice, but only for a moment. "If you ever do that again, I will rip your tongue out and see if you like not being able to speak."

"Sounds like a waste of a good tongue," Xander commented, just before he kissed Spike.







Part Nine





Once upon a time, before the Dark Cavalier, before vampires, before puberty, Xander had a best friend named Willow and a best friend named Jesse. One ordinary day, he sat with his two best friends and watched a movie. On the screen in front of them, a boy and a girl were kissing.

"Willow," he had asked. "How do you know if you love somebody?"

"It's easy," Willow had replied. "The first time you kiss someone, even though your eyes are closed, you blink."

Xander blinked.

"Darkling! Will you come here a moment?"

Slowly, Xander pulled back from the soft mouth under his and took a very shaky breath. He opened his eyes and fell headfirst into twin pools of deep azure. Drowning. Sinking. Feeling.

"Darkling! I will not ask a third time!"

"I'll be right back," Xander said roughly, hands slipping away reluctantly from bare skin.

Small nod. A lick of those soft lips.

Xander hurried out of the room.

"There you are," Death said, his hands resting on his hips as Xander met him in the front hall. "I know you're playing with the mortal, but that's no reason for you not to come when I call."

"Sorry," Xander said distractedly. He ran a hand through his dark locks and took another shaky breath. Wow. Wow-o-wow-o-wow-o-wowie-wow.

"Boy, are you listening to me?"

"Huh?" Xander blinked several times, then smiled sheepishly at his Master. "Can you repeat that?"

"I asked you if you wished to join the hunting party," Death said. "After all, the Choata were sent after you."

"Yeah, I do," Xander said. He shook his head to clear it and really focused on Death. "When?"

"I'm going to brief those in the party right now," Death replied.

"Okay. Just let me grab a shirt and... shit."

Death's blond brow went up. "Pardon?"

"Spike," Xander said. He groaned. "I am never going to get laid."

"You can screw him blind when we return," Death told him. "Until then, he is welcome to stay here." The Taker of Life frowned. "Although, I suppose he must eat sometime. Mortals are funny that way."

"I don't know how to whip up a blood-burger, do you?" Xander asked.

"I kill mortals, I don't feed them," Death said with a hint of disgust.

"Damn," Xander cursed quietly. "Spike's going to flip if he can't eat and has to stay here while we're gone."

"Why do you care?" Death asked curiously.

"Because... because...," Xander frowned deeply, "...I don't know."

"That's as good of a reason as any," Death smiled. "Well, I must be going. I'll wait for you at the Door."

Xander nodded and Death left. The brunette sank down on the second step of the royal blue staircase and stared blankly at the white tiled front hall floor. What the hell was happening? It was as if his content, simple, immortal life had suddenly been thrust into a maelstrom.

Xander thumped his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah," he moaned with each hit. "Bah."

First things first, Xander told himself. What to do with Spike? The vampire sure as hell wouldn't want to stay by himself at the mansion. Xander knew he himself wouldn't if their positions were reversed. So where could Spike go where he would be safe from the Choata and possibly be fed?

"Giles's!" Xander exclaimed aloud. "Duh. You'd think I hadn't been a mortal in 835 years... and you're talking to yourself in the front hall like a dork."

Xander jumped up and jogged up the stairs to his bedroom. Spike was standing near the window, keeping clear from the sun, chewing on his nails. The blond glanced over at him with a part-questioning, part-hungry look.

One, two, three, four and... mmmm...

Xander quickly broke the kiss with a painful laugh. "Blue balls. Something else to add to my list of recent disasters."

"Don't tell me we're not going to bloody shag," Spike said.

Xander sighed and leaned his forehead against Spike's. "Raincheck?"

"You'd better be the greatest fuck in the universe," Spike grumbled.

"I have it on the highest authority that I am," Xander said with a leer. Spike snorted as Xander moved away. The brunette grabbed Spike's shirt from the floor and tossed it to the vampire. "Get dressed."

"Why for?" Spike asked.

Xander walked to his closet, snagged a dark grey tee-shirt from the shelf and slipped it on. "I'm going Choata hunting, and I figured you wouldn't want to stay here by yourself."

"Damn straight."

Xander removed his pen from the pocket of the jeans on the floor by his feet, but his notebook was missing. "You didn't see a small blue notebook laying around?" he asked as he searched through the pile of dirty clothes.

"Like this one?" Spike said, holding up the notebook.

"Yeah," Xander replied, crossing to Spike, who was seated on the floor at the foot of the bed putting on his boots. "Thanks."

"You know, you have a whole box full of those little blue buggers," Spike said casually. "Makes a bloke curious as to what they are."

"They're the names of everyone I've killed in the last seven centuries," Xander told him as he slid the notebook into his back pocket.

Spike stared at him. "Bullshit."

Xander grinned. "Jealous?"

"You're lying your dead arse off," Spike said. "And you're not seven hundred effin' years old."

"That's true," Xander said. He offered Spike a hand up. "I'm actually 835. Well, 855 if you include the years I was a mortal."

"Now I know you're a lying little chit," Spike said authoritatively. He poked Xander in the chest. "You've only been dead for two soddin' years."

Xander chuckled. "Time moves differently for me, Spike," he explained. "Earth is one of the slowest realms in the universe. You think I've been Gone for two years, when, in my reality, I've been Gone for 835."

Spike studied him a moment, before his eyes widened slightly. "Holy crap, you really are that old."

"Yep."

"And you really did off all those folks in your books."

"Yes, I did," Xander said.

"Did you enjoy it?"

Xander rolled his eyes and started for the door. "It's my job, Spike."

"Someone's not answering the question," Spike sing-songed from behind him.

Xander suddenly spun around, grabbed Spike and hauled the blond up against him. "No," he growled. "I don't give a damn about mortals one way or the other. Got it?"

"Are you sure about that?" Spike asked thoughtfully. "Because you're going through a lot of trouble for little ol' me."

Xander barked out a cruel laugh. "What do you want me to do, Spike? Stroke your ego or your cock?" He released Spike with a small shove. "I don't feel like playing 'Xander's An Uncaring Bastard' right now. I have a Choata to kill."

Xander pivoted on his heel and stalked away.

Spike caught up with him at the front door, spun him around and kicked him. Xander's head flung back with the impact of Spike's booted foot to the underside of his chin.

Xander stared at the vampire in shock as he rubbed his jaw. "What the hell was that for?"

"The Slayer once told me that everyone needs a good boot to the head at times," Spike replied. He grinned. "And I, for once, agree with the silly bint."

Xander looked at him in confusion for a moment, then burst out laughing. "You have got to be the strangest mortal I've ever met."

Spike thread his thumbs through his belt loops and rocked back on his heels. "Rumor has it, I'm a bloody good shag, too."

Xander materialized an umbrella, flung an arm around Spike's shoulder, and headed out the door. "Well, that remains to be seen... and heard... and felt."

*****

The trip to the Hall of Doors was made at a leisurely pace, with Spike questioning Xander about those he'd killed, complete with specific, gruesome detail. The vampire debated the pros and cons of several techniques that he, like Xander, had used to kill someone; and he was practically giddy for finding someone intelligent to share stories with, without getting disgusted looks from his audience or needing to worry whether they'd find out about his chip.

Spike was horny as hell, though, and he hated the fact that his tete-a-tete with Xander had been postponed. He had wanted to bathe that tattoo with his tongue and watch Xander squirm beneath him. He had really wanted to play with that small silver ring at the end of Xander's prick, as well.

Oh hell, and that kiss. That first kiss. Turned Spike's knees to jelly and made him wonder why there were shooting stars behind his eyelids. The second kiss had simply made him hungry for more.

But he had a greater, insatiable urge to get Xander to care.

Spike didn't know why he wanted this, or why he even cared if the shaggy-haired brunette cared for others or not. It had perturbed him when Death had said that Xander didn't care about anything. The urge had increased when Spike had seen how cold Xander was with his so-called friends. It had grown in leaps and bounds when Xander had personally told Spike that he could care less about mortals.

Besides, what sort of moron chose to hunt for an overgrown, slobbering mutt over getting laid? It just wasn't cricket.

Loud, boisterous voices from a knot of human males and females traveled up the hall to Spike and Xander. Spike saw Death leaning against the wall across from the group, the same wall that Xander had cracked. "The hunting party?" he guessed.

"Yeah," Xander said. He grabbed Spike's arm and stopped. "Listen, when we join them, just keep your mouth shut and act like you're a Collector."

Spike had learned that term on the long walk, but he didn't understand. "Why?"

"I don't know if Anthony," the name dripped with acid, "spread the word that I brought a mortal here. I'd like to keep it hush-hush if I can."

Spike gave him mock pout. "Ashamed of me, luv?"

"Yes." Xander grinned. "Now, come on."

The vampire gave him the two-fingered salute, but followed docilely. He observed that, the closer they got to the group, the straighter Xander's posture became and the more no-nonsense he looked. It reminded Spike of Riley when the cornwad was feeling threatened. The "I am a big, strong, hoo-ha military git and I am always in control" look.

Xander was friendly with his greetings, however, when the humans spotted them. But Spike noticed that Xander's smile was plastic, his laugh was fake, and he didn't touch anyone. This Xander was nothing like the man Spike had seen smile, heard laugh or felt touch his lips in the past however-many hours.

No one seemed to notice Xander's aloofness, though. The people in the hunting party were acting genuinely neighborly with the brunette. Except for one person, who emerged from the group at the side of an over-jovial roly-poly man.

"Why look, Samuel," Anthony drolled. "It's the Dark One and his sex toy."

"Anthony," Xander said, grinding his teeth. "So nice of you to join the hunting party to save my immortal hide."

"Of course we'd join, Xander," Samuel said. "You'd help us if we needed it."

"Of course," Xander responded non-commitally.

"Just like I knew you'd say," Samuel gushed. "We'll get the Choata, Xander. Don't you worry."

Spike snorted. Couldn't the daft twit see that Xander didn't care a fig for him? Xander would probably help, yes, but more than likely just to kill something.

"What will you do with your honey while hunting?" Anthony asked sweetly, giving Spike the once over.

The prick reminded Spike of a sickly-looking Angelus. Anthony had a cruel niceness and a mock cheerfulness that made the vampire's eyeteeth itch. He wouldn't bite, though. The buggery nonce probably tasted rotten.

"Somewhere safe," Xander answered, glancing around at the others as if cataloging them.

"Are you sure there is such a place?" Samuel said worriedly. "He is an innocent. I wouldn't want him to be killed. That would be ten times worse for you in the eyes of the Board than bringing the mortal here; and I don't think Death would be able to protect you for such an infraction."

"Yeah, he'll be safe enough with good ol' Rupert Giles," Xander said distractedly. "With all of us there, the Choata won't be able to scent a slightly touched-by-death mortal." He gestured with his chin towards someone. "What's Marisa doing here? I thought she said she wouldn't get within eighty Doors of the death-hunters."

"She did," Samuel replied. He giggled. "But she also has a crush on you."

"And obviously abysmal taste," Anthony added.

Xander leaned closer to Spike and murmured, "So does Samuel."

"Children, children," Death clapped his hands, "quiet please."

Spike grinned at Xander, who winked in return. As Death began to give instructions, Xander mouthed the dirtiest things he was going to do to the vampire. A chill of anticipation crept down Spike's back. Not fair that he had to wait; he'd much rather throw Xander to the ground and--

"Dark Cavalier, do you have anything you wish to add?"

All eyes turned to Xander, who gave Spike a "we're caught!" look, cleared his throat and said, "Uh... go team?"

Everyone hooted and hollered in response, and started through the door Death held open. Spike captured Xander's eye again, and they both snorted in laughter as the hallway began to clear.

When they got to the door, they both smiled innocently at Death. Death rolled his eyes and smacked Xander on the butt as he passed. "Take care, you naughty Boy."

"Sir, yes sir!" Xander barked. He suddenly grabbed Spike's wrist and ran, laughing sincerely as they entered Earth's realm.





Part Ten





Darkness. Yes! Spike barely refrained himself from throwing his head back and howling at the moon. As it was, he bounced twice on his toes before realizing he must look like an utter git.

They had come out across the street from Giles's condo, which was odd. Spike had expected they would appear where they'd disappeared, and that he could retrieve what was left of his duster. He missed his duster. It had style. It had history. It had a full pack of smokes in one pocket and a Zippo in the other.

"Hey, mate," Spike said, looking around. "Where are the others?"

"All over Sunnydale," Xander replied as he started across the street. "Even though it's only been about a minute, Earth time, the Choata could be anywhere."

"A minute?" Spike said skeptically. "We were there a lot longer than a minute."

"Time moves differently here, remember?" Xander said. "I hope you can come up with a good excuse for staying at Giles's." He looked over at Spike with a frown marring his brow. "You are still in the semi-good with him, right? I'm not leading you to the stake, am I?"

"No, things are the same as they were before you croaked," Spike said, descending the stairs into the courtyard. "How long do I have to stay at Chateau Rupaire?"

"Until I come get you, or until another Collector comes to tell you my head's been added to the Graveyard," Xander replied.

Spike stopped at the stone picnic table and hopped up onto it. "So there's a right good chance you'll kick it? I thought you were the best of the best, or whatnot."

"The death-hunters were created specifically by Death to be able to take Collectors down," Xander said. He moved in front of Spike, wedging himself between the vampire's knees. "There has to be some way to control us, or we'd take over the universe."

"Well then," Spike grinned salaciously, "you'd best give this horny old vampire a blowjob, just in case you don't make it back from the trenches."

Xander chuckled and ran his hands up Spike's jeans-clad thighs. "You'd look pretty silly sitting out here with your pants down, moaning like a dead cow while an invisible person gives you head."

"I do not moan like a dead cow," Spike scowled. "I'm a manly moaner."

"A manly moaner, huh?" Xander smiled teasingly.

"Oh, shut up," Spike grumbled, grabbing the back of Xander's neck and pulling him in for a kiss. It felt so good, so right to be kissing Xander Harris, even though the bloke was technically dead. Then again, so was Spike.

Spike slipped his tongue between the brunette's firm lips, sliding into battle with Xander's tongue. What the vampire wouldn't give to be able to take Xander then and there, to see if he really was the greatest shag in the universe. He certainly was the best kisser, in Spike's book. Next to Spike himself, of course.

At first, Spike thought that he was the one growling. But when Xander pulled away with a startled curse, Spike realized that the sound was coming from behind him. He didn't have to look. He knew what it was that was growling.

He looked anyway. The Choata was standing at the top of the stairs, its dark fur rippling over its tensed muscles as it poised to jump. Its pointed ears were flat against its head, and its lips were pulled back in a snarl, with sharply curved teeth glistening with saliva. Its low, chilling growl wrapped around the courtyard and slithered down Spike's spine, bringing back the terror from before.

"Move!" Xander yelled. He latched onto Spike's arm, hauled him off the table and started running for Giles's door.

The Choata's growl rose in pitch before it launched itself down the steps, its thick claws screeching against the stone ground as it pushed off. It landed sure-footedly at the bottom and didn't pause in its charge at the two men.

Xander shoved Spike in front of him as they reached the door, and Spike scrambled to make the doorknob work. Please, please, please, the vampire prayed. Don't let Giles have finally taken his advice and locked the door.

Stupid, Spike knew, but he dared to glance over his shoulder. His already ashen game-face blanched, and he knew if he didn't dye his hair there would be a streak of white through it. The huge creature was in the air, leaping at its prey, claws extended for a debilitating blow.

Spike made a choking sound of pure fear and his blunt nails scraped against the metal doorknob as he banged his shoulder against the door. The heavy wood door suddenly swung open, and Spike tumbled inside, knocking Giles to the floor.

Xander was right behind him, and the Dark Cavalier slammed the door shut barely in time. The Choata hit the opposite side with a howl of protest, making the windows rattle.

Spike was on his feet and backing towards the hallway. He was panting heavily, a fear-induced hyperventilation despite his not needing to breathe. He could hear the death-hunter clawing at the door, trying to get in. Trying to get him.

"Spike, what is it?" Buffy asked, grabbing her coat off the arm of the couch and sliding it on. "Do I need a stake, sword, grenade, what?"

"It must be pretty close," Willow said worriedly, grabbing for Tara's hand. "How close is it?"

Giles climbed to his feet and walked towards the panicking Spike. "Spike, you need to tell us what you saw," he said calmly, "and where you saw whatever it is."

Xander bypassed Giles, grabbed Spike by the upper arms and shook the vampire slightly. "Spike, look at me," he ordered. "Focus on me."

Spike blinked rapidly and tore his yellow gaze from the door. He focused on the hard, brown eyes in front of him and swallowed heavily.

"They can't hear or see the Choata, do you understand?" Xander said. "Only you and I can."

Spike nodded slightly. The scratching at the door stopped, but he knew the Choata was still outside. Waiting.

"Spike?" Giles said questioningly, stopping a few feet away from the vampire. "Spike, are you all right?"

"I need you to stay inside," Xander instructed. "No matter what, I need you to stay inside. Do you hear me, Spike? No matter what."

"You're not going back out there?" Spike whispered with fear-tinged incredulity.

"I have to," Xander said affirmatively.

"Spike, if you saw something wigginsy, I have to go out there," Buffy said, pulling things out of the weapons chest and tucking them in her pockets.

Spike shook his head. "No--"

"I have to," Xander repeated. He released Spike's arm and ran his thumb against the vampire's lower lip. "My job is not just to bring death, but to protect the innocent, too. And that's you."

"Maybe you shouldn't go, Buffy," Willow said. "If it scared Spike, it's probably really bad."

"Really, really bad," Tara added.

Xander leaned forward and brushed his lips against Spike's. "Stay inside," he told the vampire. "I'm going to destroy this thing, and then you're going to find out what it's like to sleep with the greatest lover in the universe."

Spike pressed his lips together as Xander turned and headed for the door. A scythe, as Spike had learned it was called, materialized in Xander's hand. The brunette spun it once and slid it into a fighting hold, the black pole resting against the back of Xander's arm, the curved blade at an angle by his knees. Spike watched as Xander squared his shoulders, then walked through the closed door.

"Spike, are you--" Giles began, turning as the blond vampire darted past the Watcher, "--going to tell us what's going on?"

"No," Spike said, sliding to a halt in front of the window. He moved the filmy curtain back and peered outside into the courtyard.

"What?!" Buffy squawked.

"Gah!" Spike exclaimed, jumping back when a furred body slammed into the window. He tripped over the weapons Buffy had scattered over the floor and went down. He smacked his head on the edge of the coffee table and a spiked mace punctured his lower back as he landed on it.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Good going, slick."

Willow giggled, then quickly cleared her throat. "I wasn't laughing. Not me."

"Are you all right?" Giles questioned.

Spike ignored them, ignored the pain, ignored the fact that he was bleeding, and scrambled back to the window.

Outside, Xander swung the scythe at the Choata's belly. It sliced through the creature's skin and it howled in pain. A claw swipe had Xander staggering back, but he brought the curved tip of the scythe up sharply, catching the death-hunter under the jaw.

Xander jerked the scythe up and back, ripping the Choata's lower jaw off. Blood spattered everywhere, thick and dark against the pale stone ground, adding to the pools of color already there.

The Choata launched itself at Xander, its exposed upper teeth scraping against the brunette's arm as he put it up to block. Xander's own teeth gleamed dangerously as he snarled back at the creature. He slammed his thumb -- the same thumb that, just a few moments ago, had rubbed Spike's lower lip -- into the Choata's glowing red eye.

The roar of pain from the death-hunter shook the window in front of Spike. The vampire leaned his ridged forehead against the glass and quietly chanted, "Come on, pet, finish it. Finish it."

"You think, maybe, it's humans?" Willow suggested to the others, who had gathered by Giles's kitchen. "A gang or something?"

"He can't protect himself a-against humans," Tara agreed. "That could be scary."

"Giles," Buffy spoke up, a worried look on her face. "What if Spike was telling the truth yesterday? What if it's Xander?"

"That is a possibility," Giles said, removing his glasses and looking towards Spike. "Perhaps whomever or whatever he saw yesterday was non-benevolent."

Spike's ridges slipped away and he breathed a sigh of relief when the Choata went down. He saw Xander swing his scythe and chop off the death-hunter's head, and a smile graced the vampire's lips.

The smile disappeared as Xander dropped the scythe, staggered a few steps, then collapsed to the hard ground. "No," Spike whispered, his blue eyes widening in panic. "No, no, no!"

Spike bolted for the door, catching the attention of the other four in the house, and he threw it open. He skinned his knees as he skidded across the stone ground in his rush to Xander's side.

The brunette had bite marks, cuts, and was covered in blood, both his and the Choata's. Spike's attention, however, was focused on the deep gouge that ran diagonal across Xander's chest, from hip to sternum. Deep red blood flowed freely from the wound, soaking into the torn edges of Xander's dark grey tee.

It was exactly like the gash that had ended Xander's life two years ago.

"No, you don't," Spike growled, sliding his arms under Xander and pushing to his feet. "I'm not going to let you die on me again. Do you hear me, you bloody wanker? You're not going to do this again!"

Spike carried Xander into Giles's house and over to the couch. "Somebody help me here."

The other four stared at him as he lowered nothing onto the sofa. "Er... with what?" Giles ventured tentatively.

"First aid kit," Spike replied, kneeling beside Xander. "Towels, tape, bloody big bandages."

"Right," Giles said, heading out of the kitchen. The girls began to creep closer to the couch.

Spike ripped the dark grey tee-shirt from hem to neck and spread it open. There was so much blood he couldn't tell where the gash exactly was. He pulled his own black tee over his head and used it to mop up, ignoring the hunger churning inside of him.

A low moan of pain snapped Spike's attention to Xander's face. The brunette blinked open his eyes and looked at Spike. "How bad?" he hissed.

"Real bad," Spike answered.

Xander lifted his head and looked down his body. He chuckled-groaned. "That's bad."

He turned the hand closest to Spike fingers up and opened his palm. A spool of navy wax thread and a threaded needle materialized in his hand. "Stitch me up before I bleed out."

Spike nodded and took the items from Xander. He unrolled a good length of thread, dropped the spool between Xander's legs and pinched the brunette's slippery bloody skin beneath the gouge. Quickly, but carefully, he inserted the needle. He glanced up and saw that Xander had passed out again.

"Uh, Spike," Buffy said, frowning down at the blond vampire as she came up behind the couch, Willow and Tara beside her. "What are you doing?"

"Working, so shut up," Spike snapped. The thick thread pulled the bottom edges of the wound together, but he had to wipe up the blood again before he could continue.

Giles re-entered the room with rags and the first aid kit. He stopped at the head of the couch and cleared his throat. "Here are the, uh, things you requested, Spike."

Spike grunted, but didn't stop what he was doing. Insert, push through, long pull, cross over... Insert, push through, long pull, cross over... Insert, push through, long pull, cross over...

"Oh fuck me," Xander moaned again as he came back to consciousness.

The vampire darted a quick glance up at him. "Later, luv."

"Willow, look," Tara squeaked.

"It's that black aura," Willow said with panic. "Guys, it's that black aura!"

Xander tensed and grabbed Spike's forearm. "You brought me inside here?!"

"It's not like I had a soddin' choice!" Spike answered.

Xander shoved Spike back, hard. The vampire smacked his head against the coffee table again at the strength behind the push. With a growl of pain, Xander was on his feet and heading for the door, the threaded needle hanging from his torso, the spool trailing behind him.

Willow and Tara began chanting. Buffy pulled a knife from the sheath behind her back. Giles looked around frantically.

Spike jumped up and rushed over to Xander just as the other man began to fall. Spike caught the brunette under his arms and hauled him up to his unsteady feet. "Where the hell are you going? You're hurt, you stupid pillock."

"May all in here see the dead," Willow and Tara finished. Then, they gasped.

Buffy, Giles, Willow and Tara stared as Xander Harris flickered in and out of sight before materializing completely in Spike's partial hold.

"Xander?" Willow took a step towards the wounded brunette.

"Don't come near me!" Xander barked. "Spike, let go now."

The vampire steadied him on his feet and let go. A crutch materialized under Xander's right arm and he leaned heavily against it. "Willow, undo whatever spell you just did. I'm not your friend."

Spike shook off the startled unease he felt with that declaration. Willow had been Xander's best friend for fifteen years before he died. They'd been closer than brother and sister.

"Um, Xander or- or dead person who looks like Xander," Buffy pointed at his chest, "I can see your organs."

After that announcement, Spike had the pleasure of witnessing not only the mighty Slayer faint, but Willow and Tara, as well. Three little schoolmaids all in a row; thump, thump, and thump.


NC-17 Version
PG-13 Version