The Dark Cavalier


By Saber ShadowKitten








Part Fifteen





Caressing, gliding. Soft touches. In and out. Gentle moans and tender sighs. Breathy words, pleasure-filled hisses. "Yessss...", "...please, pet...", "...love you..." Teasing. Tasting. Light laughter, deep kisses.

Fingers entwined, arms pinned high above a mussed blond head. Face to face, body to body, sated flesh to sated flesh. Chocolate eyes melting beneath a cerulean gaze.

"How can I love you so much?" Xander asked softly. "I've only been with you for a single Earth day, and I can't imagine what forever would be like without you."

Bashful smile. Faint rosy blush. Gruff reply: "You've just succeeded in turning this demon into a big pile of mush. My reputation will never be the same."

"Funny," Xander circled his hips, "you feel pretty solid to me."

"Lovely," Spike sighed. "I'm shaggin' a bloody comedian. A rotten one, at that."

Xander grinned, dropped a quick peck on Spike's well-kissed lips, and moved off the vampire. He propped himself on his side, his head resting against his hand. "So...," he prompted.

"So why do you love me... aside from the obvious, right?" Spike teased, gesturing down at his nude body.

The brunette snorted indelicately, earning a rude salute from his bedmate. Spike tucked one arm behind his head and let his gaze wander along the cracked ceiling of the crypt as he searched for a real answer to Xander's question. Spike's other hand lay on his stomach, and the immortal was lightly outlining his fingers. It tickled, but he wasn't about to say so. He'd been enough of a nancy for one evening, thank you very much.

A hundred candles had been lit in the dim tomb where Spike made his home, and the pale golden glow made the place actually seem more romantic, rather than just a hovel where an undead guy roomed with a dead girl in a stone coffin. The double bed they were laying on had been a gift from Harmony years ago when the blond airhead had decided Spike would make a good boyfriend. Spike had only put up with her because she was a pretty decent lay. That relationship lasted about six months. Now, she was in France or some other European country that she'd never stopped yammering on about.

"Love is interesting, pet," Spike began, a smile curving his pale pink lips. "It's what makes the effin' world go round, if you believe the namby-pamby sentimentalists and Hallmark writers."

He glanced over at Xander. "Thing is, love doesn't hit everyone the same way. For some, it's instant -- love at first sight, or sniff, or wiggle, depending on the species. For others, it's a slow awareness -- one day, you're sitting around shootin' the shit with your friend or lover, and you come to realize that your whole universe is centered around just wanting to see him or her smile."

Xander smiled, his eyes crinkling in the corners. "Were you a poet in a past life, or one of those namby-pamby Hallmark writers?"

"No," Spike said quickly, looking away and once again cursing the fact that vampires could blush. "I may've ate a few poets, but there's no way in hell I was one. No bloody way. Not me. Not at all."

A dark brow rose. "Trying to convince yourself, or me?"

Spike scowled. "Fuck off."

"Can't. Limp," Xander teased. He tapped Spike's stomach above the vampire's hand. "And you still haven't answered my question. Why the heck do I love you so much?"

"Because you're touched in the head," Spike replied. Xander rolled his eyes, and the blond shrugged. "You can't control who you love, ducks. It's an emotion that controls you. The only thing you can do is go with the flow, and hope that the pillock you're in love with loves you back."

"Do you?"

Spike frowned at the ceiling. "Do I what?"

"Love me back?" Xander asked with a nervous quietness.

The blond turned to Xander and saw vulnerability etched on the immortal's normally stoic features. Spike captured the hand on his stomach, entwining their fingers, and smiled tenderly. "Yes, this pillock that you're in love with loves you back. And I can't see living forever without you around to make my unlife interesting."

Xander inhaled a slow, shaky breath, and he blinked rapidly against the tears forming in his eyes. "Squishy feeling in my chest. Not so squishy feeling a little lower."

Spike glanced down Xander's body, grinned, and suddenly rolled so he was on top of the other man. "More?"

"You're insatiable," Xander said.

"Have to be," Spike nipped at the brunette's neck, "what with you being the greatest shag in the universe and all."

"Flattery will get you...," the vampire sucked hard and Xander moaned, "...oh so well-fucked."

"Mmm," Spike purred. With his tongue, he traced a path up the immortal's neck to his ear, and whispered into it, "Sounds good to me."

"But we can't."

Incredulous stare. "Eh?"

"It's running on midnight, and I still have to get you back to Giles's," Xander said with a glance at the chronograph on his wrist.

Spike stuck his lower lip out. "Why can't I stay here, in my lovely crypt, with my lovely bed and my lovely lover?"

"Because Buffy and the others will protect you in case Anthony has a trick up his sleeve," Xander answered. He smacked the blond's bare butt. "Now, scoot. Get dressed. The sooner we leave, the sooner we return and I let you have your wily wicked way with me."

*****



Utilizing the shortcut provided by the Hall of Doors, Xander and Spike were across the street from Giles's with twenty minutes left until midnight. Xander held Spike's hand, unashamed of the feminine action. Despite the brunette's confidence in his abilities, there was still a chance that Anthony would defeat him, and he'd never get to see Spike's mischievous smile again. The thought was completely depressing, and made Xander snippier then usual.

"Once you're inside, I need you to stay with Giles until I come and get you." Xander looked at Spike, his expression serious. "Don't leave with anyone, even if they say that I said to pick you up."

"When will you return?" Spike asked.

"As soon as I can," Xander replied, looking both ways before starting across the street. It wouldn't do to have Spike get hit by a car this close to the deadline. Mortals were funny, they could die from the most innocuous things, even if they had partial invulnerability, like vampires.

But, the danger didn't come in the form of a car speeding up the street. Instead, danger was dressed in a three-piece black suit with a black silk shirt and matching tie.

"Darkling," Death greeted solemnly. "Spike."

"Master," Xander said without inflection. He turned to Spike, cupped his cheek, and pressed a hard kiss to his lips. "Get inside," the brunette ordered softly.

Spike eyed Death, then shook his head. "No. Forget it."

"Spike, now isn't the time," Xander said, his tone growing cold. He took a step back from the vampire. "Go."

"My name's on that bloody list," Spike growled, "and I'm not leaving until it's off without either of us dying."

"Damn it, Spike!" Xander exclaimed. Why did the idiot have to chose now to challenge him? "I said go!"

"No," Spike ground out firmly.

"Don't make me--"

"Well, well, well, isn't this a treat. The Dark Cavalier is fighting with his pet. How... mortal."

Xander's angry gaze whipped towards the familiar voice and his eyes narrowed. "Anthony."

"Is everything okay, Xander?" Samuel asked, walking up with Anthony to stand beside Death.

Xander wasn't surprised to see either of them. He'd had a feeling Anthony would show up to gloat. However, Xander had wanted Spike out of the way before the real fighting began. "Everything's fine, Samuel," he said, keeping his eyes on Anthony.

"Are you sure?" Samuel said. "I know it must be hard for you to have to Collect Spike. It's easy to see how much you like him. That's why we're here. If you want, we can take care of him for you."

"The only one who's going to get taken care of is Anthony," Xander snarled.

Anthony looked startled. "Pardon me?"

A faint breeze kicked up. "Don't play innocent, you bastard," the Dark Cavalier said. He pulled Willow's printout from his pocket. "I have proof that you set me up. Showing up here at the final hour only adds to my evidence, and the Scales of Justice say you're going to hurt."

"Poetic," Spike murmured.

Xander shot a glare at Spike and hissed, "There are 2,384 ways to torture a man. Unless you want to experience all of them, get the fuck out of here!"

Spike's eyes widened, and he reared back slightly. With a quick nod, he took off towards Giles's.

Xander watched until the vampire disappeared from sight, then turned back to the trio standing four paces away. He looked at each of them in turn, his dark eyes shining with otherworldly light. "No one is to harm even one single hair on that mortal's head."

Death's brow went up. "Is that an order?"

"Yes."

The second brow joined the first. "Boy, I don't think--"

"That's right -- don't think," Xander interrupted. "Just do what I say."

Samuel gasped in horror. Even Anthony seemed agog at Xander's impertinence.

Death, on the other hand, simply smirked. "I take it you wish me to erase Spike's name from the list?" Xander nodded once, the faint breeze dying down. The Last Lover sighed good-naturedly. "Very well, Darkling, as long--"

"What?!" Samuel exclaimed, interrupting Death. He began to sputter and gesticulate wildly. "But- but- but--"

Anthony glared angrily at Xander, the breeze kicking up again. "You prick. It's bad enough that everyone worships the ground you walk on--"

"Shut up," Xander snapped. "Spike wasn't on the list to begin with, and you know it."

"What do you mean?" Anthony took a step towards the brunette. "Are you implying--"

"I'm not implying, I'm saying it outright," Xander snarled. He shook the printout in his hand. "You forged Spike's name because you knew I liked him and it would hurt me if I had to Collect him; just like you sent the Choata to hurt me, and how you got me sent to my mortal homeplace to hurt me."

Anthony's long raven hair blew around his face as the magickal wind increased. "You're not only a sanctimonious jackass, you're a liar, as well! And this," he gestured to the printout, "with erasing Spike's name. Now, I have proof of favoritism. I cannot wait to tell the other apprentices -- the mighty Dark Cavalier is nothing but a liar and a cheat. No one will respect you again, because everyone will know the truth -- you're just a plaything; Death's Boy," he sneered.

Xander shoved the printout into his pocket, his scythe materializing in his other hand. "You won't be saying anything after I rip your throat out!"

Anthony smirked, his own scythe appearing in his hands. "Ooh, someone's afraid of the truth getting around."

Abruptly, a cold mask descended over Xander's features and the coiled tension beneath his skin relaxed. He twirled the scythe so it was behind him, the pole resting against his arm and back, the curved blade held at an angle to his knees. The wind still whipped around the four in the street, causing fallen leaves to meet for an angry dance in the air.

On the path that led into the condominium complex from the street, half-hidden around the corner of the garage, Spike watched the events unfolding. His blue eyes were filled with strong emotion, and his thumbnail was already chewed down to the quick.

"Master," Xander said, his emotionless voice audible to everyone despite the whistling wind. "Permission to cause Anthony Hodgkins's eternal death."

Death unbuttoned his suitcoat, pushed the material back, and stuck his hands in his pockets of his pleated black trousers. He rocked on his well-shined black wingtips as he silently studied Xander. "Permission granted."

"What?!" Samuel squeaked again.

The words were barely out of Death's mouth when Xander attacked. He bent his knees and leapt into the air, somersaulting over Anthony's head. He landed behind the tall, raven-haired immortal, spun around, and swung his scythe for a decapitating blow.

Anthony wasn't a wet-behind-the-ears apprentice, however. With a flick of his wrist, he twirled his scythe behind his back and blocked Xander's strike. The gaunt man pivoted, catching the end of his weapon and holding it parallel in front of him, blocking Xander's second attack.

The flaring of Xander's nostrils was the only reaction to Anthony's defensive success. Xander rolled his scythe against Anthony's and thrust the pole end up between the other man's legs.

Anthony clamped his thighs together, capturing Xander's scythe before it hit. He twisted his own weapon, the curved blade gliding on a straight path towards Xander's neck.

Xander threw himself backwards, yanking his scythe from between the other immortal's legs as he fell to the ground. He quickly rolled to his left as Anthony swung his weapon like an axe. Sparks shot out from the blade as it connected the pavement.

Xander's scythe disappeared as he arched to his feet, then re-materialized in his hands in time to block Anthony's swing. The Dark Cavalier leapt into the air again, landing sure-footedly between Anthony and where Samuel and Death stood. The two combatant's blades clanged as they came together, the metallic sound carrying on the wind.

Xander ducked a jab with the blunt end of Anthony's scythe. The brunette immortal let his own weapon slide in his hands until he was gripping the very end, then swung the scythe like a golf club. Before it could hit, Anthony launched himself straight upwards into the air.

A corner of Xander's lips went up as he repositioned his scythe, his eyes on the raven-haired immortal. There was no way for Anthony to avoid coming down in the same spot as he'd occupied a moment before, giving Xander the perfect opportunity for victory.

"Xander! Behind you!"

Xander's attention jerked from Anthony towards where Spike's shout of warning came from, distracting him for a few precious seconds. He heard the fall of a footstep behind him, but before he could turn, he felt a searing line of fire across his shoulders.

The scythe dropped from his nerveless fingers, and it clattered loudly to the pavement. Anthony landed on the pole, lost his footing, and fell to the ground, his own scythe clacking against the street. The raven-haired man stared, dumbfounded, past Xander as a silver blade flashed under the streetlight.

"You sonofabitch!" Samuel yelled, the wickedly sharp scythe in his hands slicing another line across Xander's back, from left shoulder to right hip. "You will not win this fight!"

Xander arched against the strike, hissing between clenched teeth. He dove forward on his right shoulder, somersaulting up to his feet, and he quickly turned to face the new threat. "Samuel, what the hell are you doing?"

The wind stung as its speed increased. Red-faced, Samuel's eyes glowed dangerously as he glared at Xander, his lips twisted into a threatening snarl. His knuckles were white as he gripped the scythe tightly in his hands.

Xander whipped around when he heard pounding footsteps on the pavement behind him. "Spike, get back!" he barked at the approaching vampire.

"Look out!" Spike exclaimed.

The Dark Cavalier dropped to a crouch, and the whizz of the blade was loud as it sliced through the air where his head had been. He used his position to push off, leaping up and back, crashing blindly into Samuel.

They both tumbled to the ground. Xander rolled quickly to his feet again and faced Samuel. The brunette sent a round kick at Samuel's face as the rotund Collector started to stand. Samuel's head snapped to the side, but that did not stop him from pushing himself off the ground into a flying tackle.

Samuel clipped Xander in the legs right below the knees, sending the Dark Cavalier into an uncontrolled flip. His head hit the ground first, cracking open on the hard pavement, before he continued over onto his injured back. His legs smacked the ground with a loud slap, and he laid there on the street, breathless and in shock, blinking rapidly against the haziness clouding his vision.

There was a wild howl, and Xander saw a flash of black shoot past him. Snarls and growls were caught in the wind and tossed about, filling the area with sound.

With a clench of his teeth, Xander sat up and twisted to look behind him. Samuel was on his feet, his nostrils flaring with every angry breath he took, scythe once again in his hands. Death was holding a hissing, struggling, vamped-out Spike, preventing him from interfering. Anthony had risen to his feet, but was still staring at Samuel as if he'd never seen the other immortal before.

Xander got to his knees and faced Samuel before he roared, "What the hell is going on?!"

"I hate you." Samuel's ragged voice dripped with venom as he spoke. "Anthony should be Death's number one apprentice, not you."

Xander blinked in disbelief. "What?"

"Anthony was five points away from a perfect score on the MCE, but does anyone care?" Samuel fumed. "No, because Death's pet immortal took the exam at the same time, and the Proctors, of course, had to give Xander Harris the highest marks ever."

Samuel stalked towards Xander, eyes spitting fire. "Does anyone care that Anthony traded for a second tour on Bavarish because he knew Maru Kessl'ete wouldn't be able to handle the children's realm, and he wanted to spare her from the Graveyard?" he said. "Does anyone care that not a single Collector who attended Anthony's teaching tour has ever failed? Does anyone care that Anthony volunteers to capture the Choata after the death-hunters complete their assignments in order to keep others safe? Does anyone care that Anthony takes no special favors, helps anyone who asks, and has never once been praised by the Board or Death?"

Samuel stopped directly in front of Xander and glared down at the kneeling brunette. "The answer is no. No one cares a fig about Anthony Hodgkins. Everyone's too enamored with Death's Boy, the infallible Xander Harris, who's so perfect and wonderful he even gets his own special name -- the Dark Cavalier.

"Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Harris," Samuel continued. "You are nothing compared to Anthony, and once I end your phony reign as Death's best Collector, everyone will know who the real number one apprentice is."

Xander was flabbergasted. "You're the one who set me up," he said in shock.

Samuel nodded. "I forged Spike's name. I wanted you to fail, to take an innocent life or give yours in exchange, but since you're Death's butt-toy...," he trailed off and raised his scythe. "Although now, I guess Death will have to get a new plaything."

"NO!!" Spike screamed roughly.

A hand suddenly wrapped around the weapon and stopped Samuel from cleaving Xander's head. Xander was again flabbergasted when he saw who was his rescuer.

"Samuel, don't," Anthony said, taking the scythe from Samuel.

Samuel turned to the taller immortal. "Why? If I don't get rid of him, no one will know that you're the best."

For the first time ever, Xander saw Anthony truly smile; a non-mocking, eye-crinkling, completely sincere smile. "All the praise and all the recognition in the universe would never compare to how I feel at this very moment," Anthony said, reaching out to brush the backs of his fingers against Samuel's cheek. "You were going to destroy Xander... for me."

"Of course it was for you," Samuel said. "I'd do anything for you."

"Oh, Samuel," Anthony said softly. "Eight hundred years together, and you still find ways to make me love you more."

The wind died down and the scythes disappeared as Anthony and Samuel's lips met in a tender kiss.

Love. Samuel tried to send Xander to his eternal death because of love. A day ago, Xander wouldn't have recognized the emotion that flowed between the two standing in front of him. A day ago, he wouldn't have cared why Samuel had attacked him. A day ago, he would have been using the other two immortals' distraction to destroy them both.

That was a day ago, before he'd learned about love.

Xander leaned over to look past the two Collectors. Spike, still in game-face but no longer struggling, was staring in his direction with fear and anger. The brunette raised his gaze and saw Death's amused smirk. The Last Lover shook his head, sighed, and released the vampire.

The Dark Cavalier lifted his arms and caught Spike in a tight embrace. It hurt -- it hurt lots, he'd underestimated the little fucker -- but he wasn't about to relinquish the feeling of holding Spike. He'd almost lost. If it hadn't been for Anthony, he would have. Death wouldn't have saved him, because Death did not know real love.

Neither had Xander, which was what had made him the perfect apprentice... until he'd literally run into Spike.

"I'm going to kill them," Spike growled in the brunette's ear. "Let me up, so I can tear their bodies inside out."

Xander chuckled and squeezed the vampire a little tighter. "That's okay, Spike. No one needs to die tonight."

Death cleared his throat loudly, breaking apart Anthony and Samuel's kiss. "Darkling, I don't mean to be the downer, but it's one minute to midnight, and Spike's name is still on the list."

Xander released Spike as he gave his Master a puzzled look. "But Spike's name was forged. Samuel admitted to setting me up."

"Then it is Samuel who shall take Spike's place," Death said.

"No, he will not," Anthony stated, pushing Samuel protectively behind him. "I would spend an eternity in torment before I allowed you to even look disparagingly at Samuel."

Death's brow went up. "I gather that means you're taking Samuel's place."

"No." Xander climbed to his feet, with some help from Spike, and moved to stand beside Anthony. "I can't let you take Anthony."

"And so my Dark Cavalier now chooses to replace Anthony," Death said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Tell me, Dearheart, are you prepared for everlasting pain?"

"There's no bloody way I'm letting a nonce like you hurt Xander," Spike growled, stepping close to Xander's side. "You'll have to dust me first."

"Anyone else?" Death asked wryly.

"Y-Yes," Samuel stuttered, peeking around Anthony. "Spike's an innocent, and I put his name on the list, so I should be the one to, um, g-go."

"And we've circled back to the beginning," Death sighed. "Love, a misbegotten emotion that leads both mortals and immortals to do the stupidest things."

"Does that mean you're erasing Spike's name from the list?" Xander asked warily.

Death studied the four defiant ones for a moment, then rolled his eyes. "Oh, very well. Spike is no longer on your list."

Xander turned to Spike, grinning widely, and was about to pull the vampire into another hug when Death interrupted him.

"But," Death said, giving Xander a pointed look. "I have a feeling that your pet mortal may knock you from your pedestal of perfection, and I cannot have my number one apprentice shame me."

Xander shifted uncomfortably. "I won't, Master. I promise."

Death clucked his tongue. "I wasn't finished speaking, Boy."

Xander flushed bright red and bowed his head, chastised. He heard Anthony snicker and fought against reacting.

"As I was saying," Death went on. "Since I cannot have my best Collector disgrace me, I shall simply have to cut you loose and give you your own apprentice to train."

Xander's head shot up. "What?"

Death ignored Xander and turned to Spike. "Spike, how would you like a job as the Dark Cavalier's apprentice?"





Part Sixteen

Death suspended Samuel for two months, effective immediately, and confined him to the Academy grounds for his nefarious activities. In the same breath, Death praised Anthony for centuries of good work, rewarded him with a two month vacation, effective immediately, and did he know that the Academy was lovely this time of year?

Perhaps Death knew more about love than Xander had previously thought.

After a quick patch-up of Xander's back, Death had informed Xander that he was temporarily relieved of his duties, effective immediately, so that he could take on an apprentice. The Master of Mortals had wished Xander luck, and then had started to laugh as he escorted Anthony and Samuel away. Xander knew that Death had been laughing at him, and it did nothing to quell the sudden nervousness he felt about having his own apprentice.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Xander asked the blond vampire as they stopped outside of Giles's door. "It's not too late to change your mind."

"Are you kidding?" Spike gave him a crooked grin. "I get to become practically invincible, kill mortals, and shag you for an eternity. You bet your sweet arse I want this."

Xander chuckled. "Okay then," he gestured to the door, "after you."

Buffy and Willow were sitting on the couch and Giles was in the kitchen when Spike and Xander entered. The original Scoobies, Xander thought. It seemed fitting that the four who had first battled Spike were together to witness the vampire's mortal demise.

"I take it you were successful in thwarting your antagonist?" Giles inquired.

"Yes," Xander said. He smiled at Willow. "And you were right, Wills. It was Samuel, the one I least suspected. I wouldn't make a good A&E detective."

"Ooh, what was his motive?" Willow asked excitedly. "Jealousy? Revenge? Bad hair day?"

"Love."

Confused, as were the others, Buffy asked, "This Samuel was trying to kill both you and Spike out of love?"

"He was channeling his inner-Angelus," Spike sniggered.

Buffy scowled. "Not funny."

"No, it wasn't," Xander turned to Spike and winked, "I think you should stake him for that, Buffy."

"Don't tempt me," the Slayer commented.

"Actually, that's why we're here," Xander said, looking back at Buffy. "I thought you'd like the honors of staking the Peroxide Wonder."

"Huh?"

"Xander, you can't be serious," Willow said. "Buffy can't stake Spike."

"Yes, I can," Buffy said quickly.

"Willow is right," Giles said, joining them in the living room. "As much as it pains me to admit this, Spike has been invaluable to us... at times. When he's feeling altruistic, or is in dire need of money. Plus, he is, in essence, still a- a somewhat defenseless creature because of his chip, and it's our duty to protect him," he paused, "and now I need something strong to wash this bad taste from my mouth."

Xander looked at Spike and rolled his eyes. "I guess I should have explained first," the brunette said. "Spike is going to join the ranks of apprentices, and in order for him to do that, his mortal life needs to end."

"I said I'll do it," Buffy piped up.

"But won't Spike go poof?" Willow said. "How can he be an apprentice if he's a big pile of dust?"

"It's only temporary poofage, Willow," Xander explained. "He'll be wholly fuckable again within minutes."

"So, can I stake him now?" Buffy said, looking hopefully at Giles.

"I think that's Spike's decision," Giles said. "He is, after all, the one going to be staked."

All eyes focused on the vampire. Spike's cockiness had disappeared as the conversation had flowed around him and doubts began to surface. He crossed his arms over his chest and shifted uncomfortably. "I... uh..."

Xander put his hands on Spike's arms and looked into his scared blue eyes. "We don't have to do this," the immortal said quietly. "I'll still love you if you choose to stay mortal."

Spike pursed his lips for a moment, searching Xander's gaze. "You sure I'll come back after Buffy stakes me?"

"I'm positive."

Spike swallowed, took a purposeful breath and blew it out quickly. He nodded. "Let's do this."

Xander smiled gently, leaned forward and brushed his lips across Spike's. "I love you," he murmured softly.

"Same here," Spike said hoarsely. He cleared his throat and looked past Xander's shoulder. "Well, Slayer, it looks like this is your lucky night."

"Goody!" Buffy jumped up, grabbed a stake from the coffee table, and quickly rounded the couch. "I've been wanting to do this for so long."

Xander squeezed Spike's arms, then stepped back. Spike squared his shoulders, set his jaw, and slightly spread his arms. "Do it."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and you won't come back," Buffy said wistfully, just before she plunged the stake into Spike's chest.

Xander caught Spike's wide-eyed, fear-filled gaze before the vampire disintegrated into a pile of ash.

"Oh my God," Willow breathed, staring at the dust on the floor in front of Buffy. "I can't believe you actually staked him."

Buffy blinked several times, a stunned look on her face. "Me, neither."

"I'm a bit dazed, myself," Giles added.

As the blond Slayer backed slowly away, Xander crouched beside his lover's remains. He plucked a small metallic object from the ash and tossed it to Giles. "One chip, finally removed."

"Fascinating," Giles said, removing his glasses to look closer at the chip. "This tiny thing was all that was stopping Spike from killing."

"Willow, I don't feel happy," Buffy said, sinking onto the couch beside the redhead. "Why don't I feel happy?"

Willow half-embraced the blond, tears in her eyes. "He'll be back soon," she raised her voice, "Right, Xander? He'll be back soon."

The ash in front of Xander began to shift and glow. "Sooner than I thought," the brunette replied.

Buffy and Willow quickly turned, kneeling up on the couch to easily see over the back. Giles backed partially into the hallway and put his glasses back on. Xander stayed crouched where he was, his gaze not moving from the vampire's ashes.

Particles of glowing golden dust rose from the floor and danced together, like pixie dust in Disney movies. The particles began to twirl faster and faster, spinning a glowing flaxen cocoon that grew larger and larger.

The otherworldly light from the golden cocoon suddenly pulsed brightly, blinding everyone for a second. When their vision cleared, the glowing dust was gone, and Spike lay on the floor half-curled on his side, as naked as a newborn babe.

"Wow," Willow breathed. "No wonder Xander likes to have wild monkey sex with him."

"I knew he wasn't a true blond," Buffy commented. She and Willow exchanged glances and giggled.

"Here," Giles said, retrieving a black duster which had been thrown over the stair rail. He passed it to Xander. "Buffy found Spike's duster while she was on patrol earlier. Use it to cover him up before I have a naked Spike permanently tattooed in my mind."

"Thanks, Giles," Xander said. He carefully laid the well-worn leather coat over Spike, who was just opening his eyes. "Well, hi, there," the brunette said quietly. "Welcome back."

Spike moved like lightning, scrambling to his feet, clutching the coat to him. He started panting animalistically, suddenly game-faced, his yellow eyes wild as he looked from person to person.

"Spike?" Xander said tentatively as he straightened.

Spike growled once, then ground out through his fangs, "Don't ever let me do something that stupid again."

Xander threw back his head and laughed. He opened his arms, and Spike stepped into his embrace. He pressed a kiss to the vampire's temple, still chuckling. "This is going to be fun."

"My duster!" Spike exclaimed abruptly, his features returning to human. He wiggled out of Xander's arms and looked at the coat still clutched in his hands. "You found my duster!" There was a slight breeze and he looked down. "And you took my clothes."

"You look better naked, anyway," Xander flirted.

"Here, here," Willow whispered to Buffy. The girls giggled again.

"Oi! Unless you have money, no gawking at the merchandise!" Spike slid his coat on, holding it closed in front, effectively covering all his dangly bits.

"Spike, I think that you would like to keep this more than I would." Giles held out his hand. "Or-or perhaps you'd like the honors of destroying it."

"Is that what I think it is?" Spike said, taking the small metal chip from Giles's hand.

"You're chip-free and primed for killing mortals," Xander confirmed.

Spike perked up. "Can I start with Buffy?"

"Watch it, Blondie," Buffy said. "I staked you once, I can do it again."

"No more killing tonight," Xander said. "As of right now, Spike, you are my apprentice and my word is law. If I say 'hemrik,' you say 'lemlin yfid.'"

Spike's scarred brow went up. "What language was that?"

"Just one of an unbelievable number of languages that you'll have to learn," Xander replied, starting for the door.

"You're leaving?" Willow said.

Xander stopped, looked back at the redhead, and nodded. "Yeah."

"Will we ever see you again?" she asked, forlornly.

"You weren't supposed to see me in the first place," Xander replied. "Your friend Xander Harris died two Earth years ago, Willow, and he's not coming back."

"Can I still miss you?"

Xander smiled gently at her, then looked to Spike. "Come along, Brightling, we have work to do. Your first lesson requires soft sheets and pillows, and will be graded on participation." He winked, turned, and walked through the door.

Spike quickly walked to the door, stopped in front of it, and faced the others again. "I guess this is goodbye, folks. I won't miss you, and I can't say that it's been fun."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Mutual, Spike."

"Yes, we shall all shed many a tear at your departure," Giles said dryly. He removed his glasses and started to wipe the lenses as he added, "Take care of him, will you?"

"I will," Spike promised. He suddenly smiled devilishly. "Hey Slayer."

"Yeah, Spike?"

Spike yanked his coat open, flashed her, then stepped through the closed door.

Xander was leaning against the stone picnic table, a half-smile on his face. "Ready?" he asked the blond when he appeared.

"Yeah," Spike said, pocketing the chip as he crossed to Xander. He grabbed for the ends of his coat belt, but Xander stopped him, a twinkle in his dark eyes.

"You remember what I said about your first lesson?" Xander said, sliding his hands beneath the vampire's open duster.

"Sheets, pillows and participation," Spike replied, wrapping his arms around the brunette's neck and pressing his nude body to Xander's clothed one.

The Dark Cavalier's smile gleamed in the darkness. "Forget the sheets and pillows part."

"I can do that," Spike said before snatching Xander's smile up in a kiss.

At the top of the stairs to the courtyard, Death shook his sun-kissed blond head and sighed. "Love. I've lost so many of my personally-trained apprentices to that silly emotion, one would start to think that I encouraged them to find it."

The Choata at his side looked up at him and softly whined.

Death wrinkled his nose at the death-hunter. "Oh shush. Just because I assigned Xander to a tour of duty at his mortal homeplace and knew that he'd run into his mortal bondmate, doesn't mean that I set him up."

The Choata snorted.

"Although, I was surprised by Samuel forging Spike's name to my Darkling's list," Death continued. "I should have thought of that myself."

The Choata made a sound like a rumbling laugh and started to leave.

Death smiled, took one last look at the couple entwined on the stone picnic table below, then followed the Choata. A frown replaced the smile, and he said to his furry companion, "Tell me the truth: was sending your brethren after them overkill...."





End