The Secrets We Keep

Status:
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • PG-13
Fandom(s):
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

Relationship(s):
Xander Harris/Spike

Warning(s):
  • Discussion - Murder
Genre(s):
  • Alternate Universe
Word Count:
21500

Author's Note:
Takes place in some nebulous Season 5 Timeline. Spike is in town and actively aiding (when it suits him) the Slayer and company. Giles owns the Magic Box, Xander lives in his apartment, etc... Tara is not specifically mentioned. Glory and Dawn do not make an appearance, take that as you will.

Summary:
Xander's past comes back to haunt him, and he must decide if he will run, or face up to the challenge laid before him, and what that entails, while keeping his secrets...secret; Angel returns to Sunnydale to keep a promise he made long ago.


*

Xander Harris turned off the coffee maker as he poured the final cup into his mug. After adding creamer and sugar, he took the mug and sat down at the table. He began reading the Sunday comics and tried to concentrate.

His eyes kept diverting to the pile of mail sitting on one corner of the table. It wasn’t a large pile. Just three separate pieces: Two bills and a bright orange envelope.

He had covered the orange envelope with the two bills to forget about it. But its bright color was making it difficult. He had foolishly opened the envelope, and now, days later was trying to forget what it said.

It was too late.  Xander had seen. He knew what was inside.

A single sheet of paper, with two words, scrawled in his mother’s handwriting.

They’re coming.

He knew he couldn’t avoid it forever, but he wanted to put it off for just a little longer. He needed time…and a miracle.

“Xander? What do you want me to do with this?” Anya asked as she came out of the bedroom carrying a cardboard box. “What is it?”

Xander jumped at the sound of the voice and then paled when he saw what she was carrying.

“Where did you get that?” He squeaked.

“At the bottom of the closet. Why? What’s in here?” She looked from Xander to the box in her arms and then back again.

“Nothing!” Xander snapped and took the box out of her arms. “I’ll take that!” He carried the box into the bathroom and closed the door behind him, clicking the lock into place.

Once confident he was alone, Xander sighed and set the box on the counter. He stared at it silently for a few minutes, half-expecting it to move on its own. When nothing happened, Xander let out the breath he didn’t know he had been holding.

He took the lid off carefully and looked inside. There was a small metal box with an intricate design carved into the outside. He pulled it out and stared at it for a second.

Finally deciding that staring wasn’t doing anyone any good, least of all him, he placed his thumb over a small diamond shaped hole in the front. He felt more than saw the change.

The box seemed to glow for a second before the latch on the inside of the box was released.

The lid popped up and Xander opened it. Inside there was a small amulet. It looked as though it was made of tarnished silver.

Almost of its own accord, one of his hands reached in and picked it up, causing the metal to glow a faint blue color, reacting to his unusual body chemistry. Although it wasn’t the first time it had happened, the action still caused Xander to twitch and drop the amulet.

He closed the latch and heard it clasp from the inside. Returning it to the box, Xander closed the lid and closed his eyes. He didn’t know how long he sat there, his hands clasped tightly around the cardboard box that held the only family heirloom he could lay claim to.

“Xander. Xander!”

The pounding on the bathroom door startled him more than he would ever admit to. He had almost forgotten that he wasn’t alone in the apartment.

“Yeah?” He called out, really wishing Anya hadn’t chosen today to decide that it was spring, so they should do spring cleaning, like ordinary people.

Didn’t she realize they weren’t normal? That he wasn’t normal, and never would be? No, of course, she didn’t. That was his secret.

“You’re mom’s on the phone. She sounds strange. I think she’s sober.”

Xander stood up and leaned against the door, taking a couple of deep breaths.

“So it begins.” He muttered under his breath.

*

Rebekkah Harris paced the length of her living room, stopping every few minutes to look at the clock on the wall. She couldn’t help but be concerned. Not only wasn’t her son here, yet, but she was beginning to feel as though he wasn’t coming.

She was afraid that he was going to ignore the warnings, pretend as though there wasn’t any reason to be concerned. When she knew there was.

And to make matters worse, her husband knew it too. She didn’t know how the imbecile had found out. Or how much exactly he knew. But he knew something was coming. He knew enough to cause him to go into yet another drunken stupor.

Maybe she’d be lucky, and he wouldn’t come out of this one. Perhaps he’d die of alcohol poisoning and save the Council of Elders the trouble. Because surely, that would bring unwanted attention.

“Mom? Are you in here?” Xander Harris stepped into the darkened living room, squinting, at being momentarily blinded by the difference in light.

“In here, Alexander,” Rebekkah called quietly. “What took you so long?”

Xander looked around the room carefully. “Where is he?” He asked cautiously, not in any mood to deal with his stepfather.

Rebekkah shrugged. “Who knows? Probably at that place on the edge of town he likes to frequent.”

Xander relaxed slightly at this news. “Does he know they’re coming?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Rebekkah answered truthfully. She stared at her only son for a long moment. “What are you going to do?”

“Nothing,” Xander answered, just as honestly.

“Nothing?” Rebekkah nearly shrieked. “Are you insane?” She started pacing again.

Xander watched his mom move across the floor for a second before responding. “Honestly? Maybe. But I don’t see how running is going to help. They don’t even know who I am, or what I look like. Maybe they won’t find me.”

Rebekkah stopped and looked incredulously at her son. “That’s just wishful thinking, and you know it.”

Xander shrugged.

“They may not be able to identify you by sight, not knowing what you look like definitely helps in that respect, but you know they have other methods.” She smiled wryly for a second before continuing, “And they will not give up. You will have to answer to them.”

Xander grabbed his mom’s arm on her next pass, his fingers gripping tightly. “I don’t have to answer to them for anything!” He hissed, his anger at the situation causing him to lose his temper. “This is your mess. Yours and Dad’s. He’s the one that left them. He’s the one that made me a target. He’s the one that died.”

“You don’t think I know that?” Rebekkah asked quietly, feeling the guilt weigh heavy on her heart. “You don’t think that I haven’t thought about this every day for the past twenty years?”

She took a deep breath and continued her voice sad. “Why do you think I married that idiot, to begin with? Do you think, for one second, I ever even liked him? I did it to protect you.”

Xander let his hand fall to his side. “I know, Mom. I know.” He moved away from his mother and towards the door. “Don’t worry. I’ll be okay.”

Rebekkah watched her son leave and hoped he was right. She prayed that he knew what he was doing. And not for the first time she wished she could turn back the clock.

*

Xander left his parent’s home and walked down the street, his anger growing. And for once, he let it grow. He always had a quick temper, but was also just as cautious about keeping it under wraps.  But just then, he didn’t stop it from escalating. He welcomed the fury.

By the time he reached the edge of town, he was so furious he could hardly see straight. He could feel the anger and fear coiling inside of him. Anger at what he had been reduced to and fear of what he was about to do.

The bar sat at the end of the street, looking run down and abandoned. Xander knew it wasn’t. He knew that just beyond the doors, lay a room full of dead-beat drunks, including the one he had come here for.

Pushing the door open, Xander let his unusual abilities spring forth, allowing him anonymity. He felt his features shift, into something unrecognizable to himself, and hopefully, anyone who chose to look. He knew that if he had looked in a mirror at that moment, the eyes that stared back at him would not be his own.

It didn’t matter. Not anymore.  Maybe it never had. Perhaps he never had.

His sight zeroed in on his target, and he walked swiftly to the barstool his stepfather was hunched over on. He gripped the older man’s forearm and pulled him off of the seat.

“Come with me.” He spoke quietly.

He wasn’t even sure if the man had heard him or not. He didn’t know if his stepfather even knew he was moving, or where he was going. He didn’t really care either. The sooner he got out of the bar, the better.

Once they had made their way outside, Xander directed them into a side alley next to the building. He leaned the older man against the wall and looked into his eyes for a minute, searching for some sign that this was truly necessary.

The dark eyes stared into his own, and a snarl twisted the familiar lips.

“You’re him aren’t you? My good-for-nothing son?” He snorted then. “Or, you’re one of the others, like him? Come here to kill me?”

Xander’s only reply was to stare at the man, reminding himself that this action was necessary.

“Well, what are you waiting for, boy?”

Xander reached out and wound his fingers around the greasy neck, and squeezed. “Nothing.” He whispered as the life was drained away.

Once his stepfather had stopped breathing, he let the body fall to the ground. Xander stared at it for a second, feeling an odd, disconnected feeling throughout his body.

“I’m sorry.” He whispered as he stepped away and disappeared down the street, allowing his features to return to normal when he was far enough away.

*

Rebekkah Harris frowned in all the right places and looked appropriately broken up when the police officer had come to tell her about her husband’s death. She couldn’t really say it was a surprise. She couldn’t even say she was upset, not really.

They told her it looked like he was the victim of a mugging.

A mugging? Well, it could be worse she supposed. At least it didn’t look like he was killed just because he existed. That would have been the truth. But a fact she wouldn’t dare utter. To the police or anyone else.

Now she waited for the return of her son. She knew he would be coming soon. To tell her what had happened, or give some excuse, or maybe even act as though he had nothing to do with it.

She wasn’t even sure which would be the truth. So she waited.

*

Xander paced the length of the floor, in a similar fashion as his mother had done earlier that day. She was standing near the mantle, back to him, but any time she ventured close, her spine would stiffen.

Xander tried to ignore the reaction as he focused inward. He killed someone. He kept repeating it over and over again inside his head, hoping that somehow it wouldn’t be true.

But it was. And there was nothing he could do to change it. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to. His stepfather was a bastard. He had always been one, as long as Xander could remember.

When he was younger, he had wondered what he had done to deserve such a father. Then, when he had learned the truth, that Hank Harris wasn’t his real father, he thought that was a good thing.

But then an even darker truth had been revealed.

And now, his life would never be the same again.

*

Anya walked silently into Xander’s apartment and took a swift look around. She had spent nearly all of her free time in the apartment since Xander had moved in, but not usually when he wasn’t home.

He had just left. She had waited for him to leave before coming inside. Something was wrong with him, she was sure of it. Although she couldn’t explain where the knowledge came from or what exactly was the matter.

It had something to do with that box she had found in the closet that morning. Xander had been acting rather strange all weekend, but especially after seeing that box.

After his mother had called, they had left the building, and he had made some excuse about having an errand for work to do. He lied. She didn’t know why but was determined to find out.

Now, several hours later, she found herself back in her boyfriend’s apartment, snooping through his things. She eventually ended up back in the bedroom, knowing that the key to Xander’s odd behavior was in the box at the bottom of the closet.

After finding the cardboard box, and removing the contents, she was slightly bewildered to see the ornate metal box. There appeared to be a latch along the front, though she couldn’t figure out how it opened. It looked as though there was a hole for a diamond shaped key, but not having the key meant she couldn’t open it.

Still, there was something familiar about the designs on the outside. It was almost as if they told a story in some foreign language, even she had never seen. There was something eerie about it. Something she couldn’t name but frightened her nonetheless.

Not finding any of the answers she sought, Anya put the box back the way she found it and left the apartment.

She knew that whatever was going on had something to do with the card he had received from his mother and the phone call that morning. Talking to Mrs. Harris seemed to be the only way to get any answers.

That decided, Anya left the apartment building and headed over to the Harris house, determined to get some answers.

*

“You killed a man,” Rebekkah spoke finally, turning around to face her son.

“I killed a parasite. Or have you forgotten what he was?” Xander asked the last quietly.

Rebekkah stared at her son in dismay. “It’s happened, Xander. Everything we feared. Everything we didn’t want to happen. It’s happening to you now. Look at yourself. Do you even recognize who you are? What you have become?” Her words had become garbled as the tears began to fall.

Xander spun around and pointed to the mirror over the fireplace mantle. “Do I recognize myself? No, mother, I don’t. What am I supposed to look like? Your son, the Zeppo?” His body shifted into the familiar form he had inhabited just a few short years previous when he was still in high school.

“Or maybe I’m really a gorilla escaped from the zoo…” His body gained in mass and grew hair as he turned into the animal he spoke of.

“Or, I could look like a fyarl demon.” He morphed into a demon very similar to the one Giles had looked like the previous year.

“Or,” He shifted into an unrecognizable human with the face of a vampire, “Maybe I’m a creature of the night. A vampire who should be slain!”

“Stop it! Stop it!” Rebekkah screeched. “You aren’t any of those things. You’re my son, Xander Harris. You’re half human!”

Xander shifted back into the form most familiar. “I’m also half Rhikaran.”

He stepped closer to his mother and placed a hand on her cheek. “And my time is running out.”

He placed a gentle kiss along her skin and then stepped back so he could see her face more clearly. “You must forget, mother.” He framed her face with his hands, his thumbs rubbing her temple slightly in a soothing motion. “Forget.”

Rebekkah’s eyes closed and her body fell limp in his arms. Xander carried her to the couch and lay her down gently before turning and leaving the house.

*

Xander was halfway to the magic shop when he heard the footsteps behind him. For one terrifying second, he thought that he had been found. That somehow the Council of Elders had learned more about him than he and his mother had thought.

But then a faint whiff of a mild but familiar perfume reached his nostrils, and he relaxed.

“Anya?” He asked as he turned around.

“You lied to me.” Anya’s voice was hurt as she came out of the darkness and stood under one of the streetlights.

“I did?” Xander asked, wondering what it was he had lied about.

“Yes, you did.” Anya nodded her head in confirmation but didn’t say anything further.

“Anya, honey, I don’t have time for this.” Xander pleaded motioning down the street.

“But you have time for lying? , And killing, and whatever other things you Rhikarans do away from the prying eyes of outsiders?”

Xander froze and stepped closer to his girlfriend. “What are you talking about?” He asked, hoping he didn’t sound as nervous as he felt.

“I overheard you talking to your mother, Xander.”

“What did you hear?” Xander asked carefully, scrambling to come up with a reason, any reason for anything that might have been overheard.

“You’re a killer. A Rhikaran. You live for no other reason than to exterminate those unlike you.”

Her voice wavered ever so slightly as she spoke the words, almost as if she wasn’t sure what to believe.

“No. That’s not true.” Xander shook his head, damning all that he was for the genes, which made him unique. “I’m not a killer. I swear, Anya.”

“You’re not? Who did you kill Xander? Who was it? I heard your mother clearly.” Anya stepped closer cautiously, awaiting an answer.

Xander closed his eyes in defeat. “My father. My stepfather. He was… he was a member of the Telador order before he married my mother.” He looked into his girlfriend’s eyes, begging her to understand. “You were a demon. You know what that means. I…I had no choice. He would have killed me. Hunted me down like an animal. Please, Anya, you have to understand.”

He paused, needing her to understand what was at stake. “The Elders are coming, Anya. If I hadn’t…If I hadn’t taken care of him, they would have. If you know what I am, you know that I’m right.”

Anya stared at Xander for a long moment, wanting to believe but everything she knew about Rhikaran from her time as a demon told her that they were not to be trusted, even if they wore the face of Xander Harris. “I don’t know. I have to think.” She told him before turning around and leaving him standing on the street

Xander watched her go, a single tear making its way down his face. His life was about come to an end. He didn’t know if Anya believed him. He didn’t even know if he believed himself.

He had only known the truth about himself for a few short years. And in that time he had done more secret research in Giles’ books than anyone could have believed. Only every piece of information he learned only served to make him hate who and what he was with a strength that was astonishing.

He hated the fact that he was only half-human. He hated the fact that his demonic half affected him in a way that he had no real way of knowing who or what he really was. And above all else, he hated everything he had learned about the demons that shared his blood.

And now? He was running out of time, and he was running out of options. He had believed that he could hide in plain sight, as it were. But if Anya knew the truth, that option was quickly becoming a less possible scenario than he had believed.

“I’m fucked.” He whispered into the night.

An amused chuckle and a lungful of smoke answered his declaration.

“Just how fucked are you? Or was that just wishful thinking?”

“Spike, how nice of you to show up and ruin what’s left of my night.” Xander turned to face the blonde vampire, hoping desperately that he hadn’t heard any part of the conversation with Anya.

“What do you want?” He asked tiredly.

“Watcher tells me there’s some new evil in town. Thought I could kill something.” He grinned as he started walking down the street.

Xander slumped his shoulders and followed the vampire, muttering silently about the unfairness of life in general.

*

 

“So what’s the big evil?” Xander asked as he and Spike entered the Magic Box.

Giles looked up from a stack of books he was going over with Willow and smiled slightly. “You brought…Spike. Good.”

Xander didn’t really have time to wonder about why Giles was pleased to see Spike, because just then three things happened.

First, Xander noticed the books that Giles was looking through. Noticed, and recognized them.

They were the same books he had done his secret research in.

Second, Buffy and Riley came in from the training area in the back, laughing and sweating, and it didn’t take a genius to see there was more than training going on there.

Third, he had this strange sensation run down his spine. He couldn’t really explain it, but it was there nonetheless. He shivered and tried to shake it off, thankful that nobody seemed to notice.

Well nobody except for Spike, who seemed to be staring at him strangely.

“Where’s Anya?” Buffy asked as she came to sit at the table.

“She’s…busy.” Xander offered, unable to come up with a plausible explanation for where Anya was, especially since he didn’t have a clue.

Everyone sort of stared at him for a second and he started to get a little jumpy, not sure what it was that was causing them to look at him like that. Did he look different than he was supposed to? He fought the temptation to run a hand over his features, or run into the bathroom, just to make sure.

“What’s this big evil we’re supposed to fight?” Spike asked, in exaggerated excitement.

Xander relaxed, ever so slightly, thankful for the reprieve.

“Ah, yes.” Giles began and turned back to his books. “We think there are some new demons in town.”

Giles began passing around a couple of books to the group. Willow opened hers up with her usual enthusiasm. Riley opened his, but he didn’t seem to be reading it. Buffy passed on the book reading duty, and Xander just set his on the edge of the table. There wasn’t anything in there he didn’t know. Spike just leaned back against a wall and lit up another cigarette, watching everyone with amused eyes.

“So, what do we know?” Buffy asked, ready to get into Slayer-mode.

“Not much I’m afraid.” Giles began. “From what we’ve heard, I believe we’re dealing with a breed of demon’s known as Rhikaran.”

Spike whistled lowly and shook his head. “Nasty blokes.” He offered.

“Yes well, we don’t know too much about them. They’re very…isolated.” Giles told them.

Willow read through a passage from her volume and looked up. “It says here that they don’t like people or other demons. That they rarely leave their clans.”

“That’s correct. But when they do, death and destruction surely follow.”

“Well hey, they never leave home, so they couldn’t be too bad, right?” Xander offered nervously. “I mean, they’re not trying to suck the world into hell or anything, right? Right?”

“What do they look like?” Buffy asked, getting down to business.

“That’s the problem,” Giles told her. “No one knows for sure.”

Xander sighed in relief that his friends hadn’t found some new way to track Rhikarans. He knew it was unlikely that had happened, but until Giles had confirmed it, he couldn’t be sure.

Spike narrowed his eyes as he watched Xander. There was something off with the boy today. His heart rate kept spiking, and he was sweating, and he smelled different, afraid. Not the usual kind of fear he usually associated with various members of the Scooby Gang, but genuine, deep-seated fear. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, he didn’t like it.

“How can you not know what they look like?” Buffy asked, irritated.

“They’re shapeshifters,” Spike spoke up, returning his attention to the group. “Nasty little buggers too.”

Buffy turned to the vampire and narrowed her eyes. “What do you know about them?”

Spike shrugged. “Not much. Angelus knew one, ’bout a hundred and fifty years ago.” He stopped there and turned to Xander for a second, the two staring at each other before Xander blinked and moved away. “He was an odd bloke, that one. Left his clan, over a woman.” Spike shook his head in something resembling sympathy.

“So if we don’t know what they look like, how will we find them?” Xander asked in what he hoped was a reasonable tone. He wasn’t sure what was making him more nervous. The fact that this big evil that had come up was the one thing he had hoped to avoid or the fact that Spike may have had, at some point, contact with one of his people. That couldn’t be good.

“If they’re here, they’re here for a reason.” Spike turned his eyes from where they were resting on the back of Xander’s head to Giles. “They’ll be looking for something or someone.”

“We split up, in groups of two.” Buffy decided after a minute. “Giles you go with Will. Xan, you can have Blondie here.” She stood up and began handing out weapons.

After a few minutes, the six of them disappeared out of the shop and headed their separate ways.

*

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Xander whispered as he crouched up against the side of a tombstone.

Spike chuckled from his own position. That was an understatement. They were in the middle of an odd circular maze in the back corner of one of the many Sunnydale cemeteries. They had followed a couple of unusual looking, and smelling mortals.

Spike swore that they didn’t smell human so that probably meant they were the shapeshifters they were looking for. And as much as Xander wanted to just forget he saw them and haul ass in the opposite direction, the need to know had led him to agree.

So now here they were, in the middle of some bizarre maze, hiding.

“Move.” Spike hissed.

“Where?” Xander asked.

Spike pushed Xander forward and grabbed his shoulder roughly to keep him from getting too far away. “Left.” He whispered.

Xander turned left and tripped over a large chunk of cement. He stifled the scream as his hand hit the pavement, a shard of cement puncturing the skin. He barely noticed when the patch of injured flesh shifted and reformed, appearing completely healed.

Spike sniffed as the scent of fresh blood reached him. “You okay?” Spike asked roughly as he moved behind Xander. There was something off about the scent.

“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine.” Xander gazed out forward and tried to see in the dark. He couldn’t see very well though, and he couldn’t risk shifting into something that could. Not with Spike so close.

“Where to now, oh wise dead one?” Xander asked, his voice dripping sarcasm despite their precarious position.

“Around that corner over there is an old tomb. The corpse was dug up several years ago, but the grave leads to some underground tunnels.”

Xander nodded as he tried to see around the corner to the grave in question. He let his eyes shift slightly, just enough to enhance his sight. “Which lead where?” He asked as he began to move, as quietly as possible.

“An old mausoleum.”

“Of course,” Xander muttered as he reached the tombstone.

Broken cement pieces were covering the grave, and it looked as though no one had been there for quite a while, although the pitch black surrounding severely limited his eyesight.

Xander and Spike worked quickly to remove enough of the cement to get into the grave beneath.

Once cleared, Spike pushed Xander through and jumped in after him, moving the cement back in place. The sound of shifting cement broke the silent night.

“You think they heard that?” Xander asked in a concerned whisper.

“No.” Spike turned towards the tunnels and started moving, his vampire eyesight helping him lead the way.

*

“I hope you know where you’re going,” Xander repeated for the third time in as many hours.

They had been walking around the underground tunnels for hours, although they couldn’t be sure how many. Spike had informed Xander a couple hours previous that the sun had risen, but otherwise, they were pretty much at a loss to tell what time it was, exactly.

Spike continued to ignore him, but every once in a while the vampire would stop and lean against the tunnel walls. And invariably, whenever Spike got close enough, he began to sniff the air. Xander wasn’t sure, but he thought the vampire was hungry.

That couldn’t be a good thing.

Xander kept walking forward and turning whenever he was told. Eventually, the vampire stopped. The move was so sudden, he ran right into the vampire.

“Hey! Watch where you’re not walking!”

“Bugger off!” Spike hissed.

Xander wasn’t sure, but he thought that Spike sounded odd. Not Spike-like.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

Spike ignored the question and moved forward a little, turning to his right and pulling Xander into another room. The two stumbled into the new room, which was larger than the tunnels.

Xander leaned against a wall and sunk to his feet. He was exhausted from all the walking and the lack of sleep. His head was resting on his knees. Hearing a small gasp from the other side of the room, Xander looked up.

Spike was sprawled on the ground, not moving.

“Spike?” Xander crawled across the floor and moved closer. “You okay?”

Spike didn’t move, or even twitch, or even acknowledge he had heard.

Xander reached the vampire and placed a hand on his back and gently turned him over. Spike remained motionless.

“Shit!” Xander hissed. “You need to eat.” He muttered to himself.

He had known Spike hadn’t been eating properly for a while now, what with the chip and limited rationing imposed by Buffy and Giles. Not to mention whatever activity he usually got up to at night, and now they had been wandering around these tunnels for hours.  Who knew when Spike had last eaten?

He looked down to his own wrist, the one he had injured earlier.

Staring at his own skin for a long moment, Xander tried to make a decision. On the one hand, he could sit here and not feed the vampire who had tried to kill him on numerous occasions, and while that was probably the smarter option, it wasn’t one he liked.

Or he could try and feed Spike and hope that it was enough and there wasn’t something way off about his blood.

It didn’t seem like there was a big choice.

Making his decision, Xander moved, so his back was flat against the stone wall and positioned Spike, so he was lying in his lap, face tilted up. Once that was accomplished, Xander shifted one of the fingers on his left hand until it resembled a sharp knife. He sliced a gash into his wrist, above where the earlier wound had been.

When the blood started to rise to the surface, Xander turned the wrist upside down and let the blood drip into the vampire, while he held his mouth open with his other hand.

It seemed to take forever. Finally, Xander felt Spike twitch under him, and his throat start to work on its own. Xander continued to feed him for a few moments until he began to feel weak himself.

He pulled his wrist away and clamped down on it with his other hand, resisting the impulse to reform the skin.

Xander’s head fell back against the wall as he lost consciousness, a sign of just how much blood he had given away.

*

Spike regained consciousness with the odd feeling of fire running through his veins. It was utterly unlike anything he had ever experienced, but there was something familiar about it.

It was almost similar to the feeling of human blood coursing through his veins after a fresh kill.

Almost. But there was something different about this blood. Something almost alive.

He struggled to remember where he was and what had happened. Opening his eyes didn’t give him any answers. He shifted into his game face, trying to gain a better idea of where he was. It didn’t help.

The room was dark, and dank, and musty. The only thing that radiated any heat at all was the body underneath him.

Body? Underneath him?

Spike shifted slightly and peered down at the person he was apparently lying on top of. Sure enough, he was lying on someone’s body. Someone warm, and unmistakably alive, although not conscious.

Spike shifted around so that he was sitting next to Xander instead of lying on top of him. He could still feel the fire coursing through his veins and knew that Xander was responsible for that as well.

He inhaled deeply and recognized the scent of blood. But it wasn’t normal human blood, and almost instantly he recognized it as Xander’s blood, although he wasn’t sure how that was possible.

“Xan?” He asked as he moved so that he could see Xander’s face.

Xander was unconscious, his eyes closed. His breathing seemed to be normal, but the scent of blood was becoming overpowering. Strangely, the smell didn’t make him hungry.

Spike found the source of blood loss. One of Xander’s hands was holding onto his other wrist, apparently staunching the flow of blood. Spike moved Xander into his lap and tried to move the hand without causing the blood to flow more.

A strange thing happened then.

The moment Xander’s hand was removed, instead of more blood flowing out of what appeared to be a self-inflicted wound, it stopped altogether. The blood seemed to have a mind of its own as it began to move back into the opened wound. Then, just as strangely, the broken skin was healed and Spike was staring at the limb as if it was possessed.

The vampire sat there, trying to understand what it was he had just witnessed and trying to figure out if what just happened, was actually what he thought had happened.

*

“Ugh.” Xander groaned as he regained what passed for consciousness. “What bit me?” He asked no one in particular.

“I did, mate.”

Xander sat up quickly, slightly shocked to hear another voice. “Spike?” He asked into the darkness.

“Yeah, mate, it’s me,” Spike replied, not moving from his spot, still holding onto Xander.

“What happened? Where are we?” His mind was still muddled, and he couldn’t quite remember what had happened.

“You fed me,” Spike spoke quietly, staring at Xander curiously. “You’re not quite human.”

Xander froze and jumped up. He began pacing around the small room, his memory coming back full force. He was trying to think of something to say. Something that would make anything that might have happened while he was unconscious seem normal. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of anything.

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Xander finally spoke, looking directly at the vampire.   He was about to explain all how it would be a horrible idea if Spike were to say anything to anyone but then….he felt as a wave of agony rippled through his chest, like someone and just reached out and squeezed all his internal organs until they were nothing but paste.  He had trouble getting in breath for a moment, but then the feeling passed, and it was just an echo of loss. A loss so profound he wasn’t sure how he could even comprehend it much less explain it to someone else. Assuming he would ever want to share that with anyone if he couldn’t even figure out what the hell had just happened.

Spike raised his scarred eyebrow. “Yeah, right.” He stood up and started sauntering towards Xander.  He had been watching the boy and could hear his heart tripping triple time. Something had just happened, though he had no idea what and he had to give him credit.  The boy wasn’t showing much outward sign anything was wrong. He’d throw him a bone. Just this once. “So, tell me, what are you?”

Xander paled slightly, realizing he wasn’t going to be able to deal with whatever just happened, nor was he going to get Spike to believe he was wrong about Xander’s lack of humanity.

“Spike, please, you can’t tell anyone.”

“I can’t?” Spike asked innocently. “Why not?”

Xander stepped back and found his movement stopped by the stone wall. “Because…because…” He paused and took a deep breath, his mind showing him flashes of what would happen should Spike tell the others. “You just can’t.” He pleaded.

“What will I get?” Spike asked, pressing closer to Xander. “If I keep your dirty little secret?”

“What…what do you want?” Xander asked, not sure where this was going, but even a small chance of a reprieve was worth whatever he would have to give up.

Spike leered at Xander, running his eyes down the boy. “Let me think it over.” He whispered, the words sending a chill down Xander’s body.

Before either one of them could say or do anything else, a noise came from somewhere outside.

“Xander? You in there?”

Buffy’s voice startled both men and Xander pushed away from the wall, brushing passed Spike and heading towards the door.

“Yeah, Buff, we’re in here.” He called out. He turned around to face the vampire, almost afraid of what he’d see. “Are you going to tell them?”

For a moment Spike didn’t say anything, enjoying Xander’s nervousness. But when he heard Buffy moving around outside, coming closer to them, he smiled. “We’ll see, Xan-pet, we’ll see.”

*

By the time Xander and Spike had followed Buffy and Riley back to the Magic shop, he was more jittery than he could ever remember being. He felt as if his world was about to come crashing in around him.

It was bad enough that his family’s past had come back to haunt him, so to speak, and that his clan had apparently sent some of his people to find him. But add to that, the fact that he’d been forced into a confrontation of sorts with his stepfather, and now Spike knew his secret.

Spike of all people.

Well to be fair, he didn’t know it all. Just that he wasn’t entirely human. But Xander knew it was only a matter of time before the vampire realized what exactly he was. Realized it and no doubt told the others. He didn’t have any delusions that despite whatever it was that Spike wanted, it wouldn’t matter when the truth of his species came out.

The Rhikarans were not a species that inspired friendship, in anybody. They inspired hate and anger and fear, but never friendship. Not that he could really blame anyone for feeling any of those things.

Giles was right about what he’d heard about them. They were violent, and dangerous and destructive. They rarely left their homes and didn’t believe in having any contact with species outside their own.

All in all, a remarkably unsociable people to be related to.

Still, he found them interesting. He couldn’t help it. He was torn. Angry by what he believed was a cursed existence. Living as a mortal boy, trapped in a human body, pretending to be something he wasn’t, all the while he hated what he was and the fact that he was virtually alone.

No one knew the truth. No one but his mother and she was loathe to discuss it. He was averse to making her. So he kept his secret. He lied about who he was. Lied about what he was. And for a while, it had worked. Until now.

Now Spike knew.

Spike, who didn’t care about keeping Xander’s secret. Spike, who would use his new knowledge to get something. But once his usefulness ran out, or he learned the entire truth, he would tell the others.

And then his life would be well and truly over.

He wasn’t sure whether he should be relieved or terrified.

*

“That was a useless waste of time,” Buffy grumbled as she sat down at the research table.

“You didn’t find anything either?” Willow inquired, taking her own seat.

“Nothing useful.” The Slayer grumbled.

“But you did find…something?” Xander asked moving towards the table and pulling out a chair.

“Yeah. One of the hostiles.” Riley offered.

Xander gulped and froze in his motion to sit down. “You found one? What happened?”

Buffy waved her hands slightly and muttered something into the table as she laid her head town, thumping it against the wood.

“What?” Giles asked as he stepped closer.

Everyone turned to Riley hoping for an explanation.

“We killed it.”

Xander felt all of the oxygen leave his body, and his legs give out, as the meaning behind the words became clear.  He knew that’s what had happened earlier, but just hearing it stated so finally, so carelessly, it brought home the fact that his secret could never be shared, not with these people.  He loved them, but they weren’t ready. He was nowhere near prepared for that conversation.

*

“Well, that went well,” Spike commented dryly as he followed Xander into his apartment. When Xander didn’t comment, he continued. “You know, Xan, you might be able to keep your secret longer if you act a little more like you want to kill the demons.”

“Back off.” Xander’s voice was quiet, deceptively so.

“What? I’m just offering up some advice.” Spike leaned up against the wall in the kitchen as he looked around the apartment.

“Well don’t.” Xander disappeared into the bedroom to shower and change.

When he returned nearly thirty minutes later, Spike was lounging on the couch flipping channels on the television. He turned to look at him for a second before moving into the kitchen to get some food.

The sight of the back of the vampire’s blond head as he channel-flipped reminded him of many nights in his parent’s basement. For a second he was under the delusion that nothing had really changed. But then reality crept in, and he sighed. His life was going downhill and fast.

It was only a matter of time before the others learned the truth, especially if he couldn’t control himself. Spike was right. He needed to be more careful. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was that had set him off.

It wasn’t as though he had any love for the Rhikarans. Why should he feel bad if one of them were killed? Why should he care? They had come to Sunnydale for him. Xander knew that if he were found, things would not go well.

He was treading a dangerous line.

Almost absently, Xander prepared his own meal, while pulling out a bag of blood he had sitting in the back of his fridge. He poured it into a mug and heated it up as well. Once both his own food and Spike’s were done, he moved into the living room.

After handing the mug to Spike, he sat in the chair opposite him. The two stared at each other for long seconds before Spike brought the unexpected cup to his lips and drank.

They ate in silence, their eyes never wavering from each other.

Once finished Spike stood up and took his mug into the kitchen and set it in the sink.

“What happens now?” He asked over the running water as he rinsed the mug out. He wasn’t really sure why he was going to the trouble, but it seemed natural in a strange sort of way.

Xander shrugged as he made his way into the kitchen to wash his own dishes. “Nothing, I guess.”

Spike seemed to accept that answer, and the two moved back into the living room, almost as if this was a regular routine for them.

“Did you know ‘im?” Spike asked after a few minutes.

“Who?”

“The bloke who got it?” Spike rolled his eyes as if that was obvious.

“No,” Xander answered, knowing it was most likely accurate because he knew none of the Rhikarans, save one. And it was highly unlikely that it was his uncle who had died tonight.

Spike nodded and then turned his eyes back to the television. After a few more minutes of watching, he spoke. “So if you didn’t know ‘im, why care if he’s dead?”

Xander didn’t have an answer for that, at least one he really wanted to verbalize.

Spike continued. “I mean you don’t really seem the type to care if a demon buys it.”

Xander turned his eyes away from the television and stared at Spike dangerously before speaking. “You don’t know me, Spike. Don’t presume to tell me what I would or wouldn’t do.”

“I know you’re not human,” Spike spoke easily as if he had this conversation every day. “I know that despite whatever lie you’ve been living, you’re still the Slayer’s pet.”

Xander stood up. “Get out.”

Spike raised an eyebrow amusingly.

“Now.” Xander’s voice was like steel as he tried to keep control. He walked over to the door and opened it. “Leave.”

Spike stood up slowly. “We had a deal.” He moved towards the door but stopped just inches in front of Xander. “I keep your secret, you give me what I want.”

“Which is what?” Xander asked carefully, suddenly feeling as if he may have gotten into more than he could handle.

Spike smirked and shrugged slightly as he leaned forward. “You figure it out.” He whispered just before his lips descended on Xander’s.

His cool tongue slipped inside of Xander’s surprised mouth and for a second nothing happened.

Then Xander was kissing him back, fervently. But almost as soon as it had started, it ended.

Spike pulled away and stepped through the door and strolled away before Xander could even regain a shred of coherency.

*

Spike had something of a surprise waiting for him when he returned to his crypt.

He entered already aware of what he would find inside. He looked around briefly, almost surprised that his guest was alone.

“Didn’t take you long to get here,” Spike noted as he looked up at his sire.

Angel shrugged. “I was inspired.”

Spike smirked. “And the fact that there is a group of Rhikaran demons running around Sunnyhell, endangering your precious Slayer has nothing to do with it?”

Angel ignored the question and posed one of his own. “How is he?”

Spike raised startled eyes to his Sire. Confusion quickly turned to shock. “You knew? All this time you knew?”

“Don’t look so surprised.” Angel chuckled. “How is he?” He asked again after a moment.

Spike shrugged. “Fine. Afraid.”

Angel raised an eyebrow. “He told you that?”

“I can smell it.”

“What’s he afraid of? You, or the Rhikarans?” Angel asked carefully.

“How the hell should I know?” Spike snapped. After a moment of silence, he turned piercing blue eyes on Angel and asked, seriously, “How bad is it?”

Angel turned away. “It’s bad. The Rhikarans don’t give up easily. Whatever they’re here for…”

“Him.” Spike guessed. “They’re here for him, aren’t they?”

Angel didn’t answer. He didn’t really need to. “Buffy killed one of them. They won’t like that. They’ll want justice.”

“So that’s why you’re really here?” Spike shook his head sadly. “You’re still hung up on the skanky slayer.”

Angel turned around sharply, his features rippling into that of his demon. “Listen here, boy. I came for Xander. I promised his father a long time ago I’d protect him, and I will. If saving Buffy means helping Xander, so be it.”

Spike narrowed his eyes, his own features shifting. “And if she gets in the way of protecting him? What will you do then, great poofy one?”

“Whatever I have to,” Angel answered honestly.

Spike relaxed slightly. He had no doubt that Angelus would do precisely as he said. It made no difference to Spike what happened to the Slayer, but for some reason, he couldn’t begin to fathom, Xander mattered. A lot.

“Why do you care?” Angel asked finally, sensing the tense moment was over.

“I don’t.” Spike protested. Seeing Angel’s disbelief, he spoke again, sighing dramatically. “He saved my life. I just want to return the favor.”

“Yeah, because you are such a fair and upstanding citizen.”

“Sod off!” Spike turned away from him not wanting Angel to see the truth.

Angel shook his head in amusement and started to leave.

“Where are you going?” Spike asked warily.

“To talk to Xander,” Angel answered patiently as he made his way back outside.

“Not without me, you’re not, you ponce!” Spike answered as he ran after his sire.

*

Xander was just about to drift off into a blissful wonderland when the sound of arguing reached his ears.

“You don’t just go walking in…” Angel was saying.

“You don’t need an invite, so why bother?” Spike’s accented voice countered.

Xander groaned and pulled himself out of bed. He walked out into the living room, not bothering to get dressed.

“Yay, it’s another visit from the undead patrol. And look, he’s brought, friends.” Xander grumbled as he looked at the two bickering vampires standing just inside his front door.

The two vampires in question looked up at that moment, and all conversation stopped. Xander was standing about four feet away, wearing nothing but a pair of dark blue boxers, and a frown.

*

“What exactly are you trying to tell me here?” Xander asked as he made his way into the kitchen. It was apparent sleep wasn’t really going to happen anytime soon.

“What? That I’m in some serious shit, here? Because, Deadboy, that, I already knew.”

Angel wasn’t exactly sure what to say to that. His concentration was being severely hampered by the fact that Xander had chosen not to get dressed. He was walking around his kitchen, still dressed in only his boxers.

“Are you always such an ass?” Angel asked with a slight smile.

Xander couldn’t help but laugh, despite the situation. He didn’t think he’d ever heard Angel so exasperated, in a non-violent way.

“What are you doing here, Deadboy, really?” Xander leaned back against the counter and observed him.

Spike, made his way into the kitchen and started rifling through the cupboards as if he lived there. After a couple of seconds, he pulled out a box of cheese crackers and opened the refrigerator door.

“Second shelf, in the back.” Xander offered absently as he continued to stare at Angel.

Spike pulled out another bag of blood with a grin and took it over to the microwave, stopping for a second to grab the mug from earlier out of the dish drainer.

Almost as an afterthought, Spike turned to his Sire. “You want some?”

Angel frowned slightly at the rather domestic scene they created. “No.”

Spike moved into the dining area while Angel and Xander remained in the kitchen.

“How long has this been going on?” Angel arched a brow.

Xander shook his head, ignoring the question. “Why are you here?”

“I made a promise. I intend to keep it.” Angel told him honestly.

“So you said. I don’t believe you. Why should I?” Xander turned his back to the vampire and began brewing some coffee.

“Why would I lie, Xander?”

“Why wouldn’t ‘e?” Spike offered around a mouthful of blood and crackers.

Angel groaned as he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small box.

“Here. I brought this. It belonged to your father.”

Xander turned around and froze. He recognized the box. It was similar to the one in his closet, although without the locking mechanism. He opened it and pulled out the contents.

It was an amulet, almost identical to the one he had, except it was shiny, not tarnished. When Xander touched it, it changed color, just like the other one, but this time to a pale purple color.

Xander’s feet gave out underneath him, and he slid to the floor. Angel bent over him to see if he was all right, but Spike pushed him out of the way.

“Back off, Peaches! What’d you do to ‘im?” Spike moved to Xander and pulled him off of the floor. “Xan? You okay?”

Xander looked up in a daze. “I’m fine.” He pushed Spike away and stood up. Turning his dark eyes on Angel, he spoke with a level of weariness in his voice neither vampire had ever heard before.

“Okay, what do you know about these? How did you get it? And why do you care?”

At first, no one said anything, and then Xander stepped forward. “I’m in real trouble here, Angel. I could use some help. If you know anything, now would be a good time…”

*

Angel moved into the darkened living room and sat down in the chair Xander had occupied earlier.

After a long silence, while Xander came to sit down on the couch, followed by Spike, who chose to sit down next to him, Angel began speaking.

“I first met him in France, in 1765. I’d only been a vampire for less than ten years. Darla and I had been chased, by a lynch mob into a barn. They were going to kill us. We couldn’t escape and make it before sunrise. Darla thought she could make it on her own, so she hit me and took off on the horse.”

“Nice woman,” Xander commented wryly.

Spike snorted. “Dear old grandmum.”

“I’m not really sure what happened next. When I came to, I wasn’t in the barn anymore. Someone had moved me. I was in this cave out in the mountains about an hour away from where Darla had left me.”

Angel stopped there, not really wanting to discuss his thoughts on that particular occasion, but realized he still had to tell them about what happened next.

“It was nearly Sundown before my savior came back.” Angel turned to look at Xander. “He was in human form then, and I couldn’t even tell that he wasn’t mortal. I’m not sure if that was due to my own age, or the fact that he was experienced at blending in.”

“What happened next?” Xander asked, really interested in this strange turn of events.

“He brought me food, gave me directions on how to find actual people, and disappeared.”

“That’s it?” Spike asked incredulously. “You didn’t try and kill ‘im, just for the hell of it?”

Angel rolled his eyes. “No, William, if you’ll recall, senseless bloodshed was more your thing.”

“Boys, chill.” Xander waved a hand between the two vampires, scowling specifically at Spike. “Do you mind?”

Spike stuck his tongue out in a childish maneuver before turning to scowl at Angel.

Xander grinned at the blond for a second and then focused on Angel again. “That doesn’t explain where you got the amulet.” He raised an eyebrow in question.

“I met him again a couple of years after I was cursed, in China. And then again on a trip I took to Ireland after Darla and I parted ways that last time. It was in Galway that he and I actually became friends.

Angel smiled fondly at some memory. “He was quite a philosopher, your father. Didn’t believe in some of the same things as many of your people.” He shrugged. “About twenty years ago, he found me again. He was being hunted down by a group of enforcers from his home. He gave me that amulet and told me to keep it safe. He told me to keep you safe.” Angel whispered the last part.

Spike’s eyes narrowed on his Sire as he thought about all that he’d heard. “That’s why you really came to Sunnydale? To protect Xander? Not for the Slayer?”

Angel leaned back in his chair. “Yeah, that’s why.” He sighed needlessly. “Mostly.”

“What do you mean, mostly?” Xander asked as he stood up and began to move around restlessly, oblivious to the two sets of eyes following his movements.

“I was already in Sunnydale when Whistler found me. I came here for you, stayed to protect you. But helping the Slayer seemed like a good enough cover.”

Xander spun around. “And when you left? Was that for me too? Because if it was, I gotta tell you, Deadboy, you pretty much suck at this protector thing.” He continued, his movements more frantic by the moment.

“You know what? I don’t care. I don’t care why you came to Sunnydale, or why you left, or why you’re here now. Just go. Both of you!” He looked pointedly at Spike.

Neither vampire moved. Xander threw up his hands in irritation. “Fine, then I will.” He stalked off towards his bedroom and began going through his drawers, looking for clothes.

He only just managed to pull his jeans over his hips when Spike came in. He didn’t say anything just closed the door behind him and leaned against it.

“What do you want?” Xander asked sullenly.

“Nothing. Just admiring the view.” Spike leered.

“Admire your own!” Xander snapped. “Oh wait, you can’t.” He pulled on a T-shirt and sat on the bed to pull on some socks and shoes.

“Why are you here, Spike? You don’t care what happens to me. You don’t even like me.” He looked up from lacing his shoes to stare at the blond vampire. “Is this just about having some secret to hold over me?”

Xander sounded so lost and defeated right that second that Spike wanted nothing more than to wrap him up and protect him from whatever would hurt him.

“No, pet. I don’t care about your secret. Or who knows about it.” Spike sat down on the bed next to Xander.

Xander sat for a second looking into Spike’s blue eyes. “Do you know what I look like?” He asked in a hushed whisper.

“No, pet,” Spike answered, giving in to the temptation to pull Xander into his arms.

“Neither do I,” Xander told him quietly and relaxed into the embrace, not daring to think about the complications he was creating.

“It doesn’t matter,” Spike answered just as quietly. They sat that way in silence for several long minutes. When Spike spoke again, it was with determination. “Nothing’s going to happen to you, Xan. The great pouf and I will make sure of it.”

Xander grinned against Spike’s chest. “I don’t think he likes it when you call him the great pouf.”

“I don’t think he likes it when you call him Deadboy.” Spike countered.

“Good point.”

*

From the living room, Angel looked at the amulet he brought as he listened to the hushed conversation between Xander and Spike. He smiled to himself at their words and promised he would keep his vow to protect Xander.

It was about more than a promise he made twenty years ago. It was about family.

*

Angel stepped onto the porch and hesitated for a second before knocking. He wasn’t sure how welcome he would be. It was true that Giles had called him in L.A. and asked him for any information he might have to help with their demon problem. He knew Giles hadn’t necessarily meant for Angel to come to Sunnydale, but he would rather keep an eye on the proceedings.

Plus he had information, which he knew they did not. Information that would be unwelcome at best and deadly at worst. Nevertheless, he owed Rupert the truth, finally.

He knocked once and then waited. He could hear motion on the other side of the door, and after several moments the door was finally unlatched.

“Angel.” Rupert Giles wavered momentarily. “I didn’t expect you so soon.”

“Can I come in? I have some… information.”

Giles’ eyes widened slightly as he stepped aside. “Of course, of course.”

Angel entered the apartment and swiftly checked to make sure they were alone. When it was clear that they were alone, Angel noticed the low lighting and prevalent silence and guessed that Rupert had been preparing for bed. It was not a surprise, considering the lateness of the hour, and was a relief as well, almost guaranteeing they wouldn’t be interrupted.

“Have a seat,” Giles offered walking into the kitchen to put on a pot of tea. The watcher had a feeling it was going to be one of those visits..

Angel hesitated for a second before sitting down in the chair opposite the couch. After several minutes in the kitchen, Giles returned with a cup of tea and took a seat on the couch.

“What have you heard?” Giles asked, not wanting to drag things out any longer than necessary.

Although he had gotten past his personal issues with the vampire, the watcher was still uncomfortable anytime Angel came to town. It was partially due to the moodiness and general lack of focus that the vampire’s visits seemed to cause in his Slayer, and partly because the situation was dire indeed if it was necessary for Angel to make an appearance.

When Angel didn’t answer right away, Giles spoke again. “Spike told us that you knew a Rhikaran.”

Angel looked up, slightly surprised that Spike had mentioned that piece of information, considering the situation. “That’s true.”

“Should I be worried?” Giles asked carefully, almost certain he knew the answer.

“Yes. They’re relentless. They won’t stop until they have what they want.”

“Do you know what that is?” Giles questioned.

“Yes,” Angel answered simply and honestly. He stood up and walked around to the other side of the couch, his dark eyes sweeping over the various old books lining the desktop and bookshelves. “The Rhikarans don’t believe in having any contact with the outside world. They live in clans, isolated from the rest of the population, both human and demon. They never leave.”

“Never?” Giles queried, not liking the picture he was getting.

“Not usually.” Angel turned back to face the watcher. “It’s strictly forbidden.”

“So why are they here now?” Giles frowned.

Angel sighed unnecessarily before speaking. “They’ve come for Xander.”

*

Xander stared up at the ceiling, trying to blank out his mind with the pattern of cracks. He couldn’t actually decipher a pattern, but he figured if he stared at it long enough maybe one would leap out at him.

Spike sat quietly in a chair up against the wall. Xander could feel those icy eyes watching him, but it didn’t really make him uncomfortable. Unlike some of the confused or pitying expressions Xander sometimes found himself the recipient of, this seemed more like concern for him. Although he wasn’t really willing to say for sure, that’s what it felt like it was. At the moment, he was too drained to analyze what else it could be or whether the concern was something he wanted or not.

The silence in the room was almost deafening, which was why Spike’s shift in the chair was so noticeable a few minutes later. Xander turned his head to see the vampire, whose own head was cocked slightly.

“Someone’s here,” Spike told him.

A minute later there was a heavy knock on the front door. Xander wearily stood up and made his way out into the living room. “Stay here,” He commanded, not really expecting Spike to listen.

Opening the front door, Xander was surprised to find Anya on the other side.

“I’m ready to listen.” She told him, striding into the living room and sitting on the couch. “Well? I’m waiting.”

Xander sighed wearily. “Anya, this isn’t really a good time.”

“You’re a killer.” She told him as if he hadn’t spoken.

Xander was about to deny this when he realized that he was indeed a killer. He had killed his stepfather without remorse, without much thought besides his own preservation. Well his preservation, and because his stepfather was a waste of oxygen. Still, what did that make him?

“You don’t understand.” He tried.

She stood up and narrowed her eyes. “Xander, I was a demon for over a thousand years. I’ve never met your kind before, but I’ve heard the stories. They’re killers. Every last one of them. They don’t care about anybody. Demons, mortal… it makes no difference. If you’re one of them, I don’t know who you are. I guess I never did.”

What could he say to that? Did anyone know who he was? Really? Did he even know himself?

He didn’t think so. If he didn’t know who he was, how could he expect Anya to?

He didn’t have an answer, so he remained silent.

Anya stared at him expectantly, waiting for him to argue, or deny or at the very least make some sort of acknowledgment to her statement. Instead, he just seemed to stare at her. His dark eyes had a sadness there which was almost as good as an agreement. She sighed and shook her head as she moved towards the front door.

Before opening it, she spoke. “I won’t tell the others, but maybe you should.”

Xander stood in the same spot as he heard the door open and close, and wasn’t surprised when he heard Spike come out of the bedroom. He still didn’t move but kept hearing her words over and over again in his head.

“Xan? You alright?” Spike stepped into the living room.

The sound of the vampire’s voice jarred Xander from his trance, and he turned to face Spike.

“No, I’m not alright. I never will be. I’m a freak. I’m not human, not demon. I don’t even know what the hell I’m supposed to look like!”

With each worry spoken aloud, his voice became louder and more strained as he paced the length of the living room. He stopped abruptly in front of the end table, the lamp staring innocently at him. It seemed to be mocking him the way it just sat there as if nothing was wrong as if his very life wasn’t coming apart at the seams.

Before Spike could even step closer, or even acknowledge that he was trying to step closer, Xander reached out and grabbed the offending item. He flung it across the room, shattering it and casting the room into darkness. The table itself was the next to go, and then the chair sitting inconspicuously next to it. Some photographs hanging innocuously on the wall followed.

One by one, everything that he could touch was somehow destroyed, whether it was tipped over, broken, or hurled across the room. It didn’t matter that he was destroying things. It didn’t even matter that he probably looked like a three-year-old who didn’t want a nap.

At that moment nothing mattered, least of all the state of his apartment. When he was done, and the only things remaining standing were himself and the vampire who had quietly witnessed his apartment’s destruction piece by piece, Xander’s knees buckled sending him to the floor.

He thought he lost form for a second, but his mind was too muddled to know for sure. He was barely able to discern feeling someone lift him off the floor, carrying him away from the mess and into his bedroom.

He distantly realized he was being undressed and put into bed. The only thing that seemed to register was the soothing hand on his back, rubbing circles as an accented voice told him to go to sleep.

And for probably the first time in a long time, he did sleep, fitfully and dreamlessly.

*

Giles blinked. “What?” He asked, certain he had misheard. “Did you say, Xander?” When nothing further was said, Giles turned around to face the vampire who was now standing behind the couch. “They are after Xander? Xander Harris? Why?”

“I can’t tell you that, Rupert,” Angel replied quietly.

“You can’t tell me?” Giles repeated. He thought this over for a second then nodded. “What can you tell me?”

“Buffy killed one of them. That won’t go unpunished.” Angel told Giles honestly.  When the watcher didn’t say anything right away, the vampire continued, hoping he wasn’t causing more harm than good by trying to explain.  “It’s true Rhikaran’s are extreme in their…xenophobia, but there is a reason for that. A reason it isn’t my place to explain, even if I knew.  What I can tell you is that they are all connected. Every last Rhikaran would have felt the death she caused.”

“I see.” Giles sat down slowly on the couch as Angel came around and sat in one of the chairs.

“Is that why you’ve come to Sunnydale? To protect Buffy? I know we called you and asked for any information you could provide, but you didn’t need to come all the way here.  Was there another vision?”

“No. I’m not here for Buffy. I’m here because of Xander. They don’t know it’s him they are looking for, and I came to make sure that they don’t find out. Or if they do, to protect him.”

Angel looked at Giles for a second before continuing solemnly. “At any cost.”

“Angel,” Giles began as he stood up again and made his way to his bookshelf. “Are you certain the reason they’re here is because of… Xander, not for some other purpose?”

“Yes,” Angel answered as he too stood up and walked over to the bookshelf. “I can give you some information and try and help, but if it comes down to protecting Xander or saving Buffy…”

He hesitated a second before continuing. “I will protect him, above all else.”

Giles blinked, uncertain he had heard correctly. He looked closely at the vampire, trying to read much of what wasn’t said, as well as what had been. What he saw in those dark eyes surprised him. A fierceness he wasn’t shocked to see in the vampire but startled to see concerning Xander and not Buffy. The watcher knew, somehow, that everything he had learned about the vampire in the past few years was about to be sorely tested.

“Is his about the Rhikaran Spike said you knew?”  When the vampire declined to answer, Giles nodded more to himself than to Angel. “You do what you have to do.” He spoke quietly, realizing that if the demons were indeed going to demand some sort of retribution, and Angel wouldn’t, or couldn’t help her, the Slayer would have a hard road ahead of her.

Giles was about to ask another question when Angel turned away from him, towards the door.

Before he could question as to what, if anything was wrong, he heard voices outside followed by a knock at the door.

“Who would be here at this hour?” Giles asked himself as he took a look at the clock. He was surprised to see the time read well after dawn. He hadn’t been aware he had talked to Angel for that long.

“It’s Willow and Buffy,” Angel answered the rhetorical question.

“Do you want to…” Giles trailed off, not sure what he was really asking.

“Hide?” Angel smiled slightly. “No. They’ll know I’m here soon enough.”

Giles nodded and let the girls into his condo.

“Giles! I have some news!” Buffy looked around the room, her eyes moving from Giles to the other occupant in the room, and shocked into silence when she saw Angel standing there, calm as can be.

Willow followed Buffy’s line of sight and smiled at the vampire. “Angel!” She stepped forward and hugged the vampire unhesitatingly. “It’s good to see you.” She looked around the room briefly, realizing that if Angel was there, it probably wasn’t to visit. “I think.”

Angel chuckled, for the first time since arriving at the Watcher’s house. “It’s good to see you too, Willow.” He looked up at Buffy. “You too, Buffy.”

Buffy nodded but didn’t say anything for a moment. Finally, she took a breath and spoke. “What are you doing here, Angel?” The words weren’t spoken harshly, or with anger, but it was clear to everyone present she was uncomfortable with Angel’s presence.

“When Giles called it sounded  important. I agreed.” Angel offered with a slight shrug. A move that caused Buffy to look more closely at him.

“Is that why you’re really here?” She asked, stepping closer. “Is this about those demons? The… Rhikarans, or something else?” When Angel didn’t answer right away, she continued. “I can handle this. You didn’t need to come.”

“Buffy, we talked about this. Angel’s the only one who’s dealt with these demons. You knew we were calling him.” Giles reminded his slayer gently, knowing seeing Angel was difficult, and considering his real reason for coming, it would only get worse.

Willow watched the other three people closely, certain there was something else going on, aside from the obvious.

“How?” Angel asked seriously. “You don’t know what they look like, where they are. You have no idea what you’re doing here.” Angel pointed out.

“I know where they are,” Buffy told him. She turned to Giles. “That’s why we’re here. I think we found out where they might be hiding.”

“Oh?” Giles asked, shifting his attention from Angel and Buffy’s interaction solely to Buffy herself. “Where?”

“A few miles outside of town, in one of those abandoned buildings behind the Sherman Mausoleum.” She looked up at her watcher, avoiding Angel as much as possible. “We thought we’d get you and Xan, and go check it out.”

“No,” Angel answered for the watcher, ignoring for the moment Buffy’s desire to have him gone. He couldn’t really blame her. He wasn’t all that thrilled either, but for entirely different reasons.

“No?” Buffy turned her eyes to the vampire, her eyebrows going up. “No, to what, exactly?”

Angel sighed unnecessarily. “No to finding the demons there. No to calling Harris.”

Buffy’s eyes widened a bit. “Why?”

“They won’t be there. It’s not their style.” Angel answered the first question and ignored the second.

“Not their style?” Buffy repeated. “What isn’t?”

“A mausoleum? Behind a cemetery?” Angel asked patiently. “Why not take out an ad with a picture and a big fat ‘X’. ‘Slayer, find us here’?” He shook his head. “They won’t be there.”

Buffy narrowed her eyes. “How long has it been since you’ve seen these demons? Maybe they’ve changed.”

Angel shook his head slightly, trying not to get irritated. “Demons don’t change their habits. Not these demons, not these habits. They are here for one reason and one reason only, and you finding them before they’re ready has no part in it.”

“Why are they here?” Buffy asked, latching on to the one part of his statement that could actually help her.

“You killed one of them. What did you expect them to do? They are xenophobic, Buffy. Extremely. They have no contact with the outside world. None. That, however, does not mean that they don’t care what happens here.”

“Xenophobic?” Buffy asked looking from Willow to Giles.

“They don’t like outsiders.” Willow supplied.

“Quite.” Giles agreed. “From what we’ve been able to learn, they’re quite obsessive about it. To the point that their numbers are not allowed outside their clans. Ever.”

“So, why are they here then? Why here, and why now?” Buffy directed her question to Angel.

“Does it matter?” Angel raised an eyebrow. “They’re here, and now that you’ve killed one of them, they’ll be looking for you.”

“I can take care of myself.” Buffy said defiantly. “What’s a few demons?”

Angel stepped closer to his ex-girlfriend. “You don’t seem to understand, Buffy. They will not stop. Not until they are satisfied you have paid for your crime.”

Buffy looked at him blankly for a second before blinking and trying to brush off his words.

“They are worse than the Master. Worse than the Mayor. Worse than my evil self.” He turned to look at her again, his dark eyes glittering gold for a second, reminding her of all the danger she had faced before. “They are worse because they are many. Thousands, upon thousands of demons, in clans in numbers you can not even imagine. Demons who don’t want anything that you could give them. They are even worse than the Order of Taraka in that they have a desire, a need, something you can not use to your advantage, but something they will stop at nothing to achieve.”

Buffy opened her mouth to respond then thought better of it. His words had frightened her, but she refused to show her fear, not to him, not anymore. “Whatever. We’re going to check it out.” She turned to Giles. “You coming? We’ll stop off and get Xander on the way.”

“No,” Angel repeated his earlier answer to this plan.

“Excuse me?” Buffy turned back to the vampire, getting irritated with his comments, and warnings.

“Do you really need Xander?” Angel asked in all seriousness, hoping her own opinions, no matter how inaccurate would detour her from bringing Xander with her.

“No, I guess not.” Buffy sighed. “Fine, let’s go.” She grabbed Giles by the arm and started for the door.

“Yes, of course, Buffy,” Giles muttered under his breath, not liking being dragged along, but realizing that keeping Buffy and Angel separated could only be a good thing. He stopped just before reaching the door. “Angel, Willow, you’re welcome to stay here. Maybe see if you can find out anything more that will help us determine how to deal with the Rhikarans.”

Willow nodded, and after the door was shut behind Giles, she turned to Angel. “Sorry about that. Buffy’s kind of… tense.” She paused for a second before continuing. “You don’t mind some company?”

Angel looked at Willow curiously for a second before responding. “You sure you don’t want to go with them?”

Willow smiled. “Something tells me you’re probably right and they won’t find anything. Besides, we haven’t talked in a while, and seeing as you aren’t going anywhere, with the sun and all, now is as good a time as any.” She grinned at him and flopped down on Giles’ couch.

*

Xander opened his eyes, feeling as if his body was in some bizarre liquid state. He turned to look around and was only somewhat relieved to discover that he was in his bedroom, in his bed.

But he wasn’t alone. Nor was he completely solid. The second of those two things was more disturbing than the first.

“What happened?” He scratched out, as he tried to pull himself together, figuratively as well as literally. His bedmate didn’t seem to mind, however.

“You were tired,” Spike answered quietly as he watched Xander try to gain some semblance of control. He wanted to tell him it wasn’t necessary but didn’t think Xander was ready to hear that, just yet.

“I’m a freak,” Xander commented as he stood up and left the bedroom, avoiding looking at Spike and the bed.

“Bullocks.” Spike got up and followed Xander into the rest of the apartment.

“Bullocks?” Xander questioned, turning around and oblivious to his own state of undress, focussing instead on Spike’s. “Did you just say bullocks?”

Spike noticed the attention Xander seemed to be paying to his nakedness as well as the slight trace of humor in his voice and took the opportunity to change the subject, for the moment. “You see something you like?”

Xander looked away for a second and then returned to his perusal. “No.”

“Liar.” Spike grinned.

Xander shook his head and moved into the kitchen, looking for something to eat.

“You’re hungry? Now?” Spike asked incredulously, deciding again to drop the subject.

Xander peeped his head over the refrigerator door. “Like you should talk, Mr. add-something-crunchy-to-my-blood-anytime-of-the-day-or-night.”

Spike grinned. “You noticed. I didn’t know you cared.”

Xander rolled his eyes and pulled out a couple of cartons of leftover Chinese take-out. As he started to eat the food, cold, he looked over at Spike. “You’re not going to say anything? About earlier? Use this opportunity to tell me what a wimp I am? How completely freakish I turned out to be?”

Spike walked into the kitchen and leaned against the counter, opposite Xander and watched him eat his cold food, staring warily at him. He wanted to make light of the situation, joke about it, in a way that both of them would typically do, but somehow he knew that in this one instance, humor wasn’t called for.

“No. There isn’t anything to say.” Spike stared into Xander’s dark eyes, waiting for what he knew would be coming next.

Xander locked eyes with the vampire and stared into those ice blue eyes for a long time before speaking, his voice hushed, almost as if he was afraid what he was about to say would be overheard.

“I don’t get you. You spend the good part of a year, hassling me, hounding me, making me feel like the worse kind of human parasite there is, and now, all of a sudden, you find out I’m not human, so what, none of that matters now?”

“It never did,” Spike spoke just as quietly. “If you weren’t so busy trying to hide, from them and yourself, you would have known that.”

“Maybe.” Xander acquiesced as he opened the refrigerator again, this time pulling out a bag of blood and emptying it into a mug and inserting it into the microwave. While it heated, he grabbed a bag of salty corn chips and tossed them at the vampire. “It doesn’t matter now anyway. I’m running out of time. I only have two choices now.”

The microwave beeping stalled Spike’s question, but once he had his own meal, he looked back up at Xander. “Two choices?”

Xander nodded, finishing his chow mein. “Yeah. Either I refuse to go with them, and let them kill me, or I surrender and do what they ask.”

Spike stared incredulously when the meaning of Xander’s words became clear. “I don’t think so.” He spoke vehemently, his eyes turning gold briefly.

“I have to, Spike. If I don’t, they’ll keep looking. More people could get hurt, or worse.”

“I don’t bloody well care about anyone else!”

Xander shook his head, only slightly amazed by Spikes reaction, and that was the most amazing thing, his lack of shock.

“Spike, I know you don’t care about any of the people here. But I do. They’re my friends. Besides, what difference does it make now?”

Spike bit off his response, not wanting to say too much, too soon. “What are you going to do?” He asked instead.

“I’ll go to them. Take their test. If I pass, I’ll be back.” Xander spoke as he moved back into his bedroom and started dressing.

“And if not?” Spike asked from the doorway, not liking this idea at all, but realizing there was little he could do to stop him.

Xander brushed past him and moved to the living room to put on his shoes. Once done he walked to the front door, glancing quickly at the clock, and pleased that it was only early morning, hours yet before the sun would set.

“Xander!” Spike snarled after not getting a response.

Xander stopped with his hand on the doorknob, turned and closed the distance between him and Spike. “Then you’ll have something to remember me by.” His hands reached forward, and pulled Spike into him, closing his lips over Spikes, demanding, and gaining entrance. Once inside, his tongue, quickly and efficiently mapped the inside, memorizing it, because it was very likely they’d never see each other again.

Pulling reluctantly away, Xander moved his lips to Spike’s ear. “Tell Angel I forgive him.”

Xander moved away quickly, leaving before Spike could make a move to stop him. Once outside, with the afternoon sun high in the sky, he leaned against the building, hoping he was wrong. Hoping that he would see Spike again, for a million different reasons, not the least of which was the kiss they just shared, but knowing, deep down, that he would never pass the test his people would set before him.

If his father had failed it, knowing his people and their rules, how could Xander hope to pass?

*

 

Willow sat quietly on the couch, observing Angel. They had talked, for the past forty minutes, about everything except the real reason behind Angel’s visit. And she knew there was another reason, different than the phone call Giles had made asking for his help, different than wanting to help Buffy, and different than whatever he might have told Giles before she and Buffy arrived.  If he had just been providing info, he could have done that over the phone.

“So…” She began. Angel turned to look at her, and she forced herself to continue. “You know something about these demons, don’t you? More than you’ve told us?”

Angel stared at the young redhead, trying to decide what exactly she was getting at. After what seemed an interminable silence, he spoke. “I knew one, years ago, so yeah, I guess you could say I know something about them.”

Willow quirked an eyebrow, hearing something more in his tone than she would normally expect. She took a deep breath before asking her next question. “What, exactly, does this have to do with Xander, and is it why you didn’t want him going with them to search for the demons?”

Angel sank into the couch, surprised by the ease with which Willow seemed to be able to read between the lines. He wasn’t sure what to say. To tell her nothing would be as good as admitting to her assumptions, but to tell her the truth, did he have that right?

In the end, he settled on asking a question of his own.

“Willow, do you know about Xander, and…” He hesitated, uncertain if the next word out of his mouth would shock her and intrude on another secret he should keep.

“Spike?” Willow ventured seeing Angel’s hesitation.

Angel looked up, clearly surprised. “You knew?”

Willow shrugged slightly. “I know Xander has had a thing for Spike since we were kidnapped a few years ago, and I know that Spike is like a three-year-old, picking on the person he has a crush on, which more often than not is, Xander.” She shrugged again. “I didn’t think they were actually involved though. Are they? What about Anya?”

Angel sighed needlessly. “I don’t know about Anya, or whether or not they’re actually together. I just know what I saw.” He stopped, unsure what else to say. If he spoke about Xander’s distress, she would no doubt want to know why.

“You didn’t answer my question.” Willow’s voice was soft, but sure, expressing that regardless of what was going to be said, she was prepared for it.

“I knew Xander’s father, a long time ago.” He paused. “His real father.”

Willow let that sink in. She remembered Xander’s childhood, how difficult it had been. She remembered how Xander had mentioned several years ago that the man he knew of as his father was really his stepfather, but that’s all he had said. And now to learn that Angel of all people had known him? How would a person, a demon, like Angel know Xander’s father, and what did that have to do with the current situation.

Suddenly clarity came, and with it came shock, and then anger.

Angel watched the emotions chase across Willow’s face. He wanted to say something, to ease whatever pain this revelation was bringing, but he couldn’t. Honor and a promise to protect Xander, both emotionally and physically bound him. Did that mean he couldn’t help Willow understand?

Before he could come to a decision, either way, Willow stood up on shaky legs. She moved towards the door, almost on autopilot. “I… I have to go. Now. I’m sorry.” She opened the door and ran into the morning sunlight.

*

Xander walked quietly and quickly towards one of the many cemeteries in Sunnydale. He knew where he was going, although he didn’t know how. He had been to this cemetery, like all of the others in Sunnydale, on numerous occasions.

There was nothing unusual about it, except for the fact that demonic nightlife seemed so stay away from this particular cemetery. They had patrolled this cemetery, but never once had they found vampires or anything else on the nasty side of the spectrum.

Nevertheless, this was where he knew he should be.

The graves looked odd, in the morning sunlight, and despite the sounds of swaying leaves from nearby trees, there was an odd disquiet in this place.

“Hello?” He called out, to no one in particular.

“You have come.” The voice came from somewhere behind him.

Xander turned but found only trees and more headstones. He turned back around; not sure what it was he should be facing.

“Are you prepared to take the challenge?”

“Yes.” Xander’s voice didn’t falter despite his fear.

“And are you prepared for the consequences should you fail?”

“Yes,” Xander answered, hoping that he didn’t fail, for that would mean not only great pain to him but also the death of all those who knew the truth.

“Very well.” The voice sounded closer, and when he turned to face the sounds, he could sense a shifting in the very air around him. “Let the challenge begin, Son of Velios.”

The ground started to shake, and before he could latch on to anything to keep himself upright, a hole beneath his feet opened up, and he fell through the earth.

And kept on falling.

*

Spike was pacing around Xander’s living room angrily. He wasn’t sure what he was more pissed at. Xander for leaving, Angel for not being here to help stop him, the sun for shining, or the whole bleeding situation.

A loud, frantic pounding on the front door stopped Spike in his pacing. Before he could answer the knocking, the door was thrust open, and one angry witch entered.

“Where is he?” She asked with a deadly calm after looking and realizing Xander wasn’t there.

“Gone,” Spike answered. “What do you want?”

Willow ignored his question. “Where?”

Spike stared at her for a second, anger radiating off of her like a living thing. “Why?”

Willow looked up, her eyes blazing fury. She took in the features of the vampire in front of her, and remembering what Angel had told her, she spoke honestly. “He lied to me.”

Spike nodded. “And if he had told you the truth?” Spike asked then shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone, and probably won’t survive whatever it is they’re going to do to him.” His features shifting to that of his demon as the helpless rage overtook him.

“Not if we can stop it,” Willow spoke clearly, but there was a determination to her voice. “We have to find him, Spike.” She stepped a little closer to him. “If you care about him, if you love him, you’ll help me.” Her voice was quiet now, but the need she was displaying, in regards to helping Xander, even knowing the truth, surprised him.

“I can’t. The sun.” Spike’s voice was nearly silent now and held its own amount of pain.

Willow stared at him for a second, lifting her hands, palm out. Spike could feel the power radiating from her small form and wondered what kinds of secrets she was keeping.

Spike felt something surround his body, almost like an energy field, then the witch stepped back.

“Come on, we don’t have much time.” She ran out of the apartment, and Spike followed her, wondering where he had acquired his sudden death wish.

When he stepped outside of Xander’s building, it was only with a small amount of surprise that he didn’t burst into flame. And as much as he enjoyed the simple pleasure of being outside, in the daylight, he knew Willow was right, they didn’t have much time.

*

Angel’s unease had grown dramatically in the short time since Willow had left. He wasn’t sure what it was which was disturbing him so. Maybe some sort of sixth sense regarding danger to Xander. Perhaps just his own fear that he would fail in his task.

Whatever it was, caused him to have to continually remind himself why leaving Giles place to go see Xander himself wasn’t the wisest course of action. He had just convinced himself of this when the door burst open, and Willow, followed by Spike came running in. He didn’t have time to wonder what was wrong, or just how Spike had managed walking around outside, sans any kind of covering, before Willow started speaking.

“Xander’s in trouble!” Willow came to a halt in front of the older vampire. “We have to hurry!”

She pulled Angel to Spike and waved a little with her hands, the look on her face attesting to her concentration. There was an odd flash of light, and he felt an unusual energy field, and then Willow was dragging him outside. “We don’t have much time.”

The three had only gotten about a half a block away from Giles’ condo when Willow realized they didn’t have any idea where they were going.

“This way.” Willow pointed east. “Or maybe this way?” She pointed west and then turned pleading eyes to Angel.

Before the older vampire could offer any opinions one way or the other, Spike turned in a completely different direction. “This way.”

Angel and Willow followed him, not knowing where he was getting his information, only hoping it was accurate.

*

“Alexander, do you know why you’ve been summoned?” A disembodied voice sounded from somewhere above him as Xander hit solid ground once again.

Xander shook his head slightly, willing the ringing in his ears to stop. He wondered where he was and how he got here, it had seemed like an eternity since the earth had given way beneath his feet.

“Time has no meaning here, young one.” The voice spoke again, and this time it sounded much closer. “Do you know who I am?”

Xander opened his eyes carefully, almost sure he knew what would face him. “Yes.” His eyes acclimated themselves to the darkness, and he became accustomed to the gentle swaying of the air currents around him. “Grandfather,” Xander whispered, certain he had guessed correctly.

The demon before him shifted form slightly, now resembling more tree than man. “You recognize me?”

Xander nodded.

“Then you know why you are here?”

Xander nodded again, his own muscles and tendons relaxing, seemingly of their own volition. “I am to face the challenge, and prove to you what my father could not.”

The creature moved closer, odd branches swaying until they caressed Xander’s skin. “If you fail, you shall be imprisoned in your mortal body, and those who know our secret will be condemned to die. Do you accept this fate?”

“I do,” Xander spoke quietly, solemnly, as his own body began to shift, into its more natural state.

*

Xander felt his body shifting, melting, and reforming into something else. Something he didn’t even have to try to become. Something that required no effort on his part. No thought.

The cells in his body seemed to know exactly what it was they were doing, with no input from his mind.

It was an odd sensation, this free-flowing energy that seemed to be creating a form he had never seen and could never will his body to form.

But suddenly, there he was, in some cavern, below the earth, his body in an odd blend of liquid, gas, and solid, blending itself into the very earth, in a way he had never before believed possible.

Suddenly, he was alive. Truly alive. He could feel things moving around in the earth. Life forms in the ground and the earth itself seemed to be breathing. Was that even possible?

And just as he suddenly knew that it was indeed possible, Xander was gifted with clarity.

A clarity he had never known, nor ever expected to know. He understood things about his people. About who they were, and why the stories surrounding them were so frightening. He now knew why they didn’t allow visitors into their home, or why none of their members ventured out.

It all made sense to him. He now understood.

He understood what had happened to his father. Why he had left, and why he had been killed.

He understood the challenge, and why it was his father had failed, and how he could pass. But with this understanding came the question of whether he should pass the challenge.

Whether he should be allowed to leave this place, with the knowledge he now possessed.

*

Willow looked around in a circle, finding the area the same as it was two minutes ago when Spike swore that this place was where Xander was.

“Are you sure?” Willow asked in confusion. He couldn’t be right. Could he?

Spike gave her a hateful glare. “He’s here.”

“Where?” Willow asked again.

Angel bent down and touched his palm to the earth surrounding them. “Here.”

Willow looked at the older vampire. “Excuse me?”

Angel turned to Spike. “You feel him? Here, in the ground?”

Spike looked like he was about to say something appropriately scathing but then thought better of it. Instead, he squatted down and placed his own palm on the dirt, and felt a scalding warmth seep up from the ground. It didn’t burn him, despite the heat, but it did seem to vibrate.

“Yes,” Spike answered finally, not entirely sure what it was he was feeling, but somehow knowing that it was somehow connected to Xander.

Willow wrinkled her nose. “I don’t get it.”

Angel stood up and walked around Spike to face the witch. He touched her on the shoulder and turned her around and pointed to the ground the way they had come and then to a few of the nearby trees.

“The Rhikarans are interconnected, both with each other and with the land. They don’t breathe air like normal mortals, or most demons do, they absorb it through their skin, through their pores, like how plants take in water through their roots.”

Willow looked around her, taking in what Angel was saying, trying to equate the words with all of the things she never knew about her friend, and who he really was.

The souled vampire and witch were so lost in their own limited understanding of what may have happened to Xander that they failed to see the mound of loose earth just below Spike’s squatting body give way.

The vampire fell silently through the earth, only to land in a heap at the bottom of a very dark cavern, illuminated only by a flowing mass that radiated an odd sort of familiarity.

*

Xander turned to the form of his grandfather, who spoke quietly, the sound seemed to reverberate through the surrounding cavern.

“Are you ready to begin?”

Xander didn’t acknowledge the question. His new found knowledge told him that to do so would be useless, and considered weak.

His grandfather’s pleasure at Xander’s understanding rippled through the earth, and the unusual connection Xander was now experiencing.

“Tell me, young one, what have you learned of our clan.”

Xander turned slightly, thinking over his words carefully. He felt an odd movement in the surrounding dirt. He wanted to reach out, and touch the current, which was now flowing in the very life around him. Only it wasn’t. Not alive, not really.

That was perhaps what caused him to sense it in the living breathing essence around him. Its very absence of life drew his attention. It was almost familiar, but not. Like he had possibly felt it before, but not known what it was. And now, now he did.

Turning his attention away from the lifeless presence he could feel nearby, Xander focused once more on the challenge set before him. He didn’t answer the question asked, but what they really wanted to know.

The fundamental challenge. Did Xander understand what his father did not?

“You know, my mother never understood how he was found. How they had hunted him down and found their hiding place. She never knew how that happened. He never told her.” Xander moved closer to his grandfather. “Why do you think that is? Do you think maybe he didn’t want her to know? Maybe he wanted to keep his vow, even if he had forsaken so much already.”

“Your father was a fool.” The words hissed through the sound of leaves and dirt just as the ground began to tremble. “He did not understand who we are, or why we have our rules. He failed our people, and in doing so left you to be raised without knowledge and understanding.”

The room continued to shake tremulously, and Xander was suddenly aware that it was his grandfather’s anger that was causing the quake.

“Stop.” He spoke quietly. The movement ceased, and he felt a shiver of amusement from the demon. “Why am I here, really? If you believe that he had no understanding, that he didn’t know what he was doing, why are you even granting me the chance?”

A rumble ran through the cavern, but unlike before this one had a thread of amusement through it.

“You do understand, don’t you, young one?” The earth settled as his grandfather continued speaking.

“We have pulled one from your world.”

The words seemed out of place until Xander realized their meaning, especially in connection with the lifeless essence he had sensed earlier. “Who?”

“The one who knows your soul.”

The cavern began to shift again, and Xander could see his grandfather shifting his shape into one more humanoid. He made a conscious effort to do the same with his own body. Soon he looked like the person he’d met in the mirror most of his life. He turned around in a circle, trying to find the one his grandfather spoke of, the one who knew his soul. When he saw the figure slumped on the dirt floor of the cavern, scowling in the darkness, he shook his head at the irony.

He knows my soul?” Xander asked incredulously. “He doesn’t even have a soul, and yet, he knows mine?”

When there was no answer, Xander looked around the darkened cavern once more, he found his grandfather had disappeared, or so it appeared.

“Spike?” Xander bent forward to look at the vampire. “You okay?”

“Just bleedin’ dandy!” Spike growled as he stood up. “Where are we?”

“Um… underground?” Xander offered sheepishly. “What are you doing here?”

Spike didn’t answer which prompted Xander to look at him closely. “You came after me? Why?”

He couldn’t quite understand what would make Spike come out, in daylight and look for him.

It was very un-Spike-like.

“What? You think I’m just gonna let you walk out on me like that?”

Xander raised an eyebrow. “Walk out on you?”

Spike shrugged and then looked around. “Are we alone?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Xander answered honestly. He could still feel his grandfather nearby, as well as others, but he wasn’t sure if they were actually being observed, although it wouldn’t surprise him.

“What’s this… challenge all about?” Spike leaned up against one of the cavern walls and began to light a cigarette as he waited.

“They want me to prove that I understand what it means to be Rhikaran,” Xander answered truthfully as he quickly took the lighter away before Spike could succeed in getting his cigarette lit. He knew that if his people were correct, telling Spike, the truth wouldn’t be against the rules. “No Smoking.”  He whispered as he tucked Spike’s lighter into one of his jean pockets.

“What it means to be Rhikaran?” Spike asked curiously, putting his unlit cigarette back in his pocket, and focusing on Xanders words. “You mean the killing and maiming part, or the psychotically xenophobic part?”

Xander laughed. “Neither. The killing and maiming is all talk.”

Spike raised his scarred eyebrow. “All talk?”

Xander shrugged. “Well mostly.”

“And the rest?” Spike stepped closer to Xander invading his personal space.

“The rest…” Xander began leaning forward. “Is confusing.” He sealed his lips over Spike’s and could feel a kind of energy reverberating between them. Something different than any of their previous kisses. When he stepped away, his lips quirked slightly. “My people share a collective consciousness… sort of.”

Spike chuckled slightly and stepped right back into Xander’s space. “Collective consciousness? Like The Borg?” He grinned.

Xander laughed again, true humor in the lines of his face. “No, more like The Founders.”

“Ah.” Spike nodded, amusing himself with the fact that thanks to Xander’s influence he knew precisely who Xander was talking about. He pressed forward once more and kissed the half-demon again, pushing his tongue into his mouth.

After several long seconds of kissing, Spike moved away. “How do we get out of here?”

Xander’s face grew serious. “Simple. I prove to my grandfather, and the other elders, that the secret of my people dies with me. No, one else shall learn of it, or them.”

“And if we can’t prove that?” Spike asked, emphasizing the we.

Xander locked eyes with the vampire before speaking. “Then we die here. Together.”

As the ground began to rumble alerting them to the return of his grandfather, Xander heard Spike’s whispered reply.

“There are worse ways to go.”

*

Willow leaned against the tree she and Angel were sitting in front of.

“Do you think he’s okay?” She asked quietly. It had been about three hours since Spike had disappeared and she was worried.

“Spike or Xander?” Angel asked.

“Both. Either.”

“They’re fine.” Angel smiled, knowing somehow that it was true.

Willow nodded, believing him. They sat in silence for several more minutes before she spoke again. “Why didn’t he tell me?”

Angel turned to look at her for a second, thinking about her question.

“Honestly? I’m not sure. Maybe he was afraid of how you’d react. Maybe he was ashamed. Or maybe, he knew what could happen.” The last was spoken with a hint of an underlying emotion Willow couldn’t place.

“What could happen?” She asked. “What do you mean?”

Angel took a deep, unnecessary breath before beginning. “The Rhikarans are very secret people. They value their privacy above all else. No one is allowed into the outside world.”

“No one?” Willow asked, appalled. She had heard it mentioned before that there were reclusive, but their society sounded like a prison.

“It’s not permitted. Those who do want to leave have to earn their freedom. They’re put through a challenge.”

Willow turned sharply to the vampire. “A challenge? That’s what Xander’s doing now?”

As if in answer the ground began to rumble.

Angel nodded. “Yes.”

“And if he passes this challenge?”

Angel shrugged slightly. “He goes on with his life.”

“And if he doesn’t… pass?” Willow choked on the last word, not wanting to think what could happen.

“He dies, and most likely so do we.” Angel turned and locked his dark eyes onto hers.

“Us?” Willow questioned. “Why?”

“The Rhikarans don’t want outsiders knowing about them. If Xander passes the challenge, he is responsible for us keeping the secret. If we tell anyone anything about this place, or the Rhikarans, even after this is all over, he will be the one who suffers.”

“There isn’t anything to tell,” Willow mumbled. She stared at the ground for a second, thinking about what Angel had told her. “Why is it such a big deal?”

“I don’t know,” Angel answered honestly. He could guess it was all about their own fear, but he couldn’t be sure that’s what it really was.

“Your friend… the one Spike told us about… didn’t he tell you?” Willow asked quietly. She was never sure how much information Angel would reveal.

“My friend was Xander’s father, Velios. He didn’t tell me. I don’t think he knew really.”

Willow’s brow was crinkled in confusion, so Angel decided to elaborate. “Velios wasn’t like most of his people. He had something of a wanderlust, I’d guess you’d call it.  He always had this desire to leave the clan, and he told me once that he never truly understood his people, or why they were so obsessive about their secret.

“He was a philosopher of sorts. He didn’t believe in a lot of the same things as the rest of the Rhikarans. That’s why he left.” He hesitated a second before telling the last bit. “I’m not sure, but I think that’s what killed him.”

“What do you mean?” Willow turned her body slightly, so she was still leaning against the tree, but now she was facing Angel.

“When he came to see me after Xander had been born, he asked me to look after him. He told me that he was being hunted by his people. He had eluded them for a while, but he didn’t know how much longer he could go on doing so. He said that when they found him, he would be asked to submit to the challenge. If he refused, they would execute him, likewise if he lost the challenge. He told me if he passed the challenge he would come to me and let me know.” Angel grew quiet for a second. “I never heard from him again.”

Willow sucked in her breath. If this challenge killed Xander’s father, a full Rhikaran, how would Xander survive? It seemed unlikely. And yet, she knew not to underestimate Xander. He was stronger and smarter than most people gave him credit for.

“What does this challenge consist of? Will he have to fight?” Willow asked worriedly.

“No,” Angel answered quickly. “It’s not that kind of challenge.” Angel placed a hand over one of her own and squeezed. “The way I understand it, Xander must understand the Rhikaran rules, and why they are necessary. That’s what Velios had trouble with. He understood the rules, had been taught them from birth, lived them, but he never had a true understanding of why they existed. He had a wandering soul, and believed that his people should share their knowledge and abilities with others.”

“I take it that wasn’t something the Rhikarans wanted to happen?” Willow asked lightly, feeling slightly better about the challenge.

Angel chuckled. “No. The way I understand it, it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t just a matter of the Rhikarans wanting to keep themselves secret, but having to.”

Willow nodded. “So now what?”

“Now,” Angel squeezed her hand again. “Now we wait.”

*

Spike was lost in a weird haze; everything seemed to be shifting, moving around him. He felt like Xander was literally surrounding him, which wasn’t an altogether bad feeling, but the ground kept moving, and he wasn’t entirely sure he was still standing.

And even stranger than all that was that he kept getting these flashes. Things he couldn’t understand. Impressions of events and emotions. Life, death, pain, joy. There was a well of sadness that seemed to grow. It kept getting larger and larger as the trembles in the earth became more and more fierce.

Then it was over. The impressions were gone. The earthquake was gone. The hazy fog was gone. And Xander was gone.

Spike looked around and found himself in the same cavern he had ended up in earlier, but now he was alone.

Although not completely. He could still feel a sense of Xander. A trace of that warmth that had surrounded his skin. That and that alone told him that Xander wasn’t really gone, at least not permanently.

Waiting wasn’t one of his strong points, but it didn’t look like he had much choice.

Spike sat down on the now still ground, took out his cigarette and lit it. Or at least tried to. He couldn’t get his lighter to light. After a couple of tries, he put the unlit cigarette back in his duster pocket and sank more fully into the cavern wall, and scowled.

*

Xander tried to will his body into some sort of familiar shape, but it wouldn’t obey. It kept drifting off in this gaseous form, towards the cavern walls, seeking something he couldn’t identify.

“Rest, child.” A voice sounded in his head. “You have done well. Sleep for now, and then you must make your choice.”

Xander felt consciousness leaving him, and he couldn’t help but obey, although he did wonder at the choice.

*

The room began to spin rapidly around Spike. He closed his eyes against the swirl of dirt. He felt like he was at the center of a cyclone. He was moving but he couldn’t tell where to or in what direction.

As suddenly as the spinning had started, it stopped. Spike opened his eyes and looked around.

He found himself back in the cemetery. Willow and Angel were sitting, leaned up against a large tree, asleep.

It was dark out. Dark and silent. Spike wondered how long he’d been gone. It didn’t seem like very much time had passed, but it was only early morning when they had come to the cemetery, so it had to have been several hours at the very least.

Spike turned back to the pair leaning against the tree and found a couple of dark eyes watching him silently.

“What time is it?” Spike asked quietly.

Angel looked down at the watch on one of Willow’s wrist. “Three in the morning.” He gently got up, so as not to disturb the sleeping redhead.

“What happened?” Angel asked quietly as he moved towards Spike.

“I’m not sure.” Spike looked around him, in a state of confusion.

“Where’s Xander? Is he all right?” Angel looked over at the spot where Spike had disappeared several hours earlier.

“He’s fine,” Spike answered. He couldn’t be positive that was true, but somehow he knew he was. “He passed.”

*

Xander woke up and found himself back in the cavern, alone. He willed his body into his mortal form and placed a palm on the cavern wall. He could still feel the life pulsing through the earth, and wondered if it had always been there, but he hadn’t had the ability to sense it before.

“You have done well, young one.”

Xander turned to face the voice and saw his grandfather shifting into a roughly humanoid shape.

“You must now make the choice.”

“What choice?” Xander asked calmly. He knew he had passed their challenge and no longer feared his people.

“You must choose either to return home, with us, or rejoin the other on the surface.”

“The other?” Xander frowned. “You mean Spike?” His grandfather nodded once, and Xander leaned back against the cavern wall.

This was a tough decision. He had felt a sense of peace here, under the earth. He understood so many things about his people and where he came from. Why his people lived as they did. He no longer feared what he had become or felt confused about who and what he was. It was a nice feeling.

But could he give up his mortal existence for that feeling? Could he leave and never see any of his friends again? Never see Giles or Buffy? Never spend long nights talking to Willow about absolutely nothing? And Spike, what of him? Could he live out his entire life, centuries if he understood the Rhikaran lifespan, never seeing the vampire again? Never knowing what could have been? And if he did, would Spike be safe? Well, as safe as a vampire could be living on the Hellmouth.

“If I stay, what happens to my friends?” Xander asked cautiously.

“The ones on the surface will be safe, so long as they do not tell others of us.”

Xander nodded, relieved. He thought of Spike once more.

“Your vampire… he means a great deal to you?” Xander’s grandfather stepped closer. “He… is not what I expected.”

“You expected Spike?” Xander chuckled. “I never expected Spike.”

“We expected the one with the soul. He was… close to Velios. We thought that perhaps…”

“Angel?” Xander snorted. “Not likely. He and I… we don’t really get along all that well.”

“This is often the case with humanoid’s and their… parents.”

Xander tried to analyze that statement into some sort of logic, but wasn’t really coming up with anything, and was about to ask a question when his grandfather spoke again.

“Your vampire… he could come to us.”

Xander looked up. “That’s possible?”

“It’s not done very often. I think only twice in millennia, but it is possible. There would have to be a binding ceremony, a melding of energy and consciousness, but it is possible.” The older demon paused for a second. “Would you like to petition for the binding?”

Xander shook his head. “No. Thank you, but I don’t think you’re ready for Spike, and he and I… we’re new. I’m not sure how things will go after this.” He shrugged.

“Very well, young one. Be well, and remember what you’ve learned here.”

Before Xander could thank his grandfather, a swirling mist surrounded him and he could feel his body moving through the earth. When he stopped moving, he found himself above ground again and surrounded by familiar faces.

*

Willow turned to look at Xander. They were back in his apartment and Angel, and Spike had gone out to give them a little time alone before the sunrise trapped them inside.

They had been sitting awkwardly in Xander’s living room for nearly thirty minutes. Neither entirely sure what to say to the other. Finally, Willow decided to break the silence.

“Xander, why didn’t you ever tell me?” Willow’s voice sounded hurt.

“I’m sorry, Will, but I couldn’t. I’ve only known for a few years, and I was so freaked out by it, and with us hunting demons, I couldn’t tell Buffy, or you… or anyone.”

“But you told Spike,” Willow spoke quietly.

“No, he found out. When we got trapped in that mausoleum, he was injured and needed blood, I gave it to him. But my blood… it doesn’t taste human. He figured it out. I thought he was going to blackmail me with it or something. Then we found out about Buffy killing that Rhikaran, and I kind of wigged.”

Willow nodded, remembering the odd way Xander had been behaving. “Will she get into trouble for that?”

“No,” Xander answered. He wanted to tell her more. Tell her how his people lived, and what made them so special, but he couldn’t.

“Xan, maybe you should talk about it,” Willow told him, sensing that there was so much he wanted to say, but wasn’t.

“I will, but I can’t… with you.” He hated the words as soon as they left his lips but it was the truth. “I’m sorry Willow, but I can’t. I made a promise. I can’t tell you what you want to know. Is… is that okay?”

Willow smiled up at him. “Yes. But if you ever… need to, you can come to me, always.” She paused for a second thinking about everything Xander had told her. “He loves you, you know.”

Xander didn’t even pretend to misunderstand. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Willow shook her head. “No, he does. I’ve seen him. I’ve seen you both. You love him too.”

Xander nodded, thinking about that, not sure what to say in response. He was saved by the sound out in the hall. He turned towards the door where the two vampires were coming in.

“Everything okay?” Angel asked curiously looking from Willow to Xander.

“Peachy.” Willow grinned. “Angel, would you mind walking me home? You can stay in my spare room.”

“Are you sure?” Angel looked at Willow appraisingly. When he could see that she wasn’t just being nice, he smiled. “Great. We should go soon, the sun will be rising.”

“No time like the present.” Willow kissed Xander on the cheek and then stood up and planted another kiss on Spike’s cheek, whispering in his ear, “take care of him.” She then grabbed Angel hand and disappeared through the front door, dragging the vampire with her.

*

Xander sank into the couch and looked around his apartment. It was eerily silent, only it wasn’t really all that eerie. There was an utter silence permeating the room since Willow and Angel had left, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable.

Spike was sitting in the chair to the right of the couch, staring at the broken television, or more precisely pretending to stare at the tv. He was actually keeping a careful eye on Xander and seemed perfectly willing to wait until Xander was ready to talk or do other things.

That in and of itself was odd. Xander wasn’t used to Spike not being in his face, and an otherwise nuisance, but perhaps he had never really been seeing the real Spike. Maybe he hadn’t been looking for him.

“Spike.” The name was so softly spoken Xander wasn’t sure it could have been heard, even by vampire ears.

Spike turned his head slightly, indicating he had heard. “You ready?” Spike asked with an arch of his scarred eyebrow.

“Ready?” Xander asked with slight amusement. “Ready for what, exactly?”

“To talk.” Spike’s icy blue eyes bore into Xander’s dark ones.

“To talk,” Xander repeated, gulping slightly at the concept. “About what?” When Spike continued to stare at him, Xander sighed. “Do you want me to talk?”

“Do you need to?” Spike countered.

Xander sank further into the couch in relief, exhaling a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.

He still wasn’t sure if Spike was humoring him or not, but he was pleased that the vampire was even making an effort.

“Yeah, I think I do.”

Spike moved from his chair to the empty space next to Xander on the couch. “Tell me.”

The two words seemed to release some hold on Xander’s feelings and emotions, and he began to speak.

“It was weird. Suddenly, I’m like not Xander, the dork, the Zeppo. Suddenly, I’m Xander, this… thing of free-flowing energy. Not solid, or liquid, I just was. I could feel the life in the air around me, in the very earth, and then, I knew everything. I knew all about my people, and why my father left, why they came after him, why he… died.”

Xander stopped for a second, wondering if Spike really wanted to know any of this. He couldn’t bear to look at the vampire, in case he didn’t.

The silence continued for a few more seconds before Xander felt movement in the couch, and Spike’s cooler hands tilted his head towards the vampire.

“You were never any of those things,” Spike whispered as he leaned closer and kissed Xander’s trembling lips. “Go on.”

“Really?” Xander asked unbelievingly as he stared into those mesmerizing eyes.

“Really.” Spike traced his tongue over those warm lips. “I want to know. You don’t have to be afraid of who you are. Not here. Not with me.” Spike finished his statement with another soft kiss before moving back slightly, giving Xander some room.

“Angel was right about my father, mostly. He didn’t have all the facts, but…” Xander began, looking into those blue eyes to see if he really wanted to hear this.

Spike pulled Xander to him, letting the half-demon lay his head on the vampire’s chest, just over his unbeating heart. After a few seconds to adjust to the new position, Xander continued.

“My father left our people. He didn’t agree with a lot of the rules. He didn’t understand why we have them, so when they came and chased him down and he had to take the challenge, he couldn’t pass it.”

“And they executed him?” Spike asked quietly, his words seeming to reverberate through his body and into the body lying on top of his.

“Yeah, they… executed him. He… wouldn’t go back with them. He didn’t really give them a choice.” Xander told him, just as quietly.

“What didn’t he understand?” Spike asked.

“My people… they’re attuned to nature in a way I didn’t think was even possible. They…we can feel the earth… life… death, everything.” Xander wanted to explain more. How even now he could feel the thrum of the earth moving through his veins. How he could feel the echoes of long-dead life from the trees and other plants as they had been separated from the life force flowing through the ground. He wanted to explain how even dead wood left a faint trace of life, calling to him. But he didn’t want to sound crazier than he probably already did. Things were weird enough with Spike as it was.

“The Rhikarans are very secretive. Between their unique connection to the earth, and their shape-shifting abilities, they don’t believe in having any contact with the outside world. Outsiders only bring pain and death.” Xander turned his head slightly, in an effort to see Spike, but from this angle, it was impossible. “Every once in a while, there are Rhikarans who want to leave, to experience the outside world. They have to take the challenge. If they pass, they are allowed to leave, with the promise to never tell others about us. If they fail, they are banned from ever leaving. If they leave anyway, they are hunted down and killed. Sounds barbaric.”

“But necessary,” Spike spoke for the first time in several minutes.

“Yeah, it is.” Xander paused before going on. “My father. He left before he was ever given the challenge. It took them nearly two centuries to find him. He was good at hiding, at blending in.

My people, despite our natural abilities, don’t have a lot of experience with the outside world.

By the time they’d located Velios, my father, I had been born. He took the challenge, and failed.”

“Why?” Spike moved slightly, allowing Xander to cover his body more fully.

“He didn’t understand. He never got why they stayed underground, why they lived in secret. He believed that the Rhikarans should come above ground and share their knowledge of the earth with mortals, and anyone else who wanted to know. He didn’t get that we weren’t ready. We still aren’t ready. Mankind isn’t ready for them. For a species that can change their shape at will, or for the depths to which they would protect their home.” Xander shook his head, his hair brushing along Spike’s chest.

He moved slightly, turning his face towards the chest beneath him, noticing for the first time that Spike wasn’t wearing a shirt. He licked his lips slightly, feeling a slight shiver going through Spike as his tongue barely brushed the skin surrounding one nipple. He smiled against the skin and then spoke into it, amusement coloring the sound of his voice.

“You know, they asked me, if I wanted to return home, with them.” Xander felt the body under him stiffen with the statement but continued. “They even asked if you’d like to come with me.

There was a ritual. A… bonding ritual…”

There was complete silence, only the sound of Xander’s breathing could be heard before Xander lifted up his head and looked into those blue eyes. “They were under the impression that we were… mated. They said that we were soul mates, sort of. They felt that as such you might want to stay with me, underground. I tried to tell them-“

“They were right.” Spike interrupted. When Xander stopped speaking and looked at him in confusion, he continued. “We are, and I would have if you’d wanted.”

Xander continued to stare at the vampire, confusion and hope warring within him. Spike bent forward and claimed Xander’s lips in a fierce kiss. When they parted, Spike trailed suckling kisses across his jaw in a trail towards an ear.

“I love you.” Spike’s confession was nothing more than a rumble against his earlobe, but one he understood for what it was.

“I love you too,” Xander answered, almost surprised to hear the words said out loud and to find that they were true.

Spike stood up from the couch, bringing Xander with him and took him into the bedroom. He pushed Xander slightly onto the bed and began undressing him, which was quickly followed by the removal of his own clothes.

Spike covered the half-demon’s body with his own and proceeded to show him exactly how much he did love him.

And out in the darkened living room, the only light that could be seen was from the single candle on top of the broken bookshelf.

*

The End

 

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7 Comments:

  1. i love your stories. thank you for sharing your ideas. :-))

  2. I’ve long had a soft spot for Spike/Xander… this is lovely!

  3. Great Story

  4. Intriguing demon species. I liked how accepting of Xander Willow was and Angel’s aim to protect him. Sweet seeing how Xander buys corn chips for Spike so he’ll have something crunchy with his blood. 🙂

  5. Loved it.

  6. Wonderful, just wonderful, great story, thank you

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