Title: From the Ashes
Pairing: Spike/Xander, with hints of Giles/Wes, Spike/Harmony, Xander/Angel, Giles/Ethan
Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be. No harm, no foul, no money made.
Title of fairy tale/folk tale/myth/legend: The tale of Brynhild, Sigurd, and Gunnar
Pairing and/or characters you want: Surprise me ^_^ Prefer either Spike or Xander or Spander
Rating desired: whatever you'll give me
Three things you want to see: angst. romance.
Two things you don't want to see: Buffy or Connor as a main character
Summary: Set in such a completely Alternate Reality that it might even be on another planet. It's a story full of magic and love and treachery and deceit, and while the Norse saga ends in a romantic but ultimately fatal fashion, I stand by my decision to never kill my boys... permanently.
A/N: Hope you like it, Bryn, even though I mangled huge parts of it. The damn thing got away from me and just kept growing! (10,000 words plus.)
"Do you have any idea of the trouble you've caused, Alexander? You've brought danger down upon us all with your heroic stunts!" Lord Rayne, head of the Council of The Valley of the Sun, glared at the young man who knelt before the dais between two guards. "I promised Lord Wilkins victory in that battle in return for his protection from the roaming demons that are moving ever closer to our lands. And then you go and kill him! Now we shall be forced to turn to the vampires for help in defending against the marauding clans and those who followed Lord Wilkins. What were you thinking, boy?!
Xander fought the urge to cringe beneath the scornful words. He knew that Lord Rayne would never dare raise anything more than his voice against the foster son of his old and powerful ex-lover, the great mage Rupert Giles.
"Lord Wilkins was a demon himself, my Lord Rayne, a fact he kept hidden from the Council and the rest of our people when he first suggested the bargain. He was already making plans to charge a protection 'tax' which would have been paid with the flesh and blood of our children. A set number of live 'volunteers', all no older than twenty, to be payable every year into eternity."
Xander bit off the rest of his words, and the expression on his face left Lord Rayne in no doubt that the youth had somehow discovered that certain members of the Council had been made fully aware of the more...delicate details of the arrangement.
"The fact remains that you and your army of women and children managed to destroy the best protection we on the Council had been able to arrange. Now we shall be forced to do business with the vampires in the next valley. Do you not think that they too shall expect payment in live volunteers?"
A thousand barbed words bubbled up inside Xander, but he managed to swallow back the first waves of vitriol, forcing himself to answer calmly, as befitted a member of the Giles clan.
"The Aurelius vampires have shown on many occasions that they are willing to feed without killing their chosen victims. They view us as a renewable food source. They made their home in the Valley of the Moon two years ago, and as far as I can tell we're in no more danger of dying out than we were before they arrived. We also have less crime being committed, as very few wish to take the chance of being banished beyond our boundaries. Apparently our neighbours have been collecting our garbage as we throw it out."
"Waste not, want not."
Xander's eyes flew to the guard standing at attention on his left and then flickered back to Lord Rayne.
"That's enough, Riley. We all know your opinions of those not as pure and godly as yourself. The point, however, is valid. One man's table scraps is another vampire's dinner." Ethan smirked and tapped one elegant, be-ringed finger against his lips.
"Which brings us back to the business at hand. Alexander, whatever are we to do with you? You brought about the death of our best protector, and several of our own people in your mighty battle against the great demon Lord Wilkins. You have defied the Council, and must be punished, but banishment would be too... quick for you. I have heard rumours that a number of the Aurelius beasts are considering taking human Consorts."
Xander was unable to prevent himself from flinching at the idea. To be bonded by blood and magic to a vampire for life? He shuddered, and knew by the delighted gleam in obsidian eyes that his reaction had been exactly what Rayne had hoped.
"Ah, I see you must have heard some of the same rumours. I wonder, did you hear that human Consorts are irrevocably bound to the vampires who choose them? The death of the demon means the death of the chosen, but as long as the beast survives... so does the Consort. Even the most hideous injuries will heal, given time. You could be a hairsbreadth from death a hundred times or more and that bond would pull you back, slowly, inch by agonizing inch." The gleam in those black eyes changed from delight to something almost wistful. "And you can be sure that our friends in the next valley know exactly when to stop. They have centuries of experience in breaking people down to watch them scream and bleed and beg. Of course, if the Consort does die, the bereaved is free to choose another."
Ethan sat back in his ornate, padded chair and nodded to the guards.
"It is decided. Alexander, lately of the Giles Clan, shall be offered as Consort to whichever of the Aurelius vampires wish to take him. I'm sure, as kin to our greatest mage, you shall be much in demand. I hear that particular demon family hold magic in very high regard."
Xander allowed the two bulky guards to lift him to his feet, but he refused to simply turn and leave, accepting Lord Rayne's decree.
"You know Giles will never accept your ruling. If you force me into this blood-bond slavery he will not rest until he has had his revenge. You know him, Ethan. He'll have you burn in hell for this." Swallowing hard, he straightened his slumped shoulders and locked eyes with his lord and ruler.
"I understand that I must pay for going against the Council, but I also know that my foster father would never agree to handing me over like that without a fight." He paused to take a deep breath. "I have a... compromise in mind. There is a place of raw power, called the Mouth of Hell, sitting at the boundary of the lands between the two valleys. I am sure you have heard the legends just as I have. I would remain there, sleeping within the ring of fire, until a vampire of sufficient courage braved the flames to take me for its own. None but one of the undead may enter the circle and awaken me."
Ethan went to speak, but Xander interrupted him, not caring any longer about the protocols involved.
"Please, Lord Rayne, allow my clan the dignity of knowing that I go to a fate of my own choosing. I know that I may spend eternity in the Mouth of Hell if no vampire finds me intriguing enough to risk a fiery death. Whether I am chosen or not, you are still rid of me, and Giles will accept my decision for the good of the clan."
A heavily jewelled hand fluttered in the air in a supremely irritating shooing motion.
"Very well. Riley. Graham. Take Alexander here back to his clan and allow him to collect whatever items he requires for his... journey. I don't want to see either of you back here unless you can tell me that you have seen him walk through the flames. And take the little witchling Amy with you. She doesn't have much power, but she should be able to tell if he is truly in the grip of the sleeping charm once he is out of your sight, and she can make sure that he doesn't have a chance to set any extra spells in place. Go! Now! And send in my wolfboy, I believe he's in need of further obedience training."
The walk home was silent and forced, and Xander could feel curious eyes burning holes in his skin from every window. Several times people approached to talk but the guards drove them back and bade them be silent or risk being called before the Guardmaster. No one was eager to face the wrath of the man known only as Adam, so Xander was left to his own thoughts until they reached the tall wooden doors of the only real home he'd ever known.
Stepping forward through the wards that automatically repelled the guardsmen, he leaned his forehead against the solid oak frame and whispered the necessary permissions to allow the armed men to pass through. Twin expressions of shock were his only thanks as they moved forward into their previous flanking positions, and he pushed the open unlocked doors and entered the house.
The door to the library opened and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce shuffled out into the hallway, swamped in a huge woollen robe that Xander knew usually hung on the back of the master bedroom door. Wesley wearing it could only mean one thing: he'd had another one of his visions, and without his lover there to support him he had decided to take comfort in the man's favourite ratty old robe. A slight smile touched Xander's lips as he watched the fragile Seer bury his nose in the frayed collar and sniff deeply before speaking.
"You're home! We weren't expecting you back so soon. Rupert was hoping..." Wesley finally noticed the two hulking guards hovering in the hall and unconsciously took a nervous step backwards. "I... You..." He paused and shook his head as if to clear it. "Rupert is going to kill him for this, and most likely the rest of the Council too. Xander, you did what you thought was best! They can't mean to..."
Ignoring the threatening noises coming from the guards, Xander moved forward and pulled Wesley into a hug.
"I'm not being banished Wes, I don't plan on dying any time soon. Ethan wanted to send me to the Valley of the Moon as a consort to any vampire that would have me, but I made a deal. D'you hear me, Wes? I made a deal with Ethan. I have to leave, but I'll be safe. I'm going to sleep in the Mouth of Hell until a vampire comes to claim me. You know as well as I do that there's no vampire on this planet that would pass through a wall of fire just to claim me as their Consort. Maybe if I was Giles' true son I'd be a more tempting morsel, but everyone knows my magic is learned and not blood-borne, and no demon is going to risk combustion for that."
"Get your things, Harris, and let's go. Some of us would like to be home before dark."
The interruption came from Riley, who relished the expression of loathing on Xander's face at the use of his birth name.
"I haven't answered to that name in over ten years, Riley, and I don't intend to start now. I am a Giles, and you will afford me the courtesy that name affords or Wesley here will make certain that your time as a guard is short-lived and very uncomfortable." With a wink to the wide-eyed Seer, Xander stepped back and glanced back at his entourage. "Well?"
"My apologies, Master Giles." The words were ground out between clenched teeth, but Xander accepted them with a gracious nod.
"I'll just get what I need and then we can be on our way."
A quick trip was made to the kitchen for bread, meat and water, and another to his room for a few of life's necessities, the guards never letting him move beyond arm's reach, and then they were back in the hallway, where they discovered that Wesley still stood as he had been left, though he was trembling slightly, and shifting from foot to foot.
"Please, gentlemen, I beseech you. Can you not wait a little while longer? Rupert would want to be here to say farewell to his eldest son. And Jesse and Willow are with him, and they will be heartbroken at losing their brother in this way. Please, I beg you..."
Graham, as always, deferred to Riley, who made a show of thinking for a few moments before refusing, as Xander had known he would.
"Like I said before, some of us want to be home before dark." And with that he pushed Xander out of the door, not even pausing to allow him to reset the wards. A glance back over one shoulder showed Wesley shivering in the doorway, hands clasped tightly beneath his chin. Xander wondered if he was praying to one of the many deities he'd studied in the past. It was small comfort.
The Mouth of Hell was an hour's ride away by horse, and took almost two in the battered cart the Council had supplied. Every bump and jostle along the rutted path increased Xander's misery. The guards rode upfront and conversed in muted voices that never quite carried over the rattle of the wheels. The young witch Amy was sitting in the back with him, and watched him like a hawk to make sure he didn't attempt any casting. She rebuffed all attempts he made to pass the time with mindless chatter, so Xander was once again left alone with his thoughts. They weren't happy ones.
What the hell had he been thinking, offering to do this? He'd known about the Mouth of Hell since childhood, everyone did, but he'd never been fool enough to go near it. The land around the ring of fire was barren for a thousand paces. Nothing was able to grow so close to that much raw magic, not that much ever actually tried. And now he was going to walk in there and lie down to sleep, not knowing if or when he'd ever awaken?
Too soon, for Xander, they reached the edge of the barrens, and everyone scrambled down from the cart. The horses were fractious, snorting loudly and pawing at the ground, heads tossing wildly as they tried to shake off the ominous, crawling feel of untamed energies sparking off their life-forces. Nothing on this earth would make them move any closer to the Mouth of Hell, so the rest of the journey was completed on foot.
Ten paces from the wall of fire, the party scuffled to a halt. Settling his pack higher on his shoulders, and checking the water-skin hanging around his neck to make sure the waxed stopper was securely jammed into the spout, Xander turned to look at his companions.
"I don't blame you for any of this, you know? You're just doing your jobs. And if I had the chance to go back and change anything about what I did to end up here... I wouldn't. I did what I had to do, and now I'll pay the price."
None of the others said a word as he turned and stepped up to the flickering barrier, lips moving slightly in a whispered plea for admittance. The curtains of flame parted just enough to allow him to slip through and then closed behind him, cutting him off from the rest of the world. He barely had time to set down his water and pack and roll out his bedding before a wave of exhaustion swept through him, weighting down limbs and eyelids. Scant moments later he was in the depths of sleep, taking breaths so slow and shallow that they were hardly visible.