The spell was cast that night; it threw a veil across Spike's memories. He only knew he'd travelled hard to reach his clan's new home. The boy he loved was locked behind dark shutters in his mind, and in his place was planted lust for another of his kind.
And so it came to be that Spike took Harmony for a mate, a self-obsessive blonde who had been turned by Darla when Dru got bored and demanded a life-sized dolly of her own. But neither spells nor threats nor even promises could make Spike take the bubble-headed bimbo as his Consort for all time. And nobody could make him explain why.
"Tell me again what we're doing here, Angel? Are you honestly telling me a troublesome human is worth all this fuss? Do you even know he's still within the flames?"
"Darla explained it all, before we left, you know that, Wil. The Giles Clan wields much power in the Valley of the Sun. The boy we've been sent to find is of their kin, so when I claim him as my own they'll take care to keep us sweet. Trade negotiations will be made on Darla's terms from this time on. Now let's be on our way and get this done."
The embarrassing reminder of just how weak his Grandsire really was had Spike trying to figure out why he had decided to return from his solitary wanderings. He'd only ever left because he'd become sick of the way the vampire who had once been his hero was now treated like a disobedient puppy by his Sire.
The firewall surged and flickered as they approached to within arm's reach, and Angel stretched one out and then leapt back.
"It sears my skin before I'm even close!"
Spike stifled a grin at his Grandsire's whining complaint, and then brushed his hand though the flame and drew it out unharmed. Angel gaped, and Spike could cheerfully have kicked himself. He'd spent all that time keeping the Kiss of Amara secret. Was he going to have to explain it all now and lose that edge, or was there another way? He thought hard and fast...
"It must be that bloody great soul of yours that's making a mess of it all. To cross the flames and claim the boy you have to be undead. The magic must see the spark in you and think you're still alive."
Angel looked away in shame. He'd carried around this curse for a hundred years and more, and knew, because Darla said, that it made him weak. His demon cried out daily for its freedom, promising to end the guilt and grief and constant pain, but Angel knew he had to suffer for his sins. But...
"You'll have to get the boy. Darla says he must be ours. If he's mine I can make sure he isn't harmed... so much."
"And you have to wear my face; he must believe that you are me. If Darla learns I failed she'll blame us both."
The stink of fear and self-loathing was heavy in the air and Spike struggled to keep from gagging. The great and mighty Angelus was a brief and dimming memory, growing weaker every time Spike saw the travesty that remained. This piss-poor souled anomaly was terrified of angering his Sire. But, Spike knew, not because he was worried for himself. What scared him most of all was being responsible for causing pain to others, which of course was how the bitch kept him in line.
Spike sighed heavily. Despite his many faults, Angel was right. Darla would be furious if they returned without the boy. She was already calculating just what his continued survival would be worth to the rest of his family. The bloodstock they kept in the pens all tasted flat, the will to live deserted every one of them within a year, and yet she wanted fresh blood at the table every night. She'd been talking about rotating out the stock when they'd finally left. Harmony had been hanging on very word.
Angel knew an ancient oral spell to cast a glamour, he needed no ingredients or help. But being such a basic chant he knew it wouldn't last, so as soon as it was cast they'd have to move. However, once his Grandchilde was be-spelled he had to pause. He hadn't seen his likeness in an age. A hand flew up to straighten out the hair and Spike drew back.
"Get back on your horse and ride for home, and don't be seen. I'll bring him to your rooms and then I'll leave. Once you've gone in and done the dreadful deed you can show Darla what a clever little puppy dog you are."
Xander's eyelids fluttered open and a welcoming smile bloomed on his lips.
Spike. It should be Spike. It should be William the Bloody standing there, and yet it's not. What do I do?
The brass and copper rings on his left hand began to burn, reminding him of the oath he'd sworn when last he was awake. This stranger was here in Spike's place, how could he...? The words he'd uttered echoed around his head and then he knew.
"I'll gladly be the Consort of the vampire who next appears through those flames. I'll kneel at his feet and pledge my troth with this very ring, this I swear."
The words he'd thought amusing and romantic had turned around and torn away his heart. He'd sworn an oath and nothing short of death would make him break it, so he rose to one knee and slipped the ring from where it sat, holding it up on his palm as an offering.
"I swore to become the consort of the vampire who walked through the flames. I am Alexander Giles and I am yours if it is your wish, my lord."
Spike in the guise of Angel took the ring and put it on. It burned against his skin for one short moment that was cool again. He watched the boy raise his head and the ring was forgotten.
He'd never seen such grief, such loss and pain in eyes so young. He had to fight the urge to offer comfort. Instead he nodded once and helped the young man to his feet.
"I am Angel, of the Clan Aurelius, and I accept your gift. You will become my Consort in the Valley of the Moon before the night is done. Gather up that which you wish to take with you and then we'll ride for home."
The looming vampire watched as Xander picked through his things, slipping that knife into his boot, as he turned away. He knew he could not in good conscience kill the vampire he was promised to, but he'd heard strange things about the Aurelius clan and knew he'd best be well prepared.
The bedroll and water-skin he left on the stony ground, sure that he would have no need for either. As Consort he would sleep where he was told and eat and drink what he was given by the vampire at his side. He was now wholly dependent on the whims of a demon.
Spike watched and saw the blade being tucked away, and bit his tongue to stop the laughter that bubbled up inside his chest. He hoped this pretty boy would run Angel ragged, and Darla too. He admired the daring soul behind sad eyes.
For a moment his thoughts ran wild. If not for Harmony might he want this charming treasure for his own? A scream of 'no-no-no!' within his head made him step back, and then as fast as it flared up it died away. No memory remained of it, or of the previous thoughts; the spell that Darla had cast was still too strong.
Xander had tried to start a conversation as they rode beneath the stars, but every word he'd spoken had been ignored or frowned upon. Eventually Angel twisted in his saddle and actually spoke.
"We'll talk when we are safe within the Valley of the Moon. Once home I'll tell you all you need to know. Until then I'd rather you be silent. We are not the only ones out on this night."
His words were quite prophetic. Within an hour they came upon a horde of vicious Knarrl who chased them back towards the Mouth of Hell. They rode for hours until they'd left the demons far behind, then galloped like the wind to beat the dawn.
Xander, never the greatest horsemen of his clan, was sore and out of breath, and required help with his dismount. Angel lifted him down and stepped away with a puzzled frown.
"I'll let you into the house and find someone to put the horses up, then I'll be back to do what's to be done. Wait for me in the hall. Don't wander off, you might get lost. Or worse."
So Xander did exactly as he was told.
Spike, still guised as Angel, slipped silently around the back of the building and in through what used to be the kitchen. He found his worried Grandsire at the table gripping a book so tight his fingernails were embedded in the spine.
"What took you...?"
"A horde of Knarrl decided we looked tasty so we ran. We rode hard and finally lost them near the mines. Your pretty future Consort is waiting the hall, you'd best see to him before he turns tail and runs. Now give me back my face or Harm will screech at me for hours, she's never liked the look of you at all."
The spell was quickly lifted, and Spike was on his way, not remembering the token the boy had given with his pledge. Once home he slipped the ring into a drawer and quite forgot about it, though Harmony took notice, just in case, as was her way.
Next evening Xander walked at Angel's side to the meeting hall, the fang marks on his neck still red and sore. One bite and then a guttural incantation he'd been urged to mimic back had been the culmination of those waiting years. He felt let down.
He'd expected to be sore in places other than his neck this evening, but the vampire in whose bed he'd slept had left him on his own and stayed elsewhere after explaining that they didn't have to rush. It was obvious to Xander that the vampire who had claimed him was the oddest of the bunch, and that meant odd. He wondered if his claimant meant to court him just like Spike had done, and then wondered if the pain he felt around his heart each time he thought that name would ever fade or go away.
And then they stepped in through the doorway, and Xander learned fast that that pain would not so easily die. The very first person he saw when he entered the room was his lover, his demon, his Spike, in the arms of a blonde. And when he looked up and their eyes met, a new blow was struck. For Spike's eyes held nothing but plain curiosity, not a hint of their love or of promises broken at all.
And as Xander's heart broke into tiny crystalline pieces, his claimant led him forward and made introductions, oblivious to his Consort's pain, Spike's confusion, and Harmony's calculations.
Food was provided for Xander to eat as the vampires discussed their new bargaining chip, but the smells and the tastes and the sights and the memories made for a very bad mix. Fighting his stomach to keep it in place, Xander surrendered to shock. His love looked right through him, as though they'd not met, and his claimant was of the same Clan. If he didn't know better he'd swear that Lord Rayne had come up with this cruel, twisted plan.
"I'm... I'm feeling unwell, my lord, please may I leave? I'd like to go back to the house and lie down. I fear that I'm missing my circlet of flame." He smiled, weakly, and then paled as Darla turned to the blonde who was sitting on Spike's lap.
"Harmony, take him back to Angel's house and lock him in. We'll introduce him to the rest of the clan tomorrow, when he's fit. Don't be long, you know how William pines when he's without you."
Obediently Harmony bounded over and took Xander's arm in a pinching grip, long sharp talons curled into his flesh, but he didn't flinch.
"You know how I love to snuggle with you, Spikey, so be good. I'll walk the puppy home and come straight back."
The couple walked in silence across the courtyard, each one deeply focussed on their private thoughts. Xander wondered whether he'd survive the pain of seeing Spike so very often in the company of another, while Harmony tried to understand the look this human had worn when he'd seen her in the arms of Spike.
They reached the house and Harmony pushed him in, and down the hall towards a door with solid bolts and bars attached.
"Just remember, puppy, you belong to Angel and Spike's mine. You stay away from him and we'll get on fine. Now, Darla said to lock you in so you don't go wandering off, and this is the only room I know that bolts from the outside."
She shoved him hard into the unlit, totally unfurnished room and closed the door up tight.
"I'm sure Angel will let you out when he goes to bed!"