Xander spent an hour in tearful silence wishing for what might have been, before finally taking heed of the whispers in his head that told of burning fishes and molten iron and loudly snapping twigs.
The words made little sense, but when the twisted ring of shiny copper he had created with fire magic began to warm and then to glow upon his finger he had a thought. Each time he'd tried to exercise his power back there, with Spike, he'd worked upon a twig or knife or nail. The time had come to try and form an independent flame, a torch to chase away his prison's gloom.
It took him several tries and some frustration but, eventually, there grew a flickering spark upon his palm. With focus and determination, very soon it grew, resolving to a ball that he could hold in both cupped hands. The fire flared and danced and shifted, almost seemed alive, and never tried to disobey his will. The magic had indeed stayed with him once he'd left the flame, and Xander knew that somehow this was meant to be a sign.
A rattle of the door gave Xander time enough to douse the flame, confident in the knowledge that he could call it back at will. When Angel stumbled in, too drunk to stand without some help, Xander scrambled to his feet and helped the vampire to his bed. A hand locked round his wrist made it impossible to leave, so Xander took his place beside his snoring lord and master, mouthing prayers that he might sleep the whole day through.
Time moved on, slowly, and Angel began to grow fond of his Consort. Before the month was out he was sleeping curled around the warm body next to him, replete and purring.
Xander began to adjust to the stabbing pain that pierced his heart each time he caught sight of Spike, whether he was with Harmony or alone. The blankness on his face was hard to take, made even worse by occasional expressions of remembrance and love, though they faded fast.
And then came the day that Harmony took an interest in the ring he'd made so many months ago. She asked to know who'd made it, what he'd traded for it, where the ring was from, and he had brushed off every question, quite determined she would never learn the truth. But then she struck the fatal blow by uttering these words:
"My Spikey's got a prettier one than that, all copper and brass. The one you have is like a piece of junk compared to his."
Xander's heart stopped beating, and then resumed at a furious pace.
"You lie! I made this ring myself and one other band besides. I gave that as a token gift to Angel when he braved the Mouth of Hell to claim me as his Consort."
In answer, Harmony reached into her dress and withdrew a length of braided leather, hanging from which was a ring that Xander recognised immediately.
"But... When? How did he get this? Did Angel...?"
Harmony smiled, all teeth and viciousness as she shook her pretty head.
"My darling came back wearing it with you right by his side. He told me the funny secret in our bed. He said that Angel's soul had stopped him passing through the flame. Instead he spelled my Spikey so they looked just like real twins, and then he sent Spike in to get you out. Angel came home quietly so that Darla didn't see; he really is a coward underneath all that handsome brooding. Once Spike was home, he came to me and took your old ring off without a thought. Your Angel's not a hero, not even close, and you were tricked!"
He kept the ring. He tricked me. He kept the ring. He tricked me. He kept the ring. He tricked me...
The words looped round and round inside Xander's head, a constant screaming refrain. Spike had kept the ring; he must have known how that would look, especially after tricking the man he claimed to love by wearing the face of another just to make sure he was no longer free to cause trouble.
Logic had no place in Xander's thoughts now, he was convinced that Spike had planned everything after getting bored with him and taking Harmony as his mate. What better way to get rid of the ex than to trick him into blood-bond slavery with a fellow demon? He had to know that Xander would never willingly break his oath.
Xander's feet carried him swiftly to Angel's side as he sat talking with Darla, Spike and Drusilla in the great hall, and he wasted no time in getting his revenge.
"My lord, I can be silent about this no longer. Harmony has told me the truth about the night I was rescued from the Mouth of Hell, and now I feel I must return the favour. All this time I have wondered why you waited so long to take me when you knew that I was willing and eager for more after that night, and now I understand the reason why. That night we rode home beneath the stars it was not you who stopped the horses and bade me to dismount. It was not you who laid me down and touched me until I begged for mercy, and for more. It was not you who stole my innocence and replaced it with despair." He swallowed hard, and looked across the table at his open-mouthed audience. "It was Spike."
Before Darla's fury had time to focus, before Angel had begun to move from his seat towards the Grandchilde he wished to rend limb from limb in jealous rage, Drusilla turned in her seat and with a piercing shriek threw Spike onto the floor.
"You wicked Childe! You broke my Daddy's heart and you must pay!" A litany of ancient dialects and something else, spewed from snarling lips as she cast her curse. When she'd done, Spike's body was as stiff as stone; his wide blue eyes the last remaining outlet for his screams.
"Drusilla, what have you done?"
The insane vampire turned a ripe-plum smile upon her Sire. "Why Daddy, I turned my baby boy to stone, all for you. He'll stay like this until we burn him up, and burn we will. We'll build a giant bonfire just for him, and we'll dance and sing. And there'll be games and gifts and burning baby fishes for everyone!" Drusilla whirled like a dervish around the prostrate body of her only childe, singing gleefully of watching him turn to ash.
Angel looked angry but confused, and Darla's smile stretched from ear to ear as she realised she was finally free of the hateful brat who had never missed a chance to needle her.
Xander felt sick. He couldn't understand how everything had gone so very wrong so very fast. The demon he loved was going to burn alive and it was all his fault. No matter how badly he'd been treated it was no excuse. A hand pulled on his arm, and a sweet voice singsonged in his ear.
"Dance with me, my Kitten, dance with crazy Dru. I have a secret, but I'll share with you."
Xander glanced to his left where Angel and Darla stood head to head, discussing something, Spike? in sibilantly subsonic hisses. No help would come from that quarter, he surmised, so he allowed himself to be led around the table to stand beside Spike. Dru pulled him into her arms and began to sway to the music in her head.
"Oh, Kitten, you are so brave and gleaming; there's such pretty fire in your soul. You make me proud. But you have to stay true, Kitten, don't let Daddy crumble or it's all for naught. My Spike is in his headspace now, breaking down locked doors. Pretty soon he'll find the key to open Grandmama's work, and then he'll scream so loud that all will surely see. There has to be a fire, a glorious fire as tall as trees. And you must throw yourself into the flames." Xander tried to pull away in horror, but Drusilla held him fast, determined to share the secret she had kept so very long.
"You are the fire, Kitten, you are the flame. You are the heart of it all. Grandmama hid behind blue eyes and gave my baby to my greedy little doll. Left me all alone again, they did. Wasn't fair. I couldn't see the knots she'd made, I couldn't pick them free, but now you've burned them all to crumbling ashes. Soon my boy will know his heart again and you'll be free. And one day it will just be Daddy and me."
Drusilla spun away from him and twirled across the floor towards the rest of her family, singing as she went.
"So build it high, and build it fast, and set my boy to burn. Everyone shall see what they shall see."
Drusilla's words scattered and regrouped in Xander's mind, each time forming a different shape. He knew she was trying to tell him something important. Spike had told him his Sire was a Seer, though she had been driven insane by Angelus' attentions well before he'd gifted her with a demon.
A heavy hand landing on his shoulder broke his concentration, and he glanced up to see that Angel was crouched before him, looking upset.
"I'm sorry that my actions, or my lack of action, hurt you. I trusted Spike with much more than I should have. Darla and Drusilla have resolved to see this through, but..."
Xander heard him waver and stepped in, as Dru had said.
"Let him burn. Set the fire and watch him turn to dust. You know he only brought this on himself. There's nothing you can do to call a halt, it's much too late. Darla's looking forward to the time when he is gone, she's never made a secret of her hate."
From the setting of the sun to the partying hour of midnight, every minion was out collecting wood. The bonfire grew and grew until it was taller than every man, and then finally Drusilla said enough. Then, with pompous ceremony, Spike was carried out and laid in frozen repose at the very top.
Harmony wailed and screamed her grief so loudly Xander finally tried to tell the truth. Drusilla pulled him back, touched a finger to his lips and shook her head.
"Don't do it Kitten, don't give up the game until it's through. You have to let the flames climb to the roof before you turn. Then you tell my Angel, tell my darling Daddy what is true. You love your blue-eyed demon still, you do, and he loves you."
She moved to let him go, and then leaned in for one last note.
"I've one more secret left and then I'm done, so listen close. The bite my Daddy gave you and the words you shared are false. A Consort can't be claimed without a demon. And Angel has my Angelus, my Black Prince, locked up tight. He'd never speak a word of any claim. The truth, my darling Kitten, is that you're just another boy. A boy whose kiss can steal a love from stone."
Drusilla pushed him away towards Angel and skipped off to find a better place to watch the coming show. Xander slowly walked towards the vampire who apparently had no real claim on him, if he were to believe what he'd just been told. And if he believed that, he would have to accept that Spike did love him and that meant...
Everything crashed in on him at once, and the meaning of every rambling word Drusilla had tossed his way suddenly became painfully clear.
Spike did love him. Grandmama, Darla, must have learned of that and cast a memory spell so she could pair him off with Harmony, keeping Xander free for Angel. Everything he'd seen and heard since his arrival, from the rapid escalation of numbers in the bloodstock pens to the overheard calculation of how many 'non-renewables' they could claim each month, suddenly gelled and he realised he had been nothing but a pawn in Darla's game. He wondered how many people had died to keep him alive, and how his family could justify the cost, but he understood, finally, that people will do unimaginable things for the one they love. Including scaling a burning pyre for one last kiss.
"Angel, I'm sorry. I've loved Spike longer than you know, and he loves... loved me. I know you've come to care for me, but you've never touched my heart. That belongs to he who is set to burn. My family will make sure Darla pays for what she's done."
Whatever Angel was about to say was lost when a gleeful yell went up.
"Burn him! Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!" And then a second cry ran through the crowd as the pile was lit all around its base.
"I don't want to live without him!" Xander screamed, and took off running, scrambling over the flames that were eagerly licking up the sides of the rough construction until he reached the platform at the top.
Once there he took the rigid form of his true love in his arms and gently placed a kiss on cold hard lips. And then he waited. And watched, as the fire took hold around him and began to creep ever closer to their perch.
The very first movement Spike made was to tangle once of his hands in Xander's shirt and tug him closer.
The words, whispered in a cracked and creaky voice, were a benediction and Xander's smile was filled to the brim with joy.
"Love you too, and I'll prove it just as soon as we get out of this mess."
"What exactly do you...?"
"Shhh, I've got a plan. I really like your Sire, by the way, I think she's mad but sweet. She told me I'm the fire and the flame. I hope she's right. Now close your eyes and hold on tight, please don't let me go. If I'm right, the only way out is in."
The centre of the wooden structure that was supporting the weight of both bodies slowly began to sink as the heat below intensified and burned through with a fury. Soon the two were in the very heart of the inferno, flickering walls of flame at every side, yet neither one was touched by a single spark.
They stayed curled up together as the conflagration raged, and then slowly died out, leaving them to lie on a bed of superheated ash within a skeleton of partially burnt up logs. The party had broken up as dawn drew near, and now, as the sun began to creep above the horizon, the pair crept out and brushed each other down.
"Pet, we're a mess."
"Well, yes, but that can hardly come as any great surprise. We've spent the night being toasted after all." Xander looked around and began to panic. "Oh gods, we have to find somewhere to hide until it's dark. The sun's near up and I won't have you dust now that we're free."
"Xander, love, you'll have to wait for any explanations, but it's enough to know I'm not going to combust. It's magic, pet, so trust it, yeah? You've got a heavy touch of it yourself. Now let's pick out our rides and we'll be off."
As they moved towards the stables, Xander nibbled nervously on his lip.
"About that 'off'. Do you have any particular place in mind, because I know my family would love a visit, and I'm sure they'd like you once they got to know you. Even though you're a vampire, you're..."
"I'm evil, Xander. Never doubt it."
"Couldn't you be evil while you helped them get rid of Darla?"
Spike sighed. "You're gonna be nothing but trouble, aren't you, Pet?"
~~~~~Fade to Black~~~~~