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Sock Puppet


by
Shadowscast



Part Nine


They knew Willow had arrived when they heard the crash.

Xander got out into the living room in time to see her setting the floor lamp upright, looking flustered. "I don't think the bulb broke!" she greeted him.

"Hi Will." He caught her in a hug when she flung herself at him. Her arm was still in the cast, but her eye looked much better. "God. I didn't think I was gonna ever see you again."

She squeezed him hard. "Me too. But now—everything's different. Where's Spike?"

"Right here, pet," he said, coming out of the kitchen with half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his hand. "So apparently I might be good for something after all?"

"Spike!" Willow's eyes went wide. "You can talk!" She turned to Xander. "You didn't say he'd gotten better."

Xander tried pushing a thought at her, hoping the lines were still open. He's better, Will, but he's still not all there. I'm worried about what Giles wants to do with him.

"Oi!" Spike said, glaring. "I can hear you, Harris."

Willow gave an apologetic shrug in Xander's direction. "I set up the link like a conference call, remember? So that we could coordinate our fights?"

"Let's get moving, Red," Spike said. "Aren't there puppies need saving, or something?"

"Will!" Xander grabbed her arm. "How strong are you now? Can you bring me back, too?"

She looked doubtful. "Giles just said to bring Spike."

"You wanted me back in the fight, didn't you? Well, if Spike's in, I'm in."

"What about Troy?" Willow asked with a glance around the apartment as though she'd just noticed he wasn't there.

Spike spoke through a mouthful of peanut butter and jelly. "He buggered off after Harris cut out a demon's heart and gave it to him. Ungrateful little sod, wasn't he?"

"Come on, Will," Xander said, almost begging. "Don't leave me here alone."

"I can bring you both," she admitted. "Are you sure, Xander? If you come with us ... I can't promise I'll be able to bring you back."

"There's nothing here to come back to," Xander said as brusquely as he could manage. Trying not to think about it too much. "So come on. Let's go."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*



Xander had assumed they were going to England. He'd assumed wrong.

The momentary nothing of teleportation was replaced by a more textured darkness. It was warm and there was a steady breeze that smelled of wide open spaces, grass and earth. Long grass brushed his knees. There was light coming from some source behind him, enough that he cast a wavering shadow. He turned, and saw fire. A wide circle had been cleared of grass, stripped down to dirt, and in the middle there was a fire. A man stood in front of it, and all Xander could see of him was his silhouette, but he knew it was Giles.

"Where are we?" Spike asked, sounding a little awed. He'd never teleported before, Xander realized.

"Ghana," said Willow. "Just north of the Black Volta river." But Xander already knew that.

He limped forward, crossing into the circle of bare earth. "Hi, Giles. So. Here we are again."

"Xander." Giles sounded mildly surprised. He was wearing a battered brown leather jacket, though the night was warm enough that Xander was comfortable in his t-shirt. The firelight glinted on the edges of his glasses, and Xander couldn't quite see his eyes. "I didn't expect you to come."

"It's the end of the world," Xander said, stepping closer. He rubbed his arms. It was probably just his imagination, but the tattoos felt like they were getting warm. "Where else would I be?"

Lightning ripped across the sky in the distance.

Spike stepped up beside Xander. "What is this place?" he asked under his breath.

"It's where we did that spell I told you about," Xander said.

"It's on a power node," Willow added. "I can almost feel it crackling. Like all the hairs on my arms are standing up."

"Yeah." Spike shivered. "I feel it." The thunder rolled.

"Hey, Giles?" Xander said. "Is it time yet to tell us what the hell is going on?"

Giles bowed his head slightly. "When Willow visited you two nights ago, Spike mentioned a prophecy. His reference was irritatingly vague, but I managed to determine that he was referring to the Shanshu cycle."

"Right, the Shanshu prophecies." Spike nodded like it was obvious. "Angel was always going on about them. Well, once he gave up trying to stop me finding out about them, anyhow."

"Now he remembers," Willow muttered.

"The Watchers' Council was aware of the Shanshu cycle, but the texts were considered unreliable," Giles said. "There were multiple, contradictory versions extant, they all showed signs of tampering, and the translations were difficult at best."

"And this helps us how?" Xander asked.

"The texts consistently mention a vampire champion who gains a soul, dies, becomes human, and plays a pivotal role in the apocalypse," Giles said. "The order of these elements varies, but they are always present. Reading the texts with Spike's journey and our current situation in mind ... the correspondence was quite striking."

"If I remember correctly," Spike said, "the prophecy never mentioned which side the vampire was going to fight on."

"True," Giles acknowledged. "To be honest, that didn't worry me." He sounded kind of surprised at himself.

"Well, of course I'm going to try to save the bloody world," Spike agreed. "Just thought I'd point it out. Since there was some question about it, back when everyone thought a certain other vampire-with-a-soul was Prophecy Guy."

Lightning flashed again.

"I think we should start," Willow said. She sounded a little nervous. "I'm not sure how long I can keep us hidden."

Xander looked at her, and noticed for the first time that she'd knelt in the grass and made a little pile of rocks in front of her. "What do you mean?"

"I'm shielding us so the Mirodan can't see us. But I'm not sure how long it'll hold. They're so close to breaking through all over...."

"Then tie off the shield and let's start the ritual," Giles said.

"What's it going to do to him?" Xander asked quickly. "Giles? Remember when I was the telephone line to the extraplanar regions? Remember how Willow had to magically jump-start my fucking heart when they pulled out of me? And then I slept for three days? 'Cause—sorry, Spike, to just say it like this, but—Spike's not in such great shape to start with."

"I don't know." Giles somehow sounded more British than ever, clipped and brusque and impatient. "There's no way to know. There are powers acting here entirely outside of our control. And Spike has already implicated himself in the ritual by cutting the symbols into his skin."

Willow stood up abruptly. "We have to do it now."

"Spike," Giles said, "Look into the fire."

Xander heard Willow starting to chant. The words were in some ancient language; he'd never asked her which one. The crackling of the fire seemed to get louder, and the flames filled his vision. Orange, yellow, black. His hand slipped into Spike's and squeezed tight. The flames were so bright he had to close his eye. He felt like he was falling and the wind was coming from all directions at once and the sound of the fire filled his head.

And then ... quiet.

He opened his eye. He saw ... white.

The air was still and quiet, sterile. His first impression was that he was in a big white room, but he couldn't actually see walls or ceiling or floor, just radiant undifferentiated white.

He turned around and saw Spike standing a few feet away from him. Spike was looking up at nothing, with his lips parted as if in awe and his arms held out at an angle, palms up. The symbols on his arms were glowing with white light.

Xander took a quick look down at his own arms. His tattoos looked normal. Matte black ink on skin.

"Spike?" he said. "Can you hear me?"

Spike shook himself and turned to Xander. His pose shifted into something comfortable and casual—hips canted just a bit, thumbs hooked into the pockets of his borrowed jeans. He smiled. "'Course I can hear you, you daft sod, you're standing right next to me." There was something strange about his eyes, but Xander couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Xander looked around again. Besides him and Spike, there was nothing his eye could even focus on. No shadows or texture, no corners or edges. "Where the hell are we?"

"Right where we were," Spike said. "Standing in front of the fire. What you're seeing isn't real."

There was something about the way he said it that made Xander ask, "What are you seeing?"

"Everything," Spike said, grinning. His eyes sparkled. Literally. That's what was strange about them—pinpricks of light, dancing like reflections only not. "I see everything, Xander. I understand what's happening."

"Okay, great, well that makes one of us." This was completely different from the first time Xander had done the ritual. He didn't feel any strange Powers hijacking his brain or his vocal chords. He felt pretty normal, actually.

Possibly because all of the fucked-up weird stuff was happening to Spike.

"Your Watcher got the ritual wrong," Spike said. While he spoke, he gazed ecstatically into the distance. "When he did it before, using you. The Powers needed blood, not ink. They needed a conduit, not a mouthpiece."

"Is that what you are now?" Xander stepped a little closer, wanting to touch Spike, but hesitating. The designs cut into his arms were too bright to look at directly. "A conduit? For what?"

"You never ask the right questions. You asked them if you could stop the Raven, the Bear and the Snake. You can't."

"But you can?"

"No, they can. The fucking Powers that Be!" Spike laughed. "The Raven, the Bear and the Snake are Powers. Rival powers. The Powers that Currently Are don't want the Powers that Are Somewhere Else to impinge on their territory."

"Okay, so why don't they stop them? What the hell are they waiting for?"

"They can't act directly in our plane. They can only nudge, like. So they nudged me into your path, and here we are." He laughed again. "I can act. So now the power's flowing through me. It's like sex and heroin and being President, all rolled up together and multiplied by a million. Christ, Red would love this."

Okay, this was getting more than a little scary. Xander had a pretty strong suspicion that Giles had had no fucking clue what was going to happen when he'd decided to start up the ritual. "What are you going to do?"

"Already doing it." Spike was still staring at nothing with the crazy light-show eyes. "I'm nailing the door shut."

"You're doing what, now?"

"Cutting us off. Isolating our dimension. Making it so nobody can get in or out."

Xander stared at him. "You can do that?"

"It's easy." He tilted his head back and shuddered, still smiling. "The PtB aren't gonna like it, though. This wasn't their plan."

Xander was trying to process what Spike had just told him. He's locking the Mirodan out.

The attacks would stop.

The world wasn't going to end.

Holy fuck.

Xander felt like laughing hysterically, but he swallowed hard against the urge. The rest of Spike's words had just sunk in. "Are you fighting the Powers that Be?"

"Not exactly." Spike shuddered again and Xander grabbed his shoulder without thinking, afraid he was going to fall over. Spike's skin felt hot, even through his t-shirt. "Nothing they can do." And he collapsed.

Xander managed to save him from falling, at least. He lowered him to the floor, keeping hold of his shoulders, and settled with Spike's head on his lap. The way Spike was shaking, that was the only way to keep his skull from hitting the floor—which, despite being imaginary, felt as hard as rock. Spike's eyes were open, but Xander didn't know what he was seeing. "What's going on, Spike? What's happening to you?" His whole body was almost too hot to touch.

It was hard to hear Spike's reply. "They want to make me a god." His voice was hoarse and uneven, shaken by the tremors wracking his body.

"They what?"

Spike broke into wheezing laughter. "They don't like me blocking the exits. Cramps their style. They want me to kill all the Mirodan instead. And then they'll make me a god."

Xander's brain was going numb from the hugeness of all of this. "So are you going to do it?"

"Fuck no. Not playing by their rules. They don't even get it—I am God." And then his head jerked back hard and he started convulsing, shaking so hard Xander couldn't hold on. He scrambled away crab-like from the sudden intense heat and watched in horror.

Light was streaming out of Spike now—out of the cuts on his arms, his eyes, his mouth. His head thunked against the floor again and again, and his fingers were splayed wide. Xander could see the cords in his neck straining. Whatever was happening, it looked like it was killing Spike. And Xander couldn't do a thing.

And then it stopped. The lights in Spike's body blinked out and he went limp, panting. Xander crawled forward to his side. "Spike? Are you ..." He trailed off, not even sure what to ask. Are you okay? Are you God now?

Spike rolled his head to the side and looked at Xander. His eyes looked normal now, blue and flat and brimming with tears. "It's almost over. Puppies and Christmas are safe again."

"Spike, shit, you're bleeding." Some of the cuts on his arms had reopened. There were smears of blood on his skin.

Spike pushed himself up into a sitting position, and looked at his arms. "No worries," he said. "This isn't my body."

"Which brings me to my next question—how do we get out of here?"

"You'll wake up back in Ghana," Spike said. "Won't be long now."

"Wait, wait, what about you?" Xander didn't like the way Spike was talking. Didn't like the way his head was drooping now, like he was sleepy.

"I did it," Spike said. His words were getting sleepy, too. He looked like he was going to lie down, but Xander scooted in closer and took him in his arms instead. Spike still felt warm, but more 'slightly feverish' than 'burning with supernatural fire.' "Closed off the dimension. Closed off the Powers, too. Just one thread left to snip, and then it's all neat and tidy."

"No." Xander suddenly felt all shaky and hollow. "What are you doing, Spike? Are you telling me you'd rather die than ... than be a fucking god?"

"Think I wanna spend eternity with the rest of those boring fucking busybodies?" Spike chuckled, barely making a sound. "Bugger that. I'm ending this."

Xander started feeling panicky. "We had a deal though, remember? You weren't going to kill yourself?"

"Deal was just for last night." Spike closed his eyes for a second or two, but he kept on breathing. "Besides, Harris, you're not alone anymore. You're back in the fold. Red and the Watcher will give you a place to stay. Boyfriend might even return your calls once he hears about the mysterious natural disaster that wiped out Mongolia. He'll want explanations, and you can give them to him." He closed his eyes again.

"Spike, no. Don't—don't snip the thread." Xander squeezed him, desperate. He hadn't quite realized until this moment how strongly he felt. Now that the world wasn't ending, it wasn't fair to still be losing people. Losing his lover. Spike was his lover. He didn't know how that had happened, but it had, and they hadn't even fucking talked about it after, and now Spike was dying in his arms. "Don't go back to hell. Please? It ... it makes me sick to think about. You don't deserve that. If you stay with me, things will get better. I promise."

Spike opened his eyes and smiled at Xander, but it was a sad, weary smile. "I'm not going to hell. I'm not going anywhere."

"You're ... staying?" Xander wasn't quite sure he understood, but he felt a flicker of hope.

"I'm going nowhere." Spike's smile brightened a little. "I'm gonna stop existing, Xander. Gonna have peace."

Xander felt a tear running down his cheek as his heart just kinda ... broke. Fuck. Not like there was anything he could say to that. Oblivion seemed like a pretty sucky reward for saving the world, but if Spike's existence was nothing but suffering, why shouldn't he end it?

"Don't cry, you poof," Spike said, his voice so quiet Xander could barely hear him. "Give me a fucking kiss good-bye."

So Xander leaned in and closed his eye and gave him a kiss. Spike's lips were warm and rough, as though dried out by the immense power that had recently filled him. His hand closed on Xander's and squeezed, once, as they kissed.

And then Spike's lips stopped moving. Xander opened his eye and saw the night, the fire ... and Willow watching him, wide-eyed.

He was kneeling on the dirt in Ghana, and Spike was cradled limp in his arms.

Giles coughed politely. He was standing just off to the side. "It's over, then."

It wasn't quite a question, but Xander answered anyway. "I think so. Spike ... " His throat closed up, and he had to swallow and squeeze his eyes shut for a moment before he could go on. "Spike said he closed off our dimension. Shut out the Mirodan. They can't attack us anymore."

"We know," Willow said. "We heard everything you were saying. I guess you couldn't see us, though."

"Oh." That was a little startling, but ... it wasn't like it mattered now.

Willow crouched down beside Xander and picked up Spike's limp wrist as though she might check for a pulse. "I can try to save him," she said quickly, softly, for Xander's ears alone. "I didn't understand a lot of what the two of you were saying, but ... I can have him in a hospital in London in ten seconds if you ask me to."

"No." Xander hugged Spike tighter and fought back the temptation to ask Willow to do it. "That's not what he wanted. And anyway, I don't think it would work. It's not like he just slit his wrists this time, Will. He used the powers of the gods to ... to make himself not exist."

Giles stepped in close. The firelight caught his face in a complex mix of sadness and relief. "I underestimated him," he said, crouching down next to Xander and Willow, looking at Spike. "Many times. Buffy never made that mistake. I think that if she were here tonight, she would not be surprised to learn that Spike has managed to save us all. Again."

"So ... what now?" Xander's voice was rough, barely in control. He didn't mind crying in front of Willow, but he felt more restrained with Giles there. And he didn't want to let go of Spike.

"Come back to England with us," Willow said. "There's always a place for you."

"What about Spike?"

"The Council will bury him with highest honors," Giles said. "His body will rest near Buffy's, with the other warriors who died in this fight."

Xander swallowed hard. Still working hard on the not breaking down in front of Giles. He lowered the body gently down onto the ground, and crossed Spike's arms over his chest. "Okay," he managed to say. "Let's do it." He kinda wanted to yell at Giles that he didn't care about that stuff, but he knew, too, what a big deal it was for Giles to offer Spike a hero's burial. He'd never even liked him.

Of course, neither had Xander. Funny, how things could change.





The End



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