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Leading Lines (Seventh in FGR)

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Part 1

The High Master leaned back against the slightly larger form of Ruling Consort and smiled as the strong arms of his Childe enveloped him. Xander squeezed Spike just a little and they both relaxed staring out the window of their bedroom suite as snow covered hills turned pink with the sun set.

After the initial thrill of walking in the sunlight twenty plus years earlier, the two vampires had reverted to old habits borne of instinct, and generally chose to sleep from just before sunrise until early afternoon each day. The usual pattern was then to shower and eat before addressing their financial interests and human dealings in regular ‘business hours’.

The first renovation of the chateau was completed some fifteen years earlier and had seen a large office established (with all the facilities of a modern workspace), adding to the existing hall for the whole court gatherings and the ‘private study.’

The lower floor of the East wing had always been the ‘work’ end of their home, now even more so.

The High Master and his Mated Childe had their rooms over the ‘business end’ of the chateau/castle while Helle and Connor had the upper west wing of the big house.

At forty seven, Connor, the full blood vampire, had come to terms with the idea that he would never age more than maturity, for all time appearing as though in his late twenties, early thirties, his dear Helle equally preserved by their mating. It was odd as his oldest son Liam (at twenty three) now appeared for all the world like his father’s younger cousin rather than son.

The tall blonde Liam had the musculature of an athlete, his father’s talent for numbers and fighting and his mother’s calm nature. There was no need to ‘groom’ their eldest child for leadership, it came naturally – as did his studies and dedication to excellence.

Just finishing an honours year in ‘Classics’, he was not deemed perfect by any means, enjoying far too many ‘wild nights’ with university friends according to mother Helle. But the entire family knew that there were many more nights when he studied solo or had the same friends invited to his home rather than venture out to the Basel nightclubs, or some other party.

Liam, the oldest child and a quite extraordinarily strong magical being, gravitated toward Anton whenever the Immortal was present at the home. Like his Great Uncles and father he listened attentively to his Grand Sire, and apparently took his own role as the eldest most seriously. Vampire Law, international politics, financial dealings, he took all on board – along with the idea that he was needed by the family.

Liam’s many friends did not stay in the ‘big house’ anymore, there was no need. Two years previous, the rarely used, old U-shaped building that had once housed farm equipment and winter stables had been gutted and redesigned to become independent abodes for Helle and Connor’s three eldest children. The residents and equipment normally held in the old buildings had long since been moved to new, better fitted buildings, constructed in a style in keeping with the original, yet far more practical, and conveniently located behind the east wing of the main house.

Though still under the protection of family, the now adult children of Connor and Helle had ample space and a sense of freedom rarely gifted the offspring of ruling families – let alone vampire ones.

The older three children were attending university but also studied the ‘dark and light’ arts in private and regardless of their similar upbringing, the children could not have been more different.

They had various strengths, the eldest, Liam had an instinct for spells, a taste for blood and a magical signature that had always been so strong that his mere presence caused prickles for all members of the court; his younger brother by barely a year, Antonio was a far different character, he was a fighter, even challenging his two vampire uncles at times, and perhaps the most vampiric of Connor and Helle’s sons.

Antonio seemed to spend most of his time in the gym or sparring with anyone entering the workout room – though to be fair, was no slouch at his studies. A much quieter character, Antonio was gifted when it came to all things creative, a fine guitarist and favourite with his female compatriots at university. But Antonio found magic far harder to master than his elder brother, and for that matter, his immediate younger sister, Amelie.

 

The raven haired, nineteen year old sister, Amelie, was a powerful wiccan with a connection to the earth like no other sibling. She stunned them all at twelve with the revelation that she could open portals at will and could see and read auras as though the most natural thing in the world– the latter treated as a party trick by her siblings until their Grandsire Anton was told. Aunt Willow was consequently engaged immediately as the girl’s mentor (often ‘online’ rather than face to face’) and the ‘palace’ all but rippled with power thereafter.

It had been apparent from the beginning that Amelie was blindingly intelligent and had an ethereal beauty normally attributed to the fae folk. *She* decided at aged fifteen that she would pursue her two passions – fashion design and magic. And what Amelie decided, Amelie got. Her moving to ‘The Mews’ (as the newly renovated stables became known) was a relief to all as she and Helle had recently clashed regularly, both women extremely strong willed and similar in nature.

Spike adored the girl, and she was often seen in his company, and he even asked (and funded) Willow to visit and tutor his niece personally at least twice a year. Amelie reminded him very much of Dawn in her youth, all enthusiasm and creativity, with a large side serve of determination countered by youthful self doubt, the latter something Spike regularly offered to “… beat out of you Pet” and the offer always met by the standard “It’s OK Uncle… I’ll let you know when a spanking is in order ” followed by a knowing wink and affectionate hug.

All three older children spent time with family at the big house according to custom or whim, though studies, sport and fun regularly took them away from home as they grew older.

Of the younger three children, tall blonde Pelle, now fifteen, was a gifted athlete who displayed much of the vampiric speed and ruthless determination of his father, both on and off ‘the field’. Sadly he seemed not to care for his academic or magical studies instead had taken to spending a lot of time with his Uncle Xander.

Xander seemed to understand him, said nothing of his ‘failing’ formal schooling, rather, he treated the strapping lad like an adult, took him down to the workshop and taught him to turn wood and make *real* things. Several picture frames, a nest of tables and four matching candle sticks were the beginning, and six months later a lovingly restored dresser in his parents’ bedroom was the mark of pride for the middle son. Helle had shed a tear as the boy she had worried about so very often, led her and Connor to their private suite and asked that she might reveal the fruits of his labour. The ‘french polishing’ was near perfect, the brass fittings all complete and shining, and the damaged legs restored.

Since that day, he had been allowed to ‘skive off’ his studies whenever Xander had time to work with him. The Consort Childe was more than happy to share his knowledge and passion for wood and the skills of the building trade – along with strict attention to tool maintenance and a measure of project planning. Connor often wondered as he looked in on Pelle in the workshop. How could his children all turn out so very differently?!

At twelve years of age, the last of ‘the older five’, Giselle, was surprisingly tall (at just shy of five feet eleven), raven haired and ethereally beautiful. She not only appeared as, but felt like one of the fae folk to the entire family. She was solitary, studious and shy. Giselle preferred to spend her reading hours in the fork of an ancient tree, or ensconced in the bell tower of their home, surrounded by pigeons, her connection with nature acutely obvious and her preference for the shadows and for literature seeing her gravitate toward her the High Master, Uncle Will, to debate some classic or other.

Like her siblings, she was to be tutored at home until university, though… unusually, at the age of five, had requested Nanny Stephanie be the one to instruct her. The wiccan (who had now resumed her Nanny duties due to the newest addition) was thrilled and took on the role of educator in both academic and magical studies with ease.

Stephanie had stayed on with the family. She and Gregor now shared quarters, and a bed. With the Immortal’s encouragement, Gregor had taken her as Consort during Pelle’s first year. Anton blessed their joining and the entire house rejoiced, all of them noting the subtle change in Gregor. Still devoted to his Master and the household, he was also, obviously, happy. He and his partner were a rather typical mature couple, continuing their regular duties and respecting each others’ need for their own time, but when together, were most often seen hand in hand strolling around the estate of an evening, often requested the car for an occasional dinner or show, and obviously, quietly adored each other’s company.

The youngest addition to the family Olivia, had been the result of a joyous private afternoon during their regular family holiday on Kimolos, and a consequent surprise to both Helle and Connor who had both assumed their breeding days were over.

Now aged three, the pixie faced little blonde was everyone’s favourite, sporting blonde curly hair, long black lashes framing dark green eyes, and had a smile that would melt stone. She was extremely outgoing, having been both the centre of attention and expected to ‘muck in’ with all the others. Her older siblings adored ‘little O’ and she was rarely without company for more than a few minutes. Her own favourite, rather surprisingly, was Nanny’s partner. Gregor rarely said much, but picked her up onto his knee whenever he was passing, receiving a hug and, at first babble, but now happy chatter as he silently gave her his undivided attention. And each time he did so, Stephanie loved her life partner more.

 

Spike and Xander stood in a quiet embrace. Normally the ruling couple would have gone down by now but this night was different.

It was the fifty seventh anniversary of their first meeting in Boston at a poetry reading on the Common.

Spike was in a rather contemplative mood, and though the silence was far from awkward, Xander let his fangs drop just enough to scrape the elegant pale neck lovingly before whispering, “Melancholy deserves a poem, Sire.”

Smiling just a little as his beloved sighed in agreement, Xander began Lord Byron’s melancholy piece that had marked their meeting all those years ago on the Boston Common.

“I watched thee when the foe was at our side -
Ready to strike at him, -or thee and me -
Were safety hopeless - rather than divide
Aught with one loved - save love and liberty.”

When Xander paused, Spike found Xander’s hands, entangled the fingers and pulled the arms even tighter around him as he took up the next few lines with the perfect diction of an upper class gent.

“I watched thee in the breakers - when the rock
Received our prow - and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock -
This arm would be thy bark - or breast thy bier.”

Xander took his turn, the poem so well committed to memory now that the act bordered on instinctive.

“I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes -
Yielding my couch - and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching - ne'er to rise
From thence - if thou an early grave hadst found.”

Spike was struggling to hold back tears, and was sending wave after wave of tumultuous emotion through the Consort/Childe link, yet managed the next stanza in all but a whisper.

“The earthquake came and rocked the quivering wall -
And men and Nature reeled as if with wine -
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall -
For thee - whose safety first provide for - thine.

Xander kissed his Sire’s left ear then turned the blonde vampire gently until they were face to face before sliding down to his knees, still holding Spike in his embrace, but now having his cheek resting over the High Master’s navel as they both continued.

“And when convulsive throes denied my breath
The faintest utterance to my fading thought -
To thee - to thee - even in the grasp of death
My Spirit turned - Ah! oftener than it ought.”

So engrossed in the moment, neither vampire noticed the magical surge as their Sire entered the room, but rejoiced as the Immortal’s liquid baritone added the final heartfelt verse.

“Thus much and more - and yet thou lov'st me not,
And never wilt - Love dwells not in our will -
Nor can I blame thee - though it be my lot
To strongly - wrongly - vainly - love thee still.”

By the time Anton had finished, all three were kneeling and exchanging blood. It should have been joyous, but as the three rose, Spike suddenly realized that there was something wrong. It was one of the few times he had witnessed their Sire to be anything less than composed.

He immediately kissed his Sire’s hand as did his Mated Childe and both wrapped themselves around the ancient being in a tight hug proffering necks and puzzled as to why they were not taken. Instead salty tears fell onto the willing Childers’ necks and Connor felt the jolt of pain through the familial link even though in Geneva for the day on business.

Spike was the first to pull away, the confusion and upset flowing from their ancient patriarch all too reminiscent of the emotions that flowed on the day he and Xander connected all those decades ago.

“Sire please?!!! How can we…??”

“Buffy… She… she… inoperable, malignant… brain tumour… she… she can’t be turned… Slayer plus vampire demon no match… and… she didn’t want it… but… Oh my boys!!!” For the first time in their unlives, the Immortal collapsed into their arm, his grief tangible and the provision of familial blood but a slight buffer to the agony of losing his beloved.

Spike and Xander both recognized the look of pain, knew the panic of losing someone so dear, and snapped into action. Unbeknownst to them, Buffy had travelled with a nurse and their Sire, the original Slayer’s energy so low and unconscious state such that she her presence was not felt by all the magical beings in the home.

Dawn and Willow were contacted immediately, as was the new Watchers’ council and all slayers in Europe, then two staff from the best hospice in Basel were engaged. The whole vampire Court would gather in due course to support the Immortal, but for now it was about family.

 

PART 2

 

Buffy was barely semi-conscious when Dawn and Willow entered the sick room. They would later come to question the assumption of any awareness, her half open eyes not focussing on anything in particular and certainly failing to blink.

Anton ignored them as he said a heart wrenching goodbye, though used the combined energy of the two wiccans to ease his partner's distress as the sixty something Slayer's body struggled. Buffy had squeezed his hand weakly as he kissed her, and he fancied she mouthed ‘love you’ before her body took over, the convulsions started again and she slipped into her final coma.

Connor and Helle’s children were ushered in the following day.

She had been a favourite Aunt – particularly for the girls who were always in awe of her shopping prowess. Sadly, as they stepped into the sick room they all knew, her eyes were pushed closed, the older ones had been told. Several hours before, the visual and audio signals to Buffy’s brain ceased, but according to the new scans, her body would respond a little if touched on ‘the pressure spot’, Anton's marking. They all pressed on the point on her neck as directed, and bid her goodbye in their own way.

Buffy’s ability to speak had been absent for many weeks; her sense of smell and taste also departing as the tumour grew; sight and hearing last to go, yet the older woman had always seemed to *feel*. According to the children, she had, indeed, squeezed each of their hands ever so slightly as they kissed her goodbye. Little Olivia was unsure of what was going on but instinctively knew that the whole family was upset about Great Aunt Buffy, so pushed her favourite toy, a stuffed rhinoceros, under the covers with the dying woman, then gave her a wet kiss as she explained, “Jasper is the best for hugs if’n you feel sick.” Buffy normally would have held the little girl’s hand and expressed her thanks, but Olivia did not seem to mind that the gesture was missing, and the youngster departed unaware that ‘Lady Buffy’ was within mere hours of death.

Connor had returned from Geneva the very day he felt Anton’s distress through the familial link.

That evening, after Connor’s children had bade farewell to their great Sire’s mate, and as Buffy began to fail, the medical team moved in, but had no need to send for the closest family, they were all present.

They all knew… Buffy was slipping. Her central systems were all shutting down and the body, so wonderfully strong in her prime, was now in the latter phases of failure and shock. For all his talents there was nothing Anton could do for his beloved but brush lank strands of hair from an all too pale forehead and request that her pain medication be boosted one more time.

The Immortal’s Childer were all present, as was his trusted Gregor, Helle and Stephanie, and Willow and Dawn.

Spike, Connor and Xander all gave their open wrists to the Immortal, but as Buffy’s body began to relax again after convulsing in another tumor induced fit, the ancient did as he had promised his beloved weeks before, just prior to her losing first the power of speech then consciousness. In the presence of family, he let his fangs drop, kissed her inert, dying form, and with Dawn holding her sister’s hand, Anton drained his partner of near fourty years’ lifeblood. Buffy passed away quietly, strangely aware in her dying few seconds. She felt her beloved the Immortal’s immense love for her, and by proxy the love of family and friends... then passed from the mortal realm.

They had all heard the heart stop and felt the cessation of her magical signature… Partners initially hugged each other as Anton pulled away from the pale neck, then collapsed in shared grief as Anton gave an agonised cry and collapsed across her torso to give in to his shock and desperate loss. He and Buffy had been together for thirty nine years. She may have been the oldest Slayer in history, but in the context of Anton’s age it was a mere blink of his tear-filled green eyes.

The doctor confirmed her passing and fully understood his patient’s request that her partner take her blood when her final struggle began, and closed his file with a final report.

“Deceased: Buffy Anne Summers
Age: 64
Time of Death: 19.21 on the sixth day of March 2043
Cause of death: Malignant brain tumour.
Summary: Initially attack centred in the frontal lobe controlling speech. Primary tumour later located by MRI in hypothalamus.
Radiography unsuccessful and surgery ill advised due to tumour’s growth rate and position. Chemotherapy attempted, unsuccessful.
Loss of all bodily functions and Grand Mal fitting frequency approaching life threatening recorded in final six days of patient’s life.
No autopsy requested.
Donation of organs not recommended: Slayer status, age, and risk of undetected secondary cancers and compromised organs cited.
Consulting Doctor: A.J. Nuell MD PhD ”

Anton and Buffy’s life together may have been fraught with external issues, but the chirpy blonde ‘chosen one’, even at sixty something, remained much as the Sunnydale girl he had seduced (or perhaps it was the other way around) all those years ago in Rome. There had been frequent periods apart but that merely made their time together more meaningful.

Anton had come to know the strong woman behind the petite, power shopping, deadly-to-demons, Californian. And according to his Childe Spike, in her latter years, Buffy had ‘a lot of Joyce’s qualities’.

The Immortal vaguely registered the arm across his shoulders, gently pulling him into a tight hug as he remembered…

The first time she had attempted to make him hot chocolate in the tiny Rome flat she and Dawn shared. It had been a disaster. In the end it was Andrew who produced a drinkable beverage, but Buffy had learned, in later years even garnering compliments from Spike comparing her drink making prowess to that of “Joyce in her prime, Pet. She’d be right proud.”

There were so many moments like that… so many yet so few because now she was gone.

Anton remained at her bedside with Buffy’s inert, now cold, physical body for nearly two hours. He had no idea of the time, but eventually his wonderful boys led their grieving Sire to his own quarters, then stayed. The death bed was dealt with by caring nurses, and the coven via Watcher’s council spread the word. He heard Spike, his William, say the arrangements were all taken care of but Anton was in distress.

In the end, it had been Gregor who insisted he lie down… *now*. His dear loyal servant used a tone of voice rarely heard expressed by the taciturn devotee, that of a fatherly order, with no question that Anton should refuse to comply.

In a daze, Anton felt his clothes being removed and someone tucking him into bed. A little later he vaguely registered two cool figures settling either side of him. He drank of family and eventually fell asleep, hoping it was all a bad dream.

The following day, the leading couple left Gregor to tend his long time Master whilst they finalised the funeral arrangements.

Buffy was cremated three days later after a relatively short ceremony involving immediate family, key members of the court, friends and some senior staff of Buffy and Anton’s, along with Andrew and a small delegation of Slayers and Watchers. Amongst the latter was surprisingly, Faith who flew in from New York for the occasion. The now aging Slayer arrived with her partner Robin, both now retired, and gave an impassioned speech then collapsed into her partner’s arms as the old tune ‘The Rose’ played.

It had been decided that Buffy's ashes would be buried in a very private ceremony under Anton's and her favourite coral ash in their pretty courtyard of their Tuscony home. For now the family merely pulled together, fed their darling Sire, and survived their own memories and grief.

Buffy Anne Summers was dead.

The outside family had all departed after only a week, a week of reminiscing and of kind gestures and warm friendship. The remaining ‘inner circle’ rallied for each other but all knew, and Gregor picked it first… Something was seriously wrong with the Immortal.

The next Court meeting was cancelled – and all leading vampires accepted (though some grumbled a little that there was little cause for a Vampire Court to adjourn to respect the memory of a Slayer).

The note Willow received a month after her return from the funeral was bizarre and extremely worrying. Two weeks after Buffy departed the mortal coil, it had been reported that the Immortal was ailing, something that should have been an impossibility for a being of his nature.

Initially the diagnosis was melancholy due to grief, but as time went on, his refusal to eat or wash, or to venture into the afternoon sun, engage in his favourite sports or even answer family phone calls, caused Gregor to call the High Master.

By the time his boys arrived, they were forced to make a desperate decision. They moved the gaunt, virtually catatonic Anton to his suite in their home in Switzerland, hoping that family attention might lift his desperate state. They rang Willow to report that no change had occured – in fact he had become worse.

Over the ensuing five plus weeks, the formerly timeless, tireless, calm, capable Immortal slipped more and more. In his place was a pallid, increasingly thinner, invalid, whose previously powerful positive magical signature now simply exuded hopelessness and pain. He was inert, constantly in the dark and silent, even ceasing to breathe. He was for all the world a corpse, eyes sightless and detectable presence, that of any inanimate object.

Shortly after a desperate phonecall from Xander, Willow arrived. She and all the family surrounded Anton’s bed and joined hands circling the inert form of the Immortal. They appealed for guidance from both the Powers and from Artemis.

Amelie, Willow and (rather surprisingly) Spike, all threw their heads back and arched in pain, then almost broke the fingers of the hands they held as the powerful reply came. Eyes black and voices not their own, the three simply conveyed the inner thoughts of first the Powers then Goddess Artemis in turn.

Buffy’s death was not the cause of the malaise so much as a trigger for the Immortal’s state. Somehow he had conscious mind had become overwhelmed by the grief of eons, the sadness and yearning for every other loved one who had died in his very long life. The message was clear, he needed to be reassured since, if not addressed, the demise would be swift and final, Anton mummified, effectively dead but perfectly preserved for all time by the fact of his status.

The three channelling gave the same message. They needed to show him that there was still hope and purpose.

The Goddess Artemis spoke through Amelie directly to the rest of the family, “The Immortal is *so* young. He must learn that his influence is outside the measures of good and evil – just as ours are. Our decisions are intuitive – as are his, and none can be reversed. He regrets so much… and for one so old this has come to a point of no return. He must realize that he has been given an eternal gift… that of family. He needs to know and accept, he was, is and will be given and by his very nature, return... Love - with all the strength, joy and pain that brings. If it is denied then he will die.

“Two of you can show him. This is a ‘once only’ however. If he does not recover then you will all be at risk of decline, swiftly and violently. I can provide the slide through time, but with two caveats. The two embarking on the venture must be of the Immortal’s line. And second I cannot guarantee your form or task. You must somehow reinvigorate the Immortal, through love and… anyway. I advise you to act with care as there may be no return, should your Sire decide his existence still to be incapable of finding redemption and love.”

Amelie slumped and passed out as the Goddess retreated from her being. The hand held ring of beings broken, it was Antonio who caught her on the way down. Both older brothers tending her as their mother ushered the distressed younger siblings back to their quarters for afternoon tea and a ‘debriefing’.

It was a devil’s bargain but as Connor, Spike, Xander and family closed ranks to discuss the best interests of family, Gregor surprised them all as he threw himself at the High Master’s feet.

“Let me go High Master, I know much of my Master’s pain, and Stephanie and I… we will always serve the household.”

Instead of answering Spike opened his wrist and fed the distraught Gregor, not missing that he was still holding Stephanie’s hand with such force as to be painful. Of all the extended ‘family’, Gregor had known the Immortal the longest, but the instruction was the two must be of ‘the Immortal’s *line*’ meaning the exchange needed to be on a Sire/Childe basis.

Gregor was still kneeling at Spike’s feet when the High Master matched his position hugged the loyal servant and friend close then looked directly at Connor as he addressed them both, “Keep them safe… Whatever happens… Keep the family safe.”

Spike bit Connor hard and took his fill, an act reciprocated and acknowledged for what it was, open permission to lead. All knew, if the effort to save Anton failed, and the High Master and Consort lost, the Aurelian line would continue through the full blood. Connor took from the Master’s Childe, now uncle by Mating, Xander, before rejoining the circle and nodding to the others.

All contributed their energy as the ruling couple broke hands then bedded down with their stricken Sire, enveloping him in a two way embrace, at the same time not breaking contact with each other. The chanting began and all in the room sent a prayer for clemency as the complex spell took effect.

Spike and Xander joined Anton in unconsciousness and made the first shift.

 

PART 3

Greece 502 BC

Spike and Xander woke side by side to bright sunlight, both were in soldier’s garb, and kneeling in a full down position, their sword at one hand, shield at the other, and straight daggers sheathed at each ankles. Intuitively they knew, they were part of the first line, all slaves of the young Master.

His benevolence had, rather surprisingly, let them live and fight rather than be slaves, in exchange for their loyalty. He even vouched for their right to a sword after the last skirmish where close on one thousand of their forward forces had been killed. And now the handsome youngest son, their ‘lieutenant’ was on his horse high above their position. As was the custom of the time, the front line was primarily made up of friends, brothers and gay lovers deliberately placed side by side with their Master’s brand clearly scarred into their skin. They all knew, for their foe to kill one meant needing to kill both.

Sword and shield at the ready, Spike took one more rueful look toward his partner before they charged.

It was strange and odd… the knowledge of their Sire, their own history and extensive reading, and physical training…

Surprisingly, many of their first wave survived the onslaught. How, few could establish. yet now they knew that not only the day had been won, but the enemy had conceded the war and withdrawn.

Many individuals were feted by their compatriots in arms that night, but particularly noted was the skill and heroism of the half blind slave and his exotic, blonde partner. Both had fought with tenacious determination and tireless, deadly accuracy worthy of any noble on the field. Back to back, they had been unstoppable. It was not typical of slaves to be so vehement in their task, but all knew, they did belong to the young son of their supreme ruler Kleisthenes’ cousin, Anton. At nineteen, he had emerged as a leader of men, and not only of the Greeks who came voluntarily, but also the slaves that were assigned him. It seemed he had a charisma and kindness, a ruthlessness and power, that all men were drawn to, they were inspired by it and as a consequence, utterly loyal to the man.

For two months, Xander and Spike washed in the sea and ate with their fellow soldiers (their only option) before retiring to the tiny tent near their master’s own. All behind the ridge that separated them from the sea that marked the last marker of their victory or doom.

Both men knew to respond to the young master’s call and, as did all servants of the rich, with their orientation known then exploited, they had been well schooled in acts of pleasure, regardless of their official role as soldiers. They pleasured their Master regularly by mouth and in ways most girls would understand, and paid no disrespect by their fellow soldiers as it was a task that needed doing by someone.

After the army’s final triumph, the two were provided extra food, a quantity of wine and double the usual measure of oil as a rich reward for their efforts during the campaign, yet were still required to service their master. Both Spike and his Mated Consort had all their original memories, along with their new ones, and both coincided with the natural affection for Anton, so the two did as was expected.

Their fellow soldiers retired to enjoy a well earned reward with partner of choice (or purchased favor) prior to the four days’ march home. Meanwhile Spike quietly led Xander through the camp to their Master’s tent, nodding to Anton’s body guards, they held hands and swung hips provocatively as they had been taught. The guards were well aware of their Master’s ‘needs’and knew better than to comment, so ushered them through.

Surprisingly, they found Anton on his knees beside his own surgeon, holding the hand of a young man who was bleeding to death. The individual was wounded and blood flowed profusely from deep gashes in his side and lengthwise down his thigh. He was barely breathing and as pale as white marble with blue already on his lips. The rudimentary stretcher in the centre of the tent would be the final resting place of one of Anton’s most trusted body guards, a man who had fought ferociously to defend his master as the second wave of attack had flanked their defenses early in the day.

Xander and Spike knelt respectfully as Anton prayed to the Gods for clemency in the afterlife as the man passed on, his mortal form, now bathed in blood, expiring quietly.

Xander and Spike then raised their Master and led him back to their own tent in silence.

There would only be comfort on this night, and while the Master rested, the body of his loyal servant would be dressed and prepared for burial. The young Master deserved love and solace… and in the morning was pleasured gently by four hands and two mouths, none demanding, simply loving and centering him. And he felt it. He was cared for, just as he cared for others.

As they lay by their Master’s side, all sated and he relieved, they felt the beginning of the shift.
.............

Athens 505 BC

This time waking was utter torture.

Both Sire and Childe awoke to burgeoning bellies contracting as nature demanded and, mere hours later, experienced the agony of bearing children… Yet Anton was there fleetingly. Even though only twenty, he looked genuinely concerned. The two servant girls somehow knew he was the father, but also that the new children were already condemned to servitude courtesy of their mothers’ position in the house.

The (thankfully) healthy children were delivered within hours of each other, and the two mothers were very sore but well. (Xander quietly resolving to say something to Helle, mother of six(!) if they were ever able to return). The young father Anton visited after the births, seemingly amazed that he could be the father of the small beings now wrapped in white swaddling and presented to him as he entered the tiny hut at the edge of his father’s property. And strangely Xander and Spike somehow knew… the images and memories that consequently overwhelmed them were his…

As soon as ‘of age’, the young Anton was encouraged to ‘sew his seed’ after initial lessons with an older, more experienced female relative, and had done as instructed.

The two girls were both slaves in the household, though his father had insisted that all be treated with respect, and beatings of any sort were kept to a minimum.

Barely returned from the war, Anton had made the connection at the Tribute to Dionysus – the god of wine and festivity – a huge party held by his father to bless the grape picking and crushing season, and an event at which the two female slaves were serving. He invited them to walk with him and bedded them both as the party was in full swing – concurrently, amongst the vines. The girls were flattered by the beautiful young Master’s attentions and acquiesced, even agreeing to his request that they *all* kiss and touch lying nude on his outspread white and crimson garment. He took their maidenhood and pleasured them in turn, all the while encouraging roaming hands and giving such carnal pleasure as to make the Gods blush.

By the end of the night all were utterly exhausted, sated,… and weeks later the two women would find that they were pregnant.

Spike and Xander’s world shifted from Anton’s memories to the present – or as present as the bizarre shifting timeline could be.

They were attended by a midwife, who treated them with a matter-of-fact motherly calm and felt themselves being cleaned and a new pad of cloth placed strategically to catch the blood.

Tiny mouths were gently guided to breasts that had not been there (for the Master and his Childe) a day before, and both vampires had the extraordinary experience of their milk ‘dropping’ as the cry of a new baby somewhere close drove their bodies to instinctively provide. As a consequence both cuddled their new born daughters even closer, pressed leaking nipples against impossibly small lips and had the joy of feeling a tiny mouth latch on and begin to suck with surprisingly little fuss. For Sire and Childe the act was akin to the sharing of blood – profoundly moving.

The ensuing three weeks, as they came to terms with their form and their status as both slaves and mothers, they saw their young Master briefly almost every evening. But as their babies turned one month old, in a terrifying raid in the middle of the night, they were torn from their shared hut – along with their children – and forced to present themselves to their Master’s Father. The Senior of the household and cousin of the King.

Anton’s father was a daunting man, so unlike his pretty son. He had been scarred in battle, his face and one arm bearing the mark of another man’s sword. He was generously built and taller than most men. He stood in a full white and gold robe, silvering hair and tanned skin seeming to emphasise his power.

Anton was kneeling at his father’s feet, head bowed as the terrified women entered.

“Are these the two?”

“Yes father.”

“And they are loyal to you only? The children positively yours?”

“Yes father.”

The older man’s voice raised to a bellow, “How can you be sure??!! These young strumpets might have bedded a dozen men…”

The two now desperate sobbing girls bound, gagged and prostrate in front of their master, could hear their babies crying somewhere nearby, yet could neither defend themselves nor assist their children, let alone the young man who had fathered them.

Anton raised his eyes to meet his father’s, “They had no need, Sir. They are of our slave group and live in the quarter defended by our three best Eunuchs. Father, these women have been loyal to a fault. *Please* father… Let them remain as part of my household, their new children also. Please Father?!”

The aging gent rose, his ire obvious but also aware that he was not without bastard children, so offered clemency. “Only! under these conditions… Your wife to be, Cliementes, must never know of this. The women will be marked and forever enslaved, never to be taken by another. The girls will be spared marking but only if they are chosen by a free man for marriage will either of the two children be freed from this household. In that case, given their dubious status, it will by up to you to provide a small bond on their day of release. Understood?”

Anton, on the brink of tears nodded.

His father nodded grimly, “Now… Give the order.”

Less than an hour later, the two now naked slave girls screamed into roughly applied gags as they were pinned to the ground then brutally branded on the neck, upper arm and right buttock with a hot iron. Still bleeding from childbirth, the two were then subjected to being violated with a blunt object and suffered a beating that left Spike’s female form with a badly broken wrist and Xander blind in one eye. (Just before passing out, it did occur to the brunette that history had a sense of irony after all.)

The two girls were dragged back to their hut where they openly wept as their babies were silently returned to them.

They had assumed the babies would have been killed but the look on Anton’s face as he personally handed over the two tiny bundles to the injured, marked women was one of intense regret and pain. They knew that if they ever said *anything* of their children’s origins, their lives and those of the girls, would be null and void.

For Spike and Xander, the next four months were spent performing their duties, now marked and disallowed to serve in the big house, they were the lowest of the slaves, forced to carry water and food for the animals and other slaves in their master’s care, and to clean horse stalls and assist with tending the garden, all with babies strapped to their backs.

Nights were time for cooking meagre food rations and spending a little time with their children. Their solace was that each week on a Saturday evening, a soft knock on the door saw Anton at their door. Nothing was ever said for fear of others in the slave quarter overhearing, but he would brush their neck scars with genuine distress and kiss them chastely on the forehead before delivering small packages of meat or fruit or something for the children. He would sit with the two tiny girls, though they were usually sleeping when he arrived, and would depart as silently as he came.

In one of the last visits before their next shift, Xander and Spike learned that Anton had made new arrangements for his girls and his father had agreed to the concession. The two children were to be deemed free at the age of fourteen and were bequeathed a small sum of money so the two might survive at least until they could make their own way and find work and husbands. Their mothers, however, were marked, forever to be slaves, but lucky to be owned by a rich and relatively liberal family.

 

They bedded down on the rather damp straw bed, rather happier than previous days, then their world moved again.

...........

Connor had engaged a full time medical/magical team to monitor the health of the three. At least now all seemed to feed reflexively, Anton included.

Family still hovered nearby and asked for regular reports from those monitoring the magical signatures.

 

PART 4

Greece 517 BC

He looked across to his partner, they were both quadrupeds, large male dogs, of the ‘bordering on wolf’ variety. They each sported the same leather muzzles and broad collars, and had leads held by the dog handler. Instinctively the darker, larger male knew his alpha was the blond dog facing him.

Spike would always be his alpha. They both felt the hunger, they had not been fed that morning, there were ‘games afoot’. Minutes later they were led to the battle field released from their muzzles and leads and moved to flank their master’s horse as the young man watched and prepared for battle. Anton was mounted - as all the nobles on the field, but the dogs would keep up and keep him safe, he knew that from experience.

As the cry went up for the second wave to attack, they sprinted alongside their Master, leaping at assailants, biting limbs, ripping human flesh and tearing out necks.

It had been Anton’s idea to take his two beautiful wolf-like beasts into war with him. They were unwavering in their loyalty to their young Master and revelled in the thrill of battle.

Three weeks later, and the battle won, they were finally back home, now lying tethered on long wide leads attached to an olive tree at the rear of their Master’s home. They were feeling lazy after being given water and a huge mound of fresh sheep bones – with plenty of meat left on them, to chew on. Though only their third night back and missing the excitement of the fight, it was nice to have a full belly and rest. And as the young Master made off to a victory party at the house of a friend, there was one unexpected reward delivered to them. A young, in heat, almost jet black female was tied with them. She was apparently the family pet, and a pretty one at that. The message was clear, she more than willing, and her scent subsuming any human foibles regards sharing or servicing a female ready to mate.

Very late that night as the three lay sated, Spike and Xander both woke with a start, strained against their collars and sniffed the air in alarm.

Mere hours later the family was grieving. Anton had not returned from the party. The dogs heard the scenario. He had left the party with an unknown new 'friend'. And consequently his favourite dagger, parts of his robe and a gold clasp with family emblem was found strewn near cliffs not far from the house where the party was held – and within sight of the small temple dedicated to the Goddess Artemis. There was no doubt that foul play was involved with his disappearance, and the suspicion that his body had been disposed of in the ocean.

Xander chewed through Spike’s leash and the act was reciprocated, and on the third evening after Anton's disappearance, the two took off toward the house where they knew their Master had last been seen.

Spike scented the ground around the base of the stone wall marking the garden of Anton’s trusted friend and fellow soldier, and Xander did likewise. Smells of the party and of numerous humans were apparent, but Xander had it. One short yip later and he and Spike were hurtling up the hill toward the temple.

Temporarily forgetting their own and Anton’s history – or their true beings, their pace increased as they approached the modest temple, almost glowing in the moonlight, and saw their Master sitting on the lowest step his head in his hands. Both slowed as they approached, he smelt odd, of tears and blood. All but prostrating themselves as they might the alpha of any pack, they belly crawled the last few inches until able to nuzzle the surprisingly cool legs and lick over dusty cold feet.

Their Master then did something most surprising for the two dogs, he collapsed down, all but falling between them, and began to cry in earnest whilst hugging his two canine friends and sobbing out, “Not human… no more… never again… have to leave you… Am so sorry… can’t… you… look after everyone yeah? Please!?!!!”

Both dogs nuzzled their Master, encouraged him inside the temple again, and lay down either side of him to accept the instinctive bite of the fledgling who fed a little for comfort then fell asleep between them.

The two dogs felt the shift and the world moved again.

…………………..

 

Rome 214 BC

 

Spike suddenly found himself in a body that felt… frail. The white haired elderly senator was seated in a pleasant courtyard opposite apparently equally aged, most trusted advisor. They both looked a little nonplussed but rallied as a young man was dragged in bound and gagged by the Imperial Guard and tossed at their feet.

“Esteemed Senator, I apologise for this intrusion, but Emperor’s Magistrate Cassius would have you deal with this… ” the large brute of a soldier kicked the already kneeling male hard in the ribs, “excuse for a man,” another kick, “…personally.”

“But… Legion… Why me? Surely the Magistrate can deal with most matters? I am a law maker - not a judge! What is his crime exactly?”

“Defiling the temple of Diana – he was sleeping in it… Bloody vagrant… We tossed him in the cells for a few weeks but it seems he’s a bit of a smooth talker, jailers went all soft, took him to the magistrate, claims he’s part of your household… your Grandmother or some such. Sorry to bother you, reckon the judge simply wants you to check the story before he puts the liar out of ‘is misery.

“He doesn’t seem the violent type… but you want that we stay?”

Spike looked down at the sorry figure kneeling at the soldier’s feet, wrists bound tight, head bowed and body covered in grime, the recent evidence of a whipping easily visible across his back.

“I can’t think why we would need you. I will call my guards if there is a problem.”

“Right. Well, I’ll send someone back to pick ‘im up in a couple of hours then. Tell your guards that if he’s any bother a few good kicks ‘ll sort it.”

After the soldiers departed, Spike bent down and reached for the filthy chin with a groan, his old frame objecting to the position. He gently eased the man’s face up to look at him so that he might inspect the features. Even though they suspected the scenario, both Senator and Advisor gasped as they recognized the beautiful and so well known face buried under grime and bruising. Anton’s pretty tear-filled green eyes stared up at them, the expression one of sadness and resignation.

“You say you know my family.”

In Latin with an ever so slight accent, Anton replied quietly with tears in his eyes, “Your… the women.. your… and I was… was… Oh Goddess… I am… worse than noone… but I had to see… I had to know… I just wanted to know”

Anton began to try to turn his face away so his tears might fall privately, but the old man, a true believer in their Gods and their strange ways held him fast, and both Spike’s knowledge and the memories of the original owner of the body blended as Anton’s next whispered words confirmed something he suspected, “I needed to know, you see?! I needed to know every once in a while… just needed them to survive… I… Oh goddess… I am not what I seem… Please!... But you could never…!!” Anton pulled away and attempted to fold down to the ground but stilled and turned to look up at the man in utter amazement at the aging Senator’s next words.

“Show me your *true* face... I believe I know who you are.”

At just over a hundred and thirty years young, Anton was thin and drawn, and appeared like what he was, an outcast from both human and demon society. Yet he could not help but obey the order. His fangs dropped and eyes changed but other changes seemed to come and go. The usual vampire ridges were all but absent. What was present were blood tinged tears streaming down the man’s face as he fell forward to rest his cheek against the aging knees of the kindly gent and gave up to the feeling of being utterly lost.

Anton knew, as did Senator Illias and his aged friend Alexandros, who had also leaned down to put a kind hand on the shoulder of the young man, the Senator was a direct descendant of one of his illegitimate daughters.

A blue eyed, dark haired beauty, she had married a young soldier who later became a highly decorated member of Kleisthenes army. Despite (or because of – no one could remember) the three children resulting from the marriage went on to be well educated and take various well placed positions in society as the Roman Empire began its rise to greatness.

Post Licinian Rogations and now at war with Samnite confederacy the Roman Empire was a Republic but still on the rise to its ultimate power. Rome began the process of voting to appoint those in public office even when Anton was human. Illias was the grandson of a freed slave, but was a learned, well respected man, spoke several languages and had proved himself time and again as a wise and just public servant (and no harm on the battle field).

Spike, in his aged guise, ordered a servant find him a knife. Anton flinched but stayed down expecting to be punished for his empassioned outburst. Instead of being tortured, however, his bindings were sliced, he was bathed and clothed, and when his jailers returned they were handed a sum of money to pay for Anton’s freedom. There was no objection, merely a grin and wiggle of an eyebrow. Spike felt a little ill, realizing that Anton was pretty enough to have provided ‘sport’ and that there was an assumption that his role in the Senator's household would be utilizing just such ‘talents’.

Anton looked from Alexandros to Senator Illias in wonder as the front door of his rescuer's rather generous abode closed.

Spike simply squeezed his arm, raised him to his feet and said, “You are family. Stay for as long as you need. What is ours we have because of you. My grandmother spoke of you.”

As a servant came forward and ushered a still rather stunned Anton to the small room that had been prepared as his sleeping quarters, Spike and Xander’s worlds shifted yet again.

 

Part 5

Connor was on the brink of exhaustion, not only maintaining the family’s business interests, but also tending to the Aurelian Court matters and deeply concerned regards his true relatives and their inert state.

Stressed and terribly worried, he had raised his voice to tiny Olivia for ‘squealing’ repeatedly on the third evening after the boys all went under the spell. It resulted in his daughter Amelie rescuing the now crying child. But it was really Connor who desperately required a hug and reassurance just to get through another night of his relatives’ magic induced comas, he finally received it from his lovely partner Helle after she was told by Amelie that “Dad just *lost* it for no reason!”

That night, despite her own fatigue, Helle sat with Connor and kept vigil until both were simply too tired and handed over to Dawn who promised to alert them if there was any change.

………………..

Somewhere in rural Byzantium 400 AD

 

Two rather bewildered young boys woke to an angry slap from their camel master and the rather smelly snort of their charges as the camels too were stung by the leather crop. Both lads still felt exhausted as they tried their best to respond ‘enthusiastically’ for fear of yet another beating.

They noted the third handler, a silent newcomer who was definitely older. They wondered at his choice to be handler, he was obviously of ruling family blood, and some of the cargo was his (admittedly he had sworn them to secrecy – their silence paid for in honeycomb straight from the hive… Bliss!)

They travelled the Silk Road, stopping nightly but pausing otherwise only to trade.

Xander and Spike spent most of their nights wrapped around each other under a rudimentary cover that fended off little but a mild rain. If the downpour was stronger, they bedded with the rather ornery camels, the passing of rather ‘whiffy’ bodily functions actually preferable to suffering the near freezing wet of their own ‘accommodation’.

Though only around eleven years old, the boys had apparently been the working with the camel train for almost three years, contracted to the camel owner by two desperate families who each virtually sold their youngest son into slavery.

In Xander/Inditus’ case it was to pay a gambling debt incurred by a now dearly departed father. But for little Spike/Abdul, his virtual abduction in the middle of a hot Turkish night was done with the express permission of his only remaining, older sister to ‘fund’ the funeral of their mother, father and two younger siblings, who had all died within days of each other of an illness unknown to the local physicians.

The grieving Jasmine took the advice of her abusive husband, a state official (and wife beater) Raoul. She agreed with a painful nod, her only remaining relative was to be ‘apprenticed’ to the camel traders.

Raoul added the sack of salt, and few coins he received from the boy’s sale to his wife’s (now by law his) small inheritance, and hardly even noticed the small, sobbing blonde being led away.

Despite their tender age, the boys were fairly street wise by the time their bodies were ‘otherwise occupied’, and Spike/Abdul was particularly wary of one of the senior camel handlers after seeing his sister repeatedly beaten by her husband and had heard her gagged cries at night as Raoul did something unspeakable to his pretty, wife. The young boy ‘felt funny’ about one of the camel handlers. He often said strange things, and made the boys do errands for him that seemed odd, demanding they washed his clothes in the river, or refastened the hobbles on one or two of the camels while he watched.

Their reaction to Anton could not have been more different. Spike and Xander both recognized Anton immediately, the quiet demeanour and unmistakably beautiful green eyes shining out from behind his head cloth kept fastened across his face. He never failed to thank them for watering his three steeds and sometimes even gave them a hand full of dates or teaspoon of salt for their trouble.

Using Spike and Xander’s knowledge of him and their own circumstance to their advantage, the two obtained sheep’s blood from a butcher in exchange for two coins Xander had spied on the ground as they entered town. Amazed that they had been able to pocket the prizes without the others seeing, the two managed to complete their purchases then meld into the general melee of a small market town at the top of Persia, one set up for the flux of travellers and local merchants willing to provide almost anything for a price.

The small conspirators, were invisible in such a bustling market, Xander/Inditus scampering after the much swifter Spike/Abdul. They purchased their prize after a little haggling with a rather bemused butcher, who in the end simply acquiesced on the grounds that the boys had caused him to laugh harder than he had for years! They also manage to obtain two tiny pomegranates with the ‘change’. A prize relished as they returned to their camp on the outskirts.

The older men had were smoking in the head handler’s tent as they tiptoed past, but both knew that Anton would not be present so continued to the rudimentary tent where they found him sitting sketching characters of some language in the dirt.

The small boy shyness struck quite unexpectedly and both found themselves dumbstruck for a moment. Xander shifted uncomfortably and pulled the rather large sheep’s bladder bag closer to his chest, while Spike shifted a little from foot to foot, hoping that the older man would look up.

Anton kept his eyes down, however, so Spike tried another tack, “Where’d ya learn them from?”

Anton looked up to the child as he completed the Greek then Roman then Egyptian symbols for ‘Outcast of the Gods’, “Many places and nowhere. Would you like to learn to read them?”

Spike/Abdul’s eyes lit up… but they were there for a reason and that had to go first. “I … um yes please, but… um…” for some reason the boy suddenly felt very shy as the rather sad green eyes met his directly, he dropped his gaze and toed the ground.

Xander/Inditus jumped in, he may have had all Xander’s memories, but it was pure Inditus speaking, “We… we noticed that you are from a… different culture… and you… you are new and kind… and we… we didn’t steal it!! But Allah showed us the money and we knew it was a blessing… so we… Abdul says he’s tried it with milk before… and it’s not that bad. One of the handlers we met – he was from somewhere in the desert I don’t remember now but is that how you have it? Cause we don’t have any money left so you’ll have to buy your own… or I guess we could I don’t know… um…?” The boy’s tone dropped as he fell silent looking worriedly from Anton to Spike and back.

As the skin full of blood was handed over mid babble, Anton gasped as he identified the contents of the skin. “I… I… I’m rather… this is a very special thing you have done… thank you.” fell to his knees, placed the skin carefully on the ground beside him then opened his arms, offering the only thing he had to truly give – a brotherly hug of thanks.

The two youngsters moved forward to accept initially rather tentatively but as soon as they were touched by the Immortal they felt instantly safe, and had the sensation of an adult human being giving them a familial kind of affection for the first time since they had joined the camel train.

They did not witness Anton drinking their gift, but went back to their sleeping spot happy that they had done well

For the next three weeks, as the camel train made its way across the top of Persia, the three became firm friends, and Spike felt the thrill of Abdul as he began to learn to read and write (albeit the latter was in the dirt with a stick). Inditus was less studious and Xander’s memories confirmed that as a boy he had much rather *do* things than sit and study.

Inditus fidgeted, made yet another mistake in the strange lettering that was supposed to say ‘father’ then sighed again. He found it all a little boring, preferring spend *his* meagre leisure time using the slightly curved dagger he carried (for everything from cutting food to slicing through a rope) to whittle the end of a stick, or try to land a stone in a target drawn on the ground.

Anton saw the boy’s discomfort and asked Inditus if he would not mind fetching them all a little water. Inditus jumped at the chance and headed off in the direction of the tiny well they were currently camped by. The Xander part of the boy’s mind simply said ‘donuts’, but thought nothing more of his other life.

Abdul was a fine student, and desperate to be able to read. Lately, if they passed through a town, he would even risk a beating from the camel master to run forward and ask Anton the meaning of a sign here and there. He finished one last set of symbols – a whole sentence this time, “To die with honour defending what you know to be just, is to have died well.” It was late and Inditus had not returned. He looked up hoping to see the usual look of approval on Anton’s face but instead saw deep concern. He felt suddenly cold as he realized the reason. Inditus had not returned and it was already dark.

Anton stood abruptly, hissed to an alarmed Abdul, “Stay!!” then took off into the night in the general direction of the well. The now frightened boy curled up, hugging his knees and stared into the night, rocking a little.

There was no sign of Inditus at the well yet Anton could smell him close by – along with the ominous odour, human blood and semen. He silently moved toward a small thicket of scrub, his vampire senses on full alert and night vision engaged. And he found what he dreaded, the tiny broken figure of Inditus, face slightly turned to the side, bruises obvious and wrists still tied behind his back, his legs were apart and at rather odd angles, and he was bleeding alarmingly fast from his rear passage.

Anton could hear the tiny heart struggling and knew the boy was unlikely to live even with his Immortal blood as a bolster. The external damage was extensive enough, and the internal… frightening to even contemplate, even if he did survive, there would be serious repercussions ongoing risks of infection and many months of care and recovery needed. Still, he *had* to try to do something.

Anton sunk his fangs hard into his own wrist and dripped the precious fluid down the damaged back and into the violated hole. There was little change to the injuries and the Immortal could hear the heart failing. He sliced through the material binding the boy’s arms, and did the only thing he could, he lifted the small broken figure as gently as possible, cuddled him to his chest and sprinted back to where Abdul was waiting.

The youngster had seen death before and knew without Anton even saying a word. The little blonde simply sat by the now kneeling Anton and took the lax hand of his friend in his and began to recite the prayer his sister had taught him to say for his parents and sisters on their death beds.

“Stay with him – I will get the camel master.” The grief stricken little boy merely nodded and continued to hold the hand of his dying best friend.

The Immortal had recognized the scent of the man who had murdered the lad and sniffed the night air with purpose as he departed the tent, not even the smell of their beasts of burden could conceal the culprit’s stench. He stalked the vile creature as any predator might, the individual was alone humming to himself happily. Anton moved with preternatural speed, let his fangs drop and, hand over the human’s mouth, he bit down hard into the neck and par-drained him before licking the wound and watching the punctures and line of teeth marks begin to heal.

Anton then hefted the culprit to just outside the camel master’s tent and gave a shout to raise the alarm.

What ensued was the trussing up of the attacker, inspection of the dying boy, consequent admission and swift retribution. Strung up against a tree within seconds of his confession, the man screamed as his penis and scrotum were removed, then was silenced as his throat was cut so harshly that there was barely anything holding his head to his body. Post death his eyes were pinned open and hands removed, they and the other removed appendages placed at his now dead feet. He would be left still tied to the tree to rot as the camel train moved on.

The attention then moved to Anton’s sleeping tent. The entire group of ten handlers Anton and the camel master attended, shocked to the core by the damage to the lad. They quietly knelt in prayer as Anton knelt opposite Abdul, the inner Spike also feeling he was losing his Xander in this moment. Tear-filled blue eyes met agonized green, as the broken small boy coughed once, convulsed a little, then died.

Abdul began to keen then his world went black too and the two shifted once more.

………………………..

 

Tibet 1123 AD

 

They had been changed again, though this time the shift was a little more dramatic.

Even after a week, it was strange to have eight legs to manage, but the eyes were even more odd, none were able to move to focus, but after a day or so the input from all eight fixed orbs allowed the brain to interpret. The instinct to stay in the shadows was familiar and strangely comforting for both vampires, though the all consuming imperative to release and weave silk into a deadly web was at once disturbing, yet also somehow reassuring in the same way as one might methodically repair a fishing net or knit. The detection of the prey, and the swift hunt and attack was familiar. And the diet was still a liquid one, but this time ingestion occurred only after their own venom had liquefied the internal organs of the victims.

Xander could see his fellow arachnid in the opposite corner of the temple. He could still feel Spike through their link. But once more there was no voice and certainly no physical contact with his blonde counterpart. They simply did as instinct dictated, they watched and waited until prey came to them, and in the meantime observed the Immortal as the now acolyte of the Tibetan monastery had his head shaved yet again as he knelt on the dirt before the temple, then sat in silent prayer as the others were similarly stripped of hair.

Raven locks removed and a saffron robe donned, there were few differences between he and the others in the place of contemplation and study, though his height, extraordinary eyes, timelessness and immense age, and now a very apparent inner calm, after nearly eighty years of careful schooling, set him quite apart from the others.

The two spiders heard the rumours from the other acolytes, he had come from the Rome at the time of the emperor Claudius, via Constantinople and then the silk route, veering off to stop in a temple high in the Tibetan hills at Shalu, around twelve miles south west of Shigatse, and almost so remote as to be almost the stuff of legend.

Anton had apparently arrived and was accepted for his willingness to learn and very genuine need to establish his own balance. He had been wandering rather aimlessly for so long alone, that he had even begun to doubt his own existence. Despite occasionally acting as interpreter, respected (and paid) for assisting merchants through Persia and India, he was still unable to see his own reflection and his continuing need to feed on blood had led him to seek the ‘truth’.

As the two spiders took their next meal in their new form, Anton knelt with his fellow students, though unlike their bowls of rice and curries, he humbly accepted the small bowl of goat’s blood, reassured that the animal had been treated with reverence and kindness after she gave up the fluid. His prayer of thanks to the dear beast – and to his Goddess – was noted by the other monks.

Three days later, in a moment of lapsed concentration during chanting, Anton noticed the webs in the front two corners of the temple. Later in the day he had meant to dismantle the delicate structures with a long handled broom, but his hand was staid by his teacher – an ancient looking priest, Ahindeh.

“Why is it you wish to destroy that which is built with such care?”

Anton immediately dropped the broom and fell to his knees. “I simply thought to keep the temple pure, teacher.”

The old man put a kind hand on Anton’s shoulder, “These creatures are doing just that, they are ensuring we are free of insects and indeed in this hot summer, are doing a service. You too know the need to hunt for your meal, and more importantly to be feared and misunderstood by humans for that very same need. Get the ladder little brother, meet your fear and befriend the two – that they might remain our protectors for the summer.”

First Xander then Spike crawled onto Anton’s open palm in turn, both nervous at first yet reassured by the calm, solid flesh. Anton spoke quietly to each in turn then gently pushed his hand back to their corners of refuge.

For the next two weeks he greeted them daily and thanked them for their service, acknowledging their right to exist and their need to kill and feed. And at the same time began to truly accept his own nature and purpose.

And then there was a shift.

 

……………….

September 1572 Heidelburg

The two little girls were hugged close, first by the strong arms of their saviour then by the ample bosom of their soon to be adoptive grandmother. The kindly cook had given them fresh milk and a small portion of sausage and bread each. Xander (apparently now called Margot) had felt quite overwhelmed by the whole experience. She ate as much as her small stomach could take and knew that wasting food was wrong but really could not finish her dinner, finally giving in to the fear and grief of their devastating loss and consequent flight from France.

Spike (now Margot’s little sister Louise) stopped mid sip of her milk and shuffled swiftly along the bench seat to comfort her sobbing sibling. She almost need not have bothered. They were both scooped up, kissed soundly, then held and rocked for many minutes. In a language that neither recognized but coos and kind caresses culminated in them both sitting quietly, hand in hand, whilst the kindly Liesel measured boiling water into two of her largest cooking pots then topped it up with cold then found some of her scented home made soap (normally kept for gifts).

The girls were helped out of their filthy travelling garb before being lifted into the blissfully warm water, each in their own ‘pot’. They were efficiently but kindly washed with a rather rough but sweet smelling cloth, and had their hair lathered then rinsed before they were allowed to stand.

Spike (Louise) stood draped in a dry cloth obviously designed for some other purpose while Xander was dried and similarly attired.

Anton and Gregor (sporting a very fresh marking bite) entered the kitchen soon after and assisted the kindly Liesel by carrying the girls to her small living quarters one story up from the kitchen and putting them to bed.

Gregor sat for many minutes stroking over freshly washed faces and quietly reciting a children’s poem he recalled from his own childhood. Xander had already given in to exhaustion and was sleeping soundly, but Spike was awake enough to feel first Gregor then Anton kissing his forehead as they did each of the little refugees in turn, and the whispered, “Here you are *all* loved and safe. We will see to that.”

As Gregor lifted the candle and the two men departed the room, little Louise (aka Spike) saw Anton throw an arm across the other man’s shoulders, saw the brotherly hug and heard, “That means you too remember… You are a good man, my new friend… I am pleased you chose to trust me.”

Just before snuggling down to spoon his ‘sister’, Spike made out the quiet reply, “Thank you Master, but I am no longer a man.”

“Nor am I Gregor, nor am I… so be at peace.”

Spike felt the shift just before he fell asleep.

………………………

 

PART 6

Pisa 1591

Xander jolted awake when a long cane slammed onto the narrow wooden desk between them.

“Zjot? Rolf? Surely I don’t bore you *that* much!”

After an emphatic and embarrassed apology to the Master, both tried to straighten on the uncomfortable pew to no avail. It was hard to concentrate when sitting for so long caused actual pain.

“I wonder if you, Zjot, would like to offer your opinion?”

Xander could still vaguely feel Spike, but focussed on the speaker and realized to their horror that he was… back at school… though not school? University! In front, on the lower pew, were twelve or so young men – all dressed in the hooded greyish gowns of the University of Florence (once again located in Pisa at the behest of Francesco 1 de Medici succeeded his father Cosmino the Great).

He knew from another's memories that they, including his cousin, Rolf aka Spike, were being taught by the brilliant young linguist and philosopher, Master Anton. Young Zjot/Xander was a little embarrassed and his first thought was that he had not completed the reading from the previous day, despite his cousin’s assistance, plus his back was aching and his lower legs were itching again the heat of the summer.

Spike had answered two questions very well – even citing an exact quote from the text – the other students sitting next to him murmured their approval, and squinted hard at the hand written text in front of them. Xander struggled to concentrate as he wriggled a bit to try to relieve the itch but knew better than to move much more than that when the Master was speaking. He noted that his cousin looked rather uncomfortable also, despite his ‘excellent performance.

“Zjot?… what is your opinion of Plato’s Protagorus and his notion of virtue? Do you like he believe it might be taught – or do you believe it to be innate?”

“Wha??”

“Your thoughts on Plato’s – or in the case of the dialogue – Socrates’ opinion?...”

“I… um…. I… um” the other students were beginning to snigger, but as he looked at the changed form of his cousin Rolf/Spike he rallied a little, “Who knows what good and evil *is*? We’re *all both, you can’t be good all the time… I… um… I don’t think Plato really knew either, he just wanted us to think about it. ”

Anton nodded his approval but saw his acolyte squirm in position uncomfortably and knew it was not just the difficulty of the concept and public answer that was making the boy uncomfortable. It was why they remained here under his tutelage and protection. To prevent them becoming fodder for the witch/demon hunters that currently roamed the countryside.

It had been early spring and the two were helping with the search for a group of missing ewes heavy with lambs when they had come across what they thought was some sort of wild animal on the upper slope of Zjot’s father’s land.

They could see the rest of the flock in a panicked group down the slope so shouted to the farm hands behind them to flank the group as it came through and usher them home.

Zjot and Rolf had charged the Iptigh demon and the creature had simply done as nature demanded, defending its kill ferociously when rudely interrupted by the two boys with sticks and short daggers as it fed on one of the family’s precious, pregnant sheep.

The very angry demon had managed to score both boys several times with the barb in its tail as they fought it. Unfortunately the ensuing struggle also saw demon’s blood fall on their wounds, mixing with their own and the poison from the barb, and consequently entering their blood streams before the creature had finally broken free and fled.

Open wounds obvious and still bleeding, the boys had hobbled for home, happy that the rest of their family flock of ewes were safe, but unaware that their defence, wounding of the creature and the consequent death of the demon had sealed their fate. In its last moment it murmured the spell that activated its poison and guaranteed the continuation of its species.

After the death of their assailant some hours post attack, both were struck by a fever that lasted three days, then apparently, simply lifted. Little more was made of the incident as the wounds healed and, as had been planned for many months, the two rode to Pisa to begin their studies as had been planned. The family was reasonably wealthy and their landholdings substantial. It had long been planned that the two boys receive education well beyond the usual rudimentary instruction.

The boys had only spent a month at the University when Anton began to smell the change, and in the context of talking about country versus city life and associated experiences, was privy to the tale of the demon attack. He knew the demon species and worried as the distinctive musky scent became stronger on the two young men. By the second month he was positive, there was nothing he could do now but to support them as they adjusted to their new status. He shared his concerns with Anton, and sought out a demon physician for advice and future assistance with the pair.

And so it was that on a late spring morning, three months after they arrived, both cousins reported feeling irritated and unwell. Zjot had politely asked Anton that he and his cousin return to their rooms at the first break in study, citing stomach upset as the reason, but within minutes both men fell to the ground vomiting and convulsing. Anton knew, it had started.

They were assisted to their rooms where they immediately fell unconscious. Master Anton had sent Gregor to monitor the boys and take what ever action was needed as their forms shifted. That evening Anton had dripped his blood into the slack mouths, had the two boys moved to his own quarters, and spent time meditating and praying to his dear Goddess for clemency for the two innocents.

The combination of appeals and Anton’s blood would eventually arrest the complete change allowing their facial features and hands to remain recognisably human and their original memories to be maintained.

A day later the two changelings were still unconscious and writhing in the restraints that tethered torso, wrists and ankles to their beds. It would be seven full days of unconsciousness before the two former humans woke to agonised, itching skin, aching limbs and a strange desperate craving for raw meat.

Lying on their sides facing each other, their restraints gone, they were told calm and that Anton and the physician had been called.

Zjot let out a worried whimper as he moved to scratch an itchy leg and felt thick fur, then looked across to his compatriot, to find a familiar face but set of terrified blue eyes that now had slits rather than circular pupils. They were the first of many shocking discoveries that day, though it could have been worse, their transition to a voiceless no opposing thumb Iptigh demon arrested before it was complete via a combination of Anton’s blood, physician’s serum and prayers to the gods for clemency. Even so, the catalogue of non human features was extensive.

It took a full two weeks before either had been able to walk upright without assistance or support, as fur covered legs now articulated as that of a cat rather than human, a tail needed to be controlled and strange paws with their sharp talon like nails often slipped on the hard floors of Anton’s home.

They both now preferred the crunch of bone and taste of raw meat to other food and struggled to learn to speak clearly around elongated canines, they also sported pointed, fur tipped ears.

They had been assisted by a patient Gregor as they worked out how to manage their monastic robes so as to conceal demon forms from prying eyes, large hood and overly long wide sleeves covering a multitude of differences. Their tails were the biggest difficulty until both had learned to wrap then around slim waists, though relatively uncomfortable to do and giving the two rather a ‘portly’ look, it was effective. Soft suede, ‘winter’ shoes worn year round meant paws and claws were concealed.

But it was the notion that they were now outcasts that was the hardest to deal with, and one that their Master Anton was still helping them with. Unable to go home or mix with humans other than when cloistered in the safety of the University, it had taken many months before the two were even confident enough to venture out to the sunny patch of lawn in the middle of the mews.

 

Now sitting in class across from Rolf/Spike, the changed Zjot/Xander smiled a little as he suddenly realized that Master Anton, too, struggled with the idea of virtue, its definition so often society driven, or church driven, or power driven. It was no different in demon circles as he and Rolf (and their alter egos) now knew.

A year previously, Master Anton, accompanied by Gregor, had introduced them to ‘the other’, the demon communities. It had been a relief and a shock all at once. They entered a long tunnel from a cave mouth on the outskirts of the city terrified of what they might find, but with the legendary Immortal at their side they were treated with a deal of respect and for the first time since their change. Within a half hour they were completely at ease with showing their true form, relieved to finally be able to walk with their tails at ease and hoods down as they wound their way through the bizarre bazaar in the small set of catacombs underneath Pisa.

They followed Anton until he ushered them into an enormous cavern filled with all manner of demons and other world creatures. Both boys’ stared in disbelief at the array. The aim that night was to unite the demon clans of the Italian region so a series of ‘safe houses/places’ in cities and rural locales might be established as the black death, self appointed inquisitors, church leaders and witch hunters captured and murdered, and drove the human population to fear and seek to eliminate the ‘other’.

Xander had Zjot’s memories of that night. Their remaining human-taught prejudices and struggling sense of self had been confronted, in particular by a young Iptigh demon who immediately treated them as relatives – though their change was not quite complete. She was a very attractive creature with pale fur, refined features, pretty chocolate eyes and a tail that seemed to have a mind of its own, venturing under their robes to find first their tails then their private regions as they stood chatting.

She smelt wonderful and Xander remembered feeling acutely embarrassed as his body responded, tail refusing to be controlled and erection emerging from its now furry encasement to brush the inside of his robe and drip a little fluid. His cousin had been similarly affected and he had smelt the arousal courtesy of heightened demon senses.

Master Anton was magnificent as leader of the meeting, the demon clans all recognized the strength of the magical signature, bowed to his age and listened intently to his wise counsel. He did not discriminate between those who were killers of humans and those who were not as food sources and natural prey was not the matter under question. The only topic on the agenda was the safety of all magical creatures in their region and the associated strategies to achieve that.

The two had felt strangely reassured. Both had experienced the bloodlust associated with their new form and had occasionally given in to the urge, hunting in a nearby forest or paying a farmer for a live piglet or goat. Pure blood Iptigh always preferred red meat on the hoof and did not kill humans unless in self defence, but they still expected criticism and punishment from Anton for giving in to their desires when he seemed to contain his own so easily.

But that night they saw a different Anton and understood why he did not condemn them for their instinctive acts. Half way through the meeting a group of young maverick vampires led by the Master of Rome began to threaten the tenuous agreement and alliances made around the middle of the meeting. The Childer and Minions of the Master Stavros (and with them a few other demons) began to heckle, yelling loudly over the others and claiming that they were all giving in to the humans and ‘running scared’ when they should be targeting the demon haters and kill everyone associated with them.

Anton knew the Master’s reputation, and his connections. His call was not based on need but on gaining power over the gathered group. As their protests became violent and the more passive of the beings present began to cower and attempt to move toward the dais or exits for safety, Anton struck. In moves so swift and violent that few of the protestors could even track him, the Immortal dusted the dangerous Master, then all but drained five of his ‘support team’, while Gregor gagged and tied three of the slower dissident demons who had cheered the vampires on.

The show of strength was appreciated and the meeting concluded an hour later with seventy safe houses, twelve underground locations, and a number of warning strategies established to assist their diverse magical community.

Xander/Zjot came back to the present as Rolf’s tail snuck from the confines of his robes to find and intertwine with his cousin’s appendage. The effect was electric and Rolf/Spike turned to give Zjot a wicked grin.

As Anton took his chalk piece and turned to scribe some of the major points made by Plato on the blackened wall, Rolf/Spike leaned in close and whispered, “I’m glad we’ve been changed… now virtue is in making love not denying it.” With that his non writing hand slid under Xander’s robe and began to gently stroke and massage the furry member between Xander’s legs.

Anton smelt the arousal and turned from his writing, only to be met by unrepentant, affectionate grins from the two demons, his charges, in the front row. From where he stood he could see the tails wrapped around each other and undulating slightly. He smiled a little as he turned back to his task, deciding that virtue, like love for another, was difficult to define and may or may not be approved of by society and therefore, perhaps, innate. After ‘that night’ and the consequent instigation of the ‘safe house’ system (and saving of hundreds of the magical community) the system spread like wildfire across Europe – as did Anton’s reputation as leader/elder. And Anton, the Immortal, found himself absolutely comfortable with the role, truly straddling ‘good and evil’ for the first time in his very long life.

He was leaving for Rome for a few days – unbeknownst to his students, he would check on the new Master Vampire there, with the full knowledge that the city was his should he want it – it seemed his Immortal blood donated to the eldest Childe of the departed Master Stavros after the night of the ‘Alliance’ had that effect.

Later that evening in their shared small room, Zjot silently joined Rolf on his narrow bed. Tails wound together and began to move just enough, the soft pelts of their underbellies rubbed together deliciously and sharp nails scraped against furred shafts until both were exposed, erect and leaking. In the end, the only solution was to rotate, tails still holding each other, enabling mouths to take appendages and working toward conclusion.

As their world went into a sated black, Spike and Xander felt the shift begin again.

 

PART 7

London 1592

Spike found himself sitting in a dark room beside his partner – and in this life, once again, his best friend. His head itched and the dress(!) he was wearing was uncomfortably tight around his ribs and waist. His friend leaned over and whispered “Your voice will break soon I’m sure! And then we can *both* be boys. I mean… come on Will… cheer up! You are so good at this stuff and Mister Shakespeare thinks you are brilliant as Juliet! Oh… I’ve gotta go… me Paris with a sword, but you’re still the one who gets make the boys all hot and bothered! Perks of the job ehh?” Xander/Richard winked and went to stand stage left ready for his entrance.

Will knew it was important to do well. It was the first anniversary of the Globe, now located on the opposite side of the river to ‘The Theatre’ (formerly the Blackfriars Theatre) run by his employer Richard Burbage’s brother Cuthbert. The players had only just arrived back into London after yet another plague episode which closed the theatres and drove them into the provinces to perform for any audience they could find.

Spike was strangely in his element in the theatre. His host body obviously knew his lines and associated stage moves, and his own studies and passion for Shakespeare’s works in his lifetime paid dividends.

As Juliet, he was stunning, fine boned and pretty, regardless of gender, he graced the stage to answer his nurse’s call to the cheer of an audience who admired him as a fine actress and lovely girl. He loved the play but hated kissing John (Romeo) – who always tried to push in a tongue had foul breath and regularly insulted him with words like 'bent-like-a-Will-ohh', 'sailor’s-slut' and 'Pussy-loves-Dick' (playing on the fact that Will and Richard shared a tiny room in the slums near the theatre).

In the past two years, to his embarrassment, so many had commented on his beauty that he had twice been forced by the Queen’s men to stand at rehearsal, raise his skirts and prove his manhood. The sniggers of the soldiers as they ‘inspected’ *him* and commented on the type of man that would cross dress were more hurtful than any comment made by his fellow players, or the humiliation of being reported. He knew that at fifteen and a half he had yet to grow… in all departments… and was further frustrated by the fact that his best friend even had facial hair! Will sometimes worried that he would be condemned to the female roles for all time…

Burbage led a guest around to the actors’ area after the play.

“This is a visitor from Italy lads… and after tonight’s fine effort he had donated two hundred fine Sovereigns to our establishment. Will, in particular, caught his eye. Well done Will. The Count has asked that you attend him.” There were several badly muffled guffaws from his fellow players – and he distinctly heard the badly disguised “Faggot” in a cough from Romeo (aka John) who then stared at him with a sneer, all but daring a comment.

Will simply nodded meekly and stood, eyes cast down. He was still in costume though sans wig, something that did not escape his friend Richard/Xander who stood also and appealed to the stranger on Will’s behalf. “Please good Sir, allow Will to change and remove the powder and colour from his face. His costume is most uncomfortable, and I know he will be better company for you without it.”

Anton was rather pleased and surprised by the boldness of the talented young actor’s friend, “I would have it no other way, and would be pleased if you attend dinner with us also. I fancy Master Burbage will approve your attendance also.” As Richard/Xander’s jaw dropped, Anton turned to Burbage, “And of course your lovely wife, Winifred isn’t it? Please feel free to invite her.”

Richard Burbage looked decidedly shocked, “Yes… um well yes that would be nice – but unfortunately she is in the country with the children… the plague you see.”

“Ahhh yes the plague… Well no matter – Have you asked..”

“The script writer? Shakespeare… yes of course!”

“Excellent! He’s promised me a copy of one of his sonnets and a new play in exchange for fifty Sovereigns – I’ve asked him to do something about Verona.”

Burbage looked incredulous, fifty Sovereigns would keep his friend in luxury for months – and gave ample excuse for many plays to be penned without interruption! He turned his gaze upon the boys and growled, “Well??!! Go clean up! Our patron is *waiting*.”

Will and Richard nodded then scurried off to the changing room, both eager to escape the comments and sniggers of their colleagues regards pretty boys, foreigners and threesomes.

The tavern was on the north side of the Thames, close to the tower, and rather a quieter affair than Burbage and Shakespeare were used to. The food was good, the company interesting and mood jolly. Shakespeare penned his Eighteenth Sonnet from memory for Anton, and the Spike part of Will gasped as it was handed to the Immortal. It was the same parchment, lovingly preserved, that Anton had given he and Xander after their first venture to Italy.

But it was the conversation later that evening, when Shakespeare and Burbage were busy ‘wenching’ (i.e. drunk, dancing and fooling with the ladies) that led Spike and Xander to understand why they had been flung into this role.

It had been Xander that had initiated the conversation after feeling decidedly uncomfortable sitting staring at his own fists, in silence, opposite their benefactor.

“Sir? Sir… um… Do… do… um sorry… but do you have a castle? You know… that you live in?”

Anton smiled, “I have lived in many but only own two, and they are small in comparison with the grandeur of your Queen’s castle here.”

Richard/Xander’s eyes went wide but it was Will who finished the thought, “You’ve been in there?”

“Well of course! Her Majesty wanted an interpreter, I speak and read a number of languages and happened to be invited to assist. Your dear monarch really isn’t good with the eastern languages – quite understandable really. I think she also finds me… pleasant on the eye and rather amusing.”

“How did you learn so much? Do so much? And you are so young?!”

“We’re not always what we seem.” Anton looked hard at Will. “You know you are not a girl, but you *are* a very beautiful boy. Others misinterpret that, take you for something you are not… think you are young, weak or somehow effeminite and vulnerable, that can be used to your advantage… If you are judged as weak or different so be it, but by staying true to yourself, all will be well in the end.” It seemed as though Anton had started to talk to himself not his company, so when the handsome man in front of Will seemed to sigh and look sad, he moved to sit right beside him and took up the man’s hand. Richard/Xander noted the move and repeated it on the other side. Anton smiled at that.

“When this season is done, come and stay with me in Surrey for a few weeks of fishing and recreation. I have a lovely little estate on the river and would appreciate the extra company and you boys would prove a welcome uncomplicated change. What do you say Burbage? Of course you and Shakespeare here are welcome – though I forgive you should you decline, I believe wives and families too have demands.”

Again Anton looked very sad and the glance across to his silent manservant Gregor spelt bushels of pain and longing. Will squeezed the hand he was holding and leaned in close. The man made him feel loved and respected just by permitting the contact, the least he could do was provide comfort. Richard did likewise. Both were rewarded by joined hands being lifted for a soft, thankful kiss from a man that their alter-egos knew so well.

It had only been a day or so since their shift, yet that night, curled up on their shared, tiny bed in a rented loft above a boot maker’s shop, they felt the pull again.

……………………..

Spike knew immediately he came to his senses. It was Zurich on the seventh day of the seventh month, 1652. The young banker adjusted his small spectacles the v-clip giving little purchase and inclined to fall if not attended. At home he was inclined to tie a ribbon from one side to the other, but it was hardly the look for a professional young banker at his place of employ.

Hardly a man of numbers, Willem (and Spike reflected – at least this time he would remember his own name!), had been employed for his gift with languages, his attractive boyish features that seemed to put the customers at ease, and the fact that he was the grandson of one of the founders of the bank, (always a bonus).

One customer, who was more than just that, entered and waited to be ushered to the desk.

Pierre, youngest son of the Canton ruler of Solothurn grinned at the blonde Willem as he approached, politely leading an attractive man with jet black hair and amazing green eyes. Willem felt a spike of jealousy, then the real Spike’s memories kicked in and he relaxed.

“May I introduce Herr Anton La Intemporel … He is a man of some substance with interests in many places, and wishes to deposit his holdings in your bank’s capable hands.”

Willem stood and offered his right hand, keeping his left, as was custom, on the rather ornate decorative, short sword sheathed at his hip.

The grasp of the other man was firm yet friendly, and the conveyed friendship plus something he felt quite challenged by, the unmistakable feel of brotherly love.

They processed the transaction and locked away Anton La Intemporel’s ‘extra’ funds, along with the deeds for various properties in five countries.

Will then suggested Herr Anton take a leisurely walk along the walled river. The man had just deposited nearly a thousand gold coins, and a variety of jewellery into the vault. If an infatuation with a young employee was afoot, then Pierre knew that the pretty, blindingly intelligent Will, would understand his reason for choosing him as the banker.

Instead however, they were both invited to go fishing in the warmth of the late afternoon.

Willem was rather embarrassed at his inexperience even, Spike had done a minimum or fly fishing in his time – so those memories did not help.

As they wandered down the well worn track by the river, La Intemporel’s influence was almost electric but the two humans felt oddly calm despite the ongoing dialogue being difficult at times and the noble preferring to stand, silently fishing or contemplating the stars. For Willem, fishing was wet and cold and frustrating if nothing was caught, nevertheless that was not why he was there,

The Immortal looked from Canton leader’s son to young banker and back. The attraction was obvious, the arousal potent, afternoon warm, and mood relaxed.

He and his man Anton took the fishing lines in hand and let the two lads relax together on the bank. Anton looked over at the pair as they tentatively began to caress each other, they were so young, so innocent and trusting, so pretty together.

They would take wives no doubt, but the elite were renowned for having discrete liaisons, some lasting years, and though it would need to be *very* discrete given the same gender, in a way that also helped… it was, after all, now very much a man’s world.

As the group of fishermen (and the fishers of men) wandered up the bank to their horses and departed, Pierre slept, and at the end of the day Willem turned to the enigmatic ‘Anton la Intemporel’ and in very formal tones asked a rather challenging question, “Do you, sir, think we are better than the beasts?... That we should all control our carnal pleasures? I speak of curbing our desire and creativity all at once for the sake of another being... one someone loves?”

Anton thought for a moment then smiled, “Only if the person is worth it. One can endure anything if that is the case. Control is more about endurance and acceptance than it is about power. It is the ultimate form of worship and admiration. The ultimate self flagellation in the name of honour.”

At the end of the day, as Gregor made a fire upon which they could cook their catch, Anton sat quietly while Pierre spoke enthusiastically of the Cantons agreement to act as one and come together peacefully.

Lying on the bank, picking sweet, cooked flesh from the fishy bones of his meal, Willem ventured the question – despite his station, “How is it, Herr la Intemporel, that you came to us to invest?”

Anton noted the bright young blue eyes, the genuine curiosity and smiled, “I need a safe place to put my fortune, your friend here recommended your services, what better endorsement.”

The Immortal did not miss the affectionate sideways glance between the two young men, then was rather surprised by the next statement from Pierre/Xander, “Not everything is about money Herr Immortal. It helps to have it, but it is not everything.”

Anton reached for the young man’s hand and squeezed it – and it was not just the ‘perfectly behaved’ Pierre that caught the full meaning of the strangely fatherly contact, but Xander, the lost boy of Sunnydale too. As the young Canton leader’s son placed his hand over that of the Immortal’s, a jolt went through the existing link from Xander to Spike, and all three felt the desperate need to be loved, despite others’ rules.

The four men, Anton, Gregor, Pierre and Willem, spent a moonlit evening on the banks of the exit of Zurich’s main river, the two older vampires simply lying content while the younger men found solace and joy in joint release and quiet repose. Anton’s last thought… that love transcended other societal rules.

And Xander and Spike’s world shifted again…

 

……………………….

The disorientation was almost as profound as when they had woken spiders!

Xander was in the dark and could feel a leather swivelled leash around one ankle holding him fast. Wherever he was standing kept moving slightly and there were sounds of horse hooves and men’s voices. A shout went up and Xander braced himself with strangely calm anticipation.

The soft suede of his blindfolding hood was removed, and instantly he felt his leg strap released and the surface he was standing on launch him into the air. He knew what to do.

They had both learned to trust their instincts in their last bizarre incarnations and now was no different, so wings opened and the hunting hawk sped skyward, Spike his blonde feathered counterpart somewhere off to his right and mere seconds behind.

They each soared high, the magnificent long pointed wings of their peregrine falcon forms allowing a near silent attack. The ‘feathered bullets’ as they were known throughout the civilized world, took out their prey with a deadly thud as they first head butted their victims (two ducks in flight) catching the stunned birds momentarily to sever the spine with a lethal beak, before letting the far heavier bird drop and returning to their Masters.

It was the sport of Kings, and as Xander returned to his Master’s arm, Anton smiled watching Spike carefully land on the arm of a young Prince Peter. A cheer was heard from the observing crowd of nobles – amongst them the boy’s father, Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov. Mounted, with his own larger peregrine female hooded and held on a gloved arm, the man was ruler of all Russia and a passionate falconer. He almost burst with pride as his twelve year old son (one day to be known as Peter the Great) took the well trained tiercel ‘Chayton’ onto his arm without fear and fed the bird a tasty morsel of beef before replacing his hood.

That night Spike and Xander (now apparently called ‘Tiohtli’), were in their large apiary with another twenty or more falcons. Their hoods were removed as they were released into the safe space, but not before noticing the identity of the Chief Falconer, Gregor.

He spoke quietly to them, congratulating Spike especially, for being so good to the Young Prince, and letting them both know that they had done his Master Anton a *great* service, “As always my dear ones… as always… I envy you sometimes, I tend and train your chicks ready for nobility, you simply enjoy the hunt then are tended… It would be nice to hunt one’s natural prey without regret.”

Spike’s movements were typically the swift ones of his current species as he turned to glance at Xander on the other perch and then cocked his head to the side as their Master moved silently to push an open, bleeding wrist in front of their kind trainer.

As Gregor accepted the liquid gift and sustenance, Anton, the Immortal whispered, “As do I little brother, as do I… But we are as we are. And it seems that is good enough for the Prince. He has gifted us (with his father’s approval), one of his lesser country estates, so we might continue to return to assist for the summer. I assume that King Alexei really just wants to present the Belgian and French courts with their usual falcons as gifts as it is the King has promised us a handsome sum as retainer for the next year season.”

“But Master… if we stay too long they may find that we are…”

“Alexei is well aware of our ‘unique’ status… indeed one of the King’s cousins was turned when they were still teenagers. Seems he was staked by the Slayer of the time – Finnish girl - when only three months young. Sire and he were out riding in the moonlight. She threw the stake almost fifty yards to pierce his heart. Family was devastated – funny thing about Royalty… seem to cope with eccentricity in relatives a little better than their subjects.”

“I’m tired Gregor. Let us just stay for a time, accrue our wealth, and make our connections in the north. Besides I like all the world’s royalty since I can remember, appreciate the grace, the beauty and the deadliness of these magnificent creatures and their loyalty to us.” As if on cue Spike bobbed a little then cocked his head just so. He was not disappointed.

Anton continued, “My dear devoted friend, I know you’ve seen it too. The falconry is a symbol of nobility, and an entry card to the highest echelons of power. These beautiful birds, you(!), this is what we need to influence, not violence or ruthlessness (though that may prove necessary at times). Be happy here Gregor – whether it be 20 or 50 years, our lovely raptor friends offer us a key to the kingdom… of men.”

Anton stroked Spike’s feathers then Xander’s, before he and Gregor shut off the light in the apiary and departed. Two days later, on yet another hunt, they would learn that their far larger female partners had both produced fertile eggs. Anton would always breed his favourites, and rejoiced, that was as it should be. He adored his deadly game birds and it was right that their lines continue.

Anton’s permanent home would be Russia for close to ninety years, though trips to the rest of Europe would be many… Spike and Xander knew the history but resigned themselves to their current fate, strangely wondering if their offspring would be male or female, though it mattered not. They would all be cared for regardless.

The two male birds perched close and fluffed their feathers with that final thought. Then felt the next shift…
…………………….

 

PART 8

But this time the shift was back to their own time. An exhausted looking Connor jerked awake as Xander groaned and squeezed his partner’s hand. Spike’s awareness returned slowly, he wondered what they were this time, and he reached out to his mated Childe through their link and took an unnecessary intake of breath as he felt a second signature, his full blood brother!

Instantly wide awake, Spike took proper stock of their surroundings. They were as they had been when the spell was first cast, he on lying Anton’s right, Xander the Immortal’s left. He squeezed back and sent deep adoration through their immediate link and love to Connor, who’s worried, sleep deprived, tear-filled eyes now looked down on them, desperately relieved to see at least them conscious.

All Connor was able to manage was a croaky, “Hey…” before a tear escaped and tracked down his still surprisingly boyish features as he pushed a wrist against Spike’s mouth and felt the gentle piercing and two or three drafts being taken before they were withdrawn and the offering made to the Mate while he himself, for the first time in almost a month, accepted blood from his brother.

The two vampires then exchanged a little blood and sat up slowly. Connor cleared his throat then sat at the end of the bed. Neither of the ruling couple failed to notice the hand on Anton’s still inert covered leg and worried look at the gaunt features. The usually animated dancing green eyes were still closed, his breathing and heart beat absent, the perfect picture of a corpse.

“We had to… you had stopped feeding – even the force feeding wasn’t working, except when it was my blood… and I’m sorry I just… It’s just that… I didn’t have enough for all three of you, not every day! And I *knew* you needed it… but in the end… I just… Forgive me! Please?!” Begging eyes found a loving look and a smile from the High Master.

“Thought I felt a might peckish. Now come here you daft bugger, ‘n stop apologizin’ !

Spike pulled the man into his arms and hugged him as tightly as he was able, and Xander reached over to make contact also. Unfettered love and concern flowed in all directions through the link, and Connor so distressed that Helle flew into the room seconds later, Olivia on her hip. Connor’s dear partner cried out with a combination of surprise, joy and distress. They were awake.

She, Willow and Stephanie had eventually agreed to Connor’s request after they realised that the three now were failing to feed properly.

Anton’s condition still had not changed but later that night the two sides of the family compared notes.

Amelie took the notes – her older and younger siblings were all present, as were the wiccans, Gregor, plus Mistress Minna and her entourage (arriving unannounced to assist the full blood and High Master as needed).

“Tell us what you saw… it has been a month…”

Spike looked rather amazed. Now very well fed and back to full strength, he and his Mated Childe were trying to get their thoughts around the idea that it had only been just on four weeks! Nevertheless the two conveyed what they knew. Each of their incarnations were given dates, but more importantly context. If Anton was seeking something, then they had to be clear, as the now well fed High Master and Mated Childe voiced their intention to repeat the spell in an attempt to ‘go back.

Spike began the narrative, or rather the summary, some details too private to divulge, Xander only pitching in occasionally when things… became too painful for his Sire.

In the end there was a definite trend:

- Two of Kliesthenes’ soldiers, slaves and lovers, given mercy by Anton in his human guise, followed by the grief of losing a loving servant and comfort from his two. Grief and solace.

- Two slave girls , mothers of his children, their forced marking and his consequent desperation and kind acts. Grief.

- The two dogs and his turning, his special status and appreciation of their continuing loyalty. Grief and solace.

- His years of exile and the clemency of the Senator as the ‘demon’ submits to his damning. Grief and solace.

- The camel master on the Silk Road, Xander’s violation and death, and Anton’s first use of his demon nature for retribution… and the fatherly feeling of love of the other boy. Grief.

- Lessons at the Tibetan Monastery with the spiders. Acceptance of his own changed state.

- Taking in Gregor as life friend and helping the little girls. Sadness for them and solace for the lost Gregor … Love, Loyalty and Companionship.

- Respect and responsibility as academic Master at Heeidelburg, reinforcing the notion of the acceptance of the ‘other’ in all of us, and reinforced by new standing in the demon community. Anton accepted as having a role for the first time since in human form, but also aware of the ‘outcast’ factor. Devotion and Loyalty and… Power.

- In London with Burbage, mixing with royalty and influence increasing but also willing to venture his attentions to the arts. The idea of ‘not all we seem’ and ‘use the inadvertent ruse to advantage’ being the theme. Love, Respect, Power, and Companionship.

- The Swiss interlude was important too. Societal foibles would prevent males from showing affection – but allow them to be passionate in other areas. It was also the time Anton began the truly international of his interests. And they were there. Trust and Love and Investment.

- And finally as the two recalled their feathered incarnation they both simply said… Love, Loyalty, Skill and Companionship.

They were living through Anton’s unbelievably long life, and there was no doubt the reason… the struggle to make sense of such a long life when now, at a time he had found true love with the Slayer and family happiness with his boys, his partner had been cruelly taken from him, his magical status null and void to help her.

If Anton could not move beyond the notion that his dearly departed Buffy was the summation of everything he was, everything he needed for his existence, then he would be doomed for all time to a state of inanimate grief in a tomb for the undead. He needed to accept the love of others once more, and lean on family and friends, letting them lend their strength to him for a change.

At the end of the meeting all knew, the demise of Anton following her death was the *last* thing Buffy would have wanted for the love of her life.

It was the Childe Xander who spoke first. Still clad in his dark purple silk, brocaded dressing gown, his tone was commanding. “You must send us back! He *must* make sense of all this… he really must!” Xander looked to his Sire and Spike reached out to take his Childe’s hand.

“I agree. Leave us under until we are at the point of no return. If we cannot do it then… the Court will go on. Pull us out and we will all grieve together.”

Both vampires spent the following day catching up on the various business and court issues that had been identified by Connor as urgent and ‘not a Connor thing’.

That evening the family gathered. They all knew, if this did not work then their beloved Anton would not come back to them, effectively as dead as his dearly departed partner, Buffy.

Ot was the first time Spike and Xander had seen Gregor cry. Anton’s loyal loving friend stood in the shadows of the doorway his beautiful Stephanie already in the room preparing with the other wiccans to begin the spell again. But as Gregor looked at his dearest friend, his Master, he simply could not face the implications of possible the failure of the venture and fell back against the wall, sliding down and sobbing with a grief he had not felt for centuries. The ruling couple were the last to enter the room and almost tripped over the figure curled up just before the doorway. They both dropped to their knees and pushed in close.

For the first time in his very long life, Gregor cried into another man’s chest. He had always been strong for his Master but could not imagine going on without the Immortal. How could he be strong for his Stephanie if he lost his brother, his Master, his father figure, his best friend, his surrogate Sire?? His demon was grieving, his soul lost, his whole identity challenged and his hope waning. Stephanie needed her strength for the spell, but as Connor joined the ruling couple on the floor the noble Gregor collapsed forward in an agonised flood of tears keening and simply sobbing over and over, “Take my blood… drain me… but save him… Please save him… Please save him. He is my brother, my friend, my father, my master… please… br…bring him back!!!”

Spike pulled the dear friend into a tight hug, kissed him on the forehead soundly, then did something he had never dared before, with lightening speed he moved to bite just below the vampire’s mark and drew blood, as Spike took a long draft, first Xander, then Connor gave their wrists to Anton’s devoted servant and loyal household member.

Eventually the mood calmed and close to midnight (and a full moon) the Xander and Spike kissed loved ones then lay down with the Immortal once more. At the very last minute before they were hit by the spell again, Willow mentioned something in passing, “Maybe he just needs to make his way back here too? Maybe this is about the accepting love in the now and believing it will continue…?”

Spike took that onboard to ponder as their world went black once more.

 

 

Part 9

 

The two young men came too with a jolt as the annoyed tapping of an orchestra conductor signalled yet another stop in their practice. Will/Spike recognized the music immediately from his own experience and as soon as they restarted the introduction to “O zittre nicht”. It was Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” (the Magic Flute) and the violins were struggling with the new opera, and they only had another two weeks of rehearsal.

Alec/Xander was on tympani and was doing a fine job according to the conductor. He looked over sympathetically as once again the second violins were targeted as the rather obsessive (often drunk) Mozart had the same passage repeated, and repeated… and repeated. They were playing at a rather ‘out of town’ opera house in Vienna, but it was by no means obscure – indeed a perfect place to launch Mozart’s latest opera. But in the late summer of August 1791 it was fearfully hot in the orchestra pit.

Finally they were allowed to pack up. Discussions of the dress rehearsal in ten days’ time brought groans as all knew that would mean the itchy wigs, tight breaches and stockings… and little if any break. They could only hope it was a cool day.

As Will/Spike packed away his instrument – carefully cleaning the finely polished surface of any sweat or marks and rubbing resin onto the bow, his friend, and room mate, sidled up behind him and leaned casually against the wall of the orchestra pit.

“Tavern tonight?”

“Nahhh, better get this intro sorted or I’ll be out on my arse and playing second fiddle in some gypsy band!”

“Oh come *on*! You weren’t the one at fault! Even I could hear it was Carl!”

“Don’t matter… You go, I fancy I’ll just eat the bread and cheese then make sure…”

“Oh C’mon Will! You’re the best they have in the seconds… and it’s been weeks since you’ve come out with us… Mozart is sure to show… Oh come *on* Will! Just come for a while at least… Please?”

“Mozart’s there he’ll wonder why I’m not home practicing…”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Besides Aart said one of the major patrons might be there, Count Someone-or-other, very young and *very* rich apparently. Old money too – apparently something to do with the Russian Court as far back as Peter the Great.”

Will finally agreed and followed his friend still carrying his violin and grumbling about ‘old blokes and money and snobbery’. They walked across the cobbled town square pink lit with the sunset.

Veering off into an alleyway the two soon found themselves amongst the patrons of the tavern as the warm night drew people into the street. The two orchestra members wound their way through the mêlée of drinkers and eventually found their fellow musicians, their conductor, most of the singers, plus two men they had seen sitting silently in the balcony seats at the opening of Mozart and da Ponte’s revival of the popular 'Marriage of Figaro' two years previously.

At the time, the entire orchestra had been told that the patron had donated a large sum of money to assist the company, and that he was a personal friend of the Emperor Joseph II, though most assumed a relative, given his young age.

Will instantly recognised the twenty something, handsome man, as he stood with his slightly older manservant.

The Count was a tall, slim figure with raven hair, amazing green eyes and exuding a confidence and charisma that drew a crowd of admirers, most, in this case, members of the current opera production. But for some reason Count Anton's attention fell to the two young men who joined the jolly group of players, and in particular, his piercing gaze focused on the quiet blonde sporting a violin case.

To Will and Alec’s surprise, they were the suddenly the focus of the entire group as the young Count strode through the group and welcomed them into the crowded beer house.

“Hah! Finally someone with an instrument! And what timing… we are in need of a tune. Come good sir, your skills can not go unappreciated. Gregor will find you and your friend drinks if you will but entertain us for a while.”

Will’s blush of embarrassment was head to toe as he studied his shoes most avidly. Alec likewise chose to drop his gaze, but as the youthful Count placed an un-gloved hand under the shy, perfectionist, violinist’s chin, everything changed. Neither Will nor Alec was equipped to deal with the presence of the Immortal when they were his single focus. Finally Will managed a near whispered, “Yes alright…” then turned to Alec “Can you provide the beat?”

Alec merely nodded and both were glad to accept a mug of ale from the enigmatic Gregor as were given a few moments to gather their thoughts, and for Alec to find something that would suffice as a drum. Fortunately the tavern owner had an old hand held instrument from Ireland that had been given to him by a grateful patron. The man fetched it while Alec and Will downed their drinks and seated themselves on a table ready to play.

Will started with a hearty tune that he knew the members of the company would recognize from the Marriage of Figaro and was pleased that fine voices were soon all but drowning out his and Alec’s playing.

What followed was an evening of dance and song, Will and Alec all but exhausted by the end. Will’s final piece was a slow lament, a piece he had written himself after his mother died, and played as though the violin was his own cries of loss. It marked the end of the evening. As he wiped down his instrument ready to place it in its case, Will smiled tiredly at Alec, “Got my practice in after all.”

They were about to leave when the Count Anton approached them. “I thank you, gentle sirs. Tonight surpassed all my expectations, as I intended only to show my support then leave. Ahh but it is now past midnight and I cannot remember such a fun filled night in years. Please, do me the honour of accepting a ride home in my carriage. It’s raining, and the least I can do.”

Will thought to protest, then decided to take a chance when he saw Alec’s delighted expression and near frantic nod. Navigating the dark streets of Vienna was hard (and somewhat dangerous) enough when the roads and alleyways were dry. Wet, it was extremely unpleasant as well. Yet good manners were important.

“Thank you Sir, you are most generous, but we would not want to put you to any trouble.”

“There is no trouble involved I assure you. Indeed I have a favour to ask of you. I am to entertain an important delegation from beyond Italy in two weeks’ time, I wonder if you would agree to playing for the occasion. I will speak to Maestro Mozart – you might come following your performance, if that is not too much to ask. You would of course be paid and accommodated for the evening.”

In the end they both agreed to the ride enthusiastically, but worried a little regards the other request. Their trip home was consequently taken in luxury, with their host Anton, to their surprise, more than willing to make friendly conversation with his travel companions.

He queried them regards their music, families and life in general, sharing little of his own lifestyle but enough to pique the two musicians’ interest. Alec divulged that he was a lucky orphan taken in by his elderly Uncle, a priest and lover of music. He had been trained to play organ but shined on percussion and had found himself in demand as his skill on the glockenspiel and timpani found him moving to Vienna and with almost permanent work.

Will’s shy voice piped up after Alec fell silent, revealing to the Count that he was the only sibling in his family to have survived beyond ten, and parents both dying of a lung illness during a particularly cold winter. Consequently he was left to find his own way in life at fourteen. A gifted violinist, he had been accepted into a small chamber group immediately, and later into the regular opera orchestra.

“Alec and I were in the same orchestra for almost a year and eventually got talking. It seemed right and I asked Alec to move in with me. After the burials, I had enough from the sale of the apartment to survive but Alec needed somewhere too. We pooled our resources and were able to afford our small rooms.” Will shrugged then plucked up the courage to ask, “If I may be so bold… What of your family, Sir?”

It was the first time the dancing eyes of the Count looked pained and Will quickly tried to retract the statement, “Oh… please… Excuse my prying. I have no right…” Will’s gaze immediately fell to the floor, he shrank back into the seat as the carriage took yet another turn, and worked his hands desperately as he attempted to think of some way to ease the distress of their kind benefactor.

Anton did not fail to notice the affectionate arm that wormed its way around the young violin player’s shoulders, or hear the whispered, “It’s OK, Will. C’mon… It’ll be OK.”

The Immortal reached forward and touched both on the knee with his full magical signature all but burning, “Worry not, I am simply sad to have lost those I love so many years ago. I like you, am alone, as is Gregor here. But I, like you with Alec, find solace in a loyal and kind friend. We together will prevail, but you two also have your music… Please agree to play at my home…”

Will saw a fellow soul in the begging eyes and instinctively reached for the pale hand, lifting it to his lips and kissing it, looking pointedly at his companion, “It would be our honour Sir.”

Four days later, after but two practices with wonderful harp player Danton, they were graced by the presence of an exquisite soprano, Illizia and amazing tenor, Minos. Both had voices that would have outstripped any on the stage at the time… but were obviously not in need of employ as Count Anton greeted each with the kiss on both cheeks of a familiar.

Will found himself playing as never before and the singing drawing tears. He poured his heart into the playing and let the salty tributes fall. The extraordinarily tall, blonde woman was singing to his very soul, and there was no way his emotions could be stemmed.

He looked over to his dear friend who was currently playing French horn (not Alec's first choice of instrument but one which he had command of) and noted his friend was similarly affected.

The following night at a second party, they were joined by an unexpected cello, played extremely skilfully by the man who had employed them.

The night progressed as expected and the arias were well known but they found themselves in the presence of royalty from five different countries, and a number of other folk that seemed ‘different’ somehow. Nevertheless Alec and Will felt comfortable in their positions on the slightly raised stage at the top of the ballroom.

The second evening, like the first, was a triumph, though both Will and Alec did wonder at a few incredibly pale guests, several of whom wore the garb of Muslim men and women and seemed unwilling to dance, though were undoubtedly enthusiastic in their applause and obviously appreciative of their host’s prowess.

It was almost four in the morning on their second night in the castle when Will and Alec followed Master Gregor to their rooms.

They had barely changed into their night gowns when a soft knock on the door startled both men a little.

The Count Anton excused himself, then astonished them both by approaching and swiftly kissing each on both cheeks.

“I cannot thank you enough for tonight. And I would ask that you play for me again… at any time you can… I ask as one who seeks solace after so long.”

Will, with Spike’s memories of their task, also recognized the cry for help, and in an atypical act gave in to his combined memories. To his friend Alec’s amazement the young Will fell to his knees at the feet of their patron and fell forward, hugging the Count’s knees.

“I would play for you to the end, were I given the chance.”

Anton was visibly moved, and took the exquisite face in his hands, lifting the visage until he could meet blue eyes with now tearful green, “Why?”

Will answered honestly, “Because I know I can serve you and … And you feel like family.” At that moment the young violinist felt incredibly embarrassed, but as his gaze fell, he felt Alec’s strong arm circle his waist to pull him close, and he relaxed a little.

The Count thanked him then Alec, then took up Will and Alec’s right hands in turn kissing then biting hard into the palms. It was a strange yet strangely unfrightening act and as blood was willingly given, both humans fell back and happily surrendered their love to the rather sad Count. And as he bit the rather enthralled boys, each embarrassingly released their joy into their breeches. Spike and Xander both passed out just as they began to feel the shift.

………………..

 

The roar of canons was deafening – as was the cry of the wounded. The ground ran with blood and the air so thick with smoke from rifles that breathing was becoming an issue, or would have been had they needed to breathe now. Teodoro (Spike) felt around and finally found it, the date in the tiny diary in the pocket of the remnants of his Spanish uniform noted June 28, 1813, and had the simple words “I think we’re winning.” as an entry.

Then Spike began to recall his body’s memories.

Wellesely had commanded their rather depleted addition to the English and Portuguese divisions, but as Wellington arrived with his lot, all had changed. The young Spanish captain had commanded his troops admirably, as had his Portuguese counterpart Alejandro, but both had fallen in battle.

Happy that the British had turned up with Wellington, the young Spaniard remembered cleaning his weapon enthusiastically after their first assault. Napoleon’s first defeat in the Peninsula War looked about to happen when the French army had flanked their Spanish division and a hail of bullets then bayonets took out most of their front line, of which he was one. His last conscious thoughts were a prayer for his wife and two children and wish that his fellow Lieutenants had better fortune.

It was not until night, as the moans of the dying on the field judged too injured to be saved, or simply missed, lay in the rivers of blood of the four and a half thousand mutilated bodies, that he had seen his maker. The vampires and various other opportunist demons picking through what the humans had left behind.

He and a captain from the Portuguese army woke two nights later, turned for their looks as Childer by a Master Vampire. Sadly there was not the connection to their Sire in their first waking moments, instead there was the extreme feeling of grief and loss as they felt his dusting when stray artillery fire blew his head away. So at three days undead and only just risen, their role was unclear.

They and six others, the rest minions, huddled in the holes made by canon fire in the day, as the last days of battle raged, and at night, fed from the dead and dying. As the French withdrew and the battlefield fell silent, they were amazed to see five or six more of their kind winding their way through the broken bodies and detritus of battle, minions sired by minions with demons so weak that the resulting vampires had little more intelligence than the average sheep.

But in the end they were all lost and simply stood, confused and bereft amongst the blood and the filth, mourning their own deaths and those of the battle mates most dear, but also wishing for their Sire yet knowing intuitively that he was no longer with them. They wandered as a lost group, now ignoring the free flowing blood of the dead as they picked their way through the carnage, their uniforms torn and faces and bodies bloodied. Then they all felt it, a call from the east of the field that carried more than just a spoken word, and had them heading toward a tall, ancient vampire, but not. One who exuded such power that the group of ‘lost boys’ fell to their knees and crawled the final few metres in supplication.

Anton gave all but two a single draft of his own blood via a bitten finger and directed Gregor to lead the now loyal and compliant group back to his stronghold. Meanwhile he fed the two Childer a little more. He would pass them on to the Master of Madrid – a relatively liberal vampire ruler with a penchant for pretty boys and likely to treat the two pretty creatures of the night with as much kindness as could be expected of a vampire.

Three days later as the two were stripped of their clothing by Anton’s staff, and adorned with collars and capes to signal their ownership and conceal their nudity, Alejandro begged their captors, “Please sir… *Please* keep us together… *Please*!” The two fledgelings were huddled together and grasped hands then stilled as the Immortal approached. He took their offered necks then gave them a little of his blood.

Anton felt the connection, not partners yet but certainly connected and of the same Sire. He would have taken the beauties for his own but he and Gregor were just passing through, so in the end he reluctantly handed them on to Master Carlos in Madrid. The sweet lads endeared themselves immediately by first kissing Anton’s then Gregor’s hand then turning to take a submissive kneel in front of their new master, soon to be surrogate Sire, and exposing their necks.

Before Anton left, Teodoro/Spike crawled forward in his prostrated position until at the Immortal’s feet and chanted over and over, “Thank you, once more I have a family, thank you, thank you… thank you.”

Anton looked long and hard at the two then answered, “You are welcome little brother, I understand.”

And their world went black.
……………………

The gathering was to be a rather formal affair, the picture of upper class Victorian polite society, the two boys jerked to consciousness holding full trays of drinks, Alexander almost dropping his as the transition took place.

They were standing in a high class English Men’s Club. It was apparently early evening and a New Years’ Eve celebration circa 1875.

The young servant Alexander steadied, but his fellow serving boy all but fell as Spike’s memories mixed with those of the young John he now inhabited, as he watched his father, a man who had died when he was but thirteen years old, grace the room.

Anton was there also and engaged Spike’s father in conversation, and for the first time Spike, William, was privy to his father’s pride in his son’s academic prowess and love of cricket.

It only took a few moments before ‘John’ was too emotional to stand still. Luckily his tray was empty of drinks as he faltered and almost dropped it as he retreated to the kitchen at speed, the party none the wiser that the lad was in distress and in tears. But for one.

Anton followed him to the kitchen, pulling the lad back after his tray of glasses was safe, and stilled him as the boy was about to retreat hurriedly into the bowels of the building. Pale green eyes levelled with blue as the boy slumped “What, pray tell, has such a pretty boy so sad?”

It was Spike’s other ‘John’ who answered his Master respectfully, but it was Spike’s unfettered sentiments, “I [hic] I am so sorry Vis[hic]count but I… oh… Sir, I fancy I saw a familiar face, Sir, [hic] one of my dead father. I am sorry to be any trouble Sir [hic]… truly sorry.” Tears fell freely.

The Viscount Anton watched as shoulders slumped but pushed the issue a little, “He was a good man?”

The young servant would have fallen to his knees if he could but simply held his head in his own hands as he began to sob even harder, “He was… a g…[hic]…good man… an…[hic]…nd he… he… never really… knew h..how much I l…l…[hic] loved him! Then he was gone but… I-still-loved-him-still-missed-him! And he never knew!!!” And as he gave in to his tears John felt cool strong arms envelope him and a soothing baritone begin to comfort him.

“I too had a father loved and lost, and to this day seek out the sense of belonging, of family. You are my servant John, but you, and Alexander… and Cook Constance and Penny the maid – you are all part of this household, part of a family of sorts. Now who is it that reminds you of one so loved?”

“Um [hic and heavy sigh] The man with the neat dark moustache and black suit, Sir, the one by the fire place. Oh I am *so* sorry to be a bother… I [hic] I will do better Sir I promise!”

Anton patted the boy’s arm with genuine affection, “I’m sure you will, we all will.”

Anton urged the boy to wash his face then led the still rather emotional John out into the party and in a very unusual move, deliberately introduced the unbelievably shy John to Spike’s father, a man he had barely known in life. It was no longer John in control, but Spike who’s own memories were dictating the behaviour. His father caught his proffered hand and politely greeted the young boy as they were formally introduced as though John were one of the guests, the QC all the while looking curiously at the Viscount.

Viscount Anton prompted him by saying, “The boy wished to meet you and I thought it might spur him on with his studies were he to meet you. He is quite an astute student.”

Anton ignored John’s nervous toeing of the rug as he explained to Robert James Bartlett QC that the boy had confessed to the barrister reminding him of a dead father, to which the QC smiled rather sympathetically, nodded at Anton then addressed the boy. “I have a son around your age, he too enjoys his studies. I hear the Viscount has all his staff taught to read and write these days. What is it you like to read?”

John/Spike looked at the carpet then braved a glance at the rather handsome face of his long dead father. “Poems, Sir, I do like poems… and Shakespeare… and the Greek Myths… Sir… I…” John suddenly felt terribly awkward, whispered “Sorry, Sir.” Then returned his attention to the carpet as Robert Bartlett QC looked to Viscount Anton and stated more for the boy’s benefit than any other, “Well it seems you have quite the scholar on your hands Viscount. Would that my William were so dedicated to the greats at such a tender age, still, the serving classes have reason to strive to read for distraction I suspect. Nevertheless” The mousey brown haired man turned to Anton, “Well done Viscount, there are few who would bother with such a venture.”

“Sir, I too benefit from the exercise.”

And with that John knew to withdraw. Spike so emotional that he barely made it down to the corridor outside the kitchen

Alexander barely deposited his tray of glasses on the bench before he raced to his friend’s side, somehow the Mated Childe link transcending the shift. Regardless of the Viscount’s presence, he wrapped himself around his Sire’s current manifestation and nuzzled his bared neck.

The act grounded them both and Anton, who had followed worried about the boy, was amazed and confused by the act, and mouthed a simple “I wonder?”

…………………..

It was strange… Spike and secondarily his Mate Xander felt history catching them for the first time like flashes in a dream: William the Bloody being turned in 1880; 1893 the frustration of Angelus as the Immortal rescued a group of nuns from his clutches in Nice, Italy; various flashes of Spike’s own past as part of the Scourge of Europe; their rampage across Rome for the two weeks prior to their 1894 Room of Pain experience – the ‘stiff reprimand’.

The next set of flashes were fraught with sadness as Spike recalled Angelus’ gaining of his soul and consequent disappearance then the Boxer Rebellion, followed by the return to Europe and eventual flight from the very angry Darla.

It was all a bit of a jumble but then…

…………………

The two awoke but in *very* different guises this time. It was 1915. Xander/Docker felt the hobbles around his ankles and loose rope around his neck as he rose, while Spike could smell the sweaty presence of another man, and rolled over awkwardly on the uncomfortable canvas camp bed before sitting up. It was barely light but the unmistakable sound of the bugle roused the entire camp.

He had his ‘other’s’ memories but was still surprised when his tent companion Jack rolled over, scratched a slim torso, blinked crystal blue smiling eyes at him and said, “Geez mate, bloody hot in here or what! Reckon I musta been dreamin’ ‘bout Mercia again…” Then as Jack spied his own fob watch, there was a yelp and Willem’s fellow ‘light horseman’ sat up with a jerk and urged him to do the same with a, “Crikey… get a wriggle on! The Brigadier is goin’ to call the charge this mornin’.”

There was a strange pause but even as he pulled on his own trousers, Jack felt compelled to say it, “I know we said before… but… the photos go back to mum and dad, you know… if…”

Spike/ Willem knew the scenario and had done it before. The two men in the tent were now both just turning twenty, on the ‘great adventure to defend Mother England’, which they had never seen. At least he had his horse. Spike knew his alter ego was recruited from just south of Perth, Western Australia with the promise of the great adventure and heroism a bonus.

“Nah, mate. Stop all that rot. Both gonna be ridin’ inta history is us. Just watch that Jezebel o’ yours. She’s a right floozy. Probably seduce one of them arab stallions the gerries are ridin’, no doubt savin’ the day!”

Spike winked at his companion and the effect was the right one, lightening the mood. Both knew that Light Horseman W. Mock rode his own bay gelding. A horse that had never shown anything but loyalty and bravery on his rider’s behalf; of mixed breeding; and who had been ripped from the relative boredom of a rural Australian life outside a costal town called Mandurah to accompany his master to the Middle East.

Docker/Xander stood patiently and felt soothed by familiar sensations as he was brushed down and then fed a small ration of chaff and allowed to drink. His blaze and ears were rubbed affectionately and he accepted the bit, adjusting his tongue and feeling the familiar metal across his teeth. He wished his master knew, it made him feel safe, it was part of home, the only part left, and was hardly needed to ‘direct’ him. Master was a good rider and indicated his needs with firm thighs and kind words as they sprinted into the heat of battle.

For Docker/Xander it was odd. His ‘other’ knew the routine, and he felt strangely reassured as the rug went on and he knew to suck in as the girth strap tightened (the alternative was a sharp kick to the area so the saddle might fit snugly).

He waited as his master checked his own kit. Battle fatigues with standard dagger, bayonet, and on the list went. Finally he felt the pressure on his left side and then Master on his back, the squeeze of familiar thighs against his side, now such a part of both their lives that they acted as one. He tossed his head and surged forward, just to display his enthusiasm, only to be reigned in for a moment then let have his head for a little as they joined the line.

Jack and Jezabel too had come as a pair, admitted to the 4th Light Horsemen as soon as they saw steed and rider from country Victoria, around Ballarat – rode all the way to Melbourne to enlist for the great adventure… His box brownie camera and five rolls of film bought by his mother at the port, proving the most compelling images from the Egyptian conflict, some took photographs… others composed art.

They had been briefed the previous day… it was to be called the ‘Battle of Beersheba’ though quickly became referred to as ‘Bathsheba’s Behind’ by the troops who had bedded down with little water and less food ready for the final assault. It was the last day of October 1917.

The call to charge came from Brigadier General William Grant himself. Seated on his own pedigree warm blood bay mare, both William and his steed felt the jolt of adrenalin as excitement, pride and fear mixed and they took off.

They charged. Xander in his equine form sweated and began to struggle for breath as he was urged to sprint even faster over the last part of the four mile stretch. The Turkish in their trenches were overwhelmed by the boldness and swift nature of the advance, and quickly acceded to the mounted attack. They had won the day, the essential wells of Beersheba had been taken, and though Docker/Xander had been the bigger target, it was his master’s shoulder and ribs that had been shattered by enemy bullets and whose lungs were only barely functioning.

 

Willem had watched his friend Jack fall as both he and his mount were shot within moments of reaching the Turkish trenches, the horse square in the chest, the rider a blast to the throat that exited, taking with it his spinal chord.

He knew his own situation was deteriorating and he eventually passed out leaning against the warm neck of his long suffering mount. Docker kept moving, his master was a dead weight on his back. In the confusion of the battle he kept moving, eventually turning when all went quiet.

The British and Australian flags had been raised on one of the tanks and the trenches were now silent and devoid of men, but for the few collecting the dead. Eventually Docker rounded and returned to their camp.

A young private was amazed when a horse drenched in sweat and his rider’s blood arrived exhausted, carrying his badly wounded rider some hours after the battle.

Three strong sets of arms eased the young soldier from his steed and onto a waiting stretcher. Willem had been in and out of consciousness vaguely remembering that after he had been hit, Docker somehow keeping his rider aloft as he escaped from the foray. In another lucid moment Willem recalled being aware enough to tuck one foot under the girth and wind the reins tightly around his wrist before he passed out, and his horse moved toward their camp.

He came to briefly as his clothes were cut away, waking to lamplight and a medical team. He tried to ask after his horse, but gave up trying to speak as the pain of even the smallest breath ripped through his chest. Docker had carried him and now he wasn’t there, he hoped someone would care for his dear equine friend when he was gone. As the ether was applied and the surgeon prepared to try to save one more of their number, Willem began to mouth an old Methodist hymn, and wondered if his mother ever knew just how much he loved her… and his sisters. He worried that he would die alone and wished that at least his loyal Docker might be present when he passed.

He woke a few times a few times prior to being placed on the hospital ship en route to England. He begged for his horse to accompany him. His Captain, already preparing the report to recommend a medal for the brave young man who, though wounded, had apparently contributed to the defeat of the eastern most section of the Turkish line, ordered that Docker, one of only three surviving steeds of the injured, be shipped with his master.

The seriously wounded soldier found himself at a transfer hospital in Cairo, and for the first few days was less than coherent, but on the fourth day, managed to articulate, “Pleeee, Docker! Whhhat happen…ed to Docker!”

The very efficient ward nurse called for the matron and the soldier’s attending surgeon as soon as the boy was awake and stable.

Three weeks later, Willem, still too injured to make the trip back home to Australia, was transferred to a property in the county of Kent that had apparently been offered by one of the rich friends of the King. They were told it was owned by a young foreigner famous for his fine stables and a favourite amongst the upper classes. Rumour had it he was of royal blood but all that could be confirmed was that he was definitely of very ‘old money’. The wonderful part about the temporary hospital was that it was specifically offered to members of the Light Horse division on account of the fine set of stables available at the Count’s residence. Something that was deeply appreciated by both the recovering wounded and the armed forces of two countries, as the men appeared to recover more quickly knowing their mount was cared for and close.

Xander had been positively ill with the sea crossing then loaded into a rail truck with seven others. He didn’t know where his master, Spike/Willem was, and had all but given up hope when they were led to an ancient truck, tied on and forced to trot behind as they were led to a huge estate.

He was in his own stall, having been washed, brushed, watered and fed by the professional efficiency of a good strapper. The straw was fresh, the chaff and grain sweet and plentiful, yet he pined for his rider. He knew they had brought him to the same place, but what if something happened, if his master did not recover? In the end he hung his head low and simply… waited.

Willem was still in trouble when he arrived at the mansion, his damaged lung had collapsed and there was fear of further infection. There was a huge oxygen bottle at his bedside in a hall that had previously functioned as the ballroom. Four nurses and two doctors tended the wounded men, some missing limbs, others internal organs. Three had died on the trip to their sanctuary and Willem still woke with the nightmare of watching Jack die. They had spoken of family, promised to return together triumphant… there was no triumph in calling pitifully for the nurse as he tried to take a decent breath and pain tore through him once more.

A week later he was allowed to sit up a little and was visited by a rather enigmatic young man who he assumed to be the Lord of the Manor, given the fuss that was being made by the staff.

Willem was greeted politely by a handsome young man perhaps a year or two his senior. The voice was rich and deep, and the accent slight though revealing his European origins, “I am glad to see you are being well cared for.”

“Yes Sir.”

“You will be happy to know that your horse is also here. His condition is excellent, though I do believe he would benefit from a visit.” Anton saw the crystal blue eyes of the young man light up. “I will have the nurses bring you a chair, then we might go together.”

Minutes later Anton was walking beside Willem’s chair in comfortable silence. They both saw Docker’s ears prick up as he heard his master calling him weakly.

Anton watched as the bay of dubious heritage dropped his head to be patted then kissed by the still recovering Willem.

They were together again. Willem forgot his injuries and his kind company for a moment, and kissed the blaze, then whispered, “They say we’re to go home soon… Another boat ride, but we’re goin’ home… you and me… Reckon we can stand the boredom of rounding up cattle again? Ahhh bloody hell mate… ‘cause of you… I’m goin’ home.”

Willem looked up at the man who had given them sanctuary. Anton was visibly moved but was, in truth, looking across to his manservant Gregor and smiling sadly.

Willem tried to take a bigger breath and winced with pain, and with his hand still petting between his dear equine friend’s ears, he simply said,“Thank you, particularly for looking after him so well. He above all deserves that, and now we can both go home together,”

The effort of such a long speech caused Willem to lose breath, causing his horse to whinny his concern, and the attending nurse to rush to his side as his world went black.

……………

Connor saw the shift first. Anton was crying, still unconscious but obviously distressed. It was the first time there had been any response to what was occurring beyond their realm…

Helle entered the room within minutes, and seeing her partner’s worry and fatigue, asked him sweetly if he would mind bedding down Olivia for her afternoon nap. She knew full well that it was her partner, not her daughter, who needed the rest.

She watched and felt the shift, her dear relatives were moving on once more.

All they could hope was that the lessons were all leading to the return of their beautiful patriarch. Helle sent a prayer to her Earth Mother Gaia then took up her turn for the vigil.

 

 

PART 10

Xander woke to a strange thump to his leg, then another man grabbing him and pulling him from the now fiery confines of their destroyed cover.

The sharp order, “Lie still!!” reflected his rescuer’s fear, before the weight lifted from his chest and deft hands tied something around the now painful, throbbing limb.

“’s a bullet mate, Doc ‘ll fix that in a jiffy. But ya gotta stay with me, OK? Just… they’re pullin’ us off next, so…” Xander drifted as the pain in his leg intensified, “Heath!!! Bloody Hell! just stay with me!”

They were still huddled in lines for two days later, the evacuation taking far longer than any had suspected. The sound of the aircraft and the ensuing whine of incoming bombs and zing of bullets was terrifying, and the screams of the wounded and dying even worse. They were sitting ducks, trapped on the strip of land that made up the beach at Dunkirk, their only hope to wade out to one of the hundreds of boats that pulled in each night to take them back to England.

They were some of the last, Edward/Spike’s had entered the date in his pocket book June 3, 1940 then wrote what he thought might be a last note to his mother. Heath/Xander, was drifting in and out of consciousness, his friend in battle badly wounded with the bullet lodged somewhere in his upper thigh, he might keep the leg, if only they could make it to ‘old Blighty’ in time.

They were finally given the signal to move. Edward pulled up his wounded mate, slung his arm over a strong shoulder and wrapped his own around a chest that was heaving all too fast then as best he could, took off across the sand and into the water.

As he pushed his dear friend into the hands on the small boat, he felt Heath slump and pass out. He was then lifted into the small transfer boat along with at least ten others of the British forces, several, like his friend Heath, in various states of ill health, including (rather surprisingly) a man with two young boys at his side, one distressingly, obviously missing an arm. His heart went out to the father who sported French army colours. He had no idea why the boys had been taken into battle with their father… and paid the price.

Minutes later they were being assisted or lifted onto the larger cruising vessel, greeted by a stern looking man who welcomed them ‘on behalf of the British government and Anton of Kent’ then the gent introducing himself. “I am Gregor. Your injured will be tended to shortly, I apologise for the conditions but we will have you to safety soon.”

As they left the smaller vehicle and were guided onto the large pleasure yacht, Edward had fancied he heard a near inaudible, “Stupid humans and they call us evil!” from one of their compatriots on the boat, and as he turned fancied he saw the yellow eyes of a cat, but was later sure he was mistaken.

The trip was swift but even as they pulled away from the deadly beach to relative safety, Heath(Xander) was starting to sweat and breath heavily with a fever. Edward released the bandage from his leg, noting the rather unhealthy pale yellow ooze spreading across the swollen red entry wound. He was horrified, then intensely grateful when what seemed like a medico arrived at his friend’s side and offered assistance.

Anton lifted the young man into the main cabin which had been set up as a makeshift operating theatre. Unwilling to let his friend out of his sight Edward peeped in, then snuck into the room and with the nod from the handsome young doctor, sat on the makeshift operating table and eased Heath’s unconscious head onto his lap, then was shocked and amazed as the strangely familiar surgeon put his mouth to the wound sucked hard for some minutes then finally spat both bullet and puss into a kidney bowl. What followed was the part that dear Edward, with Spike’s full memories understood. The area was laved then the Immortal’s blood was applied liberally, and a little dribbled into the man’s mouth, and Edward watched amazed as the area began to heal and the fever abated.

And as the young doctor levelled his gaze at Edward and was about to speek, but Spike’s memories mixed with Edward’s, he said something that was *not* Edward’s to say… “Oh Sire! Thank you.”

Anton simply thought he had misheard, then looked hard at the young soldier once more.

“You know me?”

Again it was Spike not Edward who answered. “In another life, please… come back to us Sire…” then Edward’s personality took control again and the sight the foul puss and bullet in the tray and the horror of the past weeks overwhelmed him. He passed out on the floor.

Anton was left to wonder but dismissed the whole incident as an oddity of war as he and Gregor lifted the two into the lounge of the boat and settled them side by side on the floor.

“He spoke like family Gregor… he addressed me as Sire.” Anton stroked over the dark hair of the young man in his care, then that of his friend and Gregor recognised the pain and loneliness. “Yet he is not one of the Brachens?”

“No… it is only Jean and his sons this trip… No this one addressed me as though I had abandoned him, but not now… Perhaps he is a seer. Perhaps I do have a family beyond you in the future… Perhaps…”

“You deserve that my dear, Master, my Sire… But for now…” Gregor looked around and as no one was watching, he bared his neck. Anton simply licked over his own Siring scar then kissed his wonderful servant chastely.

“Thank you Gregor, you are as much family as friend, I will never forget that.” Anton took Gregor’s hand and squeezed it meaningfully, then turned to tend the small Brachen demon boy with the missing arm.

………………..

It was Gregor’s turn to sit with his Master and the ruling couple, but had Stephanie come running as he shouted, his hand had been squeezed, it had not been his imagination – there were the fingermarks of a preternaturally strong grip.

“It wasn’t just a reflex?”

“I really don’t think so… He is in there still Steph… I offered my neck and he seemed to notice a little.”

“Did he…?”

Gregor looked sad and distressed at the query, before answering rather dejectedly, “No…”

“Should we wake Connor?”

“Let’s just tell the family when they get up. He has enough to do today. There are some investments to sort and the western clans are getting antsy over the lack of the quarterly court sitting.”

Stephanie nodded solemnly. It had been a near desperate seven weeks now. Despite feeding them, both Anton and Spike were now so thin that they appeared positively skeletal and Xander was not far behind. If things did not change in the next week, they all knew, there would be no option but to bring the High Master and his Consort back and leave Anton to his final demise. None of the household willing to discuss the consequences of such a decision and all terrified of the same.

……………..

After the latest shift, Spike was a little more hopeful, he could feel his Mate and knew he had been able to address Anton directly. But what followed for the two were more flashes of Spike’s history and Angel’s history: Spike’s capture in 1943 in Poland and consequent Nazi incarceration; 1944 Angel and Spike in a submarine and Angel’s siring of Lawson; his return to Europe and reunion with Dru in post war London; and the mid fifties in Rome as half the Scourge of Europe enjoyed wining and dining with (and on) the Nuevo set – a far cry from the first time Angelus and he had been there.

…………….

The two boys woke suddenly, confused by the speed of the transition but apparently lying in the sun, skimpily clad beside a pool. For a moment both thought themselves to be back on Kimolos but the attire was not quite right. Evan/Spike sat up first, judging by the dress and hairstyles, it had to be the early 1960s. He and Thomas/Xander stood with the rest of the guests as the royal couple arrived followed by their two little children and a nanny.

Prince Rainier III made the toast hand in hand with his stunning wife, Her Serene Highness Grace of Monaco.

“To the New Constitution and the National Council”

The guests all answered “To the Constitutional Monarchy, to Prince Rainier may you live long and rule well.”

It was the Princess who continued, looking directly at the handsome young man in the corner of the garden and raising her glass, “Now… I must thank our kind host… *dear* Anton – you really have outdone yourself this time.” Right on cue fireworks fired streamers skyward and an ice sculpture of a Formula 1 car with joyful couple (obviously meant to be the Prince and Princess) was wheeled out to rest in front of the bar flanked by several trestles of food.

Caroline and Albert II were ushered from the gathering as soon as the applause died down and the party continued.

Spike took a time to absorb his host body’s memories, but clearly registered that the mere touch of fingers as they both reached for a strawberry, had his nether regions in need of cover, or covering. He looked across and recognized the reciprocal nod and tenting, strategically placed towel. They were lovers and partners. He knew that much. But lovers in private, it was not the era for ‘coming out’.

The two extremely attractive, rich boys from relatively ‘old money’ in the USA had both finished at Princeton together, Evan II (Spike) with a Masters in Law, while his friend Tom (Xander) had specialised in Architecture. They had been ‘free’ for three months, both sets of parents happy to indulge the wish of their sons to travel and, on their behalf, more than willingly accepted the invitation of one of Evan’s father’s most influential clients, John Kelly (father of Grace no less!) that the two boys spent their first summer in Monaco. They had been wined and dined, introduced to the rich and the famous and, in private, consolidated their devotion to each other… but only in private.

They had quickly become the darlings of the jetset, never without a girl on each arm, and choosing to be perfect gentlemen to all, kissing openly for the paparazzi, but only bedding the women if there was risk to their own partnership being compromised, revealed, and always satisfying the female without reaching completion themselves. Completion was for their true partner, though their fly by night lovers were most appreciative of their attentions and admitted as much to many other lady friends.

Now five years together and both heading up the corporate ladder in their chosen city (Boston), they had chosen to take their holidays in Monte Carlo every year since 1957, always staying at the same set of classic apartment overlooking the harbour.

They had heard of Anton, his reputation as a legendary lover of the ladies, every encounter apparently ‘most satisfactory’, but what intrigued the two young Americans was more his business prowess and the whisper that his taste in lovers was quite ‘inclusive’, when the host was spied standing at the door behind the royal party, they were both taken aback. He was young, unusually tall and strikingly handsome.

Tom/Xander saw his friend’s interest and whispered under his breath, “Window shopping only, unless it’s a threesome!” Evan/Spike answered with a wicked grin and, “You wish… you and me both.”

It was December 1962, they were successful and attractive, their income large and disposable, the parties lavish and cars fast, and yet when their young host approached them and shook each proffered hand in turn it all fell away. It was as though his touch spoke to their souls.

Anton felt drawn to the two, and noticed the furtive sideways looks between the two men, knew the smell of arousal, the raised heart beats and the literally magical connection. He was intrigued. They were not demons, that was obvious, but as Evan turned his baby blue eyes toward the Immortal, Anton felt a bolt of energy like no other, as Spike’s memories and personality rose very close to the surface of the mind and body he was in, though technically it was still Evan talking.

Spike completely fluent in French, so it was a slightly puzzled Evan that conversed easily in the language, despite considering himself rather ‘a struggler’ with foreign language. In French he said, “It is a privilege to meet you. This is my very dearest friend, Tom. Thank you so much for the party.”

Anton replied also in French, “Indeed I am happy you could come… and I must ask, do I know you? I’m sorry but you seem very familiar…” He smiled as he saw both young men blush, and could smell the connection between the two but was still puzzled by the slight zing of magic. “I am sure that I have embarrassed you now. Please allow me to refill your glasses and invite you out on my yacht tomorrow. We are heading out on a fishing expedition, a boys’ day out, so to speak, assuming you have nothing else on of course.”

“No, no, it’s fine and um… Thank you.” Spike’s control retreated and Evan did the rest seamlessly.

And so it was arranged, the following day the two men were sitting on a cruising boat the size of their apartment, complete with staff and captain. What surprised them was that it was only Anton and his manservant Gregor and themselves aboard. They had both attempted to do ‘due diligence’ on their host, coming up only with his vast investments and number of properties worldwide, plus a number of obscure facts including that his family had first stayed in Monaco when the Grimaldi’s took it for their own in 1298 AD.

They basked in the sun, enjoyed the wine and fine conversation and eventually did a spot of fishing. Tom/Xander unable to stem his curiosity as he stood beside Gregor monitoring the lines, and said in rather broken, badly worded French, “Master Anton is wonderful.”

To which Gregor looked surprised but quickly answered, “Yes he is.”

“Are you and he… amoure?”

“I am his servant and friend, so yes I do love him.”

“Ohhh, sorry… but it is just … Ron and I…”

To Tom/Xander’s surprise Gregor switched to answer in English “It is neither my business nor my place to pass judgement. Love, in all its guises, does not rely on society’s rules or logic. And the love of family…” Gregor trailed off for a moment as he felt his Master approach the line of rods he and Tom were currently attending. “The love of family is something else again, it embraces us with all our encumbrances, just as a long time lover might.”

As Evan emerged to join the group on the back of the boat, Gregor fell silent but did not fail to see the quiet, affectionate touch of hands as Tom was joined by his friend to tend the rods.

Later that afternoon, the two men had been put at ease regards their ‘situation’ and were utterly relaxed, Evan/Spike lying back between Tom/Xander’s legs. Their host had been quite frank about his disregard for the ‘no touching’ rule between men, going so far as to openly encourage their partnership. It was a relief and welcome change.

As they motored back to shore, Evan found himself alone with Anton and took the time to simply thank his wonderful host on both their behalves.

“You knew we were together… how?”

“Love shines through Evan… always… and you love a person not a gender… remember that… love him for as long as you have. Some of us will never have that privilege.”

Evan was struck by how very sad their wonderful host was at that moment and moved to put his hand over Anton’s as it rested on the rear rail of the boat. “Thank you… I will… on all counts… I will love Tom… we do love…” He trailed off and both men simply stared out to sea as they returned to port. And Spike’s world went black.

 

PART 11

There was little change but Connor still woke suddenly. He was itchy and irritated and felt, for the first the link for the first time in weeks.

Exhausted from feeding his dear relatives as best he could, and from the many long weeks of managing the clans (with the help of his partner, Gregor and occasionally the wonderful Minna), he was convinced that things were changing. It was a dreadful decision. If Anton was truly failing, Connor had to pull his relatives from their innate state and they all had to cope with the loss of a Sire – Spike, and he (for different reasons) for the second time. And Xander too would suffer.

Helle and their children all worried for their dear Connor. Even Olivia noticed that ‘Pa’ was waning and Mama was worried.

Helle was exhausted too, but the five eldest of Connor’s children surrounded their father, fed him and understood as he bit down and dripped a now all too thin wrist into the mouths of their impossibly thin relatives.

After the report of the movement, Helle called Willow and the wiccan agreed to arrange an immediate flight. They would arrive in Basel by early morning to be met by the boys’ helicopter. If this was to be the moment, then the wiccans had to be there.

…………………….

Xander was the first to wake, but his partner in life (and death) woke seconds later. They were back stage in a rather upmarket establishment in the main ‘nightclub/theatre strip’ of Paris. The calendar next to their highly lit mirrors read September 1, 1985, the day the Mated Childe had turned four in Sunnydale. The body he shared shivered a little with the strange timing.

It wasn’t the Lido, but their clientele were rich and their show well funded and continuing to be enthusiastically reviewed after their first three weeks of the production. Neither vampire recognized the bodies they were in initially, but gasped as realization hit.

Their Trenath demon forms were a combination of male and female human, with a few additions, and the pretty reflections in the brightly lit mirrors confirmed their ambiguous status.

Both had long mobile prehensile tails with a tuft at the base that concealed a deadly spike (used only in defence), and the tightly curled golden blonde tresses that normally cascaded to their waistlines though usually tied up or swept back, disguised the thin soft spines that also grew there.

Slim and extremely tall, with fully functional male genitalia that hung just a little further back than human, the two made magnificent ‘Les Triumph” members. The rest of the chorus were simply wonderfully versatile human men – at least as far as the Trenath were concerned, and they often wondered about the drugs and other adjustments that seemed necessary to keep the male human bodies ‘female enough’ for the show.

Xander stood as his friend turned carefully and he inspected that they had both removed any trace of their silky covering of soft fur from… everywhere, earlier, then both adjusted their belts around the slim hips that gave the impression the tail was all part of the added tail of white ostrich feathers. Their human looking breasts and slim waists were trussed in uncomfortable sequin and diamante covered halter neck bras, and private male parts tucked back in the extremely tight matching thong. The stockings and heels were old hat and easy to manage.

The two lined up behind the other fourteen ‘girls’, their feather head dresses now in place and waited for the signal. The performance was a triumph (as usual) with a standing ovation at the end of the show.

Spike (apparently Lolita on stage, though he was fairly sure his name was in truth Talis) took an extra solo bow as it had been his/her dulcet tones that had wooed the audience in the second half of the show as he apparently seduced ‘the beast’, Xander (Rene, the stage name proper name Christof).

Rene had had his small breasts swiftly and tightly bound in the costume change, furry blonde tail let out and blonde suit and huge mane and mask in place to give him the appearance of a stage lion. Lolita/Spike’s tail was concealed under a classic chiffon ball gown. ‘She’ stroked ‘him’ provocatively through the suit for the pleasure of the audience, few missing the fact that the boy was visibly *very excited* as his erect member became evident through the costume. Consequently, they had been given a standing ovation after the two finished the song in a passionate embrace, his mask pushed off as the two kissing as two new lovers might, and so convincingly that the smell of arousal was evident in the audience. (Spike and Xander’s old memories and the thought of being in the public eye further adding to the moment.)

The two demons were beginning to strip off their costumes and remove their makeup when there was a quiet knock at the door. Lolita/Talis/Spike quickly pulled up his hair and Rene/Christof/Xander tucked his tail under the table, hopeful that it was well out of view.

The producer, Monsieur Trelor was a rather pretentious, stout, balding man with little hair but a ridiculously large moustache fashioned after Salvador Dali’s, entered. He was accompanied by one of the show’s major investors, a rather enigmatic, apparently incredibly rich (old money), and stunningly handsome male, who was introduced simply as ‘Master Anton’.

The producer was apparently very excited by the presence of the quiet younger man, almost to the point of being rather dismissive of the two performers they had come to visit as he chatted away regards his own accomplishments. “Oh and may I introduce Lolita and Rene, aka Talis and Christof. They both came to us your USSR your connections I understand, but then you probably know that already, and I would ask if you might negotiate with Mr Spakarolov to send another couple of his dancers down”, he winked knowingly at the Immortal but seeing the look of relative disdain, quickly back-peddled, “Ahhh but it could even be for just this season to cover any injury or illness – we could ahhhh, cover cost with two more matinee performances I’m sure.”

Anton had not taken his eyes of the two performers, and said rather absently, “Yes, yes, of course, no problem… Now can you give me a moment with the stars of the show… in private… if you don’t mind. I have news from home…”

The producer looked rather peeved at being dismissed so quickly, but knew that Master Anton had a reputation for being a little aloof – though always generous with his funds and good to his word. Trelor would have his requested new ‘girls’ and the show would benefit by him being able to rest some of the others who were finding ten (now twelve) shows a week somewhat of a physical challenge.

As he let himself out of the ‘star’ change-room he heard a conversation begin in what he assumed to be Russian. In truth it was the common tongue of the modern Trenath, a strange mixture of standard Russian, ancient ‘lower’ Norse, and other words exclusive to their race.

As soon as the boys heard their guest speak the familiar words they both threw off their costumes and knelt, eyes down. The two young demons had known as soon as Master Anton entered that there was something magical, and very different, about their company’s benefactor.

“Dear Talis, Christof, I know who and what you are… And your family sends you good wishes and is proud that you are making your way so successfully in the human realm, though I am sad to say I have little other news.

We have successfully negotiated on your behalf, to remove your clan from the rather tumultuous and worrying situation, but have yet to establish the exact date of safe passage for your clan. I am afraid the upheaval Glasnost and the fall of the wall is causing makes times confusing even for humans, especially in the old Leningrad, as well as for we demons (your family case in point), though I am told the move is scheduled for some time in the next two months. I guarantee your families will have new feeding grounds and a community of Trenath around them.”

Talis/Spike looked up in wonder, then reached out and kissed the back of Master Anton’s hand then touched it to his two cheeks and forehead in turn as was a customary sign of deep gratitude and fealty, Christof did likewise.

They had both been squirreling away as much money as they could for the last year, in the hope that the promised migration of their parents and siblings to the south of Europe would eventually be possible.

Anton continued, “In anticipation my staff have arranged accommodation and will be happy to introduce your family members to the Trenath families just outside Toulouse. They will be looked after well and have the chance to settle with a minimum of fuss. I know it is not Paris but it is the best I can do at the current time. And do remember that investment advice is always available – I note you have been pushing money into the account I suggested.”

It was Christof/Xander who found his voice first and looked up with gratitude and admiration, “Oh yes Master… But this… it is more than we could ever expect… thank you… thanks to you…” The pretty demon’s voice broke and in a near falsetto he finished as tears began to flow, “It was getting so hard for them to feed… and we were… but thanks to you…”

Anton was visibly moved as the two young demons bared their necks, an act so far from the Trenath as to be an extreme sacrifice. He simply stroked over the place he should have bitten and thanked them quietly as two tails wrapped gently around his calves and the three shared a quiet moment. Spike and Xander’s memories were so close to the surface that they both leaned into his touch and sighed, “Thank you Sire” in unison.

Their worlds fell to black and Anton in the real world had tears flowing freely.

……………………

They raced through the next few years with the similar flashes as before, but now time appeared to be coming closer and closer together, Anton in various locations across Europe, Asia Minor, Bombay, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan and even on the east coast of America, though all seemed business related be it demon or financial or legal (Spike recognized several of the negotiators from his own history of trading – including the infamous Elona Costa di Bianci CEO Wolfram and Hart. And as the lady herself pointed out, the negotiations were always … most satisfactory.

His base was obviously Italy, Tuscany in particular but Rome often… But the one thing that seemed evident in all of the flashes was that, however respected and successful the Immortal was and the many ‘liaisons’, there still seemed to be a great sense of emptiness, sadness and loss. Both Spike and Xander recognized the feelings and their real bodies shed precious tears, the increasingly desiccated bodies, in truth, ill able to afford spilling even that little liquid.

All three now had feeding tubes inserted in the previous week, but the atrophy and dehydration had continued.

Willow had been called, they had to pull Spike and Xander back in the next three or four days. If Anton came with them, then well and good, but if nothing was done, the ruling couple would cease to be. The family would try to cope with Anton’s possible demise... though Gregor then Spike and Xander were sure to suffer debilitating grief and no doubt final death though the timing was rather uncertain… All had wills that requested that they be cremated (a simple matter of wood stake and heart) and their ashes be kept with the Immortal’s inert feet, should he or they not recover.

……………

Spike woke… somewhere… It was dark, he could feel another very soft, warm body next to his and pricked his ears so he could better hear… Dawn and Buffy arguing.

Dawn’s rather petulant whine was unmistakable as she lectured her sister… “I don’t know what the heck you need Buffy… but you are driving Andrew and me insane!”

“And why is Andrew still here exactly?”

“Oh come *on*! *You* were the one that said yes after the explosion *not* me! And… and as a matter of fact he is a *really* good cook, and takes me out… and his Italian is getting really good!”

Spike heard a snort of derision then, “Yeah, probably all the ‘private tutoring’ by the females of this city!”

“Like you don’t want some… Come *on* Buffy! It’s just one more date… and he adores you and just… well drop dead *gorgeous*…” Dawn decided to pull out her trump cards, “I know Mum… and even Spike would like him! Buffy, he sent you twenty four roses and chocolates after last time… *and* two kittens just because Andrew and I said we liked them! And he *knows* you’re a Slayer!!! What *more* do you want???”

“OK OK… Where’s the phone? We’ll go… happy?! But just for the record… fashion show… not really my thing…”

“For Ghod’s sake Buffy… We’re stuck in the back…You’ll be in the front row *with all the right people*! Right next to Madonna, Beyonce and that Lagerfeld dude!”

“Who?... What?... Really? From Austin Powers?”

“Jeez!!!” Spike could hear Dawn rolling her eyes, “Just go… OK?!!”

His furred friend was still asleep, but Spike blinked his previously blue eyes open and felt warm hands reach in and lift him gently from their sleeping basket onto the floor. Yellow brown eyes and pitch black furred tiny form blinked for a moment then gave in to instinct as Dawn threw a minute woollen craft ball across their small lounge room. Spike took off and struck, claws extended and captured the errant ball first by claw then fang. He was strangely disappointed when the inanimate object failed to struggle, so dropped it at his Mistress’ feet (and could he just say ‘huh?’!)

The better part of the next half hour was spent with the game, Spike giving in completely to the joy of the stalk and pounce and chase and conquer… before very suddenly feeling overwhelmingly tired. He lapped a little of the milk presented him, then succumbed to sleep after being lifted into a wonderfully warm lap and stroked as the lovely Dawn told him why Buffy and the Immortal should be together and that Spike and Angel had been there the previous week and… and… black.

And their world shifted again

…………….

This time it was a strange moment of deja vous for Spike – though this time there was not even a visual manifestation. The two spirits intertwined then settled together in the corner of the sitting room of the ancient Tuscany villa to wait for the inhabitants.

Buffy was crying quietly as they entered, Anton also visibly upset as the conversation picked up in mid sentence as the door was closed carefully, “… When he said I’m… incapable… so not even with Connor’s… I mean I wouldn’t have pushed it except he’s… anyway… and they have four! … and Helle said… Oh lover I am *so* sorry… I just… I kind of knew with the death thing but… really wanted… with you, and I thought…”

The two ghosts saw Buffy collapse into strong arms of the man who had adored her for just over twenty years. “Shhhh dear one… we have both been put here for reasons beyond procreating… and we have been brought together by the Higher Powers, of that I am sure. You are *so* precious to me my lover, my friend, my everything. Let us rejoice in our grandchildren… Let us rejoice in them as our tribute to the world and what we stand for.”

As the two embraced for an impassioned kiss, both Xander and Spike felt the tug on their strange spiritual forms and entered the two – but they too were entwined, and in love. Four spirits melded and the moment overwhelming for all.

The ghost boys pulled out abruptly as a small Amelie entered the room, squeaked “Opa! Oma! Why were you a funny colour?” Then noticing her grandmother’s tears ran to her side and held her arms up saying simply “Hug?”

Buffy obliged and looked over at him as she cuddled the four year old to her… “This and you… I have my children… and my eternity… and you will have my love forever through them.” Then she shifted gears… “But no getting more girlfriends for at least a century after I’m gone buddy – ‘cause I’ll be watching… and am known to come back!” Anton grinned and kissed her passionately, despite Amelie being a little squished in the middle.

This time Spike and Xander’s world did not just turn black… it became excruciatingly painful.

………………….

Every loss they had ever experienced, all the grief, every regret, every injury, every perceived sin and shame distilled into a few minutes.

Connor felt an immense jolt through the familial link as all three on the bed regained consciousness. It was so strong that the entire household came running.

All three men were arching off the bed in agonized convulsions then, just as the last of the children arrived, collapsed crying. Their emaciated forms instinctively rolling toward each other to take comfort, and soon joined by Gregor, Connor then Stephanie, Helle the children and the wiccans… Post event they would all wonder how the bed did not collapse, and muse that it was just as well the three did not need to breathe.

But it was Anton’s rasped, “Thank you…[unnecessary breath] I…I... understand [sigh... hic] now… All… our children…[hic] Guess [sigh] I need to stay….” that took everyone's breath.

 

 

PART 12

Willow had not been the only one shocked by the state of the three as they had been carefully tended after their waking.

All were rake thin, muscles atrophied and bones and sinews obvious. The Xander Willow had known in Sunnydale had been long gone – even before he was turned through hard work, exercise and good diet, then of course, turning - but now… he did look like a corpse.

All three were grey-white, panted a little after they fed, and slept for the majority of the sixteen days after initial consciousness returned.

Two days after their return to the realm had found the three still tucked under a thick duck down duvet, the joy of their return tempered by the very precarious physical state the three were in. Connor too, if anyone were to be honest – but Helle was seeing to his needs with rest, blood, massage, good food… The feeding tubes were back intermittantly as the willingness to feed seemed too much effort after the third day. Consequently, a sedative had been applied, the tubes inserted and the three had their stomachs filled over and over with willingly donated human, demon and family blood. And thankfully, unlike when they were in the timeless mode that was the Immortal’s, they slowly began to recover.

The rest of the family rallied as their condition improved. Spike, finally tube free on the seventh day, had whispered his thanks to Helle and Willow; Xander had woken and squeezed Liam’s hand and shed a tear as he realized it was Spike’s hand resting on his all too thin ribcage; and the Immortal had opened near clear green eyes and attempted to reach for the attending Connor’s hand before simply mouthing ‘thank you’ and two tears of thanks drop.

On day seventeen the High Master, Mated Childe and the Immortal finally woke. The children were called and all attended as Anton lifted a hand shakily to first Connor then Helle, Stephanie and finally Willow.

His skin felt soft and thin like that of a very old man, though his appearance was returning to its usual, timeless beauty. Willow bent down as Anton squeezed her hand and he whispered, “You were her best friend… always…” then allowed a single tear to escape as she kissed him, adding, “I miss her…”

Willow sat on the bed and moved until Anton’s head was in her lap, looked pointedly at the other wiccans in the room who waited ready to chant, and said, “We all do sweetie… we all do… but we love you and will remember her with honour… We all love you… Stay with us… and the family… please stay…”

She nodded to the wiccans and this time the healing spell seemed to take as Anton’s tense effort to hold in his grief gave way to a hitched sigh and finally… sleep.

The ruling couple fared a little better as they returned to health. More often than not the younger of Connor’s children were cautioned before entering, though the two were usually well concealed under the covers. It was apparent that the ruling couple was taking strength from being intertwined… or more often than not… literally ‘connected’ both by fang and… in other ways, the act of entering by one or the other and staying there, apparently engendering rest and contentment.

On the seventeenth day Anton woke completely for the first time. His immediate thought was how very soft and warm he was… and how comforting the sheepskin bedcover underneath him felt and how he could ‘feel’ that his Childer were all asleep.

But Amelie felt the full consciousness of her healing 'Opa' return and woke Willow and Helle, who in turn roused Gregor, Stephanie and finally, a fully rested and fed Connor.

The others kissed and welcomed him back but moved aside, then withdrew quietly as they noted a highly emotional Gregor on his knees several feet from the bed. Connor squeezed the vampire’s shoulder as he passed and Stephanie leaned down and kissed her darling partner before leaving, realizing that this was an intensely private moment between two long time friends.

Gregor moved to his Master’s side and bared his neck. Anton smiled, stroked it and said in his familiar baritone, “You have been my solace for so long dearest brother… I saw you… over and over… you have served me for so long… I love you, my wonderful friend… and I thank you.” And then in a most atypical move the Immortal bared his neck to his long time servant and simply said, “Please… Would that you honour me by taking the gift of blood from a humble former human…” Gregor obliged wide eyed, sinking fangs into the beloved skin and taking two long drafts before pulling away, obviously moved. His master was well, was with them, and loved him… it was all that he had hoped for.

 

The ruling couple were also awake but still too weak to do much more than push into the arms of their carers in order to roll from sitting on the bed to a supported stand, or accept that they needed assistance to struggle into a welcome bath.

Two days later vampire healing saw them still very thin but walking unaided and able to attend their Sire.

The three sat in the waning sun of the afternoon on the balcony outside Anton’s suite, comfortably clad in the soft pyjamas, thick satin robes and slippers of invalids but appearing decidedly healthier.

After they initially greeted each other there was a long period of silence, Xander reclining back between Spike’s legs as they shared one padded outdoor lounge, Anton taking the other and all three staring out over the valley.

Finally, it was Anton who whispered, in a volume none but a vampire might have heard, “I think I felt you somehow… but now I don’t know… it was… odd. Then I felt the tug… saw I was… needed. Buffy is lost to me and I really did not want to stay… but my beautiful brave boys… my loving family… What did you do that moves me so now, that caused your coma also? Please… please tell me.”

And so began the conversation, Anton utterly amazed, thrilled and horrified by the things his adopted Childer had experienced *with* him. He was particularly fascinated by the stories of the some of the manifestations, as it seemed to fill in some very odd occurrences and spontaneous acts on his part, perhaps his careful treatment of spiders post Tibet; his love of falconry; and his ongoing regret, now thousands of years old, of the fate of two slave girls.

He roared laughing when the two related the Mozart and Shakespeare periods, and sobered as they spoke of various wars, of turning, of changing, of dying… but most of all, Anton remembered that he received love openly, easily then, and now more than ever before as the three spoke.

Several hours later, rugs supplied, outdoor gas heater warming from above and several candles alight, the three had been supplied with food, and were now taking a quiet brandy in the cool of the evening.

Again there was silence for a time, but as the near full moon emerged from behind a small cloud and a dog barked somewhere in the distant valley, Spike reached a cool hand from its resting place on Xander’s torso under the covers and reached for Anton. The gesture was appreciated and the two intertwined fingers as they were joined by Connor and Gregor, Spike simply saying, “We thought to save you Sire, but instead we find we understand you more… we miss Buffy too… but please Sire… Don’t leave us… you are loved… so very loved by your family. Let us share your loss and comfort you... We are here Sire, and we love you. Together we *will* prevail.”

Anton looked across and one chocolate eye and two crystal blue full of love and the devotion of family, then at a kneeling Gregor and the concerned face of Connor. "Oh my boys!" It was as though the floodgates opened. All the grief, anger and hurt, the sadness, regret and need, manifested itself as Anton truly cried for the first time since Buffy's death. Despite his very long unlife, it was the loss of his Slayer that was the most acute pain and needed addressing.

There were five on Anton’s lounge in the end. Each, in turn holding him, rocking him, feeding him their blood… and crying with him.

It would not be the last time he cried for his lost lover, but the night was a true turning point, and as the now exhausted High Master of Europe and his Mated Childe struggled to their feet and were assisted back to bed, Anton accepted the arm of his most trusted servant and friend and allowed Gregor to guide him inside. He would rest. Tomorrow was another day, and he had a family to tend to.
.............

Short Epilogue

It was five years to the day that Buffy had died, and though the family had suggested that they join the Immortal at his Tuscany estate as per the previous years, he had other ideas. The invitations went out. The seemingly timeless, tireless Willow was the first to reply – fit and healthy at just on seventy years of age, she was included in as many family events as her coven schedule allowed. Another reply came from Dawn and her now adult girls Fruini and Tisani, slayers adopted in their pre teens. They had spent a summer with Dawn in a ‘home stay’ after being rescued from Mozambique when their entire family fell victim to malaria then AIDS and no watcher was able to be dispatched. Dawn adored the girls and they her, making it permanent was a natural move.

Key members of the court, Council and, of course, a number of Slayers were invited for the latter part of the week but the first four days were just for the family… There was to be a blessing and dedication on the first night. Willow had agreed to preside.

Anton took a moment to wonder at his family. Gregor as dedicated a friend as ever – but now with the joy of a loving consort, Stephanie apparently not suffering the fate of Buffy as she was all human – therefore her status was linked direct to her beloved vampire partner’s.

The High Master and Mated Childe/Consort had consolidated their rule and there seemed no question in the minds of any of the Clans that their rule would be anything but long and prosperous, particularly as the meetings were often now attended by not only the Full Blood Connor and his Mate, but also their three older children.

Liam had been the first to flank his Uncles and parents, all in the room had heard the rumours but even the oldest vampires present gasped at his magical signature. Antonio too, endeared himself to the Courtiers as he happily took on all and sundry in the dojo – under the careful eye of the Mistress Janet of course. He was fast, vicious and skilled, and in vampiric terms was on level footing with most of the Masters of the court as both hunter and fighter, and respected for it.

Amelie was a less regular attendee at Court as her studies now took her to England and Willow’s Coven though she returned to spend time with family. Her mother and Stephanie were no slouches when it came to the white (and sometimes black) arts of the wiccans, but Great Aunt Willow had the edge. Added to that, Amelie had (of recent times) become quite enamoured by a young Irish witch, Sean who was also studying at the coven. He had been introduced to his girlfriend’s great uncles on their regular visit to the High Mistress Willow, Spike in particular, smirking a little as they realized just how like their Sire Anton the boy was. Raven hair, green eyes, slim physique and the feel of magical power. He earned a hard slap for suggesting as much to the love struck young woman. Amelie had been thrilled at how easily Sean accepted her exceptional relatives and her lovely Irish companion was now on the list of family for the celebration of Buffy’s life.

Connor had taken somewhat longer than anyone expected to recover from Anton’s malaise and the consequent months of feeding others. The sudden death of his older adoptive sister and a distressing trip back to the USA for her funeral was also extremely difficult despite Helle being by his side. Spike and Xander took to feeding him at least once every few days but it was only the trip back to Helle’s homeland in the north with all their children for a six week break that seemed to pull him back to full health.

It was a true holiday – the older children acting as nannies, so he might have time alone with Helle. Mistress Minna and her lovely Mate visited and took them riding and out to dinner… And there were many nights when he, and any older children who wished, had hunted local game without weapons or necessarily any intention to kill and therefore full permission of the local demons. The game of tracking and catching was far more exhilarating than any need to kill, though on occasion the bloodlust, once firing, did sometimes tempt. They all spent lazy days fishing, sailing, or simply lying around in the sauna or by the pool… and Connor gradually recovered.

The biggest change over the five years, since the necessary trip down memory lane, had been the strengthening of the relationships between the ruling couple and the Immortal. Already loving and Sire/Childe strong, it now seemed an even more profound connection. They were not always in the same house, but when they were, the air seemed to prickle with the joy of being together.

It was apparent that the experiences of Xander and Spike as they entered Anton’s world had also transferred some of their own life memories to Anton.

He clearly recalled Spike’s human days; his angst at Angelus’ abandonment of them after he gained a soul; the disastrous Sunnydale reunion with his Sire; the chip, the desperation, the hunger; his tumultuous relationship with Buffy ending in sadness and sacrifice; the reconciliation then devastating loss of his Sire after the Black Thorn; and the finding of his now mate. The Immortal also understood Xander at a far deeper level: The ‘good boy’, playing the lackey to cover for his own insecurity not lack of talent; his loyalty and bravery; his shame and loss; his love for his friends; his joy at finding his way in life… and finding Spike.

They had all loved and given so much and the memories of Buffy now simply added positively to the mix.

Everyone was affected by it and the Court no less so.

The European Court of the High Master always had its challenges, but as Spike and Xander integrated Anton’s memories and far more deeply understood his strategies, the Court leaders found themselves in the presence of (including Connor in the mix) a cohesive, infinitely capable, *dynasty* of rulers. There was little argument, even in the privacy of their own regions, that they were amongst the luckiest of the demon world.

And as a consequence, the last four and a bit years had seen the Clan leaders, already known as 'an extraordinarily successful group' across the demon world, follow their High Master’s example, gathering around them the best and the brightest of both demon and human worlds – all ultimately of a magical nature but nevertheless. The result for each region was a situation where pre-empting difficulties was possible; predicting profit or loss meant the ‘grab’ for territory was averted (at least as much as possible) and assisting those in need managed with swift efficiency and a lack of fuss; and with the consistent firm but fair rule of the High Master and family, it brought unprecedented harmony to the demon clans in a human world none too friendly, even to each other.

There were still issues of course, but now the strength of the ruling family gave all hope, and the extraordinary Patriarch, The Immortal, Anton, grew in reputation to levels unprecedented, even for him, yet he took each tribute with absolute grace and a humble gratitude that afforded any meeting him a sense of belonging, something the Immortal had finally found.

And so, on a chilly June morning, the whole family stood reverently in front of the ancient monastery where Anton had studied, in the now peaceful, independent Tibet, and raised their prayer flags to join the many already flapping in the wind. The silence spoke volumes as the family gradually found each other’s hands then the quiet touch became a very natural pulling together as they stood and watched the colourful material move against the backdrop of still timeless mountains. Familial arms found their way around waists and across shoulders until all were joined in a line with Anton in the middle, and allowed tears of love and thanks to fall.

 

FINI