Warnings: Will appear on chapters if needed – some M/M relations
Summary: Spike survived the Black Thorn but only because one of the Senior Partners had heard Illyria refer to him as suitable for her pet and decided to amuse themselves with devastating results
Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5 , Part 6 , Part 7 , Part 8 , Part 9 , Part 10 , Part 11
By the time Xander had finished the weekly washing, sorted the kitchen and bathrooms, Spike was surprisingly adept at ‘typing’, though in truth the dog’s leg really did ache from the effort. He had mastered pulling his paw out and pushing it back into the little cradle, and was confident with opening and closing programs.
What stunned Xander was the words he saw on the screen from the door, “my xander, my friend and now to the outside world my master. master of my heart as it now beats. i have watched you, lonely without a lover then betrayed by a false one. if only i were not in this form… but i can be a friend, confidant and canine companion if nothing more. i am loves bitch – and ironically now much closer to that status.”
It had taken Spike what seemed like forever to complete the short piece of text, but he did mean Xander to read it, so needed it as near perfect as he could make it on the first pass.
Xander moved into the room, gently eased Spike’s paw from the fastening and massaged the limb while whispering into the husky’s velvety ear, “I love you too…” Another quiet moment followed before he added “Have you saved the note?” to which Spike nodded and re engaged the writing pad, spelling out, “own folder, paws off ”
“OK, OK!... Hey… It’s only four, you want we get a DVD and take out – I’m thinkin’ spare ribs and maybe some noodles, sound good?” Spike nodded and leaned against Xander for a moment as a small thank you.
Xander discovered it would be December before he could actually ring Willow, and there really was no point trying to get through on Email since she had been called to attend a special wiccan solstice convening on Easter Island. Xander knew the news required discussion and the ability to research. Her intention to visit had not diminished but now had been delayed until at least late February.
Apart from Spike’s forays into the garden and his regular training with Gracie, life generally sort of fell back into an old comfortable pattern – although Xander now spent mornings in his home gym rather than running – there was snow and minus ten or less degrees of a morning – plus it was too dark to contemplate a run at either end of the day.
Being treated as human (almost) when Xander and he were alone meant that the times around others was rather fun. He and ‘master’ were complicit to a huge secret, and Spike was the perfect, extremely intelligent ‘pet’. Strangely, however, for Spike, some of his greatest joy was now derived from the sled team training as it allowed him the chance to slip into ‘pure dog’ thinking and running on instincts that his form seemed to crave.
The sled team had been rearranged now that they were training with a proper sled in snow. Deefer and Spike now shared the lead, something they both tolerated after months of training together. Spike was the strongest in the pack but Deefer the most experienced and with Chloe directly behind him now, the sled pulled evenly, the other four dogs were in pairs behind that.
November and December, Xander had often found himself driving well out of town of a weekend to deliver Spike to training and some ‘warmup’ trials. Their first real race was only a single day over fairly flat terrain at the beginning of the mountains to the north west of Calgary. The snow that day was thick and the day overcast with a chilly breeze from the north, so temperatures did not rise above minus nine degrees.
Xander was there for the finish and worried as the first three teams came across the line in close succession, Gracie’s not amongst them. He paced back and forth and finally approached a group of spectators who looked as though they too were waiting for their charges to return. He didn’t bother to pull off his mittens, instead just extended his hand and introduced himself.
“’Scuse me? Xander Harris – I’m sort of new at this…”
A rather rotund chap (made all the more obvious by the very large ski jacket surrounding his ample form) turned and shook his hand warmly. “Stan Pokovski – and this is Marc Dwyer, Nell and Lennie Munroe – and over in the truck are my girls, Jem and Cathie.” Xander could just pick the garishly colored hats and the flash of a Gameboy® screen in the back seat of the Dodge pickup.
“You got a dog runnin’?”
“Yes, um… Gracie McLeary’s team. One of seven.”
“She goin’ all out this year? Well good on her! Thought I saw her at the start but we were all a bit too busy for niceties.”
“How… um… How do you know if the team is OK? You know… what if something happens?”
“Don’t worry, plenty of organizers out on the trail – and this one’s a short course. They’ll be in soon, there were only sixteen teams, so the track’s pretty clear - and it’s straightforward – you know, no tricky map reading. Just relax – here… coffee and one of the wife’s blueberry muffins – that’s what you need.”
Less than ten minutes later, two more teams were seen coming over the last rise and racing for the line, Gracie and her team had come fifth – a fine effort.
A very satisfied Spike was unfastened, just as were his team mates, and all owners made swift work of toweling dry their dogs (and the musher – though she was ‘toweled’ by her boyfriend).
There was one more day race on the second of January before Gracie was to take her team to compete in The Mail Run – a race over three or four days and a hundred kilometers Quesnell to Wells in British Colombia.
Xander could not help but feel worried as the group of owners and Gracie chatted. The course itself was tough and the competition fierce with teams from all over Canada. Night times were always freezing and on one occasion in the last ten years, temperatures plummeted to 30 C below zero for the entire day. Spike listened carefully too and decided that he had just on a month to ‘toughen up’.
His coat was winter thick but he was certainly not accustomed to sleeping outside of a night time. He explained slowly to Xander that evening, using the touch pad.
“now on, leave me outside days – and sometimes nights race is jan, need to be tough”
“No Spike! It’s freezing out there – even in the day it’s freezing – c’mon! The only reason our project is still going at work is that we finished most of the carpark, and have one building with a roof and externals so we can continue with the fit. But we’re *all* wearing thermals and jackets and the like, and all of us go home to warm houses and hot meals!... Besides…”
Spike knew what was coming next and preempted the statement by typing “me too”, then moved from his writing position and nuzzled his friend gently, rubbing a soft furred cheek against Xander’s slightly bristly one. He had moved from the floor to sleeping on top of the bed next to Xander – his position assumed since Xander had discovered who he truly was. Xander’s nightly ritual from the first revelatory night including patting the bed and falling asleep with his arm over the warm fur, both of them delighted by the closeness and the gentle stroking and slowed breathing as they fell asleep in unison.
Xander ruffled and smoothed the fur that covered the now taut, powerful muscles of Spike’s shoulders, “Geez Spike… we need to sort this… I’m worried enough about you and now this?”
Spike simply nuzzled into the kind hand then headed for the back door, waiting politely for it to be opened.
“At least sleep on the old rug… please?!
Spike licked his master then retired onto the rug, it was already snowing again, the silence of the fall augmenting the tension of the moment.
The morning brought twenty below and extreme wind chill and still Spike would not come in but to speak to his dear master and friend.
“i need to have this, or i will not do you or gracie proud… and as long as i tuck in my nose its not too bad.”
Xander let it go, fed his love with warm water and meat that had rested outside the fridge – even steaming with the chill of the day. He spoke to Gracie, worrying about the conditions on the run, only to be reassured that all her dogs would have thermal sleeping mats and a bivouac canopy overhead. It was enough.
Xander worried the January evening prior to the race as he Emailed Willow. He included as much as much he knew complete with dates, details and photos of Spike as he was now, even some at the computer console he and his charge had both come to rely on when things became confusing. Then he made the call.
Initially it was all “Xander *Oh My Ghoddess*, and you’re in Canada! Why?” and with a minimum of fuss information about Xander’s new job and home, then of Willow’s news from the coven was exchanged, but inevitably it swung around to the concern of the day, Spike.
“He’s been changed. I mean it’s not all bad… He’s got a heart beat… and is a beautiful as ever.”
“When did it happen?”
“Um… After Sunnydale I guess… I’m not really sure… He keeps typing something about Wolfram and Hart and a Black Thorn thingy – ever heard of anything like that?”
“Not the last bit but yes the Law company. The senior partners… they took Illyria at the same time.”
“An old one – the one who took over Fred’s body… Wes told me.”
“One of Angel’s group… I worked with her the last time Angelus was let loose.”
“Oh… I didn’t know.”
“’S OK not many did. Angel and co. took over running the Law firm’s LA office – a devil’s bargain if ever there was one. Spike came back a few months after taking out the Hell Mouth… more Wolfram and Hart mojo… he was stuck as a ghost until more magic. He stayed and ended up working with Angel at Wolfram and Hart. Apparently, Angel and co. decided to take down the Black Thorn (worst of the worst evil) in LA – pretty much like taking the Mafia plus dead minions etc…We assumed they were all killed or dusted.”
Spike scratched at the back door as he heard the start of the call and walked over to his console… rallied and began to type…”battle brand dead. charlie n wes dead. angel took the dragon. sire fell. then it was just illyria n me. senior partners sent a lackie… next minute me dog. illyria gone. figure w&h took her.”
Xander was in tears as he read what Spike had conveyed word for word. It was enough.
“But he can talk?
“No but it’s amazing what modern technology can do. He can type Wills – special console. And you know how smart he really was/is… ”
“I’ll see what I can do. If the Battle Brand is gone that explains Illyria being vulnerable. It seems likely that Illyria is no longer in this dimension – Wolfram and Hart are a force to be feared and probably took her for their own reasons – that is if the shift in the magical fabric we felt some fifteen months or so ago was correct… It does seem logical. At the time we were all a bit puzzled. Everything on earth is connected and it makes sense that Gaia felt it too – dark magic like that would need all her strength to counter and that would risk too much for the sake of one being however special. It doesn’t necessarily mean we can shift Spike back though… Oh Xan… Is he… OK… you know…?”
Xander sat on the floor and began to pet Spike between the fine fur covering his ears, close enough so that the dog might hear the conversation from both parties more clearly. “He’s beautiful Wills just like he always was, but different… But… it’s still him… inside I mean… and he should be a vampire with all that means… as it is, he will have only a decade or so… He’s loyal and so loving and still as intelligent and… Ghod Willow do you think the coven can help? I know you can’t come right now, but… will you come in the spring? Just… Please see if you can… I’ll pay, of course I’ll pay for the ticket. I just need you here. Send me dates.”
The simple answer “I’ll come” was all that was needed and it was given with love and a sweet goodbye that had Xander shedding grateful tears that were licked away by his dear canine friend.
After some time, the phone was dropped on the floor and forgotten. He hugged Spike hard. “Now, we need to get you ready. Tomorrow’s the start of the big event… Have to have you ready for Gracie. I’ll be there at the end, promise!”
It was January 26 and Xander was the doting parent rather than friend the day following Willow’s call as Spike licked him and leaned into the hug, before jumping into the section of the dog trailer that was his for the trip. As instructed Xander had over fed him for several nights, then had dried food and water on the day of the race leaving him a little hungry before the trip, the road would be a winding one.
As soon as he was in the enclosure on the trailer, Spike knew to let his canine instincts take over. He curled up and slept rather than subjecting himself to motion sickness, the quiet repose of his fellow team members reminding him of the harsh conditions ahead.
There was little aplomb at the race teams who knew each other from previous races catching up a little and welcoming newcomers as they each arrived in Quesnel the night before. The sled had been packed well in advance and Gracie’s father and boyfriend would drive truck and dog trailer to the finish in Wells.
The day of the race the dogs were fed then she simply led them one by one and hooked up the seven before lining up with the other forty or so teams plus another group this time of skiers (most of those people usually racing one leg only or in relays) to receive her briefing. Each team received an official Canadian mailbag, complete with real mail, and were to follow the traditional route taken prior to newer technology and better road transport. After an extensive team briefing, they were sent off in an ordered fashion, much as any marathon.
It was a well organized affair and all in the race knew it was an endurance event. A few of the Alaskan teams and those from the harsher climates further into the wilds of northern Canada were well used to the longer races and took off early and easily (in many cases used to their daily for basic transport).
The best teams this year were all from Alaska and competed year round, Spike heard that on the first day (his English and French as good as ever – if that is what was spoken though the Innuit team chatted at pace and native dialect he had never come across). It was the classic Mail Run, a bag of real mail, forty three dog teams and -25C on the first night. Quesnel to Barkerville was the real race – 100km over four days. But on the final day a wait for all teams to arrive safely then participate in the ‘Barkerville Dash’, a mere 9 mile fun run to Wells where the mail was delivered.
Spike had run further than twenty five miles in his newly made state, but never beside a more staunch associate in Deefer, nor backed by a team of equally driven compatriots.
Gracie provided them with what other dogs did not necessarily get - thermal mats and cover of a night. Despite their twenty five mile run with hills of a variety of steepness, the amateur team came in twelfth and Gracie was congratulated by one of the senior mushers of the Alaskan crew. As for the dogs…Warm underneath, fed well and sheltered from the wind by a logistically placed tarp, they were all thankful they had an ‘indulgent’ owner and the ‘city dogs’ were more fit the next day for not having slept entirely covered in the snow.
The second night, as they retired, Gracie bade a mittened farewell to her crew and joined the rest of the humans in Troll for the mushers’ dinner. Gracie (a non-drinker) made her way home early, making sure that her team were all well before retiring.
The last day was a real test, up to Van Winkle then the head waters of Jack of Cubs Creek, down through the small settlement of Richfield and on to Barkerville… And Xander.
They crossed the line eighteenth at Barkerfield, Gracie was thrilled, but the rules were clear. Everyone had to wait until all teams were in. Then there was to be the Barkerville to Wells dash. Only nine miles and anyone could join in – but only dog teams of three or five of the dogs (with as many cheerful passengers as could fit on the sled!). It was an all in event with solo skiers, children and parents on little sled pulled by a single dog – even some skiers opting for a free ride in the same fashion, even people with snow shoes or mountain bikes. It was consequently very much the family affair and a wonderful way to arrive in Wells nine miles from Barkerville.
Spike was greeted at the end of the official race as promised, by loving arms and a petting well deserved by his master but then was puzzlingly unhooked – as was Deefer. Apparently they were to race the nine miles pulling Xander and Gracie’s boyfriend respectively on snowboards. Chloe and the rest of the team would make up the five for the final race carrying her four nieces. Gracie giggled as Xander found his ‘sea legs’ on the snow board, wobbled a little heading for the starting line then got the call *go*.
Spike took off confidently, the slope a trifle compared to those they had tackled over the four previous days. Xander was not a particularly gifted skier, but a Californian upbringing did include a lot of years of skateboarding. And it paid off. His balance was good the trail reasonably flat and within seconds the two were working as one.
The dogs were all exhausted but happy on the trip home, and for Spike it was a ride home asleep in the comfortable back seat of Xander’s car warm and covered in a soft rug. Gracie and family all promised on their departure for the long drive home, to catch up for a celebratory meal with the other owners soon and do it all again the following year.
Xander smiled and waved them off but secretly hoped that something might change with Willow’s visit and that perhaps, just perhaps, he would have Spike restored to the handsome irreverent vampire he now knew he really did genuinely care for deeply and love. He had even admired a clutch of little husky puppies that had traveled up to with their owner (carried in one of the musher’s sleds for the final ‘Dash’) and contemplated that if all did go well he would definitely include one in their life – all being well.