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Ghost in the Machine #19

Title: Ghost in the Machine

Author: josie_h

Pairing: Xander/Spike
Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes later on - ie M/M
Summary: Post Black Thorn and final AtS - The PtBs screw with Spike yet again.
Spoilers: Canon is Post S7 BtVS and S5 AtS.
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Author’s Note: Don’t own the characters nor make any money from stories etc, and bow down to their original creators
Joss, et al., plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the Buffy/Angel verse characters life.
Previous parts here




With thanks to the lovely petxnd for the wonderful banner


And a huge thank you to all those who so kindly commented and read this story

Part 19

Xander woke with a groan, far too early for his body’s liking and far too late as far as his brain told him. There was just so much to do in one day.

He rolled over and kissed the wooden form of Spike, knowing that it would probably be the last time… whatever happened.

As he stood under a hot shower, head on the faucet to somehow wash the fatigue and worry away he reflected on the previous night’s talk. Spike had been so calm, so trusting, so accepting… there was something about that which made the next few days *so* much more important. He lowered his head and put both hands on the wall, closing his eyes and letting the heat and jet of water on the back of his neck allow him to focus on the necessary, and just prior to flicking the water off, sent a prayer to the Powers that Be, to Gaia, to his own version of the ‘whatever’ to look after Spike and make their venture successful… specifically to restore Spike.

Within minutes of changing and switching on the coffee, a knock on the door announced that the Mistress was also keen to get proceedings underway. A rather excited looking Matti was close on her heels.

“Good Morning dear heart. I do hope you slept well.”

“Hey… and yup…Well enough…”

“Then we are ready for a new day, thank Gaia. I have briefed Matti here on what I know. Perhaps it is best we combine forces to plan for today and beyond.”

“Of course! Come in…”

Xander’s dialogue with Spike was conveyed, the list of materials and rough sketch produced and Matti obviously pleased and honored to be included in the trip, and more importantly charged with the vital task of purchase and construction of the very special container.

Overnight the Mistress had managed to secure a ‘purchase order’ plus invitation for ‘the artist and friend’ from the Lappi coven and airfares for all of them to first Helsinki, then on to Rovaniemi Airport, business class no less.

It required they leave Heathrow at six am the following morning, and arrive at their Arctic Circle destination (delays notwithstanding) by twelve noon. They would be met by one of the Ivalo Coven around two hours later. Xander amazed to realize that Willow was already on her way and would connect with them all on a second Helsinki-Rovaniemi flight at five in the evening. Thanks to the lengthy summer days, they would proceed with the four hour drive north in full daylight.

As planned, the Mistress had also contacted Adrianna signaling Xander’s willingness to ‘loan’ the Adonis and the group were readying to depart for the village when Adrianna’s burgundy Mercedes sports car pulled into the drive.

The Mistress nodded knowingly to Matti who peeled off to collect the coven’s old VW ‘combi-van’ (complete with home spun rainbow illustrations on the side), while she and Xander moved to greet the unannounced visitor.

A smiling Adrianna stepped from the vehicle, “Good Morning! Thank you *so* much for letting me know last night that you have agreed. Ms Morgan from Wolfram and Hart left me with the documentation regards the loan of Adonis, so thought I would come with the documentation personally. Wonderful, *wonderful* news for you, our gallery, and of course, Brigette! I’m sure it will be a triumph and the start of something far bigger!”

She was ushered up to the main house and offered tea, chatting easily with the Mistress as Xander read through the contract.

It all seemed fairly standard and similar to the consignment contracts he had signed for Adrianna before, though Xander was surprised by the amount being offered the coven for the six month duration of the loan of ‘Adonis’. Ten thousand Euro was certainly generous in his opinion. The new gallery was to take twenty five percent in commission on all sales which was more than Adrianna charged but no doubt that was also within the normal range, and the names of all pieces and their valuation was to be provided by one week prior to transport.

Of greater interest were the final two clauses, “In the event of damage to or destruction of pieces on loan to the gallery through any event whether in transit or at the gallery, the owner of said works shall be entitled to claim the full valuation of the works plus an additional twenty percent for any losses incurred due to the damage.” And finally, “In the event that the owner of art on loan should determine that the piece/pieces be offered for sale then it is the company of Wolfram and Hart Inc. that shall have a priory purchase opportunity.”

It all seemed relatively above board with space for the preferred price to be entered and small sticky markers on all pages where initials and signatures needed to be provided.

Xander would have loved Spike to have the opportunity to read over the terms but swapped places with the Mistress so she too might run an informed eye over the document. They both agreed in the end, both to a price for the piece and to sign.

Adrianna was thrilled and reassured the pair that all would be well taken care of, and that the date of delivery to London wasn’t until the end of the month. She patted Xander on the arm and added conspiratorially, “And don’t you worry darling, I have a dear friend who will give you *London* prices for the rest of your pieces.”

Xander smiled innocently and said, “I hope you are going to get something out of all this.”

“Don’t you worry, Sweetie.” She tapped a finger to her nose and winked, “Just being front and centre on the biggest opening of the year is enough for me.”

The rest of the conversation ran over the plans for the next few weeks. If all went well the Mistress and Xander would be back home before ‘twin Spike’ had to be prepared to travel.

As a very happy Adrianna headed down the road, Xander turned to the Mistress who simply said, “We’ll need to be on the road to Heathrow by two.”

“I’ll get packed. Matti and I will only be an hour or so as soon as he gets back.”

Xander returned home and pushed the last few items into his small duffle bag, and was relieved to see Matti returning with the truck laden with light weight wood and various other items.

Xander did a quick revisit of Spike’s measurements and began to wrap his form in bubble wrap, starting at the feet and meticulously wrapping then attaching the same with tape whilst Matti returned to the house to pack his own gear.

By the time he had wrapped the lower torso Matti was back and assisted in levering the carved form up enough that Xander had an easier time with the second half. Before he wrapped up the face and its pretty features he kissed Spike on the lips, and whispered “See you soon.” Matti still wasn’t convinced of Spike’s sentience but whatever spun Xander’s dial.

Extra Styrofoam was wedged under and between the limbs that were likely to have pressure on them in transit. The last thing Xander wanted was to arrive with an arm or leg snapped off. Finally the two adjourned to the workshop, wrapped figure carried between them. Spike was carefully laid on the workshop floor while Xander and Matti attended to the construction of what equated to a large coffin-like box.

Spike felt every one of the passes with the bubble wrap, eventually unable to hear anything but muffled sounds, smell anything but plastic, or see anything but light and dark. He wished he could reciprocate the kiss, but that was not to be.

After around an hour the rough packing box was complete, Spike gently lowered in and any remaining space filled with small foam ‘packing peanuts’ and then all went black as the lid was nailed into place and the whole thing secured by travel straps for extra strength and ease of lifting in transit.

For Spike it was a little too reminiscent of his own coffin all those years ago, but there was little option than to bear the near terror feeling that seemed to have settled into his stomach. At least he didn’t have to breathe and the packing ensured he was comfortable.

The Mistress came down to the workshop twice during the packing process, once to bring the boys some freshly made bread, cheese and a cup of tea, and the second time to deliver the ‘order documentation’ courtesy of the coven in Finland and double check that they were on schedule to leave shortly after midday.

The trip to Heathrow was done in the old coven van and relative silence, though their driver, a young woman called Charice, did everyone the courtesy of putting on a classical station on the radio to address some of the tension they all felt.

Spike’s ‘box’ was checked in as part of their luggage, the combined weight a little over the limit and requiring a premium to be paid. More of a worry was the fact that the crate would be loaded with the general baggage – albeit in the oversize/special section, but luggage nevertheless. Fragile stickers were placed all over the container along with Helsinki-Rovaniemi transfers, the customs documents and import documentation, and the final address at Ivalo. Insurance was waived on the grounds that the coven had already organized special travel coverage for Matti, Xander the Mistress *and* their precious cargo.

And finally they were on their way.

……………..

In London, Lilah was thrilled to receive a phone call from the new gallery curator Brigitte. All the papers were signed and they would finally have their hands on the carving of the vampire ‘Adonis’ – Spike.

She immediately rang the CEO of Wolfram and Hart, London. “…Yes, pass on that the package has been secured. One month hence, if not before. And if I might be so bold, a meeting with the warlock Levi and his team would be wise. We need to set up the lab in anticipation. And yes, the recommendation for Sarah Pickett should go through, she has been most useful, though Rupert Giles and the rest of the Watchers’ council should still be listed as ‘undecided’. I’m sure they’ll come on board once we have proven the usefulness of our venture.”

………………

Spike felt various bumps and knocks cushioned by his packing and despite the fragile status on his casing. Once loaded the take off was easy, the trip almost pleasant with the constant roar of jet engines audible despite the padding and the landing and transfer to the domestic Finnair flight a smooth one.

Not so for Xander who was on edge from the instant the precious cargo disappeared on the cargo conveyer belt and into a black hole along with other oversized and precious marked items.

They sat three abreast for their trip to Helsinki, the Mistress whispering to Xander to relax and “…Trust Gaia, she will be with us.” when he nearly waved away the meal en route, finally opting for the ridiculously small plate of sandwiches and a complimentary beer.

They cleared immigration and customs quickly in Finland, despite Xander having to take the ‘other passports’ line and some explanation re the imported art. However, in the end all was well and documents were stamped so they were well within time for their connecting flight to Rovaniemi. Xander was on the window seat and utterly relieved to see Spike’s crate loaded amongst the last baggage onto the Boeing 747. At least now if they fell from the sky, they all went down together.

They finally landed in Rovaniemi and were met by wiccans dark haired, blue eyed female Otti and her tall blonde male companion, Lars. They were welcoming and informative and to be the designated drivers the next day. Willow was due on the first flight the next morning, all going well and the decision had been made to spend the night at the City Hotel before picking up Willow and all making their way to Ivalo in the dual cabin four wheel drive truck the following morning.

Xander insisted they carry Spike’s box upstairs to Matti and his shared room which did cause some odd looks but there was no way he was going to risk leaving the precious cargo in the truck for the night, secure parking be damned… it was Spike.

Breakfast of ‘many different herrings’, cheese and a selection of unidentifiable breads was followed by coffee and the trip back to the airport to pick up the Mistress Willow, who looked decidedly worse for her two days of international travel. Hugs all around were followed by a quick walk to the car and they were finally on their way.

Lars and Otti took turns driving and commentating. The road was narrow and rather rough in places, though sealed all the way. What stunned all the southern visitors was the terrain, huge lakes and wide fast running rivers vied with broad expanses of what could only be described as open tundra, rolling hills and spectacular numbers of birds and caribou. It was summer and to be expected in the region but wonderful nonetheless. In places there was still patches of snow/ice but the overwhelming image was one of green and blue. It was hard to imagine the whole area utterly buried in snow for the majority of each year.

It took nearly five hours to drive the just over three hundred kilometers to Ivalo where Lars and Otti picked up some mail and ordered supplies before they drove the fifteen kilometers out of town on gravel road to the coven.

The traditional style log structures were situated in a semicircle with the main coven building – much in the style of a Norse longhouse Willow remembered seeing in a history book somewhere. They were ushered inside, Matti, Lars and Xander carrying their most precious cargo with them.

General welcomes were made, followed by cups of much needed strong coffee, sweet home-baked fruit bread and cordial introductions to the various wiccans and families on site and finally a tour of the grounds near the coven. Willow and the Mistress Yollanda eventually peeled off from the main group to discuss what they knew of the task to come that evening with the senior leaders of the coven as ‘evening’ would be only a few hours long at best at this time of the year and then the sun only went truly down below the horizon for but an hour or so. Their timing would need to be precise and there was yet to be final contact with Illyria to confirm they were within the period she had predicted the solar storm was to hit.

A rather exhausted Matti and Xander carefully unpacked Spike’s wooden form, grateful that their meticulous padding of the carving had resulted in no injury, not even a scratch to the pale male sculpture. Xander oiled Spike’s form gently with oil he had brought mixed with a special potion provided by Willow on their reunion in Rovaniemi.

They would still have to transport Spike to centre of the permanent, huge pentagram set up on a small rise some half kilometer from Ivalo coven central, the optimum place for any confluence of cosmic and earthly, magical and natural, energies and one that had been used by the coven since before recorded history. Xander kissed Spike’s noble forehead as the sculpture was settled onto an old mattress and he and Matti held on in the back of an ancient Volvo truck for the final move to the place of communion.

Around ten thirty at night they saw the lights of three other vehicles making the short journey from the coven up the hill. It seemed an appropriate signal that things were finally to come to a close after what seemed like an endless day in an endless week after an endless wait.

Spike was relieved to be out of the box and out of his bindings and now lay in his fixed position at the centre of the pentagram just able make out the movement around the circle and flurry of activity associated with bringing together members of covens – not just from Ivalo, but powerful wiccans from across the Russian border and Norway.

He could hear Willow tell Xander that she had indeed heard from Illyria and that tonight was ideal for any major spell. Apparently she had also guaranteed to ‘keep the interfering bastards of industry busy’ by launching a cyber attack via a botnet that would down most major servers (including Yahoo, Google and… Wolfram and Hart) for at least an hour. It would cover any conventional tracks and was to come from ‘sources unknown’ though if traced would only establish a point of origin somewhere in the former Soviet Union, or China.

Willow watched more and more concerned as an almost tearful Xander sat with the statue stroking the form as they all took position then waited for the very brief sunset and then some sort of signaling northern lights.

She finally broke from her place to touch him on the shoulder and whispered with affection and concern, “I’m not sure you should be in the circle sweetie.”

A pained chocolate eye rose to meet her emerald green gaze before he said, “I’d rather be here if that’s OK Wills.”

“Xan… we don’t know what is going to happen. Sweetie just come sit with me yeah? Spike has to be in the centre, but I’m pretty sure the energy/magic burst could kill you if you stay.”

Xander eventually gave in and moved to a spot beside Willow at one of the pentagram points.

Someone called “Time! Begin the chant.”

A slow thump of traditional Lappi drums and low chant began as the sun dipped under the horizon and just as Xander was ready to decide it was all a ‘pipe dream’, the Arora Borealis, unusual for this time of year, signaled the arrival of a solar blast of a power. It came with a consistency that left even the most senior coven members aghast.

Along with the blue and green curtains of light were a series of burgundy and orange that seemed too wide, more intense, than the normal set of rings at this time of year.

Xander paused for a moment and watched the colours play in a pale dance over Spike’s form then, for some unknown reason, moved on hands and knees to the form of his former friend and felt compelled to dive forward into the pentagram and reach to place a loving hand on Spike’s lower arm. The chanting came to a finish at that moment.

There was a sudden blast. All the lights in the vicinity, including those run by generators were snuffed out… and coming to in the blackness Xander felt… a burnt hand… and… nothing!! Nothing…

Seconds later all the coven and interlopers were on their backs with the blast, and a few paces away, just outside the pentagram, the dazed form of a beautiful male tried to make sense of what had just happened.
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