Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes
Summary: Xander has PTSD after rescuing one too many slayers. Spike is recovering (sort of) after the battle with W&H. Fate may have it they eventually find each other - she's funny that way.
Spoilers: Sometime in season five AtS – and possibly late seven BtVS.
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Disclaimer: 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.
Their day in Florence was a delight. A brief visit to the Credit Suisse office in the city center was followed by a wander through streets and Piazzas, with learned commentary by Anton. Historical tit bits mixed with amusing anecdotes regarding former residents of the busy metropolis were casually referenced as various buildings were passed.
They stopped for gelato and coffee at a charming, tiny restaurant run by a jovial individual Anton referred to as ‘Senator’, apparently an in joke as the half breed Bracken demon carried the family name ‘Cicero’. Senator was a fine conversationalist and wealth of local gossip, and was obviously very keen to get ‘the inside scoop’ on the Immortal’s honored guests. Anton smiled indulgently, winked at William and Alexander once or twice as he provided only vague details but left the man with the distinct impression that the pair were extremely important. Cicero could discern neither their origins nor true nature – particularly as he initially assumed them to be Master Vampire and full Mate, but wandering in full sunshine? Unheard of.
Seconds after their departure he was on the phone to his network of friends and acquaintances. Something was afoot and if it involved the Immortal, who appeared unusually happy in the company of the pair, it was big.
They arrived at the Piazza della Signoria a short time later and admired its public display of sculptures before mounting the grand steps of the Uffizi Museum. Anton and William smiling indulgently as Xander joined the throng of visitors ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at various statues and exhibits, and returned to the much older pair to report a particularly interesting find or two.
Wandering shoulder to shoulder with the handsome, well dressed Immortal, Spike was increasingly amazed and respectful as the full implications of Anton’s extreme age began to be revealed. Quiet personal comments here and there regards the original owner of a piece; anecdotes about the accuracy of particular events in antiquity being depicted; observations and valid critiques of the Greek or Latin translations; and the occasional sad tone accompanying an aside as he pointed out some of the pieces, it all served to pique Spike’s interest in the history of the complex individual he and Xander were fast coming to call a firm friend, and perhaps soon to be more.
After reveling in the atmosphere for a time, Anton led his companions through the main building, checked with a desk clerk who rang forward, then took them in a lift downstairs to meet Dr Magnolia Scudieri.
An attractive woman in her mid fifties greeted Anton effusively with a kiss to both cheeks then turned her attentions to his friends. Spike turned on the charm, kissing the back of an outstretched hand and greeted the lady in Italian. Xander greeted her with his own shy smile, causing the esteemed Director of the Museum of San Marco to give a girlish laugh and slap Anton lightly on the shoulder.
The ensuing hour and a half was spent in the charming woman’s company as she led them around the restoration facility, introduced them to various staff and extolled the virtues of current projects at the Uffuzi and beyond. Xander spent some time at each station admiring the meticulous work of experts as they variously cleaned, pieced together, catalogued or assessed artworks and objects of old, and was both pleased and rather flattered when one or two of the individuals took time out of their work to explain details of their task at hand.
In the end, the real purpose of their visit became apparent when they were ushered to a small breakout room where coffee was served and discussions turned to political and funding matters. The issues were complex and those involved unknown to the interlopers, so Spike and Xander simply sat quietly and observed Anton.
The Immortal had an obviously amazing knack for giving his full attention to the person speaking to him without the need to interject until his opinion was obviously required, then the answer was considered and non-judgemental, the tone measured and pleasant, and the body language neutral yet friendly. It was something that set Anton apart from any other individual the two had ever encountered before, a calm aura of greatness that spoke of wisdom and age. That this unique being had been put in their path, apparently serendipitously, and had volunteered to sponsor their Mating, was beyond comprehension. The why regards the latter somewhat bothered Spike, and through the link, was felt also by his much younger companion.
A promise to attend Magnolia’s guest lecture for the Advancing Women Artist Foundation later the following week was made as the three departed, and Spike made a mental note to ring Giles to give him their revised plans, it seemed they would (happily) be staying in Italy for longer than initially intended, the exact duration still to be determined but of no consequence at this stage.
The warm evening saw a return to the villa and a delightful swim for Xander in waning sunlight while Spike and Anton took themselves to the outhouse dojo for the promised spar. Xander could feel Spike’s excitement through the mating link and benefitted from his mate’s adrenalin high that accompanied the vampire’s excitement at the prospect of a “bit of friendly violence”. The intrepid swimmer deliberately tried to seek internal calm and stroke with a smooth, set rhythm despite the jolts of joyous energy flooding his system, but in the end, sprinted hard for a good kilometer before exiting and jogging up the hill, towel in hand, to see what the fuss was about.
Entering the well lit, modern dojo, he observed Spike and Anton fighting with karate bo staffs at a pace almost impossible to follow with the human eye. Draping his towel around his shoulders, he leaned against the door and simply watched in wonder. Both men were stripped to the waist, clad only in loose martial arts pants. Anton was darker skinned, taller and slightly heavier than Spike, although both had the toned, perfect athletic bodies of men in their mid twenties. It was utterly thrilling to behold, and several times in the ensuing half hour, Xander had to remind himself that unlike the combatants, he needed to breathe, as a particularly long or difficult exchange took place.
Finally the two broke off, bowed low and exited in a formal fashion. Only after stepping off the main mat did matching Cheshire Cat grins emerge and Anton threw his arm over his smaller counterpart. “Xander! I fear your partner had to curb his skills for my benefit. I look forward to furthering my match technique with such a worthy opponent.”
The three made a b-line for the house to freshen up, eat and spend a relaxed night enjoying (of all things) the Formula 1 race being held in Singapore.
And so the pattern was established for the next five days or so. A late morning rise and quiet communal breakfast in the sun, followed by business of the day – whether it be at the villa or in town – then a return to the villa for exercise and companionable evening of talk and entertainment according to preference. The mated pair would then repair to bed to make gentle or enthusiastic love as the mood took them.
Finally on the sixth night, Anton asked the two to sit with him for drinks out on the terrace. He poured the two their drink of choice in crystal bulb glasses and himself a large cognac before sitting back smiling enigmatically, “William, Alexander, it is but a week since we met properly and I cannot tell you how enjoyable it has been for me. Yet we have spoken little of my offer to stand in place of your Sire at your formal Mating ceremony.
“I realize you have agreed in principle, so I feel I… there is an important matter I wish to share with you before we proceed…” Anton looked at his hands, rolled the glass of alcohol around, looked up pensively, and dropped his voice to a near whisper, “The ceremony will allow you access to my emotions when we are physically close – just as you, William, felt your Sire and Grand Sire – though it will not be as strong as the Mating link of course. But I felt it only fair… That is I would like you to…”
It was the first time Xander and Spike had seen genuine worry cloud Anton’s handsome features as he fiddled with his glass again, cleared his throat and continued, “I want you to know of my past. It may make for a rather long night… as I rarely share any of this… but you are to be family I hope, so you must know… Perhaps then you will understand me better… my motivation for asking that you permit me the honor… and I do hope you will still accept me… all that I am… after you know.”
Xander opened his mouth as if to say something then closed it again, and looked to his vampire when he felt his lover send a spike of love through the link. The blonde then leaned over, took up Xander’s free hand and turned to the Immortal, “We are deeply touched that you wish to share your history with us Anton, and will listen both as friends and as brothers.”
Anton was silent for a moment then leveled pale green eyes directly at first Spike then Xander as if to gauge their sincerity, or perhaps decide how much to divulge, then threw back the last of his cognac, poured another and sat back to begin.
“I was a young man when turned, as well you may have guessed, though my exact age is lost even to me. I was in my prime living in what is now Turkey, but then was part of the Aegean empire. I wanted adventure and joined the trade routes around the Mediterranean Sea, exchanging goods of all descriptions. Travel was sometimes by land, but more often sea and on one such venture, our ship met with pirates.
“I shan’t go into detail but to say that I was sold into slavery in Egypt. As it happened the household in which I served was that of a rich architect of the Pharoh Mentuhotep – and yes Middle Kingdom around 2020bc before you ask… so you see, the name Immortal is really rather inaccurate!” The last part was said with a wry smile as Xander swallowed hard and tried to comprehend the time span involved in one existence.
“I was young and reckless then, and certainly no fighter so should have been sent to work in the fields, but as I was deemed pleasing to the eye, my role fell to one of house-boy, and to warming the mistress’ beds on occasion when husbands were absent. I suppose I was happy. I was certainly lucky as far as slaves go, but slave nonetheless, uneducated for the most part, and still so very naïve in the ways of the world. So when a stranger arrived at the door of the slave quarters and begged entry from a sand storm, I invited him in.
“We offered him food but he took none, instead offered us a share of his sack of potent wine as payment for our hospitality. Everyone partook and it became quite a celebratory evening, despite the constant howl of the wind and darkness brought on early by the storm. I was not much of a drinker then, even less so as I felt utterly drawn to our guest. He was taller than all but the black tribesmen I had occasionally seen in the markets of the city, had raven black hair and a rich voice, but it was his eyes that had me transfixed. They were a deep chocolate colour, flecked with amethyst and gold it seemed, and when he looked at me…
“That night we bedded together by necessity and as all the others passed the night in drunken slumber, I learned first hand what it meant to lie with a man. Isesi was the most gentle and considerate of lovers, and as I lay in sated afterglow, he offered to take me from the life I was leading, to be with him for all time. I had no idea what he was really asking, of course, and as we made love a second time he drained me while I was at the peak of ecstasy and turned me as his Childe.
“I woke three days later in a campsite and was introduced to a world hitherto unknown to me, a world only myth and oral legend had warned of. We were the creatures of the night others feared, but in an era where human populations were often sparse as were demon populations. And once again I was one of the lucky ones.
“Isesi and I travelled the length and breadth of the known world, trading where we were able, killing only when there was no alternative. We followed armies as suppliers and took our fill from the dead and dying in the nights after battles, and Isesi taught me the art of seduction and skimming, so we rarely went hungry. Indeed the role of secret lover arriving at night to some rich, bored aristocrat or wealthy merchant’s wife (or husband) with all the intrigue and excitement that entailed quite appealed to both of us.
“At times we parted company for a year or two, here and there, but always found each other again, our love all the sweeter for the reunion. We were together for nearly four hundred years, but one night he went out and never returned.
“We had been in, or rather, around Babylon, in the old Persian kingdom, for almost two years, happily avoiding other vampires as the Court there was notoriously violent and its Master quite ‘unhinged’. The night was hot and Isesi restless. I was comfortable but he wanted to find some violence. I did not, so he went out alone. And he never returned. I don’t know to this day what exactly transpired, but I felt his passing on a visceral level.
“Quite mad with grief and informed that members of the Babylonian Court were to blame, I exacted my revenge in ways I cannot begin to describe, first on those I was convinced were to blame, then the entire Court. No vampire I encountered was safe. I was not safe. I ran from everything, from one kingdom to the next, creating havoc and terror wherever I went. In the end every demon bore me a deadly grudge, and humans feared and loathed me. I became the hunted.
“Ten years passed before wounded, alone, desperate and still grieving, I took refuge deep in a network of caves on the cold island kingdom of the druids. There I stayed, starving and praying for relief to any deity who might listen, even if that relief was to be my final end. But rather than dusting, a messenger appeared and offered an alternative. I was to be the Keeper of the Deeper Well in exchange for ‘balance and serenity’.”
Spike sat forward and interjected, “Wait, you were the Keeper of the Deeper Well? But I thought Drogan…”
“He followed the being who followed me.”
Xander was far more confused, “Um… Confused here. What’s the Deeper Well? Who’s Drogan? And…?” Xander caught the look and distinct feeling akin to ‘tell you later’ coming from Spike and sheepishly added, “OK, shutting up now.”
“I was to remain in the Well until another sought the role. It was to be a long wait, but time travels differently in such a place. I only emerged twice in seventeen hundred years, both times to tip the balance between good and evil, and at the behest of the Powers. And with those experiences… I learned first hand that neither humans nor demons are the sole possessors of evil in the world, nor does the presence or absence of a soul determine acts of good.
“Time in the Well gave me time to understand balance as the Powers would have it. I studied the world as it was with the detachment only afforded those not of it. I watched Kings rise and fall, armies triumph and fail, civilizations rise and plateau then crumble. And for all the understanding I gained, of the world, of the other, I was also losing the part of me, the part Isesi had awoken and filled. I was losing my comprehension of love and with that, what it meant to truly be in the world at all. I begged the Powers for my release, something I had not done until that time.”
Anton paused and looked out at the grounds of the Villa, then stared for a moment at the brilliant half moon before turning back to his audience, a single tear tracking down his handsome cheek, “Instead the Powers decided to give back to me what I thought I had lost. I was told of the new Keeper but seconds before the Powers sent me back into the world. In a blinding flash, I was to wake up in the body of a twelve year old boy, in my country of birth, at that time called Bithynia, part of the Roman Empire.
“I could not understand the Powers’ actions at all. I still had the memories of my long life and all it had entailed, but now was to be forced to live as a youngster? Initially I thought the Powers meant to punish me, but the adults who became my parents were loving and kind, childless until the Oracles had told them that they were to adopt a young wanderer.
“I thought this was to be my lesson, an ordinary life in a backwater of the latest Empire, much as it would have been, had I not left some two millennia previously. But my lesson was to come in the form of a handsome older man in his forties, who chose me above all others, a unique individual and truly great leader of one third of the world’s population.” Anton stopped his commentary and stared at the two men opposite, all but begging them to understand what was to come next.
Xander suddenly felt queasy, but realized he was reacting to something coming from Spike. When the Immortal looked away and failed to go on, Spike reached out a hand to grasp Anton’s and whispered a single word, “Hadrian.”