White Marble

by Josie

Copyright © 2006


Rating: NC-17
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.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse: http://mysticmuse.net
Feedback: Very much appreciated.
Spoilers: None.
Author's Notes: If you don't like boys together, don't play here!
Pairing: Xander/Spike

Summary: Exquisite statue…admirer…magic…and everything changes.

Part 1

Xander had limited patience for art at the best of times but Dawn was studying the history of Roman sculptures of antiquity and they had had been to almost every statue gallery in Vatican city at her behest.

Xander was resigned to more chipped stone and missing noses by the time the day was through – the artistry of the time no doubt extraordinary and Dawn's enthusiastic commentary assisting in making the day tolerable. Still, Xander put it down to fatigue the following day when he went with Dawn to St Peters Basilica and saw Michelangelo's "Pieta" and he felt the uncharacteristic prickle of tears as they viewed the virtually perfect marble.

The figure on the lap of Mary was slim and handsome, and had martyred himself to save the humanity – yet according to most accounts, may not have truly been one of them. Xander was in no way tempted to compare the heroic act of Spike or any other of their 'crew' to any biblical parallel, but the figure was evocative and Spike and Anya's deaths – and those of the other potential slayers – were still raw even after two years. Xander had lost too much.

He had only come to Europe at Dawn and Willow's request. He was tired and still grieving to be honest and his work in the construction industry giving him a little flexibility with holidays as projects started and finished.

So he had three weeks. He visited the coven in England for four blissful days with Willow and was now in Italy. He really didn't have the money to stay more than a month, even if he had wanted to. At least not if he ever wanted a decent life back in the states. There was enough compensation from the Sunnydale disaster fund and his own parents' life insurance to put a deposit on a house…somewhere. It was just that he had yet to find a where…

So he took a trip and now stood at the Pieta, stemming his own tears and wiping away Dawn's with his 'manly handkerchief' instead.

He wasn't staying with Buffy and Dawn in Rome. The Slayer was going through a 'carefree phase' and had a new boyfriend – some guy who pretentiously named himself 'the Immortal' something or other. Xander hardly saw her and by all reports she and the new squeeze went clubbing almost every night – plus Andrew was still also 'crashing' at the "Casa del Summers".

Instead, he'd taken lodgings in a cheap local hotel where the noise from the landlady arguing in loud Italian with her husband, was easily drowned out on the Saturday night when the four drunken boys from LA on one side, seemed to be trying to compete with the 'hens party' from Birmingham UK on the other, for who could make the most noise. In the end he went for a walk for much of the night and visited Dawn the next day to say a quick farewell.

She was in a bit of a rush to head to language school so the meeting was easier than he expected, and he realized that, like with Willow, he was (as usual) probably just a bother to everyone anyway, given their busy lives.

He escaped Rome and headed for the coast where he resolved to stay for the rest of his holiday and was now wandering alone in the 'medieval quarter' of central Gajeta when he entered the gallery for the first time.

He was about to enjoy his first night completely alone again at a refurbished, very ritzy B&B run by a young English couple (Ron and Davina) in the coastal town that lay around eighty miles south of Rome. He had been very relieved to find there was no need to worry about language (even if Davina was a bit 'over the top' in term of gushy hostess).

The tiny town only took a half hour to walk around and was a popular destination particularly in summer and right on a marine reserve so wonderful harbor views and fabulous castle. Thankfully it was 'low season' and Xander appreciated the quiet after the frenetic pace of the last eight days.

He had a beer at a local café and admired the view and the ancient buildings, before wandering a little further to find a small gallery specializing in marble pieces on the corner of the piazza. The exquisitely fine carving of a fisherman with a net – the figurine only a foot or so high – caught his eye and he had aught else to do, so entered to look for more.

The young gallery curator/owner seated behind a desk in the rear of the space did not even look up from his soccer magazine as Xander entered, but continued smoke and sip his macchiato. Xander began to make his way around the front room and finally found a tiny stand of brochures – some in English.

The works were exquisite and apparently all done by two local artists. "K. Giovanni" seemed to specialize in the smaller works and local themes, while the larger pieces – the majority figures from Roman Mythology – were signed to "Laz Minassos".

He was just admiring the tiny detail on the 'shepherd with two goats' piece when the gallery employee must have decided the 'browser' was actually likely to purchase. The American flag on Xander's day pack probably gave it away, but Xan was still surprised to be addressed in English – albeit with a heavy accent and not a small measure of disdain.

"Better is upstairs. You buy… we ship perfect to you place of living…anywhere…professional job. We take most cards."

"Um…yeah thanks…Great…really…I'll just go look…thanks…" Xander nodded rather distractedly then wandered up the narrow, well worn stone staircase to the upper gallery.

Indeed the collection was far more impressive, with the majority being full sized figures by Minassos. A beautiful Dianna, and exquisite little Cupid, plus several others he couldn't quite recall in terms of gods were there, but all paled as he rounded on a piece standing alone at the very end of the room.

Unlike the other pieces lit by down lights, the afternoon sun was illuminating the marble of this one. The figure was facing away from the main room, obviously for effect.

An exquisite set of folded 'angel' wings cut of marble so thin that the faint yellow orange indicating the start of sunset shone through them, and gave the whole piece an almost living glow.

Xander could not help himself…he reached out and stroked the very edge of the feathers with the back of his hand, and was surprised that it was not cold at all. The silky smooth stone was still slightly warm from the afternoon sun.

He whispered "Oh God…this is so beautiful…" then as though addressing the statue itself, "You are so beautiful!"

The statue's hand closest to him had a fist clenching a spear as tall as the statue itself, but the angle of the head was not that of pride reflected in all the other statues. The face was turned away and tilted slightly down as though in sadness.

Xander noted the slim lines – very like the Pieta, only better, healthier – and obviously intended to depict a live and exemplary male figure, if the 'six pack' was anything to go by. Strong chest and taut thighs, pretty feet and…oops looked there too – well endowed. Obviously Maestro Minassos was not afraid to depict a mature male!

Again he felt compelled and reached out to stroke over the artificially warmed chest, the late sun now giving it a pink hue. The figure's other arm with clasped hand was over his breast – as though clutching in grief.

There were delicately cut curls of hair slightly obscuring down-turned face of this angel, or god…some so fine, Xander would swear it would be impossible to do!

As he rounded on the far side of the piece, however, there was no touching. His knees simply gave out.

It was unmistakable. The beautiful face of the noble and ensouled vampire that had saved them all from the Hellmouth through his own sacrifice…Xander looked again, this time through tears. It was a perfect likeness…perfect.

…And Spike heard every word, felt every touch, smelt each tear, and wished he too was still able to cry.

Part 2

Xander eventually rose in a daze and kissed the clasped marble hand representing heartfelt grief just as one might a beloved monarch, afraid that if there was too much contact…the statue might somehow crumble to dust. He realized how ridiculous that was and shook himself a little but still addressed the statue quietly as if to a dearest relative when seated at their gravestone.

Tears were streaming down the man's cheeks in an unstoppable cascade from his good eye, and leaking uncomfortably down his throat from the bad one, as he addressed the inanimate sculpture of a friend lost.

"I never got to say goodbye…I was such an ass, always worrying about how hard it all was for you but you know…And then you with the soul and the out with the chip and still helping and…Oh God…or Goddess…this is going to sound so ridiculous but…um…[hic] I miss you. [sigh]…Put up with me when you didn't have to, protected me when you didn't want to and…Oh geez!!!…and I heard that Angel died in LA too…not sure if you'd know that…sorry if you're listening somewhere – Andrew told me – Angel took out a dragon doing it though – figure you'd like to know that. Oh Shit![hic].

"And you…You're the bloody hero! Not Deadboy![hic] You with the I'll get a soul and with the sacrifice…I know I don't go to church but shit I really hope you made it to heaven…I really do…I know we've had our differences but hope oh geeez…Ahn…the two people I…[hic then deep breath]…But the others here are Roman gods – so you have…and your full wings…::Labored sigh::…Oh Spike…I really do hope that you…and that Anya…Oh God…Spike! I really do hope you are…I…ummm oh sh…"

Strangely he had not cried…he had never cried like he did now…it was a water shed. He found himself with arms wrapped around the ankles of the exquisite marble carving, sobbing his heart out like a small child and feeling like…like somehow someone was finally willing to listen.

The young curator came up the stairs to source the noise and indicate that it was closing time…but decided that if the American was so moved by that piece…the one with the big wings… Well Minassos would pay him twenty five percent, and his trip to Barcelona for the semifinals of the European cup in a month was paid for guaranteed! He left the tourist alone – and continued to wonder why the foreigners always seemed to choose his shop to cry in!

Raoul wandered back down the narrow staircase and rang first his girlfriend then his mother. Both knew the scenario and understood. Plans would be altered. Claudia now coming for dinner at his mother's home in an hour and a half, rather than their preferred eating at the café, but at least his mother had agreed to their heading for Rome on the weekend…without a chaperone! That alone was worth it. Raoul wandered next door to order another coffee while his 'client' continued to wet the floor upstairs with his tears. He could afford to take his time. The statue was thirty thousand Euro – 'bargain price!' and he knew from experience that it would be a 'two or three visit' sale…but it would be a sale.

Spike felt the tears on his foot, the kiss on his hand…and…wanted to…then the news of his Sire…Angelus…Angel…dust also. Would he have been rewarded…At least the soul…surely?!

He had no idea Angel had dusted. Spike had fallen as a mob set upon him, pinned down and torn apart, his last vision before he dusted – Charlie boy dead and his Sire fighting on…then black and cold, or not cold, he wasn't sure.

He had awoken as a block of stone in Minassos's studio but had no idea of time in the interim. He resigned himself to being 'played with' by the powers just one more time.

As a sentient piece of rock it really was all quite odd…There was a lot of time to ponder odd things before chisel then diamond drill and sander rendered the broader surfaces and began to remove him from his jail.

He was happy when the Maestro (and Minassos was truly that!) uncovered his eyes, and could not believe the feeling as the amazing wings emerged…His sadness was real and Laz seemed to feel his pain, drawing immense emotion from cold stone and paring away the shards of precious rock until he could again feel his cheek bones and lips…The hand on his heart was fixed for all time as was the one on the spear honoring the good fight…His soul was still here, he knew that and from the corner of his eye, could see the beautiful form of his own familiar body emerging over the weeks but still he grieved.

The final process of polishing had taken days, no weeks and he felt every touch, from the coarsest sand paper to the finest diamond polish. His toes, fingers, ears, knees, even scrotum and wing tips…Maestro Minassos pulled Spike's new form from the piece of stone.

As he did he talked to his creation as though real the final polishing more a caress than an act of artistic intent.

Spike so wanted to tell the man how talented he was, wanted to tell him to accept that having a male lover was fine – despite what his brothers might say; tell him that he truly was a genius; let him know that he had once been human too…

And they gave him the spot by the window at the gallery. He wished he could have thanked the Maestro!

Every afternoon he was warmed by her ladyship the sun and he could see the sea and watch in silence as the days came and went. There was aught else to do but to accept. This was to be his purgatory. He wondered if a rich buyer would purchase him and put him in a garden somewhere to gradually melt under the acid rain of Europe; or whether he would be eventually relegated to the dungeons of some large gallery along with the other 'lesser pieces'; or perhaps fixed in a public space until vandals knocked off spear holding arm and broke his wings, leaving the town masters no option but to 'break him up'.

Yet…now there seemed to be…not hope exactly…indeed perhaps it was torture for here was a human he had known when undead, wetting his feet with his tears, hugging his ankles, worshipping him and telling him of his Sire's fate and his own love for…Spike.

For the first time in…well time really had taken on a different measure now, since there was no hunger and no sleep just…being, he wished he were able to move or speak…He knew he deserved this for all he had done – all he had killed. But he wished that from his eternity of stone, he might at least say thank you…for caring…for remembering…and somehow give comfort.

The gallery lights blinked indicating closing time. Xander wiped his eyes, stroked down the beautiful face of the statue one more time, then departed.

The lights went out and Spike was left in the dark for another night. If he could have sighed he would have. He stared out of the harbor as the lights of houses and boats joined street lights and stars to twinkle and welcome the moon.

Xander promised the rather snarky Raoul that he would return in the morning, before exiting the building only to stand staring at the harbor and the lights of houses and boats and stars, red eyed and still very emotional. He sent a heartfelt prayer to whoever might be listening that Spike might one day be rewarded for his noble acts…that all his sins be forgiven and he be rewarded.

A single marble feather on the very tip Spike's wing sparkled became a real feather then broke off and floated gently to the ground.

Part 3

Xander spent a dreadful night. His accommodation was wonderful; the food from the small seafood café, delicious; but his grief and confusion was as raw as the day the Hellmouth was closed.

He wept then tossed and turned, woke repeatedly, finally gave up sleep in preference to rising to read, and finally tied on his runners and went for a walk as soon as it was light. He did three laps of the town before returning to the hotel for a late breakfast and English papers.

The gallery didn't open until eleven. Xander was there on the dot, though Raoul was deliberately a few minutes late. He could see the American sitting on the low sandstone wall from his regular coffee shop, so took his time. He arrived with a fresh coffee and baguette in hand and very casually open the door. He knew obsession when he saw it and decided to milk the situation – just a little, so there would be no argument about the sale price.

Xander waited a few minutes – not wanting to look over anxious before walking past the apparently preoccupied curator and up the narrow stairs.

He had almost convinced himself that he had imagined the whole thing on the previous evening, but then…there he was. The glorious wings, the body, the spear, the sorrowful tilt of the head and that face. This time Xander kissed the hand that held the spear at the same time stroking the hand that was clenched over the heart with the back of his own hand…just so.

Grief seemed to strike again as he sank down to sit on the raised block of the statue's feet. He stroked the perfect alabaster as he talked quietly for a little as though to his old fellow fighter from the Hellmouth…and more than that, his friend. He told the statue, just as he would tell…well…he suddenly realized it had more often that not been Spike who was his audience…of his own feelings of grief.

Xander mused about his rather ambiguous relationship with Anya, his appreciation of Spike's 'form' and his final realization that he was attracted to men in the "in the carnal sense if you get my drift" and the confusion that brought with it. If Spike could have rolled his eyes he would have. But in the end Xander simply fell silent and sat idly stroking the feet of the marble angel.

An hour or so of quiet meditation later, Xander broke from his reverie and made to leave. As he stood to farewell his inanimate listener, he spied the delicate white feather on the ground. It was so like the marble ones on the angel as to be uncanny.

He picked it up and cradled the prize in his left hand, brushing the softest of down at the stem of its base. He stroked the whole form then wondered where it might have come from since all the windows seemed to be sealed shut. It was all very odd. In the end, he broke from his contemplation. He needed to check his Email…and to do more than sit talking to a statue!

He held onto the feather and took his leave of the angel, "I need to go. This will remind me of you…but I'll be back…I really will…I'll be back."

Spike had felt the warm lips on his marble, and the welcome touch of the slightly calloused skin of Xander's hands rhythmically caressing his feet as Xander spoke. But when the man picked up the feather as he was about to depart, and gently touched the down at its end, it was as though Spike's entire wing span had been stroked. It was exquisite torture. The ultimate agony! And as Xander departed he had whispered, "God Spike, I wish you could hear me! I wish you were real…See you tomorrow"

Xander could not work out what was wrong with him. He was a man obsessed unable to think of anything else but the angel and Spike the original and his hostile treatment of the loyal vampire post chipping and their later friendship.

He wandered aimlessly through Gajeta, eventually ending up on the seashore leaning against a sandstone wall and staring out at the azure blue…so like he remembered Spike's eyes…and he really did remember those eyes. Eyes that he had seen defining Spike's desperation and shame in after the chip; red rimmed after days of grief and regret following Buffy's death; flashing with yellow as he rose to defend Dawn or any of them in the months that followed; sparkling with the thrill of a fight; that belied age and wisdom and honor. Eyes that had the ability to express the joy of being in a single irreverent glance; to define deadly intent; or to look with such love and affection as would melt a heart of stone.

There was no one around so Xander took off his own eye patch and rubbed the agitated flesh around the socket. He still had one eye because of Spike's actions that night, total blindness an alternative too horrendous to contemplate. He began to cry anew as he remembered the vicious killer turned brave defender after Buffy's death; the abused 'bed buddy' then devastated lover after her return; the tortured soul and lost mind in the school basement; the devastated 'toy' of the First; the individual writhing in the excruciating pain of a failing chip; and their final days and hours before his end…the quiet companion irreverent to the end, but caring to a fault, sitting on the back porch with the now one eyed compatriot in arms, listening mostly, but inevitably flicking his cigarette butt into the garden before offering some wise words that utterly gave away the depth of intelligence and love held within the lithe form.

Xander pulled his knees up to his chest and grieved anew. Tears from his good eye fell onto the tip of the feather he still held fast in his right hand, and as they did, the angel felt his pain. Miraculously a salty tear emerged from the marble itself, made a track down the unmarred cheek of the statue, and dripped onto the floor below unobserved.

The following three days Xander had intended going back to the gallery, but Davina seemed to have decided that her quiet, American guest was quite 'the project'.

She organized a trip on a local fishing boat that lasted for nearly a day and a half by the time they hefted their catch onto the docks for sale. Not keen at first, Xander found that he actually did enjoy it immensely! He naturally joined in hauling up nets, sorting the catch then pushing the nets out again. His knowledge of heavy equipment on building sites made the winches and tools reasonably understandable, and he was a very quick study when it came to the physical. After the first hour of work the crew seemed to simply accept him as one of their own and after their catch was in and they motored back to shore, plied him with home made bread, cheese and cheap red wine.

The captain of the boat – a stocky mariner and seventh generation fisherman, Illias – offered him a second day out, explaining in very broken English that he "Like you! Work, not like usual…" and then there were a series of expletives that Xander was sure were not in Dawn's Italian-English dictionary.

By the third day, he really was enjoying himself, happily fronting up at the docks around midnight to help with the general preparations before heading out for another sunrise over water.

Marcos' wife had sent along a special treat for the crew – something about her father's brother's something or other…Xander really didn't mind but just smiled and thanked the pretty woman as he carefully passed the large plate of cakes from the dock to another crew member (Marcos' son) on the boat. As the teenager Panna took the prize then stole one of the cakes, Xander couldn't help but grin. The scolding of a mother seemed to sound the same regardless of language.

On the downside, the food went ignored and weather closed in by early light. On the upside the catch was excellent in the first two pulls, so the night was a resounding success.

It was very rough as they headed back for shore and Xander had still to find his sea legs. He managed to keep working, but only just, and was feeling very queasy by the time the lights of Gajeta came back into view. He was never more happy to haul heavy boxes onto dry land, volunteering to work mini crane as soon as they docked and feeling intense relief that the ground underfoot was no longer moving.

It was close to ten in the morning when the last of the catch was sold. He stayed for a little longer and helped the rest of the crew tidy up the boat ready for the following night.

As he was about to leave, exhausted but really rather satisfied, Illias held out then used the handshake to pull him into a warm hug and kissed him on both cheeks.

"You good boy. You come back?…is easy I give you job."

Xander was firmly slapped on the back then, surprisingly, had some cash pushed into his hand…quite a lot of cash! He looked up very surprised at the old seafarer.

"Good catch. Is wage-plus, three day…"

Xander grinned at the man, he really wasn't sailor material but would seriously consider coming back to work for a season – particularly if the four hundred Euro cash he now held in his hand was any indication!

He bought Davina flowers on his way back to the hotel, presenting them to her with a smile and genuine thanks before heading up to 'de fishify' himself with a very long shower and a great deal of body wash.

It was late afternoon and the beginning of his last week of holidays when he entered the gallery, he smiled at Raoul then headed upstairs.

The statue of the angel was gone.

Part 4

Spike lost the feel of his old friend the following day. His feather had obviously been discarded.

After the warm feeling departed, he had hoped that his friend has simply put the feather down somewhere in his room, but as he watched the sun come up and go down three times, he decided that he had been dismissed as a sounding board, that his own compatriot in arms had left and that a friend would not return. He watched sadly as the last of sliver of gold disappeared over the horizon leaving a red glow that now seemed to epitomize the memory of his bloody past rather than the warm glow of a balmy Italian evening.

After closing, he was almost relieved when Minassos swept in with his newest creation – a diaphanous figure of Aphrodite – and insisted that she be put in the pride of position, relegating the angel to the small courtyard at the back where other larger less popular pieces resided. When Raoul informed Minassos of the American who was still in town and had a 'thing' for the angel, the Maestro seemed unimpressed, claiming that anyone could admire for free.

Minassos mentioned his intention to separate off the angel wings, and sell the 'male soldier' and the wings separately. He would come by the following week with his diamond saw for the wings then deal with the other later. The 'soldier statue' was of lesser importance and could be polished at his leisure.

Raoul and his brother grumbled a little but eventually convinced their cousins to assist with the new piece and the heavy angel, easing it carefully down the narrow staircase.

Minassos had been most specific. Even if Raoul didn't sell it complete, there was to be no damage done if he wanted his commission.

Spike's grief was complete. Minassos might as well break him apart completely. The agony of losing his wings now was too much to contemplate.

He wished for oblivion, begging in his mind for final death and welcomed the dark corner of the tiny courtyard when he was placed facing the wall between the unpopular overly ornate bird bath and a large cracked terracotta urn.

He heard Xander arrive, would have rejoiced…but then heard the footfalls then the pause and the brisk exit, the slam of the door, tinkle of the bell, and received the faint scent of tears.

Hope departed with the brunette friend.

After Xander's initial couple of visits, Spike had mused that to be a statue was not so bad if the powers would allow him the one solace…to be in the house, or even the garden of a friend…even for a time.

But it was apparently the vengeful powers just giving him a faint hope and turning the sword one more time.

He was glad of his pained demeanor yet again.

Minassos would violate his form, take his wings, sell them, then no doubt leave him to the ravages of time. He would probably be sold at a bargain price to some pretentious upstart from Rome who wanted a nude male in her front yard because it was 'today', and he would gradually be forgotten under an ivy plant,

He resigned himself to having his bits forever on display and only a few friends of [whoever!] noting the poignancy of the figure and the odd bumps on his back that would once have been wings if only they had known.

Then the ultimate of all torture, his wings began to tingle again as Xander who had returned from his near four days as fisherman, and found the statue gone, had immediately rushed out of the shop and down to the port, only to pull out the feather, hold it to his own cheek and grieve anew.

It was not a single tear that fell from the beautiful marble visage, but many, and as he cried the marble moved and a clenched hand opened to splay out over his heart as though to hold in his grief. No one witness the shift nor the tears and even Spike himself failed to register the change through his pain.

Late that night, a bereft Xander sat on the stone lined shorefront with a half full bottle of Ouzo and finally realized that his parents had perhaps wanted to blot out life as much as he did at that moment…and that it was nothing to do with their child…He had three more very long drafts of the aniseed liquor before flinging the bottle into the sea. He was very drunk and still crying openly as he made slow progress toward his hotel, leaning as required, talking to lamp posts and kissing every public statue en route before telling them how much he loved the one he had lost.

Davina rang the fishermen at around one am when her lodger failed to return, but Illias and Marcos were already at sea. They were a little concerned but reminded her that their temporary employee did not seem like the irresponsible type.

He had to have the statue…he would find out who bought it…and he would have it…even if he had to forgo ever owning a house, he had to have it…

Xander was obviously grief stricken as the lovely Davina met him at the door of their B&B around one thirty in the morning. And her project had just become a rescue mission!

She knew there was something different about this 'tourist', and it was confirmed by every one of her acquaintances in the fishing community who were slow to welcome strangers, and local traders who were 'over' American tourists – but needed the money so dealt with them with a smile. This traveler was a whole different character. Gracious, generous and polite to a fault, even without command of the language, the twenty something had endeared himself to everyone – to the point that Illias would employ him and said so openly in the village!!!

Davina and husband met Xander at the door and he spent the next hour slurring apologies for his disgraceful behavior and trying to explain. The sum total of which was a watershed of tears for lost loved ones, and the broken expression of his wish to take home the marble angel tribute for a memorial grave, since the actual place of rest for his parents, best friend and reacquainted fiancé was an enormous hole by all accounts…Then cried more as he divulged fact that he had even arranged for the money to purchase the object from Raoul but now…

"I've got money!!!…Don' need house but thehhhh…and he wassssthere…he wasss!!! Really!…oh…fffff" He pushed all the money Illias had given him – plus a thousand Euro more into Davina's hand along with the card from the gallery. She knew that it must have been the deposit to secure the sale of the memorial piece.

Xander was utterly beyond reason by the time the dear woman hugged him for a final time and eased the grieving drunk onto the chaise lounge in her own sitting room. The lost friends and family, his best friend's obvious bravery and death, and the statue's likeness, and the need to purchase it, was all worthy a Shakespearean tragedy!

She looked pointedly at her husband (who was less than impressed by the late night interruption) and silenced Xander's tears with a motherly kiss and a pillow for his head. He immediately fell into an exhausted sleep as she tucked a blanket around him and shifted into the 'do something about this' mode.

At seven the next morning, Davina was on the phone to first Raoul's then Minassos' homes speaking in rapid Italian – equally as fluent, passionate and formidable as in her Yorkshire English! Despite the hour, Raoul's mother (the local midwife) and then Minassos' lover understood the concern. Xander's descriptions of his friend and grief for his partner and his family lost in the earthquake in Sunnydale (which had been on every channel in Europe at the time) were conveyed passionately and accurately and melted the hearts of her listeners.

By the time both Laz and Raoul were awake, there was no question that the statue was to be owned by the young American. Minassos wrote the whole thing off as a mistake – and would stick to his Roman Gods theme from now on…and Raoul agreed to the reduced price and commission – and agreeing to a new friendship ring since his girlfriend was less than impressed that he still intended to fund the trip to a football match with his friends with his commission!

The following day it was well past twelve before Xander woke, the room was unfamiliar but his brain so addled that he simply fell asleep again. It was almost two in the afternoon before he felt he could even face more than the softest of artificial light. His head throbbed, skin itched and he felt decidedly shaky. He had no idea how he had made it home and really could recall little of the evening after he had purchased the Ouzo and sat on the sea wall…And Oh how his head hurt.

He was sure someone had added a dead hamster to his mouth and stuffed something truly awful smelling under the blanket with him…then realized it was he who reeked! And yet, as he remembered the reason for his pain, he decided that nothing really mattered any more. Yet again he had found the world had screwed him over and this time for a mere statue.

Unfortunately for his sore head, his stomach was apparently catching up with the evening. He made it to the toilet down the hall just in time to rid himself of some foul liquid from the previous night, then rest his cheek on the porcelain and cry in silence for friends lost.

Eventually he made slow progress to the shower upstairs, bathed and changed clothes – threw up twice more then wandered back down to find his kind hostess and make some amends for his behavior.

Davina's usual bustling presence seemed to hurt his head more as he knocked quietly on the kitchen door, but he managed to smile weakly at her. He then gathered his courage and apologized sincerely for his drunken state the previous night – requesting that the message be also conveyed to her husband. Davina simply patted him on the arm, handed him two aspirin and stated that she had 'fixed everything'.

Xander had no idea what that meant and simply nodded swallowed the aspirin without water then headed back up to his room. If he was to go out today he most definitely needed sunglasses. He picked up the beloved feather and stroked it again. Now rather than hope and remembrance, however…it spelt pain. He placed it carefully on the dresser next to his toiletries bag and headed out.

It was cold in the courtyard and the sun never shining on more than a tiny corner near the cyclamen plant. Spike wondered how long it would take before he had as much moss on his wings as the pot next to him…then remembered…that would apparently not be a problem!

Spike heard them before he felt the belts strapping him onto a pallet then a trolley wheeling him through the shop and to a truck. Minassos had obviously decided to clip his wings sooner, rather than later, and he was being moved back to the workshop. He hoped the Maestro would remove his manhood along with the wings – the violation would then be complete, his nether regions being on display prevented, and the title 'Sad Eunuch' might just work.

But it was not to be.

He was delivered to a sunny front courtyard of a small hotel, obviously set up for al fresco dining. He was settled just inside the gate facing the door of the building. He was happy for the feel of the sun again but confused by the turn of events and still very much in grief mode.

Davina passed on various messages to Xander – one from Illias regards the possibility of another couple of nights of work (Marcos' son was the best man at a wedding in Rome and they were short a crew member); another from his bank to say that funds were available for electronic transfer whenever he needed them; and a third from a 'Mr. Giles' asking if everything was OK – as there had apparently been an obscure phone message from Xander to him at midnight the previous evening.

Xander thanked Davina, apologized yet again then made to head out.

"Oh there's one more thing…a package arrived for you – goods on approval, do you want to…?"

"I'm sorry Ms D but I just need to head out and clear my head for a while…and I really don't think…Oh whatever…see you later this arvo OK…and promise – no more bad behavior. Figure I'll just go tell old Illias he's got his extra crewman…might as well make myself useful."

Davina smiled knowingly as Xander headed out the front door, curiosity getting the better of her after five minutes or so. The scene she faced was more moving than she could possibly have imagined.

Xander had almost walked past the figure in the front courtyard. There was no one else around at this hour, and his head was down, but as he made to open the cast iron gate the flash of white in the corner of his eye caused him to look up. He then did something he never thought he would, he kissed a statue square on the lips and wrapped his arms around the slim waist as though holding a lover, and placed his head on the marble shoulder. As tears came he lifted his left hand and stroked the hair and the top of folded marble wing.

Davina came out just in time to see her 'project', hugging the statue as though his life depended on it, and knew she had done the right thing.

That night, Xander transferred the money needed for his statue then headed out with Illias again, but this time the talk was of him staying on in the town for at least a few months, and how much work he realistically could expect were he to do so. He returned to kiss his statue on lips before making his the way to the door.

On the stroke of midnight – just as the fishermen were pushing the boat away from the dock, the angel shivered and for a split second every feather shifted from marble to real in a single flash of joy.

Part 5

The angel stretched his wings tentatively until they were full span in a magnificent show of white but the rest of him was still fixed in place so he dared not do any more and simply folded them again.

By morning the wings had returned to stone, but if it was a singular event then it was still an event to be remembered it really had felt…wonderful, matching the kisses and hugs he had been given by Xander. He was suspicious that the powers were again going to twist the knife so did not get his hopes up, but simply accepted the gift of the single night.

Spike lost the feel of his old friend the following day. The feather had obviously been discarded, or at best put down somewhere safe but at least he knew now that he had been purchased but was not sure by whom and assumed it was the hotel. There could be worse spots…although longer term he did wish that poisoning pigeons and seagulls was a national sport! He felt the warm splats of their excreta as they perched on his wings, shoulders and head.

He rejoiced as Xander came through the ornate gate and wished he could melt into the arms as the man stroked him with rather fishy smelling hands and whispered, "Hi honey, I'm home."

There was no kiss, but the naturalness of the gesture and familiar statement made the dear statue thankful of the hand open on his heart. The pain was most definitely coming from there.

It was around midday when Xander finally rang his boss in the USA. Not wanting to do the wrong thing he agreed to finish the project he was on – the time frame eight to twelve weeks. Neville was less than impressed that he would lose one of his best project managers but had also seen the obsessive way Xander had approached work, constantly putting in extended hours for no pay and apparently using work as some sort of salve. Nev's wife was the one who found out about the Sunnydale tragedy and thereafter, the foreman had been far more understanding.

The Italian trip was the first holiday Xander had ever taken – apart from the compulsory ones, and there had been no significant other or family in his life so far as they could tell – so when the young man related his excitement at catching up with friends and working on a fishing boat and his intention to return, the older man was not surprised. He quipped, "Wouldn't be the first to find the love of your life in Italy!" to which Xander stilled and was unable to properly reply so simply said, "Thanks Nev…see you in three days."

That afternoon he wandered Gajeta rather aimlessly. He found Marcos having a beer and joined him, losing dreadfully at Backgammon, much to the amusement of Marcos friends, before promising to meet the fisherman around one – their starting time determined by tide not clock. He now had enough Italian to know numbers so smiled, threw 10 Euro on the table and kept walking.

He found Davina in the local market and offered to help her home with the produce. Most would actually be delivered, but the eggs and meat she was more than happy to accept help with.

They walked for a while in silence. "I have to go home…to the US I mean…but…um…I've talked to Illias and his brother's a builder and I…well anyway…If I can get a visa to work – and I'm pretty sure I can…I want to come back…to live…Do you think that's crazy? I mean…Oh Gahhh! Sorry."

Davina's eyes sparkled with delight. She knew the boy was smitten in the same way she and her husband had been with this seaside town – though their circumstances were vastly different (UK BMW executive taking redundancy package, needing investment opportunity and wife deciding on hotel…blahhh blahhh) She patted her 'project' on the arm.

"You go and do whatever it is you need to do, but you jolly well keep me in the loop. Now we have three days to find you a rental (assuming that's what you want), and you'll talk to Illias – the weather will be so much better for the catch just after summer, assuming that's when you'll be back…Oh and what about your dear statue…?"

"Oh Ms D I really can't afford to freight it at the moment – not if I'm coming back. I'm so sorry to bother…but can he stay in your courtyard until…well until I'm back? I'm happy to pay…"

"Don't you be bloody ridiculous! The angel is beyond what the courtyard deserves…No…you go do what you need to do…then come back. Hubby likes you, bloody hell, the whole village likes you!" Davina then dropped her tone and spelt care and concern with every word. "Just do what you need to do and come back, OK?"

The second night he was presented with a dark blue mariner's cap – a perfect fit and lined in black silk. Illias placed it on his head ceremoniously as they wound the last of the ropes ready for the following evening. The speech was short, "Good boy…Davina says you back with us…work hard…boat is here, we here." He was then hit hard on the top of the hat before being pulled into a warm hug and kissed on the cheek by the man he saw very strongly as a father figure. It was repeated with punches to his arm and slaps on the back but always accompanied by heartfelt kisses of friendship to both cheeks.

He found himself wandering up the hill late in the morning, money in pocket and smelling of fish as usual. He had a large package containing market fresh large sardines in one hand and the cap firmly on his head. With his longer brunette hair he looked rather like an older 'Artful Dodger'. He grinned a little as he spied himself in a passing shop window. The decision was firm. He would tie up his affairs in the USA as quickly as possible.

It was the first time since the Scoobies at high school that he really felt he had a place.

He kissed the statue and told it of his intentions…that Davina would look after it…and that he would be back…He was kissed and hugged and his wings emerged again than night…

But a day later Xander was gone.

The days came and went…and came and went…and it rained…and the sun shone…and the birds landed on his wings and pooped all down the exquisitely sculpted feathers…and it rained and washed off the excreta and the water drops joined his own tears. He was glad of his open hand, not just that the birds could not perch on it – but that he could feel the subtle pressure holding in his grief. He tried to be thankful for small mercies…the warmth of the morning sun, the pretty garden, Mistress Davina who washed off the bird droppings bi weekly…

And so he waited. But as the months dragged on…he also began to wonder if the man could come back despite all good intentions.

Xander finished out his contract, was given a decent bonus for his part of the project but had to spend an extra two weeks with his own accountant and government officials as he tried to finalize the Sunnydale compensation. In the end it was worth it…but it was now close to four months away from Gajeta.

He packed frugally, gave the rest to charity and departed the USA for 'an extended working holiday'. He would work out the ongoing Visa situation in four years time.

Spike had all but given up hope of Xander's reappearance and Davina was always surprised in the mornings when it appeared that rain must have fallen on the statue…as the face always seemed to have drips on its chin.

In Xander's absence – yet within a week of his return and with his full approval – the intrepid B&B owner had rented him a property – a tiny one bedroom, ancient cottage just on the edge of town. It had running water, a wood fire stove, and electricity plus an instant gas water heater.

She moved the statue with a little grumbling help from her husband and the stonemason from down the road, easing it into the almost bare house.

Davina then busied herself finding friends and neighbors who could spare cutlery, crockery and some Manchester. And old bed from the B&B would have to do him for now as would the rather outdated bean bags and tired lounge in the front room. A folding 'card table' and two camp chairs was all that could be found for the kitchen, but to Xander it was perfect

Xander hugged the woman warmly as she proudly handed him the key and welcomed him back. He didn't fail to notice that his statue was in pride of place at the window overlooking the harbor.

As she went to leave he pressed a tiny blue Tiffany box into her hand. An exquisite diamond pendant on delicate white gold chain was inside. She gasped at the generosity then melted into a warm hug and kiss to the forehead as the young man simply said "Thank you."

That night, after being thoroughly kissed and hugged by his wonderful friend, Spike's wings emerged again and this time were flexed, the feathery marks on his strong back also taking their true form and for the first time, the hair on the nape of his neck becoming real.

Xander was in the room sleeping on the uncomfortable lounge, but had fallen into a travel exhausted slumber, so missed the delight of his charge as powerful wings swished curtains, deep swooshing sounds accompanied the several practice passes of the wings and a near smile indicated the coming to life of the face of the magnificent angel.

Part 6

Xander woke late the next morning, his neck at an uncomfortable angle but facing the most wonderful day! He was in Italy, in his own place (at least for now) and his angel was there too…inside…facing him…his wings illuminated by the morning sun and the surrounding glow emphasizing the ethereal beauty of the piece.

He resolved to turn the angel so it might look out the window during the day but felt genuinely surprised as he touched the statue on the wings. It felt…tingly and for a moment he forgot what he was doing to the point where he (to his immense embarrassment) accidentally brushed against the angel's nether regions.

Instantly he the tingle shot straight to his groin.

It wasn't an issue regards an attraction to men, he knew that bit; nor was it even about Spike, he had worked through thoughts of that attraction in the year after the vampire's death…but it the fact that this was his dear statue, an inanimate object that had no choice in the matter that made him feel he had violated it somehow. It was insane, he knew that but dearly wished the angel were alive to complain.

He apologized profusely and unhanded the statue, before turning it with platonic care to face out to the port, before heading out to find Davina, or Marcos, or anyone…real!

From his window Spike watched the man retreat and wondered what he had done wrong…The warm hand on his manhood had been…Wonderful! Delightful! Extraordinary! Amazing…and yet…

As Xander raced down the road, upset by his own perversion, he sent a humble prayer of penance and plea for forgiveness on the grounds that he loved the friend lost dearly and wished for his return.

The wish was placed, Spike shivered again the wings emerged in all their soft glory and felt his nether regions stiffen and respond as he would expect if he were human! He thanked the somewhat privacy of the darkened room as his arms were certainly incapable of covering his arousal, much less deal with it. His wings extended and fanned gently, and his down-turned face softened enough that he was able to blink his eyes closed in frustration and desire.

His arousal slowly subsided and as Xander reentered the house, Spike was again cold and inanimate.

Four weeks on, the pattern was the same.

Xander would turn the statue to face the harbor before heading out to work for Illias' brother Julius most days – his skills as carpenter more than a little appreciated by the builder. The money in repairs and renovations was better than new housing these days and he found himself enjoying the company and learning at least a little of the language (if only tools and expletives!). Of an evening, three or four times a week, he headed out with Illias and crew, often arriving home early morning to shower and fall asleep exhausted on the couch by his angel only to get up at eleven and do it all again. But it was a good life.

Spike was turned to enjoy the view as Xander left, then rotated to face the room upon the return of his dear owner…He had accepted his 'object' status when the whole 'I'm marble' realization happened…but now it was becoming harder as Xander treated him as the inanimate companion…and even that seemed to be shifting as ever so occasionally he tingled and became able to move some part. He just knew the powers must be playing him again…false hope…false hope…so dripped tears in private.

Oblivious to his statue's pain, Xander never failed to turn the angel to face the room as he returned home, then talk to him as though the statue was alive, and Xander really did think of the house as 'their' home.

He had started out calling the angel Spike…then changed the address to Will (less harsh and still appropriate), though more often these days seemed to refer to it by numerous other endearments without thinking. "Hi Honey, I'm home" was the regular cry and always accompanied by a kiss.

More often than not Spike (aka Will) found himself blessed by a long diatribe from his wonderful friend. "Hey sweetheart…look what I've got! Fresh roses for my beautiful boy…they're from Marie…you remember her…she adored you when she saw you! You know they all think I have a lover somewhere…just because I thought Carlotta a little 'forward' at Marcos birthday…If only they knew…Illias picked it though. The 'batting for the other team' as you the vampire…Spike…used to say…" After which his friend would go quiet…There would be more chit chat and sometime later the statue given a cursory hug and kiss before he was left in the dark as Xander found his bed.

Exquisite torture.

It was after midnight on a Saturday night after a very long but successful week both on land and sea, and Xander was at Illias sixtieth birthday (as was half the town judging by the noise).

The curtains were still open and Spike stood forlornly at the window looking out. He waited, as he always waited, and hoped his friend would be home soon.

Xander had a wonderful night…and his Italian seemed to improve in proportion with his inebriation – at least that was the impression he got…

The most wonderful part of Gajeta was its small size (well that and the lack of vampires!), a trait that Xander had come to appreciate as he once more, made it up the hill to his home with one too many Ouzos with beer chasers under his belt.

Despite his state of inebriation he didn't forget the day. It was technically now Monday, so the anniversary of the destruction of the Sunnydale Hellmouth.

He sat heavily at the foot of the statue. It was his reason for purchasing the exquisite piece of art in the first place…a tribute to those lost…

In the quiet, after all the reverie and cheer of the evening with Illias family and his own new friends, he remembered his old friends, and his own compatriots in arms. Many lived on he knew that Giles, Willow, Buffy, Dawn…even Andrew…But then he recalled Anya's quirky ways…and his unhappy parents, and Jesse, and the potentials who had died that night, and Tara with the bullet, and Willow's grief…but most of all…surprisingly, most of all he remembered Spike.

Brave, loyal and loving Spike.

"I never told him…never. He knew though…I'm sure he knew…bastard probably knew 'fore I did…'Gay me up' pppfffttt… Hated him…but God knows!! I loved him too…Bastard…Still do…I loved you!! Wish you could hear me…Loved you Bleach Boy!" He yelled into the emptiness of the tiny lounge, hugged the legs of his angel and shed more tears onto the marble feet. The sobs were that of a deeply hurt and lonely person, a white hat who had fought for the powers for years without ever being 'tapped' officially. One who had lost family, friends and eyes in the process.

"Oh Will…Spike! I wish you were real…Oh God or goddess or whatever…pffff ::sniff:: miss you…Wish you were real."

Xander curled up around the marble figure's feet and fell into a light sleep. And the angel's form awoke.

For the first time Spike could truly move…he rolled his shoulders, stretched his arms and extended his wings before tensing every muscle and giving a shiver of relief that positively shook the room.

He stepped from his prison, his low platform/pedestal, for the first time since his carving and stroked the marble and the man still sleeping on it. Spike gently lifted the unconscious man onto the couch, before kissing him soundly. The effect was electric and Spike found himself lying full length against the warm human, and covering them both with his wings.

Xander stirred but didn't wake. Spike wished he would, but it was not his role to do that so he simply contented himself with a stolen chaste kiss or two, and lying with their nether regions neatly pressed together.

The angel lay contentedly, he ear to Xander's chest, simply listening to the thud of the heart…until dawn began to peak over the horizon.

Spike waited until it was truly light before kissing his friend and returning to his spot on the pedestal. He had no idea if it would ever happen again…but as his skin prickled and he began to shift form, two more feathers came loose and fell to the ground.

Part 7

It was Sunday – everyone's day off in the Italian village…and for Xander usually cleaning day – meaning he spent the day hosing off his work clothes before hand washing both building clothes and fishing gear in an old bathtub out the back with hot water from the fire an a long stick. It wasn't so bad, the water was hard so the bubbles few and he simply pulled the plug at the end and put the lot through an ancient ringer he'd found at one of the building sites before hanging it out to dry.

Today he couldn't quite remember how he had ended up sleeping on the lounge but shrugged it off as too much ouzo and beer the night before.

The trouble was he was on a timeline and would have to forgo his leisurely wash day. It was confirmation day at the local catholic church today and he had been specifically invited by both Marcos and Illias' wives since the third grandson was being confirmed.

Everyone in the village, pretty much regardless of faith, seemed to know a child involved and therefore was going. He thought about making excuses – the only time he'd attended a church was for his own abandoned wedding so felt…awkward. But in the end he agreed.

He knew it was customary to take a gift and spent some time pushing around in the cupboard in the lounge until he came up with the prize. A mint condition New York Giant's hat. It really was better to give it away to Illias' grandson than keep it in his cupboard.

As he sat on the floor, he spied the two feathers near the base of the statue and wondered for a second time, how they might have come inside. He picked them up and as he stroked the perfect forms, could have sworn he heard a sigh from the direction of the front window.

Xander the carpenter would have been home all day due to a delay with the building materials, but had promised Illias that he would learn how to repair nets. He wasn't needed that night, but it still felt good to help.

Illias' grandson had apparently been more than impressed by the cap and the grandfather keen to show the photos of the event (that all present had actually been to!!)

Net repairs took most of the day, but it was warm and dry and also involved a hot lunch of homemade pasta, local red wine and quartered home grown oranges courtesy of Illias' wife, Helena. The short sixty something woman added to the feast by giving her husband's newest employee a heartfelt hug of welcome, before he sat down for his meal and thanked him sincerely for the lovely present he had given her grandson.

Xander felt strangely teary. He had had strange dreams the night before, and to feel so loved by a mature woman that he had definite memories of being five again – the ample bosom and generously given kisses to both cheeks, and the unequivocal feel of being hugged…he had forgotten that sort of simple joy…

He stroked the two feathers in his pocket as he wandered up the steep street…He wished his own angel had such soft feathers…then wondered…

The fishing boat didn't need him for the night so he arrived home around sunset, after chatting to Helena and promising an apple and raisin muffin recipe in exchange for something to do with lemoncello. It was 'Helena's specialty' apparently but he really wasn't sure about the rest of the conversation as his Italian was still not good enough to keep pace with the rapid fire of Helena's side of the discussion.

As he wandered in the door of his tiny home, he habitually turned the angel, very careful not to touch anything he 'shouldn't', whispered "Hi honey I'm home", then kissed his darling on the lips. And the angel truly had become that…His darling.

He fondled the soft feathers in his pocket as he gave the kiss and this time he was kissed back. He was almost sure of it…or maybe he was going crazy…He pulled away abruptly…and sat on the old lounge staring confusedly at the statue.

The red of the sunset behind the statue served to emphasize its inanimate nature and the pretty wings, so Xander simply gave his own face a good dry scrub, then dismissed his wishful thinking and went to pull in his washing before the evening dew settled.

When he returned with an armload of clean, dry clothing (some still bearing a slight au d' fish!), he failed to notice the single tear drop that had splashed onto the floor at the angel's feet.

Xander did his version of ironing. He folded the T-shirts, balled up his underpants, and paired the socks – well the three that were pairs anyway. All the while he kept glancing over at his silent white companion, but somehow the domestic task was calming and by the time he'd put away the clothes, tidied the kitchen and done a 'quick slick' of the bathroom, he had dismissed the whole kissing weirdness as his own silly imagination.

He went back to his usual chit chat with his angel as he made a simple dinner of poached fish and fresh bread with fresh greens on the side. "Hey Buddy. Wish you were really here…You'd laugh at what I eat now! And you know what…this stuff (well apart from the bread) is all free…Guess that's what tonight's been about hasn't it…me still wishing you were here…you know…alive…or undead…"

He turned on the tiny portable television, watched an hour or so of a dubbed rerun of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" then bade the angel goodnight and left him in darkness to crawl into a cold bed.

Spike stepped from the pedestal again, this time simply joining his wonderful owner on his bed, shifting just close enough to feel the human's heat without actually touching. He lay on his stomach with one arm under his head and let his wings relax down to rest, covering both male forms.

He was content to simply watch his wonderful protector sleeping. It felt amazing to rest for a time, not that his marble form necessarily needed it, but his new 'real' body definitely enjoyed the feeling of the soft, well used mattress and the down pillow.

He eased an alabaster arm over the torso of his friend and simply…was…

For the first time in nearly three years of his statue existence he must have fallen asleep, waking in shock as Xander's alarm spelt the beginning of a new day.

Xander felt what he later suspected was the movement of another body beside him, but only caught a glimpse of white departing the room as he woke, blinked and rolled toward the door with a groan. It was too early, he was too tired and there was a string of very strange erotic dreams that he needed to try to justify to himself before worrying about imagined images!

His morning erection was particularly angry and dealt with in the shower – strangely the evocative imagery was that of one pale male with wings (?!) and was accompanied by the words "Will…oh gahh…Spike" to signal his release.

He dressed quickly and headed out to the building site Julius and he were working on for a rather pretentious couple from Windsor in the UK.

It was a pattern that would endure for almost five weeks. Each night the angel would depart his place of imprisonment and visit his dear friend, who never failed to kiss the marble statue at either end of the day, or talk to him when the human was home.

It was comfortable and predictable and oddly…normal for both parties.

Nightly Xander increasingly had dreams of a beautiful pale male lover, or of an extraordinary angel, or Spike, or his own dear Will suddenly coming to life…but none of it mattered really.

He worked, he functioned, he obsessed and finally took to having a hand towel in bed with him simply to reduce the wash load as he found himself waking either spent or spending. The only odd thing was that upon waking, Xander was sometimes surprised to feel his neck a little wet or lips swollen as though having been kissed or laved. He said nothing to anyone however, feeling too embarrassed by the vivid dreams and physical reactions to say anything.

Davina was the first to notice the shift.

During the period of six weeks, the quiet American, who was always so polite and normally cheerful, seemed to have taken on an even more melancholy demeanor, and though still very sociable, chose to withdraw to his house rather than associate with his colleagues and the people he had come to know as friends. She worried. In all honesty she had planned to introduce him to a few prospective partners in the next month or so.

She knew his gender preference, but now suspected that his shift from the USA was more than the tragedy of years past. She decided it must have been a failed love affair, and his current behavior more a confidence issue related to a harsh breakup than anything else.

She spoke to the wives. Both Illias and Julius' spouses could not say enough about the boy. He was the one with the thank you and the flowers, the one who was always willing to help, and was keen to fit in to the local community. The three women resolved to fix things when the time was right, but were also old enough and wise enough to know that some things needed to work their own way through.

Spike had no such agenda.

He visited his lover nightly, now knowing that as long as Xander was tired enough, he was able to bring the boy off by rubbing their nether regions together and laving his neck and licking his ear just so. But he was relegated to the realms of fantasy as the powers forced his return to his stone prison every time Xander's conscious self stirred.

But oh the love and the warmth in those few stolen moments…the love and the warmth.

As Xander left for his construction job that morning, the angel watched the departing brunette and made a wish before shedding his daily tear and resigning himself to his inanimate status. His plea was simple, "If something happens…please let me go to him. Now or in fifty years…please! He wouldn't leave me alone…and I cannot him."

The Powers heard. It was probably just as well.

Part 8

Xander had told Illias that he intended spending a few days in Rome meeting with friends, and promised Julius he would fix the plinth on the garage ready for the MDF board and the rendering on Monday before he left. What he didn't expect as he worked solo, was the jolt of electricity as he touched the guttering, the ladder tilting, and the oblivion that followed.

Xander lay unconscious and bleeding as darkness fell. He was lucky to have been thrown free of the live wire but had still fallen some distance and landed on his back.

His right arm was shattered at the shoulder and three ribs were broken having taken most of the impact. Even so he had hit his head hard and his heart beat continued arhythmically courtesy of the electrical jolt. The hand that had been touching the 'live' guttering bore the burns to testify the same.

No one saw the fall, his friends did not expect him on the boat for at least two nights and the cool of the evening began to chill the unconscious form. A feather in his pocket by his heart called to its true owner as blood began to seep from the cut head wound and soaked into the ground.

The agony of feeling his protector in trouble was nearly unbearable.

He had known there was a problem as the sun set and there was no 'Hi honey…' or turning him to face the room. And even if forgotten, there was no habitual stoking of the wood fire, Sunday cleaning or answering the phone…and the feathers had been silent since midday but that simply meant he was busy…but now there was a definite signature of…pain.

As the night closed in the angel stepped from his place and bowed his head, this time in genuine supplication, begging the powers for the right to save his savior – they acquiesced.

Feeling their agreement, he walked out to the rear of the house and for the first time, dared to use his wings for their actual purpose. Spike had not realized the capability of his new appendages until that moment, and rejoiced as instinct took over.

At full extension there was a twelve foot span of pure white, and the power of the muscles within was extraordinary. In fact he was a little too high after only the fourth beat and ceased the beat in preference to gliding over Gajeta and following the signature of his feather to his dear owner.

He thanked his residual vampire night vision as he spied the collapsed ladder and broken form below. Not even bothering to land properly, he scooped up the human and effortlessly carried him home.

His years as vampire had equipped him with enough knowledge of anatomy and injury to determine that the situation was not good.

Crystalline angel tears dripped into blood matted hair as the angel gently settled his unconscious friend onto Xander's own double bed.

"Oh Xan…what have you done!"

The angel stood back for a moment before deciding the course of action now that his friend was at least home and in his care. The arm and shoulder needed setting – and possible a plate or a pin given the severity of the break. The burns to the hand were almost healed as tears from the angel had touched the wound and apparently…it was enough. But it was the head wound that worried him.

He would tend his love in due course…but for now…he could hear the erratic heartbeat, but could only help temporarily as he called the local doctor. Spike's wings were not detachable but apparently, under the right circumstances…they were…invisible! Spike could not bear the thought that Xander might be alone in hospital so tucked away his wings under one of Xander's old coats, donned a pair of oversized sweat pants

The medico was young, was greeted by the distraught friend and genuine in his concern. The story was related and the injuries assessed.

Dr Christos congratulated the blonde friend of the well liked fisherman for his fast action.

However the head injury, strange heartbeat, and the badly broken arm left the locum doctor with little choice. He recommended an ambulance and immediate airlift to Roma Centrale Hospital. Spike was allowed to join his injured friend in back of the ambulance as the helicopter took his unconscious friend.

The young ambulance officer was surprised by the blonde's command of Italian and chatted easily as they flew. Spike relaxed a little and felt the push of wings against his (fortunately too large) jacket, but stemmed their expansion just in time. A single feather sucked into the night as the chopper opened the side door in preparation for arrival.

MRI…CAT scan…X rays…surgery, catheters…intensive care monitors…and when all was quiet…and the appendages were strapped or cast or pinned…the angel rose.

The machine that went 'ping' was still attached and Spike, dressed in his 'civvie's', sat with his dear friend waiting quietly for him to wake up.

The skull was cracked and there was swelling, but minimal internal bleeding in the brain. The pretty young nurse Liliana explained the situation to Spike. It could be days or minutes before Xander regained consciousness – but it was more likely days. When Spike looked up at her with ocean blue eyes full of concern she leaned forward and took his hand only to gasp a little and release it as a jolt of…something…flowed through her and she felt warm and loved from head to toe. She excused herself and immediately went to call her husband, suddenly compelled to tell him just how much she really did love him and apologize for some unwarranted harsh words earlier that day.

As soon as she departed, Spike pulled the curtains around Xander's bed then shook off the jacket and stretched his cramped wings a little.

It was his turn to kiss an inert figure before he placed his hand ever so gently on the injured head. He closed his eyes and sent a silent prayer to whoever might be listening to an ex vampire now statue, that his friend would recover, and so missed seeing the warm light coming from his own hand that knitted the injured skull instantly and halted the bleeding.

He sat for a little longer stroking his dear one, but was distracted by anguished sobbing from the bed at the end of their ward. The curtains were also pulled and the plea was for Peter to wake.

Spike quietly entered the space and a tearful man raised his head from the bed, turning to face Spike with reddened eyes and a pained expression. Spike was then rather surprised when the man fell to his knees in wonder and began to recite "the Lord's Prayer" followed by numerous "Hail Mary's" in rapid Italian.

But the man was not his priority. Spike could see that the boy on the bed was in trouble. Still unconscious, face stitched, and nose smashed, his left leg was impossibly bruised and now missing a foot, courtesy of the motorbike adventure gone wrong.

Spike's heart went out to the father as the man continued to pray but surprised even himself as he touched the father on the shoulder only to watch the man immediately still then curl up on the floor and sleep.

He was a little puzzled by the whole kneeling and so on, but then realized. In his concern Spike had forgotten his new form. He now stood bare-chested, perfectly sculpted pale muscles, chiseled features and matching white hair, an ethereal beauty rarely if ever seen on the earthly realm…But most stunning of all…his wings exposed in all their glory. Wings that were now so much a part of him that he had forgotten they were there in his concern for the distressed human.

The father slept (albeit not too comfortably on the floor), so Spike made his way to the boy, feeling somehow compelled to touch the lad on the chest and the side of his head, and 'wish him well'. The warm glow under his hands conveyed the message and the boy's eyes flickered a little.

Seconds later Spike heard a slight moan from Xander and returned instantly. He stroked a hand down the beloved face then tore his wrist open on a screw under the bed, an act that as vampire was utterly instinctive, but as no angel was no doubt due to residual memory. He fed his charge until the wound closed, then joined him on the bed. Spike covered them both with body length folded wings, while being careful not to disturb any of the medical items attached to his loved one. Even he noticed the wonderful warmth…feathers and warmth and Xander…

The patient stirred a little then relaxed as Spike fell into a light sleep, his arms around his friend.

Two hours later, the nurse on rounds found the pale man sitting in a chair asleep beside his friend's bed, his wings invisible, once again tucked neatly under the large coat.

Two days later, Xander was awake, confused, but awake. Five days later, they were in a car on the way back to Gajeta. Six days later Davina was over and Spike was back on his pedestal, once again condemned to his stone existence…Yet he thanked the powers for allowing him to at least rescue his friend.

Part 9

Xander wandered in and out of consciousness, sleeping for much of each day and struggling to concentrate when he was awake. His concussion had been "serious" and his other injuries troubled him when he was up and about…The local doctor visited daily and Davina and Helena took it upon themselves to check on their friend morning and afternoon, taking him food and fussing regards his well being. Xander felt humbled by the generosity of spirit and said as much to the women.

He was strangely emotional in the wake of the accident, and became quite teary as he told Davina and Helena just how much he appreciated their help, and the friendship of Helena's husband and all the village and, and, and…The ladies were understanding, motherly and accepted his near desperate thank yous before feeding him and tucking him back into bed.

And each night, as the sun slipped over the horizon, the angel stepped from his prison.

It was two weeks since the accident and tonight his charge was still sleeping, so he shook out his wings with a massive shiver of white. He tidied the house a little and refilled Xander's carafe of water by his bed. He sat for nearly an hour simply holding the brunette's hand as the invalid slept on.

As Xander's eyes flickered open once or twice, Spike leaned over to kiss the man and whisper reassurances. Eventually, he gave in to the nightly instinctive tug he had felt ever since the hospital. He checked Xander one more time then stepped out into the night and took off as was now his habit.

Spike was drawn to those in the most distress and without thought flew high and fast to the places he was most needed. Two nights previous, it was a car accident – the vehicle had spun out of control and hit a tree. Just before the fuel caught fire, he lifted the two unconscious and injured figures free. An anonymous call to the police saw them tended to.

Tonight it was an elderly woman, a favorite grandmother in the village. She had been unwell of late, yet few knew. Around one in the morning a massive heart attack struck. Her body arched with pain and lungs filling with fluid. She prayed, and he felt the tug.

Spike could do nothing, it was her time – just as the coroner would later determine – no one could have saved her. The aorta had ruptured and death was inevitable, even had she been in hospital at the time. But what the coroner didn't know was that in Maria's last moments, she felt cool hands stroking her face, heard a soft baritone voice comforting her, and had no more pain. As her sight faded to black and spirit left, she had turned to a very real angel, felt loved, and smiled her thanks.

Spike returned to Xander's home exhausted. His beautiful owner (for that was really the situation – Xander had bought him) was still sleeping. Spike simply lay alongside the man, his wings covering them both and promptly fell asleep.

He woke some hours later just before dawn, to desperate sobbing and gentle stroking of his face and hair.

"Oh god…Oh god…I wish you were real…I wish you were real…I never told you Spike…we were always…then I never told you!!!…"

Spike simply took Xander's hand and kissed it…Then rose and kissed him on the lips.

"Real as can be, given the circumstances, pet." Then kissed him again and let his wings open and fanned them as he allowed full body contact become a front on front full body caress.

Xander had been having strange dreams for weeks and since his injuries, nightly, but now to feel and see 'for real' was beyond comprehension.

Spike's hand slid down and the human was swiftly brought to conclusion as a deft hand found just the right rhythm and mouths opened to allow tongues to tangle and caress.

Spike also found climax, only to realize that was the first time in…he was no longer sure.

As morning approached, he returned to his prison, but this time the statue's eyes were closed and a permanent tear was tracking down the exquisite face.

Davina noted the difference as she let herself into Xander's home – but discounted the observation as a silly notion, figuring she had simply not noticed before.

Xander's arm and shoulder improved, his ribs knitted, and concussion mended slowly but the latter still saw him exhausted for much of each day. He went back to work half daily on the building site and helped the fishing crew once a week.

But nightly…nightly he had a visitor, a stunningly beautiful visitor. And slowly but surely, after his wider duties, Spike's attentions to his friend pushed toward full 'relations'.

For some weeks Xander discounted the vision of the beautiful man with the face of his former friend and wings, as one of the bizarre fantasies indicative of his concussion and recovery…he imagined one, then two fingers penetrating his rear and another hand tugged him to completion – with his permission. In the haze he had no idea it was real so simply felt and loved then slept.

As he fell into slumber in the third month after the accident, he whispered "God I wish you were real…I love you…I really do…I miss you so much and I love you Spike…" And with the final declaration, Spike watched in wonder as the low pedestal he had been forced to grace for more than three years…disintegrated into dust.

He was free, but Xander was now working three days a week and easing his way back in to his pre accident patterns. Spike was unsure how he might fit into his owner's life.

The angel sat at the end of Xander's bed and waited quietly as the man began to stir.

It was day time, and the angel was still 'real'. The groan and roll over signaled consciousness and Spike braced himself for the reaction. He wanted Xander to see him. As it was daylight there was no option to fly freely without someone noticing…though if he got high enough quickly enough…the thought had been discounted almost as soon as it had occurred

Xander was still half conscious as he turned to his lovely, 'imaginary' friend he recognized from his most wonderful concussion dreams.

"Hey sweetheart…"

Spike leaned forward and kissed him firmly on the lips before answering the now very confused man, "Hey yourself."

Xander knew he still 'wasn't right' but as his head cleared a little, the angel in the bedroom was a genuine cause for alarm. He scrambled backwards until pushed hard against the headboard of the bed. He dry washed his face then tried to refocus on the impossible.

A stunningly beautiful man with brilliant white wings that would have made any archangel proud, was sitting at the end of his bed and had just kissed him…and that angel had the face of an old friend…a friend he had fantasized about more than once in the last four and a half years…a friend that had…died.

"Oh Spike!!! Am I…dying? 'cause obviously you're…"

"Not dead, nor dyin' pet…Courtesy of your wish though, 'm a real boy, so if you're serious about the lovin' thing, ya might have to put up with a bloke with wings if that's alright with you…"

Xander turned away for a moment to desperately search under his pillow until he found the feather. The other two were in pockets of his favorite jackets. He stroked it a little, causing Spike to shiver very obviously. Xander's eyes went wide, "Oh my god! They were your feathers…I didn't…jeez!!! Then you've been…"

"Here all along pet, just no way of telling ya until now."

"But you were…?"

"Turned, chipped, ensouled then burnt up and spat out as a ghost. Only to end up workin' for the grandesire 'imself before bein' dusted for the second time…'s what ya get for bein' a bloody white hat apparently! Then bloody Powers screwed me over again…deserved no doubt given me former history…but stone and cold and…bloody hell purgatory of a whole nother level. Figured it was fer good 'course. Really did." Spike looked at his hands and Xander saw the wings droop a little with the sad thoughts. "Then you…and with the hurt…and then…your wish…twas you pet…just need to let ya know…It was you! Me? Know I've got a purpose nightly but you freed me for the days…for you."

Xander noted the progressive drop in tone as the synopsis of close to a hundred and fifty years was conveyed and the rather hopeful ending, but really wasn't listening to the words…He was watching the stunningly attractive face as a crystal tear made its way down a pale cheek. He noted the perfect study of a male nude sitting on the end of his bed and the unconscious unfolding of the extraordinary wings as Spike came to the end of his story and brightened. Xander had no more doubts. He might still question his sanity, his religious beliefs, his orientation…everything really! But there was no doubt that he was entirely enamored by the angel…an angel that was solid and within touching distance!

As he reached out in wonder to stroke the incredibly soft feathers of one wing, and instantly felt sadness and resignation and love flowing from this pale form. It was all received it at such a gut level that he too shed a tear. And the more he saw, the longer he thought about it, the more he considered the experiences of the last weeks he had interpreted as dreams, the more he realized his own deepest feelings.

He was utterly in love with an angel! Spike…the angel. It was ridiculous and wonderful all at once. Sanity be damned, all doubt flew out the window as the winged figure leaned forward and he was kissed hard and fast and this time he reciprocated consciously, deliberately, and absolutely as their tongues dueled and explored and caressed. Xander's eyes went wide as he watched the magnificent wings extend and begin to undulate in time with their oral exchange.

He felt the angel's hardness against his own, pulled a small bottle from the side drawer and took a risk. He swiftly slicked himself thoroughly then slid a slippery hand down the former vampire's manhood before guiding it to its logical resting place, and accepted the coupling.

There was Xander and there was kissing and then there was warmth and tight and subtle squeezing and rather incoherent expressions of encouragement and love and joy. Spike found his wonderful human's erection with his left hand and tugged him to completion just as he filled his partner for the first time.

A half hour later found them lying facing each other and stroking down much loved faces and forms in post coital relaxation, Spike shivering with delight every time one of Xander's hands ventured to touch wings.

"I just…you are so beautiful…Gahhhh I bought you because you were so beautiful…and now this…" Xander stroked the feathers at the edge of Spike's right wing again in wonder. "How did I come to deserve this?"

"You freed me pet…that's a whole lot o' deservin' in my book."

It was midday on a Tuesday and they were still lying on the bed, simply enjoying being, when the banging on the door pulled the two from their quiet reverie. It suddenly occurred to Xander that a male partner might be tricky enough to explain in the small Italian town…but an angel? Straight jacket may well ensue!

Spike smiled at the worried look on his companion and swiftly tugged on a pair of Xander's old sweat pants, and long fisherman's jacket, then retreated to the tiny back garden to enjoy the sun. Xander answered the door. It was Davina checking on Xander as usual, she knew he was back at work but still worried.

She bustled in with a basket of fresh fruit and large freshly made loaf of bread and made her way directly to the kitchen. She noted its immaculately clean state and worried a little. He was definitely much thinner than when they had first greeted the American, but chose to say nothing.

"Now I know Illias isn't expecting you to work 'til Friday but it's his birthday tomorrow and his wife is planning a surprise party so I've spoken to Petros and Julius…and frankly, we need a foil…just wondering if you'd be up to giving him a hand with the nets – at least the repairs, I know you're still out of any heavy duties with the shoulder?? The other boys will be able to get away if you're there…Now I know it's an ask at such short notice – but we want you at the party too and it would be ever so terrific if you could, you know, play along, just for an hour or so. Then his wife's going to give him a call for lunch so you walk home with him. Simple!"

What with everything else that was going on, Xander simply nodded his agreement and hoped that Davina wouldn't…

"Ooohh I see you have a friend over! Well come on! Introductions!!" The woman hurried outside to meet the slim man with impossibly handsome features. Spike turned as the rather buxom English woman announced her presence with the creak of a much needing oil back door.

Xander was on her heels but too late to stop the meeting, so chose to beg Spike with his eyes and hope to heaven something happened to the wings as Spike had pushed off his jacket to enjoy the early afternoon sun. He needn't have worried, they were invisible to the intruder.

Davina was enchanted by the young Englishman, though a little puzzled by his accent, it was classic upper class but the words modern. All doubts were discounted however when he smiled at her and touched a hand. She felt instantly warm and strangely compelled to find her husband and let him know just how much she loved him.

Spike was charming and fascinating to the truly generous lady. He had seen her kindness to Xander and knew that the seemingly 'gossip' laden conversationalist had a heart of gold. He felt it…knew it…and was beginning to know that now that skill, along with heeding the call of the needy, was something to be used.

Later in the conversation, Davina saw the loving look directed to Xander as she chatted easily about "London and the merits of visiting rather than living there". She smiled knowingly to herself. The man had never once made an effort to take part in the Gajeta night life as one would expect a single young man to do. He was obviously into art and had always had many female friends and disastrous early experiences with women. There was also a late night conversation at some point about an older man and also a couple of male friends who had died, one very recently.

Conclusions drawn she knew the difficulties in the staunchly Catholic village for those who 'batted for the other team'. She decided quickly, and took Xander by the arm as she made her way to leave.

Speaking low and conspiratorially, she collected her now empty basket and offered advice. "Now I may be speaking out of turn, but my darling…I do congratulate you on your choice of partner, he's just…well very lovely."

Xander pulled away a little in shock, was it that obvious!? "But I…umm"

Davina patted his arm, "It's fine honey…well fine with me anyway. But just be careful if he's here to stay…Goodness knows what people would say if they knew the truth."

Xander blanched then realized what she was talking about, so simply said, "Yeah goodness knows…"

That night the sky blackened but some boats still headed out. Xander was sleeping safe in his bed but the tug was too strong and the angel headed out into the torrential rain.

Part 10

Instinct took over as Spike flew upward to escape the downpour, then headed out high above the clouds.

The call was desperate and from a voice known to him. Illias' boat was struggling in the rough seas but worse, his son's boat had hit a shipping container, a random and potentially deadly item in the sea for any smaller vessel. The high seas found them struggling anyway, and before they registered the larger object, were upon it, on it, and punctured by it.

The young captain was still at the helm despite two of his crew desperately trying to deploy a life raft. As the young fisherman sent the distress message, he also prayed for his crew and his father, and his father's crew, and his mother and his wife and his son…and all the while trying to manage a boat that was obviously destined for the bottom of the ocean.

The crew had called to him desperately but in the end had to make a decision as the fishing boat leaned dangerously then was hit by another huge wave. There was no choice – the small escape vessel launched itself, leaving the captain behind.

Yanos was still desperately trying to control the lost boat, as a fourth huge wave hit. The angel picked his moment. As Yanos was shocked by another wave the angel landed. Spike's wings seemed impervious to the soaking rain as his bare feet landed softly on the badly listing boat. He plucked the young captain from the control cabin now filling fast with water.

The trip to shore was the first of many for the night. He left the bewildered man on the shore of Gajeta then went back to find his colleagues who were bobbing around in their life boat in horrendous seas. He found the rope and began to tug them toward shore, knowing full well that the final landing might be a 'bit rough' if beaching in the current surf, but managed to pull them just inside the sea wall. They were duly found and rescued.

Spike then went back for Illias' boat. The old man had already started back to shore by the time he arrived. The difficulty was the ridiculous size of the waves and their erratic nature. Illias knew his boat and these waters but this was just crazy. They had taken two hits from breaking waves almost thirty feet high, he was fairly certain his wrist was broken, he had heard the mayday from his son but had not sighted their vessel – merely saw the flare. He was in as much trouble and with all the best intentions had no hope of helping. So he prayed.

Illias was not a zealot, but certainly took his religion very seriously, so when he fancied he saw an angel land on the rear of his boat, just prior to the waters around them calming enough to allow him to make a run for home, he didn't question – merely thanked and prayed and thanked and headed back to port. It was his sixtieth birthday the following day. If an archangel was necessary for him to spend that with his wife then so be it. Illias' two crew members were desperately tying things down and tethered to the rear of the boat, would endorse his miraculous story later, but for now they were all focused on escaping the wild seas.

As Illias' boat pulled into port and rounded the sea wall, he turned and would later swear that he saw the angel clearly as the pretty male took off toward the sky.

Three more boats were returned safely to port before an utterly exhausted Spike made his way back to Xander's home only to land a little too heavily in the back yard and collapse face down under the small lemon tree.

Xander stirred, registering that his dear friend was not in his bed, and heard the odd thunk outside. He rose to find the nightmarish image of his dear angel face down in the back yard, and not moving.

It was a critical situation, he could see that, so despite a still mending shoulder, Xander careful to gently folded the wings then lifted the smaller man and carried him inside, directly into the bathroom.

Spike's wings were sodden, his face covered in dirt courtesy of the landing, but also utterly drawn with fatigue. He was ice cold, had cuts and bruising all over his body, plus rope burns up his arms that cut far too deep for Xander's liking – but one could hardly attend a hospital with an angel in tow. Xander placed him lovingly on a towel beside the ancient bath before turning the faucet and beginning to fill said item with as much hot water as his little heater could produce.

Belatedly he worried how feathers would go if thoroughly submerged. He need not have worried.

Easing the dear friend into the warm water he noticed tiny bubbles surrounding the perfectly white feathers, feathers that seemed to have escaped the dirt of the fall or soiling at any point.

Xander gently sponged the wounds and wiped clean the face of his beloved. That really was how he saw Spike now…his beloved. He then lifted the sodden angel from the bath, again careful to contain the lax wings of his unconscious friend, and lay him in the centre of his bed, uncaring of the damp as he retrieved a towel from the bathroom.

As Spike returned to consciousness Xander's first touch elicited a knowledge of where his charge had been and what had been…done…and for whom…and Xander loved him all the more. Spike woke on a comfortable bed as his wings were being stroked dry, which was so extraordinarily stimulating that he contemplated mentioning his difficulty, given that he was face down and erection pushing hard against the bed. But then strong, familiar hands began to massage the base of his extra appendages and rub liniment into stiff shoulders and a sore neck, and an aching back. And then oil was added to a tired lower back and tight hamstrings and everything seemed to relax at once and the hand with the oil found its real mark as he groaned his approval and lifted just a little to indicate his need.

Xander saw the response and shifted around to simply add a finger find the spot and tug his lover to completion before watching him fall asleep and the majority of wounds close over and heal.

Xander woke the following morning early to a panicked phone call detailing the events of the previous night. The surprise party was still on but plans had changed as the majority of Gajeta's fishing community and many others were to attend church and give thanks for the safe return of so many of their husbands and sons.

Xander looked through the door to his own bed and remembered the warmth of those wings over him the previous night, and despite the injuries, the love and caring they engendered.

Part 11

Wild stories were apparently being told all through the town of the angel of mercy answering to prayers for help, to the point where the local priest had even called the Vatican to ask for advice.

They were rather disparaging and Father Andreus struggled with the rather offhanded response.

The reports he had of the angel were so specific and rescues did seem incredulous, then came other stories of elderly folk, the sick, and distressed also seeing the angel in the previous months! The priest finally gave in to popular opinion and held a service of thanks. All who had been visited, had prayed for help, and if it was collective hysteria or urban mythology, who cared. His church was full, and the people apparently safe and appreciative.

Xander went to the service at Maria's insistence – and despite his lack of Catholic background, was genuinely moved. It was all in Latin but his command of Italian now gave him at least an inkling and the man accompanying him was the focus for the thanks.

As he listened to the testimonies, it was not just he, but also Spike that moved uncomfortably. There were countless acts of heroism and kindness over the previous months, culminating in the miraculous rescues and consequent church service.

Spike's wings were concealed under a large seafarer's coat, and further disguised with a glamour, but the angel was beginning to cry as the congregation stood to line up for communion.

"Please luv…we need to go."

"Not now!"

"Xan we really do…my wings…" Xander could see the edges of large wings beginning to emerge.

"Oh heck sorry!"

"No…I'm sorry pet just…nowadays when they all pray and sing and…No control…'m just a minion for the whoever…doin' my bit. But can't do this…can't hold on when they all do this!" Tears began to stream down the angel's face, "With the prayin' and such…s' not for me anyway, and me…just tryin' ta do the right thing…didn't do it for the thanks! Let's go pet…please…let's just go."

As others in their row stood to file up and take communion, the two made their way quietly out the side door nearest them, and as the service continued the two men retreated to their home high up the hill.

Illias' birthday was that evening and Xander still had a role to play in that, but for now (after checking for any possible observers), he spread a rug in their tiny courtyard and pulled his angel into the walled garden. He stripped them both then pulled his extremely upset partner down to lie in the sun.

"Why Xan? Why all this?…All I did was answer the call…that's all! Anyone would have…You would have if you could hear it…just that the bloody Powers touched me…and I don't mind…I really don't, but then all this!! And the praying and the whole bleedin' angel the savior thing. I'm a bloody ex-vampire, ex-ghost, ex-human with a murder record a century long and poetry career that probably killed someone of boredom before that! And then nothing and now they think I'm some sort of divine superhero…Well I'm not! I've got no control over it Xan…It's what I have to do…It's like breathing when you're alive – there is a need and you do that's all! And all these people…do they understand that there comes a time when I can't save them? When all I can do is ease their way? Do they understand that?! And what then – their own particular faith is again questioned? Couldn't save Anya, or some of the girls, couldn't save your eye…or Charlie…or Grandsire…Bloody hell couldn't even save meself! Awww Pet! I just…"

Xander didn't fail to note three feathers falling from his friend's wings as upset led to tears of frustration and grief borne of his new role as well as that of old.

Xander lay on his back and did the only thing he could think of, he pulled the smaller man across his chest, welcoming the huge hitches as the proud man, the angel, gave in to the hug and to desperate tears. Without comment Xander began stroking the powerful wings and running his fingers rhythmically through silky hair until the angel relaxed and despite the occasional residual hiccupped cry, fell into a quiet slumber in the late afternoon sun.

As the sun fell behind the building in the late afternoon and the temperature dropped, Spike stirred and Xander woke from his light sleep. The two rose in rather a daze then wandered inside to fall onto their bed and tug a cover over to snooze in a side by side embrace for another hour or so, before Xander rose to lead his sleepy loved one to a warm shower.

It was as though Spike was in a trance, he followed Xander into the bathroom, his slack wings dragging slightly on the floor, then stood compliant as he was lovingly sponged down, had his hair washed and his wings squirted with fresh warm water.

Afterwards they were again lying on their bed, but this time Xander recognized the desperate fatigue for what it truly was. Each rescue, each kind act sapped the life force of his darling. The angel did not eat to Xander's knowledge – at least he had never seen him eat anything but hadn't questioned it until now…and began to wonder. There were certainly no fangs so blood was probably now off the menu, and his dear love seemed not to crave for anything but contact and comfort, and yet even as a vampire he had sought out human food.

Xander left his half asleep companion to find the kitchen and cocoa and sugar and milk, and returned to the bedroom with a brew worthy of Joyce Summers. It brought on not thanks but another flood of tears. Xander all but threw down the mug on the side table before pulling his dearest into his arms in a tight hug as sobs wracked the lovely form.

"I'm sorry honey…I'm so sorry…I just thought it would…Ahhh geez I have no idea…But please sweetheart, you're so tired and I…here…just let's just lie here, together OK?"

The angel did as asked and after many minutes lifted his tear streaked face to a worried human one.

"I…um…sorry…'s just…"

"Shhhh, c'mon…shhhh" He stroked the defined cheek bones and began to caress the wings again, "I don't know how to help? Can I help? What can I do Spike…Will? What can I do?"

"Oh Pet…just be here…just be here and the hot chocolate… [hic] Thanks…she was a gracious Mum to us all Pet…even a sodding vampire! Best hot chocolate in the world and a true lady to boot." More tears ensued but this time muffled in his lover's chest. "I'm OK…really. You can [hic] let go, I'm OK."

"No you're not and you know it as well as I do, and I'm not going to let you go until you feel you can drink that," Xander pointed to the cup, "Or tell me something I can do to help you because an exhausted or expired angel – no good to anyone!" Xander lifted the cup of sweet chocolate drink and offered it to Spike as though he were a tiny infant. Gentle sips eventually turned into long drafts as the angel's cool pale hands covered the calloused and tanned ones of his carpenter friend holding the cup.

It was as though a switch hand been flicked. The instant the warm liquid was finished, Spike fell into unconsciousness. There was little Xander could do but lie him on his bed…now definitely their bed…and cover the amazing form with a large down filled throw before he headed for Illias' birthday (well and his minor role).

He still had the job of keeping the man occupied for an hour or so. He knocked on the door of the tidy cottage close to the water with a request that Illias come up to his house to advise on the possible fruit and vege patch in his small backyard. Illias, priding himself on the cornucopia of produce during the year from his own was thrilled, after the rather lengthy – but necessary – church service.

Illias took no notice of the closed bedroom door and occupied an hour was ease as Xander genuinely became excited by the prospect of producing his own 'fruit and vege'! What also engaged the younger man was, as always, the fisherman's quiet manner and fatherly advice.

Illias' wife rang and invited the boy and 'some young English friend' to dinner. Xander's Italian was not perfect but vastly improved and Illias a little deaf so the volume on the phone rather high. He blanched a little but prepared to make an apology when a rather bleary eyed but clothed angel stepped into the lounge where the two men were sitting. His wings were, again, concealed by a glamour, but Xander worried. All these things came with a cost to his dear love.

Spike offered his hand to Illias who was sure he had seen the man before, but as soon as they touched, the thought was gone. "Afternoon gents. Xan here tells me you're quite the town elder."

The older fisherman felt oddly moved by the touch, tried to access memories again but in the end simply smiled and began in very halting English. Spike was quicker, switching smoothly to perfect Italian, "Oh my apologies! How rude! Asleep thanks to the host and all that." The blinding smile and apologetic tone in his own tongue put the old man at ease and he smiled as he referred to Xander.

"He's a good boy. I am hoping he will stay in the town…He is a very good boy." He patted Xander on the cheek affectionately. "But I must insist…my wife wants you both at our family dinner…and I know…I know…it is an…"

Spike answered for both of them in Illias' native tongue, "No inconvenience, I am sure Xander is always welcome and I thank you for your kind invitation."

The three arrived with perfect timing. Illias' wife welcomed them at the door, and as the guest of honor entered the house, close to sixty guests sang "Happy Birthday". Xander and Spike simply stood back as the other guests gave tribute to one of the town's most popular grandfathers.

Illias was rather overwhelmed by the whole event and joined his friends inside as Xander and Spike stood in the front doorway. Eventually they were ushered in upon insistence by all Xander's work colleagues and Spike looked on with a strange sense of pride as Xander's gift was revealed. Backs were slapped and Illias accepted numerous other gifts. Davina noted the two picking up their coats and winked at Xander but said nothing. The rest of the crowd was drinking heavily so he then tugged his companion out the back door.

Illias would eventually learn that Xander's gift had been delivered earlier in the day, a perfectly restored table from his grandmother's home – the original rustic maintained but almost drawn into the realm of art as the hours of sanding transformed functional table made of local wood into gloriously polished and lacquered furniture.

The two 'outsiders' were standing side by side in the meticulously maintained garden at the back of Illias' house, and other than Davina, all revelers were happily quite oblivious of the angel & the human's status as a 'couple'.

Xander took a risk and reached out to hold hands with his beloved before looking up to the perfectly clear evening sky and rising moon. "Just look sweetheart…look at those stars…that's you…so beautiful…" Spike quietly whispered, "The moon is on its way pet, can we head home? Please?!" Their surreptitious exit went unnoticed by guests.

A short time later, they stood in an embrace in the dark end of their own back yard and admired the stars again. Spike looked around shook off his jacket and his significant wings emerged. Xander kissed Spike soundly then led him up to bed. As they settled for the night the human took a deep breath and began to pray as he stroked the long blonde locks of his lover.

He prayed that he might somehow help his angel, that the brave and noble angel might find solace and rest with him, and that they might be together for all time.

The last time he had made a genuine plea and sent a prayer there were definitely…consequences. The Powers heard and responded.

Xander was instantly standing in a white marble room with impossibly high ceilings. He seemed not to be able to move from his place as two beings approached him.

Part 12

Both figures were glowing white to the point of being hurtful to his good eye to look at. He dropped his gaze but not before noting the male and female pigeon pair, identical in all but gender.

The male addressed him, "Human you have made yet another plea for the angel you now call lover."

"Yes…I guess…he's not well and I…just want to make it better! Please how can I…?"

"Stupid boy! An angel cannot remain in the full form for all of each day – it is simply not possible! Your wish enabled it for a time, and you both deserved the pleasure, but it is not sustainable. You have condemned him to demise. Swift and love filled perhaps but he will depart you featherless and in pain within months if forced to live as he is."

"No!!!! I didn't wish for that…I um…and…oh fuck but…it's Spike! No you can't – not when he's doing so much good!"

The female of the pair spoke "So, you wish to keep him with you?"

"Yes well…no!!! There must be another way!"

"And you love him?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then, if it is your wish that he not depart your company, we offer you the choice. Allow him to return to his inert state and allow him to visit you only in your dreams until the day you give up your last breath, or alternatively join him for all time in his former state, acting on our behalf during the night and inert in the day. Do you understand the choice?"

"Ummm sort of…not really…"

The female looked at the human with utter disdain, then began to speak very slowly as though to a simpleton, "Either you never see him alive again, but will be the protector of the beautiful statue until you die. Or you are together for all time though your mortal existence will be forfeit if you choose that path. If you choose the latter, you will be immortal like your lover but have duties, and regain your energy and centre in the day, condemned to the necessary state of stone."

Xander's choice was instant, he could not do without Spike, not now. "Please…I'm happy to work for you but please! If we are both stone – can we at least touch in the day? Please…at least that much."

"Sister, let us make a little compromise…I would be happy, given this human's history, that they may reside together in the day." The female entity grumbled a little but nodded.

The male addressed him again. "You will have time to get your affairs in order, live each day as your last, but it is up to you to call us. After that your status will be altered for all time. Take care when you do that – though I think you will know. You have requested and agreed to this path – there is no withdrawing now." Despite his sister's disgust the male added, "Live every day like your last…and remember…you will know the time."

Xander woke abruptly. His angel was still quiet, but another four feathers were on the ground.

The following day Xander returned to work on the building site and this time put every effort into his full duties, despite any pain incurred. In the end it was Julius who asked him to slow down. Xander had a reputation for hard work and smiling and being the one who cheered on others but this Xander…this Xander was so cheery it worried Julius. When he said as much to his wife she shushed him. Xander was fast becoming a favorite in the village – and his lovely lodger from England was such a sweetheart! She positively had shivers when he touched her!

The former Scooby's life took on a bizarre quality as his partner's faded and he tried to tie up all the things that should be…In the end he made a formal Will, planned a simple funeral, and left the majority of his money to a small gallery in Gajeta to bankroll a 'grotto' that they had been trying to gain funds for. The exhibits – much of Minassos work and some of other regional artists – hosted in a garden, but each sculpture undercover, protecting both observer and sculpture from the elements.

When Xander rang Willow, all he did was thank her for her friendship and ask her not to forget him. She was rather strange, asked him what was wrong, then kept asking "What's wrong honey?? Please tell me what's wrong?!" Strangely he ended up (though in tears) repeating it all again on Email "Nothing, just needed to tell you."

"OK well sweetie know that I love you for all of time…you do know that yeah?"

Xander felt the tug, not urgent, just there, "Gold plated. Willow loves me. Got it."

That night, his dear partner lost more than twenty feathers, and was looking more and more drawn.

Five days later, Spike arrived home so exhausted that he landed in an inanimate heap, was too weak to even raise his head and had to be carried into the house.

Xander bathed and tended his dear partner, but just as he had come to predict, found more feathers in a trail wherever the angel went. Spike could feel himself failing and visited the priest in his sleep – to thank him. He touched the young man and wished him well. Spike felt it. He was a good soul. The powers felt the message. The town was well looked after.

Xander rang Dawn in Rome, and as usual, everyone was out. He left an obscure message, "And a hug for Buffy too". The gist was, "Hope you find happiness. Know you're busy." But by the time the girls would get it…well he wasn't sure where or how he would be.

Davina watched the slow transition from happy, ever sharing, new addition to their town to a quiet almost reclusive man. When she learned that his English friend had "been forced by personal circumstances to withdraw", she drew her own conclusions for Xander's malaise.

Iliais had come to love the boy like a son and worried as he became thinner, then thinner again. If only he knew…Xander's worry was that Angel!Spike was not only thinner, but also dropping feathers at alarming rate as his 'life force' was offered to small children (particularly) and adults in trouble, in nightly acts of mercy.

At the end of the third week following the conversation with the Powers, Xander found his dear love collapsed in the vineyard just north of them around two in the morning. But this time it was not just collapsed, but so stressed that the angel was unconscious for nearly forty hours. At the end of that time, as his dear love stood, Xander could see that Spike had but half his previously glorious feathers.

Davina noticed Xander's grieving and worried for him – though knew nothing of the real cause as the glamour had dropped and Spike forced to hide from those he was charged to help.

It was around midnight and Xander had followed Spike on foot – worried by the pain groan as the angel once more launched himself into the sky to answer the call. The human watched with pride as the beautiful angel flew overhead holding a now sleeping four year old that had wandered away from a picnic earlier in the evening. The entire family and most of the town had been out looking for her, the poor parents convinced she had headed for the water and probably drowned. In fact Spike had found her sleeping in a small olive grove only a kilometer or so from the party venue.

But just as Xander began to think his lover was recovered, he was horrified as his dear angel began to plummet – plumage no longer able to support his weight and that of his charge.

The rescue should have been easy but given the speed of decent and the starting point, Xander instantly realized that there was more than one issue afoot. The little girl would die if she fell from the height and his partner would be critically injured for sure. He immediately invoked the request to the Powers, felt a strange sensation in his back but didn't question as instinct took over, wings expanded and he embraced his change.

He caught the two on the way to the ground, placing the little girl on the rear doorstep of her grandmother's home and rang the cow bell. The grandparents were overjoyed to find the rather bewildered little love standing on their back porch and the news of her return spread like wildfire. Two desperate parents were soon embracing their daughter and being embraced by all who had searched frantically along with them (plus neighbors and emergency services staff just for good measure).

Meanwhile, Xander had returned to lift his dear ill angel to their bed. As he settled his sweetheart he felt strange. Spike too felt an odd sensation and then the very familiar hot and cold, and watched in horror as his form began to disintegrate, Spike's last thoughts before black being, "Bloody hell, not again!"

The human form of Alexander Lavelle Harris was found deceased in his bed the following morning – apparently he had died between six and nine hours earlier. There was no sign the previous night's wings.

His dear friend Davina had 'popped in' with her own key (willingly provided by Xander) late on the Friday to drop off a quiche (had to get the boy to eat something!). She immediately realized something was not right. All was silent, even though she called twice, so she walked through the house, and found Xander on the couch. He was apparently asleep, but in fact was stiff and cold to the touch.

It was impossible! She made a panicked call to the local emergency services, who were there in minutes and declared him dead. The coroner would later report that an aneurism in the brain had robbed them all of one of Gajeta's favorite foreigners, a man who had in such a short time, truly become one of the town's treasured 'sons'.

Father Andreas led the distressing funeral service. The close knit community was used to saying farewell the old and infirm, to the worried or the sick…but this man was young, fit and had been nothing but helpful and supportive; he had slipped easily into all of their lives; happily struggling to learn the language; and always so thankful of any small kindness.

Father Andreas prayed at the end of the service, himself struggling with the blessing, and stopping twice as his own tears welled up. The congregation was with him as a heartfelt plea was made that Xander might find peace and happiness in the next life.

There were five foreigners at the back of the service, the elderly gent and a white headed youngish woman both needing assistance when it came time to leave. Illias and Julius joined the dear Englishman as he fell to his knees with unfettered grief as the coffin was lowered into the grave to rest.

Giles' command of Italian was rudimentary in his stressed state but as Illias arm went around the stranger he simply said, "He was as close to a son as I will ever have." Then collapsed into a full hug with the old fisherman, who himself was crying quite openly. They held the embrace for many minutes until finally needing to move from the edge of the resting place as more earth needed to be added.

Willow was helped up the hill, comforted by Dawn and Buffy, the women drawing strength from Buffy's partner the Immortal, and all five 'outsiders' graciously hosted by Davina and Ron who were holding the after service function at their lovely B&B.

For many weeks and months afterwards, the old Sunnydale friends speculated that Xander knew something was wrong – his financial affairs were completely in order, and they had all had loving phone calls in the month or so previous, but all eventually discounted the notion as silly.

Two months after the funeral, Minassos was inspired to carve another unusual piece and this time two full sized male angels emerged from the rock, both had magnificent six foot plus, full length wings. It was the first piece to be included in the new, trendy, outdoor gallery funded in part by the recently deceased A.L.Harris.

Laz himself was rather surprised. The piece simply seemed to emerge of its own volition!

The white marble sculpture was that of two angels embracing. Their gender would be argued about for decades as the long locks and pretty features confused many an observer. But its beauty was never questioned. The angels were in such a tight embrace that their wings were almost touching – and certainly covered the fact that their nether regions were resting against each other. Pretty faces were obscured by the fact that the pair both had a cheek on the other's shoulder, and had lips pressed to their lover's neck in a tender kiss.

Spike knew the feeling, but Xander was initially too overwhelmed to process the sensations as his eyes were carved and form polished.

On the first night after their finishing polish, with only the moon to light the workshop, two sets of wings stretched out to their full span, two heads lifted and mouths met and hand ran over perfect male forms in wonder.

What no one saw nightly after that, was the two lovers emerge after dark to once again consummate their adoration for each other before taking off to answer the call of their masters. Nightly, his beautiful angel took off and now Xander joined him to make blissful and passionate love mid air before performing their duties, or after a particularly critical night simply lying in quiet repose with him stroking feathers and being stroked before they had to take their places again.

Minassos himself was thrilled by the response to the piece. He named it "Eternal Comfort" and was awarded three "Highly Commended"s and received wonderful reviews by a variety of art critics within months of its creation. By the end of the year he was the proud owner of a first prize in "Classical Modern Sculpture" from the central Italian government in their national competition to encourage new talent and earned himself prize money that was treble his normal income for the year.

The piece even went 'on tour' (with some of his others) to five other galleries across Europe before returning to rest in Gajeta. Minassos was feted along with his creation and soon found himself with so much commissioned work that he really was struggling to keep up the pace and had to turn several things down. It was a wonderful change!

The statue's figures were amazed by all the attention, though enjoyed being home the most. For the angel couple the stress of their nightly work with the sick and the distressed was offset by the return to the small grotto in Gajetta's open air art feature as they relaxed against each other in their permanent embrace for the following day.

Some time in the tenth year after Sunnydale's demise, Giles and Willow visited Gajeta again and both had strange dreams, or visitations, they weren't really sure. The following morning Giles spoke to the Wiccan over breakfast and was rather thrown. They had both seen the same thing, a winged Xander and winged Spike – the two as angels smiling at them…In the end they decided it was just some sort of collective grief brought on by the anniversary of Xander's passing nearly six years previously.

The angels were the main attraction at the gallery, posed with or in front of by thousands of tourists each year – the popularity of magnificent angels' forms hugging helping to boost the popularity and reputation of the gallery's entire collection.

Spike and Xander's 'grotto' was warm in the day, and the tedium of standing eased by their stone state. There was no more pain from old injuries, no hunger and no fatigue. And the stillness of each day afforded them a chance to rejuvenate energy for the coming night. Their permanent hug truly was Eternal Comfort.

When the tug occurred, as it always did nightly, the two angels checked the area, shook out their feathers hard then took off into the night, soaring high above Gajeta – sometimes stealing a kiss mid air before answering the tug and performing their designated duties for the night.

They might be compelled to do good deeds and condemned to their white marble forms of a daytime, but they had each other for eternity. Their lovemaking was passionate and enhanced by two sets of wings. And if the lovers of art had looked closely enough, they would notice the contented smile on both angels' faces as they embraced each day, the expression only obscured by the fact that faces were tucked into each others' necks.

And the Powers smiled too.

The End

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