By Saber ShadowKitten
"Spike, don't," Angel warned quietly, clamping a hand onto the peroxide-blond vampire's arm. Spike growled softly, but did not move.
"All of you now, get into the raft. Or the little girl takes a bullet to her brain."
Angel's jaw tightened when the man pulled the hammer back on the revolver he held to Willow's temple. The redhead's eyes were wide and full of fear, and he knew if any of them made a wrong move, she would be killed. "Get in the raft," he instructed the others behind him. One by one, the six friends descended the ladder to the raft tied to the side of the boat, with Angel going down last.
The 'helpless sailors,' who'd they had stopped to assist, had turned into a foe of the worst kind -- pirates. One of the two non-descript men had grabbed Willow without warning, pulling a weapon out of his pocket and putting it to her head before any of them could act. All they could do was follow his instructions and hope an opportunity would present itself, but now that they were in the raft and the hacker was on the boat, those who still believed turned their prayers to the heavens.
What had started out as a simple part-work, part-pleasure trip was turning into something deadly. It had only been two nights since Spike, Buffy, Willow, Oz and Xander had joined Cordelia and Angel on the boat the dark-haired vampire had charted to make a trip down to Central America. The boat was decided upon to be the quickest and easiest route to get from Los Angeles to Guatemala, and could be adjusted to protect the two vampires during the day.
Rumors of a phoenix, a mythical creature that was said to be a bird made of fire, had prompted the little trip and was originally just to include Spike and Buffy, at both Doyle's and Giles' insistence. However, Buffy thought Willow should go because magick might be needed, and Willow didn't want to be gone from Oz for that long. Then the girls didn't want Xander to stay home alone, so the trip turned into an impromptu working holiday.
Up until that night, the gang had little problems, save for Angel wanting to throttle Spike when they descended below deck for the day to sleep. The blond vampire, as usual, couldn't sit still and continuously poked around until Angel threatened to throw him overboard. Then they'd argue for a good fifteen minutes across the cabin until Spike finally fell asleep.
Only a few months had passed since the vampires had last been forced to work together and ended up being shrunk to six-inches in height. Neither one had mentioned what had happened between them during that time, but it was in the back of both of their minds, Angel's especially. The younger vampire had been central to his thoughts over the months, and they were not an unpleasant distraction. In fact, Angel had welcomed the memories and the few fantasies that bombarded him when he went back to his apartment for the day.
The man appeared at the edge of the deck, Willow in front of him, the revolver now aimed to the back of her head. "Untie the raft, sweetie," he told her, his voice echoing down to the others.
"What is he doing?" Cordelia asked, panic in her voice. "He can't take our boat."
The rope came flying down and hit the water with a hard slap. Then a scream ripped through the night as Willow was roughly pushed off the boat, landing with a loud splash when she entered the water. Oz was out of the raft in an instant, swimming rapidly to his girlfriend's side, as the redhead surfaced and sputtered.
The engine started up and those in the raft exchanged startled glances. "Hey! You can't just leave us here!" Buffy screamed up to the pirate.
"Watch us!" the man yelled back, then laughed as the boat pulled away. The boat that the men had come from started up its own engine and sped off after the other one, testifying to the fact that the hijacking was a well-planned operation for the pirates.
Oz and Willow swam over to the side of the octangular, eight-person raft and were helped aboard. The seven of them watched in silence until the lights from the boats disappeared into the distance. The half-moon was left as their only source of light.
"They left us," Cordelia said, breaking into the disbelieving silence of the night. "I can't believe they left us!"
"At least we're alive," Willow pointed out, shivering in Oz's embrace.
Spike slid off his always present duster and passed it to the couple, and Oz gave him a grateful look. "Thanks," the werewolf said, covering Willow with it.
"There are emergency provisions in that kit behind you, Xander," Angel said.
"Willow, are you ok?" Buffy asked her friend in concern.
"Yeah," Willow answered. "I'm just a little wet."
"Good," Buffy said, reaching out to squeeze the hackers shoulder. "I was scared."
"Me, too. That was almost as scary as the time Angel...," Willow trailed off with an embarrassed look. "Never mind."
Angel pushed aside the familiar guilt as it crept upon him in favor of making sure those he held most dear were able to stay alive until they were rescued. "Xander, what's in the kit?"
Xander had the waterproofed bag open on his crossed legs. "Two flares, matches, first aid stuff, what looks like food of some sort, an empty plastic bottle and some strange looking thing."
"That's probably to make fresh water," Angel explained. "You'll be able to read the instructions in the morning."
"Oh god, morning," Buffy gasped suddenly, looking back and forth between Angel and Spike. "How long until the sun comes up?"
"Three hours or so," Spike replied, looking off into the distance over the calm ocean. "The sun comes up faster over the water for some bloody reason."
"Well, don't just sit there!" Cordelia burst out, putting an arm over the edge of the raft. "Let's get this raft moving! Paddle!"
"Cordelia," Angel said calmly, touching her back. "Stop. Panicking won't do any good."
Xander closed the emergency kit and set it between him and Spike, then took Cordelia's hand out of the water. Squeezing it gently, he said, "Angel's right, much as I hate to say it. If we panic, none of us will survive."
"Military man stuff, Xander?" Buffy asked, fear etched on her face for the two vampires.
Xander shrugged. "Maybe. Either that, or just common sense."
"You have the common sense of a fly, so it must be the former," Cordelia told him. Xander gave her a lopsided grin and she took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. "Ok, I'm done panicking. Now, what's the plan?"
"Well, what do we know?" Oz asked, running his hand soothingly over Willow's wet hair.
"Two badly dressed tourists just stole our boat," Cordelia said.
"They left us alive," Willow pointed out. "And we're in a raft, not floating in the water."
"We have emergency provisions," Xander added. "There's enough here for at least two days, maybe more if we ration it."
"More, because the poof and I don't need 'em," Spike said quietly.
They fell into an uncomfortable silence for several moments. Buffy was the first to break it. "Maybe if we piled up all our clothes on top of you guys..."
"Spike's duster is pretty big," Willow said. "You may be cramped. Ok, really cramped."
"Does that mean they're going to use us as their emergency rations?" Cordelia asked.
"Now that's something I didn't want to think about," Xander said, shuddering.
"What about under the raft?" Oz suggested. Everyone looked at him and he shrugged. "If they stay directly under it, the sun shouldn't get to them."
"And you guys don't need to breathe," Buffy said.
"If that's the case, why wouldn't they swim deeper and not worry about where the raft was?" Cordelia said.
"Because we could float away, then they'd be stuck out here, not knowing where we were," Willow replied.
"We have rope," Xander said, pulling the end that was tied to the boat out of the water. "We could loop it around under the raft, then all you guys would have to do is hang on."
"Alright, soul-man, over the side with you," Cordelia prompted, giving Angel a slight push. "I don't want to lose my well paying job because you turned into a pile of ashes."
A short while before sunrise, Angel and Spike stripped and went into the water. The women looked, of course, in feminine appreciation. Oz and Xander both looked strictly for comparisons sake, then they both puffed up, much to the amusement of the three ladies.
The plan was that they would keep the raft heading east, where Central America was located. Since they didn't have paddles, save for the two vampires under the raft kicking every so often, a makeshift sail was created using Spike's duster. They took turns holding it, one person on each side to make it taut, and the slight breeze helped push them in the correct direction.
Two full days passed with little change in routine or scenery. The sun rose high in the sky, forcing those not holding the coat to hide under the excess clothing for shade. The humans were hot, irritable, thirsty and hungry, disgusted at having to use the ocean as a bathroom, and getting sunburnt. The vampires weren't too happy, either, having not fed and being stuck under water for close to sixteen hours per day with nothing to do other than hold on and help propel the raft.
Spike especially was going nuts, and took to swimming laps around the raft once the sun set, trying to burn off his excess energy in order to sleep for several hours. He had smoked the remainder of his cigarettes by the time the sun rose the second day, and had become snappish with everyone, adding fuel to the already short tempers of the group. Only Angel continued to act calmly, soothing the others frazzled nerves, even though he wanted nothing better than to throw everyone overboard and make them swim home.
Then on the third day, things drastically changed.
On the third day, the sharks came.
"Is it cannibalism if we eat Deadboy and Spike?" Xander asked.
"God, that's sick, Xander," Cordelia said, glaring at him. She rolled her shoulders and adjusted the makeshift sail, then shifted her weight on her knees. She and Oz were on sail-duty for that hour.
"He brings up a good point," Oz said.
"We are not going to eat Spike or Angel," Buffy stated, glaring at Xander, then Oz.
"Technically, they're not human any more," Xander pointed out. "They're dead."
"It's still human flesh and I cannot believe I'm involving myself in this disgusting conversation," Cordelia said.
"Um, guys," Willow said tentatively.
"Which brings up that whole philosophical argument -- what exactly is a vampire?" Oz continued.
"Guys," Willow repeated.
"They're demons that inhabit humans," Buffy replied to Oz. "Didn't we have this discussion when Vampire Willow was here?"
"Here's a good one for you," Xander said, adjusting the shirt draped over his head like a burnoose. "Why are vampires allergic to crosses, but not Stars of David?"
"Guys!" Willow snapped.
"What is it, Wills?" Buffy asked, looking at her friend. Willow raised her hand and pointed.
"Oh neat, dolphins," Cordelia said. "Hey, do you think we can get them to pull us in, like in the movies."
"Uh, Cordy," Xander said. "'That's no moon.'"
"What?" Cordelia said, frowning at Xander.
"Those aren't dolphins, Cordelia," Willow said. She turned and looked fearfully at Oz. "Those are sharks."
Beneath the surface of the water, Spike was slowly going out of his mind. He'd mentally sung all the songs he could remember the day before, and now he was counting. Despite the burning from the salt, every so often he'd open his vampiric-yellow eyes and check to see if the sun still lit the water around the raft. His arm was hooked around the rope, which was pulled tight enough around the raft to keep the two vampires close to the darkened bottom of it without worry about floating into the sun.
He had just reached one-hundred, fifty thousand when he opened his eyes and saw a blurred shape pass by near the raft. He blinked rapidly, waiting to see if something was actually there or if it was his imagination. He had counted to twenty when it passed by again, close enough for him to be able to discern what it was by the shape.
Spike had seen sharks before and had seen first hand what they did to those unfortunate enough to be in the water when the large predators were hungry. At the time, he'd laughed at the poor humans' misfortune, having pushed the three men over the edge of the ship into the water to begin with. He briefly wondered if it were karma, but then he dismissed the idea, seeing as his punishment was being forced to help out and protect the Slayer and friends for the rest of their lives.
He shut his eyes again and blindly reached to his right. Finding Angel, he jabbed at him until his sire grabbed his arm to stop him. Then the grip tightened and he knew that Angel had seen the sharks. Panic started to engulf him, and he dared to open his eyes to check on the sun. A shark seemed to swim even closer, and he quickly re-closed his eyes.
When Spike had started poking him, Angel had at first gotten annoyed. He immediately changed his tune when he realized the younger vampire wouldn't be touching him at all unless it was something important. Sharks definitely fell under the 'something important' category.
Angel's first thought after seeing the blurry shark was to protect Spike, an age-old response whenever his favorite childe was in danger. It had been over a century since the instant protectiveness over what was 'his' had kicked in, and the younger vampire belonged to him in every sense of the word. Buffy had come the closest to invoking the base reaction, but they'd never achieved the same level of bond that he shared with Spike.
Moving slowly, so as not to attract the sharks' attentions, he turned over so he was facing the bottom of the raft with his back to the inky depths of the ocean. Holding the rope with both hands, he inched to his right until he felt Spike directly beside him. He brought his legs underneath the blond's legs and pushed them upwards, then reached past Spike with his right arm and pulled himself directly under his childe.
Angel lifted them both upwards as close to the bottom of the raft as he could, using the rope as leverage. Then he slid the rope between them, moving them towards one end of the raft, until it was mid-torso on him. Spike was now between him and the raft, shielded as best as Angel could shield him from the sharks. He felt Spike press his vampiric ridges into his chest and the younger vampire's body shaking in fear.
The only thing left to do was wait.
"As long as the sharks don't go under the water, they're safe," Willow whispered, watching the six predators circle the raft. Buffy had taken over for Cordelia with holding the coat, and she and Oz were both mentally urging the wind to pick up.
"Do you think they even know the sharks are here?" Cordelia whispered. The redhead had explained that sharks were attracted by sound, and could hear a pin drop into the water as far away as two miles.
"Come on sun," Buffy urged, her face etched in fear for the two vampires beneath the raft. "Go down."
The group fell into nervous silence as the sun descended too slowly behind them. The wind picked up briefly, almost knocking Oz to the floor of the raft at its suddenness. He exchanged places with Xander, but Buffy wouldn't let Willow take over for her.
"Oh goddess," Willow breathed. "No."
All eyes turned to where Willow was looking and saw the tip of a dorsal fin just as it descended below the surface. Buffy looked behind her and saw that the sun was practically kissing the water. "Hurry," she said. "Please hurry."
They heard a bump on the bottom of the raft and everyone jumped, with Willow, Xander and Cordelia making squeaks of fright. Oz put his arms around Willow and held her close, and Cordelia moved so she was able to wrap an arm around Xander's knees. The wind picked up again, buffeting the taut duster and sending the raft forward on an easterly path.
Under the water, Angel had wrapped one arm around Spike's waist and was holding the younger vampire against him. He felt the brush of something rough against his back and he sent up a prayer towards heaven, not for him, but for the others. The two vampires legs rose and thumped the bottom of the raft from the upswell of water as a shark passed beneath them.
He almost yelled out in joy when he heard the two short raps on the bottom of the raft echoing in the water, indicating that the sun had gone down. He had to tighten his hold on Spike when the blond went to swim away, his body still shaking with uncontrollable fear. Going slowly, Angel used the rope to inch their way to the left side of the raft. When he could go no further without pulling the edge of the raft down, he moved their bodies downward until the rope was no longer between them, then gave Spike a gentle push upwards.
Using Angel's legs as a springboard, Spike surfaced in less than a second and had an arm over the edge of the raft. Oz and Buffy, who had discarded the duster the moment the sun set to prepare to bring the vampires onto the raft, reached down and helped get Spike into the raft. He immediately sat up, pulled his legs up to his chest and tried to make himself as small as possible.
Willow squeaked when another shark went below the surface and the Slayer searched the water for Angel. After the longest seconds of her life, his dark head finally broke the surface, and she and Oz pulled him into the raft. The wind kicked up again and Cordelia and Xander grabbed the duster, quickly putting up their makeshift sail.
"That was not fun," Angel muttered, wiping his wet face with his hand. Buffy hugged him tightly before helping him to sit up. Willow handed him Spike's red shirt, which the vampires were using to dry off before getting redressed each day. Neither of them had wanted to spend all day in the water and then have to wear wet clothing all night.
After a careless wiping down, he put his pants on, then turned his attention to Spike. The blond was still in his vampiric countenance, rocking slightly back and forth, with a glazed look in his yellow eyes. Carefully moving in front of Spike, Angel lifted his childe's chin and began speaking in a low voice. "It's ok, Spike. We're safe." He knew it was a lie, that they weren't really safe from the sharks attacking the raft, but at least he and Spike were out of the water.
Spike shuddered violently, then blinked and focused on his sire kneeling before him. Without thought or care about the others in the raft, he dropped his knees apart, reached up and grabbed Angel behind the neck, and yanked him down into a hard kiss. He cut his tongue on his fangs and shoved it into his sire's mouth, offering his blood.
There had only been two other times in Spike's long life where he'd been that scared. Once was when Drusilla had been attacked by the mob in Prague. The other had been when his sire had disappeared one night in Rumania and hadn't returned.
Angel actually wasn't surprised when he was suddenly involved in a bruising kiss. He had known that Spike was frightened to the core by his shaking when they were still in the water, and knew that he would want reassurance that everything was ok. When he tasted his childe's blood, he had to force himself not to take the offer Spike was giving him. He highly doubted the others in the raft would appreciate two vampires going at it right in front of them. They were probably freaking over the kiss as it was.
The dark-haired vampire pushed back on Spike's shoulders and broke away from his kiss. His brown eyes stared into the younger vampire's yellow ones until they faded into the icy blue of his human mask. "Ok, now?" Angel asked quietly.
Spike closed his eyes a moment and reigned in his control, then nodded. He let go of Angel as he re-opened his eyes and ignored the stares he was getting. Inside, however, he was disgusted, not by kissing his sire, but by the vulnerability he'd shown in front of the others. Angel moved away and he grabbed his jeans and slid them on.
"Um, I hate to interrupt the awkward moment," Xander said. "But is that what I think it is?" He gestured with his chin towards the east and all eyes looked past the still circling sharks to see what he had indicated.
They made it to shore without seeing how sharp shark's teeth really were. Xander kissed the sand after they had pulled the raft onto the beach in a dramatic display of joy. Spike disappeared almost immediately, heading along the shoreline at a fast clip until he disappeared from sight. Buffy went to stop him, but Angel prevented her, knowing that his childe needed time alone after what happened in the raft.
A fire was built using driftwood and branches from along the edge of the beach, and soon everyone but Angel was asleep around it. Silently watching the flames, he tried to formulate a plan for the next day. Spike wandered back and took a seat next to him. "Did you find something to eat?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah," Spike replied, keeping his voice low so as not to wake the others. "I'll keep watch if you want to go."
"In a minute," Angel said. "Did you see a place for us to spend the day?"
"There's some rock crevices up the beach a bit," he answered. "They'll do for one day, but not any longer than that."
"I'll tell Buffy to search for something better during the day," Angel said. He studied Spike's profile for a moment. "About earlier..."
"I don't want to talk about it," Spike interrupted quickly, running sand through his fingers.
"What part of 'I don't want to talk about it' don't you bloody understand?" Spike growled. "Now get lost before I change my mind and leave again myself."
Angel shook his head and stood, brushing the sand off the back of his pants. He then silently headed off to find something to eat.
"I hate you."
"Not this again," Angel sighed, shifting on the hard rock, trying to get comfortable. It was pretty difficult to do, considering he was squashed into one of the rock crevices with his annoying childe.
"Everything is your bloody fault," Spike grumbled.
"What else is new?" Angel replied. His eyes shut and he felt himself drifting. He was so very tired.
"Sod off," the blond said.
"Spike, go to sleep," Angel growled.
"No, I want to complain, it's fun," Spike replied.
"Me, of course," he said, grinning.
Angel's hand shot out and clamped over Spike's mouth. "Put a cork in it, Spike, or I will for you," he threatened.
"Ib luk ta zeeru twi," Spike said from behind the hand.
The dark-haired vampire sighed in defeat and dropped his hand. Maybe if he ignored Spike, he'd shut up.
"I hate you."
Then again, it was unlikely.
While the vampires hid from the sun for the day, the other four explored the island on which they found themselves. Willow suspected they were on one of the Revillagigedo Islands because of their approximate position when they'd been left in the raft. The interior was lush and tropical, supporting the idea.
They had stuck together, following the safety in numbers rule, and had found a multitude of wildlife, flora and fauna, and a fresh supply of water. They had also found a cave set up off the ground within close distance to the water, accessible by climbing up large fallen rocks, which Buffy cleared out of any animals.
Returning to the beach, they used rocks to create a giant SOS on the sand. By the time they were finished, the sun had set and Spike and Angel joined them. Then they all headed for where the cave was located. Once there, Spike and Angel were elected to go hunt down some food for everyone -- literally.
Spike looked over towards Angel and the older vampire nodded. Silently, the two game-faced vampires circled their target, what looked to be a small deer of some sort, and prepared to strike. The blond was exhilarated with the hunt, the past few months lacking excitement in Sunnydale for the antsy vampire. Playing with the Slayer was fun, but they both had to pull back so as not to seriously injure one another.
He waited for the signal, poised on his haunches, his duster having been left back at the cave. When it came, he launched himself at the animal with a growl, tackling it to the ground. Angel pounced from the other side, grabbing its legs and breaking them quickly. Spike sunk his fangs into its neck with savagery, loudly feeding. His golden eyes met his sire's, who was crouched on the opposite side of the animal, and he snarled.
Angel narrowed his yellow eyes at Spike's action and growled a warning, leaning forwards on his knuckles and baring his fangs in animalistic fashion. His childe removed his fangs from the deer-like creature, blood staining around his mouth, and responded to the warning with one of his own. An evil, fang-filled grin crossed Angel's face as he realized that Spike wanted to play a game they hadn't played in close to two centuries, and he shot forward and knocked the blond to the ground.
The two fought with teeth and claws, rolling on the dirty ground, making loud snarls and growls. Every time one of them would stand, the other would tackle him to the ground again. Finally, Angel got the upper hand and pinned Spike to the earth. He quickly sliced a small cut on the younger vampire's throat with his canines, then raised his head to stare down into Spike's eyes, showing his dominance.
Spike's face slid back into its handsome human planes and he grinned boyishly up at Angel. "Wanna go another round?" he asked.
Angel let his human mask return and he gave Spike a half-grin. "Depends on the prize," he replied.
"Winner gets to eat Xander," Spike said.
Angel rolled his eyes and climbed off of the younger vampire. He didn't know what happened to the hostility that normally came from Spike when they were together, but at that moment, he was happy that it had dissipated. He hadn't had any male companionship in a long while, having been working exclusively with Cordelia and Doyle just showing up at the office to annoy him.
"As fun as that would be, I think Buffy would have a say in us not wanting to do that," Angel told him, picking up the animal and draping it over his shoulders for the trek back to the cave. "And if not her, then Cordelia and Willow."
Spike pretty-much bounced instead of walked next to Angel, full of energy from the mock-fight. "How about if we torture him a bit? Hang a Ho-Ho from the cave ceiling just out of his reach and watch him jump for it."
Angel laughed, the rich sound echoing in the night. "Now that I might actually pay money to see."
"Oh, even better -- tie his hands behind his back and make the bugger use his teeth," the blond continued, hopping up on a fallen tree and walking along it like a tight-rope performer. "Cor, that would be a bloody riot."
"We'll keep that in mind if things get too boring," Angel said.
Spike jumped off the end of the tree with a dramatic gymnast's flourish. He felt no anger, no tension, none of the usual bad feelings he had for his sire. The teasing in the rock crevices earlier in the day was just that -- teasing. He could honestly say he no longer hated Angel, he hadn't since they'd gotten shrunk together a couple months back and he'd been able to get rid of all the unresolved emotions that had been burning inside of him for a century.
The fear that had encompassed him when the sharks were circling had brought the fact that life, or unlife as it were, was too fragile not to take what you wanted. After thinking about it the night before and most of the day, he decided he wanted his sire back, the friend he'd had for all those years. Granted, there would be no more blood-and-guts violence against humans, since Angel had his soul and he had given his word not to munch on the populace, no matter how tempting, but that was just fine by him.
However, that didn't mean he was going to out-and-out tell Angel about his change of heart. "Race you back," Spike said, then took off running without warning.
Angel didn't even bother to give chase. Chuckling, he continued his leisurely pace, wondering if his childe's playfulness was just in passing, or if it would stay for awhile. He hoped it would be the latter, because, if his calculations were correct, they'd be on whatever island they were on for at least another week before Giles would know that something had gone amiss.
"'Annie Mary Twente,'" Angel read, tilting the worn paperback towards the fire. "'Born October 14, 1880, died October 26, 1886. Father and Mother, may I meet you in your royal court on high.'"
Willow was sitting sideways in Oz's lap, burying her face in his shoulder every so often. Cordelia and Xander sat side by side, and the former May Queen would grab his leg when she got too scared. Buffy sat with her legs crossed, wide-eyed, and Spike lay on his stomach beside her, his chin propped in his hand, his bare feet swinging back and forth in the air.
They were listening intently to Angel's deep voice as he read from a book of true stories about ghosts that Spike'd had in the pocket of his duster. The dark-haired vampire sounded ominous and chilling as he went from story to story, the crackle of the fire and the sounds of the night outside of the cave adding to the creepy mood.
"'That simple epitaph is just the beginning of a hauntingly sad account of the little girl who lies beneath a weathered, granite tombstone on a windswept hillock a few miles southwest of New Ulm, Minnesota. A four-feet-high, eighteen-inch-thick stone and mortar wall surrounds little Annie Mary's grave. Inside the wall, which measures no more than fifteen feet by twenty feet, broken glass, rotting tires, and knee-high weeds attest to the single grave's desolate condition. Rusted hinges at the gap in the wall give evidence that once a gate allowed the visitor entrance. Bramble bushes claw at the cracked mortar, a few elm saplings and tufts of prairie grass the only other vegetation of note.'"
Angel paused and looked up, the shadows from the fire casting his face in an eerie glow. "'Over the grave, nothing grows.'"
Willow squeaked and buried her nose in Oz's neck. "'Who is this child who died so young, so long ago?'" Angel continued. "'To answer that question is to pursue a fascinating account of madness and despair...'"
"Try living with Dru for a century," Spike mumbled. Buffy smacked him across the back of the head.
"'...And one of the most poignant ghost legends of southern Minnesota, for it is said that Annie Mary Twente sleeps uneasily in her pine coffin,'" he read. "'For nearly a century, stories have been told of a small, furtive figure in white wandering forlornly near the gravesite. Automobile lights have suddenly failed on a nearby gravel road, a young boy climbed the ash tree once and fell out for no apparent reason, and though the temperatures may soar into the nineties, the tombstone and their air around it are always cold. In the dead of winter the stone is warm to the touch.'"
Angel paused again, and tilted his head to one side, giving his audience a look that was pure demon. "'Adding to the melancholy of the place is the horror that Annie Mary Twente may have been accidently buried alive.'"
"Boo!" Xander yelled, jumping at Cordelia. She let out a loud screech, which was echoed by Buffy and Willow.
The men started laughing uproariously, the younger vampire going so far as to snort. Buffy kept hitting Spike and he had to curl up into a ball in order to protect himself from her onslaught.
"Xander Harris, that wasn't funny the first time and it still isn't funny!" Cordelia yelled at him.
"But the look on your face is worth years of laughter," Xander gasped out between laughs. She pounded on his shoulder much the same way Buffy was pounding on Spike.
"Don't think I don't feel you laughing, buster," Willow said to Oz.
"Sorry," Oz said, trying to keep his tone even. "You have to admit, it is laugh-worthy."
"Especially considering this is the sixth time he's done it," Angel added.
Buffy raised her fists to him. "Do you want some of this, too?"
"Don't hurt the reader," Angel said, putting up his hands in defense.
"I don't know why any of you chits get scared," Spike said, rolling back onto his stomach. "It's not like you haven't seen worse."
"Present company included, I presume," Buffy said sweetly. He made a face at her.
"What's the scariest thing you've ever seen, Spike?" Willow asked the blond vampire.
"Poopsy first thing in the evening," Spike replied, gesturing to Angel and eliciting more laughter.
Angel scowled at him. "Very droll."
"What about you, Slayer?" Spike said. "Aside from the tosser and myself, what's the scariest thing you've ever encountered?"
"Sid," Buffy replied instantly.
"What's a sid?" Oz asked.
"Ooh, I know," Willow said. "The demon hunter."
"Right," Buffy said. "Before I knew he was womanizing, horny puppet. Spike, you and Sid would have gotten along perfectly."
"That was before I knew you," Willow explained to Oz. "He was after a demon who tried to take Giles' head off during the talent show. It was awful."
"I would assume so," Oz said.
"I had to act in front of people," the redhead continued. "It was sooo scary."
"Wait, you were afraid of a puppet?" Cordelia said. "Where was I?"
"Breaking the eardrums of cats everywhere," Xander told her, patting her comfortingly on the back.
"It wasn't just a puppet," Buffy said. "Although they're bad enough on their own. Sid moved on his own and was stalking me. He thought I was the demon."
"Anyone could make that mistake, pet," Spike said. Buffy smacked him again. "Ow! Quit hitting me."
"Then quit saying stupid and mean stuff," she replied. "Better yet, don't talk at all."
"That's a statistical impossibility," Angel said, smirking at the blond vampire.
"Sod off," Spike retorted.
"Xander, what about you?" Cordelia asked. "I know you scream like a sissy and run away from everything, but what was the scariest? And if you say me, I'll rip your lips off and feed them to Spike."
"Thanks, luv," Spike said to her. "But they'd be too fattening. I'm trying to watch my figure, you know."
"Um, I'm gonna have to go with the Praying-Mantis lady," Xander replied. He shivered in revulsion. "That was just nyagh."
"Again, where was I?" Cordelia asked. "I don't remember her."
"This was before you joined the Scooby Gang, Cord," he answered. "Way back when the Buffster first came to Sunnydale."
"Oh, you mean before I started to hang out with you losers," she said, then shook her head. "I don't know what I was thinking by allowing you guys to be known as my friends."
"So, Cordelia," Xander said abruptly. "What about you?"
"That bug guy," Cordelia replied immediately. She glared over the fire at Spike. "Some bleached moron sent him after Buffy, only he got the wrong girl."
"At least he had taste," Spike said.
Cordelia preened and Xander scowled. "Keep your bloodsucking comments away from my Cordy."
"Your Cordy?" Cordelia said.
"Willow, how about you?" Buffy said loudly, interrupting the fight before it started.
"Faith," Willow replied. Everyone but Spike snickered. "Sorry, but it's true. She was just plain scary." The redhead looked up at her boyfriend. "What about you, Oz?"
"The vampire you," Oz answered. "That scared me to the bone."
"That's so sweet," Willow said, cupping his cheek. "In a strange sort of way, considering it was still me, but it wasn't. And she wore such binding clothes." Both Xander and Angel cleared their throats.
"I think it's the vampires' turn," Buffy said, giving Angel a pointed look. "Scariest thing you've seen."
"Well, hell is a pretty scary place," Angel replied, frowning slightly. "I can't say that I saw anything non-memory wise that was too scary."
"Don't get all broody on us, Angel," Cordelia said.
"What?" Angel gave her a puzzled look. "I'm not."
"He only has one facial expression, ladies and gents," Spike said. "So it's right hard to tell."
"I know what was the scariest creature I've seen," Angel said, staring pointedly at Spike. "Do you remember the summer we went to that party with the lady who fell into the fountain and couldn't get back out."
Spike's eyes widened. "Then that...thing went and sucked her right down."
"Yes, that." Angel nodded.
"Cor, that thing was bloody disgusting," Spike said. "It had what? Five tentacles?"
"Four," Angel corrected. "And they were green and slimy and had little pustules that shot that mustard colored venom." He made a face. "We decided to leave that party right after that."
"That just leaves you, Spike," Willow said. "What was the scariest thing you've ever seen?"
"I think the wanker should get on with the bleedin' story," Spike said.
"Come on, Spike, we all answered," Buffy prompted. "Fess up."
Spike looked down at his chipped nail polish. "A pile of ashes," he answered quietly.
"A pile of ashes?" Cordelia said. "Why would that be the scariest thing you've ever seen?"
The blond vampire raised his eyes and looked directly at his sire. "I thought they were Angelus'."
"When was this?" Angel asked in the quiet of the cave.
"August 31, 1898," Spike answered without hesitation. "You had gone off by yourself, leavin' me an' Dru alone that night. Next night, I opened the door and there was a pile of ashes on the ground right outside. I told myself that it couldn't be you, but then you never came back."
"That was the night I was cursed," Angel said, that date forever etched into his mind. "I took off running and never looked back."
Spike shrugged. "I got over it right quick. I had Dru all to myself. I found out half a century later you were still among the unliving and that's that."
Angel could tell that Spike was covering up his feelings because of the others. He opened the book again, intent on moving away from the sensitive subject. "Well, let's see what's so scary about Annie Mary."
"Hey, that rhymed," Willow said with a grin. "Scary Annie Mary."
The dark-haired vampire chuckled, then continued the story. "'Annie Mary was the youngest of five daughters....'"