"Recessim, recessim, recessim!"
The swirling, sparkling cloud of dark energies flared - slowed - faded. Willow let out a huge sigh and swayed drunkenly. Tara and Buffy each got a hand under an arm and guided Willow to a chair.
"You okay, sweetie?" Tara asked, dabbing at Willow's bloody nose.
"Oh, yeah, sure," Willow said - closed her eyes for a moment and then sniffed, grimacing. "Except for this really bad headache -"
"Oh good Lord," Giles said suddenly, and all three women looked over at him.
"It's really not that bad, Giles. I mean - a couple or six Extra-Strength Tylenols and -"
"No, no, not your head. That." Giles was staring fixedly at the center of the chalk-drawn circle on the Magic Box floor. The slightly scorched, smudged circle where only moments before Xander and Spike had been standing. Staring at the abandoned satchel, the still-laced boots - the empty, crumpled clothing and the very definite lack of Alexander L. Harris, Esquire and William the Bloody.
"Oh - damn -"
"Bloody - fucking - Christ."
"I'm naked! Why am I naked? Oh my god, it's like The Terminator!" Xander flailed, wincing as bits of - stuff - poked him in parts of his anatomy that normally shouldn't be getting poked by bristly, poky - things. And there was a strong smell of - manure. He rolled away from a particularly spiny bit and rolled onto Spike, who grunted and heaved him away.
"For fuck's sake, keep your knees out of my goolies. Bloody witch and her bloody spells and her bloody not knowing what the bloody hell she's doing." There was a crescendo of crackling and rustling and then a thump. Xander felt carefully and found an edge - peered over. Moonlight hazily lit the dirt below, gleaming off of Spike who was spread-eagled and motionless.
"Spike! Are you okay?"
"Of course I'm okay. I'm naked in a sodding byre, lying on a damn dirt floor that stinks of cow shite with dead bracken jammed in my arse. Never been fucking better."
"Oh. Then - wait. You're saying you're actually not okay."
"I'm not hurt." Spike continued to lay there like a bleached and dying starfish and Xander looked around. There were strips of wood - what looked liked split tree branches - fastened somehow to the stone wall to his left and he crawled over the crackling straw and swung carefully out, bare toes clinging to the rough bark. Once he reached the ground he went to Spike and stood over him, looking down. Spike looked up.
"Since you're not hurt are you gonna get up?"
"You're so bloody sympathetic to my plight."
"You don't have a plight." Spike shot
Xander a filthy look. "Okay, okay, you do have a plight but we're sharing
the plight. So get up, already. We need to -"
"Need to wind Red's entrails out on a stick and make her dance," Spike growled, but he got up, brushing distastefully at the dirt that clung to him. "Give me a hand, why don't you?"
"It's just dirt," Xander muttered. "Oh, eww, it's not just dirt. Water. We need water, right now, and lots of soap!"
"Can hear the ocean - care to go for a dip?"
"There are supposed to be people - they'll have soap and hot water!"
"And they'll be so happy to welcome two naked, shite-covered strangers into their homes and offer them soap!"
"Hey! I'm not - oh - crap." Xander looked down in disgust at the seed-flecked mound he'd inadvertently put his foot into.
"Are so. Right." Spike suddenly seemed more cheerful and Xander glared at him. "Let's see where the witch dropped us, then. And it's not like the sodding Terminator. I got through, didn't I? So it's not 'nothing dead'."
"Yeah, but you're not exactly dead dead. I mean, if you get hurt you heal up, and you eat, and everybody including Dawn knows you come, which you are still not forgiven for -"
"Oh, shut up," Spike muttered, and turned around. Face to face with a small, shaggy cow. "Bloody hell."
"Right. Okay. Wait - not that -" Willow pushed a book away as Giles tried to push it toward her and they both glared at each other, Giles doing his best 'Ripper' and Willow doing something that was reminiscent of a kitten pinned under a fluffy towel. It was the hat, really.
"Yes, that, that is the Codex -"
"That we already checked. We need the - the Seminal Theories of - of - time-space - thingy."
"Thingy? Thingy? Yes, and let's look up the What-sis of Magical Stuff next, shall we?"
As they squared off, bristling like cats and waving choice volumes of Eldridge's Encyclopedia of Cross-Magical Physics ( Theory and Practice, Volumes One through Seventeen), Buffy and Tara exchanged looks. Buffy made a sort of head-twitch-eye-roll gesture and Tara made a sort of head-and-shoulder wiggle in response. They both got up.
"Tara! Tell him! Eldridge is -"
"Buffy, have I or have I not successfully -"
"Bathroom!" Buffy and Tara chorused and escaped to the back room, slamming the door between them. There was a moment of silence and then Willow's voice snarked something and Giles' came back with 'superior old guy' tone and Buffy and Tara flopped down on the worn-out couch by the windows, sighing.
"This is - insane. It's more than insane; it's like - Passions insane!" Buffy kicked idly at a padded glove, sending it across the floor.
"I was th-thinking more along the lines of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," Tara muttered.
"Yeah, but which one's Nurse Ratched and which one's McMurphy?" Buffy muttered back. Tara stared at her and Buffy sent a wide-eyed look back. "Hey, I watch Turner Classic Movies, too!" Tara stared a moment more and then giggled and they both ended up laughing for the next few minutes, sprawled out on the couch and kicking at each other.
"Okay, okay." Tara wiped her eyes on the hem of her shirt and sat up a little straighter. "It's s-still insane but they're not g-getting anywhere. I mean - Xander and Spike's s-stuff is still here so it's like -"
"The Terminator!" Buffy sat up, too, bouncing a little. "Which means Spike and Xander are naked in the middle of some Viking village right now!" Tara started to say something - stopped - clapped her hand over her mouth and snorted hysterically.
"Oh - oh - oh, you're r-right! Oh! You don't think - Spike -"
"Oh, crap." Buffy stood up and started to pace back and forth. Tara twisted her hands together into her lap. "No. I mean - demon inside, he drinks beer and eats wings and stuff - he's not really dead. Is he?" Tara shrugged miserably.
"He's not. Okay." Buffy spun on one foot and kicked the heavy bag - watched it swing. "Okay, in the movie they had to put Arnold around the cyborg skeleton thing so it could go through. So - maybe we could wrap the translation and some - some clothes and stuff up in - like - meat?"
"That's really - g-gross," Tara said, but she was smiling.
"Yup. But most of the magical stuff Giles does is pretty icky with the rat's eyes and stuff, so - I bet it'll work."
"Cold! Cold! C-c-cold!"
"Shut up!" Spike squatted down in the surf, scrubbing at his legs with a handful of sand. Xander was hunched and shivering on the edge, his toes curling up away from the water. Spike glared at them. "Want the whole village to hear? Come pelting down here to see who in hell is invading them in the middle of the sodding night?"
"We're not invading!" Xander snapped, shocked, and Spike twisted, trying to reach between his shoulder-blades.
"Tell that to them. Except we can't, because Red and Rupert bollocksed it all up, didn't they? We don't have our dictionary -"
"How were they supposed to know? It's - magic!" Xander said, waving his arms. He squinted at Spike. "You missed some."
"Their job, innit? Missed where? Come and help, for Christ's sake." Spike slipped a little, splashing. "Watch your step here," he added, edging away from the sharp underwater drop-off.
"It's cold," Xander whined, but he slogged gingerly into the water, sucking in a sharp breath as a wavelet splashed over his shins. The moonlight shone whitely off snow-crusts and broken shells and Spike's skin and Xander was pretty sure he could read by the glow. "You're like some kind of damn glow-in-the-dark action figure out here." He crouched down to get a handful of sand.
"Not like I can help that -"
"Ever heard of fake tanning lotion? Look into it next time we get sent back in time to - Jesus Christ!" Xander bolted to his feet as an unexpected wavelet broke over his back and - other parts.
"Shut up!" Spike snarled. Xander subsided, glaring - scooped up a double handful of sand and shell-shards and plopped it onto Spike's back. "Bloody hell! Ow - ow - ow!"
"Now who's gonna get us captured?" Xander scrubbed gleefully and Spike flung a handful of sea-water and silt at him. Xander dodged.
"You git - oh, fuck."
There was a hollow sort of noise - a wood-on-wood sort of thunking followed by a splash, and then silence.
"What was that?" Xander squeaked - cleared his throat. "Spike? What was -?"
"Quiet, for fuck's sake!" Spike grabbed Xander and yanked him down, hand clamped over Xander's mouth. Ignoring the panicked struggles as sea-water went up Xander's nose and his tackle went for a swim.
There was another splash and then the scritch of pebble on pebble from somewhere up the trail. Xander flailed, pushing at Spike and Spike hissed, resisting the urge to choke him into unconsciousness. Then there were voices. They both froze.
The voices were low, teasing - flirting - voices. Spike and Xander exchanged eye-rolls as the voices took on a definite cadence. Something along the lines of: 'Oh, la! Sir, you are too bold!' and 'T'is your beauty that makes me so bold, you vixen!'
Except both voices were male and coming closer. Xander was snuffling and muttering behind Spike's hand and Spike twisted, trying to get lower in the water. Xander resisted with a muffled shriek and they both fell over, a wavelet rushing up and drenching them. Then the moon came out from behind the clouds.
After that, things - happened.
Two men - locked in a passionate clinch halfway between trail-head and surf - sprang apart, bellowing. A boat - leaf-shaped and low on the sides - was drifting toward the shore and the group of men inside froze as well, poles or oars half in and half out of the water and the moon-light glittering off of spears and swords and the bossing on shields and helmets.
Mouths - at least fifteen in the boat, Spike noted with a sort of fatalistic gloom - opened. Challenges or cries for help or blood-thirsty oaths were about to emerge when the air directly over the boat seemed to shatter apart, pale green light flaring out. Something dropped heavily into the boat with a crack of splitting timbers and then there was shouting as the boat listed and began to sink.
The two men on the trail started yelling and Xander finally bit Spike's hand hard enough to get him to let go of his jaw.
"Not for weeks, buddy," Xander growled, lunging for the shore. Something surged in the water near his feet and he flopped onto his back like a landed carp, shouting. The din was incredible. Spike sat down, grimacing as sand oozed into the crack of his arse.
"Never trust a witch. What'd I say? Never. Trust. A. Witch. And whatever the hell Rupert is. Bloody ex-Watcher ex-demon-raising poufter."
"Spike! Help! It's got me!" Xander floundered, kicking at something. The boat began to go under with a hiss, water bubbling up and several casks floating to the surface, spinning lazily in the current. The crew shouted and splashed toward the shore and the two men up the trail ran down, dashing into the water and hauling at their sodden, leather-and-fur-clad friends.
"Oh, of course they're all bloody mates, aren't they? Why can't they just slaughter each other, give a fellow a break?" Spike watched as Xander scuttled up the shelf, plowing a furrow with his arse. Something followed him - something with four little black hooves and four - corners and - buckles. Something uneasily familiar. "It's - it's -"
"That was the scariest thing I've ever seen."
"It's traditional," Giles said, and Buffy could have sworn he giggled.
"Old suitcases with hooves are traditional?"
"It's the spirit of the thing," Giles mumbled, burying his nose in his tea-cup and giggling again. Buffy sniffed. Yup. That wasn't just Earl Grey.
"I bloody well know what the bloody Luggage is! I'm just - gobsmacked that Rupert does!"
"Maybe it was Tara. She has the whole set." Xander twisted uncomfortably, straining at the ropes around his wrists and slipping a little as they were prodded up the slope and back toward the village.
"Stop that. You'll get rope-burn." Spike was tripped and kicked back sharply, cracking his heel into the - thing - that was following him. "Bugger off, for fuck's sake!" he hissed. The portmanteau stumbled and fell and then righted itself, hurrying to catch up. Its little hooves thudded on the frozen ground. It bumped into Spike's calf, pressing close like a scared dog. Spike was pretty sure it whimpered. "I'll wring her sodding neck."
"Hey! I'll bet they sent us some stuff in there - our clothes and stuff!"
"You think?" Spike looked down at the - Luggage - and bumped it with his foot. "Got any smokes in there?" A strap wiggled, the buckle clinking, but apparently the Luggage couldn't open its own buckles. "Bastards," Spike muttered.
A Viking prodded him with the very tip of a spear and Spike snarled, just barely restraining himself from breaking the rope around his arms and cracking some skulls. Pretending to be human seemed like a really dumb idea in hindsight.
The longhouse was long, and filled with men and women and children and the smell of wet wool and wet cattle and other wet - stuff. There was a big fire in the middle and a hole in the turf roof right above it. And a big chair with a very big man sitting in it, scowling. He looked a lot like -
"Deadboy?" Xander squeaked, and everyone jumped.
"It's not. Can hear his bloody heartbeat from here. But yeah, that's the same damn overbearing forehead, innit? Same bloody look of constipated confusion, too. Oi!"
"Spike! Ix-nay on the oi-way! I don't think - ooof!" A spear-butt made contact with Xander's solar-plexus and he went down, gagging for air.
Spike growled - snapped the ropes and spun on one heel - tripped over the Luggage and ended up on his arse next to Xander, who was a delicate shade of key-lime. "Jesus fucking Christ!" Spike reached over and yanked the knots loose and Xander curled up like a roly-poly.
Deadboy Mark Two snapped out an order and the longhouse cleared rapidly. The Luggage shuffled to one side, looking as shamefaced as something without a face could look. Spike kicked it - contemplated cigarettes and dragged it over by one pistoning hoof. Xander retched feebly into the ashes of the fire.
"Is there anything in there for throwing up?" he mumbled.
"Oh, shut up."
"Ukunnr," DeadboyM2 said. Or something like that. He was still sitting, flanked by seven or eight warriors in leather armor all leaning on long, leaf-bladed spears. They all looked a bit - incredulous.
Falling on your arse, naked, while your Luggage tried to run away didn't exactly make you look like a bad-ass. Spike whapped the Luggage hard and it stopped wiggling. "I just want some fucking smokes and my clothes, you little animate dead cow!" The Luggage creaked, buckles jingling, and Xander stirred and sat up. He wasn't green anymore, at least.
"I don't think it can undo its buckles. Can you, poor thing?" Xander crooned. The Luggage sidled closer to him and Xander reached out and patted it - started working on a buckle. The warriors stirred and tramped down the long-house toward them.
"Traitor," Spike muttered - glanced up at the approaching line of scowling, bearded faces and shiny spears. "Oh, bloody hell, Xan, fuck your trousers; find that bloody dictionary, would you?"
"Yeah, yeah, dictionary - wait - here." Xander held out a sheaf of heavily red-marked paper and Spike snatched it from him - stood up and opened his mouth. Closed his mouth. Stared at the pages for a long, long moment.
Xander's leg started to bounce on the dirt-and-reed-and-animal-waste floor. "Well? Tell them! Explain! We come in peace and all that!" Xander scrambled up from his sprawl by the luggage and Spike wordlessly shoved the pages at him. Xander recoiled. "I can't read Giles' handwriting!" he yelped. "Or Viking!"
"Doesn't matter, it's not Viking. It's - bloody hell." Spike looked at the ring of grim-faced Vikings who had surrounded them - looked down at the Luggage, who was trailing a Construction Workers Do It With Tools t-shirt and a pair of gym-socks out of its - edges. "Got any whiskey in there?"
The Luggage creaked open - snapped shut - and huddled into Xander's shins, looking crestfallen.
"I didn't think so."
"That's his notes. From when the Council came!" Xander snatched the papers out of Spike's hand, goggling. "That's the jelly-doughnut stain from when I dropped that box of African fetishes and this - this -" Xander rattled the papers, pointing. "This is where he said that he wouldn't mind feeding that Quentin guy to Glorificus! See? In the special red ink!"
Spike peered at the paper. "I don't think that's ink -"
"Glorificus?" Xander and Spike both turned slowly at the new voice.
"Christ. Even the Vikings had Watchers."
"Giles? What's this?"
"That? That is...lemme...see -" Giles leaned way over and his tea - which had gone from hot and dark to room temperature and clear amber - sloshed over the lip of his cup. Onto Tara's cleavage. Tara yelped and Giles gazed owlishly at her.
"Oh, bloody hell. Sorry 'bout that! Lemme -" Giles clumsily pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and swiped at Tara's shirt-front.
"Giles! Stop feeling up my girlfriend!" Willow squeaked.
"M'not feeling up your -" Giles said hotly, then he looked down and froze, his hand on Tara's breast. Tara was edging away. "Oh, umm..."
"Giles! Sit down." Buffy pushed her tipsy Watcher into a chair and gave Tara a sympathetic look. Tara held out the sheaf of whisky-spotted paper she'd been holding.
"I don't think we sent them the dictionary."
"I don't think you need anymore of that," Willow said, taking Giles' tea cup and getting between him and Tara. Tara pulled her shirt out from her body and wrinkled her nose.
"This stinks. How can you drink this?"
"Quite bloody easily," Giles muttered, and made a grab for his cup. Willow levitated it over to the counter.
Buffy tossed the papers to the table. "Tara's right. We didn't send the dictionary. How are they gonna tell the Vikings what we need? How are we gonna get this box? Glory's out there, stalking my friends and my Watcher's getting -"
"Squiffed!" Giles crowed and then giggled. "Not to worry Buff-fee. Sounds like a poodle, don't you think? Spike'll - fig'ger it all out."
"And how do you 'figger' that?" Buffy growled, Slayer-scowl that didn't seem to be intimidating Giles at all.
Giles leaned back in his chair, staring blearily up at the ceiling. "Knew a minute ago," he said and then toppled bonelessly out of the chair to the floor. The three women stared at him. He started to snore.
"He's been under a l-lot of stress," Tara said. Buffy picked up the bottle of whiskey that had rolled under the table and uncapped it.
"Me too." Buffy held her nose, lifted the bottle to her mouth and took a long drink. "Bleauughh!"
"This isn't so bad. Don't you think? I mean - could be worse. Right?"
"Yeah, we could be dead. Well, you could be dead and I could be trying to fend off an entire village full of blood-crazed Vikings who just realized I'm not human."
Xander stared at Spike, who stared back. "You're such a Pollyanna, Spike."
"Insufferable git," Spike huffed, but it was hard to be pissed off when a giggly teen-age girl in nothing but a water-soaked linen smock was scrubbing cow-shite off your back. Spike leaned into the rough, sudsy rag and purred, and the girl giggled again.
"Hey! You're not supposed to be enjoying that!
You're gay!" Xander obligingly lifted his arm so his bath-girl could
get at his ribs.
"So're you, you wanker," Spike said, glancing slyly at Xander's semi-erection. Xander hastily covered up.
"She wouldn't stop with the scrubbing! I was clean. It's just a - an involuntary physical reaction!"
"Uh huh. Bloody hell -" Spike sputtered as his bath-girl dumped a bucketful of steaming water over his head. Spike spit water out of his mouth and then shook his head like a dog. Both girls giggled this time. "At least it's warm."
"Yeah." Xander closed his eyes as he was rinsed off - opened them again as a blast of cold air whipped around them as someone came inside the bath-house.
"Oi! Oh. It's the Watcher." Spike stared at the tall, older man. The man with sandy-brown hair and a very familiar glint in his eyes. The man stared back, muffled in a heavy leather cloak that seemed to be lined with fox-skins.
"He's not a Watcher."
"Looks like a Watcher. Looks like our Watcher. Uh - your Watcher. Whatever," Spike said, looking shifty.
"I knew you liked Giles," Xander muttered, taking a length of linen from his girl and winding it around his body, toga-like. He went over to the fire in the center of the room and wrung out his hair.
"I do not like Giles. He's just - fellow expat, is all. Have to stick together." Spike got his own towel and rubbed himself down briskly - wrapped up like a mummy and huddled close to the fire as the door opened again.
"Ex what? Hey! Leave it alone!" Xander tripped over the length of linen as he hurried over to the door. The Luggage was struggling to get in while a burly Viking was trying to drag it out. The Luggage snapped at the man's hands and he jumped back. Xander snatched it up by the handle and retreated to the fire, clutching it close.
The Luggage did it's best to snuggle in but only succeeded in kicking Xander in the stomach with a hoof. Xander hastily put it down, giving it a little pat. The Luggage wiggled happily.
"Got my clothes in there, then?" Spike asked. The Luggage gaped obligingly, revealing a sea of tangled clothes and shoes. And something - red - and something shiny that Spike dove for with a happy cry. "Bloody brilliant!" He held up his flask and a carton of smokes and Xander rolled his eyes.
"Oh great. Guess Giles packed."
Spike took a surreptitious sniff. "Nope. Glinda. Bless her heart."
"S-spike," the older man said, tugging at Spike's towel.
"What now, Watcher? Fuck - not Watcher. Skald. Bloody bookkeeper of the gods, is what you are."
"Necesse est nobis colloqui de Bestia."
Spike ran that through his head a few times, translating. 'We must speak about the Beast.' Too bloody right, they must. "Vero," Spike agreed - turned and hastily dug through the Luggage for his clothes, sliding on jeans and stamping happily into his boots. Coat on - fags in his pocket - flask in his hand. He felt like himself again. Xander was looking lost.
"You're gonna go talk in some language I don't know and make plans, aren't you? And I'm gonna be going 'huh?' for hours on end. Why couldn't Willow have magiced up a universal translator or something?"
Spike rolled his eyes - lit a cigarette. "I'll tell 'em to find you a nice serving wench or something, keep you occupied."
"Gay now, Spike, for fuck's sake! And - besides - I didn't bring any condoms - what if she got pregnant? I'd be like - the worst deadbeat dad ever!"
"Might have to get her pregnant, eh?" Spike said, letting the skald drag him towards the door, waving a rune-covered scroll at him. "Might have to make your own great-great-great-sodding-something-or-other."
Xander got a funny look on his face for a moment. "I - what? We're not Vikings! We're - we're Episcopalians!"
"Oh, for fuck's sake -" Spike uncapped his flask and drank deep.
Xander dug into the Luggage, hauling out an armful of clothes. "I'm coming with you. You are not going to be alone with Deadboy's ancestor." Xander dressed fast while Spike smoked in hard little puffs and the skald edged away from the Luggage, who was prowling the edges of the room as if looking for something. When Xander shrugged on a heavy, fleece-lined jacket the Luggage sidled up and nudged him - opened its lid.
"Yeah? What is it? Oh!" Xander bent and snatched something - stood up grinning, a box of Twinkies in his hands. "I think I'm in love with Tara."
"You and me both," Spike said and took a long pull of whiskey. Then they were herded out into the snow, back toward the longhouse. The Luggage skittered behind, hooves slipping in the ice.
"And then - and then - then he - he had to take off his pants -" Buffy's voice dissolved into giggles and she rolled from side to side on the exercise mat, clutching her stomach. Tara looked down loftily from her lotus position and poked her.
"Probably sh-shouldn't be telling s-stories like this behind their backs."
"You mean, behind their butts," Willow said, and Buffy laughed harder, pulling her knees up toward her chest.
"Ow, ow, ow! Sss-stop! I'm gonna pee!" Buffy gasped. Willow giggled too and flapped her hands lazily. She was anchored by a long scarf and some towels to Tara's left wrist and rowed in an unsteady circle six feet over their heads. Tara watcher her, smiling, then suddenly started frowning.
"Yeah. Pee. Ummm...I need to g-get up."
"So - get up," Willow said, and floated another inch higher. Buffy lifted her feet and pointed her toes at Willow, who breast-stroked over to them. "Buffy, you're getting a hole in this - butt. Boot." Willow stuck her lower lip out and blew her bangs out of her eyes. "I think there was codeine in those Tylenols."
"I can't unfold my legs," Tara said, pulling her skirt up over her knees and staring accusingly at her legs.
"What are you guys doing?" All three women flinched from the shrill voice by the door. "Why is Giles on the floor? Why is Willow - floating - and - and tied up and - Tara! Pull your skirt down!" Dawn darted over from the doorway, backpack bouncing.
Tara grinned, studying her legs. "I can't f-feel my legs. But they still look good." She plucked at her knee. "I think I n-need to ssshave."
"They look great, baby," Willow crooned, slowly revolving until she was pointing at Tara. Her feet floated up behind her until she was almost standing on her head.
"Oh. My. God. You guys are drunk!" Dawn pointed accusingly at the empty bottle on top of the exercise horse. "I don't believe it! Where are Spike and Xander?"
"Naked!" Buffy chortled, clapping her heels together. Willow snorted and then covered her mouth with her hand.
"I think I'm gonna be sick," she mumbled, her face taking on an ashy sort of grey-green color.
"No! Don't do that! Willow - get down! You'll - you'll choke or something!" Dawn grabbed the scarf and tugged. Willow clamped her hand tighter over her mouth and shook her head frantically. "Shit."
"Dawnie! Language!" Buffy's boots thudded to the floor and she wobbled into a sitting position, frowning.
"Hello! Willow's gonna choke if she throws up upside down! I think I'm allowed a few curse-words. Help me get her lose!" Dawn yanked at the knot on Willow's wrist.
"No, no, no, Dawnie!" Tara plucked at the towel around her own wrist. "Don' - don't untie her, we'll never get her off'a the c-ceiling. Just - gotta get this - knot -" Willow made an urgent squeaky noise behind her hand and Buffy lurched to her feet - grabbed Tara under the armpits and hauled her upright. Tara yelped and staggered on legs that were obviously asleep.
"We gotta tow her to the bathroom." Buffy stomped across the mats, dragging Tara along behind. Tara grabbed the towels and jerked Willow into motion. Willow closed her eyes and moaned.
Dawn stared after them for a moment and then followed, shaking her head. "I can't leave you guys alone ever." She stopped and looked speculatively around the room. "Hey -guys? Are Spike and Xander really naked?"
"But they're Vikings! I don't get it."
"He's a monk. He's why we're here - his sect will make Niblet the bloody Key and squish Glory into whatever poor sod they finger to try and contain her." Spike stared hard at Xander and Xander stared back, a Twinkie half-way to his mouth.
"Didn't you pay any attention?"
"It's not my fault!" Xander waved the Twinkie aloft. "You were wearing that shirt, the one with the rip in it? And you kept doing that thing. With your tongue."
"Oh. Yeah." Spike grinned suddenly - did that thing with his tongue. "That, you mean?"
"Uh - yeah. That thing." Xander took a step toward Spike, who reached out and snagged a belt loop. "I like that thing."
"I know. Makes you all - flushed," Spike purred. Xander reached up and slid his non-Twinkie-holding hand into Spike's hair and Spike leaned in, mouth in 'kiss me now' mode. A callused, fairly grimy hand thrust between them and Spike and Xander both recoiled.
"Lįtiš af žessu!" the skald snapped. A very clear 'stop it now before I throw a bucket of water on you!' if his irritated expression was anything to go by. Then something in Latin and Spike nodded. Thorgils glared at both of them - made a 'come along' gesture with his hand and stalked out of the longhouse, cloak swirling.
"What'd he say?"
"Going to meet the blacksmith. Apparently he's some - step-half-cousin's nephew of Thor or some such bollocks." Spike jerked away from a grabby Viking and put his arm around Xander's shoulders - got a cigarette out of his pack with his other hand and groped for his lighter. The Luggage trotted behind, snapping at Vikings who got too close.
Xander stuffed the last of his Twinkie into his mouth and licked his fingers. "So he's gonna make our god-catching box?"
"Got it in one. Hang on - got a bit of - " Spike leaned in and licked at the corner of Xander's mouth, lapping up Twinkie cream and getting in a grope. Xander groped back and a Viking somewhere behind them muttered something and prodded at them both with a spear-haft. The Luggage recoiled - drew up its straps and leaped.
Spike sighed - jerked Xander backwards by the waist of his jeans as Xander attempted to jump in and - do something. Rescue the Luggage, probably. About five minutes later Thorgils came stamping back, waving his scroll and shouting.
The Vikings had formed a loose circle around the combatants and Xander was pretty sure bets were being made. He shifted from side to side, ready to dart in and help if the Luggage looked like it was losing. Spike turned his back and got into a huddle with three or four Vikings, muttering in fractured Latin and passing something back and forth.
The Luggage had latched on to the Viking's thigh and was worrying it like a dog with a meaty bone. The warrior - prone in the trampled snow - was beating weakly at the Luggage with the broken haft of his spear.
"Lįtiš af žessu!" Thorgils thundered. The warriors fell silent, heads ducked like naughty school children. Xander wrestled the Luggage off of the fallen Viking and hastily threaded the straps through the buckles.
There was a chorus of mumbled words - Xander imagined that the Vikings were apologizing but they didn't exactly look sorry, just - nervous. The sort of nervous Willow got when she did unauthorized casting and Giles found out. The skald leveled a finger at the Luggage who cringed away, doing its best to burrow into Xander's ribs.
"Hey! Spike, tell him to stop scaring the Luggage!"
"We need to get going," Spike said, hastily stuffing several things in his pockets and grabbing Xander by the arm. He towed him down the path, past the scowling Thorgils and into the heart of the village. Xander let the Luggage wiggle free and it trotted happily beside him.
"You were betting on the fight."
"Of course I was! Bloody hell, did you see the pot? Got some lovely trinkets for the girls." Spike patted his pockets, which clinked, and Xander rolled his eyes - stumbled over an exposed root and then staggered to a stop. The Luggage bumped into his calves and Spike absently swatted at it.
"Is that the blacksmith?" Xander whispered.
"Yup," Spike said.
"And who's that - other guy?"
"He's the - blacksmith's...bloke." It was the two men from the beach-trail. Once again, they were locked in a passionate embrace. Once again, all that was visible was fur, leather, metal, and brown and blond hair. This time the skald actually heaved an armful of snow. The two broke apart, spluttering, and the blacksmith's - bloke - snarled something at Thorgils. The blacksmith crossed his arms and glowered, his sleek black beard dripping chunks of snow.
"Spike, is that -?"
"Yup." Spike found his flask and took a long drink - offered it to Xander. Xander took a drink and choked. "Sorry, pet. You know - you look good with a beard."
"You look good in braids," Xander wheezed, watching...Viking-Spike tear the skald a new one. The Luggage heaved a sort of creaky sigh and trotted into the forge to bask in the glow of the coals.
"Ooh, wow. I really don't feel...well." Buffy was sprawled on her back on an exercise mat, a pad of wet paper towels over her eyes. Willow was sprawled next to her.
"You don't feel well! I threw up twice!"
"Don't remind me," Buffy mumbled, holding her stomach. Willow adjusted her own paper towels and smiled up at Tara, who was coming over with a can of soda.
"Ooh, ginger ale. Is that for me?"
"All for you," Tara said. "Dawn's bringing yours," she added hastily when Buffy shot a look at her from under the towels.
"I'd kiss you, except I have puke-breath," Willow said. She propped herself up on her elbow and took the cold can, taking a tiny sip. Tara patted her hair.
"Here's your ginger ale, Buffy," Dawn said, coming through the door. "And here's -"
"What in hell is going on?" Anya stomped through the doorway, holding an empty whiskey bottle in one hand and a Lower Durgonic fertility fetish in the other. "And why are the Durgo sex-spell dolls all over the place?"
"Oh, uh - th-hat was - that was -"
"Giles." Buffy interrupted Tara, slowly sitting up and peeling the towels off her face. "He was conducting an experiment." Tara made an astonished face at Buffy, who made a face back
"Giles? He should know better. Is that why he's locked in the office? And what's wrong with the two of you?" Anya squinted at Tara. "The three of you, I mean. You all look like something the cat dragged in."
"Thanks a lot," Willow muttered, and Tara tapped a fingernail on the soda can.
"Drink your ginger ale, honey, you'll feel better."
"We - uh - were celebrating Spike and Xander making it back to the Vikings and - stuff," Buffy said.
"Couldn't you have done that at home? Aren't they back yet?"
"They're naked, apparently, and I missed it," Dawn muttered.
Anya looked down at the fetish. "Naked? Here? In my shop? I knew I should have installed those security cameras."
"No, they're not naked in the shop, they're... Oh, hell." Buffy took a sip of her ginger ale and lay back down, the can balanced on her stomach, the towels back over her eyes. "Tara can explain it to you. It's a lot like The Terminator only with a different stupid accent. Dawn, are there any bendy straws?"
"Oh, man. I can't take this anymore. I really can't," Xander whimpered, hiding his face in Spike's neck. Spike patted him absently on the back.
"There, there," he said. His gaze was fixed on the lamia. The witches, who were doing a spell. There were three of them. Two of them - from the tantalizing scent on the breeze - would be needing a little private time when this was all over.
Spike might need some private time. The brunette witch - barely legal - looked at Spike and Xander like the blonde witch did the red-headed one. Of course, Xander chose that moment to risk looking up.
"It's making me feel oogy, Spike! That's Dawn! Make her stop doing that!" he wailed, averting his eyes once again from the...maiden.
"It's not the Bit. It's just some kind of weird - thing. We'll have Rupert explain it all when we get home." Spike fumbled for a cigarette. 'Oogy' was not the word he would use. "Right! That's got it." The blonde witch had plucked a strand of hair from each head and twisted them together. The hairs - smoked. The smith stepped up with the god-box and Spike poked at Xander. "Watch, now, they're making the lock!"
"Are they dressed yet?" Xander moaned, and Spike whapped him on the back of the head.
"Oh, for god's sake! Just keep your eyes on the box!" Viking-Xander held the box out as the blonde one - Viking Tara, Spike supposed - wound the now distinctly un-hair-like strands through the latch on the god-box.
"Wow." Xander stared as the smith eased the box into a leather sack and tied the neck shut, then advanced upon them. The Luggage scuttled between, gaping itself open in a slightly menacing manner only to have Viking Spike aim a furred boot at it. It ducked, buckles jingling, and Xander scooped it up and held it. "Sorry about that. It's a little - ah ha - over-protective."
The Luggage's hooves flailed in the air for a moment and Xander stroked it gently. "Shh, shh, I won't let the big bad Viking hurt you."
Spike took the sack from the smith and then frowned as the witches swayed up, still naked. Thorgils was behind them, saying something. "Slow down, mate - uh - tardus?" Thorgils made a disgusted sort of noise and spoke again, slower - making hand gestures. Viking Dawn giggled.
Xander seemed to be concentrating on the Luggage - picking bits of gorse out of the straps and polishing mud off the buckles. "Spike, what's he saying?" he whispered out of the corner of his mouth.
"He's saying the witches are going to send us back now. So we have to strip."
"What?" Xander clutched the Luggage convulsively to his chest, eyes darting wildly all around - refusing to drop past chin-height. "Strip? What? Why? We're not going to - I mean - with the witches -?"
"No, you git." Spike finished his cigarette and flicked the butt away into the depths of the forge. The smith growled. Spike raised an eyebrow. "Remember how we came through? M'not leaving my coat here - I'll never get it back."
"Oh, well, yeah, but - but we could just put our - our shoes and your coat in the Luggage! I mean, this jacket was on sale, I can get a new one! And - and -"
"Xander!" Spike stopped - took Xander's face in his hands and shook him ever so slightly. "Take. Your. Clothes. Off."
Xander blinked at him. "That's usually a lot more exciting."
"Just how excited do you want to be when we poof back in, bollocks to the breeze with the real Bit and the whole bloody gang watching?"
"Oh - my - god. It's a nightmare."
"It's bloody cold. I am never doing a favor for the Watcher again. Ever. No amount of whiskey and fags is worth this," Spike grumbled, yanking off his boots and prising the Luggage from Xander's spastically clutching hands. The Luggage squeaked. "Open up, you bloody - handbag. Got work to do."
The trip back was - cold. And a bit damp. Xander was pretty sure he was going to throw up. Until he dropped heavily to the floor of the Magic Box and looked up to see five pairs of wide, interested eyes fastened on him. Then he knew he was going to throw up.
"Huh, look at that. Naked. You were right, Tara," Anya said, and Xander moaned and clamped his hands over his groin. The Luggage lay under him, wheezing slightly.
"Did you get it? Did they make it? How did they do it? Where is it?" Willow asked, bouncing every so slightly on the balls of her feet.
"Yes, yes, with magic and in the bloody Luggage if I can get Xander to get up." Spike jerked at the Luggage's handle, making it and Xander both slide a few inches across the floor. Xander squeezed his eyes shut.
"Just kill me. Please."
"Bloody hell! How about you lot turn around and stop staring so he can have the use of his hands back?"
"What? Oh! Oh, yeah. Dawn! Turn around!" Buffy snapped, grabbing Dawn by the arm and spinning her hard enough that Dawn ended up facing Xander and Spike again.
"Dawn's here? Why is Dawn here? Viking-Dawn was bad enough!" Xander moaned, and Dawn squealed.
"There was a Viking me? What did I do? Was I a - a warrior or -"
"Turn! Around! Dawn!" Buffy ordered. Everyone turned. Xander flipped himself like a crab and latched onto the Luggage.
"You were a witch, Niblet, just like Red and Glinda. Helped do the mojo to make the lock on the box. Xander, let go." Spike wrenched the Luggage out of Xander's grip and Xander went into a protective huddle over himself.
"Wow, witches even back then? That's so neat," Willow said.
"Yeah, uh, you were really cool, Dawn. You and - uh - Viking Tara and Viking Willow did this spell. You were all - chant-y and dance-y and -"
"Naked. All very naked. Amazing sight. Here you go, Slayer."
"You saw my little sister naked?"
"You saw my girlfriend naked?" Willow and Buffy both spun around again, glaring at Spike. Tara peeked over her shoulder.
"No! No seeing! We looked away! Like you're going to keep doing! Come on, guys!" Xander scrabbled in the Luggage and found his jeans - attempted to put them on without rising from his crouch. After a moment's struggle he fell over, cursing. Tara stifled a giggle.
"Why don't you ladies go up front and get the spell going to catch Glory, yeah? And - where's Rupert?" Spike added, standing easily and reaching for his own jeans. Anya and Dawn squeaked. Buffy reached out and blindly clamped her hand over Dawn's eyes.
"He's not quite - himself. I think we need to go make some coffee. Come on, ladies."
"Ow! Buffy, I can't see - don't steer me into things!"
"Good Lord! I thought I told Anya she was never to make coffee ever, ever again!"
"We needed something strong, Giles. Xander and Spike are back - it's time to do the spell!"
Giles blinked owlishly up at Buffy - took another sip of his coffee and grimaced. "A little hair of the dog would work better."
"Eww! We don't have time for gross magical hang-over cures, Giles!"
"He means another shot of whiskey, Slayer. Here you go, Rupert, something to take the edge off." Spike slopped two fingers of whiskey into Giles' mug and then took a long drink himself while Buffy made a face.
"Yuck. Okay. Is everything ready, Willow?"
"Yup, all ready. Magical circle, mystic runes, stinky herbs - mystically forged god-box. Were you really the smith, Xander?"
"Oh, yeah. I really was. You know, the smith was a very important man in a village like that - kind of like - the king."
"I thought Spike said he was a poufter? Is that like a king?" Dawn shaded in a last rune and looked quizzically up at Xander. She had a smear of blue chalk on her cheek.
"Oh, uh, well - it's sort of -"
"Means he was a flaming fairy, just like Xany-poo here. By all that's bloody holy, can we shift our arses people? I need to eat, shag, and sleep in that order!"
"Way, way too much information." Buffy moved into position on the edge of the circle, waving a small square of paper. "I'm ready, people, let's go."
"Right. Okay. Dawn? We'll talk later." Xander grabbed his own square out of Tara's hand and moved to his spot.
"Sure. Later. When I'm forty or something," Dawn grumbled. She flopped down onto the bottom of the loft-stairs, frowning. The Luggage sidled out from between two shelves and moved hesitantly toward her. She eyed it uncertainly.
"Okay Giles, you're here," Willow said, pointing, and Tara handed him his square. Giles squinted at it, then felt in his shirt-pocket for his glasses.
"Why are there pipe-cleaners attached to the temples of my glasses?"
"You - umm... You said you were a b-beetle," Tara said, and Spike snorted.
"Not a word," Giles growled, wrenching the pipe-cleaners off and taking up his station. Tara stepped into place, Anya on her right, and then they all looked at each other.
Buffy studied her paper. "Uh - so, who goes first?"
"That's who's on first -"
"Xander. Shut up." Giles cleared his throat. "I go first. Then Willow, then Buffy. Then Spike, Xander, Anya, and Tara finishes us off." There were muffled giggles from several quarters which Giles ignored. "It's all phonetic; just read it like it's spelled. Now then -"
The chant went well - everyone was charged. They were slightly less charged when Glory came screaming into the shop, stretched long and wide like a bad time-travel CGI.
"Look out, look out!"
"Dawn, stay back!"
"Bloody hell, get off my foot!"
The box opened of its own accord and a slightly better CGI - something reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant scene - spun Glory around and sucked her down. The lid slammed shut and the hairs - gleaming metallically - wound themselves into a Gordian knot around the latch.
"You think it's safe?" Xander asked, poking the box with his toe.
"Want to give it a shake and see?" Giles snapped. He sat down heavily at the table, rubbing his forehead.
"No, I guess I - uh - guys? Is that a good creeping mist or a bad creeping mist?"
"Dawn! Up into the loft!"
"I might as well be a dog. Dawn, sit! Dawn, stay!
"Shut up!" Willow hissed. "Sorry, Dawnie, just - trying to concentrate."
"Whatever." Dawn stomped up the iron stairs, making a racket. The Luggage lunged clumsily after her, its hooves ringing off the metal. "Guys? Why is this suitcase following me?"
"It likes you, Dawn," Xander said, smiling indulgently at the Luggage. "It won't hurt you."
"It's...staring at me."
"Suitcases don't have eyes, Dawn," Buffy muttered. The mist was creeping in from the door and swirling around her boots.
"It's like The Fog," Tara whispered, and Spike perked up from his slouch on top of the counter.
"Think there'll be undead pirates any time, then?"
"Guys!" Buffy shot a quelling look at Spike who smirked, un-quelled. The door to the shop rattled - then shrieked - then burst inward in a shower of glass and splinters.
"Thank god my policy's up to date," Giles said, standing and backing away slowly.
"Yes. Thanks to you know who." Anya grinned up at him smugly. Giles rolled his eyes.
"Okay, is it some invisible - thing?" Buffy hopped up onto a chair-seat, kicking clinging mist off her ankle. "Or is it -"
"It's more bloody Vikings, is what it is."
"So, that's what Buffy looks like as a Viking."
"And me! All those straps and buckles really suited me. Her," Anya said, taking up a fists-on-hips-stance.
Giles made 'hrmm' sort of noise, and it was clear from his look he was picturing Anya in a gleaming scale-mail corselet and not much else. "Actually, Dawn, those were Valkyrie, or the 'chooser of the slain'. In ancient mythology -"
"Yeah, okay, long and fascinating history, yadda yadda. Buffy, did you see those boots?"
"So they'll keep Glory up in Valhalla somewhere? Isn't that Viking heaven? Doesn't seem - fair." Xander was holding out a rag and a tin of saddle soap. "C'mon, now - who's a brave Luggage? Let's go home and I'll give you a nice bath and polish - make you just like new!" The Luggage huddled further into the shadows under the stairs.
"I think they said something about Helgardh or - something. Rupert! Where were they taking it?"
Giles stopped trying to tell Buffy, the witches, Dawn and Anya about the origin of the Valkyries and they hastily scuttled away, gathering up purses and jackets.
"I think the - the Buffy one said something about Yggdrasil? That would be the world tree. I think they were going to bury her in the roots or something."
"It'll be safe there, right? I mean - a world-tree, that's gotta be big - nothing'll mess with that." Xander was making 'wax on, wax off' motions with the rag and the Luggage was swaying, entranced.
"Safe as houses, pet. Bloody hell. Right - you - come out from under there or I'll get Rupert to dis-enchant you and you can go back to living on top of his wardrobe! Hear me?" The Luggage hesitated and darted over to Xander where it pushed forlornly at his shins. Xander slipped the straps through the buckles and hefted it by the handle.
"It's all right, it's just for the walk home. Uh - we're going home now, Giles."
"Yes, quite, I'm sure you must be exhausted, what with your - adventures and everything," Giles said, suddenly deeply interested in a pile of outdated invoices by the register.
Spike pulled his coat on with a snap and lit a cigarette - stalked over to Giles with Xander trailing behind, tugging uselessly at his sleeve.
"Uh, Spike -"
"Don't think I've forgotten how we arrived, mate, or what we had to slog through. Or the fact that you sent your bloody notes and last week's dry-cleaning bill through instead of the bloody dictionary!" Spike was emphasizing with a jabbing fore-finger and smoldering cigarette and Giles drew himself up in offended dignity.
"Now see here, Spike -"
"We're leaving! We're leaving, ladies! Good night!" Xander grabbed Spike by the wrist and dragged him out the doorway, kicking debris aside. There was a ragged chorus of 'good nights!' from the shop and then they were hurrying down the sidewalk, the Luggage kicking feebly in Xander's grip.
"All right, all right, I'm not a sodding three-year-old, you can let go now, Daddy."
"Don't - do that. In that voice." Spike looked up at Xander through his lashes and Xander swallowed hard. "I want to eat. Pizza. And breadsticks, and those breadsticks with cinnamon and sugar and icing. So no 'Daddy', right? I mean - not right now."
"Oh, all right." Spike sulked along for half a block, moodily smoking and glaring at Xander. "So - why'd you drag me out of there? I was going to give Rupert a right bollocking for putting us through that."
"Because! It all worked out in the end. And you were getting pretty angry. I was afraid you haul off and punch him and then -"
"And then they'd all know Thorgils did that spell and the chip doesn't work anymore." Spike looked thoughtful for a moment and then grinned, slinging his arm around Xander's waist and hugging him close.
"Let's get the pizza delivered. I wanna try out that paddle the Bit got us for Christmas."
"Just don't mention who it's from when you're using it. Or when you're not. Or ever. Okay?"
"Whatever makes you happy, Xander. Oh! Look - a snack-pack! Be right back, love."
Xander watched Spike bound off after a late-night skulker who was trying to jimmy open a shop door. "Keep in mind you have to brush the minute we get home!" he yelled. "I'm not kissing you with breaking-and-entering-guy breath!"