It was hard for Xander to keep alert on the trip back to the Plautect sorcerer's lair. He should have been paying attention to the back streets and alleys Spike was leading them through, familiarizing himself with this new route, in case he had to make the trip on his own at some point. But all he could think about was the difference between this world and his own, and the terrible losses they'd suffered here. Buffy was dead. Willow was dead. Even Buffy's mom was dead, killed by zombies the night they'd had Buffy's welcome back party in Xander's universe. But there had been no party, so no one had saved Joyce from the zombies.
He was dead here – killed by the mayor as he ascended during graduation. Xander had never forgotten the the way Principal Snyder's legs had kicked as the snake-mayor bit him in half. Had he died the same way? But Giles had filled in some facts about that day, and Xander had been relieved to know that he hadn't died on the mayor's teeth. The snake-mayor had singled him out as the one shouting all the orders to the students, and had attempted to grab him. Xander had ducked out of the way, but the mayor had bashed him into a wall with one sweep of his snaky head. The wall had collapsed on him, killing him instantly. It still seemed a harsh way to go, but at least he hadn't died smelling giant snake breath. Poor Kendra. She'd been in charge of the troops protecting the students from the mayor's vampires; too far away to save Xander from the snake-mayor, but close enough to watch him die.
Buddy had kept rather quiet on their walk, sending out a low-level hum of comfort that made Xander feel better, without distracting him from his thoughts. When Buddy's near electric shock of warning brought his focus back to the world outside his head, Xander clenched his fists, wishing he had more than a stake tucked in the back of his pants, hidden from view. He envied Spike who was carrying the axe he'd obtained during the fight in the courtyard, but Xander understood the reasoning that kept him weaponless. If they were going to travel in demon-held territory, Xander needed to play harmless human and rely on Spike's wits and skills to keep them both safe.
Spike came to a halt, and Xander stopped as well, holding his position a step behind and to the right. There were three vamps blocking the sidewalk, a demon like the one Spike had killed earlier behind them, head and shoulders above the tallest vamp, its spiky yellow hair standing out in all directions.
“Master Spike.” One vamp stepped forward, obviously the leader of this little crew. “Fancy meeting you here.” The other two vamps shifted uncomfortably, looking to their leader for direction, obviously unsure of just what was going on.
Spike sneered at the leader, managing to look down his nose at the guy, despite the fact that they were pretty much the same height. “I go wherever I want. It's your job to stay the hell out of my way.”
Leader-guy put his hand on the hilt of his sword, his eyes narrowed in either suspicion or pain - it was hard to tell which. “But we just saw you five minutes ago at the mansion, and now you're coming from the other direction with a human none of us has ever seen before.”
He eyed Xander curiously, and Xander remembered that he was supposed to be all subservient-guy when they were in this section of town. He ducked his head, peering out from under his lashes, trying to make himself look smaller. He had a feeling he wasn't fooling anyone. He wondered if he'd be better off dropping the bag of groceries he was carrying, or using the bag as a weapon. It had some heft to it, it was possible he could knock down a vamp with it, if they didn't see it coming. Spike stepped in front of him, cutting off his already-limited view, and Xander chewed his lip. This so wasn't going to plan.
“You know how it is with mojo,” Spike bluffed, his bored voice never showing the nerves Xander knew he must be feeling. “One minute you're talking to Drusilla, and the next you're half-way across town.” He hefted the axe he'd been leaning on, resting it casually on his shoulder. “Now I need to go have a talk with my dark princess about playing with transportation spells when she knows she's not allowed to work magic on me without my permission.” He brought the axe down, shifting his hands to hold it in battle-ready position. “You planning on getting out of my way, or drifting away on the breeze?”
Xander could hear the threat in that sentence, and it was obvious that the two other vamps could, as well. They stepped back, distancing themselves from Leader-guy, and looking like they wanted to pull out bags of popcorn and start cheering. Just what they needed: an audience. He couldn't see leader-guy through the back of Spike's head, but if he was smart, he would be backing down and clearing the sidewalk. Xander wasn't sure he was that smart, though.
Leader-guy took a step to the left, suddenly back in Xander's line of sight, and bowed deeply as he swept his hand in the direction of the suddenly-cleared sidewalk.
“My apologies, Master Spike.”
Spike merely sniffed in his direction, and started walking again. Xander hurried to catch up. Of course, Spike's path lead them directly past the minions on one side and Leader-guy and the skinny, spiky-haired demon on the other, but Xander did his best to calm his racing heart, and kept walking, eyes downcast, watching their legs and feet carefully for the first sign of a step in his and Spike's direction. They didn't get far. Spiky-hair stepped in front of Xander, its hand going out to grab Spike's arm.
“You smell of Laumear blood,” it growled in a strange, multi-toned voice. It sounded like it was talking through a kazoo or something – the words buzzing and humming as if two or three people were saying them through a fuzzy radio, all speaking at exactly the same time. Total weirdness.
Then the words hit Xander, and he took a step back, getting out of Spike's way, in case he started swinging that axe. Spike kept his calm, though. He merely stopped and looked down at the demon's hand where it rested on Spike's arm. His face transformed into his demon visage, and his growl was louder and meaner than the Laumear's.
“You'll be wanting to move that, unless you want me to smell like your blood, too.”
The demon growled again, but backed up, letting go of Spike's arm. Xander swallowed heavily as Spike shrugged his shoulders, settling his coat into place, then turned his back on them all, walking away at a leisurely pace. Feeling like there was a target on his back, Xander followed. There was no attack, but they'd walked several blocks before he began to relax.
Finally, Spike turned and stared back, nodding his head. “They moved on. I think we're clear.”
Xander couldn't see anything, but vamp night-vision was much better than that of a mere human's, so he sighed with relief. “Looks like we might have to take an even wider detour around Angelus' old place in the future.”
“Or find a different place to stay.” Spike started walking again, faster this time, and Xander caught up with him, since there were no demons around to notice.
“I thought we agreed that staying at the Plautect's house was the best bet for getting back to our world,” Xander reminded him. “We can't afford to let this place fall into anyone else's hands, Spike. It could be our only way home.”
“But it's in demon-held territory, Herc. If it's too dangerous for two slayers to venture into, then it's too dangerous for you.”
“Maybe if I were on my own, but I'm not. I'm with you,” Xander argued.
“I'm not sure that's going to mean anything after tonight, mate.” He lit up a cigarette, blowing the smoke out above his head before continuing. “If the one in charge is smart, he'll have turned around and headed straight back to Angelus' place. It won't be long before the Master of Sunnydale will know there's another Spike hanging around, and then I'll become a target. You'll be safer without me around.”
Xander fought down a flare of panic. “Oh, no. You are not leaving me here by myself, Spike. Don't even think it. We're in this together, and don't you forget it.”
They walked in silence for a few blocks, and Xander wished Willow was still around. She had offered Xander a 'don't notice me' spell half a dozen times in the last year. Pretty much every time he'd gotten banged around on patrol she'd suggested it to him. Back then, it had made him feel like even more of a loser than normal, but now that it would come in handy, there was no Willow to get it from. He wondered where this world's Tara was. He hoped she'd find someone as brave and beautiful as Willow to love.
“Right.” Spike's voice brought Xander back to the present. They were in front of the Plautect's house. “You got the oil?”
Xander reached into his pocket and pulled out the small vial of oil that Giles had offered to them the third time Spike had reminded him how dangerous it was for Xander to stay this close to the seat of demonic power. He'd done a good job of making Giles feel guilty. Not guilty enough to let Spike stay in his apartment, but guilty enough to offer Xander a vial of oil and the words to the barrier spell he'd used earlier tonight.
It made Xander nervous just thinking about casting a spell. He wasn't usually trusted with magic. But Giles had promised him that it didn't take any real magical talent to use the spell because the magic was already woven into the oil. The words were merely the formality that activated the spell, the way you flicked a switch to turn on a lamp. He could do this. He knew he could. Xander wiped the palm of one hand on his pants, then switched the bottle and grocery bag to the other hand so he could repeat the action. He had to admit, he was a little nervous.
“You'll be fine, mate.”
Spike's voice was firm and supportive, which was enough to make a lesser man run in panic, but after training with Spike for weeks now, Xander knew him pretty damn well, so he snorted with laughter. “This from the vamp who hates mojo? Thanks, Spike, I feel so much better now.”
Spike chuckled, then blew smoke over Xander's head before flicking away the butt. He grabbed the grocery bag, setting it down on the ground inside the front gate. “C'mon, lets get this done, so we can get inside and divy up the loot.”
Xander nodded, and stepped through the gate, concentrating on the words he was supposed to say as he pulled the stopper out of the vial.
He let three drops of oil fall from the vial. As they hit the ground near the fencepost, he murmured, “Nullus intrare hic in ira. Custodire qui noceret longe.” He could practically hear Spike cringing as he mispronounced the Latin, but Giles has assured them both that it was more the intent that mattered, and not perfect pronunciation. He turned to the other side of the opening and repeated his actions and the words.
Spike didn't speak, he just took Xander's elbow and led him through the overgrown grass and weeds to the edge of the property, following the shoulder-high stone wall to the corner where two walls met. More drops, followed by more Latin, and Xander could feel something; it was as if the air around them was suddenly too heavy to move with the faint breeze that had kept them company all evening. Spike led him towards the back of the property, following the wall, his demon's sight saving Xander from falling flat on his face more than once.
It was too dark for Xander to see much back here, so he trusted Spike to lead him, and wondered why he could feel something now, when he'd felt nothing when Giles had performed the same ritual earlier tonight. He assumed it had something to do with the fact that he was the one doing the casting, which was certainly wiggins-worthy, in and of itself. He'd wanted Spike to do the spell when Giles first suggested it. After all, Spike already knew Latin, something that had made Giles cock an eyebrow in his direction, but Giles had said that white magic wouldn't work if an inherently evil creature tried to perform it.
Then they were at the back left corner of the property, and Xander repeated the process. The feeling of heaviness grew. It sent a shudder through Xander, but Buddy was a calming influence, reminding him that this spell would protect both Xander and Spike, and that was of the good. Giles had translated the words for him: Let none enter here in anger. Keep those who would harm far away. Xander could get behind that.
They were at the third corner, now, and once again he poured three drops of oil and spoke the words. Rinse and repeat, he thought giddily. It felt like Spike's firm hand on his arm was the only thing holding him down. Like maybe he and the heavy, heavy air had exchanged places, and he was drifting in the breeze that the air around him was ignoring. Did that even make sense? He wasn't sure, but he didn't ask Spike, because he knew he wasn't supposed to talk. Except to say the words. That he could do. But only when he was supposed to say them.
When they reached the last corner of the yard, Xander had to blink to focus on the vial, his thick, clumsy fingers struggling to get the stopper out. The oil seemed to hang onto the edge of the vial before dropping slowly to the ground. One. Two. Three. There was something he was supposed to do now, but he wasn't sure what it was.
“Nullus...” Spike whispered into his ear.
Oh, right! That was it.
“Nullus intrare hic in ira. Custodire qui noceret longe.”
It was so hard to pick up his feet and set them down again, but Spike pulled him along through the tall grass. He wondered where the lighter than air feeling had gone, he'd liked that. The sense of floating above the spell that was growing all around them had been the most fun he'd had since they'd first awoken in this world. It seemed to take hours to get there, but finally they were standing on the steps that led to the front door. Xander sighed with relief. About time.
The three drops of oil shook the ground as they landed, and Xander had to struggle to remember the words to say this time. Just as Spike was leaning in his direction, probably to prompt him again, they came to him.
“Tueri, defendere, securos.”
Protect, defend, secure. The words hung in the heavy air as if waiting for something, then a strong force pushed its way through them, leaving them both panting and glassy-eyed. Xander felt like he'd just taken a trip on the best roller-coaster in the world, without the mind-numbing fear he always got right before they crested that first hill. His knees gave way and Spike let go, letting him collapse to the stairs.
Spike bounced on his toes. “Bloody hell! Now that's the good stuff!”
He reached into his duster, and came out with a large bottle of Jack Daniels that Xander would have sworn wasn't in there earlier tonight. No wonder Spike hadn't complained when Xander had bought American beer. He twisted the cap off and swallowed a huge slug of whiskey before jumping down the stairs to grab the bag that held Xander's dinner, a six pack of beer and two cartons of pig's blood. His eyes were sparkling with excitement, and Xander found himself grinning at Spike's enthusiasm.
“Right, then. Let's go check out this dump.”